Grapelive.com – November 2022
2015 Alberto Orte, Mencia “A Portela” Valdeorras D.O., Galicia, Spain.
Orte’s 2015 A Portela Mencia is getting pretty mature at this stage with some secondary tertiary elements coming through and folding of savory tones over the fruit, but it is still a very fine example of grape and place with racy acidity and mineral notes firmly in view here along with red currant, cranberry, black cherry and brambly spiced raspberry fruits along with dried flowers, wild herbs and subtle earthiness, making for a tasty effort. This wine comes from a single parcel in the Valdeorras zone, which is warmer than its neighbors to the west, Ribeira Sacra especially, being separated from the cold and wet Atlantic climate by a range of mountains and set on granite based soils. This region is noted for great Mencia reds and Godello whites, it is a unique terroir that is cooler than the Bierzo, which is just to the east, where the vines get a more Continental climate with warmer conditions that makes for more ripe flavors and concentration, though this one from Orte isn’t lacking for anything and a great value.
The winemaker Alberto Orte, as mentioned, produces his A Portela from a single vineyard, planted to high elevation, which has slate and granite soils, all of which makes for more flinty mineral in this Mencia based wine. This wine was crafted from 100% Mencia, from vines that were planted between 1976 and 1990, which are sustainable hand tended on a steep slope that rises up to almost 2,700 feet above sea level, which allows for the vibrant acidity. This wine is crafted from de-stemmed grapes with a week long cold soak before a 10 day maceration and fermentation in stainless steel vats, after going dry the wine is then racked off the heavy lees into stainless again for 12 months and then aged a further 8 months in used French oak barrels. Valdeorras kind of gets overlooked in Galicia, but these are serious and delicious wines which I really enjoy, so I was very happy to discover this A Portela and look forward to trying a more fresh vintage, as this 2015 started to fade just a bit after 20 minutes in the glass, even though it was still pleasing, especially with food. This bottling was done in a collaboration with the importer Olé Imports and is part of collection of wines under a series called Olé & Obrigado, that is promoting small growers in Spain and Portugal.
($24 Est.) 89 Points, grapelive
2019 Odonata Winery, Syrah, Hook Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The upcoming release of 2009 Odonata Hook Vineyard Syrah is full on Northern Rhone style, Jamet Cote-Rotie inspired whole cluster fermented beauty with layers of black fruits, including black raspberry, damson plum, black currant and kirsch, along with black olive tapenade, feral earthiness, mocha, licorice, burnt embers, crushed violets, peppercorns and lingering creme de cassis. The body is full and delivers ripe tannin and an opulent mouth feel, but still is racy with the whole bunch crunch and nice cool climate acidity, plus a subtle wood element, making for a thrilling wine that is exceptional with rustic and robust cuisine, especially pork and lamb dishes. Owner/winemaker Denis Hoey, who as well as being a skilled winemaker, is one of the most real and nicest people you could meet, in this business, a quality that even makes his wines taste even better. Using traditional methods in the cellar and sustainable farming, Hoey’s Odonata has really made a name for itself with a tasty array of eclectic and standard small lot bottlings, from Riesling bubbly to classic Pinot Noir, with this SLH Syrah being one of my favorites. There’s a lot to admire with this terroir driven Hook Syrah, it delivers a ton of personality and complexity and is a great value for the price, old world Syrah fans will find some joy here and it should age well too, drink from 2022 to 2032.
Odonata is enjoying some exciting times with new releases of their Silacci Vineyard Pinot Noir, Hook Vineyard Grenache, a Brunello style Sangiovese, a Carbonic Carignan and brilliant set of Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon(s), along with this Hook Vineyard Syrah and their unique collection of sparkling wines, which I reviewed earlier here at Grapelive.com. Odonata Wines, as mentioned, was founded in Santa Cruz back in 2005, but became a full fledged estate winery in 2014 when they moved into the old Marilyn Remark Winery property in the Santa Lucia Highlands on River Road, which is one of the best places to visit on the SLH wine trail. The Hook Vineyard, which is noteworthy for old vine Grenache, as well as Syrah, has some small yielding mature vines with the Santa Lucia Highlands under-pinning of decomposed granite and sandy loams with a cool breezy Pacific Ocean influenced climate that gives a long hang time and full concentrated flavors, as this terrific Syrah delivers perfectly. The Syrah sees a lengthy cool maceration and is fermented with native yeasts with Hoey employing hand punch-downs, making sure the cap stays wet and that full extraction is achieved before the wine is rested, for about a year, in mostly well used French barrels, all to promote authentic varietal character and transparency. I’m thrilled with these new Odonata wines, from the 2019 vintage, like this savory edged dark inky purple Syrah and can’t wait to see more, I highly recommend checking these wines out!
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Dönnhoff, Riesling Trocken, Kreuznacher Kahlenberg, Nahe, Germany.
The Kreuznacher Kahlenberg is one Dönnhoff’s Grand Cru sites, uniquely set on gravelly loams along the Nahe River and provides the grapes for this crystalline 1er Cru (Erste Lage) Trocken bottling, it is one of sleeper wines in the stellar collection of dry Rieslings by Cornelius Dönnhoff, with this 2018 drinking right up there with the GGs. The Kahlenberg Trocken, as this one is called, is electric and saline brisk in the glass with lime blossom and steely mineral driven, giving bright citrus, peach, hints of tropical fruit and spicy, adding stony details, a touch of chamomile and tart kumquat. Cornelius explains, to preserve laser-like focus and clarity in his wines, the grapes are pressed as soon as possible, almost always within 3 hours of picking. The Erste Lage and Grosses Gewachs dry wines, like this one, are typically fermented in Dönnhoff’s traditional German casks (1200 L stuck and 2400 L doppelstuck), with the lighter and or sweeter wines seeing mostly stainless steel, with both allowed to go through spontaneous fermentations. Though, interestingly, as Terry Theise, who introduced me to these wines, notes that Donnhoff’s cellar is unique in its capacity to hold all of its production entirely in stainless steel or in wood casks, allowing for the ideal élevage for any of wines at any point during a vintage, depending on the nature of the vintage or personality of each wine. This wine saw a combination of both stainless and old large cask to enhance balance and freshness here, with the wine resting on the fine lees for about 9 months which adds to the richness and textural quality here. This wine is sourced from mature vines with parts that are well sloped and with southern exposure with quartzite veins, which makes for concentrated and ripe Rieslings, like this top notch bone dry, but generous food friendly bottling, which is one of my favorites.
It’s well known, that the Dönnhoff family arrived in the Nahe region over 200 years ago, and their modest farm slowly evolved into one of Europe’s greatest wine estates, making some of most desirable dry, off-dry and sweet wines in the world. Helmut Dönnhoff, who is credited with bringing this property into the limelight had been making the wine since 1966, and now his son Cornelius, the 4th generation to run this historic winery and their 25ha of Grand Cru vineyards, has increased the fame of these wines as the winemaker. The Riesling vines here at Dönnhoff are old clones which according to the winery were sourced from sites in Niederhausen and Schloßböckelheim and the estate vines are farmed with holistic and mainly organic practices to preserve the soils here and produce the highest possible quality grapes, which are mostly Riesling, though Dönnhoff has some awesome Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which is used in their Sekt Sparkling wine. Dönnhoff, which is located in the village of Oberhäusen an der Nahe, is one of the Nahe superstars and the full range of wines here are exceptional and I cherish them across the board, from the entry level estate wines to their exotic Eiswein, which I must say was one of the greatest wines I’ve ever had, but the single vineyard dry Rieslings are maybe the most coveted, especially their Hermannshöhle GG. Dönnhoff’s importer Skurnik notes that this vineyard was first mentioned by name in 1499, and the history of the Kahlenberg vineyard is a long and venerable one, and while this part (and wine) is labeled Erste Lage, there is an exclusive Grosse Lage parcel that gets “Im Kahlenberg” and the VDP GG on the label. This Kahlenberg Trocken is an outrageously good value, with this 2018 absolutely delicious now, but with the depth and structure to go another decade or more with ease, and is set in the middle of some fabulous vintages from 2015 to 2021, all of which are well worth grabbing.
($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Drew Family Cellars, Pinot Noir, Mid-Elevation, Mendocino Ridge.
The 2019 wines from Drew are immediately pleasing on the palate, feeling opulent and supple in texture and more dense in fruit than you’d expect, especially when compared with the 2018s which are very slowly opening up, but still have tons of inner energy and age worthy structures, as this 2019 Mid-Elevation Pinot shows with a fine layering of dark fruit and bright acidity. The medium bodied palate revolves around black cherry, huckleberry, red currants and cranberry fruits along with delicate floral aromas, saline, mineral tones, subtle wood notes and a array of tangy herbs and spice, the results of a native yeast and a partial whole cluster fermentation. The Mid-Elevation comes from vines set on sloping hillsides with deep sea bed marine sediment soils, with mainly decomposed sandstone, with all organic farming methods and saw a range of clones, including 943, Calera, Swan, Pommard and Dijon 115 selections. Typically, winemaker Jason Drew, employs about 20% Whole Cluster and is retrained in his oak use with this wine seeing about 12% new oak in the final blend, all of which is to promote transparency and purity of form and flavors. This beauty of a Pinot Noir, that was aged 11 months in mostly well seasoned barrels, feels and tastes nearly perfect with just about 13.3% natural alcohol delivering an excellent balance here in Drew’s Mid-Elevation Pinot, a wine that has the grace of a Burgundy, but that is expressively cool coastal Californian in personality.
The Drew Mid-Elevation Pinot Noir is Drew’s Mendocino Ridge appellation wine made with the aim to showcase the coastal ridge sites of western Mendocino County, all in the Mendocino Ridge AVA, rather than having a focus on any one vineyard. This bottling celebrates the importance of the regional character of the far western side of the Anderson Valley, where Drew calls home, and the unique profile this terroir imparts on the wines here. The Mid-Elevation, Drew explains, equates to the middle elevations in the AVA, 800 to 1400 ft up and within about six miles from the ocean, adding that, these elevations are closer to the fog line coming off the Pacific resulting in cooler maritime temps throughout the season allowing for a longer ripening period and proper acid structure. This 2019 Mid-Elevation Pinot, with its dark garnet/ruby color in the glass, really excites the senses and is fabulous and flexible with food, in particular dishes like blacken salmon, roast chicken and lighter meat dishes being very good choices to match up with the complexity of this wine. As mentioned, Jason Drew is crafting some of the state’s best Pinots, all of which I highly recommend, but he also has added a stellar Chardonnay to his lineup, along with two Syrah bottlings, a Valenti Ranch and Perli Vineyard, both being coveted Northern Rhone style wines. I suggest getting on the mailing list, but also I advise buying these Drew wines whenever you come across them, plus I am thrilled to see they have some 2021 vintage Pinots available, these are on my Xmas wish list!
($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2020 Thierry Germain – Domaine des Roches Neuves, Saumur Champigny “Franc de Pied” Loire Valley, France.
As mentioned many times here, I am a huge fan, as are thousands of enthusiasts, of the Loire Valley’s Thierry Germain wines, and his outstanding collection of Saumur-Champigny Rouge bottlings, especially this rare cuvée Franc de Pied, which is drinking like a Grand Cru Burgundy with gorgeous violet aromas and opulent layers of red fruits, spice, mineral and seductive earthy notes. This 2020 is pure class and while absolutely stunning now, it will continue to reward as it gracefully ages, I think it will still be going strong two decades from now, such is the structure and depth here with expressive red currant, raspberry, plum and black cherry fruits, along with pretty floral tones, chalky stones, cinnamon spice, cedar and anise providing fine accents to the remarkably pure and elegant Cabernet Franc. Thierry Germain, a Bordeaux native relocated to the Loire about 30 years ago and soon fell under the spell of his spiritual father, the legendary Charly Foucault of Clos Rougeard, who influenced Germain’s wines and vines, converting his entire domaine, which he founded in 1992, to biodynamic viticulture, helping him to become one of the region’s super stars. The Saumur-Champigny “Franc de Pied” comes from special own rooted vines set on sand and limestone and is uniquely sees a 100% whole cluster fermentation in old Foudres with once a day punch downs, this lasts almost two weeks and then the Cab Franc is pressed to large 1200L foudre, where it was aged for 12 months. This deep garnet/magenta whole cluster Franc de Pied is really an exciting and naturally styled version of Saumur Champigny best enjoyed with Loire geeks and a meal.
