Grapelive.com Reviews – March, 2021
2013 Sky Vineyards, Zinfandel, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley.
Lore Olds’ Zinfandels are rare and compelling wines that in some vintages transform into the profound, these wines are rawly authentic and honest efforts, but with age can provide a surprising elegance and complexity, as this 2013 showed last night, making for glorious unexpected evening of vinous enjoyment. I have found over the many years I have been enjoying Zinfandel that, California’s grape, can be truly extraordinary with age and there is a point when some, especially those from mountain sites, turn from flamboyant fruity to almost Bordeaux like, as this wine is doing right now, reminding me of a fine Saint-Julien with one of my favorites, Leoville Poyfrerre coming to mind, with a lovely sense of dark currant, loam and mineral going fabulously well with the briar laced classic raspberry core. Anyone who’s had 20 to 30 year old Ridge or Joel Peterson’s well matured Ravenwoods, with his early 90’s single vineyard stuff in particular, that he sometimes pulls out at trade tastings, will certainly attest to how awesome Zin can age, and this 2013 Mt. Veeder Sky, an odd and unheralded year, is really coming into its own. I was making some Sunday night fettuccini pasta with a spicy sauce that included saffron/smoked mussels on a whim, which needed a nice comforting bottle to spend the night with and I decided to pull this bottle out, and even though the flavors were quite vibrant with a mix of heat from red pepper flakes and lightly briny/fishy, this Sky Zin provided some sublime companionship with a stunning performance. The Sky Zin starts more subdued that many of its contemporaries, though with the grape’s notable raspberry essence being present, it takes on the mentioned currant, as well as plum and black cherry fruit, along with dried acacia flowers, a touch of cedar, anise, earth and cinnamony spices. This wine takes a few minutes to wake up in the glass with well integrated tannins and feels supple in the mouth, filling out to a perfectly portioned medium bodied with non aggressive acidity and a welcome low 13.4% natural alcohol. The quirky and rustic Sky Zinfandels have certainly impressed me over the years, after being turned on to them by my writer friend Brad Gray, who many years old got a remarkable interview with Lore Olds and his daughter, for Sonoma Magazine, both being media shy and hermit like up at their spectacular vineyard up on the southwestern face of Mount Veeder in the Mayocamas mountain range, and more recently by Kermit Lynch Imports salesman Matt Gerloff, who as a family friend of the Olds, has worked many vintages there, as well as battling swarms of wasps, rattlesnakes and the devastating recent fires.
The no nonsense and naturally hand crafted Sky Zinfandels are California treasures and should be on any Zin fans radar, they are unique wines that are terroir driven and offer a ton of soulful personality that activates the way back machine, these are true old school charmers. Sky Vineyards also does a fine Syrah, that also should not be missed with deeper fruit intensity and meaty quality, but also with a sense of grace and with a lovely violet perfume and a spicy pepper and wild sage note, plus a very rare Rosé, which I’ve only been lucky enough to have had but once! Sky Vineyards, founded back in 1973, set high up between the Napa and Sonoma valleys, resting as the Olds put it, on the picturesque crown of Mt. Veeder that is open to the expansive sky, where it gets its name and provides the inspiration for Lore’s beautiful artwork that grace the brilliant labels. The small family estate has fourteen acres of vines, as they also note is planted at an elevation of 2100 feet on their sun catching eastern-facing hillside where the Zinfandel and Syrah grapes enjoy plenty of sunshine and are refreshed by fog laced evenings that ripen these mountain grapes perfectly with an added terroir influenced intensity and structure. The reddish volcanic soil, this special climate and unique physical characteristics of the Sky estate come together along with the Olds respectful and gentle touch help makes wines that are distinct and have a sense of place. Sky uses holistic methods and is very green in practice, they are off the power gris, using only solar power, with sustainable practices, that includes, the use of permanent cover crops, dry farming all the vines, with promotion of birds and beneficial insects to minimize pests, plus a minimal use of water as well. In making the wines themselves, Sky is basic and traditional with hand-harvested grapes and mainly native yeast fermentation in open top one-ton bins that includes a workout of hand punch downs three times a day. After primary fermentation the wine is basket press-pressed into and aged in mostly well seasoned French oak barrels, all to capture exceptional purity and transparency. After have an extra glass or two of this beauty, I am looking into getting a few more bottles, luckily Sky is offering a few more bottles of this vintage and they are offering it at a special discount, so I highly recommend checking them out, plus the current 2014 and 2015 releases, which are also nicely priced and getting on their mailing list! It is a great time too support our hard working small family wineries that have been going through a cascade of tough times.
($39 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
Grapelive.com Reviews – February, 2021
2000 Domaine Gramenon, Vinsobres Cotes du Rhone Villages “Les Hauts de Gramenon” Rhone Valley, France.
The beautifully tertiary and mature 2000 vintage Les Hauts de Gramenon by Domaine Gramenon is on its last legs, but was surprisingly pleasing, lovely and complex last night , making for a hugely rewarding experience in an old Rhone and naturally made wine. Gramenon was originally brought to the United States by Bobby Kacher at Robert Kacher Selections, who took a chance on these natural wines by the Laurent family in the wilds of the Vinsobres area of the Southern Rhone Valley, which sits higher in the region, well north of Avignon, at good elevation, which only just received its AOC the status and became a “Rhône Cru” in 2006, though well known for its high quality for centuries. The wines here in Vinsobres must contain at least 50% Grenache and 25% Syrah and/or Mourvèdre to be labeled Vinsobres and usually do contain a healthy dose of Syrah, which can produce unbelievably gorgeous and haunting wines as seen in the bottlings by Chateau de Saint Cosme’s historic Chateau de Roanne and of course by the Laurent’s here at Domaine Gramenon. This dark garnet with burnt orange edges 2000 starts with earthy intensity, dusty porporri and dried red fruits with touches of leather, anise and a sensation of autumn in the glass, but beyond the obvious age the palate is still lively and the layers of strawberry, raspberry and blueberry fruits have a quality ripe sweetness that matches the savory elements well, especially for the first half an hour or so before the ever present signs of decay and sous bois notes take the stage. Even then the wine holds on bravely and with some exciting flair even, very impressive for a wine that should have been drunk close to twenty years ago.
Domaine Gramenon is now lead by the talents of Maxime François Laurent, who has grown into the role here magnificently and who has made a name for himself in his own right with a series of personal wines and who is admired for his perfumed and fresh wines here. He grew up fast after the sad and untimely death of his father in 1999, after which this estate has gained a huge following and now a significant part of the awesome selection of Rhones in importer Kermit Lynch’s star studded portfolio, and these Gramenon offerings, especially in recent years have developed a fanatic following. While getting his feet wet here, Maxime’s mom Michele Aubery-Laurent played a huge role in running this small estate after her husband passed and much credit to her is deserved for the quality and style here, working the vineyards with total commitment to organics and biodynamic methods. This wine has evolved into a beauty, though I must admit I would have preferred drinking it maybe ten years ago in its true glory years, but grateful it was still brilliant even now, crafted from mostly Grenache and Syrah grapes that saw partial whole cluster and nature yeast fermentation in mainly cement vats. In this period these wines saw little oak and raised in the tank, though a portion did get some time in demi-muid(s) and small barrels when needed, especially the darker and meatier Syrah. Nowadays, Maxime employs more barrique in the aging of his wines, that normally see lees than a year of elevage before bottling, though still having the concrete as the main vessel to mature these fabulous wines. I’ve really enjoyed exploring some very old Cotes du Rhone and Gigondas recently with these Gramenon efforts from 1998, 1999 and 2000 all being joyous and fine examples, making me seriously want to stock up current releases!
($35 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2019 Cruse Wine Co., Valdiguie, Rancho Chimiles Vineyard, Napa Valley.
Valdiguie, once thought to be Gamay in California, has been in the state for a long time and makes for a very interesting wine that can give you the impression you are drinking a fine Cru Beaujolais and in this Cruse Ranch Chimiles version you an extra dimension with jazzy briar spiced crushed raspberry, mineral notes, spring florals and a lovely deep purple/ruby color. This 2019 vintage shows the years extended cool growing season and long hang time with a concentrated and textured palate, but with a juicy fresh personality, a quality that makes Valdiguie so playful and joyous, this is a highly quaffable with its layers of dark fruit, a lighter medium bodied feel with smooth burst of acidity that is in no way aggressive, just giving crisp detailing and keeping things exciting. Michael Cruse, known for his incredible sparkling wines from his leesy and sophisticated methode champenoise Ultramarine, that has a cult following, to his delightfully unique Pet-Nats, one that is made of St. Laurent, a rare Austrian grape in a Blanc de Noirs style and one, like this wine, made from Valdiguie in a Rosé, which is absurdly good too! That said, Cruse does a quality and intriguing set of still wines with varietals ranging from Syrah to Tannat, that originally comes from close the Pyrenees in France’s southwest and most famous in the fiery tannic red wines of Madiran and Irouleguy, in the French Basque region, as well as a brand new Petite Sirah, a red blend called the Monkey Jacket and this delicious Valdiguie. Time and air brings out more complexity and suppleness of fruit adding a delicate savory earthiness, herbs, anise, porporri and a nice cranberry element.
The Cruse Valdiguie, also known as Gros Auxerrois and or Napa Gamay, was hand crafted with an old world sensibility with the feel of whole bunches and a carbonic like indigenous yeast fermentation in tank and then raised in a combination of well used small barriques and larger French oak puncheons with a minimum dose of sulfur, in a style, that again reminds you of a traditional Fleurie or Morgon. There is plenty to admire here and Cruse is certainly one of California’s new stars and I highly recommend jumping on his new set of releases, these wines sell out fast, especially his bubbles, which are highly coveted, and I also suggest grabbing the Tannat and this Valdiguie while you can. Planted back in 1972, the Rancho Chimiles vineyard is located in the Wooden Valley, northeast of the town of Napa, its a special terroir with warm sunshine, but the area is cooled by evening breezes and fog from nearby San Pablo Bay that allows these grapes to get ripe, but with balance and gives the wines a welcome finesse. The Cruse lineup is fresh and fun, all of which are very expressive, vivid and transparent, these wines are made to be enjoyed without fussy over thinking of every detail, they offer generous fruit and opulent textural pleasure with a distinct ease of use that brings lots smiles and comfort. The Rancho Chimiles Valdiguie is one of the nicest examples of this grape out there and joins a select group of producers that make quality single varietal versions, including Broc Cellars, Wilson Foreigner, the Martha Stoumen and Las Jaras collaboration sparkling red (Valdiguie), Rochioli and Folk Machine to name a few. This 2019 edition of Michael Cruse’s Valdiguie is very inviting stuff with its lingering kirsch and violets that goes well with a variety of simple cuisine and is great with finger foods, cheese and cured meats, drink this over the next year or so.
($32 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2019 Domaine des Rémizières, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge, Northern Rhone, France.
What a stunning color, this 2019 vintage is one to get really excited about in the Northern Rhone and this Domaine des Rémizières Crores-Hermitage is a deliciously fresh example with this striking purple hue and a medium bodied palate that is pure and pure gets for a young Syrah, it is a super tasty value as well, especially for the quality. This winery, which is known for their solid range of Northern Rhone bottlings usually sits nicely in the middle of road with wines that might not have the riveting excitement of more famous producers, but deliver authentic terroir character and clarity of form, these are workmen like efforts, though in vintages like this they can rise up and surprise, as this wine does, making it worthy to stock up on and a savvy buy. That said, the top Hermitage here are special wines for this third generation family run winery that was founded in 1973 after years of suppling grapes to the local co-op as most did back then in part of the Rhone, with both their white Hermitage and red versions being highly sought after. Based in Mercurol, this domaine is now run by Philippe Rémizières and his two children Emilie and Christophe, who have 36 hectares of vines scattered through Crozes-Hermitsage, Cornas, Saint-Joseph and the noted small parcels on the famed Hermitage hill, not too far rom the legendary La Chappelle, all of which have been farmed to organic minded based sustainable methods, with the cellar seeing very traditional winemaking.
This 2019 Crores-Hermitage Rouge, 100% Syrah from young vines that average 20 years old and set on gravelly clay and limestone based soils which brings out a warm ripe personality in this wine and this one delivers plenty of pleasing fruit with pretty layers of boysenberry, damson plum, black currant and vivid kirsch along with supple textures as well as hint of olive tapenade, black licorice, cedar, sweet violets and a touch of savory earthiness. The winemaking was low key here, with this Syrah seeing a closed tanks, including some cement vats and temperature controlled primary fermentation with de-stemmed grapes, getting about three weeks of maceration and then being raised for nine months to a year in used large oak foudres, all to promote this wine’s sense of place and clean flavor profile. This is a year to focus on in, if this wine is anything to judge such a things, it shows beautiful definition and is nicely expressive, it reminds me of some of the Maxime Graillot’s Domaine de Lises entry level bottlings like his Equinoxe. With air the bouquet gets better and more deeply floral and the mouth feel is elegant and poised, but still lively, lingering on with its dark fruits on the finish, making a comforting and admirable wine to enjoy over the coming two or three years. Overall, Crozes is a place to look for exceptional bargains with many wines way over delivering for the price and this one excels in that regard and it is a great way to get your feet wet with this region and the Domaine des Rémizières’ honest and transparent lineup.
($18 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Thistledown “The Vagabond” Old Vine Grenache, Blewitt Springs, McLaren Vale, South Australia.
The rich and full bodied (The) Vagabond Old Vine Grenache is a wine of serious hedonistic appeal with opulent ripe layers and pretty floral accents and with a smooth luxurious tannic structure, making this a wine with a ton of wow factor for an incredibly low price. The Blewitt Springs terroir is one of the most significant in South Australia and made famous by the legendary Clarendon Hills bottlings of the late 90s and early 2000s, and its high elevation location and deep sandy soils over a core of ironstone makes it a perfect area for profound Grenache, which has been growing here for close to a hundred years, it’s an area that marries the complexity and density of Chateauneuf du Pape and the sweet fruit intensity of California cult stars Saxom and Sine Qua Non. This 2016 The Vagabond is very singular and impressive offering, which has been getting a ton of buzz at home with great reviews, is a special limited wine that was produced by Thistledown wine company, which was founded by two Masters of Wine in 2010, Giles Cooke MW and Fergal Tynan MW, who along with winemaking talent Peter Leske, make hand-crafted small-batch wines that highlight some of Australia’s most prized regions and distinctive sites. Without knowing the details, I took the plunge here, because the price seemed ridiculous for the pedigree and I only wish I had got a few more bottles of this stuff! The main profile here is one of immense flavor with classic, for Blewitt Springs, character showing raspberry jam, strawberry, pomegranate and dense plum fruits along with an array of spice and herbal notes, there is melted black licorice, menthol, pepper and crushed flowers as well in this deep Grenache, that Cooke and Tynan say was influenced and inspired by old world Spanish Garnacha(s) and Rhone wines.
The Thistledown Australia project obviously relies on the highly regarded Peter Leske, he is a well-known face in Australia wine circles, and his experience working for the likes of Nepenthe, Grosset and Domaine Dujac in Burgundy made him a perfect partner and a solid base from which to make these interesting wines, like this Old Vine Grenache. It is noted by Thistledown, that in 2012, Leske took over the old Nepenthe winery located in Lenswood, Adelaide Hills and re-named it Revenir, where he makes his own wines and those of Thistledown. The winery is, as Cooke and Tynan explain, very well equipped with all the toys needed to make brilliant small batch wines, making it this a perfect home for Thistledown project. The mission here was to create unique bottlings that showcase Australia at its best, pulling away from the stereotypes and focusing on authentic terroir driven wines, these include a series of varietals and blends from Merlot to Shiraz and Grenache Blanc to dry Riesling, all from different regions. They also produce some very rare Aussie versions of Zibibbo and Nero d’Avola, which are Sicilian grapes as well as a classic GSM, all of which sound interesting, and after tasting this The Vagabond Old Vine Grenache, they make my mouth water, I can only hope some of them make over here to California. This wine was sourced from a single 70 year old bush vine and dry farmed parcel in the famed Blewitt Springs sub-region of McLaren Vale and was fermented in a combination of cement and small bins with partial whole cluster and all indigenous yeasts, after which the wine was raised in both cement eggs and French oak puncheons to allow the purity of place to shine though. This Grenache, which shows a hint of subtle stem inclusion, gets better with air and much better with food, especially hearty BBQ dishes.
($15 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Adega de Penalva “Indigena Blend” Vinho Tinto, Dao, Portugal.
While I try to avoid co-op made wines and focus on small family estates, it is impossible to do so all together and especially when the wine is as delicious as this well made and irresistible deeply purple hued and medium bodied Portuguese red blend from the picturesque Dao (DOC) region with its granite hillside vineyards above the river. The price and grapes lured me in and I was not disappointed in this Adega de Penalva Indigena Blend Vinho Tinto in any way shape or form, it is impeccable stuff, made from 40% Touriga Nacional, 30% Tinto Roriz (A clone of Tempranillo) and 30% Jaen, which is the Portuguese name for Mencia, that was all hand harvested and de-stemmed and then fermented and aged in a combination of stainless steel and concrete tanks. This is pretty stuff with dark florals and a jazzy spiciness with smooth layers of ripe fruits including blackberry, plum, morello cherry and tartly fresh blueberries, plus snappy herbs, mineral tones, a hint of earth and lilacs. The tank raised 2016 vintage Vinho Tinto is still vibrant and crisply detailed with a nice burst of natural acidity and a well judged balance between ripeness and refined alcohol, coming in at 12.5% it feels vinous, but not heavy, making it easy to quaff and very good with an array of food choices.
The very noteworthy Adega de Penalva has a solid reputation for quality and value, it is thought of, as one of the top cooperative producers in the Dao region, which certainly seems well justified when you taste this wine, a remarkable bargain for the level of pleasure and purity it delivers in the glass. The 2016 vintage is drinking quite impressively and I see that this Adega de Penalva Indigena Blend is being discounted as the new release is out from Penalva’s importer, Skurnik Wines, making it an even more savvy wine to stock up on, as it will drink nicely for another 2 to 3 years with ease, though immediate use is advised! This tasty stuff opens up further with air and adds a few charms to its performance and again it is complimentary to a variety of dishes from simple burgers, hard cheeses and cured meats to rustic seafood stews, there’s a joyous supple texture and an underlying vitality, which is helped by the good dose of Jaen (Mencia) that gives a lot of personality to this wine. Portugal relies on co-ops for close to 80% of the country’s wine production, estate wines are a rarity here, and while that looks a bit depressing, there are a ton of happy surprises from these operations, like this one from Adega de Penalva, and when you are looking for insane value in old world wine, you can find it here, with the Dao in particular a place to look!
($13 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Foradori, Teroldego, Vigneti delle Dolomiti, Alto Adige, Italy.
Elisabetta Foradori is one of Italy’s greatest vignerons and a leading light in the world of what we call natural wine and her signature Teroldego bottlings some of the country’s most sought after and prized wines, with even this, her entry level or basic version of this unique varietal being a fabulous effort and this 2018 vintage is a classic version of this dark and intriguing grape. Elisabetta, who took over her family’s estate at a young age after the unexpected death of her father, focuses on holistic and biodynamic farming and her estate has become a total sustainable farm and regenerative with a deep respect of the land and environment which honors the land and history of the region of Trentino in the high elevation wine zone of the Italian Alps. Over her winemaking career, Foradori has explored her techniques and styles, which have evolved over the last decade and she fine tuned how she approaches her wines with the wines relying less on small barriques and new oak and employing indigenous yeast and whole cluster fermentations and using special amphora for some of the wines. The deep purple and dark crimson 2018 Foradori Teroldego Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT Rosso was spontaneously fermented from all hand harvested 100% Teroldego grapes and saw mostly de-stemmed berries with a limited amount of full bunches sourced from estate vines set ion the sandy soils and Dolomitic limestone in the Campo Rotaliano area with a small portion still farmed in the historical pergola-trained method. This bottling, the main wine of the winery, which has been produced at Foradori since 1960, was raised in a combination of cement tanks and used oak foudres for just about year, and was made to express varietal character, purity and transparency of the Teroldego without any additional sulphites being used in the winemaking process and only sees a tiny dose just before bottling to guarantee freshness and stability for shipping.
This latest release shows a subtle floral bouquet and a fine mineral element to go along with elegant layers of racy red fruits, a dusting of spices and a supple textural mouth feel on the medium bodied palate of this 2018 vintage that delivers wild plum, vine picked and brambly raspberry, tangy currant and big cherry fruit that is accented with mountain herbs, minty anise, crushed stones, a touch of earthiness and as well as a bright burst of natural acidity that keeps everything taut and fresh. This is a wine that loves food and gets significantly better when paired with matching cuisine, but provides good companionship with pasta dishes and or pizza, which I had it with this time around. The opulent and ripe tannin is present, though never aggressive, leaving an impression of silkiness and it has a lovely lingering aftertaste. The Teroldego grape is an ancient varietal that seems to be only suited to this picturesque landscape and is almost unknown outside of its native Alto Adige and was first mentioned in documents back in the 1300s, and like Lagrein, which is also found almost entirely in this remote mountainous part of Italy. In an effort to get the best of the Teroldego grape Foradori has created plantings that include fifteen diverse clones that provides Foradori with better genetic selections and more depth of flavors in this rare grape. The recent use of DNA mapping of grape varietals has shown that Teroldego has distant relationship to Syrah and Pinot, though also maybe linked to the far East, most likely it was a natural crossing of grapes with some European wild vines and vines that came from as far as Georgia and as close as Croatia. Foradori’s efforts (in clonal diversity) have reduced yields and berry size as well as having a heightened aromatic quality, all of which give her wines their beauty, concentration and complexity. It’s always a treat to drink Foradori’s Teroldego wines, especially this one that offers such a great value, though I must say her whites are easily just as compelling with her Manzoni Bianco and Nosiola Bianco both being stunning, as well as the Fuoripista, the “orange” version of Pinot Grigio. If you’ve not tried any of the Foradori wines, now is a great time to explore them, with Elisabetta’s latest Teroldego being a sublime starting point.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Sling | Stone, Pinot Noir, Knott Family Vineyard, Monterey County.
One of the breakthrough labels of last year, the Sling | Stone wines by Francisco “Junior” Banuelos continues to impress with a fabulous set of Pinots, Chards and Syrah from the 2018 vintage, with his beautiful Knott Family Vineyard Monterey County Pinot being one of my favorites, with this bottle, opened this weekend, showing outstandingly well with everything coming together nicely and with the fruit stealing the spotlight. The 2018 Sling | Stone Monterey County Pinot starts with fruit forward and floral presence in the glass, its pretty ruby/garnet color making it even more inviting, with layers of black cherry, plum, raspberry and sweet fig fruits along with stylish spice, mineral and well judged use of new oak, about 20% of the toasty French oak barrels being new, while the rest was seasoned used barriques that allow for the transparent flavors to lead the way and helping to promote the wines silken texture with just the right amount of vanilla, smoke and fig accents. This 2018 is vibrant and has lots of energy, but delivers a deep sense of richness and is finely tuned, making it wonderfully appealing and rewarding with matching food pairings, those that love the Santa Lucia Highlands will find joyous similarity in style with this one, even if not coming from the region itself. After a few hours of being open, things get even better here, with hints of blueberry, rose petals, a touch of pomegranate, a fine savory/earthy element and tea spice come through, all adding to the feeling of opulence and refinement and shows Junior has very good understanding of this grape and a gentle touch in the winemaking.
Banuelos, who is an assistant winemaker at Odonata Winery based in the Santa Lucia Highlands on River Road under Dennis Hoey, who has obviously been a huge influence and mentor for this label, has received well deserved critical acclaim for his small lot wines, especially his Syrah and even in these difficult times has shown he has the talent and work ethic to be a success. The Sling | Stone Wines, named as a reference to David v Goliath, which I believe highlights the struggle for the underdogs in the wine business and especially for those that don’t come from a privileged background and or how hard it is for people of color to make it in this business. I am excited for Junior and his upcoming set of Sling | Stone 2019s as well, which looks like a stellar vintage that just might eclipse the gorgeous 2018s, which was a killer years for the Monterey region with a long cool growing season that perfectly ripened the area’s Pinot Noir with complex depth and fresh natural acidity, which clearly shows in this Knott Family Vineyard Pinot. The Sling | Stone wines are very limited bottlings, but well worth chasing down and I highly recommend Junior’s other work with Hoey at Odonata, which has cemented its place in recent years as a must visit small family winery with an excellent collection of unique wines from their exciting and fun Sangiovese(s) to their serious efforts with Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as Odonata’s own Pinot and Syrah, which are all tasty treats. The Sling | Stone wines are made with artisan flair and Junior is working with native yeasts and employs some whole cluster, which is more present in his latest Tondre Grapefield Pinot than this one, so the savvy enthusiasts will probably opt for both versions, which I would encourage, no question. Being a native of the Monterey wine country, it is a great to see so many exciting new wines come out from a new generation of local winemakers that have really raised the game here, including Junior Banuelos’ Sling | Stone’s tidy and tasty lineup.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Malbec, Ryan Spencer Vineyard, Estate Grown, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The Alfaro Family Vineyards, based in Corralitos in the southern zone of the Santa Cruz Mountains and founded by Richard and Mary Kay Alfaro back in 1998, is widely known for their incredible coastal cool climate Chardonnay and Pinots, but they have a few other surprises to offer from their impeccably farmed and beautiful hillside vineyards, including a fabulous Gruner Veltliner, a elegant Merlot and this inky, spicy and dark fruited Malbec, the fickle and tricky to grow alternative Bordeaux varietal that was originally from the southwest of France in the its historical home in Cahors. After a few disappointments with other grapes, especially a block of Albarino that got scorched in a heat wave in 2017, Richard focused his attention on his small plot of Malbec at the Ryan Spencer Vineyard, not far from some of the Syrah vines on the estate and the results are impressive with this cool climate version of Malbec, also known in the Loire Valley, where it also is commonly found as Côt, is a nicely concentrated and deeply flavored wine with a unique profile that includes layers of black cherry, forest floor, crushed tart blackberry, plum and a mix of sweet and savory herbs and spices along with a luxurious does of toasty French oak that helps polish and smooth out the tannic edges. The 2018 Ryan Spencer Malbec was carefully sorted and de-stemmed before a cool primary fermentation and then aged for 10 months in 50% new oak, everything done with a nod to both classic Bordeaux and the expressive Argentine versions that have brought this grape world wide fame in the past 25 years. The Alfaro Malbec is skillfully made and has a fresh underlying personality, coming in at a ripe 13.5% natural alcohol, it never feels heavy or hot, being well structured and having a fine cut of acidity from the close proximity to the Pacific Ocean only a few miles away.
