Reviews 2020 Reviews – December, 2020

2018 Sandlands Vineyards, Zinfandel, Lodi Wine, California.
The latest set of wines from Tegan and Olivia Passalacqua at Sandlands Vineyards from the 2018 vintage are true reflections of time and place with the long cooler growing season giving fabulous depth and balance and out of the set of outstanding wines, one of my favorites is the Lodi Zinfandel with its spot on black raspberry led Zin flavors, spicy tones and textural excellence. Tegan farms and artisan crafts this Lodi Zin from a selection of grapes from his own Kirschenmann Vineyard, a historic site on the East Side of Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA that was originally planted back in 1915 on silica rich, white sandy soils. It has become one of the most prized vineyards in the Lodi region and produces expressive and pure Zinfandel grapes that go into some big time delicious wines, like Turley’s version, which Tegan also makes alongside his own Sandlands, of which he made just seven barrels of in 2018. In recent years Lodi has seen a move away from ultra jammy and oaked up wines with a new focus on individual old vineyards and more transparency with some fantastic, maybe lighter styled wines coming from this Central Valley region, with Sandlands leading the way with their juicy fresh Lodi Zin and the delicately quaffable 100% Cinsault being excellent examples. The Lodi Zinfandel starts with bramble berry, crushed lilacs and a spicy briar note with refined and smooth tannins along with nice push of natural acidity as well as a lingering pepper, anise and framboise. The palate is dense or lush and at 14.4% it not thin by any means, but it certainly does feel hot or overly heavy, again this is as pure Zinfandel as it gets and its beautifully layered with very subtle oak, which seems like well seasoned used barrels.

Tegan Passalacqua started his own label to focus on unique old California vineyard sites and what he calls outliers or forgotten grapes, he makes a fine range of mostly red wines, though he does do a Napa Chardonnay and a few different Chenin Blancs, all his wines are hand crafted and made to show off the terroirs, which this one does with wonderful clarity. His collection of small lot wines include the ones mentioned above, plus a Contra Costa Carignane and Matrao (Mourvedre) as well as an old school Mission (Listan or Pais), a 100 year old vine Grenache and a gorgeous Cote-Rotie style Syrah from the Pisoni family’s Soberanes Vineyard. I first got hooked on Tegan’s wines when I tasted his awesome Carignane close to ten years ago and his new releases keep me a big fan and I love the exciting set that I was able to get, being on his mailing list is a must for California wine enthusiasts and Passalacqua’s efforts are incredibly reasonable price wise, but sadly they sell out almost as soon as the offers go out. The winemaking for these Sandlands Vineyards is gentle and my own perception leads me to think a lot of attention is paid to textural quality with each of the red wines displaying a sensation of pleasure that is impossible to resist. This purple/ruby hued Zin has plenty of fruit, but is superbly offset by the spicy and savory elements that add complexity and makes it very tasty with an array of cuisine choices. Tegan, who as noted many times, is the head winemaker and vineyard manager for the famous Turley Wine Cellars, is one of the most knowledgeable wine minds in California and loves these classic heavily sandy decomposed granite soils that give his wines their distinct personalities. There are so many thrilling California wines coming out from 2018 and 2019 vintages and these Sandlands, in particular, are well worth searching out!
($39+ Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 BiNaume (Clarie Naudin/Jean-Yves Bizot) Le Gamay de l’Allie, Vin de France.
The BiNaume label is a small project started by Claire Naudin, of Burgundy’s Domaine Naudin-Ferrand and her husband Jean-Yves Bizot, of Domaine Bizot a highly regarded producer famous for exceptionally limited bottlings of Vosne-Romannee, and was formed after the terrible 2016 frosts in the region destroyed a huge percentage off Naudin’s crop. The Gamay came from the Allier area, when, thanks to her sales agent in Paris, who introduced Naudin to Florent Barichard from Les Terres d’Ocre, a domain located in Saint-Pourçain, part of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region near the upper Loire Valley, who was kind enough to share some of his grapes. This collaboration has allowed three vintages now and I was intrigued by the story, which reminded me of the Jura’s Jean-Francois Ganevat’s own difficult harvests that led to him adding grape sources throughout France to make up for the loss of his production, and I acquired a bottle of this 2018 Le Gamay de l’Allie to try, a good decision as it turns out. The BiNaume 2018 Gamay is beautifully pure and stylish with loads of fresh detail making for a wine that will please those that love Cru Beaujolais with dark berry fruit, spice, mineral tones and delicate florals. The palate is crisp and finely structured showing black cherry, strawberry, plum and pomegranate fruits along with a touch of earth, sweet herbs, flinty crushed stones, walnut and a lingering sense of liquid violets on the light to medium bodied palate. I monitored this bottle over two days and it never lost its thrill, it is fun and delightful, gaining a richer texture and graceful length when allowed to full open.

Claire Naudin, located in à Magny lès Villers, who is known for her traditional leanings and more natural approach in the cellar hand-harvests some of Barichard’s Gamay which is set on granite based soils and employs a gentle regiment with some whole bunches and lees aging in neutral cuves beton (cement vats) to promote a soft mouth feel and to retain the Gamay’s brisk acidity. To make this wine more easy and quaffable, Naudin uses almost no additions of SO2 or sulphites during the winemaking process which gives this Gamay is expressive personality. After tasting this lovely Gamay, I am going to explore more of the BiNaume offerings as well as searching out Claire’s Domaine Naudin-Ferrand Burgundies. Interestingly Clair does a collection of wines from Chile under her Rouge Gorge label, giving her an off season bit of work in the Colchagua Valley. It should be noted that Naudin has experience with Gamay at home in the Cote d’Or, which goes into her Omayga Rouge Passetoutgrain, that is a classic blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir. This dark garnet and ruby Gamay went great with more holiday leftovers and is at its best with food, even better with a slight chill that brings out its vividly bright fruit, I thoroughly enjoyed this zesty Gamay and am planing on scoring a few more. Gamay, a once described as evil and maligned for generations, is really gaining traction in the States with an explosion of tasty versions both in California and Oregon, as well as getting some deserved attention in the old world and in New Zealand’s Central Otago, plus Australia, with some outstanding wines coming out of the Yarra Valley.
($35 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2019 Drew, Pinot Noir, Mid-Elevation, Mendocino Ridge.
The just released 2019 Mid-Elevation Pinot Noir by Jason Drew is a beautiful and youthful wine of great detail and purity, wonderfully bright, a bit juicy and serious on the palate with ripe Pinot fruit, spice, mineral tones and racy herb notes that showcase the vintage and highlights the edgy partial whole bunch fermentation, making for a wine that delivers depth and exceptional value. I love the dark electric ruby/garnet color and the aromatics as the wine goes into the glass and the fresh vivid flavors on the medium bodied palate with layers of black cherry, tart currant, tree picked plum, brambly raspberry and strawberry fruits, a hint of pepper, rose petals, a fine saline note, cinnamon, cola bean and dried celery root as well as a subtle faint oak accent. This wine has much more to offer and will certainly gain dramatically over the following few years in bottle, but that said it is still easy to love now and those that love primary and vibrant wines will not be penalized by popping the cork on this lovely wine, even though it will reward the more patient. It is an important preview to the vintage, which looks outstanding with complex fruit density and good acidity that makes for exceptional structure, especially for Pinot Noir, similar to the previous 2018s and in some ways I wouldn’t rule out them actually being better. As the Drew Mid-Elevation Pinot opens in glass it constantly changes like most great wines do giving every sip another revelation and sensation, adding more clarity, range with richer fruit intensity and earthy/savory (crunchy) elements emerging and more of a heightened floral bouquet over an hour or so. The Fall and Winter releases at Drew are a must for enthusiast wine lovers, these transparent Pinots are simply fantastic with a real sense of place, they will make believers of the Burgundy only fans and the Valenti and Perli Syrahs here are classic Northern Rhone style efforts and some of my favorites and have been for a long time.

The Drew Mid-Elevation Pinot Noir is the winery’s Mendocino Ridge appellation Pinot Noir, sourced from two sites in 2019, both set on the area’s oceanic sedimentary and sandy loam soils and its cool climate. Drew says the mission with this bottling is to showcase distinct character and profile that these coastal ridges of Mendocino Ridge give his wines, adding he wants to express these qualities in an elegant and mineral driven Pinot Noir, which this wine achieves, making it a gateway wine to both the region and to Drew’s stunning collection of offerings. The two vineyards used for the Mid-Elevation Pinot, the estate Faite De Mer Farm and the Valenti Ranch Vineyard in this blend, are planted to a variety of clones including 115, 667, 828, 943 and the Mt. Eden heritage clone, as the winery notes, makes for some undeniable synergy. All of vines lie between 1200-1450 feet above sea level in the mid elevation of the parcels on these breezy hillsides, hence the name, and both are within six miles to the Pacific Ocean, close to the fog line, adding length to the growing season and with its moderate maritime conditions retaining a crisp acidity and allowing for lower natural alcohols. Drew employs all organic farming methods these days and a gentle touch in the cellar with 100% native yeast fermentations with this wine and vintage seeing close to 35% whole cluster and stem inclusion with just two gravity flow rackings (to clarify this wine that ages on its fine lees) with close to a year in mostly used French oak, this year got just 6% new wood. I jumped ahead a little when I opened this one, as I am still just beginning to explore Drew’s cru 2018 bottlings, which are as mentioned, some of the greatest wines available in California, like their Morning Dew Ranch Pinot that I recently reviewed, if you’ve not got a chance yet to try Drew, this is a great time to get started, be sure not to miss these Pinots and the Syrahs. The delicious 2019 Mid-Elevation Pinot, if opened near term, excels with either gamey dishes like duck breast with berry reduction and rosemary lamb as well as wild mushroom risotto and or seared pepper crusted Ahi.
($32 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive

2016 Le Miccine, Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG, Tuscany, Italy.
This antic podere (ancient estate) in the hills of Gaiole in the famous Chianti Classico region of Tuscany has been on a roll since being taken over by the youthful talents of Paula Papini Cook, the Canadian winemaker who after studying in France and Spain came to her family’s sleepy Le Miccine and has made it a world class label. Bringing her energy and attention to detail, she quickly brought a new level of quality to the wines here and started an organic and holistic conversion to the vineyards that has really given her latest releases a boost, especially her gorgeous 2016 Le Miccine Chianti Classico Riserva, which I just received from the winery along with Paula’s Chianti Classico (white label) 2018, which people are saying is looking like another exceptional vintage like 2016 was in Tuscany as well as her single vineyard Merlot, a wine that, like Castello di Ama down the road, should not be overlooked, the super limited Gran Selezione, her ultra luxurious and flashy special edition offering that I will give a bit more time before reviewing, plus her Bianco and Rosato. The 2016 Reserva shows exceptional purity and ripe density, it drinks very much in the same class as a Brunello and or a Vino Nobile, with structured layers of dark fruit, sweet tannins and well judged savory elements showing black raspberry, plum, cherry and bright currant fruits, zingy spices, a touch of orange rind, tangy herbs, tobacco leaf, grilled fennel, subtle floral tones, mineral and a light cedary shading. This wine is dark garnet in the glass and an absolutely joyous on the rich palate, it drinks so nicely now you’d not want to wait, but patience should pay rewards as well here, and as with all of Paula’s wines, it really goes best with food. Le Miccine is a winery that deserves to be mentioned in the company of the stars in the region, like Felsina, Montevertine, Carpasa and the mentioned Ama, to name a few, the wines here are more soulful, rather than flamboyant, much to their credit and are deliciously natural, which I find more alluring.

The 2016 Le Miccine Riserva, made from certified organic grapes, a top selection of the best of the vintage, is almost all Sangiovese (95%) and with maybe just a tiny amount of Malvasia Nera (5%) as well, depending on vintage, coming from the highest south facing parcels above Gaiole that soak up the sun and get refreshed by the cool night time temps at this elevation that adds depth, balance and complexity. The Le Miccine property has long been a farm and an important stop on the Chianti trail, it was a way station or rest area for travelers, traders and their donkeys, which were very common for hauling goods and produce, like olive oil and lava beans, as well as wine of course, in fact the name Le Miccine is translated from the local dialect meaning a small female donkey. The vineyards here were initially planted in the sixties, alongside the old olive trees and that is when the estate began to produce their own wines, which were rustic and traditional in style, but it wasn’t until the Quebec born Paula Papini Cook came here in 2008 that the true quality of the terroir was unlocked and the vines started to realize their full potential. The traditionally crafted Riserva saw, as per the DOCG rules, 24 Months in oak, which smoothed out the raw edges without overt wood showing at all letting the natural character of the Sangiovese sing in its best voice virtually solo and with an expressive and elegant style. The estate has at least six unique clones of Sangiovese in the vines here along with other native grape red varieties such as Malvasia Nera and Colorino, as well as the plot of Merlot, which is now only in the solo effort and not added to the normale Chianti Classico or Riserva bottlings. I have been a fan since I first tried the early Papini Cook made Le Miccine efforts and while I loved her awesome 2013 version, this 2016 is on another level, I highly recommend chasing her wines down, in particular this fantastic stuff. This wine, with its sense of place, got me dreaming of getting back to Tuscany, a great escape of my mind from the darkness of the year, I can’t wait to visit these picturesque ancient hilltop villages and historic vineyards.
($35 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

1996 Domaine Santa Duc, Gigondas, Rhone Valley, France.
What a treat to find a perfectly cellared bottle of Gigondas, especially Domaine Santa Duc, one of old world classics, an estate that was originally founded back in 1874, and still considered a vocal point of great southern Rhone wine, with this 1996 still full of life and freshness, remarkably so in fact, but with beautiful maturity and perfectly aged complexity. The fruit is vibrant and pure with macerated or balsamic dipped strawberry, raspberry preserves, plum and a touch of brandied cherry along with a faint sous bois and leathery note as well as earth and spices popping on the graceful medium bodied palate that has the poise of a Burgundy at this stage, what an exceptional bottle this is, except for the slightly crumbly cork that highlighted my mistake to not have an Ah So (pronged cork puller) handy. Once the cork and bits were dispatched the wine slowly opened up its aromatics with a hint of game and dried flowers which again reminded me of an aged Nuits-Saint-Georges before the Rhone warmth comes through with touches of lavender oil, anise and the echo of baked dusty red fruits. The color here is showing the decay of time with an almost Nebbiolo like hue with some bricky edges while through the middle there is still a nice crimson/garnet core, this 1996 Domaine Santa Duc Gigondas vastly over performed my expectations and was holding strong and true throughout the Boxing Day eve and was delicious on its own and with a variety of leftovers. The Gigondas from Domaine Santa Duc is sourced from a selection of older parcels that are distinctly diverse with some in cooler zones and on hillsides with many complex soils including calcareous, stony red clay and alluvial soils that allows for good natural acidity and mineral tones to shine through even in hotter years.

The famous Domaine Santa Duc, located at the foot of the legendary Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range that is the spine of the region in the Gigondas zone with the sixth generation of winegrowers, Benjamin Gras, now carrying on the family’s history and tradition here. The wines here at Domaine Santa Duc are old school efforts coming from special massale selections of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Cinsault, farmed by hand and with biodynamic and true holistic methods. In the cellar the Gras team uses 100% whole cluster vinification with the Gigondas seeing fermentation with wild yeasts, minimum interventions, but with meticulous attention to detail and careful sorting at harvest ensuring only the best grapes make it into their offerings. The non-filtered wines show their sense of place and are proudly robust and transparently pure, somewhat gritty and raw when released they gain tremendous charm and character with mid term aging, and in this case after a quarter of a century in bottle, proving their quality. Domaine Santa Duc have two fabulous terroirs of the southern Rhone Valley from which to chose from – Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with both appellations being equally desirable, but I am more seriously drawn to the Gigondas and this one really excelled, fantastic stuff that captures the essence of this land, this wine made a huge impression on me and now I’m super excited to get some 2016 and later releases to enjoy and maybe patiently age a few! This bottling, like later versions comes from vines in eight different Lieux-Dits and was about 75% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 13% Mourvèdre and 2% Cinsault that was aged 18 months in a combination of 18 months in foudres and terracotta jars. The whole bunch and stems are totally integrated in this wine, being of a certain age, where as the younger wines are rather more aggressive and punchy best enjoyed with hearty cuisine.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

n.v. R.H. Coutier, Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, Brut Champagne, Ambonnay, France.
The Champagne house of R.H. Coutier has a long history with the Coutier family having been a fixture in the famous village of Ambonnay since 1619, with fifth generation vigneron Antoine Coutier, who is working under his father Rene, now leading this artisan estate and making wonderfully distinctive bubblies. The Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut is a lively, but richly flavored grower fizz with racy citrus and pure apple fruits driving the profile here along with subtle leesy brioche and hazelnut notes adding a sense of luxurious feel to go with the creamy mousse. There is an impression of power and electric energy, which almost gives you reason to think this is an Extra Brut or a non dosage, though when it opens it gets denser and more complex, it fills out to what you’d expect from a top notch Grand Cru 100% Chardonnay Champagne and is sublime with food. This Blanc de Blancs Brut was mostly based the 2016 vintage at close to 60%, a very nice year and with about 40% reserve wines, seeing a low dosage, at just 6.5 grams of sugar per liter and it was disgorged this last February of 2020. I was highly entertained and impressed by this edition of Coutier’s Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs and it was delicious with the Christmas meal and graceful on its own by the fire.

The Coutier team hand farms nine hectares, all in Grand Cru vineyards, all sustainably with mostly organic methods, but keep their own production very small, in fact they sell close to 80% of their fruit to the local cooperative, while only selecting the very best grape bunches to craft a maximum of 2,000 cases for their own label. R.H. Coutier is a real grower Champagne house that focuses on freshness of character with almost all of the wines here fermented and aged in stainless with edgy acidity playing a key role with only about half of the Coutier juice going through malolactic fermentation, depending on the vintage and as mentioned a low dosage is used to keep all the vitality in the bottle. While this is beautiful terroir driven Chardonnay, interesting as Coutier was the first to plant it in the village, has a spectacular set of Pinot Noir vines, for which Ambonnay is most famous for, as well and their basic cuvee tradition, 70% Pinot and 30% is a firmly structured and wonderfully complex wine that should not be missed either. The more clay based limestone soils and warm exposure give these Champagnes an appealing ripe nature and depth, which comes through here, this is a great value and its very expressive, I highly recommend this elegant stuff for any celebration and what’s left of the holiday meals.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2017 Domaine de Ferrand, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
The beautifullly pure and palate pleasing Domaine de Ferrand 2017 Chateaneuf-du-Pape by vigneron Philippe Bravay comes from some of the oldest Grenache vines in the appellation, with some plots planted in their best lieu-dits date back to 1904, which gives wonderful concentration as well as remarkable elegance even in warm vintages such as this one. The classic Chateauneuf from Ferrand is made from 90% Grenache and 10% coming from a field blend of the AOC’s allowed varietals that can include red and white grapes which more than likely have small amounts of Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault mainly, though Ferrand also have Vaccarèse and Csarignan too. The average age of Ferrand’s Chateauneuf vines is close to 75 years old and set on the region’s noted limestone (Marl) and sandy clay, with the famous Galets Roules (round stones) scattered throughout, with Bravay using all organic practices in the farming of these majestic old vines. The 2017 feels ripe and warm on the full bodied palate with a lovely array of deep berry fruits, a touch of earthiness, spice and pretty floral notes all delivered with soulful subtlety and raw detail with boysenberry, plum, pomegranate and kirsch leading the way along with cinnamon, anise, pepper and a faint leathery element. As the wine opens it fills out in the mouth and gains an opulence that is smile inducing and welcome without heaviness or overt flavors gaining a touch of creme de cassis, though also showing a fine sense of mineral and it keeps its savory/umami contrast. This is absolute addictive stuff and I’m so glad I got more than one bottle as I will certainly be craving more of this Domaine de Ferrand in the coming weeks and or months!

The Ferrand Chateauneuf parcels are all located in the slightly cooler zone at the north edge of the appellation that seems to give the wines a bit more delicacy and balance and certainly the Ferrand style is more old school and traditional without a boozy feel, even though this 2017 comes in with close to 15% natural alcohol, nor does it display a cloying thickness, making it wonderful with a range of cuisine options. Bravay is passionate about presenting purity, so the Domaine de Ferrand saw no oak, with fermentation and aging done exclusively in stainless and concrete vats with vintage dependent partial whole cluster. Bravay says he doesn’t use barriques to allow the vines to truly speak of place and during the aging, the wine is neither racked nor blended, with Philippe adds is done only just before bottling and no addition of preservatives is ever done. Grenache and Rhone fans will really want to discover the latest releases from Domaine de Ferrand, especially the 2015, 2016 and 2017 Chateauneufs, all of which are hand crafted wines of sublime quality. I’m so glad I opened this 2017 last night for our Christmas Eve dinner and an evening by a warm fire celebrating the peaceful moment and feeling grateful for small joys in a year that has brought so much darkness and uncertainty, this wine really added to that sense of thankful contentment in life’s simple gifts of family and friendship. To everyone, I wish you these moments of peace, happiness and grace, Merry Christmas 2020 and I hope we can look forward to a better new year.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2015 Weingut Muller-Catoir, Riesling Trocken, Haardt Herrenletten Erste Lage, Pfalz Germany.
Another one of my longtime favorite wineries and wines that I always enjoy during the Holidays, Muller-Catoir, provides and has provided quality drinking pleasures, especially the drier Rieslings from the top Pfalz crus, like this Premier Cru (Erste Lage) Herrenletten Trocken 2015 that is starting to gather its secondary maturity and is welcomingly brightly golden in the glass. Not as plush and dense as I would have expected, but delightfully mineral driven with brisk detailing and spicy in style at this stage, though it did gain a further range of flavors with air and opens up aromatically too, getting to an impressive place after about half an hour. The palate is slightly earthy and austere with a subtle fruit profile including tangerine, white peach, Granny Smith apple, which stays throughout, gooseberry and honeydew melon as well as dried ginger, clove, spearmint and wet river stones. There is a lip smacking saline note that adds to the impression of a crisp dry character which adds to the feeling of lightness on the medium bodied palate in this Riesling, that just falls short of expectations, maybe it wasn’t the best bottle, even though it clearly drank plenty well on the night and was particularly poised with an array of Chinese food that I traditionally enjoy before the Holiday meals. I am a tough nut when it comes to Riesling and I think I’m a bit prone to high expectations, and again I absolutely enjoyed this 2015 Herrenletten, I just wanted a bit more, which could have been more my restless mind with the uncertainty of our world weighing on my thoughts, than any disappointment.

Muller-Catoir, which has been family owned since 1774 with nine generations having tending the vines here in the Pfalz, now run by Philipp David Catoir, the winery is one of the best in the country with many exceptional vineyard sites, especially their holdings in the famous Haardt cru that is set on sandstone solis, gravel and primary rock. Martin Franzen is Philipp David’s cellar master and his wines continue to showcase the great terroirs and purity of place that started under Muller-Catoir’s legendary ex-winemaker Hans-Gunter Schwartz, who brought these wines to international fame throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Muller-Catoir went fully organic in 2009 and has really adopted an intense farming regiment including severe green harvesting and ultra small yields with a manic passion for quality. While mostly highly regarded for their dry Rieslings, especially the lineup of GG’s, like their flagship Muller-Catoir Bürgergarten ‘In Breumel’ Riesling Grosses Gewächs monopole, one of the world’s greatest white wines, they also produce a few rarities that should not be overlooked, these include their fabulous dry Muskateller (Muscat) and their stunning Herzog Rieslaner (not Riesling) Auslese sweet wine. There is really something for everyone here at Muller-Catoir, I in fact always try to have a few bottles tucked away for special occasions and for my Riesling geeky friends, I also love the Muller-Catoir Scheurebe Trocken, a unique wine that while very brisk and dusty dry is very expressive and slightly exotic with tropical essences. This 2015 is in a good spot, but I might recommend the 2017, 2018 and 2019s a bit more enthusiastically. This Holiday season, of this dark 2020 year, is a mixed bag of emotions, it can’t help but effect you, I hope everyone finds some moments of grace and gratitude.
($35 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2016 Rovellotti, Nebbiolo “Valplazza” Colline Novaresi DOC, Alto Piedmonte, Italy.
Rovellotti is a wonderful small producer based in Ghemme in the Alto Piedmonte region of Northwestern Italy that specializes in Nebbiolo, or Spanna as it is also known as in this area with their top notch Chioso dei Pomi Ghemme DOCG being their signature bottling, but I also love this awesome value priced Valplazza Colline Novaresi Nebbiolo, especially in this outstanding 2016 vintage. Beautifully pure and mixing ripe red fruits and earthy/savory elements in classic Nebbiolo fashion on par with top Langhe Nebbiolo and even many normal Barolo bottlings with macerated cherry, damson plum and briar laced raspberry fruits, a touch of bacon, underbrush, lavender, anise and a hint of cedar. The bouquet is still youthfully subtle, but gains a pretty floral elegance with swirling in the glass and the ruby/brick red hue invites repeated sips and the wine keeps you interested from start to finish, it’s a joy to the senses, especially delicious with air and partnering wild mushrooms or meaty dishes. This Nebbiolo has a vintage and terroir character that performs way beyond its price and it opens up nicely with refined tannins and provides a joyous depth of flavors and mineral notes that will impress this grapes true enthusiasts and is great for these chilly winter nights.

The Colline Novaresi is a small area in the Alto Piedmonte that includes 26 tiny villages and municipalities not far from Milan and Lake Maggiiore with a collection of local varietals including Nebbiolo (aka Spanna), Uva Rara (aka Bonarda), Barbera, Vespolina, Croatina red grapes and Erbaluce, the ancient native white grape. The Colline Novaresi appellation was founded when a group of growers brandied together to form a DOC in 1994 with top Crus like Ghemme, Sizzano, Boca and Fara getting full DOCGs. The Rovellotti family has a long history in the Ghemme region going back to the 15th century and continues with Paolo and Antonello Rovellotti now running this small estate. They have been growing their grapes with sustainable and mostly organic methods since the 1980s and their Baraggiola Valplazza vineyard is planted almost exclusively to Nebbiolo and used exclusively in this Colline Novarese bottling. The Rovellotti Colline Novaresi saw a fermentation in stainless steel cuves and its aging in used large format Slavonian oak casks with the focus being on preserving transparency and clarity in this delightful 100% Nebbiolo. Drink this fabulous bargain over the next 3 to 5 years and be sure to keep an eye out for all of the Rovellotti wines, these are well worth the search.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Spreitzer, Riesling Spatlese, Winkeler Jesuitengarten, Rheingau Germany.
The gorgeous and lush 2018 Spreitzer “Jesuitengarten” is an absolutely killer wine for this time of year with a fabulous balance between its sweet fruit and natural acidity with a lovely textured mouth feel and heightened aromatics it perfectly matches richer winter and or holiday cuisine, as well as being awesome with spicy Asian dishes, like chili crab. The Jesuitengarten Vineyard, a classic in the Spreitzer collection of Grand Crus in the village of Oestrich, in view of the winery itself is set on a combination of loam, loess, shell-limestone, gravelly and sandy soils about 100 meters above the widest point of the Rhein River that gives this area a warm and an almost lake effect climate that allows deep flavors to develop and sugars to concentrate while still retaining complexity and energy in the wines, as this stellar vintage shows. The calcerous underpinnings here also help make for elegant wines with stony/mineral elements adding to the classic density of this Jesuitengarten Spatlese and helps define its terroir driven flavor profile that unfolds with fresh picked apricot, nectarine and lemon curd, crystalized ginger, tropical notes, with hints of pineapple and rainforest flowers, saline infused wet rock, faint honeycomb and verbena. This fleshy and round lightly golden wine gets more creamy with air, but stays refined and taut to not feel cloying or heavy while being regal and luxurious, this is what Spatlese should be, it is not a for sweet tooth and sweet treats, it is for a hearty meal and either the mentioned spicy or savory foods.

It’s widely known now, the Spreitzer’s winery, which was originally founded back in 1641, is likely the oldest private family owned estate in the Rheingau, with a long history of winemaking in the region. Now brothers Andreas and Bernd Spreitzer run this award winning property, they have brought international fame to this old winery since taking over from their father Josef Spreitzer when he retired in 1997 and have really upped their game in recent years with 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018s that seemed to get better with each release and intriguingly I hear their 2019s are the best yet. I was there at Spreitzer in 2016 and saw first hand their majestic collection of Grand Cru (Grossen Lagen) sites around the Oestrich-Winkel area as well as visited their historic cellars and was impressed by the attention to detail and care Andreas and Bernd put into each wine and the diversity of soils, micro-climates and elevations that play(s) such a big part in their offerings character and depth. In the cellar, everything is done with a nod to tradition, but with exceptional precision and clarity of focus with a mix of ancient German oak stuckfass and stainless steel tanks with the Spreitzer Kabinett and Spatlese, like this Jesuitengarten seeing only the stainless steel for fermentation and aging to preserve freshness, transparency and purity. In modern times they have put out more dry wines, as most of Germany has also done, but still do an outstanding selection of fruity Rieslings with this Spatlese being one of my favorites, and it looks set to age well too, don’t be afraid of residual sugar, embrace these wines and match them up with the right pairings for hedonistic rewards!
($35 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2017 Benoit Ente, Bourgogne Aligoté, White Burgundy, France.
The other Ente for many years now, Benoit Ente, the younger brother of the cult legend Arnaud Ente, is now finding his own fame and his recent vintages show he has loads of talent and the wines are deliciously appealing, even this bright and mineral fresh Aligoté, which I found wonderfully poised and a significant elevation of what you typically get from this grape, expect on rare occasions and it’s on par with the prestigious De Villiane Bouzeron version. There is a real feel of substance, depth and structure in this vintage, without losing the grape’s zippy personality with a touch of richness to go with natural acidity in a nice effort that delivers vivid lemon/lime, green apple, melon and a touch of unripe peach tartness as well as some herbal notes, salty stones, a nutty element and sour grass. With a few swirls and sips it warms with a bit more texture and pleases the light to medium body palate. This is the third bottle of Benoit’s Aligoté, shared with friends, in a short period I’ve had and each time I keep thinking to myself, I like this steely clean stuff, and I really need to grab a few for myself.

While first and foremost Benoit Ente, who broke away from just selling grapes in 1997 and finally got his own label established is mainly known for his Puligny-Montrachet bottlings. Ente’s humble Aligoté comes from family old vines located in the Puligny-Montrachet zone, which the winery says were sourced from three plots planted in 1949, 1953 and 2002. Benoit also adds that these parcels are pruned using the cordon de Royat method to restrict the natural vigor his vines, which can easily over crop, that makes this wine a more compelling and concentrated example. Ente’s winemaking is simple and focused with this one seeing traditional fermentation, a gentle whole cluster pressing and raised in a combination of barrel and vat for about a year then the final blend is assembled before resting a further six months then bottled unfined and unfiltered. This Bourgogne Aligoté was crafted to show a crisp purity, so it is not seeing batonage and new oak that would over power the grape’s true flavor and it goes well with first courses, soft cheese, oysters and or delicate fish dishes.
($40 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

n.v. Weingut Von Winning, Riesling Sekt, Extra Brut Sparkling Wine, Pfalz Germany.
I’m lucky to have enjoyed this exciting Riesling Sparkler on a few occasions now, I love its intensity, crisp detail and briskly dry profile that makes it celebratory, but sublime with meals, especially first courses or as an aperitif to whet the palate. German bubbles are incredible and this one is a classy example at a reasonable price, not to be outdone by by Prosecco, the Cremants of Alsace, the Loire and Burgundy and Champagne even, these modern Sekt(s) are stylish, elegant and full of personality, with this one in the mold of one of my favorite small Champagne house, Agrapart with its cool invigorating mineral tones and extreme dry flavors. Von Winning is one of Germany’s top wineries, based in the chalky sandstone soiled Pfalz region, with an exceptional range of wines, especially their absolutely awesome series of Grosses Gewachs (Grand Cru) Rieslings, though there is excellence throughout the collection here and as I have noted in my prior reviews, Von Winning does one of the finest Sauvignon Blanc(s) in the world too. The Extra Brut Riesling Sekt is vibrant and steely from the start with a mix of zesty citrus and peachy fruits, a hint of wet stones, leesy/yeasty notes and a faint floral element all of which folds together nicely and vigorously on the energy driven light to medium bodied palate that gains texture with air, but stays firmly taut with an expressive, subtly luxurious small bubbled mousse. This is delicious stuff, I’m so happy after a lengthy wait that the Von Winning sparkling Riesling is more readily available in the States.

The Von Winning estate founded in 1849, located in Deidesheim, owns and farms, all organically, some of the oldest plots in the best Grosses Gewächs vineyards in the region, with their historic parcels divided in the Forst, Deidesheim, and Ruppertsberg zones of the Pfalz and have the talents of Stephan Attmann in the cellar, who is inspired by the great wines of Burgundy and has put in place many tried and true Cote d’Or practices in place here, both in the vineyard with high density and Burgundy style pruning as well as winemaking techniques in the winery. These methods, which include small barrels in the elevage and all gravity flow (gentle) handling of the wines have lead to worldwide acclaim and as mentioned their dry Rieslings are unique, richly flavored and are as beautifully compelling as any top white Burgundy, including the best from Meursault, Corton-Charlemagne and even the fabled Le Montrachet. Anyone who’s had Von Winning’s Kirchenstück, Kalkofen, Ungeheuer and or Pechstein GG’s will instantly recognize the greatness in the glass, trust me these are outrageously good wines. Back to the sparkler, I highly recommend grabbing some of this fine bubbly and celebrate any of life’s happier moments and wallet allowing, add a few of the single vineyard Trockens, especially those GG’s, as well as the Paradiesgarten, which is an awesome value. The Von Winning Sekt is crafted in the classic methode champenoise style with 100% Riesling being used, sourced from, as the winery notes, a selection of different vineyards close to Deidesheim on loess-clay and red sandstone soils with a lengthy period on the lees. There’s a lot to explore here at Von Winning and I suggest sampling any and all of their offerings.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Sheldon, Manus Lux Cuvee, Napa Valley.
The naturally wild or sauvage Manus Lux Cuvee by Sheldon Wines is their latest version of this field blend of old-vine Calistoga Petite Sirah, which also includes small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon as well as a touch of Graciano, a grape the Sheldon’s adore and a varietal that is a lesser known Rioja grape, plus a tiny, tiny bit of Frappato, which maybe one of the first known planting of this Sicilian grape in California. Dylan and Tobe Sheldon have been working with this holistic backyard vineyard for more than thirteen years now and this 2019 might be the most intriguing with its deep black/purple opaque blooding color and heady perfume of violets making it highly evocative to the senses before thrilling the palate with cracked black pepper laced blackberries, plum, black currant and a whole bunches crunchiness. This is a raw and transparent red wine that has plenty of grip and structure, but opens with a refined textural quality and with just 12.9% natural alcohol it feels more like a Cornas from the Northern Rhone than what you’d expect of an old vine Petite Sirah, in much the same way that that fabulous Halcon Theopolis Vineyard Petite Sirah does, which is a high praise in my book. I am absolutely thrilled by what is now being made from Petite Sirah by this new generation of winemakers in California with some really cool and exotic examples now available, giving this grape, which has a long history in the state, a whole new range of styles to explore. As this exceptionally expressive Manus Max Cuvee opens up it really lets loose with dense layers of blue fruit that is nicely contrasted with savory elements, mineral tones, anise and sticky lavender notes. This wine is seriously good, slightly stemmy and edgy it will go great with a big range of foods, its inner core of flavors will enhanced by hearty winter cuisine, especially dishes like rack of lamb, flank steak and or casseroles.

The Sheldon’s have been making wines under their own label since 2003 with a focus on Grenache, both white and red being a consistent theme for this micro winery based in Santa Rosa with two red versions, a cool climate one from Ceja Farms, and a more warm climate example coming from another backyard set of vines on a rocky hillside in the Fountaingrove AVA. They also do some other interesting and entertaining things, including this wine, which was called The Red Hat in the past, as well as the mentioned single varietal Graciano, Sangiovese, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and a couple of unique sparklers including a Rosé of Tempranillo and dark red Sparkling Graciano, maybe the only one in the world, which was inspired by Australia’s Sparkling Shiraz! These are small lot artisan offerings, mostly of which are produced in two or so barrel amounts, like this Manus Lux Cuvee, of which only 50 cases were made, making them rare treats. The 2019 Sheldon Manus Lux Cuvee, coming from this old head trained (bush vine) vineyard in Napa’s Calistoga zone set on gravelly loams that is interplanted with an array of fruits tree and herbal shrubs is farmed all organically with a zen like approach that results in absurdly low yields and intense flavors. Winemaker Dylan Sheldon chose to due 100% whole cluster, stem inclusion with this vintage from these mostly ancient and all dry farmed vines with the final blend being close to 92% Petite Sirah, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.9% Graciano and under 1 percent of the Frappato, which will feature more heavily in future wines, with the wine being aged in older used French barrels. These latest efforts are some of the best and most exciting wines, with this one with its new label designed by the Sheldon’s tattoo artist being one of my favorites, from Sheldon ever and I highly recommend grabbing some before they disappear!
($37 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Brick House, Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Legendary Oregon winegrower Doug Tunnell, who founded Brick House in 1990, pioneered organics and especially biodynamic grape growing in the Willamette Valley as well as using traditional Burgundian practices in the winery when crafting his elegant wines. The youthful 2019 Ribbon Ridge Pinot Noir is Brick House’s lighter Village level offering, but it is very pure and crisp in detail with lovely energetic red fruits and mineral tones with layers of black cherry, tangy raspberry, red peach, Moro orange and tart plum along with a stony or cool personality accented by rose petals, tea spices, tiled earth, apple skin and a delicate wood shading that frames this medium bodied and dark ruby red Pinot. Brick House does a variety of stellar offerings and they are most revered for their three Cru level Pinots, the Cuvée du Tonnelier, the Les Dijonnais (made using Dijon clones) and the Evelyn’s, the ultra best cuvee and one of Oregon’s great wines. That said, there is reason to look beyond the Pinots at Brick House with their Chardonnay(s) being exceptional as well and seems to get better with each new vintage and of course one of my secret favorites, Tunnell’s fabulous Gamay Noir(s) that I’ve been addicted to for years and crafted in the same elegant style as the Pinots with traditional native yeast fermentation with entirely de-stemmed grapes in stainless tank and, as the winery notes, then racked into 100% neutral French oak barrels for a twelve-month élevage for purity of flavors.

This 2019 Ribbon Ridge bottling was crafted to be enjoyed fresh and is easy to quaff with moderate alcohol and smooth textures, it shows plenty of charm and subtle complexity to nicely go with simple meals and is great wine to get started with Brick House, it is a gateway into Tunnell’s wines, which show a sense of place and varietal clarity. The Brick House winery is a 100% estate producer, growing all of their own fruit and making all of the wine on site with all the vines having been certified organic for more than 25 years now and are also certified biodynamic by Demeter, the most strict holistic certification for grape growers. The journey to becoming one of the most famous Willamette Valley producers was an interesting one, with Doug Tunnell, the owner and winemaker of Brick House, spending almost two decades as a foreign correspondent for CBS news before he came back to his native Oregon and bought a run down farm house and orchard, which he would turn into one of America’s most renown estates. Set on mineral rich and gravelly marine sedimentary soils in the Ribbon Ridge AVA, Brick House has thirty acres under vines that gives Tunnell great material to hand craft his wines which see indigenous yeast fermentation(s) and usually see a minimum of a year in barrel, like this bottling, with the top cuvees being aged between 18 to 24 months with well judged use of new oak. This Ribbon Ridge Pinot, which was called “Select” in the past is a fresh and vibrant example that should drink well for next 5 years and should gain more richness as it matures, enjoy it on more causal occasions, it is a classy wine for the price.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Viticultor Envinate, Albahra, Vinos Mediterraneos, Almansa, Spain.
One of the most interesting and satisfying natural style red wines costing around twenty bucks, the beautiful dark black/purple Albahra Vino de Mesa (red table wine) from Envinate is a singular expression coming from a remote and unique place and from rare varietals, with this 2019, the latest release is best yet. Envinate, 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 and the Ribeira Sacra in Galicia, along with Estremadura 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, the Albahra is made of mostly of Alicante Bouschet, the dark red-juiced grape that can be found throughout Spain, though almost never used as a primary or solo varietal, it has even found a home in Tuscany and in California where it is used mainly in Zinfandel based field blends in the Sonoma Valley and Dry Creek Valley areas. The 2019 Envinate Albahra is a deeply hued wine that starts with a pretty floral perfume, exotic spices, earthy notes and fresh crushed briar laced blackberries that leads to a medium to full bodied palate with black fruit coating the mouth, adding plum, orange rind, minty herbs, fennel, mineral tones and a touch of chalk and cedar. There is an opulence of vine berry fruit, but at just 12.5% natural alcohol it is vibrant and with a bright tartness that gives a refreshing balance and makes this quaffable Rhone like Albahra superb with rustic cuisine from raw milk cheeses, cured meats and or grilled octopus.

The Envinate Albahra is 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, which helps keep the warm climate ripeness in check in this wine with each grape getting fermented separately and 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 lasting just under two weeks and then aged on the fine lees in the cement for eight months, while the Moravia Agria is 100% de-stemmed and raised in well used French barriques without any stirring. After malos and its elevage the final blend is assembled with ultra low sulfur and bottled unfined and unfiltered to capture every nuance and its soulful expression. The grapes 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 helps fully ripen the fruit and retains acidity which gives this wine its complexity, lilac flower bouquet and zesty details. 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. There is a signature transparency to all the Envinate wines, all of which are crafted from organic grapes, and a certain edgy naked rawness that is compellingly fun for the more adventurous wine lovers.
($18-26 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Saint Cosme, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge, Northern Rhone, France.
Louis Barroul’s negociant line of Northern Rhone bottlings seem to get better and better every year and I am a huge fan of this Crozes-Hermitage, which always delivers a full array of classic flavors in the purest form possible with this 2018 showcasing the vintage’s energy and charm, this is a wonderful youthful Syrah to enjoy over the next three to ten years. The 2018 is less dense than the riper 2017 and more like 2016 in my opinion and the freshness of detail is very welcome with lovely black fruits, spice, mineral tones and with hints of game, earth and delicate florals all wrapped up in a compact medium full bodied wine that is great with food. The Saint Cosme Crozes-Hermitage unfolds with crushed violets, boysenberry, damson plum, blueberry preserves, forest floor notes, snappy licorice and olive tapenade flavors along with good acidity and well judged tannins that hold things tight, but still allow for a graceful mouth feel that is impressive for this appellation, which has in the last decade has become one of my absolute favorite go to regions. Barruol sources his Crozes-Hermitage from the granite hillsides of Gervans and Erôme, just behind Hermitage hill, noted himself that the wines are often quite similar to those of Hermitage, which is no small claim. Going on, he says that where these grapes are grown, could almost be an appellation in its own right because there is a huge difference within the ‘Châssis’ terroirs of Crozes-Hermitage. Interesting, Barruol describes his 2018 Crozes as a long, broad, flavorful, ripe and balanced, exclaiming “what a vintage!” calling it probably one of the best since he started making it, which I find hard to argue with.

The Saint Cosme Crozes-Hermitage Rouge is crafted from 100% Serine clone, the area’s ancient Syrah variety that many winemakers here covet and think is the region’s best expression of the grape that really transmits the terroir in perfect clarity, which this one certainly does. For the 2018 vintage Barroul went with 100% de-stemmed grapes with no whole cluster, preferring to promote a more elegant profile and excluding the bite of stems in this version, and while I am lover of the whole bunches and racy stem inclusion, this wine lacks for nothing and has the potential to age well, with the promise of even greater rewards coming to those are more patient than me. The 2018 Crozes-Hermitage is a thrilling Syrah that adds touches of lavender, cracked pepper, farm bacon (meatiness) and subtle cedary wood notes as well as creme de cassis, it will go gloriously well with winter cuisine, especially lamb, wild mushrooms dishes and or sweet and smoky BBQ, as well as hard cheeses. These northern Rhone offerings include this Crozes, a rustic and powerful Saint-Joseph, a series of Hermitage (mostly for a special Kermit Lynch line) as well as a Cote-Rotie that is another incredible value. The purple/crimson hued Saint Cosme Crozes-Hermitage saw a tank primary fermentation and was aged in mostly used barrels with about 20% new oak, which is not overt, but gives this wine a luxurious element that is compelling when contrasted with the Syrah’s natural funk and make this a crowd pleasing wine. Again, I love these Northern Rhone efforts from Saint Cosme, which is known mostly for their legendary Gigondas, if you’ve not had these wines it is way past time to check them out!
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2007 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge “Oenotheque” Rhone Valley, France.
As I finish a month long look back and or at classic bottlings from the wine world I couldn’t leave out this beauty from the Perrin family and praise this series of Eonotheque offerings that were released by the legendary Chateauneuf-du-Pape’s Chateau de Beaucastel cellar. These perfect condition late release Eonotheque include a range of vintages, I was able to check in on many of them, including 1995, 2000, 2014, one of my favorite off year vintages, 2009, which is showing remarkably better than the regular release and this powerful 2007, a wine I always loved with its intense Mourvedre component really integrating perfectly now, taming the fruity Grenache and making for much more complex and detailed wine. The Château de Beaucastel is one of France’s greatest wines, with vines at the northern end of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation, the country’s first AOC and known mainly for their iconic and classic blend of red Rhone varietals, as well as producing one of the world’s greatest Roussanne single varietal wine. The terroir is, as the winery notes, archetypal of the best terroirs in Châteauneuf, which has warm days and cool nights with the Mistral winds helping refresh the vines that are set on rolled pebbles and galets (the famous round stones) on the surface, with sand, clay and limestone deeper down. These Beaucastel vines are old and have been organically farmed for more than half a century, which has, as the winery adds, allowed the roots to grow exceptionally deep, increasing the concentration and depth of flavors.

Beaucastel grows all thirteen grape varieties authorized by the appellation with the Chateauneuf seeing all them in the blend, with the Rouge being made up of Grenache 30%, Mourvèdre 30%, Syrah 15%, Counoise 10%, along with a combination of Vaccarèse, Terret Noir, Muscardin, Clairette, Picpoul, Picardan, Bourboulenc and Roussanne adding up to 10%, as well as 5% of Cinsault. Beaucastel says they hand harvest and careful sort each grape separately and the vinification is done in oak fermenters for the more reductive varieties Mourvèdre and Syrah and the rest in traditional enameled concrete tanks.The wines at Beaucastel have got much more polished and clean in the last 20 years, they largely are way removed from the funky barnyard style of the 1980s and early 1990s. After the primary and malolactic fermentation(s) are complete, the winemakers blend the wines, then once the final selections are put together it is then aged in large, mostly used oak Foudres for a 12 months. Once the Chateauneuf is bottled, some of wine is set aside for long term cellar resting which is what the Oenotheque is all about, while most of the bottles are put out to the market for regular release. The 2007 is coming into its prime drinking window and the fruit is still fresh on the full bodied palate with dense layers of rich red berry compote, plum, strawberry preserves and morello cherry along with hint of leather, game, licorice, dusty spices, chalky stone, cedar and a sticky potpourri of lavender and dried flowers. This deeply garnet colored Chateauneuf has plenty of stuffing and structure to age another decade, though it would be fabulous choice for this years’ holiday season and great with meaty winter cuisine. As this wine shows, mid term cellaring really pays off with Chateauneuf(s) and I love wines like Vieux Telegraphe, Pegau and Beaucastel, to name a few, with 10 plus years on them.
($120 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2016 Schlossgut Diel, Riesling Trocken, Eierfels, Nahe Germany.
One of the great values in dry Riesling, the Schlossgut Diel Eierfels Trocken is crisply and mineral driven, but surprisingly complex, fruit dense and wonderfully elegant for a wine in this price class and is just getting better and better in bottle. These 2016s are special to me, as I was there during harvest and was able to see the hugely talented winemaker Caroline Diel for a few short moments while she was knee deep in grapes coming in to the cellars, making my first trip to the Nahe a wondrous experience. The vintage was looking pretty grim until the weather miraculously gave the Nahe and the Rheingau a glorious last month or so a burst of sunshine and got the fruit fully ripe while retaining structural acidity with October, while I was there, being perfect for a dry wine harvest with the Riesling looking incredible on the vine with perfect round golden berries and bright exotic flavors. A little less than a year later, I got to catch up with the 2016 grapes, in wine form and I got to try the magic, with Caroline’s husband, Sylvain showing off a few early releases in San Francisco at one of Terry Theise’s fantastic preview trade shows, where I was thrilled by these stunning Diel offerings, including this Eierfels. I subsequently grabbed a few bottles of this vintage to enjoy with friends and cellar when they were released in 2018 with the Eierfels being a favorite at this stage with its vibrant yellow fruits, stony charm and depth with flinty/smoky character accenting the peachy notes along with brisk nectarine, lime, melon flesh and crystalized ginger and clove spices. This Eierfels displays a steely cool personality throughout, but is not austere and opens up on the medium bodied palate becoming gracefully expressive with air, it is a wine that demands attention and admiration with its regal presence in the glass.

The Schlossgut Diel, one of the great wineries in the world, not just Germany or Europe, is widely known for the amazing dry Rieslings bottlings, especially their set of Grand Cru or Grosses Gewachs from the legendary Pittermannchen, Burgberg and the majestic Goldloch crus, which are some of the finest white wines you’ll ever try. Not only does Caroline have a gift with Riesling, she has also mastered Pinot Noir with her Cuvee C, signature bottling being easily an equal to some of the Cote d’Or’s fabled wines and she has quietly crafted some amazing vintage Sekt(s) that see up to eight years of lees aging, these serious rival Krug Champagne, and or among the greatest sparkling wines I’ve ever tasted, in particular her 2008 Brut Nature is absolutely mind blowing! Back to her Riesling, they are all crafted with ultra precision, with the estate’s vines seeing organic viticulture as much as these steep slopes make possible and they take an impossible amount of backbreaking tending to achieve these results, I personally could hardly believe the dizzying severity of some of the slopes in Goldloch. The fruit, as noted by the winery, is either whole-cluster pressed or, if vintage necessitates, de-stemmed by carefully by hand, with Diel adding it is very important to not break the skins and allow oxidation and or bitter extracts during the juicing. For the Rieslings, Caroline employs her primary fermentation(s) spontaneously in large German oak casks, using stuckfass and doppelstuck mostly, though some see cement tanks. The Eierfels Riesling is a special declassified selection from the GG vineyards of Burgberg and Goldloch and you can certainly tell that this wine has a pedigree, it is a Riesling to stock up on and a great way to discover this winery and region. I also will mention, both the 2017 and 2018s, which I also bought a few of for myself, are exceptional as well, and I hear the 2019 is even better still, so which ever vintage you can find, it will be well worth it to get a hold of.
($34 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2008 Contadi Castaldi, Satèn, Franciacorta DOCG Sparkling Wine, Lombardy, Italy.
One of the best values in Italy, the Contadi Castaldi Satèn is a fabulous vintage Méthode Champenoise sparkler that way over delivers for the price with crystalline precision and minerality along with its delicate and vibrant mousse, it is pure class. The 2008 will be hard to find now, but with a string of great vintages to chose from, any year you pick will be gloriously rewarding for this Satèn bottling, this is such a gem and perfect for small celebrations and or guilt free week night indulgences. Franciacorta, the northern Italy region in Lombardy’s lake district, produces arguably Italy’s best Champagne style wines, with classic Champagne varietals, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir being widely planted here, along with some Pinot Blanc as well. The cool climate, in the foothills of the Italian Alps and ancient glacier influenced sandy/chalky soils make for an excellent terroir for bubbly and there are some outstanding wineries to chose from like Contadi Castaldi, as well as stars including Berlucchi, Ca’ del Bosco and Bellavista, to name a few, all of which are stellar and luxurious options. The Satèn style of Franciacorta is dry and crisply detailed, but always silky and creamy in form, it must be made with white grapes only, which delivers richness on the palate with this Contadi Castaldi version showing lemon, apple, golden fig and lovely leesy brioche along with a touch of clove and hazelnut.

As Decanter Magazine notes, these Franciacorta Satèn wines are Blanc de Blancs always produced mostly from Chardonnay grapes, with a minimum of 50% Chardonnay and or a maximum of 50% Pinot Bianco and is unlike other sparkling wines made in Franciacorta or Champagne having less pressure in the bottle, with a less sugar in their dosage, which means the fizz is softer, similar to a crémant Champagne in moth feel. The Satèn style sparkling wines cannot exceed 5 atmospheres of pressure so they are not as easy to saber as the higher pressure styles. This makes Satèn nicely opulent, but still steely and fresh, these are perfect sipping sparklers and great for any occasion as well as being sublime with buttery dishes and a wide range of cuisines. The Satèn Spumante(s) are aged for a minimum 18 months on the lees and must be Brut level dry with the grapes being all hand harvested and whole cluster pressed as well as having the secondary fermentation exclusively in bottle, just like Champagne. The Franciacorta appellation was originally established as a DOC in 1967 and gaining its full DOCG status in 1995, at which point things got very exciting for this region with boom of grower producers, like Contadi Castaldi, that became famous almost overnight, rivaling the Grand Marques of Champagne for quality and rising above Italy’s other sparkling wine, Prosecco. As an interesting side note, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, machine harvesting was allowed for the first and only time in the 2020 vintage.
($28-33 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2011 Domaine A. – F. Gros, Vosne-Romanee “Clos de la Fontaine” Monopole, Red Burgundy, France.
Know for high quality, solid performances and exacting purity the Domaine A. F. Gros, which was formed in 1988, and based in Pommard in the Cote de Beaune, crafts small lot Burgundies with grapes sourced from inherited plots in some of the region’s best Crus, including this tiny Clos de la Fontaine Monopole in the Cote de Nuits’ famous village of Vosne-Romanee, it is a stunning rarity and this 2011 was a thrill to taste. This is very elegant and transparent Pinot Noir with an exceptional layering of flavors that includes black cherry, crushed raspberry, mulberry and Moro orange fruits and smoky sweet oak accents that are luxurious, but not aggressively overt, along with tea spices, stony notes and potpourri. The nose, which was slightly shy at first opens to reveal violets and rose floral detail equalizing the red fruits and barrel elements. I’ve had a few of the A. F. Gros wines over the years and have always enjoyed the style and balance in them, I especially remember their Richebourg Grand Cru fondly, I mean who wouldn’t? The current wines are made by Mathias Parent (Gros), who is the 13th generation of Parent to make wine in the Burgundy region and who’s ancestors even sold wine to Thomas Jefferson. Mathias took over from his mother Anne-Françoise Gros, who’s name graces the labels and who was the daughter of the legendary Jean Gros and has continued with domaine’s traditional methods in the cellar, especially trying to promote clarity and expressive fruit in his wines.

The estate vines are farmed mostly to organic practices, within reason or as the French say lutte raisonée, and the grapes are all hand tended with serve selections and small yields to achieve concentration and richness in the wines. Mathias used carefully sorted de-stemmed grapes for each of his red Burgundies, including this special Lieu-Dit offering, with the primary fermentation being done in stainless steel with thermal regulation to keep temps down and with about three weeks of maceration with daily punch downs to extract as much flavor, structure and color. Once the wine is dry, the village level and lieu-dit bottlings are racked to French oak barriques with 40% usually, depending on the depth of the vintage and aged 12 months. The oak treatment delivers an opulence, but, as noted, doesn’t hurt the finished wine, though the Premier and Grand Crus, which see much more new wood take a little longer to integrate as you’d expect, while the village and this one can be enjoyed in their youth. The A. F. Gros label is almost exclusively Pinot Noirs with 10 hectares in top sites, in the whole Cote d’Or, like Flagey-Échezeaux, Vosne-Romanée, Savigny-lès-Beaune, Chambolle-Musigny and Pommard. These are sleek, satiny textured and well detailed Burgundies that are very classic and compelling with pretty personalities, with this Vosne-Romaneee Clos de la Fontaine being a tasty treat indeed and well worth searching out. The 2011 vintage, not known as a great vintage, is full of wonderful surprises and there are some great drinking wines to be had with this one very much impressing me.
($100 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2007 Paolo Bea, Montefalco Sagrantino “Pagliaro Secco” Umbria, Italy.
One of the great wines of the world and an icon of the natural wine movement, the Paolo Bea wines are an awesome collection of true terroir wines that led by the Pagliaro, the 100% Sagrantino di Montefalco red that tames this fiery tannic grape into a complex and age worthy wine. The earthy and leathery Pagliaro benefited greatly by the ripe 2007 vintage that brought out a wondrous array of dense red fruits, including currant, raspberry, plum and black cherry to go along with the dusty firm tannins as well as summer sage, dried lavender, fennel and cedary spice. This is majestic and raw in its transparency, this Pagliaro is one to covet and enjoy with robust foods that with cut into those tannins and allow the inner beauty to shine through, which will add to the awe this wine inspires, it is like if you married a Chave Hermitage with a Giacosa Barolo, it is a powerful wine that makes a dramatic impact on the full bodied palate. Air and swirling unlock both florals and savory elements in the bouquet, but this wine is not for overly polished and meek drinkers, it demands a lot of you for the best experience, as many world class bottles do. The 2007 Pagliaro is a wine that is reaching its potential about now, sadly I don’t have any in my cellar, which hurts when remembering just how good this wine was even upon release, it must certainly at this point be a riveting example of Sagrantino. For those keeping track, Montefalco first gained DOC status in 1979 as Montefalco DOC and Montefalco Sagrantino (or Sagrantino di Montefalco) was elevated to full DOCG status in 1992 after winemakers, like Arnaldo Caprai and Paolo Bea brought international fame and quality to this little known area.

The Bea family has called Montefalco, the rustically picturesque hill town in Umbria, home since the 1500s now has Paolo’s sons running the estate with Giampiero Bea making the wines, while Giuseppe focuses on the estate vineyards, which are organically farmed and includes mostly the native Sagrantino, along with some Montepulciano and the Umbrian version of Sangiovese as well as some local white grapes. The Pagliaro vineyard, situated perfectly to capture the warm sunshine at is close to 1300 feet above sea level, a point that allows a cooling influence at night to refresh the vines and giving the wine its depth and balance. The naturally fermented grapes for the Bea Pagliaro sees a long maceration, sometimes lasting close to two months, and then aged one full year in stainless steel vats before an elevage of two years in large Slavonian oak casks, again, similar to classic Barolo. This region has mixture of gravelly soils with limestone and clay playing a key role in the character of the wines, which show a slight stony and or chalky detail, especially in these Bea wines. Sagrantino was once a problem for the ancient wine growers and was tricky for them to craft dry wines as the legendary tannins required attention to detail and wine making techniques that were only developed in the last 60 years or so, which is why it was primarily used for passito late harvest sweet wines, with the Bea’s still making one, until more recent times. I have enjoyed many meals with Sagrantino di Montefalco, and I recommend rosemary crusted lamb or hard sleep cheeses as pairings that best serve this grape. This winery is a must for Italian wine lovers, especially this all Sagrantino Pagliaro, but also look for the Rosso de Veo, Pipparello and the basic Rosso IGT, which a tremendous value.
($90 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2011 Domaine Bernard Levet, Cote-Rotie, Les Journaries, Northern Rhone, France.
I love the old school rawness, purity and earthy charms of the Bernard Levet wines, these mostly whole cluster Syrah offerings deliver array of stemmy accented flavors with blue and black fruits, peppery spices, touches of game, camphor/graphite and pretty violets, these are wines that get better and better with every sip and every year more in bottle. The domaine does just hree Côte-Rôtie(s) which are hand made by Levet family in their cellars in Ampuis, the region’s most famous village in the Northern Rhone. The Bernard Levet winery, founded in 1929 is run now by Bernard Levet’s daughter Agnès, who I met for the first time a few years back in a special Rosenthal trade tasting in San Francisco, though who’s wines I’ve been a fan of for many years, these Cote-Rotie bottlings are enthusiast jewels that are more in Jamet vein rather than the ultra ripe and polished Guigal style with chewy tannins and benefit from time and best enjoyed with hearty cuisine, they are also solid performers in difficult vintages with 2011 and 2013 being exceptional years for this small family estate, I in particular love this 2011 Les Journaries, which really is an awesome dark purple wine that has great complexity, depth and a near perfect balance between the sweet fruit and meaty funk. Agnes Levet, according to importer Neal Rosenthal, has inherited her parents love for vineyard work, that she herself hand tends in their steep parcels and has an obsession for traditional winemaking in the cellar. This producer is certainly one to discover for those that love the savory and crunchy stem influenced Syrahs, they go fantastic with winter inspired food choices, like Lamb, grilled meats and or wild mushroom dishes.

The 2011 Bernard Levet Les Journaries is filled with personality with blueberry, boysenberry, damson plum and kirsch layers along with peppercorns, tapenade, licorice as well as subtle wood and iron (mineral) notes, it is the most evolved at release of Levet lineup and impresses for its presence in the glass and its authentic transparency. The Les Journaries comes from one of the world’s greatest Syrah vineyards, it is a cuvée from grapes harvested from old vines in the “La Landonne” lieu-dit and its steepest terraces, all which are set on the granite and schist soils that gives this Cote-Rotie it’s pedigree and personality. The Levet Les Journaries is 100% Syrah, with no co-ferment of Viognier and was close 60% whole bunches that was gently pressed and saw a super long maceration (almost a month) in epoxy lined concrete vats using Levet’s own selected yeast for primary fermentation before being racked to large neutral 600L French oak “demi-muid” casks where it was aged for a full 24 months. The Levet’s have a stellar collection of plots in both Cote Brune, with darker soils, where this wine comes from and the Cote Blonde with its lighter hued soils with small plots in Chavaroche, Landonne, Font Jean, Les Craies, Mollard and Moulin, a favored site that is just below the fabled La Turque. When Agnes’ father took over the estate in 1983 he really made a splash and brought the domaine into the spotlight with a string of great wines, which I can only dream about trying, but I highly recommend the latest releases from 2008 to 2015, that I’ve had the privilege to sample, all of which are well worth searching out, especially this 2011 and the 2015s, though I am hearing 2016 and 2017 are even better, though patience will rewarded on the later boldly structured wines.
($70 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2011 Weingut Prieler, Blaufrankisch, Liethaberg DAC, Burgenland, Austria.
It’s great to see Georg Prieler and his wines from Burgenland, Austria getting so much praise and outstanding ratings in recent years, I’ve been a long time fan of the Primmer wines and especially the Blaufrankisch and Georg’s awesome Pinot Blanc bottlings, like this 2011 Leithaberg Cru Blaufrankisch, which shows this grape in its best light. I first got introduced to Georg by Terry Theise and always enjoyed meeting him at Terry’s famous trade tastings featuring German and Austrian wines over the last 15 years and drinking Prieler’s Johannhole Blaufrankisch, one of the best values in Blaufrankisch, and his elegant Seeberg Pinot Blanc, a wine that will make you think you are drinking a fine white Burgundy. The Prieler estate, in Schützen on the western side of the Lake Neusiedl, in Burgenland is in a warm region on the Pannonian plain that has a vast array of soils and micro climates that sees as much as 2000 hours of sunshine per vintage. While I love the uniquely Austrian Blaufrankisch and the round and textural Pinot Blanc at Prieler, they have a quality set of Burgundian varietals, which have been in Austria for centuries, when Cistercian and Franciscan monks founded monasteries in the country bringing with them their favored Pinot Noir, as well as Chardonnay, both of which do exceptionally well here. This 2011 Leithaberg Blaufrankisch is one of the best I’ve tried from Prieler with a deep garnet color and a delicate floral bouquet leading the way to a richly flavored medium bodied palate that shows fine grained tannin and layers of blackberry, plum, cranberry and mulberry fruits along with warm loam, wild herbs, brown spices and hints of sweet kirsch. There is some similarities to Cabernet Franc, but the silken luxurious Liethaberg has a graceful Pinot Noir like mouth feel and it lingers brilliantly revealing its mineral tones and balanced class.

The 2011 Prieler Leithaberg Blaufrankisch comes from a special all organic hillside parcel with and and iron-rich brown loams over calcerous chalky soils that comes through in the character of this wonderfully entertaining red wine that was carefully hand crafted using gentle winemaking techniques. The Blaufränkisch bottlings from the Johanneshöhe get fermented raised in mainly large oak casks, though most single Crus see some smaller barriques to polish their texture and give some wood accents in just the right amount, adding a hint of smoke and softening the rough edges. Georg’s commitment to high quality is obvious and with the help of Silvia Prieler, who has a PhD in biochemistry, also brings international experience to the cellar, after her internship at Domaine Dujac in Burgundy, all of which shine in their tidy collection of white and red wine offerings. There is always a clarity and sense of place that come through in these wines and they never seem over done, these are really impressive efforts that should be on your radar, especially in great vintages, which 2011 was in this region on the eastern side of Austria, along with the string of current years that include 2013, 2016 and 2017 releases. The Blaufrankisch (aka Lemberger in Germany and in parts of America’s Pacific northwest) varietal, which was first seen in lower Styria, is a black-skinned (red) wine grape grown widely in Austria, mostly in Burgenland and also Hungary where it is known as Kékfrankos. This late ripening grape is distant cousins to Pinot Noir and Gamay with recent DNA testing showing that it is at least related to both of these varieties, as they are all descendants of Gouais Blanc. For those that have not had Blaufrankisch, I would highly recommend exploring the wines of Moric, Muhr (Niepoort) and in particular Prieler’s excellent examples of this signature Austrian red grape. The entry level Blaufrankisch at Prieler is a great starting point at under $25 a bottle, but for something extra special this Liethaberg Cru is worth chasing down.
($55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2010 Wm. Harrison Vineyards & Winery, Rutherford Red, Estate Grown, Napa Valley.
This time of year, and this year’s Covid restrictions, brings reflection and enough time to put thoughts to the keyboard with that I’ve been exploring some classically style wines and regions that I sometimes just ignore for whatever reasons, but do deserve a look in now and again, with Napa Valley being one of those special wine growing places that produces some of the world’s most desirable wines. One of the wineries I’ve grown very fond of over the years is the Wm. Harrison Estate on the Silverado Trail in the historic Rutherford AVA in a quieter, less traveled part of Napa Valley that I really enjoy visiting and well known for their famous single varietal Cabernet Franc, which I almost always purchase when up there at the property. This review is for their top wine, the Wm. Harrison Estate Rutherfold Red, which is a traditional meritage blend in the mold of (the) Joseph Phelps Insignia and Opus One, which shows densely packed layers of black fruits and a warm kiss of new French oak and accented by elegant floral notes, spices and lingering creme de cassis with blackberries, plum, dark cherries and blueberries filling out the rich full bodied palate along with touches of anise, cedar, minty sage, shredded tobacco leaf, loamy mineral notes, coca nibs and crushed violets. Vintages, like this 2010, delivers structure and a slightly cooler tone and a brighter sensation in the mouth, it is a vintage, much like 2014 that ranks way up there as one of my favorite Napa years to drink. I really enjoy tasting at the Wm. Harrison Vineyards and Winery, which celebrated its 25th anniversary two years ago, with its rustic old California look and casual setting, in particular when there are ripening grapes on the vines.

The Wm. Harrison “Rutherford Red” is estate’s premier bottling, it is made using the winemaker’s favorite barrels of best selection of separately vinified grapes usually containing the historic five Bordeaux varieties, and is 100% estate grown. This wine, with sweet tannins and notable Rutherfold dust character is hand crafted with the best lots of Cabernet Sauvignon, and as the winery notes, forms the foundation of the Rutherford Red, adding that about 25% of this wine includes small doses of Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and their famous Cabernet Franc. The actual blend is different from year to year to produce the best possible expression of the Harrison’s vineyard, depending on the nature of the vintage. The darkly purple and opaque Cabernet Sauvignon, which makes up the backbone of the Rutherford Red, comes from the Wm, Harrison’s “old” parcels planted in 1991 and the “young” vines block of Clone 7 that got planted in 1997, that the winery says produce the estate’s best grapes. The prettiness and evocative side of this wine is usually its Cabernet Franc which is grown on the westernmost block of the property, where there is a high percentage of decomposed volcanic ash that gives the original Bear Creek loam soils a light color and provides the wine an aromatic pop and a spicy kick. Everything in the cellar is pretty normal with the wine being blended from selected barrels that typically aged for 20 months in, as mentioned, mostly new, toasty sweet and delicately smoky French oak. There is loads of opulent fruit here in this 2010, but it is still nicely lively, making for polished and rewarding wine that even when I first tasted it back in 2014, but is certainly better now, especially with hearty cuisine. For a Napa Cab based wine, the price is reasonable, considering the quality in the bottle when compared to some of Wm. Harrison’s neighbors.
($85 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2007 Domaine Trimbach, Riesling “Cuvée Frédéric Émile” Vin d’Alsace, France.
This time of year always makes for a great time to celebrate life with special treats, and without question the Trimbach Family’s glorious Cuvée Frédéric Emile is a special treat, with everything going on in the world, it should be a time of reflection and grace highlighted by moments of joy and inner peace, which pulling out a bottle like this is reason to celebrate life’s treasures and gives much to be grateful for. Trimbach’s lineup is full of quality, but certainly the two top wines, their legendary Clos Ste. Hune and this Cuvée Frédéric Emile are their jewels and are among the greatest dry Rieslings on earth. While I have had the pleasure of experiencing the rarity of the majestic Clos Ste. Hune, this Cuvée Frédéric Emile is also a brilliant wine and a ridiculously good value, especially when you compare it to top white Burgundies and or some famous GG’s from Germany. The 2007, which was first released in 2013 saw five years of bottle age in the Trimbach cellars before being unleashed to the public and it has only got better, I’ve been lucky to have sampled it three times now with total admiration for its delicacy and mineral driven nature along with the layering of evolving and complex fruit. This gripping Riesling has a bright intensity and an every improving textural quality with an array of citrus and stone fruits, flinty/steely notes along with an earthy stony core that is wonderfully accented by a hint of classic petrol fumes, ginger, clove and rosewater. The 2007 Cuvée Frédéric Emile is not a flamboyant vintage by any means, but it has a quiet confidence that carries with it a noble presence in the glass, it gains a maturity of form that is seductively emerging at present and making it a wine to plan a whole evening and meal around. I have tasted quite a few vintages in the last 10 years and have never been disappointed with this wine and this 2007 is one to be cherished, along with the 2008 and 2011, which are also divine examples of this treasured nectar.

Pierre Trimbach, the winemaker, says 2007 was a miracle vintage with a warm spring, with some difficult ups and down along the way to a beautiful harvests season, with the top dry wines showing excellent precision and purity, which this Cuvée Frédéric Emile shows with transparent charm and depth. This wine is lovely now, though many people are hiding their prized bottles in the cellar to allow it fully develop its secondary flavors and soften its powerful dry extract and vivacious acidic backbone. I would be hard pressed not to open it sooner versus later, because I love where it is at and would mostly drink it with either crab cakes or sushi given the chance. The Trimbach estate, located near the village of Ribeauvillé, which dates back to 1626, has seen 12 generations with Hubert Trimbach being the patriarch of this wine growing family winery, with Pierre Trimbach currently running the cellar at this famous Alsace domaine. The Cuvée Frédéric Émile, which has been made and gathering awards since 1898, is hand crafted from two outstanding vineyards, the Grand Cru Geisberg and the Grand Cru Osterberg, both of which are set on Alsace’s limestone, sandstone and gravelly soils with some old vines on steep south facing slopes with small parcels that have ancient style terraces to capture sunshine, giving this Riesling its complexity and ripe density. The calcareous underpinning and the seashell fossils called “Muschelkalk” give the Emile its personality and the gentle winemaking, including a slow pneumatic pressing with the carefully selected grapes seeing fermentation in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, with the wine never seeing wood and getting bottled early to preserve its freshness. This bone dry Riesling is one of the world’s most iconic wines and should be part of every wine lovers journey into the classics, and if you can’t find this particular vintage, don’t be distressed, you’ll still be rewarded regardless of the year on the label, such is the exacting precision each release of Cuvée Frédéric Émile delivers.
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

nv Orleans Borbòn, Manzanilla Fina, Dry Sherry, Manzanilla-Sanlucar de Barrameda, Jerez, Spain.
The salty crisp Manazilla Fina by the historic Bodegas los Infantes de Orleans Borbón is a vibrant and brisk dry Sherry that is perfectly refreshing with oily almonds, sheep cheeses, cured ham, a mix of olives and or briny anchovies. We sometimes forget just how delicious these lighter and vibrant Manzanilla Sherries really are and especially as a aperitif with classic Tapas to satisfy an early evening hunger, while waiting for a late dinner. This Orleans Borbòn shows tangy citrus, along with delicate baked peach, quince, bitter herbs, walnut oil and orange rind with classic nutty oxidation and lip smacking acidity. I love this Manazilla style, with its Flor, a yeast that protects these wines while aging, less alcohol, terroir driven sherry, which should be served chilled, they are easy to enjoy, but more complex than a simple Fino. There are mass produced and generic versions of Fino, like Tio Pepe, but the smaller boutique Bodegas show more of an artisan quality and I highly recommend, the Orleans Manzanilla, as well as Lustau and Equipo Navazos for their exceptional lineups and ranges of limited edition examples of Sherry, from dry Finos to richly sweet Pedro Ximinez versions. Sherry largely gets overlooked in the wine world, and in particular the US market, making a rare niche for the brave enthusiasts and adventurers, as well as foodies that love Spanish cuisine. Though tricky to explain, Sherry is an important region and can be a fantastic tasting experience.

The seaside Sanlucar de Barrameda, set on its famous Albariza soils is a perfect location to grow Palomino grapes and its unique micro climate that promotes the development of Flor, which is what makes this Manzanilla so zesty and gives its sea side flavors. The historical fishing port of San Lucar de Barrameda in Andalucia is within province of Cádiz, near the Guadalquivir River, that runs from Jaén, down to the coast, and finally into the Gulf of Cádiz and Atlantic Ocean, all which means a cooler influence and a more complexity in the grapes at harvest. The Orleans Manzanilla Fina is made from 100% Palomino and was chosen from special casks, with two bottlings a year to preserve freshness it each release, these Sherries should be drunk within a year or so and not be cellared. These lighter Sherries beg to be enjoyed young with their delicate complexity still intact. This historic Bodega had its beginnings back in 1849, when, as the winery notes, that during an expedition of Andalucía, Don Antonio de Orleans, the Duke of Montpensier and son of King Louis Philippe of France, fell in love with this remote and ancient fishing village of Sanlucar de Barrameda and establishing an estate here. The Orleans family continues today and has produced an amazing selection of soleras, a multi year batch of Sherry that includes young and old wines. This zippy Manzanilla is definitely one to look for if you want to explore the unique world of Sherry, which are fortified with grape spirit to stabilize them, with Fino and Manazilla being lesser in finished alcohol at 15%.
($10 Est. 375ml-Half Bottle) 90 Points, grapelive

2010 Domaine Marcel Diess, Mambourg Grand Cru, Vin d’Alsace, France.
The Marcel Diess Mambourg Grand Cru is one of the world’s best and most intriguing white wines, it is a unique single vineyard field blend that is made from mostly Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, though it is rumored to have a tiny amount of other varietals, which may include some Pinot Meunier as well as Beurot, an extremely rare grape. Jean-Michel Diess, who is the proprietor of this famous estate that was founded just after WWII in 1947, along with a few others, like Marc Tempe, led a small revolution, bucking the modern Alsace system, away from mono varietal Alsace whites and focusing on individual terroirs along with holistic farming that was based on Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic principals to build healthy soils and promoting a natural energy in his wines. He also put a huge effort into plant density and small yields to bring out stunning depth and concentration, which really shows in his legacy of amazing wines and continues today with wines like this fantastic 2010 Mambourg Grand Cru Alsace Blanc which shows intense dry extract and dense layers of white peach, apple, lemon curd, quince and passion fruit along with spearmint, clove, pecan oil and jasmine as well as a touch of salinity, wet chalk, orange peel and a mineral element. This wine builds on the medium bodied palate impressively and its quality is somehow much more than the sum of its parts, making the type of grapes almost utterly beside the point here, this is a soulful expression of place and just maybe the absolute greatest wine I’ve tried from Alsace that didn’t have Riesling on the label! Air brings out texture, aromatic floral tones and depth in this Mambourg giving this gorgeous wine a palate impact that few wines can achieve, this is golden/straw colored wine easily sits with world’s legendary white wines. The climate in the Alsatian region is characterized as continental and is warmer than commonly thought with loads of long sunny days to go with chilly nights, though quite harsh during the winter months, in fact in certain parts it’s considerably dry with only a tiny amount of rain during the growing season. This wine will require some luck and money to get your hands on, sorry about that, but as we get into the holidays I just had to mention this rare beauty, because it is a fantastic bottle to celebrate everything we are grateful for.

The Mambourg Alsace Blanc, a stellar hand crafted effort, saw a very slow whole cluster pressing, in fact in usual vintages can be close to 12 hours with incredible attention to detail and careful sorting of the bunches, with all natural, spontaneous indigenous yeast fermentation before being aged in mostly used barrels for a full 12 months. The Diess Grand Crus are all age worthy efforts, especially their Schoenenbourg Grand Cru, Altenberg de Bergheim Grand Cru and Mambourg Grand Cru offerings, they join an elite list of top Alsace wines in collectable appeal, and while quite pricy at first glance, these wines are worth every bit of change in your wallet and no more than wines of this quality in the great regions of the world and maybe even more tasty. The winery notes, that this vineyard sight has the highest density of all their plantings, adding, this site, which overlooks the village of Sigolsheim, sits on hillside with excellent exposure and is typically the earliest of their Grand Crus to ripen. Mambourg’s reputation dates back to the Middle Ages, when it belonged to the monasteries and feudal lords, who over the centuries cherished this vineyard, which is set on mineral rich limestone and hardened clay soils and made it one of the area’s most coveted. This rich and powerful Mambourg, like white Burgundy and top Grosses Gewachs finished at around 14% natural alcohol and benefits from a decade of cellaring as well as well thought out pairing, though it does have the flexibility to go with an array of cuisine choices, including honey baked ham, poultry dishes and creamy cheeses. Now, Domaine Marcel Diess is run by Mathieu Deiss with the help of his wonderfully rebellious father Jean-Michel, and the wines seem to be getting even better with every release throughout the range. I was privileged to have met and tasted the wines with Mathieu a few years back in San Francisco, and it was one of most memorable experiences in white wine I’ve had, his collection is not to be missed, with this Mambourg being an absolute stand out. The estate is 100% organic and now completely certified biodynamic by Demeter, and everything is done with total commitment to preserving a bond between man and the environment, this a winery to keep an eye on if you are looking for something extra special and one to save some pennies for! Not many wines have this level of joy, it is exceptional stuff and in its prime maturity, 2010 wasn’t just good for Bordeaux and Barolo, it was great here too in Alsace, with this Deiss proving structured to go another decade.
($125 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2006 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli, Barolo Riserva DOCG, Piedmont, Italy.
This wine is entering its prime and this Piedmonte vintage, which largely is overlooked at the moment with 2010 and current releases taking up most of the talk, is really an awesome year to be drinking, with top Barolo certainly leading the way with wines from Giacosa, La Spinetta, Vietti, Oddero and Borgogno, to name a few, all being excellent choices. This Borgogno Riserva really made an impression on me when I first tried it back in 2014 will its raw and rustic charm and serious structural power, it excited my palate with layers of chiseled density, showing macerated cherry, damson plum, strawberry and mulberry fruits that were admirably joined by leather, cedar, anise, mineral tones and a light truffle note. Even then it had a sense of secondary evolution and a beautiful maturity with touches of balsamic, fig and a sensation of autumn in the glass, though there was still plenty of acidity and dusty/grippy tannins, and like a classic Grand Cru Burgundy it benefits from food, time in the glass and is every changing, engaging the senses every moment. With the weather getting colder and cuisine getting more hearty, it is really a great time of year to explore Nebbiolo based wines and with the hope of a new year bringing something to cheer about, it is in particular a fabulous time for the magic of Barolo and Barbaresco. The Bogogno reds need to be (or should be) decanted to soften and these older 100% Nebbiolo based wines do have some sediment, so be careful when serving them not to cloudy up the wine.

The Borgogno Riserva Barolo comes from elite parcels of vines in top crus, including Borgogno’s best in Cannubi, Liste, San Pietro delle Viole and Fossati, set on classic calcareous (limestone) and clay/marl soils with perfect exposures, mostly to the South and Southeast to soak in the long days of Summer sunshine and deliver ripe and powerful grapes. The Borgogno Riserva was hand crafted with traditional methods, made from the best grapes from the mentioned, their most important Crus, Cannubi, Liste and Fossati and fermented with native yeasts. This spontaneous natural fermentation takes place in cement tanks at low temperatures that is followed by a long submerged cap maceration, which the winery says, can in some vintages like this one, reach 50 days before being raked off to oak casks. The aging for the Barolo Riserva happens exclusively in big Slavonian oak barrels for a massive six years, then this wine, like all Borgogno’s Riservas, was rested almost a year in bottle before being released from the cellar. This 2006, which will be tough to find at this point, gains finer details as it opens and its orange/brick edges and dried rose petal and subtle gamey bouquet remind you exactly what it is and it never hides from its terroir and old school winemaking, it performs as well as promised. In the past, I had been slightly put off by Borgono’s stiff and austere personality, but now I am thrilled by these wines and can’t wait to try the upcoming 2016 releases, especially their regular (basic) Barolo, which wonderfully over delivered in the 2014 and 2015 vintages! The 2006 came out to be a very refined 13.5% natural alcohol, versus the more usual 14 to 14.5% you will see normally in the region these days, making it a bit less overt and fitting it perfectly within the house style.
($100 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2013 Domaine de Montille, Pommard “Les Grands Èpenots” Premier Cru, Red Burgundy, France.
This time of year brings me the joys of the classics, especially Burgundies and wow, this one is one of the best to celebrate the season with, it is joyous and complex with gorgeous Pinot fruit and Pommard structure that impresses the palate and lingers on and on with a graceful dreaminess. The Domaine de Montille, run by Etienne de Montille, who who took over from his late and legendary father Hurbert de Montille, one of the greats of the region in the same era as Henri Gouges, Bernard Maume and Henri Jayer, is located in the heart of the Cote de Beaune and Etienne has followed in his dad’s traditional style, but has employed a much more rigorous program in the vineyards with all of the estate’s vines being certified organic and mostly biodynamic in practice now. The Domaine de Montille traces its roots in Burgundy back to the 1730s, with Etienne’s dad, Hubert de Montille, taking control of the historic property in 1947, post WWII and brought considerable fame to this small family winery with a focus on Volnay and Pommard, like this one, from top sites in this clay and limestone soiled area. Etienne in recent years, along with his equally talented sister Alix, who is married to Jean-Marc Roulot and who is especially gifted with the family’s white wines, has really focused on tightening up the label with the purchase of the Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet, selling of excess vineyards that don’t fit in the collection and pushing the quality levels to even great heights at the main Domaine de Montille. Interestingly, Etienne has begun a new project in California based in the Sta. Rita Hills called Racines and has Rudolf Peters of Champagne Pierre Peters involved too, with some high praise already being dished out for it, and I cannot wait to explore.

The 2013 vintage is a year to enjoy now or later, it may not be a legendary in terms of quality overall, but this Domaine de Montille Pommard 1er Cru Les Grands Èpenots shows considerable depth and shows that great vineyard sites can achieve serious quality in lesser years with a dense array of red fruits, spice, mineral notes, anise and beautiful aromatics. This wine was extremely tight at first taste, opening only when its gets air and time to unfold, finally revealing its potential with a medium full palate of crushed raspberries, dusty morello cherries, plum/current and strawberry that revolve in firm details in the mouth and is accented by a hint of oak and earthiness. There is lots to unpack in this Pommard and it is just beginning to perform to its potential in classic de Montille fashion, adding floral notes, with rose oil, snappy herbs and a chalky element. Etienne, who joined the domaine in 1983, was always looking to expand the domaine’s collection of top parcels and got some prime vineyards over the years, some of his savvy buys were plots like Vosne-Romanee Les Malconsorts, maybe one of his greatest purchases, as well as rows of Puligny Cailleret in 1993, a section of the Grand Cru, Corton Charlemagne in 2004 and includes vines in Clos Vougeot, Chevalier-Montrachet, Puligny Folatières, Chalumeaux, Meursault Perrières and Poruzots, and Saint Aubin En Remilly, an area that is fast becoming an elite lieu-dit. Etienne uses lots of whole cluster, often 50-100% depending on the vintage with macerations lasting between 12 to 16 days, with pigeages, hand punch downs, twice a day to get full extraction and he does his aging in barriques, usually employing just about 30% new oak to allow more transparency and terroir purity. This de Montille Pommard is impressive stuff and should get even better in 5 to 10 years if you are lucky enough to have it, I also recommend Etienne’s sublime Volnays and the Beaune offerings, which give great bang for the buck.
($125 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2015 Weingut Georg Breuer, GB Gris, Grauer Burgunder, Rheingau, Germany.
While known for their authentic and organic Riesling and Spatburgunder, I have to give a shout out to Georg Breuer’s Pinot Gris, which is absolutely delightful and much more serious than people would imagine, as this grape does fantastically well in Germany and is highly planted within some of the main regions, including here in the Rheingau. I remember on my last visit to Rudesheim finding many blocks of Pinot Gris, aka Grauer Burgunder within many of the Berg crus as well as seeing it throughout the middle Rheingau, where it gets also as dark as Pinot Noir on the vine and making you look very closely to identify it! This example by Theresa Breuer is vividly fresh and dry with crisp detail and a light to medium body showing ripe flavors and subtle aromatics along with a hint of smoky slate influenced minerallity. The profile is classically apple led, but adds peach, gooseberry, lemon/lime and quince and the texture is round, less intense than Theresa’s Rieslings, but still racy with natural acidity and some flinty spices and a touch of minty herbs. The Breuer’s have a beautiful set of vineyards with them being planted to about 79% Riesling, 11% Pinot Noir as well as a combination mixed grapes with close to 10% being made up of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, which goes into this wine, as well as rarities like Orléans and Heunisch. The Grauer Burgunder or Pinot Gris is set mostly on the historic slate soils of the Rudesheimer Berg as well as patches of shallow gravels, quartzite, clay and loess. The warm exposure and the ripe vintage give this Grauer Burgunder its delicious nature and it was made using spontaneous fermentations or started with pied de cuve (yeast that is started in the vineyard) and aged with stainless steel, while the single cru Rieslings see large German oak casks. Theresa, and her uncle Heinrich, along with cellar master Markus Lunden, a Swede have really done some incredible age worthy wines in the last five years making Weingut Georg Breuer one of the most important wineries in the Rheingau.

I have visited the Breuer’s tasting room in old town Rudesheim on both my extended stays in the Rheingau and always find something new to sample and this Grauer Burgunder was one of my favorites last time, along with a amazing selection of vintages of Theresa’s Rieslings from her estate sourced vines, both in the Rudesheimer Berg Grand Crus as well as her unique parcel in the Rauentaller Nonnenberg, which has become one of the most prized in her collection. The Breuer’s have a beautiful tasting facility above their old cellars as well as a great restaurant in town, along with a new cellar, which is a work in progress and is bustling with excitement, if you’ve never traveled to this wonderful wine village on the Rhein, you must and this winery is one of the sites you will want to discover. In the cellar, Theresa has gone down the path of her generation, using natural methods and focuses on the vineyards with holistic farming techniques and biodynamic principals to create dry soulful and transparent wines. In the 1980s Bernhard Breuer, Theresa’s late father, who sadly passed at age 57 in 2004, was one of the key members of Charta, an organization formed to promote a drier style of Rheingau wine, which have gained traction over the last 20 years and have become some of Germany’s most collectable, especially wines like Breuer’s Schlossberg, Roseneck and the Monopol Nonnenberg. Bernhard was a proponent of this style of wine and believed that the Rheingau was perfectly suited to producing very fine, elegant and flavorful dry Rieslings, and now Theresa, who leads this 130 year old estate, has taken the wines to the next level. This GB Gris Grauer Burgunder is not an easy get in America, sorry about that, but the Georg Breuer Rieslings and Pinot Noirs are and they deserve your attention, especially the latest vintages from 2015 to 2019, which are a stellar selection of wines.
($18 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 Kutch, Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast.
This intensely energetic wine by Jamie Kutch is sourced from Bohan Vineyard, a unique 47-year-old site with old clones, which is on the Sonoma Coast, making for a studied mix of a cool climate site, maturity of the plants and wonderfully ripe vintage that led to a seriously delicious Chardonnay. Made with old school traditional artisans methods with the goal to achieve Burgundian finesse and mineral driven charm, the 2017 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast shows what these older own rooted and sustainable vines on the extreme Sonoma Coast can do with vivid acidity, low alcohol and a less oaky profile, while still being wonderfully expressive and ultra serious. Planted in 1972, the Bohan Vineyard sits just about three miles from the cold Pacific Ocean and set on sandstone and Goldridge soils at nearly 1,400 feet above sea level, which helps with fog clearing and getting good exposure, this is a special site as evidenced here in this beautifully detailed and chiseled Chardonnay. In the winery, Kutch is meticulous and gentle in his handling of the grapes and the wine is only moved with gravity flow and he uses mainly neutral wood the preserve the freshness and the vineyard’s individual characteristics or personality, these are wines that are best enjoyed with food, with this one shining with fleshy white fish, shellfish and or a fine triple cream (soft) cheese.