Again, as mentioned, Kermit Lynch, the famous importer, says that Thierry Germain’s Domaine Roches Neuves has vines, that are old, wise, and vibrantly healthy, thanks to Thierry’s biodynamic viticulture and fantastic attention to detail in the vineyards and in the cellar. Lynch goes on, adding that, Roches Neuves, whose vineyards are planted in the Saumur (Blanc) and Saumur-Champigny (Rouge) appellations, has rightfully become one of the greatest examples of high achievement in biodynamic vine growing in France. This puts him up there with the greats, that Kermit also imports, like Abbatucci in Corsica, Ganevat in the Jura and Domaine Ostertag in Alsace. Thierry Germain’s total dedication to site specific wines, some of the most distinctive Loire wines are hand-crafted from Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc grapes, which Kermit calls his “parcellaires,” they are very noteworthy offerings, some of the most exciting wines in the Loire Valley today, all of which I totally agree with. I’ve enjoyed many vintages of Thierry Germain’s wines, but as noted, these 2020s are spectacular, especially this Franc de Pied, which actually comes from some of the youngest vines, as well as his Saumur-Champigny “Mémoires”, that I reviewed here recently. The entry level bottlings which see almost no oak or aging time are lovely wines as well and are great ways to start exploring this awesome producer, I always love pulling the cork on the fresh vintage of Thierry Germain’s blue label Domaine des Roches Neuves, which sells for about $25 and is an excellent value, while these upper end efforts are more special occasion wines. Germain also does an exceptionally rare no sulphur Amphora macerated and fermented 100% Cabernet Franc (Saumur Champigny) called the “Outre Terre” which I am very intrigued by and hope to try soon, it is definitely on my watch list!
($59 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 I. Brand & Family Winery, Old Vine Grenache, Besson Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley.
This Besson Old Vine Grenache is one of Ian’s signature offerings and the 2019 vintage is one of the best yet, already a very serious effort in the glass with depth, spice and texture galore with layers of red berry, Strawberry and pomegranate fruits, along with a light herbal (stems) note, chalky stones, sandalwood, black licorice, pepper and lingering kirsch. Without question, after a few samples of this 2019, the I. Brand & Family Old Vine Besson Grenache, I have to put this wine into my top ten wines of the year and it is one of the top California Grenache bottlings currently available, especially for the price, it is as good as it gets and I’d put it up there pleasure wise with some of my favorite old world Grenache based wines, reminding me a lot of Dani Landi’s Sierra de Gredos Garnacha efforts. Ian does quite a few Grenache bottlings, all of which are tasty, from his La Marea Grenache, a blend of central coast sites to his Chalone AVA Brousseau Grenache, also under his I. Brand & Family label, like this one, but in this 2019 vintage the historic Besson Vineyard is my clear favorite. This dark ruby/garnet Old Vine Grenache is absolutely seductive now and there should no remorse in opening it now for guilty pleasure, but I can see it aging well and I will be putting a few bottles away, as I’ve done with Brand’s Mourvedre bottlings, that are fantastically structured wines that gain an extra dimension with a few years of age on them.
The Old Vine Grenache comes from the historic Besson Vineyard near the Hecker Pass and the town of Gilroy, which is about a hundred and twelve years old now, and provides some of the best Grenache grapes in California. The Besson Vineyard, planted on its own roots back in around 1910, is finally getting the acclaim and attention it deserves, it has been the source of some outstanding wines, it transmits transparent flavors and is a unique terroir. In recent times it has had lovingly maintained vines with a focus on quality fruit and natural methods has been sustainably dry farmed ever since it was originally planted. This site, as I have noted in prior reviews of this and other wines from this vineyard, first came to the wine world’s attention when California icon Randall Grahm used these grapes in his Clos de Gilroy Grenache, and more recently being used by Angela Osborne of Tribute to Grace, the Kiwi who is one of California’s top Grenache producers. Plus there’s a great Sandlands Besson out there, as well as one of Brand’s friends John Locke of Birichino, another label that is putting out a beautiful version of this Besson Vineyard. Ian’s example, with the little extra aging is turning on the charm and its whole bunches, textural density and old world character makes this vintage very seductive, as mentioned above, indeed, and it should only get better over the next 3 to 5 years and age another decade or more! Ian has a lot of hits in the lineup right now, this one included, along with his opulent 2019 Massa Cabernet Sauvignon, the exceptional 2020 Bates Cabernet Sauvignon and his crisply detailed Arneis, to name just a few.
($42 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2022 Domaine Dupeuble, Beaujolais Nouveau, France.
The 2022 Dupeuble Beaujolais Nouveau is delightfully fresh and vibrant with tart cherry, raspberry, plum, strawberry and cranberry fruits without the candy or bubble gum you usually see with Nouveau and or carbonic wines, in fact there’s some depth here, floral notes, cinnamon/clove and some nice savory crunch. Light and lively on the palate this is super tasty stuff that far removed from the industrial and commercial scale bottlings you most commonly find. The Dupeuble Beaujolais Nouveau is consistently one of the best Nouveau bottlings and a bit more serious, coming from hand tended and harvested old vines vines, all well over 50 years old and some closer to 100 years old that see small yields and high quality fruit. The grapes are fermented naturally with native yeasts and no SO2, seeing a full carbonic maceration and a fermentation that lasts just about a week, before a short two month aging period in tank, after which the Nouveau gets bottled unfined and unfiltered. It’s a simple recipe and regime, but the results are because of the commitment to quality here and the extra attention that the grape saw in the vineyard, where the Dupeuble crew uses natural composting, as well as never using synthetic chemicals, and severe cluster selections at picking time to ensure concentration and flavor intensity. These Dupeuble Nouveau wines are without question some of the best vintage indicators giving insight into the year, with this vivid ruby 2022 boding well for the year in Beaujolais, as well as providing some juicy fun for the harvest and holiday season.
Ghislaine and Stéphane Dupeuble manage this old property, which since 1919 has been called Domaine Dupeuble, but its history goes much further back, dating all the way to 1512, that is in the hamlet of Le Breuil, deep in the southern Beaujolais, set on mostly classic granite soils and perched above a narrow creek. Famous Berkeley importer Kermit Lynch first met Ghislaine and Stéphane’s father, Damien, for lunch in Paris in the late 1980s, where he enjoyed the fresh Dupeuble Gamay, and thus began the annual tradition of blending a special Kermit only Beaujolais Nouveau. Kermit notes that Domaine Dupeuble has grown over the years and is now comprised of one hundred hectares, about forty percent of which is consecrated to vineyards. The Dupeuble family are, as Lynch adds, strong advocates of the lutte raisonnée (meaning as organic as possible, but within reason) approach to vineyard work, they tend their vines without the use of any chemicals or synthetic fertilizers and don’t use SO2 during fermentation. The vineyards, planted primarily to Gamay, face Southeast, South, and Southwest with plots of vines on a combination of primarily clay, limestone and granite that average between 50 and 100 years old, which helps ripen the Gamay and a small parcel of Chardonnay for their rare Beaujolais Blanc bottling. Over the years I’ve become a big fan of Dupeuble’s Nouveau, which is more interesting and soulful than you’d expect, gaining spice, darker fruits and umami with air, in fact, not on purpose, I aged a Dupeuble Nouveau for almost four years and it was still wonderfully delicious, as this 2022 is!
($21 Est.) 89 Points, grapelive
2019 G.D. Vajra, Langhe Rosso, Piedmonte, Italy.
G.D. Vajra’s delicous Langhe Rosso, typically a blend of primarily the classic Piedmonte red varietals, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, and Barbera, but it also has an interesting addition of Albarossa, an extremely rare local grape, Freisa and even a touch of Pinot Noir, which like Riesling has found a home in the region. As I’ve mentioned in recent years, this combination of grapes under the direction of Giuseppe Vajra makes for a unique Langhe red that shows silky tannins, lively red fruits, including brandied cherries, plum, cranberry, grilled citrus (Moro orange) and tart red currant along with wild herbs, delicate rustic earthy notes, floral elements, mineral and savory spices. This tasty Langhe Rosso is touch lighter in style when compared to the last two vintages, but is still an excellent bottle and it was fabulous with pizza and it is an outstanding value from this famous Barolo winery. Vajra is not a one trick pony, and I love their alternative wines, almost as much as their top Barolos, like the absolutely awesome dry Riesling, which I enjoy almost as much as their Barolo offerings, as well as the Vajra single varietal Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo and the Kye Freisa, all of which are very enjoyable, as is this Langhe Rosso.
The Vajra family continues the traditions of their father Aldo, who was a big advocate for organic and holistic farming that he pioneered in Piedmonte and he promoted vineyard sites, once thought to be too cold and too high up to ripen, but as history shows he was proven right. Vajra’s high elevation Barolo crus are some of the most prized plots in Italy. The Vajra Langhe Rosso is usually all stainless steel fermented and aged with each lot and varietal done separately and blended before an early bottling to preserve fresh brightness, purity and energy, which the 2019 highlights with finesse and style. As this wine opens, the Nebbiolo makes its prince known with savory tones and a bit more complexity shows up with cigar wrapper, rose petals, black tea and balsamic dipped strawberries. Vajra, as well noted, does a stunning collection of Barolo crus, under his family’s G.D. Vajra label, especially their signature Bricco Delle Viole, along with the Ravera, Coste di Rose, their newest cru, as well as the Luigi Baudana line, these are some of the most thrilling Nebbiolo(s) available. I am looking forward to catching up the latest releases from Vajra that are coming out soon, I am a huge fan of these wines and always try to get a selection of Vajra’s offerings, in particular the value bottlings like this one.
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2021 Arnot-Roberts, Cabernet Franc, Watson Ranch Vineyard, Napa Valley.
Part of Arnot-Roberts latest release, the Watson Ranch Cabernet Franc is a fresh, juicy and vibrant example of the varietal with a personality that feels like a carbonic maceration with round soft tannin and exceptionally low alcohol, it easy quaffable and fun, more Loire in style, rather than Bordeaux. This vivid ruby/purple red shows a smooth layering of black cherry, red currant, plum and raspberry fruits along with a hint of bell pepper, anise and peony florals, it feels a touch lighter than it is, with its nice acidity and almost no oak is present, making this a fun, drink young wine that enjoys being paired with uncomplicated food and or hard cheeses. Pretty easy going, this wine delights the palate rather than making a serious impact, but I excited to see this in Arnot-Roberts varied collection of wines, joining rarities like their Trousseau and Falanghina, as well as their staples made from Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Duncan Meyers, the winemaker, thankfully kept things simple and allowed the grapes to express themselves, using neutral wood and a short aging period, which has paid off nicely.