The latest set of estate and Trout Gulch wines from Richard and his son Ryan, who has gained winemaking experience with stints in New Zealand and along with the legendary Adam Tolmach at Ojai Vineyards, are delicious and very serious offerings with the Alfaro Chards, as mentioned, being outrageously good and wonderfully stylish efforts, no one should miss the Alfaro Lindsay Page Chardonnay and the Trout Gulch Chardonnay, both of which are killer values and bright stars in this vintage collection. Besides the limited, only three barrels were made, Malbec, Alfaro has crafted some lot goodies from purchased grapes, like his Garys’ Vineyard and Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir(s) along with a powerful single vineyard Bates Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. While styled traditionally, the single varietal 2018 Malbec opens up and sheds its toasty sweet wood influence quickly in the glass to reveal the grape’s blue fruits, a delicate floral essence and an earthy note adding round mouth feel with air. Lingering herbs de Provence, anise, loamy stones, bitter coco and tart currants make for a dimension of complexity on the finish, in what is a robust example of Malbec that is at its best with hearty and meaty cuisine, though also quite nice with hard cheeses. In Roman times, Malbec was one of the great red wines of the world with black and fiery Cahors versions getting shipped throughout their empire, in fact it was the trading efforts with Cahors wine that helped Bordeaux become a thriving port city and gave the locals the idea of planting grapes there! Malbec was one of the most important grapes in Bordeaux up until 1956 when a huge frost killed off almost 75% of the Malbec and it wasn’t re-planted in large acreage, thus it turned into a minor blending component. Cahors has seen a rise in popularity in the last decade with many excellent wines, but it is all about the high elevation Mendoza Malbecs, like those of Catena, that have captured the hearts of Malbec lovers and this Alfaro version is an interesting California bottling that this grape’s fans should check out!
($40 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Sandlands, Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands.
This Sandlands Syrah has been a favorite of mine from the first time I tried it, and the 2018 vintage is in my opinion the best yet, with gorgeous black fruits, its deep violet perfume, its beautiful and inviting purple/garnet hue all revolve around a lively medium bodied palate with incredible textural impact. Tegan Passalacqua, who is widely admired for his own farming and of his impeccable winemaking at Turley Wine Cellars really understands the pleasures of mouth feel and this wine highlights this to perfection, as well as having a fantastic balance or contrast between Syrah’s savory/meaty side and the density of fruit, this creates an endless thrill of the grape’s old world rustic elements and the sweet opulence of its California fruit. The latest Sandlands releases are a studied and brilliant set of small production wines, with quite a few extraordinary efforts, including this one, of which just four barrels were produced and sourced from what Tegan calls, the Soberanes Vineyard that is impeccably farmed by the Pisoni family, planted on the Santa Lucia Highlands classic sandy loams, riddled with chunks of quartz and granite. This vineyard has become a star in the region, joining the top family crus from Pisoni and Franscioni, a collection of greatness including the legendary Pisoni estate, Rosella’s, Sierra Mar and the Garys’ Vineyard, and while known for the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay here, Soberanes has some of the best Syrah fruit in the state, as evidenced by this awesome example. The Sandlands 2018 version showcases the year’s long cool growing season with precision and Northern Rhone like character in its low alcohol as well as its depth and complexity that are just beginning to unfold with fabulous layering of flavors, rich detail and supple tannins with blackberry, boysenberry, plum and racy currant (cassis) fruits, along with bramble, pepper, crushed violets, a touch of welcome umami, almost bacony and anise. The Alban clone Syrah, planted at Soberanes, which I’m told was originally sourced from Cote Rotie, along with some rows of Hermitage (Chave?) clone, which is also included in this wine, plus the terroir here, always seems to bring out the most seductive of Syrah’s side, while delivering impressive structure, I personally think the Syrah offerings from this site are special and in some cases better than even the Pinot Noir, with Tegan’s being one of the most desirable.
The Sandlands Vineyards label is, as mentioned, the personal project of Tegan and his wife Olivia Passalacqua, a micro winery that sells most of its wines through direct sales on their mailing list, which I highly recommend trying to get on. Their line-up focuses on, as Passalacqua notes, the forgotten classic California varieties, From the Mission grape to Cinsault, and primarily grown on sandy soils with mainly ancient decomposed granite, from regions and vineyards, than Tegan adds, that have been farmed for many generations but have remained the outliers of California viticulture. The most acclaimed efforts in the lineup at Sandlands that I have tasted so far include their old vine Mataro (Mourvedre), which I put away to age, the Carignane, a wine that should not be overlooked, the Trousseau, the Chenin Blanc(s), Grenache and of course the Zinfandel from Passalacqua’s own Kirschenmann Vineyard in Lodi, to name a select few. Most of the vineyards that Tegan sources from are organic and his winemaking is all about letting the vineyards speak for themselves, which I might describe as gentle and transparent, seeing natural fermentation(s) and a well judged use of oak, with this Syrah showing excellent purity without any pretense or endowment. There are some really sexy Syrah wines out from this vintage and they certainly are some of the best values in California, with the likes of Pax, Drew, Halcon, Lucia (by Pisoni), Cattleya, Peay, Andrew Murray, Piedrasassi, Samuel Louis Smith, Storm and Anthill Farms making spectacular Syrah wines, all killer values too. I’m also excited by the upcoming 2019s from Sandlands, as everything I’ve heard or tasted so far makes me think it will be an even better vintage and one to really stock up on, especially as a huge many of areas of California, especially in Monterey County, saw horrific smoke taint in 2020, so there will be slim pickings of quality red wines, making these 2018s and 2019s even more in demand than usual. With the Sandlands Syrah coming in at 12.8% natural alcohol, it has a cool climate freshness, but still is expansive and looks to have a long life ahead of it, making me wish I had a few more bottles of this stylish wine.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Ryme Cellars, Aglianico, Luna Matta Vineyard, Paso Robles.
Ryme’s Aglianico collection is simply stunning and some of the best versions of this grape in California, if not the best and are wines that really stand out with this extended aged Luna Matta Vineyard being at the pinnacle, with its dusty firm tannins and intense palate, which also does a too good of a job of bringing its Campania inspired profile to life! The black and leathery Aglianico thrives in warm zones and Ryme’s winemakers, the talented husband and wife team of Megan and Ryan Glaab, have done a masterful job in getting the very best out of this grape, known as the Barolo of the South, in reference to the Aglianico’s similar characteristics to the famous Nebbiolo, and found a California sweet spot with it, making a bold and powerful wine that is also graced with our sunny opulence of fruit. While I admit to love Ryme’s other Aglianico, the Camino Alto, from the Sierra Foothills more, this Luna Matta Vineyard is more true and it certainly has more profound presence in the glass with a much more old world style of experience on the dense and gripping palate, it reminds me of the very best Taurasi DOCGs, giving me the same thrill I had when I had Feudi di San Gregorio’s mighty Serpico for the first time. The Ryme 2017 Luna Matta, coming from a warm ripe vintage with small opaque thick skinned berries was whole cluster foot trodded and saw a spontaneous natural yeast fermentation with a gentle and deep extraction period with daily punch-downs, after which the Aglianico was aged an astonishing 30 months in used French oak barrels to allow for complete integration of its fruit, savory elements, including a subtle smokiness and maturity of its fiery and chewy structural tannin, which still make their point clear when you sip this awesome wine. Finally California is breaking out with its Italian grapes with many producers finding a sweet spot with them, it is a great time to explore these wines, with Ryme being a must. Potentially, there is a lot more to come here with this taut 2017 Luna Matta Aglianico, I might suggest putting a bottle away for 5 to 10 years, it will almost assured to bring even more rewards, patience might pay off greatly with this one.
The Luna Matta Vineyard, on the west side of Paso Robles, is an all organic site on the region’s limestone soils and refreshed by cooling influences from the Templeton Gap, but still basks in the heat of Summer that the rough and tumble Aglianico loves, soaking it all up, but still retaining some lively acidity to cut a fine balance, which this fabulous Ryme example delivers, while also being very true to the varietal’s inner personality. The nose is still restrained with dusty spices, dried cherries, a touch of iron and is subtlety floral, it leads to a full bodied mouth of dense red fruits with huckleberry, tart currant compote, plum and raspberry layers that are accented by hints of game, leather, cayenne, cinnamon and melted black licorice as well as raw beef, cedar, kirsch and violets. This wine will rock you back in your seat, like a youthful Cabernet Sauvignon, but intrigues with a sense of the exotic and charms with a rustic edginess that is sometimes lost in the modern world, but is welcome here, especially with robust cuisine. Megan and Ryan have done a lot to promote Italian varietals in recent years and I adore their whites too, with their Vermentino, that brings a bit of the Mediterranean to us and their mineral driven Fiano, also a Southern Italian grape, that dances on the palate with lovely stone fruit. In the latest releases, Ryme has raised the game with their Italian selections, in particular, these Aglianico bottlings, led by this alluring purple/garnet Luna Matta, are outstanding efforts, including the Rosé of Aglianico and the mentioned Camino Alto, which might be my personal favorite version of this grape I’ve tried to date, from anywhere, including its historic home in Campania. Ryme also does a fun lighter Sangiovese based red, a co-ferment with 20% Friulano, that I reviewed (here at grapelive.com) not long ago along with their sparkling Vermentino and a Ribolla Gialla, an exciting white wine I hope to explore soon. I recommend discovering these Ryme offerings sooner versus later, plus while the Italian inspired stuff are stellar, don’t over look their Cabernet Franc and their Crackling Carignane Pet-Nat, when available!
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 G.D. Vajra, Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, Piedmonte, Italy.
One of the best pure Nebbiolo values out there the G.D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo, especially the 2016, 2017 and now this 2018, which offer tremendous drinking pleasure and a full array of the grapes best qualities in an approachable, ripely flavored and supple tannined wine, it is a no guilt, everyday, well made baby Barolo. The 2018 is fresher and more zippy than the 2017, but with very pretty aromatics and a palate that builds as it opens, ending not far off the richer vintages and it’s performance gets remarkably better with food, where its acidity fades a little and the core of fruit comes out in a shining fashion with layers of black cherry, wild strawberry, plum and baked peach fruits along with a delicate earthy/savory kick, minty herbs, anise and a mineral tone, all of which goes nicely with the heightened floral notes and lingering saline/stony element. When you want exceptional Nebbiolo, this address is one to look to, not many wineries over the last decade has a string of Barolo greatness as top notch as Vajra with Giuseppe Vajra leading this label to super stardom since his breakthrough vintage in 2008. Not a one trick pony, Vajra does a fabulous collection of wines from Dolcetto to Barolo, and Giuseppe’s dry Riesling is maybe one of the best outside of Germany and France’s Alsace region, it is certainly on my must have list along with Vajra’s Cru Barolo, in particular the monumental Bricco Delle Viole, from one of Barolo’s highest elevation sites that also is one of the zone’s latest picks, which adds to the complexity, depth and Grand Cru Burgundy like elegance. While not quite on that level, the basic Nebbiolo still gives way more than expected, much like Vietti’s Perbacco Nebbiolo, La Spinetta’s Langhe Nebbiolo and Borgogno’s No Name Nebbiolo, all of which are savvy choices for the money.
Giuseppe’s father Aldo was a visionary and passionate about finding the coolest climate spots in Barolo, working with organic methods and he was committed to honor the land, the history and the local traditions, while embracing modern technology when it allowed his grapes to be their very best without compromising his ideals. In Giuseppe’s time in charge here, he has added to family’s collection many unique wines and raised the game dramatically, bringing world wide acclaim to the Vajras, cementing this label as one of the region’s blue chip properties. From top to bottom the Vajra lineup is an awesome set of Piedmonte wines, they are impossible to resist, like this one, along with their sublime Coste di Vergne and Fossati Dolcetto, which is from a unique selection of clones and grown in top Barolo vineyards and I never miss a chance to drink Vajra’s Barbera Superiore, it is a wine that deserves way more attention that it gets! The Langhe Nebbiolo, is what Giuseppe calls, his quest for the innocence of Nebbiolo, (and) its purest expression, coming from young estate vineyards close to the winery that range from 10 to 25 years old, it sees a gentle and long maceration so to retain lift and energy, as well as promote its aromatics in this beautiful wine. The vines get total holistic care with the biodiversity extending to the near by forest and neighboring fields to create the best environment possible, this hard work and partnership with nature has paid off in real quality showing up in the bottle. This little Nebbiolo was fermented and aged in stainless steel primarily with some vintages getting a touch not neutral oak if warranted, though everything is done to give crisp, authentic and pure details, which this 2018 delivers, enjoy it over the next 3 to 5 years. The ruby red Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo is great way to get to know this winery and it is real a bargain, it is well worth searching out.
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Viticoltori De Conciliis, Aglianico “Donnaluna” Paestum, Campania, Italy.
The well crafted, ripely pure and slightly lighter bodied artisan styled Donnaluna Aglianico by the noted jazz fan Bruno De Conciliis at the De Conciliis Estate, which is located in the beautiful and remote Paestum near Cilento at high elevation in the coastal zone of Campania region, making for a wine that shows off the more elegant side of this ancient and usually gritty tannic varietal. Bringing a medium bodied palate of classic dusty/meaty dry Aglianico flavors, the 2017 De Conclilis Donnaluna reveals black cherry, plum, brambly raspberry and raw mulberry fruits, briar spiciness, hints of iron, dried wild flowers, a touch of cedar and anise, all of which reminds you why this grape is often called the Nebbiolo (Barolo) of the South and why this Donnaluna offering is so popular, it delivers a lot for the money, especially in a vintage as detailed as this. This dark garnet, almost opaque with a touch of brick on the edge, wine opens nicely and quickly resolves its tannin and leathery earthiness in the glass to allow the core of dark berry fruit to stand out and the texture comes across as polished, smooth and pleasing with a finish that lingers with an echo of the nose and a touch of kirsch as well as tangy burst of orange rind. Paired with a delicious Lasagna and winter salad, the 2017 De Conciliis Donnaluna Aglianico behaved remarkably well bring out the best in the wine and the food with a certain rustic charm that is hard to resist, this producer always seems to hit the spot, spotlighting the quality of this Mediterranean kissed region.
De Conciliis, founded in 1996, specializes, in what the winery calls, fruit-forward full flavored wines, mostly made from Aglianico, which, in the warm climate of the Cilento DOC, gives wines that are somewhat more accessible. The Donnaluna is more of a basic entry level wine, performing its duty well as a gateway to the lineup here, but the De Concilis signature red is their 100% Aglianico ‘Naima’ (named for the John Coltrane tune) which is powerful and cellar worthy bottling. Fermented in stainless steel and aged a year, with 50% in stainless and 50% in used large oak casks to promote a fresh and transparent profile. The winery has gone down the organic method for many years and looks to be all biodynamic in the near future, and De Concilis has been energy self-sufficient since 2007, thanks to solar panels. In addition, the winery notes, it is implementing more intensive water recycling methods, that is important with the arid climate here making water a scarcity to be used with restraint. The terroir here is dominated by its soils, with a combination of sandstone, soft marls, and sandy shales and calcareous clay that brings out the depth of fruit, especially in this wine. The name “Donnaluna” again is a nod to a jazz theme, and is a play on the Charlie Parker / Miles Davis bebop jazz standard “Donna Lee”, and for their unique sparkling Alianico, De Conciliis uses the Selim name, that being Miles (as in Miles Davis) spelled backwards. De Conciliis also does a gorgeous set of white wines which should not be overlooked with a brilliant set of Falanghina(s) and Fiano(s) that are just as impressive as their Aglianico(s).
($25 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2019 Stolpman Vineyards, So Fresh “Love You Bunches” Sangiovese, Santa Barbara County.
The latest version of Love You Bunches from Stolpman’s So Fresh lineup, which they have created to now be an exciting separate collection and for which there is a whole new tasting room, is a delicious and non pretentious lighter style and juicy red wine made from a gentle carbonic maceration of Sangiovese, making for a fun quaffer that is great with a variety of cuisine. This is very flavorful and ultra clean Sangiovese with a dry, but fruity presence in the glass, with a vivid ruby color, light florals and lots of zesty snap to its low alcohol and crisply detailed personality with straightforward crushed strawberry, morello cherry and spiced raspberry fruit along with a light dusting of wild herbs, fennel, cinnamon, plus a burst of pomegranate and citrus punch. This is a wine that the winery suggests, like a young Beaujolais, should get a slight chill and drunk with simple dishes and without having to overthink it, it is for refreshing the mind, rather than adding a burden to a place place crowded by the worries of our times. Stolpman began producing Carbonic Sangiovese in 2013, according to the winery, in an effort to make a fresh, delicious version of Sangiovese, and it was enough to convince them keep exploring the techniques on this grape, until they dialed it in, creating Love You Bunches, the name being a play on the use of whole clusters, in 2016. With Sangiovese, a grape, that is both highly tannic and high in acid, Stolpman adds, can in a one-two combination can produce a whopping blow to the palate, so like a few other California producers have opted to go the whole bunches and Carbonic route with successful results, as this 2019 shows with exceptional clarity. The 2018 and 2019 vintages gave edgy high toned wines, though I kind like the racy quality here, but Stolpman says the 2020 will give a more seductive textural mouth feel, while still showing the dynamic energy, adding another welcome dimension, which I am looking forward to taste as soon as possible.
These So Fresh Wines have really taken off in recent years and the lineup now includes many unique bottlings from which to chose with a couple of very different Syrah(s), a Rhone field blend of own rooted Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah, the “You planted God Damn Gamay?” GDG Gamay, which certainly has a feverish following and this original So Fresh Love You Bunches, all of which pay tribute to the Glou-Glou (Gulp up) style of natural or peasant wines of the European country side with lots of whole cluster, native yeast and carbonic macerations and almost all tank aging to promote vibrant freshness and youthful drinking pleasure. Most all of these Stolpman So Fresh offerings are from organic vines and see no overt winemaking gimmicks, they are all wines that rely on purity at its most basic, these wines deliver exactly what is promised and illicit huge grins and easy laughter. The Love You Bunches is a nearly perfect picnic wine with about 12.5% alcohol and its natural acidity it can provide a bit more depth than a Rosé for an array of foods, without feeling heavy or requiring a substantial nap after a few glasses, in fact Stolpman bottle the So Fresh Love You Bunches in magnum as well as, which honestly makes good sense as it goes down pretty darn quickly. The Stolpman team explains, that their carbonic fermentation, by allowing the grapes to ferment whole, un-crushed in a sealed tank makes for a red wine containing only a fraction of the tannin, of which is more obviously present in a traditionally fermented red wine. In this way, the Love You Bunches is crafted without the threat of being an overly tannic wine, meaning that Stolpman can pick earlier, at lower sugars (or Brix) and higher in refreshing acidity. Notably, because there is no need to wait for integration or softening, Stolpman bottles the Love You Bunches a la a Nouveau style within a few months of harvest, as they put it, locking in the fresh, un-oxidized profile. The 2020 in fact is now available and this 2019 is sold out at the winery, so you best get your orders in fast as this So Fresh offering goes fast. While being the classic Chianti grape, the crunchy/juicy Love You Bunches Sangiovese is truly a distinctly California expression.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
1999 Domaine Brusset, Gigondas “Le Grand Montmirail” Rhone Valley, France.
When a friend of mine found and purchased a savvy cellar of vintage Rhone wines I became obsessed with finding some bargain gems in his set of wines that didn’t seem to have any re-sale value at this stage and wow, did we ever, with every bottle so far being absolute winners, especially this stunningly perfect Domaine Brusset Gigondas from one of my favorite southern Rhone vintages, 1999, which has proven to be way better than expected. Domaine Brusset, one of the great stars of the Gigondas region and farmed all biodynamic, is set on the higher part of AOC in the shadow of the Dentelles de Montmirail Massif mountain range with parcels of old bush vines mainly consisting of Grenache, but with high percentage of Cinsault, which always seems to deliver freshness and brightness to the wines here, as well as Syrah and Mourvedre, that adds a meaty structure and savory depth to these beautifully classic wines. While top Chateauneuf du Pape wines are known to age, though Cotes du Rhone Villages are not supposed to be notable cellar candidates, but I have found that both Vacqueyras and Gigondas, like this gorgeously compelling Domaine Brusset example, can and do age well and in some cases, they are even better than the more well known Chateauneufs! This 1999 Brusset Le Grand Montmirail Gigondas, which it should noted, had a fabulous cork with not a trace of bleed and was pulled easily from the bottle, which was a great sign and start, that gave me a huge sense of relief and set my expectations through the roof and I was not let down, the wine poured into the glass with its nearly youthful looking purple/garnet hue and a wonderful array of natural scents from the Rhone Valley with an earthy, spicy, burnt orange rind and delicate dried florals that hinted at its welcome maturity. The palate was fine and still excitingly raw with layers of blackberries, boysenberry, baked strawberry, wild plum, dusty fig, preserved blueberry and a tangy marmalade element to the fruit, along with just right amount of funk, leather, an iron rich mineral/beef broth, anise, herbs de Provence and lingering creme de cassis. There’s a dry extract feel with a touch of gritty tannin, a prominent feature of 1999 wines, that gives a sense of firmness that seems to melt away when food enters to picture and there’s a vibrant lift that keeps this well crafted Gigondas light on its feel, making for a joyous experience and focuses your attention on the purity of the flavors.
The 1999 vintage, placed between the critically acclaimed 1998 and much over hyped 2000, was a year that almost got lost, it wasn’t an easy vintage nor were all the wines that impressive, but there were many that over performed, as this wine from Domaine Brusset has done, plus I have always thought the 1999 Vieux Telegraphe, Mourvedre influenced, Chateauneuf, was one of the greatest of the nineties, and has led me to search out other wines from this often overlooked year. Domaine Brusset, founded by the late Andre Brusset, who established this family estate in 1947 and who passed away in 1999, making this a wonderful tribute to his leadership here, does sublime lineup of red wines from different Cotes du Rhone zones, including of course Gigondas, plus Cairanne, where the winery is based, as well as Ventoux, basic Côtes-du-Rhône and Rasteau. Today Andre’s grand son, Laurent Bresset runs the property and oversees their fantastic selection of vineyards, which as per normal here are 90% dedicated to the production of red wines, with just a small collection of white grapes including mainly Grenache Blanc, but with tiny amounts of Viognier, Roussane and Clairette Blanche. The Brusset Gigondas Le Grand Montmirail cuvee, as noted is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault, coming from what the winery calls a stony terraced vineyard site with alluvial soils and that is facing fully south to capture all the warm sun, offering a bit of protection from the cool Mistral winds. The Brusset winemaking is basic and traditional with their Gigondas Le Grand Montmirail seeing all de-stemmed (organic and carefully hand sorted) grapes, a native yeast fermentation and was aged in a combination of cement vats and older demi-muids (lager oak cask) to allow this wine to show off its terroir without the wood be too influential in the wine while still giving a roundness and smooth finish to this stylish effort. While finding this Brusset 1999, will certainly at this point, be a difficult find I highly recommend chasing down the 2015 and 2016 releases, which each Gigondas selection being the main focus, but for even great value look for their Cairanne, Rasteau and the outstanding vat raised Ventoux, which is always a killer bargain, made with the addition of Carignan and a co-ferment of the white Clairette, it is not far off the quality of the higher end Cotes du Rhone Village bottlings. The supple young wines at Brusset are to be admired and drunk freely, but they have solid aging potential, as this 1999 Le Grand Montmirail Gigondas clearly shows, it even got better on day two, which was an even more of a treat, confirming its rewarding poise.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Veronica Ortega, Mencia “Quite” Valtuille, Bierzo D.O. Spain.
The lively and well crafted entry level Quite Mencia from the talented Veronica Ortega is a pretty, pure and highly enjoyable with layers of earthy dark fruits, delicate spice, mineral and bright acidity, it is a great alternative red to anything in this price range. The fresh light to medium bodied 2018 Quite Bierzo is a brilliant dark garnet in the glass and it reveals an array of blackberry, plum, cherry and currant fruits along with touches shaved cinnamon, minty herbs, anise, leather and a dark floral element, all is very compelling and held together with a satiny ripe tannin structure that feels almost Pinot like in mouth feel and in its vibrancy of flavors. Mencia is the star grape in this region of Spain, in the northwest of Castilla y Leon, as well as in Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra to the west near the Atlantic Ocean. The climate here makes for a denser and some profound versions of this grape and has made the career of some of Spain’s best winemakers, including Veronica Ortega, who was mentored by Raul Perez, the most famous of all of the local producers and who’s wines are absolutely legendary and have helped put this remote area into the spotlight along with outsiders Telmo Rodriguez and Alvaro Palacios playing no small part putting Mencia on the map. The Bierzo region was founded in pre Roman times, though the Romans expanded the wine growing here and gained attention when Cistercian monks moved here and set up wine production, but the vineyards were devastated in the 1800s by phylloxera that pretty much wiped all of vines out. After these vineyard sites were re-planted on the limestone, slate and clay based soils it took a very long time to re-discover the glories of this place and especially Mencia, which can be easily compared to Cabernet Franc, with wines that the soul of Chinon and the opulent character of Saint Emilion, though Veronica’s wines tend to be more racy and show a raw transparence, as this new release shows.