Jamie Kutch, who also makes riveting whole cluster and cool climate Pinot Noirs, is gifted with the touch for Chardonnay and I really loved his Trout Gulch version, that wonderful vineyard farmed by my friend Richard Alfaro in the Santa Cruz Mountains, so it was exciting to try his Sonoma Coast bottling and it didn’t disappoint with its purity and vitality, while still giving a sense of richness and textural pleasure. Kutch’s style is all about balance and retaining acidity, so finding these extreme vineyard sites are paramount to his achieving his winemaking goals, which shows in the transparency and crisp of his wines. This 2017 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay starts lively and citrusy with preserved lemon and white peach starting things off on the palate which gains depth and leesy toastiness with each sip, adding classic pear and apple fruits to the medium bodied palate along with a bracing (saline) sea breeze, a subtle wood note from the used French barrels, clove spice, soft verbena and a touch of honeysuckle. With air in the glass, this pale gold Kutch Chard builds mouth feel and lingers luxuriously, this is tasty stuff that offers a great value, I can’t wait to try the 2018 and 2019s, which should be even better! There’s a lot to be excited about in California Chardonnay these days with small producers like Ceritas, Samuel Louis Smith, Arnot-Roberts, Drew, Scar of the Sea and Kutch, to name a few, all doing thrilling stuff this year.
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive Reviews – November, 2020

2014 Maison Morey-Coffinet, Puligny-Montrachet “Corvée des Vignes” White Burgundy, France.
After sipping a classic Meursault for yesterday’s Wine of the Day, I was inspired to dig through my notes of great white Burgundies and remembered how much I like this gorgeous Puligny-Montrachet from Thibault Morey at Maison Morey-Coffinet that I have in my original notes that were sourced at a Martine’s Wines portfolio tasting. This mineral driven and exciting Puligny, somewhat of a sleeper in the lineup, really impressed me with its depth and complexity, this winery has in recent years become a favorite of mine, especially these Puligny bottlings, which are brilliant Chardonnys and in this day and age, real quality value offerings. The 2014 vintage is a great year to explore right now with the wines getting into a nice mature place, especially this Corvée des Vignes, which is displaying with absolute purity a fine palate of white peach, apple and racy lemony fruits along with an array of stony detail and classic hints of hazelnut, leesy toast, white flowers and clove spiciness as well as a soft oak presence. There is a lot to love here and I am in love with the textural mouth feel and its steely structure, this is really coming into its prime and it gains even more excitement with air and with a meal, I highly recommend checking these 2014s at this stage with their secondary flavors offering loads of drinking pleasure, reminding us that these white Burgundies are a thrill in the glass. The Morey-Coffinet domaine was established in the 1970s, founded by Thibault’s dad Michael Morey, and has always been a well regarded label with the wines taking off under the younger Morey, who joined the family winery in the late nineties and has brought this property into the limelight with his stylish wines.

The Domaine Morey-Coffinet has a stunning collection of Grand Crus, including Batard-Montrachet and Corton-Charlemagne as well as some awesome Premier Crus in Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet, along with a selection of quality village wines and special Lieu-Dits that, like this effort, make for a star studded set of whites to chose from, with this Puligny-Montrachet Corvee des Vignes being one to look for, especially for the price. Thibaut Morey is very precise and crafts his wines with methodical attention to detail, and with his whites from parcels like this one, carefully hand sorts all the grapes and ferments in barrel with this wine seeing a combination of classic barrique and larger French oak (350L) barrels. His Chassagne and Puligny wines are aged about a year in wood, which depending on what the vintage brings get about 30% new oak and then bottled unfined and unfiltered, all of which adds up to seriously delicious, opulent and graceful wines. I know these wines are limited and sometimes hard to find in the states, but I suggest tracking some down, in particular this yellow/gold Corvée des Vignes, as well as the Le Trezin, plus the Premier Crus, which are fantastic, but a touch more dear price wise. All of the estate or Domaine wines come from all organic and biodynamic vines that certainly add to the wine’s quality and energy to this Chassagne-Montrachet based winery’s series of white Burgundies, for which the Morey family is most famous for in the Cote de Beaune’s clay and limestone based soils. This 2014 was fabulous, so I’m curious to sample the 2017 and 2018s at sometime in the near future, which look to be even better from what I am told. This time of year, as I have mentioned a few times recently is a great time to pop corks on richly flavored white Burgundy, with Morey-Coffinet being an excellent choice, and enjoying them with soft cheeses, lobster and or roast poultry dishes.
($48 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2014 Domaine Bitouzet-Prieur, Meursalt ”Les Corbins” White Burgundy, France.
While I’ve focused on this winery’s Volnay Rouge bottlings in the past, this wine, made by Vincent Bitouzet, from the traditional Domaine Bitouzet-Prieur, who makes elegantly structured wines, crafts fantastic white Burgundy, and is known primarily for his Meursault, like this beauty, from his small winery in heart of the Cote de Beaune. I must give a big thank you for a friend who shared this special bottle with me, this 2014 Meursault Les Corbins is showing fantastically well and is gaining a lovely mature golden color and secondary complexity, though still having an inner brightness and vivid detail, making it an absolutely rewarding white Burgundy that shows a layering of classic apple, pear, baked peach, lemon curd that is nicely accented by clove, hazelnut, lessy toast and texture with a touch of matchstick, wet stones and delicate aromatics. Everything flows with elegance and richness on the medium/full palate, this really delivers the Meursault experience with loads of personality and is a totally pleasing wine for the purists and Burgundy fans. As I taste more and more of these wines I become an even bigger fan, this one confirms their quality and depth.

As I have noted with their red wines, Bitouzet-Prieur’s whites, get native yeast natural fermentation and there is never more than 20% new oak is used for the aging here, thus allowing a true sense of the place to shine through and giving a authentic sensuality to the wines, which this Les Corbins certainly delivering now. The Bitouzet-Prieur Meursaults, as I have noted in the past, are slightly reductive and restrained in style when young, but get absolutely delicious with bottle age, as this one has, and the reds are similar, as their Volnay Taillepieds also has shown in a recent tasting, these may not be overly flamboyant expressions by any means, they do get wonderfully regal over time. These are subtle and refined examples of the Cote de Beaune Terroir(s) that some require patience, all of which is rewarded in examples such as this. The Bitouzet family, as noted by importer Rosenthal Imports, owns 1.5 hectares of “Les Corbins” which sits just underneath the 1er Cru “Les Plures” on a deep and rocky mix of clay-limestone soils, which gives this Lieu-Dit its roundness. Only two barrels per year are reserved for the USA, which make this a rare treat indeed and a super value! Thanks again Marc for sharing and the blind tasting, that was fun my friend.
($65 to 70 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Meyer-Näkel, Pinot Noir “Estate” Ahr, Germany.
The famous Mayer-Näkel estate has gone through a seamless transition from the legendary “Red Baron” Werner Näkel, who is credited for making the world take notice of German red wines, especially Pinot Noir, to his talented daughters, Dörte & Meike Näkel who are making a stellar collection of wine themselves, including this smoothly rich and slate driven Ahr Estate 2018 Pinot Noir. These days, the secret is out that Germany is actually a powerhouse producer of Pinot Noir with many top producers crafting exceptional versions of this grape, they include Becker, Kunstler, Schlossgut Diel, Furst and Meyer-Näkel, who won a historic blind tasting by Decanter Magazine and was named best Pinot Noir in the world, against some of Burgundy’s greatest, to name a few. This 2018, which is less oak driven than Werner’s wines of the mid two thousands, is a deep ruby wine that is fresh and wonderfully textured with a pleasing layered mouth feel and pure Pinot fruit, highlighting the evolving style at this estate in Germany’s northwest region of the Ahr, any area of unique steep slopes, smoky slate and long sunny days to ripen the fruit to perfection. Based in Dernau, the Meyer-Näkel estate is blessed with some amazing vineyards site, some of which are Grand Cru or Grosses Gewachs set on pure slate looking down on the Ahr River, that lies in the rain shadow of the Eifel Mountains, meaning it is drier and with perfect south exposures that draws in the warmth of the sun, even though this is one of the most northerly area of German wine production. At first the 2018 Estate Pinot, or as the locals call it Spatburgunder, gives the impression of soft and creamy simplicity, but as it gets air its true nature comes through and it gains complexity with every sip with red raspberry, strawberry, plum and a core of black cherry fruit along with a hint of flinty/smoke, a touch of sweet florals, tea spices, subtle earthiness and very faint wood notes. There is an elegant sense of transparent purity and energy in this vintage, which is highly compelling, very composed and admirable.

The winery notes, that the name “Ahr“ goes back to the Celtic word “aha”, meaning water. The river has always been cherished here, even in ancient times, it has carved out a deep, steep-sided valley of craggy rocks and chasms on its way through the Ahr Hills and the vines cling bravely to these hyper steep sites. This, according to the Näkels, not only created a wildly romantic, picturesque view, but also the basis for the cultivation of red wine in what is Germany’s “high north” and made for these very special climatic conditions that were enough to convince the Romans to settle here, encouraged by the wine of course, all that time ago. The Ahr Valley, despite being the third-smallest wine-producing region in Germany, has, as the winery adds, the largest continuous stretch of red wine vine cultivation in Germany, with the majority top sites located in Dernau. Meyer-Näkel has a stellar set of sites, including the mentioned top Crus, which are Pfarrwingert, Kräuterberg and Sonnenberg, these are vineyards that rival the elite of the Cote d’Or and produce, in most vintages make for some of the most highly sought after wines in Europe! While this Pinot Noir “Estate” Ahr is more of an entry level offering, it delivers more than enough to be considered a top value and a great gateway wine to gain insight on just how good these German Pinots can be. I first tired the Meyer-Näkel from the 2006 vintage and have been a fan ever since, even bringing some back from Germany in 2009, so it was great to see that Dörte & Meike have continued to put out such delicious wines, like this one, as well as another favorite of mine, their Rosé of Pinot Noir and I can only hope to get a few of the rare GG’s, which are almost impossible to get here in California. Both sisters, Dörte & Meike went to the famous Geisenheim University on the Rhein earning the esteemed degrees in wine cultivation and were well trained to take over the Mayer-Näkel winery, where their mom and dad still lend a hand, but have allowed for their girls to explore their own ideas, which has certainly proved fruitful and the future here is in good hands.
($36 Est.) 92 Pointsgrapelive

2018 Domaine M. et C. Lapierre, Morgon Roche du Py, Cuvee Camille, Cru Beaujolais, France.
The ripe and dark fruited 2018 Morgon Roche du Py “Cuvée Camille”, named for the late great Marcel Lapierre’s daughter, who along with Mathieu are continuing their father’s tradition and taking this estate to even new heights, with this special bottling being one of the most expressive and dense in the lineup with lush Gamay purity and exceptionally made. This Morgon comes from ultra late picks from 50 to 75 year old vines set on the classic granitic gravelly and mineral rich soils which shows in the layers of rich red raspberry, strawberry preserves, pomegranate and plum fruits, delicate spices, floral intensity as well as earthy, walnut and flinty accents. There is an overt fullness of flavors in this vintage of the M. & C.Lapierre Morgon “Cuvée Camille” that stems from the late pick, it is gorgeously textural and fills the palate impressively, this is nothing short of spectacular in the glass. The color, with its dark garnet hue, violet toned perfume, depth and length all stand out and are alluring, these qualities are sure bring a huge smile to your face, as they did to mine. Even in a subdued Thanksgiving holiday with the weight of the pandemic and a sense of the historic suffering, making it hard to celebrate, this wine brought some relief and my mum and I toasted our grateful feelings of being able to spend the day together with our health and security, even though most of our family and friends were staying in place to help us and our fellow Americans. I don’t have any hard and fast rules for pairings during the holiday season, but Cru Beaujolais usually plays a part and I can’t think of many that I’d rather have than Lapierre, especially their Cuvée Marcel or this Cuvée Camille, which are always wonderful treats. Looking forward, Mathieu and Camille, while upholding the great work that their father pioneered, have now introduced biodynamic vineyard practices and these recent vintages show their commitment and passion to producing even better wines.

I am always thankful for being introduced to these great wines, with importer Kermit Lynch and his team being the main reason I got into the likes of Jean Foillard, Guy Breton, the Thevenet’s, Nicole Chanrion, Thiven, Chignard and Lapierre, all of which offered the true gloriousness of Gamay, a grape that long got unfairly maligned by the wine world. The Lapierre wines are notably riper and even flamboyant in style, they push the envelop, and this 2018 Cuvée Camille is no exception with 14.5% natural alcohol and whole bunch pop it really grabs your attention with the same hedonistic presence that you’d get from a Chateauneuf-du-Pape! Kermit says, that the methods at Lapierre are just as revolutionary as they are traditional, adding that, the detail and precision with which they work is striking and entirely different from, what we sometimes expect from the majority of mainstream Beaujolais, they work in a very natural style with Marcel Lapierre having been a leader in the move to organics in his region and bringing the natural wine movement to new heights of quality. Lynch, who originally was skeptical of “natural wine” and non sulfur, was only convinced that they had a place alongside the great wines of the world, and in his portfolio, by Marcel Lapierre and now is a champion of this style, but only those that work with such attention to detail and quality, striving for elegance and terroir clarity, which these Lapierre deliver in spades. In the cellar, Mathieu 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. The Lapierre family ages their wines on fine lees for at least nine months with very little use of sulfur, and in some cases totally without its addition. This vintage is ravishing and fun, I knew I should have bought more, but I hear the 2019s which are coming soon are just as thrilling!
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Cruse Wine Co., Tannat, Alder Springs Vineyard, Mendocino County.
While Michael Cruse is most known for his fabulous sparkling wines, including his cult Ultramarine methode Champenoise and his seriously delicious and quaffable Pet-Nats, but his still wines are well worth exploring, especially his Alder Springs Tannat, which is a unique rarity that shows a deep violet/purple color and a cast of fruits, spice and a dense textural mouth feel. Tannat, a grape that has been gaining traction in California in recent years, comes from mainly the French Pyrenees Mountains and the Basque region of Irouliguy as well as the notable South-West French Madiran region, where it is mainstay red grape, known for its fiery tannins and rustic/earthy character. The Cruse Tannat shows a brilliant brightness of fruit along with ripe and round structural tannins, it gains a sweetness of flavors, but also has a contrasting savory elements that come through on the medium full palate. The wine, as Cruse notes, has not been filtered or fined and has no additions or any manipulations in the cellar with the exception of a small dose of sulfur that is stabilizing force to allow aging and longterm enjoyment. Cruse additionally says of his naturally made Tannat, that this wine displays an unconventional mixture of cedar and tobacco with violets and cherries on the nose, which I certainly found true and intriguing. The Cruse 2018 Alder Springs Tannat is superb now, but should cellar well too and is best enjoyed with hearty foods, it is an excellent example of the grape. Cruse’s red wines are nice values and deserve wider attention with this one leading the way, but I will also suggest trying his Valdiguie, Syrah and the Monkey Jacket, 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’s bounty.

The Cruse Wine Co. is a small winery in Petaluma, in Sonoma County, with a mission to create a collection of uniquely Californian wines, and yes, some that contain bubbles, and after many years of following Michael Cruse’s efforts, I am even more impressed with his latest set of wines, in particular I love his Sparkling Valdiguie Pet-Nat, his awesome Tradition Brut and this tasty Tannat. California first saw Tannat come to this shores in the late 1800s, but it was most often used in field blends and wasn’t made into solo varietal wines until the last 10 to 15 years and the grape has had a few champions, most famously by Joseph Swan, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon and Tablas Creek, who brought over some of the best cuttings, with new plantings mainly being in Paso Robles, though it can be found in South Monterey County and in Mendocino County, where Cruse, as noted, gets his grapes. Tannat, it should be mentioned, is also grown in South America, with Uruguay being the most successful region and a place where it really thrives, though it can also be found in the Applegate region of Oregon, Argentina, Australia and even in the Italian region of Apulia! Cruse’s 2018 vintage, a long cool year for the grapes, perfectly captures the best qualities in Tannat with his version displaying exceptional aromatics, crisp details and good low natural alcohol, at 13%, making for a wine that performs with a purity of form and is great with robust cuisine, especially dishes like a rack lamb, short ribs and woodsy wild mushrooms. Cruse did 16 barrels of Tannat in this vintage, less than 500 cases, so while most of Michael’s wines sell out quickly, this Tannat is more readily available, so you have time to grab a few bottles, which I recommend you do.
($39 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Hundred Suns Winery, Chardonnay, Old Eight Cut, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The beautifully crisp and energetic Old Eight Cut Chardonnay by Hundred Suns Winery is an outstanding, Chablis like wine that is bursting with mineral and steely grace as well as a bright layering of lemon, apple, pear and tangy stone fruit with hints of wet stone, clove, bitter almond paste and a touch of leesy toast. This snappy Chard was a brilliant companion to a lobster roll and will be great with traditional Bay Area holiday cracked crab and or a roast turkey feast. Made by ex Beaux Freres winemaker Grant Coulter and his wife Renée Saint-Amour, this Chardonnay joins their awesome lineup of Willamette Valley Pinots along with some exotic bottlings of Gamay, Grenache and most recently a rare Willamette Valley Vidon Vineyard Syrah, with some tase tasting efforts seeing whole cluster, carbonic fermentations and the use of terra-cotta amphora. Grant, who is from the Monterey Bay area, something I learned after meeting him briefly when I visited Beaux Freres at harvest time back in 2008, is one of my favorite Oregon winemakers and I have been thrilled with these Hundred Suns wines, once I found out about them. Coulter is also the head winemaker and vineyard manager at Flaneur Vineyards, where he makes some fabulous wines as well, including as expected some riveting Willamette Pinots, a few of which I’ve really enjoyed, along with Chardonnay and a sparkling wine, that I hope to sample in the near future.

This bottling of Coulter and Saint-Amour’s Old Eight Cut Chardonnay is their first white wine under their label, which then founded in 2015 and Hundred Suns Wine’s first vintage of Chardonnay. The new Old Eight Cut Chardonnay grapes were sourced, as the winery notes, from two organically farmed vineyards in the Eola-Hills. Firstly, the Bracken Vineyard, which sits between 630-730 feet on a combination of volcanic soils (Nekia, Ritner, Witzel and Jory) of varying depths that shows in the unique mineral focus in the wine along with the Koosah Vineyard, a stunning high-elevation site perched at 1,000 feet. Coulter adds that both lots were whole cluster pressed into 500 liter neutral puncheons, well seasoned French oak, and saw a natural slow indigenous fermentation, then the Chardonnay was allowed to mature with 11 months of sur lee aging, that Grant explains helped produced a wine with bright acid, stone fruit, and floral aromatics, which do indeed play roles on the medium bodied and lively palate. This exceptionally well made hand crafted wine is a killer value, joining the Pinot version in the Old Eight Cut line, and I highly recommend scoring it while you can, as these are very limited items, also I suggest exploring the upper end of the range of single vineyard Pinots, which are absolutely stunning along with the mentioned Gamay, one of my favorites, and the brand new Super Moon Syrah, both of which I just got and will review soon. In the last few years the quality of Oregon whites has really jumped up, where we only saw Pinot Gris a while ago, especially the Chards, like this one show huge potential, but be sure to explore Willamette Valley Pinot Blanc and Riesling. Get on the Hundred Suns mailing list and taste the exciting future of Oregon wines!
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

nv Andre Clouet, Brut Nature, Blanc de Noirs, Grand Cru Champagne “Silver” A Bouzy, France.
The beautiful “Silver” Andre Clouet 100% Pinot Noir non-vintage Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs is one of the best values in Champagne and this recent disgorgement is stunning and luxurious bubbly to enjoy almost guilt free. The Silver is a no dosage Brut Nature, meaning it is exceptional dry and vibrant in style, in a more grower producer style, but still with regal richness and complexity with plenty of leesy brioche notes and a dense mouth feel showing lemon curd, quince, apple, wet stones, clove spice and hazelnut. With base of 2013 and a blend of reserve wines, this 100% Pinot Noir comes from all estate grown fruit from the mid slopes in the A Bouzy area, famous for Pinot Noir, on chalky limestone and clay soils that highlight the Silver’s mineral notes and ripe flavors. The Andre Clouet Champagnes are some of my favorite go to bubbly for any occasion, especially their zero dosage Brut offerings that have an additional zesty quality, like this one. The flexible personality, mature profile and charm here makes this Champagne an easy winner for sparkling wine enthusiasts and is also a crowd pleasing bottle for anyone and everyone, from novice to expert and has the substance and crisp detail to go with an array of dishes and flavors.

Clouet says that their “Silver” label is a Pinot Noir free of embellishments with a high toned palate, which is absolutely what you get here, and even though the 2013 was not a great vintage, this sparkling wine delivers a knock out performance in the glass, helped by the rigorous farming and selections of hand sorted grapes in the cellar. Clouet uses traditional methods from start to finish with this Brut Nature Champagne seeing fermentation and aging in neutral French oak barrels, with the wine going through full malolactic conversion which definitely gives this wine added richness and depth. The Andre Clouet Champagne house is run by Jean-François Clouet, who was born and raised in Bouzy and still lives in the 18th century village house built by his ancestors and strives to continue the regions tradition, but still is driven to elevate the quality levels here. Clouet farms some incredible Grand Cru plots around his home village of Bouzy as well as in the famous and very coveted middle slopes of Ambonnay with many vines in the best lieux-dits in the Champagne region. While great for celebrating events and special occasions, this Andre Clouet Silver Blanc de Noirs Brut Nature, with its beautiful and vivid mouse, goes sublimely well with food and makes for a noble companion with any meal. I am always impressed by Clouet’s lineup of Champagne(s), but especially so, when it comes to this stylish zero dosage Blanc de Noirs, which I highly recommend!
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 COS, Frappato, Terre Siciliane IGP, Vittoria, Sicily, Italy.
Giambattista Cilia and Giusto Occhipinti’s COS winery is celebrating its 40th harvest with this lovely vintage of their iconic bottling of Frappato, and this 2019 is everything you’d expect and admire about this wine and grape with bright strawberry, lingonberry and earthy red berry fruits, delicate spices, sweet herbs and chalky notes in a medium bodied red wine that caresses the palate with satiny tannins. The COS winery was founded in 1980 by three friends, Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti, and Cirino Strano on the site of a historic, but long forgotten wine estate, and is named after these three friends, COS is the initials of their last names. COS was and is a pioneering estate that helped start the organic and natural wine movement in this part of Sicily and takes great care with holistic methods, including some biodynamic practices in the vineyards and innovations in their cellars with the use of special amphora vessels and using only natural/native yeast fermentations with some wines seeing long skin contact macerations. The soils here in the Vittoria region, unlike Etna’s volcanic influence, are red clay and limestone based, giving incredible vibrancy to the wines and even in ripe years they remain fresh and low in alcohol, with this beautiful ruby red COS Frappato being just 11.5% ABV and the acidity delivers wonderful balance and a citrusy bounce. Frappato’s charms are many, both solo and part of a blend, but it is its ability on its own to offer loads of fruit while still being structured, slightly rustic and having a subtle floral perfume making it highly compelling and excellent with a wide range of cuisines. Giusto Occhipinti of COS, and his talented niece Arianna Occhipinti, with her own label, are benchmark producers of Frappato, as well as the DOCG Cerasuolo di Vittoria, which is Frappato blend with the classic Nero d’Avola, and these are wines to search out. There is a lot to unpack at COS, their collection offers many jewels, including this Frappato, but their Amphora wines are outstanding wines with the Pithos line being really excelling stuff, with the whites standing out here, especially the Zibbibo version which is extremely exotic and perfumed.

The COS team and in particular Occhipinti, extensively researched many aging vessels, with trips to remote parts of Europe, including the Republic of Georgia, where he studied their famous Qveri and eventually decided on a combination of 440-liter clay (terra-cotta) amphorae sourced from Spain along with a collection of large neutral botti (oak cask) as well as concrete tanks (used mainly for this Frappato bottling). The clay, as Giusto explains, is porous like oak but has the advantage that it imparts less flavor to the wine than does even large, old casks and helps with textural quality. He says, all of the aging of his wines is done in one of these three vessels, with stainless steel tanks only being used these days for assembling the wines, clarification and settling before being bottled. The 2019 COS Frappato was produced from all hand tended certified organic estate vineyards in the Vittoria region set on sandy parcels with iron rich red dirt over the limestone and hardened clay at about 300 meters above sea level which allows a nice cooling influence from the moist breezes coming from the sea, all of which add to the zesty personality and complexity in the wines. As mentioned, the winery allowed a spontaneous indigenous yeast fermentation and a lengthy maceration for this Frappato, all done in concrete vats with the wine seeing a elevage of about nine months exclusively in the cement tanks, and as the winery notes, this was followed by three months of rest in the bottle before leaving the cellar. I am grateful for the efforts here at COS, these wines have given me so much pleasure and I was thrilled to meet and taste with Giusto a few years back in San Francisco, where he gave amazing insight on to his passion and evolution as a winemaker as well as his discovery of an ancient bottle on the property that led him to bottle the COS wines in their distinctive squat glass that dates back to 1880 and become their trademark look and widely copied around the world. If you’ve not explored this region or grape, it is way past to try Frappato and especially this COS version. Frappato has gained many fans over the last decade and in some exciting news, there is now some planted in California, inspired by COS and others, I can’t wait to see how this grape does here.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

nv Nanclares y Prieto Viticultures, A Senda Vermella, Vino Tinto, Galicia, Spain.
This unique non-vintage, ultra low alcohol crisp red, A Senda Vermella, is from grapes sourced vines in the Val do Salnes area run this cool Atlantic influenced region, more known for Albariño and is a blend of 60% Caiño Tinto and 40% MencÌa from different organic parcels in the Rias Baixas. Interestingly, this wine was blended from both the 2017 and 2018 vintages and therefor is sort a Spanish version of a Vin de France, that cannot be labeled with a D.O. and has just Vino Tinto by Nanclares y Prieto on the label. This purple/garnet hued A Senda Vermella is brightly fresh, bone dry and tangy, it comes in at under 11% natural alcohol and shows crunchy layers of briar laced black raspberry, plum, cranberry and sour cherry fruits along with zippy acidity, saline, wild herbs, earth, citrus rind and hints of herbal tea, all of which make for a lighter red wine that is great with mussels in tomato broth, grilled octopus and or selection of hard cheeses. I enjoyed it contently with a Monterey style Paella with a wide array of goodies in it, the racy nature of the A Senda Vermella perfectly matched up with the flavorful bounty on the plate, making for a joyous experience on the light to medium bodied, low tannin, palate. I am a huge fan of this winery, they produce an awesome collection of Albariño bottlings, including their classic (or estate) Alberto Nanclares and the vividly clear Dandelion cuvee, which are among my favorites, as well as a small series of lovely red wines, Mencia based mostly, with some grapes coming from the Ribeira Sacra as well. Over the years, since I first sampled the Nanclares wines, I’ve tried to get every vintage I could, these wines are soulful and easy to love, with Nanclares y Prieto Albariño(s) being some of my absolute favorite white wines with stunning mineral tones and Chablis like energy.

The A Senda Vermella (’17/’18) was hand crafted by Alberto Nanclares and Silvia Prieto using traditional methods and low sulfur with 100% whole cluster fermentation with foot-trodden grapes and a longish maceration that lasted close to 20 days. Then the dry wine was pressed and racked mainly used barrels, though about 20% of the vintage was rested in stainless steel tanks. The notes that the 2017 part was in oak and stainless for 22 months, and the 2018 part was aged exclusively in tank for 10 months, before being blend together. This non vintage red gets more depth and complex with air with more dark fruit coming forward as well as its savory kick with a little bite of bitterness in what is otherwise a smooth, simple pleasing and transparently quaffable wine. Silvia Prieto’s presence at Nanclares led to the lineup of red wine offerings being made at this winery and they are a wonderful addition to their portfolio. The Nanclares y Prieto Miñato da Raña, their vintage red, from the Ribeira Sacra sourced grapes is a much more serious offering and one I highly recommend, that said, I’ll most likely get a few more bottles of this fun stuff and of course add many bottles of their fantastic Albariños. Alberto Nanclares, the ex-economist, who took over full time winemaking duties for his Nanclares label in 2007, after employing a winemaking consultant for many years and the wines have been getting better and better, especially after the gifted Prieto joined him full-time just over five years ago. Alberto and Silvia farm a small bunch of parcels, which all trained in the traditional Pergola style with about 12 plots spread around the Rias Baixas with vines, as the winery notes, in the parroquias of Castrelo (South Cambados), Vilariño (North Cambados) and Padrenda (North Meaño) all of them get organic and holistic TLC including a sea weed compost to keep them health and small yields to maximize their character and quality. Come for the Albariño, stay for the reds here, it has never been a better time to discover these wines!
($35 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Jean-Louis Dutraive – Domaine de la Grand’Cour, Fleurie “Clos de la Grand’Cour” Cru Beaujolais, France.
This remarkable wine is one of the best and most iconic in the world, yes, Gamay can produce a wine of majestic beauty and depth, which this 2018 Clos de la Grand’Cour, by the legendary Jean-Louis Dutraive, proves with a flourish, silken layers and a heavenly perfume. This estate in Fleurie hand crafts gorgeous artisan wines that absolutely seduce the senses with natural purity and terroir driven character that highlights the unique pink granite soils and warm exposures, they never fail to impress with racy dark fruits, a mix of crushed violets and seeped rose petal, walnut husk and whole bunches crunchiness with this 2018 delivering layers of strawberry, tangy currant, plum and macerated raspberry fruits along with a pop of spice and stemmy savory/earthiness. The textural feel is exceptional in the Clos de la Grand’Cour with rich fruit density, but dreamy almost weightless and delightfully lingering on the finish with everything lifted by natural acidity as well as this Fleurie’s mineral tones. Raj Parr, the famous sommelier, loves to tell the story that in the last century, a barrel of top Fleurie used to get more money than a Chambertin Grand Cru! And this Dutraive goes a long way to explaining that, it is such a great bottle, it is right up with my longtime favorites from Lapierre, Thevenet and Jean Foillard. There is so much excitement in Beaujolais right now, with a new generation pushing the quality level to new heights with the younger Dutraive and Foillard kids being a part of this movement, be sure to check out the recent vintages from Anne-Sophie Dubois, Julien Sunier, Mathieu and Camille Lapierre, Alex Foillard, Charly Thenevet and Jean-Louis’ son Justin Dutraive, naming just a few, to see the region’s bright future.

The Domaine de la Grand’Cour was originally established in back in 1969, in a Summer of love, and the Domaine de la Grand’Cour best holdings are in Fleurie, with what can be considered Grand Cru sites, these consist of three special lieux-dits, the Clos de la Grand’Cour, a Monopole walled vineyard, where this wine came from, Chapelle des Bois and their Champagne parcel, all of which are holistically farmed following methods inspired by the father of Beaujolais’ natural winemaking revolution, Jules Chauvet. Jean-Louis Dutraive, the fifth generation to run this old estate, has used organic grapes since the 1980s and does most all of his Cru bottlings with 100% whole cluster, which gives these, especially the Fleurie Clos de la Grand’Cour, efforts their glorious complexity and a wildly exotic personality. The Dutraive wines ferment naturally with indigenous yeasts, the noted whole cluster, carbonic and see long macerations on the skins, somewhere close to a month, according to the winery, depending on what the vintage gives. 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 this Fleurie Clos de la Grand’Cour, the Fleurie Chapelle des Bois and Dutraive’s Brouilly are sometimes aged partially in stainless, old foudres, larger casks or even cement tanks depending on the vintage. Jean-Louis’ motto in the cellar is what he calls “minimal intervention and maximum surveillance.” This 2018 Clos de la Gand’Cour opens up wonderfully gaining poise and regal quality, adding morello cherry and wild herbs to the medium bodied palate and a much deeper bouquet, in fact this Fleurie got even better on day two, I wish dearly I had more bottles of this rare stuff!
($35 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

1997 Ridge Vineyards, Zinfandel, Nervo Vineyard, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County.
I usually review new or current release wines, but this was too good an opportunity to miss, a perfectly cellared bottle to celebrate Zinfandel Day, and wow, did this 1997 Ridge Nervo Zinfandel exceed all expectations with beautiful mature fruit and texture, it in fact reminded me of an aged Rioja Reserva, but with classic Zin, raspberry fruits, cedary spices and dried flowers. The color was exceptionally youthful still, a pleasant surprise, with a deep purple/garnet hue with just a glinting hint of burgundy/orange around the edges and the nose was lightly loamy, with macerated red fruits and woody elements and led to a palate of red berries, plum and the raspberry fruits with a sense of preserves, more than freshly crushed, which is accented by a hint of anise, a slight balsamic note, baking spices, tobacco and a sweet kiss of American oak with a hint of the vanilla and toasted coconut. This wine, enjoyed over the course of an evening, really held up throughout and was graceful and decedent on its own and did wonderfully well with a pasta dinner, very impressive and with a remarkable clarity and welcome vibrancy. This Ridge Nervo Vineyard Zinfandel came from 116 year old vines, at the time of its harvest in 1997, which were located not far from the 101 Highway, between Geyserville and Healdsburg that was originally planted prior to the Nervo family’s purchase of their property back in 1896. When Ridge bought these grapes in ’97, they were from the old eight acre parcel that was about 91% Zinfandel and 9% Petite Sirah, with Paul Draper noting that usual inclusion of Carignan was not included in the final blend in this heavy crop vintage, as it was too light to add anything of merit to this Nervo bottling. I am always blown away with the older Ridge wines, and in fact, many older Zins age well and while they lose that overt fruitiness after about 15 or so years in bottle, sometimes you can even be fooled into thinking they are Bordeaux(s), with a silky mouth feel and a sense of earthy complexity, making for a compelling experience in maturity. The 1997 growing season was a great one in California, producing some of the greatest wines of the decade, and there was a bountiful crop of ripe grapes at harvest time, so much so that winemakers almost didn’t have enough space for all the grapes, many chose to do an intense sorting and selection to make their wines, which led to some legendary efforts.

Ridge, ever the open book, says the 1997 Nervo Zin was fermented using all natural spontaneous yeast and aged in mostly five times used air dried American oak barrels with just 20% new wood being used here with an elevage of about a year. This wine was part of Ridge’s Advance Tasting Program, a series they do that go to their wine clubs almost exclusively, so it was a rare treat to get ahold of this one, which I am grateful for and have to thank my friend and wine professional Alex Lallos who found this gem in a private and well kept cellar, with this bottle being in one place since its release in the early part of 1999. I also scored a 1995 Ridge Oat Valley Carignan, which I will open sooner versus later and I hope it has held up even half as good as this Nervo. Overall the ’97 Nervo has a brilliant structural build with some dusty, drying tannins, as you’d expect in a dense wine such as this, but like all Ridge wines it is very polished and supple. I have been blessed with the chance over the years to sample some very old Ridge bottles and while usually people talk about the Monte Bello, their iconic Cabernet Sauvignon based blend from their Santa Cruz Mountains estate, I also must say the Zin blends, like Lytton Springs, Geyserville and Pagani Ranch, all age well to, with this 1997 Nervo proving this quite loudly and with style. I have also in the past have had 25 year old plus Zins from Joel Paterson of Ravenswood fame, with his early nineties stuff, like Old Hill and Dickerson, which were also fabulous and I had an old Elyse Morisoli Zin, from 1991 that was so good even tasted blind a French friend serious thought it was an outer Medoc wine, he guess it was an eighties Beychevelle! Plus, I can say that Turley and Lamborn’s Howell Mountain Zins are very age-worthy. Zinfandel, also now known by its Croatian (or original) name Tribidrag is having another renaissance and there are some fantastic versions out there, with Ridge, Turley, Biale, Carlisle, Bedrock, Lagier-Merideth and Martinelli being just some of the modern classics, plus in the last couple of years you are seeing more small producers hand crafting lighter and more natural styles as well, including great examples by Broc Cellars, Sandlands, Monte Rio Cellars and Martha Stoumen, giving this grape an exciting new range. It’s a great time to discover Zinfandel all over again, and don’t miss a chance to try an older bottle, especially these Ridge offerings!
($35 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2017 Guimaro, Mencia, Camino Real, Ribeira Sacra D.O. Galicia, Spain.
One of my favorite producers and wines, Guimaro, made by Pedro Rodriguez, makes red and white wines in the Ribeira Sacra region of Spain’s Galicia provence, based in the Amandi zone, one of the Ribeira Sacra’s best subzones with a south facing exposure set on slate soils, known as Losa, to natives here. These steep vineyard sites are back-breaking hard to work, with everything done by hand, they look more like frightening slopes in Mosel than what you’d expect in Spain, looking down upon the Sil river. This 100% whole cluster 2017 is full flavored with flinty earthy tones showing briar accented raspberry, huckleberry, plum, cherry and cranberry fruits, a touch of smoke, leather, mineral iron and anise, along with a delicately sweet floral essence that balances out the savory elements and dusty dry tannins. Mencia has qualities that remind you of the northern Rhone, but is brighter like Pinot or Gamay with a similar lively personality. The 2017 vintage is ripe, but full of natural acidity and takes a few swirls in the glass to reveal its true depth and textural quality, it is a wine that certainly benefits from simple country cuisine and robust dishes. Pedro’s wines are real, honest and terroir driven with the reds being made mostly from Mencia and the white crafted from Godello, ancient native grapes that require extra care and TLC to make world class wines, which he does at this small winery set in this remote place that was once highly prized by the Romans, who named it the Sacred Banks (Ribeira Sacra) and planted vines on the historic terraces. I have tasted with Pedro a few times, when he has traveled to California, I helped do a tasting with him and even though his English is limited, enjoyed his company and sense of humor almost as much as his wines. I hope to one day get myself over to this part of Spain and see him again, it is without question on my bucket list, his wines really speak to me and I can’t imagine not having a few bottles around for nights I need a smile.

The Rodriguez’s have been farming here for generations and before 1991, Pedro’s family made wine mainly for their own consumption and sold small amounts in garrafones, which are 20 liter glass containers, to friends and to a couple of local cantinas, bars that offer the day’s family meals and maybe a room for a lost wanderer, as very few visit this area, as it is way off the beaten path. I mention all this because the wines from Guimaro, which means “rebel” in Gallego (the local dialect), reflect this, they are wines of rustic charm and character from a region that humbly respects and honors the power of nature, they are wines of place, especially the series of single parcel wines like this Camino Real bottling, from all organic 40-60 year old vines set on the slate with a mix of sand, quartz and granite with a field blend of about 85% Mencía plus tiny amounts of Merenzao, Mouratón, Brancellao, Caiño, Sousón and Alicante Bouschet. In the cellar, Pedro, who was mentored by the legendary Raul Perez, keeps things simple, natural and non intervention in style, employing native or indigenous yeast, spontaneous fermentations in open-top wood vats and long macerations, with this Camino Real seeing a 40 maceration and primary fermentation on the skins, after which the wine was raised in a combination of used oak from large foudre to small used barrique and bottled with ultra low sulfur, unfined and unfiltered. Not always polished, these wines are authentic and compelling in their purity, they are without pretense and better for it. With air, this dark ruby/garnet wine gains more layers and a darker sense of fruit and herbs with the feeling of whole bunches and stems coming through all of which excites the medium bodied palate, this is a wine that couldn’t be made anywhere else and I love that unique joy it brings, I highly recommend finding these Guimaro wines. I suggest starting with Guimaro’s entry level bottling, great for everyday drinking and these single vineyard efforts for more serious meals and don’t overlook the Blanco (Godello) it is crisply Chablis like and awesome with sea foods.
($30 Est.) 92 Pointsgrapelive

2016 Grochau Cellars, Pinot Noir, Zenith Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The beautifully aromatic and textural 2016 Zenith Vineyard Pinot from John Grochau at Grochau Cellars is an absolute joy to behold in the glass with ripe layers of silken red fruits, a deep floral array and graceful opulence that perfectly capture the vintage and place, making for a heavenly Pinot experience. I am hugely impressed with the Oregon 2016 wines, they are ultra satisfying now they have had another year in bottle to develop and lose some baby fat, they remind me of some of the state’s classic years, with 1994, 1998, 2006 and 2008 coming to mind, and this Grochau Zenith is finding its groove and delivering a stunning performance, even better yet, it should keep getter better and it is still available from the winery at a very reasonable price. There is a lot to admire here, from its dreamy bouquet to its exceptional length, this Grochau Pinot fills out on the palate with blackberry, red currant, strawberry fruits that revolve around a core of black cherry that is also accented by distilled rose petals, a light earthiness, orange tea and whiff of baking spices with very subtle wood notes. The mouth feel really gets your attention and its lush creaminess thrills the senses, but there is also a very exciting undercurrent of energy and natural acidity, which is non aggressive and gives a sensation of weightlessness in effect, while still providing a structured component to this very well crafted wine. Zenith is a Cru site, owned by Tim and Keri Ramey, with many small climates within its boundaries and a diverse set of soils, including marine sedimentary deposits, mineral rich veins and some volcanic influences that add to the depth of complexity in the wines that come from this highly regarded vineyard, with a stellar resume of success by wineries like Ken Wright, Beaux Freres and St. Innocent over the years, to name just a few.

Grochau Cellars was founded in 2002, after John Grochau had worked at the legendary Erath Winery and notably Brick House Vineyards, where working alongside winemaker Doug Tunnel he gained experience and insight that has guided him in his own path in winemaking style. Grochau, who fell in love with wine while riding bikes professionally in France, especially while cycling through the picturesque Loire Valley and when he retired and came home to Oregon he quickly immersed himself in the wine and food culture, it was at this point he knew it was his calling and after almost a decade in the restaurant business he jumped head first into winemaking, where his talents have been realized. Grochau, notes, he was inspired by the diversity of the Willamette Valley’s soils and microclimates, which he promotes by crafting terroir driven wines, like this Eola-Amity Hills Zenith Vineyard shows effectively, expressively and with glorious detail, sourcing from only organic and sustainably-farmed vineyards. Grochau’s wines are all hand-crafted small lot wines that, which he adds, are slowly and naturally fermented using native yeasts and aged mostly used French oak barrels, with this Zenith single vineyard Pinot being a cuvee a selection of, what John calls, the most special barrels produced from this fantastic vineyard. Grochau made this wine from Pommard clone, coming from Zenith’s block 6G, (planted in 2003) which Grochau explains, is wind protected and has a warmer exposure, giving deeper fruit concentration and powerful fruit than many of the other blocks. I met and tasted with John in the past and really thought his wines were special, so it was great to see his new releases are even more compelling and I look forward into digging into his collection of Pinots, plus his Gamay and Melon. This 2016 is sexy stuff to enjoy now, in particular with hearty foods and or to cellar for another 5 to 7 years, it is a wine that intrigues with every sip, I suggest picking up a couple (or more) bottles to savor over the coming few years.
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Jaimee Motely, Claret “Borronda Block” Massa Estate Vineyard, Carmel Valley AVA, Monterey County.
Jaimee Motely’s newest release is a fun and unique interpretation of an old school Claret, a Bordeaux varietal and co-ferment blend of all organic 45% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon that was, I would think, at least partial whole cluster, semi-carbonic and naturally fermented with indigenous yeasts that makes for an expressive, fruity, spicy and wildly exciting red wine. Now, it won’t appeal to the purest amongst us, but Motely’s Massa Claret with its art deco, throw back label is wonderfully enjoyable as a fresh and quaffable wine from this historic 50 year old Carmel Valley vineyard site, a place close to my heart as a Carmel Valley native. The 2018 Massa Claret starts with shaved cinnamon, leafy notes and juicy red berry fruits in a medium dark garnet wine that bursts from the glass with smooth layers of tangy currant, plum, pomegranate and crushed vine picked wild berries, along with a hint of bell pepper, from the percentage of Cab Franc and a whispering of cedar, olive, anise and minty/sage notes. This lively red blend gains a textural mouth feel, fine grained dusty tannins and lingers with crushed flowers, a touch of earth and kirsch, I’m glad I got more than one bottle, because I really want to see how this (low natural alcohol, 12.8%) Massa Claret develops in the bottle, even though it is bright and delicious now, it might prove to be even more complex in 3 to 5 years. Motely says, rather than a Bordeaux style wine, she more inspired by the co-fermented field blends that she has tasted from the Loire Valley, and I think it has an Anjou kind of thing going on and can see where she was going here. Motely, who has enjoy a fast rise in the wine world, gained her experience by working in both the northern and southern hemispheres in the cellar and in the vineyards as well, she also spent time traveling to Europe to walk the classic vineyards and spoke with vignerons who have a coveted history in the field of viticulture and that inspired her passions for wine and its culture.

Jaimee, who has been an assistant winemaker at legendary Syrah producer Pax Wines, is most known for her work with Mondeuse, a rare Savoie grape and her work at Pax Mahle’s facility in Sebastopol, California. Motely, who was introduced to this rustic old Carmel Valley site by winemaker Ian Brand, was clearly moved by what see saw here, noting that from the moment she first laid eyes on the place, Massa Vineyard, she felt an electric energy (from the vines) coursing through her veins. The Massa Estate sits at about 1400 feet above see level in the mountainous Cachagua area in the deep end of Carmel Valley. The Durney family originally planted 80 acres here in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, where they made long aging and powerful wines before selling the property to the Heller family in early 1990s. The Heller’s certified the vineyard organic, and focused on that niche for many years with Cabernet and old vine Chenin Blanc being their mainstay wines. After the Heller’s past away the Massa Family bought up the estate and continued that tradition, even trying out biodynamics to rejuvenate the vines from some neglect when they took over in 2018. The soils here consist, as Motely notes, are made up of granite, sandstone, and calcareous ancient marine deposits. This dry-farmed vineyard is mostly on their own roots, especially the early Borronda Block Cabernet plantings. This new Massa Claret was aged on the lees in neutral French oak barrels for close to a year then rested for a short time in bottle. Jaimee Motely was born and raised in Annapolis, Maryland and has a lifetime of restaurant experience and has worked with Raj Parr, the famous sommelier, at RN74 and fell in love with the new California wine scene, getting her feet wet making wine in 2015. She has quickly gained a reputation for her talents, with her limited lineup of wines quickly selling out, I highly recommend getting on her mailing list and getting some of this stuff!
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2013 Nervi, Gattinara DOCG, Vigna Valferana, Alta Langhe, Piedmonte, Italy.
The rusticly classic flavored and garnet/orange/brickish hued Nervi Vigna Valferana Gattinara is pure savory Nebbiolo goodness in the glass that engages the medium bodied palate the same way a perfectly matured Burgundy does with a sense of old world charm and silken layers of red fruits, dried flowers, mineral notes and earthy elements. This Nebbiolo from Gattinara’s oldest winery, founded in 1906 by Luigi Nervi and recently bought and run by Robert Conterno who is part of the famous Barolo family, comes from vines in the Vercelli hills on the west bank of the Sesia River and Novara hills, rivals many top names in the well known Barolo. Gattinara is a high quality DOCG zone in the northern reaches of Piedmonte, with a long history of wine growing and has become hotspot in recent with outstanding wines and vintages in this region, which needs to be about 90% Nebbiolo (or Spanna, as the locals call it) along with tiny amounts of Barbera and Vespolina being allowed in the DOCG wines. The 2013 vintage was a nice and ripe year, making for wines that are surprisingly easy to drink in their youth with satiny smooth tannins and good depth and density, which this Nervi shows with distinction, bringing a huge grin to my face and it should please Nebbiolo enthusiasts everywhere. The Nervi Gattinara offers up a leathery and woodsy nose with delicate florals and wild berries to start before a core of cherry, plum and strawberry comes into focus in mouth, as well as anise, cedar, minty herbs, umami, sous bois or sanguine (iron) notes and macerated rose petals. This wine took a little while to open up, but it proved fantastically rewarding, it really deserves a three to four course meal to get all of its complexity and lengthy finish.

The Nervi Gattinara, sourced from all estate organic vines, in the Valferana cru, saw a gentle crush with 100% de-stemmed Nebbiolo grapes with 15 day maceration and fermentation in stainless steel vats with temperature control. After which the wine was racked to oak casks to complete malolactic conversion where it was aged for about three years barrels. The winery focuses on three Gattinara bottlings including a basic normale Gattinara DOCG, the Gattinara Molsino and this brilliant Gattinara Valferana. These single-vineyard Gattinara offerings contain the best fruit from Nervi’s vineyards and show each site’s sense of place, plus it should be noted that these single parcel efforts are only done in the best years, which shows the commitment to only release the highest quality examples possible. While I’ve only had limited experience with these Nervi wines, now Nervi-Conterno, I have always been highly impressed with the ones I have tasted, and this 2013 Vigna Valferana with its balanced structure and persistence made for a remarkable evening and I’ll be in search of more, as well as the current 2016 version. Conterno’s influence here will only bring great things to these Nervi Nebbiolo(s) and while the price per bottle has gone up, they still are reasonable for what you get. These northern Piedmonte communes, including Gattinara, Gheme, Lessona, Bramaterra and Boca, with Le Piene being a winery in particular to check out, are well worth discovering and exploring with a real jump in quality being very noticeable in the last 15 years or so. The Nervi, I’ll add, got even better on day two, revealing even more textural pleasure and perfume, filling out completely, which leads me to believe it will age gracefully for many more years!
($49 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Drew, Pinot Noir, Morning Dew Ranch Vineyard, Anderson Valley.
The new release of the Morning Dew Ranch Pinot from Jason Drew is a monumental effort and a gorgeous wine in the glass with an inviting deep garnet /ruby color and an enticing floral array that almost seduces you before even this fantastic wine that just gets even better and better as you sip and swirl it. This wine thrills the senses and has amazing inner energy, both from the vintage, which was long and cool as well as the partial whole bunches employed in the vinification that brings out so much complexity and intensity in this wine, this is an enthusiasts dreamland and a Pinot that looks to have an exceptionally long life ahead of it, it certainly should be thought of as a California Grand cru, no question. I’ve been saying for years now that Jason Drew is making some of California’s greatest wines and should be considered one of the best winemakers in the state and this wine again is what I’d put up as proof with its stunning clarity, terroir driven elements and rich palate of pure Pinot joy showing classic black cherry, plum, huckleberry and tart strawberry fruits that unfold along with distilled violets, rose petal, black tea, mountain herbs, Thai basil/sage and tangy citrus. As this Morning Dew, which is from the Anderson Valley appellation and sitting up at between 600-800 feet set on Franciscan series and gravelly Loam soils, opens up fully it gains richness and density with a lovely smooth mouth feel without losing its focus or youthful, almost zesty, crisp freshness.

The Morning Dew Ranch Vineyard sits in the deep end of Anderson Valley, being located on a southwest facing hillside at elevation that helps keep things cool, originally planted by the legendary Burt Williams, the eponymous founder of Williams Seylem, with a selection of California heritage clones and suitcase Burgundy selections. Drew, as the winery notes, sources both a Rochioli clone and an 828 or La Tache clone from two separate blocks at Morning Dew, which gives this wine its unique character. The 2018 vintage, Jason explains, was a cooler vintage which translated to longer hang time, pushing his pick date to extremes, a full two weeks later than a normal year. Drew adds that the 2018 is a classic Anderson Valley Pinot delivering an elegant, finely tuned, ethereal and seamless wine, which I endorse completely! I can’t waiting to see where these 2018s go in the future, they look to be absolutely epic with tremendous potential, they might last 20 to 30 years. This Morning Dew saw close to 40% whole clusters, that gives a nice crunchy bite with a subtle pomegranate and stemmy bite, and was fermented with 100% native yeasts. After malos this Pinot was gently gravity racked twice to clarify and saw just 25% new French Oak with about 11 months in barrel total. The natural alcohol came to a very Burgundy like 13.0%, making for a brilliantly balanced wine that does nothing wrong and impresses greatly, a total class act. There has never been a better time than now to explore Drew’s wines, don’t miss his Syrahs and Pinots, especially this Morning Dew Pinot from this awesome vintage.
($70 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

2016 Luis Anxo Rodriguez Vazquez, A Teixa, Ribeiro D.O. Galicia, Spain.
I fell in love with Luis Rodriguez’s wines the first time I tried them, these are some of the most beautiful and compelling white wines in the world, rivaling some prestigous white Burgundies, they are gorgeously textural and aromatic with stylish mineral tones that thrill the senses. This 2016 A Teixa, made from natives varietals, mostly Treixadura along with tiny amounts of Godello and Albariño, flows gracefully across the medium/full palate with layers of white peach, apple, lemon curd and melon fruits along with a lush fleshy feel, accented by clove, clarified cream, a touch of nuttiness and wet stone. The A Teixa is sourced from a single vineyard, not far the cellar Luis uses, is in this vintage about 95% Treixadura, 3% Godello and 2% Albariño from vines that are about 20 years and set on granitic sand in Ribadavia zone of Ribeiro D.O. which is heavily influenced by its Atlantic Ocean proximity and cool climate. The Ribeiro region, an ancient Galician wine region located 45 miles inland from the coast, close to Portugal, was much prized in the past, but had fallen from favor until recent years when small estates started to reappear in the appellation, and especially Luis Rodriguez, who has created a brilliant collection of wines, with both reds and whites. This 2016 really turns on the charm in the glass and is hitting on all cylinders with a white/citrus blossom bouquet and incredible detailing, this is vintage is in a great place right now, highlighting why this is one of my favorite white wines.

The sublimely talented Luis Anxo Rodriguez Vazquez has been hand-crafting world class Ribeiro wines, from the granite based hillsides of his hometown of Arnoia, since 1988 and his mission has been to make distinctive wines from nearly extinct native grapes. The tiny adega, or cellar, that Luis works in was built by his grandfather and is called Viña de Martín, which is named after the first vineyard that he took over from his uncle Martín. According to his US importer Jose Pastor, Luís works with a mixture old and new techniques including temperature-controlled tanks and a mix of French oak barrels, mostly larger format casks. Luis A Rodriguez Vazquez’s fermentations are all done with native yeasts, and with very low sulfur in the winemaking process to avoid oxidation. The white wines are aged extensively on the lees to promote complex depth and richness. The grapes for this A Teixa were all hand-harvested, de-stemmed and pressed into his big foudres for fermentation, seeing one year aging on fine lees, then lightly fined and filtered, then rested in bottle an additional year before release, so when you open a Luis Rodriguez white you get a fully developed wine of regal elegance. I have had the pleasure of meeting Luis and tasting his wines, all of which, impressed me to the core, and I highly recommend you discover these top notch efforts, especially the series of whites, which remind me of Premier and Grand Chablis in style and substance. This golden hued A Teixa is fabulous with sea foods, including lobster, cracked crab, swordfish and salmon dishes as well as poultry and or soft cheeses.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2017 Scribe Winery, Pinot Noir, Estate Arrowhead Slope, Sonoma County.
The 2017 Scribe Estate Pinot is very pretty stuff, full of flavor and warmth, but with sublime delicacy and detail, it is very impressive for the vintage which saw a heat spike that caused lots of problems around harvest time, that doesn’t show too much here and I give credit to the hard work in the vineyard and winemakers here, they’ve produced a beautiful wine that is drinking great. I can’t wait to try the 2018 and 2019 versions, as these years really are looking like next level vintages in terms of depth, balance and age worthiness, that said I would not mind having this 2017 to enjoy for the next 3 to 5 years with its lovely satiny structure and opulent mouth feel. Scribe, founded back in 2007 and making quality wines since 2011, is what people call a Farm to Table winery, is owned by brothers Andrew and Adam Mariani, who are fourth generation California farmers, they are passionate about sustainable/holistic practices and committed to non intervention winemaking to allow the estate vines to speak of their terroir, which shows with remarkable clarity in this 2017 Estate Pinot. I have enjoyed every wine I have tasted from Scribe so and this one is wonderfully pleasing from start to finish with layers of black cherry, wild raspberry, strawberry and fleshy stone fruits and touches of Moro orange, Earl Grey tea, sweet herbs and a subtle toasty oak note. This is supple and graceful Pinot Noir that seems to get better with every sip, it opens to reveal floral, gentle red spices and mineral notes that linger in the glass with echos of the core cherry element on the lengthy finish, very tasty indeed.

Scribe’s organically farmed Estate vineyard sits on the southwest-facing slopes of the Arrowhead Mountain in the southern Mayacamas Mountain range, near to Denmark Street in Somona Valley, getting perfect exposure to the sun and cooling influence from San Pablo Bay to the south. The Scribe Pinot vines are planted to clones 667, Martini, Pommard, Chalone, Mt. Eden, and Wadenswil, also known as the old Swiss clone which are on volcanic tuff and local Huichica Loam soils, all of which add to the complexity and distinction of flavors in this wine. Andrew and Adam, along with their sister Kelly, who has joined them at Scribe, believe that the best wines are a result of a healthy relationship between man and nature, and explain, that their vineyard farmed in harmony with the greater ecosystem results in more site-specific character that best represents a true sense place. This 2017 re-enforces their argument and was vinified, with the mentioned, non-interventionist methods, native yeasts and restraint in the use of new French oak, that as Scribe puts it, faithfully reflects what the vineyard naturally expresses in the bottle. Scribe also does a Nouveau Pinot, which just got released, a collection of Chardonnay(s), including a sparkling version, along with a tasty Rosé, a Dry Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon that are all quality efforts. I tasted this 2017 Estate Pinot Noir at the San Francisco Slow Wine tasting event where Scribe perfectly fit in with the likes of California classics Mount Eden, Littorai and Stony Hill. I highly recommend checking this lineup out and make plans to visit the winery when in the Sonoma area, especially now they have some exciting new releases ready to go to good homes!
($50 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2017 Manincor, Reserve del Conte, Lagrein, Merlot & Cabernet, Alto Adige, Italy.
Manincor is one of the most prized estates in the Alto Adige, it is all biodynamic and the wines are some of Italy’s best under the radar values with a fabulous collection of hand crafted offerings that includes some gorgeous blended wines like this Reserve del Conte as well as some incredible single varietal wines, like their Eichhorn made from Pinot Bianco, it is one of the world’s best versions of Pinot Bianco of Pinot Blanc I’ve tried. If you are a fan of Foradori and or Terlano, you’ll want to search out these Manincor wines, in particular this intriguing red blend, that is about equal parts Lagrein, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in most vintages and makes for a deeply colored and layered wine with dark berry fruit, a perfumed bouquet and mineral notes that is stunningly elegant. The Lagrein, a rare native grape to the Alto Adige, is the special sauce here adding to the intensity of this wine’s purple hue, floral tones and spicy flavors with the Merlot giving round textures, plumy depth and the Cabernet builds the structure and delivers creme de cassis and lingering blackberries. The tannins are ripe and smooth in this warm vintage and the Reserve del Conte drinks very opulently and with a graceful plush mouth feel, it gains delicacy with every sip with black cherry, plum, blueberry and currant fruits filling out on the refine medium/full palate along with snappy anise, cedar, minty herb and a hint of smoke, pencil lead and vanilla. There are few wines that drink as well as this for the price, this is a real charmer and while understated it is near impossible to resist, and even better with a great food pairing and a meal with friends. Manincor is owned and run by Count Michael Goëss-Enzenberg, who’s family has a wine growing tradition for more than 400 years in the region, and the estate includes vineyards, extensive fruit orchards and several historic manor houses that date back to 1608. The Enzenberg family’s connection to Alto Adige’s wine community is well documented from as far back as 1698 and refer, according to the winery, to the Enzenberg family’s wine cellars in Terlan, Kaltern and Schwaz in North Tyrol.

The delicious 2017 Manincor Reserve del Conte, 35 % Lagrein, 40 % Merlot and 25 % Cabernet, comes from the Manincor estate and the “Panholzerhof”, both sites are south-east facing overlooking the picturesque Lake of Kaltern at 250 meters above sea level with soils that are mineral rich comprised of sand and clay mixed with limestone, gravel and other glacier (morainal) deposits. These vineyards are among the warmest in all South Tyrol, pre-destined, says the winery, for the production of great red wines, which this Reserve del Conte proves. I have been a fan of Manincor for many years now and these exceptional wines always bring a huge smile to my face and it was privilege and an honor to have tasted the wines in the past with Manincor’s owner Michael Graf Goëss-Enzenberg, who explained in great detail his love of place and his passion for holistic farming, you can tell immediately he is connected to his land and spares no expense in preserving it’s nature for future generations. The grapes, Lagrein, Merlot and Cabernet, from each parcel of vineyard sites were crushed separately and fermented in a mixture of oak and cement vats and stainless steel tanks. Manincor, in keeping with more natural winemaking practices uses 100% indigenous yeasts for primary fermentation. Maceration on the skins, as the winery notes, lasted ten days and was rigorously controlled, during which time the cap of skins was pushed down into juice daily to extract this wine’s velvety, assertive but ripe tannins. After going dry the wine was gently racked into oak barrels of varying sizes where it matured for twelve months before being bottled and rested in the cellar another few months to mature. This estate’s grapes have always been prized with most of crop going to top co-ops, but when Count Michael Goëss-Enzenberg took over Manincor from his uncle in 1991 the estate started the process to produce their own wine under the Manincor label, this finally happened in 1996 after an intense rehabilitations in the vineyards, which are now certified biodynamic, and finding the best clonal selections of grapes and that hard work and belief can be seen in the bottle, this is a quality producer with wines that reflect the land and the people perfectly, that I highly recommend getting to know.
($28 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2016 Ernest Vineyards, Pinot Noir “The Wrangler” Grand Vent Vineyard, Petaluma Gap AVA, Sonoma Coast.
Tasted earlier this year, the 2016 Ernest Vineyards “The Wrangler” is an impressive bottling with loads of character and verve in the glass, it delivers a textural experience that is quite compelling and has beautiful detailing, this is only the second time I’ve had these wines, which have gained a real underground following since hitting the scene a few years ago, joining the likes of Anthill Farms in terms of quality and desirability. Richly flavored with classic Pinot fruit on the racy medium bodied palate the Ernest “The Wrangler” displays black cherry, raspberry, red apple skin, candied orange peel, plum and a touch of strawberry as well as delicate toasty oak, cinnamon, a touch of earthy spice and mineral tones. As you swirl this wine it gets deeper and more perfumed with rose petals, vanilla and creaminess coats the mouth. This stuff is also structured and vibrant with cool climate acidity in its veins that allows a clarity and focus to shine through, this will get your attention and makes for a very nice companion to food and a talking point at a leisurely meal. I can’t wait to try more from Ernest Vineyards wines in the coming vintages, I can only imagine how fabulous their 2018 and 2019 wines will be, it should be some awesome times ahead for this label.

The Ernest Vineyards is a micro negociant based in Sonoma and hand crafted from selected vineyard site at a custom crush facility with fanatic attention to quality and they specialize in terroir driven Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with this being one of my favorite in the lineup, as well as the two Cleary Ranch bottlings. With this Grand Vent Vineyard, aptly named by the way as it refers to the huge rush of cold ocean air the accelerates through the wind gap, acting like a cool air vent keeping these Pinot vines refreshed. This wind, according to the winery, dictates everything at this 15-acre vineyard in Sonoma County and this particular parcel that sits in the mouth of the Petaluma Gap, where a blend of unique terroir, cool climate, and consistent wind yields long hang times that allow flavors to mature slowly and steadily. The majority of the Grand Vent Vineyard is planted to Pinot Noir with clones of Pommard 4 and Dijon 113 being the main versions and give this wine its soulful expression. Oh, and yes, there was a man named Ernest, he was an entrepreneur, a risk-taker and a role model for his grandson, Todd Gottula, who founded this winery with his wife, Erin Brooks, back in 2012. In 2019 Todd and Erin brought on Joseph Ryan, who I tasted with at Slow Wine, who worked the 2018 harvest, as Ernest’s Head Winemaker. Though he didn’t do the 2016, he guided the 2017s to bottle, but had more influence on the 2018s, and will have his 2019s out in a year or so, and there is much excitement for the future here, be sure to check these wines out at your soonest chance.
($62 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Marco Porello, Roero Arneis DOCG “Camestri” Piedmonte, Italy.
Arneis, which has been the Porello’s signature grape since the 1930s, is one of the tastiest treats in Italian white wine and can be truly excellent wines, like this Marco Porello Camestri 2018, which comes from the family’s organically farm vines in the Roero zone in Piedmonte’s Canele area, not too far away from Alba and Barolo with similar marl based soils. This crisp and vibrant Arneis gains in charm and depth as it unwinds in the glass with clear almost greenish/gold hue and light perfume of white flowers, ginger and anise coming through along with a range of citrusy fruit on the light to medium bodied palate with touches of steely mineral, white peach, wet stone and bitter liquid almonds. This white impresses for its brisk nature and zippy personality, but adds a textural dimension with food that gives the impression of seriousness and nobility. Coming from mainly from two distinct parcels with good exposures in the sub-appellations of Vezza d’Alba and Canele set on sandy and calcareous plots that give this wine its substance and ripe tone. If you are new to Arneis, the name translates to “little rascal” in the local dialect, given to the grape, because of its trickiness in the vineyard, as it needs lots of TLC. I highly recommend getting a few examples and dig into this grape, with Vietti, who is credited with saving Arneis from extinction, and Bruno Giacosa, as well as Marco Porello being great choices.

Marco Porello, the grandson of founder Cesare Porello, is as noted in my earlier review of his Barbera, an expert oenologist, he was educated first at the local Alba oenological school and then he studied in the Bordeaux, France, as well as spending some time training and gaining experience in the rival Tuscany region in Chianti Classico before returning and taking over the Porello estate. Marco Porello has run the winery since 1994, and now has over a 25 year track record and is highly admired for his wines, these offerings, which I first tried at San Francisco’s Slow Wine tasting event, include a collection of Barbera, Nebbiolo and this Arneis, with the winery mainly focused on Barbera, deservingly so, especially when you taste Marco’s brilliant examples. The Marco Porello Roero Arneis was all hand tended and hand harvested with great attention to sorting and careful grape selection to ensure intense flavors and quality. This vintage as per normal was fermented and aged solely in stainless steel tanks to promote clarity and freshness of detail, making for a zesty dry and floral white that goes great with tapas, appetizers and briny sea foods, like oysters and or smoked mussels. If you’ve not heard of or seen the Marco Porello wines, you should make a mental note to check them out, in particular the Barbera and this Arneis, which is a sublime value at around $15 a bottle. Piedmonte, mostly known for Nebbiolo and red wines has plenty to offer in interesting white wines and they should not be overlooked with Erbaluce, Timorasso and Arneis among the most intriguing.
($15 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 Felsina Castelnuovo Berardenga, Chianti Classico DOCG, Tuscany, Italy.
In the rolling hills, not far from Siena, just to the to the southwest sits Castelnuovo Berardenga, one of Chianti Classico’s most unique zones that for thousands of years was known for the quality of olive oils more than wine until wineries like Felsina turned this area into one of the best sites for Sangiovese in all of Italy, and even their most basic version, this Chianti Classico white label, is a prized and stylish effort. I have long been a huge fan of this winery, with the mid-nineties wines first attracting to this iconic label and their 1997 Fontalloro cementing my love my love for both Felsina and pure Sangiovese, it was a wine that could easily convince you that Chianti Classico was the equal of any region of the world, comfortable in the presence of top Bordeaux and or classic Rioja. This 2017 is less dense and concentrated than the fabulous 2016s from Felsina, but it really drinks well as a young wine and it has beautiful purity and graceful textural mouth feel with a bright Sangiovese personality, all of which make up for what it lacks in power and it is sublime with food, as you’d expect from this grape and Felsina. This Chianti Classico starts with dark berries, crushed flowers, minty herb and sandalwood before entertaining the medium bodied palate with a core of fruit that includes smoothly layered brambly raspberry, plum, black cherry and strawberry preserves along with a touch of Asian spice, cedar, anise, pipe tobacco and a hint of racy blood orange. The freshness of detail and natural acidity almost beg’s you to enjoy this Chianti with a rustic country meal and or with some nice pecorino cheese.

The classic Berardenga white label Felsina Chianti Classico comes from vineyards, as the winery notes, that are all located in the Castelnuovo Berardenga commune, in the southeastern part of the Chianti Classico appellation, as noted, to the southeast of Siena. Almost without exception, these vines are exclusively with a southwestern exposure, that delivers full ripeness, they sprawl across hilly slopes at an altitude ranging from 320-420 meters above sea level that allows a night time chill even in the heat of Summer, making for balanced and expressive Sangiovese. Geologically, again as the winery adds, these vineyards have distinct and individual underpinnings with an array of soils, with the higher parts seeing predominantly quartz and calcareous alberese mixed with alluvial pebbles as well as strataform sandstone and loams that add to the overall quality and complexity in Felsina’s lineup. The vines are mostly all Sangiovese, but Felsina also has tiny amount of Cabernet Sauvignon which they bottle separately and does not go into their Chianti Classico offerings, which are all varietally pure Sangiovese, like this 100% Sangiovese, but it should be noted too, that Felsina has multiple clones of Sangiovese from which they have to work with. The 2017 Chianti Classico was fermented and macerated in stainless steel tanks for almost two weeks with pneumatic (programmed) punchdowns and daily pump-overs. Once primary fermentation was complete the wine went into medium-size Slavonian oak barrels, and a small percentage into twice and thrice used oak barrels for 12 months of elevage, after which the final blend was chosen, or put together, and then bottled. The white label Felsina Chianti Classico is always a well crafted wine and a great value giving a big bang for the buck, as this 2017 version shows!
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Folded Hills Vineyards, Grenache Estate, Whole Cluster, Santa Ynez Valley.
The juicy and fruit filled Whole Cluster and Carbonic Grenache from Folded Hills Vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley is bright ruby in color and has nice floral dimension on the nose and its combination of overt red fruits and mixed spice makes it a really tasty wine, very much like a quality Cotes du Rhone with a hint of Cru Beaujolais. While tasting through three of their releases this year I kept coming back to this Grenache, it may not be their most structured or serious offering, but it is certainly wonderfully quaffable and addictively enjoyable. This fun Grenache has supple tannins, ultra smooth on the medium bodied palate with crushed raspberry, strawberry, plum and tangy red currant along with touch of pomegranate and cotton candy, before opening up and adding some light savory notes along with dried herbs, pepper, faint early tones and sticky lavender. I was impressed with the simplicity and delightful nature of this Folded Hills 2018, it drinks so well right now and with its acidity and ripeness go for another 3 to 5 years, though no waiting required. The Folded Hills grapes are grown organically following the biodynamic calendar, employing sustainable, old world practices in the vineyards, which have some natural limestone underneath that helps form the character of the wines. This whole cluster Grenache will play nicely with a wide array of cuisines, but I imagine it would be best with BBQ and or Pizza.

As noted in my earlier reviews, Folded Hills was one of the most pleasant of surprises at the Slow Wine tasting in San Francisco earlier this year and is a quality producer that looks set for success. Established not too many years ago by Andrew and Kim Busch, Folded Hills Vineyards is hand crafting a studied and exciting lineup of wines, leaning heavily on Rhone inspired efforts. The estate grown vines are set on sandy coastal soils in the cooler section of the Santa Ynez Valley, just north of Santa Barbara, where they focus on Grenache, which has proven very successful in this area. The Folded Hills I tasted were fresh and pure with a distinctive lighter touch and with expressive flavors, with their 100% whole cluster and carbonic fermented Grenache and their more serious August Red being my two favorites. These are stylish examples of California Rhones and the Busch’s have an amazing team working for them, both in the vines and in the cellar with Kiwi winemaker Angela Osborne from A Tribute to Grace, using her talents to make these small lot wines, along with Stolpman’s Ruben Solorzano doing his usual magic in the vineyards. Angela, one of best Grenache specialist in California, also does a Grenache based sparkler, a couple of whites, including a Roussanne and a Syrah offering as well, both of which I am curious about. I look forward to tasting more of their wines and visiting the farm in the coming year and I suggest checking Folded Hills out, especially this wine if you can, though I can tell you the 2019, from a stellar vintage might be even better.
($37 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2016 Caparsa, Chianti Classico “Doccio a Matteo Riserva” Tuscany, Italy.
The absolutely gorgeous Doccio a Matteo Riserva by Caparsa is made from their best selection of grapes at their Radda estate set in the hills of chianti Classico, it is made up of about 95% Sangiovese and 5% Colorino and it is wonderfully expressive, vintage dense and beautifully layered. I discovered this small winery at this year’s Slow Wine tasting in San Francisco, which seems like a thousand years ago, considering what has transpired this year and it remains a small bright spot in what have been trying times. As noted in my earlier review of this exciting new find (for me), Caparsa is run by Paolo Cianferoni, a talented winegrower, who is making wines that show indigenous varietals, mostly Sangiovese of course, still rule in this historic region. Using hand tended vines set about 400 meters above sea level and great exposure and cool night, these wines show great ripe fruit, but with exceptional balance, these are elegant offerings, especially this Doccio a Matteo Riserva that delivers a classic set of flavors including black raspberry, plum, strawberry and kirsch along with tobacco leaf, anise, sandalwood, dried flowers, mint and orange tea spices. Cianferoni uses a combination of oak vessels, employing French, Hungarian and Slovenian wood casks to age his wines, trying to find the magic formula to allow smooth textures, light smoky notes and preserving freshness and detail, which in this 2016, a legendary vintage, he did incredibly well. This dark garnet Doccio a Matteo has a firm, but supple mouth feel and a pure and lengthy finish, this is fabulous Chianti that impresses for not being jacked up with Cabernet, Merlot or Syrah and embraces its native grapes.

Caparsa is an all organic estate in the Radda zone close to the ancient Etruscan settlement at Poggio alla Croce where vines have been planted for more than 2,000 years, with Paolo Cianferoni making wines at this winery in these famous hillsides, and his 2016 lineup is a stellar set, especially this basic Chianti Classico. Radda is one of the most historic and picturesque areas in Tuscany and when I visited the region years old I fell in love with the views, the people and the tranquility of the place, as well as the wines, some of Italy’s greatest wines are crafted within a few miles of this little hamlet between Florence and Siena, like Montevertine and their famous Le Pergole Torte. I tasted this wine originally with Filippo Cianferoni, Paolo’s son, who is working with his father in the cellar, early this year, as mentioned, at Slow Wine, and he explained to me that Caparsa is working on crafting natural style wines with holistic practices in both the vineyard and the cellar, but is very practical and is very careful with their wines and uses temperature control and modern equipment to promote purity and freshness in his offerings. I am a big lover of Chianti Classico and will never forget my own experiences visiting this region and my day in Radda, which felt like a pilgrimage to Tuscany’s Mecca, it remains a place close to my heart and I am craving to travel back and make some new treasured memories and Caparsa will be on my list of visits. When I’m grabbing wines for Fall and Winter I look for wines like Le Miccine, Felsina and Montesecondo which go great with the shorter days and chilly nights and I will be adding Caparsa to my favorites. This world class red deserves your attention and is worth every hard earned penny, I can’t wait to enjoy it again soon.
($55 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2017 Marjan Simcic, Sauvignon Blanc, Opoka, Jordana Cru, ZGP Brda, Slovenia.
This beautiful and deeply flavored Sauvignon Blanc from Marjan Simcic, who’s vineyards straddle the border between Italy and Slovenia in the Collio and Brda regions, is one of the best examples of pure Sauvignon Blanc outside of the Loire Valley. Simcic’s wines are a stunning collection of exceptional quality that deserve your attention and I again was highly impressed by them at the last Slow Wine tasting, where the wines were big hits. These outstanding wines are the result of the estate’s hillside vineyards and many microclimates that are set on calcareous soils, known as Opoka, with this wine coming from the marl based soil in Brda, Slovenia. Bright and sunny in nature on the nose with citrus blossoms the Simcic Cru Sauvignon Blanc turns on the intensity and depth on the palate with sharp gooseberry, lemon/lime, peach and quince notes. The mouth feel is more dense than you’d expect and it adds a steely mineral tone as it opens along with grapefruit zest and racy herbs. The extended lees aging delivers texture and complexity that raises the eye brows and makes for an incredible wine that reaches almost Dagueneau levels of thrills! The subtle wood accents come through, but remain more background elements with a touch of brioche, which is nicely off set by its chalk stony character and this very structured Sauvignon Blanc looks like it will age 10 to 15 years easy. Marjan’s estate in the Collio and Goriška Brda both in what are called the Gorizia Hills area not far from Italy’s northeastern Friuli-Venezia-Giulia is in a remote area and produces wines that boldly showcase a sense of place.

The Simcic Sauvignon Blanc saw a short 4 day skin contact maceration in 5,000 Litre stainless steel tanks and was pressed using soft pressure with a gentle pneumatic press with fermentation coming spontaneously with natural yeasts, allowing its terroir to shine through and limit green phenolics. Once this golden hued wine finished getting dry it was racked off to Smicic’s large wood vats, with 15 months in 4,000 Litre conical oak barrels known locally as tino, and then a final 5 months in 500 Litre oak barrels or tono, before bottling, though in some vintages the lees aging can last up to three years with usually two or so o the years in the large format oak and then a year in stainless tank. This Marjan Simcic Opoka Jordana Cru Sauvignon Blanc is very serious stuff and it joins his fabulous Pinot Noir and Ribolla (Gialla) in his set of latest releases, which are world class offerings. This region, which was devastated during bloody WWI battles and then split up after WWII, has long and storied wine history and wines like Simcic’s bring light and joy to this area, helping lift the darkness and banish the ghosts of the 21st century. Still not easily available in the States, Marjan’s wine are well worth searching for. These wines are impeccably crafted and unique, I have raved about them many times here on the website and in my reviews, each time I try them I get the desire to visit this part of Italy and Slovenia and discover its mysteries. I can’t wait to travel again and seeing new wine regions like this one not far from the historic Adriatic city of Trieste. I believe that Simcic’s wine, when tasted blind, would stand up to some of the world’s best, in particular his Pinot Noir and this Sauvignon Blanc.
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2014 Fattorie Romeo del Castello, Vigo, Etna Rosso DOC, Sicily, Italy.
Chiara Vigo’s Nerello Mascalase, always a treat and one of my favorite Mount Etna wines comes from the slopes of the Volcano and is a ripe and expressive example of this varietal. Chiara, who employed the help of Salvo Foti, who is one of the greatest growers and the godfather of the vines in this region of Sicily, crafts fruit forward and delicious wines that are passionately proud with terroir intensity and underlying savory tones that gives complexity. This vintage highlights why many people call Nerello Mascalase the Burgundy of Sicily with its delicacy, elegance and subtle earthiness making it a gem, plus its textural quality is opulent to the point of sublime. The 2014 Fattorie Romeo del Castello Vigo, like prior years, is sourced from a single estate parcel of vines called La Fruttiera, is rich and sweet fruited on the medium to full bodied palate with loads of spicy/flinty mineral charm, influenced heavily from the black lava rock and hardened ash soils, it drinks smoothly and satiny and as noted in earlier reviews the Vigo shows a regal depth and density. The nose starts with wild flowers, smoky shale, crushed raspberry, this wine has thrilling aromatics and supple fine grained (sweet) tannins. In the mouth you get racy red berry, sweet and tangy currants, kirsch and plum that is accented nicely with notes of iron, cedar, lavender, leather and grilled fennel. There is a nice cut of acidity and vibrant complexity in this 2014 that keeps things fresh as in matures in bottle and its noted mineral core and spice with subtle pepper flakes make everything really pop, especially with rustic cuisine, like grilled octopus, hard cheeses and or squid ink pasta dishes.

The Fattorie Romeo del Castello, set on the very edge of a no mans land and is located 700 meters up the slopes of Mount Etna is run by proprietor Rosanna Romeo’s daughter Chiara Vigo, with the pair having elevated this historic estate to a world class property. Vigo’s 14 hectares of vines are surrounded by a lava flow from an Etna eruption back in 1981 that threatened to destroy the whole estate, but in what could be called a miracle, the lava flow stop at the edge of their most prized old vines, luckily, for them and us, their 100 year old vineyard of Nerello Mascalese was spared. The grapes are all hand-tended and harvested using holistic and organic methods, as is the way of Salvo Foti, who as noted helped Vigo get things on track here. The Fattoria Romeo del Castello wines were originally fermented in open wood vats, but now the Vigo sees maceration and primary in stainless steel for clarity and freshness, but without added yeasts or enzymes and with strict temperature control using ultra low and sometimes no sulfur. The Vigo Nerello Mascalese, with a tiny bit of Nerello Capuccio, was aged in mainly older oak barriques for close to 12 months on the fine lees and then bottled without fining or filtration. The Vigo, as Chiara notes, first made in 2007, is the original wine at Romeo del Castello and is in homage to her father, and when she started making the Allegracore (the winery’s second wine) bottling the Vigo became or was elevated to a Riserva only produced in small quantities and only in the best vintages. The Vigo 2014 has Chiara’s grandfather Luigi Romeo del Castello on the label, each release features a different design that reflects Chiara’s love of family and expresses her own artistic talents as the designs are her own work.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2014 Domaine Gilbert Picq & ses Fils, Chablis “Vosgros” Premier Cru, White Burgundy, France.
This beautifully pure and crystalline Chablis is really hitting its stride as it gets past its vigorous youthfulness and starts to get into full maturity with lovely white peach, lemon and apple fruits leading the way is this classical mineral and chalky/flinty Chardonnay. Coming from a lesser known, in fact I doubt I have ever had it before, Premier Cru, Vosgros this Picq is surprisingly rich and concentrated, but still vivacious and limestone driven in character. This wine highlights its terroir, with Chablis having its unique Kimmeridgian soils, which isn’t found anywhere else in the world except here, Champagne and in southern England, it gives this wine its nature and adds to the racy acidity, steely element and its saline intensity. Kimmeridgian is a 180 million year-old geologic formation of decomposed clay and limestone, containing tiny fossilized oyster shells that spans from the Dorset village of Kimmeridge in southern England to Champagne, and to the soils of Chablis in Northern Burgundy. Domaine Gilbert Picq et Ses Fils does a few different village level Chablis as well as two exceptional Premier Crus, both located in the winery’s home village of Chichée. These include Vaucoupin, a site that seems to gain in popularity with each vintage, though still not a common Premier Cru in Chablis, and the rare Vosgros, which is produced from the Picq’s oldest premier cru vines that were planted in the 1980s. This 2014 is just delicious stuff, it gains dimension with every sip and opens up with white flowers, clarified cream, clove spices and faint nuttiness.

The Picq domaine is led in the cellar by Didier and his gifted and natural talents are well known through the region, though these wines are not a house hold name here like Fevre, Dauvissat, Defaix, Droin, Louis Michel, Moreau-Naudet, Raveneau and or Brocard. These Picq Chablis wines are naturally fermented exclusively with indigenous yeasts and raised in 100% stainless steel tanks to preserve every detail, nuance and freshness, as well as the underlying expression of place. According to the winery, you won’t find any wood in the entire winery, they don’t use any barrel aging at all here. Usually I like a touch of neutral oak with Premier Cru and Grand Cru Chablis, but this Picq Vosgros is wonderfully soulful, complex and expressive with any and I am highly impressed by this delightful Chardonnay. Set in a cool valley that allows for a longer growing season Vosgros is located in the South West area of the Chablis appellation control in a mostly east facing natural amphitheater that gets great exposure to the sun that delivers density and ripe flavors to the wines, which Picq took full advantage of in this vintage. This secret Cru is an enthusiast’s site and these Vosgros wines are coveted by those with the know, and I am intrigued and will be searching out Chablis from this vineyard. This Picq is exciting with its dept and texture as well as what you’d call an inner brightness and natural acidity that gifts this wine its clarity, distinction and life, this is a winery to look for!
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2015 Anne Boisson, Meursault A.C., White Burgundy, France.
A totally unknown producer for me and an exciting discovery, especially after learning more about the winery and the care that went into crafting this beautiful Meursault, which shows the richness and supple roundness of the vintage as it begins to mature in the bottle with lush yellow fruits, wet stone and hazelnut leading the way on the ripe palate. This 2015 gains a bit of structure and mineral as it opens up and while not high in natural acidity it is lovely balanced and is drinking with lots of pleasing complexity, including clove spice, lemon curd and apple butter notes. I had this succulent Meursault with lobster tail dipped in butter and it was a fantastic pairing and one I certainly hope to enjoy again in the future, as I will keep my eyes open for upcoming releases from Boisson. The Boisson family Domaine in Meursault is a total of 8.5 hectares and makes wines under three different labels, of which Anne’s is one, and the vineyards are farmed to organic practices, though not certified. These highly coveted parcels are divided up between Bernard Boisson and his two children, Pierre and Anne, and although the wines are labelled individually as Boisson-Vadot, Pierre Boisson and Anne Boisson, interestingly they make the wines altogether in their cellar with no differences between them. I was impressed with the quality and depth in this basic Meursault, in fact it gave a Domaine des Comte Lafon Clos de la Barre, opened at the same dinner a real run for its money! A night of hedonistic excess made me, not quite forget this wine, but it did get put in a file of notes for later posting and I just recently uncovered them, an oversight I am correcting now.

The Anne Boisson Meursault is from the family’s hand tended sites and is a blend of most of their best parcel with very traditional winemaking employed and the hand harvested grapes were very seriously sorted in the vineyard and again at the Domaine before going into vats for primary fermentation. The Boisson wines are aged in mostly used French oak barrels for close to 18 months, or sometimes even longer if the vintage demands it. New oak is kept to the minimum at the Domaine and from what I am reading it can be up to 20% on the Meursault bottlings, but I can see not overt wood accents on this 2015 vintage and again the wine reveals plenty of steely/flinty tones and underlying class. When sipped with the magic lobster tail I found that instead of turning flabby this slightly honeyed and lightly golden 2015 Anne Boisson Meursault became more elegant, taut, chalky saline and even perked up aromatically with delicate white flowers coming through. I am looking forward to trying some new vintages of Anne Boisson and excited to try her Aligoté as well. I have noticed that the Boisson Vadot offerings have only been available outside France since the 2011 vintage, making it more understandable as to why I had never heard of them, and that this tiny producer was more than happy just to sell their wines to a collection of French mailing list clients, so I am happy they are now imported to the states. This 2015 still has a good life ahead, especially with its concentration and excellent mouth feel, but I suggest enjoying its immediate gratification. This bottling is a pretty good value, in white Burgundy, especially a Meursault, if you can find it, there is also a higher end and more limited offering called Meursault “Sous la Velle” that is more readily available over here, which has me itching to try.
($60 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine M. & C. Lapierre, Morgon, Cru Beaujolais (Cuvee S), France.
The 2018 version of the classic Lapierre Morgon is sleek and higher toned than the prior vintage and remains excitingly fresh and vibrant throughout with bright cherry, plum, dark berry and strawberry leading the way along with tangy tart cranberry and whole cluster spiciness with hints of earth, zesty acidity that cleanses the medium bodied palate and a touch of walnut and lingering violets. This dark ruby Gamay turns on the more subtle charms with air, it certainly is less exuberant than some vintages, but absolutely lovable and it drinks wonderfully at this stage and will do so for many years to come. As noted in my reviews and by importer Kermit Lynch, Mathieu and his sister Camille have continuied their father, the legandary Marcel Lapierre’s traditions and the faithful following of Jules Chauvet’s natural wine practices in their effort to make one of the world’s best Gamay wines. Domaine Lapierre was always organic, but the sister and brother team of Mathieu and Camille have converted it to all biodynamic and have added a few new wines to the mix in recent years. The much admired Marcel Lapierre took over the family domaine from his father in 1973, and according to Kermit Lynch, who introduced these great Lapierre wines to America, he was already on the road to becoming a legend, but In 1981, his path would be forever changed by Jules Chauvet, who would influence him to make natural style wines that better displayed terroir and the distinction of the grape. Chauvet, again as I have noted many times, was a winemaker, a researcher, a chemist, and a viticultural prophet, in much the same way Nicholas Joly was with biodynamics in the Loire Valley. It was he who, first spoke out for “natural wine,” harkening back to the traditional methods of the Beaujolais, and winning followers throughout the Burgundy and Beaujolais regions. Chauvet heavily influenced generations in Beaujolais such as neighbors like Foillard, Thevenet, Breton and more recently Julien Sunier, just to name a few.