The very unique Watson Ranch Vineyard, mostly planted to Chardonnay, benefits from calcareous clay over limestone soils that Cabernet Franc likes, this site is perched on a steep hillside overlooking the San Pablo Bay at the cold end of the Napa Valley. This soil type, as Arnot-Roberts points out, is extremely rare on the North Coast but shows itself in this narrow fin at the tail end of the Vaca Mountains in the most Southern part of Napa County. This fractured, well-drained calcareous soil, coupled with organic farming and cool windy conditions make for almost old world style wines, as shown in both Arnot-Roberts’ Chardonnay and this Cab Franc that show bright acidity, chalky and mineral details. Just seven barrels were made of this wine, making it one of the most limited of all the Arnot-Roberts wines and unfortunately it will be a very hard to get as most all of it was sold out on their mailing list within hours of it becoming available, but I do recommend giving chase as it is one f the most unique versions of this grape in California. I got a few bottles of this expressive Cab Franc and even though it might be best to drink young, I may hide one away for a few years to see what it ages like.
($40 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2020 Viticultor Envínate, Albahra, Vinos Mediterraneos, Almansa, Spain.
The 2020 Albahra is a purple and opaque hued wine that, like the prior version, starts with a pretty floral perfume, exotic spices, earthy notes and fresh crushed briar laced blackberries that leads to a medium to full bodied and rustic palate with black fruit coating the mouth, adding plum, orange rind, minty herbs, fennel, mineral tones. The Envínate Albahra (yellow label) is typically made from about 70% Alicante Bouschet, also known as Garnacha Tintorera in Spain and 30% of Moravia Agria, an even more rare varietal that is noted for its high-acid and low alcohol tartness. The Moravia Agria helps keep the warm climate ripeness in check, and adds freshness in this wine, with each grape getting fermented separately and then blended together after aging. The Alicante Bouschet sees partial whole cluster with close to half getting stem inclusion with the hand harvested grapes foot-trodded and macerated in concrete vats with the indigenous yeast primary fermentation. Then it is aged on the fine lees in the cement for eight months, while the Moravia Agria is 100% de-stemmed and matured in well used French barriques. The final blend of the Albahra is assembled with ultra low sulfur and bottled unfined and unfiltered to capture varietal purity and its soulful expression. The grapes for this wine come from vines set on sandy clay-calcareous soils with the main parcel being head trained 30 to 50 years old, up at 800 meters above sea level, that allows for cool night time temps that retains acidity as well as giving this wine its complexity, lovely aromatics, pushing floral tones and zesty details.
As expressed in prior reviews, Envínate, which translates to “wine yourself”, is one of the coolest and exciting labels in Spain with Roberto Santana, Alfonso Torrente, Laura Ramos, and Jose Martínez producing these artisan and authentic efforts, which I highly recommend, especially their volcanic island Listan (Mission grape) bottlings as well as the Mencia based Ribeira Sacra series of wines, along with this Albahra of course. One of the most interesting and satisfying natural style red wines costing around twenty bucks you can find. The beautiful dark Albahra from Envínate is a singular expression coming from a remote and unique place and from rare varietals, it always is delicious. Envínate, the gang of friends that met in college, is one of the world’s great wine success stories and known for their outstanding collection of offerings sourced from each of the friends’ region(s) of Spain, including the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, where their most famous wines come from, and the Ribeira Sacra in Galicia, along with Extremadura and this particular wine, made in the Almansa region close to the town of Albacete near Castilla-La Mancha, influenced by the near by Mediterranean Sea. Made in a simple traditional way and made to be enjoyed young. Alicante Bouschet, also known as Garnacha Tintorera, as noted above, is dark red-juiced (flesh) grape, can be found throughout Spain, though almost never used as a primary or solo varietal, it is also found in Tuscany and in California, used mainly in Zinfandel based field blends in the Sonoma Valley and Dry Creek Valley areas. This wine, with just 12.5% natural alcohol, is vibrant and with a faint earthiness that gives the Albahra a bit of serious nuance and makes this quaffable wine a fine companion with simple country dishes.
($20 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2020 Alex Foillard, Cote de Brouilly, Cru Beaujolais, France.
The gorgeous 2020 Côte-de-Brouilly by legendary Morgon producer Jean Foillard’s son Alex Foillard truly proves the new generation of winemakers in Beaujolais are more than up to the task and are making some fantastic wines as this one proves. This stunning stuff shows a family resemblance to some of Foillard senior’s most cherished bottlings, wines that are some of my personal favorites, which I covet and collect the best I can. The Cote de Brouilly, from a cooler north-facing lieu-dit Chavanne, with vines up to 60 years old on granite, schist and sandy soils, shows beautiful fruit density and purity with crushed red berries, incredible floral aromatics, stony elements, crisp acidity and delicate spices with lingering cinnamon and strawberries. The young Foillard did the fermentation, whole cluster and carbonic (maceration), in concrete tank, taking about 3 weeks with pump-overs taking place once a day for first three days. Unlike most of his father’s wines Alex chose to age, this Gamay, 100% in concrete tanks for five months, plus six extra months in bottle before release. Kermit Lynch, who imports all of the Foillard wines, says Alex’s solo cuvées are wines that have a seductive aromatic component, a silky texture, and a downright deliciousness that he exclaims is unmistakably Foillard. Adding that Alex uses tried-and-true techniques to craft his wines with whole-cluster fermentation with natural yeasts, no fining or filtration, and no additives of any kind except for a small dose of sulfur dose at bottling. There’s everything you’d want here in Alex Foillard’s lovely Cote de Brouilly and it should drink fabulously well for the next five years easily, though it is guilt free to open now, in fact, I dare you not too, it is that tasty right now!
Alex Foillard, who as mentioned, is the son of “Gang of Four” Morgon producer Jean Foillard, and who had early exposure to the world of wine, and more specifically, as Kermit Lynch explains, to the principles of sustainable and holistic farming and low-intervention winemaking. These are the methods that brought his father to stardom in natural wine circles, and even snobby Burgundy enthusiast circles, along with Jean’s like-minded neighbors such as the late Marcel Lapierre, Guy Breton, and Jean-Paul Thévenet, who were all inspired by Jules Chauvet, who pioneered these ideas in Beaujolais. Along with helping produce his family’s handcrafted Cru Beaujolais, Alex studied agriculture at the Lycée Agricole in Montpellier, then earned a degree in viticulture and enology in Beaune, that Lynch notes, while simultaneously interning at a well-respected domaine in Nuits-Saint-Georges. At only twenty-four years old, Alex Foillard bought his very own vineyards, these include about a hectare each in the crus of Brouilly and Côte-de-Brouilly, where this wine come from. Alex has successfully diversified the Foillard’s holdings, which until then, was almost exclusively in Morgon, along with the tiny plot of Fleurie. Though the vineyards were not originally certified organic, he farms them according to all organic principles, and in the 2016 vintage he made his own wines and celebrated his first harvest from those vineyards. This exceptional deep ruby and magenta/purple hued Cote de Brouilly gets better with each sip and is near perfection in its seduction of the palate, I highly recommend chasing down Alex’s wine as soon as possible.
($47 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Chateau du Hureau, Saumur-Champigny Rouge “Tuffe” Loire Valley, France.
The Chateau du Hureau Saumur-Champigny is a beautiful terroir inspired dark hued Cabernet Franc with layers of perfumed floral tones and soft spicy notes to go along with classic black raspberry, cherry, plum and red currants fruits. Hints of cinnamon, crushed violets, mineral, leather, bay leaf and very faint bell pepper complete the picture here of this Chateau du Hureau “Tuffe” cuvee. As noted in my last review of this wine, it comes from many small plots both with young and old vines grown on the local ancient limestone, a white chalky soil, that gives the wine it’s name and character. Chateau du Hureau is located in the small town of Dampierre-sur-Loire, about four miles east of Saumur and 15 miles west of Chinon. The Chateau, which is note worthy for its classic architecture, has its cellars carved into the limestone cliffs, it was built during the 13th century and overlooks the Loire River. For wine lovers, Charles Neal, their importer, says that the cave is even more impressive than the Chateau, with numerous paths leading to carved out caverns housing stainless steel vinification equipment and lines of barrels, which are used to good effect to produce lovely and elegant wines such as this one. I really started to take notice of Chateau du Hureau with their 2012 vintage releases, which I couldn’t get enough of and I loved the aromatics, the purity, sultry earthiness and the absolute quality on display, and this 2018 Tuffe is just as good and may even be a better wine with a shade more depth and complexity. In the cellar, the wines see a lengthy maceration and elevage, with the top bottlings being matured for close to 20 months, while this one sees a minimum of 10 months.
Imported on the west coast by Charles Neal, this historic Chateau, run by Philippe and Agathe Valan, located in Saumur-Champigny region on the Loire River is showing impressive form again, and this bottling in particular way over delivers for the price. Philippe Vatan, who has become one the most celebrated vignerons in Saumur-Champigny, was thrust into being the sole figurehead at Chateau du Hureau, as Neal notes, after the tragic and untimely death of his brother in 1987 and has turned this property into one the most desirable estates in the Loire, crafting a tidy collection of mainly Cab Franc wines, along with a special cuvée of pure Chenin Blanc. The Chateau du Hureau Saumur-Champigny Rouge “Tuffe” is Philippe Vatan’s most pure example of Cabernet Franc made from a wide variety of parcels, as mentioned above, spread across his limestone-rich vineyards. The Tuffe is exclusively fermented and aged in stainless-steel in his immaculate and cavernous cellar, this bottling always has classic Cabernet Franc varietal character and raw stony details, it impeccably shows of the grape in its most naked form, with this 2018 again being a very compelling wine to drink young and fresh. Hureau now has 17 hectares of vines with a wide range of age, including 21 separate vineyard plots that are spread around the towns of Dampierre-sur-Loire, Souzay, Champigny, and Saumur. The estate vineyards are planted almost entirely to Cabernet Franc and they are holistically cared for and farmed all organically, and though label makes no reference to it, they are all certified organic. I’m glad I grabbed this 2018, it reminded of just how good this wine and producer is, I highly recommend searching out these Chateau du Hureau offerings, especially this one that is an excellent and flexible food wine.
($20 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2019 Laura Lorenzo – Daterra Viticultores, Tabernario, Vino Tinto, VdT Val do Bibei, Spain.
The beautifully made and energetic, dark purple Tabernario Vino Tinto, by Laura Lorenzo of Daterra Viticultores, is made typically from about 60% Mencía, 30% Alicante Bouschet, both red grapes, along with 10% of Palomino, the white grape most commonly found in the Sherry region, which is co-fermented here, adding to complexity and vibrancy in the wine. The grapes for Tabernaria come from a variety of different vineyards that Laura works in Spain’s Ribeira Sacra region and mainly along the slopes of the Bibei River, though the blend changes depending on the vintage and conditions, with this 2019 showing well in what was a more favorable year than the last one with a ripe personality and charm. Mencia based wines from the Ribeira Sacra have the body and brightness of Pinot Noir, but with a profile that can be described as a mix of Cross-Hermitage (Syrah) and Cote de Brouilly (Gamay) with this Tabernario having those elements, showing blackberry, plum, cherry and tart blueberry fruits, wild herbs, spice, a light earthiness, savory elements and a hint of anise. The latest Tabernario opens up nicely to reveal floral and mineral tones, but stays crisply dry and loaded with fresh acidity in a wine with soft tannin and transparent detailing, making it best enjoyed with food, that helps build texture and roundness on the palate. Lorenzo, started winemaking young, at just 16 years old and has an interesting resume, including overseas stints with the famed Eben Sadie of Sadie Family Wines, who has made some of the greatest wines in South Africa, as well as Achaval Ferrer in Argentina. Laura took over the reins at Dominio do Bibei, a pioneering producer of fine wine in the Quiroga-Bibei subzone of Ribeira Sacra, taking the estate to worldwide notoriety, putting the little known Val do Bibei in Ribeira Sacra on the map, before venturing out on her with her Daterra Viticultores label.
