2019 Monte Rio Cellars, Skull MRC Red Wine, California.
Patrick Cappiello’s Monte Rio Cellars 2019 Skull MRC Red Wine is a blue fruited and delicious blend of 50% Petite Sirah, 30% Mission (AKA Pais or Listan) and 20% Zinfandel from various organic vineyard sites. Cappiello, who is Food & Wine host for Playboy and founding member of Winemakers & Sommeliers for California Wildfire Relief, has been one of America’s top sommeliers since 2002 since he took over the cellar at NYC’s famous TriBeCa Grill. Every place he’s been at has won honors with each place nabbing Wine Spectator’s “Grand Award” including TriBeCa Grill, Veritas, GILT, and Pearl & Ash. Patrick has won lots of industry praise, he was named “Sommelier of the Year 2014” by Food & Wine Magazine, “Wine Person of the Year 2014” by Imbibe Magazine, and “Sommelier of the Year 2015” by Eater National. And now working with Pax Mahle of Pax Cellars, his fun Monte Rio label is gaining some attention too, with an rustic collection of natural styled California inspired wines, mostly from historic Lodi old vines and a mix of long time California grapes, including the Mission grape which was the first European varietal to find its way here when the Spanish missionaries miraged here in the 1700s on their long move north from Chile that started in the 1500s. With a Zinfandel focus, Monte Rio Cellars’ goal with the chosen vineyards is simple, states Cappiello, harvest ripe, healthy grapes, with balanced acids and sugars, which require no additions from the winery.

Monte Rio has gained a loyal following and the Skull Red Wine is one that seems to have a cult like following, and after sampling this 2019 MRC version I can see why, this is darkly rich and comforting on the medium/full palate with blueberry, black raspberry and sweet plum fruits leading the way with a nice mix of florals and earthy notes as well as hints of red pepper flakes, which I usually get from Mission and a burst of whole bunch crunchiness, mineral tones and lingering herbal highlights which frame the wine’s fruitiness very well. The hands off winemaking approach from Pax and Patrick pays off with the less fussy and more raw character of the wines, these are not wines for wine critics, these are for friends and easy quaffing. This purple/crimson and fresh 2019 Skull MRC Red Wine saw a 100% whole cluster carbonic maceration for 6-10 days in stainless steel then it was, as Cappiello notes, pressed into a mix of concrete and stainless steel for 8-12 days before being aged for 10 months in old wood barrels. Patrick adds that there was no sulfur used in the winemaking process here, there is only the small amount that naturally occurs during the fermentation and that as always with his wines, the farming was 100% organic and only indigenous yeasts to the work here. Picking times are critical with Monte Rio and their style, helping with balance and the low ABV, which finished at 12.5% alcohol and helped retain a lively acidity, making this vintage especially delightful. I am happy to support people that do good things for the world and make wines that are pure fun in the glass, in this case inspired by California’s almost forgotten wine past, I hope you do as well.
($18 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

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