2019 Pax Wines, Mondeuse Noire, Bearg Ranch Vineyard, Fountaingrove AVA, Sonoma County.
The Pax Mondeuse is wonderfully dark and seriously inviting with crushed lilacs, grilled herbs, black plums and Asian spices which all echo on the medium/full bodied palate along with some whole bunch excitement and bright berry fruits that rotate in the mouth with wild blackberry leading the way along with a touch of açaí and pepper notes, making for a very entertaining naturally styled red wine with some raw earthy elements and rustic tannins. There are a couple of very interesting Mondeuse wines in California at the moment, with Jaimee Motely’s from Santa Maria Valley grown Mondeuse and Lagier-Merideth’s Mt. Veeder Estate in Napa Valley with its mountain fruit intensity being two I’ve really enjoyed in recent vintages, so I was excited to get Pax Mahle’s in my glass and I very much enjoyed his version. Pax employs lots of whole cluster fermentation(s) with organic grapes that are all done with indigenous or native yeasts without any additions and extremely low or no sulfites used except for a tiny amount just prior to bottling depending on the vintage with the Mondeuse seeing only well seasoned used French oak for its elevage to promote purity and fresh detail. Air brings even more pleasure and heightens that floral intensity and brings out a smooth textural quality, while keeping its spicy character and adding a touch of green olive, toffee and a light sense of cedar. The Bearg Vineyard set on Sonoma volcanics and well draining soils is a hillside site that sees a bit of cooling Russian River influences that helps with retaining zesty acidity, as this nicely balanced 2019 Mondeuse displays.

Only 56 cases were made of Pax’s rare Mondeuse Noire, which is a dark skinned alpine grape and produces a deeply colored wine with lots of earthy and spices flavors, as well as having a heady violet and peony bouquet and has some similarities to Syrah, but a bit lighter and more tangy. Mondeuse Noire, or just Mondeuse to most people, is a red French wine grape variety that is grown primarily in the Savoie region of eastern France, high up and close to the Swiss border. This Pax is a delightful example and will surprise some old world fans of this grape as it compares well with Savoie’s best producers, it reminds me a bit of the excellent Savoie Chignin Mondeuse “Vieilles Vignes” by André et Michel Quenard. The grape can also be found in Argentina, Australia, California, Switzerland and freakishly as well as on Sicily. Most European plantings of Mondeuse Noire were devastated during the phylloxera epidemic in the late 1800s which nearly wiped it out, but the vine has recovered, though not to the percentage of acres it once enjoyed and it remains extremely rare and unique in California. It has a few acres in Sonoma, but was most successful in Santa Maria and was brought to wine drinkers attention by the late great Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climate, who for many years bottling a single varietal version as well as a 50% – 50% blend with Pinot Noir, which was the first wine I ever tried in California with Mondeuse. Pax uses the Bearg Vineyard, in the Fountaingrove AVA near Chalk Hill, for some of his rarities like one of his Gamays, his Trousseau and this limited Mondeuse Noire bottling. Obviously known mainly for his incredible Syrah offerings, Pax has shown some flair with his alternative efforts and I highly recommend exploring his vibrant collection of natural wines and enjoy them with friends and simple foods.
($42 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

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