Laura Lorenzo, one of the most talented winemakers of her generation in the Galicia region, has pieced together 4.5 hectares of rented and owned vineyards with the majority of these parcels, planted to mostly Mencia, are 80-120 years old. Lorenzo does a stellar and authentic collection of wines, from a variety of remote and back breaking sites in the Ribeira Sacra area, including her Portela do Vento, Erea, Gavela, and Azos de Vila, Azos de Pobo Soutipedre, Casas de Enriba, Camino de la Frontera and this Tabernario. In the winery, Laura’s winemaking, as her importer explains, is decidedly low tech and non-interventionist and is notably natural. Lorenzo’s fermentation(s) are done, as noted, with native yeasts and the wine is moved by gravity whenever possible, aged in neutral barrels and bottled unfined and unfiltered. The grapes for this Tabernario, coming from organic vines, were all harvested by hand and were 50% de-stemmed, skin-macerated for 10 days and spontaneously fermented with indigenous yeasts in 500L & 1000L chestnut barrels. The wine was then raised, as the winery notes, for close to 11 months and bottled without fining or filtration, and only with seriously small doses of SO2, with everything done to promote purity, terroir and freshness, as this 2019 vintage of Tabernario shows. The Ribeira Sacra Mencia based wines are more lithe and taut than the fleshier Beirzo versions, both regions are making awesome versions of this ancient varietal and I highly recommend getting to know this grape, especially by winemakers like Laura Lorenzo, who I have reviewed many times since her first wines came out in 2014, as well as the legendary Raul Perez and Pedro Rodriguez, who was mentored by Perez and makes the Guimaro wines. There’s a lot to love in Laura’s latest releases, and while no one should overlook her white wines, which amazing as well, these exceptional Mencia based offerings are some of my favorites to date, and great values, don’t miss them.
($30 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
nv Alvear, Pedro Ximénez, Solera 1927, Sweet Sherry Style Wine, Montilla-Moriles, Spain.
The deeply brown/amber hued Solar 1927 Pedro Ximénez dessert Sherry style wine by Bodegas Alvear is one of the greatest sweet food wines in the world and was perfect with homemade pecan pie and hand whipping cream, and it is awesome dripped over vanilla bean ice cream as well, with its golden raisins, caramel, walnut liqueur, molasses and candied/caramelized orange rind layers. While intense and sticky rich in sweetness, this PX is wonderfully balanced and complex with fig and pecan coming through along with some light oxidative notes, burnt sugar or maple, coco powder and acidity making it perfect for after dinner sipping, a little goes a long way, especially with such a captivating finish and length. The winery is located in Montilla, in the D.O. Montilla-Moriles, and the vineyards are located on the hills of the Sierra de Montilla and on the classic Albariza, a calcium carbonate rich and chalky soil and underpinned by a soft marlstone, all adding to the terroir influence and concentration found here. I have long been a fan of these Alvear wines and have enjoyed many a bottle of their Pedro Ximénez, especially their fantastic Solera 1927, which never fails to impress, plus they have been experimenting with some still wines and sparkling wine collaborations in recent years.
The Alvear Pedro Ximénez Solera 1927 is non-vintage, built up over the years with the best reserves, but does have some 1927, which is referenced as the original selection to create this ever changing beauty, though the winery has perfected the selections and every time you get this bottling it is outstanding and maybe the best version of PX on the planet, consistently over delivering and a fabulous value. The Alvear Pedro Ximénez is made through drying the ripe Pedro Ximénez grapes on mats in the sun and then wine is aged in the traditional earthenware jars, “Tinajas”, where it is left for 12 months to mature, with fortification on the young wine done with grape spirit, before selections are made to be blended to various cuvées and or added to older solera casks, as was done here to great effect. The young wine adds freshness to the dark brown aged Pedro Ximénez, which brings historic depth and nutty complexity, with Alvear masterfully pulling lots and bottling excellent examples for hedonistic enjoyment. Alvear’s wines are all made exclusively from 100% Pedro Ximénez grapes and vines, whose historical origins, interestingly, almost certainly can be traced back to ancient vines that came from sites along the Rhein River in Germany, though almost only found here in Andalusia and in these famous pagos of la Sierra de Montilla, Moriles, and Las Puentes, where this wine was sourced. Sherry is often misunderstood or avoided, which is sad, especially a stellar example such as this, when you get a chance to experience them as they were meant to be enjoyed with the pairings that best suit them, as I did with this Alvear PX.
($30 Est. – 375ml – Half Bottle) 96 Points, grapelive
2015 Weingut Dr. Loosen, Riesling Trocken, Ürziger Würzgarten Réserve, Unrest Richter, VDP Grosse Gewächs, Alte Reben, Mosel, Germany.
Loosen’s Réserve Ürziger Würzgarten Grosses Gewachs is a stunningly graceful and nearly a perfectly proportioned Dry Riesling with smooth layering and with fabulous length, it delivers white peach, green apple, apricot, quince and tangerine fruits in a medium bodied wine that also reveals flinty stones, spice, leesy notes, light florals and chamomile. The original Ürziger Würzgarten Vineyard, according to the winery, is the only site on the Middle Mosel that is not characterized solely by slate soils. The soil here is called Rotliegendes, a red iron rich mix of weathered rock of volcanic origin. As the name suggests, Ürziger Würzgarten translates to Spice Garden, and Loosen’s Rieslings have very different set of aromas, that are different than in the purely slate sites with their stone fruit aromas. The Dry Réserve Ürziger Würzgarten, which was naturally or Sponti fermented and aged on the yeast for an extended period in used 1,000-liter Stückfass, German oak, which has given this wine its richness, white Burgundy like elegance, subtle perfume, and depth, but with Rieslings notable acidity, steely mineral tones and vigor. This pale golden hued wine adds dimension with every sip, with pristine and concentrated flavors, gaining impact and presence in the glass that is immensely regal, I’m thrilled that I have another bottle to age, which I believe will be even more rewarding in 5 to 10 years, I only hope I can resist this Ürziger Würzgarten Réserve’s alluring and seductive charms.
Since the 2011 vintage, DR. Loosen have been producing a unique, small lot, collection of GG Réserve wines, which have seen extended full lees aging, and that from the top Grosse Lage sites of Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Ürziger Würzgarten and Erdener Prälat. These wines are fermented spontaneously in old barrels, historic traditional fuder, and aged for 24 months on the full lees, without racking or stirring, and these special GG Réserve Rieslings are matured for another 36 months in the bottle before their release. I got a chance to first experience these wines with the 2012 vintage, which were debuted in San Francisco with Ernie Loosen introducing them in person, and I was immediately seduced by the remarkable depth and texture found in the GGR bottlings, without taken away the stunning terroir influence and mineral intensity, and this 2015 Ürziger Würzgarten has stunning palate impact. This wine sees the exclusive use of un-grafted historic old vines, from which Loosen produces this great Riesling, they are up to 120 years old and located in a plot called “Untrest Pichter”, which rises directly behind the Village in the heart of the Würzgarten and set on this vineyard’s famous red volcanic veined soils and weathered slate, that give this wine some very distinctive delicate aromas and exotic spices. The Dr. Loosen GGRs are under the radar offerings, they offer tremendous value, and rival some of Germany’s and Alsace’s greatest wines! As mentioned often, legendary Ernst Loosen, who took control of his family’s over 200 hundred year old Mosel estate in 1988, with incredible steep slate vineyards of un-grafted old Riesling vines, makes an incredible collection of traditional wines from Kabinett to Auslese, as well as his Dry offerings from some of the Mosel’s most coveted sites.
($80+ Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2019 Turley Wine Cellars, Zinfandel, DuPratt Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge, Mendocino County.
A totally different kind of animal, this Mendocino Ridge DuPratt Zinfandel from Turley, almost completely removed from their other bottlings tastes, in some ways like a Gamay, so distinctive and screaming in natural acidity, you’d never imagine it was well over 15% alcohol! There is loads of black fruits, heightened aromatic floral tones, polished and velvety tannins and an exciting array of spice and savory elements along with some stony mineral and dried herb elements. The bodied builds with air and food, both help flesh things out here a lot in this DuPratt Vineyard old vine Zinfandel from Mendocino with layers of blackberry, blueberry, crushed brambly raspberry and racy red cherry fruits along with briar, cedar, minty herbs and peony, all in a wine that feels crunchy and crisply detailed. This is not your typical Turley, but you got to admire the quality and soulful personality here, it was made following winemaker Tegan Passalacqua’s, who has an exceptional understanding of vineyards and the varietal, choice of methods with organic grapes, native yeast fermentation(s) and his use of 80% French oak and 20% American oak barrels with upward of 20% new used in any given vintage to promote transparency and allowing a sense of place. I suggest bracing your palate with a meal when you try this DuPratt Zinfandel and decanting would help too, enjoy it with rustic cuisine and give it time to show off its full sense of complexity and depth.
Planted in 1919, the DuPratt Vineyard, which sits at 1500 feet up on Mendocino Ridge, on the Western side of the Anderson Valley, this vineyard is surrounded by giant Redwood trees and is, as the winery notes, often called the “vineyard in the sky.” This uniquely cool climate site, that most people would think is more suited to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, is so remote that the vines still survive on their own original root-stock(s), as Phylloxera has never got here. Located above the town of Philo and only a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, it is the northernmost, coolest site from which Turley ever made wine and though the’ve worked with Mendocino fruit for many years, DuPratt is now the only Mendocino County wine in the lineup. This makes the DuPratt a special bottle and it is very different from the warm site offerings under this label and while still clearly a Turley style Zin, it has its own set of followers, they and I marvel at how a 15% plus wine can have such cool high toned flavors and such perky acidity! This wine, reminds of the difference between higher elevation Gigondas and the warmer Chateauneuf du Pape wines can be, and I have to wonder what those early wines from DuPratt would have tasted like. Jed Steele and Mike Officer of Carlisle are the only two others I know of the have made Zin from here, so I might have to chase those down too, this 2019, only the 4th edition of DuPratt by Turley, it is a wonderful expression of Zin and I look forward to following this slightly wild and singular version of this grape, and I highly recommend it to the adventurous! The brightness of fruit here and unique nature and charm of this Turley DuPratt also make it a nice choice for your Thanksgiving meal.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2021 Desire Lines Wine Co, Evangelho Vineyard Red, Contra Costa County.
The latest Evangelho Red from Cody Rasmussen at Desire Lines Wine Co is maybe the best yet for this spectacular Carignan based offering with dark fruit and spicy vitality in a sumptuous full bodied wine that is pure California in glass, this Evangelho Red 2021 is absolutely delicious and showcases the stellar quality of the grapes coming out of this old vine vineyard in Contra Costa County. This deep purple, almost inky, wine reveals, much like the last three vintages, rich layers of crushed blackberry, plum, Italian cherry and currant fruits in the mouth, along with a smooth texture, all accented nicely with a range of red and brown cinnamon(y) and peppery spices, plus hints pf earth, mineral, vibrant acidity and sweet sandalwood. This wine is easy to love, it is one of my favorites in this stellar lineup of small lot and handcrafted wines by Cody Rasmussen, who is the assistant winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson MW’s Bedrock Wine Company, along with his wife Emily have carved out a niche for themselves with these Desire Lines offerings. While as noted here, their Syrah bottlings are their signature wines with the Griffin’s Lair and Shake Ridge versions being some of the best modern expressions of this grape, I also am greatly impressed by their awesome Dry Rieslings, especially the Cole Ranch, and I’m not alone there. While Rasmussen says his inspiration was Cru Beaujolais, including Cote de Brouilly and Fleurie, but I also see elements that remind me of top Corbieres wines from the Languedoc region of France, where Carignan thrives, and find it fabulous with simple and rustic cuisine, as well as holiday meals.