Veronica Ortega, originally from Cádiz from near the Sherry area, settled in Bierzo about a decade ago, and immediately went to work on developing her skills and understanding the terroir working under Raul Perez, later she acquired a few old-vine Mencia parcels near the village of Valtuille de Abrajo on sandy and clay soils that she made into her home base. She has developed into an important voice for this region and her series of wines has evolved over the years with her signature ROC lineup being the most intense, while the Quite Mencia offers a great value and shows the grape in its more quaffable form and is a great way to start getting to know Bierzo. The Quite Mencia is all de-stemmed now and sees a combination of natural yeast fermentation in stainless steel tanks and sees both neutral barrels and amphora in the short aging period, getting about 8 months in total. The sandy soils at elevation, around 500 meters up, and mature vines that average more than 80 years helps give this wine its personality with this vintage being less hot, allowing for a lower alcohol freshness, with this Quite 2018 coming in at 13%, making it wonderfully flexible with food and it can provide lots of smiles with your favorite Tapas as well. As with most producers here, Ortega farms her plots with all organic methods and all her vines are dry farmed with mostly old vines that are classic head trained or bush vines. Ortega’s Quite started with her 2012 vintage and she continues to carve her own niche and following, adding a new style called Kinki in recent years that is a carbonic, whole cluster and natural yeast version of Mencia that is kind off like a Cru Beaujolais, which I hope to try, as it is very hard to get here in California. The Quite Bierzo Mencia is more easily found and well worth the price, that last time I had it, in the 2014 vintage, I was impressed and this 2018 is even more fun and in my opinion up a notch in quality.
($18 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Le Piane, Maggiorina, Vino Rosso, Alto Piedmonte, Italy.
The lovely and vigorous Nebbiolo based wines of Le Piane, a small artisan producer in the Boca zone of Northern Piedmonte, in the highest area of this famous wine growing region that is set between the Valle Sesia and Lake Orta, nestled in the foothills of the Lower Alps. The wines here, once a very remote, out of the way, place were chewy, rough and rustic, are now some of the most sought after and coveted wines in the world, with Le Piane being one of the stars, especially with their top Boca DOCG bottlings, which are exceptional and rival their more famous cousins in Barolo and Barbaresco. The 2018 Le Piane entry level Maggiorina Vino Rosso is wildly enjoyable, fresh and brings a pleasure filled array of flavors to the medium bodied palate with a touch of exotic fruit and spices from the unique blend of grapes in this stylish offering, which include the classic varietals of the Boca and Colline Novarese, Nebbiolo, which is called Spanna localy, Vespolina and Croatina. This vintage is bright and vividly floral in nature with layers of morello cherry, guava flesh, tart raspberry, strawberry and a touch of wild red peach fruits along with a range of spices, mineral, amaro herbal notes and anise. This red wine is extremely well balanced and the tannins melt away in the mouth with silky grace and the ruby, almost Pinot like hued Le Piane Maggiorina opens up to reveal liquid roses and its seductive delicacy makes it a real charmer.
The Boca area is underpinned by its special soils, which are glacial gravels over porphyry (rock) of ancient volcanic origin, that along with the Alpine cool nights make this terroir incredibly compelling and in recent times the these wines have taken on a much more serious significance with many wines getting world wide attention, with Le Piane being one of those in the spotlight and showing why these wines are must have efforts for Nebbiolo enthusiasts and savvy collectors. The Maggiorina Rosso, which is named after the traditional four cane goblet style vine training system that was historically employed here, is a true old school field blend made from about 40% Nebbiolo (Spanna), 40% Croatina, 5% Vespolina and at least 9 other local and rare varieties including some whites grapes that all inter-planted and co-fermented from vines that range from 40 to 100 years old. To keep things pure and vibrant this Le Piane Maggiorina was fermented and aged completely in stainless steel with a short maceration and primary fermentation that gently extracts the substance, with the skins in contact with the juice for just under a week, of this lighter style red wine. The Maggiorina Rosso is made to be enjoyed in its youth and is fabulous with food, from pasta to simple country foods, it is well made and crisply detailed, perfect for easy quaffing. While the more heavily Nebbiolo influenced Boca DOCG wines being the winery’s claim to fame, and of which, I wish I could afford to stock up on, I do really excited by this great value too and it is a great way to start your exploration of the intriguing Northern Piedmonte wines.
($22 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Halcon Vineyards, Syrah “Elevacion” Estate Grown, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
Paul Gordon’s Halcon Vineyard, which sits at 2,500 feet up about the Anderson Valley on unique schist soils in Mendocino’s Yorkville Highlands, is one of the greatest Syrah sites in California and his wines are too, especially the two Syrah bottlings, the Cote-Rotie inspired Alturas Syrah and this unbelievably good Elevation, a micro bottling of 100% Syrah from a heritage clone. As noted by the winery, the Halcon estate, which has about 15 acres of vines, mainly tightly spaced Syrah on a steep sloping hillside, but with tiny amounts of Viognier, which is co-fermented into the Alturas Syrah, a la Cote-Rotie, as well as parcels of Mourvedre, Grenache Noir, along with some Roussanne and Marsanne, that now are being used to make a small lot white wine that will soon be released for the first time. Gordon had told me these 2018s were special wines from a long cool vintage that pushed this already cold climate site to the very edge, with conditions that allowed for deep complexity, from the long hang time, but the extreme late harvest and low sugar concentration made for some nervous days and nights waiting to get the grapes in. That said, these 2018s are spectacular and are what I consider profound offerings, in particular I am thrilled with this pure and exceptional Elevacion, a limited release that will only be made in the best of years, and I also highly recommend the Halcon Tierra Petite Sirah from purchased fruit coming from the terraces of the Theopolis Vineyard, Theodora Lee’s awesome vineyard that produces some of the most compelling Petite Syrah I’ve ever tasted. The Halcon Elevacion shows intense northern Rhone character, beautifully elegant, but with a edgy whole bunches profile that reminds me of the very best from Cornas, especially the fantastic wines of Thierry Allemand, G.Gilles, Auguste Clap and Vincent Paris’ 60 Granit, though Gordon says he was inspired by Cote-Rotie wines from around Ampuis, like Domaine Jamet and Bernard Levet, this wine certainly lives up to all this build up, with a fabulous and inviting opaque black and purple hue and a riveting bouquet of earthy dark berries, perfumed violets and bacon(y) meatiness that leads to a full bodied palate of blackberry, damson plum, creme de cassis, graphite, vibrant herbs from of the stem inclusion, a crunchy mineral note and a light sense of cedary wood, anise and a lingering echo of blueberry compote and the (crushed liquid) violet floral element. The wow factor is off the charts here, and sadly, there definitely is almost no way to put words down that truly give justice to the quality of this peppery and gripping Elevacion Syrah, it’s a wine that takes California Syrah to the next level, much the same way Cayuse, by Christophe Barron, in the Rocks district of Walla Walla in Washington State, did for that region in the early 2000s!
Paul and Jackie Gordon of Halcon Vineyards, who have had some serious help in their early years, with Wells Gutherie of Copain and Scott Shapely of Roar, more recntly, having played vital roles getting this label to the outstanding place it is, make wines that influenced by their deep love of the classic old world offerings, as mentioned, from the Northern Rhone, where they have travelled many times. Over the last few vintages, Paul Gordon, himself has guided the Halcon wines to bottle, he is, as he notes, committed to the most transparent possible expression of the Halcón Vineyards terroir. He will tell you, that he and his wife Jackie believes that wine is made, first and foremost, in the vineyard, and they follow a non-interventionist approach in the cellar, employs 100% natural yeast, partial to all whole cluster fermentation, with zero enzyme additions, there are no adjustments to alcohol or acids in the Halcon wines and the judicious use of new French oak, with this Elevacion Syrah seeing just about a year in a large neutral Puncheon, plus the wines get only a micro dose of sulphites or SO2, so the wines stay vivid and freshly focused. The 2018s have a nice sense of energy and good natural acidity with a slowly unfolding parade of flavors, which are set for long and very rewarding lives ahead, I can clearly see this Syrah getting even better and fuller over the next 5 to 10 years, patience will pay off with these new Halcon releases, especially this one. The structure and tannin of the Halcon Elevacion Syrah give this vintage an underlying power, much like the smooth feline tension of a leopard’s muscles and it should be paired with simply prepared and robust cuisine, it would be magic with rustic Lamb dishes and or prime rib, as well as hard cheeses and wild mushroom dishes. There is lots to admire about this wine and the current releases, and I am hearing that the upcoming 2019s are looking good too, and Paul thinks they will eclipse these awesome 2018s, which would be mightily impressive if so, but I am excited to find out and am eagerly awaiting to get my hands on them in the Spring. The cool temperatures here, which mimic those of Cote-Rotie over a growing season, give these grapes that long hang time, and the rocky – schist soils get the vines to dig deep and allows for enough stress to deliver expressive varietal character, and up at this site, there are crisp daytime breezes that provide refreshment for the vineyard throughout the year. Gordon adds, the finished alcohol is a modest 13.3%, making it remarkably well balanced, even at this early stage and this Elevacion is a standout to get while you can, it is absolutely beautiful, with a nice cut of savory stuff inside and it is wildly delicious, plus it is ridiculously reasonable in price, it could be the best red wine for the money in the new world!
($38 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive
2019 Bow & Arrow, Rhinestones, Johan Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
One of Oregon’s most unique and tasty wines, Bow & Arrow’s Rhinestones is an all natural and organic blend of 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Gamay Noir coming from the Johan Vineyard, a biodynamically farmed site in the Willamette Valley and fermented with lots of crunchy whole cluster, making for a darkly ripe and spicy wine that took its inspiration from the Loire Valley’s Cheverny region of France. Scott Frank, owner of Bow & Arrow, the urban Portland micro winery, is committed to producing artisan, fun, eccentric and delicious bottlings with a nod to the old world and with a modern twist in some cases and this Rhinestones is his unassuming signature wine, and one that can you on a thrill ride of flavors, as this new 2019 release does with bright punchy layers of black cherry, plum, lingonberry and bramble berry fruits, racy peppercorns, cinnamon stick, dark wood, floral notes and an earthy intensity that is very appealing in this medium bodied red. Like the Cheverny wines, where by law, the red wines must be a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir, Frank follows suit with this stricture in his Rhinestones, with all the grapes being Pinot and Gamay, though the percentage will change a little depending on the year’s best offering in the vineyard, with this 2019 getting a bit more Pinot Noir as their quality was outstanding and gave an impressive structure and depth here. In some years, this wine can rival the best wines in the region and this 2019 really shines with an exciting dense mouth feel and a warm forward personality, a bit less edgy than the last two years, but still is its flamboyant and devilishly pleasing, especially with simple foods and with its quaffable low alcohol easiness.
The Bow & Arrow Rhinestones, is as Scott Frank notes, a blend that solely determined by nature and vintage, with the grapes brought into the winery cold and freshly picked, using as mentioned the whole bunches and stem inclusion with all native yeast fermentation. Frank, after primary seeing a semi carbonic maceration was then aged in a mixture of concrete and old barriques. This wine is the flagship of the Bow & Arrow (Portland based) operation according to Frank, who adds that it communicates what Bow & Arrow is all about as much as anything he makes. The winery focuses on transparency and raw authenticity with this Rhinestones, as they put, being an effortlessly drinkable effort, but a wine that rewards detective work if you’re in the mood, which I always seem to be, this is a wine that I try not to miss. A few years back, I ratted the Bow & Arrow at 96 Points, and this vintage is almost an equal and a wine to discover if you’ve not yet tried Bow & Arrow. The latest set of wines are all very interesting and quality efforts, I also recommend exploring their Air Guitar, an Anjou (Loire Valley) themed red blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, the crisp and salty fresh Melon de Bourgogne, an oyster companion white wine, also from the Johan Vineyard as well as Bow & Arrow’s pure and rustically style Gamay and Frank’s Sauvignon Blanc, which is a lovely Pouilly-Fume influenced version. Oregon is really flying high with tons of exceptional stuff on offer, from studied classics to some decidedly quirky bottlings, which I would say that Bow & Arrow fits in, these are some honestly different or alternative wines, but wonderful values too.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2019 Le Miccine, Rosato di Toscana “P” IGT Rosé, Gaiole in Chianti Classico, Italy.
Paula Papini Cook’s P Rosato di Toscana Rosé of Sangiovese from her all organic estate grapes at the historic Le Miccine, which is set in the forested hills of Gaiole in Chianti Classico is a bright and crisp effort with tart cherry, strawberry, peach and zippy citrus fruits, a soft texture, earth, dried herbs, mineral and rosewater. Light and delicate this pale easy dry Rosé has an orange/ruby pink color and has plenty of Sangiovese’s natural acidity, though everything is very elegant and round in style and lingers with a hint of caramel and summer melon. I am a huge fan of Papini Cook’s wines here at Le Miccine, especially her stellar Chianti Classico Riserva bottlings over the last five releases, in particular I was absolutely smitten with he 2013 and 2016 wines, superb vintages in the region, as well as the estate’s basic Chianti Classico and the single varietal Merlot Carduus, a wine that like Castello di Ama’s that shows this grape does fabulous well in Tuscany. Le Miccine estate has been an important part of the Chianti countryside since ancient times and served as a way station for travellers, usually produce traders and their donkeys to rest, where there was shade, a spring and refreshments. The name Le Miccine itself comes from the local dialect (a word) that means small female donkeys, taken of course from the service they provided over the hundreds of years of this route being in use. The vineyards at Le Miccine came later as the fame of Gaiole’s wines became widely known and that the terroir’s promise was cemented, they were initially planted in the sixties and that is when the estate began to produce wines. Though quite popular, the Le Miccine never reached their potential until Paula Papini Cook came here and revitalized the vineyards and set up her family’s cellars to compete with the legendary neighbors. I wrote about Le Miccine recently, reviewing the awesome Chianti Classico Riserva 2016 and will continue to follow the wines from this spot and the talented Papini Cook, who was trained in both France and Spain before coming to her family’s sleepy remote winery.
The Le Miccine winery has a special micro climate that enjoys warm long days and cool nights that helps ripen the classic native grapes here, Sangiovese, including a handful of different clones, Malvasia Nera and Colorino, along with the Merlot, making for wonderfully complex flavors and depth. The wines at Le Miccine, as Papini Cook, the youthful Canadian born and internationally trained winemaker explains, are carefully managed in stainless steel tanks until the (cool) fermentations end to preserve purity and freshness with temperature control and a lengthy gentle maceration. The wines are then pressed to a combination of vessels depending on the varietal and vine age with some aged in French oak barrels, and or large neutral (used) oak casks for optimal oak integration and balance in her wines. Le Miccine wines are produced exclusively from grapes grown organically on the property. The Rosé, which is usually reserved only for guests of the property, as is Le Miccine’s well known and admired olive oil, but can be ordered in a sampler set, which I acquired, that can be delivered to the United States directly from the winery’s cellar, when you visit their website. The all stainless Rosé is bright and simple, but it hit the spot with pizza on a nicely warm evening, but certainly it would be more refreshing on a Tuscan Summer day and native cuisine. It was my National Pizza Day wine, as I had felt like something cooly natured and a bit lighter to go with my toppings, it did the job very well and without pretense. Papini Cook’s hard work and passion has lifted Le Miccine and has made this small family estate one of the most exciting properties in these beautiful Chianti Classico hillsides, joining some of the elite labels in the zone. The Le Miccine wines are now award winning efforts, written about in many wine journals and very highly recommended by Decanter Magazine, where I first read about this Chianti, which is distributed internationally, including being found in restaurants world wide, as well as cities such as Montreal, New York, Auckland, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and in Europe. Again, while these wines are not easy to find, the main three stand out offerings can be found with a motivated search, and I cannot wait until travel is back to normal so I can finally visit in person!
($25 Est.) 87 Points, grapelive
2010 Domaine la Monardiere, Vacqueyras Rouge, Les 2 Monardes, Cotes du Rhone Villages, Rhone Valley, France.
The nearly perfect and in peak condition, Vacqueyras Les 2 Monardes, by Martine and Christian Vache at Domaine la Monardiere put on a great show in the glass last night with crisp details and lovely maturity of flavors with seductive layers of ripe Grenache led red fruits, subtle earthy/savory elements, polished structural excellence and a beautiful array of spice, florals and a faint meatiness that impresses on the full bodied palate. I haven’t experienced the Vache’s wines to much and so this find was truly a brilliant discovery, it came to me through a friend that bought an incredible cellar full of top Rhone wines, where the wines were stored in pristine condition and of which had some gems that would not bring top dollars at auction, but offer an outstanding drinking value with just the right amount of age to bring out their full potential, as this La Monardiere delivered last night. In recent weeks, I’ve tried so even older (Rhone) stuff from the same cellar that also brought intense pleasure, so I was really excited for this one from a stellar vintage in the southern Rhone Valley, and I was not disappointed, this special Lieu-Dit Vacqueyras way over performed with classic, very Chateauneuf du Pape like presence, showing brambly boysenberry, dried sweet red cherry, pomegranate, black fig, strawberry preserves and racy currant fruits, wild herbs, crushed flowers, a hint of game (as the good dose of Syrah comes alive with air) and loaminess, as well as framboise, mint, pepper and anise. With time and food, this beautiful Domaine la Monardiere Les 2 Monardes adds dimension, depth and length with everything hitting the right notes and lifting this Vacqueyras to the next level, I am also excited to check out the wineries latest releases, especially from the 2016 vintage, that should be awesome and could be just as desirable in 10 to 15 years as well, like this 2010 is proving.
The Vache family bought this estate from Monardieres back in 1987 and began their journey into becoming a top producer in the Vacqueyras with a lot of hard work, investment in the cellar and converting all the vines to organic, which clearly paid off with their wines, they have found a sweet spot in their style that appears so well in the riveting results of their two main bottlings, with this one in particular being everything you’d ever want from a Rhone red wine at a very reasonable price. The Les 2 Monardes was crafted from 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah from vines of an average age of 40 years, with this Lieu-Dit planted in chalky grit (limestone) and sandy clay soils in the Vacqueyras AOC. The Grenache and Syrah grapes are all hand-harvested, with impeccable and careful sorting to only get the very best of the estate fruit for this wine. This version saw 100% de-stemmed grape berries that was fermented using spontaneous natural yeasts, with a maceration and extraction period of almost three weeks with gentle daily punch-downs to showcase the terroir. The Vache’s traditional approach included them aging their Vacqueyras cru from 12 months in a combination of tanks, especially revealing in the Grenache and a few lots in barrels to add richness and soften tannins and then chosen, blended and bottled, without fining or filtration to capture every nuance of this wine’s soul in the bottle. The Monardiere lineup includes a Vacqueyras Rosé, an Old Vine Vacqueyras (Vieilles Vignes) and this single vineyard style Les 2 Monardes, all of which should be on your radar if you love Rhone wines, and are Grenache fans. These artisan offerings from the Vache family show what Vacqueyras can do in the right hands and they, for all of the wines, they work with lower than the legal limits with very small yields to get serious concentration and express a powerful profile, while employing mostly cement vessels to promote transparency and freshness, which is highlighted in this spectacular Rhone red.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Martha Stoumen, Negroamaro Rosato, Benson Ranch Vineyard, Mendocino County.
There’s a time, when you taste something special, it takes you back to cherished memories and moments that bring unashamed joy of life, touch and smells, this serious and unique Rosé by Martha Stoumen is that kind of wine, inspired by what Martha says was a crisp, but warm Fall day on the rocky Mediterranean coast and made from a rare southern Italian varietal it is a barrel fermented and extended lees aged Rosé that delivers a fascinating complexity and substance, not usually found in pink wines. I would compare this to the glorious wines of Clos Cibonne, the Provence Tibouren based Rosés that are aged on the lees under a layer of Flor, similar to Sherries, but somehow remain intensely fresh, vibrant and mineral driven, which this Negroamaro Rosato 2018 that Martha recently released does, though without Flor, sourced from vines in the Mendocino. The 2018 Stoumen Negroamaro Rosato has a sensational presence in the glass with dusty dry layers of ruby grapefruit or Moro orange, tart cherry, strawberry and pomegranate water along with bitter herbal notes, distilled rose petal, lavender essence all framed by steely cool mineral tones and saline infused wet stone as well as having a graceful roundness of texture that really sets this Rosé apart from almost any other California version, with the exception of Randall Gram’s Reserve Vin Gris that also saw lees aging, though instead of barrel like this one, it was aged in glass carboys. The color is vivid and totally alluring with a stunning bright orange/pink hue that captures the sun and invites sip after sip, though this wine really excels with food, having a good depth and flexibility of flavors, I found it positively well behaved with the pungent, but oh so good, La Tur, the Italian soft stinky cheese and a sourdough baguette on a sunny February day and can easily see it holding up well with steamed mussels, or even more robust cuisine choices. I love La Tur, though usually it can be a bit strong for lighter wines, but was brilliant with this one, it’s a fantastic earthy/tangy cheese made with combination of cow, goat and sheep’s milk.
Martha Stoumen, is a great addition to the modern California wine scene and her talents are as transparently clear as her natural styled wines with her pure and rustically styled collection of southern European (Country) influenced offerings, including her signature Nero d’Avola that pays tribute to her time at the famous COS Winery in Vittoria Sicily, as well as her fabulous Carignan and intriguing low alcohol and whole cluster Zinfandel, to name a few of my favs of hers. Stoumen, based in Sebastopol, has been looking for a way to express herself by searching out old and organic family vineyards to make her wines, which has led her into grower partnerships, like her plots at Benson Ranch with rare or lesser known grapes being a core to her success, along with a studied artisan flare and hard work, with a slight focus on Italian varietals like this Negroamaro. There’s a lot to love in Stoumen’s lineup and she has also teamed up with natural wine specialists Las Jares to make a dark Valdiguie Bubbly, a California Lambrusco or Pet-Nat that is from organic and dry farmed 70 year old vines. For this Negroamaro Rosato, Martha helps farm the grapes at the Benson Ranch in remote Mendocino County, with dry famed 15-year-old vines set on a rocky, gravel and loam plot that sees no pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers. Stoumen says that the Benson Ranch Negroamaro grapes has such incredible concentration that she ages this wine, not according to its category (Rosé), but by what the fruit in this unique parcel dictates. Adding also very unique for Rosé, that her team barrel fermented and aged this wine, as mentioned above, on the fine lees, after they did a good old fashioned foot treading and an overnight maceration on the stems and skins, which adds to the complex nature of this wine, providing an textural quality and a refreshing minty bite. This wine, is an enthusiast Rosé, worth every penny and great for anytime of year.
($42 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2009 Charly Thevenet, Regnie “Grain & Granit” Cru Beaujolais, France.
I featured this wine upon release, and stuck a few bottles away to explore later with this one my last and opened almost a full decade from when I first tried it and it was glorious with excellent detail and perfect maturity on display still, remarkable stuff, especially considering I hadn’t really thought about cellaring this and it saw less than ideal conditions for aging. I had been a big Cru Beaujolais fan fan prior to the vintage of the century, 2009, as I was converted by Kermit Lynch in the early 2000s, when he introduced me to fabulous wines from Thivin, Diochon, Thevenet (Charly’s dads), Foillard, Breton and of course the late great Marcel Lapierre. But for the rest of the wine world, the 2009 vintage changed everything for the Beaujolais region, these flamboyant and insanely rich Gamay wines had their breakout moment, and it also marked a generational change, with the spotlight coming down on some of the youthful talents, including the young Charly Thevenet, who debuted his own label just before this exceptional vintage. His wine, from a lesser known Cru – Regnie, and called Grain & Granit made a brilliant start for his start up label and Kermit Lynch brought a bunch of it and I was able to one of the first in California to try it. I originally was impressed and gave it 93 Points, and I am still impressed, it has remained fantastically solid in structure and has not lost any of its charm over the years with macerated strawberries, candied cherries and plum fruit still going strong, though with the signs of age melding them together and showing a touch of baked raspberry preserves, fig paste and dried potpourri along with some delicate dusty spices and earthiness. The year’s low acidity and heady ripe fruit is clear and present, but this wine has held up well and there is a gorgeous silken mouth feel, much like an aged Burgundy. This ruby/brick hued effort hints at its age, but is a fine, well crafted Regnie has survived my terrible abuse (bad cellaring, all my own doing) and delivered a stunning performance, I can’t wait to get a few of Charly’s newest releases.