This 2018 Morgon by M & C Lapierre comes from almost 50 year old vines set on decomposed granite soils, which adds to the delicate mineral tone and sharp detailing, with the grapes being picked at the latest possible moment, again Kermit notes that Lapierre tries to obtain the ripest fruit, which is a trademark of the estate style. Using almost zero sulfur in most of their cuvees, this one saw just a tiny dose at bottling for added security and stability for shipping. While still having intensity of form, vigor and acid driven energy, these Lapierre wines are supple and forward with exceptional purity of fruit. Mathieu Lapierre, like his dad, employs 100% whole cluster natural or spontaneous fermentation, as Kermit Lynch explains, this à l’ancienne method uses only native or indigenous yeasts, with primary (fermentation) mostly done in conical wood tanks, with careful low temperatures. The Lapierre’s age their wines on fine lees for at least nine months in oak, which are a combination of ex-Burgundy barrels, and neutral large oak foudres and fûts ranging from three to thirteen years old. This vintage, 2018, is showing a higher tone, but is expansive once it gets going and is very enjoyable, especially with a slight chill and paired with simple foods. The Lapierre Morgon gains in every detail and textural presence with each sip, making for a very quaffable Gamay. Cru Beaujolais producers are riding a big wave of success and have captured a serious niche in the wine world, especially with a whole new generation of Gamay fans, with Lapierre being one of the most admired and sought after, setting a high bar of drinking pleasure. I should note, there are two versions of this basic Morgon, the cuvee N, with no sulfur added or Sans Soufre, and this cuvee S, with that small edition of sulfur, which this bottle is, and there is just a minimum of difference between the two, with the cuvee N, a Kermit Lynch exclusive, maybe a touch more expressive on release. I highly recommend exploring Lapierre’s full range of wines and in particular the Cuvee Marcel, Cuvee Camille and this Morgon bottling.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Lucia Vineyards by Pisoni, Pinot Noir, Garys’ Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
Jeff Pisoni’s incredible 2018 Garys’ Pinot takes what was already one of California’s greatest wine to the next level, it is almost a perfect wine and expression of place with gorgeous aromatics, purity of form and a cascade of rich Pinot fruit and a heavenly textural mouth feel, it’s wine that absolutely seduces the senses. This vintage with its long cool growing season and the impeccable farming by the Pisoni family, led by Mark Pisoni as well as his dad Gary and Gary Franscioni (the Garys of Garys’) has made for some of the most brilliant wines ever made in the region, not only do they have ripe and dense fruit concentration, they have energy and graceful lines and a lingering aftertaste that just makes your knees go weak with admiration. The vineyard’s position on a sloping hillside in the center of the 16-mile long SLH appellation offers, what the Pisoni’s call a true representation of the Santa Lucia Highlands, with sandy, loamy alluvial soils that are coupled with heavy fog and strong, cold winds in the summer, make it one of the top sites in the state for Pinot Noir giving deep and intense flavors, which this 2018 delivers in impressive fashion. This new release starts with a captivating bouquet of dark floral notes with rose petal and a hint of violets along with a touch of smoke, crushed red berries and briar before a medium to full bodied and satiny unfolding palate of black cherry, brambly raspberry, plum and tangy red currant fruits that are accented by sweet wood notes, tea spices, sassafras and a youthful orange zest. As this magnificent Pinot opens it shows off the care that went into making it, every detail and nuance on full display with Pisoni’s gifted touch clearly present throughout, this is as good as it gets, period.

Garys’ Vineyard, planted in 1997 after the success of the original Pisoni Vineyard, as well noted, is named for grape-growing partners Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni, both of whom come from multi-generational farming families in the Salinas Valley. Located in the heart of the Santa Lucia Highlands, this Grand Cru fifty-acre vineyard is planted mostly to Pinot Noir, with a top collection of clones, including the fabled Pisoni clone, along with a small portion of Syrah, which does very here too and is one of my favorite, with some vintages eclipsing the Pinot. Given its proximity to Monterey Bay, as highlighted by the winery, this site sees lots of cooling influence and the marine layer surrounds the Garys’ Vineyard during the summer months that helps slow the regions ripening season, providing the grapes the extra time to mature in complexity, while allowing bright acidity that helps with balance and structure. The 2018 vintage saw just 4% whole cluster for the Lucia Garys’ and it was fermented with 100% native yeasts at Jeff’s state of the art winemaking facility, that is all gentle gravity flow and allows him to hand craft these stunning wines. The wine, after primary fermentation, was then racked to French oak barrels where it was rested for close to a year, 11 months in total with just a touch over 50% in new wood, which shows in the luxurious mouth feel and the kiss of vanilla toastiness. This resulted in a sleek and elegant wine that looks fabulously set for a long and joyous life in the bottle, where it should evolve nicely for many years to come, and it is set to be benchmark edition from this vineyard, rivaling the famous Pisoni Estate bottling, which is itself celebrating its 20th anniversary! This is not a year to miss for these Pisoni Family wines, especially this one, they are awesome and will be highly rewarding over the next 10 to 20 years.
($70 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive Reviews – October, 2020

2018 Theopolis Vineyards, Petite Sirah, Estate Grown, Yorkville Highlands.
The latest release from Theodora Lee (akaTheopatra) and Theopolis Vineyards is her estate grown Petite Sirah, which is thrill ride of dense and spicy flavors and comes her amazing terraced vineyard in the Yorkville Highlands in Mendocino County. This might be the best site and most distinct for Petite Sirah in California, and I have loved this wine since I first tried it, with this 2018 being one of the most exciting to date, its inky purple opaque color and its racy peppery undercurrent making it irresistible. I recently had Halcon’s version from this vineyard and was blown away, so I was really geared up to try Theodora’s and it doesn’t disappoint with its deep blackberry, blueberry, plum and cherry fruits leading the way on the nervy youthful palate that is accented by a touch of sweet wood, mocha and dried dark flowers. As I have found over the last five vintages, this site give Petite Sirah a Northern Rhone like profile and this 2018, from a long cool growing season, really accentuates that character with the mentioned peppery nature or peppercorn note as well as the lively energy found here. It additionally adds hints of lilacs, anise and creme de cassis come out with air and the power tannins smooth out when this beautiful Petite Sirah opens up, this is very serious stuff.

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, this vision has really come true, with these last three vintages, all being very different, showing just how outrageously great this place is and how exceptional her wines can be. This 2018 gains richness in the glass and while hyper intense and alive in the mouth it also feels wonderfully opulent in texture and the length is absolute stunning. Lee has taken UC Davis enology classes and is very hands on with her 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. This 2018 Estate Petite Sirah looks set to be a classic and age worthy wine that will certainly impress lovers of this grape, it also really goes great with robust meat dishes with lamb and or short ribs being great choices.
($39 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Dr. Edge, Pinot Noir, Williamette Valley, Oregon.
Peter Dredge is Dr. Edge, an Aussie cutting edge (no pun intended) winemaker based in Tasmania, famous for Pinot in his homeland, has released a selection from the Willamette Valley in Oregon and I was thrilled to get my hands on it, it is a ripe and vivid Pinot with loads personality and eccentric charms. This bottling, one of three distinct Oregon Pinots by Dr. Edge, is a blend of Chehalem and Eola-Amity vineyard sites with some Jory (volcanic) and marine sedimentary soils and it shows it with hints of smoke, flinty stones and mineral to go with an impressive array of vivid red fruits, light floral tones and snappy herb and spice on the medium bodied palate, that is lively, but silky textured. The Dr. Edge wines have already created quite a buzz and an almost frenzy to get them, especially after some insanely good ratings from well respected critics, in other words, the word is out, these wines have become the hot ticket. I think there is so many great new Oregon wines right now, it would be hard to elevate just a few and there are plenty of awesome values to be had as well, so while I was greatly impressed with this 2017 Dr. Edge Willamette Valley Pinot, there are plenty of alternate choices in case you can’t find it, now is a fantastic time to discover the new generation of Willamette producers. I am now getting a thirst for Dredge’s Tassie Pinot, and his new Oregon Gamay, both of which are getting a buzz too.

This 2017 Dr. Edge Willamette Valley Pinot, which has a label perfect for the Halloween season, comes from sustainable and organic vines and looks to have some whole cluster, which helps cut into the ripe fruit character of the vintage and brings some savory notes to the profile which is led by black cherry, plum, crushed raspberry and pomegranate fruits and some pretty details that are accented by some peppery notes, tea spices, wild herb and a subtle wood toast. It’s the play between its satiny round texture and its expressive vivid nature that captivates you in this bright ruby/garnet Pinot. Peter does not give away too many of his secrets, but I would think he is following his generation’s trend of mostly used French oak in the aging and fermenting his wines with lots of whole bunches and native yeasts to promote terroir character in his wines as well as allowing the purity of the grapes to shine through. I will be trying my best to get some of the 2018s to compare, especially since these 2017s were just his first goes with Willamette sourced Pinot and are already getting huge attention. The 2017 opens up exceptionally well, delivering a top notch performance when it gets some air, blowing off a touch of reduction, and it was incredibly hard not to seduced by the complexity and lingering aftertaste, this is tasty stuff and it should only get better in the next 3 to 5 years. There’s a lot of pleasure to be found here, it will appeal to a wide range of Pinot lovers and there will be no penalty for opening it in its youth, though I suggest enjoying it with cuisine, it has a generous vinous mouth feel, but it will impress more with food.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Au Bon Climat “Hildegard” White Blend, Santa Maria Valley.
One of the first blended California white wines to reach a cult like following and a totally unique mix, with this vintage of Hildegard comprised of 50% Pinot Gris, 40% Pinot Blanc and 10% Aligoté. Winemaker Jim Clendenen first started making Hildegard in 1998, in era dominated by Chardonnay, which of course he made as well, it was somewhat of curious that it was such a hit, but tasting it always brought rewards and drinking pleasure. The Pinot Gris, Clendenen notes, planted next to the winery (Block 12 of Bien Nacido Vineyard) was amazing with small yields and the grapes were intensely flavorful and concentrated. Adding that the wine made from these Pinot Gris vines was more like a dry Alsatian Pinot Gris, rather the dull and flat Pinot Grigio style that lack density or complexity. The 2017 Hildegard is quite marvelous in structure and detail, it’s rich and luxurious on the palate, but does feel heavy and has a cool steely frame with layers of green apple, peach, green melon, zesty lemon and orangey citrus fruits. There is a whiff of smoky sweet oak and the opulent/creamy smooth body shows in was barrel aged and went through malolactic conversion, but you’ll be fantastically surprised by this wines mineral tone and the zing of the natural acidity, seemingly provided by the zingy/crisp Aligoté. Pinot Blanc doesn’t get much mention, but also performs a major role in this wine without being overt by giving texture and flinty notes, making the Hildegard great with an array of dishes from calamari to cracked crab as well as soft cheeses.

The Hildegard white blend was fermented in separate lots, with the Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and the rare Burgundian varietal Aligoté being aged for two years in new French oak barrels, after which it was blended, as Clendenen reveals, and then released after a short settling in bottle. Clendenen explains that the name Hildegard is a salute to the history of Burgundy, from which he drew much of his inspiration, and to her husband the King of the Franks, Charlemagne. During his rule, with Hildegard by his side in the early 800s the importance of wine and viticulture exploded on the continent. The Catholic Church and Charlemagne ruled most of Europe and both were interested in wine and viticulture leading to more and more vineyards were planted from Burgundian hillsides to steep river valleys of Germany. This is an interesting side note, but the wine itself is just as intriguing, especially after it opens up in the glass, where it fills out in mouth adding brioche, honeycomb and hints of hazelnut. There is a heightened aromatic quality here that brings white flowers and also delivers vanilla, sweet toasty notes from the Francois Freres Burgundy barriques, and wet stones, making this vintage of Hildegard extra compelling. Known mainly for his fabulous Pinot Noirs, Clendenen also does a tidy collection of high quality whites to, as this one proves. Au Bon Climat continues to be one of California’s most prized treasures, and it was great to get a chance to a few of the latest wines, all of which were impeccable and delicious! There is a lot to like and value in Au Bon Climat’s lineup from the basic Santa Barbara Pinot and Chard, which outstanding for the price to this golden yellow Hildegard, which I highly recommend as well.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Sandlands, Red Table Wine, Contra Costa County.
The new 2018 Sandlands Red Table Wine sourced from old vines in Contra Costa County, only 11 barrels produced, is a joyous California wine made from an inky dark combination of Carignan and Mataro (Mourvedre), making for brightly fresh and juicy wine that can really enjoyed now, while still structured to age. This Contra Costa red is an expressive proudly Californian wine that shows off its warm flavors, much like France’s Corbieres region, which is known for Carignan, based wines do. The vineyard was planted in the 1920s in what is classified as Dehli blow sand, which winemaker Tegan Passalacqua explains is decomposed granite that has been deposited by wind and water from, what I gather was the high Sierra Mountains over millions of years. This vintage ended up being close to 55% Carignane and 45% Mataro with the long cool growing season resulting in great flavor development, complexity, zippy acidity and wonderfully low natural alcohol coming in at a mere 12.8%. This vintage starts with vivid crushed red berries, rosemary/sage, a hint of lilacs and a lovely fleshy mouth feel before full coming to life on the medium to full bodied palate with black Raspberry, cherry and plum fruits, a touch of candied orange rind, peppery spices and the Mourvedre’s classic earthy/savory influence and tannin playing a key structural role and adding a serious turn to this grape fresh wine. Passalacqua, as noted in my prior reviews, is the head winemaker and vineyard manager at Turley and has worked in the cellars of Craggy Range in New Zealand with Doug Wisor, with Eben Sadie in the Swartland of South Africa, and with Alain and Maxime Graillot in the Northern Rhone Valley of France, which has served him well in creating his niche.

Sandlands is Tegan Passalacqua’s personal label and while known for his work at Turley Wine Cellars, which are bigger, ripe and lavishly styled, these Sandlands wines are maybe a truly reflection of his personality, they are authentic, thoughtful and less flamboyant, but with exceptional quality and crated with intense respect for the vineyards where they come from. Each of the Sandlands wines offers a different perspective and draws its inspiration from historic California vineyards and wines, they mostly come from sandy sites, hence the name, and this one perfectly captures its sense of place and sets the tone for the gripping offerings, which includes a 100% old vine Mataro, a wine with Bandol like power and cellar potential, I have been holding a few vintages of this not hating to open them up too early, and Tegan’s Soberanes Syrah from the Santa Lucia Highlands, with grapes farmed by the Pisoni family, a wine that made me join the Sandlands mailing list, it is a California wine through and through but with Cote-Rotie class and depth. For me, the Sandlands wines show fantastic textures that coat the palate with vinous pleasure, while not heavy, these are impressive artisan hand crafted wines. Passalacqua manages a vast array of classic Zinfandel sites for Turley as well as tending his own old vines at the Kirschenmann Vineyard, which planted back in 1915, on the East Side of Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA, with his Zinfandel grapes going into both his own wine and into a single vineyard Turley as well. The winemaking is along the lines of minimal intervention, allowing native yeasts when the conditions are suitable and the aging is done mostly in used barrels to give the wines more of the stage to show off their terroir(s) and purity of flavors.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Big Basin Vineyards, Pinot Noir “Dune and Mountain” Monterey County.
It’s been a scary and tough year for Bradley Brown of Big Basin Vineyards, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, almost losing the estate to the fires and the heart breaking loss his house in those flames. We are all wishing him and the winery well, so it was great to open a bottle of his wine in support. I’ve been a big fan of his wines since I first tried them, especially his iconic Rattlesnake Rock Syrah, but in recent years his Pinot Noir and Chardonnay efforts have really impressed me. That side of his collection have become some of his most sought after wines, even though most people know Big Basin’s Rhones and focus their attention on the Syrah and Grenache based efforts. I love his Alfaro Family and Lester Pinots and the Coastview Chardonnay is mind-glowingly delicious and now this bottling, the Dune and Mountain Pinot Noir, which I had not tried yet, is a beauty with the Big Basin whole bunch signature profile with its racy red fruits, luscious velvety texture and its lingering potpourri of aromas and spices. This 2017 Dune and Mountain starts with dried herbs, mineral notes, crushed raspberry and seeped rose petals before opening up with richness on the medium bodied palate showing off the warmth of vintage with ripe cherry, plum, strawberry and pomegranate fruits along with a hint of earthiness, tea spice and more floral elements. There a graceful creamy mouth feel and layered elegance in this Pinot that is seductive, but there is still an underpinning of energy and juicy acidity that makes this wine so compelling. The name comes from the fact that Brown sourced it from two exceptional sites, the Olson Vineyard, set of pure sandy (ancient sand dunes) soils and Coastview Vineyard, which is a high elevation site with granite, quartz diorite and limestone soils, both of which add to the complexity and balance in this luxurious Pinot Noir.

The Big Basin Vineyards Pinots are meant to age for 5 to years at least, and this 2017 Dune and Mountain Pinot is well structured, though plush and easy to love now, and I can only imagine how great the new 2018 (and 2019) will be. Brown makes incredible and expressive wines and this wine is drinking well in its youth, and it is a really awesome value. Bradley fermented the Dune and Mountain Pinot with 95% whole clusters and with native/indigenous yeast with gentle hands off winemaking techniques. This vintage saw almost of year in barrel, with mostly used French barriques employed and it was bottled unfined and unfiltered, all of which allowed a purity of expression and silky depth of flavors. Brown notes, that this Dune and Mountain is every bit the equal of some of his single vineyard cuvées, additionally he says it is (was) sourced from two extraordinary vineyards that are like nothing else in the Monterey area, with one is a elevation site at 2400 feet up and the other is directly off the middle of the foggy Monterey Bay, making it one of Big Basin’s last (Pinot) picks of the year. Whole cluster and stem inclusion really make this wine pop with vibrance and crunch adding a joyous electric verve to this hand crafted Pinot and makes it great with food, in particular I can imagine it going fantastically well with blackened salmon, ahi steaks and grilled meats, the 12.8% natural alcohol means it is fabulously flexible. It is a good time to support small wineries that have suffered with COVID and the horrible fires that affected many in our (wine) community, so I highly recommend checking out the latest wines from Big Basin and getting a few bottles that hopefully will help them through these rough times. Big Basin just released their Fall wines and there is many in the collection that look like tasty efforts, and savvy buyers will grab 2018 estate grown Santa Cruz Mountains Syrah, the old vine Wirz Carignan along with this Pinot bottling, as well as the mentioned Rattlesnake Rock.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Martha Stoumen, Nero d’Avola, Mendocino County.
The latest Nero d’Avola release from Martha Stoumen is simply gorgeous and highlights the rise in Italian varietals, which once struggled to gain traction and never seemed to live up to their promise or the the classic version in the old country, but that has really changed in recent years with many stunning versions of Italian grapes have emerged, including this one. Just this week I tried Ryme’s outrageously good Aglianico and this stunning Nero d’Avola, both of which are just thrilling red wines that marry our terroir and California’s wonderful warm ripe personality with the grapes true varietal character, with Martha’s Nero delivering a beautiful deep color, layered black and red fruits, mineral and spice notes all in a sublime textural wine that fills the palate with expansive, but clearly detailed flavors. Martha Stoumen maybe the only person with such hands on experience with Nero d’Avola, both in its homeland, when she interned at COS winery in Vittoria Sicily and here in California, where she has vines works with in Mendocino, the Benson Ranch in Ukiah, Chiarito Vineyard, also in Ukiah and the Fox Hill Vineyard, on the Talmage Bench, a vineyard that has championed Italian varietals for over 30 years. Her time working with Giusto Occhipinti at COS helped form her only natural style of winemaking and gave her insight on this grape and how best to unlock its true potential, which this 2018 vintage shows, it’s a brilliant effort and charms with a slight rustic and earthy edginess, while still remarkably poised in the glass. The 2018 Nero d’Avola starts with a mix of crushed berries, an array of florals, dried herbs and that inviting dark inky garnet hue before revealing black raspberry, spiced plum, earthy blueberry and morello cherry fruits along with touches of leather, minty anise, cocoa powder, blood orange and a hint of cedar. There is a zesty underpinning of natural acidity and fine grained, almost sweet tannin that makes this wine’s structure so compelling and its form gives Martha’s Nero d’Avola a nice flexibility with cuisine choices, in fact it gets even better with hearty dishes. This vintage, as Stoumen’s tech sheet shows, comes from a blend of three organically farmed vineyards, mentioned above, 63% sourced at Benson Ranch Vineyard, Ukiah, Mendocino County, a 14 year old dry farmed (no irrigation) set of vines, on gravelly loam soils then 25% from Fox Hill Vineyard, Talmage Bench, Mendocino County, these are 33 year old vines (as far as Martha knows, might be the oldest Nero d’Avola in CA), with sandy loam soils, plus 12% sourced at the Chiarito Vineyard, in Ukiah as noted as well in Mendocino County.

Stoumen hand crafts an exciting set of wines, mostly out of the box and unique offerings, with this Nero d’Avola being her signature wine, in my opinion and she has a special fondness and connection to this Sicilian grape. Martha says, she spent a very time working with Nero d’Avola at COS in Sicily, so the fact that Nero d’Avola even exists in California—AND that she get to work with it in both the vineyard and cellar—makes her heart happy, it also makes me happy, especially her efforts with this vintage, which has really brought out the best in this wine. Stoumen also is taking a different path when it comes to vineyard sites, while most winemakers are fighting over coveted coastal sites, making the grapes from those extreme places very expensive, she has chosen to look elsewhere, noting she is proudly looking inland, where the hotter climate and shorter spring season make low-input (organic and holistic) farming a reality. Stoumen adds, she still wants to make elegant wines, with freshness and vibrancy, this has given her a freedom to experiment with a different grape set and a choice of lesser known varieties. For Stoumen the Nero d’Avola has been, as she admits, a perfect and natural fit. She does a few different versions of Nero d’Avola including this one, as well as a Rosato (Rosé) and in a blended red, all of which are well worth searching out, but this 2018 is one you really shouldn’t miss, plus you should also check out her Zinfandel, which is also a studied and natural style, almost old school wine with a bright crunchy profile. Martha’s Nero d’Avola was all de-stemmed and was fermented in concrete tank until dry, before being gently pressed to well used barrels and rested on lees. After 12 months, Stoumen racked it off lees, blended the different vineyard, which were fermented in separate small lots and then put back into barrel for a total of 18 months barrel aging, that helped make those tannins supple. I am very excited to see so many great young winemakers on the scene these days and I am certain the future of California wine is in great hands, with so many intriguing talents crafting a whole new generation of great wines with Martha being one of these exceptional and hard working artisans, their success is a joy to watch and to taste! For this Nero d’Avola, Martha suggests a mouth-watering range of ideal pairings including pasta alla norma, grilled steak with fresh herbs, classic caesar salad, roasted duck breast. She mentions, and I agree, the balanced body of this wine can hold up to many textures and flavors without overpowering them, the same way classic Sicilian examples of Nero d’Avola, like those of COS, Valle dell’Acate and Arianna Occhipinti’s do.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Chardonnay, Trout Gulch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The gorgeously energy filled and textural Trout Gulch Chardonnay by Richard Alfaro at Alfaro Family Vineyards is definitely one of the best values in the state for top quality Chardonnay, and this 2018 is one of the most thrilling vintages I’ve tried so far with incredible detailing, layering of flavors and its heavenly vinous mouth feel. Those that like Cote de Beaune substance and style will find huge joy in this Trout Gulch, with its cool mineral intensity, depth and smooth underlying acidity, it perfectly captures the long and cool growing season that allowed ripe fruit development, but exceptional clarity, balance and the mentioned textural creaminess that is not in least bit heavy, but graceful and luxurious all the same. The Alfaro Trout Gulch starts with spring white flowers, with a hint of honeysuckle and citrus, along with a touch of loam and flint, before a medium to fill bodied palate of apple, pear and tart peach fruit that is accented by lemon curd, clarified cream, clove spice, smoky/toast, hazelnut and a whiff of vanilla. There is a steely drive, a saline (sea shore) quality and a wet rock element that runs all the way through this fabulous Chardonnay that always oops up in my favorite examples and elevates this wine into the top league in my book, it gives me the same pleasure that I get from white Burgundy, especially the really memorable ones, like Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey’s Saint-Aubin and Roulot’s basic Bourgogne Blanc. This vineyard, near the towns of Aptos and Soquel is not far from the Ocean and gets loads of cool breezes and morning and evening marine layer influence and it has been the source for some other fantastic bottlings, like John Raytek’s Ceritas and Duncan Meyer’s Arnot-Roberts versions, both of which are highly sought after and wines I really admire.

The Trout Gulch site was originally established in 1980, but this dry-farmed vineyard, which is nestled between forested hillsides near the town of Aptos in the Santa Cruz Mountains really only came into its own under the guidance of Richard Alfaro and wines like this prove it, this cool climate vineyard is a source of spectacular grapes. It should also be noted, that Richard’s own estate vineyard in Corralitos also produces world class Chardonnay, and while there is great Pinot Noir grown in both sites as well, these Chardonnays are just stunning and shows clearly that Alfaro has a specially touch with this grape. Trout Gulch, which is farmed using organic methods and in full maturity, set on loam and harden clay like soils with some sand, is up at about 600 feet and only 3.5 miles from the Pacific and is planted to the Wente clone that gives this wine its wonderful concentration. The lightly golden Alfaro Trout Gulch Chardonnay was barrel fermented and aged in neutral French oak, where it rested for just 8 months before bottling to preserve its zesty freshness, but still allow for that glorious richness, this would be outstanding with lobster tail and dripping butter, as well as triple cream soft cheeses. Alfaro started his label back in 1998 and has created a solid following over the years since with a solid collection of wines, led by these Chards and his Pinots, which are always tasty offerings, plus his zingy Gruner Veltliner, that is one of the best examples of this varietal outside of Austria. There is a lot to get excited about when tasting through Alfaro’s lineup from this one to his heritage clone Pinot, to his Syrah to the Rosé of Pinot Noir, if you’ve not sampled these wines, you really should!
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Auguste Clape, Le Vin des Amis, Vin de France, Rhone Valley, France.
I love the bright freshness and deep flavors of this 2018 Le Vin des Amis and its quaffable though serious style, this edition is medium bodied and energetic with classic Northern Rhone character, showing blackberries, plum, cherry and blueberry fruits, anise, peppercorns, a hint of game, earth and a quite heady nose of dark violet florals. The “baby” Clape, which is always a savvy treat is 100% Syrah and comes from 40 plus year old vineyard sites that are located close the this classic domaine’s village of Cornas and the Rhône river set on mostly Alluvial soils with a littering of galets, the rounded river stones found throughout the Rhone basin. The mouth feel is less intense, when compared to the more tannin structured top Cornas cuvees at Clape, but this one gives a very fine account of itself with an edgy stemmy intensity that is compelling to fans of Pierre-Marie’s wines and the Clape family’s legendary offerings, many of which were crafted by the now 94 year old Auguste (Pierre-Marie’s famous dad) himself, who was one of the very first to bottle an estate wine in the Cornas region. Now, as Kermit Lynch, Clape’s long time American importer, notes, Pierre-Marie and his son Olivier, carry on Auguste’s legacy with honor and integrity, as well as hand crafting wines that are some of the world’s most desirable Syrahs. While the Le Vin des Amis comes from just outside the Cornas zone, the Clape’s farm a number of prime parcels, some of the greatest Syrah sites in Cornas, including Reynards, La Côte, Geynale, Tézier, Petite Côte, Les Mazards, Patou, Pied La Vigne, Chaillot, and Sabarotte, the latter purchased from Cornas legend Noël Verset, and they save the best and oldest for their top bottling.

The reds wines at Clape, all made from 100% Syrah, are almost without fail vinified using whole bunches and this Le Vins des Amis shows that vibrant and herbal crunchiness as well as a transparent flavors and a nice textural quality, I used to buy a lot of this wine when not everybody and their brother knew about it and the price was almost half what it is now, but this wine still is a good deal and while not as guiltless on the wallet as it once was it still impresses for the price and is impeccably made. The Le Vin des Amis saw a natural whole cluster fermentation with indigenous yeats in open top cement tanks with about a two week maceration and primary fermentation with pilage and pump overs twice a day before aging in concrete, as well as seeing just two months in foundre (old large oak casks) prior to bottling, which as per normal here unfiltered. The Clape’s pick by hand and concentrate on full ripeness, which give these wines their expressive and dense nature, but as their fans you, these wines always give you a rigorous savory underpinning and have exceptional balance, especially in difficult vintages. The Le Vin des Amis is a gateway wine and a little tease, though these days it has a frenzied cult following itself, which this new 2018 release will continue to elicit with its seductive qualities. This very food friendly Syrah is a fine companion for country and rustic cuisine from grilled pork, chicken and red meats to wild mushroom dishes. The Le Vin des Amis is the entry level Rouge, just one rung down from their Cotes du Rhone and looking way up to the two main Cornas, the Renaissance and the signature offering, that like a top Hermitage or Cote-Rotie needs a decade or more in the cellar to fully mature. So, for no waiting pleasure this inky purple wine is the way to go!
($50 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Ryme Cellars, Aglianico, Camino Alto Vineyard, El Dorado County, Sierra Foothills.
Ryme’s new Camino Alto Aglianico is one of the best and most distinct red wines I’ve had this calendar year so far, it is awesome full bodied and complex effort with true varietal character and exceptional purity. The inky dark Camino Alto Aglianico starts with a heavenly perfume of violets, sage and new leather with a crushed blackberry essence before its powerful and structured palate thrills with black currant, marionberry coulis, plum and kirsch fruits along with melted black licorice, minty herb, cedar and tapenade accents as well as a touch of whole bunch crunchiness and spicy mineral tones. In grape known for rustic and fiery tannins this 2018 is poised, supple and remarkably graceful, the long cool growing season really benefited this gorgeous wine. Aglianico, sometimes called “The Barolo of the South” (because of some similarities to Nebbiolo) is a black grape found mostly Basilicata and Campania, with Taurasi being its top expression. Taurasi is a town in the province of Avellino, in the Sannio part of Campania. Taurasi is a historic wine region and finally made a full DOCG in 1993. Two of the most famous Aglianico wines are the Radici Taurasi, Mastroberardino’s flagship wine which was originally released in 1928, though not officially called Radici, which translates as “roots”, as it was a special clonal selection of ancient Aglianico, until 1986, and Feudi di San Gregorio’s iconic Serpico, that comes from the historic “Dal Re” (“from the King”) vineyard in Irpinia near to Mt. Vesuvius. The Aglianico vines seem to thrive in particularly volcanic soils, but Ryme’s efforts with this grape prove it does great in the diverse soils here in California, particularly in these granite soils as well as Paso Robles’ limestone. It is considered with Sangiovese and Nebbiolo to be one of the three greatest Italian varieties with a long history, it was used to make the Falernian wine, famed during Roman times. The grape, which was once thought to have been brought to Campania from Greece still remains a mystery with no leads on its true origins, though most know think it is more likely a native varietal. Aglianico more recently has been planted in Australia and California, as it thrives in predominantly sunny climates with a long ripening season, like Nebbiolo it really takes an extended period on the vine to develop all of its potential, and Ryme has unlocked its best features, in what is a truly great wine.

Ryme Cellars, with winemakers Megan and Ryan Glaab, have been exploring Italian grapes for many years and have a wonderful collection of thrilling wines with Vermentino, Fiano, another Southern Italian grape, Sangiovese and Friulano, as well as three different versions of Aglianico, which has become one of their signature wines with a Rosé of Aglianico and two single vineyard reds. In 2017 Megan and Ryan began working with this new Aglianico vineyard in El Dorado County in the Sierra Foothills near Placerville and not far from Sutter’s Mill, where gold was first discovered in California, which set off a huge migration to the golden state, which had the effect of bringing grape vines to the area for those settlers in the late 1800s. This gave Ryme, as they explain, an exciting opportunity to see how Aglianico plays out in a very different series of great California terroirs. The Camino Alto vineyard is located at 2800 feet in mineral rich granite based soils in the El Dorado AVA above, the mentioned, Placerville. The days here are quite warm (if not blazing hot) but, as the Glaab’s note, there is a large diurnal temperature shift with cold night air draining from the upper Sierras keeping the vines refreshed, retaining natural acidity. The other Ryme Aglianico, their most exclusive bottling, comes from a beautifully farmed, certified organic vineyard in Westside Paso Robles on Peachy Canyon Road. Its vines set squarely in Rhone varietal and Zinfandel country, at the Luna Matta Vineyard, which also grows a good number of other Italian specialites. The Camino Alto Aglianico was picked in mid October, somewhat early for this varietal, but obviously the grapes came in to near perfection with amazing concentration, energy and impeccable balance. Ryme Cellars is known for their low intervention methods in the cellar and use a combination of modern and ancient techniques with the use of cool stainless tanks as well as Amphora. For their Camino Alto Aglianico, they went old school, the grapes were crushed by foot and fermented 100% whole cluster with nothing added, allowing full native fermentation and hand punch downs, getting a full extraction from the bold Aglianico. After the maceration and primary, the winery says, the wine was aged in neutral French oak barrels for eleven months and bottled without filtration. This is impressive stuff, if you want a stylish big red, to go with lamb, brisket or robust cuisine, you need to get yourself some of this while you can!
($42 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

2016 Domaine Sylvain Pataille, Bourgogne Rouge, France.
I first discovered Sylvain Pataille’s wines with his awesome set of 2012 wines and in that time, between and now he has become one of Burgundy’s hottest stars and the wines are extremely difficult to get and the prices have soared up, though not outrageous they give you pause, with his basic Bourgogne Rouge being the best value in the lineup. At the time I was left with a sense of awe, with his gorgeous and flavorful Marsannay being a stand out wine and one of my wines of the year, so there was a lot of expectations when I opened this 2016, and it delivered, it is a beautifully balanced and tasting Pinot Noir with classic Marsannay coolness of style, expressive dark fruits and mineral notes. The 2016 Pataille Bourgogne Rouge has more depth and expressive flavors than one is used to expect in such a bottling, it displays an array of red fruits as well as having a core of classic dark cherry, accented by strawberry, cranberry, spiced raspberry along with a hint of blueberry, apple skin, earth, black tea, the mentioned mineral tone and seeped rose petals, added to a silky palate that offers a generous and vinous mouth feel. There is a virgorous and lively energetic sense to this lovely Pinot Noir that keeps your attention without seeming shrill or aggressive allowing just a balanced tartness to remind you there there is structure here and plenty of zippy acidity to go great with food. I was thrilled to find this wine again and I look forward to dig into upcoming vintages and exploring the Pataille Cru and Lieu-Dits expressions, especially his Marsannay Clos du Roy. This dark ruby/garnet Bourgogne comes from vines planted in 1956, set on clay rich soils with classic limestone, which gives this wine it’s soulful personality, in this vintage it saw about 10% or so whole cluster and maybe 15% new oak to allow all of its terroir to shine through.

Sylvain Pataille, who consults for a dozen or so high end domaines in Burgundy and founded his own label in 1999, specializes in natural style winemaking and organic farming with his wines coming almost exclusively from vines in the village of Marsannay. Pataille does a tidy set of quality wines, these include around 12 distinct Marsannay cuvées, including not only red, white and rosé Marsannay (Marsannay is the only appellation in the Côte d’Or permitted to label as an AC Rosé), but also Aligoté, Passetoutgrain (a Gamay and Pinot Noir blend) and Bourgogne Blanc and this Rouge. Everything Pataille does at his own domaine, as noted, comes from Marsannay and are all organic, and I believe now all biodynamic, all of the wines were highly impressive, but especially his base Marsannay AC (Pinot Noir) and the single Cru versions, which I thought were stunning when I first tried them, and that impression still holds true after trying this later vintage Bourgogne Rouge. Pataille makes his wines with almost no sulfur and follows the style of Philippe Pacalet, though different in detail, without question he is making some of the most delicious natural wines in Burgundy. Pataille’s wines all see natural, indigenous yeast fermentation, in a combination of fiberglass tank and in stainless steel, with his maceration (with partial whole cluster) and primary being relatively short, they last usually only 10-12 days and are rigorously temperature controlled to preserve freshness and clarity of flavors. The wines are then racked into oak barriques with surprisingly enough, about a third being new barrels and then aged for up to 24 months, though usually this Bourgogne is more like 10 to 12 months and seeing less of the new wood. It is clear Pataille has it all going in top gear these days and is completing the biodynamic certification, joining the elite producers of the region, if you’ve not had Sylvain’s wines yet, it is time!
($35 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Ochota Barrels “Texture Like Sun” Sector Red, Adelaide Hills, South Australia.
I was a huge blow to the wine world, when we learned last week that Taras Ochota passed away, he was an Aussie legend and admired around the world for his larger than life personality and his incredible naturally style wines. Just last month I featured his fabulous Grenache and was mesmerized by the Green Room and couldn’t wait to learn more about his wines and his life, sadly we won’t see much in the future as his wines are almost all sold out now, in a moving tribute to his life his home country has rallied ad bought up everything they could. I was able to secure one of his most playful and intriguing wines to drink and review in his honor, the 2019 Texture Like Sun, which is a curious blend of everything from Pinot to Gamay to Gewürztraminer to Chardonnay! The ex punk rocker, who played an old Rickenbacker bass on a few Australian hit albums, and who was a fan of California surf punkers, including The Dead Kennedy’s made some of the tastiest modern wines in Oz, especially the Grenache and Syrah bottlings, as well as this unpretentious and wild blend. As our thoughts and love go out to Amber Ochota, Tara’s wife, we celebrate his passion and life by enjoying his wines, he will not be forgotten anytime soon and his influence on Australian wine looks set to continue doing into the future. Little is know about the percentage of varietals in this Texture Like Sun Red Wine, though I imagine it is Pinot Noir led as I feel I can taste it, especially here in this moment, but there is so many other flavors to dig through it is hard to say, it could be the Gamay and or Grenache in there that puts that impression out with the Chardonnay giving a creamy sense and the Gewurztraminer adding exotic spices and perfume. I could hardly put the glass down as the taste was so comforting and inviting, it is a tasty quaffer, no question and I love the clear bottle and vibrant light ruby color, it was great with a spicy seafood paella.

The 2019 Ochota Texture Like Sun Red starts with wild floral and spice notes and a light sense of fruitiness with a flavor profile that reminds me of some Piedmonte wines, like Ruche, Croatina or Freisa, but warmly ripe, fresh and textural on the medium bodied palate with strawberry, plum, cherry and wild raspberry fruits along with cinnamon, dried papaya/guava, lychee, lingering rose petals and sweet herbal accents. This wine, which has been noted by other reviewers, weirdly all comes together with silken grace and harmony and drinks fabulously well, its Gamay and Pinot seemingly orchestrating the flavors in the mouth and playing the leading roles, which with everything going on is intriguing, making for a joyously elegant wine. Taras, as I noted in my latest review of his Green Room Grenache, enjoyed many harvests in California, where he worked for producers such as Kunin, Bonnacorsi, both winemakers we also lost too young, as well as Joe Davis at Arcadian, Napa’s Schrader, Outpost and the famous Hitching Post in Santa Barbara County, a favorite spot for Ochota to visit, especially as the surfing was good too. Ochota, following the lead of some of the wine world’s counter culture heros as well as being, as he put it, was strongly drawn to and influenced by the small biodynamic producers he and Amber came across in the south of France. He employed a holistic approach, wanting to use, as he put it, organically farmed vineyards planted to earth that is alive, (with) lo-fi techniques and picking decisions made purely on natural acidity which hopefully contributes to a wine’s energy and nervous tension. He used whole cluster and indigenous yeasts exclusively, loving the texture and stem inclusion character in his wines, preferring long maceration(s) and skin contact. He was also a perfectionist in making sure the wine was all about pleasure, as this one clearly shows, we in the wine world certainly feel his loss and send our love to his family and friends, godspeed Taras, thank you for your artisan wines and the joy they brought us.
($36 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Domaine de l’Austral, Saumur-Puy-Notre-Dame “Manta” Loire Valley, France.
Coming from a special sub zone of the Loire’s Saumur-Champigny region the 100% Cabernet Franc Manta from Domaine de l’Austral is a bright and fruit forward all carbonic wine that is drinking with a natural grace and varietal purity, this is an easy wine to love. A few months ago I featured my first review of this new winery and I am now becoming a big fan of l’Austral and vignerons Pauline Mourrain and Laurent Troubat, the husband and wife team that took over the all organic vines at Château Tour Grise and the ancient cellars there. The pair have hit the ground running with their first vintage 2016 already creating a huge buzz and winning awards and this 2017 Manta shows they are incredibly talented and are looking set to become stars of the region. This 2017 Manta starts with a radiant display of fruit and floral detail before revealing a supple and medium bodied palate of red currant, crushed raspberry, wild plum and cherry fruits that come with a hint of classic bell pepper, plus olive, herbal notes, wild flowers and anise accents, all presented without pretense in a zesty fresh form. This dark garnet and ruby hued is impressively textural Cabernet Franc with an elegant and layered mouth feel that gives the sensation of lightness and softness, while still seriously complex adding subtle earthy/savory elements in the glass. The 2017 vintage is ripe, but less dense than 2016, and will appeal to those that admire delicacy and quaffable structures, which this one delivers with a smile and a wink.

The Domaine de l’Austral Manta Saumur-Puy-Norte-Dame, one a tiny collection of single parcel offerings that Pauline and Laurent make, is from a chalk and Silex limestone site that promotes zesty fresh details and vivid flavors, all of which are most expressive by the holistic farming principals and methods used here that brings out each place’s unique character. l’Austral, inspired by Loire legends like Nicholas Joly and Saumur-Champigny’s iconic Clos Rougeard, strive to make absolute terroir driven wines with natural winemaking techniques born from the regions traditions with 100% native yeast fermentations and ultra low sulfur additions to allow the sense of place to really shine through. The wine at l’Austral is really made from the work in the vineyard, rather than the rustic cellar, most of the tenderness and back breaking work in done, by hand, in the vines, and the results so far speak for themselves. This 2017 Manta really opens up nicely and is wonderfully clean and transparent, its carbonic fermentation, vat raised clarity and fine tannins making it a joy to drink young, while the non carbonic, concrete egg raised 2016 Cuvee 253 is more powerful stuff needing more time to fully mature, both excellent examples, which give you choices to make, though I think I’ll take some of each. This expressive Cabernet Franc is pretty stuff, almost irresistible and tasty, especially with Fall cuisine choices, it will be hard to get, being so limited, but well worth searching out!
($27 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2016 St. Innocent, Pinot Noir, Zenith Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Mark Vlossak’s Zenith Vineyard St. Innocent Pinot is his estate bottling and comes from just 7 blocks in South East facing parcels planted to a combination of four clones: Pommard, Wadenswil (old Swiss clone), 115 and 777, which explains the deep color and dense complexity of flavors in what is an impressive and beautiful wine. The 2016 vintage is perfectly captured here with this St. Innocent, one of Oregon’s hall of fame producers, with its richness of fruit, textural excellence and incredible length, my only mistake on opening this 2016 Zenith is that it should still be in the cellar, where I’m sure it reward the patient with an exceptional long life, there’s so much more potential here, even though it is a tremendous Pinot Noir now. The layered fruit is led by black cherry, plum, crushed raspberry and tangy currant that is well accented by floral tones, smoky sweet oak, sassafras, tea spices and a hint of mineral, it reminds me somewhat of a young Meo-Camuzet Vosne-Romanee, which seriously makes me very happy, this is absolutely a pleasure in the glass. Zenith, set on old marine sedimentary soils, in the rolling hills of the Eola-Amity zone and has been a source of top Pinot grapes for many years, with some of region’s best winemakers using these grapes to good effect, including Ken Wright and Mike Etzel of Beaux Freres to name a few, it is a site of quality and terroir distinction with a profile and fruit density more in line with Ribbon Ridge and or Yamhill-Carlton rather than the Jory soils of the Dundee Hills. The St. Innocent Zenith remains somewhat a sleeper in the lineup of great Oregon wines and strangely in Vlossak’s own collection, sometimes hiding behind his Freedom Hill and Momtazi bottlings, which is wild when you taste this awesome Pinot, this is a wine to NOT overlook! For those that prefer aged wines and mature flavors in their Pinots would be advised to add St. Innocent to their collection to put away for later enjoyment, trust me.

St. Innocent makes an outstanding set of wines and Mark Vlossak is one of the state’s best with many classic wines under his belt, he is of one of the Willamette’s legendary generations including the mentioned Ken Wright and Mike Etzel as well as John Paul of Cameron, who all set the world a light with their early to mid nineties wines, especially the 1994 and 1998 vintages, which cemented the region’s place as one of the world’s great Pinot Noir terroirs. I have been a long time fan of Vlossak’s wines and have enjoyed aging a few bottles, I recently opened one of his 2000 vintage Seven Springs Pinots and it was still remarkably youthful and vibrant with years left ahead of it, and that wasn’t a very hyped years either, so I have no doubt this 2016 will go the distance. Vlossak uses classic Burgundian techniques and this Zenith saw his normal regiment with all the grapes being 100% de-stemmed and naturally fermented using indigenous yeasts with no SO2 added with gentle maceration and cool stainless primary fermentation before being raised in French oak barrique with 25% new wood used in this concentrated vintage. The finished Zenith Pinot was gravity bottled after 16 months in barrel without finning or filtration to capture every bit of character and purity, which it does to near perfection here and while it shows the vanilla scented toasty oak, it quickly settles into the background and never intrudes into the enjoyment of this wine. While the fruit dominates here, I want to note there is plenty of acidity and energy in this Pinot and there is a subtle earthiness or savory elements to keep things interesting. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention just how great the value is here, seriously, this ruby/garnet Zenith in particular, with under a thousand cases made, is almost guilt free for what is delivered in the glass, these wines from St. Innocent way over perform for the price. This 2016, a savvy wine to cellar, if opened in the next 2 or 3 years, will be best with fuller cuisine to match the opulent nature of the fruit, it’s medium/full bodied palate and deep flavors will be best served by having matching cuisine. It was thrilling with pulled pork and slaw last night, but I think grilled salmon and or lamb kabobs would be sublime pairings too!
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Desire Lines Wine Co., Carignan/Mourvedre, Red Wine, Evangelho Vineyard, Contra County.
This beautifully dark purple/garnet Evangelho Vineyard Contra Costa Red Wine by Cody Rasmussen at Desire Lines Wine Co. has fast become one of my must have wines, with this 2019, which is a new release I just got this week, being a thrilling young wine and made to be enjoyed young with its deep, but supple rich fruit and satiny tannins. The 2019 version is fresh and lively with some nice savory and crunchy elements from the whole bunches and partial stem inclusion giving complexity and balance to this fruit forward, densely packed red wine. Rasmussen intended this wine to be his own unique version of a California wine that would remind people of a Cru Beaujolais, like those of either Fleurie or Morgon, but I look towards Corbieres for the old world similarity’s rustic area in the Languedoc where Carignan is a major player in the red blends, especially the wines of Maxime Magnon and in particular his gorgeous and natural Corbières Rouge “Campagnès” that comes from 100 year old Carignan, as does this one. Cody, who along with his wife Emily started this label in 2016 and have made it one of the best new wineries with some stellar releases, he has an amazing touch with these wines and California wine enthusiasts really should get on his list. He has great experience already under his belt, having been the assistant winemaker at Bedrock Wine Co and being mentored by Morgan Twain-Peterson, who is one of America’s great winegrowers and a Master of Wine, a rare achievement in the wine world. This vintage starts with seductive floral aromas and snappy herbs, spice and cool blue fruits that lead to a smooth and full bodied palate of black raspberry, juicy plum, pomegranate and morello cherry fruits along with a touch of pepper, baked earth, a cedary wood note and sprigs of anise, sage and lavender. The new Evangelho has a delightful energy and like Zinfandel field blends has loads of pleasing character and textural quality without feeling cloying or heavy at all, making it exceptional with easy or simple cuisine.

The vines at Evangelho Vineyard, now owned by Morgan Twain-Peterson, one of California’s great wine minds, and Chris Cottrell of Bedrock Wine Co., – now over 120 years old – were planted by Manuel Viera in the 1890s on land purchased from John Marsh’s Los Meganos Rancho, though farmed by Frank Evangehlo and family for most of its history. Evangelho Vineyard is located in Antioch, as noted by Rasmussen, just a mile upstream from the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and only a few hundred yards south of the water’s edge. These old vines, Cody explains, are planted on what could be considered coastal dunes comprised of weathered granitic sand blown and washed out of the Sierra Nevada over millennia. This is one of the most unique terroirs in California with its ultra depleted, well draining heavy Oakley sand, this soil type is termed Delhi sand and it has protected and comfortingly wrapped these wines to perfection, making for some spectacular wines, like this one and the Heritage Red from his boss at Bedrock. The 2019 Desire Lines Evangelho Red Wine was made from a blend of roughly 90% Carignan and 10% Mourvèdre, that like the 2017 and 2018 vintages, was fermented, with some carbonic maceration, with close to 30% whole cluster under a submerged cap and aged for ten months in neutral 400L barrels. Rasmussen loves the 400L barrel size for his Carignan, saying it retains freshness and builds tension like all large format barrels, but with a less reductive tendency than the 500L and 600L barrels that he prefers for the Syrah and Mourvèdre grapes. I am thrilled with this Evangelho and really looking forward to exploring the rest of Rasmussen’s new wines, including his outstanding Syrah bottlings from Griffin’s Lair and Shake Ridge Vineyard, a very famous Amador County site as well as his 100% Mourvedre from this same Evangelho Vineyard, plus his killer dry Riesling from Cole Ranch, which is chilling in my fridge right now. While tasty and rewarding now, this 2019 Desire Lines Evangelho Red Wine looks set or has the potential to age well, its underlying structure is quite impressive, which will reward those that have more patience than me, drink this Carignan based wine over the next 3 to 5 years.
($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Envinate, Lousas “Vinas de Aldea” Ribeira Sacra D.O. Galicia, Spain.
Another beauty from the gang at Envinate, this Mencia from the Ribeira Sacra shows mineral charms and starts with smoky shale rock and crushed violets with bark berries leading the fruit before opening up with some slight reduction and a medium bodied palate of racy black plum, earthy currant, cranberry and dark cherry fruits, dried herbs, a touch of anise and loamy earth with light woodsy notes. This gets a touch riper with air, but feels very Pinot like in the mouth with some Northern Rhone Syrah added in, with its peppery and gamey elements, but definitely appealing and very true to the nature of its place. The Viticultores de Ribeiro Sacra y Envinate Lousas comes from vines overseen by Alfonso Torrente in Galicia on the cool Atlantic coast, in this ancient wine region known as the “sacred banks” with its steep river valleys of slate soils being an awesome area for wine, in fact it was highly prized back in Roman times. Envinate, which means “wines yourself” is four friends that met in college, which are from vastly different regions of Spain, but always promised to make wine together. They are a very talented crew that come from unique parts of the country including the remote Canary Islands to Murcia, as well as here in the Ribeira Sacra, they are winemakers Roberto Santana, maybe the most well known for his incredible Tenerife wines made from Listan Negro and Listan Prieto, as well as Alfonso Torrente, Laura Ramos, and José Martínez, all regional, if not international stars in their own right. I am a big fan of Envinate, as my reviews have shown for many vintages now, and I chase their bottles down for my personal use, they are soulful and intriguing terroir driven efforts made by humble and passionate hands.

As I have reported on many of these Envintate releases, these are very traditionally made and use mostly natural techniques with all organic grapes, and while a touch funky at times, they are pure and transparent wines. The darkly hued Lousas Vines de Aldea is usually 40% to 100% whole cluster with native yeast, with classic foot-trodden maceration, it is fermented in bins and then raised in used mid size oak casks without racking. It is matured for just under a year normally then bottled with only a tiny amount of SO2, unfined and unfiltered. This vintage, which is not quite as good as 2015, but still has loads of character and pleasure to offer with lovely detail, fruit density and lots of mineral spice. The grapes are hand tended from very steep parcels, and as noted before, these Sil River valley slopes look like the Rhein or Mosel and the soils are smoky slate, schist, sand and granite, which gives these Mencia wines their likeness to the Northern Rhone, in fact Lousas means Slate in the local dialect, with this Vina de Aldea coming from 60 year old organic vines on the weathered slate. The Ribeira Sacra bottlings are all well worth searching out, Envintate keeps impressing with each vintage and this one especially shines for the price, it will certainly appeal to those that like lower alcohol and rustic styles of wines. The 2017 still feels very youthful and zesty, it looks set to get better with another year or so in bottle, it is rather shy aromatically at this point and takes some time to truly reveal all that is there and it is way better with food, it thrives with hard cheeses and simple country cuisine, though I did quite like it with Pizza. I highly recommend exploring the full lineup from Envinate, from their Albahra (70% Garnacha Tintorera, 30% Moravia Agria) to the Migan (Listan Negro) from 120 year old vines a top an ancient volcano on Tenerife!
($35 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Anne et Jean-Francois Ganevat, Vin de France Rouge “Cuvee Madelon” Morgon/Jura, France.
The Jura’s guru, Jean-Francois Ganevat makes some of France’s most unique and beautiful wines, along with a collection of wildly amusing Vin de France bottlings that from organic/biodynamic vines from friends all around France, including some prime old vine Cru Beaujolais sites, like in this Cuvee Madelon which is a blend of Gamay from Morgon and a selection of local Jura varietals. Ganevat, who is known for his gorgeous Chardonnay bottlings that rival many top Burgundian icons, worked under Jean-Marc Morey in Chassagne-Montrachet, before taking over his family’s ancient cellars and tiny Jura set of vineyards where he turned it into one of the most intriguing domaines in the country, certainly in the region. The Cuvee Madelon is quite rustic and leathery to start with a bit of natural funk and horsey notes, but it opens nicely with gorgeously textured fruit and complex layers of flavors including wild strawberry, tart plum, dusty raspberry and cherry with some racy spices, citrusy (orange) acidity, along with a hint of cedar, snappy herbs and a mix crushed flowers. Ganevat’s Cuvee Madelon is lighter in color than a classic Beaujolais and has a silky smooth medium body with just 11.5% natural alcohol. This Cuvee Madelon is quite delightful with its Gamay core and what seems like some Trousseau influence that comes through as it gets air, it is best served with a chill and enjoyed with simple cuisine, maybe a selection of mountain cheeses, though surprising, it went remarkably well with a ginger/curry and rice wrap! These Vin de France wines were created originally, according to Ganevat, after consecutive vintages of losing large portions of his harvest to frost and severe weather, forcing him to innovate to make more wine. So In partnership with his sister Anne, he went to friends in Alsace, Beaujolais, and Savoie to source more fruit, then added Beaujolais, the Rhone and the Macon in the following years.

The Domaine Ganevat wines, imported by Kermit Lynch, are based around ancient and classic Jura grapes, they are from his biodynamic vineyards in this remote alpine region of France with its distinct Jurassic era limestone soils that promote transparency and delicacy of flavors, with Jean-Francois doing a head spinning array of offerings from the old school oxidative style Savagnin to a heavenly palate and nuanced Poulsard, along with the mentioned Chardonnays and Trousseau, plus a sublime Pinot Noir. For these wildly amusing Vin de France efforts, he buys grapes from trusted growers, which he brings back to his cellars and blends them with some Jura grapes or another region’s varieties with no known reason or pretense of tradition with some crazy blends that include Muscat to Aligote, Cote-Rotie Syrah to Savoie Mondeuse along with Alsace Gewurztraminer and Clairette! Ganevat lists, 50% to 60% Gamay from Morgon along with 40% to 50% indigenous Jura varietals for his Cuvee Madelon, though in France this bottling is listed as 100% Gamay, all from organic grapes sourced from 60 to 80 year old vines with the Gamay coming off classic granite soils, while the Jura has their marl and limestone. Ganevat uses 100% whole cluster and natural yeast fermentation with hand pilage and almost no added sulfur at any point. The Vin de France reds get about a year of aging in used barrels, mostly very ex-Burgundy casks, but this Cuvee Madelon saw ten months in large foudre to mature before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. While first and foremost I recommend Ganevat’s absolutely stunning Côtes du Jura “Les Grands Teppes Vieilles Vignes” Chardonnay, which sees close to three years in barrel and is world class stuff, like a cross between a Raveneau Grand Cru Chablis and a Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet! But, for totally fun and amusement check out these Ganevat Vin de France wines.
($49 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Jamet, Cotes du Rhone, Rhone Valley, France.
The gorgeously pure and wonderfully early drinking “Baby” Jamet, formerly a IGP Syrah, is now labeled as a Cotes du Rhone Rouge and (still) is 100% Syrah from three parcels, one from young vines inside the classic Cote-Rotie zone along with a plot close to the domaine just outside the regions set boundaries as well as some vines on a plateau above Condrieu with a combination of granite and mica schist soils. While I cannot afford the iconic Domaine Jamet Cote-Rotie too often or even find it for that matter, I adore this Domaine Jamet bottling for its value, ease of use and exceptional terroir character for the price, it is always makes me happy to sip in its dark purple hue, the deep black fruit, zippy herbs and its seductive smell of violets and earthiness. Now imported by famed Berkeley legend Kermit Lynch, Domaine Jamet has a real champion in his corner and American wine fans look set to have more access to these highly sought after wines, all of which is a good thing. Jean-Paul recently celebrated his 40th year growing and vinifying his Côte Rôtie, with the 2016 vintage, maybe one of the all time greats and one I do hope to try in some 10 or 20 years, as his whole-cluster and tannic Cote-Rotie wines are severe and old school in style, while this Cotes du Rhone is made using mostly de-stemmed grapes and is meant for enjoyment while you wait for the Cote-Rotie to age in the cellar, again if you are lucky enough to get them. You can sense the relationship to the top cuvee here and this wine gives a glimpse of its legendary status and prestige, its certainly a wine of cheap thrills, but one that deserves serious attention. I openly admit this wine gets extra credit for just being available and for how geeky I get when opening it!

Jean-Paul along with his wife, Corinne, and his son, Loïc farm a collection of tiny of sixteen (soon to be nineteen) lieux-dits, as Kermit Lynch notes, spread across the best sites of the Cote-Rotie appellation and makes their wine from the blending of all of these rugged and steep rocky set of vines. Kermit adds that, the Jamet path has remained true to his traditions, even as the appellation has modernized around them, Jean-Paul Jamet along with Bernard Levet, Closel-Roch, the youthful Xavier Gerard and a few others proudly fly the flag of their historic style. Despite its popularity, Lynch notes, Jamet always eschewed the use of excessive new oak in his top cuvee, choosing to maintain a cellar full of the classic large oak casks (demi-muid) and Jamet, obviously not a slave to fashion, remains firmly opposed to de-stemming his Cote-Rotie, continuing to vinify his Cote-Rotie in a stemmy whole-cluster fermentation. While this little Syrah from Jamet is 90% de-stemmed, it still has a hint of the stems and the grip to keep it interesting with layers of loganberry, damson plum, blueberry and ripe cherry fruits, accented by the mentioned violets, minty herb, anise, a touch of leathery funk and subtle peppercorns with a lingering creme de cassis. The 2018 vintage, less hot than 2017, is much fresher and vivid, it shows a nice bright core of acidity and the wine feels alive and cooly focused adding mineral and stony notes with air, it has plenty of fruit to please the medium bodied palate, but the savory tones really balance things out. As per normal here, this was fermented for about three weeks in stainless after a rigorous hand grape harvest and selection before resting the wine in used wood, with 10 to 20 year old barriques being used on this one, for about 11 months. The new label is more in line with the Domaine’s image and style, and the wine is well worth the effort to get it!
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Arnot-Roberts, Falanghina, Handal-Denier Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts’ 2019 Arnot-Roberts Falanghina is very cool and interesting white wine with a nice play between crisp detail and pleasing textural quality with a dry and savory core of golden(yellow) fruit, spices and stony elements. Arnot-Roberts, founded in Healdsburg in 2001, has helped elevate many unique varietals including Trousseau, Gruner Veltliner and Touriga Nacional in California and started working with this vineyard and the Falanghina grape in 2016, with some success as this food friendly and delicious wine shows. Falanghina, an ancient varietal, as noted by Arnot Roberts, is an ancient white grape variety that traces its roots to Campania, in Southern Italy’s coastal area not far from Naples. It is also known to have been a long time favorite, with Arnot-Roberts adding, that according to the writings of Pliny the Elder, wines made from the Falanghina grape were highly prized by the Romans. The grape’s most famous sites from the Amalfi Coast to Rome are thought to have been originally planted by Greeks, who also are believed to have brought Greco di Tufo to this same area as early as the 7th century BC. Falanghina, which thrives in warm climates and retains good acidity and likes mineral rich volcanic soils, which give the wines perfume, spice and mineral character that make them so compelling with Italian wineries like Feudi di San Gregorio, Mastroberardino, Il Favati and Marisa Cuomo all making fantastic and or classic versions. With the Handal-Denier Vineyard’s volcanic schist and Dry Creek’s consistent and warm Summers gives Arnot-Roberts Falanghina all the natural material to make a world class version and a studied example of this intriguing grape.

The 2019 Arnot-Roberts Falanghina, which feels like it has some skin contact is both pretty and filled with dry extract making for white wine with a bit of grip, this is a wine that has a real personality and presence in the glass with a bright yellowish/gold hue that will appeal to those that enjoy “orange wine” though this wine is not as severe as some, in fact this is a very elegant wine and lingers with a sense of creaminess. Arnot-Roberts, who also do a Ribolla Gialla (another rarity) from Northeastern Italy, usually do a whole-cluster pressing, use indigenous yeasts and allow close to six hours on the skins before an all stainless primary fermentation with the dry wine seeing between 8 to 10 months in neutral (well seasoned) used French oak. This 2019 is a stellar vintage that enjoyed a long cool growing season, that delivered complexity, zest acids and sharp clarity with layers of racy citrus, white flowers, quince, tangy tree picked apricot, dried rosemary, steely notes and clove spice. With food this wine rounds out with hints of caramel and its smooth mouth feel turns almost luxurious, I particularly enjoyed it with grilled prawns and I can see it being fabulous with soft cheeses as well as other fresh sea foods and white fleshy fish, like halibut and or swordfish. Most people know Arnot-Roberts for their incredible red wines, as I have noted over the years as a long time fan of their wines, but I also am greatly impressed by their whites, with this one being one of their most delightful, while their Trout Gulch Chardonnay, from Richard Alfaro’s Santa Cruz Mountains vines, continues to be one of my favorite Chards in the state. If you are lucky enough to find this organic and limited production, only 5 barrels made, white I highly recommend not passing it up!
($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Au Bon Climat, Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County.
Grabbing a pizza and enjoying it outside on a warm Fall evening, it was impromptu, and the pizza shop had a very dad list of choices, so I had to make do with my local Safeway’s wine selections, which includes mostly a sickened array of cloyingly sweet and formula made wines, like 19 Crimes, The Prisoner and Apothic, so some effort is needed to find a pleasing and real wine, my choice made easy when I spotted this Au Bon Climat Pinot, and it saved a beautiful night! Jim Clendenen, the “Mind Behind” Au Bon Climat gave me some of my first great Pinot Noir experiences, bringing this magically grape into my life to my ever lasting gratitude and it was really fun to see what the currant release tasted like now, after 25 years as a wine professional, and I can tell you I got the same buzz and excitement with this gorgeous 2018 vintage, solidifying my admiration for Clendenen, who’s been making awesome Pinot and Chard since 1982. Jim’s wines came up in casual conversation recently, when a winemaker was discussing great values in California Chardonnay, well the same can be said about his Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir, as it delivers exceptional purity and varietal character, and its just damn good stuff, at a more than fair price. The 2018 vintage continues to perform outstanding in the bottle and in the glass with ABC’s basic Santa Barbara cuvee revealing a heady perfume of rose and lily floral notes and red berry fruit on the nose, gaining mineral and delicate earthiness on the nose before opening up to black cherry, plum and raspberry fruits on the detailed and medium bodied palate, accented by snappy spices, subtle wood and bright acidity that helps balance and lift this Pinot. The 2018 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir only gets better with food, even with zesty marinara, pesto and Italian sausage which did not dull the clarity or quality in the slightest, in fact it brought out its personality and many smiles on my part, it was like being transported back to the early 1990s, remembering the stunning 1991 and 1992 versions of this wine!

Clendenen notes, Au Bon Climat has been making Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara County grapes since 1982, 23 years before the movie “Sideways” brought a spotlight to Pinot Noir and to the region. In the 1980s and 90s, Jim adds, the product mix at Au Bon Climat was 75% to 80% Chardonnay to 20% to 25% Pinot Noir. This era was almost all about Chardonnay and must people, except for some enthusiasts who drank the likes of Joseph Swan, Chalone and Mount Eden, had not yet discovered the joys of Pinot Noir. All this began to change, as Clendenen admits, in the late 90s and now Au Bon Climat makes almost an equal amount of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Au Bon Climat was a pioneering winery, and Clendenen is really part of California history and his wines inspired a region to focus on world class Pinot Noir. Clendenen’s passion and bigger than life personality brought serious attention to the quality of the vineyards in Santa Barbara County and especially Santa Maria Valley’s Bien Nacido Vineyard. Clendenen was an early admirer of this famed site and has crafted some of this historic sites best ever examples, he still makes one of the best, under his Historic Vineyards Collection series, and if this 2018 Santa Barbara is anything to go by, the 2018 single vineyard wines at ABC should be some of the best yet! Clendenen uses traditional Burgundian methods in the cellar with restrained use of new French oak and a more gentle/minimalist approach, he and his winemaking team focus on transparency and drinking pleasure, which is apparent in this latest effort. This wine brought out some child like joy and memories, it certainly shows Au Bon Climat still has it and I am thrilled. I also remember in the early 2000s, Clendenen doing one of first known Mondeuse in California, which I believe was originally mistaken for Pinot Noir. Sometimes moments in life, that happen by chance, make for the happiest of experiences, this bottle turned a normal day into a very special one. Clendenen has had a hall of fame career and has inspired and mentored many top winemakers, it great see he has not lost his groove.
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2017 Ridge Vineyards, Syrah/Grenache/Mataro, Lytton Estate Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
One of my favorite red wines, Ridge’s GSM from their estate vines at Lytton Springs is an uniquely Californian version of a Rhone classic blend with a rich and opulent palate, very much in the mold of the winery’s house style and with Lytton Spring’s terroir showing in the taste profile. This ripe and dark fruited 2017 vintage was a blend of 62% Syrah, 27% Grenache and 11% Mataro (Mourvedre) that was indigenous yeast fermented and allowed to go through natural malos in barrel with no additions and very low doses of SO2 to display the sense of place and the year in the bottle, which this Chateauneuf du Pape inspired Cal Rhone does beautifully, as well as letting the grapes speak in each of thrown voices. The Syrah leads the way with dense blue fruits, along with its meaty and spicy character, while the sweet Grenache gives plummy vinous generosity and the Mataro, which really enjoyed the warm season, getting its full complexity, adds some rustic charm and adds an earthy/savory element that helps balance the wine as a whole. Those that love Ridge will find a comfort in this offering, especially in this vintage with its polished full bodied palate and a seamless mouth feel, this is wine that thrills the senses and has an expansive textural quality to go with its layers of boysenberry, plum, red currant and cherry fruits that are accented by a racy array of spice, herb, dried lavender, cedar and anise, along with a touch of toasty oak and lingering violette liqueur. Ridge suggests many intriguing pairs for this GSM, they include a Cajun spiced turkey with collard greens, braised lamb shanks over mashed potatoes as well as crispy pork belly over red lentils and curried squash, all of which sound amazing!

The inky hue and overt fruit really highlight the year and as this 2017 Syrah, Grenache and Mataro opens up in the glass to reveal an additional dimension of mocha, black fig, freshly shaved vanilla and peppery notes making this a wine exceptional with robust cuisine, in particular hearty meat stews, casseroles and BBQs, but it is flexible enough to go with hard cheeses, mushroom dishes and or pulled pork sandwiches. This wine comes from two hillside parcels at Lytton West, according to Ridge, with one plot planted entirely to Syrah while the other one is planted to half Grenache and half Mataro (Mourvedre) vines, and it is fermented and aged on site at the Lytton Springs facility using Ridge’s special 100% air-dried American oak barrels, choosing a combination of 10% new barrels with the rest being mostly one and two years-old casks with a few older neutral ones as well that helps balance it out while softening the tannins in this dark powerful wine. The low sulfur program employed at Ridge protects the wine’s color and keeps it fresh and stable aging so it can keep well in the cellar, while still providing for a more natural purity in the red’s performance. This vintage saw 12 months in barrel aging and then was bottle rested for almost a year before release to mature and settle, so that when the cork is popped it delivers a full account of its self, I usually try to age my Ridge wines, but I felt an overwhelming urge to open this one and I was not disappointed at all, though I can clearly see that this Rhone blend would benefit from a decade in a cool dark place. Ridge is one of America’s great wine treasures with many historic and legendary wines to their credit and they continue to impress me every year, with their awesome collection of releases, like this one!
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 St. Stephen Vineyards, Carmenere Reserva, Oda al Vino, Organic Vines, Colchagua Valley, Chile.
I was really excited to try some of St. Stephen’s new releases and check in on Chile’s development with their old pre-phylloxera clones of Bordeaux varietals and my more recent trend of sampling the Mission era Pais wines that have become so fashionable in the last 10 years, it is a great time to discover Chile’s diversity and history in the wine world. The Oda al Vino organic vine Carmenere Reserva is a beautiful example of this almost forgotten Bordeaux grape with lovely mineral tones and polished tannins, you can see why the Chateaux of Bordeaux have started replanting it, after almost 200 years of not having this long lost varietal, it is having a comeback of sorts, while being Chile’s signature grape, that they thought was a clone of Merlot until early in this century. The 2017 has everything that appeals about this grape, a beautiful dark garnet hue in the glass, delicate spices that range from cracked pepper to the more exotic Asian brown spices and a layered array of dark berry fruits with just the right amount of toasty French oak to soften the tannins. Chile’s Bordeaux bias started when cuttings of Carménère were imported by Chilean growers from Bordeaux during the 19th century, where they were accidentally mistaken with Merlot vines. These Chilean wineries of the 1800s modeled their wines after those in the Medoc and in the 1850s these vines from Bordeaux were planted in the valleys around Santiago, like the Colchagua, in the shadow of the Andes Mountains that allow a more warm and mild climate to their west. Also thanks to central Chile’s minimal rainfall during the growing season and well drained and diverse soils growers are able to produce ripe and complex examples of Carménère, like this one. Carménère, with its origins in the Médoc region of Bordeaux, is almost unknown in its country of its birth, but thrives in Chile and interesting enough in Italy’s Northeast regions including the Veneto and especially in the Friuli-Venezia area.

The 2017 Oda al Vino Carmenere Reserva starts with a light floral note, the mentioned mineral element and a whiff of its famous spices along with dusty vine picked berry and a touch of sweet oak before unfolding with blackberry, plum and cherry fruits on the supple, almost silken, medium/full bodied palate. The vintage will charm those that favor old world wines with well judged acidity and smooth structure, it is also excellent with food, in fact the fruit really becomes more defined and the spice more interesting with matching cuisine, in particular a fine cut of filet or confit, either duck or chicken leg meat. Made by St. Stephen’s winemaker José Antonio Bravo von Bischoffshausen, the Ode al Vino Organic Grown Carmenere Reserva saw a primary fermentation with selected cultures in stainless steel tanks, which lasted about two weeks before the wine was pressed to French oak with this vintage seeing close to 50% new wood and elevage lasting 15 months. There were no additions or manipulations done during the winemaking process and no need for acid adjustments with extra care being given to the vines to achieve a more nature and pure wine. The finished natural alcohol, labeled at 13% was labeled out at closer to 12.5%, so this Carmenere has a more balanced feel and an ease in the glass that makes it very approachable and easy to enjoy. I admire the restraint and poise of this vintage and a second glass was wonderfully pleasing and comforting, gaining my appreciation even more, and I look forward to trying José Antonio Bravo von Bischoffshausen’s other offerings, which at the moment, include a Malbec, single varietal bottling and a Cabernet Sauvignon, all from organic vines in the Colchagua Valley. Chile has one of the most unique and long history of winemaking, starting with those Spanish Catholic Missionaries that reached these shores in the 1500s, bringing with them the first European vines to the new world.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 Bucklin “Ancient Field Blend – Old Hill Ranch” Sonoma Valley.
I am always excited to taste the latest Bucklin wines, they are like drinking up California’s past in the glass, especially this Ancient Field Blend bottling with all the grapes coming from the Old Hill Ranch’s Heritage old vines, the oldest Zinfandel site in California with 140 plus year old Zin, dating back to the 1880s. The 2017 Bucklin Ancient, made by Will Bucklin, is a deep and thrilling red blend that has more than two dozen different varietals in the mix, with close to 65% Zinfandel with the remaining balance co-fermented after being picked together. These other grapes, all inter-planted at Old Hill Ranch, includes small amounts of Grenache, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah, Grand Noir, Syrah, Carignan, the rare Person red grape, originally from the Savoie region in the Alpine region of France close to the Swiss border and some Mataro (Mourvedre) as well as some white grape clusters. This dark and complex wine is rich and full bodied on the palate with loads of ripe black raspberry led fruit with some briar notes, an array of dusty spices, polished tannins and just a hint of cedary wood adding plum, cherry and a dark floral element with a few swirls. Bucklin says of his Ancient parcel, simply and humbly “12 Acres, 30 grape varieties, 1 wine” which does even begin to tell the story of this fabulous wine and this special place in the Glen Ellen/Kenwood area of the Sonoma Valley, which was the first place to planted to non Mission grapes in the state. The 2017 with is caressing mouth feel and nice mineral tones is a quality vintage and one that should get better and better in bottle, while I am also really anticipating the new 2018 and 2019 releases and will do my best to secure them as soon as possible, they include a couple of micro single parcel wines, as I hear they are even better and look to be legendary vintages, so we have a lot to look forward to from Bucklin in the coming years!

The Old Hill Ranch estate was found by William McPherson Hill, the namesake of Old Hill Ranch, in 1852, just two years after California became a state, after he bought this property from the famous General Vallejo, who himself contributed to the planting of vineyards in the region expanding on what the Missions had established a century before. As Bucklin notes, the vineyards were planted to grape varieties that Hill had specially imported from Peru, and as mention these were the first non-mission grapes planted in Sonoma. In 1856, Bucklin adds, Hill was growing a grape variety called “Black St. Peters,” a variety prized for its fruit intensity, acidity and color, which was much more pleasing, rich and complex than the Mission grape(s), this Black St. Peters grape was actually “Zinfandel” and it started our love affair with this mysterious Croatian grape (known now to be Tribidrag, thanks to the incredible work of Dr. Carole Merideth at UC Davis) that immigrated here in an unlikely trek from its homeland through Austria, Paris and Boston, finally finding a new home in Sonoma in the 1850s. The Bucklin’s, who have suffered greatly in the latest Napa/Sonoma fires, losing their family compound, bought this property in run down down condition in 1981 and to their great credit, instead of ripping up the old vines with so many almost un-sellable varietals, put in a heroic effort to bring the vineyard back into great health and keep its historic vines intact, we owe them a ton of gratitude for their efforts. On a shoe string budget in 2000, Bucklin started producing estate wines on their own label and now have a fine collection of offerings, which is led by this special wine, but also includes a great Grenache, a Rosé and Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is a really good time to discover and support the Bucklin family. This concentrated and dense 2017 Old Hill Ranch Ancient Field Blend, is a dark garnet/ruby wine that is everything you’d want from an old vine Zin and more, don’t miss it.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Weingut Korrell, Riesling Trocken, Von den Grossen Lagen, Nahe Germany.
Martin and Britta Korrell have been getting much deserved attention for the last three vintages, all of which have shown this Nahe estate to be one of the region’s best has led us to the 2019 vintage, a year that is looking to join the hall of legends and I can tell you from the early releases from Donnhoff and Korrell that I’ve tried, including this new Von den Grossen Lagen this is not a vintage to miss, especially these dry Nahe Rieslings! Korrell, as mentioned in my last vintage review, won the incredibly prestigious Riesling Cup award with their unique multi (Grand) cru 2017 Von den Grossen Lagen Trocken Riesling, and this 2019 is already eclipsing that awesome wine with an extra sense of life and mineral intensity as well as a sharper definition of fruit which really pops on the gorgeously crisp and chiseled medium bodied palate. Based in the Bad Kreuznach-Bosenheim area of the Nahe River Valley, Weingut Korrell Johanneshof, as noted, is one of the breakout stars to just hit the American wine scene and the latest releases are spectacular terroir driven efforts, in particular I love their Monopol (single estate cru) Paradies Trocken and this Von den Grossen Lagen, which comes from an amazing selection of GG’s (VDP Grosse Lage) sites and a mix of the regions different soils. It can’t be called a Grosses Gewachs because it is not a single vineyard, but it has the class and the depth to certainly be considered a true Grand Cru with its cool crushed rock and sunny array of yellow fruits, spice, vitality and impressive concentration.

The delicately pale golden 2019 Weingut Korrell Von den Grossen Lagen is a complex wine that continues its run of ultra quality, following the last three releases, with layers of bright tree picked peach leading the way along with tangerine, apricot, kumquat and quince fruits, which is again supported by steely/smoky wet shale, rose oil, lime blossoms, verbena and grey sea salts, all in a tight and vigorous, well structured form. The Von den Grossen Lagen Riesling Trocken comes from some of the middle Nahe’s greatest vineyards including Schlossbockelheimer in den Felsen, a site that Donnhoff uses in one of their own great Grosses Gewachs, Schlossbockelheimer Konigfels, which is on porphyritic (volcanic) soils, Norheimer Kirschheck, again a famous Donnhoff vineyard set on slate soils, and an ultra steep parcel at Niederhauser Klamm known for it’s driving minerallity. Martin notes that, the fermentations for the single sites is done separately, the Norheimer Kirschheck begins as always with native yeasts and it is fermented in oak barrel, adding that he uses more classical methods on the other three crus, employing special yeasts and colder ferments in steel tanks, then all the wines see more than six months on the lees, allowing a sensational mouth feel to develop, then expertly blended to make a wine that highlights the very best of the region and the vintage, which this one does without a doubt. Still a bit under the radar in the United States, but I highly recommend searching out this small estate, all of the 2016, 2017 and 2018s are well worth buying up and are top bargains and these 2019s, like this subtly perfumed Korrell, are even better and will classics in the cellar, Riesling fans, myself included, are already grabbing all they can, with good reason.
($35 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

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

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

2018 Halcon Vineyard, Petite Sirah “Tierra” Theopolis Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
Paul Gordon’s Halcon Tierra Petite Sirah maybe the greatest and most singular example of this grape in California, taking it to new unimagined heights in a no holds barred Northern Rhone style in the mold of some cult heros like Domaine Jamet of Cote-Rotie and Thierry Allemand of Cornas. I’ve been marveling at this wine for many years now, but this 2018 takes to the next level. The steeply terraced Theopolis Vineyard, set on stony schist, owned by Theodora Lee, in the Yorkville Highlands is fast becoming a Grand Cru site in this region and Gordon, who known for his own awesome high elevation site, where he makes a Syrah that is equally as profound, is hand crafting some of California’s most interesting wines, these are intense, low alcohol, long hang time offerings with whole bunch crunchiness and deep complex layers that rival anything produced anywhere. The 2018 is inky dark and remarkably poised, it delivers a sensual mouth feel and exceptional layering with crushed violets and impressive dark berry fruits leading the way with blackberry, blue plum and morello cherry along with shaved cinnamon, minty herbs, dried lavender, mocha, a touch of peppercorn and lingering creme de cassis. This vintage is less earthy/gamey than the Syrah bottlings giving the Petite Sirah a chance to separate itself and it really shines like a star, this deeply purple/black wine is seriously good, it gives this grape a whole new benchmark, the same way Turley’s legendary Hayne Vineyard did in the nineties. This new Tierra drinks to the senses, nicely perfumed, opulent in fruit density and while still highly wound and full of structural tannin, these prove to be supple and chocolatey when the wine is fully open and everything gets better with matching cuisine, especially flame grilled meat dishes and or short ribs. For me, when reflecting on the taste of this vintage, I got the same thrill I got (or get) when sipping on Chateau Pontet Canet, Ridge Monte Bello and or Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe and Guigal’s Chateau de Ampuis, this wine is big league pleasure, it is one of years best wines I’ve tried.

Gordon calls this 2018 his most powerful and monumental to date, the harvest was the latest on record with his pick date being October 27th, and yet the finishing natural alcohol was just 13.8%, but with amazing depth and concentration, this wine is nothing short of legendary! The high levels of tannin and acidity are masterfully managed here and the raw sex appeal on the full bodied palate is absolutely stunning, this Petite Sirah is riveting from start to finish. Petite Sirah has become, like Zinfandel a Californian grape and it has come along way from its humble beginnings in the Southwest of France, where it was an accidental crossing of Peloursin and Syrah at François Durif’s grapevine nursery. Later on it mistakenly made its way to California, where it lost its original name “Durif” and in, according to Patrick Comiskey’s great research, revealed in his awesome American Rhone book, stole the Petite Sirah name and went on to a huge, though unlikely success, due to the inky color and ability to be blended into red blends, and make for long aged single variety wines. Gordon, who has taken over all the winemaking duties at his Halcon label has proven very gifted in delivering wines of raw transparency and expressing his own interpretation in them, he is, as noted in my reviews, influenced by the classics in the Northern Rhone from Voge, Graillot, Jamet and Chave to Allemand, Clape and Rostaing. So with his Petite Sirah he chose again to use 50% whole cluster in the maceration and primary fermentation, which his does with indigenous yeasts and a low sulphur regiment with the wine getting hand pilage. After the Petite Sirah went dry and finished its primary it was pressed to well used or neutral French oak barrels to finish malos and aged close to 20 months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. Halcon Vineyards collection, including the two Syrah estate bottlings, the GSM and Mourvedre, also estate grown are ridiculously great values, with world class quality, all are under $40, and the savvy Oppenlander Pinot should be on your radar, along with this near perfect and fantastic Petite Sirah, oh, and by the way it has potential to get even better and age for decades! Is there a better California red for the money?
($32 Est.) 98 Points, grapelive

2016 Weingut Spreitzer, Riesling Feinherb, Engelmannsberg, Rheingau Germany.
I was happily reminded that I was in the Rheingau exactly four years ago, having a fantastic experience during the grape harvest, exploring vineyards throughout the famous region and visiting some incredible historic sites, but most importantly it was about seeing friends and meeting new ones, it was especially fun to spend time with Andreas Spreitzer, who I had known for years without getting to see his estate. So, as I look back with some awesome memories of that trip to Germany and wishing I was there right now I wanted to highlight a wine from that special year, it’s a beautiful Riesling made in Spreitzer’s generous style, but still wonderfully dry in the way it drinks with an array of classic Rheingau flavors with orange blossoms, lime, crisp green apple, yellow peach/apricot or fleshy stone fruit and verbena along with mineral tones, wet gun flint and a whisper of crystalized ginger, clove and honeycomb. The Hattenheimer Engelmannsberg Cru sits at about a 100 meters up and has the mineral rich clay, loam and loess soils with Spreitzer’s parcel being from a newer selection of vines, just about 20 years old that are sustainably (using mostly organic practices) farmed, it’s a place that delivers opulent density, but still allows lively acidity for impeccable balance and luxurious mouth feel, especially in Spreitzer’s Feinherb, which is slightly off dry with a creamy medium bodied palate. For purity and freshness of detail, Andrea and Bernd used 100% stainless steel in this one with the golden Riesling grapes whole cluster pressed and then settled overnight to drop out any green phenolic bitterness, again this wine is generous and all about pleasure, it is sublime with delicate curries, spicy cuisine and more traditional dishes as well as both briny fresh sushi and Vietnamese ginger beef with cellophane noodles. The modern Feinherb(s) are typically more dry, but have more sugar in the must, they are more textural than sweet, as this superb Spreitzer version shows, this category is finding a popular niche and can be impressive as well as being top values.

The family domaine of Weingut Josef Spreitzer in the small town of Oestrich-Winkel in the Rheingau first came to my attention when Terry Theise suggested I give them a try at one of his monumental trade/importer tastings and I found out that Andreas was a friend of Johannes Leitz, one of my favorite producers in the Rheingau, plus Andreas is a huge soccer fan, like me, as are most Germans, which gave us lots to chat about as I sampled his family’s wines. The vineyards, which I finally got to visit in 2016, sit in the middle Rheingau where the Rhein is at its widest point and have a huge variety of soils from sandy loam and loess to mixed slate, quarzite and sandstone along with some harden mineral rich clay. This part of the Rheingau is warmer and the Rhein gives an almost lake effect here allowing for great richness and concentration in the wines. The Spreitzer estate was privately founded back in 1641 and is one of the oldest family wineries in the whole Rheingau, with a long tradition as winegrowers as well as, it should be noted, a recent high upswing in quality with the innovations of Josef’s sons Andreas and Bernd Spreitzer who took over the estate in 1997 and bright the label to world attention in the last 20 years, especially these last 6 to 10 years. Their new tasting and education center, which was just updated prior to my 2016 tour, is stunning with amazing views and a settling that is both comforting and sleek, I highly recommend visiting Spreitzer and the Rheingau, it is one of the most important wine regions in the world with exciting villages, restaurants, vineyards, castles, abbeys and hiking trails along one of the world’s great rivers, as well as a stellar array of wines to discover, I can’t wait to go back! The 2016 vintage continues to impress in bottle and gaining in character with each year and I am really excited to see what 2019 is like from Spreitzer, which looks to be a legendary year to grab on release!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2015 Giovanni Rosso, Barolo DOCG, Piedmonte, Italy.
Davide Rosso’s 2015 Barolo normale is a fabulous wine of earthy intensity and lingering charm, it proved just what the doctor order after a long week and the feeling of need for a slight celebration of getting through it all and the madness of the world. I was more than thrilled with this 2015 vintage, even though I am excited to get my hands on the 2016s from Barolo with the incredible expectation of greatness, it was everything I could hope for with more than expected complexity and depth showing this winemakers skills at getting the most from his vines and the vintage, I’ve been a fan of this wine for a long time now, and this wine will keep me a big fan, it shows exceptional Nebbiolo purity and a compelling grace too its presentation. The nose starts more earth driven than fruity, kind of a surprise considering the warm year and concentration, but with air there is the pretty dried roses and hints of violets with a nice mineral tone as well and the dark berry fruit emerges with time in the glass. The palate is dense and firm, as you’d find in a Cru version, though everything folds together seamlessly in the mouth with its array of brandied morello cherries, damson plum, macerated raspberry and tart huckleberry fruits along with a touch of bacon, amaro minty herbs and black licorice.

The Giovanni Rosso, led now by Davide Rosso, was founded by the Rosso family back in the early 1980s, not old by Piedmonte standards, but they have a stellar collection of vineyard sites and they had been long time growers going back to the 1890s. This winery, a small, family-owned producer in the heart of the Barolo commune of Serralunga d’Alba has a great reputation for quality in the mold of Vajra, Vietti, La Spinetta and Oddero and Rosso focuses only on red wines with Nebbiolo being the main varietal here, as you’d guess. The passion is for Barolo and its great grape, Nebbiolo is the core mission here and their select parcels are set vin a fantastic selection of Crus, including Cerretta, La Serra, Broglio, Meriame, Sorano, Costa Bella, Lirano and Damiano. With this one being a blend of many of those top sites and highlights the marl and clay soils with Davide always trying to deliver wines that show a true sense of place and tradition. The Barolo sees a long fermentation, close to a month in most years and sees between 24 and 36 months in large used French oak casks after primary fermentation, which occurs in cement vats with daily punchdowns during that maceration period as the wine goes to fully dry. The finished result is one of the best values out there and this 2015 is an awesome bargain!
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Championship Bottle, Sauvignon Blanc “Lost Verses” Durant Vineyard, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
A new white wine from a tiny producer in Amity that focuses on cool climate white wines with a nod to the wines of Northern Italy and especially the Friuli region, with this slightly smoky and thrilling Sauvignon Blanc showing the promise of this style of wine here and the recent rise in quality versions of Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc in the Willamette Valley. Championship Bottle does an intriguing collection, sold mostly to their small mailing list, that includes this savvy (Sauvignon) Blanc as well as pure Pinot Blanc, a very cool Friuli style blend of 26% Ribolla Gialla, 8% Tocai Friulano, and 33% each Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay, which I also tried and highly recommend, it is almost as cool as Cameron’s similar Friuli like version, plus a couple of Chardonnays as well as a totally unique Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir co-fermented red called to Broken Radios. This Lost Verses Sauvignon Blanc, only two barrels made, shows the volcanic soils of the Dundee Hills with that mineral and smoky note, but really opens up nicely on the palate with racy lemon/lime, tart peach and crisp tropical fruits, adding hints of gooseberry and quince with time in the glass, making for an exciting example of this varietal that reminds me of some Sancerre(s) and Alto Adige, like Terlano’s Sauvignon Blanc, which is high praise! The combination of fruit and minerality is one of the hallmarks of top Sauvignon Blancs from around the world and as the winery notes, it is this quality that sets good ones apart from the mundane. I must say, after decades of not loving new world SB or Pinot Blanc, Oregon has brought me back to these grapes, plus a few inspired versions in my home state of California.

Championship Bottle believe there is a bright future for Sauvignon Blanc in the Willamette, saying Lost Verses makes a strong case that Sauvignon Blanc is the most underplanted great white grape in the Willamette Valley, which after trying Bow & Arrow’s last couple of vintages and this one, I might tend to agree, especially ones that have the attention to detail and care paid to them as this one had. Also, I think pushing a stylist niche makes a huge difference with this grape, as generic stainless steel and over cropped versions are extremely boring, plus we have a sea of basic Sauvignon Blanc that no one really needs already, especially and sadly from New Zealand. The Lost Verses, which gained a beautiful textural richness as it came alive with air and developed a pretty white flowers aroma once the steely/smokiness blew off, came from grapes that got an extra few weeks of hang time to give more complexity, it was superb with food as well, I would buy a few more bottles if I could. The Sauvignon Blanc for this wine came from the renowned Durant Vineyard in the Dundee Hills, mainly known for top Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and was. harvested several weeks after the Pinot Noir vines, then the grapes were macerated overnight on the skins before being pressed and fermented in older French oak barrels. The wine was raced gently off the lees after 10 months and transferred to tank to clarify, but was bottled without filtration or finning to preserve absolute purity of terroir and keep every characteristic in place. Like I said, I would like a few more bottles and I’ll be looking forward to Championship Bottle’s new releases that are due out soon! The zingy acidity and the oak aging were perfectly judged here and I can see this Lost Verses aging really well too, I easily imagine it evolving in profound ways, this is tasty stuff.
($27 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Poe Wines, Pinot Noir, Manchester Ridge, Mendocino County.
From the ultra west of the Anderson Valley on a few miles from the Ocean comes Samantha Sheehan’s fog kissed and cool climate Manchester Ridge Pinot Noir which is an absolute gem of a wine with seamless silken texture and beautiful Pinot fruit, it is dreamy and weightless, lingering on and on, this is elegant stuff from a fabulous vintage. This Chambolle or Morey-Saint-Denis like wine never puts a foot wrong with a classic palate of black cherry, plum, strawberry and Moro orange fruits, delicate spices, mineral tones and beautiful floral aromatics with polished, very subtle oak accents. Sheehan really put together a graceful lighter, medium bodied effort that without overtness or loudness captures the year and place majestically, I’m glad I waited to open this bottle to allow it to gain that creamy and supple mouth feel and let it take on its full range of flavors, this wine is pure and transparent gaining detail and focus in the glass brilliantly. In 2018 Sheehan used about 25% of whole cluster, all native yeasts and 30% new oak, with a 12 month elevage before bottling unfined and unfiltered, making for a stylish wine with just that hint of sweet toastiness. From the inviting ruby/garnet color to the exceptional integration of flavors, this Poe Pinot delivers a worthy performance, I enjoyed it with a bit of chill and Spanish smoked mussels on a warm evening, it was heavenly.

Poe’s winemaker, Samantha Sheehan, who also makes some of California’s best grower producer style sparkling wines, has proved to be very talented with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, like this Manchester Ridge 2018 Pinot Noir shows, and I am a big fan, though in recent years I have been drinking more her unique Pinot Meunier, an absolutely delicious wine from the Van der Kamp Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain. Sheehan loves her plot at Manchester Ridge, which is set on highly eroded sandstone, and says of it, Manchester Ridge sits at a 2,000 foot elevation above Anderson Valley, explaining that the vineyard is 400 feet above the fog line and has a long steady growing season. In fact she picks this vineyard nearly a month later than the Pinot Noir vineyards lying in the valley below most years. Because of this long hang time, she adds, the vineyard develops complex flavors and nuances, noting, that allows the grapes to maintain acidity, while the forest of (the) surrounding pine trees seem to impart earthy aromas, making this place (and wine) special and intriguing. Just 300 cases were made of this very studied effort and even though I had been hanging on to this one for a while, I noticed, Sheehan still has some available on her website, which I highly recommend, plus as I have mentioned, it would be advised to grab her sparklers and that fun Meunier!
($48 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Morgan Winery, Rosé of Grenache, Arroyo Seco AVA, Monterey County.
Pretty in pink, the latest dry Rosé from Morgan is, a juicy Grenache led, joyous explosion of vibrant flavors on the palate with vivid fruit and crisp acidity showing ripe density and delicate mineral notes, this new version is a flamboyant Rosé expression that grabs your attention. The grapes sourced from Arroyo Seco came from a vintage that had slightly smaller yields and a mostly steady cool growing season which allowed incredible quality, intensity of flavors, pure ripeness and balance, this is a year like 2018 that will be fondly remembered, in fact from what I’m tasting so far it looks set to be a classic in the Central Coast, especially in Monterey County. Morgan, led by Dan and Donna Lee along with winemaker Sam Smith has been rocking it in the last three years with a stellar collection of outstanding and world class wines, of course, with their organic Double L Estate vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir being two of their biggest stars. That said the Rhone program at Morgan has seen a notable improvement with a set of impressive wines from their Syrah offerings to this fun and favorable Rosé of Grenache, and they are exceptional values too. The vineyards that Morgan uses in Arroyo Seco, as they explain, are subject to strong afternoon winds and early morning fog, it is these cooling influences, dry farming and loamy/stony soils that creates one of the longest growing seasons in North America and perfect conditions for quality grapes.

The 2019 Morgan Rosé of Grenache starts with a floral aromatic note, a candied cherry pop and rosewater in a steely crisp frame, it opens up with tangy strawberry, a touch of spice, wet stones, watermelon and seeped plum on the medium bodied palate. This is a dry Rosé that can really benefit from food, in particular it should have mussels in spicy broth and or briny flavors to tame some of overt Grenache fruit, in fact I can see this going wonderfully with BBQ and or pulled pork. The Rosé done in a Provençal style, with 86% Grenache and 14% Cinsault, as Morgan notes in the winery tech sheet, is produced using fruit dedicated solely to Rosé production, picked at lower sugar and higher acids. The grapes were foot stomped and left to macerate for between 4 to 24 hours, then whole cluster pressed with some going to neutral (well season used) French barrels and some resting in stainless steel tanks for about 8 months. With time in the glass this Rosé gets round and vinous with some exotic elements coming through including nice tropical notes and a hint of bumble gum/cotton candy, but not aggressively and again having food with this dry pink gets the best results, and I agree with Morgan, that it would go great along with cracked crab and served icy cold. This Rosé of Grenache is pretty and flexible with a fresh juicy character, perfect for these warm days and this Indian Summer season.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 Law Estate, Beyond Category by Law, Red Wine, Paso Robles.
The Beyond Category by Law Red is almost jet black inky purple and powerfully intense on the palate with fantastic layers of black and red fruits and it follows the top modern red wines from this region in its quality and ability to thrill the senses with its deep blackberry, boysenberry, currant jelly, kirsch and blueberry fruit core along with heady black flowers, minty herb, anise and spicy accents along with a framing of sweet toasty wood. The 2017 Beyond Category is a Rioja inspired blend of 48% Tempranillo, 26% Graciano, 20% Grenache and 6% Carignan all of which come alive with air on the full bodied palate adding juicy pomegranate, espresso bean, coco and Provencal herbs and lavender in a most impressive way. Recently German winemaker Philipp Pfunder joined Law and is now making his mark on the wines, but staying within the style set by Law’s influential long time wine consultant Scott Hawley. Philipp, originally from Munich, comes to Law with a dynamite resume, having worked at some incredible places such as Kumeu River, and Dry River, both Kiwi legends, as well as Château Angélus in Saint Émilion, one of the greatest Bordeaux estates and the iconic Screaming Eagle in Napa Valley. Philipp, like many European winemakers, knew that Paso Robles was where he wanted to be and he has enjoyed a smooth transition into the top spot here after a brief spell alongside, as mentioned, Law’s inaugural winemaker, Scott Hawley who has a vast wealth of experience with the fruit and vineyards here. Law has an amazing winemaking facility that is all a gravity-fed winery and uses cool concrete for primary fermentation with extended lees aging in French oak, which is anywhere between 30 to 75% new depending on the vintage and varietal, all of which gives these wines their incredible mouth feel and lavish character without taking away anything from the expression of the grapes and place.

I first discovered Law back in about 2012 with the release of their first wines and I was blown away with their set of 2010 vintage reds which I found at the Family Winemakers tasting in San Francisco. Law Estate was born to compete with Saxum, Booker, Epoch and L’ Aventure for top honors in the western hills of Paso Robles, and was founded by Don and Susie Law, who planted a glorious hillside vineyard located above Peachy Canyon Road, it sits between 1,600 and 1,900 Feet up on chalky limestone soils. Originally it was mostly Syrah and Grenache, but has grown significantly with some Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre, Carignan, Tempranillo, Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot, along with that Graciano, which interestingly was mistakenly thought to be a Monastrell clone of Mourvedre, but much loved now. The Law’s also have a few white grapes that include Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Clairette that are usually co-fermented into their red wines. The Law’s hired Scott Hawley, who’s own Torrin winery is ultra premium small lot label that is highly regarded, with wines that are similarly awesome, to be their winemaker and leader, a decision that has paid off big time, as he has brought lots of critical acclaim to the estate and set the label on a course to skyrocket in quality with his attention to detail and organic farming focus. Law looks to continue their rise with Pfunder at the winemaking helm and these 2017s are a great start. Intriguing, to me, is the success of Tempranillo in the Paso area, where it has found success here as well as at Booker and Epoch, joining it too is the other Rioja grape, Graciano along with the Basque Tannat and lesser known Bordeaux varietal Petit Verdot all finding a welcome home here, more known for Rhone blends. Be sure to check out Law Estate, these 2017s are absolutely luxurious and profound offerings, especially this Beyond Category red, which is one of the best California Rioja style blends I’ve tried!
($78 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive Reviews – September, 2020

2017 Desire Lines Wine Co., Syrah, Griffin’s Lair Vineyard, Petaluma Gap AVA, Sonoma County.
The ripe flavored and smooth flowing 2017 Desire Lines Wines Co Griffin’s Lair Syrah highlights the vintage with some precision and flourish, it proves to be a very different presentation than the prior release even though it was crafted in the very same manner. It is less meaty and gripping and more lavish in rich fruit density with more supple tannin making it hard not to smile, it is a wine of comfort and with considerable flair. As mentioned in my reviews, Desire Lines Wines, made by Bedrock Wine Co.’s Assistant Winemaker Cody Rasmussen, is one of the best new labels in California and his touch with Syrah is proof, especially his Shake Ridge Vineyard and this beautiful dark purple and ruby edged Griffin’s Lair version. Expressive, lightly floral and forward this Syrah carries its California fruit with poise and style showing a layered mouth feel, it delivers black raspberry, dark plum, fig paste, creme de cassis and blueberry plus a very faint gamey note, allspice, cedar and burnt embers on the full bodied, but well structured palate. Everything is polished and integrated, easy to enjoy, but best to decant at this point and have it with hearty cuisine, this Griffin’s Lair Syrah is very much still evolving and looks set for a long life with great potential, I look forward to re-visiting this lovely Syrah again in about 3 to 5 years.

Rasmussen says he uses a mix of old world and California learned methods in the cellar and he notes that the 2017 was fermented using indigenous years or un-inoculated as he puts it, with, same as last year, close to 50% whole cluster. Cody employed a submerged cap through the first half of fermentation, before this Griffin’s Lair was pressed off just short of dryness, and put down to neutral large format French oak barrels, known as Puncheons, for 15 months before bottling. The much loved Griffin’s Lair Vineyard, near Lakeville and at the southern edge of Sonoma Mountain sits over the Petaluma Formation, which consists of heavy loams, mudstones and sandstones deposited as alluvial sediment between four and eight million years ago into an estuary at the western edge of the North American continent. The site is mostly gravels with the pebbles being a rich mix of Sonoma volcanics, Franciscan Complex schists, and Great Valley Sequence sandstones, as Rasmussen explains, that were carried here from near and far by various faults. The climate here is cooled by the wind gap (a constant blast of Pacific Ocean air from Tomales Bay and Bodega Bay) and the San Pablo Bay giving a long growing season that makes for deep complexity, lively acidity and usually heightened aromatics, all of which shine through in wines such as this. Desire Lines Wine Co. is about to send out their new releases and I’m excited about the 2018s, this is a perfect time to get on their list and discover these limited hand crafted offerings.
($42 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Chateau Pradeaux, Cotes de Provence Rosé, Provence, France.
One of the Rosés of the year so far, the alternative version from Bandol’s famous Chateau Pradeaux that’s labeled as Cotes de Provence Rosé, is made from 45% Cinsault and 40% Mourvedre along with small doses Grenache and Carignan making for a full flavored, but wonderfully dry example of what this region, set on the Mediterranean, is most known for, high quality pink wines to enjoy all day and all year. Over the last 10 years I’ve become a huge follower of this winery and of winemaker Etienne Portalis, who now among the best and highest regarded for his Bandol wines at his family’s historic estate, when I last tasted with him I was blown away with his extended aged Bandol Rouge, which much like a Gran Reserva Rioja saw 10 years of cellar time, with at least 4 of those years in cask, before release, as well as his regular bottlings, including his Rosé(s). Château Pradeaux, founded by Etienne’s ancestors in 1752, is located close to the town of Saint Cyr-sur-Mer, a small village that sits directly on the Mediterranean Ocean between the bigger town of Toulon and the ancient port city of Marseilles. The main Château Pradeaux Bandol Rosé is composed of entirely of Cinsault and Mourvèdre and well known as one of the finest and most complex in Provence, joining the likes of Domaine Tempier, Clos Cibonne, Domaine Ott and Bastide Blanche in the must have top shelf elite producers. This terroir driven version is one of the best kept secrets, labeled differently and in fact, uses organic vines that were classified as Bandol AOC as recently as 2012, set on the well-drained, highly calcareous Jurassic or even Triassic age, red and white limestone soils.

The 2019 Chateau Pradeaux Cotes de Provence Rosé is bright, mineral driven and layered on the palate with classic Bandol character and substance in a slightly fresher and lower alcohol style with crisp detailing showing crushed raspberries, tart cherry, strawberry, Summer melon and zesty citrus along with hints of earth and spice. This wine gains intensity and body with air as well as adding crushed wet stone, floral rosewater and saline or sea shore elements, this Pradeaux, led by the high percentage of Cinsault really seduces the senses and is exceptionally refreshing with an inner energy and brightness that keeps all the flavors in balance. While the main Bandol Rosé is awesome and a touch more serious, this Chateau Pradeaux Cotes de Provence Rosé is an outrageous value and lacks for nothing in terms of taste and depth, I highly recommend snapping this vintage up, it looks to have another year or two of drinking pleasure ahead of it too, though I wouldn’t likely have that kind of patience! All of Pradeaux’s reds are stellar, with about 95% Mourvedre they are monumental structured wines and are mostly all 100% whole cluster, they usually are held back a bit longer than their competitors as patience here is much more needed, these monster Bandol Rouge(s), that see extended élevage in large oak foudres are wines that will likely outlast many First Growth Bordeaux! After a short maceration on the skins, the Rosé, in order to extract a vivid color, the juice is fermented at low temperatures in stainless steel tanks, according to the winery, to retain freshness, fruit and bouquet. This dry pink was aged about 6 months in cement cuves on the lees, then usually wine is bottled in the Spring of the year following harvest. This is a fabulous Rosé to experience with Fall sunsets and close friends, don’t miss it!
($24 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Odonata, Sparkling Rosè of Sangiovese, Santa Clara Valley.
Odonata’s lovely Sangiovese Rosé sparkler, which comes from the Machado Creek Vineyard in the Santa Clara Valley region in the shadow of the Santa Cruz Mountains, is lightly fruity and crisply detailed, gaining some nice yeasty notes and texture with air, making for a real treat either on its own or especially with a meal. As I’ve been saying too, Odonata’s winemaker Denis Hoey thinks 2018 will go down as a great vintage in California, noted that, the perfect weather, from a long cooler growing season, allowed the grapes to mature at a steady pace, which delivered wines with finesse and balance, with all the Odonata releases I’ve tried this is especially true, in particular their Pinot, their new Carmel Valley Cabernet, which shouldn’t be missed, and this fun Rosé fizz. The delicate pale pink hue and creamy beading of the mousse make the latest Rosé of Sangiovese an inviting sparkling wine before it even reaches the palate, where it continues to be absolutely delicious with hints of racy citrus, strawberry, apple skin and crushed berries leading the way, before the leesy brioche kicks in adding a touch of luxuriousness to this easily quaffable bubbly. Faint dough and peach flesh come through here on Hoey’s Italian inspired methode ancestrale style wine or classy version of Pétillant Naturel, this is super enjoyable stuff again from this winery based on River Road in the Santa Lucia Highlands.

The Odonata Sparkling Rosè of Sangiovese is very pleasing and provides a little celebration in stressful times, like this year is giving us all, regardless of where you are, and I highly recommend getting a few bottles to brighten your day. Hoey, who was influenced by old world traditions and old Californian wines started making wines at the ripe age of 21 and has become a humble talent with his Odonata label where he crafts a unique collection of wines that come from a range of sites from the SLH to Paso Robles as well as the Santa Cruz Mountains. For this Sparkler, Hoey explains, that the early picked Sangiovese juice spent a couple of hours on the skins to provide him with the color we needed, then the grapes were then gently whole cluster pressed and the juice was racked to a settling tank for 24 hours. Once the primary fermentation was completed, about 14 days, he transferred the wine to a stainless tank and two barrels for a short period. After four months of aging, Denis and team “en tirage” bottled the wine with added yeast and sugar that start another fermentation in the bottle. This process, methode ancestrale, naturally creates the fizz in Odonata’s sparkling wines. Hoey makes a point of adding, the fizzy wine wasn’t touched or moved for two addition years, while it aged in bottle and it was disgorged (when the yeast plug is removed from the bottle for clarity) on March 20th of 2020. Also he added 5.0 grams per liter dosage (sugar) to balance out the acid profile, which makes this dry Sparkling Rosé a more rounded! This wine was a huge hit when tasted with a group of wine industry friends, I can’t wait to try it again, it brings lots of welcome smiles!
($42 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Mount Edward, Gamay, Central Otago, New Zealand.
This was my first experience with Kiwi Gamay, though I’ve really enjoyed some Aussie versions over the years, and I was please as can be with this supple and smooth textured Mount Edward Central Otago Gamay that looks to have been made in a more delicate and Pinot like style with a touch of earthy complexity as well as a lingering soft fruity finish. This is not going to fool you that it is a Cru Beaujolais, but it is an easy wine to love and enjoy, especially with a slight chill and simple foods, its array of cherry, strawberry and plum red fruit flavors present themselves transparently with a bit of raw nakedness on the light to medium bodied palate. With air this New Zealand Gamay adds a pretty dark floral notes along with rustic spices, refined acidity and some very cool toned mineral. Grown on ancient glacial deposits in this remote and picturesque part of the country’s south island, this Gamay is one of many interesting and fine efforts from this small winery, maybe best known for their value priced hand crafted TED Pinot Noir.

As mentioned in my first review of their 2016 TED Pinot Noir, Mount Edward is a small winery located in the heart of the Gibbston grape growing district, 25 km from Queenstown, in Central Otago which was started in 1997 as a small personal project. Now, fully organic, Mount Edward has moved on from Pinot Noir and Riesling producer to a winery doing all kinds of cool other wines hat has vineyards in some the best sub zones of the Central Otago region. The avant-garde Mount Edward Winery with their cool labels, like this one, is a collection eclectic personalities and talents led by John Buchanan and his winemaking team, including Duncan Forsyth a long time Central Otago figure. The currant lineup includes Pinot Noir of course, Chardonnay, Riesling as well as this Gamay, along with Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc and more, plus a fine Rosé. The Gamay, which should be drunk up as fast as you can get it, comes from the Muirkirk Vineyard, at Felton Road, in Bannockburn, it was all from carefully sorted and de-stemmed ripe grapes, fermented traditionally and aged in neutral cask as not to over shadow the bright fruitiness in this fun wine.
($25-35 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2019 Eden Rift Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Eden – A – Vent, Cienega Valley, San Benito County.
One of the most easy and enjoyable Nouveau style Pinots of year is Eden Rift’s Eden – A – Vent 2019, it is everything you’d want in a fruit forward quaffer and has the substance and depth to be taken seriously in the mold of a fine Cru Beaujolais, hence the name which is a play on Moulin – a -Vent and its pure carbonic character is as smooth as silk. The vintage is proving the equal if not better than the much heralded 2018 here on the central coast with slightly smaller yields and just that bit more concentration and complexity showing in the wines, making the year one of best I’ve ever seen in this part of the world, influenced by the cold watered Monterey Bay, its going to be exciting to see more of this vintage in the coming months. The Eden – A -Vent shows an array of bright flavors, its very ripe and juicy with a medium palate of sweet tree picked cherry, black plum, strawberry and some tropical guava fruits along with supple tannin, racy acidity and that satiny mouth feel adding zest spicy details as this Pinot opens up. While the Eden Rift’s upper echelon offerings are wonderfully crafted and studied efforts, I really just love this vividly ruby hued wine that is best served slightly chilled and simple cuisine, its absolutely delightful with its opulent fruitiness and in the background there is notes of cinnamon, light oak and exotic florals.

The 2019 Eden Rift “Eden – A -Vent” Pinot Noir, made by winemaker Cory Waller and team, is limited small-lot wine that is crafted employing 100% carbonic maceration, as the winery notes, is an anaerobic, oxygen deprived, fermentation that is sort of an inside out process in a sealed stainless tank which contributes to this wine’s distinct soft fruitiness and shows faint banana and Jolly Rancher (candied watermelon and pomegranate), which is balanced by some savory elements. Waller, who’s brother Mike is the head winemaker at their (Eden Rift) neighbor, the famous Calera, is a local to the region and has an impressive resume in his own right, making wines at some star properties in Oregon’s Willamette Valley as well as doing some vintages in New Zealand. The Eden Rift estate is a historic homestead that was originally planted to grape vines back in 1849, which makes it one of the oldest in California and has some old vines, mostly Zinfandel, that date back to 1910, called their Dickinson Block. There are some incredible terraces on the property, which are now planted with some heritage clones of Pinot Noir, including Calera clone as well as Mount Eden clone, which forms the top wines made here. The soils here, which are limestone and mineral charged dolomite, and the proximity to the Pacific Ocean that helps retain freshness in the grapes in this unique terroir. I have been really impressed by the lineup here and recommend checking them out, especially the Terraces Chardonnay and Pinot, along with the mentioned old vine Dickinson Block Zinfandel, plus this Eden – A – Vent Pinot.
($36 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Lucia Vineyards by Pisoni, Syrah, Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The long cool growing season of 2018, great for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Santa Lucia Highlands, allowed for one of the best vintages in decades across the board with a vast array of great wines being made in the region, but Syrah did exceptionally well too, especially in the hands of the talented Jeff Pisoni, who’s gorgeously inky and perfumed Soberanes Syrah is one of the best wines of the vintage so with amazing complexity, purity of fruit and depth. The latest Syrah release from the Soberanes Vineyard, a joint venture between the Pisoni and Franscioni families, that is located higher up on the Santa Lucia Highlands Bench adjacent to the famous Garys’ Vineyard with rocky/loamy soils and the cool climate that the AVA is known for, highlights the quality of this site that is planted to 33 acres of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. The profound Soberannes Syrah was hand crafted from carefully farmed lots with the grapes being mostly Alban clone, also known as a true Cote-Rotie selection, which thrives here and makes for a wine of tremendous character, style and sex appeal, in particular this 2018 with its striking dark opaque purple/black/garnet hue and its intriguing meaty note that this youthful wine delivers before a classic bounty of Syrah elements come alive in the glass with beautiful violets, peppercorns, blue and black fruit and a subtle smoky sweet oak accent. The full bodied palate is dense with blackberriy, boysenberry, currant jelly, plum and kirsch as well as black licorice, a hint of camphor or graphite, sage, lavender and faint bacon fat and this wine is perfectly dimensioned and its muscular power is masterfully graceful with acidity and polish tannins. This wine, like a growing number of top producers including Pax, Drew, Arnot-Roberts, Halcon and new comers Cody Rasmussen of Desire Lines Wine Co. and Samuel Louis Smith to name a few prove that Syrah in California can complete with, and in wines like this, surpass many elite Northern Rhone offerings are are some of California’s most compelling wines.

Jeff Pisoni has raised the bar with this vintage, and I hear the 2019s are going to be truly mind blowing as well, which confirms what I have been tasting so far, and his Northern Rhone inspired Soberannes Syrah, along with the soon to be released Lucia Garys’ Pinot, which I also got a chance to taste, are as close to perfection as it gets. It’s well know, that the Pisoni family, led by Jeff’s dad Gary Pisoni, are committed to quality, these are people with a deep and passionate love of wine and the region, they’ve really turned the Santa Lucia Highlands (the SLH) into one of world’s great wine-growing zones with their prized Estate Vineyard, the Garys’ Vineyard and this Soberanes being Grand Cru like sites, and insiders believe that Soberanes is just getting started and might turn out to be the place with the best potential going forward, and wines like this makes a strong case. For this 2018 Soberanes Syrah the younger Pisoni used 100% whole cluster and indigenous (native) yeast fermentation and just 20% new oak, all carefully picked French barrels that enhance the grapes true nature, while also adding a smooth mouth feel. This wine is outrageously delicious, with ripe fruit and savory tones, already, though I am certain it will only get better in the bottle and I think cellaring it for 5 to 10 years will bring a much more rewarding experience, to me, this will rival top Hermitage and Cote-Rotie, like Chapoutier’s Ermitage, Guigal’s Chateau d’Ampuis, Chave Hermitage and Jaboulet’s La Chapelle! I have been saying over the years that in some vintages, Syrah is actually the best wine in the SLH, in fact my own conversion in thinking when tasting through the Lucia, Roar and Novy (Siduri’s other label at the time) from the 2004 vintage, which all were made by Adam Lee, who consulted for Roar and Pisoni at the time, and since then they (Syrah) have only got better. This Lucia Soberanes Syrah is outstanding stuff, it may not get as much love as the Pinots, but it is wine that should not be missed, it is also a great wine to celebrate Pisoni’s twentieth anniversary vintage.
($60 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Donnhoff, Riesling Trocken, Roxheimer Höllenpfad, Nahe Germany.
These 2018 Donnhoff’s are gorgeous wines, they offer a high level of pleasure as well as having taut structures with precise detailing, especially this fabulous Höllenpfad Trocken which shows its terroir distinction to near perfection with a mineral driven palate and expressive Riesling fruit character with an array of citrus, peppery spices, zest ginger, clove, stone fruit and a subtle tropical element. At first, you’d be forgiven if you were reminded of Chablis with the steely starts and expansive lemon/lime, before the Riesling energy takes over and it reveals apricot, kumquat, chamomile, verbena and orange blossoms. This Höllenpfad is chiseled from stone and is crisply focused, but allows for textural density without sweetness or heaviness, it shows remarkable clarity of form and transparency, this Riesling is so good, it could easily be mistaken for a GG! The Roxheimer Höllenpfad was acquired in 2010 and has quietly risen in fame within Donnhoff’s mighty selection of top sites, all of which are individually distinct in flavors, with this site being noted for its charming, less severe profile, but don’t get the wrong idea, this is a serious site and while easy to love this is profound Riesling. The Nahe region is coming on strong with a string of great years and majestic wines, with this dry Riesling highlighting the incredible talents of the winegrower and the quality of this particular vineyard in a south-facing side valley just off the river.

The “Höllenpfad” (“Path to Hell”) name is an old one, according to Terry Theise, the long time importer and Riesling guru, and likely was a reference to both the vineyard‘s steep slope as well as the unique color of the red sandstone in this Cru. Theise adds that, the surrounding landscape is bathed daily in the rich, warm light of the sun, like a crimson glow, especially in the evenings, as it reflects off the hillside‘s with its distinctive red soil. Jokingly Terry says, after walking this vineyard, It‘s also not hard to imagine that the word “Hell“ might have been uttered by many anyone working these vines on these steep slopes. The Roxheimer Höllenpfad is uniquely set on a mix of limestone along with mineral and iron rich veins of red sandstone, it is a prestigious VDP Erste Lage Cru (Premier Cru) with 10-40 year old vines. Hand crafted by Cornelius Donnhoff, one of Germany’s most outstanding winemakers, the Höllenpfad Riesling trocken saw a combination of stainless and used large oak Fuder for fermentation, that is spontaneous, and aging to express freshness and complexity, making for a wine that drinks great upon release, yet has the substance and depth to age decades. At the price, this is one of the best values in Donnhoff’s awesome collection and I highly recommend grabbing a few bottles, it will certainly be a rewarding venture. Donnhoff, which is notably one of the greatest wineries in the world, is a must have in this vintage (2018) and from what I have tasted so far again in 2019, which looks set to a legendary year.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

NV Jansz “Premium Rosé” Brut Sparkling Wine,Tasmania, Australia.
An absolutely delicious Brut Rosé from Jansz, a winery focused on Champagne style sparkling wines on the Australian island of Tasmania, one of the world’s southern most growing regions with a cool climate that favors Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with plenty of zest acidity that gives this wine its verve and elegance. In what Jansz calls sparkling wine made using Méthode Tasmanoise, this Premium Rosé Brut is crafted using multi vintages and blend from 68% Pinot Noir and 6% Pinot Meunier along with 26% Chardonnay, which adds to the richness and length, it also sees close to two years on the lees, with secondary fermentation in bottle. There’s a lot to love about this Tassie Bubbles and I loved the fine mousse and electric feel of the tiny beading along with the impressive dry palate of racy citrus, strawberry, tart cherry fruits and its mineral tones adding lovely white flowers, brioche and a hint of hazelnuts, making for a complex and food friendly bottle. While decedent and polished, this sparkling Rosé with also thrill those that enjoy the grower producer Champagne style, and it is wonderfully easy to enjoy on its own, though as mentioned it has the structure and intensity to go with many cuisines and dishes, including caviar and or briny fresh oysters.

The name Jansz, as the winery notes, pays homage to Tasmania’s namesake, the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman who first sighted the island in 1642. In fact, the estate, when it was established in 1975, the Jansz vineyard was originally named after Tasman’s ship, the Heemskerk. In 1986, esteemed Champagne house – Louis Roederer partnered with the owners of Heemskerk Wines to produce Tasmania’s first premium vintage sparkling wine. Since 1997 the winery has been in family hands and owned by the Hill-Smith’s, who have raised the game here, as well as the profile of Tasmanian sparklers, making Jansz one of the highest regarded Champagne style sparkling wine houses in the world and an Australian treasure. The Jansz Tasmania vineyard, under the guidance of two talented women, cellar master Teresa Heuzenroeder who overseas the winemaking and Jennifer Doyle viticulturist who cares for and farms the vines, sits to the northeast of the island state within the Pipers River region of the Tamar Valley with the vines set on pure, red, free-draining basalt soils and in close proximity to Bass Strait, which gives cool sea breezes and keeps the temps moderate enough to allow the vines to survive the cold winters here. This Brut Rosé is quality stuff and a great value, this one to try and well worth searching out!
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2017 Biggio Hamina Cellars, Pinot Noir “Biha” Van Duzer Corridor AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The brilliant ruby hued Biha Van Duzer Pinot, made by Todd Hamina, at Biggio Hamina Cellars is a beautiful and racy Pinot Noir with layers of bright cherry, strawberry, pomegranate and tangy plum fruits bursting from glass along with delicate rose petal, cinnamon, orange tea and dried herbs. I hadn’t had the Biggio Hamina Cellars wines before this bottle and now I know I have been missing out, this is intriguing stuff and it just got better and better as the evening went on and impressively it was the next day that things really got going, especially aromatically and texture wise without losing its exciting drive and vibrance. Hamina comes with tons of Willamette experience including time at some famous places, his CV includes stints at Archery Summit, Beaux Freres, Chateau Benoit, Elk Cove, Maysara and Patton Valley! That should get your attention and his Biha should be on your radar for value, plus he makes the wine for Claygate, Noel, Schönetal Cellars, Gypsy Dancer, Primavera and a couple blends for Longplay, all of which I plan to check out. He style seems a mature approach to natural or minimalist winemaking with the use of indigenous yeasts, or as he puts it, spontaneous fermentation without imputes or additions, employing neutral French barriques and bottling without cold stabilization or filtering to allow the grapes and vineyards to show their distinctive character.

The Biha line is Hamina’s and partner Caroline Biggio’s single AVA collection, plus one general Willamette Valley offering of value Pinots with his 2017s being from Chehalem Mountains, Eola-Amity Hills, Ribbon Ridge, Yamhill-Carlton as well as this Van Duzer Corridor, which I highly recommend, it has whetted my appetite for the rest of Biggio Hamina wines. This Van Duzer Pinot joins a elite set of quality bargains from Oregon along with Hundred Son’s Old Eight Cut Pinot, Love & Squalor, Bow & Arrow’s Rhinestones (a Gamay and Pinot Noir blend), Purple Hands’ basic Willamette Valley Pinot and Johan’s Farmlands Pinot to name a few, all of which are very different, but offer big bang for the buck. Hamina, like many of this newer generation is committed to more restrained use of new barrels, saying in a perfect world he’d use tons of whole cluster and no new oak and here you can taste the merits of that formula with the whole bunch and stem inclusion crunchiness and purity of fruit, which I admit I am a huge fan of. The Biggio Hamina Biha Van Duzer 2017 has loads of exciting flavors, savory zing and a polished or satiny mouth feel with no overt French oak needed, making a Pinot that goes great with an array of cuisine, I enjoyed it with smoked salmon. As new discoveries go, this one is was incredibly pleasing and I plan to explore more of these small production hand crafted Biggio Hamina wines!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Bodegas y Vinedos Ilurce “Rio Madre” Graciano, Rioja, Spain.
A super value priced Spanish red, made from 100% Graciano and crafted by winemaker, Ana Escudero at Bodegas y Vinedos Ilurce from vines in the Rioja region, this Rio Madre showing rich/ripe fruit along with delicate floral notes and snappy spiciness, it is without question a savvy buy and well made wine to enjoy anytime and without guilt. Bodegas y Vinedos Ilurce is a unique winery for Rioja, mainly making wines that have little or no Tempranillo and has gained a reputation as a Graciano champion and specialist, with this version a collaborative effort with the famed US importer Jorge Ordóñez, exclusive to the United States. This vintage is opulent, highlighting the warm of the Spanish sunshine, which was especially warm in 2017, with lush raspberry, plum and strawberry fruits leading the way on the smooth full palate along with a lingering soft creamy dimension of kirsch and hints of cedar and baking spices. Graciano, usually a background component in Rioja wines along with Garnacha, does make for very intriguing single varietal wines and this Rio Madre is a fun and easy way to start off with when discovering this grape which is also known as Tintilla and found as far away as the Canary Islands and in California where Dylan Sheldon of Sheldon Wines makes a stunning version.

The Rio Madre Graciano is sourced from vines that are up to 90 years old set on soils that are characterized by stony alluvial deposits of the Ebro River and are up at close to 500 meters above sea level in Rioja Baja mountain range. To keep fresh details and balance, Ana Escudero uses a combination of stainless, concrete and used French oak to ferment and raise this tasty Rioja wine, with all the grapes coming from sustainable farming practices without irrigation or the use of pesticides. To keep the focus on the pure fruit all the grapes were careful sorted and de-stemmed with a well judged maceration to extract color and depth of flavor, again, as noted, using some stainless steel fermenters and cement vats keeping temperatures cool, the aging with some in the neutral barrels adds to the supple layering in this exceptional for the price offering. Jorge Ordóñez has over the last twenty years has been a great ambassador for Spanish wines and has introduced America to many lesser known Spanish grapes from Monastrell (Mourvèdre) to Verdejo and was big player in getting Albariño to the US market, as well as promoting some of the classics from well known regions like Rioja, along with Toro and the Ribera del Duero. The Rio Madre Rioja is a great party wine and crowd pleaser, making for a juicy clean red that goes great with a range of cuisine, drinks nicely on its own and certainly more exotic than most wines in its price class!
($12 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive

2018 Oakridge “Over the Shoulder” Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley, Victoria Australia.
The Over the Shoulder line Pinot from Oakridge is a value bottling from this Yarra Valley family winery that was first established back in 1978 and this 2018 is very polished and drinks very nicely with layers of bright red fruits, light smoky wood and earthy elements along with touches of spice and mineral tones. Oakridge’s wines are made under the direction of one of Australia’s most notable winemakers, David Bicknell and while I was unaware of this myself, I had seen he praises being noted by famous Oz wine writer James Halliday, who I admire and follow, whenever I can. The Yarra, in Victoria is a top growing area with a range of distinct climates and soils, but is known as a cooler region where Pinot Noir thrives and the track record is very impressive for this fabled Burgundy grape. Oakridge’s vineyards are in the heart of the Yarra Valley, just an hour’s drive from Melbourne, Australia’s second city (after Sidney) and the Oakridge restaurant and cellar door enjoy many visitors and has received many prestigious awards. I am ever curious about wine and regions, and recently have a re-found love for Aussie wines so I’ve been buying a bunch of different bottles to explore the different regions of this huge country, but with a focus on the cooler zones, like Adelaide Hills, Mornington, here in the Yarra Valley and even Tasmania!

The 2018 Oakridge Over the Shoulder Pinot, which comes from a variety of sites from Coldstream to Woori Yallock with a range of soils that mainly are red volcanic based soils, though there is also a bit of grey alluvial loams as well, all which adds to the character and taste profile, which reminds me a little of some Dundee Hills wines. This vintage shows good ripe fruit development from a long dry summer and harvest with black cherry, wild strawberry, plum and bramble berry leading the way on the medium bodied palate, and while not intended to be overly serious, it delivers more than enough complexity and freshness to be compelling with touches of cinnamon, rose petal and subtle oak to engage the enthusiast. The dark crimson/ruby hued Over the Shoulder Pinot Noir crafted with handpicked grapes and was gently de-stemmed for whole berry fermentation, which lasted for about 3 weeks in open top fermenters prior to being gently pressing into French oak barrels for aging. I had the Timo Mayer whole cluster Yarra Valley Pinot not long ago, which absolutely blew my mind, so I knew this value priced wine might be a let down in comparison, but I actually really enjoyed this silky textured Oakridge Over the Shoulder Pinot, it performed beyond my expectations, especially for the price I paid, which was way below the list price, making it a steal.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2014 La Source du Ruault, Saumur Champigny “Clos de la Cote” Loire Valley, France.
This beautiful and stylish 100% Cabernet Franc Clos de la Cote, from Jean Noel Millon at La Source du Ruault in his 300 year old cellars carved from the limestone at his family’s estate in the Loire Valley’s Saumur Champigny AOC, is drinking wonderfully with the few extra years of age on it having softened the texture and the pure Cab Franc character is on full display. This dark garnet Saumur Champigny comes from all organic estate vines that are set on the classic tuffeau (chalky limestone) and hardened clay soils that Millon hand tends and harvests to make the Clos de la Cote, a special cuvee he’s made since the 2009 vintage, it is a wine of place that in Millon’s own words, tells a story of the year and nakedly gives every detail, with this 2014 being a wine of classic flavors and should age with exceptional grace. Fans of old school and rustic Cabernet Franc will find joy in this vintage, while those discovering Loire Franc with enjoy the smooth and transparent palate that is rich with blackberry, plum, current and kirsch as well as delicate black olive, crushed stone, anise and dried violets, it proves to be an excellent example of terroir driven and varietal correct Cabernet Franc with soft tannins and does not have distracting flaws, like Brettanomyces “Brett” or off putting aggressive raw green bell pepper, this only hints at it and flows nicely and finishes with weightless length.

Jean Noël Millon, a seventh generation vigneron, was completely unknown to me until I got this wine, who’s aim is to craft authentic wines that show the nature of his region and his family’s land, which this 2014 Clos de la Cote does to near perfection. This cuvee which is the top version of Cabernet Franc is naturally fermented and raised primarily in vat as well as neutral cask to express the grapes in their purist form. Millon took over his family’s Domaine in 1998 and has worked his way into the spotlight through intense hard work, he has 12 hectares of vines that he cares for, 10 being Cabernet Franc, with an only 1 hectare old vine parcel used for this Clos de la Cote, and 2 hectares of Chenin Blanc, from which he make two bottlings, that I will be searching out! The 2014 really opens up with air, it gains depth and richness in the glass with the addition of savory notes, light smokiness as well as cigar wrapper, cedar and framboise notes. This wine from La Source du Ruault is a delicious and vinous Cabernet Franc that looks to provide fine drinking pleasure for another ten to fifteen years, even though its lovely silken character makes it easy to love now. This domaine was a really an unexpected find and I look forward to more wines from Jean Noel Millon, this wine is not loud, but sings in a fine voice, I recommend grabbing it while you can.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Drew, The Field Blend, GSM Red Wine, Mendocino Ridge.
This I think is the first significant blended wine I’ve had from Drew that has concentrated on most single varietal wines, focusing especially Pinot Noir and Syrah, which are some of the absolute best in California, so it was interesting to see what this Rhone GSM style wine would be like and I found it very much in the Drew character and wonderfully delicious with a decidedly cool climate influence with low alcohol, crisp details and a high tone profile. Jason Drew calls this wine his field blend and a GSM wine, but notes it leans a bit more on Syrah and adds that all the grapes here were picked together and co-fermented in traditional (field blend) style with the Grenache, Mourvedre and the Syrah mainly coming from a small parcel at a 1 acre block on the Valenti Ranch with a touch of Syrah coming from Drew’s block at Perli Vineyard and even a few bunches of Viognier to add aromatic lift. This is a medium bodied red with zesty edges and lots of brambly spices that shows a complex palate of tangy blackberry, plum, strawberry, blueberry, tart pomegranate and cranberry fruits along with fresh cracked pepper, meaty notes, olive tapenade and a hint of Thai basil, adding pretty floral notes once open in the glass. As a side note, on day two of being open, this Field Blend does get a bit richer without losing any of its freshness, it delivers exactly what the vintage gave and hints at its potential.

This 2018 Drew GSM is not as monumental or profound as Jason’s Pinot and Syrah bottlings, but I really enjoyed the bright intensity and easy drinking style here and I am very excited to have this one in Drew’s lineup, hoping it will be a part of their ongoing collection. That said, I bet this wine fills out and gets better in the coming two to three years, without a doubt it will gain textural grace with more time in bottle and with food it showed even better, making it even more compelling. The color is invitingly deep purple/garnet and the nose, subtle at first comes alive with wild herbs, briar and violets, again echoing the classic Syrah markers more so that the Grenache and Mourvedre which a slightly mute at this stage. Drew explains the fermentation was 100% native yeast with about 50 % whole clusters from the mostly Chave selection clone as well as a small amount of heritage McDowell clone Syrah along with the Mourvedre and Grenache. It look like Drew went with used French (oak) casks for the aging here and there is a only a light wood accent showing allowing the wine to be as transparent as possible. Again this cool climate Rhone style blend is vibrant and at just 13.4% natural alcohol, highlighting this unique terroir that is just about six miles from from the Pacific Ocean and the Mendocino coast. Drew recently made Wine & Spirits Top 100 wineries list, I would even argue that they deserve a Top 10 place and I highly recommend getting on their list.
($32 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2017 Domaine Giraud, Cotes du Rhone “Les Sables d’Arène” Rhone Valley, France.
The old vine Grenache, Domaine Giraud Les Sables d’Arène Cotes du Rhone, from vines planted in the Lirac zone back in 1950 is a delicious and thoroughly entertaining Rhone red that shows off its warm vintage concentration and depth of dark flavors. Domaine Giraud, famous for outstanding Chateauneuf du Pape, farms their plots to organic methods and the vines which are grown on limestone and clay overlaid by a thick layer of sand and this Cotes du Rhone takes on the more serious nature of top wines, but at a great price. The 2017 delivers loads of ripe fruits with a full bodied palate of black raspberry, strawberry, plum and creme de cassis bursting from glass along with hints of earth, peppery spices, crushed stone, anise and dried lavender. Because of the Lirac AOC rules, which don’t allow single varietal wines to be included, this pure Grenache has to be label humbly as a Cotes du Rhone, though from 2018 on Giraud now includes Mourvedre and Syrah to get the more prestigious Lirac AOC on the label, so I’m glad I got some of this vintage to try first, especially at the price I found it. Domaine Giraud is a fairly young estate by regional standards, it was established in 1974 by Pierre and Mireille Giraud, though Pierre, who founded the Domaine comes from a long line of vignerons, and is a sixth-generation winegrower in Chateauneuf who has grown the holdings to include some amazing parcels in this distinct terroir. The Cotes du Rhone certainly looks the part with its purple/garnet color and opulent Grenache character, I am more than happy with my purchase here, this is exciting stuff.

There’s a lot to like about this Cotes du Rhone and it definitely got even better with food and air time with a longer finish emerging with lingering floral tones and kirsch notes filling out this little Rhone, it was perfect with a rustic Pizza with red onions and wild mushrooms. Domaine Giraud made their Les Sables d’Arène using 100% hand harvested grapes, all of which in 2017 were the Vieilles Vignes (old vine) Grenache as mentioned, and for this cuvee, all the grapes were de-stemmed with primary fermentation in concrete tanks. After that, two thirds of the Cotes du Rhone was aged for 6 months in cement vats, with one third being raised in neutral French oak demi-muids, which adds some roundness to the texture. Imported by Eric Solomon and European Cellars, this special cuvee Les Sables d’Arène is well crafted by Marie (the family’s winemaker) & François Giraud, who have the legendary Philippe Cambie as a consultant, and it is a teaser wine, giving you a glimpse of what their awesome Chateauneuf(s) have in store for you, putting in a nice and studied performance at a reasonable price. With market conditions and being near the end of vintage, there are even bigger discounts to had on this 2017 version, so search them out, it makes this quality bottling an even better deal! For a step up, but still reasonable, I also high recommend searching out the Domaine Giraud Châteauneuf-du-Pape Tradition, also mostly all Grenache, coming from fabulous selected vineyard plots.
($25 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2017 Parsonage Village Vineyard, BDL Red Wine, Central Coast, California.
I’ve been a fan and a follower of Parsonage for close to twenty years now and have tasted most everything they’ve done and the current set of wines are just as appealing and delicious as ever with opulent density and deep flavors offering luxurious drinking pleasures, especially their latest Aussie and this BDL Red Wine, made from classic Bordeaux varietals. This Bordeaux-style blend nicknamed The BDL is mostly from purchased fruit with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot playing the biggest roles. The new label features the quilt “French Laundry” by owner Bill Parson’s hugely talented wife Mary Ellen Parsons, who’s artwork is displayed at their Carmel Valley Village tasting room. The wines are crafted by Frank Melicia, Bill’s son in law and the winemaker at Silvestri, who perfectly captures the house style with ripe fruit and bold expressive wines like this one with its layers of black fruits, creme de cassis and sweet toasty oak accents. Melicia’s BDL shows a polished tannic structure and displays a Cabernet dominant personality with blackberry, black currant, plum and cherry fruits along with a Bordeaux like smoky element and pencil lead as well as anise, delicate floral notes, cedary spices and creamy vanilla from the use of a moderate amount of new French oak. With the devastating local fires ruining with terrible smoke taint the 2020 red grape harvest in Carmel Valley it is a great time to support these family wineries like Joullian, Galante, Boete, Georis, Joyce, Massa and Pasonage to name a few, we are all in this together.

This dark and bold forward wine excels with robust and protein rich cuisine and was great pairing with a marinated Tri-Tip or flank steak, a cut that brings out the complexity and length in this none too shy BDL Red Wine, though I can see this going great with earthy flavors like those in wild mushroom dishes and or juicy short ribs. After a set of difficult vintages between 2013 to 2016, the 2017 is a warmly full bodied year that suits these Parsonage wines and I’m really excited for the 2018 and 2019 releases, which look to push this small family winery to the next level in terms of quality, depth and balance. Pasonage is a tiny estate, it is a realization of a dream for Bill Parsons, a Vietnam vet and recently an acclaimed author who just published his first novel based loosely on his war time experiences, he planted the seven-acre Parsonage Village Vineyard back in June 1998, releasing his first wine from the 2000 vintage. The south-facing hillside vineyard is 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean and a half mile east of the Village on Carmel Valley Road, it sits on steep slopes and is a natural sun basket making for intense, fully ripe and dark grapes, from vines that are exceptional small yielding. The vineyard is planted to 3.5 acres of Syrah, 2.0 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.0 acre of Merlot and 0.5 acre of Petit Verdot, and it should be noted that Parsons was the first to plant Syrah in Carmel Valley and it remains a wine very close to Bill’s heart. The BDL sadly sold out really fast, before I got a chance to even review it, but the Estate bottlings are now being released and are even more interesting!
($42 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Avennia, Syrah “Arnaut” Boushey Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington State.
I was really excited to try Avennia’s wines, I had heard great these about these wines and Chris Peterson, Winemaker, and I was not disappointed, this 2017 Avennia Arnaut Boushey Vineyard Syrah is a beautiful and deep wine with lovely detailing and exceptional purity of flavors. Most people agree Dick Boushey’s vines are some of the best in Washington and a Cru site in the Yakima region near the town of Grandview on the southern slopes of the Rattlesnake Mountains. The vineyards, farmed by Boushey, who is one of the top viticulturists in the United States, started planting back in 1980 with a number of distinct parcels that are generally south-facing slopes that rise from 700 to 1200 ft. The Syrah came later, Boushey came to realize that his site was cooler than Red Mountain and that Syrah would do well, so he added Syrah in 1993 to great effect, becoming one of the most coveted growers in the state. Peterson’s 2017 Boushey Syrah is wonderfully balanced for a full bodied wine with smooth layers of classic Syrah markers with crushed blackberries, dark plum, blueberry and morello cherry fruits along with a touch of bacon, graphite, creme de cassis, cedar, fig paste, mocha, anise and peppery spices, adding pretty floral notes with air and all wrapped up in a style that isn’t too different from Guigal’s polished and lush Cote-Rotie.

The Avennia Arnaut, named for the Provencal Troubadour Arnaut Daniel, who invented the Sestina poem form, which has a special meaning to Peterson, has ripe tannins and has retained some juicy acidity that gives this wine a sense lithe charm that allows the dense concentration to not feel heavy on the palate, it really makes this complex wine come across elegantly and with a pleasing energy. Still youthful, this 100% Syrah looks to have an excellent future ahead of it, though as good as it is already, I cannot see many people being too patient and especially as its fruit is so attractive and entertaining now. Chris Peterson really did his best to let the vineyard speak here, noting that he made this wine with minimal manipulation, using native yeasts, employing about 15% whole cluster in the fermentation, raising it with just 15% new French oak for 16 months in barrel, bottling it unfined and unfiltered, as he adds, to allow the “place” to shine through. This wine has a stellar reputation and track record with the critics, so it was great to see its performance in the glass for myself, and I will also say its day two being open brought out even more expressiveness, both in fruit and savory elements, and completeness, while drinking with an almost Pinot like grace, impressive stuff. Coming in at 14.7% natural alcohol, I was a bit worried it would be a touch hot, but I was happily surprised that was not the case and it went great with even lighter food choices, I look forward to trying more Avennia soon.
($60 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2014 Turley Wine Cellars, Zinfandel, Kirschenmann Vineyard, Lodi.
Larry Turley’s iconic Turley Wine Cellars has maintained exceptional quality in a pioneering style for more than three decades with some amazing and awe inspiring wines made from mainly historic California old vine vineyard sites, like this sublimely crafted Kirschenmann Vineyard Zinfandel in Lodi. Turley, along with Ridge Vineyards, Bedrock Wine Co., Carlisle, Martinelli and Biale are keepers of the faith in the modern Zinfandel, highlighting individual vineyard sites and making wines with bold full bodied character, with many of these from vines that were planted in the late 1800s. These producers, especially Turley, are making Zinfandels that are mouth filling, lush and dense with impressive palate impact, giving loads of hedonistic pleasure in their youth, but are serious wine that can age easily 10 to 15 years and in some cases much, much longer, as I believe this 2014 Turley Kirschenmann has the potential to go quite a long way with its depth and structure, it maybe my absolute favorite ever Lodi wine, just surpassing some tasty Cinsault from the Bechthold Vineyard, which also, like Kirschenmann, is in the Mokelumne River zone. The Kirschenmann, as Turley notes, is particularly close to their heart as head winemaker, Tegan Passalacqua, owns and farms this renowned vineyard. The un-grafted old vines here at Kirschenmann were originally planted in 1915 and are set on the silica-rich sandy soils of the east side of the Mokelumne River AVA. Passalacqua takes full advantage of he river’s cool waters and the delta breezes that keeps this arid and warm terroir in balance, allowing these head-trained, dry-farmed vines some protection from the Summer heat.

This 2014, which looks like to very similar in style to the 2018 and 2019 vintages with a cooler demeanor and freshness, though richly layered and complex from a longer growing season that delivered some spectacular grapes to Turley, like those from Passalacqua’s Kirschenmann Vineyard that have produced this gorgeously textured Zin. It’s very notable that Turley Wine Cellars makes forty-seven wines from over fifty vineyards, and as they add, the vast majority of which are single vineyard designate Zinfandel(s) and Petite Syrah(s) coming from all organic sites, most of which are certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers. Also, Passalacqua uses 100% natural or indigenous yeast fermentation to make the distinctive Turley wines. Tegan has lots of experience and is one of the most informed and likable personalities in California wine, after working harvests with the legendary figures like Alain Graillot in the northern Rhône Valley as well as Eben Sadie in Swartland, South Africa, along with a stint working along side Doug Wisor at Craggy Range in New Zealand, plus his time here at Turley under Ehren Jordan, their former winemaker. The 2014 Turley Kirschenmann Zinfandel excels in the glass with a lovely dark garnet/purple color and luxurious mouth feel, it unfolds with black raspberry, plum, morello cherry and Mission fig fruits leading the way along with delicate floral and snappy herb notes, adding an array of spices and a touch of cedary wood. This Kirschenmann is wonderfully rounded, polished and pure with a surprising degree of crisp detailing for a bigger wine that clocks in at around 15% alcohol, in fact this is a remarkably elegant Zinfandel, I highly recommend searching out this vintage as well as grabbing the just released 2018s.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2016 Weingut Kunstler, Spatburgunder Trocken, Tradition, Rheingau Germany.
I usually rave about Gunter Kunstler’s Rieslings, but it shouldn’t be overlooked that he also produces some fantastic Pinot Noir, especially his Grand Cru offerings, like his fabulous Hollenberg Assmannshausen GG, as well as this wonderfully detailed cuvee Tradition, which is also a great value with layered red fruits, delicate spices, mineral tones and smooth textural charm. The Kunstler estate, one of Germany’s finest wineries, was established when Gunter’s father Franz Künstler in 1965 re-established the Weingut Künstler in Hochheim, which is in the Rheingau between the Main and Rhein Rivers, after his family was relocated out of South Moravian region in modern day Czech Republic. In 1992 Gunter took over the estate and in 1994 the estate was admitted to the VDP, marking that the estate had started on a path to greatness and was beginning its run of crafting a series of stunning dry Rieslings, putting Gunter’s wines in a select group of elite winegrowers. Generally in this zone of the Rheingau, it is warm and slightly humid with soils made up mostly of loess, clay, sand, loam, marl and limestone, more like the Pfalz and or Burgundy, and while Riesling is regal and elegant there is also success with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The greatest sites in Hochheim, as noted by Riesling guru Terry Theise, are Domdechaney, Kirchenstück and my favorite Hölle, which can make Rieslings seem like Batard-Montrachet!

The Kunstler 2016 Tradition Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder) from a cool damp vintage that saw a brilliant vintage saving burst of sunshine in September that allowed this wine to become a lovely and polished effort with a subtle perfume, gentle smokiness and a well balanced medium bodied palate showing opulent array of black cherry, bright plum, raspberry, cranberry and strawberry red fruits along with a hint of cedar, orange marmalade, light tea notes, baking spices and a cool crisp mineral element. This wine, made to enjoy in its first 3 to 5 years after release is Kunstler’s teaser wine, offering a glimpse of what to expect from his top Cru wines, but being more fresh and open in style. Germany is fast becoming a place to get great Pinot Noir, with some these wines rivaling the world’s best examples, in particular for me are the wines of Meyer-Nakel, Becker, Diel and Kunstler of which are distinctive terroir driven wines of exceptional quality. The dry Spatburgunder is blend of different vineyard lots and made in 1,000-liter oak casks, with Kunstler using mainly the de-classified lots from his single Crus. This a nice way to dig into Germany Pinots and it is wonderfully food friendly and can be enjoyed with a bit of chill too for warm evening meals or picnics. The texture gets more lush with time in the glass and over all you feeling of completeness from this lovely ruby/garnet colored wine. All of Kunstler’s latest releases are worth collecting and the last three vintages from 2016 through 2018 are very compelling and I hear 2019 is a year that raises the bar even higher, I can’t wait to try Gunter’s versions in the year ahead.
($40 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Domaine La Bastide Blanche, Bandol Rosé, Provence, France.
The Domaine La Bastide Blanche, located in St. Anne de Castellet, founded back in the early 1970s is one of the great producers in Bandol, along with Domaine Tempier and Pradeaux, with a terroir of that is rich in limestone. This Domaine is well known for their intense reds and this full bodied Rosé, having a high proportion of Mourvèdre. This 2019 is, like Tempier is a ripe and expressive example of Bandol, delivering mouth filling layers of fresh squeezed raspberry, sour cherry, plum water, strawberry and blood orange along with dry extract. An array of spices, wet stone and some leesy density. This version, is as always, mostly the powerful Mourvèdre with about equal parts Cinsault and Grenache, which gives some generous fruit and fresh zestiness from all hand-harvested grapes on those clay-limestone and cailloux (stony) soils. I can imagine enjoying this with a paella, seafood stews and especially with steamed mussels in spicy broth, but this Bandol Rosé can handle a variety of dishes.

This Bandol Rosé is grippingy stuff, certainly not a whimpy or dull wine, making good use of its impressive structural quality, it’s a wine that performs best with more robust cuisine. The La Bastide Blanche Rosé was crafted with the saignee process using fully ripe and flavorful grapes. While lush and with a natural alcohol above 14%, this vintage has plenty of lift and crisp minerallity that adds some classic charm. Owners of three estates, Michel and Louis Bronzo have a very tidy collection of Bandol vines, and here at La Bastide Blanc they are farming with organic methods, utilizing small yields to add to the impact and concentration they achieve in their wines. The 2019 Domaine La Bastide Bandol Rosé was a blend of about 71% Mourvèdre, 14% Grenache, 12% Cinsault and 3% Clairette, a white grape that is co-fermented into main lot, and it should be noted that this cuvée is assembled by Peter Weygandt, the American importer, of Weygandt-Metzler at the domaine with the talented help of Stéphane Bourret, the winemaker and the Bronzo family themselves, with each year being slightly different. This is delicious and very rewarding dry pink wine and selling at almost half the price of Tempier’s Bandol Rosé, it is a real bargain!
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Leitz, Riesling Kabinett, Rüdesheimer Klosterlay, Rheingau Germany.
The 2018 Leitz Klosterlay Kabinett is bright and focused, drinking with a snappy dry tanginess and feels very well balanced with just enough fruity off dry sweetness to go refreshingly well with Asian cuisine, like my mom’s cherished birthday traditional Tommy’s Wok (of Carmel) Chinese meal, which included orange chicken and Singapore curry noodles and BBQ pork, all of which was easily handled by this delightful Riesling. Rudesheim is one of my absolute favorite wine towns to visit and I am a long time fan of Johannes Leitz an d his wines, especially his cru bottlings from the famous Rudesheimer Berg sites, including the VDP GG’s from Schlossberg, Kaisrersteinfels and Roseneck as well as his Prädikat offerings, like this Klosterlay Kabinett. “Lay” is a very old word meaning slate (stone) and “Kloster” is the German translation of Abbey, and the Klosterlay vineyard sits beneath the Benedictine Abbey of St. Hildegard, above the eastern edge of the village of Rudesheim in part of the Johannisberg zone, almost all these sites here were church owned vines in the past and walking here you see many religious icons and symbols scattered around. Here, as Leitz notes, the Rüdesheimer Berg begins to gently undulate as it levels out toward the village of Geisenheim and turns from intense slate soils to more heavy loam, loess and clay. Johannes believes this site is best suited for a fruity style with some residual sugar and therefore he choses to makes Kabinett from this terroir. Over the years, I have become quite addicted to opening a Leitz wine on special occasions, they always bring an inner happiness and celebration of life, and this one didn’t fail to add to the joy of having my family around and forgetting the stress of this horrendous year.

The Klosterlay 2018 starts with crisp apple, white peach and lime fruits with zesty acidity cutting the density and sweetness along with a fresh saline element and spicy ginger and clove on the light feeling palate, everything is clear and precise, making for pure Riesling refreshment with a comforting old school charm. The Klosterlay site faces south and gets wonderful ripe flavors and it is mostly loess and loam with some sand and slate, plus veins of quartzite that adds complexity, there’s a beautiful mineral tone that runs the length of this Riesling and while I had it with full flavored Chinese food, it also goes great with more subtle dishes as well. I love Kabinett level wines in the Summer and Fall, the low alcohol, in this case about 9.5%, and light phenolic bitter notes lessen the impact of the underlying sugar, again, especially with Leitz’s example, Kabinett can drink in a drier sense. This vintage is jazzy and refined, opening up with white flowers, crushed flint, tangerine and quince, very poised, as you’d expect from this famous producer, but still playful and without pretense, easy to quaff and it is a wine that generates lots of smiles. The Klosterlay is farmed using sustainable Fair ‘N Green practices, as are all of Leitz’s top sites and Johannes is committed to making sure Rudesheim’s history is preserved and has started a movement to restore many of the original terraces and cares deeply about the health of the region. The basic offerings, with screw caps, at Leitz, are bottling that see stainless steel fermentation and aging with the idea they will be enjoyed in their youth, like this Klosterlay, which was intended to be drunk with its zippy details within its first 3 to 5 years. I can’t wait to return to the Rheingau and in particular Rudesheim with its amazing vineyards and views of the Rhein, this wine absolutely transports me there.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Evesham Wood, Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The special nine barrel Evesham Wood Dundee Hills Pinot Noir from Winemaker and owner Erin Nuccio is one of the best hand crafted and small lot Pinots from the vintage, especially for the price, in Oregon, with its beautiful details and texture it is a class act and joins Evesham’s stellar and value priced lineup. For the last twelve years I’ve been following this label after my first visit to the Willamette Valley wine country and the Portland wine scene when a friend up there clued me in on some under the radar wineries, if you are into Oregon Pinot and looking for bargains, Nuccio’s wines are a must try collection, especially the Evesham Wood’s basic Willamette Valley cuvee and this one if you can still find it. With classic Dundee Hills, Jory soil (volcanic and iron rich) influence showing, the Evesham Wood Dundee Hills Pinot delivers layers of dusty red spiced black cherry, plum and strawberry fruits along with a touch of earthy reduction, rose petals, snappy herbs, moro orange tea and delicate wood accents, all of which caresses the medium bodied palate. With air the ruby/garnet 2018 Dundee Hills Pinot gains a darker almost blue fruit tone and becomes wonderfully expressive and pure in a performance that you’d expect from a wine two or three times the cost, I knew I should have bought a few more bottles.

Nuccio says his Dundee Hills Cuvée, which came from a very famous single vineyard, is most likely one-time only wine for Evesham Wood and came about when a friend who is the winemaker this well known, but can’t be named, winery in the Dundee Hills asked if Erin was interested in some Dundee Hills fruit and as she adds, after initially saying he had enough grapes booked, he came back with a price that was too good to pass up. The plan was to have it go into the regular Willamette Valley blend, but when Nuccio started seriously tasting the barrels it became apparent he had some special barrels, so made the choice to do this bottling from those 9 barrels, which in hindsight was an awesome decision. Evesham Wood was originally founded by Russ and Mary Raney in 1986, with a mission based on the idea that small is beautiful and with a desire to create value priced and easy to drink Pinots. To maintain a high level of quality, Evesham Wood, now in Nuccio and his wife Jordan’s hands, rely on two basic principles, as Nuccio notes, to obtaining optimally ripe low-yield fruit from the best possible sites in the Willamette Valley, and using minimal intervention in the winemaking process to express terroir and complexity in each offering. Nuccio, who also has the cult favorite Haden Fig label, took over here in 2010 and has upped the quality in recent vintages even further and I highly recommend his 2016, 2017 and these concentrated 2018s!
($26 Est.) 92 Pointsgrapelive

2018 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Roussane, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
A touch livelier than the prior few vintages and with a welcome zippy freshness of detail the 2018 Roussanne still has its impressive density on the palate with rich stone fruit and a phenolic intensity that let you know this is a serious wine, and of course tells it is Roussanne with the traces of waxy/oily notes. Tablas has now done close to twenty years of single varietal Roussanne and this Rhone grape has played a big role in their rise as a winery being a key varietal in their Esprit de Tablas Blanc, Chateauneuf du Pape blend, as well as being the major white grape of their cousin, Chateau de Beaucastel’s Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes by the Perrin Family, who are partners in Tablas Creek with the Haas family. This vintage with cooler personality, starting nicely crisp, gets more powerful with air in the glass unfolding in almost red wine like feel with layers of apricot, mixed citrus which comes through with a bright lemon tone and tart peach as well as clove spice, butterscotch, hazelnut and bitter almond oil along with subtle white flowers, tangy herb and lingering honeycomb. Once fully open the palate expands out to lavish full bodied white that makes you want something decedent on the menu, I can see Lobster tail and or swordfish steaks, and the oak influence adds a nice set toasty note that frames this Roussanne very well.

Tablas Creek makes their Roussanne using a combination of wood vessels and was blended from particular separate lots, 100% Roussanne and 100% estate grown hand harvested grapes, with all the fruit coming into the winery with excellent flavor development, vibrant acidity and very natural moderate alcohol, in 2018 this Roussanne is labeled at 12.4%, which helps explain the fine balance here. The winemakers, according to Tablas Creek’s notes, selected to use 55% from lager foudre, 35% from neutral oak puncheons, and 10% in small new French Burgundy type barriques, which adds the caramel/vanilla accent. White Rhone grapes are seeing a new rise in popularity with rare varieties like Grenache Blanc, Vermentino (Rolle), Picpoul and Clairette gaining new vineyard area each year, while classics like Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne showing renewed interest, much of that attention was stoked by the efforts here at Tablas Creek, who brought over quality clones and cuttings from France. This 2018 Roussanne is very expressive stuff, with its delicate mineral and crushed chalk details that come through with time hidden behind the weighty fruit and its one the best vintages I’ve tried, I am confident that it will age well too, I can see it lasting a decade, you can see in this vintage see a similar profile to well made Saint-Joseph(s) and or Guigal’s Hermitage Blanc. For those searching out a standard barer California Roussanne, should check out Stolpman’s, Alban’s and this Tablas Creek version, to name a few very impactful examples.
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Saint Cosme, Cotes du Rhone, Rhone Valley, France.
The deep purple/blue/garnet 100% Syrah Cotes du Rhone from Saint Cosme is without question one of the world’s greatest values and this 2019 vintage is thrillingly delicious with wonderful purity and layers of boysenberry, black cherry, plum and blueberry coulis along with some spicy accents, a hint of earth, graphite and salty melted black licorice. Louis Barruol’s Chateau de Saint Cosme is one of the Rhone’s finest producers, most famous for the estate’s classic Gigondas bottlings from his ancient and historic cellars at the site of a Gallo-Roman villa from the 1400s. Barruol’s ancestors acquired it in 1570, and at the end of the sixteenth century built the family home and began the tradition of quality winegrowing in the region that continues today, the Barruol’s have been vignerons for 14 generations. Saint Cosme is in the Dentelles de Montmirail range with a unique combination of soils and climate that makes it very special for wines. Saint Cosme’s vineyards are at a crossing of two geological faults, which is very rare, according to the winery, and this gives them an extraordinary diversity of soils, along with a microclimate is cool and late ripening, giving the wines balance and incredible depth.

The latest vintage of Saint Cosme’s Côtes du Rhône Rouge was crafted using Syrah grapes that were partially de-stemmed with some whole cluster from vines set on sandy limestone, red clay and pebbles on Villafranchian terraces and it was fermented and aged solely in tank. This 2029 is concentrated and impressive in the mouth adding pretty touches of violets and wild sage to its array of opulent dark fruits and lingering creme de cassis, this little Cotes du Rhone is simply outstanding, as goes without saying it’s a steal at the price. Even Barruol is saying the 2019 is one of the best versions he’s made, rivaling his 2010, and I couldn’t agree more, this is a vintage you’ll want to stock up on. Known as a Grenache specialist, Barruol is quite handy with Syrah, he also has made some fantastic Northern Rhone wines from purchased grapes, these include a brilliant collection of Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, Cote-Rotie and Crores-Hermitage bottlings, all which are worth searching out. Most recently, Barruol added the Château de Rouanne in Vinsobres to his lineup and this property is very exciting, with the first efforts here showing amazing potential. There’s so to admire in Saint Cosme’s latest set it’s hard to stay focused, but this edition of their Cotes du Rhone deserves a lot of attention, be sure not to miss it!
($16 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Bedrock Wine Company, Rosé “Ode to Lulu” California.
Morgan Twain-Peterson’s Bedrock Ode to Lulu, a tribute to the legendary Lucie “Lulu” Tempier Peyraud, the matriarch of the famous Domaine Tempier, who’s wine are famous around the world, especially their Bandol Rosé, which this wine takes inspiration from, made from mainly Mourvedre, that gives serious structure and with a touch of generous Grenache. Bedrock’s dry and tasty pink wine is in 2019 an absolute beauty with a sense of weightlessness and Summery bright detail, it is one of the best versions I’ve tried of this wine so far with pretty delicate rosewater, tart cherry, red peach, ruby grapefruit, a touch of snappy herbs, watermelon and a sensation of strawberry on the lingering finish. This is crisp and fresh showing a lifting cut of mouth-watering acidity as well as mineral notes and a little stony element that adds to the complexity and helps with giving the impression of completeness, this latest Ode to Lulu is full of life and energy, but comes with a graceful I’m not here to be loud confidence that really shows just how impressive this Rosé really is. The pate color confirms its non pretentious personality and I enjoy how the layers unfold and how truly refreshing this vintage is, this is one of the finest examples of California meets Provence Rosés out there.

The 2019 Bedrock Ode to Lulu was crafted of 65% Mataro, aka Mourvedre from old vines, set in sand in Oakley, some over 80 years old and 35% Grenache from even older vines in Mendocino County that are grown on mix of ancient rocky soils. Made with traditional methods and picked with lower sugars, this seductive wine which some a cool fermentation and a short aging period with light lees, plus it was bottled quickly to preserve all the vibrancy. Bedrock has established itself as one of California’s premier wineries in recent years, joining the likes of Ridge Vineyards, Turley Wine Cellars and others, making a fantastic series of wines, especially their Heritage lineup of Zinfandel based reds from historic vineyards that are inter-planted with an incredible combination and array of black grapes. I highly recommend discovering Bedrock’s collection, in particular this lovely Ode to Lulu as well as their iconic offerings from their estate Bedrock Vineyard and their Evangelho Vineyard bottlings. Morgan Twain-Peterson, who is now an MW, a master of wine, is one of the greatest voices in California wine as who has been a winemaker since a child, helping his dad, Joel Peterson of Ravenswood fame make wine, grew up appreciating these gnarly head trained vines. This 2019 Ode to Lulu is a wonder summer sipper and has the substance to be enjoyed with robust cuisine, it was fabulous with Pizza too.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Weingut Korrell, Riesling Trocken “Paradies” Estate Monopol, Nahe Germany.
I’ve been getting more and more excited about the 2019 as I get a chance to try them, this year looks set to be legendary in most German regions, especially here in the Nahe, where Donnhoff, Schlossgut Diel, Kruger-Rumpf, Schafer-Frohlich, Gut Hermannsberg and (this) Korrell are looking to have produced some of their greatest wines to date! And this Korrell Paradies dry Riesling lives up to that buzz easily with a stunning performance in the glass, showing impeccable form and crisp elegant details, it drinks every bit as good as a Grand Cru Burgundy and highlights its unique terroir. In recent years, I’ve been blessed with getting some of Korrell’s releases, as they are not easy to find in the States as of yet, and I’ve been highly impressed with the full range of wines that Martin and Britta Korrell have put out, but I must say this bottling, their signature effort is really something exceptional with its gorgeous purity of flavors and distinctive textural quality and this vintage is another step up for this small family estate. The Paradies, is the oldest single site Korrell has and is the flagship wine of winemaker Martin Korrell, it comes from his family’s vines that are farmed with great respect for nature with sustainable and mostly organic methods, it is set on limestone and clay soils, on a hillside patch of ground in the Bad Kreuznach area of the Nahe region.

This 2019 Paradies flows across the medium bodied palate with graceful opulence and mineral tones, this wine, is the heart and soul of Korrell’s lineup, this site sees more sunshine and the limestone allows for some serious concentration, while also retaining exciting acidity. There is always great attention paid to pick dates to finely tune this signature Riesling so that it delivers all of the complexity and nuances that the site develops. Korrell mixes some traditional stainless fermentations with some native yeast and barrel ferments to craft his wines and the Paradies shows a beautiful leesy finesse, as noted in prior reviews of this wine, and the mouth feel and length are quite delectable. This vintage echos my first impressions with white peach/apricot stone fruits leading the way and with a mixture of citrus and melon as well come through along with wet stones, a refreshing saline element, crystalized ginger, spearmint tea, verbena and aromatic herbs. With air, there is a touch of tropical or exotic fruit that flitters in the background and this Paradies opens its arms and stretches out, I can alone imagine how great it will be in 5 to 10 years, it is an outstanding and regal Riesling. I enjoyed it immensely all on its own, but it got even better with a delicate Thai green curry dish, which I thought might not be its best pairing, showing this Korrell can be flexible with cuisine options. I highly recommend exploring this 2019 collection from Korrell, and I am hoping this Paradies gets more widely available, as it is such a beauty.
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2017 Brick House, Pinot Noir, Select, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Only made in abundant and ripe vintages the Brick House Select Pinot Noir is a special entry level barrel selection of all estate grown, 100% biodynamic, grapes from this famous winery’s Ribbon Ridge vines set on marine sedimentary soils, it is always an incredible value and this 2017 is extra delicious, wonderfully detailed and lengthy. There’s lots to admire here, this quite lush 2017 Select starts with an array of floral aromatics, dark fruit and racy spices before fully opening up on its medium bodied and succulent palate, revealing a range of black cherry, plum, blueberry and wild strawberry fruits in a caressing and silken wave along with touches of seeped rose petals, tea leaf, cinnamon and a hint of earth and mineral. With air this pure Pinot fruited wine just gets better and more distinctive, hats off to Doug Tunnell and his team at Brick House for this exceptionally drinkable offering. Brick House does an amazing set wines, all sourced from their estate, including this one, plus Tunnell’s Les Dijonnais Pinot Noir, Cuvée du Tonnelier Pinot Noir, two Chardonnays and one of the new world’s best Gamay Noir(s).

Brick House, an Oregon classic, was founded by Doug Tunnell back in 1990 and was a major player in what I call the second wave of greats to get started in the Willamette Valley, with the likes of Beaux Freres’ Mike Etzel, Ken Wright, John Paul of Cameron and Mark Vlossak of St. Innocent to name a few and was one of first to embrace organic and holistic farming, including practicing biodymanics in their vineyards. The wines are produced using traditional Burgundian techniques and this wine saw about 20% whole cluster, with full set of the estate’s Pinot Noir clones, with stem inclusion and was fermented using only indigenous (natural or native) yeast without any manipulation or additives and then the Select Pinot was raised in well seasoned or neutral French barrique for 18 months with alone one racking, that was to tank for bottling, all of which to allow the wine’s true flavors to shine through. The vineyards at Brick House have been certified organic for 25 years and are also certified biodynamic by Demeter, which Tunnell thinks makes all the difference in the quality of his wines, giving them life and energy, and this Select makes a compelling case in support, it is drinking fantastic, enjoy it over the next 3 to 5 years.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Ochota Barrels, Grenache “The Green Room” Mclaren Vale, South Australia.
The beautiful Ochota Barrels old vine “The Green Room” Grenache Noir comes from classic bush vines planted back in 1946 on a combination of schist and limestone in the McLaren Vale region of South Australia and was lovingly hand crafted using lessons learned over twenty years and inspired by small biodynamic wines in southern France with native yeasts, whole bunches and ultra low sulfur to allow the grapes to express themselves in their most natural and pure form. Taras and Amber Ochota’s Ochota Barrels wines go against the our perceptions of Aussie wines, they are not inky dark and or overtly fruity and rightly so have generated a buzz beyond their border and have gained notoriety throughout the wine world. Sourced from organically farmed vineyards, Taras Ochota, who has made wines around the world, makes an interesting array of wines from Gewurztraminer to Pinot Noir, as well as a Gamay and Grenache, like this one. This “The Green Room” reminds me of some of the really good stuff coming from the Sierra de Gredos (A hot spot for Grenache/Garnacha in the mountains above Madrid, in Spain) with a fine balance and an array of pretty red fruits including dusty raspberry, strawberry, pomegranate, plum and morello cherry along with spicy accents with a hint of earth and mineral too. This wine drinks brightly and smoothly, very much like a Pinot Noir, especially with its low 12.7% natural alcohol, satiny in mouth and it opens to reveal some floral details, savory notes and a touch of licorice.

The Ochota Barrels began, according to legend, on a surf trip, in late 2000 when the world traveling couple were trekking along the west coast of Mexico n a Volkswagen fried-out Kombi (camper van), yes, like The Men at Work song, as they thought about what was next in their adventures. Baja and left coast Mexico were their final destination after traveling to some of the world’s most amazing wine and surf regions. At that point Taras and Amber Ochota hatched a plan to make what they hoped would be beautiful holistic wines back home in South Australia. After, what Taras calls, a mis-spent youth playing a Rickenbacker bass in various punk bands, noting he played on Kranktus’ Heckler album, Taras became an Oenology graduate from Adelaide University one of the most prestigious wine schools in the world. Ochota developed his craft with stints at vineyards and wineries around the world including Italy, working all around the boot, as well as on Sicily, France and here in California, where he worked at Kunin, Bonnacorsi, Arcadian, Schrader, Outpost and Hitching Post. Taras and Amber have now made home on tiny and steep sloped patch of land deep in the Basket Range of the beautiful Adelaide Hills wine region, where they farm and make some of the most intriguing Australian offerings of their generation. I can’t wait to try more of these wines and learn more about Australia’s new generation of small wineries, after enjoying this fun and tasty Ochota Barrels offering, it looks like there’s a lot to discover!
($39 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Elaine Wines, Pinot Noir, Calypte Vineyard, Russian River Valley.
A luxurious inaugural release Pinot Noir from Elaine Sale of Elaine Wines in Forestville, a cool climate zone in the Russian River Valley AVA of Sonoma County, made in a style that follows some of her famous neighbors and reminds me of Martinelli, Merry Edwards, Lynmar, Rochioli and Papapietro Perry with its deep concentration, bold flavors and lots of toasty French oak. This is a pretty seductive and confident first effort from Sale and it certainly makes the most of the vintage with lush black cherry, raspberry, plum and mission fig fruits along with sassafras/cola bean, black tea spiciness, subtle rose petals, lavish medium plus Burgundy barrel accents with vanilla and sweet smoke that adds a sense of hedonistic richness and will appeal to those that want a sleek modern Pinot. With air, this wine opens up nicely, shedding its more obvious ripeness and wood allowing a glimpse of where this wine is heading, like other bigger Pinots from this region, a sense of graceful refinement comes through, making for a wonderfully comforting wine that has some potential to blossom with another few years in bottle. This youthful and expressive wine goes super with many menu options from blackened salmon to short ribs, it gets more complex and complete with hearty cuisine and it proved itself as a crowd pleaser with a range of picky wine drinks.

Elaine, who sources her wines from the Calypte Vineyard, does this Pinot Noir along with a Chardonnay, which I will dig into soon as well, was referred to me by a winemaker friend who sees this vineyard and wine as future stars. The Calypte Vineyard set on ancient riverbed with a graveling mix of stony soils was planted in 1998 and is, as noted, located in Forestville in the western zone of the Russian River Valley with lots of fog in the evenings and mornings with a nice sunny exposure that captures plenty of afternoon warm. This three acre hillside vineyard, according to Elaine, sits at an elevation of 500 feet, less than one mile from the Russian River and just about 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean with hand tended vines that are carefully overseen by Ms Sale. This Calypte Vineyard Pinot, 100% clone 115, was born from serve selections of hand picked grapes and saw about 10% whole cluster in the fermentation, along with a extended cold soak for full fruit extraction and giving this wine its dark color. The Elaine Calypte Pinot, which is an ultra limited offering with just under 50 cases produced, was raised in barrique for 12 months with this vintage seeing close to 50% new oak, which adds to the lavish mouth feel and silky tannin. I look forward to seeing how this wine develops with some cellar time and I’m very excited to see how Elaine did with her 2018s.
($50 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Vigneti Massa, Barbera “Terra Implicito” Vino Rosso, Colli Tortonesi, Piedmonte, Italy.
Walter Massa’s Vigneti Massa is one of the most interesting wineries in Piedmonte, focused on some rare varietals as well as classic Barbera, like in this Terra Implicito, located in the Colli Tortonesi zone on a terroir that is composed of various soils including clay, chalk, stone and sand and is all pretty steeply sloped perched around the nearly-abandoned hilltop town of Monleale Alto, around 200-300 meters above sea level. Massa is credited with resurrecting the Timorasso, an almost extinct white grape that is now one of the most coveted in the region and Walter helped create the Derthona DOC, Timarasso’s most important cru, and now is bringing new attention to another native grape Croatina, a red grape that usually is blended into various bottlings in small amounts. That said, it was fun to see Massa’s take on a simple Barbera and I wasn’t a bit disappointed as this 2018 vintage Terra Implicito, sourced from 30-60 year old vines, showed beautifully well and has its own unique character, quite different from Barbera d’Asti or Alba versions. This wine is simple and fresh, in a good way, it comforts and goes great with food, especially pasta dishes with dusty red berry fruits, wild herbs, spice and a hint of earthiness, it has layers of raspberry, currant, brandied cherry and a touch of guava and cranberry fruits as well as minty basil, dried flowers, nutmeg and anise.

Walter Massa’s estate is about 30 hectares and has, as I’ve been imformed, eight distinct vineyard areas that explores each distinct grape with an obsession to bring out every nuance the vines here can give, and though this wine is more for early drinking, Massa is working hard to produce wines that age, especially his Timorasso, which I hear cellars incredibly well and for which I plan to test myself. Vigneti Massa’s total production is about 13,000 cases, of which 5,000 is Timorasso, with the rest being his reds crafted from local grapes, like the mentioned Croatina and Barbera, as well as Freisa, another rarity, plus Nebbiolo. The vines are all hand tended and cared for with holistic methods and the cellar work is mostly old school and traditional paying tribute to the region’s history. The Terra line at Vigneti Massa are almost always made using native yeasts, with maceration, fermentation and aging in stainless steel to preserve freshness and purity. This Terra Implicito Vino Rosso, mainly Barbera, is not as exciting as Massa’s Derthona Timorasso, which drinks like a high end white Burgundy, but it is very tasty and a pleasant surprise, especially for the price, its medium body and ripe tannin make it easy to enjoy, drink it up over the next year or so. I highly recommend discovering all of Vigneti Massa’s offerings, again you certainly need to try the Derthona Timorasso, which I have reviewed here in recent years, as well as checking out the reds, these are solid and wines that reflect a passion of place.
($15 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Dirty & Rowdy Family Winery, MSG, Chalone AVA, Monterey County.
Hardy Wallace and Matt Richardson, Dirty & Rowdy’s founders and winemakers, have crafted a gorgeous Chateauneuf du Pape style red from the chalky limestone soils of Chalone that is led by their favorite Mourvedre along with a good dose of Syrah and some Grenache grapes, making for a dark purple/garnet fruit forward and spicy wine that highlights the beautiful nature of vintage and place. Dirty & Rowdy only made six barrels of their Live Monterey County MSG (about 41% Mourvedre, 39% Syrah, and the rest Grenache) with fruit coming from some of their prized vineyards within the Chalone zone where they have been getting Mourvedre, Melon (once thought to be Pinot Blanc!) and Grenache for many years now. This 2018 shows an energetic dark force of fruit flavors on the full bodied palate with exceptional purity showing black raspberry, marionberry, sweet tree picked plum, pomegranate and blueberry coulis along with perfumed florals, zesty spices, anise and a fine chalky/stony note. This wine feels fabulous and has crisp detailing with a nice cut of acidity, low alcohol at around 13.3% and keeps revealing additional layers as it opens with a touch of Mourvedre meatiness, savory elements from the use of whole bunches with stem inclusion and sticky lavender notes. Richardson and Wallace, who’s winery facility is in Santa Rosa, source grapes from all over the state, they have searched out prime locations to get Mourvedre (also known as Mataro) with vines in the Sierra Foothills, Contra Costa, San Benito and Monterey County, which supplies these grapes with the old Antle Vineyard and Brousseau playing leading roles. This MSG goes best with simple or country style cuisine, I enjoyed it with left over pasta, but it would be excellent with brisket, tri-tip and or Turkish lamb kabobs.

Dirty & Rowdy is a breathe of fresh air in California’s new generation of producers, always being unpretentious, full of humble humor and playful their presentation of the wines which are crafted in a freewheeled natural way as to allow a certain raw and un-fiddled with transparency on full display, they employ native yeast fermentations with no additions or adjustments except in the most challenging of situations and age the wines primarily in old neutral French barrels. They also have been exploring skin contact whites, with their Semillon being of particular interest with its concrete egg aging adding to the intrigue. That all said, these wines are pretty serious in terms of complexity, especially this stunning Rhone style red, it could easily be mistaken for an old world wine with its poise and slightly dusty flavors and while boldly California fruit dominated it never gets flabby or dull and it would impress in a blind tasting, not question. I love this bottling, although it is going to be hard to get at stage, it is worth chasing down, but never fear if you can’t get any, as the 2019 vintage should be just as delicious and maybe even better. Wallace is one of the great unfiltered characters and I highly recommend checking his Instagram out, he has some fantastic vineyard footage and lots laughs to enjoy. I got turned on to Dirty & Rowdy by Ian Brand, one of Monterey’s top winemaking guns and vineyard whisperer, who also makes tasty Mourvedre as well. Brand has the opinion that Rhone grapes have starring role in Chalone and are the future of this unique terroir, after enjoying this bottle, I whole heartedly agree! I suggest getting on the mailing list and be sure to explore their Enz Vineyard Mourvedre, the Shake Ridge Mourvedre and the Dirty & Rowdy entry level and fantastically quaffable California Familiar Mourvedre.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive Reviews – August, 2020

2017 Domaine du Chene, Syrah, Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes, Northern Rhone Valley, France.
This fun and easy drinking Syrah from Domaine du Chene in Saint-Joseph comes from 35 year old vines just outside the AOC from the Chezenas vineyard, all organic and dry farmed, in St. Pierre de Boeuf with granite soils at 400 meters of elevation. This fruit forward and fresh version is a wonderful value red, it came from hand harvested grapes that underwent a fifteen day fermentation in tank with daily pigeage and pressed at dryness, all done with native yeasts. This Syrah saw a brief spell in well seasoned French oak cask to allow a bit of maturity and texture, but to preserve purity and freshness for early drinking. This vintage, warm and ripe is juicy with blueberry compote, crushed boysenberry, damson plum and sweet cherry fruits along with subtle savory elements, wild herb, graphite, anise and violets, this is not overly serious, but highly quaffable and nice companion to simple and or rustic food choices. This wine, a smile inducing 100% Syrah, would be a delight on a Fall by the glass list with hearty cuisine menu options.

Domaine du Chene, imported to America by Valkyrie Selections, who have savvy portfolio of old world producers, was founded n 1985 by Dominique and Marc Rouvière, who have their small cellars in Chavanay in the heart of the northern Rhône. According to Valkyrie, over about a decade, Domaine du Chene invested in significant renovations both in the vineyards and winery to producer elegant and terroir driven wines with a special focus on the estate’s premier 16 hectares parcels in Saint-Joseph and Condrieu. In recent years these Syrah and Viognier based offerings have drawn in a loyal following and Dominique and Marc’s children, Anaïs and Julien, joined their parents in 2012, helping raise the game here even further, the wines are not overtly flashy, but the quality and soulfulness shine through. For those looking for authentic character and well drinking wines, Domaine du Chene is very worth searching out, with this one being a very solid value and for more complexity be sure to check out their Saint-Joseph Rouge, which shows much more intensity, as well as the perfumed and textural Condrieu.
($16 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2019 Martha Strumen, Mendocino Benchlands Red, Mendocino County.
The latest release from Martha Stoumen, the Mendocino Benchlands 2019, is a wine that blurs the difference between the old world and the new world and is an exceptional effort from Stoumen showing off a beautiful array of black fruits, spice and fresh details with delicate earthy notes as well as bright acidity. The Mendocino Benchlands is a unique blend of Nero d’Avola and Zinfandel, in what Martha calls a “Cerasuolo di California” inspired by Sicily’s famous Cerasuolo di Vittoria blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato, that Stoumen saw first hand while working at COS in Sicily a few years back. The Nero d’Avola is sourced from mostly from a vineyard Martha farms, the Chiarito Vineyard in Ukiah as well as Benson Ranch Vineyard and the Fox Hill Vineyard in the Talmage Bench, a vineyard that has lots of rare Italian varietals planted, while the Zinfandel comes 100% from Chiarito Vineyard, with all the vines being organic and dry farmed, mostly all classically head trained. Stoumen, like most of this new generation of California winemakers, uses native or indigenous yeasts and ultra low sulfur, preferring longer macerations to stabilize the wine, rather than additions or adjustments in what we sometimes call natural winemaking and the wines are raised in neutral (well used) French oak.

This 2019 vintage is looking every bit as good as the fantastic 2018 and this new Mendocino Benchlands takes full advantage of the year delivering gorgeous range of flavors, heavily influenced by that Zinfandel, showing black raspberry, plum, dark cherry and sweet currant fruits along with a touch of game, anise, wild herbs and dried violets. This Mendocino Benchlands is deliciously textural and graceful, while still vivid and lively with its acidity providing a sense of lift and energy making this deeply colored red a tasty BBQ wine. This wine gets better and better while in the glass picking up a savory element that balances the ripe fruit and the youthful vibrancy, it also have satiny and polished structural tannins, which bodes well for its aging potential, though as good as it is now, not many will have the patience to cellar this one. Martha’s wines are all pretty, transparent and stylish in a way that allows a their raw purity shine through, they are non pretentious and quaffable offerings, with this new addition to her lineup being one of her best to date. Stoumen has focused on vineyards that are holistically farmed in lesser known regions, like the inland hillside sites of Mendocino with a mix of California soils and bush vines. These are serious wines that are entertaining, which Martha calls playful and their rustic charms are very compelling.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 M & C Lapierre, Morgon “Cuvee Marcel Lapierre” Cru Beaujolais, France.
The beautiful 2018 Lapierre Cuvee Marcel, one of the wold’s great wines, is full of generosity and natural soulfulness with loads of pure Gamay fruit, deep floral tones, spices and mineral notes, making for a stunning effort and one we’ve been accustomed to over the years. It is a perfect tribute to the late Marcel Lapierre, crafted by his son Mathieu, who has really done a fantastic job since taking over this famous Morgon estate, which was originally founded in 1904, known for their expressive and natural style wines, which are all certified organic and inspired by, as Lapierre’s importer Kermit Lynch notes, Jules Chauvet, a man whom many now call his spiritual godfather. Chauvet was a winemaker, a researcher, a chemist, and a viticultural prophet that convinced Marcel Lapierre that Beaujolais should follow natural winemaking, fighting against the use of chemicals and pesticides, and restoring historic traditions, his influence is still felt today in the great wines of this region, like top producers Dutraive, Foillard, Thevenet, Sunier, Guy Breton and of course the young Matthieu Lapierre. This 2018 is everything you’d ever want and expect with ripe layers of black plum, Luxardo maraschino cherries, pomegranate, red currant and candied orange peel fruits along with a hint of earth, lovely crushed violets, walnut, cinnamon, all spice, a faint touch of game, minty herb and a delicate sense of minerallity.

The 2018 Cuvee Marcel Lapierre, which comes from a special selection of 100 year old wines in the Morgon Cru set on gravelly soils underpinned by the classic decomposed granite shows a textural brilliance and has a hedonistic mouth feel, this wine just makes you happy, it asks or wants for nothing, giving true vinous pleasure. The grapes are all carefully hand tended, with the Lapirerre’s choosing to pick a bit later and with full grape development and minimalist approach in the cellar using indigenous yeast fermentations. The Lapierres, being Matthieu and his sister Camille, raise their wines on fine lees for at least nine months in neutral oak foudres and fûts ranging from three to thirteen years old as not to accent the wood on the wines, preferring each wine to as transparent and fruit expressive as possible. The Cuvee Marcel, saw full whole cluster fermentation, in the à l’ancienne method, with primary maceration at low temperatures and lasting for two to three weeks usually. All of wines at Lapierre are delicious, especially this old vine Gamay, which is pretty hard to get these, but I also highly recommend their estate Morgon as well as their Juliénas, which is done with their cousin Christophe Pacalet, plus the other special bottling Morgon “Cuvée Camille” that is the most recent addition to the winery’s lineup. The gracious and dark ruby hued Cuvee Marcel gains complexity as you happily sip it and while easy and joyous it reminds you often that it is also a seriously impressive wine, in particular this vintage.
($50 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Pietradolce, Etna Rosso DOC, Sicily Italy.
The fresh pinot like and slightly smoky Etna Rosso from Pietradolce is lighter style and easy to enjoy wine that delivers the essence of the unique terroir on the Sicilian volcano where it comes from with layers of tart cherry, strawberry, red peach and citrus zest along with flinty stones, a hint of leather, wild herbs and snappy spices. With a bit of air a more pretty and elegant form appears on the medium bodied palate that rounds out nicely with satiny mouth feel, this turns into a quite gem, especially with food, making it a solid value expression of Mount Etna. The Pietradolce Etna Rosso is made from 100% Nerello Mascalese grapes, grown on the stony, lava based soils on the cooler and high elevation northern slopes of the Etna volcano, which all adds to the complexity and personality in this wine. After experiencing this wine with food and friends, I’d buy it again no question, it was perfect choice at dinner with a range of dishes from steak to crisp battered cod with risotto. There is a clean and lively character flowing in this pretty ruby red Pietradolce, it is a solid performance and a very approachable Nerello Mascalese, which sometimes get favorably compared to Burgundy in its transparent flavors and the distinction of place.

Pietradolce is owned by Michele & Mario Faro and was founded in 2005 on the Northern slopes of Mount Etna and based in Solicchiata, Castiglione di Sicilia, in the province of Catania, all their wines are 100% estate grown and bottled with only the native grapes to Etna, which are bush vine, or head trained to reduce the need of irrigation in the volcanic sandy loams that also have abundance mineral elements. The Pietradolce Rosso, a single vineyard wine, is the winery’s entry level offering mostly from their younger vines, with a range 40 to 50 year vines, it’s 100% Nerello Mascalese that is grown at close to 2,000 feet above sea level. Mount Etna has a special micro-climate that is cooler than other areas in Sicily with big swings in day to night temps in the shadow of the volcano, which helps retain the vibrant acidity. This Etna Rosso, all hand harvested and macerated on the skins for about 20 days and fermented in tank before being raised in lightly toasted French oak Burgundy style barrels, which are mostly used, as this wine shows no overt oak influence. Mount Etna has become a mecca for enthusiast wine lovers and I highly recommend discovering this amazing winegrowing region, with this Pietradolce being a nice place to start!
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Filipa Pato, Baga “Dinamica” Bairrada Tinto, Portugal.
This dark purple/garnet and delicious Dinamica by Filipa Pato and her husband William Wouters is made from the local grape Baga, all from organic vineyard sites within the Bairrada DOC with some of the fruit coming from their biodynamic estate. Pato’s latest release of Dinamica Tinto is an exceptional value and satisfying red wine with a little earthy charm and spice showing blackberry, plum and currant fruits along with shaved cinnamon, white pepper, minty herbs and delicate mineral tones on its medium bodied palate. Filipa says her wines don’t wear any makeup, I agree, they are openly rustic and transparent with a feeling of place and they are lovely food wines, with this one being fabulous with a wide array of cuisine and can be enjoyed with a slight chill for warm days and evenings. The 2018 Dinamica unfolds in the glass and deepens significantly with air, with silken tannin and lively acidity highlighting the Atlantic Ocean influence, this wine just got better and more impressive with every sip. I’ve been a big fan of this winery for years, but in recent tastings these wines all have got even better, the Pato collection is full of tasty choices.

A deep affection and sense of pride for the traditional indigenous varietals of Bairrada, like Baga, led Filipa Pato to start her own label in 2001, and now she is considered one of Portugal’s best and authentic winemakers with a nod to the newer generation natural style with minimal additions and low sulfur. She works, according to her US importer Skurnik Wines, a total of 12 hectares of vineyards scattered in various plots throughout the Bairrada appellation and the wines show the terroir influences. This Dinamica is made from 100% Baga sourced primarily from Filipa and William’s estate vineyards in Ois do Bairro, as well as some grapes from other growers in Bairrada, grown on limestone-rich clay soils with everything being handpicked and carefully sorted for the utmost quality. In this wine, the grapes are fully de-stemmed and get a gentle maceration with fermentation and aging entirely in tank to preserve freshness and purity. This wine is an incredible value, as are most Portuguese wines, especially considering its is an estate made small producer wine, I recommend it very highly, plus be sure to check out Pato’s 3D Baga Bubbly and her gorgeous white wines, made from Bical and Arinto, too.
($15 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 G.D. Vajra, Langhe Rosso, Piedmonte, Italy.
After a week of splurges at home for wine, I needed to just enjoy an everyday wine and this Langhe Rosso by Giuseppe Vajra fit the bill and exceeded even my high expectations, it was a perfect Tuesday night red and wonderfully enjoyable with a light meal. For those that follow my website will have heard of Vajra, I’ve been a fan since Giuseppe’s 2008 Bricco delle Viole Barolo blew my mind, and now Vajra gets mentioned in some pretty elite company for his fantastic collection of Barolo crus, under his family’s G.D. Vajra label as well as the Luigi Baudana label, they are some of the most thrilling Nebbiolos available. That said, Vajra is not a one trick pony, and I love his alternative wines, especially his absolutely awesome dry Riesling, which I enjoy almost as much as his Barolo, as well as the Vajra Dolcetto, Barbera and the Kye Freisa. Vajra’s Langhe Rosso blend is primarily the classic varietals Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, and Barbera, but also has an interesting addition of Albarossa, Freisa and even a touch of Pinot Noir all of which makes for a unique Piedmonte red that shows silky tannins, tangy vibrant fruits including brandied cherries, plum, cranberry, grilled citrus (Moro orange) and tart red currant along with wild herbs, delicate rustic notes, floral elements, mineral and savory spices.

Giuseppe Vajra continues the traditions of his father Aldo, who was a big advocate for organic and holistic farming and promoted a sense of lightness in the wines always searching out vineyard sites thought to be too cold and too high up to ripen, but as history shows he was spot on and Vajra’s high elevation Barolo is one of the most prized wines in the world. The Vajra Rosso is mostly all stainless steel fermented with each lot and varietal done separately and blended before an early bottling to preserve fresh brightness, which this dark ruby/blue hued 2018 shows with lovely transparent clarity. This 2018 opens up nicely with air adding pipe tobacco, black tea, cola bean and dried rose petals, but the minty zesty tartness remains until the finish, in fact it is really nice with a bit of chill and with a picnic spread and or pasta dishes. The 2017 vintage was very warm and the wines are a bit bigger and fruit driven, with these 2018 shows a little more finesse and acidity, which shows through in this Langhe Rosso, it is wine to enjoy now and often, it has a hand crafted feel, but has no pretense, it is easy and delicious. For those looking for value with want this one, no question, but if you want to stay varietal pure, I highly recommend Vajra’s Dolcello, Barbera and Nebbiolo bottlings, there’s quality, value and grace throughout the lineup here.
($18 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Selbach-Oster, Riesling Spatlese, Zeltinger Schlossberg, Mosel Germany.
A beautiful and classic Mosel, the Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Schlossberg Spatlese is one of my favorite terroir driven wines, there’s just something special about this wine that sings a sirens song to me and I find that this 2018 a vintage of pure pleasure and a soulful expression of place with loads of character that can only come from the Blue Devonian slate and light loamy soil and the steep slopes of the Mosel. Johannes Selbach has created so many exciting wines in the recent vintages it’s hard to keep up, but this Schlossberg Spatlese should not be missed by Riesling fans, it is full of mineral tones and thrilling apple, apricot, passionfruit, quince and lime fruits along with smoky flint, wet stones, spearmint and sweet green melon. The residual sugar gives this Riesling a medium to full bodied mouth feel, a sense of creaminess, but with vivid detailing and precise control, its sweetness makes it gorgeous with spicy foods and is never cloying or dulling in anyway, the balance is impeccable. Selbach’s Zeltingen parcels in Himmelreich, Schlossberg and Sonnenuhr are all Grand Cru class with perfect exposure, old ungrafted vines and all hand tended, these are the prized plots in the portfolio, and adds to the complexity and concentration in the wines.

A man, ruled by love of family and traditions, Johannes Selbach has tremendous respect for his region and a deep passion to deliver wines of exceptional purity and wine that offer hedonistic joy in the glass, and his high must weight wines are some of the best in Germany and they never fail to seduce, especially the the Spatlese and Auslese offerings that have a profound sense of history and can be enjoyed with a wide range of cuisines, though they are sublime with Thai curries and chili crab dishes. Selbach uses a combination of stainless and German Fuder (oak) casks for fermentation and aging with the Zeltinger Schlossberg Spatlese getting the Mosel Fuder and a sponti (natural indigenous yeast) ferment before being raised on the lees for between 6 to 9 months. This 2018 vintage is lush and clean with refined form and a core of polished acidity that cuts the sweet impact, with air the Schlossberg reveals a saline element, light floral notes and the finish is lingering, but will only get better with time. This is a great early drinking vintage, best with food and while there’s a lot of buzz about the 2019s that are starting to show up, these should not be overlooked, in particular this vineyard, with this Spatlese and the Kabinett offering huge delights and value!
($29 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Laura Lorenzo – Daterra Viticultores, Portela do Vento, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia Spain.
In recent years Laura Lorenzo has emerged as one of stars of Spanish wines and I’ve been a fan since my first taste of her old vine Mencia based Lacima from her previous gig at Dominio do Bibei and her first release under her own label Daterra Viticultores, which have brought a world of interest and admiration to her region, in Spain’s remote and fascinating Ribeira Sacra. Following Laura’s efforts has left me, and many, in awe of her heroic and back breaking work in her steep and incredibly difficult sites, which look more like the Mosel than what most people think the vineyards look like in Spain, in fact it much harder to work the vines here as there is almost no roads and everything has to be hand carried in. Even more impressive, is Lorenzo’s 2018 vintage, a year of wet and cool conditions that put even more pressures on tending the grapes, and yet the wines are gorgeous and complex, like this Portela do Vento Tinto that delivers a wonderful array of flavors on the medium bodied palate including black cherry, cranberry, currant and fleshy plum fruits, delicate earth, mineral tones, anise, savory herbs and spiced cedar. The 2018 Portela do Vento, made from a field blend selection of mainly old vine Mencia, about 70%, along with small inter-planted amounts of Alicante Bouschet, Merenzao, Mouratón and Gran Negro grown on a mix of granite and sandy loam soils, which are all farmed by hand and to organic methods, in the Amandi and Val do Bibei sub zones. With everything going on in the world and the wine world right now, it is great to have wines like this available, it is an authentic wine made by a special producer with a passion for place and a commitment that brings a certain magic to the experience.

These Daterra Viticultores reds are unique terroir driven wines, they remind me in terms of quality and style to Cru Beaujolais, as done by Lapierre and maybe the northern Rhone, as many compare Ribeira Sacra Mencia to a lighter version of Crozes-Hermitage. Lorenzo, who interned at Eben Sadie’s Sadie Family Wines in South Africa, is focused on the vineyards first and foremost and makes her wines with natural methods and a gentle touch, her wines always are pure and transparent with lovely texture and vivid profiles. Being close to the Atlantic and enduring its influences, the Ribeira Sacra has been a historic growing region since Roman times at least, but due to the hard work involved and its remoteness it became a less known region until now as a new generation have brought the area into the wine world spotlight with the same excitement that Mount Etna is getting. In the cellar, Lorenzo uses indigenous yeast and spontaneous fermentation with partial whole cluster in a variety of vessels, in this case she used neutral French barrels and foudres without any additions or adjustments and then the Portela do Vento is raised in a combination of old cask and chestnut barrels as to not accent to wine with oak. The wines are fresh in detail, textural and great with food, they seem to benefit from short term aging, though I can’t seem to keep my hands off them, they exciting and delicious, I enjoy them with a little chill and with a range of cuisines. This dark ruby 2018 opens easily with a bit of whole bunch crunchiness adding floral notes, a slight carbonic impression and lingering tart crispness, making it a lovely Summer red. The vintage wasn’t easy and Laura had to make some hard choices which makes this bottle that much more a celebration and it is a pretty effort, like a Fleurie, that I find hard to resist and re-enforces my admiration of Lorenzo’s talent, be sure to search her wines out.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Anthill Farms Winery, Pinot Noir, Peters Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
The still youthfully tight 2016 Anthills Farms Peters Pinot has plenty to offer in structure, energy and whole bunch earthy crunchiness with layers of transparent red fruits and a touch of smoky toast that all of which reminds me of a powerful Nuits Saint Georges Burgundy, it is a wine that seems very age worthy, especially with its slow reveal of flavors and sense of depth. This Peters Pinot got lots of hang time, for the grapes, which translates to ripeness, but also that the vineyard retains natural acidity that heightens the experience. The main impression on the palate is a core of black cherry along with plum, strawberry, pomegranate as well as an interesting array of spices and delightful tanginess/savoriness. 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, focusing on mostly single site Pinots from cooler vineyards in California’s western Sonoma Coast as well as Mendocino, back in 2004. Filiberti has grown into one of California’s best winemakers and know also makes the wines at the famous Hirsch Vineyards and his work at Anthill Farms shows his talent with Pinot Noir much like his contemporaries Ross Cobb, Wells Guthrie and Jason Drew, over the last decade his wines have been some of the most prized and sought after in the state.

Anthill Farms have been making a Peters Vineyard Pinot Noir for many years and it is one of my favorites in the lineup, the vines are about 30 years old now and Randy Peters and his father-in-law, Tom Mukaida, farm this vineyard outside of Sebastopol in western Sonoma County. Peters supplies awesome grapes to Anthill Farms, as well as other notable wineries, including some to Papapietro Perry. The southern slopes of these hills form the northern edge of the Petaluma Gap, which rushes cool, marine air from the Pacific Ocean inland creating a dynamic warm-and-cool environment that creates wines of elegant bearing and tight precision. The vines at the Peters Vineyard are, as the winery notes, a mix of Pommard and 777, plus some Wadenswil (Swiss Clone) and 115 clone, set on a former Gravenstein apple orchard with Goldridge sandy loam soils. gravelly soils, producing grapes that ripen unusually slow due to the oft-present morning fog. A minimalist approach in the cellar and gentle handling of exceptional grapes are an Anthill Farms signature employing indigenous yeast and partial whole cluster fermentation(s) with aging in mostly used French oak, all to promote terroir clarity and Pinot purity, which this 2016 delivers in the glass, highlighting the gripping personality of the vintage and this Peters is developing into an absolutely gorgeous and complex wine. I hope to enjoy these Anthill ’16s again in 5 to 10 years, they are really coming into their own, especially this Peters and their Comptche Ridge, usually my most favorite of the collection.
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2016 Chateau Reynier, Bordeaux Supérieur, Grand Vin de Bordeaux Red, France.
The solid performing and value priced Chateau Reynier Bordeaux is made from 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot grown on the estate’s limestone and clay soils with asteria limestone subsoil that adds a classic flavor profile to this lighter style red that seems perfectly happy not trying to hard and would be a joyous and happy choice at your local bistro. This is never going to be anything other than a nice and easy Bordeaux to enjoy over the next few years, but sometimes a friendly Cabernet blend that is comforting is just what the mind and body call for, a wine that does require too much thought or attention. The 2016 vintage, very much a highly regarded year and much hyped proved perfect for these lower end offerings with ripe layers and a touch more charm than most years and this Reynier gives a good account of itself with black cherry, plum, mulberry and currant fruits, with the Merlot adding a smooth caressing mouth feel, while the Cabernet, somewhat muted here adds an impression of structure and enough tannin to hold up to hearty foods, along with a snap of floral notes, cedar and a hint of mineral. The Chateau Reynier opens a bit with air and some oak shows giving an impression of luxuriousness, this is not a loud wine or is it trying to hard, certainly you could do a lot worse than this when it comes to lower priced Bordeaux. My own opinion is that, most of time, you should be very selective and drink really good Bordeaux to really understand why it is such a great region, but for parties and no pretense drinking a wine like this is perfectly fine.

Chateau Reynier, owned by the famous Lurton family and run by winemaker Marc Lurton, was founded by his great grandfather in 1901, with his wife Agnes the estate is part of Vignobles Marc and Agnes Lurton, which also includes the Chateau de Bouchet, the property is nestled within the Bordeaux Superieur zone located on the hillsides of the Entre Deux Mers, in an area more known for white wines, about 10km south of St. Emilion. Lurton uses traditional and modern winemaking techniques in his old limestone caves, where he crafts his wines using stainless steel tanks to do maceration and fermentation, but after primary is finish he takes a unique turn with the Bordeaux Superieur being aged in a unique (for France and especially Bordeaux) in a combination of French and American oak barrels for about a year. The Wood, which is usually 50% new and 50% one time filled, is surprisingly subtle in this vintage though you can get the creaminess and sweet vanilla on the medium bodied palate. The Chateau Reynier is not going to impress the serious Bordeaux drinkers, but it was pleasing and a clean, I opened it as part of study in Bordeaux varietals originally, but it made for a nice pizza wine in the end and while I may not search another bottle out, I wouldn’t mind another glass or two if it was by the glass or on a limited wine list, if I was in a budget mood. Judging a wine by price and complexity, this wine does mostly what is promised, though I think there’s more bang for the buck elsewhere, especially a savvy Rhone red, that said I might get some of the Reynier Blanc.
($18 Est.) 87 Points, grapelive

2019 Weingut Donnhoff, Riesling Trocken, Nahe Germany.
The estate bottling of dry Riesling from Donnhoff, the basic wine that is anything but basic is a fabulous wine, especially delicious in this 2019 vintage, and it is sourced from some of the wineries best sites, including, mostly from Oberhauser Felsenberg set on volcanic soils, Kieselberg on pure slate and Klamm that has weathered porphyry and slate al of which adds to the style and complexity to this Riesling. The Donnhoff Estate Trocken is beautifully crafted with stunning mineral notes and a layered textural feel on the palate, this wine is like a Raveneau Chablis, with crystalline detail and vibrant acidity showing lemony citrus, apricot flesh, quince and green apple fruit along with spicy accents, wet stones, steely tones, white flowers as well as exotic dried ginger and delicate tropical elements. This vintage is the real deal and if this wine is this good, I can only imagine how great the the Cru bottlings from Cornelius Donnhoff will be, I am glad to have ordered a few as they look to be a legendary collection. The 2019 is surprisingly deep and it is almost profound in its impact, it grabs your attention and brings a big smile, it drinks wonderfully on its own, but certainly will provide good companionship with lots of food choices from smoked salmon, cured meats, oysters and lightly spiced Asian cuisine. As the Riesling renaissance continues to grow around the world with great stuff being made from Australia, Italy, New Zealand to the Finger Lakes as well as tasty versions from the west coast, the rise in quality in California especially is awesome, it is still good to look to Alsace, Austria and Germany for the benchmark which Donnhoff gives us.

Donnhoff’s quality is well known, but it is worth noting this estate is one of the wine world’s greatest treasures and their wines are some of the best in Europe, let alone Germany and this entry level Riesling Trocken is a stunning value and a great way to be introduced to Donnhoff, an early VDP estate, and the Nahe region. Donnhoff has a variety of incredible vineyards to work with and are full of individual nuances, character and distinction with a collection of ancient soils with the mentioned volcanic porphyry rock and intense slate as well as red sandstone, limestone and some loess loam. And while the middle Nahe is a warm area and quite arid, it does get its river influence, the climate allows Donnhoff to create a vast array of wines from their exceptional dry styles, that includes their fantastic GGs, to Eiswein, as well as classic selection of Kabinett, Spatlese and Auslese. The 2019 Trocken, that was fermented in a combination of stainless and large oak casks, delivers a crisp and exciting performance in the glass, it is a steal for the price, and it was a welcome relief from the news of the world, with fires devastating the California wine community, making a heartbreaking sense of loss and then there’s COVID adding fear and suffering, things are very unsettled, thankfully this Riesling transported me away for a few glorious moments. Donnhoff has made some of my favorite wines for a long time and these 2018s and 2019s take this famous winery to another level, I highly recommend stocking up! The Donnhoff lineup has something for everyone and the elegance and terroir purity of these wines is otherworldly, they never disappoint and always impress.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Bedrock Wine Company, Zinfandel “Old Vine” California.
Coming from some of California’s oldest and most historic vineyard sites the Bedrock Wine Company Old Vine Zinfandel always drinks with prestigious pleasure and deliciousness, as this 2018 vintage does in joyous detail with smooth and full bodied dark fruits, spice and floral tones. Morgan Twain-Peterson, who grew up around Zinfandel as the son of Joel Peterson, one of the most famous figures in California’s wine history that founded Ravenswood and brought Zinfandel to the masses and is still a major voice for the state grape, made his first wine as a young child and has become one of America’s great wine thinkers, he recently became a Master of Wine and has made Bedrock one of California’s top producers. In 2017 Twain-Peterson passed the fabled Master of Wine examination, becoming one of just forty-five MWs residing in the United States and according to the winery, one of only two California winemakers with that incredible qualification. Bedrock Wine Co. was started in 2007 with Morgan and his partner Chris Cottrell, a close friend from Twain-Peterson’s time in New York City when he was studying America History at Columbia University and thinking of getting a PhD, after he finished college at Vasser. Twain-Peterson and Cottrell has got a great team at Bedrock with rising stars Cody Rasmussen of Desire Lines Wine Co. and Luke Nio of Filomena Wine Company in the cellar and the wines are all rock stars, especial the Heritage lineup, led by the historic Bedrock Vineyard, originally founded back in 1854 and vines that date back to 1888 in Sonoma Valley and the Evangelho Vineyard in Contra Costa County, a recent purchase by Twain-Peterson that was planted on the delta sands in 1890s.

The 2018 vintage Old Vine Zinfandel, which shows the years wonderful depth and freshness, is a blend of 85% Zinfandel sourced from vines that are at least 80 years old and as Twain-Peterson notes, filled out with some Mataro (Mourvedre), Grenache, Alicante Bouschet, Carignan, Petite Sirah, as well as tiny amounts of the many other mostly rare black grape varieties that can be found in California’s older, multifarious vineyards. Many of Bedrock’s most venerable vineyards contribute to this wine, including Bedrock, Teldeschi, Esola, Pagani, Papera, Evangelho and Pato, plus fruit coming from other old vineyards throughout the California. This tasty stuff has layers of blackberries, plum, crushed raspberry, cherry and ripe currants along with touches of cinnamon, cedar, anise, lavender and a welcome burst of natural acidity. This dark purple/garnet hued Old Vine Zinfandel is polished and luxurious, but has touches of earth and savory elements that add complexity and is very well balanced, it gets better and better as it opens up in the glass and it goes great with everything from burgers to BBQ pork, as well as Tuesday night pizza or a picnic. The wines at Bedrock Wine Company, and this one, comes from small lots of grapes that were mostly de-stemmed and extra carefully sorted for quality with fermentation(s) that employ indigenous or native yeasts and classic winemaking techniques with the wines aging mostly in used French oak barrels. 2018 is a particularly outstanding vintage for this wine and it is absolutely fabulous now, no need to wait on this one, this winery is rocking it right now, these Zins are on par with the very best the state has to offer like Turley, Ridge, and Biale to name a few, drink up!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Joel et Sylvie Cirotte, Sancerre “Le Chene Marchand” Loire Valley, France.
The dense Sauvignon Blanc fruit and striking mineral detail highlights the Cru terroir that influences this well made Sancerre by vignerons Joel et Sylvie Cirotte, a small domaine that continues to turn out beautiful wines that punch above their price class. I tasted through a few of the Cirotte offerings, all of which delivered a fine performance, including their Sancerre Rouge Pinot Noir and the Le Grand Chemarin Blanc, but I was most impressed by this Le Chene Marchand with its expressive nature and structure that made it stand out. The Cirotte Le Chene Marchand Sancerre, which was aged 18 months in acacia barrels, shows a rich palate of gooseberry, lemon/lime and tart peach fruits, crushed oyster shells, light herbs, wet stones and a touch of hazelnut and leesy notes with delicate white flowers and a faint smoky element. The Le Chêne Marchand is a historic site set on a limestone rich piece of land with a gentle slope of south facing vines, most over 35 years old, it shows an elegant expression in the hands of the Cirotte’s and their version goes exceptionally well with a wide range of cuisine, though some nice fresh goat cheese really brings out the full personality here.

The estate, also known as Domaine La Croix Saint-Laurent dates back to the 1800s and is situated near Bue, Cher, with the Cirotte family owning it since 1932, in the heart of the Sancerre zone and has many parcels in the area’s most prized vineyards, including this Le Chene Marchand and the winery has about 10 hectares of plots with 65% Sauvignon Blanc and 35% Pinot Noir, with their the vines aged between 55-70 years old in most cases and which are farmed to organic standards. The vines yield small but high quality fruit that adds to the intensity and concentration in their wines, this absolutely shows in the current releases. The Sancerre(s) by Joel and Sylvie Cirotte come from the classic mostly terres blanches (calcareous clay & limestone) soils, with about 10% Silex and usually fermented in stainless steel with the Cru bottlings seeing the extended lees aging in the neutral acacia wood casks that allow texture and depth for serious impact and mouth feel without oaky flavors accenting the wine, these wines keep their freshness and transparent forms. This winery was new to me and I enjoyed each of the wines I tried and will certainly look for them when I’m thinking about Sancerre and Sauvignon Blanc, and I will keep an eye out for the basic cuvee that sells for about $20, it was the one I missed.
($40 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Inspiration Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Branley Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County.
The Branley Vineyard Pinot by Jon Phillips and winemaker Dylan Sheldon is a gem in the glass with luxurious layers of silky ripe fruit and a beautiful ruby garnet hue this is incredibly inviting stuff that highlights the sense of place and vintage exceptional well, showing black cherry, light toastiness, rose petals, sassafras and delicate spices. Located near Santa Rosa in a cooler zone, the Branley Vineyard first came into the limelight when Chris Donatiello made some tasty Chards from this site and the location and soils lends themselves to growing delicious Pinot Noir with a mix of Franciscan complex based soils with some alluvial material over weathered sandstones and ancient river bed gravels. The area sucks the cold air from the Pacific Ocean inland and gets a good dose of fog to retain fresh acidity and allow a deep set of flavors and texture, as this 2018 shows extremely well, appealing to those that enjoy the regions classics like Joseph Swan, Mary Edwards, Martinelli and Gary Farrell. The new labels at this winery are another big step up with a local tattoo artistic doing the design work, with this Inspiration Vineyards Branley Pinot label being one of the nicest in the lineup, they add a more polished look to go with the quality in the bottle.

This 2018 really excels with air and time adding a depth of flavor that is quite impressive with raspberry, plum and tangy currants joining the core cherry fruit along with cinnamon, herbal tea spices, a hint of sweet smokiness and vanilla as this Pinot unfolds in the mouth making it great with a range of foods from hard cheeses to blackened salmon. There’s a richness that is compelling, but a lively zest that provides a balance and an overall delicacy that excites the taste buds, the Branley Pinot was excellent in fact with my chicken Cesar salad wrap, as the heatwave has made it difficult to enjoy heavy foods, though I would love to have it with duck and or wild mushroom dishes, where this wine would really shine and due it more justice. This is one of the best releases from Inspiration Vineyards I’ve tried and the rise in quality and stylistic charm continues at this small label, the focus on value and food friendly offerings remains their mission, but the wines are showing more elegance, complexity and authentic transparency, especially these ‘18s. There’s a lot to admire here and it is a good way to enjoy #internationalpinotnoirday and it’s a good time to discover Inspiration Vineyards. As a long time fan of Dylan’s wines, which tend to be crafted with native yeasts and less oak presence, I am very happy with his influence on these new offerings, these small lot wines are tasty and deliver the promise of the vintage well, and don’t miss their Grenache either!
($39 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Clos Cibonne, Tibouren, Cuvée Spéciale des Vignettes, Côtes de Provence Rosé, Cru Classe, Provence, France.
As I’ve said many times, the Clos Cibonne Côtes de Provence Rosé is not only one of the most iconic Rosé wines, it is one of the world’s great wines, it is singular and distinct as any wines I’ve ever tasted showing the influence of the region, the varietal character of this ancient and rare grape (Tibouren) and the winery’s very unusual stylistic charm, it is a wine that marries the past and future to perfection. Clos Cibonne, owned by Bridget Roux and her husband, Claude Deforge, is only about 800 meters from the beautiful blue Mediterranean sea, set in a natural amphitheater that allows for wonderful ripening and with a unique constant air flow through the vines that keeps all the clusters wonderfully healthy. Like many Provence wineries, after Phylloxera, as planted mostly to Mourvedre as many historic grapes were almost forgotten, but Bridget’s grandfather André Roux, who ran the estate back from the 1930s to after WWII, was a great fan of Tibouren and believed it to be the ideal grape for the region and re-planted it on the estate, and the world is a better place for this courage and act of faith! Clos Cibonne soon became synonymous with Tibouren, which also led the A.O.C. to give special permission for the winery to list the grape on its labels. Tibouren, or Rossese di Dolceacqua as it is called in Italy, is mainly known as a red French variety that is primarily grown in Provence and in Liguria, on the Italian Riviera, but most likely originated in Greece. It is a pale red grape that deserves wider study, I hope we see more plantings in Provence as well in California, where I’m sure it could find a geeky niche!

Clos Cibonne’s Cuvée Spéciale des Vignettes Côtes de Provence Rosé, a reserve style bottling that is sourced only from the estate’s oldest vines, which is completely unique wine, the Tibouren, after harvest is fermented in stainless steel and then aged Sur Lie under fleurette (a thin veil of yeast “Flor” like is found in Sherry) in 100-year-old, 500L foudres, large oak casks which adds a touch of oxidation, as well as a textured mouth feel and stabilizes the wine allow it to age way beyond what a normal Rosé. Grown on schist soils from 60 plus year old vines at 50 meters above sea level the Clos Cibonne Cuvée Spéciale des Vignettes comes from a single parcel known as Le Pradet and farmed all organic. The orange/pinkish Cuvée Spéciale des Vignettes was aged in cask on the lees for a full year making the palate a rich array of flavors of complex fruit, both a touch dried as well as vibrant layers with a mature poise that excites the senses. This 2018 is a thrill ride, one of the best vintages I can remember adding some savory elements, delicately earthy with a touch of pecan oil and saline too that accents the core tangy cherry, grilled Moro orange, reduced strawberry, peach flesh and seeped currant along with wet rock, herbs and rosewater. This Cuvée Spéciale des Vignettes Côtes de Provence Rosé is dry, vinous and serious stuff that requires your full attention, rather than a frivolous Summer sipper, it is not only for thoughtful cuisine it is also a Rosé that can age remarkably well, even for a decade, you’ll want to plan a meal around this joyous stuff.
($35 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Agathe Bursin, Riesling, Zinnkoepflé Grand Cru, Vin d’Alsace, France.
This gorgeously crystalline Riesling is one of my favorites of the vintage from Alsace with Bursin really capturing the true essence of the place and year here with beautiful white flowers, tree picked apricots and wet stones leading the way on the fine medium bodied palate. With air in the glass this delicately pale Riesling adds some gripping acidity and mineral tones as well as hints of tropical fruit, zesty tangerine and some minty herb or tea notes. I have been following and a fan of this young vigneron for a few years now and I am really impressed with her wines, these Agathe Bursin offerings are a savvy collection of varietal bottlings with her Rieslings being exceptional stand outs like this beautiful Grand Cru Zinnkoepflé with its lithe and delicate nature hiding the depth and concentration somewhat at this stage making it even more compelling for a youthful expression. These wines are unique and terroir driven with Agathe’s cellars located in the commune of Westhalten, about fifteen kilometers to the south of Colmar, one of Alsace’s most historic towns, with three famous hills of calcareous soils, Zinnkoepflé, Strangenberg and Bollenberg, that form a crown around the village and where you find the best vineyard parcels. These ancient limestone soils, along with fossilized anemones and oyster shells as well as its special micro climate, which is almost as sunny and dry as the Mediterranean regions, because of rain shelter of the Vosges mountain range, creates one of Alsace’s most intriguing places, which includes this Zinnkoepflé Grand Cru site.

While expertly doing fabulous Riesling, Bursin is also very gifted with Gewurztraminer, Sylvaner, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Muscat and Pinot Noir, which she has a cult following for and like Deiss, she has become curious about doing field blends and inter plantings of varietals, for which I think is most like the future for Alsace. Bursin, a one woman show does only about 3,000 cases and the Grand Cru stuff, as with this wine is very limited and highly desirable. The 2018 Zinnkoepflé Grand Cru is in league with some of the region’s elite wineries including one of my all time favorites Domaine Weinbach as well as Zindt Hambrecht and Trimbach and reminds me of the re-emerging Albert Mann as well, this is excellent dry Riesling! Agathe works with a special self developed holistic approach in the vineyards with biodynamic practices and only hand tending from bud break to harvest, including her own herbal tea remedies, all of which promotes healthy energy within vines and soils in this arid and dry part of Alsace. In the cellar, Bursin is pretty traditional, but again is laser focused on purity and aromatics in her wines and almost no manipulations during her winemaking process preferring her cuvees, other than the Grand Cru’s, like this one, which see limited time in barrel, are fermented in stainless steel. So with the used oak this Zinnkoepflé Riesling is richer and rounder than her basic version, but still with purity of form and vibrancy. There’s loads of character and quality in this 2018 Zinnkoepflé Riesling that seems ever changing in the glass, in that same intriguing way a great Burgundy does, it is deliciously seductive and a wine to search out.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Weingut Korrell, Riesling Trocken, Nahe Germany.
The 2019 Nahe Riesling wines look to be legendary and this Korrell basic trocken is absolutely glorious and pure liquid summer in the bottle with spot on terroir and varietal character shinning through showing lime, green apple, white peach fruits along with hints of crystalized ginger, clove and chamomile as well as fantastic fresh mineral and wet stone. Korrell is a winery that should be on your Riesling radar, I’ve been following them since trying this wine from the 2016 vintage and each wine that followed got better and better. As I’ve mentioned in earlier reviews, Martin Korrell, the sixth generation of the Korrell family, is the talent behind this ambitious and innovative estate, he has a wonderful palate of diverse soils to work with here, not far from the likes of Donnhoff, Schlossgut Diel, Hexamer, Gut Hermannsberg, Kruger-Rumpf and Schäfer-Fröhlich. There is an array of soils and distinct parcels found at Korrell, with some volcanic influences, slate, quartz and gravel around the estate, plus Korrell has their prized single vineyard monopole Paradies cru vineyard which is set on mineral intense clay and fossilized limestone, that gives Korrell’s flagship Riesling a fantastic textural richness and depth that reminds me of some of the great Pfalz GG’s. While just a simple Riesling by label, on the palate it is nothing short of delicious with a impressive medium bodied sensation and stainless steel raised clarity, it compares well with much more expressive wines, on par with some classic names in the German elite. This wine has excited me to try the later releases of the single cru offerings from this region, they look likely to be something special.

This 2019 Trocken is generous, flirty and full of flavor, it goes a long way to checking off all the boxes in a great wine with zesty acidity, floral detail and a touch of leesy richness gaining depth as it warms slightly in the glass where it glistens with a lovely golden/yellow hue. This vintage is so good, you have to check the label to make sure you didn’t actually open the GG or Cru bottling, you’ll want to stock up on it, such is the sense of completeness and the insane value you get. I certainly, as I have said since my first taste of Korrell, recommend getting some of their (dry) Trocken Riesling, plus the awesome GGs (Grosses Gewachs – Grand Cru) like the Paradies and the very unique bottling called the Von Den Grossen Lagen, sourced from exceptional VPD Grand Cru sites, blended from serious names you’d know. I just also received Donnhoff’s estate Trocken from this 2019 and I am really looking forward to that too, this region is killing it right now and the winegrowers here are raising the bar with almost every new year bringing a wealth of fabulous choices. Martin and Britta’s Korrell Johanneshof Estate in Bad Kreuznach, which was founded by Martin’s ancestors that interesting enough came originally from Spain and settled here to farm in the Nahe River family, is farmed in sustainable methods to preserve the quality of the place for future generations. This Trocken that opens up with orange blossoms and stays racy fresh made for a great sipper with this California heatwave, adding a nice crisp saline note and great with a light selection of foods, but will be fantastic with a touch of spice and Asian cuisine.
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Chateau Thivin, Cote de Brouilly, Cru Beaujolais, France.
The Famille Geoffray’s famous old school Chateau Thivin is one of my favorite go to reds, its pure Gamay flavors and terroir driven structure make it a pleasurable, but serious wine and it is always a great value, especially in vintages like this 2018 which shows beautiful floral notes, texture and silky layers of dark fruits. Claude Geffray, now in charge, along with his son Claude-Edouard, at his family’s estate which was founded back in 1877 making it the oldest winery on Mont Brouilly, it continues to be a star of tradition in the region making honest wines that show Gamay in its most raw and pure form. Kermit Lynch, Thivin’s importer, discovered these wines and brought them to America, where almost no one had even heard of Gamay and mostly wanted Cabernet Sauvignon and made this and many other Cru Beaujolais very unlikely success stories, now Chateau Thivin has a special place in our wine drinking hearts and we relish the chance to pop corks on wines like this, which in some years rival Burgundies! Thivin’s Côte de Brouilly parcels are predominantly south-facing and are planted entirely with Gamay vines that average 50 years of age. The vineyards are surprisingly steep here, according to Kermit Lynch, the Geoffray’s work their parcels with organic methods, the soil is plowed and composted regularly while cover crops are left between some rows to encourage micro-biotic activity and absolutely no insecticides or pesticides are used. All this hand tending is done, as Lynch notes on a slope with a grade of 48% and a slippery crumbly surface of Cote de Brouilly’s unique blue volcanic rock comprised of plagioclase and biotite along with the classic granite.

The brilliantly dark garnet and ruby 2018 Chateau Thivin Cote de Brouilly is beautifully detailed with pretty violets, juicy plum, black cherry, strawberry and fresh vine picked wild berry fruits along with a delicate earthiness, mineral tones and an array of spice, herb and walnut in a supple medium bodied wine that highlights the vintage’s best qualities and charms. The winegrowing and winemaking is classic and natural at Chateau Thivin with all of the main plots being done in small separate vinifications with each lots getting special focus and hand crafted attention with 100% whole-cluster fermentation and gentle gravity flow of the must and wine throughout the process to showcase delicacy and individual nuances in the finished bottlings. The Geoffray’s use temperature controlled stainless cuves for primary fermentations, which last about two weeks and are semi to full carbonic and the wine is raised in large old oak foudres for just about six months to mature, but put into bottle with loads of vibrancy and youthful grip. This Cote de Brouilly is always a bit more muscular in style, more like Morgon’s Cote de Py in character, though still elegant and smooth in the mouth, it is that combination that makes this Thivin stand out and allows it to age beautifully with an exciting and lengthy window of fabulous drinking and it is always sublime with rustic cuisine, elevating even the simplest of meals. Thivin also does one of the most delectable Rosés in the region, and though very hard to get, Kermit Lynch usually has some and it is well worth searching out, plus their Bouilly Cru, which comes from plots on pink granite like Fleurie, is also lovely stuff, keep an eye for this producer, well known for being a savvy choice by Beaujolais junkies!
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2015 Elyse Winery, Zinfandel, Korte Ranch Vineyard, St. Helena, Napa Valley.
The Elyse Winery has been one of my favorites for Zin and Cab for almost 25 years and I still remember an early morning visit there, when the original owners Nancy and Ray Coursen politely took me in at their Hoffman Lane home and winery well before a normal opening hour, because I was driving home to Monterey, then proceeded to open close to 15 bottles and pouring exceptionally large pours! Elyse goes back to the 1980s when Ray Coursen started the winery/brand in 1987 with a tiny lot of Zinfandel from the Morisoli Vineyard, a wine I always was especially fond of and still am, that vineyard has made some fantastic wines over the years from Whitehall Lane Reserve (where Ray got is first head winemaker job) to Karl Lawrence, a cult label that was remarkably affordable. So with all this on my mind, I found this 2015 Korte Ranch Zinfandel from St. Helena, another bottling I have enjoyed over the years following this winery and this recent release didn’t disappoint with all the flavors and character I remembered with layers of black raspberry, dark plum, kirsch, guava flesh, floral notes along with hints of spices, like cinnamon and delicate vanilla leading the way on the medium/full palate that presents itself with the vintage’s warm/ripe round textures. The new team at Elyse, owner Josh Peeples and one of Napa’s hottest winemakers Russell Bevan, who’s own label is one of the most prized and sought after in California, have taken Elyse to new levels of quality while retaining the winery’s personality.

The Korte Ranch is a pre-prohibition vineyard set on valley floor rocky loams sitting between Turley’s estate, Dockhorn, Hourglass and Ehlers in the St. Helena zone in the northern part of the Napa with vines over 70 years old. This spot gets the valley’s warm and cool night time temperatures that refresh’s the vines and allows for ripe dark flavors and good balance with this vintage coming in at 14.6% in a warm year, somewhat less than some higher profile versions of Zinfandel, even though that is very lush and full flavored in the glass. The winemaking is pretty luxurious at Elyse with plenty of French oak and hand crafted techniques employed here with exceptional attention to detail and careful sorting and picking of the grapes. The winery notes that each block from their vineyards require a specific picking time in the field and a different treatment of barrels in the cellar. This includes special selections from bold heavy-toast Darnajou barrels to aromatic medium-toast Taransaud barrels, we select a deliberate combination to maximize each vineyard’s expression in bottle, and while present in this wine, the oak is not aggressive here giving a few markers like a soft feel, sweet toast and a touch of mocha. Peeples has really put Elyse a stellar team together here, with the mentioned Bevan, along with Ben Parodi, who worked for Venge and Reed Skupny, who spend time at one of my favorite Loire producers, Bernard Baudry, all accomplished and talented people that are putting out some tasty wines, like this impressive dark garnet hued Korte Ranch Zinfandel.
($45 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Big Basin Vineyards, Rosé, Central Coast, California.
Bradley Brown’s Big Basin Vineyards based in the remote Santa Cruz Mountains is known mostly for their critically acclaimed estate Rattlesnake Rock Syrah, an iconic and profound wine, as well as a hand crafted collection of Rhone style bottlings, but in recent years their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines have really impressed and gained traction, especially Brown’s whole cluster driven Alfaro Family Vineyard and his elegant and Burgundy like Coastview Chardonnay. That all said, I am really into the Big Basin Vineyards dry Rosé, which is blend of Rhone grapes, with this vintage including 47% Grenache Noir, 32% Carignane, 13% Syrah and 8% Mourvedre sourced from vineyards in Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara (Gilroy area) and Santa Cruz Mountains, hence the California designation on the label. The 2019 is vivid and beautifully pale in color, but full of flavor and striking for its flinty and stony quality, almost mineral smoky with racy fruits and snappy spices with delicate florals as well, making it very refreshing and serious stuff that expands with air to reveal grapefruit zest, tangerine, sour cherry, stone fruit or melon flesh, strawberry and rosewater, adding crushed rock, saline and wild herbs. This wine is fast becoming a favorite and has entered the must have for Summer zone along with some of the state’s best pinks done in the classic Cotes de Provence mode, its clean and bright, but a wine of substance to relish over a meal.

The Big Basin Rosé is Grenache dominant and shows it with a openly round and generous palate that unfolds purposely and slowly in the mouth, eventually evolving into a very full and complex pink wine, similar to stylish Provence offerings and great with seasonal cuisine and sea food, especially steamed mussels and or BBQed oysters. The Grenache, which makes up most of the final blend and as Brown notes, was picked specifically for this purpose, to make a Rosé, so was picked earlier with lower sugars and vibrant natural citrusy acidity and whole cluster pressed along with the old vine Carignan from Wirz Vineyard then cold fermented like a while white with the Syrah and Mourvedre being blended in later for color, depth and structure. Interestingly, the indigenous fermentation for this wine, as Bradly adds, was very long and slow and only completed a couple of weeks prior to bottling, which shows in the slight cloudy haze and sediment in the finished, unfined and unfiltered wine. The prior releases have just got better and better with age, when the lees give texture and depth, contrary to how most people think, this 2019 has another year or more to develop, just like the 2018 which is drinking fabulous right now. So need to rush it, though I would get it now, while its available, plus for those that like the gripping intensity of youth will want to drink it sooner v. later. I, myself will get a few more bottles, mostly to enjoy in the short term, but I may try to have restraint and put a bottle or two away for another 6 months to see what rewards come.
($27 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

n.v. R. Pouillon & Fils, Cuvee de Reserve Brut Champagne, France.
The beautiful and creamy moussed Reserve Brut by Champagne R. Pouillon & Fils is a luxurious comforting bubbly to celebrate life and smile through these stressful times, it is wines like this that keeps attitudes adjusted and fears in check allowing relaxed smiles as well as moments of tranquility and gratitude to shine through. The recent disgorgement, from the winter of 2017, of R. Pouillon Reserve Brut is a blend of 60% of wine from the 2015 vintage and 40% of a Reserve base from a solar tank that dates back to the ’90s which gives the Champagne a sense of complexity from the maturity of the older wines, but a fresh feel and with the richness of the year showing making for a sparkler that offers an array of flavors and depth including opulent baked apple, lemon and golden fig fruits along with hazelnut, brioche and mineral tones as well as a burst of acidity and that lavish and elegant mousse of creamy though lively small bubbles. The Pouillon family’s holdings, as the winery highlights, are in Aÿ, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ and Avenay Val d’Or in the Grande Vallée, Epernay and Festigny along the Marne River, and Tauxières-Mutry, just to the north in the Montagne de Reims, with the majority of the vines being Pinot Noir, along with small parcels of Chardonnay and Meunier.

This inviting Cuvee de Reserve Champagne was crafted using 65% Pinot Noir, 15% Chardonnay and 20% Meunier with the grapes grown in the Vallée de la Marne and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ area, part of Champagne with a stellar reputation for quality, especially Pinot Noir, which gives these wines their wonderful structure. According to Pouillon’s importer Schatzi Wines, the Pouillon family has been growing grapes in the region for over a century, but it wasn’t until 1947 when Fabrice’s grandfather, Roger Pouillon, decided to produce wine from his holdings along with the help of his wife, Bernedette, and his uncle, Louis Baulant, a well-known winemaker and consultant in the region, with Fabrice Puillon now leading the family’s small estate and cellars. Fabrice has converted this grower producer house to organic farming and tightened up the cellars with all gravity flows and special enameled fermenters, he ages his base wines in a combination of stainless steel and mostly older or neutral oak including large demi-muids as well as small barriques with everything allowed to go through malo-lactic fermentation which adds to the regal mouth feel. As the grapes are picked with loads of vibrancy the wines retain high-toned aromatics, natural acidity and energy, as this Reserve Brut shows, making its balance impeccable and a solid grower fizz offering to enjoy over the next 5 to 10 years.
($60 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Domaine Xavier Gerard, Condrieu “L’Arbuel” Northern Rhone, France.
This long time Cote-Rotie and Condrieu estate was just plugging along with a solid lineup of offerings, but the transition to the younger generation has turned this little known Domaine into a real super star on the rise with the talented and hard working Xavier Gerard now running his family’s vineyards and cellar, I can attest to a dramatic upturn in quality here after tasting vintages 2013 to 2016 with his 2015 Cote-Rotie and the set of Condrieu bottlings, like this gorgeous cuvee L’Arbuel are all stunners! This tiny estate has focused on their main holdings in the mentioned Cote-Rotie and Condrieu plus a little parcel in Saint-Joseph to great effect and Xavier is proving exceptionally gifted in hand crafting the wines, bringing passion and energy to the cellar, while continuing to employ traditional and organic methods. I wrote about his Cote-Rotie, which reminds me of classic Rostaing La Landonne and the other cru Condrieu, the La Cote Chatillon, which is a spectacular and dense version, but I somehow missed posting my impressions of the most delicate and mineral driven cuvee L’Arbuel, which comes mostly from the highly regarded family parcel at Marmouzin, but also blended with a new parcel of in the Corbery lieu-dit that sits higher up on the granite slopes that give this bottling its cooler personality. The L’Abuel is sublimely balanced and while nicely fleshy and textural it has plenty of zip and natural acidity that really lifts this 100% Viognier to the next level.

Beautifully detailed and showing the absolute best character of the region and of Viognier grapes, the 2016 L’Abrbuel Condrieu delivers a stunning performance in the glass, reminding me of some of the modern classics, including Yves Cuilleron and Christine Vernay’s Domaine Georges Vernay, it gives layers of stone fruit and seductive aromatics that put it among the world’s best versions of this varietal. The wine evolves nicely with air revealing a honeysuckle perfume, fresh citrus and creamy apricot and tangy white peach as well as hints of spice and verbena making for a highly desirable white wine to enjoy with langoustine (small lobster) or spot prawns and or simple goat cheese filled ravioli pasta. The Xavier Gerard Condrieu(s) are made in separate lots with intense selections of the Viognier clusters and individual berries which are all seeing a natural or native yeast fermentation in cuve (small vats) afterwhich the wine spends close to one year in a mix of mainly used 500L and 225L barrels before final blending and bottling, again great care is given to each lot with these Viognier showing pure terroir influences and expressions. There’s a lot to admire in this wine and the whole collection of Xavier’s latest releases, I can’t wait to explore the 2017 and 2018 vintages that should be coming out soon, but the 2015 and 2016s are majestic wines that should not be missed with this Condrieu L’Arbuel being one of the top values, no question for the quality in the bottle.
($50 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2017 Envinate, Táganan Parcela Margalagua, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.
The Envinate Táganan Parcela Margalagua is one of the most unique and rare bottlings in the Canary Islands and this 2017 is beautifully delicate, layered and full of intrigue with volcanic influences, mineral tones, subtly exotic fruits and racy spices made from 100 year old all organic vines on the island of Tenerife in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa. This Táganan Parcela Margalagua is crafted using natural methods and consists of many local varietals, but is seemingly dominated by Listan Negro, one of the Mission grapes brought here in the 1500s, as well as having rarities like Vijariego, Malvasia Negra, Baboso, Negramoll and a few others that are largely unknown. According to the winery, led by winemaker Roberto Santana, along with Laura Ramos, Jose Martínez and Alfonso Torrente, the Táganan vineyard, with its name coming from the Guanche word the native Canary language meaning slope. It is also the name of the northwestern part of Tenerife where the vines grow wild and low on cliffs of pure volcanic rock just above the Atlantic Ocean that provides the life and freshness in the wines. The distinct Parcela Margalagua “mother of water” is a single parcel sitting up at about between 100-250 meters of elevation, adds to the intensity of flavors here with flavors that include brandied cherries, briar laced raspberry, tangy strawberry and cranberry fruits as well as touch of smoky shale, earthy leather, crushed rock, dried cayenne pepper and light floral notes. This wine has the wine geeky presence of a top Jura wine with its pale color and low natural alcohol. The Canary Islands were a stop on the way to the new world for the Spanish explorers and Missionaries, who first brought vines here, allowing them to replenish supplies and these islands have long been a treat for winter travelers that wish warmth and rustic old world charms.

The classic field blend Envinate Táganan Parcela Margalagua gives a glimpse into Tenerife’s agrarian past, according to Santana, the old original vineyards on Tenerife were historically inter-planted with many different grape varieties and planted on their own roots as Roberto adds, was typical of the phylloxera-free remote Canary Islands. This side of Tenerife experiences a fairly temperate climate, enabling grapes to ripen at moderate alcohol levels, as mentioned, while retaining bright acidity, which this wine highlights perfectly. The grapes, which are back-breakingly farmed as the those low clinging vines require deep knee bends, they need to be very low to the ground to keep from having the winds beat up the canopy and are hand-harvested, sometimes having mules haul the grapes down the hill. The Táganan Parcela Margalagua’s grapes are all co-fermented using 100% whole cluster with wild or naive yeasts, and as importer Jose Pastor explains, in older open-top 500L French oak barrels with a gentle maceration and pilage. The wine then was aged in well seasoned French barrels for just under one year imparting no oak accents, allowing the full terroir to show through and the Táganan Parcela Margalagua was bottled with ultra low sulfur and unfined and unfiltered. I have followed Roberto Santana’s career from his time at Suertes de Marquis, where he made his first splash in the wine world with his Canary Island wines, which were largely unheard of until he basically put them on the map to now with his Envinate he’s made them a real go to wine for enthusiasts! This Táganan Parcela Margalagua opens up nicely becoming supple, in a Pinot like expression, and adds hints of pomegranate, savory and salty notes, plus a touch of guava flesh making it a lovely medium bodied wine that goes great with lighter food choices, its tasty stuff indeed.
($52 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Dr. Loosen, Riesling Kabinett, Ürziger Würzgarten, Mosel Germany.
Absolutely one of the most obvious terroir wines in the world and a classic German wine, the Dr. Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett is nearly perfect in every way and this vintage, especially is everything Ernest Loosen desires in his wines, it is luscious, complex, and true to its roots. At about 9% alcohol, this Urziger Wurzgarten Kabinett is lovely and flavorful with pretty aromas of tree picked peach, ginger, seeped rose petals and smoky flint before more racy elements come through on the creamy and zesty palate, the residual sugar playing more of a textural role rather than outright sweetness adding feel and length exquisitely with layers of green apple, candied lime, mango and dried pineapple along with wet shale and tangy kumquat, gaining a traditional exotic and spicy edge that this site is known for with time in the glass. The “Spice Garden” is as Dr. Loosen notes, a blazing red, with a vain of iron rich volcanic soils over weathered slate and insanely steep, the Ürziger Würzgarten Cru vineyard sits the picturesque amphitheater formed by this dramatic bend in the river, forming a natural sun basket that helps ripen the Riesling grapes and gives these wines their signature profile, with some of Dr. Loosen’s oldest vines clinging to this famous hillside. Ürziger Würzgarten’s wines are completely unique, complex and lavishly tropical by nature and Loosen’s example is compelling and tasty, going great with spicy dishes with some heat and super with grilled prawns and chili crab!

The weingut Dr. Loosen has been in the same family for over 200 years and with mostly ungrafted old vines that average around 50 years old, in some of the best sites in Mosel, giving Ernst Loosen an awesome selection of grapes to work with. Loosen always seems to produce stunningly intense, world-class wines that not only show terroir, but also a sense of purity wrapped in a luxurious package. With crop yields, according to the winery, almost half of what is permitted by law, only moderate use of organic fertilizers, and old-fashioned cellar practices these wines deliver exceptional quality, quite remarkable for such a large company, showing its commitment and respect for its core mission. The 2018 Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett saw a cool fermentation in a combination of stainless steel tanks and traditional Fuder oak casks with fermentation stopped by chilling to keep from having it go all the way dry, making it fruity and zippy with acidity with grapes all being picked by hand and carefully sorted to be sure no noble rot has infected the clusters to keep this one a more vibrant Riesling. The vines for this one average well over 60 years old and set on that smoky red slate and red volcanic sandstone, this more than anything make this wine what it is and I highly recommend this vintage, it is an awesome version and a sublime Summer wine.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Sadie Family Wines, Tinta Barroca “Treinspoor” Old Vine Series, Swartland, South Africa.
Every single time I have a Eben Sadie wine I am left monumentally and profoundly moved by them, they are are some of the world’s most amazing efforts, especially these old vine bottlings like this gorgeous, dark and textural Tinta Barroca Treinspoor and his Rhone style blend Columella, which is without a doubt one of my top 10 wines I’ve ever had! This Treinspoor old bush vine Tinta Barocca is deep in complexities and inky in color with a fresh intensity on the palate with concord, black currant, plum and kirsch leading the way before the whole bunch array of spices, floral tones, dried herbs come out along with crushed stones, pomegranate and tart strawberries. With air this wine continues to impress and have a serious impact adding savory and earthy notes and a seductive texture, this is absolutely addictive stuff, it is totally unique in taste and style, sitting somewhere between an old school Burgundy with its silken form and nice acidity and a Corbieres (as this grape reminds me of old vine Carignan), with its country like raw appeal, authentic nature, with sage/lavender and a touch of game, plus a sense of remoteness. Tinta Barroca is a Portuguese varietal that is now primarily found in the Douro region, especially in the cooler sections of this River Valley on the northern facing hillsides as it has delicate skins and it is a common blending grape in Port wines where it adds color, acidity and complexity. The 2018 Sadie Tinta Barroca is joyously fresh and vibrant in the glass and gets more intriguing with every sip, but is also wonderfully comfortable, not a diva, this wine is not flashy or sexed up, but it delivers much more than promised, enjoy it with simple cuisine and friends. I will buy more of this wine, no question, plus Sadie’s Cinsault and Chenin based offerings too, which are some of his best values.

Winemaker Eben Sadie’s Treinspoor 100% Tinta Barroca, a grape that he loves mostly for blending, is sourced from a vineyard planted in 1974 on decomposed granite and Swartland’s table mountain sandstone, on the western side of the Malmesbury zone. According to the winery, this vineyard is located next to the old railway line (treinspoor) and was named accordingly and simply in this case. The area is fairly warm, causing a bit of concern as the thin skin of Tinta Barocca is prone to sunburn, but Sadie and team have been confident enough to express this grape solo because the old bush vines have formed a great framework to keep the bunches sheltered from the intense South African sun. The deep inky color and zesty acidity of Tinta Barroca have made it a favorite component, as mentioned, in Sadie’s blends for a long while now. While best as a blender, this wine proves, as the vines reach a certain maturity it has all the qualities and expressiveness too be a single varietal bottling. Sadie believes that Tinta Barocca captures the Swartland region in its purist form (like Mencia in the Ribeira Sacra? maybe.), high praise indeed for a grape that is almost unheard off to most of the world, he adds that it seems to need much more time to really show its best and that he suggests some cellaring will benefit those that have patience. I wouldn’t know about that sadly as I couldn’t keep my hands off it! The Teinspoor was crafted using whole-cluster fermentation and it was naturally fermented with minimal intervention, as is the way with all of Sadie’s wines a noted natural style winemaker. After maceration and primary fermentation the Tinta Barroca is pressed into concrete along with older oak casks and was aged for about 12 months. If you’ve not heard of Sadie Family, you need to change that and South African wines are suffering from a COVID related and ignorant government lock down a export ban, so it is a great time to support our friends there and buy their wines.
($55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Maison M.Chapoutier, La Ciboise, Costières de Nîmes, Rhone Valley, France.
The Chapoutier La Ciboise Costières de Nîmes Rouge is one of the world’s best values in red wine, made from a classic Rhone blend of mostly Grenache along with some Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Carignan sourced from this little known part of the Rhone valley in the Gard set on hardened clay, limestone and schist soils called Gress which has been producing quality wines since Roman times. These vines are littered with small pebbles deposited by the Rhône river during the Quaternary Period and are well drained, the vines go deep to get moisture and refreshment making them work hard and pushes concentration of flavors, which Chapoutier’s La Ciboise showing an intense inky purple/black color and impressive density, this 2017 is a pleasure filled full bodied vintage and expressive with layers of pure blackberry, boysenberry, dark currant and juicy plum fruits along with an array of spices, warm earthiness, crushed lavender, sweet violet floral tones and melted black licorice. This 2017, from a warm year has loads of character and stuffing, it shows just how delicious these Costières de Nîmes can be and this La Ciboise is pretty awesome stuff, it should drink for another few years, it would be a fun wine to stock up on, especially when you can find it for under $10!

Nîmes is a historic Roman town and world unesco heritage site with some of Europe’s greatest still in use Roman ruins including its famous double-tiered circa-70 A.D. amphitheater still used for concerts and interestingly bullfights, which were common in this area of France until modern times, in fact this part of France almost had the feel of America’s old west too with the French version of cowboys. Positioned well between Avignon, Marseille and Montpellier, Nîmes is part of the Rhone Valley wine region, but much less regarded than areas like Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas and Rasteau, though a great place to get bargains, like this savvy Chapoutier made wine. Nîmes is also very close to Tavel, the Rhone’s only AOC that is totally devoted to Rosé, so there plenty around here to enjoy and it is easy to drink well on the cheap. The Chapoutier La Ciboise is from machine harvested grapes and each varietal is fermented separately then blended later to taste with the wine aged only in cement tanks and only for a few months before bottling, it is intended to be an easy and fresh Cotes du Rhone or Cotes du Ventoux style wine to pop in its youth, its dark and lush flavors make it great with country fare and simple but robust cuisine. I could drink this stuff almost everyday, it makes for a sublime Tuesday night pizza wine.
($10-15 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2016 Cameron Winery, Nebbiolo, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The 2016 Cameron Nebbiolo is truly a gorgeous wine and can easily be considered an American Barolo with its pure varietal character and profile, this vintage is just stunning and shows that this grape can be just as majestic in the Willamette Valley as it is in the Langhe! The Cameron Dundee Hills Nebbiolo shows a deep garnet color with just a hint of classic brickish magenta on the edges and the wine displays an earthy element along with pretty floral notes on the nose before revealing exceptional layers of traditional dark berries, plum, brandied cherries and black fig fruits along with blood orange, anise, dried lavender and a light cedrary spiciness. There’s so much to love here, the supple tannins and velvety mouth feel, but with structured at its core this wine gets better and better as it opens in the glass, filling out completely and becoming seamless and gaining depth with every sip, making for an exquisite Nebbiolo experience. The Cameron Nebbiolo shines in this vintage and the warmer site here allows riper flavors to come through and a lovely sense of richness, while still having the energy, leathery-earthiness and natural acidity the grape is known for, and interesting enough the alcohol is somewhat lower than warm year Barolo(s) that are coming in at 14.5% and higher, at 13% this wine delivers a fine balance and is fantastic with rustic cuisine.

The Cameron Nebbiolo is sourced from the winery’s Clos Electrique cru vineyard in the Dundee Hills, set on the Jory (volcanic) soils, famous for winemaker John Paul’s Pinot Noirs, which are some of Oregon’s greatest wines. This estate vineyard consists of, according to the winery, approximately 3 acres of Pinot Noir, 2 acres of Chardonnay, half an acre of Italian white grape varieties, including Friulano and 1 acre of Nebbiolo, that was first planted back in 1994. Cameron’s John Paul, who is a huge Italian wine geek and Barolo enthusiast, believed that Nebbiolo could thrive here as it was on a similar parallel and that hazelnut trees do well in both Piedmont and in the Willamette Valley, in fact Paul cleared an ex-hazelnut orchard to plant his two clones of Nebbiolo. Very early on it was clear he was right and that Nebbiolo could be a huge success, and this 2016 rises to a level of greatness. Cameron uses non irrigated vines that are farmed all organically which adds to the wine’s concentration and traditional old world winemaking techniques in the cellar with this Nebbiolo seeing extended elevage having adopted, as Paul notes, the long aging regimen typical of Barolo and Barbaresco to be more evolved and mature on release. The Cameron or Cameroni Italian inspired wines are outstanding, especially this Nebbiolo, plus their series of whites, like the Friuli style blend and the Pinot Bianco and the Ramato, skin contact Pinot Gris.
($37 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2019 Arnot-Roberts, Rosé of Touriga Nacional, California.
Another one of the world’s most interesting Rosés, the Arnot-Roberts Rosé of Touriga Nacional is one of California’s most sought after pink wines and joins Bedrock’s Ode to Lulu, Skylark’s Pink Belly, Bonny Doon’s Vin Gris (especially the reserve), Ian Brand’s P’Tit Paysan Pierre’s Pirouette, Ryme Cellars’ Aglianico Rosé and Martha Stoumen’s Nero d’Avola Rosado as must have Summer treats! Rosé is in full swing now and the warm August weather makes these wines exceptionally timely and refreshing, but these wines are serious too, in particular this one by Arnot-Roberts with its cool and textured profile and bone dry subtle fruit, it is a wine that develops in glass glass and goes wonderfully well with a variety of cuisine options. I really love this Arnot-Roberts Rosé of Touriga Nacional after it gets some air and a touch of warmth as it unfolds its fruit and spicy elements, it displays a mineral driven character along with layers of sour cherry, plum water, seeped rose petals, a touch of peach flesh or melon as well as subtle strawberry along with a streak of citrus, saline, wet stone and dried herb. This vintage is surprisingly round and supple, almost creamy at first before finding its form and adding some steely/racy vitality, this stuff keeps you guessing and while cooly poised as a crisp sipper, it deserves to matched with a meal, whether a brunch menu or steamed mussels, and it makes for a great companion at the beach. Duncan (Arnot) Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts, of Arnot-Roberts, who grew up together in the Napa Valley are now one of the modern stars in California, known for their impressive lineup of site driven wines from their awesome Trout Gulch Chardonnay to their ultra geeky cool Trousseau! As well as a fine selection of Syrah, Cabernet and Pinots that are very limited production gems.

The Arnot-Roberts Rosé is has a vivid pink and pale salmon hue which sets of an instant smile and gets the saliva glands going plus the aromas of tangy fruit, flowers and crushed rock add to the compelling nature of this Rosé that was crafted from a blend of about 80% Touriga Nacional and 20% Tinta Cao, both rare red varietals in California from Portugal, where they are commonly found in the Douro Valley, the Dao region and or Port wines. These intriguing Portuguese varieties are sourced from mostly the Luchsinger Vineyard in Kelseyville, the long time source for this wine with the Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cao grown at over 1,300 feet elevation above Clear Lake, in Lake County, set on volcanic rocky soils, as well as a bit coming from the St. Amant Vineyard in Amador County with granite soils. The grapes, which are farmed using organic methods, were picked to be exclusively Rosé and this wine is a non saignee made wine and comes in at just 11.3% natural alcohol, which is again notable, because instead of being sharp and simple, this wine has a real presence on the palate and a depth that belies its total sum. This vintage is not as electric or thrilling as earlier versions, but the restraint and depth make for an impressive performance and it grows on you making you wish you had another chilled bottle handy! This Arnot-Roberts Rosé of Touriga Nacional was fermented with native yeasts, after a short cold soak on the skins and then aged in stainless steel to preserve fresh details, all with hand crafted and precise winemaking by the talented Duncan Meyers and Nathan Roberts. I have been enjoying these wines, especially this one since about 2012 or there about and never miss a chance to get a bottle or two each years with their Trousseau, as noted above, and the North Coast Syrah also being favorites, as well as the mentioned Trout Gulch Chard, I recommend keeping an eye out for them.
($28 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Ridge Vineyards, Carignane, Buchignani Ranch, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County.
This beautifully inviting Ridge Carignane is inky purple and starts out almost giving the impression of young Rioja with the kiss of toasty American oak, but quickly evolves in the glass to a flavor profile that is more in line with Ridge’s Zins and delivers loads of dark berry fruit, racy herbs, light floral notes and a kick of spices. One of my secret favorites in Ridge’s awesome lineup of wines is their dark fruited and medium full bodied Buchignani Ranch Carignane, which unlike most of their bottlings is a single varietal wine instead of a field style mix of grapes, so I was thrilled to find it available on the website, as usually this one is a tasting room or wine club only offering, which in past I would have to almost literally beg for! 2018’s long and cooler growing season, as well as Buchignani Ranch’s location, made this wine exceptionally well balanced and full of life, but with a stunning depth of flavor, showcasing this grape in its best form. Carignan or Carignane is a grape mostly found in the south of France with serious plantings in the Languedoc’s Corbieres as well as being one of Rhone grapes found in Chateauneuf du Pape as well as being a minor player in Gigondas too, along with have a home in Spain from the Priorat to Rioja, plus the Italian island of Sardinia. It has been in new world a long time, probably longer than most other noble French varietals and Zinfandel, Carignane grows well here in Sonoma County, especially in Dry Creek and Alexander Valley, as well as Mendocino where most solo efforts seem to come from, as well as seeing a newer set of planting in Paso Robles, thanks to selected clones being brought over by Tablas Creek and the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel.This 100% old vine and hillside grown Carignane gets better and better with air and time and is an outstanding vintage with density, graciously smooth tannins and lively acidity, a highlight of this grape’s character that allows the wine to feel balanced and spotlights the wine’s distinct detailing.

This 2018 version clearly excels in the glass, as dark as Petite Syrah and with the vintage’s freshness it really is delicious adding blackberry, plum, tangy currant as well as anise, lilacs, a hint of mission fig, cedar and a touch of earthiness that really appeals as this Carignane opens up, gaining a welcome textural richness and supple quality, I wish I bought more bottles! Ridge notes that Stan Buchignani’s ranch is located on Dutcher Creek Road, in the hills on the far western edge of the Alexander Valley appellation, very close to the border with Dry Creek. Stan’s grandfather, Dominico Cerruti, first planted a five acre block way back in 1927, then his father, Dino, added another seven acres in the 1940s, with last of the property planted, early 1950s, making for some seriously old vines all in their prime. The vineyard’s climate bears a strong resemblance to that of upper Dry Creek Valley three miles to the south, where days are quite warm. Fog, which tends to hang low in the valley, burns off sooner in the hills. Carignane from the Buchignani Ranch is complex, its fine structure much like that of a field-blend zinfandel. In keeping with Ridge’s Zins and Rhone varietals the Buchignani Ranch Carignane was de-stemmed and fermented with native yeasts and aged in used American oak that saw a long air dried seasoning that prevents the wood from being overt and limits the accenting flavors allowing texture and purity of fruit to shine while still having a kiss of toast and a rich profile. In this wine most of the barrels used were at least three times filled with just 10% being one time used and the Carignane was aged ten months before a gentile filtering before bottling. Ridge uses a minimal dose of sulfur during the winemaking process so the wine feels fresh and expressive, but without the worries of funk or off flavors developing. This Buchignani Ranch Carignane is absolutely the joyous comfort wine I was looking for and it is awesome with an array of cuisines, it is really worth every effort to get it!
($34 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Cruse Wine Company, Sparkling Valdiguie, Deming Vineyard, Napa Valley.
The latest Sparkling Valdiguié Pétillant Naturel by Michael Cruse is a delicious and quaffable bubbly, similar to last years in style with fresh red peach, strawberry, seeped violets, candied watermelon and a tangy blueberry/cranberry note along with a creamy vibrant mousse, adding a touch of leesy brioche and a touch of mineral all flowing on the palate. Cruse, who is making some of California’s best sparkling wines is certainly gifted with Pet-Nats, and I am in particular fond of this one, it really is a pure California treat, it is a lovely Summer bubbly. Michael Cruse’s sparkling wines are joyous stuff rom his super rare and luxurious Methode Champenoise Ultramarine to these Pet-Nats that offer fun drinking pleasures at a tasty price. The Rosé like pinkish/orange hued Sparkling Valdiguie makes for a nice celebration in these weird times, I opened it to celebrate my Arsenal winning the FA Cup and just to smile on a Saturday night.

Cruse sourced the grapes for his Sparkling Valdiguié Pet-Nat comes from the Deming Vineyard in Napa Valley’s northern warmer end in the town of Calistoga on loamy, deep soils, that Cruse says, allows this 60+ year old bush trained vineyard to be both organic and dry-farmed, which adds to the intensity of concentration and shows this varietal in its best light. Cruse continues noting that his Valdiguié was whole cluster pressed using the same slow steady cycle as for his traditional method sparkling wines. The wine was then fermented a small stainless steel tank with a touch of skin contact to achieve that light pink tint, finishing at about 11.5% natural alcohol, which is a touch riper and drier than the 2018 version. Towards the end of the fermentation the wine was bottled, stored, and then riddled, and disgorged for clarity, with Michael adding that there was zero additions made here, no yeast, no sugar, or sulfur added, it is pure, fermented, grape juice, and that is exactly what you taste in this delightful bubbly.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Waxwing Wine Cellars, Pinot Noir, Lester Family Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
This new 2018 Waxwing Lester Pinot is really filling out nicely and drinking fabulously well with very crisp details forming here showing beautiful layers of black cherry, raspberry, dried cranberry and plum fruits along with a touch of sweet toasty oak, spices, mineral and orange tea. This wine has lots of personality and gains complexity in the glass as it unfolds with each sip adding some mocha and sassafras, delicate floral tones, an element of wild herb and a faint touch of tangy garden strawberries, this might be one of my favorite of Scott Sisemore’s wines to date. Sisemore, the UC Davis grad, has almost 25 years in the business and has blossomed as a winemaker after starting his own Waxwing Wine Cellars back in 2006 or so and his 2017 vintage and especially these 2018s have taken his wines to the next level, these are an exciting set of releases that show the best of the year and show off the terroir of each place exceptionally well, especially in this Corralitos Pinot Noir. The Waxwing Pinots are made with hand crafted care and with gentle techniques to express the grapes more nuanced flavors and Sisemore typically uses about 25% to 40% new oak depending on the year’s concentration. This electric ruby colored Pinot is impressive and highlights this regions quality and it goes great with fresh cuisine, I though enjoyed it with lightly smoked salmon and speck, that Alto Adige specialty cured ham that his smoked with applewood.

The Lester Family Vineyard, farmed by the hugely talented Purdy Foxx, just over the hill from Richard Alfaro’s estate about mile or so from the tiny tiny hamlet of Corralitos, it is a classic cold-climate location, very close to the Monterey Bay’s cold ocean water, with sandy, loamy soils that are well drained and bring out a deep sense of fruit. The sandy soils, as Sisemore notes, are a result of the region’s origin as an ancient sea bottom and formed by the geological activity associated with the San Andreas Fault pushing up that seabed, with that movement forming successive marine terraces, in fact that is how the Santa Cruz Mountains were originally formed. The vineyard’s cold climate, as mentioned, is due to that heavy marine influence, plus it lies at about 600ft elevation with good exposure, Lester is only 2-3 miles from the Pacific so it gets plenty of fog during the summer which are pretty warm here, so this refreshes the vines nicely. Scott says the fog can bring challenges in reaching full ripeness in colder years, but in great vintages like 2018 the marine influences makes for slow and even grape development that makes cool-climate Pinots so compelling as this one certainly is. The new Waxwings are worth your attention with Scott’s Deerheart Vineyard Pinot, this Lester Pinot and his selection of Syrahs all delivering great performances, I suggest checking out this micro winery based in Belmont, just south of San Francisco, the mailing list here has a real fun set of offerings all of which are limited bottlings.
($48 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive Reviews – July 2020

2017 Desparada, Picpoul Blanc “Electra” Luna Matta Vineyard, Paso Robles.
Vailia From’s Desparada wines in Paso Robles’ Tin City is a must visit for those searching out interesting wines that are hand crafted with an artists touch and come from the heart and her Electra Picpoul is a wild and imaginative interpretation of this grape. Maybe a one off the 2017 is far an away different than the classic Picpoul de Pinet of France’s Languedoc and even the California versions made by Tablas Creek and Randall Grahm’s Bonny Doon in that the Desparada Picpoul is richly textured and almost full bodied with luxurious mouth feel and at this stage showing off mature baked peach, apricot and melon fruits, rather than the zippy lime and mineral tones. Picpoul Blanc, also a Chateauneuf du Pape varietal, is a grape that seems well suited to California and easily capable of making for a great wine and with climate change looks set to play a role in the state’s white wines of the future, so it’s exciting to see how many different ways it can be done with Vailia’s experimental version being of an interest. This supple and lush 2017, maybe I should have opened it a year ago, feels beautifully round and while the acidity has faded it still has loads of life and goes nicely with soft cheeses and grilled shrimps, it opens with hints of marmalade, dried pineapple, gingery spices, reminding me a little of an aged white Bordeaux.

Just one barrel made, of this Desparada Picpoul Blanc Electra and Vailia From aged it in a neutral French oak Bel Air cask on the lees to achieve the mouth feel and depth you find in this unique wine. This exploration, I have to say is pretty successful overall and I hope we see lots more Picpoul and by many more producers that are willing to be creative. In more recent vintages, Vailia has turned to Sauvignon Blanc for her alternative white wine program and she’s turning out some thrilling stuff, her use of amphora has added another level to her wines as well. Desparada’s main lineup features Bordeaux and Italian influenced reds with her Sackcloth & Ashes Bordeaux Blend being Vailia’s star wine, it is crafted using (in the current release) 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petit Verdot, 23% Cabernet Franc and 8% Malbec sourced from sites ranging from Paso to Santa Ynez. The packaging and label at Desparada are exquisite and gorgeous, something of which I rarely mention, but it has to be noted when they are this beautiful and the wines just as good. The Electra Picpoul Blanc from Luna Matta Vineyard, a limestone based site in west Paso Robles that supplies From with her Italian varietals, but I hope she gets more of this grape in the coming years. I had forgot I had this bottle tucked away, it turned out to be a pleasant find in the stash, I am now motivated to check out some of Vailia’s new stuff, especially her Chenin Blanc(s), which she didn’t have when I visited last time.
($38 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2016 Clos Saint Jean, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
The 2016 vintage in Chateauneuf du Pape is going to be remembered as a legendary year and the wines are stunning, especially the cuvee normal bottling from Domaine Clos Saint Jean, which is not only a fantastic wine, but a stellar value with deep flavors and density giving intense drinking pleasure. The wines at Clos Saint Jean always present themselves on the palate with impressive mouth feel and concentration with this one very much continuing this style and delivering a profound Chateauneuf experience. This fantastic Clos Saint Jean is full bodied and distinctly layered with black raspberry, boysenberry, juicy red plum, cherry and pomegranate fruits along with an array of accenting elements including delicate earthy tones, snappy black licorice, creme de cassis, mocha, pepper and a lingering chalky/stony note. With air things get even better and robust food adds further enjoyment allowing more details to shine through with beautiful florals and the tannin tames into the background with opulent grace. The estate vines at Clos Saint Jean are located primarily in the Le Crau zone, a plateau that widely believed to be the most iconic terroir of Châteauneuf-du-Pape with its iron-rich red clays topped with those magnificent river stones. I am a big fan of these Clos Saint Jean wines and while I love the more subtle vintages, this is impossible to resist and makes me want more, every sip brings a new smile.

Clos Saint Jean is a family estate founded in 1900 by Edmund Tacussel, whio In 1910 started bottling the estate’s wines with the name Clos Saint Jean, with the property now run by the Maurel brothers, Pascal and Vincent along with famed oenologist Philippe Gambie that has been a consultant here since 2003. Vincent Maurel’s Clos Saint Jean Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge is made with mostly Grenache, but with small amounts of Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault, plus in some vintages there can be a tiny bit of Vaccarèse and Muscardin too, all grown in this classic terroir. The vines are set on clay and limestone with the famous galets (the round stones that litter the vines, sourced from plots in and around the famous (as mentioned) Le Crau cru, which famously provides the fruit for Vieux Telegraphe. All grapes are de-stemmed before fermentation and the maceration usually goes for about month to extract allow the regions character and ferment to total dryness. The Grenache for this Chateauneuf is aged in only concrete vats for 12 months, while the remainder is aged in used demi-muids of French oak. The Grenache at Clos Saint Jean is treated with kid gloves and with holy respect, sustainable in the vines and ultra gently handling in the cellar to capture every nuance and this 2016 shows it in its best possible light making for a giving, hedonistic and transparent wine.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2016 Bodegas Mas Alta, Artigas Tinto, Priorat D.O.Q, Catalonia, Spain.
The luxurious and dense Mas Alta Artigas is a pure Priorat wine with dark ripe fruit from tiny yielding all organic vines set on a mix of schist, clay and limestone soils on steep rocky slopes, this wine is lush and modern with clean and well defined details. This wine is a well crafted effort from vines that range from 15 to 90 years old, these plots are also at between 250 to 450 meters above sea level which aids in retaining acidity and helping the overall balance here. The Bodegas Mas Alta is located in the village of La Vilella Alta, in the Priorat zone, is owned by Michel & Christine Vanhoutte, a couple from Belgium that fell in love with this region, and with a cellar led by three elite enologists Michel Tardieu, Philippe Cambie, one of France’s top consultants famous for his efforts in Chateauneuf du Pape and Bixente Oçafraim. The Artigas Tinto cuvée at Mas Alta has the highest percentage of Garnatxa at about 70% in their lineup, but also has small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and old-vine Carinyena (Carignan) that was aged in French oak for 16 months with about one third of the barrels being new that smooths out this powerful wine and adds a sexy sweet toastiness.

This vintage of Mas Alta Artigas was all hand harvested, with the grapes being partially de-stemmed, employing a natural yeast fermentation in concrete, with a 30 day maceration to extract all of the character of the wines. The 2016 shows rich blackberry, plum, boysenberry coulis and sweet cherry fruits along with hints of smoke, minty herbs, licorice, vanilla and creme de cassis. As mentioned this terroir is mostly very stony with a majority of the vines planted on dark schist, known locally as llicorella, with a few parcels also on clay-limestone soils all of which adds to the depth of complexity in the Mas Alta wines. I have had the Mas Alta Black Slate many many times, but this was my first time trying the Artigas and it turns out to be a real crowd pleaser with its inky purple color in the glass its very inviting and the smooth tannins, but the powerful full bodied feel grabs your attention. This is a textured and structured Priorat that certainly thrills those that enjoy the bolder style and lavish fruit, it is especially good with hard cheeses and brisket, its intense dark flavors go great with smoky and savory meat dishes. Of all the intriguing Spanish offers I’ve tried this week, this one got the best response from the majority of tasters, in fact this bottle lasted just a few minutes, it is easy to understand its appeal.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2006 Bodega R. Lopez de Heredia, Rioja, Vina Tondonia Reserva, Haro, Spain.
One of the world’s great wines and a traditional classic producer, Lopez de Heredia’s Vina Tondonia Reserva is always a special treat and this 2006 is absolutely delicious and drinking wonderfully right now with supple texture and incredible length, its mature layers reward the palate with its graceful fruit and seamless complexity. Made from about 75% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacho (Grenache/Garnacha), along with small amounts of Graciano and Mazuelo all from Lopez de Heredia’s own prime vineyards. These Vina Tondonia’s see almost 6 years of barrel aging with two rankings per year and gentle egg whites fining for clarification with a special selection of American oak being used in the under ground and cool cellars. One of the Rioja regions visionaries, Don Rafael López de Heredia y Landeta planted the Viña Tondonia between 1913 and 1914, believing Rioja Alta was the best area for quality grapes at the time and very clearly this was proven out and Vina Tondonia has become one of Spain’s most famous vineyards. Vina Tondonia, set near the Ebro River, has a continental warm climate, but with cooling influences from the higher elevation which allows sublime grape ripening and fantastic aging potential, as these Lopez de Heredia wines show. The soil here is alluvial clay with a high proportion of limestone, again proving perfect elements for great wines and terroir character.

In a week of focusing on Spain, this wine was certainly a treasured highlight with its gorgeous mouth feel and First Growth Bordeaux like depth, this is a brilliant effort to be enjoyed over the next 5 to 10 years, if you could wait. The 2006 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva starts with fabulous mature flavors of a perfectly aged wine with the unfolding of dried berries, floral tones, sweet toasty oak and delicate spices before the a sharper picture emerges with black raspberry, cherry, currant and plum fruits along with touches of vanilla, candied orange peel, coconut, tobacco leaf, cedar and subtle anise. This classic and poised Rioja is a hugely satisfying wine that just gets better and better with every sip adding hints of mocha, chalky stone and earthy elements, this was a majestic experience in the glass and one I hope to repeat. There is a lot to love coming from Lopez de Heredia, along with this gorgeous Vina Tondonia Reserva, there is a stellar lineup of Riojas to chose from and one should never miss the chance to try these wines, the reds are of course the most sought after, but the whites are also outstanding and some of the most unique offerings in the old world and their aged Rosé or Rosado is also a not to miss bottling. I have been a long time fan of these Lopez de Heredia wines and I still marvel at the quality and value here, like this Vina Tondonia 2006, which could easily sell for twice the price and be a bargain, I highly recommend exploring the latest releases.
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2019 Ameztoi, Rubentis Rosé, Getariako Txakolina, Spain.
My Summer has definitely taken a Spanish turn and I’m perfectly okay with that, especially when sipping on the fresh and zippy Ameztoi Rubentis Rosé from the Basque region not far from San Sebastian, which is one of the world’s most unique and exciting pink wines and one of my favorites along with Clos Cibonne and of course Domaine Tempier, these are wines that really capture the season in the glass. This vintage is ultra zesty and refreshing with a pop of spritz and tart layers of red citrus, strawberry, distilled raspberry essence, wet stone, saline and delicate floral tones all in an incredible light and steely form that begs to be quaffed. The iconic Rubentis Getariako Txakolina Rosé, as noted in my prior reviews, was the region’s first pink wine, made from native grapes, both red and white, it is naturally fermented in refrigerated stainless steel tanks utilizing indigenous yeasts from the vineyard. The tanks are closed to preserve natural carbonation from fermentation, which is the preferred style of Getaria. The fermentation tanks, according to importer De Maison Selections, are kept chilled to near 32 degrees Fahrenheit before bottling, which preserves the wine’s delicate, effervescent character and signature electric (spritzy) mousse. Ameztoi does a fantastic lineup of Txakolina wines, White, Red, this thrilling Rosé and a true and seriously rare Champagne style cork finished Rosé as well, all are must try wines from this remote Atlantic influenced region. This Ameztoi Rubentis Rosé is a hyper addictive wine that I will glad push on anyone that is in search of the dry pink high.

The beautifully lacy and mineral fresh Ameztoi Rosé is crafted from local those Basque grapes, as noted above, and is a blend of 50% Hondarribi Beltza (red) and 50% Hondarribi Zuri (white) grown on limestone and sand with mostly old vine fruit with some of these vines dating back to 1918. This famed estate still uses some grapes from their special plot that was planted in 1840, this amazing old vine parcel has been lovingly preserved by the Ameztoi family, this pre-Phylloxera block is one of the oldest set of vines in all of Europe! The Getariako Txakolina region is on the Bay of Biscay and is a cool zone in the basque area of Northwest Spain within sight of San Sebastian, the food mecca just South of the French border. Ignacio Ameztoi, of Ameztoi, is the fifth generation of his family to carry on the tradition of making Txakolina in the province of Getaria, on a unique stretch of land that extends out into the bay, and he has played a key role in the advancement of the region in the last decade, cleaning up the wines and promoting a lighter and fresher style wine to great effect. This 2019 is one of the best to date from Ameztoi and it is awesome for beach drinking, fabulous with almost any food choices, I enjoyed its cool and low alcohol presence with lightly smoked mussels, in a nice break from the stresses of the world, I highly recommend you try it. This is a wine, as I’ve said before, that proves a wine doesn’t have to be heavy or dense to have a serious impact on the palate, and it delivers a wonderful performance that leaves you always wanting more.
($22 Est.) 93 Pointsgrapelive

2018 Alberto Nanclares, Albariño, Rias Baixas, Galicia Spain.
The Nanclares y Prieto Alberto Nanclares Albariño, their flagship bottling, is not only a great Albariño, but one of the best white wines in Europe, certainly one of my favorite wines with its bright fruit intensity, sea saltiness and beautiful mineral details it is every bit as delicious as premier cru Chablis and or top Sancerre! This 2018 shows racy acidity and a touch of leesy textural elegance with layers of tangy peach, green apple and brisk lime fruits, wet stones, citrus blossoms, spearmint and the mentioned sea shore note. This is one of the world’s classic terroir wines and its steely form and tart dryness makes it refreshing and wonderful with briny dishes, especially sardines, mackerel and oysters, it is a wine of the and for the Ocean. Alberto Nanclares, an ex economist, began a second career and life back in 992, when he and his wife moved near the ocean, leaving their native Basque Country and settling just a few miles rom the most historic village for Albariño wines, Cambados in the Val do Salnés zone of Rias Baixas. Nanclares’ site had an old vineyard and while he was not interested in making wine at first, he quickly caught the bug and has become one of Spain’s most prized producers, recently joined by the youthful talents of Silvia Prieto, who has helped lift this winery to even higher quality and has added an enthusiastic and creative focus to the mix, she has added a series of Mencia wines to the lineup as well. The Galicia region has been on an exciting roll, re-claiming its ancient glories and this winery absolutely confirms its place as one of the stars of the wine world, these are wines to discover and cherish.

This brilliant vintage of Albariño from Nanclares y Prieto has a vivid life force and clarity that makes it outstanding, it shines with a sense of place that is as transparent as the finest of old world wines can be, its Atlantic influence showing along with the sand, granite and clay soils. Alberto, after many years of learning the land and winemaking took over making his own wines in 2007 and turned to 100% organic and biodynamic methods, all of which mad a huge difference and elevated his wines to world class stuff. Farmed in the ancient pergola training, the vines are tended with endless care to avoid mildew and Nanclares even harvests seaweed to use as natural composting adding to the local cycle of life. In the cellar, very little is done other than to gently guide the wines safely to bottle with the wines seeing native yeast, parcel by parcel, for primary fermentations and almost no malo-lactic ever being done on the Albariños. The 2018 vintage was pressed whole cluster into two 2000L steel vats and five used 450-500L French oak barrels and naturally fermented and saw an extended period of lees aging, about 9 months, again with zero malos and low sulphur with no fining or filtering. This white wine is ultra tasty and profound on the zesty just about medium bodied palate making it a treat with cuisine, I enjoyed it with grilled local caught salmon and mixed greens, but I can imagine it with a wide range of things, as noted above, plus mussels and picnic foods too. The attention to detail and serious focus on quality here add to the enjoyment in this authentic and hand crafted, iconic Rias Baixas Albariño!
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 G.D. Vajra, Barbera d’Alba Superiore, DOCG, Piedmonte, Italy.
The jet black and purple hued Vajra Barbera d’Alba Superiore is a full bodied and luxurious wine with ultra supple tannin and creamy length that highlight the warmth of the vintage in 2017 and making for an exotic version of this wine with crushed blackberries, sweet plum, fig and black cherry pie filling fruits coming through on the smooth and gracious palate. At first big and fruit forward, this 2017 adds some depth and savory tones once the air kicks in and after 20 minutes in gains wonderful complexity and completes the transition into a much more serious and balanced wine with hints of mineral, anise, crushed violets and a mix of spice and herbs all putting in appearances and the acidity emerges to brighten things up, this change in the glass make this beautiful wine even more compelling. Vajra taking what nature gave, masterfully guided this Barbera to bottle and spotlighted the best features of the year, the terroir and the grape, again proving they are one of the best wineries in the region. The sites Vajra uses for their Barbera Superiore, 100% Barbera, are at higher elevation, set on marl and sand and late ripening with as the winery note have very thick skins which require extra time on the vine to fully develop their character.

The Vajra’s Barbera d’Alba Superiore, an outstanding example, comes from old vines, some dating back to 1949, with low yielding estate vineyards from Bricco
delle Viole, a great Barolo Cru and Bricco Bertone providing the grapes. Made from carefully sorted and 100% de-stemmed grapes that was fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel vats with a rather long 30 to 40 days maceration, then this Barbera d’Alba DOC Superiore saw up to two years in large Slavonian oak casks. prior to release, plus, Vajra rests it a few more months in bottle to make sure the wine is fully integrated at release. This is an opulent edition of this wine and it deserves center piece attention at the table with extra care to get the best out of it, which should include some hearty country style cuisine, it is well suited for lamb, grilled meats and or sausages. This 2017 took awhile to get going, but once fully awake it delivered a fine performance with a range of dark flavors and delicate earthy notes with just a touch of cedary wood influence. There is so much to admire in Vajra’s collection, especially with their gorgeous Barolo offerings, it sometimes is easy to overlook their Barbera and Dolcetto bottlings, but they should not be missed, neither should you ever pass up the chance to have their Riesling, one of the best in Italy and their Freisa, a rare red Piedmonte grape that is absolutely delicious.
($32 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2017 Drew Family Cellars, Pinot Noir, Valenti Ranch, Mendocino Ridge.
Jason Drew’s run as one of the state’s greatest winemakers continues with his latest set of wines and his Pinot collection, including this Valenti Ranch, are absolutely gorgeous wines. The warm year proved a challenge in some ways and the wines tended to be more overt at first glance and taste though this Valenti is really coming into its own at this stage proving the talent of Drew and it performed brilliantly last night with layers of black raspberry, plum, tangy currant that wrap nicely around its dark cherry fruit core that is lifted by earthy and spicy elements with dried herbs, truffle, orange tea, crushed flowers and subtle wood toast accents. This 2017 vintage of the Drew Valenti Ranch Pinot Noir, according to its winemaker, includes Dijon 667, 828, Pommard and the newer grafting section of Rochioli clone. Situated just six miles from the Pacific Ocean on an east facing ridge at between 1,200 to 1,350 feet above sea level, the Valenti Ranch is located along the Greenwood Ridge and the vineyard lies in both the Mendocino Ridge and Anderson Valley AVA’s, but produces the distinctive ultra cool climate profile from the Mendocino Ridge. The constant maritime winds coupled with thin marginal Ornbaun Series soils of oceanic sedimentary origins, which Drew says lends itself to naturally lower yields and gives the wines their character, concentration and depth with vibrant energy coming from the refreshing acidity. This translates, as Jason adds, into greater intensity at lower sugar levels, with natural alcohols well under 14% and balanced structures. Drew have been working with this vineyard for 13 years now, and he took over the farming lease in 2013, making it almost an extension of his estate and he continues to farm Valenti with organic methods. This place lends itself to smaller berry size and naturally lower yields, again making these wines so sensational and of fantastic quality. This silken dark ruby and garnet Pinot gains and changes dramatically in the glass, I recommend allowing it to fully open and make sure it has simple and fresh cuisine to match it, wild mushroom dishes and grilled salmon are solid pairings here.

Jason Drew, who along with his wife Molly started Drew Family Cellars in 2000, has years of experience with cool climate sites and as he puts it honed his skills in vineyard farming and winemaking, having studied in both the northern and southern hemispheres, in Agroecology, Viticulture achieving his Graduate Degree in Enology from the University of Adelaide, in Australia. His attention to detail and work ethic has seen him work for and with some industry icons and wineries in California including at St. Supery alongside Kirk Grace as well as at Joseph Phelps with Craig Williams, at Luna with John Kongsgaard, at Carmenet with Jeff Baker, along with one of my all time favorites Corison with Cathy Corison and at Babcock Vineyards with Brian Babcock, which makes a total of more than 28 years in the business. With this 2017 vintage, which saw an unwelcome heat spike around Labor Day has been decidedly different, more lush and luxuriously rich when I fist tasted a few and a touch awkward to evaluate, but the wine look like they have really turned the corner and revealing their true nature and potential, especially this Valenti Ranch Pinot, which is delivering all the complexity and depth you’d expect from one of the best wineries in California. Jason used 100% native yeasts and about 10% whole cluster in the fermentation, finishing at a cool 13.2% natural alcohol, a bit less whole bunches than per normal, but still every bit as expressive, and he aged this 2017 in about 25% new French oak with the balance seeing elevage in well seasoned neutral barriques. Drew gently handled this one, as he does with all his Pinots and just did two gravity rackings during the wine’s 11 months in barrel. As mentioned, maybe a million times in the last few years, these Drew wines are some of the greatest being made in California, they are in an elite league, in fact I would put these Pinots up against the best of Burgundy and the Syrahs against the classics of the Northern Rhone, with this Valenti Pinot reminding me a lot of Morey Saint Denis in the Cote de Nuits, its evolution in depth and texture the glass is outstandingly impressive!
($50 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2019 Drive Wines, Rosé of Zinfandel, Comstock Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Valley.
I recently was turned on to the Drive Wines and reviewed their latest Zinfandel, which was very tasty and I was looking forward to popping the cork on this Rosé, that turned out to be an even better experience than I had imagined, it is a fine California dry pink wine that delivers an elegant crisp and mineral fresh Summer wine. The Drive Rosé made from 100% Zinfandel is sourced from the Comstock Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley and was made in the vineyard to be Rosé with care picking and sorting to allow quality flavors to emerge without the higher sugars you’d get with a saignee or bleeding off juice from later picked grapes that would go into a normal red wine. This approach paid off here in the cooly refreshing delicately pale 2019 Drive Comstock Rosé of Zinfandel with its zippy and tangy profile, it shows racy citrus, bay leaf, drier spiced raspberry, sour cherry, lavender and tart mintiness. A bit awkward at first, everything gets better and better as it finds its groove and gets some air, I also will note it really is sensitive to temperature and shouldn’t be served too cold as this Drive Rosé gains complexity and texture in the glass and it ultimately becomes a wonderfully quaffable and rewarding wine.

Drive Wines began as a passion home winemaking venture with a first batch of Zinfandel made in the back of a vintage car garage which led to the creation of this label by partners John Musto, in charge of winemaking and Tom Young, who handles the day to day vineyard and winery operations. Musto, a huge race racing fan and wine enthusiast, works full time for the famous Ridge Vineyards, so he’s got Zinfandel flowing through his veins these days and he is also studying at Santa Rosa Junior College in their winemaking program. The Drive Wines label pays tribute to their love for vintage racing cars and the red Zin has a strip of subtlety drawn bricks at the bottom, which are a reference to the famous “Brickyard” (Indy 500) home of America’s most famous and historic race track. These new releases, the winery’s second set, are fun and delicious wines and this micro label will be interesting to follow in the coming vintages. As a die hard racing fan, I feel a connection to these guys and their pursuit of success, I also know it is not easy to make a quality (dry) Rosé from Zinfandel (that’s why most are sweeter in style) and theirs is really good, you should have seen how fast the bottle went empty!
($25 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine du Château de Grand Pré, Fleurie “Cuvee Spaciale” Cru Beaujolais, France.
Run by Christine, Claude and Romain Zordan, the Domaine du Chateau de Grand Pre in Fleurie was totally new to me and I really enjoyed their classically styled and smooth Fleurie Cuvee Spaciale with the Spaceman on the label, its a beautifully textured and fruit forward wine on the lighter side showing the regions delicate and elegant side. After a bit of studying I came up with some details about the estate, which has been certified organic since 2009 and has many old vine parcels within the main Crus and most are over 60 years old. Domaine Château de Grand Pré makes Fleurie, like this one, plus Morgon and Brouilly Grand Crus, as well as a basic Beaujolais. Romain, who is the vigneron here is a big advocate of Jules Chauvet, the historic local natural wine figure and chemist who’s influence is widely felt in the Beaujolais area, he was the godfather of re-birth of the region’s quality and you can see this adherence to these principles in the Château de Grand Pré wines, with the style being similar to Sunier, Lapierre, Dutraive and Thevenet. The dark and ruby colored Fleurie is impressive in the glass with its florals and its silky but bright brambly fruits make for a delicious Summer red.

The grapes at Château de Grand Pré are all hand-tended and picked with only carefully ripe whole bunches being used, then the wine undergoes a semi-carbonic maceration for 15-20 days at very low temperatures. Zordan allows the natural fermentation to occur without any interference, in fact no remonatge or pigeage takes place during the process in the cellar. Once fermentation is complete, in the case of the Cuvee Spaciale, as noted, a low temperature vinification and maceration with wild yeast in a spherical vat with no sulphur added, the Fleurie was then matured for about 8 months in large used 600L barrels. The finished wine was bottled based on biodynamic and lunar cycles and gently handled throughout to preserve purity and freshness. This 100% Gamay comes from 60 to 70 year old vines planted on sandy soils, with a granitic core with some of the pink veins of iron rich subsoil(s) helping to give this wine its terroir flavors and character. The 2018 Château de Grand Pré Cuvee Spaciale flows across the palate with racy raspberry, plum, bright cherry and cranberry fruits along with snappy herbs and spices adding a cool sense of minerallity, crushed dark flowers an d a subtle earthiness that is very much welcome in this soft and expressive Gamay. This is a fun new discovery for me and I can’t wait to dig into some of the other bottlings here soon.
($35 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2017 Jolie-Laide Wines, Syrah, Halcon Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
The 2017 Jolie-Laide Halcon Syrah is deep and very inky with intense Northern Rhone character that thrills the palate with classic Syrah highlights including boysenberry, cassis, graphite, game and earthy tones leading the way in this densely packed, but low alcohol wine. Winemaker Scott Schultz says that wine is amazing, and is one of the many great gifts Mother Nature has to offer us and that It possesses so many mysterious and inexplicable powers, I couldn’t agree more and his beautiful collection of latest releases, especially this one offers a bit of proof. Jolie-Laide is Schultz’s one-man operation based in a Sebastopol and while having gained a reputation for geeky cool wines in recent years, his Syrah is nothing but old school traditional and with loads of class and distinction with a clean and transparent profile. Scott moved to Napa from Chicago in 2007 with mostly fine dinning experience in the restaurant business on his resume which led him into a position at famous chef Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro in Napa’s Yountville, where he became head of their wine program and fell in love with California wines. He worked with Arnot-Roberts and Ryme Cellars, two modern new generation wineries, before joining Pax Mahle at Windgap and Pax Wine Cellars, where he still works. The 2017 has pretty aromatics which take a few minutes to reveal in the glass hiding behind the whole cluster expression and the layering is impressive with the cascade of dark fruits, wild herbs, crushed violets, spices and savory elements all trying together to make a great wine. My first experience with Schulz’s wines came a few years back and I was curious to follow up on his progress with these new wines and I’m happy to report they do not disappoint, in particular I recommend his red wine offerings, this one for sure, plus his Gamay, GSM and his Jura inspired blend, which I most recently reviewed here at

One of my favorite vineyards in California and one of my favorites in Jolie-Laide’s lineup is, as noted above, this Halcon Vineyard Syrah with its pure and meaty northern Rhone character and thrilling whole cluster pop on the palate that reminds me of the great Cornas wines of Domaine Lionnet, Auguste Clap, Vincent Paris, Thierry Alemand and Guillaume Gilles, which is high praise! The mouth feel is excellent and air brings a richness of details, this 2017 is alive with flavor, gaining black cherry, damson plum and mure as it fully opens up. Scott Schulz, has lots of experience with Syrah after cutting his teeth with the famed Syrah expert Pax Mahle, so it is no surprise his version is of this exceptional quality, especially with the amazing grapes that come from Paul Gordon’s high elevation and schist soiled estate. The Halcon Vineyard high above the Yorkville Highlands is an extraordinary, rocky site at 2500 ft up in the Yorkville Highlands in Mendocino County, with its sky high elevation, cold coastal breezes, extremely low vigor soils and dense make it a very unique terroir. Schultz calls the vineyard’s personality that comes through in his example, an enigmatic style of Syrah mostly unknown in California. The dramatic conditions at Halcon, which in someways, as Gordon notes, are similar to Cote-Rotie constrict the sugar accumulation, meaning Schultz picks later but at a lower brix level, which explains the ripe fullness and low 12.6% natural alcohol as well as preserving a fresh natural acidity. The Jolie-Laide Halcon Syrah grapes were all crushed by foot trodding and fermented 100% whole cluster, with nothing more than gentle punch-downs throughout and indigenous yeasts. After primary fermentation the Syrah was pressed to old, neutral French oak barrique for a 10-month elevage, to capture, as Scott puts it, the delicate and expressive nature of the vines. This complex and succulent Syrah, which is delicious with an array of foods and cuisine option, especially lamb, pork and beef dishes, deserves your immediate attention and I strongly advise getting on the mailing list here!
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Hundred Suns, Pinot Noir, Shea Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Grant Coulter, who has worked with the famed Shea Vineyard for more than a decade, most of that time while he was a winemaker at Beaux Freres, makes a tiny single vineyard bottling from this amazing site and this 2018, which starts slowly, is a gorgeous and dark Pinot Noir with incredible texture and smooth layering that expands in the glass. The Hundred Suns Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir is sourced from a one acre block of Dijon Clone 777 sits at 450 feet on a south/southwest exposure that gets plenty of sunlight and sees cool evenings that allows for deep ripening of the grapes. This warm site, Coulter notes, in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA is planted on sedimentary soil and is one of the most coveted set of vines in the the Willamette Valley and it has produced some legendary wines, including some of Grant’s own, along with Mike Etzel at Beaux Freres and Ken Wright, who was an early admirer of Dick and Deirdre Shea’s beautiful amphitheater like vineyard. This 2018, as mentioned, takes a awhile to really unwind and goes from a brooding and shy wine to a hyper expressive and rock star bottling, it transforms in the glass with air, in fact it was like turning on a light switch after 20 minutes, so patience will be greatly rewarded here! There’s plenty of classic character and flavors that unfold along with exotic elements too with a medium bodied palate of black raspberry, cherry, plum and pomegranate fruits at its core as well as hints of orange tea, rose hips, guava and red peach flesh. The satiny texture that develops is welcomed after a tight first impression and the length is absolute stunning, it lingers with floral and fruit echos, baking spices along with sticky lavender, cinnamon and very little traces of oak.

Coulter, who along with Renée Saint-Amour started their own label Hundred Suns in 2015, says the 2018 vintage gave them lower yields than normal, but the generous sunshine perfectly and evenly ripened their small block of Shea. When the grapes came in they were separated in the cellar into two lots, one 50% whole bunch and the other completely de-stemmed, so Coulter ending up fermenting the 2018 Shea Vineyard Pinot with about 25% whole cluster with 100% indigenous yeasts with both lots done and then blended with the wine being aged for 10 months in well seasoned neutral French oak. Coulter is always very complimentary about the iconic Shea Vineyard which is all dry farmed and meticulously maintained for quality and this vineyard, which I was lucky enough to visit and tour at harvest time back in 2008 is nothing short of a Grand Cru and a wonderfully picturesque place, the view from the upper blocks is spectacular looking down over the whole Willamette Valley. The ancient seabed over sandstone geology here is perfectly suited to growing Pinot Noir and the Hundred Suns version is an exceptional example with its delicious profile, structure and supple mouth feel perfectly captures the essence of the place and is a pure and gracious Oregon Pinot Noir that will seduce even the most difficult to impress. Grant’s wines are always transparent, expressive and distinct, he really focuses on each sites strengths and natural characteristics, using various methods to achieve his aims, he employs an ultra low sulfur process to allow all the freshness of fruit to shine through and his gentle handling of the grapes continues all the way to bottling, which is down with gravity and without any fining or filtering. These last three vintages have been awesome, this small Oregon micro batch winery is crafting some special stuff, I highly recommend getting these 2018s while you can!
($50 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2006 Weingut Schloss Schönborn, Riesling Auslese, Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg, Rheingau Germany.
One of the old school and historic producers in the Rheingau, Schloss Schönborn based in Eltville/Hattenheim area, has been around since 1349 and still run by the noble for which it is named, with Paul Graf von Schönborn leading this classic estate that tends to get overlooked a bit these days, but once fully aged their Rieslings really shine and are outstanding values, like this golden and mature Auslese from the Grand Cru Schlossberg. Schloss Schönborn now encompasses 50 hectares of vineyards, throughout the Rheingau, of which 91% is planted with Riesling, plus 9% Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) with parcels in some of best vineyards, including blocks of vines at Erbach, Hattenheim, Hochheim, Johannisberg, Rauenthal and the Rüdesheimer Berg, as in this one. Even though Schloss Schönborn has joined the VDP and do GG’s, they are very much committed to their sweeter style wines and are more well known for the Spatlese and Auslese that really age well with their residual sugars, and it should be noted though densely packed with those sugars these wines are less cloying when aged and get lovely balanced and complex, adding secondary flavors, earthy tones and holding on to their natural acidity.

The 2006 Schloss Schönborn Riesling Auslese Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg starts with backed apricot, apple butter and dried ginger notes adding candied orange peel, dried roses and quince with air as well as touches of flint, wet stones and a whiff of petrol, all very traditional stuff and makes for an exciting and pleasing experience with the sugars giving a creamy texture rather than heavy sweetness. The Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg is one of my favorite vineyards on earth and I have grown even more fond of it in recent years, especially with the great dry GG’s of Johannes Leitz, Breuer and Gunter Kuntzler, they are some of the most majestic and powerful white wines you can get, showing intense terroir character with those steep slate slopes always shinning through. This Schloss Schönborn Auslese is ultra traditional with careful cluster selections and fuder aging in the cellar, as expected and desired, it is wines like this that make you appreciate these old school styles. Not always easy to find, Schloss Schönborn, in America, they are well deserved treats when you find them, in particular when they have 10 to 15 years of age on them! These mature Auslese Rieslings are not really dessert wines, except some gold capsule version, usually in 375ml bottles, they really go with savory dishes or cheese plates best, so try them with smoked meats, classic German beef or pork.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Ann-Sophie Dubois, Fleurie “L’Alchemiste” Cru Beaujolais, France.
The 2018 L’Alchimiste Fleurie by the hard working and talented Anne-Sophie Dubois is a gorgeous and textural pure Gamay with beautiful terroir driven elegance and nuance showing distilled lilacs, cinnamon spice and earthy tones behind a deep core of classic fruit with smooth and concentrated plum, wild strawberry and red currant flavors on the seamless and rounded medium bodied palate. This brilliant effort is every changing in the glass gaining detail and complexity with every sip, this dark ruby and purple Fleurie really turns on the charm with air, improving with an impressive satiny richness as well as adding some serious style along with touches of anise, cedar and sweet kirsch, finishing with expressive knowing smile, meaning it lingers with a confidence of a truly great wine! Dubois has really upped her game in recent vintages since I first started following her and this one takes her to the next level and puts her in the premier league of Cru Beaujolais with some of the regions iconic producers, this wine is right up there with Dutraive, Thevenet, Thivin, Foillard, Chanrion and Lapierre, which are a few of the legends of Gamay, putting her in some fabulous company quality wise! Anne-Sophie Dubois looks to be a longtime star and gift with Gamay is not in doubt, her 2018s are proof and I love this L’Alchemiste, I highly recommend getting in on it and allowing this young winemaker, this is really exciting times for Gamay lovers and Dubois has a studied collection of sublime wines from which to choose, including this one that has a profound sense of place and clarity of flavors.

Anne-Sophie Dubois, who is interestingly enough a Champagne native, born and raised around bubbly and who studied winemaking in Burgundy, is one of this latest generation of vignerons that are expressing themselves to wonderful effect here in Beaujolais, bringing some new life to this ancient region and still honoring the traditions and history here. She caught the wine bug early, and after falling in love with Gamay manage to scape together the finances to purchase some fantastic all organic old vine parcels in the Fleurie Cru set on the granitic soils that give this area its distinct personality. Spending her formative years learning the ropes in the Cote d’Or was time well spent as her wines show incredible detail and elegance. Her wines have already got lots of attention and even caught the eye of author and famous columnist Jon Bonne of Punch magazine, who says that Dubois makes some of the most soulful, Burgundy-like versions of Beaujolais that he’s encountered, adding that her Fleurie has a bit of fealty to the Cote d’Or! The bookish and appealingly nerdy Anne-Sophie with her cute glasses named her L’Alchimiste cuvee after the Paulo Coelho novel and like the book shows what she’s learned and was able to apply those experiences to her efforts. She went with 100% de-stemmed grapes, that came from her 40 year old vines, for this edition, and while Anne-Sophie does use whole-cluster and carbonic maceration in another bottling, went with classic winemaking here, this one benefits from her approach allowing the inner beauty to shine. The L’Alchemiste was aged for close to 15 months in a combination of cement and a range of different sized neutral French oak barrels and casks with the final blend being bottled unfined and unfiltered, it shows Dubois’ very gifted touch with beautiful transparency and purity.
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2014 Lagier Meredith, Tribidrag, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley.
The 2014 Lagier Meredith Tribidrag, aka Zinfandel, from Steve Lagier and Dr. Carole Meredith’s beautiful estate high up on Napa’s Mount Veeder is a gorgeous example of this once Croatian varietal (immigrant) that has become our state grape and continues to enjoy a special place in our California hearts, showing the vintage’s fabulous cool blue tones and freshness detailing with lovely dense concentration of fruit. In the world of fine Zinfandel, Lagier Meredith sits nicely with the legendary Ridge Vineyards, as well as greats and elite producers like Turley Wine Cellars, Biale, Carlisle, Lamborn and Sky, especially in a year like this 2014, one of my absolute favorites for Zin and really all of the Napa region in particular. The brilliant deep purple/garnet color draws you in and the subtle perfume with delicate floral and spicy notes that, along with, a sense of mountain blackberry lifts from the glass before a thrilling palate of vine picked raspberry, wild plum, black cherry, and currant fruits that unfolds with seamless perfection along with dried herbs, anise, sage/lavender and a touch of smoky cedar. With a surprisingly cool marine layer bringing a July chill to the Carmel area and a classic everything on it take away pizza, this wine, provided comforting drinking and smiles, it gave a thrilling performance for a few souls in need of a distraction of the devastation that the idiot in the White House has brought our much loved land, it is times like these that make you even more grateful for the hard work and passion that small wineries put into their efforts. The four and half acre Lagier Meredith Mount Veeder estate sits about 1,300 feet up, in the Mayacamas range, facing mostly east over the southern part of the Napa Valley set on fractured shale and sandstone soils, which all leads to dark tannic mountain fruit with the vines producing small yields and tiny berries, these are intriguing age worthy and complex wines.

Carole Meredith, the famous UC Davis research professor of grape genetics fame who in fact discovered Zinfandel’s true origins, is one of the wine world’s most interesting and knowledgable people, I have always enjoyed badgering her with questions over the years, which it should be noted, she patiently and humbly answered! I have always been of fan or her and Steve’s wines, in particular their Mount Veeder Mountain Syrah, one of the best kept secrets of California wine, as well as this Tribidrag (Zin), plus the very unique Mondeuse, the rare Savoie grape that is gaining some geeky attention in the state, especially in the hands of Jaimee Motely. The Lagier Meredith Tribidrag comes from the sustainably farmed estate vines, they even have a hawk on the payroll here, Ethan, who also has a big following on their Instagram, and it is traditionally fermented and aged with no new oak being used. Steve’s back breaking vineyard work brings us an amazing and rewarding experience, and with only about 5 barrels available in any given vintage, it is a treat to get a few bottles of this delicious Zin, I mean Tribidrag! The wine usually gets close to two years of aging in neutral French barrique, in this case 22 or so months and bottled unfiltered to preserve the purity of place. Tribidrag, as Meredith explains, was the ancient name for Zinfandel in the Middle Ages, when it was widely grown along the Dalmatian Coast of present-day Croatia. It was one of the most important varieties in the Adriatic wine trade in the 1300’s. I cannot express in a few short paragraphs due justice to the body of work and the magnitude of importance of Dr. Meredith’s work. Lagier Meredith call their wine Tribidrag as a tribute to the noble and ancient European heritage of Zinfandel and its absolutely fascinating story of getting here. I highly recommend reading about Mededith’s efforts, some of which I have reported here on, and I even more so suggest getting on their list!
($45 Est.) 95 Pointsgrapelive

2016 Fèlsina – Berardenga, Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG, Tuscany, Italy.
One of the greatest vintages I’ve tasted of Black Rooster (Gallo Nero) labeled, Chianti Classico wines has to be the 2016, especially delicious is Fèlsina’s lineup with Rancia and Fontalloro being absolutely sublime to the point of being legendary, but certainly this black label Riserva is a do not miss for Sangiovese lovers. There’s a wealth of gems coming from the southern end of the Chianti Classico zone these days from Radda to Castelnuovo, almost on the outskirts of Siena, with Montesecondo, Montevertine, Castello di Ama, Le Miccine, Mazzei and others are notable for quality and Fèlsina, a winery that I’m a big fan of, just adds extra icing to that cake of elite producers that make this area home all with very distinct differences and terroir elements, with Fèlsina noted for being warm and rich on the palate. The 2016 black label Chianti Classico Riserva is wonderfully supple and densely packed with luxurious fruit and solid length, while retaining a fresh feel and balance with a range of flavors including blackberry, plum, black cherry, mulberry and currant fruits along with a subtle wave of mocha, minty herb, spicy cut tobacco leaf, dried flowers and cedar, adding an a touch of anise, leather and a lingering liqueur note. This bottling, while not surprising given Fèlsina’s record of quality, does raise an eyebrow for its value and purity of form in this price point, you’d most likely be happy with this wine’s performance at twice the asking price, I should have bought many more bottles! Time in the glass brings out more and more with a poised mineral element emerging along with pretty floral intensity adding class to the almost lavish nature of the fruit core, it is hard not to finish the bottle too quickly and patience is definitely rewarded.

The estate, in an area that was cherished during Roman times, was once the farm of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, back then Fèlsina was mostly known for its sense of peace and its olive groves, with, as the winery notes, just a few hectares dedicated to viticulture before the nineteenth century. The original wine cellar was small, but in the early 1900s had already begun bottling on site and Fèlsina’s slow and historic march toward greatness in Italian wine began, with the present generation of care takers here committed to holistic and sustainable farming and the Sangiovese grape, including preserving a selection old special clones of this classic Tuscan varietal. The rolling hills of Castelnuovo are covered with chalky, rocky calcareous soils, with primarily marl, a common characteristics in Chianti, along with layers of sandstone and clay, along with ancient marine sediments rich in minerals all facing the path of the sun that allows for ripe fruit, concentration and refined tannins, while retaining energy with natural acidity. This Fèlsina Berardenga Chianti Classico Riserva was a special selection of top sites, carefully sorted with de-stemmed grapes that were fermented and macerated in temperature controlled stainless steel vats with gentle punchdowns and pump overs to ensure perfect extraction after which the wine was aged in a combination of large Slovenian oak casks and twice and three time filled French oak barriques for between 12 to 16 months before the final blend was assembled to taste in the cellar. This dark garnet and delicately perfume Chianti Classico Riserva matches robust cuisine and or aged Pecorino (hard) cheeses and gains an extra dimension with air, this is everything you’d want from a 100% Sangiovese!
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Reeve, Pinot Noir “Ya Moon” Bybee Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
Another one of the most exciting labels to emerge in recent years is Noah Dorrance’s Reeve with a collection of fabulous wines including Sangiovese, Riesling, Rosé and a fun set of Pinot Noirs, like this lush and red fruited 2018 Ya Moon Pinot from Bybee Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast. Dorrance, who was a founding partner in the Banshee Wine Company, sold his shave and dove into his and his wife Kelly Dorrance’s own label Reeve in 2015 with the help of the highly talented pair of winemakers, Ross Cobb, known for his efforts at Hirsch, Flowers, Williams Selyem as well as his Cobb Wines and Katy Wilson, who also has an impressive resume, making wines with Cobb at Flowers, as well as her efforts at Kamen and her own LaRue, both well accomplished in the field of Pinot Noir. The vivid ruby hued Ya Moon is the youthful and crunchy fresh version of Pinot from Reeve with soft juicy flavors and zesty acidity showing bright cherry and strawberry up front and pomegranate and cranberry in the background along with snappy herbs, floral notes and spices with almost no oak present on the lighter style medium bodied palate.

The Ya Moon Bybee Vineyard Pinot was crafted to be an early drinking wine that can be enjoyed in Summer with a slight chill and with easy foods, it was crafted with whole bunches of grapes using primarily carbonic maceration, as Dorrance notes, in this process the whole clusters are sealed in a vessel with fermentation occuring largely inside each individual grape at an intercellular level, much like the wines from Beaujolais, he adds, the end result of this style fermentation process is often wines that are bright, fresh and light, which this one is, but with expressive fruit and texture. As with a modern trend in California this Ya moon is a fun and quaffable red, of as the Europeans say a Glou-Glou wine that has pleasing simplicity and is joyous to drink with friends. The Reeve Ya Moon Pinot was aged for only three or so months in a mixture of old French oak barriques and stainless steel barrels and It was bottled with a bare minimum amount of sulfur to preserve it as well as freshly fruit driven. This 2018 might be harder to find at this point, but 2019 coming from the biodynamic Vecino Vineyard was just released and it should be just as good or better still and a great way to dig into the Reeve lineup, which has added a few new offerings I’m thrilled to say and that I look forward to try!
($36 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2016 Ca’ del Baio, Barbaresco DOCG “Vallegrade” Piedmonte, Italy.
In recent years Ca’ del Baio has emerged as one of the top quality Barbaresco producers and their 2016 efforts are next level wines and best of all they are incredible values, especially the fabulously endowed 2016 Vallegrande Cru Barbaresco, which I just couldn’t resist trying. There has been a lot of buzz about the 2016 vintage in Barolo and Barbaresco, all which is being proved well deserved, in fact I think it will easily eclipse the much heralded 2010, as I have found the wines to have an edge in textural grace, but still with outstanding structure and depth, these are wines that have legendary potential, in particular the Barolo offerings, though this Ca’ del Baio is pretty amazing stuff with exceptional Nebbiolo purity and stunning length. These 2016s are not shy, they have close to 15% natural alcohols and revel in their density, but without a doubt they hold it all together with sublime integration and no flab, these are bold, powerful and impactful Nebbiolos that somehow still show the grapes most beautiful features, as this Vallegrande by Ca’ del Baio shows. Starting with classic Barbaresco aromatic charm and a delicate earthy seduction with seeped rose petals, dried lilacs, brandied cherries, saddle leather and truffle the Vallegrande hits its stride on the palate with a full force of flavors including damson, plum, black cherry, forrest vine picked berries along with a background of complexities like anise, balsamic dipped strawberry, orange rind, cedar and mineral notes. The wine evolves and elevates in the glass, it gets better and better, resolving and finessing its tannins and gaining stellar length, all pointing to an amazing long life and potential here, I’m glad to have a stash of 2016s to hold! This garnet/brick hued Vallegrande 2016 has loads of character and is very inviting making it an easy buy at the price and it goes gloriously with rustic cuisine, it certainly impresses at this stage, Nebbiolo lovers should stock up on a few bottles to enjoy over the next 10 to 15 years.

The Ca’ del Baio winery, with estate vineyards based in Treiso, a village near Barbaresco, is owned by the Grasso family, with this label being the forth generation, but the historic family have been grapegrowers and winemakers since 1680. For more than 20 years, the Grasso’s have had the well-respected consultant Beppe Caviola proving guidance and he has led this winery to new heights working with the family to perfect their methods in both the vineyards and in the cellar, focusing on quality sustainable farming and bringing out the terroir personalities in the wines. It’s the little things here that make a difference like In the winery Ca’ del Baio prefers to use of native (natural or indigenous) yeasts in the primary fermentation process, which they believe allows each wine to express itself to the fullest and they limit the use of sulphur dioxide to the absolute minimum so as to ensure they fruit is not muted and we the idea that their bottles will age better and correctly, all of which seems to be the case here with their gorgeous Vallegrande Cru Barbaresco. The Vallegrande or Valgrande site is well regarded and has been well recognized for its quality since the 1800s with Ca’ del Baio having a number of Nebbiolo parcels within the Vallegrande Cru, all facing west to capture the last rays of the sun and keeping slightly cooler for maximum depth and balance. This Cru sits in Tresio and is the most near the winery, set on bluish clayey-limestone marl soils and with a set of vines that were planted back in 1967, its a place that perfectly suits the traditional style Ca’ del Baio uses on its all de-stemmed grapes with the mentioned native ferment with cool stainless steel, with almost two weeks of maceration before pressing and then aged a minimum of 24 months in large Slovenian oak casks. If you are looking for a wildly exciting and age worthy Barbaresco, one that you can almost guilt free open in its fleshy youth or hold, then Ca’ del bail should be on your radar!
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Avinyo, Petillant vi d’Agulla, Penedès, Catalonia, Spain.
I am a big fan of the Cava at Avinyo, but I rarely twist the cap on their zingy fresh Petillant, so tasting recently seemed a bit like tasting it for the first time and I was joyous and grateful for the experience with this 2019 vintage popping out of the glass with its dry crisp effervesce and its delicate jasmine perfume, it is so refreshingly light that it was perfect for Summer day sipping. Avinyo’s Petillant vi d’agulla, which means “prickly wine” in Catalan, is named for its slightly effervescent sparkling nature, vibrant character and the hint of bitterness, it is a fun white minerally wine that is great as an aperitif or a palate cleansing primer to a meal, especially good with oysters and or fresh steamed claims, its fine mousse (bubbly fizz) always brings out smiles. The Petillant is traditional summertime quaffer of the Penedès region, also known by many as the Spanish Cava zone when you think of this area with many historic and old caves making authentic method Champagne style sparkling wines and Avinyo’s excellent version is made from Muscat, Macabeo, and Xarel-lo, with this vintage showing the unmistakable markers of the Muscat with the noted jasmine flowers and racy and tart almond bite.

The Mediterranean climate and flavors are wonderfully accented by this Petillant vi d’Agulla which pop with the gentle fizzy mouth feel and the brisk layers of zesty citrus with lemon/lime and unripe orange as well as peach pit, Spring herbs, wet stones. The Avinyo Petillant is made in simple fashion and crafted to be drunk early and often without any serious thought needed, its vinification was started by a fermentation in stainless steel from early picked grapes, hence the low alcohol, with a direct press and no malo-lactic allowed to preserve every bit of tanginess zippy freshness as possible. The carbonation in the Avinyo Petillant is created by the charmat method of secondary fermentation in tank with the introduction of the CO2. As mentioned, I usually buy and enjoy Avinyo’s exceptional Cavas, which are fantastic bubbles, in particular I love their Brut Reserva that is produced with 100% free run juice and aged 18 to 22 months before being disgorged in classic Champagne style, it is outrageously good and a fabulous value at well under $20 a bottle. That said, I quite liked having this bone dry Petillant and can imagine having a few bottles in the coming warm months, it should provide simple comfort with a glorious sunset or two.
($16 Est.) 87 Points, grapelive

2018 Comando G Viticultores, La Bruja de Rozas, Vino de Pueblo, Valle del Tietar, Sierra de Gredos, Vinos de Madrid D.O., Spain.
Every year these Comando G wines seem to get better and better, this is true especially with this 2018 La Bruja de Rozas, their base cuvee, which is absolutely delicious with Burgundy like class, in fact with its slight reduction and light graphite notes at the start reminds me of a Premier Cru Nuits-Saint-Georges, but with dark Grenache purity. Comando G, celebrating 10 years with this 2018 vintage, is a small winery in the Sierra de Gredos, this special terroir in the mountains above Madrid in Castilla y Leon, central Spain, making hand crafted wines, it is led by the talented duo of Daniel Landi and Fernando Garcia, who have been friends since their school days and they formed Camando G in 2008, after always wanting to work together, even though they had successful careers with their own wine concerns, Bodegas Jimenez-Landi and Fernando at Bodega Marañones. As widely noted, and reported here, the Sierra de Gredos is a Garnacha region that rivals the world’s great sites for this grape, these wines show high elevation elegance and detail, but with old vine concentration and amazing aromatics as well as length. This beautifully made La Bruja de Rozas Vino de Pueblo, 100% Garnacha, is sourced from several vineyards ranging between 50 to 80 years old in the vicinity of Las Rozas de Puerto Real, all high elevation sites above 850 meters above sea level and set on sandy granite soils.

This 2018 version is as mentioned very dark and starts with earthy intensity before opening gracefully into a generous Garnacha that really turns up the charms with a gorgeous layering of black raspberry, plum, pomegranate and cherry fruit along with wild herbs, delicate floral notes, mineral and snappy spices. Air time brings out there best and allows the La Bruja de Rozas to become wonderfully textural and extends the length, it slowly unveils its true personality and gains loads of depth and bringing up to the quality level of Comando G’s single Cru offerings almost! These Sierra de Gredos wines cooled by the mountain air and chilly nights are sublimely balanced wines that show a unique sense of place, which Landi and Garcia are trying to, which great success, showcase in ultra transparent detail. Using organic grapes, farmed with biodynamic methods, Comando G’s Rozas, the Village wine, was all hand harvested, with Dani and Fernando employing a natural yeast fermentation with partial whole cluster (depending on vintage) and a long maceration, that as they note, was followed by nine months in large 30-60HL oak vats to mature. The 2018 La Bruja de Rozas, which has at least a decade of serious quality life ahead of it, gains more on more in the glass revealing its inner perfume and its tannin structure turns silky, all the while retaining its presence on the palate and is nicely lifted by its natural acidity making it wonderful with cuisine and a fine companion for an evening of drinking pleasure!
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Bordes, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast.
Bordes Wines is a small family-owned winery in Sonoma County, I recently discovered, you can see my review of their Pinot Noir on an earlier post and their Rosé, today’s wine of the day is a well rounded and smooth version with loads of strawberry, cherry and hints of ruby grapefruit, plus an interesting caramel (red) apple note. The wines are handcrafted in tiny amounts all made from free-run juice, which were harvested from Bordes’ sustainably farmed single vineyard estate in Sonoma County. The lovely hued Rosé of Pinot Noir was sourced from grapes exclusively harvested for Rosé and includes a mix of 667, 777 and Pommard clones. This Bordes Rosé is luxurious on the medium bodied palate and drinks very Pinot Noir like, more so than most Rosé, the effect is amplified by the wine’s vivid hue in the glass and the pleasing texture and mouth feel, while still refreshing and quaffable, it enjoys its chill and it is even better with food.

The 2019 Bordes Rosé of Pinot was whole cluster pressed with about 4 hours of skin contact, which was plenty for color extraction and instilling the flavor profile in this magenta pink wine. The fermentation was done in a small open top stainless tank in cool conditions before being racked down to a neutral French oak barrel and racked twice and cold stabilized with a gentle filtering for clarity. Bordes Wines, as noted, is new a small family-operated estate with its vineyard planted with a quality selection of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The wines are shepherded by a family friend, Bowdoin Pfeifer, who has been overseeing the process for the Bordes family as their youngest daughter Rachel studies wine and viticulture at Cal Poly and who will join the winemaking team at this year’s harvest and hopes to be a future star. While the Rosé is easy and simple fun, the Pinot is much more serious and complex, this is a winery to watch.
($29 Est.) 87 Points, grapelive

2019 Celler Xavier Clua, Rosé “El Sola d’en Pol” Rosado Terra Alta, Catalonia, Spain.
Cellar Xavier Clua, run by Xavier Clua, combines tradition and modern thought to produce expressive wines from this ancient winegrowing region of Terra Alta, one of the historic wine areas of Catalonia, he and his winemaker wife Rosa Domenech, who has brought a wealth of new ideas to the estate, has turned this small winery into one of best in this part of Spain. Clua is located in Vilalba dels Arcs, in the Terra Alta in Catalonia, this is a dry, sunny area where, as the winery notes, winegrowing has been a tradition since medieval times with Grenache being especially well suited to the terroir here, which makes up most of the blend in Clua’s wines, like their amazingly vivid and flavorful Rosado (Rosé), a wine I have been enjoying for many years. Terra Alta a climate with both Mediterranian and continental influences enjoys very hot summers and cold winters with vines mostly set on calcareous clay soils and at higher elevations to keep the vines refreshed from cool breezes and chilly nights.

The 2019 version of Clua El Solà d’en Pol Rosado Terra Alta, made from 70% Garnatxa Negra (Grenache) and 30% Syrah, was all stainless steel fermented from ripe grapes with a short 4 hour maceration and a temperature controlled cool fermentation to preserve intensity and freshness, but still extracting a bright deep color and fullness of flavors. This wine bursts from the glass with crushed raspberry, Jolly Rancher watermelon, strawberry and candied cherry fruits, a delicate sense of mineral and a light dusting of spices along with floral tones, adding a hint of wild herbs and wet saline infused stones. The clay based soils and the warmth really bright out the density of fruit and this one shows this with its depth and richness on the fuller than expected palate, though it should be noted it is not overly presented or cloying, this is a dry Rosé in the Bandol style mold, but highlighting its Grenache fruit and it really thrives with robust cuisine, plus it is a crowd pleaser, able to impress the more serious wine lover as well as the novice pink drinker. Better still is the cost, the Clau Rosé impresses for the quality to price ratio, making it a Summer bargain.
($12 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 Viña Mein, Blanco, Ribeiro DO, Galicia Spain.
One of the greatest white wines in Spain, the Vina Mein Ribeiro Blanco, is a wonderfully textural wine that is on par with your favorite white Burgundy and thrills the palate with creamy density and elegance, this wine is stylish and unique, vastly different from most of the country’s offerings. The Viña Mein 2017 is made from a collection of ancient native and mostly rare varietals, but mainly Treixadura, which makes up 70% of the blend here along with small amounts of Godello, Albariño, Loureira, Torrontés and Lado. Viña Mein’s vinification process on this wine, reminds me of Muscadet as it is fermented in stainless steel with extended aging on the lees. The 2017 is ripe and plush in the mouth with layers of green apple, peach, melon and kumquat fruits along with smooth acidity and the leesy richness adding a touch of caramel and fig as well as delicate white flowers and a subtle zesty citrus and quince burst keeping things fresh. It is always a treat to drink these Vina Mein whites, great with an array of food and with soft cheeses, it is from an area that is re-discovering its past and this wine is an excellent way to experience it.

This winery in Galicia is led by Viña Mein founder Javier Alén, who in the nineties sought to reclaim the glories of the region and he and some friends planted a collection of historic local white grapes including Treixadura, Godello, Loureira, Torrontes, Albariño, Lado and Albilla, later they added some red varietals as well with a set of parcels that represent the true flavors of the region with some Caiño, Mencía and Ferrón. Alén’s estate in San Clodio y Gomariz has about 16 hectares of vineyards on the hillsides of the Avia River in this remote area near Portugal, with its cool Atlantic climate making for an ideal spot for sublime quality white wines, as this one proves. This fleshy, supple and lingering light golden Ribeiro Blanco makes for a intriguing contrast to the zesty and more acid driven Albariño based wines of Rias Baixas with the Treixadura providing more generous weight and with the other grapes like Loureiro (or Loureira here) adding complexity in the wine that opens up gracefully on the palate, while still being low alcohol and with a stony/mineral streak, making it great with fattier fish dishes. The Viña Mein is a lovely wine and a serious value.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2015 Filomena Wine Company, Syrah, Griffin’s Lair Vineyard, Petaluma Gap, Sonoma Coast.
California’s new generation of winemakers, like Luke Nio, who works for Bedrock Wine Co and has just launched his own label Filomena Wine Company, are re-imagining the whole industry and it is fantastic to have a front row seat to this revolution and to taste the incredible fruits of their efforts, this is the most exciting time in American wine in my lifetime, and considering the uncertain market conditions, this is amazing to witness and taste, especially when the wines are as fantastic as Nio’s Griffin’s Lair Syrah! Quite honestly, tasted blind, this Filomena Wine Company Griffin’s Lair Syrah, could easily could be mistaken for a top Cote-Rotie with its gorgeous deep purple/black hue and heady array of scents on the nose with violets, incense, leather, black and blue fruits, wild dried herbs, cedar and mure (blackberry liqueur) all unfolding before the full bodied palate that echos the bouquet adding boysenberry, black plum, mission figs, creme de cassis, mocha, a hint of game and blueberry tanginess. This is exceptional Syrah that takes on classic Northern Rhone savory (highlighting the stem inclusion) tones and mineral notes as it opens providing wonderful balance of depth of ripe fruit with the contrasting earthiness and umami elements with peppercorns and anise adding to that thrill, while the mouth feel is luxurious, again in the mold of Guigal’s Chateau d’Ampuis and Chapoutier’s Le Meal Emitage! This Griffin’s Lair, from a top Syrah cru site, sustainably farmed, in the Petaluma Gap with its diverse soils formed by moving fault lines and cooled by ocean breezes and the proximity to the San Pablo Bay, is a wine of place and passion, it certainly appeals to Syrah lovers and will go great with loads of meal options from brisket to lamb, as well as wild mushroom dishes.

Luke Nio’s Filomena Wine Company Griffin’s Lair Syrah was traditionally fermented using 100% whole cluster, and the carefully sorted bunches were foot trod, and Luke allowed indigenous yeast to complete primary, with this complex and riveting Syrah seeing an extended maceration and daily pilage. This very limited wine, Nio’s first solo effort for his Filomena Wine Company label was then aged 16 months in a neutral 500L French oak puncheon and then rested 3 years in bottle, while he set up his micro winery. While Syrah may never get the attention it deserves in California, there is no question in my mind that it offers the greatest quality for the money in the state and in America, especially when you add some of the sublime Washington State examples, and right now there is some stellar offerings available to prove my point, wines like this one and as well as many, many others like Jason Drew’s in Anderson Valley’s Mendocino Ridge, Halcon Vineyards Yorkville Highlands, Samuel Louis Smith’s from the South Santa Cruz Mountains, Big Basin’s estate bottlings, Joyce Wine Co.’s Tondre Grapefield, Nio’s comrade Cody Rasmussen’s Desire Line Wines versions, one from Griffin’s Lair as well along with his Shake Ridge, Jolie-Laide, Arnot-Roberts, Cattleya, Peay Vineyards, Stolpman, Sling | Stone Wines, Storm Wines, Andrew Murray, Sheldon Wines as well as long time stars like John Alban, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon, Pax, Booker, Sashi Moorman of Piedrasassi, Jeff Pisoni of Lucia Vineyards and Adam Tolmach of Ojai Vineyards to name a few, forgive me for missing a bunch of other stars that deserve to be listed here too! These wines are every bit as exciting and as good as their prestigious French cousins that inspired them, all with distinct personalities and character. The Filomena Wine Company is a list to get on as soon as possible, these first two releases are outstanding, in particular this richly detailed Griffin’s Lair Vineyard, a fabulous terroir driven wine and Nio’s carbonic St. Lauren, which I reviewed here recently.
($42 Est.) 96 Pointsgrapelive

2018 Domaine de Verquière, Cotes du Rhone, Rhone Valley, France.
One of my favorite comfort wines is a nice Grenache based Cotes du Rhone and will the prices of solid wines from there being insanely reasonable it makes for a guilt free, but serious delicious experience, with wines like this tasty Domaine de Varquière being great values. Coming from Sablet area, not far from Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas and set on classic stony and sandy vineyard sites with clay and limestone soils, Romain and Thibaut Chamfort’s small estate, as the winery notes, played a very active part in gaining recognition for wines in this region even helping to create the Côtes du Rhône Villages Sablet appellation back in 1974. This 2018 Domaine de Verquière Cotes du Rhone Rouge is a tank raised blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah, with all the grapes being carefully sorted and de-stemmed that was fermented with temperature control with about two weeks of maceration to extract its brilliantly dark color and depth of flavors. This well made and quality Cotes du Rhone joins Sant Cosme and Delas Freres in bang for the buck league and expresses perfectly the sense of place, it is a wine that asks little and gives a lot.

The lush Grenache led palate of the Verquière Cotes du Rhone feels full and dense with an array of dark berry fruits and is lightly spicy with touches of pepper, cinnamon and licorice as well as delicate floral notes, grilled herbs and a touch of earthiness from the Syrah making for a pure and pleasing red wine to go with almost any food choice, especially simple country cuisine, BBQ’s and or just burgers and or pastas. Gaining depth in the glass this 2018 performs solidly and its inviting purple/garnet color brings a smile too, air and food bring out blackberry, plum, boysenberry and kirsch layering. This Rhone red comes in at a healthy 14.5% natural alcohol, but doesn’t get flabby or does the heat make itself obvious with the ripeness giving more mouthfeel and the impression of more expensive wine. Being in the foothills of the Dentelles de Montmirail range Verquière’s 45 hectors of vines get some Mistral like cool breezes and that helps keep things balanced and even elegant even in their basic entry level offering. Thibaut, who trained in California and in South Africa, has crafted a yummy Rhone at a delightful price that I highly recommend stocking up on! This fun stuff is a great way to stay on that healthy Mediterranean diet, its dusty fruits, scent of lavender and dried violets make it hard not to love.
($12 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2019 Domaine Le Galantin, Bandol Rosé, Provence, France.
One of the joys of Summer is the release of new Provence Rosé(s) and especially those from Bandol, one of the most scenic and prestigious wines regions on earth sitting majestical on the blue Mediterranean sea, home to some of the most famous names in this popular genre, one of those is this Le Galantin, maybe the “baby” Tempier! The Domaine Le Galantin, run by Céline Pascale, who took over the domaine in 1999 from her father, is set on the ancient steep vineyards of Bandol, located directly on the Mediterranean coast, just east of Marseille. This small quality appellation was first planted by Phocaean Greeks around.600BC and is the perfect home for Mourvèdre, which makes for the bold reds found here as well as giving the Rosé wines their special sauce and structure. Le Galantin’s best vineyards are planted on poor clay, with a touch of limestone and sandy soil on old terraces, known locally as restanques allowing deep ripening of the grapes and expressive flavors. The appellations’s south facing vineyards get an extraordinary 3,000 hours of sun a year, but the heat is tempered by constant wind and also humidity from the sea, all of which in combination makes for robust, but balanced wines and provides the Rosé with serious substance and textured form. Domaine le Galantin farms just 30 hectares of mostly picturesque terraced vineyards located in Le Plan du Castellet with all of their vines being hand tended and cared for using all organic methods.

The 2019 La Galantin Rosé is vivid and vibrant with an array of citrus and racy red fruits with a medium full palate of crushed raspberry, strawberry and sour cherry as well as ruby grapefruit all pushed on the attack with crisp acidity and a steely mineral tone, this is a great vintage for this wine and the drinking pleasure is high, it perfectly matches the mood of the season with a sunny style and enough stuffing to grab your attention. Light floral notes, spices and dried herbs add to the complexity in this dry and focused pink. The 2019 Le Galantin was made with around 50% Mourvèdre, 25% Cinsault and 25% Grenache, from vines planted on southwest facing hillsides, with the mentioned clay/limestone soils. The estate picks the grapes , after which the bunches are cooled down to 50C for a two day cold soak in order to extract fruit, color and aromatics, while still delicate and translucent in the finished wine. The juice is then racked off and the grapes are pressed to stainless steel tanks, with just 10% of the wine being saignée, giving it a bolder fruit expression without being too weighty, the rest come from grapes treated as if making white wine, helping preserve fresh detail and crisp deliciousness. Great for sipping, this dry pink goes great with many food options, especially steamed mussels!
($20 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Drive Wines, Zinfandel, Puccioni Ranch, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
I was really excited to get the Drive Wines debut set of releases by winemaker John Musto, who works for Ridge Vineyards, one of my all time favorite producers and who has like me a background in vintage cars and historic motor racing, in fact he has made some of his wines in the back of a classic car garage! Drive Wines was launched last year with a single vineyard Rosé of Zinfandel, the Comstock Vineyard from Dry Creek Valley and this wonderfully delicious old vine field blend made mostly of Zinfandel from vines that were planted in 1904 at Puccioni Ranch. These 116 year old vines make for a concentrated and complex wine with good ripe flavors led by dusty raspberry and sweet plum and black cherry fruits adding hints of toasty wood, wild flowers, minty herbs, a hint of loamy earth and snappy licorice. Musto, who could be a kindered spirit, has done a super job on this nicely drinking dark garnet red Zinfandel, it feels luxurious on the full bodied palate, but it has zesty lift that gives balance and doesn’t get heavy or dull at any point, it also has a lovely aftertaste that lingers on. I have to mention, being a racing car geek, the subtle strip of famous Wabash bricks on the bottom of the label that pays tribute to the famed Brickyard, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, hence the name Drive Wines.

This studied and racy (sorry for the pun) Zin was made from hand harvested grapes that were picked at night to retain freshness and detail with ultra careful sorting and all the grapes were de-stemmed and fermented using a selected yeast to avoid any volatile acidity forming with RP-15 “Rockpile” yeast cultures being employed here and primary lasted about 10 days with good color and flavor extraction with Musto doing gentle cap management and extending the maceration after fermentation for five days. One done, the wine was racked or pressed to barrel and aged 17 months with about 35% new French oak which gives this Zinfandel a smooth textural quality and accents it nicely with that smoky vanilla and cedary spice shadings, this will really appeal to classic Zin fans and gives this wine an element of refinement and elegance. With time in bottle this will gain a darker sense I think and fill out even more, though I absolutely enjoyed it with my Forth of July range of foods and it drinks easy right now, it certainly makes for a clean and pleasant companion with BBQ and burgers, especially simple cuisine choices. Once full open the Puccioni Ranch Zinfandel, air time brings out a pretty Mure (blackberry liqueur) note, lilac and some savory sage too keeping your attention. The Drive Wines Zinfandel shows potential and impress for the price, which is very reasonable considering how limited it is, I am looking for to popping the cork on Musto’s Rosé as well, this is a fun label to keep an eye on!
($29 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2015 G.D. Vajra, Barolo, Bricco delle Viole, Piedmonte, Italy.
One of Italian’s treasures, the Vajra Bricco delle Viole Barolo is fast becoming a must have wine for Nebbiolo enthusiasts and while everyone is hyper focused on the 2016 vintage offers, you would be rewarded by not missing this gorgeous 2015 version, which lacks for nothing in the big league of top Barolo bottlings! I was first introduced to the Bricco delle Viole with Giuseppe Vajra’s break out vintage in 2008 and I have been a huge fan ever since, this wine and winery have blown up and are crafting a thrilling collection of offerings, they are rocking it, with a range that goes from maybe Italy’s best Riesling to this glorious Barolo, along with an intriguing Freisa, stellar Barbara and Dolcetto as well as other regional gems. Giuseppe Vajra’s rise as a winemaker might not be a surprise considering the talents of his visionary father Aldo, but it has been incredible to watch and see the Vajra family get the attention and praise they deserve with their hard work and humble personalities. The 2015 Bricco delle Viole is luxurious and has Burgundy like grace on the palate enjoying its plush and youthful fruit, but underneath there is classic structure and character with pure Nebbiolo seduction flowing across the full bodied palate with deep red berry, plum and black cherry fruit along with flashes of mulberry and strawberry as well as a subtle meatiness, anise, chalky stones, cedar and delicate rose petals. This wine, which is already drinking fabulous should continue to grown in dimension and add layers, if you can’t wait you’ll find it ever changing in the glass and certainly I would suggest building and evening and meal around exploring it.

The Bricco delle Viole, the hill of violets, is an iconic wine and sets the tone for understanding the Vajra’s wines with Giuseppe’s dad Aldo famously saying the Bricco delle Viole is the vineyard that taught us patience and naturally guided the style of our craft and it starts with its terroir which is at what is thought to be the highest elevation site in Barolo at close to 480 meters above sea level with perfect exposures and underpinned by the region’s limestone, sand and clay soils and dramatic diuturnal temperature changes that allow for deep ripening and vibrant acidity. The Bricco delle Viole, first planted in 1949, was thought to be too cold for Barolo, but that was proved silly and its legend keeps growing, and Aldo was one of the first in Piedmonte to embrace serious organic and holistic practices which has also been seen as the way of the future for ultra quality in the region. The Bricco delle Viole is one of the last sites to be picked in Barolo and this long hang time really elevates this wine with incredible depth and there is always a Grand Cru Core d’Or feel here with a sense of minerallity and finesse. Vajra is traditional in the winemaking, taking great care in the vineyard and it the cellars with each cluster being rigorously sorts and individually berry de-stemming before a lengthy maceration and gentle handling of the wine through primary fermentation. The top Vajra Barolo sees close to 42 months in large Slavonian casks, mostly 25 and 50 hectoliters to allow this fantastic Nebbiolo to fully develop all of its beauty and stunning nuances. If this 2015 is this good, just wow, I can’t imagine what the 2016 will show! Sadly, this year I missed seeing Giuseppe Vajra at the Slow Wine in San Francisco show with Covid playing havoc with travel and trade shows, but I am always grateful for being able to try his wines, these are too good to miss!
($80 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2019 Sheldon Wines, Grenache Blanc, Sperring Road Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
The beautiful and structured whole cluster pressed and 100% stainless Grenache Blanc from Dylan Sheldon at Sheldon Wines bristles with energy and flows across the medium/full bodied palate with graceful smoothness, it reminds me of a top Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc with its clarity, depth and its bright golden presence in the glass. Coming from the tiny Sonoma Coast vineyard, with marine sedimentary soils on Sperring Road, the Grenache Blanc shows orange blossom, zesty fresh picked apricot, a mix of lemony citrusy fruits and white fig fruits along with fleshy melon, bitter peach pit, snappy spices, liquid stones, a faint hint of unsweetened honeycomb and creamy verbena. This is absolute fabulous stuff, highlighting the best qualities of this grape which is found in the south of France and into Spain mainly with a significant role in the mentioned Chateauneuf du Pape along with a host of other white varietals like Roussanne and Clairette Blanche and included in some white Cotes du Rhone as well in the northeast of Spain where it is also known as Garnatxa Blanca and found in white wines in Catalonia, Priorat and Terra Alta as well as being allowed in Rioja as a very minor component. After being brought seriously to California by Tablas Creek and their cuttings from Beaucastel, the Grenache Blanc wines in California have flourished, though have had some trouble finding sales success, but Randall Grahm of the Bonny Doon Vineyard and the mentioned Tablas Creek have made some thrilling wines with Grenache Blanc playing a part, though as a solo effort I think Sheldon has lifted it to another level after searching high and low to find the right vineyard source, which has taken their quest from the south in Santa Barbara to the north in Sonoma Valley and now in the Sonoma Coast region where it, especially in this vintage, looks like a homerun. Grenache Blanc is a grape that can be full of richness, but retains vital acidity, it is less oily and less aggressive than Roussanne, making nicely flexible and while great as part of a blend, it can deliver complexity and personality all on its own, as this wine proves very well.

Sheldon, known to be a Grenache (Noir) Freak, who from 2008 until 2014 focused on their Rhone inspired whites on Grenache Blanc based efforts, making Grenache Blanc as a solo effort in many of those vintages before taking a break from it and turning their attention elsewhere. Curiously enough, as Dylan notes, he has always found a strong similarity between Grenache Blanc and Vermentino both stylistically and viticulturaly, so in 2014 they produced their last Grenache Blanc, before this one and dedicated in the the next 4 vintages to coaxing out various personalities of Vermentino, which was gaining a strong following in California, especially with Ryme Cellars, as well as the mentioned Tablas Creek and Bonny Doon, along with Mark Chesebro in Arroyo Seco. For 2019 Sheldon returned to Grenache Blanc with this lovely 2-acre Gblanc vineyard in the cool Sonoma Coast region close to home, being based in the Santa Rosa area. Sheldon hand harvested the grapes on the 18th of October, with a fairly wide range of brix between the sunny side and shaded side of the rows, which is Dylan’s practice in his whites. He has a love for getting multiple levels of ripeness and flavor development within single varietals to provide fresh zip and to have ripe elements to enhance the flavor and textural pleasures in his whites. This Grenache Blanc was whole cluster pressed, covered with a cold CO2 blanket (dry ice) for an hour of skin contact then settled in tank over night which drops out the green and bitter phenolics, after that the Grenache Blanc is racked down to stainless barrels and sent to the cold room. This cold natural ferment lasted three weeks of cool stainless steel primary and was twice weekly had lees stirring. Sheldon racked it off the heavy lees into a single 75 gallon barrel and allowed no Malo-Lactic to keep exquisite purity and fresh details. The wine rested rest for the winter, then racked twice on new moon/low tide cycles (when there was greater gravity) then bottled unfiltered. This Sperring Road Grenache Blanc is one of the best alternative whites of the season so far, though with just 32 cases made it will not be easy to stock up on, so don’t wait and order directly and quickly!
($32 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Domaine Paul Jaboulet Anie, Crozes-Hermintage Rouge “Domaine de Thalabert” Northern Rhone, France.
Drinking more like a great Cote-Rotie than a Crores-Hermitage, the 2017 Domaine de Thalabert Crores Rouge by Caroline Frey and Jaboulet is a profound effect considering the searing heat of the vintage with an intense inky color and beautifully elegant detailing, this is a stunning pure Syrah wine that thrills the palate. This black/purple hued Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aine Croze-Hermitage “Domaine de Thalabert” starts with some flair and flamboyance highlighted by crushed violets, creme de cassis and espresso roast before classic flavors unfold on the full bodied palate with boysenberry, damson plum, kirsch, blueberry compote and loganberry coulis as well as black licorice, grilled herbs de Provence, a touch of earth, peppercorns, tapenade and sweet cedar notes along with a faint mocha element. While heady, this wine is wonderfully drinkable with a very stylish and balanced form, it comes in at about 13.5% natural alcohol, so it can be enjoyed without any oppressive heat showing, or aggressive tannins, making it easy to enjoy in its youth and sublime with food, especially roast meats, savory mushroom dishes and rustic cuisine, it has enough sweet fruit to go with Turkish lamb or Korean BBQ Pork, meals I would love to try with this gorgeous Syrah. Air brings out a fuller expression of the succulent dark fruits as well as allowing hints of camphor/graphite and delicate mineral tones and this wine lingers on and on heavenly in the glass, this is a Syrah to spend some time with to enjoy it in its complete performance, it is truly excellent until the last drop leaves the bottle.

The Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aine, now owned by the Frey family, led by the talented winemaking tigress Caroline Frey, has been an iconic estate in the Northern Rhone and one of the big three in the region along with Guigal and Chapoutier, most known for their fabled La Chapelle vineyard in Hermitage, Syrah’s most holy site! There’s been wines made here since pre-Roman times, but it was Antoine Jaboulet’s plantings in 1834 and focus on quality which really started to establish the area as one of the major wine producing appellations of the world, after he past the land was passed on to his two sons Henri and Paul, who’s name became company label. The Frey family, who bought the fade glory Jaboulet in 2006, have become big time players in premium French wine production having serious quality properties in Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux, which includes Chateau La Lagune in Haut-Medoc and Château de Corton André in the Cote de Beaune. Caroline, who studied in Bordeaux is one of France’s rising stars and has her hand in many projects, with even a biodynamic high elevation vineyard in Switzerland under her care and I hear these wines are stunning as well as her efforts here at Jaboulet, which have certainly brought this estate back to the elite status it enjoyed in the 1950s and 1960s. The Thalabert parcel, a special terroir, is located in Croze’s pebble-strewn granite soiled lieu-dit of Les Chassis, which has owned by Jaboulet since its founding back in 1834 and is regarded as maybe the greatest set of vines in the Crores-Hermitage AOC, all organic and biodynamic. Frey uses partial whole bunches and well judged use of new wood, really putting the focus on the vintage and trying for transparency and luxurious texture in her recent releases especially and this 2017 is proving to be a very tasty version, maybe not as serious as 2015 and 2016 for the cellar, this is one to drink up and offers a stunning value.
($40 Est.) 94 Pointsgrapelive

2018 Arnot-Roberts, Gamay Noir, El Dorado County, Sierra Foothills.
The 2018 true Gamay Noir from Arnot-Roberts is bright and juicy with its granite soils providing a nice mineral character and the natural acidity makes for a nice balance in this medium bodied and smooth wine that caresses the palate, but still has a tart tanginess and snappy personality with loads of dark berry fruits, a touch of spice and a bite of dried herbs. This is a very interesting version and an expressive Gamay, though I must admit to loving their lighter and more delicately nuanced Trousseau, a wine that quite honestly made this stellar winery famous, that said I am of a fan of everything they do, including this Sierra Foothills grown Gamay and its easy drinking pleasures. Arnot-Roberts was founded in back in 2001 by childhood friends Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts, both Napa natives committed to crafting small lots of transparent wines with a focus on special terroir driven vineyards, especially old and dry-farmed sites and they broke through by not being afraid of exploring the lighter style and unique varietals, like the Trousseau mentioned above, but also with a Gruner Veltliner and even a fantastic Rosé of Touriga Nacional, as well as doing old world inspired versions of Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and in particular Chardonnay, with their version of Trout Gulch Vineyard from the south Santa Cruz Mountains being absolutely spectacular. The grapes, sourced from two vineyard sites, Barsotti and Witters vineyards, both near Placerville are brought into the winery and made in separate lots, with the whole bunches put into steel fermentation tanks and sealed up for several days to start carbonic maceration, traditional in many Cru Beaujolais, allowing the berries to start the fermentation process from the inside out, then aged in a combination of tank and used French oak, with a large Foudre being employed, similar to Foillard’s famous Corcelette bottling.

Duncan and Nathan, first got into Gamay with their collaboration with star sommelier Raj Parr, but have really now have made this wine their own and folding it into their studied and prized collection of wines. The Gamay certainly was influenced by Steve Edmonds, of Edmonds St. John, who was the first to really express this Beaujolais varietal in any meaningful way in California, and who found it here in the Sierra Foothills and was one of the first successful micro urban wineries in the state. Arnot-Roberts’ mission is to seek out vineyards (throughout) Northern California that offer historic quality or unique flavors and now their set includes incredible sites in Napa Valley, the Sonoma Coast, the Santa Cruz Mountains, as well as the Santa Rita Hills, a vineyard in Clearlake and the Sierra Foothills as expressed here in their deep garnet and ruby hued Gamay. All of their single-vineyard series wines sell out pretty fast on their direct to the consumer mailing list, but the regional set of wines can be found at some restaurants and specialized wine merchants, where I luckily found their latest releases of Gamay, Trousseau and the noted Rosé, a dry and exciting pink wine that has always been a secret favorite of mine! This Gamay that unfolds with bramble berry, plum, cherry and cranberry fruits is fun, quaffable and expressive, best at cool temps, it gains from the chill and allows for a more refreshing experience and sharper in detail. This high elevation Gamay is a wine that is appealing and should be on the list for this grape’s ever increasing fans in California and in Oregon, it joins a star studded list of winemakers, like at Pax, Joyce, Jolie-Laide, also from this region and vines, Brick House, one of the first to make a true Gamay, Hundred Suns and others, that have found love and passion in this once maligned varietal, that was in fact once banned from the top vineyards in Burgundy!
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive Reviews – June, 2020

2018 Theopolis Vineyards, Rosé of Petite Sirah, Estate Grown, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
The pretty magenta hued Rosato style Rosé from Theopolis Vineyards is made from 100% Saignée of Petite Sirah that was fermented and aged in 100% neutral French oak barrels for 6 months. This robust dry pink has loads of flavor and structure with a profile characterized by crushed tangy raspberries and a spicy kick along with a touch of minty herbs, lavender, orange peel, strawberry, watermelon and sour cherry notes. This wine stays surprisingly crispy fresh and not at all clunky or sweet at 13.3% natural alcohol in a Saignée (bleed from the ripe red grapes) style is notable, making it much more quaffable than you’d expect, it does feel like an Italian version and is really at its best with food. The darker color will appeal to those that usually don’t drink Rosé or want something more bold, but still want refreshment from a warm days of Summer, as this Petite Sirah does well, it certainly has the stuffing to go with BBQ and or pulled pork as well as your favorite beach food basket of items from cheese to cold cut sandwiches. Theopois Vineyards latest set of offerings include the outstanding Estate Grown Petite Sirah, an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, a Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, a Yorkville Highlands Pinot, plus this juicy Estate Grown Rosé of Petite Sirah and a fruity off dry white wine made from a hybrid grape called Symphony, which is a crossing of Grenache Gris and Muscat that is also grown on the estate. I was glad I saved this bottle for a long sunny day, it deliver all that was expected and it put a comforting cool smile on my face, it was a good choice for the moment.

Theopolis Vineyards, known for their outstanding and unique terroir driven and terraced Petite Sirah grapes and vines is owned by the impressive Theodora R. Lee, also known lovingly by her fans as Theo-patra, Queen of the Vineyards, is renown Texan (and San Francisco) trial lawyer and one of a handful of women of color that owner winegrowers in California. Theopolis Vineyards is a small family winery making hand-crafted wines located in California’s high elevation and schist soiled Yorkville Highlands above the Anderson Valley along Highway 128 in the southeastern corner Mendocino County, that Theodora founded in 2003 and has seen an amazing rise in attention in such a short time. Lee’s wines, especially her Petite Sirah which is world class stuff are all very tasty as this Rosé proves are certainly wines to search out and along with the help of consultant Ed Kurtzman, the ex Roar and Freeman winemaker has helped fill out the Theopolis lineup the expressive set of Pinots. Ms. Lee, who studied at UC Davis’ wine school, is a dynamic activist for good, she is the Co-Board Chairperson of the Dallas Post Tribune Newspaper, one of the oldest Black Newspapers in North Texas. She also serves as Co-Chair of the Board Development Committee for the Board of Directors of the YMCA of San Francisco and a Member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of the Bay Area Legal Aid. There is a lot to admire here, in particular the quality of the vines, wines and the person. Theopolis has some of the earlier vintages still available direct from their cellar, many of which I have reviewed at grapelive, with the exceptional 2015, 2016 and the current 2017 Petite Sirah(s) online, all of which are delicious and outstanding values.
($25 Est.) 87 Points, grapelive

2018 Poe Wines, Pinot Meunier, Van der Kamp Vineyard, Sonoma Mountain.
I was very excited to try this vintage of Poe’s Meunier with the long cool growing conditions and the unique terroir of Sonoma Mountain offed all the material for tasty goodness and that hope was fulfilled with this delicious medium bodied red, made from this Champagne grape. I am a fan of Poe Wines and the latest set of releases are really good, especially the incredible sparkling wines, like her Brut Rosé and the Blanc de Noirs, both of which are stunning examples of California bubbly. Winemaker, Samantha Sheehan, who founded her own label Poe Wines in 2009 and known for her beautiful Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, also produces the mentioned traditional Champagne method sparkling wines, a still Rosé, a Nouveau Pinot Noir, as well as this very cool Pinot Meunier, which comes from the historic Van der Kamp Vineyard. The 2018 Van der Kamp Pinot Meunier drinks with an elegance usually reserved for a Pinot Noir and it flows seamlessly across the palate with satiny grace with tangy red fruits, red spices and soft wood accents, lingering on with a touch of dark florals, zesty acidity and tart cherry fruit. This is a wine that goes beautifully with summer meals and like a Foillard Morgon it benefits from a slight chill, but still a serious wine with surprising depth and complexity with plum, cranberry, strawberry and forest bramble berry and the noted cherry fruits, a bit of herbal snap and light cedar notes, plus a pleasing creamy mouth feel. Poe’s version of Meunier was fermented in two vessels – one was 100% whole cluster, while the other was entirely de-stemmed, which gives this wine its personality and complexity. The grapes all hand picked in the cool of night, as Sheehan explains, were not sulfured, and thus (the) fermentation occurred naturally with native yeast. She and her team gently foot tread the tanks, during maceration and primary, two to three times per day for two weeks. Then the Meunier was then pressed into barrel and aged on the lees for 12 months, with this year seeing about 10% new French oak and 90% neutral well seasoned French oak.

Meunier accounts for a third of the vines planted in the Champagne region, though incredibly rare here in California still, and serves the purpose of providing early ripening fruitiness and mouthfeel to the wines of that famed sparkling wine region that sometimes suffers from poor weather, though in recent years Meunier has become geeky cool and some of the best grower producers are using it to craft awesome fizz. Sheehan is a fan of this grape and might its best champion in California, sourcing it from the Van der Kamp Vineyard that lies at the very top of the eastern side of Sonoma Mountain. Rising up to a 1,400 foot elevation and looking down on the town of Glen Ellen to the east and Bennett Valley to the northwest this is a special micro climate that can produce some fabulous Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with Sheehan using this site to great effect. Sonoma Mountain, Sheehan notes, was once part of the Pacific Ocean floor that gives a patchwork of diverse soils, from Speckles loam, Volcanic Tuff and a decomposed stream bed provides for rocky soils littered with many sized stones. Van der Kamp was first planted in 1953, making it one of the oldest Pinot Noir vines (still producing) in California, again according to Sheehan, who is great friends with the Van der Kamp family that farm this awesome property not far from the fabled Hanzell winery. The 2.7 acre block of Pinot Meunier was planted in the early 1990s, with Samantha getting most of it, if not every single cluster, which she divides between her still Rosé, sparkling Pinot Meunier Brut Rosé (which is made in a Champagne method) and this still red wine, that is made only in a miniscule amount. This lush Meunier by Poe Wines is one of my favorites and this 2018 is fun and lively, perfect for what you’d want in a medium bodied alternative red wine, even on day two this wine thrills the senses and adds more whole cluster crunch and some cinnamon and sage notes become more noticeable, though the fruit stays expressive, it should drink nicely for 3 to 5 years.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Keller, Riesling Trocken, Rheinhessen, Germany.
The baby wine in Keller’s magical collection of dry Rieslings is the entry level Rheinhessen Trocken, but don’t let that fool you, this is outstanding stuff that is totally guilt free, when compared to ultra expressive single Cru offering here! Klaus-Peter Keller, who took charge of Weingut Keller about 20 years in 2001 is one of Germany’s Riesling gurus and best winemakers and his G-Max cuvée is the world’s most expensive dry Riesling on release. This 2018 Trocken is like drinking liquid rock showing the pure limestone terroir with chiseled stony detail and excellent dry fruit extract, showing lime, muskmelon, tangerine, tart nectarine (peachiness) with exciting citrus blossoms delicately hiding in the background It’s well reported and not new that Keller is one of gems of the Rheinhessen along with Weingut Wittmann and that Klaus-Peter, who trained abroad in South Africa and in Burgundy at Domaines Hubert Lignier and the famed Armand Rousseau prior to taking his degree in oenology and viticulture in Geisenheim brought this experience to his father’s little known estate that had been around since 1789 and turned into one of the most coveted in Europe. Much of the credit, Klaus-Peter claims comes from hard work in the vineyards and allowing the vines to make these great wines, but Keller has employed a special regime in the cellar with barrel fermentation, and uniquely Klaus-Peter has adopted a program allowing the grapes to macerate on their skins for thirty or forty hours prior to pressing the juice to fuder for fermentation.

While the basic bottling of the white wines are fermented at slightly lower temperatures than the Grosses Gewächs, and bottled earlier they are meant for youthful enjoyment rather than being aged as his top cuvees were designed to be. Keller’s top wines have been compared to Montrachet by famed English Master of Wine Jancis Robinson and I can see why and though I haven’t had many of the upper end stuff, this Trocken is absolutely fabulous. This part of the Rheinhessen is influenced by its limestone soils and warmer climate, where the wines have more generosity and richness than other areas, hence the greatest in the drier style Rieslings that are found here and of course, especially those of Keller, which show incredible depth, density and stony personality. Keller’s main holdings have always been in the famous Dalsheimer Hubacker, and if you get a chance to have a Hubacker Grosses Gewachs (Grand Cru) don’t pass it up, it will probably change your life! Look for Keller’s RR and Kirchspiel, as well as Klaus-Peter’s Riesling “Von der Fels” as they tend to still be reasonably priced for the ethereal quality they deliver, but to get started on Keller this is a great value priced option and I’m glad I got some. Again, this 2018 basic Trocken is steely delicious and really opens up nicely with air adding depth, texture and a seductive earthy character, giving even more to enjoy here, this is a Riesling that you can admire in isolation, but certainly it will be much more fun with matching cuisine, also I state, this is a Riesling for Chablis lovers.
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Laura Lorenzo – Daterra Viticultores, Tabernario Tinto, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia Spain.
One of my favorites and a heroic winegrower, Laura Lorenzo of Daterra Viticultores, based in the remote Ribeira Sacra, which means “Sacred Banks” in Gallego, the local Galician dialect, is making some amazing wines and her 2018s look set to take her fame to the next level, like her latest Tabernario Tinto with its beautiful texture, bright flavors and mineral details that make it drink as fine as a Premier Cru Burgundy. Made from old vine parcels of 60% Mencía, 30% Alicante Bouschet and 10% Palomino, the white grape that is co-fermented into this wine, not all that different than traditional Cote-Rotie, all sourced from Lorenzo’s organic vines in Amandi and Val do Bibei, both sleep river valley locations set on primarily granite soils with a covering of sand and some loams. The Tabernario was only bottling I haven’t tried yet from Laura since she started her own label in 2014 and I was thrilled with the transparent dark fruited profile with layers of Mencia led characteristics showing black cherry, wild plum, cranberry and tart currant fruits, fresh garden herbs, star anise, crushed stones, a touch of leathery earth and light cedar as well as delicate floral tones. The Ribeira Sacra, a favorite of the Romans, who came to this green, northwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula more than 2,000 years ago and were the first to plant and terrace the slopes to grape vines, almost forgotten in modern times due to the harsh working conditions this place is now one of the wine world’s most exciting places.

This light medium bodied Tabernario red has the charm of Cru Beaujolais, like Fleurie especially with its pretty details and a bit of northern Rhone crunchiness and game, even though as mentioned above this vintage has a satiny feel that reminds me of a Pinot. Lorenzo is committed to holistic and natural methods in the vineyards and in her cellar looking to capture the purest form of terroir and of the vineyard, she works with indigenous or wild yeast exclusively and mostly whole cluster with elevage in only used well seasoned oak casks of various sizes and does no adjustments other that the absolute minimum dose of SO2, all unfined and unfiltered. The 2018 vintage was not kind to Lorenzo and she lost a huge amount of grapes to severe weather, but she persevered and crafted a beauty with this Tabernario which was harvested by hand in early September and was 50% whole bunches and 50% de-stemmed then skin-macerated for 10 days with spontaneous fermentation in large 500L & 1000L chestnut barrels with this wine being raised for 11 months in cask before its bottling. The Ribeira Sacra is a cool Atlantic zone with granitic, schist and slate soils predominating here in a region that looks more like Germany’s river wine growing areas than most of Spain, which helps to explain Laura’s wines that have lower alcohols, this one is just 12%, and that are highly aromatic, zesty, quaffable and elegant in style. The Daterra offerings are wildly addictive and unique, I highly recommend checking them out!
($30 Est.) 92 Pointsgrapelive

2018 Weingut Spreitzer, Riesling Kabinett, Lenchen, Rheingau Germany.
After focusing more on the old vine and dry wines at Spreitzer in my reviews, I noticed I hadn’t mentioned one of my favorite wines in their lineup, this Lenchen Kabinett, and that is an almost unforgivable oversight, as this 2018 vintage is a beauty and a fabulous Summer wine. One of the oldest family wineries in the Rheingau, Weingut Spreitzer, located in the tiny hamlet of Oestrich in the middle Rheingau is run now by Andreas and Bernd Spreitzer, who took over from their father Josef in 1997 and have really done an amazing job elevating this historic estate. One of their prize holdings, is the Lenchen Vineyard with its VDP Grosse Lage Rosengarten being the elite parcel here, it is set on mostly of loam and loess soils and not far from the Rhein and the winery itself. There are numerous underground streams here that ensure that even in dry years the vines have plenty of refreshment and a natural source of water for the roots to drink up. The Lenchen delivers a lovely concentration of flavors and the Kabinett with expressive fruity character drinks almost as impressively as a Spatlese with a serious palate impact and structure, while still feeling bright and brisk, not cloying or overtly sweet with apricot, apple, pineapple and racy citrus fruits along with touches of gingery spices, lemongrass, lime sorbet, wild mint tea and rosewater. This Kabinett has a sunny personality and makes you smile with comforting yellow fruits, but there is an underlying mineral focus and stoniness that reminds you that this terroir is very special.

I last visited the winery with Andreas in the 2016 harvest and tasted in the ancient cellars and in the modern tasting lounge, it certainly is a fantastic and beautiful place to visit when you tour the Rheingau region, it should be on your short list of paces to taste when in Germany and not far from some other famous spots like Kloster Eberbach and Schloss Vollrads, as well as being close the Geisenheim University and just up River from Rudesheim, one of the Rhein’s most picturesque villages. The Lenchen parcels overlook the widest part of the Rhein and this area gets an almost lake effect climate, warmer and moist, usually allowing for high sugars and early ripening grapes, making for flexibility in picking so the Spreitzer’s can make a wide array of styles from the Grand Cru dry Grosses Gewachs to a lush and intensely sweet Auslese, as well as this traditional Kabinett. The vines are littered here with pebbles as well as heavy tertiary, iron-containing clay marl and quartzite that adds complexity to the profile that leans toward exotic in nature. The Spreitzer team used a combination of old fuder (German oak cask) and stainless steel tanks to ferment and age the Lench Kabinett to retain fresh detail as well as give texture, which this vintage manages to convey to near perfection, making for an ideal Kabinett Riesling that is both fun and quaffable along with having complexity to thrill the senses and goes brilliantly with food, classic German dishes and especially spicy Asian cuisines like Thai.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Cameron Winery, Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The beautiful and dark profiled Cameron Dundee Hills Pinot is one of the best values of the vintage with gorgeous detail and much less reductive notes than usually show in these young Cameron Pinots showing an array of expressive flavors and floral aromas. The 2018 Cameron Dundee Hills Pinot, by the legendary John Paul, one of Oregon’s hall of fame winemakers is very Vosne-Romannee like and at 13.4% is wonderfully balance and full of energy with layers of black cherry, mulberry, currant, strawberry and plum fruits, crushed rose petals, orange tea, delicate earth and loaminess and red spices. With air this exceptional wine adds mineral, sweet herb and smoky wood notes with touches of vanilla and cedar adding just the right amount of luxurious accents here. It’s very interesting, this Willamette Pinot takes on a personality that actually reminds me of Assmannshausen Spatbergunder with qualities similar to the fabled Hollenberg cru, like some of the reserve bottlings of August Kesseler, which are wines that in some vintages are as good as Pinot Noir can ever hope to get. Both Clos Electrique and Abbey Ridge use organic treatments and holistic farming methods and have a variety of clonal material with John Paul preferring old heritage clones which he painstakingly collected himself and the yields are limited to produce wines of depth and concentration.

John Paul’s Pinots are always made from non-irrigated vines and in this case was sourced from his own Abbey Ridge and Clos Electrique cru vineyards set of the classic Jory (red iron rich) volcanic soils which give this regions wines their unique personalities and distinction, which I find adds complex and exotic nuances nd makes Dundee special. This 2018 is fresh and has a deep garnet and ruby hue in the glass that beautifully captures the light and the texture is satiny and the length is very rewarding, making it an insanely good value and a wine that will excel with cuisine, especially with seared duck breast, pepper crusted ahi, blackened salmon and even smoked meats. This 2018, not an easy vintage for the Oregon winemakers, is very charming and the brave and skilled were rewarded with some incredible Pinot Noirs, like this one from Cameron, it is a wine to stock up on for mid term drinking, 3 to 5 years. Cameron usually allows their Pinot to age a minimum of 18 months and sometimes closer to 22 months. Cameron Winery, founded in 1984, is dedicated to producing high-quality, hand-crafted small lot and sustainably-farmed wines, producing 3,000 to 4,000 cases annually and is regarded as one of the best Pinot producers in the new world, but John Paul, who also loves Italian wines, make a small amount of Nebbiolo and Friuli inspired whites, including a blend of Friuliano, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio and Auxerrois, that should not be missed either!
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Mönchhof, Riesling Estate QbA, Mosel Germany.
I’m a long time and big fan of Robert Eymael’s wines, both at J. J. Christoffel and his historic Mönchhof estate in the Mosel and this 2018 Estate QbA Riesling is a prime example why, it is a pure and expressive wine that just pleases the senses and easy to love with slate driven character band fresh zesty flavors. The Mönchhof Estate, formerly owned by the Cistercian abbey of Himmerod, and founded back in 1177 is one of the oldest wineries on the Mosel with its modern cellars dating back to the 1500s and famous for its select plots in the fabled Ürziger Würzgarten and Erdener Prälat. The Eymael family in 1804 purchased the estate after secularization, when the Church was forced to give up much of its lands throughout northern Europe from Napoleon at an auction in Paris. The estates top vineyards are comprised of the very steep parcels mainly in the Erdener Treppchen area set on blue slate along with veins of volcanic and iron rich soils that add an exotic spicy quality to the wines. This fleshy little Riesling entertains in the glass with a delicate golden color and is perfect with lightly spicy foods, especially Asian stir fry chili shrimp, plus it can play nicely with basic cold cuts and Summer salads.

Mönchhof’s Estate Riesling is slightly off dry, but drinks light and crisp with nice fruit concentration leaning on peach and unripe apricot along with tropical elements, green apple and racy citrus all complimented by steely/flint mineral, salty wet stones, snappy spices and spearmint notes. All of Eymael’s vineyards are planted 100% to Riesling with original rootstocks, which are old clones and farmed sustainable and hand tended, as required by the serve slopes the vines hang on to. This basic Estate Riesling opens up to feel just about Kabinett level sweetness and gets smoothly creamy from its residual sugars, though the over all impression is one of fine balance, freshness and stony details, it is a no guilt purchase and a beautiful Summer refresher. In this vintage, most of the fruit comes from the famous VDP Grosse Lage Grand Cru vineyard site Ürziger Würzgarten (that translates to spice garden) which gives this Riesling its noted spicy profile and complex character. The 2018 is a true bargain and while quaffable, low alcohol style it still has structure and depth to be enjoyed for 3 to 5 years and its aromatics are worth the price only with rosewater, white blossoms and sea shore notes. Mönchhof’s lineup in recent vintages have proved highly rewarding and in particular these 2018s are a riveting collection at the top end with quality throughout starting with this one, keep an eye out for them.
($19 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Chateau de Rouanne, Vinsobres Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
Wow, what a gorgeous and explosive new wine by Louis Barruol, owner of the famed Chateau de Saint Cosme in Gigondas, this Chateau de Rouanne Vinsobres is a meaty and deep purple/garnet Rhone red co-fermentation of Barruol’s old vine Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Louis Barruol has long used fruit from this remote area and has recently added this estate to his lineup as a separate label within the Saint Cosme family, which makes sense as Vinsobres has been recognized as its own appellation, an upgrade from a generic Cotes du Rhone, which I would argue was long over due, since this cooler and high quality terroir is unique and deserves to be more widely known as this wine certainly proves. Louis Barruol has coveted this site for years, he notes that, like his famous Chateau de Saint Cosme, Chateau de Rouanne was first founded during Gallo-Roman times, probably dating back to the 1400s. Barruol adds that, most of Rouanne’s vineyards date from the 1960s and are massale selections (special old clones) that offer substantial genetic diversity and low yields that shows in the wine, giving it concentration and depth, while the elevation and soils allow for natural acidity and heightened aromatics. These qualities and characteristics shine in this 2018, like Saint Cosme’s Gigondas it is brilliantly dark and inviting with polished texture and a full body delivering black raspberry, damson plum, boysenberry compote, creme de cassis and cherry fruit along with whole bunches influences highlighted with peppercorns, violets, earthiness and herbs de provence.

The Chateau de Rouanne Vinsobres Rouge was crafted in this vintage from 50% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre grown on sandy, iron rich soils set on a limestone marl base with some clay and was, as noted above, all co-fermented primally with whole cluster and all indigenous yeasts in concrete tanks, where it was also aged. The wine rested in the cement vat for 18 months, which allows the wine to show absolute purity in its final form and gave it time to fill out before bottling. The vines in Louis Barruol’s Vinsobres are all organic and head trained with a very high percentage of Syrah interplanted here, much more than you’d find in other southern Rhone Crus, which adds to this wine’s distinct profile that seems more northern Rhone in first impression, though the lush Grenache takes the stage mid palate and creates a luxurious harmony here and there is a velvety almost chocolatey element with the touch of Mourvedre adding a contrasting gamey note. This 2018 GSM got way better as the bottle went down and fans of Saint Cosme with want to stock up on this one, it actually reminds me of Barruol’s Chateauneuf du Pape and is almost half the price! Barruol says Château de Rouanne is an extraordinary (and historic) place in many respects, primarily for its terroir – very few locations in the southern Rhone can boast vineyard sites of this pedigree and that he very excited for the potential here, which he compares with Cotes de Nuits Burgundies, as are Rhone lovers, believing that this site will only get better and better as he focuses more attention to it. I can’t wait to see what the future holds, but this stuff is delicious now!
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Stony Hill, White Riesling, Napa Valley.
Stony Hill, a legendary Spring Mountain winery, had its first harvest was in 1952 and has been one of Napa Valley’s great wineries ever since with especially tasty Chardonnay and this Riesling, a classic of this estate, and a wine that has a noted history of aging well. It was nice to see Stony Hill recognized by Slow Wine this year and that is where I got a chance to taste through their current lineup, all of which were stunning wines and well worth searching out, with the mentioned Chardonnay and the Riesling being my favorites, but I must say I was also very impressed with the Cabernet Sauvignon too, which seems like a huge bargain in Napa Cab, will this 2016 version being a fabulous and complex wine. The Riesling shines a golden hue in the glass and it gets going on the medium bodied palate with peach, zesty lime, pineapple and apple butter along with a zesty lemon oil, verbena and spicy kick adding mineral tones, white blossoms and a whiff of petrol. This 2018 vintage with its cool fresh details and extract looks set to have a very long life and when fully open it takes on extra orange, wet rock and kumquat elements hinting at the complexities that should develop in the years to come. Mike Chelini, the winemaker, has been with Stony Hill for over 40 years now and has produced some magical wines and has inspired many of his compatriots, including the famous John Kongsgaard, who was always a fan of the Stony Hill Chardonnays.

Stony Hill, an all dry farmed and green sustainable farmed property, first started planting their White Riesling back in the late 1940s with the latest block getting planted in 1989, making most of the vines being old vines with at least 70 years of age on them. Stony Hill sits high on the side of Spring Mountain, between the towns of St. Helena and Calistoga and the wines always have acid to last for decades, that the winery thinks is important for cellaring, along with the complex flavor profiles that, as they add, unfold only after several years of bottle age. Interestingly, Fred and Eleanor McCrea, the founders of Stony Hill, were huge white Burgundy fans and almost planted the entire estate to Chardonnay, but were talked out of it by UC Davis experts that thought diversity was import for success on the site, so they ended up going with Chardonnay, Riesling and a small amount of Pinot Blanc, followed a few years later by fields of Gewurztraminer and Semillon, and finally in the 21st century put Cabernet Sauvignon in. Now Peter and Willinda McCrea run the winery and their daughter Sarah is looking forward to taking over in the coming years after joining the family operation in 2011, all of which are committed to keeping the traditions and old world style they have grown up with going. This Riesling which goes great with crab dishes and baked ham is a California classic, one of the grapes new world heros, keep an eye out for it!
($39 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 La Fortuna, Rosso di Montalcino DOC, Tuscany, Italy.
The 2010 La Fortuna Rosso di Montalcino is ripe, textured and silky smooth with pure Sangiovese character, it goes wonderfully with simple cuisine and shows a good cut of freshness for easy youthful drinking pleasure. The 2018 vintage is less serious than 2016 in the Montalcino area, but still offers plenty of flavor and value to savvy Tuscan fans and the Rosso di Montalcino “Baby Brunello” offerings are going to be fun and there will be plenty of bargains to be found, like this La Fortuna with its polished and elegant styling. Fresh out the box the La Fortuna is smoothly rich with vine picked tangy blackberry, wild plum, cranberry, strawberry and tart cherry fruits along with blood orange, tobacco leaf, porporri florals, rosemary, lavender and spiced cedar notes. A richer form comes out with air and food making it a medium to full bodied Sangiovese that has a lot f charm, especially for the price.

This 100% Sangiovese Grosso (Brunello clone) was crafted with traditional care and made for early drinking with grapes coming from vineyard parcels that range from 15 to 25 years on the semi volcanic soils of the region and was fermented in temperature controlled tanks with about a 20 day maceration on the skins to give it that dark burgundy hue in the glass. After fermentation this La Fortuna Rosso di Montalcino is racked mostly to large Slovenian oak casks for six months and aged a further six months in mainly 1 and 2 times filled small French barriques, which explains the luxurious velvety mouth feel, before bottling. This estate goes back a long way with the Zannoni first arriving at “La Fortuna” back in 1907 to work the farmstead and through the generations rose up to finally purchase the property and become a private winery and label with fifth generation Gioberto Zannoni now in charge at this highly regarded Brunello label. I suggest buying the 2013 and 2016 if you can still find them, but don’t over look these tasty and graceful 2018s either.
($25 Est.) 91 Pointsgrapelive

2013 Massolino, Barolo DOCG, Piedmonte, Italy.
Tucked between the legendary and tight 2010 and the exceptional 2016 vintages, these 2013s are not getting the credit they deserve and are proving to be absolutely delicious Barolo and outstanding drinkers, especially wines like this basic Massolino Barolo, which is quite impressive and opening up nicely with classic Nebbiolo highlights and depth of flavors. The deep crimson/garnet and brick 2013 Massolino starts with earth, game and seeped rose petals with brambly fruits that include plum, cherry, raspberry and mulberry on framed by structural tannin and a cut of natural acidity, though there is a hedonistic sense of ripe lushness and the palate expands warmly and with full bodied richness. There is a back ground of wild herbs, mineral and leather, it lingers with kirsch, anise and chalky stones. This wine is made using traditional Barolo methods with fermentation and maceration lasting about 15 days at warm temperatures and it is aged 30 months in large oak cask, plus as the winery notes, bottles are left to mature in a special dark, cool cellar for just over a year before release.

The history of the estate is very extensive and the Massolino family and their wines have became legends within the region, they are based in the commune of Serralunga d’Alba and have been since 1896, when Giovanni Massolino founded the estate. He was noted for being enterprising, tenacious, and creative, interestingly it was Giovanni that first brought electricity to the village. Giovanni’s son, Giuseppe, built the original Massolino cellar, expanded their holdings to include some of the areas best terroir and in 1934 founded the Consortium for the Defence of Barolo and Barbaresco, passionately dedicated to quality. More recently, in the 1990s, Franco and Roberto Massolino, both oenologists, joined the family estate and brought even greater fame with a series of spectacular Barolo from the cru Vigna Rionda and have continued that level ever since. While mainly a Barolo estate Massolino also, like La Spinetta do fabulous Barbera and a fine semi sweet Moscato d’Asti that is a lovely treat. This 2013 Barolo will go another 15 to 20 years easy, but can be really enjoyed now, in particular with rustic and robust cuisine, it also represents a nice value, as you can find it in the States under 50 dollars.
($48 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Jolie-Laide Wines, Trousseau/Poulsard/Gamay/Valdiguie, California.
Jolie-Laide Wines and winemaker Scott Schultz, who has been an assistant winemaker at Pax Wines, is now a fully established star in California and his wines are part of the new generation’s re-inventing of the state’s wine and his latest set of limited production efforts are wonderful drinking wines, with some being absolutely outstanding, like his Halcon Vineyard Syrah, the solo Gamay Noir, his Shake Ridge GSM, and this lighter quaffable bright glow-glow style red. This unique fresh and low alcohol red blend, inspired by the Alpine French region of the Jura, but with a California twist was fermented partially carbonic for brightness and all whole cluster adding to the complex spice aromas and bright fruits which Scott Schultz made from Trousseau, Poulsard, Gamay and old vine Valdiguie reminds me of Julien Labet’s Jura “Metis” a blend of Trousseau, Poulsard and Pinot Noir, one of my favorites of the region or Ganevat’s Côtes du Jura “Julien en Billat—L’Enfant Terrible du Sud”. Likely, according to Schultz, this is most “Outré Vin” or unique in the lineup at Jolie-Laide, and what he calls a vinous Californian pastiche inspired by his reverence of the wines of the French Alps, both in the Jura and Savoie regions. Just a tiny amount of these varieties are planted in California, as Schultz notes, but Jolie-Laide is hoping to be a part of the movement that will shift that paradigm and bring these grapes into the fold and embraced by more growers and wines like this make a compelling case. A few years back I had Scott’s version of Halcon Syrah and I became hooked on his wines such was the soulful rendition in the glass and this Trousseau, Poulsard, Gamay and Valdiguie 2019 is another tasty treat.

The Jolie-Laide Trousseau, Poulsard, Gamay and Valdiguie was aged only about 6 months in well season barrels this wine was bottled early to capture its freshness and purity with almost no sulfur added, making for what the French and natural wine enthusiasts call, as mentioned, a Glou-Glou wine or as we might say, it’s an easy quaffer with a certain tangy/zesty quality. This is delightful stuff with spicy raspberry, sour cherry, wild plum and cranberry fruits and mineral crunchiness as well as delicate floral tones, anise and snappy herbs in a light to medium bodied wine that benefits from a slight chill, much like the wines that inspired it. Schultz has created a gem here, at only 12.3% natural alcohol it still has pleasing ripe flavors to go with the vibrant acidity, it will be a fun Summer red to enjoy in its youth. The new wave of country style, less oaky wines is here to stay and have carved out a serious niche with California producers like Jolie-Laide leading the way, along with the likes of Martha Stoumen, Jaimee Motley, Ryme Cellars, Sheldon Wines, Ian Brand, Dirty & Rowdy, Arnot-Roberts, the first winery to put California Trousseau on the map, and others. Schultz, a Chicago native, moved to California in 2007 and worked for Thomas Keller, running the wine program at Keller’s Bouchon Bistro in Yountville before moving on to winemaking joining Arnot-Roberts, after which a stint at Ryme Cellars then on to Pax Wines under Pax Mahle. All the while Schulz became focused on natural and transparent style wines influenced by old world regions, but exploiting the wealth of the California climate and soils. Be sure to check out the latest Joile-Laide offerings, they are sure to impress, like this one does.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2015 Lasseter Family Wines “Voila” Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma Valley.
The 2015 Lasseter Voila is a rich and vinous white Bordeaux style blend coming mainly from old vines in Sonoma and has loads of concentration with layers of lemon curd, peach and pineapple along with vanilla bean, quinces and leesy brioche adding a hint of wet stone and honeysuckle in a full bodied luxurious wine that flamboyantly caresses the palate. This is a rather lush wine that will surely get your attention and certainly make an impact on the sense, it will need soft cheeses and or a meal to get the best out of it, the creamy brie style will really bring out the best here or go with decedent crab cakes. Lasseter, known mostly for estate grown Rhone style wines with vines near Glen Ellen is also doing some interesting Bordeaux influenced wines with some Moon Mountain grapes being added to the lineup. I was impressed by the lineup at Lasseter the last time I ran through the wines and this one, which might get lost amongst the reds, was maybe my favorite and it gets better and better as it opens in the glass and its golden color shines intensely, it really is an appealing effort.

With the ancient vine Semillon, which makes up 50% of this tasty wine, coming off the famed Monte Rosso Vineyard, that was planted in the late 1800s on the higher hillsides that face west, that allows a cooling effect and this volcanic red soiled site allows for deep flavor development and ripeness. The combination of 30% regular Sauvignon Blanc as well as the aromatic 20% Musque Clone adds a zesty, tanginess and juicy lemon/lime quality here, that fruit comes from the Sonoma Valley floor. This Voila is modeled loosely on Haut-Brion Blanc, in Graves/Pessac Leognan region and like Haut-Brion Blanc it has an opulent flavors, mouth feel and loads of creamy texture. The wine was aged in both new French oak and cement egg giving it its lavish profile and presence. In California this style wine is a rarity, and Lasseter has done a very convincing job on this one and it compares well with some elite offerings like Peter Michael, Luc Morlet Family and Shared Notes by Jeff Pisoni and his wife Bibiana González Rave Pisoni. Lasseter has proven to be a serious winery, not just a vanity project by John Lasseter the founder of Pixar, and you should not over look their stuff, it gets better and better each year.
($42 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Sandlands Vineyards, Cinsault, Lodi California.
The Sandlands label is the highly acclaimed personal project of Tegan and Olivia Passalacqua, with wines that pay tribute to, as they put it, the 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. You may know Tegan’s work with Turley Wine Cellars, when he is the head winemaker and vineyard manager, overseeing many historic old vine vineyards, including the Bechtold Vineyard in Lodi where this old vine Cinsualt comes from. Passalacqua’s Cinsault has a fresh and crisp nature, it shows a bright cherry, plum, strawberry and spiced raspberry fruit core as well as smooth tannin, zesty acids, minty herb and a mineral tone, adding a touch of florals, earth and a hint of bramble with air, making for a delightful and supple low alcohol red. This wine shows that winemaking in California can even in hot climates produce detailed and elegant wines, especially when hand crafted by a passionate vigneron that knows every inch and nuance of the vines. Passalacqua who is a state treasure, with an overwhelming knowledge of varietals and California wine history, works primarily head-trained, dry-farmed and own rooted vines, noted that the vineyards he partners with harken back to California’s roots of exploration, wonder, and hard work. Passalacqua, who obviously is talented with Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, is wonderfully gifted with many grapes including this Cinsault, as well as Chenin Blanc, Mataro (Mourvedre), the Mission grape and Carignane, any of which under the Sandlands label should be sought out.

The Sandlands 2018 Lodi Cinsault, a small lot offering with only eight barrels produced was made from grapes sourced from vines originally planted in 1886, as Tegan adds, in the heart of Western Lodi by Joseph Spenker and farmed for decades by Al Bechthold. The Bechthold Vineyard is a legendary site and Cinsault, a grape that is part of the Rhone family and one of the Chateauneuf du Pape collection is known for handling heat and lack of water, while still providing acidity and delicacy of flavors. Cinsault is also the secret sauce of many fine Rosé wines, including lots in the Provence region and in the famed Bandol AOC. This varietal is gaining popularity in California as well as being a huge star in South Africa, like in the wines by Baadenhorst, a country its also been in since the 1800s. Tegan Passalacqua, who is a Napa Valley native, has worked in the cellars of Craggy Range in New Zealand with Doug Wisor, with Eben Sadie in the Swartland of South Africa, who also makes an incredible Cinsault, and with Alain and Maxime Graillot in the Northern Rhone Valley of France. For the past eleven years, as mentioned, he has worked for Turley Wine Cellars, working his way up from harvest intern to winemaker/vineyard Manager. I highly recommend getting on Tegan’s Sandlands Vineyards mailing list as his wines usually sell out within minutes of being put on offer. Be sure to keep an eye out for this lovely Cinsault, which in 2018 came in at just 12.3% natural alcohol, it goes get with simple cuisine and can be served with a slight chill for outdoor enjoyment. This wine gets better and better as it opens in the glass, its pretty ruby hue and smooth textured flavors are almost Pinot like and it is very sad when the bottle empties!
($26 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

N.V. H. Billiot Fils, Rosé Brut Grand Cru Champagne, Ambonnay, France.
The Billiot Rosé Brut Champagne is a long time favorite grower fizz of mine and I always have happy memories coming back to me when I taste this small producer based in Montagne de Reims. With its Grand Cru sites in Ambonnay, Billiot, now run by Laetitia Billiot who is the fourth generation tho run this estate, makes a superb collection of hand crafted Champagnes, like this delicious Brut Rosé that shows fine finesse, elegance, fresh detail and a wonderfully vinous depth. Billiot farms 18 small parcels in the Ambonnay Grand Cru area with almost all being in prime hillside plots which heighten the quality and complexity in these beautiful sparkling wines. The Billiot Brut Rosé Grand Cru pleases from the start with a delightful and vivid pink magenta hue and an ultra caressing and creamy mouse which leads to a concentrated palate of black cherry, zesty citrus, red apples and brioche along with mineral notes, a touch of rose petals and nuttiness.

The latest disgorgement was 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay, as per normal for this bottling and the final assemblage included 50% 2015, 25% 2014, 25% 2013 plus 10% Pinot Noir still wine from the 2015 vintage for color. The Billiot wines are almost all tank raised, only one cuvee sees barrel fermentation, and this Brut Rosé saw a en triage aging of 36 months in enameled vats with the 2015 still wine Pinot seeing used French barrique. The wines are pressed in traditional vertical basket presses in small lots and wines always show nuanced personalities, even the multi vintage blends are each unique and have a structured feel while still being remarkably graceful and luxurious, like this one shows. This Champagne can be a special occasion bubbly, but it really shines with cuisine and a meal, adding a sense of celebration and romance to any evening.
($60 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Desire Lines Wine Co., Riesling, Cole Ranch Vineyard and AVA, Mendocino County.
I would be amiss if after reviewing all of the latest Desire Lines Wine Co. wines without saying how good their dry Riesling was, as this 2018 Cole Ranch is really a beautiful California version of this grape, it is one a growing number of quality examples in the state joining long time legend Stony Hill, including Reeve, Joyce, Morgan, Cobb, Stirm, Union-Sacre and of course Tatomer, one of the first to lead this new wave of dry Riesling. Cody Rasmussen’s Desire Lines Wine Co. Cole Ranch Riesling while modeled after Germany’s Grosses Gewachs or GG’s has for me a quality and style that reminds me of some of the great Aussie versions like Pike’s, Grosset’s Polish Hill, Rolf Binder, Henschke, Pewsey Vale and Jim Barry’s Claire Valley expressions. The 2018 is bright, intense and wildly enjoyable, Riesling fans with love this stuff with its vivid acidity and riveting layers of white peach, racy lime, green melon, papaya/mango fruits with a zesty pop of verbena, lemon oil and orange blossoms, plus wild fennel, wet stones, brisk steeliness and dried ginger spiciness. The Cole Ranch, planted back in 1973, is both a single vineyard site and its own AVA in Mendocino County, it is a true Monopole, located in a narrow valley between Boonville and Ukiah that offers a cool climate terroir and like Potter Valley makes for good Riesling country. Rasmussen notes that Cole Ranch has soils warm up late in the spring, it also tends to stay well shaded by the sharp mountain ridges above, and temperatures plummet at night as cool air flows downhill into the vineyard preserving fresh detail and crystalline purity in the wine, especially true in this vintage.

The 2018 Cole Ranch Riesling, sourced from garly head drained and dry farmed old vines was whole-cluster pressed to tank, where the juice was cold settled for 48 hours, which is very important to clear green/bitter phenolics out before it was gently racked to neutral wood barrels for natural fermentation, very similar to how the German GG’s are crafted. Rasmussen, who has made a few vintages from this site, says the Cole Ranch Riesling has always been super slow ferment, making for an extra wait and he explains that 2018 proved to be no different as his Riesling didn’t finish primary fermentation until late January. It is very exciting times for California, with an incredible new generation of winemakers and labels to follow, like Desire Lines Wine Co. and winemaker Cody Rasmussen, who as assistant winemaker at Bedrock Wine Co. under Morgan Twain-Peterson MW has finely honed his talents and gained an amazing understanding of vineyards and California history which he has applied to his own wines. His latest set of wines are compelling and soulful collection of goodies with an outstanding couple of Syrah(s) with Shake Ridge Vineyard and Griffin’s Lair bottlings that are two distinct and terroir driven marvels. Beyond his stellar Syrah offerings, I am impressed with his Mourvedre and Carignan based reds as well as this delightful and well crafted dry Riesling, this is a micro winery that is well worth checking out and I highly recommend joining the mailing list, these are some of best values you’ll find. This Cole Ranch dry Riesling has tons of personality and is fabulous as a Summer sipper, but has the extract and substance to companion serious cuisine, enjoy it with everything from oysters, grilled shrimp and Asian dishes to honey roasted ham or fresh cut sushi.
($22 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Ridge Vineyards, Mancini Ranch, Carignane and Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County.
The Ridge 2018 Mancini Ranch is an old vine field blend which is primarily Carignane 80% and with lesser dose of Zinfandel 20% making for beautiful and slightly lighter style wine with loads of fresh detail and with a more cool climate character than the Dry Creek and or Alexander Valley bottlings. Still ripe, dark and delicious this Mancini Ranch that is labeled 13.1% natural alcohol highlights Carignane’s bright elements and black fruit personality, but even with only 20% the Zinfandel really shines through with loads of raspberry, delicate cinnamon spice and cedar leading on the palate adding blackberry, plum and currant fruits as well as anise and sage notes. This is so delicious I couldn’t help but have an extra glass of this Mancini Ranch with pizza, I am already thinking of getting more bottles while it is still available! If you are a fan of Ridge’s wines you will love this and it will cheer your friends mood at BBQs and Summer dinner parties with simple cuisine, this vintage has a certain charm that is impossible to resist.

Carignan or Carignane is a grape mostly found in the south of France with serious plantings in the Languedoc’s Corbieres as well as being one of Rhone grapes found in Chateauneuf du Pape as well as being a minor player in Gigondas too, along with have a home in Spain from the Priorat to Rioja, plus the Italian island of Sardinia. It has been in new world a long time, probably longer than most other noble French varietals and Zinfandel, Carignane grows well here in Sonoma County, especially in Dry Creek, Alexander Valley and in this case the Russian River, as well as Mendocino where most solo efforts seem to come from, as well as seeing a newer set of planting in Paso Robles, thanks to selected clones being brought over by Tablas Creek and the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel. Ridge has of course a fabulous selection of Zinfandel based wines from which to chose, including my favorites like Lytton Springs and Geyserville, but you should venture into their Rhone based stuff, especially these Carignane led offerings, with their Buchignani, from Alexander Valley and this Mancini Ranch.
($36 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2015 Weingut Maximin Grünhaus-Von Schubert, Riesling Trocken, Maximin Grunhauser Abtsberg, Ruwer-Mosel, Germany.
The 2015 Maximin Grunhauer Abtsberg Grosse Lage Trocken is pure stony and mineral heaven gaining textural dimension, but with an incredible sense of restraint in fruit and a power sense of place, this chiseled dry Riesling with its golden straw color and steely intensity is almost profound, tasting of liquid rock from where these vines are dug into the slate slopes. This is fabulous stuff with subtle citrus, unripe apricot, granny smith apple and tangy quince fruits leading the way on the medium bodied mouth watering palate along with a hint of petrol, wet flint and saline, this is a soulful and earthy Riesling that has years and years of quality life ahead. The historic Maximin Grünhaus estate, which dates back to 966 AD, lies at the foot of a long, steep south-facing slope on the left bank of the tiny Ruwer river, about two kilometers upstream from where it joins the Mosel. The modern winery began, after the church was forced out of large land ownership by Napoleon when the lands were auctioned for secular use, In 1882, when it was purchased by an ancestor of Carl von Schubert, who is the fifth generation of his family to own the Grünhaus estate. The property, one of oldest and most famous in Germany is divided into three separate but contiguous vineyards of Abtsberg, which was a favorite of the abbots and at one point was theirs exclusively, Herrenberg, and Bruderberg. Each of these Maximin Grunhaus vineyards has its own individual character and taste profile with subtle differences in terroir, which explains the uniqueness of the wines made at Maximin Grünhaus.

Wines from Abtsberg or Abbot’s Mountain were originally destined for the table of the Abbot (or “Abt”) of the Abbey of St. Maximin, so good were the wines they didn’t want to share. The site covers just 35 acres, parts of which have been planted with vines for over a thousand years, as the winery notes. The Abtsberg is set on blue Devonian slate and the hillside runs south-east to south-west, achieving a gradient of up to 70 percent, making getting the grapes at harvest a tough job indeed. The Ruwer Valley is a tiny tributary that joins the Mosel just a bit downstream of Trier. Although, as the importer Loosen Bros. notes, the wines are labeled simply as “Mosel,” the Ruwer has a very distinct and delicate style due to its generally cooler conditions and well-drained slate soils with (in my opinion) less exotic or tropical fruit you see in riper areas of the Mosel. The age of vines range between 30 and 70 years for this Trocken bottling and the grapes are painstakingly hand harvested from these low-yielding mostly old vines in the Maximin Grunhauser Abtsberg vineyard. In the cellar the Von Schubert’s employ a spontaneous “Sponti” fermentation in 1,000-liter Fuder (large German oak) casks. This bottling is a real sleeper and unlike the Prädikat wines, like the Kabinett and Spatlese that are more widely available, this dry version can be found with some effort and is a wildly delicious deal, it should be on your Riesling radar. I was lucky to sit in on a panel with Herr von Schubert, along with Philippe Wittmann, Dr. Loosen and some other esteemed German producers a few years back, where their dry GG’s were discussed as well as poured and Maximin Grunhaus stood out for its quiet nobility, it was something that has stayed with me.
($28 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2016 Big Basin Vineyards “Homestead” Rhone Style Red Blend, California.
Bradley Brown’s Big Basin Vineyards delicious Homestead is a dark heavily Syrah led Rhone varietal blend that incorporates fruit from some of his favorite Santa Cruz & Gabilan Mountain vineyard sites, including his estate and the Coastview Vineyard, all hillside and ocean influenced climates. The 2016 is drinking absolutely fantastic right now and is really opening up into a stylish and thrilling wine, made from 48% Syrah, 27% Grenache, 15% Mourvèdre, 9% Carignane and 1% co-fermented Viognier grapes delivering a Cote-Rotie meets Gigondas or Chateauneuf du Pape like performance in the glass with a deep purple/black and garnet hue and loads of black fruit, minty herb, light florals, spice and contrasting savory/gamey elements. This wine is a great value and is still available from the winery’s cellar, along with the just released 2017 that is more Grenache based with some fruit coming from the Brosseau vineyard in Chalone. The 2016 has a hint of whole bunches and a faint stem influence with the perfect amount of game, earth and tapenade underneath a rich layering of dark berry fruits that flows beautifully across the full bodied palate with lush and expressive boysenberry, black raspberry, damson plum, blueberry and currant fruits along with peppercorns, licorice, sage, lavender, lilacs and cedar with a bit of kirsch lingering on the finish. This wine will continue to impress for many years to come, it will also go great with Summer BBQs, it is a wine to stock up on and enjoy for the next 3 to 5 years easy.

The Homestead Red highlights the granitic and limestone terroir of the Gabilan Mountains where Brown sourced the majority of the fruit with Syrah and Grenache from the granite and limestone soils at Coastview Vineyard located just miles South of Mt. Harlan at 2400 feet above sea level. As well as including 30 year old Mourvedre vines from the Antle Vineyard, now known as Rodnick Farm Vineyard, on chalky soils that helps provides the grip or spine of this wine. Brown says that some of the grapes came from his estate, famous for Syrah, plus he adds that there is a small bit of Cabernet Sauvignon sometimes thrown in, plus that tiny co-fermented Viognier with, as he notes, the additional component here includes some 80+ year old, dry farmed Carignane from the Cienega Valley located below Calera’s Mount Harlan AVA. Big Basin’s fermentations are done with indigenous yeasts and minimal intervention with long macerations and usually lengthy elevage to allow the wines to fully develop before release. For the Homestead Brown aged it in neutral or well seasoned used barrels to showcase this wine’s purity or transparency of fruit and sense of place. The highlight of this 2016 Homestead is its drinkability and freshness with its nice acidity and supple tannin structure as well as its round pleasing textures, it is a well crafted effort that certainly over delivers for the price, it also provides an awesome gateway into the house style at Big Basin where you’ll find some outstanding limited production hand crafted wines with the Rattlesnake Rock Syrah being the signature masterpiece of the collection.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Caparsa, Chianti Classico DOCG, Tuscany, Italy.
The 2016 vintage in Chianti Classico is absolutely fantastic and some great new wines are coming out, like Caparsa an all organic estate in the Radda zone close to the ancient Etruscan settlement at Poggio alla Croce where vines have been planted for more than 2,000 years, with Paolo Cianferoni making wines at this winery in these famous hillsides, and his 2016 lineup is a stellar set, especially this basic Chianti Classico. Radda is one of the most historic and picturesque areas in Tuscany and when I visited the region years old I fell in love with the views, the people and the tranquility of the place, as well as the wines, some of Italy’s greatest wines are crafted within a few miles of this little hamlet between Florence and Siena, like Montevertine and their famous Le Pergole Torte. Caparsa, tasted with Filippo Cianferoni, Paolo’s son who is working with his father in the cellar, early this year at Slow Wine in San Francisco, is a label working on crafting natural style wines with holistic practices in both the vineyard and the cellar, but is very practical and is very careful with their wines and uses temperature control and modern equipment to promote purity and freshness in his offerings.

The beautifully dark ruby and crimson 2016 Chianti Classico, interestingly is the first release by Caparsa of a basic Chianti Classico and is made from all organic 100% Sangiovese grown at about 400 meters above sea level and fermented in and aged mostly in cement vats. There is a lively force intertwined with a deep sense of Sangiovese fruit here and while ripe there is loads of energy, acidity and a classic tannin structure with pretty details including floral tones and mineral notes with layers of black cherry, strawberry, plum and briar laced raspberry fruits, minty herb, seeped rose petals, tobacco leaf, anise and a hint orange peel. While the upper end range, aged in a combination of wood casks including French, Hungarian and Slovenian oak are more concentrated and blooding, this basic medium bodied Chianti Classico is more nuanced and food friendly, easy to please and comforting, providing huge smiles, getting the Tuscan memories flowing. This is a winery to follow, and without question the 2016 vintage is one to get your hands on, their collection is worthy of high praise, look for this one for quality and value as well as their Riserva and top signature wine, the Doccio a Matteo Riserva made from their best selection of grapes, about 95% Sangiovese and 5% Colorino.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Mount Eden Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Jeffery Patterson’s 2016 Estate Pinot Noir is a California Grand Cru with incredible impact on the palate and luxurious layering on the rich medium bodied palate and an outstanding long finish, this Mount Eden Vineyards which I tasted at the Slow Wine tasting in San Francisco is gorgeous wine with loads of personality and concentrated fruit. Small yields and hillside vines give this wine a powerful feel, but still is wonderfully supple with black cherry, raspberry, plum and red current fruits and well integrated toasty oak, a light mineral tone, floral aromatics, a hint of earth and orange tea. This dark ruby and garnet Pinot, which really benefits from being served at true cellar temperature should get a meal wrapped around its presence at the table with duck breast in cherry or fruit reduction being a good choice, though fresh blackened salmon would be nice too. As always, this spectacular wine is a masterpiece of structure and will likely age two decades and if opened now will need some time to reveal its treasures, so decant gently and take your time enjoying it. The sweet French oak will get your attention with shaved vanilla and smokiness, but will fade into the background as the fruit comes alive in the glass. When you talk about great wines in California, Mount Eden must be in that conversation and the Santa Cruz Mountains terroir with its Franciscan shale soils and ocean influence is rightly one of the best regions in the state with a long history of legendary wines. Patterson, as he notes, says his Pinot Noir is the first variety harvested at Mount Eden, is crafted with 100% natural yeasts in his cool cellar, its fermentation is done in small open-top fermentor(s) with about fourteen days needed to complete primary, all with gentle hand pilage (punch-downs). After which the Estate Pinot is then immediately put into 75% new and 25% one-year-old French Burgundy barrels, where It is raised for nearly eighteen months with slow natural malos. As with all the Estate wines Patterson bottles his top Pinot unfined and unfiltered, not wanting to lose any subtle nuance and keep all the pure flavors.

Mount Eden Vineyards, as noted here, is one of the most celebrated and cherished small boutique wineries in California making estate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from their vines 2,000 feet up above what is now Silicon Valley, it was founded as Martin Ray Estate back in the mid 1940s and over the following 20 plus years became known for their Chard and Pinot. In 1970 Ray lost the property to an investor coup and in 1972 it became Mount Eden, and they hired Pinot guru Richard Graff who had founded Chalone, who crafted the legendary 1972 and 1973 vintages before the owners brought on the little known woman winemaker Merry Edwards, who is now a California icon! In the more modern era of Mount Eden Vineyards Jeffrey Patterson, winemaker has made the estate one of California’s absolute best, he was originally hired as the assistant winemaker back in 1981. Having graduated in biology from UC Berkeley in 1975, Patterson was fortunate to have been in Berkeley in the 1970s when local food and wine in the Bay Area were becoming relevant with the likes of Alice Waters creating a huge buzz. This is when she opened the famed Chez Panisse and Kermit Lynch had just started bringing in some of the great undiscovered wines of France, and the public were getting their first chance to explore French cuisine as well as have it paired with famous old world wines, all of which inspired and helped form Patterson’s future approach to his wines. He even took a three week honeymoon with his wife Ellie where they toured France including the cellars of Domaine Dujac and Domaine Leflaive, both of which left a great impression on this young winemaker who had just gone through enology and viticulture classes at UC Davis. From the early eighties after Jeffery and Ellie took over the running of Mount Eden things went from obscure successes to world wide stardom and respect from their peers, these wines continue to be some of the best in California, check out the latest Estate lineup of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and this Pinot Noir.
($65 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Jean-Louis Dutraive – Domaine de la Grand’Cour, Fleurie Cru Beaujolais, Lieu-Dit “Chapelle des Bois” France.
One of Gamay’s biggest stars, Jean-Louis Dutraive in Fleurie makes some of the most distinct and terroir driven wines in the world, especially his single parcel wines like this beautiful varietal example from the Chapelle des Bois Lieu-Dit with its subtle earthy dimension, bright strawberry fruit and vivid floral tones. This light dusty ruby hued Fleurie starts slowly and gracefully builds on the palate with Burgundy like silken mouth feel showing the mentioned strawberry flavor along with tangy cherry, plum and tart red currant fruits, a bit of ground baking spices, cedar, dried herbs and rose oil. These 2018s deliver a fine delicacy that the 2016 and 2017 lacked, being warmer and more concentrated, which was not unwelcome, but the lighter and vibrant details in this one make it a wine that forces your attention and focus to heighten and Dutraive’s intriguing sense of exotic elements comes through. Initially I was mildly impressed with this 2018 Chapelle des Bois, though once the wine opened up and its true natural got reed up I became more and more thrilled, the aromatics really heightened the experience, something that always Dutraive almost always does as well as anyone if not better. The primary fermentation for the Fleurie Chapelle des Bois was as per normal all whole bunches in concrete vats to express the purity of fruit and give texture, the stems cut the carbonic fruitiness and adds structure, making for a Cru Beaujolais that can be aged, I imagine a couple of decades of lovely drinking pleasures.

The Dutraive’s purchased the Domaine de la Grand’Cour back in 1969, a celebrated estate and one of the oldest domaines in Fleurie an area that has been long revered, in fact Raj Parr, the famous sommelier, has mentioned that at one point the wines of Fleurie were more expensive than Chambertin Grand Cru Burgundy! The Domaine de la Grand’Cour is divided between three outstanding unique sites, including the famed Grand’Cour, Chapelle des Bois, pure granite with pink veins, where this wine comes from, and the Champagne cru, who’s name means “campagne” or countryside in local dialect, and interesting the use of the name predates the famous sparkling wine. The estate also has excellent plots in Cru Brouilly that have been in the family for five generations. Jean-Louis Dutraive, the man behind the stardom of this winery, joined his father in in making the family’s wines 1977 and took over the domaine in 1989, has focused on organic farming since he took over with certification coming in 2009 following the natural principles of the famed Jules Chauvet, who also influenced Lapierre, Foillard and Sunier to name just a few. Dutraive makes vins de terroir wines using the same methods of winemaking for each of his cuvées to allow the place to shine, he employs whole-cluster carbonic fermentation without any added sulfur, native yeast and no intervention in the process, as well as aging the wines between 6 to 8 months in well used barrels or in this case larger oak foudres. If you want to explore the very best in Gamay, Dutraive is a must and this would be a wine to find, though I would always suggest getting their rare Clos de la Grand’Cour monopole bottling, one of the greats of the wine world!
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine de l’Austral, Jolie Brise, Saumur Spakling Rosé, Loire Valley, France.
A near perfect celebration of Spring and Summer is Domaine de l’Austral Jolie Brise Sparkling Rosé made from Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc from their organic vines in Saumur with absolutely zero residual sugar and tart freshness it is pure refreshment in the glass with bright cranberry, apple skin, cherry, red peach and a touch of orange(y) citrus zest. A hint of herb, subtle toastiness and crushed chalk add to the profile with a streak of mineral make this disgorged Méthode Ancestrale sparkler clear and delightful and its vivid magenta hue shines happily in the glass. This fun bubbly adds a dance out loud playfulness to the seriousness of Domaine de l’Austral lineup of terroir driven Saumur Rouge, which are more cooly chiseled wines that are painstakingly hand crafted from unique micro climate parcels. You can see the attention to detail in the clarity and refinement of the mouse, plus the Champagne cork finish, but really this is a joyous quaffable Loire grower fizz that is all about simplistic pleasures. Imported by Floraison Selections in Emeryville California, Domaine de l’Austral joins an elite and expressive Loire and natural lineup in their portfolio that includes Loire stars like Domaine de la L’Ecu, Domaine Serol and La Porte Saint Jean/ Sylvain Dittière, as well as Rhone Legend Domaine Gonon in Saint-Joseph.

Domaine de l’Austral, which debuted with this vintage 2016 when Pauline Mourrain and Laurent Traubat took over this estate in Saumur, what was formerly known as Château Tour Grise​, when the previous owners, Philippe and Françoise Gourdon decided to retire, but only doing so after making sure the property was in good hands. As mentioned in my last review of this new Saumur label, the site was originally founded in 1990 and Certified Organic in 1998, with Pauline and Laurent taking to the next level it seems with their debut collection of wines, that have already been awarded praise and accolades by their peers and the press. Working from the domaine’s historic underground troglodyte cellar, caved from the natural limestone, Laurent and Pauline honor the property’s traditions and use very natural techniques in making their wines. The fermentation is always with native yeasts, with some whole cluster being used and bottling is done with the absolute minimum amount of sulphur and they employ long macerations with aging done in a combination of vessels from stainless to used French oak cask as well as some elevage in concrete egg. This is an exciting new winery to discover and follow from the Loire Valley, so far I’ve been greatly impressed and I adore this delicious Jolie Brise, Saumur Spakling Rosé!
($27 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2014 Desire Lines Wine Co., Syrah “Experimental Series No. 1 The Gift” Eaglepoint Ranch Vineyard, Mendocino County.
The beautiful and complexly layered 2014 Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah from Cody Rasmussen at Desire Lines Wine Co. is really hitting its stride right now and again proves why this is a label to watch and get in on, with this late release offering being an exceptional wine with classic Syrah varietal character with some old school Cote-Rotie charm with dark fruit, spice and floral dimension. This Experimental Series No. 1 was the first wine Rasmussen, who is a winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson MW’s famous Bedrock Wine Co., ever made on his own, which he says was thanks to the incredibly generous gift of one ton of Syrah from Morgan and Chris Cottrel, his partner, to allow him to experiment and try to learn something. Obviously Rasmussen is a talented winemaker and he has taken to it like a duck to water and in recent vintages has proved himself one of the best new Syrah producers in California, especially his Griffin’s Lair and Shake Ridge bottlings. This 2014 Syrah shows loads of expressive California fruit with blackberry, boysenberry, plum and blueberry being pumped out on the full bodied palate, but there is a core of old world style complexity too with hints of leather, game and peppercorns as well as melted black licorice, crushed violets, kirsch (cherry liqueur), rosemary herbal notes, Spanish olive tapenade, cedar and dusty coco powder. The tannin is present, but have turned supple and the texture is rounded making this stem influenced Syrah a delight in the glass with a seductive purple/black/garnet hue and a long sultry and savory finish, best enjoyed with food, I recommend lamb kabobs, hard sheep cheeses or herb roasted chicken over bitter greens.

The Experimental Series No. 1 The Gift comes from grapes sourced from Eaglepoint Ranch Vineyard in Mendocino County that was first planted in the early seventies with Syrah coming in 1989, it is a beautiful and remote site that straddles hillsides about 1800 feet above the Ukiah Valley. This vineyard is highly regarded and has been the long used for quality Syrah by small and large producers and its decomposed sandstone soils with veins of red loam and loose gravelly stones adds to the personality with the cool nights helping preserve lively acidity. Rasmussen chose to do 100% whole cluster for fermentation in this tiny micro batch wine, with only pigeage (foot-treading) for his cap management with what I believe was native yeasts and decided on no sulfur addition until bottling. This Syrah saw an extended aging regime with a long élevage, which Cody adds was to soften and polish his first solo effort, with 20 months in a neutral French demi-muid, large cask, that was followed by 2 months in stainless barrels prior to bottling to settle and clarify the Syrah. With just 20 ppm sulfur at bottling an ultra low dose for protective stability, was in fact the smallest amount he’s gone with to date and gives the wine a freshness of detail much the same as the top guys in the Northern Rhone see in their versions. There is a lot is admire in this wine and the Desire Lines Wine Co. lineup is full of confident wines from Rasmussen’s tasty dry Cole Ranch Riesling to his juicy Carignan and Mourvedre blend, but as mentioned these Syrah(s) are something exquisite and special, they are lovely terroir driven wines that will blow you away, again I suggest making an early move to join this list and grab them while you can, I first discovered their Griffin’s Lair 2016 Syrah last year and it made my top ten wines of the year, don’t miss them.
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine de la Sarazinière, Mâcon-Bussières “Claude Seigneuret” White Burgundy, France.
The beautiful 2018 Mâcon-Bussières Blanc “Claude Seigneuret” by Domaine de la Sarazinière highlights the vintage and the old vine concentration, while retaining a dynamic freshness that makes this a mouth watering white Burgundy that punches way above the reasonable asking price, especially considering the vines used in this single Lieu-Dit are closing in on a hundred years old. The Domaine de la Sarazinière Macon-Bussieres “Claude Seigneuret” named for the domaine owner Philippe Trébignaud’s great uncle Claude Seigneuret who planted this special plot of limestone soiled Chardonnay vines ninety four years ago, was fermented and aged in classic French oak Burgundy barrels in line with their more prestigious cousins in the Cote de Beaune. Fresh and steely this vintage gains textural quality with every sip and ends up feel luxurious and richly smooth on the medium full palate that carries itself with seriousness and grace showing pretty white flowers, white peach, green apple and pear fruits along with a touch of quince and lemon as well as wet rock and the impression of chalkiness and mouth watering saline crisp detail and lingering creaminess. This is quite impressive even for someone who’s been a fan of the winery for many vintages and sublime with food, in particular it went great with a fried chicken sandwich, but I can see an even more glorious pairing with swordfish and or crab cakes. Even the Domaine de la Sarazinière’s entry level bottling are from plots that average at least 60 year old vines, so these wines offer a lot of complexity and presence throughout the lineup, with this cuvee Claude Seigneuret being always one of my favorites!

The father and son team of Philippe and Guilaume Trébignaud are the 3rd and 4th generations Mâconnais vignerons to farm a selection of well situated parcels in the southern part of the Mâcon with a tidy collection of older vines, including some single old vine parcels of Chardonnay and Gamay that were planted in 1926. Each site, according to their importer Floraison Selections in Emeryville California, showcases a unique terroir and a soulful character. Philippe and Guilaume work with the conviction that the only way to farm is with living soils, farmed with a practical and holistic approach, these vines are regularly plowed and never treated with pesticides or herbicides, they understand their future depends on a healthy vineyard that rewards with quality grapes. The Domaine de la Sarazinière began transitioning to organic certification in 2018 and the wines just seem to be getting better and better with intense energy and purity, all of which have made their old vine Chardonnays tremendous values. The Mâconnais is one of Burgundies hot spots and far removed from the generic cheap Mâcon-Villages wines of 20 to 40 years ago, now these old vine sites, like Saint-Veran, Pouilly-Fuise and Cru Mâcon sites like this Mâcon-Bussières produce wines that easily rival those from the high rent districts in the Cote d’Or, especially and also notable are producers such as Domaine Robert-Denogent, imported by Kermit Lynch, Meursault legend Dominique Lafon’s Heritiers du Comte Lafon and Château des Rontets. This is a delicious Chardonnay and it should drink great for another 3 to 5 years with ease, Domaine de la Sarazinière should be on your white Burgundy wish list, it is a perfect time to discover this label, and you shouldn’t miss their granite soil based Mâcon-Serrières Rouge Gamay and their fun and vibrant Aligoté.
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Marco Porello, Barbera d’Alba DOC “Mommiano” Piedmonte, Italy.
The fresh and vibrant Porello Barbera 2018 is dark fruited with loads of blackberry, juicy cherry and currant fruits on the medium full palate along with snappy spices, herb and nice acidity which makes this well crafted effort a beautiful food wine. The 2018 was less blistering hot as 2017 and this wine seems very balanced and flirts with mineral and has very little evidence of oak accent, it shows purity of varietal and place very well, leaving a comforting impression. Marco Porello has run the winery since 1994, and now has over a 25 year track record and is highly admired for his wines based in the Canale area with most of his family’s vines set in the Roero zone, crafting mostly Barbera, Arneis, which has been the Porello’s signature grape since the 1930s, and Nebbiolo in his cellar, while his seventy plus year old mum still cares for and directs the farming with organic and holistic ideals as well as having a respected connection to the land and its cycles.

Marco Porello, the grandson of founder Cesare Porello, is an expert oenologist, as noted by his importer, was educated first at the local Alba oenological school and then off in the Bordeaux region of France as well as some time the rival Tuscan region in Chianti Classico before returning and taking over the Porello estate. The Barbera d’Alba Mommiano, of course 100% Barbera, was made from hand tended and hand harvested grapes set of prime hillside sites on clay, loose sand and marl/limestone and was fermented in stainless steel with temperature control and then raised in a combination of stainless, large “Botti” used oak cask and cement vats all to preserve the vibrant expression of grapes and allow for complexity to unfold. This dark purple and crimson Barbera shines beautifully in the glass and hints of violets and sage lift to the nose and with air the wine rounds out and feels supple in tannins while still having plenty of energy, it is highly quaffable stuff that get better and richer with food, going great with rustic Italian country cuisine, and you can see why this value priced red was a fan favorite at the Slow Wine show, where I tasted it.
($19 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2012 Mouzon-Leroux, L’infellable, Blanc de Noirs, Brut Nature Champagne, Special Club, Verzy Grand Cru, France.
One of the most stylish and energy filled grower producer Champagne labels to emerge in recent years, in America is Sebastien Mouzon’s Mouzon-Leroux, these hand crafted and natural sparkling wines are striking efforts, especially his L’Atavique Extra Brut, one of my new favorites and this gorgeous vintage 2012 Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs Special Club bottling L’ineffable Brut Nature (non dosage) made from 100% Pinot Noir. This vivid bubbly has small beading and luxurious elegance with mainly apple and lemon fruits along with loads of mineral, brioche, hazelnut and a touch of spice, gaining presence and impact in the glass and lingering on the finish, this is a riveting Champagne that is pure class. Those that love Vilmart, Agrapart and even Krug will want to check this winery out, Mouzon is certainly making a name for himself with his organic and biodynamic vineyards in top sites and his deft crafting of these Champagnes.

These Mouzon-Leroux Grower Champagnes are made with a combination of stainless and French oak for fermentation and aging with Mouzon’s 2012 Grand Cru Special Club being 55% seeing elevage in used Burgundy barrels, which are usually sourced from Jadot, to add substance, texture and complexity, while 45% is kept in stainless to preserve the detail, vitality and zippy freshness, which I find irresistible in Mouzon’s sparkling wines. This Special Club is 100% Pinot Noir, 100% Grand Cru from Verzy, an elite chalky area that is ultra mineral intense in profile, which allows for the use of wood and full malos without taking away from the clarity and power in the substance/depth and structure, these are Champagnes that will cellar for many decades. This Special Club L’ineffable was rested on the lees for 60 months before disgorgement helping in elevating the mouth feel and provides a rich counterpoint to the racy acidity and steely edge, this is a Champagne with an extra level of wow!
($150 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Bodegas y Viñedos Garciarévalo, Verdejo “Casamaro” Rueda D.O., Spain.
Antonio Arévalo’s Garciarévalo Casamaro Verdejo is a intensely bright and concentrated white wine that is highly entertaining and crisply refreshing, making it a beautiful Summer sipper with eye popping citrus and stone fruits as well as light mineral tones. Garciarevalo is a family-owned winery established in 1991 in the town of Matapozuelos, in the heart of the Rueda wine region in Castilla y León with a collection of hundred year old Verdejo vines and a long history of working the land here. Now Bodegas y Viñedos Garciarévalo is a youthful team led by Antonio and Manuela Arévalo, with Rodrigo Arévalo in charge of viticulture, which is all organic and vineyard management, and Reyes Martínez Sagarra as the oenologist and winemaker running the cellars. The Casamaro is considered the young vine Rueda Verdejo in the lineup and comes from vineyard parcels that range from 15 to 145 years old at 900 meters above sea level and set on very sandy soils.

The 2018 is vividly fresh and pure with tangerine, lemon/lime and tangy peach fruits, dynamic acidity, a touch of gooseberry, verbena, orange oil and wild herbs all of which reminds me bit of a Sauvignon Blanc, but with a bigger personality and density. The Casamao is a usually a blend of 85% Verdejo and 15% Viura which due to the fact that it is all interplanted and gives the wine a bit more complexity and texture with a touch of tropical fruit. The Bodegas y Viñedos Garciarévalo Casamaro Verdejo was fermented and aged 100% in stainless steel from direct press and straight to bottle to preserve purity, fruity flavors and fresh details, again helping make this bottling a perfect brisk and zesty white for warm days and lighter cuisine, it is especially good with calamari, sole, sand dabs and clam dishes as well as soft cheeses. The Rueda white wines are some of the best values in Europe and producers like Javier Sainz and Garciarévalo are small family producers to look for!
($16 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine L’ Ecu, Pinot Noir “Ange” Vin de France, Loire Valley, France.
This ultra small production wine is fast becoming one of my favorite Pinot Noirs, it is a wine that is totally unique, showing purity, energy and a soulfulness that few Burgundies in the price class could ever match, then considering it comes from the lower Loire Valley and never sees a barrel makes it even more intriguing. The beautifully ruby/garnet Ange, Angel in French, by Domaine de L’Ecu is 100% whole cluster fermented in stainless steel and then aged in amphora without any additives and without the addition of sulfur at all which allows the complexity and clarity of the fruit to shine brightly, which this Pinot does heavenly. Fred Niger, one of the great producers of the Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine is deeply committed to biodynamic and organic practices at Domaine de L’Ecu, which was founded back in 1972 by Guy Bossard, who himself pioneered organic and biodynamics in the region and certified the estate by Demeter in 1998. Niger, who worked with Bossard, took over the domaine in 2012 and has taken this winery to new heights in quality and style, focusing on natural and holistic wines. Niger’s US importer Floraison Selections says Fred takes these commitments organic and biodynamic farming even further by incorporating various types of energy work, and using that work not just in the vines, but also in the cellar, working in terra-cotta amphora and working without any added sulfur in many cuvées. Amphora are made of the earth, which Fred believes gives his wines a natural extension to its place and brings out a spiritual connection between all the elements that came together to make the wine, soil (earth), climate and the people that cared for the vineyard and guided the wine into bottle.

I first started trying Niger’s amphora wines with his early bottlings of Mephisto, the terra-cotta aged Cabernet Franc with the demon on the label, which really impressed me and this Ange, with its divine angel label, made from 100% whole cluster Pinot Noir takes it all to another level with a hyper sense of clarity and detail, it is absolutely the most compelling Pinot Noir made in the Loire Valley I’ve ever experienced. The 2018, just a touch lighter and more elegant than the fantastic and concentrated 2016 version, making it seem more graceful and focusing your attention to its subtly, but the true depth is just as impactful and impressive with crushed violets, wild herbs, strawberries and mineral notes leading the way before the Angle’s medium bodied palate comes alive with vibrant cherry, plum and raspberry fruits along with spicy elements, a touch of whole cluster crunch, stony tones, blood orange, supple tannin and a caressing satiny mouth feel. This is gorgeous stuff from Domaine de L’Ecu and I highly recommend this to Pinot fans as well as natural wine enthusiasts, as it takes this genre to a place it rarely gets to. The 2018 Ange, sans soufre (no added sulfur) should gain with bottle age and drink fabulously well for a decade, though care in cellaring will be needed with no big swings in temperatures, and it should reward those lucky enough to have any left in 3 to 5 years, I will be hard pressed not to open all my bottles sooner v. later! Best to serve with a little chill and enjoy it with simple and fresh cuisine, I could imagine it going excellently and joyously with salmon and especially seared Ahi tuna. Be sure to check out the full lineup of single soil plot Muscadets by Ecu as well as Niger’s special offerings, like this one.
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Sheldon Wines, Syrah, Luc’s Vineyard, Fountaingrove AVA, Sonoma County.
The absolutely delicious 2019 Luc’s Syrah by Dylan and Tobe Sheldon of Sheldon Wines is a dark and juicy version made in a quaffable style with a carbonic fermentation similar to a Cru Beaujolais with supple tannins and spicy tones. Sheldon is mostly known for their stunning collection over the years of Grenache based wines and their fabulous Graciano, which is one of the most unique wines in California, but in recent years they have branched out a little with a Carignan and Sangiovese, plus a sparkling Tempranillo, as well as returning to Grenache Blanc along with their Petite Sirah, this Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon based wines. This small micro winery based in Santa Rosa was founded back in 2003 and like Sandlands, Arnot-Roberts, Broc Cellars and Ian Brand pay tribute to historic California wines and vineyards, but are also influenced by the old world and are looking to craft tiny lots of authentic wines with less adornment and less alcohol. This 2019 Luc’s Vineyard Syrah shows bright black raspberry, blueberry, boysenberry and plum fruits, crushed peppercorns, a touch of anise, earth and sweet floral notes wrapped in a silken mouth feel and a medium/full palate. This Syrah has pure varietal flavors and is a little like Pax’s North Coast version as well as similar to tank raised Northern Rhone stuff, reminding me of Maxime Graillot’s Domaine des Lises, as well as his Equinoxe, which is good company to be in. The Luc’s vineyard is a single southwest facing hillside acre of vines straddling the border between Santa Rosa and Calistoga and planted on very rocky volcanic soils that gives these wines, the Graciano, Grenache, Tempranillo and this Syrah their personality.

Dylan Sheldon’s winemaking on this Syrah, that is due too be released soon, was typically unique, half traditional artisan and half mad scientist employing, as he puts it, whole cluster, with the Syrah coming in at 21.8 brix on October 16th, which was then pitch forked and sealed in a small stainless steel tank to undergo a cold, slow carbonic fermentation for 8 days. That made the lot about half complete, he then drained the juice to a separate tank, and pressed off the skins. The free run and press wine was, as he notes, then co-fermented with pressed Viognier skins for an additional week to add intense floral complexity. Interestingly, in 2019 the Viognier actually came in a bit earlier than usual for the Sheldon’s, so they pressed it, then vacuum packed about 150 pounds of skins into the freezer! So they waited for the Syrah to get ripe for close to two weeks before completing this co fermentation stage. After which the wine was gravity fed to neutral French oak for 3 months as it completed its malo-lactic conversion, then Dylan clean racked the finished Syrah to single a 60 gallon stainless barrel where it spent the next 3 months prior to its bottling. The 2019 Luc’s Syrah finished at 12.7% natural alcohol and with its carbonic character this tasty stuff is great with Summer foods and BBQ’s and can be served with a slight chill to be a refreshing style warm weather red. The latest set of ultra small production wines by the Sheldon’s are some of the best yet from this winery that I’ve followed since they started and especially intriguing is the aromatic and textural quality that they show, these are very beautiful efforts! This 2019 Syrah should be available soon, be sure not to miss it, get on the list here and current lineup of 2018s are great, grab the Grenache(s) and the Graciano too!
($38 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive Reviews – May, 2020

2017 Sling | Stone, Pinot Noir, Monterey County.
Another exciting wine from one of Monterey’s newest labels, the Monterey County Pinot Noir from Sling | Stone wines is ripe and well detailed with classic dark Pinot fruit and nice fresh acidity and silky texture. Francisco “Junior” Banuelos’ of Sling | Stone Wines, is an assistant winemaker at Odonata Winery based in the Santa Lucia Highlands on River Road has released an impressive collection of wines including a couple of Pinot Noir(s), this being one of them, an already crucially acclaimed Syrah and his exciting Silacci Vineyard Chardonnay, which I reviewed back in March. Junior’s small lot wines are well worth searching out, especially his Pinot with its expressive nature that highlights the vintage’s character and the regions flavors with sweet black cherry, raspberry and plum bursting from the glass along with a hint of spice, earth and light toasty notes as well as a touch of blood orange and baking spices. I found this bottle I got from Jessica Trask at Village Wine and Taproom, after tasting this vintage at her place a few times, and before I dig into the Sling | Stone 2018s, I wanted to see how this one was doing and it is better now and I’m really excited for the 2018 version, which was sourced from the Knott Family Vineyard and saw a touch of new French oak.

Banuelos is part of talented group of Monterey winemakers that are changing the scene here and he was inspired by the likes of his boss at Odonata Dennis Hoey, Ian Brand, Russell Joyce, Samuel Louis Smith, head winemaker at Morgan as well as doing his own wines, Scott Shapely of Roar and Flywheel, as well as established superstar Jeff Pisoni, along with a few others of tight group of a new generation in the area that have changed the face of Monterey’s wines. The wines, especially the 2018 and the 2019 vintages are going to be legendary for Monterey and they are going to show the regions full potential and moves the bar way up in terms of quality and style, which is more authentic, less fruit bomb and more vibrant with less alcohol. It’s great to see these guys take risks and put their vision out there, these are wines that have distinct and unique personalities that also highlight the diverse micro terroirs within California’s largest growing region. The dark ruby and delicious 2017 Monterey County Pinot by Sling | Stone is fabulous with food and it opens up aromatically with air, it is hitting a great spot, I can only imagine how good the 2018 will be, definitely it is a wine I will explore soon, plus Junior’s partial whole cluster Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir that is just being released now.
($32 ESt.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Donnhoff, Riesling “Estate” Nahe, Germany.
One of the world’s stellar values by one of the world’s great wineries, the Donnhoff Estate QbA Riesling, especially in a year like this 2018, is a beauty wine with amazing purity, mineral packed and generous details with just enough sweetness to refresh the palate, it is an excellent Summer white. Following Donnhoff closely for almost 20 years has given me time to full appraise and appreciate these wines, and now with Cornelius Donnhoff crafting these masterpieces from the Nahe this famous estate is even getting better! Cornelius, who took over from his father Helmut, is the 4th generation to run this historic winery and their amazing collection of Erste Lage, or grand cru vineyard sites that all have very distinct characteristics. Donnhoff has a steep set of vineyards with many different soils from volcanic to slate along with some gravel and loess-clay allowing Cornelius to produce an incredible range of wines from his majestic GG dry Rieslings to Eiswein in certain vintages and everything in between, and his entry level Estate bottlings come from these fantastic vines, with this slightly off dry lighter bodied Riesling having far more complexity and style than the price would suggest with an array of flavors and pleasures.

Cornelius has a unique cellar where he can either have all the wines in either wood cask or in stainless tank allowing him total flexibility to work with whatever the vintage offers and this Estate was fermented and aged mostly in stainless, but a small part was done in ancient large used German oak. The grapes came from a mix of vines including great sites like Oberhauser Felsenberg with its volcanic underpinning, plus Keselberg on weathered slate and Klamm with its own combination of weathered porphyry and slate as well as veins of quartzite, all which contributes to the class and nature of this Riesling. Brilliant pale golden in hue and utterly delicious with yellow peach, light tropical notes along with classic lime, green apple and apricot fruits along with flinty spices, mint and chamomile, quince paste, lemon peel and a touch of muskmelon. The mouth feel is crisp and mineral driven but also easy and with a creaminess of form from the lingering residual sugar, though the wines doesn’t taste overtly sweet, just finely balanced and high toned gaining exotic elements with air with hints of crystalized ginger and verbena coming out as it opens. This is so good, and while pretty widely available it usually sells out fast so stock up on it if you find it!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Domaine de l’Austral, Saumur Puy Notre Dame “Cuvee 253” Loire Valley, France.
Domaine de l’Austral, which debuted with this vintage 2016 when Pauline Mourrain and Laurent Traubat took over this estate in Saumur, what was formerly known as Château Tour Grise​, when the previous owners, Philippe and Françoise Gourdon decided to retire, but only doing so after making sure the property was in good hands. The site was originally founded in 1990 and Certified Organic in 1998. The expectational fresh, pure and medium bodied 2016 Domaine de l’Austral 100% Cabernet Franc Saumur Puy Notre Dame “Cuvee 253” comes from single parcel of vines set on chalk. Knowing the quality of the fruit and the heightened personality of the year, this husband and wife team decided to let the wine express itself without manipulation or additions in the cellar, hoping to capture the most transparent expression of terroir as possible. The couple as per the norm with this region is leaning toward holistic growing with biodynamic practices being employed including a focus on healthy, living soils with a rich and diverse microbic presence. Pauline and Laurent do all their fermentations naturally using indigenous yeasts and long or extended macerations, and for this special cuvee, one of their very first bottlings in fact, it was aged exclusively in a concrete egg. This estate, imported by Floraison Selections in Emeryville, is going to be a winery to watch making honest, great priced, authentic wines of place. This Cuvee 253 has some raw tannins and while supple show a structured nature that will serve it well for years to come and the acidity is bracing, those that love Cab Franc from this region will beam smiles of contentment at the taste of this l’Austral Saumur Rouge.

The wines at Domaine de l’Austral are vinified and aged in the estate’s historic underground troglodyte cellar that was cut from the natural limestone for which Saumur is famous for and for which gives the Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc grown here their striking characteristics. The new label and proprietors are already creating a buzz about their wines are were very quickly taking in by the prestigious Renaissance des Appellations and have achieved peer recognition and been already awarded a price at the Competition “Vignerons et Terroirs d’Avenir” (Winegrowers & Terroirs of the Future). And this wine shows why they are on the radar and look set to be stars, this Domaine de l’Austral, Saumur Puy Notre Dame “Cuvee 253” is vivid and lively with classic Cab Franc flavors with the tiniest hint earthy leather and bell pepper this 2016 shows racy red currant, briery raspberry, plum , cranberry and cherry fruits with loads in minerality and chalky stoniness as well as snappy herbs, anise, sandalwood and touch of floral notes. I was highly impressed by the youthfulness this Saumur displays and the value on offer, this would be incredible with duck breast and or rustic country cuisine and I can see huge potential rewards for those looking to cellar some Loire Franc, like the wines of Olga Raffault in Chinon. This dark and subtle wine has lots of hidden joys to unfold given time to open completely and looks to be diamond in the rough, not quite a wallflower, but a tad shy, though certainly delivering much more than expected, especially with food. The Mourrain and Traubat lineup here at Domaine de l’Austral is all about small lot Cabernet Franc, with many unique site offering, plus a Chenin Blanc and a Sparkling Cabernet Franc Rosé, all of which should grab your attention.
($27 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Le P’Tit Paysan by I. Brand & Family Winery, Rosé, Pierre’s Pirouette, Central Coast.
The new Rosé is made from a classic Bandol blend of 56% Mourvedre, 26% Grenache and 18% Cinsault and is grippingly fresh and crisply detailed with ultra sharp and tangy flavors, making for a well structured Summer wine. Brand who is has become an influence and a focal point for authentic for the Monterey, Chalone, Santa Clara and San Benito parts of the central coast region with a fabulous selection of mainly Rhone style wines like his old vine Grenache and Mourvedre bottlings, as well as a savvy lineup of Cabernet Franc and a powerful Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon from an old vine vineyard right near the famed Monte Bello. The Le P’Tit Paysan line is Ian’s valued packed collection with the Pierre’s Pirouette Rosé being one of the most popular and a real bright spot for warm day quaffing.

The 2019 is similar to the 2018, but maybe a touch or a fraction cooler and drier in style with a Provence style light/pale salmon/pink hue in the glass and vivid ruby grapefruit, tangy sour cherry, strawberry and under ripe watermelon fruits along with salty wet stones, a nice mineral pop, spice, dried herb and seeped flowers. The grapes were brought into the winery for Rosé with lower Brix, well before the regular red batches came in and Brand did a short soak and stainless fermentation to preserve purity and vibrant freshness making for the wines zesty character and low alcohol feel on the lithe palate. This non Saignée Rosé is a non fruity and more retrained style making a quiet and purpose minded pink wine made to be a loyal and competent friend with a meal and a refreshing personality to enjoy in peace, great for picnics and beach or porch sipping.
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2019 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Vermentino, Adelaida Disctriict, Paso Robles.
The latest release of Tablas Creek’s Vermentino is one of the best and is perfect for Summer days, afternoons and evenings with excitingly fresh detail and a vividly pure form, its crisp and lively personality make it exceptionally well suited for warm weather and lighter cuisine. This vintage Vermentino marks Tablas Creek’s eighteenth bottling of this traditional Mediterranean varietal that thrives in a variety of soils and is widely planted though still not as well as respected as it should be and it has made a big impact in California in recent years finding a home in Paso Robles, thanks to Tablas Creek and their French Partners Chateau de Beaucastel for bringing their Chateauneuf du Pape cuttings over. Vermentino goes by a few names including Favorita in Piedmonte Italy and Rolle in parts of France and it arguably is best expressed band at its best on the Island of Corsica where it is called Vermentinu. While known principally in Sardinia, Corsica, and Northern Italy, Vermentino is also grown in the Rhone Valley, and as mentioned it is part of the collection of varietals in the famous Chateauneuf du Pape as well as in Côtes de Provence as a minor partner with Clairette and Marsanne. In California, the Vermentino grape has a few interesting champions, of course Tablas Creek, but also Randall Grahm of the iconic Bonny Doon Vineyard, who even makes a sparkling example, one of the first to bring Rhone style wines to a wider audience, in fact Grahm has told me that Vermentino could be one of the most important white grapes in the State with huge potential and the ability to counter the effects of climate change. Other important bottlings of California Vermentino include Ryme Cellars in Sonoma, where Megan and Ryan Glaab make two unique version, one with skin contact and Monterey’s Arroyo Seco AVA has fine expressions of Vermentino as done by Mark Chesebro, as well as Unti Vineyards in Dry Creek, where Mick Unti makes a striking version, to name a few of people finding a place of pride for this varietal in their lineups.

The 2019 Tablas Creek Vineyard Vermentino is dynamically vivid and brightly focused with a racy array of lemon/lime, white peach and subtle tropical notes, turning on the vibrant acidity mid palate adding some tangy tangerine, melon and wet stone in a zippy dry white wine that, while lighter in frame, has a nice sense of depth, mineral tones and extract. There is delicate floral notes and a sea shore salinity that make this vintage of Vermentino stand out and make it lip smacking, it is totally refreshing and entertaining on its own and great with food, especially sea foods, sardines, oysters, mussels in both and or creamy cheeses. The 2019 Tablas Creek Vermentino is 100% single varietal and comes from organic vines in the West Side of Paso Robles in the Adelaida District as was fermented exclusively in stainless steel, with Tablas’ winemaking team led by Neil Collins looking for vibrancy and purity of flavors. At 13% natural alcohol, the new Vermentiono feels electric and taut with near perfect balance between ripe fruit and tangy lift, thanks to the long cool even growing conditions. I am a huge Vermintino fan, especially the wines mentioned above and enjoy it in many different styles from the richer Tuscan and Sardinian versions, grown on sandy soils and clay or partial volcanic, that can be quite full bodied to the stony Corsican wines where they rival Chablis for class and complexity. The Corsica Vermentinu is not monolithic or done one way, the Island has many different soils and micro climates and the wines are produced using various methods and aged in diverse ways, like stainless, large cask and even amphora, as well with some getting lees aging too. Some of the best examples are imported by Kermit Lynch, look for Arena, Yves Leccia, Clos Canarelli and especially Domaine Comte Abbatucci. Tablas Creek has brought the best of the Rhone to California and they excel in their white wine examples from the zesty briny fresh Vermentino and Picpoul to the waxy Marsanne, plus Grenache Blanc as well as the powerful and oily rich Roussanne, these are all prime and thrilling wines to explore hitting the full range of what these grapes can do! The Vermentino was everything it promised to be at the beach and pleases without pretense or loudness, it is a joyous brisk white that with provide lots of fun over the coming year.
($27 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Vinca Minor, Old Vine Carignan, Mendocino County.
The Vinca Minor label was new to me and I was left very impressed by their latest release, an old vine Carignan from the all certified organic Hawkeye Ranch Vineyard in Mendocino County, home to many exciting ancient plots of Carignan, a Rhone varietal and famous in Corbieres in France’s Languedoc region, that seem to be finally getting the attention they deserve, especially wines as pretty and quaffable as this one. The Vinca Minor Hawkeye Ranch Carignan was done very much in line with modern trends or a lighter more natural style with a easy rustic charm using 100% whole cluster and indigenous or native yeast fermentation with classic foot and hand gentle maceration and pilage without any chemicals or additives with ultra low sulphur. The 2018 Carignan was raised in neutral, well seasoned, French oak barrels for 16 months which really allowed a supple texture to emerge and it has a graceful and detailed medium bodied palate led by blackberry, plum, candied cherry and currant fruits accented by liquid flowers, that reminds me a little of Ruche with this perfume taste along with a touch of loamy earth, brambly spices, cedar, whole cluster herbal notes and crunch, along with a hint of grilled rosemary, lavender, fennel and mint. The nose will fool you, it has a gamey funk at first and takes a while to clear off making you think this will show brett or an earthy edginess, but it blows to reveal the dark florals and red berry fruits, best to decant or be patient, the best is just a moment or two lagging a minute or so behind. Vinca does this Carignan, as well as a Mendocino Red, which has 35% French Colombard (a lesser white grape usually found in Brandy production, as in Cognac) co-fermented with full stems with Carignan and Valdiquie and a Carignan Rosé, plus a zippy Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc.

Vinca Minor is a small (family) micro winery based in Berkeley that was started in 2013 by Jason and Emily O’Hara Charles with a love of old vines from Mendocino that sparked an obsession with Carignan. Jason, who was pursuing a photo journalism after college traveled the world from Mexico City to the wilds of the Spanish countryside, fell hard for wine during a stay in New York as a server in Manhattan, where he found himself, as he puts, it surrounded by passionate wine experts. It convinced him to take the wine plunge, moving to California to be a harvest intern, which in turn led him back to Europe and to Pomerol, where he learned winemaking at Chateau Haut Goujon in Lalande de Pomerol. Saying he served soil, sun and grape he returned to California working for many famous and well known wineries in Napa Valley. Since then, he and his wife started their urban Vinca Minor winery and tasting room on Fourth St in Berkeley with a focus on natural wines. They are fascinated by California’s northern most wine regions, like the almost forgotten old vine sites in Mendocino County, like where this tasty wine comes from. The Charles family call their winery a great adventure in exploring wine’s history in Northern California and hoping to put it in the bottle. The winery’s name, Vinca Minor commonly known as vinca, periwinkle or dwarf periwinkle comes from the love of these blue/purple flowers and their labels showcase the their admiration of floral artistic expression. Vinca Minor, like Broc, Martha Stoumen and Las Jaras makes an interesting lineup of what is affectionately called “Glou Glou” or glug glug wine(s) in a similar vein, though distinct differences are there to be discovered, and it is well worth experiencing these Vinca Minor efforts. This fun Carignan has a nice freshness and no pretense, enjoy it with simple cuisine and drink it sooner v. later, as there is not reason to wait.
($32 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Hundred Suns, Gamay Noir, Tualatin Estate, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Renée Saint Amour and Grant Coulter’s Hundred Suns is one of Oregon’s most exciting micro winery projects and I love everything they are doing here, especially their out of the box Pinots and this Gamay from the Tualatin Estate, a wine that saw 60% whole cluster carbonic fermentation, 40% traditional de-stemmed using small yielding selections of ripe fruit and indigenous yeasts and aged in amphora. Grant who for about decade worked under Mike Etzel at Beaux Freres, working his way up to head winemaker now consults and oversees the winemaking and vineyards for the upcoming Flaneur Winery, as well as these Hundred Sons, a label he started in 2015 getting fruit from top sites, including Etzel’s Sequitur Vineyard and Dick Shea’s famous Yamhill Carlton site. While the attention is rightly on his Pinot Noir bottlings, which are delicious, totally unique and stylish in way few Oregon can match with some carbonic fruit forward expressive flavors and whole bunches crunchiness that remind me of Philippe Pacalet, in Burgundy, Jean Foillard of Morgon fame and Timo Mayer in Australia’s Yarra Valley! Now, the Gamay always sells out fast, don’t let that bum you out, just get on the list for the next vintage and grab some of the Pinot Noirs, the Old Eight Cut Pinot is one of the best values in Oregon and the mentioned Shea and Sequitur single vineyard wines are off the charts! This wildly delicious ruby/garnet Gamay Noir is serious and passionately, in not painstakingly, hand crafted nectar, and while not an easy find with so little of it available, it is really worth the search.

The Hundred Suns 2018 Tualatin Estate Gamay is incredible in the way it has Gamay’s punchiness, but supple textures and remarkable depth, it is pretty lavish and flamboyant with loads of personality and charm showing racy plum, cherry and strawberry fruits along with cinnamon, cool chalk, Asian spices and crushed violets. The name “Tualatin” originates from the native peoples of this part of Oregon and means “gentle and easy flowing,” referring to the Tualatin River that meanders on its way to the confluence with the more famous Willamette River. Tualatin Estate Vineyard, originally established back in 1973 by wine pioneers Bill Fuller and Bill Malkmus, is one of the oldest and most respected vineyard cool climate sites in Oregon’s Willamette Valley near Forest Grove in a rain shadow in the Valley’s far northwest on marine sedimentary soils. This vineyard is mostly planted to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Muscat and Pinot Blanc, with a tiny selection especially for Grant of true Gamay Noir, which all goes into this fascinating wine. The winemaking here is intriguing, the whole-cluster carbonic batch was done in sealed tank then aged in neutral French oak with the de-stemmed traditionally native yeast fermented batch getting its elevage in the terra-cotta Amphora for seven months, with both then being gently racked to blending tank for settling and bottled unfixed and unfiltered. This Gamay opens up with luxurious results and at 14.1% natural alcohol there is tons of palate impact, while still retaining the grape’s energy and enjoys a sexy mouth feel. I am saving a bottle for extended aging, as I am with a few single vineyard Pinots that I think will bring even greater rewards in 5 to 10 years, Hundred Suns should be on your radar, these offerings are stunning singular wines.
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Pax, Syrah, Sonoma-Hillsides, Sonoma County.
The Pax Syrahs, especially this one, the Sonoma-Hillsides, are the gold standard in California for authentic varietal character and quality for the money, with this Sonoma Hillsides being one of the most sought after versions in the state. The 2018 is turning out to be an incredible vintage for California Syrah and this Pax Hillsides shows why with intense dark fruit and depth, but with a sense of delicacy and lower alcohol giving the wine elegance and inner beauty, there’s a lot to unpack here with layers of black raspberry, minty herbs, lavender oil, a hint of olive and an unfolding of plum, fig and blueberry notes all adding dimension in the glass. The earthy nature or gamey element is subdued at present, but should come out with time along with a rich floral component as this wine hits its stride. That said, this wine comes with heavy expectations and its deep purple and garnet color invites comparisons to famous addresses in the Northern Rhone. Pax Mahle is one of California’s best known, influential and respected winemaker, who has been incredible helpful to a whole new generation of small producers. Pax, a Rhone specialist, but who also has branched out into making some natural style alternative wines in recent years from unique and rare grapes, is most know for his towering and age worthy single vineyard Syrah bottlings, including his Castelli-Knight, Alder Springs and the Griffin’s Lair bottlings.

This wine,100% Syrah, the multi vineyard cuvee, 2018 Sonoma-Hillsides, was hand crafted with old world influence using a combination of whole bunches (100% Whole-Cluster), with Pax’s fermentation using only indigenous yeasts. In his Syrah these days there is a variety of vessels for elevage with some getting concrete vat(s) and some getting used French casks including larger barrels or puncheons, but with this wine though, Pax aged it completely in the cement tank for 10 months. all of which the allow the wine to show its true nature in a clear transparent form. Pax Mahle has been on top of the Syrah game in California for years and has refined His style, which has been honed or the last decade has come to match his personal vision of what Syrah should be, and that follows some of the great wines of France’s northern Rhone region, most like Cote-Rotie and Hermitage, but these are not wines that mimic those wines, these California wines should be looked at as equals, not copies, and they have their own personalities. The 2018 saw fruit sourced from top sites like Castelli-Knight Ranch, in the Russian River, Griffins Lair Vineyard, in the Petaluma Gap area of the Sonoma Coast and the Nellessen Vineyard, in the Sonoma Coast with a cross section of Sonoma’s soils including volcanics, marine sediments and some broken shales, sandy loams and gravelly elements. This Hillsides Syrah finished at 12.9% natural alcohol, but don’t be fooled, this is a dense wine that will really gain with some bottle age, be patient and be rewarded.
($48 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Weingut Mueller-Catoir, Scheurebe Trocken, Haardter Manderling, Pfalz, Germany.
I love Scheurebe and this Mueller-Catoir is one of if not the best dry version, with this ripe and expressive 2017 showing everything the grape has to offer, it delivers intensity and aromatic quality, it’s a thrilling German white wine from one of the most admired wineries in the Pfalz. This vintage is bursting from the glass with jasmine, liquid roses and spearmint lifting to the nose while the light to medium bodied palate delivers tangy grapefruit, white peach, quince, sour apple and pineapple fruits along with chalky mineral, saline, clove spice, wild fennel and the crisp, lip smacking finish keeps things severe and refreshing. Shuerebe, a very aromatic grape, also known as Samling 88 (Austria), was a seed crossing of Riesling and a little known varietal called Bukettrbe back in 1916 by Doctor Georg Sheu, hence the name, which became official as tribute to its creator. I should state my thanks for those details to Anne Krebiehl MW who presented these facts in her book “The Wines of Germany” also noting that for many years, it was thought Scheurebe was a crossing of Riesling and Silvaner, but recent studies has proved otherwise. Scheurebe grows best in Calcareous soils, with Muller-Catoir’s Pfalz version regarded as maybe the greatest expression of this grape, in particular their Trocken single Cru Haardter Mandelring example. The full range of wines at this property are amazing from the thrilling dry wines to the finely balanced sweet wines, everything at Mueller-Catoir is class, when it comes to the Pfalz, this and Von Winning are must try wines.

I’m a huge fan of Mueller-Catoir, thanks to long time importer and Riesling guru Terry Theise, who really introduced to the full lineup here many moons ago, their Rieslings are some of Germany’s best, but they have this awesome Scheurebe, as well as a great dry Muscat (Muskateller), maybe the best I’ve ever had, along with Pinot Blanc and Rieslaner, of which they do a fabulous sweet wine from. Weingut Mueller-Catoir has been family owned since 1774 with 9 generations tending the vines, as Theise notes, the winery is now run by Philipp David Catoir, who has Martin Franzen as his cellar master, hailing from the Mosel and formerly at Schlossgut Diel, took over the winemaking from the legendary Hans-Günther Schwarz in 2002. Müller-Catoir has gone holistic in recent years and farm mostly organic, but remain very practical with absolute quality demanded of the grapes here, there is no compromise at this place, they focus on purity and terroir. The vineyards in Haardt, where this wine comes from, are composed of primary rock (urgestein) and sandstone, with an increasing proportion of gravel lower on the slopes. This estate and the region has a long history of winegrowing with the Burgergarten site being first planted close to 700 years ago, and, as the winery notes. Mueller-Catoir which has a tradition of reductive winemaking implementing a gentle crush, a long skin contact, slow gentle pressing, and then ferments at warmer, according to the winery again, than customary fermentation temperatures in stainless steel to promote transparency, which this lovely Scheurebe shows, drink it over the next 3 to 5 years.
($49 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

1986 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Estate Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountain.
This 1986 Santa Cruz Mountain Pinot, shared with us by the winemakers Junior Banuelos and Denis Hoey at Odonata was showing beautifully, incredible really for a 34 year old wine with pretty details and a core of fruit without a severe fragility or sous bois, it impressed a crowd of Pinot Noir fans to near silence and awe! Hoey, owner at Odonata was mentored by Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard’s Jeff Emery and had access to this beauty, which we tried with an equally good 1985 version, it was tough to pick between them, in fact maybe more people liked the more expressive 1985, but I admired the delicacy of the 1986 and lighter frame that reminded me of a perfectly aged Burgundy with dried rose petals, a touch of damp earth, Christmas spices along with strawberry, cherry and plum fruits at its core, lingering on the medium bodied palate with minty herb and mushroomy accents. Jeff Emery began his career at the iconic Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard in 1979, serving an apprenticeship under the owner, Ken Burnap, and never moved on, basically taking over the winery in 2002. The original Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard property was a living history of the region, so it was sad when those old vineyards were lost to development in the later part of the 2000s, though Emery and Burnap to our eternal gratitude saved a big library of their wines and treasures like this can be found and admired. This wine’s color was impressive too, pretty dark crimson and with a gentle orange/brick edge, surprising, but seductive and still with a structured mouth feel.

When I was learning about wines and starting a career in the wine business I remember these wines from the 1990s, which were raw, robust and gripping wines that paid no heed to the modern approach and fashion of over polished and fruit bombs that were the rage at the time, though they could really blossom with age and patience, as this 1986 clearly shows. For many years, the Santa Cruz Mountains region was dominated by four wineries, Ridge Vineyards, David Bruce, Martin Ray/Mount Eden and Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, each with their own stylistic character and charm. They very first Petite Syrah I tried that I remember was a Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard version, they of course called it by the grape’s true name Durif, spurring me on to learn the history of the varietal, a process that captured my passions for wine knowledge, at the time it wasn’t all there on the internet! The Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, known now more for Pinot Noir was also a Rhone producer before it was a thing and made some cool Grenache over the years as well, so if you find old bottles of this winery around be sure to not miss them, especially the estate vineyard Pinots like this one if you see it, plus that Durif, they probably will live 50 years! The Santa Cruz Mountains region has many fabulous wineries and vineyard sites to explore now and Emery and Burnap are part of its legendary period in the 1970s and 1980s that led to many winemakers to be inspired to give this place a try, including Dennis Hoey at Odonata, who wines are getting better and better and well worth digging into, with his Santa Cruz Mountains efforts being exceptional!
($N/A) 93 Points, grapelive

2010 J. Rochioli, Pinot Noir, Little Hill, Russian River Valley.
One of California’s most famous and historic Pinot Noir producers, Rochioli continues to make their rich and age worthy wines that when young show opulence, luxurious oak treatment and loads of pure Russian River flavors, but once they get some age they shed the more obvious sweet/smoky wood and gain a fine sense of delicacy and secondary complexity, as this 2010 Little Hill Pinot is doing right now. The Little Hill section sits below the Sweatwater and Big Hill plots on the southern side of the Rochioli estate just west of Westside Road and was mostly planted on this higher bench in the mid nineties to a collection of clones, mainly their own (Rochioli) West Block selection, along with some Pommard and Romanee-Conti, which all add to the depth and structure. With southeastern exposures and the ancient and not so ancient river bed soils make the Rochioli estate with its cooling influences from the marine gap that cuts up the river’s track a top Pinot Noir and Chardonnay area, along with neighbors Williams Selyem, this was ground zero for great Pinot Noir in the 1980s and 1990s when the grape was finally getting the attention in deserved in the state. The Little Hill, being part of the J. Rochioli single parcel series, gets aged in French oak, with probably 40 to 50% new medium plus toast barrique for between 15 to 18 months, plus some bottle resting before release, then of course I gave it another seven years in my own storage, which allowed it to develop to near perfection. I have learned to age my Rochioli wines, sometimes the hard way and I especially love them around ten years after release, oh and I definitely mean the Chardonnay as well!

The Rochioli family, now led by Joe Jr. and Tom Rochioli along with long time cellar master Terry Berring make seriously delicious and impactful wines, and I’ve long been a fan and while I have had access to many great wines over the years, Rochioli has a special spot in my heart, considering it took more than seven years for me to get on their mailing list, it seems unlikely knowing my general lack of patience! There is a surprisingly diverse cross section of soils across the Rochioli’s property and they pick and ferment each block separately. Tom notes, while this is a common practice in Burgundy, it was his dad who started it in the Russian River, with Rochioli being a pioneer, they were one of the first in the area to introduce, what they call a micro-batch process. Tom Rochioli believes that being able to taste unique differences between the diverse soil and clonal diversity that typifies the Russian River, plus a more hands off approach in the cellar, is what makes Rochioli the iconic producer it is. The 2010 is still a flamboyant and expressive wine with a nice freshness and vintage marker very much alive in the flavor profile, it delivers tasty layers of black cherry, tangy red currant, plum, cranberry and pretty strawberry fruits, a touch of loamy/stony earthiness, cedar and rose petal floral notes, adding a hint of black tea, cola bean and sassafras. With time in the glass the silken medium bodied palate pleases even more and the wine takes on a class and grace you’d expect from such a wine and the graceful length impresses, every sip is magic for this wine, absolutely in its prime spot, this was a particularly great bottle, I wish I had more!
($100-150 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2016 Domaine Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Saint Aubin, En Remilly, Premier Cru White Burgundy, France.
How good are these PYCM Chardonnays? There are so good they are now doubling in price just a year of so after release, like this exceptional 2016 Premier Cru Saint-Aubin En Remilly that is just starting to open up into top form and depth with still a laser sense of detail and mineral tones, while gaining textural richness and unveiling of its personality. The fleshier 1er Cru En Remilly by Pierre-Yves comes from three individual plots of vines, from what I understand with one in the highest part of the premier cru, which I imagine heightens the acidity and two lower down in the main section, or as Decanter calls it, in its heart, and closer to Chassagne-Montrachet, which gives the wine its density and presence on the palate, all are set on the classic clay and chalky limestone soils. This 2016 vintage follows this house style with slightly earlier pick dates to really highlight intensity and hyper focus of flavors with loads of lemony citrus, green apple, bosc pear and tart peach fruits along with bitter melon, clove spice, wet river stones, saline and a slow unfolding of leesy brioche along with a hint of hazelnut and sweet wood notes. The play between brisk energy and its dense opulence is fantastic, making for an exciting wine that performs as expected, even with sky high expectations and stunning with food, it held up nicely with lobster and would be brilliant with soft creamy cheeses.

Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey is one of famous Colin clan with his father and his brothers all being great vignerons, but these days Colin-Morey is probably the most revered and along with his wife Caroline Morey of the equally famous Morey family are a true power couple in the Cote d’Or, now based in their new modern winery in Chassagne they turn out some of the most sought after wines in the Cote de Beaune. The En Remilly has become one of biggest stars in the PYCM lineup, sadly driving up the price, though it remains one of the best values for stellar white Burgundy, especially on release with vines being most 25 to 55 years old and providing concentration, vigor and purity, which this vintage shows with precision and refined elegance. Colin-Morey follows a strict protocol and method, using all sustainable and hand tended vineyards, with mostly organic practices in the vineyards, while in the cellar he ferments and ages his wines in barrel, with the mentioned early picks, and uses indigenous yeasts and notably he prefers larger format 350L French oak casks, with his Premier Crus seeing close to 30% new, adding just the right amount of toasty accents. This beauty is wonderfully balanced and seriously good stuff, this is a Chardonnay for Chardonnay lovers, enjoy it over the next 5 to 10 years, though not many will have that kind of patience! I hear the Colin-Morey 2017s look to be on the richer side and more luxurious in style, making perfect sense considering the vintage conditions, so I was glad to get this one in before getting my hands on the upcoming wines for comparison.
($65 to $125 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Cume do Avia, Caíño Longo Tinto, Dos Canotos, Ribeiro, Galicia, Spain.
The native grape, Caiño Longo is usually used in blended wines, but is capable of doing lovely solo efforts and this bright low alcohol red wine from the talented group of friends at Cume do Avia from Spain’s Ribeiro D.O. is a fabulous effort with a crisp bright personality, similar to Fleurie (Cru Beaujolais Gamay) with a crunchy mineral freshness and racy red fruits. This winery is a hot ticket right now and they farm and use varietals with local significance, they have small plantings of thirteen different indigenous Galician grapes, all selected from ancient vines in the Ribeiro zone, and they have plans to plant many more, especially the long forgotten ones that they hope to re-discover and add to their collection. Led by Diego Collarte and his brother Álvaro, both grew up in Vigo, the latest city in the region, Cume do Avia is like many young Spanish producers that are school friends that have turned away from glitz of city life to get back to their roots, sometimes lost to 3 or 4 generations and finding their mission in the hard work of remote wine regions and long overlooked old vines using natural/organic farming as well as historic methods in the cellar, as they employ here. The terroir here, which is renown for white whites and close to the border with Portugal, is mainly granite based, but there is a diversity of soils in some of vineyards that Cume do Avia have near the Avia River, and this adds spice and complexity to their wines, with some sand, schist and even slate soils here as well. There is an underlying depth and richness though things are kept in firm check by its vibrant form, it certainly rounds out with food and should be allowed time to fill out, then it will show its best and bring a more joyous experience.

The 2017 Caíño Longo Tinto Dos Canotos fills the glass with a vivid ruby hue and delicate floral perfume as well as crushed red berries that leads to a medium bodied vivacious palate with under 12% alcohol, making for a refreshing and zippy red wine that adds that mineral tone, light spices and herbs gaining strawberry, sour cherry, vine picked briar laced raspberry, tangy red currant and lingering earth, rose petal and cinnamon. The lighter frame opens up texturally with air, but the wine stays quite puckering, tartly detailed and is great with a slight chill, it is strikingly vivid stuff and fun, being like Pinot in its ability to go with many cuisine options. These wines are serious efforts that enjoy your attention, though they have a friendly personality, like this one does and drink in what we call a Glou Glou (or glug glug) style, which is reserved for wines that don’t need much over thinking and are easy to quaff. The wine, coming form hand tended and harvested using biodynamic/holistic practices in the vineyards, and fermented with indigenous yeasts with some whole bunches, then the wines are aged in neutral vessels, some including chestnut casks that were more common in older times. This winery admits it has been a tough journey since they started in 2005 to now, where they have a demand for their wines with some disasters and set backs along the way, but I love this intense and vigorous Caíño Longo Tinto Dos Canotos and I can’t wait to taste more of their efforts, and I hear they had a big step up with their 2018 releases, so that is even more exciting. There is a lot to find joyous in the single varietal bottlings, but I also would not miss the blended efforts, make with Souson, Caiño Longo and Brancellao as well as others.
($42-50 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2017 Weingut Clemens Busch, Riesling Trocken, Mosel Germany.
The tasty entry level dry Riesling from Clemens Busch is flavorful, especially this ripe year 2017 and there is a lot on off for the price with plenty of peachy expressive fruit, but still energy filled and with crystalline mineral character. This all biodynamic Middle Mosel Riesling From Weingut Clemens Busch, a pioneer in natural winemaking and organic viticultural in the Mosel region, shows fresh details, oyster shell and crisp saline to go with the pretty classic lime, green apple and quince fruits plus wet shale, white flowers and a delicate smoky element. Clemens and Rita Busch, the husband and wife team, run this small, but much admired estate and their influence can be felt throughout Germany with many vignerons following in their footsteps. Since taking over his family winery in 1984, Clemens, the fish generation wine grower, has passionate put his vision in place and while it took a long while to do the conversion and gain acceptance locally, regionally and globally, he has become an iconic figure with his incredible lineup of dry Rieslings, with this one being a great gateway into his wines. His top bottlings are fantastic and well worth the extra cost and age well gaining texture and complexity with each identified by their different and distinct terroirs on the original hillsides, each being highlighted on his labels by their historical names, they include Fahrlay, Falkenlay, which is one of my favorites, Rothenpfad, Felsterrasse, and Raffes.

Busch’s grapes are grown mostly on the extremely steep Pündericher Marienburg, a mixed slate based, continuous vineyard, with many tiny prime lieu-dits, that spans and entire hillside facing the village of Pünderich. Exposed full South/Southwest and right on the edge of the river, it is widely considered some of the very best sites in this part of the mighty Mosel. Clemens believes the special parcels have their character and are themselves Cru sites with their own micro climates and show individual expressions. These wines are all unique and Busch combines old traditional methods with his all natural approach in the cellar, which he notes, with 80% of the wines being fermented and aged in very old 1000L barrels with the youngest used close to 50 years old, and many, he adds, were built by Rita’s father. Clemens allows a sponti (native yeasts) fermentation and nothing is ever added to the wine, except an ultra low dose of sulfur at bottling to allow for safe handling and or shipping stability, with the hope that the wines show purity of the terroir, which I believe they do. Interesting to note is that most of the Rieslings here have color coded capsules that tell the buyer what type of slate was in each wine, with red (red slate), grey (grey slate) and blue for the (blue slate) with this lighter Riesling Trocken being all grown on grey slate from multiple parcels in the famous parts of Marienburg. The Mosel is on fire with so many great and intriguing wines, it maybe hard to chose, but you should consider trying these Weingut Clemens Busch dry Rieslings, they don’t disappoint, I offer as an understatement!
($27 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Martha Stoumen, Carignan, Venturi Vineyard, Mendocino County.
Martha Stoumen’s 2018 Venturi old vine Carignan is a fresh old school style quaffer with lovely dark flavors, supple tannins and a juicy medium body, it pleases without pretense or polish, it is naturally delicious. Martha, influenced by European country wines that show clarity of place and traditions is now trying to make terroir-driven wines in, as she says, the land that she holds so dear in her heart, California, she leases and farms around half of the vineyards herself, to achieve her goal, with the other half being farmed by multi-generation farmers, Stoumen adds, who understand their land and who farm with the same philosophies. The Venturi Vineyard is located in Mendocino County and was originally planted back in 1948, it is a dry farmed and organic site just north of Ukiah, in the Calpella Valley, set on predominantly Pinole gravelly loam soils. Her Carignan is lightly floral and spicy with vibrant blackberry, black cherry and currant fruits, a bit darker than Zinfandel, but in the same mode there is some nice acidity, bramble and briar as well as roasted herbs, like rosemary sprigs and sage, along with cinnamon and a hint of cedar. The vines underpinnings contain, according to Martha, a mixture of sandstone, shale and quartz, with these deep, well-drainning soils which were formed from alluvial flows also has fist-sized stones not too different than what you’d see in Chateauneuf. Martha’s latest set of wines are fun and can be drunk without abandon or worry, they are all made to be shared in their youth, look for this one, only 400 cases made as well as her signature Nero d’Avola, the Sicilian grape she fondly remembers from her time there as well as her interesting set of whites, plus her Zinfandel, another zesty style red with very low alcohol.

This latest release from Stoumen joins some of her best expressions so far with this Venturi Vineyard Carignan being delightfully engaging and tasty with faint earthy tones and a touch of mineral to the zesty fruit. This wine was crafted using 100% Carignan from a 70 year-old Carignan block on a particularly stoney parcel, as Stoumen explains, as it lies on a former riverbed, making the tending of these old vines not easy work, but worth the serious efforts, especially in this vintage. These parcel characteristics and cool nights here, Martha exploited to craft a wine that showcases this site’s inherent personality, that along with a long, cool fermentation result in a Carignan, as she says, with a much lighter body than most considering the old vine concentration, in fact the natural alcohol is just 11.4%! Stoumen’s calm experienced minimalist winemaking approach and patience in the cellar letting the natural yeasts and bacteria present on the grape skins perform fermentation, she believes allowing longer macerations and aging to provides stability rather than using additives, and after a few years of tasting and drinking her wines I have no reason to argue, these are soulful, somewhat raw in style, but clean and elegant. Like the new generation of California’s top small producers Stoumen uses well seasoned neutral French oak barrels and her wines are transparent with a focus on place and grape purity in their profiles. Martha has had a good education in real world winemaking having apprenticed under stars like Reinhard Löwenstein (Heymann-Löwenstein, Mosel), Jordan Fiorentini (Chalk Hill, California) Chris Brockway (Broc Cellars, California), Clive Dougall (Seresin, Marlborough), Didier Barral (Léon Barral, Faugères, France), and Giusto Occhipinti (COS, Sicily), all of which as guided her down her own path. This attractive purply Venturi Carignan, while lighter in fashion, has plenty of character and substance making it expressive more so with food and part of a table with simple cuisine and good humor, it brings comfort and smiles all around, drink up.
($35 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Cameron Winery, White Blend “Giuliano” Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
One of best kept secrets of Oregon is Cameron Winery’s Northern Italian inspired whites, especially this Giuliano, which is a blend of Friulano, Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc), Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris) and Auxerrois with a small bit of perfumed Moscato (Muscat) that winemaker John Paul, a huge fan of Friuli and Alto Adige whites, gives heightened aromatics in this gorgeous crisp dry wine. Paul ferments his “Cameroni” (Italian style) whites in stainless in mostly separate lots with a special cultured yeast and limited lees aging to promote clarity, purity and freshness with this blended white seeing a bit more bottle age to allow the high acidity to calm a bit and let some texture to develop, all of which prove magically here in his 2018 version, one of the best yet, it is a wine to get really excited about, it shows exceptional detail and quality. Cameron known for their classic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines, some of the most sought after and famous in the region, also do Nebbiolo, another Italian inspired effort worth chasing down!

The light to medium bodied 2018 Giuliano Bianco delivers precise layers and mineral charm with an array of zesty citrus, with lemon/lime, tart peachy stone fruit along with hints of melon, quince, kumquat as well as jasmine, orange blossom, spearmint and saline infused wet rock. This is absolute delicious stuff, serious in quality, but easy to love and it drinks great with or without food, though it would shine with briny sea foods, in particular I would love to have another few bottle for oysters and or clam dishes. That said, this wine has structure and substance to handle richer cuisine too as well as Alpine cheeses, when it opens up it gains even more palate impact, while retaining its refreshing character. Coming from holistic and dry farmed vines in the Willamette Valley’s Dundee Hills AVA with Cameron’s grapes being grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fungicides, making the wine feel more natural and with the Jory (volcanic) soils adding complexity and a spicy element. Be sure to look for this one, it is just fabulous and should go for 3 to 5 years with ease.
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Terredora di Paolo, Fiano di Avellino DOCG, Campania, Italy.
Sometimes we forget just how good these southern Italian white wines are, especially the ones coming from Campania made from Fiano, Greco and Falanghina, ancient local varietals, some of which were once thought to the region by the Greeks, with Terredora’s 2017 Fiano di Avellino being a delicious example with mineral freshness and purity. Terredora Di Paolo, owned by an offshoot the famous Mastroberardino family, led by Walter Mastroberandino and his children Paolo, the winemaker and Daniela, who manages the estate, was founded as a modern winery in 1978, it is one of the largest privately run producers in the area, but one that takes the local culture and traditions very seriously with a history that is linked to Campania, its land and its people for many generations. Terredora di Paolo decided early on to focus on transparency and employs innovation and technology to get the best from the quality of its vineyards and grapes, according to the winery this concept to put great care in the vineyards and modern technology in the cellar strengthened and fostered the avantgarde character of their offerings.

The 2017 vintage Terredora Di Paolo Fiano di Avellino is ripe and peachy, but retains its refreshing distinction with a flinty, almost smoky mineral edgy element, bright acidity and has a nice saline, mouth watering zip and stony note to go with an array of citrus on the medium bodied palate, adding fine herb and subtle white flowers. This is very nice stuff that goes great with warm days and sea foods, I love drinking Fiano, it’s a grape that is gaining interest in California too, with Dry Creek’s Unti doing a fabulous version, as an alternative to New Zealand SB’s and boring Pinot Grigio that seem to flood wine lists for white wines other than Chardonnay. The Fiano vines are set in the prime Montefalcione and Lapio zones in the main DOCG set on calcareous clay based soils at about 1,800 feet of elevation that helps with retaining the wines vitality. The Terredora bottlings are all 100% varietal, and this Fiano di Avellino was completely fermented and aged in temperature controlled stainless steel to preserve crisp detail and makes this Campania white so clean and vibrant. I highly recommend the Terradora for their quality to price ratio and easy enjoyment with this Fiano and their Falanghina being my favorites in the current lineup.
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 Andrew Murray Vineyards, Syrah, Tous les Jours, Santa Ynez Valley.
The twist off top, easy open dark fruited and spicy Tous les Jours Syrah by long time Rhone maestro Andrew Murray is vintage marked with ripe and warm flavors with blackberry/boysenberry, black plum, blueberry, mission fig and creme de cassis fruit, plus peppercorns, Dutch salted licorice and floral tones. Everything is well portioned and the quality for the price is outrageous and like Louis Barruol’s Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone, which is made from 100% Syrah, it’s easy to see why this wine is so wildly popular. Andrew Murray came to Syrah by accident when he was trying to make a California version of Condrieu (Viognier) and his vineyard was wrongly planted with Syrah instead, but maybe fate played an even hand after all when he started working with this grape, as his versions, like his famous Roasted Slope, a Cote-Rotie style expression, his new Watch Hill Vineyard and of course this wonderful entry level Tous les Jours. This deep purple/crimson Tous les Jours drinks smoothly with ultra plush tannin, but still has a nice brightness of detail, purity and subtle earthiness or meaty elements as you’d expect from this Northern Rhone varietal.

Murray, who like many young winemakers, was inspired by his travel to Europe and especially from his visits to the Rhone Valley in the early 1990s that sparked a passion to make the same style wines in California, and for that he chose Santa Barbara and especially in a cooler zone of the Santa Ynez Valley where he has made a name for himself, but following in the footsteps of an earlier generation like Bob Lindquist of Qupe, Randall Grahm of Boony Doon, who long sourced grapes from Bien Nacido, and John Alban of Alban Vineyards. The Tous les Jours came from a selection of vineyards and is mostly tank raised with very little oak presence, similar to Maxime Graillot’s entry level Crozes-Hermitage with carefully sorted and mostly de-stemmed Syrah grapes for fresh transparency and varietal character, but with a California personality. As Murray explains, everything starts with great grapes from the Santa Ynez Valley, plus a small amount from Paso, using the different climates to create a wine that is both fruity and spicy at the same time. Through his experiences with both New World and Old World style winemaking, Andrew adds, the goal was to make the most drinkable Syrah imaginable, in particular for a stylish everyday wine that as I note, way over delivers.
($18 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Desire Lines Wine Co., Mourvedre, Experimental Series No. 2, Fred’s Home Block, Del Barba Vineyards, Contra Costa County.
The latest Desire Lines Wine Co. wines are stunning and I love this 100% Mourvedre Experimental Series No. 2, of which only about 65 cases were made from seriously old vines in Contra Costa. Winemaker Cody Rasmussen, who’s, as mentioned, is the assistant winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson MW’s Bedrock Wine Co. in Sonoma, is one of the rising talents of the California wine scene and his wines are all stunning, especially his Syrah bottlings and this one too. Rasmussen explains his “Fred’s Home Block” old vine Del Barba Mourvèdre is from a small parcel of vines planted back in the 1880s in Oakley on the classic delta sand. The vineyard, as he adds, was for many years a core piece of the Bonny Doon Cigare Volant, plus Randall Grahm’s Old Telegram (Mourvedre) and for good reason, as the wines were incredible, that I agree with having being a fan of those wines for a long time. Cody notes that these vines are planted on the eastern edge of the Oakley Sands just three miles east of the famed Evangelho Vineyard, which he knows well as it is now owned by Twain-Peterson and is one of the top sites used in their Bedrock lineup as well as providing Rasmussen with some awesome Carignane. Rasmussen is finding some great vineyard sites to make wine from, all done in tiny lots and with extreme care to provide quality and site expression, which this wine shows, this is top notch and a fun filled offering.

The 2018 vintage is bursting with energy and dark fruits with lovely purple/garnet color in the glass and has an array of spices and light mineral tones, showing a Bandol like character, but with smooth California textures and warmth. The Experimental Series No. 2 Fred’s Home Block delivers expressive red vine berries, bright, but sweet cherry, dusty plum and tangy currant jam along with earthy notes, savory elements, that mentioned spicy edge and wild herbs, adding faint leather, dried flowers, anise and cedar when this awesome Mourvedre opens up. Rasmussen continues to be inspired in his winemaking practices by the old world, but is very precise and clean in his methods, employing what he’s learned over the last few vintages, this wine was fermented with 30% whole cluster for 30 days in tank, which is close to twice as long as some of his other wines and then the Fred’s Home Block was raised in a single neutral French oak 600L barrel. This Mourvedre really captivates in the mouth and provides tons of pleasure, in joins some very intriguing versions of this grape, like Ian Brand’s Enz Vineyard and Dirty and Rowdy’s many examples, and this Desire Lines Wine Co. expression is wonderful with food, especially rustic country dishes. There’s a lot of value and thrills in Rasmussen’s latest stuff, I highly recommend joining their mailing list and take advantage of getting some of these limited releases.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 David Arthur Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Three Acre, Pritchard Hill, Napa Valley.
One of the elite Napa Cabs, the David Arthur Three Acre, comes from the best estate vines up on the very fashionable Pritchard Hill, an area known for the highest quality of the grapes and this 2016 is absolutely thrilling in style and substance, with incredible depth of fruit and purity of its dark and rich flavors. David Long the founder of David Arthur Vineyards has a lengthy history in Napa, starting with his dad who was savvy enough to collect a series of land parcels, including the expansive property overlooking Lake Hennessy in the hills on the eastern side of the famous Napa Valley not far from Chappellet, one of the pioneers of this special terroir. The Long family started visiting the Napa Valley in the 1950’s, and according to the winery, Don Long, a butcher by trade who owned a small grocery store in Portola Valley, near Stanford University and had long been interested in the California wine country and the wine scene had a keen eye for business opportunities, he began steadily investing in Napa Valley real estate. All of this led to the acquisition of nearly 1,000 acres of prime virgin land for vines atop of the noted Pritchard Hill in St. Helena. The 2016 Three Acre shows fabulous black currant, plum, blackberry and blueberry fruits as well as minty, menthol, anise, sandalwood, smoky vanilla, sweet lilacs, a touch of loam, red spices and iron, it really floods the full bodied palate with thick chocolatey smoothness, while retaining an inner energy and focused detail, very impressive for a wine of this heft and grip.

The David Arthur wines are now crafted by Nile Zacherle, a Marin native and a UC Davis grad, Nile, Long notes, has built a career producing award-winning wines from both Burgundian and Bordeaux varietals and has given the recent wines a more gentle and elegant profile, which really enhances the character and nature of the grapes that go into these wines, especially this 2016 Three Acre, which is a fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon. Zacherle has added an extra dimension to David Arthur Vineyards and he continues to push quality through focused attention on the volcanic based soils, organic viticultural management and a minimalist approach in the cellar, all of which remind me of some of the world’s best, in particular wines like Chateau Pontet-Canet in Pauillac and Celia Welch’s Corra, one of my personal favorites. This limited special Cabernet Sauvignon Three Acre, which is a blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, using clone 337, 16% Petit Verdot and 8% Cabernet Franc which was grown at higher elevation and has a bit longer hang time allowing for more intensity and grip as well as the ripe black fruits on display. This is a luxurious Cabernet Sauvignon, no question it is dense and saw almost 90% new French oak, but it is handling it all with grace and feels well structured, even at close to 15% natural alcohol it has sense of refinement and it really gets into its groove with prime rib, flank steak and robust cuisine. This is stuff that looks like it will have a long window of drinking, maybe two decades or more, if you have it, I think another 3 to 5 years will bring even more rewarding experiences.
($130-156 Est.) 94-96 Points, grapelive

2017 Weingut Leitz, Riesling Spatlese, Rüdesheimer Magdalenenkreuz, Rheingau Germany.
One of the classics from Leitz, the Magdalenenkreuz Spatlese is wonderfully expressive and full of flavor, 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. Johannes Leitz nicknamed this wine Maggie and it has always been a traditional favorite of his and mine, especially when having hot spicy dishes and or Thai curries. Here east of the village of Rüdesheim the soils are comprised of sandy loam, loess and with much less slate than down Rhein, and the climate here makes the wines fatter, I mean richer in feel and fruity, and it is ideal for a riper expression of Riesling. The Maggie is always textural, opulent and forward, but very refined and light on its feet, more like a Kabinett in feel, while still having complex layering and structural extract. This wine matched up perfectly with orange chicken, hot Asian mustard dipped BBQ pork and Singapore style curry noodles with spicy prawns!

The very pleasing, generous, pineapple laced and peachy 2017 Rüdesheimer Magdalenenkreuz Spatlese, from a warm vintage, has lots of concentration highlighted by its residual sugar creaminess, rather than outright sweetness. Leitz’s traditional Spatlese, only 8% alcohol, shows a nice medium bodied palate of tangerine, apricot, juicy apple, quince, lemon peel and tropical/exotic fruits along with a touch of gingery spice, mineral notes, stoniness and rosewater. This pale and youthful Riesling is filling, but also refreshing with plenty lively acidity to balance it out, it is in fact very elegant and is very respectful of many food choices from briny dishes to BBQ pork, as well as hot and spicy Chinese dishes, where the sugar and low alcohol really is appreciated, and cleanses the attack of heat. This is excellent stuff, precision made with 100% stainless steel and it is a pure terroir influenced wine of ultra transparency that should drink fantastical well for a decade or longer.
($29 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2017 Bodegas y Vinedos Raul Perez, Ultreia, Mencia, Saint Jacques, Valtuille de Abajo, Bierzo DO, Spain.
The awesomely priced Ultreia Saint Jacques Bierzo Mencia based red from the famed Raul Perez is a deep and full flavored wine with lovely balance and energy that shows off its old vine concentration and clay based soil terroir. This multi vineyard field blend style red from Bierzo’s Valtuille zone comes from vineyard plots ranging in age from 80 to 120 years old shows Mencia in a richer form than say the Ribeira Sacra, but the small bit of Bastardo (believed to be Trousseau) and Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet) plus lots whole bunches keeps things well balanced and the fruit is contrasted by a light earthiness, savory notes, spice and mineral elements. This 2017 is ripe and dark fruited with bright blackberry, plum, currant and black cherry layers as well as snappy herbal notes, cedar and cinnamon all flowing in a rush of vivid flavors and authentic character. The vines, for all of Perez’s lineup are all organic, and for this one, were all hand tended and harvested with the oldest being from plants that date back to 1900 and the youngest from 1940, making for a wonderful regional expression of varietal character and a wine with a proud sense of place and being, it is also a fantastic gateway into Raul’s brilliant set of vinous glories.

As mentioned here and across the world of wine, Raul Perez is a grand master of Mencia and the godfather of the Bierzo region with a huge impact on how this wine is seen, clearly defining what it is and should be. His influence and mentorship has launched a whole generation of Spanish winemakers with at least a dozen or more being on their way to super stardom, as well as progressing with his own collection of wines. This Ulteia Saint Jacques is one of Perez’s entry level bottlings, but you’d be hard pressed to find anything lacking here, though his upper end cru stuff is out of this world. The Saint Jacques was about 80% whole cluster and fermented with indigenous yeasts in large wooden vats with maceration(s) lasting between two and five months, which is a long cool period, which adds to the dimension in this beautiful Tinto. The wine, after primary is then rack to an assortment of vessels to age with a combination of French casks including 225L, 500L, foudre and with some of the wine seeing its elevage in cement cuve, after which the Saint Jacques was bottled unfined and unfiltered to preserve every nuance and show the purity of this wine’s personality. I love this fresh and easy to drink young red, well I love all of Raul’s wines, but this one delivers so much for the price it is impossible to resist, drink with simple country dishes, hard cheeses and or BBQ. It’s hard to imagine a better deal on such quality old vine, medium bodied stuff!
($20 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2012 Weingut Heymann-Löwenstein, Riesling, Uhlen L, Terrior Laubach, VDP Grosse Lage, Mosel Germany.
Though the Heymann-Löwenstein, based in Winningen on the famous Mosel River in Germany, is relatively new, Reinhard Löwenstein’s family have been growing grapes in the Mosel from 1520 and the winery is now well regarded and known for the wines exceptional quality, with a focus on the denser and drier style of Riesling. Reinhard and his wife Cornelia Heymann launched Weingut Heymann-Löwenstein back in 1980 with a collection of plots on the difficult-to-farm steep slate terraces in the prestigious crus of Winninigen in the Uhlen Grand Cru, with some prime parcels like Roth Lay set on Iron-bearing red slate and Laubach, where this wine comes from that has a calcareous overlay with a base of grey slate soils. Heymann-Löwenstein is also all about sustainable practices and is now all biodynamic, this and with the traditional methods used in the cellars make these wines natural and full of terroir purity, as this sexy 2012 Uhlen L shows. Now, this wine is not labeled a Grosses Gewachs or GG, but it in fact is and you’ll see it called as much with more recent vintages getting the famous GG marketing. The profile is lush, but still with the classic energy from natural acidity along with the striking mineral intensity with crisp citrus, peach, quince and apricot fruits all with an orange like character as well as flinty wet stone, saline, chamomile, gingery spices, liquid flowers/rosewater and a touch of tropical elements. This wine really excels in the glass and is ever changing with each sip, gaining a regal like elegance in texture and refinement, this is brilliant and heady stuff.

The Heymann-Löwenstein wines are as per normal here 100% hand tended and harvested and Reinhard and his family ferment their Riesling in historical fashion slowly with natural yeasts or “sponti” until they reach a point of balanced dryness, as he puts it through a harmonious integration of sugar and acidity that once characterized the famous Mosel Rieslings of the 19th century, when they were the most valuable wines in the world. Löwenstein adds, that his grapes are harvested late in the season, often with between 10-20% botrytis-infected (noble rot) clusters, and treated to extended lees contact, usually in the traditional Mosel fuder 2400L German oak, as this wine saw or smaller 1000-liter casks, all of which give the wines a fuller bodied feel and richness with a degree of honey tones. The Uhlen L Riesling also saw a fermentation with 12 hours of maceration on the skins and was aged a total of 10 months in the used wood, again this style is somewhat unique and this wine is a stand out bottle, in fact with the attention to detail here, every vintage is fabulous, especially years like 2012, one of my favorites, but be sure to look for 2015 and 2016 too, and I can’t wait to try the 2018s! It was a pleasure to once have tasted with Löwenstein when Reinhard visited San Francisco on a trade tasting tour of the state and his lineup absolutely thrilled me with the stunning flavors achieved and the class throughout the lineup from his base Slate Terraces or Schiefertarressen to the stunning set of small lot Grosse Lagen bottlings, so it was great to revisit this 2012 Uhlen L, sourced from vines that average 55 years old, and see its form is still getting even better with secondary expression now showing!
($60 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Filomena Wine Company, St. Laurent, Ricci Vineyards, Carneros.
Morgan Twain-Peterson MW is not only turning out amazing wines at his Bedrock Wine Co. in Sonoma, he is also turning out to a launching pad for great young winemakers, like Cody Rasmussen who’s Desire Lines Wine Co. made a huge splash last year and now Luke Nio and this Filomena Wine Co. label, which looks set to be one of this years big hits, especially after trying his latest offering, this beautiful and intriguing St. Laurent. This wine made from this rare Austrian red grape was sourced from the Ricci Vineyard in the clay based soils of Carneros that allow loads of expressive fruit to flow on the medium bodied palate and the cool marine climate keeps a nice freshness and detail to shine here, making for a dark and flavorful wine with smooth tannins and a supple mouth feel with delicate spice, earth and mineral notes. Led by a deep purple/ruby color and a seductive nose of florals and crushed vine berries the Filomena St. Laurent flows with blackberry, mulberry, plum, candied sour cherry and tart blueberry fruits along with black olive, a faint bell pepper, cedar and minty herbs, all of these layers and light elements give this wine a profile somewhere between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, but with a expressive carbonic openess that is like Gamay and or Barbera, it’s a brilliant example of this grape and a wildly fun wine. This tasty stuff with go great with loots of foods and can be slightly chilled like a Cru Beaujolais, but is serious and structured too allowing it to stand out for its personality and quality, this is a new winery to watch, with this wine being a great value too, Luke also does a powerful Syrah from Griffin’s Lair Vineyard, which I’ll write about soon.

Nio has really crafted a super little wine here using about 50% whole cluster and the mentioned carbonic maceration, with a natural indigenous yeast fermentation in tank which allows this wine to deliver its forward and vibrant fruity quality, while staying dry, fresh and tangy with a light stemmy crunch. The Filomena Wine Co. St. Laurent was then aged, as Nio notes, half in a stainless steel barrel and half in a neutral 400L French oak puncheon for 9 months before going to his bottles. When you think of cool and alternative grapes you now have another one to check out, this wine joins the likes of Arnot-Roberts Trousseau, Martha Stoumen’s Nero d’Avola, Sheldon Wines’ Graciano, Sandland’s Cinsault, Russell Joyce’s Gamay, Michael Cruse’s Tannat (note he also does a St. Laurent sparkler from this vineyard), Jaimee Motely’s Mondeuse and Pax Mahle’s Mission (Pais) to name a few. St. Laurent, the third most popular varietal in Austria plus also found in the Czech Republic and Germany is one of the parent grapes along with Blaufrankisch of Zweigelt. The St. Laurent which is planted widely in Austria, but is hard to find a stand out version and especially in recent years has taken a backseat to the more serious Blaufrankisch (also known as Lemberger in Germany and interestingly in Washington State), but St. Laurent looks to have a new champion here with Nio, and this wine is absolutely delicious. As noted, St. Laurent also known as in German as Sankt Laurent is a highly aromatic dark-skinned wine grape variety and while Its origins are somewhat mysterious, it is believed to have resulted from a (maybe natural?) crossing of Pinot noir with an unknown second parent grape. There’s not much of Filomena’s St. Laurent, so be sure to get on their mailing list and get their latest releases as soon as you can!
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2015 Core by Montevetrano, Aglianico IGT, Campania, Italy.
One of Italy’s iconic wines of the south, Montevertrano is a singular and towering red wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and the native Aglianico grapes and crafted under the supervision of Riccardo Cotarella, one of the most influential winemakers in the world, tasting this wine is always a treat, and while the top wine is spectacular they also make a stylish and rewarding value priced second wine called the Core by Montevertrano. The owner of the estate is Silva Imparato, she started with vines as a hobby, but quickly saw the quality and potential here, and founded the winery in 1985 in the hills near the commune of San Cipriano Picentino, not far from Salerno. Mountains surround the property, which includes a beautiful ancient Villa, a modern cellar, that built in 2000 with the vineyards situated on gentle slopes facing south and southwest making for a perfect setting to produce great wines. The lighter more local tasting Core collection includes a Greco based Bianco as well as this tasty and expressive Aglianico based red, these are a wonderful way to get glimpse of the soul of the place and of course to Montevetrano.

The 100% Aglianico 2015 Core IGT Rosso, which is pronounced Kor-Ay in Italian is local dialect for “heart” hence the label art, designed by Silvia’s daughter and used to evoke the love of life, that the winery calls the spirit of Montevetrano. Core is sourced, as Cotarella notes, from particular experimental Aglianico plots on the estate in San Cipriano as well as selected outside growers in the classical Benevento area and the wine is fermented in all stainless steel with a gentle maceration and primary fermentation lasting about 15 days with daily punchdowns, pump-overs and racking before being put into small French oak Bordeaux style barriques for just about 4 months to soften tannins, but allow vivid freshness, which this wine clearly shows. The quality and personality of the Core lineup is especially rewarding for the price and this 2015 is drinking really well with vibrant dusty red fruits like spiced raspberry, plum, currant and candied orange as well as savory notes of meat/iron, leather and a mix of floral and kirsch notes along with licorice and cedar. This chewy and flavorful Core red goes great with country style cuisine and robust Mediterranean dishes.
($22 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 Comando G Viticultores, Rozas 1er Cru, Vino de Paraje, Sierra de Gredos, Vinos de Madrid D.O., Spain.
The Rozas Premier Cru is one of the world’s great Grenache wines, and most likely one you haven’t heard of, hand crafted by the talented duo of Daniel Landi and Fernando Garcia, who have been friends since their school days and have other successful projects, with Landi already being a superstar, they formed Camando G in 2008 to work together and the results are absolutely stunning, as this 2017 vintage shows! This region of Spain in the mountains above Madrid, in the Sierra de Gredos is a special terroir that in recent years has broke out and become a Garnacha hot spot that rivals the world’s great sites for this grape, these wines show high elevation elegance and detail, but with old vine concentration and amazing aromatics as well as length in authentic style wines that are mostly made with organic grapes and indigenous yeasts, in a natural fashion that highlights the exceptional purity, as these Comando G offerings display to almost perfection. The 2017 is wonderfully expressive with buoyant fruit, spice, delicate earthy/stony notes and a sweet floral bouquet, this stuff is Garnacha for Grenache lovers, it gives the same thrill as when you get a chance to try Chateau Rayas or one of Louis Barruol’s single cru Gigondas!

Comando G’s Rozas 1er Cru, with layers of brambly raspberry, candied cherry, plum and pomegranate fruits along with a burst of licorice, garrique like lavender, dusty earth, fine pepper and seeped roses, plus chalky notes as well as hint of cedar, is joyous on the full bodied, but lively rich/satiny palate, all of which make this Garnacha irresistible and sultry. Landi and Garcia used a few set of vines averaging 50 to 60 years old for this one, all biodynamic and set on sandy granite soils at almost 900 meters up near the small village of Rozas de Puerto Real. The Rozas 1er Cru saw a native fermentation with some whole cluster in large open top wood vats with gentle pilage and then the Garnacha was aged about a year in mainly seasoned 30 to 40 HL French cask. The winemaking, which can be described as hands off, but with great attention to quality allows this wine to shows a graceful textural side along with a mineral character that is more in line with Burgundy than you’d expect though with a glorious Grenache flavor profile. The Sierra de Gedos makes you work for this level of quality, as the winery notes, the viticulture in this part of Spain is ancient and tenacious, only suited to adventurous, with small plots planted in the most impossible places, including rockfalls and natural amphitheaters high up in the most remote parts of these mountains, and we are grateful for that seriously hard work. This wine has ages of time left, but gorgeous now, do not miss it and all of the Comando G bottlings!
($50 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

2017 Jim Barry, Watervale Riesling, Clare Valley, South Australia.
The crisp, bright and fresh dry Watervale Riesling by Jim Barry Wines is one of the great values in white wines and for those of us that are Riesling freaks will enjoy stocking up on this for the warm Summer months ahead. The tiny village of Watervale is nestled in South Australia’s Clare Valley and is internationally renowned for the quality of its Rieslings which along with Eden have long been places in Oz to search out for this grape. The Barry family has shown a long history of making tasty dry Riesling, as they proudly note, they have consistently been awarded prizes for its quality ever since its first release in 1974. The, as the winery adds, Watervale Riesling is picked from select parcels of vines that achieve ripeness with naturally high acid levels that gives this wine its balance, finest and lightness of feel, while still being flavorful and having true varietal character. The Barry family started their famous winery in 1959 and world renown for their Shiraz wines with the young Tom Barry continuing the tradition taking over from his famous father Peter Barry (son of founder Jim), who brought this small producer such fame with his trade mark Armagh Shiraz, an iconic Australian wine.

The 2017 is drinking lovely with brisk acidity still pumping, but secondary notes starting to emerge with touches of earth, flinty stoniness and a whiff of petrol adding to the vibrant lime and white peach fruits as well as touches of green melon, mint and verbena. The Watervale Riesling is easy to drink and with only a faint trace of classic Clare oiliness and its saline and tangy personality makes it lovely refreshing and great with warm evenings, afternoons and foods fresh from the sea, going great with oysters, mussels and claims. The rocky loamy soils here make the roots dig through cracks to get moisture and help concentrate the grapes making the Clare, which has been known for wine since 1851, a special terroir and its elevation and either help create perfect conditions for both Riesling and Syrah. The Watervale Riesling is just a killer bargain, it delivers purity and personality of a wine twice the price, it joins Alsace’s Kuentz Bas and Leitz’s Dragonstone as top picks for the price. The Jim Barry winery also does an upper end version too, the Lodge Hill Riesling, which is a thrilling version of steely and intense Riesling joining Pewsey Vale, Grosset, Henschke and Jasper Hill to name a few elite examples of Oz Riesling.
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2016 Kellerei Cantina Terlan, Pinot Bianco, Vorberg Riserva, Alto Adige – Terlano DOC, Italy.
The richly textured and deeply flavored Vorberg Riserva from the 2016 vintage, a ripe and highly regarded year, is a special Pinot Blanc that shows this grape in its best possible form, rivaling anything from anywhere in terms of quality and character with an array of citrus and stone fruits, delicate spices, light floral notes and leesy mouthfeel. The Terlan/Terlano winery, one of my favorite Alto Adige producers, especially for white wines like this one, but also they make one of the finest Sauvignon Blancs in the world and many others, was founded back in 1893 in this mainly German speaking region of Italian’s far north Dolomite Mountains, an area known as the South Tyrol, connected to Austria by traditions and culture. Terlan/Terlano is a cooperative in function with some 143 small artisan growers providing grapes with a total focus on high quality over quantity, pushing for organics and sustainable practices, and their track record on wines is legendary, and these wines are amazingly age worthy bottlings, I have on many occasions tasted 20 to 30 year old whites, in particular their Chardonnay, that were incredible and exceptionally fresh. Most of the vines used by Terlan/Terlano are on red porphyry, the stone that gives the wines in the area their typical character and a dusting of sand and a thin top soil, which allows a striking minerallity and a crystalline personality, along with south facing exposures that give lots of sunshine in this Alpine and pristine high elevation zone.

The golden Vorberg Riserva is full bodied and quite lush with classic honey pear, granny smith apples, tangy white peach, especially the soft flesh, quince and the racy lemony citrus fruits along with a touch of creamy brioche, almond and wet stones, as well as herb tea and the mentioned mineral essences. This well rounded, almost white Burgundy like, Pinot Blanc was vinified using only hand picked grapes, then gently whole cluster pressed and with a lengthy settling or clarification of the must by natural gravity. The slow and cool primary fermentation in unique temperature controlled big oak barrels before, as the winery notes, the wine is racked over for malolactic fermentation and aging on the lees in traditional wooden barrels for 12 months. This 100% Pinot Bianco/Pinot Blanc is a stylish and luxurious offering that highlights the terroir and the dramatic picturesque place that is the Alto Adige, very much in line with the great bottlings found at Terlano. These whites go wonderfully with the local cuisine of course, but can be really enjoyed with our California inspired dishes too, including the seafoods available as well as butter and herb roasted chicken and fresh greens, plus it can even handle artichokes, which is of importance to me in my area known for these tasty flowers. Terlan/Terlano does some fantastic stuff, so please take time to discover some of their more rare ones, look for their Quarz (Sauvignon Blanc), the Kreuth (Chardonnay), the Lunare (Gewürztraminer), plus the two blended cuvees Nova Domus and Terlaner, both of which are outrageously good!
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 G.D. Vajra, Dolcetto d’Alba “Coste & Fossati” Piedmonte, Italy.
The dark and fruit filled 2017 G.D. Vajra Coste & Fossati Dolcetto is a delicious wine, we are far from the days when Dolcetto was consider a rough peasant wine, especially when planted in Cru sites and hand crafted by a hugely talented winemaker like Giuseppe Vajra, and this vintage shows remarkably well in the glass with sharp fresh detail, depth of flavors and all without being a loud or flashy wine. There is a bright intensity and it goes fabulous with rustic and or simple country cuisine, it has plenty of fruit and vibrant acidity to form an exciting structure and its deep purple/garnet color is very inviting and sets up the senses for the joy to come. The nose brings a bouquet of cut violets, wild herbs and crushed blackberries which leads to a medium bodied palate that flows seamlessly with briar laced vine berry, plum, black currant and tangy cranberry with vivid accents of anise, mineral, spearmint, amaro/herbs and kirsch. The tannins are mild, letting the Vajra Coste & Fossati Dolcetto d’Alba be enjoyed anytime and any place and faint earthy elements add a layer of soulful personality in this very fine and balanced Italian red. I love this version of Dolcetto, a varietal that I have a special soft spot for, the very first case of wine I ever bought was a box of Dolcetto d’Alba, which I loved with family meals and enjoyed at beach parties and picnics. One night, at a traditional old school family trattoria, I was introduced to Dolcetto with a mix of homemade pasta, sausages, wild mushrooms and many side dishes and it was at that moment I began to understand Italian wine’s purpose and I’ve been a devotee ever since!

Vajra’s Dolcetto d’Alba Coste&Fossati is a collection of antique Dolcetto clones that was collected and cultivated by Giuseppe’s father Aldo Vajra between 1979 and 1985, after care selections were identified the best cuttings were grafted in two of the estate’s great Barolo vineyards, Coste di Vergne and Fossati, where these vines thrived and produce an exceptional example of this classic Piedmonte grape. Aldo was ahead of his time, he started farming holistically back in 1971 making his winery sustainably certified very early on and has be fully organic certified since 2019. The Crus where this wine is sourced are set on Barolo’s white Marl, limestone and clay soils with a smattering of sandy topsoil and interestingly, Vajra’s blocks are at high elevation and later pick dates are common adding to the development of flavors, while the cool nights keep loads of vital acidity. To show this wine in its purest form the fermentation and aging happens exclusively in stainless steel, with a vinification lasting 15-20 days in custom upright vats designed for Vajra, at free, but cool temperatures with gentle punch-downs and pump-overs to rinse the cap. Vajra then let the Dolcetto go through spontaneous malolactic fermentation and the wine was allowed the wine rest for 7 or 8 months before bottling. The current collection of Vajra’s wines are all outstanding with some noticeable stand outs, including the set of Barolo offerings from 2015 and their awesome dry Riesling, one of the best in Italy, but don’t miss the more value priced stuff with the Langhe Nebbiolo and this one being top tasty choices to stock up on!
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2017 Morgan Winery, Pinot Noir, Rosella’s Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
One of the best wines from the Santa Lucia Highlands in the vintage, the 2017 Morgan Rosella’s Pinot is really showing fantastic right now with great detail and expressive aromatics delivering beautiful fruit, floral tones and perfectly judged ripeness and oak treatment, this is gorgeous Pinot Noir from one of the great cru sites in the region. This limited single vineyard wine is going to be tough to get, but well worth searching for and I suggest begging the winery for some and or get on their list, as their 2018 should be even better! The estate Rosella’s Vineyard, owned by Gary Franscioni and named for his wife Rosella, and is beside the family home, is in the cool part of the Santa Lucia Highlands with a blast of cold Pacific Ocean air flowing through the vines here, which are set on the classic sandy loamy soils and farmed with exceptional care and with green practices in partnership with the Pisoni family. Dan Lee has a special set of these vines available to him and this wine is always a treat in Morgan’s lineup, especially now, since Lee brought in winemaker Sam Smith, who’s really been a lift to this classic Monterey label.

Along with the sister wine from the Garys’ Vineyard, the 2017 Rosella’s enjoyed a gentle and fermentation using traditional methods and this vintage saw about 50% new oak that adds a nice toasty/smoky accent to this dark fruited Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot. This version of Morgan’s Rosella’s spent about a year in barrel to refine the tannin and acid structure, while still allowing the wine to show a fresh balance and it has restrained natural alcohol making for a graceful and deep expression of place. The nose shows subtle wood and vivid flowery notes and dark berries that leads to the medium full palate of black cherry, raspberry, plum and currant fruits along with bramble and briar spice, a touch mineral, vanilla and orange tea. The textural quality is one of the highlights here and the vivid life force of the fruit, it has a burst of vivacious character that make it unique, it feels less dense than the Garys’ and yet it has a soft power that will allow it to shine for years and years. There is a lot to be excited about in the newest releases from Morgan, I wouldn’t miss any of their 2018s, in particular check out their organic estate Double L Vineyard collection and the single clone selections, these wines are out of the this world with the Chardonnay Clone 96 being outrageously delicious!
($65 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2006 Weingut Georg Breuer, Riesling, Rauentaller Nonnenberg “Monopol” Rheingau Germany.
I have grateful memories of trying this wine, the golden Breuer 2006 Nonnenberg dry Riesling, while visiting Rudesheim in 2009 and it was awesome to re-try it recently with an incredible panel of Rheingau wines and it has really held up and excelled in the years in between then and now with a full depth of complex and secondary character showing now. In the last few years Theresa Breuer has been turning out some amazing wines, these later offerings have taken on a real natural and authentic appeal with lovely detailing and highlight her individual parcels and unique vineyard sites, like this one from the Rauentaller, a historic growing site that was brought back to the spotlight by the Georg Breuer winery, almost alone, it is a unique place in the Rheingau, as Terry These, one of the world’s most respected Riesling gurus, tells it, this commune is ground-zero for Rheingau underachieving, sadly, as it shows fantastic potential and can achieve greatness as this wine proves! The 2006 has entered full maturity and delivers smooth texture and has intriguing layers of apricot, seeped rose petals, persimmon, kumquat and peach tart along with lemony tones adding mineral notes, chamomile and verbena. There’s still a kick of saltiness, wet stones and gripping extract with just a faint hint of honey in a pure Riesling that keeps your attention in glass, it looks about right for its age and its mature character makes it wonderfully elegant at this stage and tasty with classic German foods, especially hams. Theresa Breuer, keeps things simple in the winemaking, her fermentations are natural or started with pied de cuve, using traditional elevage in large used barrels for the top wines, like this one, which shows exceptional quality and transparency. Any trip to Rudesheim, which I say is a must for wine lovers, must include a visit to Weingut Georg Breuer in the old town, there is always a special treat in store for you.

The sex appeal of Breuer’s wines are their amazing vineyard sites with a majority of the holdings located in the three greatest Grand Crus in Rüdesheim – Berg Schlossberg, Berg Roseneck and Berg Rottland, which are mostly slate driven and this Monopole (Monopol in German) site, Nonnenberg in Rauenthal, which is very different from the Rudesheimer Berg with a less dramatic view and slope over the Rhein, but with its own magic and prime hillside setting set on quartzite and schist soils. This area was part of the collection used by the famous Kloster Eberbach, the historic monastery that helped define quality Riesling under the church that was guardian of German wine for hundreds of years prior to secular rule. Teresa took over from her father, Bernhard Breuer, who, as the winery notes, was one of the key members of Charta, an organization formed to promote a drier style of Rheingau wine. Bernhard was a huge proponent of this style of wine, and believed that the Rheingau was perfectly suited to producing very fine, elegant and flavorful dry Reislings, which is obviously true, especially today as you can see in his daughters wines, as well as those of Kunstler, Leitz, Spreitzer and others. Bernhard was also a strong advocate for a vineyard classification system based on geology, historical precedent and quality of wines and was a visionary in believing in the Rauentaller and in particular the Cru Monopol Nonnenberg, which he brought into the wineries portfolio. Theresa Breuer has led an organic movement in the Rheingau and all of her vineyards are farmed organic, she runs the estate with her uncle Heinrich as well as longtime manager and icon in the region, Hermann Schmoranz and her Swedish cellar master Markus Lunden, making a tight crew of passionate persons that are committed to producing wines of place and purity, these are wines to search out. If you can find Theresa’s Rieslings with some age, all the better, but grab 2015, 2016 and 2017 versions, especially her Schlossberg and this Nonnenberg, all of which are fabulous and age worthy wines.
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive Reviews – April, 2020

2017 Halcon Vineyards, Mourvèdre, Halcon Estate Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
The unbelievable and thrilling dark and spicy Halcon 100% Mourvèdre , which Paul Gordon crafted from his own tiny parcel at the Halcon Estate at 2,500 feet up above Mendocino’s Yorkville Highlands, one of California’s most dramatic terroirs, makes for an exceptional and extreme example of this grape. These conditions with the elevation and cool long growing season make for a big challenge for Gordon, known for his fantastic Syrah, who says – at times it feels like he and wife Jackie have to spend more time nurturing the one acre of Mourvèdre than the rest of our 15 acres combined! Mourvèdre ripens very late, but seems to thrive on the meager topsoil over the broken shales and schist allowing transparent flavors, slightly lower natural alcohol with this vintage coming in at just 12.5%, plus it shows delicate floral notes and mineral tones. This 2017, a warm year, gave Gordon some fabulous fruit and he made the most of that gift from nature with this limited bottling of Mourvèdre that shows loads of black fruit, whole bunch crunch, peppercorns, violets and a light gamy note led by blackberry, black cherry, mulberry and plum preserves along with tangy herbal essences, sandalwood and grilled fennel. This medium to full bodied and with fresh acidity along with fairly firm, but fine grained tannins, it is a wine very much in the house style, so those like me that love their Syrah will be wonderfully excited by this northern Rhone style (unique for Mourvèdre) wine, which is more Cornas in style, rather than Bandol, maybe the greatest region for this grape.

The Mourvèdre vines here are maybe some of the rarest, in this location, being what could be the coldest area with this varietal in the world, with Halcon’s temperatures, as Paul notes, closely matching what Ampuis or Côte Rôtie historically sees in average, meaning that these vines are on the very edge of ripeness for Mourvèdre, which means lots of tender love and care or hard work! In order to ensure fruit maturity the Gordon’s prune their Mourvèdre rows back to 3-4 spurs per plant, which leads to just eight or so clusters per individual vine. That said, in 2017, yields were such that Halcon was able to do a single varietal bottling, and it turned out fantastic. Usually all the Mourvèdre goes into their GSM Esquisto, which has a ratio of close to 20% Mourvèdre in the blend. The 100% Mourvèdre, came in at 22.1 brix and was picked in mid October, early for Halcon, which can see November pick dates. Gordon used a healthy 50% whole-cluster fermentation with good extraction and what was a high level of stem inclusion for Mourvèdre, which shows in the wine’s dynamic and vivacious personality, texture and an earthy/leathery edginess or tension on the intriguing palate. The Halcon Mourvèdre was aged over a year in neutral French 500L puncheons and, like all of Paul’s wines, it was fermented with native yeasts and saw a gentle regime of hand pilage. Just 70 cases were produced, so it will sell out fast, though the 2018 should be available soon, it should be easily as good or better considering the high quality of the vintage, and as I say every time I review one of these wines, it is highly recommended that wine enthusiasts join this mailing list.
($35 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Inspiration, Zinfandel “Ray Zin” Russian River Valley.
The lean and tangy Ray’ Zin from Jon Phillips at Inspiration Vineyards comes from some head trained vines in a slightly cooler zone of the Russian River Valley region in Sonoma County, it is what he calls a claret style Zinfandel with low alcohol and crisp acidity. This reminds me of old school Chianti or maybe more of a lighter Rioja Crianza with its kiss of American oak and zesty raspberry and cherry fruits along with its medium bodied palate and slightly raw personality, which makes it great with pasta, pizza and hard cheeses. There is a tart cranberry, roasted herbs and a smattering of brown spices and peppery note along with a touch of cedar, coconut and toasty vanilla, gaining some floral bouquet with air and lingering red currant. There is some potential gains in texture and tannin roundness with time in bottle in this very limited bottling, with only 25 cases made and at 12.7% natural alcohol it offers a more easy drinking personality than the more powerful and full bodied versions of Zinfandel, like Phillip’s Dry Creek Valley Gallaway bottling, which is a full throttle style.

This 2018 Ray Zin, helped by the cool long growing season is pearly and dust with a vivid ruby color was produced to be more like some wines made in the past like the 1970s Zins of Joseph Swan or the like that rarely saw alcohol above 12% and aged well, but were a bit rough and chewy, needing time and air along with food to show their best. This Zinfandel has a bitter green edgy side that surely benefits matching it with savory foods and especially protein, it is nicer with BBQ and a slight chill that transforms it into a more friendly quaffer. Inspiration has turned up the quality and variety in their offerings and the new artist labels are striking as well, making a winery that was under the radar and somewhat unnoticed a more colorful presence, there is also a more authentic and natural feel to the wines. I recommend trying the new stuff, in particular I would lead you to their new Grenache, Syrah and Cabernet, along with the latest Pinot Noir, all of which impress for value and expressive details.
($25 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive

2017 Envínate, Migan Tinto, Listan Negro, Vinos Atlanticos, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.
The Envínate wines come from mostly Atlantic influenced sites from the Canary Islands to Galicia plus a couple of remote sites within Spain including Almansa, all crafted by winemakers Roberto Santana, Alfonso Torrente, Laura Ramos, and José Martínez, who all met while at college and vowed they would someday work together and pay tribute to their home regions. The wines are some of the most exciting in Spain, especially their Tenerife grown offerings like this stunning Migan cuvee that is sourced from two very old parcels, with between 90 and 120 years of age, of “cordon trenzado” or braided vines on high elevation sites on volcanic soils. The vines follow the slope of the ancient volcano, braided to keep them close to the ground to keep them from being battered by wind and helping them retain and collect moisture in this unique terroir on these islands of the western coast of Africa. I have been following Roberto Santana’s wines for a long time and his efforts have almost impressed me, I love these wines, especially his Listan Negro based bottlings, a grape that is part of set of what we call the Mission grape(s) and mostly found here in the Canary Islands where it was planted by those making the journey to the new world sometime between the 1500s and 1700s at a time when Spain was colonizing the west coast of the Americas with Catholic missionaries needing European vines to make sacrament wines. The Listan Negro grape is wonderfully dry and spicy with the ability to really transmit terroir with transparent purity, as this Envinate Migan does showing the volcanic mineral essence throughout, its a varietal that has a lighter sense of being and can be as elegant as Pinot Noir, again this Migan has this exceptional quality and complexity.

The 2017 Migan is beautifully smooth, but racy with vivid acidity and with delicate earthiness along with its exotic array of spices that thrill the palate which is just medium bodied and restrained in natural alcohol, it is layered with tangy red fruits including dusty plum, strawberry, tart cherry and blood orange that are contrasted by red pepper flakes, leather, anise and faint cedar notes. Everything here is silken and textural gaining sweet floral tones, hints of iron, delicate earthiness and lingering dried rose petals, grilled herbs and red currants making for a stylish and natural feeling wine. According to Envinate and Santana, the Migan, made from 100% Listan Negro, as noted is sourced from two plots, 60% comes from the La Habanera plot on dark volcanic sand at the highest elevation n the area, and the other 40% coming from their older San Antonio plot, that is much lower on the slope with more clay based soils. All the grapes, which are all organic, were hand-harvested, using traditional fermentation and using very low SO2, each lot was foot-troddened and fermented separately with the La Habanera getting 100% whole cluster, while the San Antonio saw just 15% whole cluster. Envinate employs in large concrete vats for primary fermentation and maceration, then when finished the Migan was racked and gently pressed off into 228 & 600L old French barrels for malolactic and aging, that lasted for 11 months, and then bottled is without fining or filtration. This is a wine that has the class and depth of a Nuits-St.-Georges (Burgundy) with a ruby/garnet hue and elements that resembles Fleurie (Cru Beaujolais) and or Etna Rosso (Nerello Mascalese), the Migan cuvee with 12% alcohol makes for a lovely food wine and as is crisply refreshing, best with a bit of chill, this is a fabulous vintage, one of my favorites to date!
($49 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Morey-Coffinet, Puligny-Montrachet, Le Trézin, White Burgundy, France.
The Domaine Morey-Coffinet, founded by Michel Morey in the 1970s is now run in the by Thibault Morey, Michel’s son, who joined the family business in the late 1990s, and that generational shift has brought more attention to the wines here. It’s noted that Domaine Morey-Coffinet wines have since reached new heights in recent years and while I’ve only known Thibault’s wine, I too have been highly impressed with what I’ve tried and this 2018 Puligny Trézin is a gorgeous and full bodied example of white Burgundy, it is a wine with a serious palate impact and dense layering, in line within vintage, which tend to be on the richer side. According to the winery, almost every week, father and son taste each cuvée together, following all of their wines in cask in their ancient cellar, exchanging opinions and sharing experiences. Importer Martine’s Wines say the shy, soft-spoken Thibault continues to push the quality of his domaine to a whole different level as he grows in confidence and experience crafting expressive, powerful, wonderfully hedonistic wines, all of which certainly shows in this one. The Le Trézin parcel, named after a stream and or spring, is in the famed Puligny-Montrachet, one of the greatest Chardonnay sites in the Côte de Beaune set on clay and limestone with warm and ripe exposure facing southeast.

The surprisingly round and creamy 2018 Maison (non estate vines) Morey-Coffinet, Puligny-Montrachet, from the premium lieu-dix Le Trézin, drinks more like a serious Premier Cru or Grand Cru, such is the depth and impressive mount feel with thick layers of apple, pear, peach and lemon curd fruits along with hints of smoke, brioche, hazelnut, clarified cream and even a bit of creme brûlée along with an underlying wet stone, clove spice and subtle mineral tones. This is a regal Chardonnay with a luxurious presence that makes it stunning with decedent cuisine, I would suggest things like lobster and or crab cakes, plus swordfish as well as soft double or triple cream cheeses. This Morey-Coffinet reminds me of some the first times I was able to sample Meursault, Le Montrachet and Batard-Montrachet from mid to late nineties, which were fatter style versions, like from Bouchard, Drouhin and Leflaive. This wine was fermented and aged 12 months in French oak using about 30% new barrels, with what I think some lees stirring or batonage, considering the texture and leesy character and was bottled unfixed and unfiltered. Now most of the to wines are much more racy and sleek, so while I enjoyed this Puligny very much it is not in the modern lean style, it is absolutely voluptuous, and should be celebrated for its personality, drink now for the next 3 to 5 years.
($75 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Cruse Wine Company, Valdiguie, Rancho Chimiles Vineyard, Napa Valley.
The Cruse Valdiguie is always a tasty treat and the 2017 has a ripe and fruit forward style along with a light to medium body and juicy acidity that make it great Summer porch pounder and fun for any occasions, especially backyard BBQ’s. Cruse does two Valdiguies, one Pet-Nat version and this red version which displays a low alcohol quaffing personality with bright Gamay like dark fruits, a touch of spice, herbs and a delicate floral presence. This 2017, while just 12% natural alcohol, is ripe and smoothly textured at this point at a good spot with black cherry, blueberry, vine picked tangy berry, plum and sugar beet fruits along with distilled violets, light cedar notes and sage/fennel with a touch of grilled orange. Michael Cruse’s Petaluma based winery is a great label to explore making some thrilling values in red wines, but really standing out for his collection of sparkling wines that include an awesome set of Pet-Nats with some exotic grapes, like the mentioned Valdiguie and St. Laurent, a rare for California, Austrian red grape, but also a couple of luxurious Champagne method cuvees, one being his geeky cool grower fizz style Ultramarine Brut which is already a cult classic. Cruse has an intriguing lineup out right now, besides the Valdiguie and bubbly, Michael has a Tannat, a dry Muscat, an interesting Sierra Foothills Chard and his seriously delicious Monkey Jacket red field blend, made from Valdiguie, Syrah and Carignan, it’s not a wine to pass up, trust me!

The 2017 Cruse Wine Company red Valdiguie from Rancho Chimiles is done in a modern natural fashion with whole cluster, and in neutral oak with this vintage being mostly aged in large puncheons, 6 being used, plus a single barrique. Rancho Chimiles, first planted in 1972 by Virginia and Terry Wilson on 10 acres in this area east of Napa to Napa Gamay, a grape later to be known as Valdiguie. One of the oldest ranches in Napa County, Rancho Chimiles is still owned and operated by the Wilson family, it straddles the ridge between Wooden Valley and northern Gordon Valley, and includes bench land in both valleys. This ranch, where these vines are, interestingly is a historical site, with the original land grant being awarded by Governor Pio Pico, the last Governor of Mexican California.The deeply colored red Valdiguie glows with a vivid ruby at the core and drinks so easy it makes for fun evening companion with loads charm, it should be enjoyed slightly chilled, similar to your favorite Cru Beaujolais and with smiles and simple foods. Definitely look the Cruse bubbles, but don’t miss his set of reds either, especially if you like wines by Bric Cellars, Dirty and Rowdy, Martha Stoumen, Sheldon Wines and or Jolie-Laide, as these wines are in that same vein, but not clones. I love Valdiguie and Michael Cruse’s is one of the best, I can’t wait to drink his Sparkling version that he just released as well as his 2018!
($32 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Diatom, Chardonnay, Bar -M Vineyard, Los Alamos Valley, Santa Barbara County.
The crisp light/pale gold no oak Diatom Bar-M Chardonnay by Greg Brewer is beautifully detailed and is a totally unique expression with fresh and vivid white peach and mixed citrus fruits leading the way along with delicate spring blossoms, clove spice, quince paste, wet chalk and sea shore elements. Brewer continues his obsession in Chardonnay purity with his Diatom label, a very singular journey or vision quest, more like a Jules Verne novel and Captain Nemo rather than Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab! There is a zen like quiet to these wines, as all the outside world is hushed, again like being on the Nautilus where all the madness of the world and noise are silenced and the wine reveals itself in the grapes truest form and nature. Brewer, founding winemaker at the legendary Brewer-Clifton and known for Burgundy style Pinot Noir and Chardonnays from cru sites in the Sta. Rita Hills, is one of Santa Barbara’s most respected and influential winemakers, he also crafted the acclaimed wines at Melville and over the years has produced some fabulous stuff. These Diatom wines are no compromise and ultra precise Chardonnays, they are intellectually challenging that try to dig down to the core essence of the varietal and the individual vineyard site, but they are also wines of quality and a pleasure to experience, in particular with raw foods and highly focused ingredients, like hyper fresh sushi and masterfully executed, they deserve that perfection to show themselves at their best. People want to compare these wines to terroir particular wines like Chablis, which I can understand, but you can’t explain them that way, they wines that unto themselves. Each year brings a new revelation and understanding of terroir and of Chardonnay self with these Diatom wines, they are fun and thrilling examples of what is possible.

The Diatom Bar-M Vineyard Chardonnay is sourced, according to Brewer, from a stunning contiguous block of clone 76 Chardonnay planted over 20 years ago in the Los Alamos region of Santa Barbara County set on ancient seabeds. The Los Alamos area is a magnificent and relatively unknown region, where you can find Rhone grapes, like Grenache and Syrah as well as Burgundy grapes in cooler zones, where the sandy loam soil, as Greg adds, lends itself to fruit with a bit more flesh and weight – perfectly suited to the Diatom model. The Innox style fermentation done with his special yeast cultures at very low temperature in small stainless-steel tanks, with inhibited malo-lactic or no malo to promote absolute transparency and freshness. Brewer leaves nothing to chance, using a short hose transit ensure precision and focus in these wines. Diatom is motivated by what Greg calls the pursuit of subtraction and refinement, in his mission to remove the mentioned outside noise or accents other than the grape and place. He likens It to the polishing of a grain of rice until one has reached its ultimate inner core. The Sta. Rita Hills and joining areas continue to inspire him and this marine landscape, in his words, is stark and so are the wines of its provenance. These Diatoms are fascinating efforts with as little disturbance, distraction or interference as possible. I love the 2018 vintage with its amazing mineral and energy driven character, they are weightless, but rich and textual, it is one of my favorite years for the Diatom line and this Bar-M, with its stony qualities and tangy edge is stunning stuff, enjoy it with creamy Toro or fatty/briny Spanish mackerel and have your mind blown! This Bar-M is delicious and is utterly compelling with a nice play between racy acidity and ripe flavors, don’t mis this, the Santos Road and Spear Vineyard, they all are outstanding. Also, check out Greg Brewer’s new Ex Post Facto Syrah too, which is super good, all are now available through Brewer-Clifton.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2016 Waits – Mast Family Cellars, Pinot Noir, Mariah Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge.
Waits – Mast Family Cellars was founded by Brian Mast and Jennifer Waits back in 2005 with this couple making their first barrel of their own Pinot in 2007 with a passion for marine influenced wines like Littorai, Cobb, Drew, Hirsch and Peay Vineyards. According to Brian, before they started making wine we were passionate wine consumers taking many weekend getaways were spent exploring wineries across California, plus a few special trips to France, Switzerland and even New Zealand. All of this cruising around made them hyper focused on the Anderson Valley and I became a big fan after first trying their Londer Vineyard 2010 and later the fantastic Deer Meadows Vineyard, which is farmed by Richard Savoy, of Savoy Vineyard fame, and a high elevation organic site above Boonville. Now Waits – Mast have a talented Shalini Sekhar, Winemaker, who studied Enology and Viticulture at Fresno State University, and applied her skills at Williams-Selyem Winery, Copain Custom Crush (now Punchdown Cellars), and Bluxome Street winery, and now besides Waits – Mast she crafts the Neely Wines (of Varner fame) from the Santa Cruz Mountains, specializing on Pinot Noir from these cool coastal mountain sites. The 2016 Mariah has lush layering with refined tannin and nice silky elegance on the palate with black cherry, raspberry, plum and tart currant/cranberry fruits along with subtle smoky/sweet oak toast, cinnamon, rose petal, mineral and a hint of mocha. This wine flows and opens smooth with a rich sense of detail and finesse, but still has plenty of energy and vitality.

The beautiful and expressive 2016 Mariah Pinot comes from a Pinot Noir block that Brian and Jennifer source comes from two different clones, Dijon 667 and Pommard, planted to older root-stock from vines that were originally put in the ground in the 1970s set on a combination of Hugo and Josephine loams over a well drained sandstone and fractured shales. This region and in particular this area has produced some of California’s best Pinot Noirs in recent years and there is great expectations on these wines, which this wine lives up to. As noted in my reviews of Drew, who is not far from Mariah, this part of the Anderson Valley is on the very western side within 10 miles of the ocean and up above 1200 feet, making for a cool, breezy and fog influenced long growing season that makes for stunning Pinot Noirs. The wines from Waits – Mast are handcrafted in San Francisco in very small lots and offer exceptional value, especially these 2016 vintage offerings, which was an absolutely awesome year in the Anderson Valley, with this Mariah and their Nash Mill Vineyard bottlings being stand outs! This Mariah saw lots of whole cluster and saw a cool maceration, hand punch downs and pump overs to enhance the aromatics, vibrancy of flavors, structure and allow texture to form before a slow gentle pressing to just four French oak barrels for another year of elevage. With only 94 cases of this unfixed and unfiltered Mariah Vineyard Pinot Noir, that finished at a graceful, but ripe 13.5% natural alcohol, it would be best to get on it pretty quickly and also I recommend capturing their 2012s and in particular the 2014s if you see them, as well as joining the Waits – Mast mailing list.
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Bow & Arrow, Rhinestones, Pinot Noir/Gamay Noir, Johan Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The Rhinestones by Potland Oregon’s Bow & Arrow winery is one of my favorites, it’s a unique cuvee blend of 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Gamay Noir coming from the Willamette Valley’s biodynamic/organic Johan Vineyard and done in a Loire Valley natural wine style with juicy fruit, fresh acidity, earthy rawness and a spicy/stemmy kick. Interesting this blend is like Passetoutgrain, which is made in Burgundy from the same blend of Pinot and Gamay, winemaker Scott Frank says he’s more influenced by wines made in the Loire’s Touraine region, where they also have Pinot Noir and Gamay and that they also get blended together in a lighter and zippier fashion. One of the most intriguing examples from the Loire is Domaine Philippe Tessier’s Cheverny Rouge, crafted with Pinot and Gamay, it more closely resembles this Rhinestones. Sometimes those Touraine reds also have Pineau d’ Aunis and or Grolleau, but those grapes haven’t quite made it to the new world yet, so Frank is left with Pinot and Gamay, both of which are grown in quantity and quality in Oregon. Loire Valley grape varieties like Melon, Chenin Blanc, and true Gamay Noir were planted in the Willamette Valley decades before Frank moved here from New York in 2001, but instead of going along with most winemakers that make Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, inspired by the Cote d’Or, he followed the less prestigious and more quaffable style of the Loire, even he has helped make wine at John Paul’s Cameron Winery, one of the most legendary and iconic producers in the state, famous for his Pinot and Chards. Bow & Arrow continues to prove counter culture, sort of a workers party style wines have a place among Oregon’s new generation of wines and have brought Gamay to to people, along with other cool things to explore.

This 2018 Rhinestones is ripe in flavors, but shows a more earthy tone that the last two vintages with fresh layers of black cherry, plum and red currants along with a red peach flesh textural taste along with hints of dark florals, leather and an array of spices with cinnamon and pepper notes. There’s a serious side here, but it can be enjoyed for its vivacious lighthearted personality and it goes down with a cool crisp detail begging for smiles, simple meals and companionship. According to Frank the Rhinestones blend is determined by nature and vintage, with the 2018 getting more Pinot than the past few most recent versions as the Johan Vineyard delivered this combination and ratio for this wine. Bow & Arrow, which Scott and his wife Dana started in 2010, is a full fledged, subterranean urban micro winery located in Northeast Portland and is now a cult winery, making natural style “wine for the people” with a fanatic wine savvy fan base. The Rhinestones usually gets a whole cluster and native fermentation with exceptionally low SO2 being used and it is aged in a mixture of concrete and old barriques. This wine, as Frank notes, is the flagship of the Bow & Arrow operation and communicates what they are all about as much as anything they make. The winery tries to craft wines that are effortlessly drinkable but rewarding in their unique and complex gifts in the glass. The latest releases from Bow & Arrow are outstanding values and delivers populist drinking pleasures, especially interesting are the newer Sauvignon Blancs, the Melon de Bourgogne, the very cool Air Guitar red made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Franc in an Anjou style, the 100% Gamay bottlings, and the Hughes Vineyard Pinot Noir, all of which are, like this one, mineral driven, slightly funky, transparent and focused wines, keep an eye out for them or join their list.
($23 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Bibi Graetz, Grilli, Toscana IGT Rosso, Italy.
The juicy almost carbonic fruity Bibi Graetz Grilli is a super Tuscan red blend from vineyards around Greve in Chianti Classico, close to Siena and in the 2016 vintage it consisted of about 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 20% Syrah. The area, mostly known for Sangiovese also has lots of international varietals growing along side the native grapes and are set on Galestro and clay soils that brings out a dense richness of fruit and ripe dark flavors. Bibi Graetz, who is a famous Italian/Norwegian artist and Tuscan vigneron, has created one of the regions most prized Italian wineries in the last 15 years and has produced some iconic wines, especially his Testamata, his flagship wine, a 100% Sangiovese wine from old vines. The winery started at Castello di Vincigliata, which was acquired by Bibi’s parents over 60 years ago, and is the base where Graetz crafts his wines, is located on a hillside overlooking the picturesque city of Florence. Graetz’s Testamata legend began here with this small 5-acre vineyard in Fiesole. In Viola (Florence) dialect to have “Grilli” (which translates to crickets in Italian) means to be a dreamer, which fits well with Graetz’s personality. This wine, that was 100% fermented and aged in steel vats to preserve the freshness, was born from the partnership with Mondavi, through the import arm, reflects, as the winery puts it, the creative style and the dynamism of Bibi Graetz, who also is known for a sly sense of humor and playfulness. It should also be noted too, Grilli is different from the norm for Bibi, who broke his own rule and made a wine without indigenous Tuscan grapes, using mostly Bordeaux grapes, mostly Cabernet and Merlot, adding too that bit of Syrah, all which have found a home in Chianti and the Tuscan Coast.

Recently a friend of mine brought this wine in to try as he had found it at a Grocery Outlet for under $10 a bottle, and knowing the brand and having had these Graetz wines since the beginning I knew he had found an insane deal, but I hadn’t had this Grilli before, so it took me by surprise with its soft roundness and easy fruitiness and the fact that Graetz is almost fanatical about using indigenous and historic regional grapes in his wines. So after a bit of confusion, I settled in to just enjoy this tank raised Tuscan red, which offers loads of basic drinking pleasures with a pure sense flavors and medium bodied comfort with an array of black, blue and red fruits and a creamy mouth feel, with just enough tannin and acidity to make it easy with cuisine. There is simple layering of blackberry, candied cherry, tangy currant and fresh picked plum fruits, a touch of pipe tobacco, sprigs of garden herbs and a hint of mocha. This no oak wine, imported now by Michael Mondavi’s Folio Fine Wine Partners, made for the US market is another value offering from Graetz and is very much in the international and clean style, but certainly a contrast to some of the other bottlings in the lineup. I like this wine, hence the Wine of the Day review, but I really love Graetz’s more true native stuff, like his awesome Soffocone di Vincigliata, that is 100% Sangiovese and the stylish Colore Rosso that is special barrel selection made of Sangiovese, Colorino and Canaiolo, as well as the mentioned Testamata. Tasty and smooth, this Grilli is a solid bistro wine that will satisfy most wine drinkers and will go nicely with picnics, pasta and burgers. Graetz has remained a cult producer, an under the radar label, but now with Folio, you should be able to find them more easy, and their Casamata line and this Grilli are a good way to get started.
($28 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive

2017 Marjan Simčič, Ribolla (Gialla), Opoka, Medana Jama Cru, Brda, Slovenia.
The golden straw/yellow Ribolla from Marjan Simčič, a winegrower in the Goriška Brda wine region in Slovenia, is absolutely stunning, being both mineral driven and steely crisp, but also having depth and sublime textural beauty. The vineyards straddle the Slovenian/Italian border, with half of them on each side and this estate defies country classification, though for this wine we will call it from Slovenia. Josef Simcic started to make wine here in 1860. Five generations later, Marjan Simcic carries on the tradition, making some fabulous wines including his Pinot Noir that I reviewed most recently, plus a must try Sauvignon Blanc, a Merlot and this thrilling Ribolla (Gialla). The Ribolla comes from old vines in the best sites with a minimum of 65 years of age at about 250 meters above sea level with a cooler north and western exposures on stony marl (opoka), limestone soil as well as ancient organic matter. Marjan employs natural spontaneous fermentation, with skin contact with berries in the maceration for about 16 days in large 1,000 Liter concrete eggs, for the Ribolla, before being gently (pneumatic) pressed off to a combination of cement and oak. This Opoka cru white saw 10 months in the concrete eggs and then an additional 12 months in 500L oak barrels locally known as tono. These Marjan Simčič Cru Selection wines have a very rich hue in the glass, in this case a glowing yellowish gold, with Marjan adding that they typically have an extraordinary beautiful body, as well as the classic characteristic mineral note. The low, vine covered, hills of Brda open towards the Italian Friulan lowland that supplies warm sea air. Goriška Brda district is only, it should be noted 20-odd kilometres away from the Adriatic not too far away from Trieste. On the north side there are the Julian Alps and the Trnovska Plateau which protects them, in a rain shadow, from the influence of the colder and more severe mountain climate and shorter seasons. This area has a dark war torn history, from both World Wars, and its remoteness makes it a path less traveled, but it intrigues me and I hope to someday visit this special place.

The 2017 Ribolla leads with white flowers, delicate tropical essences, lemon/lime and peach, it gains more and more complexity with air taking on brioche, phenolic savory notes, wet stones, orange, saline, verbena and clarified cream in a wine that feels medium bodied, but somehow weightless and vivid throughout. The fresh acidity is subtle in this wine and everything stays taut, while allowing an impressive layering to unfold in a generous and caressing fashion, this is sublime stuff. Marijan took over the management of the farm in 1988 and in 1997, in the village of Ceglo near Medana, he built a new and modern wine cellar was built, which Simčič believes created the perfect conditions for producing high quality wines, and he was proved right over the next two decades with his wines all being critically acclaimed, especially in recent years by the famous Gambero Rosso Slow wine guide, at which point I became where of them. These wines from picturesque hills that roll between Slovenian Brda region and on the Italian side that is in the Collio region. The Marjan Simčič winery has four wines labeled as “Opoka” (Ribolla, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot) which are his pride and joy, they represent, as he puts it, a completely new dimension of quality in the regions wines. Marjan’s vineyard sites are farmed with mostly organic and natural methods in this historic place with a long growing tradition made up of thick layers of marl and sandstone, these soils of Brda/Collio are ideal for growing vines, which were first planted here as early as Roman times and have long been regarded as Grand Cru quality, and this wine and Simčič’s Pinot very much prove this terroir’s greatness. For Ribolla, this one and the Damijan Podversic Ribolla Gialla from Friuli are my two favorites, though in the new world this grapes gaining popularity with Dan Petroski’s Massicin in Napa making a brilliant example. This vintage is supposed to be available soon, keep an eye out! Marjan Simčič is now directly imported by Wine Warehouse, so be sure to ask your favorite wine merchants about these gorgeous wines.
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2016 Odonata, Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands.
In recent years Monterey’s Odonata Wines is a small family winery owned and operated by winemaker Denis Hoey, based in the Santa Lucia Highlands on River Road have been making some wonderful local focused sustainable and organic wines. Dennis Hoey says he subscribes to the idea of blending of old world winemaking methods and attitudes with new techniques and he is in a continuous search of ways for improvement, adding he is always learning and hopes to keep things (his wines) fresh, interesting and exciting, which Odonata does, from my own experiences I am discovering all kinds of thrilling stuff here, like their SLH Syrah. Hoey, who once worked in craft brewing actually made his first wines when he was just 21 years old and has traveled many times to Europe, including to France and Italy to gain perspective on traditional wines. He notes that he graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2004 with a degree in Business Management, but soon turned to wine as a career after he met Jeff Emery, a local legend and winemaker at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, soon joining his famous winery. Their relationship quickly turned into an Old World apprenticeship for Denis, and he became the production manager for SCMV before starting his Odonata Wines 2005. For about a decade he grew his winery and portfolio gaining many central coast wine fans, then In 2014 Hoey and his wife, Claire, bought the old Marilyn Remark Winery in the Santa Lucia Highlands where Odonata now makes wines and grows some of their grapes as well as raising their family, becoming a serious and soulful presence on the Monterey wine scene. This Odonata Syrah, coming from the area’s sandy/loamy soils, saw a gentle and careful maceration with hand pilage and partial whole cluster, which is usually around 25%, fermentation to deliver purity and a slight wild or feral quality to the wine with mostly well season barrels being used to age the finished wine. This wine is drinking great right now and the tannins melt away with food, though they do give some grip and add to the palate impact, making the Odonata Syrah delightful with robust cuisine.

Odonata, which has found a niche with their bubbly wines, which are produced using the classic Methode Champenoise, but with an interesting twist offering sparkling Riesling and intriguingly a Rosé of Sangiovese fizz! That said, they make a dynamic range of red wines and I have tried a few outstanding bottlings, having mentioned their awesome Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the Santa Cruz Mountains and more recently this well made and great drinking 2016 Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah. Even more impressive, is that it comes from a vintage that can be sometimes scared by the Soberanes Fire inferno that caused wide spread smoke taint in the region, but this wine shows none of this flaw in any obvious way with a beautiful and exciting fruit driven profile and fresh low alcohol feel. The fairly rich and power 2016 Odonata Syrah has a nice savory, almost meatiness, element to add complexity here going really well with a the core of blue and black fruits that includes blackberry, mission fig, plum, sweet currant and kirsch along with nice accents like dried lavender, violette pastels, camphor, minty herbs and cedar notes adding a touch of pepper, grilled fennel and iron/mineral tones with air. As the wine opens it carries a nice natural acidity and at just 13.3% it is well balanced in a cool climate style. As followers of grapelive will know, I am a huge fan of the Syrah wines of the region, especially from the Santa Lucia Highlands, I honestly believe since 2004, Syrah wines from here have been the equal to or even better than in some cases to Pinot Noir! To support my conclusions, I highly recommend Roar, Pisoni (Lucia), Morgan and Joyce, who’s Tondre is a thriller in the same fashion this wine is, as well as Wrath, especially their KW Ranch version, some of the older Big Basin from here too, along with speciality wines from Cattleya, Sling | Stone (made by Junior Banuelos, assist. winemaker at Odonata) and Sandlands to name a few. While the 2016 is mostly sold out, though is available through a couple of wine merchants, the 2017 and up coming 2018 Odonata Syrahs are certainly worth checking out!
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Purple Hands, Pinot Noir, Lone Oak Ranch, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Cody Wright, son of the famous Ken Wright one of Oregon’s most influential winemaker, who branched out on his own when he was only 25 years old, has crafted a savvy set of wonderful Willamette Valley Pinots and this 2017 Lone Oak Ranch cuvee perfectly shows why you’ll want to discover these Purple Hands wines, it is a beautiful and value packed offering with that impresses on the satiny palate. Cody grew up working in his family business’s from the winery to the vineyard and went on to graduate with environmental science degrees from the University of Oregon in 2003. Back In 2005 Cody founded Purple Hands Winery with 250 cases. Now along with Marque Wright, this pair now has a well established winery, it a way the story reminds me in some ways to Morgan Twain-Peterson and his Bedrock Wine Co. Cody’s Purple Hands Winery, based in Dundee, is all about exploring site-specific Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that, in what he says, unearths the Willamette Valley’s long evolutionary history, making authentic and wines that seems more generous in nature to his dad’s wines, that I find need a few years in bottle to show their best, with Cordy using traditional winemaking techniques that conveys an honest expression of each of the vineyards that he uses. He adds, that all of his wines undergo native fermentation and remain unfined and unfiltered at bottling to preserve their natural, I would say pure soulfulness and their wild character. The Lone Oak Ranch is a special cuvee, more of a regional expression, rather than a single vineyard wine, mostly from the Jory soils of the red hills of Dundee, but features five of the Willamette Valley’s AVA’s and a variety of soils that show cool climate and marine sedimentary character along with that iron rich Dundee volcanic mineral element.

The 2017 is warmly ripe in flavor with layers of smooth black cherry, plum, raspberry and strawberry fruits along with a hint of smoke, red pepper, sweet floral tones, tangy sassafras and tea notes. The vintage falls in line with the prior two years and the new 2018, with this 2017 still available in some shops and at a great price for the quality. Cody used only hand harvested fruit from a selection of eight top cru sites and fermented, as mentioned above in small lots with indigenous yeast and in small open top fermentors, with what tastes like a bit of whole berry, employing hand punch downs and gentle macerations. After the primary was done the individual wines are racked off to barrels to age and go through natural malos, this elevage was done with 75% neutral French barriques and 25% new wood, which does add to the polished and luxurious profile and mouth feel. After 11 months the wines were blended and this selection was like all of the Purple Hands bottlings was unfined, which as noted allows the wine to show its most transparent form and true personality. This is really drinking well and should get even better over the next 3 to 5 years and it does follow the family Wright theme of structure and focus, though I feel the Purple Hands stuff is a bit more friend and joyous in their youth, especially this 2017 Lone Oak Ranch, which has a pretty bouquet, a dark ruby color and a distinct and lingering silky aftertaste with touches of cinnamon, currants and echos of kirsch. I recommend exploring these Purple Hands wines, there is a great range from to chose, I suggest this one for the bargain cost here, but for more intrigue look for the Shea, Latchkey, the Freedom Hill, one of my personal favorites, as well as Cody’s Kroff and Holstein, two of his favored Dundee vineyards. If you can find the 2017s, go for it, but don’t overlook the 2016s and the current set of plush 2018s, all are worth your time and effort.
($31 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Domaine du Grand Montirail, Gigondas, Cuvee Vieilles Vignes, Rhone Valley, France.
The gorgeous 2016 Domaine du Grand Montmirail old vines Gigondas cuvee, typically a blend is 80% Grenache, 5% Syrah and 5% Mourvèdre from 30-65 year-old vines, delivering a full bodied and concentrated effort with a deep purple/crimson color and remarkable purity and transparency, showing loads of perfectly ripe dark fruit, floral tones, mineral notes and spiced nuances. This wine is sumptuous and comforting on the dense palate with lovely Grenache led and terroir driven charm, I’ve been a long time fan of this property over the years, but this 2016 really is something special with boysenberry, black plum, sweet currants and kirsch fruit along with lavender, chalky stones and licorice all merging in hedonistic joy. Most of the bottles I’ve had from Domaine du Grand Montmirail were imported by San Francisco’s Charles Neal (who’s got his own special bottlings) and while their are various importers for the estate, Charles has given me most of my knowledge about Yves Cheron, the vigneron at Domaine du Grand Montmirail, which was started originally by his father who moved to the southern Rhone from Burgundy. Denis Cheron, a Beaune native bought the Cave du Grand Comtadiné in Vacqueyras in the 1960’s where he vinified grapes for scores of local producers, as well as himself and created a negoçiant firm called Pascal. One of Denis’ first client suppliers was the owner of the Domaine du Grand Montmirail, a wonderfully situated property in the southeastern part of Gigondas, that he later acquired, as Neal notes, and the rest is history. Yves, a graduate in enological studies in Beaune, has the winery in league with the very best in the region, like the famous Saint Cosme, and his Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre comes from vines planted exclusively on the hillsides and terraces, known locally as banquettes, with these vineyards being situated directly on the southern slope of the Dentelles de Montmirail. It is a superb area, with soft breezes, Mediterranean weather and a few natural springs to hydrate the vines, all combining for these warm, textural and flavorful wines, it is dominated by towering granite cliffs and an amazing view of the famous Mount Ventoux off in the distance. Based close to the small town of Suzette, Domaine du Grand Montmirail is a remote treasure isolated from the worries of the world, where the famous range Dentelles de Montmirail cast a impressive shadow above the winery and the scent of the garrigue (rosemary, thyme, sage) is ever present in the air.​

The winemaking at Domaine du Grand Montmirail is classically simple and guided by experience and traditions with Cheron concentrating his main efforts in the vineyards and carefully working the land, he is focused on quality fruit. The subsoils of Grand Montmirail’s parcels are composed of sedimentary clay from when the ancient seas covered this site, also the rise of the Alps created many rifts, including the emergence of the impressive rocky barriers that are the Dentelles, and this clay is littered with small pieces of limestone, its this that helps give Grand Montmirail its round, approachable texture and structure. The soil is well-drained, but drought is rarely a problem, because of the mentioned springs. The wines, as Neal goes on, always have a an extraordinary elegance, moderated alcohols and smoothness that, he adds, which much of the appellation finds difficult to obtain.The grapes are carefully sorted and 100% de-stemmed then the must is cooled and the pre-fermentation period lasts several days in order to extract pigment and primary aromas of the grapes. Only indigenous yeasts are used, and typically primary fermentation lasts close to two weeks, and the wine is handled extremely gently with it getting pressed in a bladder press. Cheron ages his wines in enamel-lined tanks in the temperature-controlled winery, with underground vats that naturally remain cool. As noted above, there is no oak is used during the wine’s élévage, again to promote freshness and clarity, to transmit the place and grapes directly into the wine without added accents. The altitude of the vineyards varies between 300 and 350 meters, which is among the highest in Gigondas, this allows more natural acidity that shows in the detail and vibrancy. The Domaine du Grand Montmirail harvest starts with their Syrah, the quickest grape, interestingly to ripen here, then the Grenache starts coming in next from in the highest sites and last, but not least the latest picks are of Mourvèdre with its later ripening characteristic giving richness and refined tannin. Tasting these wines over the years, I just get more and more impressed with these Grand Montmirail offerings, with the Cotes du Rhone(s) as well as the Vacqueyras being a wonderful bargains and this 2016 Vieilles Vignes Gigondas, sometimes seen with cuvee Juliette on the label, performing even better than expectations, it also is awesome with hearty cuisine and or simple country fare.
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Special Review: Malbec World Day

2015 Catena Zapata, Malbec, Adrianna Vineyard, Mundus Bacillus Terrae, Vino de Parcela, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina.
While celebrating #malbecworldday I was reminded of this monumental wine by Catena Zapata, it is one one of the greatest expressions of this grape, originally from the Cahors region in southwest France, a place that was once the most sought after red wine producing region in Europe and may have led to wide spread planting in the Bordeaux area, as that is where Malbec from Cahors was shipped out of, as it was one of the favored port cities in France. Catena, which is sometimes thought of as the Mondavi of Argentina with the patriarch Nicolás Catena building the first modern winery and promoting the Mendoza region, much the same was as Robert Mondavi did, and the wines throughout the range are all solid to spectacular, with this single parcel wine being one of Argentina’s first growths. This 2015 is unbelievable and totally unique with amazing sharp details, depth and with waves of pleasure coming from the range of flavors and the fruit density, but with surprising natural acidity giving everything a cool sense of balance and energy. The tannins are polished, ripe and sweet giving the texture a luxurious mouth feel as you’d expect from a top Bordeaux and or an Argentine Malbec for that matter, but they are the underlying spine that keeps this wine in the Grand Classe league, it is a wine that will go for