The Evangelho Red Wine, a blend of primarily Carignan (90%) with a touch of Mourvèdre (10%), typically, has become, as Rasmussen notes, one of his most important wines. Cody goes on the say that his 2021 was characterized by extraordinarily light crops at Evangelho Vineyard, as a result of the extreme drought, giving this year an extra degree of concentration, in my opinion as well. Rasmussen thinks you can feel some of the intensity and richness in the wine, that likely is do with, what he calls, the tragically light crop yield he got. As in previous vintages, this Evangelho red wine was fermented with 30% whole cluster under a submerged cap, then gently pressed and aged for ten months in neutral 400L puncheons. The winery notes that Carignan from Evangelho, one of the most historic vineyards in California, which is set on deep sandy soils, gives a juicy wine that smells of flowers and red fruits, with a soft tannin profile and vibrant acidity, which I endorse completely. The inclusion of partial whole cluster and stems adds spice to the nose, while the small portion of carbonic maceration used here and Mourvèdre, that Cody continues, add flesh to the palate, as well as complexity. The winemaking style, he explains, is inspired by his love, as noted above, for the great Cru Beaujolais of France, with the wines of Clos de la Roilette and the old-vine single parcel wines of Château Thivin being ones that influenced him, I agree with him, that these are wines that are a joy to drink while young, but that can age gracefully as well, as I’m sure his own wines will do. I really love these latest Desire Lines releases and highly recommend checking them out as soon as possible!
($32 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2021 Caraccioli Cellars, Gamay Noir, Escolle Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The Caraccioli Gamay is bursting with bright fruit intensity and classic Beaujolais flavors along with the vintage’s zesty acidity, making for a delicious version of this grape with carbonic like creamy smooth tannin and layers of black cherry, strawberry, cranberry and juicy plum fruits. Medium weighted and expressive there is a lot to admire here and this debut release of true Gamay Noir from the Caraccioli’s shows there’s tons of potential in the Santa Lucia Highlands for this varietal. One of three wines to show off Escolle Gamay have been released now, including this tasty wine, along with exciting efforts from Samuel Louis Smith and Ian Brand, both of which I already reviewed here and loved, interestingly each has its own personality, while still highlighting the grape in a pure way. Some of that is thanks to the terroir here, with the highlands having a Granitic Metamorphic Schist underpinning, with Escolle, as the winery notes, being of a soil make up mix including Chualar Sandy Loam – 93%, Alluvial Sandy Loam – 5% and Parkfield Clay – 2%, all of which is wonderfully suited to Gamay, a grape at home in granite based soils. Modern California is thrilled with the Gamay revival and there is a real enthusiast following now that has become almost fanatical for them and I’m sure this one will sell out fast, along with the even more rare Gamay and Pinot, Burgundy inspired, blend that the Caraccioli’s call Passetoutgrain, just as it is known in the Cote d’Or!
The Caraccioli’s planted the Escolle Vineyard in the March of 2008, and as they say, it is 124 acres grounded in the northern Santa Lucia Highlands, where it enjoys a cool climate with plenty of cold air flowing down from the Monterey Bay. Escolle is obviously primarily planted to mainly to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with 46 rootstock and clone combinations throughout the vineyard, where the Caraccioli’s sourced their own grapes for both their famous Champagne style sparkling wines, as well as a selection of fine still wine offerings including this one, as a few special block Pinots that are almost impossible to get. The beautiful Escolle Vineyard is sustainably farmed, certified (SIP) and utilizes minimal intervention practices throughout the vineyard, making it a favorite with wineries that purchase fruit from here. No herbicides are used on Escolle, and as the winery notes, all or any weeds are removed manually with either a weed knife or by hand. Because water is always an issue in California only a minimal to no irrigation is utilized here, unless an extreme vintage or event takes place. In 2018 just under three acres of Syrah were grafted to the vineyard, that looks promising, then in 2020 and 2021the Caraccioli’s added four acres of Gamay and an additional two acres of Syrah. Scott Caraccioli, who leads the family’s efforts here, says that as the vineyard continues to mature and realize its full potential, they will experiment accordingly, which has led to this exciting wine’s existence. This Caraccioli Gamay with be a great companion to the Holiday meals ahead and will be a nice quaffer over the next year or so.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Cantina Fradiles Vitivinicola, Funtanafrisca, White Wine, Isola dei Nuraghi IGT, Sardinia, Italy.
The brilliantly golden yellow Funtanafrisca IGT vino bianco is a white wine from Isola dei Nuraghi from rare native grapes almost exclusively found here in the southern part of Sardinia, with this vintage showing a beautiful maturity right now as it enters its peak drinking window with lovely orchard stone fruits, including apricot at its core, delicate spices, wet saline infused stones, dried tropical fruits, white flowers, golden fig and tangerine citrus notes. This white, made from local varietals, comes from vineyards in the municipal territory of Atzara, a hilly area, that rises steeply up to almost 500 meters above sea level, on the western of the Gennargentu mountains, which sees a nice alpine like cooling during the growing season, making for nicely balanced wines, like this Funtanafrisca, that shows lots of vibrant natural acidity and mineral tones. The all stainless steel fermented and aged Fradiles Funtanafrisco bianco is a blend of Nuragus and Vernaccia, both of which are distinctly and exclusively found on Sardinia, crafted almost in equal parts and it goes wonderfully well with sea foods, lighter cuisine and or soft cheeses.
The Fradiles winery on Sardinia is an all organic and traditional producer that works with many unique ancient indigenous grapes, like the ones used to make this Funtanafrisca white. Sardinia with its many different terroirs, and Mediterranean influence make it one of the most intriguing wine producing areas in the world, with the region of the island in this one being dominated by its decomposed granite and sandy red soils, located in the Southern part of the Island, not too far from Cagliari, the historic Capital. Again, I am grateful to my friend and Sardinian sommelier/winemaker Giuseppe Cossu has provided me with some incredible information on Sardinia and was kind enough to share this rare wine, that he brought back himself and had aged it a few years in his cellar. Fradiles, and winemaker Paolo Savoldo are committed to preserving traditional grapes and methods, using native yeast fermentations along with a combination of stainless steel and neutral barrels to promote individual characteristics of place and varietal, though he also does some blended cuvées as well. Mostly known for his red wines, some of which I’ve already have reviewed here, Savoldo has a great touch with his whites too, as this nicely aged Funtanafrisca shows to great effect. While most people will have had or have heard of Vermentino and or Cannonau (Grenache) from Sardinia, there’s so much more to discover and Fradiles is a winery to look for!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2021 Fair Moon Wine Co, Tinta Caõ “Breakfast Wine” Havlin Vineyard, Van Duzer Corridor AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Tinta Caõ, pronounced Teenta Cow, is one of the major varieties used in Port wines along with the more famous Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Touriga Franca, but is delicious all on its own, as it is here in winemaker Jessica Wilmes’ Fair Moon Wine Co version from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, where it is still a unique rarity. Wilmes, who inspired by the great women winemakers of the natural wine world like but not limited to Arianna Occhipinti, Elisabetta Foradori, Laura Lorenzo, Martha Stoumen and Elena Elena Pantaleoni of La Stoppa, as well as being a fan of orange wines, started out her own label last year when she released her Sunshine effect skin contact Pinot Gris or Gris Rouge and has just released her second set of wines, which includes this Tinta Caõ! Seriously dry and juicy the 2021 Fair Moon Wine Co Breakfast Wine, 100% carbonic maceration, native yeast fermented Tinta Caõ saw absolutely no additions, sans soufre and is all natural with just 11% natural alcohol, it shows racy red fruits, spice and zesty acidity, like Beaujolais it is tasty with a slight chill and perfect for beach sipping and or enjoying by a campfire. I really enjoy the zippy strawberry, plum and cherry fruits along with a stemmy/spicy peppery pop and light earthy tones in this lighter framed and playful red wine. The Tinta Caõ is sourced from the Havlin Vineyard set in the hills of the Van Duzer Corridor AVA, which is an anomaly, or wind gap in the Coast Range that lets oceanic winds funnel into the Valley, creating a cooling effect and helping retain bright acidity and the marine sediment soils add the stony saline notes in the wines, which s perfect for this grape, as well as Pinot Noir, Gamay, another grape destined to be in Jessica’s lineup, and Chardonnay. Though she admits to loving the funk, Wilmes’ Tinta Caõ is not overtly natty and nor is it fruity in style, with a crisp dry tartness that is more old world fresh in style and food friendly, this bright ruby hued no pretense quaffer was great with grilled shrimp and lightly seasoned pasta.
One of the five main Port varietals, Tinta Cão, is a red Portuguese wine grape variety found mainly in the Douro region, and has been grown there since the sixteenth century, it sees very limited new world plantings including small parcels in California and in Oregon, as seen here with Jessica’s version. The vine naturally produces very low yields, that does not make growers very happy, which has led Tinto Caõ to get close to extinction in its homeland, this is despite the high quality of wine that it can produce, and we are lucky that it is seeing a revival of sorts. While normally used in blended wines, Tinta Caõ shows real promise as a single or main varietal and I look forward to seeing more of them, especially after experiencing this fun and easy going wine. Interesting in California, Tinta Caõ, also know as Castellana Negra, research at Davis has led to Improvements in bilateral cordon training and these experiments have helped to sustain the variety in the state. The vine, it is noted as well, favors cooler climates and, like Cinsault does in Bandol or Alicante Bouschet does in the Ribeira Sacra, adds a certain finesse and complexity to a blended wine even in small doses. Jessica, who had never worked with Tinta Caõ before, was excited to give it a go and decided a hands off approach was the way to go, she teases that the wine’s nickname during crush was her “Half-Assed Carbonic” Tinta Caõ, as she just covered/sealed the bin at let nature run its course, before she pressed it to neutral barrel to age for 8 months, then bottled unfiltered. Jessica, who I profiled here on Grapelive.com, Click Here, has just released this wine along with the second edition of her signature Sunshine Effect skin contact Pinot Gris (Gris Rouge) and another all new bottling of skin contact (Pinot) Auxerrois, which might be the most unique single varietal, of this Alsatian grape, offering in America! After years as a harvest gypsy and just a few years in Oregon, working as an intern for Troon Vineyard in Applegate and here in the Willamette Valley with John Grochau at Grochau Cellars, Jessica has found a welcoming home and is new winemaker, taking her own path crafting wines made from the sun and meant only to bring smiles, to follow.
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2020 Clos La Coutale, Malbec, Cahors AOC, Southwest, France.
The Clos La Coutale, founded in 1895, is one of the most solid bargains you can find and their 2020 Cahors is a superb Malbec red wine with smooth layers and a light earthy quality with black cherry, plum, currant and mulberry fruits along with hints of dusty spices, roasted coffee, violet laced florals as well as nice mineral tones. With air this vintage gains a rounded medium to full bodied palate and the tannins, while there are ripe and smooth, maybe thanks to an addition of Merlot here. Cahors, an ancient almost forgotten region in France’s almost feral Southwest, is seeing a Renaissance with many amazing new generation winemakers and wines that have taken this historic area to new levels of quality and excitement, with Emmanuel Rybinski’s Clos Troteligotte Malbecs, which have a cult following being some of the most beautiful and exotic in the old world, and Fabien Jouves, who is also making more natural style Cahors wines with his Mas del Perie label is one of the region’s brightest stars, rounding out a place more known for rustic and chewy wines. Clos La Coutale is maybe less polished, but they too have significantly raised the bar here and this wine is a ridiculous value and this latest release, 2020 vintage is one of the best regional, authentic and traditional reds, for the money, you’ll find in France. The dark purple/garnet Clos La Coutale is made from carefully sorted and 100% de-stemmed grapes with a traditional fermentation, in stainless steel vats, lasting just under three weeks and this Cahors saw about a year in used Bordeaux barrels, all to allow terroir nuance to shine through in the wine.