As noted by Kermit Lynch, Charly, growing up the son of a famous “Gang of Four” Morgon producer in the legendary form of Jean-Paul Thévenet, the young Thévenet was exposed quite early on to traditional, Jules Chauvet inspired natural viticulture—a philosophy that his father and friends, Jean Foillard, Marcel Lapierre, Guy Breton helped to resurrect in Beaujolais in the early eighties, working with organic grapes, whole cluster, native yeasts and no chemical additions. Though only in his twenties, Charly had already started, what Lynch, one of the most renown talent spotters, especially in the Beaujolais area, calls a dynamic career with stints with the family winery and experience under the guidance of Marcel Lapierre, who gave him some added confidence and maybe a few secrets. He purchased a parcel of eighty-year-old Gamay vines in Régnié, west-southwest of his hometown of Villié-Morgon to set out on his own and start on his own path, now ten years on he has re-joined his family winey, taking over as well as continuing on with this personal project which has developed a serious following. Régnié is a terroir enjoying something of its own renaissance in recent years, especially Julien Sunier’s example, as well as other talented growers like Charly, and his dad’s long time friend, Guy Breton. In fact, Regnié has joined the short list of Grand Crus in the Beaujolais, according to Kermit Lynch again, it is wonderfully located on a plateau of seabed stone, making it unique, in the foothills of the Côte du Py, which it noted to give a fruit forward, but with lively acidity, maybe less granite intense than other Crus. Charly uses biodynamic farming techniques in the vineyard, never adding synthetic herbicides, pesticides, or fungicides to the vines, and like Lapierre, he harvests late, with an aggressive sorting of the grapes, adds minimal doses of sulfur dioxide. The natural fermentation starts in cement and Thevenet then ages the wine in used Burgundy barriques, he and bottles his wines unfiltered, if you love Gamay and or Cru Beaujolais, you should search out Domaine Thevenet Morgon and Charly’s own Regnie, these are rewarding beauties!
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Alain Graillot, Crozes-Hermitage, Northern Rhone, France.
One of the world’s standard barer wines, the Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage, one of its finest slash purist Syrah wines and a tremendous value for the cost, this 2018 version proving that with a cool toned flourish with vivid black fruit, spice, camphor and lively acidity. This vintage, not as dense as 2015, 2016 and or as ripe as 2017s were, makes for a more studied classic version with its purple/black and ruby edged hue and layers of blueberry, boysenberry, damson plum and kirsch fruits along with a touch of raw meat, graphite, peppercorns, Dutch salted black licorice, Olive paste, violets and minty Asian herbs. Why do these Graillot wines make our Syrah lovers hearts sing, maybe it is the Burgundy like sensibility and terroir character they deliver, especially now with Alain’s sons Maxime and Antoine running the famous estate and hand crafting the wines to honor their father, you can almost feel the pride they have in each of the wines. The legendary Alain Graillot established his winery back in 1985, who after working with the venerable Jacques Seysses (who has inspired many winemakers) at Domaine Dujac, came back to his home in Crozes-Hermitage to push this once rough and unloved region to new heights, helping raise the game here to levels that put it on par or worth mentioning alongside with its more fabled neighbors like Saint-Joseph, Cornas, Cote-Rotie and the spiritual hue of Syrah, the sacred hill of Hermitage itself.
The 2018 Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage has all the right stuff to reward the enthusiast and it will please for years to come, especially with the underlying substance and extra vitality it has going for it, not that many will have the patience to wait. As per normal, the Alain Graillot Rouge, 100% Syrah, of course, was fermented using 100% whole clusters in a concrete cuve with all native or indigenous yeasts all from organic grapes grown gravelly and stony granite based soils from 30 year old vines in Graillot’s La Chene Verts parcels. Everything done in a nod to tradition and to promote clarity of flavors, but you can sense the attention to detail and careful hands in the making of this wine with a gentle guidance to bottle after seeing a year of so in all used or low influence (Burgundy sourced) French oak barrels, which allows this Syrah to show its transparent charms. Considering the whole bunches, this wine delivers a level of refinement that few Crozes can match, while hinting at Syrah’s natural funkiness and the wine has an opulent medium bodied palate with graceful tannins. As this vintage slowly opens up with air and time in the glass it gathers its aromatic quality and depth, it seriously changes dramatically as it fully unfolds, adding dimension and presence to an already very confidently impressive wine. Drinking the Graillot’s Crores-Hermitage offerings are always a treat and this bottling in particular highlights that truth, this 2018 is a rock solid wine. Enjoy this vintage with rustic cuisine, it goes brilliant with lamb, wild mushroom dishes and or short ribs, and over the next 5 to 10 years.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2019 Sheldon, Graciano, Luc’s Vineyard, Fountaingrove AVA, Sonoma County.
The beautifully detailed, spicy, dark fruited and delicately perfumed Sheldon Graciano, from a home vineyard on the cool rocky hillsides between Healdsburg and the Chalk Hill district, is one of the best yet examples of this Rioja grape in California with ripe flavors, opulent sweet tannins and a smooth low alcohol style. The brilliantly gleaming garnet/purple and ruby color and seductive bouquet are wonderfully inviting and the medium/full palate presents vivid layers of vine picked raspberry, black cherry, plum and garden strawberry fruits, all of which, is accented by an array of spices, mineral and a light earthy character with hints of cinnamon, wild flowers, herbs de Provence as well as forest floor, a cedary elements, loam and tangy sage. Graciano, usually blended with Tempranillo in Rioja has been gaining traction in California, with some of the plantings coming online in Paso Robles, where the grape thrives, was done by a lucky mistake, as they were supposed to be a new Monastrell clone of Mourvedre as well as being grown in the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valley area as well, but the Sheldon’s who have loved the Graciano grape a long time have sourced fruit from Ripkin Vineyard in the Lodi area and from this tiny parcel in Sonoma County, where the varietal does exceptionally well, as this 2019 vintage shows. Over the last decade, the Sheldon’s have explored many different styles with their Graciano, from Rosé to a dense red wine, and even two different sparkling versions, including the just released Brut Noir bubbly made from lots of macerated (skins) Graciano, making a dark red sparkling Graciano that is similar to Sparkling Shiraz and or high end Lambrusco! This Sheldon Graciano joins a celebration of obscurity along with Luke Nio’s Filomena St. Laurent, Arnot-Roberts’ Trousseau, Michael Cruse’s Tannat, Martha Stoumen’s Nero d’Avola and Jaimee Motely’s Mondeuse, to name a few fun and rare offerings from lesser known grapes in California.
The rare and limited 2019 Graciano red wine by Dylan and Tobe Sheldon, which is due out soon, was made in a traditional and transparent way with just two barrels being made with indigenous yeast spontaneous fermentation and cool maceration with classic foot treading and small basket pressing to neutral, well used or seasoned French oak for just about a year. The Sheldon’s note that no new wood was harmed during the winemaking process and that this new Graciano was bottled unfined and unfiltered to preserve every nuance from the vineyard and to highlight the purity of the finished wine. In an effort to make a varietally honest wine, the Sheldon’s went with about 50% whole cluster and made sure the fermentation went smoothly at low temperatures to retain the more delicate aromatics that this wine delivers with a sensually that makes this wine additive. Dylan Sheldon, the winemaker, says that to him, this ancient and rare varietal is uncommon to find as a solo varietal in its homeland, in the Rioja region of Spain, but the ones that are done as a single varietal wine has always intrigued and inspired him to do a Graciano here in California, which he has done for more than a decade with great and geeky success, again, as this example does with a flourish. This vintage come in at just 12.5% natural alcohol, which allows this wine to easily enjoyed and is excellent with a variety of food, though obviously fantastic with basque cheeses and or an array of Tapas. The Luc’s Vineyard, all organic, is planted on a west facing hillside on volcanic soils, that give this wine its iron rich and spicy personality, adding red pepper and pomegranate notes after getting air. To the best of Dylan’s knowledge this might be the only Graciano vines in this part of Sonoma County, and notes that there are only about 30 acres in total in the whole State, making it a unique treat that I highly recommend. The Sheldon’s vastest set of wines is an awesome collection of offerings, especially interesting are their micro lots of Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Syrah, this Graciano (both 2018 and 2019 editions) and the Grenache bottlings that are this wineries signature wines.
($38 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Chateau Pradeaux, Bandol Rosé, Provence, France.
The beautifully balanced and dry 2019 Pradeaux Bandol Rosé (Cuvee Classic) is richly concentrated and has a serious palate impact showing layers of bright and tangy cherry, racy ruby grapefruit, blood orange and distilled strawberry fruits with loads of extract, delicate spices and a stylish rounded mouth feel, very impressive and definitely one of the vintage’s best examples of Bandol Rosé I’ve tried, along with the Clos Cibonne Cotes de Provence Rosé. Pradeaux’s winemaker Etienne Portalis has really raised the quality of Chateau Pradeaux, which has been a top estate in Bandol since 1752, to the next level in recent years and is one of region’s best talents, making profound wines throughout his lineup, especially his late release, extended aged Bandol Rouge, crafted using 95% old vine Mourvedre, as well as his expressive set of Rosé bottlings, including this classic all estate grown example. This year’s fabulous version opens up easily on the smoothly dense medium bodied palate and reveals an extra dimension of flavors and stays impeccably focused from its lightly floral, rosewater, crushed raspberry and earthy nose to the lingering tart, kirsch and saline finish, making it a regal and highly enjoyable wine. The Château Pradeaux, imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant, is located near the small town of Saint Cyr-sur-Mer, and is set close to the Mediterranean Sea, between Toulon and Marseilles and has been. The estate is owned by the historic Portalis family, who have been wonderful guardians of this property since before the French Revolution. This Bandol Rosé can be a refresher, as it was for me on a warm winter afternoon and it is flexible enough to go with a variety of foods, especially mussels in a spicy broth and or with farmhouse cheeses.
The Pradeaux wines are all artisan and hand crafted offerings that are reflections of the attention to detail, sense of pace and the hard work from the brothers Portalis, Etienne and Edouard, who have taken the reins of the domaine here from their parents Cyrille and Magali Portalis is recent years, though they remain central figures at Pradeaux. The majority of the vineyards at Chateau Pradeaux is planted to Mourvèdre, which were brought to the region in a bigger way in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and is the primary grape in all the wines here, though the Château Pradeaux Bandol Rosé is, as Rosenthal and Pradeaux note, composed of Cinsault as well as Mourvèdre, which gives this beauty its lively natural acidity, while Mourvèdre gives power, wight and structure to this exciting Bandol Rosé. The Pradeaux pink wine sees a short maceration on the skins, to give this wine its pale and vivid hue, after whole cluster (direct press, non saignée) pressing the juice is then fermented at low temperatures, which the winery adds, to retain freshness, zesty fruit and its pretty bouquet. The Chateau Pradeaux Bandol Rosé is aged 100% in cement cuves, where it gets its leesy depth and the wine is normally bottled in late spring of the year following the harvest. I am a huge fan of the Pradeaux wines with their transparent form and traditional terroir driven character, with this wine always being a fantastic choice and represents a great value in this legendary region, rivaling some of much more expensive Bandol offerings, including the famous Domaine Tempier and Domaine Gros Nore to name of few. This Pradeaux Rosé is a blend of Cinsault (50%) and Mourvèdre (50%), and as the winery explains, its slight orange tint comes from the latter cépage and this effort is done without any Malo-lactic conversion to show off its vigorous and vibrant nature. This 2019 is one of the best and age worthy vintages I can remember, it should stay rewarding for many years, and it proves that Rosé can be and in some cases cellared, this is one to search out and enjoy with substantial cuisine and a hearty meal.
($30 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2019 Pax Wines, Charbono, Luchsinger Vineyard, Lake County.
One of the Pax wine club rarities, the juicy tart 2019 whole cluster carbonic Charbono is a fun lighter style low alcohol red wine, it’s dark color belies the fresh and citrusy character the wine actually delivers on the palate, making it delicious with picnics, spicy foods, taco Tuesdays and just plain Jane Pizza night. Pax, who is known for his profound Syrah bottlings, is also a fan of natural wines and does a series of refreshing highly quaffable wines from unique varietals, like this Charbono, plus Trousseau, Mondeuse, Mission, Gamay and Trousseau Gris to name a few of these cool alternative offerings, sadly there is a fanatic demand for them and they can be hard to find, unless you get on Pax’s wine club, which I highly recommend doing. I had to rely on the kindness of a friend who joined up recently to get a chance to try this one, for which I am grateful and I really enjoyed the interesting play of dark fruit and zesty tang in this 2019 Charbono, I can honestly say I have never had a wine with such a stark contrast of flavors from crushed blackberries to eye popping grapefruit, but there is a familiar tone to this wine that reminds me of some of the natural wines of the Loire Valley, like Cheverny and or a carbonic Pineau d’Aunis from the Touraine region. The 2019 Pax Charbono starts with dark berries and floral notes and opens up on the light bodied palate with fresh tree picked plum, sour cherry, blueberry and cranberry fruits, crunchy whole bunch pop with mineral tones, wild herbs, preserved mixed citrus and Turkish delight jellies, saline and a bit of savory earthiness all in a saliva inducing dry and crisp red wine. Charbono is an intriguing grape, I first became aware of through one of its best expressions I know by Turley Wine Cellars and more recently through Vince Toffanelli’s signature bottling from his old vines in Calistoga. This wine was made from vines set on rocky volcanic (red) soils in Lake County, the Luchsinger Vineyard, which also supplies Arnot-Roberts for their Trousseau and Touriga Nacional for their spectacular Rosé.
The Pax club wines are made with almost no SO2 (sulphites) and are what the Europeans call Glou-Glou (poundable) wines, they are all about honest drinkability and have no pretense about them, I especially loved the Mission, aka Pais or Listan, this electric ruby colored Charbono and a Valdiguie that was offered a few releases ago. Pax Mahle, who shows off his funky side on these wines, uses whole cluster and carbonic fermentations with spontaneous yeasts and doesn’t fuss over them, usually without any wood being needed and raised in tank or cement cuves, to preserve bright flavors, with grapes that are ripe enough to achieve pleasing personalities, but with lower sugars and loads of natural acidity. The Charbono grape, like Zin and Petite Sirah, has a mysterious past, though it is now believed to have come from the alpine vineyards of the Savoie region of France, where it is known as Corbeau, it is now mostly planted in Napa Valley, where it is known as Charbono, and in Argentina, where it is called Bonarda, not to be confused with the two different Bonarda grapes from northern Italy. Durning the Wind Gap era, Pax started experimenting with this approach and it has carried over to these bottlings as well as the entry level North Coast Syrah in his current set of wines, as well as for the Monte Rio Cellars stuff he does with Patrick Cappiello. There has been an underground movement to take these exciting quaffers to the next level, with some notable efforts by the likes of Stolpman, with their carbonic Sangiovese “Love you Bunches”, Ryan Stirm’s Rose de Peru (Mission), Las Jaras, Martha Stoumen, Michael Cruse, Jolie-Laide, Sandlands’ Cinsault and Mission, Broc Cellars and others. The simplicity and rawness is the point and purpose for these wines, no over thinking it and they do that well, they are full of delightful energy and bring much needed smiles, laughter and ward off the intensity of life and the heavy darkness of our times. While I am in awe of Pax’s impactful Syrah(s) and think they are some of the most compelling wines in California, which I suggest you not miss, I also like to geek out on these counter culture and slightly funky or rustic offerings.
($24 Est.) 87 Points, grapelive
2018 Drew Family Cellars, Syrah, Perli Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge, Mendocino County.
Just when you thought the Drew wines couldn’t get any better, along comes this 2018 Perli Vineyard Syrah and it is just magnificent in every way with gorgeous layering of texture and delivers a dark and complex seduction on the supple, Guigal Hermitage like feel, showing a cascade of blue and black fruits, mixed spices, pretty violets and an exceptional lingering finish highlighted by creme de cassis, anise and a teasingly simmering sultry earthiness. This wine is absolutely brilliant, its structure is impressive for its velvety opulence, but it has an underlying firmness that is like a leopard in motion with satiny power and grace, and as fantastic as Drew’s Pinots are, Jason Drew’s Perli Syrah is just as desirable and is one of my favorite bottlings from this small family producer based in the western edges of the Anderson Valley. The Perli 2018 is pure sexy Syrah in the glass, inviting from its purple/ruby color to the outstanding aftertaste, plus all in between, showing blackberry, damson plum, currant jam, tangy blueberry and kirsch flavors that leads the energetic array in the mouth along with cayenne (peppery) spice, licorice, light cedary wood, Greek olives, a cool tone of iron/mineral, crushed flowers, espresso and burnt embers. The 2018 vintage is outrageously good at Drew, and most of California for that matter, and his latest Perli Syrah is definitely spotlights this long cool growing season with a polished, almost silky, personality and fully developed (ripe) varietal characteristics that excites all the senses, making it both thrilling and elegant, especially when enjoyed with robust cuisine that brings out even more flourish. This is obviously a wine that has potential to age gracefully for two decades, but can still be opened even now without any penalty or fear of missing its best side, it is ultra delicious even in its youth, truly impressive stuff.
The Perli Vineyard, as Drew notes, comes from hillside vines that were planted about 20 years ago with the Syrah being the McDowell selection and the 877 clones, is 10 miles from the ocean and is perched at close to 2,200 feet above sea level on thin and steep north east facing slope. The Ornbaun soils here are a unique combination that gives this wine its soul, consisting of shale, fractured sandstone and rhyolite with some sandy loams. The McDowell selection, as Jason adds, is notable as it is the oldest field selection of Syrah in North America, brought into California to the San Jose Mission in 1880 and later planted on the McDowell Ranch in Mendocino County in 1902. This very lovely cool climate Syrah, with a nod to Cote-Rotie, is co-fermented with close to 5% Viognier in the traditional style of one of the Northern Rhone Valley’s most legendary places. The winemaking at Drew is always transparent and artisan in nature with a gentle touch to allow for a terroir driven profile with this Perli Syrah seeing 100% native yeast and 50% whole-cluster fermentation with just the right amount of fiery stem inclusion and was aged solely in a neutral French Oak Puncheon for 14 months. There is plenty of vivacious natural acidity to provide lift and balance in this 2018 version and while concentrated and fine tuned, the 13.8% alcohol shows that this Syrah has a serious punch and the grapes were picked at just the right time, as perfect and perfect can be, to make this sublime wine one of the best in the state. In my opinion, Syrah still is the unrivaled champion of the best red wine in California for the quality to price ratio, especially the Drew offerings, this Perli and the Valenti Ranch, which join a fabulous and diverse group of elite California cool climate Syrah producers, including wines by, Pax, Halcon, Piedrasassi, Andrew Murray, Desire Lines Wine Co., Sandlands, Cattleya, Pisoni, Roar, Samuel Louis Smith, Jolie-Laide, Stolpman, Joyce, Storm Wines, Lagier-Merideth and Big Basin, to name just a few. If you want world class Syrah, easily rivaling the best from France, California has it, and this Drew is one hell of a wine for the money, don’t miss it.
($48 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2007 Domaine Gallety, Cote du Vivarais Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
The Covid shut down has allowed me some time to dig through some older wines to review and some friends have got into the spirit and brought out some of their own forgotten bottles or stuff that had been over looked in the cellar, like this wonderfully matured, dark and savory Syrah and Grenache blend from Alain Gallety, of Domaine Gallety in the Ardeche, straight north from Nimes, and in the AOC of Cote du Vivarais, which came into being back in 1999. The 2007 vintage in the Southern Rhone was a big one and the wines are ripe and hedonistic, especially the more Grenache based reds, like in Chateauneuf du Pape, but the outliners with more Syrah are meaty and less fruity in concentration like this one in particular from Domaine Gallety. This wine highlights this, showing off its 50% Syrah in full force at this stage with layers of dark berry fruit, with some boysenberry, creme de cassis, bacon fat, leather, melted licorice, a hint of bullion cube, which is a product of the age beginning to show, dried herbs de Provence, kirsch and wilted violets. The natural robust personality (of this wine) feels impressive on the full bodied palate that still has some grip to it, its grainy tannin structure begs for some rustic or country cuisine and or a selection of hard cheeses. As this wine opens, its more pretty side flickers in and out with the floral notes and inner sweetness of fruit from the Grenache plays with the senses like a teasing fan dance, it always is promising more that it shows, but is still very much a complete and compelling wine. I have known about and tried many vintages of Gallety through importer Kermit Lynch, but I admit to not have not invested as much time and focus to Alain’s wines, which now seems a shame, as this one was very exciting and while Kermit Lynch has such an impressive portfolio of Rhones, Gallety should not be overlooked, as I might have done.
The Domaine Gallety was founded in 1974, young by Rhone standards and set in the remote Cotes du Vivarais, where as Kermit Lynch notes, the wines, of this area of Ardeche, stand as a gateway between the Northern and Southern Rhône and frequently see equal blends of the (two) noble grapes, Syrah and Grenache, which is what this wine is made of exactly. The Domaine farms 100% organic and makes just about 4,500 cases per year of mostly red, though they also do two very unique white wines which marry grapes of Chateauneuf and Hermitage with a blend of 50% Grenache Blanc, 30% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne. This wine, as mentioned, is 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah, and seems in this 2007 vintage to favor the Syrah with its opaque purple/crimson color and its iron rich, umami and beefy intensity leading the way. The grapes, all hand tended and harvested, are from vines set on classic clay and limestone soils with a cooler, wetter and windy climate that leads to a longer growing season that again favors the Syrah, hence it playing a bigger role here, with Alain Gallety using mostly traditional methods in the cellar with mainly re-stemed bunches and a long maceration and primary fermentation that usually lasts about 30 days before he racks the finally blend to used barrels, where the Cote du Vivarais Rouge ages about 15 months before bottling. Alain allows native yeasts to do the job and when he brings the grapes in they are gently crushed into cement vats for the red wines, while the whites get more stainless to preserve vitality and keep the Marsanne (in my opinion) from getting to oxidative, which it can do very easily. I’m convinced it is a perfect time to drink these 2007s before the fruit drops away any further and the meaty quality and unresolved tannin take away from the charms that are still on display here, drink now. This bottling of Cote du Vivarais Rouge, in any vintage, is worth searching out and will certainly appeal to those that like the more rustic and earthy style Rhones.
($30+ Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
Grapelive.com Reviews – January, 2021
2019 Monte Rio Cellars, Primitivo, Lodi, California.
A delightfully easy, fun and deliciously quaffable this new Monte Rio Cellars Lodi Primitivo from the all organic Shergill Vineyard is made from 10 year old Primitivo Clone (of Zinfandel) vines in this region famous for its Zinfandel wines, but with this one being of a new generation in style, with a lighter, low alcohol, natural and fresher manner about it and is a great addition to the re-imagining of California wines. This vintage perfectly captures the best of this kind of wine with lovely ripe fruit, bright acidity and loads of drinking pleasure with pure Zin crushed raspberry, pomegranate, fresh picked plum and tangy red peach fleshiness along with whole cluster pop with racy cinnamon, peppery notes, a touch of stemmy bite and delicate floral details, as well as some dusty tannins, lavender, earthy cedar and minty herbs. In recent years we’ve seen some very interesting versions of Zin with Monte Rio’s being an excellent counter culture example, coming in at just 12.5% natural alcohol and very low SO2, it joins another old world or old school inspired offering from Martha Stoumen, who’s Mendocino Zinfandel is similarly rustic and vibrantly charming, this are wines not to over think, but made to be enjoyed young with friends and every day meals. This 2019 Monte Rio Primitivo opens nicely and delivers a fine performance on the medium bodied, with a carbonic fermentation softness and showing playfully zesty edginess, perfect with Pizza and or BBQ chicken.
Monte Rio Cellars is owned by famous Sommelier Patrick Cappiello, who along with his friend and famed Syrah maker Pax Mahle produce a series of ultra small production, hand crafted and naturally made wines, most of which are Zinfandel, though they have started exploring rare varietals, including a bottling of Mission grape (also known as Pais or Listen) and a California hybrid known as Rubired. The wines, like this one are done using 100% whole cluster and see a Carbonic Maceration for 9 days in stainless steel, then are pressed into a concrete tank for 8 days, with no sulfur (sulphates) used in the winemaking, all with just indigenous yeast fermentation(s). This Primitivo was then aged 10 months in old wood barrels, with everything done to enhance transparency and intentional rawness of form to make these wines feel authentic in their profiles. I am really getting into these Monte Rio wines, they take an attitude adjustment and an openness of mind to understand and give yourself to their nakedness of spirit and character. Pax also does a lineup of wines that usually just go to their wine club that are in the same vein, with an interesting array of varietals from Trousseau Gris to Charbono, which may have been influenced by the Monte Rio’s success. The 2019s from Monte Rio Cellars are a significant step up and I highly recommend checking them out!
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Desire Lines Wine Co., Cabernet Sauvignon, Lichau Hill Vineyard, Petaluma Gap AVA, Sonoma County.
Cody Rasmussen’s Desire Lines Wines Co. label is certainly one of the coolest and best new wineries to emerge in the last few years and his latest set of wines are absolute gems with his Syrah bottlings being some of the best in the state, but I just discovered his Cabernet Sauvignon and it is also a killer wine, especially interesting coming from this unlikely place, its dark and pure flavors a joy on a cold January night. The Lichau Cabernet Sauvignon is deeply saturated with an almost opaque black/purple and garnet tinted color which is ultra compelling and the nose is a classic mix of black fruit, floral notes, a light wood toast and chaparral that leads to a very youthful, but surprisingly supple tannined full, bodied palate that comes through in dense layers of blackberries, creme de cassis, plum and cherry fruits along with licorice, cedar, minty herb, a touch of vanilla and with some earthy loam and graphite. The vintage, long and somewhat cool, allowed for a smoothing of the structural elements, fresh detailing and gave well developed ripe fruit complexity, all adding up to a powerful and graceful example of Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon that delivers a top notch performance in the glass and making for an exceptional value for this grape and it is just beginning its evolution and should only get better and better over the next few years or the decade head. With some air and food the 2018 Desire Lines Wine Co. Lichau Cabernet behaves impeccably and its raw grip fades into a luxurious richness, much the same way you’d expect and want from a big red wine and there is a lot to admire here, especially the constant play between hedonistic fruit and savory notes and a lingering sensation of acacia flowers and blueberry. Fans of Mountain California Cabernet will love the rustic and or old school style, but it is still a quite polished and pretty really and am reminded of wines like Mount Eden and Chappellet, which is a good thing.
