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

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