Cahors, a former Roman town, was a center of commerce during the Middle Ages, which is seen as a remote and hard edged country wine region, though as mentioned, actually has highly entertaining and serious (wine) history, the area dates back to Celtic times when it was known as Divona, but really became famous during Roman times, in fact it was one of the most import wine producing treasures of their empire. Cahors supplied the Roman armies with dark and powerful black wines, which legend has it aided in their conquest and was a reward for their many victories! Little known and remembered, is that it was the shipping of these Cahors wines, that made Bordeaux a thriving port and have have been instrumental in giving the locals there the idea of commercial wine production of their own, cutting out the long distance hauling of barrels overland to Bordeaux. Before Argentina’s rise and use of the Malbec grape, Cahors was synonyms with this varietal, which can also be known as Côt, and it is good to be reminded of that and to have wines such as this compelling Clos La Coutale. The Bernède family, owners of the Clos La Coutale, are keepers of tradition, watching over one of the region’s oldest domaines, that was originally established before the French Revolution. Kermit Lynch imports Clos La Coutale, is big fan of Philippe Bernède’s work here and the picturesque setting, along the alluvial terraces of the Lot Valley that are rich in siliceous, clay, and limestone soils. The micro-climate of the vineyards at Clos La Coutale is prime, for the 25 year old Malbec vines, with southwest sun exposure, giving this wine its depth and richness, I highly recommend enjoying them meat stews and casual family meals.
($18 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2019 Domaine Thierry Pillot, Bourgogne Blanc AC, White Burgundy, France.
While still of youth, Thierry Pillot is already among the best of the producers based in Chassagne-Montrachet, and is fast becoming as much a cult hero here as Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, and this stunning Bourgogne Blanc 2019 is as aromatic, riveting and salty delicious as wines way over a hundred dollars, it sings with classic Cote de Beaune hillside intensity, be it Meursault, Puligny or Chassagne, this is brilliant stuff. Domaine Paul Pillot, originally founded by Jean-Baptiste Pillot, a barrel maker, in 1900, and now there’s Domaine Thierry Pillot, too, while the original estate, has also been directed by, since 2004 by the dynamic Thierry Pillot, who’s own label wines are more in the mode of crystalline purity and mineral driven, rather than weighty or oaky with tons of vibrancy and racy in personality. It should be noted that Thierry, who eventually began bottling wines under his own name, and for the time being, the fruit for these wines is sourced from land owned by other farmers, but farmed by Thierry himself to guarantee the grapes are of the highest quality. This excellent, lightly golden, little wine has lovely dimension and a classic array of flavors with citrus blossom, hazelnut and crisp orchard fruits on the nose that lead to a medium bodied palate of tart apple, Bosc pear, quince, peach and fig fruits along with clove spice, wet stones, mouth watering saline, a touch of flint and brioche and clarified creme. This wine comes from Chassagne-Montrachet and Remigny, with vines over 35 years old and saw a lengthy elevage for an entry level Chardonnay with twelve months in barrel, 10% new, then rested another six months in stainless tank before bottling.
Thierry’s dad, Paul took over the Domaine Pillot in 1968, acquiring more prestigious vineyards across Chassagne-Montrachet and Saint-Aubin, similar to his neighbors, like the Colin family and the wines saw a big jump in quality. Today, the domaine owns 13 hectares of vines (4.5 in red) and is run by Thierry, who began working here at the family winery in 1999, before taking over himself as mentioned in 2004. Thierry Pillot is now the 4th generation to take on the reins here and is again as noted above one of Burgundy’s brightest stars, he has put a lot of effort into the vines and has taken a minimalistic approach in the cellar with much less new wood being used here, and the retaining of natural acidity, making for wines of finesse and tension, as this regular bottling, under his Thierry Pillot label, of Bourgogne shows. There’s a lot to love in the way this basic Bourgogne Blanc performs and it is hard to beat to value here and 2019 was not a particularly easy or heralded vintage, so I am really excited to see what Thierry does with his 2020s, a year that is getting a ton of buzz for the whites. It’s been said that Thierry already had a recipe for success, at Domaine Paul Pillot, with the vineyard holdings spread among Chassagne-Montrachet, Volnay, Santenay, and St-Aubin that he inherited from his father, but he’s put the work in here and it really shows in the wines, putting his own stylish stamp on them, and his own label stuff is rightfully in high demand. Oh yeah, it is not only the whites here that demand attention, Thierry does a lot of whole cluster in his Pinots and has an interesting array of plots in Chassagne, Santenay and a prime Volnay Premier Cru from which to choose and I am certainly going to explore those!
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Turley Wine Cellars, Zinfandel, Mead Ranch, Atlas Peak, Napa Valley.
One of my secret favorites in the Turley lineup is the lush, but seriously structured mountain Zinfandel from Turley’s Mead Ranch Vineyard on Atlas Peak, especially in vintages such as this 2018, which shows an inner energy, savory elements and gripping backbone to provide purpose and tension to this big fruited wine that delivers an amazing depth of dark fruit and spice. The full bodied palate opens nicely to reveal crushed black raspberry, dense plum, currant and sweet kirsch, along with hints of peony, sage, stony mineral tones, sandalwood and mocha notes. Turley loves this terroir and explains that the Mead Ranch, which is planted at about 1600 feet on Atlas Peak, on the south eastern side of Napa Valley was originally planted as far back as the 1880s, though Turley’s block is primarily from the 1970s. This vineyard, Turley adds, is classically head-trained and planted on distinct red volcanic soils and notes that this vineyard sees plenty of fog from the bay, all of which helps makes wines that are aromatic, complex, textured and with great acidity, as this inviting purple/garnet 2018 version shows to perfection. This maybe the last Mead Ranch Zin, as cryptically suggested in Turley’s notes, which would be a real shame for such an impactful example of Napa Zinfandel.
As noted here and by the winery itself, the legendary Turley Wine Cellars, founded by Larry Turley was established in 1993 and is one of California’s great family run wineries, producing an awesome collection of wines that represent the state’s historic grapes and vineyards in all their glory. In modern times these vineyard sites and wines are overseen by winemaker Tegan Passalacqua, who has become one of the state’s most respected figures and a keeper of the state’s history and he and Turley craft close to 50 different wines from over 50 vineyards across California, of course mainly focused on Zinfandel and Petite Syrah, with many vines dating back to the late 1800s. The farming is done organically and great care is applied to preserve these old vine vineyards and of these classic varieties, that Turley believes makes California unique in the wine world. These rich and authentic offerings are made to be expressive and hedonistic, but are made with a gentle hand using 100% natural yeast fermentation and employing just 20% new wood for aging, these barrels are 80% French and 20% American oak, with this Atlas Peak Zin seeing about 15 months of elevage. Coming in at just over 15% natural alcohol, the Mead Ranch Zinfandel has a similar personality and presence in the glass to a Chateauneuf du Pape and best enjoyed with a robust and hearty meal, this is an outstanding wine, I wish I had bought more!
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2017 Cincinnato Pollùce, Nero Buono, Lazio IGT Rosso, Italy.
Made from a rare varietal, Nero Buono, the Cincinnato Pollùce IGT Rosso comes from vines in the Latium area of the Lazio region, not far from Rome, it is an outstanding no pretense red that shows a fresh and balanced array of red fruits and has a nice snappy spiciness, mineral notes and a light floral note, in a medium bodied wine that is great with food. The Nero Buono, an ancient grape, is grown organically on the volcanic based clay soils in Cori, again just south of Rome in an area with a long history of winegrowing, though many of these old varietals, like Nero Buono, nearly went extinct over time as other regions became more important in modern times. The 2017 has brandied cherry and balsamic strawberry and dusty plum layers and zesty acidity with some juicy orange rind, mountain herbs and hints of savory/stony elements that adds complexity to this superb value priced wine. The Cincinnato Pollùce saw a 10 day maceration to bring out a good extraction of flavors here, but this Nero Buono has a refined tannic back bone and is a wine to enjoy with a wide range of cuisine options, including pasta dishes and or cheese plates.
Made from 100% Nero Buono that was de-stemmed and fermented in stainless vats, with no oak involved, after which the wine is aged in the stainless steel for close to a year before release, all to promote purity and terroir. Crisp and mouth wateringly dry at first, this vintage feels nicely old world in style, with moderate alcohol, coming in at just 13%, and has some tones that will please those that enjoy regional bistro wines. Imported by Oliver McCrum Wines, an importer that is acclaimed for finding unique and entertaining lesser known Italian regions and grapes, so my own interest was heightened to look into this almost unheard of varietal and small co-op producer. McCrum notes, the Cincinnato winery was originally founded back in 1947 and is named for the ancient Roman senator and farmer Cincinnatus, and champions these native varietals, like Bellone a fabulous white grape, as well as this Nero Buono, with value priced offerings. This grape, Nero Buono, which translates to “good black grape” is from unknown origins, though it may come from Greece, like many varietals in the Southern parts of Italy. The Pollùce name is a tribute to the mythical twins Castor and Pollux, as the archeological remains of their temple is located near by, bringing the past into the present, as this wine does.
($16 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2021 Filipa Pato, Baga “Dinamico” Vinho, Bairrada D.O.C. Red Wine, Portugal.
The 2021 Dinamico Baga is electric shock fresh and spicy stuff, it is a lighter medium bodied red wine that excites the palate with pomegranate, strawberry, bramble berry and Brazilian Acai fruits, along with zingy cinnamon, pepper, mineral notes, a touch of earth and crushed flowers. This vintage shows a cool clarity of flavors and brisk details with racy acidity that keeps things bright and focused, it is one of the most compelling versions to date. To create her wines, Filipa Pato works her estate with biodynamic practices, and with very minimal-intervention or natural winemaking in the cellar and with a focus of local and historic grapes to the region. The use of different sites adds depth here with the clay and limestone soils producing Baga with lighter tannins and more depth of concentration, whereas the schist-based soils produce firmer tannins and some highlight the spice and mineral dimension. The 100% Baga “Dinamico” is sourced partially from Filipa and William’s estate vineyards in Ois do Bairro, and partially from other growers in various villages in the Bairrada zone. Only handpicked and fully de-stemmed all organic grapes are used, with a native yeast fermentation employed and then it is raised entirely in tank. Filipa, who is intensely passionate about her region and the local varietals here, like this Baga, is admired in the natural wine community and beyond for her talents.
As mentioned in my earlier reviews, this is one of my favorite producers in Portugal, Filipa Pato, along with her husband, Belgian sommelier and restaurateur William Wouters, make what they call vinhos autênticos sem maquilagem, which translates to ‘Authentic Wines Without Makeup.’ and use only ancient native varietals like Baga, the grape in this lovely little red wine wine from her home region of Bairrada. The, as noted, no wood and tank raised Dinamico Vinho red is deliciously fresh and a ridiculous bargain, it delivers a ripe and vibrant array of racy red fruits on the medium bodied palate, along with vibrant acidity, like a Gamay or Pinot Noir, spice and mineral notes, it way over performs for the price, making this wine even more attractive and an excellent choice for holiday meals. Filipa, who is intensely passionate about her region of the unique varietals here, like this Baga, as well as Bical, Cercial and Maria Gomes, the main local white grapes found in Bairrada. The Pato offerings highlight the Atlantic continental climate and region’s nature exceptionally well, they are raw, authentic and stylish wines, I especially love this one, with its vividly ruby/garnet Baga hue in the glass, it can be served with a slight chill too, and I really enjoy her sparkling Rosé 3D, as well as her white, made with the other rare local varietal Bical, I highly recommend searching these wines out!
($17 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
nv Pierre Baillette “Le Village” Premier Cru, Trois Puits, Brut Champagne, France.
The grower producer Champagne by Pierre Baillette is all new to me and this bubbly, made by Pérrine (Baillette) Chartogne, who follows the same farming methods as her husband Alexandre, at the famous Champagne Chartogne-Taillet, Le Village Brut was a brilliant and vibrant way to start the day and was a great introduction her wines, it is on the drier spectrum of Brut, almost Extra Brut in style with great tension and mineral tones, similar to some of my favorites by Agrapart and de Sousa. The palate feels electric with lean lemon, green apple, quince and Asian pear fruits, plus notes white flowers, bread dough and with a very lively mousse and a steely frame. This Premier Cru is a traditional cuvée made with a core of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and some Meunier that come from Baillette’s own vines in Rilly la Montagne and Trois-Puis, along with Chardonnay from the Verzenay Grand Cru region. The Le Village is blend of the mentioned crus from the south of the Montagne de Reims, where the soils are classically chalky, which is clearly on display in this fine effort.
Périne Baillette, now Chartogne, and who is the daughter of Pierre Baillette, is now the owner and winemaker of the family Champagne house based in Trois-Puits, and certainly there will be a coming out party and a greater awareness of her talents sooner verses later, if the full collection of sparkling wines are as good as this one. Périne, I understand is led by passion to keep things natural and strives to make terroir driven grower fizz, she uses only natural or indigenous yeasts on her grapes that are holistically farmed. She is seeking to craft as pure a Champagne as possible, so the addition of dosage is very low in sugar, with this one at about 4.5 grams per liter, and the base wines see between 3 to 6 years of lees aging. This most recent disgorgement comes mainly from the 2018 vintage and the base was close to 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay and 20% Meunier in make up, with close to 20% of reserve wines, to add complexity here. This is a label to watch for enthusiasts of these racy ultra dry Champagnes, with a soulful and authentic personality and are sparklers that go great with Sushi and or fresh raw oysters.
($55 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2020 Theopolis Vineyards, Petite Sirah, Estate Grown, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
Always an exciting wine and one I look forward to trying, the Theopolis Petite Sirah by Theodora Lee, who owns this amazing terraced vineyard in the Yorkville Highlands, which makes for one of California’s most unique and tasty versions of this grape, with this 2020 being another dark and powerful effort. As mentioned in prior reviews, this might be the best and most distinct site for Petite Sirah in California, and I have loved this wine since I first tried it, along with Halcon’s version from this hillside and schist soiled vineyard that gives an ultra deep purple/black color and a full bodied palate with classic dense blackberry, plum, bramble berry and chocolate dipped cherry fruits along with a racy spicy and savory character, as well as some grippy dusty tannins, dried herbs, sweet liqueur, mocha and toasty/smoky oak notes. It is tough to follow up vintages like 2018 and 2019, but this 2020 gives a good showing and will entertain Lee’s fans, though be sure to decant this youthful Petite Sirah and match it up with Theodora’s suggested cuisine choices, including smoked brisket, BBQ, grilled flank steak and or hearty Winter stews that will pull out a more lush fruit profile. There’s a lot to like in these Theopolis wine, especially this one, but their set of elegant and lush SLH and Yorkville Highlands Pinots, a rare and tasty dry Petite Sirah Rosé and the Cuvée Cerise red blend are all worth chasing down.
As noted here at Grapelive, Theodora Lee, originally from Texas and a well respected trial lawyer, fell in love with California wine after moving to the San Francisco area in 1987 and after seeing many of her colleagues invest in vineyards and wineries she founded Theopolis Vineyards back in 2003. Her passion for wine led her to the remote and steep hillsides of the Yorkville Highlands with Lee focusing on Petite Sirah grape believing it had the best potential here and would make for an iconic example, and very few not agree that this spot and wine are very special. Lee, who has taken UC Davis enology classes and is very hands on with her wines, along with winemaker and consultant Ed Kurtzman, known for his work with Roar, August West and his own Sandler Wines, which include this signature bottling, as well as doing a unique Rosé of Petite Sirah and a few tasty Pinot Noir offerings, plus she does fruity white wine made from a hybrid varietal, called Symphony, that was a crossing of Muscat and Grenache Gris. For her signature Petite Sirah, Theodora went with an open top stainless steel fermenter to do the primary fermentation and used 25% whole clusters, that gives this wine its extra pop, and then pressed to French oak barrel, with 25% new, where the wine is matured for 21 months before bottling. This vintage is warmly ripe, coming in at 14.9%, but still feels energetic and freshly balanced, drink this one over the next 3 to 5 years. For those that like aging their wines, the 2018 and 2019 vintages, which you can still find, look to have incredible aging potential.
($42 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2020 I. Brand & Family Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bates Ranch Vineyard, Old Vines, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Winemaker Ian Brand has been making a fine Bordeaux inspired Cabernet Franc from this Bates Ranch Vineyard for many years and he wasn’t sure he needed another Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, as he already had the prized Monte Bello Road version, but we are lucky he decided to bring the Bates Cab grapes in too, especially as this new 2020 is a spectacular wine that is going to blow some freaking minds, it may just be one of the sleepers of the vintage! When the world discovers that most of the 2020 Napa wines are seriously flawed by smoke taint and begin to look elsewhere, this is going to be a wine to have, as this site had a perfect, no smoke, harvest with incredible depth and concentration on offer with true varietal character from black currant, blackberry, plum and dark cherry fruit to its sweet tannin, cut tobacco, anise, acacia flower, sandalwood and spicy sage accent, it is a deep purple/garnet joy in the glass! While obviously a true California example and 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, there is the same pleasure and light loaminess that I get from classic Medoc Bordeaux wines, it is something that this terroir delivers. Located along the historic Redwood Retreat Road close to Gilroy, the Bates Ranch was settled near Mount Madonna in the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation, where the Bates Family has been growing top quality grapes for four generations now. The area is sees a generous climate for Bordeaux varietals, especially good for Cab Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, highlighted by warm days and cool nights, resulting in fabulous wines like this one and notably Ian Brand’s outstanding Cab Franc, as well. The 2020 Old Vines Bates Cabernet Sauvignon truly shines with air and food, it has age worthy structure, but remarkably supple in its youthful freshness, I might suggest aging a few bottles, especially at this price!
The Bates Ranch Cabernet was planted back in 1978 and set is on red Franciscan series, iron rich and gravelly volcanic soils that delivers a striking mineral elegance and warm ripeness. It is crazy that Bates Ranch doesn’t get the headlines it deserves, but Brand has certainly made a wine here that makes a case for greatness, especially in this vintage, it is something he relishes, turning little known or under appreciated sites into stars. Ian Brand says he didn’t really set out to make these wines, it was just that he discovered some great vineyards at the very edge of what could be called sensible farming and felt the desire and the need to bring them into the light, the rest they say is history, and over the last 10 or so years he has been responsible for resurrecting some of the most treasured sites in the central coast. He adds that the farther he looked, the more he found – remote, challenging vineyards, with hard depleted soils, and intense sunlight tempered only by the cool coastal breezes. These unique vineyards are capable of producing only the most idiosyncratic of wines, soulful expressions of place and history. Brand highlights, that the goal as winemakers is to lightly polish the roughest edges, but to leave the idiosyncrasy of these wines and grapes intact, for which it is clear when you taste his wines, that he has done and with delicious success. For his Cabernet wines, like this old vine site in the southeastern zone of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Brand employed a traditional fermentation and maceration, with careful sorting and de-stemming of the grapes and an elevage in mostly used French barrels, though in recent years he’s used some larger Austrian oak too, with just enough new wood to do the job. I am very impressed with the latest set of wines here and I highly recommend getting this stunner, which is just now being released, and keep an eye out for the Bates Cab Franc and Brand’s latest Grenache, signature offerings, which are just delicious as well.
($48 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2019 Cruse Wine Co, Syrah, Charles Heintz Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
Coming from the cool, western Sonoma Coast and coastal marine sandstone and loamy soils, mostly known for top notch Chardonnay, the 2019 Michael Cruse Charles Heintz Vineyard Syrah is an intense Northern Rhone, deeply purple and inky with earthy black fruits, spice and rustic savory elements. Capturing Syrah’s most feral side with loads of whole bunch and stemmy crunch and firm tannic structure, this wine is thrilling and impressive in the glass, reminding me of some of my favorite Cornas wines and as it opens, there layering of fruit becomes more opulent and shows off the vintage’s best qualities. The full bodied, but eclectic palate shows blackberry, boysenberry, damson plum, blueberry and cherry fruits, all framed by peppercorns, anise, black olive, mineral tones, crushed violet florals and a meatiness that perfectly plays against the dense fruit core here, this is exceptional and stylish stuff. Of course, I love the Cruse bubbly wines, but Michael Cruse has done a masterful job with this Syrah and he is just now releasing his new 2021 vintage, which I gotta think will be just as seductive as this version. Cruse notes, he has not filtered or fined the Charles Heintz Syrah and says this wine saw no additions or any manipulations in the cellar, with the exception of a small dose of SO2, that is stabilizing force to allow aging and long term enjoyment, as well as delivering remarkable freshness. This Syrah benefits from decanting and just gets better and more complex with time in the glass, but it especially is at its best with robust cuisine, like a rack of lamb, or wild mushroom dishes, and it shows off wonderfully with food.
Petaluma winemaker, Michael Cruse, as mentioned here, is a sparkling wine guru, 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 and one made from Valdiguie, which is absurdly good too! That said, Cruse does a quality and intriguing set of still wines, like this one, 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 a delicious Beaujolais like Valdiguie. The still wines lean toward the natural or old world, but are as Cruse says, uniquely Californian and rawly transparent and made with indigenous yeast fermentation and as seen here in the Charles Heintz Syrah a bunch of whole cluster, with his wines being matured in mostly used, well seasoned French oak that only offer a hint of wood influence. Cruse’s main red wine, the Monkey Jacket, is a North Coast red blend that is about 51% Valdiguié, with the remainder being Carignan, Syrah and maybe a touch of other black grapes, depending on the year and is a great value quaffer. I really enjoyed Cruse’s Tannat, which comes from Alder Springs Vineyard, one of California’s jewels, and was delighted by the similar elements you see in the Basque Irouliguy wines, as well as the notable South-West French Madiran region, but this Syrah, with its restrained natural alcohol, only 13.5%, might now be my favorite now! This 2019 Syrah, only 11 barrels made, might be hard to find nowadays, but I recommend keeping an eye out for it, or get on Cruse’s list to get the latest release.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2020 Sandlands Vineyards, Carignane, Lodi Wine, California.
I couldn’t keep my hands off this new batch of Tegan Passalacqua’s Sandlands Vineyards wines and especially his brilliant Lodi Carignane, this is always one of my favorite wines in the Sandlands collection and this 2020 is wonderfully fresh and lively, but with comforting fruit density and dark flavors, it is perfect for simple country foods and no pretense quaffing. One of my friends just got back from a trip to France, where he explored Carcassonne and the Languedoc region, enjoying and learning to make their local historic dish of cassoulet, where it was paired with the native reds wines, like those of Corbieres, Minervois, Fitou, Maury, Saint-Cinian, Pic Saint Loup, and Faugères, and it got me thinking about some California wines that would be great with his new found recipe, bringing this delicious Lodi Carignane to mind. In fact this wine perfectly pairs with the rustic versions of cassoulet with its deep purply dark hue and medium to full bodied palate of blackberry, currant, plum and Italian cherry fruits that are balanced nicely by brambly spice, dusty stones, sprigs of wild herbs, earthy cedar and orange rind accents. This vintage of Passalacqua’s Lodi Carignane is smoothy textured and ripe in layering, but as always is restrained in alcohol coming in at just tick under 12% and is as easy to love as his Zinfandel, I highly recommend getting on the Sandlands mailing list and never passing up on his two Carignane bottlings, this one and his Contra Costa County version!
