Grapelive.com Reviews – May, 2021
2018 Sheldon Wines, Graciano, Luc’s Vineyard, Fountaingrove AVA, Sonoma County.
Dylan and Tobe Sheldon have been exploring the rare Graciano grape since the early 2000s, an ancient and obscure varietal, found in Rioja mostly, but it is also known as Tintilla and grown as far away as the Canary Islands and in the flaky white soils of the Sherry region in Jerez, and have been making some of the most compelling versions of this varietal in California, like this gorgeous 2018, a wine I have been sitting at their advice to allow it to fully develop, which it has, making it an absolute joy in the glass. I reviewed the 2019 and loved it, but this wine, from a similar vintage, has a deeper perfume with a bouquet of peony, lavender and lilacs lifting from this dark violet/magenta and ruby colored wine along with spiced berries and subtle minty herbs before leading to a medium bodied palate of silky black fruits including vine picked forrest huckleberry, plum, strawberry and Italian cherries along with a touch of earth, dusty cinnamon, an echo of florals, a iron/mineral element and a faint cedary note. The aromatics are so captivating at this stage it is hard to keep your core away from the rim to soak in all of this beauty which compares well to a morning walk in the flower garden when the smells are completely seducing and at their most intense and the textural feel is fabulous in a wine without any heaviness, it has the sensation I sometimes and hope to find in Vosne-Romanee wines, a heavenly sense of seamless balance and lengthy after taste, this 2018 Sheldon Graciano is addictive and wildly delicious. As I noted recently, the 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 small basket pressed Sheldon Graciano was hand harvested from the tiny Luc’s Vineyard in the Fountaingrove AVA, of Sonoma County, not far from Healdsburg, and fermented slowly in ½ ton open top bins, using whole bunches and indigenous yeasts resulting in a naturally lower alcohol, light to medium bodied red wine with heightened aromatics, plus a spicy pop and a divine textural quality. A effort was made to keep everything nicely fresh, starting with the grapes coming in ripe, but at a bit lower Brix (sugars) and the fermentation was kept cool to ensure all the striking details were preserved and no new wood was used, only well seasoned French Burgundy barrels were used in this Graciano’s elevage, which usually lasts about 12 months. This Sheldon Graciano, comes from a small home vineyard on the cool rocky hillsides between Healdsburg and the Chalk Hill district in the newly formed AVA of Fountaingrove where the Sheldon’s get small amounts of Tempranillo, Grenache and Syrah as well, all of which, especially this Graciano, are tasty and aromatic expressions that are impeccably hand made, with these 2018s being outstanding offerings. Graciano, which is usually blended with Tempranillo in Rioja wines, can be a great solo varietal and as mentioned here, has been gaining traction in California, with some newer plantings coming online in Paso Robles, where the grape thrives, even in some unlikely blends, on the westside’s limestone soils, interestingly some of these vines were a mistake, as they were supposed to be a new Monastrell clone of Mourvedre, but happily they are being embraced by the growers and winemakers there, as well as being grown in the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valley areas as well, notably by Verdad winery. There is a lot to love in Sheldon’s lineup these days and highly get on this micro winery’s mailing list and be sure to check out their Sangiovese, Grenache and this Graciano while they are still available!
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Cameron Winery, Pinot Blanc “Giannani” Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Fast becoming one of my favorite white wines in Oregon, the Cameron Giovanni made exclusively from Pinot Blanc delivers smooth layers of apple driven fruits, brisk citrus, peach flesh, mineral tones, wet stone, as well as a touch of honey, herbs and white flowers. This vintage is zesty and has a bit more acidity than the last two of three versions and feels a touch lighter in style, but still very compelling and gains a nice textural form with air, it shines for its varietal character and freshness, making it a good Summer white and impeccable with a range of food and cuisine choices, including creamy soft cheeses, shell fish and herb crusted or lemon chicken dishes. As I have been saying for a while now, Pinot Blanc is becoming one of the best white grape expressions in Oregon, especially this one, as well as the very stylish versions crafted by Ken Wright and the talented Kelley Fox, both of which come from the coastal range side of the Willamette Valley, like the famed Freedom Hill Vineyard on marine sedimentary soils, while Cameron’s comes from the red hills of Dundee on the classic volcanic Jory soils, that gives a unique individual character with a touch of spice and that mineral streak.
The Cameron Pinot Bianco (Blanc) or “Giovanni” as winemaker John Paul calls it, is fermented in cool stainless steel tanks, which the winery notes, typically is from 3 different lots of estate grown grapes that are from non irrigated vines with appropriately chosen cultures of aromatic yeasts, and bottled early after a short 6 to 8 months in its exuberant youth, to preserve vitality, usually in the early Spring, after harvest. John Paul, who’s Cameron Winery is one of best known and admired Pinot Noir producers in the Dundee Hills AVA of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, has been influenced and inspired by the winemakers of northern Italy, especially the wines of Friuli, Alto Adige and Piedmonte regions. In this case he brings a little bit of the Dolomites to us with his Giovanni, it shows the beautiful crisp details and mineral charm of some the top producers there, like Manincor and Terlano. The Italian style lineup at Cameron (what they call Cameronis) includes a fabulous Nebbiolo, that will certainly surprise and impress the Barolo and Barbaresco drinkers out there with its purity and classic Langhe personality, plus a collection of whites, including this 100% Pinot Blanc and the Friuli style Fruliano blend of Friulano, Pinot Bianc, Pinot Grigio and Auxerrois along with a small touch of Moscato, as well as the skin contact “Ramato” coppery Pinot Grigio. All of these are fantastic values and intriguing wines.
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Hundred Suns, Grenache, Elephant Mountain Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington State.
Grant Coulter and Rene Saint-Amour’s Hundred Suns winery, based in McMinnville, is one of the most exciting labels in Oregon these days and while Grant’s experience with Beaux Freres, as head winemaker, makes him a top gun in Pinot Noir, he also made their rare estate Grenache, which I was lucky enough to have tasted and had bottles of when I first met him at Beaux Freres back in 2008, so it was exciting to see his new take on Grenache with his own Hundred Suns, which is sourced from Elephant Mountain in Washington State’s Yakima Valley. This 2018 is a thrill ride of unique layers of energy filled red fruits and a feral earthy/savory edginess, it reminds me of the first time I tasted Christophe Barron’s Cayuse, No Girls and Horsepower Grenache wines, it is really an amazing wine with a full bodied palate and is texturally sublime, all accented by a racy array of spices, floral details and tangy herbs. There is a cascade of black plum, pomegranate, loads of strawberry and brambly raspberry fruits along with touches of briar, pepper, shaved cinnamon stick, kirsch, minty notes, cedar and warm roof tiles. Grenache freaks will go absolutely orgasmic for this dark ruby hued wine, it is an incredible version of this grape that will appeal to those that love some of rarities, it is more like what you would find in the Sierra de Gredos, rather that in the Rhone Valley, but with its own intriguing twist of character and with a singular charm.
This Hundred Suns Grenache comes from the Warden silty loam soils of Yakima’s Elephant Mountain Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills, set at good elevation and seeing a big swing in day and night temps here, allowing for beautiful fruit density and ripeness, but with good natural acidity and freshness, which Coulter really achieved here in his 2018 vintage, a long and cooler than average growing cycle. This stuff has 14.2% natural alcohol and feels wonderfully balanced with a pleasure inducing warm mouth feel that is elegantly silken without losing its vivid and lively personality. Grant took great care and put a lot of thought into this Grenache and he went with 100% whole cluster and a hybrid carbonic maceration in a sealed small fermentor, then after 20 days the still intact berries and clusters are pressed and allows to go through spontaneous indigenous (yeast) fermentation, after which it saw 12 months in terra-cotta amphora and then another five months in neutral french oak before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. All of this pain staking hand crafted technique pays off in the way this complex wine shows off in the glass and gives this impressive Grenache its distinction and makes it ever more alluring and seductive, it is especially good with food, where it deepens and gains a more profound impact and fruit truly excels. Sadly this 2018 Grenache is hard wine to find, I certainly wished I had bought a few more bottles, a mistake I didn’t make on their extremely limited Space Cat Rosé. The latest set of Hundred Suns is an impeccable collection of wines, with the Pinots and the Gamay from the 2019 vintage being unmissable and remarkable values, in particular the Old Eight Cut and the single vineyard Sequitur and Shea offerings!
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2019 Nanclares y Prieto, Albarino, Dandelion, Rias Baixas DO, Galicia, Spain.
Always a treat and a tasty one, the Nanclares Albarino Dandelion 2019 delivers a vibrant crisp apple led light bodied palate with zesty lime and light spritz, making so good with briny sea foods like sardines and or mackerel as well as oysters and claims too. There is a hint of saline, crushed wet rock and steely mineral, all of which give this vintage a nice contrast and it is very compelling, though less densely complex as the upper end Crus and the estate bottling that see more lees aging. That said, this little wine delivers everything it promises and is a fantastic value. As I have mentioned many times, Alberto Nanclares, based in the Cambados, started in the mid nineties just tending a vineyard in his semi retirement home as a hobby is now one of the greatest producers of fine Albariño in Galicia’s famous Rias Baixas region crafting an awesome set of single vineyard versions as well as his regional Dandelion cuvee and this outstanding example, known as the “Alberto Nanclares” or sometimes referred to as the “Estate” with the grapes all coming from the Val do Salnés sub zone. Nanclares brought the talented Silvia Prieto on board a few years ago now and has gone from strength to strength with her energy and commitment helping lift this label to new heights and expanding the range of wines with the additions of a few red wines, including an elegant and complex Mencia from grapes coming from the Ribeira Sacra.
The Nanclares y Prieto winery is now all organic and has added some biodynamiques to their practices, even employing compost from collect seaweed from the near by Atlantic Ocean, all which proves their dedication, in this humid region that is terribly difficult to farm without convention methods. But, the wines have really benefited from this extraordinary effort and they are unbelievably compelling wines, especially this one which saw natural winemaking in the cellar with only a tiny dose of sulfur and native yeast fermentation with no malos and 90% stainless steel and 10% used French oak cask being used here. The Dandelion cuvee, as noted in my prior reviews, is the freshest and most fruit forward of Nanclares’ Albarino(s) coming from 30 to 60 year old vines near Val do Salnés grown on sand and granite soils, right at sea level with locally historic pergola training. The organic grown Dandelion is fermented with native yeast, naturally, in stainless steel with no malo and bottled unfined and unfiltered allowing the complete capture of every nuance and terroir elements. Nanclares y Prieto, led by the humble and hard working Alberto Nanclares and his youthful and talented partner Silvia Prieto are one of best producers and super stars from the Cambados area of the Rias Baixas region. The Nanclares wines are all made from organic grapes and show the cool Atlantic influences. If you’ve not had these Nanclares y Prieto wines, you need really should, they are some of the most delicious being made in the Rias Baixas!
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Felsina, Chianti Classico DOCG, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Tuscany, Italy.
Sitting in between the amazing 2016 and the pretty and fresh 2017 vintages in style, the 2018 Felsina Chianti Classico is a solid effort with many attractive features and is lovely with food with classic Felsina Sangiovese density and purity, it shows a ripe smooth palate of red berry fruits, spice, dried flowers, a subtle earthiness and lingering kirsch notes. This vintage gives plenty for the money, but just doesn’t excite the senses as much as the last two versions, though its still very charming, again especially with a meal, it won’t take center stage or draw a lot of attention, it is more a companion, rather than a stand out. The 2018 gets better with air and ends on a high note with layers of plum, raspberry, strawberry and mulberry coming through along with grainy tobacco leaf, silky tannins, mocha/toffee, minty herb, licorice and a faint cedary note. This invitingly deeply crimson/garnet hued wine, always a favorite and a go to when I want some Tuscany or Sangiovese in my life, usually when I make pasta, as I did last night, it reminds me of driving through Chianti Classico’s beautiful hillsides with its old growth forrest, castles and sloping vines that capture the amazing light that makes this place so remarkable, it is like a magical kingdom, from Florence to Siena.
The Felsina Chianti Classico, 100% Sangiovese, was fermented and macerated in stainless steel tanks for almost two weeks with pneumatic (programmed) punchdowns and daily pump-overs. Once primary fermentation was complete the wine went into medium-size Slavonian oak barrels, and a small percentage into twice and thrice used oak barrels for 12 months of elevage, after which the final blend was chosen, or put together, and then bottled. As noted here many times, this wine comes from vineyards, as the winery notes, that are all located in the Castelnuovo Berardenga commune, in the southeastern part of the Chianti Classico appellation, as noted, to the southeast of Siena. Almost without exception, these vines are exclusively with a southwestern exposure, that delivers full ripeness, they sprawl across hilly slopes at an altitude ranging from 320-420 meters above sea level that allows a night time chill even in the heat of Summer, making for balanced and expressive Sangiovese. Geologically, again as the winery adds, these vineyards have distinct and individual underpinnings with an array of soils, with the higher parts seeing predominantly quartz and calcareous alberese mixed with alluvial pebbles as well as strataform sandstone and loams that add to the overall quality and complexity in Felsina’s lineup. I high recommend grabbing all the 2016s from Felsina you can find, this wine, plus the top Crus, Rancia and the Fontalloro and the Riserva Black label, that said, this 2018 won’t disappoint either.
($28 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
Grapelive.com Reviews – April, 2021
2019 Clos de la Roilette, Fleurie “Cuvee Tardive” Cru Beaujolais, France.
One of Beaujolais’ most classic producers, the Clos de la Roilette in Fleurie, run by Alain and Alexis Coudert, is a small estate that made traditional wines of old vine concentration, texture and complexity, but that are always wonderfully delicious with a bit of raw earthiness along with the granite influenced mineral tones. This 2019 Cuvee Tardive is beautifully round and silken with pretty floral detail, dark berry fruit and hints of spice, leather and walnut wood, the opulent and ripe medium bodied palate delivers crushed blackberry, plum, strawberry and kirsch as well as touches of cinnamon, anise, rose oil and orange tea. I loved the depth of fruit and ease of drinkability here, this is a fine example of elegant and pure Gamay from Fleurie, though these vines in particular are close to Moulin A Vent and have that Cru’s influence and muscle tone, it is really enthralling now, but looks to have substance and structure to age with studied evolution and grace. The deep garnet and ruby hued Tradive is really appealing and gets more and more interesting in the glass with its pure Gamay charm bringing many happy smiles, it is a tasty treat and a top value still in a world of ever increasing demand for these Fleurie and Cru Beaujolais wines and rising prices.
The Clos de la Roillette, is in fact not a “Clos” or walled vineyard (estate) and this Cuvee Tardive, is not a later picked wine, so the label is a bit misleading, though neither takes away from the pleasure in the bottle! This wine, the Cuvée Tardive, is always crafted using the estate’s oldest vines, which are now 80 plus years old, set on the heavy clay and granite soils, again just inside the Fleurie zone with a cooler northeast exposures, which allows this wine to preserve its fresh and lively acidity. The domaine Clos de la Roilette got its name from the prior owner’s prized race horse Roilette and the iconic yellow horse label remains a big part of this estate’s identity. Clos de la Roilette has been around more than a hundred years, but it was in serious decline and most of the vines had gone feral when the Couderts took it over in 1967, and after a lot of hardwork, they turned things around and have especially flourished under the guidance of Alain, who after joining the winegrowing team in 1984 turned the property into one of the region’s most admired producers. The Cuvee Tardive is 100% whole cluster with a spontaneous native yeast primary fermentation, it is done in open-top, neutral wood vats with, as the winery notes, the cap submerged for an extended maceration, that lasts for Tardive about 18 days. The aging or elevage is on the lees in old foudres, typically it is raised about 9 months in the wood before bottling with low SO2. These Clos de la Roilette wines are very authentic and joyful offerings, and these 2019s are exceptional, especially this attractive Cuvee Tardive.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2020 Pax Wines, Charbono, Lushsinger Vineyard, Lake County.
The fresh new Luchsinger Vineyard Charbono is vividly electric purple and tangy on the palate, made with 100% whole cluster and indigenous yeasts, it is a semi carbonic easy drinking red wine that shows a fun mix of bright blackberry, açaí and tart plum fruits and crunchy savory elements, mineral tones, floral detail, wild herbs and zesty acidity. This Glou Glou (quaffable) low alcohol Charbono was aged for just 5 months in large, well seasoned, French 500L puncheons to allow for a bit of leesy texture, but to preserve all of the vibrantl youthful form, it is like a California Cru Beaujolais and fans of Valdiguie will love this stuff that clocks in at about 12% natural alcohol, it is best enjoyed with a slight chill and simple foods. As the winery notes, Charbono, as it is known as in California is also known as Bonarda in Argentina, and thought to be originally from northern Italy, plus Douce Noire in France’s high alpine region of Savoie. This rare varietal has been here since at least just before WWII and was once highly planted in Napa Valley, and Pax says Charbono has a storied place in the history of California wine with styles over the years that have ranged from medium-bodied and snappy, as his version is done to richly extracted, almost Zinfandel like, and aged in flashy new oak barrels, as done by Toffanelli, one of the last to make in Napa from old vines in the Calistoga area. My first experience with Charbono came about by ancient, when I grabbed a bottle of Turley Charbono (ages ago now) thinking it was one of their Zins, and wow, I had to get more and went on a Charbono finding mission, finding a disappointing amount of options, but tasty ones, like Summers, at the time in the remote area between Napa and Knights Valley, so I was glad when Pax turned his talents to this remarkable grape a few years ago.
Pax Wines was founded back in 2000 by Pax and Pamela Mahle, this small California winery made a name for themselves with a stellar lineup of truly profound Syrah bottlings and helped start a wave of modern Rhone wines along side Copain, Big Basin and Drew to name a few and inspired many young winemakers, now Pax focuses on Syrah (still) and Gamay Noir from cool, coastal sites, as well as a selection of esoteric varieties, like this Charbono, Trousseau, Trousseau Gris and the Mission grape that showcase, as he puts it, the great diversity of California wine. From the vineyard to the cellar, Pax has become a proponent of natural wines and uses a holistic style of winemaking. This, Pax adds, means that all the fruit is grown using organic, sustainable, or biodynamic methods and no unnatural additions are applied in the winery, which all adds up to transparency and purity in the wines, which are more raw, much less polished than mainstream wines and they filled with their own personality, as his latest set of releases shows. This Pax Charbono is one of the first 2020 red California wines I’ve tried, and while nervous about smoke taint, this one shows no ill effects and is enjoyable I wish I had bought a lot more, and I’m really excited to try the rest of new wines, especially a brand new single varietal Freisa, the rare Piedmonte grape that smells and tastes of fresh picked strawberries and made famous in recent years by G.D. Vajra, who make one of the most impactful examples I’ve ever tried. After tasting Jolie-Laide’s version, I look forward to comparing it to Pax’s and of course I am equally geared up to try the latest Syrah and Gamay offerings as well, in these last few vintages there is so much to be thrilled about from this Sebastopol based winery and it is a great time to stock up, and or join Pax’s wine club, as they get first shot at these, moon phase label, value priced rarities!
($28 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 René-Jean Dard and François Ribo, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge, Northern Rhone, France.
The deeply purple and fresh 2018 edition of René-Jean Dard’s and François Ribo’s iconic natural wine styled Crozes-Hermitage is another no pretense and rawly delicious Syrah, it is always a wine to be thrilled to drink, and this vintage is everything fans of this small producer enjoy, it shows a pure and transparent medium bodied palate of classic earthy character with crushed violets, dark boysenberry, damson plum, black currant and kirsch fruits along with tapenade, peppercorns, a light Syrah funk, damp earth, flinty camphor, cedar and tarry black licorice. Not as dense in form as the warmer and ripe 2015, 2016 and 2017s, this 2018 is an energetic, fun and easy quaffer that might be a more entertaining wine in its youth, while the fruit is vibrant and nicely juicy still before the rougher edges, rustic details and a hint volatile acidity get more pronounced, these elements are well integrated now and add to the Dard and Ribo Crozes’ charm and complexity in their current state. This is a wonderfully delicious Syrah that absolutely could not be from anywhere else, it wears its terroir as a badge of honor and I wouldn’t change a thing here, it is a wine I could literally could drink almost everyday. Dard and Ribo have become one of the labels I covet and have become one of my rotation from the Northern Rhone along with Alain and Maxime Graillot, G. Gilles, Lionnet, Yves Cuilleron and Louis Barruol’s Sant-Joseph and Crozes Saint-Cosme bottlings, to name a few.
René-Jean Dard and François Ribo, who produce some of the most sought after natural Syrahs, are famously media shy and hermit like vignerons from Mercurol, north of Valence, founded their tiny Northern Rhone estate in 1984 with a small cellar and micro parcels of vines and a focus on non intervention wines. These humble winemakers, that have adult like following, are mostly known for the their reasonably priced Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph reds, also do a micro bottling of their “unicorn” Hermitage, which I have never seen available in California, as well as a nouveau style early release C’est le Printemps Crozes-Hermitage, a wine I reviewed at the beginning of the Covid lockdown last March, and not too far off the quality of its bigger brother, plus a Blanc made from Marsanne and Roussanne. As reported in my earlier reviews, the Dard and Ribo Crozes-Hermitage vines are all from organic plots, farmed without chemicals, mostly hillside, set on iron rich red clay soils with gravel and alluvial stones scattered throughout the vines, which give these wines true terroir character and this 2018 vintage shows the classic markers that this region is known for. Made with native yeasts and whole bunches with minimal intervention, Dard and Ribo commonly don’t use any sulphites (added sulfur) at all, although they are not driven by extreme dogma and really just want to make wines they themselves would enjoy without doing anything or thought toward anyone else’s expectations. With the following they have these Dard and Ribo wines take a bit of chasing, but the hunt is well worth it and rewarding.
($40 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Nikkal Wines, Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia.
The elegant, cool climate influenced, though slightly reductive Nikkal Pinot Noir is a barrel selection of Pinot Noir from three vineyard sites which, Nikkal Wines believes, truly captures the essence of the Yarra Valley region, an area of cool climate diversity and one of Australia’s best regions for Pinot Noir, as this tasty version shows with bright fruit intensity, silky texture and accented with delicate earthiness, spice and floral notes. This wonderfully expressive Pinot is luminous and vividly ruby in color with an array of red fruits on the satiny medium bodied palate, it starts with plenty of black cherry, garden picked strawberries, tart plum, cranberry and blood orange fruits, a light dusting of baking spices, aromatic tea leaf and herbs, along with a kiss of sweet toast from the French oak. The vigor and vitality is welcome, this Nikkal’s energy keeps everything flowing and racy, it stays fresh and entertaining in glass making it very easy to enjoy with many food choices, it takes on a deeper level of excitement with matching cuisine, it went especially well with grilled salmon and a salad. The reductive graphite and underbrush fades away with air, best to let this Pinot open for a short period of time to allow this to blow off and or decant, much in the same way you would with a young Burgundy, which this wine is not unlike.
This was my first try of a Nikkal Pinot and I was happily impressed with the quality and value, the packaging is also quite nice and I’d definitely enjoy this one again in the future, especially as I’m a fan of the Yarra Valley, which is not far from Melbourne, the Yarra Valley is also Victoria’s oldest wine region, dating back to 1838, it is one of the wine regions of the world that is on my bucket list to visit and explore much more in depth and in person. The Nikkal Pinot Noir Yarra Valley 2018 was sourced from three distinct vineyards, Upper Ngumby, at Steels Creek, Gist in the Christmas Hills, and the Willowlake in Gladysdale, they all play a significant role in making this wine more balanced and complex, giving this wine a core of structure as well as a sense of place. Winemaker Kate Goodman uses whole clusters and native yeast fermentation on her Nikkal Pinot, which adds to the thrill here with hints of pomegranate and its heightened bouquet. Each vineyard parcel of fruit for the Nikkal Yarra Valley Pinot is kept separate in the winery before and after fermentation with each lot done in small bins with each wine being matured in barrel for six months before the blending starts here. Then the final version settles in tank and then bottled, the faily short elevage is to promote its vibrancy of flavors, which shows in this 2018. There is a lot to like in this Nikkal Pinot and it is great way to start exploring the Yarra, this is a solid choice and the price here in the states makes it even more attractive.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2019 Sandlands Vineyards, Carignane, Contra Costa County.
I’ve been a fan of the Sandlands Carignane since I very first tried it and in fact it was the first Sandlands wine I got to taste, and I’ve been chasing bottles of it ever since, it is one of my favorites, though hard to get as the production is tiny and the demand for these wines always out strips supply. This grape, which doesn’t get the respect it certainly deserves, really excels here in the 2019 vintage, a smaller yielding year with a mostly long and cool growing season that allows for excellent flavor development and retaining an awesome freshness of detail with lively natural acidity as well as lower alcohols, similar in style, though maybe even better, to the fabulous 2018s that Tegan Passalacqua made here at Sandlands. The deep purple opaque old vine Carignane is at first crisply dry, tartly fresh and vibrant with a mix of zesty juiciness and savory crunchy elements with a medium bodied palate of crushed berries, plum, cherry and grilled orange fruits along with a nice mix of generous florals, spice and snappy herbs de Provence with just a kiss of cedary wood. As the wine opens, a more elegant and opulent side emerges and especially when matched with food it gains a beautiful roundness and textural quality, which is a common grace in these Sandlands wines, which are exceptionally well balanced and tasty efforts. The fruit really deepness with simple and or rustic cuisine, it matches well with BBQ, pasta dishes and wild mushrooms, at just 12.6% natural alcohol, it is a fun wine to enjoy with a slight chill, in much the same way you’d do with a Cru Beaujolais and the Sandlands Carignane is perfect for Spring and Summer outdoor dining. Carignane (or Carignan) is the main grape in the Corbieres region in France’s Languedoc, where you can find it in hearty reds and as a component in Rosé as well, it has a long history here in California, where it has long been part of field blends, usually picked and co-fermted with mixed blacks and as a part of heritage Zin blends.
As noted here in my reviews, and from the winery, Sandlands is the personal project of Turley Cellars head winemaker and vineyard manager Tegan and his wife Olivia Passalacqua. The line-up of Sandlands, as the Passalaqua’s add, encompasses many the forgotten classic California varieties, like this Carignane, plus Cinsault, Chenin Blanc, which is making a huge comeback and the extremely rare Mission grape, that are primarily grown on California’s decomposed granite (sand), from regions and vineyards that have been farmed for many generations, but have somehow, as Tegan puts it, remained the outliers of California viticulture. These vines are primarily old gnarly head-trained, dry-farmed and own rooted, with the vineyards Sandlands work with being sites that take us back to California’s roots. The wines here highlight the hardworking farmers of yesteryear and the honest and authentic wines of a different era, they pay tribute to the state’s fascinating history of rugged viniculture. Tegan Passalaqua’s Sandlands 2019 Contra Costa County Carignane, only 5 barrels produced was sourced from an old vine vineyard that was planted back in the 1920s in one of California’s most unique terroirs, it is set on what is classified as Dehli blow sand, that is made up of decomposed granite that has been deposited here by wind and water. Made using classic old school methods with lots of whole bunches, native yeast fermentation(s), with lots of gentle hands and feet being employed and aging or elevage being done in well seasoned (used) oak barrels. I know, these are unicorn wines and incredibly hard to get, but search them out, get on the mailing list and never miss a chance to enjoy them with friends, they are worth it! Carignane is a really compelling grape and I have been really thrilled by what this new generation of winemakers are doing with this grape here in California, especially in the wines of Ridge Vineyards, Broc Cellars, Liocco, Martha Stoumen, Desire Lines Wine Co., and in particularly here at Sandlands, keep an eye out for these tasty versions.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Lindes de Remelluri, Vindeos de Labastida, Rioja DO, Spain.
When it comes to value in hand crafted small lot Rioja, the non estate Lindes de Remelluri bottlings by Telmo Rodriguez at his family’s Remelluri are top of my list and this particular offering is my absolute favorite and my go to wine. This 2015 version of the Lindes de Remelluri Vindeos de Labastida is wonderfully pure, deep in ripe flavors and gorgeous in the glass with its dark opaque purple/garnet color, it is incredibly inviting and seductive with impeccable layering of seamless Tempranillo led fruit, showing dense, but elegant blackberry, mulberry, plum and kirsch along with subtle earth, anise, chalky stones, cedar, plus pretty mineral and floral notes all in a taut full bodied wine that impressively lingers for minutes in the aftertaste. This wine way over delivers for the price, it is truly stunning from start to finish and is loaded with pleasure and damn near perfect Rioja in every respect, highlighting the massive talent that is Telmo Rodriguez, one of Spain’s leading lights and one of the world’s great winemakers. This wine was was fermented using all native yeasts in cool stainless steel tanks and then raised in barrel, 100% French oak for 12 months before bottling, then once in bottle it is rested a good amount of time in the cellar to mature as well. There’s a lot to process here as this beautiful Labastida opens up, it adds finer points and sensuality to its opulent profile with hints of pencil lead, minty herb, lilacs and delicate spices with the warm vintage giving a sweet tannin, allowing this wine to drink fabulously well right now, though I suspect it will continue to develop in intriguing ways for many more years.
Grown at elevation, from very old vines in the Rioja Alavesa zone, set on chalky soils, the Labastida shows wonderful depth, life from the cooler night time temps up here and the noted length, this Lindes de Remelluri is made from mostly ancient vine Tempranillo, though it likely has a good dose of Graciano and Garnacha as well, though Telmo is always coy with exact varietal content, preferring to speak only of place, rather than the grapes in the blend. Telmo is noted for making for a complex wines of sublime texture and detail, anyone not familiar with his wines should try them as soon as possible, and without question never miss the chance to taste his Remelluri Rioja Blanco, it might be the greatest white wine in Spain and truly unique, rivaling both classic white Burgundies and Hermitage Blanc. As noted in my earlier reviews, Telmo Rodriguez, one of the most iconic and best winemakers of his generation, having made wine at Jean-Louis Chave in Hermitage and at a few Chateaux in Bordeaux, returned to his family’s Remelluri estate back in 2008. He has accomplished himself as a champion of terroir over varietal and employs artisan craftsmanship in the cellar, with his wines hardly ever showing overt oak or aggressive alcohol, they always show distinctive purity and a sense of place, and these secondary wines known as Lindes de Remmelluri are magnificent expressions of Rioja, they are richly flavored and soulful wines crafted from old vine purchased fruit from vineyards that prior had got into the family’s main wine. These two vineyard select wines, this Labastida and this San Vincente, which is slightly more feral and raw, sourced from vineyards that used to go into the Remelluri Reserva, but that are now separated into these two new single vineyard bottlings. I always love these Remelluri Riojas, especially this one, I will certainly get a few more for myself and highly recommend it.
($26 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Brick House “Clos Ladybug” Casserole Red Wine, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The delightful and elegant Clos Ladybug, by Doug Tunnell at the famed Brick House, is a unique blend of Pinot Noir, Gamay and a splash of Chardonnay in what is a tribute to the rare Bourgogne Passetoutgrain (Passe-Tout-Grains), which are made from a Burgundy grown blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir, these French versions are sometimes the region’s best values as well as best kept secrets, with Tunnell’s all biodynamic Willamette Valley example also being a great secret value in his beautiful collection of estate wines. This lighter and brighter Clos Ladybug is an easy to love and quaff red wine with nice acidity and silky textures with vibrant layers of tree picked tart plum, strawberry, cherry and red apple skin fruits, a light sense of cedary wood, wild herbs, delicate florals and mineral notes. The mouth feel is refined and smooth, getting nicely lush with air and while seemingly simple at first the Clos Ladybug opens up to reveal some serious depth and adds some welcome earthiness, saline stony elements and umami to the medium bodied juicy palate, making for a graceful and balanced wine that is best with a slight chill and served with less complicated meals. Founded back in 1990, Brick House continues to be one of the Willamette Valley’s most inspiring organic estates, renown for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines and one of the first to plant and make true Gamay Noir in the state.
The traditionally made Clos Ladybug – Casserole is an all estate offering with 42% Pinot Noir, 53% Gamay Noir and 5% Chardonnay from fully Demeter certified biodynamic grapes at Brick House in the Ribbon Ridge AVA, with the region’s classic marine sedimentary soils and hillside vines. According to the winery, the idea behind Clos Ladybug came about in 2017 when owner and winemaker, Doug Tunnell and his cellar team noticed that there was a few small bins of Gamay and Pinot Noir leftover and were at a loss as what to do with them, when Tunnell, a huge Burgundy enthusiat, suggested that these leftover grapes be thrown together in a single fermentor. The Clos Ladybug was thus born for the first time, in a style very similar to those Burgundian ‘passe tout grains’ which are village-level Cuvees of Gamay and Pinot Noir, which the crew then decided to add a little Chard for good measure, thinking that would add a bit of texture, and nicknamed their creation a Casserole! So this dark ruby colored 2018 Clos Ladybug Gamay/Pinot Noir, with that tiny amount of Chard, is the second vintage here, it was a co-fermented wine done with gentle winemaking techniques and aged in what tastes like mostly used French oak barrels with just a hint of toasty sweetness. This wine will certainly keep a place in the lineup and is a fun way to get to know this pioneering producer, who’s outstanding Pinot Noir bottlings are some of Oregon’s greatest ever wines.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2000 Domaine Gramenon, Cotes du Rhone Rouge, Le Gramenon, Rhone Valley, France.
Another gem from a perfect cellar, the Le Gramenon Cotes du Rhone 2000 is drinking amazing with remarkable elegance and depth of flavors with plenty of maturity, but with lovely freshness, this little Cotes du Rhone is drinking better than a lot of top Chateauneufs at this point. The Domaine Gramenon was founded back in 1979 and has been a leader of biodynamic, organic and holistic natural wines in the region ever since, making this 2000 vintage an even greater and welcome surprise, that it has aged so gracefully and with impeccable clarity is a testament to the care in the vineyard and run the cellar by the Aubèry-Laurent family. The 2000 Le Gramenon shows Syrah like essences with waxy blueberry, violets and some savory elements, which is not uncommon for wines in this part of the southern Rhone, like Saint Cosme’s Cotes du Rhone, that is made from 100% Syrah, and the palate is mineral toned, softy tannic and medium bodied at this point in its life with an array of pretty red berries, a touch of stewed plum, that is very much in line with this wine’s age, light peppery spices, a touch of iron/meatiness, dried porporri and old cedar. This dark garnet/ruby (with just a hint orange on the edges) Cotes du Rhone opens nicely and holds on, it doesn’t crash into a sous bois or balsamic mess, instead the fruit stays sweet and even pairs well with hearty foods, which I maybe unfairly chose to match it with, in fact it never lost its sense of poise throughout the few hours I was sipping it.
Domaine Gramenon, based in the Vinsobres zone, as importer, the famed Kermit Lynch explains, is the authentic embodiment of the (natural winegrowing and no additions in the cellar) philosophies that the Laurents espouse, adding that, they do not merely champion (their) organic farming, but they incorporate the concept of sustainability into their daily lives by growing their own food crops and raising their own animals. The domaine bottles an AOC Vinsobres of course, plus many single cru wines from parcels, of mainly Grenache, but with lots of Syrah too, their own Côtes-du-Rhône Appellation vines, all of which are located around the domaine and set on clay and limestone soils with some plots seeing classic galets, the large river stones that are most notable in the Chateauneuf du Pape area. Domaine Gramenon, now led by Maxime François Laurent, uses gravity-fed tanks, cement and stainless to ferment, with indigenous yeasts and no additions, with exceptionally low sulfites (SO2) and age the wines in a combination of well used (neutral) oak demi-muids and foudres. As this very old Cotes du Rhone shows the wines has exceptional purity and lasting vibrancy and anyone that loves the Rhone, will want to explore the range of wines made here at Gramenon, I recommend, especially, the 100% Syrah Sierra du Sud Cotes du Rhone and the Ceps Centenaires La Mémé, that comes from 100 plus year old Grenache vines!
($40 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2019 Lucia by The Pisoni Family, Chardonnay, Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
These 2019s from Pisoni are some of the most complete and complex bottlings they have ever produced, this is not a vintage to miss from them, and the Santa Lucia Highlands, with this gorgeous Soberanes Chardonnay being one of the top picks here, this profound wine is one of the best I’ve tried from the region offering amazing fruit density, fascinating textural layers, inner energy and length for days. While obviously known for their legendary estate Pinot Noir, the Pisoni Chards are now a match for the Pinots and in some vintages they are the best wines and this 2019 is a mind-blowing example with the same impact that the state’s best wines show, from Mount Eden, Littorai, Peay, Brewer-Clifton, Marcassin to the Morlet Family, Hanzell, Aubert and or Peter Michael, where Jeff Pisoni cut his teeth as a winemaker, this Soberanes rivals these elite efforts. This is a monumental version from a vineyard site that is fast becoming one of the top Crus in California, producing exciting Pinot Noir, outstanding Syrah, one of the secrets of the site, and incredible luscious Chardonnay, formed by various unique Burgundy and heritage clones, including the Old Wente Clone that adds intense concentration and depth. The Soberanes Chardonnay is beautifully bright and delicately perfumed with cascade of rich flavors on the broad and full bodied palate with orange blossoms, subtle sweet oak toast, wet stones and peach flesh revolving around a core of golden delicious apple, bosq pear and lemon curd fruits. The 2019 just keeps on going and going, it deserves a meal to enhance with it, especially something like a decedent lobster tail, and or at least a round of Époisses de Bourgogne, the famous pungent creamy cheese with its rind washed in brine and Marc de Bourgogne, the local pomace brandy, Burgundy’s version of Cognac.
The Soberanes Vineyard, set high up on the SLH bench, which again was farming partnership between Pisoni and Franscioni families, bears the family name of José María Soberanes, who marched from Mexico to Monterey Bay with the famed Portolá expedition, and his son Feliciano, who, as the Pisoni’s note, acquired the 8,900-acre land grant (here in the what became the Santa Lucia Highlands) as repayment for his loan of forty horses, fifty head of cattle, four oxen and some sheep for the journey. Cooled by the near by Pacific Ocean and the deep cold water of the Monterey Bay, and sitting adjacent to famous Garys’ Vineyard, the Soberanes Vineyard is set on the classic sandy loams, with soils, as the winery adds, that boast significant sub-soil boulders layered into the alluvial fan with a complex array of mineral deposits as well, all of which provides the vines everything they need to deliver absolute world class quality. The 2019, like the majestic 2018s, were formed by the long col growing conditions here allowing the deep flavor development and still having refreshing acidity, with the ’19s having maybe a slight edge with smaller yields and fabulous structure. Jeff Pisoni, the family’s hugely talented winemaker, hand crafts these wines from his state of the art facility in Sonoma, where is is still one of the most sought after consultants, using the best selection of the family’s grapes, which are also some of the best farmed in California. These hand picked Chardonnay grapes come in cool to the winery and are gently treated with only gravity flow of the juice with Pisoni using 100% native yeast barrel fermentations employing about 40% new French oak and with the wine being raised for close to 15 months before bottling. This wine shows its lees aging and really opens up with air with additional dimension coming out, it just awesome with a light hazelnut, lavish mouth feel and its brilliant vitality, this is stunning stuff.
($65 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive
2018 Bodegas y Vinedos Raul Perez, Ultreia, Saint Jacques, Valtuille de Abajo, Bierzo DO, Spain.
Raul Perez’s 2018 Ultreia Mencia based Saint Jacques from the Beizo region of Spain is wonderfully fresh and vibrant, perfect with a big bowl of spicy steamed mussels and pomme frites, showing bright dark berry fruits, nice acidity and mineral notes. I am a big fan of this bottling, which is juicy and easy to enjoy in its youth, somewhere between a Cru Beaujolais and a Crozes-Hermitage in style with blackberry, dark cherry and plum fruits along with a hint of dried flowers, cinnamon, anise and chalky stones. Some of the bigger wines from this area can take on a more dense, Cab Franc like character, but Perez’s wines are less heavy and give a more authentic Mencia profile with some rustic edges, but with an over abundance of charm. These Raul Perez wines, all made from organic grapes, are stylish efforts that showcase this region’s soils and climate, which is moderate and continental, a bit drier and warmer than the more coastal Ribeira Sacra and with more limestone and clay that gives the rich textural and deeper flavors. This medium bodied wine has loads of energy and fine tannins, making it wonderful with all kinds of foods, though it goes gracefully or better with more simple dishes, it is a nice companion to a range of hard cheeses, like Basque Idiazábal and or aged Manchego.
As noted in my prior reviews, the Raul Perez Ultreia Saint Jacques (mostly old vine Mencia) is multi vineyard old vine field blend style red from Bierzo’s Valtuille zone comes from vineyard plots ranging in age from 80 to 120 years old shows Mencia in a richer form than say the Ribeira Sacra, but includes inter-planted other varietals, including a small bit of Bastardo (believed to be Trousseau) and Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet). As noted in my reviews and from what Perez has noted, he uses lots of whole bunches that keeps things well balanced and the fruit is contrasted by earthy, savory notes, bright spices and (crunchy) mineral elements. Raul Perez is a grand master of Mencia and the godfather of the Bierzo region with a huge impact on how this wine is seen world wide, clearly defining what it is and should be. His influence and generous guidance to young winemakers has launched a whole generation of Spanish talents with many on their way to super stardom. This Ulteia Saint Jacques is one of Perez’s entry level bottlings, but you’d be hard pressed to find anything lacking here, though his upper end cru stuff is out of this world. The Saint Jacques was about 80% whole cluster and fermented with indigenous yeasts in large wooden vats with maceration(s) lasting between two and five months, which is a long cool period, which adds to the dimension in this beautiful Tinto. The wine, after primary is then rack to an assortment of vessels to age with a combination of French casks including 225L, 500L, foudre and with some of the wine seeing its elevage in cement cuve, after which the Saint Jacques was bottled unfined and unfiltered. This vintage seems a touch lighter than the 2015, 2016 and 2017, but has a elegant roundness that is highly compelling, I recommend enjoying over the next 2 to 3 years.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Cullen Wines, Dancing in the Sun, White Wine, Margaret River, Western Australia.
The light and fresh Dancing in the Sun white wine by the famed Cullen Wines in the Margaret River is an all organic and unique blend of of 54% Semillon, 43% Sauvignon Blanc and 3% Verdelho, it is an Aussie white Bordeaux like hybrid that is a delightful Summer quaffer. This is the first time tasting this blend, while I’ve loved their Sem/Sauv’s in the past, this Dancing in the Sun shows loads of bright lemony flavors and vibrant acidity with layers of citrus, tangy white peach, gooseberry and wild herbs along with wet stones, a touch of waxy apple and lingering lemon curd. The 2018 Cullen Wines Dancing in the Sun is vivid still and light to medium bodied with a nice balance of tart fruit and subtle textural creaminess that is starting to develop, it is more serious than the first impression and a wine that goes great with a range of cuisine, especially with lighter sea food dishes and goat cheese, as well as roast chicken breast. Vanya Cullen, who has been winemaking at her family’s Wilyabrup estate since 1983, and was appointed to Chief Winemaker in 1989, after which the world discovered just how good these Cullen Wines are. As Managing Director, which she rose to back in 1999, Vanya is a Bordeaux style specialist, crafting awesome Cabernet based wines as well as her white blends and if you haven’t tried these wines you really should.
One of the first premium estates of Margaret River area of Western Australia, Cullen Wines was established when the Cullen’s, Kevin and Diana, first planted vines in 1971 in the unique Wilyabrup area with its red ochre soils and up river Ocean influence. All of Cullen’s vines are certified biodynamic and were pioneers in this region with holistic farming and are even carbon negative, they are ultra sustainable and great stewards of their environment, all of which shows in their beautiful wines, especially the Bordeaux style reds and this lovely white. Wilybrup is a very noteworthy region in its own right, as evidenced in the Cullen efforts, all terroir driven with distinct flavors and its own climate, this place has been recognized as a world class zone, and notably when in 1999 Cullen Wines and Moss Wood, other fantastic estate here, held a sub region tasting event to celebrate the long history here and with a look to the future of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay grown here, which predicted the greatnesses of the wines that have emerged since then. This Dancing in the Sun white wine with its Semillon, Sauvignon and Verdelho is a fun offering with beautiful crisp details, delicate florals and coastal saline, it delivers everything you’d want want in a white wine of this price, making it a wonderful value and shows off a region that is little known in the States.
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2019 I. Brand & Family Winery, Melon de Bourgogne, Graff Family Vineyard, Chalone AVA, Monterey County.
The unique quince, bitter melon, saline and stony, mineral laced Melon de Bourgogne by Ian Brand is an austere and low alcohol white wine that pays homage to the Atlantic influenced wines of Muscadet in the western Loire, but with a modern twist and flourish, in a wine that transforms into a real beauty with food, especially briny dishes, perking up the aromatics, the fruit and softening the racy acidity. As a Muscadet fan, especially the wines of Frederic Niger at Domaine de L’Ecu, which are tasty with classic oysters and soft cheeses, they are salty fresh and leesy, so it was interesting to see how Ian would approach this wine, clearly he did his magic here and this is delicious stuff. Brand, who was one of the first to realize that what we once thought was Pinot Blanc here at Chalone was actually Melon de Bourgogne, the grape of Muscadet fame, and while some chose to continue to label it as Pinot Blanc, others chose to embrace the true identity and take wine winemaking steps to exploit the grape’s natural character, with a few nicknaming it Melon de Chalone, which I think is most fitting as these vines (and wines from here) are certainly distinctly their own and terroir driven. As this crisply detailed white gets air through it it stubbornly gains its leesy, skin contact texture and reveals tart peach, lemony citrus, wet stone and chalk from the classic limestone soils, as well as a touch of sour herbs, almond oil and verbena. This is non overt wine, serious with a purpose and a wine that will gain a select following with the wine geek crowd and it is going to be more compelling for the anti-Chardonnayers. When asked about his Melon de Bourgogne, Ian, with his dry humor says “ I think it worked out…” That it did and now I might have get a few more bottles for oyster slurping!
Known for his exceptional work with Grenache and Mourvedre, Ian Brand is a noted vineyard whisperer, finding and rejuvenating some lesser known or forgotten gems on the Central Coast, preferring out of the way and remote places to source his grapes, making a fabulous collection of no nonsense wines that offer tremendous value and rarity, with his Enz Vineyard Mourvedre being a huge standout. Ian is mostly thought of as a red wine wine guy, but I have always liked a few of his whites, in particular his versions of Albarino, which his sells under his La Marea label, which under he does his Spanish influenced wines, including two Albarinos (one with partial skin contact) and his Sierra de Gredos inspired Garnacha like Central Coast Grenache. Recently Ian added a classy Escolle Chardonnay and this Graff Family Vineyard Melon de Bourgogne to his top lineup of I. Brand & Family wines, both very worthy of your attention. The Graff Family Vineyards label wines were in later years were made by Ian, but now have been folded into Ian’s signature collection with a 100% Syrah, and Rhone Red Blend and this Melon all finding a good home here in the latest lineup. The Graff Family Vineyard, run by Phil Woodward, who was a partner in the famous Chalone winery along with the late Richard Graff, one of California’s historic figures and was set up to provide a trust to Graff’s children with proceeds still going to the family. I collect Ian’s Grenache and Mourvedre, but I must say I am falling for his Loire inspired Melon, which its 11.2% natural alcohol zestiness and his Chinon like Bayly Ranch Cabernet Franc, with its earthy intense palate, don’t miss these! There is a lot to like in Brand’s wines from the playful Le P’tit Paysan line, with the Rosé and Chateaneuf blend delivering bang for the buck to his Bordeaux like Bates Ranch Cab Franc and Montebello Road Cabernet Sauvignon leading his top offers, it is a good time check out these tasty efforts.
($32 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine Chambeyron, Cote-Rotie “La Chavarine” Northern Rhone, France.
The beautifully inky and elegantly textured La Chavarine by Chambeyron is a regal and luxurious Cote-Rotie with stunning Syrah purity, this is an outstanding wine that drinks amazing for being so youthful with supple tannins and remarkable depth of flavor. The Ampuis based Domaine Chambeyron, a solid performer in the appellation, really put everything together in their 2016s and this one really stands out with exceptional fruit density, mouth feel and a super long aftertaste with layers of blackberry, blueberry compote, damson plum, kirsch and creme de cassis which is nicely supported by subtle floral dimension, light peppercorn, fig paste and anise along with a touch of tapenade, cedar and a mineral/graphite note.
Offering some great value this Domaine does a tight collection of small production wines from Cote-Rotie as well as a Condrieu, plus a couple of entry level Cotes du Rhone bottlings, which I’m excited to try in the future, especially after tasting this gorgeous La Chavarine. The Domaine Chambeyron La Chavarine is a special cuvee coming off estate parcels in two of the best sites, it is sourced from the decomposed granite soils of the two famous vineyards of La Chavaroche in the Côte Brune and Lancement in the Côte Blonde, both with a combined average age of 50 years. The La Chavarine is whole cluster pressed and fermented in cement vats with indigenous yeasts in Chambeyron’s gravity fed cellars where it was handled with extreme care, with a small basket press and was then raised in large 400L casks. This is deep purple/black, heady and lush Cote-Rotie that is a stunning value too, drink this gem over the next decade!
($55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Beaux Freres, Pinot Noir “The Second Cousin” Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The entry set of wines at the famed Beaux Freres in the Willamette Valley’s Ribbon Ridge AVA are their Les Cousins Pinot Noir sourced from a wide selection of vineyards throughout the Valley and this unique The Second Cousin bottling that was produced solely from barrels (of Les Cousins) that showed a touch of Brettanomyces, a very curious and brave experiment from such a revered property, considering how evil “Brett” can be perceived, and as someone that is non to fond of it and flaws, I was surprised by how pure and enjoyable this elegant Pinot Noir is! Beaux Freres, like their awesome neighbor, Brick House, focus on biodynamics and were inspired by the wines of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, Domaine Leflaive and Domaine Leroy in Burgundy and usually produce some of the greatest Pinots in Oregon, so it was interesting to see a winery like Beaux Freres take this kind of risk, but the results were exactly (with some luck for sure) what they had hoped, with the tiny amount of Brett adding some complexity and character without the aggressive almost roadkill like animal or overt barnyard flavors. This 2019 is silky smooth and vibrantly fresh with pretty floral notes, a kiss of sweet smoky toast, racy and youthful layers of black cherry, plum and raspberry fruits that are nicely accented by tea spices, blood orange, cinnamon, mocha, wild herbs and a lingering, underbrush and earthy mulberry note. This lighter framed and delicately perfumed Beaux Freres The Second Cousin is drinking well and round in its youth, maybe hiding the potential Brett nuances at this stage, but I am happy as it is more subtle and the expressive fruit is deeply pleasing as is the wines beautiful dark ruby color, which invites you into the glass.
With Beaux Freres founder Mike Etzel now concentrating on his own label and vineyard, Sequitur, the Beaux Freres winemaking team is now led by the second-generation here with Mikey Etzel and assistant winemaker Aaron Kendall, who have continued the tradition of hand crafting stunning wines, recognized, as they put it, a unique detail marking six of the barrels in the Les Cousins selections, which turned out to be, upon close inspection, a hint of Brettanomyces, or “Brett” as us wine geeks call it, peeking through the aromatics and the thought experiment started. As a yeast strain, Etzel adds, often considered a fault in wines, Brett can be a controversial topic, adding that, on one hand, in large quantities it can be quite unpleasant and distract from other features such as fruitiness, but when present in tiny amounts, as is the case here in 2019 The Second Cousin Pinot, Brett can add a fascinating element (their words, not mine usually, though I can agree in some cases) — a beauty mark of sorts, like on Marylin Monroe (my thought), they hope — that makes a wine distinct. For this reason, wine aficionados, sommeliers, and those who enjoy wines of unique character are often quite intrigued (or frustrated) by wines that show a bit of Brett. So Etzel and Kendall separated the lightly affected “Brett” barrels and bottled it, labeling it as The Second Cousin and released recently with the idea that you might be best served to enjoy it as soon as possible, rather than cellar it as you’d do with most of the other wines from this winery. I actually didn’t know about the Brett when I ordered this one, and being somewhat skeptical, I was very happy with the results and really like this Second Cousin a lot, it got better and better as it opened up and it was lovely with food. Now, if you wanted to really see Brett get funky, you might buy a couple bottles and save one for 3 to 5 years and then try it, as Brett usually grows or flourishes in the bottle, though I would be hard pressed to do that myself.
($35 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Schlossgut Diel, Riesling Kabinett, Nahe Germany.
The basic Kabinett from Caroline Diel at Schlossgut Diel is one of the best buys you can find, this opulent off dry Riesling is a beautiful and wonderfully drinking wine, full of personality, brightness and mineral detail, making it so easy to love. With ever more charm and style, the Kabinett renaissance over the last decade has brought this category back into the limelight, and Diel’s exceptional version is one of the leaders with their examples being refreshing wines, but with depth and complexity usually reserved for the more elite wines in the collection with this 2018 being a sublime vintage. The ’18 Diel Kabinett, coming in at about 8.5% natural alcohol, feels generous on the palate, which hints at its residual sugar, though with its nice acidity and stony nature it drinks more dry overall and is layered with a range of fleshy stone fruit and crisp citrus, it has a mixed bouquet as well with pretty floral and crushed rock notes that leads to the light to medium bodied palate that is racy and clean at first. As you sip on this fine Riesling you gain a sense of the years density and depth of flavors that include green apple, tangerine, tree picked apricot and bitter melon fruits along with a steely element, light flinty smokiness, lemon zest, rosewater, wet stone, saline and a touch of tropical essences and spice. The lingering slight sweet finish is perfectly delightful and pleasing with any cloying effect and clears the palate with a wave of refreshment, making this Riesling great with an array of food choices and or Summer sipping. The Schlossgut Diel wines are crafted with incredible precision in large oak barrels, plus some concrete and in this case mostly in stainless steel tanks, as I have noted in my prior reviews, with a nod to tradition and focus on purity. This wine came from sites that were mostly quartzite and slate and was gently whole cluster pressed, followed by a spontaneous fermentation and extended maturation on the lees in exclusively stainless steel tanks.
Caroline Diel, who was just named Winemaker of the Year, by Falstaff, in Germany is well deserving of this prestigious honor and the wines at Schlossgut Diel are without question some of the most desirable in Europe, with her exceptional skills on full display in these last half dozen or so vintages, especially her majestic set of Rieslings, as well as her fantastic Pinot Noir, which rivals many top Burgundies, along with her now equally famous Sekt (Sparkling Wines) made from long lees aged Riesling, this luxurious bubbly is in a world of its own! Back to her Rieslings, like this entry level Kabinett, coming from vineyards around the famed Nahe estate that her father Armin Diel put on the map with his pioneering severely dry wines during the nineties and now feature some of Germany’s top Grosses Gewachs, like the incredible Goldloch Grand Cru, which compares well with Chablis’ Les Clos. The Nahe is one off Germany’s smallest regions, with a great diversity of soils fro slate to volcanic and gravels plus a warm climate and steep slopes, especially around Schlossgut Diel, making for a dramatic and picturesque setting for grapevines and a quality area for all types of wines, as witnessed by the stellar producers, like Diel, Donnhoff and others that make the Nahe their home. Caroline Diel, who took over the estate in 2012 after joining the cellar team in 2006 also has enjoyed winemaking stints at some famous places including Domaine de la Romanee-Conti in Burgundy and Château Pichon-Lalande in Bordeaux, as well as prestigious German vineyards such as Robert Weil, Toni Jost and Dr. Deinhard/Von Winning, adding experiences that have helped her develop her own style here. She is a graduate of the famous Geisenheim University in the Rheingau and you can tell she took her studies very seriously, her wines are compelling and impeccably crafted, I am a huge fan, and this one is a great way to start exploring her wines. I can’t wait to travel back to Diel, where I last visited at harvest time in 2016, and I highly recommend putting this estate on your bucket list!
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Piedrasassi, Syrah, Patterson & Sebastiano Vineyards, Sta. Rita Hills.
The wildly feral and savory 2017 Sta. Rita Hills Syrah from Sashi Moorman at Piedrasassi is one of California’s best and unique cool climate (Northern Rhone Style) versions with loads of whole cluster and stem inclusion intensity with deep fruit density, it shows dark berry pie filling, plum, creme de cassis and blueberry as well as vivid violets, tar, licorice, minty herbs and peppercorns along with an earthy and meaty shadow throughout on the medium to full bodied palate. This is a wine that will transport you to the legendary wines of Auguste Clape and Thierry Allemand, giving the same rustic thrill those Cornas wine deliver with a California twist of ripe warmth and a different set of soil influences here that inform you that this wine is from here, but still terroir driven and giving a sense of mineral character and with a touch of chalky stone, making for real Syrah enthusiasts treasure. Sashi has become one of the state’s most admired winemakers over the years, especially his work for Stolpman Vineyards and collaboration with Raj Parr at Sandhi and the Domaine de la Cote, as well as, now, the wines at Oregon’s premier Evening Land Vineyards and his own efforts here at Piedrasassi, where he specializes in Syrah, like this one, plus a little Mourvedre and even his own take on Vin Santo. I have been following the Piedrasassi wines for a long time and love the whole bunches and low intervention style here, these wines are some of the finest examples of Central Coast Syrahs available, especially the Rim Rock Rock Vineyard from the Arroyo Grande AVA and Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria, as well as the Santa Barbera County PS (entry level) Syrah, one of the best values around, and this one from the SRH’s Patterson & Sebastiano Vineyards.
The Piedrasassi wines embrace Syrah’s more funky and edgy side with all that entails, these are not crowd pleasing bottlings, unless like me you have lots of geeky friends of course then they are a huge hit with hints of camphor, robust stemmy notes and some raw tannins coming out of the squat (short) bottle, that was inspired by the shape you see in Giusto Occhipinti’s COS winery in Sicily’s Vittoria region. Moorman used tried and true old world techniques in the cellar with the use of indigenous or wild yeats, the heavy use of whole cluster and low sulphur in his fermentations that come naturally or spontaneously. Sashi, who loves cement vats for primary ferments, uses mainly large used French oak barrels raising his own offerings like this one. The grapes that go into his Piedrasassi are from mostly holistic or sustainably grown vines and with ultra careful sorting, both in the vineyard and back in the winery, with this 2017 being a blend of 80% from the Sebastiano Vineyard and 20% from the Patterson Vineyard, which Sashi has been using only for a couple of vintages now, but one that he thinks has great potential, lying on a cool north-facing slope of the Santa Rosa Hills, just above the famous Sine Qua Non’s estate vineyard. The highly regarded Sebastiano site was planted back in 2007 on clay based loam over limestone soils, with these Syrah vines, as Sashi notes, exposed to relentless Pacific winds that give the wines their aggressive nature and good acidity. The 2017 vintage finished with a heat wave and you’d expect it to be more fruit forward, but you’d be wrong here with this Sta. Rita Hills Syrah, which is much more briar laced, spicy, with loads of Umami and crushed rock along with zesty cinnamon and a touch of beef tartar. It would be well advised to decant this vintage and be sure to enjoy it with robust cuisine that allows the prettiness and purity of the fruit to come out, drink this impressive wine over the next decade.
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2020 Ochota Barrels, Grenache “The Green Room” McLaren Vale, South Australia.
Much the same as last year’s version the low alcohol and naturally styled Ochota Barrels Grenache The Green Room delivers lots of drinking pleasures with its pretty and juicy red fruits, led by crushed raspberry, strawberry, pomegranate, plum and morello cherries, along with spicy and herbal notes, with a hint of earth, anise and a touch of whole bunch zestiness, mineral and floral tones. At just 11.2% natural alcohol this 2020 vintage is infinitely quashable and refreshingly bright in personality with supple medium bodied, not exactly what you’d expect from old vines in the historic old vine region of McLaren Vale, but oh so delicious and lovable. Sadly we lost the revolutionary winemaker Taras Ochota last year, after the 2020 harvest, but Amber Ochota, his wife will continue on, inspired by his life band passion, from their home on a tiny and steep sloped patch of land deep in the Basket Range of the beautiful Adelaide Hills wine region, where they have farmed and make some of the most intriguing Australian wines over the last decade. The Ochota wines were inspired by small family domaines that handcraft biodynamic wines in the south of France. like in parts of the Languedoc and the Luberon and the wines are made with native yeasts, with loads of whole cluster and ultra low sulfur to allow the grapes and vineyard sites to express themselves in their most natural and pure form. This vibrant and expressive Grenache, in true Glou Glou fashion is a perfect wine to enjoy with friends and great with simple meals and is tasty with a slight chill, making it great with picnics, BBQ and sunset quaffing.
The vividly ruby hued Ochota Barrels “The Green Room” Grenache Noir comes from classic old bush vines planted back in 1946 on a combination of schist and limestone in the McLaren Vale region of South Australia and was lovingly hand crafted using lessons learned over twenty years and inspired by small biodynamic wines in southern France with native yeasts, whole bunches and ultra low sulfur to allow the grapes to express themselves in their most natural and pure form. The Ochota Barrels story began, as legend has it and noted in my earlier reviews, on a surf trip, in late 2000 when the world traveling couple, Taras and Amber, were trekking along the west coast of Mexico in a Volkswagen fried-out Kombi (camper van), yes, like The Men at Work song. As they enjoyed the waves, sunsets and the remote nature of the peninsula, they thought about what was going to be their next big adventure and hatched a plan to make what they hoped would be a generation of beautiful holistic wines back home in South Australia. After, what Taras called, a misspent youth playing a Rickenbacker bass in various punk bands, he found wine, and he got an oenology degree from Adelaide University, one of the most prestigious wine schools in the world and made wine in France, Sicily and here in California, notably working for Kunin, Bonnacorsi, Arcadian, Schrader, Outpost and Hitching Post. The whole wine world is still morning the loss of Taras Ochota, who passed too young, at age 49 back in October of 2020, and we are all rooting for Amber, who just finished, with the help of friends and family her first crush without Taras, and I look forward to her future releases.
($38 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Envinate, Migan Tinto, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.
The raw and spicy 2018 Migan Tinto is a beautifully complex and lighter style medium bodied red from one of the most remote and unique wine terroir in the world, it is sourced from two very old parcels of cordon trenzado (braided vines) Listan Negro (also known as a Mission grape and or Pais) on the volcanic soils of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, notably off the west coast of Africa. Most all of the Envintate wines are influenced by the Atlantic Ocean, the notable exception being the Alicante Bouschet based Albahra, that I recently reviewed here, that has the Mediterranean Sea nearby, and this Migan reveals a salty crisp element to go with that volcanic mineral rich character. This vintage is nicely ripe in nature, but there is a sultry earthiness that is compelling in this medium bodied effort with intriguing layers of pure Listan Negro, with its vibrant acidity, it is about the same weight as a Pinot Noir, and with fine grained tannins, this includes strawberry, briar laced raspberry, pomegranate and tart cherry/cranberry fruits along with pronounced red spices with cayenne and pepper flakes, iron, a hint of a gamey element (a faint bit of Bret) common in old world wines that is not unwelcome here as well as dried floral notes, snappy herbs and crushed rock. This distinctive wine is for wine geeks and benefits from savvy pairings, it is not going to be a mainstream crowd pleaser, but certainly hugely rewarding to those that either know this producer or their wines.
Enivante, winemakers Roberto Santana, Alfonso Torrente, Laura Ramos, and José Martínez, makes some of the most exciting wines in Spain and they make their wine in a very authentic and natural style, To achieve the goals of the winery, no chemicals are used in any of the Envínate vineyards, from the Canary Islands to the Ribeira Sacra, all grown with organic methods, all their grapes are hand harvested, the grapes are foot-trodden, and the wines are fermented exclusively with wild yeasts, with either partial or 100% whole bunches with stem inclusion. The raising of the wines is done in old well seasoned wood and or concrete vats, and sulfur is only added at bottling, if it is absolutely needed, usually just a small dose, all to allow the wines to speak directly from the vineyard sites. As noted, this Migan saw its two parcel blocks macerated and fermented separately with both the plots hand-harvested, foot-trodden with the La Habanera, the highest up on the volcano with sandy soils, seeing 100% whole clusters, while the San Antonio, the older set of vines that average between 90 to 120 years old, only getting about 15% whole cluster, both saw their primary ferments in large concrete vats, then the wine was pressed and racked into a mix of small 228L barrels and larger 600L neutral French oak casks for malolactic conversion and aging for close to 11 months. As I mention, this delicately ruby colored wine has a saline and smoky/stony personality, coming from its volcanic mountain underpinning, it gains a lot from air and food, I especially recommend spicy sea food dishes, like grilled octopus or calamari and or Middle Eastern cuisine.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Chiara Boschis – E. Pira & Figli, Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, Piedmonte, Italy.
The youthfully fruit forward and fresh Langhe Nebbiolo from Chiara Boschis’ famous E. Pira & Figli Barolo estate is made from all organic vines at her Monforte d’Alba property and is truly a “Baby Barolo” with pure Nebbiolo character in an easy to enjoy (now) medium bodied style with pretty dark fruits, delicate earthiness, a bright acidity, subtly perfumed and with polished tannins. Coming from Chiara’s younger vines this 2018 shows plenty of ripe flavors and terroir nuance, making it quite an exceptional little wine and one you don’t feel guilty about opening on a Sunday night in April without any meal planned or the need for hours of decanting. This vintage is bursting with energy and vigor, but has a supple and elegant mouth feel with layers of brambly raspberry, damson plum, earthy mulberry, wild lingonberry and reduced cherry fruits along with minty mountain herbs, a hint of cedar, anise, irony mineral spice and dried violets. There is just enough rustic edges to remind you that this pure Nebbiolo, but over all there is a lovely balance and a sense of grace here, it brought lots of joy and smiles with its inviting aromas, complexity, fruit density and alluring deep garnet/ruby hue easily seducing this Nebbiolo lovers eyes, nose and taste buds.
I am a huge fan of Chiara Boschis, the first female winemaker in the Langhe, and her legendary Barolo offerings, especially her otherworldly Mosconi and Cannubi cru Baroli, when I get a chance to try them, plus I adore her incredible Dolcetto and Barbera wines and her Via Nuova Barolo, one of the great values in the region. This wine, made to be drunk in its youth, is also certainly worth searching out, it was traditionally fermented and then aged in small barrels to help soften the wine in a more quick fashion, but doesn’t take away from the quality of this excellent Nebbiolo. Once the brash (kick ass) youth who broke through the chauvinistic glass ceiling to hang out as equals with the Barolo Boys, Chiara now is one of the thought leaders in the Piedmonte region and has inspired countless women winemakers here in Italy and around the world, she endured a lot of bigotry to achieve her success, but now her wines are some of the most coveted in the world. It is also worth noting, Chiara Boschis was the first estate in Cannubi to convert to all organic farming, and her own efforts has led to a historic change in Barolo, in fact she has, in the last few years to convince the rest of the growers in this famous district to become organic as well, quite an achievement and one we will all benefit from. If this basic Langhe Nebbiolo excites as it does, I can only imagine how good the Barolo(s) will be!
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Alfaro Family Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Alfaro Family Estate Vineyard, Corralitos, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The beautifully deep 2018 Alfaro Family Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir, with its dark garnet and bright ruby color, is seductive and very pleasing on the silky medium/full bodied palate, showcasing the quality of Richard Alfaro’s vineyard and this part of the Santa Cruz Mountains, which gives lovely opulent fruit density and nice natural acidity all with complex ripe layering and refined alcohol levels, especially in vintages such as this that finished with 13.5%. This bottling is absolutely one of the tastiest to date and I admired the ease with the wine combined with food and also just how good it was all by itself, I couldn’t help but have an extra glass of this delicious stuff. The 2018 vintage with its long cool growing season has a lively energy to go along with fabulous fruit development and looks to be a classic in these parts, and I hear the 2019s are looking just as good, if not even better, so this is great time to stock up and or discover the Alfaro wines, especially the Pinots, like this one and the exceptional Chards, plus Alfaro’s unique and crisply mineral driven Gruner Veltliner. This Estate Pinot delivers a wonderful performance with layers of black cherry, raspberry, plum and Moro orange fruits along with sweet toast, mocha, baking spices, sassafras and rose petal tea notes. The smooth and elegant form is pure California Pinot from start to finish, and this Alfaro Estate Pinot is full of charm and personality. The estate wines at Alfaro have long been some of my favorites, with this one always being one I gravitate to, though I also love the non estate bottlings too, like their Garys’ and Lester Pinots, I mean there is a lot to enjoy in the Alfaro lineup!
At just over 14 acres, the main Alfaro Estate vineyard, was planted back in 1999 in the Corralitos zone of the most southwest corner of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA with its cool Pacific Ocean influence providing fantastic growing conditions to make world class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Richard Alfaro’s impeccably farmed Estate blocks of Pinot Noir vines here, contain nine distinct parcels, each, as Alfaro notes, one is graced with a different combination of clones and rootstock, including a collection 113, 114, 115, 667, 777 and 828 clones. The vine density here is really high at 1361 vines per acre, which gives lots of concentration and intensity, highlighted in vintages as good as this 2018, one of the best I can remember. This vineyard is on a south facing hillside between 500 and 650 feet in elevation on sandy gravels over loam and sandstones. The 2018 Alfaro Family Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir was traditionally fermented using de-stemmed ripe fruit, mostly in stainless steel with some small bin lots as well with cool maceration and then was aged 10 months in 40% new French oak, with just 317 cases produced. Richard Alfaro has gained a well earned reputation for his wines and his top notch farming in the last decade and now he has the talents of his son Ryan in the winery, after he has done stints in New Zealand and with Adam Tolmach, Ojai Vineyards legendary winemaker. Ryan has now also started his own label Farm Cottage wines, releasing a debut Pinot Noir recently and is someone to keep an eye on. The Alfaro’s also farm the old vines at Trout Gulch, where he sells grapes to Arnot-Roberts and Jamie Kutch, and their efforts here are thrilling, in particular the exciting also Chablis like Chards, these are not to be missed either.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2001 Chateau La Confession, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Red Bordeaux, France.
One of my all time favorite affordable vintages of Bordeaux, and a year that produced some awesome under the radar wines that are still drinking incredibly youthfully, as this very good La Confession is doing right now with a deep purple color, classic right bank aromatics, a beautiful sense of fruit density and a fresh vitality. This wine drinks like a three year old and takes a surprising amount of time to open up, but when it does it provides lots of pleasure, especially those looking for a more classic style without much flash or the more modern Saint-Emilion ripeness and or lavish oak. I can’t wait to dig back into this 2001 Chateau La Confesssion on day two as it really hits its stride and its maturity begins to show, I am impressed with how taut and structured this Bordeaux still gives, it certainly is way better when enjoyed with food and dishes like prime rib and duck breast, with meaty cuisine bringing out the depth of fruit and subduing the earthy elements that are in evidence in the background. The flavor profile includes blackberry, mulberry, plum and dark cherry fruits on the full bodied palate along with an array of accents that include a loamy earthiness, dried flowers, the only thing I can find that hints at this wine’s age, tobacco, cedar, a touch of green spice, black tarry licorice, pencil lead, leafy notes and a lingering creme de cassis aftertaste. The tannins are fine grained and still pretty robust, but not aggressive or harsh and there is a sense of lift from the natural acidity, all of which holds everything together, almost freezing the La Confession in time. I see a lot of people really talking up the 2004s right now, and by all accounts they are over performing and I have admired many from that vintage as well, though I still think these 2001s are fabulous wines and remarkable values.
The Château La Confession, run by Jean-Philippe Janoueix domaines, is vinified using most traditional methods, but includes, the partial use of small “cigar” shaped barrels in the aging of this Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Red Bordeaux to add a bit more opulent textural quality with everything done with careful hands to produce an elegant wine. The grapes are double sorted, de-stemmed, but not crushed and filled into small open top oak vats for an extended maceration and primary fermentation that lasts close to 30 days with hand punch downs and pump overs. The La Confession is a blend of about 70% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Franc and includes a tiny amount of Cabernet Sauvignon that is grown on the hardened clay and limestone soils of this region and it aged usually in 50% new wood though I would be hard pressed to see that in this wine, which is less overt and wonderfully balanced. Interestingly the winery says the wine is raised for just 6 months on the lees, in the oak, then moved to tank and blended from the small lots. The 2001 is notably less ripe than the latest vintages with 13.5% natural alcohol, while most later wines clock in between 14.5% and 15% and look to be more fruity, especially from 2005 on. There is about three thousand cases produced annually here at Chateau La Confession, which is a good amount, but still making it a bit exclusive, though very reasonable in pricing for the solid performance in the glass. Interestingly, a bit of research found that the 2001 was the debut vintage for Chateau La Confession and winemaker Jean-Philippe Janoueix, who bought this small vineyard and created the Chateau and that adds to the special nature of experiencing this wine, and while original reviews were mixed and the winery didn’t get much attention until their 2005 was released, I found this to be a solid and quality effort, especially at the price. I recommend checking this Bordeaux out, with many vintages available, including the highly rated 2016 and 2018 ones to focus on.
($45 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2019 Bucklin, Mixed Whites, Old Hill Ranch, Sonoma Valley.
Bucklin’s Old Hill Ranch Mixed Whites Sonoma Valley white wine is a totally unique blend of grapes and includes many varietals that were once much more popular in California than they are now, many that have almost been lost over the years and many that are in revival in the state and made with the same intention to make a field blend as with Bucklin’s classic Zinfandel blends that include close to nineteen different black grapes. This 2019 includes both aromatic and textural grapes, both fighting for your attention on the palate with lots of exotic floral notes and a lush mouth feel, but with fine balance and very moderate alcohol, at 13.2%, it is an intriguing white with fresh details and layers of peach, green apple, an array of citrus, lychee, delicate spices and liquid flowers. As this Mixed Whites opens the bouquet and body really synch up and everything comes together making for a very pleasing wine that can be enjoyed with many dishes including sea foods, Mediterranean cuisine, soft cheeses and Moroccan lemon chicken and couscous. The Muscat and Gewurz lead on the Mixed Whites bouquet with the jasmine, wild peppery spices and seeped roses, while the taste is nicely dry and with a touch of cleared cream and mineral in the background, gaining impact and roundness with air, this is delicious stuff from Will Bucklin.
The Bucklin Old Hill Ranch “Mixed White” block was established on the estate back in 2011, and it was, as Bucklin notes, planted as an ode to the unheralded white grape varieties found in many of Sonoma’s heritage sites and in the region’s historic field blends. The parcel (and the wine) include Muscat, French Colombard, Chasselas, and Clairette Blanc, that are from cuttings that came from the original vines at Old Hill Ranch, with the Gewürztraminer, Trousseau Gris and Riesling coming from the Compagni-Portis Vineyard, the rare Muscadelle was sourced from Casa Santinamaria, the Malvasia and Grenache Blanc were clipped from the Rossi Ranch and the Chenin Blanc came from Mike Officer at Carlisle. Bucklin adds that all the grapes were whole-cluster pressed, then the juice was fermented cool in stainless steel, to preserve the heady perfume and vibrancy in this lovely white wine. After primary fermentation is complete the wine is gentle moved to French oak, all neutral barrels, where it went through malo-lactic conversion and aged sur lie (on the lees) for 6 months before bottling. The results are impressive, and it is like stepping back in time and chance to taste California’s past, especially in this vintage, which highlights the full range of flavors and finer elements in this white blend. It is also a wonderful value too, considering that just three barrels were made, and a wine I recommend highly.
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Desire Lines Wine Co., Winds of Change Red Wine, California.
The new Winds of Change California Red Wine by Cody Rasmussen at Desire Lines Wine Co. is a pure and delicious offering that delivers a full bodied array of ripe dark fruits that feel smoothly rich in the mouth and is distinctly accented by snappy herbs and spices as well as hints of savory elements, mineral tones and delicate florals. The Winds of Change Red is sourced from mostly cool climate sites within the state and shows off its California profile of flavors with a flourish, with the main Syrah component being at this wine’s core and is the most obvious influence with deep blackberry, blueberry, wild plum and currant fruits along with touches of camphor, black licorice, peppercorns and iron notes. Rasmussen, who is an assistant winemaker at Bedrock Wine Company under Morgan Twain-Peterson, has really hit the ground running with his and his wife Emily’s Desire Lines Wine Co. small winery and is certainly one of California’s breakout stars with this latest set of wines being an exceptional set of fine efforts, especially his pure Syrah bottlings from Griffin’s Lair in the Petaluma Gap and Shake Ridge Vineyard, the amazing Amador County site farmed by Ann Kraemer, one of the best growers in the region, as well as Cody’s fantastic Cole Ranch Dry Riesling and the Carignan based Evangelho Vineyard Red, that like this one shows his Bedrock inspiration and shows off his talent for making pleasure filled fruit forward wines, but with a sense of balance, well judged use of oak, and nice contrasted with plenty of crunch and umami elements.
These Desire Lines wines has really left an impression on me since first tasting with Cody Rasmussen and they have just got even more complex and intriguing with the 2018 and 2019 vintages, they are impeccably hand crafted and authentic wines that should not be missed, all of which are impressively noteworthy, especially as mentioned the terroir driven Syrahs, but I highly recommend them all and this new Winds of Change Red is a fabulous value for the quality in the bottle. The final blend here in the 2019 Desire Lines Wine Co. Winds of Change Red ended up being 73% Syrah, plus 10% Mourvèdre, 8% Carignan, 6% Grenache and 3% Petite Sirah which saw a good percentage of whole cluster and was fermented with native yeasts. Rasmussen employs a minimal approach in the cellar, though very precise and clean, he focuses on beautiful fruit density, a supple textural quality, aromatics and allowing the vineyard sites to shine through, all of which is achieved in these new releases. This wine, as with all the reds here, saw its aging in neutral French oak barrels including small larger format puncheons, a vessel that works fantastically well with Syrah. The Rasmussen’s started their label with the 2014 vintage with a small batch of Griffin’s Lair Syrah and five vintages of sublime wines have followed, again I suggest getting some of these as soon as possible and join their mailing list to get future releases, because they will sell out fast. The fresh and dark garnet Winds of Change Red Wine opens up with air and gets better with every sip, it goes extremely well with simple and or rustic cuisine, but easily can be enjoyed with almost anything.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Chateau de Pierreux, Bouilly, Monopole Reserve de Chateau, Cru Beaujolais, France.
The historic and regal Chateau de Pierreux estate, which sits below Mont Bouilly is now owned by the famous Boisset family, from Burgundy, and has 190 acres of Gamay within their Cru Beaujolais property with this wine being the best lot selection from their Monopole Brouilly parcel and is a solid, well made traditional, Burgundy style offering that drinks nicely with pure varietal and terroir character. This 2018 Reserve de Chateau Brouilly has a pretty floral bouquet and mineral toned red berry fruits that flow smoothly on the polished medium bodied palate showing black raspberry, plum, strawberry and vibrant cherry fruits, a light sense of spice, anise, cedar and chalky stones. As a big fan of Beaujolais and Gamay wines, it is very cool to see wines like this on wine menus by the glass, especially in unexpected places that normally have very generic offerings, so while this wine may not be as exciting as some of my favorite producers, it was a happy experience and fun, and it got better with food and air, bringing plenty of smiles, even hanging in their with grilled artichokes and an endive salad.
The Chateau de Pierreux, which dates back to the 13th century, is organically farmed using mainly biodynamic methods and treatments and makes two main Gamay bottlings, their regular Brouilly Château de Pierreux and this Réserve du Château de Pierreux, which is the signature wine of the domaine and imported to the states and widely available. The Pierreux vineyards, according to the winery, cover some varied terrain within the Brouilly appellation set on a combination of granite based soils, with a mix of sand, volcanic porphyry, some shale and even a little flint, all of which give these wines their complexity and depth of terroir influenced flavors. This wine, made by the very experienced Patrice Monternier, which was all de-stemed and saw about a two week Burgundian style fermentation, rather than the whole cluster approach, then was allowed a long cool maceration period, then was raised and matured for 6 months in large large oak barrels with a small percentage of new French oak, that is barely noticeable in the form of a kiss of sweet toastiness and the satiny textural quality. This Chateau de Pierreux Reserve de Chateau Bouilly is a great way to to start exploring Beaujolais and is especially appealing for the Gamay novice or newbie, plus it is well priced for the quality on offer.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2019 Envinate, Alicante Bouschet “Albahra” Chingao Vineyards, Vino de Mesa, Almansa, Spain.
The special edition of Envinate’s Albahra 100% Garnacha Tintorera (aka Alicante Bouschet, a red-juiced grape) is from a small organic and head trained Mediterranean influenced vineyard set on the Almansa region’s clay and calcareous soils, making for a deeply opaquely purple and seductively fruit forward and spicy red wine that is a pure joy to drink in its fresh youthful form. I love this vintage and this version of Albahra with its whole bunches vitality and crunchy black fruits, mineral tones, as well as its range of spice and subtle earthy elements with layers of boysenberry, currant, plum, pomegranate and tangy huckleberry fruits that are nicely accented by anise, peony floral notes, a touch of cayenne, cinnamon and chalky stones. This wine has lots of raw character and charm, it goes sublime with many food options from pasta to BBQ and or grilled meats. Interestingly, the Alicante Bouschet or Garnacha Tintorera grape is found throughout Spain, though almost never is made into a single varietal wine, which seems incredible, when the results, especially in this Envinate example, are so delicious! The grape has made a home for itself in parts of Italy and notably in California, where it is usually found in old heritage sites and used in field blends, though again rarely is the main component in any of the wines. It has played a background role in some of Ridge’s most tasty Zinfandels, plus it is found in parts of coastal Tuscany, as well as being a minor player in Mencia based wines in the Galicia region too. I certainly hope this grape gets more opportunity to shine as a solo effort, as it can be truly stunning, as it is here. There’s so much to discover and explore in the latest releases by Envinate, with each of their wines showing distinct terroir personalities from the volcanic hillsides of Tenerife to the slate and schist of the Ribeira Sacra, as well as the limestone of this warm Mediterranean spot in southern Spain. Rhone enthusiasts and or old vine California fans will love this wine.
Envinate’s winemaking is very low intervention and natural, relying mostly on vineyard work to produce their fabulous collection of unique wines, and while the world mainly knows about their stunning set of Canary Islands and Ribeira Sacra wines, which are both marked by their proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, this Chingao Vineyards Albahra bottling is one of my favorites and it is one of the greatest values in their portfolio. The Albahra Alicante Bouschet (Garnacha Tintorera) is all foot-trodden in vat with lots of whole cluster and sees a natural spontaneous (indigenous) yeast primary fermentation, with about 6-10 days of skin and some stems maceration, to extract all the sexy color and complex array of flavors, then wine goes through malos and is raised on fine lees in concrete tank for around 8 months. This wine, bottled unfined and unfiltered, is ultra low in sulfites (or SO2) and is always wonderfully vivid and pure with dark fruit, dusty, but fine tannins and a juicy vibrant appeal that makes it great with hard cheeses, rustic cuisine and a relaxed meal. I have been a long time fan of Envinante and especially their Listan based wines from Tenerife, one of the remote Canary Islands, the Spanish volcanic group of atolls off the coast of Africa that were originally planted to vines during the conquest of the new world and the missionary era between the 1500s and the early 1800s. Envínate, which translates to “wine yourself” is a trust of talented winemakers led by Roberto Santana, Alfonso Torrente, Laura Ramos, and Jose Martínez, who are four friends that met while at college, where they all studied enology at the University of Miguel Hernández in Alicante and even though they were from vastly different areas in Spain, they wanted to make wine together, which they have done with great success. I highly recommend locating this particular version of Albahra by Envinate, along with the normal yellow label bottling that is 70% Alicante Bouschet and 30% Moravia Agria, a high acid and extremely rare local grape, these are both exciting and unique reds.
($25 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Domaine Berthaut-Gerbet, Fixin, Red Burgundy, France.
The beautiful 2017 Fixin by Amélie Berthaut at Domaine Berthaut-Gerbet is an outstanding red Burgundy with exceptional depth, a gorgeous satiny textural quality and ripe fruit pleasure, this wine certainly showcases the talent and or the skill of the winemaker from the vines to bottle guidance, this is an outstanding Pinot Noir. The palate is richly packed with pure Pinot fruit(s), plus a lingering delicate rose petal perfume that stays throughout and subtle complexities including baking spices, mineral tones, a touch of umami, fresh acidity and just the perfect amount of sweet smoky/toast. The mouth feel is top notch here and everything feels supple and opulent, it fills out wonderfully with air and has full medium bodied impact, revealing revolving layers of black cherry, raspberry, strawberry and plum fruits with a regal presence, exactly what you’d want from a Burgundy, highlighting the best qualities of this grape. If you are searching for your Burgundy Ah Ha moment in a value priced wine, then you should search out this Berthaut-Gerbet Fixin, I could defiantly get used to drinking this stuff. This dark garnet and ruby hued wine gets better and better with every sip and was impeccable with my Easter meal and drank with a flourish all on its own as well, every detail is clear and appealing in this vintage and I highly recommend keeping an eye out for this wine and or stocking up greedily on it. This basic cuvee was sourced from four parcels in small Lieu-Dits around the village of Fixin, these sites: Au Près, La Vionne, Clos du Villages, and Clos André are set on the region’s classic clay and limestone soils and have good exposures to allow even ripening and gives this wine its fruit density and lush profile. Amélie studied agro-oenology engineering in Bordeaux, then she did stints with Agnes Henry at Domaine de la Tour du Bon in Bandol and interestingly with the Dunn’s (the legendary Cabernet producer on Howell Mountain) in Napa Valley, all before moving home to Burgundy to run her own estate.
Amélie Berthaut, who started her own domaine in recent years, took over an impressive array of her family’s vineyards, these included some prestigious sites in Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, Vougeot, and Vosne-Romanée, as well as some fabulous parcels here in Fixin, which have become her signature wines. The vineyards that came from both her mother and father, were parts of different domaines Domaine Denis Berthaut and François Gerbet, and now they form the holdings of the newly-formed Domaine Berthaut-Gerbet. Fixin, in the Cotes de Nuits, is one of the most lesser known villages, but with Amélie efforts getting such awesome attention that is likely to change and in a hurry, especially after tasting this 2017 version of her basic wine, which is absolutely delicious and thrilling example of what this obscure village can produce. The youthful Berthaut, has gone from strength to strength and is looking to improve further, and she has hired her fiancé Nicolas Faure, a talent in his own right, who has worked for the famed Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, Prieuré-Roch and intriguingly under the famous Jean-Louis Chave in Hermitage, to be her vineyard manager while she focuses on the winemaking side, as well as running the business, which obviously makes sense. This is a winery to follow closely and with huge potential, but for now, it would be advisable to grab these wines before the price skyrockets. Berthaut focuses on Pinot, but does a tiny amount of Chardonnay, which is grown using mostly organic practices and lets the place and vintage dictate what she does in the cellar, she always uses native yeasts, with her primary fermentation in cement vats, but uses her best judgement on use of whole-cluster, from 0% to 100%, and how much new wood, though she limits that to 50% max, with this particular Fixin seeing between 12 and 18 months in 20% new oak. This wine way exceeds expectations and I can only imagine how good the Cru bottlings are, I’m excited to see and taste the next couple of vintages!
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2020 Ruth Lewandowski Wines, Feints, Fox Hill Vineyard, Mendocino County.
The new Feints Cal Ital blend from Ruth Lewandowski Wines is, even as they put it, a totally unexpected wine made from mostly Piedmontese varieties, though with a small dose of Montepulciano as well, but what makes it so unique is that it has 30% Arneis, the white grape, in the mix with 33% Dolcetto, 15% Barbera, 14% Nebbiolo and the mentioned 8% of the Montepulciano, which makes for a serious fun fresh Spring time quaffer. This lighter styled natural wine starts with a bright vibrant cherry, crushed raspberry and strawberry fruit core along with a hint of grilled citrus, wild herbs, a sense of red peach flesh and floral aromas that all adds up to a red wine that deserves to be enjoyed with a chill and lots of laughter. There’s always something underlying in the Lewandowski wines that makes you forget about the worries of the day and you can tell that this wines, while simply pleasing are also serious efforts that are made with a commitment to quality, I am a fan of the Boaz most of all, it is a blend of old vine Carignan, old vine Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon, it is one of the most powerful and intriguing of the natty wines in California. This friendly Feints has a lovely magenta hue in the glass and displays a clean and crisp personality, it drinks somewhat more like an Italian Rosato, but with enough complex dimension to go with a full meal, but especially good with picnics.
Winemaker Evan Lewandowski, who named his label after The Book of Ruth from the old testament and believes that (this) story of the circle of life and redemption, which includes the line “Death is, indeed, the engine of life…” encapsulates his own philosophies of farming (which are holistic) and winemaking (all natural), is one maybe the king of the modern American natural wine movement and has been an inspiration to a whole generation of young winemakers searching to explore their own paths in the wine world. His wines show a clean intensity and purity of form, these are not hippie, dirty or any flaw allowed wines, and there is no mouse or brett to be found here, in my own experience. For the 2020 Feints, Evan went full carbonic maceration, which gives this wine its juicy roundness and as Lewandowski adds, its punchiness, it was spontaneous co-fermented without any additions and a minimalist approach with only a few months of lees aging before being bottled up quickly to preserve its refreshing vitality. Lewandowski used all of the Piedmontese varieties found at the Fox Hill Vineyard, including as noted, Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Arneis and a hair of Montepulciano all of which are set on sandstone based soils, which Evan notes is very rocky and pebbly, with a large amount of quartz, all of which helps this site produce exceptional grapes with a mineral tone and ripe flavors, which shows here in an easy and enjoyable way. If you want to explore natty California or Glou Glou wines these Lewandowski bottlings are some of the best on offer.
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Waxwing Wines, Dry Riesling, Tondre Grapefield, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The latest set of wines by Scott Sisemore at Waxwing Wines is his best yet with his focus on mainly the Santa Cruz Mountains for his Pinots has paid off, especially his Lester and Deerheart offerings that are really good, but I also love his crisply focused Tondre Grapefield Riesling, the 2018 in particular, which is his driest and most interesting version to date and it really feels almost like a blend between an Australian and Austrian styles. This vintage, long and cool, allowed for more complex flavors and texture to develop, while retaining intense acidity and the Waxwing Tondre Riesling sets the saliva glands alight with mouth watering tanginess with a first impression of ripe (fruit density) giving way to the wine’s brisk zestiness with plenty of lime, green apple, bitter melon and canned peach before opening up with paraffin, almond oil, wild herbs, wet stones and verbena notes all coming out here, it all makes for a tasting white wine to enjoy with cured meats, claims and smoked trout. There’s some nice floral aromatics as well as some cool toned minerallity that shines through on this medium bodied Riesling that has just started to evolve with some secondary characteristics beginning to unfold here with a subtle oily creaminess, a touch of fleshy apricot and gun flint that bodes well for many more years of rewarding drinking pleasures.
Sisemore’s winemaking with his Riesling is very traditional with the grapes being whole cluster pressed and getting a full twenty-four hours for the juice to settle, to drop out the more aggressive phenolic extract or green bitterness before the Tondre Riesling is fermented in small upright stainless steel tanks. Scott care monitored the progress until the sugar and acidity were in balance, then he stopped the fermentation, the results speak to the quality in the bottle with just enough residual sugar to add charm without overt sweetness and this vintage’s acidity is well judged. The finished wine only saw about 5 months on the lees before bottling and it easily met the international requirements to be classified as dry with finished natural alcohol of 12.9%, much in line with German trockens. The Tondre Grapefield set on sandy loams, owned by Joe Alarid, added Riesling in 2006, while sadly large parcels of old vine Riesling in the Santa Lucia Highlands were being ripped out, including some beautiful vines at Sleepy Hollow, to make way for more Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In recent years some very tasty wines have been made from SLH Riesling with Russell Joyce, who gets some grapes from Tondre as well, and Morgan Winery, who have their own plots at their organic Double L Ranch Estate, doing excellent examples, so it was no surprise that this Waxwing is such an exciting wine, it should drink nicely for another 3 to 5 years with ease.
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Birichino “Scylla” Old Vine Red Blend, California.
The 2018 Scylla California Red Blend is crafted from old vine sites within the state and made from mostly Carignane and Grenache, plus a dash of Mourvèdre, the wine, named after a sea monster from ancient stories, is wonderfully delicious and pure with loads of bright and spicy red fruit along with hints of herbs de Provence, dried sage, pretty floral notes and a with touches of earth and mineral elements. I mostly know Birichino for their exceptional versions of Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault, Enz Vineyard Pinot Noir and Mourvedre and especially their awesome Besson Grenache, from own rooted vines planted in 1910, but they also do some more fun and exotic stuff as well, including a Sparkling Chenin Blanc Pet-Nat and a rare 100% St. George bottling. This garnet/ruby hued vintage, the second edition of this Scylla Red, ended up being 50% Carignan and 48% Grenache along with 2% Mourvedre in the final blend, it shows ripe and smooth layers of boysenberry, sweet plums, pomegranate and cherry fruits that are accented by subtle cayenne, baking spices, mint, anise, crushed peony and loamy underbrush. This is an outstanding bargain and it drinks with a flourish and is quality stuff, it reminds me a lot of Maxime Magnon’s Corbières “Rozeta”, one of my favorite Languedoc wines, but with a distinctive California profile. Birichino has just released a few new wines that also have caught my attention, in particular a very limited Rosé Pet-Nat (Pétulant Naturel) of Cinsault and their Old Vine Montague Vineyard Carignane, from a parcel planted in the late 1920s.
Birichino was founded by Alex Krause and John Locke in Santa Cruz back n 2008 after years in the wine business and with decades, as they put it, of winemaking experience in California, France, Italy, and beyond. Like many small new generation wineries in the state, they are focused on putting out hand crafted limited production and affordable wines from organic or sustainable vineyard sites. The wines here are balanced with a studied natural feel about them, which they add, and have a mix of fruit concentration, savory contrast and are offerings of perfume, poise, and puckishness with refined alcohol, like this wine with its 13% natural alcohol. Birichino sources from a fabulous collection of carefully farmed, family-owned, own-rooted 19th and early 20th century vineyards, plus a couple, as the winery jokes, from the late disco era! Mainly these vineyards are in more moderate, marine-influenced climates of the Central Coast, looking for a vibrance of their raw materials and unique terroir influences. The Scylla Red Blend comes from Carignane grapes from Matt and John Shinn in Lodi’s Mokelumne River, Grenache from the historic Besson Vineyard in the Hecker Pass, between the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Clara, and Mourvedre from the Enz Vineyard in the Lyme Kiln Valley, part of San Benito County. Birichino’s winemaking relies on minimal intervention, as Locke and Krause most often employing native fermentation, with stainless or neutral barrels used for aging with gentle macerations, few racking and light fining, avoiding filtration altogether when possible. Birichino’s mission is to deliver wines that give pleasure and have a place at the dinner table and or at gatherings of friends, with this Scylla Red perfectly performing in this quest.
($20 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Monsecco, Nebbiolo “Pratogrande” Colline Novaresi DOC, Alto Piedmonte, Italy.
The Monsecco Pratogrande Nebbiolo 2016 is an elegant vintage and a beautiful wine, its classic Nebbiolo personality and profile unfolding on the medium/full palate is impressive and makes for an exceptional value with pretty floral notes, layers of dark berry fruits, earthy elements, dusty tannins and lifting natural acidity. The hills of the Colline Novaresi are set on ancient glacial moraine with mineral rich veins, from volcanic influence and gravelly stones that give these wines a sense of spice, liquid rock and salinity, which this wine shows, along with Nebbiolo’s late ripening depth of flavor and high elevation freshness. There’s a lot to love in this 2016 edition, it is a vintage to stock up on, it has the complexity and seductive charm of some of the finest Piedmonte years, but without intensely powerful tannins, which are still here, though more subtle and refined, allowing this vintage to be enjoyed in its youth and still having potential to age. Monesecco’s Pratogrande starts with herbs, savory (gamey) elements, raspberry and wilted rose petals before leading to a mouthful of damson plum, mulberry, red currant, kirsch and anise, along with cedar, mint, underbrush and a hint of orange rind. With air the fruit comes alive and sweetens, it gains tremendously as it opens and especially with protein rich foods. This Nebbiolo is an absolutely delicious wine and a killer bargain at under twenty five bucks, fans of the more famous parts of the Langhe, will certainly need to check out these Monsecco offerings, which are very savvy buys.
These Nebbiolo wines of this region, which also go by the local name Spanna in the Alto Piemonte, are characterized by their fresh detail and mineral notes with lovely aromatics that comes from the old vines and the high altitudes. The Colline Novaresi DOC is set on the left bank of the river Sesia, just across the river from the Coste della Sesia Spanna area, home to more prestigious Ghemme DOCG zone, a long time home to fabulous Nebbiolo based wines, that are usually field blends containing some Vespolina, Croatina and Bonarda, two rare local varietals, and not too far away from Gattinara, Boca, Bramaterra, Carema, Fara and Lessona. The Monsecco Pratogrande is exclusively made from 100% Nebbiolo that was hand harvested from vineyards close to, but just outside of the Gattinara and Ghemme zones, all from steep slopes of hillside parcels and was aged two years in large Botte (Slovenian oak casks) and then another year in bottle before release. This wine sees a lighter maceration than the top Gattinara and Ghemme versions in search of purity and grace, that this 2016 delivers to near perfection, it gives plenty of fruit density as well as energy and supple textural opulence. The Zanetta family, the proprietors, here at Monsecco are committed to quality and hand craft wonderfully transparent wines that give a true sense of place, these are all estate and organic (grown) efforts that deserve your attention and are worth searching out, in particular this one, along with their other single varietal wines, including the Vespolina, Croatina and Bonarda (Uva Rara) bottlings, plus as mentioned the top Ghemme and Gattinara(s).
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
Grapelive.com Reviews – March, 2021
2019 Broc Cellars, Love Red, North Coast.
Chris Brockway’s latest Love Red, a blend of old vine Carignan, Valdiguie and Syrah, is a Corbieres like, naturally styled and pleasing quaffer that is well, easy to love, with a fresh dark berry fruit profile, nice acidity, spice and with a delicate floral note. Broc Cellars is a small urban micro winery and winemaker Chris Brockway was a pioneer in California’s modern Glou Glou (natural wine) movement as well as one of the first to do Loire inspired Pet-Nat(s) in the state. The Love Red comes from a selection of vineyard sites in Mendocino and Solano counties, but is mostly based the Mendocino old vine Carignan and shows that grape’s main characteristics with vibrant black raspberry, plum, pomegranate and tangy cherry fruits along with a hint of peppery spice, dried herbs de Provence, crushed flowers, a touch of mineral, licorice and loamy earth. The medium bodied 2019 is pure and juicy, but zesty dry in feel, it went deliciously well with pizza and should be fabulous with picnic fare and an array of cuisine choices from hard cheeses to roast chicken, this is fun stuff to be enjoyed without pretense and with friends. I have always been a fan of Brockway’s wines and especially his Carignan based wines, along with his Chenin Blanc and Valdiguie Pet-Nats, as well as the lighter and bright Vine Starr Zinfandel, all of which show a talent for delicacy and low alcohol wines. All of Brockway’s Broc Cellars offerings are exceptional values, especially these Love series bottlings, that includes a white, a rosé, and this red blend.
The dark purple/ruby colored 2019 Love Red, which in this vintage was crafted from 77% Carignan, 15% Valdiguié and 8% Syrah grapes that were harvested early, as Brockway notes, to highlight the fruit and preserve the acidity in this wine, which adds to the taut zinginess here and makes this a red that can be served with a slight chill. In the winemaking, Brockway adds that the Carignan was fermented with a combination of whole cluster and de-stemmed grapes, while the Valdiguié and Syrah were 100% whole cluster, all of which gives a semi-carbonic effect. The Love Red was aged in a combination of neutral French oak barrels and concrete tanks with no additions and finished at 12.5% natural alcohol, making for a pure and focused wine that is made for drinking now, no waiting needed. Brockway sourced the grapes from three vineyard sites that employ sustainable, mostly organic and dry farmed methods that average 70 plus years with the Wirth Ranch, planted in 1948 in Solano County set between Napa and Suisun Valley, the certified organic Ricetti Vineyard, in Mendocino, is the main Carignan source, which was also planted just after WWII and Rosewood Vineyard, which also sits in Mendocino is the oldest of the vineyards, all of which have classic well draining California sandy loam and stony soils. The Broc wines always see spontaneous native yeast fermentations and ultra low to no SO2 in the wines with no new oak, all done to promote vivid flavors, which this Love Red delivers extremely well and highlights the quality of this vintage, I highly recommend it!
($22 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Grochau Cellars, Gamay Noir, Redford-Welte Farm Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
John Grochau’s latest Redford-Welte Gamay is a beautiful wine with loads of varietal purity and character, very much in the mold of a Thivin Cote de Bouilly Cru Beaujolais with a dark fruited profile, a crunch of mineral, an exotic array of spices and juicy acidity, making for a thrilling and well made effort that impresses with its complexity and structural quality. The 2018 vintage gave a few headaches and lots of stress, but in the end the wines here in the Willamette Valley turned out fresh and delightful, much better than what many thought, especially after some heavy rains came down in early September, causing some to pick early and lose depth, though those that rode them out were rewarded with some warm dry days that brought the vines back into good health and the grapes ended up with nice concentration, a depth of flavor and a bright inner energy, all of which comes through sublimely here in the 2018 Redford-Welte Farm Gamay. This version of Gamay from Grochau comes from the Eola-Amity Hills and all organic vines set on a combination of hillside soils with the volcanic Jory, red and iron rich and the Nekia complex series that are rocky, well drained and include colluvium from basalt and tuffaceous materials. The vintage gave Grochau a lovely medium bodied palate with layers of dark berries, plum, black cherry, strawberry and tart currant fruits along with racy cinnamon, bitter herbs, walnut, anise and liquid peony. I really enjoyed Grochau’s Twelve Oaks Estate Gamay as well, but I maybe leaning towards this Redford-Welte Farm, it is showing exceptionally well right now and is superb with food and a wide range of dishes, even pairing nicely with my mix of left-overs!
Grochau Cellars, founded in around 2002, has been working with sustainable family vineyards since day one and continues to produce high quality and transparent wines from sites throughout Oregon’s Willamette Valley and is especially known for an excellent set of Pinot Noirs, including John’s Commuter Cuvée, which is one of the state’s best values, as well as the single vineyard series, each with their own distinct personalities. I am a big fan of these wines and have followed John’s efforts since meeting him and tasting his wines at a trade show in San Francisco, where he and his wines really left an impression, and I have now got excited by his Gamay offerings, in particular this one from the Redford-Welte Farm, a certified organic vineyard the Eola-Amity Hills AVA that sits on an eastern-facing slope, which gives this vineyard a warm and ripe exposure and a pleasing textural mouth feel. The small berry size gave this wine a bit of grip, and while taut, there is an elegance here and aromatics are beautiful and floral with a subtle red spice and earthiness that is completely seductive in the glass. John Grochau, an ex-professional cyclist, was mentored in winemaking by the legendary Doug Tunnell at the famous Brick House Vineyards in Ribbon Ridge, where Grochau worked for four years, before striking out on his own. He took to winemaking like a duck to water and soaked up his Brick House experience, influencing him to work with traditional Burgundian methods and searching out organic and biodynamic grapes, and where he got to work with true Gamay, all of which paid off in spades. His authentic wines are all crafted with slow and natural fermentations, the use of whole bunches and lengthy elevage with well judged use of oak, as well as employing some concrete tank aging, all to allow the terroir and vintage to show through, as this tasty Gamay shows with some flair!
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Jolie-Laide, Fresia, Tres Pico Creek, San Benito County.
Scott Schultz’s latest collection of Jolie-Laide releases are a delectable set of hand crafted wines and one of the coolest of these is his beautifully aromatic and tasty Freisa from organic vines in the remote San Benito County, it is a totally unique Cal Ital bottling that show’s this rare varietals true characteristics, but in a style that is strikingly like a Cru Beaujolais in the mold of a fine Fleurie. This grape, which is a distant relative of Nebbiolo, comes from Italy’s famed Piedmonte region and has been making a comeback in its home region in the last 10 to 15 years, led by some fantastic versions made by Giuseppe Vajra of the famed G.D. Vajra in Barolo. The Freisa grape, which is native to the Monferrato and Langhe zones, is also a half-sibling of other Piemontese varieties including Vespolina and some other very obscure grapes, it is a daily deep colored berry with an intense blue-black hue on the vine and is known for its noted strawberry flavor, hence the name, and the Jolie-Laide example faithfully expresses that beautiful wild strawberry essence and core fruit. The garden strawberry led 2019 Tres Pico Creek Freisa is floral and with a touch or feral earthiness from the whole bunches and semi-carbonic maceration with a medium bodied palate that also reveals crushed raspberry, cranberry, pomegranate and plum fruits that are accented by zesty herbs and spices including cinnamon, rosemary, mineral tones and fennel notes. It’s been incredible to see in recent years the rise of fabulous California versions of Italian red varietals, I mean, I’ve been blown away with the quality and range of styles available and this wine is one of the most exciting, along with Ryme Cellars’ Aglianico, the Reeve, Odonata and Sheldon Sangiovese(s), Martha Stoumen’s Nero d’Avola and Negroamaro, as well as Giornata’s Barbera and Palmina’s Nebbiolo to name a few. Last year I loved the Jolie-Laide red blend of Trousseau, Gamay and Valdiguie, so I was thrilled to see this Freisa being offered, plus the new Clairette, which I will open soon and review as well, along with Scott’s 100% Gamay, the Melon de Bourgogne and a new Rosé, made from Gamay.
The Jolie-Laide Freisa is sourced from the Tres Pico Creek Vineyard, which was planted in 1994 and organically farmed by the Siletto family in San Benito, it is a site that has been gaining some serious gravitas within the natural wine community and has an intriguing selection grapes, including some lesser known Italian varietals like this one, as well as Gamay and other geeky goodies. This rocky site is set on gravelly loamy soils of an alluvial fan situated next to the Tres Pinos Creek where it takes its name, it is a well drained vineyard and has lots of good sun exposure along with cool nights that allow for ripe flavors, while retaining good acidity, that adds to the balance and smooth tannins found in Jolie-Laide’s Freisa. Freisa saw a huge surge in popularity in Piedmonte after phylloxera (which devastated most of Europe’s vines) in the 1880s and it is believed to have likely originated in the hills between Asti and Turin, though as Jolie-Laide’s winemaker Scott Schultz notes, it was often overshadowed by the more popular and more structured Nebbiolo, as well as the fruitier Dolcetto and Barbera wines of the region, though now, plantings of Freisa are on the rise again. Schultz adds that, akin to Nebbiolo, Freisa keeps its natural acidity and has a strong tannin profile, making it a wine that has plenty of aging potential. The garnet/ruby colored 2019 Jolie-Laide Freisa was traditionally foot trodded and fermented with native yeasts using 100% whole cluster with primary fermentation in concrete tanks. After going dry the wine was gently pressed from the cement to neutral French oak barrique(s) for about 12 months to soften the tannic profile, then the finished wine was bottle-aged for another 6 months before getting released to the mailing list. Scott Shultz, who works at Pax Wine Cellars, has worked also at Ryme and with Arnot-Roberts, is one of California’s youthful talents that is focused on interesting vineyard sites and mostly lesser known grapes, he doesn’t do a lot of wine under his Jolie-Laide label, but it is all compelling and transparent stuff, well worth searching out. There was only a tiny allocation available and will be super hard to find in the wild, but I would highly recommend joining their mailing list to get future offerings of this wine, plus the other limited production wines in Jolie-Laide’s lineup.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Col D’Orcia, Rosso di Montalcino DOC, Tuscany, Italy.
The 2016 Col D’Orcia Rosso di Montalcino is a smashing full bodied and complex wine, proving that this vintage is one to collect and stock up on, this “Baby Brunello” certainly lives up to its name, in fact it is not far off the more expressive true Brunello, I would be hard pressed to know the difference in a blind tasting, such is the quality here. I was immediately impressed by the depth and density of the fruit with a gorgeous array of earthy dark berries along with classic Sangiovese purity and accents, including blackberry, mulberry, currant and kirsch, as well as anise, dried flowers, minty herbs, cedar, mocha and a savory cut of cigar wrapper. The mouth is fairly supple and there is a sense of ripe tannin, but this wine is pretty serious in structure and the natural acidity is well integrated and adds a polished freshness to this fine example of Rosso di Montalcino. There is so much to enjoy in this Col D’Orcia and like the La Torre Rosso di Montalcino, you get much more than expected and this deeply hued wine is remarkable for the price.
Col d’Orcia, which translates to “the hill overlooking the Orcia River”, is one of the original Brunello properties and the largest organic estate in the region, well known for traditional or authentic wines. The Orcia River marks the Southwestren border of the Brunello di Montalcino zone, where there is some volcanic influence in the clay and limestone soils and with warm exposures that adds to the concentration and richness of the Sangiovese Grosso (Brunello Clone) grapes. It is through Col D”Orcia’s efforts that in 1983 that Rosso di Montalcino became a DOC and their’s is an iconic example, which the winery notes, is made with pure (100%) Sangiovese grapes, released one year after the harvest to retain all the freshness and fruitiness of a young wine, but this is year that gave an added dimension to this Rosso and this is fabulous, especially good with hearty cuisine. This bodes well for the upcoming 2016 Brunello that should be legendary, but for exceptional value I recommend grabbing a bunch of these and enjoy them for the next 3 to 5 years!
($22 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Pewsey Vale, Dry Riesling, Individual Vineyard Estate, Eden Valley, South Australia.
These Aussie Dry Rieslings are such quality values, especially this Pewsey Vale, with intense dry extract, delicate florals and zingy acidity these wines really are refreshing and awesome with a wide range of cuisine and dishes. Australia has some of the oldest Riesling vines on earth, with only a few sites in the Mosel with older parcels, and Pewsey has more than 120 years of experience and history with this grape, having planted their first vineyard back in 1847 here in the high elevation Eden Valley, high above the famous Barossa region, where there is plenty of cool air to refresh the ripening grapes. This winery saw, as they put it, a reinvigorated Pewsey Vale Vineyard in the 1960s to bring their historic vines to glory and putting a sharp focus on the beauty and diversity of Riesling in this unique terroir. This 2019 vintage of Pewsey Vale’s Individual Vineyard Estate Dry Riesling is wonderfully expressive and vibrant with a light and zesty palate that shows a classic steely array of flavors with lime, green apple, orange blossom, fresh picked tart peach, bitter melon, verbena, a touch of saline and wet stones. This Riesling is crisply dry and brisk, too much so for overtly hot spicy dishes, but fabulous with oysters, claims, garlic shrimp and or goat cheeses.
Pewsey Vale does four main Riesling offerings, all hand crafted by the talented winemaker Louisa Rose, who’s collection is a fantastic lineup that includes her Kabinett style Pewsey Vale Prima Riesling, the Contours Museum Reserve (extended aged), the 1961 Block Riesling, which is dry, but concentrated, and this ultra bargain Single (Individual) Vineyard Estate Dry Riesling, a wine that is one of my (less) guilty pleasures and a cool Summer refresher. Pewsey Vale offers up tasty suggestion of their own to go with this wine, including seared scallops, salt and pepper squid, Thai beef salad, or a tomato salad with pickled walnuts and fresh basil. It is great to feature some of Australia’s delicious Riesling and Ms Rose, both of which deserve much more attention, as these wines are sublime and sometimes overlooked, as are most of the whites from Oz, which are much better than most people realize, in particular these Eden and Clare Rieslings, along with the Old Vine Semillon from the Hunter Valley, the Sem/Sauvs from Western Australia, the Chardonnays too, like Leeuwin’s, as well as the “Sticky” tawny style Muscats, which are some of the most interesting sweet wines in the world. Pewsey Vale has been working with organic methods for quite awhile and began certification in 2013 and has now expanded into biodynamics for their vineyard sites, which may explain the energy and extra dimension I am seeing in the latest release, don’t miss these exceptional dry Aussie Rieslings.
($18 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Domaine Paul Jaboulet Anie, Crozes-Hermintage Rouge “Domaine de Thalabert” Northern Rhone, France.
After a fabulous series of successful vintages for this Domaine de Thalabert Crozes, Caroline Frey’s Domaine Jaboulet has raised the game again with this 2018 version, helped by the year’s deep fruit characteristics and striking freshness energy with its natural acidity making everything pop perfectly on the medium/full palate along with an exceptional long aftertaste. As with the last five vintages I’ve tasted and a few which I have extensively reviewed here, this Domaine Paul Jaboulet Anie, Crozes-Hermintage Rouge “Domaine de Thalabert” is a northern Rhone, 100% Syrah, classic with a heightened aromatic perfume and an inviting deep inky color that leads to a remarkably pure cascade of flavors in the mouth, it shows notable layers of boysenberry, damson plum, kirsch, blueberry compote and creme de cassis as well as gorgeous crushed violets, delicate anise, earthy camphor, peppercorns, fig paste and black olives. The finish brings elegant echos of the core elements that are accented by subtle oak usage, nice mineral tones and graceful weightlessness with everything here seeming to be just that bit more lifted and thrilling to experience, this Syrah would be a great one to watch over the next decade, such is the impression it leaves. The recent rise of quality in Crozes-Hermitage really make these wines some of the best values in the region, with this one being an awesome Cru bottling, especially attractive at the price you can get it for. This wine deserves a bit more care in planning than I gave it, as it will be an excellent wine with a well thought out meal and time for it to open up completely, it is a bigger wine than first impressions give, so go with robust cuisine.
The famous Thalabert parcel, as I’ve noted in pas reviews, is located in Croze’s pebble-strewn granite soiled lieu-dit of Les Chassis, which has been owned by Jaboulet since its founding back in 1834 and is regarded as maybe the greatest set of vines in the Crores-Hermitage AOC, all organic and biodynamic. Frey uses partial whole bunches and well judged use of new wood, really putting the focus on the vintage and trying for transparency and luxurious texture in her recent releases, with this 2018 being a stunning wine, joining the 2016 as a favorite of mine. The Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aine, now owned by the Frey family, led by the talented Caroline Frey, has been an iconic estate in the Northern Rhone and one of the big three in the region along with Guigal and Chapoutier, most known for their fabled La Chapelle vineyard in Hermitage, Syrah’s most holy site! There’s been wines made here since pre-Roman times, but it was Antoine Jaboulet’s plantings in 1834 and focus on quality which really started to establish the area as one of the major wine producing appellations of the world, after he past the land was passed on to his two sons Henri and Paul, who’s name became company label. The Frey family, who bought the fade glory Jaboulet in 2006, have become big time players in premium French wine production having serious quality properties in Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux, which includes Chateau La Lagune in Haut-Medoc and Château de Corton André in the Cote de Beaune. Caroline, who studied in Bordeaux is one of France’s rising stars and has her hand in many projects, with even a biodynamic high elevation vineyard in Switzerland, of which I am excited to try the wines from. The Jaboulet lineup is full of quality efforts, but without question this one is a standout that is nearly impossible to resist, I know I’m hooked!
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2015 Lapo Berti, Barolo DOCG, Del Comune di La Morra, Piedmonte, Italy.
The Barolo from the Lapo Berti winery in La Morra is one of the most exciting tiny production wines in this famous region and stellar buy, with this 2015 being a ripe and soft tannined version, making it a serious Nebbiolo that can be enjoyed in its young. This traditionally hand crafted Barolo, that is sourced from small Cru parcels in the La Morra zone, delivers classic Nebbiolo flavors and a sense of place that lets you exactly what this wine is with beautiful supple layers of vintage’s dense and expressive fruit along with subtle earthy elements, sweet herbs, a light cedar/sandalwood note and a porporri of wilted flowers. The 2015 is more overt than the other vintages I’ve tried, but it is not full of heat and or no less event either with pretty black cherry, damson plum, raspberry and a touch of strawberry fruits, chalky stones, saline infused black licorice, amaro/liqueur and a bit of violets. I was convinced to add this label to my yearly rotation of Piedmonte wines by the fact that Oregon winemaking legend John Paul of Cameron Winery actually imports this wine and tries his best to secure the whole production in good years, such devotion, certainly made me more intrigued and I have not been disappointed, especially with the 2013 and this 2015 wines, and I am really excited to see what the 2016 is like, being from a vintage of note, it might be a Barolo worth patiently waiting for and stocking up on, while this 2015 is one to enjoy in the near term. This wine does open up with air, gaining a bit more of a rustic and pure Barolo character, which makes having some good food with it a must to appreciate its full potential.
The Lapo Berti Barolo, as noted, sourced from the Commune of La Morra, and from, notably, the two historic Cru parcels of Bricco Rocca and Fossati, which gives this wine some significant pedigree and prestige in its terroir. This old school Barolo was produced using natural winemaking methods and the carefully sorted and de-stemmed Nebbiolo grapes were fermented with indigenous yeasts with absolutely no additions during the process, seeing very low amounts of sulphites. The Barolo was treated to a gentile and cool maceration period to get a full extraction of flavor, but without a harsh upper cut of tannin, and the wine aged close to two years in neutral barrels in the cellar to allow the wine to develop its satiny mouth feel. According to the winery, the vines are set on the classic sandy marl (limestone and clay) soils, in prime hillside sites with perfect southern exposures, with Fossati giving the wine its inner beauty, textural pleasure and ripe tannin, while the Bricco Rocca brings a feeling of elegance, and in this vintage in particular a heavenly weightlessness, plus its focused detailing and minerality. This deep garnet Lapo Berti impresses for how wonderfully drinkable it is already, though I suspect this wine will firm up when it loses some of its baby fat and should prove nicely rewarding for a decade, if you don’t drink it all up, like I most certainly will. John Paul, who also makes a series of Italian style wines in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, as well as his famous Cameron Pinot Noir(s), including a fantastic example of Nebbiolo, is a noted Barolo enthusiast and searched out this excellent wine and brought it over at a very reasonable price, I highly recommend this singular Barolo.
($49 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Martha Stoumen, Young Vines Red Wine, Venturi Vineyard, Mendocino County.
The Stoumen Young Vines Red is a tasty, juicy and freshly crisp dry red wine that reminds me a lot of crunchy Fleurie (Cru Beaujolais) and or a vibrant Ribeira Sacra Mencia with its vivid fruit and mineral tones, this is easy to love quaffer with a burst of crunchy red fruits, low alcohol and a country like wine earthiness. This is a new release and a new wine in Martha’s delicious collection of offerings that lean on her experience with native varietals, organic vines and natural winemaking in the old world to make a series of uniquely stylish California wines. The Young Vines Red is made from 99% Zinfandel and 1% non-co-fermented Vermentino, with the Zin vines being a selection of many diverse clones, which is interesting as not much time is spend on the different genetic material of this grape, when compared to Pinot Noir, except for the Primitivo clone, though there are very individual traits in the clones. Ridge Vineyards is really exploring them with notable research near their their Lytton Estate in Dry Creek Valley, they have a set of various old California clones, the Italian Primitivo and the original Croatian Tribidrag clone, so I was intrigued by what Martha was up to with this wine and the parcels she was farming at the Venturi Vineyard, and this wine is simply delicious. The palate is medium bodied in this dark garnet and ruby colored Zinfandel that presents itself with an old school and rustic character, not unlike the Frappato wines she helped make at COS in Sicily, with zesty acidity and a lighter dimension of flavors with a plethora pleasing elements, including crushed raspberries leading the way along with tangy plum, Moro orange, kirsch, strawberry/rhubarb, wild fennel, sage, a hint of old cedar, peppery spices and pretty floral detail to go along with the mentioned mineral and loamy earth notes. I am a fan of Martha’s wines, with her set of compelling reds, like her Nero d’Avola, the Carignan and her Zin based wines being my favorites to date.
The Venturi Vineyard in Mendocino County is a certified organic and dry farmed site that is set on a rocky hillside of, what Stoumen notes is Pinole gravelly loam soils in a beautifully forested area that sees warm days and cool night that perfectly ripen these grapes with remarkably low Brix. Stoumen adds that this vineyard has been planted to grapevines for over 100 years now, though these “young vines” of Zinfandel-related clones (Primitivo, Rockpile, Dupratt, Dempel) are less than 15 years old. The Venturi Vermentino, which is planted alongside the Rockpile clone block here, was harvested for the very first time in 2019 and was added, a la Cote-Rotie or old time Chiantis. Martha Stoumen explains that her unique mix of Dempel, Rockpile, DuPratt and Primitivo clones all bring a different voice to this wine, and suggests the resulting wine is more complex and structured, observing that as the wine opens it is full of spice, dark fruit, and taught tannins, which certainly I noted as well, though I found the tannin nicely supple, especially with food. A lot of thought went into crafting this wine, as revealed in the tech sheet, all the Zinfandel was whole-cluster, and co-fermented in an open-top stainless steel tank, with a few bins of grapes getting a foot tread to encourage the onset of its native yeast fermentation, while the remaining majority of the whole-clusters were loaded on top. During the early stages of the fermentation Stoumen employed gentle hand (and full body) punch-downs and some short pump-overs were used in order to limit extraction. After 10 days, the winery continues, the fermenting juice was racked and returned back to the tank (délestage) and it was air tight sealed for an extended maceration period. Then, after an additional 16 days, the wine was pressed and racked to five neutral oak barrels, where it was aged nine months before the final blending when a splash of tank raised Vermentino was added. This 12.5% Zin is a wine that can be served with a slight chill and enjoyed with hard cheeses, in particular I would go with an aged Pecorino and or a Basque sheep’s milk cheese, but also good with simple dishes.
($38 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Paradigm, Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville Estate, Napa Valley.
The 2016 vintage of Paradigm Cabernet Sauvignon, which is all sourced from the estate vines in Oakville, is a beautiful, opulent and luxurious wine, which you’d expect from a Heidi Barrett made Cabernet, and it has classic Napa fruit density, a deep purple hue in the glass and exceptionally long aftertaste with a cascade of black fruit on the full bodied palate along with a kiss of sweet toasty oak. This vintage, which is ripe and overtly expressive is one that Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon lovers will want to stock up on, and especially wines like this Paradigm, which is a savvy choice for collectors, as the price is not as outrageous as many wines in this quality class, which now tend to be closer to $250 to 300 a bottle. The Paradigm Cabernet delivers an array of flavors and opens nicely with lavish creme de cassis, blackberry, plum and sandalwood lead the way here along with pencil lead, licorice and smoky vanilla accents that flow with graceful polish in the richly packed mouth, while the firm tannins never intrude on the fun and pleasure delivered by this polished example of pure Napa Valley goodness. I will note, that this wine has more potential to come and I believe there is a more rewarding future ahead it, look for it’s best drinking window to come in a decade or so. Paradigm also makes four other wines of merit, these include a Merlot, Cabernet Franc, a new Vin Gris, a kind of Bordeaux inspired Rosé of Merlot and a Zinfandel which are all interesting and well crafted offerings, even though most will focus with laser like intensity on their Cabernet Sauvignon.
Paradigm Winery, founded in 1991, is owned and run by Ren and Marilyn Harris, who as noted by the their winery, have deep roots in Napa Valley, going back to when Marilyn’s grandparents immigrated from Italy to Napa Valley in 1890, while Ren’s family came to California in 1769. The pair themselves moved to Napa Valley full time back in the 1960’s and settled into their home in Oakville just east of where Paradigm is located. As I have noted over the years reviewing (and enjoying myself) the Paradigm Estate Grown and bottled Cabernet Sauvignon has been made by Heidi Barrett since day one, and the Paradigm winery is one of the great small estates in the Napa Valley, located within the Oakville AVA, home too many awesome vineyards and labels. Barrett, with her experience, including of course with Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle, Grace Family, Hartwell and Vineyard 29 to name just a few, over the years, makes her one of the most respected winemakers in the Valley, Barrett knows a thing or two about putting a fabulous Cabernet together. Barrett, along with Cathy Corison, the first woman to be an owner and winemaker in the Napa Valley, as well as other pioneers like Celia Welch, Pam Starr, Helen Turley, Rosemary Cakebread, Zelma Long and Mia Klein to name a few, has helped the wine industry in California end its tired and caustic chauvinistic attitude toward women in leadership roles and elevated the respect for women winemakers in America. This 2016, which was aged in French Oak barrels for twenty months, and then rested nearly two years in bottle before release, is right up there with the magnificent 2010, the last one I reviewed, reminding me I need to keep up with this winery!
($75-92 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Le Miccine, Chianti Classico DOCG, Tuscany, Italy.
The Le Miccine Chanti Classicos are some of my favorite wines, especially in vintages like 2016 and 2018, like this one, and I highly recommend searching them out, they can be hard to find at times, but can be ordered directly from the winery at very reasonable shipping rates, which is how I got my latest set of releases, from Gaiole in Chianti with love! This ancient property in an amazingly picturesque setting that hasn’t changed much in a thousand years is now run by the youthful talents of Paula Papini Cook, a French Canadian, who grandparents owned this old Chianti Classico estate and in the last ten years has risen up from obscurity to being a leading top notch label with a stellar collection of organic wines with a huge international following and richly deserved critical acclaim. The new 2018 Chianti Classico is beautifully aromatic, expressive, pure and bursting with fresh energy, it shows hard work in the vines and gentle handling of grapes in the cellar can achieve, this is instantly irresistible and additive stuff. There is fabulous clarity of detail and complex layers of vine picked blackberries, plum, mulberry, cherry and red currant fruits that are juicy fresh, rather than overtly ripe, with supple tannin, a seductive floral array on the bouquet, a light dusting of tangy and minty herbs, anise, cedar, earth and tobacco leaf. Everything is easy and seamless and makes for a seriously good companion with simple meals, especially traditional pasta dishes and roasts. Chianti Classico is full of distinctive vineyard sites and pleasure filled wines and Le Miccine should be on your list of must try wines, they are on my classic Tuscan rotation alongside the likes of Felsina, Caparso, Monteseccondo, Montevertine, Castello di Ama and Mazzei, to name a few.
The Le Miccine Chianti Classico “Normale” is an exclusively native varietal blend of traditional Sangiovese, Malvasia Nera and Colorino grapes grown with all organic methods and employing biodynamic elements and holistic practices to achieve the highest quality and terroir character. Papini Cook, who was trained in Spain and France, brings a worldly experience to this remote estate and her efforts have proved remarkable and this 2018 is the result of her vision and is maybe the best example yet, that I have tried, everything you’d want from a Chianti Classico is here, from nose to finish, including its inviting color, perfume and balance. The winery uses temperature controlled stainless steel tanks for primary fermentation and then the wines are gently pressed and racked to a combination of small French oak and large casks, with this one being raised with more neutral vessels and only aged a short time before bottling. Le Miccine, which is set in the Gaiole zone with vineyards that have beautiful hillside exposure that soak in the warm sunshine, but have cool nights to retain natural acidity and give near perfect hang time to fully develop the Sangiovese’s flavor profile. The deep soils here have hardened clay and it is an area that is also rich in limestone and strewn with pebbles that gives these wines their pleasing fruit density and Le Miccine’s elevation gives it a unique micro climate, which adds to the lovely vitality in these wines, while still having wonderful textures. This side of Classico is more southern, closer to historic city of Siena and is easily accessible from this more rustic and slightly less travelled part of Tuscany by car, which is how I toured the area on my visit, honestly it was one of the most awe inspiring trips I have ever taken and this wine takes me back to this amazing place. Don’t miss these Le Miccine wines, in particular the heavenly Riserva and this delicious regular Chianti Classico!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Lynmar Estate, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley.
The luxurious and deeply flavored Lynmar appellation series Russian River Pinot is a surprisingly energetic and balanced wine for such an opulent wine with its dense layers of black cherry, plummy notes and dark berry fruit seamlessly unfold on the rich palate filling the mouth right away and the lively acidity leaves a lingering weightless aftertaste. There is a lot going on here and this wine gains some floral dimension, spice, a touch of loam and mineral as well as a sweet toasty mocha kiss of cedary French oak, which works well in this style of wine that is in the same league as Rochioli, Martinelli and DuMol, to name a few. The 2016 vintage was not all that hyped, a bit similar to 2013, but have really outperformed in the bottle in my recent tastings and this Lynmar is a very nice bottle, thanks to Alex Lallos, an avid enthusiast, collector and long time wine professional for sharing it with me after he was impressed with it himself. In fact I was getting into this wine after it had plenty of hours to open up and I slowly enjoyed over another quite long period of time and it held up impeccably without any sign of giving up ghost. There is nice accents that come out as it opens further with sassafras or cola bean, fig and vanilla, as you’d expect as well as long echos of the core fruits and hibiscus, strawberry preserves and a tangy orange tea note. I recommend enjoying the Lynmar wines with a serious meal as they become much more interesting with food and I suggest either decanting or a slow approach to allow the wines to reveal the full profile of flavors, with this wine going nice with a herb crusted pork chop, a fine cut of beef and or blackened salmon.
The Lynmar Russian River Pinot Noir comes from the Estate’s main three Cru vineyards sites, the Quail Hill Vineyard, Susanna’s Vineyard and their Adam’s Vineyard, along with some grapes coming from Lynmar’s neighboring properties that, as the winery puts it, share their same viticultural philosophies and farming methods that promote small yields and high quality fruit. The vines here are quite diverse selection of genetic material with many unique clones and well as some modern classics with Dijon 114, 115, 667, 777, as well as heritage 2a, Beba, Calera, Mt Eden, Pommard, Swan, along with Lynmar’s QHS clone. Pretty much, per normal around here, the Lynmar Pinot sees a careful sorting and mostly de-stemming with this wine seeing about 25% new Medium-High toast French oak with the majority in a selection of one, two and three year old barrels, with everything done in a precise, clean and polished manner to make for a lush and ripe example of Russian River Pinot. Lynn Fritz, Lynmar Estate’s founder and owner, first purchased Quail Hill Ranch and Vineyards back in 1980, these are some of the oldest vines in the region and in the beginning the grapes were sold to star winemakers, including Etude’s Tony Soter and the legendary Merry Edwards. Lynmar started making wines under their own label in the early 1990s and produced small amounts of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and since then, this property not far from the historic Joseph Swan has become one of the Russian River’s most coveted producers. This winery, one of the most modern in the area and all gravity fed is certainly an impressive place and the wines very distinctive, crowd pleasing and delicious, especially their Pinots, though their Chardonnay offerings have following as well.
($50 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2019 Storm Wines, Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County.
Only 230 cases were produced of this beautiful deep ruby hued and silken Pinot Noir by Ernst Storm, a talented winemaker who grew up in South Africa, but is now firmly settled into the Santa Barbara wine scene and who is hand crafting a gorgeous collection of wines with some of the best Sauvignon Blanc on the central coast, as well as a killer Syrah, a Gamay and a stellar set of Pinots, including this fabulous new release. I was really excited to catch up with Ernst’s wines, which I hadn’t had in a while, especially as I had tasted his brother’s (Hannes) awesome Pinot, from Storm Wines in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley region of South Africa, and this Santa Barbara County Pinot, sourced from all the vineyards Storm works with, all smaller unique sites, where the complexity of Santa Barbara’s diverse growing areas thrives, as Ernst notes, are some of the most varied on the West Coast, with an array of soils and tiny micro climates, all of which adds to the drinking pleasure in this 2019 vintage. Everything thing is is sublimely put together here with what tastes like some good whole cluster and the mouth feel is wonderful and caressing on the medium bodied palate with layers of black cherry, raspberry, pomegranate and Moro orange fruits that are supported by delicate spices, sassafras, a hint of sweet heirloom tomato, subtle and seductive florals and mineral tones. The aftertaste and energy alone will make your knees buckle in happiness, this is a compelling offering and whets the appetite for the rest of the Storm lineup and I can’t wait to pop the cork on the new Gamay!
This Storm Santa Barbara County Pinot comes from sustainable, organic and some biodynamic vineyards, the breakdown provided by Ernst shows that the perfectly ripened grapes were hand harvested from, 43% John Sebastiano Vineyard (Organic), 29% Cottonwood Canyon Vineyard (Sustainable), 16% Spear Vineyard (Organic), one of my favorite sites, in particular Samuel Louis Smith’s Chardonnay from there and 12% Donnachadh Vineyard (Organic), all of which are in cool climate zones with mostly sandy loams. I was originally blown away by Hannes’ Hemel-en-Aarde Valley Pinot(s), which I have rated right up there with top Burgundies, so this led me to Ernst’s wines and I am now a big fan of both brothers’ efforts, which are honest and transparent wines with exceptional terroir clarity and nuance. Ernst made this 2019 using about 10% whole cluster and a seven day cold soak with a gentle handling of the wine, including gravity flow and employing a small basket press. This vintage saw about of year on the lees in mostly used French oak with just 20% being in one new tight grained barrique, with the finished blend being bottled unfined and unfiltered to preserve all of the purity in this very balanced and lively wine. The winery explains that this 2019 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir was crafted from a tight selection of Pinot clones with it having a combination of Dijon 113, 115, 667 and Pommard, which highlights the structural form and depth of flavors here. The 2019 is a truly inviting and alluring Pinot that will certainly drink nicely for another decade, but is delicious even now, especially with a relaxed meal that allows it to fully open up, I highly recommend exploring these new Storm releases, this one will not disappoint!
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Arnot-Roberts, Trousseau, North Coast, California.
The 2018 Arnot-Roberts Trousseau is a gloriously pale red with a soft ruby glow in the glass and is wonderfully delicate in its fruit showing elegant layers of crushed raspberry, sour cherry, strawberry and fleshy red peach all in a light frame and accented by an earthy and savory edginess, making this version very much like a classic Jura example, along the lines of Tissot, Ganevat (Pein Sud), Labet and Jacques Puffeney’s legendary Arbois. This vintage of Trousseau from Duncan Meyers and Nathan Roberts at Arnot-Roberts is one of the most complete and complex to date and really does this grape justice, absolutely proving they can make a wine on par with the old world, where they got the inspiration, I’ve reviewed and followed this wine since the 2011 vintage, often tasting it with Duncan at trade tastings and this one is without question my favorite, though I am hearing the latest 2019 release is even better! There’s a lot more going here than first meets the eye and air really brings out the full array of flavor(s), a mineral fineness and a beautiful textural quality in a wine that shares some elements with Pinot Noir, it gives up some floral tones and hints of wild fennel, tangy herbs, truffle and even an animal or gamey note, all which are best enjoyed with matching food choices and or alpine cheeses. The Trousseau grape remains a bit of a mystery in its origins and is thought to have a distant relationship to Petit Verdot, but has been in the remote and high elevation region of France’s Jura for longer than anywhere else that we currently know of, where it is the top red grape, though it is also blended with Gamay, Poulsard, another rare Jura (pale colored) varietal, and Pinot Noir, plus it is also sometimes a component in Crement de Jura sparkling wines.
Arnot-Roberts, founded in Healdsburg in 2001, has helped elevate many unique varietals including Trousseau, like in this post modern classic, Gruner Veltliner, soured from Richard Alfaro’s estate vineyard in Corralitos (Santa Cruz Mountains) and Touriga Nacional, from the Luchsinger Vineyard in Lake County, which they make one of the state’s best Rosé wines out of, in California. The Arnot-Roberts North Coast Appellation Trousseau, as revealed by the winery, is sourced from the three distinct vineyards; the mentioned Luchsinger, Bohan Ranch and Bartolomei, all of which have distinct soils and climate influences in these sites that results in a wine that shows their singular personalities. Duncan and Nathan harvest and ferment the each vineyard separately with whole-cluster and native yeasts, without de-stemming the grapes you can taste the stemmy crunch and punchiness, that adds to the thrill here. After the different lots of Trousseau are through primary fermentation these are gentle pressed and racked to barrel, they then aged separately in a mix of neutral (old)French oak barrels and stainless steel. Arnot-Roberts notes that the blending is done in the early spring following harvest, where to final blend is put into tank to settle, after which the wine is bottled without fining or filtration in early May. Trousseau is a thin skinned grape, with the winery adding that, this unique variety, that is heralded for its ability to make a wine that is light in color but packed with flavor, is in fact the thinnest they work with, and this wine showcases that to near perfection. I highly recommend getting on the Arnot-Roberts mailing list to get a chance at this one and as well as their amazing collection of wines, others to look for include their Trout Gulch Chardonnay, the Syrah(s), which are very Northern Rhone in style, as well as the mentioned Rosé of Touriga Nacional.
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Theopolis Vineyard, Theo-Parra’s Cuvee Cerise, Red Blend, California.
The newest wine in the impressive cast of characters at Theopolis Vineyards is Theodora Lee’s red blend called the Theo-Patra’s Cuvee Cerise, this is a special cuvée barrel selection of Mourvèdre, Syrah, and Petite Sirah, which is the grape that has brought such well deserved attention to this small family winery and their awesome terraced Yorkville Highlands estate vineyard that produces some of California’s most outstanding Petite Sirah grapes and wines, including her own and those of Halcon Vineyards, my absolute favorite example of this varietal in the state. While the Petite Sirah from Theopolis Vineyards is profound, this young red blend is more easy going and a real crowd pleasing effort that is fruit forward, sweet in toasty oak and smooth with a medium body and will go great with BBQ and meaty dishes. The palate is expressive with dark berries, plum and juicy cherry fruits along with the smoky vanilla, dried flowers, a light spicy note and a lingering dark chocolate and framboise note. I think there’s enough there to grow and fill out in areas that are a touch shy still and the oak should tame a little with some more time in bottle, so be sure to decant and or pair it up with foods that will compliment the core fruit.
This Theopolis Vineyards Theo-Patra’s Cuvee Cerise was crafted from small lots of Mourvèdre, Syrah that was co-fermented and the Petite Sirah that was picked and fermented separately all in stainless steel open top fermenters with the Petite Sirah getting about 35% whole cluster, which adds to the complexity here. The grapes were macerated and were manually punched down during the primary fermentation, then the Mourvèdre and Syrah was pressed and racked to small French barriques with just 15% being brand new medium/high toast, with this wine seeing about a year of elevage, while the Petite Sirah saw 12 months in neutral, well seasoned, French barrels, after which the two parts are put together in tank before being bottled. This wine is luscious and heady ripe with a robust 14.9% natural alcohol and is a tasty first blended offering, it delivers what is expected and gains a rewarding mouth feel and sweet tannin (the wine’s backbone), and as noted above you’ll love it even more with, as suggested by Theodora herself, spareribs, braised beef, roast leg of lamb and seared duck breast in cherry or a raspberry reduction sauce. I have really enjoyed watching this small family producer find its groove and seeing Lee’s considerable talent come to life, especially with the fantastic Estate Grown Petite Sirah!
($36 Est.) 89 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Selbach-Oster, Riesling Feinherb, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr “Ur” Alte Reben, MCM, Mosel Germany.
Beautifully dimensioned and concentrated with a dry Spatlese feel with an off dry creaminess of texture this special really old vine Riesling from the Selbach family highlights the quality of the vines and the house style to near perfection with crystalline mineral tones, slate driven terroir notes and lovely layered fruits with apricot, key lime, tangerine and crisp green apple all playing parts. It’s almost impossible as a Riesling fan, not to fall hopeless in love with these 2018s with their easy feel and subtly, they dance on the palate and are incredibly seamless wines, with this modern Feinherb from the famous Zeltinger Sonnenuhr vineyard being one of my favorites in Johannes’ awesome collection of small lot Rieslings that range from tangy dry to heavenly sweet, with this wine sitting somewhere between a classic Kabinett and the sweeter and denser Spatlese. The brilliance of Selbach’s wines are that they don’t try to thrill you like a roller coaster, they are wines that set out to please, and while they do require you to know what you want, they go about their mission like a Gisha, quietly and with impeccable care and grace. With an under appreciated sense of opulence, in their residual sugar and must weight, which makes them hedonistic and full flavored and less edgy in their acidity, these are not S and M versions of Riesling, and even though I do like there intensely dry examples of this grape, you have to admire these well crafted and gorgeous Selbachs, and I do very much and have for a long time. This 2018 opens to deliver its supple fruits with time in the glass glimmering with a pale golden hue and gives an additional contrasting array tangy and stony elements as well as delicate aromatics with hints of white flowers and rosewater accented by wet stone and flintiness, absolutely screaming Mosel from start to finish. This wine, coming from this single old vine parcel is an outrageous value with the potential to age, though it was too inviting to not try it now.
The Selbach winery is run by the Riesling maestro, Johannes Selbach, who along with his wife Barbara, and now with the increasing help of their kids, son Sebastian and daughter Hannah, manage their vineyards and cellar with total commitment to quality and their traditions that date back to the 1660s. Amazingly, according to the winery and Terry Theise, the famous Riesling guru who discovered and imported these wines to America, Selbach’s vines of which 55% are on their original rootstocks. With steep sloped holdings in Zeltinger Himmelreich, Schlossberg, and Sonnenuhr, plus a selection of fabulous parcels in Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Graacher Himmelreich and Domprobst, as well as others, few others offer such a top notch grouping of Cru sites. These vineyards set on the region’s most notable feature, the weathered Devonian slate and all hand tended, and are on mostly a contiguous sloping River slope that face south-south west to catch the sun and its reflection off the picturesque Mosel. Selbach without quest has some of most prestigious vine plots in all of Germany, and this Ur Alte Reben comes from some of the oldest vines in their area. Johannes is a passionate winemaker and he produces his wines in a combination of classic fuder and stainless steel, (with this one going into old fuder exclusively and getting lees aging) in a hands-off manner with no fining, and predominantly with wild yeasts to promote transparency and purity of flavors, all from carefully ripened grapes and with fanatical precision, the are wines of place and of joyous harmony. This Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, from vines well over 100 years old, is a celebration of the Mosel and a wine to be cherished, I found it perfect for my own birthday dinner, which was a meal including a spicy set of Asian dishes with my weakness, Singapore curried noodles! This is a stunning and luscious Riesling that is flexible in style, able to handle most any cuisine and some heat and still be comfortable with more traditional dishes or simple stuff.
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Domaine Saint-Damien, Gigondas “La Louisiane” Vieilles Vignes, Rhone Valley, France.
The Domaine Saint-Damien, founded back 1821 is a small family winery in the southern Rhone based in the famed Gigondas AOC and is run by Joel and Amie Saurel with their son Romain who is the current winemaker, this is one of the Rhone’s great properties and treasures, especially for me, these wines are some of my personal favorites, like this fantastic and nearly perfect 2018 old vine La Louisiane. I could hardly think of a better birthday treat to myself than this amazingly well drinking young Gigondas, this is exactly what I wanted and got, this vintage has more vitality and fresh detail than the warmer and more lavish 2017s, which don’t get me wrong were incredible wines too, it is just that extra sense of purity and the mineral notes really stand out here and there is excellent fruit dimension and definition that is fully on display here, these old vines give outstanding concentration without overt jamminess or heat of alcohol, in fact this 2018 delivers a performance that would rival the best from either Burgundy or Bordeaux for elegance, presence and complexity, while still be a soulful and ultra pleasure filled wine. Influenced by its terroir in the des Dentelles de Montmirail, the Domaine Saint-Damien, named for the Christian martyr, has vines set in the rocky hillsides on marls, a mix of limestone and hardened clay soils in terraced vineyards that get plenty of warm sunshine through the days and high elevation coolness at night that allows for perfect ripening of the grapes, which include mainly Grenache of course as well as Mourvedre, Cinsault and Syrah. This wine is beautifully proportioned and divinely textural revealing succulent layers of black raspberry, plum, pomegranate and a deep sense of creme de cassis along with violets, peppercorns, dried herbs, a hint of baked earth, cedar and anise accents that dance on the full bodied palate. This is riveting stuff that is surprisingly well integrated at this point, which makes it drink stylishly and with subtle rustic notes and this Gigondas should prove to be a stunning age worthy wine with its velvet covered muscles and underlying structure, depth and energy.
The Domaine Saint-Damien La Louisiane cuvée, comes from a special set of small parcels or a micro Lieu-Dit, set on the classic soils with some alluvial red stones, was crafted using 80% Grenache that was planted in 1942, 15% Mourvèdre planted in 1977, plus a tiny amount of Cinsault planted back in1951 and some Syrah as well, all fermented separately in cement vats and then blended after a cool primary fermentation and maceration, which lasts close to 6 weeks for deep extraction and intensity. Then the blended La Louisiane saw about a year in mostly used French oak barrels and was bottled unfined and unfiltered for a wine of richness and transparency and this 2018 is all that and more. Saint-Damien does a few unique bottlings, like this one and their famous Les Souteyrades, as well as a savvy old vine Cotes du Rhone, a cuvee Classique, a wine to stock up on, and now a Gigondas Rosé, a recently added treat to this awesome lineup. I have been highlighting the greatness of Gigondas for a long, long time, but in recent years the quality has skyrocketed here and this is a place to find some of the most desirable Rhone collectables, in particular these Saint-Damien offerings, along with Chateau de Saint Cosme by the legendary Louis Barruol, who makes a wine that I couldn’t possibly live without, Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux (the blood of the stone), Adrien Roustan’s little known, but outstanding Domaine d’Ourea, to name a few that has produced profound wines in current vintages, especially in the years from 2014 to now and in fact I hear 2019 and 2020 were great and I look forward to tasting those. These Gigondas wines give so much and ask very little, they are stunning wines for almost any occasion, both relaxed and or in a more serious setting, going sublimely with fancy or simply rustic cuisines, I even enjoy them with sheep cheeses and or pasta dishes as well, such is their flexibility and charm. Again, I really am taken with this 2018 Saint-Damien and the mineral tone it has, as well as the opulent mouth feel and its lively pop of spice and lingering kirsch note, don’t pass up a chance to try this opaque purple/garnet hued and top notch Gigondas!
($40 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2019 Casa Nuestra, Dry Riesling, St. Helena, Napa Valley.
The crisp and vibrant Dry Riesling by Casa Nuestra, a winery I featured yesterday I know, based in Napa Valley’s St. Helena appellation on the eastside off the Silvardo Trail and known as a great place to get old school and organic California wines, especially their Chenin Blanc, their Tinto St. Helena, yesterdays review, and this Dry Riesling, now one of the only examples coming from this area, and one of the most sought after too. I love this verbena and white flower scented wine that reminds me more of the star studded Aussie versions of dry Riesling, like the Clare and Eden area ones rather than the more classic German trockens, Austrian Wachau(s) and or the Rieslings of France’s Alsace region. This vintage is vividly fresh, but concentrated with tangy extract, which makes this white have some power, palate impact and it is graced with lovely aromatics and a nice spicy character, making it great with food, especially oysters and or like I had it with, steamed claims in a garlic, parsley and white wine broth. One of the best and most pure vintages for this wine that I can remember, and I’ve been a fan for quite a while, this 2019 Casa Nuestra Dry Riesling is light to medium bodied with the mentioned verbena note going with a range of brisk citrus fruits, white peach and tart melon that is all accented further by jasmine, wet stone, bitter wild herbs, chamomile tea, delicate spices and lemongrass. This Casa Nuestra Riesling has a lively acidity that keeps it superbly balanced and refreshing, highlighting the vintage and varietal character that delivers an exceptional example of this grape and this wine very compelling.
Gene Kirkham’s Casa Nuestra is a must visit winery, nestled in Saint Helena’s east side on the Silverado Trail, this is not the modern Napa mansion of castle, this is an old rustic farm house with a unique charm and eccentric flourish with goats and sheep near their tree shaded patio and a 50’s and 60’s vibe in the tasting room with odes to Elvis, folk musicians like Joan Baez, as well as poignant MLK pictures and other thought provoking memorabilia from Kirkland’s career as a civil rights lawyer, this is a fun and welcoming place to visit and the wines are unique, well crafted and vastly different than you’ll find at the neighboring properties! Kirkham’s love of Loire grapes, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, another wine that I picked up on this latest stop here, has even led him to be honored by the Knight’s of Chinon, and these wines are usually the wines that sell out fast, Casa Nuestra sells only direct to their wine club and list and what little is left sells in the tasting room. I try to visit every year when my schedule allows to buy the Chenin Blanc, it is a must try wine and not all that easy to get, in fact this time through they had already sold out of the 2018 and 2019 editions, though remarkably I was able to beg my way into a bottle of the 2017, which I thought I had missed out on. It is best to get on their mailing list and get into the wine club here. If you want to visit Casa Nuestra it is always recommended to call ahead, particularly now with Covid restrictions, but it is well worth it. California dry Riesling has made a huge comeback in recent years and there are many exciting producers to try, including Tatomer, Desire Lines Wine Co, Joyce, Union Sacre, Reeve, Cobb and Morgan to name a few, and this one is a classic.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2014 Casa Nuestra, Tinto St. Helena, Napa Valley.
One of my favorite Napa haunts and one of the Valley’s best kept secrets, Casa Nuestra Winery, which means “our house” in Spanish was founded back in 1975 by the Kirkham family and made their first wines in 1979 with their small batch bottlings of Chenin Blanc and Grey Riesling, or Trousseau Gris as it is more commonly called now, especially as it has no relation to true Riesling, being the first efforts to get released, and the Chenin is still a must every time I visit, along with their true old vine Dry Riesling and this wonderful historic red field blend, the Tinto St. Helena, made from a wild collection of varietals. These grapes, which were originally found at their Oakville plot, are set up at the Casa Nuestra St. Helena Estate in the same percentage with this plot going in the ground in 1992, it’s an intriguing mix of Carignan, Negrette, Napa Gamay (Valdiguie), Petite Sirah, Grey Riesling (Trousseau Gris), Zinfandel, and Alicante Bouschet, to name a few, plus I believe a touch of Refosco a rare Italian grape found in Friuli that is all co-fermented and aged together to make a rustic, deep flavored old school wine that is excellent with robust foods and or BBQs. This 2014 shows the cooler vintage and nice higher tone of fresh acidity is still wonderfully vibrant and adds to the drinking pleasure and heightens the experience, it is absolutely charming and is one of the best vintages I’ve had of this unique wine, though there is plenty of ripe details and it opens up and fills out to a full bodied and lush red with air and time in glass. This Tinto St. Helena unfolds in a smooth quaffable fashion with blackberry, dense cherry, plum and earthy mulberry fruits along with some sweet cedary wood, licorice, sage, dusty cinnamon and thyme spices, lingering with some delicate florals that are kept nicely in place by supple tannins that feel gentle and well polished.
Prior to the Kirkham’s buying this old farm/ranch, WWII hero Captain John Thomas Blackburn, planted the winery’s oldest Chenin Blanc parcel in 1961 and followed up with Riesling in 1970, both still in production today and usually wines I can’t resist taking home, as I did or tried to do yesterday, as there is limited reservations during Covid and mostly to their awesome wine club, lucky for me I met up with Hannah, who is the director of guest service and the wine club manager here and she took pity on a spontaneous traveller, who begs well enough to be let in to buy his coveted bottles. Her kindness and guidance on vintages was greatly appreciated and I left with a huge grin as I watched the beautiful winter mustard, in a fabulous yellow blur race by the window as I made my getaway, with a set of the Chenin, Riesling, this darkly delicious Tinto St. Helena and another of the cult followed wines here, their Cabernet Franc, which I look forward to trying at a later date. On day two, after being open without gas, there is more depth and fruit intensity here in this 2014 Tinto St. Helena and a decedent creme de cassis note becomes evident and I’m glad I had some left in the bottle to see the full expression to show itself, also giving hint to how well and interesting this vintage should age, at 14.3% natural alcohol, this version is well judged and has potential to go at least a decade more, if not closer to two, as there is more concentration than one might think, this is a great value for a small handcrafted Napa Valley effort of such tastiness. This is a winery, that is a post Covid, a must visit spot with an awesome location on St. Helena’s eastern side on the less traffic burdened Silverado Trail with picturesque surroundings and a welcoming feel of the Napa Valley of a different era with eclectic lineup of well made and handcrafted wines, it is well worth your time to discover this small family, even just for this wine, but I certainly suggest never passing up on their Chenin!
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2019 Dirty & Rowdy, Barbera, Mendocino County.
The dark purple/garnet and juicy Mendocino County Barbera from Hardy Wallace and Dirty & Rowdy begs for a steaming mass of pasta and spicy fresh tomato sauce and or in my case that and a plate of spring zucchini, squash and country potatoes with hot link sausage, with a classic Barbera vibrance, mineral tone and exciting black fruits. The Dirty & Rowdy Barbera is remarkably well done and refreshingly low in natural alcohol, showing a rustic charm and lively acidity that makes it very Piedmonte like in its delightful and food friendly personality, it is wine that you can start as you start cooking and enjoy well past the last bite, in fact its only problem is that it goes down easy, too easy and makes you sad when the bottle is found to be empty on the table, a wine that leaves you smiling and wanting more. This 2019 vintage, Dirty & Rowdy’s first go with this grape, is full of crushed blackberry, tart currant, plum and black cherry fruits that is excitingly whole cluster crunchy and is accented with savory elements, herbs and a nice touch of tartness with hints of minty, anise and forest floor, woodsy notes. As it opens this fun wine turns up the jam with some pretty floral detail and a touch of lingering pomegranate, all the while just comfortable listening to your happy conversations without a needy desire to take your attention away from welcome moments of laughter, this is the best kind of company a bottle can be.
Dirty & Rowdy, founded in about 2010 by the Wallace and Graham family with Matt Graham and Hardy Wallace running this Mourvedre obsessed micro winery based in Sonoma’s little Eggs ’n Butter town of Petaluma and are one of the most successful natural wine labels in California with a following the the band Phish would be jealous of! Working with some of California’s most historic Mourvedre (Mataro) old vine vineyard sites, like the Enz Vineyard in Lyme Kiln Valley and Evangelho Vineyard in Contra Costa, along with another handful of quality organic or sustainable vineyards from Santa Barbara to Mendocino as well as the Sierra Foothills with its granite and Monterey’s chalky limestone at Chalone, all make these Dirty & Rowdy Mourvedre(s) serious and compelling wines, but far from a one trick pony they also do an incredible GSM (or MSG) blend, this new and absolutely delicious old vine Barbera, plus the hipster Orange wine and a fabulous Semillon. The wines are truly made in the vines with the winemaking playing a minor role, except in the case of orange (skin contact) wine that takes some careful attention, with Hardy using almost 100% whole cluster and all spontaneous wild yeast fermentation with zero additions in most cases to promote a rustic, raw and earthy purity. I really wish they had made more of this Barbera, as it sold out way too quickly for my liking, so be sure to grab as many as you can if you see it in the wild!
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2013 Littorai, Pinot Noir, Mays Canyon, Sonoma Coast.
Ted Lemon, who is humbly and with great precision, is continuing to make some of California’s most beautiful Pinot Noir wines and his 2013 Mays Canyon is really coming into its own with gorgeous layering and striking detail, from an irregular and less hyped vintage, it is blossoming into a swan so to speak with a weightlessness, depth and lingering flavors that will remind many of some of Burgundies finest Premier Crus, outstanding stuff. Lemon sometimes gets left out of the current conversations about the top winemakers, but that seems absolutely insane when you taste one of his wines, and I was gently reminded of that myself last night as I sipped on this glorious Pinot Noir with its graceful medium bodied palate that unfolds with regal dimension, showing a fine array of black cherry, plum, cranberry and strawberry fruits along with a deep sense of dark flower perfume, delicate tea notes, sassafras spice, a touch of woodsy, earthy and sweet golden Chanterelles and blood orange. The texture, subtly and length in this 2013 Mays Canyon Pinot are of otherworldly quality and silken pleasure, and I can only imagine with mouth watering anticipation what stellar vintages like 2018 and 2019 will be like in 10 to 20 years, and I’m glad I got to see this wine start to show its true nature and potential, it is certainly in a fabulous place right now, it is not a showy or flamboyant wine, but of a wine of near perfection in a state of quiet poise and seductive charm.
The Mays Canyon site, as Lemon notes, is home to the Porter-Bass Estate, farmed to strict organic methods with biodynamic principles and set on coastal gravelly loam that is underpinned by sandstone and broken shales, its located on the western edge of the Russian River Appellation, near Guerneville, bordered by beautiful redwoods and just eight miles from the Pacific Coast. This Pinot plot used by Littorai was planted, or replanted back in 1999, and has a collection of clonal material that includes many unique proprietary clones along with sections of the Swan clone and 777 with vines to struggle to produce a meaningful crop, in fact this vineyard only averages about 1.6 tons per acre, ensuring concentration and a wealth of fruit intensity along with pure cool climate vitality and wonderful mineral tones. Littorai was founded in 1993 by Ted and his wife Heidi, after what could be called an already storied career with Lemon being the first ever American to be named a vineyard manager in Burgundy where he world at the legendary Guy Roulot in Meursault, plus stints at some of the best domaines in Burgundy, making wines at Domaine Georges Roumier, Domaine Bruno Clair, Domaine Parent, Domaine De Villaine, Domaine Delorme and the famous Domaine Dujac. Lemon, like Doug Tunnell at Brick House in Oregon, was a pioneer in American biodynamics and focusing on ultra cool climate vineyards on the west Sonoma coast as well as in the Anderson Valley, he is a firm believer in that the wine is made in the vineyard and that terroir is the wines soul. The cellar work is natural, gentle and promotes delicacy and elegance, which this ruby red and transparent 2013 Mays Canyon shows in spades, these are wines that should never be missed!
($99 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2018 Domaine Merlin Francois, Cote-Rotie, Northern Rhone, France.
The Domaine Merlin Francois of Lauent and Francois Merlin is totally new to me and this beautifully made Cote-Rotie was an excellent discovery and was perfect for celebrating the occasion, which was my 84 year old mother getting her second dose of the Pfizer Covid vaccine and a moment of great relief, taking a huge weight of stress and concern lifted, so a special bottle was indeed require and this one delivered a welcome and rewarding performance with deep layers of opulent dark fruits and an elegant textural mouth feel. Made in a polished and supple style the Domaine Merlin Francois Cote-Rotie is more Guigal like than say Jamet or Levet in style without the savory edgy thrill of the stemmy whole cluster versions, this is a not criticism, as the world is always a better place with an array of diversity and this wine is well crafted and pleasingly rich in depth with a full bodied palate of blackberry, blueberry, plum and dense fig fruit along with a kiss of smoky sweet cedary wood, anise, violette, mocha and lingering creme de cassis, making it a wine of hedonistic comforts rather than one of peaked excitement and great with meaty/gamey dishes. There is a subtle sense of mineral, spice and earth tucked into the background that adds complexity and reveals the purity of this Syrah and the granite slopes from where it comes from. This family winery is committed to putting the work in, in particular in the vineyard where these wines are really made, with Francois’ wife and younger son Julien also playing roles here. This property has been getting a lot more attention these days, as witnessed by their prestigious scores in Decanter Magazine in recent years, with this 2018, a classic vintage for Cote-Rotie, being a big stand out, and from my own experience with this bottle I can see why easily, this is a well rounded wine that looks set to get even better with age with potential to impress for another decade or more.
A little research has found that Francois Merlin, a self taught winemaker, who has been joined full-time by his son Laurent in 2013, is a serious vigneron that studied under the legendary Rene Rostaing and has gained an admirable reputation as a grower producer in the Northern Rhone with a tidy collection of high quality parcels, some that he planted himself from ancient massele (syrah) selections, in Crores-Hermitage, Saint-Joseph and here in Cote-Rotie as well, to name a few. Merlin, based in St-Michel-sur-Rhône since 1989, a commune just south of Condrieu, uses mostly organic and sustainable methods to farm his challenging sites which are set on the regions mostly decomposed granite soils with areas of gneiss, gravel and schist, looking for exceptionally small yields and the concentration of fruit, which his son Laurent playing a big part in the vineyard, having taken the quality to the next level. In his small cellars, Francois uses, interestingly, Austrian Stockinger 500L demi-muids for the aging of some of his wines, in particular the whites, while employing some Burgundy small barriques as well, with barrels that range from toasty brand new to six year old casks in combination to achieve a studied balance in his Cote-Rotie, while still being seriously luxurious in the glass. He does a very limited Condrieu, (Viognier) which is barrel fermented and aged, that sounds like a must try as well and a wine I certainly will keep an eye out for. For his Cote-Rotie 2018, which is 100% Syrah, Francois and Laurent used all de-stemmed and carefully sorted fruit that saw about 30 days of maceration and primary fermentation with daily punch downs and pumpovers after 10 days before being gently pressed to barrel for aging, which lasted over a year and a half before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. There’s a lot to like and admire here and I am ready to explore more of these Merlin wines, especially after enjoying this Cote-Rotie and its impeccable detailing and savvy pricing, with their Saint-Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage next on my wish list!
($49 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Stolpman “La Cuadrilla” Red Blend, Ballard Canyon, Santa Ynez Valley.
The La Cuadrilla or the the crew’s wine, is a pure California gem from Stolpman with the grapes all coming from the the best parcels, as picked out by their super star vineyard manager Ruben Solorzano at their Ballard Canyon estate in the Santa Ynez Valley near Los Olivos, it is a rotating blend of varietals based around a majority of Syrah with this dense and fruit forward 2018 vintage ending up a unique combination of 70% Syrah, 15% Grenache and 15% Sangiovese. This deep purple red wine, crafted by Kyle Knapp along with his assistant Matt Nocas, who’s come into his own after Stolpman’s long time and founding winemaker Sashi Moorman stepped back from his role here, and the wines have found a new purity of fruit, while retaining the expressive whole cluster style with this latest vintage of La Cuadrilla delivering a power house of black fruit flavors, sweet tannin, a touch of Syrah funky meatiness, spice and a hint of cigar wrapper. The nose is full of crushed vine picked berries, deep florals and hint of espresso before a full bodied performance on the palate that unfolds with olallieberry compote, blackberry coulis, plum, dark currant (leaning on creme de cassis) and kirsch, accented by wild mint, anise, mocha, peppercorns, camphor and lingering pomegranate. This is effortlessly pleasing, especially for Rhone blend lovers and while mainly Syrah this wine is open and warmly supple more in the vein of a Vinsobres, rather than a northern Rhone and the Sangiovese adds an exotic and a vibrant note, though very much in the background, and it might be a more interesting addition either in a few years or maybe in a larger percentage in the future, still this is absolutely delicious stuff, especially good with robust cuisine and I can see it going fantastic with Korean BBQ! This years label features Ruben himself depicted inked up with the La Cuadrilla labels in honor of assistant winemaker Matt Nocas, who has one of the labels tattooed to his own forearm, from what I hear.
The La Cuadrilla is special project for Stolpman Vineyards, as they employ its dedicated, passionate vineyard workers year-round, they were looking for ways to pay them what they are worth and give them a sense of belonging, so in an effort to provide further stability to their families, the crew “La Cuadrilla” receives, as Pete Stolpman says, the profits of their (this) wine. This is something everyone can celebrate and support in the most rewarding way possible by buying and drinking this fabulous bottling, it is great that small family winery can provide this level of give back to their workers. Not only that, the Stolpmans gave the Solorzano and his wife Maria, who feeds and takes care of the crew here, four acres of Limestone hillsides to plant their own estate vineyard, where they have some tasty Mourvedre planted and make a stylish red blend called Para Maria, which can include some interesting Bordeaux varietals as well! The wines at Stolpman, under Peter Stolpman and his wife Jessica, have really evolved and now there are two distinct lines and collections, along with their joint project “Combe” Trousseau(s) with Santa Barbara native and renown Sommelier Raj Parr, with their new So Fresh labels taking on a new dimension and importance here with the Love You Bunches series exploding, especially their light bodied and juicy carbonic maceration Sangiovese. Kyle, who, as the winery mentions, survived a great white shark attack off the coast here in Lompoc, is a rising youthful talent, perfect matching the tone and direction here and again who is excelling in his own right as head winemaker. This vintage of La Cuadrilla saw 80% concrete and 20% stainless steel tank in the fermentation process with native yeasts and aged only in neutral, well seasoned, French oak with its elevage in large 500L Ermitage cask and puncheons to allow for this wine to be as natural an expression of place as possible. As noted above this wine is at its very best with food and friends, it is a wine that always gives a solid performance and a good vibe, it’s also a tasty value.
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 A Championship Bottle, Broken Radios, Pinot Noir/Pinot Gris, Whistling Ridge Vineyard, Ribbon Ridge AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
If you are interesting in exciting and rare Oregon obscurities, you’ll want to discover and get on this under ground winery’s mailing list, and especially intriguing is this Broken Radios rouge made from 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Pinot Gris! At one time this wine would be considered a sacrilege, I mean who would ever blend anything with Pinot Noir, let alone its wimpy cousin, right? Well we are in a new age and there is an explosion of co-fermetted wines using a high percentage of white grapes in the cuvee and while you may think it is weird, you should know that Pinot Gris, while often and maybe mostly is known for white wines, it itself is not a white grape in reality, it is serious almost as dark as Pinot Noir when ripe on the vine and name actually means Pinot GREY in French as Gris and Italian as Grigio, sometimes you see the clusters with a ruby/orange tint, but the last time I was in Germany at harvest you couldn’t tell the Gris from the Noir. That all means this wine is not as weird as it might first seem, much the same way we are discovering that some Grenache wines are a combination of Grenache Noir and Grenache Gris, a combination now being explored in California by Randall Grahm in his, post Bonny Doon project, Popechuum Vineyard. The Broken Records rouge is smooth and supple fruited with a dark ruby hue in the glass and has a very lush and opulent mouth feel that flows with mostly a comforting array of Pinot fruit with black cherries, plum and strawberry along with light flowery aromas, delicate spicy notes and a faint sensation of golden raisins that seems to fade away under the weight of the red fruit after the first sip. After the initial impression and looking for the exotic, this wine ends up drinking really nicely with a ripe silky nature and goes great with food picking up its game and being a superb team player with a variety of cuisines, I found it held its own with Sushi rolls, spicy tuna and chili crab were surprising delicious with this wine. This bottling is super hard to find, especially as there were just about 60 cases made, thanks again to Vinopolis Wine Shop in Portland for turning me on to this slightly geeky and wild collection of wines.
It was only last year I became aware of this unique micro winery that is based in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, that was inspired by the wines of Friuli in northeast Italy, with influences coming from the legendary wines of Kante, Vigna da Duline, Gravner and Radikon to name a few, though not just these orange wine greats as Championship Bottle makes some pure and crystalline whites that are full of mineral charms and vibrancy as well as wines like this Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris blend. There has been a move towards northern Italy in Oregon for decades with their Pinot Gris wines becoming well known and the state’s biggest success in white wines in then market place, but now Pinot Bianco (blanc) is proving to be even better and rarities like Fruliano are gaining traction here, anyone that has had Pinot legend John Paul’s Cameron winery’s Giuliano white blend with know just how good these wines can be, and Championship Bottle’s versions are lovely as well. The winery believes, Oregon’s cool climate and the unique soils of the Willamette Valley allow for the production, with their offerings being all hand crafted in tiny lots, of (mostly white) wine with texture, bright minerality and elegant acidity. At this moment, because of special circumstances, the Broken Radio is not steady member of the lineup here and they may not make it in future years unless we get lucky, but I love their exceptional Sauvignon Blanc called Lost Verses and the Silicone on Sapphire white blend even more and I’m excited to try their latest releases. This Broken Radios, from a site set on the marine sedimentary soils and sitting between the famous Beaux Freres and Patricia Green estates, was a co-fermentation of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris on their skins, which the winery says, drinks like something in the world of Cru Beaujolais fan fiction (their words) while retaining a sense of spice and depth of black fruit that lets you know it’s from Ribbon Ridge. There was 25% whole cluster used in this one and it was aged exclusively in used French oak, seeing ten months of aging on its lees before being bottled without filtration. This harmonious and juicy wine comes in at just about 12.6% natural alcohol and Championship bottle, like Portland’s Bow & Arrow, offers something different from the mainstream, it’s exciting times for Oregon’s alternative varietals and wine styles.
($35 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Moulin de la Gardette, Gigondas “La Cuvee Tradition” Rhone Valley, France.
In recent years I have been drawn to the wines of Gigondas and Vacqueyras for my Grenache geek fix rather than the more expensive Chateauneuf du Pape wines, especially as the quality gap has narrowed to a tiny fine margin in some cases and this 2018 Moulin de la Gardette, a new producer to me, is one that delivers that pleasure and value I am looking for in an authentic Gigondas with a rustic and sultry charming wine that captures the essence of both place and vintage. The dark berry fruited and complex 2018 La Cuvee Tradition has a blast of whole bunch crunchiness and an array of spices, herbs, earth and savory elements to chew along with that core of sweet and ripe fruit in a wine that enjoys freshness of form, more so that what we saw with the 2017s from the southern Rhone and the detailing seems sharper, making it wonderfully easy to enjoy with simple country foods and or sheep cheeses. The domaine Moulin de la Gardette is a fifth generation small family winery nestled on the hillsides of the Montmirail range and make their wines in the classic or old school way with whole cluster, which looks like 100% in this vintage, and native yeast fermentation in cool cement vats with a year or so of aging in large used foudres, all of which allows for a soulful expression of terroir to show up on these full bodied wines. The vines here are at least 50 years old, with some closer to one hundred, and they yield way under the regulations as well with most sitting on good slopes and set on the Dentelles’ mineral rich limestone and clay soils at good elevation that makes for powerful wines that retain a good dose of acidity from the heights cooler breezes and cold nights. Another reason to love Gigondas and Vacqueyras AOC wines is that they can be drunk young and still be aged, for those that are patient and love a more mature wine, in some cases for 20 years.
Moulin de la Gardette took on its current name in 1958 and has been run by Jean-Baptiste Meunier since 1990, a vigneron who has a great respect for nature and history, working with organic methods in the vineyards and who focused on minimal winemaking intervention in his cellars. After looking into the Gardette wines I learned that Jean-Baptiste studied winemaking in the Carcassonne and interesting in Napa Valley as well, along with stints within the southern Rhone, and now tends about 25 acres of vines, which includes mostly, as expected Grenache, along with smaller plots of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault. Meunier makes three wines, this flagship La Cuvee Tradition, his most limited old vine bottling called Ventabren and La Petite Gardette, that is made from Jean-Baptiste’s younger vines. There’s a lot to unravel in this latest release with its deep purple and crimson color inviting you in and a slightly feral note on the nose before opening up in the mouth with layers of boysenberry, wild plum, tangy black currant, pomegranate and a sweet kirsch note, plus a light dusting of pepper, black licorice, a lavender and violet porporri and a pop of stemmy intensity that gives just the right amount of bitter contrast to the fruit density. This Moulin de la Moulin vintage saw the standard blend of 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre and comes in at a weighty and pretty normal 14.5% natural alcohol for a wine of this concentration and impressive taste impact. I’m thrilled with the personality and quality of this Gardette Gigondas and will certainly get more and follow the up coming efforts of Meunier. The 2018 vintage is turning out to be one to stock up on in this part of the Rhone, with bit less hype, there are some stunning wine and great bargains, which this wine represents, especially as a young wine that looks to provide rewarding drinking enjoyment for another 5 to 10 years with ease.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
1995 Ridge Vineyards, Carignan, Oat Valley Vineyard, Cooley Family Ranch, Sonoma County.
I am still obsessed with these early to mid 1990s Ridge wines, especially the Zinfandel field blends and Carignan based wines, they are aging beautifully and holding on fantastically well, like this impeccable Oat Valley Ranch Vineyard 100% old vine Carignan that is showing its age, but still offering a full range of flavors, balance and an almost Bordeaux like profile with dark fruits, a hint of loamy earth, cedary spice, dried flowers and a graphite mineral note. This bottle came from an exceptional cellar, it never moved since it was bought as part of the Ridge ATP wine club, which offered out a special bottling not available to wine stores or restaurants, it had a perfect cork with not a hint of bleed and the color was perfect for a wine of this vintage with a bit of brown around the edges and with a dark garnet core. The nose is incredibly has a hint of reduction, but blows off quickly and opens to show the wilted flowers, red berries and the beginnings of some stewy plum and autumn leaves before the medium bodied palate comes alive with mulberry, baked blackberry, currant and dried cherries along with touch of underbrush, anise and bramble. The Oat Valley Vineyard Carignan retains that graphite and flinty element throughout though it never takes away from the overall drinking pleasure even with the slight fading of fruit and surprisingly, this fine aged example of this grape was superb with food, pulling out more pretty and supple fruit with my Saturday night pizza! This wine maybe deserved better, thinking it would have given its last true charm much better with a selection of hard cheeses and or a simple cut of beef, but oh well, it was still a wonderfully rewarding wine that was deservedly admired by me. For those who don’t know, Carignan is one of the Chateauneuf du Pape grapes common in the Rhone Valley, but maybe better known for its role in the wines of the Corbieres region in the Languedoc, where it sees its largest acreage of vines, though it is also found in most southern European counties, including Spain and Italy, Chile and Australia, as well as here in California.
The Cooley Family Ranch Carignan grapes were hand harvested and transferred to Ridge’s Monte Bello winery, as Lytton Springs (purchased by Ridge in 1996) wasn’t yet doing the Sonoma and Dry Creek bottlings, with this Oat Valley Vineyard sitting on the edge of the Sonoma and Mendocino county lines with soils that are a collection of iron and mineral rich rocky volcanic soils at a nice elevation that saw warm days and cool nights, allowing the perfect ripening of these grapes. At this time, Ridge’s legendary winemaker Paul Draper was leading the cellar team and his gifted touch certainly adds to the humbling experience to drink up some California history, with these vines being all pre-Prohibition plantings, making them over 80 years old at the time of this 1995 wine, which sadly look to have been entirely grated over to Bordeaux varietals in recent years. I was almost teary eyed as I was researching this wine, as these Carignan vines would be well over a hundred years old now, but unfortunately they are no more it would seem, only pleasure filled memories at this stage. Ridge has long been a champion of single vineyard site throughout California and has been heroic in trying to save the oldest and most unique vines and grape varieties, making wines of class and distinction since 1962, with a respect for nature and tradition in the vineyard and in the cellar. Ridge uses native yeasts and mostly de-stemmed grapes and ages in mostly long air dried American oak barrels that provide for more transparency and authentic terroir character and purity of flavors. Interestingly, 44 barrels were made of this Oat Valley Vineyard Old Vine Carignan, so hopefully there are a few more bottles out there for people to discover, but it also shows how awesome Ridge’s wine club is and how loyal the members are to soak up that much of a lesser known varietal!
($45 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2019 Sheldon Wines, Grenache, Ceja Farms, Sonoma Valley.
The sexy cool climate 2019 Sheldon Ceja Farms Grenache is as pure as pure gets with a ravishing electric ruby color, showing an inviting lighter look in the glass, but with an incredible burst of crushed raspberry, pomegranate, strawberry and plum fruits on the supply and spicy medium bodied palate with excellent fruit density, energy and silken tannins. The bouquet is intoxicating and there’s a wildly exciting thrill of sweet florals, candied cherries and herbal elements, plus just the right amount of subtle savory notes to keep your attention and just holding you back from the edge of unbridled hedonistic abandon. In other words, yes, this is exactly what Sheldon’s fans want from this small micro winery in Santa Rosa, and I’m happy to report this is just as good as their awesome 2018 is, if not better, making for a blast of Grenache goodness with all of it’s evil joys. I remember talking about Pure Grenache wines with Dylan in his early days as a winemaker and while he was inspired by the legendary Chateau Rayas and influenced by his stint at Chateau de Saint Cosme in Gigondas, when he was on his honeymoon with his amazing wife Tobe, he was also highly impressed with Aussie versions of 100% Grenache, as opposed to the classic GSMs, and in particular his passion for Turkey Flats Grenache, which this wine reminds me of. There’s hints of wild fennel, framboise, loamy earth and tangy sage that pull you away from the forward nature of the opulent fruity character in this lovely and textural Grenache that is somewhat also like the impressive Sierra de Gredos Garnacha wines that I’ve been geeking out on for the last few years, this is captivating stuff that should deliver comforting pleasure for the next 3 to 5 years with ease. I am thinking this Sheldon vintage is one of their best yet, it offers wonderful layers and each detail comes through perfectly, this is a Grenache that Pinots lovers will gravitate to and it will provide endless smiles for the grape’s fanatics, it will be great with smoky sweet flavors of BBQ this Spring and Summer!
Dylan Sheldon, who’s been making Grenache based wines since 2000, explains that this wine is one of his truest loves, the hardest and most watchful of work to produce, but the results are sinfully good with the grapes coming from this two-acre vineyard, set on rocky the alluvial soils, in the south end of the Sonoma Valley, close to Carneros and the Petaluma wind gap. The Ceja’s were skeptical that Grenache would work here, as Dylan notes this plot is largely surrounded by Pinot and Chard vines, it exists in an area most growers would consider a bit too cool to ripen Grenache, he wanted the delicacy and aromatics allowed by the slow ripening, adding that this Grenache tends to get an excellent long hang time, boosting flavor development and physiological ripeness, but with highly desirable lower overall sugars, giving Sheldon complexity and a heavenly lightness of being. There’s a lot of rewards to be found in these cooler climate style Grenache wines in California these days with Angela Osborne’s stellar Santa Barbara based Tribute to Grace versions, Ian Brand’s Brosseau, from Monterey’s Chalone Appellation, and Russell Joyce’s dreamy 12.7% natural alcohol old vine Besson Vineyard, all of which are, along with Sheldon’s two exceptional examples, fine expressions. The Sheldon approach with this Ceja Farms Grenache is to lightly crush on whole cluster to get things ready, after which they cover to fresh must with a CO2 blanket (dry ice) for a period of nearly 24 hours, for a nice little cold soak prior to the primary fermentation. Then this version sees something like four to six days of slow semi-carbonic maceration/fermentation before getting a gentlle de-stemming where Dylan leaves most of berries whole, then carefully and painstakingly lifted in mass to a different bin to complete the remainder of fermentation, before going into well used French oak barrels to complete malos and age just over a year. As loyal followers will certainly know by now, I’m a huge fan of these Sheldon nectars, and in these tough times for small family wineries, it is great to see the passion and commitment to quality payoff with their exciting set of new releases, which includes this one, that will be offered out very soon.
($38 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2019 Weingut Donnhoff, Riesling Kabinett, Niederhauser Klamm, Nahe Germany.
These 2019 German Rieslings, at least the ones I’ve tried so far, are absolutely charming and unbridledly joyous in their youth, especially these modern high quality Kabinett level wines, which are enjoying a serious renaissance in popularity and have never been better, with Cornelius Donnhoff’s impeccable versions being huge standouts, especially this Niederhauser Klamm with its crystalline purity, slightly off dry personality and beautiful yellow fruits. The lightness, but underlying complexity make this easy to love and flexible Kabinett is everything you could ask for and more with the slightly drier than normal sweetness (RS) level makes for a refreshing and smooth Riesling, with a hint of creamy texture, rather than sugary, and a nicely crisp finish that goes great with lots of different foods, from Asian to classic German fare and or sea food. Delightful as an aperitif as well, the 2019 impresses from start to finish, delivering a stellar performance for this re-imagined category with distinct terroir, mineral notes and layers of racy citrus and peachy stone fruits with delicate spiciness and a very pleasing mouth feel, this Niederhauser Klamm Kabinett is open and expressive, less slatey (flinty) intense and coldly precise than Donnhoff’s Oberhäuser Leistenberg, but every bit as compelling and age worthy. There are lime, apricot, tart apple, minty herbs, wet stone and melon sensations that come out as you sip this fine example from one of the Nahe’s greatest estates and one of the world’s best winemakers, there is no better time than now to explore full collection of Donnhoff, from their powerful dry (Trocken) wines to their heavenly balanced sweet offerings, there is no better lineup of Rieslings on earth. Donnhoff is one of my “desert island” wines, these are Rieslings that I cannot imagine living without, honestly life is too short and precious not to have a few bottles of these around at all times!
It’s well known that the Donnhoff family is committed to the exceptional and this is a winery that never rests on its laurels, there will never be any rust here and the hard work and the down to earth grit continues here with a never ending attention to detail in the cellar and back breaking work in the vineyards, all of which are truly Grand Cru sites that have an amazing array of different soils and characteristics. The Niederhauser Klamm, a VDP Grosse Lage site, is set on a combination of volcanic porphyry, loam and loess based soils, with some weathered dark slate as well, which gives this wine its ripe outgoing nature, light spicy and exotic elements, this is a delightful little Kabinett that shows the quality of place and the talented touch and gentle guidance from vine to bottle by Cornelius and his team. All the vineyards are immaculately farmed, everything is done with care hand tending and to organic principles at this famous property, and while a small region, the Nahe is incredibly diverse from its upper to lower areas, with Donnhoff having some this river regions most dramatic and complex sites. Klamm sites next to the legendary Grand Cru Hermannshöhle, one of the world’s most prized vineyards and that pedigree certainly shows here, this wine is a class act. The 2019 Niederhauser Klamm was fermented and matured in both stainless steel and large oak casks that allows for transparent delicacy and to give these wonderful wines their underlying substance. The Nahe, which runs into the mightly Rhein at Bingen, is actually a family warm region and gets lots of sunshine that the vineyards soak up and allows for the Riesling to get a full development of phenolic ripeness and depth of flavors, which especially shows in the densely Grosses Gewachs that are some of the most sought after dry white wines in the world, blowing away many top white Burgundies that sell for two or three times the price! For everyday value and succulent pleasure these Donnhoff Kabinett(s) are insanely rewarding wines, don’t miss these brilliant 2019s!
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Laura Lorenzo – Daterra Viticultores, Camino de la Frontera, Vino Tinto, Los Arribes del Duero, Spain.
The unique and outstandingly expressive Camino de la Frontera, made from incredibly rare local varietals including Juan Garcia, Tinta Madrid and Rufete from a high elevation vineyard in Fermoselle is crazy delicious with deep layers of blueberry, pomegranate, açaí and earthy currant fruits, but with racy acidity, a nice umami crunchiness, spicy notes and mineral elements in a wonderfully soulful and balanced wine. To explain this exotic field blend red wine from Arribes del Duero, you’d have to imagine some amazingly different wines blended together, I am seeing elements of classic Northern Rhones, along with characteristics you find in the red wines of the Alto Adige, as well as something like the Frappato and Nero d’Avola blends in Southern Sicily in the Vittoria region! Laura Lorenzo is one of the most heroic and iconic winemakers in Spain these days and her Daterra Viticultores label is one of the most intriguing in the wine world with a star studded lineup of natural style wines from some insanely difficult to farm sites in the remote wilds between the Ribeira Sacra, mainly in the Val do Bibei and the Valdeorras zone, along with some parcels just farther a field, all in steep and backbreaking terroirs set on this area’s granite, slate and sandy soils. Lorenzo first burst onto the wine scene through her work at Dominio do Bibei, one of the first of the new generation Ribeira Sacra producers, this is when I first experienced her wines and I became an instant fan, these Mencia bottlings were fantastic and captivating wines and kept me following this very interesting winemaker and personality, when she started her own winery with the 2014 vintage. Laura, who worked with South Africa’s legendary Eben Sadie and at Argentina’s Achaval Ferrer, both of which can be seen in the influence of her wines, hand crafts wines of raw authenticity and inner beauty, with this dark purple/garnet and ruby edged 2018 Camino de la Frontera, from a difficult cool and wet vintage, being a favorite of mine of her current releases.
The vivid and floral (violet) toned Camino de la Frontera Tinto comes from an ancient parcel with vines that are well over a hundred years old at 650 meters above sea level, it is a northwest-facing vineyard set on mostly granite in the Parque Natural de Los Arribes del Duero, in the Zamora zone. As noted by her importer Jose Pastor Selections, this field blend, planted to mostly Juan Garcia, Tinta Madrid (aka Tempranillo), and Rufete also has a tiny amount of other indigenous varieties, with Bobal, Mencía and some Bastardo also, to name a few, all of which give this wine its own flavor profile and complexity. This exciting and excellent wine, even after the mentioned cool, wet & humid summer, turned out to be a wine of surprising depth and is rustically rewarding. The grapes, which are all organic, were hand-harvested then traditionally foot-trodden using about 50% whole-cluster and 50% de-stemmed in this year, with as per normal with Laura’s natural wines, was wild yeast fermented. Lorenzo, who believes in transparency and wines that deliver textural pleasure, used a combination of large French oak and a 1000L chestnut wood foudre to ferment in and then this Camino de la Frontera Tinto was raised in the same vessels for 11 months. As expected in wines like this there was no manipulation during the winemaking process here and Laura’s wines see only a small dose of SO2 with all of her wines being unfined and unfiltered to preserve purity as well as showcase the individual terroirs and every distinct nuance to be found in the finished wines. This is compelling stuff and perfectly delivers everything I love about these Daterra Viticultores wines, which are sultry, earthy seductive and celebrate a sense of wildness that captures the essence of this region and the Galician cool Atlantic climate and rugged charms. Laura Lorenzo, who is a must follow producer for natural wine fans and Spanish wine enthusiasts, stands over six feet tall, towers above most of the natives and who once had dreadlocks, makes quite an impression as do her exceptional wines, don’t miss them, especially this one.
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Ca del Baio, Barbaresco “Asili” DOCG, Piedmonte, Italy.
There’s so much to admire here in the deep ruby/garnet 2016 Asili Cru Barbersco by Ca’ del Baio, this stuff has raised the game here at this winery with beautiful sweet fruit density, polished tannins and classic Nebbiolo character, this a youthful stunner from this famous vineyard and region. I am a huge Piedmonte fan and have a soft spot for Barbaresco, as well as this Asili vineyard, which I have been drinking since first discovering it through the glorious 1996 bottling by Ceretto, and this Ca’ del Baio version is a thrilling example that should continue to get more impressive over the next 15 to 20 years, though absolutely delicious even at this very early stage. Barbaresco, a small appellation when compared to its famous neighbor Barolo, is located near the towns of Neive and Treiso which was born back in 1894, became a DOC in 1966 and got its DOCG finally in 1980, it gained fame worldwide due to the efforts of Gaja, maybe the most important producer and especially Angelo Gaja’s top three cru versions; his Sori Tildin, Sori San Lorenzo and Costa Russi, that are some of the most valuable and sought after wines in the world. This Asili, which is on the primary calcareous marls and clay along with veins of rare minerals sits up about 250 meters above sea level on a warm hillside that allows for incredible richness and complexity with this Ca’ del Baio showing all of the best inartistic flavors of this special terroir with a seeped rose petal bouquet and the vintage’s opulent fruit, highlighted by crushed raspberries, black cherry, damson plum and dense red currant that is accented by light game, earth, black licorice, a touch of lavender and wild mint, as well as faint cedar and lingering kirsch. This is fabulous Nebbiolo and is a savvy value and perfect for budget collectors or enthusiasts.
Giulio Grasso’s Ca’ del Baio, which was founded back in the early 1920’s, but didn’t start making wine under their own label until 2004, having previously sold grapes to the coop, Produttori del Barbaresco, is an eco friendly small family winery in Treiso, in the Langhe hills near the border of Neive and close to Barbaresco itself, making a range of fine Barbaresco as well as Langhe Nebbiolo, Chardonnay, Riesling, Moscato d’Asti, Barbera and Dolcetto. The traditionally crafted Asili Barbaresco, 100% de-stemmed grapes was fermented with maceration on the skins for up to 30 days in stainless steel tanks at controlled temperatures to preserve aromatics and fresh detail. After being pressed to a combination of large oak casks and smaller French barrels the Ca’ del Baio Asili Barbaresco was aged 24 months before bottling. The Grasso’s are gentle and transparent in their winemaking, looking for purity and nuance, which leads them to try to employ only indigenous yeasts when possible and have low sulfur in their wines, along with their sustainable vineyard practices, (they) are looking to make as a natural expression as possible. The Ca’ del Baio’s parcel at Asili is from vines that were planted between 1957 and 1999 and are on a near perfect southwest facing slope on the the mentioned classic soils which include the blue marls and clay that allows for the supple and ripe fruit detail and refined tannins. As noted in my prior reviews, this is a winery on the rise, in 2016 Giulio received a great honor, he was named “Viticulturist of the Year” by the very prestigious Gambero Rosso Italian Wine Guide and these 2016 Barbarescos are next level offerings that should not be missed! Ca’ del Baio is on my watch list and I highly recommend these wines, especially this Asili, plus their Pora cru and Autinbej cru Barbarescos.
($42 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2014 Domaine Jean-Marc Boillot, Volnay, Cote de Beaune, Red Burgundy, France.
The lovely 2014 vintage Volnay from the Jean-Marc Boillot domaine, a small winery founded back in 1984 and based in the famous town of Pommard, is a brilliantly elegant example of red Burgundy from this often underrated zone in the Cote de Beaune with smooth and luxurious texture and a pure layering of classic Pinot fruit, making for a very compelling and enticing wine. With flavors that feel bright and vivid this Boillot Volnay is still youthful in form with just a hint of reduction that needs a few moments to blow off and allow the more pretty floral elements to shine, while the ripe and supple medium bodied palate is evolved enough to be gracefully rewarding, in a way that reminds you clearly why Burgundy is so special with black cherry, red raspberry, blood orange and earthy strawberry fruits along with delicate briar notes, baking spices, rose petals, a touch of cedary smoky char and a fine mineral tone. This domaine, which is especially noteworthy for its exceptional lineup of white Burgundies, was one of the first Burgundies that I myself started buy with regularity and in particular, being that I was not ever over loaded with cash, I stocked up on the lesser known bottlings like Boillot’s Montagny and Rully Bourgogne Blancs that were and still are awesome values! That said, I have also been a fan of this winery’s red wine efforts, with this basic Volnay being one that certainly has been on my go to list since the 1999 vintage, plus when I was flush with a few extra dollars, I bought Boillot’s gorgeous Puligny-Montrachet(s) with their Premier Cru Les Referts being a favorite.
Domaine Jean-Marc Boillot was born from a family squabble, with Jean-Marc setting out on his own, leaving the historic Henri Boillot estate after disagreeing with the direction of style, which was trending to bigger and extra fruit extraction that went against the lighter and more finessed ideals that Jean-Marc preferred. As he got his own label up and running he became the winemaker for well known and admired Olivier Leflaive and took over his grandfather’s small cellars in Pommard, where he made a name for himself over the following decade. It should noted too, that Jean-Marc’s maternal grandfather was the late legendary Etienne Sauzet, who’s Montrachet’s are some of the most fabled wines ever produced, from whom he also inherited some exceptional parcels and was an inspiration to the young vigneron, so you can see why his white wines are his jewels and higher admired worldwide. This gemstone ruby red 2014 Volnay comes from Pinot Noir vines in a small single plot in the Les Pasquiers Lieu-Dit that is set on the region’s clay and limestone soils and was traditionally crafted using carefully sorted and de-stemmed hand harvested grapes. After the gentle crushing the Volnay was cold soaked in tank and saw an almost three week maceration and then allowed to warm for primary fermention, after which the wine was pressed and racked to small barriques with close to 25% new oak where it was raised for just over a year before a light filtration and bottling. The classic style and terroir driven character in this red Burgundy makes for a fine example of pure Volnay and with air its silky mouth feel and opulence takes over and a little patience pays off nicely. Opening this bottle brought back happy memories and I am now more excited than ever to taste the latest releases from Domaine Jean-Marc Boillot.
($58 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
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