Grapelive.com – March 2023
n.v. Cruse Wine Co, Rosé Tradition, Méthode Champenoise, Sparkling Wine, California.
The richly textured and nicely aromatic Rosé Tradition has an elegant mousse that beads beautifully with small creamy bubbles and has a pretty salmon pink hue in the glass, making it a savvy hand crafted sparkler that delivers tons of personality and old world charm. The palate is expressive with red apples, cherry, strawberry and candied citrus notes, all accented by leesy luxuriousness, brioche, wet stones, rosewater, mineral tones and baking spices. There’s a start of secondary elements beginning to emerge and a sultry earthiness that comes through with air and the Rosé Tradition is a fine food wine with structure and flavors that holds up to many cuisine options, including Asian spicy dishes and or grilled swordfish with relish. This bubbly gets better with every sip and reminds me of some unique grower producer Champagnes, even some of the most geeky Meunier stuff that is very popular with enthusiasts. The grapes for Michael Cruse’s bubblies are pressed using a traditional Champagne cycle and press cut, then goes through a native yeast primary and malolactic fermentation in barrel, which shows in the vinous quality here with this exciting Rosé Tradition California sparkling wine.
The low dosage, Brut level, Rosé Tradition comes from the 2019 vintage, base wine, which was naturally barrel fermented in wooden casks and tirage bottled and Michael Cruse says It was then aged in bottle 24 months on its lees, then at least another six months post disgorging. Cruse explains that the Tradition line of sparkling wines are typically are a base vintage, like this one being 2019, mainly, but with up to 30% perpetual cuvée, or aged reserve wine, added. The blend is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with this one obviously a Rosé gets a slash of red wine for the color. The primary vineyards used are an eclectic collection of prime site, included are Keefer Ranch, Alder Springs, Linda Vista, and Rorick Vineyard. The Brut cuvée or white bubbly Tradition is a non dosage and is bit more serious in style, while this Rosé version is more palate generous, or as Cruse says, fun and fruity, but still a dry effort with loads of complexity, as this one shows. Michael Cruse has really made a name for himself with these exceptional small production Champagne style wines that are highly coveted offerings. Known also for his cult Ultramarine sparkler, as well as his stylish Pet-Nats, especially the Valdiguie, and now a White Zinfandel Pet-Nat, along with some quality still wines, all of which are worth chasing down!
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2021 Cume do Avia, Ribeiro Branco, Colleita 9, Galicia, Spain.
One of Spain’s most interesting newer producers and led by Diego Collarte and his brother Álvaro, who both grew up in Vigo, Cume do Avia makes some beautifully crafted terroir driven Galician wines from very close to the Portuguese border, made all from native varietals grown with organic methods. I have been following the wines of this region for more than 15 years and I’m still discovering so many intriguing new treasures that has been producing wines since pre-Roman times, and Cume do Avia is a great find, mostly known for their collection of reds, which include a mix of rare grapes such as Caiño Longo, Souson and Brancellao. That said, this Ribeiro Branco “Colleita 9” is a stunning mineral intense white with stony, saline and floral aromatics and a fine dry crisply detailed palate of racy citrus, white peach, green apple and tangy quince fruits along with wet rock, almond, delicate herbs, spice and sea shore notes. Light to medium bodied, this wine is somewhere between a Sancerre and Chablis in style, picking up depth with air and showing some texture, complexity and dimension as it opens, while staying taut and zesty throughout, thanks to the cool climate natural acidity.
The Cume do Avia “Colleita 9” Ribeiro Branco comes from organic vines set in local Atlantic influenced parcels that are set on rocky and sandy soils with clay, along with a combination of complex elements that include granodiorite, gneiss and flinty slate with a selection of Treixadura, Albarino, Loureira, Lado and Caiña Branco grapes. These interplanted indigenous grapes are co-fermented with native yeasts in stainless steel and only aged about 6 months in the tank on the lees, all to preserve the vitality and freshness here. These Cume do Avia wines are serious efforts that deserve your attention, though they have a friendly and easy to drink personalities they very much carry the essence and soul of the region in the bottle. This Colleita 9 should not be overlooked, it really impresses and will be a great alternative white for the warm days of summer ahead and is sublime with shellfish and briny sea foods, as well as soft cheeses, its salty brightness makes it compelling for those that like bone dry lighter framed wines. Cume do Avia’s lineup is filled with low alcohol and rawly transparent offerings that have a natural feel to them, those that like other new stars from Galicia, like Laura Lorenzo, Luis Rodriguez, Guimaro and Nanclares will instantly feel comfortable with these lovely wines. I recommend Cume do Avia’s Dos Canotos Tinto, their Colleita 9 Tinto (red) and this Colleita 9 Branco (white), they are not easy to find, but worth the chase.
($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2021 Domaine Arnaud Lambert, Saumur-Champigny Rouge “Les Terres Rouges” Loire Valley, France.
Emerging as one of the most celebrated Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc producers in the Loire, Arnaud Lambert has put another set of beautiful wines from the Saumur-Champigny region, with this latest 2021 Les Terres Rouges being a pure and elegant Cab Franc that shows fine aromatics, mineral tones, pretty fruit layering and delicate earthiness. I have been a fan of these wines for a while now and Arnaud Lambert, who is based in Saint Cyr en Bourg – Brézé, as noted here, began as part of a father and son team with his dad Yves, made a name for himself when he took over at the historic estate of the Château de Brézé, one of France’s great properties and one that the French royals, as noted by the winery, used to exchange wines of Brézé annually for Château d’Yquem! This Les Terres Rouges, named for the soils in this plot, shows a dark garnet color and floral aromas in the glass with a bright medium bodied palate of blackberry, mulberry, plum and cherry fruits along with a touch of bell pepper, cinnamon, anise, chalky stones and lingering currants. There this a lot to like here and there’s a fresh cut of acidity and the tannins are very polished, making it a graceful Cab Franc that could be from nowhere but here, such is the terroir influence and it is a wine that really comes alive with food, where it gains an extra dimension and seduces the senses. This is a wine that will enhance almost any meal and can play well with simple rustic country cuisine and or more elevated dishes like seared duck breast.
Lambert’s personal offerings, after the end of Château de Brézé are giving an insight as to his direction as a vigneron, and you can see his transition to one of the region’s top producers and he continues to push quality levels upwards, he has raised the game of those around him as well, pushing the Saumur and Saumur-Champigny AOCs to highlight crus and individual terroirs and lieu-dit sites, as he does, like in this wines, again as I have mentioned here in prior reviews. The goal is to re-discover the regions premier vineyards and exploit its full potential through organic and biodynamic viticulture and less-is-more, precise winemaking, which he himself adheres to. The wines here are lifted and precise in style, but show complexity and deep concentration with structures to age and this Les Terres Rouges, while youthfully taut and slightly shy still, is no exception and I can imagine it impressing in 10 to 15 years, just as much as it does now. This parcel is set on iron rich clay, alluvial sand and tuffeau (limestone) soils and a cooler western exposure that gives this wine its personality, which Lambert, who wanted to allow to shine through here, fermented and aged this 100% Cab Franc in concrete. He used zero stems, de-stemmed grapes, indigenous yeasts and employed what he calls infusion extraction, a lengthy cool maceration, in temperature controlled vats with about a year of elevage in the concrete with up to 3 rackings to clarify with ultra low sulfur. This bottling is wildly delicious and a real value for Loire Valley Cabernet Franc lovers, I highly recommend searching out these Lambert wines, especially the fabulous set of Chenins and the reds, like this one, and the upper end Clos Moleton, Clos de L’Etoile and Montee Des Roches.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Lucia by Pisoni, Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands.
Really coming into its own, the 2018 Santa Lucia Highlands cuvee Chardonnay is drinking absolutely gorgeous right now with a layering of golden apples, Bosc pear, white peach, lemon curd and golden fig fruits along with a bright core of acidity, mineral tones, leesy and toasty wood notes as well as spicy clove, wet stones and subtle orange blossom accents. Everything is held in place with a nice tension, but still seamless and with the perfect amount of creamy full bodied roundness that reminds me of the great versions of California Chardonnay, making with think of Aubert, Peter Michael, Ramay and Peay along with classics such as Mount End and Hanzell. This pale gold and textured Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay, which is now called the Lucia Estate Cuvée, was sourced from vines grown exclusively in the Pisoni and Soberanes vineyards in Monterey’s cool coastal region that is set on sandy loams of decomposed granite and veins of quartz and ancient sea beds.
Winemaker Jeff Pisoni, who has become one of California’s top guns, has crafted some of the state’s most coveted Pinots, which were made famous by his father Gary, who of course pioneered quality grape growing in the Santa Lucia Highlands and who is a legend locally in the region, as well as around the world. While collectors snap up all the Pinot Noir from Pisoni with lightning speed, savvy wine lovers don’t pass up these excellent Chardonnay offerings either, and this bottling has become a stunning value, with this 2018 being a stunning wine that rivals wines that are twice the price. The Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay is expertly put together from various small lots from Soberanes Vineyard, which has unique and varied selection of clones, and from the famous Pisoni Estate Vineyard with its old vines, which were first planted in the early 1980s. Pisoni used a native yeast barrel fermentation with 100% French oak and 35% new wood, it saw 11 months in barrel on the lees and with full malolactic conversation, which was just the right touch here to make for such an impressive effort. It won’t be easy to find the 2018s, but oh yeah, they are worth searching for!
($50 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2020 Domaine M. et C. Lapierre, Morgon Roche du Py, Cuvee Camille, Cru Beaujolais, France.
Usually rich, dense and textured, the 2020 version of Lapierre’s Cuvee Camille is more poised and lighter on its feet than the last few vintages with sublime balance and fresh details, it delivers a full array of pure Gamay goodness on the bright red fruited medium bodied palate. This release has still has the Lapierre signature hedonistic ripeness, but it has a taut focus, mineral notes and it is very heightened example of Morgon and it is lovely with a range of food that helps bring out all sides of this pretty dark ruby hued Cuvee Camille. The nose is stony, raspberry laced and lightly floral before revealing a mix of red berry, plum, cherry and strawberry fruits, along with tangy herbs, crushed granite, walnut, peony/lilac and anise accents. The acidity is vibrant, with 13.5% natural alcohol, about a point less than the norm and the wine is youthful at this stage, but I suspect it will fill out in a few years, though it would be tough to keep from opening this stuff.
The late and legendary Marcel Lapierre, who was a champion of this style natural wine, proved that Gamay can be monumental, age worthy and thrilling wines and the domaine continues to be a leader of this category. The wines show an intense attention to detail and quality, as I’ve noted before, always are striving for elegance and terroir clarity, which these latest Lapierre Beaujolais, like this one deliver in spades. In the cellar, Mathieu, who took over from his father, employs 100% whole cluster and native yeast fermentation, or methode à l’ancienne, all of which is done at low temperatures with primary ferments lasting for between ten to twenty days, before racking the wine to well seasoned oak foudres and fûts (large casks) for aging, which usually is close to 9 months before bottling. What sets this Cuvee Camille, named after Mathieu’s sister, who helps run this famous estate, apart, is the Roche du Py plot with its 50 to 75 year old vines that are set on the classic granitic gravelly and mineral rich soils. These low sulphur Lapierre Morgons are some of the most coveted and sought after wines in the wine world and always are wonderful treats, I highly recommend exploring their collection, especially this rare offerings.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Fuentes del Silencio, Videos del James “Las Quintas” Castilla y Leon, Spain.
This was my first experience with the Fuentes del Silencio wines and I was thrilled with the quality and brilliance of these Mencia based wines, with this beautiful Las Quintas being an exceptional highlight that delivers outstanding detail, depth and poise, making for a joyous, medium bodied and complex wine. Sourced from ancient old vines in high plains of Herreros de Jamuz, a remote, almost unknown region of Spain in the Castilla y Leon area, this Las Quintas is made from 85% Mencia, 13% Alicante Bouschet and 2% of white grapes including Palomino (the Sherry grape) and the native Doña Blanca, all of which is similar to what you might find in Beizo region, but with a unique set of quartzite cobbles, clay and crushed slate sandy soils. This 2019 shows an inviting dark garnet and ruby color in the glass and has mineral and floral aromatics that leads to lively mouth filling flavors of vine picked berry, tart blueberry, plum and cherry fruits that are accented by stony and earthy notes with a hint of stems, spice, dried herbs and anise. There is a sense of purity and transparency here without any noticeable wood influence and the wine shows a nice lift of acidity, while still gaining richness as it opens, quite impressive stuff here and this Las Quintas is gracefully raw and balanced, which makes it best with a hearty meal.
I tasted this wine at a small importer tasting, by The Source Imports, and it was a sleeper in the lineup, but clearly a standout, it was a great way to discover this new producer, which is a small winery led by Dr. Miguel Angel Alonso and his wife Dr. Maria José Galera, both medical doctors, who have rejuvenated some long forgotten 80 to 150 year old vines. The Source Imports says the couple discovered abandoned vineyards with many vines that predate phylloxera, or at least has plots without any grafting to modern American rootstocks. They also put together a talented team to farm and make the Fuentes del Silencio (which translates to Sources of Silence) wines with vignerons Marta Ramas, Miguel Fisac and Alberto Aldonza in the vineyards, and José Villar, who manages the cellar. The Jamuz was a considerable wine producing area dating back to Roman times, but almost disappeared in the last hundred years, before Alonso and Galera came here and gave the place a new lease on life. This area with its high plains, arid setting and continental climate gives small yields and more concentration than you’d see in the Mencia wines of the Ribeira Sacra and again, more like Beirzo in style, with fans of Raul Perez seeing comparable characteristics in these Fuentes del Silencio offerings, which is high praise. This soulful and 100% organic wine was made with about 80% whole cluster and stem inclusion, all indigenous yeast fermentation occurring in conical wood vats and aging, 12 to 14 months, in old 500L French oak barrels. I highly recommend chasing down these very limited offerings and I will certainly will be following this label.
($36 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2021 Damilano, Langhe Arneis, Piedmonte, Italy.
The bright, fresh and crisply dry Langhe Arneis from Damilano is a tasty little white wine to enjoy over the next year or so with a light palate of lemon/lime, tart unripe peach, melon along with mineral tones, saline stony notes and zesty herbs. Arneis, almost lost durning the 1970s has had a renaissance and acreage has increased as its popularity grew and has now gained a reputation of quality, making for an interesting and unique white wine that can compare with Gruner Veltliner for cool on wine lists. Dry and with good mineral character Arneis is more fun than rather basic New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs and or mass produced Pinot Grigios. Damilano is a historic name in the Barolo area dating back to 1890, when Giuseppe Borgogno started cultivating grapes making wine, and carries with it more than 100 years of winemaking here, obviously most notably Nebbiolo and their Barolo cru bottlings. These Damilano crus include Cannubi, Brunate, Cerequio and Liste, all of which produce spectacular and singular wines, each having tons of individual charms. Current winemakers Guido Damilano and Alessandro Bonelli at Damilano are doing some very attractive wines and deserve the praise they are getting these days. The 100% stainless fermented and aged Damilano Arneis is sourced from vines in Roero, on the left bank of the Tanaro river between Langhe and Monferrato with deep sandy soils, with clay and limestone beneath that adds subtle complexity and aromatics.
Arneis saw a re-birth from almost extinction thanks to Vietti and Giacosa, the famous Barolo producers that saved this varietal in the Piedmonte region, where it is mostly planted, though America vintners have some to play with now in California where it has a tiny but faithful following. The first mention of Arneis in modern times dates back to 1877 when the grape adopted its current name, though it is widely believed to have been in Piedmonte since the 1400s using various names, in the last few hundred years it has mainly flourished in the Roero area, along with interplanting in Barolo. Even though Arneis has no genetic relationship to Nebbiolo, the two grapes have a intertwined historic relationship and it is well noted that for centuries Arneis grape was used to soften the tannins and harshness of Nebbiolo, in Barolo. So Arneis was sometimes called Nebbiolo Bianco and some growers planted a little bit of Arneis with Nebbiolo in a field blend hoping the sweet scent of ripe Arneis berries would attract the birds away from the more prized Nebbiolo clusters! Damilano’s Arneis is not maybe the most expressive or impactful version, but it is a good easy drinker and a great alternative to many generic whites out there and I recommend it for causal occasions and picnics. I have really enjoyed all of the Damilano wines I’ve tried from their mentioned Cru Barolo to this refreshing, slightly tropical, Arneis and I can easily see myself enjoying this Arneis with no pretense with friends this Summer and I will certainly be checking out their latest Barolo offerings too!
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2019 Domaine Xavier Monnot, Maranges 1er Cru “Clos de la Fussière” Monopole, Red Burgundy, France.
The exceptional and clean focused 2019 Clos de la Fussière Monopole shows pure Pinot fruit and lovely silky texture with a flow of red fruits on the medium bodied palate, it impresses in all areas and makes for a very pleasing Burgundy to enjoy over the next 5 to 10 years. I have just discovered Xavier Monnot’s wines this year, first with his brilliant Monthelie Les Duresses Bourgogne Blanc and now with his exciting Premier Cru Maranges Clos de la Fussière that part of a blind tasting I attended recently, both of these quality efforts are wines to keep an eye out for, they are quite good values too, in a category that has seen skyrocketing prices in recent years. This ruby hued 2019 Maranges starts with a touch sweet toasty oak, rose petals and mineral red berries and rotates a seamless stream of cherry, plum and strawberry fruits along with a touch of spice, orange tea, chalky stones and smoky vanilla, without any overt oakiness to muddle the pretty fruit core. Best to enjoy this red Burgundy with a meal and watch it elevate with the food and air in the glass, it gains a subtle earthiness and complexity with time, but stays nicely balanced and holds your attention, again without being aggressive. Monnot’s wines are all small lot hand crafted efforts with the whites being reductive in style and the reds being made for more immediate gratification as this Maranges shows. This wine comes from the La Fussière site, which is just about three acres, that is set on clay and limestone soils with a slightly cooler exposure that allows for good natural acidity.
As a new producer to me, I was curious about Xavier Monnot’s lineup of wines and his collection of vineyard parcels, which I discovered was pretty impressive ranging from Beaune to Maranges in Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune, including prime plots in Pommard, Volnay and Beaune for red and Meursault, Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet for his whites. Monnot, who starting producing under his own label and domaine back in 2005, has 60% white and 40% red, and crafts his wines from his small facility in Meusault after taking over his grandfather’s property, which was called Domaine René Monnier. Xavier’s family, the Monniers, go back to 1723 in the region, with six generations of winegrowing. Xavier took over his family concern in 1994, says his importer, after completing his oenological studies and he slowly started rejuvenating the vineyards, planting a series of massale selections and new clones where best suited. In the cellar, things really changed when he introduced his own label, going to native yeast fermentation and using clean stainless steel for the red primary maceration and ferments with gentle punch downs and pump overs before pressing to barrel. Xavier employs only a small amount of whole bunches, and maybe none at all in cooler or small yielding years, like this one, which was mostly all de-stemmed. This one saw close to 14 months in about 30% new oak, which matches up well with the concentration and adds to the lush satiny mouth feel, again there’s a lot to admire here. I look forward to digging deeper into Monnot’s collection, especially Xavier’s Meursault offerings, like the Les Charmes and his Volnay reds, with the Clos des Chênes being high on the list of wants.
($55 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2020 Pierre-Henri Morel, Gigandas, Southern Rhone Valley, France.
I am a huge Gigondas fan and it was exciting to try this one, which I had not tried before and it did not disappoint with a serious meaty concentrated full bodied palate that comes across very Syrah led in character at first with blackberry, boysenberry, damson plum and cassis along with raw beef, anise, burnt embers and violets taking center stage before a nice mix of peppery spices, lavender and sweet pomegranate comes through with air. There’s a lot to unpack here and I should mention there’s some grip that is still firm, making this a wine that is best decanted and or allowed its own time to fully reveal itself, the structure and backbone leads me to believe that cellaring with bring even greater rewards in the coming years, even though I really enjoyed it now and how it evolved in the glass over the 15 to 20 minutes I was able to savor it. This certainly is impressive stuff and will be best enjoyed with a slow and robust meal, especially with lamb, steak and or wild mushroom dishes. The wines at Pierre-Henri Morel see mostly traditional methods in the cellar with fermentation and aging done primarily in concrete vats to allow for purity and transparency to shine through with the Gigondas and Chateauneuf bottlings getting between 12 to 15 months of elevage.
The Pierre-Henri Morel winery and label was created in 2008, and is a unique partnership between Pierre-Henri Morel and the legendary Michel Chapoutier, which saw the pair team up on some vineyard sites in the Southern Rhone with Pierre-Henri, who’s Chapoutier’s commercial director, overseeing the style and branding here, while the production and care being provided by Chapoutier and his team. The Pierre-Henri Morel Gigondas, is a very stylish effort and is made from plots, the winery says, that are located on high-altitude terraces with more alluvial soils, rather than the sandy soils in Chateauneuf that favor Grenache, that endow the wines, as the winery continues, with lovely freshness, balance and minerality. All of which is on display here here in the 2020 vintage, it is a classic Rhone blend of 60% Grenache Noir, 30% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre from old vines and crafted to a powerful wine, but one that also speaks of place and is nicely balanced. Pierre-Henri Morel, who also works with Two Hands and Barr-Eden wineries in Australia, has a fine selection of vineyards from Chateauneuf, including a piece of the famous Pignan, to the Luberon, including this quality parcel of Gigondas and a plot in Vacqueyras, from which to chose from and his collection of Southern Rhone wines are well worth searching out. I am now very much interested in trying the full lineup here and I will be getting a few more bottles of this Gigondas in the near future!
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2020 Michele Alois, Falanghina “Caulino” Campania IGT, Italy.
The bright golden and bone dry, mineral laced Caulino Falanghina by Michele Alois is a very distinct version of this ancient grape varietal mainly found around the Campania region of southern Italy and goes well with the Mediterranean coastal flavors of the region with crisp lemony citrus, apricot and Summer melon fruits along with bitter almond, volcanic spiciness and subtle florals. This 2020 is dusty dry on the palate and feels more evolved in color and taste than the vintage would suggest, meaning there is no need for patience here and it has become all it can be already, so drink with abandon if you have or see this one, it is more than ready to please. Alois makes a great series of bargain priced authentic regional wines and makes for a quality label to look for when exploring the Campania region, I particularly enjoy their dark, meaty and gripping Aglianico “Campole” and rare Pallagrello (grapes) white and red wines, along with their top DOCG offerings under the Donna Paolina labeled wines. I was happy to recently taste this Alois wine, which was blind tasted, which was a difficult one to get indeed, but it allowed me to really analyze it without bias or pretense.
Located in the remote Caiatini Mountains in the province of Caserta, the Alois winery is committed to preserving the ancient ways and the family has a long history here, once producing highly sought after silk, some of which, dating back to the 1800s, is shown in the Louvre Museum. It’s noted, by the winery, that back In 1992, Michele and his son Massimo Alois partnered up with the University of Naples in a quest to rediscover the ancient (grape) varieties of the Romans and Bourbons popular during the Bourbon era of Southern Italy in the 1800s, which much to our benefit has been successful in capturing a part of history that might otherwise be lost. The Alois’ grafted pre-phylloxera cuttings of Casavecchia, Pallagrello Nero and Pallagrello Bianco onto the estate’s wild rootstocks and have brought back to life these almost unknown and forgotten varieties. The whites here, Fiano, Greco de Tufo and this Falanghina especially especially showcase the terroir and transparent winemaking, all stainless steel, brings out the essence of the place, which is highlighted by a complex series of volcanic, clay and calcareous soils. These wines are terrific bargains and display pure varietal character, I highly recommend exploring the Alois range, though as with most Italian wines the are best with food and laughter!
($17 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive
2021 La Solitude, Cotes du Rhone Rouge, Southern Rhone Valley, France.
I have had the Domaine Solitude Chateauneuf du Pape many times in the past and have always admired its rustic and traditional style, both youthful and matured bottles, proving that they age well, but I had not sampled their little Cotes du Rhone before and found it a worthy and easy drinking GSM that delivers a nice value, it’s a wine I will buy again, no question. The 2021 is very fresh and dark in the glass with a purple/garnet hue and a mix of dark berries, florals and spice on the nose that leads to a lively medium bodied, slightly lean and taut at this stage, with an array of boysenberry, sweet cherry, strawberry, plum and currant fruits along with peppery spices, raw meat, anise, dried herb/lavender and a touch of earth. The Grenache comes to the fore with air and a nice balance between lush fruit and savory notes makes this a tasty little wine that hints at what you can expect from the more serious Chateaneuf du Pape promises and is a wine that delivers what you’d want and expect from a Cotes du Rhone without pretense.
The Solitude Cotes du Rhone Rouge is a classic Grenache Noir led red, which also sees Syrah and Mourvèdre in the mix to help give complexity and depth. The grapes are de-stemmed and macerated and fermented, typically in separate varietal lots, in concrete vats and then the wine aged in a combination of concrete and stainless-steel tanks for a year. As per normal here, these Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre grapes are sourced from vines set on gravelly clay and limestone soils, which the winery says are typical of what is found here in southern Rhone Valley. In 2021, the La Solitude Cotes du Rhone Rouge saw a 50% Grenache Noir, 40% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre, all of which gives this vintage its own personality with a bit more of a dark and sultry side showing up, even though the Grenache’s hedonism wins the day. Not overtly fruity or over ripe, this year’s La Solitude makes for a welcome, lightly tannic and eager to please red to enjoy with a variety of cuisine options and can be a crowd pleaser at BBQs, causal parties and or picnics. I will, as mentioned, be picking more bottles of this La Solitude Cotes du Rhone Rouge for personal use and recommend it for bargain hunters.
($17 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2021 Poderi Colla, Dolcetto d’Alba DOC “Pian Balbo” Piedmonte, Italy.
I love good Dolcetto and this Poderi Colla Pian Balbo really hits the spot with dark flavors and not so common depth showing crushed blackberry, plum and mulberry fruits along with a touch of spice, wild herbs, food friendly tannin, bright acidity and floral details, making it appealing and impressive stuff. Mostly known for their Nebbiolo offerings, Poderi Colla excels in crafting pure and terroir driven wines and this Dolcetto is a terrific little wine and a very nice value. This is all from estate vines on the Drago Estate, which is in the Alba zone, but actually a filet piece of land that cuts into the Barbaresco area and set on hilltop near San Rocco d’Elvio on calcareous marl and sandy soils. This elevated cru Dolcetto feels deeper and more structured than most, but is still generous and even without any oak, expanding nicely on the medium bodied palate, it does best though with simple and hearty cuisine. Colla’s Pian Balbo Dolcetto is a confident and studied effort with plenty of joyous old world rustic charms.
Poderi Colla’s Drago estate, as mentioned above, near San Rocco Seno d’Elvio, close to the Barbaresco zone is not far from Gaja’s legendary crus, sitting almost next door, is prime Piedmonte real estate and Tino Colla is making some fabulous and transparent wines, like this one and the basic Langhe Nebbiolo 2020 that I recently reviewed here. The traditional and sustainable Poderi Colla, as noted in that prior review, was established by the late Beppe Colla and his longtime local family in 1993, after they sold their famous Prunotto winery to the Antinori empire, who wanted to move beyond their Tuscan roots and gain a foothold in Piedmonte. The Poderi Colla estate has three exceptional vineyards that covers about 70 acres, these include this Cascina Drago vineyard, where the Dolcetto and Langhe Nebbiolo are sourced, along with the Tenuta Dardi Le Rase in Barolo and the Tenuta Roncaglie in Barbaresco, where their top bottlings come from. The 100% de-stemmed and stainless fermented and aged Dolcetto really delivers the charm and appeals for its inviting and bright nature, enjoy this for the next 3 to 5 years.
($22 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Donnhoff, Riesling Trocken, Estate, Nahe, Germany.
Brilliant, mineral driven and crystalline, the 2018 Donnhoff Trocken is maturing nicely, but still shows its classic youthful citrus upfront and zesty peachy stone fruit, with lime, green apple, tart apricot and zippy quince on the laser sharp and crisply electric lighter palate. Everything is backed up by mouth watering saline, wet stone, flinty spices, bitter herbs, white flowers, light rose oil notes and lemony verbena. Made to be a gateway to Donnhoff’s awesome collection of GGs, this thrilling bargain estate Trocken Riesling over delivers in quality and highlights the diverse terroirs that the Donnhoff vineyard sites have, which are set a complex combination of soils that goes from classic slate to volcanic, with löss, quartzite, gravelly loams, limestone and sandstones. These soils, again as mentioned in prior reviews, give each wine their own personality and charm, with the Estate Trocken seeing a mix of sites to showcase the overall quality of the Donnhoff’s holdings. A few years of age here has brought some secondary elements and a maybe a slightly deeper hue in the glass, while again being full of vibracy, great with shellfish and briny foods.
The legendary Donnhoff estate, based in Oberhäusen on the Nahe, is, as mentioned many times here, one of my favorite wineries in the world and this basic Trocken is always impeccably made and pure in character and style. Helmut Dönnhoff, the figure head here, was the first to bring international fame to this prestigious winery and making wine since 1966, and now Cornelius, his son who is the 4th generation to run this historic property, is stamping his own signature on these exceptional offerings. They have an amazing set of VDP Grosse Lagen (Grand Cru) vineyards, including Hermannshohle, Felsenberg, Dellchen and Brucke. Cornelius is one of top vignerons in Europe and his wines, which range from briskly dry, like this bone dry Estate Trocken, all the way up to the Grosses Gewachs, to the heavenly luscious, from Spatlese, Aulese, and to Eiswein, which rivals the world’s great sweet wines. The Estate Trocken saw exclusively stainless steel and was done with spontaneous fermentation(s) and aged on the lees for a short time before being bottled quickly to preserve freshness and clarity, and while made to be enjoyed young, has superb midterm drinkability and can be cellared for a decade if desired, as proved here with this one.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2022 Paysan, Rosé, Central Coast.
Just when you though this wine couldn’t get any better, along comes a new label and vintage to show you it can, with Ian Brand’s 2022 Pays Rosé delivering crisply dry and refreshingly delicious radiant fruit, spice and mineral tones in very confident and delicately pale salmon hued Provence style wine. Formerly know as Pierre’s Pirouette and with a playful cartoon label, the Paysan Rosé has joined the rest of Brand’s Paysan lineup with a new look with labels that better reflect the authentic nature and quality found in the bottle with an earthy feel and artist simplistic look, which I really like. The latest dry pink from Ian Brand and his team comes from selected vineyard sites to best produce this Bandol inspired wine with San Benito County and Monterey County forming the core here with Mourvedre again playing the key role here and giving this Rosé its soulful and structured profile with crushed raspberry, sour cherry, ruby grapefruit, watermelon and orange fruits along with steely wet stones, dried herbs, rosewater and saline notes. This is just what the doctor ordered with almost Spring like sunny days were are now having after a long cold and wet Winter here in the local region. As mentioned before, Brand, a noted geology (dirt) geek and vineyard whisperer has found some incredible vineyards to craft his collection of Paysan, La Marea and signature I. Brand & Family wines, with his latest Paysan Sauvignon Blanc and Rhone Blend Le P’Tit Pape, Le Marea Albarino and the I. Brand & Winery Grenache, Bay Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon bottlings being some of my personal favorites.
Much the same as last year’s 2021 Le P’Tit Paysan, Rosé, Pierre’s Pirouette, this 2022 Paysan Rosé by Ian Brand & Family Winery, based in Salinas California, is a blend of mainly the mentioned Mourvedre, along with a good dose of Grenache, that provides the joyous fruit element, along with with a small bit of Counoise and Cinsault that add complexity and vibrancy in a wine that is a tasty local favorite, as well as getting some nice national attention. The quality to price ratio here is outstanding and this Rosé joins a select set of California versions of dry pink wines that deliver an almost old world, Mediterranean influenced like character, including exceptional offerings by Arnot-Roberts, Bedrock, Randall Grahm’s Language of Yes, Tribute to Grace, Filomena (made from Cabernet Pfeffer) and Stars & Dust, all worth chasing down and enjoying this coming Summer. The direct press Rosé saw stainless steel fermentation, seeing only a few hours of skin contact, and tank aging with no malos, it was cold stabilized and sterile filtered and was bottled early to preserve intensity and vitality. The grapes are picked early and benefits from that fresh acidity and the stony elements that come from, what Brand calls, the calcium rich Aguajito Shale as well as the calcareous alluvial soils. There’s a tons to admire and like here with Ian’s current set of wines and some new varietals in the mix that are very intriguing, like the recently reviewed Cabernet Pfeffer and Escolle Vineyard Gamay Noir, along with Brand’s all new and exciting Flint Vineyard Pinot Noir, which comes from a limestone influenced site not far from the famous Calera and near Mount Harlan.
($19 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2021 Desire Lines Wine Co, Dry Riesling, Experimental Series #10 “Old Durney” Massa Estate Vineyard, Carmel Valley, Monterey County.
Cody Rasmussen’s wines are some of the most exciting new wines in California, especially his thrilling Syrahs and his exceptional Riesling expressions, like this fabulous Old Durney (Massa Estate Vineyard) from my home batch, and old vines in Carmel Valley, it is maybe the best white wine produced from the region, along with a few versions of Chenin Blanc from the same site! All organic vines set on California shales, this vineyard, planted in the late1960s is a local legend, known for long lived Cabernet and the original Durney family that pioneered the region. This greenish pale 2021 Desire Lines Riesling is mineral driven, complex and textural in nature with crisp and zesty lemon/lime citrus, along with green apple, unripe apricot and quince fruits, as well as a sense of spiciness, bitter herbs, wet rocks, loam and chamomile notes coming through on the medium bodied and racy palate. This wine really rounds out and smoothly fills out in serious fashion, making it wonderfully pleasing, brilliantly balanced and delicately aromatic, great with briny seafoods and lightly spiced dishes. Hints of rosewater, tangy lime and steely elements linger on and on here with soft verbena too, in this dry Riesling that Rasmussen absolutely nailed to near perfection! I have been enjoying these Desire Lines Riesling since I first discovered them and I have never doubted the quality here, so I was thrilled when world renowned Riesling guru Stuart Pigott of James Suckling reached out to get his hands on some, which he too loved, confirming my own thoughts that these are some of the best California Rieslings ever produced!
There’s a lot of reasons to get excited by these Desire Lines offerings, with my favorites being the mentioned Syrah bottlings, including Cody’s fantastic Shake Ridge and Griffin’s Lair examples that are his two signature wines, though I love all of the Rieslings almost as much, especially the Cole Ranch, Wiley Vineyard and this Massa Vineyard, which has a personal connection as I live so close to this famous site. Rasmussen says, In some mysterious way, he thinks the remarkable setting and unusual soil type stamps his Massa Vineyard Riesling with a personality distinct (and different) from the Mendocino County Rieslings (Cole Ranch and Wiley Vineyard) he does. Adding that he can’t quite put his finger on it, but there’s something singular to the austere phenolic mouthfeel, opulent orange citrus fruit profile, and herbal nuances that speak of California’s sunny Central Coast and this old set of vines. The wine, he continues, was fermented in a 1000-liter Stockinger oval and left on lees until bottling in July, or about 9 or so months, which helped build its mouth feel, in my own opinion, also gives the wine a German like feel. This wine, Cody explains, shows just a touch of matchstick reduction on the nose, which he adores in his almost flinty Rieslings, and it reminds him a little of the Rieslings from Hofgut Falkenstein, one of his favorites, and mine too. I say join this mailing list as soon as possible and while you may come for the Syrah, you’ll stay for these outstanding Rieslings! Rasmussen, who is the assistant winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson’s Bedrock Wine Company in Sonoma has a real gift with Riesling and is enthusiast of the grape in all of its forms and levels of sweetness, though I am mostly impressed with his touch for the dry suff!
($25 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2019 Weingut Veyder Malberg, Gruner Veltliner, Wachauer Terrassen, Wachau, Austria.
One of Austria’s prime time time producers, Veyder Malberg makes some of the tastiest Gruner and Riesling you’ll ever try and I was thrilled with the few latest releases I got to sample recently, including their awesome Bruck single cru Riesling and this deliciously vibrant Wachauer Terrassen Gruner Veltliner, which is mineral toned and has pristine clarity of form. This exciting Gruner is ultra pale with a crystalline lighter framed palate that revolves around a core of lemon/lime citrus, white peach and quince fruits along with wet stones, bitter almond, verbena, herbal tea and a faint sense of peppery spices. As the wine gets going you also get a yeasty roundness that balances out the refreshing and bright natural acidity to near perfection in glass, making this racy Gruner great as an aperitif and or with a range of lighter cuisine, including shellfish and or soft farm cheeses.
When you think of Austrian greats in the Wachau and Kremstal area, you have Knoll, Alzinger, Hirtzberger, Nigl, Bründlmayer and Veyder Malberg, all of which should be on your bucket list of wineries to try and or visit. Peter Veyder-Malberg, the Spitz based winemaker, uses holistic organic and biodynamic practices on his collection vines that are not too far from the mighty Danube and set on the region’s complex soils, with his Gruner coming from various plots from the Wachau, Hochrain, Weitenberg to the Spitzer Graben area. The Veyder Malberg Terrassen Gruner is sourced from deep loess, gneiss and mica schist soils that helps with the seamless array of flavors and complexity found here in this wine. This Gruner sees a natural and indigenous yeast fermentation in exclusively stainless steel vats, after which the wine then rests on its lees for two years and goes through full malos to enhance the fine texture here. I am always grateful of the chance to sip on Veyder Malberg’s fabulous collection of wines and always am impressed by the stunning purity, and this wine was no exception!
($39 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Domaine Alain Voge, Cornas, Vieilles Vignes, Northern Rhone, France.
The stunningly pure and deep 2018 old vine Cornas from the late Alain Voge (who passed away recently) is a fitting tribute to the man and the legend with beautiful floral and fruit details and complex meaty/savory notes that perfectly capture the varietal and place. This brilliant Syrah absolutely thrills the palate with full bodied density, but with exceptional poise, this Cornas could and does charm with violets, dark boysenberry, damson plum, creme de cassis, wild lavender, minty anise, peppercorns and black olives, as well as very subtle wood smoke. Everything flows together and lingers on and on in this vintage of Voge’s flagship wine. This is an elevated wine that seduces completely, it is less aggressive and feral than Clape or Allemand, but still has a classic Cornas gamey element and easily compares with top Cote-Rotie and Hermitage bottlings by some of the old school stars of the region. I hadn’t had Voge in a long while, and this wine truly make my heart soar and makes me a little sad I wasn’t able to get more bottles! This 2018 is still very young and I suggest if you can’t be patient for another 5 to 7 years, decant it and have it with a hearty meal, that’s not say it isn’t appealing now, it is just there is so much on offer here it needs time to unfold.
Coming from the oldest of the Domain’s wines, Voge says the Les Vieilles Vignes was created during the 1970s to highlight the long-standing family vineyard parcel that is a the heart of the Cornas appellation and makes for a signature wine of great power and intensity. The Alain Voge vines here are now all organic and biodynamic and this vineyard is, as the winery notes, situated on slopes at about 200 meters up in elevation with South-South-East slopes and are on average just over 60 years old. The roots, again as the winery continues, go very deep down into the ancient granite rock soils, called gores locally, giving this wine its concentration and mineral tones. The Les Vieilles Vignes Cornas, 100% Syrah obviously, was hand picked and was partially de-stemmed with typically about 20% whole cluster with stems in any given vintage, with primary maceration all done in stainless steel. The fermentation starts with natural indigenous yeasts and the maceration lasts for several weeks in the vats, with cap-punching and pumping-over done twice a day, after which the wine is pressed to barrels for aging. The maturation is done, as I learned, in mainly used 228-litre Burgundy style barriques for 20 months, with just 15% new oak, all of which feels just about perfect, especially in a year like this one. I don’t think I could recommend a wine more highly and I look forward to seeing this vintage gain in another decade!
($90 ESt.) 96 Points, grapelive
2017 Le Pianelle, Al Forte, Coste della Sesia Rosso DOC, Alto Piedmonte, Italy.
Fast becoming a good to producer in the Alto Piedmonte, Le Pianelle is making some fantastic wines, even with their basic Al Forte Coste della Sesia Rosso being highly impressive with a palate impact that could easily be mistaken for a serious Barolo. The Le Pianelle 2017 Al Forte Coste della Sesia Rosso, made mainly with Spanna (the local name for Nebbiolo) along with small amounts of Vespolina and Croatina, ancient local varietals, is deeply flavored and firmly structured with classic Nebbiolo character, showing earthy black cherry, damson plum, briar laced raspberry and red currant fruits, as well as mineral tones, leather, cedar, melted tar and licorice. This vintage has a powerful and tannic feel, but opens up nicely the reveal pretty floral elements along with sweet and tangy herbs and it expands into a thrilling wine that is best enjoyed with rustic and robust Winter cuisine. This wine from holistically farmed sites in the northern part of Piedmonte that is more alpine and set on complex soils, which has volcanic based Porphyritic sand and ancient glacial deposits with iron rich red/orange soils, along with a cooler climate, imparts a sense of place and energy in these Le Pianelle wines. Typically a blend of 75% Nebbiolo (Spanna), 20% Croatina and 5% Vespolina, the organic grapes in this Al Forte are from a mix of young and old vines and see about 24 hours of maceration and was fermented in conical wooden fermenters and exclusively with indigenous yeasts, all 100% de-stemmed. This vintage, a bit warmer than most, shows off a deep garnet/brick hue and expressive ripe fruit density that makes it very appealing now and it should go on pleasing Nebbiolo lovers for another decade.
The Le Pianelle winery was founded back in 2002 by the German national Dieter Heuskel, who, as I have mentioned in prior reviews, was a huge fan of Piedmonte area and its wines, he took the plunge and bought an old vineyard in the up and coming Alto Piedmonte region near Bramaterra and Gattinara. When this opportunity and challenge of rejuvenating a long-forgotten vineyard was presented to Heuskel and his partner, the well respected Alto Adige producer Peter Dipoli of Voglar, he just couldn’t help himself and jumped at the chance. Now with the youthful and gifted winemaker Cristiano Garella, a native to the region, who it is said has Nebbiolo in his blood, they have created, along with an impressive vineyard team, a truly world class wine estate that is impressing the wine world. Garella uses grapes that are harvested exclusively by hand, with each grape variety and vineyard parcels being fermented in separate small lots with maceration and fermentation in open top Grenier oak vats. After primary fermentation is complete the young wine is racked to wood and matured for up to 18 months in a combination of used small French barriques (barrels) as well as large Austrian oak made Stockinger oak barrels. Everything is done here to promote the natural terroir expression and the true charm of the grapes with Nebbiolo always playing the key role, as is the case with this exceptional 2017 “Al Forte” Coste della Sesia Rosso, it is a wine that way over delivers for the price and it is impossible not to admire its depth and brilliance. Not always an easy find, Le Pianelle is imported by Italian specialist Oliver McCrum, but is well worth searching for, especially Le Pianelle’s Bramaterra DOC, which I reviewed from the 2016 vintage and this Al Forte Costa della Sesia Rosso, with both the 2016 and 2017 versions being ones to look for!
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2021 Russell Joyce Wines, Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands.
Part of a series of small batch offerings from Joyce Wine Co. this silky red fruited Russell Joyce Pinot Noir is one of the top non estate bottlings with rich fruit concentration that you’d expect from the Santa Lucia Highlands and lively fresh acidity giving a nice tension and balance, making for a stylish wine that is showing exceptionally well even in its youthful form and in particular this 2021 is great with food. Bright raspberry, black cherry and cranberry fruits lead the way on the medium bodied palate along with an array of spice, mineral tones, light florals, a hint of loamy earth and subtle wood notes, all forming a compelling and delicious pure Pinot. As it opens it gains depth and complexity with a delicate chanterelles, cola bean and briar note, putting just the right amount of savory with the classic SLH core of dark fruit, best to enjoy this one with grilled salmon and or squab, as well as light meat dishes.
Winemaker Russell Joyce, who’s Gamay is getting tons of love and attention, reminds us here that he’s very good with Pinot Noir with this signature version that is from a couple of hand selected barrels from, what Russell calls, two distinct vineyards, the Tondre Grapefield and the Escolle Vineyard. These sites play a bit of ying and yang here with Tondre providing the riper elements and the higher toned Escolle giving the aromatics and vibrancy. Joyce continues that this wine was fermented in small separate lots and then blended together after being barreled down to create an elevated wine, which this 2021 certainly is.This grapes were traditionally de-stemmed and fermented in bins and rested in mainly used French oak for just about a year. It was cool to experience this Pinot Noir with a few other Santa Lucia Highlands wines, where this one showed its quality and distinction, impressing me and some others in the room, it was a big hit. Joyce is moving from strength to strength since moving into the old Ventana winery in Arroyo Seco and the wines have taken a good step up with these 2021s.
($55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Leo Steen, Grenache, Proviser Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley AVA, Sonoma County.
One of the best Rhone style wines I’ve had in the past year, the dark garnet/ruby 2019 Leo Steen Provider Vineyard Dry Creek Grenache by Danish ex-pat winemaker Leo Hansen is full of fruit intensity, depth, spice and tannic structure, very much in the vein of classic old school old vine Gigondas and or the high elevation Sierra de Gredos wines from Spain, this is exceptional stuff from this label that is mainly known for their amazing Chenin. I was thrilled to taste with Leo recently and go through his current releases, with his outstanding Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Franc and this stellar Grenache being two of my favorites of Hansen’s red wine offerings, this are wines you really need to discover if you’ve not tried them yet. This Grenache has a surprising amount of grip to go allow with its beautiful fruit density, easily making it a standout for this varietal and a wine that looks to have tons of aging potential, while still drinking impeccably well now, just be sure to have it with a robust meal. This 2019 comes it at just 13.3% natural alcohol and has a lively burst of freshness with layers of crushed bramble berry, strawberry, Summer plums and a hint of candied cherry and grilled orange fruits along with peony florals, dried lavender/sage, anise, crushed stones, herbal minty notes, peppery spices and lingering framboise. This wine is perfectly judged, mixing hedonistic fruit with savory elements to achieve spot on Grenache greatness, all in a nicely restrained and seductive wine that takes California Grenache to a new level of thrill!
Leo explains that his Grenache is terroir driven, coming from a site located in the famed Lytton Springs District of Dry Creek Valley, adding that the Provisor Vineyard’s prized red rock soils are planted to Tablas Creek Clone D Grenache, originally cuttings from Beaucastel’s Chateauneuf du Pape estate, in ideal north-south rows that run down a gently sloping hillside. This plot of Grenache grown in Provisor’s warm climate, with ideal dry conditions and cool nights, these organically farmed grapes achieve, what Hansen says, is beautiful (full) ripeness, while preserving wonderful natural acidity and tannins, which this 2019 shows to near perfection. To make this wine the best that it can be, Hansen employed 80% whole cluster fermentation using the traditional pigeage method to enhance the wine’s rustic charms. The remaining 20% undergo carbonic maceration for, as Hansen continues, the Grenache’s bright, sweet red fruit notes to shine through and balance the wine’s full bunch crunch and stemmy notes. After 18 days on the skins the wine was drained & pressed to an oak cask using a gentle basket press, with Leo preferring a large neutral 360 gallon French oak vat to mature this Grenache. The Proviser Grenache sees 14 Months in the wood and then another two months in a stainless steel tank, It was racked once and bottled unfiltered and unfined to preserve its complete set of flavors and every nuance of character. I was massively impressed by these Leo Steen wines and found them all very alluring and complex efforts that are wonderful values as well, being all hand crafted small lot wines from holistically and organically farmed vines, I highly recommend chasing them down!
($42 ESt.) 95 Points, grapelive
2020 Turley Wine Cellars, Zinfandel, Sadie Upton Vineyard, Amador County, Sierra Foothills.
Turley’s winemaker and vineyard manager Tegan Passalacqua made some tough decisions and only made small amounts of wine in 2020 that shows absolutely no traces of smoke taint, incredibly honest and moral in this world, and we are rewarded with a fine set of small batch offerings in what was a devastating vintage with the raging wild fires, with Turley’s Sadie Upton Zinfandel being a prime example. The mouth feel and ripe fruit are exceptional here, this 2020 shows off a dark intense purple color in the glass that is enhanced by beautiful floral aromas and crushed black raspberries that echo on the lush full bodied palate that adds sweet plum, bramble berry, blueberry and currant fruits along with baking spices, mocha, lavender and a touch of toasty wood. There’s opulent and smooth tannins that melt away in the mouth, but a lift from natural acidity really makes everything fit together and lingering briar savory notes help keep things from being heavy, even with a heady 15.3% alcohol this wine shows a graceful balance and is lovely with food. Impressive, this Sade Upton Vineyard is a sleeper in Turley’s star studded collection, it is firmly in my favorites (Zinfandel) column along with Ridge’s Lytton Springs, Bedrock’s Evangelho, Biale’s Black Chicken, Sky’s Mount Veeder and Bucklin’s Ancient Old Hill Ranch! I was truly in love with the 2018s by Turley, but I am digging all the wines from 2019 and 2020, which are like an American Chateauneuf du Pape in presence, impact and style, almost as much, with this one and the Durate being very pleasant surprises.
These old vine sites have amazing histories and legends, with Turley noting that, In 1922, smack-dab in the middle of Prohibition and while her husband was away working for the railroad, a then 21-year-old Sadie Upton decided she was going to plant herself a vineyard. This resulted in a mainly Zinfandel vineyard, named after her, near her original home at close to 1500 feet up near the town of Plymouth, that was still an area where gold nuggets were commonly found and had the foothills complex soils and cool nights that allow Zin to thrive here. Now after a hundred years, the vines are, as Turley says, still kicking in the gumption-riddled tradition of their creator Sadie and make for a positively delicious, full throttle, dense, dark and spicy wine. Turley uses, as mentioned here in prior reviews, a native yeast fermentation and a employs a cool maceration period to develop a deeply saturated hue and an extraction of complex of flavors and tannin. After fermentation the wines are aged 15 months in 80% used barrels with just 20% new. As per normal with these Turley Zins, they are a combination of American and French oak, with Passalacqua favoring the French oak, which makes up 80% of the total lots, of which I think allows for wonderful transparency as well as giving these wines a sense of pure California luxuriousness. I gotta say, I didn’t have high hopes for any 2020s, but Turley’s dedication to quality, rigorous selection and the fact that lots of Zins were picked before the smoke had a chance to set into the skins, has won me over! I hear 2021 is going to be next level stuff, for these Turley Zins, with some of the best features I loved in the 2018s, and I am looking for to seeing how they are when released as well as when they have time in bottle to mature fully, as mentioned before, Turley Zin and Petite Sirah are sold and rewarding agers too.
($45-60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Brick House, Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The 2019 vintage was a difficult year for the Willamette, but Brick House has made a gem with this estate bottling, it comes through on the palate very much a true Burgundy style wine with silky layers, slightly earthy and slow to open, after which it gains a beautiful aromatic quality, length and richer elegant red fruits. This bottling, like Brick House’s Select typically sees a core of Pommard clone and a restraint in new oak that allows a more old world character to shine through, as this 2019 does, it delivers layers of black cherry, mulberry, brambly raspberry and plum fruits along with bright acidity, saline, potting soil, cola bean, blood orange, wild forest mushroom and a hint of wood. If blind tasted, those familiar with Nuits-St.-Georges and Vosne-Romanée will find many commonalities here, and I would be hard pressed to guess correctly, old world v. new world here, even though I’m very experienced with these fabulous Brick House wines. Brick House uses very gentle fermentation(s) and maceration methods and mostly indigenous yeasts, the wines are all about transparency and purity, and they see a lengthy elevage in French oak, always well judged in new barrel use, depending on the vintage, with this one seeing only neutral barriques, and concentration of the individual 100% estate grown Pinot Noir wines.
One of Oregon’s legendary estates, Brick House Vineyard, founded by Doug Tunnell, who planted the first vines around his old brick house in the spring of 1990. With Doug putting in Pinot Noir first, then Chardonnay and true Gamay Noir, which has been a cult favorite for many years. Tunnell says that every vine was planted with a commitment to holistic methods that was rare in the Willamette Valley at that time and Brick House became certified organic farm. After pioneering biodynamics in the Willamette Valley, Brick House in 2005 achieved its goal of a full Demeter Biodynamic certification. Today, Tunnell on his beautiful southeast facing slopes in Ribbon Ridge hosts close to 45,000 vines, densely planted to better produce elegant and intense wines, and in particular deep Burgundy inspired Pinot Noir. This area of the Willamette Valley is mainly ancient seabed and has marine sediment soils and home to some fantastic vineyards, like Brick House and Beaux Freres, and there is a distinct terroir here and you can see why Burgundy inspired winemakers love this place, in particular these wines, but also Ribbon Ridge bottlings by Cameron and more recently Hundred Suns, all of which are incredible and unique Pinots. It should be noted, this lighter framed, low alcohol and lively 2019 really turned on the charm and personality with food, providing exceptional companionship with a grilled fresh caught salmon BLT and a seared pork belly appetizer, showing poise and a underlying structure to excel with a meal.
($34 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2021 Samuel Louis Smith, Syrah, Sandstone Terraces, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The Sandstone Terraces Syrah from Sam Smith is one of the best values in Syrah you’re going to find and especially this deeply saturated purple and complex 2021 version with its gorgeous aromatics and complexity of its flavors from ripe blue fruits to its savory crunch and delicate earthiness, this is an excellent cool climate, Northern Rhone stye wine that thrills the palate. Sam Smith, who’s the head winemaker at Monterey’s Morgan Winery, has been getting huge critical acclaim for both his latest Morgan efforts and these personal label wines and all of it is well deserved, he has an incredible touch with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah, a grape that he has studied for years and has perfected, as this wine and his other bottlings have shown, having made a few trips to the Rhone along the way. This 2021 starts with a wild flower and liquid violets perfume, a ripe array of boysenberry, briar spiced raspberry, damson plum, Italian cherry and tangy blueberry fruits in a medium to full bodied and youthfully lively palate that is accented by a blast of early and herbal stem excitement, white pepper, anise, dried rosemary, creme de cassis and subtle wood notes. This finely balanced wine, which comes in at only 12.8% alcohol, is full of ripe character and drinks with clarity and poise even now, but there good reason to believe there’s more to come with age. I’m inclined to gravitate to Syrah, but even so, this wine is a standout effort and joins some of my favorite producers, like Drew, Pax, Ojai, Jolie-Laide, Desire Lines and Andrew Murray to name a few that craft cool coastal examples of California Syrah.
Sam, who sourced this wine from three vineyards in this vintage, went with about 80% whole cluster and native yeast fermentation for his Sandstone Terraces Syrah which saw daily punch downs and a length maceration to create depth, structure and color intensity, that is clearly successful here and then the wine saw 10 months élévage, as Smith notes, in 38% second-fill and 62% neutral French oak barrels. Just 8 barrels were made of this unfined & unfiltered Syrah, resulting in the 193 cases produced, which was just released into the wild and is also available on Smith’s website. Smith chose to get fruit from mainly sandstone based soils, hence the name, this included as he explains, the organically farmed Nelson Vineyard (44%) that is located near the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and not far from the famous Big Basin Vineyards, which has as put a focus on Syrah in the region. It sits up at 1700 ft with the vines growing in sandy loam and chunky sandstone, surrounded by redwoods and firs, it makes up the core of this vintage. Also, the Gali Vineyard (42%) plays a big part here, which is located in the Corralitos zone in the southern most part of the region. Smith says this Galli Vineyard is just about six miles from the ocean and is one of the coldest sites in his whole lineup. Going on he says this site is In the conversion sage to organics and the soils are clay loams, that are weathered from sandstone and shale, which Sam adds were formed on ancient submarine terraces. It should be noted too, that in 2021, this wine has some fruit from the Tondré in the SLH, which was just enough to provide a plumb sense of richness, which I think just about fills this Syrah out to near perfection, this wine is a do not miss for Syrah lovers.
($36 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2021 Odonata, Viognier, Chiara, Estate Grown, Santa Lucia Highlands.
As long as I’ve enjoyed Odonata, I didn’t pay much attention to the Viognier, but the other night it was singing and it very much impressed me with it’s varietal purity, vitality and personality, it seriously had true Condrieu like class and charm, it shows remarkable clarity, depth of fruit and mineral tones. This 2021 has a crystalline medium bodied palate with a range of stone fruit and citrus fruits, there’s fleshy apricot, bright tangerine and lime notes that feel layered, rounded and lively, which is enhanced by the beautiful honeysuckle aromatics, salty wet stones, clove spice and a hint of creaminess on the finish. Made from vines set on sandy loams, loose stones with decomposed granite that see the coolest ocean effect with chilly breezes, this Viognier retains loads of natural acidity and the long growing season adds to the concentration and complexity. The Odonata whites typically see whole cluster pressing and native yeast fermentation(s) with aging done in mainly neutral French oak barrels with some lees maturing that allows for a pleasing mouth feel and textural quality, as seen here. Hoey’s Odonata Winery has really made a name for itself over the last few years with a tasty array of eclectic and stylish small lot bottlings, these are well crafted and authentic wines that deserve your attention.
I’ve been a fan of Dennis Hoey’s wines for awhile now and they seem to be getting better and better in recent years, especially his Cabernets, Syrahs and Sangiovese bottlings, but his whites, like this Viognier and his sparkling wines are also brilliant and delicious efforts. Hoey, who has said that only high quality grapes make high quality wines and is focused on organic and sustainable farming. Odonata with three estate vineyards, including Falcon Hill, in the Santa Cruz Mountains where Hoey grows Pinot Noir, Machado Creek near Morgan Hill in the southern Santa Clara Valley, is planted to 10 acres of Petite Syrah, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Sangiovese grapes, and his home Estate Vineyard in Santa Lucia Highlands, surrounding his home and winery where the Viognier thrives. There’s a lot to enjoy here at Odonata, some of my personal favorites are Hoey’s Hook Vineyard Syrah, the Santa Cruz Cabernet Sauvignons, the Sparkling Grenache Noir, the Brunello inspired Sangiovese and the new Malbec, which I just discovered when I had this Viognier. Odonata Wines, as mentioned a few times here, 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, right on River Road, which has become one of the best places to visit on the whole SLH wine trail. I was thrilled by Odonata’s 2019s and now really excited by these 2021s, which are looking to eclipse anything produced here to date.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2020 Weingut Wechsler, Riesling Trocken, Rheinessen, Germany.
The Wechsler Trocken is a beautiful value priced dry Riesling with exceptional purity and energy, from a winery I had never trued before, this basic offering impressed for its distinction and quality in the glass, it provided plenty of enjoyment, refreshment and thrills with bright racy citrus, crystalline mineral tones, wet rock and subtle floral aromas. This light to medium bodied crisply detailed Riesling opens nicely and gains concentration, depth and mouth watering saline, adding tangy peach, quince and green apple fruit, as well as a touch of citron, green tea, light tropical essences and sour lime. Coming from highly regarded Rheinhessen cru sites, Wechlser’s Trocken is sourced from organic and biodynamic vines that are at good elevation that allows for this wine’s excellent intensity and tension on the palate, it drinks on par with many much more expensive Erste Lage (Premier Cru) bottlings and this vintage looks to be good for early enjoyment and has plenty of age worthy structure. I tasted this Trocken at a special trade tasting put on by Wechsler’s importer The Source, but I absolutely plan to explore these wines in the future with a full meal, where I think I will be even more excited by their full range of flavors.
The Weingut Wechlser, based in Westhofen, the same rarified area as made famous by Philippe Wittmann and Klaus-Peter Keller, is led by the youthful talent of Katharina Wechsler, who is crafting her exciting wines from highly regarded parcels in the Rheinhessen’s most legendary vineyards, including the VDP Grosse Lage Morstein and Kirchspiel crus, with this basic Trocken seeing some Kirchspiel and Benn grapes. I must say, after tasting Katharina’s 2020 Trocken and her Kirchspiel single cru bottling, I was left spellbound by her wines and look forward to following her efforts. Wechlser uses, as noted, biodynamic methods in the vineyards and employs a light touch in the cellar to allow terroir to shine through with all native yeast or sponti fermentation(s) and extended lees aging (about 9 months) without the use of much or any wood. This Trocken was 100% stainless steel fermented and aged without any stirring from vines that are set n a combination of different soils including clay marls, limestone and loess that adds to the personality of Wechlser’s wines. Katharina uses low SO2 and the wines don’t feel muted, they are expressive and rewarding, with this one being a great way to discover this producer. I believe this Trocken will be a new favorite of mine and I plan to try it with a complimentary food pairing, where I believe it will excel, especially with sushi.
($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2021 Saint Cosme, Cotes du Rhone Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
The Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone, made from 100% Syrah, is one of my favorite wines, and when blind tasted on this new 2021 edition, I absolutely loved it, without bias or expectations, re-confirming my opinion on this beautiful dark fruited wine. This 2021 shows an extra degree of concentration and plush layering, almost making me think there was some Grenache in here, though there isn’t, with loads of boysenberry, damson plum, pomegranate and blueberry fruits that is accented by violet florals, lavender, peppery briar spice, anise, kirsch and a hint of black olive. There is an absolute purity in this deeply purple/garnet hued Rhone red that is fabulous and it is an outstanding value, this wine is as good as many wines that are three or four times the price. Usually Cotes du Rhone reds include a mix of varietals, but this one lacks for nothing, and has plenty to offer with a clean full bodied palate and excellent complexity, this baby Saint Cosme will not disappoint, I recommend buying this up by the case! The terroir here is set on mostly limestone sand, red clay and pebbles on what winemaker Louis Barruol calls Villafranchian terraces that gives this wine its personality and its stylistic charm.
Louis Barruol’s Chateau de Saint Cosme, located north to the village of Gigondas, which he is most famous for, is the oldest estate in the region being on the site of an ancient Gallo-Roman villa which dates back to 1416. It is very probable that it already had its own vineyard back then, as well as having cellars carved from the natural limestone walls, with the Barruol family acquiring it back in 1570, and who, in my opinion, have made it into one the Rhone’s greatest estates. The fabulous basic Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone is made, as mentioned, from 100% Syrah, comes from what Barruol calls top vineyard parcels, saying he is no magician, knowing only great sites made great wines. Saint Cosme mostly sources grapes for this little beauty from plots in Vinsobres, now a full AOC, which is a special area of the southern Rhone that is sublimely suited to Syrah. This Cotes du Rhone saw a very short vatting period, in cement, a technique pioneered by Louis Barruol’s father, as he notes, in fact, in the 1970s and 1980s, typically this wine only gets about 15 days in vats! This is the allow really fresh details, fruitiness and freshness to express themselves here, as this 2021 shows nicely. This 2021 is Barruol’s 25th vintage of this wine and it is definitely one of the best I’ve had, drinking as good as it gets already!
($18 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2020 Daniel Bouland, Morgon “Les Delys” Cru Beaujolais, France.
Daniel Bouland, who has emerged as one of the region’s superstars, sources his Les Delys Morgon, from vines planted back in 1926, and this 2020 is as pure as it gets and has incredible fruit concentration that fills the palate with dark fruit character and gives a heady perfume on the nose, while having plenty of acidity and savory contrast that provides a fine balance. At first expressive and Gamay juicy, this wine builds beautifully in the mouth with black cherry, strawberry, blueberry, currant and plum fruit leading the way along with mineral, spice, walnut, violet and a subtle earthy tone, all of which accents this lovely Cru Beaujolais very nicely. This dark purple/ruby hued Gamay is joyous and while plush, it delivers a taut structure that should give tons of rewards to those that have patience, this can easily age a decade or more.
My take away from Bouland’s wines, past and present, especially this one, is that terroir or (their) unique sense of place shines through, this essence most likely could not be achieved anywhere else, and his wines highlights that eternal truth, this is like drinking the land’s soul, it’s something you feel and respect with every sip. Like Lapierre and Foillard, Bouland employs the traditional natural method of winemaking in his small cellar with 100% whole cluster semi carbonic ferments, using native yeast and aging here is done in large neutral old casks to promote transparency and allow for rustic old world charm. There’s so much to like here in Bouland’s collection, but in particular this cuvée has always been a favorite, coming from those old hand trained vines set on the granite soils that influences profile here. The set of Morgon bottlings are maybe the most compelling, but Bouland’s Cote de Brouilly is also worthy of your attention too.
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2021 I. Brand & Family Winery, Cabernet Pfeffer, Gimelli Vineyard, Cienega Valley AVA, San Benito County.
Made with gentle care and a lengthy elevage, Ian Brand’s new Cabernet Pfeffer has a very charming personality and even though it was just bottled it gets nicely expressive in the glass with a delicate array of red fruits, spice and mineral notes in an almost Pinot like weighted lighter bodied red wine. The Pfeffer grape, who’s origins remain murky, is unique and there is only around 10 or so acres in California, making it something you don’t see everyday, gives as found here layers of raspberry, plum and cherry fruits with soft tannins and subtle earthiness, tobacco leaf, sage and dried herb notes. Brand’s version sports good acidity and should fold together nicely for mid-term drinking, which I recommend a little bit of patience, though highly enjoyable and quaffable even now and it looks to be best with food. Dark ruby in the glass, this I. Brand & Family Winery 2021 Cabernet Pfeffer comes from old vines at the Gimelli Vineyard in the Cienega Valley, where it is planted alongside some ancient Zinfandel in rocky mixed loamy soils with granite and limestone where it sees warm to hot days and cool nights that have provided complexity and balance to this stylish effort. For the geeky wine enthusiast, this is going to be a must have wine, but Ian has lots of intriguing offerings about to come out and it is a great time to explore his full range of stuff, especially his Grenache and Cab Franc bottlings, as well as his single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon(s).
The rare Cabernet Pfeffer, also known as Mourtou, found almost exclusively in San Benito County on the Central Coast, is a distinct varietal that was a late 19th-century crossing of Cabernet Sauvignon and an unknown vitis vinifera vine, sometimes thought to be Trousseau, and was or is often confused with Gros Verdot. Today Pfeffer is almost entirely found on the central coast, though a few vines exist in some heritage vineyards in the Sonoma and Napa valleys. In recent years Cabernet Pfeffer has made some headlines with some new generation winemakers exploring the grape to good effect, with Luke Nio’s Rosé of Pfeffer being a favorite, along with quality red wine and or blended examples by Ser, Jolie-Laide, Kobza all worth checking out as well. Regardless as to whether this grape was brought to the United States or bred in California, Pfeffer has a long history in the state and it is nice to see it get the attention it deserves. The name “Pfeffer” means “pepper” in German, which maybe, because of the peppery nature or grape, though it is still a mystery, but it could be that it was named after William Pfeffer, a Californian who it is believed to have brought this rare grape over to California in the 1870s. Pfeffer owned a plant nursery in the city of Saratoga in the Santa Cruz Mountains as is thought to have sold the first cuttings of Pfeffer. Ian Brand’s latest set of releases includes this first time Pfeffer along with his first old vine Chenin Blanc from the historic Massa Estate in the deep end of Carmel Valley, both of which have excellent potential and look to be fast sell outs! I was also impressed with Brand’s new label Paysan stuff with his Provence style 2022 Rosé and Sauvignon Blanc being remarkably delicious and value packed wines.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
N.V. Vilmart & Cie, Cuvée Rubis, Brut Rosé, Premier Cru Champagne, à Rilly-la-Montagne France.
I’ve never been anything but blown away by Vilmart and what Laurent Champs, who is an absolute genius, produces here, and I especially love this non-vintage Cuvée Rubis Premier Cru Brut Rosé grower fizz, with this edition, disgorged in 2020, showing fantastic right now, its pure sex in the bottle! This delicately pinkish/samon Cuvée Rubis is heavenly from start to finish with small beading bubbles and a creamy elegant mousse that feels like tiny ballet dancers on the richly textured palate with smooth, but precise layers of yeasty goodness, delivering subtle cherry and strawberry notes, bread dough, light citrus, wet chalky stones and rosewater. This Champagne never puts a foot wrong and seduces completely, my only complaint is that there is never enough of this nectar in the bottle! Vilmart is on the west side of the Grand Montagne with most of their vines located in the Premier Cru area of Rilly-La-Montagne, along with a few small blocks in neighboring Villers-Allerand, all organic/biodynamic on clay and limestone soils, which adds to the concentration, mineral tones and ripe quality of fruit in these awesome Champagnes.
Grower and winemaker Laurent Champs, who is the fifth generation at Vilmart & Cie, which was founded by Desire Vilmart in 1890 as a recoltant-manipulant, uses old plantings, including 65 year old ungrafted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines to craft his masterpieces. These gorgeous Vilmart Champagnes are true grower producer wines and this one comes from all estate grown organic vines in the Premier Cru à Rilly-la-Montagne area. Champs ferments and ages his vintage and non-vintage bubbly in a combination of wood vessels including large foudre, demi muids and some barriques, usually without Malo-lactic to preserve intensity, tension and crisp details, while still showing off depth and luxurious richness, if you like Krug, you’ll love these distinctive Vilmart offerings. The cépage for the Vilmart Cuvée Rubis is 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay, with about 15% vin rouge of Pinot Noir in the final blend to perfectly color this beauty and the assemblage saw some 2017, 2016 and 2015 vintages. The wines used in this Rubis saw no Malos and had an élevage 10 Months in large foudre before aging on the yeast in bottle for 30 months. This Vilmart Cuvée Rubis was as close to perfect for my celebration and drinks like a Champagne two or three times the price, making for a stunning value, I couldn’t ask for more and I highly recommend chasing this and all of Champs’ Vilmart fine efforts down.
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2022 Holman Ranch Estate, Rosé of Pinot Noir “Susan’s Saignée” Carmel Valley AVA, Monterey County.
The soon to be released 2022 Rosé of Pinot Noir from Carmel Valley’s Holman Ranch Estate Vineyard and Winery, made by the father and son team of Greg and Chris Vita, is as it was last year a fine effort and refreshingly delicious with a burst of citrus, peach and sour cherry fruit, mineral, saline, wet stone, rosewater and tangy herb notes. More in a Provence crisply dry style than expected, much to my pleasure and with no noticeable wood or Malo influences, making it vibrant and delightful on the expressive, but leaner and more taut on the palate, this is going to be fabulous as an early Spring treat and will be flexible with food options, as well as being excellent on its own. Just a touch of jolly rancher watermelon comes through as it warms in the glass, which will honestly not take away from the pleasure here and there will be no patience required, this 2022 is ready to go already, the only waiting needed with this Rosé will be on the winery release date. The historic Holman Ranch property was originally founded back in 1928, though the grape vines, mainly a selection of Pinot Noir parcels, that are named after family members, came much later, with wine production beginning in earnest with the 2011 and 2012 vintages, with the 2018 being a breakthrough for this lesser known winery.
As mentioned, in recent years Holman Ranch has turned on the charm and wines are gaining in personality and distinction, especially the three main Pinot Noirs here and I highly recommend grabbing their 2018 versions, all of which are incredible, the best yet from this property. I had a chance to sample some upcoming wines, including this fun and tasty Rosé, as well as a preview of their 2019 Pinots, one that had a high percentage of 828 clone, which I really dug and am convinced will be almost the equal of the 2018 collection. The Holman Rosé of Pinot Noir, known as the Susan’s Saignée, is crafted using some ripe juice bled off their Pinot Noir sourced from their picturesque Carmel Valley vines using mainly clones 777 and Pommard. It retains good acidity, popping up with some ruby grapefruit, and has good tension between the zesty nature and lush fruit elements. Greg and Chris Vita, who also consult for a number of Carmel Valley producers, use 100% estate grapes here at Holman Ranch and employ traditional and sustainable methods in the vineyard and in the cellar, with this wine seeing 100% stainless steel, a cool temperature fermentation and a short aging period which lasted just three months before bottling this Rosé. If you’ve not discovered Holman Ranch yet, now is a great time to do so! Not seen much in the wild, these wines are almost exclusively direct to the consumer offerings, there is also a small amounts of Brut sparkling wines and Chardonnay produced here, even tough it is the small lot Pinot Noir(s) that is the main focus.
($35 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
Grapelive.com – February 2023
2021 Lucia by Pisoni, Pinot Noir, Estate Cuvée, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The latest release of Lucia Pinot, coming from the Pisoni, Garys’, and Soberanes estate vineyards, is the 2021 appellation-based Santa Lucia Highlands Estate Cuvée, which was formerly known as the SLH bottling, and it perfectly captures the vintage and place with rich stony layers of dark fruits, spice, energy and length, making it an absolutely delicious, especially satisfying while admiring the beautiful Big Sur coast from Nepenthe. Jeff Pisoni’s new Estate Cuvée reveals black cherry, bramble berry, plum and Mission fig fruits along with a mix of spices, subtle oak toastiness, sweet florals and hint of mocha. This lively and youthful Pinot just gets better and more vivid in the glass opening up to show off rose petal aromatics, burnt orange, dried herb and cinnamon in a full bodied expression of Pinot that feels both elegant and seamless on the palate with a burst of natural acidity, which sets this vintage apart. This is push and easy to love Pinot, but there is also a fine structure here and I can imagine it aging exceptionally well and I highly recommend keeping your eyes peeled for the single vineyard offerings, as they should be monumental wines, maybe the best yet from this legendary winery.
As noted here and by the winery, Lucia wines are handcrafted offerings, made by the talented Jeff Pisoni in his gravity flow cellar in the Santa Rosa area, he says he employs a gentle maceration and uses tried and true winemaking techniques. The Estate Cuvée uses all hand-picked and sorted grapes, mostly de-stemmed with about 15% whole cluster in this cool vintage. Small lots are fermented exclusively with native yeast and then matured for just under a year in carefully selected French oak barrels, with about 50% new wood. In 2021 the final blend was close to 60% Pisoni, 23% Garys’ and 17% Soberanes, with quite a lot of the fabled Pisoni clone, all of which adds to the deep saturated color, complexity and depth found here. As mentioned above, this is a sublime vintage for the region and in particular the Pisoni farmed vineyards, showcasing the terroir and climate of the sandy loamy soils and of the cold breezy Ocean influenced Santa Lucia Highlands bench, this is a year not too miss here. After the total devastation of the 2020 fire vintage, these 2021s are an awesome comeback set of Pinots, with this Lucia label leading the way. The pleasure in the bottle is well worth the price here and I highly recommend chasing some down, and or enjoying by the glass at Big Sur’s Nepenthe Restaurant, where they have it always by the glass!
($55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Keller, Riesling Trocken, Limestone, Rheinhessen, Germany.
Keller’s chalky and mineral driven “Limestone” Riesling is crisply detailed and electric on the dry and light weight palate, it perfectly captures the terroir and is an exceptional value from one of Germany’s most acclaimed winemakers with brisk citrus and stone fruit leading the way, along with wet rock, verbena, quince and very subtle florals. This wine performed brilliant on an evening recently, drinking beyond expectations, perfect as an aperitif and it was fabulous with a wide range of foods from the starter course to main dishes that included a steak! Bright and zippy with tangy apricot, kumquat and green apple fruits this Keller Limestone charmed throughout the evening and was beautifully cleansing and delicious.
I have become a huge fan of Keller over the years and while it is hard to find his cru offerings, his basic bottlings are more available, with this one being a notable favorite of mine. As noted before, Klaus Peter Keller and Philippe Wittmann have inspired an entire generation of young winemakers and have helped lead a Renaissance in the Rheinhessen, a region that includes some historic and spectacular vineyards and wines. This includes awesome Grand Cru sites, like Kirchspiel, Hubacker, Morstein and Abtserde, as well as the workman like vineyards, such as of Hipping, where these two superstars have made some of Germany’s most sought after wines. It should also be noted that Keller’s G-Max Grosses Gewachs bottling is one of the world’s most expensive and coveted white wines! Keller makes a full collection of wines, not just Riesling with some tasty Scheurebes, Rieslaners and Sylvaners as well, these are wines I highly recommend chasing down, especially this one!
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Domaine Philippe Jouan, Coteaux Bourguignons “Cuvée Thomas” Pinot Noir, Vieilles Vignes, Red Burgundy, France.
I had high expectations for this one and it lived up to the hype, maybe even surpassing my hopes, with a classic Cote de Nuits profile and a silky smooth palate that delivered beautiful red fruits, pretty floral aromatics, delicate earthiness and an array of spice and mineral tones in a pure medium weight wine. There’s a expressive layering of black cherry, raspberry, currant and strawberry fruits, hints pf rose oil, truffle, baking spices, subtle oak influence and candied orange all of which feels seamless and complete, this exactly what you’d want from a youthful Burgundy. Philippe Jouan has really impressed me with his 2017s and I am excited to see what the 2020s are like, hopefully I’ll be able to track some bottles down. This is a winery, based in Morey-Saint-Denis and run by Phillipe Jouan, a fifth generation winemaker, to follow, and this Cuvée Thomas is a great way to start.
The talented Philippe Jouan, who, as mentioned here in prior reviews, took over from his father Henri, has been in charge of this small high quality domaine since 2004 and has turned this some what under the radar winery into something of an enthusiasts cult label. The techniques in the cellar, from what I understand, are little changed since the domaine started, with Philippe using 100% de-stemmed (all sustainably grown) grapes, cool fermentation(s) and employing just a minimal amount of new wood across his range of wines. The Jouan wines are not as inexpensive as they once were, with prices now rising 10 to 20% with each of the last few vintages releases, but still are remarkable values for the price. Mainly it is the problem of having less wine available due to tighter yields in the region and that there is a much bigger demand for Jouan now. I had been told that Jouan’s Passetoutgrain (Pinot Noir/Gamay) and this Coteaux Bourguignons (100% Pinot Noir) were the screaming deals, and as mentioned, I was not disappointed in any way here.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2019 Alvaro Palacios, Les Terrasses, Ladera de Pizarra, Priorat DO, Spain.
Alvaro Palacios is one off the Priorat region’s greatest producers and this Les Terrasses, made from old vine Garnacha and Cariñena, is one of the most delicious and value packed bottlings you can find, as this recently released 2019 proves. Dark purple in the glass and nicely aromatic the Les Terrasses shows off its high percentage of Grenache with rich and expressive layers of dense red berry, plum, strawberry and candied cherry fruits that are accented by hints of smoke, graphite, anise, creme de cassis, dried herbs and sandalwood. This vintage is lush and the tannins are sweet and supple, making this wine smooth in mouth feel and easy to love.
The Les Terrasses Priorat red comes from 80 plots of vines in eight different small villages in the Priorat region of Cataluna, and for this 2019 vintage Alvaro Palacios used 82% Garnacha, 17% Cariñena and 1% of native white grapes. For the vinification here, Palacios used 100% de-stemmed and gently crushed grapes and he fermented them in a combination of concrete and oak vats with indigenous yeasts. After primary fermentation ended the wine was racked to barrel and then it was raised in French oak barrels for about 12 months. Coming from stony llicorella soils that are Paleozoic bedrock with red and black slate primarily, there is also trace amounts of mica and quartzite that all add to the complexity of this wine and the arid conditions give small yields as well as the concentration, contributing to the hedonism of the region’s’ wines.
($42 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2021 Proxy Wines, Grenache Blanc, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
Highlighting the vintage’s cool nature, the Proxy 2021 Grenache Blanc shows a dynamic freshness with vibrant stone fruit, white blossoms, racy citrus and tart melon in a lush medium bodied wine. Proxy is a new small lot winery led by Molly Lippitt, an emerging talent based in Sonoma, who I got to meet with briefly recently and who shared this wine, which I was able to review here. This is a very tidy effort and really captures the varietal in transparent purity, it shows nice depth, ripe flavors, with some spice and tropical notes and good natural acidity that balances this white delightfully. The pale gold Proxy Grenache Blanc was sourced from the Mounts Family Vineyard which is located in the eastern edge of Dry Creek set on rocky soils. Lippitt says her Grenache Blanc vines are tucked in low-lying corner of the vineyard, adding that this block is perfectly situated to enjoy both the warm days of the Dry Creek Valley and the cooling influences of the nearby Russian River, all of which has led to a quality effort here, especially in this cooler year.
Proxy’s winemaker Molly Lippitt, who day job is head winemaker for Naps Valley’s Volker Eisele, has worked the better part of fifteen years in making wines and for some very notable estates, like one of my favorites Paradigm, who’s Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the valley’s best values for top end Cab. Molly has worked alongside some huge names in the business, such as Heidi Barrett, Philipe Melka, Julien Fayard, Mike Hirby, and Scott Rich, helping her gain experience and mentoring her, which is pretty awesome for a young winemaker. For herself, Lippitt focuses on small production single vineyard wines for her Proxy label, and as she says, she’ll be crafting varietals that she enjoys drinking on her days off, like her Dry Creek Valley Grenache Blanc. The Mounts having been farming this vineyard for the best part of 70 years and Lippitt enjoys the fact that this family run vineyard has long history here and really know their terroir and take pride in their hard work. Found in France and Spain mainly, Grenache Blanc is most notable a major player in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc and Côtes du Rhône whites, but it has also found a happy home here in California, as this wine proves!
($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2020 Poderi Colla, Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC, Piedmonte, Italy.
The Poderi Colla label has really taken off and the latest set of wines, including this fabulously delicious and nicely structured Nebbiolo d’Alba, which I tasted recently were all beautiful and studied efforts that show classic varietal profiles and terroir distinct nuances. I loved each of them and plan to showcase more of them soon, but this 2018 Nebbiolo d’Alba, especially for the price, stands out with a quality level that is really not far off much more expensive Barbaresco and or Barolo offerings, but in a package that can be enjoyed in its youth, this is a vintage that lends itself to early pleasure, as this one shows with its ripe supple tannins and pretty fruit density. This dark garnet and amber/brick edged wine is feline like, satiny muscled, and energetic giving the impression of serious concentration, though alive with layers of red berries, damson plums, currants and blood oranges along with hoisin sauce, tar, mushroom, anise and dried flowers. This year’s Poderi Colla Nebbiolo is a big step up since I last tried this bottling and it looks to be a wine that can aged a few years as well, this one and Colla’s Pian Balbo Dolcetto are wines that I highly recommend for savvy bargain hunters and they are very confident food friendly reds that are full of old world charm, natural acidity and display a delicate earthy or sultry allure that will keep your attention long after the last sip.
The traditional and sustainable Poderi Colla was established by Beppe Colla and family in 1993, after they sold their famous Prunotto winery to the Antinori empire, who wanted to move beyond their Tuscan roots and gain a foothold in Piedmonte. The Poderi Colla estate has three exceptional vineyards that covers about 70 acres, these include the Cascina Drago, where this wine was sourced, along with the Tenuta Dardi Le Rase in Barolo and the Tenuta Roncaglie in Barbaresco. Tino Colla took over the reins here when Beppe passed away in 2019 and this new generation is stepping up and taking this winery to even greater heights, but have continued to hold true to their old school and historic values. The winemaking for Poderi Colla’s Nebbiolo d’Alba is done with mainly traditional techniques, but with one significant twist, which is that it saw a submerged cap maceration and primary fermentation which lasted between 12 and 15 days. The grapes, 100% de-Stemmed, came from upper hillside vines that are set on calcareous limestone and clay soils with lots sand in Colla’s Drago estate, as mentioned above, near San Rocco Seno d’Elvio, close to the Barbaresco zone and not far from Gaja’s legendary crus. After fermentation in stainless steel the wine is gently pressed and racked to old large Slavonian oak Botti where it was aged for between 12 to 18 months and then bottled unfiltered, which allows for clarity of form, freshness and poise in the glass. In the cellar, Poderi Colla treats this Nebbiolo the same way as they do their Bussia Barolo and Roncaglie Barbaresco, and this 2020 is very serious stuff indeed.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2021 Artuke, Rioja Tinto “Artuke” Spain.
Bright, juicy and expressive, the 95% Tempranillo and 5% Viura, a white Rioja grape, Artuke Tinto is 100% whole cluster, full stem inclusion and carbonic macerated, making it kind of like a Cru Beaujolais in the glass with crushed raspberry, black cherry, plum and Jolly Rancher watermelon fruits along with spring florals, wild herbs, anise and hint of chalky stoniness. This wine which was sourced from all organic vines was closed stainless steel tank fermented using the whole bunches of Tempranillo and Viura, after which it was pressed to a combination of neutral French oak barrels and larger casks for one year, allowing this fresh red Rioja to mature nicely and provide seamless textural quality. This was the first time having these Artuke wines and this one, dark ruby in the glass, especially caught my attention for the style, which is not too common in Rioja, though it is a throwback to the region’s past and is very pleasing for youthful drinking. This highly quaffable dry and medium bodied red is smooth and clean, making it great with no pretense meals, picnics and or tapas.
The Artuke Rioja wines come from calcareous sandstone soils with a combination of sand and clay in the higher elevation areas of this famous region that see some cool night time temperatures to go with an arid continental climate all of which contributes to the sublime balance found in these wines. Artuke’s winemaker Arturo Miguel is building a good reputation for his wines and is part of new generation of young Spanish vignerons in Rioja, the country’s most historic and best known region, that are changing things up here and focusing on individual terroirs rather than the Reserva and Gran Reserva Rioja of the past. Miguel is the second generation of his family to grow and bottle their own label wines since the end of the Franco dictatorship and he has pushed for all organic farming, as well as focusing on his four specific vineyard wines, which are the Pies Negros, Finca de los Locos, La Condenada and Paso las Mañas. There a lot like in Arturo’s lineup of wines and I look forward to following this label, this was a strong showing of offerings, with this one being a lovely and easy value.
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2019 Beaux Freres, Pinot Noir “Les Cousins” Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The Les Cousins Pinot by Oregon’s legendary Beaux Freres is an ultra small production bargain, with just 50 cases made in this vintage, and while 2019 was a difficult year, it is a lovely wine with dark berry and black cherry fruit, heady aromatics, mineral notes and silky texture along with spice and subtle toasty/smoky oak tones. I’ve been a fan of Beaux Freres for ages and have even made a pilgrimage to winery as ways back, an experience that provided insight and joy to this wine traveler, so any new bottles from them is a treat for me, with this budget priced Les Cousins being a rewarding go to wine. Beaux Freres’ story begins in the 1980s when Mike Etzel visited the Willamette Valley after getting excited about what he was hearing about Oregon Pinot Noir and discovered an ex pig farm in the Ribbon Ridge district, set on marine sediment soils and a picturesque hillside setting, that caught his imagination and would later become one of America’s greatest vineyards and wineries. Now the new generation of Etzels are running the show here with Mike the younger now making the wines and taking his dad’s estate to the next level after taking over in 2016, but carrying on with the traditions that took this label to the pinnacle of new world Pinot Noir. The smooth and generous Les Cousins, chosen from eclectic barrels, just 2 in 2019, in the cellar has pure Pinot fruit and can be enjoyed young, best to be paired with food to enhance the depth and delicate earthy complexity.
Beaux Freres, founded by Mike Etzel back in 1986, though their first bottling was released in 1991, is one of Oregon’s most admired wineries that is focused mainly on terroir driven Pinot Noirs made in traditional Burgundian methods and, like Brick House Vineyard just down the road here in Ribbon Ridge, is committed to following biodynamic principles in the vines and in the cellar. The fermentation is allowed to occur spontaneously, relying on “wild” indigenous yeast, and as the winery notes, the must is tended to the old-fashioned way with punch downs and pump overs by hand throughout the day and night in small lots with lengthy maceration(s) before being pressed to barrel. Every vintage dictates the oak regime here at Beaux Freres and the wines see a percentage of new oak depending on the strength and concentration of the year with most of the Pinots getting a good dose of neutral wood and get 30% to 50% new in the best selections. The wines resting in barrel see no racking and Beaux Freres believes in reductive winemaking throughout the process to save freshness and purity of aromatics in their beautiful Pinots which typically mature in the barriques 12 months with secondary fermentation happening naturally. Beaux Freres says the aging on lees in their cold cellar with moving the wine acts as a natural preservative and gives them the ability to use far less sulphur (sulfites) in the wines, which they thinks adds to terroir nuances, quality and vintage character of their bottlings, such as this one. While not in the league of the top estate offerings here at Beaux Freres, this Les Cousins provides a very peasant tease.
($36 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2020 Di Giovanna, Helios Grillo, Sicilia DOC Bianco, Sicily, Italy.
Grown not on volcanic, but instead on limestone soils, the mineral driven and aromatic golden colored Helios Grillo is a light to medium bodied white that captures its high elevation terroir in the glass with crisp green apple, lemon/lime, tart quince and kumquat fruits, wet chalky stones, saline, wild herbs and a phenolic, almost tannic dry finish, refreshing but firm in structure. Grillo, thought of as an indigenous or native varietal in Sicily has an unclear background, but has been getting the attention it deserves as a solo varietal and as a blender, it can even be found in the amphora raised skin macerated COS Pithos white by Giusto Occhipinti and in his niece’s wines, with Arianna Occhipinti doing her Tami white with 100% Grillo and adding a little of it with Zibibbo for her 68 Bianco, all showing the range of this grape. Grillo, thought to be a crossing of Catarratto and Moscato di Alessandria (called Zibibbo in Sicily) grapes, was once used exclusively in Marsala production, but has since started to gain traction as an alternative white wine throughout the southern, non volcanic zones of Sicily and along with Carricante, which enjoys the volcanic soils, have become highly desirable and make for very stylish if not brilliant wines. Interestingly, before DNA mapping, Grillo, which is also known as Riddu and Rossese bianco, is a white grape variety that can withstand high temperatures and though Its origins are uncertain, but it may have been introduced into the island of Sicily from Apulia and was documented as being planted in the province of Trapani by 1897. Today it is grown throughout Sicily where it has achieved maybe its best and most successful results and it is also in the Aeolian Islands, as well as growing around the commune of Riomaggiore in the province of La Spezia in Liguria, where Grillo is called Rossese bianco. As Di Giovanna’s 2020 Helios Grillo opens and warms it takes on a more creamy feel and picks up hints of white flowers and Summer melon, as well as a fine bitter peach pit element, it’s a serious version of the grape and best with food, with swordfish steaks coming to mind as a nice pairing for it.
Based in Agrigento, the Di Giovanna winery is one of Sicily’s oldest family estates with five generations making wine and exceptional olive oil here with vineyards set at elevation in the Monte Genuardo mountain range, an uplifting of marine sediments. The Di Giovanna’s property and wine cellar have been certified organic since 1997 and they proudly have been leaders in sustainability on this beautiful and diverse Mediterranean island which has both European and African climate influences. The winery also notes that they five family vineyards that are situated in the small DOC’s of Contessa Entellina and Sambuca di Sicilia, where this wine comes from, but it should be noted that Di Giovanna is most known for their Nero d’Avola reds, in particular the Helios Nero d’Avola. The Helios Grillo is the flagship white wine of the Di Giovanna family, it is sourced exclusively from a high mountainside single vineyard that sits at just over 830 meters (2723 FT) above sea level in the Fiuminello area of the Sabuca di Silicia zone. The conditions here are perfect to craft aromatic and zesty whites, like the Helios Grillo captures in the bottle. With a limited production of only 3000 bottles per vintage, this is a beautiful rarity that is a great alternative to many generic offerings that litter this price point. Additionally, as the winery notes, this wine is certified organic and vegan-friendly! Siblings Gunther and Klaus Di Giovanna have embraced organic farming many years ago, as have many of Sicilia DOC wineries, looking to made soulful and authentic wines and even the appellation or DOC authorities here actively support sustainable practices and (it) is playing a crucial role in organic wine production on the island. The Di Giovanna Grillo is made with 100% Grillo and is soft and slowly whole cluster pressed off the skins for 8 hours and then fermented mainly in stainless steel tank, but with about 10% seeing French oak fermentation and aging to add a bit of richness and roundness. The wine is rested on the fine lees for close to 9 months, both in the stainless tank and the wood Tonneaux, which adds to the mouth feel and complexity in this Helios Grillo and allows for this wine’s cuisine flexibility, though of course it goes best with fresh sea foods.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2021 Domaine Gramenon, Sierra du Sud, Cotes du Rhone Red, France.
I’ve always loved this bottling by Domaine Gramenon, the Sierra du Sud never disappoints with its distinctive pure Syrah profile and sense of place and this 2021 vintage has depth, balance and poise that makes it feel like a wine that should cost twice or three times the price with dark vine picked berries, spice, earth and sweet spring flowers all coming alive on the full bodied palate. There’s a vibrancy and tension that makes this all biodynamic Sierra du Sud purr with a delicious play between fruit density and savory tones with a lingering finish that has feral elements and satisfying creme de cassis, and while not quite at the level of a Cote Rotie, this is beautiful and plenty of thrill to it with boysenberry, violets, camphor, damson plum, minty herbs, anise and subtle meatiness. It is hard to call the Domaine Gramenon wines simply Cotes-du-Rhones, as I’ve said a few times before here, it just doesn’t fit, these, especially the Sierra du Sud, are iconic efforts. Maybe it is the distinct location, or the biodynamic farming that give these wines there own character, but regardless, these hand-crafted bottlings are loaded with fruit, intensity and depth that goes way beyond their merger classification, and it particularly is in evidence here with the Sierra du Sud from Gramenon. The vines here for the 100% Syrah Sierra du Sud are close to 35 years old and set on clay, limestone, gravel, galets roulés (stones) and sandy soils with a slightly cooler climate that suits the Syrah and promotes its deep flavors as found in this wine.
The Domaine Gramenon, imported by Kermit Lynch, as mentioned before made its first vintage in 1990 by the late Philippe Laurent, does a vast array of unique bottlings, most are focused around their main grape Grenache, but they also do a couple of single varietal Syrah(s) with this Sierra du Sud being one. This wine is labeled as a Cotes du Rhone, similar to what Chateau de Saint Cosme does, the famous Gigondas producer that has vineyard holdings in Vinsobres too, and who’s basic Cotes du Rhone is also 100% Syrah. The winemaking at Gramenon is very old school and the wines are more made in the vineyard, rather than the rustic cellar with a minimalist approach and with low SO2 additions, in some cases without any sulfur being added at all, even in their most prized bottlings. The Sierra du Sud was fermented with partial whole cluster and some stem inclusion with native yeasts in concrete vat with a gentle 10 to 12 day maceration before being aged in a combination of tank (cement) and old barriques for just under a year, usually about seven months. This wine, like all the wines at Gramenon was bottled unfined and unfiltered, to preserve its true personality and charm. Philippe Laurent, who was sadly killed in a car accident, has been survived by his wife Michèle Aubèry-Laurent who has done a brilliant job of lifting this small organic and natural winery up, that has gained even more notoriety in recent years with Michele’s talented son Maxime François Laurent making the wines here. The Domaine Gramenon, based in the northern zone of the southern Rhone near Vinsobres, which is proving to be an exciting hot spot for Syrah, and compelling Grenache too, is leading the way here and I highly recommend searching these incredible wines out!
($41 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2020 Domaine Weinbach, Pinot Gris, Clos des Capucins, Vin d’Alsace, France.
The 2020 Clos des Capucins by Domaine Weinbach is intense, dry, complex and fully the equal of the estate’s Riesling with concentration, mineral tones and energy showing crisp green apple, a range of citrus and tangy tart quince fruits along with saline, wet stones, spice, a hint of honeycomb and loamy earth. Medium bodied the Clos des Capucins Pinot Gris has a very engaging tension, depth of flavors and vitality that make it very worthy example of the grape and region with enough stuffing to age too, Weinbach’s quality throughout the range is, as always, impressive and while sometimes the Pinot Gris and Sylvaner get overlooked, this is a vintage that you should not miss with this one offering good value too. The Weinbach monopole Clos des Capucins vineyard, where this Pinot Gris is sourced, is farmed all biodyanamic and is a unique and historic site which has soils that are sandy silt with a pebbly granite core with warm exposure, making for ripe and expressive wines, as this lovely effort shows.
Like their basic Riesling bottling, the Pinot Gris was gently whole cluster pressed in a Champagne style pneumatic press, then Weinbach employed a spontaneous fermentation with indigenous yeasts, that the Faller’s, the family behind this legendary domaine, believe these methods add an element of the terroir, enhancing the depth and complexity in their wines. After going dry the Pinot Gris sees eight months on the lees in the large neutral wood barrels, which is just about perfect to mature this outstanding Alsatian white, and like all of the Weinbach offerings, this is an all vegan bottling, it goes great with a wide array of cuisine. Catherine Faller took over the leadership of the winery a few years ago now maintaining if not lifting quality here at Weinbach, though made famous her late mother Collette, who brought this winery to the very top of wine world during the 1990s and early 2000s and her late sister Laurence, who was the winemaker for many years before tragically passing away at the young age of 41, with her sons Eddy and Théo, now taking on the torch here. This Pinot Gris is nicely balanced and rewarding, it deserves a place with a meal, going well with ham, poultry and fleshy fish dishes.
($39 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2020 Domaine Camus-Bruchon et Fils, Beaune Premier Cru “Clos du Roi” Red Burgundy, France.
Over the years, one of my favorite Burgundy producers has without question been Camus-Bruchon and in recent vintages I am loving these wines more and more with Guillaume Camus crafting some outstanding Pinots, like this exceptional incredibly dark Beaune 1er Cru Clos du Roi from the 2020 vintage, which is proving a must have year. In the past I have focused on Camus-Bruchon’s value packed Savigny-lès-Beaune offerings, in particular the fabulous Aux Grands Liards Vieilles Vignes single lieu-dit bottling, so it was good to get my palate on this Clos du Roi, one of the signature Premier Crus of the estate and one of the greats in the region not far from Pommard and Volnay, set on clay and limestone soils, “Clos du Roi” is a small 13 hectare vineyard situated to the north of the appellation, which Louis Latour calls one of the best parcels in all of Beaune. This historic site was owned by the dukes of Burgundy and was, as Latour adds, highly favored by the kings of France, and was regularly served at Versailles. The 2020 Camus-Bruchon is deeply garnet hued and wonderfully aromatic, especially after this young wine is allowed to open up, with dark florals, mineral and stony berry fruit that leads to a rich and silken full palate of black cherry, currant, plum and tangy blueberry fruits that are almost as expressive and overt as a top cru Beaujolais, maybe because of the percentage of whole cluster, though was the baby fat settles down, pure Pinot pleasure rises up and subtle spice, earth, orange peel and tea note emerge. This is a vintage to pair with richer foods and to enjoy over a full meal and evening so see its full range of pleasure.
As mentioned, Guillaume Camus is a super talent and these Domaine Camus-Bruchon are gorgeous and authentic wines that are made to charm and age, as a bonus they are stunning values for what you get in the bottle, especially with what kind of prices you are now seeing for very mediocre Burgundy wines these days. For his exceptional Clos du Roi Beaune 1er Cru, Camus as he does for all of the reds here, ferments in concrete vats using native yeasts and then ages the wines for between 12 and 18 months in a selection of French barrels with under 20% new wood being employed. As mentioned, to add complexity and pop to his wines, Guillaume uses upwards of 30% whole cluster, which shows up with an almost carbonic like feel on this ripe vintage and with the stems hardly noticeable at this point, though quietly giving a sultry earthiness and bramble note. Camus likes a extended maceration period and his primary fermentation on the skins usually goes close to 18 days, which gives the wines extraction of color, phenolics and structural tannin, though supple in years like this. Great care was given to the vines and the pruning allowed for slightly longer canes to set a bit more fruit with pick dates chosen to retain some freshness and keep natural alcohols down under 14%, which I hear wasn’t easy with the heat and tiny clusters found in the region. Everything looks set for a winning collection of wines from Camus-Bruchon, these 2020s will reward those that what to open them in their youth and will still provide excellent drinking for another decade or more. When first opening these Camus-Bruchon Burgs, it is advised to let the reductive elements blow off, which in this one took a few hours. I hear the 2021s are much more restrained and learner, so it is best to stock up on these exuberant and fruit filled 2020s, and I highly recommend, as per normal, chasing down Camus-Bruchon.
($48 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2020 Château d’Yquem “Y” Ygrec, Dry White Bordeaux, France.
The very expressive and tropical 2020 “Y” Dry White Bordeaux is very impressive stuff, way more interesting and delightful than I had imagined, especially after my first less than appealing experience with this somewhat rarity and really enjoyed the clarity, richness and freshness found in this vintage with its lovely peach and citrus led fruits, mineral notes and the mentioned exotic tropical essences on the medium bodied palate. Of course the main attraction at Yquem is their mystical sweet Sauternes, but I must say, after not paying much if any notice of this “Y” Dry Wine for over a decade, this wine almost blew me away with its energy, aromatics and charm in the glass. This pale gold 2020 shows lively peach, apricot, lemon and mango fruits, along with delicate vanilla, wet stones, clove spice, quince and unsweetened honey, making it a substantial wine that goes nicely with lighter cuisine and or soft farm cheeses. This not lean wine at 14% natural alcohol and has lush opulent textures while still being crisply detailed and having bright vibrant personality. This wine, with its prestigious pretense, will not come cheap, it is not a wine that delivers any quality for the money and is a luxurious treat for those lucky enough to try it. In recent years, this wine, grown on the clay rich soils in the Sauternes zone, has been elevated to the top echelon of white Bordeaux offerings, like Haut-Brion Blanc.
Château d’Yquem makes about 10,000 bottles a year of the Dry “Y” white wine (pronounced “ee-grek” in French) which maybe limited, but not as rare wine as they might suggest, though sourced from grapes that are picked from the same outstanding terroir and the same vines as their famous Sauternes, which is obviously legendary to all wine enthusiasts. Originally made from late harvest grapes, inferior grapes, after the best were picked for the sweet wine that “Y” was, what Yquem says was an irregular offering dating back to 1959, it only saw a re-invention in 1996 and is now made to much higher standards and saw a huge jump in quality after 2004, when they decided to make it every vintage and put high quality early picked Sauvignon Blanc grapes, while the Sémillon comes in a bit later with a touch of botrytis on them in certain years, adding depth and complexity. Yquem makes the final blend is made after tasting, after the wine is fermented in temperature-controlled vats and lees aged in mainly used barrels, only 30%, for ten months with a touch of stirring or baronage, with the winery saying that It usually predominantly of Sauvignon Blanc and small percentage of Sémillon. As this 2020 warmed and opened in the glass it took on an added dimension of mouth feel and lingered on the finish with a pineapple and crystallized ginger note, and I could not help being thrilled and seduced by this one, and I owe a big thanks to my friend Ben Edwards for sharing his own bottle.
($189 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2020 Riecine, Chianti Classico DOCG, Tusacny, Italy.
The beautifully pure 2020 Riecine Chianti Classico really hits the spot, I’m an unabashed Chianti Classico lover and crave wines like this, especially the wines from Gaiole, like this one, Radda and Castelnuovo Berardenga, which show distinctive terroir nuances, and this one is completely dialed in, structured and fabulous delicious already. While not cheap, this fantastic Chianti Classic, 100% Sangiovese, is probably half again less than most Brunello offerings of this quality with lovely dark garnet color and a heady bouquet of dried flowers, red berries, loam and mineral that leads to this Riecine’s medium/full palate of blackberry, plum, strawberry and spiced cherry fruits that feel nicely supported by ripe tannins a fine smooth cut of acidity and background accents of tobacco, minty herbs, cedar, delicate earthiness and dried orange peel. While supple and opulent, this wine definitely is at its best with food and allows an inner beauty to shine through, this is a brilliant vintage for Riecine, a property that has seen a few patchy spells before becoming one of the region’s favorites and I highly recommend checking this one out and can see it drinking nicely over the next 5 to 10 years. Everything folds together in this Riecine with grace and heightened details and I look forward to enjoying a few more bottles of this vintage and following this label into the future, it is great to see an estate like this make such a comeback from obscurity or mediocrity and make such a seductive wine.
Riecine who’s first vintage was 1973, founded back in 1971, is located in the highest part of Gaiole and enjoys an amazing set of conditions that is perfect for an elite wine to be produced here and since 2015 when Alessandro Campatelli took the reins here things have significantly changed for the better and this 2020 shows off the talent of his winemaking and highlights the potential f this property. The vines are all organic here at Riecine, and may have been since before original owners John Dunkley and Palmina Abbagnano bought this historic vineyard site in the late 1960s, but certainly it was farmed 100% organic since the 1970s. The vineyards at Riecine, which are surrounded by an ancient forrest, sit up between 430 and 600 meters above sea level and are mostly on very stony alluvial limestone topsoil and limestone bedrock which the Sangiovese vines love and that bring out the best of this native varietal. This area benefits from good exposure during the day and sees chilly nights that retains freshness and adds to the balance found in the wines of the Gaiole zone, plus imparts a sultry and savory character that contrasts exceptionally well with the concentration f the mountain fruit, providing the wines with complexity and old world charm. The all Sangiovese Chianti Classico, was 100% de-stemmed and native yeast fermented in cement vat with hand punch-downs and pump overs and then was aged over a year, close to 14 months in large old (neutral) 900L French oak, making for a stunning and transparent wine, bravo Alessandro Campatelli for such an impressive effort!
($34 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2020 Leo Steen, Chenin Blanc “The Steen” Jurassic Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley.
The Leo Steen Jurassic Chenin is one of the best and pleasing whites I’ve had this year, it is a stunner with a beautiful texture, oyster shell chalkiness and bright fruits, rivaling classic Loire versions of this grape. Steen, the Danish born ex Copenhagen sommelier, has crafted a stunning set of wines, with this one being his signature offering, and I was thrilled to taste through them with him at a small trade tasting, where he was pouring his latest set of stylish releases. The palate here with his Jurassic Chenin is marvelously layered and shows loads of purity and concentration with lemon/lime, white peach, melon and apple fruits, subtle aromatics, a delicate earthiness, wet stones, clove spice, leesy notes and sweet and sour herbs. The Jurassic Vineyard, planted in 1982, is a legendary Chenin site, it joins Chalone and Casa Nuestra as my favorite vineyards for Chenin Blanc in California and with its own-rooted vines set on sandy, fossil rich marine sediment and limestone soils, makes for an excellent home for this varietal, as proven here in Leo’s outstanding effort. It is noteworthy to add that the sustainably farmed Jurassic Vineyard has tiny berries and clusters that shine though in the finished wine with a real intensity of flavors, which is obvious here in this 2020 wine, of which only 166 cases were made, I highly recommend searching this one out, as well as exploring Steen’s other bottlings, including his Redwood Valley Casa Verde red field blend, the Santa Cruz Mountains Cab Franc and his gripping 100% whole cluster Grenache.
Chenin Blanc’s renaissance is in good hands these days with many fine examples been made from in California, including Justin Willett’s Lieu-Dit, Tegan Passalacqua’s Sandlands, the mentioned Casa Nuestra in Napa Valley, as well as Leo Steen, who is very focused on the grape and does a full range of dry versions, along with a sweet one and even a fortified Chenin made in the Angelica (California’s first commercial wine made originally from the Mission grape) style with a slightly oxidized element, which Leo says has a Sherry like quality. Leo, who has a well rounded background, having done stints in Alsace, Loire, Champagne and Burgundy to Spain and Italy moved to California in 1999 to, as he notes, immerse himself in winemaking, finally landing at Alexander Valley’s Stuhlmuller Vineyards, where he became the winemaker. At that time, in 2004, Leo also started his own label, which allowed him to make wines more to his personal tastes, leaning on his old world palate. Steen, to achieve his goals, uses a variety of fermentation methods and a combination of aging vessels in his wines to showcase each vineyard and terroir with transparency in his wines, with this one seeing a unique set of techniques with this Jurassic Chenin seeing some skin contact, 30% with a short skin maceration, with the rest getting fully a whole cluster pressing, with a native yeast fermentation and aged mainly in concrete eggs mostly for 11 months, then aged another 5 months in large neutral French oak cask before bottling. This Jurassic Chenin, by Leo Steen, is drinking fantastic right now and should evolve nicely for another 3 to 5 years, it is exceptional stuff. You can find Steen’s wines on his website and whole sale in California through The Source, who want to thank for introduction to these wines and Leo himself.
($35 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2019 Bedrock Wine Co, Syrah “Calico” California.
The beautifully dark purple/garnet Calico California Syrah from Bedrock is their version of Crozes-Hermitage in the Graillot mold, it is unmistakable, and as they say, distinctly Syrah at its cool climate style best with pretty aromatics, deep fruit concentration, spice and a supple mouth feel. This 2019 delivers plenty of classic details and richly layered with boysenberry, blueberry, wild plum and black cherry fruits, along with hints of crushed violets, minty herbs, cedar, meaty game and anise accents, plus lingering creme de cassis and delicate earthy tones. Everything folds together with compelling seamless transparency and it gets better and better in the glass and goes great with robust cuisine, this is delicious stuff that performed brilliantly when tasted alongside a true Cornas offering. Sourced from multiple vineyards across the state, this Calico is a sleeper in the Bedrock collection and a stylish 100% Syrah effort I thoroughly enjoy and recommend!
The “value” Syrah from winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson MW is, as always, Bedrock’s blend of the several great Syrah sites around the state that Morgan and his team get to work. There’s some awesome places used here, including ultra-cool climate parcels at Bien Nacido, in the Santa Maria Valley, along with Northern California’s Hudson Vineyard, Griffin’s Lair, Weill and Walker Vine Hill Vineyards and, for the first time, this wine saw some Syrah from Twain-Peterson’s famous Bedrock Vineyard, in Sonoma Valley. The hope Bedrock has is that this wine will show off the potential of this great variety in California, which I believe it does, it makes for a savvy and pure varietal example of Syrah. Bedrock fermented the separate small lots with indigenous yeast with all lots seeing some whole cluster, with the percentage between 20 to 100% in this ripe and expressive vintage. Bedrock usually ages their Syrah close to 18 months or more in a combination of barrel sizes, including large puncheons and used barriques. While famous for their Zinfandel based bottlings, Bedrock does some thrilling Syrahs, and this one is a great way to start exploring them, along with the more rare single vineyard versions.
($42 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Weingut Von Winning, Riesling Trocken, Forst Pechstein VDP Grosses Gewächs, Pfalz, Germany.
The gorgeous Grand Cru Pechstein by Von Winning is otherworldly and thrills in the same way as Ramonet’s Montrachet or Leflaive’s Batard-Montrachet do with unbelievable length and concentration, this is utterly decedent white wine that transcends varietal and norms. As I have noted in Von Winning’s outstanding set of 2019s, this vintage is ripe and hints at the exotic, but has chiseled detailing and Riesling purity with vibrant array of white peach, green apple, apricot, tart pear, kumquat, key lime, kiwi and bitter quince fruits as well as rosewater, orange blossoms, saline, crushed wet flint and verbena all elevated by the natural acidity and rounded by the leesy texture, hazelnut brioche and subtle wood influence. There’s a sense of beauty and precision here that may just be off the charts and this wine is wildly pleasing beyond what words on the page or screen could really express! The Pechstein name comes from the black basalt rubble that is found here in veins throughout the vineyard that is part of the Forst area, which also has weathered red sandstone, sandy loam and friable clay that was formed by the ancient and extinct volcano, Pechsteinkopf, which can be seen above the forest, that spread volcanic rock over the site long ago. Von Winning was founded in 1849, by Leopold Von Winning, but saw its most important evolution under Dr. Andreas Deinhard, with his commitment to excellence, the Deinhard’s were also a founding members of the VDP, which focused on single cru sites, like those in Von Winning’s holdings in Ruppertsberg, Deidesheim, and Forst, where Pechstein is.
The Pechstein Grand Cru (Grosse Lage), with its rolling slopes and ripe southern exposure, is set on a series of complex soils including sandy clay, löss, loam, over limestone, basalt, and sandstone all of which add to the wine’s glorious palate impact and regal presence. The winery explains that back in the 1800s, basalt from the nearby quarry was brought into the vineyard and then it was ploughed in the soil to improve it. Stephan Attmann’s approach to wine growing and winemaking have helped revolutionize the wines here, taking his inspiration for the Côte d’Or, with Attmann adopting the single cane trellising system, as his importer Skurnik Wines notes, is prevalent in Burgundy. The Von Winning Grosses Gewächs Rieslings are fermented and lees aged for close to 24 months in 500L French oak, which leads to the texture and depth in these stunning wines. To achieve this stunning level of quality and concentration the Von Winning estate practices organic and sustainable viticulture in all of their parcels of vines and they employ a minimalist approach in the cellar with Sponti or natural yeast fermentations and the wine is only moved with gravity flow, with only gentle handing of the grapes and wines. The Von Winning wines all deliver purity and tension, and while they are easy to love young these Riesling have tremendous aging potential and patience will certainly be greatly rewarded! This treatment doesn’t start and end with Von Winning’s GG Rieslings, as they also employ this regime with their fantastic Sauvignon Blanc 500, which is one of the world’s greatest version of the grape, if you’ve not had Von Winning’s wines it’s past time time to do so, I highly recommend the full collection from their basic estate bottlings to their majestic GGs!
($120 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2021 Azienda Vinicola Calabretta, Rosato, Terre Siciliane IGT Rosé, Sicily, Italy.
Calabretta’s Mount Etna wines are a traditional collection of offerings leaning heavily on Nerello Mascalese, the main red grape of the volcano, and this bright deep ruby hued Rosato is one of my favorites with its spicy, smoky and mineral driven terroir character making it uniquely delicious. There is a to of personality and substance to enjoy here with a medium body and layered fruit including strawberry, grilled orange, sour cherry and plum water as well as the wet shale, roasted herbs, dried flowers and anise accents. More of a light red than a classic Rosé, this pink Nerello Mascalese by Calabretta has structure to hold up to robust cuisine and though, enough delicacy to be enjoyed with sea foods and is refreshing with a burst of energy and natural acidity, it goes great with grilled octopus, fish stews and or Moroccan dishes. Massimiliano Calabretta’s wines are distinctive and old school, interestingly he, as his importer Polaner Selections, notes, compared to other Etna producers, he releases his wines late, only after long aging in large casks (Botti) and again in the bottle, many of his releases are often six to eight years behind the other Etna vintners. Also his wines were once label Etna Rosso or Etna Bianco, but now are humbly labeled as Terre Siciliane or IGTs, because he likes to do things his way, often not following the norms of the appellation. For his Rosé, Calabretta uses grapes from younger vineyards, planted between 2005 and 2006, in Calderara and Randazzo, on rocky volcanics, it sees a soft de-stemmed pressing with a short maceration and is fermented and aged exclusively in stainless steel vats before bottling to preserve its vibrancy. This is a property that does things their own way and has produced some spectacular wines over the last decade or so, it is a label to search out, not always easy to find, though Rare Wine Co. usually has a good amount, the chase is worth it.
The Calabretta wines, mostly from 80+ year old vines scattered throughout many of Etna’s top sub-zones with lots of them on their original roots, all within he DOC of Etna Rosso in northeastern Sicily, with various terroir nuances with the northern facing plots being much cooler. The Nerello Mascalese,is as mentioned the main grape here, along with a bit Nerello Cappuccio interplanted in vineyard sites. It is also known and very unique that Massimiliano has a small vineyard of Pinot Noir too, which I didn’t know, is a grape that has been planted on Etna since the 1800’s. The vineyards of Calabretta are situated at between 300 and 900 meters up on the slopes of Mount Etna, which is Europe’s most active volcano, seen from almost the entirety of the island. The soils here are a combination of black volcanic ash and sand which are fine grained, well drained and almost silty, with lots of lava rocks, with the vines usually being steep and terraced in classic fashion. Massimiliano Calabretta, a part-time college professor at the University of Genova, says his wines are inspired by the wines of Barolo, and while most critics find Nerello Mascalese to be more Pinot Noir or Burgundy like in style, though with the heavy volcanic spiciness, Calabretta is more keen to make his in a more Nebbiolo like way, extracting more tannin and then maturing them longer. A rarity in the Calabretta lineup is the old vine Bianco made from mainly Carricante, that is interplanted with a tiny amount of Minella Bianca, a grape that helps for its acidity, which is aged in a combo of tank and neutral wood and is wildly good white that I try also not to miss. The signature wine, Calabretta’s Nerello Mascalese Vigne Vecchie or just VV, which I have been lucky enough to try a few times, is from 80 year old vines set on black lava soils and gets primary and secondary fermentation in stainless before being aged in large Slavonian oak casks for between 36-42 months, it is an awesome, iconic and monumental wine that should be on your bucket list, with this Rosé being a good tease to get you primed.
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Anthill Farms, Pinot Noir, Campbell Ranch Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
The outstanding dark garnet 2015 Anthill Farms Campbell Ranch Pinot has really evolved well in bottle, and now in 2023 it is showing everything you’d want from a maturing wine with sultry array of flavors and aromatics, this is beautiful and transparent stuff that reminds me a lot of the recently tasted Domaine Dujac Chambolle-Musigny showing ripe fruit, savory elements and expressive wild herbs, woody earthiness and enchanting florals. Satiny and supple on the medium bodied palate, there’s still a vibrant freshness due to this vineyards cool climate location near Annapolis on the far west Sonoma Coast, which always retains natural acidity. A minimalist approach in the cellar and gentle handling of these exceptional grapes are an Anthill Farms signature, along with employing indigenous yeast and partial whole cluster fermentation(s), and the wines see lengthy maceration periods with a gentle handmade feel in small lots. The aging is done in mostly used French oak, all to promote terroir, elegance and Pinot purity, which is extremely evident here in this nicely maturing 2015 Campbell Ranch. The Campbell Ranch Vineyard, once farmed by the late Ulises Valdez, is true maritime site, much like Hirsch, one of the state’s best spots for Pinot, and McDougall Ranch, made famous by Jamie Kutch, elevation also helps, which is close to 750 feet up, rising just above the fog, while staying cool. Campbell Ranch was originally planted in 2000 with a selection of Dijon 667 and 777 clones on ancient low vigor marine sediment soils that reduce yields and add depth and concentration, making for taut dark wines that take time to develop fully, but well worth the wait as seen here!
As mentioned here, Anthill Farms got its start when Webster Marquez, Anthony Filiberti, and David Low crossed paths while working at Williams-Selyem, they kept in touch and a few years as cellar rats in California, Oregon, and Virginia they started the cult Pinot label Anthill Farms in 2004. They have made a name for themselves by focusing on mostly single site Pinots from cooler vineyards in California’s western Sonoma Coast as well as Mendocino, along with some Chardonnay and northern Rhone style Syrah, which I really love. Filiberti has grown into one of California’s best winemakers, with his gifted touch with Pinot, and he also has made in recent years, the wines at the famous Hirsch Vineyards. His work at Anthill Farms showcases his talent with much like his contemporaries Ross Cobb, John Raytek of Cerritas, Jamie Kutch and Jason Drew, and over the last decade his wines have been some of the most prized and sought after in the state. This Campbell Ranch, the Peters Vineyard and their Comptche Ridge, usually are my most favorites in the Anthill Farms collection, but I am as mentioned a big fan of the Syrah too, these are wines I cannot resist, thanks to my friend Alex Lallos for sharing his last bottle with me, especially as I have finished off all my 2014, 2015 and 2016s, which had been saving. Never easy to find, the Anthill Farms wines are coveted prizes and enthusiast offerings that really are distinctively different from each site they use, with this Campbell showing brambly spices and a touch of celery seed with a core of cherry, plum and strawberry fruits, and it opens up with wilted roses, saline, black tea, subtle oak and lingering cranberry. While absolutely seductive on its own, it will pair well with a variety of cuisine choices from blackened salmon and ahi to game birds, this 2015 is in a fabulous window, time to pop the corks on this one.
($54 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2021 Domaine Vincent Dampt, Chablis “Côte de Lechet’ Premier Cru, White Burgundy, France.
I was treated to a brand new producer from Chablis by the guys at the I. Brand and Family Winery, who are real enthusiasts themselves, and I was delighted by this Domaine Vincent Dampt Premier Cru Côte de Lechet and the vintage, it was also the first chance to taste a 2021 Chablis, and while not as dense and complex as 2020, it was really good and an exciting crisp mineral driven Chardonnay. Poured to me by Ryan Kobza, winemaker for his own Kobza Wines as well as at Ian Brand’s winery, this Dampt Côte de Lechet is ultra pale greenish/gold in the glass and full of bright acidity with flinty aromas and citrus led fruit with lemon/lime and subtle orchard fruits on the racy, stony, and medium bodied palate, it is fresh and transparent, showcasing its terroir as expected with wet rock and oyster shells lingering on the saline rich finish. This wine begs for sea food and or creamy farm cheeses, where its dynamic energy can be put to good use, I enjoyed this very much and found it to be an excellent value and I can’t wait to explore more of Vincent’s Chablis! For old world Chardonnay and Chablis fans, this is a label to search out and I suggest grabbing both 2020 and 2021 from this producer and in particular this Cru.
The Beaune trained Vincent Dampt, who got his start in around 2002, comes from a family with a long history in the region and a tradition of winemaking, with his importer Skurnik adding that in fact both Vincent’s father, Daniel Dampt, and grandfather, Jean Defaix, own highly-regarded estates in Chablis. In 2004 Dampt was gifted some small plot and began his own Domaine using these vineyard sites on the left side of the famous Serein River, which all on the classic Kimmeridgian soils, a mixture of clay, chalk and marine fossils that play such a huge role in these wines. Vincent’s vines are mature, averaging over 40 years old, and he farms them all sustainably to producer small natural yields that adds to the depth in his wines, which usually only stainless steel. For his Côte de Lechet, which enjoys a ripe southeast exposure and has mainly 55 year old vines, Dampt used all native yeasts for fermentation and was aged 80% in stainless and 20% in used wood, employing four year old 350L barrels for this lively Premier Cru that just barley shows the texture of the oak. The lesser known The Côte de Lechet vineyard, which dates back to the 1400s, with a total of 120 acres, sits in sunny spot, just above the small village of Milly, on a steep, southeast-facing slope backing up to a forest and is capable of some quality, as seen here. This site has an underground following and after tasting this one you can see why.
($36 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2019 Domaine Eden, Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Tasted blind, I found this dark ruby hued wine to be beautiful, pure and silky, maybe obviously a California or new world wine, it showed a distinctive earthiness and complexity that you’d expect from a Burgundy with restrained oak use and a nice lift of acidity, making it a fabulous Pinot Noir, very enjoyable and complete now and in the short term, a very impressive showing for the “Baby” Mount Eden. Satiny layers of black cherry, spiced plum, red currant and grilled orange fruits unfold sublimely on the medium bodied and richly flavored palate along with baking spices, black tea, light savory elements, mineral tones and a pretty floral rose petal dimension, lingering on with a hint of wild mushroom and an echoing of kirsch. When in doubt, this wine is always the answer and a savvy bargain, it gives a lot for the asking price it satisfies the core desires of any Pinot lover, dollar for dollar it is one of the best wines for the money in California, and it hints at the greatness of the top Estate bottling here at the famous Mount Eden. The legendary winemaker Jeffery Patterson and family make their Domaine Eden Pinot just like the Mount Eden Estate wine with natural indigenous fermentation(s), gentle maceration(s) and employing French Burgundy barrels for aging, with as Patterson adds, no fining, filtration or any other manipulation, to allow terroir and the house style to shine thorough. Mount Eden is now part of Slow Wine that highlights organic and authentic wineries worldwide and second generation winemaker Reid Patterson has joined his father in the cellar setting up a smooth transition here to the future, certainly guaranteeing continued quality and tradition here.
This Domaine Eden Pinot Noir comes from, as the winery says, a mosaic of different selections and clones grown at the Domaine Eden property and includes modern Dijon clones 777, 667 and 828 that reside alongside the historic California selections planted here, with of course the Mount Eden clone, as well as Calera and Swan clones. Patterson notes that each of these parcels are farmed to Mount Eden’s strict standards of sustainability, dry farming and low yields, which make this wine so compelling and such an exceptional value, especially in vintages like 2018 and this delicious and supple 2019. As noted here and beyond, Mount Eden, originally founded by Martin Ray, is perched at 2000 feet overlooking Silicon Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountain Appellation, not far from Saratoga, about 50 miles south of San Francisco with Franciscan shale soils and set on a cool, exposed mountaintop. Originally founded back in 1945, the Mount Eden estate is recognized as one of the original “boutique” California winery properties, focusing on small lots of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, which are all highly coveted and age worthy wines. Mount Eden’s fame really became a reality under Jeffery Patterson, who effectively took over the estate and winemaking in 1981, he and his wife Ellie rejuvenated the property and have produced some of California’s most iconic wines. In 2007 the Patterson’s purchased the former Cinnabar estate, a neighboring mountain side vineyard, which has become the source for the Domaine Eden bottlings like this one. Over the years I’ve grown more and more fond of Mount Eden and their set of wines, especially as mentioned, the Estate offerings, but these Domaine Eden wines, easier on the wallet, have definitely got better and better over the years and I highly recommend them.
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2020 François Cazin – Le Petit Chambord, Cour-Cheverny Blanc, Loire Valley, France.
The bright and crisp 100% Romorantin Cour-Cheverny from François Cazin – Le Petit Chambord is a lovely example of this unique Loire Valley varietal with fresh citrus, green apple, white peach and a touch of tropical fruit on the light, smoothly rounded and mineral driven palate. The lemon/lime and wet stones here make this white great with creamy goat cheese and or briny sea foods and with air a bit more texture appears allowing some cuisine flexibility, there is a lot to like here with delicate spicy elements adding complexity. Romorantin is a sibling of Chardonnay, and was once very widely grown in the Loire region, but it is now almost only seen in the Cour-Cheverny AOC, making it very much a rarity, it sometimes produces an intense wine, though always with a steely charm and with the limestone bedrock under soils composed of silica and clay there is some resemblance to Chablis in good vintages. This pale straw colored 2020 is maybe a touch riper than I’m used to with this grape and it has a pleasing mouth feel and a lingering tangerine note that I very much enjoyed, this is one for those that are looking to explore in unfamiliar areas of the Loire Valley, beyond Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. Not that easy to find, François Cazin is imported by Louis/Dressner, and I recommend chasing down his wines, especially this one.
Most of my experience with Romorantin has been via the Cour-Cheverny La Porte Doree by Philippe Tessier, a natural wines vigneron, and his style is a bit more oxidative, while this Le Petit Chambord by François Cazin is more fresh and has beautiful clarity of fruit and flavors. Cazin uses vines that are between 40 to over 90 years old, hence the concentration and he ferments his Romorantin with a direct pressing of the juice in stainless steel. After primary fermentation the Cour-Cheverny sees an elevage is in used 300L barrels for six months, then racked over to underground vats until the following spring when it is bottled to preserve vibrancy. This cuvée does complete full malolactic and only sees a small dose of SO2 at bottling and is unfined and unfiltered to showcase every nuance of terroir and varietal purity in a wine that expresses its fruit and gives a nice textural quality, which is all evident in this pretty 2020 version. Created in 1993, Cheverny is one of the most recent appellations in the Loire Valley, but wine has been made here since the 6th century, it is not far from Touraine, where you find Pinot Noir, Gamay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Malbec (Cot), Cabernet(s) and Romorantin as well as a few other grapes. It is worth mentioning that this area has blended wines, especially with the reds, along with classic single varietal offerings, such as this one, making for some very interesting wines, all of which are mostly acid driven and quaffable in style, this is probably why it is such a hotbed for natural winemaking. I’ve only had Cazin’s wines a few times, but I look forward to trying a few more soon!
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2020 Domaine Weinbach, Les Vignes du Prêcheur, White Field Blend, Vin d’Alsace AOC, France.
The latest vintage Les Vignes du Prêcheur, which is single vineyard co-fermented white field blend of 5 native Alsatian grape varietals, with about 40% Riesling, 30% Auxerrois, 20% Pinot Gris, 5% Muscat and 5% Sylvaner continues to really impress me after first tasting the 2019 last year, with this year’s being even more complex and expressive. This particular vineyard, as mentioned, is known as the Preacher’s Vineyard, hence the name, has mixed grape make up and sits just below the famous Grand Cru Kaefferkopf site that is set on sandy and clay based soils, which makes for expressive and ripe fruit. Like last year, you’ll find the Les Vignes du Prêcheur, with its fine floral and mineral aromatics, shows spiced jasmine flowers along with wet stones, peach on its crisp dry medium bodied palate that adds green apple, almonds, quince, spearmint, chalk and subtle tropical essences. Not as chiseled as the single varietal wines in the Weinbach lineup or as full bodied as the cru offerings, this wine fits nicely in the collection and allows for wonderful early and easy drinking, but with the grace and complexity you’d expect from this fabulous label. Field blends are still more of a rarity in Alsace, but were popular in ancient times, and while Weinbach is new to them there are some amazing versions, as I have noted before, like Marcel Deiss’ Grand Cru bottlings and Marc Tempe’s wines to name a few. Respected for their traditional wines, especially the Rieslings, Weinbach has surprised many with a new “Orange Wine” made from skin contact Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris, which is very interesting as well.
The Les Vignes du Prêcheur vineyard, which is In the process of certification and has been converted to all organic and biodynamic farming methods, and they get a short pruning of the vines to keep yields low, to promote concentration and allow for aromatic intensity. To make this wine, Weinbach uses a gentle whole cluster pressing of the grapes in a soft pneumatic press, with the fermentation being done exclusively with indigenous yeasts and the aging done in large neutral oak casks. The Les Vignes du Prêcheur got an elevage on the lees of close to 8 months before bottling without fining, as Weinbach is all vegan, it saw just a light filtration for clarity and stabilization. Tasted with some other 2020s, this wine was a stand out for the quality and value, along with Weinbach’s Clos des Capucins Pinot Gris, which itself is a killer bottles, delivering Riesling like vigor and depth, it is a wine that I will given full notes on soon. The Domaine Weinbach, one of Alsace’s great estates, and a favorite of mine, was originally founded by the Order of Capuchin monks back in 1612, property was a walled in and a totally self contained site making some of the best wine in the region for the better part of a hundred years. The “Clos des Capuchins” is the vineyard that surrounds the domaine, it sits directly below the prestigious Schlossberg Cru (the first terroir in Alsace to receive the status of Grand Cru), along with the Grand Cru Furstentum (known for Gewürztraminer and as well as to the adjacent Altenbourg Cru (known for Pinot Gris) vineyard that rises above the Weinbach clos. The domaine is in the heart of Kayserberg’s hills and its valleys are some of the most picturesque places in Europe, and the wines here are, like this one, exceptionally well made and beautiful.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2020 Desire Lines Wine Co, Syrah, Shake Ridge Ranch, Amador County, Sierra Foothills.
The Shake Ridge Syrah from winemaker Cody Rasmussen is an ultra expressive California wine and this alluringly purple 2020 edition is wonderfully concentrated, supple and complex with a heightened perfume and a long beautiful finish. Rasmussen sourced the grapes from the Shake Ridge Ranch, in Amador County, which was first planted in 2003, and as he says, under the careful eye of Ann Kraemer, one of the state’s best vineyard managers. Kraemer worked for many years as a vineyard manager and consulting viticulturalist for the likes of Domaine Chandon, Swanson, Cain, Calera, Hobbs, and others, as well as putting time in the southern hemisphere too, where she has gained incredible expertise in growing outstanding grapes, as this wine demonstrates. Even though not an old site, the fruit from here is clearly spectacular and Cody has done a masterful job of putting into the bottle here with opulent black boysenberry, blueberry, damson plum, black cherry and Mission fig fruits on the full bodied palate, in this almost Guigal style Cote-Rotie like wine that also has crushed violets, anise, sandalwood, peppery spices and lingering creme de cassis. Tasting this Syrah, makes understand why it is one of the jewels in the Desire Lines lineup and one of Rasmussen’s signature offerings, along with his Cornas like Griffin’s Lair Syrah, it is one of the best wines for the money I’ve tasted in recent years. Rasmussen, who is also a winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson’s Bedrock Wine Co, is inspired by old world wines and techniques, like here he used plenty of whole-cluster, native yeasts and ages in larger used wood, preferring Puncheons of 400L and 500L (sizes) for his Syrahs and his Mourvèdre wines. The maceration included lots of punch downs and full extraction that shows in the depth and intensity of flavors and the umami background with subtle briny/meaty notes adds to the thrills and wow factor here, in this beauty.
Cody Rasmussen says, the 2020 vintage in the Sierra Foothills of Amador County was a warm one, and his thinks you actually can sense the warm August nights in the lush mouthfeel and extra dash of olive brine on the nose, here in his Shake Ridge Ranch Vineyard Syrah, which as I have also mentioned is his most exotic effort. Rasmussen goes on to say, the vines at Shake Ridge are planted in the once gold-rich soils that birthed the modern state of California, and are cared for by one of the finest farmers in California with the help of her whole family. Ann Kraemer, who is legend in her field, continues a long tradition of pioneering, scientifically-minded viticulturalists in Amador County, and she supplies grapes to some of California’s most exciting winemakers. The wines from here are rich and ripe, but also sublimely balanced due to the chilly nights here, Cordy explains the hot daytime temperatures are moderated by upslope breezes, and once the sun sets temperatures fall dramatically, by as much as 50F, giving the vines loads of refreshment, as colder temperatures cascade down from the Sierras.There is a distinct terroir here and Kraemer farms to enhance its influence, as Rasmussen goes on, the rich geological history of the Sierra Foothills is evident at every roadcut revealing schist, Mariposa slate, greenstone, and marble, and in the vineyard rows at Shake Ridge, all of this plays a part, and where sizable chunks of quartz just litter the ground. With air the Shake Ridge Syrah adds salty meaty notes and the florals burst from the glass, all folding together with the natural fruit density in the mouth, making for a gorgeous wine that lacks for nothing and is an outrageous value, super impressive, especially in this warm year and one that saw other regions suffer with smoke. This inky 2020 Shake Ridge has a burst of natural acidity and at about 14% it feels prestigious rather than big or porty, highlighting the quality of the grapes and the winemaker’s gift. Rasmussen as you will know by now, if you’ve read my grapelive.com reviews, also makes some of the greatest California Rieslings you’ll find and I highly recommend getting on the mailing list here!
($36 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2016 Bonny Doon, Old Telegram, Mourvèdre, Contra Costa County.
This dark garnet and ruby edged 2016 Old Telegram is lovely aromatic and firmly structured, as Mourvèdre should be with crushed blackberries, violets, dark cherry, currant and savory elements leading the way and while California expressive there is some old world rustic charm present, making for a delicious solo varietal effort. Taking on more concentration and richness with air, adding a juicy plummy quality, some cedar wood, anise and grilled herbs, there is also nice contrast here with a meaty, spicy and sanguine edginess adding to the overall appeal. The Boony Doon Old Telegram, which was sadly discontinued after the 2018 vintage, is 100% old vine Mourvèdre from Contra Costa is an under the radar wine that is a tribute to the tannic and powerful Bandol reds, from the classic producers in the region which is on the Mediterranean sea in France’s picturesque Provence, a far cry from the deep sands, ancient decomposed granite soils, of the Delta in California’s out of the way Contra Costa, where incredible old head trained vines have flourished for well over a hundred years. In recent years we’ve seen a renewed interest in this region and the quality of the wines from here has reached new levels, especially after Bedrock’s Morgan Twain-Peterson MW took over the amazing Envagelho Vineyard after many years of working with the prior owner to rejuvenate it and its 130 plus year old vines. While Randall was one of the first to do a single varietal Mourvèdre in California and in particular from here, there are now a whole new legion of young winemakers doing it and his legacy will live on, even if he has ceased to make this Old Telegram, sadly it has even been scrubbed from history by the new owners of Bonny Doon, who it seems have taken down almost all mention of it on their website, which still has a huge collection of Randall’s blog posts and winemaking articles. While disappointed that this wine is done and dusted, Grahm’s pioneering legacy lives on in any or all bottles that are tucked away and for the passed touch, as the soul of this wine certainly lives on!
Over the years Randall has adjusted his winemaking, going from traditional to ultra modern and back again, sometimes on a whim, but for this wine he kept pretty true and almost old school, it was never a bottling to be drunk young and usually displayed the most fiercest of tannin of all of his wines. I always remember it being dark and blooding with more grip than was common in California at the time. Grahm was always railing against the high percentage of TCA found it natural cork, which produces the dreaded corkiness flaw in wine, and was one of the first premium producers in California to switch to screw caps, and his Old Telegram, from the most recent vintages, proudly sports its stelvin closure, guaranteeing its non spoiled state for anyone lucky enough to have this now rare bottle! The Old Telegram label identifies it as Mataro, an alias under which this thick-skinned, late-ripening Mourvedre sometimes goes under, as seen on Ridge’s versions. The Mourvèdre grape, as grown in California is in good hands though and we will see many exciting versions to be continuing for the foreseeable future with exceptional single varietal and blended wines coming from the likes of Ian Brand, who once worked in Randall’s lab, Hardy Wallace of Extradimensional Wine Co. Yeah!, Tablas Creek, who brought over their Beaucastel clone, the mentioned Bedrock Wine Co., below Rhone Ranger John Alban, Ridge Vineyards and Tegan Passalacqua’s Sandlands Vineyards to name just a few to look for. Randall Grahm first created the 100-percent Mourvèdre Old Telegram wine originally as en hommage to (or teasingly) the venerable Chateauneuf-du-Pape estate Domaine de Vieux Télégraphe, who used a high percentage of Mourvèdre in their classic bottlings, even though Grahm’s version is more Bandol like. Randall, never one to miss an exciting opportunity, long ago discovered the quality of these Contra Costa old vines, finding these sandy vineyards of Antioch and Oakley many years back when he began working with old-vine Mourvèdre for this almost cult wine bottling of Old Telegram, as well as using some for the iconic Cigare Volant, his classic California version of a Chateauneuf du Pape. Mostly known for exploration of Rhone style wines, so this Old Telegram is more based on the mentioned Bandol, the signature wine of Provence and maybe to the legendary Domaine Tempier as well.
A southern California native, Randall Grahm, was born in Los Angeles in 1953 and attended the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he was a permanent Liberal Arts major, and the place he fell in love with and located to after becoming a winemaker. After college he, as he says, found himself working at the Wine Merchant in Beverly Hills, where besides sweeping floors, he got the chance to try some of the world’s greatest wines, including a range of classic French offerings, which would influence his own wines later in life. While first and foremost a Burgundy lovers and wanting to make the great new world version, he became much more famous for his artistic Rhone style wines, most notably the mentioned Cigare Volant, an ode to Chateauneuf du Pape. Lesser discussed is Randall’s adventures and faith in almost unheard of grapes and his work with out of the way vineyard sites, including now widely known historic Besson and Enz Vineyards, as well as making Grenache before it was cool. Randall’s residual effect of the California wine scene, his visionary ideas that now have come to fruition, has been his influence on the current winemakers doing Rhone style wines and giving a push to seeing these varietals planted in the central coast, believing in the potential for them in Monterey County. He pioneered Picpoul and Vermentino, as well as cool climate Syrah, along with other Rhone Rangers, and has earned a place in the state’s winemaker hall of fame for his incredible body of work, which includes this Old Telegram Mourvèdre. In fact, as Grahm notes, he was inducted into the Vintner’s Hall of Fame in 2010 at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, though he was not all that pleased at the time, since most of the inductees were already long dead and Randall has much more to do and give, including his 10,000 new grapes project and, as he continued, to finally produce a world class estate wine at his extraordinary property in San Juan Bautista, which he calls Popelouchum, (the Mutsun word for “paradise,”) where his final chapter is set to begin and most likely end. After tasting early samples and a few insightful conversations with Randall, I have total believe that he will be hugely successful here, and I look forward to watching this new adventure almost as much as I love his old wines, like this one!
($50 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2020 Moreau-Naudet, Chablis, Vaillons Premier Cru, White Burgundy, France.
The 2020 looks like an exceptionally exciting vintage for Chablis and this Vaillons 1er Cru from Moreau-Naudet is a stunning and crystalline effort with chiseled details, mineral driven personality and surprising depth and concentration, more in line with a Grand Cru, making it an awesome value. The nose is flinty, with wet stones, hazelnut and citrus blossom with hints of orchard fruits, leading to a pretty expansive palate of lemon, apple, pear and tangy peach fruits with touches of clove spice, yeast, quince and golden fig. This is far richer and impactful that expected, but still is full of life and vibrant energy, thanks to its natural acidity, it’s unmistakably Chablis, lingering with oyster shell, exotic passionfruit, a faint wood note and bitter lime. The texture, in this Moreau-Naudet Vaillons, is just the right amount of creamy and the mouth feel is everything you’d want in a serious Premier Cru and while young, it delivers the goods and will be easily enjoyed, especially with sea foods and or soft cheeses, I can’t wait to try it with sushi like Toro and or Saba, raw Tuna and Mackerel respectively. Moreau-Naudet’s holdings in Vaillons are tiny, consisting of 35-50 year old vines set on the historic Kimmeridgian limestone and some rocky top soil that gives the terroir influence and class here. While Dauvissat and Raveneau are nose bleed priced these days, Moreau-Naudet continues to be an enthusiasts go to for a bargain in the region, and I suggest you grab as many of these 2020s that you can afford and find, especially this pale Vaillons, which I could not put down.
Things at this estate have not been easy and Virginie Moreau, as noted here, has bravely carried on after the tragic death of her husband Stéphane in 2016 and continues the excellence found at Moreau-Naudet with these 2020s even upping the game to the next level, an amazing achievement and act of courage. As mentioned in prior reviews, this is a winery that prides itself on transparency and old world charm, of the brilliant Moreau-Naudet lineup, the regular Chablis AC is the only wine in their cellar that sees any new oak, helping provide the seasoning for those barrels which end up in the Premier Cru program after the first fill, as was the case here with the Vaillons 1er Cru that saw no new wood. Even so, as Moreau-Naudet’s importer Grand Cru Selections notes, it is always just a few new barrels in that regular bottling and it is not overtly obvious in that wine. These pristine Chardonnays, that show a saline crispness, see a fermentation, at Moreau-Naudet, that is always natural and spontaneous with indigenous yeasts, followed by a long maceration and elevage on lees, which gives a fantastic result in the wine’s textural quality and richness. The Chablis are usually aged for an average of 18 months, depending on the vintage, in a combination of stainless steel and 600-liter French oak barrels and bottled largely unfiltered. The iconic chalky element is well integrated into these wines and this vintage highlights its sense of place to perfection. In the past I’ve noted that these sublime pale straw colored Moreau-Naudet Chablis are excellent as both an aperitif and main event wine, but really I wish I had bought more of this one and I am thrilled to try the basic Chablis too, bravo is well deserved for this captivating effort!
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2014 Chateau de L’Echarderie, Quarts de Chaume, Grand Cru, Loire Valley, France.
The beautifully crafted Quarts de Chaume from Chateau de L ‘Echarderie and vigneron Pascal Laffourcade shows a perfectly proportioned sweet palate of lemon curd, peach, quince, dried pineapple and apricot preserves along with classic straw and honeycomb, making it a fabulous dessert wine with lovely concentration, complexity, an elegant round mouth feel and a nice cut of acidity that keeps things in balance. It’s a shame people are so afraid of sweet wines, because wines like this brilliant effort, when paired with the right dishes can be truly extraordinary as this one was with foie gras and a few other goodies, including farm cheese and even a caviar dish. Founded by André Laffourcade in 1958, Chateau de L’Echarderie, uniquely, focuses entirely on sweet wines. After which In 1970, his son Pascal succeeded him taking over the winemaking duties at their Quarts de Chaume estate, Chateau de l’Echarderie, where for almost half a century he has produced exceptional late harvest Chenin Blancs. The Loire’s Quarts de Chaume, Vouvray and Bonnezeaux produce wines that easily rival Sauternes, Barsac and Tokay for quality, though sometimes they get overlooked and they remain incredibly good values.
The Chateau de L’Echarderie sits on 10 hectares of brown schist and sandstone soils in the Quarts de Chaume Grand Cru region, which comprises terroirs on both banks of the Layon River, is owned by the Laffourcade family who have serious holdings here in the Anjou area, including Quarts de Chaume, Bonnezeaux, and Savennières. The Chateau’s Chenin Blanc vines are on slopes with a ripe south/southeast exposure and has optimal conditions for the growth of the noble rot, Botrytis Cinerea, which make these Quarts de Chaume wines some of the greatest sweet wines in the world. To make their Grand Cru Quarts de Chaume the winery hand picks their Chenin, from the schist and sandstone soils here, with grapes seeing passerillé, affected by Botrytis with the must having a minimum sugar content of 323 g/l. All per the rules of the AOC and only 11% alcohol is required here, leaving a good dose of residual sugar not fermented. The wine is soft pressed to barrel at low temperatures and is matured, usually these fermentations take up to six months and the aging goes on well over a year, after which it is cellared for many additional years before release. Just starting to evolve, the golden hued L‘Echarderie with just a hint of oxidation and with some subtle truffle, mineral tones and lingering vanilla oak notes. There’s a ton to admire here, and like Huet’s gorgeous Vouvray Cuvée Constance Moelleux, it deserves much more attention!
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Sandlands Vineyards, Grenache, Besson Vineyard, Santa Clara County.
The 2019 Grenache Besson Vineyard by Sandlands, made by Tegan Passalacqua, who is Turley’s head winemaker and vineyard manager, is bright fruited and aromatic with a medium body and feels a bit lighter and fresher than the prior vintage, but just is as delicious. Just 4 barrels were produced by Sandlands, coming from over a hundred years old vines planted in 1910 on the Besson Vineyard’s loamy deposits, which is influenced by the Uvas Creek. Passalacqua describes this 2019 as having crystalline cherry, dried flowers, plum flavors, which I easily found as well, along with raspberry, pomegranate and a hint of jolly ranger, along with lavender, anise and a dusting of spices. At just 13.4% natural alcohol, this Besson Grenache is an inviting vivid ruby magenta in the glass, it is supple and ripe, making it easy and quaffable in a very appealing style. This year’s version drinks with the elegance of a Pinot Noir and will go nicely with a variety of cuisines, it is more delightful than powerful, very much in the theme of Passalacqua’s effort to craft wines that reflect California’s history and not show any pretense. There’s a sense of youthful juiciness that makes this wine ready as is, but I can see it aging nicely for another 3 to 5 years, though no patience is required to enjoy this well made Grenache.
The historic Besson Vineyard, set in Santa Clara County, is owned and farmed by third generation farmer George Besson Jr, was first planted to the Mission grape in the 1800s, with its its Grenache, planted on its own roots, going in around 1910, and it is this varietal that gets the most attention here. It has been the source of some outstanding wines, with this Grenache vineyard transmitting pure transparent flavors and is a unique terroir, as it does in Tegan Passalacqua’s Sandlands version. Most of this vineyard, which is organic, is set on gravelly soils with clay and loam and is only a stones throw from the border with the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA and sees a nice cooling influence from the Pacific and gets some marine layer fog at night early mornings. 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. The Sandlands wines are made with old school techniques using native yeasts and whole clusters with a very handmade approach and the wines see aging in, well seasoned, used barrels, again to promote clarity and a raw charm, as this fine Grenache shows. While pleasing on its own, this Grenache should be paired with food to show off its depth of character, going great with pork dishes and or meaty or mushroom pasta as well.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
Grapelive.com – January 2023
2018 Neethlingshof Estate Wine, The Caracal, Red Wine, Short Story Collection, Stellenbosch, South Africa.
The 2018 The Caracal Bordeaux style red blend from the Neethlingshof Wine Estate, a new winery for me, but one that has been around sine 1892 or so, is remarkably Medoc like, easily mistaken for an Haut-Medoc and or a Saint-Julien Bordeaux with hints of graphite, gravelly loam and black olive to go with some very elegant blackberry, plum, mulberry and kirsch on the medium/full palate. Not all that surprising, but tasted blind, I really guessed left bank here with this old world style effort, it is made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec that all play roles with fine grained tannins, a light earthiness, toffee/cedary wood, tobacco leaf, brown spices and dried dark flowers perfectly accenting the core fruit. Those that like Calon-Ségur, Gloria, Branaire-Ducru and Beychevelle will find this Stellenbosch region wine a hugely rewarding and generous bottle of wine and a great value, plus it should age another 5 to 10 years.
The Cabernet Sauvignon led The Caracal Red was picked by varietal and fermented separately using 100% de-stemmed grapes in tank where it saw a selected culture (yeast) for a quick primary and secondary fermentation before being are in toasty/smoky French oak for 12 months, with a selection of new and one time filled hogs head 300L barrels being employed here, after which the different components were blended. Each vintage is slightly different on the final percentages, but usually it sees 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, with this 2018 having a good dose of Merlot, Cabernet Franc (which doesn’t always make an appearance) and Petit Verdot, along with a very small splash of Malbec, all adding to the wine’s complexity. Neethlingshof’s winemaker De Wet Viljoen has produced a really good, ripe and nicely structured offering and it was made adhering to vegan guidelines, for those that search those out. The nose and profile of this The Caracal red again scream of classic Bordeaux and in the glass its deep garnet color is very inviting, it is a wine that will impress for quality and depth, especially with winter cuisine with the winery suggesting it being paired with brisket, casserole and or hard cheeses.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2020 Bodegas y Vinedos Raul Perez, Mencia, La Vitoriana Lomas de Valtuille, La Vizcaina, Bierzo, Spain.
I love this Bierzo La Vitoriana Lomas de Valtuille Mencia with its raw earthy character and complexity with this 2020 showing all of the elements that make it so compelling with a beautiful dark garnet hue in the glass, a dry medium bodied palate and pretty aromatics this vintage very much impresses me, it feels like a step up from the 2016 I last tried back in 2020. The core in this dark fruited and taut wine is black cherry, plum and red berry fruits and is nicely accented by subtle leather, sweet and sour herbs, cedar and dark floral notes with a touch of grainy stoniness and mineral tones. Coming from hardened clay and sandy granite soils in the Valtuille, the La Vitoriana is most all Mencía, but winemaker Raul Perez usually includes other grapes in a field blend, with maybe some Bastardo (Trousseau), Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet), Doña Blanca and Palomino (both white grapes) being included. The grapes are all co-fermented using whole-cluster and indigenous yeasts with primary being done typically in large oak vats with two month macerations before elevage in well seasoned French oak barrels, then bottled unfined and unfiltered. Raul Perez, who I’ve been lucky enough to taste with on a few occasions, is the Godfather of Mencia and is regarded as one of Spain’s greatest winemakers, noted for his natural methods and traditional approach.
The iconic Spanish winemaker, Raúl Pérez, as noted here in prior reviews, is one of the world’s most admired vignerons known for his intuitive winemaking genius and natural focus crafting an amazing set of wines from his base in Valtuille de Abajo in Spain’s Bierzo region. Perez, as noted here at Grapelive, who made his first commercial wine at the age of 22, started his own Bodegas y Vinedos winery in 2005 and while producing his legendary wines he has also offered guidance and has been a great mentor to many rising talents throughout Spain, including Veronica Ortega and Pedro Rodriguez of Guimaro, as well as many others. He has also championed the native varietals found in Rias Baixas, Ribeira Sacra, Tierra de Leon and of course in his native Bierzo in the greater Castilla Y Leon zone, but is best known for his work with Mencia, a dark skinned grape usually found in Galicia, like the Ribeiro Sacra, here in Bierzo and in cooler parts of Portugal, it makes for a dark colored red wine with bright acidity and has been compared to Cab Franc, Gamay, Syrah and Pinot Noir depending on its terroir and vintage. This 2020, which is like blending Chinon and Gigondas, is tannic and structured, but pleasingly rounded in the mouth, with a bit of a bite to it, it gets better and better as it opens up and is other worldly with simple country style cuisine, think winter stews, goat shoulder and or lamb dishes, and or hard cheeses, drink it over the next 5 years. One note that should be made clear, is that this wine is a food wine, it folds together best with a meal, making a night and day difference to your experience, not something to forget with these Perez wines.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Sullivan Vineyards, Estate Red “Coeur de Vigne” Rutherford, Napa Valley.
One of the most highly acclaimed vintages in recent memory and showing exactly what you’d expect from a top estate in Napa, the 2016 Sullivan Vineyards Coeur de Vigne is a rich and concentrated Cabernet Sauvignon led red blend that delivers a full bodied palate of black raspberry, plum, kirsch, mocha and creme e cassis in a wine with a supple underlying ripe tannic structure and displaying pretty floral, sweet oak and anise accents along with a little bite on the finish. This was the first time in many years, if not decades, of sampling the wines of Sullivan Vineyards and even though it is quite oak driven, I was happily impressed and enjoyed it for its sense of place and the added complexity of the blend its self which features a good dose of Cab Franc that shows up perfectly in the profile, with flashes of elements that reminds me somewhat of Dalla Valle’s legendary Maya, which is high praise for me. In most vintages they would usually be more Cabernet Sauvignon in the final blend, but I really like the dimension and nuance of this version and I don’t think it gives up anything in the overall quality here. I think to get the best here, you’ll want to enjoy this Sullivan Coeur de Vigne Red with a meaty meal, it will perform well with a prime-rib and or herb crusted rack of lamb.
The Coeur de Vigne, heart of the vine, is a beautiful Bordeaux blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec, and 2% Petite Verdot all grown on the highly regarded Sullivan Estate in the Rutherford AVA of Napa Valley, grown on the “Rutherford Dust” and gravelly loams on the famous bench between Oakville and St. Helena, where Cabernet is king for obvious reasons, it is one of the greatest spots on earth for this varietal, producing a very distinctive style, maybe Napa Valley’s version of Margaux. Heros of historic Napa Valley winemaking, namely Captain Niebaum (Inglenook) and Georges de Latour (BV), landed in Rutherford in the late 1800’s and turned this farming region into the center of America’s elite wines. The Sullivan Vineyards was purchased from the famous Galleron family by James O’Neil Sullivan, a visionary who with the encouragement of friend and legendary winemaker André Tchelistchef, also of BV fame, planted Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon vines. These, plus the other Bordeaux varietals were planted in gravelly-sandy loams here that was the historic divide between the two original land grants that made up the old Napa Valley. Sullivan follows modern trends now with ripe grapes and lots of toasty new French oak, making for a wine of more immediate pleasure and chocolatey soft tannins, but there is nothing to be disappointed with here, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($90 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2020 Turley Wine Cellar, Zinfandel, Duarte, Contra Costa County.
There’s a lot to love in Turley’s latest set of wines, and these 2020 vintage offerings are some of my favorite Zins of the year and while lots of problems from smoke affected 2020s, Turley’s Zins, which were picked before any taint settled in and the fact that winemaker Tegan Passalacqua didn’t take any chances, were made from the most severe selections ever. This is great news for Turley fans, especially wines like this Duarte, which was crafted from only the best selections of old vine grapes and shows amazing purity, aromatics and a lush texture, but with a fine balance, spice, smooth wood and mineral accents. Loaded with black raspberry, currant and plum fruits, the Duarte Zinfandel, which comes from a collection of Contra Costa’s best vineyards set on the Delhi Blow Sand, deep decomposed granite soils, lingers on the palate with snappy briar, sandalwood and dark kirsch liqueur. This satiny dark purple bottling is moving up on my must have list in the Turley lineup, it is a stellar wine and has Tegan’s signature terroir driven character and classic Turley hedonism on the full bodied palate, this is absolutely delicious and impactful stuff.
The Duarte Zinfandel pays homage to Joe Duarte, who as a prominent grape grower in Contra Costa, was first person to introduce Larry Turley to the incredible vineyards of the Contra Costa. The wine, as Turley notes, is comprised of fruit from the turn-of-the-century vineyards, including Evangelo, Mori, Del Barba and Salvador, several are ungrafted and date back to the 1890s. Thanks to the windswept sandy soils and impressive age of the vines, this bottling delivers some of the softest, silkiest tannins Turley has ever seen in a Zinfandel, while still having structure and age worthiness. These Zin vines, with the oldest coming from an ungrafted 1890 parcel and the youngest being a plot planted in 1960, also include a few Carignane, Granache and Mataro plants interplanted here and are all traditionally head-trained, dry farmed and mostly organically farmed. For this Duarte the winemaking is the same as all of their Zinfandels with a native yeast fermentation and was aged 15 months in 80% used barrels with just 20% new and are a combination of American and French oak, with Passalacqua favoring the French oak, which was 80% of the lot, all of which allows for transparency as well as giving the wines a sense of luxurious mouth feel and clarity. Turley first made their Duarte in 1995 and continues today to be one of their most distinct examples, with 2018, 2019 and 2020 versions all being outstanding!
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2020 Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Vosne-Romanée, Red Burgundy, France.
The new Vosne-Romanée from Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey is noticeably plush, rich on the palate and luxuriously, almost, forward with classic Pinot fruit at its core and lovely aromatics, it is bang on right out of the bottle without a hint of reduction, as found in the PYCM whites, and is very pleasurable in its youthful form. The medium bodied palate is nicely detailed and elegantly structured showing layers of silky black cherry, vine picked raspberry, red currant and Moro orange fruits along with deep floral element with rose petal and violets, as well as chalky mineral, smoky vanilla and tea spices. This round and supple red Burgundy, coming from limestone and clay soils, feels very open knit and expressive, even without decanting and hides some of the underlying earthy qualities that should come through with age, some would enjoy this and think it was maybe a new world wine, but I think over the next 5 to 10 years its pedigree will shine through and there will be not mistaking it for what it is, a pure Vosne-Romanée, I only hope I get a another chance to try it with some age. Typically, for his Pinots, Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey uses a good percentage of whole cluster, up to 50%, and ferments them with native indigenous yeasts and allows a long evevage, around 18 to 24 months, in used French oak. With his village level bottlings he ages the wine with between 10% to 20% new wood and prefers the standard 228L barriques, rather than the larger format demi-muids he favors in his crystalline whites. The wines are all and always bottled unfined and unfiltered to preserve every nuance of the vintage and of the place.
Part of a Burgundy dynasty, Pierre-Yves Colin, who is the eldest son of legendary Marc Colin, has built a huge reputation for outstanding wines all on his own. It’s well noted, that after working as the winemaker at his father’s domaine from 1994 to 2005, he established his own domaine alongside his wife Caroline Morey, also a talented winemaker and part of another historic family in the region, from vineyards they inherited from those well know families, that are part of the fabric of French wine royalty. It’s not new news, but Pierre-Yves has become an icon in the Cote de Beaune and is one of Burgundy’s best producers, especially well regarded for his intense whites. His fanatical attention to detail in both cellar practices and with the farming, has helped make his wines some of the most coveted by collectors, wine industry pros and by other producers. Colin-Morey’s unique use of larger demi-muids barrels, and long elevage, makes each of the wines distinct, pure and with a transparent expression of its terroir, most clearly showcased in his mineral-driven Chardonnays, but not as well know in his reds too, though I always find them impeccably made and elegant, like this luxurious and floral Vosne-Romanée. The Saint-Aubin whites are still some of the greatest values in white Burgundy, while the upper end Meursault, Chassagne and Puligny Montrachet(s) are almost impossible to acquire here in the states, without an in with the importers or a famous restaurant. The reds, again, that sometimes get overlooked, are excellent and are lovely when they are young as this one was recently. The Vosne-Romanée village vines are in between Echezeaux and Nuits-Saint-Georges and just below the famed Romanée-Conti, La Tâche, Romanée-Saint-Vivant and Grands Echezeaux Grand Crus, to name a few in the neighborhood, and offer up some of the Cote de Nuits best values, like this one!
($139 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Domaine Giacometti, Patrimonio Rouge, Cuvée Sarah, Corsica, France.
Christian Giacometti’s wines are getting better and better with each vintage I try and this 2019 Patrimonio Cuvée is another fantastic effort from this domaine with rounded supple tannins and exciting dark berry fruits, mineral tones, pretty floral aromatics and a mix of spice and savory dryness. The palate is just about full, showing black raspberry, plum and black cherry and strawberry fruits, along with brambly and briar laced accents, including a hint of earth, tobacco, anise and subtle cedary wood. This dark ruby/garnet wine is a blend of 90% Niellucciu, 7% Sciaccarellu and 3% Grenache, grown on clay and granite soils, which is wonderfully fresh and textural in the mouth and fills out more completely when enjoyed with a meal, especially simple winter stews and grilled meats, as well as being terrific with hard cheeses. Kermit Lynch, the famed Berkeley importer, has really invested time and attention to these Corsican wines with many gems in his collection and Giacometti is one of the most authentic and offering good value for the money. After spending years of constant and heroic labor to make wine in an inhospitable land, as Kermit notes, Christian and now his daughter Sarah and son Simon have continue to produce unique and eminently drinkable Patrimonio, like this one. While mostly working with Niellucciu, Corsican island Sangiovese, Giacometti are experimenting with Sciaccarellu, another Tuscan grape, which is also known as Mammolo, with expanded plantings (extremely rare for Patrimonio) now featuring in their wines, along with Grenache, which adds to fruit density and body in the wines.
The Giacometti Patrimonio Rouge “Cuvée Sarah” is named for Christian’s daughter and is sourced from mature, 45 year old vines that are all hand tended using organic farming and holistic methods in the vineyard and is fermented with 100% natural indigenous yeasts with all the grapes being de-stemmed and saw a gentle maceration period. While most of the Giacometti see some stainless steel aging, this one does not, it was aged in very old French oak barriques for 12 months before bottling, making it one of the most serious and age worthy wines made here at Giacometti, and this 2019 is exceptional stuff and totally alluring in the glass. While Giacometti is focused mainly on the reds, they also do a fine set of Vermentino wines, along with a tasty Rosé, which adds a nice range to the collection. When I first discovered Giacometti I also really enjoyed their special island rarity 100% Syrah Vin de France Rouge “Sempre Cuntentu” before exploring their full lineup of AOC Patrimonio offerings. I really love all of the wines and wineries in Kermit Lynch’s excellent portfolio, these are world class efforts that go way beyond the expectations, I recommend sampling all of them, especially Clos Canarelli, Yves Leccia and Domaine Comte Abbatucci, which are highly coveted producers, as well as Giacometti, which is more of a sleeper in this high quality set. To get started, I suggest getting a selection of the easy to drink Faustine bottlings from Domaine Comte Abbatucci as well as Giacometti’s Agriate cuvées, which are great values and impeccably made wines, along with the exotic amphora raised Clos Canarelli Corse Figari bottlings. Each of these three are on distinct soils and have their own terroirs, making them very individual wines.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2020 Domaine Chapel, Fleurie, Charbonnières, Cru Beaujolais, France.
The Charbonnières Fleurie by Domaine Chapel, an all new wine for me, is beautifully aromatic and juicy on the medium bodied palate with clean fresh layers of red berry, plum, strawberry and cherry fruits along with vibrant acidity, mineral tones, peony florals and a very delicate earthiness, making for an elegant and refined Fleurie that lingers on the finish with dried herbs and subtle spices. This wine is sourced from the Charbonnières vineyard, which has mature vines over forty years old and at an elevation close to 400 meters up with a nice southwest exposure and set on Fleurie’s unique pink granite soils, along with a scattering of sand and stones. This vividly dark ruby colored Gamay was the result of terroir and transparency in the winemaking here, which saw 100% de-stemmed grapes, indigenous yeast whole berry fermentation, which feels carbonic and ultra smooth, all done in cement and aged in a combination of the cement, as well as different sized used French oak casks.
The Domaine Chapel was founded by David Chapel and Michele Smith-Chapel in the cru village of Régnié and have had the help of the famous Domaine Lapierre’s Mathieu and Camille with the two New Yorkers moving to Beaujolais to pursue their dreams of making naturally style Gamay wines. David Chapel, while working at Domaine Lapierre in 2013 met his future wife, Michele Smith, a well known Brooklyn wine director who along with David fell in love with the wines and the place. They were able to purchase some Gamay vines, with their Charbonnières flagship wine coming from an old vine plot in Fleurie, this along with plots in Juliénas and Beaujolais-Villages, which the Chapel’s making a set of wines that see meticulous attention to detail in their cellar. Domaine Chapel created a buzz with their very first wine, their 2016 Juliénas “Côte de Bessay” and now with a few more vintages under their belt things are looking good here and the 2020 Charbonnières Fleurie will impress Gamay fans with its purity and delicious nature. I very much enjoyed this year’s Domaine Chapel and can easily recommend this one for Beaujolais and Gamay fans.
($40 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2013 Massolino, Barolo DOCG Riserva, Vigna Rionda, Serralunga d’Alba, Piedmonte, Italy.
Massolino’s Vigna Rionda Riserva 2013 is remarkably involved and tight as nails, more like a 2010, than what I expected from the more generous vintage, but that said this bottle is outstanding Barolo that will cellar another 25 years and will prove rewarding to those that have hit tucked away. So shy and austere to start, once opening up this pure Nebbiolo takes you on a journey in the same vein as a Grand Cru Burgundy in terms of class and depth, gaining in all areas from nose to finish and everywhere in between with a powerful structural presence in the glass to go with this wine’s dark garnet hue, this is very serious stuff. The mouth and full bodied impact are clearly terroir influences, with Vigna Rionda’s signature intensity, this vintage shows damson plum, black cherry, currant and mulberry fruits along with hints of tar, briar, anise, grilled orange, dried flowers, chalky earth and sandalwood. The tannins are drying and add a taut backbone, this Barolo is very classic and old school without the more modern luxurious smoothness that some Barolo show off these days. The 2013 Massolino Vigna Rionda Riserva is capable of greatness, best to give it another 3 to 5 years at least, but if you do pop the cork here I highly recommend an hour or so in the decanter and serve it with a robust meal and or meaty dishes to get the very best experience. Coming from 50 year old vines set up at over 300 meters above sea level the Vigna Rionda is a complex, ripe and concentrated wine, making it one of the region’s biggest and most coveted stars!
Sometimes overlooked, Massolino is one f the elite producers in the Langhe and have a long history, dating back to 1896, in making Alba’s famous Barolo and the family was instrumental in forming the establishment of the Consorzio di tutela Barolo e Barbaresco in 1934, as well as recognizing the quality of Dolcetto in Dogliani. In was also, according to the winery, that in 1934 that they started bottling small amounts of estate wines. Massolino first acquired their flagship parcel of Vigna Rionda back in 1956, with Giuseppe, the grandfather of the current Massolinos, falling in love with the cru Vigna Rionda, which at that time was lesser known. Massolino is all about the Serralunga d’Alba region and their holdings and wines represent this area to perfection. The first Barolo DOCG Vigna Rionda Riserva was back in 1982 and remains the most collectable wine in the Massolino collection, and not wanting to rest on their laurels they continued to buy up plots in the Vigna Rionda, adding more vines in 1985 and 1987. In recent years, Massolino have built new cellars and have purchased hillside vines in Barbaresco to expand their Nebbiolo offerings. The Vigna Rionda, which dales back 1340, got its name from the rounded shape of the hill where it is located, near Serralunga d’Alba and is set on clayey marl mainly with classic limestone and sand, being formed from ancient seabed and millions old year old marine sediment. The Vigna Rionda Riserva, a blue chip wine for collectors, was made with a long fermentation and maceration in oak vats and then aged in large Slavonian oak barrels for up to 42 months, as the winery notes, after which this Barolo saw a further 24 months in the bottle, allowing for a wine of awesome potential as this one certainly has.
($189 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2009 Weingut Joh. Jos. Prüm, Riesling Auslese, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Mosel, Germany.
In the world of wine, Katharina Prüm is a star and the J. J. Prüm winery is legendary, noted for traditional Mosel Riesling with incredible aging potential and this 2009 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese is just beginning to show its quality and is remarkably fresh still, plus it doesn’t feel overly sweet on the palate and while pure class with Foie Gras when I tasted it, it certainly would have been just as awesome with either Vietnamese ginger beef or Korean BBQ pork! The Prüm’s are old school and prefer their Mosel Rieslings with significant residual sugar, Manfred, Katharina’s dad, who really brought fame and world attention to these wines makes no secret of his longstanding disinterest in legally dry wines, he and now his daughter make uncompromising and unapologetic sweet Rieslings, but that have fine balance, as this one has. This excellent wine shows an exotic nature with tropical notes from nose to palate and has lovely textural finesse and dense fruit concentration, but with a surprising burst of lively acidity, which is in a warm vintage very welcome, it shows apricot, lemon, non botrytis honey, clove spice, crystalized ginger, rosewater, flinty mineral and wet shale. The sugar is well integrated and as mentioned more creamy in essence, obviously not a dry wine, it drinks more like a Spatlese at this stage and being as fresh as it is I imagine it has two or three decades of life ahead of it. The Joh. Jos. Prüm winery, which was founded in 1911 in Wehlen, prefers 100% spontaneous fermentation with almost all being done in stainless tanks with usually about a year or more of lees aging in the upper end bottlings as this one. Thanks to Jerome Viel of Jerome’s Valley Market in Carmel Valley for sharing this stunning wine with a select group of wine lovers along with some other delicacies that he has available in his ever growing cellar there.
The Wehlener Sonnenuhr Vineyard, a top cru above the village of Wehlen, is named after the sundial erected in the vineyard in 1842 by Jodocus Prüm, an ancestor of J.J. Prüm and the current Prüm family, to give the workers a better time orientation as they work the awesomely steep slopes here above the Mosel River. This site is well known to Riesling enthusiasts and is maybe the signature expression of the Joh. Jos. Prüm estate along with the famous Graacher Himmelreich, it is set on classic deep, weather-beaten grey slate soils and old vines with an almost impossible 70% gradient, and its prime south-south-west exposure, making for intense and ripe Rieslings. The house style at Joh Jos Prüm has become the archetype Riesling of the Mosel region, along with Willi Schafer and Selbach-Oster these are wines of delicacy and restrained sweetness, though most wineries here now include excellent Trocken offerings and some very coveted GGs, without the Prüm’s as of yet. These J. J. Prüm wines can be very good young, but really are made for aging, with the Prüm’s themselves not wanting even their Kabinett bottlings to be opened for a dozen years or more and they would seriously question opening this 2009! Regardless, this Wehlener Sonnenuhr is magnificent and otherworldly, beyond even my high expectations, which I have because of my experience with many of Germany’s greatest wineries and a personal love J. J.Prüm, which dates back more than 20 years now. These noble efforts are typically fermented and aged in stainless steel to promote absolute clarity and precision here and have the benefit of low sulfur, capturing yeasty richness, as well as the terroir, they are nothing sort of brilliant, as I was once more shown here with this 2009 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese! I highly recommend looking for wines by J. J. Prüm that have a few extra years on them, unless you are the patient Riesling fan that can hold your bottles, then buying the new releases can save you some money.
($125 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2021 Âmevive Wine, Gamay Noir, Santa Barbara County.
The intensely bright and crisp Gamay from Alice Anderson at Âmevive Wine is a light translucent ruby in the glass with an almost Jura like character and it is impeccably varietal at its core with pure Gamay flavors, led by dark berry, strawberry, sour cherry and wild plum fruits as well as zesty acidity, crunchy herbs and cut flowers. Light and lively, this fresh red enjoys a slight chill and goes nicely with a range of cuisine, but prefers simple and easy foods. Alice says, this wine is made entirely of Gamay clone 358 planted at Shokrian Vineyard in Los Alamos, a vineyard that is farmed all organic and set on clay based sandy loams that brings out fruit concentration, while the vintage brought plenty of energy as this wine shows. Anderson chose to pick with lower sugars and high acid for her Gamay after which she fermented it with whole cluster and indigenous yeast in open top barrels with pour overs durning a three week maceration. Once things were dry she pressed the wine and put it in used French oak, without sulfur, for about 6 months before bottling it unfiltered. This is pretty stuff, coming in at 12.8% natural alcohol and it is drinking very good, sadly only 80 cases were made and it is going to be a tough find at this point.
As noted in my prior reviews of this new label, the Âmevive name translates to soulful and or the living soul and in winemaker Alice Anderson’s case it means to live soulfully with nature, with her wines being an authentic and transparent extension of that. Alice is hands on in the vineyard and she is in tune with each and every vine and parcel, with this connection being her mission, and this wine is a direct of this relationship. Anderson is, as mentioned, focused on holistic and organic grape-growing with a nod towards full regenerative farming practices and certification. The journey is just beginning for Alice and her partner Topher, who have leased 10 acres, since 2020, the vintage of their first releases, at the Ibarra-Young Vineyard that they farm to make their signature Âmevive wines, which are all very limited offerings and only available on their mailing list, I recommend joining it to get a chance at trying these delightful wines. I have really liked what I’ve tasted so far from Âmevive, these are transparent and dynamic wines that don’t need any showy elements too be enjoyed and I am excited to see what they have in store for the future. Again this Gamay Noir is quaffable and has that Jura style lightness, but still complex enough to entertain the palate, it was even better on day two, gaining a bit of weight and concentration.
($34 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Sky Vineyards, Syrah, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley.
The beautifully evolved, inky dark and unique mountain Syrah by Sky is delicious and showing off its distinct and soulful personality with layers of crushed blackberry, plum, currant and blueberry fruits along with earthy mushrooms, leather, minty menthol, wild herbs, dried flowers, anise and cedar accents in a wine that starts with certain shyness, before slowly blossoming in the glass. The age has smoothed the raw and rough edges and the tannins are now modest, but there is still some drying grip and enough natural acidity to give this wine a crisp detail and the finish lingers with some sweet tobacco leaf and mocha note, making for a purely Californian version of this varietal and a wine best enjoyed with a hearty meal and plenty of protein richness. Sky, mostly known for their Zinfandel, does an interesting and entertaining Syrah and usually offers it with some nice cellar age, allowing the wine to be purchased with a nice mature profile, as this 2015 has, it is drinking in a near perfect spot right now. I see that Sky has some 2012 available as well as a new Zin release from the 2017 vintage up now, both should be very entertaining too, you can view the latest stuff on their website.
Sky sits up at over 2,000 feet and gets a lot of day sun with its eastern facing slopes, while the night bring a refreshing cooling influence up here and the terroir is flavored by the volcanic red soils, which provides complexity and a sense of mineral and spice to the wines. The intense mountain grapes here are all hand-harvested by family and friends and fermented in open top one-ton bins with indigenous yeasts naturally. Punch downs are, as expected, performed by hand three times per day to extract all the deep color and flavors. After fermentation, Sky notes, the wine is then pressed old school in a traditional small basket press and then aged in mainly well seasoned used French oak barrels. The vines are tended with holistic methods, all organic and the winery is totally off the grid, relying on solar panels and maybe the generator if needed, all to reduce the effect on the environment and be good friends of nature. These Sky wines, made by Lore Olds, are California classics and I always enjoy them with a huge smile on my face, they provide a raw pleasure that is not always easy to find these days. Bottled without filtration, there is plenty of sediment to be found, best to decant, especially the older wines, but it is worth your effort. These hand bottled and labeled wines are authentic and honest wines, sold direct, that are very fairly priced, I recommend checking them out as soon as possible.
($50 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2019 Domaine Guillaume Gilles, Cotes du Rhone “Les Peyrouses” Northern Rhone, France.
The sexy, aromatic and Cote-Rotie like 2019 Les Peyrouses Syrah, now labeled as Cotes du Rhone, by the rising star and wildly talented Guillaume Gilles is actually a full on Cornas from mature vines and is exceptionally beautiful stuff, not far off the domaine’s notable and coveted top bottling with a heady perfume of crushed violets and expressive boysenberries on the nose which echo onto the opulent full bodied, but structured palate, adding damson plum, Italian cherry, briar laced raspberry compote and tart blueberry fruits as well as stemmy savory elements, peppercorns, black olive, anise, tobacco, cedar and faint smoky mineral notes. The finish is very impressive, persistent and dry with a taut grip, best to decant and have with sa serious meal, there is tons of purity to enjoy here, along with a nice cut of acidity, and the Les Peyrouses should continue to develop for another 5 to 10 years in bottle, this wine, in the old school, Jamet, Clape and Allemond style is worth every penny and the almost impossible task of finding it! Gilles, now almost 40, notably studied under the famed Jean-Louis Chave, of Hermitage and in his rustic old cellars he ferments his Syrah with 100% whole clusters and full stem inclusion with all native yeast in concrete vats with hand pilage and lengthy, 20 day, macerations before the wine is small vertical basket pressed to old 600L demi-mouds for aging, which is usually a minimum of 18 months. Guillaume works with ultra low SO2 and the is almost never racking during the elevage, only just prior off the gross lees, and his wines are all unfined and unfiltered as to show every terroir nuance and give transparency to each bottle.
The Guillaume Gilles Cotes du Rhone Les Peyrouses is from an old vines parcel on the flats in Cornas, instead of the high slopes where the main estate wines come from, though in some vintages, this bottling, 100% Syrah is every bit as alluring as the more prestigious Cornas and is a tremendous value, as this 2019 shows. The soil at this site is sandy and mainly clay, though it has large “galet” stones, which hold heat, scattered within and add to the wine’s depth, concentration and supple tannin. The vinification for the Les Peyrouses is almost exactly the same as is used for the elite full Cornas wines as made in this cellar and you can tell this is more than the label advertises. Guillaume came on the stage after being mentored by the legendary Robert Michel and who’s cellar he took over, along with some awesome vines here, with Gilles now boasting highly coveted vines that are situation on the higher slopes of the Chaillot vineyard, with the best exposures and more complex soils. Not done with that, Gilles now has his Les Rieux, a vineyard situated up above the main amphitheater of Cornas, up at 450 meters, this high altitude and cooler parcel is maybe the future of this winery with an intriguing potential, especially with climate change. Guillaume got the virgin Les Rieux in 2010 and immediately planted vines on its unique white granite soils, which had never before had grape vines. So things are very exciting here at Guillaume Gilles and the wines keep getting better and better, while still capturing the historic sense of place! Guillaume has also acquired a tiny plot of 40-year-old Gamay vines which are planted on pure granite at nose bleed heights in the Ardeche, it produces a micro amount of wine and might be one of the most rare and sought after Gamay wines in France, and I’m still begging to find a bottle! As you can tell, from this review and my past reviews here, Guillaume Gilles, who debuted in 2007, is a favorite and I love these wines.
($59 ESt.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Laura Lorenzo – Daterra Viticultores “Casas de Enriba” Vino Tinto, Valdeorras, Spain.
One of my favorite producers, Laura Lorenzo in Galicia, is continuing to put out brilliant and nuanced wines from the Ribeira Sacra, Val do Bibei and Valdorras regions and impossibly steep and remote vines, mostly Mencia, for her reds, as found in this Casas de Enriba Vino Tinto, as well as whites made of Godello and Palomino, all naturally pure and transparent in style with fresh acidity and unique charms. This ruby and garnet hued 2019 is bright and tangy with sharp red fruits, cherry, wild plum, dusty/spicy raspberry and tart strawberry leading the way on the light and lively palate that is accented by briar, woodsy earthiness, mineral tones, blood orange, peony florals and snappy herbs. The Casas de Enriba is, as I noted before, more like a Cru Beaujolais in presence, reminding me of Clos de la Roilette Fleurie a lot, but distinctly cool climate Mencia and terroir driven, it is a wine that is highly quaffable and more generous when enjoyed with a meal. Lorenzo’s winemaking for this one included a partially de-stemming of the grapes and it was fermented using wild yeasts in used 500L French oak barrels, with a short period of skin maceration and light extraction, for less tannin impact, as well as to highlight vibrancy here. The wine was then matured in the same neutral, well seasoned barrels for just under a year and after which it was bottled without fining or filtration, again to promote its vitality, as this 2019 version, which came in at just 12% natural alcohol, shows in raw clarity.
Coming from 20-25 year old vines in the Portomourisco region of Valdeorras, not far from the steep coastal river valleys of the Ribeiro Sacra, the new Laura Lorenzo Casas de Enriba is a blend mainly made of all hand farmed organic Mencia, the ancient native red varietal, and a small percentage of Godello, a local white grape. These vines are grown on a mix of granite, gravel, clay, gneiss and quartz soils at about 550 meters up in this cool climate Galician site in Valdeorras, which translates to “Valley of Gold” is the easternmost DO in Galicia. It’s an area of steep terraced vineyards along the Sil River, and it is influenced by the cool waters and marine climate of the Atlantic Ocean. According to Lorenzo’s importer, Jose Pastor Selections, Laura describes her farming as “agro-ecology with minimal impact.” She works with techniques that nurture life in the soils, helping to create a healthy and thriving ecosystem for her old goblet trained vines. All work is carried out manually, with these conditions and the wild remoteness here demands it and the vineyards are well cared for with some biodynamic preparations being used. As mentioned here in my prior reviews, Lorenzo, who’s wines I highly recommend, 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 and 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 back in 2014.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2019 Corral Wine Co, Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah, Red Wine “See What You Can Do” Monterey County.