For these Sandlands wines, winemaker Tegan Passalaqua, who is the vineyard manager and head winemaker at the famous Turley Wine Cellars, uses restraint and employs a light touch in the cellar here with most bottlings being small wines made with indigenous yeasts and lots of whole cluster. Along with traditional old school maceration(s) with hand punch downs, basket pressing and with the aging being done in well used barrels, mostly French oak. California wine enthusiasts are re-discovery Lodi and the region’s historic old vines, with many vineyards being well over 100 years old, set on well draining sandy soils, which is what many of California’s best vineyards have, like this one, which produces small yields and fruit concentration. Passalacqua notes, that This own-rooted vineyard of Carignane, was planted in 1900, on Lodi’s Tokay fine sandy loam on the west side of Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA, where it has thrived for well over a hundred years now. This combination makes for some great wines and Lodi offers tremendous value for the savvy wine lover and this latest Sandlands Lodi Carignane is proof positive of that, it delivers tons of personality, quality and complexity at a great price. Carignane or Carignan, is a Rhone varietal that has been in California a long time, and along with Cinsault, are mainly used in blends, but can make for stylish single varietal wines, both of which are tasty treats, especially these Sandlands versions. Carignane, maybe known best in the Languedoc and is usually found as a main player in Saint Chinian and Corbieres, but is also found in Spain’s Priorat and on the Italian isle of Sardinia, plus here in California where it is a minor part of classic Zinfandel field blends from Lodi, Contra Costa to Sonoma Valley and in the remote wilderness of Mendocino!
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Sangiovese, Gimelli Vineyard, Cienega Valley, San Benito County.
While mainly, and rightly so, for their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir offerings, Alfaro Family Vineyards also does a few rarities, including their crisp Gruner Veltliner and this rustically charming Sangiovese from vines at the Gimelli Vineyard in the Cienega Valley, an area now getting its due for its historic old vines and unique terroir. Richard Alfaro has long been a fan of this vineyard and has done a few different offerings from here, with this 2018 Sangiovese proving to be an excellent wine and a very nice value, showing nice transparent varietal character with dark berries, savory tobacco leaf, cedar and dried flowers leading the way along with hints of strawberry, kirsch, minty herbs and saddle leather notes, making for an authentic, almost Chianti like, food wine. This deep garnet red Sangiovese has some juicy acidity and just the right amount of raw grip to provide good structure here, allowing for pleasure now and giving enough stuffing to age easily for another 3 to 5 years.
Alfaro Family Vineyard is seeing a change in generation with Richard’s son Ryan, who is a rising talent in the region, now taking over the cellar and handling the winemaking here, be sure to check in on the wines here as they transition to Ryan’s latest efforts, especially the Trout Gulch bottlings, they look to be very exciting stuff. Ryan also has his personal label, Farm Cottage Wines, and these are absolutely delicious offerings and have a bit more edgy personally with the reds seeing more whole cluster, with the Pinot being a star. Coming from limestone and granite soils the Sangiovese was traditionally fermented and matured with de-stemmed grapes and hand punchdowns before pressing to mostly neutral and used French oak barrels to promote this wine’s sense of place and deliver this Tuscan inspired wine’s best qualities from a vintage that is proving to be one of the best locally in decades. The long cool season made for well balanced wines and gives the wine long hang time depth of flavors, which is on display here in a wine that is divine with classic pasta and or easy meat dishes, look for this one before it’s gone.
($21 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2019 Domaine Drouhin, Pinot Noir “Laurène” Dundee Hills AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Always one of the most consistently excellent wines in the Willamette Valley, Domaine Drouhin’s Laurène Pinot is a star selection and always graceful in style, the 2019 is a lighter and more subtle vintage, but captures the terroir and year with a beautiful nuanced performance in the glass with bright and earthy red fruits, spice, delicate florals and a satiny texture. I believe I started trying Domaine Drouhin’s Laurène, a Reserve wine, with the legendary 1998 vintage and have ben a fan ever since, even in the off years this has been a tasty treat and a wine that really is rewarding with this season’s cuisine. The 2019 Laurène came in a tick under 14% and has a concentrated, but elegant mouth feel and a lively medium bodied palate of sweet cherry, plum, raspberry and tangy red currant fruits, along with a range of red and brown baking spices, warm oak and mineral tones, with everything folding together nicely in this substantial ruby/garnet hued Pinot, with a fine balance of its tannin and acidity. That said, I recommend giving this lively and taut wine some time to express itself fully and enjoy it with a meal. I also love the fact that the Laurène comes in half bottles too, which sometimes just the perfect amount, especially when you have an aperitif before the main course.
The Domaine Drouhin’s Laurène Pinot, which is named after Véronique Boss-Drouhin’s oldest daughter, Laurène, and is the flagship wine of the American arm of the famous Joseph Drouhin Burgundy producer, it is produced entirely from Pinot Noir grown on the family’s estate in the Dundee Hills, which is set on the classic Jory red (volcanic) soils. The grapes are, as the winery notes, handpicked into small totes, 100% de-stemmed, and traditionally fermented with indigenous yeasts, gently macerated and then pressed into French Oak barrels, with some new toasty ones included. Once the vintage is safely resting in the cellar, Véronique, who is an ever present and admired figure in the valley, begins the process of selecting her favorite barrels. Her choices form the core of this French inspired Laurène cuvée, with this group of hand picked barrels, according to the estate, having an extra degree of complexity, length, and depth. Véronique notes, her choice of barrels must will work well together to become the Laurène and this 2019, a tough year weather wise has turned out luxurious and delicious, making for a Pinot that is worth every penny and one that should drink nicely for another decade with ease. While not a blockbuster in terms of fruit density, there is everything you could ask for (in a Pinot Noir) and there is a regal pedigree that shines through here, it is impressive stuff.
($75 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Domaine Fouet, Saumur Champigny “L’Amarante” Loire Valley, France.
The authentic and pure Cabernet Franc L’Amarante by Julien Fouet, the sixth generation vigneron who runs his 15-hectare Fouet estate, is full of earth dense red fruits, along with spice, mineral and black licorice notes, making a for an excellent old world value and wine to enjoy with hearty Winter cuisine, especially rustic meat dishes. The palate, which is medium/full and gripping, opens up nicely with air, gaining some pretty floral elements, blackberries, kirsch and subtle green pepper, but there is plenty of acidity and raw tannin here in this Saumur Champigny Rouge that keeps things taut and with a dry and stony character. The dark garnet Fouet saw a classic 10 day maceration and vat aging for less than a year before bottling, making for a wine of varietal purity that has a real sense of place.
In recent years Domaine Fouet has employed organic methods, going fully certified in 2017, in the vines and keeps things clean and simple in the cellar with the wines seeing traditional winemaking to promote terroir transparency, which this cuvée L’Amanante showing true sense of place. The Saumur Champigny region is one of most important areas for Cabernet Franc in the world, it is set of calcareous and chalky soils and capable of producing incredible and age worthy wines, with some cult producers like Clos Rougeard getting Grand Cru Burgundy prices for their rare bottlings. Though, wines like this one by Domaine Fouet, give enthusiasts some top notch values and I highly recommend the L’Amarante for savvy Cab Franc fans. There’s a lot like here with Domaine Fouet’s wines, imported by Wine Wise here in California, especially this impressive effort, which is an outstanding bargain, drink it over the next 3 to 5 years.
($25 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Roccolo Grassi, Valpolicella Superiore DOC, Veneto, Italy.
Rare is the wine that has Valpolicella on label drink in the upper realms of the likes of Barolo or Brunello, but this Roccolo Grassi does just that and with stylist rustic charm that is not flashy at all, it shows an old world, unmistakable Italian presence in the glass and the depth and complexity is world class. Made with the classic varietals with some partially dried grapes to concentrate the flavors there is no sense of over ripe or raisiny notes, instead you get earthy and savory Corvina, rather than sweetness of a Ripasso or Amarone, with a bit of Nebbiolo like feel here with a deep range of berry and cherry fruits, spice, fresh cut tobacco, minty herbs, cedar, subtle florals and a leathery note. This is a stunning vintage with excellent richness and structure and the wine finished at 14.5% alcohol which allows the very best of the main grape here and terroir to express itself in its best light, this is a wine that way over delivers for the price and will be rewarding especially with hearty cuisine. I must say, as a fan of some the big names in the region and having had on many occasions the likes of Quintarelli and Dal Forno, this is the real deal and I recommend bargain hunters check this one out.
The Roccolo Grassi Valpolicella Superiore DOC is named for the historic vineyard here in the Veneto and comes from sites that sit on volcanic basalt soils at an elevation above 200 meters with a warm southeast exposure. The blend is Corvina 60%, Corvinone 15%, Rondinella 20% and Croatina 5% and the grapes were (after some were partial air dried) de-stemmed and fermented in stainless steel with about 15 days of skin maceration before being gently pressed to mostly used barrels, which typically is a combination of small French barrique and large traditional oval Slavoian oak casks. The highly rewarding and impressive Roccolo Grassi Valpolicella Superiore is then aged for 20 months in the wood and then rested in bottle in the cellar for another 10 full months before its is released and this 2016, a powerful vintage, is just now starting to reveal itself and should age fantastically well for decades, which is awesome for a wine in the price class. With air and food this Veneto red gains texture and added dimension with an impeccable full bodied palate, opening slowly and seductively throughout its time in your glass with hints of menthol, unsweetened coco, bay leaf and currant compote coming through, it has a beautiful tension between the fruit and umami elements and is in the end a very alluring and rewarding wine. Roccolo Grassi was founded in 1996 by Bruno Sartori and his two children Marco and Francesca, who have made the winery one of best in Veneto hills and they also do and very nice Soave, where they also have vines, as well.
($36 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2020 Rootdown Wine Cellars, Dry Riesling “R1” Cole Ranch AVA, Mendocino County.
The brilliant and crisply detailed Root Down Cellars Cole Ranch Riesling is wonderfully aromatic and lively on the light framed palate with thrilling and electric layers of lime, lemon, green apple, pineapple and quince fruits, along with a bright spicy sensation, wet stones, delicate florals and wild herbs and shinning in the background, this is another excellent California dry Riesling with true varietal character. Rootdown Wine Cellars, based in Healdsburg, was started by winemaker/owner Mike Lucia in 2014, who was primarily focused on making quality California Rosé, but who has now filled out his collection of small batch wines, which includes this fabulous stuff, plus other Cole Ranch offerings like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Trousseau and a rare California version of Savagnin, the unique Jura white grape. Lucia says his goal is to allow the influence of the soil on wine, particularly with his organic winemaking, to shine trough here. Rootdown, he adds, focuses on varietal specific wines from single vineyards that lead with earth and texture, rather than only fruit, and this wine does this very successfully, this is a label to keep an eye on.
As noted here at Grapelive.com, the Cole Ranch AVA, originally established in 1983, but the vines date back to 1971 when former owner Joe Cole planted them here, is an American Viticultural Area, and a single vineyard, located in Mendocino County, California. This area of vines, at less than a quarter of a square mile, about 60 acres, makes it the smallest AVA (appellation) in the United States. This tiny AVA is located between the Russian River and Anderson Valley and is home to some of the state’s most prized Riesling, as well as having small parcels of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir, all of which is sold to just a few wineries. This vineyard is set on a series of high hills ranging from 1,400-1,600 feet in elevation, and is now owned by the Sterling family, proprietors of the Esterlina Winery, that is located in Philo, controlling the entire vineyard acreage of the appellation, suppling Desire Lines with a some Riesling, as well as Pinot Noir guru Ross Cobb, who’s own version of dry Riesling has a cult like following. Now we have this Rootdown version to admire, with this pale golden 2020 being an outstanding effort that gains dimension with air, adding papaya and kiwi, as well as round texture, but stays intensely vibrant throughout, making it an exceptional dry Riesling to enjoy with raw foods, such as briny oysters and or sushi.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive