New Reviews

Grapelive.com Reviews – September, 2020

2018 Odonata, Sparkling Rosè of Sangiovese, Santa Clara Valley.
Odonata’s lovely Sangiovese Rosé sparkler, which comes from the Machado Creek Vineyard in the Santa Clara Valley region in the shadow of the Santa Cruz Mountains, is lightly fruity and crisply detailed, gaining some nice yeasty notes and texture with air, making for a real treat either on its own or especially with a meal. As I’ve been saying too, Odonata’s winemaker Denis Hoey thinks 2018 will go down as a great vintage in California, noted that, the perfect weather, from a long cooler growing season, allowed the grapes to mature at a steady pace, which delivered wines with finesse and balance, with all the Odonata releases I’ve tried this is especially true, in particular their Pinot, their new Carmel Valley Cabernet, which shouldn’t be missed, and this fun Rosé fizz. The delicate pale pink hue and creamy beading of the mousse make the latest Rosé of Sangiovese an inviting sparkling wine before it even reaches the palate, where it continues to be absolutely delicious with hints of racy citrus, strawberry, apple skin and crushed berries leading the way, before the leesy brioche kicks in adding a touch of luxuriousness to this easily quaffable bubbly. Faint dough and peach flesh come through here on Hoey’s Italian inspired methode ancestrale style wine or classy version of Pétillant Naturel, this is super enjoyable stuff again from this winery based on River Road in the Santa Lucia Highlands.

The Odonata Sparkling Rosè of Sangiovese is very pleasing and provides a little celebration in stressful times, like this year is giving us all, regardless of where you are, and I highly recommend getting a few bottles to brighten your day. Hoey, who was influenced by old world traditions and old Californian wines started making wines at the ripe age of 21 and has become a humble talent with his Odonata label where he crafts a unique collection of wines that come from a range of sites from the SLH to Paso Robles as well as the Santa Cruz Mountains. For this Sparkler, Hoey explains, that the early picked Sangiovese juice spent a couple of hours on the skins to provide him with the color we needed, then the grapes were then gently whole cluster pressed and the juice was racked to a settling tank for 24 hours. Once the primary fermentation was completed, about 14 days, he transferred the wine to a stainless tank and two barrels for a short period. After four months of aging, Denis and team “en tirage” bottled the wine with added yeast and sugar that start another fermentation in the bottle. This process, methode ancestrale, naturally creates the fizz in Odonata’s sparkling wines. Hoey makes a point of adding, the fizzy wine wasn’t touched or moved for two addition years, while it aged in bottle and it was disgorged (when the yeast plug is removed from the bottle for clarity) on March 20th of 2020. Also he added 5.0 grams per liter dosage (sugar) to balance out the acid profile, which makes this dry Sparkling Rosé a more rounded! This wine was a huge hit when tasted with a group of wine industry friends, I can’t wait to try it again, it brings lots of welcome smiles!
($42 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Mount Edward, Gamay, Central Otago, New Zealand.
This was my first experience with Kiwi Gamay, though I’ve really enjoyed some Aussie versions over the years, and I was please as can be with this supple and smooth textured Mount Edward Central Otago Gamay that looks to have been made in a more delicate and Pinot like style with a touch of earthy complexity as well as a lingering soft fruity finish. This is not going to fool you that it is a Cru Beaujolais, but it is an easy wine to love and enjoy, especially with a slight chill and simple foods, its array of cherry, strawberry and plum red fruit flavors present themselves transparently with a bit of raw nakedness on the light to medium bodied palate. With air this New Zealand Gamay adds a pretty dark floral notes along with rustic spices, refined acidity and some very cool toned mineral. Grown on ancient glacial deposits in this remote and picturesque part of the country’s south island, this Gamay is one of many interesting and fine efforts from this small winery, maybe best known for their value priced hand crafted TED Pinot Noir.

As mentioned in my first review of their 2016 TED Pinot Noir, Mount Edward is a small winery located in the heart of the Gibbston grape growing district, 25 km from Queenstown, in Central Otago which was started in 1997 as a small personal project. Now, fully organic, Mount Edward has moved on from Pinot Noir and Riesling producer to a winery doing all kinds of cool other wines hat has vineyards in some the best sub zones of the Central Otago region. The avant-garde Mount Edward Winery with their cool labels, like this one, is a collection eclectic personalities and talents led by John Buchanan and his winemaking team, including Duncan Forsyth a long time Central Otago figure. The currant lineup includes Pinot Noir of course, Chardonnay, Riesling as well as this Gamay, along with Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc and more, plus a fine Rosé. The Gamay, which should be drunk up as fast as you can get it, comes from the Muirkirk Vineyard, at Felton Road, in Bannockburn, it was all from carefully sorted and de-stemmed ripe grapes, fermented traditionally and aged in neutral cask as not to over shadow the bright fruitiness in this fun wine.
($25-35 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2019 Eden Rift Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Eden – A – Vent, Cienega Valley, San Benito County.
One of the most easy and enjoyable Nouveau style Pinots of year is Eden Rift’s Eden – A – Vent 2019, it is everything you’d want in a fruit forward quaffer and has the substance and depth to be taken seriously in the mold of a fine Cru Beaujolais, hence the name which is a play on Moulin – a -Vent and its pure carbonic character is as smooth as silk. The vintage is proving the equal if not better than the much heralded 2018 here on the central coast with slightly smaller yields and just that bit more concentration and complexity showing in the wines, making the year one of best I’ve ever seen in this part of the world, influenced by the cold watered Monterey Bay, its going to be exciting to see more of this vintage in the coming months. The Eden – A -Vent shows an array of bright flavors, its very ripe and juicy with a medium palate of sweet tree picked cherry, black plum, strawberry and some tropical guava fruits along with supple tannin, racy acidity and that satiny mouth feel adding zest spicy details as this Pinot opens up. While the Eden Rift’s upper echelon offerings are wonderfully crafted and studied efforts, I really just love this vividly ruby hued wine that is best served slightly chilled and simple cuisine, its absolutely delightful with its opulent fruitiness and in the background there is notes of cinnamon, light oak and exotic florals.

The 2019 Eden Rift “Eden – A -Vent” Pinot Noir, made by winemaker Cory Waller and team, is limited small-lot wine that is crafted employing 100% carbonic maceration, as the winery notes, is an anaerobic, oxygen deprived, fermentation that is sort of an inside out process in a sealed stainless tank which contributes to this wine’s distinct soft fruitiness and shows faint banana and Jolly Rancher (candied watermelon and pomegranate), which is balanced by some savory elements. Waller, who’s brother Mike is the head winemaker at their (Eden Rift) neighbor, the famous Calera, is a local to the region and has an impressive resume in his own right, making wines at some star properties in Oregon’s Willamette Valley as well as doing some vintages in New Zealand. The Eden Rift estate is a historic homestead that was originally planted to grape vines back in 1849, which makes it one of the oldest in California and has some old vines, mostly Zinfandel, that date back to 1910, called their Dickinson Block. There are some incredible terraces on the property, which are now planted with some heritage clones of Pinot Noir, including Calera clone as well as Mount Eden clone, which forms the top wines made here. The soils here, which are limestone and mineral charged dolomite, and the proximity to the Pacific Ocean that helps retain freshness in the grapes in this unique terroir. I have been really impressed by the lineup here and recommend checking them out, especially the Terraces Chardonnay and Pinot, along with the mentioned old vine Dickinson Block Zinfandel, plus this Eden – A – Vent Pinot.
($36 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Lucia Vineyards by Pisoni, Syrah, Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The long cool growing season of 2018, great for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Santa Lucia Highlands, allowed for one of the best vintages in decades across the board with a vast array of great wines being made in the region, but Syrah did exceptionally well too, especially in the hands of the talented Jeff Pisoni, who’s gorgeously inky and perfumed Soberanes Syrah is one of the best wines of the vintage so with amazing complexity, purity of fruit and depth. The latest Syrah release from the Soberanes Vineyard, a joint venture between the Pisoni and Franscioni families, that is located higher up on the Santa Lucia Highlands Bench adjacent to the famous Garys’ Vineyard with rocky/loamy soils and the cool climate that the AVA is known for, highlights the quality of this site that is planted to 33 acres of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. The profound Soberannes Syrah was hand crafted from carefully farmed lots with the grapes being mostly Alban clone, also known as a true Cote-Rotie selection, which thrives here and makes for a wine of tremendous character, style and sex appeal, in particular this 2018 with its striking dark opaque purple/black/garnet hue and its intriguing meaty note that this youthful wine delivers before a classic bounty of Syrah elements come alive in the glass with beautiful violets, peppercorns, blue and black fruit and a subtle smoky sweet oak accent. The full bodied palate is dense with blackberriy, boysenberry, currant jelly, plum and kirsch as well as black licorice, a hint of camphor or graphite, sage, lavender and faint bacon fat and this wine is perfectly dimensioned and its muscular power is masterfully graceful with acidity and polish tannins. This wine, like a growing number of top producers including Pax, Drew, Arnot-Roberts, Halcon and new comers Cody Rasmussen of Desire Lines Wine Co. and Samuel Louis Smith to name a few prove that Syrah in California can complete with, and in wines like this, surpass many elite Northern Rhone offerings are are some of California’s most compelling wines.

Jeff Pisoni has raised the bar with this vintage, and I hear the 2019s are going to be truly mind blowing as well, which confirms what I have been tasting so far, and his Northern Rhone inspired Soberannes Syrah, along with the soon to be released Lucia Garys’ Pinot, which I also got a chance to taste, are as close to perfection as it gets. It’s well know, that the Pisoni family, led by Jeff’s dad Gary Pisoni, are committed to quality, these are people with a deep and passionate love of wine and the region, they’ve really turned the Santa Lucia Highlands (the SLH) into one of world’s great wine-growing zones with their prized Estate Vineyard, the Garys’ Vineyard and this Soberanes being Grand Cru like sites, and insiders believe that Soberanes is just getting started and might turn out to be the place with the best potential going forward, and wines like this makes a strong case. For this 2018 Soberanes Syrah the younger Pisoni used 100% whole cluster and indigenous (native) yeast fermentation and just 20% new oak, all carefully picked French barrels that enhance the grapes true nature, while also adding a smooth mouth feel. This wine is outrageously delicious, with ripe fruit and savory tones, already, though I am certain it will only get better in the bottle and I think cellaring it for 5 to 10 years will bring a much more rewarding experience, to me, this will rival top Hermitage and Cote-Rotie, like Chapoutier’s Ermitage, Guigal’s Chateau d’Ampuis, Chave Hermitage and Jaboulet’s La Chapelle! I have been saying over the years that in some vintages, Syrah is actually the best wine in the SLH, in fact my own conversion in thinking when tasting through the Lucia, Roar and Novy (Siduri’s other label at the time) from the 2004 vintage, which all were made by Adam Lee, who consulted for Roar and Pisoni at the time, and since then they (Syrah) have only got better. This Lucia Soberanes Syrah is outstanding stuff, it may not get as much love as the Pinots, but it is wine that should not be missed, it is also a great wine to celebrate Pisoni’s twentieth anniversary vintage.
($60 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Donnhoff, Riesling Trocken, Roxheimer Höllenpfad, Nahe Germany.
These 2018 Donnhoff’s are gorgeous wines, they offer a high level of pleasure as well as having taut structures with precise detailing, especially this fabulous Höllenpfad Trocken which shows its terroir distinction to near perfection with a mineral driven palate and expressive Riesling fruit character with an array of citrus, peppery spices, zest ginger, clove, stone fruit and a subtle tropical element. At first, you’d be forgiven if you were reminded of Chablis with the steely starts and expansive lemon/lime, before the Riesling energy takes over and it reveals apricot, kumquat, chamomile, verbena and orange blossoms. This Höllenpfad is chiseled from stone and is crisply focused, but allows for textural density without sweetness or heaviness, it shows remarkable clarity of form and transparency, this Riesling is so good, it could easily be mistaken for a GG! The Roxheimer Höllenpfad was acquired in 2010 and has quietly risen in fame within Donnhoff’s mighty selection of top sites, all of which are individually distinct in flavors, with this site being noted for its charming, less severe profile, but don’t get the wrong idea, this is a serious site and while easy to love this is profound Riesling. The Nahe region is coming on strong with a string of great years and majestic wines, with this dry Riesling highlighting the incredible talents of the winegrower and the quality of this particular vineyard in a south-facing side valley just off the river.

The “Höllenpfad” (“Path to Hell”) name is an old one, according to Terry Theise, the long time importer and Riesling guru, and likely was a reference to both the vineyard‘s steep slope as well as the unique color of the red sandstone in this Cru. Theise adds that, the surrounding landscape is bathed daily in the rich, warm light of the sun, like a crimson glow, especially in the evenings, as it reflects off the hillside‘s with its distinctive red soil. Jokingly Terry says, after walking this vineyard, It‘s also not hard to imagine that the word “Hell“ might have been uttered by many anyone working these vines on these steep slopes. The Roxheimer Höllenpfad is uniquely set on a mix of limestone along with mineral and iron rich veins of red sandstone, it is a prestigious VDP Erste Lage Cru (Premier Cru) with 10-40 year old vines. Hand crafted by Cornelius Donnhoff, one of Germany’s most outstanding winemakers, the Höllenpfad Riesling trocken saw a combination of stainless and used large oak Fuder for fermentation, that is spontaneous, and aging to express freshness and complexity, making for a wine that drinks great upon release, yet has the substance and depth to age decades. At the price, this is one of the best values in Donnhoff’s awesome collection and I highly recommend grabbing a few bottles, it will certainly be a rewarding venture. Donnhoff, which is notably one of the greatest wineries in the world, is a must have in this vintage (2018) and from what I have tasted so far again in 2019, which looks set to a legendary year.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

NV Jansz “Premium Rosé” Brut Sparkling Wine,Tasmania, Australia.
An absolutely delicious Brut Rosé from Jansz, a winery focused on Champagne style sparkling wines on the Australian island of Tasmania, one of the world’s southern most growing regions with a cool climate that favors Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with plenty of zest acidity that gives this wine its verve and elegance. In what Jansz calls sparkling wine made using Méthode Tasmanoise, this Premium Rosé Brut is crafted using multi vintages and blend from 68% Pinot Noir and 6% Pinot Meunier along with 26% Chardonnay, which adds to the richness and length, it also sees close to two years on the lees, with secondary fermentation in bottle. There’s a lot to love about this Tassie Bubbles and I loved the fine mousse and electric feel of the tiny beading along with the impressive dry palate of racy citrus, strawberry, tart cherry fruits and its mineral tones adding lovely white flowers, brioche and a hint of hazelnuts, making for a complex and food friendly bottle. While decedent and polished, this sparkling Rosé with also thrill those that enjoy the grower producer Champagne style, and it is wonderfully easy to enjoy on its own, though as mentioned it has the structure and intensity to go with many cuisines and dishes, including caviar and or briny fresh oysters.

The name Jansz, as the winery notes, pays homage to Tasmania’s namesake, the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman who first sighted the island in 1642. In fact, the estate, when it was established in 1975, the Jansz vineyard was originally named after Tasman’s ship, the Heemskerk. In 1986, esteemed Champagne house – Louis Roederer partnered with the owners of Heemskerk Wines to produce Tasmania’s first premium vintage sparkling wine. Since 1997 the winery has been in family hands and owned by the Hill-Smith’s, who have raised the game here, as well as the profile of Tasmanian sparklers, making Jansz one of the highest regarded Champagne style sparkling wine houses in the world and an Australian treasure. The Jansz Tasmania vineyard, under the guidance of two talented women, cellar master Teresa Heuzenroeder who overseas the winemaking and Jennifer Doyle viticulturist who cares for and farms the vines, sits to the northeast of the island state within the Pipers River region of the Tamar Valley with the vines set on pure, red, free-draining basalt soils and in close proximity to Bass Strait, which gives cool sea breezes and keeps the temps moderate enough to allow the vines to survive the cold winters here. This Brut Rosé is quality stuff and a great value, this one to try and well worth searching out!
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2017 Biggio Hamina Cellars, Pinot Noir “Biha” Van Duzer Corridor AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The brilliant ruby hued Biha Van Duzer Pinot, made by Todd Hamina, at Biggio Hamina Cellars is a beautiful and racy Pinot Noir with layers of bright cherry, strawberry, pomegranate and tangy plum fruits bursting from glass along with delicate rose petal, cinnamon, orange tea and dried herbs. I hadn’t had the Biggio Hamina Cellars wines before this bottle and now I know I have been missing out, this is intriguing stuff and it just got better and better as the evening went on and impressively it was the next day that things really got going, especially aromatically and texture wise without losing its exciting drive and vibrance. Hamina comes with tons of Willamette experience including time at some famous places, his CV includes stints at Archery Summit, Beaux Freres, Chateau Benoit, Elk Cove, Maysara and Patton Valley! That should get your attention and his Biha should be on your radar for value, plus he makes the wine for Claygate, Noel, Schönetal Cellars, Gypsy Dancer, Primavera and a couple blends for Longplay, all of which I plan to check out. He style seems a mature approach to natural or minimalist winemaking with the use of indigenous yeasts, or as he puts it, spontaneous fermentation without imputes or additions, employing neutral French barriques and bottling without cold stabilization or filtering to allow the grapes and vineyards to show their distinctive character.

The Biha line is Hamina’s and partner Caroline Biggio’s single AVA collection, plus one general Willamette Valley offering of value Pinots with his 2017s being from Chehalem Mountains, Eola-Amity Hills, Ribbon Ridge, Yamhill-Carlton as well as this Van Duzer Corridor, which I highly recommend, it has whetted my appetite for the rest of Biggio Hamina wines. This Van Duzer Pinot joins a elite set of quality bargains from Oregon along with Hundred Son’s Old Eight Cut Pinot, Love & Squalor, Bow & Arrow’s Rhinestones (a Gamay and Pinot Noir blend), Purple Hands’ basic Willamette Valley Pinot and Johan’s Farmlands Pinot to name a few, all of which are very different, but offer big bang for the buck. Hamina, like many of this newer generation is committed to more restrained use of new barrels, saying in a perfect world he’d use tons of whole cluster and no new oak and here you can taste the merits of that formula with the whole bunch and stem inclusion crunchiness and purity of fruit, which I admit I am a huge fan of. The Biggio Hamina Biha Van Duzer 2017 has loads of exciting flavors, savory zing and a polished or satiny mouth feel with no overt French oak needed, making a Pinot that goes great with an array of cuisine, I enjoyed it with smoked salmon. As new discoveries go, this one is was incredibly pleasing and I plan to explore more of these small production hand crafted Biggio Hamina wines!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Bodegas y Vinedos Ilurce “Rio Madre” Graciano, Rioja, Spain.
A super value priced Spanish red, made from 100% Graciano and crafted by winemaker, Ana Escudero at Bodegas y Vinedos Ilurce from vines in the Rioja region, this Rio Madre showing rich/ripe fruit along with delicate floral notes and snappy spiciness, it is without question a savvy buy and well made wine to enjoy anytime and without guilt. Bodegas y Vinedos Ilurce is a unique winery for Rioja, mainly making wines that have little or no Tempranillo and has gained a reputation as a Graciano champion and specialist, with this version a collaborative effort with the famed US importer Jorge Ordóñez, exclusive to the United States. This vintage is opulent, highlighting the warm of the Spanish sunshine, which was especially warm in 2017, with lush raspberry, plum and strawberry fruits leading the way on the smooth full palate along with a lingering soft creamy dimension of kirsch and hints of cedar and baking spices. Graciano, usually a background component in Rioja wines along with Garnacha, does make for very intriguing single varietal wines and this Rio Madre is a fun and easy way to start off with when discovering this grape which is also known as Tintilla and found as far away as the Canary Islands and in California where Dylan Sheldon of Sheldon Wines makes a stunning version.

The Rio Madre Graciano is sourced from vines that are up to 90 years old set on soils that are characterized by stony alluvial deposits of the Ebro River and are up at close to 500 meters above sea level in Rioja Baja mountain range. To keep fresh details and balance, Ana Escudero uses a combination of stainless, concrete and used French oak to ferment and raise this tasty Rioja wine, with all the grapes coming from sustainable farming practices without irrigation or the use of pesticides. To keep the focus on the pure fruit all the grapes were careful sorted and de-stemmed with a well judged maceration to extract color and depth of flavor, again, as noted, using some stainless steel fermenters and cement vats keeping temperatures cool, the aging with some in the neutral barrels adds to the supple layering in this exceptional for the price offering. Jorge Ordóñez has over the last twenty years has been a great ambassador for Spanish wines and has introduced America to many lesser known Spanish grapes from Monastrell (Mourvèdre) to Verdejo and was big player in getting Albariño to the US market, as well as promoting some of the classics from well known regions like Rioja, along with Toro and the Ribera del Duero. The Rio Madre Rioja is a great party wine and crowd pleaser, making for a juicy clean red that goes great with a range of cuisine, drinks nicely on its own and certainly more exotic than most wines in its price class!
($12 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive

2018 Oakridge “Over the Shoulder” Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley, Victoria Australia.
The Over the Shoulder line Pinot from Oakridge is a value bottling from this Yarra Valley family winery that was first established back in 1978 and this 2018 is very polished and drinks very nicely with layers of bright red fruits, light smoky wood and earthy elements along with touches of spice and mineral tones. Oakridge’s wines are made under the direction of one of Australia’s most notable winemakers, David Bicknell and while I was unaware of this myself, I had seen he praises being noted by famous Oz wine writer James Halliday, who I admire and follow, whenever I can. The Yarra, in Victoria is a top growing area with a range of distinct climates and soils, but is known as a cooler region where Pinot Noir thrives and the track record is very impressive for this fabled Burgundy grape. Oakridge’s vineyards are in the heart of the Yarra Valley, just an hour’s drive from Melbourne, Australia’s second city (after Sidney) and the Oakridge restaurant and cellar door enjoy many visitors and has received many prestigious awards. I am ever curious about wine and regions, and recently have a re-found love for Aussie wines so I’ve been buying a bunch of different bottles to explore the different regions of this huge country, but with a focus on the cooler zones, like Adelaide Hills, Mornington, here in the Yarra Valley and even Tasmania!

The 2018 Oakridge Over the Shoulder Pinot, which comes from a variety of sites from Coldstream to Woori Yallock with a range of soils that mainly are red volcanic based soils, though there is also a bit of grey alluvial loams as well, all which adds to the character and taste profile, which reminds me a little of some Dundee Hills wines. This vintage shows good ripe fruit development from a long dry summer and harvest with black cherry, wild strawberry, plum and bramble berry leading the way on the medium bodied palate, and while not intended to be overly serious, it delivers more than enough complexity and freshness to be compelling with touches of cinnamon, rose petal and subtle oak to engage the enthusiast. The dark crimson/ruby hued Over the Shoulder Pinot Noir crafted with handpicked grapes and was gently de-stemmed for whole berry fermentation, which lasted for about 3 weeks in open top fermenters prior to being gently pressing into French oak barrels for aging. I had the Timo Mayer whole cluster Yarra Valley Pinot not long ago, which absolutely blew my mind, so I knew this value priced wine might be a let down in comparison, but I actually really enjoyed this silky textured Oakridge Over the Shoulder Pinot, it performed beyond my expectations, especially for the price I paid, which was way below the list price, making it a steal.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2014 La Source du Ruault, Saumur Champigny “Clos de la Cote” Loire Valley, France.
This beautiful and stylish 100% Cabernet Franc Clos de la Cote, from Jean Noel Millon at La Source du Ruault in his 300 year old cellars carved from the limestone at his family’s estate in the Loire Valley’s Saumur Champigny AOC, is drinking wonderfully with the few extra years of age on it having softened the texture and the pure Cab Franc character is on full display. This dark garnet Saumur Champigny comes from all organic estate vines that are set on the classic tuffeau (chalky limestone) and hardened clay soils that Millon hand tends and harvests to make the Clos de la Cote, a special cuvee he’s made since the 2009 vintage, it is a wine of place that in Millon’s own words, tells a story of the year and nakedly gives every detail, with this 2014 being a wine of classic flavors and should age with exceptional grace. Fans of old school and rustic Cabernet Franc will find joy in this vintage, while those discovering Loire Franc with enjoy the smooth and transparent palate that is rich with blackberry, plum, current and kirsch as well as delicate black olive, crushed stone, anise and dried violets, it proves to be an excellent example of terroir driven and varietal correct Cabernet Franc with soft tannins and does not have distracting flaws, like Brettanomyces “Brett” or off putting aggressive raw green bell pepper, this only hints at it and flows nicely and finishes with weightless length.

Jean Noël Millon, a seventh generation vigneron, was completely unknown to me until I got this wine, who’s aim is to craft authentic wines that show the nature of his region and his family’s land, which this 2014 Clos de la Cote does to near perfection. This cuvee which is the top version of Cabernet Franc is naturally fermented and raised primarily in vat as well as neutral cask to express the grapes in their purist form. Millon took over his family’s Domaine in 1998 and has worked his way into the spotlight through intense hard work, he has 12 hectares of vines that he cares for, 10 being Cabernet Franc, with an only 1 hectare old vine parcel used for this Clos de la Cote, and 2 hectares of Chenin Blanc, from which he make two bottlings, that I will be searching out! The 2014 really opens up with air, it gains depth and richness in the glass with the addition of savory notes, light smokiness as well as cigar wrapper, cedar and framboise notes. This wine from La Source du Ruault is a delicious and vinous Cabernet Franc that looks to provide fine drinking pleasure for another ten to fifteen years, even though its lovely silken character makes it easy to love now. This domaine was a really an unexpected find and I look forward to more wines from Jean Noel Millon, this wine is not loud, but sings in a fine voice, I recommend grabbing it while you can.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Drew, The Field Blend, GSM Red Wine, Mendocino Ridge.
This I think is the first significant blended wine I’ve had from Drew that has concentrated on most single varietal wines, focusing especially Pinot Noir and Syrah, which are some of the absolute best in California, so it was interesting to see what this Rhone GSM style wine would be like and I found it very much in the Drew character and wonderfully delicious with a decidedly cool climate influence with low alcohol, crisp details and a high tone profile. Jason Drew calls this wine his field blend and a GSM wine, but notes it leans a bit more on Syrah and adds that all the grapes here were picked together and co-fermented in traditional (field blend) style with the Grenache, Mourvedre and the Syrah mainly coming from a small parcel at a 1 acre block on the Valenti Ranch with a touch of Syrah coming from Drew’s block at Perli Vineyard and even a few bunches of Viognier to add aromatic lift. This is a medium bodied red with zesty edges and lots of brambly spices that shows a complex palate of tangy blackberry, plum, strawberry, blueberry, tart pomegranate and cranberry fruits along with fresh cracked pepper, meaty notes, olive tapenade and a hint of Thai basil, adding pretty floral notes once open in the glass. As a side note, on day two of being open, this Field Blend does get a bit richer without losing any of its freshness, it delivers exactly what the vintage gave and hints at its potential.

This 2018 Drew GSM is not as monumental or profound as Jason’s Pinot and Syrah bottlings, but I really enjoyed the bright intensity and easy drinking style here and I am very excited to have this one in Drew’s lineup, hoping it will be a part of their ongoing collection. That said, I bet this wine fills out and gets better in the coming two to three years, without a doubt it will gain textural grace with more time in bottle and with food it showed even better, making it even more compelling. The color is invitingly deep purple/garnet and the nose, subtle at first comes alive with wild herbs, briar and violets, again echoing the classic Syrah markers more so that the Grenache and Mourvedre which a slightly mute at this stage. Drew explains the fermentation was 100% native yeast with about 50 % whole clusters from the mostly Chave selection clone as well as a small amount of heritage McDowell clone Syrah along with the Mourvedre and Grenache. It look like Drew went with used French (oak) casks for the aging here and there is a only a light wood accent showing allowing the wine to be as transparent as possible. Again this cool climate Rhone style blend is vibrant and at just 13.4% natural alcohol, highlighting this unique terroir that is just about six miles from from the Pacific Ocean and the Mendocino coast. Drew recently made Wine & Spirits Top 100 wineries list, I would even argue that they deserve a Top 10 place and I highly recommend getting on their list.
($32 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2017 Domaine Giraud, Cotes du Rhone “Les Sables d’Arène” Rhone Valley, France.
The old vine Grenache, Domaine Giraud Les Sables d’Arène Cotes du Rhone, from vines planted in the Lirac zone back in 1950 is a delicious and thoroughly entertaining Rhone red that shows off its warm vintage concentration and depth of dark flavors. Domaine Giraud, famous for outstanding Chateauneuf du Pape, farms their plots to organic methods and the vines which are grown on limestone and clay overlaid by a thick layer of sand and this Cotes du Rhone takes on the more serious nature of top wines, but at a great price. The 2017 delivers loads of ripe fruits with a full bodied palate of black raspberry, strawberry, plum and creme de cassis bursting from glass along with hints of earth, peppery spices, crushed stone, anise and dried lavender. Because of the Lirac AOC rules, which don’t allow single varietal wines to be included, this pure Grenache has to be label humbly as a Cotes du Rhone, though from 2018 on Giraud now includes Mourvedre and Syrah to get the more prestigious Lirac AOC on the label, so I’m glad I got some of this vintage to try first, especially at the price I found it. Domaine Giraud is a fairly young estate by regional standards, it was established in 1974 by Pierre and Mireille Giraud, though Pierre, who founded the Domaine comes from a long line of vignerons, and is a sixth-generation winegrower in Chateauneuf who has grown the holdings to include some amazing parcels in this distinct terroir. The Cotes du Rhone certainly looks the part with its purple/garnet color and opulent Grenache character, I am more than happy with my purchase here, this is exciting stuff.

There’s a lot to like about this Cotes du Rhone and it definitely got even better with food and air time with a longer finish emerging with lingering floral tones and kirsch notes filling out this little Rhone, it was perfect with a rustic Pizza with red onions and wild mushrooms. Domaine Giraud made their Les Sables d’Arène using 100% hand harvested grapes, all of which in 2017 were the Vieilles Vignes (old vine) Grenache as mentioned, and for this cuvee, all the grapes were de-stemmed with primary fermentation in concrete tanks. After that, two thirds of the Cotes du Rhone was aged for 6 months in cement vats, with one third being raised in neutral French oak demi-muids, which adds some roundness to the texture. Imported by Eric Solomon and European Cellars, this special cuvee Les Sables d’Arène is well crafted by Marie (the family’s winemaker) & François Giraud, who have the legendary Philippe Cambie as a consultant, and it is a teaser wine, giving you a glimpse of what their awesome Chateauneuf(s) have in store for you, putting in a nice and studied performance at a reasonable price. With market conditions and being near the end of vintage, there are even bigger discounts to had on this 2017 version, so search them out, it makes this quality bottling an even better deal! For a step up, but still reasonable, I also high recommend searching out the Domaine Giraud Châteauneuf-du-Pape Tradition, also mostly all Grenache, coming from fabulous selected vineyard plots.
($25 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2017 Parsonage Village Vineyard, BDL Red Wine, Central Coast, California.
I’ve been a fan and a follower of Parsonage for close to twenty years now and have tasted most everything they’ve done and the current set of wines are just as appealing and delicious as ever with opulent density and deep flavors offering luxurious drinking pleasures, especially their latest Aussie and this BDL Red Wine, made from classic Bordeaux varietals. This Bordeaux-style blend nicknamed The BDL is mostly from purchased fruit with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot playing the biggest roles. The new label features the quilt “French Laundry” by owner Bill Parson’s hugely talented wife Mary Ellen Parsons, who’s artwork is displayed at their Carmel Valley Village tasting room. The wines are crafted by Frank Melicia, Bill’s son in law and the winemaker at Silvestri, who perfectly captures the house style with ripe fruit and bold expressive wines like this one with its layers of black fruits, creme de cassis and sweet toasty oak accents. Melicia’s BDL shows a polished tannic structure and displays a Cabernet dominant personality with blackberry, black currant, plum and cherry fruits along with a Bordeaux like smoky element and pencil lead as well as anise, delicate floral notes, cedary spices and creamy vanilla from the use of a moderate amount of new French oak. With the devastating local fires ruining with terrible smoke taint the 2020 red grape harvest in Carmel Valley it is a great time to support these family wineries like Joullian, Galante, Boete, Georis, Joyce, Massa and Pasonage to name a few, we are all in this together.

This dark and bold forward wine excels with robust and protein rich cuisine and was great pairing with a marinated Tri-Tip or flank steak, a cut that brings out the complexity and length in this none too shy BDL Red Wine, though I can see this going great with earthy flavors like those in wild mushroom dishes and or juicy short ribs. After a set of difficult vintages between 2013 to 2016, the 2017 is a warmly full bodied year that suits these Parsonage wines and I’m really excited for the 2018 and 2019 releases, which look to push this small family winery to the next level in terms of quality, depth and balance. Pasonage is a tiny estate, it is a realization of a dream for Bill Parsons, a Vietnam vet and recently an acclaimed author who just published his first novel based loosely on his war time experiences, he planted the seven-acre Parsonage Village Vineyard back in June 1998, releasing his first wine from the 2000 vintage. The south-facing hillside vineyard is 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean and a half mile east of the Village on Carmel Valley Road, it sits on steep slopes and is a natural sun basket making for intense, fully ripe and dark grapes, from vines that are exceptional small yielding. The vineyard is planted to 3.5 acres of Syrah, 2.0 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.0 acre of Merlot and 0.5 acre of Petit Verdot, and it should be noted that Parsons was the first to plant Syrah in Carmel Valley and it remains a wine very close to Bill’s heart. The BDL sadly sold out really fast, before I got a chance to even review it, but the Estate bottlings are now being released and are even more interesting!
($42 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Avennia, Syrah “Arnaut” Boushey Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington State.
I was really excited to try Avennia’s wines, I had heard great these about these wines and Chris Peterson, Winemaker, and I was not disappointed, this 2017 Avennia Arnaut Boushey Vineyard Syrah is a beautiful and deep wine with lovely detailing and exceptional purity of flavors. Most people agree Dick Boushey’s vines are some of the best in Washington and a Cru site in the Yakima region near the town of Grandview on the southern slopes of the Rattlesnake Mountains. The vineyards, farmed by Boushey, who is one of the top viticulturists in the United States, started planting back in 1980 with a number of distinct parcels that are generally south-facing slopes that rise from 700 to 1200 ft. The Syrah came later, Boushey came to realize that his site was cooler than Red Mountain and that Syrah would do well, so he added Syrah in 1993 to great effect, becoming one of the most coveted growers in the state. Peterson’s 2017 Boushey Syrah is wonderfully balanced for a full bodied wine with smooth layers of classic Syrah markers with crushed blackberries, dark plum, blueberry and morello cherry fruits along with a touch of bacon, graphite, creme de cassis, cedar, fig paste, mocha, anise and peppery spices, adding pretty floral notes with air and all wrapped up in a style that isn’t too different from Guigal’s polished and lush Cote-Rotie.

The Avennia Arnaut, named for the Provencal Troubadour Arnaut Daniel, who invented the Sestina poem form, which has a special meaning to Peterson, has ripe tannins and has retained some juicy acidity that gives this wine a sense lithe charm that allows the dense concentration to not feel heavy on the palate, it really makes this complex wine come across elegantly and with a pleasing energy. Still youthful, this 100% Syrah looks to have an excellent future ahead of it, though as good as it is already, I cannot see many people being too patient and especially as its fruit is so attractive and entertaining now. Chris Peterson really did his best to let the vineyard speak here, noting that he made this wine with minimal manipulation, using native yeasts, employing about 15% whole cluster in the fermentation, raising it with just 15% new French oak for 16 months in barrel, bottling it unfined and unfiltered, as he adds, to allow the “place” to shine through. This wine has a stellar reputation and track record with the critics, so it was great to see its performance in the glass for myself, and I will also say its day two being open brought out even more expressiveness, both in fruit and savory elements, and completeness, while drinking with an almost Pinot like grace, impressive stuff. Coming in at 14.7% natural alcohol, I was a bit worried it would be a touch hot, but I was happily surprised that was not the case and it went great with even lighter food choices, I look forward to trying more Avennia soon.
($60 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2014 Turley Wine Cellars, Zinfandel, Kirschenmann Vineyard, Lodi.
Larry Turley’s iconic Turley Wine Cellars has maintained exceptional quality in a pioneering style for more than three decades with some amazing and awe inspiring wines made from mainly historic California old vine vineyard sites, like this sublimely crafted Kirschenmann Vineyard Zinfandel in Lodi. Turley, along with Ridge Vineyards, Bedrock Wine Co., Carlisle, Martinelli and Biale are keepers of the faith in the modern Zinfandel, highlighting individual vineyard sites and making wines with bold full bodied character, with many of these from vines that were planted in the late 1800s. These producers, especially Turley, are making Zinfandels that are mouth filling, lush and dense with impressive palate impact, giving loads of hedonistic pleasure in their youth, but are serious wine that can age easily 10 to 15 years and in some cases much, much longer, as I believe this 2014 Turley Kirschenmann has the potential to go quite a long way with its depth and structure, it maybe my absolute favorite ever Lodi wine, just surpassing some tasty Cinsault from the Bechthold Vineyard, which also, like Kirschenmann, is in the Mokelumne River zone. The Kirschenmann, as Turley notes, is particularly close to their heart as head winemaker, Tegan Passalacqua, owns and farms this renowned vineyard. The un-grafted old vines here at Kirschenmann were originally planted in 1915 and are set on the silica-rich sandy soils of the east side of the Mokelumne River AVA. Passalacqua takes full advantage of he river’s cool waters and the delta breezes that keeps this arid and warm terroir in balance, allowing these head-trained, dry-farmed vines some protection from the Summer heat.

This 2014, which looks like to very similar in style to the 2018 and 2019 vintages with a cooler demeanor and freshness, though richly layered and complex from a longer growing season that delivered some spectacular grapes to Turley, like those from Passalacqua’s Kirschenmann Vineyard that have produced this gorgeously textured Zin. It’s very notable that Turley Wine Cellars makes forty-seven wines from over fifty vineyards, and as they add, the vast majority of which are single vineyard designate Zinfandel(s) and Petite Syrah(s) coming from all organic sites, most of which are certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers. Also, Passalacqua uses 100% natural or indigenous yeast fermentation to make the distinctive Turley wines. Tegan has lots of experience and is one of the most informed and likable personalities in California wine, after working harvests with the legendary figures like Alain Graillot in the northern Rhône Valley as well as Eben Sadie in Swartland, South Africa, along with a stint working along side Doug Wisor at Craggy Range in New Zealand, plus his time here at Turley under Ehren Jordan, their former winemaker. The 2014 Turley Kirschenmann Zinfandel excels in the glass with a lovely dark garnet/purple color and luxurious mouth feel, it unfolds with black raspberry, plum, morello cherry and Mission fig fruits leading the way along with delicate floral and snappy herb notes, adding an array of spices and a touch of cedary wood. This Kirschenmann is wonderfully rounded, polished and pure with a surprising degree of crisp detailing for a bigger wine that clocks in at around 15% alcohol, in fact this is a remarkably elegant Zinfandel, I highly recommend searching out this vintage as well as grabbing the just released 2018s.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2016 Weingut Kunstler, Spatburgunder Trocken, Tradition, Rheingau Germany.
I usually rave about Gunter Kunstler’s Rieslings, but it shouldn’t be overlooked that he also produces some fantastic Pinot Noir, especially his Grand Cru offerings, like his fabulous Hollenberg Assmannshausen GG, as well as this wonderfully detailed cuvee Tradition, which is also a great value with layered red fruits, delicate spices, mineral tones and smooth textural charm. The Kunstler estate, one of Germany’s finest wineries, was established when Gunter’s father Franz Künstler in 1965 re-established the Weingut Künstler in Hochheim, which is in the Rheingau between the Main and Rhein Rivers, after his family was relocated out of South Moravian region in modern day Czech Republic. In 1992 Gunter took over the estate and in 1994 the estate was admitted to the VDP, marking that the estate had started on a path to greatness and was beginning its run of crafting a series of stunning dry Rieslings, putting Gunter’s wines in a select group of elite winegrowers. Generally in this zone of the Rheingau, it is warm and slightly humid with soils made up mostly of loess, clay, sand, loam, marl and limestone, more like the Pfalz and or Burgundy, and while Riesling is regal and elegant there is also success with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The greatest sites in Hochheim, as noted by Riesling guru Terry Theise, are Domdechaney, Kirchenstück and my favorite Hölle, which can make Rieslings seem like Batard-Montrachet!

The Kunstler 2016 Tradition Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder) from a cool damp vintage that saw a brilliant vintage saving burst of sunshine in September that allowed this wine to become a lovely and polished effort with a subtle perfume, gentle smokiness and a well balanced medium bodied palate showing opulent array of black cherry, bright plum, raspberry, cranberry and strawberry red fruits along with a hint of cedar, orange marmalade, light tea notes, baking spices and a cool crisp mineral element. This wine, made to enjoy in its first 3 to 5 years after release is Kunstler’s teaser wine, offering a glimpse of what to expect from his top Cru wines, but being more fresh and open in style. Germany is fast becoming a place to get great Pinot Noir, with some these wines rivaling the world’s best examples, in particular for me are the wines of Meyer-Nakel, Becker, Diel and Kunstler of which are distinctive terroir driven wines of exceptional quality. The dry Spatburgunder is blend of different vineyard lots and made in 1,000-liter oak casks, with Kunstler using mainly the de-classified lots from his single Crus. This a nice way to dig into Germany Pinots and it is wonderfully food friendly and can be enjoyed with a bit of chill too for warm evening meals or picnics. The texture gets more lush with time in the glass and over all you feeling of completeness from this lovely ruby/garnet colored wine. All of Kunstler’s latest releases are worth collecting and the last three vintages from 2016 through 2018 are very compelling and I hear 2019 is a year that raises the bar even higher, I can’t wait to try Gunter’s versions in the year ahead.
($40 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Domaine La Bastide Blanche, Bandol Rosé, Provence, France.
The Domaine La Bastide Blanche, located in St. Anne de Castellet, founded back in the early 1970s is one of the great producers in Bandol, along with Domaine Tempier and Pradeaux, with a terroir of that is rich in limestone. This Domaine is well known for their intense reds and this full bodied Rosé, having a high proportion of Mourvèdre. This 2019 is, like Tempier is a ripe and expressive example of Bandol, delivering mouth filling layers of fresh squeezed raspberry, sour cherry, plum water, strawberry and blood orange along with dry extract. An array of spices, wet stone and some leesy density. This version, is as always, mostly the powerful Mourvèdre with about equal parts Cinsault and Grenache, which gives some generous fruit and fresh zestiness from all hand-harvested grapes on those clay-limestone and cailloux (stony) soils. I can imagine enjoying this with a paella, seafood stews and especially with steamed mussels in spicy broth, but this Bandol Rosé can handle a variety of dishes.

This Bandol Rosé is grippingy stuff, certainly not a whimpy or dull wine, making good use of its impressive structural quality, it’s a wine that performs best with more robust cuisine. The La Bastide Blanche Rosé was crafted with the saignee process using fully ripe and flavorful grapes. While lush and with a natural alcohol above 14%, this vintage has plenty of lift and crisp minerallity that adds some classic charm. Owners of three estates, Michel and Louis Bronzo have a very tidy collection of Bandol vines, and here at La Bastide Blanc they are farming with organic methods, utilizing small yields to add to the impact and concentration they achieve in their wines. The 2019 Domaine La Bastide Bandol Rosé was a blend of about 71% Mourvèdre, 14% Grenache, 12% Cinsault and 3% Clairette, a white grape that is co-fermented into main lot, and it should be noted that this cuvée is assembled by Peter Weygandt, the American importer, of Weygandt-Metzler at the domaine with the talented help of Stéphane Bourret, the winemaker and the Bronzo family themselves, with each year being slightly different. This is delicious and very rewarding dry pink wine and selling at almost half the price of Tempier’s Bandol Rosé, it is a real bargain!
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Leitz, Riesling Kabinett, Rüdesheimer Klosterlay, Rheingau Germany.
The 2018 Leitz Klosterlay Kabinett is bright and focused, drinking with a snappy dry tanginess and feels very well balanced with just enough fruity off dry sweetness to go refreshingly well with Asian cuisine, like my mom’s cherished birthday traditional Tommy’s Wok (of Carmel) Chinese meal, which included orange chicken and Singapore curry noodles and BBQ pork, all of which was easily handled by this delightful Riesling. Rudesheim is one of my absolute favorite wine towns to visit and I am a long time fan of Johannes Leitz an d his wines, especially his cru bottlings from the famous Rudesheimer Berg sites, including the VDP GG’s from Schlossberg, Kaisrersteinfels and Roseneck as well as his Prädikat offerings, like this Klosterlay Kabinett. “Lay” is a very old word meaning slate (stone) and “Kloster” is the German translation of Abbey, and the Klosterlay vineyard sits beneath the Benedictine Abbey of St. Hildegard, above the eastern edge of the village of Rudesheim in part of the Johannisberg zone, almost all these sites here were church owned vines in the past and walking here you see many religious icons and symbols scattered around. Here, as Leitz notes, the Rüdesheimer Berg begins to gently undulate as it levels out toward the village of Geisenheim and turns from intense slate soils to more heavy loam, loess and clay. Johannes believes this site is best suited for a fruity style with some residual sugar and therefore he choses to makes Kabinett from this terroir. Over the years, I have become quite addicted to opening a Leitz wine on special occasions, they always bring an inner happiness and celebration of life, and this one didn’t fail to add to the joy of having my family around and forgetting the stress of this horrendous year.

The Klosterlay 2018 starts with crisp apple, white peach and lime fruits with zesty acidity cutting the density and sweetness along with a fresh saline element and spicy ginger and clove on the light feeling palate, everything is clear and precise, making for pure Riesling refreshment with a comforting old school charm. The Klosterlay site faces south and gets wonderful ripe flavors and it is mostly loess and loam with some sand and slate, plus veins of quartzite that adds complexity, there’s a beautiful mineral tone that runs the length of this Riesling and while I had it with full flavored Chinese food, it also goes great with more subtle dishes as well. I love Kabinett level wines in the Summer and Fall, the low alcohol, in this case about 9.5%, and light phenolic bitter notes lessen the impact of the underlying sugar, again, especially with Leitz’s example, Kabinett can drink in a drier sense. This vintage is jazzy and refined, opening up with white flowers, crushed flint, tangerine and quince, very poised, as you’d expect from this famous producer, but still playful and without pretense, easy to quaff and it is a wine that generates lots of smiles. The Klosterlay is farmed using sustainable Fair ‘N Green practices, as are all of Leitz’s top sites and Johannes is committed to making sure Rudesheim’s history is preserved and has started a movement to restore many of the original terraces and cares deeply about the health of the region. The basic offerings, with screw caps, at Leitz, are bottling that see stainless steel fermentation and aging with the idea they will be enjoyed in their youth, like this Klosterlay, which was intended to be drunk with its zippy details within its first 3 to 5 years. I can’t wait to return to the Rheingau and in particular Rudesheim with its amazing vineyards and views of the Rhein, this wine absolutely transports me there.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Evesham Wood, Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The special nine barrel Evesham Wood Dundee Hills Pinot Noir from Winemaker and owner Erin Nuccio is one of the best hand crafted and small lot Pinots from the vintage, especially for the price, in Oregon, with its beautiful details and texture it is a class act and joins Evesham’s stellar and value priced lineup. For the last twelve years I’ve been following this label after my first visit to the Willamette Valley wine country and the Portland wine scene when a friend up there clued me in on some under the radar wineries, if you are into Oregon Pinot and looking for bargains, Nuccio’s wines are a must try collection, especially the Evesham Wood’s basic Willamette Valley cuvee and this one if you can still find it. With classic Dundee Hills, Jory soil (volcanic and iron rich) influence showing, the Evesham Wood Dundee Hills Pinot delivers layers of dusty red spiced black cherry, plum and strawberry fruits along with a touch of earthy reduction, rose petals, snappy herbs, moro orange tea and delicate wood accents, all of which caresses the medium bodied palate. With air the ruby/garnet 2018 Dundee Hills Pinot gains a darker almost blue fruit tone and becomes wonderfully expressive and pure in a performance that you’d expect from a wine two or three times the cost, I knew I should have bought a few more bottles.

Nuccio says his Dundee Hills Cuvée, which came from a very famous single vineyard, is most likely one-time only wine for Evesham Wood and came about when a friend who is the winemaker this well known, but can’t be named, winery in the Dundee Hills asked if Erin was interested in some Dundee Hills fruit and as she adds, after initially saying he had enough grapes booked, he came back with a price that was too good to pass up. The plan was to have it go into the regular Willamette Valley blend, but when Nuccio started seriously tasting the barrels it became apparent he had some special barrels, so made the choice to do this bottling from those 9 barrels, which in hindsight was an awesome decision. Evesham Wood was originally founded by Russ and Mary Raney in 1986, with a mission based on the idea that small is beautiful and with a desire to create value priced and easy to drink Pinots. To maintain a high level of quality, Evesham Wood, now in Nuccio and his wife Jordan’s hands, rely on two basic principles, as Nuccio notes, to obtaining optimally ripe low-yield fruit from the best possible sites in the Willamette Valley, and using minimal intervention in the winemaking process to express terroir and complexity in each offering. Nuccio, who also has the cult favorite Haden Fig label, took over here in 2010 and has upped the quality in recent vintages even further and I highly recommend his 2016, 2017 and these concentrated 2018s!
($26 Est.) 92 Pointsgrapelive

2018 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Roussane, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
A touch livelier than the prior few vintages and with a welcome zippy freshness of detail the 2018 Roussanne still has its impressive density on the palate with rich stone fruit and a phenolic intensity that let you know this is a serious wine, and of course tells it is Roussanne with the traces of waxy/oily notes. Tablas has now done close to twenty years of single varietal Roussanne and this Rhone grape has played a big role in their rise as a winery being a key varietal in their Esprit de Tablas Blanc, Chateauneuf du Pape blend, as well as being the major white grape of their cousin, Chateau de Beaucastel’s Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes by the Perrin Family, who are partners in Tablas Creek with the Haas family. This vintage with cooler personality, starting nicely crisp, gets more powerful with air in the glass unfolding in almost red wine like feel with layers of apricot, mixed citrus which comes through with a bright lemon tone and tart peach as well as clove spice, butterscotch, hazelnut and bitter almond oil along with subtle white flowers, tangy herb and lingering honeycomb. Once fully open the palate expands out to lavish full bodied white that makes you want something decedent on the menu, I can see Lobster tail and or swordfish steaks, and the oak influence adds a nice set toasty note that frames this Roussanne very well.

Tablas Creek makes their Roussanne using a combination of wood vessels and was blended from particular separate lots, 100% Roussanne and 100% estate grown hand harvested grapes, with all the fruit coming into the winery with excellent flavor development, vibrant acidity and very natural moderate alcohol, in 2018 this Roussanne is labeled at 12.4%, which helps explain the fine balance here. The winemakers, according to Tablas Creek’s notes, selected to use 55% from lager foudre, 35% from neutral oak puncheons, and 10% in small new French Burgundy type barriques, which adds the caramel/vanilla accent. White Rhone grapes are seeing a new rise in popularity with rare varieties like Grenache Blanc, Vermentino (Rolle), Picpoul and Clairette gaining new vineyard area each year, while classics like Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne showing renewed interest, much of that attention was stoked by the efforts here at Tablas Creek, who brought over quality clones and cuttings from France. This 2018 Roussanne is very expressive stuff, with its delicate mineral and crushed chalk details that come through with time hidden behind the weighty fruit and its one the best vintages I’ve tried, I am confident that it will age well too, I can see it lasting a decade, you can see in this vintage see a similar profile to well made Saint-Joseph(s) and or Guigal’s Hermitage Blanc. For those searching out a standard barer California Roussanne, should check out Stolpman’s, Alban’s and this Tablas Creek version, to name a few very impactful examples.
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Saint Cosme, Cotes du Rhone, Rhone Valley, France.
The deep purple/blue/garnet 100% Syrah Cotes du Rhone from Saint Cosme is without question one of the world’s greatest values and this 2019 vintage is thrillingly delicious with wonderful purity and layers of boysenberry, black cherry, plum and blueberry coulis along with some spicy accents, a hint of earth, graphite and salty melted black licorice. Louis Barruol’s Chateau de Saint Cosme is one of the Rhone’s finest producers, most famous for the estate’s classic Gigondas bottlings from his ancient and historic cellars at the site of a Gallo-Roman villa from the 1400s. Barruol’s ancestors acquired it in 1570, and at the end of the sixteenth century built the family home and began the tradition of quality winegrowing in the region that continues today, the Barruol’s have been vignerons for 14 generations. Saint Cosme is in the Dentelles de Montmirail range with a unique combination of soils and climate that makes it very special for wines. Saint Cosme’s vineyards are at a crossing of two geological faults, which is very rare, according to the winery, and this gives them an extraordinary diversity of soils, along with a microclimate is cool and late ripening, giving the wines balance and incredible depth.

The latest vintage of Saint Cosme’s Côtes du Rhône Rouge was crafted using Syrah grapes that were partially de-stemmed with some whole cluster from vines set on sandy limestone, red clay and pebbles on Villafranchian terraces and it was fermented and aged solely in tank. This 2029 is concentrated and impressive in the mouth adding pretty touches of violets and wild sage to its array of opulent dark fruits and lingering creme de cassis, this little Cotes du Rhone is simply outstanding, as goes without saying it’s a steal at the price. Even Barruol is saying the 2019 is one of the best versions he’s made, rivaling his 2010, and I couldn’t agree more, this is a vintage you’ll want to stock up on. Known as a Grenache specialist, Barruol is quite handy with Syrah, he also has made some fantastic Northern Rhone wines from purchased grapes, these include a brilliant collection of Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, Cote-Rotie and Crores-Hermitage bottlings, all which are worth searching out. Most recently, Barruol added the Château de Rouanne in Vinsobres to his lineup and this property is very exciting, with the first efforts here showing amazing potential. There’s so to admire in Saint Cosme’s latest set it’s hard to stay focused, but this edition of their Cotes du Rhone deserves a lot of attention, be sure not to miss it!
($16 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Bedrock Wine Company, Rosé “Ode to Lulu” California.
Morgan Twain-Peterson’s Bedrock Ode to Lulu, a tribute to the legendary Lucie “Lulu” Tempier Peyraud, the matriarch of the famous Domaine Tempier, who’s wine are famous around the world, especially their Bandol Rosé, which this wine takes inspiration from, made from mainly Mourvedre, that gives serious structure and with a touch of generous Grenache. Bedrock’s dry and tasty pink wine is in 2019 an absolute beauty with a sense of weightlessness and Summery bright detail, it is one of the best versions I’ve tried of this wine so far with pretty delicate rosewater, tart cherry, red peach, ruby grapefruit, a touch of snappy herbs, watermelon and a sensation of strawberry on the lingering finish. This is crisp and fresh showing a lifting cut of mouth-watering acidity as well as mineral notes and a little stony element that adds to the complexity and helps with giving the impression of completeness, this latest Ode to Lulu is full of life and energy, but comes with a graceful I’m not here to be loud confidence that really shows just how impressive this Rosé really is. The pate color confirms its non pretentious personality and I enjoy how the layers unfold and how truly refreshing this vintage is, this is one of the finest examples of California meets Provence Rosés out there.

The 2019 Bedrock Ode to Lulu was crafted of 65% Mataro, aka Mourvedre from old vines, set in sand in Oakley, some over 80 years old and 35% Grenache from even older vines in Mendocino County that are grown on mix of ancient rocky soils. Made with traditional methods and picked with lower sugars, this seductive wine which some a cool fermentation and a short aging period with light lees, plus it was bottled quickly to preserve all the vibrancy. Bedrock has established itself as one of California’s premier wineries in recent years, joining the likes of Ridge Vineyards, Turley Wine Cellars and others, making a fantastic series of wines, especially their Heritage lineup of Zinfandel based reds from historic vineyards that are inter-planted with an incredible combination and array of black grapes. I highly recommend discovering Bedrock’s collection, in particular this lovely Ode to Lulu as well as their iconic offerings from their estate Bedrock Vineyard and their Evangelho Vineyard bottlings. Morgan Twain-Peterson, who is now an MW, a master of wine, is one of the greatest voices in California wine as who has been a winemaker since a child, helping his dad, Joel Peterson of Ravenswood fame make wine, grew up appreciating these gnarly head trained vines. This 2019 Ode to Lulu is a wonder summer sipper and has the substance to be enjoyed with robust cuisine, it was fabulous with Pizza too.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Weingut Korrell, Riesling Trocken “Paradies” Estate Monopol, Nahe Germany.
I’ve been getting more and more excited about the 2019 as I get a chance to try them, this year looks set to be legendary in most German regions, especially here in the Nahe, where Donnhoff, Schlossgut Diel, Kruger-Rumpf, Schafer-Frohlich, Gut Hermannsberg and (this) Korrell are looking to have produced some of their greatest wines to date! And this Korrell Paradies dry Riesling lives up to that buzz easily with a stunning performance in the glass, showing impeccable form and crisp elegant details, it drinks every bit as good as a Grand Cru Burgundy and highlights its unique terroir. In recent years, I’ve been blessed with getting some of Korrell’s releases, as they are not easy to find in the States as of yet, and I’ve been highly impressed with the full range of wines that Martin and Britta Korrell have put out, but I must say this bottling, their signature effort is really something exceptional with its gorgeous purity of flavors and distinctive textural quality and this vintage is another step up for this small family estate. The Paradies, is the oldest single site Korrell has and is the flagship wine of winemaker Martin Korrell, it comes from his family’s vines that are farmed with great respect for nature with sustainable and mostly organic methods, it is set on limestone and clay soils, on a hillside patch of ground in the Bad Kreuznach area of the Nahe region.

This 2019 Paradies flows across the medium bodied palate with graceful opulence and mineral tones, this wine, is the heart and soul of Korrell’s lineup, this site sees more sunshine and the limestone allows for some serious concentration, while also retaining exciting acidity. There is always great attention paid to pick dates to finely tune this signature Riesling so that it delivers all of the complexity and nuances that the site develops. Korrell mixes some traditional stainless fermentations with some native yeast and barrel ferments to craft his wines and the Paradies shows a beautiful leesy finesse, as noted in prior reviews of this wine, and the mouth feel and length are quite delectable. This vintage echos my first impressions with white peach/apricot stone fruits leading the way and with a mixture of citrus and melon as well come through along with wet stones, a refreshing saline element, crystalized ginger, spearmint tea, verbena and aromatic herbs. With air, there is a touch of tropical or exotic fruit that flitters in the background and this Paradies opens its arms and stretches out, I can alone imagine how great it will be in 5 to 10 years, it is an outstanding and regal Riesling. I enjoyed it immensely all on its own, but it got even better with a delicate Thai green curry dish, which I thought might not be its best pairing, showing this Korrell can be flexible with cuisine options. I highly recommend exploring this 2019 collection from Korrell, and I am hoping this Paradies gets more widely available, as it is such a beauty.
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2017 Brick House, Pinot Noir, Select, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Only made in abundant and ripe vintages the Brick House Select Pinot Noir is a special entry level barrel selection of all estate grown, 100% biodynamic, grapes from this famous winery’s Ribbon Ridge vines set on marine sedimentary soils, it is always an incredible value and this 2017 is extra delicious, wonderfully detailed and lengthy. There’s lots to admire here, this quite lush 2017 Select starts with an array of floral aromatics, dark fruit and racy spices before fully opening up on its medium bodied and succulent palate, revealing a range of black cherry, plum, blueberry and wild strawberry fruits in a caressing and silken wave along with touches of seeped rose petals, tea leaf, cinnamon and a hint of earth and mineral. With air this pure Pinot fruited wine just gets better and more distinctive, hats off to Doug Tunnell and his team at Brick House for this exceptionally drinkable offering. Brick House does an amazing set wines, all sourced from their estate, including this one, plus Tunnell’s Les Dijonnais Pinot Noir, Cuvée du Tonnelier Pinot Noir, two Chardonnays and one of the new world’s best Gamay Noir(s).

Brick House, an Oregon classic, was founded by Doug Tunnell back in 1990 and was a major player in what I call the second wave of greats to get started in the Willamette Valley, with the likes of Beaux Freres’ Mike Etzel, Ken Wright, John Paul of Cameron and Mark Vlossak of St. Innocent to name a few and was one of first to embrace organic and holistic farming, including practicing biodymanics in their vineyards. The wines are produced using traditional Burgundian techniques and this wine saw about 20% whole cluster, with full set of the estate’s Pinot Noir clones, with stem inclusion and was fermented using only indigenous (natural or native) yeast without any manipulation or additives and then the Select Pinot was raised in well seasoned or neutral French barrique for 18 months with alone one racking, that was to tank for bottling, all of which to allow the wine’s true flavors to shine through. The vineyards at Brick House have been certified organic for 25 years and are also certified biodynamic by Demeter, which Tunnell thinks makes all the difference in the quality of his wines, giving them life and energy, and this Select makes a compelling case in support, it is drinking fantastic, enjoy it over the next 3 to 5 years.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Ochota Barrels, Grenache “The Green Room” Mclaren Vale, South Australia.
The beautiful Ochota Barrels old vine “The Green Room” Grenache Noir comes from classic bush vines planted back in 1946 on a combination of schist and limestone in the McLaren Vale region of South Australia and was lovingly hand crafted using lessons learned over twenty years and inspired by small biodynamic wines in southern France with native yeasts, whole bunches and ultra low sulfur to allow the grapes to express themselves in their most natural and pure form. Taras and Amber Ochota’s Ochota Barrels wines go against the our perceptions of Aussie wines, they are not inky dark and or overtly fruity and rightly so have generated a buzz beyond their border and have gained notoriety throughout the wine world. Sourced from organically farmed vineyards, Taras Ochota, who has made wines around the world, makes an interesting array of wines from Gewurztraminer to Pinot Noir, as well as a Gamay and Grenache, like this one. This “The Green Room” reminds me of some of the really good stuff coming from the Sierra de Gredos (A hot spot for Grenache/Garnacha in the mountains above Madrid, in Spain) with a fine balance and an array of pretty red fruits including dusty raspberry, strawberry, pomegranate, plum and morello cherry along with spicy accents with a hint of earth and mineral too. This wine drinks brightly and smoothly, very much like a Pinot Noir, especially with its low 12.7% natural alcohol, satiny in mouth and it opens to reveal some floral details, savory notes and a touch of licorice.

The Ochota Barrels began, according to legend, on a surf trip, in late 2000 when the world traveling couple were trekking along the west coast of Mexico n a Volkswagen fried-out Kombi (camper van), yes, like The Men at Work song, as they thought about what was next in their adventures. Baja and left coast Mexico were their final destination after traveling to some of the world’s most amazing wine and surf regions. At that point Taras and Amber Ochota hatched a plan to make what they hoped would be beautiful holistic wines back home in South Australia. After, what Taras calls, a mis-spent youth playing a Rickenbacker bass in various punk bands, noting he played on Kranktus’ Heckler album, Taras became an Oenology graduate from Adelaide University one of the most prestigious wine schools in the world. Ochota developed his craft with stints at vineyards and wineries around the world including Italy, working all around the boot, as well as on Sicily, France and here in California, where he worked at Kunin, Bonnacorsi, Arcadian, Schrader, Outpost and Hitching Post. Taras and Amber have now made home on tiny and steep sloped patch of land deep in the Basket Range of the beautiful Adelaide Hills wine region, where they farm and make some of the most intriguing Australian offerings of their generation. I can’t wait to try more of these wines and learn more about Australia’s new generation of small wineries, after enjoying this fun and tasty Ochota Barrels offering, it looks like there’s a lot to discover!
($39 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Elaine Wines, Pinot Noir, Calypte Vineyard, Russian River Valley.
A luxurious inaugural release Pinot Noir from Elaine Sale of Elaine Wines in Forestville, a cool climate zone in the Russian River Valley AVA of Sonoma County, made in a style that follows some of her famous neighbors and reminds me of Martinelli, Merry Edwards, Lynmar, Rochioli and Papapietro Perry with its deep concentration, bold flavors and lots of toasty French oak. This is a pretty seductive and confident first effort from Sale and it certainly makes the most of the vintage with lush black cherry, raspberry, plum and mission fig fruits along with sassafras/cola bean, black tea spiciness, subtle rose petals, lavish medium plus Burgundy barrel accents with vanilla and sweet smoke that adds a sense of hedonistic richness and will appeal to those that want a sleek modern Pinot. With air, this wine opens up nicely, shedding its more obvious ripeness and wood allowing a glimpse of where this wine is heading, like other bigger Pinots from this region, a sense of graceful refinement comes through, making for a wonderfully comforting wine that has some potential to blossom with another few years in bottle. This youthful and expressive wine goes super with many menu options from blackened salmon to short ribs, it gets more complex and complete with hearty cuisine and it proved itself as a crowd pleaser with a range of picky wine drinks.

Elaine, who sources her wines from the Calypte Vineyard, does this Pinot Noir along with a Chardonnay, which I will dig into soon as well, was referred to me by a winemaker friend who sees this vineyard and wine as future stars. The Calypte Vineyard set on ancient riverbed with a graveling mix of stony soils was planted in 1998 and is, as noted, located in Forestville in the western zone of the Russian River Valley with lots of fog in the evenings and mornings with a nice sunny exposure that captures plenty of afternoon warm. This three acre hillside vineyard, according to Elaine, sits at an elevation of 500 feet, less than one mile from the Russian River and just about 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean with hand tended vines that are carefully overseen by Ms Sale. This Calypte Vineyard Pinot, 100% clone 115, was born from serve selections of hand picked grapes and saw about 10% whole cluster in the fermentation, along with a extended cold soak for full fruit extraction and giving this wine its dark color. The Elaine Calypte Pinot, which is an ultra limited offering with just under 50 cases produced, was raised in barrique for 12 months with this vintage seeing close to 50% new oak, which adds to the lavish mouth feel and silky tannin. I look forward to seeing how this wine develops with some cellar time and I’m very excited to see how Elaine did with her 2018s.
($50 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Vigneti Massa, Barbera “Terra Implicito” Vino Rosso, Colli Tortonesi, Piedmonte, Italy.
Walter Massa’s Vigneti Massa is one of the most interesting wineries in Piedmonte, focused on some rare varietals as well as classic Barbera, like in this Terra Implicito, located in the Colli Tortonesi zone on a terroir that is composed of various soils including clay, chalk, stone and sand and is all pretty steeply sloped perched around the nearly-abandoned hilltop town of Monleale Alto, around 200-300 meters above sea level. Massa is credited with resurrecting the Timorasso, an almost extinct white grape that is now one of the most coveted in the region and Walter helped create the Derthona DOC, Timarasso’s most important cru, and now is bringing new attention to another native grape Croatina, a red grape that usually is blended into various bottlings in small amounts. That said, it was fun to see Massa’s take on a simple Barbera and I wasn’t a bit disappointed as this 2018 vintage Terra Implicito, sourced from 30-60 year old vines, showed beautifully well and has its own unique character, quite different from Barbera d’Asti or Alba versions. This wine is simple and fresh, in a good way, it comforts and goes great with food, especially pasta dishes with dusty red berry fruits, wild herbs, spice and a hint of earthiness, it has layers of raspberry, currant, brandied cherry and a touch of guava and cranberry fruits as well as minty basil, dried flowers, nutmeg and anise.

Walter Massa’s estate is about 30 hectares and has, as I’ve been imformed, eight distinct vineyard areas that explores each distinct grape with an obsession to bring out every nuance the vines here can give, and though this wine is more for early drinking, Massa is working hard to produce wines that age, especially his Timorasso, which I hear cellars incredibly well and for which I plan to test myself. Vigneti Massa’s total production is about 13,000 cases, of which 5,000 is Timorasso, with the rest being his reds crafted from local grapes, like the mentioned Croatina and Barbera, as well as Freisa, another rarity, plus Nebbiolo. The vines are all hand tended and cared for with holistic methods and the cellar work is mostly old school and traditional paying tribute to the region’s history. The Terra line at Vigneti Massa are almost always made using native yeasts, with maceration, fermentation and aging in stainless steel to preserve freshness and purity. This Terra Implicito Vino Rosso, mainly Barbera, is not as exciting as Massa’s Derthona Timorasso, which drinks like a high end white Burgundy, but it is very tasty and a pleasant surprise, especially for the price, its medium body and ripe tannin make it easy to enjoy, drink it up over the next year or so. I highly recommend discovering all of Vigneti Massa’s offerings, again you certainly need to try the Derthona Timorasso, which I have reviewed here in recent years, as well as checking out the reds, these are solid and wines that reflect a passion of place.
($15 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Dirty & Rowdy Family Winery, MSG, Chalone AVA, Monterey County.
Hardy Wallace and Matt Richardson, Dirty & Rowdy’s founders and winemakers, have crafted a gorgeous Chateauneuf du Pape style red from the chalky limestone soils of Chalone that is led by their favorite Mourvedre along with a good dose of Syrah and some Grenache grapes, making for a dark purple/garnet fruit forward and spicy wine that highlights the beautiful nature of vintage and place. Dirty & Rowdy only made six barrels of their Live Monterey County MSG (about 41% Mourvedre, 39% Syrah, and the rest Grenache) with fruit coming from some of their prized vineyards within the Chalone zone where they have been getting Mourvedre, Melon (once thought to be Pinot Blanc!) and Grenache for many years now. This 2018 shows an energetic dark force of fruit flavors on the full bodied palate with exceptional purity showing black raspberry, marionberry, sweet tree picked plum, pomegranate and blueberry coulis along with perfumed florals, zesty spices, anise and a fine chalky/stony note. This wine feels fabulous and has crisp detailing with a nice cut of acidity, low alcohol at around 13.3% and keeps revealing additional layers as it opens with a touch of Mourvedre meatiness, savory elements from the use of whole bunches with stem inclusion and sticky lavender notes. Richardson and Wallace, who’s winery facility is in Santa Rosa, source grapes from all over the state, they have searched out prime locations to get Mourvedre (also known as Mataro) with vines in the Sierra Foothills, Contra Costa, San Benito and Monterey County, which supplies these grapes with the old Antle Vineyard and Brousseau playing leading roles. This MSG goes best with simple or country style cuisine, I enjoyed it with left over pasta, but it would be excellent with brisket, tri-tip and or Turkish lamb kabobs.

Dirty & Rowdy is a breathe of fresh air in California’s new generation of producers, always being unpretentious, full of humble humor and playful their presentation of the wines which are crafted in a freewheeled natural way as to allow a certain raw and un-fiddled with transparency on full display, they employ native yeast fermentations with no additions or adjustments except in the most challenging of situations and age the wines primarily in old neutral French barrels. They also have been exploring skin contact whites, with their Semillon being of particular interest with its concrete egg aging adding to the intrigue. That all said, these wines are pretty serious in terms of complexity, especially this stunning Rhone style red, it could easily be mistaken for an old world wine with its poise and slightly dusty flavors and while boldly California fruit dominated it never gets flabby or dull and it would impress in a blind tasting, not question. I love this bottling, although it is going to be hard to get at stage, it is worth chasing down, but never fear if you can’t get any, as the 2019 vintage should be just as delicious and maybe even better. Wallace is one of the great unfiltered characters and I highly recommend checking his Instagram out, he has some fantastic vineyard footage and lots laughs to enjoy. I got turned on to Dirty & Rowdy by Ian Brand, one of Monterey’s top winemaking guns and vineyard whisperer, who also makes tasty Mourvedre as well. Brand has the opinion that Rhone grapes have starring role in Chalone and are the future of this unique terroir, after enjoying this bottle, I whole heartedly agree! I suggest getting on the mailing list and be sure to explore their Enz Vineyard Mourvedre, the Shake Ridge Mourvedre and the Dirty & Rowdy entry level and fantastically quaffable California Familiar Mourvedre.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive.com Reviews – August, 2020

2017 Domaine du Chene, Syrah, Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes, Northern Rhone Valley, France.
This fun and easy drinking Syrah from Domaine du Chene in Saint-Joseph comes from 35 year old vines just outside the AOC from the Chezenas vineyard, all organic and dry farmed, in St. Pierre de Boeuf with granite soils at 400 meters of elevation. This fruit forward and fresh version is a wonderful value red, it came from hand harvested grapes that underwent a fifteen day fermentation in tank with daily pigeage and pressed at dryness, all done with native yeasts. This Syrah saw a brief spell in well seasoned French oak cask to allow a bit of maturity and texture, but to preserve purity and freshness for early drinking. This vintage, warm and ripe is juicy with blueberry compote, crushed boysenberry, damson plum and sweet cherry fruits along with subtle savory elements, wild herb, graphite, anise and violets, this is not overly serious, but highly quaffable and nice companion to simple and or rustic food choices. This wine, a smile inducing 100% Syrah, would be a delight on a Fall by the glass list with hearty cuisine menu options.

Domaine du Chene, imported to America by Valkyrie Selections, who have savvy portfolio of old world producers, was founded n 1985 by Dominique and Marc Rouvière, who have their small cellars in Chavanay in the heart of the northern Rhône. According to Valkyrie, over about a decade, Domaine du Chene invested in significant renovations both in the vineyards and winery to producer elegant and terroir driven wines with a special focus on the estate’s premier 16 hectares parcels in Saint-Joseph and Condrieu. In recent years these Syrah and Viognier based offerings have drawn in a loyal following and Dominique and Marc’s children, Anaïs and Julien, joined their parents in 2012, helping raise the game here even further, the wines are not overtly flashy, but the quality and soulfulness shine through. For those looking for authentic character and well drinking wines, Domaine du Chene is very worth searching out, with this one being a very solid value and for more complexity be sure to check out their Saint-Joseph Rouge, which shows much more intensity, as well as the perfumed and textural Condrieu.
($16 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2019 Martha Strumen, Mendocino Benchlands Red, Mendocino County.
The latest release from Martha Stoumen, the Mendocino Benchlands 2019, is a wine that blurs the difference between the old world and the new world and is an exceptional effort from Stoumen showing off a beautiful array of black fruits, spice and fresh details with delicate earthy notes as well as bright acidity. The Mendocino Benchlands is a unique blend of Nero d’Avola and Zinfandel, in what Martha calls a “Cerasuolo di California” inspired by Sicily’s famous Cerasuolo di Vittoria blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato, that Stoumen saw first hand while working at COS in Sicily a few years back. The Nero d’Avola is sourced from mostly from a vineyard Martha farms, the Chiarito Vineyard in Ukiah as well as Benson Ranch Vineyard and the Fox Hill Vineyard in the Talmage Bench, a vineyard that has lots of rare Italian varietals planted, while the Zinfandel comes 100% from Chiarito Vineyard, with all the vines being organic and dry farmed, mostly all classically head trained. Stoumen, like most of this new generation of California winemakers, uses native or indigenous yeasts and ultra low sulfur, preferring longer macerations to stabilize the wine, rather than additions or adjustments in what we sometimes call natural winemaking and the wines are raised in neutral (well used) French oak.

This 2019 vintage is looking every bit as good as the fantastic 2018 and this new Mendocino Benchlands takes full advantage of the year delivering gorgeous range of flavors, heavily influenced by that Zinfandel, showing black raspberry, plum, dark cherry and sweet currant fruits along with a touch of game, anise, wild herbs and dried violets. This Mendocino Benchlands is deliciously textural and graceful, while still vivid and lively with its acidity providing a sense of lift and energy making this deeply colored red a tasty BBQ wine. This wine gets better and better while in the glass picking up a savory element that balances the ripe fruit and the youthful vibrancy, it also have satiny and polished structural tannins, which bodes well for its aging potential, though as good as it is now, not many will have the patience to cellar this one. Martha’s wines are all pretty, transparent and stylish in a way that allows a their raw purity shine through, they are non pretentious and quaffable offerings, with this new addition to her lineup being one of her best to date. Stoumen has focused on vineyards that are holistically farmed in lesser known regions, like the inland hillside sites of Mendocino with a mix of California soils and bush vines. These are serious wines that are entertaining, which Martha calls playful and their rustic charms are very compelling.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 M & C Lapierre, Morgon “Cuvee Marcel Lapierre” Cru Beaujolais, France.
The beautiful 2018 Lapierre Cuvee Marcel, one of the wold’s great wines, is full of generosity and natural soulfulness with loads of pure Gamay fruit, deep floral tones, spices and mineral notes, making for a stunning effort and one we’ve been accustomed to over the years. It is a perfect tribute to the late Marcel Lapierre, crafted by his son Mathieu, who has really done a fantastic job since taking over this famous Morgon estate, which was originally founded in 1904, known for their expressive and natural style wines, which are all certified organic and inspired by, as Lapierre’s importer Kermit Lynch notes, Jules Chauvet, a man whom many now call his spiritual godfather. Chauvet was a winemaker, a researcher, a chemist, and a viticultural prophet that convinced Marcel Lapierre that Beaujolais should follow natural winemaking, fighting against the use of chemicals and pesticides, and restoring historic traditions, his influence is still felt today in the great wines of this region, like top producers Dutraive, Foillard, Thevenet, Sunier, Guy Breton and of course the young Matthieu Lapierre. This 2018 is everything you’d ever want and expect with ripe layers of black plum, Luxardo maraschino cherries, pomegranate, red currant and candied orange peel fruits along with a hint of earth, lovely crushed violets, walnut, cinnamon, all spice, a faint touch of game, minty herb and a delicate sense of minerallity.

The 2018 Cuvee Marcel Lapierre, which comes from a special selection of 100 year old wines in the Morgon Cru set on gravelly soils underpinned by the classic decomposed granite shows a textural brilliance and has a hedonistic mouth feel, this wine just makes you happy, it asks or wants for nothing, giving true vinous pleasure. The grapes are all carefully hand tended, with the Lapirerre’s choosing to pick a bit later and with full grape development and minimalist approach in the cellar using indigenous yeast fermentations. The Lapierres, being Matthieu and his sister Camille, raise their wines on fine lees for at least nine months in neutral oak foudres and fûts ranging from three to thirteen years old as not to accent the wood on the wines, preferring each wine to as transparent and fruit expressive as possible. The Cuvee Marcel, saw full whole cluster fermentation, in the à l’ancienne method, with primary maceration at low temperatures and lasting for two to three weeks usually. All of wines at Lapierre are delicious, especially this old vine Gamay, which is pretty hard to get these, but I also highly recommend their estate Morgon as well as their Juliénas, which is done with their cousin Christophe Pacalet, plus the other special bottling Morgon “Cuvée Camille” that is the most recent addition to the winery’s lineup. The gracious and dark ruby hued Cuvee Marcel gains complexity as you happily sip it and while easy and joyous it reminds you often that it is also a seriously impressive wine, in particular this vintage.
($50 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Pietradolce, Etna Rosso DOC, Sicily Italy.
The fresh pinot like and slightly smoky Etna Rosso from Pietradolce is lighter style and easy to enjoy wine that delivers the essence of the unique terroir on the Sicilian volcano where it comes from with layers of tart cherry, strawberry, red peach and citrus zest along with flinty stones, a hint of leather, wild herbs and snappy spices. With a bit of air a more pretty and elegant form appears on the medium bodied palate that rounds out nicely with satiny mouth feel, this turns into a quite gem, especially with food, making it a solid value expression of Mount Etna. The Pietradolce Etna Rosso is made from 100% Nerello Mascalese grapes, grown on the stony, lava based soils on the cooler and high elevation northern slopes of the Etna volcano, which all adds to the complexity and personality in this wine. After experiencing this wine with food and friends, I’d buy it again no question, it was perfect choice at dinner with a range of dishes from steak to crisp battered cod with risotto. There is a clean and lively character flowing in this pretty ruby red Pietradolce, it is a solid performance and a very approachable Nerello Mascalese, which sometimes get favorably compared to Burgundy in its transparent flavors and the distinction of place.

Pietradolce is owned by Michele & Mario Faro and was founded in 2005 on the Northern slopes of Mount Etna and based in Solicchiata, Castiglione di Sicilia, in the province of Catania, all their wines are 100% estate grown and bottled with only the native grapes to Etna, which are bush vine, or head trained to reduce the need of irrigation in the volcanic sandy loams that also have abundance mineral elements. The Pietradolce Rosso, a single vineyard wine, is the winery’s entry level offering mostly from their younger vines, with a range 40 to 50 year vines, it’s 100% Nerello Mascalese that is grown at close to 2,000 feet above sea level. Mount Etna has a special micro-climate that is cooler than other areas in Sicily with big swings in day to night temps in the shadow of the volcano, which helps retain the vibrant acidity. This Etna Rosso, all hand harvested and macerated on the skins for about 20 days and fermented in tank before being raised in lightly toasted French oak Burgundy style barrels, which are mostly used, as this wine shows no overt oak influence. Mount Etna has become a mecca for enthusiast wine lovers and I highly recommend discovering this amazing winegrowing region, with this Pietradolce being a nice place to start!
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Filipa Pato, Baga “Dinamica” Bairrada Tinto, Portugal.
This dark purple/garnet and delicious Dinamica by Filipa Pato and her husband William Wouters is made from the local grape Baga, all from organic vineyard sites within the Bairrada DOC with some of the fruit coming from their biodynamic estate. Pato’s latest release of Dinamica Tinto is an exceptional value and satisfying red wine with a little earthy charm and spice showing blackberry, plum and currant fruits along with shaved cinnamon, white pepper, minty herbs and delicate mineral tones on its medium bodied palate. Filipa says her wines don’t wear any makeup, I agree, they are openly rustic and transparent with a feeling of place and they are lovely food wines, with this one being fabulous with a wide array of cuisine and can be enjoyed with a slight chill for warm days and evenings. The 2018 Dinamica unfolds in the glass and deepens significantly with air, with silken tannin and lively acidity highlighting the Atlantic Ocean influence, this wine just got better and more impressive with every sip. I’ve been a big fan of this winery for years, but in recent tastings these wines all have got even better, the Pato collection is full of tasty choices.

A deep affection and sense of pride for the traditional indigenous varietals of Bairrada, like Baga, led Filipa Pato to start her own label in 2001, and now she is considered one of Portugal’s best and authentic winemakers with a nod to the newer generation natural style with minimal additions and low sulfur. She works, according to her US importer Skurnik Wines, a total of 12 hectares of vineyards scattered in various plots throughout the Bairrada appellation and the wines show the terroir influences. This Dinamica is made from 100% Baga sourced primarily from Filipa and William’s estate vineyards in Ois do Bairro, as well as some grapes from other growers in Bairrada, grown on limestone-rich clay soils with everything being handpicked and carefully sorted for the utmost quality. In this wine, the grapes are fully de-stemmed and get a gentle maceration with fermentation and aging entirely in tank to preserve freshness and purity. This wine is an incredible value, as are most Portuguese wines, especially considering its is an estate made small producer wine, I recommend it very highly, plus be sure to check out Pato’s 3D Baga Bubbly and her gorgeous white wines, made from Bical and Arinto, too.
($15 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 G.D. Vajra, Langhe Rosso, Piedmonte, Italy.
After a week of splurges at home for wine, I needed to just enjoy an everyday wine and this Langhe Rosso by Giuseppe Vajra fit the bill and exceeded even my high expectations, it was a perfect Tuesday night red and wonderfully enjoyable with a light meal. For those that follow my website will have heard of Vajra, I’ve been a fan since Giuseppe’s 2008 Bricco delle Viole Barolo blew my mind, and now Vajra gets mentioned in some pretty elite company for his fantastic collection of Barolo crus, under his family’s G.D. Vajra label as well as the Luigi Baudana label, they are some of the most thrilling Nebbiolos available. That said, Vajra is not a one trick pony, and I love his alternative wines, especially his absolutely awesome dry Riesling, which I enjoy almost as much as his Barolo, as well as the Vajra Dolcetto, Barbera and the Kye Freisa. Vajra’s Langhe Rosso blend is primarily the classic varietals Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, and Barbera, but also has an interesting addition of Albarossa, Freisa and even a touch of Pinot Noir all of which makes for a unique Piedmonte red that shows silky tannins, tangy vibrant fruits including brandied cherries, plum, cranberry, grilled citrus (Moro orange) and tart red currant along with wild herbs, delicate rustic notes, floral elements, mineral and savory spices.

Giuseppe Vajra continues the traditions of his father Aldo, who was a big advocate for organic and holistic farming and promoted a sense of lightness in the wines always searching out vineyard sites thought to be too cold and too high up to ripen, but as history shows he was spot on and Vajra’s high elevation Barolo is one of the most prized wines in the world. The Vajra Rosso is mostly all stainless steel fermented with each lot and varietal done separately and blended before an early bottling to preserve fresh brightness, which this dark ruby/blue hued 2018 shows with lovely transparent clarity. This 2018 opens up nicely with air adding pipe tobacco, black tea, cola bean and dried rose petals, but the minty zesty tartness remains until the finish, in fact it is really nice with a bit of chill and with a picnic spread and or pasta dishes. The 2017 vintage was very warm and the wines are a bit bigger and fruit driven, with these 2018 shows a little more finesse and acidity, which shows through in this Langhe Rosso, it is wine to enjoy now and often, it has a hand crafted feel, but has no pretense, it is easy and delicious. For those looking for value with want this one, no question, but if you want to stay varietal pure, I highly recommend Vajra’s Dolcello, Barbera and Nebbiolo bottlings, there’s quality, value and grace throughout the lineup here.
($18 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Selbach-Oster, Riesling Spatlese, Zeltinger Schlossberg, Mosel Germany.
A beautiful and classic Mosel, the Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Schlossberg Spatlese is one of my favorite terroir driven wines, there’s just something special about this wine that sings a sirens song to me and I find that this 2018 a vintage of pure pleasure and a soulful expression of place with loads of character that can only come from the Blue Devonian slate and light loamy soil and the steep slopes of the Mosel. Johannes Selbach has created so many exciting wines in the recent vintages it’s hard to keep up, but this Schlossberg Spatlese should not be missed by Riesling fans, it is full of mineral tones and thrilling apple, apricot, passionfruit, quince and lime fruits along with smoky flint, wet stones, spearmint and sweet green melon. The residual sugar gives this Riesling a medium to full bodied mouth feel, a sense of creaminess, but with vivid detailing and precise control, its sweetness makes it gorgeous with spicy foods and is never cloying or dulling in anyway, the balance is impeccable. Selbach’s Zeltingen parcels in Himmelreich, Schlossberg and Sonnenuhr are all Grand Cru class with perfect exposure, old ungrafted vines and all hand tended, these are the prized plots in the portfolio, and adds to the complexity and concentration in the wines.

A man, ruled by love of family and traditions, Johannes Selbach has tremendous respect for his region and a deep passion to deliver wines of exceptional purity and wine that offer hedonistic joy in the glass, and his high must weight wines are some of the best in Germany and they never fail to seduce, especially the the Spatlese and Auslese offerings that have a profound sense of history and can be enjoyed with a wide range of cuisines, though they are sublime with Thai curries and chili crab dishes. Selbach uses a combination of stainless and German Fuder (oak) casks for fermentation and aging with the Zeltinger Schlossberg Spatlese getting the Mosel Fuder and a sponti (natural indigenous yeast) ferment before being raised on the lees for between 6 to 9 months. This 2018 vintage is lush and clean with refined form and a core of polished acidity that cuts the sweet impact, with air the Schlossberg reveals a saline element, light floral notes and the finish is lingering, but will only get better with time. This is a great early drinking vintage, best with food and while there’s a lot of buzz about the 2019s that are starting to show up, these should not be overlooked, in particular this vineyard, with this Spatlese and the Kabinett offering huge delights and value!
($29 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Laura Lorenzo – Daterra Viticultores, Portela do Vento, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia Spain.
In recent years Laura Lorenzo has emerged as one of stars of Spanish wines and I’ve been a fan since my first taste of her old vine Mencia based Lacima from her previous gig at Dominio do Bibei and her first release under her own label Daterra Viticultores, which have brought a world of interest and admiration to her region, in Spain’s remote and fascinating Ribeira Sacra. Following Laura’s efforts has left me, and many, in awe of her heroic and back breaking work in her steep and incredibly difficult sites, which look more like the Mosel than what most people think the vineyards look like in Spain, in fact it much harder to work the vines here as there is almost no roads and everything has to be hand carried in. Even more impressive, is Lorenzo’s 2018 vintage, a year of wet and cool conditions that put even more pressures on tending the grapes, and yet the wines are gorgeous and complex, like this Portela do Vento Tinto that delivers a wonderful array of flavors on the medium bodied palate including black cherry, cranberry, currant and fleshy plum fruits, delicate earth, mineral tones, anise, savory herbs and spiced cedar. The 2018 Portela do Vento, made from a field blend selection of mainly old vine Mencia, about 70%, along with small inter-planted amounts of Alicante Bouschet, Merenzao, Mouratón and Gran Negro grown on a mix of granite and sandy loam soils, which are all farmed by hand and to organic methods, in the Amandi and Val do Bibei sub zones. With everything going on in the world and the wine world right now, it is great to have wines like this available, it is an authentic wine made by a special producer with a passion for place and a commitment that brings a certain magic to the experience.

These Daterra Viticultores reds are unique terroir driven wines, they remind me in terms of quality and style to Cru Beaujolais, as done by Lapierre and maybe the northern Rhone, as many compare Ribeira Sacra Mencia to a lighter version of Crozes-Hermitage. Lorenzo, who interned at Eben Sadie’s Sadie Family Wines in South Africa, is focused on the vineyards first and foremost and makes her wines with natural methods and a gentle touch, her wines always are pure and transparent with lovely texture and vivid profiles. Being close to the Atlantic and enduring its influences, the Ribeira Sacra has been a historic growing region since Roman times at least, but due to the hard work involved and its remoteness it became a less known region until now as a new generation have brought the area into the wine world spotlight with the same excitement that Mount Etna is getting. In the cellar, Lorenzo uses indigenous yeast and spontaneous fermentation with partial whole cluster in a variety of vessels, in this case she used neutral French barrels and foudres without any additions or adjustments and then the Portela do Vento is raised in a combination of old cask and chestnut barrels as to not accent to wine with oak. The wines are fresh in detail, textural and great with food, they seem to benefit from short term aging, though I can’t seem to keep my hands off them, they exciting and delicious, I enjoy them with a little chill and with a range of cuisines. This dark ruby 2018 opens easily with a bit of whole bunch crunchiness adding floral notes, a slight carbonic impression and lingering tart crispness, making it a lovely Summer red. The vintage wasn’t easy and Laura had to make some hard choices which makes this bottle that much more a celebration and it is a pretty effort, like a Fleurie, that I find hard to resist and re-enforces my admiration of Lorenzo’s talent, be sure to search her wines out.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Anthill Farms Winery, Pinot Noir, Peters Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
The still youthfully tight 2016 Anthills Farms Peters Pinot has plenty to offer in structure, energy and whole bunch earthy crunchiness with layers of transparent red fruits and a touch of smoky toast that all of which reminds me of a powerful Nuits Saint Georges Burgundy, it is a wine that seems very age worthy, especially with its slow reveal of flavors and sense of depth. This Peters Pinot got lots of hang time, for the grapes, which translates to ripeness, but also that the vineyard retains natural acidity that heightens the experience. The main impression on the palate is a core of black cherry along with plum, strawberry, pomegranate as well as an interesting array of spices and delightful tanginess/savoriness. Anthill Farms got its start when Webster Marquez, Anthony Filiberti, and David Low crossed paths while working at Williams-Selyem, they kept in touch and a few years as cellar rats in California, Oregon, and Virginia they started the cult Pinot label Anthill Farms, focusing on mostly single site Pinots from cooler vineyards in California’s western Sonoma Coast as well as Mendocino, back in 2004. Filiberti has grown into one of California’s best winemakers and know also makes the wines at the famous Hirsch Vineyards and his work at Anthill Farms shows his talent with Pinot Noir much like his contemporaries Ross Cobb, Wells Guthrie and Jason Drew, over the last decade his wines have been some of the most prized and sought after in the state.