Starting humbly with their debut Sauvignon Blanc from the Zabala Vineyard, Corral Wine Co has really impressed with a series of beautifully crafted and compelling red wines, led by their Estate Pinot Noir offerings, their tasty Cienega Valley Zinfandel, the Paso Robles Petite Sirah and this outstanding deep and dark fruited “See What You Can Do” Red Wine, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It is not an easy thing to do, start a brand new label and vineyard from scratch, and made harder still by the global pandemic and with the lingering effects of labor and supply chain issues driving up the cost of everything, but Larry Bell and team have pulling it and we are being rewarded with these extraordinary efforts, Corral is one of the best new wineries in the Monterey region and currently have an excellent set of wines as proof. This wine, for me, in particular, is a hugely successful offering with exceptional depth, loaded with blue and black fruit concentration, beautiful opulent mouth feel and exciting detailing with floral notes, spice and balanced savory elements all seamlessly flowing across the full bodied and supple palate. The 2019 See What You Can Do red is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon from Carmel Valley and 50% Syrah from Arroyo Seco, making for an intriguing bottling, almost Aussie inspired, showing blackberry, plum, currant and cherry fruits, smooth ripe tannin, touches of graphite, anise, vilolets, cedar, lingering creme de cassis and smoky vanilla, it’s wine that drinks superbly now, but should also reward another few years tucked away, it goes fabulously well with grilled steak and or winter cuisine, as well as a delicious companion to hard cheeses.
The Corral Wine Co., started by Larry Bell, is a family run micro (craft) winery, with winemaker Adrien Valenzuela, in Corral de Tierra, set in between Carmel Valley and the Salinas Valley, that has a few acres of estate Pinot Noir vines and sources grapes from selected vineyards throughout Monterey and Paso Robles. As mentioned in prior reviews, Valenzuela, a Salinas and Monterey County native, is one of a hugely talented new set of home grown local winemakers in the region, was studying biology and nursing, before taking an internship at Estancia and caught the wine bug. His first solo wine that he made in his garage was a hit at the Mid-State Fair, taking a Gold Medal and then he joined Constellation, the giant wine and drinks behemoth, where he leaned winemaking along side an international group, gaining a ton of expirience. As I’ve said before, young winemakers, have a tough road to success and there are many roadblocks along the way, so it is great to see young people taking their chance and making it in this business, which clearly Adrien is doing here with Corral. The lineup at Corral is well worth checking out, from the Sauvignon Blanc to their set of Pinots, as well as a deeply colored and full bodied alternative reds, like this one, I highly recommend trying the full collection. The Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, all organic, came from the historic old vines at the Massa Estate, formerly known as the Durney Vineyard during the 70s and 80s, and the Syrah was sourced from the Zabala Vineyard in Arroyo Seco, both one ton lots that were 100% de-stemmed and macerated separately and blended post fermentation and aged in French oak for over a year, maybe closer to two, before bottling, sadly it maybe a one time wine, so best to grab it while you can, it gets better and better each time I try it.
($62 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 La Ca’ Növa, Barbaresco DOCG, Piedmonte, Italy.
The 2016 normal Barbaresco from La Ca’ Növa is absolutely beautiful and everything you love about this terroir and Nebbiolo with pure floral aromatics and varietal flavors showing elegant layers of black cherry, damson plum, spiced raspberry and red currant fruits along with minty herbs, dried lavender, light earthy notes, a touch of cedar and well integrated tannic structural grip. I love everything I’ve tried from Marco and Ivan Rocca and his La Ca’ Növa winery in Barbaresco, especially this classic bottling and the 2016 vintage, one of my favorites in the last ten years, this are rustic and pure wines that really speak of place with this Barbaresco delivering everything a true Nebbiolo should do, but with subtly and without pretense. As noted before, Rocca is old school and shy by nature, he is not into modern technology and his wines are made in rustic fashion but with extreme care and love. He does his fermentation(s) without temperature control or with stainless tanks, he only employs indigenous yeasts and everything is done by hand using open barrels, as was done in older and simpler times. The maceration, interestingly is done with a large wooden spoon, which Marco uses to stir the musts, which he notes, is very difficult and time consuming work, but it worth it, as it helps extract a much richer color as well as more polyphenols. Interesting too, the Roccas, who were growers who sold grapes to others (including Gaja) until they began bottling under their own label, age their Barbaresco in Austrian, rather than Slavonian oak.
As mentioned in my prior reviews, Marco Rocca’s La Ca’ Növa winery is located just outside of the historic village of Barbaresco and is a small winery that produces traditional styled wines that way over deliver for the price, especially this basic Barbaresco and the famed Montestefano cru, which I reviewed earlier. Marco’s main passion is his Nebbiolo parcels and his trio of Barbaresco wines, but as the winery notes, Marco also does Dolcetto, Barbera, as well as a entry level Langhe Nebbiolo, which I will now search out, because if his Barbaresco DOCG and Cru Montestefano are this good and low priced, they must be fantastic values as well. The winery has prized holdings in the Montefico and Montestefano crus, as well as nice sites within the Barbaresco DOCG zone from which they make this set of Barbarescos, with this one, I believe, being a cuvée of the various sites, chosen after fermentation and then blended. La Ca’ Nova is a little family winery set in a farmhouse from 19th century, in the center of Barbaresco. Founded in the ’70s, it is run by the Rocca brothers who split between themselves the different roles among vineyards, cellar and public relations, with Marco as the winemaker. They have some prime vineyards, which are treated in full respect of the environment and of the natural vegetative cycle of the vines, with those Montefico and Montestefano crus being their pride and joy, making a total of 13,000 bottles of Barbaresco in any given vintage and of which I highly recommend! Look for this 2016 Barbaresco to shine for many years to come, though it can absolutely be enjoyed now, without any penalty at all, especially with a hearty meal.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2021 Bedrock Wine Co., Dry Riesling, Wirz Vineyard, Cienega Valley AVA, San Benito County.
The 2021 Old Vine Wirz Riesling is a stunning wine with a heady perfume of white flowers, verbena, wet rock and vivid lemon/lime citrus which leads to a crisp palate of the same with bitter peach, green apple, melon and quince fruits along with lemon grass, chamomile, a hint of petrol and sage herbal notes. California is seeing a dry Riesling revival, it has has been building for about ten years or so, but the level of quality in recent years has taken a dramatic up turn, with efforts like this Bedrock Wirz Vineyard being world class examples of this grape more commonly associated with Alsace and the many regions of Germany. The Riesling was traditionally made with whole cluster pressing and aged in used wood to allow total clarity and personality, it is similar to some of my favorite Aussie versions, like Pikes, Jim Barry, Pewsey Vale and Rolf Binder. There’s so much to like here, Bedrock has truly nailed this one, it is one of the best values in alternative white wines you’ll find in the state with complex layers, crystalline detailing and a weightless sense of body as well as lively, but round mouth watering acidity. While Bedrock, and winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson is renown for his historic vineyard Zinfandel field blends, it should also be known does an excellent set of white wines. Morgan’s partner, Chris Cottrell first discovered this vineyard when searching out grapes for his Under the Wire sparkling wines and they fast realized the quality here and added this Dry Riesling to their lineup. Bedrock’s Under The Wire, a partner label that focuses on single-vineyard, single-vintage sparkling wines was inspired by the grower champagne movement and continues to elevate California bubbly.
Morgan Twain-Peterson MW says of this Wirz Riesling, that he fermented the grapes using indigenous yeasts and aged it in neutral French oak barrels, all to promote freshness, terroir and natural transparency. The Wirz Vineyard, planted in 1963 in located in the Cienega Valley and is set on complex soils that include decomposed granite and dolomite limestone with vineyard owner Pat Wirz, who Twain-Peterson calls magnificently mustached, lovingly tending these old dry farmed bush vines by hand. The Bedrock guys, Morgan, Chris and assistant winemaker Cody Rasmussen are all Riesling fans and Rasmussen under his own label Desire Lines Wine Co. has become obsessed in a good way with this varietal and is making some of the best single site versions in California, especially his Cole Ranch and Wiley bottlings which are exceptional. Morgan himself has been making wine since he was eight years old or so legend has it, he is the son of Joel Peterson, a member of California’s hall of fame winemakers, who along with Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards helped rediscover Zinfandel and was the founder of Ravenswood, who’s wines got me, and many others, into Zinfandel in the 1980s. The Bedrock Vineyard itself, owned now by Twain-Peterson, is a part of California history, being originally planted back in the middle 1800s. Following the first epidemic of phylloxera in the mid-1880s, Twain-Peterson notes, the Bedrock vineyard was replanted in 1888 by Senator George Hearst—a mining magnate, an early father of California, and the father of notorious publisher William Randolph Hearst, of Hearst Castle fame as well. It is from these 120-year-old vines that the Bedrock Heritage Wine is crafted, the signature wine of Bedrock Wine Co, and a modern classic, and the rest of the collection here is fabulous too, be sure to check them out.
($24 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Domaine Chevillon, Bourgogne Passetoutgrain, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Burgundy, France.
I have become a huge fan and a buyer of Passetoutgrain wines in recent years and a Gamay enthusiast, so it was with great joy I found this bottle of Domaine Chevillon, it did not disappoint either with real Chevillon character and earthy depth on the complex palate that shows dark cherry, currant and huckleberry fruits, hints of leather, anise, cedar and woody mushroom notes. There’s more to come with air, adding dried violets, minty herbs and tree picked plum, black tea and crushed stones. This delicious and rare Chevillon Passetoutgrain, which is as the winery notes 1/3 Pinot Noir and 2/3s Gamay Noir, comes from grapes sourced from three lieux-dits parcels with vines close to 45 years old or more, located very close to the village of Nuits-Saint-Georges itself, including Champs d’Argent, Croix Blanche and Petit Chaliot, which are set on sandy clay and limestone soils. I love the intensity, the high toned acidity in this 2019 and the raw, a touch reductive, style here as well as the long persistent finish, this is not far off the quality of their hugely more famous and expensive 100% Pinot Noir bottlings, especially for those that know the house style here and or love old school Burgundies, like those of Domaine Maume. Though obviously there is Gamay dominant profile that clearly shines through in the mouth, with the Pinot adding complexity, savory tones and a silky feel to this outstanding example of Passetoutgrain. While the 2019 vintage proved difficult and produced tiny yields, this wine, with its dark garnet and ruby color in the glass, is a success with a taut structure and good fruit concentration, making it more than an afterthought or light quaffer, this can age a few years at least and is sublime with hearty cuisine.The primary fermentation for the Passetoutgrain was in stainless steel cuves, 100% de-stemmed, and then wines, after a long cool maceration are racked into barrels, 20% new, and aged 16 months.
The Domaine Chevillon, once known as Domaine Robert Chevillon, is run by the two Chevillon brothers, Bertrand and Denis, who have one of the single greatest collections of Premier Cru old vine parcels in Nuits-Saint-George, rivaled only by maybe another favorite of mine, Domaine Henri Guoges, including Les Cailles, Les Chaignots, Les Vaucrains, always a superstar in my book, Les Perrières, Les Pruliers, Les Roncières, a real quality sleeper, Les Bousselots and their own little slice of the historic and coveted Les Saint-Georges, which could easily be a Grand Cru! Importer, Kermit Lynch says, Chevillon’s Passetoutgrain, a blend of Pinot and Gamay, is a worthy introduction (to the estate and to this unique blend) and their rare (two barrels made) Nuits-Saint-Georges Blanc made from the “Pinot Gouges” (a mutation of Pinot Noir or as I call it albino Pinot Noir) is an exotic treasure, with Kermit adding, that ages just as long as the domaine’s fabled reds. It seems incredible that Nuits-Saint-Georges hasn’t been awarded some Grand Crus, even Kermit is astonished, noting himself that the top-tier Chevillon premier crus are indeed worthy, explaining Nuits-Saint-Georges does not officially have any grand cru vineyards, but he’s convinced that Cailles, Vaucrains and Les Saint-Georges are firmly grand cru quality, which as mentioned I agree completely, though I’d add a few more. Denis and Bertrand Chevillon are now Burgundy elites, taking the legendary work of their dad to the next level since I’ve been drinking these domaine’s wines. Having personally sold these wines and pouring them at special tastings, I have become a huge admirer of Chevillon, even their lowly Bourgogne Rouge and village level Suits-Saint-Georges are absolute stellar bottles, in fact they are made the same way as the Premier Crus and have long drinking windows, I used to do my best to get those value bottlings for myself and they remain go to wines. It is hard to secure all of these Chevys, and in particular their Passetoutgrain and Aligoté, but it is a rewarding pursuit!
($44 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Pax Wine Cellars, Syrah, Majik Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
A thrilling svory and powerful, Northern Rhone, cool climate Syrah from the Syrah specialist Pax Mahle, sourced from the Majik Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast showing a full bodied palate, but with remarkably low natural alcohol, a highlight of the vintage and the natural winemaking here, fans of Clape, Jamet and or Allemand with love this purple/garnet colored wine. The nose and palate are totally in synch with boysenberry, blueberry, currant and plum fruits, crushed violets, salted black licorice, peppercorns, graphite and olive tapenade notes coming through in the mouth along with a faint bacon/meaty element and sweet kirsch. This is very serious stuff and a bit of a sleeper in Pax’s sublime collection of Syrah offerings, it has all the energy and whole cluster punch you could ever want and it gets better and better with time in the glass and I suggest decanting and having this Majik Vineyard Syrah with a robust meal and or Zuni roast Chicken with bitter greens. I had not had a bottle of this Majik before, as I usually opt for Pax’s Castelli-Knight and or the Sonoma Hillsides, but this ’18 is wonderfully expressive and it’s now a favorite.
Pax says that the Majik Vineyard is a tiny vineyard, just 1 acre of vines set on marine sediment soils and high up on a ridge in the Sebastopol Hills, due west of downtown Sebastopol. Mahle adds that this site was planted in 2000, so it is getting nicely mature now, and it has a selection of clone 7 Syrah, also he explains that this small planting has been a monumental vineyard in terms of relearning the limits of ripeness in Syrah grown here in the extreme west county. For his Majik Vineyard Syrah, Mahle employed a full native yeast and whole cluster fermentation with a cool lengthy maceration to express all of the heightened details here and the wine was pressed to well seasoned neutral French oak barrels where it rested for 10 months before bottling. The Pax label was founded in 2000 by Pax and Pamela Mahle, focusing mainly on Syrah, as well in recent years, some Gamay Noir, all from cool, coastal sites, along with as a selection of esoteric varieties, like Trousseau Gris, Charbono, the Mission Grape and Chenin Blanc, that Pax says, showcase the great diversity of California wine. Pax’s signature Syrahs, like this one with its Cornas like profile, are highly coveted and speak to their vineyards, which are all organic or biodynamic, making for raw and transparent wines with age worthy structures.
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2019 Domaine Camus-Bruchon et Fils, Savigny-Les-Beaune “Aux Grands Liards” Vieilles Vignes, Red Burgundy, France.
Guillaume Camus at Domain Camus-Bruchon’s 2019 Aux Grand Liards from an old vine Lieu-Dit in Savigny-Les-Beaune surpasses the excellent 2018 version and drinks way above its price point, delivering a performance worthy of Premier Cru Volnay(s) and or Pommard(s)! This Liards, as per normal, is a dark ruby color and has a wonderfully silky in texture with classic black cherry, currant, plum and red berry fruits, along with rose petal florals, a chalky essence, bright spices and a smooth satiny palate. As mentioned, Guillaume’s vines are all mature averaging at least 35 years and in this case very old with 95 years old vines here in Aux Grands Liards. Camus-Bruchon wines have long shown remarkable quality and age worthiness, they also are terroir driven, showcasing the clay and limestone soils. They are Burgundies that are first and foremost grown in the vineyard, and as Guillaume says, you make wine as good as the grapes that you grow. So it is clear he spends much more time with his vines that he does in the cellar, as it should be, especially when you have the parcels at your disposal like he does. The Camus-Bruchon Savigny-Lès-Beaune 1er Crus are stunning values and this Aux Grand Liards, a favorite, as I’ve said, of mine, is one of many in his collection to stock up on, this Lieu-Dit many not be Premier Cru, but this Aux Grands Liards Vieilles Vignes just might be the best Pinot for the price in all of Burgundy, Camus-Bruchon and neighbors Domaine Pierre Guillemot prove this region has a wealth of quality.
One of the rising stars in the Côte de Beaune, Camus is making outstanding and elegant wines from his vineyard holdings in in the Cote de Beaune, with many parcels in Premier Cru sites, especially in the Savigny-Les-Beaune area. Like his father Lucien, Guillaume, of Domaine Camus-Bruchon, again as noted here, has a light touch and very much a winemaker that makes his wines in the vineyard, rather than in the cellar, everything he does is to showcase each vineyard site and produce transparent wines. He uses approximately 15% new oak in any given year, including in his top Premier Cru bottlings like this one, preferring to follow the Domaine’s tradition of crafting raw, balanced and graceful Pinots. The Camus-Bruchon wines see an extended maceration to fully extract the terroir and structure with about 18 days in total for the period of fermentation. The wines are all done with indigenous yeasts in old school concrete vats before being racked of to the French oak for over a year and then they are bottled unfined and unfiltered to capture every nuance and the full sense of place. All the vineyard sites farmed by the Camus family are dome using sustainable methods and with great respect for the lands and to promote healthy soils, these wines really showcase each site’s distinct micro climates and are really respectful of history of this region. As with most all of the Camus-Brochon wines, you can enjoy this 2019, like the 2018, Savigny-les-Beaune Aux Grand Liards now, though I know that these wines can age incredibly well, so you can put some bottles away and be rewarded for that patience, without question, this old vine Burgundy will be excellent for another decade at least. I look forward to the next 2020 releases from Camus-Brouchon, which I hear are even better, but in the meantime I’ll enjoy the 2018s and 2019s that I have.
($48 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Boëte, Cheval Rouge Reserve, Saunders Estate Vineyard, Carmel Valley AVA, Monterey County.
A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc this dark garnet 2015 Boëté Cheval Rouge Reserve is drinking beautifully and has entered a peak window with supple tannins and nicely maturing fruit on the full bodied palate. There’s plenty of depth to be found here and I enjoyed the layers of blackberry, plum, cherry and currant fruits along with touches of oak, spice and subtle floral aromatics, adding tobacco leaf, anise, leather and sandalwood as it opens. The Saunders family, who’s hillside vines, planted to Bordeaux varietals in 1997, are wonderfully situated high above the Carmel River, on stony ancient seabed soils, where they get plenty of warm sunshine to get the fruit nice and ripe, located just about a mile or so past the Carmel Valley Village with good southern facing slopes. The Merlot here is surprising powerful and structured, feeling more like Cabernet and provides a nice backbone to this wine, while still enjoying the plush mouth feel you’d want and expect, with the Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon helping deliver complexity.
John Saunders, who founded Boëté in the early 2000s, and his sons, Jesse (winemaker) and Dylan, continue to put out strong efforts here, with the winery specializing in 100% estate-grown Carmel Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, a big local favorite and Merlot, as found here in this wine, plus they do a lovely claret style Bordeaux blend called the Cheval Rouge. The winemaking is simple and traditional with a priority to allow the vines to speak for themselves with 100% hand picked and de-stemmed grapes that are carefully selected and open top fermented and see a long elevage, between 18 and 24 months, in mostly used French oak barrels to promote a raw transparency in the wines. This blend is usually Merlot led, maybe 60% and then the rest almost equal parts Cab Sauvignon and Cab Franc, making it a bit Right Bank in style, modeled after Saint-Emillon, but decidedly Californian in concentration and opulence. Boëté, a micro winery is mainly a direct to consumer label, selling mostly to their mailing list and on the website, where I suggest going to, to explore the offerings, like this one, which is a great value, as well as the quality estate solo varietal expressions.
($42 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2020 Alfaro Family Vineyards & Winery, Grüner Veltliner, La Playita Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The bright, nutty and tangy fresh 2020 Alfaro Family Grüner Veltliner is pale greenish gold in the glass and has a round mineral driven medium bodied palate with lemon/lime, peach and melon fruits leading the way, finishing crisply dry and with a touch of bitter almond and wet stones. This vintage, with its ripe citrus notes and low alcohol, coming in at just 12.4%, make it tasty with light cuisine, especially briny oysters, clams and delicate white fish, as well as soft cheeses and grilled veggies. The Alfaro’s have created a nice little niche for their Grüner and it remains a fun alternative to the much more widely planted Sauvignon Blanc in California, especially for those looking for a serious and interesting other dry white. There’s been a change in generation here at Alfaro, with Richard turning the cellar over to his son Ryan, who is emerging as a winemaker in his own right after spending time in New Zealand and under the legendary Adam Tolmach at Ojai Vineyards, so there is a lot of excitement here, especially as Ryan’s own label Farm Cottage has shown his potential with a series of fabulous offerings. The Alfaro’s have also have fully taken over the Trout Gulch Vineyard, a site that has historically produced some outstanding fruit and is one of the most coveted Chardonnay vineyards in the region, providing grapes to Cerritas, Kutch and Arnot-Roberts as well as to their own top notch bottling. While this 2020 is well worth getting if you see it, the 2021 looks to be even more thrilling and is now the current release at Alfaro and I can’t wait to get some myself!
One of the central coast’s most intriguing alternative whites, as noted, has to be the Alfaro’s estate grown Grüner Veltliner, the signature Austrian white grape famously grown along the Danube River to the west of Vienna in the Wachau region. Like here, Grüner makes for a mineral driven dry white wine with interesting stony fruit and bright acidity. This La Playita Vineyard edition GruVee is delicious stuff along the lines of some of, and inspired by the legends of Gruner, such as Hirtzberger, Pichler, Knoll, and Hirsch to name of few. The Alfaro Family Vineyards La Playita Grüner a direct press to stainless steel for fermentation and then was aged 6 months in neutral oak to preserve fresh details and vibrancy, while allowing some soft texture to develop. It comes from estate vines set in the unique terrior of Corralitos, at the southern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation on loam and ancient sea bed soils. This area gives lots of fruit concentration and the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean, less that 10 miles away, keeps a dynamic intensity in the wines. The South facing La Playrita (Little Beach in Spanish) Vineyard site, on sandy top soils, hence the name, sits at approximately 500 feet of elevation and next to a seasonal stream, this parcel is the coolest spot on the Alfaro estate. When planted in 2008, Richard Alfaro notes, there were only about 10 acres of Grüner Veltliner in all of California, and with the wine’s success, that acreage has grown dramatically and today there are approximately 170 acres more planted, and there is also sizable number in Oregon too. Alfaro has released some very limited offerings that look good, like a new 100% whole cluster Pinot and the “Kongsgaard Clone” 2021 Mary Katherine Vineyard Estate Chardonnay, which are must haves!
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2021 Mijita, Pinot Gris, Zenith Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The bring and fresh, almost lighthearted skin contact Pinot Gris from Mijita is crisply focused on the palate and stays away from the funk and overtly savory elements sometimes found in orange wines, it is easy, delightful and ready to please with a mix of citrus, peach and apple fruits on the palate. The color is copper and amber in the glass and there is very delicate aromas of wet rock, fuji apple skins and fine herbs, it adds a hint of strawberry after it opens, but stays very a white wine in flavor and personality, making a nice dry example that goes nicely with picnic and or outdoor cuisine. Not overly serious and or vinous in the mouth at this stage, it is delightfully refreshing and weightless, perfect for the beach or by the pool with friends. The Mijita Zenith Vineyard Pinot Gris was skin fermented all naturally seeing hours of maceration to extract the pretty hue and was aged in used barrels for short period to preserve vibrancy and clarity of the flavors. I am excited to see what Mijita has coming in the next of releases, after trying this one, and the Gamay, which is an old world style, almost Moulin à Vent in character.
Winemaker Lizzy Esqueda’s first two wines are tiny micro releases under her Mijita Wine Co. label, featuring this skin contact Pinot Gris “orange wine” or Romato and her vibrant and charming Gamay Noir, which I really loved and reviewed back in November of 2022, both are from the 2021 vintage, which is starting to create a buzz with the Oregon natives. New on the Oregon wine scene, as noted here, Esqueda, who has been putting in the time in at Grochau Cellars, says her wines are “bright, textural wines made with grapes that are organically and sustainably farmed.” Her single vineyard Gamay comes from from young vines at Abbey Road Farm Vineyard in Yamhill-Carlton, set on marine sediment soils, similar to what is found at the famous Zenith site, and made in a transparent and open style. Pinot Gris, along with true Gamay Noir, are big hits in Oregon these days and the grapes thrives here with many outstanding examples from which to choose, and these skin contact versions are taking off. There’s a lot new stuff going on in Oregon, especially in the Willamette Valley, and a whole new generation of young women winemakers, like Lizzy Esqueda and Jessica Wilmes of Fair Moon Wine, who are creating fun and unique wines and who are exploring lesser known varietals and natural winemaking, and it is a great time to explore there latest stuff.
($28 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive
2021 Arnot-Roberts, Zinfandel, Kirschenmann Vineyard, Mokelumne River, Lodi, California.
The ruby gemstone hued 2021 Arnot-Roberts Kirschenmann Zinfandel is wildly aromatic and reminds me of Fleurie Cru Beaujolais with a carbonic like creaminess and has racy raspberry led medium bodied palate. This is not like your average Zin, unlike anything you’d expect made from Lodi and or old vine Zinfandel and more like the mentioned Gamay, though regardless it is very entertaining, cleanly detailed and wonderfully delicious with crushed berries, snappy herbs, mineral tones and liquid flowers! One of the a new generation of California producers that have been re-imagining the state’s wine and giving a modern throwback quality, Arnot-Roberts continues to make some of the most intriguing wines on the market, impeccable in clarity and quality, and this latest set of releases are as good as it gets, including this debut offering of Zinfandel from Tegan Passalacqua’s almost a hundred ten year old Kirschenmann Vineyard in Lodi. Part of California’s rich legacy of old vine vineyards Kirschenmann set on the silica-rich sandy soils of the east side of the Mokelumne River AVA enjoys hot sunny days, but thanks to the river’s cool waters and the delta breezes here, these organic, dry-farmed bush vines are constantly protected from extreme heat and offer ripe flavors, richness, but with good natural acidity. This is all highlighted here in this 13.5% wine that adds strawberry, pomegranate, sandalwood, peony, kirsch and Asian spices in the glass, this certainly challenges the Zinfandel paradigm and is a thrilling wine that will go with burgers, roast chicken and hard cheeses.
The Kirschenmann Vineyard is, as noted, a historic site originally planted back in 1915 on deep sandy soils made up of ancient granitic loams with mainly own rooted Zinfandel, along with small amounts of Carignane, Cinsault and even Mondeuse Noir, a rare Savoie grape, all interspersed throughout vineyard, which is all dry farmed and classically head trained. For their unique version of Zinfandel, Arnot-Roberts fermented this vintage using 100% whole cluster, with native yeasts and a cool maceration, then aged the Kirschenmann in neutral barrels for 10 months. Only 4 barrels were produced, making it one of the most limited of their bottlings. As mentioned here in prior reviews, Arnot-Roberts was founded in Healdsburg in 2001 by childhood friends from Napa Valley, Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts, who have excelled in creating some cult like favorites made from alternative varietals, like Trousseau, one of my favorites, Falanghina, Ribolla Giallo, Gruner Veltliner and this Touriga Nacional based Rosé, as well as an awesome set of Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet and Gamay offerings, all of which are worthy of searching out! This Zin, which now I wish I had bought more of, will not appeal to traditionalists, will be a fabulous contrasting example of this varietal, also known as Tribidrag in its original homeland of Croatia and Primitivo in Italy. I can’t wait to amaze my friends with this, especially the ones that love old world wines like Lapierre, Thivin, Sunier, Dutraive and Foillard (elite Cru Beaujolais producers) and or put it in a blind Zin lineup and watch the reactions! Far from light or greenly lean, this vinous and smooth Kirschenmann feels heavenly weightless, best served with a slight chill, and it will be interesting to see how it ages over the next 5 to 10 years.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2020 Sandlands Vineyards, Red Table Wine, Lodi, California.
The dark colored and brightly fresh Lodi Red Table Wine from winemaker Tegan Passalacqua of Sandlands is all from seriously old vines and made from an all California cuvée of Carignane, Cinsault and Zinfandel, all picked ripe, but with low sugars to make for an old world country style wine, reminding me of a tasty Corbieres! This purple an d ruby hued Lodi red, coming in at just 12.6% natural alcohol, is lovely with food with vibrant red raspberry, plum, strawberry and tart red currant fruits on the medium bodied palate along with orange tea, dried sage, lavender, anise and a touch of beet root, with almost no sense of oak. It feels juicy and pure with supple tannins, I would guess some whole berry and native yeast fermentation, allowing for the smooth texture and divine quaffability, thinking it saw just well seasoned neutral wood. Sandlands does each of these varieties in solo efforts, all of which are absolutely must try new California gems, with all being excitingly distinct wines, I always gravitate to Passalacqua’s Carignane bottlings, sourced from Lodi, as in this one and his Contra Costa version. This blend unfolds in the glass and gains complexity with a subtle earthiness, with savory elements and spiciness that is welcome and rewarding, making this Lodi Red Table Wine fun and compelling stuff. There’s a lot to love in the latest set of releases from the Sandlands lineup, including an all new Santa Barbara Syrah and a Napa Valley white blend of Chenin Blanc and Semillon, which I will review soon.
The Sandlands Lodi Red Table Wine, which was just 12 barrels and two 500 liter puncheons in this vintage. Tegan says this wine, rather than a field blend, is an intentional blend of three varieties and three vineyards in three equal parts. He adds that his Lodi Red Table Wine is composed of Cinsault from the Bechthold Vineyard (1886), Carignane from Spenker Ranch (1900) and Zinfandel from Kirschenmann Vineyard (1915), from the Passalacqua home ranch in Victor. This 2020, which opens nicely, went fabulously with a rustic Paella and will be a sublime companion to your favorite winter dishes and or a cassoulet, the classic dish of the Languedoc, as well as a go to pizza wine. Tegan and Olivia Passalacqua’s Sandlands Vineyards is a side project, for when Tegan is busy managing all of the vineyard sites and overseeing the winemaking for Turley Wine Cellars, one of California’s super star wineries. Tegan, here under his own label, says he focuses on forgotten classic California varieties, primarily grown in decomposed granite (sand), from regions and vineyards that have been farmed for many generations but have remained the outliers of California viticulture. He works with historic and organic vineyards, most well over a 100 years old and makes a great effort to allow these unique terroirs to shine through with gentle, hand off, and transparent winemaking, all with stellar results, as shown here in this tasty little wine. I very much suggest getting on the mailing list here and exploring the Sandlands collection of quality and value packed wines, which includes everything from Chenin Blanc to Mataro and Zinfandel to the Mission grape.
($32 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2019 Domaine Monthélie-Douhairet-Porcheret, Monthélie 1er Cru “Le Mieux Bataille” Côte de Beaune, Red Burgundy, France.
In recent years I’ve really grown fond of these Domaine Douhairet-Porcheret, made by Cataldina Lippo, André Porcheret’s granddaughter and her husband Vincent, who has taking these wines forward since she took over in 2004 and the latest releases are really lovely wines, including this beautiful 2019 Le Mieux Bataille Premier Cru Monthélie. This vintage, a bit lighter and high toned in style is perfectly matched between fruit and acidity with a medium bodied palate with black cherry, strawberry, red currant and blood orange fruits, a toasty oak smokiness, delicate mineral and earth tones, satiny tannins and a touch of rose petal florals. This cuvée comes from sustainable grapes all hand harvested and carefully sorted both in the vines, which are set on classic clay and limestone soils, and in the cellar. The Le Mieux Bataille is 100% de-stemmed, then is fermented with indigenous yeasts in open top wood vats for 12 to 20 days on the skins with daily pump overs and punch downs. The Pinot Noir is then aged in French oak barrels, with Tronçais barriques employed, using about 10% new wood, for 18 months. This pretty ruby colored Monthélie 1er Cru “Le Mieux Bataille” opens nicely and gains depth and detail with every sip and lingers nicely on the finish showing good balance, clarity and going great with a wide range of cuisine choice. This vineyard site used here is a tiny parcel in Monthélie, just a few miles south-west down the valley from the village, which is sandwiched between Auxey-Duresses and Volnay, not far from Pommard, is planted entirely to Pinot Noir.
The historic Domaine Douhairet-Porcheret located in Monthélie, also has vines in Pommard, Volnay, and Meursault and is over 300 years old and sits at heart of Monthélie in the center of the village. The founding Douhairet family ran Monthélie Douhairet (as it was called) for many years and generations, and then In 1989, Mademoiselle Douhairet asked renowned winemaker André Porcheret to take charge and added his name to the domaine, that now has his granddaughter and her husband running the winery here. It should not be overlooked at just how highly regarded André Porcheret was, considered a traditionalist by many, he also pushed quality forward in the region, leading the legendary Lalou Bize-Leroy to hire him to become the winemaker at the newly created Domaine Leroy, where he shined between 1988 and 1993. He never stopped making his own wines at his Domaine Douhairet-Porcheret and they have been a study in charm and quality ever since. Cataldina Lippo’s Burgundy offerings and especially her signature Monthélie 1er Crus are still wonderful values, compellingly transparent and luxurious wines. The Premier Cru lieu dit Le Mieux Bataille in the Côte de Beaune was first planted back in the 16th century and is situated only a few minutes away from the winery and, as their importer Martine’s Wines notes, on the edge of the first hillsides of Monthélie, with south-facing exposure, and includes a picturesque backdrop of Volnay. I am excited to try Domaine Monthélie-Douhairet-Porcheret’s 2020 vintage too, as I’ve heard they are looking to be even better than the 2017, 2018 and 2019s, which I really enjoyed and recommend.
($60 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2019 Parsonage Village Vineyard, Estate Syrah, Carmel Valley AVA, Monterey County.
Coming from tiny yielding rocky hillside vines the Estate Syrah by Parsonage is an intense full bodied effort, as I’ve said before, these Parsonage wines show gorgeous fruit density, opulence and length, with this one following Guigal’s famous Cote Rotie in style and palate impact, dark berry depth and its luxurious mouth feel. The Parsonage wines are crafted by Frank Melicia, owner and founder Bill Parsons’ winemaker and son in law, who also makes the Silvestri wines, and that goes after richly flavored, ripe and textural wines that stand out, which has been a winning formula for this small label in Carmel Valley. This deep inky purple 2019 Estate Syrah is loaded with back fruits, leaning on olallieberry, boysenberry, black currant and sweet plum fruits along with hints of cigar box, peony florals, cinnamon, vanilla, coffee grounds, creme de cassis and licorice. The grapes are late picked and have high brix, but there’s still acidity from the cool nights and Ocean influence, and while hedonistic and supple in tannins, there is a remarkable balance, especially in this vintage, that looks to be one of the best yet for Parsonage, from what I’ve tried so far and it should age fantastically well. Syrah still remains a small if not micro planted varietal in the region, which now has seen a huge increase in Pinot Noir plantings in Carmel Valley, especially the western edges that see a cool windy climate. Parsonage has a warmer and drier exposure, catching lots more intense sunlight, that allows the concentration found here, making for wines that go great with a steak, lamb and or meaty winter dishes.
The Estate Syrah, not to be confused with the single parcel Reserve 100% Syrah “Rocco” bottling, is made with hand picked 100% de-stemmed and vigorously sorted grapes that see a lengthy maceration and daily punch-downs for full extraction and they basket pressed to French oak barriques, which usually is a good percentage of toasty new wood, but not in this vintage, it got just 1 and 2 times filled used oak. For California Syrah fans, this wine is more like Shafer’s Relentless and or Herman Story in feel, gaining complexity and a spiciness with air, adding blueberry compote, kirsch and mocha notes and it really should be decanted and had with hearty cuisine. The aging time in barrel differs slightly on the Estate Syrah, with this vintage spending close to two years in wood before bottling. Bill Parsons planted his estate with Syrah and Bordeaux varietals, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and the rare Petit Verdot blocks back in 1998 and hit the ground running with his 2000 debut bottlings that garnered eye brow raising critical acclaim. The wines have impressed for their lush fruit driven quality, something that not many people thought possible here until Parsons brought these wines out, up until then most of the Carmel Valley reds were austere and needed tons of bottle age to be their best, like the wines that came from the historic Durney label, now known as the Massa Estate. If you’ve not had the Parsonage wines, now is a good time to start, in particular the estate grown bottlings of Syrah, like this Estate, the Cabernet Sauvignon and especially the single varietal Dario Reserve Merlot, which is also absolutely stunning in this stellar 2019, and the delicious 2018, vintages.
($48 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Jean Foillard, Morgon “Cote du Py” Cru Beaujolais, France.
The 2019 vintage of Foillard’s legendary Cote du Py Moron is very perky and possesses absolute clarity of form with a striking burst of energy on the dark fruited and aromatic palate, it shows pretty violets, tangy black currant, wild plum, pomegranate and tarty fresh bing cherry along with a hint of hard wood, anise, blood orange, flinty stones, minty herb, subtle earthy tones and zesty dusty spices. This year is less concentrated and ripe, adding an extra degree of freshness and poise, so a more cool tone emerges in the glass in this more nuanced version. As always, this Foillard delivers outstanding quality, with a beautiful bright ruby hue, a heavenly nose and textural pleasure once fully open, this is, as per normal, one of my favorite wines with the grace and presence of a excellent Burgundy and while cheap, it is worth every penny. Coming from organic grapes and made with ultra low SO2, Foillard’s Cote du Py bottling is sourced from vines that range from 10 to 90 years old and that are set on the granite based soils, with some schist and veins of manganese that adds to this wine’s distinct complexity and personality. Jean Foillard is at the top of his game here, there are few better with Gamay than him, but it is nice that a new generation of Foillard making a name for himself now, with Jean’s son Alex now making some outstanding wines as well, it is a great time to discover these wines, they are wonderful expressions of terroir and absolutely delicious stuff. I look forward to the latest releases here too, as the 2020s have just come out, but I do like to age my Foillards for 3 to 5 years at least.
The much admired vigneron Jean Foillard, as mentioned here in many prior reviews, was greatly inspired by natural wine guru Jules Chauvet, a traditionalist who led the natural wine movement in the Beaujolais and redefined the wines of the region and who wanted to go back to pre-industrial style organic farming and not use chemical additives in the cellar. Jean and three other local vignerons, Marcel Lapierre, Jean-Paul Thévenet, and Guy Breton joined in on this movement, this became the Gang of Four, a nickname coined by the famed importer Kermit Lynch, who brought these masterpieces of Gamay to America, along with Dutraive and others brought critical acclaim to this region that had been badly maligned for generations. Foillard took over his father’s domaine in 1980, with stellar vineyard holdings mainly in the revered Côte du Py, as Kermit Lynch notes, the famed slope outside the town of Villié-Morgon and the pride of the Morgon cru. These granite and schist soils sit on an alluvial fan at the highest point above the town and impart great complexity on these wines. Jean Foillard, who hand crafts his wines using native yeasts and using traditional 100% whole cluster with a long gentle maceration that usually lasts just over 3 weeks and raises his wines in older barrels, always well seasoned and sourced from top estates in Burgundy, including the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. This elevage of the Cote du Py in the used French barriques is between 6 to 9 months, normally, depending on the vintage and always to preserve energy, transparency and purity. Not always easy to find, these Foillard’s are always treats, I truly cherish every bottle I get and recommend them, especially this one, Jean’s unique Fleurie (Black Label) and the Cuvée Corcalette, wholeheartedly!
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
1998 E. Guigal – Chateau d’Ampuis, Cote Rotie, Northern Rhone, France.
I first tasted this Chateau d’Ampuis 1998 on its release, so it was interesting to see where it was now, after about 20 years since I last tried it and to my surprise it was drinking beautiful and more weightless and Pinot Noir or Burgundy like in textural quality, though purely Syrah in the profile with a subtle bacon/meaty character behind the layers or mature fruits and wood framing. The palate feels medium bodied in this garnet colored Cote Rotie showing red berry, plum, currant and fig fruits along with coffee grounds, earthy tertiary notes, pipe tobacco, cedar, dried lavender, tea and black licorice. I really enjoyed sitting with this wine as it kept fighting for life in the glass and watching it rally back from what I though was its last legs and the bouquet did the same going from fallen leaves and beef notes to pretty florals, with whiffs of wilted roses and delicate strawberries. This turned out to be a much more fascinating bottle than I had expected, even though I knew it would be interesting and complex and as I get older I have really come to enjoy very old Rhone wines. The Chateau d’Ampuis showcases seven single parcels, including Le Clos “Côte Blonde”, La Garde “Côte Blonde”, La Grande Plantée “Côte Blonde”, La Pommière “Côte Brune”, Le Pavillon Rouge “Côte Brune”, Le Moulin “Côte Brune” and La Viria “Côte Brune”, with the average age here being 50 years old, with usually a final blend of Syrah 93% and Viognier 7%. When young these wines are lush and concentrated with luxurious mouth feel and hedonistic fruit density, almost like dry Port, much more ripe in style that old school wines like Domaine Jamet, which are more rustic, feral and earthy in style, with both these domaines pushing the envelope in opposite directions.
Guigal makes modern ripe, opulent and luxurious wines, with their Chateau d’Ampuis Cote Rotie seeing a full 38 months in new wood, which delivers lots of texture, richness of fruit and sweet toasty notes. Dujac, since 1986, has had a viticultural regime that combines holistic practices from organic to full biodynamics in order to grow the absolutely best grapes as possible and to show off each sites terroir influence. The famous Guigal domaine, that zoomed to world attention under the legendary Marcel Guigal in the early sixties, was originally founded in 1946 by Etienne Guigal, marcel’s father, in Ampuis, the small historic village that is the heart of the Cote Rotie region. Today Marcel’s son Philippe runs the winemaking at this estate that has become one of the biggest family run wineries in the Rhone, joining Chapoutier and Jaboulet, who all make entry level wines all the way to some of the most coveted wines in the world, like Guigal’s La La’s, La Moulin, La Torque and my favorite La Landone, which are Cote Roties that thrill collectors almost as much as DRC. In 1995 the Guigal family acquired the historic Château d’Ampuis and this1998 was one of first under their direction to make its way to the States and it has become an important part of their star studded collection. The Chateau d’Ampuis includes Syrah vines, set on steep granite slopes, plus a tiny amount of Viognier, in both the Côte Brune and the Côte Blonde and marries their terroirs to produce an exceptional wine of powerful and opulence. To make this wine, Guigal employs a closed stainless steel tank fermentation with a temperature controlled primary fermentation with a four week maceration before being pressed to toasty new oak where it ages more than three years. Guigal, like Gaja in Barbaresco, and Louis Latour in Burgundy, do their own cooperage and their barrels are made exclusively for their own wines to enhance their distinctive character. I recommend more current vintages, especially years like 2005 and 2016, of Guigal’s Cote Roties, and having with lamb and or other meaty dishes.
($146 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2011 Domaine Dujac, Chambolle-Musigny AOC, Cote de Nuits, Red Burgundy, France.
Already past its peak drinking window, the basic Chambolle-Musigny is still a little beauty with a distinctive personality and silky mouth feel, it shows a unique Alpine herbal/minty character to go with a smooth palate of black cherry, red berry and plum fruits along with a mineral and earthy array of flavors and accents, making for an easy to love wine. In Dujac’s lineup, and in particular the entry level village wines, I have usually preferred the basic Morey-St.-Denis, but this Chambolle is always a chaser and offers a ton of quality for the price. The 2011 vintage has turned out to be a really pleasing vintage for red Burgundies and I was excited to try this one, especially as I don’t get the chance to drink many Dujac wines these days, and it did not disappoint, though I dream about their Clos de la Roche and Clos Saint-Denis Grand Cru bottlings, which are some of my favorite of all time wines. Dujac and the Seysses family have always been a fan of whole cluster fermentation and plenty of stem inclusion, and that shows in their wines, with this wine looking to have benefited from this practice in at least a small way with the exotic Amaro like herbal note and the expressive nature of this wine that adds a spicy side as it opens up. Seysses believes was that the mature stems actually reduced the amount of hard tannins in the resulting wine, a novel theory that has been mostly proved correct with his efforts, adding that he wants to avoid bruising the grapes during the de-stemming process, again to allow the grapes to fully shine.
Domaine Dujac is a legendary winery, run by the Seysses family and was originally established in 1968 by founder, Jacques Seysses, who is still involved here, though sons, Jeremy and Alec, and Jeremy’s wife Diana (Snowden) have run the domaine for many years now, producing some of the regions most coveted wines. These days, Jeremy is doing the winemaking and marketing with Diana Snowden, of Napa Valley, who’s family has a winery focused on high end Cabernet Sauvignon, and a U. C. Davis graduate in enology, has taken over cellar management here, with Alec handling the day to day operation and administration of this well loved domaine. Dujac has a stellar collection of vines in prime spots, including in Bonnes Mares Grand Cru, Chambolle Musigny Les Gruenchers 1er Cru, Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru, Clos de la Roche Grand Cru, Clos Saint Denis Grand Cru, Echezeaux Grand Cru, Gevery-Chambertin aux Combottes 1er Cru, Gevery-Chambertin aux Combottes 1er Cru, Morey St. Denis Blanc, Morey St. Denis Monts Luisants 1er Cru Blanc, Morey St. Denis 1er Cru Rouge, Vosne Romanee Les Beaux Monts1 er Cru, and last but not least Vosne Romanee aux Malconsorts 1 er Cru! My favorites, Clos de la Roche Grand Cru and Clos St. Denis Grand Cru were the first two vineyard parcels that Jacques Seysses purchased in 1968 and they remain standard bearers of wine made from these vineyards. These are superstar Pinots and I am always grateful for the chance to try any of Dujac’s wines, so a big thank you to Alex Lallos, my friend, who shared his personal, well stored and cellared, Chambolle with me!
($70-110 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Domaine Giacometti, Cru des Agriate, Patrimonio Rouge AOC, Corsica, France.
Starting to show its age and tertiary elements, the 2014 Domaine Giacometti Patrimonio Rouge, from the wilds of this French island, is tasting like a old Chianti (Sangiovese) meets an earthy Aglianico with a touch of stewed plum, along with reduced strawberry, raspberry and baked cherry fruits, nicely accented by loamy notes, tobacco leaf, leathery/meaty sous bois and both dried flowers and snappy herbs. The overall experience is quite impressive and the wine is still very enjoyable, though obviously a bit tired on the palate and it is starting to show a brickish hue in the glass, best to drink sooner v. later. The Corsican appellation authorities granted Patrimonio appellation status to these Agriate vines, even though the estate is several miles from the village of Patrimonio, with mostly Niellucciu planted in the vineyards here. Given the isolation of the domaine, word of the wines and the estate haven’t travelled far, until famous importer discovered Giacometti and started bringing their distinctive wines to the States. This rustic and old world cuvée, the Cru des Agriate, is made from 97% Niellucciu, which genetically is Sangiovese and 3% Grenache sourced from 10 to 45 year old vines and goes well with meaty country cuisine. It was nice to have Giacometti again, as I haven’t had their red for a while, they do a fine collection of wines, including this one, as well as a special 100% Sciaccarellu (also known as Mommelo, a rare Tuscan grape) Vin de France, as well as tasty Vermentinu (Vermentino) and Rosé offerings, all of which I recommend for their raw charm and drinkability.
The Patrimonio based Domaine Giacometti, a rising star of the region that makes finely crafted old school wines, producing a tasty set of blended wines that feature Grenache and Niellucciu (Sangiovese) and Sciaccarellu (Mammolo) sourced from vines set on a sandy patch of granite and clay based soils in this rugged isolated region on Corsica’s Northern side near Bastia. According to Kermit Lynch, a long time importer of Corsican wines, the Agriates Desert is a large, rugged, empty and arid swath of land between the Cap Corse and Calvi on the northern end of the island, with nasty winds and tough growing conditions, though it is a place that the Giacometti’s put to good use, making wines from vines first planted in 1966. The low key and unpretentious Domaine Giacometti wines are still solid values and are not as widely known as some of the elite producers like Abbatucci, Leccia, Arena and Clos Canarelli, who of which get some huge dollars for their bottlings, but that is good news for fans of the island’s wines, that are more budget friendly. The Domaine Giacometti winery and label, which was founded by Christian Giacometti in 1987, employs certified organic methods in the vineyards and used simple and transparent winemaking, with his son Simon and daughter Sarah doing most of the work here. Kermit adds, that the Giacomettis do a generous, approachable style of Patrimonio, and is like what has traditionally been served at the Corsican dinner table for generations. This Cru des Agriate Patrimonio Rouge saw a native yeast fermentation and was macerated and age exclusively in stainless steel, making for a wine that is made for early enjoyment, which I suggest for best results.
($26 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2020 Jean-Louis Dutraive – Domaine de la Grand’Cour, Fleurie, Lieu-Dix “Chapelle des Bois” Cru Beaujolais, France.
The magenta/ruby colored 2020 Chapelle des Bois is intensely vivid, crisply detailed and pure with tons of youthful energy and pretty florals with bright strawberry, racy plum and almost tart red currant fruits leading the way with hints of straw, walnut, cinnamon, cut violets and anise adding nice accents here along with whole cluster pop, smoky mineral tones, chalky stones and delicate earthy elements. Jean-Louis Dutraive, as mentioned here at Grapelive.com, ferments all naturally with indigenous yeasts, whole bunch, getting a semi carbonic effect and they see long maceration(s) on the skins, somewhere close to a month, which according to the winery, depends on what the vintage gives them. The wines are very gently handled from start to finish and moved only by gravity flow in the cellar, with the Crus being aged for 9 months to more than a year, depending on the individual cuvée. There is a combination of vessels for elevage, mostly though see time in used Burgundy barrels, though sometimes the wines are aged partially in stainless, old foudres, or even cement tanks. Jean-Louis’ motto in the cellar is what he calls “minimal intervention and maximum surveillance.” All of the efforts in the cellar are to highlight and promote transparency, and a true sense of place, with this wine being a classic example of that and an outstanding Gamay that provides pleasure in the glass now, but looks to be rewarding too, if given some extra time in the cellar. This Lieu-Dit typically sees cement fermentation and then is aged for just 6 months in neutral foudres to promote freshness and serves to preserve its vibrancy, as seen here.
The legendary Dutraive family, of Fleurie fame, is led by the famed Jean-Louis Dutraive, and, the emerging talent, son Justin, who has made quite a name for himself in recent years with his own signature lineup of offerings. While dad has built the cult like status here at Domaine de la Grand’Cour and still has superstar presence here, Justin Dutraive is part of a growing list of new generation winemakers here in Beaujolais that are leading the region to new levels of quality. Especially noteworthy are the likes of Yohan Lardy, Anne-Sophie Dubois, Julien Sunier, Mathieu & Camille Lapierre, Alex Foillard and Charly Thenevet, who like Justin is transitioning into the head winemaking role with his family’s property. This historic Domaine de la Grand’Cour does an excellent and world class set of Gamay wines from their legendary Fleurie and Brouilly parcels, including this flagship Chapelle des Bois, as well as their Clos and Champagne bottlings. The Domaine de la Grand’Cour was originally established in back in 1969, according to the winery, in the “Summer of love”, and the Domaine de la Grand’Cour’s best holdings are in the Cru Fleurie zone, in what can be considered Grand Cru sites, these consist of three special lieu-dits, the noted Clos de la Grand’Cour, a Monopole walled vineyard, the mentioned Champagne and this Chapelle des Bois, all distinct terroirs and capable of greatness! These granite soiled sites are some of the most coveted in the region, and Dutraive’s vines are holistically and organically farmed following methods inspired by the godfather of Beaujolais’ natural winemaking revolution, Jules Chauvet, who also inspired the likes of Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard, Jean-Paul Thevenet and Guy Breton. Most of Dutraive’s vines are between 50 and 70 years old, with Chapelle des Bois, a single vineyard, being located just north of the domaine and is known for its perfumed and textural wines, as this 2020 shows, I highly recommend Gamay enthusiasts searching it out, these wines never disappoint!
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
Grapelive.com – December 2022
2020 Waylan Wine Co., Red Wine, Peake Ranch Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills.
Finishing the year with something completely new, the Waylan Wine Co., from the Los Olivos area of Santa Barbara County, was recommended to me and I can report the first wine I’ve tried from them is absolutely delicious, sourced from the highly regarded Peake Ranch in the Sta. Rita Hills and made from a blend of Syrah and Grenache, it is fabulous fresh and brilliantly detailed with the Ganache’s personality really shining through at this stage with loads of red fruits, floral tones and snappy spices. This magenta/ruby red Peake Ranch wine from Waylan is full of youthful energy, dry extract and brightness with juicy red fruits leading the way on the medium to full palate that feels nicely lean with the natural acidity proving excellent lift here. The mouth flows seamlessly with dark cherry, plum, pomegranate and tangy red currant fruits along with lavender, pepper, peony, very subtle wood framing and a fine delicate earthiness that instead of taking away from the pleasure of the fruit, enhances it, this is a lovely Rhone effort that keeps impressing with every sip and gains textural joy with air, consider me a fan now, I can’t wait to try more of these Waylan wines! Peake Ranch has plantings that includes seven different clones of Pinot Noir, three clones of Chardonnay and two each of Syrah and Grenache, which are in this wine. The vines are all along a sloping hillside that covers most of the ranch, exposing the vines to the Pacific Ocean, making for a long hang time concentration and vibrant acidity that delivers exceptional balance.
The 2020 Peake Ranch Red, which I understand usually includes Mourvedre, was made with an undisclosed percentage of Syrah and Grenache with the Waylan guys saying that this wine is (all) about the place, not the specific grapes, they used and believe the terroir is the most important factor and its distinction sets this wine apart, which I can attest to. You will not be disappointed, Waylan continues, in this vintage, of which only a few barrels were made, again details of winemaking are a touch secret, though I’d imagine that there was a bit of whole cluster employed and that the grapes came in ripe, but with lower natural sugars with the final alcohol being about 13%, which again is a reflection of the cool climate site. Located on the eastern end of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, the Peake Ranch has 50 acres of vines set on sandy soils and enjoys a breezy cool marine influence. Waylan, the name comes from blending of the two winemaker brothers’ middle names, produces small lot hand made wines from selected vineyard sites. Brad and Greg Saarloos founded their label back in 2015 and do quite a collection of wines, from solo varietal Grenache, Syrah, Gamay, Cinsault and Cab offerings to interesting blends, including this one, plus their own Passetoutgrain Pinot Noir and Gamay cuvée, along with a interesting set of whites and a skin contact Gris. So there’s a whole lot to explore here and I’ve thinking I will have to visit the Waylan tasting room at 2963 Grand Ave in downtown beautiful and rustic Los Olivos. Thanks to my colleague James Schultze for sharing this bottle with me, it was sensational and made for a cool discovery indeed.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Desire Lines, Mourvèdre, Experimental Series #5 – Bedrock Vineyard, Sonoma Valley.
This very rare Experimental small lot 100% Mourvèdre by winemaker Cody Rasmussen, the assistant winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson’s Bedrock Wine Company and owner of this vineyard, is one of my favorite wines of the year and an absolute stunner in the glass with powerful depth, vinous fruit and complexity that makes it a truly world class effort, rivaling some of the world’s best wines made rom this varietal! This Bandol inspired Mourvèdre is beautifully purple inky in the glass with heady aromatics and a densely packed full bodied palate with crushed blackberries, black cherries, plums and dark currants leading the way in the mouth along with dark florals, snappy spices, cedary wood and wild herbs providing complex background accents. The richness and structure here is fabulously compelling and this wine certainly has a raw sex appeal, from nose to finish it doesn’t put a foot wrong and there is tons of potential for long term aging, much like the wines that inspired it, like Bandol legends such as Domaine Tempier, Pradeaux, Gros Nore and Terrebrune to name a few. This Mourvèdre, with delicate earthiness and contrasting savory elements, showcases the vineyard and vintage to near perfection, delivering an awesome performance, hiding its serious tannins behind the year’s concentrated fruit, which is almost plush and nicely rounded in feel and it lingers on and on with violets, creme de cassis and peppercorns. Rasmussen, along with his wife Emily’s Desire Lines Wine Co. which was founded after the 2015 vintage, have put out a killer set of offerings, including some impressive old vine reds.
The Desire Lines Experimental Series #5 – Bedrock Vineyard Mourvèdre was sourced from two small blocks of old-vine Mourvèdre, planted on a rocky, north-facing knoll that runs gently down to Hooker Creek to the north here in this historic Heritage site that is well known for its 1880s planting of Zinfandel, these vines and the vineyard are obviously very important to Rasmussen, who has a huge love for this place and has almost unrivaled access to it! Rasmussen’s Bedrock Mourvèdre was fermented with 40% whole cluster and raised in barrel for fifteen months without racking, as he notes, in a combination of 228L and 600L barrels. The stem inclusion, he says, adds a lovely bit of spice to the nose, the subtle carbonic effect, due to the whole bunches, adds a little flesh to the palate, and the combination of barrel sizes, Cody continues, teases out both breadth and tension in the finished wine. As mentioned here, this stellar lineup of small lot and handcrafted wines by Cody Rasmussen, who, as explained above, is the assistant winemaker Bedrock Wine Company, along with his wife Emily have carved out a niche for themselves with these Desire Lines Wine Co. offerings, this is one of the best newer California wineries to emerge in recent times. While as also 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 in California. I also am greatly impressed by their awesome Dry Rieslings, especially the Cole Ranch, the Wiley and organic Massa Estate versions. If you are lucky enough to have this bottle, be sure to decant it and enjoy it with robust cuisine to allow it to full open. I highly recommend getting on the Desire Lines mailing list to get access to these gorgeous wines, like this one!
($38 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2019 Monte Rio Cellars, Zinfandel, Old Vines, Lodi, California.
The rustic, simple and crunchy the 2019 Monte Rio Old Vine Zinfandel is like a Lodi Chianti, going nicely with pasta and or hard cheeses, it has a bright core of crushed raspberry, plum, tart cherry fruits, along with dried spices, peony florals, aged cedar, bay leaf and tangy herbs. These Monte Rio Cellars wines are made all naturally and this 2019 Lodi Old Vines Zin comes from organic 95 year old Zinfandel vines at the Shergil Vineyard planted on the classic sandy soils of this historic region. The winemaking is old school with a 100% whole cluster and native yeast Carbonic Maceration for 4 days in stainless steel tanks, after which it was pressed off the skins and stems back into stainless steel for 12 days. No sulfur was used here and the wine was matured in very old barrels for 10 months before bottling and release, all to promote the wine’s raw character and it was picked to showcase freshness with just about 13% natural alcohol, making it less ripe, less concentrated and fruity than you’d expect from the region, that is known for dense and sweeter fruit, but welcome for those looking for a food friendly, reasonable priced and quaffable version of Zinfandel.
Monte Rio Cellars, as noted here at Grapelive.com, is owned by famous Sommelier Patrick Cappiello, who along with his friend and famed Syrah maker Pax Mahle produce a series of ultra small production, hand crafted and naturally made wines. Most of the offerings are Zinfandel bottlings, though they have started exploring rare varietals, including a bottling of Mission grape (also known as Pais or Listen) and a California hybrid known as Rubired, as well as doing Cappiello’s signature Skull red blend and a really good Sangiovese, with most all of the vines being organic. The Monte Rio collection is mostly sourced from the Lodi region, though Patrick does get some grapes from Mendocino, including some Chardonnay. As mentioned, the winemaking here is all about hands off and minimalist in style, everything is done to enhance transparency and intentional rawness for an authentic profile. I am finding these Monte Rio wines loads fun and dusty dry with just the right amount of fruit generosity, these are country style wines that get better when paired up with food, especially BBQ and or grilled meat dishes. The color is slightly lighter than some Zins, with this supple, medium bodied and balanced wine having a garnet and ruby hue in the glass, which is inviting and recommend checking out the latest releases here.
($23 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2019 Drew Family Cellars, Syrah, Valenti Ranch, Mendocino Ridge.
One of my very favorite California red wines, the Drew Valenti Syrah offers emended class and quality with its cool climate Northern Rhone personality and elegant, Cote-Rotie like presence in the glass and this slightly shy 2019, which is beautifully purple hued, does not disappoint after it enjoys time to breathe and awaken, it is a gorgeous and world class dark fruited and aromatic wine. This vintage, even with its supple tannins, is a wine that should reward the patient and looks like has an extended drinking window, while still being well mannered in its youth with this year’s version slowly opening after the cork was pulled, but it puts the throttle down after 20 minutes or so, enhancing the perfume and allowing the density of fruit to shine.The palate feels restrained with a medium body and classic layers of blackberry, boysenberry, plum and blue currant fruits along with savory cigar wrapper, camphor and subtle earthy tones, as well as the beautiful violets, cracked pepper, sandalwood/cedar and lingering kirsch. Drew’s Syrah offerings are exciting examples with low natural alcohol and lively acidity, and while known foremost as one of California’s best Pinot Noir producers, these Syrahs are not to be missed and offer a stunning value for what you get in the bottle, as this Valenti Ranch shows and will continue to do so for another decade.
The Valenti Ranch vineyard site sits up at just under 1,500ft and is a cold windy site that faces the East which gives it nice exposure to deliver ripe grapes to Jason Drew’s winery at the very Western end of the Anderson Valley, within the micro Mendocino Ridge AVA. Valenti, which is farmed all organic, is set on ancient seabed with meager marine sedimentary soils and sees huge Pacific Ocean influence with a selection of Chave (Hermitage) clone and Clone 1 (believed to be an old Cote-Rotie selection) planted here. This site, Drew explains, brings a leaner profile to this wine and that he co-ferments a small percentage of Viognier to add what, he calls, an aromatic lift in this fabulous Syrah. As to the winemaking here, Jason employs traditional old world methods with this wine seeing a 100% whole cluster fermentation with all natural native yeasts with long cool maceration before aging a full 18 months in all used, neutral French oak casks. Typically the elevage for the Syrah is done in a combination of barriques and larger puncheons, depending on the vintage and this 2019 Valenti finished up at a very refined 13% alcohol and it is brilliantly transparent and very focused, it goes fantastic with classic pairings, like herb crusted lamb, meat dishes and or wild mushrooms. With food, this Syrah fills out more fully and provides loads of entertainment and texture, delivering on its promise and reminds me a lot of its notable and revered French cousins, with this particular vintage leaning towards exceptional Saint-Joseph(s) offerings.
($55 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2015 I. Brand & Family, Cabernet Franc, Bayly Ranch, Paicines, San Benito County.
Ian Brand had opened up his magnum library and there’s some really fun things available and I got a preview with this lovely and nicely maturing Bayly Ranch Cabernet Franc being one of the treats that impressed out of the big bottle showing classic varietal character, very much in the Loire Valley style, delivering early red fruits, spice, mineral and well judged and restrained oak usage. This bottling has always intrigued me, Cab Franc fans should try this one while they can, as this vineyard saw it’s last Cabernet Franc harvest last year and was sadly re-planted to other varietals, though Ian, ever the vineyard whisperer has assured me that he has found another fabulous source and that his all new 2021 and 2022 Cab Francs will be hugely exciting versions. I love how much this Bayly Ranch tastes like Bourgueil, Saumur-Champigny and Chinon, with beautifully transparent layers of red currant, plum, mixed berry and dark cherry fruits, along with violets, minty herb, bell pepper, a touch of bay leaf, pipe tobacco, chalky stones and sandalwood. This 2015 is evolving and in the glass it adds tertiary elements, leather notes and dusty baking spices, plus its tannins have already have softened and the wine feels silky vinous on the medium bodied palate, making it very nuanced and lightly weighted and best with food, with subtle meat dishes and or duck breast being nice companions to this stylish almost strawberry juice and garnet hued effort.
As mentioned here, the Bayly Ranch Vineyard Cabernet Franc is sourced from vines in the San Benito County and within the Paicines AVA, which is near the Tres Pinos Creek and the notorious San Andreas fault. The soils here consist of a stony mix including ancient alluvial deposits with an array of geologic structure, set in a warm climate location that is refreshed by the cool nights, making it a sublime place for Cabernet Franc, as this wine shows. This Cab Franc, winemaker Ian Brand’s Loire inspired example joins the denser and more Bordeaux like Bates Ranch version in Brand’s exceptional latest collection, he really has a great touch with this varietal, with both of the Cab Francs being exciting wines with their own personality and they make a great pair of bookends! To enhance the classic charm of his Bayly Ranch Cabernet Franc, Brand and his team went with traditional methods with the grapes seeing careful sorting and de-stemming with a cool maceration to preserve aromatics and the wine was aged in a combination of well seasoned French oak that allows for its more raw or old world side to shine through. The 2017, 2018 and 2019 Bayly Ranch Cab Francs are all exceptional vintages and I highly recommend grabbing as many as you can while they are available, along with the few magnums of this 2015 and the 2016 as well, that are now offered at the I. Brand & Family Winery tasting room. It’s worth mentioning too, that along with the Bayly Cab Franc in magnum, Brand has also released some older vintages of his signature Grenache in the big bottles and they are just as stunning and should be overlooked!
($42 Est. In 750ml) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Leitz, Riesling Spatlese, Rüdesheimer Magdalenenkreuz, Rheingau Germany.
The Leitz Magdalenenkreuz Spatlese, a happy place wine for me, is always expressive and pure, the name of this vineyard, translates to “the cross of Mary Magdalene,” named after a red sandstone cross that can be found amongst the vines here. Johannes Leitz nicknamed this wine his “Maggie” and it has always been a traditional favorite of his and mine and this beautiful 2018 was perfect with the array of Christmas dishes with its luscious off dry palate and racy acidity keeping things fine tuned with its natural sweetness and richness. This vintage is a bit restrained with subtle tropical and floral notes, with just a touch of pineapple and white flowers to go with the crisp apple, apricot, quince and juicy tangerine fruit that is well backed up by mineral tones, wet stones, tea spices, crystallized ginger, a hint of honey and candied lemon peel. Easy, refreshing and drier than expected in in the glass this pale golden Spatlese with just about 7.5% natural alcohol feels nicely textural, but is still light on its feet, playing well with food and just the right amount of joyous cheer. Rüdesheim is one of my special places and I love all of these Leitz wines, not just their signature GG’s, which are monumental dry Rieslings, especially the Schlossberg Grand Cru, with Leitz’s Dragon Stone Feinherb, Kabinett and this Spatlese being exceptional values.
The Rüdesheimer Magdalenenkreuz vineyard, a highly regarded VDP site, is located east of the village of Rüdesheim and is influenced by the wider part of the Rhein and the soils here are comprised of mainly sandy loam, loess, a touch of clay and with much less slate than down Rhein, in the Rüdesheimer Berg crus.The climate here makes for fatter less edgy hedonistic wines, I mean, as mentioned before in my reviews, it is better suited to producing richer Rieslings, that has more mouth feel and more fruity presence, and it is an ideal site, as Leitz notes, for a riper expression of Riesling that is perfect for Spatlese. To highlight the terroir and to express transparency, this Rüdesheimer Magdalenenkreuz is precision made with 100% stainless steel and it is wine of ultra clarity that is always rewarding, concentrated and complex even in its youth, though it should drink fantastical well for a decade or longer too. I am always so pleased with this wine and even though I usually drink Leitz’s Trockens, I do try not to miss this bottling that also goes fabulous with hotter Asian cuisine and spicy foods in general, as well as being a fine choice for the range of flavors of a holiday meal. I have twice visited Rüdesheim and spent a lot of that time hiking through the vineyards, including this one, and this wine always transports me there. Johannes Leitz is one of the Rheingau’s most recognized personalities and an award winning producer, that has helped this historic area maintain its legendary status.
($29 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2021 Theopolis Vineyards, Rosé of Petite Sirah, Estate Grown, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
Sometimes overlooked for the Holidays, Rosé wines can be a real treat during the season and easy to enjoy both with the meal and or sipping while opening the presents and this latest Theopolis Rosé is a delicious vinous and spicy example, made from pure Petite Sirah, showing ripe crushed raspberry, strawberry, citrus, sour cherry and peach fruits on a fuller style palate. The dry Rosé of Petite Sirah has rounded mouth feel adding mineral tones, light rosewater florals, a soft wood note and hints of cinnamon, caramel and pepper. Everything folds together and flows smoothly here and with its rich texture it goes well with heavier and more flavorful food pairings, but still has a bright focus that makes it lively and refreshing. I like this vintage, with its dark ruby hue, it manages to be expressive and expansive while being dry and structured, it is a very pleasing year for this offering, one of the best so far.
Theodora Lee’s Theopolis Vineyards, as I have noted here, is one of the top vineyard sites for Petite Sirah in California, with vines hugging steep terraces in the Yorkville Highlands on schist and marine sediment soils. The Theopolis Vineyard has received amazing critical acclaim since it was established in 2003, with Theodoa’s success first coming from the wines made by Mike Officer at Carlisle, and more recently with Paul Gordon’s Halcon versions. Her own wines, which I first started tasting with her 2013 vintage have really started get dialed in as the vineyard matures, especially her signature estate Petite Sirah, which is a very unique and powerful example of this grape. Theodora has added a few new cuvées, both red and white made from sourced grapes, along with a set of Pinots, coming from near by vines as well as the SLH and this Rosé, which barrows Bandol style. For the Theopolis Rosé, like the great Domaine Tempier, Theodora went with 50% direct press (earlier picks) and 50% Saignée, a bleed off from the wine wine harvest to create more impactful version of pink wine and it was aged for a few months in well seasoned neutral French oak. This is drinking very nicely right now and there’s no reason to wait any further, this fun pink is still available at the Theopolis website!
($28 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2021 Fair Moon Wine – Sunshine Effect, Skin Contact Pinot Gris, Holmes Gap Vineyard, Van Duzer Corridor, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The second vintage of Jessica Wilmes’ Sunshine Effect “Gris Rouge” is an impressive wine, and a bit more textural and polished in form, made with extended skin contact and fermented Pinot Gris, from grapes sourced at the Holmes Gap Vineyard in cool and breezy Van Duzer Corridor and is beautifully ruby/strawberry colored in the glass and lightly tannic and crisply dry on the palate. I’m enjoying Wilmes latest set of wines very much, they include this one, her signature offering thus far, as well as her delightful and unique carbonic Tinta Caõ red and her bright golden skin contact Auxerrois, which I most recently reviewed, all of which are distinctly different Willamette Valley wines for this winemaker, who has certainly taken her own path. This 2021 is a highly quaffable and more rounded effort, but a similar profile to her first version, with red apple, orange rind, strawberry and sour cherry leading the way again here, though in this vintage you find some golden raisins, more of a vinous feel, much more subtle savory earthiness, mineral notes, a touch of herbal tea and a nice array of delicate spices that make this “Orange” wine a little more seamless and confident in style. You can more clearly a closer relationship to the inspiration Wilmes took from the likes of the legendary Radikon and Gravner wines of Northeastern Italy, though lighter and fresher than those much more serious examples, and Jessica is just fine with that, as she has no pretensions in her bones. This wine, which should be served only slightly chilled is a great picnic or campfire wine, becoming more generous with food and air, going well with simple cuisine choices rather than white table clothes!
As mentioned here, Fair Moon Wine is an ultra small-production micro winery, that looks to hand-craft unique tiny lot stuff with natural-driven winemaking, with low or no SO2, what Wilmes playfully adds, happy palates in mind. She is motivated by her own experiences, which have included years chasing harvest intern jobs, having to live out of her trusty Toyota Tundra truck and long hours for little pay, which has made her grateful for fleeting moments of calm. This has led her to make wines that are fun, quaffable and flavorful, for what she hopes will be enjoyed during everyday adventures or periods of total relaxation with friends, and with lots laughter. This Sunshine Effect Skin Contact Pinot Gris, somewhere between a dark Rosé and a light red, was on the skins for an exceptionally lengthy 21 days and was fermented completely with natural methods without any additions and was aged close to eight months in neutral, well seasoned, French oak barrels to mature and let the wine all meld together, while allowing fresh acidity and transparent flavors to shine through. The Holmes Gap Vineyard, where this wine’s grapes come from and mostly home to some lovely Pinot Noir, is nestled, as noted above, in the Van Duzer Corridor in the Willamette Valley with mainly marine sedimentary soils that give mineral tones and a nice stony element to the wine. Wilmes, who has interned at Troon and Grochau in recent years, has embraced natural winemaking and will be the first to tell you that she’s into rarities and funky stuff, but fully understands that wine should be al about pleasure and it takes a lot of skills to guide these kind of wines from vineyard to bottle, which she has done very well indeed! She sells mostly direct, via her Fair Moon Wine website, as these wines are very limited offerings.
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2020 Extradimensional Wine Co. Yeah!, Old Vine Mourvèdre, Evangehlo Vineyard, Contra Costa County.
As fires raged throughout California this ancient vineyard site, set remotely along the delta on deep Delphi sands, near a PG&E transformer, quietly produced some of California’s best grapes without the devastating smoke taint that affected almost 80% of the wine regions of the state. Taking full advantage of this blessing, winemaker Hardy Wallace at Extradimensional Wine Co. Yeah! has made a gorgeous Old Vine Mourvèdre from Morgan Twain-Peterson’s Evangelho Vineyard in the most raw and natural style possible, it shows his chops when working with this varietal, which is without a doubt his signature grape. One of the most gentle, flamboyant and intriguing personalities in the wine business Wallace, who was originally part of Dirty & Rowdy wines, has added to his legend here, with his 2020 Evangelho Mourvèdre, which shows remarkably fresh crushed blackberries, Provencal herbs and stunning violets and peony perfume on the nose and that echo on the expressive and supple palate with dark plums, raspberry, currant and the mentioned blackberry fruits leading the way along with peppery spice, hints of lavender, cinnamon, sandalwood and a touch of leather, which is a classic marker of this grape. There is a beautiful clarity in this ripe, but finely balanced vintage and at only 13% natural alcohol this wine is fabulously quaffable, while still providing a serious underlying structure and hidden depth, this wine with please and impress even the most snobbish of Bandol enthusiast! I highly suggest following Hardy on social media, which he has truly mastered to a new art form and searching out his latest wild collection of offerings.
Hardy Wallace always suggests loads of time decanting his Mourvèdre bottlings, recommending up to 75 minutes most times, but I just popped the cork and went for it and after a few minutes this wine blossomed and was pure seduction, getting better and better with every sip, it really didn’t show the grape’s normal funk, feral notes and edgy meaty elements, even though it teased it and the full experience here was one of vinous joy, with hedonistic old vine fruit concentration. Wallace is clean and passionate natural winemaker and his wines show his commitment to the details, even when he tries his best to only allow the vineyard to speak in his wines, using a very hands off approach with the Mourvèdre seeing native yeast fermentation(s) and no additions in most years and the wines are aged in neutral old ranch oak barrels. Hardy has been experimenting with his Extradimensional Wine Co. Yeah! wines, perfecting his Orange wines and even adding skin fermented white grapes to his red blends, while his Mourvèdre sees a more old school and traditional style in most cases and like here in his Evangelho version, from gnarly 100 year old plus vines, which was crafted with whole cluster and a lengthy maceration with hand punch-downs before the wine is pressed to oak casks where it was matured about a year before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. Obviously, this wine is what it is, because of the quality of the grapes and this historic vineyard plays the most significant role in the greatness here, hats off to Wallace for setting the stage for this Old Vine Mourvèdre’s glorious performance. This deep purple/garnet hued wine pays homage to some of the finest Bandol wines, like Château de Pibarnon, Pradeaux and Domaine de Terrebrune, and this Extradimensional Wine Co. Yeah! Mourvèdre is best enjoyed with hearty and or rustic country cuisine with leg of lamb and duck confit being a couple of nice pairings!
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Bow & Arrow, Melon de Bourgogne, Johan Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Back to exploring Oregon, I found this 2019 vintage of Bow & Arrow Melon, which I had tucked away and forgot about, and I was nicely surprised by this dry and leesy white that comes from the organic vines at the Johan Vineyard, it shows a touch of oxidative and evolved elements along with good acidity and crisp layers of lemony citrus, white peach and golden fig fruit along with a touch of wet stones, yeasty notes and mineral tones. The texture has developed too with this 2019 giving some round mouth feel and while still brisk and light framed it has a good expansion and allows this wine some flexibility with cuisine, though I might have drunk it a bit younger with oysters and as it is now I might enjoy it with soft farm cheeses and roast chicken. While Bow & Arrow is known for their Gamay and Pinot bottlings also does a fine series of whites too, with this Melon being one of their favorites along with winemaker Scott Frank’s Sauvignon Blancs and his Chenin. This pale golden wine is certainly a solid effort and those that like Muscat, which are aged as this one was on the lees, will enjoy this wine, especially in its just released form. Scott works with natural techniques in the cellar and his wines have very low SO2 and the wines here are charmingly raw and slightly rustic in personality.
Bow & Arrow, which was founded in 2010, by Scott Frank, is based in Portland and is a Loire Valley and old world “natural” inspired winery that sources grapes from organic vineyard sites throughout the Willamette Valley. They make a set of classics from Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc and this Melon, as well as some unique rarities and some cool playful quaffers, but with serious intent. I am a longtime fan of Frank’s Bow & Arrow wines, especially his awesome Rhinestones cuvee, also sourced from the Johan Vineyard, that is close to an Oregon version of Cheverny (a Loire Valley appellation) with a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay. Frank, who spent some time working under the legendary John Paul of Cameron Winery, has taken his own path and has created an underground following of counter culture wine drinkers that are looking for value priced artisan wines. The Johan Vineyard, a certified biodynamic site in Rickreall area of the Willamette Valley, is largest source of fruit for Bow & Arrow, farmed by Dag Sundby and Dan Rinke, who make their wines and provide grapes to some top notch producers, it is set on Helvatia and Santiam soils which were formed by glaciolacustrine deposits over silty loams and clayey alluvium with high acidity and is mineral rich. This is a beautiful site and is influenced by the Chehalem range and the cool nights that gives these wines from here a distinctive (terroir) personality. I recommend checking out the latest set of wines here at Bow & Arrow, especially the 2021s, which have loads of energy and substance.
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2020 Vína Carmen, Delanz Apalta, Red Estate Blend, D.O. Alpalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile.
Blind tasted and (I) was completely wrong, though I did think it had elements of both the Bordeaux and Loire regions, but I enjoyed this Carmen Delanz Apalta. This Carmenere based Chilean red very much impressed me and I thought it was very solid value with rich fruit density, classic spice and green herbal notes, along with a restrained use of oak that gave it an old world feel. Grown in the now prestigious Apalta Valley, well up in the Andes, best known for the wines of Lapostolle and their iconic Clos Apalta, this Carmen Delanz Apalta is crafted using a unique blend of 79% Carmenere, 15% Cabernet Franc and about 6% of Syrah, which is a savvy choice and gives an extra degree of complexity and allows for pretty floral and lightly earthy aromas to emerge from the glass.The full bodied palate flows nicely with black cherry, plum, currant and dark berries forming a core of fruit, going along with the hints of sandalwood, minty herbs, anise and a faint green bell pepper note in a supple wine with ripe polished tannins and good natural acidity. The vines are located in the Colchagua valley within the Alpalta zone with the Carmenere sourced from a dry farmed vineyard site originally planted in 1935 that are set on granite soils. The Winery notes that this 2020 vintage of Carmen’s Delanz Apalta cuvée is the first release of this wine, which saw the inclusion of some Cab Franc and Syrah from more recently planted.
For the winemaking here, the winery chose pretty traditional methods with each varietal macerated and fermented separately in small lots and blended later with primary done in stainless steel tanks with 24 days on the skins before the wine must was pressed using a vertical press using different pressure intensity to get full extraction, but a softer tannin profile. The Delanz Alpalta was aged in French oak barrels for 18 months and was naturally clarified without any fining agents, with a well judged percentage of new wood, which helps this wine show its true nature and it does a good job of showcasing the terroir. Emily Faulconer, the winemaker here at Carmen’s Apalta estate, has done a fabulous job capturing a sense of place, noting that Apalta is a magical small valley that is situated at the foot of a mountain range, with the mentioned deep granite based soils and an ancient wooded forest that she says adds its influence here in her new wine and brings out the best in the Carmenere, one of Bordeaux varietals that was almost completely extinct in France before being re-discovered here in Chile. Foulconer adds this is a special place for the Chilean viticulture and they have many years of experience and history here in Apalta. The 2020 vintage was a year in which draught caused extremely low yields and the winery carefully selected the grapes here to be sure of the best quality and concentration, which this Delanz Apalta clearly displays, but the cool nights here make for very balanced wines. Again, thank you to my friend Giussepi Cossu, who has visited this region and tasted me on this wine.
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Holman Ranch, Pinot Noir, Three Brothers, Carmel Valley AVA, Monterey County.
The Holman Ranch Estate Vineyard and Winery situated on the picturesque southern facing hillsides just east of the Carmel Valley Village is mainly known as a wedding venue, but their small parcels of vines are showing real potential and the 2018 Pinots, made by the father and son team of Greg Vita, a long time local winemaker who’s roots go back to the famous Spring Mountain Winery in Napa Valley, and the rising talent Chris Vita, who has brought some excitement these wines. This Three Brothers Pinot Noir is deep in color and beautifully aromatic with a bright array of red berries, mineral tones, floral dimension and subtle wood use, plus the added complexity of partial whole cluster fermentation. The texture is lush and satiny, but there’s personality and plenty of lively energy, with black cherry at the core and background layers of plum, sandalwood, currant, rose petals, delicate spices and a hint of sage tea. It’s a touch choice between the latest wines here, which are mainly just different percentages of the estate selection of clones, with this one a touch heavier in Dijon clones, though with some Calera and Pommard featuring as well, all of which, makes for a serious and delicious wine.
Having known Greg Vita for many years now, I was told by him, just after he was hired to consult with Holman Ranch, that he believed there was tremendous promise at this beautiful hillside vineyard and I’ve seen a real progression from the 2011 and 2012 vintages to now, and some of that I think has been the growth of Chris Vita’s influence here as well as the maturing of the vines here. Chris convinced his dad to go with more whole cluster in recent vintages and these 2018s, are for me, big steps up in quality and they show a less austere nature with expressive flavors and just the right amount of subtle crunch from the whole bunches and stems. The fermentation(s) are otherwise traditional with the grapes allowed to start fermenting with vineyard yeasts before being inoculated during the cool maceration period with a selected culture finishing primary ferments before the wines are free run racked to French oak where the Pinots age about a year in the barrel, after which they carefully blended into each cuvée. I was really impressed tasting through the latest Holman Ranch wines, with this one, the Heather’s Hill and their Kelly’s Press all showing fabulously well, a big thank you to Holman’s Giuseppi Cossu for guiding me through these well made small lot wines. Only a few barrels of each are made and they see mostly used wood, but enough new to add some polish and they are flexible and confident food wines as well, I recommend checking them all out.
($53 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2020 Samuel Louis Smith, Pinot Noir, Spear Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills.
The bright and delightful low alcohol Spear Pinot Noir from Sam Smith, who is the head winemaker at Monterey’s Morgan Winery, is a wine that was made in this vintage largely due to the devastating fires and smoke, with Smith trying to find grapes unaffected by these conditions and it offers lovely aromas, delicate flavors and quaffable drinking pleasures. Though, not up to his masterpiece Chard from this same vineyard, this Spear Pinot, which has less depth than some of his other wines, has plenty of personality with red cherry, cranberry, plum and raspberry fruits on the lighter framed, medium weight, silky palate along with refreshing acidity, a spicy pop, hints of blood orange, wild herbs, rose petal florals and subtle wood influence. Smith is a roll and his personal label wines are becoming highly coveted, especially his collection of Pinots, Syrahs and the mentioned, awesome, Chard, which should not be missed. Smith, who’s lively 2020 Spear Pinot came in at just 12%, uses partial whole cluster fermentation with native yeast primary and secondary fermentations with a gentle handling of the wine from start to finish, with his elegantly styled Pinots usually seeing a 10 months élévage in mainly used barrels, with up to 20 new French oak, though this one shows no overt oak influence.
The organic Spear Vineyard is already highly regarded and the wines coming from here are wonderfully balanced, have great depth and lovely aromatics, making it one of the Sta. Rita Hill’s prime locations and Sam’s Chardonnay is proof positive of the greatness here and its future potential. So it was interesting to try the Pinot from this site, which certainly has potential for some amazing wines made from this varietal, to match the quality already achieved with Chardonnay. Planted in 2014, Spear has Pinot Noir and Chardonnay primarily in the ground and it is farmed organically by Ofer Shepher, who deserves much praise for his efforts. Spear’s northern border, as Smith notes, and steep north-facing slopes hug Highway 246, giving the site a cooler tone and a long growing season that allows for complete ripeness with low sugars. Smith also notes that Spear’s varied elevation reaches 900 feet, getting some of the coldest blasts of Ocean air in the region and soils are mainly comprised of marine sedimentary clay and sand, meaning they are well drained, but provide a good defense to drought conditions, important for vine health and quality. Smith’s wines are best secured through his mailing list and his brand new set of 2021s have just been released, which look to be a very exciting set of small lot offerings, and I highly recommend checking them out, with the Gamay and Chards being wines not to overlook, while the Syrah and Pinot bottlings are the main focus.
($42 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Bucklin, Otto’s Grenache, Old Hill Ranch Vineyard, Sonoma Valley.
Bucklin produces only wines coming from their legendary Heritage family vineyard, the Old Hill Ranch planted in the middle of the 1800s, which is a total of 24 acres, broken up into seven different blocks from which Will Bucklin makes his nine different small lot wines, mainly Zinfandel of course, but also including this more recent Grenache Noir. This dark garnet and ruby 2018 Otto’s Grenache is still fresh and lively, bursting from the glass with expressive aromatic nose and a cool tone to the deep red fruits on display on the full bodied and dense palate, this is a unique and distinctly Californian version of the grape, showing its own sense of Sonoma Valley terroir. This rich and complex Grenache shows loads of black cherry, plum, red currant fruits along with peony, sage, bay leaf, minty herb and sweet strawberry reduction. Beautifully textured and with just the right amount of savory elements, refined tannins and the perfect amount of wood framing, this is excellent stuff. Will Bucklin’s stewardship of Old Hill Ranch, as he says, follows in the footsteps of his stepfather Otto Teller, a renowned conservationist who started farming in Sonoma Valley in the late 1950s. Bucklin adds that Otto was an ardent organic farmer decades before the notion caught hold, especially here in the Sonoma Valley. Going on Bucklin notes that Otto was a disciple of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” and he refused to use what he called the treadmill of agricultural chemicals on his vines. He believed in dry farming, as Will does, because he knew it produced better wine, with cellar techniques used now, that enhance the sense of place and to compliment the quality of the grapes grown here, which promote transparency and rustic charm naturally. After graduating from UC Davis in 1986, Bucklin interned at Château Lafite Rothschild in Pauillac (Bordeaux) before heading to Oregon to further his learning experience, after which his took over winemaking at Old Hill Ranch for his family’s efforts, turning it into very celebrated and coveted small production winery under his Bucklin label. Bucklin is trying to make his wines in the vineyard and is as hands off as possible in the cellar, as he notes he is very committed to low intervention, he does not add nutrients to the fermentations and only adds sulfur dioxide at very minimal levels to eliminate oxidation.
While known for their ancient vine Zinfandel, Bucklin also does small bottlings of field blended Grenache, like this beautiful Otto’s block planted in 2010, as well as a white and even some Cabernet Sauvignon, and I highly recommend checking them out along with their latest Zin releases. Only about 5 barrels were made of this Otto’s Grenache, coming from one of California’s most historic and oldest heritage sites, Old Hill Ranch, home to the state’s first official planting of Zinfandel, with this wine being a tribute to Otto Teller, who bought this old vineyard in 1980 and who, instead of ripping up the ancient mix of vines, decided to keep it as it is and for which we all can be grateful. The Bucklin’s have preserved the classic old block, as well as planted in the same method, newer parcels like this Otto’s, and the Bambino (young vine) Zinfandel block that sees many other black grapes inter-planted, including Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Carignane. The elder 1880s vines include many others, as Bucklin explains, that through the use of DNA mapping he has documented three very rare varieties that otherwise only exist in the French Alps, most of which are found in the Savoie, Mollard, Persan, and Etraire de la Dui. There is also a small, but an important amount of white grapes too, such as Chardonnay, French Colombard, Chasselas, Muscat of Alexandria and Clairette Blanche that go into his white blend. There is also rarities here, like Aramon, usually only used in Rosé wines in France’s Languedoc, Catawba, Peloursin (one of Petite Sirah’s parent grapes), Charbono (Bonarda), Black Muscat and Tannat, the classic French Basque grape of Irouleguy, scattered throughout the vineyard. Also rumored, but not confirmed by Bucklin’s findings, there may be Merlot, Tempranillo, and Trousseau here as well, and interestingly, Will says, there is a significant amount of an “unknown spotted grape” named for the fact that it has no DNA marker that identifies it or where it might be originally from and the fact that the grapes have spots. I suggest, curious wine and California enthusiasts get on the mailing list to get these limited offerings, in particular their Ancient Heritage Field Blend and this Grenache! The Bucklin wines typically see native yeasts, fermented primarily in stainless steel and then aged a year or so in mainly used barrels, which is why you get to see varietal character and sense place all come together in the wines here. I advise looking for this Otto’s and the very rare Ancient Grenache, along with the Zins here, these are super wines, and authentic California treasures!
($36 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2021 Bedrock Wine Company, Zinfandel, Beeson Ranch Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
The 2021 Beeson Ranch Zinfandel is outrageously delicious, with tons of charm, leading with pretty aromatics and incredible deep black fruits on the full bodied youthful palate that is bursting with energy, smooth layering and delightful length on the finish. I’ve just discovered this debut bottling here at Bedrock and I love the black raspberry, plum and currant fruits, as well as the delicate spice, mineral tones and elegant use of wood framing here that adds a bit of sweet toast and cedar notes that perfectly fit this wine. The Beeson Ranch, located in the Dry Creek Valley AVA, is a steep western site that was planted well over a century ago on the quartz laced marine sediment soils, it sees those hot Summer days, but gets a nice night time cooling influence that provides fabulous overall balance, as this vintage shows. This stony old vine vineyard, with its mix of igneous and metamorphic rock makes for a Zinfandel, that winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson says, has both luscious and hedonistic weight and fine elegance, all of which, I find very compelling and seductive, especially this vintage, in the glass. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the latest releases of Bedrock’s Zins from the 2019, 2020 and 2021 collections, including their signature Heritage field blends, like the estate bottlings of the Bedrock Vineyard from Sonoma Valley and the Evangelho Vineyard in Contra Costa County, as well as their basic multi-vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel. That said, this Beeson Ranch, with its hundred year old vines, is very impressive and really hits the spot for me, it is distinctive and pure Zinfandel that really shined on its own, but got even better with casual mushroom pizza dinner, it gave a confident performance and I will be sure to get this special Zin bottling every time its offered. This Beeson saw a combination of oak aging vessels, with Bedrock having favorite barrels for Zinfandel, as well as their Grenache and even lighter weight Syrahs, which see 500- and 600-liter puncheons and demi-muids, with the winery noting, that these larger barrels retain freshness with a limited oak and oxygen impact, feeling that this helps preserve the fingerprint of origin in the wine better.
The winemaking at Bedrock, and under Morgan Twain-Peterson, relies less on dogma and more about what the vintage and vineyard needs to best show itself and with Zinfandel, it was once thought you’d always de-stem the grapes, but Twain-Peterson has used some whole cluster to great effect here. Typically Bedrock have never used whole-cluster on Zinfandel, Morgan says, and that like most things thought to be verboten, it turns out that whole-cluster, used during fermentation, can be delicious and fun! As anyone who’s enjoyed these Bedrock wines can attest to, and when done well, as Morgan continues, whole-cluster can amplify perfume, increase structural complexity, lower alcohol in the finished wine (stems absorb some ethanol), improve fermentation health by controlling temps, and increasing a wine’s overall character, which I agree with, believing it heightens the pleasure and allows more personality. Twain-Peterson warns that this doesn’t always make sense and the drawbacks can include stem bittiness, leading to green flavors, adding too, if used for pure carbonic maceration, the whole cluster can potentially overwhelm the wine with the bubble gum/banana Runts character. Morgan, who is one of only a few winemakers to be a Master of Wine, notes however, one only has to look at some of the finest producers employing almost 100% while cluster—Dujac in Burgudy, Chateau Rayas or Henri Bonneau in Chateauneuf, and Allemand in Cornas and Domaine Jamet in Cote Rotie, as he mentions, come to mind— see the enormous complexity than can be imparted on the wine, by the practice. Outside of Zinfandel, though this is changing, Bedrock uses whole-cluster on virtually all red varieties that come into their winery, including most successfully Syrah, along with Carignan, Mataro, Grenache, Cinsault, even and interestingly Cabernet Sauvignon. The Zins, like this Beeson, which sees mostly neutral oak to promote transparency and fruit density are wonderfully expressive, as Bedrock continues to experiment with whole bunches and macerations to make the most thrilling wines as possible, these are wines I highly recommend, especially this exciting 2021 vintage. If you’ve not had Bedrock or tried the latest examples, I really hope you get a chance to, as they are some of the best California wines available!
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2021 Fair Moon Wine – Sunshine Effect, Skin Contact Auxerrois, Zenith Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Jessica Wilmes, winemaker at her Fair Moon Wine label, has made one of the only pure Auxerrois wines I’ve ever seen and or tried, a grape that rarely gets to be a solo act, and she made a distinct example with a long skin contact maceration and an all natural fermentation. This golden/yellow hued dry and cleanly crisp white is surprisingly delicate and brightly toned with fresh citrus, tart peach and mineral notes, showing much less pigment color, savory funk or tannin that most orange wines, making it beautifully refreshing, low alcohol and great for lighter cuisine, like ceviche or as Jessica suggests, it is nice with raw sushi. The grapes come from the exceptional, most organic, Zenith Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA which is in the Chehalem range and set on sedimentary soils and mostly known for outstanding Pinot Noir, though there is also small parcels of Pinot Gris and a few other lesser known varietals, like this Auxerrois. This unfiltered Sunshine Effect 2021 Auxerrois reminds me a little of Sandi Skerk’s Vitovska or Malvasía bottlings, in terms of color and clarity, though less aromatic, but with a touch of spice, lemon peel and chamomile, that adds some complexity. (More on Jessica Wilmes – click here)
Auxerrois Blanc, once called Pinot Auxerrois, though not a member in the Pinot family, is also known as Auxerrois Blanc de Laquenexy, it is a white wine grape that is most commonly found in Alsace, France. It is a rather bland varietal without much that makes it interesting on its own, though Jessica has given this grape some complexity and life here with the skin contact. Auxerrois has not been widely traveled, though it also grown in Germany and Luxembourg, where it finds a home where it’s typically blended into generic whites, so it was interesting to find it here in Oregon. It should be noted that Auxerrois is a full sibling of Chardonnay, but doesn’t the body, depth and range of flavors, which is why that it is often blended with Pinot Blanc, in small percentages, both at home in Alsace and in the Willamette Valley. Jessica, who has interned at Troon Vineyard and Grochau Cellars, has just released her second vintage of wines that include her signature Gris Rouge, skin contact Pinot Gris, a fun carbonic Tinto Caõ red and this 11% natural alcohol Auxerrois, which saw a 12 day skin fermentation and absolutely zero additions, sans soufre, then aged in neutral barrel for a few months. Wilmes has been inspired by natural wines and was influence by her tastings of Gravner, Radikon and Foradori, as well as other orange wine producers in both the old and new world, and her wines, which are reasonably price, are well worth looking for.
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2021 Hundred Suns, Pinot Noir, Old Eight Cut, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The bright ruby and garnet 2021 Hundred Suns Old Eight Cut Pinot Noir, by winemaker Grant Coulter, is loaded with personality and energy with an almost carbonic like expressively juicy medium bodied palate. This lively vintage shows Italian cherry, strawberry, pomegranate and tart red currant fruits, along with a heightened pop of spice, dark flowers and mineral tones, adding a silky texture with air and gaining some savory, earthy, wild herb and stony elements that gives a savvy balance here. As mentioned, I find this partial whole cluster Pinot thrilling in the same way I do (and love) the Cru Beaujolais wines from the legendary producers, like Dutraive, Thevenet, Breton, Lapierre and Foillard, rather than classic Pinot or Burgundy wines, it is very distinctive and Gamay like, Coulter makes very singular wines. The winemaking here is very much on the natural side of things with both ancient and more modern traditional methods is about using minimal intervention, almost no new wood and very low sulphites, which Coulter believes promotes purity and freshness in his wines. In his Old Eight Cut Pinot Noir, you get a lot for your money in terms of quality and it is a ridiculous good value, providing lots of drinking pleasure even while young.
The Hundred Suns Old Eight Cut Pinot, is, as Coulter puts it, a cellar selection (that) stitches together pieces from unique sites across the Willamette Valley, including some elite vineyard sites. The separate lots of 2021 Pinot Noir grapes were fermented with all native yeast, 30%whole cluster and with a variety of traditional and experimental techniques, sometimes including carbonic maceration and or amphora, after which the wine was aged mainly in well used French oak barrel. These cellar techniques were employed all to create a layered and transparent wine, and this vintage is wonderfully engaging and seriously delicious. Grant Coulter, the ex Beaux Freres winemaker, and his wife Renée Saint-Amour’s Hundred Suns label, which focuses on innovative hand crafted single vineyard Pinots, along with some exciting Gamay, Syrah and Chardonnay, is one of the most exceptional wineries in the Willamette Valley. The top set of Pinots at Hundred Suns come from unique parcels at Shea Vineyard, in the Yamhill-Carlton district, Mike Etzel’s Sequitur Vineyard in Ribbon Ridge, and the classic Bednarik Vineyard, with its selection of Pommard and Wadensvil clones on marine sedimentary soil. All the vineyards providing grapes for the Hundred Suns wines, including this Old Eight Cut bottling, are fully sustainable and or organically grown, making for some highly desirable wines, which I highly recommend.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Brick House, Gamay Noir, Ribbon Ridge AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
One of Oregon’s great wineries, Brick House, best known for their classic Pinot Noirs, also does a delicious Gamay, sourced from vines on Willakenzie soils series between 440 and 500 feet in elevation, which gives this wine its fresh and crisp detailing and smooth texture.This year’s Gamay is light and lively with loads of spice and a delicate earthiness, showing bright red fruits, including strawberry, tart plum, cranberry and cherry, along with cinnamon, clove, wilted roses, a touch of cedar and mineral tones.The fruit, as per normal here, was fully de‐stemmed and moved into open top fermenting tanks where a native fermentation was encouraged, as is done with the Pinots. After 21 days, the 2019 vintage Gamay Noir was racked into neutral barrels where it remained until the summer of 2020, which meant it spent 12 months in used 100% French barrels, as the winery explains, then the wine was bottled. This Brick House Gamay is traditionally made and is less exotic and fruit driven than the whole cluster and or carbonic versions, but it is easy to love, has good complexity and is a confident effort in a difficult vintage.
Founder Doug Tunnell, winemaker, of Brick House planted his first estate vines around the old brick house on the property in the spring of 1990 with Pinot Noir first, as the winery notes, then Chardonnay and the Gamay Noir, one of the first true new world sites to have this varietal. Every vine Tunnell planted came with a commitment that was rare in the Willamette Valley at the time, to lead the way for biodynamics in Oregon, Brick House was to be a 100% certified organic farm. Then after years of success and great wines, influenced by the great domaines of Burgundy, in 2005, Tunnell and Brick House achieved full and coveted Demeter Biodynamic certification. The southeast facing slopes on Brick House’s Ribbon Ridge estate, set on ancient marine sediment soils, provides ripe and elegant cool climate fruit to make some of Oregon’s most distinctive wines, such as this lovely Gamay. Tunnell’s Gamay is made from registered Cru Beajolais clones, #282 and #284, these vines date back to 1992 and have been farmed organic since day one. Coming in at about 12% natural alcohol, this ruby/garnet Gamay is highly quaffable and is best with a slight chill, going great with simple cuisine. I enjoy all of Brick House wines and highly recommend them to anyone that hasn’t had a chance to try them.
($32 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2021 Weingut Ingrid Groiss, Grüner Veltliner, Weinviertel DAC, Austria.
This vintage is wonderfully aromatic and cooly crisp on the palate with an effervescent spritz in this beautiful and lively offering with bright citrus and tropical fruits along with loads of mineral charm and a clean almond like bite, it is a wine that begs for oysters and or other briny or raw seafoods. The latest Groiss Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s signature varietal, comes from vines grown on loess, sand and gravel soils in the town of Zeirsdorf within DAC Weinviertel north of Vienna, not far from Groiss’ hometown of Breitenwaida, and was fermented and aged in stainless steel. Picked with lower sugars, this lighter framed, fresh and salty dry Grüner, made in the Federspiel style, comes in at just about 12.5% natural alcohol and saw natural yeasts ferments that while in tank captures a bit free CO2, like Spain’s Txakolina Basque whites. As this Grüner opens you get the classic white pepper, pithy and calcareous stony elements to go with its lemon/lime core. I have been a fan of Ingrid’s wines for about eight or so vintages now and they continue to impress me and are solid values in my book, in particular I love this Grüner, as well as her Rieslings, which are in a slightly richer style and her fabulous Gemischter Satz, a local traditional co-fermented white.
Interestingly, as I’ve noted here, the Groiss Gemischter Satz, the signature wine of Ingrid Groiss is her amazing Gemischter Satz, a field blend white made from Chardonnay, Frühroter Veltliner, Grauburgunder, Grauer Vöslauer, Grüner Veltliner, Hietl Rote, Müller Thurgau, Neuberger, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Roter Veltliner, Rotgipfler, Sämling, Silberweisse, Welchriesling, Wiesse Vöslauer, Zierfandler. It’s all from a single parcel planted by her grandmother in Braitenpuechtorff, north of Vienna, in Austria’s Weinviertel region not far from the Czech border. In the hands of this talented winemaker, these organic 50 year old vines produce one of the world’s great traditional white wines. Totally unique and terroir driven with subtle depth and lively mineral character, Ingrid Groiss’ Gemischter Satz is an awesome, authentic wine and tremendous value! This zippy Grüner is transparent, tasty and an exciting wine on its own and merits attention, especially this exciting vintage, which is very expressive and compares well to much more expensive bottlings from the Wachau. It is also worth mentioning that Ingrid’s sensational wines have gone from an underground favorite to getting world wide recognition and now she is imported by Vineyard Brands that is a leader in organic, family owned and high quality offerings, with the benefit of making it easier to find her wines here in the States.
($20 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2021 Turley Wine Cellars, Cinsault, Bechthold Vineyard, Lodi, California.
This new 2021 edition of Turley’s Bechthold Cinsault is ultra vivid and delicious with racy red fruits, spice, mineral and floral tones, it is my favorite of my latest batch of Turley offerings, with its bright flavors and silky medium body making a perfect food wine and easily quaffable. Coming from historic vines in Lodi set on sandy soils this Turley Bechthold Vineyard shows vibrant crushed raspberries, strawberries and tree picked plums along with cinnamon, dusty pepper, lavender, umami, delicate sandalwood, Moro orange and lingering kirsch on the cooly crisp palate. To preserve their Cinsault’s vibrancy and show purity, this Turley Bechthold Vineyard was done in a semi carbonic (Gamay) like style and saw a natural yeast fermentation, then was aged, as per normal, exclusively in neutral 100% used French oak. Cinsault is enjoying a revival, and while mostly used in blends, it makes for a lovely solo varietal wines with many superb California efforts, like this one and as well as wines from the Languedoc region of France. While obviously known for their awesome Zins, Turley does everything well and this wine highlights winemaker Tegan Passalacqua’s talents in the vines and in the cellar.
Turley’s Bechthold Cinsault, as mentioned in my prior reviews, comes from one of the Lodi region’s oldest vineyards with Bechthold being planted in 1886, making this Cinsault vineyard maybe the oldest of its kind in the world, as Tegan Passalacqua suggests. The vines at Bechthold are gnarly, head-trained and planted on their own roots in the deep, sandy soils and are Lodi’s oldest continuously farmed vineyard site, one of California’s most unique and cherished sites. Cinsault, one of the Chateauneuf du Pape grapes, found in the Rhone, Provence and in the Languedoc regions of France mainly has found a happy home here in California, especially in warmer climate areas of California, as it retains natural acidity and holds up in the relentless heat, as witnessed here in Lodi. Cinsault has become the secret sauce in many blended wines and adds life and vitality in the classic Rosé wines of Bandol, on its own it can even provide a lighter and more, as mentioned above, Gamay like style, like it does here, and can be enjoyed with a slight chill too. These well over 100 year old vines continue to provide amazing grapes and this magenta/ruby hued 2021 vintage is a must have year with exceptional fruit quality and natural acidity, I wish I had bought more!
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2020 Envínate, Táganan, Vinos Atlanticos, Tinto, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.
The 2020 Táganan, a Listen Negro (one of the Mission Grapes) based wine grown on Tenerife’s volcanic soils, is a trilling wine with a smoky and flinty edginess and with spicy red fruits and a silky medium body that makes for a comparison with Sicily’s Nerello Mascalese (grown on Mt. Etna), which is not too hard to imagine, though the Envínate is a bit more feral and exotic. The palate has a touch of reductive funk that blows off and an array of briar laced raspberry, strawberry, tart cherry and plum fruits, along with red pepper flakes, camphor, anise, dried flowers and a subtle meaty or sanguine iron character. Best to take your time to enjoy this bottle, plenty of air, time and food make it a wonderful experience and he complexity will amaze you. To make this wine happen, as I’ve noted, Envínate, uses no chemicals in any of the vineyards, like this sites used here, which are on the volcano, with every parcel tended and picked by hand, all the grapes are foot-trodden old school style, and the wines are fermented exclusively with wild yeasts, with a varying proportion of whole grape clusters. As for aging, the Envínate wines are raised in old barrels and the absolute minimum amount of sulfur is used and only added at bottling, if needed. The results are some of the most exciting wines made in Spain, they are extraordinary and unique, as this Táganan proves, and I should mention these wines benefit from being served with a slight chill.
Envínate, as mentioned here many times, is a talented group of four friends, consisting of winemakers Roberto Santana, who is in charge here on Tenerife, Alfonso Torrente, Laura Ramos, and José Martínez. This gang of four formed back in 2005 while studying enology at the University of Miguel Hernandez in Alicante and decided that they all would make wine together, regardless of where they ended up. Then after their graduation, they formed a winemaking consultancy, which evolved into Envínate, a project, now based on Tenerife, that focuses on exploring distinctive parcels mainly in the Atlantic regions of Spain, including most famously the Ribeira Sacra in Galicia and the Canary Islands, as well as one site influenced by the Mediterranean sea in the Alicante region along with a plot in Extremadura. I’ve been following Envínate for many vintages now and every time I try their wines I find something new and exciting in them, and the current releases are thrilling, quite honestly there is nothing quite like them! This vintage of light ruby hued Táganan, which means slope in the local dialect, was made from mainly Listen Negro, but also saw a good bit of Negramoll, as well as small amounts of rarities like Mulata, Listan Gacho and Malvasia Rosada, with all parcels fermented separately in open top vats, about 30 to 50% de-stemmed, with a two-week maceration before the wines are blended and aged for about a year on the lees in neutral barriques without racking and bottled unfined and unfiltered. This wine is not made every vintage, so it is hard to find, but well worth it!
($48-54 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Grochau Cellars, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
This aromatic and deep ruby/garnet Grochau 2018 Willamette Valley Pinot is ridiculously good and showing beautiful right now with exceptional purity and transcendent in flavors with silky layers of Italian cherry, plum, raspberry and pomegranate fruits that are wonderfully accented by an array of floral and spicy events and just the right amount of savory earthiness, lifted by cinnamon, rose petals, flinty stones and a restraint use of oak and its subtle toastiness. I’ve enjoyed the latest releases from John Grochau, but this is a sleeper and drinking fantastic, he is committed to sustainable, organic and sensible farming, and works growers with or without official certification. With this wine seeing some impressive sources that, as he puts it, span the northern Willamette Valley, including the Björnson Vineyard, Vivid Vineyard, Carlton Hill Vineyard, Zenith Vineyard, and some others that provide the pedigree here over the years, with this 2018 being made from hand picked barrels.
John Grochau, the ex-professional cyclist turned winemaker, has been turning out lovely and authentic Willamette Valley Pinots since 2002 and this cuvée in particular has been a huge hit and a favorite of mine, coming from a variety of sites and all grown sustainably with the goal of making a transparent and pure regional Pinot Noir. It’s hard to imagine a more enjoyable Pinot for the price, I only wish I had bought more of this vintage, though I’m sure the current 2020 and up coming 2021 release will be worthy of attention too. Most of Grochau’s Pinots are done with whole cluster and native yeasts and aged primary in used French oak barrels, with this Willamette Valley cuvée seeing an elevage of almost a year before bottling, everything is about allowing the fruit to expressive itself. Grochau also does a range of single vineyard wines and each have a more individual personality with his Zenith being another of my favorites in the lineup, plus their are a couple of tasty Gamay offerings, and even a Tempranillo that is fun curiosity, along with a fine selection of whites, that includes a Pinot Blanc and Melon de Bourgogne.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
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