Cody Rasmussen and his wife Emily started this micro (family) winery in 2014 when they made their first wine, a Mendocino Syrah from the Eagle Point Vineyard, before creating a more wide set of wines over the next few vintages, which include a fabulous Griffin’s Lair Syrah, an expressive dry Riesling from Cole Ranch, a juicy Carignan blend from old wines in Contra Costa County, a pure Mourvedre and another gorgeous and opulent Syrah from the much heralded Shake Rigde Vineyard in the Amador County, as well as this impressive single vineyard offering. Rasmussen, who is the assistant winemaker at Bedrock Wine Company under the guidance of Morgan Twain-Peterson MW and one of the great wine minds of California, and has a fantastic selection of top vineyard sites to work from. His own label wines have the quality and refinement that you see in the highly regarded Bedrock wines, but still have a unique distinction and show his own personality as well as the individual terroir characteristics, which is clearly on display on this wine. Rasmussen says he didn’t intend to make a Cabernet when we started Desire Lines, but just by chance along a hiking trail, the Lichau Hill appeared to him and he was intrigued by this remote vineyard. So in 2018, he followed up on his instincts and got grapes from Lichau, which is set on Sonoma Mountain’s western side with a southwest facing and a mix of rocky soils, along with a slightly cooler coastal influence. The Lichau Vineyard, as Cody notes is thoroughly singular, it has the only Cabernet Sauvignon planted within the Petaluma Gap AVA, and at a good elevation, it misses most of fog and gets warm enough to fully ripen the Cab grapes, proven here beautifully in this 2018 version. Rasmussen fully de-stemmed the Cab clusters, but he did not crush the berries, fermenting them on the skins for thirty days in tank, and then he aged the Lichau for about 15 months in 225L French oak barriques with 40% new oak. This is a wonderful effort and a great addition to the Desire Lines stellar lineup, I highly recommend it and all of the wines, this is winery to watch.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Flaneur, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
One of the new labels in the Willamette Valley has has impressed me in recent years, Flaneur, based in Carlton, is an up and coming winery that has some exciting wines to discover and this beautiful and dark, black and blue fruited basic Willamette Valley cuvee is definitely one to search out, it offers a lot of quality and value for the price. Flaneur Wines was founded by the ambitious Marty Doerschlag who has amazingly, and quickly made his winery a force to be reckoned with and his team looks to be an all star cast, including winemaker and vineyard manager Grant Coulter, who I’m known since 2008 when I visited Beaux Freres and have been following ever since, the ex Beaux Freres man was drawn to this winery by the mission to produce small lot hand crafted wines all coming from organic and sustainable vineyard site as well as putting his artistic stamp on the wines. The 2018 Flaneur Pinot starts with English rose, red berries and cedary spices and opens up with beautiful detail on the smooth and silken medium bodied palate with rich layers of briar laced raspberry, plum, red currant and a deep core of black cherry fruit that everything revolves around with touches of tea spices, cinnamon, mineral tones, snapping herbs and a hint of toasty wood. The 2018 was native yeast fermented and saw just about 5% new French oak, with the balance being aged in well seasoned used barrel and got a gentle cool maceration to preserve purity, freshness and aromatic quality.
This 2018 vintage has lots of elegance and energy on display and they have a graceful sensibility with this Flaneur showcasing the year’s best characteristics and delivers its flavors with a exciting flourish, especially after opening up and getting air, it is joyous to experience even in its youth and can be enjoyed now and it should provide pleasure for another 3 to 5 years with ease. The Flaneur winemaker, Grant Coulter has really become one of Oregon’s top guns and as noted in my reviews, his own label Hundred Suns Wines is one of my big favorites, especially his whole cluster style Pinots and his awesome Gamay, which I highly recommend to anyone reading this and his offerings here at Flaneur are just as stylish and desirable. Grant, who is originally from Monterey County, has worked for Eric Hamacher, another California talent to move to Oregon as well as for the legendary Mike Etzel, where Coulter rose up to be head winemaker at the famed Beaux Freres, where he made some profound wines. Flaneur also does Chardonnay, which I hope to dig into in the near future as well as a grower producer style Champagne method sparkling wine, again I can’t wait to try it, especially since it is an Extra Brut with an ultra dry style, which is my kind of bubbly. This deeply colored dark ruby/garnet 2018 Flaneur Willamette Valley Pinot, that was sourced from a variety of cool climate sites with a mixture of the region’s zones and a combination of soils, is easy to love and a great value, be sure to keep an eye out for it and getting onto their mailing list to see their more limited offerings.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
1998 Domaine Gramenon, Cotes du Rhone Rouge “Sierra du Sud” Rhone Valley, France.
I was excited when I learned that a friend had acquired a perfectly cellared collection of Rhone wines, and while I couldn’t afford to grab some of the super gems and unicorn wines, I could get some under the radar and frankly some unsellable bottles that by all rights should be long dead, but so far they’ve all proved outstanding, especially this gorgeous and very much alive 1998 Domaine Gramenon Sierra du Sud Cotes du Rhone. This wonderful surprise from the late Philippe Laurent, who was killed in a car accident a year or so after making this wine, and his wife Michèle Aubèry-Laurent, the founders of this small organic family winery that has gained more notoriety in recent years with Michele’s talented son Maxime François Laurent continuing the traditions of the estate and bringing a spotlight to this exceptional estate. Gramenon, based in the northern zone of the southern Rhone around the new hotspot of the region Vinsobres, established in 1979, is not an old property, but the wines are very serious and impeccably made in a very natural style, the quality here was so good that famous importer Kermit Lynch, in Berkeley California took them on and has brought these humble hardworking vignerons no small about of fame and an enthusiast following in America. This 1998 Sierra du Sud was a special 100% Syrah cuvee from a selection of what was then some younger vines set on a complex series of soils with a combination of clay, limestone, along with gravel, galets roulés (large round river stones) and sand, making for deeply flavorful and fabulously textured wine that has not succumbed to age, in fact this Gramenon is fresher and drinking better than some top Chateauneuf du Pape bottlings from the same vintage! This dark garnet hued (with barely a hint of orange on the edges) Sierra du Sud shows a remarkable freshness and lively nature (for its age) and held up all night gaining mouth feel and intriguing floral aromatics as it opened, very impressive. It unfolded with pure layers of blueberry, cassis, dried violets, delicate truffle or wild porcini, a light dusting of chalky stones, peppercorns, licorice and some savory earthiness that doesn’t override the pretty fruit core, but provides a sultry and sensual appeal with just a faint whiff of sous bois or a meaty element and lingering kirsch notes. While warmer and softer in style, especially at this stage of life, this authentic and elegant wine is not far off a Cote-Rotie in class and in drinking pleasure.
The Domaine Gramonon does a vast array of unique bottlings, most are focused around their main grape Grenache, but they also do a couple of single varietal Syrah(s) with this Sierra du Sud being one, labeled as a Cotes du Rhone, similar to Chateau de Saint Cosme, the famous Gigondas producer that has vineyard holdings in Vinsobres too, and who’s basic Cotes du Rhone is also 100% Syrah, as well as Gramenon’s other Syrah Côtes-du-Rhône “Emouvante” which I haven’t yet tried, but will certainly look for. This estate is all about sustainable farming and live a holistic lifestyle, which they have, as Kermit Lynch notes, incorporated into their daily lives by growing their own food and raising their own animals, being in partnership with their land and nature. This area of Rhone is cooler and the wines are more edgy than in the southern zones which allows the Syrah to shine here and making their Grenache wines more distinct and fresh feeling, these conditions and terroir make for long lived wines, even ones that were never purposed for long term aging, like this Gramenon Sierra du Sud Cotes du Rhone. I have been a fan of Gramenon for just over a decade, after being introduced to the wines by Kermit Lynch and I have always adored this Sierra du Sud bottling, it has been a favorite from the Laurent family, along with their amazing old vine Grenache and the delightful “Il Fait Soif” by Maxime Francois Cotes du Rhone, a blend of 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% Cinsault, a wine that is great place to start if you want to get into these wines. Gramenon has been farming using biodynamic practices since 2007 and have always been organic, though they finished certification in 2010 with their vines all being traditionally trained with mostly head training and dry famed with small yields that make for concentrated wines, but with crisp detailing. The winemaking at Gramenon is very old school and the wines are more made in the vineyard, rather than the rustic cellar with a minimalistic approach and with low SO2 additions, in some cases without any sulphites being added at all, even in their most prized bottlings. The Sierra du Sud was fermented with partial whole cluster and some stem inclusion with native yeasts in concrete vat with a gentle 10 to 12 day maceration before being aged in a combination of tank (cement) and old barriques for just under a year, usually about seven months. This wine, like all the wines at Gramenon was bottled unfined and unfiltered, to preserve its true personality and charm, which it continues even after more than twenty years to near perfection and utter brilliance, great cellaring (a must with low sulfur or natural wines) brings huge rewards.
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Trout Gulch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The satiny, beautifully dark ruby hued and opulent 2018 Trout Gulch Pinot Noir is a classically styled version with rich layers of dark fruit, light spices, subtle earth notes and impeccably well judged use of oak, giving this wine its soft and luxurious framing, all of which highlights the quality of the grapes from this vineyard and the precise winemaking by Richard Alfaro at his Alfaro Family Vineyards. These 2018s are incredible for their depth and vibrancy with this Trout Gulch Pinot being a stand out in Alfaro’s lineup with a complex array of flavors and textural pleasure, it delivers in all areas and is an outstanding value in a collection of great values, these are without a doubt some of the best efforts to date from this small family estate winery. This vintage shows a freshness of detail that is very compelling with black cherries, plum, fig and red berry fruits leading the way on the exciting medium to full bodied palate that is lifted by vital natural acidity as well as tea spices, blood orange, a nice floral element, a touch of sweet toasty oak, mineral tones and loam. This wine feels polished and excels with food, especially good with salmon, pork and wild mushroom dishes. Alfaro has really made this vineyard sing since he took over the farming here, with the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir vines thriving and producing stunning wines, you can see why these grapes are so coveted, with the Chardonnay grapes finding their way into some of the most sought after wines in state, like the fabulous single vineyard bottlings by Arnot-Roberts, Kutch and Ceritas. I’ve been following Richard’s wines since the early to mid 2000s and have been thrilled with the evolution of the style and the maturity of the vines, that these wines their unique personality. With his reputation as a grower now cemented, I still find it amazing that Alfaro’s wine are such bargains, even now this estate remains under the radar with some real gems to discover here, especially his estate Chards, which are some of my all time favorites!
The Alfaro Family Vineyards Trout Gulch Pinot Noir was hand crafted using traditional winemaking methods, seeing a gentle handing of the grapes and a cool temperature maceration and primary fermentation in mostly stainless steel and then aged 10 months in 27% new French oak, in this vintage, with just 275 cases made. The Alfaro estate began back in 1997 when Richard Alfaro, a famous local baker, and his wife Mary Kay bought this property in Corralitos in the southern most zone of the Santa Cruz Mountains and planted their own vineyards. Richard, along with his son Ryan, who has completed internships in New Zealand and most recently with the iconic Adam Tolmach of Ojai Vineyards are focused on mostly estate grown terroir driven Chardonnay and Pinot offerings that they farm to sustainable and mostly organic methods, plus a selection of unique rarities including their awesome estate grown Gruner Veltliner, a new estate 100% Malbec, a Merlot and a peppery cool climate Syrah, as well as a few small lot wines from non estate vines, like their Garys’ Vineyard Pinot, their Rosella’s Vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot and a Bates Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, to name a few top choices. The Trout Gulch Vineyard, planted back in 1980, is a 16 acre dry-farmed vineyard that is nestled on a coastal hillside and surrounded by redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Aptos only about four miles from the cold Pacific Ocean. The site, as the winery notes, sits at 750 to 800 feet above sea level and has well-draining sandy loam soils with a touch of clay that adds to the fruit density, while the morning fog and cool air makes for a long growing season and allows for racy acidity. Alfaro has twelve acres at the Trout Gulch Vineyard that is planted to the Robert Young clone of Chardonnay and just four acres planted to Pinot Noir with a heritage set of vines, that has a mix of the Mt. Eden, Pommard and Martini clones. These Monterey Bay influenced Trout Gulch wines are absolutely delicious, in particular this one, which is just one of Alfaro’s latest set of solid new releases, all of which, that I highly recommend. Now that the stay at home order has been lifted I look forward to visiting the Alfaro’s tasting room and picturesque vineyard soon.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Bucklin, Zinfandel, Bambino Field Blend, Old Hill Ranch, Sonoma Valley.
The Bucklin Bambino is a wonderful Zinfandel based red that way over delivers for the price with this gorgeous 2018 being one of the best versions to date with layers of lively, but deep black fruits on the nicely balanced full bodied palate that leads with classic black raspberry, touches of spice, light floral notes and youthful vigorous energy. This vintage, longer and cooler than most in the Sonoma Valley really made this wine stand out for the excitement and depth of flavors, it is wonderfully layered and softly tannic, making it fabulous with food and easy to love as a young wine, even by itself and or with basque or artisan cheeses. Will Bucklin, owner and winemaker at Bucklin, sells his Old Hill Ranch grapes to some outstanding producers, like Bedrock Wine Co. and others, makes just a limited amount of wines under his own label with his Ancient Field Blend, coming from the historic heritage vines and this Bambino Zinfandel blend, coming from a young parcel, being his main two offerings. Will Bucklin and his wife Lizanne live on, and farm, the Old Hill Ranch, which his family purchased in 1980 and have been wonderful guardians of this special site that is one of California’s most treasured vineyards that was originally planted in 1852 and has arguably the oldest Zinfandel vines in the state if not the world. Located near Glen Ellen, Old Hill Ranch was founded by the name sake William McPherson Hill and who is credited with planting the first non-mission grapes in Sonoma, choosing an eccentric array of European varietals that he inter-planted at his property, these included a section of vines planted in 1856 of a mysterious black grape that was known at the time as “Black St. Peters,” which of course we know now as Zinfandel. This 2018 vintage Bambino Zinfandel, was hand crafted from vines planted between 1998 and 2000, using the same percentages of each varietal as the original Ancient blocks with 75% Zinfandel being used, but it is also co-fermented with some Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouchet as well as, maybe, a few other grapes, which adds to the complexity, as well as giving the wine its deep purple/garnet color.
Will Bucklin, who studied enology at UC Davis, has quietly become an influential winegrower in the Sonoma Valley and has some very worldly experience in his past, making wine around the world and here on the west coast. After his graduation Bucklin traveled to France for an internship at Chateau Lafite Rothschild, then he worked in Australia at Thomas Hardy and Sons, before coming home and taking a position at Navarro winery in the remote Anderson Valley, where he was, as he notes, infected with the Pinot Noir bug. So with Pinot on his mind he packed up and moved up to Oregon to become winemaker for King Estate, where he fine tuned his skills. After which, he was persuaded to take over the family estate, where he manages all aspects of the Ranch’s grape production and in 2000 he started his Bucklin label. Old Hill Ranch has more than 30 different grapes in the old vine section, and Bucklin’s Ancient Field Blend includes them all, with Zinfandel being the main one, but also has Grenache, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah, Grand Noir, Syrah, Carignan, and Mourvedre to name a few, along with some white grapes too. Bucklin interestingly has Cabernet Sauvignon, that parcel, which dates back to 1983, is separate and goes into a very limited solo varietal wine. The Bucklin’s have had some rough times in recent years with both the major fires causing significant damage to the ranch and their home, though most all the old vines, to our great joy and relief have survived, so it is a great time to support this winery as they look to recover and the wines are a rewarding bonus. I love this version of Bambino with its array dark fruits, with, the mentioned brambly black raspberry, as well as plum, currant and kirsch that are accented by hints of wild sage, cinnamon, roasted herbs, cedar and cassis. This vintage is exceptionally pure and there is not a trance of overt oak, it feels well rounded and has a cool toned presence and at 14.2% natural alcohol it doesn’t get heavy or ponderous, while still being impactful, ripe and full of pleasure, these 2018s are really good, in particular I highly recommend this Bambino, its almost guilt free for your wallet, it will drink well for many years too.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Wilson Foreigner, Valdiguie, Rancho Chimiles, Napa Valley.
Wonderfully easy to quaff, simple in a good way and fun the Wilson Foreigner Rancho Chimiles Valdiguie offers plenty of tangy blueberry and tart cherry fruit, even though this bottle is two vintages behind the current release, it was nicely fresh and showed extremely well, especially with the light meal I enjoyed it with. Valdiguie is a grape that was once mistaken for Gamay here in California and is sometimes still called Napa Gamay, but is not related to that Beaujolais varietal, it originally came from the Southwest of France and is almost totally unknown in France these days.making it now a firmly California grape, somewhat similar to Zinfandel (Tribidrag) and more like Petite Sirah (Durif), both of which had mysterious origins and are now part of the fabric of California wine. I have been a long time fan of this grape, even when I thought it was Gamay and I have really enjoyed its rise over the last decade, in particular the wines made by Rochioli, Broc, Cruse and even J. Lohr, so it was interesting to finally open this bottle from Wilson Foreigner, a small husband and wife micro winery based in Petaluma, in Sonoma County, as I had not tried their wines and this version of Valdiguie. The 2016 vintage has a more true Valdiguie sense about it, less Gamay or carbonic like in style with good ripe flavors, but zesty acidity, savory notes and no bubble gum or cotton candy (overt fruity tooty) elements, in fact it is finely balanced and a touch Italian like in style, think Dolcetto or entry level Chianti with a good play between dark berry fruit and light earthiness. This is not a wine to over think obviously and its light body not too different from Pinot Noir is not going to make it a blockbuster or give a profound experience, but it is rustic charms, delicate florals and weightless mouth feel make it a delightful and playful wine worthy of your attention. This dark garnet wine is nicely rounded with the mentioned blueberry, plum and cherry fruits and accented by a touch of loamy earth, bay leaf, lilac, mineral and peppery spices, it is crisply detailed and supported by a touch tannin and vibrant acidity all pretty much as expected of this grape and its 12.7% alcohol is just about perfect for a wine of this style.
The Wilson Foreigner Valdiguie was, I believe, fermented in concrete, aged in neutral French oak, with the winery noting, that this wine shows the qualities that made this once common and widely planted grape a staple of the Napa Valley decades ago. That was before everyone in the Valley started ripping out the rarity vines and replacing them with the more commercially profitable grapes, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon. Wilson Foreigner is finding their our niche and their goal, as owner as David Wilson and his wife Christine say, is to create unique wines with minimal intervention that truly represent the individual vineyards from which they are sourced. David, who grew up on the family ranch in Rancho Chimiles, near to where these Valdiguie grapes are grown, studied fruit science with an emphasis on wine and viticulture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo as well as traveling the world to expand his experience in wine and landed in South Africa, where he met Chris Alheit, who is a rising star now in his homeland and where he and his wife Suzaan have their own Alheit Vineyards, which they founded in 2011 and are based in the Western Cape. Now the two couples work together on these Wilson Foreigner wines, as the seasons are different which allows Chris and Suzaan to be consulting winemakers, sort of on the side, while David and Christine do the year round day to day work watching over the wines and checking in on the vines. Wilson Foreigner does three wines, this Rancho Chimiles Valdiguie, plus a Zinfandel from old vines in Contra Costa’s Del Barba Vineyard and a Sierra Foothills Albarino from the Rorick Vineyard and are currently selling the 2018s, which should be even better if you want to explore their wines. The 2016 Valdiguie which saw limited whole cluster, somewhere close to 30%, and native yeast fermentation before seeing a brief period in the well used barrels to promote transparency in the final product and allow the Valdiguie to show its true expression. I’m glad I got a chance to try this one and am excited to try the new releases, on a side note I really enjoyed the Alheit Cartology South African white blend, which I reviewed last year at grapelive.com, that was crafted from 87% Chenin Blanc and 13% Semillon and sourced from old bush vines.
($34 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Domaine Sylvain Pataille, Marsannay, Red Burgundy, France.
The basic home village and maybe signature wine from Sylvain Pataille is his fine Marsannay Rouge which in the 2018 is absolutely lovely delivering ripe Pinot purity and a crisp mineral focus along with beautiful delicate floral tones, a dark ruby color, a silken mouth feel and a purring underlying energy. I have been a fan and reviewed a few of this exceptional producer’s wines over the last few years, I only wish they were more easy to find, as Pataille is insanely popular with Burgundy enthusiasts and with only a small amount available it makes sense they are tough gets, but I cannot recommend more highly this winery and getting a few bottles of Sylvain’s Marsannay, especially this one and or his Clos de Roy. The 2018 Marsannay is outstanding and while not an obviously showy or flashy wine, it is a gorgeous wine that slowly comes into full bloom in the glass, gaining depth with every sip, this vintage allows early drinking pleasure as well as having potential to age another decade and maybe a bit longer, though no one could be that patient surely. The layering in Sylvain Pataille’s Marsannay includes black cherry, dark earthy currant, strawberry and plum fruits as well as touches of rose petals, stony loam, sassafras, cedar and a mix of faint baking spices on its well structured medium bodied palate that oozes confidence and class. Pataille, who is a widely admired consultant and vigneron, hand crafts about a dozen cuvées, including red, white and rosé offerings of Marsannay, with Marsannay, it should be noted being the only appellation in the Côte d’Or allowing an AC Rosé label, plus Pataille also does a distinct Aligoté, a Passetoutgrain, which is a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay and regional bottlings of Bourgogne Blanc and Rouge, many from old vines and single Lieu Dits that make them more interesting than the label would suggest.
The Domaine Sylvain Pataille, based in Marsannay la Cote was founded in 1999, in the northernmost area of the Cote d’Or and most recent (1987) AOC of the Côte de Nuits, works in a natural way with all organic farming methods, plus he is in transition to all biodynamic certification. The domaine already uses no chemical herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers in vines and in the cellar Sylvain employs only natural yeasts, without any additions or a heavy hand in the process. The primary fermentation is done partially in fiberglass and partially in stainless steel, according to the winey, and it is relatively brief, under two weeks with cool temperatures to heighten aromatics and freshness of flavors. The red wines, like this Marsannay are then gently racked into barrique (small Burgundy medium toast oak barrels) with typically about 30% new and then, as Pataille adds, they are aged for up to two full years in the wood, with the basic Marsannay getting an elevage of about 18 months before bottling. Depending on the year or growing season there might be some whole bunches and a bit of stem inclusion, though mainly all the grapes are de-stemed, with this vintage seeing partial whole-cluster to add complexity to this transparent, vivid and delicious Marsannay Rouge. Pataille is sometimes compared to Philippe Pacalet and other artisan winemaker contemporaries that are part of generation that focuses on holistic winemaking and work in harmony with nature to more clearly show the nuances of each terroir and craft wines that are impeccable in quality, but with a bit more rawness to their efforts, as this wine proves in its performance. I hope to keep up with Sylvain’s wines in the future, and I’m grateful to have picked up a tidy amount of these 2018s, I would also suggest them to any Pinot Noir fans as well as to savvy Burgundy buyers.
($60 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Ryme Cellars, Sangiovese Friulano, Fox Hill Vineyard, Mendocino County.
The unique and lovable Ryme Sangiovese Friulano Rosso is a brilliantly fresh and juicy in a full flavored, but lighter red wine that goes fantastically well with a wide range of foods and can be just quaffed, it drinks so nicely it is hard to not finish the bottle. This wine is a co-fermentation of 85% of the classic Chianti red grape Sangiovese and 15% of Friulano, which is a zesty white grape most commonly found in Northeast Italy where it was once known as Tocai or Tocai Friulano in a nod to the old school Chianti wines that once saw up to 20% of white grapes including Trebbiano and Malvasia that either helped local farmers get rid of all their grapes or added acidity and or sugars to the must. This practice has almost died off these days, but Megan and Ryan Glaab of Ryme, who have made quite a name for themselves by crafting italian themed wines, have brought it back here in California with this this exceptionally delicious version. I love their Vermentino(s), their Fiano and especially their absolutely awesome Aglianico bottlings, that are true to their old world cousins and add so much to the California Italian varietal wine scene, these wines elevate Cal Itals to new heights, with this one finding a niche sitting between Rosé or Nouveau style wines and the heavier tannic rich reds. I’ve been blown away by the new world Italian varietals in recent years, it was thought California, Oregon and Washington could quite match the true Italian examples, but now, that is not the case, especially when you taste these Ryme Cellars wines, they are not trying to be carbon copies of those regional stars of Italy, they are uniquely Californian beauties with soulful Italian DNA charms. If you want proof that these wines are a match for their Italian counter parts you need to try them, look for Ryme in particular, but also Martha Stoumen, who’s signature Nero d’Avola is ultra tasty and stylish, as well as the Sheldon Sangiovese, Brian Terrizzi’s Giornata from Paso Robles, Idlewild, which sources from the Fox Hill site as well, Unti in Dry Creek, Odonata, who do a fabulous Brunello like Sangiovese as well as a cool Sparkling Sangiovese, Palmino, who really brought seriousness to California Nebbiolo, Leonetti in Walla Walla, who’s inky Sangiovese is legendary and especially John Paul’s Cameron Winery, with his set of incredible Italian inspired collection, including his Barolo like Willamette Valley Nebbiolo and his stunning white blend or Bianco.
Now back to Ryme and this very cool 2019 Sangiovese Friulano, a red wine that like Beaujolais that can be served chilled for refreshment, but still has a depth of flavors to provide enjoyment with rustic Italian cuisine and or simple country dishes as well as picnic fare or BBQ. The nose is bright with red berries, minty herbs, a light earthy note and perfumed rose petals that lead to a medium bodied and smooth carbonic like layers of raspberry, plum, strawberry and Morello cherry fruits along with subtle accents of anise, basil, shaved cinnamon, fleshy peach and a hint of mineral, sweet tobacco and lingering sweet floral aromatic notes. The luminous pale ruby color is very inviting, made more compelling with the clear, see through glass bottle, which makes it clear this one is for youthful drinking, no waiting required with its easy tannins and saliva inducing natural acidity, this Sangiovese Friulano is pure fun in the glass. Ryme notes that, the two varieties were picked together and co-fermented carbonically in tank before the wine was gently pressed and racked with soft extraction then it was aged in a neutral French Puncheon for short period the finish mallos and bottled early unfiltered and with just a minuscule sulfur. This wine is what the natural wine lovers of Europe call a Glou-Glou style wine, meaning basically it is a drink up non too serious wine that will bring lots of smiles and a mood of tranquility. At Fox Hill Vineyard in Mendocino, according to winemakers Megan and Ryan Glaab, the Friulano is planted next to the Sangiovese, making this wine easy to put together as the grapes can be picked and packed together to bring back to the winery. This is a winery to follow, and I suggest getting on their mailing list, but try not to miss the current releases, these are impressive and playful efforts, I would point you in the direction of Ryme’s Pet-Nats as well with their very limited Crackling Carignan and Crackling Vermentino being irresistible, along with their exciting Cabernet Francs and the Aglianico Rosé, which is part of their awesome Italian influenced lineup. The Ryme label was created by this dynamic husband and wife team back in 2007, with this talented duo having done many years of consulting and winemaking gigs having worked at wineries such as Pax Wine Cellars, Peay Vineyards, Sine Qua Non, Torbreck in Australia and at Helen Turley’s iconic Marcassin. There is a lot to love at Ryme Cellars these days, and this Sangiovese Friulano is a great place to start, check them out.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Grochau Cellars, Gamay Noir, Twelve Oaks Estate, Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
This dark and vibrant Grochau Cellars wine is a traditionally fermented Willamette Valley Gamay Noir that was sourced from Anne Amie’s Twelve Oaks Estate Vineyard close to Carlton on a newer block of vines planted in 2013 on the Laurelwood soils, which are silty loams or loess with an underpinning of a Jory (volcanic) base on the western edge of the Yamhill-Carlton zone. The terroir and vintage influence adds to the intensity on this stylish and seriously natured Gamay with vigorous acidity and loads of spicy character, this is noteworthy for Gamay lovers, as this vineyard site comes into maturity with the Laurenwood series soils adding a unique profile with a dark hue and a mineral rich element, this is the shallowest of the soil series found in this area, and is often found on hillsides, like these, where the winds have gradually over time blew the thin layers into place, and while the Laurelwood series is common in Willamette Valley it is fairly rare to find Gamay on it. This wine is distinctly non carbonic, tangy fresh, and is a gripping version of Gamay Noir, more along the lines of the famous Brick House example, with its brilliant purple/garnet color and sense of power showing blackberry, mulberry, deep cherry and quieter strawberry and red peach fruits along with a touch of orange peel, damp earth, red spices, crushed gun flint, potpourri floral detail and a sense of walnut husks and wild fennel. This is a complex and every changing Gamay in the glass which starts with an edginess and bite, before slowly coming out of its shell and unfolding into a real beauty with textural quality and presence coming out with air and a significant amount of time in the glass, it ends up a very rewarding wine with a push and pull of fruit and savory tones with a pleasing medium body and a nice lingering echo of flavors on the clipped and crisply dry finish.
I’ve been following John Grochau’s Grochau Cellars for a while, but this was first time I have tried his Gamay and I’m thrilled to report on its excellence, though I’ve always enjoyed his Pinots and especially his Commuter Cuvee Pinot Noir, which is always an exceptional value. In recent years he has really filled out his collection with many single vineyard wines which now include some very tasty whites with Melon de Bourgogne, Pinot Blanc, Albarino and special Brick House Chardonnay, from the legendary biodynamic Ribbon Ridge property. Grochau is still under the radar in California, but he has worked alongside the iconic Willamette Valley winemaker Doug Tunnell at the mentionedBrick House Vineyards for four years and has also spent time at Erath Winery. His first vintage as an owner and winemaker at Grochau Cellars, as he notes, was back in 2002, making it close to 20 years of doing his own thing in this region. Before wine Grochau was a professional cyclist and while touring Europe he fell in love with wine, eventually moving to Portland and took a serious interest in Oregon’s Pinot Noir, which set him on his path. Grochau works exclusively with organic and sustainably-farmed vineyards and everything is done with the old world mentality of making artisan wines that go with food, which his wines do with a flourish and he strives to allow each vineyard to tell the story of place and the year. In the cellar, Grochau employs a gentle touch and cool fermentation(s) with a light touch when it comes to his oak usage, his wines tend to be transparent, luminous and full of energy and with the substance to age gracefully for many years. This vintage of Twelve Oaks Gamay has a very soulful charm about it and while confident and well mannered, it looks to have a rewarding future and should really come into its own one the next two to five years, it’s an impressive effort.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Cruse Wine Co., Blanc de Noirs, Alder Springs Vineyard, Mendocino County.
The small batch sparkling wines from Michael Cruse are some of the most interesting in California with both his Pet-Nats and his Methode Champenoise style bubbly, like this special edition Blanc de Noirs, are absolutely delicious and sophisticated wines with many being single vineyard site expressions with grower producer like distinction handsome crafted with unique and rare varietals. This particular bottling is vibrant and has a zesty form, but rich and complex with tons of nutty character, its rather intriguing with its play between racy yellow fruits and the mature feeling oxidative palate with layers of lemon, apple butter, white peach, plum, hazelnut, straw, mineral tones and doughy brioche that highlights the yeasty/leesy charms. This Alder Springs Blanc de Noirs cuvee, hand crafted and focused around the structure of no skin contact red grapes, with a Pinot Noir like quality, was what Michael Cruse calls an experiment in melding reductive and oxidative winemaking, it certainly played with my senses and I wasn’t truly expecting this complexity and stylistic personality, but it grew on me as I began to fully understand its purpose and personality, and as an admirer of a range of Sherry wines and Jura whites I got more and more into it as it opened up in the glass. Cruse notes that he finds this sparkler extremely complex, showing pastry, miso, marzipan with an element of pistachio gelato and floral detail, which I can confirm as well. The mouse is vigorous, rather than luxurious or creamy, giving the Alder Springs Blanc de Noirs an energetic intensity and makes it cleansing and refreshing, it is exceptional with food and proved nicely flexible with spicy and full flavored Asian dishes that I unfairly ate while sipping on this. I know, without question this Blanc de Noirs, would go better with grilled sardines, salty Tapas and or briny oysters, which I hope to prove in the future.
The lineup at Cruse Wine Co. is quite impressive with his top sparkling wine, Ultramarine being an underground classic with a cult like following, leading the way, but I love his Pet-Nats too, with the sparkling Valdiguie and sparkling St. Laurent being big favorites of mine and I love his set of still red wines with the Tannat, which I recently reviewed, and the Valdiguie being ones that I try not to miss. The Alder Springs Blanc de Noirs was fermented after the grapes were whole cluster (soft) pressed using a gentle Champagne cycle and it was done without dosage in a brut Nature style, resulting in a dry Brut or Extra Brut like profile. Just one hundred cases, or 1200 bottles were produced of this Alder Springs Blanc de Noirs, making it a rarity and not easy to find, though at this time it is still listed as available on Cruse’s website. California has more great sparkling wines on offer than ever with some incredible artisan stuff out there including Michael Cruse’s exceptional collection, along with other grower fizz or single vineyard bubblies, these include Samantha Sheehan’s Poe Wines Sparkling Rosé, made with Meunier and her all Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs as well as Caraccioli’s excellent Escolle Vineyard Champagne style sparkling wines to name a couple of ones to search out. The Cruse Alder Springs Blanc de Noirs which finished at 12.5% natural alcohol is briskly dry and ripely textured, it gains a slightly smoky note from the lees aging and shows a bit of saline that gets the saliva gland up and running and lingers on with a hint bitter almonds and clove spice. Cruse also has some other alternative wines that will appeal to the wine geek set with his dry Muscat finding a degree of success for a much maligned grape as well as his Monkey Jacket red blend, made from mainly Valdiguié, a grape that has a Gamay like quality and once thought to be Gamay and called Napa Gamay until recently with the remainder coming from Carignan and Syrah, it is tasty value priced stuff that is a great Pizza night wine. It is a great time to explore the Cruse wines and I highly recommend get on Michael’s email list and explore his latest efforts.
($68 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Cobb Wines, Pinot Noir, Rice-Spivak Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
One of California’s best producers of small lot Pinot Noirs, Ross Cobb has been at it for close to twenty years now and shows no signs of letting up with this fantastic 2015 Rice-Spivak displaying his gifted touch with a wine of remarkable balance, silken texture and deep, but weightless layers of Pinot fruit. I had planned holding on to this special wine for many more years to let it fully mature and gain secondary characteristics, but as I was celebrating the end of the moronic nightmare of the Trump presidency I could not think of a more perfect patriotic bottle to open and knowing clearly that Ross would agree, and in hope of brighter times ahead, it did not disappoint and even though young it delivered a gorgeous and rewarding experience. This 2015 vintage was warm and ripe, giving plenty of hedonistic fruit density and luxurious mouth feel with this Rice-Spivak Vineyard having a lush and satiny array of black cherry, raspberry, plum and sweet strawberry fruits along with a mix of toasty/smoky oak, mineral, tangy herbs and a delicate floral perfume. This ruby/garnet wine is one of the most packed, full flavored and darkest versions of this vineyard I can remember, it is a Pinot Noir of lush smoothness and refined details, it is pure pleasure in the glass, it gained tremendous dimension over the course of the evening and added subtle earthy elements and lingered on and on with a graceful aftertaste that echos the nose and palate, with hints of orange tea and seeped rose petals. The Rice-Spivak is always one of my favorites in Cobb’s outstanding collection of wines.
Cobb Wines, founded in 2001, is mostly known for the family’s Coastlands Vineyard signature bottlings, sourced this one from the almost equally exciting Rice-Spivak Vineyard near Sebastopol, a six acre site in the cooler zone west of Healdsburg set on the classic Goldridge sandy loam soils, which brings out a lot of depth of fruit, as well as some volcanic material that gives a steak of mineral and a light dusting of spices. The vines are on rolling eastern facing slopes that get lots of morning sun and cool Pacific breezes with night and early morning fog that brings a refreshing burst of natural acidity to the wines. The Rice-Spivak Vineyard is made up of Swan and Dijon clones, with the heritage Swan selection seemingly playing a lead role here and this 2015 version has a some very serious palate impact, this is highly entertaining Pinot that is wonderfully complex, but joyously easy to love. Cobb employed traditional Burgundian winemaking, as is his way, with this Rice-Spivak seeing a careful selection of the grapes, a cool partial whole cluster fermentation, using close 40% whole bunches, and gentle maceration before a long 22 month elevage in French barriques with about 30% new medium/high toast oak, which still needs a bit more integration, though with air and especially with food this wine provides endless pleasure, much the same way classic Williams Selyem and or Rochioli performs. The Cobb Rice-Spivak finished up at 13.6% making for a substantial and structured Pinot without the heat that you get from wines in the 14 to 15% range, this wine should last another decade or more. Cobb offers a unique and seductive set of single site Pinots that really deserve your attention, plus in recent years Ross has added a dry Riesling to his highly admired and desirable lineup, while none are inexpensive, these wines are a must try for California wine enthusiasts.
($75 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Guimaro, Mencia, Vino Tinto, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia, Spain.
The pure and almost crisply detailed Guimaro Vino Tinto is one of my favorite wines, even in its most simple form this Mencia field blend that is fermented and aged in stainless steel delivers a beautiful and soulful experience in the glass with terroir influence clearly on display, making it a joy to behold and quaff with almost any cuisine. Pedro Rodriguez continues to impress with each new vintage at Guimaro and this 2018 is wonderfully delicious with partial whole bunch, semi carbonic juiciness and crunchiness along with ripe black fruits, soft rounded tannin, lively acidity and lovely mineral tones. The medium bodied palate reveals bright layers of blackberry, mulberry, plum, black cherry and currant fruits that is accented nicely with snappy herbs, flinty stones, lilacs and raw earthiness that seduces the senses and brings easy smiles, it reconfirms my admiration for this outstanding value offering from the steep slopes of the Ribeira Sacra in Spain’s ancient and remote Galicia region. The brilliant gemstone ruby/purple color and delicate floral perfume certainly invite repeated sips and its vibrant nature reminds me of a crossing of a Crozes-Hermitage (Syrah) and a Cote de Brouilly (Gamay), think Maxime Graillot’s Domaine de Lises meets Chateau Thivin! I have been following the Guimaro wines for about a decade now, going back more than 12 vintages and I am still thrilled every time I open a new bottle and this 2018 Vinto Tinto Mencia provided a grateful distraction from the horrifying news of the Covid pandemic, the economic worries and eased the lonely days of not being to travel or see friends, as well as a small celebration of life and the end of shameful and moronic presidency of Donald Trump, which will happen in mere hours now. So yeah, I love this wine and I am a big fan of the winemaker, who I have had the pleasure of meeting a few times and did a couple of tastings with, Pedro is a humble and fun loving person, who’s incredible hard work, which you get a sense of when you see the dangerously steep parcels he farms, and his down to earth and playful personality shine through in the wines.
Pedro Rodriguez’s family vineyards, which for many generations were used to just grow grapes for a co-op, started bottling wine under the Guimaro, which means rebel in local dialect, back in 1991 and they were one of the first wineries to join the Ribeira Sacra DO in 1996, but the Guimaro label really got into gear when Pedro was mentored by the legendary Raul Perez, the godfather of the Mencia grape and well known for his Bierzo versions. Guimaro farms with all organic methods and careful to maintain small yields to craft remarkable collection Mencia based wines, as well as a Godello based white, which is also a rare and rewarding wine in the mold of a steely Chablis. The Ribeira Sacra, or the Sacred Blanks in the native Gallego tongue, has very hard to work vines looking down on the Sil River, which looks intriguingly like the Mosel with in fact similar soils, which are a combination of slate, schist, granite and sand with a cool climate that is heavily influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. The Guimaro Tinto comes from several plots in the Amandi zone, which is mostly planted to Mencia, but also includes small amounts of other local varietals including Caiño, Merenzao (Trousseau) and Souson, which are hand harvested and sees about 35% whole cluster, native yeast fermentation and was raised with tank aging for 6 or so months with no oak being used. The region was been, as the winery notes, cultivated since Roman times, with Ribeira Sacra’s steep terraced vineyards, as mentioned above, are some of the most picturesque and treacherous to work vines in the world of wine, making this Guimaro bottling one of the best values around and it is really a gateway to understanding the wines of this special place. Pedro employs an old-fashioned winemaking method, that was reclaimed and adopted thanks to Perez’s guidance, with wild yeast fermentation, gentle extractions with foot treading in open-top vessels, plus limited raspón (stems) inclusion and working with ultra low sulphites, and while this wine was done in stainless, Rodriguez uses used barrels for his single cru wines, all of which makes for natural and transparent style wines. If you’ve not had Mencia yet, this Guimaro Vino Tinto is a great place to start, especially this outstanding vintage, that I highly recommend stocking up on.
($20 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Dirty and Rowdy, Mourvedre, Shake Ridge Ranch, Amador County.
The stylish Sierra Foothills Shake Ridge Mourvedre is a fresh and vivid red that drinks beautifully now with a range of vivid red fruits, raw, but well managed tannins, meaty savory elements as well as some delicate florals that all unfold on a transparently pure medium/full bodied palate, very tasty indeed. Dirty and Rowdy’s 2018s are my favorites so far from this small and down to earth winery based in Petaluma and look forward to digging into a few of their 2019s soon, which I hear are just as good, which would be not small feat, I really loved the MSG (Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache) a blend that is like a California meeting of Bandol and Chateauneuf du Pape! This Shake Ridge Ranch Mourvedre from California’s historic gold country in Amador County in the Sierra Foothills comes from one of the state’s best vineyards, farmed organically by the legendary Ann Kramer, it is not far from Sutter’s Creek and set on rocky slopes with a complex mix of volcanic, decomposed Granite and quartz soils. The climate here at close to 2,000 feet up gets hot Summer days, but the night time temps dip dramatically so the vines stay refreshed and certain varietals thrive here, especially the Rhone grapes with spectacular wines being made from this site, in particular the Syrah and Mourvedre, which in this wine proves the quality of Kramer’s talents, with its vibrancy and depth. In recent years I have been really impressed with this vineyard, with Jolie-Laide’s GSM blend, Desire Lines Wine Co.’s 100% Syrah and this Dirty and Rowdy 100% Mourvedre being some of my favorites. I really enjoyed this inky purple/red Shake Ridge and marveled at its constantly changing presence in the glass, it even went fantastically well with a Paella that was full of spicy goodness along with sausage, chicken, mussels and calamari.
Dirty and Rowdy was formed by two partners and their families in 2009 when Hardy Wallace, the face of the winery and his partner Matt Richardson established the label, which is really focused on Mourvedre and natural winemaking techniques, they source grapes from some of California’s top sites, including Shake Ridge, as well as Evangelho in Contra Costa County, Enz Vineyard in San Benito as well as the formerly known as Antle Vineyard in Monterey’s chalky Chalone appellation to name a few. This Dirty and Rowdy 2018 Shake Ridge Ranch Mourvedre, which was hand crafted using lots of whole cluster and native yeast fermentation, is led by layers of earthy dark fruits, including brambleberry, red currant, tangy plum, wild herbs, meaty/savory notes, anise, dried flowers, provencal lavender and lingering kirsch. With air the more gamey bit subsides and the fruit core deepens, highlighting the vintage with ripe detail and energy, it adds a stony and mineral steak as well as gaining in textural quality, bringing out all of its charms in a wine that rewards to patient and one that benefits, as expected, from protein heavy cuisine and robust food dishes. Dirty and Rowdy do their best to let the vineyard speak for itself when it comes to winemaking, they employ a hands off approach in the cellar with minimal intervention and a gentle touch throughout the process, and they age the wines in mostly neutral French barrels, as well as a mix of concrete and terra-cotta vessels. The wines see no additions and have the barest of doses of sulphites, with Dirty and Rowdy bottling with no filtration or fining to preserve each wine’s every nuance and soulful character. These wines have tons of personality and have found a special niche within the wine industry with a fanatical group of followers, so it is important to on their mailing list to score these wines. I highly recommend Dirty and Rowdy’s very limited single vineyard wines, with this one being one to search out, as well as the entry level Familiar Mourvedre, that is a blend of many different vineyard sources and a top value.
($47 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2019 Pax Wines, Trousseau Noir, Berg Ranch Vineyard, Fountaingrove District, Sonoma County.
The wonderfully quaffable and delicately pale 2019 Pax Trousseau pays homage to the Jura region with this light, spicy and tangy fresh wine that has a nice play between fruit and savory elements, making this a super fun. Trousseau, which is known for its Pinot Noir like silky texture and fresh acidity, has gained a cult like following in California, mush the same way as Gamay has with producers like Stolpman’s and Raj Parr’s Combe label, Sandlands by Tegan Passalacqua as well as the most widely known and sought after version from Arnot-Roberts and this limited Pax bottling, which is seriously delicious stuff. I have my favorite Jura examples of this grape, that includes Julien Labet, Jean-Francois Ganevat, Domaine Tissot and Jacques Puffeney to name a few from this remote alpine region of France that inspired this Sonoma hillside, low alcohol, less extracted red. This Bearg Ranch Trousseau shows tart and candied cherries, juicy plum, pomegranate and distilled strawberries with crunchy whole bunches character along with snappy cinnamon, anise and herbal notes in a creamy textured, but zesty wine that benefits from a slight chill and simple country style cuisine. With air this wine rounds out and is supple with its pale ruby color perfectly matching the wine’s refreshing personality and purpose adding a hint of earthiness, subtle stemmy notes and lingers with a sweet and sour feel with soft florals, brambly raspberry and hint of rhubarb. This 2019 Trousseau Noir is a delightful wine that goes great with picnics, cheeses and sea food dishes, as well as BBQs.
Pax’s Trousseau Noir, sourced from the Bearg Ranch in the Fountaingrove AVA, which is set in the hills between Healdsburg and Chalk Hill and planted, as the winery notes, on three different soil types, with the majority on mineral rich red clay and Kidd-forward-cohasset series soils, plus a smaller block is on an old creek-bed, that has gravel and shallow silty soils, and the final block is rooted in deeper loam and clay. Pax Mahle planted four different clonal selections of Trousseau, that he says are from a couple of his favorite Trousseau vineyards, both in California and France. This area sees a cooling flow of air from the Pacific Ocean and cool nights to go with warm days, which promotes good ripe flavors while retaining dynamic energy and natural acidity that certainly shows in this Pax Trousseau, making it easy to enjoy and not a wine to over think. This effort is one of the Pax series of natural style wines that gets partial or all whole cluster and carbonic fermentation(s) with mostly being tank aged and or a short spell in used wood, these are meant to be drunk young and quaffed with friends in a less serious way. There are quite of few of these alternative wines from Pax, of which to explore along with this Trousseau Noir, including a new Savoie inspired Mondeuse, a Trousseau Gris (a skin contact white wine), a Mission grape (AKA Pais or Listan) red and a set of Gamay(s), as well as a Carignan and Chenin Blanc. Of course, most people will know that Pax crafts some of the state’s best Syrah wines, with his Armagh and Alder Springs being a couple of my favorites, but in recent years he added these lighter Glou-Glou wines to his collection and you should check them out.
($38 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Ridge Vineyards “Lytton Springs” Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
The 2018 Lytton Springs is absolutely brilliant and a thrilling wine of serious dimension and drinking pleasures, proving once again why it is one of California’s greatest wines with exceptional richness of flavors, lively energy and polished tannins, this is everything you’d want from this Zinfandel blend and more. This long time Ridge staple has long been one of my favorite wines, in fact I almost never miss a chance to visit Lytton Springs, no matter how many times I go there I still am as excited as I was the first time I went there back in 1996 when Ridge had just taken over the site and tastings were in the old barn and on old barrels with a group of cats watching on, a far cry from the modern facility that it is today, though with the same old vines standing guard and giving this special spot its soul and sense of history. With those century old vines and a gifted team in the cellar it’s not hard to understand why this wine is such a success, year after year and decade after decade, and while Lytton Springs is awesome and expressively fruit forward when young, it should also be noted these wines age fantastically well and this 2018 especially looks like a wine that will bring even greater rewards over the next 20 years, with a long cooler growing season providing incredible structure, depth and nice lifting acidity. The young Lytton Springs is deep purple and opaque in the glass, helped by the bigger doses of Petite Syrah and Carignane than normal maybe and its full bodied palate over joys the senses with layers of dense dark berries, including blackberry, boysenberry and classic briar laced raspberry along with plum, blueberry and morello cherry fruits all which unfold with a mix of spices, dried herbs, wild flowers and a polished and slightly smoky sweet wood note. As it is now, this Lytton Springs is impossible to resist and just gets better and better as it opens up and while hedonistic and luxurious it does benefit from food, adding another level to an already sensational wine and allowing it to show some underlying sophisticated elements with a touch of savoriness and a bit of mineral showing up, this vintage is really something extra and should not be missed.
Ridge Vineyards carefully selected the lots for this bottling with the final Lytton Springs blend being 72% Zinfandel, 18% Petite Sirah, 8% Carignane and just 2% Mataro (Mouvervdre) all coming from this Dry Creek property with each varietal fermented separately with all ingenious natural yeasts and gentle winemaking techniques to allow the grapes and vintage to shine without a heavy-handed endowment of extract or an overly lavish oak treatment, going for a more transparent form and freshness. At 14.5%, the 2018 is no wall flower, but the balance and quality of the fruit never let this wine taste anything but impeccably well judged with no flaws in evidence at any point, this is outstanding stuff, one of the best Lytton Springs of the last ten to fifteen years. Ridge says the primary maceration and fermentation were nicely slow and cool with the skins giving excellent pigmentations with just three days and a once a day gentle hand punch downs and or pump overs doing the trick in this magnificent vintage, with plenty of fine grained tannins and serious concentration being delivered perfectly to the finished wine that was aged in Ridge’s special air dried (well seasoned) American oak barrels with just enough new wood to give this wine its stylish texture and its lingering vanilla note. There are a lot of intriguing Zins available these days, but it is always good idea to get a refresher course in the classics like Turley, Biale and Ridge, with their Pagani, Geyserville and this Lytton Springs, all being standard barer efforts. In recent years there have been great alternative choices too, with Bedrock, Lagier-Meredith, Sandlands, Monte Rio Cellars, Martha Stoumen and Lamborn, to name a few to explore by comparison to the amazing array of Zins being made at Ridge. This version of Lytton Springs should not be missed, and I highly recommend trying some of Ridge’s more limited wines too, especially the Rhone inspired reds and their tasty Carignane based wines that I cannot resist, plus Ridge’s Bordeaux varietal lineup from the Monte Bello estate. I am counting the days until we can get back to wine tastings on site, with Ridge being one I, in particular, look forward to visiting again.
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Anne-Sophie Dubois, Fleurie “Les Labourons” Cru Beaujolais, France.