Anthill Farms have been making a Peters Vineyard Pinot Noir for many years and it is one of my favorites in the lineup, the vines are about 30 years old now and Randy Peters and his father-in-law, Tom Mukaida, farm this vineyard outside of Sebastopol in western Sonoma County. Peters supplies awesome grapes to Anthill Farms, as well as other notable wineries, including some to Papapietro Perry. The southern slopes of these hills form the northern edge of the Petaluma Gap, which rushes cool, marine air from the Pacific Ocean inland creating a dynamic warm-and-cool environment that creates wines of elegant bearing and tight precision. The vines at the Peters Vineyard are, as the winery notes, a mix of Pommard and 777, plus some Wadenswil (Swiss Clone) and 115 clone, set on a former Gravenstein apple orchard with Goldridge sandy loam soils. gravelly soils, producing grapes that ripen unusually slow due to the oft-present morning fog. A minimalist approach in the cellar and gentle handling of exceptional grapes are an Anthill Farms signature employing indigenous yeast and partial whole cluster fermentation(s) with aging in mostly used French oak, all to promote terroir clarity and Pinot purity, which this 2016 delivers in the glass, highlighting the gripping personality of the vintage and this Peters is developing into an absolutely gorgeous and complex wine. I hope to enjoy these Anthill ’16s again in 5 to 10 years, they are really coming into their own, especially this Peters and their Comptche Ridge, usually my most favorite of the collection.
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2016 Chateau Reynier, Bordeaux Supérieur, Grand Vin de Bordeaux Red, France.
The solid performing and value priced Chateau Reynier Bordeaux is made from 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot grown on the estate’s limestone and clay soils with asteria limestone subsoil that adds a classic flavor profile to this lighter style red that seems perfectly happy not trying to hard and would be a joyous and happy choice at your local bistro. This is never going to be anything other than a nice and easy Bordeaux to enjoy over the next few years, but sometimes a friendly Cabernet blend that is comforting is just what the mind and body call for, a wine that does require too much thought or attention. The 2016 vintage, very much a highly regarded year and much hyped proved perfect for these lower end offerings with ripe layers and a touch more charm than most years and this Reynier gives a good account of itself with black cherry, plum, mulberry and currant fruits, with the Merlot adding a smooth caressing mouth feel, while the Cabernet, somewhat muted here adds an impression of structure and enough tannin to hold up to hearty foods, along with a snap of floral notes, cedar and a hint of mineral. The Chateau Reynier opens a bit with air and some oak shows giving an impression of luxuriousness, this is not a loud wine or is it trying to hard, certainly you could do a lot worse than this when it comes to lower priced Bordeaux. My own opinion is that, most of time, you should be very selective and drink really good Bordeaux to really understand why it is such a great region, but for parties and no pretense drinking a wine like this is perfectly fine.

Chateau Reynier, owned by the famous Lurton family and run by winemaker Marc Lurton, was founded by his great grandfather in 1901, with his wife Agnes the estate is part of Vignobles Marc and Agnes Lurton, which also includes the Chateau de Bouchet, the property is nestled within the Bordeaux Superieur zone located on the hillsides of the Entre Deux Mers, in an area more known for white wines, about 10km south of St. Emilion. Lurton uses traditional and modern winemaking techniques in his old limestone caves, where he crafts his wines using stainless steel tanks to do maceration and fermentation, but after primary is finish he takes a unique turn with the Bordeaux Superieur being aged in a unique (for France and especially Bordeaux) in a combination of French and American oak barrels for about a year. The Wood, which is usually 50% new and 50% one time filled, is surprisingly subtle in this vintage though you can get the creaminess and sweet vanilla on the medium bodied palate. The Chateau Reynier is not going to impress the serious Bordeaux drinkers, but it was pleasing and a clean, I opened it as part of study in Bordeaux varietals originally, but it made for a nice pizza wine in the end and while I may not search another bottle out, I wouldn’t mind another glass or two if it was by the glass or on a limited wine list, if I was in a budget mood. Judging a wine by price and complexity, this wine does mostly what is promised, though I think there’s more bang for the buck elsewhere, especially a savvy Rhone red, that said I might get some of the Reynier Blanc.
($18 Est.) 87 Points, grapelive

2019 Weingut Donnhoff, Riesling Trocken, Nahe Germany.
The estate bottling of dry Riesling from Donnhoff, the basic wine that is anything but basic is a fabulous wine, especially delicious in this 2019 vintage, and it is sourced from some of the wineries best sites, including, mostly from Oberhauser Felsenberg set on volcanic soils, Kieselberg on pure slate and Klamm that has weathered porphyry and slate al of which adds to the style and complexity to this Riesling. The Donnhoff Estate Trocken is beautifully crafted with stunning mineral notes and a layered textural feel on the palate, this wine is like a Raveneau Chablis, with crystalline detail and vibrant acidity showing lemony citrus, apricot flesh, quince and green apple fruit along with spicy accents, wet stones, steely tones, white flowers as well as exotic dried ginger and delicate tropical elements. This vintage is the real deal and if this wine is this good, I can only imagine how great the the Cru bottlings from Cornelius Donnhoff will be, I am glad to have ordered a few as they look to be a legendary collection. The 2019 is surprisingly deep and it is almost profound in its impact, it grabs your attention and brings a big smile, it drinks wonderfully on its own, but certainly will provide good companionship with lots of food choices from smoked salmon, cured meats, oysters and lightly spiced Asian cuisine. As the Riesling renaissance continues to grow around the world with great stuff being made from Australia, Italy, New Zealand to the Finger Lakes as well as tasty versions from the west coast, the rise in quality in California especially is awesome, it is still good to look to Alsace, Austria and Germany for the benchmark which Donnhoff gives us.

Donnhoff’s quality is well known, but it is worth noting this estate is one of the wine world’s greatest treasures and their wines are some of the best in Europe, let alone Germany and this entry level Riesling Trocken is a stunning value and a great way to be introduced to Donnhoff, an early VDP estate, and the Nahe region. Donnhoff has a variety of incredible vineyards to work with and are full of individual nuances, character and distinction with a collection of ancient soils with the mentioned volcanic porphyry rock and intense slate as well as red sandstone, limestone and some loess loam. And while the middle Nahe is a warm area and quite arid, it does get its river influence, the climate allows Donnhoff to create a vast array of wines from their exceptional dry styles, that includes their fantastic GGs, to Eiswein, as well as classic selection of Kabinett, Spatlese and Auslese. The 2019 Trocken, that was fermented in a combination of stainless and large oak casks, delivers a crisp and exciting performance in the glass, it is a steal for the price, and it was a welcome relief from the news of the world, with fires devastating the California wine community, making a heartbreaking sense of loss and then there’s COVID adding fear and suffering, things are very unsettled, thankfully this Riesling transported me away for a few glorious moments. Donnhoff has made some of my favorite wines for a long time and these 2018s and 2019s take this famous winery to another level, I highly recommend stocking up! The Donnhoff lineup has something for everyone and the elegance and terroir purity of these wines is otherworldly, they never disappoint and always impress.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Bedrock Wine Company, Zinfandel “Old Vine” California.
Coming from some of California’s oldest and most historic vineyard sites the Bedrock Wine Company Old Vine Zinfandel always drinks with prestigious pleasure and deliciousness, as this 2018 vintage does in joyous detail with smooth and full bodied dark fruits, spice and floral tones. Morgan Twain-Peterson, who grew up around Zinfandel as the son of Joel Peterson, one of the most famous figures in California’s wine history that founded Ravenswood and brought Zinfandel to the masses and is still a major voice for the state grape, made his first wine as a young child and has become one of America’s great wine thinkers, he recently became a Master of Wine and has made Bedrock one of California’s top producers. In 2017 Twain-Peterson passed the fabled Master of Wine examination, becoming one of just forty-five MWs residing in the United States and according to the winery, one of only two California winemakers with that incredible qualification. Bedrock Wine Co. was started in 2007 with Morgan and his partner Chris Cottrell, a close friend from Twain-Peterson’s time in New York City when he was studying America History at Columbia University and thinking of getting a PhD, after he finished college at Vasser. Twain-Peterson and Cottrell has got a great team at Bedrock with rising stars Cody Rasmussen of Desire Lines Wine Co. and Luke Nio of Filomena Wine Company in the cellar and the wines are all rock stars, especial the Heritage lineup, led by the historic Bedrock Vineyard, originally founded back in 1854 and vines that date back to 1888 in Sonoma Valley and the Evangelho Vineyard in Contra Costa County, a recent purchase by Twain-Peterson that was planted on the delta sands in 1890s.

The 2018 vintage Old Vine Zinfandel, which shows the years wonderful depth and freshness, is a blend of 85% Zinfandel sourced from vines that are at least 80 years old and as Twain-Peterson notes, filled out with some Mataro (Mourvedre), Grenache, Alicante Bouschet, Carignan, Petite Sirah, as well as tiny amounts of the many other mostly rare black grape varieties that can be found in California’s older, multifarious vineyards. Many of Bedrock’s most venerable vineyards contribute to this wine, including Bedrock, Teldeschi, Esola, Pagani, Papera, Evangelho and Pato, plus fruit coming from other old vineyards throughout the California. This tasty stuff has layers of blackberries, plum, crushed raspberry, cherry and ripe currants along with touches of cinnamon, cedar, anise, lavender and a welcome burst of natural acidity. This dark purple/garnet hued Old Vine Zinfandel is polished and luxurious, but has touches of earth and savory elements that add complexity and is very well balanced, it gets better and better as it opens up in the glass and it goes great with everything from burgers to BBQ pork, as well as Tuesday night pizza or a picnic. The wines at Bedrock Wine Company, and this one, comes from small lots of grapes that were mostly de-stemmed and extra carefully sorted for quality with fermentation(s) that employ indigenous or native yeasts and classic winemaking techniques with the wines aging mostly in used French oak barrels. 2018 is a particularly outstanding vintage for this wine and it is absolutely fabulous now, no need to wait on this one, this winery is rocking it right now, these Zins are on par with the very best the state has to offer like Turley, Ridge, and Biale to name a few, drink up!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Joel et Sylvie Cirotte, Sancerre “Le Chene Marchand” Loire Valley, France.
The dense Sauvignon Blanc fruit and striking mineral detail highlights the Cru terroir that influences this well made Sancerre by vignerons Joel et Sylvie Cirotte, a small domaine that continues to turn out beautiful wines that punch above their price class. I tasted through a few of the Cirotte offerings, all of which delivered a fine performance, including their Sancerre Rouge Pinot Noir and the Le Grand Chemarin Blanc, but I was most impressed by this Le Chene Marchand with its expressive nature and structure that made it stand out. The Cirotte Le Chene Marchand Sancerre, which was aged 18 months in acacia barrels, shows a rich palate of gooseberry, lemon/lime and tart peach fruits, crushed oyster shells, light herbs, wet stones and a touch of hazelnut and leesy notes with delicate white flowers and a faint smoky element. The Le Chêne Marchand is a historic site set on a limestone rich piece of land with a gentle slope of south facing vines, most over 35 years old, it shows an elegant expression in the hands of the Cirotte’s and their version goes exceptionally well with a wide range of cuisine, though some nice fresh goat cheese really brings out the full personality here.

The estate, also known as Domaine La Croix Saint-Laurent dates back to the 1800s and is situated near Bue, Cher, with the Cirotte family owning it since 1932, in the heart of the Sancerre zone and has many parcels in the area’s most prized vineyards, including this Le Chene Marchand and the winery has about 10 hectares of plots with 65% Sauvignon Blanc and 35% Pinot Noir, with their the vines aged between 55-70 years old in most cases and which are farmed to organic standards. The vines yield small but high quality fruit that adds to the intensity and concentration in their wines, this absolutely shows in the current releases. The Sancerre(s) by Joel and Sylvie Cirotte come from the classic mostly terres blanches (calcareous clay & limestone) soils, with about 10% Silex and usually fermented in stainless steel with the Cru bottlings seeing the extended lees aging in the neutral acacia wood casks that allow texture and depth for serious impact and mouth feel without oaky flavors accenting the wine, these wines keep their freshness and transparent forms. This winery was new to me and I enjoyed each of the wines I tried and will certainly look for them when I’m thinking about Sancerre and Sauvignon Blanc, and I will keep an eye out for the basic cuvee that sells for about $20, it was the one I missed.
($40 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Inspiration Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Branley Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County.
The Branley Vineyard Pinot by Jon Phillips and winemaker Dylan Sheldon is a gem in the glass with luxurious layers of silky ripe fruit and a beautiful ruby garnet hue this is incredibly inviting stuff that highlights the sense of place and vintage exceptional well, showing black cherry, light toastiness, rose petals, sassafras and delicate spices. Located near Santa Rosa in a cooler zone, the Branley Vineyard first came into the limelight when Chris Donatiello made some tasty Chards from this site and the location and soils lends themselves to growing delicious Pinot Noir with a mix of Franciscan complex based soils with some alluvial material over weathered sandstones and ancient river bed gravels. The area sucks the cold air from the Pacific Ocean inland and gets a good dose of fog to retain fresh acidity and allow a deep set of flavors and texture, as this 2018 shows extremely well, appealing to those that enjoy the regions classics like Joseph Swan, Mary Edwards, Martinelli and Gary Farrell. The new labels at this winery are another big step up with a local tattoo artistic doing the design work, with this Inspiration Vineyards Branley Pinot label being one of the nicest in the lineup, they add a more polished look to go with the quality in the bottle.

This 2018 really excels with air and time adding a depth of flavor that is quite impressive with raspberry, plum and tangy currants joining the core cherry fruit along with cinnamon, herbal tea spices, a hint of sweet smokiness and vanilla as this Pinot unfolds in the mouth making it great with a range of foods from hard cheeses to blackened salmon. There’s a richness that is compelling, but a lively zest that provides a balance and an overall delicacy that excites the taste buds, the Branley Pinot was excellent in fact with my chicken Cesar salad wrap, as the heatwave has made it difficult to enjoy heavy foods, though I would love to have it with duck and or wild mushroom dishes, where this wine would really shine and due it more justice. This is one of the best releases from Inspiration Vineyards I’ve tried and the rise in quality and stylistic charm continues at this small label, the focus on value and food friendly offerings remains their mission, but the wines are showing more elegance, complexity and authentic transparency, especially these ‘18s. There’s a lot to admire here and it is a good way to enjoy #internationalpinotnoirday and it’s a good time to discover Inspiration Vineyards. As a long time fan of Dylan’s wines, which tend to be crafted with native yeasts and less oak presence, I am very happy with his influence on these new offerings, these small lot wines are tasty and deliver the promise of the vintage well, and don’t miss their Grenache either!
($39 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Clos Cibonne, Tibouren, Cuvée Spéciale des Vignettes, Côtes de Provence Rosé, Cru Classe, Provence, France.
As I’ve said many times, the Clos Cibonne Côtes de Provence Rosé is not only one of the most iconic Rosé wines, it is one of the world’s great wines, it is singular and distinct as any wines I’ve ever tasted showing the influence of the region, the varietal character of this ancient and rare grape (Tibouren) and the winery’s very unusual stylistic charm, it is a wine that marries the past and future to perfection. Clos Cibonne, owned by Bridget Roux and her husband, Claude Deforge, is only about 800 meters from the beautiful blue Mediterranean sea, set in a natural amphitheater that allows for wonderful ripening and with a unique constant air flow through the vines that keeps all the clusters wonderfully healthy. Like many Provence wineries, after Phylloxera, as planted mostly to Mourvedre as many historic grapes were almost forgotten, but Bridget’s grandfather André Roux, who ran the estate back from the 1930s to after WWII, was a great fan of Tibouren and believed it to be the ideal grape for the region and re-planted it on the estate, and the world is a better place for this courage and act of faith! Clos Cibonne soon became synonymous with Tibouren, which also led the A.O.C. to give special permission for the winery to list the grape on its labels. Tibouren, or Rossese di Dolceacqua as it is called in Italy, is mainly known as a red French variety that is primarily grown in Provence and in Liguria, on the Italian Riviera, but most likely originated in Greece. It is a pale red grape that deserves wider study, I hope we see more plantings in Provence as well in California, where I’m sure it could find a geeky niche!

Clos Cibonne’s Cuvée Spéciale des Vignettes Côtes de Provence Rosé, a reserve style bottling that is sourced only from the estate’s oldest vines, which is completely unique wine, the Tibouren, after harvest is fermented in stainless steel and then aged Sur Lie under fleurette (a thin veil of yeast “Flor” like is found in Sherry) in 100-year-old, 500L foudres, large oak casks which adds a touch of oxidation, as well as a textured mouth feel and stabilizes the wine allow it to age way beyond what a normal Rosé. Grown on schist soils from 60 plus year old vines at 50 meters above sea level the Clos Cibonne Cuvée Spéciale des Vignettes comes from a single parcel known as Le Pradet and farmed all organic. The orange/pinkish Cuvée Spéciale des Vignettes was aged in cask on the lees for a full year making the palate a rich array of flavors of complex fruit, both a touch dried as well as vibrant layers with a mature poise that excites the senses. This 2018 is a thrill ride, one of the best vintages I can remember adding some savory elements, delicately earthy with a touch of pecan oil and saline too that accents the core tangy cherry, grilled Moro orange, reduced strawberry, peach flesh and seeped currant along with wet rock, herbs and rosewater. This Cuvée Spéciale des Vignettes Côtes de Provence Rosé is dry, vinous and serious stuff that requires your full attention, rather than a frivolous Summer sipper, it is not only for thoughtful cuisine it is also a Rosé that can age remarkably well, even for a decade, you’ll want to plan a meal around this joyous stuff.
($35 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Agathe Bursin, Riesling, Zinnkoepflé Grand Cru, Vin d’Alsace, France.
This gorgeously crystalline Riesling is one of my favorites of the vintage from Alsace with Bursin really capturing the true essence of the place and year here with beautiful white flowers, tree picked apricots and wet stones leading the way on the fine medium bodied palate. With air in the glass this delicately pale Riesling adds some gripping acidity and mineral tones as well as hints of tropical fruit, zesty tangerine and some minty herb or tea notes. I have been following and a fan of this young vigneron for a few years now and I am really impressed with her wines, these Agathe Bursin offerings are a savvy collection of varietal bottlings with her Rieslings being exceptional stand outs like this beautiful Grand Cru Zinnkoepflé with its lithe and delicate nature hiding the depth and concentration somewhat at this stage making it even more compelling for a youthful expression. These wines are unique and terroir driven with Agathe’s cellars located in the commune of Westhalten, about fifteen kilometers to the south of Colmar, one of Alsace’s most historic towns, with three famous hills of calcareous soils, Zinnkoepflé, Strangenberg and Bollenberg, that form a crown around the village and where you find the best vineyard parcels. These ancient limestone soils, along with fossilized anemones and oyster shells as well as its special micro climate, which is almost as sunny and dry as the Mediterranean regions, because of rain shelter of the Vosges mountain range, creates one of Alsace’s most intriguing places, which includes this Zinnkoepflé Grand Cru site.

While expertly doing fabulous Riesling, Bursin is also very gifted with Gewurztraminer, Sylvaner, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Muscat and Pinot Noir, which she has a cult following for and like Deiss, she has become curious about doing field blends and inter plantings of varietals, for which I think is most like the future for Alsace. Bursin, a one woman show does only about 3,000 cases and the Grand Cru stuff, as with this wine is very limited and highly desirable. The 2018 Zinnkoepflé Grand Cru is in league with some of the region’s elite wineries including one of my all time favorites Domaine Weinbach as well as Zindt Hambrecht and Trimbach and reminds me of the re-emerging Albert Mann as well, this is excellent dry Riesling! Agathe works with a special self developed holistic approach in the vineyards with biodynamic practices and only hand tending from bud break to harvest, including her own herbal tea remedies, all of which promotes healthy energy within vines and soils in this arid and dry part of Alsace. In the cellar, Bursin is pretty traditional, but again is laser focused on purity and aromatics in her wines and almost no manipulations during her winemaking process preferring her cuvees, other than the Grand Cru’s, like this one, which see limited time in barrel, are fermented in stainless steel. So with the used oak this Zinnkoepflé Riesling is richer and rounder than her basic version, but still with purity of form and vibrancy. There’s loads of character and quality in this 2018 Zinnkoepflé Riesling that seems ever changing in the glass, in that same intriguing way a great Burgundy does, it is deliciously seductive and a wine to search out.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Weingut Korrell, Riesling Trocken, Nahe Germany.
The 2019 Nahe Riesling wines look to be legendary and this Korrell basic trocken is absolutely glorious and pure liquid summer in the bottle with spot on terroir and varietal character shinning through showing lime, green apple, white peach fruits along with hints of crystalized ginger, clove and chamomile as well as fantastic fresh mineral and wet stone. Korrell is a winery that should be on your Riesling radar, I’ve been following them since trying this wine from the 2016 vintage and each wine that followed got better and better. As I’ve mentioned in earlier reviews, Martin Korrell, the sixth generation of the Korrell family, is the talent behind this ambitious and innovative estate, he has a wonderful palate of diverse soils to work with here, not far from the likes of Donnhoff, Schlossgut Diel, Hexamer, Gut Hermannsberg, Kruger-Rumpf and Schäfer-Fröhlich. There is an array of soils and distinct parcels found at Korrell, with some volcanic influences, slate, quartz and gravel around the estate, plus Korrell has their prized single vineyard monopole Paradies cru vineyard which is set on mineral intense clay and fossilized limestone, that gives Korrell’s flagship Riesling a fantastic textural richness and depth that reminds me of some of the great Pfalz GG’s. While just a simple Riesling by label, on the palate it is nothing short of delicious with a impressive medium bodied sensation and stainless steel raised clarity, it compares well with much more expressive wines, on par with some classic names in the German elite. This wine has excited me to try the later releases of the single cru offerings from this region, they look likely to be something special.

This 2019 Trocken is generous, flirty and full of flavor, it goes a long way to checking off all the boxes in a great wine with zesty acidity, floral detail and a touch of leesy richness gaining depth as it warms slightly in the glass where it glistens with a lovely golden/yellow hue. This vintage is so good, you have to check the label to make sure you didn’t actually open the GG or Cru bottling, you’ll want to stock up on it, such is the sense of completeness and the insane value you get. I certainly, as I have said since my first taste of Korrell, recommend getting some of their (dry) Trocken Riesling, plus the awesome GGs (Grosses Gewachs – Grand Cru) like the Paradies and the very unique bottling called the Von Den Grossen Lagen, sourced from exceptional VPD Grand Cru sites, blended from serious names you’d know. I just also received Donnhoff’s estate Trocken from this 2019 and I am really looking forward to that too, this region is killing it right now and the winegrowers here are raising the bar with almost every new year bringing a wealth of fabulous choices. Martin and Britta’s Korrell Johanneshof Estate in Bad Kreuznach, which was founded by Martin’s ancestors that interesting enough came originally from Spain and settled here to farm in the Nahe River family, is farmed in sustainable methods to preserve the quality of the place for future generations. This Trocken that opens up with orange blossoms and stays racy fresh made for a great sipper with this California heatwave, adding a nice crisp saline note and great with a light selection of foods, but will be fantastic with a touch of spice and Asian cuisine.
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Chateau Thivin, Cote de Brouilly, Cru Beaujolais, France.
The Famille Geoffray’s famous old school Chateau Thivin is one of my favorite go to reds, its pure Gamay flavors and terroir driven structure make it a pleasurable, but serious wine and it is always a great value, especially in vintages like this 2018 which shows beautiful floral notes, texture and silky layers of dark fruits. Claude Geffray, now in charge, along with his son Claude-Edouard, at his family’s estate which was founded back in 1877 making it the oldest winery on Mont Brouilly, it continues to be a star of tradition in the region making honest wines that show Gamay in its most raw and pure form. Kermit Lynch, Thivin’s importer, discovered these wines and brought them to America, where almost no one had even heard of Gamay and mostly wanted Cabernet Sauvignon and made this and many other Cru Beaujolais very unlikely success stories, now Chateau Thivin has a special place in our wine drinking hearts and we relish the chance to pop corks on wines like this, which in some years rival Burgundies! Thivin’s Côte de Brouilly parcels are predominantly south-facing and are planted entirely with Gamay vines that average 50 years of age. The vineyards are surprisingly steep here, according to Kermit Lynch, the Geoffray’s work their parcels with organic methods, the soil is plowed and composted regularly while cover crops are left between some rows to encourage micro-biotic activity and absolutely no insecticides or pesticides are used. All this hand tending is done, as Lynch notes on a slope with a grade of 48% and a slippery crumbly surface of Cote de Brouilly’s unique blue volcanic rock comprised of plagioclase and biotite along with the classic granite.

The brilliantly dark garnet and ruby 2018 Chateau Thivin Cote de Brouilly is beautifully detailed with pretty violets, juicy plum, black cherry, strawberry and fresh vine picked wild berry fruits along with a delicate earthiness, mineral tones and an array of spice, herb and walnut in a supple medium bodied wine that highlights the vintage’s best qualities and charms. The winegrowing and winemaking is classic and natural at Chateau Thivin with all of the main plots being done in small separate vinifications with each lots getting special focus and hand crafted attention with 100% whole-cluster fermentation and gentle gravity flow of the must and wine throughout the process to showcase delicacy and individual nuances in the finished bottlings. The Geoffray’s use temperature controlled stainless cuves for primary fermentations, which last about two weeks and are semi to full carbonic and the wine is raised in large old oak foudres for just about six months to mature, but put into bottle with loads of vibrancy and youthful grip. This Cote de Brouilly is always a bit more muscular in style, more like Morgon’s Cote de Py in character, though still elegant and smooth in the mouth, it is that combination that makes this Thivin stand out and allows it to age beautifully with an exciting and lengthy window of fabulous drinking and it is always sublime with rustic cuisine, elevating even the simplest of meals. Thivin also does one of the most delectable Rosés in the region, and though very hard to get, Kermit Lynch usually has some and it is well worth searching out, plus their Bouilly Cru, which comes from plots on pink granite like Fleurie, is also lovely stuff, keep an eye for this producer, well known for being a savvy choice by Beaujolais junkies!
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2015 Elyse Winery, Zinfandel, Korte Ranch Vineyard, St. Helena, Napa Valley.
The Elyse Winery has been one of my favorites for Zin and Cab for almost 25 years and I still remember an early morning visit there, when the original owners Nancy and Ray Coursen politely took me in at their Hoffman Lane home and winery well before a normal opening hour, because I was driving home to Monterey, then proceeded to open close to 15 bottles and pouring exceptionally large pours! Elyse goes back to the 1980s when Ray Coursen started the winery/brand in 1987 with a tiny lot of Zinfandel from the Morisoli Vineyard, a wine I always was especially fond of and still am, that vineyard has made some fantastic wines over the years from Whitehall Lane Reserve (where Ray got is first head winemaker job) to Karl Lawrence, a cult label that was remarkably affordable. So with all this on my mind, I found this 2015 Korte Ranch Zinfandel from St. Helena, another bottling I have enjoyed over the years following this winery and this recent release didn’t disappoint with all the flavors and character I remembered with layers of black raspberry, dark plum, kirsch, guava flesh, floral notes along with hints of spices, like cinnamon and delicate vanilla leading the way on the medium/full palate that presents itself with the vintage’s warm/ripe round textures. The new team at Elyse, owner Josh Peeples and one of Napa’s hottest winemakers Russell Bevan, who’s own label is one of the most prized and sought after in California, have taken Elyse to new levels of quality while retaining the winery’s personality.

The Korte Ranch is a pre-prohibition vineyard set on valley floor rocky loams sitting between Turley’s estate, Dockhorn, Hourglass and Ehlers in the St. Helena zone in the northern part of the Napa with vines over 70 years old. This spot gets the valley’s warm and cool night time temperatures that refresh’s the vines and allows for ripe dark flavors and good balance with this vintage coming in at 14.6% in a warm year, somewhat less than some higher profile versions of Zinfandel, even though that is very lush and full flavored in the glass. The winemaking is pretty luxurious at Elyse with plenty of French oak and hand crafted techniques employed here with exceptional attention to detail and careful sorting and picking of the grapes. The winery notes that each block from their vineyards require a specific picking time in the field and a different treatment of barrels in the cellar. This includes special selections from bold heavy-toast Darnajou barrels to aromatic medium-toast Taransaud barrels, we select a deliberate combination to maximize each vineyard’s expression in bottle, and while present in this wine, the oak is not aggressive here giving a few markers like a soft feel, sweet toast and a touch of mocha. Peeples has really put Elyse a stellar team together here, with the mentioned Bevan, along with Ben Parodi, who worked for Venge and Reed Skupny, who spend time at one of my favorite Loire producers, Bernard Baudry, all accomplished and talented people that are putting out some tasty wines, like this impressive dark garnet hued Korte Ranch Zinfandel.
($45 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Big Basin Vineyards, Rosé, Central Coast, California.
Bradley Brown’s Big Basin Vineyards based in the remote Santa Cruz Mountains is known mostly for their critically acclaimed estate Rattlesnake Rock Syrah, an iconic and profound wine, as well as a hand crafted collection of Rhone style bottlings, but in recent years their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines have really impressed and gained traction, especially Brown’s whole cluster driven Alfaro Family Vineyard and his elegant and Burgundy like Coastview Chardonnay. That all said, I am really into the Big Basin Vineyards dry Rosé, which is blend of Rhone grapes, with this vintage including 47% Grenache Noir, 32% Carignane, 13% Syrah and 8% Mourvedre sourced from vineyards in Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara (Gilroy area) and Santa Cruz Mountains, hence the California designation on the label. The 2019 is vivid and beautifully pale in color, but full of flavor and striking for its flinty and stony quality, almost mineral smoky with racy fruits and snappy spices with delicate florals as well, making it very refreshing and serious stuff that expands with air to reveal grapefruit zest, tangerine, sour cherry, stone fruit or melon flesh, strawberry and rosewater, adding crushed rock, saline and wild herbs. This wine is fast becoming a favorite and has entered the must have for Summer zone along with some of the state’s best pinks done in the classic Cotes de Provence mode, its clean and bright, but a wine of substance to relish over a meal.

The Big Basin Rosé is Grenache dominant and shows it with a openly round and generous palate that unfolds purposely and slowly in the mouth, eventually evolving into a very full and complex pink wine, similar to stylish Provence offerings and great with seasonal cuisine and sea food, especially steamed mussels and or BBQed oysters. The Grenache, which makes up most of the final blend and as Brown notes, was picked specifically for this purpose, to make a Rosé, so was picked earlier with lower sugars and vibrant natural citrusy acidity and whole cluster pressed along with the old vine Carignan from Wirz Vineyard then cold fermented like a while white with the Syrah and Mourvedre being blended in later for color, depth and structure. Interestingly, the indigenous fermentation for this wine, as Bradly adds, was very long and slow and only completed a couple of weeks prior to bottling, which shows in the slight cloudy haze and sediment in the finished, unfined and unfiltered wine. The prior releases have just got better and better with age, when the lees give texture and depth, contrary to how most people think, this 2019 has another year or more to develop, just like the 2018 which is drinking fabulous right now. So need to rush it, though I would get it now, while its available, plus for those that like the gripping intensity of youth will want to drink it sooner v. later. I, myself will get a few more bottles, mostly to enjoy in the short term, but I may try to have restraint and put a bottle or two away for another 6 months to see what rewards come.
($27 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

n.v. R. Pouillon & Fils, Cuvee de Reserve Brut Champagne, France.
The beautiful and creamy moussed Reserve Brut by Champagne R. Pouillon & Fils is a luxurious comforting bubbly to celebrate life and smile through these stressful times, it is wines like this that keeps attitudes adjusted and fears in check allowing relaxed smiles as well as moments of tranquility and gratitude to shine through. The recent disgorgement, from the winter of 2017, of R. Pouillon Reserve Brut is a blend of 60% of wine from the 2015 vintage and 40% of a Reserve base from a solar tank that dates back to the ’90s which gives the Champagne a sense of complexity from the maturity of the older wines, but a fresh feel and with the richness of the year showing making for a sparkler that offers an array of flavors and depth including opulent baked apple, lemon and golden fig fruits along with hazelnut, brioche and mineral tones as well as a burst of acidity and that lavish and elegant mousse of creamy though lively small bubbles. The Pouillon family’s holdings, as the winery highlights, are in Aÿ, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ and Avenay Val d’Or in the Grande Vallée, Epernay and Festigny along the Marne River, and Tauxières-Mutry, just to the north in the Montagne de Reims, with the majority of the vines being Pinot Noir, along with small parcels of Chardonnay and Meunier.

This inviting Cuvee de Reserve Champagne was crafted using 65% Pinot Noir, 15% Chardonnay and 20% Meunier with the grapes grown in the Vallée de la Marne and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ area, part of Champagne with a stellar reputation for quality, especially Pinot Noir, which gives these wines their wonderful structure. According to Pouillon’s importer Schatzi Wines, the Pouillon family has been growing grapes in the region for over a century, but it wasn’t until 1947 when Fabrice’s grandfather, Roger Pouillon, decided to produce wine from his holdings along with the help of his wife, Bernedette, and his uncle, Louis Baulant, a well-known winemaker and consultant in the region, with Fabrice Puillon now leading the family’s small estate and cellars. Fabrice has converted this grower producer house to organic farming and tightened up the cellars with all gravity flows and special enameled fermenters, he ages his base wines in a combination of stainless steel and mostly older or neutral oak including large demi-muids as well as small barriques with everything allowed to go through malo-lactic fermentation which adds to the regal mouth feel. As the grapes are picked with loads of vibrancy the wines retain high-toned aromatics, natural acidity and energy, as this Reserve Brut shows, making its balance impeccable and a solid grower fizz offering to enjoy over the next 5 to 10 years.
($60 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Domaine Xavier Gerard, Condrieu “L’Arbuel” Northern Rhone, France.
This long time Cote-Rotie and Condrieu estate was just plugging along with a solid lineup of offerings, but the transition to the younger generation has turned this little known Domaine into a real super star on the rise with the talented and hard working Xavier Gerard now running his family’s vineyards and cellar, I can attest to a dramatic upturn in quality here after tasting vintages 2013 to 2016 with his 2015 Cote-Rotie and the set of Condrieu bottlings, like this gorgeous cuvee L’Arbuel are all stunners! This tiny estate has focused on their main holdings in the mentioned Cote-Rotie and Condrieu plus a little parcel in Saint-Joseph to great effect and Xavier is proving exceptionally gifted in hand crafting the wines, bringing passion and energy to the cellar, while continuing to employ traditional and organic methods. I wrote about his Cote-Rotie, which reminds me of classic Rostaing La Landonne and the other cru Condrieu, the La Cote Chatillon, which is a spectacular and dense version, but I somehow missed posting my impressions of the most delicate and mineral driven cuvee L’Arbuel, which comes mostly from the highly regarded family parcel at Marmouzin, but also blended with a new parcel of in the Corbery lieu-dit that sits higher up on the granite slopes that give this bottling its cooler personality. The L’Abuel is sublimely balanced and while nicely fleshy and textural it has plenty of zip and natural acidity that really lifts this 100% Viognier to the next level.

Beautifully detailed and showing the absolute best character of the region and of Viognier grapes, the 2016 L’Abrbuel Condrieu delivers a stunning performance in the glass, reminding me of some of the modern classics, including Yves Cuilleron and Christine Vernay’s Domaine Georges Vernay, it gives layers of stone fruit and seductive aromatics that put it among the world’s best versions of this varietal. The wine evolves nicely with air revealing a honeysuckle perfume, fresh citrus and creamy apricot and tangy white peach as well as hints of spice and verbena making for a highly desirable white wine to enjoy with langoustine (small lobster) or spot prawns and or simple goat cheese filled ravioli pasta. The Xavier Gerard Condrieu(s) are made in separate lots with intense selections of the Viognier clusters and individual berries which are all seeing a natural or native yeast fermentation in cuve (small vats) afterwhich the wine spends close to one year in a mix of mainly used 500L and 225L barrels before final blending and bottling, again great care is given to each lot with these Viognier showing pure terroir influences and expressions. There’s a lot to admire in this wine and the whole collection of Xavier’s latest releases, I can’t wait to explore the 2017 and 2018 vintages that should be coming out soon, but the 2015 and 2016s are majestic wines that should not be missed with this Condrieu L’Arbuel being one of the top values, no question for the quality in the bottle.
($50 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2017 Envinate, Táganan Parcela Margalagua, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.
The Envinate Táganan Parcela Margalagua is one of the most unique and rare bottlings in the Canary Islands and this 2017 is beautifully delicate, layered and full of intrigue with volcanic influences, mineral tones, subtly exotic fruits and racy spices made from 100 year old all organic vines on the island of Tenerife in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa. This Táganan Parcela Margalagua is crafted using natural methods and consists of many local varietals, but is seemingly dominated by Listan Negro, one of the Mission grapes brought here in the 1500s, as well as having rarities like Vijariego, Malvasia Negra, Baboso, Negramoll and a few others that are largely unknown. According to the winery, led by winemaker Roberto Santana, along with Laura Ramos, Jose Martínez and Alfonso Torrente, the Táganan vineyard, with its name coming from the Guanche word the native Canary language meaning slope. It is also the name of the northwestern part of Tenerife where the vines grow wild and low on cliffs of pure volcanic rock just above the Atlantic Ocean that provides the life and freshness in the wines. The distinct Parcela Margalagua “mother of water” is a single parcel sitting up at about between 100-250 meters of elevation, adds to the intensity of flavors here with flavors that include brandied cherries, briar laced raspberry, tangy strawberry and cranberry fruits as well as touch of smoky shale, earthy leather, crushed rock, dried cayenne pepper and light floral notes. This wine has the wine geeky presence of a top Jura wine with its pale color and low natural alcohol. The Canary Islands were a stop on the way to the new world for the Spanish explorers and Missionaries, who first brought vines here, allowing them to replenish supplies and these islands have long been a treat for winter travelers that wish warmth and rustic old world charms.

The classic field blend Envinate Táganan Parcela Margalagua gives a glimpse into Tenerife’s agrarian past, according to Santana, the old original vineyards on Tenerife were historically inter-planted with many different grape varieties and planted on their own roots as Roberto adds, was typical of the phylloxera-free remote Canary Islands. This side of Tenerife experiences a fairly temperate climate, enabling grapes to ripen at moderate alcohol levels, as mentioned, while retaining bright acidity, which this wine highlights perfectly. The grapes, which are back-breakingly farmed as the those low clinging vines require deep knee bends, they need to be very low to the ground to keep from having the winds beat up the canopy and are hand-harvested, sometimes having mules haul the grapes down the hill. The Táganan Parcela Margalagua’s grapes are all co-fermented using 100% whole cluster with wild or naive yeasts, and as importer Jose Pastor explains, in older open-top 500L French oak barrels with a gentle maceration and pilage. The wine then was aged in well seasoned French barrels for just under one year imparting no oak accents, allowing the full terroir to show through and the Táganan Parcela Margalagua was bottled with ultra low sulfur and unfined and unfiltered. I have followed Roberto Santana’s career from his time at Suertes de Marquis, where he made his first splash in the wine world with his Canary Island wines, which were largely unheard of until he basically put them on the map to now with his Envinate he’s made them a real go to wine for enthusiasts! This Táganan Parcela Margalagua opens up nicely becoming supple, in a Pinot like expression, and adds hints of pomegranate, savory and salty notes, plus a touch of guava flesh making it a lovely medium bodied wine that goes great with lighter food choices, its tasty stuff indeed.
($52 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Dr. Loosen, Riesling Kabinett, Ürziger Würzgarten, Mosel Germany.
Absolutely one of the most obvious terroir wines in the world and a classic German wine, the Dr. Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett is nearly perfect in every way and this vintage, especially is everything Ernest Loosen desires in his wines, it is luscious, complex, and true to its roots. At about 9% alcohol, this Urziger Wurzgarten Kabinett is lovely and flavorful with pretty aromas of tree picked peach, ginger, seeped rose petals and smoky flint before more racy elements come through on the creamy and zesty palate, the residual sugar playing more of a textural role rather than outright sweetness adding feel and length exquisitely with layers of green apple, candied lime, mango and dried pineapple along with wet shale and tangy kumquat, gaining a traditional exotic and spicy edge that this site is known for with time in the glass. The “Spice Garden” is as Dr. Loosen notes, a blazing red, with a vain of iron rich volcanic soils over weathered slate and insanely steep, the Ürziger Würzgarten Cru vineyard sits the picturesque amphitheater formed by this dramatic bend in the river, forming a natural sun basket that helps ripen the Riesling grapes and gives these wines their signature profile, with some of Dr. Loosen’s oldest vines clinging to this famous hillside. Ürziger Würzgarten’s wines are completely unique, complex and lavishly tropical by nature and Loosen’s example is compelling and tasty, going great with spicy dishes with some heat and super with grilled prawns and chili crab!

The weingut Dr. Loosen has been in the same family for over 200 years and with mostly ungrafted old vines that average around 50 years old, in some of the best sites in Mosel, giving Ernst Loosen an awesome selection of grapes to work with. Loosen always seems to produce stunningly intense, world-class wines that not only show terroir, but also a sense of purity wrapped in a luxurious package. With crop yields, according to the winery, almost half of what is permitted by law, only moderate use of organic fertilizers, and old-fashioned cellar practices these wines deliver exceptional quality, quite remarkable for such a large company, showing its commitment and respect for its core mission. The 2018 Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett saw a cool fermentation in a combination of stainless steel tanks and traditional Fuder oak casks with fermentation stopped by chilling to keep from having it go all the way dry, making it fruity and zippy with acidity with grapes all being picked by hand and carefully sorted to be sure no noble rot has infected the clusters to keep this one a more vibrant Riesling. The vines for this one average well over 60 years old and set on that smoky red slate and red volcanic sandstone, this more than anything make this wine what it is and I highly recommend this vintage, it is an awesome version and a sublime Summer wine.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Sadie Family Wines, Tinta Barroca “Treinspoor” Old Vine Series, Swartland, South Africa.
Every single time I have a Eben Sadie wine I am left monumentally and profoundly moved by them, they are are some of the world’s most amazing efforts, especially these old vine bottlings like this gorgeous, dark and textural Tinta Barroca Treinspoor and his Rhone style blend Columella, which is without a doubt one of my top 10 wines I’ve ever had! This Treinspoor old bush vine Tinta Barocca is deep in complexities and inky in color with a fresh intensity on the palate with concord, black currant, plum and kirsch leading the way before the whole bunch array of spices, floral tones, dried herbs come out along with crushed stones, pomegranate and tart strawberries. With air this wine continues to impress and have a serious impact adding savory and earthy notes and a seductive texture, this is absolutely addictive stuff, it is totally unique in taste and style, sitting somewhere between an old school Burgundy with its silken form and nice acidity and a Corbieres (as this grape reminds me of old vine Carignan), with its country like raw appeal, authentic nature, with sage/lavender and a touch of game, plus a sense of remoteness. Tinta Barroca is a Portuguese varietal that is now primarily found in the Douro region, especially in the cooler sections of this River Valley on the northern facing hillsides as it has delicate skins and it is a common blending grape in Port wines where it adds color, acidity and complexity. The 2018 Sadie Tinta Barroca is joyously fresh and vibrant in the glass and gets more intriguing with every sip, but is also wonderfully comfortable, not a diva, this wine is not flashy or sexed up, but it delivers much more than promised, enjoy it with simple cuisine and friends. I will buy more of this wine, no question, plus Sadie’s Cinsault and Chenin based offerings too, which are some of his best values.

Winemaker Eben Sadie’s Treinspoor 100% Tinta Barroca, a grape that he loves mostly for blending, is sourced from a vineyard planted in 1974 on decomposed granite and Swartland’s table mountain sandstone, on the western side of the Malmesbury zone. According to the winery, this vineyard is located next to the old railway line (treinspoor) and was named accordingly and simply in this case. The area is fairly warm, causing a bit of concern as the thin skin of Tinta Barocca is prone to sunburn, but Sadie and team have been confident enough to express this grape solo because the old bush vines have formed a great framework to keep the bunches sheltered from the intense South African sun. The deep inky color and zesty acidity of Tinta Barroca have made it a favorite component, as mentioned, in Sadie’s blends for a long while now. While best as a blender, this wine proves, as the vines reach a certain maturity it has all the qualities and expressiveness too be a single varietal bottling. Sadie believes that Tinta Barocca captures the Swartland region in its purist form (like Mencia in the Ribeira Sacra? maybe.), high praise indeed for a grape that is almost unheard off to most of the world, he adds that it seems to need much more time to really show its best and that he suggests some cellaring will benefit those that have patience. I wouldn’t know about that sadly as I couldn’t keep my hands off it! The Teinspoor was crafted using whole-cluster fermentation and it was naturally fermented with minimal intervention, as is the way with all of Sadie’s wines a noted natural style winemaker. After maceration and primary fermentation the Tinta Barroca is pressed into concrete along with older oak casks and was aged for about 12 months. If you’ve not heard of Sadie Family, you need to change that and South African wines are suffering from a COVID related and ignorant government lock down a export ban, so it is a great time to support our friends there and buy their wines.
($55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Maison M.Chapoutier, La Ciboise, Costières de Nîmes, Rhone Valley, France.
The Chapoutier La Ciboise Costières de Nîmes Rouge is one of the world’s best values in red wine, made from a classic Rhone blend of mostly Grenache along with some Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Carignan sourced from this little known part of the Rhone valley in the Gard set on hardened clay, limestone and schist soils called Gress which has been producing quality wines since Roman times. These vines are littered with small pebbles deposited by the Rhône river during the Quaternary Period and are well drained, the vines go deep to get moisture and refreshment making them work hard and pushes concentration of flavors, which Chapoutier’s La Ciboise showing an intense inky purple/black color and impressive density, this 2017 is a pleasure filled full bodied vintage and expressive with layers of pure blackberry, boysenberry, dark currant and juicy plum fruits along with an array of spices, warm earthiness, crushed lavender, sweet violet floral tones and melted black licorice. This 2017, from a warm year has loads of character and stuffing, it shows just how delicious these Costières de Nîmes can be and this La Ciboise is pretty awesome stuff, it should drink for another few years, it would be a fun wine to stock up on, especially when you can find it for under $10!

Nîmes is a historic Roman town and world unesco heritage site with some of Europe’s greatest still in use Roman ruins including its famous double-tiered circa-70 A.D. amphitheater still used for concerts and interestingly bullfights, which were common in this area of France until modern times, in fact this part of France almost had the feel of America’s old west too with the French version of cowboys. Positioned well between Avignon, Marseille and Montpellier, Nîmes is part of the Rhone Valley wine region, but much less regarded than areas like Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas and Rasteau, though a great place to get bargains, like this savvy Chapoutier made wine. Nîmes is also very close to Tavel, the Rhone’s only AOC that is totally devoted to Rosé, so there plenty around here to enjoy and it is easy to drink well on the cheap. The Chapoutier La Ciboise is from machine harvested grapes and each varietal is fermented separately then blended later to taste with the wine aged only in cement tanks and only for a few months before bottling, it is intended to be an easy and fresh Cotes du Rhone or Cotes du Ventoux style wine to pop in its youth, its dark and lush flavors make it great with country fare and simple but robust cuisine. I could drink this stuff almost everyday, it makes for a sublime Tuesday night pizza wine.
($10-15 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2016 Cameron Winery, Nebbiolo, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The 2016 Cameron Nebbiolo is truly a gorgeous wine and can easily be considered an American Barolo with its pure varietal character and profile, this vintage is just stunning and shows that this grape can be just as majestic in the Willamette Valley as it is in the Langhe! The Cameron Dundee Hills Nebbiolo shows a deep garnet color with just a hint of classic brickish magenta on the edges and the wine displays an earthy element along with pretty floral notes on the nose before revealing exceptional layers of traditional dark berries, plum, brandied cherries and black fig fruits along with blood orange, anise, dried lavender and a light cedrary spiciness. There’s so much to love here, the supple tannins and velvety mouth feel, but with structured at its core this wine gets better and better as it opens in the glass, filling out completely and becoming seamless and gaining depth with every sip, making for an exquisite Nebbiolo experience. The Cameron Nebbiolo shines in this vintage and the warmer site here allows riper flavors to come through and a lovely sense of richness, while still having the energy, leathery-earthiness and natural acidity the grape is known for, and interesting enough the alcohol is somewhat lower than warm year Barolo(s) that are coming in at 14.5% and higher, at 13% this wine delivers a fine balance and is fantastic with rustic cuisine.

The Cameron Nebbiolo is sourced from the winery’s Clos Electrique cru vineyard in the Dundee Hills, set on the Jory (volcanic) soils, famous for winemaker John Paul’s Pinot Noirs, which are some of Oregon’s greatest wines. This estate vineyard consists of, according to the winery, approximately 3 acres of Pinot Noir, 2 acres of Chardonnay, half an acre of Italian white grape varieties, including Friulano and 1 acre of Nebbiolo, that was first planted back in 1994. Cameron’s John Paul, who is a huge Italian wine geek and Barolo enthusiast, believed that Nebbiolo could thrive here as it was on a similar parallel and that hazelnut trees do well in both Piedmont and in the Willamette Valley, in fact Paul cleared an ex-hazelnut orchard to plant his two clones of Nebbiolo. Very early on it was clear he was right and that Nebbiolo could be a huge success, and this 2016 rises to a level of greatness. Cameron uses non irrigated vines that are farmed all organically which adds to the wine’s concentration and traditional old world winemaking techniques in the cellar with this Nebbiolo seeing extended elevage having adopted, as Paul notes, the long aging regimen typical of Barolo and Barbaresco to be more evolved and mature on release. The Cameron or Cameroni Italian inspired wines are outstanding, especially this Nebbiolo, plus their series of whites, like the Friuli style blend and the Pinot Bianco and the Ramato, skin contact Pinot Gris.
($37 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2019 Arnot-Roberts, Rosé of Touriga Nacional, California.
Another one of the world’s most interesting Rosés, the Arnot-Roberts Rosé of Touriga Nacional is one of California’s most sought after pink wines and joins Bedrock’s Ode to Lulu, Skylark’s Pink Belly, Bonny Doon’s Vin Gris (especially the reserve), Ian Brand’s P’Tit Paysan Pierre’s Pirouette, Ryme Cellars’ Aglianico Rosé and Martha Stoumen’s Nero d’Avola Rosado as must have Summer treats! Rosé is in full swing now and the warm August weather makes these wines exceptionally timely and refreshing, but these wines are serious too, in particular this one by Arnot-Roberts with its cool and textured profile and bone dry subtle fruit, it is a wine that develops in glass glass and goes wonderfully well with a variety of cuisine options. I really love this Arnot-Roberts Rosé of Touriga Nacional after it gets some air and a touch of warmth as it unfolds its fruit and spicy elements, it displays a mineral driven character along with layers of sour cherry, plum water, seeped rose petals, a touch of peach flesh or melon as well as subtle strawberry along with a streak of citrus, saline, wet stone and dried herb. This vintage is surprisingly round and supple, almost creamy at first before finding its form and adding some steely/racy vitality, this stuff keeps you guessing and while cooly poised as a crisp sipper, it deserves to matched with a meal, whether a brunch menu or steamed mussels, and it makes for a great companion at the beach. Duncan (Arnot) Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts, of Arnot-Roberts, who grew up together in the Napa Valley are now one of the modern stars in California, known for their impressive lineup of site driven wines from their awesome Trout Gulch Chardonnay to their ultra geeky cool Trousseau! As well as a fine selection of Syrah, Cabernet and Pinots that are very limited production gems.

The Arnot-Roberts Rosé is has a vivid pink and pale salmon hue which sets of an instant smile and gets the saliva glands going plus the aromas of tangy fruit, flowers and crushed rock add to the compelling nature of this Rosé that was crafted from a blend of about 80% Touriga Nacional and 20% Tinta Cao, both rare red varietals in California from Portugal, where they are commonly found in the Douro Valley, the Dao region and or Port wines. These intriguing Portuguese varieties are sourced from mostly the Luchsinger Vineyard in Kelseyville, the long time source for this wine with the Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cao grown at over 1,300 feet elevation above Clear Lake, in Lake County, set on volcanic rocky soils, as well as a bit coming from the St. Amant Vineyard in Amador County with granite soils. The grapes, which are farmed using organic methods, were picked to be exclusively Rosé and this wine is a non saignee made wine and comes in at just 11.3% natural alcohol, which is again notable, because instead of being sharp and simple, this wine has a real presence on the palate and a depth that belies its total sum. This vintage is not as electric or thrilling as earlier versions, but the restraint and depth make for an impressive performance and it grows on you making you wish you had another chilled bottle handy! This Arnot-Roberts Rosé of Touriga Nacional was fermented with native yeasts, after a short cold soak on the skins and then aged in stainless steel to preserve fresh details, all with hand crafted and precise winemaking by the talented Duncan Meyers and Nathan Roberts. I have been enjoying these wines, especially this one since about 2012 or there about and never miss a chance to get a bottle or two each years with their Trousseau, as noted above, and the North Coast Syrah also being favorites, as well as the mentioned Trout Gulch Chard, I recommend keeping an eye out for them.
($28 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Ridge Vineyards, Carignane, Buchignani Ranch, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County.
This beautifully inviting Ridge Carignane is inky purple and starts out almost giving the impression of young Rioja with the kiss of toasty American oak, but quickly evolves in the glass to a flavor profile that is more in line with Ridge’s Zins and delivers loads of dark berry fruit, racy herbs, light floral notes and a kick of spices. One of my secret favorites in Ridge’s awesome lineup of wines is their dark fruited and medium full bodied Buchignani Ranch Carignane, which unlike most of their bottlings is a single varietal wine instead of a field style mix of grapes, so I was thrilled to find it available on the website, as usually this one is a tasting room or wine club only offering, which in past I would have to almost literally beg for! 2018’s long and cooler growing season, as well as Buchignani Ranch’s location, made this wine exceptionally well balanced and full of life, but with a stunning depth of flavor, showcasing this grape in its best form. Carignan or Carignane is a grape mostly found in the south of France with serious plantings in the Languedoc’s Corbieres as well as being one of Rhone grapes found in Chateauneuf du Pape as well as being a minor player in Gigondas too, along with have a home in Spain from the Priorat to Rioja, plus the Italian island of Sardinia. It has been in new world a long time, probably longer than most other noble French varietals and Zinfandel, Carignane grows well here in Sonoma County, especially in Dry Creek and Alexander Valley, as well as Mendocino where most solo efforts seem to come from, as well as seeing a newer set of planting in Paso Robles, thanks to selected clones being brought over by Tablas Creek and the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel.This 100% old vine and hillside grown Carignane gets better and better with air and time and is an outstanding vintage with density, graciously smooth tannins and lively acidity, a highlight of this grape’s character that allows the wine to feel balanced and spotlights the wine’s distinct detailing.

This 2018 version clearly excels in the glass, as dark as Petite Syrah and with the vintage’s freshness it really is delicious adding blackberry, plum, tangy currant as well as anise, lilacs, a hint of mission fig, cedar and a touch of earthiness that really appeals as this Carignane opens up, gaining a welcome textural richness and supple quality, I wish I bought more bottles! Ridge notes that Stan Buchignani’s ranch is located on Dutcher Creek Road, in the hills on the far western edge of the Alexander Valley appellation, very close to the border with Dry Creek. Stan’s grandfather, Dominico Cerruti, first planted a five acre block way back in 1927, then his father, Dino, added another seven acres in the 1940s, with last of the property planted, early 1950s, making for some seriously old vines all in their prime. The vineyard’s climate bears a strong resemblance to that of upper Dry Creek Valley three miles to the south, where days are quite warm. Fog, which tends to hang low in the valley, burns off sooner in the hills. Carignane from the Buchignani Ranch is complex, its fine structure much like that of a field-blend zinfandel. In keeping with Ridge’s Zins and Rhone varietals the Buchignani Ranch Carignane was de-stemmed and fermented with native yeasts and aged in used American oak that saw a long air dried seasoning that prevents the wood from being overt and limits the accenting flavors allowing texture and purity of fruit to shine while still having a kiss of toast and a rich profile. In this wine most of the barrels used were at least three times filled with just 10% being one time used and the Carignane was aged ten months before a gentile filtering before bottling. Ridge uses a minimal dose of sulfur during the winemaking process so the wine feels fresh and expressive, but without the worries of funk or off flavors developing. This Buchignani Ranch Carignane is absolutely the joyous comfort wine I was looking for and it is awesome with an array of cuisines, it is really worth every effort to get it!
($34 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Cruse Wine Company, Sparkling Valdiguie, Deming Vineyard, Napa Valley.
The latest Sparkling Valdiguié Pétillant Naturel by Michael Cruse is a delicious and quaffable bubbly, similar to last years in style with fresh red peach, strawberry, seeped violets, candied watermelon and a tangy blueberry/cranberry note along with a creamy vibrant mousse, adding a touch of leesy brioche and a touch of mineral all flowing on the palate. Cruse, who is making some of California’s best sparkling wines is certainly gifted with Pet-Nats, and I am in particular fond of this one, it really is a pure California treat, it is a lovely Summer bubbly. Michael Cruse’s sparkling wines are joyous stuff rom his super rare and luxurious Methode Champenoise Ultramarine to these Pet-Nats that offer fun drinking pleasures at a tasty price. The Rosé like pinkish/orange hued Sparkling Valdiguie makes for a nice celebration in these weird times, I opened it to celebrate my Arsenal winning the FA Cup and just to smile on a Saturday night.

Cruse sourced the grapes for his Sparkling Valdiguié Pet-Nat comes from the Deming Vineyard in Napa Valley’s northern warmer end in the town of Calistoga on loamy, deep soils, that Cruse says, allows this 60+ year old bush trained vineyard to be both organic and dry-farmed, which adds to the intensity of concentration and shows this varietal in its best light. Cruse continues noting that his Valdiguié was whole cluster pressed using the same slow steady cycle as for his traditional method sparkling wines. The wine was then fermented a small stainless steel tank with a touch of skin contact to achieve that light pink tint, finishing at about 11.5% natural alcohol, which is a touch riper and drier than the 2018 version. Towards the end of the fermentation the wine was bottled, stored, and then riddled, and disgorged for clarity, with Michael adding that there was zero additions made here, no yeast, no sugar, or sulfur added, it is pure, fermented, grape juice, and that is exactly what you taste in this delightful bubbly.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Waxwing Wine Cellars, Pinot Noir, Lester Family Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
This new 2018 Waxwing Lester Pinot is really filling out nicely and drinking fabulously well with very crisp details forming here showing beautiful layers of black cherry, raspberry, dried cranberry and plum fruits along with a touch of sweet toasty oak, spices, mineral and orange tea. This wine has lots of personality and gains complexity in the glass as it unfolds with each sip adding some mocha and sassafras, delicate floral tones, an element of wild herb and a faint touch of tangy garden strawberries, this might be one of my favorite of Scott Sisemore’s wines to date. Sisemore, the UC Davis grad, has almost 25 years in the business and has blossomed as a winemaker after starting his own Waxwing Wine Cellars back in 2006 or so and his 2017 vintage and especially these 2018s have taken his wines to the next level, these are an exciting set of releases that show the best of the year and show off the terroir of each place exceptionally well, especially in this Corralitos Pinot Noir. The Waxwing Pinots are made with hand crafted care and with gentle techniques to express the grapes more nuanced flavors and Sisemore typically uses about 25% to 40% new oak depending on the year’s concentration. This electric ruby colored Pinot is impressive and highlights this regions quality and it goes great with fresh cuisine, I though enjoyed it with lightly smoked salmon and speck, that Alto Adige specialty cured ham that his smoked with applewood.

The Lester Family Vineyard, farmed by the hugely talented Purdy Foxx, just over the hill from Richard Alfaro’s estate about mile or so from the tiny tiny hamlet of Corralitos, it is a classic cold-climate location, very close to the Monterey Bay’s cold ocean water, with sandy, loamy soils that are well drained and bring out a deep sense of fruit. The sandy soils, as Sisemore notes, are a result of the region’s origin as an ancient sea bottom and formed by the geological activity associated with the San Andreas Fault pushing up that seabed, with that movement forming successive marine terraces, in fact that is how the Santa Cruz Mountains were originally formed. The vineyard’s cold climate, as mentioned, is due to that heavy marine influence, plus it lies at about 600ft elevation with good exposure, Lester is only 2-3 miles from the Pacific so it gets plenty of fog during the summer which are pretty warm here, so this refreshes the vines nicely. Scott says the fog can bring challenges in reaching full ripeness in colder years, but in great vintages like 2018 the marine influences makes for slow and even grape development that makes cool-climate Pinots so compelling as this one certainly is. The new Waxwings are worth your attention with Scott’s Deerheart Vineyard Pinot, this Lester Pinot and his selection of Syrahs all delivering great performances, I suggest checking out this micro winery based in Belmont, just south of San Francisco, the mailing list here has a real fun set of offerings all of which are limited bottlings.
($48 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive.com Reviews – July 2020

2017 Desparada, Picpoul Blanc “Electra” Luna Matta Vineyard, Paso Robles.
Vailia From’s Desparada wines in Paso Robles’ Tin City is a must visit for those searching out interesting wines that are hand crafted with an artists touch and come from the heart and her Electra Picpoul is a wild and imaginative interpretation of this grape. Maybe a one off the 2017 is far an away different than the classic Picpoul de Pinet of France’s Languedoc and even the California versions made by Tablas Creek and Randall Grahm’s Bonny Doon in that the Desparada Picpoul is richly textured and almost full bodied with luxurious mouth feel and at this stage showing off mature baked peach, apricot and melon fruits, rather than the zippy lime and mineral tones. Picpoul Blanc, also a Chateauneuf du Pape varietal, is a grape that seems well suited to California and easily capable of making for a great wine and with climate change looks set to play a role in the state’s white wines of the future, so it’s exciting to see how many different ways it can be done with Vailia’s experimental version being of an interest. This supple and lush 2017, maybe I should have opened it a year ago, feels beautifully round and while the acidity has faded it still has loads of life and goes nicely with soft cheeses and grilled shrimps, it opens with hints of marmalade, dried pineapple, gingery spices, reminding me a little of an aged white Bordeaux.

Just one barrel made, of this Desparada Picpoul Blanc Electra and Vailia From aged it in a neutral French oak Bel Air cask on the lees to achieve the mouth feel and depth you find in this unique wine. This exploration, I have to say is pretty successful overall and I hope we see lots more Picpoul and by many more producers that are willing to be creative. In more recent vintages, Vailia has turned to Sauvignon Blanc for her alternative white wine program and she’s turning out some thrilling stuff, her use of amphora has added another level to her wines as well. Desparada’s main lineup features Bordeaux and Italian influenced reds with her Sackcloth & Ashes Bordeaux Blend being Vailia’s star wine, it is crafted using (in the current release) 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petit Verdot, 23% Cabernet Franc and 8% Malbec sourced from sites ranging from Paso to Santa Ynez. The packaging and label at Desparada are exquisite and gorgeous, something of which I rarely mention, but it has to be noted when they are this beautiful and the wines just as good. The Electra Picpoul Blanc from Luna Matta Vineyard, a limestone based site in west Paso Robles that supplies From with her Italian varietals, but I hope she gets more of this grape in the coming years. I had forgot I had this bottle tucked away, it turned out to be a pleasant find in the stash, I am now motivated to check out some of Vailia’s new stuff, especially her Chenin Blanc(s), which she didn’t have when I visited last time.
($38 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2016 Clos Saint Jean, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
The 2016 vintage in Chateauneuf du Pape is going to be remembered as a legendary year and the wines are stunning, especially the cuvee normal bottling from Domaine Clos Saint Jean, which is not only a fantastic wine, but a stellar value with deep flavors and density giving intense drinking pleasure. The wines at Clos Saint Jean always present themselves on the palate with impressive mouth feel and concentration with this one very much continuing this style and delivering a profound Chateauneuf experience. This fantastic Clos Saint Jean is full bodied and distinctly layered with black raspberry, boysenberry, juicy red plum, cherry and pomegranate fruits along with an array of accenting elements including delicate earthy tones, snappy black licorice, creme de cassis, mocha, pepper and a lingering chalky/stony note. With air things get even better and robust food adds further enjoyment allowing more details to shine through with beautiful florals and the tannin tames into the background with opulent grace. The estate vines at Clos Saint Jean are located primarily in the Le Crau zone, a plateau that widely believed to be the most iconic terroir of Châteauneuf-du-Pape with its iron-rich red clays topped with those magnificent river stones. I am a big fan of these Clos Saint Jean wines and while I love the more subtle vintages, this is impossible to resist and makes me want more, every sip brings a new smile.

Clos Saint Jean is a family estate founded in 1900 by Edmund Tacussel, whio In 1910 started bottling the estate’s wines with the name Clos Saint Jean, with the property now run by the Maurel brothers, Pascal and Vincent along with famed oenologist Philippe Gambie that has been a consultant here since 2003. Vincent Maurel’s Clos Saint Jean Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge is made with mostly Grenache, but with small amounts of Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault, plus in some vintages there can be a tiny bit of Vaccarèse and Muscardin too, all grown in this classic terroir. The vines are set on clay and limestone with the famous galets (the round stones that litter the vines, sourced from plots in and around the famous (as mentioned) Le Crau cru, which famously provides the fruit for Vieux Telegraphe. All grapes are de-stemmed before fermentation and the maceration usually goes for about month to extract allow the regions character and ferment to total dryness. The Grenache for this Chateauneuf is aged in only concrete vats for 12 months, while the remainder is aged in used demi-muids of French oak. The Grenache at Clos Saint Jean is treated with kid gloves and with holy respect, sustainable in the vines and ultra gently handling in the cellar to capture every nuance and this 2016 shows it in its best possible light making for a giving, hedonistic and transparent wine.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2016 Bodegas Mas Alta, Artigas Tinto, Priorat D.O.Q, Catalonia, Spain.
The luxurious and dense Mas Alta Artigas is a pure Priorat wine with dark ripe fruit from tiny yielding all organic vines set on a mix of schist, clay and limestone soils on steep rocky slopes, this wine is lush and modern with clean and well defined details. This wine is a well crafted effort from vines that range from 15 to 90 years old, these plots are also at between 250 to 450 meters above sea level which aids in retaining acidity and helping the overall balance here. The Bodegas Mas Alta is located in the village of La Vilella Alta, in the Priorat zone, is owned by Michel & Christine Vanhoutte, a couple from Belgium that fell in love with this region, and with a cellar led by three elite enologists Michel Tardieu, Philippe Cambie, one of France’s top consultants famous for his efforts in Chateauneuf du Pape and Bixente Oçafraim. The Artigas Tinto cuvée at Mas Alta has the highest percentage of Garnatxa at about 70% in their lineup, but also has small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and old-vine Carinyena (Carignan) that was aged in French oak for 16 months with about one third of the barrels being new that smooths out this powerful wine and adds a sexy sweet toastiness.

This vintage of Mas Alta Artigas was all hand harvested, with the grapes being partially de-stemmed, employing a natural yeast fermentation in concrete, with a 30 day maceration to extract all of the character of the wines. The 2016 shows rich blackberry, plum, boysenberry coulis and sweet cherry fruits along with hints of smoke, minty herbs, licorice, vanilla and creme de cassis. As mentioned this terroir is mostly very stony with a majority of the vines planted on dark schist, known locally as llicorella, with a few parcels also on clay-limestone soils all of which adds to the depth of complexity in the Mas Alta wines. I have had the Mas Alta Black Slate many many times, but this was my first time trying the Artigas and it turns out to be a real crowd pleaser with its inky purple color in the glass its very inviting and the smooth tannins, but the powerful full bodied feel grabs your attention. This is a textured and structured Priorat that certainly thrills those that enjoy the bolder style and lavish fruit, it is especially good with hard cheeses and brisket, its intense dark flavors go great with smoky and savory meat dishes. Of all the intriguing Spanish offers I’ve tried this week, this one got the best response from the majority of tasters, in fact this bottle lasted just a few minutes, it is easy to understand its appeal.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2006 Bodega R. Lopez de Heredia, Rioja, Vina Tondonia Reserva, Haro, Spain.
One of the world’s great wines and a traditional classic producer, Lopez de Heredia’s Vina Tondonia Reserva is always a special treat and this 2006 is absolutely delicious and drinking wonderfully right now with supple texture and incredible length, its mature layers reward the palate with its graceful fruit and seamless complexity. Made from about 75% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacho (Grenache/Garnacha), along with small amounts of Graciano and Mazuelo all from Lopez de Heredia’s own prime vineyards. These Vina Tondonia’s see almost 6 years of barrel aging with two rankings per year and gentle egg whites fining for clarification with a special selection of American oak being used in the under ground and cool cellars. One of the Rioja regions visionaries, Don Rafael López de Heredia y Landeta planted the Viña Tondonia between 1913 and 1914, believing Rioja Alta was the best area for quality grapes at the time and very clearly this was proven out and Vina Tondonia has become one of Spain’s most famous vineyards. Vina Tondonia, set near the Ebro River, has a continental warm climate, but with cooling influences from the higher elevation which allows sublime grape ripening and fantastic aging potential, as these Lopez de Heredia wines show. The soil here is alluvial clay with a high proportion of limestone, again proving perfect elements for great wines and terroir character.

In a week of focusing on Spain, this wine was certainly a treasured highlight with its gorgeous mouth feel and First Growth Bordeaux like depth, this is a brilliant effort to be enjoyed over the next 5 to 10 years, if you could wait. The 2006 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva starts with fabulous mature flavors of a perfectly aged wine with the unfolding of dried berries, floral tones, sweet toasty oak and delicate spices before the a sharper picture emerges with black raspberry, cherry, currant and plum fruits along with touches of vanilla, candied orange peel, coconut, tobacco leaf, cedar and subtle anise. This classic and poised Rioja is a hugely satisfying wine that just gets better and better with every sip adding hints of mocha, chalky stone and earthy elements, this was a majestic experience in the glass and one I hope to repeat. There is a lot to love coming from Lopez de Heredia, along with this gorgeous Vina Tondonia Reserva, there is a stellar lineup of Riojas to chose from and one should never miss the chance to try these wines, the reds are of course the most sought after, but the whites are also outstanding and some of the most unique offerings in the old world and their aged Rosé or Rosado is also a not to miss bottling. I have been a long time fan of these Lopez de Heredia wines and I still marvel at the quality and value here, like this Vina Tondonia 2006, which could easily sell for twice the price and be a bargain, I highly recommend exploring the latest releases.
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2019 Ameztoi, Rubentis Rosé, Getariako Txakolina, Spain.
My Summer has definitely taken a Spanish turn and I’m perfectly okay with that, especially when sipping on the fresh and zippy Ameztoi Rubentis Rosé from the Basque region not far from San Sebastian, which is one of the world’s most unique and exciting pink wines and one of my favorites along with Clos Cibonne and of course Domaine Tempier, these are wines that really capture the season in the glass. This vintage is ultra zesty and refreshing with a pop of spritz and tart layers of red citrus, strawberry, distilled raspberry essence, wet stone, saline and delicate floral tones all in an incredible light and steely form that begs to be quaffed. The iconic Rubentis Getariako Txakolina Rosé, as noted in my prior reviews, was the region’s first pink wine, made from native grapes, both red and white, it is naturally fermented in refrigerated stainless steel tanks utilizing indigenous yeasts from the vineyard. The tanks are closed to preserve natural carbonation from fermentation, which is the preferred style of Getaria. The fermentation tanks, according to importer De Maison Selections, are kept chilled to near 32 degrees Fahrenheit before bottling, which preserves the wine’s delicate, effervescent character and signature electric (spritzy) mousse. Ameztoi does a fantastic lineup of Txakolina wines, White, Red, this thrilling Rosé and a true and seriously rare Champagne style cork finished Rosé as well, all are must try wines from this remote Atlantic influenced region. This Ameztoi Rubentis Rosé is a hyper addictive wine that I will glad push on anyone that is in search of the dry pink high.

The beautifully lacy and mineral fresh Ameztoi Rosé is crafted from local those Basque grapes, as noted above, and is a blend of 50% Hondarribi Beltza (red) and 50% Hondarribi Zuri (white) grown on limestone and sand with mostly old vine fruit with some of these vines dating back to 1918. This famed estate still uses some grapes from their special plot that was planted in 1840, this amazing old vine parcel has been lovingly preserved by the Ameztoi family, this pre-Phylloxera block is one of the oldest set of vines in all of Europe! The Getariako Txakolina region is on the Bay of Biscay and is a cool zone in the basque area of Northwest Spain within sight of San Sebastian, the food mecca just South of the French border. Ignacio Ameztoi, of Ameztoi, is the fifth generation of his family to carry on the tradition of making Txakolina in the province of Getaria, on a unique stretch of land that extends out into the bay, and he has played a key role in the advancement of the region in the last decade, cleaning up the wines and promoting a lighter and fresher style wine to great effect. This 2019 is one of the best to date from Ameztoi and it is awesome for beach drinking, fabulous with almost any food choices, I enjoyed its cool and low alcohol presence with lightly smoked mussels, in a nice break from the stresses of the world, I highly recommend you try it. This is a wine, as I’ve said before, that proves a wine doesn’t have to be heavy or dense to have a serious impact on the palate, and it delivers a wonderful performance that leaves you always wanting more.
($22 Est.) 93 Pointsgrapelive

2018 Alberto Nanclares, Albariño, Rias Baixas, Galicia Spain.
The Nanclares y Prieto Alberto Nanclares Albariño, their flagship bottling, is not only a great Albariño, but one of the best white wines in Europe, certainly one of my favorite wines with its bright fruit intensity, sea saltiness and beautiful mineral details it is every bit as delicious as premier cru Chablis and or top Sancerre! This 2018 shows racy acidity and a touch of leesy textural elegance with layers of tangy peach, green apple and brisk lime fruits, wet stones, citrus blossoms, spearmint and the mentioned sea shore note. This is one of the world’s classic terroir wines and its steely form and tart dryness makes it refreshing and wonderful with briny dishes, especially sardines, mackerel and oysters, it is a wine of the and for the Ocean. Alberto Nanclares, an ex economist, began a second career and life back in 992, when he and his wife moved near the ocean, leaving their native Basque Country and settling just a few miles rom the most historic village for Albariño wines, Cambados in the Val do Salnés zone of Rias Baixas. Nanclares’ site had an old vineyard and while he was not interested in making wine at first, he quickly caught the bug and has become one of Spain’s most prized producers, recently joined by the youthful talents of Silvia Prieto, who has helped lift this winery to even higher quality and has added an enthusiastic and creative focus to the mix, she has added a series of Mencia wines to the lineup as well. The Galicia region has been on an exciting roll, re-claiming its ancient glories and this winery absolutely confirms its place as one of the stars of the wine world, these are wines to discover and cherish.

This brilliant vintage of Albariño from Nanclares y Prieto has a vivid life force and clarity that makes it outstanding, it shines with a sense of place that is as transparent as the finest of old world wines can be, its Atlantic influence showing along with the sand, granite and clay soils. Alberto, after many years of learning the land and winemaking took over making his own wines in 2007 and turned to 100% organic and biodynamic methods, all of which mad a huge difference and elevated his wines to world class stuff. Farmed in the ancient pergola training, the vines are tended with endless care to avoid mildew and Nanclares even harvests seaweed to use as natural composting adding to the local cycle of life. In the cellar, very little is done other than to gently guide the wines safely to bottle with the wines seeing native yeast, parcel by parcel, for primary fermentations and almost no malo-lactic ever being done on the Albariños. The 2018 vintage was pressed whole cluster into two 2000L steel vats and five used 450-500L French oak barrels and naturally fermented and saw an extended period of lees aging, about 9 months, again with zero malos and low sulphur with no fining or filtering. This white wine is ultra tasty and profound on the zesty just about medium bodied palate making it a treat with cuisine, I enjoyed it with grilled local caught salmon and mixed greens, but I can imagine it with a wide range of things, as noted above, plus mussels and picnic foods too. The attention to detail and serious focus on quality here add to the enjoyment in this authentic and hand crafted, iconic Rias Baixas Albariño!
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 G.D. Vajra, Barbera d’Alba Superiore, DOCG, Piedmonte, Italy.
The jet black and purple hued Vajra Barbera d’Alba Superiore is a full bodied and luxurious wine with ultra supple tannin and creamy length that highlight the warmth of the vintage in 2017 and making for an exotic version of this wine with crushed blackberries, sweet plum, fig and black cherry pie filling fruits coming through on the smooth and gracious palate. At first big and fruit forward, this 2017 adds some depth and savory tones once the air kicks in and after 20 minutes in gains wonderful complexity and completes the transition into a much more serious and balanced wine with hints of mineral, anise, crushed violets and a mix of spice and herbs all putting in appearances and the acidity emerges to brighten things up, this change in the glass make this beautiful wine even more compelling. Vajra taking what nature gave, masterfully guided this Barbera to bottle and spotlighted the best features of the year, the terroir and the grape, again proving they are one of the best wineries in the region. The sites Vajra uses for their Barbera Superiore, 100% Barbera, are at higher elevation, set on marl and sand and late ripening with as the winery note have very thick skins which require extra time on the vine to fully develop their character.

The Vajra’s Barbera d’Alba Superiore, an outstanding example, comes from old vines, some dating back to 1949, with low yielding estate vineyards from Bricco
delle Viole, a great Barolo Cru and Bricco Bertone providing the grapes. Made from carefully sorted and 100% de-stemmed grapes that was fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel vats with a rather long 30 to 40 days maceration, then this Barbera d’Alba DOC Superiore saw up to two years in large Slavonian oak casks. prior to release, plus, Vajra rests it a few more months in bottle to make sure the wine is fully integrated at release. This is an opulent edition of this wine and it deserves center piece attention at the table with extra care to get the best out of it, which should include some hearty country style cuisine, it is well suited for lamb, grilled meats and or sausages. This 2017 took awhile to get going, but once fully awake it delivered a fine performance with a range of dark flavors and delicate earthy notes with just a touch of cedary wood influence. There is so much to admire in Vajra’s collection, especially with their gorgeous Barolo offerings, it sometimes is easy to overlook their Barbera and Dolcetto bottlings, but they should not be missed, neither should you ever pass up the chance to have their Riesling, one of the best in Italy and their Freisa, a rare red Piedmonte grape that is absolutely delicious.
($32 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2017 Drew Family Cellars, Pinot Noir, Valenti Ranch, Mendocino Ridge.
Jason Drew’s run as one of the state’s greatest winemakers continues with his latest set of wines and his Pinot collection, including this Valenti Ranch, are absolutely gorgeous wines. The warm year proved a challenge in some ways and the wines tended to be more overt at first glance and taste though this Valenti is really coming into its own at this stage proving the talent of Drew and it performed brilliantly last night with layers of black raspberry, plum, tangy currant that wrap nicely around its dark cherry fruit core that is lifted by earthy and spicy elements with dried herbs, truffle, orange tea, crushed flowers and subtle wood toast accents. This 2017 vintage of the Drew Valenti Ranch Pinot Noir, according to its winemaker, includes Dijon 667, 828, Pommard and the newer grafting section of Rochioli clone. Situated just six miles from the Pacific Ocean on an east facing ridge at between 1,200 to 1,350 feet above sea level, the Valenti Ranch is located along the Greenwood Ridge and the vineyard lies in both the Mendocino Ridge and Anderson Valley AVA’s, but produces the distinctive ultra cool climate profile from the Mendocino Ridge. The constant maritime winds coupled with thin marginal Ornbaun Series soils of oceanic sedimentary origins, which Drew says lends itself to naturally lower yields and gives the wines their character, concentration and depth with vibrant energy coming from the refreshing acidity. This translates, as Jason adds, into greater intensity at lower sugar levels, with natural alcohols well under 14% and balanced structures. Drew have been working with this vineyard for 13 years now, and he took over the farming lease in 2013, making it almost an extension of his estate and he continues to farm Valenti with organic methods. This place lends itself to smaller berry size and naturally lower yields, again making these wines so sensational and of fantastic quality. This silken dark ruby and garnet Pinot gains and changes dramatically in the glass, I recommend allowing it to fully open and make sure it has simple and fresh cuisine to match it, wild mushroom dishes and grilled salmon are solid pairings here.

Jason Drew, who along with his wife Molly started Drew Family Cellars in 2000, has years of experience with cool climate sites and as he puts it honed his skills in vineyard farming and winemaking, having studied in both the northern and southern hemispheres, in Agroecology, Viticulture achieving his Graduate Degree in Enology from the University of Adelaide, in Australia. His attention to detail and work ethic has seen him work for and with some industry icons and wineries in California including at St. Supery alongside Kirk Grace as well as at Joseph Phelps with Craig Williams, at Luna with John Kongsgaard, at Carmenet with Jeff Baker, along with one of my all time favorites Corison with Cathy Corison and at Babcock Vineyards with Brian Babcock, which makes a total of more than 28 years in the business. With this 2017 vintage, which saw an unwelcome heat spike around Labor Day has been decidedly different, more lush and luxuriously rich when I fist tasted a few and a touch awkward to evaluate, but the wine look like they have really turned the corner and revealing their true nature and potential, especially this Valenti Ranch Pinot, which is delivering all the complexity and depth you’d expect from one of the best wineries in California. Jason used 100% native yeasts and about 10% whole cluster in the fermentation, finishing at a cool 13.2% natural alcohol, a bit less whole bunches than per normal, but still every bit as expressive, and he aged this 2017 in about 25% new French oak with the balance seeing elevage in well seasoned neutral barriques. Drew gently handled this one, as he does with all his Pinots and just did two gravity rackings during the wine’s 11 months in barrel. As mentioned, maybe a million times in the last few years, these Drew wines are some of the greatest being made in California, they are in an elite league, in fact I would put these Pinots up against the best of Burgundy and the Syrahs against the classics of the Northern Rhone, with this Valenti Pinot reminding me a lot of Morey Saint Denis in the Cote de Nuits, its evolution in depth and texture the glass is outstandingly impressive!
($50 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2019 Drive Wines, Rosé of Zinfandel, Comstock Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Valley.
I recently was turned on to the Drive Wines and reviewed their latest Zinfandel, which was very tasty and I was looking forward to popping the cork on this Rosé, that turned out to be an even better experience than I had imagined, it is a fine California dry pink wine that delivers an elegant crisp and mineral fresh Summer wine. The Drive Rosé made from 100% Zinfandel is sourced from the Comstock Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley and was made in the vineyard to be Rosé with care picking and sorting to allow quality flavors to emerge without the higher sugars you’d get with a saignee or bleeding off juice from later picked grapes that would go into a normal red wine. This approach paid off here in the cooly refreshing delicately pale 2019 Drive Comstock Rosé of Zinfandel with its zippy and tangy profile, it shows racy citrus, bay leaf, drier spiced raspberry, sour cherry, lavender and tart mintiness. A bit awkward at first, everything gets better and better as it finds its groove and gets some air, I also will note it really is sensitive to temperature and shouldn’t be served too cold as this Drive Rosé gains complexity and texture in the glass and it ultimately becomes a wonderfully quaffable and rewarding wine.

Drive Wines began as a passion home winemaking venture with a first batch of Zinfandel made in the back of a vintage car garage which led to the creation of this label by partners John Musto, in charge of winemaking and Tom Young, who handles the day to day vineyard and winery operations. Musto, a huge race racing fan and wine enthusiast, works full time for the famous Ridge Vineyards, so he’s got Zinfandel flowing through his veins these days and he is also studying at Santa Rosa Junior College in their winemaking program. The Drive Wines label pays tribute to their love for vintage racing cars and the red Zin has a strip of subtlety drawn bricks at the bottom, which are a reference to the famous “Brickyard” (Indy 500) home of America’s most famous and historic race track. These new releases, the winery’s second set, are fun and delicious wines and this micro label will be interesting to follow in the coming vintages. As a die hard racing fan, I feel a connection to these guys and their pursuit of success, I also know it is not easy to make a quality (dry) Rosé from Zinfandel (that’s why most are sweeter in style) and theirs is really good, you should have seen how fast the bottle went empty!
($25 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine du Château de Grand Pré, Fleurie “Cuvee Spaciale” Cru Beaujolais, France.
Run by Christine, Claude and Romain Zordan, the Domaine du Chateau de Grand Pre in Fleurie was totally new to me and I really enjoyed their classically styled and smooth Fleurie Cuvee Spaciale with the Spaceman on the label, its a beautifully textured and fruit forward wine on the lighter side showing the regions delicate and elegant side. After a bit of studying I came up with some details about the estate, which has been certified organic since 2009 and has many old vine parcels within the main Crus and most are over 60 years old. Domaine Château de Grand Pré makes Fleurie, like this one, plus Morgon and Brouilly Grand Crus, as well as a basic Beaujolais. Romain, who is the vigneron here is a big advocate of Jules Chauvet, the historic local natural wine figure and chemist who’s influence is widely felt in the Beaujolais area, he was the godfather of re-birth of the region’s quality and you can see this adherence to these principles in the Château de Grand Pré wines, with the style being similar to Sunier, Lapierre, Dutraive and Thevenet. The dark and ruby colored Fleurie is impressive in the glass with its florals and its silky but bright brambly fruits make for a delicious Summer red.

The grapes at Château de Grand Pré are all hand-tended and picked with only carefully ripe whole bunches being used, then the wine undergoes a semi-carbonic maceration for 15-20 days at very low temperatures. Zordan allows the natural fermentation to occur without any interference, in fact no remonatge or pigeage takes place during the process in the cellar. Once fermentation is complete, in the case of the Cuvee Spaciale, as noted, a low temperature vinification and maceration with wild yeast in a spherical vat with no sulphur added, the Fleurie was then matured for about 8 months in large used 600L barrels. The finished wine was bottled based on biodynamic and lunar cycles and gently handled throughout to preserve purity and freshness. This 100% Gamay comes from 60 to 70 year old vines planted on sandy soils, with a granitic core with some of the pink veins of iron rich subsoil(s) helping to give this wine its terroir flavors and character. The 2018 Château de Grand Pré Cuvee Spaciale flows across the palate with racy raspberry, plum, bright cherry and cranberry fruits along with snappy herbs and spices adding a cool sense of minerallity, crushed dark flowers an d a subtle earthiness that is very much welcome in this soft and expressive Gamay. This is a fun new discovery for me and I can’t wait to dig into some of the other bottlings here soon.
($35 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2017 Jolie-Laide Wines, Syrah, Halcon Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
The 2017 Jolie-Laide Halcon Syrah is deep and very inky with intense Northern Rhone character that thrills the palate with classic Syrah highlights including boysenberry, cassis, graphite, game and earthy tones leading the way in this densely packed, but low alcohol wine. Winemaker Scott Schultz says that wine is amazing, and is one of the many great gifts Mother Nature has to offer us and that It possesses so many mysterious and inexplicable powers, I couldn’t agree more and his beautiful collection of latest releases, especially this one offers a bit of proof. Jolie-Laide is Schultz’s one-man operation based in a Sebastopol and while having gained a reputation for geeky cool wines in recent years, his Syrah is nothing but old school traditional and with loads of class and distinction with a clean and transparent profile. Scott moved to Napa from Chicago in 2007 with mostly fine dinning experience in the restaurant business on his resume which led him into a position at famous chef Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro in Napa’s Yountville, where he became head of their wine program and fell in love with California wines. He worked with Arnot-Roberts and Ryme Cellars, two modern new generation wineries, before joining Pax Mahle at Windgap and Pax Wine Cellars, where he still works. The 2017 has pretty aromatics which take a few minutes to reveal in the glass hiding behind the whole cluster expression and the layering is impressive with the cascade of dark fruits, wild herbs, crushed violets, spices and savory elements all trying together to make a great wine. My first experience with Schulz’s wines came a few years back and I was curious to follow up on his progress with these new wines and I’m happy to report they do not disappoint, in particular I recommend his red wine offerings, this one for sure, plus his Gamay, GSM and his Jura inspired blend, which I most recently reviewed here at grapelive.com.

One of my favorite vineyards in California and one of my favorites in Jolie-Laide’s lineup is, as noted above, this Halcon Vineyard Syrah with its pure and meaty northern Rhone character and thrilling whole cluster pop on the palate that reminds me of the great Cornas wines of Domaine Lionnet, Auguste Clap, Vincent Paris, Thierry Alemand and Guillaume Gilles, which is high praise! The mouth feel is excellent and air brings a richness of details, this 2017 is alive with flavor, gaining black cherry, damson plum and mure as it fully opens up. Scott Schulz, has lots of experience with Syrah after cutting his teeth with the famed Syrah expert Pax Mahle, so it is no surprise his version is of this exceptional quality, especially with the amazing grapes that come from Paul Gordon’s high elevation and schist soiled estate. The Halcon Vineyard high above the Yorkville Highlands is an extraordinary, rocky site at 2500 ft up in the Yorkville Highlands in Mendocino County, with its sky high elevation, cold coastal breezes, extremely low vigor soils and dense make it a very unique terroir. Schultz calls the vineyard’s personality that comes through in his example, an enigmatic style of Syrah mostly unknown in California. The dramatic conditions at Halcon, which in someways, as Gordon notes, are similar to Cote-Rotie constrict the sugar accumulation, meaning Schultz picks later but at a lower brix level, which explains the ripe fullness and low 12.6% natural alcohol as well as preserving a fresh natural acidity. The Jolie-Laide Halcon Syrah grapes were all crushed by foot trodding and fermented 100% whole cluster, with nothing more than gentle punch-downs throughout and indigenous yeasts. After primary fermentation the Syrah was pressed to old, neutral French oak barrique for a 10-month elevage, to capture, as Scott puts it, the delicate and expressive nature of the vines. This complex and succulent Syrah, which is delicious with an array of foods and cuisine option, especially lamb, pork and beef dishes, deserves your immediate attention and I strongly advise getting on the mailing list here!
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Hundred Suns, Pinot Noir, Shea Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Grant Coulter, who has worked with the famed Shea Vineyard for more than a decade, most of that time while he was a winemaker at Beaux Freres, makes a tiny single vineyard bottling from this amazing site and this 2018, which starts slowly, is a gorgeous and dark Pinot Noir with incredible texture and smooth layering that expands in the glass. The Hundred Suns Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir is sourced from a one acre block of Dijon Clone 777 sits at 450 feet on a south/southwest exposure that gets plenty of sunlight and sees cool evenings that allows for deep ripening of the grapes. This warm site, Coulter notes, in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA is planted on sedimentary soil and is one of the most coveted set of vines in the the Willamette Valley and it has produced some legendary wines, including some of Grant’s own, along with Mike Etzel at Beaux Freres and Ken Wright, who was an early admirer of Dick and Deirdre Shea’s beautiful amphitheater like vineyard. This 2018, as mentioned, takes a awhile to really unwind and goes from a brooding and shy wine to a hyper expressive and rock star bottling, it transforms in the glass with air, in fact it was like turning on a light switch after 20 minutes, so patience will be greatly rewarded here! There’s plenty of classic character and flavors that unfold along with exotic elements too with a medium bodied palate of black raspberry, cherry, plum and pomegranate fruits at its core as well as hints of orange tea, rose hips, guava and red peach flesh. The satiny texture that develops is welcomed after a tight first impression and the length is absolute stunning, it lingers with floral and fruit echos, baking spices along with sticky lavender, cinnamon and very little traces of oak.

Coulter, who along with Renée Saint-Amour started their own label Hundred Suns in 2015, says the 2018 vintage gave them lower yields than normal, but the generous sunshine perfectly and evenly ripened their small block of Shea. When the grapes came in they were separated in the cellar into two lots, one 50% whole bunch and the other completely de-stemmed, so Coulter ending up fermenting the 2018 Shea Vineyard Pinot with about 25% whole cluster with 100% indigenous yeasts with both lots done and then blended with the wine being aged for 10 months in well seasoned neutral French oak. Coulter is always very complimentary about the iconic Shea Vineyard which is all dry farmed and meticulously maintained for quality and this vineyard, which I was lucky enough to visit and tour at harvest time back in 2008 is nothing short of a Grand Cru and a wonderfully picturesque place, the view from the upper blocks is spectacular looking down over the whole Willamette Valley. The ancient seabed over sandstone geology here is perfectly suited to growing Pinot Noir and the Hundred Suns version is an exceptional example with its delicious profile, structure and supple mouth feel perfectly captures the essence of the place and is a pure and gracious Oregon Pinot Noir that will seduce even the most difficult to impress. Grant’s wines are always transparent, expressive and distinct, he really focuses on each sites strengths and natural characteristics, using various methods to achieve his aims, he employs an ultra low sulfur process to allow all the freshness of fruit to shine through and his gentle handling of the grapes continues all the way to bottling, which is down with gravity and without any fining or filtering. These last three vintages have been awesome, this small Oregon micro batch winery is crafting some special stuff, I highly recommend getting these 2018s while you can!
($50 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2006 Weingut Schloss Schönborn, Riesling Auslese, Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg, Rheingau Germany.
One of the old school and historic producers in the Rheingau, Schloss Schönborn based in Eltville/Hattenheim area, has been around since 1349 and still run by the noble for which it is named, with Paul Graf von Schönborn leading this classic estate that tends to get overlooked a bit these days, but once fully aged their Rieslings really shine and are outstanding values, like this golden and mature Auslese from the Grand Cru Schlossberg. Schloss Schönborn now encompasses 50 hectares of vineyards, throughout the Rheingau, of which 91% is planted with Riesling, plus 9% Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) with parcels in some of best vineyards, including blocks of vines at Erbach, Hattenheim, Hochheim, Johannisberg, Rauenthal and the Rüdesheimer Berg, as in this one. Even though Schloss Schönborn has joined the VDP and do GG’s, they are very much committed to their sweeter style wines and are more well known for the Spatlese and Auslese that really age well with their residual sugars, and it should be noted though densely packed with those sugars these wines are less cloying when aged and get lovely balanced and complex, adding secondary flavors, earthy tones and holding on to their natural acidity.

The 2006 Schloss Schönborn Riesling Auslese Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg starts with backed apricot, apple butter and dried ginger notes adding candied orange peel, dried roses and quince with air as well as touches of flint, wet stones and a whiff of petrol, all very traditional stuff and makes for an exciting and pleasing experience with the sugars giving a creamy texture rather than heavy sweetness. The Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg is one of my favorite vineyards on earth and I have grown even more fond of it in recent years, especially with the great dry GG’s of Johannes Leitz, Breuer and Gunter Kuntzler, they are some of the most majestic and powerful white wines you can get, showing intense terroir character with those steep slate slopes always shinning through. This Schloss Schönborn Auslese is ultra traditional with careful cluster selections and fuder aging in the cellar, as expected and desired, it is wines like this that make you appreciate these old school styles. Not always easy to find, Schloss Schönborn, in America, they are well deserved treats when you find them, in particular when they have 10 to 15 years of age on them! These mature Auslese Rieslings are not really dessert wines, except some gold capsule version, usually in 375ml bottles, they really go with savory dishes or cheese plates best, so try them with smoked meats, classic German beef or pork.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Ann-Sophie Dubois, Fleurie “L’Alchemiste” Cru Beaujolais, France.
The 2018 L’Alchimiste Fleurie by the hard working and talented Anne-Sophie Dubois is a gorgeous and textural pure Gamay with beautiful terroir driven elegance and nuance showing distilled lilacs, cinnamon spice and earthy tones behind a deep core of classic fruit with smooth and concentrated plum, wild strawberry and red currant flavors on the seamless and rounded medium bodied palate. This brilliant effort is every changing in the glass gaining detail and complexity with every sip, this dark ruby and purple Fleurie really turns on the charm with air, improving with an impressive satiny richness as well as adding some serious style along with touches of anise, cedar and sweet kirsch, finishing with expressive knowing smile, meaning it lingers with a confidence of a truly great wine! Dubois has really upped her game in recent vintages since I first started following her and this one takes her to the next level and puts her in the premier league of Cru Beaujolais with some of the regions iconic producers, this wine is right up there with Dutraive, Thevenet, Thivin, Foillard, Chanrion and Lapierre, which are a few of the legends of Gamay, putting her in some fabulous company quality wise! Anne-Sophie Dubois looks to be a longtime star and gift with Gamay is not in doubt, her 2018s are proof and I love this L’Alchemiste, I highly recommend getting in on it and allowing this young winemaker, this is really exciting times for Gamay lovers and Dubois has a studied collection of sublime wines from which to choose, including this one that has a profound sense of place and clarity of flavors.

Anne-Sophie Dubois, who is interestingly enough a Champagne native, born and raised around bubbly and who studied winemaking in Burgundy, is one of this latest generation of vignerons that are expressing themselves to wonderful effect here in Beaujolais, bringing some new life to this ancient region and still honoring the traditions and history here. She caught the wine bug early, and after falling in love with Gamay manage to scape together the finances to purchase some fantastic all organic old vine parcels in the Fleurie Cru set on the granitic soils that give this area its distinct personality. Spending her formative years learning the ropes in the Cote d’Or was time well spent as her wines show incredible detail and elegance. Her wines have already got lots of attention and even caught the eye of author and famous columnist Jon Bonne of Punch magazine, who says that Dubois makes some of the most soulful, Burgundy-like versions of Beaujolais that he’s encountered, adding that her Fleurie has a bit of fealty to the Cote d’Or! The bookish and appealingly nerdy Anne-Sophie with her cute glasses named her L’Alchimiste cuvee after the Paulo Coelho novel and like the book shows what she’s learned and was able to apply those experiences to her efforts. She went with 100% de-stemmed grapes, that came from her 40 year old vines, for this edition, and while Anne-Sophie does use whole-cluster and carbonic maceration in another bottling, went with classic winemaking here, this one benefits from her approach allowing the inner beauty to shine. The L’Alchemiste was aged for close to 15 months in a combination of cement and a range of different sized neutral French oak barrels and casks with the final blend being bottled unfined and unfiltered, it shows Dubois’ very gifted touch with beautiful transparency and purity.
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2014 Lagier Meredith, Tribidrag, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley.
The 2014 Lagier Meredith Tribidrag, aka Zinfandel, from Steve Lagier and Dr. Carole Meredith’s beautiful estate high up on Napa’s Mount Veeder is a gorgeous example of this once Croatian varietal (immigrant) that has become our state grape and continues to enjoy a special place in our California hearts, showing the vintage’s fabulous cool blue tones and freshness detailing with lovely dense concentration of fruit. In the world of fine Zinfandel, Lagier Meredith sits nicely with the legendary Ridge Vineyards, as well as greats and elite producers like Turley Wine Cellars, Biale, Carlisle, Lamborn and Sky, especially in a year like this 2014, one of my absolute favorites for Zin and really all of the Napa region in particular. The brilliant deep purple/garnet color draws you in and the subtle perfume with delicate floral and spicy notes that, along with, a sense of mountain blackberry lifts from the glass before a thrilling palate of vine picked raspberry, wild plum, black cherry, and currant fruits that unfolds with seamless perfection along with dried herbs, anise, sage/lavender and a touch of smoky cedar. With a surprisingly cool marine layer bringing a July chill to the Carmel area and a classic everything on it take away pizza, this wine, provided comforting drinking and smiles, it gave a thrilling performance for a few souls in need of a distraction of the devastation that the idiot in the White House has brought our much loved land, it is times like these that make you even more grateful for the hard work and passion that small wineries put into their efforts. The four and half acre Lagier Meredith Mount Veeder estate sits about 1,300 feet up, in the Mayacamas range, facing mostly east over the southern part of the Napa Valley set on fractured shale and sandstone soils, which all leads to dark tannic mountain fruit with the vines producing small yields and tiny berries, these are intriguing age worthy and complex wines.

Carole Meredith, the famous UC Davis research professor of grape genetics fame who in fact discovered Zinfandel’s true origins, is one of the wine world’s most interesting and knowledgable people, I have always enjoyed badgering her with questions over the years, which it should be noted, she patiently and humbly answered! I have always been of fan or her and Steve’s wines, in particular their Mount Veeder Mountain Syrah, one of the best kept secrets of California wine, as well as this Tribidrag (Zin), plus the very unique Mondeuse, the rare Savoie grape that is gaining some geeky attention in the state, especially in the hands of Jaimee Motely. The Lagier Meredith Tribidrag comes from the sustainably farmed estate vines, they even have a hawk on the payroll here, Ethan, who also has a big following on their Instagram, and it is traditionally fermented and aged with no new oak being used. Steve’s back breaking vineyard work brings us an amazing and rewarding experience, and with only about 5 barrels available in any given vintage, it is a treat to get a few bottles of this delicious Zin, I mean Tribidrag! The wine usually gets close to two years of aging in neutral French barrique, in this case 22 or so months and bottled unfiltered to preserve the purity of place. Tribidrag, as Meredith explains, was the ancient name for Zinfandel in the Middle Ages, when it was widely grown along the Dalmatian Coast of present-day Croatia. It was one of the most important varieties in the Adriatic wine trade in the 1300’s. I cannot express in a few short paragraphs due justice to the body of work and the magnitude of importance of Dr. Meredith’s work. Lagier Meredith call their wine Tribidrag as a tribute to the noble and ancient European heritage of Zinfandel and its absolutely fascinating story of getting here. I highly recommend reading about Mededith’s efforts, some of which I have reported here on grapelive.com, and I even more so suggest getting on their list!
($45 Est.) 95 Pointsgrapelive

2016 Fèlsina – Berardenga, Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG, Tuscany, Italy.
One of the greatest vintages I’ve tasted of Black Rooster (Gallo Nero) labeled, Chianti Classico wines has to be the 2016, especially delicious is Fèlsina’s lineup with Rancia and Fontalloro being absolutely sublime to the point of being legendary, but certainly this black label Riserva is a do not miss for Sangiovese lovers. There’s a wealth of gems coming from the southern end of the Chianti Classico zone these days from Radda to Castelnuovo, almost on the outskirts of Siena, with Montesecondo, Montevertine, Castello di Ama, Le Miccine, Mazzei and others are notable for quality and Fèlsina, a winery that I’m a big fan of, just adds extra icing to that cake of elite producers that make this area home all with very distinct differences and terroir elements, with Fèlsina noted for being warm and rich on the palate. The 2016 black label Chianti Classico Riserva is wonderfully supple and densely packed with luxurious fruit and solid length, while retaining a fresh feel and balance with a range of flavors including blackberry, plum, black cherry, mulberry and currant fruits along with a subtle wave of mocha, minty herb, spicy cut tobacco leaf, dried flowers and cedar, adding an a touch of anise, leather and a lingering liqueur note. This bottling, while not surprising given Fèlsina’s record of quality, does raise an eyebrow for its value and purity of form in this price point, you’d most likely be happy with this wine’s performance at twice the asking price, I should have bought many more bottles! Time in the glass brings out more and more with a poised mineral element emerging along with pretty floral intensity adding class to the almost lavish nature of the fruit core, it is hard not to finish the bottle too quickly and patience is definitely rewarded.

The estate, in an area that was cherished during Roman times, was once the farm of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, back then Fèlsina was mostly known for its sense of peace and its olive groves, with, as the winery notes, just a few hectares dedicated to viticulture before the nineteenth century. The original wine cellar was small, but in the early 1900s had already begun bottling on site and Fèlsina’s slow and historic march toward greatness in Italian wine began, with the present generation of care takers here committed to holistic and sustainable farming and the Sangiovese grape, including preserving a selection old special clones of this classic Tuscan varietal. The rolling hills of Castelnuovo are covered with chalky, rocky calcareous soils, with primarily marl, a common characteristics in Chianti, along with layers of sandstone and clay, along with ancient marine sediments rich in minerals all facing the path of the sun that allows for ripe fruit, concentration and refined tannins, while retaining energy with natural acidity. This Fèlsina Berardenga Chianti Classico Riserva was a special selection of top sites, carefully sorted with de-stemmed grapes that were fermented and macerated in temperature controlled stainless steel vats with gentle punchdowns and pump overs to ensure perfect extraction after which the wine was aged in a combination of large Slovenian oak casks and twice and three time filled French oak barriques for between 12 to 16 months before the final blend was assembled to taste in the cellar. This dark garnet and delicately perfume Chianti Classico Riserva matches robust cuisine and or aged Pecorino (hard) cheeses and gains an extra dimension with air, this is everything you’d want from a 100% Sangiovese!
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Reeve, Pinot Noir “Ya Moon” Bybee Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
Another one of the most exciting labels to emerge in recent years is Noah Dorrance’s Reeve with a collection of fabulous wines including Sangiovese, Riesling, Rosé and a fun set of Pinot Noirs, like this lush and red fruited 2018 Ya Moon Pinot from Bybee Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast. Dorrance, who was a founding partner in the Banshee Wine Company, sold his shave and dove into his and his wife Kelly Dorrance’s own label Reeve in 2015 with the help of the highly talented pair of winemakers, Ross Cobb, known for his efforts at Hirsch, Flowers, Williams Selyem as well as his Cobb Wines and Katy Wilson, who also has an impressive resume, making wines with Cobb at Flowers, as well as her efforts at Kamen and her own LaRue, both well accomplished in the field of Pinot Noir. The vivid ruby hued Ya Moon is the youthful and crunchy fresh version of Pinot from Reeve with soft juicy flavors and zesty acidity showing bright cherry and strawberry up front and pomegranate and cranberry in the background along with snappy herbs, floral notes and spices with almost no oak present on the lighter style medium bodied palate.

The Ya Moon Bybee Vineyard Pinot was crafted to be an early drinking wine that can be enjoyed in Summer with a slight chill and with easy foods, it was crafted with whole bunches of grapes using primarily carbonic maceration, as Dorrance notes, in this process the whole clusters are sealed in a vessel with fermentation occuring largely inside each individual grape at an intercellular level, much like the wines from Beaujolais, he adds, the end result of this style fermentation process is often wines that are bright, fresh and light, which this one is, but with expressive fruit and texture. As with a modern trend in California this Ya moon is a fun and quaffable red, of as the Europeans say a Glou-Glou wine that has pleasing simplicity and is joyous to drink with friends. The Reeve Ya Moon Pinot was aged for only three or so months in a mixture of old French oak barriques and stainless steel barrels and It was bottled with a bare minimum amount of sulfur to preserve it as well as freshly fruit driven. This 2018 might be harder to find at this point, but 2019 coming from the biodynamic Vecino Vineyard was just released and it should be just as good or better still and a great way to dig into the Reeve lineup, which has added a few new offerings I’m thrilled to say and that I look forward to try!
($36 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2016 Ca’ del Baio, Barbaresco DOCG “Vallegrade” Piedmonte, Italy.
In recent years Ca’ del Baio has emerged as one of the top quality Barbaresco producers and their 2016 efforts are next level wines and best of all they are incredible values, especially the fabulously endowed 2016 Vallegrande Cru Barbaresco, which I just couldn’t resist trying. There has been a lot of buzz about the 2016 vintage in Barolo and Barbaresco, all which is being proved well deserved, in fact I think it will easily eclipse the much heralded 2010, as I have found the wines to have an edge in textural grace, but still with outstanding structure and depth, these are wines that have legendary potential, in particular the Barolo offerings, though this Ca’ del Baio is pretty amazing stuff with exceptional Nebbiolo purity and stunning length. These 2016s are not shy, they have close to 15% natural alcohols and revel in their density, but without a doubt they hold it all together with sublime integration and no flab, these are bold, powerful and impactful Nebbiolos that somehow still show the grapes most beautiful features, as this Vallegrande by Ca’ del Baio shows. Starting with classic Barbaresco aromatic charm and a delicate earthy seduction with seeped rose petals, dried lilacs, brandied cherries, saddle leather and truffle the Vallegrande hits its stride on the palate with a full force of flavors including damson, plum, black cherry, forrest vine picked berries along with a background of complexities like anise, balsamic dipped strawberry, orange rind, cedar and mineral notes. The wine evolves and elevates in the glass, it gets better and better, resolving and finessing its tannins and gaining stellar length, all pointing to an amazing long life and potential here, I’m glad to have a stash of 2016s to hold! This garnet/brick hued Vallegrande 2016 has loads of character and is very inviting making it an easy buy at the price and it goes gloriously with rustic cuisine, it certainly impresses at this stage, Nebbiolo lovers should stock up on a few bottles to enjoy over the next 10 to 15 years.

The Ca’ del Baio winery, with estate vineyards based in Treiso, a village near Barbaresco, is owned by the Grasso family, with this label being the forth generation, but the historic family have been grapegrowers and winemakers since 1680. For more than 20 years, the Grasso’s have had the well-respected consultant Beppe Caviola proving guidance and he has led this winery to new heights working with the family to perfect their methods in both the vineyards and in the cellar, focusing on quality sustainable farming and bringing out the terroir personalities in the wines. It’s the little things here that make a difference like In the winery Ca’ del Baio prefers to use of native (natural or indigenous) yeasts in the primary fermentation process, which they believe allows each wine to express itself to the fullest and they limit the use of sulphur dioxide to the absolute minimum so as to ensure they fruit is not muted and we the idea that their bottles will age better and correctly, all of which seems to be the case here with their gorgeous Vallegrande Cru Barbaresco. The Vallegrande or Valgrande site is well regarded and has been well recognized for its quality since the 1800s with Ca’ del Baio having a number of Nebbiolo parcels within the Vallegrande Cru, all facing west to capture the last rays of the sun and keeping slightly cooler for maximum depth and balance. This Cru sits in Tresio and is the most near the winery, set on bluish clayey-limestone marl soils and with a set of vines that were planted back in 1967, its a place that perfectly suits the traditional style Ca’ del Baio uses on its all de-stemmed grapes with the mentioned native ferment with cool stainless steel, with almost two weeks of maceration before pressing and then aged a minimum of 24 months in large Slovenian oak casks. If you are looking for a wildly exciting and age worthy Barbaresco, one that you can almost guilt free open in its fleshy youth or hold, then Ca’ del bail should be on your radar!
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Avinyo, Petillant vi d’Agulla, Penedès, Catalonia, Spain.
I am a big fan of the Cava at Avinyo, but I rarely twist the cap on their zingy fresh Petillant, so tasting recently seemed a bit like tasting it for the first time and I was joyous and grateful for the experience with this 2019 vintage popping out of the glass with its dry crisp effervesce and its delicate jasmine perfume, it is so refreshingly light that it was perfect for Summer day sipping. Avinyo’s Petillant vi d’agulla, which means “prickly wine” in Catalan, is named for its slightly effervescent sparkling nature, vibrant character and the hint of bitterness, it is a fun white minerally wine that is great as an aperitif or a palate cleansing primer to a meal, especially good with oysters and or fresh steamed claims, its fine mousse (bubbly fizz) always brings out smiles. The Petillant is traditional summertime quaffer of the Penedès region, also known by many as the Spanish Cava zone when you think of this area with many historic and old caves making authentic method Champagne style sparkling wines and Avinyo’s excellent version is made from Muscat, Macabeo, and Xarel-lo, with this vintage showing the unmistakable markers of the Muscat with the noted jasmine flowers and racy and tart almond bite.

The Mediterranean climate and flavors are wonderfully accented by this Petillant vi d’Agulla which pop with the gentle fizzy mouth feel and the brisk layers of zesty citrus with lemon/lime and unripe orange as well as peach pit, Spring herbs, wet stones. The Avinyo Petillant is made in simple fashion and crafted to be drunk early and often without any serious thought needed, its vinification was started by a fermentation in stainless steel from early picked grapes, hence the low alcohol, with a direct press and no malo-lactic allowed to preserve every bit of tanginess zippy freshness as possible. The carbonation in the Avinyo Petillant is created by the charmat method of secondary fermentation in tank with the introduction of the CO2. As mentioned, I usually buy and enjoy Avinyo’s exceptional Cavas, which are fantastic bubbles, in particular I love their Brut Reserva that is produced with 100% free run juice and aged 18 to 22 months before being disgorged in classic Champagne style, it is outrageously good and a fabulous value at well under $20 a bottle. That said, I quite liked having this bone dry Petillant and can imagine having a few bottles in the coming warm months, it should provide simple comfort with a glorious sunset or two.
($16 Est.) 87 Points, grapelive

2018 Comando G Viticultores, La Bruja de Rozas, Vino de Pueblo, Valle del Tietar, Sierra de Gredos, Vinos de Madrid D.O., Spain.
Every year these Comando G wines seem to get better and better, this is true especially with this 2018 La Bruja de Rozas, their base cuvee, which is absolutely delicious with Burgundy like class, in fact with its slight reduction and light graphite notes at the start reminds me of a Premier Cru Nuits-Saint-Georges, but with dark Grenache purity. Comando G, celebrating 10 years with this 2018 vintage, is a small winery in the Sierra de Gredos, this special terroir in the mountains above Madrid in Castilla y Leon, central Spain, making hand crafted wines, it is led by the talented duo of Daniel Landi and Fernando Garcia, who have been friends since their school days and they formed Camando G in 2008, after always wanting to work together, even though they had successful careers with their own wine concerns, Bodegas Jimenez-Landi and Fernando at Bodega Marañones. As widely noted, and reported here, the Sierra de Gredos is a Garnacha region that rivals the world’s great sites for this grape, these wines show high elevation elegance and detail, but with old vine concentration and amazing aromatics as well as length. This beautifully made La Bruja de Rozas Vino de Pueblo, 100% Garnacha, is sourced from several vineyards ranging between 50 to 80 years old in the vicinity of Las Rozas de Puerto Real, all high elevation sites above 850 meters above sea level and set on sandy granite soils.

This 2018 version is as mentioned very dark and starts with earthy intensity before opening gracefully into a generous Garnacha that really turns up the charms with a gorgeous layering of black raspberry, plum, pomegranate and cherry fruit along with wild herbs, delicate floral notes, mineral and snappy spices. Air time brings out there best and allows the La Bruja de Rozas to become wonderfully textural and extends the length, it slowly unveils its true personality and gains loads of depth and bringing up to the quality level of Comando G’s single Cru offerings almost! These Sierra de Gredos wines cooled by the mountain air and chilly nights are sublimely balanced wines that show a unique sense of place, which Landi and Garcia are trying to, which great success, showcase in ultra transparent detail. Using organic grapes, farmed with biodynamic methods, Comando G’s Rozas, the Village wine, was all hand harvested, with Dani and Fernando employing a natural yeast fermentation with partial whole cluster (depending on vintage) and a long maceration, that as they note, was followed by nine months in large 30-60HL oak vats to mature. The 2018 La Bruja de Rozas, which has at least a decade of serious quality life ahead of it, gains more on more in the glass revealing its inner perfume and its tannin structure turns silky, all the while retaining its presence on the palate and is nicely lifted by its natural acidity making it wonderful with cuisine and a fine companion for an evening of drinking pleasure!
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Bordes, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast.
Bordes Wines is a small family-owned winery in Sonoma County, I recently discovered, you can see my review of their Pinot Noir on an earlier post and their Rosé, today’s wine of the day is a well rounded and smooth version with loads of strawberry, cherry and hints of ruby grapefruit, plus an interesting caramel (red) apple note. The wines are handcrafted in tiny amounts all made from free-run juice, which were harvested from Bordes’ sustainably farmed single vineyard estate in Sonoma County. The lovely hued Rosé of Pinot Noir was sourced from grapes exclusively harvested for Rosé and includes a mix of 667, 777 and Pommard clones. This Bordes Rosé is luxurious on the medium bodied palate and drinks very Pinot Noir like, more so than most Rosé, the effect is amplified by the wine’s vivid hue in the glass and the pleasing texture and mouth feel, while still refreshing and quaffable, it enjoys its chill and it is even better with food.

The 2019 Bordes Rosé of Pinot was whole cluster pressed with about 4 hours of skin contact, which was plenty for color extraction and instilling the flavor profile in this magenta pink wine. The fermentation was done in a small open top stainless tank in cool conditions before being racked down to a neutral French oak barrel and racked twice and cold stabilized with a gentle filtering for clarity. Bordes Wines, as noted, is new a small family-operated estate with its vineyard planted with a quality selection of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The wines are shepherded by a family friend, Bowdoin Pfeifer, who has been overseeing the process for the Bordes family as their youngest daughter Rachel studies wine and viticulture at Cal Poly and who will join the winemaking team at this year’s harvest and hopes to be a future star. While the Rosé is easy and simple fun, the Pinot is much more serious and complex, this is a winery to watch.
($29 Est.) 87 Points, grapelive

2019 Celler Xavier Clua, Rosé “El Sola d’en Pol” Rosado Terra Alta, Catalonia, Spain.
Cellar Xavier Clua, run by Xavier Clua, combines tradition and modern thought to produce expressive wines from this ancient winegrowing region of Terra Alta, one of the historic wine areas of Catalonia, he and his winemaker wife Rosa Domenech, who has brought a wealth of new ideas to the estate, has turned this small winery into one of best in this part of Spain. Clua is located in Vilalba dels Arcs, in the Terra Alta in Catalonia, this is a dry, sunny area where, as the winery notes, winegrowing has been a tradition since medieval times with Grenache being especially well suited to the terroir here, which makes up most of the blend in Clua’s wines, like their amazingly vivid and flavorful Rosado (Rosé), a wine I have been enjoying for many years. Terra Alta a climate with both Mediterranian and continental influences enjoys very hot summers and cold winters with vines mostly set on calcareous clay soils and at higher elevations to keep the vines refreshed from cool breezes and chilly nights.

The 2019 version of Clua El Solà d’en Pol Rosado Terra Alta, made from 70% Garnatxa Negra (Grenache) and 30% Syrah, was all stainless steel fermented from ripe grapes with a short 4 hour maceration and a temperature controlled cool fermentation to preserve intensity and freshness, but still extracting a bright deep color and fullness of flavors. This wine bursts from the glass with crushed raspberry, Jolly Rancher watermelon, strawberry and candied cherry fruits, a delicate sense of mineral and a light dusting of spices along with floral tones, adding a hint of wild herbs and wet saline infused stones. The clay based soils and the warmth really bright out the density of fruit and this one shows this with its depth and richness on the fuller than expected palate, though it should be noted it is not overly presented or cloying, this is a dry Rosé in the Bandol style mold, but highlighting its Grenache fruit and it really thrives with robust cuisine, plus it is a crowd pleaser, able to impress the more serious wine lover as well as the novice pink drinker. Better still is the cost, the Clau Rosé impresses for the quality to price ratio, making it a Summer bargain.
($12 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 Viña Mein, Blanco, Ribeiro DO, Galicia Spain.
One of the greatest white wines in Spain, the Vina Mein Ribeiro Blanco, is a wonderfully textural wine that is on par with your favorite white Burgundy and thrills the palate with creamy density and elegance, this wine is stylish and unique, vastly different from most of the country’s offerings. The Viña Mein 2017 is made from a collection of ancient native and mostly rare varietals, but mainly Treixadura, which makes up 70% of the blend here along with small amounts of Godello, Albariño, Loureira, Torrontés and Lado. Viña Mein’s vinification process on this wine, reminds me of Muscadet as it is fermented in stainless steel with extended aging on the lees. The 2017 is ripe and plush in the mouth with layers of green apple, peach, melon and kumquat fruits along with smooth acidity and the leesy richness adding a touch of caramel and fig as well as delicate white flowers and a subtle zesty citrus and quince burst keeping things fresh. It is always a treat to drink these Vina Mein whites, great with an array of food and with soft cheeses, it is from an area that is re-discovering its past and this wine is an excellent way to experience it.

This winery in Galicia is led by Viña Mein founder Javier Alén, who in the nineties sought to reclaim the glories of the region and he and some friends planted a collection of historic local white grapes including Treixadura, Godello, Loureira, Torrontes, Albariño, Lado and Albilla, later they added some red varietals as well with a set of parcels that represent the true flavors of the region with some Caiño, Mencía and Ferrón. Alén’s estate in San Clodio y Gomariz has about 16 hectares of vineyards on the hillsides of the Avia River in this remote area near Portugal, with its cool Atlantic climate making for an ideal spot for sublime quality white wines, as this one proves. This fleshy, supple and lingering light golden Ribeiro Blanco makes for a intriguing contrast to the zesty and more acid driven Albariño based wines of Rias Baixas with the Treixadura providing more generous weight and with the other grapes like Loureiro (or Loureira here) adding complexity in the wine that opens up gracefully on the palate, while still being low alcohol and with a stony/mineral streak, making it great with fattier fish dishes. The Viña Mein is a lovely wine and a serious value.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2015 Filomena Wine Company, Syrah, Griffin’s Lair Vineyard, Petaluma Gap, Sonoma Coast.
California’s new generation of winemakers, like Luke Nio, who works for Bedrock Wine Co and has just launched his own label Filomena Wine Company, are re-imagining the whole industry and it is fantastic to have a front row seat to this revolution and to taste the incredible fruits of their efforts, this is the most exciting time in American wine in my lifetime, and considering the uncertain market conditions, this is amazing to witness and taste, especially when the wines are as fantastic as Nio’s Griffin’s Lair Syrah! Quite honestly, tasted blind, this Filomena Wine Company Griffin’s Lair Syrah, could easily could be mistaken for a top Cote-Rotie with its gorgeous deep purple/black hue and heady array of scents on the nose with violets, incense, leather, black and blue fruits, wild dried herbs, cedar and mure (blackberry liqueur) all unfolding before the full bodied palate that echos the bouquet adding boysenberry, black plum, mission figs, creme de cassis, mocha, a hint of game and blueberry tanginess. This is exceptional Syrah that takes on classic Northern Rhone savory (highlighting the stem inclusion) tones and mineral notes as it opens providing wonderful balance of depth of ripe fruit with the contrasting earthiness and umami elements with peppercorns and anise adding to that thrill, while the mouth feel is luxurious, again in the mold of Guigal’s Chateau d’Ampuis and Chapoutier’s Le Meal Emitage! This Griffin’s Lair, from a top Syrah cru site, sustainably farmed, in the Petaluma Gap with its diverse soils formed by moving fault lines and cooled by ocean breezes and the proximity to the San Pablo Bay, is a wine of place and passion, it certainly appeals to Syrah lovers and will go great with loads of meal options from brisket to lamb, as well as wild mushroom dishes.

Luke Nio’s Filomena Wine Company Griffin’s Lair Syrah was traditionally fermented using 100% whole cluster, and the carefully sorted bunches were foot trod, and Luke allowed indigenous yeast to complete primary, with this complex and riveting Syrah seeing an extended maceration and daily pilage. This very limited wine, Nio’s first solo effort for his Filomena Wine Company label was then aged 16 months in a neutral 500L French oak puncheon and then rested 3 years in bottle, while he set up his micro winery. While Syrah may never get the attention it deserves in California, there is no question in my mind that it offers the greatest quality for the money in the state and in America, especially when you add some of the sublime Washington State examples, and right now there is some stellar offerings available to prove my point, wines like this one and as well as many, many others like Jason Drew’s in Anderson Valley’s Mendocino Ridge, Halcon Vineyards Yorkville Highlands, Samuel Louis Smith’s from the South Santa Cruz Mountains, Big Basin’s estate bottlings, Joyce Wine Co.’s Tondre Grapefield, Nio’s comrade Cody Rasmussen’s Desire Line Wines versions, one from Griffin’s Lair as well along with his Shake Ridge, Jolie-Laide, Arnot-Roberts, Cattleya, Peay Vineyards, Stolpman, Sling | Stone Wines, Storm Wines, Andrew Murray, Sheldon Wines as well as long time stars like John Alban, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon, Pax, Booker, Sashi Moorman of Piedrasassi, Jeff Pisoni of Lucia Vineyards and Adam Tolmach of Ojai Vineyards to name a few, forgive me for missing a bunch of other stars that deserve to be listed here too! These wines are every bit as exciting and as good as their prestigious French cousins that inspired them, all with distinct personalities and character. The Filomena Wine Company is a list to get on as soon as possible, these first two releases are outstanding, in particular this richly detailed Griffin’s Lair Vineyard, a fabulous terroir driven wine and Nio’s carbonic St. Lauren, which I reviewed here recently.
($42 Est.) 96 Pointsgrapelive

2018 Domaine de Verquière, Cotes du Rhone, Rhone Valley, France.
One of my favorite comfort wines is a nice Grenache based Cotes du Rhone and will the prices of solid wines from there being insanely reasonable it makes for a guilt free, but serious delicious experience, with wines like this tasty Domaine de Varquière being great values. Coming from Sablet area, not far from Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas and set on classic stony and sandy vineyard sites with clay and limestone soils, Romain and Thibaut Chamfort’s small estate, as the winery notes, played a very active part in gaining recognition for wines in this region even helping to create the Côtes du Rhône Villages Sablet appellation back in 1974. This 2018 Domaine de Verquière Cotes du Rhone Rouge is a tank raised blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah, with all the grapes being carefully sorted and de-stemmed that was fermented with temperature control with about two weeks of maceration to extract its brilliantly dark color and depth of flavors. This well made and quality Cotes du Rhone joins Sant Cosme and Delas Freres in bang for the buck league and expresses perfectly the sense of place, it is a wine that asks little and gives a lot.

The lush Grenache led palate of the Verquière Cotes du Rhone feels full and dense with an array of dark berry fruits and is lightly spicy with touches of pepper, cinnamon and licorice as well as delicate floral notes, grilled herbs and a touch of earthiness from the Syrah making for a pure and pleasing red wine to go with almost any food choice, especially simple country cuisine, BBQ’s and or just burgers and or pastas. Gaining depth in the glass this 2018 performs solidly and its inviting purple/garnet color brings a smile too, air and food bring out blackberry, plum, boysenberry and kirsch layering. This Rhone red comes in at a healthy 14.5% natural alcohol, but doesn’t get flabby or does the heat make itself obvious with the ripeness giving more mouthfeel and the impression of more expensive wine. Being in the foothills of the Dentelles de Montmirail range Verquière’s 45 hectors of vines get some Mistral like cool breezes and that helps keep things balanced and even elegant even in their basic entry level offering. Thibaut, who trained in California and in South Africa, has crafted a yummy Rhone at a delightful price that I highly recommend stocking up on! This fun stuff is a great way to stay on that healthy Mediterranean diet, its dusty fruits, scent of lavender and dried violets make it hard not to love.
($12 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2019 Domaine Le Galantin, Bandol Rosé, Provence, France.
One of the joys of Summer is the release of new Provence Rosé(s) and especially those from Bandol, one of the most scenic and prestigious wines regions on earth sitting majestical on the blue Mediterranean sea, home to some of the most famous names in this popular genre, one of those is this Le Galantin, maybe the “baby” Tempier! The Domaine Le Galantin, run by Céline Pascale, who took over the domaine in 1999 from her father, is set on the ancient steep vineyards of Bandol, located directly on the Mediterranean coast, just east of Marseille. This small quality appellation was first planted by Phocaean Greeks around.600BC and is the perfect home for Mourvèdre, which makes for the bold reds found here as well as giving the Rosé wines their special sauce and structure. Le Galantin’s best vineyards are planted on poor clay, with a touch of limestone and sandy soil on old terraces, known locally as restanques allowing deep ripening of the grapes and expressive flavors. The appellations’s south facing vineyards get an extraordinary 3,000 hours of sun a year, but the heat is tempered by constant wind and also humidity from the sea, all of which in combination makes for robust, but balanced wines and provides the Rosé with serious substance and textured form. Domaine le Galantin farms just 30 hectares of mostly picturesque terraced vineyards located in Le Plan du Castellet with all of their vines being hand tended and cared for using all organic methods.

The 2019 La Galantin Rosé is vivid and vibrant with an array of citrus and racy red fruits with a medium full palate of crushed raspberry, strawberry and sour cherry as well as ruby grapefruit all pushed on the attack with crisp acidity and a steely mineral tone, this is a great vintage for this wine and the drinking pleasure is high, it perfectly matches the mood of the season with a sunny style and enough stuffing to grab your attention. Light floral notes, spices and dried herbs add to the complexity in this dry and focused pink. The 2019 Le Galantin was made with around 50% Mourvèdre, 25% Cinsault and 25% Grenache, from vines planted on southwest facing hillsides, with the mentioned clay/limestone soils. The estate picks the grapes , after which the bunches are cooled down to 50C for a two day cold soak in order to extract fruit, color and aromatics, while still delicate and translucent in the finished wine. The juice is then racked off and the grapes are pressed to stainless steel tanks, with just 10% of the wine being saignée, giving it a bolder fruit expression without being too weighty, the rest come from grapes treated as if making white wine, helping preserve fresh detail and crisp deliciousness. Great for sipping, this dry pink goes great with many food options, especially steamed mussels!
($20 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Drive Wines, Zinfandel, Puccioni Ranch, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
I was really excited to get the Drive Wines debut set of releases by winemaker John Musto, who works for Ridge Vineyards, one of my all time favorite producers and who has like me a background in vintage cars and historic motor racing, in fact he has made some of his wines in the back of a classic car garage! Drive Wines was launched last year with a single vineyard Rosé of Zinfandel, the Comstock Vineyard from Dry Creek Valley and this wonderfully delicious old vine field blend made mostly of Zinfandel from vines that were planted in 1904 at Puccioni Ranch. These 116 year old vines make for a concentrated and complex wine with good ripe flavors led by dusty raspberry and sweet plum and black cherry fruits adding hints of toasty wood, wild flowers, minty herbs, a hint of loamy earth and snappy licorice. Musto, who could be a kindered spirit, has done a super job on this nicely drinking dark garnet red Zinfandel, it feels luxurious on the full bodied palate, but it has zesty lift that gives balance and doesn’t get heavy or dull at any point, it also has a lovely aftertaste that lingers on. I have to mention, being a racing car geek, the subtle strip of famous Wabash bricks on the bottom of the label that pays tribute to the famed Brickyard, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, hence the name Drive Wines.

This studied and racy (sorry for the pun) Zin was made from hand harvested grapes that were picked at night to retain freshness and detail with ultra careful sorting and all the grapes were de-stemmed and fermented using a selected yeast to avoid any volatile acidity forming with RP-15 “Rockpile” yeast cultures being employed here and primary lasted about 10 days with good color and flavor extraction with Musto doing gentle cap management and extending the maceration after fermentation for five days. One done, the wine was racked or pressed to barrel and aged 17 months with about 35% new French oak which gives this Zinfandel a smooth textural quality and accents it nicely with that smoky vanilla and cedary spice shadings, this will really appeal to classic Zin fans and gives this wine an element of refinement and elegance. With time in bottle this will gain a darker sense I think and fill out even more, though I absolutely enjoyed it with my Forth of July range of foods and it drinks easy right now, it certainly makes for a clean and pleasant companion with BBQ and burgers, especially simple cuisine choices. Once full open the Puccioni Ranch Zinfandel, air time brings out a pretty Mure (blackberry liqueur) note, lilac and some savory sage too keeping your attention. The Drive Wines Zinfandel shows potential and impress for the price, which is very reasonable considering how limited it is, I am looking for to popping the cork on Musto’s Rosé as well, this is a fun label to keep an eye on!
($29 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2015 G.D. Vajra, Barolo, Bricco delle Viole, Piedmonte, Italy.
One of Italian’s treasures, the Vajra Bricco delle Viole Barolo is fast becoming a must have wine for Nebbiolo enthusiasts and while everyone is hyper focused on the 2016 vintage offers, you would be rewarded by not missing this gorgeous 2015 version, which lacks for nothing in the big league of top Barolo bottlings! I was first introduced to the Bricco delle Viole with Giuseppe Vajra’s break out vintage in 2008 and I have been a huge fan ever since, this wine and winery have blown up and are crafting a thrilling collection of offerings, they are rocking it, with a range that goes from maybe Italy’s best Riesling to this glorious Barolo, along with an intriguing Freisa, stellar Barbara and Dolcetto as well as other regional gems. Giuseppe Vajra’s rise as a winemaker might not be a surprise considering the talents of his visionary father Aldo, but it has been incredible to watch and see the Vajra family get the attention and praise they deserve with their hard work and humble personalities. The 2015 Bricco delle Viole is luxurious and has Burgundy like grace on the palate enjoying its plush and youthful fruit, but underneath there is classic structure and character with pure Nebbiolo seduction flowing across the full bodied palate with deep red berry, plum and black cherry fruit along with flashes of mulberry and strawberry as well as a subtle meatiness, anise, chalky stones, cedar and delicate rose petals. This wine, which is already drinking fabulous should continue to grown in dimension and add layers, if you can’t wait you’ll find it ever changing in the glass and certainly I would suggest building and evening and meal around exploring it.

The Bricco delle Viole, the hill of violets, is an iconic wine and sets the tone for understanding the Vajra’s wines with Giuseppe’s dad Aldo famously saying the Bricco delle Viole is the vineyard that taught us patience and naturally guided the style of our craft and it starts with its terroir which is at what is thought to be the highest elevation site in Barolo at close to 480 meters above sea level with perfect exposures and underpinned by the region’s limestone, sand and clay soils and dramatic diuturnal temperature changes that allow for deep ripening and vibrant acidity. The Bricco delle Viole, first planted in 1949, was thought to be too cold for Barolo, but that was proved silly and its legend keeps growing, and Aldo was one of the first in Piedmonte to embrace serious organic and holistic practices which has also been seen as the way of the future for ultra quality in the region. The Bricco delle Viole is one of the last sites to be picked in Barolo and this long hang time really elevates this wine with incredible depth and there is always a Grand Cru Core d’Or feel here with a sense of minerallity and finesse. Vajra is traditional in the winemaking, taking great care in the vineyard and it the cellars with each cluster being rigorously sorts and individually berry de-stemming before a lengthy maceration and gentle handling of the wine through primary fermentation. The top Vajra Barolo sees close to 42 months in large Slavonian casks, mostly 25 and 50 hectoliters to allow this fantastic Nebbiolo to fully develop all of its beauty and stunning nuances. If this 2015 is this good, just wow, I can’t imagine what the 2016 will show! Sadly, this year I missed seeing Giuseppe Vajra at the Slow Wine in San Francisco show with Covid playing havoc with travel and trade shows, but I am always grateful for being able to try his wines, these are too good to miss!
($80 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2019 Sheldon Wines, Grenache Blanc, Sperring Road Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
The beautiful and structured whole cluster pressed and 100% stainless Grenache Blanc from Dylan Sheldon at Sheldon Wines bristles with energy and flows across the medium/full bodied palate with graceful smoothness, it reminds me of a top Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc with its clarity, depth and its bright golden presence in the glass. Coming from the tiny Sonoma Coast vineyard, with marine sedimentary soils on Sperring Road, the Grenache Blanc shows orange blossom, zesty fresh picked apricot, a mix of lemony citrusy fruits and white fig fruits along with fleshy melon, bitter peach pit, snappy spices, liquid stones, a faint hint of unsweetened honeycomb and creamy verbena. This is absolute fabulous stuff, highlighting the best qualities of this grape which is found in the south of France and into Spain mainly with a significant role in the mentioned Chateauneuf du Pape along with a host of other white varietals like Roussanne and Clairette Blanche and included in some white Cotes du Rhone as well in the northeast of Spain where it is also known as Garnatxa Blanca and found in white wines in Catalonia, Priorat and Terra Alta as well as being allowed in Rioja as a very minor component. After being brought seriously to California by Tablas Creek and their cuttings from Beaucastel, the Grenache Blanc wines in California have flourished, though have had some trouble finding sales success, but Randall Grahm of the Bonny Doon Vineyard and the mentioned Tablas Creek have made some thrilling wines with Grenache Blanc playing a part, though as a solo effort I think Sheldon has lifted it to another level after searching high and low to find the right vineyard source, which has taken their quest from the south in Santa Barbara to the north in Sonoma Valley and now in the Sonoma Coast region where it, especially in this vintage, looks like a homerun. Grenache Blanc is a grape that can be full of richness, but retains vital acidity, it is less oily and less aggressive than Roussanne, making nicely flexible and while great as part of a blend, it can deliver complexity and personality all on its own, as this wine proves very well.

Sheldon, known to be a Grenache (Noir) Freak, who from 2008 until 2014 focused on their Rhone inspired whites on Grenache Blanc based efforts, making Grenache Blanc as a solo effort in many of those vintages before taking a break from it and turning their attention elsewhere. Curiously enough, as Dylan notes, he has always found a strong similarity between Grenache Blanc and Vermentino both stylistically and viticulturaly, so in 2014 they produced their last Grenache Blanc, before this one and dedicated in the the next 4 vintages to coaxing out various personalities of Vermentino, which was gaining a strong following in California, especially with Ryme Cellars, as well as the mentioned Tablas Creek and Bonny Doon, along with Mark Chesebro in Arroyo Seco. For 2019 Sheldon returned to Grenache Blanc with this lovely 2-acre Gblanc vineyard in the cool Sonoma Coast region close to home, being based in the Santa Rosa area. Sheldon hand harvested the grapes on the 18th of October, with a fairly wide range of brix between the sunny side and shaded side of the rows, which is Dylan’s practice in his whites. He has a love for getting multiple levels of ripeness and flavor development within single varietals to provide fresh zip and to have ripe elements to enhance the flavor and textural pleasures in his whites. This Grenache Blanc was whole cluster pressed, covered with a cold CO2 blanket (dry ice) for an hour of skin contact then settled in tank over night which drops out the green and bitter phenolics, after that the Grenache Blanc is racked down to stainless barrels and sent to the cold room. This cold natural ferment lasted three weeks of cool stainless steel primary and was twice weekly had lees stirring. Sheldon racked it off the heavy lees into a single 75 gallon barrel and allowed no Malo-Lactic to keep exquisite purity and fresh details. The wine rested rest for the winter, then racked twice on new moon/low tide cycles (when there was greater gravity) then bottled unfiltered. This Sperring Road Grenache Blanc is one of the best alternative whites of the season so far, though with just 32 cases made it will not be easy to stock up on, so don’t wait and order directly and quickly!
($32 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Domaine Paul Jaboulet Anie, Crozes-Hermintage Rouge “Domaine de Thalabert” Northern Rhone, France.
Drinking more like a great Cote-Rotie than a Crores-Hermitage, the 2017 Domaine de Thalabert Crores Rouge by Caroline Frey and Jaboulet is a profound effect considering the searing heat of the vintage with an intense inky color and beautifully elegant detailing, this is a stunning pure Syrah wine that thrills the palate. This black/purple hued Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aine Croze-Hermitage “Domaine de Thalabert” starts with some flair and flamboyance highlighted by crushed violets, creme de cassis and espresso roast before classic flavors unfold on the full bodied palate with boysenberry, damson plum, kirsch, blueberry compote and loganberry coulis as well as black licorice, grilled herbs de Provence, a touch of earth, peppercorns, tapenade and sweet cedar notes along with a faint mocha element. While heady, this wine is wonderfully drinkable with a very stylish and balanced form, it comes in at about 13.5% natural alcohol, so it can be enjoyed without any oppressive heat showing, or aggressive tannins, making it easy to enjoy in its youth and sublime with food, especially roast meats, savory mushroom dishes and rustic cuisine, it has enough sweet fruit to go with Turkish lamb or Korean BBQ Pork, meals I would love to try with this gorgeous Syrah. Air brings out a fuller expression of the succulent dark fruits as well as allowing hints of camphor/graphite and delicate mineral tones and this wine lingers on and on heavenly in the glass, this is a Syrah to spend some time with to enjoy it in its complete performance, it is truly excellent until the last drop leaves the bottle.

The Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aine, now owned by the Frey family, led by the talented winemaking tigress Caroline Frey, has been an iconic estate in the Northern Rhone and one of the big three in the region along with Guigal and Chapoutier, most known for their fabled La Chapelle vineyard in Hermitage, Syrah’s most holy site! There’s been wines made here since pre-Roman times, but it was Antoine Jaboulet’s plantings in 1834 and focus on quality which really started to establish the area as one of the major wine producing appellations of the world, after he past the land was passed on to his two sons Henri and Paul, who’s name became company label. The Frey family, who bought the fade glory Jaboulet in 2006, have become big time players in premium French wine production having serious quality properties in Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux, which includes Chateau La Lagune in Haut-Medoc and Château de Corton André in the Cote de Beaune. Caroline, who studied in Bordeaux is one of France’s rising stars and has her hand in many projects, with even a biodynamic high elevation vineyard in Switzerland under her care and I hear these wines are stunning as well as her efforts here at Jaboulet, which have certainly brought this estate back to the elite status it enjoyed in the 1950s and 1960s. The Thalabert parcel, a special terroir, is located in Croze’s pebble-strewn granite soiled lieu-dit of Les Chassis, which has owned by Jaboulet since its founding back in 1834 and is regarded as maybe the greatest set of vines in the Crores-Hermitage AOC, all organic and biodynamic. Frey uses partial whole bunches and well judged use of new wood, really putting the focus on the vintage and trying for transparency and luxurious texture in her recent releases especially and this 2017 is proving to be a very tasty version, maybe not as serious as 2015 and 2016 for the cellar, this is one to drink up and offers a stunning value.
($40 Est.) 94 Pointsgrapelive

2018 Arnot-Roberts, Gamay Noir, El Dorado County, Sierra Foothills.
The 2018 true Gamay Noir from Arnot-Roberts is bright and juicy with its granite soils providing a nice mineral character and the natural acidity makes for a nice balance in this medium bodied and smooth wine that caresses the palate, but still has a tart tanginess and snappy personality with loads of dark berry fruits, a touch of spice and a bite of dried herbs. This is a very interesting version and an expressive Gamay, though I must admit to loving their lighter and more delicately nuanced Trousseau, a wine that quite honestly made this stellar winery famous, that said I am of a fan of everything they do, including this Sierra Foothills grown Gamay and its easy drinking pleasures. Arnot-Roberts was founded in back in 2001 by childhood friends Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts, both Napa natives committed to crafting small lots of transparent wines with a focus on special terroir driven vineyards, especially old and dry-farmed sites and they broke through by not being afraid of exploring the lighter style and unique varietals, like the Trousseau mentioned above, but also with a Gruner Veltliner and even a fantastic Rosé of Touriga Nacional, as well as doing old world inspired versions of Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and in particular Chardonnay, with their version of Trout Gulch Vineyard from the south Santa Cruz Mountains being absolutely spectacular. The grapes, sourced from two vineyard sites, Barsotti and Witters vineyards, both near Placerville are brought into the winery and made in separate lots, with the whole bunches put into steel fermentation tanks and sealed up for several days to start carbonic maceration, traditional in many Cru Beaujolais, allowing the berries to start the fermentation process from the inside out, then aged in a combination of tank and used French oak, with a large Foudre being employed, similar to Foillard’s famous Corcelette bottling.

Duncan and Nathan, first got into Gamay with their collaboration with star sommelier Raj Parr, but have really now have made this wine their own and folding it into their studied and prized collection of wines. The Gamay certainly was influenced by Steve Edmonds, of Edmonds St. John, who was the first to really express this Beaujolais varietal in any meaningful way in California, and who found it here in the Sierra Foothills and was one of the first successful micro urban wineries in the state. Arnot-Roberts’ mission is to seek out vineyards (throughout) Northern California that offer historic quality or unique flavors and now their set includes incredible sites in Napa Valley, the Sonoma Coast, the Santa Cruz Mountains, as well as the Santa Rita Hills, a vineyard in Clearlake and the Sierra Foothills as expressed here in their deep garnet and ruby hued Gamay. All of their single-vineyard series wines sell out pretty fast on their direct to the consumer mailing list, but the regional set of wines can be found at some restaurants and specialized wine merchants, where I luckily found their latest releases of Gamay, Trousseau and the noted Rosé, a dry and exciting pink wine that has always been a secret favorite of mine! This Gamay that unfolds with bramble berry, plum, cherry and cranberry fruits is fun, quaffable and expressive, best at cool temps, it gains from the chill and allows for a more refreshing experience and sharper in detail. This high elevation Gamay is a wine that is appealing and should be on the list for this grape’s ever increasing fans in California and in Oregon, it joins a star studded list of winemakers, like at Pax, Joyce, Jolie-Laide, also from this region and vines, Brick House, one of the first to make a true Gamay, Hundred Suns and others, that have found love and passion in this once maligned varietal, that was in fact once banned from the top vineyards in Burgundy!
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive.com Reviews – June, 2020

2018 Theopolis Vineyards, Rosé of Petite Sirah, Estate Grown, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
The pretty magenta hued Rosato style Rosé from Theopolis Vineyards is made from 100% Saignée of Petite Sirah that was fermented and aged in 100% neutral French oak barrels for 6 months. This robust dry pink has loads of flavor and structure with a profile characterized by crushed tangy raspberries and a spicy kick along with a touch of minty herbs, lavender, orange peel, strawberry, watermelon and sour cherry notes. This wine stays surprisingly crispy fresh and not at all clunky or sweet at 13.3% natural alcohol in a Saignée (bleed from the ripe red grapes) style is notable, making it much more quaffable than you’d expect, it does feel like an Italian version and is really at its best with food. The darker color will appeal to those that usually don’t drink Rosé or want something more bold, but still want refreshment from a warm days of Summer, as this Petite Sirah does well, it certainly has the stuffing to go with BBQ and or pulled pork as well as your favorite beach food basket of items from cheese to cold cut sandwiches. Theopois Vineyards latest set of offerings include the outstanding Estate Grown Petite Sirah, an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, a Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, a Yorkville Highlands Pinot, plus this juicy Estate Grown Rosé of Petite Sirah and a fruity off dry white wine made from a hybrid grape called Symphony, which is a crossing of Grenache Gris and Muscat that is also grown on the estate. I was glad I saved this bottle for a long sunny day, it deliver all that was expected and it put a comforting cool smile on my face, it was a good choice for the moment.

Theopolis Vineyards, known for their outstanding and unique terroir driven and terraced Petite Sirah grapes and vines is owned by the impressive Theodora R. Lee, also known lovingly by her fans as Theo-patra, Queen of the Vineyards, is renown Texan (and San Francisco) trial lawyer and one of a handful of women of color that owner winegrowers in California. Theopolis Vineyards is a small family winery making hand-crafted wines located in California’s high elevation and schist soiled Yorkville Highlands above the Anderson Valley along Highway 128 in the southeastern corner Mendocino County, that Theodora founded in 2003 and has seen an amazing rise in attention in such a short time. Lee’s wines, especially her Petite Sirah which is world class stuff are all very tasty as this Rosé proves are certainly wines to search out and along with the help of consultant Ed Kurtzman, the ex Roar and Freeman winemaker has helped fill out the Theopolis lineup the expressive set of Pinots. Ms. Lee, who studied at UC Davis’ wine school, is a dynamic activist for good, she is the Co-Board Chairperson of the Dallas Post Tribune Newspaper, one of the oldest Black Newspapers in North Texas. She also serves as Co-Chair of the Board Development Committee for the Board of Directors of the YMCA of San Francisco and a Member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of the Bay Area Legal Aid. There is a lot to admire here, in particular the quality of the vines, wines and the person. Theopolis has some of the earlier vintages still available direct from their cellar, many of which I have reviewed at grapelive, with the exceptional 2015, 2016 and the current 2017 Petite Sirah(s) online, all of which are delicious and outstanding values.
($25 Est.) 87 Points, grapelive

2018 Poe Wines, Pinot Meunier, Van der Kamp Vineyard, Sonoma Mountain.
I was very excited to try this vintage of Poe’s Meunier with the long cool growing conditions and the unique terroir of Sonoma Mountain offed all the material for tasty goodness and that hope was fulfilled with this delicious medium bodied red, made from this Champagne grape. I am a fan of Poe Wines and the latest set of releases are really good, especially the incredible sparkling wines, like her Brut Rosé and the Blanc de Noirs, both of which are stunning examples of California bubbly. Winemaker, Samantha Sheehan, who founded her own label Poe Wines in 2009 and known for her beautiful Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, also produces the mentioned traditional Champagne method sparkling wines, a still Rosé, a Nouveau Pinot Noir, as well as this very cool Pinot Meunier, which comes from the historic Van der Kamp Vineyard. The 2018 Van der Kamp Pinot Meunier drinks with an elegance usually reserved for a Pinot Noir and it flows seamlessly across the palate with satiny grace with tangy red fruits, red spices and soft wood accents, lingering on with a touch of dark florals, zesty acidity and tart cherry fruit. This is a wine that goes beautifully with summer meals and like a Foillard Morgon it benefits from a slight chill, but still a serious wine with surprising depth and complexity with plum, cranberry, strawberry and forest bramble berry and the noted cherry fruits, a bit of herbal snap and light cedar notes, plus a pleasing creamy mouth feel. Poe’s version of Meunier was fermented in two vessels – one was 100% whole cluster, while the other was entirely de-stemmed, which gives this wine its personality and complexity. The grapes all hand picked in the cool of night, as Sheehan explains, were not sulfured, and thus (the) fermentation occurred naturally with native yeast. She and her team gently foot tread the tanks, during maceration and primary, two to three times per day for two weeks. Then the Meunier was then pressed into barrel and aged on the lees for 12 months, with this year seeing about 10% new French oak and 90% neutral well seasoned French oak.

Meunier accounts for a third of the vines planted in the Champagne region, though incredibly rare here in California still, and serves the purpose of providing early ripening fruitiness and mouthfeel to the wines of that famed sparkling wine region that sometimes suffers from poor weather, though in recent years Meunier has become geeky cool and some of the best grower producers are using it to craft awesome fizz. Sheehan is a fan of this grape and might its best champion in California, sourcing it from the Van der Kamp Vineyard that lies at the very top of the eastern side of Sonoma Mountain. Rising up to a 1,400 foot elevation and looking down on the town of Glen Ellen to the east and Bennett Valley to the northwest this is a special micro climate that can produce some fabulous Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with Sheehan using this site to great effect. Sonoma Mountain, Sheehan notes, was once part of the Pacific Ocean floor that gives a patchwork of diverse soils, from Speckles loam, Volcanic Tuff and a decomposed stream bed provides for rocky soils littered with many sized stones. Van der Kamp was first planted in 1953, making it one of the oldest Pinot Noir vines (still producing) in California, again according to Sheehan, who is great friends with the Van der Kamp family that farm this awesome property not far from the fabled Hanzell winery. The 2.7 acre block of Pinot Meunier was planted in the early 1990s, with Samantha getting most of it, if not every single cluster, which she divides between her still Rosé, sparkling Pinot Meunier Brut Rosé (which is made in a Champagne method) and this still red wine, that is made only in a miniscule amount. This lush Meunier by Poe Wines is one of my favorites and this 2018 is fun and lively, perfect for what you’d want in a medium bodied alternative red wine, even on day two this wine thrills the senses and adds more whole cluster crunch and some cinnamon and sage notes become more noticeable, though the fruit stays expressive, it should drink nicely for 3 to 5 years.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Keller, Riesling Trocken, Rheinhessen, Germany.
The baby wine in Keller’s magical collection of dry Rieslings is the entry level Rheinhessen Trocken, but don’t let that fool you, this is outstanding stuff that is totally guilt free, when compared to ultra expressive single Cru offering here! Klaus-Peter Keller, who took charge of Weingut Keller about 20 years in 2001 is one of Germany’s Riesling gurus and best winemakers and his G-Max cuvée is the world’s most expensive dry Riesling on release. This 2018 Trocken is like drinking liquid rock showing the pure limestone terroir with chiseled stony detail and excellent dry fruit extract, showing lime, muskmelon, tangerine, tart nectarine (peachiness) with exciting citrus blossoms delicately hiding in the background It’s well reported and not new that Keller is one of gems of the Rheinhessen along with Weingut Wittmann and that Klaus-Peter, who trained abroad in South Africa and in Burgundy at Domaines Hubert Lignier and the famed Armand Rousseau prior to taking his degree in oenology and viticulture in Geisenheim brought this experience to his father’s little known estate that had been around since 1789 and turned into one of the most coveted in Europe. Much of the credit, Klaus-Peter claims comes from hard work in the vineyards and allowing the vines to make these great wines, but Keller has employed a special regime in the cellar with barrel fermentation, and uniquely Klaus-Peter has adopted a program allowing the grapes to macerate on their skins for thirty or forty hours prior to pressing the juice to fuder for fermentation.

While the basic bottling of the white wines are fermented at slightly lower temperatures than the Grosses Gewächs, and bottled earlier they are meant for youthful enjoyment rather than being aged as his top cuvees were designed to be. Keller’s top wines have been compared to Montrachet by famed English Master of Wine Jancis Robinson and I can see why and though I haven’t had many of the upper end stuff, this Trocken is absolutely fabulous. This part of the Rheinhessen is influenced by its limestone soils and warmer climate, where the wines have more generosity and richness than other areas, hence the greatest in the drier style Rieslings that are found here and of course, especially those of Keller, which show incredible depth, density and stony personality. Keller’s main holdings have always been in the famous Dalsheimer Hubacker, and if you get a chance to have a Hubacker Grosses Gewachs (Grand Cru) don’t pass it up, it will probably change your life! Look for Keller’s RR and Kirchspiel, as well as Klaus-Peter’s Riesling “Von der Fels” as they tend to still be reasonably priced for the ethereal quality they deliver, but to get started on Keller this is a great value priced option and I’m glad I got some. Again, this 2018 basic Trocken is steely delicious and really opens up nicely with air adding depth, texture and a seductive earthy character, giving even more to enjoy here, this is a Riesling that you can admire in isolation, but certainly it will be much more fun with matching cuisine, also I state, this is a Riesling for Chablis lovers.
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Laura Lorenzo – Daterra Viticultores, Tabernario Tinto, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia Spain.
One of my favorites and a heroic winegrower, Laura Lorenzo of Daterra Viticultores, based in the remote Ribeira Sacra, which means “Sacred Banks” in Gallego, the local Galician dialect, is making some amazing wines and her 2018s look set to take her fame to the next level, like her latest Tabernario Tinto with its beautiful texture, bright flavors and mineral details that make it drink as fine as a Premier Cru Burgundy. Made from old vine parcels of 60% Mencía, 30% Alicante Bouschet and 10% Palomino, the white grape that is co-fermented into this wine, not all that different than traditional Cote-Rotie, all sourced from Lorenzo’s organic vines in Amandi and Val do Bibei, both sleep river valley locations set on primarily granite soils with a covering of sand and some loams. The Tabernario was only bottling I haven’t tried yet from Laura since she started her own label in 2014 and I was thrilled with the transparent dark fruited profile with layers of Mencia led characteristics showing black cherry, wild plum, cranberry and tart currant fruits, fresh garden herbs, star anise, crushed stones, a touch of leathery earth and light cedar as well as delicate floral tones. The Ribeira Sacra, a favorite of the Romans, who came to this green, northwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula more than 2,000 years ago and were the first to plant and terrace the slopes to grape vines, almost forgotten in modern times due to the harsh working conditions this place is now one of the wine world’s most exciting places.

This light medium bodied Tabernario red has the charm of Cru Beaujolais, like Fleurie especially with its pretty details and a bit of northern Rhone crunchiness and game, even though as mentioned above this vintage has a satiny feel that reminds me of a Pinot. Lorenzo is committed to holistic and natural methods in the vineyards and in her cellar looking to capture the purest form of terroir and of the vineyard, she works with indigenous or wild yeast exclusively and mostly whole cluster with elevage in only used well seasoned oak casks of various sizes and does no adjustments other that the absolute minimum dose of SO2, all unfined and unfiltered. The 2018 vintage was not kind to Lorenzo and she lost a huge amount of grapes to severe weather, but she persevered and crafted a beauty with this Tabernario which was harvested by hand in early September and was 50% whole bunches and 50% de-stemmed then skin-macerated for 10 days with spontaneous fermentation in large 500L & 1000L chestnut barrels with this wine being raised for 11 months in cask before its bottling. The Ribeira Sacra is a cool Atlantic zone with granitic, schist and slate soils predominating here in a region that looks more like Germany’s river wine growing areas than most of Spain, which helps to explain Laura’s wines that have lower alcohols, this one is just 12%, and that are highly aromatic, zesty, quaffable and elegant in style. The Daterra offerings are wildly addictive and unique, I highly recommend checking them out!
($30 Est.) 92 Pointsgrapelive

2018 Weingut Spreitzer, Riesling Kabinett, Lenchen, Rheingau Germany.
After focusing more on the old vine and dry wines at Spreitzer in my reviews, I noticed I hadn’t mentioned one of my favorite wines in their lineup, this Lenchen Kabinett, and that is an almost unforgivable oversight, as this 2018 vintage is a beauty and a fabulous Summer wine. One of the oldest family wineries in the Rheingau, Weingut Spreitzer, located in the tiny hamlet of Oestrich in the middle Rheingau is run now by Andreas and Bernd Spreitzer, who took over from their father Josef in 1997 and have really done an amazing job elevating this historic estate. One of their prize holdings, is the Lenchen Vineyard with its VDP Grosse Lage Rosengarten being the elite parcel here, it is set on mostly of loam and loess soils and not far from the Rhein and the winery itself. There are numerous underground streams here that ensure that even in dry years the vines have plenty of refreshment and a natural source of water for the roots to drink up. The Lenchen delivers a lovely concentration of flavors and the Kabinett with expressive fruity character drinks almost as impressively as a Spatlese with a serious palate impact and structure, while still feeling bright and brisk, not cloying or overtly sweet with apricot, apple, pineapple and racy citrus fruits along with touches of gingery spices, lemongrass, lime sorbet, wild mint tea and rosewater. This Kabinett has a sunny personality and makes you smile with comforting yellow fruits, but there is an underlying mineral focus and stoniness that reminds you that this terroir is very special.

I last visited the winery with Andreas in the 2016 harvest and tasted in the ancient cellars and in the modern tasting lounge, it certainly is a fantastic and beautiful place to visit when you tour the Rheingau region, it should be on your short list of paces to taste when in Germany and not far from some other famous spots like Kloster Eberbach and Schloss Vollrads, as well as being close the Geisenheim University and just up River from Rudesheim, one of the Rhein’s most picturesque villages. The Lenchen parcels overlook the widest part of the Rhein and this area gets an almost lake effect climate, warmer and moist, usually allowing for high sugars and early ripening grapes, making for flexibility in picking so the Spreitzer’s can make a wide array of styles from the Grand Cru dry Grosses Gewachs to a lush and intensely sweet Auslese, as well as this traditional Kabinett. The vines are littered here with pebbles as well as heavy tertiary, iron-containing clay marl and quartzite that adds complexity to the profile that leans toward exotic in nature. The Spreitzer team used a combination of old fuder (German oak cask) and stainless steel tanks to ferment and age the Lench Kabinett to retain fresh detail as well as give texture, which this vintage manages to convey to near perfection, making for an ideal Kabinett Riesling that is both fun and quaffable along with having complexity to thrill the senses and goes brilliantly with food, classic German dishes and especially spicy Asian cuisines like Thai.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Cameron Winery, Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The beautiful and dark profiled Cameron Dundee Hills Pinot is one of the best values of the vintage with gorgeous detail and much less reductive notes than usually show in these young Cameron Pinots showing an array of expressive flavors and floral aromas. The 2018 Cameron Dundee Hills Pinot, by the legendary John Paul, one of Oregon’s hall of fame winemakers is very Vosne-Romannee like and at 13.4% is wonderfully balance and full of energy with layers of black cherry, mulberry, currant, strawberry and plum fruits, crushed rose petals, orange tea, delicate earth and loaminess and red spices. With air this exceptional wine adds mineral, sweet herb and smoky wood notes with touches of vanilla and cedar adding just the right amount of luxurious accents here. It’s very interesting, this Willamette Pinot takes on a personality that actually reminds me of Assmannshausen Spatbergunder with qualities similar to the fabled Hollenberg cru, like some of the reserve bottlings of August Kesseler, which are wines that in some vintages are as good as Pinot Noir can ever hope to get. Both Clos Electrique and Abbey Ridge use organic treatments and holistic farming methods and have a variety of clonal material with John Paul preferring old heritage clones which he painstakingly collected himself and the yields are limited to produce wines of depth and concentration.

John Paul’s Pinots are always made from non-irrigated vines and in this case was sourced from his own Abbey Ridge and Clos Electrique cru vineyards set of the classic Jory (red iron rich) volcanic soils which give this regions wines their unique personalities and distinction, which I find adds complex and exotic nuances nd makes Dundee special. This 2018 is fresh and has a deep garnet and ruby hue in the glass that beautifully captures the light and the texture is satiny and the length is very rewarding, making it an insanely good value and a wine that will excel with cuisine, especially with seared duck breast, pepper crusted ahi, blackened salmon and even smoked meats. This 2018, not an easy vintage for the Oregon winemakers, is very charming and the brave and skilled were rewarded with some incredible Pinot Noirs, like this one from Cameron, it is a wine to stock up on for mid term drinking, 3 to 5 years. Cameron usually allows their Pinot to age a minimum of 18 months and sometimes closer to 22 months. Cameron Winery, founded in 1984, is dedicated to producing high-quality, hand-crafted small lot and sustainably-farmed wines, producing 3,000 to 4,000 cases annually and is regarded as one of the best Pinot producers in the new world, but John Paul, who also loves Italian wines, make a small amount of Nebbiolo and Friuli inspired whites, including a blend of Friuliano, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio and Auxerrois, that should not be missed either!
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Mönchhof, Riesling Estate QbA, Mosel Germany.
I’m a long time and big fan of Robert Eymael’s wines, both at J. J. Christoffel and his historic Mönchhof estate in the Mosel and this 2018 Estate QbA Riesling is a prime example why, it is a pure and expressive wine that just pleases the senses and easy to love with slate driven character band fresh zesty flavors. The Mönchhof Estate, formerly owned by the Cistercian abbey of Himmerod, and founded back in 1177 is one of the oldest wineries on the Mosel with its modern cellars dating back to the 1500s and famous for its select plots in the fabled Ürziger Würzgarten and Erdener Prälat. The Eymael family in 1804 purchased the estate after secularization, when the Church was forced to give up much of its lands throughout northern Europe from Napoleon at an auction in Paris. The estates top vineyards are comprised of the very steep parcels mainly in the Erdener Treppchen area set on blue slate along with veins of volcanic and iron rich soils that add an exotic spicy quality to the wines. This fleshy little Riesling entertains in the glass with a delicate golden color and is perfect with lightly spicy foods, especially Asian stir fry chili shrimp, plus it can play nicely with basic cold cuts and Summer salads.

Mönchhof’s Estate Riesling is slightly off dry, but drinks light and crisp with nice fruit concentration leaning on peach and unripe apricot along with tropical elements, green apple and racy citrus all complimented by steely/flint mineral, salty wet stones, snappy spices and spearmint notes. All of Eymael’s vineyards are planted 100% to Riesling with original rootstocks, which are old clones and farmed sustainable and hand tended, as required by the serve slopes the vines hang on to. This basic Estate Riesling opens up to feel just about Kabinett level sweetness and gets smoothly creamy from its residual sugars, though the over all impression is one of fine balance, freshness and stony details, it is a no guilt purchase and a beautiful Summer refresher. In this vintage, most of the fruit comes from the famous VDP Grosse Lage Grand Cru vineyard site Ürziger Würzgarten (that translates to spice garden) which gives this Riesling its noted spicy profile and complex character. The 2018 is a true bargain and while quaffable, low alcohol style it still has structure and depth to be enjoyed for 3 to 5 years and its aromatics are worth the price only with rosewater, white blossoms and sea shore notes. Mönchhof’s lineup in recent vintages have proved highly rewarding and in particular these 2018s are a riveting collection at the top end with quality throughout starting with this one, keep an eye out for them.
($19 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Chateau de Rouanne, Vinsobres Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
Wow, what a gorgeous and explosive new wine by Louis Barruol, owner of the famed Chateau de Saint Cosme in Gigondas, this Chateau de Rouanne Vinsobres is a meaty and deep purple/garnet Rhone red co-fermentation of Barruol’s old vine Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Louis Barruol has long used fruit from this remote area and has recently added this estate to his lineup as a separate label within the Saint Cosme family, which makes sense as Vinsobres has been recognized as its own appellation, an upgrade from a generic Cotes du Rhone, which I would argue was long over due, since this cooler and high quality terroir is unique and deserves to be more widely known as this wine certainly proves. Louis Barruol has coveted this site for years, he notes that, like his famous Chateau de Saint Cosme, Chateau de Rouanne was first founded during Gallo-Roman times, probably dating back to the 1400s. Barruol adds that, most of Rouanne’s vineyards date from the 1960s and are massale selections (special old clones) that offer substantial genetic diversity and low yields that shows in the wine, giving it concentration and depth, while the elevation and soils allow for natural acidity and heightened aromatics. These qualities and characteristics shine in this 2018, like Saint Cosme’s Gigondas it is brilliantly dark and inviting with polished texture and a full body delivering black raspberry, damson plum, boysenberry compote, creme de cassis and cherry fruit along with whole bunches influences highlighted with peppercorns, violets, earthiness and herbs de provence.

The Chateau de Rouanne Vinsobres Rouge was crafted in this vintage from 50% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre grown on sandy, iron rich soils set on a limestone marl base with some clay and was, as noted above, all co-fermented primally with whole cluster and all indigenous yeasts in concrete tanks, where it was also aged. The wine rested in the cement vat for 18 months, which allows the wine to show absolute purity in its final form and gave it time to fill out before bottling. The vines in Louis Barruol’s Vinsobres are all organic and head trained with a very high percentage of Syrah interplanted here, much more than you’d find in other southern Rhone Crus, which adds to this wine’s distinct profile that seems more northern Rhone in first impression, though the lush Grenache takes the stage mid palate and creates a luxurious harmony here and there is a velvety almost chocolatey element with the touch of Mourvedre adding a contrasting gamey note. This 2018 GSM got way better as the bottle went down and fans of Saint Cosme with want to stock up on this one, it actually reminds me of Barruol’s Chateauneuf du Pape and is almost half the price! Barruol says Château de Rouanne is an extraordinary (and historic) place in many respects, primarily for its terroir – very few locations in the southern Rhone can boast vineyard sites of this pedigree and that he very excited for the potential here, which he compares with Cotes de Nuits Burgundies, as are Rhone lovers, believing that this site will only get better and better as he focuses more attention to it. I can’t wait to see what the future holds, but this stuff is delicious now!
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Stony Hill, White Riesling, Napa Valley.
Stony Hill, a legendary Spring Mountain winery, had its first harvest was in 1952 and has been one of Napa Valley’s great wineries ever since with especially tasty Chardonnay and this Riesling, a classic of this estate, and a wine that has a noted history of aging well. It was nice to see Stony Hill recognized by Slow Wine this year and that is where I got a chance to taste through their current lineup, all of which were stunning wines and well worth searching out, with the mentioned Chardonnay and the Riesling being my favorites, but I must say I was also very impressed with the Cabernet Sauvignon too, which seems like a huge bargain in Napa Cab, will this 2016 version being a fabulous and complex wine. The Riesling shines a golden hue in the glass and it gets going on the medium bodied palate with peach, zesty lime, pineapple and apple butter along with a zesty lemon oil, verbena and spicy kick adding mineral tones, white blossoms and a whiff of petrol. This 2018 vintage with its cool fresh details and extract looks set to have a very long life and when fully open it takes on extra orange, wet rock and kumquat elements hinting at the complexities that should develop in the years to come. Mike Chelini, the winemaker, has been with Stony Hill for over 40 years now and has produced some magical wines and has inspired many of his compatriots, including the famous John Kongsgaard, who was always a fan of the Stony Hill Chardonnays.

Stony Hill, an all dry farmed and green sustainable farmed property, first started planting their White Riesling back in the late 1940s with the latest block getting planted in 1989, making most of the vines being old vines with at least 70 years of age on them. Stony Hill sits high on the side of Spring Mountain, between the towns of St. Helena and Calistoga and the wines always have acid to last for decades, that the winery thinks is important for cellaring, along with the complex flavor profiles that, as they add, unfold only after several years of bottle age. Interestingly, Fred and Eleanor McCrea, the founders of Stony Hill, were huge white Burgundy fans and almost planted the entire estate to Chardonnay, but were talked out of it by UC Davis experts that thought diversity was import for success on the site, so they ended up going with Chardonnay, Riesling and a small amount of Pinot Blanc, followed a few years later by fields of Gewurztraminer and Semillon, and finally in the 21st century put Cabernet Sauvignon in. Now Peter and Willinda McCrea run the winery and their daughter Sarah is looking forward to taking over in the coming years after joining the family operation in 2011, all of which are committed to keeping the traditions and old world style they have grown up with going. This Riesling which goes great with crab dishes and baked ham is a California classic, one of the grapes new world heros, keep an eye out for it!
($39 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 La Fortuna, Rosso di Montalcino DOC, Tuscany, Italy.
The 2010 La Fortuna Rosso di Montalcino is ripe, textured and silky smooth with pure Sangiovese character, it goes wonderfully with simple cuisine and shows a good cut of freshness for easy youthful drinking pleasure. The 2018 vintage is less serious than 2016 in the Montalcino area, but still offers plenty of flavor and value to savvy Tuscan fans and the Rosso di Montalcino “Baby Brunello” offerings are going to be fun and there will be plenty of bargains to be found, like this La Fortuna with its polished and elegant styling. Fresh out the box the La Fortuna is smoothly rich with vine picked tangy blackberry, wild plum, cranberry, strawberry and tart cherry fruits along with blood orange, tobacco leaf, porporri florals, rosemary, lavender and spiced cedar notes. A richer form comes out with air and food making it a medium to full bodied Sangiovese that has a lot f charm, especially for the price.

This 100% Sangiovese Grosso (Brunello clone) was crafted with traditional care and made for early drinking with grapes coming from vineyard parcels that range from 15 to 25 years on the semi volcanic soils of the region and was fermented in temperature controlled tanks with about a 20 day maceration on the skins to give it that dark burgundy hue in the glass. After fermentation this La Fortuna Rosso di Montalcino is racked mostly to large Slovenian oak casks for six months and aged a further six months in mainly 1 and 2 times filled small French barriques, which explains the luxurious velvety mouth feel, before bottling. This estate goes back a long way with the Zannoni first arriving at “La Fortuna” back in 1907 to work the farmstead and through the generations rose up to finally purchase the property and become a private winery and label with fifth generation Gioberto Zannoni now in charge at this highly regarded Brunello label. I suggest buying the 2013 and 2016 if you can still find them, but don’t over look these tasty and graceful 2018s either.
($25 Est.) 91 Pointsgrapelive

2013 Massolino, Barolo DOCG, Piedmonte, Italy.
Tucked between the legendary and tight 2010 and the exceptional 2016 vintages, these 2013s are not getting the credit they deserve and are proving to be absolutely delicious Barolo and outstanding drinkers, especially wines like this basic Massolino Barolo, which is quite impressive and opening up nicely with classic Nebbiolo highlights and depth of flavors. The deep crimson/garnet and brick 2013 Massolino starts with earth, game and seeped rose petals with brambly fruits that include plum, cherry, raspberry and mulberry on framed by structural tannin and a cut of natural acidity, though there is a hedonistic sense of ripe lushness and the palate expands warmly and with full bodied richness. There is a back ground of wild herbs, mineral and leather, it lingers with kirsch, anise and chalky stones. This wine is made using traditional Barolo methods with fermentation and maceration lasting about 15 days at warm temperatures and it is aged 30 months in large oak cask, plus as the winery notes, bottles are left to mature in a special dark, cool cellar for just over a year before release.

The history of the estate is very extensive and the Massolino family and their wines have became legends within the region, they are based in the commune of Serralunga d’Alba and have been since 1896, when Giovanni Massolino founded the estate. He was noted for being enterprising, tenacious, and creative, interestingly it was Giovanni that first brought electricity to the village. Giovanni’s son, Giuseppe, built the original Massolino cellar, expanded their holdings to include some of the areas best terroir and in 1934 founded the Consortium for the Defence of Barolo and Barbaresco, passionately dedicated to quality. More recently, in the 1990s, Franco and Roberto Massolino, both oenologists, joined the family estate and brought even greater fame with a series of spectacular Barolo from the cru Vigna Rionda and have continued that level ever since. While mainly a Barolo estate Massolino also, like La Spinetta do fabulous Barbera and a fine semi sweet Moscato d’Asti that is a lovely treat. This 2013 Barolo will go another 15 to 20 years easy, but can be really enjoyed now, in particular with rustic and robust cuisine, it also represents a nice value, as you can find it in the States under 50 dollars.
($48 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Jolie-Laide Wines, Trousseau/Poulsard/Gamay/Valdiguie, California.
Jolie-Laide Wines and winemaker Scott Schultz, who has been an assistant winemaker at Pax Wines, is now a fully established star in California and his wines are part of the new generation’s re-inventing of the state’s wine and his latest set of limited production efforts are wonderful drinking wines, with some being absolutely outstanding, like his Halcon Vineyard Syrah, the solo Gamay Noir, his Shake Ridge GSM, and this lighter quaffable bright glow-glow style red. This unique fresh and low alcohol red blend, inspired by the Alpine French region of the Jura, but with a California twist was fermented partially carbonic for brightness and all whole cluster adding to the complex spice aromas and bright fruits which Scott Schultz made from Trousseau, Poulsard, Gamay and old vine Valdiguie reminds me of Julien Labet’s Jura “Metis” a blend of Trousseau, Poulsard and Pinot Noir, one of my favorites of the region or Ganevat’s Côtes du Jura “Julien en Billat—L’Enfant Terrible du Sud”. Likely, according to Schultz, this is most “Outré Vin” or unique in the lineup at Jolie-Laide, and what he calls a vinous Californian pastiche inspired by his reverence of the wines of the French Alps, both in the Jura and Savoie regions. Just a tiny amount of these varieties are planted in California, as Schultz notes, but Jolie-Laide is hoping to be a part of the movement that will shift that paradigm and bring these grapes into the fold and embraced by more growers and wines like this make a compelling case. A few years back I had Scott’s version of Halcon Syrah and I became hooked on his wines such was the soulful rendition in the glass and this Trousseau, Poulsard, Gamay and Valdiguie 2019 is another tasty treat.

The Jolie-Laide Trousseau, Poulsard, Gamay and Valdiguie was aged only about 6 months in well season barrels this wine was bottled early to capture its freshness and purity with almost no sulfur added, making for what the French and natural wine enthusiasts call, as mentioned, a Glou-Glou wine or as we might say, it’s an easy quaffer with a certain tangy/zesty quality. This is delightful stuff with spicy raspberry, sour cherry, wild plum and cranberry fruits and mineral crunchiness as well as delicate floral tones, anise and snappy herbs in a light to medium bodied wine that benefits from a slight chill, much like the wines that inspired it. Schultz has created a gem here, at only 12.3% natural alcohol it still has pleasing ripe flavors to go with the vibrant acidity, it will be a fun Summer red to enjoy in its youth. The new wave of country style, less oaky wines is here to stay and have carved out a serious niche with California producers like Jolie-Laide leading the way, along with the likes of Martha Stoumen, Jaimee Motley, Ryme Cellars, Sheldon Wines, Ian Brand, Dirty & Rowdy, Arnot-Roberts, the first winery to put California Trousseau on the map, and others. Schultz, a Chicago native, moved to California in 2007 and worked for Thomas Keller, running the wine program at Keller’s Bouchon Bistro in Yountville before moving on to winemaking joining Arnot-Roberts, after which a stint at Ryme Cellars then on to Pax Wines under Pax Mahle. All the while Schulz became focused on natural and transparent style wines influenced by old world regions, but exploiting the wealth of the California climate and soils. Be sure to check out the latest Joile-Laide offerings, they are sure to impress, like this one does.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2015 Lasseter Family Wines “Voila” Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma Valley.
The 2015 Lasseter Voila is a rich and vinous white Bordeaux style blend coming mainly from old vines in Sonoma and has loads of concentration with layers of lemon curd, peach and pineapple along with vanilla bean, quinces and leesy brioche adding a hint of wet stone and honeysuckle in a full bodied luxurious wine that flamboyantly caresses the palate. This is a rather lush wine that will surely get your attention and certainly make an impact on the sense, it will need soft cheeses and or a meal to get the best out of it, the creamy brie style will really bring out the best here or go with decedent crab cakes. Lasseter, known mostly for estate grown Rhone style wines with vines near Glen Ellen is also doing some interesting Bordeaux influenced wines with some Moon Mountain grapes being added to the lineup. I was impressed by the lineup at Lasseter the last time I ran through the wines and this one, which might get lost amongst the reds, was maybe my favorite and it gets better and better as it opens in the glass and its golden color shines intensely, it really is an appealing effort.

With the ancient vine Semillon, which makes up 50% of this tasty wine, coming off the famed Monte Rosso Vineyard, that was planted in the late 1800s on the higher hillsides that face west, that allows a cooling effect and this volcanic red soiled site allows for deep flavor development and ripeness. The combination of 30% regular Sauvignon Blanc as well as the aromatic 20% Musque Clone adds a zesty, tanginess and juicy lemon/lime quality here, that fruit comes from the Sonoma Valley floor. This Voila is modeled loosely on Haut-Brion Blanc, in Graves/Pessac Leognan region and like Haut-Brion Blanc it has an opulent flavors, mouth feel and loads of creamy texture. The wine was aged in both new French oak and cement egg giving it its lavish profile and presence. In California this style wine is a rarity, and Lasseter has done a very convincing job on this one and it compares well with some elite offerings like Peter Michael, Luc Morlet Family and Shared Notes by Jeff Pisoni and his wife Bibiana González Rave Pisoni. Lasseter has proven to be a serious winery, not just a vanity project by John Lasseter the founder of Pixar, and you should not over look their stuff, it gets better and better each year.
($42 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Sandlands Vineyards, Cinsault, Lodi California.
The Sandlands label is the highly acclaimed personal project of Tegan and Olivia Passalacqua, with wines that pay tribute to, as they put it, the forgotten classic California varieties, primarily grown in decomposed granite (sand), from regions and vineyards that have been farmed for many generations but have remained the outliers of California viticulture. You may know Tegan’s work with Turley Wine Cellars, when he is the head winemaker and vineyard manager, overseeing many historic old vine vineyards, including the Bechtold Vineyard in Lodi where this old vine Cinsualt comes from. Passalacqua’s Cinsault has a fresh and crisp nature, it shows a bright cherry, plum, strawberry and spiced raspberry fruit core as well as smooth tannin, zesty acids, minty herb and a mineral tone, adding a touch of florals, earth and a hint of bramble with air, making for a delightful and supple low alcohol red. This wine shows that winemaking in California can even in hot climates produce detailed and elegant wines, especially when hand crafted by a passionate vigneron that knows every inch and nuance of the vines. Passalacqua who is a state treasure, with an overwhelming knowledge of varietals and California wine history, works primarily head-trained, dry-farmed and own rooted vines, noted that the vineyards he partners with harken back to California’s roots of exploration, wonder, and hard work. Passalacqua, who obviously is talented with Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, is wonderfully gifted with many grapes including this Cinsault, as well as Chenin Blanc, Mataro (Mourvedre), the Mission grape and Carignane, any of which under the Sandlands label should be sought out.

The Sandlands 2018 Lodi Cinsault, a small lot offering with only eight barrels produced was made from grapes sourced from vines originally planted in 1886, as Tegan adds, in the heart of Western Lodi by Joseph Spenker and farmed for decades by Al Bechthold. The Bechthold Vineyard is a legendary site and Cinsault, a grape that is part of the Rhone family and one of the Chateauneuf du Pape collection is known for handling heat and lack of water, while still providing acidity and delicacy of flavors. Cinsault is also the secret sauce of many fine Rosé wines, including lots in the Provence region and in the famed Bandol AOC. This varietal is gaining popularity in California as well as being a huge star in South Africa, like in the wines by Baadenhorst, a country its also been in since the 1800s. Tegan Passalacqua, who is a Napa Valley native, has worked in the cellars of Craggy Range in New Zealand with Doug Wisor, with Eben Sadie in the Swartland of South Africa, who also makes an incredible Cinsault, and with Alain and Maxime Graillot in the Northern Rhone Valley of France. For the past eleven years, as mentioned, he has worked for Turley Wine Cellars, working his way up from harvest intern to winemaker/vineyard Manager. I highly recommend getting on Tegan’s Sandlands Vineyards mailing list as his wines usually sell out within minutes of being put on offer. Be sure to keep an eye out for this lovely Cinsault, which in 2018 came in at just 12.3% natural alcohol, it goes get with simple cuisine and can be served with a slight chill for outdoor enjoyment. This wine gets better and better as it opens in the glass, its pretty ruby hue and smooth textured flavors are almost Pinot like and it is very sad when the bottle empties!
($26 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

N.V. H. Billiot Fils, Rosé Brut Grand Cru Champagne, Ambonnay, France.
The Billiot Rosé Brut Champagne is a long time favorite grower fizz of mine and I always have happy memories coming back to me when I taste this small producer based in Montagne de Reims. With its Grand Cru sites in Ambonnay, Billiot, now run by Laetitia Billiot who is the fourth generation tho run this estate, makes a superb collection of hand crafted Champagnes, like this delicious Brut Rosé that shows fine finesse, elegance, fresh detail and a wonderfully vinous depth. Billiot farms 18 small parcels in the Ambonnay Grand Cru area with almost all being in prime hillside plots which heighten the quality and complexity in these beautiful sparkling wines. The Billiot Brut Rosé Grand Cru pleases from the start with a delightful and vivid pink magenta hue and an ultra caressing and creamy mouse which leads to a concentrated palate of black cherry, zesty citrus, red apples and brioche along with mineral notes, a touch of rose petals and nuttiness.

The latest disgorgement was 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay, as per normal for this bottling and the final assemblage included 50% 2015, 25% 2014, 25% 2013 plus 10% Pinot Noir still wine from the 2015 vintage for color. The Billiot wines are almost all tank raised, only one cuvee sees barrel fermentation, and this Brut Rosé saw a en triage aging of 36 months in enameled vats with the 2015 still wine Pinot seeing used French barrique. The wines are pressed in traditional vertical basket presses in small lots and wines always show nuanced personalities, even the multi vintage blends are each unique and have a structured feel while still being remarkably graceful and luxurious, like this one shows. This Champagne can be a special occasion bubbly, but it really shines with cuisine and a meal, adding a sense of celebration and romance to any evening.
($60 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Desire Lines Wine Co., Riesling, Cole Ranch Vineyard and AVA, Mendocino County.
I would be amiss if after reviewing all of the latest Desire Lines Wine Co. wines without saying how good their dry Riesling was, as this 2018 Cole Ranch is really a beautiful California version of this grape, it is one a growing number of quality examples in the state joining long time legend Stony Hill, including Reeve, Joyce, Morgan, Cobb, Stirm, Union-Sacre and of course Tatomer, one of the first to lead this new wave of dry Riesling. Cody Rasmussen’s Desire Lines Wine Co. Cole Ranch Riesling while modeled after Germany’s Grosses Gewachs or GG’s has for me a quality and style that reminds me of some of the great Aussie versions like Pike’s, Grosset’s Polish Hill, Rolf Binder, Henschke, Pewsey Vale and Jim Barry’s Claire Valley expressions. The 2018 is bright, intense and wildly enjoyable, Riesling fans with love this stuff with its vivid acidity and riveting layers of white peach, racy lime, green melon, papaya/mango fruits with a zesty pop of verbena, lemon oil and orange blossoms, plus wild fennel, wet stones, brisk steeliness and dried ginger spiciness. The Cole Ranch, planted back in 1973, is both a single vineyard site and its own AVA in Mendocino County, it is a true Monopole, located in a narrow valley between Boonville and Ukiah that offers a cool climate terroir and like Potter Valley makes for good Riesling country. Rasmussen notes that Cole Ranch has soils warm up late in the spring, it also tends to stay well shaded by the sharp mountain ridges above, and temperatures plummet at night as cool air flows downhill into the vineyard preserving fresh detail and crystalline purity in the wine, especially true in this vintage.

The 2018 Cole Ranch Riesling, sourced from garly head drained and dry farmed old vines was whole-cluster pressed to tank, where the juice was cold settled for 48 hours, which is very important to clear green/bitter phenolics out before it was gently racked to neutral wood barrels for natural fermentation, very similar to how the German GG’s are crafted. Rasmussen, who has made a few vintages from this site, says the Cole Ranch Riesling has always been super slow ferment, making for an extra wait and he explains that 2018 proved to be no different as his Riesling didn’t finish primary fermentation until late January. It is very exciting times for California, with an incredible new generation of winemakers and labels to follow, like Desire Lines Wine Co. and winemaker Cody Rasmussen, who as assistant winemaker at Bedrock Wine Co. under Morgan Twain-Peterson MW has finely honed his talents and gained an amazing understanding of vineyards and California history which he has applied to his own wines. His latest set of wines are compelling and soulful collection of goodies with an outstanding couple of Syrah(s) with Shake Ridge Vineyard and Griffin’s Lair bottlings that are two distinct and terroir driven marvels. Beyond his stellar Syrah offerings, I am impressed with his Mourvedre and Carignan based reds as well as this delightful and well crafted dry Riesling, this is a micro winery that is well worth checking out and I highly recommend joining the mailing list, these are some of best values you’ll find. This Cole Ranch dry Riesling has tons of personality and is fabulous as a Summer sipper, but has the extract and substance to companion serious cuisine, enjoy it with everything from oysters, grilled shrimp and Asian dishes to honey roasted ham or fresh cut sushi.
($22 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Ridge Vineyards, Mancini Ranch, Carignane and Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County.
The Ridge 2018 Mancini Ranch is an old vine field blend which is primarily Carignane 80% and with lesser dose of Zinfandel 20% making for beautiful and slightly lighter style wine with loads of fresh detail and with a more cool climate character than the Dry Creek and or Alexander Valley bottlings. Still ripe, dark and delicious this Mancini Ranch that is labeled 13.1% natural alcohol highlights Carignane’s bright elements and black fruit personality, but even with only 20% the Zinfandel really shines through with loads of raspberry, delicate cinnamon spice and cedar leading on the palate adding blackberry, plum and currant fruits as well as anise and sage notes. This is so delicious I couldn’t help but have an extra glass of this Mancini Ranch with pizza, I am already thinking of getting more bottles while it is still available! If you are a fan of Ridge’s wines you will love this and it will cheer your friends mood at BBQs and Summer dinner parties with simple cuisine, this vintage has a certain charm that is impossible to resist.

Carignan or Carignane is a grape mostly found in the south of France with serious plantings in the Languedoc’s Corbieres as well as being one of Rhone grapes found in Chateauneuf du Pape as well as being a minor player in Gigondas too, along with have a home in Spain from the Priorat to Rioja, plus the Italian island of Sardinia. It has been in new world a long time, probably longer than most other noble French varietals and Zinfandel, Carignane grows well here in Sonoma County, especially in Dry Creek, Alexander Valley and in this case the Russian River, as well as Mendocino where most solo efforts seem to come from, as well as seeing a newer set of planting in Paso Robles, thanks to selected clones being brought over by Tablas Creek and the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel. Ridge has of course a fabulous selection of Zinfandel based wines from which to chose, including my favorites like Lytton Springs and Geyserville, but you should venture into their Rhone based stuff, especially these Carignane led offerings, with their Buchignani, from Alexander Valley and this Mancini Ranch.
($36 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2015 Weingut Maximin Grünhaus-Von Schubert, Riesling Trocken, Maximin Grunhauser Abtsberg, Ruwer-Mosel, Germany.
The 2015 Maximin Grunhauer Abtsberg Grosse Lage Trocken is pure stony and mineral heaven gaining textural dimension, but with an incredible sense of restraint in fruit and a power sense of place, this chiseled dry Riesling with its golden straw color and steely intensity is almost profound, tasting of liquid rock from where these vines are dug into the slate slopes. This is fabulous stuff with subtle citrus, unripe apricot, granny smith apple and tangy quince fruits leading the way on the medium bodied mouth watering palate along with a hint of petrol, wet flint and saline, this is a soulful and earthy Riesling that has years and years of quality life ahead. The historic Maximin Grünhaus estate, which dates back to 966 AD, lies at the foot of a long, steep south-facing slope on the left bank of the tiny Ruwer river, about two kilometers upstream from where it joins the Mosel. The modern winery began, after the church was forced out of large land ownership by Napoleon when the lands were auctioned for secular use, In 1882, when it was purchased by an ancestor of Carl von Schubert, who is the fifth generation of his family to own the Grünhaus estate. The property, one of oldest and most famous in Germany is divided into three separate but contiguous vineyards of Abtsberg, which was a favorite of the abbots and at one point was theirs exclusively, Herrenberg, and Bruderberg. Each of these Maximin Grunhaus vineyards has its own individual character and taste profile with subtle differences in terroir, which explains the uniqueness of the wines made at Maximin Grünhaus.

Wines from Abtsberg or Abbot’s Mountain were originally destined for the table of the Abbot (or “Abt”) of the Abbey of St. Maximin, so good were the wines they didn’t want to share. The site covers just 35 acres, parts of which have been planted with vines for over a thousand years, as the winery notes. The Abtsberg is set on blue Devonian slate and the hillside runs south-east to south-west, achieving a gradient of up to 70 percent, making getting the grapes at harvest a tough job indeed. The Ruwer Valley is a tiny tributary that joins the Mosel just a bit downstream of Trier. Although, as the importer Loosen Bros. notes, the wines are labeled simply as “Mosel,” the Ruwer has a very distinct and delicate style due to its generally cooler conditions and well-drained slate soils with (in my opinion) less exotic or tropical fruit you see in riper areas of the Mosel. The age of vines range between 30 and 70 years for this Trocken bottling and the grapes are painstakingly hand harvested from these low-yielding mostly old vines in the Maximin Grunhauser Abtsberg vineyard. In the cellar the Von Schubert’s employ a spontaneous “Sponti” fermentation in 1,000-liter Fuder (large German oak) casks. This bottling is a real sleeper and unlike the Prädikat wines, like the Kabinett and Spatlese that are more widely available, this dry version can be found with some effort and is a wildly delicious deal, it should be on your Riesling radar. I was lucky to sit in on a panel with Herr von Schubert, along with Philippe Wittmann, Dr. Loosen and some other esteemed German producers a few years back, where their dry GG’s were discussed as well as poured and Maximin Grunhaus stood out for its quiet nobility, it was something that has stayed with me.
($28 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2016 Big Basin Vineyards “Homestead” Rhone Style Red Blend, California.
Bradley Brown’s Big Basin Vineyards delicious Homestead is a dark heavily Syrah led Rhone varietal blend that incorporates fruit from some of his favorite Santa Cruz & Gabilan Mountain vineyard sites, including his estate and the Coastview Vineyard, all hillside and ocean influenced climates. The 2016 is drinking absolutely fantastic right now and is really opening up into a stylish and thrilling wine, made from 48% Syrah, 27% Grenache, 15% Mourvèdre, 9% Carignane and 1% co-fermented Viognier grapes delivering a Cote-Rotie meets Gigondas or Chateauneuf du Pape like performance in the glass with a deep purple/black and garnet hue and loads of black fruit, minty herb, light florals, spice and contrasting savory/gamey elements. This wine is a great value and is still available from the winery’s cellar, along with the just released 2017 that is more Grenache based with some fruit coming from the Brosseau vineyard in Chalone. The 2016 has a hint of whole bunches and a faint stem influence with the perfect amount of game, earth and tapenade underneath a rich layering of dark berry fruits that flows beautifully across the full bodied palate with lush and expressive boysenberry, black raspberry, damson plum, blueberry and currant fruits along with peppercorns, licorice, sage, lavender, lilacs and cedar with a bit of kirsch lingering on the finish. This wine will continue to impress for many years to come, it will also go great with Summer BBQs, it is a wine to stock up on and enjoy for the next 3 to 5 years easy.

The Homestead Red highlights the granitic and limestone terroir of the Gabilan Mountains where Brown sourced the majority of the fruit with Syrah and Grenache from the granite and limestone soils at Coastview Vineyard located just miles South of Mt. Harlan at 2400 feet above sea level. As well as including 30 year old Mourvedre vines from the Antle Vineyard, now known as Rodnick Farm Vineyard, on chalky soils that helps provides the grip or spine of this wine. Brown says that some of the grapes came from his estate, famous for Syrah, plus he adds that there is a small bit of Cabernet Sauvignon sometimes thrown in, plus that tiny co-fermented Viognier with, as he notes, the additional component here includes some 80+ year old, dry farmed Carignane from the Cienega Valley located below Calera’s Mount Harlan AVA. Big Basin’s fermentations are done with indigenous yeasts and minimal intervention with long macerations and usually lengthy elevage to allow the wines to fully develop before release. For the Homestead Brown aged it in neutral or well seasoned used barrels to showcase this wine’s purity or transparency of fruit and sense of place. The highlight of this 2016 Homestead is its drinkability and freshness with its nice acidity and supple tannin structure as well as its round pleasing textures, it is a well crafted effort that certainly over delivers for the price, it also provides an awesome gateway into the house style at Big Basin where you’ll find some outstanding limited production hand crafted wines with the Rattlesnake Rock Syrah being the signature masterpiece of the collection.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Caparsa, Chianti Classico DOCG, Tuscany, Italy.
The 2016 vintage in Chianti Classico is absolutely fantastic and some great new wines are coming out, like Caparsa an all organic estate in the Radda zone close to the ancient Etruscan settlement at Poggio alla Croce where vines have been planted for more than 2,000 years, with Paolo Cianferoni making wines at this winery in these famous hillsides, and his 2016 lineup is a stellar set, especially this basic Chianti Classico. Radda is one of the most historic and picturesque areas in Tuscany and when I visited the region years old I fell in love with the views, the people and the tranquility of the place, as well as the wines, some of Italy’s greatest wines are crafted within a few miles of this little hamlet between Florence and Siena, like Montevertine and their famous Le Pergole Torte. Caparsa, tasted with Filippo Cianferoni, Paolo’s son who is working with his father in the cellar, early this year at Slow Wine in San Francisco, is a label working on crafting natural style wines with holistic practices in both the vineyard and the cellar, but is very practical and is very careful with their wines and uses temperature control and modern equipment to promote purity and freshness in his offerings.

The beautifully dark ruby and crimson 2016 Chianti Classico, interestingly is the first release by Caparsa of a basic Chianti Classico and is made from all organic 100% Sangiovese grown at about 400 meters above sea level and fermented in and aged mostly in cement vats. There is a lively force intertwined with a deep sense of Sangiovese fruit here and while ripe there is loads of energy, acidity and a classic tannin structure with pretty details including floral tones and mineral notes with layers of black cherry, strawberry, plum and briar laced raspberry fruits, minty herb, seeped rose petals, tobacco leaf, anise and a hint orange peel. While the upper end range, aged in a combination of wood casks including French, Hungarian and Slovenian oak are more concentrated and blooding, this basic medium bodied Chianti Classico is more nuanced and food friendly, easy to please and comforting, providing huge smiles, getting the Tuscan memories flowing. This is a winery to follow, and without question the 2016 vintage is one to get your hands on, their collection is worthy of high praise, look for this one for quality and value as well as their Riserva and top signature wine, the Doccio a Matteo Riserva made from their best selection of grapes, about 95% Sangiovese and 5% Colorino.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Mount Eden Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Jeffery Patterson’s 2016 Estate Pinot Noir is a California Grand Cru with incredible impact on the palate and luxurious layering on the rich medium bodied palate and an outstanding long finish, this Mount Eden Vineyards which I tasted at the Slow Wine tasting in San Francisco is gorgeous wine with loads of personality and concentrated fruit. Small yields and hillside vines give this wine a powerful feel, but still is wonderfully supple with black cherry, raspberry, plum and red current fruits and well integrated toasty oak, a light mineral tone, floral aromatics, a hint of earth and orange tea. This dark ruby and garnet Pinot, which really benefits from being served at true cellar temperature should get a meal wrapped around its presence at the table with duck breast in cherry or fruit reduction being a good choice, though fresh blackened salmon would be nice too. As always, this spectacular wine is a masterpiece of structure and will likely age two decades and if opened now will need some time to reveal its treasures, so decant gently and take your time enjoying it. The sweet French oak will get your attention with shaved vanilla and smokiness, but will fade into the background as the fruit comes alive in the glass. When you talk about great wines in California, Mount Eden must be in that conversation and the Santa Cruz Mountains terroir with its Franciscan shale soils and ocean influence is rightly one of the best regions in the state with a long history of legendary wines. Patterson, as he notes, says his Pinot Noir is the first variety harvested at Mount Eden, is crafted with 100% natural yeasts in his cool cellar, its fermentation is done in small open-top fermentor(s) with about fourteen days needed to complete primary, all with gentle hand pilage (punch-downs). After which the Estate Pinot is then immediately put into 75% new and 25% one-year-old French Burgundy barrels, where It is raised for nearly eighteen months with slow natural malos. As with all the Estate wines Patterson bottles his top Pinot unfined and unfiltered, not wanting to lose any subtle nuance and keep all the pure flavors.

Mount Eden Vineyards, as noted here, is one of the most celebrated and cherished small boutique wineries in California making estate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from their vines 2,000 feet up above what is now Silicon Valley, it was founded as Martin Ray Estate back in the mid 1940s and over the following 20 plus years became known for their Chard and Pinot. In 1970 Ray lost the property to an investor coup and in 1972 it became Mount Eden, and they hired Pinot guru Richard Graff who had founded Chalone, who crafted the legendary 1972 and 1973 vintages before the owners brought on the little known woman winemaker Merry Edwards, who is now a California icon! In the more modern era of Mount Eden Vineyards Jeffrey Patterson, winemaker has made the estate one of California’s absolute best, he was originally hired as the assistant winemaker back in 1981. Having graduated in biology from UC Berkeley in 1975, Patterson was fortunate to have been in Berkeley in the 1970s when local food and wine in the Bay Area were becoming relevant with the likes of Alice Waters creating a huge buzz. This is when she opened the famed Chez Panisse and Kermit Lynch had just started bringing in some of the great undiscovered wines of France, and the public were getting their first chance to explore French cuisine as well as have it paired with famous old world wines, all of which inspired and helped form Patterson’s future approach to his wines. He even took a three week honeymoon with his wife Ellie where they toured France including the cellars of Domaine Dujac and Domaine Leflaive, both of which left a great impression on this young winemaker who had just gone through enology and viticulture classes at UC Davis. From the early eighties after Jeffery and Ellie took over the running of Mount Eden things went from obscure successes to world wide stardom and respect from their peers, these wines continue to be some of the best in California, check out the latest Estate lineup of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and this Pinot Noir.
($65 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Jean-Louis Dutraive – Domaine de la Grand’Cour, Fleurie Cru Beaujolais, Lieu-Dit “Chapelle des Bois” France.
One of Gamay’s biggest stars, Jean-Louis Dutraive in Fleurie makes some of the most distinct and terroir driven wines in the world, especially his single parcel wines like this beautiful varietal example from the Chapelle des Bois Lieu-Dit with its subtle earthy dimension, bright strawberry fruit and vivid floral tones. This light dusty ruby hued Fleurie starts slowly and gracefully builds on the palate with Burgundy like silken mouth feel showing the mentioned strawberry flavor along with tangy cherry, plum and tart red currant fruits, a bit of ground baking spices, cedar, dried herbs and rose oil. These 2018s deliver a fine delicacy that the 2016 and 2017 lacked, being warmer and more concentrated, which was not unwelcome, but the lighter and vibrant details in this one make it a wine that forces your attention and focus to heighten and Dutraive’s intriguing sense of exotic elements comes through. Initially I was mildly impressed with this 2018 Chapelle des Bois, though once the wine opened up and its true natural got reed up I became more and more thrilled, the aromatics really heightened the experience, something that always Dutraive almost always does as well as anyone if not better. The primary fermentation for the Fleurie Chapelle des Bois was as per normal all whole bunches in concrete vats to express the purity of fruit and give texture, the stems cut the carbonic fruitiness and adds structure, making for a Cru Beaujolais that can be aged, I imagine a couple of decades of lovely drinking pleasures.

The Dutraive’s purchased the Domaine de la Grand’Cour back in 1969, a celebrated estate and one of the oldest domaines in Fleurie an area that has been long revered, in fact Raj Parr, the famous sommelier, has mentioned that at one point the wines of Fleurie were more expensive than Chambertin Grand Cru Burgundy! The Domaine de la Grand’Cour is divided between three outstanding unique sites, including the famed Grand’Cour, Chapelle des Bois, pure granite with pink veins, where this wine comes from, and the Champagne cru, who’s name means “campagne” or countryside in local dialect, and interesting the use of the name predates the famous sparkling wine. The estate also has excellent plots in Cru Brouilly that have been in the family for five generations. Jean-Louis Dutraive, the man behind the stardom of this winery, joined his father in in making the family’s wines 1977 and took over the domaine in 1989, has focused on organic farming since he took over with certification coming in 2009 following the natural principles of the famed Jules Chauvet, who also influenced Lapierre, Foillard and Sunier to name just a few. Dutraive makes vins de terroir wines using the same methods of winemaking for each of his cuvées to allow the place to shine, he employs whole-cluster carbonic fermentation without any added sulfur, native yeast and no intervention in the process, as well as aging the wines between 6 to 8 months in well used barrels or in this case larger oak foudres. If you want to explore the very best in Gamay, Dutraive is a must and this would be a wine to find, though I would always suggest getting their rare Clos de la Grand’Cour monopole bottling, one of the greats of the wine world!
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine de l’Austral, Jolie Brise, Saumur Spakling Rosé, Loire Valley, France.
A near perfect celebration of Spring and Summer is Domaine de l’Austral Jolie Brise Sparkling Rosé made from Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc from their organic vines in Saumur with absolutely zero residual sugar and tart freshness it is pure refreshment in the glass with bright cranberry, apple skin, cherry, red peach and a touch of orange(y) citrus zest. A hint of herb, subtle toastiness and crushed chalk add to the profile with a streak of mineral make this disgorged Méthode Ancestrale sparkler clear and delightful and its vivid magenta hue shines happily in the glass. This fun bubbly adds a dance out loud playfulness to the seriousness of Domaine de l’Austral lineup of terroir driven Saumur Rouge, which are more cooly chiseled wines that are painstakingly hand crafted from unique micro climate parcels. You can see the attention to detail in the clarity and refinement of the mouse, plus the Champagne cork finish, but really this is a joyous quaffable Loire grower fizz that is all about simplistic pleasures. Imported by Floraison Selections in Emeryville California, Domaine de l’Austral joins an elite and expressive Loire and natural lineup in their portfolio that includes Loire stars like Domaine de la L’Ecu, Domaine Serol and La Porte Saint Jean/ Sylvain Dittière, as well as Rhone Legend Domaine Gonon in Saint-Joseph.

Domaine de l’Austral, which debuted with this vintage 2016 when Pauline Mourrain and Laurent Traubat took over this estate in Saumur, what was formerly known as Château Tour Grise​, when the previous owners, Philippe and Françoise Gourdon decided to retire, but only doing so after making sure the property was in good hands. As mentioned in my last review of this new Saumur label, the site was originally founded in 1990 and Certified Organic in 1998, with Pauline and Laurent taking to the next level it seems with their debut collection of wines, that have already been awarded praise and accolades by their peers and the press. Working from the domaine’s historic underground troglodyte cellar, caved from the natural limestone, Laurent and Pauline honor the property’s traditions and use very natural techniques in making their wines. The fermentation is always with native yeasts, with some whole cluster being used and bottling is done with the absolute minimum amount of sulphur and they employ long macerations with aging done in a combination of vessels from stainless to used French oak cask as well as some elevage in concrete egg. This is an exciting new winery to discover and follow from the Loire Valley, so far I’ve been greatly impressed and I adore this delicious Jolie Brise, Saumur Spakling Rosé!
($27 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2014 Desire Lines Wine Co., Syrah “Experimental Series No. 1 The Gift” Eaglepoint Ranch Vineyard, Mendocino County.
The beautiful and complexly layered 2014 Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah from Cody Rasmussen at Desire Lines Wine Co. is really hitting its stride right now and again proves why this is a label to watch and get in on, with this late release offering being an exceptional wine with classic Syrah varietal character with some old school Cote-Rotie charm with dark fruit, spice and floral dimension. This Experimental Series No. 1 was the first wine Rasmussen, who is a winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson MW’s famous Bedrock Wine Co., ever made on his own, which he says was thanks to the incredibly generous gift of one ton of Syrah from Morgan and Chris Cottrel, his partner, to allow him to experiment and try to learn something. Obviously Rasmussen is a talented winemaker and he has taken to it like a duck to water and in recent vintages has proved himself one of the best new Syrah producers in California, especially his Griffin’s Lair and Shake Ridge bottlings. This 2014 Syrah shows loads of expressive California fruit with blackberry, boysenberry, plum and blueberry being pumped out on the full bodied palate, but there is a core of old world style complexity too with hints of leather, game and peppercorns as well as melted black licorice, crushed violets, kirsch (cherry liqueur), rosemary herbal notes, Spanish olive tapenade, cedar and dusty coco powder. The tannin is present, but have turned supple and the texture is rounded making this stem influenced Syrah a delight in the glass with a seductive purple/black/garnet hue and a long sultry and savory finish, best enjoyed with food, I recommend lamb kabobs, hard sheep cheeses or herb roasted chicken over bitter greens.

The Experimental Series No. 1 The Gift comes from grapes sourced from Eaglepoint Ranch Vineyard in Mendocino County that was first planted in the early seventies with Syrah coming in 1989, it is a beautiful and remote site that straddles hillsides about 1800 feet above the Ukiah Valley. This vineyard is highly regarded and has been the long used for quality Syrah by small and large producers and its decomposed sandstone soils with veins of red loam and loose gravelly stones adds to the personality with the cool nights helping preserve lively acidity. Rasmussen chose to do 100% whole cluster for fermentation in this tiny micro batch wine, with only pigeage (foot-treading) for his cap management with what I believe was native yeasts and decided on no sulfur addition until bottling. This Syrah saw an extended aging regime with a long élevage, which Cody adds was to soften and polish his first solo effort, with 20 months in a neutral French demi-muid, large cask, that was followed by 2 months in stainless barrels prior to bottling to settle and clarify the Syrah. With just 20 ppm sulfur at bottling an ultra low dose for protective stability, was in fact the smallest amount he’s gone with to date and gives the wine a freshness of detail much the same as the top guys in the Northern Rhone see in their versions. There is a lot is admire in this wine and the Desire Lines Wine Co. lineup is full of confident wines from Rasmussen’s tasty dry Cole Ranch Riesling to his juicy Carignan and Mourvedre blend, but as mentioned these Syrah(s) are something exquisite and special, they are lovely terroir driven wines that will blow you away, again I suggest making an early move to join this list and grab them while you can, I first discovered their Griffin’s Lair 2016 Syrah last year and it made my top ten wines of the year, don’t miss them.
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine de la Sarazinière, Mâcon-Bussières “Claude Seigneuret” White Burgundy, France.
The beautiful 2018 Mâcon-Bussières Blanc “Claude Seigneuret” by Domaine de la Sarazinière highlights the vintage and the old vine concentration, while retaining a dynamic freshness that makes this a mouth watering white Burgundy that punches way above the reasonable asking price, especially considering the vines used in this single Lieu-Dit are closing in on a hundred years old. The Domaine de la Sarazinière Macon-Bussieres “Claude Seigneuret” named for the domaine owner Philippe Trébignaud’s great uncle Claude Seigneuret who planted this special plot of limestone soiled Chardonnay vines ninety four years ago, was fermented and aged in classic French oak Burgundy barrels in line with their more prestigious cousins in the Cote de Beaune. Fresh and steely this vintage gains textural quality with every sip and ends up feel luxurious and richly smooth on the medium full palate that carries itself with seriousness and grace showing pretty white flowers, white peach, green apple and pear fruits along with a touch of quince and lemon as well as wet rock and the impression of chalkiness and mouth watering saline crisp detail and lingering creaminess. This is quite impressive even for someone who’s been a fan of the winery for many vintages and sublime with food, in particular it went great with a fried chicken sandwich, but I can see an even more glorious pairing with swordfish and or crab cakes. Even the Domaine de la Sarazinière’s entry level bottling are from plots that average at least 60 year old vines, so these wines offer a lot of complexity and presence throughout the lineup, with this cuvee Claude Seigneuret being always one of my favorites!

The father and son team of Philippe and Guilaume Trébignaud are the 3rd and 4th generations Mâconnais vignerons to farm a selection of well situated parcels in the southern part of the Mâcon with a tidy collection of older vines, including some single old vine parcels of Chardonnay and Gamay that were planted in 1926. Each site, according to their importer Floraison Selections in Emeryville California, showcases a unique terroir and a soulful character. Philippe and Guilaume work with the conviction that the only way to farm is with living soils, farmed with a practical and holistic approach, these vines are regularly plowed and never treated with pesticides or herbicides, they understand their future depends on a healthy vineyard that rewards with quality grapes. The Domaine de la Sarazinière began transitioning to organic certification in 2018 and the wines just seem to be getting better and better with intense energy and purity, all of which have made their old vine Chardonnays tremendous values. The Mâconnais is one of Burgundies hot spots and far removed from the generic cheap Mâcon-Villages wines of 20 to 40 years ago, now these old vine sites, like Saint-Veran, Pouilly-Fuise and Cru Mâcon sites like this Mâcon-Bussières produce wines that easily rival those from the high rent districts in the Cote d’Or, especially and also notable are producers such as Domaine Robert-Denogent, imported by Kermit Lynch, Meursault legend Dominique Lafon’s Heritiers du Comte Lafon and Château des Rontets. This is a delicious Chardonnay and it should drink great for another 3 to 5 years with ease, Domaine de la Sarazinière should be on your white Burgundy wish list, it is a perfect time to discover this label, and you shouldn’t miss their granite soil based Mâcon-Serrières Rouge Gamay and their fun and vibrant Aligoté.
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Marco Porello, Barbera d’Alba DOC “Mommiano” Piedmonte, Italy.
The fresh and vibrant Porello Barbera 2018 is dark fruited with loads of blackberry, juicy cherry and currant fruits on the medium full palate along with snappy spices, herb and nice acidity which makes this well crafted effort a beautiful food wine. The 2018 was less blistering hot as 2017 and this wine seems very balanced and flirts with mineral and has very little evidence of oak accent, it shows purity of varietal and place very well, leaving a comforting impression. Marco Porello has run the winery since 1994, and now has over a 25 year track record and is highly admired for his wines based in the Canale area with most of his family’s vines set in the Roero zone, crafting mostly Barbera, Arneis, which has been the Porello’s signature grape since the 1930s, and Nebbiolo in his cellar, while his seventy plus year old mum still cares for and directs the farming with organic and holistic ideals as well as having a respected connection to the land and its cycles.

Marco Porello, the grandson of founder Cesare Porello, is an expert oenologist, as noted by his importer, was educated first at the local Alba oenological school and then off in the Bordeaux region of France as well as some time the rival Tuscan region in Chianti Classico before returning and taking over the Porello estate. The Barbera d’Alba Mommiano, of course 100% Barbera, was made from hand tended and hand harvested grapes set of prime hillside sites on clay, loose sand and marl/limestone and was fermented in stainless steel with temperature control and then raised in a combination of stainless, large “Botti” used oak cask and cement vats all to preserve the vibrant expression of grapes and allow for complexity to unfold. This dark purple and crimson Barbera shines beautifully in the glass and hints of violets and sage lift to the nose and with air the wine rounds out and feels supple in tannins while still having plenty of energy, it is highly quaffable stuff that get better and richer with food, going great with rustic Italian country cuisine, and you can see why this value priced red was a fan favorite at the Slow Wine show, where I tasted it.
($19 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2012 Mouzon-Leroux, L’infellable, Blanc de Noirs, Brut Nature Champagne, Special Club, Verzy Grand Cru, France.
One of the most stylish and energy filled grower producer Champagne labels to emerge in recent years, in America is Sebastien Mouzon’s Mouzon-Leroux, these hand crafted and natural sparkling wines are striking efforts, especially his L’Atavique Extra Brut, one of my new favorites and this gorgeous vintage 2012 Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs Special Club bottling L’ineffable Brut Nature (non dosage) made from 100% Pinot Noir. This vivid bubbly has small beading and luxurious elegance with mainly apple and lemon fruits along with loads of mineral, brioche, hazelnut and a touch of spice, gaining presence and impact in the glass and lingering on the finish, this is a riveting Champagne that is pure class. Those that love Vilmart, Agrapart and even Krug will want to check this winery out, Mouzon is certainly making a name for himself with his organic and biodynamic vineyards in top sites and his deft crafting of these Champagnes.

These Mouzon-Leroux Grower Champagnes are made with a combination of stainless and French oak for fermentation and aging with Mouzon’s 2012 Grand Cru Special Club being 55% seeing elevage in used Burgundy barrels, which are usually sourced from Jadot, to add substance, texture and complexity, while 45% is kept in stainless to preserve the detail, vitality and zippy freshness, which I find irresistible in Mouzon’s sparkling wines. This Special Club is 100% Pinot Noir, 100% Grand Cru from Verzy, an elite chalky area that is ultra mineral intense in profile, which allows for the use of wood and full malos without taking away from the clarity and power in the substance/depth and structure, these are Champagnes that will cellar for many decades. This Special Club L’ineffable was rested on the lees for 60 months before disgorgement helping in elevating the mouth feel and provides a rich counterpoint to the racy acidity and steely edge, this is a Champagne with an extra level of wow!
($150 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Bodegas y Viñedos Garciarévalo, Verdejo “Casamaro” Rueda D.O., Spain.
Antonio Arévalo’s Garciarévalo Casamaro Verdejo is a intensely bright and concentrated white wine that is highly entertaining and crisply refreshing, making it a beautiful Summer sipper with eye popping citrus and stone fruits as well as light mineral tones. Garciarevalo is a family-owned winery established in 1991 in the town of Matapozuelos, in the heart of the Rueda wine region in Castilla y León with a collection of hundred year old Verdejo vines and a long history of working the land here. Now Bodegas y Viñedos Garciarévalo is a youthful team led by Antonio and Manuela Arévalo, with Rodrigo Arévalo in charge of viticulture, which is all organic and vineyard management, and Reyes Martínez Sagarra as the oenologist and winemaker running the cellars. The Casamaro is considered the young vine Rueda Verdejo in the lineup and comes from vineyard parcels that range from 15 to 145 years old at 900 meters above sea level and set on very sandy soils.

The 2018 is vividly fresh and pure with tangerine, lemon/lime and tangy peach fruits, dynamic acidity, a touch of gooseberry, verbena, orange oil and wild herbs all of which reminds me bit of a Sauvignon Blanc, but with a bigger personality and density. The Casamao is a usually a blend of 85% Verdejo and 15% Viura which due to the fact that it is all interplanted and gives the wine a bit more complexity and texture with a touch of tropical fruit. The Bodegas y Viñedos Garciarévalo Casamaro Verdejo was fermented and aged 100% in stainless steel from direct press and straight to bottle to preserve purity, fruity flavors and fresh details, again helping make this bottling a perfect brisk and zesty white for warm days and lighter cuisine, it is especially good with calamari, sole, sand dabs and clam dishes as well as soft cheeses. The Rueda white wines are some of the best values in Europe and producers like Javier Sainz and Garciarévalo are small family producers to look for!
($16 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine L’ Ecu, Pinot Noir “Ange” Vin de France, Loire Valley, France.
This ultra small production wine is fast becoming one of my favorite Pinot Noirs, it is a wine that is totally unique, showing purity, energy and a soulfulness that few Burgundies in the price class could ever match, then considering it comes from the lower Loire Valley and never sees a barrel makes it even more intriguing. The beautifully ruby/garnet Ange, Angel in French, by Domaine de L’Ecu is 100% whole cluster fermented in stainless steel and then aged in amphora without any additives and without the addition of sulfur at all which allows the complexity and clarity of the fruit to shine brightly, which this Pinot does heavenly. Fred Niger, one of the great producers of the Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine is deeply committed to biodynamic and organic practices at Domaine de L’Ecu, which was founded back in 1972 by Guy Bossard, who himself pioneered organic and biodynamics in the region and certified the estate by Demeter in 1998. Niger, who worked with Bossard, took over the domaine in 2012 and has taken this winery to new heights in quality and style, focusing on natural and holistic wines. Niger’s US importer Floraison Selections says Fred takes these commitments organic and biodynamic farming even further by incorporating various types of energy work, and using that work not just in the vines, but also in the cellar, working in terra-cotta amphora and working without any added sulfur in many cuvées. Amphora are made of the earth, which Fred believes gives his wines a natural extension to its place and brings out a spiritual connection between all the elements that came together to make the wine, soil (earth), climate and the people that cared for the vineyard and guided the wine into bottle.

I first started trying Niger’s amphora wines with his early bottlings of Mephisto, the terra-cotta aged Cabernet Franc with the demon on the label, which really impressed me and this Ange, with its divine angel label, made from 100% whole cluster Pinot Noir takes it all to another level with a hyper sense of clarity and detail, it is absolutely the most compelling Pinot Noir made in the Loire Valley I’ve ever experienced. The 2018, just a touch lighter and more elegant than the fantastic and concentrated 2016 version, making it seem more graceful and focusing your attention to its subtly, but the true depth is just as impactful and impressive with crushed violets, wild herbs, strawberries and mineral notes leading the way before the Angle’s medium bodied palate comes alive with vibrant cherry, plum and raspberry fruits along with spicy elements, a touch of whole cluster crunch, stony tones, blood orange, supple tannin and a caressing satiny mouth feel. This is gorgeous stuff from Domaine de L’Ecu and I highly recommend this to Pinot fans as well as natural wine enthusiasts, as it takes this genre to a place it rarely gets to. The 2018 Ange, sans soufre (no added sulfur) should gain with bottle age and drink fabulously well for a decade, though care in cellaring will be needed with no big swings in temperatures, and it should reward those lucky enough to have any left in 3 to 5 years, I will be hard pressed not to open all my bottles sooner v. later! Best to serve with a little chill and enjoy it with simple and fresh cuisine, I could imagine it going excellently and joyously with salmon and especially seared Ahi tuna. Be sure to check out the full lineup of single soil plot Muscadets by Ecu as well as Niger’s special offerings, like this one.
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Sheldon Wines, Syrah, Luc’s Vineyard, Fountaingrove AVA, Sonoma County.
The absolutely delicious 2019 Luc’s Syrah by Dylan and Tobe Sheldon of Sheldon Wines is a dark and juicy version made in a quaffable style with a carbonic fermentation similar to a Cru Beaujolais with supple tannins and spicy tones. Sheldon is mostly known for their stunning collection over the years of Grenache based wines and their fabulous Graciano, which is one of the most unique wines in California, but in recent years they have branched out a little with a Carignan and Sangiovese, plus a sparkling Tempranillo, as well as returning to Grenache Blanc along with their Petite Sirah, this Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon based wines. This small micro winery based in Santa Rosa was founded back in 2003 and like Sandlands, Arnot-Roberts, Broc Cellars and Ian Brand pay tribute to historic California wines and vineyards, but are also influenced by the old world and are looking to craft tiny lots of authentic wines with less adornment and less alcohol. This 2019 Luc’s Vineyard Syrah shows bright black raspberry, blueberry, boysenberry and plum fruits, crushed peppercorns, a touch of anise, earth and sweet floral notes wrapped in a silken mouth feel and a medium/full palate. This Syrah has pure varietal flavors and is a little like Pax’s North Coast version as well as similar to tank raised Northern Rhone stuff, reminding me of Maxime Graillot’s Domaine des Lises, as well as his Equinoxe, which is good company to be in. The Luc’s vineyard is a single southwest facing hillside acre of vines straddling the border between Santa Rosa and Calistoga and planted on very rocky volcanic soils that gives these wines, the Graciano, Grenache, Tempranillo and this Syrah their personality.

Dylan Sheldon’s winemaking on this Syrah, that is due too be released soon, was typically unique, half traditional artisan and half mad scientist employing, as he puts it, whole cluster, with the Syrah coming in at 21.8 brix on October 16th, which was then pitch forked and sealed in a small stainless steel tank to undergo a cold, slow carbonic fermentation for 8 days. That made the lot about half complete, he then drained the juice to a separate tank, and pressed off the skins. The free run and press wine was, as he notes, then co-fermented with pressed Viognier skins for an additional week to add intense floral complexity. Interestingly, in 2019 the Viognier actually came in a bit earlier than usual for the Sheldon’s, so they pressed it, then vacuum packed about 150 pounds of skins into the freezer! So they waited for the Syrah to get ripe for close to two weeks before completing this co fermentation stage. After which the wine was gravity fed to neutral French oak for 3 months as it completed its malo-lactic conversion, then Dylan clean racked the finished Syrah to single a 60 gallon stainless barrel where it spent the next 3 months prior to its bottling. The 2019 Luc’s Syrah finished at 12.7% natural alcohol and with its carbonic character this tasty stuff is great with Summer foods and BBQ’s and can be served with a slight chill to be a refreshing style warm weather red. The latest set of ultra small production wines by the Sheldon’s are some of the best yet from this winery that I’ve followed since they started and especially intriguing is the aromatic and textural quality that they show, these are very beautiful efforts! This 2019 Syrah should be available soon, be sure not to miss it, get on the list here and current lineup of 2018s are great, grab the Grenache(s) and the Graciano too!
($38 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive.com Reviews – May, 2020

2017 Sling | Stone, Pinot Noir, Monterey County.
Another exciting wine from one of Monterey’s newest labels, the Monterey County Pinot Noir from Sling | Stone wines is ripe and well detailed with classic dark Pinot fruit and nice fresh acidity and silky texture. Francisco “Junior” Banuelos’ of Sling | Stone Wines, is an assistant winemaker at Odonata Winery based in the Santa Lucia Highlands on River Road has released an impressive collection of wines including a couple of Pinot Noir(s), this being one of them, an already crucially acclaimed Syrah and his exciting Silacci Vineyard Chardonnay, which I reviewed back in March. Junior’s small lot wines are well worth searching out, especially his Pinot with its expressive nature that highlights the vintage’s character and the regions flavors with sweet black cherry, raspberry and plum bursting from the glass along with a hint of spice, earth and light toasty notes as well as a touch of blood orange and baking spices. I found this bottle I got from Jessica Trask at Village Wine and Taproom, after tasting this vintage at her place a few times, and before I dig into the Sling | Stone 2018s, I wanted to see how this one was doing and it is better now and I’m really excited for the 2018 version, which was sourced from the Knott Family Vineyard and saw a touch of new French oak.

Banuelos is part of talented group of Monterey winemakers that are changing the scene here and he was inspired by the likes of his boss at Odonata Dennis Hoey, Ian Brand, Russell Joyce, Samuel Louis Smith, head winemaker at Morgan as well as doing his own wines, Scott Shapely of Roar and Flywheel, as well as established superstar Jeff Pisoni, along with a few others of tight group of a new generation in the area that have changed the face of Monterey’s wines. The wines, especially the 2018 and the 2019 vintages are going to be legendary for Monterey and they are going to show the regions full potential and moves the bar way up in terms of quality and style, which is more authentic, less fruit bomb and more vibrant with less alcohol. It’s great to see these guys take risks and put their vision out there, these are wines that have distinct and unique personalities that also highlight the diverse micro terroirs within California’s largest growing region. The dark ruby and delicious 2017 Monterey County Pinot by Sling | Stone is fabulous with food and it opens up aromatically with air, it is hitting a great spot, I can only imagine how good the 2018 will be, definitely it is a wine I will explore soon, plus Junior’s partial whole cluster Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir that is just being released now.
($32 ESt.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Donnhoff, Riesling “Estate” Nahe, Germany.
One of the world’s stellar values by one of the world’s great wineries, the Donnhoff Estate QbA Riesling, especially in a year like this 2018, is a beauty wine with amazing purity, mineral packed and generous details with just enough sweetness to refresh the palate, it is an excellent Summer white. Following Donnhoff closely for almost 20 years has given me time to full appraise and appreciate these wines, and now with Cornelius Donnhoff crafting these masterpieces from the Nahe this famous estate is even getting better! Cornelius, who took over from his father Helmut, is the 4th generation to run this historic winery and their amazing collection of Erste Lage, or grand cru vineyard sites that all have very distinct characteristics. Donnhoff has a steep set of vineyards with many different soils from volcanic to slate along with some gravel and loess-clay allowing Cornelius to produce an incredible range of wines from his majestic GG dry Rieslings to Eiswein in certain vintages and everything in between, and his entry level Estate bottlings come from these fantastic vines, with this slightly off dry lighter bodied Riesling having far more complexity and style than the price would suggest with an array of flavors and pleasures.

Cornelius has a unique cellar where he can either have all the wines in either wood cask or in stainless tank allowing him total flexibility to work with whatever the vintage offers and this Estate was fermented and aged mostly in stainless, but a small part was done in ancient large used German oak. The grapes came from a mix of vines including great sites like Oberhauser Felsenberg with its volcanic underpinning, plus Keselberg on weathered slate and Klamm with its own combination of weathered porphyry and slate as well as veins of quartzite, all which contributes to the class and nature of this Riesling. Brilliant pale golden in hue and utterly delicious with yellow peach, light tropical notes along with classic lime, green apple and apricot fruits along with flinty spices, mint and chamomile, quince paste, lemon peel and a touch of muskmelon. The mouth feel is crisp and mineral driven but also easy and with a creaminess of form from the lingering residual sugar, though the wines doesn’t taste overtly sweet, just finely balanced and high toned gaining exotic elements with air with hints of crystalized ginger and verbena coming out as it opens. This is so good, and while pretty widely available it usually sells out fast so stock up on it if you find it!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Domaine de l’Austral, Saumur Puy Notre Dame “Cuvee 253” Loire Valley, France.
Domaine de l’Austral, which debuted with this vintage 2016 when Pauline Mourrain and Laurent Traubat took over this estate in Saumur, what was formerly known as Château Tour Grise​, when the previous owners, Philippe and Françoise Gourdon decided to retire, but only doing so after making sure the property was in good hands. The site was originally founded in 1990 and Certified Organic in 1998. The expectational fresh, pure and medium bodied 2016 Domaine de l’Austral 100% Cabernet Franc Saumur Puy Notre Dame “Cuvee 253” comes from single parcel of vines set on chalk. Knowing the quality of the fruit and the heightened personality of the year, this husband and wife team decided to let the wine express itself without manipulation or additions in the cellar, hoping to capture the most transparent expression of terroir as possible. The couple as per the norm with this region is leaning toward holistic growing with biodynamic practices being employed including a focus on healthy, living soils with a rich and diverse microbic presence. Pauline and Laurent do all their fermentations naturally using indigenous yeasts and long or extended macerations, and for this special cuvee, one of their very first bottlings in fact, it was aged exclusively in a concrete egg. This estate, imported by Floraison Selections in Emeryville, is going to be a winery to watch making honest, great priced, authentic wines of place. This Cuvee 253 has some raw tannins and while supple show a structured nature that will serve it well for years to come and the acidity is bracing, those that love Cab Franc from this region will beam smiles of contentment at the taste of this l’Austral Saumur Rouge.

The wines at Domaine de l’Austral are vinified and aged in the estate’s historic underground troglodyte cellar that was cut from the natural limestone for which Saumur is famous for and for which gives the Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc grown here their striking characteristics. The new label and proprietors are already creating a buzz about their wines are were very quickly taking in by the prestigious Renaissance des Appellations and have achieved peer recognition and been already awarded a price at the Competition “Vignerons et Terroirs d’Avenir” (Winegrowers & Terroirs of the Future). And this wine shows why they are on the radar and look set to be stars, this Domaine de l’Austral, Saumur Puy Notre Dame “Cuvee 253” is vivid and lively with classic Cab Franc flavors with the tiniest hint earthy leather and bell pepper this 2016 shows racy red currant, briery raspberry, plum , cranberry and cherry fruits with loads in minerality and chalky stoniness as well as snappy herbs, anise, sandalwood and touch of floral notes. I was highly impressed by the youthfulness this Saumur displays and the value on offer, this would be incredible with duck breast and or rustic country cuisine and I can see huge potential rewards for those looking to cellar some Loire Franc, like the wines of Olga Raffault in Chinon. This dark and subtle wine has lots of hidden joys to unfold given time to open completely and looks to be diamond in the rough, not quite a wallflower, but a tad shy, though certainly delivering much more than expected, especially with food. The Mourrain and Traubat lineup here at Domaine de l’Austral is all about small lot Cabernet Franc, with many unique site offering, plus a Chenin Blanc and a Sparkling Cabernet Franc Rosé, all of which should grab your attention.
($27 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Le P’Tit Paysan by I. Brand & Family Winery, Rosé, Pierre’s Pirouette, Central Coast.
The new Rosé is made from a classic Bandol blend of 56% Mourvedre, 26% Grenache and 18% Cinsault and is grippingly fresh and crisply detailed with ultra sharp and tangy flavors, making for a well structured Summer wine. Brand who is has become an influence and a focal point for authentic for the Monterey, Chalone, Santa Clara and San Benito parts of the central coast region with a fabulous selection of mainly Rhone style wines like his old vine Grenache and Mourvedre bottlings, as well as a savvy lineup of Cabernet Franc and a powerful Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon from an old vine vineyard right near the famed Monte Bello. The Le P’Tit Paysan line is Ian’s valued packed collection with the Pierre’s Pirouette Rosé being one of the most popular and a real bright spot for warm day quaffing.

The 2019 is similar to the 2018, but maybe a touch or a fraction cooler and drier in style with a Provence style light/pale salmon/pink hue in the glass and vivid ruby grapefruit, tangy sour cherry, strawberry and under ripe watermelon fruits along with salty wet stones, a nice mineral pop, spice, dried herb and seeped flowers. The grapes were brought into the winery for Rosé with lower Brix, well before the regular red batches came in and Brand did a short soak and stainless fermentation to preserve purity and vibrant freshness making for the wines zesty character and low alcohol feel on the lithe palate. This non Saignée Rosé is a non fruity and more retrained style making a quiet and purpose minded pink wine made to be a loyal and competent friend with a meal and a refreshing personality to enjoy in peace, great for picnics and beach or porch sipping.
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2019 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Vermentino, Adelaida Disctriict, Paso Robles.
The latest release of Tablas Creek’s Vermentino is one of the best and is perfect for Summer days, afternoons and evenings with excitingly fresh detail and a vividly pure form, its crisp and lively personality make it exceptionally well suited for warm weather and lighter cuisine. This vintage Vermentino marks Tablas Creek’s eighteenth bottling of this traditional Mediterranean varietal that thrives in a variety of soils and is widely planted though still not as well as respected as it should be and it has made a big impact in California in recent years finding a home in Paso Robles, thanks to Tablas Creek and their French Partners Chateau de Beaucastel for bringing their Chateauneuf du Pape cuttings over. Vermentino goes by a few names including Favorita in Piedmonte Italy and Rolle in parts of France and it arguably is best expressed band at its best on the Island of Corsica where it is called Vermentinu. While known principally in Sardinia, Corsica, and Northern Italy, Vermentino is also grown in the Rhone Valley, and as mentioned it is part of the collection of varietals in the famous Chateauneuf du Pape as well as in Côtes de Provence as a minor partner with Clairette and Marsanne. In California, the Vermentino grape has a few interesting champions, of course Tablas Creek, but also Randall Grahm of the iconic Bonny Doon Vineyard, who even makes a sparkling example, one of the first to bring Rhone style wines to a wider audience, in fact Grahm has told me that Vermentino could be one of the most important white grapes in the State with huge potential and the ability to counter the effects of climate change. Other important bottlings of California Vermentino include Ryme Cellars in Sonoma, where Megan and Ryan Glaab make two unique version, one with skin contact and Monterey’s Arroyo Seco AVA has fine expressions of Vermentino as done by Mark Chesebro, as well as Unti Vineyards in Dry Creek, where Mick Unti makes a striking version, to name a few of people finding a place of pride for this varietal in their lineups.

The 2019 Tablas Creek Vineyard Vermentino is dynamically vivid and brightly focused with a racy array of lemon/lime, white peach and subtle tropical notes, turning on the vibrant acidity mid palate adding some tangy tangerine, melon and wet stone in a zippy dry white wine that, while lighter in frame, has a nice sense of depth, mineral tones and extract. There is delicate floral notes and a sea shore salinity that make this vintage of Vermentino stand out and make it lip smacking, it is totally refreshing and entertaining on its own and great with food, especially sea foods, sardines, oysters, mussels in both and or creamy cheeses. The 2019 Tablas Creek Vermentino is 100% single varietal and comes from organic vines in the West Side of Paso Robles in the Adelaida District as was fermented exclusively in stainless steel, with Tablas’ winemaking team led by Neil Collins looking for vibrancy and purity of flavors. At 13% natural alcohol, the new Vermentiono feels electric and taut with near perfect balance between ripe fruit and tangy lift, thanks to the long cool even growing conditions. I am a huge Vermintino fan, especially the wines mentioned above and enjoy it in many different styles from the richer Tuscan and Sardinian versions, grown on sandy soils and clay or partial volcanic, that can be quite full bodied to the stony Corsican wines where they rival Chablis for class and complexity. The Corsica Vermentinu is not monolithic or done one way, the Island has many different soils and micro climates and the wines are produced using various methods and aged in diverse ways, like stainless, large cask and even amphora, as well with some getting lees aging too. Some of the best examples are imported by Kermit Lynch, look for Arena, Yves Leccia, Clos Canarelli and especially Domaine Comte Abbatucci. Tablas Creek has brought the best of the Rhone to California and they excel in their white wine examples from the zesty briny fresh Vermentino and Picpoul to the waxy Marsanne, plus Grenache Blanc as well as the powerful and oily rich Roussanne, these are all prime and thrilling wines to explore hitting the full range of what these grapes can do! The Vermentino was everything it promised to be at the beach and pleases without pretense or loudness, it is a joyous brisk white that with provide lots of fun over the coming year.
($27 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Vinca Minor, Old Vine Carignan, Mendocino County.
The Vinca Minor label was new to me and I was left very impressed by their latest release, an old vine Carignan from the all certified organic Hawkeye Ranch Vineyard in Mendocino County, home to many exciting ancient plots of Carignan, a Rhone varietal and famous in Corbieres in France’s Languedoc region, that seem to be finally getting the attention they deserve, especially wines as pretty and quaffable as this one. The Vinca Minor Hawkeye Ranch Carignan was done very much in line with modern trends or a lighter more natural style with a easy rustic charm using 100% whole cluster and indigenous or native yeast fermentation with classic foot and hand gentle maceration and pilage without any chemicals or additives with ultra low sulphur. The 2018 Carignan was raised in neutral, well seasoned, French oak barrels for 16 months which really allowed a supple texture to emerge and it has a graceful and detailed medium bodied palate led by blackberry, plum, candied cherry and currant fruits accented by liquid flowers, that reminds me a little of Ruche with this perfume taste along with a touch of loamy earth, brambly spices, cedar, whole cluster herbal notes and crunch, along with a hint of grilled rosemary, lavender, fennel and mint. The nose will fool you, it has a gamey funk at first and takes a while to clear off making you think this will show brett or an earthy edginess, but it blows to reveal the dark florals and red berry fruits, best to decant or be patient, the best is just a moment or two lagging a minute or so behind. Vinca does this Carignan, as well as a Mendocino Red, which has 35% French Colombard (a lesser white grape usually found in Brandy production, as in Cognac) co-fermented with full stems with Carignan and Valdiquie and a Carignan Rosé, plus a zippy Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc.

Vinca Minor is a small (family) micro winery based in Berkeley that was started in 2013 by Jason and Emily O’Hara Charles with a love of old vines from Mendocino that sparked an obsession with Carignan. Jason, who was pursuing a photo journalism after college traveled the world from Mexico City to the wilds of the Spanish countryside, fell hard for wine during a stay in New York as a server in Manhattan, where he found himself, as he puts, it surrounded by passionate wine experts. It convinced him to take the wine plunge, moving to California to be a harvest intern, which in turn led him back to Europe and to Pomerol, where he learned winemaking at Chateau Haut Goujon in Lalande de Pomerol. Saying he served soil, sun and grape he returned to California working for many famous and well known wineries in Napa Valley. Since then, he and his wife started their urban Vinca Minor winery and tasting room on Fourth St in Berkeley with a focus on natural wines. They are fascinated by California’s northern most wine regions, like the almost forgotten old vine sites in Mendocino County, like where this tasty wine comes from. The Charles family call their winery a great adventure in exploring wine’s history in Northern California and hoping to put it in the bottle. The winery’s name, Vinca Minor commonly known as vinca, periwinkle or dwarf periwinkle comes from the love of these blue/purple flowers and their labels showcase the their admiration of floral artistic expression. Vinca Minor, like Broc, Martha Stoumen and Las Jaras makes an interesting lineup of what is affectionately called “Glou Glou” or glug glug wine(s) in a similar vein, though distinct differences are there to be discovered, and it is well worth experiencing these Vinca Minor efforts. This fun Carignan has a nice freshness and no pretense, enjoy it with simple cuisine and drink it sooner v. later, as there is not reason to wait.
($32 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Hundred Suns, Gamay Noir, Tualatin Estate, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Renée Saint Amour and Grant Coulter’s Hundred Suns is one of Oregon’s most exciting micro winery projects and I love everything they are doing here, especially their out of the box Pinots and this Gamay from the Tualatin Estate, a wine that saw 60% whole cluster carbonic fermentation, 40% traditional de-stemmed using small yielding selections of ripe fruit and indigenous yeasts and aged in amphora. Grant who for about decade worked under Mike Etzel at Beaux Freres, working his way up to head winemaker now consults and oversees the winemaking and vineyards for the upcoming Flaneur Winery, as well as these Hundred Sons, a label he started in 2015 getting fruit from top sites, including Etzel’s Sequitur Vineyard and Dick Shea’s famous Yamhill Carlton site. While the attention is rightly on his Pinot Noir bottlings, which are delicious, totally unique and stylish in way few Oregon can match with some carbonic fruit forward expressive flavors and whole bunches crunchiness that remind me of Philippe Pacalet, in Burgundy, Jean Foillard of Morgon fame and Timo Mayer in Australia’s Yarra Valley! Now, the Gamay always sells out fast, don’t let that bum you out, just get on the list for the next vintage and grab some of the Pinot Noirs, the Old Eight Cut Pinot is one of the best values in Oregon and the mentioned Shea and Sequitur single vineyard wines are off the charts! This wildly delicious ruby/garnet Gamay Noir is serious and passionately, in not painstakingly, hand crafted nectar, and while not an easy find with so little of it available, it is really worth the search.

The Hundred Suns 2018 Tualatin Estate Gamay is incredible in the way it has Gamay’s punchiness, but supple textures and remarkable depth, it is pretty lavish and flamboyant with loads of personality and charm showing racy plum, cherry and strawberry fruits along with cinnamon, cool chalk, Asian spices and crushed violets. The name “Tualatin” originates from the native peoples of this part of Oregon and means “gentle and easy flowing,” referring to the Tualatin River that meanders on its way to the confluence with the more famous Willamette River. Tualatin Estate Vineyard, originally established back in 1973 by wine pioneers Bill Fuller and Bill Malkmus, is one of the oldest and most respected vineyard cool climate sites in Oregon’s Willamette Valley near Forest Grove in a rain shadow in the Valley’s far northwest on marine sedimentary soils. This vineyard is mostly planted to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Muscat and Pinot Blanc, with a tiny selection especially for Grant of true Gamay Noir, which all goes into this fascinating wine. The winemaking here is intriguing, the whole-cluster carbonic batch was done in sealed tank then aged in neutral French oak with the de-stemmed traditionally native yeast fermented batch getting its elevage in the terra-cotta Amphora for seven months, with both then being gently racked to blending tank for settling and bottled unfixed and unfiltered. This Gamay opens up with luxurious results and at 14.1% natural alcohol there is tons of palate impact, while still retaining the grape’s energy and enjoys a sexy mouth feel. I am saving a bottle for extended aging, as I am with a few single vineyard Pinots that I think will bring even greater rewards in 5 to 10 years, Hundred Suns should be on your radar, these offerings are stunning singular wines.
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Pax, Syrah, Sonoma-Hillsides, Sonoma County.
The Pax Syrahs, especially this one, the Sonoma-Hillsides, are the gold standard in California for authentic varietal character and quality for the money, with this Sonoma Hillsides being one of the most sought after versions in the state. The 2018 is turning out to be an incredible vintage for California Syrah and this Pax Hillsides shows why with intense dark fruit and depth, but with a sense of delicacy and lower alcohol giving the wine elegance and inner beauty, there’s a lot to unpack here with layers of black raspberry, minty herbs, lavender oil, a hint of olive and an unfolding of plum, fig and blueberry notes all adding dimension in the glass. The earthy nature or gamey element is subdued at present, but should come out with time along with a rich floral component as this wine hits its stride. That said, this wine comes with heavy expectations and its deep purple and garnet color invites comparisons to famous addresses in the Northern Rhone. Pax Mahle is one of California’s best known, influential and respected winemaker, who has been incredible helpful to a whole new generation of small producers. Pax, a Rhone specialist, but who also has branched out into making some natural style alternative wines in recent years from unique and rare grapes, is most know for his towering and age worthy single vineyard Syrah bottlings, including his Castelli-Knight, Alder Springs and the Griffin’s Lair bottlings.

This wine,100% Syrah, the multi vineyard cuvee, 2018 Sonoma-Hillsides, was hand crafted with old world influence using a combination of whole bunches (100% Whole-Cluster), with Pax’s fermentation using only indigenous yeasts. In his Syrah these days there is a variety of vessels for elevage with some getting concrete vat(s) and some getting used French casks including larger barrels or puncheons, but with this wine though, Pax aged it completely in the cement tank for 10 months. all of which the allow the wine to show its true nature in a clear transparent form. Pax Mahle has been on top of the Syrah game in California for years and has refined His style, which has been honed or the last decade has come to match his personal vision of what Syrah should be, and that follows some of the great wines of France’s northern Rhone region, most like Cote-Rotie and Hermitage, but these are not wines that mimic those wines, these California wines should be looked at as equals, not copies, and they have their own personalities. The 2018 saw fruit sourced from top sites like Castelli-Knight Ranch, in the Russian River, Griffins Lair Vineyard, in the Petaluma Gap area of the Sonoma Coast and the Nellessen Vineyard, in the Sonoma Coast with a cross section of Sonoma’s soils including volcanics, marine sediments and some broken shales, sandy loams and gravelly elements. This Hillsides Syrah finished at 12.9% natural alcohol, but don’t be fooled, this is a dense wine that will really gain with some bottle age, be patient and be rewarded.
($48 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Weingut Mueller-Catoir, Scheurebe Trocken, Haardter Manderling, Pfalz, Germany.
I love Scheurebe and this Mueller-Catoir is one of if not the best dry version, with this ripe and expressive 2017 showing everything the grape has to offer, it delivers intensity and aromatic quality, it’s a thrilling German white wine from one of the most admired wineries in the Pfalz. This vintage is bursting from the glass with jasmine, liquid roses and spearmint lifting to the nose while the light to medium bodied palate delivers tangy grapefruit, white peach, quince, sour apple and pineapple fruits along with chalky mineral, saline, clove spice, wild fennel and the crisp, lip smacking finish keeps things severe and refreshing. Shuerebe, a very aromatic grape, also known as Samling 88 (Austria), was a seed crossing of Riesling and a little known varietal called Bukettrbe back in 1916 by Doctor Georg Sheu, hence the name, which became official as tribute to its creator. I should state my thanks for those details to Anne Krebiehl MW who presented these facts in her book “The Wines of Germany” also noting that for many years, it was thought Scheurebe was a crossing of Riesling and Silvaner, but recent studies has proved otherwise. Scheurebe grows best in Calcareous soils, with Muller-Catoir’s Pfalz version regarded as maybe the greatest expression of this grape, in particular their Trocken single Cru Haardter Mandelring example. The full range of wines at this property are amazing from the thrilling dry wines to the finely balanced sweet wines, everything at Mueller-Catoir is class, when it comes to the Pfalz, this and Von Winning are must try wines.

I’m a huge fan of Mueller-Catoir, thanks to long time importer and Riesling guru Terry Theise, who really introduced to the full lineup here many moons ago, their Rieslings are some of Germany’s best, but they have this awesome Scheurebe, as well as a great dry Muscat (Muskateller), maybe the best I’ve ever had, along with Pinot Blanc and Rieslaner, of which they do a fabulous sweet wine from. Weingut Mueller-Catoir has been family owned since 1774 with 9 generations tending the vines, as Theise notes, the winery is now run by Philipp David Catoir, who has Martin Franzen as his cellar master, hailing from the Mosel and formerly at Schlossgut Diel, took over the winemaking from the legendary Hans-Günther Schwarz in 2002. Müller-Catoir has gone holistic in recent years and farm mostly organic, but remain very practical with absolute quality demanded of the grapes here, there is no compromise at this place, they focus on purity and terroir. The vineyards in Haardt, where this wine comes from, are composed of primary rock (urgestein) and sandstone, with an increasing proportion of gravel lower on the slopes. This estate and the region has a long history of winegrowing with the Burgergarten site being first planted close to 700 years ago, and, as the winery notes. Mueller-Catoir which has a tradition of reductive winemaking implementing a gentle crush, a long skin contact, slow gentle pressing, and then ferments at warmer, according to the winery again, than customary fermentation temperatures in stainless steel to promote transparency, which this lovely Scheurebe shows, drink it over the next 3 to 5 years.
($49 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

1986 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Estate Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountain.
This 1986 Santa Cruz Mountain Pinot, shared with us by the winemakers Junior Banuelos and Denis Hoey at Odonata was showing beautifully, incredible really for a 34 year old wine with pretty details and a core of fruit without a severe fragility or sous bois, it impressed a crowd of Pinot Noir fans to near silence and awe! Hoey, owner at Odonata was mentored by Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard’s Jeff Emery and had access to this beauty, which we tried with an equally good 1985 version, it was tough to pick between them, in fact maybe more people liked the more expressive 1985, but I admired the delicacy of the 1986 and lighter frame that reminded me of a perfectly aged Burgundy with dried rose petals, a touch of damp earth, Christmas spices along with strawberry, cherry and plum fruits at its core, lingering on the medium bodied palate with minty herb and mushroomy accents. Jeff Emery began his career at the iconic Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard in 1979, serving an apprenticeship under the owner, Ken Burnap, and never moved on, basically taking over the winery in 2002. The original Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard property was a living history of the region, so it was sad when those old vineyards were lost to development in the later part of the 2000s, though Emery and Burnap to our eternal gratitude saved a big library of their wines and treasures like this can be found and admired. This wine’s color was impressive too, pretty dark crimson and with a gentle orange/brick edge, surprising, but seductive and still with a structured mouth feel.

When I was learning about wines and starting a career in the wine business I remember these wines from the 1990s, which were raw, robust and gripping wines that paid no heed to the modern approach and fashion of over polished and fruit bombs that were the rage at the time, though they could really blossom with age and patience, as this 1986 clearly shows. For many years, the Santa Cruz Mountains region was dominated by four wineries, Ridge Vineyards, David Bruce, Martin Ray/Mount Eden and Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, each with their own stylistic character and charm. They very first Petite Syrah I tried that I remember was a Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard version, they of course called it by the grape’s true name Durif, spurring me on to learn the history of the varietal, a process that captured my passions for wine knowledge, at the time it wasn’t all there on the internet! The Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, known now more for Pinot Noir was also a Rhone producer before it was a thing and made some cool Grenache over the years as well, so if you find old bottles of this winery around be sure to not miss them, especially the estate vineyard Pinots like this one if you see it, plus that Durif, they probably will live 50 years! The Santa Cruz Mountains region has many fabulous wineries and vineyard sites to explore now and Emery and Burnap are part of its legendary period in the 1970s and 1980s that led to many winemakers to be inspired to give this place a try, including Dennis Hoey at Odonata, who wines are getting better and better and well worth digging into, with his Santa Cruz Mountains efforts being exceptional!
($N/A) 93 Points, grapelive

2010 J. Rochioli, Pinot Noir, Little Hill, Russian River Valley.
One of California’s most famous and historic Pinot Noir producers, Rochioli continues to make their rich and age worthy wines that when young show opulence, luxurious oak treatment and loads of pure Russian River flavors, but once they get some age they shed the more obvious sweet/smoky wood and gain a fine sense of delicacy and secondary complexity, as this 2010 Little Hill Pinot is doing right now. The Little Hill section sits below the Sweatwater and Big Hill plots on the southern side of the Rochioli estate just west of Westside Road and was mostly planted on this higher bench in the mid nineties to a collection of clones, mainly their own (Rochioli) West Block selection, along with some Pommard and Romanee-Conti, which all add to the depth and structure. With southeastern exposures and the ancient and not so ancient river bed soils make the Rochioli estate with its cooling influences from the marine gap that cuts up the river’s track a top Pinot Noir and Chardonnay area, along with neighbors Williams Selyem, this was ground zero for great Pinot Noir in the 1980s and 1990s when the grape was finally getting the attention in deserved in the state. The Little Hill, being part of the J. Rochioli single parcel series, gets aged in French oak, with probably 40 to 50% new medium plus toast barrique for between 15 to 18 months, plus some bottle resting before release, then of course I gave it another seven years in my own storage, which allowed it to develop to near perfection. I have learned to age my Rochioli wines, sometimes the hard way and I especially love them around ten years after release, oh and I definitely mean the Chardonnay as well!

The Rochioli family, now led by Joe Jr. and Tom Rochioli along with long time cellar master Terry Berring make seriously delicious and impactful wines, and I’ve long been a fan and while I have had access to many great wines over the years, Rochioli has a special spot in my heart, considering it took more than seven years for me to get on their mailing list, it seems unlikely knowing my general lack of patience! There is a surprisingly diverse cross section of soils across the Rochioli’s property and they pick and ferment each block separately. Tom notes, while this is a common practice in Burgundy, it was his dad who started it in the Russian River, with Rochioli being a pioneer, they were one of the first in the area to introduce, what they call a micro-batch process. Tom Rochioli believes that being able to taste unique differences between the diverse soil and clonal diversity that typifies the Russian River, plus a more hands off approach in the cellar, is what makes Rochioli the iconic producer it is. The 2010 is still a flamboyant and expressive wine with a nice freshness and vintage marker very much alive in the flavor profile, it delivers tasty layers of black cherry, tangy red currant, plum, cranberry and pretty strawberry fruits, a touch of loamy/stony earthiness, cedar and rose petal floral notes, adding a hint of black tea, cola bean and sassafras. With time in the glass the silken medium bodied palate pleases even more and the wine takes on a class and grace you’d expect from such a wine and the graceful length impresses, every sip is magic for this wine, absolutely in its prime spot, this was a particularly great bottle, I wish I had more!
($100-150 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2016 Domaine Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Saint Aubin, En Remilly, Premier Cru White Burgundy, France.
How good are these PYCM Chardonnays? There are so good they are now doubling in price just a year of so after release, like this exceptional 2016 Premier Cru Saint-Aubin En Remilly that is just starting to open up into top form and depth with still a laser sense of detail and mineral tones, while gaining textural richness and unveiling of its personality. The fleshier 1er Cru En Remilly by Pierre-Yves comes from three individual plots of vines, from what I understand with one in the highest part of the premier cru, which I imagine heightens the acidity and two lower down in the main section, or as Decanter calls it, in its heart, and closer to Chassagne-Montrachet, which gives the wine its density and presence on the palate, all are set on the classic clay and chalky limestone soils. This 2016 vintage follows this house style with slightly earlier pick dates to really highlight intensity and hyper focus of flavors with loads of lemony citrus, green apple, bosc pear and tart peach fruits along with bitter melon, clove spice, wet river stones, saline and a slow unfolding of leesy brioche along with a hint of hazelnut and sweet wood notes. The play between brisk energy and its dense opulence is fantastic, making for an exciting wine that performs as expected, even with sky high expectations and stunning with food, it held up nicely with lobster and would be brilliant with soft creamy cheeses.

Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey is one of famous Colin clan with his father and his brothers all being great vignerons, but these days Colin-Morey is probably the most revered and along with his wife Caroline Morey of the equally famous Morey family are a true power couple in the Cote d’Or, now based in their new modern winery in Chassagne they turn out some of the most sought after wines in the Cote de Beaune. The En Remilly has become one of biggest stars in the PYCM lineup, sadly driving up the price, though it remains one of the best values for stellar white Burgundy, especially on release with vines being most 25 to 55 years old and providing concentration, vigor and purity, which this vintage shows with precision and refined elegance. Colin-Morey follows a strict protocol and method, using all sustainable and hand tended vineyards, with mostly organic practices in the vineyards, while in the cellar he ferments and ages his wines in barrel, with the mentioned early picks, and uses indigenous yeasts and notably he prefers larger format 350L French oak casks, with his Premier Crus seeing close to 30% new, adding just the right amount of toasty accents. This beauty is wonderfully balanced and seriously good stuff, this is a Chardonnay for Chardonnay lovers, enjoy it over the next 5 to 10 years, though not many will have that kind of patience! I hear the Colin-Morey 2017s look to be on the richer side and more luxurious in style, making perfect sense considering the vintage conditions, so I was glad to get this one in before getting my hands on the upcoming wines for comparison.
($65 to $125 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Cume do Avia, Caíño Longo Tinto, Dos Canotos, Ribeiro, Galicia, Spain.
The native grape, Caiño Longo is usually used in blended wines, but is capable of doing lovely solo efforts and this bright low alcohol red wine from the talented group of friends at Cume do Avia from Spain’s Ribeiro D.O. is a fabulous effort with a crisp bright personality, similar to Fleurie (Cru Beaujolais Gamay) with a crunchy mineral freshness and racy red fruits. This winery is a hot ticket right now and they farm and use varietals with local significance, they have small plantings of thirteen different indigenous Galician grapes, all selected from ancient vines in the Ribeiro zone, and they have plans to plant many more, especially the long forgotten ones that they hope to re-discover and add to their collection. Led by Diego Collarte and his brother Álvaro, both grew up in Vigo, the latest city in the region, Cume do Avia is like many young Spanish producers that are school friends that have turned away from glitz of city life to get back to their roots, sometimes lost to 3 or 4 generations and finding their mission in the hard work of remote wine regions and long overlooked old vines using natural/organic farming as well as historic methods in the cellar, as they employ here. The terroir here, which is renown for white whites and close to the border with Portugal, is mainly granite based, but there is a diversity of soils in some of vineyards that Cume do Avia have near the Avia River, and this adds spice and complexity to their wines, with some sand, schist and even slate soils here as well. There is an underlying depth and richness though things are kept in firm check by its vibrant form, it certainly rounds out with food and should be allowed time to fill out, then it will show its best and bring a more joyous experience.

The 2017 Caíño Longo Tinto Dos Canotos fills the glass with a vivid ruby hue and delicate floral perfume as well as crushed red berries that leads to a medium bodied vivacious palate with under 12% alcohol, making for a refreshing and zippy red wine that adds that mineral tone, light spices and herbs gaining strawberry, sour cherry, vine picked briar laced raspberry, tangy red currant and lingering earth, rose petal and cinnamon. The lighter frame opens up texturally with air, but the wine stays quite puckering, tartly detailed and is great with a slight chill, it is strikingly vivid stuff and fun, being like Pinot in its ability to go with many cuisine options. These wines are serious efforts that enjoy your attention, though they have a friendly personality, like this one does and drink in what we call a Glou Glou (or glug glug) style, which is reserved for wines that don’t need much over thinking and are easy to quaff. The wine, coming form hand tended and harvested using biodynamic/holistic practices in the vineyards, and fermented with indigenous yeasts with some whole bunches, then the wines are aged in neutral vessels, some including chestnut casks that were more common in older times. This winery admits it has been a tough journey since they started in 2005 to now, where they have a demand for their wines with some disasters and set backs along the way, but I love this intense and vigorous Caíño Longo Tinto Dos Canotos and I can’t wait to taste more of their efforts, and I hear they had a big step up with their 2018 releases, so that is even more exciting. There is a lot to find joyous in the single varietal bottlings, but I also would not miss the blended efforts, make with Souson, Caiño Longo and Brancellao as well as others.
($42-50 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2017 Weingut Clemens Busch, Riesling Trocken, Mosel Germany.
The tasty entry level dry Riesling from Clemens Busch is flavorful, especially this ripe year 2017 and there is a lot on off for the price with plenty of peachy expressive fruit, but still energy filled and with crystalline mineral character. This all biodynamic Middle Mosel Riesling From Weingut Clemens Busch, a pioneer in natural winemaking and organic viticultural in the Mosel region, shows fresh details, oyster shell and crisp saline to go with the pretty classic lime, green apple and quince fruits plus wet shale, white flowers and a delicate smoky element. Clemens and Rita Busch, the husband and wife team, run this small, but much admired estate and their influence can be felt throughout Germany with many vignerons following in their footsteps. Since taking over his family winery in 1984, Clemens, the fish generation wine grower, has passionate put his vision in place and while it took a long while to do the conversion and gain acceptance locally, regionally and globally, he has become an iconic figure with his incredible lineup of dry Rieslings, with this one being a great gateway into his wines. His top bottlings are fantastic and well worth the extra cost and age well gaining texture and complexity with each identified by their different and distinct terroirs on the original hillsides, each being highlighted on his labels by their historical names, they include Fahrlay, Falkenlay, which is one of my favorites, Rothenpfad, Felsterrasse, and Raffes.

Busch’s grapes are grown mostly on the extremely steep Pündericher Marienburg, a mixed slate based, continuous vineyard, with many tiny prime lieu-dits, that spans and entire hillside facing the village of Pünderich. Exposed full South/Southwest and right on the edge of the river, it is widely considered some of the very best sites in this part of the mighty Mosel. Clemens believes the special parcels have their character and are themselves Cru sites with their own micro climates and show individual expressions. These wines are all unique and Busch combines old traditional methods with his all natural approach in the cellar, which he notes, with 80% of the wines being fermented and aged in very old 1000L barrels with the youngest used close to 50 years old, and many, he adds, were built by Rita’s father. Clemens allows a sponti (native yeasts) fermentation and nothing is ever added to the wine, except an ultra low dose of sulfur at bottling to allow for safe handling and or shipping stability, with the hope that the wines show purity of the terroir, which I believe they do. Interesting to note is that most of the Rieslings here have color coded capsules that tell the buyer what type of slate was in each wine, with red (red slate), grey (grey slate) and blue for the (blue slate) with this lighter Riesling Trocken being all grown on grey slate from multiple parcels in the famous parts of Marienburg. The Mosel is on fire with so many great and intriguing wines, it maybe hard to chose, but you should consider trying these Weingut Clemens Busch dry Rieslings, they don’t disappoint, I offer as an understatement!
($27 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Martha Stoumen, Carignan, Venturi Vineyard, Mendocino County.
Martha Stoumen’s 2018 Venturi old vine Carignan is a fresh old school style quaffer with lovely dark flavors, supple tannins and a juicy medium body, it pleases without pretense or polish, it is naturally delicious. Martha, influenced by European country wines that show clarity of place and traditions is now trying to make terroir-driven wines in, as she says, the land that she holds so dear in her heart, California, she leases and farms around half of the vineyards herself, to achieve her goal, with the other half being farmed by multi-generation farmers, Stoumen adds, who understand their land and who farm with the same philosophies. The Venturi Vineyard is located in Mendocino County and was originally planted back in 1948, it is a dry farmed and organic site just north of Ukiah, in the Calpella Valley, set on predominantly Pinole gravelly loam soils. Her Carignan is lightly floral and spicy with vibrant blackberry, black cherry and currant fruits, a bit darker than Zinfandel, but in the same mode there is some nice acidity, bramble and briar as well as roasted herbs, like rosemary sprigs and sage, along with cinnamon and a hint of cedar. The vines underpinnings contain, according to Martha, a mixture of sandstone, shale and quartz, with these deep, well-drainning soils which were formed from alluvial flows also has fist-sized stones not too different than what you’d see in Chateauneuf. Martha’s latest set of wines are fun and can be drunk without abandon or worry, they are all made to be shared in their youth, look for this one, only 400 cases made as well as her signature Nero d’Avola, the Sicilian grape she fondly remembers from her time there as well as her interesting set of whites, plus her Zinfandel, another zesty style red with very low alcohol.

This latest release from Stoumen joins some of her best expressions so far with this Venturi Vineyard Carignan being delightfully engaging and tasty with faint earthy tones and a touch of mineral to the zesty fruit. This wine was crafted using 100% Carignan from a 70 year-old Carignan block on a particularly stoney parcel, as Stoumen explains, as it lies on a former riverbed, making the tending of these old vines not easy work, but worth the serious efforts, especially in this vintage. These parcel characteristics and cool nights here, Martha exploited to craft a wine that showcases this site’s inherent personality, that along with a long, cool fermentation result in a Carignan, as she says, with a much lighter body than most considering the old vine concentration, in fact the natural alcohol is just 11.4%! Stoumen’s calm experienced minimalist winemaking approach and patience in the cellar letting the natural yeasts and bacteria present on the grape skins perform fermentation, she believes allowing longer macerations and aging to provides stability rather than using additives, and after a few years of tasting and drinking her wines I have no reason to argue, these are soulful, somewhat raw in style, but clean and elegant. Like the new generation of California’s top small producers Stoumen uses well seasoned neutral French oak barrels and her wines are transparent with a focus on place and grape purity in their profiles. Martha has had a good education in real world winemaking having apprenticed under stars like Reinhard Löwenstein (Heymann-Löwenstein, Mosel), Jordan Fiorentini (Chalk Hill, California) Chris Brockway (Broc Cellars, California), Clive Dougall (Seresin, Marlborough), Didier Barral (Léon Barral, Faugères, France), and Giusto Occhipinti (COS, Sicily), all of which as guided her down her own path. This attractive purply Venturi Carignan, while lighter in fashion, has plenty of character and substance making it expressive more so with food and part of a table with simple cuisine and good humor, it brings comfort and smiles all around, drink up.
($35 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Cameron Winery, White Blend “Giuliano” Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
One of best kept secrets of Oregon is Cameron Winery’s Northern Italian inspired whites, especially this Giuliano, which is a blend of Friulano, Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc), Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris) and Auxerrois with a small bit of perfumed Moscato (Muscat) that winemaker John Paul, a huge fan of Friuli and Alto Adige whites, gives heightened aromatics in this gorgeous crisp dry wine. Paul ferments his “Cameroni” (Italian style) whites in stainless in mostly separate lots with a special cultured yeast and limited lees aging to promote clarity, purity and freshness with this blended white seeing a bit more bottle age to allow the high acidity to calm a bit and let some texture to develop, all of which prove magically here in his 2018 version, one of the best yet, it is a wine to get really excited about, it shows exceptional detail and quality. Cameron known for their classic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines, some of the most sought after and famous in the region, also do Nebbiolo, another Italian inspired effort worth chasing down!

The light to medium bodied 2018 Giuliano Bianco delivers precise layers and mineral charm with an array of zesty citrus, with lemon/lime, tart peachy stone fruit along with hints of melon, quince, kumquat as well as jasmine, orange blossom, spearmint and saline infused wet rock. This is absolute delicious stuff, serious in quality, but easy to love and it drinks great with or without food, though it would shine with briny sea foods, in particular I would love to have another few bottle for oysters and or clam dishes. That said, this wine has structure and substance to handle richer cuisine too as well as Alpine cheeses, when it opens up it gains even more palate impact, while retaining its refreshing character. Coming from holistic and dry farmed vines in the Willamette Valley’s Dundee Hills AVA with Cameron’s grapes being grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fungicides, making the wine feel more natural and with the Jory (volcanic) soils adding complexity and a spicy element. Be sure to look for this one, it is just fabulous and should go for 3 to 5 years with ease.
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Terredora di Paolo, Fiano di Avellino DOCG, Campania, Italy.
Sometimes we forget just how good these southern Italian white wines are, especially the ones coming from Campania made from Fiano, Greco and Falanghina, ancient local varietals, some of which were once thought to the region by the Greeks, with Terredora’s 2017 Fiano di Avellino being a delicious example with mineral freshness and purity. Terredora Di Paolo, owned by an offshoot the famous Mastroberardino family, led by Walter Mastroberandino and his children Paolo, the winemaker and Daniela, who manages the estate, was founded as a modern winery in 1978, it is one of the largest privately run producers in the area, but one that takes the local culture and traditions very seriously with a history that is linked to Campania, its land and its people for many generations. Terredora di Paolo decided early on to focus on transparency and employs innovation and technology to get the best from the quality of its vineyards and grapes, according to the winery this concept to put great care in the vineyards and modern technology in the cellar strengthened and fostered the avantgarde character of their offerings.

The 2017 vintage Terredora Di Paolo Fiano di Avellino is ripe and peachy, but retains its refreshing distinction with a flinty, almost smoky mineral edgy element, bright acidity and has a nice saline, mouth watering zip and stony note to go with an array of citrus on the medium bodied palate, adding fine herb and subtle white flowers. This is very nice stuff that goes great with warm days and sea foods, I love drinking Fiano, it’s a grape that is gaining interest in California too, with Dry Creek’s Unti doing a fabulous version, as an alternative to New Zealand SB’s and boring Pinot Grigio that seem to flood wine lists for white wines other than Chardonnay. The Fiano vines are set in the prime Montefalcione and Lapio zones in the main DOCG set on calcareous clay based soils at about 1,800 feet of elevation that helps with retaining the wines vitality. The Terredora bottlings are all 100% varietal, and this Fiano di Avellino was completely fermented and aged in temperature controlled stainless steel to preserve crisp detail and makes this Campania white so clean and vibrant. I highly recommend the Terradora for their quality to price ratio and easy enjoyment with this Fiano and their Falanghina being my favorites in the current lineup.
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 Andrew Murray Vineyards, Syrah, Tous les Jours, Santa Ynez Valley.
The twist off top, easy open dark fruited and spicy Tous les Jours Syrah by long time Rhone maestro Andrew Murray is vintage marked with ripe and warm flavors with blackberry/boysenberry, black plum, blueberry, mission fig and creme de cassis fruit, plus peppercorns, Dutch salted licorice and floral tones. Everything is well portioned and the quality for the price is outrageous and like Louis Barruol’s Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone, which is made from 100% Syrah, it’s easy to see why this wine is so wildly popular. Andrew Murray came to Syrah by accident when he was trying to make a California version of Condrieu (Viognier) and his vineyard was wrongly planted with Syrah instead, but maybe fate played an even hand after all when he started working with this grape, as his versions, like his famous Roasted Slope, a Cote-Rotie style expression, his new Watch Hill Vineyard and of course this wonderful entry level Tous les Jours. This deep purple/crimson Tous les Jours drinks smoothly with ultra plush tannin, but still has a nice brightness of detail, purity and subtle earthiness or meaty elements as you’d expect from this Northern Rhone varietal.

Murray, who like many young winemakers, was inspired by his travel to Europe and especially from his visits to the Rhone Valley in the early 1990s that sparked a passion to make the same style wines in California, and for that he chose Santa Barbara and especially in a cooler zone of the Santa Ynez Valley where he has made a name for himself, but following in the footsteps of an earlier generation like Bob Lindquist of Qupe, Randall Grahm of Boony Doon, who long sourced grapes from Bien Nacido, and John Alban of Alban Vineyards. The Tous les Jours came from a selection of vineyards and is mostly tank raised with very little oak presence, similar to Maxime Graillot’s entry level Crozes-Hermitage with carefully sorted and mostly de-stemmed Syrah grapes for fresh transparency and varietal character, but with a California personality. As Murray explains, everything starts with great grapes from the Santa Ynez Valley, plus a small amount from Paso, using the different climates to create a wine that is both fruity and spicy at the same time. Through his experiences with both New World and Old World style winemaking, Andrew adds, the goal was to make the most drinkable Syrah imaginable, in particular for a stylish everyday wine that as I note, way over delivers.
($18 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Desire Lines Wine Co., Mourvedre, Experimental Series No. 2, Fred’s Home Block, Del Barba Vineyards, Contra Costa County.
The latest Desire Lines Wine Co. wines are stunning and I love this 100% Mourvedre Experimental Series No. 2, of which only about 65 cases were made from seriously old vines in Contra Costa. Winemaker Cody Rasmussen, who’s, as mentioned, is the assistant winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson MW’s Bedrock Wine Co. in Sonoma, is one of the rising talents of the California wine scene and his wines are all stunning, especially his Syrah bottlings and this one too. Rasmussen explains his “Fred’s Home Block” old vine Del Barba Mourvèdre is from a small parcel of vines planted back in the 1880s in Oakley on the classic delta sand. The vineyard, as he adds, was for many years a core piece of the Bonny Doon Cigare Volant, plus Randall Grahm’s Old Telegram (Mourvedre) and for good reason, as the wines were incredible, that I agree with having being a fan of those wines for a long time. Cody notes that these vines are planted on the eastern edge of the Oakley Sands just three miles east of the famed Evangelho Vineyard, which he knows well as it is now owned by Twain-Peterson and is one of the top sites used in their Bedrock lineup as well as providing Rasmussen with some awesome Carignane. Rasmussen is finding some great vineyard sites to make wine from, all done in tiny lots and with extreme care to provide quality and site expression, which this wine shows, this is top notch and a fun filled offering.

The 2018 vintage is bursting with energy and dark fruits with lovely purple/garnet color in the glass and has an array of spices and light mineral tones, showing a Bandol like character, but with smooth California textures and warmth. The Experimental Series No. 2 Fred’s Home Block delivers expressive red vine berries, bright, but sweet cherry, dusty plum and tangy currant jam along with earthy notes, savory elements, that mentioned spicy edge and wild herbs, adding faint leather, dried flowers, anise and cedar when this awesome Mourvedre opens up. Rasmussen continues to be inspired in his winemaking practices by the old world, but is very precise and clean in his methods, employing what he’s learned over the last few vintages, this wine was fermented with 30% whole cluster for 30 days in tank, which is close to twice as long as some of his other wines and then the Fred’s Home Block was raised in a single neutral French oak 600L barrel. This Mourvedre really captivates in the mouth and provides tons of pleasure, in joins some very intriguing versions of this grape, like Ian Brand’s Enz Vineyard and Dirty and Rowdy’s many examples, and this Desire Lines Wine Co. expression is wonderful with food, especially rustic country dishes. There’s a lot of value and thrills in Rasmussen’s latest stuff, I highly recommend joining their mailing list and take advantage of getting some of these limited releases.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 David Arthur Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Three Acre, Pritchard Hill, Napa Valley.
One of the elite Napa Cabs, the David Arthur Three Acre, comes from the best estate vines up on the very fashionable Pritchard Hill, an area known for the highest quality of the grapes and this 2016 is absolutely thrilling in style and substance, with incredible depth of fruit and purity of its dark and rich flavors. David Long the founder of David Arthur Vineyards has a lengthy history in Napa, starting with his dad who was savvy enough to collect a series of land parcels, including the expansive property overlooking Lake Hennessy in the hills on the eastern side of the famous Napa Valley not far from Chappellet, one of the pioneers of this special terroir. The Long family started visiting the Napa Valley in the 1950’s, and according to the winery, Don Long, a butcher by trade who owned a small grocery store in Portola Valley, near Stanford University and had long been interested in the California wine country and the wine scene had a keen eye for business opportunities, he began steadily investing in Napa Valley real estate. All of this led to the acquisition of nearly 1,000 acres of prime virgin land for vines atop of the noted Pritchard Hill in St. Helena. The 2016 Three Acre shows fabulous black currant, plum, blackberry and blueberry fruits as well as minty, menthol, anise, sandalwood, smoky vanilla, sweet lilacs, a touch of loam, red spices and iron, it really floods the full bodied palate with thick chocolatey smoothness, while retaining an inner energy and focused detail, very impressive for a wine of this heft and grip.

The David Arthur wines are now crafted by Nile Zacherle, a Marin native and a UC Davis grad, Nile, Long notes, has built a career producing award-winning wines from both Burgundian and Bordeaux varietals and has given the recent wines a more gentle and elegant profile, which really enhances the character and nature of the grapes that go into these wines, especially this 2016 Three Acre, which is a fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon. Zacherle has added an extra dimension to David Arthur Vineyards and he continues to push quality through focused attention on the volcanic based soils, organic viticultural management and a minimalist approach in the cellar, all of which remind me of some of the world’s best, in particular wines like Chateau Pontet-Canet in Pauillac and Celia Welch’s Corra, one of my personal favorites. This limited special Cabernet Sauvignon Three Acre, which is a blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, using clone 337, 16% Petit Verdot and 8% Cabernet Franc which was grown at higher elevation and has a bit longer hang time allowing for more intensity and grip as well as the ripe black fruits on display. This is a luxurious Cabernet Sauvignon, no question it is dense and saw almost 90% new French oak, but it is handling it all with grace and feels well structured, even at close to 15% natural alcohol it has sense of refinement and it really gets into its groove with prime rib, flank steak and robust cuisine. This is stuff that looks like it will have a long window of drinking, maybe two decades or more, if you have it, I think another 3 to 5 years will bring even more rewarding experiences.
($130-156 Est.) 94-96 Points, grapelive

2017 Weingut Leitz, Riesling Spatlese, Rüdesheimer Magdalenenkreuz, Rheingau Germany.
One of the classics from Leitz, the Magdalenenkreuz Spatlese is wonderfully expressive and full of flavor, the name of this vineyard, translates to “the cross of Mary Magdalene,” named after a red sandstone cross that can be found amongst the vines. Johannes Leitz nicknamed this wine Maggie and it has always been a traditional favorite of his and mine, especially when having hot spicy dishes and or Thai curries. Here east of the village of Rüdesheim the soils are comprised of sandy loam, loess and with much less slate than down Rhein, and the climate here makes the wines fatter, I mean richer in feel and fruity, and it is ideal for a riper expression of Riesling. The Maggie is always textural, opulent and forward, but very refined and light on its feet, more like a Kabinett in feel, while still having complex layering and structural extract. This wine matched up perfectly with orange chicken, hot Asian mustard dipped BBQ pork and Singapore style curry noodles with spicy prawns!

The very pleasing, generous, pineapple laced and peachy 2017 Rüdesheimer Magdalenenkreuz Spatlese, from a warm vintage, has lots of concentration highlighted by its residual sugar creaminess, rather than outright sweetness. Leitz’s traditional Spatlese, only 8% alcohol, shows a nice medium bodied palate of tangerine, apricot, juicy apple, quince, lemon peel and tropical/exotic fruits along with a touch of gingery spice, mineral notes, stoniness and rosewater. This pale and youthful Riesling is filling, but also refreshing with plenty lively acidity to balance it out, it is in fact very elegant and is very respectful of many food choices from briny dishes to BBQ pork, as well as hot and spicy Chinese dishes, where the sugar and low alcohol really is appreciated, and cleanses the attack of heat. This is excellent stuff, precision made with 100% stainless steel and it is a pure terroir influenced wine of ultra transparency that should drink fantastical well for a decade or longer.
($29 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2017 Bodegas y Vinedos Raul Perez, Ultreia, Mencia, Saint Jacques, Valtuille de Abajo, Bierzo DO, Spain.
The awesomely priced Ultreia Saint Jacques Bierzo Mencia based red from the famed Raul Perez is a deep and full flavored wine with lovely balance and energy that shows off its old vine concentration and clay based soil terroir. This multi vineyard field blend style red from Bierzo’s Valtuille zone comes from vineyard plots ranging in age from 80 to 120 years old shows Mencia in a richer form than say the Ribeira Sacra, but the small bit of Bastardo (believed to be Trousseau) and Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet) plus lots whole bunches keeps things well balanced and the fruit is contrasted by a light earthiness, savory notes, spice and mineral elements. This 2017 is ripe and dark fruited with bright blackberry, plum, currant and black cherry layers as well as snappy herbal notes, cedar and cinnamon all flowing in a rush of vivid flavors and authentic character. The vines, for all of Perez’s lineup are all organic, and for this one, were all hand tended and harvested with the oldest being from plants that date back to 1900 and the youngest from 1940, making for a wonderful regional expression of varietal character and a wine with a proud sense of place and being, it is also a fantastic gateway into Raul’s brilliant set of vinous glories.

As mentioned here and across the world of wine, Raul Perez is a grand master of Mencia and the godfather of the Bierzo region with a huge impact on how this wine is seen, clearly defining what it is and should be. His influence and mentorship has launched a whole generation of Spanish winemakers with at least a dozen or more being on their way to super stardom, as well as progressing with his own collection of wines. This Ulteia Saint Jacques is one of Perez’s entry level bottlings, but you’d be hard pressed to find anything lacking here, though his upper end cru stuff is out of this world. The Saint Jacques was about 80% whole cluster and fermented with indigenous yeasts in large wooden vats with maceration(s) lasting between two and five months, which is a long cool period, which adds to the dimension in this beautiful Tinto. The wine, after primary is then rack to an assortment of vessels to age with a combination of French casks including 225L, 500L, foudre and with some of the wine seeing its elevage in cement cuve, after which the Saint Jacques was bottled unfined and unfiltered to preserve every nuance and show the purity of this wine’s personality. I love this fresh and easy to drink young red, well I love all of Raul’s wines, but this one delivers so much for the price it is impossible to resist, drink with simple country dishes, hard cheeses and or BBQ. It’s hard to imagine a better deal on such quality old vine, medium bodied stuff!
($20 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2012 Weingut Heymann-Löwenstein, Riesling, Uhlen L, Terrior Laubach, VDP Grosse Lage, Mosel Germany.
Though the Heymann-Löwenstein, based in Winningen on the famous Mosel River in Germany, is relatively new, Reinhard Löwenstein’s family have been growing grapes in the Mosel from 1520 and the winery is now well regarded and known for the wines exceptional quality, with a focus on the denser and drier style of Riesling. Reinhard and his wife Cornelia Heymann launched Weingut Heymann-Löwenstein back in 1980 with a collection of plots on the difficult-to-farm steep slate terraces in the prestigious crus of Winninigen in the Uhlen Grand Cru, with some prime parcels like Roth Lay set on Iron-bearing red slate and Laubach, where this wine comes from that has a calcareous overlay with a base of grey slate soils. Heymann-Löwenstein is also all about sustainable practices and is now all biodynamic, this and with the traditional methods used in the cellars make these wines natural and full of terroir purity, as this sexy 2012 Uhlen L shows. Now, this wine is not labeled a Grosses Gewachs or GG, but it in fact is and you’ll see it called as much with more recent vintages getting the famous GG marketing. The profile is lush, but still with the classic energy from natural acidity along with the striking mineral intensity with crisp citrus, peach, quince and apricot fruits all with an orange like character as well as flinty wet stone, saline, chamomile, gingery spices, liquid flowers/rosewater and a touch of tropical elements. This wine really excels in the glass and is ever changing with each sip, gaining a regal like elegance in texture and refinement, this is brilliant and heady stuff.

The Heymann-Löwenstein wines are as per normal here 100% hand tended and harvested and Reinhard and his family ferment their Riesling in historical fashion slowly with natural yeasts or “sponti” until they reach a point of balanced dryness, as he puts it through a harmonious integration of sugar and acidity that once characterized the famous Mosel Rieslings of the 19th century, when they were the most valuable wines in the world. Löwenstein adds, that his grapes are harvested late in the season, often with between 10-20% botrytis-infected (noble rot) clusters, and treated to extended lees contact, usually in the traditional Mosel fuder 2400L German oak, as this wine saw or smaller 1000-liter casks, all of which give the wines a fuller bodied feel and richness with a degree of honey tones. The Uhlen L Riesling also saw a fermentation with 12 hours of maceration on the skins and was aged a total of 10 months in the used wood, again this style is somewhat unique and this wine is a stand out bottle, in fact with the attention to detail here, every vintage is fabulous, especially years like 2012, one of my favorites, but be sure to look for 2015 and 2016 too, and I can’t wait to try the 2018s! It was a pleasure to once have tasted with Löwenstein when Reinhard visited San Francisco on a trade tasting tour of the state and his lineup absolutely thrilled me with the stunning flavors achieved and the class throughout the lineup from his base Slate Terraces or Schiefertarressen to the stunning set of small lot Grosse Lagen bottlings, so it was great to revisit this 2012 Uhlen L, sourced from vines that average 55 years old, and see its form is still getting even better with secondary expression now showing!
($60 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Filomena Wine Company, St. Laurent, Ricci Vineyards, Carneros.
Morgan Twain-Peterson MW is not only turning out amazing wines at his Bedrock Wine Co. in Sonoma, he is also turning out to a launching pad for great young winemakers, like Cody Rasmussen who’s Desire Lines Wine Co. made a huge splash last year and now Luke Nio and this Filomena Wine Co. label, which looks set to be one of this years big hits, especially after trying his latest offering, this beautiful and intriguing St. Laurent. This wine made from this rare Austrian red grape was sourced from the Ricci Vineyard in the clay based soils of Carneros that allow loads of expressive fruit to flow on the medium bodied palate and the cool marine climate keeps a nice freshness and detail to shine here, making for a dark and flavorful wine with smooth tannins and a supple mouth feel with delicate spice, earth and mineral notes. Led by a deep purple/ruby color and a seductive nose of florals and crushed vine berries the Filomena St. Laurent flows with blackberry, mulberry, plum, candied sour cherry and tart blueberry fruits along with black olive, a faint bell pepper, cedar and minty herbs, all of these layers and light elements give this wine a profile somewhere between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, but with a expressive carbonic openess that is like Gamay and or Barbera, it’s a brilliant example of this grape and a wildly fun wine. This tasty stuff with go great with loots of foods and can be slightly chilled like a Cru Beaujolais, but is serious and structured too allowing it to stand out for its personality and quality, this is a new winery to watch, with this wine being a great value too, Luke also does a powerful Syrah from Griffin’s Lair Vineyard, which I’ll write about soon.

Nio has really crafted a super little wine here using about 50% whole cluster and the mentioned carbonic maceration, with a natural indigenous yeast fermentation in tank which allows this wine to deliver its forward and vibrant fruity quality, while staying dry, fresh and tangy with a light stemmy crunch. The Filomena Wine Co. St. Laurent was then aged, as Nio notes, half in a stainless steel barrel and half in a neutral 400L French oak puncheon for 9 months before going to his bottles. When you think of cool and alternative grapes you now have another one to check out, this wine joins the likes of Arnot-Roberts Trousseau, Martha Stoumen’s Nero d’Avola, Sheldon Wines’ Graciano, Sandland’s Cinsault, Russell Joyce’s Gamay, Michael Cruse’s Tannat (note he also does a St. Laurent sparkler from this vineyard), Jaimee Motely’s Mondeuse and Pax Mahle’s Mission (Pais) to name a few. St. Laurent, the third most popular varietal in Austria plus also found in the Czech Republic and Germany is one of the parent grapes along with Blaufrankisch of Zweigelt. The St. Laurent which is planted widely in Austria, but is hard to find a stand out version and especially in recent years has taken a backseat to the more serious Blaufrankisch (also known as Lemberger in Germany and interestingly in Washington State), but St. Laurent looks to have a new champion here with Nio, and this wine is absolutely delicious. As noted, St. Laurent also known as in German as Sankt Laurent is a highly aromatic dark-skinned wine grape variety and while Its origins are somewhat mysterious, it is believed to have resulted from a (maybe natural?) crossing of Pinot noir with an unknown second parent grape. There’s not much of Filomena’s St. Laurent, so be sure to get on their mailing list and get their latest releases as soon as you can!
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2015 Core by Montevetrano, Aglianico IGT, Campania, Italy.
One of Italy’s iconic wines of the south, Montevertrano is a singular and towering red wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and the native Aglianico grapes and crafted under the supervision of Riccardo Cotarella, one of the most influential winemakers in the world, tasting this wine is always a treat, and while the top wine is spectacular they also make a stylish and rewarding value priced second wine called the Core by Montevertrano. The owner of the estate is Silva Imparato, she started with vines as a hobby, but quickly saw the quality and potential here, and founded the winery in 1985 in the hills near the commune of San Cipriano Picentino, not far from Salerno. Mountains surround the property, which includes a beautiful ancient Villa, a modern cellar, that built in 2000 with the vineyards situated on gentle slopes facing south and southwest making for a perfect setting to produce great wines. The lighter more local tasting Core collection includes a Greco based Bianco as well as this tasty and expressive Aglianico based red, these are a wonderful way to get glimpse of the soul of the place and of course to Montevetrano.

The 100% Aglianico 2015 Core IGT Rosso, which is pronounced Kor-Ay in Italian is local dialect for “heart” hence the label art, designed by Silvia’s daughter and used to evoke the love of life, that the winery calls the spirit of Montevetrano. Core is sourced, as Cotarella notes, from particular experimental Aglianico plots on the estate in San Cipriano as well as selected outside growers in the classical Benevento area and the wine is fermented in all stainless steel with a gentle maceration and primary fermentation lasting about 15 days with daily punchdowns, pump-overs and racking before being put into small French oak Bordeaux style barriques for just about 4 months to soften tannins, but allow vivid freshness, which this wine clearly shows. The quality and personality of the Core lineup is especially rewarding for the price and this 2015 is drinking really well with vibrant dusty red fruits like spiced raspberry, plum, currant and candied orange as well as savory notes of meat/iron, leather and a mix of floral and kirsch notes along with licorice and cedar. This chewy and flavorful Core red goes great with country style cuisine and robust Mediterranean dishes.
($22 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 Comando G Viticultores, Rozas 1er Cru, Vino de Paraje, Sierra de Gredos, Vinos de Madrid D.O., Spain.
The Rozas Premier Cru is one of the world’s great Grenache wines, and most likely one you haven’t heard of, hand crafted by the talented duo of Daniel Landi and Fernando Garcia, who have been friends since their school days and have other successful projects, with Landi already being a superstar, they formed Camando G in 2008 to work together and the results are absolutely stunning, as this 2017 vintage shows! This region of Spain in the mountains above Madrid, in the Sierra de Gredos is a special terroir that in recent years has broke out and become a Garnacha hot spot that rivals the world’s great sites for this grape, these wines show high elevation elegance and detail, but with old vine concentration and amazing aromatics as well as length in authentic style wines that are mostly made with organic grapes and indigenous yeasts, in a natural fashion that highlights the exceptional purity, as these Comando G offerings display to almost perfection. The 2017 is wonderfully expressive with buoyant fruit, spice, delicate earthy/stony notes and a sweet floral bouquet, this stuff is Garnacha for Grenache lovers, it gives the same thrill as when you get a chance to try Chateau Rayas or one of Louis Barruol’s single cru Gigondas!

Comando G’s Rozas 1er Cru, with layers of brambly raspberry, candied cherry, plum and pomegranate fruits along with a burst of licorice, garrique like lavender, dusty earth, fine pepper and seeped roses, plus chalky notes as well as hint of cedar, is joyous on the full bodied, but lively rich/satiny palate, all of which make this Garnacha irresistible and sultry. Landi and Garcia used a few set of vines averaging 50 to 60 years old for this one, all biodynamic and set on sandy granite soils at almost 900 meters up near the small village of Rozas de Puerto Real. The Rozas 1er Cru saw a native fermentation with some whole cluster in large open top wood vats with gentle pilage and then the Garnacha was aged about a year in mainly seasoned 30 to 40 HL French cask. The winemaking, which can be described as hands off, but with great attention to quality allows this wine to shows a graceful textural side along with a mineral character that is more in line with Burgundy than you’d expect though with a glorious Grenache flavor profile. The Sierra de Gedos makes you work for this level of quality, as the winery notes, the viticulture in this part of Spain is ancient and tenacious, only suited to adventurous, with small plots planted in the most impossible places, including rockfalls and natural amphitheaters high up in the most remote parts of these mountains, and we are grateful for that seriously hard work. This wine has ages of time left, but gorgeous now, do not miss it and all of the Comando G bottlings!
($50 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

2017 Jim Barry, Watervale Riesling, Clare Valley, South Australia.
The crisp, bright and fresh dry Watervale Riesling by Jim Barry Wines is one of the great values in white wines and for those of us that are Riesling freaks will enjoy stocking up on this for the warm Summer months ahead. The tiny village of Watervale is nestled in South Australia’s Clare Valley and is internationally renowned for the quality of its Rieslings which along with Eden have long been places in Oz to search out for this grape. The Barry family has shown a long history of making tasty dry Riesling, as they proudly note, they have consistently been awarded prizes for its quality ever since its first release in 1974. The, as the winery adds, Watervale Riesling is picked from select parcels of vines that achieve ripeness with naturally high acid levels that gives this wine its balance, finest and lightness of feel, while still being flavorful and having true varietal character. The Barry family started their famous winery in 1959 and world renown for their Shiraz wines with the young Tom Barry continuing the tradition taking over from his famous father Peter Barry (son of founder Jim), who brought this small producer such fame with his trade mark Armagh Shiraz, an iconic Australian wine.

The 2017 is drinking lovely with brisk acidity still pumping, but secondary notes starting to emerge with touches of earth, flinty stoniness and a whiff of petrol adding to the vibrant lime and white peach fruits as well as touches of green melon, mint and verbena. The Watervale Riesling is easy to drink and with only a faint trace of classic Clare oiliness and its saline and tangy personality makes it lovely refreshing and great with warm evenings, afternoons and foods fresh from the sea, going great with oysters, mussels and claims. The rocky loamy soils here make the roots dig through cracks to get moisture and help concentrate the grapes making the Clare, which has been known for wine since 1851, a special terroir and its elevation and either help create perfect conditions for both Riesling and Syrah. The Watervale Riesling is just a killer bargain, it delivers purity and personality of a wine twice the price, it joins Alsace’s Kuentz Bas and Leitz’s Dragonstone as top picks for the price. The Jim Barry winery also does an upper end version too, the Lodge Hill Riesling, which is a thrilling version of steely and intense Riesling joining Pewsey Vale, Grosset, Henschke and Jasper Hill to name a few elite examples of Oz Riesling.
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2016 Kellerei Cantina Terlan, Pinot Bianco, Vorberg Riserva, Alto Adige – Terlano DOC, Italy.
The richly textured and deeply flavored Vorberg Riserva from the 2016 vintage, a ripe and highly regarded year, is a special Pinot Blanc that shows this grape in its best possible form, rivaling anything from anywhere in terms of quality and character with an array of citrus and stone fruits, delicate spices, light floral notes and leesy mouthfeel. The Terlan/Terlano winery, one of my favorite Alto Adige producers, especially for white wines like this one, but also they make one of the finest Sauvignon Blancs in the world and many others, was founded back in 1893 in this mainly German speaking region of Italian’s far north Dolomite Mountains, an area known as the South Tyrol, connected to Austria by traditions and culture. Terlan/Terlano is a cooperative in function with some 143 small artisan growers providing grapes with a total focus on high quality over quantity, pushing for organics and sustainable practices, and their track record on wines is legendary, and these wines are amazingly age worthy bottlings, I have on many occasions tasted 20 to 30 year old whites, in particular their Chardonnay, that were incredible and exceptionally fresh. Most of the vines used by Terlan/Terlano are on red porphyry, the stone that gives the wines in the area their typical character and a dusting of sand and a thin top soil, which allows a striking minerallity and a crystalline personality, along with south facing exposures that give lots of sunshine in this Alpine and pristine high elevation zone.

The golden Vorberg Riserva is full bodied and quite lush with classic honey pear, granny smith apples, tangy white peach, especially the soft flesh, quince and the racy lemony citrus fruits along with a touch of creamy brioche, almond and wet stones, as well as herb tea and the mentioned mineral essences. This well rounded, almost white Burgundy like, Pinot Blanc was vinified using only hand picked grapes, then gently whole cluster pressed and with a lengthy settling or clarification of the must by natural gravity. The slow and cool primary fermentation in unique temperature controlled big oak barrels before, as the winery notes, the wine is racked over for malolactic fermentation and aging on the lees in traditional wooden barrels for 12 months. This 100% Pinot Bianco/Pinot Blanc is a stylish and luxurious offering that highlights the terroir and the dramatic picturesque place that is the Alto Adige, very much in line with the great bottlings found at Terlano. These whites go wonderfully with the local cuisine of course, but can be really enjoyed with our California inspired dishes too, including the seafoods available as well as butter and herb roasted chicken and fresh greens, plus it can even handle artichokes, which is of importance to me in my area known for these tasty flowers. Terlan/Terlano does some fantastic stuff, so please take time to discover some of their more rare ones, look for their Quarz (Sauvignon Blanc), the Kreuth (Chardonnay), the Lunare (Gewürztraminer), plus the two blended cuvees Nova Domus and Terlaner, both of which are outrageously good!
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 G.D. Vajra, Dolcetto d’Alba “Coste & Fossati” Piedmonte, Italy.
The dark and fruit filled 2017 G.D. Vajra Coste & Fossati Dolcetto is a delicious wine, we are far from the days when Dolcetto was consider a rough peasant wine, especially when planted in Cru sites and hand crafted by a hugely talented winemaker like Giuseppe Vajra, and this vintage shows remarkably well in the glass with sharp fresh detail, depth of flavors and all without being a loud or flashy wine. There is a bright intensity and it goes fabulous with rustic and or simple country cuisine, it has plenty of fruit and vibrant acidity to form an exciting structure and its deep purple/garnet color is very inviting and sets up the senses for the joy to come. The nose brings a bouquet of cut violets, wild herbs and crushed blackberries which leads to a medium bodied palate that flows seamlessly with briar laced vine berry, plum, black currant and tangy cranberry with vivid accents of anise, mineral, spearmint, amaro/herbs and kirsch. The tannins are mild, letting the Vajra Coste & Fossati Dolcetto d’Alba be enjoyed anytime and any place and faint earthy elements add a layer of soulful personality in this very fine and balanced Italian red. I love this version of Dolcetto, a varietal that I have a special soft spot for, the very first case of wine I ever bought was a box of Dolcetto d’Alba, which I loved with family meals and enjoyed at beach parties and picnics. One night, at a traditional old school family trattoria, I was introduced to Dolcetto with a mix of homemade pasta, sausages, wild mushrooms and many side dishes and it was at that moment I began to understand Italian wine’s purpose and I’ve been a devotee ever since!

Vajra’s Dolcetto d’Alba Coste&Fossati is a collection of antique Dolcetto clones that was collected and cultivated by Giuseppe’s father Aldo Vajra between 1979 and 1985, after care selections were identified the best cuttings were grafted in two of the estate’s great Barolo vineyards, Coste di Vergne and Fossati, where these vines thrived and produce an exceptional example of this classic Piedmonte grape. Aldo was ahead of his time, he started farming holistically back in 1971 making his winery sustainably certified very early on and has be fully organic certified since 2019. The Crus where this wine is sourced are set on Barolo’s white Marl, limestone and clay soils with a smattering of sandy topsoil and interestingly, Vajra’s blocks are at high elevation and later pick dates are common adding to the development of flavors, while the cool nights keep loads of vital acidity. To show this wine in its purest form the fermentation and aging happens exclusively in stainless steel, with a vinification lasting 15-20 days in custom upright vats designed for Vajra, at free, but cool temperatures with gentle punch-downs and pump-overs to rinse the cap. Vajra then let the Dolcetto go through spontaneous malolactic fermentation and the wine was allowed the wine rest for 7 or 8 months before bottling. The current collection of Vajra’s wines are all outstanding with some noticeable stand outs, including the set of Barolo offerings from 2015 and their awesome dry Riesling, one of the best in Italy, but don’t miss the more value priced stuff with the Langhe Nebbiolo and this one being top tasty choices to stock up on!
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2017 Morgan Winery, Pinot Noir, Rosella’s Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
One of the best wines from the Santa Lucia Highlands in the vintage, the 2017 Morgan Rosella’s Pinot is really showing fantastic right now with great detail and expressive aromatics delivering beautiful fruit, floral tones and perfectly judged ripeness and oak treatment, this is gorgeous Pinot Noir from one of the great cru sites in the region. This limited single vineyard wine is going to be tough to get, but well worth searching for and I suggest begging the winery for some and or get on their list, as their 2018 should be even better! The estate Rosella’s Vineyard, owned by Gary Franscioni and named for his wife Rosella, and is beside the family home, is in the cool part of the Santa Lucia Highlands with a blast of cold Pacific Ocean air flowing through the vines here, which are set on the classic sandy loamy soils and farmed with exceptional care and with green practices in partnership with the Pisoni family. Dan Lee has a special set of these vines available to him and this wine is always a treat in Morgan’s lineup, especially now, since Lee brought in winemaker Sam Smith, who’s really been a lift to this classic Monterey label.

Along with the sister wine from the Garys’ Vineyard, the 2017 Rosella’s enjoyed a gentle and fermentation using traditional methods and this vintage saw about 50% new oak that adds a nice toasty/smoky accent to this dark fruited Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot. This version of Morgan’s Rosella’s spent about a year in barrel to refine the tannin and acid structure, while still allowing the wine to show a fresh balance and it has restrained natural alcohol making for a graceful and deep expression of place. The nose shows subtle wood and vivid flowery notes and dark berries that leads to the medium full palate of black cherry, raspberry, plum and currant fruits along with bramble and briar spice, a touch mineral, vanilla and orange tea. The textural quality is one of the highlights here and the vivid life force of the fruit, it has a burst of vivacious character that make it unique, it feels less dense than the Garys’ and yet it has a soft power that will allow it to shine for years and years. There is a lot to be excited about in the newest releases from Morgan, I wouldn’t miss any of their 2018s, in particular check out their organic estate Double L Vineyard collection and the single clone selections, these wines are out of the this world with the Chardonnay Clone 96 being outrageously delicious!
($65 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2006 Weingut Georg Breuer, Riesling, Rauentaller Nonnenberg “Monopol” Rheingau Germany.
I have grateful memories of trying this wine, the golden Breuer 2006 Nonnenberg dry Riesling, while visiting Rudesheim in 2009 and it was awesome to re-try it recently with an incredible panel of Rheingau wines and it has really held up and excelled in the years in between then and now with a full depth of complex and secondary character showing now. In the last few years Theresa Breuer has been turning out some amazing wines, these later offerings have taken on a real natural and authentic appeal with lovely detailing and highlight her individual parcels and unique vineyard sites, like this one from the Rauentaller, a historic growing site that was brought back to the spotlight by the Georg Breuer winery, almost alone, it is a unique place in the Rheingau, as Terry These, one of the world’s most respected Riesling gurus, tells it, this commune is ground-zero for Rheingau underachieving, sadly, as it shows fantastic potential and can achieve greatness as this wine proves! The 2006 has entered full maturity and delivers smooth texture and has intriguing layers of apricot, seeped rose petals, persimmon, kumquat and peach tart along with lemony tones adding mineral notes, chamomile and verbena. There’s still a kick of saltiness, wet stones and gripping extract with just a faint hint of honey in a pure Riesling that keeps your attention in glass, it looks about right for its age and its mature character makes it wonderfully elegant at this stage and tasty with classic German foods, especially hams. Theresa Breuer, keeps things simple in the winemaking, her fermentations are natural or started with pied de cuve, using traditional elevage in large used barrels for the top wines, like this one, which shows exceptional quality and transparency. Any trip to Rudesheim, which I say is a must for wine lovers, must include a visit to Weingut Georg Breuer in the old town, there is always a special treat in store for you.

The sex appeal of Breuer’s wines are their amazing vineyard sites with a majority of the holdings located in the three greatest Grand Crus in Rüdesheim – Berg Schlossberg, Berg Roseneck and Berg Rottland, which are mostly slate driven and this Monopole (Monopol in German) site, Nonnenberg in Rauenthal, which is very different from the Rudesheimer Berg with a less dramatic view and slope over the Rhein, but with its own magic and prime hillside setting set on quartzite and schist soils. This area was part of the collection used by the famous Kloster Eberbach, the historic monastery that helped define quality Riesling under the church that was guardian of German wine for hundreds of years prior to secular rule. Teresa took over from her father, Bernhard Breuer, who, as the winery notes, was one of the key members of Charta, an organization formed to promote a drier style of Rheingau wine. Bernhard was a huge proponent of this style of wine, and believed that the Rheingau was perfectly suited to producing very fine, elegant and flavorful dry Reislings, which is obviously true, especially today as you can see in his daughters wines, as well as those of Kunstler, Leitz, Spreitzer and others. Bernhard was also a strong advocate for a vineyard classification system based on geology, historical precedent and quality of wines and was a visionary in believing in the Rauentaller and in particular the Cru Monopol Nonnenberg, which he brought into the wineries portfolio. Theresa Breuer has led an organic movement in the Rheingau and all of her vineyards are farmed organic, she runs the estate with her uncle Heinrich as well as longtime manager and icon in the region, Hermann Schmoranz and her Swedish cellar master Markus Lunden, making a tight crew of passionate persons that are committed to producing wines of place and purity, these are wines to search out. If you can find Theresa’s Rieslings with some age, all the better, but grab 2015, 2016 and 2017 versions, especially her Schlossberg and this Nonnenberg, all of which are fabulous and age worthy wines.
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive.com Reviews – April, 2020

2017 Halcon Vineyards, Mourvèdre, Halcon Estate Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
The unbelievable and thrilling dark and spicy Halcon 100% Mourvèdre , which Paul Gordon crafted from his own tiny parcel at the Halcon Estate at 2,500 feet up above Mendocino’s Yorkville Highlands, one of California’s most dramatic terroirs, makes for an exceptional and extreme example of this grape. These conditions with the elevation and cool long growing season make for a big challenge for Gordon, known for his fantastic Syrah, who says – at times it feels like he and wife Jackie have to spend more time nurturing the one acre of Mourvèdre than the rest of our 15 acres combined! Mourvèdre ripens very late, but seems to thrive on the meager topsoil over the broken shales and schist allowing transparent flavors, slightly lower natural alcohol with this vintage coming in at just 12.5%, plus it shows delicate floral notes and mineral tones. This 2017, a warm year, gave Gordon some fabulous fruit and he made the most of that gift from nature with this limited bottling of Mourvèdre that shows loads of black fruit, whole bunch crunch, peppercorns, violets and a light gamy note led by blackberry, black cherry, mulberry and plum preserves along with tangy herbal essences, sandalwood and grilled fennel. This medium to full bodied and with fresh acidity along with fairly firm, but fine grained tannins, it is a wine very much in the house style, so those like me that love their Syrah will be wonderfully excited by this northern Rhone style (unique for Mourvèdre) wine, which is more Cornas in style, rather than Bandol, maybe the greatest region for this grape.

The Mourvèdre vines here are maybe some of the rarest, in this location, being what could be the coldest area with this varietal in the world, with Halcon’s temperatures, as Paul notes, closely matching what Ampuis or Côte Rôtie historically sees in average, meaning that these vines are on the very edge of ripeness for Mourvèdre, which means lots of tender love and care or hard work! In order to ensure fruit maturity the Gordon’s prune their Mourvèdre rows back to 3-4 spurs per plant, which leads to just eight or so clusters per individual vine. That said, in 2017, yields were such that Halcon was able to do a single varietal bottling, and it turned out fantastic. Usually all the Mourvèdre goes into their GSM Esquisto, which has a ratio of close to 20% Mourvèdre in the blend. The 100% Mourvèdre, came in at 22.1 brix and was picked in mid October, early for Halcon, which can see November pick dates. Gordon used a healthy 50% whole-cluster fermentation with good extraction and what was a high level of stem inclusion for Mourvèdre, which shows in the wine’s dynamic and vivacious personality, texture and an earthy/leathery edginess or tension on the intriguing palate. The Halcon Mourvèdre was aged over a year in neutral French 500L puncheons and, like all of Paul’s wines, it was fermented with native yeasts and saw a gentle regime of hand pilage. Just 70 cases were produced, so it will sell out fast, though the 2018 should be available soon, it should be easily as good or better considering the high quality of the vintage, and as I say every time I review one of these wines, it is highly recommended that wine enthusiasts join this mailing list.
($35 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Inspiration, Zinfandel “Ray Zin” Russian River Valley.
The lean and tangy Ray’ Zin from Jon Phillips at Inspiration Vineyards comes from some head trained vines in a slightly cooler zone of the Russian River Valley region in Sonoma County, it is what he calls a claret style Zinfandel with low alcohol and crisp acidity. This reminds me of old school Chianti or maybe more of a lighter Rioja Crianza with its kiss of American oak and zesty raspberry and cherry fruits along with its medium bodied palate and slightly raw personality, which makes it great with pasta, pizza and hard cheeses. There is a tart cranberry, roasted herbs and a smattering of brown spices and peppery note along with a touch of cedar, coconut and toasty vanilla, gaining some floral bouquet with air and lingering red currant. There is some potential gains in texture and tannin roundness with time in bottle in this very limited bottling, with only 25 cases made and at 12.7% natural alcohol it offers a more easy drinking personality than the more powerful and full bodied versions of Zinfandel, like Phillip’s Dry Creek Valley Gallaway bottling, which is a full throttle style.

This 2018 Ray Zin, helped by the cool long growing season is pearly and dust with a vivid ruby color was produced to be more like some wines made in the past like the 1970s Zins of Joseph Swan or the like that rarely saw alcohol above 12% and aged well, but were a bit rough and chewy, needing time and air along with food to show their best. This Zinfandel has a bitter green edgy side that surely benefits matching it with savory foods and especially protein, it is nicer with BBQ and a slight chill that transforms it into a more friendly quaffer. Inspiration has turned up the quality and variety in their offerings and the new artist labels are striking as well, making a winery that was under the radar and somewhat unnoticed a more colorful presence, there is also a more authentic and natural feel to the wines. I recommend trying the new stuff, in particular I would lead you to their new Grenache, Syrah and Cabernet, along with the latest Pinot Noir, all of which impress for value and expressive details.
($25 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive

2017 Envínate, Migan Tinto, Listan Negro, Vinos Atlanticos, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.
The Envínate wines come from mostly Atlantic influenced sites from the Canary Islands to Galicia plus a couple of remote sites within Spain including Almansa, all crafted by winemakers Roberto Santana, Alfonso Torrente, Laura Ramos, and José Martínez, who all met while at college and vowed they would someday work together and pay tribute to their home regions. The wines are some of the most exciting in Spain, especially their Tenerife grown offerings like this stunning Migan cuvee that is sourced from two very old parcels, with between 90 and 120 years of age, of “cordon trenzado” or braided vines on high elevation sites on volcanic soils. The vines follow the slope of the ancient volcano, braided to keep them close to the ground to keep them from being battered by wind and helping them retain and collect moisture in this unique terroir on these islands of the western coast of Africa. I have been following Roberto Santana’s wines for a long time and his efforts have almost impressed me, I love these wines, especially his Listan Negro based bottlings, a grape that is part of set of what we call the Mission grape(s) and mostly found here in the Canary Islands where it was planted by those making the journey to the new world sometime between the 1500s and 1700s at a time when Spain was colonizing the west coast of the Americas with Catholic missionaries needing European vines to make sacrament wines. The Listan Negro grape is wonderfully dry and spicy with the ability to really transmit terroir with transparent purity, as this Envinate Migan does showing the volcanic mineral essence throughout, its a varietal that has a lighter sense of being and can be as elegant as Pinot Noir, again this Migan has this exceptional quality and complexity.

The 2017 Migan is beautifully smooth, but racy with vivid acidity and with delicate earthiness along with its exotic array of spices that thrill the palate which is just medium bodied and restrained in natural alcohol, it is layered with tangy red fruits including dusty plum, strawberry, tart cherry and blood orange that are contrasted by red pepper flakes, leather, anise and faint cedar notes. Everything here is silken and textural gaining sweet floral tones, hints of iron, delicate earthiness and lingering dried rose petals, grilled herbs and red currants making for a stylish and natural feeling wine. According to Envinate and Santana, the Migan, made from 100% Listan Negro, as noted is sourced from two plots, 60% comes from the La Habanera plot on dark volcanic sand at the highest elevation n the area, and the other 40% coming from their older San Antonio plot, that is much lower on the slope with more clay based soils. All the grapes, which are all organic, were hand-harvested, using traditional fermentation and using very low SO2, each lot was foot-troddened and fermented separately with the La Habanera getting 100% whole cluster, while the San Antonio saw just 15% whole cluster. Envinate employs in large concrete vats for primary fermentation and maceration, then when finished the Migan was racked and gently pressed off into 228 & 600L old French barrels for malolactic and aging, that lasted for 11 months, and then bottled is without fining or filtration. This is a wine that has the class and depth of a Nuits-St.-Georges (Burgundy) with a ruby/garnet hue and elements that resembles Fleurie (Cru Beaujolais) and or Etna Rosso (Nerello Mascalese), the Migan cuvee with 12% alcohol makes for a lovely food wine and as is crisply refreshing, best with a bit of chill, this is a fabulous vintage, one of my favorites to date!
($49 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Morey-Coffinet, Puligny-Montrachet, Le Trézin, White Burgundy, France.
The Domaine Morey-Coffinet, founded by Michel Morey in the 1970s is now run in the by Thibault Morey, Michel’s son, who joined the family business in the late 1990s, and that generational shift has brought more attention to the wines here. It’s noted that Domaine Morey-Coffinet wines have since reached new heights in recent years and while I’ve only known Thibault’s wine, I too have been highly impressed with what I’ve tried and this 2018 Puligny Trézin is a gorgeous and full bodied example of white Burgundy, it is a wine with a serious palate impact and dense layering, in line within vintage, which tend to be on the richer side. According to the winery, almost every week, father and son taste each cuvée together, following all of their wines in cask in their ancient cellar, exchanging opinions and sharing experiences. Importer Martine’s Wines say the shy, soft-spoken Thibault continues to push the quality of his domaine to a whole different level as he grows in confidence and experience crafting expressive, powerful, wonderfully hedonistic wines, all of which certainly shows in this one. The Le Trézin parcel, named after a stream and or spring, is in the famed Puligny-Montrachet, one of the greatest Chardonnay sites in the Côte de Beaune set on clay and limestone with warm and ripe exposure facing southeast.

The surprisingly round and creamy 2018 Maison (non estate vines) Morey-Coffinet, Puligny-Montrachet, from the premium lieu-dix Le Trézin, drinks more like a serious Premier Cru or Grand Cru, such is the depth and impressive mount feel with thick layers of apple, pear, peach and lemon curd fruits along with hints of smoke, brioche, hazelnut, clarified cream and even a bit of creme brûlée along with an underlying wet stone, clove spice and subtle mineral tones. This is a regal Chardonnay with a luxurious presence that makes it stunning with decedent cuisine, I would suggest things like lobster and or crab cakes, plus swordfish as well as soft double or triple cream cheeses. This Morey-Coffinet reminds me of some the first times I was able to sample Meursault, Le Montrachet and Batard-Montrachet from mid to late nineties, which were fatter style versions, like from Bouchard, Drouhin and Leflaive. This wine was fermented and aged 12 months in French oak using about 30% new barrels, with what I think some lees stirring or batonage, considering the texture and leesy character and was bottled unfixed and unfiltered. Now most of the to wines are much more racy and sleek, so while I enjoyed this Puligny very much it is not in the modern lean style, it is absolutely voluptuous, and should be celebrated for its personality, drink now for the next 3 to 5 years.
($75 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Cruse Wine Company, Valdiguie, Rancho Chimiles Vineyard, Napa Valley.
The Cruse Valdiguie is always a tasty treat and the 2017 has a ripe and fruit forward style along with a light to medium body and juicy acidity that make it great Summer porch pounder and fun for any occasions, especially backyard BBQ’s. Cruse does two Valdiguies, one Pet-Nat version and this red version which displays a low alcohol quaffing personality with bright Gamay like dark fruits, a touch of spice, herbs and a delicate floral presence. This 2017, while just 12% natural alcohol, is ripe and smoothly textured at this point at a good spot with black cherry, blueberry, vine picked tangy berry, plum and sugar beet fruits along with distilled violets, light cedar notes and sage/fennel with a touch of grilled orange. Michael Cruse’s Petaluma based winery is a great label to explore making some thrilling values in red wines, but really standing out for his collection of sparkling wines that include an awesome set of Pet-Nats with some exotic grapes, like the mentioned Valdiguie and St. Laurent, a rare for California, Austrian red grape, but also a couple of luxurious Champagne method cuvees, one being his geeky cool grower fizz style Ultramarine Brut which is already a cult classic. Cruse has an intriguing lineup out right now, besides the Valdiguie and bubbly, Michael has a Tannat, a dry Muscat, an interesting Sierra Foothills Chard and his seriously delicious Monkey Jacket red field blend, made from Valdiguie, Syrah and Carignan, it’s not a wine to pass up, trust me!

The 2017 Cruse Wine Company red Valdiguie from Rancho Chimiles is done in a modern natural fashion with whole cluster, and in neutral oak with this vintage being mostly aged in large puncheons, 6 being used, plus a single barrique. Rancho Chimiles, first planted in 1972 by Virginia and Terry Wilson on 10 acres in this area east of Napa to Napa Gamay, a grape later to be known as Valdiguie. One of the oldest ranches in Napa County, Rancho Chimiles is still owned and operated by the Wilson family, it straddles the ridge between Wooden Valley and northern Gordon Valley, and includes bench land in both valleys. This ranch, where these vines are, interestingly is a historical site, with the original land grant being awarded by Governor Pio Pico, the last Governor of Mexican California.The deeply colored red Valdiguie glows with a vivid ruby at the core and drinks so easy it makes for fun evening companion with loads charm, it should be enjoyed slightly chilled, similar to your favorite Cru Beaujolais and with smiles and simple foods. Definitely look the Cruse bubbles, but don’t miss his set of reds either, especially if you like wines by Bric Cellars, Dirty and Rowdy, Martha Stoumen, Sheldon Wines and or Jolie-Laide, as these wines are in that same vein, but not clones. I love Valdiguie and Michael Cruse’s is one of the best, I can’t wait to drink his Sparkling version that he just released as well as his 2018!
($32 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Diatom, Chardonnay, Bar -M Vineyard, Los Alamos Valley, Santa Barbara County.
The crisp light/pale gold no oak Diatom Bar-M Chardonnay by Greg Brewer is beautifully detailed and is a totally unique expression with fresh and vivid white peach and mixed citrus fruits leading the way along with delicate spring blossoms, clove spice, quince paste, wet chalk and sea shore elements. Brewer continues his obsession in Chardonnay purity with his Diatom label, a very singular journey or vision quest, more like a Jules Verne novel and Captain Nemo rather than Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab! There is a zen like quiet to these wines, as all the outside world is hushed, again like being on the Nautilus where all the madness of the world and noise are silenced and the wine reveals itself in the grapes truest form and nature. Brewer, founding winemaker at the legendary Brewer-Clifton and known for Burgundy style Pinot Noir and Chardonnays from cru sites in the Sta. Rita Hills, is one of Santa Barbara’s most respected and influential winemakers, he also crafted the acclaimed wines at Melville and over the years has produced some fabulous stuff. These Diatom wines are no compromise and ultra precise Chardonnays, they are intellectually challenging that try to dig down to the core essence of the varietal and the individual vineyard site, but they are also wines of quality and a pleasure to experience, in particular with raw foods and highly focused ingredients, like hyper fresh sushi and masterfully executed, they deserve that perfection to show themselves at their best. People want to compare these wines to terroir particular wines like Chablis, which I can understand, but you can’t explain them that way, they wines that unto themselves. Each year brings a new revelation and understanding of terroir and of Chardonnay self with these Diatom wines, they are fun and thrilling examples of what is possible.

The Diatom Bar-M Vineyard Chardonnay is sourced, according to Brewer, from a stunning contiguous block of clone 76 Chardonnay planted over 20 years ago in the Los Alamos region of Santa Barbara County set on ancient seabeds. The Los Alamos area is a magnificent and relatively unknown region, where you can find Rhone grapes, like Grenache and Syrah as well as Burgundy grapes in cooler zones, where the sandy loam soil, as Greg adds, lends itself to fruit with a bit more flesh and weight – perfectly suited to the Diatom model. The Innox style fermentation done with his special yeast cultures at very low temperature in small stainless-steel tanks, with inhibited malo-lactic or no malo to promote absolute transparency and freshness. Brewer leaves nothing to chance, using a short hose transit ensure precision and focus in these wines. Diatom is motivated by what Greg calls the pursuit of subtraction and refinement, in his mission to remove the mentioned outside noise or accents other than the grape and place. He likens It to the polishing of a grain of rice until one has reached its ultimate inner core. The Sta. Rita Hills and joining areas continue to inspire him and this marine landscape, in his words, is stark and so are the wines of its provenance. These Diatoms are fascinating efforts with as little disturbance, distraction or interference as possible. I love the 2018 vintage with its amazing mineral and energy driven character, they are weightless, but rich and textual, it is one of my favorite years for the Diatom line and this Bar-M, with its stony qualities and tangy edge is stunning stuff, enjoy it with creamy Toro or fatty/briny Spanish mackerel and have your mind blown! This Bar-M is delicious and is utterly compelling with a nice play between racy acidity and ripe flavors, don’t mis this, the Santos Road and Spear Vineyard, they all are outstanding. Also, check out Greg Brewer’s new Ex Post Facto Syrah too, which is super good, all are now available through Brewer-Clifton.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2016 Waits – Mast Family Cellars, Pinot Noir, Mariah Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge.
Waits – Mast Family Cellars was founded by Brian Mast and Jennifer Waits back in 2005 with this couple making their first barrel of their own Pinot in 2007 with a passion for marine influenced wines like Littorai, Cobb, Drew, Hirsch and Peay Vineyards. According to Brian, before they started making wine we were passionate wine consumers taking many weekend getaways were spent exploring wineries across California, plus a few special trips to France, Switzerland and even New Zealand. All of this cruising around made them hyper focused on the Anderson Valley and I became a big fan after first trying their Londer Vineyard 2010 and later the fantastic Deer Meadows Vineyard, which is farmed by Richard Savoy, of Savoy Vineyard fame, and a high elevation organic site above Boonville. Now Waits – Mast have a talented Shalini Sekhar, Winemaker, who studied Enology and Viticulture at Fresno State University, and applied her skills at Williams-Selyem Winery, Copain Custom Crush (now Punchdown Cellars), and Bluxome Street winery, and now besides Waits – Mast she crafts the Neely Wines (of Varner fame) from the Santa Cruz Mountains, specializing on Pinot Noir from these cool coastal mountain sites. The 2016 Mariah has lush layering with refined tannin and nice silky elegance on the palate with black cherry, raspberry, plum and tart currant/cranberry fruits along with subtle smoky/sweet oak toast, cinnamon, rose petal, mineral and a hint of mocha. This wine flows and opens smooth with a rich sense of detail and finesse, but still has plenty of energy and vitality.

The beautiful and expressive 2016 Mariah Pinot comes from a Pinot Noir block that Brian and Jennifer source comes from two different clones, Dijon 667 and Pommard, planted to older root-stock from vines that were originally put in the ground in the 1970s set on a combination of Hugo and Josephine loams over a well drained sandstone and fractured shales. This region and in particular this area has produced some of California’s best Pinot Noirs in recent years and there is great expectations on these wines, which this wine lives up to. As noted in my reviews of Drew, who is not far from Mariah, this part of the Anderson Valley is on the very western side within 10 miles of the ocean and up above 1200 feet, making for a cool, breezy and fog influenced long growing season that makes for stunning Pinot Noirs. The wines from Waits – Mast are handcrafted in San Francisco in very small lots and offer exceptional value, especially these 2016 vintage offerings, which was an absolutely awesome year in the Anderson Valley, with this Mariah and their Nash Mill Vineyard bottlings being stand outs! This Mariah saw lots of whole cluster and saw a cool maceration, hand punch downs and pump overs to enhance the aromatics, vibrancy of flavors, structure and allow texture to form before a slow gentle pressing to just four French oak barrels for another year of elevage. With only 94 cases of this unfixed and unfiltered Mariah Vineyard Pinot Noir, that finished at a graceful, but ripe 13.5% natural alcohol, it would be best to get on it pretty quickly and also I recommend capturing their 2012s and in particular the 2014s if you see them, as well as joining the Waits – Mast mailing list.
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Bow & Arrow, Rhinestones, Pinot Noir/Gamay Noir, Johan Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The Rhinestones by Potland Oregon’s Bow & Arrow winery is one of my favorites, it’s a unique cuvee blend of 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Gamay Noir coming from the Willamette Valley’s biodynamic/organic Johan Vineyard and done in a Loire Valley natural wine style with juicy fruit, fresh acidity, earthy rawness and a spicy/stemmy kick. Interesting this blend is like Passetoutgrain, which is made in Burgundy from the same blend of Pinot and Gamay, winemaker Scott Frank says he’s more influenced by wines made in the Loire’s Touraine region, where they also have Pinot Noir and Gamay and that they also get blended together in a lighter and zippier fashion. One of the most intriguing examples from the Loire is Domaine Philippe Tessier’s Cheverny Rouge, crafted with Pinot and Gamay, it more closely resembles this Rhinestones. Sometimes those Touraine reds also have Pineau d’ Aunis and or Grolleau, but those grapes haven’t quite made it to the new world yet, so Frank is left with Pinot and Gamay, both of which are grown in quantity and quality in Oregon. Loire Valley grape varieties like Melon, Chenin Blanc, and true Gamay Noir were planted in the Willamette Valley decades before Frank moved here from New York in 2001, but instead of going along with most winemakers that make Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, inspired by the Cote d’Or, he followed the less prestigious and more quaffable style of the Loire, even he has helped make wine at John Paul’s Cameron Winery, one of the most legendary and iconic producers in the state, famous for his Pinot and Chards. Bow & Arrow continues to prove counter culture, sort of a workers party style wines have a place among Oregon’s new generation of wines and have brought Gamay to to people, along with other cool things to explore.

This 2018 Rhinestones is ripe in flavors, but shows a more earthy tone that the last two vintages with fresh layers of black cherry, plum and red currants along with a red peach flesh textural taste along with hints of dark florals, leather and an array of spices with cinnamon and pepper notes. There’s a serious side here, but it can be enjoyed for its vivacious lighthearted personality and it goes down with a cool crisp detail begging for smiles, simple meals and companionship. According to Frank the Rhinestones blend is determined by nature and vintage, with the 2018 getting more Pinot than the past few most recent versions as the Johan Vineyard delivered this combination and ratio for this wine. Bow & Arrow, which Scott and his wife Dana started in 2010, is a full fledged, subterranean urban micro winery located in Northeast Portland and is now a cult winery, making natural style “wine for the people” with a fanatic wine savvy fan base. The Rhinestones usually gets a whole cluster and native fermentation with exceptionally low SO2 being used and it is aged in a mixture of concrete and old barriques. This wine, as Frank notes, is the flagship of the Bow & Arrow operation and communicates what they are all about as much as anything they make. The winery tries to craft wines that are effortlessly drinkable but rewarding in their unique and complex gifts in the glass. The latest releases from Bow & Arrow are outstanding values and delivers populist drinking pleasures, especially interesting are the newer Sauvignon Blancs, the Melon de Bourgogne, the very cool Air Guitar red made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Franc in an Anjou style, the 100% Gamay bottlings, and the Hughes Vineyard Pinot Noir, all of which are, like this one, mineral driven, slightly funky, transparent and focused wines, keep an eye out for them or join their list.
($23 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Bibi Graetz, Grilli, Toscana IGT Rosso, Italy.
The juicy almost carbonic fruity Bibi Graetz Grilli is a super Tuscan red blend from vineyards around Greve in Chianti Classico, close to Siena and in the 2016 vintage it consisted of about 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 20% Syrah. The area, mostly known for Sangiovese also has lots of international varietals growing along side the native grapes and are set on Galestro and clay soils that brings out a dense richness of fruit and ripe dark flavors. Bibi Graetz, who is a famous Italian/Norwegian artist and Tuscan vigneron, has created one of the regions most prized Italian wineries in the last 15 years and has produced some iconic wines, especially his Testamata, his flagship wine, a 100% Sangiovese wine from old vines. The winery started at Castello di Vincigliata, which was acquired by Bibi’s parents over 60 years ago, and is the base where Graetz crafts his wines, is located on a hillside overlooking the picturesque city of Florence. Graetz’s Testamata legend began here with this small 5-acre vineyard in Fiesole. In Viola (Florence) dialect to have “Grilli” (which translates to crickets in Italian) means to be a dreamer, which fits well with Graetz’s personality. This wine, that was 100% fermented and aged in steel vats to preserve the freshness, was born from the partnership with Mondavi, through the import arm, reflects, as the winery puts it, the creative style and the dynamism of Bibi Graetz, who also is known for a sly sense of humor and playfulness. It should also be noted too, Grilli is different from the norm for Bibi, who broke his own rule and made a wine without indigenous Tuscan grapes, using mostly Bordeaux grapes, mostly Cabernet and Merlot, adding too that bit of Syrah, all which have found a home in Chianti and the Tuscan Coast.

Recently a friend of mine brought this wine in to try as he had found it at a Grocery Outlet for under $10 a bottle, and knowing the brand and having had these Graetz wines since the beginning I knew he had found an insane deal, but I hadn’t had this Grilli before, so it took me by surprise with its soft roundness and easy fruitiness and the fact that Graetz is almost fanatical about using indigenous and historic regional grapes in his wines. So after a bit of confusion, I settled in to just enjoy this tank raised Tuscan red, which offers loads of basic drinking pleasures with a pure sense flavors and medium bodied comfort with an array of black, blue and red fruits and a creamy mouth feel, with just enough tannin and acidity to make it easy with cuisine. There is simple layering of blackberry, candied cherry, tangy currant and fresh picked plum fruits, a touch of pipe tobacco, sprigs of garden herbs and a hint of mocha. This no oak wine, imported now by Michael Mondavi’s Folio Fine Wine Partners, made for the US market is another value offering from Graetz and is very much in the international and clean style, but certainly a contrast to some of the other bottlings in the lineup. I like this wine, hence the Wine of the Day review, but I really love Graetz’s more true native stuff, like his awesome Soffocone di Vincigliata, that is 100% Sangiovese and the stylish Colore Rosso that is special barrel selection made of Sangiovese, Colorino and Canaiolo, as well as the mentioned Testamata. Tasty and smooth, this Grilli is a solid bistro wine that will satisfy most wine drinkers and will go nicely with picnics, pasta and burgers. Graetz has remained a cult producer, an under the radar label, but now with Folio, you should be able to find them more easy, and their Casamata line and this Grilli are a good way to get started.
($28 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive

2017 Marjan Simčič, Ribolla (Gialla), Opoka, Medana Jama Cru, Brda, Slovenia.
The golden straw/yellow Ribolla from Marjan Simčič, a winegrower in the Goriška Brda wine region in Slovenia, is absolutely stunning, being both mineral driven and steely crisp, but also having depth and sublime textural beauty. The vineyards straddle the Slovenian/Italian border, with half of them on each side and this estate defies country classification, though for this wine we will call it from Slovenia. Josef Simcic started to make wine here in 1860. Five generations later, Marjan Simcic carries on the tradition, making some fabulous wines including his Pinot Noir that I reviewed most recently, plus a must try Sauvignon Blanc, a Merlot and this thrilling Ribolla (Gialla). The Ribolla comes from old vines in the best sites with a minimum of 65 years of age at about 250 meters above sea level with a cooler north and western exposures on stony marl (opoka), limestone soil as well as ancient organic matter. Marjan employs natural spontaneous fermentation, with skin contact with berries in the maceration for about 16 days in large 1,000 Liter concrete eggs, for the Ribolla, before being gently (pneumatic) pressed off to a combination of cement and oak. This Opoka cru white saw 10 months in the concrete eggs and then an additional 12 months in 500L oak barrels locally known as tono. These Marjan Simčič Cru Selection wines have a very rich hue in the glass, in this case a glowing yellowish gold, with Marjan adding that they typically have an extraordinary beautiful body, as well as the classic characteristic mineral note. The low, vine covered, hills of Brda open towards the Italian Friulan lowland that supplies warm sea air. Goriška Brda district is only, it should be noted 20-odd kilometres away from the Adriatic not too far away from Trieste. On the north side there are the Julian Alps and the Trnovska Plateau which protects them, in a rain shadow, from the influence of the colder and more severe mountain climate and shorter seasons. This area has a dark war torn history, from both World Wars, and its remoteness makes it a path less traveled, but it intrigues me and I hope to someday visit this special place.

The 2017 Ribolla leads with white flowers, delicate tropical essences, lemon/lime and peach, it gains more and more complexity with air taking on brioche, phenolic savory notes, wet stones, orange, saline, verbena and clarified cream in a wine that feels medium bodied, but somehow weightless and vivid throughout. The fresh acidity is subtle in this wine and everything stays taut, while allowing an impressive layering to unfold in a generous and caressing fashion, this is sublime stuff. Marijan took over the management of the farm in 1988 and in 1997, in the village of Ceglo near Medana, he built a new and modern wine cellar was built, which Simčič believes created the perfect conditions for producing high quality wines, and he was proved right over the next two decades with his wines all being critically acclaimed, especially in recent years by the famous Gambero Rosso Slow wine guide, at which point I became where of them. These wines from picturesque hills that roll between Slovenian Brda region and on the Italian side that is in the Collio region. The Marjan Simčič winery has four wines labeled as “Opoka” (Ribolla, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot) which are his pride and joy, they represent, as he puts it, a completely new dimension of quality in the regions wines. Marjan’s vineyard sites are farmed with mostly organic and natural methods in this historic place with a long growing tradition made up of thick layers of marl and sandstone, these soils of Brda/Collio are ideal for growing vines, which were first planted here as early as Roman times and have long been regarded as Grand Cru quality, and this wine and Simčič’s Pinot very much prove this terroir’s greatness. For Ribolla, this one and the Damijan Podversic Ribolla Gialla from Friuli are my two favorites, though in the new world this grapes gaining popularity with Dan Petroski’s Massicin in Napa making a brilliant example. This vintage is supposed to be available soon, keep an eye out! Marjan Simčič is now directly imported by Wine Warehouse, so be sure to ask your favorite wine merchants about these gorgeous wines.
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2016 Odonata, Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands.
In recent years Monterey’s Odonata Wines is a small family winery owned and operated by winemaker Denis Hoey, based in the Santa Lucia Highlands on River Road have been making some wonderful local focused sustainable and organic wines. Dennis Hoey says he subscribes to the idea of blending of old world winemaking methods and attitudes with new techniques and he is in a continuous search of ways for improvement, adding he is always learning and hopes to keep things (his wines) fresh, interesting and exciting, which Odonata does, from my own experiences I am discovering all kinds of thrilling stuff here, like their SLH Syrah. Hoey, who once worked in craft brewing actually made his first wines when he was just 21 years old and has traveled many times to Europe, including to France and Italy to gain perspective on traditional wines. He notes that he graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2004 with a degree in Business Management, but soon turned to wine as a career after he met Jeff Emery, a local legend and winemaker at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, soon joining his famous winery. Their relationship quickly turned into an Old World apprenticeship for Denis, and he became the production manager for SCMV before starting his Odonata Wines 2005. For about a decade he grew his winery and portfolio gaining many central coast wine fans, then In 2014 Hoey and his wife, Claire, bought the old Marilyn Remark Winery in the Santa Lucia Highlands where Odonata now makes wines and grows some of their grapes as well as raising their family, becoming a serious and soulful presence on the Monterey wine scene. This Odonata Syrah, coming from the area’s sandy/loamy soils, saw a gentle and careful maceration with hand pilage and partial whole cluster, which is usually around 25%, fermentation to deliver purity and a slight wild or feral quality to the wine with mostly well season barrels being used to age the finished wine. This wine is drinking great right now and the tannins melt away with food, though they do give some grip and add to the palate impact, making the Odonata Syrah delightful with robust cuisine.

Odonata, which has found a niche with their bubbly wines, which are produced using the classic Methode Champenoise, but with an interesting twist offering sparkling Riesling and intriguingly a Rosé of Sangiovese fizz! That said, they make a dynamic range of red wines and I have tried a few outstanding bottlings, having mentioned their awesome Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the Santa Cruz Mountains and more recently this well made and great drinking 2016 Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah. Even more impressive, is that it comes from a vintage that can be sometimes scared by the Soberanes Fire inferno that caused wide spread smoke taint in the region, but this wine shows none of this flaw in any obvious way with a beautiful and exciting fruit driven profile and fresh low alcohol feel. The fairly rich and power 2016 Odonata Syrah has a nice savory, almost meatiness, element to add complexity here going really well with a the core of blue and black fruits that includes blackberry, mission fig, plum, sweet currant and kirsch along with nice accents like dried lavender, violette pastels, camphor, minty herbs and cedar notes adding a touch of pepper, grilled fennel and iron/mineral tones with air. As the wine opens it carries a nice natural acidity and at just 13.3% it is well balanced in a cool climate style. As followers of grapelive will know, I am a huge fan of the Syrah wines of the region, especially from the Santa Lucia Highlands, I honestly believe since 2004, Syrah wines from here have been the equal to or even better than in some cases to Pinot Noir! To support my conclusions, I highly recommend Roar, Pisoni (Lucia), Morgan and Joyce, who’s Tondre is a thriller in the same fashion this wine is, as well as Wrath, especially their KW Ranch version, some of the older Big Basin from here too, along with speciality wines from Cattleya, Sling | Stone (made by Junior Banuelos, assist. winemaker at Odonata) and Sandlands to name a few. While the 2016 is mostly sold out, though is available through a couple of wine merchants, the 2017 and up coming 2018 Odonata Syrahs are certainly worth checking out!
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Purple Hands, Pinot Noir, Lone Oak Ranch, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Cody Wright, son of the famous Ken Wright one of Oregon’s most influential winemaker, who branched out on his own when he was only 25 years old, has crafted a savvy set of wonderful Willamette Valley Pinots and this 2017 Lone Oak Ranch cuvee perfectly shows why you’ll want to discover these Purple Hands wines, it is a beautiful and value packed offering with that impresses on the satiny palate. Cody grew up working in his family business’s from the winery to the vineyard and went on to graduate with environmental science degrees from the University of Oregon in 2003. Back In 2005 Cody founded Purple Hands Winery with 250 cases. Now along with Marque Wright, this pair now has a well established winery, it a way the story reminds me in some ways to Morgan Twain-Peterson and his Bedrock Wine Co. Cody’s Purple Hands Winery, based in Dundee, is all about exploring site-specific Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that, in what he says, unearths the Willamette Valley’s long evolutionary history, making authentic and wines that seems more generous in nature to his dad’s wines, that I find need a few years in bottle to show their best, with Cordy using traditional winemaking techniques that conveys an honest expression of each of the vineyards that he uses. He adds, that all of his wines undergo native fermentation and remain unfined and unfiltered at bottling to preserve their natural, I would say pure soulfulness and their wild character. The Lone Oak Ranch is a special cuvee, more of a regional expression, rather than a single vineyard wine, mostly from the Jory soils of the red hills of Dundee, but features five of the Willamette Valley’s AVA’s and a variety of soils that show cool climate and marine sedimentary character along with that iron rich Dundee volcanic mineral element.

The 2017 is warmly ripe in flavor with layers of smooth black cherry, plum, raspberry and strawberry fruits along with a hint of smoke, red pepper, sweet floral tones, tangy sassafras and tea notes. The vintage falls in line with the prior two years and the new 2018, with this 2017 still available in some shops and at a great price for the quality. Cody used only hand harvested fruit from a selection of eight top cru sites and fermented, as mentioned above in small lots with indigenous yeast and in small open top fermentors, with what tastes like a bit of whole berry, employing hand punch downs and gentle macerations. After the primary was done the individual wines are racked off to barrels to age and go through natural malos, this elevage was done with 75% neutral French barriques and 25% new wood, which does add to the polished and luxurious profile and mouth feel. After 11 months the wines were blended and this selection was like all of the Purple Hands bottlings was unfined, which as noted allows the wine to show its most transparent form and true personality. This is really drinking well and should get even better over the next 3 to 5 years and it does follow the family Wright theme of structure and focus, though I feel the Purple Hands stuff is a bit more friend and joyous in their youth, especially this 2017 Lone Oak Ranch, which has a pretty bouquet, a dark ruby color and a distinct and lingering silky aftertaste with touches of cinnamon, currants and echos of kirsch. I recommend exploring these Purple Hands wines, there is a great range from to chose, I suggest this one for the bargain cost here, but for more intrigue look for the Shea, Latchkey, the Freedom Hill, one of my personal favorites, as well as Cody’s Kroff and Holstein, two of his favored Dundee vineyards. If you can find the 2017s, go for it, but don’t overlook the 2016s and the current set of plush 2018s, all are worth your time and effort.
($31 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Domaine du Grand Montirail, Gigondas, Cuvee Vieilles Vignes, Rhone Valley, France.
The gorgeous 2016 Domaine du Grand Montmirail old vines Gigondas cuvee, typically a blend is 80% Grenache, 5% Syrah and 5% Mourvèdre from 30-65 year-old vines, delivering a full bodied and concentrated effort with a deep purple/crimson color and remarkable purity and transparency, showing loads of perfectly ripe dark fruit, floral tones, mineral notes and spiced nuances. This wine is sumptuous and comforting on the dense palate with lovely Grenache led and terroir driven charm, I’ve been a long time fan of this property over the years, but this 2016 really is something special with boysenberry, black plum, sweet currants and kirsch fruit along with lavender, chalky stones and licorice all merging in hedonistic joy. Most of the bottles I’ve had from Domaine du Grand Montmirail were imported by San Francisco’s Charles Neal (who’s got his own special bottlings) and while their are various importers for the estate, Charles has given me most of my knowledge about Yves Cheron, the vigneron at Domaine du Grand Montmirail, which was started originally by his father who moved to the southern Rhone from Burgundy. Denis Cheron, a Beaune native bought the Cave du Grand Comtadiné in Vacqueyras in the 1960’s where he vinified grapes for scores of local producers, as well as himself and created a negoçiant firm called Pascal. One of Denis’ first client suppliers was the owner of the Domaine du Grand Montmirail, a wonderfully situated property in the southeastern part of Gigondas, that he later acquired, as Neal notes, and the rest is history. Yves, a graduate in enological studies in Beaune, has the winery in league with the very best in the region, like the famous Saint Cosme, and his Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre comes from vines planted exclusively on the hillsides and terraces, known locally as banquettes, with these vineyards being situated directly on the southern slope of the Dentelles de Montmirail. It is a superb area, with soft breezes, Mediterranean weather and a few natural springs to hydrate the vines, all combining for these warm, textural and flavorful wines, it is dominated by towering granite cliffs and an amazing view of the famous Mount Ventoux off in the distance. Based close to the small town of Suzette, Domaine du Grand Montmirail is a remote treasure isolated from the worries of the world, where the famous range Dentelles de Montmirail cast a impressive shadow above the winery and the scent of the garrigue (rosemary, thyme, sage) is ever present in the air.​

The winemaking at Domaine du Grand Montmirail is classically simple and guided by experience and traditions with Cheron concentrating his main efforts in the vineyards and carefully working the land, he is focused on quality fruit. The subsoils of Grand Montmirail’s parcels are composed of sedimentary clay from when the ancient seas covered this site, also the rise of the Alps created many rifts, including the emergence of the impressive rocky barriers that are the Dentelles, and this clay is littered with small pieces of limestone, its this that helps give Grand Montmirail its round, approachable texture and structure. The soil is well-drained, but drought is rarely a problem, because of the mentioned springs. The wines, as Neal goes on, always have a an extraordinary elegance, moderated alcohols and smoothness that, he adds, which much of the appellation finds difficult to obtain.The grapes are carefully sorted and 100% de-stemmed then the must is cooled and the pre-fermentation period lasts several days in order to extract pigment and primary aromas of the grapes. Only indigenous yeasts are used, and typically primary fermentation lasts close to two weeks, and the wine is handled extremely gently with it getting pressed in a bladder press. Cheron ages his wines in enamel-lined tanks in the temperature-controlled winery, with underground vats that naturally remain cool. As noted above, there is no oak is used during the wine’s élévage, again to promote freshness and clarity, to transmit the place and grapes directly into the wine without added accents. The altitude of the vineyards varies between 300 and 350 meters, which is among the highest in Gigondas, this allows more natural acidity that shows in the detail and vibrancy. The Domaine du Grand Montmirail harvest starts with their Syrah, the quickest grape, interestingly to ripen here, then the Grenache starts coming in next from in the highest sites and last, but not least the latest picks are of Mourvèdre with its later ripening characteristic giving richness and refined tannin. Tasting these wines over the years, I just get more and more impressed with these Grand Montmirail offerings, with the Cotes du Rhone(s) as well as the Vacqueyras being a wonderful bargains and this 2016 Vieilles Vignes Gigondas, sometimes seen with cuvee Juliette on the label, performing even better than expectations, it also is awesome with hearty cuisine and or simple country fare.
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Special Review: Malbec World Day

2015 Catena Zapata, Malbec, Adrianna Vineyard, Mundus Bacillus Terrae, Vino de Parcela, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina.
While celebrating #malbecworldday I was reminded of this monumental wine by Catena Zapata, it is one one of the greatest expressions of this grape, originally from the Cahors region in southwest France, a place that was once the most sought after red wine producing region in Europe and may have led to wide spread planting in the Bordeaux area, as that is where Malbec from Cahors was shipped out of, as it was one of the favored port cities in France. Catena, which is sometimes thought of as the Mondavi of Argentina with the patriarch Nicolás Catena building the first modern winery and promoting the Mendoza region, much the same was as Robert Mondavi did, and the wines throughout the range are all solid to spectacular, with this single parcel wine being one of Argentina’s first growths. This 2015 is unbelievable and totally unique with amazing sharp details, depth and with waves of pleasure coming from the range of flavors and the fruit density, but with surprising natural acidity giving everything a cool sense of balance and energy. The tannins are polished, ripe and sweet giving the texture a luxurious mouth feel as you’d expect from a top Bordeaux and or an Argentine Malbec for that matter, but they are the underlying spine that keeps this wine in the Grand Classe league, it is a wine that will go for decades where over time in bottle it should gain dramatic levels of elegance. The main profile at this stage includes loads of bright and briar laced black and blue fruits with layerings of blueberry, black cherry, marionberry, plum flesh and tangy dark currants are playing parts as well as smoky sweet French oak, spices, sandalwood, hints of mure liqueur and roasted herbs de Provence. This is an outrageously beautiful and special Malbec, and it is not value option it is a wine that explores the highest level of quality and this shows in the ultra extreme price, which is the catch or only sad part of reviewing this fantastic wine, but some lucky collectors will certainly celebrate its treasures.

Dr. Laura Catena, Catena Zapata

The Adrianna Vineyard Vinos de Parcela, an Argentine, or as the winery calls it – South America’s Grand Cru, is a very noteworthy site that took years of search and hard work to realize and deliver its potential. Doctor Laura Catena, the global head of Catena Zapata, says that finding a site like Adrianna or La Tache or Lafite is like finding gold, and I may add that this wine is like what To Kalon is to Napa Valley, it is one of the greatest site expressions in Argentina. It’s exceptional quality is a combination of research, historic knowledge and a little luck according to the Catena’s and when Nicolás Catena Zapata found the Adrianna site, it was because he was looking for the coolest climate in Mendoza, hoping to explore the finest and most purest character of Malbec. The Adrianna Vineyard, which was planted in 1992, is at 5,000 feet up in the Andes, goes beyond just the cool climate, it is also the soils that define this wine’s greatness, the site is an ancient dried river bed, the stony, limestone soils are well drained and the extreme high altitude adds to the long season and complexity of flavors. Adrianna Vineyard, named after Nicolás Catena Zapata’s youngest daughter, in theGualtallary District of Tupungato Alto Region, in the Uco Valley, located in the greater Mendoza zone and this version is from the terraced plot Mundus Bacillus Terrae which is just 1.4 Hectares on this alluvial hillside. The Catena Family, which is entering its second century of winemaking in Mendoza, chose an interesting path with the fermentation on this Adrianna Vineyard, Mundus Bacillus Terrae Malbec with 75% of primary fermentation in concrete employing an exciting 50% whole cluster and with only 25% of the blend going through primary in Oak Foudres all of which was done with between 8 to 13 days of maceration, it should be noted to that the finishing alcohol was 14%, not over the top and it never feels heavy or hot on the engaging palate. The aging was a lengthy 18 months in barrel, with exclusively 100% French barriques being used, though the oak treatment is decided by the vintage’s individual characteristics. While this wine is largely out of most of our leagues price wise, the rest of Catena’s lineup has plenty of value and worth searching out, and don’t forget to explore Laura’s personal Luca wines, they are some of my personal favorites.
($365 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

2013 Casa E. di Mirafiore, Barolo DOCG, Lazzarito, Piedmonte, Italy.
The recently revived Mirafiore label, which was originally founded back in 1858 by Conte Albeto Emanuele di Mirafiore is now run by the Farinetti family, who also took over the famous Borgogno in the same year 2008, and introduced a great set Barolo wines, with myself having a couple of prior vintages recently, which were very exciting, but this 2013 Lazzarito takes it to another level! Tasted at this years Slow Wine Tasting in San Francisco, this 2013 Casa E. di Mirafiore cru Lazzarito, a vineyard site that also supplies the fabled Vietti version, is all organic and made with a nod to tradition with classic power and depth of fruit, this is a stellar Barolo that delivers stylish layers of dark cherry, damson plum, red currant and grilled orange fruit with subtle savoty/meaty sous bois, anise, iron notes and a spicy cedary tones. This wine opens up texturally and gives additional floral elements with a beautiful array of rose petals and lavender and minty herbs coming alive on the nose and the rich mouth feel making for an impressive effort, this gets more and more thrilling as it gets air in the glass. This Lazzarito delivers its unique power and grip in a poised and with a shiny brilliance, like a Grand Cru Burgundy, but with a true Nebbiolo palate and hue with a dark garnet core and a ruby/brick edge, this keeps getting better and better with every minute and sip, there’s a ton of personality and charm in this Mirafiore, it is a class act. Lazzarito wines have taken off in price in the past few years, making it one of the most coveted Crus in Barolo, much like say Chambertin Clos de Beze (is) and revered with the same sense of awe as that famous Burgundy site.

Mirafiore’s cellar is run by Danilo Drocco, an obvious talent, who follows historic Piemontese methods of winemaking here, including extra long macerations and aging in large oak casks, mostly Slovenian using only top hillside sites and small yields. Mirafiore produces a full lineup of offerings, but with a laser focus on their Barolo bottlings, though I did really also enjoy their Barbera d’Alba Superiore and I hear their Dolcetto is also excellent, I hope I get chance to try it. The selection of Baroli is mainly three versions with a value priced, though not cheap Barolo Normale (cuvee) and two Cru upper end wines, this Lazzarito and their signature Paiagallo cru, which I also enjoyed, but it was from the much lighter 2014 vintage and not as striking or complex as the 2013. The grapes come from prestigious Fontanafredda owned and farmed parcels with top terroir influence, all the vines are set on the region’s renown calcareous marl (limestone) and hard clays soils and have warm south facing exposures that allow perfect ripening and a long hang time. The Farinetti is certainly making waves in the Langhe with an incredible selection of wineries and a collection of top or elite vineyard holdings, in particular those of Borgogno and those that are used in this Casa E. di Mirafiore. This is very exciting stuff that I highly recommend finding the Nebbiolo(s), the regular Barolo at around $50 is a good deal and Barbera, with this Lazzarito, which should be coming soon, being a priority find. These 2013s should age really well, though they are generous that the statuesque 2010s and are drinking well in their youth by comparison, this one should go a long time, 10 to 15 years easy, and has a open window, so drinking it soon is still very rewarding.
($100 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Bordes Wines, Pinot Noir, Reserve, Sonoma Coast.
I was turned on to this new small family winery by my friend and winemaker Dylan Sheldon, of Sheldon Wines, who is something of a talent spotter and who has turned me on to some fantastic finds and this Bordes Pinot Reserve looks like a very good discovery, and he should know as he watched first hand how this wine was made. The grapes comes from a small sustainable estate vineyard owned by the Bordes family, with Stephen and Carolyn along with children Stephen Jr., Megan and future winemaker Rachel Bordes, who’s is studying Wine and Viticulture at Cal Poly, being the team, which includes Bowdoin Pfeifer, who is the consultant in charge of winemaking, as a friend of the family, as this label gets off the ground. Coming for a private vineyard site in a cool Sonoma County area on marine sedimentary soils, the upcoming 2018 Bordes Reserve Pinot Noir is a beauty with clear aromatics and sharp detailing with a lighter sense of being in the glass with a very refined 13.3% natural alcohol, but with a wonderful array of ripe fruit and vibrancy. Interesting, Bowdoin Pfeifer is better known for his digital expertise, being well known for his management of data centers through the Asia Pacific area including in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney and Melbourne, makes wine on the side! Just 200 cases were made of this 2018 vintage, which should be available to purchase soon, along with their Rosé and Chardonnay, following a debut limited release of Pinot from the 2017 vintage.

The 2018 Bordes Reserve Pinot was made with 100% Pommard clone and all de-stemmed grapes with about 20% new French oak being used in this vintage to allow the delicacy of the fruit to shine through, which is does very well, this is delightful stuff and it shows lots of purity and satiny layers. The medium bodied palate highlights the year’s beautiful long cool growing season and carries the brightness and energy really well with classic Sonoma Coast style character with black cherry, a hint of sweet toastiness, racy plum, tangy raspberry and a hint of cranberry as well as touches of rose petals, spice, mineral and Darjeeling notes all playing roles in this well crafted Pinot. There is an exciting freshness and subtle perfume that helps make this wine stand out and as it opens it gets more serious and unveils more textural nuances adding a depth of quality and the wine continues to please and linger in the aftertaste. The oak presence feels a bit overt at first, but folds nicely into the background as the wine has time in the glass allowing the fruit to take center stage and makes this Pinot delicious with a variety of foods and meals, it went very well with herb crusted roast chicken indeed. It will be interesting to follow this label and see how things go, as this wine shows lots of potential and promise, drinking well and with superb clarity with its pretty unfiltered/unfined ruby color and tasty flavors, it looks to be on a good journey, drink now through 2026.
($39 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2013 Mount Eden Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Grown, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The richly favored Estate Mount Eden Cabernet is a real California classic, showing off its unique terroir, with old school structure and ripe density making it striking in the glass now, but with the substance to age for another two or three decades, similar in that respect with Bordeaux’s best Left Bank estates! I finally got around to reviewing this one with its dark inky color and firm tannins it is still quite young and just starting to fully emerge, and better still, Mount Eden has started re-offering it through their library (cellar selection) release program recently, which I highly recommend jumping on. Mount Eden Vineyards, as I have noted in my reviews, is one of the longest running family estates in California that is famous for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, like Sonoma’s Hanzell, but has always done a fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon, that is influenced by the location in the same way Ridge Vineyards’ Monte Bello and Kathryn Kennedy’s Cabernets do.This historic winery is perched up at 2000 feet, with an eastern exposure above Saratoga and overlooking the Silicon Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountain Appellation, just about 50 miles south of San Francisco. Mount Eden was founded in 1945 and was one of the original “boutique” California wineries by famed vintner Martin Ray, who as noted above concentrated his efforts on small lots of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Since 1981 Jeffrey Patterson, the current owner along with his wife Ellie, has guided the winemaking and grape growing at Mount Eden, taking it to the very top in terms of quality making it an iconic producer. The soils at Mountain Eden are very thin with a dominant base of Franciscan shales, which are found in these coastal range vineyards, which suits these vines, along with the Pacific breezes and cooler nights here makes for tremendous balance, depth and truly great wines.

The 2013 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, hand crafted by Patterson, a vigneron who believes that all wines are made in the vineyard, fermented it using 85% Cabernet Sauvignon along with small percentages of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot in small 1,000-gallon stainless steel tanks, with Patterson doing punch downs manually and macerated it, as he notes, for about ten days after fermentation completed, then was transferred into new Bordelaise chateau barrels where this Cabernet is aged close to twenty-two months in the cellar. As well documented Mount Eden’s famous estate as started by Martin Ray and now run by the Patterson family, who have turned this remote property on a rugged mountaintop in the Santa Cruz Mountains into one of the most world renown wineries in the world. The cuttings of Cabernet Sauvignon at Mount Eden Vineyards are from Chateau Margaux originally, coming to California likely in the 1890’s and this 2013 is a continuation of some great wines from this property and is followed by two stunning vintages as well, with the 2014 being one of my favorites and the 2015 which I recently tried at the Slow Wine Tasting in San Francisco and will get a review soon, though I thought since this one is starting to really getting into its groove I’d get my thoughts down now. This ’13 feels opulent and has wonderful mouth feel, while still having serious grip and depth, it defines what California Cabernet is at its best like the wines from Dunn, Corison, the mentioned Ridge, Phillip Togni, Diamond Creek and Chappellet’s Pritchard Hill bottlings. The flavors unfold is fine detail here with blackberries, black plum, creme de cassis (deep currant), cherry and blueberry fruits along with a sweet smokiness, subtle pipe tobacco, mineral, acacia flower, minty sage, cedar and sandalwood. Mount Eden is on fire right now, the Estate lineup is as good as it gets, in particular the latest Chards impresses, and should be thought of as Montrachet rival, and the Pinot and Cabernet are stunning, especially the 2012, this 2013 plus the following 2014 and 2015 versions, don’t miss these brilliant years.
($90-125 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Kruger-Rumpf, Scheurebe Spatlese, Nahe Germany.
The beautifully expressive Kruger-Rumpf Scheurebe comes completely from Dautenpflänzer, a Grand Cru – VDP Grosse Lage, with most vines here being old parcels planted in the 1950s and set on very favorable quarzite soils. Georg Rumpf is one of Germany’s Scheurebe maestros and this 2018 shows this talent to near perfection, capturing the very best in this varietal’s natural character and the vineyard’s terroir quality, this is a vintage, like the 2016, which was slightly more exotic, that delivers gorgeous tropical and concentration with fairly high residual sugars, but with a very balanced presence, this white is wildly easy to drink and is refreshing and with classic Scheurebe (phenolic) tanginess cutting into the sweetness. Fermented and lees aged in only stainless steel to keep exacting purity and transparency, allowing this grape to show itself in its truest style, its rich and dense on the palate, but still delightful and lifted with just 8.5% natural alcohol making it fabulous as a expressive sipper and fantastic with an array of cuisine options, it is great with either briny and or spicy dishes, again it is fruity though not overtly sweet. The Dautenpfanzer is one of the core vineyards in Kruger-Rumpf’s lineup offering up Rieslings that are heavenly from their frivolous and smile inducing Kabinett to a chiseled and powerfully dry and intense GG, it also provide the Rumpf’s with the grapes for this Scheurebe, a plot I visited in 2016 at harvest time and I sampled Scheurebe directly from the vines, which were bursting with passionfruit and pineapple flavors! The 2018 echos that with layers of peach and grapefruit adding to that tropical fruit with a sunny and lush medium bodied palate along with a bite of spearmint, green tea spices, mineral notes and a saline infused wet stone element, all the while giving delicate jasmine and orange blossom floral bouquet and the lingering sweetness feeling well managed to not be too honeyed or cloying. Stefan Rumpf started making his own wines in 1984, even though the Weingut dates back to the 1790’s, as most of its history was a grower that sent its grapes to the local co-op. Kruger-Rumpf, since the 90’s have been known for exceptional quality, but gained little notice until Terry Theise discovered them and began bringing the wines to America. Stephan is a humble personality and his focus on quality and desire to express the distinctive terroirs in the family’s prestigious sites led them to this new era, where his sons are continuing to raise this label’s profile. Georg and Philipp have brought renewed energy and technical skill, with both brothers graduating from Germany’s illustrious Geisenheim University with Georg the viticulture and oenology skills, while Philipp focusing on wine economics, marketing and human resources, making the Rumpf’s a solid team. This Scheurebe holds its must weight in a very svelte way and while vinous its not heavy, it is a wine that has loads of personality, but not overly loud in the mouth, this is a tasty vintage.

Shuerebe, a very aromatic grape, also known as Samling 88 (Austria), was a seed crossing of Riesling and a little known varietal called Bukettrbe back in 1916 by Doctor Georg Sheu, hence the name, which became official as tribute to its creator. I should state my thanks for those details to Anne Krebiehl MW who presented these facts in her book “The Wines of Germany” also noting that for many years, it was thought Scheurebe was a crossing of Riesling and Silvaner, but recent studies has proved otherwise. Scheurebe grows best in Calcareous soils, with Muller-Catoir’s Pfalz version regarded as maybe the greatest expression of this grape, in particular their trocken single cru example. That said, the Rumpf’s have always made their Scheurebe sing, and this 2018 is wonderfully delicious. One of my favorite wineries, The Kruger-Rumpf estate is located in Münster-Sarmsheim, a small village on the western side of the Nahe River, close to Bingen and across the Rhein from Rudesheim, in the most northern section of the Nahe region. This village is where Nahe meets the Rhein River, it is the warmest area of this region, it’s a place that is geographically unique and complex with a combination of many soils and steep vineyard sites, and this area represents the intersection of four major German wine regions, the Nahe, the Rheingau, with the Mittelrhein to the north, and the Rheinhessen to the east. The majority of Kruger-Rumpf’s holdings, according to Terry Theise, the famous German wine guru and importer, are located on the western side of the Nahe, though they also own Grosse Lage (Grand Cru) parcels directly across the Nahe River in Binger Scharlachberg, which is part of the Rheinhessen. Theise also notes that Kuger-Rumpf’s vineyards are farmed sustainably, with Georg focusing on organic practices including natural treatments, plus bees are kept nearby to facilitate pollination and aid in overall bio-diversity. Periodically sheep are allowed to roam the vines helping to control underbrush in these very steep and hard to til sites. All vineyards in the Rumpf holdings are hand harvested to ensure that only optimally ripe grapes and healthy clusters are selected. Fermentations at Kruger-Rumpf almost always occur spontaneously with ambient yeasts for the dry and off dry wines, the wines stay on their gross lees well into spring, with some getting stuckfass, like the GG’s and others like the Kabinett(s) and Spatlese seeing mostly stainless. All the wines at this estate are generous and sensual offering stellar pleasure in each level, they are awesome values too, be sure to check these 2018s out, especially their Abtei Erste Gewachs Trocken and this sexy, lightly golden Scheurebe. I cannot wait for the chance to re-visit this winery when I travel back to Germany, while slightly off the beaten path the old cellars are pretty easy to explore from Rudesheim, which is my usual base when I tour the wine region, I highly recommend a stop here and of course all of the wines.
($22 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Presqu’ile, Gamay Nouveau, The Presqu’ile Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley.
One of the rising stars, or a talent that is just know getting some deserved buzz, in the Santa Barbara area wine scene is winemaker Dieter Cronje at the Presqu’ile Vineyard, with the estate vines in Santa Maria producing some fabulous Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as well as some serious Gamay Noir, a grape that is taking off in California these days. This version by Cronje and his team, while done as a Nouveau, is actually quite complete and well structured, I was very impressed and loved drink on it very much with its nice whole bunches crunchy/juicy personality with a burst of dark berry fruits and stemmy herbs and spices making it a exciting quaffer. It’s worth noting that the Santa Maria Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA), which was established back in 1981, making it the second oldest AVA in California after Napa Valley is a cool climate region that was one of the first places to grow premium Pinot Noir grapes in the area and Bien Nacido is one of the great sites in California, with great winemakers having enjoyed these grapes for many decades, like Au Bon Climat, Qupe and even Bonny Doon showcasing the regions potential over the years. True Gamay (Gamay Noir) is a more recent star to the area and there’s now quite a few wineries in the Santa Maria and Santa Barbara counties joining the party with this fun Beaujolais grape, I personally have liked the Pence Ranch Gamay, but you should definitely check out Drake Whitcraft’s Gamay (plus his heavenly light Trousseau!) and this Presqu’ile Nouveau.

This 2019 Presqu’ile Vineyard Nouveau has classic Gamay and carbonic maceration character with a lovely medium bodied fruity palate showing blackberry, strawberry and tangy plum as well as savory herbal tension that really makes for a thrill and the ripe (smooth) tannins give this some real grip too. That said, nothing but even though it has a bit of a bite there an ease of use feel to it with refreshing vibrant acidity, it’s a lighter style red that is perfect for Spring days and best with a chill. I noticed this limited and pleasing wine is still available through the Presqu’ile Vineyard website, and I would have Gamay fans make sure not to miss it, it joins some really good California and Oregon Gamay Noir offerings, like Pax, Arnot-Roberts, Joyce Wine Co., Edmonds St. John, Hundred Suns (Oregon), Salem Wine Company (Oregon), Bow & Arrow (Johan Vineyard, Oregon) and Brick House, one of the first to plant true Gamay Noir in the Willamette Valley, to name a few. Even those that are Gamay snobs, that like me love the classic wines of Lapierre, Foillard, Breton, Thivin, Dutraive and Sunier, should take notice of these new world Gamay wines. This Nouveau by Presqu’ile is tasty stuff and it should hold up nicely for the warms days ahead over the next 6 months if not longer, it will be a cool wine with friends, once we are able to hopefully stop extreme social distancing and have picnics and BBQs, but regardless it will be good with simple and lighter foods, drink it up. As mentioned, there is a lot to like at Presqu’ile and I highly recommend checking out the Chards and Pinots here as well as this one, this is a winery that should be on your radar.
($28 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Willi Schaefer, Riesling Spatlese, Graacher Domprobst #5, Mosel Germany.
The Schaefer Graacher Domprobst lot #5 is a special small batch that was picked and fermented separate from the main bottlings and is a fabulous unique edition that was hand harvested on a later pass through the vines and where only perfect clusters were chosen prior to the Auslese pick and without any botrytis, from what I understand, making for a more concentrated expression that still shines with brilliant freshness and mineral tones. While the 2017s were ultra luxurious and dense, these 2018s are slightly more lacy and show a finer delicacy without being less sensual or impactful, and clearly as per normal Schaefer has made a fantastic set of wines, with this one really standing out. Terry Theise, Riesling guru and the importer of Schafer’s wines, says without hesitation or without any doubt that Willi Schaefer is one of the greatest estates in Germany, and I am and most critics will never question that, this address is the gold standard for quality with two main parcels in Domprobst and Himmelreich all on pure Devonian slate. Thesise adds, located in Graach, Weingut Willi Schaefer is blessed with south-to-southwest exposition, (meaning) the vines have great sun exposure all day as well as having a natural spring that runs through the hillside, guaranteeing good water supply even in warm vintages. The Romans already knew the benefits of Graach’s sites and cultivated vines here, with each plot here, again Theise explains that (this) Domprobst is more mineral, smokier, shadowy and takes longer to emerge, while (the) Himmelreich is buoyant, more floral, lighter in texture and is open from day one, making them easy to love young. Terry calls these Schaefer wines calm and without pretense, which is true, but they are also wine royalty, confident and magnificent in my opinion, I never miss a chance to enjoy them, neither should anyone.

This 2018 Domprobst #5 Spatlese is dense, more than out right sweet on the palate with plenty of brooding complexity and balanced detailing, it shows tightness at first, but unfolds with beautiful and brilliant fruit with crisp green apple, lime, apricot and a mix of subtle tropical fruit along with smoky shale, wet stones, spearmint and chamomile tea and delicious lingering tangerine sorbet, peach flesh and rosewater, that comes from the must weight and residual sugar. This wine will get much more interesting as its baby fat and its deep inner spice comes through, as there is only a hint of crystalized ginger and tangy notes, but the youthful acidity keeps it from feeling heavy adding a sense of lightness to this serious Spatlese, this is going to reward those lucky enough to have it for decades to come. This chiseled and crystalline Riesling has clarity and it delights the palate with a tease of rich fruitiness and a cooler sense of being and restraint keeping a nice impression of tension, this all the reason these wines are so sought after and coveted, not only by Riesling junkies, but by Schaefer’s peers and friendly rivals, such is the respect and quality here. Willi’s son Christoph and his wife Andrea have become more and more involved and the wines only seem to get better, so this estate is going from strength to strength and they are now doing an extremely rare set of dry wines with the release of a set of Grosses Gewachs in recent years, while the traditional Kabinett, Spatlese and Auslese remain the core focus, with the Schaefer Kabbies being some of the most exceptional values in the wine world. This #5 is a collector gem and while imported, it will take some searching to get, though worth it! If you get some, cherish them and if you can’t wait to open it, do so with high end Asian, like Thai cuisine, slightly hot/spicy that has fresh ingredients that highlights simplicity. As a note, the regular Dombrobst Spatlese (92 Ponts) and all the Schaefer the Kabinett(s) are also pretty fantastic too, so don’t overlook any in this lineup.
($70 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 4 Monos, Garnacha, GR10 Tinto, Sierra de Gredos, Vinos de Madrid, Spain.
The new vintage of 4 Monos, floral and fresh, takes over where the last vintage left off, taking this up and coming winery in the Sierra de Gredos D.O. up a notch, with this new and beautiful 2017 GR10 Tinto exploding in glass with Garnacha (Grenache) purity and charm. This year’s version shows the delicate side of the grape, but still with expressive quality and complexity of form, this is a ripe and smooth wine that certain impresses on the medium full palate with raspberry, plum, strawberry, pomegranate and dusty red currant fruits along with smooth tannin, bright spices, herb, anise and a light earthiness, stoniness and mineral tones. The Sierra de Gredos, made famous in recent years by the likes of Daniel Landi, Comando G, these guys and girl at 4 Monos and Alfredo Maestro, is a mountain range that spreads over parts of three appellations – Méntrida, Vinos de Madrid, and Castilla y León – and sits between 600 and 1,200 meters in elevation, only a short way west of Madrid itself. These old bush vines planted on sand, granite, and schist make for some amazing and expressive Garnacha, but with lively acidity and delicacy, Especially when done by the names mentioned and these 4 Monos, Javier Garcia (also the head winemaker at Méntrida the locally iconic Bodegas Jiménez-Landi), co-winemaker Laura Robles, wine-lover David Velasco, and vineyard holder David Moreno. This is a micro label, made by friends and with passion for place, with their wines, like this one, being lovingly crafted and being allowed to speak in a soft voice, I highly recommend them.

This delicious Garnacha comes, as per normal here, from mostly old head trained (En Vasco/En Gobolet) vines between about 30 and 85 years old set on mostly decomposed granite soils at about 800 meters up in the Sierra de Gredos, all within the Vinos de Madrid DO appellation and comprised of all organic 85% Garnacha, 10% Cariñena (Carignan), 3% Morenillo (a rare native grape) and about 2% Syrah. This high elevation adds freshness of detail and the continental climate, semi arid, adds to the concentration and supple mouth feel, especially so in this vintage, along with heightened aromatic beauty. As mentioned in my prior reviews and reports on this winery, 4 Monos use an old school or traditional minimalist natural winemaking approach, exclusively employing wild yeasts and whole bunches in the fermentation, foot-treading the grapes for careful extraction, with very little sulfur added. This vivid ruby/garnet and stem influenced GR10 Tinto village wine saw between 21-40 days on the skins through primary then it gently pressed and raised in 300 & 600 liter casks, plus a 4500L foudre for 7 months, always aging their wines in well seasoned old French barrels then racked off to concrete tank, usually about 2 months to settle before bottling. Drinking like a nice Pinot Noir, as this wine tends to do, its silken texture is very pleasing, and though not flashy it seduces the senses, fully opening to a wine that could easily sell for twice the price. Not a lot of these wines are made, and their importer Jose Pastor Selections has it highly allocated, so you’ll need to be diligent to find them, but they are worth it, especially this one that adds kirsch and lavender on the finish.
($25 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

1999 Domaine aux Moines, Savennieres-Roche aux Moines, Loire Valley, France.
The surprisingly fresh 1999 Chenin Blanc from Domaine aux Moines in Savennieres starts with mature aromas and a slight waxy/honeyed note, but the palate is much more vibrant and mineral driven than you’d expect from a 20 year old white and its layered citrus, peach and quince fruits stay pretty vivid throughout, very impressive stuff. Of course with air, which I gave it in the glass, despite it being so delicious, it does take on some oxidative nuttiness and lingers with a bit of baked apple, but that is not a fault at all it is a celebration of its maturity and evolution. Domaine aux Moines is wine cult winery and is treasured by a niche set of wine enthusiasts and Chenin freaks, these wines are cherished much the same way as the Nicolas Joly (Savennieres) and Domaine Guiberteau (Saumur) wines are, and they are celebrated for their austerity and earthy subtle character. My experience with these wines makes me certain that they are much more enjoyable with age on them, like this one shows, they really come alive and show their true depth with at least 10 years, this is a blessing and a curse to casual wine drinkers as they tend to not know what they are missing in the younger versions and give these wines a meh, and the blessing is that they are solid values in their youth if you can be patient and putting them away for future rewards. This lovely yellow/golden hued wine really needs to be paid attention to, it speaks softly and to really get what is going on here, you’ll need to be at peace and listen with all your focus and maybe have in with some goat brie and or lighter dishes that don’t over shadow this brilliant wine.

This all organic under-the-radar estate, located in the Loire’s Savennières AOC and in the sub-appellation of “Roche Aux Moines”, is right next to the famed Coulee de Serrant, one of the most famous biodynamic and hollowed vineyards in France, owned by Nicolas Joly, one of the most renowned vignerons in French wine, making it on some prized terroir. According to the winery, the Domaine aux Moines estate was founded in 1981, though there are records of vineyards planted in the region since the middle ages when the monks (“moines” in French means monks) from the Abbaye de St Nicolas tended vines in this part of the Loire. Domaine aux Moines is now run by mother and daughter Monique and Tessa Laroche, who hand tend their vines, which are mostly Chenin Blanc, though there is some Cabernet Franc here too, which are set on predominantly schists with some sandstone and clay. Savennieres is located on the Western edge of the Anjou region near the city of Angers and the vineyards are set on hillsides on the Loire itself and the wines here tend to be intensely drier in style with flinty/stoney flavors, which is especially showing in these Domaine aux Moines Chenins. This wine, which retains nice acidity and has a pear butter textural quality was naturally fermented with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tanks and then aged on the less mostly in tank, but with a small portion in used French oak casks of various sizes and was made with extremely careful sorting and small yields to make a delicate, but concentrated wine that adds dried pineapple, wild herb and floral notes. Luckily, because this is such a geeky wine and a well kept secret, the domaine does have older vintages like this available and this wine is out there and not outrageously expressive, keep an eye out for it if you love Chenin with some age.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Field Recordings, Rosé of Valdiguie, French Camp Vineyard, Paso Robles.
Andrew Jone’s Field Recordings is one of the coolest places to visit in Paso Robles, set in the Tin City industrial park and this micro winery produces some seriously fun stuff, like this exciting 100% Valdiguie pink wine, plus other rarities including Tempranillo, Tannat, a series of bubbles and canned wines and Chenin Blanc. Mostly known for their California red blend Fiction, I have enjoyed lots of these Field Recordings offerings, most recently trying their super juicy Tannat red and this Valdiguie Rosé that is fruity, but mostly dry and crisp with ruby grapefruit, a touch of raspberry, tart cherry and strawberry fruits along with a hint of dried herbs and a steely mineral element, and while a year or so behind it is still drinking remarkably fresh and vibrant showing no signs of dullness and oxidation at this stage. There is always something intriguing to discover at Field Recordings and Jones focuses on richly flavored wines that are well priced quaffers!

The Valdiguie grapes, once thought to be Gamay and sometimes known as Napa Gamay, but from a separate varietal that originally came from the southwest of France, were sourced from the French Camp Vineyard in Paso Robles and winemaker Andrew Jones did a quick whole cluster press and then a cool ferment with everything, including aging in stainless steel with just 4 months in the steel barrels before bottling. The super pale, slightly peachy/salmon, colored Rosé of Valdiguie made for a nice sunny companion on a warm evening following a big rainstorm and it went great with left over Pizza, proving enough fruity in character to cover the tomato sauce and mix of toppings and was easy to sip. Jones, who is a famous nurseryman in the Paso and Santa Barbara area has a gifted touch for wine and knows where to find good grapes with professional insight into many of the local vineyards, some that he helped plant and get material for. Every vintage brings all kinds of totally new blends and bottlings, so it is always a new experience when the Field Recordings wines come out.
($26 Est.) 86 Points, grapelive

2017 Domaine Vincent Paris, Cornas “Granit 30” Northern Rhone, France.
The Vincent Paris Cornas Granit 30 comes from granite soils and the from vineyard parcels that are at a steep 30% slope, hence the name and it maybe one of the best Syrah wines for the money in the world, and especially this 2017 vintage, which is absolutely engaging and delicious with magnificent purity and terroir accented character. The 2017s are showing amazing, the seem fuller, rounder and more harmonious in style than the last few vintages, even though ripeness is quite similar, and while I admit, that personally I like the more edgy, tension filled and crunchy years, there’s no denying the depth and complexity and sensual pleasure of the 2017s make them standout, and this wine does, it is a wine of beauty and checks all the boxes you’d ever desire from a northern Rhone Syrah. This dark purple, magenta and bright garnet edged Cornas by the talented vigneron, Vincent Paris, who’s proven to be in the same league as the iconic producers in this region, like the Chave’s, Robert’s and Allemand’s as well as his own uncle the famous Robert Michael, is layers with blackberry, blueberry, damson plum, candied cherry and earthy mulberry fruits along with smoky embers, loamy crushed stones, anise, distilled violets, mountain shrub, a touch of game and lingering creme de cassis. There is almost no noticeable oak on display, and none is needed as this 100% Syrah is absolutely complete here and speaks to your palate and soul in a strong, but understated voice that makes you listen in seduced rapture and as the wine opens fully in the glass it never waivers or dulls, it never stops exciting the senses. The Granit 30, according to the winery, comes from biodynamic vines on the lowest part of the slope of decomposed granite, in particular vines that are located in the lieu-dits of St. Pierre and Patou and Paris uses about 15 to 20% whole cluster on this Syrah with minimal stem inclusion, but enough to add pop to the wine, as they do here perfectly, adding texture, heightened floral aromatics and umami notes.

Vincent Paris, a Cornas native whose first vintage was 1997, is known to be a bit media shy is the co-president of the Cornas AOC appellation and puts his total heart into this area, not only making fantastic wines, but to also save traditions, honor the history and set the groundwork to keep Cornas one of the most prestigious regions in the Rhone and France. Paris owns and farms 6 hectares of vineyards and produces mostly all of his wines from the Cornas, though he did add a small plot of vines in Saint-Joseph and makes a lovely Syrah from there as well, he does three main Cornas bottlings, this one, plus his Granit 60, from steeper 60% slopes and his La Geynole, which has some of the fabled Reynard fruit, is an extremely limited offering from an old vine parcel that was planted in 1910 that were originally part of his uncles holdings, which his has inherited. The Granit 30 is supposedly the entry level or easy version, but I love this wine and find it a thrilling expression of place, again as I have said many times, this Granit 30 is a stunning value. This wine, the “30″, again references both the gradient slope of the vineyards used, but also as well as detailing that the average age of the vines is also about 30, and all of Paris’ grapes are farmed organic with these vines on warm exposures facing southeast and tended by hand with extreme care and smaller yields to extract concentration of flavors. In cellar, Paris makes his wines pretty much inline with classic methods with fermentation at low temps, and with small lots being vinfied in a combination of barrel and in tank with this one getting two thirds in wood and one third in vat/tank with the finished blend seeing about a year in mostly neutral French oak. This stuff is true and vivid wine of place, it is wonderfully transparent and this year’s plush and silken fruit make it a joyous experience in its youth, but the underlying tannin and refined natural acidity makes you want to have it with matching cuisine, though it has the freshness to go with many choices from hearty stews, lamb and grilled steak to roast herb crusted chicken and Asian pork dishes. If you’ve not had Vincent’s wines, you really should fix that, and these 2017s are a great way to start.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2013 Big Basin Vineyards, Gabilan Mountains GSM, Rhone Red Blend, Monterey County.
Bradley Brown’s 2013 Big Basin Gabilan Mountains GSM, made from 49% Grenache, 27% Syrah and 24% Mourvedre is really drinking well right now and has really come together in what was in some cases an awkward vintage with some uneven or bumpy wines. This one has gained texture and the stemmy whole cluster personality of its youth is fading into a more lush and complex wine while keeping just enough tension and earthiness to thrill the full bodied palate showing bramble berry, black plum, baked cherry and sweet and tangy pomegranate fruits to go with a touch of camphor, crushed rock, cedar, pepper, dried flowers, minty herb/anise and creme de cassis. There are some chewy tannins still, but things gain poise with air adding some mocha and fleshiness, which comes out more with robust foods and while in the glass this dark purple/crimson wine reveals sticky lavender, a hint of violets and contrasting meaty or iron like flavors. The 2013 GSM is a sleeper year and I recommend it highly, though while not readily available, the 2014 and 2015 versions are maybe even better, plus Big Basin is just now putting out their new stuff and the 2016 and 2017 reds are well worth investing in as well as their very limited Provence style Rosé, from the same vineyards used in the Gabilan Mountains GSM. Last years Rosé was absolutely delicious and Bradley just sent me a note claiming the 2019 is looking to a solid rival, which he says is the best yet, and I am really looking forward to drinking a few. It is a great time to support your friends with small wineries and this Santa Cruz Mountains winery is one of the finest producers around, best known for Syrah, but with a super lineup of Pinot too, as well as Chardonnay and savvy blended wines.

Coming from the Gabilan Range, a mountainous area to the north of the Salinas Valley with a combination of de-composed granite and chalky limestone, its a area with remarkable potential for wine grapes with cooling influences from the Pacific Ocean and elevation, especially these Rhone varietals that mostly are sourced from the Coastview Vineyard, one of the regions hot spots. Big Basin has been using grapes from here since around the 2007 vintage and in particular he loves the Syrah from this site, citing that the climate and soils make for excellent expressive of this grape, which Brown has a touch for, as anyone who’s had his estate Rattlesnake Rock will attest to. With the GSM in 2013, Brown fermented both Syrah and Grenache lots with up to 100% whole cluster, while the Mourvedre looks to have had more de-stemming to tame the phenolics and ease off the stem crunch in this well portioned wine. After fermentation, Brown and his winemaking team pump out the fermented wine then very gently press what is left with a small basket press, typical in the southern Rhone, then a brief settling occurs then the wine is racked to French oak barrels where it remains on the light lees for close to 18 months, with each grape lots aging separately with low sulfur. Then after aging the wines get blended for each finished offerings, including this cuvee, and bottled without filtering. These non estate wines are wonderful values and are powerful wines with strong wills and personalities that have exciting aging potentials, it isn’t easy to find older vintages, but putting a few of the current releases away can bring intriguing rewards. As mentioned Big Basin is releasing a new set for Spring, so I suggest going to their website and get on the allocations list and or buy a few of ready to ship bottles.
($44 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2016 Bonny Doon Vineyard, Le Cigare Volant, Rhone Style Red Blend, California.
The richly textured and firmly tannic 2016 Le Cigare Volant is a forgotten vintage and wine, especially so since the sale of the Bonny Doon Vineyards winery and the recent re-vamp of the Le Cigare to a fresher easier to drink Cinsault influenced style, but this wine should not be overlooked, as it delivers a powerful and dense core of black and red fruits, along with spicy and meaty/savory notes as well as pretty delicate floral tones. Randall Grahm and winemaker Nicole Walsh have done a masterful job with this edition of Le Cigare, it certainly didn’t go out with a whimper, its shows layers of blackberry, racy red currant, plum and dried cherries on a full bodied palate adding grilled herbs, licorice, violetette and a touch of sweet oak in Randall’s signature classic style California Chateauneuf Rhone blend, leading with the obvious fruit, but with gripping intensity and underlying complexity. This wine is very impactful and alive in the glass with its deep garnet and ruby hue and its slow to express itself Grenache fruit, but with air it comes at you with a huge rush of pomegranate and strawberry jam. This is one of the more substantial Cigare’s I’ve ever had with flamboyant fruit and ripeness, but loads of umami and a structural spine of tannin, it is definitely a wine with flesh and bones, its alive and has a strong heart beat and blood flowing, this is good stuff. Randall who one of the first California Rhone Rangers continues to inspire today and is still a huge influence on California wine and like Robert Mondavi is one of the hall of fame vintners in the state and his Le Cigare Volant is an iconic wine, we legions of fans worldwide.

The 2016 Le Cigare Volant, which was in itself a slight change from a few prior releases, had a bit more whole cluster and a really good dose of Mourvedre in the final blends, which ended up being close to 41% Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre, 15% Syrah, 14% Cinsaut. Grahm as per normal with Cigare used a vast assortment of Vineyards, and this year saw 33% Rancho Solo (Grenache), 30% Del Barba (Mourvedre), 14% Bechtold (Cinsault), 10% Lieff, 10% Shokrian and 3% Wolff all of which supplied the extra as well as the Syrah, making the wine classified as Central Coast or just California, or as Randall suggests of planet Earth! Ever the tinkerer, Grahm does all kinds of ferments and aging regiments for this wine with some of it being fermented and aged in tank, some in barrel and some in glass 5-gallon demijohns or bonbonnes, which with the lees make for excellent vessels to develop textural beauty, plus Randall is not afraid of adding toasty wood chips if need be! This 2016 is ever changing as it opens and after half an hour the stems get their groove on and give old world crunch and a bright life force that tames the expressive fruit, this certainly wasn’t expected, but very much appreciated and the wine turns even more thrilling in personality. Bonny Doon will continue to explore and focus on Rhone style wines with Grahm as the ambassador for the time being, though he will be putting more time into his amazing 10,000 Grapes Project, making thousands of new varietals from seed to make sure the future has the best material to make California truly unique and to be sure viticulture survives climate change, as well as make small lots of wine from his Popelouchum (Pop-loh-shoom) estate vineyard.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Selbach-Oster, Riesling Feinherb, Graacher Domprobst “Alte Reben” Mosel, Germany.
One of the sleepers in Johannes Selbach’s fabulous collection of 2018 wines is the stunning old vine Graacher Domprobst Feinherb that delivers a dry style and energy driven palate with a fantastic play between crystalline mineral lightness and the extract density that comes through as textured layers. This is incredible Riesling, in a lineup of incredible Rieslings from slate slopes above the Mosel, making it hard to see its individual excellence, in fact it did take time and reflection to get clarity on this Graacher Alte Reben Feinherb which, when focused on, gives a performance that rivals the best of the region with layers of generous green apple, lime, mango and quince fruits, dried ginger spices, smoky flint stoniness, citron/verbena and salted melon sorbet, in a weightless and steely frame. The acidity hides the residual sweetness (off dry), again showing why a non trocken (dry) can be more balanced and still drink crisply dry, especially in a wine of this purity and quality, where exceptional work was done in the vineyards and experience in the cellar that allowed this wine’s unique true personality and soul were allowed to come through without forcing it into a category that would have changed its life force. Some will say that if Selbach had fermented a shade or two drier he could have made a GG out of this wine, but that would take away more than it would have given, this wine is better for the extra fruity quality and it certainly drinks much drier than the average Burgundy or California Chardonnay, but the point is Selbach has revealed the absolute best of the place and grapes to shine through, it is magnificent and a Riesling that shows the heart of the Mosel. The Graacher plots are on primarily blue Devonian slate with a layer of loam underneath, that brings out the fruit, and it’s that expression that Johannes celebrates and spotlights here, this is a special old vine section and this Riesling, which came in the winery with about Spatlese must weight, bursts at the seams with gorgeous tension and intensity, though presented with grace and poise.

Selbach’s holdings in the middle Mosel includes some of the best old vines in the region with about half of their vines being on their original rootstocks, in Zeltinger Himmelreich, Schlossberg, and Sonnenuhr; Wehlener Sonnenuhr; and, Graacher Himmelreich and this one from Graacher Domprobst. These vineyards are set on the classic weathered Devonian slate and are on a very steep, contiguous slope that gathers the sun and the reflection off the river with perfect south and south west exposures. These vines make for an impressive set of parcels, which are all picked separately, of course by hand and each is faithfully fermented to create very individual wines that pay great respect for each site and what story they each want to tell, I am in particularly fond of certain sites and over the 20 plus years I’ve been enjoying and tasting Selbach-Oster I have developed favorites that speak to me personally, like Zeltlinger-Schlossberg, which no matter how it is treated and or sugar level it makes my heart sing and beat a little faster, though I always love the Kabinett, always a guilty pleasure. 2018 has proved more difficult to fully understand and my vision has been blurred by greatness, all of the Selbach wines are brilliant to point where it is terribly difficult to pick out the highlights, hence the need for reflection, but I highly recommend looking for and searching out all of the single parcel wines, like the Bomer, Rotlay and Schmitt, plus this Graacher Domprobst Feinherb, which is a steal for the quality on offer! Johannes uses traditional oak fuder in his cellar, adding, according to his importer Terry Theise, a few new large casks every couple of years and the ferments are done in a combination of fuder (German oak cask) and stainless steel, predominantly these wines are allowed to start with “Sponti” or with wild yeasts, and aged on the lees for an extended period. This wine was fermented in those old Mosel Fuder barrels, some up to 60 years old, almost as old as the vines themselves, this stuff deserves your attention and it should really gain with another 10 years in the cellar, if you could keep your hands off it!
($38 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2016 Saint Jean du Barroux, par Philippe Gimel, Ventoux Rouge “La Source” Rhone Valley, France.
The Saint Jean du Barroux wines are made by Philippe Gimel, the talented winemaker who is an ex chemist that first worked at top names such as Château de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape, as well as La Janasse, Pierre Bise and Château Devès, names his Ventoux cuvées of Saint Jean Du Barroux after an element of the surrounding terroir, like this La Source Rouge being influenced by a local natural spring near by. The Cotes du Ventoux area in the Rhone’s Luberon is located close to Provence in the foothills of the chalky Mount Ventoux, the highest site in the area, made famous as terrifying and tough stage on the Tour de France, it’s a great and very underrated growing region renowned worldwide for incredible values in Rhone reds, made mostly from Grenache and Syrah. This 2016 La Source by Domaine Saint Jean du Barroux is absolutely fabulous with the depth, perfume, ripe smooth tannins and concentration of flavors that rivals many wines three, four or five times the price, this is stunning lavender scented wine that delivers layers of rich boysenberry, dusty plum, pomegranate and strawberry fruits along with dried flowers, wild garrigue (herb/shrub) or sage, peppercorns, licorice as well as lingering creme de cassis and kirsch, adding a touch of loamy stones and clay contrasting savory elements.

The dark purple/garnet hued, full bodied and aromatic 2016 vintage Saint Jean du Barroux La Source Ventoux Rouge, crafted using 70% Grenache, 25% Carignan and 5% Cinsault all from organic vines set on classic rocky top soils over limestone and hardened clay, it easily could pass for, and tastes like a top-flight Gigondas or Rasteau with exceptional purity, made from a tank raised selection. Gimel pays careful attention to each parcel and he, according to the winery, harvests and sorts by hand, does his fermentation using indigenous yeasts in cement tanks, where it also spends its elevage, and he only bottles after the wines age 18 months at the minimum. Imported by Eric Solomon of European Cellars, the Saint Jean du Barroux wines have a fanatic following with Rhone fans and bargain hunters, these are insanely good wines, especially in years like 2016 and this wine in particular is a steal with its serious palate impact and deliciousness. Philippe Gimel founded his estate back in 2003 and has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years, these wines are stand outs in an area that doesn’t get that much press, which maybe good for those looking for fantastic Rhone expressions at everyday drinking pricing, and at a time like we have now with Covid-19 stay in place orders, this La Source is a wine to stock up on. I highly recommend trying the Saint Jean du Barroux Ventoux Rouge offerings, drink up!
($20 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Sandlands Vineyards, Red Wine, Lodi California.
The latest set of Sandlands are looking pretty awesome, and I started by opening the new 2018 Lodi Red, which is equal parts Cinsault, Carignan and Zinfandel, which takes a leading role in the profile at this stage with its raspberry fruit standing out, though it gets more complex and interesting with time and air, making for a delicious California blend that is bursting with expressive flavors. This dark garnet and purple wine has beautifully textured layers of ripe and smooth dark berries, tangy cherry, from the racy Cinsault, as well as plum, pomegranate and a hint of blueberry fruits. Behind the fruit there is an array of spices, mineral notes, touches of anise, floral dimension and a very subtle wood element. There’s a supple mouthfeel and old vine concentration that is a hallmark of Passalacqua’s wines, who for the past eleven years has worked for Turley Wine Cellars, starting as harvest intern, as he notes, and now as Larry’s head winemaker and vineyard manager! The Sandlands Vineyards label is his personal project, with Tegan and his wife Olivia Passalacqua making a tight collection of wines that are mostly from vines set on sandy soiled sites from across the state. Their lineup includes, what he calls, the forgotten classic California varieties, that as mentioned are primarily grown in decomposed granite (sand), from regions and vineyards that have been farmed for many generations (of California families), but have remained, as Tegan adds, the outliers of California viticulture. This head-trained, dry-farmed and own rooted vineyards are extremely special to Passalacqua, which he says harken back to California’s roots of (wine) exploration, wonder, and hard work.

The 2018 Sandlands Vineyards Lodi Red was an intentional blend of three old vine vineyards, so while not a heritage field blend from a single interplanted site, it does have that kind of feel and personality in the glass. The plots include some1886 Cinsault vines from the Bechthold Vineyard, as well as some 1900 Carignane from the Spenker Ranch and some grapes from the 1915 Zinfandel vines from Passalacqua’s home ranch, at the Kirschenmann Vineyard. Tegan Passalacqua, who is a Napa Valley native, has really stamped his name on the current lineup of Turley and has because a leading voice in California wine, promoting the state and its history with almost every breath. He got his start in the wine industry working in winery labs in Napa, as well as traveling around the world to gain perspective and experience with some influential regions and winemakers. He notes, he has worked in the cellars of Craggy Range in New Zealand with Doug Wisor, along with two of my high heros, Eben Sadie, of Sadie Family Wines in the Swartland of South Africa and Alain Graillot in the Northern Rhone Valley of France! The Lodi Red finished up at 13.3 % natural alcohol and stays very lively and fresh throughout, it is an easy wine to enjoy and is delicious with lots of food choices, I enjoyed it with grilled spicy chicken burritos, but would love to have it with Cajun cuisine and or BBQ pork, plus it will be fabulous with burgers too. While it is tough to find the Sandlands stuff, I highly recommend joining the mailing list, they are really tasty, fairly priced and each wine is unique.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2015 G.D. Vajra, Barolo DOCG, Coste di Rose, Piedmonte, Italy.
New to the Vajra collection is the Coste di Rose Cru Barolo from a unique vineyard site high in the hills and set on deep sands, so sandy in fact the Vajra’s call this site the beach, over marl and clay soils that gives this Nebbiolo its awesome perfume and amazing texture, just when you thought this winery couldn’t get any better, a wine like this comes along and you get blown away all over again! The 2015 shows the vintage’s warmth and smooth tannins making for a compelling young Barolo, it should age exceptionally well, but certainly it will be very enjoyable all along the way, though I can imagine the upcoming 2016 will be the for collectors to stock up on, with the years more structured form, that said I love this 2015 very much and adore its almost Burgundy/Pinot Noir like class and silken mouth feel, and I imagine it will firm up with another year or so in bottle. The estate of GD Vajra is situated in Vergne, the highest village in the Commune of Barolo with Nebbiolo, being the main varietal, but also planted with Dolcetto, Barbera, Freisa, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and of course their legendary Riesling, which is one of my favorites, to name a few. The vineyards are at heights of 350-400 meters, which plays a big part in the wines’ complexity and aromatic quality that winemaker Giuseppe Vajra achieves with his amazing collection of offerings. I tasted the Coste di Rose at this years Slow Wine Tasting in San Francisco, which thankfully happened before the Cover-19 shutdown, where Vajra’s importer(s) showed us the latest Bricco Della Viole Cru Barolo, the Riesling, which I have reviewed earlier and this new Cru, that I haven’t tried, and while the Bricco Della Viole remains the flagship wine, this Coste di Rose is right up there!

The vines at Vajra, according to the winery, are some of the last to be harvested in the region, giving them long hang times as the higher altitude often pushes their pick dates well into October. Giuseppe Vajra, who took over from his dad Aldo, continues to makes wines in line with tradition, but also uses technology and state of the art facilities to craft these wines. The Barolo wines get about a 30-40 day cuvaison, gently extracting the fine tannins from the skins. Vajra notes that there is a small percentage of stems are left in durning the maceration and primary ferments depending on the vintage. The G.D. Vajra wines are not adorned with flashy sweet/toast French barriques, these wines are exceptionally pure and transparent versions of Barolo and the wines are aged in large (mostly older) Slovenian oak barrels for between 42-48 months before bottling. I’ve been lucky to have had the chance to try most of Vajra’s Barolo bottlings since the 2008 vintage and have been blessed to have tasted with Giuseppe on more than a few occasions and it has been a stellar rise in stardom for this humble and gifted winemaker, when you mention great winemakers in Italy, let alone Piedmonte, Vajra is almost always mentioned, especially by those in the know. The 2015 Coste di Rose starts with its heady rose petal perfume, delicate earthiness and red fruits on the full bodied, but ultra luxurious palate, with the tannins well hidden at this point, again making this feel more like a Chambolle than a rustic Barolo, delivering a silken cascade of brandied cherry, raspberry, plum and balsamic dipped strawberries along with fresh mineral tones, snappy herbs, light cedar and sandalwood notes, as well as licorice, mint, blood orange zest and lingering mulberries. Drink this beauty over the next 5 to 15 years. ($69-85 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Cruse Wine Company, Tannat, Alder Springs Vineyard, Mendocino County.
Mostly known for his divine Ultramarine Methode Champenoise sparkling wine and his fun lineup of pétillant naturel, Michael Cruse also makes some really good still wines some of which come from unique places and crafted from lesser known varietals, like his Valdiguie, also known as Napa Gamay, because it was long thought to be Gamay and this Tannat. This firmly tannic black grape is originally from France’s Basque region and found in wines from Irouléguy in the Pyrénées, as well as famously also in the Madiran AOC in France’s southwest, plus Tannat has proven to be quite delicious in the new world with serious versions coming from Uruguay and the grape is seeing some success in California, where it was only a minor player, though it has been here for nearly a century, and a blending grape until more recently. Cruse gets his from one of the best vineyards in Northern California, Alder Springs, in Mendocino County, mostly known for Rhone varietals, especially Syrah. Located just 12 miles east of the beautiful Mendocino Coast, and 3 miles west of the legendary Redwood Highway 101, the site is remote and challenging, but makes for fabulous wines, this region is bordered by a dramatic coastline, the Eel River and is also home to enormous Redwood trees. The Alder Springs Vineyard, In the far northern Mendocino County, past Anderson Valley, is farmed by Stuart Bewley, who has been growing some of California’s most sought after wine grapes since 1993. Cruse is making lots of fun stuff, like this Tannat, with his pop top Sparkling Valdiguie pétillant naturel being one of my personal favorites, as well as his Sparkling St. Laurent Blanc de Noirs pétillant naturel, made from a rare Austrian red grape grown in Carneros.

Michael Cruse, like most from this new group of California’s talented winemakers and micro wineries is not interested in making blockbuster and oak driven wines of the prior generation, but instead he is looking for purity and youthful drinking pleasure in his still wines, like this one, using natural methods and indigenous yeast fermentations and without the use of new barrels. Tannat can be very rustic, fiery and dusty dry, it is naturally high in raw tannins, polyphenols and pigment, making for chewy wines that tend to need some robust cuisine to tame the gripping force on the palate, though Cruse has managed to present the grape in a more generous and stylish form with a lacy freshness, ripe black fruit flavors and vivid details. Interestingly, Bewley has an array of three different Tannat clones including 794, 474 and 717 at Alder Springs, which would seemingly add to the complexity in this wine. Alder Springs is not a monolithic site with many micro climates, a mix of plots and many soils from which to chose like marine sediments, gravels, clay, broken stones and basalt to name a few, along with various hills and slopes. The dark purple and electric garnet hued 2018 Cruse Tannat starts with a hint of sweet florals, black fruit, wild herbs and mineral tones before filling out on the ripe and impeccably smooth, especially for Tannat, palate with layers of blackberry, blueberry, plum and black cherry fruits, minty licorice, a touch of deep blood orange, a hint of iron and delicate spices. This wine is very textural in mouth feel and it is wonderfully fresh, with satiny tannins, refined natural alcohol at 13%, good acidity and will be exceptionally fan with simple and rustic country style cuisine, it’s a delicious and easy to drink wine to drink over the next few years.
($39 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

March, 2020

2018 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli, Timorasso – Derthona DOC, Colli Tortonesi, Piedmonte, Italy.
A few years ago, Walter Massa of Vigneti Massa almost single handedly brought the rare Timorasso grape back from extinction and now it is one of the hottest white wines made in the Piedmonte region, and we are seeing many great producers jumping on the bandwagon, including the famed Vietti and this beautiful expression by the legendary Barolo maker Borgogno. Tasted at Slow Wine earlier this year, the 2018 Borgogno Derthona DOC should be arriving to the United States soon, though you’ll have to really work hard to get your hands on it as it is extremely limited, but you’ll be greatly rewarded for your hard work and search if you get your hands on it. Borgogno’s Timorasso from organic vines is lightly floral, medium bodied with a lovely texture and fine minerallity, it delivers a polished and lively performance highlighting the grape’s best qualities with layers of peach, citrus and quince fruits, leesy notes, white flowers and an array of herb and spices along with a nice saline and wet stone element. Derthona is the ancient name for Tortona, the town in southeast Piemonte, hence the appellation Colli Tortonesi (Tortona Hills) name. The Timorasso is widely believed to be one of the longest-aging white varieties in Italy, with many of the producers saying it takes a few years to get itself together in the bottle, adding a depth of flavor and making more of a palate impact with honeyed notes and it deserves serious attention, going well with a variety of foods including poultry, pork and fatty fish and decedent shellfish, even lobster and or crab dishes. The Borgogno Timorasso doesn’t come cheap compared to other examples, like the Massa, which I also recommend trying, but it is a gorgeous white wine that is joyous rarity, that will be great addition to the cellar or a special occasion.

The Borgogno Dertona DOC comes from the Monleale, mostly hillsides around Tortona set on classic clay and limestone soils with good ripening coming from the great southeast and southwest exposures, making for a more full bodied version, in some ways like the dry rich Alsatian Rieslings, but with a bit more softness and opulence, like Burgundy, especially when allowed to age. This 2018 which was aged, mostly in tank for 18 months is very refined and has remarkable clarity with a delicate light pale color and subtle acidity, which is very rounded. Borgogno, also known as “Giacomo Borgogno & Figli” which was founded back in 1761 by Bartolomeo Borgogno, was one of the very first elite Barolo producers and has an amazing track record for great wines, with their Nebbiolo bottlings being some of the most desirable wines in Italy. The Farinetti family acquired this historic winery in 2008, but is firmly committed to quality and the estate’s traditions, with Andrea Farinetti, according to the winery, who graduated from the oenological school in Alba, took over in 2010 giving a youthful excitement to this legendary property. The 2015 marked the first vintage of their Timorasso white after a purchase of the vineyard sites and the conversion to all organic practices. Borgogno also brought back the use of concrete for fermentations to give an extra element of classic and soulful expression to the wines throughout the range. You should never miss a chance to try the Borgogno Cru Baroli, like those from Cannubi, one of the world’s greatest vineyards, Liste and Fossati, which are exceptional or Grand Cru sites, plus their Riserva, which is sometimes aged 20 years in the cellar! I also love their de-classified Barolo, Langhe Nebbiolo called “No Name” as it offers an awesome value, and now I am going to keep an eye out for this Derthona!
($55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2016 Fedellos do Couto, Loma dos Ares, Red Wine, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia, Spain.
The Fedellos do Couto, founded in 2011 by Luis Taboada, and based in his family home, is a small and intriguing winery headed up by winemakers Curro Barreño and Jesús Olivares who are focused on crafting wines from the local terroir and local varietals, like Mencia and Godello. The Loma dos Ares is made mostly from parcels in the Bibei zone using old vine Mencia, about 40%, and with small amounts of Muraton, Bastardo, Caiño Tinto, Negreda, Aramón, Gran Nero and Garnacha Tintorea making up the rest of the blend, sourced from vines set mainly on granite, sand and schist based soils. According to their importer, Eric Solomon – European Cellars, Lomba dos Ares, is Curro & Jesus’ village wine coming from their oldest and steepest vineyards on the west bank of the Bibei River, that separates Ribeira Sacra from Valdeorras, with these vines averaging about 70 years old. This dark ruby and magenta hued 2016 is bright and fresh, but still with the old vine concentration showing vivid red fruits leading the way delivering loads of whole cluster crunch and tangy flavors that remind of some Jura red wines with a crisp and mineral vibrancy. There are layers of earthy/spicy raspberry, tart plum, cherry and lingonberry fruits, along with snappy herbs, light floral tones, a touch of saltiness, racy cool climate acidity and dusty tannins, making this a wine that refreshes on the medium weight palate making it perfect for Spring and Summer drinking and goes well with many cuisine options.

The Ribeira Sacra, which is a very historic wine growing area in Spain’s green Galicia region just northeast of the Portuguese border near the Mina and Sil Rivers that was prized by the Romans who cherished the wines from this steep and remote region. This area has seen a huge amount of excitement in recent years with wines of outstanding quality making quite a slash with wine critics and wine lovers, these new generation of Ribeira Sacra wines are led by the likes of Pedro Rodriguez of Guimaro, Laura Lorenzo of Daterra Viticultores, Envinate and this Fedellos do Couto label. There is a respect for the land and the hard work that goes into making these wines, it is not easy here with few roads and ultra steep, mostly terraced vineyards that doesn’t allow much but back breaking labor and hand work, so you see mostly now organic and natural style wines, including this Loma dos Ares. The wine, a co-ferment of all the varietals in cement vats, using hand harvested grapes, with 100% whole cluster and natural yeast fermentation employing a long, gentle maceration with pigeage lasting between 40 to 60 days. After primary the wine was racked over to a combination of neutral 300-500L French oak barrels for an elevage of about 10 months before being bottled. This 2016 vintage is pretty and well structured, it should develop nicely for many years to come, even though it is super easy to love now, especially with its restrained natural alcohol, which at 12.5% adds to the wines cool and vivid character, this is fabulous stuff.
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Dard et Ribo, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge “C’est le Printemps” Northern Rhone, France.
René-Jean Dard and François Ribo, who produce some of the most sought after natural Syrahs, are famously media shy and hermit like vignerons from Mercurol, north of Valence, founded their tiny Northern Rhone estate in 1984 with a small cellar and micro parcels of vines and a focus on non intervention wines. Jamie Goode, the English wine critic and natural wine expert, says that René-Jean Dard and François Ribo accidentally became known as natural winemakers, as they commonly don’t use any sulphites (added sulfur) at all, although, he notes, they are not religious about it and really were just trying to make wines they themselves were interested in drinking. Their fame has more to do with their attention to detail and very hard vineyard work and the exceptional quality of their grapes, especially the ones that go into their Crozes-Hermitage bottlings, that are still outstanding values and are more commonly available, like this wonderfully expressive C’est le Printemps. Dard and Ribo have close to ten hectares of vines, with half of that in Crozes-Hermitage, as well as some in Saint Joseph, and a small plot on the hill of Hermitage, which goes into their unicorn version of this legendary site. Their production is about 65% Syrah, which they are most known for, but they also do close to 35% white wine, which a mix of Marsanne and Roussanne parcels, again mainly in Crozes.

I recently got a few bottles of the classic black label Crozes, from the 2017 vintage, plus one of this lovely fresh 2018 “C’est le Printemps” which I had never seen in person prior to this vintage, it is Dard and Ribo’s quaffer or Glou-Glou version almost like their idea of a Nouveau, made for early release and early drinking and it fits the bill perfectly with loads of pure fruit, light spiciness and soft tannins. The Crozes-Hermitage vines are from organic plots, farmed without chemicals, mostly hillside, set on iron rich red clay soils with gravel and alluvial stones scattered throughout the vines, which give these wines true terroir character and even this version shows the classic detailing, a pretty crushed violet bouquet and flavors with layers of blueberry, damson plum, currant and black raspberry fruits, along with snappy licorice, saline and iodine, mineral tones plus cinnamon and peppery spices. This wine shows a nice juiciness, a ripe personality and a tank raised like vibrancy of form, adding a hint of earthiness, mission figs, lingering kirsch and lavender. This medium bodied, low sulfur, drink now, Syrah, which reminds me of Maxime Graillot’s Domaine des Lise Equinoxe in style, but maybe slightly more complex and expressive, I really should have bought more of this from SommSelect! Happily, I have found these Dard and Ribo to live up to my expectations and I hope to explore more of the limited stuff in the future, they are delicious.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Inspiration Vineyards, Viognier, Canihan Vineyard, Sonoma Valley.
Jon Phillips’ new labels and new releases have transformed this winery and I am thrilled with the results so far, in particular I really like the 2018 Canihan Viognier with its beautiful honeysuckle bouquet and fleshy apricot that bursts from the glass. While not classic Condrieu by any means, it is a lovely California version of this grape with a richer mouth feel and denser impact on the full bodied palate, but is well balanced and not overly fruity or heavy with a nice cut of acidity and less obvious oak shadings and it is joyous with food, especially spicy shrimp and calamari. Phillips, who is the Chairman of the Board for Family Winemakers of California, started Inspiration Vineyards in 2002 after studying through one of the UC Davis extension programs and making some vintages of home wines. Jon moved to the Russian River area and set up shop originally on Olivet Lane, but now makes his wines in an urban winery in Santa Rosa and has a few acres of estate vines with a focus on Zinfandel and like his peers does Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from classic Russian River sites, plus some intriguing Rhones, like Grenache, Syrah and this Viognier. This white will appeal to those that have enjoyed Joseph Swan, Kunde, Alban and Cold Heaven expressions of this varietal and for those that are looking for an expressive alternative to buttery Chardonnays or grassy Sauvignon Blancs.

The 2018 Viognier shows a bright golden color and starts fresh, dry and tangy, getting more lush and rounded with air and matching cuisine delivering layers of the mentioned apricot, tangerine, melon, apple butter, marmalade and golden fig fruits along with a touch of brioche (lees), herbs, wet stones and an echo of the florals. This highly aromatic Viognier is pleasantly ripe and mouth filling and offers a solid value for fans of this grape and the regional wines. I can’t wait to try some of the other new wines sporting the new art labels with the Ceja Farms Grenache, especially after trying the Sheldon Wines version, and as noted before Dylan Sheldon joined Jon here at Inspiration in 2016 and his influence and synergy here has brought a lot to the newer wines in the collection. The use of new oak is limited and the wines have gained vitality and natural fresh details, but still full of flavor with a lighter touch in the cellar. There are a bunch of wines in the lineup to discover, in addition to the Viognier and Grenache, look for their 2018 Branley Pinot Noir, the 2018 Palindrome Vineyard Syrah from Dry Creek Valley, a low alcohol Ray’s Zin 2018 from the Russian River Valley, a luxurious full throttle 2018 Zinfandel from the Gallaway Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley and the 2017 Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Inspiration sells almost exclusively direct and all of the bottlings are very limited, like this one and the wines are terrific values, so check them out on their newly updated website.
($29 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Desire Lines Wine Co, Evangelho Red, Contra Costa County.
Cordy and Emily Rasmussen’s Desire Lines Wine Co label is one of the most exciting new wineries I’ve tried in the last couple of vintages and while their Shake Ridge and Griffin’s Lair Syrahs are absolutely outstanding wines, both as good as it gets in California Syrah, I really love their Carignan based Evangelho Red, especially this 2018, which delivers purity of fruit, complex savory/meaty elements from the addition of a bit of Mourvedre and vividly fresh details. There is a joyous cascade of black and red fruits on the full bodied palate plus delicate crushed flowers, truffle/earthiness, peppery spices, crunchy herbal notes, mineral tones and light cedary wood shadings with a mouthful of blackberry, wild cherry, plum and boysenberry fruits. It is exciting that the low percentage of Mourvedre gets its place on the stage with hints of leather, kirsch and firm tannins really supports the deep and concentrated Carignan flavors perfectly and the partial full bunches fermentation makes this wine even more thrilling, this is drinking outrageously good right now and it will age too. This brilliantly dark Evangelho with its seductive purple/garnet color grabs your attention in the glass and with air it gains presence and poise, refining in texture and adding hints of cassis (black currant), tangy blueberry and herbs de Provence and anise. This unique red wine was inspired by old world wines and exploits its California old vines to near perfection, there’s a lot to enjoy here and while I highly recommend Desire Lines Syrah, this wine should not be missed if you see it and I suggest following this winery and joining their mailing list as soon as possible, there is no question Rasmussen’s offering are becoming highly sought after, these small lot bottlings are exceptional.

Winemaker, Cody Rasmussen, who is the assistant winemaker at Bedrock Wine Company under Morgan Twain-Peterson, says his 2018 Evangelho Red Wine is a blend of roughly 90% Carignan and 10% Mourvèdre, that similarly to the 2017, was fermented with 30% whole cluster to make this wine pop and excite the senses and with there hope to create a wine that is fresh and intense, drinkable in the same way a top Cote de Brouilly or Morgon does. Rasmussen adds that he then aged the 2018 Evangelho Red for ten months in neutral French 400L barrels. Cody loves the bigger 400L barrel size for his Carignan, noting that it retains freshness and builds tension in the wine, like all large format barrels, but with a less reduction than the bigger puncheons that he prefers for Syrah and the solo Mourvèdre. Last but not least, because the grape quality is everything when crafting a great wine, its source vineyard matters greatly, in particular when it comes from a historic site like Evangehlo, this awesome heritage site in Costa Contra that is set on deep sand. The vines at the Evangelho Vineyard, now owned by Morgan Twain-Peterson, is over 120 years old, it was planted originally back in late 1890s with mostly Zinfandel and Mourvedre, but with some other things too, like this parcel of Carignan. Rasmussen state that the Evangelho Vineyard near Antioch, is upstream from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and not far from the water’s edge, making it effectively a coastal vineyard in sand dunes with some weathered granitic washed down from of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range over millennia. This vintage is epic and this wine takes full advantage, enjoy it with friends and fun, it goes great with BBQ and or burgers!
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Pax Wines, Mission, Somer’s Vineyard, Mokelumne River, Lodi.
The Pax 100% Mission is a vibrant and light red wine that feel the need for a chill and enjoyed in its racy youth with a fun sort of Beaujolais like playful juicy cherry led personality, but with a unique blast of dry savory notes and a zippy array of spices from cinnamon to red pepper flakes along with a zesty acidity and fine dusty tannins. Pax, known for their world class Syrah, does a delightful collection of natural style Glou-Glou wines, some of which were started under Pax Mahle’s Wind Gap label that has now been folded into the Pax lineup, these included his Trousseau Gris, his highly sought after Gamay Noir, plus a Petit Manseng, a little known French white grape that is grown primarily in Gascony, and more famously in the Jurançon and Pacherenc in the southwest, plus this slightly wild Mission grape, that is also known as Listan Prieto, found in the Canary Islands and Pais, which is its name in Chile. In California, Mission arrived with the Missions, hence the name, since the original Spanish vines by that time had no had a remembered name, some of the oldest living Mission vines are still at the Mission San Gabriel in Los Angeles that to have been planted in 1771, while the Somer’s Vineyard in Lodi looks like it was planted in the early 1900s. The Mission grape in the central valley of California was mostly used in the production of Brandy rather than still wine and occasionally Mission was used in late harvest wines, known as Angelica, this was the first version that I tried from a 200 year old vineyard in Santa Barbara County.

Pax employed a 100% while cluster and native fermentation allowing for a semi carbonic style of character with the wine getting a short aging spell with a four month elevage in neutral French barrels, plus a month in concrete tank before bottling with everything done to preserve freshness. These grapes, sourced from these old organic vines, came from the Mokelumne River zone on ancient river bed on deep sandy loam soils, which has led to roots that have dug way down to get moisture, since they are all dry farmed and they have huge trunks that according to the winery look like trees being about six feet high. The 2019 Pax Mission (aka Listan Prieto) which was just released reminds me of some of the more interesting Canary Islands wines like Envinate’s Benje and Fronton de Oro’s Tinto as well as a few Pipeno’s (Louis Antoine Luyt) from Chile made from Pais that date back to the first Missionaries in the 1500s. The flavors are slightly earthy and raw with layers of strawberry/rhubarb, umami, dried herbs and rose petals along with the tangy cherry, cinnamon and peppery notes along with grilled orange and wild fennel. The Mission grape is showing it deserves a second chance in California, after almost disappearing in the mid 1900s when it was much maligned and replaced by more noble varietals, mostly from France, maybe not as serious wine, but as an easy drinking quaffer and non pretentious counter culture wine! Enjoy Pax’s light ruby-pale garnet, almost Rosé like, hued Mission, which is just 12.5% natural alcohol and now with lots of laughter, friends and simple cuisine.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Eden Rift, Zinfandel, Dickinson Block, Cienega Valley, San Benito County.
For those that love Turley, Ridge, Bedrock, Bucklin and or Saucelito Canyon who all use historic old vine vineyards for their Zinfandels should really check out the last Eden Rift Dickinson Block Zinfandel that comes from a small parcel of vines that were planted in 1906, way over a hundred years old and making for a stunning wine of depth and concentration. I have been lucky enough to try the 2017 and this 2018 versions and I can tell you this is a beautifully aromatic and polished expression of Zinfandel with classic black raspberry and plum fruit, a lovely dark purple/garnet color and a delicate array of spices, chalky mineral notes, subtle oak shadings along with pretty floral notes and fresh herbs de Provence. This 2018 is wonderfully textured, vivid in detail and is perfectly ripe, it is a stellar vintage for depth, clarity and it delivers everything with the impression of fine balance and pleasing richness, and this wine does it exceptionally well, hats off to winemaker Cory Waller, who really nailed it here. Walking through this special plot of old Zinfandel vines, which are head trained you might see a couple of odd ball black varietals and maybe some Carignan inter planted, but you can really taste that Zin personality from start to finish. This 2018 gets better and better with air and adds tangy blueberry, kirsch, anise and a touch of coco and the mouth feel impresses with supple/sweet tannin and thrilling full bodied palate, it goes great with rustic cuisine, especially hearty meat dishes and or tomato based pastas, and yes Pizza.

The Eden Rift label, which is the new name for this site, was created in 2016, has brought this old property back to the wine worlds attention which is well deserved with the attention to detail in the vineyards, that were originally started back in 1849, making it one of the oldest wine growing homesteads in California. This wine, the Dickinson Block Zinfandel is one of the most limited in the Eden Rift collection, which is focused on Pinot Noir, which makes sense when you realize that Eden Rift’s neighbored by the famous Calera Estate and Mount Harlan, and where Waller, who has made wine in Oregon and New Zealand, was also an assistant winemaker alongside his brother Mike, the head winemaker at Calera. The Eden Rift wines are all hand crafted and made with indigenous yeasts where possible and aged exclusively in French oak barrels and the grapes which all sustainably grown are hand harvested with serve yields and sorting for quality. The soils at Eden Rift are a mix of limestone and are dolomite-rich that gives these wines their terroir driven flavors, helped along the way by the cool evenings and coastal influence that flows a wind gap into the Cienega Valley. A visit to the estate is an incredible experience, especially seeing the gorgeous terraced Pinot Noir plots with their heritage clone selections like Calera and Mount Eden clones growing on steep eastern facing hillsides. There lots of exciting these happening at Eden Rift and I must also note, their Chardonnay is not a wine to overlook here, like this one it delivers a great performance, I, as you might have guessed, highly recommend checking out the new releases.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2016 Ampeleia, Kepos, Costa Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy.
Ampeleia, one of Tuscany’s most intriguing wineries, based near Maremma was founded in 2002 as collaboration between like minded friends, including one of Italy’s greatest winemakers Elisabetta Foradori, who’s famous Alto Adige estate is one of the most prized in the Dolomites, Thomas Widmann, and Giovanni Podini. The together created an organic farm with a focus around making biodynamic wines using natural and traditional methods. The Kepos red is a unique Tuscany coast wine made from Mediterranean grape varieties including 60% Alicante Nero (aka Grenache), 25% Mourvedre and 15% Carignano all from estate grown biodynamic wines. ‘Kepos’ is Greek and is synonymous with ‘garden,’ or any place where trees and herbs are grown. These grapes are sourced from vineyards closest to the Ocean, but at about 300 meters above sea level with cool breezes in the Ampeleia di Sotto parcel, its a place where the Mediterranean scrub dominates the landscape and, according to the winery, permeates the air with its lavender/sage like fragrance. While Elisabetta Foradori’s Altro Adige offerings, made with her signature Teroldego grapes, are firm and powerful and are strikingly unique, these Ampeleia wines seem more casual, playful and sultry in style, making for a unique contrast in approach.

Foradori crafted this Kepos using all de-stemmed grapes, and co-fermented all of Grenache, Mourvedre and the Carignano together with indigenous yeasts and gentle maceration and daily punch downs. The Ampeleia Kepos, like many traditional Rhones, like some from Gigondas was aged about a year in cement tank, then that was followed by 7 months of resting in its bottle before leaving the cellar. The 2016 is beautifully aromatic and the palate is warm and textured highlighting the fabulous vintage in Italy and especially in Tuscany with this Kepos showing ripe and smooth tannins and a medium full palate of fresh and spicy raspberry, dusty plum, strawberry as well as kirsch, dried flowers, peppery herbs, wild fennel and delicate mineral tones. Like all the Ampeleia wines I’ve tried so far, this wine delivers a straight forward, smooth and authentic performance in the glass, these are not blockbuster or showy wines, but oh man they are delicious and delight the senses and without a doubt captures the essence of this place. I adore the slightly raw and earthy personality in the Ampeleia lineup, but there is exceptional fruit and quality here too, I could easily drink these almost everyday, they are also super food friendly with refined acidity and without oaky elements, look for them.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Waxwing Wine Cellars, Syrah, Coastview Vineyard, Monterey County.
Scott Sisemore has made some really awesome wines in the recent few vintages and has raised the game here at his Waxwing Wine Cellars, especially with his latest set of Pinot Noirs and his Syrah bottlings, like this 2018 Coastview Vineyard Syrah that comes from John Allen’s exceptional site in the Gablan Mountain Range. Scott says he enjoys visiting the Coastview Vineyard most all of all with its remote location and spectacular vistas from the elevation, which is about 2, 200 feet up and overlooks the cool Pacific Ocean set on a unique combination of decomposed granite and limestone soils. While Coastview has many varieties planted and does well with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, it is the Rhones that interest Sisemore, who really is laser focused on the Syrah here, which provides deep flavors and incredibly pure fruit with wonderful density and length while retaining fresh acidity and pretty aromatics. The 2018 version is a full bodied expression of syrah with loads of texture, ripe tannins and delicate spices with layers of boysenberry, blackberry, cherry, plum and blueberry fruit as well as dark flowers, a touch of smoky oak, creme de cassis, minty melted black licorice and cayenne. Only 5 barrels were produced and this limited Syrah by Waxwing will certainly go fast with its bold profile and rich opulence of flavors when it is officially released this month, so be sure to email Scott directly on his website to reserve yours.

There is a lot to love about this wine and the collection of new releases from Sisemore with this one being one of prizes, but also check out his Lester Vineyard Pinot and Syrah from Corralitos, in the south west side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Deerheart Vineyard Pinot, a wine I discovered last year from a unique site also in the Santa Cruz Mountains, as well as his Sonoma Coast Pinot and Syrah offerings, plus a couple of intriguing Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez wines, along with the Tondre Grapefield dry Riesling. The Waxwing line is all small lot hand crafted wines with a respect of each terroir and regional character with very individual personalities with this Coastview Syrah being very expressive of place, it reminds me of some of the Big Basin wines that also originate here. Sisemore used 100% whole cluster and the Coastview Syrah was foot treaded and saw a long cold soak in open top fermentors and the fermentation went for months in Scott’s cold cellar. The must saw two to three punch-downs a day and was racked into once used French barrels where it was aged for about 14 months. This inky purple Syrah sings in the glass with a powerful presence in the mouth and it needs some seriously robust cuisine, like a rack of lamb, try-tip steak, wild mushroom dishes and or BBQ fare. This wine is less northern Rhone than the other Syrah bottlings in the lineup and is more in line with some of thedelicious stuff coming out of the Santa Barbara County and or the westside of Paso Robles, making it a head turner!
($40-50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Martellotto Winery, Malbec “My Way” Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez.
The My Way Mablec by Greg Martellotto comes from the warmest area of the Santa Ynez Valley in the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA that has become a hot bed for Bordeaux varietals and this 2017 vintage shows an intense inky dark color and has some big tannin on the full bodied palate as well as a deep sense of black fruits. Martellotto credits his family’s long history in making rustic southern Italian wines as his guide to his own modern wines, which he says are made to show a raw soulful essence that he feels was inspired by the old world way of (wine) life and he focuses on small batch terroir driven offerings coming from sustainable vineyards with many sites being all organic. Each of his wines demands an individual approach and he tries to allow the grapes speak for themselves, and this Malbec certainly shows its own personality, not as rustic and fiery as Cahors, the spiritual home of the Malbec grape and not as graceful or polished as the best from Argentina it leans toward the bold California style with layers of blueberry compote, smoky oak notes, plum, blackberry and creme de cassis along with a light spiciness, floral notes and a minty herbal element. Air is this wines best friend and close behind is rich food dishes with both allowing this wine to find a polished form and gives this Malbec a stage to show the lush opulence that is underneath the firm structure, much in the same way air and cuisine helps young Bordeaux and or raw southern Italian wines.

Martellotto, who stated his label in 2005, with winemaking experience in Mexico, Italy, Napa Valley, Paso Robles, and now in Santa Barbara County, says he’s trying to combine creative fermentation techniques along with an artistic blending prior to bottling to produce wines that are distinctive, he also tries to do many indigenous yeast ferments depending on the varietal and while still under the radar he has proven very good at spotting high quality vines to chose from including some very incredible sites like the Spear Vineyard in the cool Sta. Rita Hills, where he gets some Pinot Noir. Greg’s current set of wines, all small lot bottlings that are individually numbered, that includes red and white blends in Bordeaux and Rhone styles, a Viognier, a Chardonnay, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Merlot, a Petite Sirah, a Syrah and the mentioned Pinot Noir to name a few, plus a unique Rosé. Greg, who also holds a degree in biology from Stanford, named his Malbec after Frank Sinatra and the famous version of My Way and seemingly the wine was blended to honor the man’s boldness and personality. The final blend was 80% Malbec and 20% Petit Verdot and was aged in a combination of French and American oak for 10 months with about 10% new oak, giving that sweet toasty vanilla. It must be noted that Martellotto is offering a big discount on his wines during this shelter in place period, with the fear of the spread of Covid-19, and this one comes down to under $30 and it will please a wide range of wine lovers, especially those that like bolder expressions and wines that go well with hearty dishes.
($40 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Martha Stoumen, Zinfandel, Venturi Vineyard, Mendocino County.
Martha Stoumen, who was celebrating her birthday yesterday March 20, is one of the new generation of California small batch producers that is working in a natural way to craft her wines with old world techniques that she learned during her time in Europe doing winemaking internships. Best known for her time at Giusto Occhipinti’s COS Winery in the Vittoria region of Sicily and her love of the Nero d’Avola grape, as well as her commitment to organic farming, both with vines she works herself and her partnerships with multi-generational family grape growers, like this Venturi Vineyard in Mendocino County located just north of Ukiah, in the Calpella Valley, on a combination of sandstone, shale, quartz and gravelly loam soils. Stoumen crafts her small lot offerings at Pax’s facility in Sebastopol and makes an exciting lineup of wines with bottlings of unique varietals, like her signature Nero d’Avola and (French) Colombard plus California classics like Petite Sirah, Carignan and this young vine, organic and dry famed Zinfandel, to name a few, as well as her Post Flirtation line of blended wines, red, white and a Rosé. I have eagerly been waiting to dig into Martha’s latest releases, especially these 2018 vintage reds and this Venturi Zin is an absolutely delicious and fresh wine with a pleasing old school rustic charm and a bright low alcohol personality. This is the first year Stoumen made a Venturi Vineyard Zinfandel from a parcel of younger vines set on rock strewn part of the vineyard in an area that was formed from ancient alluvial flows and this deep and well drained sites makes for expressive and concentrated fruit which shows in this wine with its layers of earthy and spicy flavors on the medium bodied palate that shows fresh crushed raspberries, tart cherries and plum fruits along with Asian spices, orange tea, truffle, wild fennel and pepper jelly. This exciting low sulfur and almost crisp red deepens with air and an amazing perfume of dark flowers comes alive in the glass, it is a joyous crimson and unfiltered ruby colored wine that goes brilliantly with robust cuisine and or hard cheeses and charcuterie. Italy has played a big part in Stoumen’s education and during her undergraduate studies she immersed herself on a Tuscan farm learning the inter connected balance of natural farming and traditional agricultural systems working with an olive orchard, farm animals, bees, and vegetables along with grape vines going valuable insights into organic synergies.

The Venturi Zinfandel, which is vegan safe, was fermented using 100% whole cluster, with Stoumen starting with a small portion of the bunches being foot treaded and placed in the bottom of the tank, then un-treaded clusters are put on top. Then, according to Martha, they slowly foot-tread or perform (body) punch-downs for about a week until things are soft enough to gently do pump-overs. She adds, that because grapes are broken up slowly over time, sugars are also released more slowly rather than all at once, resulting in a slower fermentation, maybe adding to the lower alcohol here, which is 12.7%, but with a ripe and textural feel. The primary and secondary fermentation is all native or indigenous and saw a 28-day maceration before pressing with Stoumen’s minimalistic approach and a gentle racking before the wine rested in all well seasoned used barrels for 12 months on its lees. The final bottled wine shows good intensity of form, lively acidity and mild dusty tannins that gives this Zinfandel a transparent and raw character, but the nose especially develops with sensuality and adds an elegance to this lighter style wine with lilacs and lavender emerging. You can see why these wines are gaining a fan base and not only with the natural wine crowd, as these wines deliver a fine performance and you can clearly see Martha’s personal style shinning through, in particular I love her Carignan, the Nero d’Avola and this Zinfandel. Stoumen, who got her start initial exposure to grape farming and winemaking in Tuscany, got a Master’s at UC Davis, and has before starting her own label spent stints at some of the world’s best wine estates, she worked under the renown Reinhard Löwenstein at Heymann-Löwenstein, in the Mosel, as well as working under stars like Jordan Fiorentini (Epoch), when she was at Chalk Hill, Chris Brockway of Broc Cellars, Clive Dougall at Seresin, in Marlborough New Zealand, Didier Barral at Domaine Léon Barral of Faugères fame in France’s Languedoc, and the mentioned Giusto Occhipinti. These experiences have shaped Stoumen and led her to take her own path to create terroir driven California wines from unique grapes and sites, and they are well worth checking out.
($38 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Poe Wines, Rosé of Pinot Noir/Pinot Meunier, California.
I’ve been a fan of Samatha Sheehan’s wines since she first starting making her wines, especially her Poe Rosé, with this 2019 being the best one to date, it makes for a delightful Spring treat and a much needed distraction from the news in the world. Poe started back in 2009, with Sheehan being inspired to craft her own wines after visiting Burgundy and the Champagne regions of France, she now hand makes a stellar collections of wines that includes traditional Champagne method sparkling wines, (this) Rosé, Chardonnay(s), Pinot Noir(s), a special nouveau Pinot Noir and a fabulous Pinot Meunier. Sheehan’s Poe Rosé is vibrantly fresh, dry and minerally crisp with bright sour cherry, grapefruit, strawberry and watermelon fruits along with delicate rosewater, spring herbs, light spices and wet stones. This steely and delicious wine, as Sheehan notes, is a blend of 66% Pinot Noir from the Manchester Ridge vineyard located in the Mendocino Ridge AVA, which sits on hilltop only a few miles from the Pacific Ocean on the far western side of the Anderson Valley, with 34% Pinot Meunier sourced from the historic Van der Kamp Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain. The Van der Kamp vineyard has been farmed for over 100 years, having some of the oldest Pinot Noir wines in California, plus this special parcel of Meunier, as Sheehan adds, and is comprised of Speckles loam, Volcanic Tuff and decomposed ancient stream-beds, which adds to the structure wine.

The Poe Rosé is 100% “direct to press” version of dry pink, picked in the vineyard to be Rosé, as opposed to a saignée, that would be a bleed off from ripe red wine grapes, with the hand harvested fruit picked in the cool of the night, and pressed lightly first thing the following morning. Then pressed juice, according to Samantha was transferred into a stainless steel tank where it was fermented naturally at 48 degrees for 2 weeks, explaining the cold fermentation preserves the purity of flavors, with every nuance and heightens the aromatics. Sheehan inhibited malolactic fermentation on her Pinot Noir/Meunier Rosé, again to keep this vibrant and zesty form, and it was sterile filtered so it would not go through malolactic fermentation in bottle. There’s a lot to love about this Rosé, which is just being released and is available on Sheehan’s website right now and it is also a great time to support California’s small wineries that under tremendous hardship with the current situation and these scary times. Poe’s sparkling wines are absolutely stunning efforts, some of the most interesting grower producer style bubbles in the state and are classic Brut dry bottlings, plus Sheehan’s Chards and Pinots deserve your attention as well. The Rosé season is well and truly here and there are going to be an amazing array of dry pinks coming to you and this Poe is one that you certainly should try!
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Corral Wine Company, Sauvignon Blanc, Zabala Vineyard, Arroyo Seco AVA, Monterey County.
The new Corral Sauvignon Blanc comes from the Zabala Vineyard in the Arroyo Seco AVA, it has become a hot spot for interesting and aromatic versions of this grape and this fresh and delicious one is worth checking out. The Corral Wine Co. is a family run micro (craft) winery in Corral de Tierra, that has a few acres of Pinot Noir vines and looks forward to releasing their estate wine in the near future and in the mean time that have done a nice job with this Zabala sourced Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is also the debut for winemaker Adrien Valenzuela, who has been patiently waiting for his chance to show of his cellar skills outside his day job at Constellation Brands in Gonzales. A Salinas and Monterey County native Valenzuela, who was studing biology and nursing, took an internship at Estancia and caught the wine bug, his first solo wine that he made in his garage was a hit at the Mid-State Fair, taking a Gold Medal. He is a winemaker for some of the Robert Mondavi line and getting experience as Corral gets itself off the ground, but as many other young winemakers have found out it is a tough road to success and there was many roadblocks along the way and it is great to see these young people taking their chance and making it in this tough business.

Fermented and aged in stainless, this 2018 Zabala Sauvignon Blanc is excitingly vivid, zesty and pure, making it a great Summer sipper and a white that goes great with lighter cuisine, especially delicate fish, goat cheeses, salads and picnic foods. The nose is striking with gooseberry, wild herbs, white flowers and citrus in this tangy refreshing white that leads to a light zippy palate with loads of lemon/lime, white peach, quince and papaya fruits as well as a nice cut of bite from natural acidity as well as mineral and wet stone elements. It has been very interesting to see a Monterey County renaissance of Sauvignon Blanc, it is an amazing turn around for this grape locally, it’s a trend I didn’t see coming at all with the alternative grape varietals doing so well here, like Vermentino, Picpoul, Grenache Blanc and especially Albariño. I first heard of a re-focusing on SB from Ian Brand of I. Brand & Family Winery and La Marea Wines, he told me it would happen, telling me that the climate and soils made it possible for Sauvignon Blanc to shine here, and his has been proven right, in particularly with his own Zabala version, Joyce’s Old Vine Carmel Valley SB, Chesebro’s, Drench Wines (also Zabala!) and this beautiful and crisp Corral release. 2018 and 2019 are stunning vintages for Sauvignon Blanc, in Monterey, and I recommend searching for this small production wine.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Hundred Suns, Pinot Noir, Old Eight Cut, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The new Old Eight Cut Willamette Valley Pinot from Hundred Suns is full of dark fruits, richness from the warm vintage and with an underlying light savory element and vibrancy that keeps things in form, this is riper than the 2017, but still focused and balanced with a delicious palate and sex appeal for youthful drinking. I am a big fan of all the wines coming from this small Oregon producer made by the ex-Beaux Freres winemaker Grant Coulter, especially this barrel selection Old Eight Cut Pinot, which its exotic semi carbonic style that is modern, but similar to what you see from Philippe Pacalet in Burgundy and with some Cru Beaujolais, like Jean Foillard thrown in! Even the name reflects this idea, as Coulter puts it, (the) Old Eight Cut, which is a diamond cut dating back to the 1400s using simple tools and few cuts to enhance the natural brilliance of the stone without disguising its true nature, that also describes the winemaking theme, these are wines made using ancient techniques and traditional means to showcase the purity of fruit and the year. The 2018 vintage was a warm year in the Willamette, as noted, and Coulter adds that fruit set was poor and the clusters were tiny, all of which explains the intensity and concentration, but there somehow managed to be good acids in the end, with the dry winds in August closing the leaf stomata allowing that boost in acid, allowing wines that look more complex and structured than would have been imagined, I myself am loving the results here and the Old Eight Cut should age well too.

The latest Old Eight Cut release has layers of classic dark cherry, blackberry, wild plum, pomegranate and racy strawberry fruits, an array of spices, herbs de Provence and potpourri and light hints of earth, blood orange and faint oak shadings. As Grant explains, the Old Eight Cut, the main wine or entry level bottling, is cellar selection that stitches together pieces from unique sites from across the whole Willamette Valley, which includes many differing soil types and climates from Jory (volcanic) to a marine sedimentary base. The small lots are fermented with 100% native yeast, with this vintage seeing about 40% whole cluster with less hybrid winemaking in this one, this minimum of intervention paid off with a soulful expression of flavors and graceful textures. Hundred Suns aged the final batch on the lees for 11 months in neutral French oak barrels and after which it was gently racked to tank and bottled unfined and unfiltered, again the enhance the Pinot Noir’s sense of purity and true character. With air and time in the glass this dark ruby and garnet hued Pinot gains depth and length, adding heightened perfume, making it pretty thrilling stuff and has the stuffing to go with a range of cuisines. The Old Eight Cut, from organically grown grapes, offers loads of silken pleasures and is a stunning value in Willamette Pinot, again this is a winery to watch, in particular these Pinots, plus Coulter is also doing a fabulous Gamay and even a stylish Washington State Grenache, keep an eye on Hundred Suns! I can’t wait to dig into their single vineyard or Cru wines, most of which are biodynamic grown, in the near future.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2017 Drew Family Cellars, Syrah, Perli Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge.
Always an exciting wine, the Drew Perli Syrah, is quite lush in the 2017 version and full of black fruit and with smooth ripe tannins, and even though made using full bunches and stems it delivers an opulent and full bodied palate with presence that reminds me more of the southern Rhone than the Northern Rhone, though I do see a touch of Guigal Cote Rotie in the polished form here. This is a wine that excites in the mouth feel and in impact delivering blackberry, plum, black currant, blueberry coulis and kirsch fruits along with subtle spice, smoky mineral notes, anise, cedar and black Mission figs. The nose is still subdued at this stage, but a light floral array emerges with air, and you can see that underneath all the dense fruit there is a more savory side lurking and that much more is developing behind the scenes on display so far. The Perli drinks very well now, make no mistake, though I am more interested in its potential in 3 to 5 years, and if you do open it like I did, be sure to have it with food, especially heavy protein dishes and or hard cheeses. As I’ve been saying for some time now, Drew Family Cellars is one of California’s best wineries and Jason Drew is making some of the state’s absolutely best wines, in particular his awesome set of Pinots, like the Estate bottlings and the Morning Dew Ranch, as well as his limited release Syrah(s) like the Valenti Ranch and this Perli Vineyard.

The Perli Vineyard, which Drew notes, lies within the Mendocino Ridge appellation and sits at 2200 ft elevation just ten miles from the Mendocino Coast, cooled by the Pacific Ocean on a steep north eastern slope, which allows for long hang times for the grapes and with restrained sugars. This 21 year old vineyard is set on ancient ocean floor uplift with sedimentary soils with both the McDowell selection and the 877 clones of Syrah. The McDowell selection, Jason adds, is notable as it is the oldest field selection of Syrah in North America, that originally came into California in 1880 where it was propagated by the San Jose Mission and then later planted on the McDowell Ranch in Mendocino County in 1902, maybe the first Rhone Ranger. Drew employed a 100% Native Yeast and 100% Whole Cluster fermentation, on this vintage of the Perli Syrah, to promote purity and thrilling flavor evolution with gentle maceration, pilage and pressing, with the wine resting on the fine lees in neutral French oak for close to a year with gravity racking a couple of times before bottling. The Perli which really excels when given time to open in the glass has a joyous textural quality and while almost exotic and very expressive it has a natural balance and is just 13.8% in alcohol, keeping it from feeling hot or boozy, this is tasty stuff. Only 75 cases, or three barrels, were produced of the Drew Perli Syrah, making it a rare treat to cherish, Drew advises this one sells out fast, so keep an eye out for it.
($48 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Künstler, Spätburgunder Rosé, Rheingau Germany.
When thinking back on the last year and celebrating my birthday, I wanted to reflect on some fun times and fun wines, less serious, but well crafted, so I reviewed my notes and found this one staring at me, it is perfect for this occasion and a sublime Pinot Noir Rosé with fresh details and a lively nature. Gunter Künstler, one of Germany’s best winemakers and world renown for his stunning Rieslings, is based the famous Rheingau village of Hochheim, on the banks of the Main river, which flows west from Frankfurt, meeting the Rhein here and is a place of unique conditions with a warm and somewhat humid climate and a mix of loess, clay, sand, loam, marl and limestone soils that allows for ripe and dense dry wines, when farmed with the passion and hard work like Künstler, with even his basic bottlings like this one being solidly crafted. The 2018 Rosé, a limited and hard to find pink, is full of wild strawberry, bright and sour cherry and plum water, it is fruity in a refreshing dynamic way and has good full Pinot character along with hints of spice, crushed wet stones, delicate rosewater and zingy citrus. Impressive for the cut of acidity and mineral tones as well as the wonderful round textured palate, it’s a wine for sunshine, laughter and friends.

Künstler, who has moved with great care and respect for his vines to organic practices, also takes a pragmatic approach in the cellar, which according to Riesling guru and importer Terry Theise, is in line with the elite producers in Germany with a focus on dry wines. The musts settle by gravity, to save the wine from bitter phenolics and are gently pressed clear with fermentation done with cultured yeast, because, as Gunter notes, it’s often still warm when grapes are being picked and to work sponti would mean a greater risk of volatile acidity. The winery, as Theise adds, orients toward cask as opposed to steel, though each is used, and the Spätburgunder Rosé is, I believe, mostly stainless fermented and aged to preserve fresh vibrancy and its purity. The latest set of wines from Künstler includes an amazing set of Riesling Trockens from the home village Crus to the fabled Rudesheimer Berg as well as a fabulous couple of Pinot Noirs, these are absolutely on par with Burgundies twice of three times the price! The Kirchenstück and Hölle Grosses Gewachs, no matter the vintage, are some of the greatest Rieslings you’ll ever taste and should be in your collection if you are into that sort of thing, of course you are! Keep an eye out for all the Weingut Künstler offering, and for instant smiles grab the Rosé when or if you see it!
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2016 Domaine Taupenot-Merme, Gevrey-Chambertin, Red Burgundy, France.
The Domaine Taupenot-Merme, a producer that is been making some noise in recent years, is based in the village of Morey St Denis in the Cote de Niuts, and was formed back in 1963 with the marriage of Jean Taupenot and Denise Merme, is known for classically style wines from small parcels in over twenty appellations. Today Taupenot-Merme is led by the brother and sister team of Romain and Virginie Taupenot, and they have moved to all organic farming and the quality has really started to rise, and I was was in particularly impressed with this beautiful and structured village Gevrey-Chambertin, it makes you admire the winemaking skills of Romain and his non intervention or hands off low key style that allows each wine to show a sense of place and individual personalities. This 2016 Gevrey-Chambertin shows a lively freshness and purity of fruit with some firm tannins and it has subtle perfume and a good long finish, this is impressive Burgundy to enjoy in the medium term, it will likely go another 10 to 15 years, but I love how it opens in the glass and think it can be enjoyed thoroughly even now, as within minutes of the first sip there was everything you’d want on display here with lovely rose petals, red Pinot fruit and a touch of spice, smoke and mineral notes. This is a pretty Burgundy that gives a solid performance showing the mentioned floral bouquet, light earthy tones and complex layers of tart raspberry, black cherry (that echos throughout), plum and red currant fruits, cinnamon, shaved vanilla, tea spice, a touch of orange zest, wild forrest mushroom and woody toast.

Romain is pretty traditional in the cellar with his wines and this one saw a careful sorting and was all de-stemmed with the primary fermentation occurring naturally with indigenous yeasts with a soft maceration before the grapes go into the Champagne style gentle pneumatic press to control the phenolic extraction to make the wine as refined and silky. The elevage, at Taupenot-Merme, as their importer Martine’s Wines puts it, is simple, with Romain favoring mainly two tonneliers, Francois and Mercurey for the aging for his wines, like this one, which saw 20% new oak. The Gevrey-Chambertin saw just over a year in barrel on the fine lees with no racking, then the wine was transferred to stainless to settle and clarify for at least three months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. I had not had many of wines of Taupenot-Merme in recent years, though many of my friends have and have been saying these were special offerings with lots of early drinking pleasure, with many saying they were an under the radar producer that still was an under valued estate, and from my own experience with this 2016 I would agree. This one certainly impressed me and I would recommend it for those that love Burgundy, it isn’t a blockbuster, but it would be a rewarding bottle with any meal. I am excited to try more of the lineup of Taupenot-Merme and I hope to try the upper end range of Premier Crus and Grand Crus, after the quality of this Gevrey, they must be outstanding.
($75 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Flywheel, Grenache, Boer Vineyard, Chalone AVA, Monterey County.
Winemaker Scott Shapely’s Flywheel Wines, his own project, specializing in hand-crafting small-lot wines in his home town from fruit grown in Monterey County, with most vineyard sources located near the Pinnacles and especially the unique limestone terroir of the Chalone region. This chalky region has, as Shapley puts it, a majestic landscape that provides amazing grapes that showcases this special place and its characteristic dense fruit and minerality. Shapely who has been the winemaker at Roar for a while now, crafting some of the greatest wines of the Santa Lucia Highlands, especially the Garys’ and Rosella’s Pinots, as well as consulting at some other high quality boutique producers, which until recently included helping Paul Gordon’s Halcon Vineyards, a winery that is fast becoming one of the state’s best Syrah makers. It was great to catch up with Scott recently and taste his beautiful 2016 Boer Vineyard Grenache, it is a wine that impresses with lovely delicacy and purity of varietal form, on par with some of the most finessed versions of this grape with layers of dusty raspberry, strawberry, pomegranate and plum fruits, brambly spices, chalky stones, rose petals, lavender and wild fennel. There’s a quiet sense of confidence on the medium full palate and a feeling of fresh lightness that allows easy drinking, the extra bottle age here really benefits it and lets this Grenache to unfold with graceful and sweet tannins and the wine doesn’t have a heavy hand with almost no oak accents showing at this point. The 2016 Boer Grenache is delicious from start to finish, its ruby/crimson color invites and the finish re-invites you to enjoy another sip, its a smooth wine that gives way more than expected, it really highlights Shapely’s talents and the Chalone regions personality in a natural and transparent way, this is tasty stuff.

Grenache is really seeing its time come and I have been blown away with what is going on here in California with this grape and the great array of expressions that are available and Shapely’s Flywheel Grenache is an under the radar offering that fans of this varietal should search out, it reminds me of a few top quality wines I’ve had in the last few months, like Ian Brand’s fabulous Besson, Sheldon’s Ceja Farms and it has a lot in common with a few made by the talented Angela Osborne as well, to name a few, as well as some classic Rhones and the gorgeous wines of the Sierra de Gredos in Spain. The Boer Vineyard is up in the Gabilan Range very near the Pinnacles National Monument, set on collection of desirable soils including decomposing granite and brittle, chalky limestone from an ancient seabed uplifted by tectonic plate movement, it is a place of big daily temperature swings that brings out the lush fruit that takes center stage in the wines, like this Flywheel Grenache, but also the chilly nights fresh the vines and gives the wines a lift of acidity. Shapely makes a full selections of tiny production wines under his label with a collection of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Mouredre and this Grenache, which is a very solid value, exceeding in terms of quality for the price, it is a wine that makes me want more and is brilliant with an array of cuisine choices. I can’t wait to dig into more of Scott’s wines, I really look forward to trying the Flywheel Mourvedre as well, it is a grape that also thrives in the limestone soils of the Chalone zone. This 2016 Boer Grenache is really hitting its stride and is in a great place, it should drink well for another 3 to 5 years easily, I highly recommend chasing down a few bottles!
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Carl Loewen, Riesling Trocken, Longuicher Maximin Herrenberg “1896 Alte Reben” VDP Grosse Lage, Mosel Germany.
The fantastic Old Vine Trocken from Christopher Loewen is a great way to celebrate Riesling’s birthday, which is celebrated on March 13 and it looks like this grape is now 585 years old, especially well honored by this wine that comes from Germany’s oldest known Riesling vines dating back, to as the label and name suggest, 1896! This particular bottling is Loewen’s alternative top dry Riesling, labeled Alte Reben instead of Grosses Gewachs or a GG, it is a secondary special selection from this Grand Cru site. The historic Weingut Carl Loewen estate dates back to 1803 when a set of vineyards and buildings that was formally owned by the Maximin order, much the same way the famous Maximin Grunhaus (Von Schubert) started after the Church’s lands were sold off to fund the secular Napoleonic government, and this sale included Loewen’s prized, ultra steep, Maximiner Herrenberg, one of the Mosel’s greatest vineyards. The dry 2018 Alte Reben Longuicher Maximin Herrenberg is a striking and crisply focused Riesling with classic slate soil influence showing intense minerallity along with brisk citrusy fruit with layers lime, tangerine, white peach, quince along with hints of kumquat, green apple, pineapple fruits as well as flinty wet shale (stoniness), chamomile, saline, verbena and white flowers. This is a wonderfully complex and thrilling Riesling that expands on the medium bodied palate with gripping extract and the sensation of textural grace making for a profound experience!

The Maximiner Herrenberg vineyard, as mentioned and noted was originally planted in 1896, and is now farmed by Loewen using organic methods and carefully sorted to not have botrytis in the dry wines with this parcel being in the lower slopes, set on red slate soils, closer to the Mosel river, benefiting from both reflective light from the river that adds to the ripening of these amazing Riesling grapes. Using modern natural methods in the cellar, the grapes are all whole cluster pressed, and Loewen is careful not to move the pomace so to not get bettering phenolic flavors, then the juice, according to the winery, is “browned” or oxidized pre-fermentation to stabilized the wine and get away from harsh reduction. Loewen’s ferments are “Sponti” completely natural without addition of enzymes or nutrition, with these single vineyard wines, Christopher notes, being individually block picked with the juice going directly into classic Fuder barrels (or oak casks around 1000L in size) which average 25 years old to age. While the GG’s are awesome, especially the sister Herrenberg version, and Loewen’s majestic Ritch, there are two wines that you don’t want to miss, the 1986 Feinherb, one of the most sought after cult wines in the Mosel and this Alte Reben (Old Vine) Maximiner Herrenberg Trocken, both from the VDP Grand Cru (Grosse Lage) vines, these are exotic beauties that deserve your attention and a space in your collection! Happy Birthday Riesling! Loewen is quickly becoming a name on Riesling lovers lips, he is an outstanding talent and his collection of 2018 wines are stunning.
($50-55 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2007 Bodegas R. Lopez de Heredia, Rioja, Vina Bosconia, Spain.
The refined and mature tasting 2007 Vina Bosconia is a silky and pleasing Rioja made by the classic Lopez de Heredia is a real winner in the price point with loads of dried and fresh red fruits, spice, texture and delicate floral notes. López de Heredia hasn’t changed much the more than 130 years since its founding, it is an ultra traditional producer that has stayed true to its house style without any nod to modern fashion, these are not flashy wines, but wines of soulful elegance without compromise. in fact, the Bodega López de Heredia is owned by the same family who founded it, with Maria José, Mercedes and Julio César, the latest generation running the show seamlessly and with respect to their ancestors. López de Heredia produces a beautiful range of wines, including a collection of Crianzas and Reservas with red, white and rosé offerings, plus a series of Gran Reservas in great years, with this Vina Bosconia Crianza being a favorite of mine, especially for the price. Bosconia is always Tempranillo based, usually in the highest percentage and has that character and profile with red cherries, plum, raspberry and baked red peach notes along with an grilled orange notes, as well as cedar, minty herb, tobacco and leathery earth, gaining wilted roses, dried currants and the structure is held together with opulent, soft tannin. This is wine that is much better off with food that matches its style, this wine is heading into a mature and lightness of form that deserves consideration and should be admired with the right pairing, in this case sleep cheeses, roast poultry, less robust dishes and or delicately flavored meats.

Lopez de Heredia believes in extended elevage (barrel aging) with a bare minimum of three years in barrels and with many wines getting close to 10 years in cask, this one gets between 3 and 5 years, depending on vintage with all American oak being employed. The primary fermentation is done in large oak vats and includes daily pump overs and lasts about a week before the wine is raised in the Bordeaux sized American barrels all with a traditional oxidative style that leads to round soft wines and wine that have a track record of long lives. The medium bodied Bosconia comes from the Rioja Alta zone which gives this wine its balance with the cooler nights giving natural acidity, sourced from a vineyard called El Bosque, located close to the river Ebro, but with high elevation in the south-facing foothills of the Sierra Cantabria range. The soils here are a combination of clay and limestone, and these vines, which include mostly Tempranillo, in the Bosconia that translates to about 90% in the final blend, plus Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano with an average of 40 years. The 2007 isn’t one of the most critically acclaimed vintages and while the 2004, 2005 and 2006 versions were more impactful and richer, the 2007 still delivers a poised performance and is easy to enjoy and is a great way to get started with this famous estate. The white and rosé also get long barrel aging and are incredibly intriguing wines, though of course the reds are what people look for with Lopez de Heredia with Bosconia being a middle of range bottling, with their signature Vina Tondonia Reserva, a vineyard they purchased back in 1913, being the biggest prize in their masterful collection. This is a wine to savor over the next 3 to 5 years, and though it might not be their most impressive, it is a lovely wine that will bring smile all around the table, drink up.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Roar, Pinot Noir, Rosella’s Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The Rosella’s Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands, planted back in 1996 on a cool site with classic Arroyo Seco sandy Loams, is one of the Grand Crus of the region and the Franscioni family, fourth generation growers produce some of Monterey’s best wines under their Roar label, which they started with the 2000 vintage. Gary and Rosella, along with their sons Adam and Nick Franscioni have produced a fabulous set of wines in the 2018 vintage, especially this gorgeous Rosella’s Pinot Noir, which was a selection of the best barrels from their estate and home vineyard, it is wonderfully aromatic and dances on the palate with a ballerina’s sense of grace and form making it one of the best versions of Roar’s signature bottling I’ve tasted. I have followed the Roar wines since the beginning and have had almost every offering, so I have a great palate reference to these wines and this latest Rosella’s is one of my favorites with its vibrancy, depth, texture and length all being incredible here. There is a sense of density and opulence that will satisfy the returning fans of this wine, but I love the delicacy and energy in this edition that highlights the greatness of the vintage, which was long and cool, giving the wines lots of ripe flavors without heaviness or overt alcohol, this is going to be a legendary year for the Santa Lucia Highlands. This Rosella’s has a beautiful dark ruby hue, a mix of rose petals and dried violets making it seductive, luxurious and inviting for Pinot lovers and it will need something a little more special in the form of cuisine to match it, maybe duck breast with a huckleberry reduction?

The 2018 Roar Rosella’s starts with its heavenly floral perfume, red fruits and subtle smoky sweet toastiness that leads to a medium full bodied palate of black cherry, plum, vine picked raspberry and a touch of tangy blueberry fruit along with bramble and briar spice, rose hip tea, vanilla and a faint elegant earthiness. Roar craft just tiny amounts of wine with a focus on Pinot Noir, though they also do Chardonnay as well as Syrah and even a micro batch of Viognier with Nick and consulting winemaker Scott Shapely leading the efforts in the cellar. Rosella’s is planted to a mix of Pinot clones and is traditionally fermented with all hand sorted and mostly de-stemmed grapes, after maceration, pilage and primary (fermentation) the wine is gently pressed to 100% French oak for aging, with about 50% new barriques employed from a variety of coopers including Cadus, Ermitage, Francois Freres, Latour, Remond and Seguin Moreau. The Franscioni’s love the expressive nature and character of the fruit and never shy away from the deep and dark flavors that come from their vines, these are hedonistic, alluring and showy wines that deliver on their promise in the glass with impressive confidence, this vintage is totally irresistible! These days, the Roar wines are hard to find, it is best to get on their mailing list and the 2018 Pinots are going to go fast, so keep your eyes out. The 2016 and 2017 vintages produced a mixed bag of Santa Lucia Highlands wines and made the growers pull their hair out, but these 2018’s are the rewards of their hard work and commitment, with this Rosella’s, which will only get better and better over the next 5 to 10 years in bottle, being a stunning example.
($62 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Leitz, Riesling, Rüdesheimer Trocken, Rheingau Germany.
The fabulous Rudesheimer Trocken feels more like a GG than a QbA with beautiful detailing, texture and density showing a real presence in the glass with plenty of extract and vigor with a focused array of briskly dry fruits, crystalized stones, mineral and salinity making it vividly refreshing, cooly crisp and serious good with oysters and lightly spiced cuisine. This bottling is always worth searching out and this 2018 takes it to another level and it is drinking well and has extra sense of refinement and graceful tension on the medium bodied palate. Coming from a quality site above the village of Rudesheim that has a good slope plus weathered slate and some quartzite soils, these Riesling grapes transmit pure terroir driven character, making for a stylish region wine that was fermented and aged solely in stainless to deliver its vibrant form. The mouth feel is surprisingly round, but with losing any of its lively nature and it expands in layers with lime, green apple, a touch of peach, quince and papaya fruits, as well as light flinty liquid mineral notes, wet stones, a touch of spearmint and white flowers that unfolds on the nose. I have visited Rudesheim, a picturesque wine village on the Rhein River, a few times now and this Riesling really makes me miss it, in particular this great estate and state of the art winery.

The Leitz Rüdesheimer Trocken is the “village level” dry Riesling for this highly regarded estate, but Johannes is fanatical about quality and value, delivering wines that allows give more for the money. The fruit for the 2018 version in fact was sourced entirely from the Drachenstein vineyard, and comes from a single VDP Grosse Lage parcel that is set at the same height of the famous Rüdesheimer Berg with a mix of loess and loam, that brings out the expressive fruit, but includes, as mentioned a smidge of broken slate and a touch of quarzite. This is a very different expression of Drachenstein, more precise, drier and taut than the fruity and opulent Dragon Stone bottling. This winery, one of the best in the region and as you’ve guessed from my reviews it is a favorite of mine, sets the standard in the Rheingau across their range, especially with their majestic Grosses Gewachs from Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg, Kaisersteinfels, Roseneck and the Hinterhaus! That said, these entry level wines are outstanding, especially this one, and Leitz never rests on their laurels, with owner Johannes Leitz always looking toward the future. You can easily see why Johannes was recently recognized by Gault Millau as “Winemaker of the Year” and I highly suggest looking for these 2018 wines.
($27 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2017 Hundred Suns, Grenache, Elephant Mountain Vineyard, Rattlesnake Hills AVA, Yakima Valley, Washington State.
Winemaker Grant Coulter, most famous for his Willamette Valley Pinot Noir(s) from top sites in the Willamette Valley, including the Sequitur Vineyard, owned by his old boss Mike Etzel (Beaux Freres) has released a Washington State Grenache, adding it to his Hundred Suns label, which at first seems out of place, until you remember he has experience with this grape from his time at Beaux Freres in Ribbon Ridge, who had an Upper Terrace plot of Grenache. That wine, which was released only in the perfect years, was an ultra cult rarity, which I am lucky to have had a couple of times, so I was excited to see what Grant would do with his new version, and I can tell you it is just an awesome wine! The dark fruited and spiced Hundred Suns Elephant Mountain Grenache is intensely flavored, deep in color and concentration, it at first reminds me of a great Gigondas, but takes on its own personality with air and flows into a complex array of unique elements that fill out on the full bodied palate with ripe and textural layering. There is a core of boysenberry, plum and pomegranate fruits that is wonderfully accented by a touch of stemmy tanginess, this crunch adds a stylish tension to wine and there’s a nice savoriness and sweet tannins giving the wine balance and raises the intrigue level significantly. Coulter captured delicacy and pretty details as well with light floral tones, mineral, roasted herbs de Provence, bitter coco and creme de cassis all integrated into the background. This wine got better and more interesting with every sip and was awesome with food, I put some challenging cuisine into the mix and this wine handled it with grace and enhanced the meal fantastically well, it was brilliant with grilled octopus, rosemary roast chicken, seared and pepper crusted Ahi (Tuna) as well as fennel, watermelon radish and sautéed endive! This wine delivers an exceptional performance, it will really turn on Grenache freaks, it is a profound version and seriously fun, those that can find it will be rewarded and it is worth searching for.

Hundred Suns is a label you should follow and these wines are as exciting as anything I’ve ever tasted, Grant Coulter and Renee Saint-Amour took a giant leap of faith to start this small winery and the results so far have been thrilling. After leaving one of the highest regarded wineries in America, Beaux Freres, Coulter has taken those experiences and took his own ideas in a new direction and led to experimentation and a winemaking freedom. Coulter’s exploring new techniques of fermentation and aging without fear because of his own experiences and the insights from his years in the cellar. They manipulate their wines as little as possible, and try hard to let the individual vineyard(s) and vintage(s) speak for themselves. The wines, Grant notes, are fermented with indigenous yeasts, native malolactic bacteria, and without the use of unnatural additives. The winemaking in this Grenache from this unique vineyard in Washington State’s Yakima Valley was inspired to say the least, Coulter explains, at harvest, they foot-stomped a small layer of fruit at the bottom of a tank and layered the remainder of the fruit on top, 100% whole cluster in a hybrid carbonic maceration. The tank was then gassed and sealed for 20 days. Once opened, the grapes in whole bunches (mostly still fully intact) were pressed and fermentation was completed with indigenous yeast, Coulter adding that, then the wine was aged in terra-cotta amphora for 12 months followed by a spell in neutral French oak for 5 additional months. After which this unique 100% Grenache was hand gravity bottled unfined and unfiltered, making for wine that takes cues from natural wine, old world/ancient tradition and new world ideas and melds them together in a seamless fashion. While I love the Hundred Suns Pinots, all of which are outstanding and the Gamay, this Grenache is a welcome addition to the collection and one I will continue to grab when I can, it is pure pleasure and joins some of my favorite wines made from this grape.
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2011 Barone Pizzini, Franciacorta “Bagnadore Riserva” Dossaggio Zero, Sparkling Wine, Lombardy, Italy.
Made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Barone Pizzini’s vintage Franciacorta Riserva 2011 is a stunning bubbly as serious as serious gets in the grower fizz world, and it is a wine that clearly points to Franciacorta as Italy’s true version of Champagne, this is a wine a regal class and style. Brilliant in refinement with a luxurious mousse and outstanding vigor and dry detail, plus exciting leesy depth, it reminds me a lot of vintage Agrapart, one of my favorite Champagnes that always shows intense mineral driven vibrancy and crispness. Franciacorta, Italy’s first Sparkling DOCG is set in the hills surrounding Lake Iseo, which form a glacial carved amphitheater, and it is here in the Lombardy region where these sparkling wines have been produced and consumed as long ago as the 13th century. Barone Pizzini has crafted theirs here since 1870, and in recent times have led an organic movement, with all their 125 acres of vineyards being certified organic as well as providing support for historical causes and preserving cultural sites with respect of the land and the areas traditions. These vineyards are mostly all at least 200 meters above sea level and are set on complex soils with a mix of morainic and fluvioglacial deposits from, from what the winery calls, the many epochs of advancing and retreating glaciers, all which with the cooler almost alpine climate make for the exciting and vivid flavors in the Franciacorta wines and that lovely mineral driven character, especially in the zero dosage versions like this awesome Bagnadore Riserva.

The brisk nature and lively focus of this 2011 from Barone Pizzini is joyous and electric in the glass with its ultra cool shade of pale and tiny bubble beading make this stylish stuff very inviting along with its beautiful laying on the poised and delicate palate showing lemon, quince, racy fresh apple and orchard fruits as well as that mentioned mineral element, faint rosewater, brioche and hazelnut, gaining a deep impression with time in the glass. There is a sensational almost feline quality to this exceptional grower producer bubbly with the feeling of muscles flexing under the sleek and elegant form. In the cellars, the Barone Pizzini team use a tiny amount of partial malolactic fermentation, but usually less than 5% preferring to showcases a natural vitality and freshness. They employ barrel fermentation cellar for most of the wines, adding that as well as using some barrique-aging for the resulting base wines prior to second fermentation in the bottle, like famous Champagne producers like Krug and Vilmart. The Bagnadore, named after a flowing creek near the winery’s cellars, is sourced from a single vineyard called Roccolo and its Chardonnay and Pinot Nero grapes getting a careful sorting then are gently pressed and fermented in temperature controlled stainless and barrels, plus It is aged for six months in stainless steel tanks and French barriques, followed by 60-70 months in bottle to mature on the lees (natural yeasts) until disgorgement without any addition of a dosage. This is a classic Franciacorta that thrives with lighter and briny cuisine, perfect with oysters and other sea foods, be sure to keep an eye out for this bubbly.
($45-55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Sling | Stone Wines, Chardonnay, Silacci Vineyard, Monterey County.
A great new addition to the new generation wine scene in the Monterey region is Francisco “Junior” Banuelos’ Sling | Stone (or Sling & Stone) Wines label and his latest set of wines which include a couple of Pinot Noir(s), an already crucially acclaimed Syrah and this exciting Silacci Vineyard Chardonnay. This tasty Chard, that I managed to get a preview bottle of, that comes from a premier cool climate Cru site just north of the Santa Lucia Highlands is well worth getting your hands on when Banuelos releases it. Junior is one of good guys and one of the most engaging and humble winemakers you’d ever hope to meet, so it is easy to love his wines, but the wines do speak for themselves with a quiet confidence and expressive quality, and I love the not so subtle and ironic label, with Sling | Stone clearly referring to the David v. Goliath struggle young winemakers of limited means face and the determination and courage it takes to make it. This Silacci Chardonnay is ripe and plush showing lovely white blossoms and fuji apple on the nose leading to a vibrant medium to full bodied palate of peach, lemon, the mentioned apple and melon fruits along with honeysuckle, a touch of apricot preserves, clove spice, and a loamy wet stone element. This Chardonnay is young and freshly vivid, ever changing and with air it takes on a really exceptional mineral or steely form and it displays an extra level of complexity that makes you want to take another sip and share its pleasures in the glass. There was a little extra meaning and care put into this wine, which was dedicated to the late Rusti Silacci, who sadly passed last September and who is greatly missed. The Silacci Vineyard, with a tiny Chardonnay parcel, is a great site, especially for Pinot Noir, that was rumored to be Pisoni clone, is east facing, set on Chualar sandy loams and gets lots of hang time, constantly cooled by the blast of cold Pacific Ocean air, allowing full development of the grapes, while retaining plenty of juicy acidity.

Junior, who’s day job is being the assistant winemaker at Denis Hoey’s Odonata Winery on River Road in the Santa Lucia Highlands, took an interesting route here on his Silacci Chardonnay deciding to barrel ferment it and then age it in 100% stainless steel, but was rewarded with a wine that delivers a rich mouth feel and keeps racy and fresh. There is a real California sense about this wine with its opulence and slightly tropical nature, it doesn’t hide its pride of place and it will only get deeper as it ages. There is no doubt this set of 2018 and 2019 wines from “Junior” Banuelos are going to make Sling | Stone a name on peoples lips, these are solid efforts, these are wines that really say “I have arrived” and I’m here to stay! That is an impressive achievement for a guy that looked like had not much of chance to making it in this business only a few years ago, but fate looks to have shined on Banuelos. His start was one of those chance moments that don’t always come, he was working in his parents gas station in Gonzales, when Hoey’s winery truck came coasting to halt, out of gas and he managed to talk his way into a job! This was especially heartwarming as he had literary sent hundreds of resumes out to the wine community and had no replies until Hoey appeared out of the blue, and the rest is history. There are a few upcoming releases to watch for here with Sling | Stone about to bring out a Tondre Grapefield partial whole cluster Pinot Noir, which will likely thrill those that missed out on that awesome 40% whole cluster Syrah, that sold out, as well as this lovely succulent Chardonnay that will go great with grilled swordfish and mango chutney or Baja California (spiny) lobster dishes. Only 28 cases were made of this Silacci Chardonnay, so it will be a quick sell out when it is released, so don’t miss it, plus that Tondre Pinot, keep an eye out for them, they will be let out in the wild soon.
($N/A) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Sheldon Wines, Grenache, Ceja Farms, Sonoma Valley.
The 2018 vintage at Sheldon welcomed back the Ceja Farms Vineyard back to their lineup, as winemaker Dylan Sheldon put it, it was like a return of an old friend, with this tiny 2 acre Grenache planting on the southern and western edge of the Sonoma Valley where the cool Gap breezes make for fresh delicate wines, right up Dylan’s alley with heighten aromatics and tangy focus. This vintage, of which only one and half barrels (36 cases) were made is a stylish lighter focus version of this grape, more like the Sierra de Gredos wines that are all the rage, like those Garnachas of Daniel Landi, Comando G, 4 Monos and Alfredo Maesto or in California, more in the vein of A Tribute to Grace by Angela Osborne and or Ian Brand to name a select few. Dylan’s Grenache obsession began early and has been his main varietal since starting his own label with his wife Tobe back in 2003, and before that when his discovered, somewhat ironically, a lighter version of Grenache from Turkey Flats in Australia’s Barossa Valley and when on his honeymoon he made wine for a harvest with Louis Barruol at the famed Chateau de Saint Cosme, the legendary Gigondas producer. To say Sheldon is a Grenache freak is understatement, though his does a try collection of other wines too including his Graciano, the rare other Rioja grape, plus Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, an old vine field blend mainly of Petite Sirah as well as a fabulous Sangiovese and even a sparkling Tempranillo! In 2018 Dylan did two Grenache wines, this one from Ceja Farms and a Fountaingrove AVA Luc’s Vineyard, both of which are in the more restrained and delicate style, though this one is a few shades lighter and more delicate on the medium bodied palate.

Grenache, in California, is very much the in thing these days and it ranges in style from the massive and full throttle Saxum and ultra cult bottlings from Manfred Krankl at Sine Qua Non to the more nuanced or lighter wines of the mentioned A Tribute to Grace, McPrice Meyers, Birichino and Ian Brand, plus the famous Bonny Doon versions by the original Rhone Ranger Randall Grahm, who has said to me that Grenache is what California Pinot lovers really should be drinking! Sheldon’s latest Ceja Farms is wonderfully expressive with lovely aromatics and it is a wine that rushes at you with a red floral array on the nose as well as fresh crushed raspberry, plum, pomegranate, sweet strawberry and candied cherry fruits coming into vivid focus on the medium bodied palate along with a light dusting of spices and shrub/herbs, plus Turkish delights confectionery or Jolly Rancher, lavender and anise. Sheldon really brought the density of fruit out here, but kept everything vibrant and bright without any heaviness, it like the other beautiful offerings from this vintage in their lineup really excels in the glass and struts its stuff with pride and is very well balanced. The winemaking in this Grenache was as per normal at Sheldon with native fermentation, usually with a good portion of whole bunches, set of by the spent lees from an earlier fermentation and aged in neutral French oak, with a basket pressing. Sheldon, as always, notes that no new oak was harmed in the making of this wine. I can see the influenced of all the wines Sheldon has made and all the wines he admires in this one, it is one of his best to date! This Ceja Farms absolutely and with some flamboyance performs impeccably and with loads of stylish personality, it will get your attention and seduce you, enjoy it with a rustic meal and lots of laughter!
($36 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2016 Larkmead, Cabernet Sauvignon, Solari, Napa Valley.
Catching up on one of the great and historic wineries and one of Napa’s top winemakers in Napa Valley, which I did at this years Slow Wine tasting in San Francisco, turned into a otherworldly experience tasting the 2016 vintage of Larkmead. Larkmead has made some awesome wines in this wildly acclaimed year, far better than I would have even expected, these are serious cellar worthy Cabernets that have incredible depth of flavor already. These are fantastical hued wines in the glass with a inky purple/black color, perfume and gripping intensity, they reveal very Chateau Latour like character, especially the Solari, one of the signature wines. The Larkmead Solari is 100% estate Cabernet Sauvignon grown on a unique combination of Cortina gravels over Pleasanton loam, which is clay based soils that keeps a sense of coolness and while the wine is deeply fruited it is also less alcohol than many of its contemporaries making it an excellent micro expression of terroir and varietal, and this 2016 is a gorgeous wine that winemaker Dan Petroski calls Solari muscular, both on the nose and on the palate, but, for me, while powerful like a great Pauillac still shows an elegance and a supper long finish. The concentrated and seductively dark 2016 Solari was crafted with 21 MONTHS in barrel, allowing some of the firm tannins to sweeten up with Petroski using his favored Darnajou and giving it about 70% new oak, he says that the 2016 Solari has swagger, I agree this is awesome stuff that is showing why it’s one of Napa’s best bottles. In Larkmead’s 2016’s you find the same power and finesse you usually find in Cathy Corison’s wines with the regular Napa bottling, priced at just north of a Franklin, being no slouch either, these are an elite collection of age worthy wines, certainly worthy the prices when compared to what is the current field of rival offerings.

One of the oldest family-owned and run estates in Napa Valley, Larkmead, which was originally founded back in 1895, is now under the care of Cam and Kate Solari Baker, who have revived the property and guided it to the very top of league table. Hurt by depression, prohibition and World Wars over the years, the winery needed some love and care and that first came when Kate’s parents, Larry and Polly Solari, purchased Larkmead in 1948 and gained great respect of their peers over the years. Set between St. Helena and Calistoga on the Silverado side of the Napa Valley the Larkmead property is a unique contiguous, sustainably farmed, 110-acre vineyard with so much diversity including seven soil profiles to, what the winery calls its topography and the presence of colluvial fans makes Larkmead a rare site and a prize for their gifted winemaker. Petroski, who is also well known for his own label Massican, which focuses on the bright style of Mediterranean white wines, using an intriguing selection of grapes like Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Pinot Grigio and Greco, has really made Larkmead a blue chip collector label in recent years. I admit to being blown away by Dan’s latest set of wines with this Solari showing outrageously well with its layers of blackberry coulis, creme de cassis, plum and black cherry fruitiness and ripe tannins along with sweet toast oak accents that never intrude on the purity as well as touches of minty herb, savory tones, anise, sandalwood, spicy tobacco, sage and floral incense. This brilliant Solari (black label) Cabernet will stand up to the test of time, it looks set to be a Napa legend in the making, if you have patience of course and a fat wallet, look for its best window to open in another 5 to 10 years and it should go past 2046! Save up and splurge on these 16s if you can, the rewards should be thrilling.
($224.95 Est.) 97-99 Points, grapelive

2018 Val de Mer, Chablis AOC, White Burgundy, France.
The flinty and stylish 2018 Val de Mer has more palate depth and length you’d normally expect in a basic cuvee making it a real solid value and a tasty Chablis to stock up on. Val de Mer is a partnership between François Moutard of Moutard Champagne, who bought an old winery and vineyards near Chablis and star winemaker Patrick Piuze, who’s own label is taking off in the wine world and who has spent the last decade making wines in Chablis for serious estates includes the likes of Olivier Leflaive, Verget, and Jean‐Marc Brocard. The lineup of Val de Mer includes a great selection of sparkling and still wines with exceptional entry level bottlings, like this one, as well as some fine Premier Crus, plus a very limited Grand Cru offering, with the non dosage Brut being a favorite of mine. The Chablis AOC is 100% Chardonnay and all stainless tank fermented and aged using sustainable and mostly organic methods in the vines with Piuze saying the location and vines at Val de Mer give these wines their own personality and this vintage shows a a ripe profile and a lovely textural or supple feel while still being deliciously fresh and vibrant. This is a no brainer for those looking for a bargain in Chablis, it is sublime with food and very nice as an aperitif, providing steely comfort.

I love all of Patrick’s wines and have done so for a few vintages now, but missed out on some the still wines at Val de Mer until recently so getting to enjoy this new release was a good reminder not to miss them. Made exclusively for the US market these Val de Mer offer a ton of quality for the price and are easier to find than the rare self label Piuze stuff and then there is the fabulous bubbly too, all of the Chablis show fantastic purity and expressive mineral driven character. These terroir focused wines, especially the Petit Chablis and the Chablis AOC have traditional zingy acidity and are great expressions of the ancient limestone soils with the mentioned flinty notes, oyster shells and stony elements with the Chablis AOC getting a richer and more expanded palate. The layers in this Chablis by Piuze and Val de Mer, which comes from three parcels, Des Couverts (village of Chablis), Prehy (near Courgis), and Lignorelles, include meyer lemon, green apple, Asian pear and tart, but fleshy peach (stone fruit and pit) fruits that mingle perfectly with the flavor accents above as noted, along with a touch of saline, and the Val de Mer performs with joyous precision in the glass. Be sure to get some of this well crafted Chablis, it is sure to put a smile on your face, drink up.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 Littorai, Pinot Noir, The Haven Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
Ted Lemon’s Littorai is one of the great wines (wineries) of California and while not an easy wine to find, like Aubert and Marcassin, these are worthy challenges in finding them and I highly recommend getting on their list if you are a Pinot Noir fan, but if you can find them I would snag what you grab, especially this gorgeous 2017 The Haven Vineyard, which is absolutely divine. The most compelling aspect of these Littorai wines is their subtlety and a sensation of lightness, but this grace does not diminish their depth and complexity at all, these are wines with that Pinot magic, which we all crave and admire. Lemon, who is a Burgundy veteran, having been the first American winemaker in the famous region at Roulot, Dujac, Roumier and Bruno Clair has been crafting fabulous American Pinot Noir and Chardonnay sourced from cool climate sites on the true Sonoma Coast since 1993. Ted is committed to organic and biodynamic farming and along with his wife Heidi grows and prepares all of the biodynamic preps used in the vineyards on their farm and they even use sheep and other animals to maintain cover crops, these natural practices ensure everything is as sustainable as possible and add to the energies and quality of their grapes. Littorai’s are almost exclusively wines that are bottled from unique terroir driven single-vineyards from the most western of California’s vineyards, set on mainly marine sedimentary soils, in Sonoma and western Mendocino Counties. Littorai itself comes from the Latin word for “coasts” and Lemon has a gift with these Pacific Ocean influenced vineyards and this The Haven Vineyard, Lemon’s first estate vineyard, highlights his talent and the sense of place with beautiful detailing and fresh mineral tones with satiny layers of black cherry, plum, brambly raspberry and lingering strawberry fruits along with zesty blood orange, teas spices, crushed stones, a light cedary (wood) note as well as a touch of cranberry, baking spices and rose petals.

Littorai’s selection of vineyards are selected for the exacting attention to detail and methods to ensure each site is represented in all its own glory and of which individual personality shows through, Lemon is incredibly passion about small yields and even ripening to give complexity of flavors and lower natural alcohols, he is ever searching for transparency and what we all call balance, which all of the Littorai wines have. These wines are really made in the vineyard and Lemon is diligent in his picking and like top domaines in Burgundy, which has influenced his winemaking, the grape and cluster sorting happens in the vines at the harvest and again in the cellar where everything is intensely inspected for perfection, nothing gets through on the line here, only the best fruit is vinified. All of Lemon’s Pinots are cold soaked for a slow maceration and natural fermentation in a combination of stainless steel and wood fermenters with indigenous yeasts and then gently pressed to French oak for a lengthy elevage and allowed to go through natural malolactic, this aging has a soft touch when it comes to new barriques with each vintage and vineyard getting their own treatment, with about 20% new and at least 16 months on the lees. Also, in most years there is about 30% whole cluster employed, though this is also dependent on the vintage and this The Haven Vineyard has some exotic pomegranate and lifting stem inclusion showing adding a wonderful touch of tension, silken tannin and tangy herbs on the medium bodied and textural palate. This is unbelievably delicious Pinot Noir, and as a long time fan of Ted Lemon’s wines, both Littorai and his New Zealand Burn Cottage label from biodynamic vines in Central Otago, it was great to catch up with the new releases at the Slow Wine tasting recently, these are pure class, especially this one.
($100-150 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

2017 Weingut Von Winning, Sauvignon Blanc Trocken, II, Pfalz Germany.
While the outstanding Von Winning estate in Germany’s Pfalz region is mostly known for their amazing dry Rieslings, especially their magnificent Grosses Gewachs versions that rival top white Burgundy, it should not be overlooked for their stunning lineup of Sauvignon Blancs, which are some of the finest examples I’ve ever had from this grape, these are gorgeous wines, like this Sauvignon Blanc II, that is bursting with pure fruit and vibrancy. The Von Winning Sauvignon Blancs come from multiple vineyards in Deidesheim, mostly Paradiesgarten, but, as the winery notes, there is also fruit sourced too from Deidesheimer Herrgottsacker and Kallstadter Steinacker, giving a complex array of flavors from the sites and the mix of sandy loam, red sandstone, basalt, & löss soils. The series of Sauvignon Blanc offerings from Von Winning is an exceptional collection that ranges from light and brightly fresh to the serious wood aged Sauvignon Blanc 500, named after the 500mL French barrels it is fermented and aged in, which I have reviewed many times and consider maybe the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world, or at least right up there with Dagueneau’s famous Pouilly-Fume, Gerard Boulay’s Sancerre Cru, Terlano’s Quarz (from Alto Adige) and Haut Brion Blanc! The 2017 was a ripe and plush vintage, but this wine delivers a zesty performance and gives a solid showing of natural acidity and salinity to balance out the vivid fruit, it is a class act.

The Von Winning Sauvignon Blanc II is an expressive white with fresh citrus and orchard fruits with a medium bodied and tangy palate of lemon/lime, quince, white peach, a touch of grapefruit and melon fruits along with crushed stones, white blossoms, tropical essences, clove spices and stylish mineral tones. This is a zippy Sauvignon Blanc, but still with some fleshy density and extract making it great with food, I love this wine with white fish, goat cheeses and especially grilled shrimp or prawns as it provides racy refreshment. The Von Winning estate really takes extra care in their vineyards and is now fully organic and they sort the fruit coming into the cellar with severe and focused selections only making the cut here, this is a team that is committed to extreme quality and everything that goes into the bottle is absolutely world class. This wine is fermented and lees aged entirely in stainless steel to showcase the terroir and grapes in their most naked or transparent form, and it is hard not to see the dedication and soulful bounty in this well crafted Sauvignon Blanc, it delivers everything as promised and is a top value. Importer, Terry Theise notes Von Winning uses just a gentle clarification, along with natural and spontaneous fermentation and the abandonment of fining agents, (to) create wines that show a distinctive indigenous and very elegant style, which I agree with, but couldn’t say better, this is a winery to follow across the range, go in for the outstanding Rieslings, but don’t miss out on the SB’s.
($18 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2015 Domaine Les Grandes Vignes, Anjou Rouge Villages, L’ Ancrie, Loire Valley, France.
Jean-François Vaillant, vigneron at the Domaine Les Grandes Vignes in the Loire Valley, is crafting a large selection of small lot wines including a few sparkling Pet-Nat’s, a Rosé, some fine Chenin Blancs, both dry and sweet versions and a host of Cabernet Franc based wines, including this L’ Ancrie Anjou Rouge, which I tried for the first time this week and of which I was very impressed, especially with food. Part of Poppy Hall’s eclectic new collection of offerings this Domaine Les Grandes Vignes, Anjou Rouge Villages, L’ Ancrie was perfect with their duck breast and their quail dish, as well as their short ribs all of which were amazing dishes at this Pacific Grove bistro that leans on comfort food, but with a stylish twist on American cuisine and locally sourced ingredients. The small tasty menu and the tight fun list that usually promotes small family producers that make organic and or natural wines makes Poppy Hall a must try restaurant for locals and Monterey visitors and this 2015 Domaine Les Grandes Vignes Anjou Cabernet Franc L’ Ancrie, an under the radar choice proved to be a excellent companion to the menu. The dark and earthy character, ripe fruit and nice natural acidity really excited the palate and lifted the food to the next level with classic layers of black cherry, blackberry, mulberry, plum and cranberry fruits along with a faint trace of bell pepper, leather, dried violets, anise, mineral tones, Greek olive and cedary notes, lingering on with earthy currants, tobacco/spicy elements and echos of kirsch.

Vaillant, who from what I’ve read, seems to be incredibly focused on his vines, revealing in his enthusiastic explanations of Biodynamic treatments, cover crops, and pied-de-cuves, as well as his low and no sulfur wines, humbly suggesting the vineyards make the wines and you can tell he puts in the hard work himself in the 100 acres that he farms. This Loire estate, I learned, was first established by the Vaillant family back in the 17th century, and has continued as a family estate to this day, run by the enthusiastic Jean-Francois. The Domaine Les Grandes Vignes vines in Anjou and Bonnezeaux are farmed without pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or insecticides, and are all certified organic and Biodynamic. The Cabernet Franc bottlings come from complex soils that range from grey and green schist, phtanite, quartz, and ‘falun coquillé,’ to various gravelly and sandy types, of which add to the flavor profile and most of the reds here are vinified without the addition of SO2 (sulfur) to enhance the freshness and purity, but thankfully this 2015, which has some age on it, shows no off putting flaws, mousy notes or funk. This, while earthy, shows solid fruit dimension and is a solid value for the quality, I look forward to trying newer vintages of Domaine Les Grandes Vignes, as this offering provided a lot of pleasure with the meal, plus I am curious about the Sparkling and the Glou Glou (quaffable) Grolleau. The short maceration followed by aging in 2-3 year-old barrels for less than a year belie the concentration and depth here, this was impressive, be sure to keep an eye out for it if you are a Cab Franc fan, drink now.
($28 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

February, 2020

2018 Schlossgut Diel, Riesling Feinherb, Von der Nahe, Nahe Germany.
It is with great joy and admiration that I send my congratulations to winemaker Caroline Diel, who was just named Winemaker of the Year, by Falstaff, in Germany, I truly cannot agree more, this is truly deserved for an incredible vigneron and a remarkable person. I love her wines and visiting her cellar during the 2016 harvest was a wonderful experience as well as being able to get an up close view of her vineyard sites, which are breathtaking in their steepness and their historic majestic presence, this winery in Germany’s Nahe region is really one of the world’s greats. Caroline, who even had a stint at the fabled Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, since taking the reins at Schlossgut Diel has proved herself to be a force to be reckoned with, taking the estate’s offerings to the next level, she makes some of finest dry wines in all of Europe with her stunning Grosses Gewachs being stars, but she also crafts the best sparkling wine I’ve ever had, yes, even better than vintage Krug! Plus she does a fantastic Pinot Noir and even her more basic bottlings, like this gorgeous dryish Feinherb Von der Nahe, a special cuvee made for Terry Theise and the American market, are total class and insane values. If you’ve not discovered Schlossgut Diel, it is past time you do so, Caroline is absolutely killing it and these last 3 or 4 vintages have been simply awesome. Diel, who took over the estate in 2012 after joining the cellar team in 2006 also had internships at renowned spots while at school including Château Pichon-Lalande in Bordeaux and prestigious German vineyards such as Robert Weil, Toni Jost and Dr. Deinhard/Von Winning, adding experience, as the winery notes during her wine-growing studies at the famous Geisenheim University in the Rheingau.

The Von der Nahe is a dry style, but not classified as a trocken, having just enough residual sugar to allow for a more generous nature, giving it a flexible purpose making it great with food and sublime in freshness it shows classic Nahe flavors, a crystalline mineral focus and delicate floral aromatics. As has been noted before, Armin Diel, Caroline’s father, has been a champion of German Riesling around the world, promoting Schlossgut Diel, and was one of the pioneers of dry Rieslings, which are crafted with incredible precision in large oak barrels, plus some concrete and in this case mostly in stainless steel tanks, with a nod to tradition and focus on purity. Diel has a complex variety of soils to work with from slate to gravel, as well as areas of sandstone and quartz, all providing the detailing on these terroir wines. The Von der Nahe Riesling comes from estate vines with these vineyards being on steep, south-facing slopes, which gives it its ripe expression with high proportions of slate that delivers a flinty spiciness. The 2018 vintage wine was spontaneously fermented with indigenous yeasts in traditional (large oak) barrels with extended lees aging in stainless steel tanks, allowing a slightly richer character to develop, while preserving exceptional clarity. White peach, green apple and mixed citrus fruits lead the way along with snappy ginger, verbena, rosewater and salty wet stones show in this lovely almost entry level wine, it is quality and elegance all the way, enjoy it for the next 3 to 5 years with anything you feel like eating with it, it goes great with everything from smoked ham to spicy tuna sushi. Bravo Caroline and Schlossgut Diel! I can’t wait to visit the winery again, in the meantime I’ll be sipping on this wine, plus their offer hand crafted brilliant bottlings, including the Kabinett wines that should not be overlooked either!
($29 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Esprit Blanc de Tablas, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
One of California’s great white whites and certainly the class of the field when it comes to mostly Roussanne, the Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit Blanc de Tablas is an amazing Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc Rhone style wine with rich density and an energetic lively tension that makes it a thrill on the palate. With a brisk intensity and slightly lower natural alcohol, this vintage has really found that perfect groove of balance and impact, at only 13% it doesn’t fall into a heady or heavy performance, instead keeping a restraint poise that really impresses and refreshes with every sip. The Esprit Blanc, made from 68% Roussanne, 17% Grenache Blanc, 7% Picpoul, 4% Clairette Blanche and 4% of the the incredibly rare Picardan, all from cuttings sourced at Chateau de Beaucastel and the Perrin Family, who partner with the Haas family at Tablas Creek, is gorgeously layered with Roussanne’s notable mouth filling and oily smooth texture and phenolic extract with tangerine, apricot, melon and bosc pear fruits along with chalky crushed wet stones, jasmine, bitter almond, clove spices, mineral tones and a delicate hint of lingering butterscotch. That said, there’s a bright vein of lemon, like a ray of California sunshine, as well as mouth watering saline element that helps curb the impression of weight, making this pale gold wine excellent with many food choices and will allow this wine to age with a graceful arc. We in California are truly blessed with climate and terroir with this wine doing its best to highlight this, its flavor and balance comes from Paso’s limestone soils and the cooling influence from the Templeton Gap

The top series, or Cru, of wines at Tablas, the Esprit line is selected from the top 15%-20% of the estate grown lots each vintage, and as the winery notes is aged in 1200-gallon foudres, large French casks for an extended period to allow the wines to integrate and deepen, this Esprit Blanc has especially gained from this careful selection of grapes and the old world treatment in the cellar. The Winery also notes that this is the first vintage to incorporate two new varieties to the final Esprit Blanc blend, adding that the Picardan brings an elegance and Clairette Blanche gives a fresh crispness, clarity and is gently citrusy. With time in the glass even more complexity comes through with subtle wild fennel, brioche (leesy notes), honey and a touch of the wood, all delivering an extra dimension and harmony to this wonderful wine. I always imagine having crab cakes and lobster roll with this wine, but it goes sublimely with roast chicken, swordfish steaks, wild mushroom pasta dishes and an array of soft cheeses. This is an elite example of a white Rhone and sets a high standard, as do all of Tablas’ sensational lineup, it is always a treat to sample these wines, be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to try them, in particular I suggest this one if you like Roussanne, and are looking for an alternative to a fine Chardonnay, but don’t miss their 100% Picpoul and Vermentino bottlings either, both are delightfully vivid and absolutely must haves for warm days! I have always admired these wines from Tablas, was well as of course the Perrin’s Beaucastel classics, but in recent years I have gained a true appreciation for the contribution the Haas and Perrin families have made to California’s wine history, for which we should all be grateful for.
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2016 Marjan Simčič, Pinot Noir “Opoka” Goriski Brda, Slovenia.
With vineyards that cross between the Collio region of Italy and the Brda zone of Slovenia, the Marjan Simčič winery has a slight identity crisis within the wine world, are they Italian or Slovenian and the answer doesn’t make it any easier, but the wines are beautiful and the quality and passion shine through in the glass, especially in this lovely and surprising Pinot Noir that shows incredible lightness, but with depth and length that rival some more prestigious regions. Marjan Simčič, mostly known for their skin contact whites that have a long tradition in the region of northeastern Italy, actually make some spectacular normal macerated wines, like this Pinot Noir and their Sauvignon Blanc, which was a huge hit at this years Slow Wine Tasting in San Francisco, plus a delicate and finessed version of Brda Ribolla. The Marjan Simčič Pinot Noir from their Opoka cru vineyard site shows warm ripe fruit, from a vintage that is credited with many fine offerings from all over Italy, floral perfume, light earthy and minerally tones, a dusting of spices, faint orange tea notes and cedary wood with layers of black cherry, tart plum, mulberry/currant and mini garden strawberry fruits that stand out on the medium bodied palate. There an exceptional textural quality here that belies the wines origins and reminds me of satiny Chambolle-Musigny wines, this stuff is pure ruby colored class and there’s a underpinning of fresh acidity that keeps everything in crisp form and allows the individual details to be excitingly revealed with each sip, this is a stunning effort and is not a wine that gets lost in a crowd.

I discovered the Marjan Simčič wines a few years ago at another Slow Wine tasting, and sadly they didn’t have an importer, so I wasn’t able to follow up on them, now imported, though limited in scope, I hope to keep a better track of these great wines, I certainly will be following his Pinot Noir a lot more closely, this is outstanding stuff. Marjan Simčič,’s favorite saying is that there is truth in wine. (meaning transparency and terroir that shows in his wines and his love of place.) He adds that his wine tells the story of the magical Brda region in Slovenia, where the family lives and is from, noting that he feels connected strongly to this land. He tries to tell that story (of year and place) in every glass of his wines, which this 2016 Pinot does well, it holds your attention and draws you in, my seduction was complete, I was vastly impressed as you might gather. This Pinot comes from an eastern facing plot at Opoka set on a special combination of soils including marl, slate and sandstone, which explains the intriguing flavors and Simčič fermented it with carefully select yeasts in large conical oak after a two week maceration before a gentle pressing to barrel where the wine rested 27 months, all French barrique with about 30% new oak used then bottled unfined and unfiltered. Now that Wine Warehouse imports Simčič, I plan to enjoy a lot more of these wines. This Pinot, from near the village of Celgo, will be top of my repeat list and I can’t wait to match it with food, where I am sure it will turn out to be mind blowing!
($50-60 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Troon Vineyard, Vermentino, Kubli Bench, Applegate Valley, Oregon.
West coast Vermentino is all the rage right now with this Mediterranean grape seeing a real rise in popularity with many wineries producing great examples, including Tablas Creek in Paso Robles, Chesebro and Bonny Doon in Monterey’s Arroyo Seco to name a few, but this Troon Vineyard from Oregon has really done an amazing job with theirs from the southern Oregon region of Applegate Valley. The coastal climate conditions suit this varietal and Troon’s is a lovely fresh wine with brisk and crystal clear details and a sublime textural quality, that rivals some of the world’s best versions of Vermentino, like those from Corsica, which are some of the most pure examples you can find, especially the wines of Yves Leccia, Abbatucci and Clos Canarelli, which have elevated Vermentino to very regal territory. Vermentino’s home range goes all along the Mediterranean coast of France and Italy with top wines coming from, as mentioned, Corsica, Sardinia, Tuscany as well as in areas near Provence, the Rhone, where it is one of the legal Chateauneuf du Pape grapes and parts of the Languedoc and beyond where it is sometimes called Rolle as well as in Piedmonte where it is known as Favorita, as it was once favored by an intriguing countess! Troon’s version, an all biodynamic bottling is wonderfully posed in the glass with a lovely minerally personality and vibrantly focused with fresh citrus blossom, liquid stones, tangerine and peach notes, adding a leesy mouth feel and sense of vinous depth without being any but electric and steely dry.

Troon’s winegrower Craig Camp says Vermentino has proven to be ideally suited to the soils and climate of the Applegate Valley, near Grant’s Pass in this unique growing region, adding that the warm, dry summers and the granitic soils give a deeply favored and complex style of wine that he compares to the Sardinia examples, while I see the similarities with the granite intense Corsica terroir. The Vermentno at Troon is a mainstay and in fact they do a few different versions, including an orange skin contact one, much like a Vermentino done by Sonoma’s Ryme Cellars, another outstanding one to look for, also a Vermentino specialist that is exploring this flexible grape that offers richness and good natural acidity. Vermentino is awesome with a vast selection of cuisine and can be an alternative to everything from Sancerre to Gruner Veltliner and or Muscadet to Verdejo. The latest new world Vermentinos are very much an exciting bunch of thrilling whites that deserve your attention, especially this Troon Vineyard with its 12 months on the lees and riveting flavors and refreshing zesty charms. Randall Grahm of California’s Bonny Doon told me a few years ago he saw Vermentino as a potential hero of the future with a warming planet, as it can retain so much lively acidity and is adaptable to a variety of locations and soils, and his is a beauty too, he even has done a sparkling Vermentino. Troon is a world class organic and sustainable estate with an exciting set of wines, some based on Rhone grapes and some others from more exotic stuff like Malbec and Tannat, these are wines to check out, in particular this light gold and crisp Vermentino that is fabulous with sea foods and soft cheeses.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Fattoria di Fèlsina, Fontalloro IGT Rosso, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Tuscany, Italy.
The wines of Fèlsina have always moved me and I find them as compelling as Bordeaux and or Burgundy, the Castelnuovo Berardenga based estate in the southeastern most Chianti Classico zone has long been one of the great names in Tuscany. Their Chianti Classico Riserva Rancia is one of the most prized and cellar worthy in the region, it rivals many a top Brunello, and Fèlsina also produces one of the most iconic of all Sangiovese wines, the Fontalloro, which is labeled as a simple IGT Rosso, or Vino di Tavola, much the same way as Montevertine’s Le Pergole Torte is, another pure and outstanding Sangiovese wine. Felsina were early foregoers of blending in the other local varietals and especially the white grapes that were so commonly added, instead really focusing on the Sangiovese and only making their Chianti lineup with the single varietal, and they have never been temped to add Merlot and or Cabernet Sauvignon, which has become legal and is widely used in the final blends, even though they do have a single site Cabernet Sauvignon on the estate, preferring the absolute purity of the transmission that their Sangiovese delivers. The Fontalloro, especially this powerful, concentrated and complex 2016 version, performs with a sense of elegance that is hard to describe in written words, it is a wine that needs to be experienced to understand its profound impact on the senses and the palate, it reminds me of Chateau Margaux in that way, it is not as showy as some of its contemporaries, but unforgettable, beautiful, and almost without a fault. I really, really am impressed with this 2016 edition, tasted at this year’s Slow Wine, of Fontalloro, it is one of the best I’ve tried from Felsina since the majestic 1997 and is everything you’d ask for in such a wine, and while not a cheap bottle, it is one of the wine world’s sublime values, honestly there are 100’s of boring and generic wines that sell for twice the price.

The ripe and structured year gave all the best elements to this Fontalloro to be one of the legends and the Felsina team didn’t disappoint, making a wine for the ages and while exceptional even now, like I always say, a great wine is a great wine regardless when you open the bottle, this one will be one that will be a certain treasured time capsule wine that should be incredibly long lived, going two or three decades with ease. The layers unfold with gorgeous life and dimension with a firm, but welcome tannic force that holds back the massive fruit and shows the wine’s terrific poise in the glass with classic Sangiovese details including blackberry, plum, cherry and strawberry fruits, a light sense of French oak, delicate florals, minty herb, sweet and spicy tobacco, a trace of sandalwood, balsamic notes, mineral and well judged acidity that lifts this full bodied wine and keeps things in near perfect check. The Fontalloro, 100% Sangiovese, coming from old vines in three top vineyards, Poggio al Sole vineyard, within Chianti Classico, and the Casalino and Arcidossino vineyards, within the Chianti Colli Senesi, they straddle the border between “Classico” and “Colli Senesi” at almost 400 meters of elevation that has a good high to low temp range that promotes quality and complexity. This area, which is known for its unique profile and terroir influence is set between forested areas and rolling hills of chalky soils that are calcareous in Chianti Classico and predominantly loamy and sandy in the Sensi. The vines, which are now farmed with biodynamic practices, according to the estate, are in excess of fifty years of age that gives the wine its mature and deep character, and the Fontalloro, which sees a traditional fermentation is then aged in small French oak barrels, plenty of which were new, for between fifteen to eighteen months prior to bottling, it is a serious wine and one of Italy’s absolute best.
($65 Est.) 98 Points, grapelive

2018 Cameron Winery, Pinot Blanc “Giovanni” Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The beautiful and taut Pinot Blanc from John Paul at Cameron Winery in the Dundee Hills AVA of Oregon’s Willamette Valley is influenced and inspired by the winemakers love of the wines of northern Italy, especially the Friuli region and in this case a little bit of the Dolomites with this Giovanni, it shows beautiful crisp details and mineral charm. In recent years I have fallen in love with Cameron’s Pinot Blanc or Bianco and have also come to the opinion that Pinot Blanc is one of the best grape expressions in Oregon, in particular for whites in wines such as this, as well as in the stylish versions crafted by Ken Wright and the talented Kelley Fox, which come from the coastal range side of the Willamette Valley on marine sedimentary soils, while this one comes from the red hills of Dundee on the class volcanic Jory soils, that gives this one it’s unique individual character. This 2018 shows fine acidity, ripe flavors and a pleasure in its textural excellence, core of white fruit and contrasting stone pit bitter element along with a touch of racy spice, this Cameron Giovanni Pinot Blanc delivers smooth layers of apple driven fruits, brisk citrus, peach flesh as well as a touch of honey, herbs and white flowers.

Cameron, known for their incredible Burgundy style Pinot Noirs, some of Oregon’s greatest ever wines, also has this Italian side to his lineup, or as John Paul calls the Cameronis, and as mentioned the wines of Friuli and Alto Adige offer a model that works exquisitely with much of Cameron’s fruit. The Pinot Bianco or “Giovanni” as Paul calls it, is fermented in cool stainless steel tanks, which the winery notes, typically is from 3 different lots of estate grown grapes that are from non irrigated vines with appropriately chosen cultures of aromatic yeasts, and bottled early after a short 6 to 8 months in its exuberant youth, to preserve vitality, usually in the early Spring, after harvest. Cameron also does a fabulous Nebbiolo too, it will certainly surprise Barolo and Barbaresco drinkers with its purity and classic Langhe personality, along with his serious of whites and his Ramato style, or orange wine, Pinot Gris, plus the Friuli style Fruliano blend that gets Friulano, Pinot Bianc, Pinot Grigio and Auxerrois with a small bit of Moscato in the finished wine, it is another savvy effort to chase down if you can. I had the Giovanni Pinot Blanc with oysters on the half shell and a exotic mignonette that included some raw ginger and this lovely wine managed to soak it up no problem and be rich enough to go with a lobster tail and shellfish fettuccine with poise and grace, this wine rocks and the price is unbelievable for the quality in the glass!
($18 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2016 Weingut Korrell, Riesling Trocken, Nahe Germany.
The Korrell estate in the Nahe has been one of beautiful additions to my lineup of fine Riesling producers and I have been impressed by all the wines I have had so far as they get introduced to the United States, and I really enjoy this 2016 Trocken, which I missed in my first exploration into these wines, with its crisp detail, tangy fresh stone fruits and vitality of form. Martin Korrell, the sixth generation of the Korrell family, is the talent behind this ambitious and innovative estate, he has a wonderful palate of diverse soils to work with here, not far from the likes of Donnhoff, Schlossgut Diel, Hexamer, Gut Hermannsberg, Kruger-Rumpf and Schäfer-Fröhlich. There is volcanic, slate, quartz and gravel in the Nahe, plus Korrell has their prized single vineyard monopole Paradies cru vineyard which is set on mineral intense clay and fossilized limestone, that gives Korrell’s flagship Riesling a fantastic textural richness and depth that reminds me of some of the great Pfalz GG’s. The Korrell family, as mentioned here a few times, has Spanish roots, has a long winegrowing tradition going back 250 years or more, with their Nahe farming property dating back to 1832, though really fine tuning the focus to exclusively wine production in 1967 when Wilfried Korrell convertied it all vines.

This 2016 is brightly fruited with layers of white peach, grapefruit, tart apricot, quince, melon and green apple fruits all of which are in a transparent loop on the medium bodied palate with plenty zing from natural acidity and mouth watering saline, this is classy dry Riesling that is accented by hints of orange blossom, minty herb, clove, dried spicy ginger, crushed stones and intense liquid mineral. There’s a light smoky and petrol note and a touch of reduction, letting you know you are drinking Riesling, but overall there is an open and easy feel to the Korrell Trocken that invites joyous abandon and it can be easily enjoyed as a refreshing sipper and or with a more serious meal, this stuff will not let you down. The texture comes through as it warms in the glass and the steely edgy quality here fades to allow the fruit to flow makes this Nahe Trocken a fine Riesling to go with crab dishes, like the crab salad sliders I had with it, plus it can go with oysters and mildly spicy cuisine, in particular, some Thai curry. I also recent had the Korrell Sekt Rosé, a fine and entertaining Pinot Noir based sparkler, though not yet in the United States, but fingers crossed we get more of these wines, though for now I recommend getting some of this dry Riesling and their awesome GG like Von Den Grossen Lagen, all from VPD Grand Cru sites, names you’d know.
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2015 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli, Langhe Nebbiolo “No Name” Piedmonte, Italy.
Another one of the stars of the recent Slow Wine Tasting in San Francisco was the Borgogno No Name (Nebbiolo), which really is a de-classified Barolo that saw the same winemaking and treatment as their Cru offerings, and in fact this No Name 2015 was an equal to their presigous Cannubi bottling on the day and is really a gorgeous wine with incredible depth, power and purity. The historic Borgogno & Figli label and winery has been restored to the highest level of respect and quality under the ownership of Andrea Farinetti, who has a string of intriguing wineries and projects throughout Italy and who is dedicated to native varietals and traditions within the regions. He has in recent years added the rare Piedmonte white grape Timorasso to Borgogno’s vineyards in the Colli Tortonesi zone, and the 2018 Derthona Timorasso is a beauty with lovely texture and mineral notes, certainly worth searching out for an alternative Italian white, but of course Borgogno is mostly known for their classic Nebbiolo in Barolo form and this No Name bottling is exceptional. The No Name, I believe, comes from a time when Borgogno were tardy getting in some registration forms to label one of their Barolo Riservas and were not allowed to label it as such, so in playful ironic payback they just called it No Name, and since then have made a Barolo bottling with that label, since it became an instant legend, though current versions are not renamed Risevas, but more a special barrel selection, from what info I could pry out of the winery. This No Name is packed with intensity and layered with black raspberry, macerated strawberry, cherry and damson plum fruits with balsamic accents, earth, anise, a touch of dried rose petals, mineral, grilled orange and pretty cedary notes, this is impressive and full bodied Nebbiolo with a gripping structure, while feeling rich and satiny on the palate with everything that make Nebbiolo regal showing up here.

The No Name Langhe Nebbiolo comes from vineyards located in the Langhe area in the villages around Barolo set on the classic Marl limestone and clay soils with all the estates vines being certified organic and is crafted with the idea of being a more early drinking example of Nebbiolo, but with real Barolo presence in the glass, which this 2015 delivers, in a rich and warm vintage, making for a killer value and an exciting wine that you’d be able to pop the cork on anytime the mood grabbed you without the guilt of opening a true Barolo that would be better with another decade in the cellar, that said, this one can and should age exceptionally well too! Borgogno, which is one of Piedmonte’s oldest and most revered Barolo properties, founded back in 1761 uses traditional winemaking in their No Name, with a fermentation and long maceration of about 2 weeks in temperature controlled tanks and with what the winery says was a submerged cap maceration with a variable duration between 10 and 20 days, to allow the gentle extraction of structure and depth of flavors, allowing for a generous exploration of the grape and place. As mentioned, the No Name gets the full Barolo treatment and was aged in Slavonia oak barrels for at least three years and aging in bottle for at least two years before release, which is just about to happen in the US market. Borgogno has some incredible plots in some of Barolo’s most admired Crus including Liste, Fossati and the mentioned Cannubi, one of the world’s best vineyards, and this wine is a great way to discover and explore the winery’s quality, it’s terroir and house style. The No Name Langhe Nebbiolo, especially in this ripe year, offers remarkable value and a vinous noble drinking experience, while still having less pretense and it will be fabulous with rustic cuisine and with friends, definitely a wine worth every penny.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 G.D. Vajra, Langhe Riesling “Petracine” Piedmonte, Italy.
One of my absolute favorite whites, the G.D. Vajra dry Riesling, comes from high elevation plots near Barolo in Vajra’s cru sites Fossati and Bricco Bertone on marl, sand, stones and clay soils. This 2018 is one of the best and aromatic versions I’ve tried of Vajra’s Riesling Pétracine which is due to be released soon and it is produced only with the oldest vines. These Vajra parcels are the oldest known plantings of Riesling in Piemonte, going in the ground from a special Rheingau clone believed to have been from Alsace’s famous Marcel Deiss own cuttings back in 1985. It is a stunning Riesling, one of the most exciting outside of Alsace and Germany sourced from sites that are on hillsides near a forested area with east/south-east exposures at 420-480 meters above sea level, where it stays very cool, helping retain loads of natural acidity while allowing for ripe complexity. Its name Pétracine comes from an ancient synonym of Riesling, meaning ‘the roots [into] the stone’ that explains why the grape, usually found in slate and or sandstones is known historically for doing well in rocky soils. This is exceptionally cool stuff from Giuseppe Vajra, who is best known for his cru Barolo, the Bricco Delle Viole and his unique Kye Freisa, made from of Piedmonte’s rare and almost forgotten red grapes, but he also does a solid lineup of Barbera, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo varietal wines that are insane value offerings. Sadly I missed the Vajra family at the San Francisco Slow Wine Tasting, they are some of the nicest people in the wine world, but I did get a preview of the Riesling and got a taste of Vajra’s latest Barolo cru Coste di Rose, which is outrageously good and perfumed, both are not to be missed.

The brightly fresh, peachy and vivid 2018 Vajra Langhe Riesling has a warm sunny pale golden hue and shows a beautiful zesty tension on the delicately medium bodied palate with an array of citrus and stone fruits leading the way, it gains layers and vinous generosity with every sip, but stays taught and impeccably focused throughout. There is a fascinating dimension of wet stones, tropical notes, spiced crystalized ginger and tangy quince that really adds class and pop to the Riesling’s profile along with hints of rosewater, lemon verbena and lingering jasmine blossoms, making for gigantic turn on and with its brisk steeliness and lively acidity it certainly plays well with briny/saline shellfish, from mussels to claims, as well as oysters and crab dishes. Giuseppe Vajra is making some amazing wines, each with their own signature style and terroir showing up the bottle, like this Riesling which was hand harvested to be sure all the grapes and clusters came into the cellar intact then gently pressed and cold soaked or settled for approximately 20 days before fermentation to help drop out any green phenolics and the wine was aged exclusively on the fine lees for about 8 months in stainless steel. The Vajra’s led the way with Riesling in the Langhe and while almost 20 other producers now grow and make own expressions, Vajra’s remains a step ahead and this wine is pretty close to what you could call an Italian Grosses Gewachs or an Alsace Grand Cru bottling, it is a guilty pleasure that I always cherish! I can’t wait for this 2018 to reach America
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Folded Hills Vineyards, August Red, Santa Ynez Valley.
One of the surprises and a new find for me at the Slow Wine tasting in San Francisco was Andrew and Kim Busch’s estate grown Folded Hills Vineyards from the Santa Ynez Valley, just north of Santa Barbara, where they focus on Grenache. The selections I tasted were fresh and pure with a lighter touch and with wonderful flavors, with their 100% whole cluster and carbonic Grenache and this August Red being my favorites, these are stylish examples of California Rhones and very exciting, since they are flying way under the radar, but with an amazing team in the vines and in the cellar with Kiwi, A Tribute to Grace, winemaker Angela Osborne using her talents in crafting these small lot wines and Stolpman’s Ruben Solorzano doing his usual magic in the vineyards. The August Red is delightful with racy red fruits leading the way before a darker and richer side comes through with air, much in the same way I find a fine Gigondas does with light earthy notes, spice and delicate floral notes all showing up here as well with layers of boysenberry, strawberry, tangy red beet root, blueberry and kirsch fruits along with shaved cinnamon, peppercorns, lavender and anise. The August Red has a more heighten presence in the glass, a deeper color, from the Syrah and it is that percentage of Syrah that gives an extra sense of textural quality to this excellent wine, in fact I think the Syrah lifts the Grenache and allows it to really take center stage.

Set on 15 planted acres in the coastal mountains, the vineyards at Folded Hills have their own micro-climate which is less wind-exposed than the Santa Rita Hills and not as warm as Ballard Canyon, leading to these vibrant wines that produced in a very natural way with a sense of place and purpose. Ruben farms Folded Hills using organic methods, with everything done in concert with the Ranch going ons, additionally, they prune, plant and harvest according to the lunar calendar to respect the natural rhythms of the vines. Angela, who has made a name for herself by making ultra transparent wines, especially with her favored Grenache, uses indigenous yeasts and is careful to promote a lighter frame with refined tannins, which shows here, the August Red, which is a blend of 67% Grenache and 33% Syrah that comes in at 13.9% natural alcohol. The Busch’s are sitting on a beautiful place and the wines are a thrill, I only only see them getting more and more interesting in the years to come, the clarity of form in the wines, especially the carbonic Grenache and this August show they have a serious commitment and I look forward to seeing what comes next! I will be buying a few of the 2018 whole cluster carbonic Grenache to just quaff about with, it is zesty refreshing and easy to enjoy, while this more impactful August Red will need a matching meal to give its best performance, it should develop nicely over the next 3 to 5 years.
($43 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Drew Family Cellars, Chardonnay, Valenti Ranch, Mendocino Ridge.
The super rare and limited Drew Chardonnay is a gorgeous wine, it was a real pleasure to get a chance to try it at this year’s Slow Wine 2020 tasting in San Francisco and catch up with the winemaker himself, known for his incredible Pinot Noir and Syrah bottlings from the cool climate Anderson Valley, which are some of the greatest wines in California. The Chardonnay is wonderfully balanced and alive with natural acidity and exceptional length with finely detailed layers of apple, pear. lemon, quince and golden fig fruits with subtle oak accents, clove spice, wet stone, a subtle salty element, mineral and honeysuckle. This Valenti Ranch Vineyard Chardonnay gains a poised sense of texture without being heavy and it has a sensational palate impact, it has a rich concentration, but the vibrant energy of a white Burgundy, it is pure class in the glass and would be a great companion to lobster and or swordfish steaks. Like Drew’s Pinots, this is a wine that let’s you know it is a pure California wine and is completely transparent, it goes to one of my favorites list of top Chards, joining another newcomers, Samuel Louis Smith’s Spear Vineyard, the Ceritas Trout Gulch, Richard Alfaro’s Mary Katherine as well as classics like Littorai, which was also outrageously good yesterday at Slow Wine, Mount Eden, Hanzell and Peay Vineyards, to name a few.

Grown just six miles from the Pacific on an east facing ridge at 1,200-1,350 feet, the Valenti Ranch produces distinctive character from the Mendocino Ridge with deep fruit develop and exciting vitality. The constant maritime winds coupled with, what Jason Drew calls thin marginal soils, made up of Ornbaun Series ancient seabed sedimentary soils lends itself to smaller berry size and naturally lower yields, all of which created the material to make this expressive and impressive wine. Drew used 100% native yeast barrel fermentation on his Chardonnay, the first he’s made in Anderson Valley and since his days as an assistant winemaker at Babcock in Santa Barbara County and he employed all neutral French oak for the 18 months in barrel it saw. The Valenti, a special vineyard site farmed with organic methods, has a selection of Chardonnay clones that include old Wente, Mt Eden, Dijon 176 and 75 that helps contribute to the complexity in this wine that reveals a touch of chalk or crushed oyster shell, kumquat and delicate leesyness. Even in a warm year like this 2017 vintage, Drew’s style is restrained with just 13.4% natural alcohol and there is refreshing dynamic force to this studied effort. There is a lot to admire in the latest set of Drew wines, and as mentioned the Pinots and Syrah bottlings are fantastic, as my recent reviews have highlighted in recent years, but I absolutely thrilled with this limited release Chardonnay!
($50 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2016 Drench Wine, Rosé, Spindrift, Napa Valley.
The Drench Wine Spindrift Rosé, handmade by winemaker Emily Hunt from a small vineyard off the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley using about 80% Sangiovese and 20% Petite Sirah is a vinous and wonderfully round example of a Rosé that can age and still have dry bright freshness, making it uniquely Californian in style and flavors, though reminds me at of Italian Rosato meets old school Provence. Emily is making a tight lineup of interesting wines, and as mentioned here, her Sauvignon Blanc from Zabala Vineyard, her most recent offering is a very lovely and exciting wine, from her hometown vines in Monterey, where she is a consulting winemaker and an assistant winemaker who has helped make Galante Vineyard wines and Holman Ranch wines in Carmel Valley. The Rosé scene in the state has blown up and there is lots of thrilling dry pinks to chose from, but Hunt’s Drench Spindrift Rosé stands out for the cool packaging, in the personal use size of 500ml and for the complexity of layers including racy cherry, distilled plum, strawberry, ruby grapefruit and a touch of watermelon fruits plus a subtle mineral tone, saline, delicate spices, rosewater and smooth underlying acidity.

The Drench Napa wines all are made from her two tons of fruit sourced from the Fazekas Vineyard, off of Silverado trail in Napa, making her offerings quite rare, this vineyard site was originally planted back in 1994 for the Mondavi’s Mi Familia Winery with the true Italian clones of Sangiovese, brought in by Robert Mondavi mostly likely came from Frescobaldi, as they were friends and partners with the Mondavis, with the Petite Sirah (which adds structure here) bud wood coming from old vines in Calistoga. Drench also does a deep full bodied version too from this site, which is a compelling wine as well with a lush richness and loads of ripe black fruits and some nice dried flowers and cigar wrapper notes, though I do enjoy the Rosé’s flair and vibrance, it is especially good with food, in particular with mussels in spicy broth and or grilled salmon. The mostly Sangiovese, which has a nice burst of natural acidity, Drench Spindrift Rosé is a 100% saignée, ripe fruited bleed of 100% de-stemmed grapes and was pressed off the skins after a 4 hour soak and fermented at a cool 55 degrees over 3 weeks and sees no oak, which explains the complexity and generous mouth feel, drink this one over the next year or two.
($25 Est. 500ml) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Turley Wine Cellars, Cinsault, Bechtold Vineyard, Lodi California.
The Turley wines, mainly celebrated for their exceptional Zinfandel portfolio, are ripe and luxurious with outspoken personalities, less known is that all of Turley’s vineyard sources are farmed using organic methods and sustainable with the wines being crafted using indigenous yeasts and natural fermentation(s). Larry Turley’s the Turley Wine Cellars, as he notes, makes forty-seven wines from over fifty vineyards, the vast majority of which are single vineyard designate Zinfandels and Petite Syrahs which are made with mostly classic old vines are also produced with a respect for California’s rich tradition in winemaking and with the hope to preserving this exciting wine culture. Now with Tegan Passalacqua, who took over as the director of winemaking in 2013, as well as being their vineyard and grape guru, Turley Wine Cellars has really raised the game, the wines have gained a true authentic and terroir driven quality, making the wines even more thrilling and elevating Passalacqua to one of the state’s best vignerons. He has brought a gentle touch and love of dirt to the scene, I’ve always enjoyed my conversations with Tegan, especially when he gives me a schooling on a varietal’s (grape) history in California and his history making wines with Alain Graillot, the iconic northern Rhone producer, known for his gorgeous Crozes-Hermitage and with the equality famous Eben Sadie of Sadie Family Wines in South Africa, who is a master of natural wines and blending. Turley also puts out some lesser known wines, one of them is their Bechtold Cinsault, a fresh carbonic quaffable red made from this obscure Rhone and Languedoc grape, which is also a minor player in Provence Rosé.

The Turley Bechtold Cinsault comes from the Lodi region, where some of California’s earliest vineyards were planted in the 1800s with Bechtold being planted in 1886, this Cinsault vineyard is the oldest of its kind in the country, as Tegan notes, perhaps even beyond. These historic vines, which are cherished far and wide and are even featured in Randall Grahm’s latest expression of his Cigare Volant, are gnarly, head-trained and planted on their own roots, dug deep in the well draining sandy loam soils, making for seriously delicious lighter style wines that are somewhat like a California version of Cru Beaujolais. Passalacqua has done a fabulous job with this 2018 version with its beautiful aromatics and juicy/vibrant profile delivering black cherry, raspberry, dark floral notes, dried herbs de Provence, fennel and tart currents. The Bechtold Cinsault is a Glou Glou style carbonic wine that is lovely with a slight chill and enjoyed without pretense, this fruit forward offering is perfect for picnics and BBQs as well as country or rustic cuisine. There is no hint of overt wood or is it a flashy wine, but just a fun and racy wine, its dark magenta/ruby hue and vitality in the glass is wonderfully inviting, you can see why this one is one of the most sought after under the radar bottlings in Turley’s incredible collection of wines, along with the cellar worthy Hayne Petite Sirah. I have coveted my bottles of this Cinsault and I also love the Turley Grenache, another rarity in the lineup and usually found at their Paso Robles tasting room, always a must visit spot when I am down there.
($28 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 Nanclares y Prieto Viticultores, Albariño, Rias Baixas, Galicia, Spain.
One of my favorite white wines, the Nanclares Albariño is a minerally, bright, slightly leesy and sea breeze infused beauty with crisp intensity and delicately aromatic, this 2017 is an absolute classic expression of terroir and varietal purity. This bottling, the signature version of Alberto Nanclares, is a striking wine that starts with citrus blossom and zesty steeliness, with green apple, wild peach and lime fruits leading the way along with a touch of reduction and salty wet stones all of which is perfectly set against its light to medium bodied frame and exciting natural acidity. This beautiful and tangy fresh Albariño gains a structure and textural grace with air adding an impressive presence in the glass, which is lovely in its golden pale hue and authentic sense of place and flavor profile. The Alberto Nanclares Albariño comes from 30 plus year old vines from tiny parcels around the town of Cambados and the Meaño areas set on almost pure sand with granite underneath, with the vines trained in the traditional overhead style called pergola to maximize airflow and exposure to sunshine at nearly absolute sea level, only a stones throw from the remote beaches of this cool climate region on Spain’s quiet Atlantic coast. The Val do Salnés area is historically considered the ancestral or spiritual home of the Albariño grape and almost no where is it so perfectly transmitted into a wine as it does in this Nanclares and it is a wine made from the sea, easily one of the best with seafood, in particular oysters, mussels, clams and ultra fresh sushi, it is a wine that can be a great alternative to Sancerre, Muscadet (Melon), dry Riesling, Gruner Veltliner and or Chablis.

Nanclares, who is based in the Cambados, started in the mid nineties just tending a vineyard in his semi retirement home as a hobby is now one of the greatest producers of fine Albariño in Galicia’s famous Rias Baixas region crafting an awesome set of single vineyard versions as well as his regional Dandelion cuvee and this outstanding example, known as the “Alberto Nanclares” or sometimes referred to as the “Estate” with the grapes all coming from the Val do Salnés sub zone. Nanclares brought the talented Silvia Prieto on board a few years ago now and has gone from strength to strength with her energy and commitment helping lift this label to new heights and expanding the range of wines with the additions of a few red wines, including an elegant and complex Mencia from grapes coming from the Ribeira Sacra. The Nanclares y Prieto winery is now all organic and has added some biodynamiques to their practices, even employing compost from collect seaweed from the near by Atlantic Ocean, all which proves their dedication, in this humid region that is terribly difficult to farm without convention methods. But, the wines have really benefited from this extraordinary effort and they are unbelievably compelling wines, especially this one which saw natural winemaking in the cellar with only a tiny dose of sulfur and native yeast fermentation with no malos and 90% stainless steel and 10% used French oak cask being used here, the aging was done for nine months on the lees then bottled unfined and unfiltered to preserve dynamic quality, give the wine age worthiness and showcase the wine’s true character. This is rewarding Albariño that sets the standard for this grape and region, this is one to look for and covet, it will drink nicely for another 3 to 5 years.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Alzinger, Gruner Veltliner Smaragd, Ried Steinertal, Wachau, Austria.
One of the most complex and serious Gruners I’ve tried in ages, the Alzinger Smaragd Ried Steinertal is one of Austria’s Grand Cru wines on the level as the fabled Emmerich Knoll wines and winemaker Leo Alzinger is getting a lot of attention and acclaim, and this wine especially shows why with its depth and richness of body and its long dry finish. Grown near the Danube, west of Austria’s capital of Vienna, Alzinger’s vines cling to steep hillsides near the town of Unterloiben in the Wachau region this Gruner is a late pick with a selection of old vine set on lower slopes on mostly loess based soils with gneiss, mica schist, primary rock and loam that give this wine its density and fruit expression. A fanatic about pristine fruit quality and serve selections in the vineyards, Leo’s wines deliver this commitment to quality in the bottle and shine in the glass with sublime detail, energy and glorious elegance, while still having a powerful presence on the palate and charming concentration. This 2018 has a full body and generously viscous with layers of lemon/lime, white peach, quince and spiced Asian pear fruits along with saline infused rock, delicate mineral tones, rosewater and a play between leesy texture and a bit of bitter almond. This is serious stuff that will take a thought on the right pairings and a match that will compliment its opulence, as these Smaragd are thicker and more blooding than the delightful and lighter Federspiel versions.

The Ried Steinertal is in a hidden cool climate zone set between steep hills and holds on with the use of majestic terraces, it is a site that develops incredibly slowly and the hang time is extremely long allowing superior ripening without high sugars making for a good retention of natural acidity and gives this Smaragd a fine balance and extra level of class. Alzinger employs winemaking methods that promote extreme clarity and transparency, Leo is ever searching for purity and terroir transmission, sometimes this can prove difficult in the denser Smaragd, but this 2018 is an absolutely stunning Gruner that has a unique character, inner beauty and certainly looks like a classic example. Leo uses whole cluster pressing during crush and a short maceration, then allows the must to settle a full 24 hours to drop out any harsh greeness or phenolic tannin. This primary is in cold conditions and is spontaneously fermented in stainless steel with the aging done with the lees, its elevage is done mainly in stainless steel, though a with a small amount of Gruner seeing neutral Austrian oak, this formula works well and the tiny amount of wood helps smooth the mouth feel and this wine gains a bit of creaminess with air. Gruner is a worldwide phenomenon with Austria’s signature grape getting vineyard space throughout the new world, in particular there are many new plantings in California and in Oregon’s Willamette Valley with some exceptional results, but a wine like this Alzinger shows you why the Wachau reigns supreme and this vintage is a profound white wine.
($75 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2016 Domaine Monthelie-Douhairet-Porcheret, Monthelie “Clos du Meix Garnier” Monopole, Red Burgundy, France.
One of the under the radar regions of the Cote de Beaune, Monthelie is a quality area for Pinot Noir in Burgundy and Monthelie-Douhairet-Porcheret is one of the best wineries to explore here, making beautiful examples, like this gorgeous single Lieu-Dit expression. The Domaine Monthelie-Douhairet-Porcheret is located in the town of Monthelie, in the heart of the Côte de Beaune, and covers just 13 hectares of vineyards, not just in Monthelie, but also includes plus small parcels in the famed Pommard, Volnay and Meursault zones. The wines here are crafted by the respected André Porcheret and granddaughter, Cataldina Lippo, and it is well noted their traditional style and elegance. The Douhairet family originally ran this winery, but back In 1989, Madame Armande Douhairet asked André Porcheret to run the show and became an adopted son and his name was added to the Domaine’s name. Porcheret has a notable history in Burgundy, he was the cellar master for the Hospices de Beaune from 1976–1988, before he was hired by Lalou Bize Leroy to make wines at her newly created Domaine Leroy, one of the greatest estates in the Cote d’Or, from 1988–1993. André came back to the Hospices de Beaune from 1994–1999, and as mentioned he has since 1989, he has been crafting the excellent wines here at Monthelie-Douhairet-Porcheret. In the cellar, and employed here on this satiny Monthelie, it was made using 100% de-stemmed grapes with a gentle old school fermentation and maceration before being aged for 18 months in barrel of which 10% were new medium plus toast. All wines at MDP show impeccable purity and are bottled without fining or filtration.

The 2016 Clos du Meix Garnier, a special monopole site, is expressive and brightly fruited with a seductive rose petal and Pinot perfume and feels beautiful on the medium bodied palate that impresses for its rich detail, complexity and grace, this is wine that over performs for the price. This Monthelie has everything you’d expect of a Burgundy at twice the cost, in fact I easily could have believed this was a Premier Cru Volnay and its sensual layering and finish it is a fine bottle to search out. The Monthelie-Douhairet-Porcheret Clos du Meix Garnier is well balanced with red plum, strawberry and spiced raspberry fruits to go with a lovely core of black cherry adds classic chalkiness, mineral, delicate floral tones and subtle oak notes, all of which make this a beautiful Pinot Noir that carries its terroir with pride. Imported by Martine’s Wines, the same importer that Domaine Leroy has always used (in California) I think shows the admiration that this label carries within the industry, and this wine backs that up, it is one I certainly will be buying a few bottles of. Putting my money where my mouth is, I can’t wait to show this off to some friends, it really is quite intriguing and will be brilliant with duck breast and almost any cuisine. The vintage, a year that seems better in the bottle than expected and that can age some, has exceptional transparency, good density and lively acidity with a burst of saline and lingering with heavenly silkiness on the long finish with currants and almost a touch of violets that almost reminds me of Vosne Romanee!
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Sheldon Wines, Graciano, Luc’s Vineyard, Fountaingrove AVA, Sonoma County.
Dylan and Tobe Sheldon’s Graciano comes of a tiny vineyard in the Fountaingrove AVA, which lies in a cool zone near Santa Rosa and was first approved by the TTB in 2015, it is bordered to the north by Chalk Hill and Knights Valley, to the south by the Sonoma Valley, to the west by the Russian River Valley, and to the east by Napa’s Diamond Mountain District and Spring Mountain District. Fountaingrove is pretty far inland, but the maritime breezes and fog entering through the gap in the Sonoma Mountains east of Santa Rosa regulates the climate here making a perfect place for grape growing and this rare varietal thrives here, as this new vintage from Sheldon shows. The terrain is mainly rolling hills with Sonoma Volcanic, which is reddish and has iron and Franciscan Formation or complex, including greywacke sandstones, shales and loamy bedrock soils, all of which adds to the spice and mineral drive in the wines. Sheldon’s 2018 Graciano is very deeply hued with an electric purple/magenta and garnet color and is densely fruit filled with a medium full body and layered with blackberry, plum, cherry and red currant fruits along with hints of briar spiciness, grilled fennel, mineral and lovely floral perfume, it later adds a touch of blueberry, violette and cinnamon. This Graciano has a forward personality and expressive dark character with a bright and zesty energy making it great with a wide array of cuisine choices from hard cheeses and Spanish ham to a rack of lamb or wild mushroom dishes.

Graciano a Spanish grape, also known as Tintilla, is mostly renown for being one of the Rioja grapes, though rarely done as a single varietal wine and it is even more unique when found in California, where the Sheldon’s were one of the first wineries to make one in modern times beginning in the mid 2000s. Dylan, who is first and foremost a Grenache specialist, especially after spending time in the Rhone on a harvest gig with the famous Chateau de Saint Cosme and winemaker Louis Barruol who’s Gigondas is one of the world’s greatest wines. Sheldon Wines, which was formed in 2003, has never been afraid to explore different paths and grapes, like this Graciano, also does a sparkling Tempranillo, carbonic Sangiovese, Carignan and Rhone blends, his signature Vinolocity, which is a wild Petite Sirah and Tempranillo blend, as well as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, plus a unique Petite Sirah and Cabernet field blend called the Red Hat. This wine was traditionally crafted using a small basket press and fermented to a natural 12.9% natural alcohol and aged in two neutral French oak barrels, as Dylan adds, no new oak was harmed in the making of this wine, and it was bottled unfined and unfiltered. This is one of the best versions of Graciano I’ve tried, brilliantly detailed, clean vitality and with a generous vinous mouth feel, it should drink fabulously for 5 to 10 years, though almost irresistible now, this is tasty stuff! Sheldon, who produces only ultra small lot wines is well worth searching out.
($36 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Carl Loewen, Riesling Trocken, Ritsch, Grosses Gewächs, Mosel Germany.
Christopher Loewen’s 2018 Ritsch GG coming from extreme slopes, the second steepest in Europe, takes this vineyard to the next level, this is one of the wines of the vintage (lots of German ’18s on the list!) with outrageous depth and majestic form that feels like the wine was chiseled out its historic slate driven terroir. Christopher Loewen, who took over the estate’s winemaking in recent years, from his famous father, has brought this winery to pinnacle of German wine with a focus on organic farming, natural and minimalistic cellar work, specializing in a sophisticated drier style of pure Riesling. The Carl Loewen, as noted by me and of course Terry Theise, the Riesling guru that imports this wine, estate dates back to 1803, when a collection of prime vineyards and winery buildings were purchased at auction, these had once been part of the Church’s religious Maximin order, it included the famed Maximiner Herrenberg, which has the oldest set of Riesling vines in Germany, planted in 1896. Karl-Josef, Christopher’s dad, who was always looking for old vineyards, added significant parcels mainly by savvy buys of steep old vineyards (with low yielding vines) that no one wanted to work anymore, with the Thörnicher Ritsch vineyard coming into the fold in 1998. Ritsch, as mentioned in my writings, is the second steepest vineyard in Germany, second only to Bremer Calmot in the lower Mosel set on grey weathered slate and quartzite soils that give this incredible wine its personality and character. Christopher says it took awhile for the Loewen’s to get Ritsch to perform as they knew it could and they struggled as they moved from conventional farming to chemical free organic methods here, but their faith and commitment has really paid off as the vineyard’s true potential has finally been unlocked! There is a lot to love here in this 2018 version, highlighting Loewen’s touch and its glorious terroir influence, making this pale greenish/golden Riesling a special bottle to cherish.

This new release, 2018 Ritsch Grosses Gewachs Riesling is exceptional and thrillingly intense with a sense of underlying power and dynamic energy all of which translates outwardly with its youthful generosity and crystal clear details with layers of vibrant fruits, flinty mineral and a saline burst that makes this wine burst from the glass with green apple, lime, grapefruit, tart apricot, fleshy melon, quince and faint tropical fruits along with smoky wet shale, chamomile, citrus blossom, delicate rosewater and a touch of leesy concentration. This is absolutely going to be the stuff of legends, those looking for a sleeper for the cellar should really not miss this one, it will easily eclipse the classics and still offers tremendous value, this wine is on the level of greatness that compares with Raveneau Les Clos Grand Cru Chablis, Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet and or Coche-Dury Meursault! The Loewen Ritsch, a wine I’ve been singing the praises of since the 2014, is a brisk and dry wine that develops slowly with air gaining graceful texture and deepens with time, I am mind-glowingly impressed with this vintage, not just for this offering, but with all of Loewen’s collection, to say they nailed it is an understatement for the ages. This brilliant wine joins Christopher’s fantastic 1896 Maximiner Herrenberg old vine bottlings, especially the stunning Feinherb, which I reviewed earlier, these are wines that German wine lovers should not miss and should rush out and find, in particular those that enjoy the wines by Wittmann, Keller, Donnhoff, Loosen and Maximin Grunhaus (Von Schubert) to name a few. Throughout Loewen’s lineup there are wines of sublime value and quality from the basic estate stuff to the gorgeous set of GGs, plus the Kabinett and Alte Reben Trockens are rocking good.
($65 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive

2018 Pax, Gamay Noir, Sonoma Coast.
The latest release Gamay from Pax is an old world and austere bottling with a meaty and with a raw earthiness, it is less fruit driven the the past two releases, though still appeals for the natural style and goes well with rustic cuisine. The 2018 has a background of fresh acidity and is layered with black raspberry, cherry, tangy wild strawberry and dusty plum fruits along with an array of spices, herbs, crushed flowers, iron/mineral notes and a light cedary element, along with what tastes like touch of Brettanomyces, which adds a savory dryness to this vintage. Those looking for a light and fruity wine best look to Pax’s delightful Valdiguie, one of my secret favs in Mahle’s lineup, and Carignan bottlings, as this Gamay has a more seriousness about it and is slightly natty in form. Air brings out a touch more body and length in this lightly tannic and crisp Gamay, it fills out to a medium bodied red that is best served with a bit of a chill and with food that will coax more fruit out, with burgers, duck confit and or sleep (hard) cheeses. I am loving the unique alternative wines being done by the talented Pax Mahle, in particular his Chenin Blanc, the mentioned Carignan and Valdiguie bottlings, the Trousseau Gris as well as his Rhone blend, The Vicar.

Pax, most known for outstanding Syrah, was the first winery to produce and release a Gamay Noir from the cool climate Sonoma Coast region, not too long ago, starting with a tiny batch he did in 2015, a wine I didn’t get to try. I did however did try and love both with 2016 and 2017 versions, as they were more widely released, though as this 2018, are limited and hard to find. The Pax Gamay is sourced from a set sustainably farmed in vineyards Pax had used to make his ultra cool climate Wind Gap wines, which was folded back into the Pax label, set on marine sedimentary soils and cooled by breezy conditions influenced by the Pacific Ocean. This Gamay was crafted using traditional methods, similar to Cru Beaujolais, with 100% whole cluster fermentation and partial carbonic maceration with the wine getting close to 10 months in used French oak barrels with almost no sulphur added. This vintage reminds me of older vintages of Clos de la Roilette Fleurie and will certainly appeal to those that love the funk, it’s an intriguing edition that might get a reaction, both positive and negative, I think I might suggest drinking it sooner v. later. Be sure to check out all of the classic Syrah(s) here, plus Pax’s unique collection of other cool stuff.
($40 Est.) 89 Points, grapelive

NV Ultraviolet by Poe Wines, Sparkling Rosé, California.
The Ultraviolet Sparkling Rosé is a fun, lively and fruity bubbly that is generous and Cremant de Loire like in style with a slight California twist, it’s made mostly from Cabernet Franc, but with a touch of Colombard, instead of either Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc as found in the French versions, making for an interesting offering from the talented Samantha Sheehan of Poe Wines. Delightfully easy and quaffable this Ultraviolet, Sheehan’s second value priced label, Sparkling Rosé has flashes of strawberry, sour cherry, distilled raspberry and ruby citrus fruits with touches of mineral, floral tones along with a faint herbal note and a hint of leesy/yeasty roundness. Much less serious than her Poe grower producer style sparklers, which are some of the finest versions in California, like Caraccioli and Michael Cruse’s Ultramarine, this Ultraviolet Sparkling Rosé is great for beach drinking and or as a flavorful aperitif with it’s more forward and fruity nature. Sheehan’s Poe lineup is full of outstanding wines, I highly recommend checking out her Van der Kamp Pinot and Manchester Ridge Chardonnay, plus her fantastic Poe sparklers, in particular the single vineyard Blanc de Blancs, it truly is spectacular and compares well with top grower fizz Champagnes, plus I adore her Pinot Meunier, also from the Van der Kamp Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain.

Samantha Sheehan, who founded her Poe Wines winery in 2009 after traveling to Europe and being inspired by the wines she tasted in Burgundy and Champagne, and has now established himself as a top notch producer of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as turning out to be a studied and well respected Champagne style producer. Sheehan says her goal is not to replicate Burgundy (or Champagne), but rather create alluring, vineyard specific, age-worthy wines that express the beautiful terroir of California. At Poe, there is a focus on minimal intervention in the cellar, judicious use of sulfur, and never any additives to craft transparent wines that show purity and a sense of place. This Sparkling Rosé has a base of 85% Coombsville Cabernet Franc rosé, made from the grapes that go into Sheehan’s other Ultraviolet bottling, her juicy, everyday priced Cabernet Sauvignon, and with 15% French Colombard from Mendocino. This wine was made utilizing the Charmant method as opposed to fermenting it in bottle, as done with the Champagne method wines at Poe. The sparkling base, which is about extra dry in feel, went through a second fermentation in stainless steel tank utilizing yeast and sugar and fermentation was kept cold, lasting close to seven weeks. This is a very enjoyable Sparkling Rosé to pop with casual purpose, especially along with lots of food and laughter!
($26 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 G.D. Vajra, Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, Piedmonte, Italy.
The Vajra 2017 Langhe Nebbiolo is an absolutely beautiful wine with incredible depth of style for the price, in fact it is on par with some serious Barolo offerings and better than many 2014 Barolo bottlings that are on the market now at triple the cost! Delightfully generous, but vigorous, dry and full of intensity this is a wine of varietal purity with crushed roses, balsamic dipped strawberry and anise notes to go along with layers of briar laced raspberry, damson plum, orange and kirsch fruit as well as light notes of mineral/iron, incense and fresh saline infused chalk/stones. I’m a huge fan of the G. D. Vajra lineup and winery, especially the craftsmanship of Giuseppe Vajra, winemaker, has brought to the wines since I’ve been following them, which started with the 2008, now tens years on these are some of Italty’s best wines. The GD Vajra estate, fourth generation artisan Barolo producer is an example of elegant, pure, and expressive terroir wines, is found in Vergne, the highest village of Barolo in north- west Italy, where the vineyards sit at an altitude of up to 400 metres. The winery’s simple message is, they make wines that do not need to talk out loud or flex their muscles, they just ask them to touch the hearts of all, which I think is mostly has very well accomplished, especially in their Barolo Bricco delle Viole, Barolo Ravera, their amazing dry Riesling, the Dolcetto, the Kye Freisa and this awesome Langhe Nebbiolo. Produced from Cru sites in the Barolo area, this Langhe Nebbiolo is from young vines, including Bricco Bertoni, all hand-picked, with a long vinification and, as Vajra explains, extremely gentle, as so to retain lift and tension to this wine, which was achieved, this is a wine of class and vitality.

Vajra, who has farmed using organic practices since 1971, calls the 2017 a vintage of rich wines with plenty of energy and aromatics, and I agree, this version has plenty of density and ripeness coming in at a Barolo like 14.5% and has a balancing grip and freshness. This Langhe Nebbiolo was fermented and aged in a combination of stainless tank and neutral oak casks, it saw between 8 and 14 months of aging to develop its vinous and graceful mouth feel as well as to preserve the classic Nebbiolo character. That 100% Nebbiolo primary fermentation lasted for almost 3 weeks days in vertical vats, and then was followed by a natural spontaneous malolactic fermentation, with mainly that elevage being in the stainless, while a tiny amount of the blend saw some wood. Vajra, like most great winemakers, is humble and believes his wines are all made in the vineyard and those vines have been nurtured and the soil preserved by grassing and gets a cover crop, which they have for almost 50 years now. Vajra notes, it takes an incredible ratio of manual work per acre to produce the best grapes, adding that the farming at Vajra is a labor of love and a lot goes into monitoring and improving the biodiversity of both flora and fauna not just in the vineyards, but also in the winery fields and the near by forest, knowing all of this plays a part in the stunning quality of Vajra’s collection. Be sure to find and enjoy the current Vajra wines, in particular Giuseppe’s set of Nebbiolo wines, with this “Baby Barolo” one being one to certainly stock up on!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2014 Mount Eden Vineyards, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The 2014 Mount Eden Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a beauty from start to finish, one of the finest I’ve tried in fact and it’s right up there with some of California’s best versions, reminding me of Corison and Ridge Vineyards in style with an elegance and authentic character showing layers of black fruits, a smooth tannic structure and subtle floral perfume. Mount Eden Vineyards is one of the longest running family estates in California that is famous for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but has always done a fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon. This historic winery is perched up at 2000 feet, with an eastern exposure above Saratoga and overlooking the Silicon Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountain Appellation, just about 50 miles south of San Francisco. Mount Eden was founded in 1945 and was one of the original “boutique” California wineries by famed vintner Martin Ray, who as mentioned focused on small lots of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Since 1981 Jeffrey Patterson, the current owner along with his wife Ellie, has guided the winemaking and grape growing at Mount Eden, taking it to the very top in terms of quality making it an iconic producer. Patterson considers himself a winegrower, always crediting the place with its unique terroir for the sublime wines. He says he concentrates on wine growing rather than winemaking and he is obsessed with gentle and natural techniques in the handling of his grapes. Martin Ray purchased the first parcel of this mountaintop estate, which is now the site of Mount Eden Vineyards, back in 1943 and proceeded to plant special Burgundy (clones) Pinot Noir selections and Chardonnay vines with cuttings that came from Paul Masson’s La Cresta vineyard, now known as The Mountain Winery. Martin Ray, who grew up near Masson’s property met Paul Masson and developed a true friendship and Masson had great affection for Martin, as he had no sons of his own, and allowed him to work in the cellar and learn the art of making fine wine, this was pivotal to the future creation of Mount Eden.

Mount Eden’s estate as started by Martin Ray and now run by the Patterson family sites on a rugged mountaintop in the Santa Cruz Mountains with 40 acres of low-yielding Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, plus tiny amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc vines that go into the Cabernet Sauvignon bottlings. Interesting, separate from the relationship with Paul Masson, the heritage of Mount Eden Cabernet Sauvignon dates back to the 1890s, when the famed viticulturist Emmett Rixford of Woodside, California, obtained selected cuttings from Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux and it’s from Rixford’s famous La Questa Vineyard with these selections that were used to plant parcels at Mount Eden. The Soils at Mountain Eden are very thin with a dominant base of Franciscan shales, which are found in these coastal range vineyards, which suits these vines and adds to the concentration of flavors. The climate is cool, with the Pacific Ocean near by, especially for Cabernet, and influenced by the vineyard’s altitude and its proximity to San Francisco bay as well. The vines are trellised in a modern fashion, which promotes even ripening, with the long growing season adding refined tannins and complexity, along with nice natural acidity, which this 2014 shows perfectly. The Mount Eden Cabernet Sauvignon was fermented in small 1,000-gallon stainless steel tanks, with Patterson doing punch downs manually and macerated it, as he notes, for about ten days after fermentation completed, then was transferred into new Bordelaise chateau barrels where aged twenty-two months in the cellar. Beautiful in detail, this 2014 delivers deep blackberry, plum, cherry and currant fruits, plus accents of sandalwood, acacia flower, cedar, minty herb, pipe tobacco, iron/mineral and lingering vanilla, anise and creme de cassis. This fresh and lively unfined and unfiltered Mount Eden Cabernet was aged an extra two years in bottle prior to its release and it is a gorgeous wine that should go for another two to three decades with legendary potential!
($90 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

N.V. Moussé Fils, Anecdote Lieu-Dit La Varosses, Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne, Cuisles, Vallée de la Marne, France.
Cedric Moussé’s beautiful Champagne collection, usually led by distinct Pinot Meunier bottlings, are some of finest grower producer offerings I’ve tried in recent years and his unique 100% single parcel, 100% Chardonnay and 100% organic Anecdote Lieu-Dit La Varosses is a gorgeous Champagne with ripe layers, rich leesy texture and mineral intensity. The Champagne Moussé, who’s estate grown vines include 80% Pinot Meunier, 16% Pinot Noir and just 4% Chardonnay, which obviously makes this Anecdote La Varosses are delicious rarity, is the first member of the Club de Tresor (the body that maintains and approves the famous Special Club Champagne expressions) to make a Spécial Club wine of 100% Pinot Meunier and the first Club member to produce a Rosé de Saignée Spécial Club. Focused on purity and textural quality, Moussé works almost exclusively with stainless steel when crafting his Champagne, with the exception of a small amount of Pinot Meunier destined for his rosé and all the cuvees undergo secondary (malolactic) fermentation that adds to the pleasure and vinous depth. Cedric Moussé, according to his importer Terry Theise, adheres to a ‘lutte raisonee’ approach to grape growing, practicing organic viticulture, using herbal infusions that, Moussé says, act as ‘vitamins’ for the vines, with cover crops proving nutrients, and zero pesticides or comercial fertilizers.

The latest Anecdote Lieu-Dit La Varosses all comes from the 2015 vintage, a warm and dense year that adds to the luxurious feel and ripe fruit complexity in this wonderfully detailed grower fizz, and as mentioned it was crafted from this tiny Chardonnay parcel in stainless steel with a full 48 months on the lees. The terroir here is quite special with this side valley, in the Vallee de la Marne, not all that far from Paris, has unique soils for Champagne that consists of a schist subsoil under the local “green” clay. This combination of climate and soils gives a remarkable freshness, even with these full malos and a lifted sense of fruit, especially in Moussé’s favorite Pinot Meunier versions, but also works to great effect in this Chardonnay sparkler, giving some generosity and structure as well as a salinity which makes everything pop in the glass. The current Anecdote shows loads of personality and refined charm with lemon, peach and bosc pear fruits, delicate floral notes, brioche, wet stones, clove and liquid mineral all supported by an exceptionally fine mouse and effervesce of tiny beading creamy bubbles. This is fabulous Champagne and a top value in limited production, hand crafted and stylish grower fizz with a serious presence, it is great on its own, but sensational with cuisine, be sure to look for this and all of the Moussé lineup! The Moussé Champagnes are still under the radar and priced way below their true value, those that love Jerome Prevost, Brouchard, Laharte and Agrapart will really be thrilled by these exciting Champagnes.
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2014 Ferren Wines, Chardonnay, Lancel Creek Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
The Ferren label wines I’ve tasted, which I’ve had just a couple of so far, have impressed me with the quality and depth of flavors, especially this Lancel Creek Chardonnay from a cool climate Sonoma Coast vineyard, it shows a deep fruit concentration and texture and vibrance, it reminds me of Ramey, Aubert, Littorai and Ceritas with rich character, but also graceful, showing fine details and length. Winemakers Matt Courtney and David Wherritt founded Ferren, a Sonoma Coast winery, in 2013, after an eight-year apprenticeship with the legendary Helen Turley of Marcassin and formerly of Martinelli, with a focus on mainly full-bodied and boldly expressive Chardonnays and elegantly transparent Pinot Noirs coming from cool climate Sonoma Coast vineyards. The Ferren Wines are made using, as the winery states, traditional Burgundian methods, using indigenous yeasts with the fermentations are carried out exclusively by native flora that arrive on the grapes from the vineyards without fining or filtration. The vineyards in Ferren’s portfolio are exceptional places to source top notch grapes, like this Lancel Creek, on the true Coast, which are all hand picked, with Ferren basing its pick dates with a nod to the potential for producing profound, age-worthy wines. All of their parcels are, as they note, farmed to the highest standards of sustainability and wine quality, adding that they are dedicated to doing tiny lots of artisan single-vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Lancel Creek Vineyard, planted by the late Ulises Valdez, one of the hero’s of California winegrowing, is perched above the tiny hamlet of Occidental on the remote true west Sonoma Coast. This secluded, two-acre site is set on the Goldridge soils that provides just enough nutrients and moisture for these densely planted vines to ripen fully with small berries, giving low yields of intensely aromatic and flavorful Chardonnay grapes, which shows in this Ferren Lancel Chardonnay. The Lancel Vineyard faces the Pacific Ocean, that crashes ashore a mere five miles to the west and certainly plays a role in the the wines made from this set of vines, the combining influences of the cold Pacific and the long warm days helps produce a wine of dense opulence and a studied balance, again this Ferren delivers it all with a finesse and poise. This 2014 version is really coming into its own with lush flavors and refined acidity allowing an unfolding cascade of apple, pear, orange/lemon, yellow peach and golden fig fruits along with touches of butterscotch, clove, honeysuckle and hint of smoky vanilla. Time in the glass reveals a more and more substantial wine and greater pleasure with this golden hued Chardonnay filling the palate with a fleshy mouth feel, it is best with cuisine choices that match up, including lobster, smoked salmon with crème fraiche and especially Époisses de Bourgogne, creamy cheese. The style here is pure California, similar to Wayfarer by Pahlmeyer, and it really works, this is a winery to watch and if you can locate this 2014, it will be worth your effort.
($75 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2017 Morgan Winery, Pinot Noir, Double L Estate Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The latest Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir is really an impressive wine from Morgan, one of Monterey’s best and longest running family wineries with the Lee family being great ambassadors for the region and especially for the Santa Lucia Highlands, where this Pinot was born, it highlights the vintage, the marine influence and the hard work in the vines, as well as giving wondrous joy and depth in the glass. This 2017, from the organically grown grapes from Dan Lee’s estate Double L Vineyard and crafted by the hugely talented Sam Smith, head winemaker at Morgan, shows beautiful clarity and rich fruit character, it’s one of the finest wines I’ve ever tasted from the winery, eclipsing the sublime early nineties versions that were made by Joe Davis, who was one of the first star winemakers in Monterey, which were the wines that brought fame to area and began the rise in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Smith’s joining of the team at Morgan has seen its wines get to the next level and I’m incredibly excited to see what the next couple vintages bring, I think they will even be better still, I see the 2018 and 2019 becoming absolutely legendary for Morgan and Monterey. This wine, just getting a full release, has already been garnering critical acclaim and you can immediately see why when seeing and tasting it, it shines ruby and garnet in the glass and the silky palate is layered with dense fruit delivering black cherry, raspberry, plum and wild strawberry along with some toasty sweet oak notes, nice briar and cinnamon spices, distilled rose petals, delicate earthiness and mineral tone. This wine, interestingly feels more evolved than than the 2016’s and some of the single clone 2017 bottlings, maybe proving the barrel selection and mixing of clones makes for a more intriguing example.

Morgan’s signature Double L Vineyard is in a prime spot with its location in the northern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, widely believed to be one the best spots for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Planted to a variety of modern and classic clones, including some rare Burgundy selections, Double L is set on east facing terraces overlooking the Salinas River Valley. This near perfect north-south vineyard row orientation, according to the winery, provides optimum sun exposure and access to the strong afternoon ocean breezes that moderate the afternoon temperatures, they also thicken the grape skins, adding a structured tannic element and the long growing season concentrates flavors, while retaining good natural acidity. The Double L Vineyard has been Certified Organic since 2002, making it the first vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands to achieve both organic and sustainable certifications, again helping with flavor development and giving the wines an inner beauty and energy, which clearly shows in a vintage like this one and makes for vivacious fruit intensity. The 2017 saw just about of year in barrel with about 50% new oak being used, as per normal in this luxurious Pinot Noir, but thankfully the smoky oak has merged with the deep sense of ripe fruit allowing the true nature to shine through and there’s still a lot to come with potential to age 10 to 15 years easily. There is a lot to admire in Morgan’s current lineup with this one, being a study in opulence and style, and their 2018 Double L Estate Chardonnay, especially the Clone 96 version, being stellar wines and stars of the show, they are definitely worthy of being in your cellar.
($65 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2017 Lucia Vineyards by Pisoni, Chardonnay, Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The rich and full bodied Soberanes Chardonnay from winemaker Jeff Pisoni, who makes the wines for his family’s labels, is a fabulous and showy wine, hand crafted with only 200 cases made and opulently layered this golden hued nectar is a beauty that thrills the palate. This Chardonnay comes from the highly regarded Soberanes Vineyard, the Pisoni’s and Franscioni’s latest vineyard project that was purchased back in 2007 and is looking like it can eclipse the famous Garys’ and Pisoni Estate for grape quality, it especially shows promise with Syrah, but of course Pinot is doing well, as well as the Chardonnay, which is heavy in Old Wente clone, that gives the amazing concentration that this 2017 Soberanes Chard shows. The site, next to Garys’ has an array of Chardonnay clonal material planted on 33 acres in the sandy loamy and rocky soils, it is very diverse and includes more than dozen different clones of the most renowned heritage selections from California and Burgundy, including what is believed to be a Montrachet clone, all playing roles that adds to the complexity and quality in the wines, as well as the cool ocean influence. Jeff Pisoni, one of the state’s best winemakers, has really hit a groove with his wines, these 2017’s are top notch, in particular the spectacular Pisoni Estate Pinot, his set of Syrah(s) and this Soberanes Chardonnay.

Made using carefully sorted grapes and a gentle whole cluster pressing and was (barrel) fermented and aged in 100% Franch oak barriques with 100% natural/indigenous yeasts, with what Pisoni says, was minimal stirring of the lees over the course of this Chardonnay’s 15-month slumber in the cellar. The Soberanes Chard saw elevage in 50% new oak, and malos completeld slowly without additions, which certainly shows on the nose and on the toasty sweet finish, plus giving the creamy lush texture, but overall it really has integrated exceptionally well even now in this wine’s youth and it is well balanced and remarkably lively, highlighting the well judged winemaking, the terroir and the natural acidity that shines through. The nose is full of honeysuckle, citrus and creme brûlée and leads to the densely packed mouth with layers of lemon curd, apple, bosc pear, golden fig, orange marmalade and peach fruits along with wet stone, a kick of saline, mineral tones, a hint of clove spice, tropical essences, vanilla and a faint honeycomb note. This is regal Chardonnay, right up there with Aubert, Peter Michael, Mount Eden and Kongsgaard and should be enjoyed with hedonistic and decedent cuisine, such as lobster and or salmon dishes. Drink this one over the next 5 to 7 years, this is flamboyant stuff and impresses with its presence in the glass.
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Schlossgut Diel, Riesling Trocken, Burg Layen, Nahe Germany.
Caroline Diel’s latest wines are some of the best in Germany and everything I’ve tasted from 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, which she feels needs more time to reach its potential, have been absolutely gorgeous and one of the under the radar in the collection is her Burg Layen Trocken, with this 2017 version being impeccable, precise and full of character. Schlossgut Diel, a family owned winery, established back in 1802, is located in the lower Nahe on a steep south-facing slope, on the Burg Layen estate near Dorsheim, Diel’s Grand Cru Goldloch, Burgberg and Pittermännchen parcels make up some Diel’s prestigious holdings and are the source of Caroline’s top Grosses Gewachs bottlings, which are notably, three of the greatest white wines in the world. Diel’s father Armin was one of the biggest advocates for dry Rieslings and helped promote them throughout the world, and now Caroline leads that crusade along with her husband Sylvain, as well as showing off her outstanding Pinot Noir, her fantastic Sekt sparkling wines, which are as seductive as Krug, as well as her traditional sweeter offerings, with her Kabinett, Spatlese and especially her Auslese, a wine of pure opulence, density and finesse. The combination of great vineyard sites, dedicated vineyard management, which is as organic as possible and sustainable, plus Caroline’s meticulous winemaking makes Schlossgut Diel, along with Donnhoff, one of the Nahe region’s most sought after wineries. This Burg Layen Dry Riesling is one of my favorites, it offers exceptional value and has a distinct terroir and house style, it makes for a great place to start, if you’ve not tried Diel’s wines.

This wine, named for the castle, the Burg Layen is a pedigreed site, is set on mainly clay based soils that are accented by some flinty slate and well draining grave, makes for elegant Rieslings that are, as importer Terry Theise notes, capable of aging and that are widely adored by savvy Riesling drinkers, as I very much would like to be known as, and this 2017 is graceful, complex and crisply delicious. With subtle power and underlying intensity, the 2017 Burg Layen Riesling Trocken has crystalline minerallity, brilliant energy and layers of yellow peach, lemon, green apple, unripe apricot, quince and green melon fruits along with zesty spices, wet rock, salivating saline and delicate rosewater. With air the wine gains the vintage’s richness and mouth feel, while stay incredibly structured and with a seductive tension, this is a beautiful stuff that gives the thrill of the Grosses Gewachs, but can be drunk without guilt and or waiting. Caroline Diel uses carefully selected fruit that is, as she notes, either whole-cluster pressed or, if vintage necessitates, de-stemmed by hand so as not to break skins and warrant oxidation, and I can attest to the extreme sorting and attention to detail, as I witnessed some of practices when I visited the winery back in 2016. Fermentation at Diel is carried out spontaneously, using mostly indigenous yeasts in large German oak casks, stuckfass, doppelstuck, and sometimes in cement tanks for the drier (Riesling) wines and then aged extensively on the lees. This transparent dry Riesling has many years of pleasure ahead, but I would find it hard not to enjoy it now, especially with lightly spiced shellfish and or fresh sea foods.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Chateau de Saint-Cosme, Gigondas, Rhone Valley, France.
Louis Barruol’s Chateau de Saint Cosme Gigondas is one of the most iconic Rhone wines, certainly one of the greatest in terms of quality and value and one of my absolutely favorite wines, almost nothing comes close in terms of drinking pleasure for the money and this 2017 is just awesome, beautifully lush and richly textured, but with fine balance, spiciness and serious palate impact. As noted in my long history of reviews, the Chateau de Saint Cosme estate is located north to the village of Gigondas, and is one of the oldest wineries in the region, it stands on tan ancient Gallo-Roman villa which very probably already had its own vineyards, with the records showing that it was founded at least as far back as 1416 with Barruol’s family buying the famous site in 1570. Set in a slightly cooler zone of the appellation, Saint Cosme’s vines are on mainly the classic limestone marl and Miocene sandy soils, all wonderfully situated to produce profound wines, which this year’s Gigondas is, no question. There’s plenty of stuffing and structure, making for a wine with instant gratification, but that can age a long time in the cellar.

The latest main estate wine, Château de Saint Cosme 2017 Gigondas, was made using about 70% Grenache, 14% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre and 1% Cinsault. Brilliant in detailing, this vintage has an underlying beauty and perfume, while still being dense and powerful, its’ a thrilling whole cluster version, which adds more dimension and a sultry earthiness that sets against the deep fruit perfectly, I honestly can imagine it getting better than this, in fact this wine blows away many Chateauneuf du Pape(s) that sell for two or three times the price. Layered with a core of vinous black fruits, this Saint Cosme Gigondas shows boysenberry, creme de cassis, dark plum, pomegranate and misson figs along with violets, cinnamon, dried lavender plus a touch of bitter chocolate, leather, cedar and black licorice. The inky purple hued 2017 edition, pretty much as per normal was aged for twelve months, getting about 20% in new oak, which I believe are puncheons, with close to 50% of the wine resting in casks used for 1 to 4 fills and 30% in concrete vat, giving it a well rounded mouth feel and exceptional purity. Barruol’s wines are always hedonistic and authentic in style, they and in particular this one never disappoint, especially with hearty cuisine, I suggest that you don’t miss this vintage!
($40 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

2018 Samuel Louis Smith, Pinot Noir, Montanita de Oro, Monterey County.
The latest set of wines from Sam Smith’s Samuel Louis Smith label are stunning, I‘ve mentioned the gorgeous Chardonnay from the Spear Vineyard and most recently his Syrah, which I absolutely love, but you shouldn’t miss his Pinot Noir either, this 2018 Montanita de Oro, Monterey County, all from hillside vines, is outstanding. Sourced from two distinct vineyard sites, Pelio Vineyard in Carmel Valley set only 7 miles from Carmel Bay on shales and chalky stones with its cool marine climate delicacy and the Coastview Vineyard in the Gabilan Range, northwest of Chalone with a complex set of granite and limestone soils giving this wine depth and intensity of flavors. Smith who’s really making a name for himself with his fabulous efforts at Monterey’s famous Morgan Winery, especially with his latest Double L Estate wines, both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir offerings are delicious and some of the most elite Santa Lucia Highlands wines to date, on par with the Roar and Lucia by Pisoni stuff. His own micro-négociant label, Samuel Louis Smith Wines, is one of the most exciting small lot handmade wines (boutique) collection on the Central Coast, with a focus on the Sta. Rita Hills and Monterey. Smith, who credits his experience making Pinot Noir wines in the Willamette Valley, cool climate Northern Rhone Syrah and as well as being a winemaker for Margerum in Santa Barbara County as giving him the understanding of terroir and insight to craft his wines has really shown his potential with these 2018’s!

This Samuel Louis Smith Montanita de Oro Pinot Noir, which saw loads of whole cluster, is vibrantly expressive and sensual with layers of black cherry, strawberry, plum, blood orange, pomegranate and tart cranberry fruits along with an array of spices, a touch of earth, mineral tones, light sweet toastiness and crushed flowers. I got to taste through the new releases with Smith and I, as mentioned, was thrilled by them, and throughout the last almost three years I have tried quite a few of Sam’s earlier wines, and they are exceptional as well, providing insight into how they develop with a few years of bottle age and they have impressed, especially the Radian Vineyard Pinot Noir and the Lafond Vineyard Syrah, both from fantastic sites in the Santa Barbara area where Smith was based before moving to Monterey. I must also mention, his Morgan Double L Estate 2017 Pinot, which is just released as well as is beauty and already creating a lot of buzz too, it is is great time to discover his wines, both the Morgan stuff, which includes some small batch single clone bottlings, like Pommard, DRC and in particular the Double L clone 96 Chardonnay, which is one of the best Chards I’ve tried this year in California, right up there with some of the state’s classics, as well as his personal wines, like this one. Textural and intriguing from start to finish, this Montanita de Oro Pinot, still youthful and vivid, with its balancing natural acidity has many years of pleasure in store, don’t miss it and get on Smith’s mailing list, these will go fast.
($42 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

January, 2020

2008 Spring Mountain Vineyard, Elivette Red, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley.
A winery that is reviving itself is Spring Mountain Vineyard with a confident set of new releases, especially their lovely Sauvignon Blanc, but it is the history of the place and their re-release of some exciting library selections that has got a lot of attention, with their 2008 Elivette Cabernet based red being one of the nicest surprises so far. The Elivette was made from Spring Mountains Estate fruit and is comprised of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon,13% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec and it shows its mountain structure perfectly, the fruit is well balanced, quite lively too, and the color is remarkably youthful and beautifully dark, making for a stylish drink and a wine that is putting on a great show in the glass. The historic Spring Mountain Vineyard is an 845-acre estate, with 225 acres under vine, that was once three separate estates each with its own vineyard and winery beginning in 1873, these make up collection of vineyard sites, including Spring Mountain Vineyards/Miravalle, Chevalier, and La Perla. Interestingly, below La Perla, and eventually added to it, was the first vineyard planted by Fredrick and Jacob Beringer in 1882. These terraced hillsides were planted in a wide assortment of grape varieties to support the Beringer brothers fledgling, but now famous, winery. The privately owned estate, with current ownership taking over the property in 1992 after its rise in modern times under Mike Robbins, who had the label from 1974 to 1992 and oversaw an incredible period that brought fame to this world class winery, is now comprised of four historic vineyards that were first, as noted, planted to vine in the late 1800s and only estate bottled wines are produced. This 2008 is lovely stuff with loads of pleasing personality on display, I’m glad to see this winery making a comeback in some ways and getting attention again, I was very impressed with this vintage Elivette, plus their delightful and fresh 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, which I enjoyed with soft cheese and grilled prawns.

Spring Mountain’s complex vineyard, once the setting for a prime time soap opera “Falcon Crest”, has vines are planted on 135 distinct hillside plots that rise from 400 to 1,600 feet above sea level on the eastern slopes of Spring Mountain with a stunning view of the Napa Valley. The weathered volcanic materials, sandstones, shales and sedimentary rock mountain soils make for small yields, less than two tons of grapes per acre typically, making for big shouldered wines that reflect terroir with intense flavors, though Spring Mountain is known for finesse and their supple tannin structure and bright acidity from the cool nights, leading to graceful long lived wines, like this 2008 is showing today. The unique qualities of each block, which are fermented and aged separately and then carefully blended to make the top cuvee, the Elivette. This Elivette was crafted to become the finest expression of the Spring Mountain Vineyard, and it shows brilliant layers of blackberry, blueberry, dark plum and kirsch fruits, creme de cassis, dried sage, tobacco, acacia flower, a touch of earthiness, smoke and mineral tones, finishing with anise, cedar and vanilla. An amazing string of winemakers have worked at Spring Mountain over the years and it has at many times been the equal of Napa’s greatest estates, mostly known for their Cabernet Sauvignon, this Elivette Bordeaux blend and Sauvignon Blanc, they have also made one of Napa’s most sought after Syrah(s) and now, in particular that White Bordeaux style Sauvignon Blanc. After tasting this 2008, which I tasted blind, I am even more interested to see what the 2014, 2015 and especially the 2016 versions of Elivette and the basic Cabernet.
($150 Est. “Current Release Price”) 94 Points, grapelive

2016 Weingut Knebel, Riesling, Von Den Terrassen, Mosel Germany.
This beauty comes from the steep slopes of slate above the river with vines holding on by the use of historic terraces, these need constant work and tender love and care, which Matthias Knebel does to produce his distinct Rieslings, this area Winningen, is one of the sites that defines the essence of these terraced vineyards, that are cultural landmarks, in the Mosel Valley. This wine, Knebel’s Von Den Terrassen Riesling, represents this sense of place and tradition, it is an off dry style that drinks clearly on the drier scale, but with a rich density and a gorgeous vinous charm, while retaining the classic stony/smoky slate driven character with plenty of natural acidity and a crystalline mineral essence. Working with natural methods and sustainable vineyard practices, Matthias, creates authentic wines that reflect his passion and commitment to his craft and his back breaking work in the vines, he is among a talented group of a new generation in the Mosel, and in Germany, that have broken through in recent years for the exceptional quality and intensity of their wines, with his Rieslings reminding me of Christopher Loewen, Mosel, and Theresa Breuer in the Rheingau, to name a couple of modern stars. Knebel is grateful for the work done in the past, by his family, and the gifts of nature, or as he beautiful says “We see ourselves in charge to maintain this legacy, that our forefathers bequeathed to us.” – Matthias Knebel.

The 2016 vintage Von den Terrassen, fermented with sponti, indigenous yeasts and aged in stainless steel, shows remarkable purity and terroir with a slight hint of reduction and earthy charm before opening up to a leesy rich palate of wild peach, lime, apricot, tangerine and muskmelon fruits that are accented by wet shale, flinty stones, saline, spearmint, a faint petrol note, honey and verbena elements in an intriguing Riesling that would be excellent with Asian and Indian cuisines as well as rustic German dishes as well as fish tacos, sushi and or Parma ham. Knebel has a collection of top parcels of vines many of which are between 40-70 year-old, some of which are un-grafted and as mentioned, Matthias is dedicated to farming with minimal intervention, no herbicide or pesticides and relies on small yields, fewer canes, natural competition with his old old vines, all hand tended and picked with rigorous selection both in the vineyard and the cellar, ensuring perfectly ripe and healthy grapes. Knebel uses primarily stainless steel in his vinification(s) and aging, as he notes, these stainless tanks best expresses his nuanced terroirs, also depending on vintage, malolactic fermentation is mostly avoided but much like maceration, some of which see skin contact, is determined on a case-by-case, year by year basis. This 2016 is current in the United States and it is just getting into its groove, so be sure to snap some up, and I look forward to the following 2017’s and 2018’s, which certainly will be exciting stuff!
($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2015 Cave Dog, Red Wine, Beau Terroir Vineyard, Napa Valley.
The gloriously balanced and nuanced 2015 Cave Dog Red Wine from Michael Havens was crafted using 58% Merlot and 42% Cabernet Franc in a classic Right Bank Bordeaux style from a vineyard he has long used, Beau Terroir Vineyard in Napa Valley, it is a wine that shows a stylistic nod to the old school and is very svelte and beautifully detail, offering up the vintage’s ripe and density with an irresistible finesse and graceful length. This wine is a throwback to Havens’ original Bourriquot, like the ones he made during the late 1990s and early 2000s, which were some of the savvy and desirable wines in Napa Valley, I was a huge fan and they were exceptional values, like this one from his Cave Dog label is currently. Havens, it should be noted, is not involved with the wines now named after him, Havens Wine Cellars, they bare no resemblance to his own efforts, and this Cave Dog line is an awesome set of wines, with this one being the leader of the pack and his only red wine, plus his lovely set of whites from Galician grape varietals, Albarino, a grape he personally brought to America and made it a star here and his latest import, Godello. The Cave Dog Red shows gorgeous aromatics with floral tones, a light toasty note and a deep sense of dark fruits before a full bodied palate of blackberry, currant, plum and black cherry fruit as well as delicate cedar, refined Cab Franc earthy elements shining here along with the Merlot’s smooth tannin and textural quality, gaining mineral notes, vanilla, anise and baking spices. Made with passion and with Chateau Cheval Blanc as a model, this Cave Dog Red, even with its unlikely name, is a fabulous wine, honest, authentic and opulent with a polished mouth feel and a stunning lingering aftertaste, especially with matching cuisine, think roast meats, duck breast in cherry reduction and or a rack of lamb.

Havens, who works without dogma, believes careful thought and common sense is required to produce a great wine and starts with a plan with each stage needing a thought process that gets the best out of the grapes with each stage being extremely important to achieve one’s goal, so every detail is done with precision and with a gentle hand to preserve nature’s gift. This wine was ultra carefully crafted using hand picking, hand sorting and the grapes were all de-stemmed and allowed to ferment with indigenous yeasts in open-topped tanks, and to preserve the wonderful aromatics Havens gets, as he notes, from Beau Terroir vineyard, he pumps over or punch down(s) the cap as gently as possible, typically twice a day. After primary fermentation is complete, with lots of tasting to be sure extraction is refined and is giving sublime structural integrity, the wine is free run to barrel with a lightly pressed selection added as needed if the quality is there and then the full wine is allowed to go through malos own its own without inoculation. The aging is usually between 16 to 20 months in medium plus toast French oak from Havens’ preferred barrel makers, Boutes, Sylvain and Atelier, all of which specialize in Bordeaux cooperage and add just the right amount of accents and nobility to the finished wine. The Cave Dog whites are marvelous too, especially the crisp and mineral driven Albarino, with its Rias Baixas inspiration, which I have reviewed here at grapelive.com, it’s one of the best if not the best version of this grape in the new world. It’s exciting to follow Michael Havens again, I love his wines and recommend getting on his list, and I can’t wait to see what the new vintages bring!
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Spreitzer, Estate Riesling Trocken, Rheingau Germany.
The delightful and crisp Spreitzer Estate Trocken is at first easy and delicious, but soon you realize it is far more serious than expected with a wonderful depth of flavors and a gripping dry extract hidden beneath its generous personality, and while I had put praise on Spreitzer’s GG, Alte Reben and Feinherb offerings in prior reviews, I really had to showcase this wine for the quality and exceptional value in this Riesling. Andi and Bernd Spreitzer has put together an excellent set of wines from the 2018 vintage, which looks set to be a classic year in the Rheingau and most all of Germany, from what I’ve tasted so far, highlighted by wines that have richness of fruit, vinous pleasure along with fresh energy, all of which this Estate Trocken shows. The Weingut Spreitzer estate, also known as Josef Spreitzer, as originally founded back in 1641, now run by the Spreitzer brothers Andreas and Bernd, is also one of the oldest privately run wineries in the Rheingau region and has some tremendous vineyard holdings in the middle Rheingau, where the Rhein River runs at its widest point. These vineyard sites, many Grosse Lage and Erste Lage crus are set on an amazing combination of different soils including loess, loam, sand, slate, quartzite, red iron rich stones and clay, all of which add complexity and the climate here is slightly warmer which aids in ripening, helping develop exotic flavors and textures. The Estate Trocken, influenced by the Lenchen vineyard in Oestrich, the heart of Spreitzer’s holdings, is composed mostly of loam and loess soils, is also the basis of one of their majestic GG’s, the Rosengarten, which is one of the most prestigious wines of the lineup and the region.

This 2018 Estate Trocken Riesling from Spreitzer comes from 20 year old vines sourced from three of their vineyards around and in the village of Oestrich, these include Klosterberg, Lenchen and Doosberg set on mainly loam, loess and quartzite soils very close the the estate with its panoramic view of the mighty Rhein. This tasty stuff starts with vibrant citrus and green melon notes and crystalline mineral charm along with brisk saline, stoniness and tropical elements before getting more classic in detail on the graceful medium bodied palate with green apple, peach, lime and tangy apricot fruits, a touch of dried ginger, lemon zest, chamomile and spearmint. This little Riesling got some love and care in the cellar with it being fermented and aged in a combination of stainless steel tanks and old barrels, the large stuckfass German oak casks which are cherished family members here at Spreitzer, with mostly native yeast fermentation(s). The winery, as noted by their importer Terry Theise, strives to maintain fruit (intensity) and finesse by cleaning the must by gravity for 24 hours after the grapes get their whole-cluster pressing, then the wine rests on their gross lees for an extended time and only is filtered once before bottling to promote both freshness and depth, with the final product showing only a hint of reduction, and no oxidation typically. While nicely dry in style there is a distinctive opulence and presence in this Riesling which makes in standout in its price class and it is impressive in the glass and especially with food, in particular grilled BBQed shrimp, light curries, cured ham and or crab cakes. There’s a lot in this current selection at Spreitzer to admire, but this one is a good choice to stock up on.
($22 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Assiduous, Merlot, Kells Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Winemaker and farmer Keegan Mayo, founder of Adissuous Wines, who calls the Santa Cruz Mountains his home, his inspiration and his focus point for his wines, was born on the Big Island of Hawai’i, but moved to Santa Cruz when he was just eight years old, is making expressive, vividly fruit forward and lively wines. Mayo says he is on a mission to create savory wines that have a sense of place and picks growing sites that have special qualities, like an outlier soil or climate factor to achieve a uniqueness in his wines. These Adissuous wines are totally new to me, I was given the heads up on them by Kristie Gallo, an advocate for a new generation of Santa Cruz Mountains wines, so it was really fun to try this intriguing whole cluster and carbonic Merlot, it isn’t what I had expected of this varietal, but it is wildly delicious with an almost Cru Beaujolais feel about it. Mayo farms organically, noting also that he has a less is more approach in his winemaking and creates single vineyard/single variety wines using minimal intervention in the cellar, making natural modern wines with clean and clear flavors. This Kells Vineyard Merlot, presented in a Bordeaux bottle with a red lipstick wax capsule, bursts from the glass with a full carbonic floral and fruit array showing off crushed raspberry, strawberry, fresh plum and sweet cherry fruits that caresses the medium bodied palate with a round soft creaminess before you get a nice savory stemmy crunch with a light herbal sensation, cinnamon spice and a hint of cedar. Like other areas in California, the Santa Cruz Mountains is seeing a changing of the guard and more and more this youth movement is gaining a foot hold with some talented folks, like Keegan, making some headlines.

Keegan got his introduction into the wine industry when he helped out for a few summers at the Split Rail Vineyard in Corralitos, one of the first plantings in the region before going to UC Davis, where he studied and graduated from their prestigious Viticulture and Enology Program. He also spent a harvest with Mumm in Napa as a cellar hand/intern as well as doing a stint with Church Road Winery in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, before, as he puts it, settling into a nearly nine year tenure with Testarossa Winery, in Saratoga, where he eventually became the Assistant Winemaker. Now with his own label, Mayo has began to express his own ideas and I look forward to exploring more of his wines, especially as I really loved this totally different path version of Merlot, with its vivid and juicy character, it is a quaffable and well price wine. I have noticed he does Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gris as well as a 100% Malbec, a wine that excites me to chase down, along with this Merlot. This was a seriously fun wine without being serious, easily quaffable in every way, even if it isn’t recognizable as Merlot at this stage, which may upset purists, but will thrill those that enjoy natural wines. That said, this Adissuous carbonic Merlot is extremely well made and has no sloppy or natty funk, and it joins some very cool carbonic wines, like the Reeve and Sheldon Sangiovese(s), Pax Gamay and Carignan, to name a few. This non varietal correct Merlot is for people that are not traditional Merlot fans, and it rewards those seeking out fresh transparent wines.
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 Halcon Vineyards, Elevación Syrah, Estate, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
This is the second vintage of this special 100% Syrah cuvée Elevación by Halcon Vineyards from their high elevation estate in the Yorkville Highlands and it is absolutely outstanding with stunning purity and an amazing play between ripe fruit and savory elements. Paul Gordon, who had enjoyed Scott Shapely of Roar and Flywheel as his winemaker consultant through the 2017 harvest, has crafted one of California’s greatest Syrah offerings from this cool climate hillside site in the wilds of Mendocino County. Syrah is really hitting its groove again in California, and this latest generation of offerings are mindglowingly good, they easily rival top Rhone stuff from some famous names and they are insanely affordable for the quality on offer, especially these Halcon Vineyard bottlings. This Elevación shows an intense black/purple color with magenta/garnet edges in the glass and the magic starts to lift from the rim with a bouquet of violets, black fruits, racy herbal notes and an earthy sultry sensation before unfolding in layers on the medium/full bodied palate with black raspberry, damson plum, blueberry compote, tangy dark currant and kirsch fruits along with a full stems crunch, olive tapenade, melted black licorice, delicate bacon fat, peppercorns and a touch of a mineral/stony element. This 2017 shows warm rich detail, rather forward for this winery, but classic to its track record it has remarkably low alcohol for a wine of this impact, sensual texture and depth, its a very lively Syrah with a personality that reminds me of Auguste Clape or Guillaume Gilles, both famous Cornas producers.

This Halcon Vineyard Elevación was crafted using old school traditional methods, fermented in a very hand crafted small batch using indigenous yeasts, with Gordon admitting he is a Northern Rhone fanatic and inspired by Cote-Rotie and Hermitage, wines by Domaine Jamet and Alain Graillot seem obvious influences. The 2017 Elevación is again, as Gordon notes, 100% Chave selection (Hermitage clone) Syrah fermented with 100% whole-cluster (full stem inclusion) and aged in neutral French oak puncheons, bottled as per normal here unfined and unfiltered, with everything done to promote transparency and highlight the unique schist soil terroir. There were, as Paul adds, no adjustments to alcohol nor acids and again they needed no additions, going for a very natural style with minimal sulfur, as is the fashion. Just like main Syrah offering at Halcon, the Alturas Syrah, this wine benefited from very mature fruit, from the extra long hang time and stems at low sugars, as mentioned, and it came in at only 12.8% natural alcohol. Halcon only made 185 cases of this Elevación, so it is a good idea to get on the list here, it is also a wine that looks like to have a long drinking window with potential to age up to another decade, even though I find it almost impossible to resist even now. I’ve been a long time fan of these wines and still get giddy when I open a bottle, there is an awesome sense of thrill and value for the money in these wines, don’t miss them. This 2017 set of wines is high quality stuff, with this one in particular being a standout, I can’t to enjoy it with Zuni (Cafe in SF) style chicken, spicy lamb and or Korean BBQ pork!
($38 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Goldatzel, Riesling Spaltese Feinherb, Johannisberger Goldatzel, Rheingau Germany.
Johannes Gross is one of the rising stars of the Rheingau and his Goldatzel wines are a stellar set of under the radar Rieslings that deserve wider attention, especially these beautiful 2018’s, like this unique Johannisberger Goldatzel Spatlese Feinherb with its exceptional crystalline detailing and subtle fruit density and depth. This almost dry, but round structured Riesling glistens in the glass with a pale sunlight hue and thrills the palate with ripe and pure fruit layers that includes apple, key lime, white peach, apricot and papaya along with hint of zesty grapefruit, crunchy mineral, saline infused stones and acidic energy, gaining in body and textural charm with air, making a vinous and complex Riesling that would impress both modern dry style drinkers as well as classic traditionalists. The youthful talent, Johannes Gross, who is in his third year post-university, having studied at the famous Geisenheim, one of the world’s great wine college/institutions, has taken the helm of his family’s very respected small estate in the middle Rheingau with selected vineyard holdings in the villages of Johannisberg, Winkel and Geisenheim, not far from Spreitzer, one of my favorites, has brought international interest to this winery in recent vintages and got renown Riesling guru Terry Theise to take him into his fantastic portfolio of wines.

The Johannisberger Goldatzel vineyard site is set on loam, loess and quartzite soils and is beautiful situated well above the Rhein River where it runs at one of its widest points and makes for wines, that Theise calls, are distinct showing fastidious chiseled clarity of form, which Gross’ 2018 Johannisberger Goldatzel delivers with style and generous grace. Goldatzel’s wines are made without extreme dogma and each wine is made with an individual attention to detail, Gross uses whatever techniques give the best results to promote transparency and elegance. They use a combination of native and specialized cultured yeasts and have both large stuckfass and stainless tanks with each vineyard and wine getting the treatment that best suits each lot, with this Johannisberger Goldatzel getting “Sponti” spontaneous fermentation with primary and less aging done in stainless steel. The underlying quartzite influence really shines through and the vinous feel creates a wonderful play in mouth, in particular this 2018 drinks in a drier that the label suggests and while crisp and delicate, there is a serious substance here and it has a real presence or impact, it is a lovely and thoughtful Riesling that gets the juices flowing. After time in the glass it certainly adds a nice perfume too with citrus blossoms and rosewater to the aromatic array and the finish is equally impressive, this would be fabulous with spicy or cracked crab and or Asian cuisines.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Simon di Brazzan, Cabernet Franc, Isonzo del Friuli DOC, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy.
Tucked in Italy’s top right corner, the Friuli Venezia Giulia region is known for most recently as the Orange Wine capital of Italy and famous for great Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Friuliano wines, but there is some fine reds made here too, especially Bordeaux varietals like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and interestingly Cabernet Franc, like this gorgeous very Loire like version from Daniele Drius, a fourth generation winegrower, at Simon di Brazzan winery. The Brazzano and Mariano del Friuli Vineyards, in the Isonzo del Friuli DOC near Cormons and Mariano, are the source of this beautiful and perfumed wine from Drius and the vines which range from 20 to 30 plus years old set on Alluvial allochthonous soil with excellent drainage allowing a wonderful fruit intensity as well as delicate detailing and sublime length, especially in a fabulous vintage such as 2016. I really thought this was a top Loire wine, as I tasted it completely blind in a Bordeaux varietal tasting panel, it has a Bourgueil like elegance, though it also has Chinon like density, so I was surprised to find it was in fact from the Friuli! This winery, which is totally new to me, is now a label I plan to follow closely and I can’t wait to try their other offerings, especially their “Ramato” coppery “Orange” Pinot Grigio and their sparkling wine!

This deep garnet hued and smooth textured 2016 Cab Franc from Simon di Brazzan is a stunner and a fantastic value as well as being unique and maybe geeky cool, it is certainly a wine I would buy and drink often, I am grateful to Ms. Kelsie Gray for bringing this wine, imported by Vinity Wine Company, an imported with a big presence in San Francisco with a top notch portfolio of wines from Italy, including some favorites like Marisa Cuomo, ArPePe, De Conciliis, Damijan Podversic, Cascina Val del Prete, Le Piane, I Favati, Valle dell Acate, Querceto di Castellina and Graci, all that are usually featured at Slow Wine events and winners of famous Tre Bicchieri awards. The traditionally fermented Simon di Brazzan Cabernet Franc, using de-stemmed grapes, it is gently handed and spends about a week on the skins in tank then aged with extended lees contact without new oak to preserve vitality and purity. This expressive wine is generous on the palate with ripe tannins, a sensual medium body and a heavenly perfume of violets and dark flowers, light spices, mineral notes and subtle earthiness with layers of black cherry, plum and currant fruits along with a touch of olive, bell pepper, anise and a faint cedary/tobacco note. This is outstanding stuff to enjoy over the next 3 to 5 years and great with lamb, mushroom dishes and rustic cuisine.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2017 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Picardan, Rhone White, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
One of the rarest white wines and varietal in California is Tablas Creek’s tasty Picardan, made from this little known and little planted Chateauneuf du Pape grape. With maybe a dozen or so acres of Picardan planted worldwide, Tablas Creek’s version maybe one of two or three wines made as a single varietal wine and it is a crisp and interesting example with elements that remind me of Vermentino (Rolle), Picpoul and maybe Trebbiano (d’Abruzzo) or Pecorino with a crisp tangy profile. It is surprising in this day and age, just how little is known about Picardan, which is also known as Araignan, Oeillade blanche and or Picardan Blanc other than its classic place as being one of 13 permitted blending grapes within the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC in Rhône Valley region of France, but even that is very thin as the grape is usually only found in the blend as a very minor player with maybe six to eight known acres grown in this famous region if that. With Tablas’ success in bringing the Chateauneuf grapes to California, from their partnership with the famed Chateau de Beaucastel and their estate vineyards, it was intriguing that they they brought some Picardan, which I guess was to be used as part of a field blend to add complexity and authentic character to their amazing set of Rhone whites from their estate vines in the Adelaida District of the westside zone of Paso Robles and its limestone based soils. Picardan, lightly golden in hue, is one of the Rhone’s most obscure white grapes, as the winery notes, although it was apparently more common before phylloxera’s arrival in the mid to late 1800s.

The 2017 Tablas Creek Vineyard Picardan starts with orange blossom, wet stones, snappy herbs along with bitter white peach, unripe apple and zesty lemon/lime fruits and even in a ripe year it stays nice and bright with a light delicacy and refreshing acidity, though it does gain a bit of texture (faint oily notes) with air without any sense of weight. Since the variety is practically unknown for any other use than being a tiny part the Châteauneuf-du-Pape blend(s) it is hard to find many reference points to really judge what this wine should taste like, but that being said, this is worthy of place in the lineup and is fun to sip on and I can see it going well with delicate and or briny seafoods, like oysters and steamed clams. There is a saline note, in this Picardan, that is mouth watering and it clears the palate, making it brisk and delightful and it can be enjoyed as a warm day sipper with picnic fare. This is not an exotic or overt white wine, more neutral in style, it’s not going to blow your mind, even though it will hold your attention and easily quaffable. Tablas brought in the budwood (of Picardan) into the United States in 2003 as part of our goal to have all the Chateauneuf du Pape varieties (available) and It was released from quarantine to Tablas in 2012, and they planted a half-acre in 2013, farmed organically, certified biodynamic, with a first harvest in 2016 for a single varietal bottling. The 2017, the second edition, was whole cluster pressed and fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks using indigenous yeasts, all in a quest for purity and made to be drunk in its youth, so drink up!
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2013 Domaine Bitouzet-Prieur, Volnay Taillepieds, Premier Cru Red Burgundy, France.
Vincent Bitouzet, from the traditional Domaine Bitouzet-Prieur, makes elegantly structured wines, and is known primarily for his Meursault white Burgundies from his small winery in heart of the Cote de Beaune, but I love his reds, especially his set of Volnay Premier Crus, like this beautiful and firmly framed Volley Taillepieds. Graced with his prized and extensive holdings in Meursault, Bitouzet’s reds also come from pedigreed sites and special Lieu-Dits and every vine is hand tended with extreme care and all the world is done with organic methods, as many of the top estates do, but it should be noted that the Bitouzet-Prieur wines are still by Burgundy standards, exceptional values, especially at the quality levels of their recent vintages. This 2013 Volnay Taillepieds, which is still youthful and tightly wound, is just coming out of its shell and beginning to show its inner beauty and potential with pretty rose petal, strawberry and mineral delicacy unfolding on the chiseled medium bodied palate, this is a serious wine and one that truly needs matching cuisine and a center stage to shine. As this Bitouzet-Prieur comes alive in the glass it grabs your full attention with its ruby/garnet gemstone hue and its layers of cherry, plum, dusty raspberry and racy red currant fruits comes into focus with air along with hints of smoke, dried lavender, Earl Grey tea like tannins, baking spices and candied orange. The texture is rather gripping still, but turns round and silken with time and food, as you’d expect in such a wine with this class and its performance is impressive, and I think it will only get better with some extra cellaring.

Bitouzet is crafting his wines tried and true practices with an authentic and natural style, employing only indigenous yeast fermentations and the reds receive a daily pigeage, depending on the vintage to ensure just the right amount of extraction and are generally aged 24 months of elevage before being bottled. For both Bitouzet-Prieur’s reds and whites, there is never more than 20% new oak is used for the aging here allowing a true sense of the place to shine through and giving a pure form and sensuality to the wines, and in particular these techniques have paid off here, making for a very complete and complex wine that seduces with its poised details. The Bitouzet-Prieur Meursaults are slightly reductive and restrained in style, but get absolutely delicious with bottle age and the reds are similar, as this Volnay Taillepieds clearly shows, these not flamboyant expressions by any means, they are subtle and refined examples of the Cote de Beaune Terroir(s) that require patience. The Volnay holdings are stunning and now working with his son Francois, Vincent’s set of “Taillepieds”, “Clos des Chenes”, “Pitures”, and “Caillerets” plus the most recent addition to the lineup, “Mitans”, which I also reviewed here, are all worth searching out, also don’t overlook the basic Bourgogne Blanc and Rouge. According to importer, Rosenthal Wine Merchant, the Volnay 1er Cru Taillepieds cuvée, one of Bitouzet’s most austere and aggressive wines, as they put it, is one of the most complete representations of the complexity in the finest of Volnay, calling Taillepieds one of the great vineyards in the region, and I find it reminds me of Domaine de Montille, one of my favorites from this vineyard and village, it also should age another decade with ease.
($65 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Château Pegau, Cotes du Rhone “Cuvee Lône Blanc” Rhone Valley, France.
The second label of the famed Domaine du Pegau, Château Pegau offers a line of great value Rhone wines, like this fresh and beautiful Cotes du Rhone Blanc “Lône” which was hand crafted by Laurence Feraud, one of the most famous and talented Chateauneuf-du-Pape vignerons. The Feraud family have been growing vines in Chateauneuf-du-Pape since 1670 and while mostly growers over their long history in the region they became one of the most important labels and making their own estate wines, mainly under Laurence’s father Paul, but certainly it was her wines that brought fame here, especially with her Cuvée Réservée Rouge and her signature Pegau Cuvée Laurence, which are two of the greatest Chateauneuf(s) and that cherished by collectors. In recent years Laurence was able to add a prized new set of vineyards to grow their line when Paul and Laurence Féraud purchased a 100+ acre estate in Sorgues, and renamed it Château Pegau. It is an exceptional terroir situated less than 4 miles southeast of Châteauneuf-du-Pape itself and on very similar soils, and Laurence Feraud makes sublime use of these vines. The “Lône” Blanc 2018 is a lovely and stylish white that delivers fresh and ripe flavors with classic details and graceful length, it shows a nice stony charm and highlights Laurence’s gifted touch with her whites.

The latest Château Pegau, Cotes du Rhone “Cuvee Lône Blanc” is a blend of 40% Clairette, 30% Bourboulenc, 20% Grenache Blanc and 10% Ugni Blanc from these estate grown and hand harvested grapes that are from vines that average 35 to 60 years in age and that are set on limestone and clay soils with the iconic “galets” large stones littered among the rows of old bush vines. Named “Lône” after the small stream that runs next to the estate, this wine, all tank raised and vibrant in glass shows stone fruit, citrus blossoms, spice and mineral notes with layers of tangerine, green apple, white tangy peach and pear butter along with a touch ginger/pepper, wet rock and a supple texture that lingers on in this medium bodied and distinctive white wine. This wine is easy to enjoy, in particular with fleshy seafood dishes, not unlike a fine Cassis Blanc and is a wonderful way to explore and or discover the joy of Rhone whites, a sublime stepping stone into Pegau’s more serious Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc versions. This delicious stuff gains with air and food, it takes on a hint of oil depth and refreshes with plenty of saline and crispness, drink this over the next two or so years, and I recommend enjoying it and Pegau’s red bottlings in this series, which are solid bargains. I am a huge fan of Clairette Blanche, it works great in blends like this one and is a grape that like Vermentino is really starting to get the attention it deserves.
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 Laura Lorenzo – Daterra Viticultores, Portela do Vento, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia Spain.
Laura Lorenzo is one of Spain’s great new generation of vignerons (viticultores) making incredible Mencia based reds from impossibly steep and back-breaking vineyard sites mostly in the Ribeira Sacra, which means “Sacred Banks” in Gallego, the local Galician dialect that is an ancient cross between Spanish and Portuguese in the remote Galicia region. This tall and rebellious young woman is as tough as nails and has a real passion for her wines, Lorenzo, who I have been following since she stated her own label is an outstanding talent and has risen from obscurity to a new hero in the natural wine world and beyond with her soulful, beautiful and transparent/raw wines. Now a darling of the Sommelier establishment Laura Lozenzo’s limited terroir driven bottlings are extremely hard to get, especially offerings like this Mencia based field blend Portela do Vento Tinto, which is one of her most sought after, it’s Lorenzo’s “Glou-Glou” quaffable version with easy textures and a profile that fits nicely between earthy Crozes-Hermitage (Northern Rhone Syrah), Chinon (Loire Valley Cabernet Franc) and aromatic Fleurie (Cru Beaujolais Gamay) with dark fruit, spice and juicy acidity. As Lorenzo puts it, she allows the grapes speak for themselves, she ferments with wild or indigenous yeasts, primarily employing older wooden casks for maceration as well as fermentation and elevage (aging), only adding only small amounts of SO2 (sulfur) during the winemaking process when absolutely needed, much the same way as Arianna Occhipinti and the famous Domaine Lapierre, with no clarification, filtration, or adjustments made to the wines. According to Lorenzo’s importer, Jose Pastor Selections, Laura describes her farming as “agro-ecology with minimal impact.” She works with techniques that nurture life in the soils, helping to create a healthy and thriving ecosystem for her old goblet trained vines. All work is carried out manually, with these conditions and the wild remoteness here demands it and the vineyards are well cared for with some biodynamic preparations being used.

The 2017 Portela do Vento (Mencia Tinto) by Laura Lorenzo’s Daterra Viticultores, crafted from iconic bush vines, is about 90% Mencia and a 10% mix of Alicante Bouschet (Garnacha Tintorera,), Merenzao, Mouraton and Gran Negro fermented partial whole cluster and with native yeasts in a combination of French cask and Foudre with 15 days on the skins before aging 12 months in large 400 and 500L casks. This Portela do Vento, a darkly hued and graceful wine, comes from steep organic sites, with vines ranging from 26 to 80 plus years old in the Sober zone on the River Sil and Mendoia, Trives on the Bibei River, in subs zones of Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra and Valdaorras D.O.’s known as Amandi and Val do Bibei set on mostly pure granite with some sandy loams. The ripe vintage shows in the medium/full mouth feel and lush details, but with under 13% natural alcohol and loads of energy this wine drinks oh so joyous with a slightly earthy element and smooth tannins adding to the complexity here, there’s lots to love in this version with black cherry, plum, strawberry, pomegranate, tart blueberry and tangy currant fruits as well as delicate background layers of cinnamon, crushed floral tones, basil/garden herbs, dusty stones, a touch of leather, mineral and a peppery spice. This is a cool and compelling wine that is great for sharing and is very flexible with food choices, as in Beaujolais, it does enjoy a slightly chilled presentation and seems right with simple rustic or country style cuisine, especially hearty stews and or outdoor grilling. The latest set of wines from Laura Lorenzo are exceptional and wonderfully delicious expressions, both her reds, as mentioned, which are Mencia focused, and her whites that are made from old vine Godello and Palomino, be sure to keep your eye out for them, especially the new releases including her Gavela do Pobo, or Vila, Casas de Enriba, Azos da Vila and this Potera do Vento.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2016 Weingut Künstler, Riesling Kabinett Trocken, Kirschenstuck, Rheingau Germany.
The Künstler family winery, based since 1965 in the historic Rheingau town of Hochheim, one of Riesling’s original sites near the Main river, has a history that dates back to 1648, but became one of Germany’s top estates under the leadership of Gunter Künstler, who took over the business in 1992, has brought fame to this region that was almost forgotten with his beautiful drier style wines. Gunter Künstler’s gorgeous 2016 (Hochheimer) Kirschenstuck Dry Kabinett highlights Künstler’s elegant style and is serious like a baby GG with riveting and chiseled details and gorgeous texture, it shows beautiful layering and bright energy with lemon/lime, apricot, mango, green apple and peach on the pit fruit along with sea salt, wet flint, verbena and chamomile accents. I have been thrilled by Künstler’s wines for almost two decades, though I have really only started following him more closely since his move into the Terry Theise portfolio and have been luck to have tasted with him on many occasions when he has visited California, and I can’t wait to go to Hochheim to taste the wines on site, where Gunter has converted his vines to organic methods and see his Cru sites like Holle, Herrnberg and Kirschenstuck, where is Riesling comes from. The substance and sublime nature of the Künstler wines is legendary and if you love Riesling, you’ll find them amazing, not doubt about it, also interestingly Gunter has a small planting of Alvarinho (Albarino) too and makes an excellent version.

Grown on a mix of loess, clay, sand, loam, marl and limestone soils that gives these wines from Künstler their complexity and grace, this Hochheimer Kirschenstuck Kabinett Trocken dances on the palate with a Chablis like steeliness and vitality, but with a lush sensation that make this even more delicious and exciting on the lighter Kabinett level frame. The Hochheim area is rather warm and humid, which makes for ripe flavors, but stressful growing conditions, making Künstler work incredibly hard to get perfect grapes without botrytis and makes the decision to go all organic even more evidence of commitment and passion. In the cellar, Künstler is looking for absolute purity and precision, so given his terroir and weather he sorts grapes with extreme care and ferments with selected yeasts and ultra clarified juice to craft his crystalline wines using both stainless steel, like with this one as well as various wood casks. At my most recent meeting and tasting with Künstler I was able to go through a series of vintages and styles and found exceptional quality throughout the range and was blown away with his latest Pinot Noirs, which are stunning wines as well as the set of Rieslings, with his 2007 Holle GG being one of the greatest wines I can remember, and this one, really standing out. Be sure not to miss the 2016, 2017 and 2018 wines from Künstler, and while the Grosses Gewachs deserve to be in your cellar, this crisp Dry Kabinett is one to enjoy now!
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Samuel Louis Smith, Syrah, Sandstone Terrace, Santa Cruz Mountains.
One of the most exciting new labels to emerge in recent years in Monterey is Sam Smith’s Samuel Louis Smith Wines focused on Mountainside vineyards and unique sites, with a tight and tidy collection of what he calls Micro-Negociant wines that deliver exceptional quality and charm for the price, especially Smith’s Pinot and Chard offerings, plus this stunning Syrah from the Santa Cruz Mountains. This 2018 Syrah shows incredible depth and Northern Rhone charm with jaw dropping layering of blue and black fruits, spice, crunchy stems, savory tones and intense florals, making for a pure and outrageously seductive wine. Smith, who studied in Bordeaux and made wine in the Rhone, is dedicated to sourcing fruit from the most distinctive sites possible with what he calls sustainably managed vineyards, with a thrilling selection of vines from the Sta. Rita Hills to the Santa Cruz Mountains, as well as a couple of unique Carmel Valley sources along with an established gem in the Gabllan range northwest of Chalone. He is also head winemaker at the historic Morgan Winery, a pioneer of organic viticulture and traditional winemaking in Monterey’s premier Santa Lucia Highlands region. Sam Smith’s CV is not lacking with stints at Margerum in Santa Barbara County as well as spending a harvest with Francois Villard in the Rhone, where he got a tremendous chance to work with Syrah in its most historic area, and his latest stuff for Morgan has given this Monterey winery a whole new look and elevated it to a fantastic place and quality level, in particular the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, as well as Riesling and Syrah, which is in a slightly different style than his own version(s), making for an impressive start to his Monterey career. I’ve reviewed a few of Smith’s wines over the last two vintages and I am a huge fan, you read them here at grapelive.com and this new set is even better, it was a treat to taste with him and get up to date on the latest offerings, these small lot and handcrafted bottlings really deserve your attention, they all have aromatic appeal, pretty detailing, vinous textural (mouth feel) and wonderful energy.

The latest Syrah Renaissance, while still a small niche, is in full swing in California with many fabulous new examples from highly talented and passionate young winemakers, just like Sam Smith, with labels like Desire Lines Wine Co., Halcon Vineyards, Stolpman and Jolie Laide to go with Syrah masters like Pax Mahle, Jason Drew, John Alban and Sashi Moorman, who’s Piedrasassi label provided an inspiration for many that wanted to explore the more stem inclusion (whole-bunches) style. For Smith’s very Cornas, or Jamet Cote-Rotie like Sandstone Terrace Syrah he used 85% stem inclusion with whole cluster fermentation and only neutral French oak aging, using grapes coming from two vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the little known Gali Vineyard in the cool coastal influenced Corralitos area and more widely respected Zayante Vineyard higher up, closer the the famous Big Basin estate. With Sam using equal 50/50 (percent) between Gali and Zayante which are set on a combination of soils including clay loam, sandy/clay loam coming from weathered sandstone as well as shale and schist that provide glorious complexity in this Syrah that delivers black plum, blueberry, boysenberry and tangy currant fruits, crushed violets, minty anise and grilled/roasted rosemary/lavender or Provençal herbs, peppercorns, sweet kirsch, a hint of cedar, black olive, mineral/stones, dried embers, cinnamon and delicate meatiness that is all well integrated providing beautiful fruit density and a near perfect tension/lively play of exciting earthy and savory elements with the lush ripeness of the grapes along with vintage’s amazingly low alcohol, this is simply awesome and will get more intriguing over the following decade! Be sure to check out this Samuel Louis Smith Wines label and do not miss these 2017 and 2018 vintages, the new Montanita de Oro Pinot Noir, a full review coming soon, and the Spear Vineyard Chardonnay, which is extremely sexy and on par with some of California’s absolute best, like Kongsgaard, Ceritas, Mount Eden and Sandhi to name a few and even has a exotic Hermitage Blanc like presence, are wildly good and sublime values, as is this remarkable Syrah.
($35 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2017 Mendel, Semillon, Mendoza, Argentina.
The Mendel winery in Mendoza Argentina is usually known for their beautiful Mabec and Cabernet Franc red wines, but what a lovely surprise this Semillon is, it is a really solid version of this rare varietal, more known for its use in white Bordeaux and Sauternes, though it does have a few pockets in the new world where it shines, and this is one of them. This Mendel Semillon, grown at 3,000 ft in the Uco Valley, is vastly different than its French cousins, as well as the expressions from Australia, where it is also found and used in many fine dry wines from the Hunter Valley to the Margret River, with this Mendel showing crisp form and racy acidity with subtle tropical notes and a main core of lemony fruit. Mendel wines, based in Lujan de Cuyo, is a partnership between Roberto de la Mota, one of Argentina’s most respected winemakers and founder Anabelle Sielecki, who is one of the wine world’s dynamos, the winery is name after her father, and her global business expertise and passion has made Mendel one of the top producers in the region from her family’s old vineyard which was originally planted back in 1928. Interesting, as I studied up on Mendel’s Semillon I discovered that Semillon is one of the oldest European varietals in Argentina and Mendel’s comes from high elevation plots that are over 60 years old, which gives this wine its old vine character and concentration.

Roberto de la Mota, who was trained in France and has worked with speciality projects included the Cheval des Andes, the ultra-prestigious joint venture between Chandon & Bordeaux’s Chateau Cheval Blanc has both old world and new world influences and that shows in his elegantly styled wines, especially his Malbecs, which I have been hugely found of since first trying them, and his Semillon is pretty cool stuff, made similar to a Graves with oak aging for 8 months and with an expanding palate that gets more decedent and lush as it opens up in the glass. The traditionally fermented Mendel Semillon feels bright and brisk with lively citrus leading the way, but the lees and new American oak eventually allow for the rich texture to show through adding additional layers of peach, apricot, orange marmalade, lime blossom and a hints of creme brûlée and coconut on the lengthy finish. This dry Semillon has a lot of personality and can go with a wide selection of food choices, with the winery suggesting pairing it with shrimp ceviche, steamed muscles, fresh oysters or grilled lobster, which sounds great to me! This is a fun wine that is worth more than a casual glance and presents this grape in a new and intriguing light, this 2017 should drink nicely more another 3 to 5 years, keep an eye out for Mendel’s Semillon and their reds too.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Clos Sainte Magdeleine, Rosé, Cassis AOC, Provence, France.
The beautiful and richly flavored Clos Ste. Magdeleine Cassis Rosé from the 2018 vintage proves why it is one of the best with its fabulous array of wild strawberries, seeped rose petals, grapefruit, racy peach and sour cherries along with its seductive vinous quality and liquid mineral feel on the dense, but lively palate, this is serious stuff that delivers everything you could want from a Provence Rosé! Brilliant pale salmon/pink in the glass, this crisply refreshing Clos Ste. Magdeleine Rosé is a blend of 40% Grenache, 40% Cinsault and 20% Mourvèdre, which gives this gorgeous wine its complexity and nature, it comes from 15 to 40 year old vines on the regions classic clay and limestone soils. Set in the picturesque ancient Provence fishing village of Cassis on the Mediterranean sea, Clos Ste. Magdeleine is a small family run estate winery that renown the world over for their white and rosé bottling, which are always delightful and profound wines that intensely sought after and limited, making them cherished treats that go especially well with seafood dishes. The whites here at Clos Ste. Magdeleine are incredibly elegant, crafted with a focus on primarily Marsanne and some Clairette, along with Bourboulenc, a rare Chateauneuf du Pape grape, as well as Ugni Blanc. They also have planted a new parcel of Vermentino, though not allowed in their Cassis Blanc, it should play a role in their lineup even as a IGP wine.

The viticulture and vinification at Clos Sainte Magdeleine, owned by the Sack family, imported by the famed Kermit Lynch, who also represents the iconic Domaine Tempier, just down the way in Bandol, is under the direction of Jonathan Sack, the fourth generation to be at the helm here. The Clos Ste. Magdeleine domaine is one of only a handful of AOC Cassis wineries and it takes its historic and pride of place very seriously and have started, as Kermit Lynch notes, a three-year long conversion to organic viticulture to preserve the nature of this special terroir and improve the quality, which is already exceptional. The winemaking is traditional and focused on energy and purity, in this classic Rosé they went with 100% stainless steel and zero malo-lactic fermentation after the grapes were carefully sorted and de-stemmed with a short skin maceration with the wine aged in tank with re-integrated lees for just under a year, which helps explain this dynamic wines vivid flavors and unfolding depth. This 2018 is ripe and generous and has stylish presence in the glass and has a touch of saline, stony and savory elements that sharpens the detail and enhances the pleasure, both for drinking now and for the future, for this Rosé can be short term aged as well. Drink this textured Clos Ste. Magdeleine Rosé over the next 3 years, and though hard to get and rare, it is really worth searching out!
($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Saint Cosme, Cotes du Rhone Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
Louis Barruol’s Saint Cosme, located north to the village of Gigondas, which he is most famous for, is the oldest estate in the region being on the site of an ancient Gallo-Roman villa which dates back to 1416 and very probably it already had its own vineyard as well as cellars carved from the natural limestone walls, with the Barruol family acquiring it back in 1570 and making it one the Rhone greatest estates. The fabulous basic Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone is made from 100% Syrah coming from what Barruol calls top vineyard parcels, saying he is no magician, knowing only great sites made great wines and mostly this little beauty uses plots in Vinsobres, which is a special area of the southern Rhone that is sublimely suited to Syrah. The Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone vines are set on mostly limestone sand, red clay and pebbles on Villafranchian terraces that gives this remarkably expression its stylistic charm, density and class, with Barruol noting he thinks Vinsobres is the best area to grow Syrah in this area, which is just to the north of Gigondas and influenced by cool alpine winds that help refresh the vines, giving ripe fruit, but with energy of natural acidity. Barruol makes some of the regions most intriguing wines, both in the Northern and Southern zones, I love his classic Gigondas as well as his Chateauneuf, along with his Crozes-Hermitage and Cote-Rotie, proving equality as good with his Grenache based offerings, again especially his famous Gigondas bottlings and his gorgeous Syrah based goodies, all of which display terroir influence and play the ripe fruit against savory/spicy events.

The 2018 Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone feels denser and more fruit forward that the last few vintages, but should steady itself and lose some baby fat as it gets a little time in the bottle, though quite enjoyable and easy to love even now showing black raspberry, black fig paste, plum, kirsch and blueberry fruits, delicate spices, a touch of earth and game, lavender and anise all coming through on this wine’s plush palate. The all tank aged and partial whole cluster (mostly de-stemmed though) Cotes du Rhone Rouge 2018, which is Louis Barruol’s 22nd vintage of his Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône, is his personal ideal for an entry level version and (he) adds that the vision for this wine have remained unchanged, it’s purely Syrah focused with open knit fruit, crafted with transparent finesse, giving fresh detail and loads pleasure. This wine checks off all the priorities with flair and substance and it is a stupid good value and sublime with rustic and or comfort cuisine, it is one of my favorite wines, a no brainer for fun and a solid Rhone experience that excites the senses both in dark visuals with its purple/crimson hue and its rich tastiness! Drink this over the next three to five years, it goes great with tangy BBQ and many robust dishes as well as being just a joy to relaxingly sip on when you need a friendly red. I must also make note that, Barruol has included a new Vinsobres to his lineup, that should be out soon, look for it, it will be called Château de Rouanne and will be 50% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre, all whole cluster and raised in concrete, it should be awesome.
($15 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2016 Raul Perez, Mencia, La Vitoriana Lomas de Valtuille, La Vizcaina, Bierzo, Spain.
The iconic Spanish winemaker, Raúl Pérez, is one of the world’s most admired vignerons known for his intuitive winemaking genius and natural focus crafting an amazing set of wines from his base in Valtuille de Abajo in Spain’s Bierzo region. Perez, who made his first commercial wine at the age of 22, started his own Bodegas y Vinedos winery in 2005 and while producing his legendary wines he has also offered guidance and has been a great mentor to many rising talents throughout Spain, including Veronica Ortega and Pedro Rodriguez of Guimaro, as well as many others. He has also championed the native varietals found in Rias Baixas, Ribeira Sacra, Tierra de Leon and of course in his native Bierzo in the greater Castilla Y Leon zone, but is best known for his work with Mencia, a dark skinned grape usually found in Galicia, like the Ribeiro Sacra, here in Bierzo and in cooler parts of Portugal, it makes for a dark colored red wine with bright acidity and has been compared to Cab Franc, Gamay, Syrah and Pinot Noir depending on its terroir and vintage, I can find many aspects of those grapes in Mencia, though I think it should be experienced without these expectations to fully appreciate its charm and complexity, and I fully recommend exploring the Raul Perez versions, especially this gorgeous 2016 La Vizcaina with its almost old school Chateauneuf du Pape like presence in the glass!

Most of the time I compare Mencia to Northern Rhone meets Cru Beaujolais, but this La Vizcaina is richer and more leathery, though a pretty delicate floral perfume comes through with air reminding me again of Fleurie and the wine is wonderfully balanced with a nice chalky/mineral element to go with a ripe and dense dusty red fruit profile. Coming from harden clay soils in the Valtuille, the La Vizcaina is most all Mencía, but Perez usually includes other grapes in a field blend, with maybe some Bastardo (Trousseau), Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet), Doña Blanca and Palomino being included, all co-fermented using whole-cluster and indigenous yeasts with primary being done typically in large oak vats with two month macerations before elevage in well seasoned French oak barrels, then bottled unfined and unfiltered. The serious La Vizcaina 2016 is layered and medium full bodied with a compelling and seductive array of flavors including black cherry, plum, mission fig, vine picked berry fruits, a touch of baked earth, minty herbs, all spice, cedar and dried flower incense, all well defined and with sweet tannins that feel quaffable and supple while providing a just enough drying grip to let you know this is wine that can age. At 13.5% natural alcohol, this Raul Perez Mencia is perfectly pure, vivid and authentic in the glass, adding to the visual pleasure of its dark garnet and ruby color and while not a heavy wine, it certainly makes a big impression and impact, lingering on and on, this is exceptional stuff.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2017 Drew Family Cellars, Pinot Noir, The Fog-Eater, Anderson Valley.
The Fog-Eater Pinot Noir is one of the best regional hand crafted Pinots in the state and Drew Family Cellars is one of California’s best producers, based in the cool climate west end of the Anderson Valley. Jason Drew’s latest three vintages have been a step above the rising talent in the state, and he is making some of the most compelling Pinots ever made, while a fantastic new generation of winemakers is quickly following in his footsteps, it is an awesome time to a California wine drinker. The 2017 The Fog-Eater, an appellation blend, from several sites from both bench and hillside locales along with outer western rim vineyards in the Anderson Valley which Drew uses to create, as he puts it, a classic expression of (the) Anderson Valley. This vintage is warm, ripe fruited with a dark fruit profile, it is quite silky and lush on the medium bodied palate that gives pretty black cherry, plum, raspberry and currant like fruits along with a touch of herbal/spicy edginess as well as crushed rose petals, mineral tones, plus delicate cinnamon and vanilla from the kiss of toasted oak. This warm year’s dark garnet and ruby hued edition allows immediate pleasures, but there is plenty of stylish flourish, natural acidity and low alcohol, coming in at just 13.4%, making this a complex and quaffable version of Drew’s iconic The Fog-Eater.

The term Fog-eater, as Drew notes, is a Boontling term, from the local dialect in the area, that is used to describe those who live out on the coastal margins, as the Drew family does and the outliers in the fog, all fitting for this Pacific Ocean influenced area near the Mendocino coast, which delivers its signature on these wines. As with most all of the Drew wines, Jason used 100% native yeasts during the fermentation on this lovely and authentic Pinot Noir and he employed close to 25% whole clusters, as he says brings additional structure and spice into The Fog-Eater. The charm and form of these great wines is also relies on the Alluvial, Gravel, Loam and Seafloor Uplift soils as well as the clonal selections of Pinot Noir that includes Dijon Clones: 115, 667, 777 as well as Mt. Eden and Rochioli clones. This 2017 The Fog-Eater saw just 10% new French oak and was aged just about a year in the barrel with just two gentle rackings, highlighting Drew’s graceful touch and desire to present wines of elegance, substance and transparency, which he has done to near perfection here, it drinks sublime already, but as with all of Jason’s offerings have wonderful age worthy quality and should get even more delicious with another few years in bottle, there looks to be a wide drinking window easily into the 2030s.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2017 Weingut Von Winning, Riesling Trocken, Ungeheuer, Grosses Gewächs, Pfalz Germany.
When I look back again over the wines I tasted in 2019, I am shocked I didn’t mention this awesome wine from Von Winning, it truly was one of the best and most majestic of the vintage in the dry Grand Cru class, it certainly is on par with top white Burgundy, if in fact not better! Von Winning as reported far and wide, and of course by me in recent years, is one of Germany’s greatest and most unique wine estates, based in the Pfalz and with a no compromise sense of purpose in everything wine they do, from their basic state Riesling to their Grosses Gewachs, like this gorgeous and textural Ungeheuer GG, and it’s worth noting they also make one of the world’s great Sauvignon Blancs along with a sublime collection of Pinot Noir and sparkling Sekt(s)! Vigneron and cellar master Stephan Attmann has put tremendous effort and focus into the vines here with the Von Winning Riesling vines trained in the same way as you’d find in Meursault or Montrachet and he admits he is heavily influenced by the Cote d’Or and the great wines of Burgundy and his winemaking is also inspired by the fabled French region with barrel fermentation and lees aging with a very dry focus. Von Winning has a fantastic collection of Cru sites to craft their wines, mostly Grosse Lage and they use extreme care with the vineyard sites, working with organic methods and high density plantings, all of which has made this winery one of the world’s elite labels. Located in the town of Deidesheim, Von Winning has some of the most desirable sites in all of Germany, including a parcel in Kirchenstuck, the most expensive property (vines) in Germany according to rumors, Kalkofen, which usefully gives the most flamboyant wines here, Ruppertsberg, the Paradiesgarten lieu-dit, Leinhohle, Langenmorgen, Grainhubel and this Ungeheuer, which is set on a combination of Loess, Loam, Basalt and chalky sandstone in the legendary Forst zone.

Beautiful in detail and rich in character the 2017 Ungeheuer GG starts with a heady perfume of white flowers and rosewater, liquid mineral a touch of Asian spice and stone fruits before opening up to a dense, ripe vintage, full bodied palate that shows lemon curd, apricot, white peach and mango fruits as well as wet stones, saline, spearmint, yeasty notes and hazelnut, all of which are in line with Riesling purity, but the elegance, flinty/steely elements and racy mouth feel scream Grand Cru Chablis, it has the same presence as Raveneau’s classic Les Clos! Attmann, who has said his winemaking technique is not doing the wrong things at the wrong time, uses a gentle touch in the cellar allowing his top dry wines to go through indigenous yeast fermentations in cask and uses no additions with an all gravity flow press room, with his Grosses Gewächs wines ferment and age in 500mL French barrels, though he has refined his usage in recent times preferring less new oak, which is clearly the case here. Still a baby, this 2017 Von Winning Ungeheuer really takes off when allowed to breathe and I think it has huge potential for even more magic in the coming decade, it gains a firm structure and intensity with the extended time in the glass, making it very clear you are drinking something extraordinary, this is a dry Riesling that will get your full attention and keep it! So far these 2017’s have been rather plush and in some cases rather flabby, but this one, while at first forward and lush, it quickly turns on the complexity and vigor with a nice burst of natural acidity and energy, getting even a bit racy as it unwinds itself, it is a vivid and thrilling wine that impresses for depth and length, absolutely top notch stuff.
($70 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

2015 Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aine, Cotes du Rhone “Biographie” Rhone Valley, France.
One of the most complete and natural Cotes du Rhone offerings from a big wine domaine is Caroline Frey’s Jaboulet Biographie Cotes du Rhone and this warmly ripe and pleasing 2015 is a tremendous value in this price class with pure Grenache plummy fruits leading the way on the medium bodied palate. Frey has led Domaine Paul Jaboulet Ainé into the full conversion to organic viticulture throughout their range and this fresh and delicious Cotes du Rhone Rouge is one of the newly all organic certified lineup. This 2015, from a stellar and riper Rhone vintage, has a classic blend of mostly Grenache along with a healthy dose Syrah and Mourvedre, which adds a deeper complexity than you’d expect in a southern Rhone entry level wine and as it gets air it almost takes on darker character in line with the Northern Rhone or higher elevation Gigondas. The vines are mainly over 40 years old, with some well over 80, and there is plenty of concentration in the profile with boysenberry, plum, huckleberry, cherry and strawberry fruits, peppery spices, mineral essences, iron/meaty elements, a hint of embers, anise, dried flowers and a touch of cedar.

World renown for their estate Hermitage La Chapelle, Paul Jaboulet Aine is one of the Rhone’s top producers and has made significant strides throughout their range under the Frey family and vigneron Caroline Frey, in fact she has put this domaine among the world’s elites on par with Chapoutier and Guigal in terms of quality and production levels and her efforts with the lesser négociant line has vastly improved with her guidance, especially the basic Cotes du Rhone and the Crozes-Hermitage reds. There is plenty to admire here and easy choices to make, but I wouldn’t over look the Biographie Cotes du Rhone Rouge, in particular this 2015, but I can say with confidence the 2016, 2017 and 2018 should be just as delightful as the last three vintages in the region have been spectacular, so no need to be picky on year for this one if you see it. I love the freshness and beautiful dark color in the glass with its garnet/magenta hue adding to the seduction here, this wine also has surprising substance and should drink solidly for another 3 to 5 years, enjoy it with country inspired cuisine and or BBQ, it is impressive stuff.
($15 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Kruger-Rumpf, Riesling Trocken, Dorsheimer Burgberg, Grosses Gewächs, Nahe Germany.
Coming from a tiny incredibly steep Grand Cru site, the Burgberg Vineyard, that is set on volcanic and quartz soils near Munster in the village of Dorsheim, the Kruger Rumpf Burgberg GG is one of the most exciting wines of vintage at this small winery near Bingen at the confluence of the Nahe and the mighty Rhein rivers and it is fantastically mineral driven dry Riesling. This latest set of wines, especially the Rieslings from Georg Rumpf and his family are some of the best yet from this estate and the GG’s and the Premier Cru Trockens are gorgeous wines, no one is going to want to miss these 2018 Nahe offerings, especially the Pitterberg GG, the Abtei Erste Lage 1937 old vine, one of my secret favorites and this beautifully detailed Burgberg GG. Rumpf who has turned to mostly all organic practices, and the Burgberg parcel is farmed organic, and prefers to do natural fermentations, or Sponti, with his Cru wines with the GG’s getting less aging in large cask, Stuckfass to allow less reduction and enhance generosity, while retraining freshness and vitality in the wines, which shows here in this barrel sample of Burgberg which I got from Georg’s brother Philipp, who handles the marketing and packaging here at Kruger-Rumpf. These Kruger-Rumpf GG’s are some of the best values out there, they really deserve much more attention, as does the the lesser bottlings and their wildly tasty Scheurebe, which is one of the best examples in Germany.

The Kruger-Rumpf winery, which dates back to the 1790’s, is focused on purity and the expression of the distinctive terroirs in the family’s holdings, but only began making estate labeled wines in 1984 when Georg’s dad Stefan began crafting small production bottlings. Now, mostly retired Stefan has turned things over to his sons Georg and Philipp, who are continuing the traditions here with a renewed energy and technical skill, that impresses Terry Theise their importer, who considers Kruger-Rumpf one of best under the radar estates in the region and notes that Kruger-Rumpf is innovative and is always striving to reach new levels of quality. I visited Kruger-Rumpf in the fall of 2016 at harvest time and was thrilled with the stylish wines I found and was blown away with the individual vineyards they farm and the hard work they have been putting in the restore the Abtei site. The iron rich volcanic and quartz influenced 2018 Burgberg GG starts with white flowers, stone fruits and vibrant citrus before expansion on the medium full palate with layers of lime/tangerine, apricot, green apple, papaya, bitter pit white peach and white cherry fruits along with steely form, spearmint, verbena, mouth watering saline, exotic spices and subtle leesy elements. This is going to be a legendary wine and is already showing Georg’s signature finesse and vinous personality, it has masses of potential and its delicacy is utterly delicious! There’s a lot to admire at Kruger-Rumpf these days and this crisp 2018 Burgberg is a stunning effort that gains with air in the glass and will more so with a few years in bottle.
$55 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive

2017 Theopolis Vineyards, Petite Sirah, Estate Grown, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
The richly flavored and deeply colored estate grown Theopolis Petite Sirah is one of the best examples of this grape in California coming from a unique terroir and steeply terraced vines in the Yorkville Highlands. 2017 was a ripe year and making for a warmly lush textured version with loads of black raspberry, blueberry, plum and dark currant fruits along with light smoky sweet toasty wood notes, crushed acacia flowers, mineral tones and touches of bitter chocolate and black licorice. This purple/black wine is opulent, but still well balanced with 13.9% natural alcohol and an inner brightness of details, so it drinks wonderfully in its youth and has potential to age, its firm well integrated tannins plus the (high elevation climate) acidity giving it a lot of time to evolve. This vintage of Theopolis Petite is certain to one of the best yet for this spectacular vineyard in Mondecino County, and it is a lovely expression of this grape and an interesting counterpoint to the Halcon Petite Sirah from this same site and is done with a more Cornas or Rhone style and is more whole cluster stem influenced, while this wine has a more modern polished presence in the glass.

In 2017 Theopolis and owner Theodora Lee used small bins for fermentation and employed manual gentle punch downs during the primary fermentation and extracted loads of color before racking the wine to French oak barrels where it was aged for 20 months, then it was bottled unfined and unfiltered ending up with about 45% new wood. This round and full bodied Petite Sirah really thrills the senses and fills out every corner of the mouth and it lingers on and on with a creme de cassis note, giving it a big personality and impact, it should impress Petite Sirah fans greatly. This is also a wine with plenty to offer with meals and can be graceful with many cuisine choices, though best with more robust dishes, going great with BBQ, Roast lamb, short ribs and pork dishes as well as hard cheeses and or wild mushrooms. This is a brilliant and poised Petite Sirah that should continue to develop and gain with cellaring, even though it is drinking pretty sexy right now, be sure to keep your eyes out for this one. Theopolis is a list that is well worth joining the prices are fair and the wines deliver quality and distinction, especially their signature estate grown Petite Sirah!
($39 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine de Sulauze, Vin de France “Charbonnieres” Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, France.
The fruit driven and slightly earthy Charbonnieres Vin de France Rouge comes from Domaine de Sulauze’s single parcel of massale selection Syrah and Grenache vines on limestone and sand that was fermented using partial carbonic maceration and all biodynamic grapes that brings the fresh detail and vibrancy to this fun wine. Everything at Domaine de Sulauze, owned by Guillaume and Karina Lefèvre, is made with mostly natural methods and very low sulfur, in fact some bottles use no added sulfur at all. According to vignerons Guillaume and Karina Lefèvre, as they put it “Domaine de Sulauze is more than a vineyard. It’s a special place that is alive and (is) meant to be shared.” The Lefèvre’s put on an annual pig roast, they say is a joyous and raucous affair where they gratefully share the bounty of the vineyard, their on site brewery, bakery and olive groves, which provides gorgeous oil for the locals. All proudly prepared and set at the Domaine’s big hearted table. Bright red fruits, crushed flowers, stones and garrique lead the way here in this delicious Medium bodied Rhone style blend that gets better and better with each sip adding juicy pomegranate, plum and bright cherry whole cluster influenced fruits, though air delivers a Syrah blue fruit depth, which thrills, along with licorice, pepper, leather and minty herbs, finishing with hints of lingering violets and fine grained dusty tannins.

Karina and Guillaume came to the domaine in 2004 and immediately converted the vines to organic farming and a few years later, to biodynamic farming as well. Planted to classic Provence varieties like Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc and Clairette for the whites and primarily Grenache and Syrah, including the rare Sereine clone, for the reds like this one, plus some Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Mourvèdre. No chemical treatments are used at Domaine de Sulauze, everything is harvested by hand, and the domaine has just recently started ploughing with horse, in keeping with biodynamic traditions. While known for their Coteaux d’Aix en Provence bottlings, especially the Lefèvre’s “Pomponette” Rosé as well as their “Galinette Blanc” and “Chapelle Laique” Rouge, the Vin de France reds are super cool offerings that are exceptional and unique wines, they are well worth searching out, with this “Charbonnières” being one of their most serious expessions, rivaling some Cotes du Rhone Villages and more well known Rhone AOC’s and it will impress lovers of authentic old school Gigondas! This is superb with a slight chill and BBQ and is wonderfully quaffable, easy to enjoy in its youthful form, drink now. This intriguing ruby/magenta “Charbonnières” is nicely pure and transparent with no hint of oak and with exciting zesty refreshing quality, but still complex and with a soulful impact, I could use a few more bottles!
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Kelley Fox Wines, Pinot Noir “Ahurani” McMinnville, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The vibrant and light ruby hued 2017 Ahurani Pinot by Kelley Fox is full of vivid red fruit and whole cluster character with candied cherry, plum, pomegranate and racy red currant fruits as well as a zesty herbal and cinnamon spice background before opening up and revealing a more complex and complete Pinot in the glass. The Momtazi Vineyard, the source of this beautiful and lively wine, is a Demeter-certified biodynamic vineyard in the McMinnville Foothills A.V. A. and gives the Ahurani its distinct personality and energy, which the talented Fox captures in here to near perfection using close to 50% whole bunches and allowing for a very natural charm as well as pretty low alcohol, with this 2017 coming in at 12.5%. The Ahurani, named after a ancient Persian goddess of water and well being, because the Momtazi Vineyard has many beautiful springs and a sense of quiet peace and Fox hopes that feeling transmits itself in this lovely wine, which I can almost taste in this vintage with its pleasure and racy playfulness.

Kelley Fox, one of Oregon’s most interesting characters and best winemakers, got her winemaking start at the famous Eyrie Vineyards, who she credits with an everlasting influence on her style, that was followed by a 10-year term at Scott Paul, that really elevated her reputation. I have been a fan, but I love her own wines that I started following more closely in the last 5 years. She founded her own label back in 2007 and now produces around 2,000 cases a year of Pinot Noir mostly, but also does a crazy good Pinot Blanc and a Ramato (cooper/orange) style Pinot Gris. The Pinots, her main focus, come from two of the Willamette Valley’s most highly regarded and meticulously farmed vineyards, Maresh in the Dundee Hills and this Momtazi. Using primarily used Burgundy barrels and indigenous yeasts, Fox is going for transparency and this one is fabulously delicious, and it only gets better with food and with air.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2015 Domaine de Bellene, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Vieilles Vignes, Red Burgundy, France.
Nicolas Potel’s newish Burgundy Domaine, The new Domaine de Bellene, was born in 2005, after he sold his negociant self named operation, when some of the growers Nicolas Potel had been working with decided to stop their own production and proposed that he take over their vineyards, which he did. Nicolas Potel who had made a name for himself during the late 1990s like Vincent Girardin, took this as the perfect chance and way to realize his dream to a true vigneron, to create his own Burgundy that would be inline completely with his vision, making wines, as he puts it, with the highest level of authenticity and quality. One of his offerings, this Nuits-Saint-Georges old vine really impressed me with its deep concentration, silky layers and refined presence in the glass with a dark garnet/ruby hue and beautiful floral bouquet along with classic Pinot fruit. This Domaine de Bellene NSG Vieilles Vignes comes from three different Lieu-Dits located just north of the town of Nuits-St.-Georges itself, on the Vosne-Romanée side, which includes the La Charmotte, Aux Chouillets St. Julien and Les Argillats. According to the winery, all of these unique and special parcels are more than 60 years old, and are on clay and limestone soils with some sandy influence and in this location the wines are more perfumed and more fruit forward, which the wine shows, especially in this ripe and pure vintage in the region.

The small town of Nuits-Saint-Georges lies at the epicenter of the Côtes de Nuits, just south of Vosne-Romanée and north of the Unesco heritage town of Beaune, Burgundy’s capital, and while there are no Grands Crus here, there are number of exceptional Premier Crus and Lieu-Dit vineyards that certainly deliver Grand Cru depth and class. Potel’s lovely version is a red Burgundy from all organically farmed vines using a native yeast fermentation, with traditional pigeage and light pump-overs, as well as a long settling period, a long, gentle pressing before being racked to barrels for its elevage, which lasted 14 months. The NSG is aged in French oak barriques with 50% being brand new medium plus toast without fining with just a light filtration at bottling, ending up with less than 700 cases made. This vintage turns on the charm with air feeling round and satiny gaining complexity with each sip and showing off black cherry, plum, red berry and currant fruits, delicate earthiness, pretty perfumed rose petals and faint violet, a touch of spice along with sweet and smoky oak toast. The Domaine de Bellene Nuits-Saint-Georges is really coming together nicely and it is a well crafted effort that gives a very vinous and generous performance, but looks set to develop further in the bottle and should gain even more with another 5 to 10 years in the cellar.
($75-93 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Monchhof, Riesling Kabinett, Ürzig(er) Wurzgarten, Mosel Germany.
The brilliantly delicious Monchhof Ürzig Wurzgarten Kabinett 2018 is one of the best values in Mosel Riesling and it shows a traditional light sweetness with racy acidity and crunchy mineral crisp detail with layers of green apple, apricot and zesty citrus fruits with hints of tea spice, lime blossom and smoky flinty stoniness. This wine is pure terroir and sunshine in the glass with a slate driven soul, fresh and easy to enjoy, it just brings happiness and goes fabulous with a great variety of cuisine. Crafted by one of Germany’s most respected vignerons, Robert Eymael, the owner here as well as at J. J. Christoffel, has been charge at Monchhof since 1994, focuses on estate vines in the historic Urzig Wurzgarten as well as Erdener Treppchen and the fabled Erdener Pralet, all classic slate soiled steep sites with this Ürzig Wurzgarten set on its iconic red slate with volcanic spiciness, which transmits its character in the wines. The estate produces primarily fruity style, off dry Kabinett, Spatlese and Auslese wines, though rumor has it Eymael and Volker Besch, his right hand man winemaker, are going to maker a serious lineup of Trockens in the coming years, like Willi Shaefer has now done! These modern Kabinett wines are superb quality wines, their fruity residual sugars don’t feel cloying and the complexity and low alcohol make them thrilling stuff, sublime with briny and spicy dishes, as they provide lovely refreshing joy.

The Monchhof estate, a former possession of the Cistercian Abbey at Himmerod, has a long history and in fact, it is one of the oldest estates in the entire Mosel. It dates back to 1177, the winery has shown documents from Pope Alexander III showing the Abbey and the Roman Catholic church owned vineyards in and around the village of Ürzig with its iron rich soils and highly prized sweet nectar. The Eymaels in 1804, who knew what a prize this property was, purchased the estate from Napoleon, at an auction in Paris, as many historic sites were traded after the church was relieved of their huge holdings in Germany. The very steep Ürziger Würzgarten, one of the prized jewels in the Mosel river valley, is planted 100% to Riesling with some vines almost a hundred years old all which are on original rootstocks and the wines are made with mostly stainless steel fermentation, as this one saw with lees aging in tank as well, though they use some old wood cask for the richer offerings. 2018 Mosel wines are absolutely glorious and there are many exciting wines and loads of values out there, look for Selbach-Oster, Carl Loewen, J. J. Prum, Dr. Loosen, Markus Molitor, the mentioned Willi Schaefer and these stunning Monchhof offerings, especially this slightly exotic, delicately sweet and tasty Ürzig Wurzgarten Kabinett! This is a Riesling that can be aged a few years and makes for a good choice to stock up on, and I should mention their Auslese from the Pralat, reviewed earlier here, is also a must have Riesling.
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2016 I. Brand & Family Winery, Old Vine Grenache, Besson Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley.
Ian Brand’s new releases are some of his most expressive and impressive yet with his Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc offerings leading the way along with this sublime Old Vine Grenache from the historic Besson Vineyard near the Hecker Pass and the town of Gilroy, which is now way past one hundred years old. This 2016 is a gorgeously pure Grenache, made with 50% whole-cluster and aged in a combination of used French oak of various sizes, showing bright fruit intensity, spice and mineral notes with a pretty red fruit, subtle earth, and a sweet floral bouquet. The body builds and the old vine concentration comes through with air and time in the glass, this wine keeps pumping out the fruit and gains a very serious presence on the palate getting more complex and pleasing with every sip with layers of silky raspberry, strawberry, pomegranate and tangy plum fruits, light herbal (stems) notes, cedar, anise, faint pepper and kirsch. This Besson Old Vine Grenache is one of Ian’s signature offerings, joining his Old Vine Mourvedre from the Enz Vineyard and his Bayly Ranch Cabernet Franc that captures the soulful expression of the Loire Valley in a singular California wine.

The Besson Vineyard, planted on its own roots back in around 1910, is finally getting the acclaim and attention it deserves, it has been the source of some outstanding wines, it transmits transparent flavors and is a unique terroir. In recent times it has had lovingly maintained vines with a focus on quality fruit and natural methods has been sustainably dry farmed ever since it was originally planted. This site, as I have noted in prior reviews of this and other wines from this vineyard, first came to the wine world’s attention when California icon Randall Grahm used these grapes in his Clos de Gilroy Grenache, and more recently being used by Angela Osborne of Tribute to Grace, the Kiwi who is one of California’s top Grenache producers, as well as one of Brand’s friends John Locke of Birichino, another label that is putting out a beautiful version of this Besson Vineyard. Ian’s example, with the little extra aging is turning on the charm and its whole bunches, textural density and old world character makes this vintage very seductive indeed and it should only get better over the next 3 to 5 years, this is a Grenache for Pinot Noir lovers, don’t miss it. Brand’s reputation as a vineyard whisperer is as solid as ever, especially when you try his latest wines, these are site driven wines that, like Morgan Twain-Peterson’s Bedrock Wines, show the state’s history and potential in the bottle.
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Bourgogne Blanc, White Burgundy, France.
Maker of some of Burgundy’s most sought out white wines, Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, has made a brilliant and clear Chardonnay that is incredibly pure and focused for a basic regional version and shows why these wines are so highly coveted by Burgundy fans, it’s a great value and vibrantly expression in this 2017 vintage. Almost greenishly pale gold in the glass this 2017 Bourgogne is deliciously crisp and zesty with a slight hint of reduction and is loaded with mineral, white flowers, racy citrus and a delicate sense of wood informed texture with classic Puligny like flavors showing apple, pear, lemon and white peach fruits along with hazelnut, wet stones and faint spicy elements with clove and mouth watering saline. There is a burst of fresh acidity and at first this wine is serve and bracing, fans of PYCM will be thrilled, as this wine follows his style over the last decade, and with air this 2017 Bourgogne Blanc gains a bit more palace impact and fills out with a pleasing roundness emerging, but staying vivid, sharply detailed and focused, making for an elegant and well crafted Chardonnay that will go fabulously with an array of cuisine. I enjoyed this beauty with my New Year’s Eve meal and it went gloriously well with my Epoisses, that amazing soft creamy cheese that oozes decadence, it cut through the fat and made my evening joyous.

Domaine Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, led by Pierre-Yves Colin, who is the eldest son of the famed Marc Colin, is based in Chassagne-Montrachet in their new cellars there that he shaves with his wife’s label Caroline Colin-Morey. Pierre-Yves worked aside his dad and brothers as the winemaker at his father’s domaine from 1994 to 2005, then stepped out on his own founding his own domaine, starting it from family vineyards he inherited from his family and his wife’s side too, also famous and with good parcels of vines in the region. Since that time, he rapidly rose in the wine world, especially with his Saint-Aubin and Chassagne White Burgundies, he has really is a star in the Cote de Beaune and these wines set the gold standard for quality. He and his wife Caroline, join Jean-Marc Roulot and Alix de Montille as one of Burgundy’s elite power couple, and while his top bottlings are spectacular, I am always thrilled with his less pricey offerings, especially his Saint-Aubin lieu-dit whites, and I also enjoy his Pinot Noir too. Pierre-Yves continues to refine his wines, and he has started using larger format demi-muid barrels and uses no stirring of the lees (batonage) to preserve fresh intensity of form, his wines are steely and with an electric like transparency, and this 2017 is all that, keep an eye out for it.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2008 Weinlaubenhof Alois Kracher, Auslese Cuvee, Burgenland, Austria.
The late and legendary vigneron Alois Kracher, one of the world’s best sweet wine producers, was around to craft this one, but the Auslese Cuvee late harvest wine has his spirit, made from hand picked grapes with Noble Rot (Botrytis) for the the winery’s entry level offering using 60% Chardonnay and 40% Welschriesling. Coming from their Burgenland estate vines in eastern Austria this is a classy and exceptional effort that has really aged well and is a pleasure in the glass. When drunk young, the Kracher Auslese Cuvėe is, as the winery notes, medium golden yellow with fine floral notes, quince and fresh peach flavors and offering some bright acidity with a balanced sense of sweetness and a clean mineral finish, but allowed to age, as this 2008 was, it gains a lovely amber hue and gains a sublime honeyed tone from the botrytis and the flavors richen with baked apricot, lemon curd and exotic lychee fruits taking charge on the palate. This regal sweet wine, unique with its use of these varietals, was fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks to preserve a succulent refreshing purity of form and to keep from getting volatile acidity or funk and this Auslese (which means here a select harvest) is lovely, and while I prefer the Gruner Veltliner and Riesling versions, this is certainly in a great place right now and drinks like an aged Sauternes (Basac) or a BA (Beeren Auslese) without the new oak creme brûlée influence.

Weinlaubenhof Kracher has long been in a class of their own, when it comes to sticky wines, and Alois Kracher, who pasted away sadly in 2007 and was a favorite of mine,, achieved practically a god like status in the wine world, almost no other sweet wines have reached such a high level of recognition, respect and praise, except maybe Chateau d’Yquem! Unlike most famous sweet wine producers, Kracher has done it using many different kinds of grapes, even those without much pedigree, which led many to believe that it was the terroir and the passion for their craft that gave Kracher its magic. The fabled Austria estate is now run by Gerhard Kracher, who is the head of the Weinlaubenhof Kracher’s cellar, vineyard and is in charge sales. He learned much from the two generations that came before him and brought so much fame to this small winery, continuing in their big shadow with some gorgeous wines under his belt he combines tradition and modernity, paying tribute and moving forward. This 2008 Kracher Auslese is proof that the future is bright still for Kracher and its complexity was a delicious surprise with additional orange marmalade, wet stone and apple butter coming through with air, it works well with light desserts and savory cuisine too, drink now. I am now inspired to explore more of the later vintages from Kracher and will keep an eye out for well cellared examples too, this was too good not to mention.
$45-69 Est. 375ml-halif bottle) 93 Points, grapelive

December 2019

2015 Corison Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sunbasket Vineyard, St. Helena, Napa Valley.
When reflecting on on of the great wines I’ve been lucky enough to try and review I have to end this year on someone that continues to impress and shows no sign of slowing down with a great set of current releases, this of course is Cathy Corison and this wine, a new offering, is a perfect way to show have exciting her wines are and to end a great vintage here at grapelive.com. Corison is most known for her Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, from vineyards she always worked with and her estate Kronos bottling, but she has been using Sunbasket for some time and has done a single vineyard Cab Franc from here under her Helios second label, and know she has added a single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon to her main lineup, and it is a stunner! Corison Winery has sourced Sunbasket Vineyard, which was originally planted on the alluvial and gravelly soils in St.Helena in the early 1950’s by the legendary winemaker, André Tchelistcheff, for over 25 years, sharing it with Shafer Vineyards, as Corison notes, for many years until they became an exclusively estate winery just over 10 years ago. Corison has taken all the Sunbasket fruit after Shafer stopped using it and has been converting it to more sustainable (farming) methods, making it much more organic and allowing the vines natural energies to shine through, which shows it this ripe and dynamic 2015 Sunbasket Cab. Cathy has long valued the Sunbasket Vineyard’s grapes and adds that she admires the fruit here for its bright red and blue fruit and pretty aromatics, that is clearly part of the joy of this first release with its lovely violet/acacia perfume and deep sense of fruit on the full bodied palate. The Sunbasket is in my opinion, just a touch more lush than Corison’s Kronos, but no less serious, this is fabulous stuff, it blows away many Napa wines at twice the price and those that like Ridge’s famous Monte Bello will be very interested in this wine, or should be.

Cathy Corison, one of California’s greatest winemakers, a living legend and long respected for her pure and elegant Cabernet wines that rival any produced here and those in Bordeaux, I find her wines both majestic and densely powerful, these are wines that capture the best that Napa Valley has to offer, but are never over the top and Corison works incredibly hard in the vineyard to maximize natural acidity and keep alcohol moderate, while still expressing deep flavor profiles, which this gorgeous Sunbasket delivers to perfection. Corison, humbly suggests that it’s all about the vineyard and the quality of the fruit and that she just guides it all to bottle, but there is no questioning her talents and the result of her passion and commitment to her craft. As she says, great grapes make great wine, with Cathy’s winemaking being largely non-interventionist though traditional with full macerations and when her primary ferments are completed the wine is aged in small French oak barrels for at least 20 months, that she’s adds, letting the magical alchemy happen when the wine aging. The Sunbasket 2015 is openly rich and opulent from the first moment your senses come close and the nose is full of the floral bouquet along with blackberries and spices before a cascade of pure Cabernet Sauvignon fruits fills the mouth with black current, plum, boysenberry and blueberry along with hints of coco, tobacco leaf, cinnamon, sage/anise, sandalwood as well as a touch of smoky oak notes and vanilla. Everything flows nicely together and the sweet tannin holds it all in fine balance, while a bigger framed Cab, it is graceful and lively with a sensual textural and fantastic length with heaviness. This brilliant effort is going to thrill Corison fans and it drink incredible for decades to come, it is a perfect sister wine to Cathy’s signature Kronos! What a wine, and what a year, bravo Cathy for your hall of frame career and this great new wine to celebrate with.
($165 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive