2017 Caraccioli Cellars, Brut Cuvée, Escolle Vineyard Sparkling Wine, Santa Lucia Highlands.
One of California’s top sparkling wines, Caraccioli’s Brut Cuvée was a perfect way to really celebrate Spring’s arrival, along with a perfect day on the golf course, in Monterey County with its bright energy, elegant beading mousse and complex leesy depth matching up perfectly. The palate is electric and racy with an Extra Brut feel and a steely pulse showing lemon preserves, quince, green apple and unripe peach fruits on the lean palate before hints of white blossoms, wet stone, delicate hazelnut brioche and clove spice. This is serious stuff, that maybe we didn’t give much of a chance to shine without proper glassware and without food, which would have really elevated the quality and thrill, but it sure was joyous and still managed to grab our attention. I promise, Scott Caraccioli, to focus more on the next bottle of your awesome new release! Caraccioli’s Escolle Vineyard, set on sandy loams and seeing a huge Ocean influence, first planted in 2008, is named after the historic local legend Honoré Escolle, one of Carmel’s founding fathers, who was very influential in many ways too the region. Escolle has become one of the most prized vineyards in the region and noted for the quality of the fruit, especially its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The farming here is quite exceptional making it, along with likes of Garys’, Rosella’s, Tondre, Pisoni, Soberanes to name a few, a top site in the Santa Lucia Highlands and the recently added Gamay Noir here is showing huge potential, as witnessed with their own efforts and others. The 2017 was difficult with a blistering late heat wave causing havoc, but for the sparkling wines, the grapes were picked early before hot weather impacted them and this wine shows the cool climate intensity and vitality it needs to such a beauty, it is a perfect companion with briny oysters and sushi as well as poultry dishes.

Few other wineries have put together such a fine collection of terroir driven wines in such a short time, especially their Sparkling wines, which is the main focus of the winery. It all started with the help of the late Michel Salgues, who had worked for famed Champagne house Louis Roderer for most of his career, including the last nineteen years at Roederer Estate in Anderson Valley, where he was the founding winemaker. Scott Caraccioli and his team have quickly gained a solid reputation for his grower producer style bubbly and is now considered one of the best producers in California of Champagne method sparkling wines. Caraccioli follows a very traditional regime from the vines to the bottle, with early picks to long lees aging on these elegant and extra lively wines. Caraccioli first does a light pressing of the cool and fresh juice in small lots, with the winery noting that they do 120 gallons (well below what the law in Champagne mandates: 150-180gl.) at a time. The Cuvée and Rosé see no skin contact and mostly gets some stainless, though some of the lots are fermented in barrique, with all of the primary fermentations being spontaneous, done with ambient yeasts. The Caraccioli Brut Rosé undergoes the same processes and initial blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, as this Brut Cuvée. The difference in the Rosé is that Scott hand picks of a barrel of Pinot Noir still wine to blend into the final Rosé for color, while Brut Cuvée is all naturale. As mentioned in prior reviews, to enhance complexity and depth the young wine is barreled down-post fermentation for a few months, taking as Caraccioli explains, a little rest before blending, though in a few years there is some stainless aged juice and a long élevage in bottle, with a full four years on the lees, and then they are held back after disgorgement, under cork, for about two more years before release. Be sure to grab a few bottles of this excellent fizz and be sure to give it the respect it deserves!
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

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