The top or signature wine from the talented Anne-Sophie Dubois is her awesome Les Labourons Fleurie Cru Beaujolais that comes from a high elevation, with a warm Southwest exposure, parcel of Gamay vines that are set on the classic pink granite soils of this appellation, all of which give this gorgeous wine its intensity, distinction, heightened aromatics and elegance with a crisp detailing of pure flavors. This 2018 is impeccable with a clarity of terroir and focus showing a racy edginess and a slight hint of reduction to start before everything comes alive on the medium bodied palate with precise layers of dark vine picked berries, tart currant, strawberry, ripe cherries and earthy blueberry fruits along with delicate spices, mineral tones and crushed violets. While lovely and youthful, this deeply garnet/ruby Gamay beauty takes to another level with a fine structure, complexity and exceptional length in a quaffable package that just gets better and better as it fully opens in the glass, it is a Fleurie that has the style and grace of a Chambolle-Musigny, but at a much more reasonable price. There is no question that Anne-Sophie Dubois is one of young superstars of Beaujolais region and part of a new generation of vignerons that are bringing this area to world wide attention, and as her importer says, as well as redefining the identity of Beaujolais. Dubois was born and raised in Champagne and she gained her first winemaking experiences in Burgundy, which has really guided her in her approach and style with her own wines, especially in the methods she employs in the cellar. Dubois has mostly shied away from the use of carbonic fermentation, preferring a more traditional Burgundian regime with mostly de-stemmed grapes, while employing a natural or indigenous yeast fermentation with a gentle handling of the wine from vineyard to bottle.
Anne-Sophie’s Les Labourons bottling, formerly known as the Clepsydre in her lineup, is named for its special old vine Lieu Dit, and was first released for the 2017 vintage and sports a new artist label, with this effort leading the way in Dubois’ fabulous collection of sophisticated, soulful and all organic Beaujolais. The 2018 Les Labourons came from the oldest vines and the best selections of grapes, which, as mentioned, were 100% de-stemmed and saw a cool maceration with the wine, after primary was complete, seeing an elevage of just over a year in all well used or what you’d call neutral French oak barrels. This very pretty Fleurie Les Labourons that came in at 12.5% natural alcohol is poised, silky ripe and wonderfully balanced, its acidity and taut vibrancy helping make it absolutely delicious with food. There is so much to get excited about in Beaujolais these days, especially with the stunning quality levels were are seeing from the young winemaker that call this place home, including the gifted Dubois as well as next generation of well known estates like Charly Thevenet, Alex Foillard, Justin Dutraive and the Lapierres, along with Julien Sunier, to name a few, all of which I highly recommend. The three main Fleurie offerings at Anne-Sophie Dubois are very individual in personality and each are made to highlight this, they include her Les Cocottes, the only 100% whole cluster and carbonic maceration version, the L’Alchimiste, that is from a selection of vines over forty years of age, 100% de-stemmed and raised in a combination of cement and various sized oak casks, and this Les Labourons, all of which saw a minimal dose of sulphites and bottled unfined and unfiltered to preserve every nuance that the vintage and vines deliver. Anne-Sophie takes great pride in her vines, she like many of vignerons believes the wines are made in the vineyard, and spends most of her time carefully hand tending them and holistically working the soils to keep them healthy, and her commitment shows in her wines, especially this latest release.
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
1996 Domaine Catherine et Pierre Breton, Bourgueil “Grandmont” Loire Valley, France.
The joys and wonderment of a perfectly cellared bottle really comes into focus when you get to experience a wine like this one, where its 25 years haven’t been cruel at all, and it came out of the bottle with amazing energy, freshness, varietal purity and crisp details, making me just say “WOW” and giving me a huge Cabernet Franc smile! I’ve been a have of the Breton wines for sometime now, but I had never had a bottle more than 10 years old before this gorgeous 1996 Grandmont Bourgueil, which was bought on release from Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant and tucked away in a cool dark cellar in Pebble Beach, where it never left until a friend bought the owner’s collection of mostly Rhone and Loire wines around Thanksgiving and I was able to purchase a couple of the lesser known wines that wouldn’t break the bank. I have moved around quite a bit since 2008 and I don’t have high hopes for some of the bottles that have made this nomad like journey, though I hope for the best, while having this bottle showed the incredible value of having a quality cellar that is unaffected by sunlight, movement and changes in temperature. The color of this 1996 Breton Grandmont is exceptional with a beautiful garnet hue in the glass and the nose is heavenly, singing of its terroir and grape with a powerful voice with a flourish of floral notes, sensual mineral, wild herbs, earthiness, red berries and a classic hint of bell pepper. This graceful medium bodied 100% Cabernet Franc shows a bright mix of dark currant, plum, black cherry and mulberry fruits as well as briar, crush stones, leather, the mentioned bell pepper, anise and a touch of cedar on the smooth, but remarkably lively palate that age hasn’t diminished or blunted, making for excellent example of just how good these Loire reds age and just how good these wines, which seem wildly underrated, really are. In hindsight, I should have made a special meal for this amazing Cab Franc, but honestly it was brilliant with leftovers and was equally graceful and lovely all on its own.
The Domaine Catherine et Pierre Breton, founded in 1982, is an all biodynamic and organic estate with a focus on the communes of Chinon and Bourgueil and Cabernet Franc, though they do some nice Chenin Blanc too which comes mainly from selected plots in Vouvray, including a fun Pet-Nat and a series of serous dry and mineral toned versions as well as rare 100% Grolleau Vin de Pays rouge. The more age worthy set of red Bourgueil (and Chinon) wines, which are guided by Pierre Breton are fermented using natural yeasts and see mostly natural winemaking methods without additions and low sulphites, all to promote a transparent array of flavors, structure and balance. This Grandmont, like the Clos Senechal and Les Perrieres Breton’s best two Bougueils, comes from older vines on the hillsides above the plateau of Galichets, and as Kermit Lynch explains, are set on clay and limestone that sits atop the famed tuffeau of the Loire, the chalky white rocky soils. The Grandmont was traditionally macerated in open wood vats and rested in used large wooden foudres, and as, which the winery adds, is bottled without fining or filtration after at least 18 months of fine lees aging. The Breton Bourgueil offerings are the more elegant versions of their Cabernet Francs, while the Chinon(s) tend to be more powerful and more tannic by nature, but both are graceful agers, which this older Grandmont proves in particular. I have been lucky enough to have met the Bretons at a Kermit Lynch Imports tasting and I’ve sampled through almost all of their wines, with their Bourgueil collection being my favorites in their lineup, especially the Les Galichets and profound Les Pierrieres. These Loire Cab Francs go extremely well with winter cuisine and or dishes, including duck breast, wild mushrooms, cheese plates and simply spiced meaty foods. Like the wines from other Loire producers, Olga Raffault, Thierry Germain and Bernard Baudry to name a few, these Catherine et Breton Cab Francs are savvy values for mid term cellaring.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Jim Barry, Dry Riesling, Lodge Hill, Clare Valley, South Australia.
As a confirmed Riesling Freak and or an Acid Head I am a huge fan of Aussie Rieslings like those by Grosset, Rolf Binder, Pewsey Vale and this Lodge Hill Riesling by Jim Barry, which with its lip smacking dry crispness and subtle concentration of fruit, it is one of the best white wine values in the world. Tom Barry, who runs the famous Jim Barry Wines, which was established back in 1959 and is known for their legendary Armagh Shiraz, one of Australia’s all time greats right up there with Penfold’s Grange and Henschke’s Hill Of Grace, oversees a wonderful collection of vineyard sites, including the Lodge Hill Vineyard, in the Clare Valley, where this wine comes from, it sits pretty high up where it gets good exposure for ripe fruit and gripping extract, but also sees very cold nights that retains intense acidity and stretches out the growing season which fully develops the grapes character and gives the Lodge Hill Riesling its depth. The 2019 is strikingly zesty and salty fresh, but also delivers a complex array of flavors and builds texturally and aromatically with air and food making for an exceptional wine and an excellent example of Aussie Riesling with brisk steely layers of racy citrus, white peach, tart green apple and melon fruits accented by wet stones, a touch of spicy crystalized ginger, minty herb, citron, lime oil and verbena. As this 2019 Lodge Hill Riesling opens the nose gains white roses and flinty/smokiness and touches of clove, lemon zest along with a delicate creaminess, tangy grapefruit and fleshy mango. I love this vintage and its shows fabulous energy throughout, it went extremely well with a range of sushi, especially the tuna and crab rolls.
The Jim Barry lineup is of course red wine heavy with some stellar Shiraz and Cabernet bottlings, but the selection of whites is almost equally impressive, especially the set of Rieslings, including their Watervale Riesling, Florita Riesling, the McKay’s single vineyard Riesling and this one, along with the Wolta Wolta Dry Riesling, a new collaboration with Dr. Loosen and the intriguing recent addition of of Assyrtiko, the Geek varietal that mostly known on the island of Santorini. The Barry family, especially Tom’s father Peter, who as a second generation winegrower really put this winery on the map, has been a great champion for Riesling in Australia for many decades. In Australia, there are two world class terroirs for Riesling, Eden and the Clare, where Jim Barry is located and is set on a complex series of mineral rich soils. The Lodge Hill Riesling vineyard, which Jim Barry planted in 1977, has a unique brown loam over a layer of clay and slate bedrock that really unlocks this Rieslings personality, which certainly shines through in this expressive dry Riesling and gives it an almost German like profile. The Lodge Hill vineyard, according to the winery, is situated on the eastern ranges of the township of Clare and is one of the highest points in the valley to have vines. The winery adds that after discovering this site it was Jim’s original intention was to devote the entire Lodge Hill vineyard to premium Riesling, but he found in part of vineyard a completely different set of soils that favored Shiraz, so they have plot of cool climate Syrah vines too. A gentle touch was employed to craft this wine with a cold fermentation and a short aging period in stainless tanks to preserve vibrancy and fresh detailing. I recommend exploring all of Jim Barry wines from the rare Assyrtiko to the Shiraz offerings and the set of dry Rieslings.
($18-25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 4 Monos, Tinto GR-10, Vinos de la Sierra de Gredos, Spain.
Fast becoming one of my favorite wineries, 4 Monos, which was founded by four friends back in 2010, all native to the Sierra de Gredos wine region in the mountains above Madrid and famous for rugged old vine Garnacha, consists of winemakers Javier García (formerly the head winemaker at iconic Bodegas Jiménez-Landi), Laura García, wine-lover David Velasco and local vineyard owner David Moreno, who make beautifully translucent and perfumed wines, like this gorgeous delicately ruby hued 2018 Tinto GR-10. The wines from here are nothing if not profound and etherial, these are Grenache (Garnacha) based field blends that rival Grand Cru Burgundy for chiseled beauty and satiny angelic weightlessness. This GR-10 Tinto is their outrageously good basic cuvee, a wine that has completely seduced my senses over the last three of four vintages and this 2018 is one of the best to date with a heavenly nose of red berry and liquid flowers that leads to a medium bodied and silken palate of bright plum, pomegranate, strawberry and crushed raspberry fruits as well as having an array of sweet and savory herbs, briar notes, mineral tones, dusty spices and a lingering mix of dried rose petals and lavender. Coming from mostly decomposed granite and vines that range from 15 to 100 years old, this all organic and natural red was hand crafted using about 88% Garnacha, 10% Cariñena and 2% Syrah, which was cold macerated, 100% wild yeast fermented with at least 50% whole cluster depending on vintage. The juice is left on the skins for close to three weeks before being gently pressed and racked to used barrels where it aged nearly seven months in the oak, after which the wine was blended then rested another 2 months in concrete and steel vats. The finished GR-10 Tinto cuvee was bottled unfined and unfiltered to capture every nuance and its soulful sense of place, it is a wine that really excels with simple and fresh cuisine pairings and can be enjoyed with raw milk cheeses as well as a more hearty meal.
In recent years, the Sierra de Gredos has become one of the wine world’s hot spots with top producers, like Comando G and the mentioned Bodegas Jiménez-Landi, led by Dani Landi who is maybe the best known of the superstars here that crafts Garnachas in the same league as Chateau Rayas of Chateauneuf du Pape fame, and 4 Monos, all being ones to look for, especially if you’ve not explored the wines from this special place. The Sierra de Gredos DO appellation, with its dry Mediterranean/Continental climate is set in a mountain range that spreads over parts of three distinct terroirs, all being extreme making working these ancient vines incredibly hard, these subzones include Méntrida, Vinos de Madrid and Castilla y León, which sit between 600 and 1200 meters in elevation, a climate that sees huge changes of temperature between day and night allowing for fantastic ripe flavor development, but with good acidity retention and restrained character. The old bush vines are planted on complex soils that are made up of sand, granite and schist which share this arid, sleepy and remote location with smattering of olive, evergreen, almond, and chestnut trees along with aromatic scrub brush, chamomile, and wildflowers, that all seem to influence the wines and make them the beguiling lovelies there are, as this stellar vintage of 4 Monos displays with a flourish of expression, subtle earthiness and fabulous length. This GR-10 Tinto really delivers for the price, I am always amazed at the depth and clarity in this wine, it is always a guilt free treat to open this bottling, the quality for the price ratio here is absurdly good with this vintage in particular performing beyond my already high expectations. I also must say, along with this GR-10 Tinto, 4 Monos does an amazing job with Blanco as well and their single vineyard wines take it to another level and interestingly they also do a special single varietal Cariñena (Carignan), which I have not had the pleasure of trying yet, but am looking forward to. Grenache fans would be well served by getting to know the wines of the Sierra de Gredos and those searching out this example will be highly rewarded, this is sexy stuff.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Sheldon Wines, Sangiovese, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
The second edition of their Dry Creek Sangiovese is a huge success at Sheldon and while I loved the full carbonic version of 2018 this new release is a wine of more substance and depth, while retaining the gorgeous aromatics and joyous drinking pleasures. The 2019 vintage was similar to 2018 in that it was a long and consistent growing season that was a touch cooler over all, but it came in with smaller yields and more concentration with amazing fruit development with stunning intensity, which Dylan Sheldon exploited to the max capturing exceptional varietal purity, clarity of flavors and impeccable balance, which this Sangiovese displays with transparency and elegance. This Sangiovese is stunning right out of the bottle with a nose of dark flowers and delicate spices along with pretty red fruit layers with energetic Marion berry, fleshy plum, blood orange, earthy currant and sweet kirsch that are lifted by classic acidity and accented by cigar wrapper, licorice, Asian spices and subtle cedar note. The Sheldon 2019 Dry Creek Valley Sangiovese is 100% single varietal and comes from the cooler Northwest corner of the appellation where these is a complex combination of well draining and mineral rich soils, which includes sandy loams, river rock, igneous rocks with high iron content, shale(s) and sandstone(s) that help give the wine complexity and warm ripeness of flavors. Sheldon, seeing the impressive quality of the grapes, decided on a gentle and more traditional fermentation with whole bunches and native yeasts in small bins with a light touch in the maceration, which was done at cool temperatures, as to not extract bitter phenolics and or harsh tannin, he wanted to keep freshness and crisp detailing as well employing a soft pressing of the juice before the wine was racked to a couple of well seasoned French barrels. I am a big fan of the Sheldon lineup and these 2018s and ‘19s are some of the best yet, especially this Sangiovese, I highly recommend checking out these fun and rewarding wines.
Sheldon Wines, which is micro winery based in Santa Rosa which was founded by the husband and wife team of Dylan and Tobe Sheldon back in 2003, is focused on hand crafting unique and ultra small batch wines with an extra bit of attention going to their Grenache, white and red based offerings, but the collection also includes a rare and cool Graciano (a Rioja grape) Black Sparkling Wine, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, a Tempranillo Brut Rosé, a Carignan and an old vine Petite Sirah led field blend. Sangiovese has been gaining traction in California, especially in recent years with some very intriguing versions coming to market, from Stolpman, who’s Love You Bunches is like Sangiovese Nouveau, Reeve, also from Dry Creek, Peterson, Broc, Field Recordings, Lepe Cellars, Odonata, who do a sparkling version and an awesome Brunello like bottling, Ryme Cellars and this delicious Sheldon effort. It is thought that Sangiovese was originally brought to California in the late 19th century by Italian immigrants when it is believed to have been inter-planted with other varietals that arrived around that same time including Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, but more serious plantings came to the West Coast in the 1980s and 1990s, though mostly those vines failed to produce anything of significance, for that we had to wait until the last decade or so, with the exception of Leonetti’s Walla Walla Sangiovese, which is still one of the best new world examples. Now there are about 2,000 acres of Sangiovese in California, with the grape finding a home in Sonoma, Amador, Napa Valley, Santa Barbara, as well as in the greater Central Coast from Paso to Santa Clara, and Mendocino County, where Italian grapes really do well. This Sheldon unfined and unfiltered vibrantly ruby red Sangiovese opens up nicely and adds an extra dimension of texture with air, making it even more desirable with its medium/full bodied palate gaining richness and length with lingering echos of the flavors lasting a long time, and it plays well with food, like a fine Chianti Classico, this is tasty stuff! Only 36 cases of the Dry Creek Sangiovese were made of this vintage, so be sure to secure some as soon as possible.
($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Bow & Arrow, Gamay Noir, Johan Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The taut and stubbornly grippy 2018 Bow & Arrow Johan Vineyard Gamay takes it own sweet time to open up and patience, while difficult, will be needed to full discover this reductive and natural styled wine, but once in the mood it really gets on with the program and brings some good game with layers of black cherry, earthy currant, crushed violets, snappy herbs, loamy notes and brambly spices in a lean, crunchy and mineral crisp medium bodied wine. Actually, day two brought a night and day expansion of flavors, texture and made this Gamay really shine, the time to open up revealed this wine’s true personality and it metaphorically went from an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan in the glass with those hours proving critical to its enjoyment and it gained confidence, aromatic quality and poise with every sip. Scott Frank’s urban micro winey, Bow & Arrow, which was founded in 2010, based in Portland is a Loire Valley and old world “natural” inspired label that hand crafts small lot wines from organic vineyard sites throughout the Willamette Valley, including some unique rarities and some cool playful quaffers, but with serious intent, like this one perfectly showcases. I am a longtime fan of Frank’s Bow & Arrow wines, especially his awesome Rhinestones cuvee, also sourced from the Johan Vineyard, that is close to an Oregon version of Cheverny (a Loire Valley appellation) like blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay with loads of vibrant whole cluster character, it is one of my favorite alternative Willamette wines. Frank, who spent some time working under the legendary John Paul of Cameron Winery, has taken his own path and has created an underground following of counter culture wine drinkers that are looking for value priced artisan wines. The Johan Vineyard, a certified biodynamic site in Rickreall area of the Willamette Valley, is largest source of fruit for Bow & Arrow, farmed by Dag Sundby and Dan Rinke, who make their wines and provide grapes to some top notch producers, it is set on Helvatia and Santiam soils which were formed by glaciolacustrine deposits over silty loams and clayey alluvium with high acidity and is mineral rich and influenced by the Chehalem range that gives the wines from here a distinctive (terroir) personality.
This dark garnet/crimson and ruby edged Johan Gramay was all hand crafted with non intervention methods and spontaneous fermentation with a semi carbonic style with lots of whole bunches being used with gentle maceration(s) and only seeing old well seasoned French oak barrels for aging. The Loire Valley grape varieties like Melon de Bourgogne, a famous white grape known best as the its use in Muscadet, a salty dry wine that goes great with oysters, Chenin Blanc and Gamay, like in this one, have been in the Willamette Valley for many decades, but have been brought to attention of many new wine drinkers by Bow & Arrow, as well as a whole new generation of winemakers that have emerged on the Oregon wine scene in recent years. Oregon certainly leads the way in American or new world Gamay offerings with an amazing array of examples like Bow & Arrow along with notable efforts by Brick House, Love & Squalor, Evening Land’s Salem Wine Company, John Grochau’s Grochau Cellars and Grant Coulter’s Hundred Suns to name a few that should be on your radar. Those that like Cru Beaujolais will be well served by exploring these Willamette Valley Gamay wines, again I high recommend Bow & Arrow’s two single varietal versions, which includes this Johan, along with the Rhinestones, all of which are awesome bargains too. Frank also notes that 2019 looks like one of the best ever vintages for Willamette Valley Gamay grapes, so I suggest, if you can’t find the 2018s, to keep an eye out for them as they have just started to hit the market, including the regular Bow & Arrow Gamay bottling, which I also bought directly from the winery and will open soon. Most all of Scott’s red wines showcase a more savory style and are less fruity with an energetic high acidity profile, as this wine clearly displays and made to be enjoyed with food which benefits them greatly. The 2018 Johan Vineyard Gamay Noir is fully ripe, but at 12.5% natural alcohol it drinks very easy and while it is tight now, it should age well for five or more years. If you haven’t had Bow & Arrow yet, I suggest you do so as soon as possible and be sure to get, as mentioned, their Rhinestones, the Johan Melon white, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and the cool Air Guitar red, an Anjou style made from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as the Gamay(s) wines.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 I. Brand & Family Winery, Syrah/Grenache, Chalone AVA, Monterey County.
The wonderfully proportioned new 2018 Chalone Grenache/Syrah by Ian Brand is a ripe and polished California Rhone style red that comes from some of Monterey’s most historic dirt of the limestone/chalky soils in Chalone, the first premium growing area in the region and sourced from Phil Woodward’s Graff Family vines that were part of the historic Chalone estate. Ian, who is one of the central coast’s most influential new generation winemakers and a vineyard whisperer that is widely admired for highlighting and discovering some of the most distinctive under the radar sites from the Santa Cruz Mountains to Monterey County, including the now critically acclaimed Enz Vineyard in the little known Lyme Kiln Valley where he gets the grapes for his ruggedly delicious Bandol like old vine Mourvedre as well as the Bayly Ranch Vineyard in Paicines that he uses to make an old school Loire style pure Cabernet Franc, as well as a collection of incredible Grenache vineyards that form the core of Brand’s most popular single site terroir driven offerings. This new wine in his signature series is Ian’s first blended cuvee under the I. Brand & Family label and was crafted using about 72% Grenache and 28% Syrah making for an excellent and densely packed Chateauneuf or Southern Rhone like effort that shows off the vintage’s long cool growing season to perfection with deep flavor development and smooth tannins, but with moderate (low) alcohol and fresh acidity along with a lengthy elegant finish. While Ian’s single vineyard 100% Grenache wines are graced with an almost Pinot Noir like delicacy, this wine shows a more rich profile with a darker, Syrah influenced purple/garnet hue and a subtle meatiness with layers of black raspberry, plum jam, sweet kirsch and a touch of blueberry along with acacia flowers, wild fennel, mocha and sprigs of rosemary, dusty stones and a light cedar note. This a solid and very pleasing wine that just gets better and better with air, it really fills out in textural detail as it opens and it benefits greatly when paired up with food, in particular more robust cuisine that brings out the full range of flavors and reveals the true depth of the fruit and complexity more clearly.
Ian Brand’s winemaking is not led by dogma or the desire to one of the cool kids, though he often considered part of the new California movement and or the pursuit of balance group, he is more, in reality a practical winemaker that is trying to guide his wine to bottle with as much sense of place and year as possible, as this limited release 2018 Grenache/Syrah does exceptionally well. That said, he does do some, what you might call “hipster juice” including his Ramato (copper colored) skin contact Pinot Gris, sourced from the Eden Rift Vineyard, which was inspired by the orange style wines of Northeast Italy like those of Gravner, Radikon and others. Ian has been consulting for the Graff Family Vineyards for some time now, but has recently folded them into his lineup of wines and under his personal label and along with this Grenache/Syrah he also does a 100% Graff Syrah, another first for his winery and a super rare lees aged and ultra dry Graff Melon de Bourgogne (the grape of the Muscadet region of the Loire Valley) white wine that is one of California’s best oyster pairings. Brand’s main focus is geology and most conversations lead into a deep dive into the native soils and their influences and merits with different varietals, which he goes into great detail to explain and showcase in his own efforts, which see almost now new oak and a gentle minimalist approach to allow each wine to display very individual personalities. Woodward’s vines are located underneath the Pinnacles National Monument, an area formed by ancient underground volcanic actively which pushed up a massive granite superstructure and exposed a layer of pure limestone on which the Chalone Bench sits, this area has long been coveted for long lived Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as made famous by Phil Woodward and late Dick Graff who founded Chalone in 1974. And while the Burgundian varietals do well in the cooler sections, Woodward also understood early on that the Rhone grapes would excel here, something that Ian fully exploits now in his wines and I highly recommend these latest wines, especially this one. These are tough and scary times for the wine industry and while the COVID pandemic and the fires of 2020 that pretty much wiped out the vintage with smoke taint, especially in the Monterey area, so we must be grateful and celebrate our small victories and this wine provided a nice escape from the stress, it is a good time to support small producers like Ian, so check him out.
($42 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2017 Sidewood Estate, Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills, South Australia.
The Sidewood Estate, a certified sustainable winery that is widely known for cool climate Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sparkling wines is the largest family owned winery in the Adelaide Hills region in South Australia and is a locals favorite, but not easily found here in the States, which might change if all of their wines are as great as this Pinot Noir, one of their entry level Signature bottlings I just sampled. This 2017 Sidewood Pinot is absolutely beautiful and excitingly delicious with racy and spicy partial whole bunches and stem inclusion thrills on the medium bodied palate that shows a silky tannin structure and a crisp detailing of flavors with dark fruit, textural opulence and a heightened aromatic profile making for a wine will impress Burgundy lovers as well as cool climate new world enthusiasts, I know I was. The bouquet just jumps from the glass in this ruby/garnet hued Pinot with seeped rose petals, herbs and cinnamon seducing the senses before an impeccable unfolding of pure and energetic fruit layers in the mouth with bursts of crushed raspberries, strawberry, pomegranate and tart plum that are wrapped around a core of classic black cherry along with an echo of the nose with floral tones, mineral, cinnamon and briar spices, a touch of orange tea and soft wood accents. The stems add a lot of character in this wine with an edgy crunch and lift, bringing out the wine’s personality and keeps it from fading from your attention, this is an exceptionally fun and intriguing Aussie Pinot, especially for the price and it is perfectly happy with a variety of foods and cuisine pairings ranging from poultry and pork to salmon and or a mix of sea foods. I must say, I took a flyer on this wine, and was quite blown away with just how much I liked it and how it just got better and better as it opened up. I’ve had plenty of Australian Pinots, so I wasn’t surprised by the quality as there are lots of wonderful examples of this grape from down under, though I mostly have enjoyed Yarra and Mornington versions and even Tassie stuff, but after this one I will explore more from Adelaide Hills! The Sidewood Estate does four series of wines including a range, as mentioned, Champagne method bubbly, an Estate or basic set, a signature collection, like this one and a limited small lot lineup that highlights either special barrel cuvees or unique single clone, like their 777 clone Pinot or single vineyard wines.
The vineyard and vinification team at Sidewood used hand tended and picked grapes from selected and special parcels at this 300 acre property in the Hahndorf area to make this Pinot Noir which was crafted using mostly traditional artisan methods and a gentle touch in the cellar with minimal intervention in the winemaking process to allow the natural terroir influences to shine through. They chilled the freshly picked Pinot grapes for 24 hours and slowly cool fermented with partial whole cluster in what I believe were stainless steel vats to promote freshness and vibrancy in the wine before being aged on the fine lees for 10 months in mostly used French oak barrels which impart a subtle toast and creamy mouth feel while not overtly over shadowing the bright intensity of the fruit. This wine will most definitely appeal to the whole cluster fanatics out there, like me, and its perfume, expressive personality and lingering flavors will seduce most everyone, this is quality stuff. In recent years there has been a new generation movement towards less oaky and less jammy wines throughout Australia and a more savvy wine drinker that appreciate wines that show more delicacy and more transparency, which clearly shows in wines like this with its touch of raw earthiness and nice acidity. The Sidewood label was founded in 2004, so it is not an old winery by Australian standards, but owners Owen and Cassandra Inglis have put a lot of effort to make this estate one of the best in the Adelaide Hills region. They make about 50,000 cases per vintage from all estate grown fruit, with their own vineyard team led by Mark Vella and Peter McIntyre that farm a selection of micro climates set on a complex combination of soils. They actually grow an amazing array of different grapes including some rarities in the country like Tempranillo for their Rosé, as well as Semillon along with a collection of classics like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Shiraz (Syrah), Chardonnay and Pinot Noir all which are carefully handcrafted under the direction of Sidewood’s winemaker Darryl Catlin, who, as this wine shows, looks to be a talented professional. This nicely balanced Sidewood Pinot, that delivers a good contrast of ripe fruit and savory elements and which came in at about 13% alcohol has really inspired me to look into more of Oz’s wine regions and experience a more diverse selection of the country’s wines.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Martha Stoumen, Carignan, Venturi Vineyard, Mendocino County.
On a day when I was looking for normality and comfort, I reached for one of my new favorite California wines that recently has made my must have list, the Stoumen Carignan, which is absolutely enticing with a bright, but dark fruit freshness, low alcohol quaffability, spicy and crunchy personality. For my own personal drinking, without over thinking it or having to get too deep into wine geek mode I love wines like this, easy and full of natural purity with a lighter medium bodied palate, great to sip on and have with a casual meal, it is a wine that brings out smiles, laughter and eases the tension of the times we live in. Martha’s wines all show a raw sense of honesty and transparency with this latest 2019 Carignan delivering vibrant layers of crushed blackberry, tree picked plums, tart currant and Morello cherry fruits along with snappy briar notes, earth, dusty stones, cinnamon, sage (sort of like a California garrique) and dried lilac flowers. This red is distinctly weightless in feel, but still with a sense of structure and is soulfully rustic that reminds me of Corbieres, a region known for old vine Carignan in France’s Languedoc region, though Martha says she was more inspired to make a California wine that had the delight of a Cru Beaujolais, which I can also see clearly here. In the last few years we have seen some great examples of Carignan and or Carignan based reds, like this one, as well as those by Sandlands, Broc, Liocco, Sheldon, Ridge, Desire Lines Wine Co. and Pax, to name a few I highly recommend chasing down. Carignan, originally from the greater Mediterranean area and found in the mentioned Languedoc as well as in the Rhone Valley, eastern Spain, Sardinia and in the new world from Chile to Australia is a black grape that has long been here in California, where it is commonly found in old vine field blends, usually inter-planted with Zinfandel. The Stoumen Carignan is extremely flexible with food and provides endless charm to enjoy with almost any foods, but especially delicious with Spanish or Italian (hard) sheep cheeses, Pasta dishes as well as simple country fare and lightly spicy stuff.
Martha, herself maybe describing it best says of her old vine Carignan, that it has aromas of dried earth, chaparral, raspberry jam smeared on a stone and left to dry in the sun. Going on Martha adds that her Carignan maintains Venturi Vineyard’s distinct dusty tannin structure, but in a featherweight and savory way, in a style she adores. This wine comes from the Venturi Vineyard, which was originally planted just after WWII in 1948 on a particularly stony plot of land that is ancient River bed with gnarly head trained vines that are all organic and dry farmed with Stoumen herself helping hand tend her select parcels. This site, uniquely set inland and in Mendocino’s remote forested area gives warm ripeness and concentration, but the cool nights retain refreshing acidity, which Martha carefully nurtures to make a balanced, vivacious and vinous wine. With this wine Martha used all whole cluster in an open-top stainless steel tank, noting that she used a few bins of grapes were foot treaded to encourage the yeasts to get going and explains that to not extract to much harsh tannin a very gentle series of light punch downs. Stoumen employed 100% native yeast, as mentioned with mostly whole bunches for a long and cool fermentation with an extended maceration on the stems and skins to achieve her goals here, before it gets racked from a sealed tank (semi-carbonic) to neutral wood with the Carignan seeing an elevage of nine months in used French oak barrels. This wine, from these 70 year old vines, comes in at just 12% natural alcohol and saw extremely low sulphite, was bottled unfined and unfiltered, shows Stoumen’s attention to detail, her experience in old world winemaking, with stints in Sicily at COS and small estate vineyards in France that influenced her style and passion for wine, is part of a tidy collection of new releases from this small exciting winery that are drinking extremely well, I suggest checking them all out. Of these, I am fond of the Nero d’Avola, maybe Martha’s signature wine, the cool toned and re-imagined Zinfandel, the extended lees aged Negroamaro Rosato (Rosé) and this vivid Carignan, look for them.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2019 Desire Lines Wine Co., Riesling, Cole Ranch Vineyard and AVA, Mendocino County.
The stunning dry mineral driven Riesling from Cody Rasmussen at Desire Lines Wine Co. is one of California’s best example of this grape, especially this 2019 vintage, which is beautifully bright, intense and expressively pure with an array of racy citrus, white blossoms, tangy apricot, wet stones, tart green apple skins, peach pit and a hint of pear butter on the brisk and zingy light bodied palate. Everything is alive in this fabulous golden pale hued Riesling, energized by its natural acidity and powered by its dry extract this wine will impress Riesling fans everywhere and its presence in the glass is both impactful and elegant, this is a wine of sublime form and balance that adds zest herbs, verbena, clove and ginger spices along with a fine aromatic sense with a light floral perfume and a flinty leesy note. Desire Lines wine Co. is a small husband and wife micro winery in Sonoma, own by winemaker Cody Rasmussen, assistant winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson’s awesome Bedrock Wine Company, and his wife Emily Rasmussen, focused on an awesome set of red wines with two of the state’s best Syrah(s), one from the fabled Shake Ridge Ranch in Amador County and the other from the Petaluma Gap’s Griffin’s Lair, as well as an old vine Carignan blend, a powerful Mourvedre and a unique Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon, plus this not to be overlooked Dry Riesling. I’ve been a fan for a few vintages now and I like what I see and taste, this is a label you want to pay attention to, these wines are exceptional hand crafted and small lot efforts that are wonderfully complex and have incredible depth, and it must be noted, they are outrageous values too, I highly recommend getting on their mailing list as soon as possible, these wines are blowing up with enthusiasts, while still being maybe surprisingly a bit under the radar. Rasmussen’s time working with Morgan and Chris at Bedrock certainly shows in the fundamental structures and style in the Desire Lines Wine Co. bottlings, which is high praise, but they do offer Cody to chance to explore his own path and there is sense of this in his wines, especially these latest releases, it is a great time to explore them.
Cody has been working this special Cole Ranch site since 2016 and is himself a huge Riesling fan and loves this place and the quality of this cool climate vineyard really shines through in this 2019, as it did with a 2018, which was one of my favs of the year. Situated in a narrow valley, as Rasmussen notes, in the mountains between Boonville and Ukiah, the Cole Ranch is a monopole and a single-vineyard AVA, one of only a couple of sites in California, it comes with combination of complex California series of soils which transmits its terroir signature into the wine. The Riesling vines here, as Cody adds, were planted back in 1973 on St. George rootstock and are old school head-trained and dry-farmed, that means these old vines provide excellent concentration, moderate alcohol with full flavor development, as this brilliantly detailed wine displays in force. This 2019 Cole Ranch Riesling is joyfully playful and easy to quaff, but is also very serious stuff that goes great with a range of cuisines, very much like the best dry Rieslings of Alsace and Germany and reminds me somewhat of more intriguing examples of Aussie versions, like Jim Barry’s Lodge Riesling, Henschke, Polish Hill and Rolf Binder from the Eden and Clare Valleys as well as G. D. Vajra’s Riesling from Piedmonte Italy, another of my all time favorite Rieslings grown outside of France and Germany. It’s an exciting time for Riesling worldwide, but in particular in California and Oregon, which have in recent years really turned up the quality, with the wines of Desire Lines, Tatomer, Brooks, Joyce, Reeve, Morgan, Bedrock (Cody’s boss), Trisaetum, Stony Hill, Smith Madrone, Casa Nuestra and Cobb, to name a few, taking dry Riesling to the next level. This wine offers big time bang for the buck, and while its tiny production makes it difficult time find, you will be rewarded for your dogged pursuit in getting some. The 2018 and 2019 are similar, so be sure to grab either if you see them and of course don’t forget to score the Desire Lines wines along with these. I really put my money where my mouth was and bought a bunch for myself and opened this beauty last night with take away Sushi, and it was close to perfection as it gets and brought a heavenly lightness and soul refreshment to a mind burdened by the ongoing darkness of these times for which I am grateful for.
($22 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Hundred Suns Wines, Syrah “Super Moon” Vidon Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Grant Coulter and Renée Saint-Amour’s Hundred Suns Wines, founded in 2015 and based in McMinnville, is a micro winery focused on Pinot Noir as you’d expect in the Willamette Valley, but they also produce some very interesting other wines including a fantastic Gamay, a Chablis like Chardonnay and even a Grenache and this Super Moon, which is lighter natural style whole cluster Syrah. This is a totally unique version of Syrah, a grape not known for its presence in the cool climate Willamette Valley and made in a gentle way as to allow for a transparent raw freshness of details that delivers a spicy, soft fruited, tangy, earthy and savory wine, but with an elegant quaffable personality. This wine was made from, what winemaker Grant Coulter, the Ex Beaux Freres man says, a warm Willamette Valley area, but in a more classically cool year that played a major role in how this delightful Super Moon Syrah turned out and making it a true reflection of time and place with vibrant layers of tangy pomegranate, juicy plum, crushed raspberry and dusty cherry fruits along with wild herbs, baked earth, leather, ground peppercorns, seeped flowers and fennel notes. The textural quality is more Pinot like than what you’d expect from a more tannic and meaty Syrah with a smooth structure behind the vibrancy of the fruit, the pulsating acidity and crunchy mineral tones, which are spotlighted by the whole bunches and the use of neutral barrels that didn’t impart any overt flavoring on the medium bodied palate. Grant and Renée believe this vintage has created a very singular wine and explain that a Super Moon is a rare and beautiful lunar event that occurs when the full moon coincides with the moon’s closest approach to Earth in its orbit, making the moon seem brighter and more close than usual. They add that Super Moon felt like an appropriate name for this wine, as its personality shows, that could only have come to being in this particular vintage.
The Hundred Suns Super Moon Syrah was sources from the Vidon Vineyard, which as mentioned is a warmer site for the Willamette Valley where Syrah can be grown and get ripe in most years, though it was right on the edge during this vintage. To achieve the goal for this wine It was fermented 100% whole cluster in a sealed tank, in a Beaujolais Cru style, for 12 days with native yeasts before Coulter opened the tank and then foot-stomped the Syrah clusters, with full stem inclusion one time before pressing it off to used or neutral French barrels for eight months. This unfined and unfiltered Super Moon Syrah came in at 12.8% natural alcohol, making for a subtle red wine that opens up nicely in the glass, but one that really needs some time and food to unfold and give its full potential. Hundred Suns has become one of my new favorites and I have been hugely impressed with the last three vintages and especially the latest set of Pinot Noir releases, including the awesome single vineyard 2018 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir, the Sequitur Vineyard Pinot, from the legendary Beaux Freres founder Mike Etzel’s prized Ribbon Ridge estate and the stunning entry level Old Eight Cut Pinot, which is one of Oregon’s greatest values. The Vidon Vineyard, which was founded in 1999 by Don Hagge and Vicki Lewis, but is now owned and managed by Dru and Erin Allen, is planted to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Viognier, Syrah, and Tempranillo, is in the Newberg area of the in the Chehalem Mountains AVA and set on complex series of soils witch is lead by the classic the red Jory mineral rich volcanic/basalt based soils. This Super Moon has a distinctive profile, that is interestingly like a Georgian Saperavi or a Mondeuse from the Savoie, the Alpine region of France close to the Swiss border, that is rather different than most Syrah(s) which are usually much darker and densely rich. With air this garnet ruby colored wine loses some of its edgy and taut angular sharpness, it certainly grew on me over a few hours, but again it benefits greatly with protein heavy cuisine and or hard cheeses.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Cameron Winery, Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The incredibly dark 2018 Ribbon Ridge Pinot is a thrilling wine with gorgeous fruit and complexity with a silky mouth feel, but firmly layered with great balance and structure showing loads of black cherry, vine picked wild berries and crushed violets along with delicate smoky notes. This 2018 is exceptional from start to finish adding mineral elements and a stony/savory contrast to the beautifully pure Pinot fruit. This wine really makes an impact on the medium bodied palate and is an outrageous value, it drinks fabulous now and is very likely only going to get better with a few more years in bottle. The Ribbon Ridge, is very different from his Dundee Hills version, showing its terroir and darker fruit profile, which is provided by the appellation’s Marine Sedimentary soils. The grapes for this wine are sourced from two sites, the Foster Farms Vineyard and the Armstrong Vineyard, grown without irrigation as Paul believes it is crucial for concentration and full flavor development, with both vineyards farmed with sustainable methods and highlight the Ribbon Ridge AVA’s characteristics. John Paul explains, that fruit from Ribbon Ridge is always intense, deeply hued, perfumed with loads of sexy black fruit, making the wines, like this one, bold and with a gripping personality. I absolutely love this vintage, its power and elegance reminds me of some of my favorite Cote de Nuits, Burgundy fans will love this stuff, especially those that go for Vosne-Romanee.
The winemaking at Cameron is traditional Burgundy in style with John Paul crafting his wines with native yeasts used for primary fermentation(s) and long elevage(s), usually between 18 and 20 months (or more) in barrique, that are seasoned with a couple of fills. Paul is very particular about his oak and his choice of barrels, saying it is crucial to the quality of the final product to have the right selection of wood. Paul also notes, that for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, he usually selects his favorite artisan barrels that from a cooper he discovered while in Burgundy, who lives in the village of Saint Romain in Burgundy. His barrel maker Claude Gillet, together with his children and several master coopers turn out some of the most distinct barriques Paul has ever seen and Claude and his son, Laurent, often visit Joh Paul to taste the wines in barrel and make their recommendations for choice of forest, toast level and all of the other minutia that go into making an oak barrel flatters Cameron’s style. As mentioned in prior reviews, Paul believes that barrels reach their perfection only after a couple vintages, so prefers to use used wood that has at least two or three fills which allows his wine to show their true depth and detail without overt oak influence. As this 2018 opens it sheds a slightly reductive (truffle) earthiness allowing the floral dimension to be a lovely focal point and the density of fruit to shine, it is a wine that benefits from matching cuisine and patience, a slow meal will bring out the best in this seductive Pinot. What a bargain, there are very few Pinots that reach this level of quality for the price, I highly recommend stocking up on these Cameron 2018s.
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona, Rosso di Montalcino DOC, Tuscany, Italy.
Always a wine I search out for its pedigree and value, this Rosso di Montalcino (baby Brunello) comes from classic Sangiovese Grosso grapes with vines in some of this famous estate’s prime parcels, and this 2018 is lively and delicious with exceptional purity and rich detail. The 2018 may not be as fantastic as the other worldly 2016, but it is not far off and is much more flexible and quaffable in style with a bit more acidity and as it opens it gains another level making it very compelling with a nice and full range of flavors you expect from this producer. The palate starts brightly with very subtle floral notes, a hint of spice and toasted cedar on the nose and echoed in the mouth along with blackberry, plum, maceration cherries and earthy mulberry fruits that are accented by dried potpourri, candied orange rind, minty herb and anise. As this Ciacci Rosso gets going with time and air it reveals itself with splendid clarity gaining a touch of toffee and sweet pipe tobacco as well as delivering more textural presence making this wine much more interesting and really exciting with food. The dark garnet core and orange/ruby edged Rosso di Montalcino, which comes from organic grapes, has many charms and its medium/full body gives it some serious impact, especially for the price this vintage is a wine that over delivers and great for anytime drinking with without wallet draining guilt, it’s a Sangiovese lovers bargain.
This Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Rosso di Montalcino was made, as per DOC rules, from 100% Sangiovese from the Brunello Castelnuovo dell’Abate zone set at elevations between 180-360 meters above sea level with mineral-rich marly soils witch is complex with some limestone and volcanic sub structures adding to the terroir influence with good sun exposure. The primary fermentation of the carefully sorted and all de-stemmed berries is in a combination of stainless steel and cement tanks with a gentle maceration or extraction before being rested in large Slavonian oak casks for about a year to soften the tannins and allows for immediate pleasure on release. The Ciacci Piccolomini winery is run by Paolo and Lucia Bianchini, brother and sister, who’s family inherited this highly regarded property in 1985, they took over from their late father Giuseppe in 2004 and they have not just continued the traditions here, but have raised the quality level to even greater heights, especially with their top Brunello di Montalcino bottlings that are some of the most prized in the region. Ciacci has mainly Sangiovese in their elite vineyards of course, but they also have plantings of Syrah, Cabernet, and Merlot that go into Bianchini’s other wines, including their Super Tuscan “Ateo” and their IGT Toscana Rosso, with those last two wines also being fabulous bangs for the buck, plus the 100% Syrah Fabius, which I hope to try. There is a lot to love from Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona and the coming soon 2016 Brunello(s) look to be legendary, so it is an awesome time to explore this lineup. I am big fan of these Ciacci wines and they really bring out a desire to re-visit Tuscany, especially the historic Montalcino area, as soon as possible!
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Matt Connell Wines, Pinot Noir “Rendition” Artist Label Series, Central Otago, New Zealand.
The 2018 Rendition Central Otago Pinot Noir by Matt Connell is rich and layered wine that thrills the palate with a deep ruby color and slightly smoky nose that leads to an array of fleshy black cherry, plum, raspberry and blueberry fruits along with hint not orange tea, saline, sweet herbs and a polished, almost luxurious, silken mouth feel, making it very impressive and pleasing stuff. The label based on a piece by New Zealand’s version of Banksy, the street artist “Component” that Connell felt succinctly or abstractly captured the (purity) of elements that make up Central Otago’s intriguing and beautiful remote landscape. Central Otago, a wine region that is like no other in the world and an area well known for its unique Pinot Noir terroir, it is often considered the Burgundy of the Southern hemisphere. This is my first experience with Matt Connell’s wines and I am very impressed, this is an exciting, well structured and high quality effort that interesting details that reminds me of wines from the Sonoma Coast or Anderson Valley with its dark flavor profile and depth with moderate alcohol and slate driven Spatburgunder(s), like those made by August Kesseler and or recent vintages of Meyer-Nakel, both of which are fantastic Pinots. While the 2018 is now end of vintage, I see the 2019 has hit the market and I look forward to getting some of that too, such is my delight with this under the radar Kiwi Pinot and the reasonable price, you could do a lot worse than this well made and complex wine. The diverse and mineral rich soils of Central Otago give the wines here their personality and are influenced by the Southern Alps mountain range, which creates the exceptional cool climate conditions to produce great Pinot grapes.
There’s a lot to discover from New Zealand’s south island wine regions, especially here in Central Otago, a place of incredible rugged beauty and while mostly known world wide for the excellent Pinot Noirs found here there is an amazing subculture of other varietals that do well here from Gruner Veltliner to Gamay Noir as well as Riesling and Chardonnay. This Matt Connell Rendition Pinot was made using sustainable grapes grown in the Lowburn and Bendigo subzones using clean and minimal intervention, in other words Connell has a light touch, while allowing the wine to be opulent in flavor, but with a nice cut of natural acidity and without the overt use of new oak. The Matt Connell Wines label was established in time for Vintage 2016 and was instantly a hit with the locals and in his second vintage, 2017, Matt scored a trophy at the prestigious New Zealand International Wine Show for his Pinot Noir, though digging into his wines I see he makes what he calls a Viognier Rosé and a Single site Chardonnay from Lowburn, which also looks like worth a try too. Matt Connell, who has 20 years of winemaking in his background with some great winemakers helping him along the way from Sue Hodder at Wynns Coonawarra Estate and Adam Godley Campbell at Elk Cove vineyards in Oregon to Michele Richardson the Ex head winemaker at New Zealand’s Villa Maria and he now with his wife Beth, who is focused on winery business, have set their own path and produce a tight set of artisan wines, like this delicious Rendition Pinot, that display a sense of place. Limited availability in the States, this fruit forward and graceful Pinot also goes great with food and will age well, though very rewarding now. Connell’s efforts, have as noted, caught on with a nice medal haul in recent years with a Gold Medal on this 2018 and a Double Gold for the just released 2019 version, again, making me think I need to invest in a few bottles soon.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
n.v. Moussé Fils “L’Or d’Eugene Perpétuelle” Blanc de Noirs, Brut Champagne, France.
Happy New Year! The best way to finish off such a difficult and dark year is to celebrate life and small mercies, which I did with this gorgeous grower fizz by the sublimely talented Cedric Mousse, who’s Champagnes are under the radar masterpieces with incredible depth and terroir intensity, like his multi vintage L’Or d’Eugene Perpétuelle Blanc de Noirs. This deep Champagne Mousse Fils L’Or d’Eugene Perpétuelle Brut Blanc de Noirs, which was disgorged with low sugar (4 Grams per Liter) on 11/18/2019 and was crafted from a perpetual selection of reserve wine that started with 2003 that gives this bottling its fabulous range of flavors and complexity, it has a cepage of 80% Meunier and 20% Pinot Noir that gives a rich and structured palate. This L’Or d’Eugene Perpétuelle handed the evening with a flourish, going wonderful with everything I was doing, drinking great as a aperitif by the warm fire and still being a graceful partner with spicy curried shrimp over fettuccini pasta. This bubbly performed with serious quality and character with a rewarding layers of lemony citrus, apple and nectarine fruits along with hazelnut, clove, wet stones, leesy/yeasty brioche and an underlying mineral current in a dry and vivid Meunier driven medium bodied palate. With air and food the delicate aromatic detail comes alive, the refined mousse adding a sense of luxurious class with a compelling white flower element and the mouth feel takes this Champagne to the next level. The maturity that the reserve component brings adds to the thrill of this seductive and rewarding Blanc de Noirs that showcases Mousse’s skills in blending his cuvees, which all have their own personalities and are vibrantly soulful in the glass, these are some of the best Champagnes for the money you can find.
I’ve been following the Mousse Fils Champagnes for a few years now after being turned on them by importer Terry Theise and his team at one of his fabled grower producer trade tastings and these hand crafted efforts really impressed me, especially the Meunier based versions, like this one, and Cedric’s awesome Special Club Brut and 100% Meunier Brut Rosé (the first all Meunier Rosé being accepted in a Special Club bottling) along with the vintage dated Terre d’Illite Brut, which also an exceptional value. Mousse, who’s family goes back in 1750 in the region, was established as a Champagne house in 1923, which uses all organic grapes, is based in the Vallée de la Marne area with its unique soils that include a mineral rich schist subsoil under the classic clay. Mousse relies on Meunier, a grape that is now very much in fashion, even though Meunier (or Pinot Meunier if you like) has struggled until recently to be taken seriously in Champagne, but, as the winery notes, at Moussé the Pinot Meunier is celebrated. Cedric has 80% of his vines planted to Meunier with 16% Pinot Noir and just 4% of Chardonnay all of which are carefully farmed by hand using holistic viticulture methods that leads to a more expressive finished product here. Cedric, who’s modern cellars are powered by mainly solar panels, is trying to minimize the estate’s carbon footprint and make the production as environment friendly as possible and his wines are almost all exclusively stainless steel fermented and aged with extended lees contact for two years and see full malolactic conversion for opulence, while still being lively and laser focused. This limited offering, that saw 50% of latest vintage blended with 50% of the reserve selection with the original base, as noted, from 2003 to 2017 and is sourced from distinct parcels in Cuisles, Jonquery, Olizy and Châtillon-sur-Marne where Meunier really thrives.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive