Reviews 2021 Reviews – December, 2021

2016 Le Pianelle, Bramaterra DOC, Alto Piedmonte, Italy.
The incredible and well structured Le Pianelle Bramaterra DOC rosso is a traditional blend of 80% Nebbiolo, also known locally as Spanna, along with other native varietals of which are 10% Vespolina and 10% Croatina from this northern part of Pidmonte that is more alpine and set on volcanic based Porphyritic sand and ancient glacial deposits with red/orange soils, which has given this terroir driven wine its gripping personality and inner beauty. The Bramaterra zone is sandwiched between Lessona to the west and Gattinara to the southeast in the Alto Piedmonte area, one of the hot spots in the wine world, where Nebbiolo has long been the main grape like the famous Barbaresco and Barolo that sit almost directly below, closer to Asti and Alba. Winemaker Cristiano Garella, who has been a head winemaker since he was just 21 years old, has crafted an amazing wine with this 2016 vintage, while still youthfully tannic and taut, there is no doubt this is one of the best wines in the region and there’s a huge potential for this wine in the years or decades to come. There’s stunning depth, concentration and complexity that is already completely seductive on the full bodied palate with classic Nebbiolo power and energy, it delivers iron rich mineral tones behind a core of red fruits, that are accented by spice, earth and herbal notes, making for a dark sultry and slightly rustic wine. With air this Bramaterra comes alive fully in a way that reminds you of a leopard with a feline muscular way that impresses the senses with finely coiled tension, it shows brandied cherries, damson plum, briar laced raspberry and red currant fruits, a touch of sanguine and leather, weather hard wood, truffle, anise, wilted rose petals and orange rind. Each sip revealed a new dimension and while not cheap, this wine is an outstanding value and will reward Nebbiolo fans greatly.

The Nebbiolo grape is, as Garella explains, is the foundation and soul of his flagship Bramaterra DOC, and it is complemented by the Croatina and Vespolina that both lift the flavors and heighten the aromatics in the wine. For the production of this Alto Piedmonte red Garella uses grapes are harvested exclusively by hand, with each grape variety and vineyard parcels being fermented in separate small lots with maceration and fermentation in open top Grenier oak vats. After primary fermentation is complete the young wine is racked to wood and matured for 18 months in a combination of used small French barrique barrels as well as large Austrian made Stockinger oak barrels. The Le Pianelle Bramaterra is kept in the cellar in bottle for an extra 24 months before its being release, to be more supple and mature when it is offered out. I had not had this producer before, but now I’m a hyper aware fan that looks forward to trying older and newer releases from Cristiano, such was the experience tasting this fine effort. Lepianelle was founded in 2002 by the German national Dieter Heuskel, who was a huge fan of Piedmonte area and its wines, when the opportunity and challenge of rejuvenating a long-forgotten vineyard was presented to him and his partner, the well respected Alto Adige producer Peter Dipoli of Voglar, and now with the youthful and gifted Cristiano Garella, a native to the region who had Nebbiolo in his blood, they have created, along with an impressive vineyard team, a truly world class wine estate. I am going to try and get a few bottles of this 2016, as well as see if I can find some 2013, of this brilliant wine, it maybe best to put them in the cellar for a few more years, but it will be hard not open them at the earliest opportunity, especially with a hearty meal that will allow the best features shine through. As of now, Le Pianelle offers three wines, two reds, that includes this glorious dark ruby hued and brick edged Bramaterra DOC and a Rosato (Rosé) and the production is rather limited, so you’ll have to chase these down, but it is well worth it!
($50 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2019 Domaine de la Grand’Cour – Jean-Louis Dutraive – Fleurie, Lieu-Dit Champagne, Cuvée Vieilles Vignes, Cru Beaujolais, France.
The 2019 Dutraive old vine Lieu-Dit Champagne Fleurie is beautifully perfumed, textural and vibrant with a lighter frame, but with superb depth and length showing a slightly cloudy ruby color, heightened floral aromatics and smooth medium bodied palate of strawberry, crushed raspberry, tree picked plum and tart cherry fruits as well as snappy herbs, wilted roses, cinnamon, a hint of fennel and a touch of sandalwood. This is a stunning effort with graceful layering and vitality, confirming the joys of expectations and the talents of the Dutraive family, led by the famed Jean-Louis Dutraive and the emerging gifted touch of his son Justin, who has made quite a name for himself in recent years with his own signature lineup of offerings. Justin Dutraive is part of a growing list of new generation winemakers here in Beaujolais that are leading the region to new levels of quality, especially noteworthy are the likes of Yohan Lardy, Anne-Sophie Dubois, Julien Sunier, Mathieu & Camille Lapierre, Alex Foillard and Charly Thenevet, who like Dutraive is transitioning into the head winemaking role with his family’s property. This historic Domaine de la Grand’Cour does an excellent and world class set of Gamay from their legendary Fleurie parcels, including their flagship Chapelle des Bois and this special Lieu-Dit Champagne plot, which sits on shallow sandy soils over the veins of granite and has mainly fifty plus year old vines. This fresh and wildly delicious 2019 old vine cuvée was naturally and traditionally fermented in cement and then raised for eight months in neutral French oak barriques, making it a wine of rustic charm, but with brilliant clarity of character, this is wonderful stuff and I highly recommend you grab any and all of Dutraive’s Fleurie bottlings!

The Domaine de la Grand’Cour was originally established in back in 1969, according to the winery, in a Summer of love, and the Domaine de la Grand’Cour best holdings are in the Cru Fleurie zone, in what can be considered Grand Cru sites, these consist of three special lieu-dits, the Clos de la Grand’Cour, a Monopole walled vineyard, the mentioned Chapelle des Bois and their Champagne parcel, where this wine came from. These granite soiled sites are some of the most coveted in the region, all of Dutraive’s vines are holistically farmed following methods inspired by the godfather of Beaujolais’ natural winemaking revolution, Jules Chauvet, who inspired the likes of Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard, Jean-Paul Thevenet and Guy Breton to name a few. Jean-Louis Dutraive, the fifth generation to run this old estate, has exclusively used organic grapes since the 1980s and does most all of his Cru bottlings with 100% whole cluster, which gives these Gamays their glorious complexity, distinction and exotic personalities. The Dutraive ferments naturally with indigenous yeasts, whole bunch, getting a semi carbonic effect and they see long macerations on the skins, somewhere close to a month, which according to the winery, depends on what the vintage gives them. The wines are very gently handled from start to finish and moved only by gravity flow in the cellar, with the Crus being aged for 9 months to more than a year, depending on the individual cuvée. There is a combination of vessels for elevage, mostly though see time in used Burgundy barrels, though sometimes the wines are aged partially in stainless, old foudre, or even cement tanks depending, again, on the vintage. Jean-Louis’ motto in the cellar is what he calls “minimal intervention and maximum surveillance.” All of the efforts in the cellar are to highlight and promote transparency, purity and terroir, which clearly is on full display here, again these wines are most haves for Gamay enthusiasts.
($48 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Turley Wine Cellars, The White Coat, White Wine, California.
The Turley White Coat is a strikingly lush and opulent white wine, hand crafted by winemaker Tegan Passalacqua from predominantly Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Vermentino, a similar combination to some famous Chateauneuf du Pape Blancs with this 2019 version being an exceptional full bodied wine that shows the vintage’s vibrant fruit intensity and underlying balance with an impactful presence in the glass. In classic Roussanne fashion this White Coat shows thick layers of apricot, lemon, clove spice, ginger, star anise, peach pit, marzipan and almond oil along with some zesty tangerine/citrus, melon, apple and salty wet stones that highlight the addition of the Grenache Blanc and Vermentino in this impressive Turley offering. There is a nice play between all the elements here with the wine giving the impression of oily vinous depth on the lavish palate, but has well judged acidity that adds a brilliant pop to this wine and there is a savory bacon like note that comes through that contrasts well with the richness of fruit. Passalacqua notes that this wine saw an all native yeast fermentation, with mainly neutral French oak aging, but with about quarter of the wine being fermented and raised in concrete eggs, which he started with the previous vintage and looks to continue as the results have been incredibly compelling, especially in this 2019, which is by far the best White Coat I’ve tried.

The White Coat’s blend has changed over the years, but I think Turley has found the perfect combination of varietals now to make a luminous and luxurious Chateauneuf style California wine. The White Coat, which is named for, as the winery notes, Larry Turley’s past career as an Emergency Room physician and is composed mainly of classic white Rhône grapes from three of theirs Estate vineyards and terroirs stretching through multiple regions of California. The rich and textured body is from the Roussanne, which is the dominate grape, sourced from the Rattlesnake Ridge Vineyard on Howell Mountain on the volcanic based soils in Napa Valley. The density here is, as Turley suggests, moderated by the fresh acidity and structure provided by the inclusion of Grenache Blanc that is grown in the calcareous soils of the Pesenti Vineyard in Paso Robles. The golden hued White Coat blend is rounded out with a touch of zesty mineral intense Vermentino (also known as Rolle in parts of France) sourced from the granitic and quartz-laden Cobb Vineyard in the Amador County, in the Sierra Foothills, plus in certain years there is a splash of Verdejo too, making this wine even more uniquely Californian. The White Coat, which was saw 15 months of barrel time is a wine that deserves your attention and a wine that would be sublime with lobster and or grilled swordfish, and while Turley is known mostly for their famed Zinfandel and Petite Sirah bottlings, this is not a wine to be overlooked!
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Drew, Pinot Noir, Wendling Vineyard, Anderson Valley.
The dark garnet and ruby colored 2019 Wendling Vineyard Pinot from Jason Drew was fermented using 100% indigenous yeasts and with 45% whole cluster with a gentle and natural maceration period to extract a deep color and complexity of flavors before being aged just under a year in mostly used French oak with Jason choosing to employ about 25% new wood in this vintage, giving the finished wine incredible transparency and purity. The results here, are as we’ve come to expect from Drew, but no less short of stunning with this Wendling Pinot, showing pure class in the glass, it is a gorgeous Pinot Noir with exceptional texture, depth and nuance, it delivers classic black cherry, currant, raspberry and plum fruits along with mineral tones, subtle chanterelles, blood orange, sandalwood, baking spices and a touch of fennel. With time and air gets the floral aromatics going and the medium body begins to push some a supple roundness as well as letting some pomegranate and an earthy/savory element, making for a complex and poised young wine that does everything with poise and clarity. This is maybe a wine I should have left in the cellar, but it is pretty darn good, with the potential to get even better in 3 to 5 years, best to have it over a slow meal, where it can be allowed to reveal its full potential.

The Wendling Vineyard, which winemaker Jason Drew regards as one of the top sites within the region and says it holds the distinction as the most north westerly site in the Anderson Valley appellation and is considers it one of Grand Cru vineyards. This cool vineyard sits in the deepest end of the valley on a 450 ft slope with excellent drainage, additionally, Drew explains there are three soil types, namely Ornbaun, Wolfey and Bearwallow complexes here that gives the grapes an extra degree of complexity. Continuing his praise of the Wendling Vineyard he adds that these well drained hillside soils along with the cooler coastal temperatures provide for low to moderate yields, giving the wines a darker color and making for intensely structured Pinot Noirs that really thrive in the cellar. This fairly young site, being 12 years old was planted to several exciting suitcase selections and Dijon clones with Drew using sections that include an alleged DRC (Domaine de la Romanee-Conti) and a La Tache clone. Regardless of origin of the plant material, this vineyard’s grapes have produced some profound Pinots hand crafted by Drew over the last half dozen years or so and this 2019, with its very refined Burgundy like 13% natural alcohol and nice lifting acidity, is one of the best yet. Again, as I’ve said before, it is hard to see many producers achieving the level of greatness you are seeing here with Drew, especially their lineup of 2018 and 2019 Pinots!
($70 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

2020 Stars & Dust, Rosé of Grenache, Tierra Alta Vineyard, Ballard Canyon AVA, Santa Ynez Valley.
California has another world class Dry Rosé to chase down, but sadly Nikki Pallesen of Stars & Dust only made 80 cases of this fabulous and brilliantly detailed Tierra Alta Vineyard Rosé of Grenache from the Santa Ynez Valley’s Ballard Canyon AVA, just north of Santa Barbara, it is has a wonderful mouth feel, layered with electric flavors and is mouth watering crisp, this like Pallesen’s sister Mourvedre version is excellent stuff. Bright and glowing in glass this Tierra Alta Grenache Rosé has a rotation of orange pith, grapefruit, strawberry and sour Bing cherry fruits on the mineral/steely palate along with rosewater, citrus bloom, faint herbs, wet stones and energetic acidity, making for very Provence style bone dry Pink that is drinking exceptionally well and should do for another couple of years, if you could ever wait, which there is no reason to do. There is enough presence, impact and structure here to be a serious contender for Rosé of the year and it has enough textural roundness to please a wide range of wine drinkers and it goes great with food too impressively, I recommend keeping an eye out for this one and get on the Stars & Dust list for the next release. Also interesting, is Pallesen’s new Grenache based red wine, which has been playfully nicknamed “Grenjolais” which I plan on trying out soon, it is said to a friendly quaffer with a light body and low alcohol, that suggests it would be great with a slight chill.

Nikki Pallesen’s, formerly of Liquid Farm, new Stars & Dust Winery is just launching with a set of Rosé bottlings, this one made from 100% Grenache and one that I reviewed earlier which is crafted from 100% Mourvédre, that is more Bandol like in presence and character. She is also focusing on Chardonnay and has got some intriguing things coming out, which I’m sure are going to be wines to search out. This version, 100% Grenache, was whole cluster pressed, non saignée and saw a short maceration to achieve the fresh detail and gentle extraction of its light pink color with a cool stainless steel fermentation before an elevage in neutral French oak barrels for six months. There is plenty of ripeness and extract to provide complexity and pleasure here and as this wine turns on the charm with some air, much the same as Pallesen’s Mourvedre did in the glass. A lot of attention to detail went into the Stars & Dust wines from the impeccable handling of the grapes from vines to bottle to the stylish Klimt inspired artwork label (super packaging) on these Rosé bottlings, reflecting the personality behind them, I can see Stars & Dust developing a cult following for the quality of the Rosé, joining the likes of Arnot-Roberts (Touriga Nacional Rosé), Randall Grahm’s Language of Yes (Tibouren/Cinsault Rosé), Martha Stoumen (Nergoamaro Rosé), Jolie-Laide (Rosé of Cabernet Pfeffer), Tribute to Grace (also a Grenache Rosé and Bedrock Wine Co (Ode to Lulu, Mourvedre based Rosé) to name a few awesome year round Rosés. I am looking forward to Pallesen’s upcoming Stars & Dust Chards, that are getting released soon, especially the Old Vine Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnay, this is a label to watch.
($26 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Lioco, Carignan/Valdiguié “Indica” Red Blend, Mendocino County.
Lioco’s Indica Red, made from old vines in Mendocino is a juicy blend of 93% Carignan and 7% Valdiguié that shows a lively freshness and supple texture with a comforting array of dark red fruits, it was an excellent quaffer with a nice spicy note, light florals and lingering blueberries. This dry, but fruity red has a creamy round mouth feel that makes it easy to enjoy all on its own as well as with simple foods with layers of crushed blackberries, plum, cherry and tangy currant fruits that are very engaging on the medium/full palate and lifted by touches of cinnamon, sage, garden herbs and anise. This Indica Red saw fermentation in a mix of open-top tanks with gentle punch downs and with a submerged cap to enhance a soft extraction of structural elements, flavors and pigment, allowing the Indica to display its smoothness as well as transparent details, it was raised for about seven months mainly in well used and neutral French oak barrels, larger puncheons and along with stainless steel. Carignan, one of the Chateauneuf grapes, has seen a huge rise in popularity in recent years and the quality of these wines is exceptional and Lioco’s is delicious stuff, it joins a fun group of releases like those by Desire Lines, Martha Stoumen, Ridge Vineyards, Sandlands and others that I am very impressed with.

One of California’s new generation of wineries, Lioco, owned by the husband and wife duo of Matt and Sara Licklider, they focus on natural style wines from cool climate sites, mostly extreme coastal ones in western Sonoma (Coast), Mendocino and the Santa Cruz Mountains, with a special focus on cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as a set of Carignan based wines, one Rosé, the pure 100% Carignan Sativa and this “Indica” version, which has a small dose of Valdiguié included. Matt Licklider and winemaker Kai Kliegl use the mature organic Carignan vines at the McCutchen Ranch & Bartolomei Vineyards in Mendocino set on rocky well drained soils with a red clay and loamy underpinnings to make this wine with the Valdiguié being sourced from the 50 year old Lolonis Vineyard. One theme that continues throughout the Lioco range of wines is energy and crispness of detail, this is expressed especially vividly in their Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, the Estero Russian River Chardonnay, the Saveria Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Dijon clone Laguna Pinot from the Sonoma Coast and their very appealing La Marisma Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay, all of which I highly recommend. This dark ruby and magenta 2019 Indica really hit the spot and it perfectly captures the vintage in the bottle with solid fruit density and natural acidity, what’s not to love here?
($25 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Domaine Yohan Lardy, Moulin à Vent, Vieilles Vignes de 1903, Cru Beaujolais, France.
An absolutely stunning effort from Yohan Lady and his old vine parcels in the Moulin à Vent, this 2019 Vieilles Vignes de 1903 is as pure as Gamay gets, but has the class, textural pleasure and the perfumed aromatics of a top Chambolle-Musigny, I cannot believe how good this bottle is and even more unbelievable is how I’ve missed this wine and producer until now! My first ever experience with a Cru Beaujolais that I can remember was a Diochon Moulin à Vent and it set me on a path to become a Gamay geek and enthusiast, but this Lardy Vieilles Vignes de 1903 is on another level, it is by far the best thing I’ve ever tried from this zone and rivals my preferred Morgan and Fleurie favorites, consider me impressed. The nose is heavenly with crushed violets and rosewater lifting from the glass along with a touch of spice and dark berries that lead to a satiny medium to full bodied palate of red currants, plum, cherry and strawberry fruits accented nicely by hints of wild herbs, crushed stones, subtle damp earth, anise and dark walnut. This new generation of Cru Beaujolais producers are taking these wines to the next level and Lardy the younger is one of the stars, with this Moulin à Vent Vieilles Vignes de 1903 being an outrageously seductive Gamay, with energy, length and grace, I’m going to have to get more of this and I suggest Gamay fans do too.

Those, like myself, that follow Lapierre, Foillard, Dutraive, Thevenet, Dubois and Sunier to name a few, will instantly recognize the quality here, Yohan Lardy is the fifth generation of the Lardy family to make wine in the Beaujolais, but his 2012s were the first releases under his own label. He, as the top winemakers in the region do, farms his vines organically, plowing in between the rows and in the cellar has followed the local natural winemaking traditions of the famed Jules Chauvet, who led a revolution away from industrial farming and back to old school methods and who inspired the likes of Marcel Lapierre and Jean Foillard, as well as countless others. This terroir driven micro-cuvée, the winery says, comes from ancient 114 year old Gamay vines planted up at 300 meters elevation and set on granite, quartz and manganese based soils. The youthful Lardy employs a full whole-cluster semi carbonic fermentation that he allows to begin spontaneously in concrete or polyethylene tanks and it typically lasts up to three weeks. Per normal by the top guys here, there is no SO2 is added during maceration and the fermentation process here with Yohan applying a gentle touch throughout, looking for terroir transparency in his wines. He then ages his Cru wines in old Burgundy barrels for 8-12 months before bottling, which is done without filtration, it is very much a passion and respect for place that shines through in these wines, especially this gorgeous old vine Moulin à Vent. I’m so glad I was able to try and reflect on this wine, it was a perfect way to celebrate the holy eve, Joyeux Noël.
($35 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2020 Saint Cosme, Cotes du Rhone Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
The latest Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone, 100% Syrah, is an all tank aged and partial whole cluster wine with a deep purple color and far more complexity than you’d expect from a bottle in this price range with layers of blackberry, boysenberry, plum and blueberry fruits along with hints of earth, graphite, black licorice, dried herbs and crushed flowers in a beautifully smooth and textured full bodied wine. This vintage, which is Louis Barruol’s 24nd vintage of this juicy Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône is very polished and pleasing with just enough savory crunch to keep things interesting and this edition is an easy companion with a variety of foods and was perfect with a chilly rainy night outside, it provided lots of comfort without any pretense. Being all Syrah it feels a bit more rustic and dense than most Grenache based versions, but you can see the family relationship with Barruol’s famous Gigondas and other classic Rhone bottlings with its warm and Mediterranean personality, this is always a great wine and sublime value. This supple Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone which adds a touch of creme de cassis with air, had a very short vatting period, in cement, a technique pioneered by Louis Barruol’s father, as he notes, in fact, in the 1970s and 1980s, Saint Cosme’s Gigondas only spent about 15 days in vats! This is the allow really fresh details, fruitiness and freshness to express themselves, while still having structure to age, proof is the success of these absolutely delicious wines.

Louis Barruol’s Chateau de Saint Cosme, located north to the village of Gigondas, which he is most famous for, is the oldest estate in the region being on the site of an ancient Gallo-Roman villa which dates back to 1416 and very probably it already had its own vineyard as well as cellars carved from the natural limestone walls, with the Barruol family acquiring it back in 1570 and making it, in my opinion, one the Rhone’s greatest estates. The fabulous basic Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone is made from 100% Syrah coming from what Barruol calls top vineyard parcels, saying he is no magician, knowing only great sites made great wines and mostly this little beauty uses plots in Vinsobres, which is a special area of the southern Rhone that is sublimely suited to Syrah. The Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone vines are set on mostly limestone sand, red clay and pebbles on Villafranchian terraces that gives this remarkably expression its stylistic charm, density and class, with Barruol noting he thinks Vinsobres is the best area to grow Syrah in this area, which is just to the north of Gigondas and influenced by cool alpine winds that help refresh the vines, giving ripe fruit, but with energy of natural acidity. For this particular wine, which Barruol says, is very similar to the 2019 – with fruit that was ripe and absolutely stunning coming off the vines, giving the resultant wine lush black fruit, it is rounded and fleshy with a salinity that calls for a fine steak or something similar. Every year I get a bunch of Saint Cosme, of course their legendary Gigondas is a must, but I also grabs bottles of their Crozes-Hermitage, Sant-Joseph and lots of this Cotes-du-Rhone Rouge!
($15 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2020 Weingut Schafer-Frohlich, Riesling Trocken, Nahe, Germany.
Winemaker Tim Fröhlich has crafted a set of fantastic wines in this 2020 vintage from his estate in the Nahe region and his basic Riesling Trocken is truly outstanding and a top value, it comes from younger vines in some of his top sites, including the Grand Cru Felsnek (GG) vineyard. This dry and precision crafted Riesling was sourced from complex terroir influenced parcels set on a mix of soils, with mainly Porphyry, which is ancient volcanic, and classic blue Devoinian Slate, both of which allows crystalline and mineral driven flavors to burst from the glass. This 2020 vintage is racy and bone dry with loads of appealing fruit and a mouth watering salty stoniness with subtle floral aromatics and spicy notes on the gripping and steely palate that is led by lime, white peach, green apple fruits along with chamomile, verbena and a wet flinty element. I know I just reviewed a Schafer-Frohlich, but this all stainless steel fermented and aged Riesling really deserved some attention too, it delivers so much for the price I couldn’t wait to publish this one, so as to allow people to chase it down before it sells out.

Vigneron Tim Fröhlich, of Schafer-Frohlich, is widely known as a perfectionist and a hard working guy that never rests on his successes, he made his first vintage in 1995 at the age of 21, and has never looked back. The village of Bockenau, the winery’s location in the Nahe was close to being unknown until Tim’s wines achieved international success, with the wines now some of the most sought-after Rieslings in Germany. Schafer-Frohlich’s achievements is also a reflection of the greatness of the slate-based, quartzite-laced Felseneck VDP Grosse Lage in Bockenau, a truly amazing site with its steep slopes. Fröhlich, as mentioned, looks for extreme purity in his wines, and is a true terroir fanatic, according to his friends and admirers. He has a sublime touch and is hugely talented, capturing the essence of the place with precision, subtly and elegance in his outstanding wines, like this one. As noted and repeated, this vintage looks like an epic year to collect in Germany, and the fine dry examples from the Nahe are especially tasty for Riesling lovers, with Schafer-Frohlich being a winery to put on your wish list. The excellent estate Riesling Trocken can be enjoyed now and for the next 3 to 5 years, it offers lots of charm and quality for the savvy buyers and it is flexible enough to go with big range of cuisine choices.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2012 Cantina Gostolai, Cannonau di Sardegna, Nepente – Riserva “Sos Usos” Nepente di Oliena, Sardinia, Italy.
The 2012 Gostolai “Sos Usos” Cannonau di Sardegna Nepente Riserva is a glorious old world wine that without being loud or flashy is absolutely captivating, casting a beautiful spell on those lucky enough to experience it showing a deep earthy fruit dimension with pleasing mouth feel, intriguing complexity and compelling length, making for an impressive wine. Cannonau, which is Grenache, is the Island of Sardinia’s signature red grape and wine, with Gostolai’s version being exceptionally distinct showing brandied cherries, strawberry, plum, brambly raspberry and red currant fruits along with forest floor, bay leaf, cigar wrapper, cedar, dried flowers, peppery spices and minty anise. While there is furious debate between Sardinia and Spain as to the historical origin of Grenache, carbon dating has interestingly now presented Sardinia with the edge with the earliest known grape extract of Grenache found so far. These Sardinian examples of Grenache are unique, they have their own characteristics with one of the most noticeable differences being the pigment which is more like Nebbiolo in hue with a deep garnet and brick edged color, like this one shows, much less purply that the Rhone, Spanish, Australian and or California versions. This value packed 2012 Gostolai Riserva is really coming into its peak with silken tannin, secondary maturity of flavors, as well as displaying elegant transparency, making it an artfully made wine that has plenty to offer wine enthusiasts, especially Italian aficionados, in fact their is many elements of this wine that will appeal to Tuscan and Piedmonte fans.

I featured Gostolai recently, highlighting one of their white wines made from a rare native varietal, and I’m glad to have been introduced to this winery, again many thanks to Sardinian native and Italian sommelier Giuseppe Cossu for sharing these wines with me, they have re-ignited my excitement for this Island’s wines. The Cantina Gostolai, based in Nepente di Oliena in the northeast side of Sardinia, is mostly known for their Vermentino di Sardegna and this Cannonau (Grenache) di Sardegna wines, but they also produce small real rarities as well, including a sweet Muscat and the almost unheard of local varietal Arvesiniadu, a grape not found anywhere else in the world, which I reviewed earlier this month. Sardinia has many distinct terroirs and climates that have a huge range of soils from ancient volcanic to deep decomposed granite sands, which Connonau loves, that all give very individual flavors to the wines here on this Mediterranean island, which just might be the birth place of western Europe’s wine trade. This Riserva, sourced from 25 year old vines at about a 1,000 feet of elevation on the granite based sandy soils, saw about two weeks of maceration on the skins, with the grapes going through a severe selection and being 100% de-stemmed, and fermented in stainless before being racked to large used 750 liter Tonneau (barrel), where it is aged for about 20 months. After being bottled this wine then gets rested in the cellar a further year to mature before release, allowing the wine the time it needs to show its full personality and come together. This Cannonau di Sardegna, Nepente – Riserva “Sos Usos” by vini Gostolai has a raw sex appeal, it is a stand out example and a wine that has lots to admire, it goes fabulously well with food, as you’d expect from an Italian red, especially rustic cuisine and or hard cheeses, it won’t be easy to find, but well worth searching for.
($26 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Morgan Winery, Pinot Noir, Double L Vineyard “Morgan LT” Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County.
I was given a preview of Morgan’s club release of their limited LT Clone Pinot from the estate Double L Vineyard and I was highly impressed by this wine’s composure and elegance already for such a young wine, bravo to owner Dan Lee and head winemaker Sam Smith on crafting an outstanding and nuanced Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot. The inviting color is vividly ruby and garnet in classic Pinot Noir fashion and the nose is delicately floral and with aromas of red berry fruit and subtle French oak toastiness that leads to a very satiny smooth medium to full bodied palate of black raspberry, plum and round cherry fruits along with a background of tea spices, vanilla, sassafras and wilted rose petals. The mouth feel is sensational and creamy, thanks to the deft winemaking and the perfect nature of this vintage, making for an impeccably balanced and graceful Pinot Noir, the joy of this LT (La Tache clone) is its purity and supple opulence. Smith has done a masterful job of letting the year and the place shine through here, it is neither fussy or over the top, and it should fill out further and gain depth with some extra cellaring. Morgan’s lineup of Chardonnay and Pinots are now among the best in the region, in particular the Double L small batch single clone bottlings, which are fabulous and uniquely distinct, with their Clone 96 Chard and this LT Pinot being favorites of mine.

Morgan’s estate Double L Vineyard is located in the cool zone of the Santa Lucia Highlands at the northern end of the AVA on the hardened clay, Chualar loam and sandy decomposed granite soils, this organic site’s unique north-south row orientation provides optimal wind and sun exposure for full flavor development and ripeness, which especially shows in these latest Pinot releases, like this one. The Clone LT, which refers to one of the most celebrated Pinot Noir vineyards in Burgundy, of course and as noted above, meaning the famed La Tache Grand Cru, was grafted into a small block at the top of Double L Vineyard from suitcase cuttings. To achieve the best results and in keeping with Morgan’s silky house style, winemaker Sam Smith, went with grapes that were 100% de-stemmed and ultra careful hand sorting, leaving the individual grapes intact and kept cold. Then he allowed the native yeasts to began the whole berry fermentation in open top tanks, which has added to the gorgeous textural quality in this LT Pinot. This small lot saw a gentle manual punch downs regime to give this beautifully crafted wine its pigment and soft tannin extraction. After primary was finished the wine was racked to a combination of medium and medium-plus toast Burgundy barrels, of which 35% were new, for the secondary or malos and elevage, with the aging period lasting about ten months in the oak. This very entertaining and smooth wine will continue to develop over the next 3 to 5 years, though delicious now, patience looks to bring even more rewards.
($65 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2020 Weingut Hans Wirsching, Sylvaner Trocken, Iphofer, Franken, Germany.
The bright, medium bodied and surprisingly complex Wirsching dry Silvaner is more proof that the 2020 vintage in Germany is pretty epic and not just in the usual regions, it also brings a shining light to the quality of the Silvaner grape, which doesn’t get the attention it deserves. In the Franconia or Franken region in southern Germany, Silvaner is the most important grape variety, with about 40% of the region planted to Silvaner and where its best expression seems to come through in the wines. At Wirsching’s estate, they almost exclusively offer what they call “Franconian Dry” Silvaners, like this Iphofer Trocken. While Silvaner leads the way In Franconia, Riesling still has a role here, though limited at around 5% of total plantings and it is only found in the best sites. This Wirsching Iphofer Trocken is pale and looks lighter than what you get on the textured palate with citrus blossom, earthy loam and orchard fruits leading the way along with melon, white peach, lemon/lime and quince fruits, as well as classic herbal notes, mineral and a mouth watering saline. This wine is bone dry and zesty with nice smooth acidity, making it a white wine that goes with many food choices, including fish, chicken and salads. If you have not had Silvaner, there has never been a better time to try it, especially from here in Franken, but also it is found in Alsace and other regions within Germany itself, where it is reaching even greater levels of quality.

The mudstone soils here is a formed from sedimentary rock consisting of clays interspersed with fine and thicker gypsum veins that emerged about 235-231 million years ago, which gives the wines, along with a slightly warmer climate, their terroir character. But maybe the most distinct thing you notice about Franken wines is the bottle shape, called Bocksbeutel, the name of this unique, typical bottle originates from the word “book” because, it was used as a hip flask by monks in the region, it fitted into the pouch in which the monks or pilgrims carried their prayer book. In ancient times these mouth-blown glass bottles were a precious drinking vessels. The winery adds, that later, in the Middle Ages, it was mainly used as a pilgrim’s bottle made of glass or clay, but since the beginning of the 18th century, it has been the trademark bottle of the exceptional wines, and mainly Silvaner, from Franconia. The Hans Wirsching wine estate is one of the most traditional and renowned estates in Franconia is currently run by Andrea Wirsching and Dr. Heinrich Wirsching and farm about 90 hectares in and around Iphofen. They produce mainly dry white wines made from grape varieties including Silvaner of course, as well as Riesling, Scheurebe, along with Pinot varieties, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, plus some Pinot Noir. The small wine town of Iphofen was first mentioned in a document back in 741 AD and was home to the Franconian royal court, and was an important route from Frankfurt via Würzburg and Fürth to Regensburg, making it a key trade intersection and a great place to sell wine, that continues today.
($15 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2019 Hundred Suns, Gamay Noir, Tualatin Estate, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The 2019 vintage version of this Hundred Suns Gamay is high toned and more delicate in form than the last two releases which were a touch more plush and exotic, but equally as compelling with its subtle floral perfume, spice and mineral tones that compliment the vibrant dark fruits on the medium bodied palate that feels crisp and electric with its racy acidity. This is a wine that opens slowly to reveal its full nature and it is strikingly beautiful in the glass with a brilliant ruby gemstone and magenta hue and hints of violets, brandied cherries and a faint earthy element coming out on the nose, which presents a sultry lead up to the juicy Gamay fruits in the mouth, with vibrant tart cherry echos, plum, black currant and strawberry, as well as anise, grilled citrus, some saliva inducing saline and a dusty array of spices. Hundred Suns, as mentioned here, is one of the most exciting newer labels in Oregon these days with a focus on Pinot Noir as you’d expect from the ex Beaux Freres winemaker Grant Coulter, who sources his grapes from some top sites, like the Shea Vineyard and Mike Etzel’s (founder of Beaux Freres) Sequitur Vineyard, but they also do some fascinating other wines, like this Tualatin Estate Gamay, a fine Chardonnay and a Washington State sourced effort made from Grenache and a fresh and quaffable Syrah bottling. This Gamay has become a favorite of mine and I think it has incredible aging potential too, it seems to me they will, like some of the top Cru Beaujolais producers, like Dutraive and Foillard do, and there is more depth and complex to come.

The winemaking here on the Hundred Suns Gamay 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. As noted in my prior reviews, 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 grown for Grant and Renée, of true Gamay Noir, which all goes into this fascinating wine. Given the though and effort that goes into making this thrilling Gamay, I consider it a outstanding value and look forward to see how it tastes in another 3 to 5 years, as I got a few bottles tucked away. As I have recommended, this is a mailing list to get on, especially for the selection of single vineyard Pinots, each of which is terroir driven and uniquely distinct in character. I also have to mention that, the Hundred Suns Willamette Valley Old Eight Cut Pinot, at under $30 a bottle, is one of the best deals around and should provide top quality entertainment for Oregon Pinot enthusiasts, these is a winery to keep your eyes on!
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2011 Ceritas, Chardonnay, Charles Heintz Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
When people tell you California Chardonnay is too fat and buttery and not as interesting as Burgundy, you can rest assured that they haven’t had wines like this, John Raytek’s brilliant Ceritas Charles Heintz Sonoma Coast 2011 Chardonnay, at 10 years old it is unbelievably racy, mineral intense and low alcohol with fantastic acidity still being pumped out vigorously, but also displaying a depth and class that reminds me of some exceptional Premier Cru Chablis bottlings. Thanks to Lee Lightfoot, long time wine professional and who was celebrating his birthday by opening his last bottle of this wine, for sharing it, it was drinking fabulous, even on day two. The Ceritas Heintz Chard, coming from the extremely cold vintage of 2011 and the from a very western site on the true Sonoma Coast, saw a good lengthy hang time for complexity and retained its heightened acidity finishing with just 12.9% natural alcohol, all of which made for perfect conditions for this wine to really shine with age, as it does. The palate of this golden hued Chardonnay is zesty and lemon toned with a medium body that gets more textural with some time and warmth in the glass, it hints at some age with secondary elements coming out, including a delicate wild mushroom note and a hint of orange tea to along with a classic array of crisp apple, pear and the mentioned lemon fruits along with touches of clove spice, hazelnut, clarified creme, wet river stone and a whisper of oak toast. I have really enjoyed my experiences with the Ceritas wines, especially their Trout Gulch Chardonnay, another wine that impresses for its stunning quality, vibrancy and old world charm, like this one does.

Ceritas happily shares the organically farmed section at the Heintz Vineyard with a fellow winery, Ted Lemon’s Littorai and uses an old clone selection here that is set on Goldridge sandy loam soils, and it sits just above the fog line, located just east of the town of Occidental. Raytek says this site defied the conventional wisdom in the 1980s, when it was planted and he adds that the Heintz Vineyard has since proven to be superb Chardonnay terroir, with inherent richness, but balanced by bright acidity and briny minerality, all of which is clearly on display here in his 2011 Heintz Chardonnay. Ceritas, a small hand-crafted wine label with a real enthusiast follow, is led by the husband and wife duo of John and Phoebe Raytek, who are committed to sustainable and organic farming, ensuring each of their growing partners follow that path, in their pursuit of producing terroir driven wines. Ceritas makes a series of outstanding small lot single vineyard wines focusing on Chardonnay, as well as Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, with a range of vineyards set in the Santa Cruz Mountains and in the coolest zones of the Sonoma Coast, with all the wines being styled after traditional old world wines. The Raytek’s winemaking is, as he explains, flexible rather than dogmatic, allowing each vineyard to speak for itself, employing low intervention methods to achieve purity and transparency in his wines. John Raytek has a wealth of experience in winemaking and notably worked in the cellars of Flowers, Rhys, Lioco and Copain before striking out on his own, his success is the result of hard work and a deft touch, like many of his generation, Raytek uses mostly native yeasts and well used French oak barrels to raise his wines. The 2011 Heintz Chard is a beauty and in a perfect spot right now, it makes me very excited for 2019s here at Ceritas, they should be outrageously good, I suggest checking them out and not missing out!
($75 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2020 Cameron Winery, Giuliano Bianco, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The light and crisp Giuliano, an Italian inspired white blend, is from Cameron’s Dundee Hills estate vineyards, Clos Electrique and White Oak, and is a delicious wine, one that has become one of my favorites, when I can get it of course. All of these Cameroni (the Italian style wines) are highly sought after by fans of the legendary John Paul, famous for his Pinots, but who is an Italian wine fanatic himself, so they sell out fast, especially this one. Highly refreshing, slightly effervescent from the capture of CO2 during tank fermentation and with a lovely white flowers bouquet the latest Giuliano delivers a zingy palate of racy citrus, green apple, bosc pear and tart quince fruits, saline infused wet rock, sweet and sour herbs, spearmint and lingering mineral tones. This is a wine to enjoy with oysters, sushi and or linguine pasta with Manila claims, it is jazzy stuff that gets more interesting with food and is rather more than the sum of its parts. The nose, the fruit and tanginess mixed with the stony dimension and orange blossoms add up to a very compelling white wine that gains texture and spice with air highlighting the volcanic Jory soils. Those that like the whites and or field blends of Northeastern Italy will find this wine faithful if not a riveting new world example, full of personality with no pretense and with a raw transparency that is wonderfully addictive.

The Giuliano White Wine is what, winemaker, John Paul of Cameron Winery calls a traditional Friulian varietal blend of grapes including Friuliano, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco (Blanc), Auxerrois and a touch of floral intense Moscato (dry Muscat) that is all fermented and settled in cool stainless steel and bottled about four months after harvest, that Paul adds, to capture the high tone fruit aromatics in the bottle, along with some zesty spritz. Fermented bone dry and with grapes picked leaner in sugars make this wine very energetic and nicely retrained in natural alcohol at 12.4% and the acidity is excellent, a tribute to Paul’s skills in the cellar along with his care in the vines, which is driven by a belief in sustainable and non irrigation farming. Paul himself suggests a tower of prawns with this Giuliano field blend, and who am I to argue, that does actually sounds fabulous right now. Cameron’s Italian influenced wines are quite stunning from the Nebbiolo to a really esoteric 100% Friuliano that was fermented on the skins and amphora raised, these are exciting wines that sometimes rival John Paul’s Burgundy style Pinots and Chardonnays. The solo Pinot Blanc or Pinot Bianco is also a sleeper in the lineup and should not be missed, it is a grape that is really become exceptional in Oregon in recent years and then there is Cameron’s Pinot Gris bottlings, very cool stuff as well, a Ramato version with light skin contact to a Gris Rouge that is as dark as a Pinot Noir, another wine I am geeky about.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2020 Weingut Schäfer-Fröhlich, Riesling Trocken “Schiefergestein” Bockenauer, Nahe, Germany.
Tim Frohlich, known for his exceptionally pure terroir wines at the famous Schäfer-Fröhlich in the Bockenau region of the Nahe has done another fabulous set of wines in the much hyped, and for good reason, 2020 vintage with two of his entry level dry Riesling bottlings already showing the years’ potential greatness, in this case, its his absolutely thrilling Schiefergestein Trocken sourced from, as the winery notes, young vineyards (approx. 35 years) at the Felseneck cru. Felsneck a VDP Grosse Lage (Grand Cru) vineyard set on rocky sparse hillside with classic slate and quartzite soils, with this wine coming off mainly the slate and harvested about one week earlier than the prestigious GG-wines, giving a bit more lightness and freshness, but still getting the true nature of the place and this vintage is none the lesser, making this an outstanding value, considering just how exclusive and pricy the Felseneck Grosses Gewachs is, with excellent concentration and depth on display even now. I was wowed by the intensity of flavors here in Frohlich’s Schiefergestein and the striking mineral focus, the crispness of the fruit detail and the savory, almost bacony notes, that can sometimes also can be found in top Hermitage Blancs! This is a divine Riesling and a sleeper in the Schäfer-Fröhlich portfolio and one I highly recommend searching out for its class, powerful slate influenced nature and potential to age with layers of racy citrus, stone fruits, including tree picked apricot, green apple, pineapple, smoky flint, subtle white flowers, bitter peach pit, mouth watering saline, chamomile and a hint of spearmint. The dry extract is gripping, almost like a tannic, making this a very chiseled Riesling with a strong personality and has the potential to get remarkably more rewarding in the next 3 to 5 years.

From what I understand, the Fröhlich family has been vignerons and working vineyards since the 1800s, but the Schäfer-Fröhlich label didn’t come into being until the 1970s when the two families through marriage merged and created the winery. Over time this estate has become one of the top wineries in Nahe, joining the region’s elite like Donnhoff and Diel to name a couple. More recently Schäfer-Fröhlich has cemented its reputation in Germany and throughout the world, gaining the following of Riesling enthusiasts, making these wines collectors items, even here in California. This fame is largely due to Tim Fröhlich, who is in charge at Schäfer-Fröhlich after taking over his family’s business in the 1990s. Fröhlich, known widely as a perfectionist and a hard working sort that never rests on success, he made his first vintage in 1995 at the age of 21, and has never looked back. The village of Bockenau, the winery’s location in the Nahe was close to being unknown until Tim’s wines achieved international success, with the wines now some of the most sought-after Rieslings in Germany. Schäfer-Fröhlich’s success is also a reflection of the greatness of the slate-based, quartzite-laced Felseneck VDP Grosse Lage in Bockenau, a truly amazing site with its steep slopes. Fröhlich, as mentioned, looks for extreme purity in his wines, and is a true terroir fanatic, according to his friends and admirers. He has a sublime touch and is hugely talented, capturing the essence of the place with precision, subtly and elegance in his outstanding wines, like this one. This winery has the reputation of being a label to stock up on when vintage conditions are difficult, it’s a solid choice in off years, big tribute to Tim’s gift and his relentless nature. The wines often show the effects of the reductive winemaking and get more rewarding over time, but these 2020s are already compelling and are integrating beautifully, don’t miss these outstanding Rieslings, especially the trockens!
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Halcon Vineyard, Petite Sirah “Tierra” Theopolis Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
For many years now, I’ve suggested that this Halcon Tierra Petite Sirah maybe the greatest modern version and most singular example of this grape in California, taking it to new almost unimaginable heights, in my opinion, and uniquely it is very much a wine inspired by old world Northern Rhone, it’s styled in the mold of some the cult heros of that region, like Domaine Jamet of Cote-Rotie and Thierry Allemand of Cornas, with plenty of whole bunches used in the fermentation to create a special, if not icon example of this grape. So it was with great sadness, that I learned, that winemakers Paul & Jackie Gordon have decided to call it quits, and this maybe the last of their Petite Sirah, as well as their awesome Syrah wines, and they have sold their Halcon Estate vineyard to pursue new adventures. This 2019 is a great swan song for this Tierra Theopolis Vineyard Petite Sirah, it is everything it should be and more in the glass, with a deep saturated purple/garnet hue and it shows a heightened spicy, dark berry and floral bouquet on the nose, it is incredibly inviting to the senses with dense layers of blackberry, blueberry, plum and cherry fruits along with creme de cassis, anise, sandalwood and faint mocha notes in a gorgeous full bodied wine. There is a fresh burst of natural acidity the pushes a slightly lighter mouth feel, but with food it gains opulent and lush personality that brings even greater pleasure, while in the background you can tell there is a serious structure, tannic grip and the stems provide a sultry earthiness, umami and a touch of herbal crunch, making a nice contrast to the richness of fruit. This vintage is more composed and polished than the prior releases in its youth, though no less thrilling or impressive in overall performance!

The Halcon “Tierra” Petite Sirah is made once again faithful to the Gordon’s style, which as noted is modeled after the wines of the Northern Rhone, where they use typically 50% whole cluster in the maceration and primary fermentation, started naturally with indigenous yeasts and a low SO2 regiment with the wine getting hand pilage. As noted in my reviews, things continued pretty much the same, after the Petite Sirah was close to dry and finished an extended maceration, where it captured its sexy dark color and savory depth, it was pressed to well used or neutral French oak barrels to finish malos and the it was aged close to 20 months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. 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. This wine has always been a ridiculous value, as is the Halcon Syrah, and I recommend grabbing as many bottles as you can find before they are gone for good! The steeply terraced Theopolis Vineyard, set on stony schist and owned by Theodora Lee, of Theopolis Vineyards, who also does a fabulous version of Petite Sirah, in the Yorkville Highlands is fast becoming a Grand Cru site in this region. The warm days and very cold nights in this part of Mendocino County here really make for sublime wines, as this wine confirms, putting it in Petite Sirah royalty along the likes of Turley, Biale, Carlisle, Jaffurs (Thompson Vineyard), Sheldon and Relic to name a few, as well as classics such as Freemark Abbey and Stag’s Leap Winery.
($32 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2020 Reichsrat Von Buhl, Rosé of Pinot Noir “Bone Dry” Pfalz, Germany.
Germany is now a hotbed for dry Rosé wines, with quality offerings from most every region and while many different varietals are used in these wines, I am drawn to the ones made from Pinot Noir, like Von Buhl’s very cool and exceptional “Bone Dry” version made with 100% Pinot Noir or Spatburgunder as it is known in most of the country, it is fresh and crisply detailed, but with a sense of seamless harmony and texture from the extended aging and lees contact. The palate is vibrant with ruby citrus and strawberry along with a nice spicy character as well as lingering sour cherries, wet chalk and rosewater. This is an elegant effort from the famous Von Buhl estate, though the label suggests it is very much a no pretense and playful wine, maybe so when compared to the elite selection of Rieslings in Von Buhl’s lineup of tasty treats, especially those remarkable Grosses Gewachs! The Reichsrat Von Buhl Dry Rosé was crafted with care and is not an afterthought or a fad led example with the winery picking these grapes to be exclusively made into Rosé. The Von Buhl is a non saignée pink wine, it is not, as they are careful to note, a by-product of red wine vinification, it was 100% going to be an independent program, coming from specially picked parcels of Pinot Noir set on sandstone soils with some limestone, loess and clay, all of which plays a part in allowing for mineral notes, body and ripe flavors at low sugars. The wine was carefully fermented and aged in cool stainless steel as well as partially raised in used barrique barrels with the Rosé being rested on the full yeast (lees) for a whole year, which significantly increases the mouthfeel and vinous quality, as this latest release shows perfectly. To achieve these impressive results the grapes were 100% de-stemmed and remained on the skins for between 8-14 hours, after which they gently pressed it with only 50% juice extraction to ensure concentration and limit bitter phenolics.

The VDP Reichsrat von Buhl estate has been a notable family-owned winery for more than 150 years, and has belonged to the circle of Germany’s the most prestigious properties and is loaded with top vineyard sites in the Pfalz, including parcels in the famous Deidesheimer and Forster terroirs. The long history and heritage at Reichsrat Von Buhl, since its original founding by Franz Peter Buhl back in 1849, it has stood for some of the quality and elegance of Pfalz Rieslings, one of Germany’s most noble wineries, was almost lost until Achim Niederberger took over in 2013 and under his direction the quality has risen dramatically to new heights and restored this grand estate’s reputation. It is interesting to think that the Von Buhl wines were some of the most expensive wines in the world and were very much a collectable label with the rich and famous, including the legendary German chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who was a huge fan of the wines here. With the talents of Mathieu Kauffmann, as director of winemaking, now a new exciting era in the history of Reichsrat von Buhl has begun in earnest with great care in the vineyards, which are all farmed with sustainable methods being employed, with the vines getting guidance by the renowned viticulturist Werner Sebastian, a longtime employe at Von Buhl, as well as a serious effort to preserve the house style of these classic wines. Von Buhl’s current holdings are spectacular sites, these include Forster Kirchenstück, Ungeheuer, Pechstein, Jesuitengarten, Freundstück and the Deidesheim sites Leinhöhle, Herrgottsacker, Kiesleberg and the Paradiesgarten, all in the region’s who’s who of greatness! The Pfalz is blessed with outstanding quality these days with the likes of Mueller-Catoir, Bassermann-Jordan, Reichsrat von Buhl and one of my favorites Von Winning – Dr. Deinhard, all being great estates to search out, especially for Riesling with many world class GGs on offer, along with some serious examples of Pinot Noir, called Spatburgunder locally, Sauvignon Blanc and rarities like Muskateller, Rieslaner and Scheurebe, plus fun stuff like a Sekt bubbly and this delicious Rosé.
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 G.D. Vajra, Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, Piedmonte, Italy.
This bottling of basic Langhe Nebbiolo is a perennial favorite of mine and a fantastic value, it offers pure varietal character and substance for an incredible price, it is a guilt free baby Barolo and is beautifully crafted to capture the essence of the region and it goes fabulously well with an array of cuisine and dishes from cheese, pizza or pasta to more exotic things like seared duck breast or Turkish lamb. The 2019 starts primary led and fruit forward, but with air the classic elements of serious Nebbiolo come cascading on to the medium bodied palate with black cherry, plum, fig, briery raspberry, zesty blood orange and earthy mulberry fruits, snappy herbs, rose florals, black tarry licorice and a hint of underbrush. About this supple textured young wine, winemaker Giuseppe Vaira (Vajra) says, it is their quest for the innocence of Nebbiolo, (to show) its purest expression, going on he continues that it delivers what he calls varietal truth, purity of aromatics and with lift and energy, all of which I see here in this lovely 2019 vintage. The G.D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo is mostly a stainless steel vat fermented and aged, with just a small portion seeing some neutral oak if the year dictates, which I don’t believe this one required as it feels supple and plush on the palate. The gentle and lengthy maceration of the Nebbiolo grapes is kept cool, to extract pigment and complex flavors, and the fermentation usually lasts about three weeks and is followed by spontaneous malolactic conversion, with an elevage of just under a year being typical, before bottling.

This winery is one of the best in Piedmonte, with a stellar lineup of Barolo offerings with many small lot Cru bottlings, like their signature Bricco delle Viole, the Coste di Rose, the newest addition, and the Ravera, as well as the Albe Barolo, a wine that way over delivers, like this one, for the price. Beyond the great Nebbiolo, Vajra does an amazing dry Riesling, honestly it rivals some huge names and I also would be a miss not to mention the other specialty of Vajra, their wildly exotic Kye Freisa, with its gorgeous strawberry fruit and heavenly perfume, as well as the collection of Barbera and Dolcetto wines, these are also utterly delicious efforts. As mentioned before in my reviews, Vajra was one of the first to embrace holistic farming in the region. As the winery notes, back In 1971, Aldo Vajra, Giuseppe’s father, then still a university student, was among the first to adopt organic farming in this historic region. Their vineyards have been nurtured, and soil preserved, by grassing in between rows and using spontaneous cover crops that provide nutrients to the vines for close to half a century. All of the estate is sustainable and organic certified, with, as Vajra puts it, an incredible ratio of manual work or hand tending per acre, the farming here is a labor of love and with incredible attention to detail. Intense research is also placed by the Vajra family into monitoring and improving the biodiversity of both flora and fauna, and not just in the vineyards, but also in the surrounding fields and forests to stay in balance with the natural environment. This wine, plus Vajra’s Langhe Rosso, a blend of native red grapes, are must haves for the savvy bargain hunters and are wines I always stock up on when I can.
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2020 Weingut Willems-Willems, Riesling Kabinett, Oberemmel Altenberg, Saar, Germany.
The Willens-Willens estate in the Saar region, not far from the Mosel, is a small family affair, making just about 4,500 cases a year, with some serious wines, like this beautifully expressive and crystalline Oberemmel Altenberg Kabinett, a slightly off dry Riesling that is driven by the slate underpinnings of this unique terroir. Willems-Willems does about 60% off-dry or sweet wines and 40% dry with mainly Riesling sites, all being eco-friendly sustainable vineyards, but they also have 20% of Pinot Blanc, which has seen a dramatic increase in quality and popularity in the greater Mosel-Saar-Ruwer area, along with about 10% Pinot Noir. This 2020 vintage in Germany is looking to be one of the classics with some truly Epic wines having been produced here and the quality across the board is excellent and these Kabinett offerings, especially from cru single vineyard sites are incredible values that not only please now, as this Willems-Willems does, but will age spectacularly well, it is a year to stock up on. The Saar has many historic and famous names like Carl von Schubert Maximin Grunhauser and one of the more recent stars, Peter Lauer, and somehow stays under the radar, and I had never had or even heard of Willems-Willems before, which now I am glad to say I have and loved this lightly golden Kabinett with its zesty citrus, white peach, quince, green apple and earthy mango fruits, saline infused and flinty spice, wet stone, jasmine and green tea notes. The residual sugar here doesn’t feel overtly sweet, mainly providing a subtle creaminess, juiciness, making it medium bodied, more like a Feinherb and balancing the brisk acidity, giving this wine a broad appeal and flexibility of cuisine options, though it will be great with spicier Asian meals. While not a household name, Willems-Willems is a winery I am planning to follow and I am excited to sample the rest of their lineup, this was a cool new discovery.

Five generations of women have managed and run this Saar estate with Carolin (Willems-Willems) Hofmann now firmly in charge here and taking care of all the business aspects of the winery with General Manager Peter Thelen looking after the grapes and the cellar. Today the property is a dedicated wine growing estate, but similar to other family wineries in the region it was until 1971 it operated as a mixed or multi-purpose farm. That was also the year the matriarch of the Willems estate, Maria Willems married Karl, who in a strange twist of fate shared a distant ancestor and thus the same last name. Then the winery, that was known as Willems became Willems-Willems, a name that they proudly use today. Maria’s daughter Carolin and her husband Jürgen are now responsible for the wines here as mentioned above with Carolin calling the shots as tradition here dictates. The couple, Jurgen and Carolin commute from their family home, that is in Appenhem, interestingly in Rheinhessen wine growing region to their estate on the Saar. Even the grandparents lend a hand still with Karl and Maria Willems regularly handling the small apartments located on site, in the historical section of the estate’s residence that they rent out. The Oberemmel parcel is the best section of vines here, in the rather large “Altenberg” vineyard, which Willems-Willems has, is located just below its small vineyard chapel, shown on the label, think La Chapelle in the Rhone’s famous Hermitage vineyard, it is where the perfect combination of conditions meld together. These mature vines growing on very steep slopes are more than 70 years old and dug in deep into the weathered slate, perfect for concentration, smoky complexity and purity of flavors, again, that is displayed in Willems-Willems brilliant and aromatic Kabinett. This excellent Saar Kabinett is, as the winery notes, the result of a special combination of extremely small yields and slow spontaneous wild ferment along with the extended lees aging, as Thelen gave it the plenty of time to fully develop its personality and grace before bottling.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Rime Cellars, Aglianico, Camino Alto Vineyard, El Dorado County, Sierra Foothills.
This wine is a bit of a Deja Vu, it is just like the 2018 version, which is stunning considering my expectations after loving the last vintage so much, with Ryme’s 2019 Camino Alto Aglianico delivering a fantastic repeat performance showing a full bodied palate of dark fruits, earth, spice and crushed flowers. The Camino Alto version of Aglianico is a thrillingly dark and inky wine in the glass with black currant, boysenberry coulis, plum, an earthy hint of leather and kirsch fruits in the mouth along with melted black licorice, minty herbs and a mix of violets and peonies. With some air and food things settle into a firmly detailed and powerfully structured wine, but supple too, very well balanced and with the vintage’s opulent fruit density contrasting with a nice sense of freshness and acidity that allow this Aglianico to be enjoyed in its youth, though it has depth and stuffing to age. I was incredibly impressed with this vineyard’s last offering, and this 2019 is just as compelling and it has cemented its place on my personal favorite list, it is definitely in my top ten wines of the year, with Ryme joining a fabulous new generation of wineries that are lighting it up right now, along with the likes of Sandlands, Desire Lines Wine Co, Jolie-Laide, Filomena Wine Co, Martha Stoumen and Ian Brand to name a few of which I am buying a bunch of wines for my own consumption! Also, I should note that Italian varietals have never been better in California than they are now, with Aglianico really showing a lot of promise, along with other rarities like Nero d’Avola, Arneis, Sagrantino, Refosco, Ribolla Giallo, Friulano and Montepulciano, as well as more established grapes like Vermentino, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Barbera. The Camino Alto vineyard is located at 2800 feet in mineral rich granite based soils in the El Dorado AVA. The Summer days here are hot, but, as Ryme explains, there is a huge diurnal shift of temperature change with cold nights keeping the vines refreshed, retaining natural acidity that plays a big role in making this wine so good.

As mentioned in my last review of this wine, Aglianico, is sometimes called “The Barolo of the South” (because of some similarities to Nebbiolo) and it is an Sourthen Italian varietal found mostly in the Basilicata and Campania regions, 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 Sierra Foothills mineral rich granite soils. Ryme Cellars, with winemakers Megan and Ryan Glaab, have been exploring Italian grapes for many years and have a wonderful collection of them with Vermentino, Fiano, another Southern Italian grape, Sangiovese and Friulano, with three different versions of Aglianico, including a tasty Rosé of Aglianico and two single vineyard bottlings, this Camino Alto and a Luna Matta Vineyard, Paso Robles bottling which is very different in character, but also well worthy of your attention. Ryme’s Camino Alto Aglianico, is old school fermented with the grapes being crushed by foot using 100% whole cluster allowing indigenous yeast to start the process and it sees gentle hand punch downs, but to get full extraction from this bold Aglianico. After the maceration and primary, the husband and wife winemaking team age this one in neutral French oak barrels for about a year and then bottled it without filtration. This wine deserves a robust and hearty meal to accompany it, this stuff has real presence and would go great with a classic pairing of lamb and or hard sheep cheeses, I highly recommend checking Ryme out, and especially this sexy/sultry Aglianico, which is a great alternative to much more expensive Cabernet Sauvignon!
($42 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2019 Vincent, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
After first tasting the Vincent wines last year, I was excited to try this recent release and I was not disappointed with this bright ruby and translucent Willamette Valley Pinot, it is a lighter framed and elegant expression of this grape with racy and tangy array of red fruits, delicate spices, heightened aromatics and a lovely lingering finish. This 2019 is crisp in detail and shows lots of cherry, brambly raspberry, plum and zesty orangey citrus with plenty of energetic acidity and incredibly subtle oak framing handsome snappy herbs as well as an earthy rose petal element. The Pinot Noir grapes, sourced from top quality sites on marine sedimentary and volcanic soils, are carefully sorted and typically, but not always, get crushed and de-stemmed and then put into small fermenters, with any whole cluster lots, if used, depending on the vintage, Vincent adds, get a classic pigeage, or foot treading, to get things moving and minimize any large air pockets that might be in the fermenter. The winery notes as well, that the main lots of crushed grapes in the bins are then left alone for a spontaneous fermentation with indigenous yeasts, usually this happens within a week or so. Only when enough CO2 is coming off the fermenter in earnest do the cellar team do the first punch downs, where they break up the forming cap of and push down grape matter at the top layer of the fermenter deeper into the juice to extract more flavor and color. Vincent does a unique regime, where they do one punch down each day for the next few days, as fermentation peaks, then they gently wet the cap each day after just to keep things fresh. Depending on how their fermentations go, they typically drain and press their Pinots about three weeks after harvest. Each of the new wines here are settled separately, with the free run kept apart from the press wine, and racked gently into French oak barrels after a settling period usually a day or two. Vincent also uses ultra low SO2 or none when possible and they don’t use any new oak with barrels that range in age and use between five to ten years old, though with a few as young as 2 years and a few that are much older, all to promote a raw purity. The basic Willamette Valley cuvées, like this one, that reminds me of a young Santenay or Cote de Beaune red Burgundy, are aged for one year, while the single vineyard Pinot Noirs and the special “Tardive” labeled wines see an elevage of close to 18 months in the barrel, with all of Pinots only being moved out of barrel for final blending, and then for their bottling of course, all done unfiltered.

Owner and winemaker Vincent Fritzsche started Vincent Wine Company, located in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, back in 2009 with a focus on transparent and elegant Pinot Noirs, which are lighter and more vibrant than was the trend of the times and after some success with his stylish examples, Vincent, now produces about 2,000 cases a year of mainly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but as added some very nice Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and a really exciting Gamay to his collection, which I reviewed recently here. Fritzsche says that he makes his wines in a low-input wine making style, borrowed from the old world, and sources his grapes from some incredible vineyards with several sustainably-farmed parcels from all around the Willamette Valley, which he uses to produce small lots of hand-crafted wine, that he adds are made in a natural way without a lot of fuss. While know almost exclusively for his set of single vineyard Pinots, Vincent does also this regional Willamette Valley bottling, as well as a couple of unique AVA versions too, these offer tons of value for the price and you should search these out and or join their mailing list. Vincent’s Zenith, Armstrong, Redford-Wetle, Silvershot and Bjornson, along with the well known Temperance Hill make for a strong lineup of single vineyard offerings, reaching offering distinct terroir character and individual charms, with the Zenith Vineyard maybe being the most compelling in this thrilling set, but I still need to dig into all of them before giving a final judgement, but I can tell you this 2019 Willamette Valley regional Pinot is a great way to start exploring these wines, along with Fritsche’s tasty Gamay, a grape that is getting a lot of attention these days. Oregon has seen a few tough vintages, which made for a challenge for winemakers with a huge swing in climate conditions from sweltering to cool and with some rain during harvest, like in 2019, and even fires, so it’s been a mixed bag in results from 2016 to 2020, but some producers have really raised to the occasion and made some very serious and delicious wines, with these Vincent small batch efforts being stand outs and wonderful values, keep an eye out for them, especially if you like wines without makeup or pretense.
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2015 Caraccioli Cellars, Sparkling Brut Rosé, Escolle Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
It is the season, a perfect time to celebrate the end of harvest and the blessings of the year gone by, and Caraccioli’s fabulous Brut Rosé is about as good as you can get to do so, with their 2015 vintage offering loads of pleasure and personality with a lush array of classic flavors and a fine noble energetic mousse with a beading of small bubbles that feel creamy, but still vigorous, making this a special treat. The farming at the Caraccioli’s Escolle Vineyard, named after the historic local legend Honoré Escolle, one of Carmel’s founding fathers, who was very influential in many ways too the region, is impeccable and quality of fruit, especially Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, is quite exceptional making it, along with likes of Garys’, Rosella’s, Tondre, Pisoni, Soberanes to name a few, a top site in the Santa Lucia Highlands. This limited Brut Rosé displays a revolving palate of citrus, stone fruits and a hint of strawberry with rich leesy brioche, hazelnut and stony mineral tones with supple mouth feel and a faint floral dimension, it is an impressive sparkler that can be sipped joyously all on its own, but can also hold up to a variety of cuisine choices from appetizers to main courses. Scott Caraccioli’s latest set of sparkling efforts are well worth chasing down, especially this 2015 Brut Rosé, which is my favorite and one that I am planning to drink a bit of in the coming weeks. I am glad I checked into the Caraccioli tasting lounge in Carmel by the Sea, where I got a chance to sample this wine and catch up with Scott, who was extremely excited by the just picked vintage of grapes, which could be a epic year, and he also told me that he was happy with his new blocks of Gamay, making me thrilled with the idea of true Cru Beaujolais style wines coming out of Santa Lucia Highlands. The Escolle Vineyard, whether from Caraccioli Cellars or another winery, is an almost a guarantee of quality in the bottle, in particular I love the crystalline purity in the Chardonnay from this vineyard and the perfumed and darkly hued Pinot Noir.

The Caraccioli family started planting the 124 acre Escolle Vineyard in 2008, while they sourced grapes to make their early wines, waiting patiently until the estate vineyard, planted mainly to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with a dizzying number of blocks and clones, came online. Located in the cool northern corner of the AVA , set on decomposed granite based sandy loams with cold wind always blowing down off the Monterey Bay, all making it a place that provides a long growing season and keeps vibrant acidity in the grapes that is the life’s blood of serious Sparkling wines, which is the main focus of the winery. With the help of the late Michel Salgues, who had worked for Champagne house Louis Roderer for most of his career, including the last nineteen at Roederer Estate in Anderson Valley, where he was the founding winemaker, Scott Caraccioli quickly gained a solid reputation for his grower producer style bubbly and is now considered one of the best producers in California of Champagne method sparkling wines, which follow a very traditional regime from the vines to the bottle, with early picks to long lees aging on these elegant and lively wines. Scott first does a light pressing of the cool and fresh juice in small lots, with the winery noted that they do 120 gallons (well below what the law in Champagne mandates: 150-180gl.) at a time. The Cuvée and Rosé see no skin contact and mostly gets some stainless, though some of the lots are fermented in barrique, with all of the primary fermentations being spontaneous, done with ambient yeasts. The Caraccioli Brut Rosé undergoes the same processes and initial blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, as their Brut Cuvée. The difference in the Rosé is that Scott hand picks of a barrel of Pinot Noir still wine to blend into the final Rosé to give this bottling its delicate pink hue. To enhance complexity and depth the young wine is barreled down-post fermentation for a few months, taking as Caraccioli explains, a little rest before blending, though in a few years there is some stainless aged juice. The Caraccioli bubbly sees a long élevage, as mentioned, with a full four years on the lees, and then they are held back after disgorgement, under cork, for about two more years before release.
($57 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Tua Rita, Rosso dei Notri, IGT Tuscany, Italy.
The Rosso dei Norti, the baby red wine of the famed Tua Rita estate and legendary winemaker Luca d’Attoma is beautiful everyday Tuscan red that is a cuvée consisting of mainly Sangiovese and with a mix of international grapes that include the notable Merlot, which is one of best grapes grown in this area, Cabernet Sauvignon, that also has thrived here as witnessed by Tenuta San Guido’s iconic Sassicaia that is just down the road in Bolgheri, and even a small selection of Syrah, which has gained ground in this region over the last 10 to 15 years. The winery’s founders, Rita Tua and her husband, Virgilio Bisti, first started back in the mid eighties and released their first wine in 1992 with a focus on Merlot, setting the stage for Tua Rita to compete with their prestigious neighbors, which was especially successful with the mighty Redigaffi, a 100% Merlot wine with few peers that competes head to head with the likes Ornellaia’s Masseto and the mentioned Sassicaia. Tua Rita also does a fabulous Bordeaux blend called the Giusti di Notri that also helped this label achieve world wide acclaim, and while this Rosso dei Norti is not nearly on the level with the top wines, it is delicious stuff, as well as being a superb value. The 2018 version starts with a bright array of red fruits, hints of spice and a subtle floral bouquet before its supple medium palate kicks in with a mix of cherry, plum, raspberry and tangy cranberry/currant fruits along with a background of sandalwood, anise, tobacco leaf, dried dark flowers and minty herbs.

Tua Rita Rosso dei Notri is typically 50% Sangiovese and 50% a veritable blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, that come from from vineyards in the rolling foothills of Suvereto, the humble hilltop village in this picturesque and tranquil part of western Tuscany. Tua Rita’s cellars are also located in Suvereto, an ancient medieval town in the Tuscan province of Livorno, west of Pisa on the Tuscan coast, just south of Bolgheri. The winery, set up at just 300 feet above sea level, on pebbly clay and silty soils gets a climate that is warm, but moderated by the near by Mediterranean Sea that helps produce ripe grapes that are full of concentration, but are finely balanced in most years.This wine is made carefully to be a wine to be drunk young and fresh, so Luca is looking to craft a softer and fruit forward style bottling, but one that also highlights the winery’s style and quality. So the Sangiovese and the international varietals see a severe selection of clusters in the vineyards and a full de-stemming in the cellar, where after a gentle pressing, the wine is aged for about three months in French oak barriques and then also raised stainless steel tanks a bit more before an early bottling. I am a long time fan of ex rugby player Luca d’Attoma’s wines, he’s has a lot of hits in his portfolio, including the wines of his own Duemani, Poggio al Tesoro and these Tua Rita efforts as well as what he used do when at Le Macchiole, where he especially excelled with Merlot and Cab Franc. This latest release Rosso dei Notri, with its deep garnet color went delightfully well with a simple pasta dish and provided a joyous experience without pretense, it was just want the evening needed.
($22 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2020 Filomena Wine Company, Vermentino, Unti Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
The new pale straw and light gold Filomena Vermentino is bright and zingy with loads of meyer lemon, crisp green apple and melon fruits with a touch of citrus blossom, peach pit, snappy herbs, a hint of tropical essences and a lingering lees and butterscotch, which is from the percentage of sweet toasty French oak, making for a dry and medium wine that has enough serious presence in the glass to be excellent with cuisine. One of the most exciting new labels in California is Luke Nio’s Filomena Wine Company, a winery doing some outstanding small lot wines, mainly an awesome Griffin’s Lair Syrah, but also a carbonic style red made from the rare Austrian grape, Saint Lauren, that I love, and now this crisply delicious Vermentino coming off Mick Unti’s estate vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley. Nio, after spending some of his most recent harvests at Morgan Twain-Peterson’s Bedrock Wine Co now finds himself as a winemaker at the famous Green & Red Vineyards, like Bedrock, known also for tasty Zins, which is located near Pope Valley in Chiles Mill, over the hill from Howell Mountain in the eastern edges of the Napa Valley. This 2020 Filomena Vermentino should pair well with your favorite seafood dishes, in particular I recommend enjoying this one with grilled swordfish, steamed mussels and or octopus, as well as linguine and claims, with food giving this wine a chance to really express itself.

Luke’s version of Vermentino, pays tribute to some of more impressive Tuscan Coast, Corsican and especially the more textural Sardinian examples, it was gently whole-cluster pressed and fermented naturally with indigenous yeasts in a combination of three single vessels, that included one stainless steel barrel, a neutral French oak barrel, and one new French oak barrel. This debut vintage was aged for about 9 months on lees prior to bottling, which provided the clarity and background of richness in this delicious white wine that gains in mouth feel, saline stoniness and definition with air, it comes in at 13.1% ABV, that shows the ripeness of vintage, but still feels balanced with Vermentino’s ability to hold on to fresh natural acidity. Vermentino, also known as Rollé or Favorita in Piedmonte, is an amazingly versatile grape that is found all around the Mediterranean Sea and even plays a minor role in Chateauneuf du Pape, as well as being well suited to warm sites in Paso Robles and here in Dry Creek Valley, where it enjoys lots of sun and the Sonoma volcanic soils. Vermentino has many champions here in California and Oregon, with impressive versions made by Tablas Creek, Troon Vineyards, Ryme Cellars, Chesebro and Unti’s own bottling, to name a few I really like. A few years ago now, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon fame, told me that Vermentino will be an important grape in California, because of the effects of climate change and allows for wineries to source quality white grapes from less expensive warmer and drought effected areas and still made vibrant and complex wines, as this wine shows.
($28 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Cantina Gostolai, Concordu, Arvesiniadu, I.G.T. Isola dei Nuraghi Bianco, Sardinia, Italy.
The Cantina Gostolai, based in Nepente di Oliena in the northeast side of Sardinia, is mostly known for their Vermentino di Sardegna and Cannonau (Grenache) di Sardegna wines, but they also produce small real rarities as well, including a sweet Muscat and this almost unheard of local varietal Arvesiniadu, a grape not found anywhere else, so unique and rare, it is not even on the list of approved grapes! Gostolai’s Concordu Arvesiniadu is a glowing gold and yellowish in the glass with a fine dry stony character and mineral driven with light to medium body and a touch of phenolic extract showing a mix of citrus and stone fruits along with a hint of dried mango and lingering quince. With air, this 2018 vintage begins to show secondary elements with a touch of earth and waxy notes, gaining some alpine herb and flinty spices. These are the kind of wines that I live for and I am grateful to Italian sommelier and Sardinian native Giuseppe Cossu for sharing this unique white wine with me and trying his best to educate me on the incredible history of wine on Sardinia, separating the truth from myth and giving me an exciting new wine to research and write about, grazie Giuseppe! The Arvesiniadu, which first documented back in 1780 by writer Andrea Manca dell’Arca in his work on Sardinian agriculture, is found only on the island of Sardinia, particularly in the historic region of Goceano in the communes of Benetutti and Bono, where they high elevation vineyards set on complex soils that include red volcanics that are iron rich as well as limestone or dolomite. According to vine researchers, the Arvesiniadu has no generic relationships to any know vinifera, meaning we haven’t found a match or parent yet, which adds to the mystery that this island presents. Sardinia’s collection of grapes and wines are all noteworthy and while most people will have had Vermentino from the Island, and it may be their signature wine, it is not by any means the only star here and Sardinia has many distinct terroirs and climates that have a huge range of soils from ancient volcanic to deep sands that all give very individual flavors to the wines here.

As of 2015, there were only 20 hectares (49 acres) of the Arvesiniadu grape planted on the island and while historically it is usually blended with other white Sardinian varieties like Malvasia, Nuragus and Vermentino, it has also been used in making late harvest sweet wines and passito. It is more rare to be a single varietal dry white wine, so it was fascinating to try this 100% Arvesiniadu, uva nativa della Sardegna, version by Gostolai, which was fermented bone dry and was done completely in stainless steel. The wine making here was pretty standard, but for the fact that they whole cluster pressed the freshly picked grapes and allowed a short period of skin contact, lasting a few hours before being moved to the temperature controlled stainless vats. This short skin contact allows for a touch more pigment, extract and structure, enough to be noticeable on the palate, but not as long as to be an orange wine or pick up any harsh or savory edge, though adding an extra degree of complexity. Sardinia has some of the longest history in wine growing of all of western Europe and while still controversy still persists, it could be the home or birth place of commercial wine trading in the Mediterranean, predating the Geeks, the Etruscans (who came to both Sardinia and Corsica) and likely thousands of years before the Romans, as new discoveries have shown it might just be the place where Grenache, known locally as Cannonau, is originally from, though the Spanish still claim it as theirs. Little is really known this Arvesiniadu grape outside of the island, but I found it to resemble some less aromatic alpine grapes like Chasselas, Jacquère and Altesse, which are common to the Savoie region of the French Alps. The name of this wine, also has uniquely native roots, as Cuncordu is a sacred folk music style of Sardinia, it is sung with regular voices, and the tenore is a more ancient using overtone singing or throat singing, here it is maybe referring to the joys of this uniquely Sardinian grape. This stuff, that would be delightful with soft cheeses and seafood dishes, will probably be a hard find, but if you are in the need of something absolutely authentic to Sardinia it will be worth the challenge. I see a few listings for this Gostolai Arvesiniadu, as well as the blended version, and even some with more age, which would be interesting as well.
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 I. Brand & Family, Cabernet Franc, Bayly Ranch, Paicines, San Benito County.
The dark ruby/garnet 2018 I. Brand & Family Winery Bayly Ranch Cabernet Franc, crafted using traditional methods, was vinified using whole berry grapes that were picked at moderate sugars, usually with selected yeasts, with a cool two week maceration, then raised for just under a year neutral (well seasoned) French oak, all to highlight this beautiful wine’s terroir, purity and vitality. Nicely complex and supple keeping its natural acidity, the long and cooler vintage, again like the last few years, speaks clearly in this Cab Franc with expressive fruit, but with a Loire like sense of earth, mineral and spice, many old world Franc lovers will appreciate the style and subtly this wine. I find this vineyard provides a certain set of flavors that are very similar year in and year out with this wine showing an intriguing and perfumed nose with touches of violets, crushed red berries, rose petals, cinnamon and chalky tones that focuses your attention to its medium/full palate that feels balanced and mature, delivering currant, macerated cherry, brambly raspberry and Mûre fruit along with a hint of classic bell pepper, some sweet sandalwood, anise, dried herbs and wild ceps. I am an admirer of Ian Brand’s wines, they are authentic and transparent offerings that can equally and easily go with haut cuisine and or simpler stuff, with this Bayly Cab Franc happy to go with burgers, though serious enough to pair with duck breast.

As is well noted these days Ian Brand, is producing some of the central coast’s most interesting wines and has found some remarkable and under recognized vineyard sites, such as this remote Bayly Ranch vineyard in the the wilds of San Benito County, where some of California’s earliest settlers to this part of the state planted vines back in the 1800s, though were largely forgotten until Brand came on the scene. The maker of the fun Le P’Tit Paysan line and the tasting La Marea Albarino and Spanish style Grenache, does an amazing set of small lot signature single vineyard wines under his I. Brand & Family label, where you find wines like this Franc, as well as other stars including limited bottlings of old school mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, old vine Grenache and a Rhone blend sourced from historic vines in the Chalone AVA, as well as Ian’s fabulous new Arneis, Melon and the Ramato style skin contact Pinot Gris. The Bayly Ranch is located in the San Benito AVA and within the Paicines zone, which is near the Tres Pinos Creek and the San Andreas Fault. The soils here consist of a stony mix including ancient alluvial deposits with an array of geologic structures in this warm climate that refreshed by cool nights, making it a sublime place for Cabernet Franc, as this wine confidently displays. The 2018 is nearly sold out, so I would recommend grabbing some while you can, though I’m sure the 2019 will be just as exciting when its released this Winter.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Domaine Bernard Baudry, Chinon Rouge AOC, Les Granges, Loire Valley, France.
These Bernard Baudry wines are always a treat and outstandingly pure and complex, with this Les Granges being a fresh and vibrant Chinon Cab Franc, meant to be enjoyed in its youth, it remains one of my favorite go to Loire reds, it offers more depth and presence than its price would suggest, it is a stupidly good value year in and year out. I became very familiar with the Baudry wines thanks to Kermit Lynch, the famous importer, and I have done many tastings over the last 15 years with these stylish wines, so it was good to catch up with a later release to see how the generational transition from father to son is going. The nose is earthy and spicy with a background note of violets reminding you where it is from and the medium bodied palate is alive with vitality and layers of red fruits, mineral, a iron sanguine element, anise and kirsch with a contrasting play between dusty raspberry and plum fruits with an old school touch of leathery brett, very faint green pepper and tangy orange/citrus and sour cherry notes. Things, with air, all together nicely to form a harmonious and satiny textured wine that needs food to be its best, it is perfect suited to these chilly Fall evenings and hearty food dishes. This dark, deeply hued garnet hued Les Granges Chinon is 100% Cabernet Franc that is fermented and aged solely in cement with indigenous yeasts and comes from organic grapes that were planted between 1985 and 1988 on a unique parcel set on sand and gravel that highlight the delicacy of this varietal. It is interesting that the Baudrys, Bernard and son, Matthieu who has taken a leading role here, work a collection of vineyards that are composed of varied soils, including gravel and sand, as in this wine, as well as limestone, silica, and clay, which is used for some of their upper end cuvées, like the rock gravel soiled and intensely stony Les Grézeaux, which comes from their oldest vines, over 65 years old and going strong. This Chinon Les Granges’ fermentation usually lasts about 15 days in cement tank and then gets a short elevage for between 7 to 10 months, depending on the vintage, again in cement tanks only to promote transparency and showcasing the sense of place and varietal character, it is a wine that rarely lets you down.

Matthieu Baudry, continuing in his father’s footsteps, joined the family domaine just over 20 years ago now in 2000 after he, like his dad, spent time in Burgundy studying winemaking in the Mâconnais, as well as in Bordeaux, along with far flung internships in Tasmania, Australia’s ultra cool climate Island and in California, giving him a balanced world view and experience. Mostly known for their Cab Francs, this estate also does some very lovely Chenin Blancs, including a fantastic barrel fermented and aged version from Chinon called La Croix Boissée (Blanc) which is slowly and naturally fermented and raised in large used 500L barrels, and Baudry, imported mainly in the states by Kermit Lynch, has become an icon Loire Valley producer, relying on, as most top are doing now, all organic methods in the vineyards and the utmost care in the cellar to hand craft wines of grace and precision, that can be enjoyed young, but that can also age well. Bernard Baudry began his own domaine and label in 1975, after doing enology school in Beaune, and returning to the Loire Valley to consult in Tours, starting with only two hectares of vines, and after working for the much admired Loire Valley oenologist and noted gourmet, Jacques Puisais, I understand, he slowly expanded adding some great parcels within the AOC of Chinon, of which he got some very distinct parcels with different soils and exposures, including classic chalky limestone as well as some rocky plots. Bernard has had a brilliant career and now his son Matthieu is now the main man here, and he and his dad farm 32 hectares in the communes of Cravant-les-Coteaux and Chinon. Besides the all organic farming with their own holistic treatments and composts, they carefully hand tend the vines and only employ manual harvests and their vinifications are done separately to highlight each terroir. Fermentation is done with native yeasts and with no added SO2, though they do use only a tiny dose if needed before bottling and the Baudry’s age their wines in cement or barrels, though there is no new oak in the cellar. It is also worth mentioning that Baudry do some fun stuff, like their Cab Franc Chinon Rosé and a tasty Grolleau “Franc de Pied” from what I believe is from an own rooted young vine parcel, to go along with their more serious efforts!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Desire Lines Wine Co, Riesling, Experimental Series No. 3 “The Deep End” Wiley Vineyard, Anderson Valley.
Those that are familiar with me and my personal tastes, know I’m a devoted Riesling geek, sometimes called an acid freak, for my love of all things Riesling, so when I like a Riesling it is a big deal, and Desire Lines makes one of my favorite California examples, and this rare small lot Experimental Series No. 3 “The Deep End” Wiley Vineyard dry Riesling is exceptional stuff with chiseled detailing, mineral/stony driven flavors and with riveting natural acidity with a mix of crisply tart citrus and orchard fruits. As mentioned in my prior reviews, winemaker Cody Rasmussen, who is an assistant winemaker at Bedrock Wine Company under Morgan Twain-Peterson MW, has really made a splash with his and his wife Emily’s Desire Lines Wine Co label, this small micro winery that is certainly one of California’s breakout stars of the last few years. Mostly known for his stellar Syrah bottlings from Griffin’s Lair in the Petaluma Gap and the famous Shake Ridge Vineyard in the Sierra Foothills, Rasmussen is also a well studied student of wine and has a love for Riesling, and makes it in a precise way to capture its expressive and pure varietal character. This 2019, from a low yielding and long cool growing season has plenty of zingy and zesty presence in the glass, while still showing old vine fruit density and powerful extract with lime, tangerine, unripe peach, a touch of green apple and bitter quince fruits, accented by a fresh saltiness, chamomile, verbena, wet river rocks and flinty spices. As it opens, the Wiley Riesling gains a nice textural feel and it has subtle paraffin or waxy element, like some of top Aussie producers, especially the Eden Valley versions, like Henschke and Pewsey Vale, as well as the Jim Barry in the Clare Valley. American Riesling is on a roll, there’s never been a better time to explore them, in particular the bone dry versions, like this one, along with the wines from Tatomer, Stony Hill, Cobb, Union Sacre, Joyce Wine Co, Morgan Winery and Casa Nuestra, as well as Oregon’s Brooks Winery, to name just a few of the best examples to try.

The Wiley Vineyard, as winemaker Cody Rasmussen notes, was one of the first few vineyards to be planted in Anderson Valley following the repeal of Prohibition, with the block of Riesling he uses for this wine, being planted in 1976, making it wonderfully mature and producing grapes of dense concentration. This site rides on a sloping ridge that overlooks the the valley floor, set on ancient marine sedimentary soils and is, as Cody continues, fully encircled by a strand of beautiful old redwoods and Douglas fir trees. The Wiley Vineyard has seen lots of growth in the area with the addition of some prestigious neighboring vineyards coming online in more recent times, including the Bearwallow and Kiser vineyards, close by, just across the highway, and the Wendling Vineyard, an awesome Pinot Noir site, famously used by Jason Drew, which is one of California’s best cool climate wines, is just on the other side of the ridge from here. Rasmussen makes a fantastic other dry Riesling, sourced from the Cole Ranch Vineyard and AVA, which is quite different to this Wiley Vineyard Experimental Series version, it is a colder terroir than Cole Ranch that is more perfumed and maybe more rounded, with this Wiley getting a prominent cooling marine influence from the nearby Pacific Ocean, that makes it a slightly more jazzy wine, though both are energy filled and outstanding. To make his Rieslings, Cody Rasmussen, uses traditional old world methods, with grapes seeing a whole cluster pressing with cold settling in tank, which bleeds out, or drops out the green phenolics, that, as Cody explains, is followed by fermentation in neutral barrels, where the wines are left on fine lees until bottling in the following summer, or about 9 months, much the same way many premium Trockens are done in Germany. There is more than a passing likeness or similarity to its dry style cousins in Germany in this Experimental Series No. 3 “The Deep End” Wiley Vineyard Riesling, it reminds me a little of some famous names in the Rheinhessen, in the same vein as Wittmann and the basic bottlings from Keller, which is high praise, and I recommend this wine wholeheartedly!
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Inama, Vigneti di Carbonare, Soave Classico DOC, Veneto, Italy.
I have really enjoying the latest releases from Inama, mostly known for their brilliant Soave Classico wines like this one, as well as doing some very distinct red wines, as I have mentioned recently in my review of their Bradisismo, their Cabernet based red that also has a good dose of Carmenere in the blend. This 2018 Vigneti di Carbonare is more dense and maybe riper in style than the Foscarino, but still beautifully crisp and superbly detailed with loads of dry extract and a medium bodied palate that reveals smooth layering of citrus and stone fruits, a touch of spice and nice underlying natural acidity that keeps things taut, while allowing the pleasing vinous mouth feel to persist. I thoroughly relished this wine, especially with small bites and with creamy cheeses, it is wine that highlights the sense of place and shows just how good these 100% Garganega Soave Classico DOC wines are these days, there has never been a better time to explore this region, especially the Cru examples by Inama as well as Pieropan, they are outstanding wines. The all stainless steel fermented and aged 2018 Carbonare gives an array of flavors that includes zesty citrus, apricot, melon and a touch of apple fruits, along with a saline note, clove, wet stones and a light dusting of herbs and a lingering floral element. While Soave whites have tended to be zingy light bodied efforts, this one has more of presence in the glass and has the depth to go with a full meal, in particular it pairs very well with linguine and claims or with grilled swordfish.

The Inama’s say that the “Carbonare” is a picturesque vineyard of traditional old pergolas that captures the morning sun that overlooks a steep sided valley and perched halfway up the hillside with an eastern exposure, making this Cru site noticeably different to the Foscarino, that I reviewed last month, with its own unique microclimate. They also note that fresh air comes down from the Val d’Alpone and its Piccole Dolomiti keeping the vines refreshed, while the basalt based volcanic soils, which characterize most of the Soave Classico region, gives these wines their complexity and mineral intensity, all of which are on clear display here in this wonderfully aromatic and textural Carbonare version of Soave Classico by Inama. For the Vigneti di Carbonare Soave Classico Stefano and Matteo Inama went with, as mentioned, all stainless fermentation regime using a specially selected culture of yeast and no malo-lactic conversion, with this vintage seeing an elevage of about 12 months in tank as well as 6 months in bottle before leaving the cellars. This wine shows a fine balance and at 12.5% natural alcohol it is briskly dry, but elegantly rounded, even without malo, and can be enjoyed with or without cuisine, it makes for refreshing aperitif too. If you’ve not tried Soave, and or looking for an alternative to Sancerre, Albarino and or Pinot Grigio, it is a perfect time drink this pure and delicious example. The Garganega grape is well worth your attention, it is a varietal that never seems to get the serious consideration or acclaim it deserves, with Inama’s Soave Classico Cru offerings being excellent wines that celebrate this lesser known, praise worthy grape.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2020 The Language of Yes, Grenache “En Passerillage” Rancho Réal Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley.
The beautifully silken and fruit dense The Language of Yes Grenache En Passerillage is a unique and seductive version of California Grenache made by the collaboration of legendary Randall Grahm, formerly of The Bonny Doon Vineyard and a small team from Gallo, the wine industry giant and the most well known family winery in the country, sourced and produced from carefully tended vines in the Santa Maria Valley and made with a process that Randall calls En Passerillage, which consists of drying a portion of the grapes prior to fermentation. This achieved lovely results here, giving outstanding mouth feel and complexity, making for a hugely pleasure filled experience that is not unlike what you’ll get in some top 100% old vine Grenache Chateauneuf-du-Pape cuvées and some thrilling single varietal Australian Grenache wines, like the famed Clarendon Hills. The Grenache grapes are allowed to air dry on paper mats for three days prior to re-collection, with the aim of lignifying stems, which takes the intense bitterness out of the equation and gives the finished wine a more exotic quality, smoother structure as the air drying also ripens the tannin, which Grahm and team exploited to used 50% whole cluster and stem inclusion. This inviting and translucent 2020 Grenache En Passerillage is deep garnet/ruby in the glass and is very expressive aromatically, maybe also heighten by the methods employed here and it has a sublime seamless full bodied palate with layers of black raspberry, juicy plum, pomegranate and reduced strawberry fruits that are accented by subtle oak usage and an array of background flavors, including cinnamon, licorice, dried lavender, a of Italian herbs and sweet kirsch. The delicate florals continue from nose to lingering finish, but don’t hide the sultry earthiness and light savory tones, this is a hedonistic Grenache and should be enjoyed with robust cuisine and or hearty winter dishes. I am now getting excited to try the Syrah based The Language of Yes, with its dose of co-fermented Viognier, a la Cote-Rotie, also made from cool climate and sandy loamy Rancho Réal Vineyard.

The Language of Yes wines, include three offerings, this Grenache En Passerillage, a sister Syrah En Passerlllage bottling and the sold out Provence styled Rosé of Cinsault and Tibouren, which I feel lucky to have got a few bottles of and reviewed earlier this year, and they are an exciting set of wines, coming from an unlikely partnership, but one that gives Randall a way to be wildly creative and loaded with the resources of Gallo, that have an amazing collection of vineyards, that sometimes don’t get the individual focus that they maybe deserve, making it a win win for both parties. Grahm notes, Grenache is similar to Pinot Noir, in so far as its need for gentle extraction and susceptibility to oxidation, can make it fickle to work with and he says sometimes Grenache is the wine that California Pinot lovers are actually looking for, when done right and from the right terroir or in cooler climate sites, as it is transparent and not as structured as Cabernet and or Syrah, so it has nowhere to hide from heavy handed winemaking and sometimes can be undermined by bitter phenolics when made with stem inclusion. California cool climate Grenache has made great strides in recent years and some are flirting with greatness, with this The Language of Yes version being a wonderfully compelling effort. Randall goes to explain, that he (and team) split the lot of grapes into two separately fermented and macerated lots and adopted a traditional punchdown regime with one and a mechanical pump-over regime with the other after the grapes were dried on paper mats. The pump-over tank Grahm thought was initially more expressive than the punchdown version but ultimately, he felt that the punchdown technique led to more structure and depth in the resultant Grenache, which I certainly see here in this example in the bottle. Looking to achieve finesse and balance the wine was aged in a combination of used French oak Puncheons which gives textural quality and stainless steel tanks that showcases freshness and purity. Just 600 cases were made of this delicious 100% Grenache, which comes in at 14.67% natural alcohol, though it doesn’t feel too overt in its taste impact and I highly recommend Grenache fans grab some, it looks to be rewarding for those that want immediate gratification, though can be cellared another 3 to 5 years.
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive Reviews – November, 2021

2014 Marchesi di Grésy, Barbaresco DOCG “Camp Gros” Martinenga Riserva, Piedmonte, Italy.
While I have been somewhat skeptical of the 2014 vintage in Piedmonte, especially in Barolo, this fabulous, aromatic and beautifully detailed Camp Gros Riserva absolutely crushed my doubts and I was completely seduced by its charms, elegance and depth, it is a lovely Barbaresco with classic Nebbiolo presence in the glass. There is silken layers of ripe black cherry, mulberry, damson plum and strawberry fruits along with hints of earth, spice and mineral, accented by anise, cedar, tobacco leaf and wilted rose petals in a generous medium bodied garnet/brickish and ruby red wine that gracefully hides its tannin and its serious complexity. This wine has a palate that competes with the best of the region and will illicit some moments of silent reverence and respect, this is undeniable pleasure and a special treat. Almost predicting my own questions, the winery notes, that this vineyard, with a favorable southern exposure, blue marl based limestone soils and high elevation, the Martinenga cru has the ideal conditions that Nebbiolo thrives in, where it is able to reach full maturity and concentration even in the most difficult of years. The famed Camp Gros parcel of Martinenga, is located on the eastern end of the amphitheater of Barbaresco, it is all organically farmed with severe and careful selections to produce wines such as this. Marchesi di Grésy and winemaker Matteo Sasso ages this Barbaresco Riserva for close to 15 months in French Allier barriques and then an additional year and a half in large Slavonian oak casks, before bottling, after which it is matured in the bottle for another two years before release.

The Marchesi di Grésy winery, one of the very first examples of Cru Barbaresco I ever tried, well over 20 years ago now, officially known as Tenute Cisa Asinari dei Marchesi di Grésy, has been in the di Grésy family since 1797 and has been a top Barbaresco producer since the early 1970s, when this multi-site started bottling wines under their own label, after hundreds of years of selling their grapes. The Marchesi di Grésy estate includes four properties located in Langhe and Monferrato, notable areas of Piedmont that have long histories of excellence in making some of the region’s best wines. Before becoming a serious winery, in the 1960s, this property operated like a traditional sustainable farm, producing livestock, vegetables and fruits, as well as obviously tending grapevines, which included many clones of Nebbiolo and even some rare sub-varietals like, Lampia, Rosé and Michet. During that time period, the grapes were contracted to top wine producers and winemakers in the area, which was common practice in the Langhe, before the likes of Gaja, Giacosa and Marchesi di Grésy became house hold names in the wine world. In about 1973 Alberto di Grésy decided that potential of his vineyards were such that he decided to vinify his own grapes, which proved a good move and in time the Marchesi di Grésy’s efforts have made this estate a blue-chip label for collectors and enthusiasts. Bravo to Matteo Sasso, who created a gorgeous wine in a tough vintage and a Nebbiolo that really impresses, it can be easily enjoyed now, but still has the stuffing to be cellared another 5 to 10 years with some potential to improve, I only hope I get a chance to re-visit this “Camp Gros” Martinenga Riserva in a few more years!
($138 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Grochau Cellars, Melon de Bourgogne, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The 2019 Melon de Bourgogne by John Grochau at Grochau Cellars is wonderfully tart, crisp and low alcohol, very much like its cousins in Muscadet with a burst of quince, lemon/lime, unripe peach and apple fruits and a fresh sense of mineral, wet stones, subtle lees and citrus blossom, it is kind of like an Extra Brut Champagne minus the bubbles, in a good way and obviously a nice choice with oysters. The Melon de Bourgogne grapes for Grochau’s version comes from the Stavig Vineyard located about 15 miles away from Portland in Happy Valley, kind of off the beaten path, but proving remarkably well that it is a great spot for this varietal. The vineyard is set on an ancient riverbed with intensely rocky soils and with some volcanic overlays. The rocky composition reminds Grochau of Muscadet’s gravely soils in the western Loire Valley, not far from the cool Atlantic. Very interesting, John used two different vessels for his Melon fermentation and aging, this included two concrete eggs and three 500 liter Acacia wood puncheons. He notes that each one had its own textural imprint on the wine, which feels more and more rounded as it warms in the glass and the wine was aged Sur Lie (on the Lees) for 8 months before bottling, which as mentioned gives a hint of dough, nuttiness and brioche like a Champagne.

John Grochau founded his Grochau Cellars after retiring from a career in cycling, where he once toured vineyards in France and fell in love with wine, after which he pursued his way into wine through restaurant experiences in his native Portland, often helping out at harvest in the nearby Willamette Valley, going on to become a Pinot Noir producer of note in 2002 and still is making them today. Grochau credits Doug Tunnel as an inspiration and was mentored at Doug’s famous Brick House Vineyards and learned the benefits of sustainable viticulture with the use of biodynamic and organic farming, which he exploits in many of his vineyard sites that supply grapes for his label. Beyond the critically acclaimed Pinot Noir, Grochau hand crafts an interesting collection of alternative wines, including this Melon de Bourgogne that comes in at under 12% natural alcohol, as well as Pinot Blanc, Gamay and Tempranillo to name a few, all of which are showing promise and potential. Plus, there is even more rare stuff too, like Grochau’s Sparkling Riesling, their briny Albarino and a Burgundian like Brick House sourced Chardonnay. I’ve been a fan of what Grochau produces since I first tried his Pinots about a decade ago and I love his basic Commuter Cuvee for its purity and value, as well as his impressive single vineyard collection of Pinots, especially his Zenith Vineyard Pinot, as well as the Twelve Oaks Gamay Noir, which I highly recommend trying!
($20 Est.) 90 points, grapelive

2019 Cameron Winery, Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
John Paul’s Cameron Winery is one of Oregon’s legendary properties, along with The Eyrie Vineyards, Beaux Freres, Ken Wright, St. Innocent and Doug Tunnel’s Brick House, which like Cameron is inspired by old school Burgundy with sustainable, organic and non irrigation farming, as is done here on Cameron’s latest Dundee Hills Pinot. The 2019 is a very pure and stylish effort with a sense of lightness in the glass, though nicely dark and it shows lots of racy red fruits with some vigorous energy in the form of natural acidity, delivering red cherry, currant, spicy vine picked berries and a touch of blood orange fruit that is accented by cedary wood, truffle, black tea, cinnamon and faint trace of graphite. The 2019 is a very fresh vintage that has allowed this wine to be, while less dense in fruit, elegant and focused with a subtle floral delicacy, it opens up with a less reductive edge than you usually find in these Cameron Pinots, making for a wine that can be enjoyed in its youth and with plenty to admire here in a satiny medium bodied effort.

For this wine, Cameron sources the Pinot Noir grapes from two sites in the Dundee Hills, two in this unique terroir with its Jory soils, set at good elevation in Oregon’s classic volcanic red hills, that gives these wines their soul and distinct characteristics with exceptional pigment, lush red fruits, exotic spiciness, minerality and a sultry earthiness, all of which shows in Cameron’s latest release. All of the wines, made by John Paul and his team, are fermented with the indigenous yeasts in open top tanks and maceration is lengthy and gentle to extract as much flavor and color as can be. Paul jokes that the fermenting juice is tended by beautiful women who immerse their nude bodies in the warm must to keep things exciting in the cellar, though I hear from ex Cameron interns and winemakers that sadly this is just a myth. The Cameron Pinots are aged for nearly two years in a mixture of French oak barrels, that Paul says, that range from new to completely neutral (used) and then bottled without filtration. This regional Dundee Hills bottling, along with Cameron’s Ribbon Ridge version are awesome values and very guilt free for the price, these two Pinots are great way to start exploring John Paul’s wines!
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2015 Proprietà Sperino, Lessona DOC, Alta Langhe, Piedmonte, Italy.
Coming from one of the wine world’s hot spots, the Proprietà Sperino Lessona DOC is a gorgeous Nebbiolo based wine from the Alta Langhe, this northern Piedmonte region that is getting a lot of attention as it is rediscovered as a top growing zone in Italy in the shadow of the Alps on ancient glacial soils which gives this incredible terroir its soul, class and distinction, with this Sperino Lessona rivaling its cousins in Barolo and Barbaresco! This remote higher elevation region has a collection of Cru Villages that includes Lessona, Boca, Ghemme, Bramterra and the more famous Gattinara to name a few of top sites, these should be on the radar of Nebbiolo lovers and enthusiasts! Luca de Marchi’s, the winemaker and owner at Proprietà Sperino, signature wine is this Rosso Lessona DOC, which is a powerhouse and is made exclusively with 100% Nebbiolo that saw 32 months in wood with at least 18 months being aged on the fine lees, it is an ultra serious effort that thrills to palate. The Proprietà Sperino Lessona, from the warm and concentrated vintage of 2015, is a beauty with a pretty floral bouquet and an inviting ruby/crimson hue in the glass that almost seems too light to have so much depth on the palate with a classic Nebbiolo array of flavors including black cherry, damson plum, briar spiced raspberry and earthy mulberry fruits, along with minty herb, anise, cedary wood and a touch of dried rose petals, mineral and Moro orange rind, all wonderfully presented in this medium bodied wine. There is enough stuffing and tannic structure to provide rewarding age worthy potential for this Nebbiolo, it should go for another decade easily, while still delivering an impressive performance now, especially with robust cuisine.

The Proprietà Sperino winery is located in the Lessona DOC appellation, in the Alta Langhe part of the greater Piedmonte region, and is one of the oldest and most historic wine-growing areas in Italy with wine producing records showing, as early as the 14th century, this was a thriving wine community and now it is one of Italy’s hot spots, along with Mount Etna on Sicily, with wines like this one, made from mostly Nebbiolo, being a fine example why these wines are getting such attention. Luca de Marchi, who’s family has some Piedmonte roots has a well known father, Paolo, who owns the famous and critically acclaimed Tuscan estate Isole e Olena in Chianti Classico, runs this Lessona property with a passion for Nebbiolo. Luca de Marchi, who is a mission to bring more quality to Lessona, and has laboriously restored the family vineyards, that he inherited in 1999, and has done a masterful job and this 2015 shows it. The Proprietà Sperino is located, as they note, right at the foot of Monte Rosa, where the soil consists of marine sand and Alpine granite that are perfect for the Nebbiolo vines to thrive and produce exceptional long lived wines. The Nebbiolo grape, which is locally called Spanna here, is very aromatic and complex, and is lifted by the small amounts of Vespolina and Croatina, native varietals to the area that usually are found inter-planted with the vines here. While this wine is 100% Nebbiolo, their Uvaggio Coste della Sesia DOC, which I reviewed recently, is made from sustainable farmed grapes including Vespolina and Croatina, which are all de-stemmed and fermented in tank and used wood and then it is raised 22 months in mostly small tonneau/barriques then bottled unfined and unfiltered. As I noted in my prior review, the Proprietà Sperino winery is an exciting project and a label to follow, especially this well made and generous top bottling from Luca de Marchi.
($83 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Hubert Lignier, Bourgogne Passetoutgrain, Aux Poirelots, Pinot Noir/Gamay, Red Burgundy, France.
On first impression this Lignier Passetoutgrain is earthy and very rustic in style with a certain meatiness and little charm, but after opening up and especially with food this wine goes from an ugly duckling to an almost a lovely swan becoming much more engaging and deeper in fruit. The Domaine Hubert Lignier Bourgogne Passetoutgrain is made from about 60% Gamay and 40% Pinot Noir from a single Lieu-Dit called Aux Poirelots in the Morey-St.-Denis AOC and has some Gamay vines that date back to 1960, with the Pinot being more recent plantings that are from 1998. This domaine’s version of Passetoutgrain or Passe-Tout-Grains is brand new to me and it is a traditional example, though I have been lucky enough to have tasted most of the winery’s excellent collection of Burgundy offerings, including many vintages of their Grand Crus with their Clos de la Roche Grand Cru being a favorite as well as many of their awesome Premier Cru Chambolle and Morey-St.-Denis bottlings. The dark garnet and ruby hued Passetoutgrain starts with leather and iron notes before the red berry fruit takes hold on the medium bodied palate, it also gives a range of flavors that includes wild strawberry, plum and black cherry fruits along with a touch of forest floor, brambly spices, a hint of chalk and stones and dried flowers. There is a much more pleasant details that shine with food, letting the savory elements and earthiness fade into the background, making for a more harmonious experience in mouth and the natural acidity helps keeping things fresh.

The Domaine Hubert Lignier, run by father and son Hubert and Laurent, estate owns about nine hectares mainly within the villages of Morey Saint Denis, the town where they have their old cellars, Gevrey Chambertin and Chambolle Musigny, all prime and classic terroirs. In the last decade or so the Lignier’s have added to their portfolio of holdings to include parcels in Nuits Saint Georges and Pommard, their first in the Cote de Beaune. The farming here follows the principles of “lutte raisonnée” (sensible combat) in their mostly organic and sustainable viticulture. The thin, clay and limestone soil on these Cote d’Or slopes is not conducive to vigorous growth and limits the crop yields naturally, though to improve the concentration, what this Domaine is noted for, they do a severe green harvest, limiting yields further, and careful vineyard sorting to extreme levels to ensure ripe fruit density and complexity in the wines. In the cellar, the grapes are all de-stemmed and primary fermentation takes place in open-top cement tanks, that the winery notes, that allow manual pigéage and only natural yeasts are used here. Laurent, unlike his dad, now employs an extended cold soak maceration period prior to fermentation to allow greater extraction and his total maceration and gentle punch-downs lasts about 20 plus days before pressing to barrel. The wines here typically are aged for close to 18 months and the wines generally see mostly used French oak, which this Passetoutgrain seeing only neutral barriques, with the top cuvées being the exception, getting up to 50% new wood and an extended elevage as long as 24 months. I’m glad I gave this wine a chance to fully express itself, in particular with a meal, and give me its best performance, it is certainly a wine that I will buy again.
($28 Est.) 89 Points, grapelive

2019 Weingut Kruger-Rumpf, Riesling Trocken “Abtei 1937” Erstes Gewächs, Bingerbrücker Abtei im Ruppertsberg, Nahe Germany.
Kruger-Rumpf’s Abtei VDP Erste Lage Riesling Trocken, sourced from an ultra steep parcel tucked into the most northwestern site in the whole Nahe region just across the river from Bingen and almost a stones throw from the mighty Rhein and set on metamorphic rock with slate infused soils, and as I have said before, this might be one of the most distinct sites in this celebrated area and this wine is the equal of many much more expensive offerings with an amazing sense of depth and energy. This 2019 is impressive with elegance and delicacy on display, but with an exotic background of tropical fruit and florals adding beautiful depth, complexity and aromatics here on this crisply and mineral toned dry Riesling, its lively medium bodied palate delivering a wonderful play between generous citrus and stone fruits and salty stoniness with white peach, lime, green apple and pineapple all revolving in the mouth along with wet flint, spearmint, verbena, clove, rosewater and a touch of leesy notes. This pale golden colored Riesling is dynamic and vibrant with a crystalline precision, this 2019 is drinking sublimely well already with seductive charm, divine weightlessness and personality bursting from the glass, making it compelling now, though it should get even better with another 3 to 5 years of bottle age, if you could be that patient, which I was not. This Abtei was a perfect way to start my Thanksgiving eve Chinese food feast providing a delicious refreshment to the array of flavors on over, while shinning all on its own, this is a serious wine that could easily be Grosses Gewachs and someday this vineyard certainly will be. Georg Rumpf has committed this small estate to organic farming and while they have been practicing organic for several years, they are now poised to full certification soon. They keep bees nearby the vineyards to facilitate pollination and aid in overall bio-diversity as well as having sheep roaming the vines helping to control underbrush growth and all of their vineyards are hand harvested to ensure that only optimally ripe grapes are selected.

The impossibly steep Kruger-Rumpf Abtei Cru, as mentioned, is the northern most vineyard in the Nahe, which is on the outskirts of Bingen, it was once an almost forgotten Abbey owned plot, across the Rhein from Rudesheimer Berg and is almost a mirror image soil wise to Schlossberg with a beautiful southern exposure. While still just a Premier Cru, this might be the best kept secret in the Nahe. The Rumpf’s have put a lot of blood sweat and tears into working this amazing site, completely rehabilitating this once poorly kept site that is set on phyllite, which is essentially mica slate, all farmed now with organic methods and only hand tending of the vines, do to the severity of the slope. Georg Rumpf, the winemaker, does a single block wine from this vineyard from vines that date back to 1937, hence the name, sourced from the vineyard’s oldest and steepest section of vines here. The Kruger-Rumpf estate, which has roots going back to the 1700s was really only founded as a winery in 1984, is located in Münster-Sarmsheim, a small village on the western side of the Nahe River and is highly regarded for their collection of Grand Cru plots and their traditional series of Rieslings, especially their hedonistic Spatlese bottlings and in recent years their collection of dry Rieslings along with their outstanding off dry Scheurebe. The dry Abtei 1937 Riesling, coming from these 81 year old vines, was fermented with native yeasts or Sponti, (spontaneous) in over 30 years old Stückfässern (German 1200L oak casks) with full lees aging, lasting a full nine months after harvest. Back in 2016, I got a chance to walk and visit this Abtei vineyard with Georg and after tasting the grapes (and wines) from here I was convinced Rumpf’s have a magical piece of land here, perfect for making exceptional single vineyard Rieslings, and this 2019 is all the proof you’d need. The Abtei, I think of, the same way I do other famous places, like Carl Loewen’s Maximin Herrenberg 1896 in the Mosel, Johannes Leitz’s Kaisersteinfels Terraces, Wittmann’s Morstein in the Rheinhessen and the Carl Von Schubert Maximin Grunhauser Abtsberg to name just a few and it also compares well with Von Winning’s Paradeisgarten in the Pfalz. I highly recommend the Abtei bottlings, especially this one with its gorgeous label, from Kruger-Rumpf and I am excited to hear they are going to release a Spatlese version soon too.
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2019 Drew, Pinot Noir, Faîte De Mer Farm, Mendocino Ridge.
The deeply color dark garnet and ruby edged 2019 Faîte De Mer Farm Pinot from Jason Drew at Drew Family Cellars is a thrilling wine of energy and complexity, it absolutely exceeds my expectations from this hugely talented winemaker, one of the state’s biggest stars and this incredible vineyard location that makes for some of the most compelling examples of Pinot Noir in America with a beautiful array of radiant fruit, heightened aromatics, delicate spices, subtle earthiness and brilliant clarity. I’ve long been a fan of these Drew wines and consider them among the very best produced in California and these 2018 and 2019 efforts are some of their best yet with their extreme cool climate character, low alcohol, natural acidity and wonderful length really shinning through. The 2019 feels a touch more rounded and sublimely elegant with lovely floral tones and surprising vinous density for a lighter framed wine with layers of classic Pinot fruit, including black cherry, wild plum, tangy red currant and strawberry coming through on the medium bodied palate along with a touch of whole bunch crunch, mineral/stoniness, cinnamon, orange tea and a fait sense of wood. The Faîte De Mer Farm is crafted from a unique set of clones including Mt Eden, Calera, Swan and Pommard selections and sees partial whole cluster and native yeast fermentation, after which this Pinot sees an elevage of about 18 months in French oak with a percentage of new barrels to give that supple mouth feel, but to allow for purity and this wine’s fabulous transparency. Lingering crushed berries, rosewater and youthful brightness with a touch of stems adds a sultry edginess that leaves you wanting for nothing!

The Faîte De Mer Farm is the Drew’s family estate that is located on the far western part of the Anderson Valley on the edge of the Mendocino Ridge appellation just over three miles from the Pacific Ocean and it is the coolest in their portfolio of stunning vineyard sites. Up at 1,250 feet elevation, the Drew estate vines are, as Jason notes, often just above the fog line, but there are times when they are completely engulfed by it. The soils are formed from an ancient uplifted ocean floor, it is made up of mainly of decomposed sandstone mixed with gravelly materials that include shale, quartz and rounded river rocks from some uplifted creek beds, along with a varying percentage of clay. These soils, Drew explains, elevation and the maritime climate, along with the coastal forest that surrounds the area, are what defines this terrior and influences these Drew estate wines. Drew is now making three distinct estate Pinot Noir offerings, with the addition of this exceptional Faîte De Mer Farm bottling from this special organically farmed coastal site, which is fast becoming one of California’s signature crus. This wine is one of the best values in Drew’s stellar collection and I highly recommend getting on their mailing list, with their Fog-Eater, Morning Dew Ranch, Wendling Vineyard, Mid-Elevation Estate and this Faîte De Mer Farm Pinot being some of my favorites and are well worth your efforts to find, plus don’t over look Drew’s awesome Syrah(s) and their Chardonnay either. Fans of these dramatic Ocean influenced Pinots, like those of Littorai, Peay, Hirsch and Cobb, will be rewarded by these Drew wines. This Faîte De Mer Farm Pinot Noir was a perfect bottle to start the Thanksgiving Holiday and holiday celebration, it kept getting better and better as it opened, adding more depth and class with time in the glass, it has the potential to age exceedingly well too, bravo, what a performance.
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2017 Avennia, Cuvee Justine, Red Blend, Yakima Valley, Columbia Valley AVA, Washington State.
The Justine Rhone Red Blend is crafted using 61% Grenache, 23% Mourvedre and 16% Syrah, making it firmly a Chateauneuf du Pape style wine with a deep saturated purple/garnet color and a full bodied palate with lush fruit density, hints of spice, soft tannins, a bit of savory earthiness and well judged wood influence with a touch of toasty sweet smoky accents. Marty Taucher is the managing partner behind Avennia, along with Chris Peterson, who was with the winemaking team at the famed DeLille Cellars, founded the winery in 2009 with a focus on terroir driven wines from top vineyard sites with classic techniques and natural winemaking a priority for their wines. The wines I’ve tasted so far have big personalities, very much in keeping with Washington’s style, they are bold and dark wines that fill the mouth with supple layering and luxurious textures. This 2017 Justine is no different and it makes a weighty impression with dark berry coulis, sweet plum, grenadine, creme de cassis leading the way along with a touch of mentioned earth, spice and mocha, making for a very pleasing wine that gets even better with hearty winter foods, it folds together with creamy and seamless opulence.

Chris Peterson, the head winemaker at Avennia, has made Avennia a winery to take notice of and has a great reputation for making quality and concentrated red that reflect the personality of the place, in this case the rolling hills of eastern Washington State’s Yakima Valley in the greater Columbia Valley AVA. The Justine, name, is inspired by one of the great heroines of recent literature, who also sprung from the imagination of the Mediterranean, as Avennia’s wine has in this case from the southern Rhone Valley with its Mediterranean influences being the guiding light for this opulent effort. The winemaking here is all about transparency with native yeast fermentation and lengthy gentle maceration(s) with the Justine seeing 16 months in just about 9% new French oak, 91% neutral French oak barrels and then bottled unfined and unfiltered. The vines used here were are from selected vineyards, including the Upland Vineyard for the Grenache, Kiona Heart of the Hill for the Mourvèdre and the Oldfield Vineyard for the Syrah, which is planted Clone 383. This was the second 2017 from Avennia that I have enjoyed, and I hear the 2018s and 2019s are even more exciting, which makes my mouth water and I am going to keep checking this winery out in the years to come, I was a huge fan of DeLille Cellars back in the day and Avennia is right up there, I also should mention that these Avennia offerings are solid values too.
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Pax Wines, Dazed & Carbonic, Syrah, Viognier & Trousseau Gris, California.
Pax’s weird and light bodied red, Dazed and Carbonic, was inspired by the classic Led Zeppelin song Dazed and Confused, which at first you’d think was named very aptly! As the winery says, this crazy quaffable red wine is a blend of co-fermented and carbonic Syrah, Viognier and uniquely Trousseau Gris, a rare grey/pinkish grape, once called Grey Riesling here in California, all which saw 100% Whole Cluster and spontaneous natural fermentation in a stainless steel tank. After which Pax then gently pressed of the skins and stems before a five month élevage or resting period in neutral French oak 500L puncheons before bottling. The 2019 Dazed and Carbonic is bright and fresh, but also juicy ripe with a tart and tangy finish, making it best served chilled, with macerated cherry, golden raisins, red peach, blood orange and cranberry/apple fruits along with succulent florals, cinnamon spice and a hint of amaro herbal elements with plenty of zesty acidity to finish crisply. There’s just enough sweetness of fruit to make this a wine that will go very nicely with Thanksgiving meals and will hold up well to all the side fixings along with the roast bird.

The wine world is better for all the choices we have and wines such as this Pax Dazed and Carbonic that pushes the envelope of our pre-conceptions of what wine can be, plus it is fun and has no pretense. Pax notes that in the final breakdown of the varietals here, there was just 35% Syrah total, 35% Viognier and pretty close to 30% Trousseau Gris in this Dazed and Carbonic, but the skin contact and maceration provides this uniquely crafted wine its bright ruby/garnet color, just slightly darker than your average Rosé. The finished Dazed and Carbonic comes in at 12.5% Abv, making it on the lighter side and moderate in alcohol, but still vinous on the palate, which you can feel when it starts to warm in the glass, though most people will enjoy best cool and crisp, maybe at the beach or by the fire. Pax does a quality set of natural quaffers, including this one as well as rarities like Trousseau Noir, Gamay, Freisa, Charbono and Mondeuse, all of which offer a delightful experience and are well worth searching out and gives Pax’s wine club an extra degree of enticement to go along with their world class collection of Syrah offerings. There are exciting times ahead for Pax with a special new Syrah vineyard that will likely become an iconic and signature site for this exceptional California winery!
($28 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Mueller-Catoir, Grauburgunder Trocken, Haart, VDP Ortswein, Pfalz Germany.
The crisp and steely Mueller-Catoir Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) is very much like its Alsatian cousins, reminding me of the outstanding offerings from Marcel Deiss, Trimbach and Zind-Humbrecht with a hint of petrol, green apple, quince and racy citrus leading the way here in the 2018 vintage from the famous Heart vineyard in the Pfalz. Germany is not a one trick pony, there is many grapes thriving here now besides Riesling and the level of quality for these other whites has risen considerably in recent times, especially varietals like Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sylvaner (Silvaner), Muscat, Scheurebe, of which Mueller-Catoir does fantastically well, along with now Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, both of which are showing huge potential here in the Pfalz. This wine is, as the Winery notes, all vegan and comes from hand-picked and organically cultivated grapes in the Haart Vineyard that has an underpinning of sandstone soils. The briskly focused Mueller-Catoir Grauburgunder saw a cool fermentation in stainless steel and was partially matured in old wooden barrels to enhance textural quality which shows as this wine opens up in the glass, adding a nice fuller dimension. With air this Pinot Gris gains hints of mineral, zesty apricot, ground seashells, plus a touch of earth, clove and a woodsy elegant, making for a serious version of this grape and one that goes great with a variety of dishes, like soft cheeses, briny sea food and poultry.

The Mueller-Catoir Rieslings are some of Germany’s best, but they also have some intriguing alternative whites that deserve attention, like their awesome Scheurebe Torocken, this Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) as well as a great dry Muscat (Muskateller), which is a favorite of mine, and maybe the best I’ve ever had, along with Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Rieslaner (a rare varietal, that in spite of the name is not in fact related to Riesling!), and of which they do a fabulous sweet wine version. 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 fermentation temperatures in stainless steel to promote transparency along with classic used oak casks that allows for a round mouth feel. Mueller-Catoir is one of the best winery’s in Germany and their wines are outstanding, I highly recommend exploring their whole range, this wine included.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Vietti, Barolo DOCG, Castiglione, Piedmonte, Italy.
While all the talk is about the top cru 2016s, the 2017 Vietti Castiglione Barolo has quietly snuck on the scene and it is a lovely and expressive wine that can be enjoyed in its youth with a smooth tannic structure and ripe and lush fruit. The vintage was very warm and the yields were down, so there is a silky form here, but this is still a classically proportioned Barolo with a serious backbone underneath the luxurious fruit. The palate is full and dense with pure Nebbiolo charm showing macerated cherry, briery raspberry, plum and earthy mulberry fruits along with a touch of tar, black licorice, cedar, rose petal florals, crushed chalk rock, minty herbs and a lingering sweetness of the red fruits. There is plenty of value here in this 2017 and it performs exceptionally when food is involved, I was impressed with this vintage more than I initially thought, it opened up fabulously well and went superb with grilled steak and also a mix of hard cheeses, it is a very composed effort by the talented team at Vietti, led by Luca Currado. The grapes for the Barolo DOCG Castiglione are sourced from some serious lieu-dit vineyards in the Barolo region with a selection of vines between 10 and 43 years old and set on the famous clay and limestone soils. The Vietti parcels are farmed for quality with an average density of 4,500 vines per hectare that reduces the yields to maximize concentration. For this bottling, all the different single vineyard blocks are vinified and aged separately with slightly different processes, as the winery says, to highlight the typical characteristics of each “terroir”. The Vietti Barolo was aged for about 30 months in a mix of large oak casks and smaller barriques before all of the selections are finally chosen to be blended together.

The Vietti winery, as noted recently, is located in Castiglione Falletto of famous Barolo area of the Cuneo province, and it was founded in the late 1800’s by Carlo Vietti. The estate has gradually grown over the years to include some of the most highly-prized terroirs in Piedmonte. While influential in the local area and have been making wine for four generations, this label only came of age in the 1960’s when Luciana Vietti married winemaker and art connoisseur Alfredo Currado, who was one of the first to bottle a Rocche di Castiglione cru Barolo back in 1961, as well as to produce a single-varietal Arneis in 1967, along with the introduction of an Artist Label in the early 1970s. These wines and packaging made him a legend and his efforts were of some of the most significant innovations of the era. His legacy lives on here, and Luca Currado, who has contributed even more to the success of Vietti in recent years making it an iconic label of quality, his set of Barolo wines are some of the most collectable and desirable wines in the world, especially his Lazzarito and Rocche di Castiglione Barolo(s), but you find quality throughout his collection, with this also being a standout. In 2016 the historic winery was acquired by Krause Holdings, which has given Luca and his Elena a free hand to run Vietti brand, and to add a number of prized crus to the estate’s holdings, so the future here is secure and allows them the resources to reach new levels of greatness. This 2017 highlights the craftsmanship and care Luca Currado puts into these wines, it delivers clarity, complexity and elegance in the glass, it is an impeccable Nebbiolo that is already drinking well and it has the potential to maybe give a bit more with another couple of years in bottle, even though it offers immediate pleasure that is pretty much guilt free for the quality on offer, it is a nice alternative to Burgundies in the price range.
($60 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Domaine M. et C. Lapierre, Morgon, Cru Beaujolais, France.
The 2019 regular Morgon cuvée, also known as the “S”, with a low dose of sulfur added for stabilization and shipping is wildly fragrant and vibrantly fresh in the glass with loads of whole-cluster crunchiness and tangy acidity that lifts the ripe red fruits on the medium bodied palate, making it a bit more classic or racy than some of the more opulent vintages of late, though it is still wonderfully pleasing and a treat to drink. The Lapierre Morgon lifts from the glass with an intense floral dimension that is accented by the spicy stem influence and the mouth is full of pop with layers of black cherry, wild plum, pomegranate and brambly raspberry fruits along with a hint of walnut, snappy herbs, hot cinnamon, anise, loamy earth and crushed flowers. This vintage stays light on its feet throughout, it is exceptionally pure Gamay, and has plenty of zip, salinity and minerality to remind of its granite based soils, but the finish proves excellent and lingering with echos from the nose and palate. The Lapierre wines are highly sought after, and for good reason, making them treats for their fans, which I must admit to being and I can hardly imagine being without bottles of their Morgon around and they are bottles I feverishly enjoy, especially with special friends and or the season’s holiday meals. I’m looking forward to exploring , the soon to be available here, 2020 vintage offering too, with a peaked interest in the Morgon sans soufre or “N” bottling, cuvée Camille and the Marcel Lapierre cuvée!

The Lapierre’s do 100% whole-cluster and native yeast fermentation, or as importer Kermit Lynch says, methode à l’ancienne, which is done in mostly conical wood vats, maintained at low temperatures and with a maceration period that lasts for between ten to twenty days. The Lapierre’s wines, including this one, are aged on their fine lees for at least nine months in old Burgundy barrels, that Kermit adds are very neutral, allowing for the wines nature to shine through, with the oak being third to thirteenth passages or fills and bottled unfiltered. These practices have not changed at this estate, now being run by the late legendary Marcel Lapierre’s son and daughter, Matthieu and Camille who have done a tremendous job of living under the weight of such expectations, in fact the wines if anything have got even better. In the vineyards, they work all by hand and each of their sites are certified organic, preferring late picking to ensure fabulous ripeness, concentration, depth and textural quality in their wines. This bottling comes from 60 year old Morgon cru parcels set on gravelly slopes with pure granite soils that this famous terroir is known for and gives these wines their class and personality. This 2019 is one to enjoy with food, served slightly chilled, to cut into its natural acidity, in particular it seems well suited to go with duck confit and or pork dishes, though traditional Gamay lovers with be excited to have it with thanksgiving turkey with all the usual array of side dishes.
($39 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Turley Wine Cellars, Petite Sirah, Pesenti Vineyard, Paso Robles.
The 2019 Turley Pesenti Petite Sirah is beautifully crafted stuff with an inky black/purple color and deep layers of blackberry, blueberry compote, plum and black currant fruits with hints of violets, acacia, crushed stones, sandalwood, mocha and dusty spices. Even though it is a young and powerful wine at this stage, it thrills with a luxurious full bodied palate with opulent ripe tannins and fresh juiciness, making for a wine that impresses and is surprisingly harmonious even without decanting, in fact it was delicious right after popping the cork and even better when paired with hearty cuisine. Made by Tegan Passalacqua and Karl Wicka, Turley’s Paso Robles winemaker, this 2019 displays the year’s cooler vintage exceptionally well with its fine detail and balance, and it should continue to develop nicely for the next decade. This Pesenti Petite Sirah, fermented using native yeasts and mostly used barrels, about 80% French, 20% American and aged about 18 months, opens up and feels texturally lush, while still vigorous and it lingers on and on with every lasting echos of cassis, a touch of pepper and floral elements. While of course you look to Turley for their sumptuous Zins, this Petite and their Grenache are best not overlooked, as they are outstanding as well, I can’t wait to visit the Paso tasting room again soon, where I usually find some interesting rarities and able to stock up on the basic Old Vine Zinfandel and or the bargain priced Juvenile Zin that is sourced from 27 young vine, but pedigreed sites, including Hayne, Pesenti, Salvador, Vineyard 101, Fredericks, and Kirschenmann.

Turley Wine Cellars was founded, as the winery notes, in Napa Valley by former emergency room physician Larry Turley in 1993 with a focus on Zinfandel from top sites throughout the state, including historic vines from St. Helena to Paso Robles, where Turley bought the Pesenti Vineyard and is where this wine comes from. Under the direction of winemaker and vineyard manager Tegan Passalacqua, Turley now makes 50 different wines, all limited small batch offerings, from over 50 vineyards, as Turley adds, across California, which are primarily Zinfandel and Petite Syrah, with many of these vines dating back to the late 1800s. The Turley owned and farmed Pesenti Vineyard, set on the westside’s limestone based soils, is an estate-owned and certified organic vineyard, which saw its Petite Sirah planted by the Turley team using cuttings from the famous Hayne Vineyard in Napa Valley. The Petite Sirah is all head-trained and dry-farmed, which gives this wine its character and concentration, making for an inky dark, chocolatey, densely packed example of this grape, which is also known as Durif. As these Petite Sirah vines age and get more mature the wines are becoming more distinct and are expressing the terroir of the Pesenti Vineyard, giving loads of ripe fruit, with a background of minerality and savory spices, as this wine clearly shows. There’s so much to admire in Turley’s lineup, but a few standouts come to mind, besides this goodie, like their Judge Bell Zin from Amador County and the Bechthold Vineyard Lodi Cinsault, one of my favorites, and the Kirschenmann Vineyard Zinfandel.
($38-49 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Fabio Oberto, Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, Piedmonte, Italy.
This fresh and surprisingly fruit dense all organic Langhe Nebbiolo is a tasty and guilt free with a charming palate of macerated black cherries, plum and earthy currant fruits and snappy herbs, saline, loam along with lingering florals and black licorice. Obviously not as deep or as complex as a Barolo, but a wine that does not disappoint and delivers plenty of varietal character, making for a nice wine to have a casual meal with, considering the price, it is worth grabbing a case to enjoy for the next 3 to 5 years. I have had the wines of Oberto before, but I have not had any of the offerings from Fabio before and I was happily impressed with this new release. This dark ruby and garnet hued wine was even better when it was joined by food, especially grilled steak and hard cheeses, it complimented each bite and added a riper sense of fruit in the mouth and a touch more rose petal, though still showing a bit of umami, grilled orange and good natural acidity, keeping things energetic and balanced. It is good times for Nebbiolo lovers with an exceptional range of quality versions from Piedmonte from tasty bargain wines, like this one to stellar single cru bottlings that absolutely deserve a spot in the top cellars.

The Oberto family started producing under their own label in 1978, and after 22 years working with his father, Andrea, Fabio Oberto has set out on his own and now bottles small production wines with winemaker Sergio Molino under the Fabio Oberto “La Collina di Dioniso” label from sustainable, and mostly organic, vineyard sites the family owns with a focus on Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto, including a full DOCG Barolo from Alba’s La Morra sub region. The Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, 100% Nebbiolo, is grown in La Morra’s Barolo zone with southeast exposures and the classic clay-limestone soils. The Nebbiolo grape clusters are all hand-picked and after rigorous selections are quickly brought to the cellar within a few hours at most for de-stemming and crushing, then the must is fermented with frequent but gentle pumpovers for good extraction and depth of flavors. The grapes see an about eight days maceration period on the skins, after which the wine goes to steel tanks for spontaneous malolactic fermentation. Fabio’s Langhe Nebbiolo ages 6 months in a combination of used oak barrels and partly in stainless steel tanks, plus another two months in bottle before leaving the winery. Everything is done to make this medium bodied little Nebbiolo as pleasing and easy to love upon release, and Fabio has succeeded in this vintage, making a delightful and value packed wine to enjoy in its youth.
($24 ESt.) 90 Points, grapelive

2020 Jolie-Laide, Red Wine, Trousseau Noir/Cabernet Pfeffer/Gamay, California.
Scott Schultz’s latest California Red Blend is made from an interesting combination of grapes, including Trousseau Noir, Cabernet Pfeffer and Gamay from a diverse array of vineyard sites through out the state and made in a natural semi carbonic way, making it a delightfully fun quaffer with racy red fruits on the medium bodied palate that is in particular great with rustic and or simple cuisine. This vibrant and slightly cloudy unfiltered red enjoys being served slightly chilled and excels with a meal, I had it with a spicy pasta dish that had a good dose of hot Calabrian peppers in it and this Jolie-Laide red provided a refreshing juiciness and pleasure. With air this wine gains a pretty array of fruit, including sweet and sour cherry, red currant, pomegranate and tree picked plum as well as hints of earth, minty herbs, blood orange, cinnamon(y) spices, dried tobacco leaf and a potpourri note. The red fruits are ripe, but there is good tart burst of natural acidity that reminds me of some of wines from the Cheverny region in the Loire Valley that are typically made with Gamay, Pineau d’Aunis, Cot (Malbec) and Pinot Noir or a red blend from the Jura, where you find Trousseau blended with Poulsard, Pinot Noir and even some Gamay as well. The Jolie-Laide wines are made with lots of whole-cluster, native yeasts and are generally aged in neutral French oak and with some in concrete tank, with everything done to promote purity and transparency, most all the grapes are from family owned vineyards that are farmed using holistic and or full organic methods.

Jolie-Laide is a small lot Sebastopol winery where the talented winemaker Scott Schultz, who also works at Pax, makes only around 500 cases of wine a year. Every year Jolie-Laide’s offerings get more and more exciting with some cool hand crafted stuff, like this uniquely Californian red blend and a pair of world class Syrahs, one from my favorite Halcon Vineyard in the Yorkville Highlands. The name Jolie-Laide, which loosely translates to “Pretty-Ugly”, a French term of endearment to describe something that is unconventionally beautiful, very fitting to Scott’s delicious collection of wines. Scott, who moved to California in 2007 to be closer to his passion of wine has put some quality time in at Ryme Cellars and Arnot-Roberts, along with the mentioned Pax Cellars getting tons of experience, which has paid off in his own efforts, especially giving him access to great vineyard sites and some rare varieties of grapes, like Trousseau, Trousseau Gris, Gamay, Melon de Bourgogne and Cabernet Pfeffer. For those that have not had or even heard of Cabernet Pfeffer, it is also known as Mourtaou, and was thought to be a cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and maybe Trousseau, though still a mysterious grape variety that is planted in tiny quantities in California, mainly in the remote area of San Benito County, where Schultz sourced this from. Interestingly Cabernet Pfeffer is sometimes confused with the nearly extinct Bordeaux variety of Gros Verdot, which is similar in appearance, but not related, though found also in San Benito too. The Jolie-Laide wines sell out fast, so it is best to get on the mailing list to secure these limited offerings.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Testut, Chablis Premier Cru, Montée de Tonnerre, White Burgundy, France.
The Montée de Tonnerre vineyard just might be my favorite Chablis site and I love the wines from here, it is a special place for this grape, set on classic limestone from the Kimmeridgien era, making for a mineral laced and stony terroir driven Chardonnay, with this 2018 Testut version being an absolutely thrilling example with a cool steely eyed personality and fabulous purity. Coming from a sélection massale of 60 year old vines on a southeast facing slope on the region’s chalky fossilized calcarious soils. The riveting Testut Montée de Tonnerre shows a confident subtly in the glass with an ultra pale greenish/gold hue and a crisply detailed medium bodied palate with lime, orchard stone fruits, quince and mouth watering saline infused wet rock, delicate clove spice, oyster shell and white flowers. There’s a nice tension and energy flowing through this Chardonnay and it gains elegant roundness and textural charm with air, it almost perfectly captures the year and place with a quiet depth and complexity, making for a very appealing Chablis that shines with cuisine, in particular this wine goes great with Sushi and or fresh crab dishes.

Cyril Testut has presided over the family estate since 1998, so he’s been doing it while now, and is a star that is finally getting the recognition he deserves, especially when you taste his Premier Crus, like this chiseled stony beauty.The Testut domaine was originally established by his father Philippe Testut back in 1967, and the Testut family has 13 hectares of prime vineyards, which date back hundreds of years and were previsouly owned by Cistercian agronomist monks, all are located in the historic heart of the Chablis and its limestone fan shell. It’s a serious selection of Grand Cru and Premier vines, mostly of which sit between the Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre, where this wine comes from, and the Grand Cru Blanchots, not too shabby. Those that like the domaines of Patrick Puize, Savary and Christophe will instantly recognize the style and quality in these Testut wines, and even those that are lucky enough to enjoy the greats, like Raveneau and Dauvissat will no doubt be impressed by Cyril’s excellent set of wines. This Montée de Tonnerre was fermented and aged in stainless steel tank in the Inox method with this wine seeing an elevage close to 18 months with lees. Testut is still a rarity in the States, but can be found with a little effort, which I highly recommend doing, the two bottlings I have reviewed have been outstanding!
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Inama, Vigneti di Foscarino, Soave Classico DOC, Veneto, Italy.
The crisp and mineral laced single cru Vigneti di Foscarino Soave Classico is a beauty, it highlights this vineyard’s cooler exposure and explores the purity of the Garganega grape, as it does not contain any of the lesser varietals, showing a pretty floral dimension and round stone fruit and racy citrus. This fabulous example of modern Soave is the result of Inama’s vision and realization of the potential here, with Giuseppe Inama making some shrewd moves in the 1960s to purchase some exceptional plots that have now really paid great rewards, their potential is right here in the bottle, with the wines now being made under the direction of his son Stefano, who took over the winemaking duties in 1992 and his son Matteo more recently have raised the quality levels to world class status. Giuseppe Inama began buying up small vineyard plots on this peak, where this wine comes from, in the heart of the Soave Classico zone, and as a result, the Inama winery today owns most of the vineyards on Mount Foscarino, the ancient dormant volcano that influences the wines of this region with the volcanic soils playing a big part of the expressive nature in these Soave wines. The Vegneti di Foscarino has a lot to admire with layers of lemon/lime, peach and quince fruits on the taut medium bodied palate that harmonizes the zesty and leesy textural elements and still allows for an exciting tension to build in this brilliant crystalline white, that goes awesome with soft cheeses, briny sea foods and lighter creamy pasta dishes. The Vigneti di Foscarino is east facing, catching the morning sun but avoiding the afternoon heat, it sits about 250 meters above sea level and is mainly vines that are in the 50 year old range and farmed in the traditional pergola style, and though not certified, the Inama’s use holistic organic methods to farm this vineyard to achieve the best possible ripening and quality.

As mentioned recently here, the Inama winery is now on their third generation, it was founded in 1967, and are one of Italy’s finest small family owned wineries with an amazing array of vineyard sites in the Veneto region and well known for their stunning examples of single vineyard Soave wines. It all started In the 1960s, when Giuseppe Inama began buying up small plots on best hillsides in the heart of the Soave Classico zone, and as a result, the Inama winery has some of the most distinct wines in the region, which is seeing a renaissance these days. Inama’s two cru Soave offerings, Carbonare and this Foscarino, with both really showcase their different terroir influences and are fantastic white wine values, it is wines like these and those of Pieropan that have brought renewed attention to this ancient region and the Garganega grape, which is just starting to show its potential in modern times. The walled city of Soave, a place I have on my list to visit, is in the Veneto region, and it has long been a source of quality and well priced white wines. The town dates back to Roman times, who solidified the area’s winemaking tradition in this sleepy and picturesque area not far from Venice and Lake Garda. The Romans, it is well noted locally, were big fans of these minerally fresh and dry floral wines like found here in Soave. The Garganega grape, is main attraction and the most noble of white grapes here and the mainstay in the DOC bottlings, like this one, it has for centuries produced the best Soave wines and come mainly from vineyards in the hills that rise up behind the town of Soave itself. The Foscarino is 100% Garganega, all organically grown, is fermented in stainless then raised in small barriques, where it goes through full malo-lactic conversion and sees batonage (lees stirring) every six weeks for 6 months before it is returned to tank to settle for another six months before bottling. Inama’s latest releases are outstanding from their unique Carmenere and Cabernet reds to their set of Soave(s), I was very impressed with them and highly recommend exploring them.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 La Fiorita, Rosso di Montalcino DOC, Tuscany, Italy.
The 2018 Rosso di Montalcino is a pure Sangiovese that is wonderfully aromatic, deep in color and nicely detailed with a classic array of dark fruit, spice, a light sense of earth and just the right amount of savoriness, all making it finely balanced and compelling in the glass. Fattoria La Fiorita lies on the southeast facing slope within the Montalcino zone and has three distinct vineyards, Poggio al Sole, Pian Bossolino and Il Giardinello to draw top quality and ripe fruit from to make their top Brunello offerings, as well as this baby Brunello (Rosso) that really stands out for value. The 2018 Rosso shows blackberry, plum, black cherry and strawberry fruits, which are accented by sweet floral notes, cigar wrapper, anise, cedar and dried herbs along with a touch of chalky mineral, with a full bodied texture, supple tannins and a youthful burst of natural acidity. This vintage saw a care grape selection and was fermented in Slavonian wood fermentors with a maceration period of about 18 days and then put into second use French oak cask, where the Rosso rested for about 10 months, then moved to stainless for an additional 4 or so months before bottling, a regime that allows for early drinking pleasure, as this wine proves. The Rosso di Montalcino DOC comes of all organic Sangiovese Grosso (Brunello clone) vines that are set on Tufo and galestro soils, comprised of clay and limestone that has a sandy topsoil that helps give this bottling its class and character, it is a wine that certainly speaks of place and wonderful with rustic cuisine, especially wild mushroom dishes, grilled meats and or hard sleep cheeses.

La Fiorita gained a lot of notoriety in 2011 when adult film actress and wine fanatic, Natalie Oliveros, joined forces with Roberto Cipresso, one of Montalcino’s top winemakers who had founded this label back in 1992, and has helped raise the game, now with Vincenzo Pirrone as winemaker, putting La Fiorita in the upper echelon of producers. Natalie Oliveros confidently took over the Estate, and she pushed the shift towards organic viticulture here and in 2014 she planted her Giardinello site, which is showing a lot of promise, as well as adding a forth vineyard, then she turned her attention to her cellars which she modernized into an all gravity fed winery. The La Fiorita winemaking is leaning toward a natural and traditional style, the team employs concrete tanks and old wood open top vats for primary fermentation and aged their wines in large Slavonian oak casks to preserve the properties unique terroir influences and personality. Natalie Oliveros born and bred in Northern New York owes a lot of her interest in wine, especially Italian, to her Calabrese “Nonna” grandmother who gave her an education steeped in her family history as well as exposing Natalie to wine and food culture, including making basement wine. Oliveros, formerly known as Savanna Samson, has made a seamless transition into her wine career, with humor and humility, overcoming some serious chauvinistic and prejudice issues with grace and passion, which is something we should admire, it has been a remarkable success story. I tasted through the latest set of wines from La Fiorita, the two Brunellos, both of which were stunning, from the highly acclaimed 2016 vintage, along with this 2018 garnet and ruby edged Rosso, that impressed me almost as much and is far less weighty on the wallet!
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 The Eyrie Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Estate, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
This wine, made by Jason Lett, is a beauty, absolutely spot and epic in every way, it does try to be something it’s not, nor is it flashy, but wow, this is gorgeous Pinot Noir that seduces and captivates you from start to finish and is deepens with time in the glass, opening up with fine detail, perfumed fruit, mineral, spice and a sultry background of earthy elements. I’m not sure what I was expecting, when I pulled this bottle out to share with my mom, and I’m happy to report this Eyrie Estate Dundee Hills Pinot surpassed any hopes I had, in fact after my first sip I could have easily mistaken this Oregon classic for a much more expensive Burgundy, it took me some of my favorite wines of the 1990s, including Henri Gouges’ Nuits-Saint-Georges, though it is a touch more generous and supple in mouth feel and the terroir influence of the Jory soils does finally give it away as an Oregon wine with an array of spice, heightened rose petal aromatics and touch of graphite. The fruit profile unfolds subtly with black cherry, briar laced rad raspberry, wild plum and cranberry along with hints of cinnamon, game, leather, anise, orange tea and woody mushrooms all of which flow harmoniously in the mouth in an impressive seamless fashion. There is a confidence and natural poise to this vintage that brings an added degree of drinking pleasure and this 2018 estate Pinot is at its best with food, with country style meals a perfect match, no fussy cuisine needed.

The Eyrie Vineyards, founded back in 1965, is a legendary pioneer in Oregon Pinot producer with Jason’s dad David Lett being one of the state’s hall of fame winemakers, known for true authentic and natural style wines, something that continues in modern times. The vineyards used are organic and in the cellar, Eyrie is all about transparency and low intervention which means, as Lett notes, minimal racking, extended lees contact, complete and spontaneous malolactic fermentation, no fining, and minimal filtration. The Estate Pinot, as Lett continues, combines Pinot from Eyrie’s five certified-organic estate vineyards that are farmed with holistic methods including regenerative no-till practices, with strict attention paid not just to the vines but to the healthy networks of soil organisms that support them. The grapes were all hand picked and carefully sorted with 100% de-stemming on this wine and it was put into a variety of fermenters, from small one-ton bins to a large 5 ton wooden cuve, to undergo native primary fermentation. After that Jason raises his Estate Pinot for about 18-24 months in mostly neutral French oak with somewhere close to 10% new barriques being employed in any given year. Recently I reviewed The Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Gris and was so impressed I ordered a few bottles, with this one being the one I opened first and one I was thrilled to try, I will break into their Pinot Meunier bottling at some point in the near future. I am really glad I re-discovered these Eyrie wines, they are excellent wines that have hit the spot for me and like Cameron’s wines, keep me intrigued in the Willamette Valley and especially in the wines from the iron rich volcanic soils of the Dundee Hills.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

N.V. Vigna Dorata, Brut Sparkling Wine, Franciacorta DOCG, Lombardy, Italy.
The elegant and luxurious Vigna Dorata Franciacorta D.O.C.G. Brut is made from a mix of Chardonnay and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) in the classic Champagne method with close to 24 months of lees aging that gives this sparkling wine its elegance and beautiful layering with hints of toasty brioche and hazelnut that nicely supports the racy and crisp citrus and apple fruit on the medium bodied palate. This is great alternative to pricey grower producer Champagne for any occasion drinking and or celebrations, it is high quality and can be enjoyed with a meal or just as a sipping bubbly. I really enjoyed this latest bottling, it gains complexity in fruit, with citrus, apple and quince coming alive and mineral tones as it opens up and the mousse is very fine and the beading in the glass is energetic, making for a sophisticated and pleasing sparkler. Franciacorta located in the Brescia province, in Lambardy region of Italy and set in the hills immediately south-east of Lake Iseo is renown for exceptional sparkling wines, with great stuff like Ca’ del Bosco and others being stellar examples of what can be made here. The first official Franciacorta sparkling wine was produced here in 1961, but has gained its outstanding reputation in more recent times, especially in the last decade or so. This was my first time sampling Vigna Dorata and I very much enjoyed this Brut, it also held up well with a wide range of appetizers and I can see it going great with festive holiday dinners.

Coming from their family vineyards that were planted in the 1980s, the The Vigna Dorata label came to life and was created in 1995 when the winery’s first bottle with secondary fermentation was produced here in Franciacorta, where some of the best Italian sparkling wines are made in the classic Champagne style and from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. The estate is located on an alluvial moraine soils of ancient origin which is extremely sandy with vineyards in the foothills that were formed from glaciers and situated with a good sunny exposure to full ripen the grapes here in the shadow of the Italian Alps. The Vigna Dorata Brut saw soft pressing of whole grapes by a gentle pneumatic press before its first fermentation that, as the winery notes, takes place in stainless steel tanks at controlled temperture after the addition of selected yeasts. A low dosage is employed and the Vigna Dorata feels very dry in the mouth, it is a wine that has an ability to appeal to a wide audience with its generous decadence. There plenty of style options in Franciacorta, an area that is home to over 100 wineries that produce sparkling wines in the metodo classico, making them as mentioned, a more affordable alternative to high end French Champagne. Most of the wines here, like these of Vigna Dorata bottlings, are very dry, but there is also the luscious Satèn style, made exclusively in this region, and is comparable to French Crémant with the name paying a tribute to Italian silk, plus there is Zero (no dosage) and Brut Nature as well as Rosé, giving sparkling enthusiasts plenty of choices.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Enrico Serafino, Barolo DOCG, Monclivio, Piedmonte, Italy.
This winery and label has recently burst back on to the scene, now run by the same group that owns Vietti and with winemaker Paolo Giacosa crafting the wines it is getting some well deserved attention, especially their 2016 Barolo offerings, with this Monclivio Barolo bottling being one that really stood out to me in a recent tasting. This Canale based winery, is located in a picturesque landscape, as the winery itself notes, it is set in the famous Langhe hills across the Tanaro River in the northeast part of Cuneo Province, with Monferrato to the east, this area of Roero and Langhe are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site for their beauty and their winemaking traditions. The Monclivio is sourced from all sustainable grapes from the communes of Castiglione Falletto, La Morra, Monforte d’Alba, and Serralunga d’Alba, all of which are prime location on the classic clay and limestone Helvetian soils that allow for depth, richness and powerful structure, as this wine clearly displays. The full bodied palate is dense with fruit concentration and youthfully tannic, but remarkably supple and luxurious showing red berry, damson plum, black cherry and mulberry fruits, along with subtle game, black licorice, cedary wood and hoisin notes. This garnet/ruby colored Barolo is a ripe and mouth filling Nebbiolo wine, pays a nice tribute to its place and the vintage, and is best served with hearty foods, perfect for the Fall and Winter cuisine options to come, and it should continue to age well for another 7 to 10 years. There is a lot to admire here in this well made wine and I am glad I got to taste through their latest set of wines, these Enrico Serafino efforts, which were new to me, are all quality examples and pretty solid values too with clean flavor profiles and expressive personalities.

The Enrico Serafino winery, in the Roero, is the oldest in the region and was founded in Canale d’Alba back in 1878, so has been continuously making wines here in its original location for 140 years now and interestingly is most famous for its Champagne style sparkling wines, though they have long made serious Barolo, like this beautiful and complex Monclivio version from the fantastic 2016 vintage. These metodo classico sparkling wines, which they have made since the late 1800s were crafted using the same process mastered in Champagne only a couple of decades earlier, and pioneered these methods and technologies that were just starting to be available outside of the Champagne region at the time. The winery’s long history of making Barolo in Canale, and good reputation such that the Enrico Serafino winery has been grandfathered in as an exception to the rule that doesn’t allow producers vinify Barolo outside the limits of the Barolo DOCG. In the past this estate did a wide array of wines from Gavi (Cortese grapes) to Alta Langhe grapes for the bubbly, as well as classic Nebbiolo, Pinot Nero, smaller amounts of Arneis and Chardonnay and today the winery owns 25 acres of Barolo vineyards in the renowned areas of Serralunga, Monforte d’Alba, and Castiglione Falletto, along with a traditional Barbera d’Alba. The winemaking employed on this Barolo was pretty standard with 100% de-stemmed grapes fermented with a selected culture (yeast) and macerated for about three weeks before being rack to a combination of small and large oak casks, including some French 225-liter barriques. Then this Monclivio selection was aged for 24 months in the wood, after which it was bottled and rested a further six months before being released with about 3,000 cases made. This wine, plus their Brut style Alta Langa “Oudeis” bubbly (80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay) impressed me and are well worth teaching out.
($49 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Combe, Trousseau Pet’ Nat, Dry Sparkling Wine, Stolpman Vineyards, Ballard Canyon, Santa Ynez Valley.
The success of this Combe Trousseau Pet’ Nat by Stolpman Vineyards is easy to see, it is a well made and delightful dry and zesty, Brut style sparkling wine with mineral fresh intensity and lightly earthy fruit, making for an vibrant and slightly frothy quaffer that is a perfect aperitif or appetizer wine. The Combe Pet’ Nat is made from night picked estate grapes that are transported to Petaluma and carefully crafted there by one of California’s best sparkling wine winemakers, Michael Cruse, who is famous for the high quality versions of Pet’ Nat and Methode Champenoise made under his Cruse Wine Co and Ultramarine labels. The Combe Pet’ Nat is fermented towards dryness and was placed into bottle under crown-cap with just a touch of natural sugar remaining to allow a second fermentation that finishes in bottle creating the bubbles. Stolpman notes, that Michael disgorges each bottle, removing any solid yeast material and lees from the bottle prior to release ensuring clarity and a consistent and elegant mousse. The 2019 is one of the best and with a little extra age now it has gained some secondary character and roundness showing preserved citrus, muskmelon, bruised pear and peach notes on the light to medium bodied palate that adds some creamy elements and contrasting tanginess with the delightful energetic beading of the mouse, it was a nice way to celebrate a Sunday afternoon.

Pete Stolpman’s most esoteric project is labeled “Combe” which he was spurred on to do with a push from Raj Parr, the famous Sommelier who is based in Santa Barbara, with the name referring to the French word for a small sheltered valley within a vineyard where Stolpman grows tiny parcels of Chenin Blanc, Mondeuse and Trousseau, that is used to make this fun and unique bubbly. Sometime around 2010, Pete became convinced of the great potential for the pale red Trousseau grape, most famously grown in France’s remote Jura region, thinking it would thrive on the limestone soils of Stolpman’s estate vineyards. Stolpman and Parr decided to make a light red Trousseau, like the classic Jura wines, like those of Ganevat, Puffeney and the legendary Michel Gahier, and more geeky, a Trousseau Pet’ Nat or “Pétillant Naturel” an ancient method and faster way to make sparkling wine, it is a French term that roughly translates to “naturally sparkling. The first vintage for the Combe Trousseau wines was back in 2014, and Pete now have 3.5 acres planted to the varietal, which because of the success of them, hardly seems enough, these are always instant sell outs, especially this bottling. The Stolpman wines are class acts, with their Syrah offerings being exceptional and in recent years they have been adding to their So Fresh lineup that started with their fabulous and playful Love You Bunches -The carbonic whole cluster Sangiovese that has taken the hipster wine scene by storm, these So Fresh wines deliver exciting no pretense drinking pleasures and well priced to allow stocking up on your favorites.
($42 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2020 Garofoli, Supèra, Verdicchio di Metelica DOC, Le Marche, Italy.
New in the Garofoli lineup is their first Verdicchio di Metelica DOC wine, called Supèra, it is a nod to the future and as they winery says, to expanding possibilities and potential in the higher elevation Metelica Valley in the Appenines Mountain range a bit further inland from the Adriatic Sea. Having worked with Verdicchio solely from the Castelli di Jesi area for generations, Matelica is a new adventure for the Garofoli family who have a long tradition of winemaking here in the Le Marche. The crisp and fresh Supèra is an expansion of a partnership with a young and vibrant winegrower from this high valley on the Esino River valley that is full of potential, I was incredibly impressed by this stylish version of Verdicchio, which can be rather thin and bitter when not grown well or with such careful handling. The Supèra Verdicchio di Metelica DOC is a mountain wine”with a vibrant core of citrus fruit and a bit more complexity than most examples of this grape, especially at this price, making this a very compelling offering that comes from all sustainable grapes near Esanatoglia that are grown on almost pure clay and formed by ancient glaciers. This 2020 vintage is as pure as it gets with the fermentation and aging all done in stainless steel and with a very short 4 month elevage before quickly being bottled to preserve all of the vitality and zest, making for a great little white for light dishes and or raw oysters. The profile is light and zippy with lemon lime, almond oil, similar to Gruner, and a steely mineral note along with hints of melon, saline and wet stones.

The Garofoli winery was originally founded back in 1871 in the city of Loreto in Marche, which is the site of the Basilica della Santa Casa, one of the most important Christian pilgrimage sites in Italy since the Middle Ages and is still among the most visited pilgrimage churches today. Antonio Garofoli was an Inn keeper in the mid-19th century and in 1871, according to the winery and local historians Garofoli began making wine to quench the pilgrims’ temporal thirst, which was the beginning a long family tradition of winemaking and generous hospitality. Thirty years later, his son Gioacchino founded a full-scale winery operation and the family went into the wine business on a much more serious level. The winery expanded commercially after World War II and was known as Casa Vinicola Gioacchino Garofoli with national and European distribution beginning in 1950. Loreta’s famous basilica was built around a small house that is said to be the very structure in which the Virgin Mary was born and where Jesus was conceived and raised. According to folklore, the house was flown out of Nazareth in Palestine by the angels before that city fell to Muslim forces during the Crusades, and it, as legend has it, wound up here in Loreto, on the Adriatic coast in the remote provence of Le Marche, home of the Castelli di Jesi growing area, noted for Verdicchio grape, that makes for the signature crisply dry white wine of this region. For hundreds of years now, thousands if not millions of the faithful have traveled here from far and wide to see and pray at the Santa Casa (Holy House) and sip the refreshing Verdicchio wines.
($18 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Poliziano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG, Tuscany, Italy.
The latest Poliziano Vino Nobile is as it always seems to be, a benchmark wine for this region and delivers a classic tour de force of Tuscan goodness with dark layers of bramble berry, plum, dried cherry and strawberry fruits along with a background of subtle earthiness, spice and mint lead by hints of soy, cedar, anise, loam and snappy herbs . After a few swirls a richer body emerges and there’s a lingering array of porporri, pipe tobacco, fig and currant. There’s fresh acidity and some authentic raw tannin here that provides a soulful structure to this vintage and makes it a wine that is at its best with a full and hearty meal, it all comes together with meat and or mushroom dishes and having tried with grilled steak it proved excellent and gained depth and complexity on the robust palate. This pure terroir driven Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is made from 85% Prugnolo Gentile, the local name for Sangiovese, with the other 15% being a mix of Colorino, Canaiolo and Merlot grown on the estate’s clay and silted soils that contain many fossilized stones at set up at prime higher elevation for added complexity and balance. The Poliziano grapes are all grown with sustainable methods, mostly to organic practices though without certification and are fermented in large oak casks before being aged close to 20 months in various sized French oak barrels, with only a about 20% seeing the smaller 225Ls. While still youthful, there is some serious aging potential here with this 2018 and it might ultimately prove as good as the 2016s and it is a remarkable value at the price, easily making it a wine to enjoy without much guilt or wallet pain. I will always remember my first visit to Montepulciano, the rustic and beautiful hilltop town, once prized for the healing power of its spring waters that have long been used for local spa treatments, I got to witness this remote village bring in its grapes in late September and the air was filled with the glorious smell of fermentation, making the experience extra special. This wine brought back memories of a chaotic comedy, that could only happen in Italy with an ancient truck overloaded with grapes struggling to make it up a steep grade to the co-op in the old town and men rushing over to help push it up the final stretch, me included, with all of us, the old diesel included sliding dangerously on rain slick pavement! Oh man, I laughed, though I was worried I might be seriously injured or even be run over, happily we all, grapes included survived.

The Poliziano winery in Montepulciano was named after Agnolo Ambrogini, who was more commonly known by his nickname “Poliziano” (born in 1454 and died in 1494), the famous Italian poet and humanist and considered the foremost classical scholar of the Renaissance period, he was also a friend and protege of legendary Lorenzo de’ Medici, of the ruling family of Florence. It was because of his ties to Montepulciano and his work as a humanist that make him one of the town’s most cherished sons, who’s name was derived from the Latin name of his birthplace, Montepulciano (Mons Politianus). He was poisoned at the age of 40 by followers of Piero de’ Medici who worried he might lay claim to the seat of power in the aftermath of Lorenzo’s death. His life was full of controversy and makes for fantastic reading, as does the history of the de’ Medici family, these were intriguing times to say the least! The Poliziano winery has storied past and was founded in 1961 by Dino Carletti, who was a visionary in the region and helped it gain its status as one of Tuscany’s premier DOCGs. Now Poliziano is led by Dino’s son Federico Carletti and his children, Francesco and Maria Stella about to become the third generation to run this historic estate. Obviously the main focus at Poliziano is Prugnolo Gentile, the most prestigious clone of Sangiovese (the same as Sangiovese Grosso in Brunello di Montalcino), but they also have Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot vines, along with native rarities Canaiolo Nero and Colorino. Federico is the former president of the Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, leading the group from 2008 to 2013 and was a founding member of a small group of vintners, called the Alliance that wanted the top DOCG wines in the area to be 100% Prugnolo Gentile (Sangiovese) like Brunello, instead of only being 70% as the rules dictate, and from the 2015 vintage on, these pure Sangiovese wines, one level up from this one, will feature the word “Nobile” in large type on their label and be from single vineyards. Poliziano is well worth searching out, especially for this bottling as well as for the winery’s entry level Rosso di Montepulciano, which is a no nonsense bargain as well as their single cru offerings, the Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano “Asinone” and the “Le Caggiole” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano that are more difficult to find over here. Poliziano also sources grapes from another charming hilltop town, Cortona, which they craft a 100% Merlot from, though I haven’t tried it yet I am sure it is delicious. This recent tasting has really got me itching to re-visit Italy and Tuscany soon, I am so ready for Covid to be in the rear view mirror, and wines like this have me dreaming of future travels.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Weingut Von Winning, Riesling Trocken, Deidesheimer Paradiesgarten, VDP Erste Lage, Deidesheim, Pfalz Germany.
Always a favorite in Von Winnings lineup the Paradiesgarten Trocken Riesling is every bit as good as 90% of the GGs out there and this 2019 is a thrilling wine of class and depth with a full range of flavors, energy and exceptional length, it is crystalline, crisply dry and brilliant from start to finish. The Deidesheimer Paradiesgarten, a VDP Erste Lage or Premier Cru vineyard, is located on top of the slope right underneath the forest, with spectacular vines grown on red sandstone and with some löss and loamy soils. The Paradiesgarten is Von Winning’s coolest site just above the village of Deidesheim, and completely surrounding the Grand Cru site of Langenmorgen and is farmed 100% organic, interestingly, according to the winery, here the top soil consists of fine loamy sand, unique for this hillside. This terroir one of their most elegant sites for dry Riesling, in fact this could easily be a GG with the character it delivers, which makes this bottling, especially in vintages like this 2019 a stellar value and truly a world class white wine. I was first turned on to this wine by the famed importer and Riesling guru Terry Theise more than a decade ago now and it continues to be one of my go to Pfalz bottlings. The Von Winning Paradiesgarten Riesling is completely barrel fermented and then aged on the lees for one year, giving it a regal presence in the glass and it has an opulent mouth feel, but a firm structure that allows for extended cellaring, while offering noteworthy early drinking pressure and the mentioned remarkable length. This vintage is ripe and hints at the exotic, but has chiseled detailing and Riesling purity with vibrant array of white peach, green apple, apricot, tart pear, kumquat, key lime, kiwi and bitter quince fruits as well as rosewater, orange blossoms, saline, crushed wet flint and verbena all elevated by the natural acidity and rounded by the leesy texture, hazelnut brioche and subtle wood influence.

Weingut Von Winning, an off-shoot off the Dr Deinhard Winery, is based in Deidesheim and has some of the greatest Cru vineyards in the region in their portfolio, including the Deidesheimer Grosses Gewachs of Grainhübel, Langenmorgen, the wildly exotic Kalkofen and Kieselberg, as well as Ungeheuer, Kirchenstück, Jesuitengarten and Pechstein, the Forst GG’s. Apart from from the collection of elite Riesling sites, Von Winning has some of the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc, that must be tried to believe, as well as very good Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc or Weissburgunder as it is known locally, plus in recent years their sparkling wines or Sekt, which are all Methode Champenoise Brut style wines are outstanding too. The heavenly Paradeisgarten Trocken is sourced from all organic grapes that see an elevage in a combination of smaller 500L and classic 1200L barrels, all used, to promote transparency and purity, then it was bottled with a gentle/light filtration for clarity. These Von Winning wines are impeccably made and are some of the best in Germany, if not the whole of Europe and the world, do not miss any chance to try them and savvy Riesling drinkers will want to get a few of these Paradeisgartens. This 2019 is close to perfection and a gorgeous bottle, and I am hearing a buzz that the 2020s are just as good if not better, which makes it a great time to stock up on the Von Winning wines, especially this one. I see a few sales on the earlier vintages that are insanely good buys, but at around $30, this 2019 is outrageously under priced for what is in the glass, it is a serious Riesling and it should age another decade with ease. I could just sip and enjoy this on its own, but it deserves an evening and a meal to get the best from it, and since it’s bone dry it doesn’t need hot or spicy dishes, making great with everything from cured meats to briny sea food.
($32 ESt.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Fattoria Selvapiana, Vigneto Buccerchiale, Chianti Rufina Rserva DOCG, Tuscany, Italy.
The Fattoria Selvapiana, located in Chianti Rufina, in the foothills of the Apennines and close to Florence was among the first Tuscan producers to make the Riserva made only from 100% Sangiovese and to produce their flagship wine from a single vineyard, which is Selvapiana’s Vigneto Bucerchiale, which was debuted back in 1979 and continues to be a benchmark wine from this region, and this 2017 is an absolute joy to behold in the glass. The depth found here is remarkable for the year, it highlights the terroir here in the hillside of Rufina, where the nearness to the mountains strongly influences the microclimate here with cooler summers and a big change in temperature between day and night that all makes these wines at Selvapiana elegantly balanced and age worthy, with this 2017 really putting on a great performance, making it a wine that offers tremendous value. The 2017 is pure Sangiovese at its best with a beautiful dark color and an inviting bouquet with a classic array of crushed berries, floral notes and a delicate earthiness and snappy herbs that leads to a full bodied palate that is lifted by natural acidity and a touch of mineral to go with briar laced black raspberry, plum, cherry and strawberry fruits that are nicely accented by ground tobacco, cedar, anise, dried rose petals and lingering currant coulis. This wine, when I tasted it, was up against some well regarded and powerful Italian reds and it more than held its own and it had even more of an impact when was tried with robust cuisine.

In a week where I’ve focused on Italian wines, I could not let my love for Tuscany go not mentioned and this brilliant wine certainly deserves mention and merit, it shows fine details, graceful structure and will make almost any meal much more rewarding, if you’ve not had Fattoria Selvapiana, it is a good time to change that, especially this Chianti Rufina Riserva Vigneto Bucerchiale. I first discovered Selvapiana when I tried their amazing Vin Santo del Chianti Rufina, one of Tuscany’s most prized treats, but I was slow to get into their reds, something that I will make up in the future, as this Vigneto Buccerchiale Rufina Riserva certainly left a big impression on me. The Chianti Rufina Riserva Vigneto Bucerchiale saw a spontaneous native yeast fermentation and a 30 maceration period with manual punchdowns and pumpovers to extract color, flavor and its backbone of tannins. One primary fermentation is finished the Vigneto Bucerchiale is racked to barriques for close to 15 months, mostly used oak with just about 10% new wood used, which adds a subtle touch of sweet toast and gives this wine its sense of purity. I normally focus my attention to the southern hills of Chianti Classico, closer to Siena, when I’m looking for outstanding Sangiovese, like the wines of Felsina, Le Miccine, Castello di Ama, Montevertine and others, but after trying this one I’ll be careful to not overlook this Rufina estate going forward. Selvapiana doesn’t make this bottling every year, so it only sees the best grapes in the best vintage, which gives Sangiovese lovers an extra degree of confidence when picking this bottle, it is thrilling and rewarding wine that is great with food.
($37 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Vietti, Barbera d’Alba DOC “Vigna Scarrone” Piedmonte, Italy.
This ripe and full bodied Vigna Scarrone Barbera is a serious wine that will convince you, if you not already a Barbera lover to become one with a deep saturated color and surprising depth filled with dark berry fruit, a dusting of fine spices, heady floral notes, hedonistic textural richness and thrilling length. The grapes for Vietti’s gorgeous Scarrone Barbera are grown in asingle steep terraced vineyard in Castiglione Falletto, the Barolo cru. These vines, the winery notes, were planted in 1989 and set on ancient marl soils, which is a combination of clay and limestone. Vietti’s superstar winemaker Luca Currado, who’s latest wines are some of the greatest in the Piedmonte, if not all of Italy, has created a special wine here, it is one of the best expression of Barbera I’ve tried, comparing well with my favorite La Spinetta Gallina bottling. The grapes saw a short period of cold-maceration, then fermented in open stainless-steel tanks for about two weeks at cool temperatures with frequent remontage and délestages, which are punch downs and pumpovers, that Currado explains is to achieve a perfect level extraction of color and tannins. This vintage, a warm one, adds to the instant and heightened pleasure on the palate with blackberry, juicy plum and currant fruits leading the way along with hints of chalk stones, sandalwood, sprigs of wild herbs, tarry anise, kirsch and a peony porporri. To promote purity and suppleness the Scarrone Barbera was raised 18 months in various vessels, including large oak casks, small barriques and steel tanks, making for an impactful wine that highlights the studied approach taken to made it, this is Barbera at its best.

The Vietti winery is located in Castiglione Falletto of famous Barolo area of the Cuneo province, and it was founded in the late 1800’s by Carlo Vietti. The estate has gradually grown over the years to include some of the most highly-prized terroirs in Piedmonte. While influential in the local area and have been making wine for four generations, this label only came of age in the 1960’s when Luciana Vietti married winemaker and art connoisseur Alfredo Currado, who was one of the first to bottle a Rocche di Castiglione cru Barolo back in 1961, as well as to produce a single-varietal Arneis in 1967, along with the introduction of an Artist Label in the early 1970s. These wines and packaging made him a legend and his efforts were of some of the most significant innovations of the era. His legacy lives on here, and Luca Currado, who has contributed even more to the success of Vietti in recent years making it an iconic label of quality, his set of Barolo wines are some of the most collectable and desirable wines in the world, especially his Lazzarito and Rocche di Castiglione Barolo(s), but you find quality throughout his collection, with this also being a standout. In 2016 the historic winery was acquired by Krause Holdings, which has given Luca and his Elena a free hand to run Vietti brand, and to add a number of prized crus to the estate’s holdings, so the future here is secure and allows them the resources to reach new levels of greatness. The Vietti Scarrone Barbera d’Alba is a perfect reflection of its terroir and is well worth the price, with this 2017 being an outstanding effort, inviting in the glass now and one that has potential to age another decade. The winery suggests it will be rewarding with hearty stews, pasta dishes and or poultry with rich sauces, game birds, as well as roasted meats and sharp cheeses, all of which makes me want more of this stuff.
($48 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Proprietà Sperino, Uvaggio, Coste delle Sesia Rosso, Alta Langhe, Piedmonte, Italy.
The Proprietà Sperino winery is located in the Lessona DOC appellation, in the Alta Langhe part of the greater Piedmonte region, and is one of the oldest and most historic wine-growing areas in Italy with wine producing records showing, as early as the 14th century, this was a thriving wine community and now it is one of Italy’s hot spots, along with Mount Etna on Sicily, with wines like this one, made from mostly Nebbiolo, being a fine example why these wines are getting such attention. Luca de Marchi, who’s family has some Piedmonte roots has a well known father, Paolo, who owns the famous and critically acclaimed Tuscan estate Isole e Olena in Chianti Classico, runs this Lessona property with a passion for Nebbiolo. This 2017 Uvaggio Coste delle Sesia Rosso, which is 80% Nebbiolo, 5% Croatina and 15% Vespolina, is a beautiful and exciting wine with a fresh nature and ripe fruit that allows it to drink fabulous in its youth, while still having the depth and structure underneath to age well with a pretty array of red fruit, perfumed floral notes and delicate earthy elements and a silky and supple texture. There is loads to please the palate here in this medium body wine with crushed raspberry, dark cherry, wild plum and blood orange fruits along with seeped rose petals, tangy garden herbs, mineral tones and a light touch of wood, this red has a brightly fresh personality, but has a subtle savoriness, a good cut of acidity and a nice tannic backbone that is not aggressive.

Luca de Marchi, who is a mission to bring more quality Lessona and has laboriously restored the family vineyards, which he and dad inherited in 1999 and have put hard work in ever since. The Proprietà Sperino is located, as they note, right at the foot of Monte Rosa, where the soil consists of marine sand and Alpine granite that are perfect for the Nebbiolo vines to thrive and produce exceptional long lived wines. The Nebbiolo, locally called Spanna, here is very aromatic and complex, and is lifted by the small amounts of Vespolina and Croatina, which adds to the flowery bouquet, some heightened pigment and gives some spicy notes to this Uvaggio Rosso. For this wine, de Marchi says that he is looking to craft his wine with a respect to nature and remaining faithful to history of this place and not imitate other oenological styles. To that end, the Uvaggio Coste della Sesia DOC is made from sustainable farmed grapes, which are all de-stemmed and fermented in tank and used wood and then it is raised 22 months in mostly small tonneau/barriques then bottled unfined and unfiltered. I tasted this one along side Luca’s signature Rosso Lessona DOC 2015, which is a powerhouse and is 100% Nebbiolo that saw 32 months in wood with 18 of those months on the fine lees, it is an ultra serious effort that rivals Cru Barolo for impact, while this wine is just a little more quaffable and playful, though both are well worth chasing down, especially Nebbiolo fans. This label was new to me and I was highly impressed with what I tasted and look forward to following Proprietà Sperino’s efforts in the future, plus I learned they also make a Rosé and a super rare single vineyard Cabernet Franc that I hope to sample someday!
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 La Ca’ Növa, Barbaresco DOCG, Piedmonte, Italy.
The 2017 La Ca’ Növa Barbaresco Normale is much more earthy and rustic than the Cru Montestefano, but as it opens it gains a sense of completeness and is a wildly good value even though it is a more old school version without quite the elegance of the upper level wines. That said, this wine performed well with food and is ripe in fruit and gives the vintage’s open knit textural richness, it just is not as perfumed or as distinctive as the Montestefano, but not many would complain for the price that this one goes for and this is a producer to keep on your radar! The 2017 starts with a bit of game and leathery notes with truffle and forest floor leading to the classic Nebbiolo fruit of which brandied cherries, damson plums, brambly vine picked berries and red currants which is accented by hoisin, cedar, minty herb, anise, loam, fig and some wilted rose petals. There is a meaty and sanguine edginess that fades with food to allow a more generous side to balance things out a bit and a nice lingering kirsch and dried herb remind of where this wine is from, it is pure Piedmonte in the glass with a orange edged dark ruby color. This wine is really at its best with robust and simple country dishes, hearty winter stews, meat dishes and or hard cheeses. Day two brought more supple fruit and a better display of the wine’s range, time gave it a fuller voice and there was more to appreciate on the medium to full bodied palate which bodes well for midterm cellaring, while still having its earthy character. As I talked about when I first tried Marco Rocca’s wines, including his fabulous Montestefano cru Barbaresco, this is a winemaker to watch and his La Ca’ Növa wines are bargains.

Marco Rocca’s La Ca’ Növa winery is located just outside of the historic village of Barbaresco and is a small winery that produces traditional styled wines that way over deliver for the price, especially this entry level Barbaresco and Marco’s masterpiece from the famed Montestefano cru. Marco’s main passions are his Nebbiolo parcels and his trio of Barbaresco wines, but as the winery notes, Marco also does Dolcetto and Barbera, which I will now search out, because if his Barbaresco Normale and Cru Montestefano are this good and are this insanely low priced, they must be fantastic values as well. The winery has prized holdings in the Montefico and Montestefano, which I just reviewed recently, as well as nice sites within the Barbaresco DOCG zone from which they make their set of Barbaresco(s), plus Marco does a entry level Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, another wine I think needs investigating. Rocca is old school and shy by nature, he is not into modern technology and his wines are made in rustic fashion but with extreme care and love. He does his fermentation(s) without temperature control or with stainless tanks, he only employs indigenous yeasts and everything is done by hand using open barrels, as was done in older and simpler times. The maceration, interestingly is done with a large wooden spoon, which Marco uses to stir the musts, which he notes, is very difficult and time consuming work, but it worth it, as it helps extract a much richer color as well as more polyphenols. If you’ve not had La Ca’ Növa, this is a great time to explore their wines, and as I noted in my prior review, this must be one of the best kept secrets I’ve run across in the last few years!
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive Reviews – October, 2021

2019 Domaine Jérôme Gradassi, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
Gradassi’s latest Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge is a youthful, primary and grapey Grenache based effort that is firmly tight, savory and stony to start, but after opening up it is a fantastic bottle, deep in inky color and the depth of fruit is impressive, it highlights the rustic style with lots of whole bunch character, but rounds out nicely with a concentrated mouth feel and a full bodied palate of dark berry fruit, peony, spice and a sultry earthiness that balances everything so well here. This vintage looks to be one the best I’ve tried and I’m glad I was able to get a few bottles, especially has limited it is and I look forward to cellaring them another 3 to five years. Still a baby and ultra fresh the 2019 kicks things off with brambly boysenberry, juicy concord, pomegranate and black currant fruit that is accented by black licorice, wild flowers, sagey lavender, chalky saline, a touch of woodsy chanterelles and lingering fig, umami and kirsch. Maybe the smallest producer in the whole Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC, France’s first appellation, Jérôme’s Chateauneuf ages just over 10 months, using cement and ancient oak casks, and is one of freshest you’ll find with a dry savory edginess and with stem fleshiness and tension, it’s a wine I’ve been a fan of since it was first available in the States, along with his Blanc, uniquely made from Clairette Rose, a Gris like varietal, super rare, closely related to more common Clairette Blanche.

As I’ve mentioned here in my prior reviews, this is one of my favorite small producers in the Rhone, I love these wines and am so glad tiny domaines can exist here in this historic region and make it doing humble and rustic offerings. Jérôme Gradassi is the ex chef of the Michelin starred restaurant, the “L’Isle Sonnant” in Avignon, which, after burning out, he sold in 2003 to take over a tiny Chateauneuf parcel of vines that was left to him by his grandfather. After making a few vintages in his late grandfather’s tiny house and basement cellar, a place so small the grapes were shoveled through a window and the juice had to be brought up in hand pulled buckets to barrel, a process that sometimes took a few days to manage, Gradassi is now in his brother’s ex-winery Domaine du Remparts, re-named Domaine Jérôme Gradassi. His micro production Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge is roughly about 75-80% Old Vine Grenache Noir and 20-25% Mourvèdre, fermented in cement vats and stainless and then aged in older barriques, using native yeasts and lots of whole cluster, making for a spicy/earthy rustic wine with a nod to old school traditions, which I adore in Chateauneuf. Farmed with holistic practices on classic limestone, riverbed and clay soils, the Gradassi Chateauneuf vines are planted with about 75% Grenache and 25% Mourvedre. His property, according to Domaine, is divided into 6 parcels located in the lieut-dits of Palastor, Bois Dauphin, and Cabriere, all in the cooler north of the AOC, shows a vivid lively form and balance, less dense and less hedonistic than the more modern styles. Thanks to Martine’s wines for importing this wine, it is well worth the chase, and this vintage of the Rouge should only get better and better!
($55 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2017 Inama, Cabernet “Bradisismo” 20th Anniversary, Veneto, Italy.
The Inama Bradisismo is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, but has a healthy dose of Carmenere, which interestingly has been here for ages, even before it disappeared from the vineyards of Bordeaux, and is a lovely red wine that shows a unique terroir personality that the expected quality and polish of this outstanding winery, but with an authentic rustic charm that puts it somewhere between a left bank outer Medoc and a powerful Saumur-Champigny with dark fruit layers, spice, iron based mineral tones, subtle wood notes and an earthy loaminess. This wine needs air and especially food to full reveal its full range of flavors and inner beauty and gracefulness, which it does have in spades if you give it time, delivering dense fruit concentration with blackberries, plum, kirsch, brambly spices, creme de cassis, violets, green pepper, minty menthol, toasted cedar and anise. The full bodied and well structured Bradisismo was the first red wine produced by Soave-based Inama, in 1997 and it has always been a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, along with an almost forgotten Bordeaux grape variety, Carmenere, now more famous in Chile, but as the winery notes, it has been grown in the Colli Berici area of the Veneto for around 150 years. This vineyard site is very unique with pre-basalt volcanic soils with loads of iron rich red dirt, it was formed by bradyseism, a geological term for uplifting of the Earth’s crust by deep lakes of magma, which occurred here millions of years ago. The Bradisismo is a superb food wine and is fabulous with grilled meats, mushroom dishes and or hard cheeses, the quality shines when paired well and this time of year really suits this fine bottling.

Now, in their third generation, the Inama winery, founded in 1967, are one of Italy’s finest small family owned wineries with an amazing array of vineyard sites in the Veneto region and well known for their stunning examples of single vineyard Soave wines. It all started In the 1960s, when Giuseppe Inama began buying up small plots on best hillsides in the heart of the Soave Classico zone, and as a result, the Inama winery has some of the most distinct wines in the region, which is seeing a renaissance these days. Inama’s two cru Soave offerings, Carbonare and Foscarino, really showcase their different terroir influences and are fantastic white wine values, it is wines like these and those of Pieropan that have brought renewed attention to this ancient region and the Garganega grape, which is just starting to show its potential in modern times. Besides these exceptional 100% Garganega offerings, Inama, as mentioned, is a one of the world’s champions of the Carmenere grape that originally came to the area by way of mercenaries from the Aquitaine prior to the forming of the Italian republic. Inama’s Riserva Oratorio di San Lorenzo is 100% Carmenere and just might be the the best pure example of Carmenere in Europe, if not the world, and one I’ve enjoyed a few times myself. For this Bradisismo, made by Stefano and Matteo Inama, the blend is close to 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Carmenere, with all organic grapes grown on the volcanic influenced red clay and limestone soils. Fermentation is done in stainless and then it is raised about 14 months using a combination of small French oak barrels and stainless steel vats, then blended up, after which it was rested a further 6 months in tank and another year in bottle before release. These latest efforts from Inama seem to raise the game, they are the best set I’ve tried from this label to date, I highly recommend discovering their full range of wines.
($32 Es.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Tenuta Scerscé, Chiavenasca (Nebbiolo) “Nettare” Rosso di Valtellina DOC, Lombardy, Italy.
The Scerscé wines are brand new to me and I was excited to try their latest release, this beautiful Nettare Rosso di Valtellina DOC, which shows a quite expressive array of flavors and complexity of form will dense mouth feel and classic Nebbiolo red fruited character without any wood influence, allowing the mountain terroir to shine through, along with an exotic array of spices, snappy herbs and crushed floral notes. Scersce was founded by Cristina Scarpellini, a lawyer, who turned her dream of owning and running a Valtellina winery into reality when she agreed to rent an acre of vineyards from a viticolore client in this remote alpine area back in 2008. At the time, according to her importer Dalla Terra, Cristina was an international business lawyer and the one acre of vines was only a hobby endeavor, but It didn’t take long for Cristina to understand the potential of this project and she transitioned out of her law practice and moved to make this adventure her full-time job. Tenuta Scerscé today with winemaker Attilio Pagli has gained a stellar reputation and at present produces three traditional wines of the region, this Rosso di Valtellina DOC, which is fermented and raised in stainless steel and cement tanks, plus a Valtellina Superiore DOCG and Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG, which are all from 100% Chiavennasca, the local named for Nebbiolo. Rosso di Valtellina DOC is a good introduction to the wines of the Valtellina, the northernmost sub-zone in the Lombardy region. This 2018 delivers racy layers of briery raspberry, strawberry, cherry reduction that are accented by lavender, rosemary, anise and just the right amount of earthy and leathery elements to keep these interesting, with a lengthy finish, this is a wonderful example of Rosso di Valtellina and is drinking nicely right now.

Valtellina, in Italy’s Lombardy region, is set on glacial formed sandy granitic soils with clay, loam and gravel, and located near the Swiss border where the Alps rise to staggering heights with tiny mountain villages, is Italy’s only valley to run east to west and was carved by the glaciers that moved down the granite mountain slopes during the last ice age to the valley floor where the Adda river now runs east into Lago di Como and eventually into the Po river. Valtellina is an exceptional terroir, which is unarguably one of the most dramatic landscapes in Italy and home to some of the most extreme vineyards in the country if not the whole world. In 2018 UNESCO, the winery adds, declared Valtellina, with its of tiny vineyards perched upon impossibly steep slopes and built into ancient terraces called muretti, a World Heritage Site. Some of these terraces date back to the middle ages, it seriously looks more like the steep Mosel than you can imagine, this is a seriously old wine region, though very isolated and off the beaten path. Valtellina has really only become famous here in recent times with wines such as this, as well as Arpepe (Ar.Pe.Pe.), one of the region’s best and most well recognized producers. Scarpellini’s winery, which is located in the eastern side of the Valtellina zone in Tirano, was named and pays homage to the historic farming culture here, with nod to the importance of the land, with sciarscél, being a traditional two-pronged pitchfork, used on the ground around the shoots and roots of the grape vines. I could a lot more enjoy this stuff, it is very tasty and it has the poise and freshness of natural acidity to go with a variety of food choices and is a great wine to enjoy with a simple meal, quietly providing pleasure on its medium bodied palate, it also it a nice alternative to Langhe Nebbiolo. I am now very excited to explore Scerscé’s small lot DOCG cru Sforzato and Valtellina Superiore bottlings.
($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Pernand-Vergelesses “Les Belles Filles” White Burgundy, France.
All the good things you expect from Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey are layered upon layers on the tightly focused palate of his 2018 Pernand-Vergelesses Blanc Les Belles Filles with riveting detail, there’s his signature flinty, slightly reductive notes along with brisk acidity that pops the yellow fruits and mineral core, accenting the bright lemon, apple, Bosc pear and quince fruits perfectly along with hazelnut, bread dough, clove and subtle oak shading. This is racy stuff, but it opens fairly quick and expands in textural leesy charm and the nose unfold as well adding citrus blossoms, nectarine and wet stones. This wine easily compares with the more luxurious and pricey cuvées in PYCM’s collection of awesome Chardonnays and is a sleeper in this vintage’s lineup, I am absolutely thrilled with this bottle. The 2018 Pernand-Vergelesses Les Belles Filles has tons of personality and class, it is also a wine that goes great with food, especially poultry and fleshy fish dishes and or crab and lobster.

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! 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. These latest releases at PYCM are impeccably made and crystalline in focus, it has never been a better time to stock up on Pierre-Yves’ wines.
($55 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Vigne Surrau, Naracu, Cannonau di Sardegna DOC, Sardinia, Italy.
Located in Porto Cervo, in Arzachena, on the Island of Sardinia Vigne Surrau is a new producer to me and I tasted through their exciting range of red and white wines, finding them all delicious and expressive bottlings, with this entry level 100% Grenache Naracu Cannonau di Sardegna DOC really standing out for quality and value, along with their range of Vermentinos that go from bright and fresh to deep and luxurious. The Vigne Surrau Naracu is a dark ruby/garnet in the glass and has a full and fruit forward nose and pleasingly weighted palate with satiny layers of sweet red berry fruit, showing strawberry, plum and brambly raspberry along with a touch of peony, minty anise, mocha and dusty spices. The winery notes, Naracu refer to fortresses that were once built by ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean, hence the name Naracu (or Nuraghe), these ruins can still be found across the island of Sardegna, which was a coveted trading post that has been ruled by dozens of different empires, including Spain and France, before finally being controlled by Italy in the late 1800s. The Naracu is the most open of the set of wines here at Surrau and easy to enjoy in its youth, it goes great with a wide selection of cuisine, though great with Sardinia’s local specialities from sea foods to gamey lamb dishes, its fruity nature goes great with the rustic dishes here and or where you are. I really enjoyed it with cheeses and grilled meats when I tasted it and was impressed by how it gained complexity with air, it is a supple version of this grape and serious for the price. The Vigne Surrau Naracu Cannonau di Sardegna DOC came from the classic sandy and granite influenced soils, sourced from 20 year old sustainable vines and fermented and aged solely in stainless steel tanks to promote freshness and purity, it saw a short elevage of about 6 months before bottling and is thus not as early or oaky as the more age worthy bottlings here, but that said I liked this wine just as much!

Sardinia is in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and is Italy’s second largest island, after Sicily, it is a rugged and remote mountainous place that has bred a tough and independent people that have a long and proud history, with a long historical claim to Grenache, as it has been on the Island for the better part of a thousand years. While the locals claim that Grenache was born here, most of the wine world believe Grenache, which is indigenous to Spain, where it is known as Garnacha, was dispersed around the western Mediterranean by the Aragon kingdom, which ruled Sardegna between 1297 and 1713 and brought here by the Spanish. Oddly, maybe even ironic, and romantically the name Cannonau comes from when Napoleon’s forces concurred the Island, the Spanish defenders fought to the last cannon ball, earning the respect of the native population that then called Grenache Cannonau in honor of that bravery! The terroir on Sardinia is a unique mix of rocky and deep sandy soils that are surrounded by unspoiled wilderness, and as the winery notes, oak and cork tree forests and a thorny scrubland of herbs and cacti known as the macchia mediterranea. In stark contrast to the harsh interior, the island has over 1,200 miles of jagged coastline, which is home to some of the most pristine beaches of the Mediterranean, which the locals have to share with the rich and famous that keep building holiday villas. In one of these spectacular coastal settings is Costa Smeralda or the Emerald Coast, which is located in the northeast corner of the island, it is home to the largest and most important wine zone in Sardegna, this is the Gallura zone, famous mostly for Vermentino. Gallura was the first and only Sardinian DOCG, it means “stony area” which aptly describes the granite-based soils that gives these wines their mineral focus, while the terroir provides lush ripeness. Most of the best Grenache or Cannonau is grown on sand, very much like parts of Chateauneuf du Pape and or California’s Contra Costa County, making for dense fruited wines like this beauty from Surrau!
($18 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2020 Desire Lines Wine Co, Evangelho Red Wine, Contra Costa County.
This wine, by Cody Rasmussen at Desire Lines Wine Co, is an inky purple joy in the glass with a deep dark berry and peony nose inviting you in and a full bodied old vine Carignan led palate to complete the seduction of your senses showing crushed blackberries, juicy plum, black cherry jam and tangy currant fruits that are accented by a touch of ground pepper, dried sage, cedar and a hint of minty herb. The texture is round, smooth and supple, making for an easy quaffer, but with with a nice sense of energy and a little bit of crunch from the use of partial whole bunches that gives just the right amount of earthiness and mineral tones. For those that love Zin and or Grenache, you’ll be thrilled with this wine that was made from 90% Old Vine Carignan and 10% Mourvedre sourced from the historic Evangelho Vineyard set on the deep sandy soils of the Contra Costa region. Rasmussen, who is the assistant winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson MW’s Bedrock Wine Company, is one of top rising stars in the state and his and his wife Emily’s Desire Lines Wine Co is crafting an stellar set of limited edition wines, including this one that is fast becoming one of my favorites, as well as two signature Syrah bottlings, one from the Shake Ridge Ranch in Amador and the other from Griffin’s Lair in the Petaluma Gap, both of which are outstanding efforts, along with a fantastic Dry Riesling, as well as a few other specialties. This wine is expressively Californian, but my old world wine drinking friends will see a similarity to some French country wine classics, especially those that drink Corbieres, with this vintage really proving the same sort of thrill that I find in the gorgeous and slightly rustic Maxime Magnon wines, in particular his “Campagnès,” which is from a single vineyard of the hundred-year-old Carignan. I love this tasty Evangelho Red, it is an awesome value too and it goes great with the Fall season and robust cuisine.

The Evangelho Vineyard now over 120 years old, as mentioned here, is now owned by Cody’s boss Morgan Twain-Peterson and Chris Cottrell of Bedrock Wine Co. was originally planted by Manuel Viera back in the 1890s and mainly farmed by Frank Evangehlo and his family for most of its storied history. The vines are located in Antioch 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. Rasmussen says the 2020 Evangelho Red Wine sits between the zesty 2018 and (modestly) richer 2019, stylistically and is linear and fresh like the 2018, but a touch silkier on the palate, with a hint of the fruit sweetness and youthful exuberance that characterizes the 2019 version. The Evangelho red wine was fermented with 30% whole cluster under a submerged cap and aged for ten months in neutral 400L Puncheons ( used French big barrels), that Cody loves for his Carignan. He adds that these bigger casks retain freshness and purity and builds tension like all large format barrels, but with a less reductive tendency than the 500L and 600L barrels that he prefers for his awesome Syrahs and his small lot Bandol like Mourvèdre. The Carignan, according to Rasmussen, gives the wine a singular juiciness and floral and red-fruit aromas, with a soft tannin profile and vibrant acidity, which I certainly agree with and his inclusion of cluster as noted above, delivers spice to the nose, while the small portion of carbonic maceration and Mourvèdre add flesh to this delicious stuff.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2017 Domaine Sylvain Pataille, Bourgogne AC, Red Burgundy, France.
The wonderfully expressive and quaffable 2017 Bourgogne bottling from Marsannay’s iconic Sylvain Pataille is a lovely red Burgundy with surprising depth and density that seduces the senses with its floral nose and bright and tangy, but silky red fruits that are nicely accompanied by some peppery spices and driving structural acidity. Air brings supple mouth feel and more refinement, though it still remains perky and minerally fresh, making for an impressive Burgundy for the price and it is excellent with a meal offering up plenty of stuffing to hold up to some robust cuisine. Sip after sip reveals black cherries, summer plums, brambly raspberry and red currants in a medium bodied Pinot Noir with hints cinnamon, wilted roses, a touch of tilled earth, smoke , dried orange peel and subtle wood notes. 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! 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. There is a lot to enjoy here, it is a fair priced and well crafted Burgundy that is pretty, good with food and has more dimension that would be normally expected for a wine label Bourgogne.

Sylvain Pataille, who, as noted here, 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. Everything Pataille does at his own domaine comes from the Marsannay region and his vines are all organic and biodynamic now. I have been a fan since Pataille’s 2012 vintage and all of the wines in his collection are impressive, but especially his base Marsannay AC (Pinot Noir) and his single Cru versions, like the Clos du Roy, which I reviewed here again recently. As I stated before these wines were stunning when I first tried them, and that impression still holds true after trying this later vintages. Pataille makes his wines with almost no added sulfur (SO2) and follows the style also championed by 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. If you’ve not tried these Pataille wines yet, you should chase a few bottles down at the soonest possible chance, they are lovely wines, with this one a solid and reasonable place to start.
($40 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2020 Terrevive Bergianti, San Vincent, Rosé Sparkling Wine, Emilia Romagna, Italy.
Named after the patron saint of wine, the dry and zesty “San Vincent” is made entirely from the local Sorbara, which, according to the winery, may in fact be related to Pinot Meunier, but little evidence of that can be found, and is mainly known for its presence in Lambrusco wines. Most commonly accepted, is that the grape Lambrusco di Sorbara is an indigenous variety of ancient origin that most likely was a crossing of wild grapes in this region. The Lambrusco di Sorbara produces ruby red colored wines with a pinkish froth and is the lightest of the four red varieties of Lambrusco near the village of Sorbara, between the Secchia and Panaro rivers, around the better known and historic town of Modena, where it is a cherished and celebrated for its delicacy and vitality. Sorbara is regarded as the best of the various specified Lambrusco clones, though due to its natural small yields it tends to be blended with other varietals, especially in full DOC wines, its best qualities include its highly fragrant and floral character, its elegant underlying minerality and its zippy acidity. Winemaker, Gianluca Bergianti employs a low-tech ancient method, adding grape must and nothing else to his dry wines as they’re being bottled for their secondary fermentation. Then Bergianti allows the leftover natural yeasts devour the sugars in the must, creating a gentle natural effervescence in each bottle, which is completed in about three months. This fabulous Rosé sparkling shows fresh ruby grapefruit, tart cherry, gauva, strawberry and peach fruits along with snappy spices, dried herbs, mineral tones and a fine dry saline stoniness all lifted by the vibrant and zesty beading of the creamy mousse. This region has seen an unbelievable rise in quality and elegance with this Terrevive wine, by Gianluca Bergianti, along with Roberto Maestri’s Quarticello, Della Volta and Cleto Chiarli Vecchia Modena, all are very serious and delicious efforts.

Bergianti’s “San Vincent” is a wine made from red grapes produced with the ancestral method of re-fermentation in the bottle and was born as a result of a trip to the Champagne region of France. At first this wine was produced to be enjoyed during the festivals dedicated to San Vincent, the patron saint of vineyards and winemakers, but has now become a wine with worldwide appeal and highly sought after by enthusiasts. The grapes, which are all organically grown, come from vines grown on this regions loamy soils and raised with non intervention methods. After hand harvesting of the Sorbara grapes, fermentation occurs spontaneously with native yeasts in concrete tanks, with the second or re-fermentation happening in the bottle. There was, as the winery notes, no clarification or filtration and only a very small dose sulfur before bottling. The San Vincent frizzante rosato spent two years on the lees, which adds a sensation of depth and gives a richness to the palate. While the local wines, some of which are bottled under the Lambrusco rules, traditionally come in frizzante and spumante forms, and in various levels of sweetness, but Bergianti has gone their own way, inspired by Champagne Boulard, a grower producer of delicious bubbly and maybe why they want to believe there is a relation between Sorbara and Meunier. Gianluca’s “San Vincent” Rosato Frizzante comes from and speaks of Terrevive’s immaculately tended vineyards, all set on the zone’s typical sandy loamy soils, highlighting his obsession with working holistically with the land, it certainly has a sense of place. This crisp bubbly goes great with food, everything from spicy pasta dishes to sea food stews or shellfish, as well as being fun all on its own, this is quality and impressive stuff! These modern Lambrusco Frizzante wines are not your Grandpa’s cheap, rustic and rough versions, these new Lambruscos are stylish and have complex delicacy, I highly recommend discovering this new generation, small production, hand crafted examples.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2020 Weingut Donnhoff, Riesling Trocken, Estate, Nahe, Germany.
Donnhoff, based in Oberhäusen on the Nahe, is one of my favorites and I was excited to try this 2020 Estate Trocken to gain insights on the year which is getting quite a lot hype, it delivers the goods with steely crisp detail and depth way beyond its price point, this wine is always a joyous bargain and never disappoints. The Estate Trocken Riesling has an intense mineral dimension and loads of lively acidity, but still provides a pleasing depth of flavors and ripe fruit density, it shows bright citrus upfront and tangy stone fruit, with lime, green apple, tart apricot and zippy quince leading the way here and nicely accented by mouth watering saline, wet stone, flinty spices, bitter herbs, white flowers and lemony verbena. This vintage one not to miss at this place and this “baby” Donnhoff will be your guilt free drinker, while you age the Cru bottlings. Donnhoff’s vineyard sites have a complex combination of soils that goes from classic slate to volcanic, with löss, quartzite, gravelly loams, limestone and sandstones. These soils give each wine their own personality and charm, with the Estate Trocken seeing a mix of sites to showcase the quality of the Donnhoff’s holdings. This refreshing and energy filled Dry Riesling will be great with a range of cuisine choices, though I would love it with oysters and briny dishes and it very enjoyable as a low alcohol sipper as well.

The Dönnhoff are some of the world’s finest and they are certainly are the pride of Germany and their region, the family, as they note, arrived in the Nahe region over 200 years ago, and their modest farm has slowly evolved into a top wine estate. Helmut Dönnhoff was the first to bring international fame to this prestigious winery and has been making wine since 1966, and now Cornelius, his son who is the 4th generation to run this historic property and their amazing collection of VDP Grosse Lagen (Grand Cru) vineyards. Cornelius is one of top vignerons in Europe and his wines, which range from briskly dry, like this bone dry Estate Trocken to the heavenly luscious, from Spatlese to Eiswein, which rivals the world’s great sweet wines, are impeccable terroir driven masterpieces. To preserve laser-like focus and clarity in the wines, Cornelius, as he notes, presses the grapes as soon as possible after picking, all to deliver precision of form. Donnhoff’s wines are fermented in traditional German casks, both in classic 1200L stuckfass and the larger 2400L doppelstuck, as well as in stainless steel tank, as this Estate Trocken was, with spontaneous fermentation(s). Interestingly Donnhoff’s cellar has the capacity to hold all of its production entirely in stainless steel or in wood cask, which gives Cornelius the flexibility to promote each vintage’s character, allowing for the perfect élevage for any wine in the lineup. I am really excited for these 2020s and this was my first taste of the vintage from the Nahe and I was expecting a lot, and this wine exceeded my expectation!
($22 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Friedrich Becker, Chardonnay, Schweigen Cru, Pfalz, Germany.
The Becker Schweigen Chardonnay is a mind blowing wine of class, mineral intensity and depth with true wow factor personality and seductive charm, it shows a laser focus that rivals Montee de Tonnere, the Chablis Premier Cru (site) that is one of the world’s great Chardonnay terroir driven vineyards! Thank you to Christian Adams, a German wine specialist, who enthusiastically reps Becker here in California and brought this majestic bottle to me, it really impressed me and while I’m a long time fan of Becker, I mostly have had only his remarkable Pinot Noirs from his estate in the Pfalz that actually straddles the border between Germany and France with his vines set in both countries on mix of sandstones with, as Becker says, gently rising vineyards and surrounded by the serene and picturesque Palatinate forest. Interestingly enough, Becker uses most of his Chardonnay grapes for his Sparkling (Sekt) wines and only selects his absolutely best bunches for this single vineyard Schweigen bottling, making it a rare treat, especially this vintage. The Becker Schweigen Chardonnay has a striking nose of crushed stones, white flowers, hazelnut and a flinty note before opening up on the crisply dry/steely medium bodied palate, delivering divine Chard purity with racy acidity, but with well ripened citrus, delicate peach and classic green apple and Bosc pear fruit. This wine is electric in mouth, again remind me of Chablis, and is accented by clove spice, salty wet rock, subtle wood and brioche, gaining a graceful roundness and opulence with air.

The winemaking at Weingut Friedrich Becker is patient and gentle with each vineyard seeing care hand sorting and the grapes see an even more careful selection in the cellar with the musts starting with spontaneous yeast fermentation in steel tanks, after which Becker racks to barrels for aging, with the 2018 Schweigen Chardonnay seeing about a year in French oak, with up to 40% new wood. The winery is run by father and son, Friedrich (Fritz) senior and junior, and as mentioned, this Weingut makes some of the most compelling Pinot Noirs in Germany, they even mentor and collaborate with other Pinot producers in the country, such is the talents they have with this varietal. The Becker wines were introduced to me by Tim Gaiser, one of the most knowledgable sommeliers in America, and is an expert on Germany’s wines, it was at that time before I’d taken my first trip to the German wine regions and I was so moved by Becker’s and Mayer-Nakel’s Spatburgunders (Pinot Noir) I made it a prior to search them out, and now I am just as excited to explore the Chards. The Becker estate has been a sustainable farm for many generations, but it was Friedrich Sr that first realized the potential of grape vines here, and back in 1973, Friedrich Becker Sr. filled his first bottles with the winery’s iconic fox on the label, and the rest, as they, is history. Becker is a proud member of the VDP and his estate (Cru) wines, such as this White Burgundy like Schweigen Chardonnay, are Erste and Grosse Lagen sites, recognized as special sites for exceptional quality. Becker also farms, non estate sites in the area and bottles those as Becker Family Wines and they are outstanding values, in particular, their Pinot Blanc, which I also tasted and review in the near future.
($55 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2017 Brewer-Clifton, Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills.
The 2017 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir from Greg Brewer at Brewer-Clifton is wonderfully expressive and has a beautiful play between ripe fruit and savory tones, it is more complex than one would expect from the basic cuvée and proves this winery is continuing to innovate and make thrilling avant grade wines from the sandy soils and cool climate of the Sta. Rita Hills region. Bright and vibrant in profile still, this is still tightly would and it gets fuller, rounder and lengthy as it opens fully after an hour, making for a impressive performance for this Pinot that radiates with a ruby glow in the glass delivering a mix of reds fruits, spice, minty herb, mineral and hints of umami, dried flowers and blood orange. After a few minutes and a few swirls there is pretty rose petal, earthy loaminess, a touch of subtle wood and the fruit becomes more defined showing black cherry, pomegranate and strawberry. The 2017 vintage comes in at a healthy 14.5%, but in the mouth it feels cooly crisp and there is very light heat and it stays lively and fresh, while gaining a satiny grace with air and it is a wine that is best enjoyed with food.

As I have mentioned in my prior reviews, Greg Brewer’s Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir cuvee sees only neutral barrels (well seasoned) of French oak and is a selection of the best lots of each of the estate farmed vineyards. Depending on the vintage, Brewer-Clifton goes for all whole cluster fermentation(s) to make some racy wines that have quite a pop and get more and more aromatic with time, highlighting the nervy/tension nature of the stem inclusion, as this wine shows. This wine is usually made up of the three main Brewer-Clifton estate farmed sites, that includes the 3D, Machado, and Hapgood vineyards. According to Brewer and team, the 3D Vineyard, expresses a primary emphasis on it’s predominantly sandy soils, it’s main focus is Chardonnay planted here, but there is a small block of Pinot Noir here planted to classic Swan and Pommard as well as some 667 and 828 clone(s) that really stands out, then there is their Machedo Vineyard, a 15 acre parcel on the Machado family land that is located adjacent to Clos Pepe and immediately behind the Kessler-Haak site contains a selection of Pommard, Merry Edwards, Mount Eden, and 459 clone(s) on rolling terrain with sand, clay and loam soils. The latest releases from 2018 and 2019 look to be absolutely rockstars, so even if you can’t find this one, they are well worth your attention!
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Weingut Kruger-Rumpf, Scheurebe, Spatlese, Nahe Germany.
The Kruger-Rumpf Scheurebe comes exclusively from the VDP Grosse Lage (Grand Cru) Dautenpflänzer old vines which were planted in the 50s on pure quarzite and was fermented and aged in stainless steel using natural yeasts. This 2019 version is exotic and sweet fruited with tropical notes, like passion fruit and pineapple, and zingy spearmint, mineral tones, white blossoms and spice. Georg Rumpf is one of Germany’s Scheurebe maestros and as I have said many many times, this is one of the best examples in Germany and while a Spatlese and quite sweet on the medium bodied palate it has fabulous balance and goes great with food, providing refreshment to spicy Asian dishes. The Kruger-Rumpf estate is located in Münster-Sarmsheim, a small village on the western side of the Nahe River, in the most northern section of this region, at the intersection of four major German wine regions: the Nahe where the winery is located, the Rheingau and Mittelrhein to the north, Rheinhessen to the east. The majority of Kruger-Rumpf’s holdings are located on the western side of the Nahe, though they also own parcels directly across the Nahe River in Binger Scharlachberg, which is part of the Rheinhessen and is an amazing south facing amphitheater. Standing in Kruger-Rumpf’s parcels in Rheinberg (Nahe), you can look out to Scharlachberg across the Nahe River in Rheinhessen, as well as the southern bend of the Rheingau and the Rudesheimer Berg Crus, one of the most famous parts of the region, visible to the north. Kruger-Rumpf’s holdings represent some of the greatest Riesling terroirs in this famous area with south-facing exposures and a combination of Nahe soils that include slate, loess, sandstone, quartzite, volcanic and loose gravels with many Grosses Gewachs parcels. Kruger-Rumpf, along with Muller-Catoir, who do a trocken, are my favorite producers of the rare Scheurebe varietal, and I recommend exploring both.

Scheurebe is an unique grape found primarily in Germany, but also in Austria where it can also be called Sämling 88, Scheurebe was created by German viticulturalist Dr. Georg Scheu, (hence the name, which was made official in 1945) in 1916, when he was working as director of a grape-breeding institute in Alzey in the Rheinhessen region, by crossing Riesling with an unknown wild vine, though not confirmed and according to official Austrian sources it is in fact a cross between Riesling and Bouquet Blanc. Münsterer Dautenpflänzer: Grand Cru, Loess, subsoil is quartz – Daute means “shoot” and pflänzer means “plant”, an homage to the fact that this was once a nursery. South facing, the older section is steep, and this Grosse Lage vineyard is a bowl shape, catching the sun and giving exceptional ripening. Georg is committed to organic viticulture and while they have been practicing organic for several years, they have started the transition for certification. Bees are kept nearby to facilitate pollination and aid in overall bio-diversity. Periodically sheep are allowed to roam the vines helping to control underbrush. All vineyards are hand harvested to ensure that only optimally ripe grapes are selected. Stefan believed that “you can’t improve wine in the cellar, only make it worse,” and Georg has continued his cellar work with this philosophy in mind. Fermentations occur spontaneously with ambient yeast for the fruity wines, like this one. I will always cherish my last visit to Kruger-Rumpf, in the Fall of 2016, watching Georg Rumpf get into harvest action and touring the vineyards with him and his father Stefan, who founded this remarkable winery, where I got to see my favorite site, the Abtei as well as tasting the Scheurebe off the vine. The Scheurebe 2019 transported me back to the Nahe and brought an amazing sense of peace and pleasure, it is pure joy in glass and was perfectly matched to my Indian curry and chickpea meal, it is hard to imagine a more satisfying wine and it’s an outstanding value.
($24 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 A. A. Badenhorst Family Wines “Secateurs” Chenin Blanc, Swartland, South Africa.
The crisply dry and zesty pure Secateurs Chenin is a superb value from Badenhorst with fresh citrus blossoms, peachy fruit and subtle earthy notes makes for a easy to love white from South Africa’s Swartland region that is fun sipper and or a solid choice with Fall cuisine choices. The Chenin grapes, for this wine, mostly come from Badenhorst’s Kalmoesfontein estate, which is on the northern side of the Paardeberg Mountain. The grapes are hand picked with great care and chilled overnight in a cold room. The following day they are whole bunch pressed to a settling tank, with some of the juice, close to 25%, is also fermented in older casks and big foudres which gives a depth of complexity to this Chenin or Steen as they call the grape locally, with the rest seeing time on its lees in a combination or concrete tanks and old casks, to give an extra degree of texture and roundness. This lightly golden Chenin adds layers of lemon, melon, light clove spice and un-sweetened orange honey and a hint of creamy waxiness, this vintage is a bit lighter and more vibrant in style than some years. This edition of Secateurs retains good vibrant acidity and has a fine stony note as well as a saline element that is mouthwatering, it is wine that is best enjoyed young and vividly expressive.

Adi Badenhorst is one South Africa’s leading winemakers, he is member of the Cape Winemakers Guild and a founding member of the Swartland Revolution, focused on regional terroir and natural expressions, as his importer Broadbent Selections adds, an ever evolving vigneron producing a wide range wines, including his signature bottlings and the bargain Secateurs line up. AA Badenhorst was originally founded In 2008, when cousins Hein and Adi Badenhorst purchased their Kalmoesfontein farm in the Paardeberg area in Swartland. Together, as they explain, they restored a cellar that had been neglected since the 1930′s, but where they now make natural wines in the traditional manner. The vineyards on Kalmoesfontein farm are made up of very old bush-vines planted with Chenin Blanc (average 40 years old), Cinsault (average 45 years), and Grenache (average 58 years) and these organic vines are non-irrigated and farmed mainly biologically as much as possible. The 2019 Secateurs Chenin Blanc is pretty much a hundred percent Chenin, but can have some small amounts of Palomono and maybe a touch of another un-named varietal, which also adds a uniqueness to this wine, which is delicious on its own or with soft cheeses and or sea food dishes. In recent years I have really been impressed with Adi Badenhorst’s top end single varietal wines, like his Old Vine Cinsault and Tinta Barocca, which are serious wines well worth searching out.
($16 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2019 Theopolis Vineyards, Petite Sirah, Estate, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
The outrageously exciting and delicious 2019 Theopolis Estate Petite Sirah is maybe my favorite vintage to date from Theodora Lee and her this iconic terraced vineyard in the Yorkville Highlands with a marriage of pure California fruit and a almost Northern Rhone spicy complexity that is in totally harmony here, while providing a thrilling tension and unique experience. Fermented with 35% whole clusters in open top stainless steel tanks and seeing a full extraction and lengthy maceration that as given a hedonistic richness with the nice contrasting crunchy whole bunch savory tones. To allow for maturity and supple tannins the latest Theopolis Petite was aged in 30% new French Oak barrels for 20 months and was bottled unfined and unfiltered. There is a lot to unpack on the nose and palate here with a heady mix of deep fruit, florals and intense spices with layers of black brambly raspberry, damson plum, blueberry and kirsch along with cracked peppercorns, tapenade, mineral and cedary toast wood accents. This full bodied wine has an inky color in the glass and opens up to reveal a well structured backbone, but with a sense of chocolatey round tannins as well as lingering with peony and creme de cassis, making for a fabulous pure Petite Shirah experience that is best enjoyed with robust cuisine, with Theodora saying it is an excellent pairing with smoked brisket, braised short ribs, grilled steak, and wild game.

As mentioned in my prior reviews, Theodora Lee’s Theopolis Vineyards is one of the top sites for Petite Sirah in California, her vines hug steep terraces in the Yorkville Highlands and have received amazing critical acclaim since being established in 2003, with her success first coming from the wines made by Mike Officer at Carlisle, and more recently with Paul Gordon’s Halcon version. Her own wines, which I first started tasting with her 2013 vintage have really started get dialed in as the vineyard matures and I like the direction a lot with their exciting edgy quality really grabbing my attention, especially in this 2019 version, of which just under 400 cases were made, that also saw a reduction in new wood used, something I think benefits the finished product and allows for some more subtle background flavors to emerge. Theodora Lee, who has had the help of long time Roar winemaker and Santa Lucia Highlands specialist Ed Kurtzman, has created something remarkably special and their full collection of offerings, which include some small Pinots and more recently some red blended wines, as well as her unique Petite Sirah Rosé and an off dry white made from a rare grape called Symphony, a crossing of, as Theodora notes, Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris, it was, she adds, developed in 1948 (but not commercially released until 1982) by the late Harold Olmo, professor of viticulture at the University of California, Davis. This is a winery to watch and this is a wine to search out and to enjoy over the next decade, this is impressive stuff again, right up my alley, and I look forward to see how it develops.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 I. Brand & Family Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Bello Road, Fellom Ranch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
One of the most thrilling of the more modern throwback wines of the vintage, Ian Brand’s exceptional Monte Bello Road Cabernet Sauvignon from the Fellom Ranch is rich and complex, but styled after the historic California mountain grown wines of the 70s and 80s with deep fruit layers and firm structural tannin and brambly showing blackberry, dark currant and plum fruits that are accented by spicy sage, cigar box, sandalwood, anise and chalky stones. This is a powerful offering that is going to reward patience and it should evolve in rewarding fashion, if not slowly, though after opening up it has stunning Cabernet purity and its dark purple/garnet hue in the glass is very inviting. Brand, who is known for doing things his own way and who is a vineyard whisperer really has gotten the best out this vineyard and his other sites, most of which are organic, in recent years, making this wine that stands up to this site’s famous neighbor! Ian did as he says a light and gentle crush, de-stemming all the fruit and allowing for a native yeast fermentation and an 18 day period of maceration on the skins before lees aging this Monte Bello Cabernet for 20 months in wood, which uniquely was one new large Austrian oak Stockinger puncheon and one used French oak barrel. Only about 67 cases made made of this one, so I recommend not waiting too long to grab it. The winemaking here allows for amazing transparency and less chocolatey/toast, that you’d find in present day Napa Cabs, while providing the needed softening of the chewy Mountain fruit tannin.

This Fellom Ranch vineyard site, like its famous neighbor, sits on a unique uplift of ancient sea bed soils and is home to some of California’s most prized Cabernet Sauvignon vines with Ian’s grapes coming mostly from Beringer selection (clone) of vines planted between 1980 and1982 on a special north and east facing section of the property which allows for deep fruit concentration, but with excellent natural acidity and a firm tannic backbone. 2018s long cool season produced an amazing wine with a heady 14.6% of natural alcohol, though it feels more like much less and has loads of energy to go with age worthy power, its structural core is going to serve this wine well for a couple of decades. The Fellom Ranch was originally bought by a California State Senator, Roy Fellom, in 1929 and the first vines planted by the late Bud Fellom in the 1970s, just as the Monte Bello Vineyard, owned then by the legendary Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards was getting famous. As noted above this wine really gets going after getting some air, in fact after tasting fresh and day old bottles the Monte Bello road Cab is way better and beautifully drinking after the 24 hour mark, highlighting the potential for the future. Those that love the wines of Phillip Togni, Dunn and Cathy Corison will really be tuned on to the style of this Monte Bello Road Cab. This wine joins an every growing list of striking offering from this Salinas based central coast focused winery, that includes Brand’s once main focus Grenache offerings, his Enz Vineyard old vine Mourvedre, his new delightful Arneis, the skin contact Pinot Gris, his other Cabernet Sauvignon, from the historic Massa Estate in Carmel Valley and his set of Cabernet Francs, all of which I have praised here.
($75 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Duroché, Gevrey-Chambertin AC, Red Burgundy, France.
The 2018 Gevrey-Chambertin by Pierre Duroché is an exception and pure Burgundy, and even though this is just the normal AC wine it could easily be mistaken for a Premier Cru with beautiful depth and mouth filling concentration showing a sense of ripe black fruits, seductive earthiness and a dry tangy and saline quality that gets you salivating along with mineral tones and elegant floral details, impressive. There is a big pop of black cherry, red currant, wild plum and subtle leathery accents that keep your attention and the finish is wonderfully long and youthfully crisp, not overly oaked, this is an openly transparent Pinot Noir that is really performing well even now. Grown on the Cote de Nuits’ classic clay and limestone and from vines in the 20 to 50 year old range the Domaine Duroché Gevrey-Chambertin has loads of personality and a welcome rustic charm, adding sweet strawberry and brambly raspberry to its core fruits with air and a nice chalky essence that reminds all over why you love Burgundy and that these experiences are special, this is a bottle to savor with friends and a great value too. I was engrossed with this wine and kept finding new and more fine underlying facets, like bergamot, wilted rose petals, forest floor and the faintest whiff of wood, this dark garnet and ruby edged Burgundy deserves a long and relaxed meal to get everything there is to enjoy here.

Pierre Duroché, the fifth generation of Duroché vignerons, took over the domaine from his father back in 2005 and has notably raised the game here and the image of the wines at this estate are now highly coveted and sought after. I remember being first introduced to Pierre’s wines by Beaune Imports at one of their legendary portfolio tastings in San Francisco and being very captivated by them and impressed by their value, and this was not the only time these wines impressed me, so I was thrilled to get a few bottles of the latest release and they clearly did not disappoint. Duroché, as Beaune Imports notes, has wide range of top quality vineyard holdings, including some killer plots in Gevrey, as well as basic Bourgogne and village appellation parcels, as well as top Premier Cru and even several Grand Cru sites. The style that Pierre has produced at Duroché is all about graceful lines and understated power with supple tannins and elegant fruit with touch of earth, or as Beaune calls it, a briny mineral core, which they add is a hallmark of the Gevrey terroirs, which I have found to be compelling along with an inner floral perfume and haunting length. The wines are modern enough to enjoy in their youth, they a far cry away from the old school stuff, like the original Domaine Maume, with attractive pureness and opulence that allows them to drink well on release but have the serious stuffing to age perfectly well for 15 to 20 years, especially the Cru bottlings. It was great to catch up with the Duroché wines and I will, without doubt keep a more intense eye on them in the future.
($55-75 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Inspiration Vineyards, Merlot, Weiler Vineyard, Sonoma Valley.
The 2019 Weiler Vineyard Merlot is expressively fruit forward and juicy with a bright core of youthful red fruits, including smooth layers of raspberry, plum, red currant and vibrant kirsch along with baking spices, toffee and cedar notes in a full bodied and supple wine that should fill out and take on a darker sense with age. Jon Phillips, owner and winemaker and his production manager Dylan Sheldon have rejuvenated this label in recent years and have released a tasty collection of wines, especially good here are the Grenache, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Zinfandel, along with their limited single vineyard series offerings from small vineyards throughout Sonoma County, like this one. This Merlot is sourced from the Weiler Vineyard in the Sonoma Valley, not far from Glen Ellen and Jack London State Park. The label is from original art from a local tattoo artist in Sonoma County and gives the Inspiration wines a more modern look and helps set them apart in a stylish way.

The Inspiration Vineyards lineup features wines are hand crafted small production offerings, usually well under 200 cases of each and are mainly from family farmed sustainable sites and with a couple of estate bottlings. The Weiler Merlot is one of the Inspiration Vineyards rarities that was made with carefully hand harvested and sorted grapes, which were 100% de-stemmed and naturally fermented in an open top fermenter before being raised for just over a year in French oak with a minimum of new oak to allow for this fresh style that highlights the personality of the vineyard, it reminds me of what Napa and Sonoma Merlot was like in the early 1990s. This garnet and ruby colored and ripe Merlot is easy to enjoy with luxurious soft tannin and is very food friendly, being very nice with Fall cuisine, it would be a huge crowd pleaser with the casual and maybe less adventurous wine drinkers that still appreciate quality.
($36 Est.) 89 Points, grapelive

2001 Chateau du Reignac, Reignac Grand Vin, Bordeaux Supérieur, France.
The 2001 Reignac is still drinking beautifully, quite remarkable for a 20 year old wine that isn’t from one of the serious growths, especially a Merlot based Bordeaux Supérieur, sp it was a very pleasant surprise, even though I have always been a fan of this vintage. It’s #merlotme month and while I am too busy to pay attention to every hashtag wine event, I thought I’d open this Reignac to celebrate, and celebrate the USMNT Soccer win against Costa Rica in the World Cup Qualifying match, and I’m glad I did, it is very much alive and pretty in detail with a near perfect dark purple/garnet color with just a hint of browning around the edges and just the right amount of tertiary nuances and light sous bois in the background, plus the bouquet was elegantly floral and with just a faint earthiness. The palate is full and supple, highlighting the 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon make up in this vintage with layers of blackberry, cassis, fig paste, cherry and plum fruits along with classic accents including cedary wood, loamy earth, graphite, leafy notes and truffle. This wine was wound up and felt dusty dry at first, but quickly opened up and improved in the mouth with sense of opulence and roundness, it held on well for a few hours making for a very confident performance and a delicious experience.

The Chateau du Reignac, in the Entre Deux Mers zone, was founded in the 17th Century and is set near the town of St. Loubes on a gravelly plateau with rolling small hills with clay based soils not far from the famed Gironde River, it has long been a source for value packed red Bordeaux, reaching new heights during the late 1990s and continuing to the present, undertake leadership of the Vatelot family. Yves and Stéphanie Vatelot’s Grand Vin Reignac is one of the many wines that famous winemaker Michel Rolland has helped on and his influence is clearly felt on the wines here, especially in vintages like this one as well as the highly regarded 2005 with ripe fruit being a priority and exceptionally clarity. In this case, Rolland has brought more fruit density to this wine, allowing it to compete against much more expensive Chateaux. A lot of care goes into the winemaking here with careful sorting in the vineyard, followed by, as the winery notes, some 30% of the grapes are vinified in new oak barrels after a lengthy cold maceration in a stainless-steel with the other 70% vinified in both oak and stainless-steel vats after their cold maceration period with manual daily pigeage (cap punching) and the wine is run off while still warm for malolactic fermentation on the lees in barrels. The Reignac sees, as per Rolland, 100% new French oak aging with most vintages getting an elevage of close to 22 months, with the wine, interestingly also being racked a few times and stirred on the lees to add depth and texture. This wine punched above its weight and still has some life yet to go, it is especially good with meat dishes and hard cheeses.
($40 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Bodega Lanzaga, Rioja “LZ” Red Wine, Rioja, Spain.
I’m a huge fan of all of Telmo Rodriguez’s wines, especially his family’s Remelluri Estate Rioja, but this LZ Joven bottling made from seriously old vine, organic, Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano is an outrageous value with deep layers of ripe black fruits, including black cherry, plum, boysenberry, currants and Mission fig, spice, sweet florals, chalky mineral, cigar wrapper, earthy tones and tarry licorice. This wine, as noted in prior reviews, is exclusively raised in cement vats and is like Cotes du Rhone Villages in style with this vintage being an exciting and expressive year with plenty of fruit density and a fabulous mouth feel and opulent texture. Rodriguez is one of Spain’s leading lights and one of the world’s most influential winemakers, he was one of the only Spanish winemakers ever to lead a Bordeaux cellar and was mentored by the legendary Jean-Louis Chave in Hermitage, where he gained insight that has shaped his own wines, in particular his fantastic Remelluri Rioja Blanco, which is one of the greatest white wines I’ve ever tried. Telmo is coy about his use of different varietals and percentage, he smiles as talks about it, but refuses to give exact details, which I have personally experienced when I’ve quizzed him! He believes it is more important to understand the place rather than the grapes used in the blend and he adds that the winemaking is to express terroir and honor the area’s history. The dark purple/garnet hued LZ, which is usually close to 90% Tempranillo with a small amount of Garnacha and Graciano, comes from vines located north of the Ebro River on shallow, stony, limy, silty soils on flat sandstone plateau that has a cooler climate and gives plenty of natural acidity and inner energy.

Telmo Rodríguez and his partner and friend Pablo Eguzkiza set up Compañia de Vinos Telmo Rodriguez in 1994 to explore Spain true potential and push its wines to the next level and In 1998 they started to buy old vineyard sites around the town of Lanciego and this was the catalyst for Bodega Lanzaga label. The Bodega Lanzaga LZ, according to Telmo Rodriguez, who is very much a student and admirer of the Rioja region’s history, is a tribute to the village grape growers of the 1920’s, who fashioned fresh wines like this, which is traditionally fermented in small concrete tanks with selected Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano grapes from, as mentioned, local organic vineyards in the village of Lanziego in Rioja Alavesa. With LZ, Rodriguez and his team want to keep alive that memory through this wine. The vines for this little red are located at an altitude of 500 to 700 meters, and set on two types of soils, both of continental origin from the tertiary era, with sandstone and marls (limestone/clay) which gives this wine its vitality, Telmo, to express the true terroir here used native yeasts and raised this LZ with just 6-7 months of aging in concrete tanks. Besides crafting his iconic Remelluri wines, he is producing a signature line of wines made in his ancient cellar from purchased grapes, usually 40 to 100 year old parcels at higher elevation within the region, which includes this LZ Rioja effort in his bargain priced Bodegas Lanzaga collection that ranges from this exceptional entry level wine to what I’d call Premier and Grand Cru bottlings. Rioja is seeing more and more unique wines, as well as the classics, and is a region that isn’t resting on its past glories, it is a great time to re-visit and explore these wines. I love this stuff, it is easy and eager to please, but has a complexity and rustic charm to keep your attention, it goes great with a variety of foods, but simple country cuisine suits it best.
($18 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2015 Gabin et Felix Richoux, Irancy “Veaupessiot” Red Burgundy, France.
The impressively dark colored and wonderfully deep 2015 Veaupessiot Irancy from Richoux is a beautiful red Burgundy with a rich array of ripe flavors and depth of complexity making for a wine that keeps your attention and is a stunning value. This vintage is really performing well with a heady floral perfume, a mix of black and red fruits, a touch of smoky mineral and a lovely textural mouth feel, while having plenty of fresh acidity and a solid structural core that should allow this Pinot Noir to age gracefully for another decade at least. The Richoux family, legendary in this northern most red region of Burgundy, have been growing grapes in the picturesque village of Irancy since 1610. Tenth generation Thierry and his kids farm about 20 hectares of kimmeridgian-centric vines that create a patchwork across the appellation. His reputation as a devoted and gifted vigneron is articulated by the fact that he farms all of Dauvissat’s Irancy vines. Now transitioning to the next generation with Gabin and Felix taking the helm here and getting their names on this bottling with the grapes, all organically farmed, coming from this old picturesque place, sitting in a valley surrounded by relatively steep vineyards which form a dramatic amphitheater around the main village. It should be noted that Irancy represents a small island of red grapes, surrounded by huge plantings of white grapes, and it is mainly Pinot Noir, but intriguingly and uncommon for Burgundy they also have an ancient varietal called César, thought to be related to Barbera and up to 10% can be added to these wines, though Richoux themselves only bottle pure Pinot Noir. Richoux believes in a long élévage for his wines, so they spend their first year in tank, and then a full second year in large foudres or in used smaller barriques, allowing a more mature character when they are released

Richoux’s Veaupessiot, comes from a single parcel and is the highly regarded, with an elegant frame and is notably aromatic, maybe more heighten in all areas than the other lieux-dits or the regular AOC wine. I found this 2015 incredibly enjoyable from the start and even more striking after it opened up, it delivered way more than expected with layers of black cherry, forrest berries, plum and currant fruits, a chalky stoniness, crushed flowers, bramble and subtle earthiness. The Irancy region is one of the most exciting area’s of Burgundy, very close to Chablis, it was once maligned, but now is the source of some amazing wines, like this Richoux Veaupessiot, plus, as I have noted here, Domaine de Beru’s version, one of my other favorites here, these are wines of sublime delicacy, rustic charm and laser sharp detail. Located just southwest of the fan shell of Chablis, Irancy, also known for it’s cherry trees, is set on the ancient Kimmeridgian marls, along with some clay, loose gravel and brown limestone that gives its Pinot Noir its singular nature. It is also close by Saint-Bris, which has Burgundy’s only Sauvignon Blanc zone. The Richoux’s Irancy is as mentioned 100% Pinot Noir and their vineyards are mainly southwest facing and allows for exceptional ripe fruit and refined tannin, as this Veaupessiot shows. This wine delivers all that is promised with the transparency and precision you’d expect from a higher end Burgundy, with superb minerallity and inner energy, though wonderfully satiny and plush when given time in the glass, lingering with a touch of violets and ever echoing fruit. Fermented with natural yeasts in a combination of cement and steel and using mainly de-stemmed grapes the Irancy wines are fabulously terroir expressive and a clear focus. You’ll be well rewarded by searching this wine out and it is without question a bargain for what you get, I highly advise Burgundy lovers chase this vintage down while you can, though I’m sure any Richoux you find will bring smiles. Please note, you’ll see either Thierry or Gabin and Felix listed, but it is the same wine.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Violin Wine, Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The divine and mineral driven Violin Willamette Valley Chardonnay is bright and intensely fresh, very Burgundy like in style reminding me of Bruno Colin St. Aubin and or Robert-Denogent Saint-Veran, this is a fabulous bottle for the price, sourced from two vineyard sites, with a blend from 75% Sojeau Vineyard set on a complex set of marine sedimentary soils at high elevation in the Amity-Eola Hills AVA and 25% sourced from the red and iron rich Jory (volcanic) soils of the Black Walnut Vineyard in the Dundee Hills. Winemaker Will Hamilton notes here that while Dundee is known for deep, volcanic clay, this cap on the hilltop, where he gets his Black Walnut Vineyard fruit, has shallower soils where the vines find some fractured basalt bedrock and the main site in the Eola Hills is on serve and dramatically steep rocky slopes with helps explain the depth and more mineral driven flavors and subtle fruit in this outstanding effort. Brilliant in its delicacy and with a crisp dry profile this 2019 Willamette Valley Chard displays lemon preserves, Bosc Pear, stone fruit and tree picked golden delicious apple fruits with a hint of wet stones, clove spice, hazelnut and a whiff of white licorice along with a refined sense of used French oak toast. This wine is the best of what can be achieved in Oregon Chardonnay and should be on your radar, as is Hamilton’s Pinots, which are incredible terroir driven offerings.

Violin Wine, a Pinot Noir focused label, was established in 2013 by winemaker Will Hamilton and is gaining quite a reputation for high quality small lot wines from distinct sites here in the Willamette Valley, especially Hamilton’s single vineyard series, which tend to be cool high elevation sites, as well as a couple of value packed regional wines like this beautiful and detailed Willamette Valley Chardonnay. Prior to founding Violin Wine, Hamilton spent several years making wine at Walter Scott, one of the Willamette Valley’s elite producers and cut his teeth making some of the most sought after wines in Oregon, and now his wines are creating a buzz of their own and wines such as his Sojeau Vineyard Pinot Noir from vines in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, that I reviewed here recently, plus this Chard are proving his talents. This wine saw a whole cluster pressing that, as Hamilton explains, was followed by a brief, 24 hour settling before barreling juice with virtually all lees available. Only ambient yeasts instigated fermentation in both lots in barrel, which completed primary fermentation between 30 and 50 days, and malo-lactic conversion within several months, after which the wine aged for close to a year. Then wine, only 125 cases made, was then settled in tank with a cold stabilization and bottled unfined, though with a gentle filtration for clarity, the resulting Chardonnay is very focused, with a supple texture, a medium body, aromatic and restrained, perfect with poultry, white fish and crab dishes.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2020 Monte Rio Cellars, Mission, Somers Vineyard, Lodi, California.
Patrick Cappiello’s Monte Rio Mission, sourced from the 80 year old vines at the organic Somers Vineyard in Lodi, is a tasty lighter style red made from the historic Mission grape, in this case Listan Prieto, which is also known as Pais, it is a grape that is responsible for producing California’s very first wines made from European varietals, having come here along with the Spanish Missions in the 1700s, well before more popular grapes arrived after the California gold rush. The 2020 version, made at Pax Wine Cellars for Cappiello’s Monte Rio Cellars label, was fermented using 100% whole cluster and natural (native) yeasts in a full carbonic Maceration, which lasted for 10 days in stainless steel, after which the Mission was pressed into a combination of concrete and stainless steel tanks for 7 days to finish dry and then aged for 6 months in well seasoned old barrels. The ruby hued Mission is bright and spicy with a light to medium body that has tangy wild plum, pomegranate, bitter cherry and loads of peppery spices, red vine licorice, minty herbs, cinnamon, clove and a touch of leathery earth. No sulfur used in the winemaking and this savory toned red is best enjoyed with a chill and simple cuisine choices. Cappiello, a famous New York and East Coast Sommelier has won many prestigious awards at his restaurants, which have been, as he notes, recipients of Wine Spectator’s “Grand Award” like TriBeCa Grill, Veritas, GILT, and Pearl & Ash. Patrick 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 as well, and since partnering up with Pax Mahle has produced a series of fun wines under the Monte Rio Cellars name, including some rarities such as this almost forgotten grape that has such a long history in California.

Mission grapes are a variety of Vitis vinifera in the Listan family, including Listan Prieto and Listan Negro, that was first introduced from Spain to the western coasts of North and South America by Catholic New World missionaries for use in making sacramental, table, and fortified wines. It is grown in South America, particularly in Chile, where they first planted these grapes, and Peru, under then names Rosa del Peru, Criolla and Pais, as well as being found in the Canary Islands, where it has become wildly successful on the volcanic slopes there. The Mission grape, most likely Listan Prieto, was introduced to present-day California in the late 18th century by Franciscan missionaries and it was originally believed that the first planting of the grape in present-day California was done by the controversially sainted, Junipero Serra at Mission San Diego de Alcalá in 1769, though according some documents, in fact it was first planted at Mission San Juan Capistrano in 1779 and it is thought in 1783, the first wine was produced in Alta California emerged from this mission’s winery. My first experience with the Mission grape came when I tasted a rare dessert style and fortified version by Gypsy Canyon Winery, who accidentally discovered three acres of vines covered by California sage and scrub brushes that dated back to 1887 making them some of California’s oldest known Mission vines, this bottling of what is known Angelica, was the first style of wine made in California and is know only being recreated in tiny amounts, though there has been some renewed interest in recent years and Tegan Passalacqua, the head winemaker at Turley Wine Cellars is making a small lot version of Angelica under his Sandlands Vineyards, which does a still table wine example as well. The Mission by Monte Rio comes in at just 11.5% natural alcohol and is a juicy fresh wine with exceptionally smooth tannins and with a light pigment, it won’t be for everyone, but it is one of the most tasty versions of this tricky and rustic grape!
($23 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Small Lots, Bates Ranch, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Very Bordeaux like, this 2017 Alfaro Family Small Lot Bates Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon shows an elegant and complex array of dark flavors with a beautiful full bodied palate of blackberry, plum, black currant and earthy blueberry fruits that are supported by classic Medoc notes of black olive, peppery spices, crushed gravel, mineral tones, tobacco, cedar, licorice and smoky gun flint. There’s a lot to admire here for those that are enthusiasts of Left Bank wines, and there is plenty of structure, low natural alcohol at 13.5%, and a firm feeling grip to remind you this is a young Cabernet that will enjoy some medium term cellaring. While known for his gorgeous Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs, winemaker Richard Alfaro, based in Corralitos in the Southwest zone of the Santa Cruz Mountains also does some intriguing Bordeaux varietals, including this one from the critically acclaimed Bates Ranch that is in a warmer climate, protected from the marine influence on the Eastern slopes as well as his Estate Merlot and Estate Malbec, his newest creation.

The Bates Ranch Cabernet was planted back in 1978 and set is on red Franciscan series, iron rich and gravelly volcanic soils that delivers a striking mineral elegance and warm ripeness. Richard Alfaro aged his Bates Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon for 12 months in French oak barrels of which was about 40% new to give this wine its smoky sweet toasty accents and help smooth out the tannins here. Located along the historic Redwood Retreat Road close to Gilroy, as Alfaro notes, the Bates Ranch was settled near Mount Madonna in the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation, where the Bates Family has been growing robust and quality grapes for four generations now. The area is sees a generous climate for Bordeaux varietals, especially good for Cab Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, highlighted by warm days and cool nights, resulting in fabulous wines like this one and notably Ian Brand’s outstanding Cab Franc. This dark purple/garnet Cab opens nicely and adds hints of acacia flower, sage and lingering kirsch, coco and cassis, all of which adds to the pleasure in this fine effort, it is a wine that is much more enjoyable with robust cuisine that smooths out the raw tannin, this stuff is an excellent value.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Sandlands Vineyards, Carignane, Contra Costa County, California.
The Sandlands Vineyards Contra Costa Carignane is a dark and vividly fresh making for a wine that has the grapey pleasure of a Gamay meets Zinfandel, it is simply a fun and easy to enjoy red that goes great with these warm Fall days and cooler evenings. Coming from seriously old vines set on the deep sand that highlights this unlikely historic region that doesn’t get the recognition it truly deserves, especially when you taste the wines from here, like the offerings from Bedrock Wine Co, who’s owner Morgan Twain-Peterson, a Master of Wine, invested in the region big time, by buying the famous Evangelho Vineyard, which has hundred year old Mourvedre and Zinfandel, that he uses in his Heritage Field Blend, as well as Carignane, as is found in this Sandlands bottling along with some other important producers like Ridge Vineyards. This purple tinted and dark garnet colored 2019 has a highly quaffable vitality and displays juicy concord, tangy plum, blackberry and cherry fruits that are accented by light floral tones, whole bunches pop, dried herbs, fennel and a touch of crushed stones in a medium bodied red with satiny tannins. Winemaker Tegan Passalacqua has found a niche with his Sandlands collection and these wines are a huge hit, often selling out within minutes of release, I am particularly thrilled with his 2018 and 2019 efforts, with the the Cinsault, Zinfandel, Trousseau, Chenin Blanc, Mataro (Mourvedre), Grenache, Syrah and Mission grape all being outstanding and unique, well worth chasing down.

The vineyard used for this Carignane, as Passalacqua notes, was planted in the 1920s in what is classified as Dehli blow sand (decomposed granite that has been deposited by wind and water) near the banks of the Delta and near the out of way town of Antioch. The warm days out here provide a deep ripening of the grapes, but good picking date choices actually allows for lower natural alcohol, as in this wine, which is about 12.8% and gives this wine a smooth textural quality. Sandlands is the personal wine project of Tegan Passalacqua, who as noted many times here the head winemaker and vineyard manager for the famed Turley Wine Cellars and is all about his work with primarily head-trained, dry-farmed and own rooted vines and lesser known, but historic California varietals. Passalacqua, who got his start by working in the lab in Napa Valley, has many talents and has had impressive experiences, having done stints 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, all of which has helped shape his style. The vineyards Tegan uses offer a taste of our (the State’s) past and future, most are set on sandy granite based based soils and are mostly old vine plots that are lovingly cared for by generational family farmers. The wines by Sandlands are striking values and ultra authentic bottlings that are made to be raw and transparent, or honest, examples of place and vintage, made with native yeasts and mainly neutral wood. The new releases from Sandlands, which will include an old vine Lodi Carignane, that I’m excited to try, are hitting later this month, so best to keep an eye out and I highly recommend getting on the mailing list here!
($28 Est.) 89 Points, grapelive

2019 Brick House Vineyards, Gamay Noir, Due East, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The Due East Gamay Noir is wildly exotic, crunchy and spicy with a fabulous array of red fruits and savory elements that gives this Brick House wine loads of thrills on the medium bodied palate, showing racy huckleberry, red pepper, plum, kirsch, mineral, a touch of leather and anise. The Due East is a special limited cuvée, named, as the winery notes, for the direction of the vineyard rows that produced it, this wine is 100% Gamay Noir from a single clone, known as #358. This parcel is planted on a steep, east facing, hillside with shallow sedimentary soils, which gives this wine its intensity, in fact as the winery adds it took five years before this block produced enough fruit to allow this unique bottling. The color is a vivid and glowing ruby in the glass and it is lightly floral with a big spicy kick both on the nose and in the mouth, it actually reminds me a little of Envinate’s Listan Negro from the Canary Islands with the heighten dusty pepper flakes and chalky stony quality here before the juicy Gamay fruit takes over. Hand crafted by Doug Tunnell, the Oregon Pinot legend, and his team, the grapes are de-stemmed before a cool native fermentation takes place in an open top tank. The maceration is gentle with manual punch downs which lasted about three weeks, then the Gamay was racked into used wood where it was raised for close to a year.

One of the most influential figures in Willamette Valley wine and part of the great second wave of wine producers in Oregon, Doug Tunnell, the owner and winemaker of Brick House Vineyards, makes some of the greatest Pinot Noirs in America from his Ribbon Ridge estate. Tunnell spent seventeen years as a foreign correspondent for CBS television news before returning to his native Oregon, where he helped change the landscape of Oregon wine and make Brick House into the leader in Burgundy style and biodynamic wines. Back in 1990 Tunnell bought 40 acres on the Chehalem Ridge, which is set on marine sedimentary soils and has a range of slopes and exposures that ensure perfect ripening. Today Brick House has 30 acres under vine, and the winery is a 100% estate producer, as they note, growing all of their own fruit and making all of the wine on site, with vineyards that have been certified organic for over 25 years now and are also certified Biodynamic by Demeter. Brick House was one of the first wineries in North America to grow and produce true Gamay Noir and they offer a series of Gamay based wines, leaning on a more Burgundy style model rather that Cru Beaujolais, with all de-stemmed grapes and elevage in neutral French oak barriques. This Due East is edgy and has an exciting tension with vibrant flavors and good natural acidity, it should age nicely for a decade, though no one I know could be that patient with their Gamay!
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Jean-Francois Mérieau, Côt, Cent Visages, Loire Valley, France.
The Jean-Francois Mérieau label was brand new to me, and certainly I’ll be following these wines going forward after trying this gorgeous 100% Malbec, which is known as Côtin the Loire Valley where this wine comes from, it is a beautifully dark and floral wine with fresh mineral tones, spices and a light herbal note. Jean-Francois is based in the Touraine AOC and he is widely respected for his wines and he makes a collection of interesting things from Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, a Rosé of Pineau d’Aunis, Pinot Noir and Gamay, as well as a Cab Franc and Malbec blend, along with this one. The Cent Visages Cot is all native yeast fermented from mature sustainably farmed vines that is set on classic chalky clay and limestone soils and is macerated and raised in cement, all to to promote purity of varietal and terroir. This intriguing purple/garnet Malbec has loads of personality with crushed violets, earthy umami, blueberry, plum and cherry fruits on a supple full bodied palate with the mineral and stony elements accents, all making for an impressive and distinct red wine that is lovely with country style Fall cuisine. I tasted this wine blind in a tasting of Loire varietals and couldn’t quite place it, but I quickly became a fan and this wine is super value.

These Cent Visages, which translates to 100 faces, is the name Jean-François gives to this cuvée, hand crafted from 100% Côt (Malbec) from a single vineyard in St. Julien de Chedon, in the mentioned Touraine zone of the Loire Valley. These 50 year old vines, as importer Eric Solomon notes, are an old massale selection of Côt and ones which are the source for many of his new plantings, they add to the rich concentration you find in this wine. As mentioned above, the Cent Visage is fermented in concrete tanks with all natural yeasts and aged close to two years in the concrete before its bottling. The Cent Visages is an absolutely delicious Loire red that is quite unique and it shows that Malbec doesn’t need any oak to be smooth and hedonistic, it is very different from what we see from more popular Malbec areas, like Mendoza in Argentina or France’s Cahors region. Jean-Francois employed a long maceration period here with manual punch downs, lasting between 35-42 days to extract the full depth of character from these ripe grapes that have a sense of sweet tannins and give a fine structural quality that will allow this wine to age well for up to a decade. I am excited to explore the full range of Mérieau’s wines, included the wines noted above, plus his sparkling Chenin/Chard and the rare Rosé bubbly made from mainly Pineau d’Aunis and a splash of Grolleau Gris, which I don’t believe I’ve ever seen or tasted!
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 I. Brand & Family Winery, Old Vine Mourvèdre, Enz Vineyard, Lime Kiln Valley, San Benito County.
The 2019 edition of the Enz Mourvèdre, from almost a hundred year old vines in the remote Lime Kiln Valley in San Benito continues to be one of the most compelling solo varietal versions of this grape in California with deep fruit concentration, firm structure and old world balance and transparency which highlights the smaller yields and long cool growing season, this is exceptional California wine. Ian Brand’s current releases are a tasty and soulful collection of eclectic gems, with this one being one of his signature bottlings with its dark saturated color inviting you in and the full bodied palate is sultry with subtle earthy/gamey notes in the background helping support the rich dark vine picked berries, plum, black cherry and pomegranate fruits. There’s a sense of floral dimension just starting to emerge here and there is an array of dusty spices, briar and herbs de Provence as well as chalky stones, leather and smooth sandalwood notes that all add some nice complexity here it this Mourvèdre’s youthful stage. Typically, the winemaking is done with a practical, but natural approach, to capture this unique sites character, with Ian fermenting his Mourvèdre with native yeasts, using around 50% whole cluster, and has traditionally seen concrete tank maceration, and it gets fine lees aging in a combination of French barrels. Most vintages here only rest in about 20% new oak and some of the Mourvèdre goes into a large used puncheon, with all parts in cask for close to a year before final blending and bottling, which is done without filtration. Mourvèdre or Mataro as it is also known as in California, is originally from Spain where it is called Monastrell, it is a rare treasure here and one of California’s great values making for powerful and age worthy wines. There are some amazing Mourvèdre based wines out there, from the likes of Alban, Tablas Creek, Ridge, Sandlands and others, with Ian’s Enz being a great example.

Brand, who is widely admired as a vineyard whisperer, believes his Mourvèdre grapes come from the best block in the historic Enz Vineyard, and he considers it some the best Mourvèdre plantings on the continent! As mentioned here before, the Enz Vineyard in the Lime Kiln AVA of San Benito County was planted in 1922 on a north facing 5-10 degree slope, set on calcareous and granitic loam soils gets warm/hot days and cool nights that make for top notch Mourvèdre, a grape that was originally from Spain, but maybe best known in France’s Provence as in the great wines of Bandol, like those of Domaine Tempier as well as in Chateauneuf-du-Pape where it is found in some elite wines like Beaucastel and Vieux Telegraph. Brand notes, the vineyard was originally planted to support a hotel around a vigorous lime kiln business in the late 1800s, but had become very little known since WWII, as this region was never a wine hotspot. The Enz Mourvèdre budwood was sourced from the original 1860s planting(s) in the Lime Kiln Valley, supposedly brought over by a vigneron when he emigrated from France. These vines, according to Ian, are thought to represent a distinctly different genetic clone than that other Mourvèdre found within the state. This 2019 is an opulent and remarkably smooth vintage with a nice low alcohol, coming in at just a tick over 13%, so it can be enjoyed now, especially with rustic and robust cuisine choices, like grilled meats, lamb kabobs and hard sheep cheeses. In recent years, Ian has carved out a niche with his outstanding Grenache lineup, but he has caught the Cabernet bug and has a stellar set of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon wines from unique sites from Carmel Valley to the Santa Cruz Mountains as well as lesser known sites in between. It is a great time to explore Ian’s wines, who’s also doing a delicious set of white wines from skin contact Pinot Gris, Albarino and Arneis, a unique Piedmonte inspired effort, and be sure not to miss this Old Vine Mourvèdre, which has the potential to cellar well for a decade or more.
($42 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2017 Storm Wines, Pinot Noir, Donnachadh Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills.
Ernst Storm’s 2017 Donnachadh Pinot is dead ringer for a tasty Savigny Les Beaune or a little Volnay with elegant reds fruits, smoky mineral tones and supple and silky texture with a sense of earthy charm and delicate floral notes, plus a touch of classic reductive funk that adds an old world complexity to this vintage. The Donnachadh Vineyard, Storm notes, (pronounced “done uh kah”) is located in the heart of Sta. Rita Hills on Santa Rosa Road and is planted on a steep hillside block that is set on marine derived shales with a high clay content soils with loose rock and cobbles strewn about the vines. The constant cool winds off the nearby Pacific Ocean make, as Ernst says, for challenging conditions to get the timing right here and results in smaller yields on this serve location, but the grapes are full of intensity, deep concentration and retain loads of natural acidity. This year’s Donnachadh has plush dark cherries, racy plum, strawberry and pomegranate fruits that are supported by fine flinty mineral notes, a touch of thyme, subtle toasty wood, cinnamon and orange and rose petal tea. This Pinot will intrigue Burgundy fans and it seduces lovers of nuanced wines with graceful textural excellence, all making it a joy with lighter foods and especially salmon and or Ahi tartare. Each of Storm’s wines are made from the vineyard and what the year gives and he does his best to capture the nature of each in the bottle using traditional techniques to hand craft his wines, preferring native yeast fermentation and aging his wines in more neutral vessels with the Pinots seeing mainly used French oak, while his Sauvignon Blanc sees some acacia wood.

It has been a great experience watching these recent releases of the California Storm wines improve and settle into their grove after first tasting them in the 2012 vintage, after tasting the South African versions made by Ernst’s brother Hannes, who’s lineup is also outstanding. Ernst Storm, who set up his California label back in 2006 or so, grew up in South Africa and completed his studies at Elsenburg Agricultural School, which is just outside the town of Stellenbosch in the Western Cape. After completing his final year, Ernst worked as a winemaker in the Stellenbosch region and also spent two harvests in the cooler Walker Bay region in South Africa, where Pinot and Chard do exceptionally well. During this period he was also consulting on a few smaller projects with his brother Hannes Storm, who does his own Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, an area that should be on your radar for outstanding Burgundy styled cool climate wines. At that time Ernst learned the arts that have brought him success in crafting balanced wines made from Pinot Noir and interestingly Sauvignon Blanc, both of which he does fabulously well with here. Ernst found Santa Barbara County after making wines throughout California and saw a lot of potential for carving out a niche for his style of winemaking and formed Storm Wines, which was started with just 6 barrels in 2006. Santa Barbara’s and Santa Maria’s Mediterranean climate shares many similarities with that of the Western Cape and the diverse soils and microclimates within these counties, as Storm adds, make it a region with endless possibilities to explore and a great place for him to express himself. This is serious stuff, I highly recommend checking out Ernst’s wines as soon as possible.
($55 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Sandlands Vineyards, Chenin Blanc, Amador County.
Just starting to show its full depth and range of flavors the impressive Chenin Blanc from Tegan Passalacqua at Sandlands Vineyards, sourced from vines planted, as Tegan reveals, back in 1979 and grown at 1500 feet on a combination of iron rich volcanic, quartz and decomposed granite soils, is crisply dry, slightly waxy and saline infused much the way really good Savennieres are, with classic peach, bruised apple and lemony fruits, hints of unripe melon, golden fig, tangy quince, clove spiciness, chalky and delicately floral. This wine is much deeper and serious than first impressions and I found myself liking more and more as it got air and with food, it is much like a Loire version after it gets going and very distinct with a subtle earthy undertone and quite round in texture, while still retaining its natural acidity and energy, this is a Chenin geeks wine. The Sandlands Vineyards wines are available in extremely limited lots, mainly to their mailing list, though sometimes the lucky can find them at selected wine merchants or hip restaurant lists, though I highly recommend signing up to the mailing as soon as possible.

This Chenin, as usual is raised in a combination of used large French oak including a foudre, a puncheon and a few small Burgundy style barrels, which Passalacqua notes, comes from careful hand harvest grapes, high in the Sierra Foothills, from this vineyard that is all classically is head-trained, dry-farmed and own rooted. I tasted this wine blind with a bunch of true Loire Valley wines, as well as a small set of California examples and this Sandlands Chenin held its own and not far off some highly rated French stuff, including an outstanding Domaine Huet Sec Vouvray. Sandlands Vineyards, the personal project of Tegan Passalacqua, who is the head winemaker and vineyard manager at the famed Turley Cellars, and his Olivia, is a must follow label with a collection of authentic and value packed wines. These offerings are especially attractive for those that want to taste California wine history, with most of these wines coming from old vine sites. Their line-up of wines, as they note, includes some the forgotten classic California varieties, like Cinsault and the Mission grape, as well as Carignane, Mataro, Chenin Blanc, like this one, plus Grenache and Zinfandel from old vine vineyards to name a few.
($28 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2017 Château Thivin, Côte de Brouilly, Cru Beaujolais, France.
One of the first Gamay producers I started collecting on a regular basis, Chateau Thivin is always a favorite of mine and such a great value, virtually guilt free when compared to some of my other favs, like Foillard, Lapierre and Dutraive and this 2017 Cote de Brouilly is pure as can be with lovely and lively red fruits that burst from the glass and is so inviting with its subtle floral perfume and enticing electric ruby color. The palate opens up with a mix of red berries, tangy plum, strawberry and red currant jam along with crushed stones, an array of dusty red and brown spices in a medium bodied and elegant wine that leaves a silky cherry note and geranium aftertaste lingering on. While highly quaffable and easy to love there is the fine structural backbone to hold everything together, making it far more serious than your first sip might have you believe. Typically made with whole cluster and a short fermentation the Thivin Cote de Brouilly comes from old parcels on very steep slopes with a 48% grade and it usually sees about 6 months of aging in very old oak foudres before bottling. This 2017 is all you’d expect from Thivin and gets better and better with each sip, it reminds me to order up on the latest releases!

Château Thivin is the benchmark domaine of the Côte de Brouilly, and as importer Kermit Lynch says, everything about it is exceptional with a dramatic setting and fantastic terroir that has distinct blue volcanic rock, comprised of plagioclase and biotite in the soils. Built in the fifteenth century on an ancient volcano which juts out steeply into the valley below, the historic Chateau Thivin is the oldest estate winery on Mont Brouilly. Even more important, however, as Kermit adds, is Thivin’s tremendous success since farmer Zaccharie Geoffray purchased the château with its two hectares of land at auction in 1877. The Geoffray family have continued through the generations to improve their vines and wines and added top parcels as they became available. They have almost single-handed boosted the prestige of this cru in the face of many trying times, wars, and the Great Depression, they also played a pivotal role in the creation of the Côte de Brouilly appellation, which now is one of the top crus, right up there with Morgon and Fleurie. Thivin does a delicious Brouilly bottling as well, that one sees 100% whole cluster and cement vat aging, along with a couple Beaujolais Blancs, a Rosé, the rare old vine “Cuvée Zaccharie” and this one, they are all delightful bargains!
($28 Est.) 92 Pointsgrapelive

2020 Samuel Louis Smith, Syrah, Sans Soufre, Coastview Vineyard, Gabilan Mountains, Monterey County.
Just two barrels were made of this limited release Syrah from Samuel Louis Smith wines, it is a naturally inspired Northern Rhone style version that was made without any sulfites (SO2) added or as the French say Sans Soufre to promote freshness and purity, which this wine shows in the same manner as some famous Cornas wines do. Coming from the high elevation, hillside Coastview Vineyard, which has impressive slopes and a spectacular panoramic view to the sea, in the Gabilan Mountains, the grapes were hand picked and clusters carefully sorted to craft this beautiful Syrah. Wild notes of sage, wild flowers and flinty smoky stones accent the deep black and blue fruits on the full bodied palate in this vividly purple/garnet 100% Syrah bottling that is still youthfully tightly wound and intense, it needs a bit of time to come to life in the glass before it reveals its full range of flavors. After waking up this Sans Soufre pumps out a classic array of boysenberry, blueberry, kirsch and black currant fruits that impressively expands in the mouth as well as cracked pepper, briar, hints of violets, dried herbs, burnt embers or camphor, earthy tones, baking spices and a big umami crunch that provides a nice contrast to the ripe fruit density. There still plenty of tannic structure to be taken seriously and vigor to stand up to robust cuisine and has the potential to age exceptionally well, though without sulfur added, careful cellaring is recommended to achieve the best results with this rewarding Syrah. Made with whole bunches and native yeasts, this Syrah is very similar to August Clape’s Cotes du Rhone 100% Syrah bottling and not far off Thierry Allemand’s rare Sans Soufre version of his legendary Cornas, which is high praise in certain circles and it is meant as such!

The Coastview Vineyard, where Smith gets the Syrah grapes for this wine, is located on a ridge top about 2,300 feet up the Gabilan mountain range and is, as Sam adds, one of the most dramatic sites on the Central Coast with an incredible view and a unique terroir. This prime site has cooling influences from the Monterey Bay and warm exposures with thin soils of decomposed granite and limestone that drain well and put the best possible stress on the vines and encourages them to dig deep into the ancient rock. Coastview is farmed organically and is planted to quite a range of varietals, but stands out for their Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Grenache, all of which has proven to excel here, so I’m excited to see Sam Smith working with this fruit, especially as his 2019 Serine Sauvage Syrah was one of the best Syrah wines of the vintage and this one is fabulous as well. This vineyard has supplied grapes to produce some outstanding wines and it has a pedigree of merit, in particular I will note that Big Basin’s set oof wines from this site are absolutely stunning, and while they are known as Syrah specialists, their Chardonnay from Coastview is amazing, very Burgundy like, stuff that continues to be one of the best in California, even if it flies under the radar. Sam Smith, who is also the head winemaker at Monterey’s Morgan Winery, is one of the regions up and coming stars and his own label wines are some of the best around, I suggest to everyone to get on his mailing list and get his 2019s, these are thrilling wines, and as I have mentioned in my prior reviews, don’t miss Sam’s Pinots and Chards, especially his Spear Vineyard Chardonnay, this stuff is the real deal, as well as the Syrah offerings like this one and the noted Serine Sauvage.
($39 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive

2016 Anthill Farms, Pinot Noir, Tina Marie Vineyard, Russian River Valley.
Opened for a small family night celebration, the 2016 Anthill Farms Tina Marie Pinot Noir, was a perfect choice with the beginnings of maturity and supple fruit, made for an exceptional evening and reminded me of just how good these wines are, especially with a touch of age on them. Three winemaking friends, Webster “Web” Marquez, Anthony Filiberti and David Low started Anthill Farms in 2004, and quickly became a cult hit, producing beautiful Pinot Noirs from cool climate Sonoma and Mendocino fruit. Now they do about eight single vineyard wines and a couple of regional offerings with a little Chardonnay and Syrah thrown in, all are top notch stuff, with the regional Anderson Valley Pinot being one of the state’s best values as well, if you can find it! This Tina Marie, which sadly hasn’t been in the lineup in recent years, is a fabulous and pure Pinot Noir with a pretty floral bouquet and deep ruby color in the glass that leads to a medium bodied palate of black cherry, tree picked plum, crushed raspberry and strawberry fruits that are perfectly accented by hints of orange/herb tea, cinnamon, mocha, cedar, a stony saline note and wilted roses. The mouth feel is opulent and silky, while there is an underlying energy and smooth natural acidity that keeps everything in focus, this wine confidently expressing itself right now with a ripe luxuriousness, but with a brilliant low alcohol, it is just 13.2%, that allows full enjoyment without guilt worries when the bottle emptied a little too quickly.

The Tina Marie Vineyard, a tightly spaced site farmed by Ron Black and Stephen Bessone, sits within the Green Valley zone of the Russian River Valley AVA and has lots of cooling influences and sets on a complex set of Wilson Grove soils, made up of shallow, ancient ocean floor sediments, sandstone, gravel and river stones. The Tina Marie is one of the top crus in the stellar collection from the guys at Anthill Farms, which are all small lot offerings that are hand crafted to express each of their single vineyards using native yeasts and partial whole cluster, depending on vintage, with the wines seeing a restrained use of new oak to promote the fruit quality and transparency, which this gorgeous 2016 is delivering rich now. I’ve been luck to have tasted with Anthony Filiberti on a few occasions and I’ve always been a fan of these wines, but I still was blown away with how this 2016, a vintage that had a mixed reaction early on, is performing, this wine has a ton of personality and wow factor. With the single vineyard wines, Filiberti and the team at Anthill Farms typically do close to 30-40% whole bunches and do lengthy macerations with three weeks of daily punchdowns before racking to barrels where they employ about 25% new French oak and age them about 15 months. When this Tina Marie fully opened it revealed hints of earth and spice with the fruit settling down enough to allow the wine to unfold in all of its glorious complexity and it lingered on and on. If this 2016 is anything to go by, the 2018 and 2019s are going to be legendary in a few years!
($48 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive Reviews – September, 2021

2015 Weingut Georg Breuer, Riesling, Rauentaller Nonnenberg “Monopol” Rheingau Germany.
The gorgeous and textural 2015 Nonnenberg Trocken is lush and ripe with great tension and energy, it has turned out to be one of the highlights of the vintage as it has aged and has the potential to go for another decade or more with its dense stuffing of classic Riesling fruit and lively acidity. Theresa Breuer, the director of Weingut Georg Breuer, has taken a more natural approach to her wines and has gone holistic in her farming of her estate vines looking for physiological and aroma ripeness, which she feels are more important than must weight numbers and the grapes are only picked when Theresa and her team feel the fruit is perfect, giving the wines a sense of delicacy, earthy transparency and elegance, rather than power or overtness. This Nonnenberg Monopole, a unique geological area is a South facing site, with deep Phyllite soils with a covering of gravel deposits, always has a lovely perfume of white flowers and a parade of citrus and stone fruits that leans on the yellow spectrum of flavors with wild and pithy peach, apricot and bright kumquat leading the way, as it does in this 2015, adding green apple, brisk mineral and crushed stones. The Nonnenberg definitely has a subtle concentration and palate impact with pleasing and mouth filling weightiness, without being heavy and while having a touch of rawness it is clear and precise throughout, gaining a mature presence in the glass. There is a lot going on here and it keeps your attention peaked with every sip, I really have enjoyed this wine at every stage and admire its saline and stony side that keeps the Nonnenberg’s fruit in focus.

The Weingut Georg Breuer, now run by Theresa Breuer, was one of the key members of Charta, an organization founded before the VDP started their Dry classifications, formed to promote a drier style of Rheingau wine and were proponents and leaders of this style of wine to great effect in the region. Theresa’s late father, Bernard, believed that the Rheingau was perfectly suited to producing very fine, elegant and flavorful dry Rieslings, and he has been proven right, especially in recent years and by his talented daughter. He was also a strong advocate for a vineyard classification system based on geology, historical precedent, and the quality of wines, he is credited with discovering the potential of the Rauenthal, which has become one of the top crus in the Rheingau and in particular Breuer’s incredible Nonnenberg Monopole site, where this amazing dry Riesling comes from. This Rauenthaller Nonnenberg, sourced from Breuer’s all organic vineyard, was fermented with native yeasts and traditionally aged in old wood, is one of the winery’s top dry bottlings along with their slate driven Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg, and is really a wine that is in league with top Grosses Gewachs. Breuer has a very good collection of parcels from the steep Grand Cru vineyards overlooking the Rhein to the rolling hills of the Rauenthal farther inland as well as in the western edges of the Rheingau in Lorch, all which produce distinct terroir influenced wines. Along with these exceptional Rieslings, Breuer does some easy drinking wines including a Rosé, a light Pinot Noir and a Pinot Gris. I have visited Breuer’s tasting room in Rudesheim a couple of times now and I look forward to visiting them again in future, where I hope to check in on the latest Nonnenberg!
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Grochau Cellars, Pinot Noir, Commuter Cuvée, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
I’ve loved this bottling of John Grochau’s Commuter Cuvée Pinot since I first tasted it back in 2012 and this 2018 is an outstanding and pure wine with pretty floral notes, dark cherry fruit, delicate spices, earth and a supple texture, making for an excellent easy drinking wine that is lovely with or without food. The color is brilliant ruby and garnet, invitingly dark and deep, the 2018 Grochau Cellars Commuter Cuvée is impressive in the glass and gets better and better as it opens, adding mineral tones and the mouth feel highlights the quality here, this wine is an exceptional value. This wine was, as the winery notes, from grapes that were hand sorted and mostly de-stemmed with just about 5% to 10% whole cluster fermentation usually from a combination of vineyards and a range of soils from marine sediments to volcanic that are sustainably farmed. The Commuter Cuvée was aged 8 months on lees with about 30% in stainless steel and about 68% in French oak, mostly used, and with a touch, close to 2% in concrete tank, all to promote freshness. This wine and Grochau’s single-vineyard Pinot Noir Zenith Vineyard from the Eola-Amity AVA are well worth searching out, these are sublime.

Grochau Cellars was founded in 2002, after John Grochau had worked at the legendary Erath Winery and notably at Brick House Vineyards, where working alongside winemaker Doug Tunnel he gained experience and insight that has influenced or guided his 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. John quickly immersed himself in the local wine and food culture, it was at this point he knew it was his calling and after almost a decade in the restaurant business was winemaking, and that’s where his talents have been highly successful in producing in beautiful Pinot Noirs. Grochau says he was inspired by the diversity of the Willamette Valley’s soils and micro-climates, which he promotes by crafting terroir driven wines, these are transparent and elegant efforts. There are not many better Pinots for the price than this one and it should drink nicely for another 3 to 5 years, it is a wine to stock up on, regardless of vintage, but this one is absolutely delicious. In the last year I have tasted more releases from Grochau and have really enjoyed them, especially this one, as well as the Gamay and the Etheric Wine Workshop Pinot Noir.
($18 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2016 Lucia by Pisoni Family, Syrah, Susan’s Hill – Pisoni Estate, Santa Lucia Highlands.
Coming from the famous Pisoni Vineyard the Susan’s Hill Syrah is a deeply color and powerful northern Rhone style wine with dense black and blue fruit, meaty earthiness, smoke and floral elements all vying for attention on the chewy full bodied palate, it is a striking effort that is just starting to unwind with age. Classic layers of boysenberry, damson plum, creme de cassis and blueberry unfold accented by anise, cracked pepper, camphor, sage and violets. The Pisoni family says the Syrah is a reflection of the terroir, with the vines set on east-facing, high elevation slopes of estate, where rugged, granite based soils, with sand and loam, are influenced by cool coastal breezes to create a wine of precision and concentration. The Susan’s Hill site, named for Gary’s sister Susan, is a special block within Pisoni Vineyards that was planted in 2001 and it is perched on a rocky outcropping that crowns one of the vineyard’s highest ridges. Its peak is exposed to the elements and buffeted by heavy winds. The coarse, rocky soils ensure that the vines are extremely stressed and low yielding, resulting in wines that are inky and very intense, as this wine shows. While known for the Pinot(s), Pisoni Syrahs are in many vintages as good if not better!

The Susan’s Hill Syrah is all from older parcels of hand-picked and sorted grapes that are fermented with native yeast and aged in carefully selected French oak barrels, in this case large casks, all at winemaker Jeff Pisoni’s state-of-the-art winemaking facility near Santa Rosa, which uses gravity flow as part of a custom design, that Pisoni conceived to merge the estate vineyards and winery. This as Jeff adds, affords him the complete control of the farming, which is handled by his brother Mark along with his dad, the infamous Gary Pisoni and winemaking process to produce small production hand crafted wines of outstanding quality, as this Syrah shows. The Syrah, which typically sees close to 80% whole cluster, depending on the vintage, and 100% native yeast fermentation with an extended maceration then gets gently pressed to all new French oak foudres where it ages close to 22 months before bottling. This 2016 is tannic and crunchy, but as mentioned is starting to open up and reveal its true ripeness and complexity, gaining a harmonious texture and more pretty in detail, it especially turns on the charm with robust cuisine and protein rich dishes. This vintage has plenty of stuffing and should keep getting better over the next 3 to 5 years, and it is far better than was originally thought for the region, especially the Syrah wines.
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Ruth Lewandowski Wines, Naomi, Grenache Gris, Gibson Ranch, Mendocino County.
The Naomi is 100% Grenache Gris, with grapes coming from the ancient vines at Gibson Ranch, is a skin contact white that has the appearance of a blush or Rosé wine, but with more earthy tones and aromas and with a supple, concentrated palate and textural mouth feel, making for an intriguing dry wine that gets better and better with each sip. With some brambly spice and fleshy stone fruit the Naomi Grenache Gris is freshly with tangerine, muskmelon, white plum and a hint of ruby grapefruit. Grenache Gris, similar to Pinot Gris and Clairette Rose with darker pigment, though usually made as a white wine, is the pink-skinned cousin of Grenache Blanc and a Rhone varietal. Most people say that Grenache Gris is an ancient pinkish-grey grape with small to medium sized clusters that was originally a mutation of the red Grenache grape and is quite rare, grown to a limited extent in the south of France, though has been found here in California, like here in the wilds of Mendocino. Interesting too, Grenache Gris is also called Garnacha Roja in Spain and may have first mutated there or in the Mediterranean border zone between Spain and France this Spanish clone is still found in the Côtes Catalanes and the Roussillon Sometimes Grenache Gris is just co-fermented with the Grenache Noir in the reds, which is how I have mostly had it, as I recently did with a sample of Randall Grahm’s estate Grenache from his Popelouchum Vineyard.

The Gibson Ranch Vineyard, farmed by Scot Bilbro, who is the owner/ winemaker at the famous Marietta Cellars, is located in an upland valley just east of of the town of Hopland in a remote section of Mendocino County and Lewandowski’s Grenache Gris comes from old vines that were likely planted around 1900, making them the oldest examples of this rare “Grey” Grenache in California. The winery notes that these historic vines, that are now being farmed completely organic, are set on well drained sedimentary soils, adding that they are both colluvial and alluvial gravelly loams, which help give fruit density and intense minerallity. Evan Lewandowski, known as one of America’s top natural winemakers, calls his label Ruth Lewandowski, not after a real person, but it comes from one small but very significant text in the Old Testament of the Bible, The Book of Ruth, which has the line “Death is, indeed, the engine of life.” which has has a special meaning to Evan. As it relates to wine and the cycle of life, from the seasons to the soils, each vintage is a new birth that begins after the death of the previous year and all the organisms that live and die to keep this process going. The Lewandowski wines are all hand crafted using native yeasts, no additions and see neutral barrels for aging with this one seeing some skin contact with adds structure and that pretty pinkish hue. Lewandowski ’s Naomi Grenache Gris, while rosy in color, drinks much more like a white wine and is great with soft cheeses, it has some rustic savory elements, but is overall it is very pleasing.
($32 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco DOC, Piedmonte, Italy.
The brilliant ruby and orange tinted 2017 Barbaresco DOCG from the Produttori del Barbaresco is already drinking fabulously with classic Nebbiolo character and though it has a ripe sensation on the full bodied palate from the warm vintage it still has a chalky mineral note and some rustic tannin to balance things out, this is a remarkably poised and alluring effort. The stylish and high quality co-op continues to impress, and while I loved the 2013s and especially the 2016s here, this 2017 is just about equal and I was captivated with my first impressions here and the lovely aromatics with wilted roses, anise and earthy tones adding to the brandied cherries and damson plum fruits, the palate is complex playing the heightened fruit against a nice savory edginess, it adds a deeper sense of currant and a nice cedary spice to the mix as it opens up. Food brings greater depth and pleasure to the experience and brings out the softer and more pretty side of this Nebbiolo, while hints of iron/meat and truffle come through in the background. This vintage should drink well mid term and no penalty for early drinking is obvious, while the powerful 2016s still should get another 3 to 5 years in the cellar, for best results. Coming from various parcels and exposures, set on limestone and clay soils, rich in calcium with sandy veins, the 2017 was stainless steel vat fermented and then aged 24 months in traditional large oak casks. The winery suggests natural pairings of fresh pasta, meat dishes, game birds, such as quail, duck or the guinea hen, and particularly lamb to go with this Barbaresco, which I agree with, plus more mild cheeses.

Modern Barbaresco came into being, or saw a significant re-awakening In 1958, when the priest of the village of Barbaresco, recognizing that the only way the small properties could survive was by joining forces, and he gathered together nineteen small growers and founded the Produttori del Barbaresco. The first three vintages were made in the church basement, then in the winery built across the square where the Produttori is still located. The Produttori as of today has 54 members and controls more than 100 hectares (250 acres) of premium Nebbiolo vineyards in Barbaresco. Before that, back in 1894, Domizio Cavazza, the headmaster of the Royal Enological School of Alba and a proud Barbaresco resident who realized that the area had a distinct terroir and was an equal to the bigger and more famous Barolo, created the first cooperative, the Cantine Sociali to compete with Barolo, he gathered together nine Barbaresco vineyard owners to make wine in the local castle that he owned, and this was how Barbaresco came into being. Sadly the fascist government put the original co-op out of business, but after the war and Italy’s re-birth, things started looking up and Produttori del Barbaresco has taken up the challenge and produces maybe the greatest co-op wine in the world, especially their Cru bottlings, like their Asili, Montefico, Montestefano, Muncagota, Ovello, Pajè, Pora, Rabajà and Rio Sordo Riservas, but this basic Barbaresco is a fantastic wine and a great value, as this 2017 demonstrates. It is quite amazing that this wine, with 22,000 cases made, can be this good, this unique and this consistent, it is a tribute to each and everyone of the collection of individual farmers that go about their work with such pride and passion.
($49 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2020 Morgan Winery, Dry Riesling, Double L Estate Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
Both the organic estate grown Double L Vineyard Rieslings are tasty local treats from the Santa Lucia Highlands with the off-dry Kabinett style going fabulously with Asian foods and or spicy dishes, while this very small batch Dry Riesling goes with the more saline and briny specialties, it is vividly vibrant, truly dry and refreshing with a super clean mineral driven palate. A huge fan of what Dan Lee and winemaker Sam Smith are doing with the lineup here, it seems that every wine in the collection has stepped it up a notch, and while the focus and stars are their 2018 and 2019 Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs, there are some thoughtful gems throughout the range with their latest Double L Syrah and the Rieslings being favorites, these are expressive and outstanding offerings. This 2020 shows a softer and slightly denser feel on the medium bodied palate with an extra degree of texture dialed in, without losing the energy and brisk nature that gives this wine its intensity and focus. The mouth and aromatics are precise with lime blossoms, wet rock, apricot and racy citrus leading the way along with a hint of verbena, herb/mint tea, classic green apple and a touch of tropical fruit. There is a bone dry extract that is compelling and gives an impression of structural tannin or phenolic ripeness that is tangy with just the right amount of bitter detail, an element that quality Rieslings share, whether the are from Alsace or Germany and aligned with the juicy acidity invites more sips. California Dry Riesling has taken off and the quality has never been better, look for Tatomer, Stirm, Cobb, Desire Lines Wine Co, and Joyce as well as classics from Stony Hill and Casa Nuestra, along with Morgan’s pair, to name a few.

The Morgan Double L Dry Riesling saw a gentle foot stomping and left on the skins for 18 hours, then the grapes were whole-cluster pressed, and for freshness and bright fruit character was preserved by a cold fermentation in stainless steel tanks. Smith, has now done a few limited batches of this drier Riesling or Trocken, where the fermentation was allowed to finish, achieving this more crisp dry style and it has proved to be a huge success. The Double L Ranch is the only certified organic vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands and is located in a cool breezy zone on sandy loams at the northern end of region, which suits the low yielding Riesling vines. For this 2020 he gave it a bit more time in the used wood, with a full 8 months of aging in neutral French oak, which has given the Double L Estate Dry Riesling a bit more refinement, as I noted above it has a slightly smoother texture and lush mouth feel, which should appeal to a wider array of palates, while not losing the acid freaks and Riesling enthusiasts, like me, this wine sits somewhere between the Rheinhessen and the Pfalz profile wise, not too far off the entry level Wittmann estate Trocken. Impressive for a Monterey Riesling, and a wine to grab with the local cuisine, especially seasonal crab and or more exotic dishes like Uni. With time in the glass this ultra pale, almost greenish hued Dry Riesling adds a touch more substance and fleshiness, though keeps its natural tension and steely personality, again this is much to be admired. There is a lot to explore in the latest releases from Morgan and all offer quality drinking pleasures, and some of the rarities are really worth chasing down, like their Tempranillo, Albrarino and these Rieslings, which are exceptionally well priced for what you get in the bottle.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 Turley Wine Cellars, Cinsault, Bechthold Vineyard, Lodi, California.
This is one of my favorite wines in Turley’s incredible portfolio of old vine offerings, it is always gloriously drinkable and fresh, but with serious concentration and complexity, a bit less fruit dense and more zesty than the Zins and or the Petite Sirah that require either a well planned meal and or some cellaring, this is more often than not easy to pop cork on. I drank a few of my 2018s before this vintage, which seems to have been a good choice as the 2017 is really in a great spot and hasn’t lost any energy or intensity, while maybe softer just the right amount with a beautiful array of dusty red berry and plum fruits along with light earthy notes, a combination of dried herbs and spices, as well as a subtle cedary wood frame, florals, candied orange rind and lingering kirsch. The dark ruby hued, medium/full bodied Bechthold Cinsault has a welcoming lift and brightness while still being opulent and its supple tannins are ripe and smooth, making for a real pleasing red to be enjoyed with roast chicken, pasta dishes and simple cuisine options, I myself found it wonderful with left over pizza. I have really enjoyed my latest experiences with the Turley wines and their winemaker Tegan Passalacqua’s own label Sandlands, these are some of the most interesting and authentic California wines out there, all from important vineyard sites that are usually historic and or ancient vine offerings. To preserve vibrancy and show purity, this Turley Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault was done in a semi carbonic and natural yeast fermentation, then was aged exclusively in 100% used French oak.

As has been noted, and as I have mentioned in prior reviews, the Turley Bechthold Cinsault comes from one of the Lodi region,’s oldest vineyards with Bechthold being planted in 1886, making this Cinsault vineyard maybe the oldest of its kind in the world, as Tegan Passalacqua suggests. The vines at Bechthold are gnarly, head-trained and planted on their own roots in the deep, sandy soils and are Lodi’s oldest continuously farmed vineyard site, one of California’s most unique and cherished sites. Cinsault, one of the Chateauneuf du Pape grapes, found in the Rhone, Provence and in the Languedoc regions of France mainly has found a happy home here in California, especially in warmer climate areas of California, as it retains natural acidity and holds up in the relentless heat, as witnessed here in Lodi. Cinsault has become the secret sauce in many blended wines and adds life and vitality in the classic Rosé wines of Bandol, on its own it can even provide a lighter and more Gamay like style, like it does here, and can be enjoyed with a slight chill too. Turley has quite a few alternative offerings, beyond their famous Zinfandels and I have tried my best to get as many as possible, including their Grenache and their white Rhone blend, but this Cinsault is fast becoming one of my favorites. Turley, led by Larry and his daughter Christina, along with Tablas Creek, Bedrock, Ridge and a few others, have in their own ways done amazing work to elevate California wines, either by introducing quality new cuttings and varietals, as Tablas has done, to preserving and celebrating California’s most historic vineyards, usually dry farmed, head trained and organic, as Turley and Bedrock have done, throughout the state, all of which we owe a great thanks for.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Vincent Gaudry, Sancerre Blanc, Le Tournebride, Loire Valley, France.
The 2019 Le Tournebride Sancerre from Vincent Gaudry is bright and beautifully pure with impressive concentration and lively natural acidity showing crystalline detailing to make it standout in a crowd, this is absolutely delicious terroir driven Sauvignon Blanc, not to be overlooked. The freshness and impressive mouth feel highlight the fact that this wine is made in the vines, not in the cellar, Gaudry is highly praised for his farming and this Sancerre is proof with expressive layers of lemon/lime, white flowers, gooseberry, white peach and chalky melon notes leading the way along with a cool toned steely core, a touch of herb, wet stone and pithy tang. The crisp and aromatic cuvée “Le Tournebride” comes from all three parcels in Sancerre, with different soils, including terres blanches (Kimmeridgian marl), caillottes (weathered limestone) and flinty silex, all playing parts. The grapes, all organic, were hand-harvested and fermented with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel, then aged close to ten months in the tank and is bottled unfined and unfiltered.

With old vine grapes grown mainly on flinty Silex soils Gaudry was the first Biodynamic producer in Sancerre, and some of this wines are crafted in the same way as the classic Dagueneau Pouilly-Fume’s are, these intense Loire Valley mineral driven Sauvignon Blancs that are naturally imbued with density and volume on the palate. Gaudry has blocks that are massale selections with 90 year vines, proving him with exceptional fruit to make incredible Sancerre, like this basic stainless steel tank version that is right up there with Vacheron and Hippolyte Reverdy, along with the Scorpion cuvee that is barrel fermented and aged, like Dagueneau, as mentioned and the likes of Cotat and Boulay, as well as plus an exceptional whole cluster Sancerre Rouge (Pinot Noir) that is mind-blowing. These are all worth chasing down and enjoying over the next few years, with this Le Tournebride being outstanding with all sorts of cuisine choices. I love the way this wine plays with your palate, it has just the right amount of brisk tension and textural pleasure vying for your attention, this is exactly what I look for in a Sancerre.
($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Pax Wines, Pineau d’Aunis, Bearg Ranch, Fountaingrove AVA, Sonoma County.
One of the rarest red wines in California, this carbonic and spicy lighter red wine is Pax’s super geeky and limited Pineau d’Aunis, a light skinned red grape found in the Loire Valley, mostly around Touraine and Anjou, which is mainly used in blends and in the region’s Rosés. Those that love the Jura and Beaujolais will go crazy for this juicy medium bodied wine that shows a crunch of whole cluster, racy red berries, a touch of wild flowers and peppery spices with brambly raspberry, tangy plum, strawberry and a pop of orange/peach as well as cinnamon, basil, anise and a delicate earthiness that adds a nice bit of umami. Best to enjoy this one with a nice chill and friends, it is a fun, low alcohol and no pretense wine that should provide smiles and pleasure for a year or so. Pax also recently released a wine called Dazed & Carbonic, that is a crazy blend of co-fermented Syrah, Viognier 70% and 30% whole cluster, carbonic Trousseau Gris, as well as a 100% Trousseau Noir and a new dry Rosé called Roggae Rosé that is a blend of whole cluster Gamay and Pinot Noir, all of which are small lot whole cluster/carbonic fermented in tank with natural methods, being a short elevage in vat or neutral French oak.

Pax, known for incredible Syrah bottlings, in recent years has developed a fun lineup of rarities and natural style wines including Gamay, as well as old California favorites made from Mission and Charbono, along with the Jura and Savoie, Alpine inspired wines like Trousseau and Mondeuse. This new Pineau d’Aunis joins this geeky group and it is a quaffable addition that unique set, though it will not be easy to find as so little was made, but it is worth the search. Pax’s collection of unique quaffers are offered first to their wine club and I recommend joining, because these wines are so fun and very affordable. Pineau d’Aunis, which is also known as Chenin Noir, is an ancient Loire Valley grape that was much more widely planted and celebrate in the past, in fact it was hugely popular as far back as 1246, when it became a favorite of King Henry the Third of England, though it has become a rare varietal in modern times and is more of a curiosity these days. Pineau d’Aunis, as mentioned gets called Chenin Noir, however in DNA testing it has been confirmed that Pineau d’Aunis is not in fact related at all with Chenin Blanc, nor is it related to Pinot Noir, which it sometimes gets confused with. This bright ruby colored Pax Pineau d’Aunis is likely the only version of this grape in California and is set on the volcanic gravelly soils of the Bearg Ranch near Healdsburg, where Pax has his tiny plots of Gamay, Trousseau and Mondeuse.
($38 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2019 Domaine Huet, Vouvray Sec, Le Mont, Loire Valley, France.
One of France’s iconic wines, Domaine Huet Vouvray is always a treat when finds its way into your glass, and for me, especially the dry Sec style, like this gorgeously pure and crystalline Le Mont cru bottling that shows just how delicious these wines can be with fresh and vivid wild peach, melon, crisp apple and lemony fruits that shine with wet stone, steely mineral tones along with un-sweeten honeycomb, clove and a hint of herbs. The 2019 vintage looks set to be a classic with great fruit intensity, vivacious natural acidity and that cool chalk note from the prime terroir that this Le Mont vineyard site sits on, in the best of the Vouvray zone in this tranquil Loire Valley region that allowed both generations of Huet’s to overcome their war scares and produce some of the most beautiful Chenin Blancs ever produced. This wine, one of the last made under Jean-Bernard Berthomé, Gaston Huet’s long serving winemaker and cellar master, really captures the essence of this winery, the place and the history here. The Le Mont, is easy to spot as Huet, it couldn’t be anything else and I love the fine and dry detailing on this vintage, even though it can age, it is absolutely lovely young and fresh, proving itself an outstanding companion to sea food and or cheese. I have been lucky enough to taste through the full collection of Huet and more than a few occasions and while I gravitate to these drier style wines, there is a real thrill to try the fabled Cuvée Constance, a heaven late harvest Chenin that rivals the illustrious Chateau D’Yquem! This brilliant and saline infused Le Mont Sec saw a temperature-controlled fermentation in large, old oak demi-muids as well as stainless steel vats, with only partial lots going through malos, depending the vintage, and the wine was then blended and raised just under a year in the bigger format demi-muids.

Domaine Huet, originally founded back in 1928, is an iconic estate and Vouvray producer, it is renown for some of the world’s most compelling Chenin Blanc bottlings ever put in bottle with a complete range of styles, including some of the longest-lived off-dry and sweet versions, as well as brisk natured bone dry bottlings, like this gorgeous Le Mont Sec, that is always one of my favorites in the lineup. Domaine Huet was formed when Victor Huet purchased the” Le Haut Lieu” vineyard and started producing some of the greatest wines in France before the estate expanded in the mid-1950s, when the legendary Gaston, Victor’s son, added vineyards on the Première Côte, with this Le Mont site, with less clay and more stone, being purchased in 1957 and famed Clos du Bourg, which took a little longer to acquire, finally being added to the portfolio in 1963 after being farmed by Huet for a decade. Gaston Huet, who took Huet to new heights, was an early convert to biodynamics and became fully bio in 1990 and certified completely in 1993 with top enologist Jean-Bernard Berthomé leading the winemaker from 1979 to 2019, when he finally retired and turned the cellar over to his protégé Benjamin Joliveau, a Vouvray native who worked hand-in-hand with Jean-Bernard for the last decade, starting in 2009. This transition looks be be seamless and traditions under the American (brother and sister) pair of Sarah and Hugo Hwang looks secure and quality in the last 20 years since I started following has only gone up, if possible! Like I mentioned above I have had lots of experience with Huet, including some 50 plus year old cellar direct bottlings and I can tell you these 2019s are the real deal, and this Le Mont Sec is an insane value for the quality it displays. The 2019s look to have a long life ahead, they have brisk and youthful tightness, but the underlying concentration and ripeness, at 13.5%, bodes well for those that want to cellar them, these are as good as I’ve ever tasted from Huet at this stage.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Ridge Vineyards, Zinfandel, Pagani Ranch, Sonoma Valley.
The 2017 Pagani Ranch Zinfandel, made from 84% Zinfandel, 7% Petite Sirah and 7% Alicante Bouschet, is incredibly dark and purple hued in the glass with enticing aromas of crushed berries, seeped flowers, chocolate and brambly spices, all of which are echoed richly on the full bodied and supple palate that fills the mouth with black raspberries, sweet plum, creme de cassis, sandalwood, Turkish fig, sticky lavender and mocha notes. The historic Pagani Ranch was originally planted in the traditional way with interplanted black grapes and saw the main plantings beginning in the early part of the 20th century with many old zin vines being well over a hundred years old, which shows in the beautiful concentration and depth in this outstanding and classic Zin blend from Ridge, one of America’s greatest wineries. Like Lytton Springs, in Dry Creek, there is a good dose of Alicante Bouschet here, which acts like a secret sauce here and adds to magic, while the Petite Sirah adds color, chocolate and a bit of a backbone to this hedonistic vintage. Probably the last pick in Ridge’s Zin collection of vineyards, the Pagani, originally planted back in 1895, is always lush in texture, but still brightly focused with good natural acidity even in what would be considered a warm year, adding to the overall charm and balance, this wine should age well for another decade or more. These Ridge Zin based reds are pure California wines, bringing out the best of what the state has to offer and go great with our varied cuisine, though they are especially good with BBQ and or Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes.

Angela and Felice Pagani came from Italy to Sonoma Valley in the late 1880s and purchased the ranch that now bears their name and is run by Felice’s granddaughter, Norma Pagani Amantite and her son Dino, who are carrying on the family’s heritage and traditions. Ridge has been making Pagani Zinfandel since 1991 and this vineyard on the western side of Sonoma Valley continues to be a star in their stellar offerings of Sonoma vineyard sites. The majority of the vineyard, set on Haire clay loams with a tiny amount of red soils, was planted ninety to one hundred twenty years ago, surviving though as Ridge notes, a few portions of it were replanted between 2013 and 2018, including many of Ridge’s sections. The hand harvested grapes were 100% de-stemmed and crushed with only native yeasts for a natural primary and natural malolactic fermentations, as the winery continues, the must was pumped over a floating cap and pressed at about nine days, enough time to go dry and extract the wine’s intense color then it was racked to 100% air-dried American oak barrels. The Ridge Pagani usually sees close to 15% new, 15% one-year-old, 20% two-year-old, 20% three-year-old,15% four-year-old, and 15% five-year-old wood with an elevage lasting fourteen months in the barrel before bottling. Ridge employs a low SO2 regime on all their wines to preserve the fresh fruit and keep the natural nuance of each vineyard site, with just enough new oak to provide a sense of refined elegance and luxuriousness, in this case, it shows to be well judged and subtly gives a smoky toastiness. While I loved the 2018s, this 2017, which maybe surprisingly has slightly lower alcohol, is showing extremely well and is full of pleasure.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Dirty & Rowdy, MSG, Red Rhone Blend, Chalone AVA, Monterey County.
It was a sad day last week when I found out that Dirty & Rowdy family wines was being dissolved, as I had really grown to love these wines, especially their awesome Chateauneuf du Pape inspired MSG Rhone style red, made from Chalone grapes coming off this chalky limestone and decomposed granite soil region in the Galbilan mountain range, and their selection of Mourvedre based offerings, as well as their super rare Barbera from Mendocino. I sulked around a few days, wondering what I would say about this and what wine of theirs would I open to begin the process of acceptance, then I got word that there might be a phoenix rising from the Dirty & Rowdy ashes and I perked right up, with the help of this gorgeous 40% Mourvedre, 40% Syrah and 20% Grenache blend. The King is Dead, Long Live the King, or something to that effect, as I have confirmed the half of the Dirty & Rowdy family is going to introduce a new label, with Hardy Wallace announcing that he has created the ‘Extradimensional Wine Co. Yeah!’ label and will carry on the traditions started with Dirty & Rowdy while striving to take it up a notch or two. While absorbing this good news, I cherished this, my last bottle of the MSG and rocked out to its pleasures in the glass with its deep purple/garnet color and heady mix of dark fruits, bright savory stem induced umami crunch and its lush textural quality. These wines always show a seductive raw sex appeal and earthy transparency that find irresistible with this 2019 giving a fantastic performance, equaling the experiences I had with the stunning 2018 version with dense layering of fruit, but with fresh and lively detailing that highlight the vintage’s outstanding quality, especially here on the central coast, with black raspberry, plum, pomegranate and creme de cassis leading the way with hints of lavender, pepper, chalky stones, minty herbs and a touch of welcome funk.

This Dirty & Rowdy label was founded by friends Hardy Wallace and Matt Richardson, and Dirty & Rowdy’s original mission was to create ‘untinkered with wines’ from vineyards all over California, which was certainly accomplished with hard work, humor and a force of will. To quote Dirty & Rowdy’s Hardy Wallace “We don’t make wine by numbers, recipes, or additions, but we aren’t zealots … unless we’re talking about that spicy fried chicken” meaning these wines were made from carefully hand picked grapes, sourced from organic vines and allowed to ferment naturally with old school non interventional methods with indigenous yeasts, foot trodding and lots of whole cluster. Extra attention was paid to picking dates and phonetic ripeness, which in the case of this MSG, really paid off with incredible depth, aromatics and the delightfully low natural alcohol, that come in at a near perfect 13.5%, making for an expressive and thoughtfully balanced wine that still has a serious and powerful impact. Only a few barrels were made of the 2019 ‘MSG’ (Mourvedre, Syrah, and Grenache) that was fermented with 100% whole bunches and then aged in well seasoned or neutral French oak. I must note, I spied on Hardy’s Instagram account he got some amazing Chalone Grenache this year and I cannot wait to see what he does with it and I highly recommend getting on his and wife Kate Graham’s new list at Extradimensional Wine Co. Yeah! Sadly, the drought has affected some of my favorite northern California sites and Wallace confided to me that the Barbera didn’t make it to harvest this year, but he told me he got some awesome old vine Carignane and will do a special bottling, and I’ve all over that! This cool toned MSG, with its rocking Live Monterey County label that reminds me of a Kiss meets Monte Python scene, is a delicious Rhone red, that adds hints kirsch, tartare, dried flowers and anise with air, that is best served with friends and hearty foods. Dirty & Rowdy will be missed, but I’m thrilled to see Hardy’s next adventure, which I am sure will be a massive hit!
($42 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2020 Jolie-Laide, Melon de Bourgogne, Rodnick Vineyard, Chalone AVA, Monterey County.
This 2020 Jolie-Laide Melon de Bourgogne is a bright and vibrant white wine with beautiful tension and mineral charm, it shows a touch of peach, honeydew and green apple to go along with a zesty citrus blast in a refreshing and bone dry lighter framed wine that shows clean and finely focused detailing, making it natural companion to briny sea food dishes. This vintage was crafted with restraint and is less leesy relying on its steely nature to entertain and it does just that with a subtle roundness emerging with time and air in the glass in this ultra pale wine that showed really well in a recent blind Loire Valley varietal tasting and did exceptionally as a pairing with Pico, a soft goat Brie like cheese. The Jolie-Laide Melon adds touches of tangy herb, delicate white flowers, saline infused sea shells and wet stones, giving it a brisk and un-fruity personality, while still confidently pleasing overall and having a good balance. Winemaker Scott Schultz, who has worked for Pax Mahle for many years, is one of the rising stars in California and his Jolie-Laide lineup continues to impress, especially his Halcon Vineyard Syrah, his Trousseau, Cabernet Pfeffer and Gamay blend, the solo Gamay, the Shake Ridge Rhone Blend and this one.

The Melon de Bourgogne or Melon grape is a variety of white grape grown primarily in the Loire Valley region of France and most famously in the Muscadet region, though, while rare It is also found in North America, especially now in Oregon where it started to take off in around 2007, but it has been here in California longer, much longer in fact than we originally knew. Recent DNA testing has shown that plantings here in the Chalone AVA that have been called Pinot Blanc since the 1970s turned out to be Melon! Here in Scott Schultz’s Melon de Bourgogne, the grapes come from the chalky soils of Chalone and the organic Rodnick Vineyard, one of the sites that was used in the classic Chalone Estate wines made by Dick Graff and Phil Woodward. Jolie-Laide’s winemaking is low intervention and natural using whole cluster pressing, cement and neutral wood with some skin contact in the whites, though this one seems less so than other vintages that I’ve tried. Melon, like Picpoul, Vermentino and Albarino is finding a welcoming home in Monterey County, after discovering it had been here quite awhile, and this one, perfect for oysters, is really worth searching out. Jolie-Laide’s new Fall releases are about to drop and I’m excited to see what is coming out, it is a great time to join this mailing list, these wines are incredibly impressive small lot wines, not to be missed.
($26 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2013 Casa Nuestra, Cabernet Franc, Estate Bottled, Napa Valley.
The 2013 Casa Nuestra Cabernet Franc is a beautiful and uniquely Napa version of this grape, as it is neither Loire or Bordeaux like in style, though hints of both of those regions certainly make brief appearances in the background with a touch of earthy bell pepper, chalky mineral and ripe fruit kissed by sweet toasty oak notes. I have been a long time fan of this winery and try to drop by this rustic and friendly site off the Silverado Trail between St. Helena and Calistoga, and I always try to pry loose some of their prized Chenin Blanc, as well as the Cab Franc, the dry Riesling and the St. Helena Tinto field blend. Owner Gene Kirkham, a fan and promoter of civil rights and folk music, was so committed to his Loire Valley varietals and such was the quality, the French honored him with a celebration in Chinon, the classic region known for Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc. Casa Nuestra’s Cabernet Franc, which the winery notes, is one of the longest running single varietal Cabernet Franc programs in the country and is one of Napa’s best kept secrets with a dark purple/crimson color in the glass and a heightened bouquet of florals and baking spices along with a full bodied palate of blackberry, cherry, plum and currant fruits all fitting together nicely with the notes mentioned above echoing on and on along with a touch of dried herbs, cedar, toasted coconut and coco powder. This wine feels excellent and has plenty of structure and depth, while softening with age as it comes into a mature drinking period and will be sublime with seared duck breast and raspberry reduction and or simple meat dishes as well as hard cheeses. The family traditions continue here at Casa Nuestra with Hannah Kirkham, who is the director of guest service and the wine club manager here, keeping everything running smoothly. Casa Nuestra in recent years has attracted the attentions of Tegan Passalacqua, the famous winemaker and vineyard manager at Turley Wine Cellars, who has bought fruit for both Turley, that do a special friend blend bottling and for his own Sandlands label, doing a limited Casa Nuestra dry Chenin!

Casa Nuestra was founded as a winery by Gene Kirkham back in 1979, even though the Kirkham family previously bought a vineyard in Oakville, one of the first hillside plots there in 1956, which was an old style vineyard that was planted to “blacks” or a mix of red grapes, that we a heritage field blend site these days. The Oakville vineyard produced a distinct and singular wine and became an almost cult hit, way back before we had those, it had Charbono, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Pinot Noir, Rofosco, Alicante Bouschet, Napa Gamay (Valdiguie), Negrette and in fact a tiny bit of Gray Riesling, also known as Trousseau Gris and maybe more all mixed through out the vineyard and these grapes were all blended in.These wines went out of fashion in the 1980s and most growers ended up ripping up most of their vines and replanted them to a single varietal, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, or to Chardonnay as well as Merlot, but the Kirkham’s understood the old style field blend was going to be lost here in California if nothing was done to protect them, so he kept them and then in 1994 grafted many of their original vine cuttings to his St. Helena property, where the winery sits to keep this precious heritage going. Casa Nuestra is mostly coveted for their dry Chenin Blanc, dry Riesling and this Cabernet Franc all of which sell out fast to their wine club and direct to consumer program, as none of their wines are available outside of the winery. All the vines the winery uses are organic and farmed to low natural yields to give the truest sense of the terroir and concentration in the grapes, and the winemaking as reflects a kinder and more gentle approach as well. In the winery they take great care in the handling of the grapes and use old traditional methods, like employing small basket presses and special low impact pumps, then they use the best suited oak from both France and America to age the wine, depending on the varietal. If you want to taste Napa’s history and visit a more down to earth old homestead, rather than the modern almost palace like estates, this is a place to discover and I highly recommend getting on their mailing list and club to get the rarities, and this Cab Franc.
($50 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2001 Chateau Tour Grise, Saumur Puy Notre Dame “Les Vigneux” Loire Valley, France.
The absolutely stunning and pure 2001 Les Vigneux, a special cellar direct release from the famous and highly regarded Chateau Tour Grice that has since transitioned into new ownership and are now made under the Domaine L’Austral label, with the former owners Philippe and Françoise Gourdon retiring, but not before crafting some of their best wines and hand picking their successors to continue the traditions here. The deep garnet/red colored Les Vigneux is a beauty in the glass with a surprisingly fresh nose and vibrant palate that shows a bouquet of earthy violets, green spices, chalky stones and wild berry notes before a firmly structured and mineral toned mouthful of blackberry, mulberry, cranberry and dusty cherry fruits with a hint of plum, sandalwood, cedar, bell pepper, flinty spice and saline infused black licorice. This wine perfectly captures its terroir and still has incredible youthful fruit for a twenty year old wine and delivers a sublime Cabernet Franc performance, proving the age worthiness and divine character of this grape. The Les Vigneux is a small single parcel in Saumur that is set on classic Silex limestone soils and is one of the most prized sites in the region and of Tour Grise, which obtained full biodynamic certification back in 1998, this wine clearly shows this fabulous vineyard at its very best and it far exceeded my expectations, I only wish I had bought a lot more!

La Tour Grise estate, which is only a total of 20 Hectares, was one of the first generations of biodynamic converts in the Loire Valley along with the more well known Nicolas Joly and a few others, Philippe Gourdon founded this domaine in 1990 and got biodynamic certified in the following years as noted. These wines are a true reflection of the commitment and passion of these pioneers, with Philippe farming his own single plot in Saumur with hand cared for love and hard work. I have really enjoyed the Chateau Tour Grise and the L’Austral wines in the past, especially the rare Tour Grise Brut sparkler and these single vineyard Cab Francs, as well as their light and juicy Chenin Noir (Pineau d’Aunis). This Cabernet Franc a deep and authentic wine of glorious natural detail and complexity with purity of form and place. The Chateau Tour Grise wines were naturally vinified, with long macerations and indigenous yeasts and aged in the estate’s historic underground troglodyte cellar that was cut from the natural limestone for which the Saumur AOC is famous for and for which gives the Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc grown here their striking characteristics. The new owners, Pauline Mourrain and Laurent Traubat have faithfully made their own wines, as mentioned above under the L’Austral label, and employ many of the same methods that the Gourdon’s used, though in recent years have taken things to the next level, so it will be well worth following this winery that use a combination of cement and used French oak to age these wines. This 2001 Chateau Tour Grise Cab Franc was cellar aged in bottle and was just re-released in a special limited offering from importer, Floraison Selections, and is a steal, especially for Loire enthusiasts and savvy collectors.
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Domaine Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Santenay Premier Cru Rouge, Les Gravieres, Red Burgundy, France.
The super young and fresh PYCM Santenay Rouge Les Gravieres Premier Cru starts with a flash of rectuctive funk, but blows off quickly to reveal a gorgeous dark fruited Pinot Noir that, after fully opening, way out performs for the price point, making for a stellar red Burgundy value from a top performing producer, that while best known for his whites, does a fantastic job with his red grapes. The deep and floral palate will have you thinking this was a Cote de Nuits, maybe a Vosne-Romanee or Morey-St.-Denis with a more blue tone to the fruit and violets on the nose, rather than the Cote de Beaune, but shows just how good things are getting in these parts, especially in St. Aubin and Santenay. As mentioned this 2019 vintage is full of blue fruit and black cherry with tangy currant and purple plum showing up on the racy, tension filled, medium bodied palate that fills out with air adding a silken roundness with time in the glass, giving hints of earth, baking spices, orange tea and a kiss of toast wood, along with the partial whole bunch pop or crunch of wild herbs, cinnamon, pomegranate and a cool mineral tone. Most of the higher end Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey wines are way beyond my budget, but I am a huge fan and have been lucky enough to have tasting with him on a few occasions and have found my sweet spot in his lineup with a few of his under the radar bottlings, which not only can I afford, are absolutely awesome bottles, like this one, along with the whites from Rully and Pernand-Vergelesses that offer tremendous value at the money they fetch. In particular I admire and love the Rully Blanc “Le Cailloux”, that s a wine that could easily be mistaken for a Chassagne-Montrachet, which great as I can not aford his Chassagne anymore!

One of Burgundy’s biggest stars, Pierre-Yves Colin is the eldest son of the famed Chassagne winemaker Marc Colin, has gained international stardom in the last decade or so, especially for his Cote de Buane whites from a fabulous set of vines throughout this southern zone, and is heralded for his incredible and mineral intense Chardonnays. After working as the winemaker at his father’s domaine from 1994 to 2005, he established his own domaine, Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey after he married into the famous Morey family, from plots of vines he inherited from his family. Since that time, he has rapidly become, as it has been widely reported, a star in the Cote de Beaune and is now considered one of Burgundy’s top producers, along with the new generations at Coche, Jobard and Roulot. Now working alongside his wife Caroline, who has begun bottling mostly reds under her own label, Pierre-Yves own reds have seemingly got even better, which I doubt is a just by chance, as Caroline has proven to be very gifted in her own right. The Premier Cru “Gravieres” is on the Chassagne side of Santenay, as the winery notes, directly adjacent to 1er “Clos de Tavannes”, which is generally considered one of the top sites in the village and are 50 plus year old vines set on the classic clay and limestone soils of this rolling hills terroir. Pierre-Yves used 50% whole cluster and 50% de-stemmed berries will all indigenous yeasts, employing a cool and gentle extraction during a lengthy maceration before the wine was aged in 20% new wood. The Les Gravieres saw about a year in the small 228 French oak barrels and then bottled unfined and unfiltered, and like his whites, Pierre-Yves makes his reds in a fashion that rewards some patience, but still can be enjoyed in their vigorous, but polished youth, as this 2019 vintage clearly shows, this brilliant stuff.
($65 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Pax, Chenin Blanc, Buddhas Dharma Vineyard, Mendocino County.
Tasted blind, in a study of Loire varietals against some of the French classics, this 2018 dry and mineral driven Chenin Blanc by Pax Mahle of Pax Wines really showed well and was old world enough to be mistaken for a fine Savennières, impressive stuff and a big step up from the last couple of vintages with crisp detailing and a purity of flavors. The medium bodied palate is nervy with lots of energy from the long cool growing season, but with good complexity and nice fruit density showing vibrant peach, fresh citrus and Asian pear fruits along a touch of clove, tangy herb and honeycomb to go with the steely element, a faint leesy note and wet stones. You can see this wine gaining a fuller and waxy richness in time, though I love the way it is drinking right now, it is in a perfect place and it would be great with a variety of cuisine options, from soft cheeses to oysters on the half shell as well as a nice companion with poultry dishes. Chenin has seen a big time re-emergence in California and there are some fantastic versions available now, after many years in the shadows, with this one along with the likes of Lieu-Dit, Littorai, Jaimee Motely and Sandlands being exceptional wines to explore along with classics by Chappellet, Chalone and cult favorite Casa Nuestra, all worth searching out.

Pax’s Chenin Blanc is sourced from the Buddhas Dharma Vineyard, a vineyard that was planted back in 1944 in the wilds of Mendocino County, just north of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, and is highly regarded for the quality of the fruit. This exceptional site is all dry farmed, grown using holistic principles, virtually organic, without the use of any chemicals, it s located at the base of Enlightenment Mountain set on gravelly volcanic soils. Pax is high on the later releases from this Buddhas Dharma Vineyard site due to a cooler vintages, especially this one, which gave him the opportunity to harvest slightly riper fruit, but with good natural acidity, and it allowed him to take a more Burgundy like approach in the winemaking. The Pax 2018 Buddhas Dharma Chenin was 100% whole cluster pressed and fermented with indigenous yeasts in a combination of neutral French oak as well as a couple of new Stockinger Austrian barrels, which are not as toasty sweet as the French when new. After primary fermentation the Chenin, as the winery notes, naturally went through full malolactic conversion and raised in the same neutral French oak barrels and Stockinger Austrian barrels for 10 months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. This lightly golden white is a great alternative wine, and a change of pace to enjoy in these later Summer days. Pax is just on to the 2019, and from everything I hear it should be pretty close in style and quality, with a similar vintage, in case you can’t find the 2018.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2004 Pascal Cotat, Sancerre “Les Monts Damnés” Loire Valley, France.
One of the most underrated treats in the wine world is finely aged Sauvignon Blanc, like this one from Sancerre legend Pascal Cotat, that comes from one of the top hillside crus in Sancerre and hand crafted to age, those that have had old Dagueneau Pouilly-Fume, fellow top gun Sancerre artist Boulay and or Italians like Jermann and one of my all time favorites, Quarz by Cantina Terlano in the Alto Adige will understand just how good Sauvignon Blanc can be when made right and cellared well at around 20 years old. This 2004 was remarkably fresh, even feeling zesty at 17 plus years old, but with complex secondary evolution adding dimension and tertiary elements to this gorgeous example sounded from 45 plus year old vines, in what maybe the best vineyard site in the region, above the village of Chavignol, set on classic ancient chalky and fossilized limestone, often described as the most singular Sauvignon Blanc and notably these vines are on very steep slopes,Chavignol’s finest with these “terres blanches” soils being very much like those of Chablis with a thin layer of clay. This wine might be long in the tooth, but it showed extremely well against some tough competition and with more youthful fruit density, proving maturity and grace are still appreciated. This wine shows terroir, wears its age proudly and its pedigree is clearly on display here, it was superb with a soft goat brie cheese, holding up even after an hour or so, pure class.

There are a of Cotats in the region, but the two best vignerons are the brothers Francois, who makes his own wines from the older family cellars, and Pascal, who has a cult like following with older vines and the new cellars. In the previous generation their father and uncle ran separate domaines, but made the wines in single lots and just labeled them under their own label, this practice went on from 1947 to the 1990s before the French government decided that was legal and the wines had to be made separately for each domaine name, which how it is done today. This 2004, by Pascal, is light on its feet and vigorous for its age with nice energy behind the more mature profile with orangey citrus, dried peach, paraffin/honeycomb, oyster shell, wet flint, morel and cedar all flowing smoothly in the mouth and lingering with hint of leesy nuttiness. The single cru wines, this one, the Les Mont Damnés and La Grand Cote are native yeast barrel fermented and raised in large very old demi-muids with a little bit sometimes aged in neutral smaller French oak barrels, depending on the vintage and cellar needs. Cotat wines are unique, often not interesting when young, so if you buy one of the cru wines, be patient, there will be rewards for waiting. I’ll be getting a 2019, that is just out now, and pop it in the cellar with tag that reads don’t open until 2028. Thanks to my friend Alex Lallos and studied wine professional for sharing this bottle, that he had hidden away, with a few of us studying Loire varietals, it was a valued look at well aged Sancerre from a great vineyard.
($59 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2011 Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo, Ghemme DOCG, Anno Primo, Alto Piedmonte, Italy.
The Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo “Cantalupo Anno Primo’” Ghemme DOCG is a dark and powerful example of these Nebbiolo based wines of the region and this one really delivers for the price, showing you why these Alto Piedmonte wines are now all the rage with savvy Nebbiolo drinkers with a deep and pure sense of the grape thing through on the ful bodied palate. This Anno Primo crafted from the older and more prized selection of vines is made up of mostly Spanna (Nebbiolo) along with a small percentage of rare other local varietals, notably Vespalina, which helps give a bit of pigment, perfume, spice and an exotic fruit expression without taking away from the classic Nebbiolo charm and character, along with a tiny amount of Uva Rara, an ancient native grape that is almost never done in a single varietal wine. Slightly less tannic and brooding than the more gripping 2010 wines, this 2011 has a bit more supple fruit and feels wonderful in the mouth, but it is no softy and offers plenty of classic underlying muscle with great definition and a sturdy backbone that holds up the beautiful dark red fruits. The profile is evolved with brandied raspberry, damson plum, dried cherries and mulberry leading the way along with subtle earth, spice, mineral and cedar notes, as well as licorice, blood orange, pipe tobacco, delicate rose petals and a hint of herbal amaro. Barolo and Barbaresco fans will be well served to check this winery out and search out this exceptional effort by winemaker Alberto Arlunno and put Cantalupo on their watch lists, in particular this serious and age worthy Anno Primo, and the lighter fresher styled Agamium, Colline Noravesi DOC, a wine that is delicious and a steal at under $20.

Alto Piedmonte, including Ghemme, Gattinara and is one of Italy’s major hot spots for Nebbiolo with well draining rocky soils and old vines, with Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo being one of the new stars in the region. The terroir here was formed in ancient times as the great Monte Rosa glacier receded leaving morainic rock, sand and alluvial deposits, making it a perfect place for high quality Nebbiolo, with the vineyards being rich in quantity minerals, scattered with pebbles. The cooler climate here and long sunny days have seen it become a highly coveted zone for top vignerons, in fact many classic producers in Barolo and other more well known areas have started buying up sites here. Ghemme is planted mostly to Spanna, as noted, the local name for Nebbiolo, with about 80% of the vines dedicated to this noble grape, but it shares space with Vespalina and Uva Rara, lesser known red varietals which also make up a minority of the blends here and they add aromatics, color and a light fruity note to the very structured and complex Nebbiolo. Alberto Arlunno, of Cantalupo, uses stainless tanks to ferment his carefully de-stemmed grapes and he ages mostly in large Slovenian oak casks, in traditional fashion, but also employs a small amount of French though usually reserved for the top Ghemme offerings, like this one, giving some extra luxurious personality to the more concentrated wines. I have enjoyed my limited experience with these Cantalupo wines, and this one certainly leaves an impact, it is beautifully crafted wine with a nice gracefully maturity settling in, it should be rewarding for many years to come as well. The 2011 might be hard to get at this point, but the 2012, another very solid vintage, is still current and easier to find, and I will be getting a few bottles myself!
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2014 Stony Hill, Chardonnay, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley.
The historic Stony Hill Vineyard, founded back in the early 1950s, on Spring Mountain is still one of Napa’s great secrets, largely overlooked, but one of the most prized by collectors and those that enjoy aging their wines and their Cabernet Sauvignon is notably less than other wines in this level of quality and I have been a fan of their dry Riesling for years. That all said, the Stony Hill Chardonnay is not less exciting and age worthy, as I was reminded of at the last Slow Wine tasting, when I got a chance to sample their 2011 and 2014 Chards, with both impressing with depth and intensity from the slightly cooler vintages and the estate’s mineral driven mountain fruit. The 2014 won my heart and palate with a bit more of all of the elements coming together with harmonious complexity and a pleasing textural grace, it shows a steely nature not often found in California, and especially in the warmer Napa Valley, though that is exactly why this wine is a stand out and highlights the great terroir underneath this famous vines. Golden and with the impression of maturity beginning to show the 2014 is still wonderfully vibrant and focused with layers of apple, lemon, nectarine and Asian pear fruits along with hints of white flowers, fig, clove and wet stones that all flow smoothly across the medium/full palate that feels nicely creamy without any heavy hand showing and a retrained use of oak. This is a beauty and should cellar well for the better part of a decade, maybe more and it will be fabulous with various cuisine choices, especially crab and or lobster. Established by the McCrea family, who were big fans of French wines were visionaries and played a big role in inspiring many famous Napa winemakers, built the first Napa Valley post-prohibition winery in 1951, and released their first vintage of Stony Hill with their 1952 vintage almost 70 years ago. Stony Hill, now run by the respected Carlton McCoy, Jr, who will honor the McCrea’s legacy and retain the classic winemaking style of Mike Chelini who made these incredible wines for more than four decades.

Stony Hill, a classic old school label is not resting on its laurels and is looking toward the future, recently announcing the hire of the youthful and talented Jaimee Motely as winemaker, who is excitingly approaching her first harvest here and I am really looking forward to see what she does here, I am confident that she will do fantastic stuff and re-invigorate this winery. Motely, who is known for her work with Chenin Blanc and the rare in California, Savoie grape, Mondeuse, has a natural gift for expressing varietal purity and is highly regarded for her skills in the cellar and her attention to detail, so I am sure she’s put out some special stuff that fulls respects the history of Stony Hill and faithfully follow the style here. Interestingly, Cabernet and Merlot didn’t make an appearance at Stony Hill until 2009, with the McCreas being more interested in the whites, they originally planted Pinot Blanc, Johannisberg Riesling, an old German Rheingau clone and later added Gerwurztraminer and Semillon, as well as Chardonnay. This 2014 Chardonnay was grown on the high elevation parcels that are set on a complex set of mountains soils with volcanic influence along with broken limestone, all of which give this wine its class, structure and vitality that sets it apart and makes it a Napa icon, but with an old world soulful personality. The all organic Stony Hill sits on steep terraces on the slopes of the Mayacamas range, on the western side of the Napa Valley, in the Spring Mountain District AVA , with their vines up at an elevation between 800 and 1550 feet and facing northeast that allows ripening, but also is more moderately cool that gives these wines their balance. The vineyard was established in 1948, between St. Helena and Calistoga, as the winery notes, predates the beautiful and serene Bothe State Park, which surrounds the entire property. It’s a great time to get on the mailing list here at Stony Hill, which is going all biodynamic, looking to get fully Demeter certified, and has some intriguing wines in the works, with new plantings of Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Gamay, Petit Verdot, and a little bit of Chenin Blanc!
($58 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Jean Foillard, Morgon “Cote du Py” Cru Beaujolais, France.
The deep colored and densely fruited 2018 Foillard Cote du Py is an absolute thriller in the glass and is really hitting its stride right now with expressive and exotic ripeness, but with great structure, elegance and clarity of detail, highlighting the vintage and the sublime talents of this superstar winemaker. Foillard is one of greats of the region and his wines rival Premier Cru and Grand Cru Burgundy and this wine is his signature bottling and always is a magical treat to behold, this wine never fails to blow minds and bring joy to the palate and this vintage does not disappoint, especially with its luxuriously opulent mouth feel and incredible length. Coming from vines that range from 10 to 90 years old and set on the granite based soils with schist and veins of manganese this gorgeous Cote du Py shows dark berries, sweet plum, black currant and strawberry fruit on the lush and ripe full bodied palate along with an array of subtle spice, dried herbs, mineral notes and heavenly florals with hints of anise, walnut, a light earthy stoniness and crushed peonies. The acidity is non aggressive, but life giving here, as in a fine Pinot Noir, and the textural grace of the semi-carbonic whole cluster fermentation is divine and satiny. This year’s version, from organic grapes with ultra low SO2 employed as per normal, is as hedonistic as it is serious, with this wines later picking making for a real impact and a heady 14.5% natural alcohol, which is much less obvious than one would imagine with this Gamay’s elegance, this is very special stuff.

Foillard, as mentioned here in prior reviews, was greatly inspired by natural wine guru Jules Chauvet, a traditionalist who led the natural wine movement in the Beaujolais and redefined the wines of the region and who wanted to go back to pre-industrial style organic farming and not use chemical additives in the cellar. Jean and three other local vignerons, Marcel Lapierre, Jean-Paul Thévenet, and Guy Breton joined in on this movement, this became the Gang of Four, a nickname coined by the famed importer Kermit Lynch, who brought these masterpieces of Gamay to America, along with Dutraive and others brought critical acclaim to this region that had been badly maligned for generations. Foillard took over his father’s domaine in 1980, with stellar vineyard holdings mainly in the revered Côte du Py, as Kermit Lynch notes, the famed slope outside the town of Villié-Morgon and the pride of the Morgon cru. These granite and schist soils sit on an alluvial fan at the highest point above the town and impart great complexity on these wines. Jean Foillard, who hand crafts his wines using native yeasts and using traditional 100% whole cluster with a long gentle maceration that usually lasts just over 3 weeks and raises his wines in older barrels, always well seasoned and sourced from top estates in Burgundy, including the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. This elevage of the Cote du Py in the used French barriques is between 6 to 9 months, depending on the vintage and always to preserve energy, transparency and purity, as this fabulous 2018 shows impeccably. There are so many new vignerons making fantastic wines in Beaujolais it is hard to keep up, including a new generation of Foillard, with Jean’s son Alex making his own delicious wines, but this wine is still a legend.
($42 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2017 Theopolis Vineyards, Theo-Patra’s Cuvée Cerise, Red Wine, California.
The extended aged deep purple/garnet 2017 Theo-Patra’s Cuvée Cerise is surprisingly fresh and vibrantly spiced with a smooth full bodied palate of black fruit and showing a delicately perfumed nose making for a wine that was an easy, but serious companion to late meal and cheese plate, while watching the amazing tennis on display in New York for the US Open. This vintage, which was held back in barrel, was made from 50% Petite Sirah, the winery’s signature grape, and the main varietal of their iconic Theopolis terraced vineyard in the Yorkville Highlands, and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, which they sourced from outside their own vines and region, hence the California wine on the label, these Theo-Patra’s Cuvée Cerise bottlings are helping fill out the small collection of hand-crafted wines made by Theodora Lee, which include her awesome estate Petite Sirah, a couple of Pinot Noirs and the rare and unique off dry estate white wine made from the Symphony grape, which is a California crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris that was originally developed back in 1948 by the late Harold Olmo, a noted professor of viticulture at the University of California, Davis. This 2017 flows densely across the palate with blackberries, blueberries, plum and creme de cassis leading the way along with a bright peppery note, subtle florals, mint, sage and anise, as well as a touch of fig, cedar and coco powder. Theodora, who’s fast becoming part of the fabric of the new California wine scene and a modern champion of the Petite Sirah grape, had told me this was a wine I didn’t want to miss, and she was right, I was very impressed with this special edition of her namesake Theo-Patra’s Cuvée, of which only 132 cases were made.

As mentioned and reviewed many times here at Grapelive, the Theopolis Vineyards Estate Petite Sirah is one of the best new versions of this grape in the state, grown in Mendocino County’s Yorkville Highlands. Petite Sirah or Petite Syrah is also known as Durif and originally comes from an accidental crossing of Peloursin and Syrah vines in the southwest of France. Named after the French botanist Francois Durif, who’s nursery is where this happened, the grape saw little success or admiration in its home country, but it has found a welcome home here in California, where it makes a dense and inky wine with incredible aging potential and is great in a blend or as a solo varietal wine. A long and conclusive of DNA study confirmed the grape’s history with a fingerprinting happening at the UC Davis in 1997, that identified Syrah as the source of the pollen that originally crossed with the Peloursin flowers, creating this separate varietal. The grape’s high natural resistance to downy mildew had encouraged its cultivation in the early 20th century in the southern part of France, but as stated, it never really took off there, in fact it extremely hard to find in France, while it has gained more excitement in places like Australia, Israel, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Mexico, as well as here in California. For the Theopolis Theo-Patra’s Cuvée Cerise the Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon were fermented in separate small lots with hand punch downs and saw a full extraction of color and tannin before being blended and barrel aged a full 48 months before bottling to mature this ripe and powerful wine. Theodora, along with Ed Kurtzman, her winemaking consultant, who is famous for his efforts with Roar and Freeman, decide to use neutral French oak here as to not over toast this tasty wine, which proved an excellent choice and this wine is the better for it, allowing some rustic charm to shine through. Best to enjoy this expressive effort that lingers on with an aftertaste that adds sandalwood, kirsch and dried violets, with robust cuisine and while really delicious now, it should continue to improve over the next two to three years
($36 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2017 La Ca’ Növa, Barbaresco DOCG “Montestefano” Piedmonte, Italy.
Absolutely one of the best deals out there, the Cru Montestefano Barbaresco by La Ca’ Növa is a wonderfully expressive, deeply fruited and silky Nebbiolo to enjoy in the near term, it is a wine of pleasure and class with sense of place and transparent purity of form. The dark ruby/garnet color with hint of electric brick on the edges is unmistakably Nebbiolo and is inviting as is the seductive nose of wilted roses, crushed red berries, kirsch and mountain herbs leads to a full bodied and textural palate that highlights the ripe and concentrated vintage, but don’t be fooled, there is a serious feline muscular structure underneath here that reminds you that this is something extraordinary and non to common of a thrill to behold. With velvety tannins holding up a classic array of flavors, this Montestefano impresses from start to finish with seamless layers of black cherry, damson plum, reduced strawberries, earthy forest floor, a hint of cedar, minty licorice, liquid flowers and chalky stones that seem to echo on and on. This is fabulous stuff from a top and sometimes underrated vineyard site, certainly this Barbaresco is flying under the radar and savvy Barolo and Barbaresco drinkers will want to track this beauty down, it is sensuous Nebbiolo that is raw and sultry without pretense. This is a wine that will transport you directly to the ancient hills of Piedmonte and makes you dream of Alba truffles and long meals with friends and or family.

Marco Rocca’s La Ca’ Növa winery is located just outside of the historic village of Barbaresco and is a small winery that produces traditional styled wines that way over deliver for the price, especially Rocca’s basic Barbaresco and this masterpiece from the famed Montestefano cru. Marco’s main passion is his Nebbiolo parcels and his trio of Barbaresco wines, but as the winery notes, Marco also does Dolcetto and Barbera, which I will now search out, because if his Cru Montestefano is this good and is this insanely low priced, they must be fantastic values. The winery has prized holdings in the Montefico and Montestefano crus, as well as nice sites within the Barbaresco DOCG zone from which they make the set of Barbarescos, plus Marco does a entry level Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, another wine I think needs investigating. Rocca is old school and shy by nature, he is not into modern technology and his wines are made in rustic fashion but with extreme care and love. He does his fermentation(s) without temperature control or with stainless tanks, he only employs indigenous yeasts and everything is done by hand using open barrels, as was done in older and simpler times. The maceration, interestingly is done with a large wooden spoon, which Marco uses to stir the musts, which he notes, is very difficult and time consuming work, but it worth it, as it helps extract a much richer color as well as more polyphenols. If you’ve not had La Ca’ Növa, this is a great time to explore their wines, this must be one of the best kept secrets I’ve run across in the last few years!
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2020 Domaine de La Begude, Bandol Rosé, Provence, France.
The brightly colored and fruit forward Domaine de La Begude Bandol Rosé is a classic styled and dry version made from mostly Mourvedre, with a little bit of Grenache and Cinsault showing ripe fruitiness, but with good structure, zesty acidity and a bit lower natural alcohol than most modern Bandols making it nicely refreshing and food friendly. I’d not had or remember having this certified sustainable Domaine previously and I was impressed with the performance here with its transparent layering of ruby grapefruit, plum water, tart cherry, watermelon and strawberry fruits, a fine mineral detail, a steel coil of energy and a mix of florals, dried herbs and wet stones. The Domaine de La Begude grows its vines on a forested plot near the Mediterranean sea with beautiful south facing terraced vineyards with an average vine age of close to 25 years and planted to mainly Mourvedre, but with Grenache, Cinsault, Clairette, Rolle and Ugni Blanc as well. The wines here are notably done in a more modern clean style and have retrained natural alcohols for ease of use and to go great with the region’s inspiring cuisine. The vines, it should be noted, set on clay and limestone of the Maures Mountains are all certified organic and have been since 2006.

Pretty new on the Provence wine scene, Domaine de La Bégude was founded in 1996 by the Tari family, who are an old wine producing family with a historic pedigree in Bordeaux where they own the famous third growth, Château Giscours, in Margaux. Begude is run by Guillaume and his wife Soledad, who have really made Bandol their passion and home, not only is Guillaume ithe winemaker for the estate, he also serves as the president of the prestigious Bandol AOC. The Domaine le La Begude is based in an ancient Merovingian chapel that dates back to the 7th century and the “Conil” seigneury, where a thriving village once sat, but no longer exists. From here Guillaume hand crafts his Bandol wines, he does mostly his Bandol Rouge bottlings, though he also does a crisp Clairette Blanche, Ugni Blanc and Rolle (Vermentino) white as well as a couple of Rosé efforts, with this being his classic version. The Rosé sees a bit extra skin maceration with string to achieve its glowing vivid hue and was aged a full 18 months in neutral French oak casks to add depth and a round mouth feel, while still having plenty of zippy detail. I love that this Bandol Rosé is just about 12.%, instead of the more common 14 plus you see now, and while not on the level of the stars in the region yet, it offers a fabulous value and has a terroir driven and lovable charm.
($35 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Camus-Bruchon, Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru “Aux Gravains” Red Burgundy, France.
Guillaume Camus, who has now taken the helm from his dad Lucien, is one of the rising stars in the Côte de Beaune, and is making outstanding and elegant wines from vineyard holdings in in the Cote de Beaune, with many parcels in Premier Cru sites, especially in the Savigny-Les-Beaune, where this gorgeous Aux Gravains comes from, as well as nice pieces of Pommard and in the Beaune zone. The Camus-Bruchon vines are solidly mature and old, averaging at least 35 years, though as noted by importer Beaune Imports, they have some fabulous 95 year old vines too, like in their plot in the Grands Liards vineyard. This 2018 vintage Premier Cru Aux Gravains is an absolute gem of a red Burgundy with exceptional purity and a beautiful dark garnet/ruby color in the glass with supple/smooth layers of black cherry, plum, red currant and Moro orange fruits, a fine chalky tannin, refined natural acidity, mineral notes along with a touch of rose petal, Asian spices, black tea and a subtle wood frame in this wonderfully pleasing medium bodied wine. The Camus-Bruchon Burgundies, which I have been following and buying for many years have been superb dating back many vintages and remain savvy buys for the Burgundy enthusiast, they offer great terroir driven flavors and character at an insanely good price and they age fantastically well as I have found at trade tastings, when I have experienced 20 to 30 old bottles that showed almost no signs of their age. I took a uncharacteristic gap in reviewing these wines, which isa shame, as they taste even better than I remember, with the 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 being excellent, as I noted, but this 2018 is looking like a step up. All the vineyard sites farmed by the Camus family are dome using sustainable methods and with great respect for the lands and to promote healthy soils, these wines really showcase each site’s distinct micro climates and are really respectful of history of this region.

Like his father, Guillaume, of Domaine Camus-Bruchon, has a light touch and very much a winemaker that makes his wines in the vineyard, rather than in the cellar, everything he does is to showcase each vineyard site and produce transparent wines. He uses approximately 15% new oak in any given year, including in his top Premier Cru bottlings like this one, preferring to follow the Domaine’s tradition of crafting raw, balanced and graceful Pinots. The Camus-Bruchon wines see an extended maceration to fully extract the terroir and structure with about 18 days in total for the period of fermentation. The wines are all done with indigenous yeasts in old school concrete vats before being racked of to the French oak for over a year and then they are bottled unfined and unfiltered to capture every nuance and the full sense of place. The older Camus-Bruchon wines might have been a bit more chewy and meaty, a touch more rustic, but there is a long lineage of continuous quality and highlight the classic clay and limestone soils, these Burgundies are fine examples of wines grown in the vineyard, and as Guillaume says, he firmly believes that one can only make wine as good as the grapes that you grow and it is clear he spends much more time with his vines that he does in the cellar, as it should be, especially when you have the parcels at your disposal like he does. The Camus-Bruchon Savigny-Lès-Beaune 1er Crus are stunning values and this Aux Gravains is one to stock up on, but be sure to also keep an eye out for the Lieu-Dit, non Premier Cru, Aux Grands Liards Vieilles Vignes (old vine), it maybe one of the best Pinots for the price in all of Burgundy. Others to look for in this stellar collection are the Savigny-Lès-Beaune Les Narbantons 1er Cru, which has been a long time favorite of mine, it is more dark fruited, complex and deep with lots of inner power and a heavenly perfumed nose, and the rare Clos des Arvelets Premier Cru from the legendary Pommard zone. Enjoy this 2018 Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru “Aux Gravains” now, particularly with robust cuisine, or put some bottles away and be gloriously rewarded with patience, no doubt this wine will be excellent in 15 years too.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2020 James Rahn, Skin Contact Pinot Gris, Weber Vineyard, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Another one in my group, of my study of Pinot Gris, that highlight the past and future of this grape, is the James Rahn Weber Vineyard Willamette Valley skin contact Pinot Gris with its bright reddish/organge pink color, with a hint of cloudiness and slightly savory/smoky profile with a fleshy medium bodied palate and smooth texture, making it an interesting Northeast Italy (Friuli Venezia Giulia) inspired version. I have a feeling this vineyard might have been effected by some smoke from the fires that raged through the Pacific Northwest as I maybe just feel a touch of ashy influence, but with the minimum amount of skin contact it doesn’t really intrude on the mostly pleasing freshness and fruit detail here, though it would be best to enjoy this wine in the immediate future and not to wait to get the best of the pretty layering that it now shows. There is plenty to like here with a mix of fruit and stony notes with red apples, grilled citrus, melon and earthy strawberry along with a hint of leathery and woodsy truffle, minty herbs and delicate baking spices. This dusty dry wine is best served with pungent foods, I can see it going well with everything from briny raw oysters to feta cheese salads and even sea urchin. Oregon is a hot bed for new and exciting wines and has led to a whole new wave in whites, including an array of Pinot Gris styles from the classic Eyrie version to Cameron’s Ramato (cooper colored) example to various shades of skin contact, with the new label from Fair Moon Wines, the Sunshine Effect Skin Contact Pinot Gris being another really nice savory style, like this Rahn Weber edition, all showcasing the full range of what this grape can do.

In recent years, James Rahn has become a highly sought out label, producing highly individual and unique wines with a focus on Pinot Noir, but with some beautifully hand crafted bottlings of cool rarities like Mondeuse, the famous Savoie red grape, Trousseau, the lighter hued Jura grape that has become an underground success story in both Oregon and California, Gruner Veltliner, the classic Austrian white grape and Pinot Meunier, the other Champagne red grape that has shown huge potential here in the Willamette Valley along with Gamay, the classic Beaujolais grape that is thriving and getting almost as desirable as Pinot Noir these days, being a fast seller in lineups like Rahn’s and last but not least a dry intense Riesling, which is how I discovered Rahn. The Pinot Gris, made more like a red wine with a skin maceration, is sourced from the sustainably grown Weber Vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA on a combination of soils with mainly Jory, red volcanic and marine sedimentary influences here. The Weber Vineyards, which are quite mature vines that were planted between 1975-1988 the Weber’s property includes a total of thirty five acres, with old vine Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and even some Gewurtzraminer grapes, as well as the small parcel of Pinot Gris. Rahn notes that, over the years the Weber Vineyard grapes were sold to some famous names, such as Erath Winery, John Paul at Cameron, Rex Hill and Arterberry Winery to name a few. The Rahn Pinot Gris saw a ripe pick, but finished at 12.3% natural alcohol, retaining good energy with fresh acidity and was aged in neutral French oak barrels, to promote purity, going through full malos and bottled unfined and unfiltered after a few months in the wood, this vintage is slightly lighter than in the past, with the 2018 being much darker, made in the Gris Rouge style, by comparison. There is a lot to get excited about in Rahn’s collection and I highly recommend checking these cool wines out!
($25 Est.) 87 Points, grapelive

2020 The Language of Yes, Le Cerisier, Rosé of Tibouren and Cinsault, Central Coast.
The Language of Yes wines are a collaboration between Randall Grahm, post Bonny Doon Vineyard, and Gallo, the massive family wine company, exploring some of the unique sites and varietals in the Central Coast of California, which at first seems like an unlikely coupling, but it offers both great benefits and the first release from this partnership is this fabulous Le Cerisier dry pink wine that is a uniquely wonderful take on old school Provence Rosé. The genius and creative mind of Grahm is exploited to its full potential here with grape choices and labeling and Gallo’s resources, facilities and vineyards have paid off in this wine no question. At first crisp and mineral driven with a subtle fruit element, this The Language of Yes Rosé turns on the charm and adds a sensational textural quality that is surprisingly vinous and luxurious that gives this wine a presence, elegance and complexity that will remind you of maybe, the most famous Tibouren based wine, Clos Cibonne, which is high praise, as that wine regularly gets called the greatest dry Rosé in the world. This seductive Rosé has a slightly orange, pale pinkish hue and round medium bodied palate of racy citrus with blood orange and ruby grapefruit, peach flesh, sour cherry, watermelon and rosewater with that supple opulence of lees and a delicate caramel note. There is a fine cut of natural acidity and tart and tangy juiciness, like sour cherry and strawberry, brought into focus with the good dose of Cinsault in this vintage, making for a well judged and balanced effort that also allows this wine to be a refreshing sipper, though honestly this wine is made for serious meals and pairs excellent with a range of cuisine, though I would suggest sea food stews, steamed mussels in spicy broth and or with a selection of farm cheeses.

Tibouren, also known as Rossese di Dolceacqua in Italy, is a rare ancient varietal that is found primarily in the Cotes de Provence wines, where it is mostly used in the Rosé, like those of the mentioned Clos Cibonne and the Roux family that are credited with restoring its fame and make the most highly regarded version. Randalll Grahm is leading the charge in California to get more plantings of this grape and this 2020 Le Cerisier Rosé might be the first Tibouren based version in the state, at least it is the first I’ve seen and he has his blocks planted at his Popelochum Vineyard in San Juan Bautista, where he is doing an exciting grape breeding program. Tibouren, which is earthy and very light in pigment is, as mentioned, most common in the Provence wine region, though, as French ampelographer Pierre Galet suggests, the grape possibly could be from the Greeks, but also notes that the origins might actually be Middle Eastern. His studies seem to point to he uniquely shaped leaves of the Tibouren vine, that includes some deeply incised lobes that are usually seen in the Vitis selection of grape vines in the Middle East. Galet also explains that over hundreds of years the evolution of Tibouren it is likely that its ancestor vines were brought to Greece originally and then later introduced to France by the Ancient Greeks at their settlement in Marseille, which seems pretty easy to believe, though some think that Tibouren arrived much later in the 1800s as there is very little documentation to prove otherwise. Grahm believes Tibouren (Rossese) will play a big part in California’s wine future, and if the wines made from it are anything like this one, it would be hard to argue against that. Look for more offers coming from The Language of Yes wines this fall, including a pure Grenache, which I am excited to try!
($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Les 3 Lodges by Ludovic Laur, Cahors “Le Clos” Malbec, Southwest, France.
Ludovic Laur’s Les 3 Lodges 100% Malbec Le Clos from Cahors is a pure and dark purple/garnet wine that has a fine tannic structure, nice natural acidity and a medium/full palate of juicy blue fruits, it is clean, fresh and well made stuff and a bargain for the price. I was gifted this bottle to try, as the vineyard in Cahors is looking to import a line of wines to the United States and wanted some feedback, and my first impression is that, this is a perfectly enjoyable Malbec with layers of blueberry, cherry and vine picked berries along with a hint of mineral, violets, cedar, anise and brambly spices, making it a highly drinkable version that would be a super value as a bistro wine, not overly complex or too serious, but you couldn’t ask too much more in this price class. This wine might struggle to set itself apart on the shelves of a big wine store, though I would not hesitate choosing it for parties, picnics and a or having a glass with a burger or simple foods. I really enjoyed this single Lieu-Dit Le Clos Malbec with a big plate of rustic and Calabrian pepper spiced pasta, as it easily coped with the intensity of flavors and the heat of the dish, which was impressive for dry and tannic wine. The Laur’s are driven to honor their land and grow their grapes with sustainable farming practices to produce wines that show terroir character, ripe supple textures and energy, while in the cellar they employ a more modern approach to craft their Malbecs to deliver transparency and a clean or polished style to be appealing to a wider audience without losing a sense of place.

The Laur family has been in Cahors and is a historic wine growing clan in the region which dates back to 1881 and currently Patrick, Ludovic and Cédric Laur manage their 46 hectares of vines on the Floressas hills with a primary mission to farm Malbec, with Ludovic doing his own set of wines separately, like this one. The family’s bottlings are more traditionally labeled and include three Cahors Rouge, using just the Malbec grape, as well as doing a Malbec Rosé and Viognier, plus they do acouple of sparkling wines as well, while Ludovic’s line includes this Le Clos Malbec, a very simple Chardonnay and his own Malbec Rosé, which is crisply dry and refreshing. Cahors, which is seen as a remote and rustic country wine region in the Southwest of France, acually has highly entertaining and serious wine history, the area dates back to Celtic times when it was known as Divona, but really became famous in Roman times, in fact in was one of the most import wine producing prizes of their empire, suppling their armies with dark powerful black wines. Little known too, is that it was the shipping of these Cahors wines, that made Bordeaux a thriving port and have have been instrumental in giving the locals there the idea of commercial wine production, cutting out the long distance hauling of barrels overland to Bordeaux. Before Argentina’s rise and use of Malbec, Cahors was synonyms with this grape and the region has seen a remarkable rise in quality in recent times and the region’s fame is re-gaining its luster and pride. While not seriously imported, the Les 3 Lodges by Ludovic Laur is widely available throughout Europe and has a good reputation for quality, which this 2018 Malbec confidently displays, it also gives me a thirst for more Cahors.
($10 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive Reviews – August, 2021

2009 Domaine la Monardiere, Vacqueyras Rouge, Les 2 Monardes, Cotes du Rhone Villages, Rhone Valley, France.
The ripe 2009 Les 2 Mondares Vacqueyras by Domaine la Mondariere shows dense fruit and loads of savory elements with a sense of maturity really making its presence felt with hints of truffle, dried flowers and sous bois or bouillon cube notes coming through on the warm mouth filling palate with boysenberry, plum sauce, stewed cherries and creme de cassis along with chalky stone, a meaty/iron element, tarry licorice, garrigue and leathery notes. The Les 2 Monardes was crafted from 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah that was sourced from vines of an average age of 40 years, on this special Lieu-Dit that is planted on the region’s classic limestone and sandy clay soils in Vacqueyras, which is a bit higher in elevation and on cooler hillsides that see a bit more breezy conditions and chilly nights, helping provide welcome relief from the hot Summer days in the Southern Rhone, adding to the balanced quality in these wines. This dark garnet red 2009, a pretty warm year, shows its age and ripeness, but still delivers a very nice performance and while fruity, still has a rustic character that is best enjoyed with hearty foods, especially grilled meats and or hard cheeses. Martine and Christian Vache at Domaine la Monardiere are putting out some soulful stuff, and the wine are solid values too.

The Vache family bought this estate from the Monardieres back in 1987 and, as noted in my prior reviews, began their journey into becoming a top producer in the Vacqueyras AOC, this is the result of a lot of hard work in the cellar as well as an investment in the vines, converting to organic farming and committing to smaller yields and quality, all of which has paid off with their wines, including this bottling. As noted before, the Grenache and Syrah grapes are all hand-harvested, carefully sorted in the vineyard to maximize concentration and intensity. This wine saw 100% de-stemmed grape berries that were fermented using spontaneous yeasts, with a lengthy maceration and extraction period that lasted close to three weeks with gentle daily punch-downs. The Vache’s traditional approach included them aging their Vacqueyras single cru for 12 months in a combination of tank and neutral cask, with some Grenache lots in smaller barrels to add richness and soften tannins and bottled unfined and unfiltered. The Monardiere lineup now includes a Vacqueyras Rosé, an Old Vine Vacqueyras (Vieilles Vignes) and this single vineyard style Les 2 Monardes, which has become a go to wine for me in recent years, and I can’t wait to get some of the latest releases, though it has been cool to explore some of these nicely cellared bottles, which have been showing up. I am excited to see what this Domaine does for the 2018 and 2019 vintages, which look like superb vintages in the Southern Rhone, keep an eye out for them.
($35 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2016 Eyrie Vineyards, Pinot Gris, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Tasting a little like a Riesling, the Eyrie Dundee Hills Pinot Gris has a hint of tropical fruit, flinty wet stones, green apple and dried apricots along with subtle earthy notes, orange citrus and white flowers, it is just starting to get a creamy mouth feel, but still has a vein of tangy zest, making it a nicely complex example of Oregon Gris. It’s well documented that David Lett, founder and winemaker at the famous Eyrie Vineyards, which started back in the mid sixties, helped pioneer Pinot Noir here in the Willamette Valley and is one of the heros of Oregon’s recognition in premium wines and ushered in the golden age of Pinot Noir in America, though it is lesser known that he also was a huge fan and maker of Oregon Pinot Gris, making it one of the wines that defined Oregon wine for decades, especially on the white side of things, and Eyrie still makes one of the standard bearer examples, like this beauty from the 2016 vintage. David’s son Jason Lett continued to produce outstanding wines here at Eyrie, which are hand crafted using traditional techniques, like native yeast fermentations in reds, skin contact on whites, and full natural malolactic to promote, as Lett notes, the most complex expression of their varieties. These old school wines receive minimal racking, extended lees contact, complete and spontaneous malolactic fermentation, with no fining, and minimal filtration, all to capture purity and influence of the year and terroir. For this Pinot Gris, which is all from organic Dundee vines, Eyrie fermented and aged it in 100% stainless with the wine resting on the lees for 11 months and finished at around 13% natural alcohol, which helps explain the wines exotic flavors and beautiful texture.

In the cellar, Eyrie likes to do extended lees contact on their wines, with both red and white wines, which are allowed to fully develop before bottling and, as they explain, for example, their Pinot Gris ages, as mentioned above, for a full 11 months before bottling, or about 3 times as long as a typical Oregon Pinot Gris, though we are seeing a modern revolution in styles here in Oregon with many unique bottlings coming in recent years taking advantage of the skin contact excitement in the market place. Interesting, back in 1974, Eyrie Founder David Lett observed a new strain of malolactic bacteria in their wines, which had happened naturally in the cellar, that allowed them to undergo malolactic at lower temperatures and higher degrees of acidity than any commercial strain available at that time. This natural resident of Eyrie’s cellar continues to contribute to every wine they produce, including this Pinot Gris and their delicious Pinot Blanc, as well as the Chards. The Lett’s believe that these full and natural fermentation(s) (primary and secondary) gives their wines a remarkable stability and balance as well as allows them to age exceptionally well, this they say, just cannot be achieved any other way. They love to use whole cluster fermentation, depending on the vintage, and even do it on the Pinot Gris to make a full skin fermented Rosé version. Even with the nice bit of age on this 2016, there is lots of energy and natural acidity that keeps things fresh here, while the maturity adds depth and makes it more rounded, it is a serious food wine, much in the mold of a good Alsatian Pinot Gris, very impressive stuff. I am glad I got a chance to try this Pinot Gris has it enters its prime and it reminds me I need to pay attention to Eyrie again and restores my faith in the grape, which is making a serious come back!
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2017 Domaine du Gour de Chaulé, Gigondas AOC, Cuvée Tradition, Rhone Valley, France.
The ripe and dense 2017 cuvee Tradition Gigondas by Gour de Chaulé flows smoothly across the full bodied palate with deep layers of black raspberry, plum, pomegranate and creme de cassis fruit along with sweet dark flowers, snappy herbs, a light sense of spice and a subtle earthiness, adding dried lavender, warm stones, a touch of cedar and pepper. This is an impressive and serious Grenache based wine that way over delivers for the price, this is a wine that could easily pass for a top notch Chateauneuf, and it should get better for the next 3 to 5 years in bottle and last 15 more years, pretty solid for such a warm vintage and while there is plenty of stuffing here, I’d say with the way it drinks, you would be well served to enjoy it sooner v. later. This years version, of the Cuvée Tradition, was crafted from 80% Grenache Noir, 10% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre, all done with native yeasts and using full whole clusters and then aged for close to 18 months in large neutral French oak foudres. These Gigondas wines by Domaine du Gour de Chaulé are old school, natural and rustic versions in most years and there usually is a rawness that is highly compelling with leather notes and some rough tannin and power, but the 2015, 2016 and really ripe 2017 editions are big and opulent wines that show a more seamless and smooth personality, easy to love in their youth, especially this one.

The modern times at Domaine du Gour de Chaulé has been all about women that have heroically brought fame to this property in the shadow of the Dentelles de Montmirail where they have farmed small yielding vines in Gigondas with their estate being mainly planted to Grenache, with a few small parcels of Syrah and Mourvedre for blending in their main wines, plus a small plot of Cinsault for use in their unique Gigondas Rosé, a wine that is almost never seen on the shelves, as it sells out fast. The original estate dates back to 1871, but the Domaine du Gour de Chaulé, as it is known now was founded in 1900 by Eugene Bonfils, current matriarch Stéphanie Fumoso’s great grandfather, with her daughter, Aline, being the one that significantly developed and modernized the estate back in 1985 and converted the estate to all sustainable farming, bringing the quality levels up and gaining world wide attention for the wines. This terroir, which has been a prized area since Roman times, at Gigondas’ higher elevation gets a bit more cooling influence and the rocky clay and marl soils bring out the best in Grenache, with incredible depth and complexity, and Syrah is more common here than down in the sandy lower regions of the Southern Rhone Valley. This is label to search out, imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant, and I highly recommend grabbing any vintage you see!
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2020 G.D. Vajra, Langhe Nebbiolo DOC “Claré J.C.” Piedmonte, Italy.
The new release of Vajra’s unique Claré J.C. Langhe Nebbiolo is bright ruby in the glass and zesty on the lighter framed spicy palate with a spritz of effervescence and racy ripe red fruits that give pure Nebbiolo flavors, but without the usual gripping tannins, making for a distinctly fresh and quaffable wine to be enjoyed with a slight chill and with non pretense meals. This wine picks up the floral nature of the Nebbiolo with seeped rose petal aromatics and a crisply dry, but fruity array of red berries, pomegranate, grilled orange, tart cherry and garden strawberries along with dried herbs, Asian spices and star anise. This wine recalls an almost forgotten era and style of local Nebbiolo that dates back to the 1600s with a short maceration period and bottled quickly capturing the natural CO2, similar to what we see in Spain’s basque Txakolinas. Giuseppe Vajra’s one of the region’s most outstanding talents and his latest collection offers quality throughout the range from the serious and cellar worthy cru Barolo bottlings to the more ready to go wines like this one, and I can almost never not mention his thrilling dry Riesling, one of my absolute favorites.

The ever innovative Vajra family, who pioneered organic farming in Barolo in the early 1970s and who invested in high elevation parcels, knowing that they would be greatly beneficial with the ever warming climate, painstakingly researched the historical recipe for this old style Nebbiolo, finding the winemaking protocol that follows the 1606 writings of G.B. Croce, jeweler of the House of Savoia, who chronicled this delicacy and who noted that the wines were bottled soon after the fermentation so as to retain a gentle off-dry finish, with a zippy spritz and a lovely energy. This 2020 vintage, which was one of the longest in recent times and helped add vigorous natural acidity while providing ripe density, was done with about 18% of the grapes, which came from younger vines within the Langhe DOC, fermented in whole clusters with the rest being de-stemmed berries, all in tank. Then, as the winery notes, after the noted shorter maceration, the wine was then racked to finish fermentation off the skins, for a gentler extraction and was bottled in February following harvest. This wine, which I really chilled down on a warm evening went beautifully with a spicy pasta rigatoni with Calabrian peppers, and I highly recommend it for the contented smiles it provokes.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2015 Domaine Anthony Thévenet, Morgon, Vielles Vignes, Cru Beaujolais, France.
The 2015 Domaine Anthony Thévenet Morgon “Vieilles Vignes” is a generous and smooth drinking Cru Beaujolais with pure Gamay juiciness that provides endless enjoyment and is an exceptional value for what it get in the glass or bottle, which includes grapes sourced from all organic vines that were planted between1865 and1935 and set on the classic sandy soils with schist and blue granite of upper elevation Morgon, one of the region’s best crus. Fermented and aged naturally in mainly concrete with partial carbonic and bottled without additions, except for a small dose sulfur and or finning or filtering, the Anthony Thévenet is all about tradition and purity showing layers of black raspberry, plum and cherry fruits to start along with hints of walnut, stony mineral, truffle and anise. Uniquely in the cellar to keep the texture silky, Anthony doesn’t do punch-downs or pump-overs and the wine is moved only with gentle gravity flow. Interesting, Anthony Thévenet is not related to the famous Thévenets in the region, Jean-Paul, who is one of the most famous producers in Morgon and Fleurie history, and his son Charly, that is now making the wines, are not related, which would seem weird, but then you find out that Thévenet is actually an extremely common last name around these parts. That said, this was my first experience with Anthony’s wines and I was happily impressed with the nature of this wine and found it completely charming. Served to me at cellar temperature, this old vine Morgon gained a lovely strawberry note and the aromatic really perked up while it opened in the glass

Anthony Thévenet, who has put time in with some legendary winemakers, honing his own skills, is part of the new generation of vignerons in Cru Beaujolais that are driven by passion and driven by the love of place and history, making wines that are true to traditions and with a respect for the land. Mostly, including Thévenet are devotees of Jules Chauvet, who almost single handedly turned the region around by pursuing organic and natural style wines, rejecting industrial farming and mass production, his influence is still felt today in the wines here, as well as In the wines from his mentors, as well as local heros such as Lapierre, Dutraive, the Bretons and the other namesake Thévenets. In 2010, Thévenet inherited his grandfather’s vineyard in Villié-Morgon, with awesome old vine parcels that are 40-150 years old. Anthony worked for the legendary Jean Foillard, along with George Descombes in the vineyard and in the cellars. He released his first vintage in 2013, which he handcrafts in the vin naturel style, after working closely with Decombes and Foillard gave him time to fine tune his own wines. Thévenet works and lives among his vines with animals, so it is important that the environment is healthy and he has, as his importer T. Edwards says, a steadfast devotion to his vines and the terroir with a huge respect for those that came before him. The vineyards are all farmed organically with no chemicals and no pesticides all by hand and sorting is done directly in the vineyard. The wines see a mix of old wood and concrete tank, and get 10 to 25 days of carbonic maceration and rest in the cement for 8 months. I am now excited to try the more current vintages, especially the 2019 and the upcoming 2020s.
($28 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2016 Tribute to Grace, Grenache, Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, Santa Barbara County.
The 2016 Tribute to Grace Grenache from the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard is a deeply flavored and dark wine, much more opulent and dense than I expected, it is serous stuff that will remind people of big modern era Chateauneufs with ripe layering of fruits and its impressive mouth feel. Winemaker Angela Osborne, the Kiwi transplant, is making some of the state’s most sought after and desirable Grenache wines, each with individual characteristics from the different vineyards she uses, with this one being one of the biggest and most impactful in the collection and this dark garnet colored 2016 is ripe full-bodied vintage to enjoy over the next 3 to 5 years. The nose is fruity and subtlety floral with some underlying spice and earth all of which echos on the palate and on the aftertaste with a mouth full of red berries, plum sauce, kirsch, fig paste and mocha along with faint traces of cinnamon, pepper and anise. This wine is very evolved and the tannins and acidity are luxurious integrated. making for a lush and smooth expression of Grenache, it’s a wine that is really best with robust cuisine, I can see it going incredibly well with prime rib, lamb kabobs and or a hearty beef strew, and for those that don’t eat meat, best to pair this with hard sheep’s cheeses, mushroom casserole or veggie lasagna. Osborne, as I have mentioned, has made quite a name for herself and is now part of the fabric of this new generation of talent in California that are taking our wines to the next level.

Angela Osborne, the New Zealand born winemaker who moved to California in 2006 to pursue her love of Grenache, first made this wine in 2007, sourcing her first California Grenache from this Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, which is, as she notes, nestled high above the Pacific Ocean and close to 33 miles inland, this high-desert vineyard site provides, in her words, the perfect balance of heat and light for thrilling quality grapes. Osborne named her label after her grandmother Grace, who she says gave her her so much and who she will always pay tribute to through her wines, which she also hopes will show a sense of grace as well, something I think she has done well in her first dozen or so vintages. The Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard is farmed sustainably and planted, as Osborne notes, according to particular site-specificity and set on exposed rock and deep sandy soils, it is a warm terroir that is not unlike Chateauneuf du Pape or the Mediterranean region of Spain and France, particularly good for Grenache, which makes up only a tiny percentage of what is grown here with five different Grenache clones in a small block that Angela gets. For those looking for exceptional new world Grenache, Tribute to Grace should be on your radar, these are hard to find wines, but well worth the chase, and don’t miss Osborne’s Rosé if you see it, a bit easier to find are the Folded Hills label, which I tasted at the San Francisco Slow Wine tasting last year and reviewed, these are wines she consults for and are excellent as well.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2020 Ricochet Wine Company, Le Ressort, Pétillant Naturel, Sparkling Wine, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
This Le Ressort Pet-Nat, made from Pinot Blanc and a small amount of Pinot Noir, by Ricochet is a fresh and delightful little sparkler that is more complex and textural that first impressions and I was left very impressed and happily pleased by the second glass, its dry crisp nature and energy make it wonderfully food friendly as well as being highly quaffable. I had never heard of or had these Ricochet Wines before coming across this bottling, and I have found out winemaker Erich Berg has some solid background in Oregon wine and has worked for Domaine Serene and the lesser known, but really cool Illahe Vineyards and is now serving as the assistant winemaker to Brianne Day at Day Wines, who has become one of the state’s leaders in natural styled and terroir driven wines. Not only are Berg’s wines good, he is doing good beyond crafting his wines by donating 5% of sales to local and regional non-profit organizations that specialize in areas that help people bounce back from difficult situations, hence the name Ricochet, which means to bounce back.

The small lot and handcrafted 2020 Ricochet Le Ressort Pétillant Naturel, which is slightly pinkish, almost Rosé like, was made from 95% Pinot Blanc and just 5% Pinot Noir from grapes sourced from a site in McMinnville in the Willamette Valley. The soda cap, pop top, Le Ressort was naturally fermented and saw just a few months of lees aging before bottled with some cloudy sediment presence in the glass, but the flavors are bright and clear with a surprising sense of richness and body with an impactful palate of Fuji apple, melon, peach and a delicate sense of cherry and strawberry fruits along with hints of herbs, mineral, brioche, verbena and subtle florals. Ricochet, which started really in 2018, is a micro winery and according to Berg is now up to 12 tons per vintage of grapes processed, which is tiny, and they do a little Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Mourvedre Rosé, Pinot Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, and this fun bubbly Pet-Nat. I look forward to trying more of these Ricochet Wines, with the Gruner and Tempranillo being high on my list to try and while this Le Ressort is already sold out on their website I highly recommend chasing a few bottles down in the wild!
($22 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Carbone by Favia Wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley.
Andy Erickson’s Favia Carbone Cab is an ultra deep, lush and luxurious wine that shows a fine balance and energy, it should continue to please and improve for many years to come and I was very impressed with the total quality here, it is very much in line with Cabernets that cost twice or three times the price. Erickson, of course has incredible experience making elite wines, including his wines at Screaming Eagle, Staglin, Dancing Hares and Ovid to name a few, is an exceptional winemaker, who I think is celebrating his 20th year as a head winemaker in Napa, so it was great to check in on his wines. Andy and his wife Annie now make there home in the Coombsville AVA, a small part of Napa with a long history, as they note, goes back to the later part of the 1800s. Back in the early days of Napa Valley viticulture, the Erickson’s tell, three brothers settled in what is now known as Coombsville, they, Antonio, Lorenzo, and Nicola Carbone also were the first Italian immigrants to inhabit this quiet, rolling hilled area east of the city of Napa, and records show they were cultivating crops as far back as 1872. They, as the Erickson’s continue, planted grapes on the hillsides, and they, as tradition in the area planted fruits and vegetables closer to the main house, which was erected in 1886, and they constructed a stone cellar that still remains today. The property became known as the Antonio Carbone Winery and Italian Gardens, and now it is home to Favia Wines, after Andy and Annie painstakingly restored the old residences, winery, orchards and the gardens. They have made this property home there family and farm a percentage of their own vines that go into this awesome Carbone, named for the original owners, Cabernet Sauvignon.

The 2018 vintage of the Favia Carbone Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot and is the first vintage to be called “Cabernet Sauvignon” on the label. As prior releases were more classic Bordeaux blends, this year’s wine, as the winery notes, maintains the stylistic opulence and fruit density, with the Cabernet Franc to the aromatic quality and adds distinct spice detail. The Cabernet Sauvignon is dominate as would be expected and delivers a thick sense black fruits, including blackberry coulis, hints of blueberries, plum and creme de cassis, as well as providing the structure and power here. Texture, a signature trait in Erickson’s wines is paramount and is seductive in this vintage, and remarkably seamless for such a young wine and the aftertaste goes on and on with touches of dark florals, exotic spices and anise. This Carbone is sourced from our favorite vineyards in the cooler Coombsville AVA, here at their estate and from a high end Oakville site, all of which gives this Cabernet Sauvignon its velvety tannins and complexity, underneath its expressive fruit. This wine was aged for sixteen months in French oak barrels, with enough new to give it a sweet toasty vanilla scent in the background, and it was bottled without fining and filtration. This inky purple/crimson wine really makes an impression and showcases the Favia house style, making it a gateway into their top bottlings. While not inexpensive, it is not outrageous, especially for what you get in the bottle. Also, the more limited efforts here sell out quickly, with 1,144 cases produced, the Carbone is much more available, so you’ll likely be able to find it and I recommend it for those looking for something a little more affordable than what you’ll see in this quality tier.
($75 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2016 Filomena Wine Company, Syrah, Griffin’s Lair Vineyard, Petaluma Gap AVA, Sonoma County.
Luke Nio’s Filomena Griffin’s Lair Syrah is a thrill ride of epic proportions with boysenberry, hoisin, crushed violets, minty herbs, bacon, dark current and blueberry compote all coming at you on the medium/full bodied palate along with peppercorns, tarry earth, cinnamon, cedar. camphor and salted black licorice in the background adding to this wine’s northern Rhone meets California personality, it’s awesome stuff from this rising star. Nio, who is a winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson’s Bedrock Wine Co, started his own micro-winery label in 2014, and has built up a solid reputation as a winemaker and has crafted a stellar collection of small lot wines over the last few vintages, including some cool rarities like his Enz Vineyard Cab Pfeffer Rosé and his Ricci Vineyard St. Laurent Red from Carneros, made from a unique Austrian grape, which has become a must have wine for me with its Cru Beaujolais style, semi-carbonic, juiciness, as well as this Griffin’s Lair Bottling, the signature wine here. This Syrah is impressive for it’s expressive nature and purity, it is a powerful and deeply colored wine that delivers a real bang for the buck with lush dark fruits, spice and classic smoky/meaty funk showing lush tannins, lively acidity, whole bunch complexity with a complex balance between the fruit and florals with the savory and mineral elements. Enjoy this gorgeous California Syrah over the next ten years and be sure to have it with hearty cuisine, especially BBQ, grilled meats and or wild and woodsy Mushroom dishes.

The Filomena Griffin’s Lair Syrah was hand crafted from small yielding vines in the cool, breezy zone in the Petaluma Gap AVA, not far from Lakeville and set on a complex array of fault influenced soils, the vineyard is farmed by John Flynn to mostly organic methods with the intension to move to full biodynamics in the future. Nio notes that Griffin’s Lair was planted in 2000 by Joan and Jim Griffin at their tiny ranch just off Lakeville Highway. It is planted to roughly 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Syrah (Noir, 470, Alban, and 877 clones) with a couple of rows of Viognier framing the Syrah block. The vineyard sits just five miles above San Pablo Bay at the southern end of the Petaluma Gap, an elbow-shaped valley that essentially acts as a wind tunnel from the coast. The Griffin’s Lair was elevated in prestige when Pax, famous for his Syrah released his version, which is one of the most desirable Syrahs in California, and it is a special site for Nio, who first came to the attention of Twain-Peterson with his own early efforts from this vineyard. This 2016 vintage was 100% whole cluster and foot-trod, employing an old school indigenous yeast fermentation with an extended maceration period with hand punch-downs before pressing. Everything done here was to promote full extraction of flavors and pigment with the idea to fully mature this wine before release. After the primary fermentation the Griffin’s Lair was barreled down to a neutral 600L demi-muid (French oak cask) and was aged 18 months before being bottled, then the wine was, as Nio adds, cellar rested for another 3 years. This offering is super limited, but I highly recommend getting a few bottles while you can and join this list!
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine de Montille, Beaune Premier Cru “Les Grèves” Red Burgundy, France.
Etienne’s 2018 Beaune Premier Cru Les Grèves Rouge is a beautiful and detailed red Burgundy that absolutely shows its class and is remarkably poised for such a young wine with a gorgeous textural quality and depth of fruit already in evidence on the lively, but satiny medium bodied palate. First impressions here are of potential and I was easily seduced by the bouquet and the beautiful entry with its lovely red fruits, rose petals and bright spiciness from the use of whole bunches in the fermentation. The De Montille Beaune 1er Cru Les Grèves has silky round layers of Italian cherries, crushed raspberry and tangy strawberry fruits along with touches of mineral, herbs, blood orange and very well judged wood accenting, making for a regal and elegant Burgundy and one that should fill out in every dimension over the next 5 to 10 years, though one that seems to be complete and complexity enough to be enjoyed in its early life, it especially would be exciting with cuisine. This dark ruby colored Burgundy is ripe in aromatic and taste terms, highlighting the vintage and the showcases the underlying terroir, which is marked by the clay and limestone soils here that are very chalky, and as with all of De Montille’s farming, this parcel is all organic and biodynamic. Like his father’s classic style, Etienne De Montille used loads of whole clusters here, is this vintage, with about 66%, and it saw a native yeast primary fermentation, which is traditionally done here, along with a lengthy maceration period and diligent (daily) gentle hand punch-downs. After about 15 to 20 days on the skins the wine is pressed and racked to barrel, with about 25% new being used, as is per normal for the Domaine De Montille. The De Montille wines are always around 12% natural alcohol and the they usually see about 18 months in the oak before being bottled unfined and unfiltered, all of which seem to be geared for graceful aging and this 2018 Le Grèves with its sense of pedigree is looking good to live up to this domaine’s reputation.

Domaine de Montille, located in Volnay, is one of the most respected wineries in the world, not just one of the top domaines in Burgundy, but also sparking a huge amount of pride within France. The De Montilles, with a family heritage that dates back to the 17th century in the region and a winemaking tradition and history since 1750, but it wasn’t until Hubert de Montille, a well known lawyer, took over in 1947 that the estate started to rise in quality, joining some of the elite domaines in the Cote d”Or. Dedicated to wine and committed to excellence, Hubert began a run of producing long lived and highly sought after Burgundies, making some of the best reds within the Pommard, Beaune and Volnay crus ever seen. I have been lucky enough to taste a few of Hubert’s finest efforts, including his 1990 Volnay, 1er Cru, Les Taillepieds, which was a bit near the end of its life, but was absolutely heavenly. Now, De Montille is run by Hubert’s son Etienne, who has maintained the heritage here and in some cases eclipsed his famous father with some excellent wines of his own. It should not be overlooked that, Hubert’s equally accomplished daughter Alix, who’s married to Jean-Marc Roulot, joined as the winemaker for the white wines, which have almost become the equal of the reds. Etienne, also a lawyer, has also carved out some new high quality parcels, which have ben added to their impressive collection of mainly Premier Cru vineyard plots, which now includes two Grand Crus, Corton and Clos Vougeot to go with all those exceptional Premiers. Over the years, I have enjoyed many of these wines and I have developed a personal taste for a few of them in particular and this Les Grèves Beaune 1er Cru is one of my favorites, along with the Volnay, 1er Cru, Les Mitans, the Pommard, 1er Cru, Les Pézerolles, the Beaune, 1er Cru, Les Sizies, which is one of the best values in the lineup, and the Cote de Nuits grown Nuits St Georges bottlings. The winery now has 20 hectares of land in 20 appellations, impressively Etienne and Alix have 75% in Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyard sites. I hope to see this beauty again in a dozen or so years time, it should reward the patient and savvy Burgundy fans.
($125 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 I. Brand & Family Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Massa Estate Vineyard “Block 10” Carmel Valley, Monterey County.
The outer Medoc like Massa Estate Block Ten Cabernet Sauvignon by Ian Brand starts with loads of stony mineral and some chunky tannins that reminds me of young Bordeaux in the the Chateau Montrose St. Estephe mold with an underlying power and a gravelly feel before opening nicely and expanding on the full bodied palate, this is not your jammy and ripe velvety Cab, it is, as Ian calls it, a proper Cabernet, with an old school charm. Things move in the right direction with air and time in the glass with the deep blackberry, currant, plum and earthy mulberry fruits folding together beautifully along with hints of green spice, cedar, anise, dried peony, sage and lingering kirsch and chalk. This all organic Massa Block 10 Cabernet is muscle laced and made for aging, if you want the best out of it, so if you want to pop the cork now, best to decant it for a few hours and have with a robust meal, that said, it offers a rewarding experience for the patient and shows the classic terroir and structure this site is historically known for, going back to the 1970s when the Durney family owned and made wines from this vineyard. Those early Durney Cabs were quite rough when young, but really blossomed with age, and this vineyard, now owned by the Massa family and overseen by Ian Brand, is getting a lot of attention by some famous new generation winemakers, including Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Company, who will get fruit from here this harvest, as well as Jaimee Motely, now the head winemaker at the famous Stony Hill Vineyard, and ex local Megan Glaab of Ryme Cellars to name a few. In recent years, Brand has found some old vineyards that had almost been forgotten and brought them back into the spotlight, like this Massa Estate, as well as the Enz Vineyard where he does his signature Mourvedre.

Ian Brand, famous for his old vine Grenache and Mourvedre bottlings, has really shown a talent with the Bordeaux varietals, especially Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon with his Monte Bello Road Cabernet Sauvignon from high up in the Santa Cruz Mountains being his pinnacle effort and a wine that impresses fans of classic California Cabernets, in the style of some of the legends, not far in quality from this wines neighbor at Ridge and in a style that might remind people of Phillip Togni and Cathy Corison. The Massa Block 10 comes from the high elevation upper Carmel Valley in an area called Cachagua, it’s the deep end of the valley with a set of complex soils and a sense of remoteness and serenity with sloping vineyards and a long growing season, influenced by the cool Pacific breezes and cool nights, but warm days that allows for a full development of flavors without excessive sugars. This block that Ian sources the grapes from was planted in early 1980s and has being organically and dry farmed since the vines first started producing, which adds to the depth and the structure grip in this compelling and dark purple/garnet wine. Brand, who picked this 2018 at fairly restrained Brix levels as the year was cool and even throughout the season, much less flamboyant than the much riper 2017 vintage, used native yeasts and a medium length maceration period as there was plenty of extract and grainy tannins here, crafted from carefully sorted and de-stemmed berries. After about two weeks the wine was racked to French oak barrels, with about 33% new wood, where the wine was aged for 20 months. This Massa Cabernet is only going to get better and better over the next 5 to 10 years, give it time, but for more immediate pleasures, while this one is in the cellar, drink the mentioned Fellom Ranch, Monte Bello Road and the Bates Ranch Cab Franc, I bought a few of these outstanding Cabs and I recommend you get some too. As a Carmel Valley native, it is great to see these local vineyards shine and be taken seriously and this wine should stand the test of time.
($75 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Bucklin, Ancient Field Blend, Old Hill Ranch, Sonoma Valley.
Will Bucklin’s Zin based Ancient Red Field Blend is a deep, richly flavored and thrilling wine 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 Persan 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 Ancient Zin blend is dark purple/garnet color in the glass, boldly fruity and floral on the nose with a complex full bodied palate with loads of classic ripe black raspberries along with some briar/spicy notes, adding sweet plums, minty herbs, sandalwood, baked earth, mineral, kirsch, mocha and a dark florals. Bucklin humbly says of his Ancient parcel, it is 12 Acres, 30 grape varieties and 1 wine! This is an understatement and this is an iconic wine, like those of Bedrock and in league with the Ridge Pagani and Lytton Springs bottlings. This is a special and historic place for Zinfandel, where it was first planted, located in the Glen Ellen/Kenwood area of the Sonoma Valley, which was also the first place to planted to non Mission grapes in the state. The 2018 is a lively and fresh vintage in character, but also deeply concentrated and it should only get better with age, while I loved the 2017, this release takes this wine to the next level. I recommend securing some of them as soon as possible. Bucklin has a gifted touch with his wines and as a winegrower he is very in tune with the subtle nuances that his vines give, he was a Pinot Noir geek and was the winemaker at Oregon’s King Estate and you can see that gentle winemaking experience in his wines, and this wine really benefited from this approach.

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. Will Bucklin The Bucklins, who have suffered and are recovering from the Napa/Sonoma fires in 2017 when their family compound burned down, but luckily the vines survived, are great caretakers of this land, for which we can all be grateful. The family bought this property in run down down condition in 1981 and, as mentioned here, to their great credit, instead of ripping up the old vines with so many almost un-sellable varietals, they put in a heroic effort to bring the vineyard back into great condition and keep its historic vines intact. Over the years great wines have come from this Old Hill Ranch, mostly notably Joel Peterson’s Ravenwood single vineyard version, a wine that seems to age forever! The Ancient Field Blend really captures this heritage in the bottle and this vintage is one of my favorites to date.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Sylvain Pataille, Marsannay “Clos du Roy” Red Burgundy, France.
One of my favorite Burgundy producers for immediate pleasure and value, the Domaine Sylvain Pataille offers a stunning lineup of Marsannay bottlings, including the gorgeous Clos du Roy, with this dark ruby colored 2018 version showing beautiful aromatics, silky layers and pure Pinot fruit in an impeccably balanced and expressive wine. Sylvain Pataille, who is a top consultant in the region, makes his wines in a very non intervention way with no additions and is very committed to organic and biodynamic farming in all of his vineyard sites, which are most all within the boundaries of the Marsannay zone in the northern part of the Cote de Nuits. There is so much to admire here in this Clos du Roy with a distinct mineral charm, spice and floral intensity, it shows smooth flowing layers of red berries, black cherry, plum and strawberry/pomegranate fruits along with a delicate earthiness, subtle sandalwood/cedar, snappy herbs and orange tea. The texture and expressive medium bodied palate give this wine its graceful refinement, while it still has an easy transparency, energy and wonderful length, this is a wine that gives you what you want in an affordable Burgundy, it is opulent, complex and drinks exceptionally well in its youth. Sylvain Pataille, the wild haired vigneron that looks like middle school chemistry teacher, does mainly Pinot Noir, but also crafts a selection of Aligote based whites and a classic Marsannay Rosé, called Fleur de Pinot, as well as a set of Chardonnays and a extremely rare Pinot Beurrot, which we know as Pinot Gris.

For the 2018 Marsannay Clos du Roy, Sylvain Pataille employed a100% whole-cluster and indigenous yeast fermentation with a very gentle and cool maceration period to extract color and flavor, but to also allow for an easy elegance to shine through, which is clearly in evidence in this wine already. After the juice finishes primary fermentation the wine is softy racked to the mostly used wood with the wine then being aged for 18 months in French oak barrels, after which Pataille did the final blend and let the wine settle in stainless steel tank for 5-6 months, with only a minimal sulfur dose at bottling for stability. This premier lieu-dit is set on clay and marl with a, as the winery notes, unique calcium rich gravelly (grèzes litée), slightly reddish and iron-rich top soil with some vines that date back to 1950s. Interestingly, according to the Syndicat d’Appellation Marsannay, the Clos du Roy (Roi and Roy means King) in the little town of Chenôve was originally called “Le Clos des Ducs”, as it was a possession of the Dukes of Burgundy. The vineyard was renamed Clos du Roy in 1477, after the defeat at Nancy of the Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, and the subsequent annexation to the Kingdom of France of his lands. The Clos du Roy is a special site and American geologist Brenna Quigley, who recently was honored in the press for being one of the country’s best 40 under 40 wine industry personalities, was instrumental in understanding the soils here, and has impressively bedrock (soil) mapped the region. The wines of Pataille are incredibly terroir driven and natural expressions of place, especially this exceptional Marsannay Clos du Roy, a wine that always way over delivers for the price and one I highly recommend.
($60 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Lucia by Pisoni, Pinot Noir, Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
There not many wines that can rival the Lucia Soberanes Pinot for presence in the glass, in fact, in recent years this bottling has nearly eclipsed the fabled Pisoni Estate Pinot and this 2019 looks like it will reach even greater heights than the fantastic 2018, this is absolutely awesome young Pinot that is close to perfection in its style and showcases its sense of place with a badge of honor. This wonderfully saturated and dark Pinot Noir has a thrill to it, it is full of power, energy and is impeccable in its layering of flavors with a gorgeous array of black cherry, blackberry, plum and earthy strawberry fruits along with contrasting briar/spice and savory elements, plus a touch of polished oak, hoisin, fig and vanillin notes, all enhanced by the enticing nose here which is perfumed with pretty florals and the sensation of blue fruits. The medium/full palate is still taut and lively, but opens quickly to satiny opulence with a wonderfully luxurious mouth feel and adds a dimension of creamy richness and lingers on and on with echos of the pure Pinot fruit, fans of the Santa Lucia Highlands will be completely seduced by this Lucia Soberanes Pinot, it is simply outstanding. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this edition to make the year’s ten best wines list. There is so much to love in these Pisoni offerings, it is hard to pick a favorite, especially with the 2019 Soberanes Vineyard releases that include this Pinot and the fabulous Chardonnay, and I can’t wait to try the Syrah, which in some years is the best of the best from here. The long cool growing season, smaller than normal yields and no compromise farming has led to the greatness that is in bottle, I highly recommend getting a few bottles of this magical nectar.

The 33 acre Soberanes Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands, which in honor of the area’s history, bears the family name of José María Soberanes, who marched from Mexico to Monterey Bay with the famed Portolá expedition, and his son Feliciano, who acquired the 8,900-acre land grant, as the winery notes, as repayment for his loan of forty horses, fifty head of cattle, four oxen and some sheep. This vineyard is again where the Pisoni and Franscioni families have partnered to farm this premier vineyard site, that sits up and is very close to their famed Garys’ Vineyard, and is the most recent addition to their stellar collection. The Soberanes was planted to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah back in 2007, and has been gaining in reputation and quality with every vintage, it features sandy loam soils that, as the winery boasts, has significant sub-soil boulders layered into the alluvial fan and diverse clonal material with more than a dozen of the most renowned heritage selections from California and Burgundy in the mosaic of the Pinot Noir vines. To highlight the nature of this special place and the vintage, winemaker Jeff Pisoni used a native fermentation with about 30% whole cluster, with each of vineyard block being done separately in open-top tanks with great care and attention to detail to achieve deep color and flavor extraction, looking for balance and complexity in the finished wine, which was aged in French oak barrels for just under a year with 40% new wood employed in this vintage. Drink this coastal influenced and terroir driven Lucia 2019 Soberanes Pinot over the next 10 to 15 years, it is what legends are made of.
($70 Est.) 96+ Points, grapelive

2019 Morgan Winery, Albarino, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County.
The bright, fresh and salty crisp Morgan Albarino is a great Summer wine and shows off plenty of varietal character and nuance to be taken seriously, especially when enjoyed with classic shellfish pairings.There’s a good aromatics, brisk energy and mineral notes that frame the Albarino’s zesty citrus, led by Kaffir lime, and green apple core along with tart peach, wet stones and a light herbal essence. This lean white is great alternative to the sea of generic Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio wines in this price range, it is nicely refreshing and cleans the palate with vibrant natural acidity, while still having enough structure and texture to please the senses. While we usually consider Albarino a Spanish varietal and most famously grown in the Rias Baixas region of Galicia, the grape is traditionally grown in both Spain and Portugal, where it more often blended and one of the grapes used in regional wines, such as (in) Vinho Verde. Albarino has found a happy home here in California and is now found throughout the state, though it does particularly well in coastal, marine influenced sites, like here in Monterey and especially in the Arroyo Seco AVA, where Morgan sources this well crafted version. We all owe Michael Heavens a big thank you for bringing up the first California example, his first vintage from Carneros in 1999 was absolutely delicious and showed the potential of this exceptional grape and now, after more than twenty years, we have stellar versions available with this lovely Morgan joining Heavens Cave Dog, which comes from those first cuttings, Joyce Wine Company’s Albarino that comes from the sister vineyard, to the one used by Morgan, in Arroyo Seco and Ian Brand’s La Marea from the Kristy Vineyard in southern Monterey County on ancient river bed soils.

The Albarino grapes for this Morgan 2019 release was all sourced from the Mission Ranch vineyard in the Arroyo Seco AVA, farmed by Mark Chesebro, who also does a fine example and who was an early fan of this grape. The daytime temperatures in Arroyo Seco regularly reach the mid to upper 80’s during the Summer months, but the warm days are mitigated by the ever present morning and night time fog and the constant cool breezes that are drawn south from Monterey Bay. The climate in Arroyo Seco provides an extended growing season, resulting in quality fruit of depth in flavor and balance. The grapes for Morgan’s Albarino were hand-picked and, per the winery, whole cluster pressed to stainless steel tanks for a cool fermentation, retaining freshness and bright fruit flavors. After primary fermentation, the wine was then oak aged for six months in a combination of French and Hungarian barrels, that included about 11% new, which doesn’t make its presence felt in flavor, but adds to the mouth feel. The year was long and cool, highlighting the Ocean effect on the Albarino, and while there was some concern about full ripeness, but by dry-farming, according to the winery, in select parcels helped get the grapes there, allowing healthy phenolics, acid, and concentration. The use of Hungarian wood played a subtle role here to help smooth out the wine, without adding too much sweet toastiness that the new French would give, as they deliver a more neutral effect, which is much appreciated in a wine such as this. All of the latest Morgan wines show a heightened degree of elegance and lots of credit is due owner Dan Lee for bringing in the hugely talented Sam Smith as head winemaker, who has really taken these wines to the next level. He has now applied his gifted touch throughout the collection and this wine is greatly benefited by his precise detailing. Don’t miss these new releases, including this Abarino, along with the latest Chards, Pinots and the awesome estate Double L Syrah!
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Kelley Fox Wines, Pinot Noir, Mirabai, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The brilliantly vivid and gemstone ruby hued 2019 Mirabai Pinot Noir from the hugely talented Kelley Fox is just gorgeous in the glass with radiant flavors, spices and aromatic florals that all seduce the senses, highlighting a sense of place, in this case the iron rich Jory soils and hillside old vines of the Dundee Hills as well as the lighter framed lift of the vintage, fabulous from start to finish. There’s some whole bunch juiciness and crunch that adds to the exotic side that comes trough with a touch of earthiness and mineral tones that go beautifully well with the core cherry and strawberry fruit and the subtle neutral wood, making for, as Fox says, a transparent, luminous and uplifting Pinot Noir that I suggest is a Pinot for Pinot lovers with a nice cut of acidity and absolute purity, no pretense or make up on this natural beauty. In recent years I have come to really love these Kelley Fox offerings, especially this bottling, which is always a fantastic value, but I also must say, Fox’s Freedom Hill Pinot Blanc is exceptional and should not be missed either. The delicate and medium bodied Mirabai opens open to real bright, but silky layers of the cherry and strawberry led fruits along with a touch of pomegranate, plum and brambly red berries along with orange tea, dusty red spices, including a bit of shaved cinnamon and pepper, cedar and rose petals.

This 2019 vintage of Mirabai was crafted from two vineyards in the Dundee Hills, 75% from the old vines at the Maresh Vineyard, with some of the blocks dating back to the early 1970s, one of the top cru sites in the region and then about 25% from the Webber Vineyard, which is all self rooted Pommard clone that was planted back in 1983, both of which add pedigree, fruit density and complexity to this oh so good wine. Fox, who has been a top consultant and winemaker in Oregon for many years, including a decade at the Scott Paul winery, used about 30% whole cluster and native yeast fermentation for this Mirabai, which saw a gentle maceration and was aged close to nine months in well seasoned French oak barrels. This is wonderfully fresh in style with just 12.5% natural alcohol, though (it) has impressive depth and texture, but is easy to enjoy in its youth, somewhat Cru Beaujolais like and it is very nice with a slight chill as well. The Mirabai selection is great way to get started with the Kelley Fox collection before digging into her more precious bottlings, such as her single vineyard versions from Webber, Maresh and Hyland, all of which are a bit more serious and age worthy. That said, this Mirabai, for the price is one that is light on the wallet for the quality on offer and one to stock up on. Fox made 972 cases of this rewarding Mirabai Pinot, so it is readily available, so there is no excuses to not get some, you’ll be happy you did.
($37 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Domaine Harmand-Geoffroy, Gevrey-Chambertin, Red Burgundy, France.
The steady and well regardad Domaine Harmand-Geoffroy is run by Gerard Harmand and his son, Philippe, this family-run estate that was originally founded in the late nineteenth century has nine hectares of vineyards, all planted to Pinot Noir and all located within the boundaries of Gevrey Chambertin in the Cote de Nuits. The viticulture and winemaking here is traditional and classically styled, as this 2017 bottling of basic Gevrey-Chambertin shows to great effect, with transparent and silken textural layering, ripe red fruits, mineral and a touch of raw earthiness that perfect matches the percentage of newer oak barrels and the subtle sweet toastiness. This bottling with its white label, uniquely different from another importer, was a direct import for K & L Wines, in case long time fans of this winery, as I am, might be confused, but the quality and taste is all too, and happily so, familiar. The 2017 is medium bodied and has a dark ruby color with a nose of crushed berries, rose petals, sandalwood and a faint chanterelle, woodsy note, before opening up on the palate to black cherry, blood orange, mulberry and strawberry fruits along with an array of baking spices, underbrush and seeped tea. The lingering finish finish is pure smooth Pinot with an almost creamy aftertaste, while still bright and youthful, it proved easy to enjoy and was graceful with food. The clean lines in this wine come from the use of stainless in the primary fermentation and the well judged use of new oak, which is typically around 20% in this bottling, and in the vines, Gérard and Philippe hand tend and farm without the use of pesticides, chemicals or synthetic treatments, looking to promote healthy soils and authentic character in their wines.

The Domaine Harmand-Geoffroy offers a chance to explore the terroir of Gevrey-Chambertin through their many lieu-dit and Premier Cru sites at very reasonable prices, except for the Grand Cru Mazis-Chambertin, which is their most prized wine, especially for the small production and hand crafted nature of this wines. This wines may never be blockbusters, but they are wonderfully true in possessing a sense of place and this 2017 Gevrey-Chambertin way over performs for the price I got it for. Gerard and Philippe use grapes that are de-stemmed 100%, and carefully hand sorted, then there is a cold soak and maceration that lasts up to five dayss, then cuvaison goes on for about two weeks, this is very carefully and gently done with precise temperature-control. After the wine is finished with primary fermentation it is then racked into barrel where the malo-lactic fermentation occurs naturally and the wines are aged for close to 16 months on the fine lees in small oak barrels or Burgundy barriques and bottled unfined and unfiltered. In America and especially on the west coast, you almost never see a quality grower/producer Gevrey under $75 these days, so when I saw this offered at such a low price I was a touch nervous, but it is drinking beyond expectations and I would recommend it without hesitation. These wines, in my own experience get a bit more complex and pretty when they get a few more years on them, the maturity brings a delicacy that is very rewarding. This Village Gevrey was assembled from a selection of different plots with a combination of clay and limestone based soils, all scattered throughout the appellation including some up to 80 years old, giving the wine its pedigree. Over the years, since the 2006 vintage, I’ve tried the Gevreys and the Mazis many times and I’ve always happy with what I’ve found.
($45 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2020 Tablas Creek, Patelin de Tablas Rosé, Paso Robles.
This Patelin de Tablas Rosé is one of the standard bearers of dry California Rosés and remains one of the tastiest in the state, it is made from 75% Grenache, 19% Mourvedre and 6% Counoise sourced from mostly non estate grown fruit, but all within the preferred westside zone with cool air from the Templeton Gap and the classic limestone spoils, which allows ripe flavors, but with vitality and a crisp form. The delicately pale, peachy/pink colored 2020 is immensely pleasing, lively and steely with tart cherry, strawberry, grapefruit, watermelon and nectarine flavors leading the way along with saline, mouth watering acidity, mineral notes, rosewater and wild herbs. While lean, bone dry and zesty, this Patelin de Tablas Rosé has a surprising roundness and is very palate generous, making for an impactful wine and wonderfully refreshing at only 13% natural alcohol. The grapes for the Patelin de Tablas Rosé, as the winery explains, are sourced from three Paso Robles appellations, all as mentioned on the westside, including the warmer, higher-elevation Adelaida District, near the Tablas Creek estate itself, and the moderate, hilly El Pomar to the south-east, that provide the structure in the wine, as well as the moderate-to-warm Creston area, east of Templeton, that produces grapes with loads of fruit and spice. Tablas Creek’s Rosé was one of the first serious dry Rosé wines in California and it continues to be one of the most tasty, though it now has lots of great competition now, from Bedrock’s Ode to Lulu to Arnot-Roberts’ Rosé of Touriga Nacional, to Niki Pallesen’s Stars & Dust Rosé, Tribute to Grace and Ian Brand’s Le P’tit Paysan Peirre’s Pirouette, to name just a few.

The Tablas Creek Vineyard Patelin de Tablas Rosé is mainly Grenache, similar to Tavel, the Rhone’s only all Rosé appellation and to parts of Provence like the area of Cassis, which this wine really reminds me of most, and is, as the winery notes, supplemented with Mourvèdre and Counoise to provide some deeper fruit tones and additional spice. The winery continues that 80% of the grapes were picked and direct-pressed into stainless steel tanks with no real skin contact, or maceration, beyond the time they spent in the press, while the remaining 20% grapes were picked cold, early in the morning or at night, then de-stemmed and left to cold soak for close to 8 hours to provide some color and structure. Going on the winery adds, that after 12 hours or there abouts, these macerating lots were pressed and then added to the direct-press lots to ferment. The fermentation was spontaneous, only using native yeasts and after primary fermentation the tanks were blended and cold-stabilized, with everything done to preserve freshness and purity, and the finished Rosé was bottled after about 3 months in tank. Tablas also produces a full on Saignee Rosé that is full bodied and much fruitier in style, that wine, the Dianthus, is much darker, picked later and comes from estate vines and is made of 48% Mourvedre, 37% Grenache and 15% Counoise, making more traditionally like a more powerful Bandol Rosé. Both are exceptionally delicious wines and both deserve your attention if you are looking for quality dry Rosé, though I personally seem to gravitate to this Patelin de Tablas version.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Weingut Brundlmayer, Riesling “Terrassen” Kamptal, Austria.
The lime scented and flavored dry 2019 Riesling Terrassen showcases the best qualities of Austrian versions of this grape adding zesty kumquat, green apple, melon and almond oil notes as it opens this Brundymsyer Kamptal Riesling is mouth watering, vibrantly fresh with a burst of stony saline and tropical fruit adding complexity. The light pale gold color belies the extract and depth found in this value priced wine, this is exceptional stuff, brilliantly focused and bristles with energy. Vincent Brundlmayer makes some of Austria’s most thrilling wines, especially his Cru Gruner Veltliners and Rieslings, but he also makes one of the finest methode Champenoise Brut Rosé sparklers in Europe, along with a amazing collection of varietal wines, including his stellar and unique Cabernet Franc as well as this value priced Terrassen Dry Riesling. Weingut Brundlmayer, formerly known as Willi Brundlmayer, Vincent’s dad, who made this winery famous for quality, especially in the late nineties and to the mid 2000s, before young Vincent started speaking his own wings and took it to the next level. This Terrassen Dry Riesling is sourced from prime terraced vineyards, and mainly all organic vines, including the famed Heileigenstein and parcels in Steinmassal and Steinberg set on primary rock, loess and clay soils and mainly younger vines with an all spontaneous stainless steel fermentation and lees aging regime. The fine detailing, enticing aromatics and absolute purity of form make this dry Riesling unbelievably compelling, especially for Riesling enthusiasts!

The Kamptal, Austria’s largest growing area, is an increasingly prestigious wine district located 55 kilometers (35 miles) northwest of Vienna, near the Wachau and the Kremstal, its historic sister regions. This prime location, with the wine town of Langenlois at its heart, is filled with steep, sun baked, with meager loess based rocky soils on picturesque terraced vineyard sites that overlook the river Kamp, that flows off of the mighty Danube. These vines in Kamptal produce some of Austria’s most distinct offerings, if not some of the world’s finest white wines, especially by talented winemakers like Vincent Brundlmayer, mainly made from and most notable fabulous Grüner Veltliner as well as intense flinty Rieslings. These elevated terraces, according to the winery, consist of stonier soils that bring out fruit-driven varietal character with mineral nuances and good aging potential. The vines, as the winery continues, for this Terrassen Riesling are from the lower situated terraces grown on the fertile loess which brings out more fruit in the wines that makes them very expressive in their youth, with a more ready to go personality, which shows in this beautiful 2019 vintage. I am and have been a huge fan of this winery for a long time, and each time I have a bottle I am even more impressed, with this wine always being a wine that way over delivers for the price and that is lovely with a varied choice of cuisine from oysters to lightly spicy Asian dishes. This Terrassen Riesling is a must, but other wines in the Brundymayer lineup I recommend include the mentioned Brut Rosé, plus the Langenloiser Alte Reben (old vine) Kamptal Reserve Gruner, the Ried Zöbinger Heiligenstein Riesling (Grand Cru level) and the Extra Brut Reserve bubbly. Again this super dry, taut and lithe Riesling is simply outstanding and electric in the glass, what a bargain.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2020 Domaine du Gros ‘Noré, Bandol Rosé, Provence, France.
It is my Summer ritual to begin Summer with a Bandol Rosé and that has now become official with this beautiful Domaine du Gros ‘Noré Bandol Rosé that is full flavored, dry and mineral driven with an impressive palate of ruby grapefruit, strawberry water, sour cherry, watermelon and peach notes along with wet stones, hints of herbs, rosewater and a fine textural roundness. My usual Bandol Rosé rite of Summer starts with the likes of Domaine Tempier, Chateau Pradeaux and or Domaine Bunan, though in recent years I have been leaning towards Alain Pascal’s Domaine du Gros ‘Noré and this 2020 certainly justifies my choice with an exceptional flourish and quality that exceeds my expectations, this wine is a tremendous value, especially in the elite group of wineries it is up against. While the attractive, almost glowing pink hue will captivate your eyes, the rest of your senses will be equally seduces from nose to the crisp, but lingering finish, this Bandol Rosé is a fabulous wine all on its own, though structured and powerful enough to go with all your Summer dishes, it is an impeccable companion to fresh cuisine. I enjoyed this Domaine du Gros ‘Noré with a California hybrid Caprese salad that included heirloom and cherry tomatoes, thin sliced jalapeño peppers, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar with garden raised basil. It also did fantastic with a selection of speck and watermelon, which I added to my late afternoon snack, this dry pink refreshed and added to pleasure of the warm sunny afternoon and the gentle Ocean breeze.

The Domaine du Gros ‘Noré, imported by the famed Kermit Lynch, who also brings in Domaine Tempier, is located in La Cadière d’Azur, and as Kermit Lynch notes, with the vineyards set on both clay and limestone which imparts structure and a deep sense of fruit. This Bandol micro-climate near the blue Mediterranean Sea brings is a warm zone with full sun, though, as Kermit adds, it is tempered by the persistent Mistral winds. This area is a place were Mourvedre thrives and it plays the most important role here, and especially in the set of Bandol Rouge bottlings and in this Rosé as well. The reds get about 80% Mourvedre in the blend, which gives these Domaine du Gros ‘Noré offerings their age worthy stuffing and allows the Rosé to also carry on drinking well for 3 to 5 years at least. The 2020 Domaine du Gros ‘Noré Bandol Rosé, which comes from all organic 30 year old vines in the more clay rich selections of the estate, was a finished blend of 54% Mourvèdre, 25% Cinsault, 19% Grenache and about 2% of the white grape Clairette Blanche, all of which adds to the complexity and completeness of this wonderful wine. To achieve the balance here the wine was made using about 65% direct press and about 35% maceration, or saignee method, which adds the hedonistic richness and ripe profile, and it was fermented as well as aged in 100% stainless steel vats, that keeps things vibrant, clean and pure. I highly recommend buying the full range of wines under this label, and don’t miss the Bandol Blanc, trust me, it is a rare gem in this awesome collection, it is made from 70% Ugni Blanc and 30% Clairette and sees a 24 hour skin maceration and stainless regime, it is almost as compelling as this stellar Rosé, almost.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Ridge Vineyards, Zinfandel, Pagani Ranch, Sonoma Valley.
The rich, dark purple and deep fruited 2018 Ridge Pagani Ranch Zinfandel leads with a classic black raspberry, crushed flowers and brambly spiciness that comforts the palate and rinds you just how fabulous these wines are and how truly Californian they are, this wine could not be, nor want to be anything else, something it wears with pride. This vintage, which by Sonoma standards was long and cool, brings a fresh vibrancy to this powerfully concentrated field blend of 84% Zinfandel, 9% Alicante Bouschet and 7% Petite Sirah, which has a sense of blue fruit as it opens in the glass, adding plum, blueberry and some boysenberry pie filling along with an array of wild herbs, including hint of sage, fennel and dried rosemary. This is richly opulent stuff, coming in at a heady 14.9% natural alcohol, but with a nice cut of acidity from the years cool influence and the fact that Pagani sits in a cooler micro-climate within the Sonoma Valley that gives this bottling its distinctive character, with its long hang time, in this case an October pick date. This wine turns on the seductive charm with each sip, making for a sensuous experience and it feels luxurious on the full bodied palate, in a sensation that will remind you of serious Gigondas and or Chateauneuf du Pape interns of impact and quality, while never wavering from the Zinfandel profile. I usually go for the Lytton Springs and Geyserville, but this Pagani 2018 is a great bottle of Ridge, it was sublime with food too, showing a very cuisine friendly side last night with my pizza, which included garden heirloom tomatoes and sliced jalapeño peppers and fresh basil leaves.

The Pagani Ranch, originally planted by Felice Pagani in the 1890s and many of the old vines still provide the base for this wine, even though Ridge’s blocks have seen some re-planting with some young vines coming into production with the 2015 vintage, though overall most of the acreage here consists of 100 plus year old vines, which are, as you’d expect, mostly Zinfandel along with a small percentage of Alicante Bouschet, Mataro (Mourvedre) and Petite Sirah. Ridge, as the winery notes, has produced a Pagani Ranch bottling each year since 1991, adding that the foggy mornings here, on this picturesque site just off Hwy 12 near the town of Kenwood, the gravel, loam and clay soils and the old vines make for small yields and energy filled berries that makes these wines compelling with fruit density and savory complexity with moderate tannins, all of which allows these wines to be enjoyed young, but still have good aging potential. Ridge promotes sustainable and organic methods and make these Zinfandel wines with low intervention using native or indigenous yeasts and natural malos. The Ridge wines are most all aged in specially extended air dried American oak barrels, with this wine seeing mostly used wood and saw an elevage of about 12 months before bottling. This 2018 version is one of my favorites, reminding me a lot of the 2014, which I loved and wrote about here, it got even better on day two, adding a sweet cherry and subtle vanilla creaminess, while still being as vigorous and poised as when I opened it, very impressive. Ridge has added some new and exciting wines to their portfolio in recent years, from Roussanne to Falanghina as well as classic Carignane, all of which are well worth searching out, while their historic lineup of Monte Bello and Zin blends continue to be some of California’s best wines.
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2016 G.D. Vayjra, Barolo, Coste di Rose, Piedmonte, Italy.
Readers of my reviews will certainly know about G.D. Vajra, one of my favorite producers in the world and one of Barolo’s stars with a collection of fantastic Cru bottlings, this includes their signature Bricco Delle Viole, their Ravera and this exotic Coste di Rose Barolo, the newest in the Cru lineup and the most fruit forward with a lavish full bodied palate. This 2016 is wonderfully textural, rich and silken as well as structured to age with a fabulous depth of flavors, showcasing the nature of place and vintage, a year that I am loving more and more each time I try it, especially when it is made by Giuseppe Vajra, who’s wines always impress. The Vajra estate was one of the first in the region to convert to organic farming and continue to lead in this regard and they have some of the highest parcels in Barolo, taking advantage of the cooling influence to increase the hang time to achieve full ripeness without heavy character or high alcohol. The Coste di Rose is a small Cru in Comune di Barolo that It is located on a high elevation steep slope that arises from Bosco della Fava and descends swiftly towards the border with Monforte d’Alba, as the winery notes, set on unique deep sandy soils. The 2016 has fantastic layering and a gorgeous mouth feel showing classic black cherries, damson plum, framboise, reduced orange along with a sprig of mint, tarry black licorice, cedar wood notes and a heighten rose petal perfume. This special site includes a five-meter tall sand dune, which has earned the Coste di Rose the nickname “The Beach” and this vineyard is its own distinct terroir that delivers extraordinary fruit density, but with impeccable balance and purity, I would compare Coste di Rose to Burgundy’s famous Bonnes Mare Grand Cru, while the Vajra’s Bricco Delle Viole is more reserved and chiseled in manner of Musigny. Having tasted many comparative vintages of Domaine Comte Georges de Vogue, Musigny vs Bonnes Mares including 1990, 1991, 1995, 1996 as well as 2000 and 2001, I can say, these Vajra Crus are in the same league!

The Coste di Rose Cru Barolo from a unique vineyard site high in the hills and set on deep sands, so sandy in fact the Vajra’s call this site the beach, over marl and clay soils that gives this Nebbiolo its awesome perfume and amazing texture. The estate of GD Vajra is situated in Vergne, the highest village in the Commune of Barolo with Nebbiolo, being the main varietal, but also planted with Dolcetto, Barbera, Freisa, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and of course their legendary Riesling, which is one of my favorites, to name a few. The vineyards are at heights of 350-400 meters, which plays a big part in the wines’ complexity and aromatic quality that winemaker Giuseppe Vajra achieves with his amazing collection of offerings. I first tasted the Coste di Rose at last years Slow Wine Tasting in San Francisco and reviewed the 2015 vintage here, so I knew this was going to be a special wine, coming from a vintage that will certainly go down as one the legendary years in the Barolo region, and I was not let down, this is a gorgeous Nebbiolo that should get better and better over the next two decades. The Vajra Barolo wines, like this one, see about (a) 30-40 day cuvaison, which allows for a gentle extraction the tannins from the skins, also Vajra notes, that there is a small percentage of stems are left in durning the maceration and primary fermentation depending on the vintage, riper years see more. The G.D. Vajra wines are not adorned with flashy sweet/toast French barriques, these wines are exceptionally pure and transparent versions of Barolo and the wines are aged in large (mostly older) Slovenian oak barrels for between 42-48 months before bottling. While every release of these Vajra Barolo offerings merit your attention, I highly recommend chasing down these 2016s and getting them into your cellar! I hope to re-visit the Vajra 2016s in a decade somehow, they should be even more amazing at that point and in the meantime I suggest drinking the 2013 and 2015 versions, both of these vintages offer exceptional quality and can be drug now without penalty, plus I highly recommend the Vajra Albe Barolo, the entry level offering, as it is a hugely rewarding wine and a great value.
($75 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

2020 Martha Stoumen, Vermentino, Venturi Vineyard, Mendocino County.
This beautiful and textural white from Martha Stoumen is crafted from 100% Vermentino from the Venturi Vineyard in Mendocino County, it is her first bottling of this varietal and it turned out fantastic tasting like a cross of some of my favorite Corsican versions, like Comte Abbatucci, Yves Lecia and Clos Canarelli with the cooler climate version found in Piedmonte, where the grape is known as Favorita with a dry palate, brisk and steely fresh, but smoothly textural with a subtle creamy dimension that gives this wine its impact. The Venturi Vermentino, an ultra pleasing Summer wine, was hand crafted with care to bring out the best in these grapes with a lush layering of melon, peach, tangy tangerine and green apple fruits along with wet stones, lemon curd, creamy verbena and sprigs of herb. The nose is slightly confectionary with a light citrus flower or orangey note, but there is plenty of pith and lime zest to keep some welcome taut tension. Enjoy this seriously fun white with your favorite sea foods and or any outdoor dinning you do, it really goes great with food, though many will quaff this Vermentino solo or as an aperitif. I had this wine with a basil, Calabrian pepper oil and tomato flat bread pizza and was rewarded by this wine’s ability to please in its rich feel and refresh the palate.

The Venturi Vineyard in Mendocino County is dry farmed and all organic with the vines mostly being head trained, as this Vermentino block is and all hand tended with Martha using it as a source for many wines in her collection, as the quality is exception and the flavors concentrated, but also with good natural acidity, which gives her wines their energy and balance. Just 94 cases of the Stoumen Venturi Vermentino was made in this premier vintage and it is sure to go fast. Martha says, the Vermentino saw a gentle foot treading, then the grapes were loaded directly into her gentle pneumatic membrane press or “bladder press”. After which, she adds, the pressed juice was settled overnight and then racked off gross lees to tank to begin fermentation. Once the Vermentino’s primary fermentation was completed, the wine was racked again to neutral oak barrels to finish malolactic fermentation and got short élevage of about 6 months. Vermentino, one of the Chateauneuf du Pape grapes, also known as Rolle, is found mainly in Tuscany, Linguria and Sardinia and has found a happy home here in California, from Paso Robles to Mendocino and has the potential to be a huge star. Stoumen limited the lees contact throughout fermentation to preserve crisp detailing, vibrance and keeping some of the Vermentino classic saltiness. Martha’s wines are attractive, authentic and natural in feel, this wine is a stellar addition to her lineup, maybe the best of her whites.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Hundred Suns, Pinot Noir, Shea Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
One of my favorite Oregon wines, the Hundred Suns Shea Pinot, is a knockout in this worrisome vintage and is way over performing for such a young and fresh wine with pretty aromatics, depth of flavor and complexity, all which highlights the special nature of this vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA of the Willamette Valley. This dark ruby hued Pinot Noir bursts from the glass with bright red fruit intensity, spices and floral tones which leads to a firmly detailed medium bodied palate of black cherry, bramble berry, tart plum, lingonberry and pomegranate fruits as well as a touch of whole cluster pop with mineral, fennel, blood orange, a touch of stony saline and black tea notes. Winemaker, Grant Coulter, the ex Beaux Freres star, who along with Renée Saint-Amour started their own label Hundred Suns in 2015, with a focus on small lot Pinots, of which the Shea Vineyard is one of the signature wines. While this 2019 might not be as good as the 2018, it is still rockstar stuff and a fabulous wine in its own right, it has its own charm, its own personality and the incredible attention to detail that goes into each vintage and wine here at Hundred Suns, these are wines that remind me of the wines of Philippe Pacalet and Jean Foillard, expressive, authentic and with energetic class. Oregon is producing a lot of new labels of merit and there’s tons to be exited by, with Hundred Suns being one not to miss.

As Hundred Suns notes, the Shea Vineyard was planted In the late 1980s, by Dick and it is now one of Willamette Valley’s most esteemed and iconic vineyards having provided grapes some legendary wines, including some made by Ken Wright, Mike Etzel of Beaux Freres, where as mentioned Grant worked, and even Manfred Krankl of Sine Quo Non, to name a few. Hundred Suns gets fruit from a one acre block at Shea which is 100% Dijon Clone 777 on a parcel that sits at about 450 feet above sea level on a south/southwest hillside slope. This warm site in Yamhill-Carlton AVA, as Coulter explain is planted on marine sedimentary soils and is well drained allowing for a deep concentration of flavors and a beautifully dark color, but still full of energy and structured, making for a Pinot that can really age. In this vintage, the Shea saw close to 40% Whole Cluster, will a lot done with all de-stemmed that was blended after fermentation with the partial full bunches lot. The ferments are done with all native yeasts and the wine was raised in 100% used French oak, with an elevage of 10 months in the neutral wood and bottled with low sulphur and unfined. Coulter says 2019 vintage was a return to familiar Oregon years, noting they dodged rainstorms to pick in late September and adds that by keeping yields low the grapes reached full ripeness, I am seriously impressed with what was achieved, this is a beautiful and elegant version to drink over the next 5 to 10 years. The Hundred Suns lineup continues to impress, the Pinots are all standout offerings, and I love the Gamay and Grenache bottlings as well, plus the Chardonnay is well worth grabbing too, get on this list.
($50 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

1998 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, Pinot Gris, Clos Windsbuhl Monopole, Hunawihr, Alsace, France.
This fully mature and perfect aged Pinot Gris from the prestigious Zind-Humbrecht and winemaker Olivier Humbrecht, the 12 generation proprietor, is one of the finest examples of this grape I’ve ever had, it even rivals their Grand Cru Rieslings for depth, pleasure and impact. This wine stands out with a sublime golden/amber hued in the glass and a remarkable almost full bodied mouth feel and opulent textural quality with layers of baked apple, peach, tangy quince, dried apricot and pear butter along with subtle mineral tones, wet flint, lemon curd, fading of wilted rose petal oil and secondary elements of wild mushroom, earth and spicy cloves. The 1998 vintage is about as good as it gets right now, it is undeniably hedonistic for a dry Pinot Gris, a hallmark for Zin-Humbrecht, who started during this period to pick later and allow for a little extra residual sugars in the musts, all of which benefits a wine such as this, that is like a Spatlese at this stage with the obvious sugar (sweetness) all but faded away now, so that the wine feels impressively dense, exotic and complex without any cloying effect. Zind-Humbracht’s winemaking for these Cru wines is more luxurious in style than some of their contemporaries, preferring to use native yeasts and long fermentations on the lees in oak barrels rather than stainless steel tanks. Only the oldest vines (over 40 years old) from the hillside Monopole Clos Windsbuhl Vineyard, set on calcareous marl, rich in chalky limestone and clay soils, very much the same as the Rosacker Grand Cru that sits just below and is the source of Alsace’s most famous cult wine, the Clos Sainte Hune Riesling, were used to produce this wine that saw a full 18 months on the lees in 40 year old French oak casks. I will note that Pinot Gris and Alsace have had their stars fade in recent times, but this wine, along with Domaine Weinbach’s Pinot Gris Altenbourg and the Marcel Deiss Mambourg Grand Cru, which is made Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir (with no skin contact) are wines that will thrill even the most jaded of wine enthusiasts, and when aged, even more so!

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht has been making some of Alsace’s best wines since 1620 with an unbroken lineage of Humbrechts making the wines here. Olivier Humbrecht, is the General Manager of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, is the second winemaker in the world to attain Master of Wine status, and is now joined by California winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Company in this extremely rare community. Domaine Zind-Humbrecht came by its current name in 1959 when Leonard Humbrecht married Genevieve Zind and through the 60s and 70s Leonard invested in top sites expanding the wineries collection of Grand Cru parcels, making an already world renown property even better, and under Olivier things have only got better still, in fact by the late 90s these wines were as sought after as many prized Burgundy and Bordeaux estates. When I was wet behind the ears in the wine business, selling collectable wines, Zind-Humbrecht Grand Crus were highly coveted and received near perfect scores, making them almost unicorn offerings that were highly allocated and when you opened a bottle for people it was like driving up in new Ferrari! Zind-Humbrecht’s Rangen, Hengst and especially Brand, in Turkheim, Grand Cru Rieslings are legendary wines, not far off Trimbach’s iconic Clos Sainte Hune, mentioned above, but maybe lesser known is their Clos Windsbuhl lieu-dit in Hunawihr, where this wine comes from, it’s like all of Zind-Humbrecht’s sites, all farmed to organic and biodynamic principles and with exceptional low yields to promote richness and concentration, while retaining energy and natural acidity. I tasted this fantastic and expressive 1998 Clos Windsbuhl Monopole along side the slightly more subtle, but almost equally good, Rotenberg Vineyard, also from 1998, that is named for its red, iron-rich soils, and with its cooler climate shows a bit more taut character, both delivering world class performances. This wine restored my faith in Pinot Gris and that of the region, after years of tasting mediocre stuff it is great to see more serious versions of this grape re-imagined and or in this case finding an aged treasure, I would easily recommend this terroir driven wine, regardless of vintage, but if you see this one, I’d grab it!
($55-120 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2020 Folk Machine, White Light, Blended White Wine, California.
The Healdsburg based Hobo Wine Company and their Folk Machine label makes some very cheap and cheerful wines and this White Light California white blend is one of my favorites, with its brisk citrus and peach led fruits and light bodied palate it performs everything that is promised and is wonderfully refreshing, a great Summer sipper for warm days and picnics. Hobo Wine Company started with just a few barrels of Zinfandel and has blossomed into more than a handful of labels and more than a 1,000 barrels of wine, made from a vast array of varietals every year, vintage permitting, but still their signature wine is their Hobo Zinfandel, Branham Vineyard, from the Rockpile AVA, just northwest of Dry Creek Valley, near lake Sonoma. Their wines range from the Zin to eccentric grapes like Aglianico and Friulano, which is the dominant white grape here in this White Light blend, and includes Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Charbono, Riesling, Valdiguie and Verdelo too. Sometimes, I forget, just how fun it is to have a sunny day wine that doesn’t need too much attention and that is easy on the wallet, which this White Light does and well.

Folk Machine, part of the Hobo Wine Company, is a small California label made by Kenny Likitprakong, who also makes the critically acclaimed Ghostwriter lineup, mainly featuring elegant low alcohol Santa Cruz Mountains Pinots and Chards and who along with his wife Lynn Wheeler bottle a bunch of other brands, including Banyon and Camp Wines. The 2020 White Light is a unique blend of 51% Tocai Friulano from Mendocino, 22% Riesling from Arroyo Seco, in Monterey County, 22% Verdelho from Suisun Valley, just east of Napa Valley and 5% Sauvignon Blanc from Potter Valley. Everything was picked at the beginning of the season, or a bit less ripe than most, with brix numbers ranging from 19˚ to 21˚ with the final wine coming in at just 12.5% natural alcohol, to keep things vibrantly fresh and dry. Kenny and Lynn, note that each variety was fermented individually in stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeasts and kept at a cool temperature, after which, when the fermentation was complete they lightly filtered the wine and left it in stainless steel to age a few months before bottling the following Spring. If you are in the need a easy quaffable white at a great price point and less boring than New Zealand SBs, you’ll be well served to grab the latest Folk Machine White Light.
($16 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive

2020 Domaine Arnaud Lambert, Saumur Blanc, Clos de Midi, Brézé, Loire Valley, France.
The Domaine Arnaud Lambert based in Saint Cyr en Bourg – Brézé is making some of the finest Chenin Blancs in the region and the latest Clos di Midi is a fresh, bright and energy filled version that shows mineral driven intensity and an ever expanding textural pleasure on the medium bodied palate with classic white peach, citrus and green apple fruits, wet stones, delicate herb and spice with just a hint of honeycomb and melon. This is a wine that can be really enjoyed now, its youthfulness is not a penalty at all, such is the quality and completeness here and its dry nature and chalky salty element makes it very cleansing and excellent with food, while still joyous as a solo sipper, especially for the Chenin enthusiasts. This was the first time I’ve had this wine under this label and I was incredibly impressed by Arnaud’s touch and subtly here, this is an exceptional value for what you get in the glass. Lambert also does sparkling Crémant de Loire Blanc, which has 75% Chenin and 25% Chardonnay in the blend to add richness and depth and a Cabernet Rosé bubbly that also uses fruit from the Clos de Midi, as well as elegant examples of Cabernet Franc, but it really is all about the dry Chenins, especially the Clos or Cru bottlings, like this beautifully detailed and crisply focused version.

Arnaud Lambert, who began as part of a father and son team with his dad Yves, made a name for himself when he took over at the historic estate of the Château de Brézé, one of France’s great properties and one that the French royals, as noted by the winery, used to exchange wines of Brézé annually for Château d’Yquem Sauternes. I have had a few outstanding wines from Château de Brézé over the years, so it was exciting to see Lambert’s personal offerings and get insight to his direction as a vigneron. I understand that Lambert is pushing the appellations of Saumur and Saumur-Champigny to invest in quality and focus on individual terroirs and lieu-dit sites, as he does, like in this wine. The goal is to re-discover the regions premier vineyards and exploit its full potential through organic viticulture and less-is-more, precise winemaking, which he himself adheres to. Brézé is a unique site due to its relatively high elevation and Tuffeau, the chalky limestone soils here that gives these wines their distinct character. The all organic Clos de Midi, a southeast facing parcel that was planted in 1985, was fermented using Indigenous yeasts and was done in 50% in stainless steel tanks and 50% in older Burgundian barrels, after which is was aged for 12 months. Thanks to Nate at Elroy’s Fine Foods and Wines in Monterey for showing me this 2020 vintage, I highly recommend chasing down a few bottles of this one as well as the sparklers.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2004 Chateau de Fonsalette, Cotes du Rhone Reserve, Rhone Valley, France.
What an amazing treat and surprise when this wine awaited me at a meet up of wine professionals, I was a party crasher and I must thank some very gracious people for allowing me in and I savored every sip of this wonderfully aged and beautiful 2004 Château de Fonsalette Côtes du Rhone Réservé. This slightly cloudy ruby/brick hued old Fonsalette which had me spell bound with its delicacy and with its pretty mix of secondary characteristics and the raw transparency of its flavors, it was really captivating last night. The nose was everything you’d want with the combination of earthy red fruits, dried flowers, olive paste, dusty spices and autumn leaves, which leads to a finely structured medium bodied palate that still has the tension between fruit and savory elements showing whole cluster crunch and herbal notes that nicely accent the raspberry, strawberry, blueberry, stewed plum, that gives notice that this wine is mature and peaking now, as well as dried fig, pepper, anise, cigar wrapper and cinnamon, tea spice, old leather, faded lavender and lingering kirsch. Made from 50% Grenache, 35% Cinsault and 15% Syrah, the Fonsalette saw a whole bunch fermentation, with each grape done in separate lots in enamel vats with the maceration lasting just under two weeks, after which the wine rests in the vats for 4 months before the Grenache and Syrah go into used French oak barrels and casks of various sizes and the Cinsault, which adds a juicy pop or heightened lift and freshness, goes into large 600L cask for 12 months, all before blending and bottling. This non hyped vintage is drinking with Burgundy like grace and is heavenly, it continues a tend of my year, proving Cotes du Rhones can age and be stunning in their old age. Again a huge thank you to Savannah Riedler of the famed Post Ranch Inn for sharing this wine, anyone staying there might want to explore their list, this one is drinking so good and there is a few more in their cellar.

Château de Fonsalette was purchased by Emmanuel Reynaud’s grandfather, Louis Reynaud, in 1945. It holds 300 acres, 30 of which are planted with Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah for reds, and Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Marsanne for whites, making it one of the three estates owned by the Reynaud family included the famed Rayas, as noted and the exceptional value Château des Tours. Most of the Chateau de Fonsalette’s fame in the USA comes from mainly the 100% Syrah cuvee Cotes du Rhone and this Reserve Rouge, is located near Châteauneuf-du-Pape, near the village of Lagarde-Paréol in the Côtes-du-Rhône appellation, and is a remarkable contrast to the 100% Grenache in the Chateau Rayas, one of the world’s greatest wines. When the legendary founder of Château Rayas, Jacques Reynaud, one of the legends of Chateauneuf, died suddenly in 1997, his wife asked their nephew, Emmanuel Reynaud, who was already making wines at his father’s Château des Tours, based in Vacqueyras, to take on the winemaking at both Château Rayas and Château Fonsalette, and he has made these wines some of the most collectable and sought after in the wine world. In the early 2000s I had the chance to try and drink the many wines from Chateau Rayas and was lucky to sit in with Rayas’ legendary importer, Martine Saunier and taste throughout the range of these fantastic wines, an opportunity that I will certainly cherish, especially now that the prices of Rayas and Fonsalette are way beyond my means these days. Finding some older bottles is one of the wine world treasure hunts that is well worth it, though I certainly highly recommend chasing down the excellent Château des Tours bottlings, the Vacqueyras in particular, but also the regular Rouge, they are absolutely delicious and way over deliver for the price. While people think of Chateau de Fonsalette as the second wine of the iconic Rayas, it is a unique and singular wine in its own right, as this 2004 showed!
($125-250 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 COS, Pithos Bianco, Terre Siciliane IGT, Sicily, Italy.
From the Vittoria region of Sicily and set on a combination of sedimentary clay, Sandstone and chalky Limestone soils comes COS’s Pithos, greek for amphora, Bianco that as the name suggests is a white wine made in the large terra-cotta pots as done in ancient times and like still done in the Republic of Georgia, where COS got the inspiration. Macerated for close to two weeks with whole berries and aged on the skins this incredible dry wine shows a unique, intensity and powerful structure from the extract and is wonderfully textured on the zesty palate. Made from 100% of the Grecanico grape, a local variety of Garganega (of Soave fame), quite rare, but remarkably well suited to the southern tip of the island, where it gets a cooling ocean influence and breezes that help retain a salty freshness. This single vineyard wine was sourced from the estate’s Fontane vineyard that sites at 230 meters elevation above sea level and see a cooling influence and has iron rich red sandstone, clay and sand which helps gives layers of . It’s been well documented that Sicily has a long history of winemaking, which dates back to the 8th century BC when the Greeks first planted grapes in the eastern part of the Island, though in recent years there has more hype for the volcanic soils of Mount Etna and the Nerello Mascalese red grape and Carricante white grape, while Vittoria is home to a few outstanding wineries of its own, including those of the Occhipinti family!

Azienda Agricola COS was founded back in 1980 by three friends, Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti, and Cirino Strano, but is led by the dynamic personality of Giusto Occhipinti, uncle to superstar Arianna Occhipinti, who was pushed COS towards natural winemaking and all organic with all of their vineyards being certified Biodynamic and has gone away from small oak barrels and stainless steel, now concentrating on cement vats, large neural botti and the 440-liter, Spanish made, terra-cotta amphora, as used in this wine. The Pithos, made from Grecanico, was hand crafted using a low sulfur vinification and with a skin contact fermentation in amphora employing Indigenous yeast and then raised on the skins solely in the clay amphora for close to 7 months before being drained and bottled. The winery explains that the long skin contact and amphora, which allows movement of the lees, provides an additional level of complexity that can be seen clearly in this exotic white wine. Mostly acclaimed for their red wines, made from local varietals, COS is probably best known for their Cerasuolo di Vittorio as well as the Pithos Rosso, a Cerasuolo di Vittoria aged exclusively in amphora instead of oak, made with the Frappato and Nero d’Avola grapes, though COS does a beautiful selection of whites. These are made from Zibbibo (the local Muscat) and Insolia, that are sometimes blended with the Grecanico too, with the Zibbibo, a highly aromatic grape, also getting the Pithos treatment, made in Amphora, I highly recommend discovering all of the COS wines.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Mullineux, Old Vines White Blend, Swartland, South Africa.
The husband and wife team of Chris and Andrea Mullineux at Mulineux & Leeu Family Wines in Swartland wine growing region of South Africa are making some of the most compelling wines in South Africa, with American Andrea now a full recognized international superstar winemaker, especially for her outstanding terroir series of Syrah bottlings, but it would be a crime to overlook their whites, which are incredible in their own right, with this Chenin Blanc based Old Vines White being one of my favorites in the lineup. The 2019 Old Vines White is a beautiful and textured version made from 74% Chenin Blanc, or Steen as it is known as here, 8% Clairette Blanche, 7% Viognier, 6% Grenache Blanc, 2% Semillon, 2% Macabeo, a rare Spanish varietal found in the Catalan regions and 1% Verdelho, also found in Spain and in Portugal. The palate is full and supple with a regal presence and mouth feel that is creamy, but still exceptionally vivid and vital with a seamless layering of flavors including peach, lemon, melon and waxy pear fruits along with verbena, honey, hazelnut, white flowers, spicy/herbal clove and a touch of butterscotch.

The Swartland region, as the winery notes, is blessed with an abundance of old vine Chenin and they use this classic Loire Valley varietal as the backbone in the Mullineux’s white blend. Then they add several small parcels of Mediterranean varieties for complexity, balance and aromatic lift, all of which prove sublime in this wine. It should be noted that Chenin can be used in blends to great effect both here in South Africa, where I have enjoyed it blended with Palomino and it France, where I love it in the famous Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc from the Languedoc. The grapes for the Old Vines White come into the cellar from sites in different parts of the Swartland, some from the stony Shale and Schist based soils of the Kasteelberg, the decomposed Granite of the Paardeberg and the rolling, iron-rich hills west of Malmesbury, this gives additional complexity in this tasty stuff. The golden and straw hued Old Vines White was, very much like classic white Burgundy, hand crafted and saw a natural fermentation in barrel with indigenous yeasts and the wine was aged for close to a year in the French oak of which were about 20% new and then bottled unfined and unfiltered. These Mullineux wines, like Sadie Family and Badenhorst, are really worth searching out, and this one is a fabulous way to start!
($34 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine des Lises, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge, Northern Rhone, France.
Maxime Graillot of Equis, who also now makes the wines at his famous father’s Alain Graillot, has crafted a full bodied charmer of a Syrah from his Domaine des Lises in Crozes-Hermitage that is bursting with ripe black and blue fruits, ultra silky tannins and a mouth filling plush sensation, adding hints of violets, sweet herbs, licorice, cassis and a touch of pepper and cedar. This 2018 is surprisingly luxurious and supple, making it a wine that is ready to drink young, no cellaring required here and it so easy to quaff, you’ll almost think it is a new world wine, though with food and air the true nature and terroir come through with subtle earthy accents. This a more impactful version of Maxime’s Crozes-Hermitage than normal and big step up from the the other Equis Syrahs, which are food friendly quaffers.

The Domaine des Lises 2018 Crozes-Hermitage, made from 100% Syrah, comes from an organic 40 year old parcel in the lieu-dit of “Les Picheres” set on the regions classic rocky gravel soils, which is less than 2km from the renown estate vines of Domaine Alain Graillot. Maxime employed a traditional approach here, using about 30% whole-cluster and native yeasts with ripe, late picked grapes and he aged this vintage in well seasoned old French oak barrels for close to a year. This is a very forward and opulent year, with the expressive plummy fruit core and a finished natural alcohol of 14.5%, this is a bigger framed wine than typical of the region and vintage, a bit more like a modern Cote-Rotie, so it offers a lot for the money and should impress a crowd easily with its lush boysenberry, damson plum, blueberry, sweet kirsch liqueur and fig layers.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2017 Guimaro, Mencia, Finca Meixeman, Ribeira Sacra DO, Galicia, Spain.
One of my favorite wines and favorite people, Pedro Rodriguez’s Guimaro Mencia bottling always bring smiles and offer authentic and terroir driven flavors that capture the soul of their region with pure drinking pleasures and this 2017 Meixeman Cru provides an earthy complexity and depth of fruit that transports you to this remote and ancient growing region in Spain’s wild Ribeira Sacra. Founded in 1991, Guimaro has now become an iconic winery within this small appellation in Galicia, and vigneron Rodriguez, who was mentored by the legendary Raul Perez, the Godfather of Mencia, has grown into his status has as one of the top winemakers in the Ribeira Sacra with a rebellious smile and with lots of classic heavy metal! I have been lucky enough to have spent some time with Pedro, on occasions he was visiting the Bay Area and have done some tastings with him and I really enjoyed his laid back nature and joyous love of life, it was impossible not to be caught up in his passion and humor. His hard work in the vines, really make these wines what they are and when you see the difficulty of hand tending the steep sites, you’d not believe you were looking at Spain, as the Ribeira Sacra “the sacred blanks” looks more like the steepest sections of the Mosel and there are places without any roads, some only accessed by small boats and by foot trails, it is not easy and historically none to profitable to farm these incredible vineyards. This Meixeman starts with a hint of reduction with earth and dark fruits leading the way, it quickly gains itself in the glass, becoming almost Nuits-Saint-Georges like in taste and feel with, a smooth medium body and layers of black cherries, tangy currants, wild plum fruits along with a crunch of mineral, grilled herbs, dried flowers, a touch of peppery spice, leather, woodsy notes and anise.

The Guimaro Finca Meixemán, as the winery notes, comes from a single old vine parcel of 72 year old Mencía vines that are set on schist soils up at about at 450 meters above sea level. This is the original family-owned Cru that started the Rodriguez’s estate and has a special place in their hearts, and in mine too, as I have always been thrilled by this particular wine and it was one of the first I tried from Guimaro. This special cuvée, according to Rodriguez, gets a unique vinification process that is specially tweaked to get the most out of these grapes, more like a traditional old school Burgundy. For the Mexican, in most vintages, the grapes are foot-trodden, with a partial 40% whole cluster and native yeast fermentation in an open top cono or conical wood fermenter. The maceration period is quite long with an extended period on the skins and raspónes, with no additions and almost no sulfur and then this Mencia gets aged for 12-14 months in neutral 225 liter French oak barrels. Pedro works his vines with organic methods and his wines are crafted with natural techniques, everything is done to make his wines have a sense of place and are ultra transparent in style with a feeling of raw openness or nakedness, nothing is covered up or manipulated here. Mencia, the main red varietal in the Ribeira Sacra, as well in the famous Beirzo region where it can be more rich and powerful, is a grape that has elements that will remind you of Syrah, Pinot and Gamay, especially here in this cooler Amandi zone that influenced by the Atlantic Ocean and the granite and slate based soils and elevation, where it retains loads of zesty natural acidity. Historically, since Roman times, the most famous Galician wines come from this Amandi area with its steep south facing hillsides above the Sil River, and tasting this Guimaro Meixeman you can see why. I highly recommend searching out these Guimaro wines from their basic tank raised Tinto bottling to their Cru Mencia wines, like this Meixeman and the Camiño Real, plus I love Pedro’s Vino Blanco, made from Godello.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive Reviews – July, 2021

2012 J. Rochioli, Pinot Noir, River Block, Russian River Valley.
The seriously luxurious 2012 River Block Pinot Noir from Rochioli is one of California’s Grand Cru bottlings with amazing depth and richness, it shows the classic estate character that makes these wines so compelling and sought after, displaying black cherry, raspberry, plum and fig fruits, along with a sweet/smoky kiss of toasty French oak, rose petals, tea spices, cola bean and a lingering touch of tangy blueberry. This wine has a real purpose and presence in the glass and the bit of age has brought out more complexity and allowed the wine and wood elements to become integrated and seamless, the satiny mouth feel is complete seductive, it is a wine that is everything you’d want from a pure California legend. While there are a whole cast of new generation stars and wine that may have more delicacy and nuance, Rochioli still is as good as it gets, these single vineyard or single block wines are incredibly sexy, especially this River Block with its sensual palate and hedonistic fruit density. I find they need almost tens of age to fully reveal their inner beauty and balance, and this 2012 is just starting to unwind and give its best, I can imagine this vintage drinking well if not utterly brilliant for another decade with ease. Originally known as Fenton Acres, the Rochioli names came into being in 1983 as Tom took over the winemaking here and in 1987 they released the first estate wine, the 1985 Rochioli Pinot Noir and the rest they say is history, going on to be one of America’s greatest estates, know primarily for these Pinots, but also with fabulous Chardonnays, an old vine Sauvignon Blanc and even still producing a Valdeguié (once known as Napa Gamay), which I absolutely love and covet.

Joe and son Tom Rochioli are second and third generation Italian farmers and pioneers of Russian River Pinots, they have always believed it was the grapes and individual sites that make the best and most intriguing wines here on their historic estate that sits on sloping hillsides on the bench lands above the near by Russian River, which sucks in the cool Pacific Ocean air, not far from Healdsburg on the famous Westside Road. Because of, the winery notes, the diverse terroir across their 140 acres under vine, Tom, now at the helm here, and his winemaking team ferment each block separately in traditional fashion using a mainly hands off approach, they firmly believe the wine is made in the vineyard and it should not be messed with in the cellar. While this is a common practice in Burgundy, and in California in modern times, Rochioli was one of the first premium Pinot Noir house to employ this a micro-batch hand crafted method. Tom, like his dad, believes that the unique differences between the diverse soils and clonal diversity can be tasted in every terroir here and adds to the regal distinction in each cuvee in the collection and sets their the Russian River estate apart. The River Block, dates back to the late 1980s, was planted using the original West Block selection clone, which is now regarded as a California heritage clone, was most likely the old Martini clone, but regardless it delivers a dark color, dark garnet with ruby edges and impressive structure here, as this sublime example shows. These mailing list only wines from Rochioli remain rare treasures and should be celebrated, finding them is difficult, but oh so rewarding. This winery has to be on any Pinot fans bucket list to visit when in the Sonoma County region and while not cheap, I highly recommend trying these single vineyard wines if you get the opportunity, it should be noted, they seem like remarkable values when compared to Grand Cru Burgundy!
($150 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

2019 Anne-Sophie Dubois “Les Cocottes” Fleurie Cru Beaujolais, France.
How Anne-Sophie Dubois remains under the radar, especially after tasting her 2019s like this gorgeous Les Cocottes Fleurie, is a mystery, these Gamays are enthrallingly beautiful wines that rival Chambolle-Musigny and Morey-Saint-Morey Burgundies with sublime aromatics, silken textures and lively details with this Cru Beaujolais showing a brilliant dark fruited medium bodied palate. Dubois, a studied vigneron and artist, she drew all of the artwork on the labels, based in Les Labourons call Fleurie home these days even though she grew up in the Champagne region and learned her gifted winemaking skills in the Cote de Beaune’s Volnay appellation, and she grew an appreciation for elegance and subtlety from her experience there. She has applied her considerable talents on her tiny eight hectares in the heart of Fleurie, all of which are now organically farmed, and with the vines, some over 60 years old, these parcels show loads of terroir personality and concentration. The expressive whole bunch, carbonic style and electric ruby/magenta Les Cocottes has a bright inner intensity, but is graceful, perfumed with dark florals and is texturally satiny with Fleurie’s classic strawberry, plum and red currant fruits, as well as a dusting of spices and herbs, adding a touch of mineral crunch and a walnut husk note. This is exceptional Gamay and I could possibly give bit consideration for a dessert island wine, it is that delicious!

Up until the 2015 vintage all of Anne-Sophie’s Fleuries were 100% de-stemmed and fermented in a Burgundian-style fashion with a nod to delicacy and elegance, though this Les Cocottes, her “little sweetie(s)” is different from her usual style, she crafted this Fleurie with 100% whole cluster and using a carbonic maceration, making it her most flamboyant offering, and it is one of my favorites in her stunning lineup, along with her more traditional L’Alchimiste, her signature bottling. Anne-Sophie uses a combination of cement vats, stainless and neutral French oak casks, which each wine demanding an individual approach to bring out the singular parcel’s soulful characteristics with this Les Cocottes coming from Fleurie’s unique pink granite soils, which brings out that heavenly nose of violets, peony and sticky lavender and round profile. As the 2019 opens it gains complexity and the stems add some good contrasting savory and earthy elements that is very seductive, while remaining amazingly drinkable and exciting, very much in league with Dutraive and Lapierre, two of the regions most legendary producers. This is remarkably impressive Beaujolais and when you realize that Anne-Sophie has only been doing this for about 10 years now, you got to admire her work even more. These 2019s are getting pretty scarce now, I’m glad I got a few bottles tucked away, but I highly recommend searching them out, they are classy wines that take Gamay beyond most expectations, with this Les Cocottes proving to be a stylist ready to drink version that can be served with a range of cuisine options and is best with a slight chill, it is a highly entertaining quaffer, perfect for the Summer season.
($33 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Sandlands Vineyards, Zinfandel, Lodi, California.
The wonderfully balanced and beautiful Sandlands Lodi Zinfandel comes from owner and winemaker Tegan Passalacqua’s own Kirschenmann vineyard, a historic site that is located on or near the Mokelumne River, this is just outside the town of Victor, set east of Lodi in the Central Valley of California. The soils are from the ancient erosion of the Sierra Nevada mountains that tower up to the east that over the years have deposited deep granitic sand and loams. This historic old vineyard, which is lovingly cared for in organic fashion and with classic old school head training, was originally planted back in 1915, and is all on its own roots, while primarily old Zinfandel, there is also a small mix interplanted Carignane, Cinsault, and Mondeuse Noir scattered within the vineyard. This is a special sand unique place and wine, many who have had the Turley Cellars version would agree, and Tegan’s own, which is humbly label just as a Lodi Zinfandel, is an outstanding California red wine of grace and complexity that is pure pleasure in the glass. The Sandlands 2018 Zinfandel gives classic layers of black raspberry, dusty plum, kirsch and a light spiciness along with dried herbs, subtle dark floral and wood notes, what a joy on the full bodied palate this wine is, it seduces completely with its fabulous textural quality and length. This dark purple/garnet Zin tells a story with each sip, revealing its past and present, its terroir and all the while delivering a top notch performance, what more can you ask of a wine?

Passalacqua, as noted many times here, is one of the state’s great winemakers and vineyard managers with an exceptional touch and an encyclopedic knowledge of vines and California’s rich history of wine. His talents are recognized with his efforts for Turley Wine Cellars, but intriguingly these fantastic Sandlands Vineyards wines remain some of the greatest values in California and somehow fly under the radar, these are incredibly delicious wines that hand crafted and made using a minimalist approach with mainly whole cluster and native yeast fermentations and aged in neutral (used) French oak barrels. This Zinfandel, sourced from these silica rich, white sandy soils, which have helped keep these ingrafted vines from dioceses and phylloxera over the more than one hundred years they have been producing grapes, really is a stunner, it reminds me of favorite Ridge, Bedrock and of course Tegan’s Turley wines. I had this wine in a grouping of outstanding Rhone varietal wines that included multiple vintages of Chateauneuf du Pape from highly regarded producers and this old vine Kirschenmann Zin not only held its own, it regally matched them for quality and complexity, while that might be surprising for some, it certainly wasn’t for me as I have long been a fan of this grape and now this producer. This 2018 is ripe and silky lush, but very well judged, at 14.4% natural alcohol, it is not heavy or jammy, again this is an impeccable bottle of California wine that will long been admired by those lucky enough to have a few bottles!
($32 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Inspiration Vineyards, Rosé of Zinfandel, Little Red Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County.
A fun Summer wine, made from Russian River Valley Zinfandel, the Inspiration dry Rosé of Zinfandel is bright and juicy with crisp layers of raspberry water, sour cherry, strawberry and watermelon fruits along with a hint of mineral, spice and tangy citrus as well as a lingering caramel note that gives a sense of roundness and body without any sweetness. This is good example of dry Zin Rosé, that can be very difficult to make with balance between ripeness and vibrant acidity, finding that point is like dancing on the top of a pin, and this one just about gets it perfect and is a refreshing and pleasing wine. I normally pass on Rosés that are made from Syrah, Merlot and or Zinfandel, as they typically don’t have the energy and profiles I go for, but this one impresses and offers a good value, it is easy to sip on and brought a sense of peace.

Jon Phillips, winemaker and owner of Inspiration Vineyards has really raised the game at this popular winery in Santa Rosa, both the wines and the packaging have really got exciting over the last few years and this latest set from the 2018 and 2019 vintages seem like a step up even further, especially with their signature Zinfandel bottlings. This pink Zin comes from a small family vineyard on the famous Olivet Road in the Russian River Valley, an area renown for Pinot Noir and old vine Zinfandel vines that sees warm days and cool Pacific Ocean influenced nights that can see the coast fog that flows up the Russian River making it perfect for growing exceptional quality grapes. The Rosé of Zinfandel, which was whole cluster pressed and saw a short period of skin contact and then raised in neutral French oak, coming in at 12.1% natural is ready to enjoy with BBQs and picnics, drink now. I highly recommend checking out some of the other wines in the Inspiration collection too, like their Russian River Pinot, Syrah, the old vine Estate Zin and the hedonistic Dry Creek Gallaway Vineyard Zinfandel.
($19 Est.) 87 Points, grapelive

2018 Pax Malhe, Syrah, Castelli-Knight Ranch, Russian River Valley.
The 2018 Pax Castelli-Knight Syrah marks the 18th Vintage that Pax Mahle has been working with this exceptional site in the Russian River and the exceptional people that own this vineyard and farm this unique ranch. The bright orange Haire Clay soils that cling to the slopes of this vineyard allow for a retaining of freshness while also allows for a depth of flavors, that Pax describes, as other worldly for California Syrah, which is influenced by the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean. While young and remarkably fruity for a newer Pax Syrah, this 2018 Castelli-Knght bursts from the glass with loads of blue and black fruits, dark flowers, minty herbs and loads of spice and on the palate things start off very primary, but it opens up to reveal classic layers of boysenberry, blueberry, sweet kirsch, plum and creme de cassis, along with peppercorns, subtle iron mineral notes, whole bunch crunch and anise. I think I should have waited another few years on this one, but it certainly has lots of appeal, especially with food.

The Castelli-Knight Ranch Russian River Syrah is 100% varietal, 100% whole cluster, 100% indigenous yeast and 100% aged in used 500L French oak puncheons for eleven months, with foot trodden bunches and exceptionally low sulfur, all to be as natural and as pure as possible. Pax says, of his Castelli-Knight Ranch Syrah, that it is rich but balanced, flavorful without being too heavy and of course all the while tasting like Syrah grown on a steep hillside, adding that it is also, very enjoyable and approachable on release, though intense enough to be guaranteed to improve with cellar like every other Castelli-Knight Ranch before it. Pax, rumor has it has it, with a partner, purchased the Halcon Vineyard in the Yorkville Highlands, which in my opinion might just be the most interesting site for Syrah in California, most notably for lovers of Cornas and Cote-Rotie wines and I am excited to see what Mahle’s talents will bring to this spectacular vineyard. I am a huge fan of Pax’s Alder Springs Syrah bottling, and it remains one of my favorite Syrahs in California, though this Castelli-Knight isn’t too far behind, it is a good time to invest in the state’s best Syrah wines, and Pax’s are firmly on the list of must haves.
($60 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Chateau Cabrieres, Chateauneuf du Pape “Les Silex de Cabrieres” Rhone Valley, France.
The pure and fruit forward Les Silex de Cabrieres Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge is an all tank raised version from Chateau Cabrieres that is made up of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah from mainly younger vines set on a calcareous plateau that has a scattering of the classic galets, the large round river stones that give some of these Chateauneuf sites their signature look, with a base of clay, sand and limestone soils. This bottling is showing very nicely with primary red fruits and subtle earthy elements, spice and dried dark florals, it isn’t a Chateauneuf to bury in the cellar it is for immediate pleasure and this highly regarded vintage makes it even more compelling with briar laced boysenberry, tangy currant, dark strawberry and juicy plum fruits of the fresh Grenache leading the way, pushed up by the light gamey and truffle notes from the Syrah, giving this easy Rhone some added complexity, it finishes with good fruit concentration and roundness, especially joyous considering it was aged without any wood. This Les Silex de Cabrieres Chateauneuf du Pape is pretty attractive and makes for a quality fresh example, in particular it has the stuffing and opulence to go great with meals and or will a range of hard cheeses. With air and time in the glass a deeper sense comes through along with hints of tar, licorice and savory tones adding a bit of extra dimension here, which maybe highlights the focus on the growing of the grapes from this single vineyard location of the northern area of Châteauneuf-du-Pape zone, which has a slightly cooler climate that adds to the vibrance of this wine.

The Chateau Cabrieres, run by the Arnaud family, with the famous winemaker and consultant Philippe Cambie over seeing the production here, employed an inox, all stainless fermentation here with micro-oxygenation to bring out soft fruitiness in this more clean and sleek Les Silex de Cabrieres Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge bottlings, helping it develop its soft texture and supple medium bodied palate. The upper end cuvees here at Chateau Cabrieres see classic cement cuves and some small barriques and come from much older vineyard selections that include more Mourvedre as well as small does of more legal varietals in the final blends, unlike like this modern style Les Silex, which is more for youthful consumption and much less brooding in nature. The grapes used in the Silex were all de-stemmed and saw a 20 day maceration and fermentation before being raised, as mentioned, in tank for close to six months, where it gets the blasts of oxygen, before being bottled with a light filtration, again to promote an ease of use style. I had not had these wine before and I enjoyed the dark garnet colored 2016 very much and can imagine having a few more bottles over the next 3 to 5 years, for a prestigious region wine, it is very non pretentious, very much more like a quality Cotes du Rhone with its personality and more a bistro country offering, rather than a collectable bottle with its bright flavors and ripe/sweet tannins. The property has been in the Arnaud family for many generations and has a historic castle in the middle of the estate with the winemaking here dating back to 1344 at least, though there is some evidence of early Roman efforts happening here too. Many thanks to friends Maddie and Martin, who visited Avignon and brought back bottles to share.
($35-50 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2015 Boony Doon Vineyard, Le Cigare Volant, Rhone Style Red Blend, California.
When our local industry tasting group met up to taste and discuss Rhone varietals and the state of Rhone style wines in California, we could not possibly miss a chance to taste one of Randall Grahm’s Cigare Volant bottlings and in this case I pulled my last bottle of his 2015, which is drinking awesome right now as it comes into full maturity and showing an elegant array of red fruits, spice and picking up a nice potpourri of dried flowers and snappy herbs. As the wine, made from 57% Grenache, 17% Cinsaut, 16% Mourvèdre and 10% Syrah, opened up it gained richness and a deeper sense of being with black raspberry, plum, pomegranate and fresh picked strawberry fruit core settling in along with touches of wood notes, chanterelles, lavender and cinnamon spice. After sending a note to Randall to tell him this 2015 is in a good place and held its own against a few tasty Chateauneuf, he replied that, the ’15 Le Cigare Volant was the first, last and only vintage that did not contain any wine aged in upright tank(s), adding that It was a blend of used French puncheons and demijohns, the glass carboys that Randall used mainly for his rare Le Cigare Volant Réserve(s). The end of the original Le Cigare Volant line after the 2017 vintage seemed a to be a time of mourning for a very special and innovative wine, these were wines of pleasure and complexity and inspired a whole new way to think about California wine, they will be missed. I have been a long time fan of Grahm’s wines and have really enjoyed his small batch alternative wines in the last 10 years, especially his stunning white wines, which never get the attention they deserve, his Le Cigare Blanc, the Reserve Blanc and Picpoul are some of the best white wines in California.

The name “Cigare Volant”, Randall says of his iconic creation, and the term “Rhône Ranger” are arguably, in his words, quite brilliant for their vivid memorability, but they may also carry with them a certain tragic flaw or two, though he may be harder on himself than needs be and we owe his vision and risk taking a huge bit of gratitude. In the end he felt boxed in, I think and craved something new, and now after the sale of his Bonny Doon label he starting a new planting project to create 10,000 new varietals at his own Popelouchum estate in San Benito’s San Juan Bautista, as well as continuing with some heritage Rhone grapes, including the rare Grenache Gris and the ancient Serine Syrah clone. Back to the past, Randall explains, the term “Le Cigare Volant” makes reference to the crazy (but effective) ordinance adopted in 1954 in a village in Châteauneuf, which by decree prohibited the landing of UFOs in their vineyards! In fact it still is in the wine law of the region. Grahm continues that “Flying Cigars” are the French term for cylindrically shaped unidentified flying objects (UFOs), hence his play on this with his Le Cigare Volant label name and artwork. Randall adds, to help contextualize what would be an “American Rhône,” the name alludes to Châteauneuf-du-Pape in a sly, ironic way, which was his intention all along. In brand new news, Randall has just entered into a new partnership with the Gallos, of all people, to craft an interesting new line of wines using the creative genius of Grahm’s brain and the business and vineyard resources of America’s biggest family owned winery, and this unlikely pair will release their first offering, an intriguing Tibouren and Cinsault Rosé bottling under the new The Language of Yes label, it should not be missed! The 2015 Le Cigare Volant is still out there in the wild, I highly recommend chasing it down if you can, it is in a nice place right now, Bravo Randall, and good luck with your new project!
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2020 Jolie-Laide, Clairette Blanche, Martian Ranch, Santa Barbara County.
Scott Schultz’s new Clairette Blanche is an absolutely beautiful white Rhone wine with clear and delicous layers of stone fruits, melon and racy citrus oil that feel lush and graceful on its medium to full bodied palate, but backed up nicely by mineral tones and bright acidity, this is a very alluring Summer wine. This Clairette Blanche, or Clairette grape, which is one off the rare Chateauneuf du Pape white grapes and also found in the prestigious areas of Provence, including the Cassis AOC and in the Bandol AOC, where you’ll find it in some of the region’s most desirable wines like Clos Ste Magdeleine and in the fabled Domaine Tempier Bandol Blanc, and is now showing huge potential here in California, where it has been championed by Tablas Creek, who brought the best clones from Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape, where it has been a bit of secret sauce for their awesome Chateauneuf Blanc for years, as well as Randal Grahm of Bonny Doon fame, who believes it and Vermentino have big promise here. The Jolie-Laide version has some of the French soul to it, but with California clarity and ripe sunny flavors, opening to fresh picked apricot, white peach and tangerine as well as having some excellent dry extract, saline and hints of wet stones, making it delightful with a range of cuisine choices as well as easy to sip on its own, it is very impressive stuff.

The Jolie-Laide Clairette Blanche was, as Schultz explains, all whole-cluster pressed, settled then racked to a combination of stainless steel and neutral barrique for fermentation and moved to all neutral French oak Burgundy style barriques to complete full malo-lactic conversion during its 6-month elevage on the fine lees. Schultz adds that all the grapes were hand picked from organic vines at the biodynamic Martian Ranch Vineyard in Los Alamos, as he calls a bucolic site set on Chamise Series (sandy loam) soils and has a very similar warm climate to the South of France, but with a good cooling influence from the Pacific Ocean which allows for exceptional balance and freshness, as this wine shows in spades. This Clairette is still lively and youthful, primary in flavors, but you can see it will evolve wonderfully well with more floral details that are just starting to appear and hint of honeycomb or waxiness, plus some spicy elements that really reminds you of the grape’s origins. Schultz notes that typically the grape is used as a blender in most Chateauneuf whites to bring acidity to the sometimes fatter varieties, like Roussanne, but can be found in some iconic mono-varietal cuveés of top houses, as he adds, like Chateau Prefert et al. Clairette, as Scott goes on, as it’s often called, can make everything from sparkling, light and crispy or left to hang longer for a richer and more complex style of wine, like his own, which I highly recommend! I was late getting on the Jolie-Laide list, but these latest two release offerings have been awesome!
($28 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Ryme Cellars, Fiano, Russian River Valley.
The golden/yellow Ryme Fiano is a delicious and impressively structured white wine with a beautiful mouth feel along with an array of sunny flavors that include peach, apricot, Sorrento lemon and honeyed pear, as well as round leesy notes, citrus blossom, wet and salty stones. While expressive, this 2019 Fiano stays very crisply detailed and bone dry, it is very faithful to its classic Southern Italian cousins and is another exceptional California version of a top quality example of an Italian grape or Cal Ital, that have really come a long way in recent years. The Fiano comes from the Bowland Vineyard, which Ryme notes, is located just off of Barns Road in the Russian River Valley and benefits from the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean and the regions warm sunny days. I have not had a better California Fiano than this one and it goes beautifully with a range of foods, including soft cheeses, sea food and especially with grilled spicy shrimp and pasta, it gets even better as it opens and keeps its nice acidity throughout. This medium bodied white is drinking fantastically well right now, I’m glad I gave it the extra six months in the cellar and love where it is at and the pleasures of its supple form and gaining maturity.

Ryme’s 2019 Fiano, made by the talented couple of Megan and Ryan Glaab, was whole-cluster pressed to neutral French oak, after which the wine completed both primary and malo-lactic fermentation(s) with only spontaneous native yeasts and bacteria. It also saw, as the Glaab’s note, close 10 months in barrel before being bottling, with the wine resting on its fine lees. I have been blown away with Ryme’s latest collection of releases, this is a label to follow, in particular I am thrilled by their lineup of Cal Itals like their Aglianico(s), the Vermentino(s), both with and without skin contact and the totally unique Sangiovese and Friulano blend, a wine that should be served slightly chilled and enjoyed with friends, as well as the very in vogue Ribolla Gialla white. Fiano, an aromatic varietal, is an ancient white Italian wine grape that is grown primarily in the Campania region of Italy and most famously in the Avellino zone, where there is the prestigious Fiano di Avellino DOCG, though Fiano is also found on Sicily and as far away as Argentina and Australia. The grape’s emergence in California is very welcome and it now has a home here with quality plantings in Dry Creek Valley, Paso Robles and here in the Russian River, to name a few places in thrives. This vintage is sold out at the winery, but I hope the new vintage will be out soon, get on their list!
($36 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Sandlands Vineyards, Cinsault, Lodi, California.
The latest 2019 Cinsault from Tegan Passalacqua is wonderfully textural and fresh with lovely aromatics, it shows fine detail and layers of smooth red fruits and drinks as silken as a Pinot Noir, this is impressive stuff. This Cinsault, one of the Chateauneuf du Pape grapes and a minor player in the Bandol Rosé and Reds, shines on the medium bodied palate with bright spiced raspberry, cherry, plum, pomegranate and tangy/freshy red peach fruits along with a touch of whole bunches/carbonic like creamy roundness along with dried herbs, peony floral notes, a light bit of sandalwood and a faint earthy stony savoriness. The Bechthold Vineyard, as Tegan Passalacqua notes, was originally planted back in 1886, this Cinsault vineyard is the oldest of its kind in the country—perhaps even beyond. The vines are gnarly, head-trained and planted on their own roots dry-farmed in deep, sandy soils., making for a distinct California wine that is terroir driven and always delicious. This 2019 Cinsault is a beautiful ruby color and easy to quaff, it is a lighter style red wine that drinks drinks with more presence in the glass than expected, especially for a wine with a mere 12.3% alcohol, providing lots of smiles, and while super now, it should be even more compelling in 3 to 5 years too.

Sandlands Vineyards, the personal project of Tegan, who is the head winemaker and vineyard manager at the famed Turley Cellars, and his Olivia is a must follow label, especially for those that want to taste California wine history. Their line-up of wines, as they note, includes some the forgotten classic California varieties, like this Cinsault, but also includes the Mission grape, Carignane, Mataro, Chenin Blanc, Grenache and Zinfandel field blends from old vine vineyards. These wines come primarily from vines grown in decomposed granitic sand soils from regions and vineyards that have been family farmed for many generations, as the Passalacqua’s add, but have remained the outliers of California viticulture. These, in some cases are historic, sustainable or organic, and are primarily head-trained, dry-farmed and own rooted. The vineyards, like the Bechthold Vineyard, used in this wine, they work with, which take you back to California’s roots of exploration, wonder, and hard work, all of which shows through in the Sandlands lineup. This Cinsault, which is at its best when served slightly chilled, was made in old school tradition with whole cluster and native yeast fermentation with gentle hand crafted care and was raised in well seasoned used French oak barrels. There’s a lot to love and admire here in the fairly priced Sandlands small lot collection and I highly recommend getting on the list, especially as Tegan is about to release some new stuff soon!
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Etheric Wine Workshop by Grochau Cellars, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The all natural Etheric Wine Workshop Pinot is electrically vivid in hue, it is surprisingly a deep magenta/purple and ruby in the glass and it drinks best with a good chill on it, making it sublime with Summer weather and easy to enjoy with a mix of earthy blue and red fruits, mineral notes, a touch of herbal (stems?) elements, opening to fresh cherries, blueberry/cranberry and blood orange. While tangy and juicy, it also shows a round carbonic like textural quality, much like a Gamay in style, it is delicious stuff from John Grochau, who makes an excellent set of Willamette Valley Pinots, as well as some other interesting things like Melon de Bourgogne, Albarino, Gamay and his unique Glou-Glou inspired natural Convivial carbonic wines, including a Barbera and Tempranillo, as well as a sparkling Riesling. The ex professional cyclist turned winemaker, Grochau, says this wine was made with minimal intervention, but lovingly intentional and adds that it needs to be served chill AF!

This 2019 Grochau Cellars Etheric Wine Workshop Willamette Valley Pinot Noir was fermented with all native yeasts and with whole bunches with exceptionally low sulfur and a short aging period to allow for absolute purity of form. The 2019 vintage shows a ripe fruit profile, but finished with a nice low 12.8% natural alcohol and zippy acidity to keep things vibrant and make for a more refreshing and transparent wine. Additionally, Grochau used 80% concrete vat, 20% French neutral oak barrels for the elevage, which lasted close to just 4 1/2 months then quickly bottled unfined and unfiltered. John calls this his ode to natural wines, but crafted with attention to detail and a focus on quality, this 2019 delivers on the palate and while authentic or raw, there is a lot of beautiful details that come through as well. Light violet florals mixed with a touch of leather adds to the pleasure here and it should be noted that some quality vineyard sites were used to make this wine, including the Zenith Vineyard, the Red-Wettle Vineyard and the Ribbon Springs Vineyard, all of which adds to the complexity in a no pretense Pinot!
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Drew Family Wines, Pinot Noir, Wendling Vineyard, Anderson Valley.
Winemaker Jason Drew, who is at the top of his game and one of California’s best Pinot Noir producers, considers the Wendling Vineyard one of a handful of “Grand Cru” sites in the Anderson Valley, and tasting his 2018 version is enough to convince me of just how right he is, this is an exceptional bottling and a thrilling wine of complexity, energy and beautiful from start to finish. I’ve been saying for years, that Drew is right at the top when it comes to cool climate Pinot and every year he continues to blow me away with the quality of his wines, especially his Fog Eater, Morning Dew Ranch, the Estate Selections and this outstanding Wendling Vineyard. The vintage, which was cool and mild with a late pick, is just starting to reveal its greatest and depth, gaining dark fruit intensity with every sip, but with racy acidity and a subtle floral bouquet shyly unfolding, this wine is just beginning its journey into greatness with the potential to really evolve to legendary status in another 5 to 7 years. The palate is a Burgundy lovers jam with glorious vibrancy and transparency showing elegant layers of black cherry, earthy plum, tangy huckleberry, blood orange and currant fruits along with a mix of spice, herbs, tea leaf and a light smoky wood note from the well judge use of classic French oak barriques. This Wendling is a daily deep in color Pinot with a dark garnet hue in the glass and is excitingly lengthy on the aftertaste, plus while proving some youthful grip and savoriness, it flows with silken grace and has, after opening up, an incredible mouth feel, this stunning stuff, that should be excellent with a range of foods from grilled or blackened salmon to seared duck breast in cherry reduction.

The Wendling Vineyard Pinot Noir saw 100% native yeast along with close to 45% whole cluster fermentation with the usual daily hand punch downs and long maceration period before going to barrel to age. Jason only gravity racked this wine twice and is extremely gentle throughout the process and the elevage lasted about 11 months in the barrel with 25% new French oak being used in this vintage, which as mentioned, is perfect in this 2018 edition. Sitting in the deepest end of the valley, in the most northwest part of the Anderson Valley, the Wendling Vineyard, which is just eleven or so years old now, is on a 450ft high slope with well draining rocky soils that include the Ornbaun, Wolfey and Bearwallow complexes.These hillside or mountain type soils are mainly weathered rock and have a base of sandstone, this Jason Drew says, along with the cooler coastal temperatures provides for low to moderate yields, giving a darker and intensely structured Pinot Noir with naturally low alcohols, as this wine at 13.3% clearly demonstrates, in the best possible way. Wendling is planted to several exciting suitcase Burgundy and Dijon clones, with Drew’s sections including an alleged DRC clone and a La Tache selection. Drew, who started his label in the early part of the mid 2000s down in Santa Barbara County after working with Bryan Babcock, has made his home in Anderson Valley and in the cooler western zone of Mendocino Ridge and has excelled here in this unique terroir, making some of the most compelling and authentic wines in the state, I highly recommend getting on his mailing list and exploring his whole lineup from Chardonnay to Syrah, and all the small lot Pinots! This Wendling looks to have an extended pleasure window and should drink well for more than a decade.
($70 ESt.) 95 Points, grapelive

2019 Arnot-Roberts, Syrah, Sonoma Coast.
One of my favorite wines from Duncan and Nathan at Arnot-Roberts is their gorgeous cool climate Sonoma Coast Syrah which slows loads of whole cluster and Northern Rhone character with a beautifully inviting dark purple hue in the glass, a layered medium bodied palate that features brambly spices, boysenberry, damson plum, black currant and bright kirsch notes as well as cracked peppercorn, olive tapenade, tar, licorice, mineral tones, camphor and a light cedary note. The crunchy herbs and umami adds dimension and the vintage’s natural acidity keeps everything riveting and crisply detailed, this year could easily be mistaken for an Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage-Hermitage or Domaine Jamet’s entry level Cotes-du-Rhone Syrah, which is, if you know me, high praise. This wine, even on day two is impeccably fresh and vibrant, gaining more floral aromatics and subtle earthiness, it is exceptional with food too, it truly is a great California version of this style Syrah, joining the likes of Ojai, Drew, Pax, Halcon, newcomers Desire Lines and Samuel Louis Smith, as well as Piedrasassi, to name a few. Arnot-Roberts has a fine collection of hand made wines, this one is not to be over looked, but I advise checking out their Trout Gulch Chardonnay, their Falanghina, their Touriga Nacional Rosé, one of the most sought out dry pink wines in California, and their fascinating Jura inspired Trousseau Noir.

The Arnot-Roberts Sonoma Coast Syrah comes from four unique sites, these include the Clary Ranch, where they also do a incredible cru single vineyard version, Que Syrah, Baker Lane and Solas vineyards, that as Duncan Meyers says, provide consistently distinct fruit that is loaded with intense character and concentration, which this 2019 shows to near perfection. Duncan goes on, adding that the long slow growing season near the edge of the continent allows for complete ripeness at lower than average sugar levels, resulting in a wine of deep color that has generous fruit character with an undercurrent of earth and spice, as well as having lovely balance and energy. The winery notes that for this wine, the vineyards are harvested and fermented separately using whole bunches without de-stemming, mainly native yeasts and upon completion of native primary fermentation the wines are basket pressed to a mix of neutral French oak barrels and concrete vats for an elevage that lasts about a year before the final blend is done and bottled. This Syrah, that is best served with simple meaty dishes, continues to way over deliver for the price and is one of the best values, especially since you can drink it young and not feel it should have stayed in the cellar long or with much pain in the wallet area!
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2020 Morgan Winery, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Double L Estate Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The just released Double L Rosé maybe a one off wine and considering the fires that swept through the region in this vintage, it might be the best Pinot Noir you are going to find in this disastrous growing season, this one is fresh, delicate and a nice treat for Summer showing sour cherry, strawberry, rosewater, saline, mineral and a kiss of ruby grapefruit, very much in the style of Marsannay Rosé from Burgundy. A bit of swirling and air brings a nice texture to this pretty ultra pale example of pink Pinot from Morgan’s Dan Lee and his winemaker Sam Smith, who has really stamped his signature on the last two vintages, raising the quality dramatically here at this long time Monterey classic winery. It should be noted that Morgan also does a Tavel (Rhone) inspired Grenache Rosé as well, that wine is a yearly mainstay in the lineup, but this rarity is more subtle and less fruit forward, with this Double L Rosé of Pinot showing a more austere, serious or cool personality, both pinks will find a lot of fans. I was happily surprised to see this Pinot Rosé at Morgan’s tasting room, joining their exciting 2018 Double L Pinot Noir, which is one of their most compelling versions yet.

The organic and cool climate Double L Vineyard, in the northwest end of the Santa Lucia Highlands is one of the region’s Grand Cru sites, producing fantastic Pinot Noir and absolutely world class Chardonnay, along with small parcels of Riesling and Syrah, both of which have seen an incredible jump in quality in the 2018 and 2019 vintages under the guidance of Smith. Morgan’s latest releases are wonderfully expressive and complex wines, if you’ve not had them lately, you are missing some very special stuff. This brilliant and shiny new Pinot Rosé was crafted from slightly early picked and ultra carefully sorted clusters, as Morgan knew they weren’t going to be able to make any estate or SLH Pinots, they took extra care to find the best grapes possible to make this wine and did a direct pressing without any soaking of the skins in stainless steel tank before the wine was aged eight months in neutral French oak barrels. The Morgan Double L Rosé of Pinot Noir did not see malo-lactic, to keep its vitality, making it unexciting wine to enjoy as the Rosé season hots up. I hope this version is not just a one off, though I can’t imagine in a good year them using such great Pinot to make a Rosé, but fingers crossed, I recommend getting this while you can.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2020 Storm Wines, Sauvignon Blanc, Presqu’ile Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley.
The bright and spicy Presqu’ile Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc from Storm Wines is wonderful fresh and unique with a profile that both delicious and excitingly distinct with a range of lemon/lime, lime blossom, melon and unripe peach along with some set stones, sliced jalapeño and spearmint. This light to medium bodied Sauvignon Blanc takes your palate on a thrill ride and is full of zesty intensity making it perfect with shrimp or fish tacos as well as goat dish dishes. As it opens this 2020 Presqu’ile Sauvignon Blanc gains a nice mouth feel and depth while retaining vibrant natural acidity and its crisp bone dry personality, lingering on nicely with classic gooseberry. It is quite additive and far removed from most Sauvignon Blancs in both the old world and here in California though obviously true to the varietal. Storm explains that the diverse soils and microclimates within Santa Barbara County, including the SantaYnez and Santa Maria valleys make it a region with endless possibilities, especially for Sauvignon Blanc, which was pioneered here by Fredrick Brander as far back as the late 1970s. I have really enjoyed the latest releases from Storm, especially the Gamay and the 2019 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir, so I was excited to try this new Sauvignon Blanc and I recommend checking them out.

Ernst Storm, who founded Storm Wines in 2006, grew up in South Africa and completed his studies at Elsenburg Agricultural School, one of the most celebrated wine schools in the world and is located just outside the town of Stellenbosch in the Western Cape. After completing his final year, Ernst worked as a winemaker in the Stellenbosch region and also spent two harvests in the cooler Walker Bay region in South Africa, while consulting on a few smaller projects with his brother Hannes, who is making some exceptional Pinot Noir. But Ernst really fell in love with California and has worked throughout the state, finally settling in here in the mid 2000s. In recently years Ernst has gained a fine and deserved reputation for making elegantly balanced wines from Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Santa Barbara County has a Mediterranean climate that in a way shares many similarities with that of the Western Cape, in his native South Africa, giving him an even more of a connection and feeling of home. The Presqu’ile Vineyard is located on the Solomon Hills on the Southern edge of the Santa Maria Valley and cooled by Pacific Ocean breezes, this Ernst says, coupled with old marine floor soils makes this site perfect for growing cool climate and aromatic Sauvignon Blanc. For this 2020 vintage Storm employed a cool and quick fermentation and it was aged for 6 months on the lees in 100% Acacia wood that adds texture while retaining absolute purity. In the next few months, it will be good to have this Sauvignon Blanc around to quench the thirst on the warm days and evenings.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Moreau-Naudet, Chablis, White Burgundy, France.
Virginie Moreau, who has bravely carried on after the tragic death of her husband Stéphane in 2016, along with her winemaker have continued the excellence found at Moreau-Naudet and this gorgeous 2018 regular Chablis AOC bottling is a stunningly pure terroir driven wine of class, substance and detail with lovely mineral tones, classic lemon, green apple and peach fruits and incredible texture, this Chardonnay way over delivers for the price. Subtle aromatics, that highlight the wine’s stony nature, nice refreshing acidity and secondary elements that include saline, melon and hazelnut all contribute to the depth and pleasure in this vintage. This sublime pale straw colored Moreau-Naudet Chablis proved to be excellent as both an aperitif and main event wine with an array of cuisine from an appetizer of seared scallops to a primary tuna dish, it even got better and more rounded with air, but kept it’s fabulous crisp focus throughout.

The Chablis AOC, in the brilliant Moreau-Naudet lineup, is the only wine in their cellar that sees any new oak, with this cuvee providing the seasoning for those barrels which end up in the Premier Cru program after the first fill. Even so, as Moreau-Naudet’s importer Grand Cru Selections notes, it is always just a few new barrels that are being added to replace far older ones and actually only constitute a small percentage of the final blend, and of which you really cannot notice, especially in this 2018. The fermentation at Moreau-Naudet is always natural and spontaneous with indigenous yeasts, followed by a long maceration and elevage on lees, with a fantastic result in the wine’s textural quality and richness. The wine is usually aged for an average of 18 months depending on the vintage in a combination of stainless steel and 600-liter French oak barrels, with a majority of the Chablis AOC cuvee, typically two-thirds, sees just the stainless. There is a lot to admire at Moreau-Naudet and while the Premier Cru and Grand Cru are exceptional offering and highly sought after, I recommend not missing out on the regular Chablis bottling!
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Sheldon Wines, Sparkling Graciano, Luc’s Vineyard, Fountaingrove AVA, Sonoma County.
The Sheldon Sparkling Graciano is a deeply dark and aromatic Brut style bubbly with a full body and a creamy lightly foamy mousse, this is an exotic and inky purple wine that has layers of blackberry, plum, cranberry and Italian cherry fruits along with racy spices, crushed flowers and a touch of savory elements as well as moderate tannins that hold this tasty stuff together. The Sheldon’s have been making various versions of sparklers over the last decade, usually doing something different each vintage with this dry Sparkling Graciano being a rare edition, coming after their Tempranillo Brut Rosé, and it is my favorite so far! Elegant and full flavored red sparkling wines are not too common, and especially when made from such a rare grape such as Graciano, a grape originally from the Rioja region in Spain. For this bubbly, the Sheldon’s used one of their barrels of Luc’s Vineyard Graciano as the base for this wine, it was picked at normal red wine ripeness and saw native yeast fermentation and a full maceration to extract its vivid pigment and depth of flavors. The 2019 Sparkling Graciano can be sipped and enjoyed as you would a red wine and with hearty cuisine or be a celebratory wine for toasting a special event, though best as a starter course wine with charcuterie and or antipasti.

This single barrel of red sparkling Graciano, winemaker Dylan Sheldon says, was created using, what he calls a Traditional Method technique, but with a pop top, like a Pet-Nat, while using an extraordinary non-traditional grape varietal. Lots of loving care went into making this hand made Rouge de Noirs style bubbly that shares more in common to Australia’s dry Sparkling Shiraz than any French fizz with only about 24 cases made, making it a very fun rarity that can be very addictive. This wine was sourced from the Luc’s Vineyard, located in the new Fountaingrove AVA, which sits in the hillsides between Healdsburg and the Chalk Hill appellation, it is an organically farmed small hand tended family vineyard. The Sheldon’s, who love Graciano, have been getting every grape gown here for many years now, and they produce some of the most compelling, ultra small lot and elegant wines I’ve tried from Sonoma County from this tiny volcanic soiled plot, including a stunning Grenache, a few different versions of Tempranillo, an aromatic Syrah and one of California’s best Graciano reds available, plus this tasty sparkling treasure! While some will think of this wine as a California Lambrusco, it is much more complex and more perfumed without any of the Italian rustic or gamey quality. It’s an awesome time to discover Sheldon’s collection of wines, especially now that they’ve just released a brand new 2020 Rioja style Luc’s Vineyard 50% Graciano and Tempranillo Dry Rosé or Rosado, which I can’t wait to get my hands on!
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2020 Martha Stoumen, Nero d’Avola Rosato, Benson Ranch, Mendocino County.
The latest Nero d’Avola Rosato by Martha Stoumen is crisply dry Rosé that is a heavenly refresher and its bright tanginess is a welcome relieve to these warm if not hot days and it has plenty of extract and substance to go with food as well. There is a glow to this vivid pink wine that is utterly compelling and inviting and steely palate unfolds with sharp details with zesty ruby citrus, wild unripe peach, cherry and strawberry fruits, a nice crunch of herbs, a touch of rosewater, spice notes, and salty wet rocks. Nero d’Avola, the classic Sicilian grape of the Vittoria region, where it is made as a solo varietal DOC wine, as well as being traditionally blended with Frappato. For her Nero d’Avola Rosato, Martha uses 100% whole clusters (stems intact) that see a foot tread and loaded into the press to macerate overnight before being pressed in the morning, allowing the extract of phenolics and pigment. The juice then is fermented naturally and aged in neutral tanks for 6 months, before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. This wine got better and better with every sip, and with the air and the warming the Rosato gained a presence and mouth feel in the glass, it met all my expectations and then some with juicy watermelon and tart rhubarb/cranapple adding an interest and playful side. There is a lot to love in the current set of Martha’s wines, with her Zinfandel, Carignane and signature Nero d’Avola red, being some of my favorites along with the Rosé bottlings and her new Vermentino.

Martha calls this wine her Vino di una notte… This, she says, translates to ‘one night wine’ and refers to the technique of crushing grapes and leaving them to macerate on skins (and in her case, with the stems as well) in their own juice overnight, adding color, texture, and complexity. Stoumen adds that she loves using this technique with the Nero d’Avola because it produces a wine that falls between rosé and a red wine, as she continues, it is zippy and bright like a rosé but textured and robust like a red wine. Stoumen racked the pressed juice off lees before fermentation began and then once again toward the end of fermentation, but there is still a touch of natural sediment in the bottle, which shouldn’t bother any fans of quality unfiltered wines. The farming at Benson Ranch also adds to the complexity of this wine, with all Dry farmed vines that are set on well drained gravelly loam soils, making for grape berries that are small due to water scarcity and have a higher skin to juice ratio, adding that intensity that shines in this Rasato. The Benson Ranch is located in Ukiah, Mendocino County on gentle hillsides and Stoumen sources her Nero d’Avola from these 14-year-old head trained, that are as mentioned, dry farmed and to organic principles, meaning everything is done without the use of pesticides, herbicides, and synthetic fungicides. Stoumen does make this wine every vintage, so when she does it is a rare and delicious treat, so I recommend not waiting around, this and her lees aged Nergoamaro Rosato are two of the most exciting Rosé offerings out there, don’t miss either, especially this one!
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Desire Lines Wine Co, Syrah, Shake Ridge Ranch, Amador County, Sierra Foothills.
If you’ve not discovered Cody Rasmussen’s wines yet, you really should do your best to change that and especially his Desire Lines Wine Co Syrah bottlings from Griffin’s Lair and this awesome Shake Ridge Ranch Vineyard version, a wine that is uniquely Californian and full of terroir expression with an inky and sexy color, incredible energy and depth of dark fruits, these are some of the greatest values in the state. I first tried Rasmussen’s Shake Ridge Ranch Syrah with his 2016 release, and I was blown away, but this 2018 takes it too the next level, his diligence and a slight tweaking of the winemaking to better get a grip with this amazing vineyard site has really paid off here. For the 2018 vintage, Cody adjusted the use of whole cluster, plus adding a tiny amount of co-fermentted Viognier, a la Cote-Rotie, and the elevage, adding a touch of new wood, to get the best out of the site and you can see the glorious results in the glass with deep layering on the full bodied palate that shows blackberry, sweet plum, kirsch and blueberry compote fruits, plus creme de cassis, anise, sandalwood, dark florals, smoky mineral, brambly spices, light herbal notes and an underlying tannic backbone that feels muscular, but perfectly integrated. This is a wine that is just coming to life and it is absolutely brilliant, it especially gets rocking with food, in my case it went fabulous with marinated flank steaks and rosemary roasted potatoes and veggies as well as hard basque cheeses. This deep purple hued and powerfully structured 2018 saw the use of a large Taransaud barrel, which adds a luxurious toastiness to this already well polished and opulent effort, this wine has embraced its expressive nature without being over the top, it way over delivers for the price and is one of the bargains of the year so far.

Cody and Emily Rasmussen started their own micro-winery and label, Desire Lines Wine Co. with a small batch of Syrah in 2014 and now has a wonderful collection of dry Riesling, a Mourvedre, a Carignan based blend, a Cabernet Sauvignon and the mentioned Syrahs, which are the signature wines of the winery. Rasmussen, who is a winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson’s famous Bedrock Wine Company, has been searching out unique vineyard sites in California and this Shake Ridge Ranch Vineyard is truly a great location and is farmed by the Ann Kraemer, a pioneering legend in the Sierra Foothills, who is also a consulting viticulturalist for Domaine Chandon, Swanson, Cain, Calera, Paul Hobbs, and Shafer, to name a few and set on geological wonderland of soils with schist, Mariposa slate, greenstone, and marble, and as Rasmussen notes, within the vineyard rows at Shake Ridge there are big chunks of quartz that litter the ground. The Sierra Foothills has a warm climate, but here at this elevation sees a huge day to night swing with the vines getting a nice cool rest during the dark hours, helping retain natural acidity, which is evident here is this vintage. This vineyard is planted to classic Rhone Varietals and has become a mecca for winemakers with Rasmussen getting certain blocks of Syrah with two genetic clones going into his Shake Ridge Syrah, with a clonal split of Syrah Noir and clone 470, with this year’s wine seeing more of the Syrah Noir than in prior efforts, along with the small percentage of Viognier, which Cody says helps color and aromatics. Made with each parcel getting its own amount of whole cluster from 30-100% and all native yeasts, it got a cool and gentle maceration with a wet cap and daily hand punch-downs before pressing to a combination of one new 500L puncheon (making for about 30% new) and used French oak barrels for aging. There is a lot to admire here and this Shake Ridge Syrah looks like it has a long and gorgeous life ahead of it, as I said, this is a great time to get these wines.
($36 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Tannat, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
The beautifully dark and blue fruited Tablas Creek 2018 Tannat is Tablas Creek’s seventeenth bottling of this traditional Basque grape from South-West France and one of the best I’ve tried with deep layers and fresh details from this remarkable vintage that gave beautiful fruit concentration, lively acidity and heightened aromatics, making this wine exceptionally delicious. With a reputation of being a rough and tumble grape, Tablas’ version is impeccably charming, while retaining the firm, Cabernet like, framework and varietal markers that make Tannat what it is, it shows a fine balance of fruit and savory elements with blackberry, blueberry and tangy wild plum leading the way on the full bodied palate along with hints of dried lilacs, Turkish fig, dusty spices, anise and cedar notes. Built to survive a few decades, the Tablas Tannat is drinking fabulous in its youth, adding a bit of mineral, saline, bitter coco and menthol, all of which brings memories of some of my favorite Iroulèguy wines, like those of Domaine Ilarria, imported by Charles Neal Selections. The Tannat grapes were 100% de-stemmed and fermented using native yeasts. As Tablas notes, as they have for many years, they blended in a tiny of Cabernet Sauvignon, making the final wine a 97% Tannat and 3% Cabernet blend. It then aged it in one large foudre and a mix of new and older smaller French oak barrels for close to 24 months before bottling, after which it was rested in the bottle for more than 6 months prior to its release. Tablas Creek, known for bringing those Chateauneuf du Pape grapes over, also brought Tannat cuttings, and we are all the better for it.

Tannat, originally from the southwest of France, is mainly found near the French Pyrénées and French Basque country and is a powerful dark skinned varietal that has found a welcoming home here in California, as well as in Uruguay, where it is celebrated as their national grape. The wine made from Tannat is notable for its very high tannin levels and is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Cabernet Franc and found most notably in the Madiran AOC, though almost quite famously Tannat is also produced in Irouléguy, and it can also be used as a minor grape in the mostly Malbec wines of Cahors. Tannat known for its earthy rustic character and fiery tannins and is best served with robust cuisine choices, while the French versions remain a bit chewy and full of grip, the grape here in California has largely been tamed from giving a harsh performance, while still being dense, meaty and structured, making it very compelling on its own, but also great in blends. Interesting, the grape has brought out innovation in winemaking techniques, as witnessed back in 1990, when Madiran winemaker Patrick Ducournau experimented with adding controlled amounts of oxygen aeration into Tannat while fermenting it, to achieve softer results, and ended up developing the modern winemaking process of micro-oxygenation! Those that love the modern versions of Paso red blends will now find many contain small portions of Tannat, and they are the better for it, and this almost solo effort is a great way to discover this grape, though as mentioned I’d be sure to have a hearty meal with it, in particular a rack of lamb, wild mushroom dishes and or hard sheep’s cheese.
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Chardonnay, Lindsay Paige Vineyard, Estate Grown, Santa Cruz Mountains.
This wine continues to be one of the greatest values in California Chardonnay, coming from Richard Alfaro’s flagship Lindsay Paige Estate Vineyard, it delivers a rich and rounded full bodied mouth feel and excellent crisp detailing with lively freshness, mineral notes and a long creamy finish. The 2018 is hitting its stride right now, all coming together and flowing seamlessly across the palate with white flowers, lemony brioche and apple, pear and peach fruits as well as perfectly judged oak, which gives this wine an elegant and opulent frame with hints of toast and butterscotch/vanilla. This vintage is pure and is exceptional with food, especially with roast herb crusted chicken, which I enjoyed it with, though it would be even better with lobster, crab cakes and or soft double cream cheeses. Alfaro has a well earned reputation has a great grower of Chardonnay, though not enough credit is given to his own lineup and these Chardonnays remain somewhat under the radar, in particular his own Trout Gulch version, his special Mary Katherine Chard, named for his wife, which includes his Kongsgaard clone parcels and this Lindsay Paige, named for his daughter. With air this pale golden/straw hued Chardonnay adds more complexity with hints of wet stones, saline and honeysuckle coming through and the fruit density impresses, while everything stays briskly focused. Just 200 Cases of the Lindsay Paige Chard was produced, with most of it going to Alfaro’s mailing listened wine club, both of which I recommend joining to get these awesome wines.

In recent years, Alfaro has had his son Ryan, a confident winemaker in his own right, getting more and more involved in the family business and bringing a renewed energy and passion to the estate. Ryan, who studied in New Zealand and spent a year being mentored by California legend Adam Tolmach of The Ojai Vineyard, has started his own label, Farm Cottage Wines that has created a big buzz with the first release of a Trout Gulch Pinot Noir, a wine I absolutely love and reviewed here a few months ago. The Alfaro’s farm with incredible care and work in sustainable and mostly organic fashion with a result of some fantastic grapes that are in high demand, in particular their Trout Gulch Chardonnay that goes to some of California’s most exciting winemakers, like John Raytek at Ceritas, Duncan Meyers at Arnot-Roberts as well as Jamie Kutch, all of which make thrilling examples from this awesome site. The Lindsay Paige Chardonnay was classically done with hand-crafted care with barrel fermentation and aging, with this cool climate wine seeing full malo-lactic conversion and fine lees contact in French oak barrels, 25% new, for close to 10 months. The 2018 vintage, a long cool growing season with wonderful concentration and plenty of natural acidity really pushed this Lindsay Paige Chardonnay to the next level and gives this wine a real presence and structure, it should drink well for many years to come, though it is so good now it mostly likely won’t be around for those that like their Chardonnay with some age. Luckily, I am almost certain the just released 2019 will be just as delicious if not more so! Don’t forget to check out Richard’s beautiful Pinots, which are smoothly elegant and fruit forward, and the racy and dry Alfaro Gruner Veltliner.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Violin, Pinot Noir, Sojeau Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Brand new to me is this exciting Oregon producer from Amity, Violin Wine, a Pinot Noir focused label by winemaker Will Hamilton that was established in 2013 and is making small lot single vineyard wines, like this beautiful Sojeau Vineyard Pinot Noir from vines in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA of the Willamette Valley. The 2018 Sojeau Pinot shows clear red and blue fruits, lovely floral notes and fresh acidity with a beautiful texture and exceptional length, everything is crisply detailed and elegant from start to finish. Round layers of black cherry, vine picked wild berries, plum and tangy blueberry mingle with seeped rose petals, orange/hibiscus tea, delicate spices and a touch of shaved vanilla all come through on the vivid medium bodied palate. Before starting Violin Wine, Hamilton spent several years making wine at Walter Scott, one of the Willamette Valley’s elite producers and cut his teeth making some of the most sought after wines in Oregon, so it is no surprise that his Violin Sojeau Pinot is so good. This dark ruby/garnet hued 2018 Sojeau was blended from two fermentation lots, which Hamilton says, included one barrel of 100% de-stemmed grapes and three barrels that were done with about 20% whole cluster and blended together before bottling.

The Sojeau Vineyard is farmed by Dennis and Thelma Peseau, it is their personal vineyard that, Will explains, (it) is up at about 700 ft above sea level and crests a boulder strewn rocky outcropping set on Jory volcanic soils, adding that it is on the high Western flank of the Southern Eola-Hills with a view over the Van Duzer Corridor and is planted to three clones, Dijon 115, Pommard and Wadenswil. Planted in 2007 this vineyard is just coming into its and Hamilton says the wines from here give an elegance and tension not always found in the new world, he gets particular blocks of all three clones and co-ferments them, adding that the wines lean toward a red fruit profile, with an enticing aromatic quality with spicy red fruits, flowers, and an earth-driven edginess, which I can certainly see in this 2018. This vineyard is the main source of grapes for the Violin label and this site makes Hamilton very optimistic about the future of Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley, and he says it creates wines of extreme balance and intrigue, again I would find that hard to argue with considering how delicious this wine is. Looking for elegance and transparency in his wines Hamilton, who made only 95 cases of this Sojeau, aged this vintage on lees for 14 months in one new barrique and three previously filled used French Oak barrels. This Sojeau Pinot is massively appealing and impressive in the glass, I highly recommend this brilliant wine and exploring the Violin lineup as soon as possible.
($55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Dirty & Rowdy, Mourvèdre, Enz Vineyard, Lime Kiln Valley AVA, San Benito County.
The seductively dark and sultry Enz Vineyard Old Vine Mourvèdre is really coming to life right now with an exciting mix of deep fruit, texture and a stemmy savory rush of meaty and earthy elements, all perfectly capturing the essence of the grape, most famously found solo in the powerful Bandol wines in France’s Provence region and this unique California terroir in the wilds of San Benito County. In recent years you’ve seen some great wines from this vineyard, especially Ian Brand’s Mourvèdre and this Dirty & Rowdy bottling which is particularly thrilling in this near perfect vintage on the Central Coast, it is located in the Lime Kiln Valley AVA not far from the Cienega Valley at about 1,200 feet above sea level and set on combination of limestone and granite soils with a smattering of sandy and rock. This purple/garnet wine opens up with a concentration of black and red fruits, some raw tannins, wild herbs and gamey notes and with a few swirls you find some sweet florals, a touch of chalky stones, a sanguine quality and tapenade with layers of boysenberry, plum, dried cherries and wisps of sage, blood orange licorice, bacon and cedar. This wine retains the freshness of year’s long cooler growing season, but still pleases with ripe character and impresses for its dense mouth feel, though without question this wine benefits from food to smooth out its rustic grip, best to serve with some serious proteins.

The single varietal (100% Mourvèdre) Enz Vineyard, about a hundred years old now, which is farmed with sustainable and organic methods was fermented in an old school and natural manner with 100% whole cluster and all indigenous yeasts without any manipulation, all to allow the year and vineyard to shine through in an authentic and openly transparent way. There’s no new oak used in the Enz Mourvedre either, just well used neutral French oak barrels and no fining or filtration is done, plus almost zero sulfur is added in the winemaking process. While there is no polish here, this is a stunning effort for those that love Mourvèdre in its most naked form, it reminds me of some of my favorite Bandol wines, especially the classic meaty examples by Château de Pibarnon. The whole bunches add a degree of feral funk, in a good way and give this wine an added dimension on the full bodied palate and should continue to evolve in the coming years as well as the core of fruit, this Dirty & Rowdy Enz Mourvèdre has loads of personality and potential. As to pairings, there’s lots to enjoy this stuff with, I would suggest a more robust cuisine like lamb, grilled steak and or hard sheep’s cheeses. That said I had it with a spicy pasta and while not an exceptional pairing for this Mourvèdre, it went remarkably well and handled it with surprising grace. Dirty & Rowdy, a Mourvèdre minded winery, also has a very cool collection of other wines from a set of “orange” style skin contact whites and Rhone red blends that are well worth searching out, plus I absolutely love their Mendocino Barbera, it is an awesome California version of this Piedmonte grape. This no pretense winery is a label to follow, I highly recommend getting on their mailing list, these wines have a fanatical following and sell out quickly.
($47 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2020 Jolie-Laide, Gamay Rosé, Witters Vineyard, El Dorado County.
The delicately pale pink Jolie-Laide Gamay Rosé is vividly fresh and crisply refreshing with bright fruit detail and has a tangy pop to it with tart cherry, strawberry, red peach, citrus and a steely mineral charm, this is impressively delicious. As it opens there is plenty of vigor and zesty acidity to balance the Gamay’s natural fruitiness and it adds a touch of spice, floral tones, wet rock and anise, making it easy to love with a bone dry profile and a layer of complexity that makes you pay attention. Inspired by a trip to Beaujolais many years back, as Jolie-Laide winemaker Scott Schultz notes, Steve Edmunds, who might be the first in California to do a serious true Gamay and a Rosé of Gamay Noir under his Edmonds St. John label, and Ron Mansfield took the great risk of planting the first known true Gamay Noir in the state, high up in the Sierra Foothills where they found some granite and quartz soils, all of which paid off eventually as Gamay finally got the love it deserves. Jolie-Laide’s Spring releases, with a new set of artist labels are all very tasty, in particular their quaffable Freisa, a gullible Piedmonte inspired red and the racy Melon de Bourgogne.

The Gamay was grown at 3300 feet up in the Sierras on deep volcanic clay loam and quartz at the Witters Vineyard, in fact it’s one of the highest vineyards in California with hot days, but very cold nights that helps retain good freshness and balanced flavors, which Scott wanted to highlight here with his Rosé. The achieve his goals with the Gamay Rosé, Schultz made sure to pick the grapes early to preserve vibrant acidity and employed a cold whole cluster pressing to a unique set of vessels, a combination of stainless, concrete, and neutral oak. After a short skin maceration there was a short wait for a natural spontaneous fermentation. The Jolie-Laide Witters Vineyard Gamay Rosé was then raised for six months before bottling to capture all of its exceptional vitality, this is a wine I should have bought more of, especially for the warm days ahead. As Rosé season heats up there is a lot of great choices to satisfy your thirst for quality dry pinks, and this Jolie-Laide joins a fun new and riveting set of wines and producers to explore. Based in Sebastopol Jodie-Laide does a nice collection of small batch wines, you’ll need to be on their list to get them as these limited offerings sell out within days of release, luckily a few stores get some bottles, act fast to get some, don’t delay get on it!
($28 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Vincent, Gamay Noir, Bjornson Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
I just got turned on to Vincent Wine Company by a friend who has just started her label up in the Willamette Valley and was telling me of some of the up and coming and cool wineries to check out and the Gamay has loads of personality and very naturally styled with zesty pure fruits and a touch of raw savory tones with fresh strawberry, plum, cranberry and macerated cherries leading the way on the light and tangy palate. Vincent Fritzsche, who focuses on single vineyard Pinots, launched his winery in 2009 after working in both California and Oregon, is now based in the Eola-Amity Hills and has a delicious collection of wines, all of which are incredibly well priced, especially this one. This unfiltered ruby hued Gamay, best served with a chill, opens nicely with floral detail, some blue fruits, earthiness, a herbal crunch and an almost old work funk, reminding me of Clos de la Roilette Fleurie, impressive, less fruity and fun stuff that goes well with simple cuisine. Vincent does a single vineyard Pinot from the Bjornson Vineyard, as well as this Gamay, which is located in the winery’s home base Eola-Amity Hills AVA on iron rich gravelly soils, much like the prestigious Zenith Vineyard, which Fritzsche also sources, for his top Pinots.

Fritzsche employs a natural and traditional winemaking with all of his wines, with his Gamay seeing partial whole cluster, vintage dependent, non carbonic fermentation with gentle pileage and an all native yeast primary, allowing things to get going before doing daily punch downs and a light wetting of the cap during the maceration. Once dry, usually after 18 to 24 days the wine is pressed and settled for close to three days before going into well used barrels, some up to ten years old, with the elevage lasting about a year in the oak. Very little is done in the cellar, except for ultra small doses of sulfur for stability as these wines are bottled without filtration. Vincent gets a lot of attention for the Pinot Noirs, but I also hear his Chardonnay and in particular the Pinot Blanc are not to be missed either, and I look forward to digging into them soon, and especially as this Gamay proved to be very delightful over the course of the evening, getting more and more pretty as it opened completely. Working with vineyard sites that are truly sustainable, if not all organic and or biodynamic, Vincent is looking to let the vineyards speak for themselves, like this Bjornson Vineyard, which is located almost next door to the famous Seven Springs Vineyard and set on classic Jory (volcanic) soils, which Vincent says gives soft tannins, vibrant acidity and more spice and flowery profiles, evident here in the Gamay. This is an exciting winery to start following, joining a ever expanding set of new generation labels in Oregon that are hand crafting wines of passion and terroir.
($25 ESt.) 90 Points, grapelive

2019 Turley Wine Cellars, Zinfandel, Sadie Upton Vineyard, Amador County.
This incredible, deeply purple and delicious full throttle Zinfandel was the perfect wine to celebrate my all American 4th of July, coming from the historic Sadie Upton Vineyard in Amador County that was planted back in 1922, not far from Plymouth, it shows the old vine concentration and ripe flavors you’d expect from Turley, along with a vibrant array of spices and the vintage’s lively nature. Hedonistic, dense and opulent in style, this 15% plus Zinfandel has textural pleasure in spades with a lush mouth feel and a depth of black and red fruit flavors with layers of brambly black raspberry, plum, mission fig, creme de cassis and candied cherry along with snappy spices, floral tones and cedar in a wine that has much in common with big Chateauneuf du Pape(s), it is an unabashed flamboyant joy in the glass. The Sadie Upton Vineyard, Turley notes, came to life in the middle of Prohibition, when a young woman decided decided to get it done while her husband was away working for the railroad, a then 21-year-old Sadie Upton planted this site all by herself, this gumption, as Turley puts it, and tough character shown by Sadie still shows her now 99 year old vines. This 2019 Sadie Upton Zinfandel opens up nicely and gained a bit of savory elements and a touch of irony red spice, it was fabulous with a range of holiday foods, in particular some BBQ chicken and a tomato basil pizza, as well as mixed cheese plate.

Turley Wine Cellars, one of California’s most desirable labels and one of the top Zinfandel producers, was founded in 1993 in Napa Valley by Larry Turley, the ex emergency room doctor and flying enthusiast, who up on farms in the south, where gained a huge respect for the land. Now, with winemaker Tegan Passalacqua leading the efforts, Turley hand crafts about 50 different wines each vintage from more than 50 unique sites across California, with some vineyards in the collection dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, making them well over a hundred years old. Passalacqua has raised the game here at Turley and they really respect the history of these vines, putting a lot of effort into the care of these old vines, relying on organic farming and preserving these old vine vineyards with California’s classic varieties, asTurley says, they aim to both create and preserve California’s unique winemaking culture and traditions. Turley, looking to the future has put together an impressive team, with Larry’s daughter, Christina Turley, who joined the winery full time in 2010 leading the sales and marketing efforts from the Napa headquarters in Saint Helena. Turley, a visionary, brought a few lesser known properties in California’s Zin locations over the last couple of decades, like their Pesenti site in Paso Robles and more recently the Karly winery in Amador County, both of which have huge benefits in terms of access (for customers) and quality to the lineup, like this Amador County Zinfandel shows! Not a one trick pony, Turley, known mainly for their Zins and Petite Syrah, also does Cabernet Sauvignon, a great Cinsault, a cool field blend red and Grenache, so be sure to check out these stunning 2019s!
($49-67 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2015 Le Miccine, Chianti Classico, Gran Selezione, Giaole in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy.
Paula Papini Cook’s fantastic 2015 Gran Selezione Chianti Classico, her top estate bottling, is wonderfully pure, richly dense and smooth in structure, highlighting the ripe and opulent vintage in the region, showing beautiful dark berries and floral aromatics along with sweet and savory elements, including tobacco leaf, cedar, dried Turkish fig and anise that all linger on and on. With some air in the glass this dark garnet and crimson Sangiovese opens further and becomes even more compelling adding kirsch, lilacs, plum, strawberry and currant to the full bodied palate, all of which gives this wine an incredible sense of completeness and makes for an excellent companion for the evening, especially brilliant with meat dishes, pasta and or firm pecorino cheese. This Gran Selezione by Le Miccine is everything you’d want in a premium example of the region’s main grape Sangiovese. Paula Papini Cook has really turned Le Miccine, her grandparents ancient estate, into one of Chianti’s best and desirable labels with lovely set of hand crafted wines from vineyards she farms with all organic methods.

The Le Miccine Chianti Classico Gran Selezione comes from, as Papini Cooks explains, a premium selection of grapes from a single vineyard on the estate in the Tuscan hillsides of the Giaole in Chianti zone. This wine saw a very different program than the regular Chianti Classico, it was made exclusively from 100% Sangiovese, with none of the other local grapes and it was aged 30 months in oak barrels, more like a Brunello, with an extra 6 months in bottle before release. There are a whole new set rules for these Gran Selezione Chianti Classicos, with the minimum requirement for Sangiovese has been increased to 90%, from 80%, and there cannot be an international varietals in the blend, only allowing the remaining 10% to grapes that are native to the Chianti Classico area, namely Canaiolo, Colorino, Malvasia Nera and Mammolo, plus a couple other extremely rare varietals. As well as that there now are 11 special permitted subzones, or cru like historically recognized towns and regions, that can be used on the labels, these include now the formally designated Unità Geografiche Aggiuntive(s) of Castellina, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Gaiole, Greve, Lamole, Montefioralle, Panzano, Radda, San Casciano, San Donato in Poggio and Vagliagli.
($55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2020 Stars & Dust, Rosé of Mourvédre, Kaerskov Vineyard, Los Olivos District, Santa Ynez Valley.
Nikki Pallesen’s, formerly of Liquid Farm, new label Stars & Dust is just launching with a set of Rosé bottlings, one made from 100% Grenache and this one, which is crafted from 100% Mourvédre and done in a dry Bandol inspired style with a serious demeanor and a racy intensity that grabs your attention. Pallesen says of her new project’s first releases, that her Rosé Twins are two distinctly different wines coming from two different Rhone varietals, two different vineyards and two different AVA’s (albeit only 20 minutes away from each other, as she notes), though they are very fraternal and have almost the same delicately pale hue with primary notes and aromas that, she says, are shockingly alike, with any trying or intention to do so in the winemaking. She notes that in her tastings, that the Grenache Rosé has begun to take on its own personality and is getting more open and fruit forward, as you’d expect, and I found the more brooding Rosé of Mourvedre absolutely a thrill in the glass with lovely palate intensity showing blood orange, ruby grapefruit, tart cherry, subtle watermelon, and garden strawberry fruits, loads of mouth watering saline, chalky stones, rosemary, rosewater and a hint of fennel. This Rosé gets better and better with every sip, it is definitely one of my favorites of the year so far and Pallesen has done her usual magic with this one, it is very addictive, as she did with the Liquid Farm Rosé, where it was known in the industry as Pink Crack! As, mentioned here, California is killing it with unique and high quality Rosé and this Stars & Dust joins an impressive set of wines, like those of Bedrock, Arnot-Roberts, Tribute to Grace, Martha Stoumen, Big Basin, Ryme and Filomena to name a few that have really stood out!

The Stars & Dust Rosé of Mourvedre was whole cluster pressed, non saignée and saw a short maceration to achieve the fresh detail and gentle extraction of its light pink color with a cool stainless steel fermentation before an elevage in neutral French oak barrels for six months. There is plenty of ripeness and extract to provide complexity and pleasure here and as this wine turns on the charm with some air time it gains a presence on the palate and impresses texturally as well, while maintaining its natural acidity and steely character. Not quite as full bodied as the famed Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé, this wine clearly is within a whisper of the quality of the famed Provence legend and reminds me a little bit of the famous Clos Ste Magdeleine Cassis Rosé, one of my all time favorite dry pink wines. The Los Olivos District AVA, which was recently formed in 2016, is in the Santa Ynez Valley, mostly formed from an area between the Santa Ynez River, between the Purisima Hills above Solvang and set on on a broad alluvial terrace plain with well drained soils with gravel, Orcutt sandy terraces, clay loams and the locally unique complex of Positas-Ballard-Santa Ynez alluvial deposits. The climate here is heavily influenced by maritime conditions and a long growing season with some warm Summer days helping the Mourvédre, a late ripening grape, flourish here. Pallesen only made 80 cases of her Tierra Alta Vineyard Rosé and just 100 cases of this Kaerskov Vineyard Rosé of Mourvédre in this vintage and considering her success and fanatic following of the Liquid Farm Rosé, I’m sure, these will sell out fast, so I highly recommend getting on her mailing list at Stars & Dust. There are al lot more things expected to come out under the Stars & Dust label over the course of the next year or so with a rumored or hotly anticipated Chardonnay release.
($26 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Abbazia di Novacella, Sylvaner, Valle Iscarco DOC, Alto Adige, Italy.
The brilliant pale gold and surprisingly dense Abbazia di Novacella Sylvaner really impresses on the palate with a mix of apple, apricot and citrus fruits, vivid mineral tones, a light perfume of white flowers, a hint of bacon, wet rock and snappy herbs, all making it a beautifully balanced effort with a real presence in the glass, giving more expressive old vine versions from Alsace and or Germany a real run for their money. Located in the sleepy little burg of Novacella, the all organic Kloster Abbazia di Novacella, in the Isarco River Valley not far from Trentino was founded way back in 1142 by the Augustinian Order of Canons Regular, who as monks still run this winery and farm with a commitment to quality and sustainability. The abbey’s reputation as a winery is world renown, especially highly regarded for the white wines, like this Sylvaner, as well as their Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and in particular the Kerner. In fact Abbazia di Novacella turned a lot of heads in 2009, when Italy’s influential Gambero Rosso named Celestino Lucin, the Abazzia’s enologist, Winemaker of the Year. The Sylvaner grape, a natural crossing between Traminer, the parent of Gewurztraminer, and the “hunnic” variety lnown as Österreichisch-Weiß, which translates to “Austrian White”, it (Sylvaner) is thought to have originated in eastern Austria, Hungary and or Romania, but has found more fame in the Franconia region of Germany where it can be labeled with the famous Grosses Gewachs (GG) cru designation, though also highly regarded in Alsace and here in the Alto Adige.

The 100% Sylvaner is sourced from Bressanone valley basin, in the northern zone at between 650-750m elevation and set on the region’s glacier formed Morainic deposits, which are composed of mica schist, para gneiss and quartzite soils, with a warm and sunny mostly southern facing exposure. The Sylvaner’s fermentation and aging was done in mostly in stainless steel tank, but a third was raised in acacia casks, and on the lees, for six months. Way up in the Dolomites, Alto Adige is the northern most wine region in Italy and very close to the Austrian border, it is a place with a long history for wines and an area noted for its German culture and language. The Alto Adige has many distinct growing areas with the red grapes like Lagrein, Schiava, Pinot Nero and Teroldego grown mainly around the city of Bolzano, south of Trentino, and in fact one of Italy’s warmest cities, with white varietals such as Kerner, Manzoni, Pinot Grigio, Müller Thurgau and this Sylvaner coming from vines in the north, near Bressanone, the Isarco Valley. Not far from the picturesque Lago di Caldaro (Lake Kaltern) this part of the South Tirol is home to some fabulous wineries of note, like Manincor, Terlano, Kofererhof, Foradori, St. Michael-Eppan and Abbizia di Novacella to name a few. With a string of great vintages, I highly recommend chasing down some these wines. It was great to re-visit the Abazzia di Novacella wines after a few years of missing them and this 2019 Sylvaner was a stand out in their dry whites, and an outstanding value, though I am also fond of their light strawberry flavored Schiava and the deeper dark berry and earthy toned Lagrein.
($22.50 ESt.) 93 Points, grapelive

2020 I. Brand & Family Winery, Skin Contact Pinot Gris, Eden Rift Vineyard, Cienega Valley AVA, San Benito County.
The brilliantly cooper hued skin contact Pinot Gris is one of the biggest successes for this 2020 vintage in Ian Brand’s set of new releases with its beautiful color in the glass only the beginning in this intriguing Romato style wine that is well rounded, complex and smoothly textured showing off a compelling play between lush and savory elements. This is my favorite vintage of this wine so far, the mouth feel is absolutely divine and the fruit is more crisply detailed with pink apple and apple skin, a touch of strawberry and peach as well as some zesty citrus, all of which come together along with saline rich wet stone, a bit of almond paste, phenolic grip or extract and a subtle earthiness that really works in making this wine that much more interesting and good with a range of cuisine choices. Romato, a word that means copper in Italian, is a term used for the classic versions of this slighter fresher example of “orange wine” that hugely successful in the northeast of Italy close to the Slovenian border, with Gravner, Skerk and Radikon being iconic producers from there. Ian’s Pinot Gris was fermented on the skins for 4 days, and then aged a short time in neutral barrels, which left the color so inviting and additionally gives the wine its structural tannin as well as supple mouth feel, it is wine that goes well with Uni, chicken skewers, smoked salmon and or ceviche. The rise of alternative wines from white or Gris grapes has been a remarkable feat in California and looks to beat the fad or trendy label some critics have put out there, these wines are here to stay.

Ian Brand has been working with many of these unique sites and has found some real gems in Lyme Kiln Valley, like the Enz Vineyard as well as in the Cienega Valley, which became an AVA in 1982 and is located in the cooler western side of the San Benito County, an area that is interestingly home to some of the oldest Pinot Noir vines in California, so it is not surprising that Pinot Gris does well here, especially with the combination of granite and limestone soils found in this part of the valley. At approximately 1,100 feet up above sea level, and with a cold air gap to the Ocean, it sees lots of sunny days, making for warm ripening conditions and well rounded wines. The valley floor is divided by the famous San Andreas fault, and the region does shake quite a bit, and there is plenty of micro climates to chose from, and a surprising amount of unique varietals to be found here with everything from the mentioned Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, to rare Negrette and Cabernet Pfeffer along with old vine Zinfandel and Carignane, as well as lesser known Italian grapes like Freisa and Arneis, which Ian now does to great acclaim. Pinot Gris (Grigio) had become a much reviled grape, with thousands of boring, bland and or sweet versions out there, but has been resurrected in recent years by wines like this. In Ian’s collection of rarities, this one shouldn’t be missed, as well as his Melon, in the whites and his famous old vine Enz Mourvedre, the Grenache(s), the Cabernet Sauvignon(s), especially the Fellom Ranch Vineyard, and the Cabernet Franc(s) in the reds, all of which are showing fantastic right now.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive Reviews – June, 2021

2020 Martha Stoumen, Mendocino Benchlands Red, Mendocino County.
The fresh and spicy 2020 Stoumen Benchlands feels juicy, vibrant and dry with crushed raspberry and peonies leading the way on this attractive and lighter framed 40% Petite Sirah, 37% Zinfandel and 23% Nero d’Avola blend that is perfect medium bodied wine for pasta, pizza and especially outdoor dinning with smooth dusty tannins and zesty natural acidity. An easy to love quaffer, the latest Benchlands includes a high dose of carbonic Petite Sirah which Martha handled with her more delicate touch, as well as the usual Zinfandel, which gives this wine its California sunny personality and her signature Nero d’Avola, the Sicilian grape that adds complexity and a dark earthy charm, with all the grapes coming from three sustainable/organic Mendocino sites set on stony benchland, hence the name on this wine, valley floor uplifted soils with mainly gravelly/sandy loams. Stoumen says this wine was inspired by the Italian farming tradition where grapes were planted on the poorer soils and you can feel it here on this latest release with its fruit forward nature and slightly rustic character, it is an honest and good drinking wine with a simple array of red fruits, a touch of iron, a light crunch of herbs, blood orange, pretty florals and a lingering tanginess. Think of this wine as a no pretense, fun companion, one to be poured with happy friends around a campfire or sitting by a lake, it is a superb Summer red, like an Italian country wine and or a Carignan based Corbieres, from France’s wild Languedoc.

The Mendocino Benchlands, a red blend, that Martha resurrected in 2019, her original vintage was in 2015, it was brought back as a result of a new vineyard she started leasing and farming in Mendocino County called the Chiarito-Ling Vineyard, where Stoumen gets her Zinfandel and some of her Petite Sirah. This vintage deviates from the 2015 and 2019 vintages, as Martha says, a smidge, because in 2020 she also added some carbonic maceration Petite Sirah to bring some blue fruit to the blend, which shows up after the wine has been open a white and with food, adding a some delicious blueberry and plum. The other two vineyards, the Benson Ranch vineyard, in Ukiah, provides a little extra Petite Sirah, while the Nero d’Avola comes from 33 year old vines at the Fox Hill Vineyard, located on the Talmage Bench in Mendocino County, which is most likely the oldest Nero d’Avola vines in California. The ripe and lively Benchlands Red comes in at just 12.5% natural alcohol and never gets dull in the glass which has an inviting garnet/ruby/strawberry hue, it is also very low in total SO2 and Stoumen notes it is, like all of her wines, vegan safe. The grapes were fermented separately in small batches, with whole cluster employed for the Zin and Petite, though all de-stemmed for the Nero. All of lots were pressed prior to dryness and then barrel aged in all neutral French oak for 6 months off lees and then bottled unfined and unfiltered. Martha suggests, and I agree, to enjoy this Benchlands young and chilled, drink over the next two or three years. There’s a lot to like in Martha’s latest set of releases, especially her new Vermentino, her Rosato of Nero d’Avola and this one, be sure to check them out.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 Aeris, Bianco, Centennial Mountain Vineyard, Sonoma County.
From the proprietor of Rhys, Kevin Harvey, the famous Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noirs producer, comes this new project Aeris, with Italian and Sicilian grapes as the core mission behind the new label that will based in Sonoma, but with some of their wines being sourced in Sicily as they get started. This was the first Aeris I got to try, it is 100% Carricante, a Sicilian varietal found mostly on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna, where it makes one of the most compelling white wines you could ever want, with this 2017 showing pure Carricante charm and grace, making for an exotic California version, maybe the only one. The is brilliant clarity of form and a nice rounded balance here in the Aeris Bianco with a striking mix of citrus and stone fruits, light spices, refined floral detail and a stony element too, all coming together very well, it really isn’t too far off some of the Etna classics, like Terre Nere. This is an early enjoyment style wine that should be enjoyed in its expressive youthful form, especially as this 2017 is a slightly lower acid vintage, though I hear the 2018 and 2019s are big steps up with more mineral intensity and more natural acidity benefiting this wine in perfect conditions for exceptional quality, not that this one isn’t exciting and its opulence is very attractive. The medium bodied and done dry palate reveals orange blossoms, tangerine, white peach, a touch of dried pineapple, crystallized ginger and honeydew melon along with a touch of earthy loam, saline infused rock and hint of lychee, making it compelling with Mediterranean and or Moroccan cuisines, from grilled octopus to lemon chicken and couscous.

The philosophy, behind Aeris, is rooted, literally, on expressing the unique character of their native Italian varieties grown in a completely new viticultural area, Centennial Mountain, which has some ancient volcanic influence itself, and Italian traditions. The site is not far from Lake Sonoma, just outside of the Dry Creek Valley AVA, on iron rich rocky soils with long warm sun-kissed Summer days and hillside vines. The core ideas, Harvey and his winemaker Jeff Brinkman, include organic farming, old world natural winemaking utilizing indigenous yeasts, without the use of nutrients or other additives, and the aging, which is done with the extensive use of large neutral oak casks to promote purity and transparency. The primary fermentation for the Aeris Bianco, according to the winery, was done in temperature controlled stainless steel tank to capture and preserve the delicate aromatics, after which the wine was raised in a combination of the large casks and a few stainless hogshead size barrels for about 12 months. Carricante, especially in the hands of Rhys’ talented winemakers, looks to have bright future here in California, and I’m excited to see what they do also with their new red grape Nerello Mascalese, another Sicilian and Mount Etna varietal, as well as their Nebbiolo. As I have mentioned in recent reviews, the Cal Itals, wines made from Italian grapes, have really come of age in the last ten years, especially Ryme Cellar’s Aglianico, Fiano and Vermentino, Martha Stoumen’s Nero d’Avola and Negroamaro, the Giornata Luna Matta Vineyard Nebbiolo and Barbera, Arnot-Roberts’ Falanghina and the Matthiasson Ribolla Gialla, to name just a few. It is a great time to discover these dynamic wines, and I am looking forward to seeing how these Aeris offerings develop, there is a lot to love in this well crafted Carricante already.
($39 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Ovum Wines, Old Love, White Wine, Oregon.
The Ovum Old Love dry white wine is a blend of grapes that sing in the glass with a range of heady and perfumed scents along with a brisk salty palate that will remind people of the beautiful and textural mixed varietal Alsatian wines of Marcel Deiss, Marc Tempe and Albert Boxler’s Edelzwicker Réserve, which is a different blend every year, like Ovum’s Old Love. The Old Love is about 45% Riesling, 35% Gewürztraminer, 10% Pinot Blanc and 10% (Dry) Muscat, though maybe 1% is other varietals depending on the year and what is co-planted in the vineyards, which are located throughout Oregon on a unique combination of soils, it is certainly one of the most eccentric of the state’s white wines and the better for it. The 2019 Old Love is fresh and lively with green apple, white peach, tangerine and dried apricot fruits on the lithe and crystalline palate, which is racy, saline and mineral laced with a bracing kick of acidity and showing hints of wet stone, ginger, rosewater and wild herbs. This white gives quite a rush to the senses and has a feeling of grip to it with crisp extract lingering well on in the aftertaste, very impressive and a great wine with food, in particular white fish, poultry, light pork dishes and even fresh briny oysters. The straw and light golden Old Love white keeps you guess throughout the glass, but drinks impeccably well balanced and rewarding without any obvious varietal domination taking charge, it truly is a wine that is better because of the sum of all parts, consider me intrigued! I am looking foward to exploring the rest of the Ovum lineup and the new vintages that have just now been released.

Ovum Wines, which was founded in 2011 by Ksenija Kostic House, the winemaker and her husband John House, is a label dedicated to showcasing vineyard sites and vintage through white wines, like this Old Love white wine. Ovum is solely committed to the production of these white wines, which mainly consist of aromatic varietals, including Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Muscat that are fermented with native yeasts and aged in a combination of Amphora, neutral barrels of acacia wood and French oak, as well as partially in cement egg and some larger format Austrian casks. The Big Salt white, a different Ovum bottling, sees some extra skin contact and is fermented in separate lots, while this Old Love looks to be a co-ferment with minimum skin contact, while the Ovum Big Salt sees those separate ferments with extra skin contact. The Old Love is from vineyard sites, at least 10 different organic and sustainable vineyards that are all over 30 years old and set on a range of volcanic ash, basalt, marine sediment, alluvial, serpentine soils, with altitudes between 250 ft to over a 1,000 ft and with a collection of AVA’s from the Rogue to the Columbia Gorge, as well as the Dundee Hills in the Willamette Valley. Ksenija, I believe, for this Old Love white, co-fermented the different grapes, which saw a cold direct press into stainless steel for a natural yeast fermentation, or Inox, before seeing a 60 day elevage with 40% staying in tank, with 60% moving into Amphora, Austrian (oak) ovals, neutral French oak and Cement Egg for an extended 6 months before bottling. I’d been hearing the buzz about these Ovum wines and I’m thrilled to have finally opened one and I will without question get many more, especially at the prices, which seem insanely low for the quality!
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2017 Domaine Bernard Levet, Cote-Rotie, Amethyste, Northern Rhone, France.
The warm year really shows here and the 2017 Bernard Levet Cote-Rotie cuvée Amethyste, 100% Syrah, is very opulent and luxuriously textured, it is surprisingly open knit in a departure in style from most of the Levet wines I’ve tried, which are usually much more lean and tightly wound when young, this lush version with be a crowd pleaser with those that open this one in this time frame with supple tannins and concentrated fruit density. This cuvee Amethyste is new to me, and it has only been imported since 2015, I usually enjoy the Levet La Chavaroche and the Les Journaries, which is always from the old vine plot at the La Landonne lieu-dit, one of Cote-Rotie’s premier sites, and my first impression is positive and my initial thoughts also reflect what importer Rosenthal says of the Amethyste, that it is a wine that is less severe and savage in nature and more open. This vintage was a hot year too, adding to the sense of ripeness on the smooth full bodied palate, delivering rich chocolaty dark fruits with blackberry, damson plum, sweet cherry and blueberry compote, all accented by delicate florals, a light smokiness, dried herbs, spices and creme de cassis, as well as anise, a hint of meatiness, mocha and lingering boysenberry and toffee notes. Fermented with about 60% whole bunches, with no Viognier, the dark purple/garnet Amethyste is an elegant and seamless Cote-Rotie, maybe missing a little of the excitement of their top bottlings, but a wonderful value.

The Levet Cote-Rotie(s) are uniquely fermented and aged with most vintages seeing a traditional partial whole cluster and with selected yeasts being employed during an almost month long maceration with gentle hand punch downs. The winery explains that they do their primary Syrah fermentation in epoxy lined cuves with the cuvaison lasting at least three weeks while malolactic fermentation normally finishes by the end of the year. They then rack the wine into large oak barrels where it spends a few months, after which, at the beginning of the second year, the wines are moved into demi-muids, a medium sized oak cask with about 15% of which are new. Then for the third year, the Cote-Rotie(s) are racked again and left to complete their barrel aging in a mixture of demi-muids and smaller barrels, with them seeing a totally elevage of 36 months before bottling with a light fining, but without filtration. The Domaine Bernard Levet has of 3.5 hectares of vineyards, all of which are located within the boundaries of the town of Ampuis, in the Cote Rotie appellation, all in prime zones, making for a tidy collection in this historic terroir with their vines consisting of six separate parcels, including their signature “Chavaroche” in Cote Brune with a southwest exposure and an average age 40 years, plus Landonne old vines, Font Jean, Les Craies, Mollard and the Moulin, one of the most famous parcels that is situated just below Guigal’s La Turque. Levet, founded under this label with the 1983 vintage is run by Nicole and Bernard Levet with their vigneron daughter Agnes now doing most of the heavy lifting here and continues the excellence that has made this winery one of the savviest of the region to collect.
($55 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Jean Foillard, Fleurie, Cru Beaujolais, France.
The fresh and lively 2018 Fleurie from Jean Foillard is a very pretty and delicate wine of great class and character, but less fruit forward than the 2015, which was the last vintage I reviewed, and 2009, which really were mind-blowing wines, though this one will sneak up on you, with air it really comes alive with vivid layers, smooth textures and beautiful floral details. The fruit is bright and tangy, highlighting the vintage and the Gamay’s inner nature, pushed up by the wine’s natural acidity and mineral tones with tart plum, strawberry, currant and red peach all revolving on the medium bodied palate along with crunchy herbs, anise, a bit of lilac and rose petal, as well as a touch of dark walnut. The color is a warm ruby and garnet at its core, very alluring in the glass and the bouquet is a bit more expressive that the Morgon bottling, for which Foillard is much more famous for, but this wine always seems a tad more elegant, where as those Morgon’s are more dense and have more of a gripping presence. Jean Foillard, who took over his father’s domaine in 1980, is a legendary Cru Beaujolais producer and, as mentioned, famous for his stylish wines from his vineyards in Morgon’s famous Côte du Py, the prestigious slope outside the town of Villié-Morgon, but he also has this tiny parcel in Fleurie that makes for maybe his most exotic and perfumed bottling, as this one is beginning to show, and it should evolve nicely over the next 3 to 5 years and last at least another decade.

The Foillard Fleurie is made exclusively from a single hectare and sourced from two lieux-dits, Grille-Midi and Champagne (where top Dutraive’s, the king of Fleurie has his best parcels), of organic 20 to 70 years old vines set on the mentioned pink granite and sandstone that give this Cru its unique personality and heightened perfumed character. Made using whole cluster and native yeasts, the Fleurie macerates and ferments for about a month before being pressed to used Burgundy barrels for close to 9 months. Foillard also choses to hold back his Fleurie in the cellar, in bottle for an extra year, so when his Cote du Py, his signature wine comes out the very limited production Fleurie is on the previous vintage, making it always a touch more polished and elegant on release. As I have mentioned in prior reviews and noted by Kermit Lynch, the famous importer that brought great Cru Beaujolais to America’s attention, Foillard was greatly inspired by natural wine guru Jules Chauvet, a traditionalist who defied everything that the more commercial brands were touting in the region and wanted to go back to pre-industrial organic farming and not use chemical additives in the cellar. Jean and three other local vignerons, Marcel Lapierre, Jean-Paul Thévenet, and Guy Breton, soon joined in on the movement, this became the Gang of Four, who along with Dutraive, brought fame to this region that at the time had lost its reputation and was known more for generic wines at the time. These days, there is a generational change happening with great potential already on display by Jean’s son Alex, as well as Matthieu Lapierre, Charly Thevenet and Justin Dutraive all being impressive talents in their own right.
($50 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive

2020 Filomena Wine Company, Cabernet Pfeffer Rosé, Enz Vineyard, Lime Kiln Valley, San Benito County.
Rosé in California has officially reached the next level with many absolutely delicious and outstanding versions out there with the 2018s, 2019s and these new 2020s providing perfect conditions for some amazing dry pink wines, with some unique and rare varietals coming into play, like this fabulous Filomena Rosé made from a California rarity, Cabernet Pfeffer grown in the wilds of San Benito County at the Enz Vineyard in the Lime Kiln Valley AVA. The 2020 Filomena Cabernet Pfeffer Rosé, handcrafted by Luke Nio, who is a winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson’s Bedrock Wine Company, is bright and minerally crisp with excellent acidity and zesty fruit layers showing tart plum water, cherry, currant, pink citrus and salty wet stone, along with a touch of dried lavender, Asian spice and extremely delicate floral notes. Cabernet Pfeffer, also known as Mourtou, is a distinct varietal that was a late 19th-century crossing of Cabernet Sauvignon and an unknown vitis vinifera vine and was often confused with Gros Verdot, though it is now known to be an unrelated grape and Pfeffer is almost entirely found on the central coast, though a few vines are in some heritage vineyards in the Sonoma and Napa valleys. In the past I’ve had a few examples of Cabernet Pfeffer, like Nicole Walsh’s (winemaker at Bonny Doon) Ser and Ryan Kobza’s (assistant winemaker at I. Brand & Family Winery) Kobza Wines, who does it as both a Rosé and as a red wine, but Nio’s effort really is an eye opener.

Filomena Wine Company is a new and exciting label with a tiny production with a focus on Syrah, along with one of my new favorite wines made from the rare Austrian varietal Saint Laurent, which I have reviewed here at and this Rosé, which is an all new wine for Nio. Sourced from the Enz Vineyard, most famous for old vine Mourvedre that was planted back in the early 1900s, the Filomena Cabernet Pfeffer comes from this historic site that sits about a 1,000 ft above sea level, it is an all organic and dry farmed vineyard in the Gabilan Range that is set on limestone. Rio brought these grapes in nice and cool from a night time pick and he did a gentle foot-trod, allowing for skin contact to last overnight. Then the Cabernet Pfeffer was whole cluster pressed to stainless steel where is saw an indigenous yeast fermentation and a short lees aging. The results are as impressive and they are refreshingly tasty, putting this Cabernet Pfeffer dry Rosé into the same league as some of my must have examples, right up there with Arnot-Roberts Touriga Nacional Rosé and the Bedrock Ode to Lulu, the Mourvedre based pink that is a Bandol style Rosé and tribute to the matriarch of Domaine Tempier. As mentioned California is doing some thrilling Rosé wines, as good as anything from anywhere, from Tablas Creek’s fine examples made from Mourvedre, Grenache, Cinsault and other Rhone varietals, Angela Osborne’s Tribute to Grace Grenache Rosé to Martha Stoumen’s Italian inspired versions that include an extended lees aged Negroamaro and her vivid Rosé of Nero d’Avola, to name a couple. This latest set from Filomena are star quality offerings and I highly recommend getting on Nio’s mailing list and grab these wines, his Griffin’s Lair Syrah is top notch northern Rhone style wine too, do not miss these.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Intent, Pinot Noir, Home Block, Anderson Valley.
The 2018 Intent Pinot Noir, 100% Pommard clone and all biodynamic was sourced from Filigreen Farm, which is situated on the valley floor of Anderson Valley on sedimentary soils. The biodynamic gardens and vineyards at Filigreen Farm are devoted to the valley’s specialty, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grapes, and the Intent Pinot comes off their Home Block, as winemaker Patrick Callagy notes, a parcel with some of the oldest vines on the property. This unique estate is Demeter certified biodynamic, no mean feat and this wine shows the quality and life from these carefully farmed vines. This latest Pinot from Intent, a new label for me, saw a gentle non intervention native yeast fermentation and about 15 months in neutral oak, with just 61 cases produced, all unfined/unfiltered. Coming in at just 13.3% alcohol, this Intent Pinot shows off the vintage with exceptional fresh detail, even ripeness and vibrancy giving an array of cherry, crushed spiced raspberry, plum and earthy/tart cranberry fruits along with black tea, sassafras, baking spices, blood orange and light herb notes. The mouth feel is very alluring here, with air and time in the glass and this ruby/garnet Pinot just gets more complex with each sip, adding a rose petal, floral dimension too, impressive and certainly worth searching out Pinot lovers that want to explore an up and coming producer and are cool climate enthusiasts.

Patrick Callagy, a California Culinary Academy trained chef and turned winemaker, has launched his personal project Intent Wines with a solid set of initial offerings including a Pinot Gris, a Syrah and this lovely Home Block Pommard Clone Pinot Noir. Patrick met winemaker Eric Sussman in 2002, post graduation, when Sussman started his now famous Radio Coteau winery, helping out with that harvest and after a few years of extremely long hours, Callagy’s curiosity/persistence paid off when he became Radio Coteau’s first employee, gaining loads of wine growing and winemaking experience. Fast forward a few years, Patrick started the Intent brand with the 2017 vintage, bravely starting his own label in 2020, considering the difficulty of getting stuff done in the middle of the COVID pandemic, which Callagy says, it’s been challenging year to say the least, but one he survived and we are rewarded with these cool new wines. The focus here is to source from, organically grown, or as Patrick explains, correctly farmed sites, which is where his Intent name comes from. I’m excited to see how this naturally styled wine develops, as it gets so good with air and pleases the senses with silken texture and lingering red fruits and I am looking forward to popping the cork on Patrick’s Pinot Gris, especially as I find the Anderson Valley provides an Alsatian quality to the grapes here that is very compelling.
($42 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2000 Chateau Pipeau, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, Red Bordeaux, France.
Pretty, but fading, this Chateau Pipeau 2000 shows a lovely array of dried flowers, red fruits and light cedary notes and a delicate velvety mouth feel, best to drink these bottles up if you have them as I am comfortably certain it is at the edge of the mountain top looking into the abyss and ready for the long good night. The color is still bright garnet at first, though after twenty minutes you see a slight brown tone emerge and a sous bois and earthy truffle presence takes over and the fruit dies away in stages. Before that happens things are serene and joyous on the palate with dusty plum, red berries, cherry and strawberry fruits unfolding with sandalwood, bay leaf, chanterelle, porporri and loam in a pure and silken fashion. I have been unconvinced by 2000s, feeling they have never lived up to the hype, especially the top wines of the Medoc, though that said I have found the right bank wines to be much more pleasing with Saint Emilion my favorite in this vintage. I have long said I prefer 2001s overall when it was a choice between Bordeaux 2000 and 2001, and while this wine is very nice, I am staying with my views and holding tight on my own opinion and have started to put my money where my mouth is, buying up a few less fanciful 2001s to enjoy now, this one being an exception and one I was happy with, even with the short drinking window once the cork was pulled.

The Grand Cru Saint Emilion estate, Chateau Pipeau, is a large, 25 hectare, Right Bank vineyard and is planted to about 90% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon with many different parcels within the region. The terroir here is a mix of sand, gravel and clay soils which is pretty classic here in Saint Emilion appellation, which also has areas of limestone that provides more structure and quality, while the deeper clay gives a deep sense of fruit and concentration. Pipeau does their fermentations in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks using selected yeasts with the the wine seeing both primary and malo-lactic fermentation in the stainless vats before barrel aging in about 70% new oak for an elevage of close to 14 months, depending on the vintage. In some years, especially ripe years, a portion of the Cabernet Sauvignon will be aged in just stainless to add freshness and raw tannin to create more balance, which could be the case in a year like 2000, and most certainly in years like 2003, 2005 and 2009. Since 2000, Chateau Pipeau has become a popular address for quality and fair priced wines, savvy buyers have stocked up on Pipeau, they have gained a reputation for soft and elegant, fruit forward wines for mid term aging, and you can see why when you drink these attractive Saint Emilions, just be mindful not to hold them too long, my feeling is they are best between 5 to 15 years old.
($55 Est.) 87 Points, grapelive

2019 Ryme Wine Cellars, Rosé of Aglianico, Heringer Vineyard, Clarksburg AVA, California.
One of my favorite wineries in recent years is Ryme Wine Cellars, with winemakers Megan and Ryan Glaab, who are crafting an awesome collection of fun offerings with an accent on Vermentino, Cabernet Franc and Aglianico, like in this savvy Rosé, as well as a quaffable Sangiovese and Friulano blend, plus a couple of speciality sparklers that are deliciously unique. Ryme is a collaboration of this husband and wife team that are blessed with old world sensibilities, using traditional and mostly natural methods as well as having an admiration for California’s terroir, history and, as they put it, its sunny disposition. Their portfolio of wines has grown gradually and organically since their founding back in 2007, which actually began with a single ton of Aglianico grapes. This bone dry 2019 Rosé of Aglianico is bright, vividly fresh and steely toned with loads of acidity and zesty crisp fruit, this is precise and wonderfully judged wine that is perfectly matched for these warm summer days with sour tart cherry, strawberry, grapefruit/citrus, briery spiced raspberry water, bitter herbs and a hint of rosewater. At first this seems lithe and vibrantly light, but it has some grip and intensity and gains presence with air making it easy to sip, but also brilliant with food, especially seafoods, picnic fare and or a cheese plate. Let Summer begin, and I highly recommend getting these Ryme Aglianico(s) from this Rosé to their deep and tannic red versions, along with their Pet-Nat style crackling Aglianico bubbly!

Ryme has searched out many different vineyard sites for their set of Aglianico red wines, mostly from warm areas to get this powerful grape ripe, but they needed a cooler site to do this exceptional Rosé and after a bit of searching they found the spot. The Heringer Vineyard, which is located in the Clarksburg AVA, known for old California Chenin Blanc and that has a climate well suited to provide natural acidity. With its stony, rich alluvial soil, modestly warm days, as Ryme puts it, and the cool breezes winding through the nearby Delta, the Heringer Vineyard site has the perfect conditions to do this lovely dry pink wine. The Glaab’s note that the Aglianico struggles here to accumulate much sugar and rather than dark and brooding, as it usually is, especially in Campania, Italy where the grape is mostly at home, the fruit retains more delicacy and brightness. At just 20 brix and very high acidity, Ryme brought these grapes into the winery where they were immediately cool whole cluster pressed to minimize its color extraction and it was fermented all naturally without additions in stainless steel and aged a short time neutral wood. As noted in my reviews, I have been highly impressed with Ryme’s efforts with this grape, known as the Barolo of the south in its home country, because of its Nebbiolo like character and this delicately pale Aglianico Rosé is now firmly in my must have wines and I am putting my order in for the latest release right now!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Halcón Vineyards, Esquisto, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
The Esquisto Rhone blend from Halcon is Grenache based and made with about 40% of whole cluster and is wonderfully deep and spicy with good does of Mourvedre and Syrah, what this tiny high altitude estate is most famously known for. For the 2018 Esquisto, the final blend ended up 60% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre and 20% Syrah, and it was fermented using indigenous yeasts and a cool maceration period with hand punch-downs before being pressed to used French oak barrels for close to a year. Paul and Jackie Gordon own and farm the renown Halcon Vineyard with great care and holstically, modeling their wines after the great wines of the northern Rhone with a focus on Syrah, though they added some parcels of Mourvedre, Grenache, Roussanne and Marsanne to fill out lineup, with this excellent and unique Esquisto being their only blended red offering. The British ex-pat couple split their time in the vineyard with their day jobs, with Paul working in high tech, whilst Jackie works part time in real estate that allows her more flexibility to be a hands on winemaker for Halcon’s many wines. In the last half a dozen vintages Halcon has become one of the most exciting labels in California with wines that are thrilling examples of northern Rhone inspired beauties that will remind many of the greats from Cornas, Cote-Rotie and Hermitage. This 2018 Esquisto is alluringly dark purple in the glass with edgy spiciness that grabs your attention with an array of grilled herbs, blue fruit and lilacs on the nose that leads to a a ripe, but chiseled palate with brambly black raspberry, ollalieberry, plum, pomegranate and kirsch fruits, rosemary like wild sage, pepper, mineral and meaty notes, a touch of cedar, anise and lingering creme de cassis. This is wine with depth and richness, boding well for midterm aging, it also highlights the season’s long cool growing season with balancing juicy acidity and some robust tannins that need some air and food to fold in and be best enjoyed, impressive and unique stuff that went awesomely with herb crusted roast chicken. While Grenache based, this Esquisto is not a softy, it reminds me somewhat of the brilliant efforts of Domaine Gramenon, who’s stylish Cotes du Rhone offerings, even Grenache led, are often more Syrah like, especially in profile.

This amazing small estate is located in the Mendocino County’s higher elevation appellation of the Yorkville Highlands, once thought to be better for Pinot Noir, Halcón Vineyards overlooks the Anderson Valley and the Pacific to the west. This vineyard is remotely high up sitting at 2500ft and it is one of the highest vineyard sites in California, which has certainly contributed to the iconic nature of these wines. The northerly location, north of Sonoma, the cool Pacific Ocean influences and altitude combine to produce a climate remarkably similar to the Northern Rhône region of France, as Gordon points out often, and with some glee, in fact a climate map typically shows his vineyard is slightly cooler than the famous village of Ampuis, near Cote-Rotie. Yorkville Highlands is located on the central belt of the Franciscan Complex, as these soils are known, which is comprised of heavily metamorphosed sandstone, which Paul adds is about a hundred million years old, and the Halcón Vineyard itself sits atop a geologic band known as (the) Yorkville Complex, for those that geek out on geology, a rare soil type based on fractured shale, mica-schist and quartz-rich rock, which is non too different than what you’d find in the upper part of the Rhone. Syrah is obviously the main varietal at Halcón and it is the Gordon’s obsession and passion, which they farm with total commitment that shows in the quality of their wines. The Gordon’s have some, of what they call, heritage clone selections of Syrah here that are originally from both of the most classic areas for this grape, Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie. They feel that they have some of the best genetic material available, some of which are rumored to be legendary Chave Hermitage clones. On a warmer and more protected south facing slope, there is a small planting of Grenache and Mourvedre that the Gordon’s have been experimenting with to good effect in this Esquisto. Halcon follows a rigorous organic regime in the vineyard, spraying only fundamental sulphur (a natural element) without copper additions and the fertilization is done from organic compost only. As for pests, the rodent control, Gordon says, is courtesy of the resident owls, hawks and bobcats. I am a huge fan of these wines and they are outrageously well priced for the thrill they provide and the quality in the bottle, don’t miss them!
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2020 Ruth Lewandowski Wines, Rosé Cuvée Zero, California.
The really dark and raw Rosé Cuvée Zero from Evan Lewandowski at Ruth Lewandowski Wines, who is famous for hand crafting some of California’s best examples of natural wines, is not your easy going and frivolous Rosé, and it won’t make into poor side glamor photo shoots with bikini glad wine influencers, and that is really okay, as it is more like a rustic Rosé Lambrusco with a severely dry, tannic and funky personality. Made exclusively from Portuguese varietals with 60% Tinta Roriz, 28% Souzão and 22% Touriga Nacional which saw a bit longer skin maceration and tannin extraction and fermented with all native yeast with zero additions, sans soufre and zero f@ck given! This stuff is a shock at first but gains chard and texture as it opens up, more suited to a campfire and robust cuisine, like thick cut salami and gamey wild boar sausage with an edgy profile of austere red berries, orangey citrus and with a hint country Basque style cider, sanguine notes and dried flowers as well as a lingering tart cherry and sour strawberry element, that all seem to be much more cohesive after a few sips and the food of course. This is not a wine that will conform to the norms and is unapologetic in its animalistic boldness and unfiltered cloudy appearance, but it grew on me and I now have an understanding of its counter culture appeal, especially for those that embrace the funk and don’t what to fall in line with the more generic porch pounders. While this one is not an absolute favorite, I have really enjoyed the latest releases from this winery and especially like the Feints and Boaz reds.

Matthew Rorick farms one of the most compelling sites in all of California, according to winemaker Evan Lewandowski, who gets fruit from the Rorick Heritage Vineyard in Calaveras for this Rosé Cuvée Zero, (it’s) a high altitude site set on super unique soils and steep slopes helps to produce extremely particular fruit. The Tinta Roriz (aka, Tempranillo) grapes from RHV were picked and direct pressed to form the delicate, spicy, snappy strawberry component for Evan’s wine, with the Souzão and Touriga Nacional coming from Mendocino’s Fox Hill Vineyard that is planted, as the winery notes, nearly all to Italian varieties. These tiny Portuguese block is the exception here with the Souzão and Touriga Nacional primarily just used in production of fortified wines, which as Evan reminds us, they do at home in Portugal too, being part of Port wine. He adds that these two are meaty, herbal, tannic and intensely colored varieties, which are intriguing to Lewandowski and add a more savory and earthy dimension to this gripping and almost feral dark pink wine. Lewandowski clearly wasn’t, as he explains, going for a light and easy Rosé, saying It’s not just for porch pounding or deck drinking, it is entirely a different sort of wine, much more serious, a bit savage to be honest with a bit of funk and really benefits from food, it is not your Grandma’s sweet and fruity Lancer or Mateus. By the way, there is no person named Ruth, the name comes from the book of Ruth in the Bible’s old testament and refers to the line that from death there is life and part of Evan’s belief in regenerative and holistic farming along with the life cycles of yeast and bacteria, which is necessary in the natural process of winemaking and the resulting wine.
($25 Est.) 86 Points, grapelive

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

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

2019 Sheldon Wines, Grenache, Luc’s Vineyard, Fountaingrove AVA, Sonoma County.
I had high expectations for Dylan Sheldon’s latest Grenache from Luc’s Vineyard, especially after the showing of the previous vintage and the other offering from this site, all of which were fantastic, including the exotic Graciano was well as the Syrah and the Tempranillo, and this 2019 Grenache far exceeded my anticipated joy with beautiful ripe dimension and sublime balance, it is one of my favorite versions to date. The Luc’s Grenache is a deep ruby/garnet color with hints of magenta and richly flavored with classic varietal sex appeal, it shows fresh black raspberry, briery boysenberry, plum, pomegranate and sweet strawberry fruits, as well as exciting spiciness with a mix of cinnamon, dried lavender and peppercorns as well as some whole cluster pop and a touch of lingering florals and anise. Winemaker Dylan Sheldon of Sheldon Wines, which was founded in 2003, is well studied in Grenache and along with Ian Brand, Angela Osborne of tribute to Grace and Scott Shapley of Flywheel Wines is one of these generation that goes for a lower alcohol style and is in search of natural purity rather than a jammy or heavily extracted style, more like the Garnachas of the Sierra de Gredos, like from Comando G, in Spain instead of Chateauneuf du Pape. Made uses whole bunches and with a spontaneous yeast fermentation, the Luc’s Grenache sees daily punch downs and a cool maceration before a soft pressing and racked to just two well used French barrels where it was rested for just under a year. This is a gorgeous Grenache that thrills the senses in every way and is tremendous value for the pleasure and depth here, it comes in at just 12.9% natural alcohol, but the mouth feel is opulent and sensual, it should age well for the next three to five years too.

The tiny backyard Luc’s Vineyard, where this fabulous Grenache is sourced, is located in the Fountaingrove AVA not far from Healdsburg and the Chalk Hill AVA, is planted on a west-facing hillside on Sonoma volcanics with iron rich and rocky soils. The first attraction to this site for the Sheldon’s was the small parcel of Graciano, which to the best of their knowledge, this is the only Graciano being grown in this part of Sonoma County, and as there are only about 30 acres total in the State, though there is more going in, with its success in Paso Robles, it is as Dylan puts it, a rare creature indeed. But, as a Grenache freak first and foremost, the Grenache vines sealed the deal to take all the fruit from this home vineyard and it has become the Sheldon’s signature site and the source of their best wines, like this stellar Grenache. The Luc’s single acre vineyard, according to Sheldon, is on a bi-lateral cordon trellis and tends to produce around 2.5 tons total, so these wines are wonderfully concentrated and extremely limited. The vineyard, founded by a huge Rioja fan, is split almost equally between between Graciano, Grenache and Tempranillo, all of which are found in Spain’s Rioja region, plus Syrah, it was first planted in 2010, it is all hand tended with holistic practices and has been organically farmed since day one. The latest set of wines at Sheldon are without question some of their best efforts to date, they all show beautiful aromatics, and include some rare and unique gems, including a sparkling red made from Graciano and a dynamite carbonic style Sangiovese, so it is a great time to explore this collection if you haven’t done so yet, but be sure not to miss this Luc’s Grenache. Just 36 cases of the Luc’s Vineyard Grenache are going to be released into the wild, so I recommend being quick and greedy in getting it and it is available direct from the winery through their website.
($38 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2020 Fair Moon Wine, Skin Contact Pinot Gris “Sunshine Effect” Holmes Gap Vineyard, Van Duzer Corridor, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
A fresh and naturally made skin contact Pinot Gris by debutante winemaker Jessica Wilmes, after years as a harvest gypsy, who has found a home in Oregon’s Willamette Valley has recently released her first ever wine under her own Fair Moon Wine label with this “Sunshine Effort” bottling, inspired by some of the world’s most intriguing skin contact white wines, known as orange or Ramato wines like those of Gravner, Radikon, Skerk and Zidarich in northeastern Italy, as well as a few closer to home, like Oregon’s Cameron’s skin contact versions. The color is fascinatingly dark pink/ruby and incredibly inviting, especially for wine geeks and lovers of skin contact whites and this Sunshine Effect is more red wine like in dry extract, savoriness and with some rustic tannin giving this earthy wine some structural firmness to go along with the ripe fruit which leans to red apple, orange rind, strawberry and sour cherry. The wine, which has a hint of basque dry cider, is made to be a raw, without fussiness and is freshly quaffable, it is a bottle you can put in a cool stream while skinny dipping and or have in a quiet forest meadow surrounded by tall redwoods, it is less at home at a white table cloth restaurant under the spotlight of expectations, it is much more happy in nature as I obliged with by enjoying it with a cool salty breeze and a remote beach along with a piece of crusty bread and stinky farm cheese. This proved to be a simple and pleasing combination with the environment and setting being a wonderful pairing for this wine, with its feral meaty and dusty herbal notes as well as the light sediment here not impeding the sense of joy and amusement provided by this simple, but unique Pinot Gris. As the wine gets air and warms in the glass it gains a smooth texture and adds some dried flowers to the mix, making it nicely refreshing, especially with a bite of cheese and or grilled prawns, smoked trout or steamed crayfish I imagine.

Fair Moon Wine is an ultra small-production micro winery, the looks to hand-craft unique tiny lot stuff with natural-driven winemaking, with, what Wilmes playfully adds, happy palates in mind. She is motivated by her own experiences, which have included years chasing harvest intern jobs, having to live out of her trusty Toyota Tundra truck and long hours for little pay, which has made her grateful for fleeting moments of calm. This has led her to make wines that are fun, quaffable and flavorful, for what she hopes will be enjoyed during everyday adventures or periods of total relaxation with friends and with lots laughter. Jessica’s first vintage highlights this pleasure seeking passion with skin-contact Pinot Gris, sourced from the cool climate Holmes Gap Vineyard nestled in the Van Duzer Corridor in the Willamette Valley with mainly marine sedimentary soils. The name, Sunshine Effect, originates from, as Wilmes explains, the daily moving of the fermenter outside into the sun to kick off fermentation. Wilmes allowed her cool macerated Pinot Gris to go all with spontaneous yeast fermentation, with absolutely no additives, with short term aging in a single neutral French oak barrel and bottled unfiltered and unfined. This delightful reddish glowing wine, Wilmes says, is a wine that would flirt with you, bring good times and would always wear twirly dresses if it was a human, I can see that! Digging into modern natural wines can be a painful task at times with lots of weirdness out there, something that Wilmes herself admits and while she embraces the funk and doesn’t shy away from it here, she also is not a fan of seriously flawed or is driven by pure dogma over the goal of making a wine of balance. Only a barrel of this was made and it is available direct at and is also found in a few spots in Portland that feature orange wines. Playing on the edge of a knife’s blade is not easy, especially for a winemaker not born into wealth, so hats off to Jessica for going for it and largely succeeding here, I admire this first effort and look forward to seeing what’s next!
($28 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive

2016 G.D. Vajra, Barolo DOCG “Albe” Piedmonte, Italy.
This is a fabulous vintage to stock up on for Barolo, and for an outstanding value this G.D. Vajra Albe is a top choice, it is drinking absolutely delicious with fantastic purity of flavors, showing classic Nebbiolo presence in the glass, but with the grace of a fine Pinot Noir. Giuseppe Vajra, who took over the winemaking from his legendary father Aldo in 2008, has become one of the best in the region with a stunning collection of Cru Barolo and an excellent set of regional wines that includes one of the best dry Rieslings outside of Alsace and Germany, along with a brilliant Dolcetto that comes from two awesome Barolo sites, an age worthy Barbera Superiore, the exotic Kye Freisa and two lovely easy to love Langhe Nebbiolo bottlings that are made to be enjoyed young. This beautiful Albe Barolo starts with its bright ruby and dark brick hue and expressive aromatics with dark berries, rose petals, tar and wild minty herbs before leading to a nicely structured medium to full bodied palate with good fruit density, velvety tannins and fine length. There is a wide array of expansive elements that unfold in clear detail including Italian cherry, damson plum, briar laced raspberry, balsamic strawberry and tart currant fruits along with earthy notes, anise, mineral and a light sense of cedar. This is a polished and luxurious Barolo that always way over delivers for the price on offer here, especially in vintages like this 2016, which follows top efforts in 2010, 2011 and 2013. I love the 2016s a lot and think it will go down as a legendary year for both enthusiasts and patient collectors, there’s sublime depth and a seductive opulence even in the youthful stage these wines are in.

The Vajra wines are outstanding, especially his latest set of Baroli, the four from his family estate, Bricco Delle Viole, Coste di Rose, Ravera and this Albe, plus the three he does under the Luigi Baudana label. These Nebbiolo offerings are regal and wonderfully balanced, each showing the unique nature of the terroirs where each is sourced, capturing the essence of the pace to perfection.The Albe Barolo is the blend of high-elevation Barolo DOCG Cru vineyard sites with different hillside parcels set on various slopes with different exposures that allow for ripe fruit and good natural acidity, all are high quality and organic vines which have sandy soils over clay and limestone marls. Giuseppe’s vinification of his Albe Barolo was carried in custom vertical tini fermentors with gentle punch down and cap pump-overs, seeing a long cool maceration period that lasts up to four months. After which this wine sees a spontaneous malolactic fermentation in stainless steel vats before aged for 18 months in large Slavonian oak casks of various sizes with only one gentle racking before its final blending and being bottled. It should also be noted that Aldo Vajra, back in 1971, was one of the earliest to promote organic farming in Piemonte, a tradition that continues today with a passion and the Vajra family has employed a holistic approach throughout their holdings and intensely monitor the environment to improve the quality of the grapes and proven these ideas and methods are the successful path forward, with wines like this highlighting this point. If you are looking for exceptional Nebbiolo enjoyment this is a label to search out, I’m a committed fan of the wines here and the people behind them, I can’t recommend this wines high enough!
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Envinate, Benje Blanco, Vinos Atlanticos, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.
The 2018 Benje Blanco, made from 100% Listan Blanco, also known as Palomino, the white Sherry grape, is salty and slightly oxidative with racy stone fruits, citrus, dried mango and wet smoky shale notes, making it wonderfully crisp, dry and spicy with hints of orange and zippy acidity. This wine really needs food to shine in its best light, it goes intriguingly well with grilled shrimp tacos, ceviche and or rustic creamy/tangy goat cheese. The golden/yellow Benje Blanco is, as the winery notes, sourced from several old-vine, untrained pie franco (ungrafted and free standing) parcels of Listan Blanco and volcanic soils, which make up the whole island chain here. Each parcel is hand-harvested and vinified separately in a mix of concrete tank and small bins with most of the grapes being direct pressed off of the skins, though about a quarter are skin contact fermented with about three weeks of maceration. The dry Benje Blanco is then raised on the lees for 8 months in a combination of concrete and neutral French oak without battonage (no stirring of the fine lees) or with any added SO2.

Envinate, founded back in 2005, consists of four friends and winemakers from very diverse regions in Spain including Roberto Santana of Tenerife, Canary Islands, Alfonso Torrente of the Ribeira Sacra in Galicia, Laura Ramos of Murcia and José Martínez who is from Almansa and is now one of the critically acclaimed wineries in Spain, based in the Canary Islands. The winery’s main area of focus are these natural style wines from this island of Tenerife, where they craft intriguing wines from the volcanic soils on these remote islands off the coast of northern Africa, and where in recent years they has brought world attention to local grapes such as Listan Blanco, Listan Negro and Listan Prieto, also known as the Mission grapes. The Canary Islands were important stop for trade with the new world and an outpost for the Spanish colonists and missionaries that were headed for South America, so naturally grape vines were brought here, probably as early as the 1500s, though certainly in the 1700s. Envinate has a unique collection of offerings, as I have been a fan of for many years now, with their Listan Negro, from here on Tenerife and their Ribeira Sacra Mencia reds being the big stars in the lineup, though the whites, like this one, which should be enjoyed in their youth, are pretty exciting too.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Monier Perreol, Saint-Joseph Rouge, Northern Rhone, France.
This 2018 Domaine Monier Perreol Saint-Joseph is stunningly gorgeous stuff, wow, it way exceeds expectations, which were high, and shows Syrah Ian its most flattering light, it is wonderfully perfumed, elegantly structured and full of terroir personality with classic layers of blue and black fruits, savory meatiness, spice, anise and evocative florals. This is a vintage to stock up on, with the generous ripeness of the sexy 2016s, but with inner energy and freshness of details with this Saint-Joseph delivering beautiful boysenberry, blueberry, damson plum and kirsch fruits, plus added sweet dimensions including creme de cassis, liquid violets and fig along with a sultry savory contrast, with black olive, camphor, sanguine, mineral and dried herbs, finishing with a nice vibrantly crisp acidity and a weightless lingering of fruit. This medium to full bodied effort is seriously close to perfect in all areas, I mean, if this was labeled Cote-Rotie and priced twice as much, you’d say yes please and be thrilled to drink this fabulous wine, so at this price, you’ll want to chase this down. This release, divinely and vividly purple, is one of my favorites from this domaine, it comes from hillside plots that average between 15 to 30 year old vines set in mostly granite based soils with some loess and loose pebbles, which really brings out the soulful expression in this wine, it reminds me of the 2010, a wine that really caught my attention and turned me into a fan of this winery.

Jean-Pierre Monier is becoming a legend, his small estate, founded in 2001 produces just about 2,500 cases annually, and his Saint-Joseph is among the elite from this region, including the likes of Gonon, Chave and Yves Cuileron, with vines farmed with certified biodynamic practices and wines made in a traditional style, which is less edgy than some with all of his Syrah being de-stemmed to promote the grape’s prettiest side. Starting with the 2008 vintage, it should be noted, Jean-Pierre Monier entered into a partnership with Philippe Perréol to combine their resources in order to meet the increasing demand and make better economic sense. Perréol works his vines just like Monier and their’s is marriage of total harmony, lucky for us Syrah lovers as this allows for the price to be so reasonable. While Northern Rhone enthusiasts will have coveted these wines for years, most people will have a bit of trouble finding them, but famous Rhone importer Kermit Lynch is bringing Monier’s wine to the US and they know just how good these wines are and has done a lot to promote this underdog producer, I highly recommend following Kermit Lynch’s newsletter and grabbing what they have left of Monier’s latest offerings, especially this one. In the cellar, Jean-Pierre ferments his reds in temperature-controlled cement cuves and employs daily hand pumpovers until primary is done, then after a gentle pressing the wine is racked into used or seasoned tonneaux (oak barrels) for the regular Saint-Joseph cuvee, where it sees a year of aging. This is a total blessing in the glass, it gets better and better with every sip!
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2016 Poe Wines, Sparkling Pinot Meunier Rosé, Van Der Kamp Vineyard, Sonoma Mountain.
This new disgorgement of pure Meunier is an outstanding Brut style bubbly from Poe Wines with a gorgeous and seductive delicate color, mineral intensity and luxurious mouse showing round and earthy flavors that make this sparkling Rosé very distinct. Showing a mix of tart and savory red fruits with cherry, strawberry and raspberry water leading the way along with leesy brioche, blood orange rind and wet stones. Winemaker Samantha Sheehan, of Poe Wines, makes a lovely set of handcrafted wines that were inspired by her travels to Europe and especially her time in Champagne and Burgundy, she produces traditional Champagne method sparkling wines, a Rosé, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and even a nouveau from Pinot Noir as well as a limited set of Vermuth(s) all of which are outstanding and individual bottlings. As noted in prior reviews of Sheenan’s unique Pinot Meunier offerings, Meunier accounts for a third of the vines planted in the Champagne region, though incredibly rare here in California with only some small plantings in Sonoma County, Carneros and Monterey County that I know of. Until recent years, Meunier didn’t have a good reputation, but that has really changed in Champagne with stellar versions of single varietal bottlings proving the quality of this grape. Historically Meunier served the purpose of providing early ripening fruitiness and mouthfeel to the wines of the Champagne region that sometimes suffers from poor weather, though in recent years Meunier has become cool kid in town and some of the best grower producers are using it to craft awesome versions, in particular Benoit Déhu, Cedric Mousse and Aurelien Laherte of Laherte Frères Champagne, which this wine remind me of, which is high praise.

The Pinot Meunier from the Van der Kamp Vineyard that lies at the very top of Sonoma Mountain, on a mix of soils, including Sonoma volcanic (which gives some nice mineral and spicy influence here) and gravelly stones, at close to 1,400 feet elevation, it looks down on the historic little town of Glen Ellen to the east and the Bennett Valley to the northwest. The vintage, grower producer style, Meunier Rosé bubbly was fermented in neutral French oak barrels with 100% native yeasts and without the addition of sulfur. Samantha adds that after primary fermentation, she kept the sulfur extremely low and allowed this Rosé to rest for the next 11 months in barrel before putting it into bottle for sparkling fermentation, where It was aged another almost three years on the lees before being disgorged. This Sparkling Rosé by Sheehan hits all the right cords and is one of the best grower fizz style hand crafted wines available, joining Michael Cruse and Caraccioli in the Champagne style elite, here in California. The latest Meunier is certainly alluring and complex with fine balance and lingers well on the finish, gaining depth and layering with air, really goes great with food and should be enjoyed during a meal, it has the structure and presence to hold up to many cuisines. The mouth feel is generous and the bubbles are very fine allowing this Meunier to show all of its character and purity, even letting a faint floral perfume come through in this beauty of a bubbly, there’s a lot to enjoy here. In recent years, Sheehan has excelled at these Sparkling wines, especially when using these organic Van Der Kamp grapes, like in this pure Meunier, but I also highly recommend her exceptional Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as well, in particular I suggest trying the Manchester Ridge, cool climate, examples as well as her still version of Meunier.
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Cameron Winery, Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The velvety Ribbon Ridge Pinot From John Paul, the Oregon legend, at Cameron Winery starts with some classic earthy funky reduction on the nose, but opens beautiful with its exceptional dark and deep color in the glass and seamlessly unfolds on the medium bodied palate with silky dark fruits led by black cherry, along with tart currant, plum, briar laced blackberry and creamy oak notes. The textural quality and mouth feel impress here as this wine opens, usually these young Cameron’s can more wound up and hard, so this Ribbon Ridge Pinot Noir welcomes youthful drinking, especially after the nose blows off and the wine gets a few swirls, though it really excels with food and gains depth, complexity and adds a full sense of completeness. I had thought this would be lighter and brighter in form, though it adds rich details over the hour or so I had it open and is very poised, making it a beautiful value for fans of this winery and those that are familiar with Paul’s style, which is very old world influenced. The wines from Ribbon Ridge are known for being deep and powerfully structured and the upper echelon of producers here, like Beaux Freres, the late Patty Green, Brick House, and Cameron, make wines that are built to last, they are very much collectable wines to cellar with most getting better over a decade or more. This vintage has a lot of appeal and I can’t wait to see how the rest of the Pinots perform, especially Cameron’s top bottlings like the iconic Clos Electrique and one of my personal favs, the Arley’s Leap, a wine I always save my pennies for and put away for a few years!

Cameron sourced the grapes from the White Oak Vineyard in the Ribbon Ridge AVA from the region’s marine sedimentary soils and hillside parcels that allow for deep flavors and the notable darker hues these wines always seem to have. Each of Cameron’s vineyards, all of which are dry farmed and use sustainable practices exhibit, as the winery notes, the area’s unique terroir and therefore show individual characteristics when done as solo site efforts, which Cameron does, so depending on your taste, preferences for either can vary significantly, with this wine is an interesting single site expression that nicely contrasts its ripe fruit with spicy and savory elements. Alan Foster, who grows the grapes at White Oak Vineyard, has added blocks of special Martin Ray clones of Pinot Noir, and John Paul, who brought some of Mount Eden’s cuttings to Oregon, says his fans should really stay tuned for some incredible wines from this site in the future.This 2019 just feels right and elegant, even now, though it should develop more floral intensity with another year or so in bottles as it only hints with faint rose petal notes in the background, though mostly hidden behind the forest floor and truffle earthiness. The celery wood, vanilla and brambly spices are well judged here and a good sense of refined natural acidity, plus the low alcohol, at 12.4% give this wine a Burgundy like grace. All of the wines are fermented with the indigenous yeasts in open top tanks aged in small oak cooperage for a minimum of 18-20 months, with this one seeing mostly used barrels. Cameron has a great set of wines with some of the Willamette Valley’s most sought after Pinots, plus Chardonnay, as well as their wonderful Italian inspired collection of whites and the awesome Nebbiolo, it is a great time to explore these wines.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Morgan Winery, Syrah, Double L Estate Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
Throughout Morgan’s latest releases there’s tons to get excited about, almost every wine in the lineup has seen a big jump in quality with the 2017, 2018 and 2019s, no small part of that can be credited to the arrival of winemaker Sam Smith, who’s brought the best here and his touch with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and in particular this Syrah is now on full display. Morgan has long been a top winery in Monterey, but these new wines are next level stuff and it is a great time to re-discover this label. This 2018 Double L Syrah, which for the first time has partial whole cluster, is strikingly aromatic and thrilling in the glass with crushed violets, meaty dark berries, a touch of smoke, camphor, green herbs and peppery spices leading to a medium to full bodied feeling out with elegant and vivid layers of boysenberry, damson plum, mulberry and creme de cassis along with touches of wild sage, earth, bacon, brambly cinnamon, black olives, vanilla. This cool long growing season adds a certain freshness here, but look forward to this wine to gain dimension with age and note this wine is at its best with hearty food and best when decanted for an hour.

The grapes for Morgan’s Double L Syrah are all hand-picked from their organic home ranch vines and carefully sorted for, as the winery puts it, optimal flavor and acidity. These are the very last grapes to come in for Morgan and show the regions cool climate and sandy loam terroir character with a deep color, depth of complexity and moderate alcohol with this full bodied wine coming in at just a tick over 14%, but with loads of bright intensity. After coming into the winery most of the grapes see de-stemming 90% leaving about 10% as whole bunches, the must is then fermented using native yeasts in small open-top tanks with the wine seeing foot trodding and hand punch downs until being pressed when dry. In an effort to promote purity and still have smooth textures the Double L Syrah was aged ten months in luxurious French oak with close to 25% being new. This is my favorite vintage of this wine to date, this is lusty stuff that joins some of the elite Syrah offerings in the state and especially here in the Highlands, like Lucia (Pisoni) and Roar and sits equally in terms of pleasure to their Chardonnay and Pinots. Just 200 cases of the Cote-Rotie like and invitingly dark purple 2018 Double L Syrah were made, so I highly recommend getting some before it sells out, this wine is truly outstanding for the price.
($44 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2020 I. Brand & Family Winery, Arneis, Vista Verde Vineyard, San Benito County.
The crisp and pretty 2020 I. Brand & Family Arneis shows fresh lemon/lime and melon fruit along with orange blossom, white licorice/fennel and light leesy almond note, adding some stone fruit fleshiness and opulence with air. Arneis is an extremely rare grape here in California, originally from the Piedmonte region of Italy, where it has seen a remarkable recovery from an almost extinction in its native land, with only a few acres planted in the state, so it was a brilliant surprise to find a bottling so close to home. Even better, because it was made by Ian Brand, who’s wines are now some of the best on the central coast and this 2020 Vista Verde Arneis does not disappoints with some of this varietal’s classic taste elements and a beautiful textural quality that actually surpasses many of its cousins in Roero, where it most famously grows best. The Vista Verde Vineyard, in the San Benito County, is most famous for suppling William Selyem with Pinot Noir for their Central Coast bottling and is set on gravel and pebbles, laced with calcium, it sees a cooling influence thanks to inflow breezes off the Pacific Ocean, allowing for a lengthy growing season, making for ripe and balanced grapes. Brand’s version, which is a pale straw/yellow finishes smooth and lingering, but with dry phenolic vitality, wonderful with soft cheeses and or white fish dishes, this wine and his Melon de Bourgogne are taking his white wines to the next level, both equally delicious and exciting.

Arneis, which dates back most likely to the 14th century is first recorded by name in 1877, it’s name in local dialect means little rascal, has also been called Nebbiolo Bianco, though it has no genetic relationship to the notable Piedmontese red wine, but the two grapes do share a close historic relationship. It has been noted, that for centuries, Arneis was blended into Nebbiolo wines, being used to soften the tannins and harshness of powerful Nebbiolo grape, most historically in the wines of the Barolo region, before the practice was banned for the DOCG wines that must be 100% Nebbiolo. Arneis was often interplanted in the Barolo vineyards to lure the birds away from the Nebbiolo, as it has a much sweeter scent and saved the prime money making Nebbiolo from a starling feast. Arneis is known to be difficult to grow, with low acidity it needs to be picked at exactly the right time, and is susceptible to mildew, which is probably why it has its little rascal name, though it can be awesome, especially by the likes of Vietti, Ceretto and Bruno Giacosa. There is small plots of Arneis in Sonoma County and Santa Ynez, where it has been used to good effect by Steve Clifton at Palmina, as well as some in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Ian’s example takes this grape up a level or two and I hope he continues to make this fabulous wine. Ian Brand continues to produce a fantastic collection of unique wines from lesser known and underdog sites throughout the Central Coast and his latest set of offerings are some of his best yet, be sure to look for the Enz Mourvedre, the Cabernet Franc(s), the Massa Estate Cab, the old vine Grenache and Ian’s whites, especially this rare one.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2016 Cave Caloz, Cornalin du Lieu-Dit Les Bernunes, AOC Valais, Switzerland.
The Cave Caloz winery is one of my favorites and I was thrilled to see this exceptionally rare bottle on the shelf of a local market, and it did not disappoint, this single parcel 2016 vintage Coranlin by Conrad Caloz and his vigneron daughter Sandrine, who runs the show now, is a deeply flavored and elegant wine that is drinking fabulously well right now. I have been following Conrad’s and Sandrine’s efforts for many years now after tasting their collection of fantastic offerings at a Rosenthal trade tasting in San Francisco, I almost never miss a chance to grab a bottle when I see this small family winery’s wines. Grown on impossibly steep rocky slopes and at high-altitude with a mix of various size stones and underpinned by glacial deposits (moraines) and limestone soils, the vineyards here have been celebrated since pre Roman times with Caloz’s Les Bernunes being set in unique micro-climate and was, as Rosenthal notes, the first vineyard cited in the ancient historical records of the Valais region and is a special Cru located on the high slopes sitting between the villages of Sierre and Salquenen, planted to the Savagnin (Jura) white grape, known locally as Heida-Paien, and the Cornalin, in this wine. Once thought to be from the Valle d’Aoste in the Italian Alps, the rare Cornalin grape, grown mainly here in the high elevation Swiss region of Valais, is also known as Humagne Rouge and or Petit Rouge, and which it turns out is the offspring of ancient local varietal of Rouge du Pays, a peasant grape that was believed to have mystical healing powers. Well deserved, I learned that in 2019 the Cave Caloz winery was named Vigneron BioSuisse de l’année (Organic/Natural Swiss Winemaker of the Year) which highlights the commitment of this estate and a noteworthy achievement for years of passion and hard work.

The Caloz family “Les Bernunes” vineyard and its warm exposure allows the Cornalin rouge grapes to fully ripen, and their version produces a lovely perfumed example and this purple and deep garnet hued wine has the structure and elegance of a fine Bordeaux with a medium full body and a refined tannic or old world rustic charm. This brilliant vintage shows delicate floral intensity on the nose along with forest berries and exotic spices before engaging the palate with black cherry, loganberry, garden strawberry and tart huckleberry fruits along with mineral tones, dried violets, dusty cinnamon, sandalwood and cedary spices. This wine, which comes from all organic grapes that are all hand tended, saw a spontaneous native yeast fermentation in small stainless steel vats and was cold soaked all de-stemmed for a few days, then got gentle pump-overs during the maceration and primary fermentation before tank aging, as well as some large Demi-Muid (French oak casks) elevage. In recent years the Cave Caloz estate has gone through full biodynamic certification and practices holistic treatments throughout their vineyard sites. Caloz works as natural as possible in the cellar, also uses very low doses of sulfites with the reds only seeing any SO2 after finishing malo-lactic fermentation and the reds are all bottled unfined and unfiltered, both of which are to promote freshness and purity, which this Cornalin beautifully displays, with this 2016 just starting to mature into its best window with a glimpse of secondary elements and a regal silkiness of mouth feel. These Caloz offerings all treats to behold, sadly super hard to find and not cheap, because of the strength of the Swiss Franc, they are worth your time and money to track down, in particular their Fendant (Chasselas) La Mourzière, Heida-Paien (Savagnin) Les Bernunes, the Pinot Noir and this very pretty Cornalin. This was one of the most pleasing wines of the year so far, from start to finish it never put a foot wrong and it really provided everything that was needed, bravo and merci Sandrine!
($53 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Vaccarèse, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
I was thrilled to get this exciting new wine from Tablas Creek, made from the rare Chateauneuf du Pape red grape Vaccarèse, as it is a grape I’ve never had as a solo varietal wine, in fact I don’t know if there has ever been one made in France, let alone California. This Vaccarese is Tablas Creek’s first (and California’s first-ever) varietal bottling of this rare Rhone blending grape, it was propagated here at their estate in Paso from budwood cuttings that came from the Perrin Family’s famous Château de Beaucastel not far from the historic town of Avignon in the southern Rhone Valley. With little palate reference to go on, I found this Vaccarèse with its beautiful purple and ruby color like a mix of Carignan (deeply hued) and Cinsault (good bright acidity) with a certain amount of tanginess and a lively medium body with dark fruits including blackberry, cranberry, tartly fresh wild plum and Italian cherries along hint of juniper berries, cigar wrapper, resiny herbs, cedary spices and a light sense of peony and porporri florals. This Vaccarèse really grew on me as it opened up, gaining a pleasing textural grace, while still remaining its vitality and taut form, it adds touches of earthy, chalky mineral notes and played well with the meal, in fact it was delicious with food, in particular with a plate of pasta with basil and hard sheep’s cheese.

Tablas Creek, which has brought us in California so many gifts in the form of almost all of the legal Chateauneuf grapes, plus a few others from the Southwest of France, including Tannat, the dark and tannic Basque grape, famous in fiery wines of IIrouléguy. Vaccarèse, as noted above, is a little-known blending grape native to the south of France with less than 30 acres planted in its homeland, making it is one of Chateauneuf du Pape’s rarest varietals, like Terret Noir, which Tablas also has here in Paso, and there is only two-thirds of an acre of Vaccarèse, and Tablas’ 2019 production was just 160 cases. The winemaking was kept simple and traditional to show off the grape’s pure flavors and what terroir influence it is marked with, all of which delivered a freshly detailed and entertaining wine that has a nice refined balance and moderate alcohol coming in at about 13%. The Vaccarèse looks to have a tons of promise and potential with this wine over performing to expectations, in my case, and I hope it makes it into the varietal wines collection on a full time basis and I look forward to seeing it added to the blend of some of the other wines. These is a lot to be grateful to the Haas family for, I honestly think Tablas Creek has played a huge and beneficial part to modern California wine, it is a legacy that will live on for generations, and I personally want to say Thank You, especially after enjoying this new Vaccarèse!
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Storm Wines, Gamay, Presqu’ile Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley.
The bright and savory toned 100% Gamay from Ernst Storm at Storm Wines is a more serious and less frivolous style example of this grape and has quite a dry tangy impact on the palate, but becomes more open as it unfolds with air in the glass revealing a core of zesty red fruits, orange peel, floral notes and wild herbs. Ernst says he used traditional methods here on his Gamay, meaning he treated it very much like his Pinot Noirs with mainly de-stemmed grapes and gentle pressing with daily punch downs employed with cool maceration and aging in mainly neutral French oak barrels to allow the varietal to show its purity and elegant side. This long cool growing season gave solid structural form and tart fruit on the medium bodied palate with non of the bubble gum fruitiness of carbonic maceration and it shows a mix of red berries, plum and cherry along with a touch of strawberry, anise, umami and mineral. There’s plenty of zippy acidity to keep things cooly fresh, though it is best served slightly chilled and with simple foods. There are some really good Gamays out there these days with this Storm joining Arnot-Roberts, Pax, Joyce and Pence, to name a few, all being quality California versions. On day two, as a side note, this Storm Gamay really turned on the charm and took on a lovely silkiness and extra length on the finish, making me want to hold my other bottle for another year or so, impressive.

Storm has been gaining a lot of attention for their Pinot Noir and Syrah, but in recent years has shown a real gift with Sauvignon Blanc, making some of the best examples on the Central Coast, especially the Kingsley Vineyard in Los Olivos and the Presqu’ile Vineyard, like this Gamay, coming from the Solomon Hills AVA in the Santa Maria Valley. Ernst Storm, originally from South Africa, has found a home here in Santa Barbara County and was easily embraced by the local community. His brother, Hannes, makes wine in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley area of South Africa under the Storm Wines SA label, and it was his wines I tried first, which led me to search out Ernst’s stuff, with both brothers showing a gift with Pinot Noir. Storm has become quite attached to the Presqu’ile Vineyard, located, as mentioned in the Solomon Hills zone on the Southern edge of the Santa Maria Valley. The cool Pacific Ocean breeze coupled with old marine floor soils, Storm says, makes this site perfect for growing his cool climate Sauvignon Blanc as well as this Gamay. The Sauvignon Blanc 2020 bottling, which he is just releasing was aged for 6 months on the lees and uniquely in 100% Acacia wood barrels, giving texture without oaky influence. When, back to this vividly ruby red Gamay, you compare it stylistically to Cru Beaujolais, it is more Sophie Dubois like, rather than Lapierre. These Storm offerings are wines to search out, especially the regular Santa Barbara Pinot as well as the Presqu’ile Vineyard efforts.
($38 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2015 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli, Langhe Freisa DOC, Piedmonte, Italy.
The historic Giacomo Borgogno & Figli winery, which was founded back in 1761, is one of the best and most famous Barolo producers, makes a gorgeous collection of Nebbiolo wines, but in recent years they’ve added two alternatives in the form of their lovely white Timorasso DOC Derthona and this delightful Langhe Freisa. Borgogno is all organic these days and continue to employ old school and traditional methods in the cellar, which are cooly located underground, with long spontaneous or natural fermentation(s) in concrete tanks without the use of selected yeasts, and with long elevage(s), exclusively in large Slavonian oak casks. This 2015 Freisa, a rare local varietal that is believed to be a parent grape to Nebbiolo, shows a very similar profile here, it is not as exotic and or as perfumed as G.D. Vajra’s fabulous example, but is absolutely delicious in its own way with rose petals, brandied cherries and the grape’s classic macerated strawberry core of fruit along with hints of earth, spice and a light sense of cedary oak. This wine certainly gets better with air and its florals and complexity gain dramatically as it opens in the glass with extra layers coming alive with each sip.

Freisa grapes come into the Borgogno cellar and are all carefully sorted, de-stemmed and then pressed gently to preserve all the freshness and purity. This is, as with the Nebbiolo, followed by a spontaneous indigenous yeast fermentation in large concrete tanks, at cool temperatures for about 12 days. After a soft pressing the wine is gravity racked into the large Slavonian oak barrels for 10 months of aging, after which the Freisa is rested at least four months in bottle before release. Freisa has caught the attention of American winemakers and has gained some acreage here in California with a small vineyard in San Benito County providing some of the best examples to date, with impressive bottlings by Pax Wines and Jolie-Laide coming out this year, both of which are done in a very natural style, making for wonderful quaffers. I first experienced Freisa many years ago, but it didn’t impress me much until I tried Vajra’s stunning Kye bottling, and now you are seeing many more good examples, like this one and Vietti’s Vivace which has partial whole cluster, that adds some intriguing pop. This Borgogno Freisa has a medium full body and is a structured ruby colored wine that is really best with hearty food choices, it is a very solid choice to help discover this grape and a very nice value.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

1972 Domaine Jean Grivot, Clos de Vougeot, Grand Cru, Red Burgundy, France.
What an amazing surprise, this lovely and super delicate aged Burgundy way over performed for expectations with remarkably sweet fruit for a vintage that was not supposed to be one of merit, it shows each bottle and especially particular vineyards can do magically things if conditions are right. This 1972 Jean Grivot Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru was made from vines at the time were planted pre 1919 and probably were much older than that, which might help explain why this bottle held on so well and was so delicious. This wine, the better part of fifty years old, opened up with strawberries and cream, leading to a light palate of cherry fruit, dried rose petals, autumn leaves, a hint of bacon, minty herbs and mushrooms. The color began with a glowing ruby hue, and while brown edges showed up quickly in the glass the Grivot Clos de Vougeot held on for close to an hour before fading into stewy sous bois and collapsing, though not before giving otherworldly smiles and drinking pleasure only an old Pinot can give. Made using classic methods with all de-stemmed grapes and a percentage of new oak, Jean’s 1972 Clos de Vougeot overcame a very mediocre year to deliver a lot of joy, though fragile in nature, some of its life taken away by decanting to remove the heavy sediment.

The Domaine Jean Grivot is among the most notable names in Burgundy, with its modern history being stellar with Étienne Grivot’s wines being some of the greatest of his generation. He and his wife Marielle took the helm here from Étienne’s father Jean Grivot in 1987 and put this winery on the map, but certainly they were given some outstanding vineyard sites to work with and some fine efforts in the cellar. These prime sites include parcels in Clos de Vougeot, Echézeaux, and Richebourg Grand Crus, plus some fabulous Chambolle-Musigny, Nuits-Saint-Georges and Vosne-Romanee acreage, that are of exceptional pedigree, like Les Beaux Monts and Suchots and maybe the signature wines now. The Grivot family has just moved into new generation with Étienne and Marielle’s daughter, Mathilde taking over in 2017 and has given this historic label a fresh approach, though remaining faithful to traditions here. Grivot’s Clos de Vougeot rows were acquired by Étienne’s grandfather, Gaston Grivot and located in the middle band and continues to the lower wall, that is between Musigny and Grands Echezeaux. It’s not often someone pulls out an old beauty like this on a Tuesday night just for kicks, so a big thank you to Jacques Melac for a memorable night!
($125 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2016 Domaine de L’Oiselet, Vacqueyras AOC, Rhone Valley, France.
The 2016 L’Oiselet Vacqueyras is brilliantly focused and layered with rich and opulent dark fruits, this drinks very close to a top Chateauneuf du Pape in style, led by concentrated Grenache, making it very impressive and heady in the glass. Located at the foot of Mont Ventoux and of the Dentelles de Montmirail, the Domaine de L’Oiselet sits right in the middle of the Vacqueyras appellation, on a rocky plateau that has the classic clay and limestone soils with a warm exposure, all of which allows a deep ripening of the grapes. This Vacqueyras opens with crushed red berries, creme de cassis, anise, fig paste and a dusting of peppery spices with a soft tannic structure and a mouth filling roundness adding sweet dried flowers, chalky stone and a mocha note.

This luxurious wine is all from organic grapes with mainly Grenache being used here at L’Oiselet along with small portions of Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan and Cinsault usually which are all fermented together in tank. I’ve always enjoyed Gigondas and Vacqueyras and think, especially Vacqueyras, they are wonderfully complex and expressive wines that are great values, with this L’Oiselet 2016 being a poster child for this point. This full bodied wine, coming in at 14.5% natural alcohol, is best enjoyed with robust cuisine and will go great with BBQ and lamb dishes. I look forward to seeing the 2018 and 2019 versions of this wine as well, but as long as this vintage is available it will be hard to resist and I recommend grabbing a few bottles which should go on drinking well for another 3 to 5 years.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Le Miccine, Carduus, Rosso di Toscana IGT, Italy.
The beautiful and silken dark garnet Carduus Rosso di Toscana is a special 100% Merlot cuvee from Paula Papini Cook of Chianti Classico’s Le Miccine that aged in French “hogsheads” 330L barrels and comes off these Gaiole estate’s old vines and mostly calcareous soils. This is a luxurious and smoothly textured wine, making a fine example of Tuscan Merlot and it is very rich and elegant with seamless layers of blackberry, plum, currant and cherry fruits along with cedar, pipe tobacco, anise, vanilla and delicate florals. This wine is very pleasing, especially in mouth feel and gains dimension with food, adding a regal presence and weight on the palate without heaviness along with a touch of loamy earth. The structural side is based around some opulent and ripe tannins that are incredibly well integrated, talk about soft power, that is how I’d explain it, this is a lovely vintage of Le Miccine’s Carduus and one that will be very memorable for this estate that just gets better with almost every year. Paula Papini Cook, the French Canadian winemaker, who after studying in France, where she also worked, and Spain, came to her grandparents sleepy Le Miccine Chianti estate, better known for olive oil than wine and turned it into a winery of high quality that has garnered great critical acclaim.

Since taking over her family’s ancient property, named after the small local donkeys that used to be the means of hauling trading goods through these hills, Paula Papini Cook has turned Le Miccine into a force in this part of Chianti Classico with a studied and delicious collection of wines. She set about rejuvenating the vines here and going all holistic and organic has brought lots of energy and charm to these wines, along with her natural gift as a winemaker, which is considerable, especially evident after tasting her latest set of wines and in particular her Chianti Classico Riserva, from this same 2016 vintage, a year that looks set to become legendary. Maybe it is her experience in Bordeaux, where she worked in Fronsac, that has helped here in this Merlot, this is a graceful effort and it should provide smiles for many years to come. Merlot has a long history here in Tuscany, and it makes for some of the most sought after wines here, like Masseto by Ornellaia over in Bolgheri as well as just down the road at Castello di Ama, who’s Merlot single vineyard offering is a cult classic. While not yet on that level, the Le Miccine Carduus is an exceptional value by comparison and not a wine to be overlooked, it’s not far off the fabulous set of Sangiovese based wines here. Le Miccine is well worth searching out, though still hard to find in the States, but the winery does ship direct and at reasonable prices.
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Farm Cottage Wines, Pinot Noir, Trout Gulch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Ryan Alfaro’s Farm Cottage Wines is a great new addition to the local scene in the South Santa Cruz Mountains with his fabulous debut Pinot Noir release from his family’s Trout Gulch Vineyard, a great cool climate site above Aptos, most famous for some outstanding wines, especially the Chardonnays by Arnot-Roberts, Kutch and Ceritas, as well as his dad’s Alfaro Family Vineyards version. This small batch and limited 2019 Trout Gulch Pinot Noir was done with 100% whole cluster, native yeasts and aged in used French oak, it’s a wonderfully expressive stem inclusion wine that delivers tons of excitement in the glass, highlighting the energy and beauty of this vintage and finishes with exceptional length. I love the bright pop of flavors and textural quality of this Trout Gulch Pinot with its layering of black cherry, tart plum, pomegranate and brambly raspberry fruits that are accented by edgy herbs, grilled blood orange, rose tea, briar, a delicate earthiness and very pretty dark florals throughout on the medium bodied palate. I am personally a fan of whole bunches and lightly stemmy wines, knowing that over time this produces heightened aromatics, complexity and depth, and Ryan has judged this to near perfection, allowing for ripe and silken fruit to lead here, this Pinot is especially joyous with food and handled some Corralitos Market (a must visit, old school local treasure) Canjun Sausage and tomato based spicy pasta sauce exceptionally well.

I’ve been a long time fan of the Alfaro Family Vineyards and Ryan’s dad Richard Alfaro, who’s estate in Corralitos is a must for those seeking out great values in both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as well as specialties like the winery’s Gruner Veltliner and the new 100% estate Malbec. Ryan joined his dad in the cellar in recent years, after doing a stint with California legend Adam Tolmach at Ojai Vineyards and studying wine in New Zealand. He has brought a lot of passion to the family business and put a lot of hard work in too get to this point, with Ryan’s personal project Farm Cottage Wines being a natural extension to these efforts at this small Corralitos estate. The Alfaro’s who have been leasing the Trout Gulch site for many years, finally purchased this vineyard outright this year and this wine is a fantastic way to celebrate. Seeing what Bradley Brown of Big Basin Vineyards has done using Alfaro grapes, employing 100% whole cluster, I can state this method works well and produces stunning wines, also, it is worth noting my friends at Windy Oaks also do some whole cluster to great effect in the region. Trout Gulch, planted in 1980, gets loads of cool Pacific air and is uniquely set only a few miles from the ocean with an almost Clos effect from the redwood trees lining most of this 16 acre dry-farmed hillside vineyard. Sitting at 750 feet above sea level with well-draining sandy loam soils, Trout Gulch, with Heritage Wente Chardonnay and Mt Eden Pinot Noir clones really is a jewel, as this vividly ruby Pinot clear demonstrates, get a few while you can!
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Francois Merlin, Saint-Joseph Rouge, Northern Rhone, France.
The Domaine Merlin, based in St-Michel-sur-Rhône since 1989, a commune just south of Condrieu, is a small producer focused on Syrah and Viognier with good holdings in Condrieu, Cote-Rotie and Saint-Joseph, where this beautiful wine comes from, it is a stylish and pure example of Northern Rhone Syrah that delivers a fine performance in the glass and is a stellar value. The Saint-Joseph Rouge is made from various small plots with a mix of sandy soils and granite, with a bit of limestone and was all de-stemmed to promote elegance and opulence in the wine, which was easily achieved here in this 2018 version. The wine saw a short cold soak maceration and gentle hand punch downs while fermenting after which this dark purple/garnet Syrah is raised in a combination of wood casks with about 20% being new 228L barrels with the majority seeing neutral oak in various sizes to allow for freshness and balance to shine here. This is quite impactful Saint-Joesph in the glass with more than expected density and presence, in fact it is almost as impressive as the winery’s top Cote-Rotie with loads of blue and black fruits, delicate spices, perfume and textural pleasures. This is solid stuff with a classic medium to full bodied palate with lush layers of boysenberry, damson plum, kirsch and cedary wood notes, a touch of feral/earthy savoriness (the good kind of Syrah funk) and pretty violets, adding hints of anise, flinty mineral and a lingering sense of creme de cassis.

In my review of the Domaine Merlin Cote-Rotie, I noted that, Francois Merlin, a largely self taught winemaker, who has been joined full-time by his son Laurent in 2013, is a serious vigneron that studied under the legendary Rene Rostaing. I found he has gained an admirable reputation as a grower producer in the Northern Rhone, with Decanter Magazine really loving these wines, and with a tidy collection of high quality parcels, some that he planted himself from ancient massele (syrah) selections, including Serine clone, notably in Cote-Rotie as well as here in Saint-Joseph. Laurent uses mostly organic and sustainable methods to farm his family’s challenging, mostly steep, sites which are set on the region’s mostly decomposed granite soils with areas of gneiss, gravel and schist. The Domaine gets exceptionally small yields from their vines and the concentration of fruit is utterly sensual and divine. Francois credits his son Laurent, for playing a big part in the vineyards, that has taken the quality to the next level, and this 2018 Saint-Joseph is proof. In the small cellars Francois employs some Burgundy style small barriques, plus a few puncheons and large 600L casks that range from toasty brand new to six year old casks, used in combination to achieve a studied balance in his reds. With extended air, the 2018 Merlin Saint-Joseph gains depth and richness, but stays gracefully detailed and it is at its best with food, be sure to look for this bottling as it offers a ton of quality and personality for the price, this is a producer to add to your watch list, especially for Syrah lovers.
($26 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive Reviews – May, 2021

2020 Hundred Suns, Space Cat Pinot Noir Rosé, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The crisp Summer refresher, the Space Cat Rosé by Hundred Suns Winery is a dry Rosé made from 100% Willamette Valley Pinot Noir crafted to excite the palate in flavorful way that is impactful versus dull with bright mineral intensity and fairly remarkable depth of flavors with raspberry water, sour cherry, juicy watermelon, zingy citrus, orange tea spiciness and hints of rosewater. This wine strikes a fine balance between the lean or too light and full flavored and weight styles with a substantial structural feel, and its layers flow impressively and makes for a wine that can go with a wider array of foods as well as drinking quite nice all by itself, its vivid acidity and wet stone element keeps things lively and less fruity. Grant and Renée at Hundred Suns Winery are killing it right now and their lineup is full of lusty stuff, especially their single vineyard Pinots, like the Shea and Sequitur Vineyard(s) bottlings, as well as the devastatingly delicious Gamay and this fun Space Cat Rosé, which sadly sells out too fast. As I have suggested in my reviews of Hundred Suns, getting on their list is a must, which benefited me in getting this very limited release.

Grant Coulter and Rene Saint-Amour’s Hundred Suns Winery, based in McMinnville, is one of the most exciting labels in Oregon these days and as noted here, Coulter’s experience with Beaux Freres, as head winemaker, has made him one of the state’s most sought after Pinot Noir producers crafting many excellent examples from his Old Eight Cut cuvee, one of the best values in Pinot Noir (and now Chardonnay too), to the mentioned special single vineyard collection. In recent years Grant and Renée have planted their own vineyard and Grant has taken on the winemaking at the very impressive Flaneur Winery as well, where he hand crafts Pinot, Chard, Sparkling and a bit of Meunier. Also they have released a couple of interesting Rhones too, with an Oregon Syrah and a Washington State Grenache, both of which are wonderfully tasty. The wines here are all made with unique to themselves methods with various levels of whole cluster and vessels employed for fermentation and aging with even some amphora used, making for some intriguing textural wines. I missed out on the early versions of the Space Cat Rosé, so I’m glad I grabbed a few bottles of this 2020, which I plan to covet for the warm days this year!
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Counoise, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
The freshly vivid and medium bodied Tablas Creek single varietal bottling of Counoise, one of the rare Chateauneuf du Pape grapes, drinks very well with a crisp and bright character that is kind of like the Gamay of the Southern Rhone, best served slightly chilled, with lively acidity and tart dark fruits, it was a perfect foil to some powerfully ripe/dense Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas and earthy Northern Rhone Syrah(s) last night. The 2019 Tablas Creek Vineyard Counoise, according to the winery, is Tablas Creek’s tenth varietal bottling of this traditional blending grape from the Southern Rhone and like their Cinsault is on the lighter side with an array of vibrant blueberry, cranberry, tangy cherry and plum fruits along with some baking spices, delicate florals, a touch of chalky mineral and clove spiced fig on the finish. This 100% Counsoise is a great Summer red that goes nicely with a range of food choices with Tablas whetting the saliva glands and appetite suggesting herb crusted pork loin, roast chicken, veal and my favorite choice, spicy sausages, as I like this would be awesome with Cajun versions!

The Tablas Counoise is sourced from estate vines in Paso’s Adelaida District on the westside where there is that fantastic limestone soils and the Templeton wind gap that allows a cooling influence to this warm region and promotes balance in these wines, the Counoise ripens late and never gets to heavy in natural alcohol, which makes it perfect to blend with the more dense varietals, especially the Grenache and Mourvedre. The 2019 vintage, which like 2018, provided perfect conditions for exceptional quality of fruit, with a slightly cooler and longer season with mostly a bit less fruit on the vine made for some fabulous intensity of flavors, which this ruby red Counoise shows with some flourish. Tablas went with very clean winemaking on this wine with stainless steel and cool fermentation and then aged this red in neutral French oak to preserve its zesty personality, it was also bottled in screwcap to let you it is meant to be enjoyed in its youth and capture the pure detailing in this fun and tasty wine. The 2019 Tablas Creek Counoise finished with 13% natural alcohol and is easy to enjoy, but still quite serious and well worth your attention, and it will give added incentive to visit Tablas Creek and or join their wine club, as they get first shot at this limited offering.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Chateau de Saint Cosme, Cotes du Rhone “Les Deux Albion” Rhone Red, France.
The incredible and ultra affordable Chateau grown bottling of Cotes du Rhone, Les Deux Albion, is a classic full bodied and meaty Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre blend from Louis Barroul at the famous Chteau de Saint Cosme, this 2018 is a vintage with impressive wow factor, coming at a Chateauneuf like 15% natural alcohol and with wonderful fruit density this GSM will confidently drink with wines three to five times the price! This 2018 starts with a heady peony and violet perfume along with some Syrah and Mourvedre earthy/leathery notes as well as thick black and red berries before opening up to a opulent mouth filling palate of boysenberry, pomegranate, damson plum and kirsch as well as tar, licorice, sticky lavender, sandalwood and peppery spices. The weight is well concealed within the graceful texture and inner vibrance of this delicious Cotes du Rhone. This wine really compares well with the estate’s Gigondas, a legendary wine, especially in this vintage, making it an exceptional value, I’m glad I bought myself a few bottles of this gorgeous and complex Les Deux Albion, it should drink nicely for a decade or more!

The 2018 Chateau de Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone Rouge Les Deux Albion was crafted using 100% whole cluster and native yeast in its fermentation with the Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre being all co-fermented together in a combination of cement and wood vats with a lengthy maceration. The wine was aged in the same combination of vessels, both well used and imparting minimal influence on the wine’s personality with the terroir being the main factor in the Les Deux Albion’s flavor profile and that is from the vines which are set in the classic hardened clay hillside soils including their ancient alluvium, limestone marl and pebbles. Saint Cosme has been a notable wine producing site since Roman times at set on the original Gallo-Roman villa that still has ancient vats cut into the limestone and the Barroul family has owned it since 1490. The estate still is over looked by its Chapel of Saint Cosme, where it got its current name, and is in the shadow of the Dentelles near Gigondas and Vinsobres. This higher elevation zone has a higher percentage of Syrah and it thrives in the cooler parts of Gigondas and especially well in Vinsobres, which recently gained a full AOC, and where Saint Cosme has their Chateau de Rouanne, a property that is making waves in the region. While the 2016 and 2017 vintages were awesome, this 2018 might be even better for the Les Deux Albion Rouge, don’t miss this great stuff!
($25 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Diatom, Chardonnay, Santos Road, Sta. Rita Hills.
The beautiful no wood “inox” Diatom 2018 Santos Road Chardonnay, by Greg Brewer, the winemaker at the famous Brewer-Clifton, is a single Hyde clone wine, is sourced from a tiny and unique sandy parcel within Brewer-Clifton’s 3D Vineyard, which sits along Santos Road in the Sta. Rita Hills, hence the name here. I had given this wine a little cellar rest and it has done nicely to allow more texture and complexity to develop, while retaining its brilliant vibrancy and pure essences, it might be my favorite bottling of these exotic Diatom Chards with its impressive array of yellow fruits, including a mix of citrus, stone fruit and delicate tropical notes, wet stones, white flowers and steely/mineral tones. There is a no oak, non-malo briskness and tangy edge to start, but things deepen with air and warmth with this Santos Road Chardonnay adding impressive mouth feel and at 14.5% natural alcohol this wine has ripe impact on the palate, though it stays very vivid and feels gracefully balance, making it delicious with a range of cuisine, in particular this wine would be fantastic with Sushi, especially clear fresh cuts of Toro (creamy fatty tuna) and or crab dishes. This Santos Road comes alive with an electric shock of lemon/lime, Asian pear, kiwi and green apple in a flourish of an exciting cascade of flavors.

Brewer’s Diatom Chardonnay collection are his personal project and are some of the most interesting versions of California Chard out there, this limited and hand crafted wines are a set of no compromise offerings that are very different from his Brewer-Clifton bottlings. The Diatom fermentation(s) are done at very low temperatures using only small stainless steel tanks, with special yeasts and, as noted, no malo-lactic conversion. The movement of the wine is done with exceptionally short hose travel to ensure precision and focus, they are, again as mentioned above, all inox (stainless tank) wines, made without any oak at all, Greg really is looking to present these wines with an intense purpose and spends much of his time in the vineyards watching the grapes, only picking when the grapes have reached perfect development of flavors, regardless of internal sugars, so some vintages will have exceptionally low alcohol in the 12% range and others sometimes as high as 16%!. But, when you taste Diatom, as I’ve mentioned over the years, in my opinion, you get a tour of the zen like focus of Brewer’s mind, these are precision wines that channel the inner purity of Chardonnay (grapes) down to it’s core essence, they are unlike any other Chardonnays. The 2018s and the current 2019s look to be some of the best yet from Diatom, benefiting from near perfect conditions, with their long cool growing seasons, allowing these Chardonnays to deliver brilliance in the glass.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2012 Domaine de Monardiere, Vacqueyras, Vieilles Vignes, Rhone Red, France.
This wine has matured and is drinking at peak expressiveness with pure and lush layers of ripe and heady fruit, very much in the mold of a classic Chateauneuf du Pape, it is full bodied and densely textured, rather surprising for a Vacqueyras, especially in this price class, adding to the sense of quality and shear pleasure coming from the glass of this old vine Rhone. This wine gives a hedonistic performance, it starts with its inviting garnet/purple color with edges that are beginning to show a hint of orange/crimson and a nose of florals and sweet red fruits with a touch of spice and earth that leads to a opulent palate of crushed brambly raspberries, plum, boysenberry and sweet kirsch along with dried roses, snappy herbs, anise and a hint of leather. This is a flamboyant Rhone that certainly makes an impact and is best with robust cuisine choices, with its thick fruits and silken tannins I would suggest enjoying it with lamb kabobs, grilled tri-tip and or wild mushroom dishes. There is a complex array of flavors here, but this Monardiere Vacqueyras is simply a wine that provides big smiles, especially for Grenache fans, even though the final blend here was 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 20% Mourvedre.

The Vache’s, Martine and Christian, bought this estate from Monardieres back in 1987 and began their own journey into becoming a top producer here in the Vacqueyras AOC, and with a lot of hard work, investment in the cellar and converting all the vines to organic, their wines have become some of the region’s most desirable, as this Vieilles Vignes shows. This Monardiere Old Vine Vacqueyras saw 100% de-stemmed grapes that ware fermented using indigenous yeasts, with a maceration and extraction period of almost three weeks with gentle daily punch-downs to showcase the terroir and vintage. The Vache’s traditional approach included them aging their Vacqueyras cru from 12 months in a combination of tanks, especially revealing in the Grenache and a few lots in barrels to add richness and soften tannins and then chosen, blended and bottled, without fining or filtration to capture every nuance of this wine’s soul in the bottle. The Monardiere lineup includes a Vacqueyras Rosé, this lavish Old Vine Vacqueyras (Vieilles Vignes) and the single vineyard Les 2. I recently reviewed and loved their 2010, a vintage that seemed youthful by comparison and a touch more brooding, and I recommend drinking up this 2012s, as they are at their best right now.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Weingut Leo Alzinger, Gruner Veltliner, Durnstein, Federspiel, Wachau, Austria.
The brilliantly clear 2019 Durnstein Federspiel Gruner from Leo Alzinger is a near perfect example of this region, grape and style with classic brisk citrus led flavors that include lemon/lime, white peach and green apple fruits and wet rock, saline, almond oil, a touch of leafy herbs and verbena. This light bodied Gruner is more complex and shows more depth than first impressions give, but is still lacy and refreshing at its core, it is very delightful and vibrant, highlighting the highly regarded vintage here in the Wachau, along the Danube to the west of Vienna. The Leo Alzinger winery is located in Unterloiben, just across the street from the legendary Emmerich Knoll and the wines here, first introduced to me by famed importer Terry Theise, are some of Austria’s most exciting wines and this one continues that trend of excellence, these current releases are crystalline and riveting offerings, especially the set of Gruners from the steeper parcels. Alzinger’s Grüner Veltliner, according to winery, is cultivated on the lower, silty, loess based plots, which allows pure and ripe profiles as this beauty shows, and the aromatics, while subtle, are lovely gaining nice floral notes as it opens in the glass.

The 2019 Alzinger Dursten Gruner Veltliner comes from multiple sites within the Durnstein, set on a combination of clay mixed with gneiss, mica schist, loam and sandy gravelly soils, all of which adds to the depth here and the cool climate allows for greater retainment of zesty acidity. Alzinger crushes whole cluster with a short maceration, and it should be noted Alzinger encourages a bit of skin contact, then allows the must to settle for 24 hours, dropping any green tannins out. I was told and understand Leo used natural yeast with a spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel vats and the short elevage was done employing mostly stainless steel tanks, but with a small amount of neutral Austrian oak to add to the roundness and presence on the palate. The Danube River’s influence is felt on the terroir driven character here and this wine is a true expression of place, I am again incredibly impressed with what is on display in this fine Gruner and I am thinking I’ll want quite av few more bottles for Summer. The value here is fabulous and the winemaking is pristine, I can’t wait to enjoy my next bottle with oysters and or steamed claims, as well as with grilled artichokes. Not only does Alzinger do fantastic Gruner, he also produces stellar Rieslings too, equally as profound and powerful, in particular chase down the Ried Steinertal Smaragd, this winery is one to follow, and don’t miss these 2019s!
($25 Est.) 93 Pointsgrapelive

2018 Laura Lorenzo – Daterra Viticultores, Portela do Vento Blanco, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia Spain.
The 2018 Portela do Vento Vino Blanco is a stunning white wine from the incredible Laura Lorenzo, this wine is gorgeous with the class and complexity of Grand Cru Burgundy, but with its own unique character and with beautiful aromatics, this medium bodied wine, made from a blend of Ribeira Sacra grown Godello, Palomino, Doña Blanca and Colgadeira, none of which are household names, but combine here to remarkable effect. Lorenzo’s natural and organic offerings are some of the most compelling in Spain, with her hard and back breaking work in these remote vineyard sites really paying off, and while known for her Mencia based reds, her whites are equally outstanding and this 2018 is one f her best that I’ve tried, with its heady perfume, textural grace and depth just heavenly in the glass. This Portela do Blanco comes from plots in the Amandi and Val do Bibei zones set on sandy loams and granite based soils that show in this wine’s intense mineral tones and wet stone element, with vines that range from 25 to 80 years old at elevations above 500 meters on steep slopes look more like the Mosel than you’d imagine. This brilliant wine shows layers of crisp apple, pear, peach and racy citrus fruits with orange blossoms, jasmine and a touch of waxy detail along with zesty herbs, verbena, citron and hazelnut. A light golden yellow hue captures your attention, but it is the sublime mouth feel and steely core that impresses most here, it has many facets that will excite those that love Chablis, though slightly more exotic in nature like a Marcel Deiss field blend meets a South African old vine white, which are Chenin heavy, and makes sense when you know Lorenzo did a stint at Sadie Family, under the mentorship of the legendary Eben Sadie.

I have been following Laura’s wines since she was at Dominio do Bibei and was an early fan of her own label Daterra Viticultores, which was founded in 2014 with a set of small lot wines from the Ribeira Sacra, she has now enjoyed a string of successful vintages and is an international star. Lorenzo hand crafts a range of wines, mostly from a Ribeira Sacra set of small vineyards as well as in Valdeorras, and her Portela do Vento wines are regional blends exclusively from the Ribeira Sacra “Sacred Blanks”, while her Erea, Gavela, and Azos series are single village wines, and she also does a set of single parish or vinos de parroquia wines. All of Laura’s wines are transparent and highlight this regions fascinating terroir, with its cool Atlantic climate and mixture of slate, sand, schist and granite soils all showing through in these intriguing wines. The Portela do Vento Blanco, as the winery notes, comes from several parcels of native white varieties primarily from the Amandi (south-facing young vines) as well as Val do Bibei (north & northeast-facing old vines) subzones, all hand tended head trained vineyard sites, with organic and holistic farming methods employed. This dry white wine saw, according to Lorenzo, all the de-stemmed grapes go into both some used chestnut barrels and some terra-cotta amphora for a wild yeast fermentation with 5 days of skin contact before being raised for about a year in the same vessels and bottled unfined and unfiltered. This wine charms with every sip and goes fabulously with a wide array of foods, but especially with briny sea foods, I highly recommend it with shellfish, though it goes lovely with soft cheeses and even curried greens. This region has a long history in wine, with the Romans coming to this green, northwest corner of Iberia over 2,000 years ago, and they were the first to terrace these picturesque slopes and plant grape vines in Ribeira Sacra and while almost forgotten, but wines like this make it one of the most exciting wine regions in the world.
($35 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2019 Samuel Louis Smith Wines, Syrah “Serine Sauvage” Coastview Vineyard, Gabilan Mountains, Monterey County.
The spine tingling beautiful and opaquely purple Serine Sauvage Syrah by Sam Smith is a cool climate and mountain wine that thrills the senses with violets, peony and feral earthy elements on the deep bouquet along with grippy black and blue fruits, leading with briar laced boysenberry, damson plum and tangy blueberry on the medium to full bodied palate that is accented with snappy peppercorns, wild sage, tapenade, cedar, creme de cassis and anise. This is classic northern Rhone style Syrah with fantastic purity and whole cluster crunch, influenced by granite soils and hillside vines, which are set up in the Gabilan Mountains that see cooling winds off the Monterey Bay allowing for gorgeous fruit density and opulence, while retaining vibrant acidity and elegant lower Sam’s Serine Sauvage shows divinely with just 13.3 % natural alcohol in a wine that has tremendous depth and presence in the glass with solid structural tannin, all of which makes for a wine with great potential to age. Smith’s latest set of releases are highly appealing wines that are sensual and brilliantly balanced, I especially love his Spear Vineyard Chardonnay, which is absolutely one of my favorite California white wines, as well as his Montanita de Oro Pinot Noir and both of his Syrah bottlings, the Santa Cruz Mountains Sandstone Terraces and this Coastview Serine Sauvage, which is extremely limited with only 35 cases made and looks to be a wine club only wine. So it looks to be a good time to get on the list here at Samuel Louis Smith Wines, these hand crafted small lot wines are well worth searching out.

Sam Smith, who is the head winemaker at Monterey’s Morgan Winery, first starting getting attention while a winemaker at Margerum in Santa Barbara County and many of his early (own) wines were sourced from top sites in the Sta. Rita Hills. Smith’s efforts at Morgan has transformed this label, putting the new lineup right up there with some of very best of the Santa Lucia Highlands, especially the 2018s from their organic Double L Estate Vineyard with his single clone wines being some of the most desirable of the vintage with the Clone 96 Chardonnay and especially the Pinots, which show luxurious flavors and textural excellence. Sam has a passion for Syrah and has done a pilgrimage to Hermitage and the surrounding spiritual home of Syrah, Cornas, Saint-Joseph and Cote-Rotie, where he was clearly influenced by the likes of some of the regions legends, Alain Graillot, Francois Villard and Pierre Gonon, to name a few. In recent years, cool climate Syrah has seen a renaissance and a change of generation has brought a wealth of great choices and Sam’s wines are some of the best out there, joining Halcon, Desire Lines, Drew, Big Basin (who also does a sublime version from Coastview), Pax, Jolie-Laide and Greg Brewer’s new Ex Post Facto. The 2019 Serine Sauvage, named for the ancient historic Serine clone of Syrah and Sauvage for the grape’s wild nature, was fermented 100% whole cluster with indigenous yeast with a gentle foot trod and daily pump-overs in a small bin before being aged just over a year in neutral French oak barrels. A big thank you to Sam for giving me a sneak preview of this delicious and perfumed wine, though it did reduce me to begging for any bottles not spoken for!
($45 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

1998 Chateau Pichon Longueville-de-Lalande, Reserve de la Comtesse, Pauillac, Red Bordeaux, France.
Well that was fun, the second wine of Chateau Pichon Longueville, one of the super second growths in the famed Pauillac zone of the left bank, this Reserve de la Comtesse 1998 is drinking really nicely and while a touch lean and green, it opens up and provides plenty of well preserved dark fruits, some chewy tannin and a graceful finish. Even better with food and time in the glass, the Reserve de la Comtesse gains aromatics and shows secondary evolution in all areas of the medium bodied palate, but remains firm and in no signs of crashing any time soon with blackberry, plum, hoisin, a elegant porporri of dried flowers, a touch of graphite, cedar, tapenade, lingering kirsch and some loamy earth. You can see some pretty stuff here, but I imagine the Grand Vin is miles better with more depth and concentration, though that said, I was impressed and somewhat surprised that this wine was in such a pleasing place. The Pichon Longueville-de-Lalande wines are now all organic and converting to biodynamics with the grapes being vinified in stainless tanks before seeing close to 18 months in barrel with up to 50% new oak used, with this Reserve de la Comtesse seeing significantly less new oak in most years.

The Chateau Pichon Longueville-de-Lalande sitting in good company set in the famous Pauillac, maybe Bordeaux’s most famous appellation, in Cabernet Sauvignon country and much sought after thanks to its prime terroir and gravelly soils, it is home to three of the region’s fabled first-growth châteaux, with Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and Chateau Latour being the headliners here along with a bevy of other notables, including Pontet-Canet and Lynch-Bages and both Pichons. Perched on the left bank of the Gironde River north of the city this area gets the warmth and allows for more Cabernet Sauvignon in the final blends, with Chateau Pichon Longueville-de-Lalande traditionally having about 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 8% Petit Verdot, until recent times when they added much more Cabernet Sauvignon, to bring it up to 65% of their total plantings. The Reserve de la Comtesse, which made its permanent debut in 1973, typically is more Merlot (based) than the Grand Vin, but this 1998 is showing more Cabernet Sauvignon in profile with a good backbone and currant laced character. This Chateau has a checkered past with some big hits and a few misses, but I’ve had good fortune with them, especially the Grand Vin, which was classified in the famous 1855 Medoc rankings, as mentioned, scoring a coveted Second Growth, which is a proud badge to wear, even these days.
($145 Est.) 89 Points, grapelive

2017 Weingut Dr. Loosen, Riesling Trocken, Graacher Himmelreich, Alte Reben, VDP Grosses Gewächs, Mosel, Germany.
The 2017 Dr. Loosen Graacher Himmelreich Old Vine GG is wonderfully pure and generous, absolutely a Grand Cru dry Riesling with brilliant clarity of terroir influence and depth showing awesome vintage concentration and dry powerful extract, this is classic Loosen at their impeccable best. Ernst Loosen, who took control of his family’s over 200 hundred year old Mosel estate in 1988, with incredible steep slate vineyards of un-grafted old Riesling vines, set in some of Germany’s most historic and prestigious sites, has elevated the reputation of this grape maybe more than any other person and his wines are always a fabulous treat to experience, especially his Cru offerings, like this gorgeous Graacher Himmelreich Alte Reben GG. This crystalline and steely Riesling opens gracefully in the glass with slate driven intensity on full display, pumping out layers of crisp green apple, tangerine/kumquat, lime sorbet and tart apricot, all accented by verbena, wet shale, spearmint and chamomile. With air this impactful Riesling gains leesy richness without losing its chiseled detail and adds a smoky flinty element and peachy fleshiness, everything follows nicely into place and makes for a seriously joyous wine that goes insanely well with crab cakes, sushi and or baked ham.

The Graacher Himmelriech, what Loosen calls the “Kingdom of Heaven”, is located above the small village of Graach, which that lies between Bernkastel and Wehlen. This vineyard’s steep, southwest-facing slopes and deep soils produce wines that the winery says combines the elegance of Wehlen with the rustic strength of Bernkastel with Loosen’s parcels being all well over 100 years old. This vineyard, one of the world’s greatest Riesling sites gives these wines their signature minerality, born of the abundance Devonian blue slate here, these profound wines from Graach have, as Loosen notes, excellent aging potential and will improve in the bottle for many decades, which I certainly have no doubt of and this open knit vintage has the benefit of early enjoyment as this bottle proved. The 2017 Loosen Graacher Himmelreich Grosses Gewachs was fermented with indigenous yeasts, or “sponti” in traditional old 1,000-liter Fuder casks of German oak and matured on the full lees for close to 12 months, sans bâtonnage (not stirred) to preserve its sharp transparency. Loosen farms with sustainable methods and handles the wines with extreme, gentle care in the cellar and their lineup of Dry Rieslings are the result of the careful attention to detail from the vine to bottle and should not be missed, while the classic Prädikat stuff, from Kabinett to Auslese remain some of the standards of their class, with the Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett being one of my favorites and one of the greatest Riesling values ever made! I can’t wait to see the 2019s, which I hear are going to be legendary!
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Filomena Wine Company, St. Laurent, Ricci Vineyard, Carneros, Sonoma County.
This has to be one of the best new wines to emerge in the last two years, made from this rare Austrian grape by Luke Nio, who is a winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson MW’s Bedrock Wine Company, the Filomena St. Laurent is a ridiculously good red wine with ultra fresh dark fruits, beautiful floral aromatics and some whole bunches vibrancy and lift, this is such tasty medium bodied stuff I can’t imagine not have a few bottles around now, especially this 2019 with its supple tannins and racy black cherry and cranberry fruit along with its bright cinnamon spiciness and mineral tones. This wine drinks like a Corbieres meets Fleurie, but with California ripe purity, though with wonderfully low natural alcohol at just 12.7 % and its fresh carbonic like creamy texture. Nio, now the cellarmaster at Bedrock, has been into wine throughout his life, being brought up near some 100 year old Alicante Bouschet vines in Sonoma and going to UC Davis, he’s been a wine traveller doing harvests in New Zealand, at Hawkes Bay, where he gained a love and insight into cool climate Syrah as well as doing stints throughout Sonoma, including being mentored by Richard Kasmier of Kaz Winery, who was doing natural wines before it was cool to do so, all of which has paid off now he has his own micro label and hand crafting his delicious Filomena offerings. I loved last year’s version of this St. Laurent too, but this year’s edition has cemented my thoughts and I could smash through a few cases of this very easily! The nose of this purple/garnet St. Laurent gives an array of peony and violets as well as crushed brambly blackberries with these echoing throughout and lingering on the dry finish, the light dusting of pepper, hints of anise and loam add complexity to this delightfully fun wine.

The St. Laurent grape, extremely rare here in California with only a few acres planted, has roots in Austria, but is also found in Germany and in the Czech Republic, it is a highly aromatic dark-skinned variety that has a slightly earthy almost Cabernet Franc like profile at home, Its origins are still uncertain though it is widely believed to be a crossing of Pinot Noir and so far an unknown second parent (grape). In Austria, St. Laurent is the third most popular red grape variety after Blaufrankisch and Zweigelt and is primarily grown in Lower Austria and Burgenland, while in Germany, where it is known as Sankt Laurent, it is extremely rare as a single varietal wine and is commonly used as a blender and or in Rosé. Also, St. Laurent was crossed with Blaufrankisch to create Zweigelt, which has gone on to become much more popular than its parent, though St. Laurent has been making a comeback with a few serious versions turning some heads, like Vincent Brundlmayer’s (Weingut Brundlmayer) excellent example. Luke has really made St. Laurent his own, it was fermented with about a third whole cluster, using native yeasts with a semi carbonic primary in tank before a gentle foot trod and a a pressing at dryness, after which the wine was racked to a combination of stainless barrels and large French 400L puncheons. The St. Laurent was raised for nine months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered without any additions or as Nio says, no shenanigans, with ultra low sulfites to preserve all of the wine’s natural flavors and freshness. Filomena does three wines, this awesome, value priced St. Laurent, and an intense and powerful cool climate Griffin’s Lair Syrah, which is aged five years before release, plus a brand new Rosé of Cabernet Pfeffer from the Enz Vineyard, made famous in recent years by Ian Brand and Dirty and Rowdy with their Mourvedre(s), all of which are very limited and exciting efforts not to be missed.
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Bucklin, Anne’s Field Blend, Upper 5th Vineyard, Old Hill Ranch, Sonoma Valley.
The beautifully full bodied and deeply colored Bucklin Anne’s Upper 5th red is an unique co-ferment field blend of five grapes, mainly old vine Zinfandel 67%, plus Pelousin 19%, a French variety, thought to be from the Rhône-Alpes region, best known its crossing with Syrah resulting in Durif (aka Petite Sirah), Petite Sirah 8%, Carignane 3% and French Colombard, a white grape used in Cognac, that come from a 100 year old plot that is all inter-planted with a collection of fruit and nut trees and is farmed with great care and with holistic methods. Named after Will Bucklin’s mom, Anne Teller, who’s been farming grapes here in the Sonoma Valley for many decades, starting in the late 1970s and early 1980s when she and her husband Otto purchased the Old Hill Ranch property, one of California’s most historic vineyards that was the first site to be planted to Zinfandel in the 1880s. Richly textured and lush with supple tannins this 2018 Anne’s Zinfandel Field Blend displays a classic array of raspberry led fruits with juicy plum, currant and sweet cherry along with nice floral and spice accents, toasty oak cedar, vanilla, a touch of anise and lingering framboise. The Old Hill Ranch has supplied grapes to some fantastic wines over the years, maybe most notably the legendary Joel Peterson’s Ravenswood, which are iconic Zinfandels that are fabulously age worthy bottles.

Known mostly for the Ancient Zin blend and the Bambino young vine Zinfandel from the original Old Hill Vineyard, Bucklin does a small lot collection of bottlings that wine enthusiasts should really take note of, like this Anne’s Field Blend as well as the Rosé, the Mixed Whites, the Ancient Grenache, the Otto’s Grenache and Bucklin’s delicious Cabernet Sauvignon. All of these wines are available on their website and remain some of the best under the radar Sonoma Valley wines out there and I highly recommend checking them out. Will Bucklin’s Zin based wines are right up there with some of the greats of Zinfandel, so lovers of Turley, Biale, Ridge, Sandlands, Brown Estate and Bedrock, to name a few, will want to get these incredibly well made and outstanding value wines all from one of the state’s great heritage vineyards. The Bucklin wines are hand crafted using traditional methods with exceptional care and treatment of the grapes from the vines to the bottle with the wines seeing about a year in mostly used French oak barrels to allow the vineyard to show through in the wine. The 2018 vintage is really turning out to be a wildly compelling year with dense fruit concentration, but with sublime balance and mouth feel, a nice cut of natural acidity helps lift the flavors and gives an exciting pop. These recent Bucklin releases are tasty treats to enjoy over the next 5 to 10 years and go great with hearty foods, especially Summer BBQs, don’t miss them.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2020 Paix Sur Terre, Picpoul Blanc, Glenrose Vineyard, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
A new winery for me, the Paix Sur Terre label, made by Ryan Peace, located on Vineyard Drive on Paso Robles’ westside, made this really tasty and vibrant Picpoul, one of the rare Chateauneuf du Pape (Rhone) white grapes that is most famous for the Languedoc’s zesty Picpoul de Pinet, which still is one of the south of France’s best values in white wine and a grape that is showing a real promise here in California, especially here, where it enjoys the limestone soils. Tasted blind, I seriously had hilariously wrong guesses trying to figure it out, though it did let help me see the aromatics and slight fruitiness, as well as the wine’s nice mineral element. Peace started Paix Sur Terre in 2010 and is producing some very compelling wines with an intriguing collection of whites and reds, including this delightful Picpoul, as well as single varietal Ugni Blanc, Counoise, Clairette Blanche, Syrah and Mourvedre along with a set of Rhone red blends featuring Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault, to name a few.

The Paix Sur Terre 2020 Picpoul Blanc, sourced from the Glenrose Vineyard and two distinct parcels on the property, one on the warm southern exposed summit, and the other from the much cooler east-facing ridge line, providing a ying and yang of ripeness that gave it more complexity and zippiness. The Picpoul fruit was picked at night to retain freshness, then the cool grapes were whole-cluster pressed, as the winery notes, to stainless steel tank and fermented with specially select (the) Champagne yeast culture. After fermenting the Picpoul to dryness, the wine was then racked off the lees to a stainless steel tank and the aged for just two months before bottling with a gentle sterile filtering for clarity. Everything here was done to promote freshness and sharp detail, making for a crisp and bright white wine that goes great with Summer cuisine and is perfect for a variety of sea foods and especially shellfish dishes. This 2020 is ripe and gains roundness with air, while still retaining an inner energy from its natural acidity with white peach, lemon/lime, melon and a touch of tropical fruit along with a fine chalkiness, wet stones, citrus blossoms and tangy herbs. A big thank you to my friend Marc Takahashi of the Pebble Beach market who introduced me to this winery and wine, he is a big fan of Ryan’s wines, as now I am as well!
($32 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 A. A. Badenhorst Family Wines, Grenache, Raaigras, Swartland, South Africa.
The 2017 Badenhorst Grenache is delicious stuff, at first is earthy and raw, but it opens beautifully and gains a lovely floral perfume and supple red fruits along with dusty spices and ends up with an expressive deep fruited personality. Badenhorst and the vines are located on the northern side of the Paardeberg mountain, which is a granite outcrop with three distinctive types of decomposed granitic soils, Paardeberg, Lammershoek and Lemoenfontain all of which are very old and give these wines there unique terroir profiles. The Raaigras Vineyard was planted in 1952 and has a cooler south facing slope that allows for a bit of restraint in natural alcohol, which shows here, it finished with just about 13% and this ruby/garnet hued 2017 Grenache feels lively and fresh in glass with layers of brambly raspberry, juicy plum, strawberry and kirsch fruits as well as cinnamon, minty herb, anise and some peppery spices with silky tannins and very low oak influence. This Grenache will be best enjoyed with a hearty meal and or hard cheeses to allow the fruit core to really shine through in this medium bodied wine. Badenhorst, one of the leaders of modern South Africa’s natural styled wines has put together an amazing collection of wines that showcase the best and most alluring qualities of the Swartland region, maybe one of the world’s most unique wine zones.

Famed South African winemaker Adi Badenhorst, founded the Badenhorst winery along with his cousin Hein back in 2008 when they purchased their Kalmoesfontein farm in the Paardeberg area of Swartland. Together they restored the ancient and run down cellar, that as they put it, had been neglected since the 1930′s, where they now make some of the most compelling natural wines in the country. These vineyard sites on the Kalmoesfontein farm consist of very old bush-vines, with a host of interesting parcels like those planted to Chenin Blanc, Cinsault and Grenache, all of that average close to 50 years old. The estate is host to an array of varietals, including Chenin Blanc, Clairette Blance, Roussane, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Colombard, Grenache, Cinsault, Shiraz and Tinta Barocca, to name a few, and are un-irrigated and farmed as holistically (employing natural organic methods) as possible. This tasty Raaigras Grenache, according to the winery, was 100% de-stemmed and it was fermented in an old foudre using all native yeasts, with the wine seeing daily pumped overs. After going almost dry the wine pressed and was racked gently to large 500L puncheon(s) where it was aged 14 months on the full lees, then bottled unfined and unfiltered. In recent years I have really enjoyed the Badenhorst wines, like this one, though especially their fabulous Cinsault and Tinta Barocca bottlings, and I highly recommend chasing them down.
($48 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Pax Mahle, Syrah, Alder Springs Vineyard, Mendocino County.
The exceptional 2018 Alder Springs Syrah by Pax Mahle is truly world class stuff, fantastically pure and with beautiful layers it is one of the best yet from this Syrah specialist with a full bodied palate of dark berries, damson plum, black cherry and currant fruit, wild, almost feral, earthiness, cracked peppercorns, mission fig and with a deep perfume of crushed violets and anise. The 100% whole cluster and native yeast fermentation gives this wine its sexy excitement and makes for its great balance of fruit and umami and heightened sensual appeal, much the same way that the great wines of Auguste Clape, Thierry Allemand and Domaine Jamet do, in fact this vintage is wanting for nothing when compared to those wines. This vineyard, planted to Syrah in 1997, was the first place Pax ever got grapes, it is located about 150 miles north of San Francisco and lies just 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean, it is set on steep slopes with many unique micro climates with mainly fractured sandstone soils. Alder Springs Vineyard, along with Griffin’s Lair in the cool windswept Petaluma Gap, are my favorites in Pax’s lineup usually, but I was blown away with this release of the Alder Springs Syrah, it really shows what a great place this vineyard is and what an awesome terroir it is for this grape. This dense and opaque purple 2018 Alder Springs Syrah is a divine nectar, particularly for Syrah enthusiasts (like me) and potentially perfect, it deserves to be decanted and be a center piece of a fine meal, which I didn’t respect, by having popped its cork with a take away pizza, but it soon forgave me by opening up in the glass with majestic and profound grace, making for a thrilling evening.

The Alder Springs Syrah was made using the full bunches and with stem inclusion, all standard practice here at Pax, and it was raised in neutral large sized French oak puncheons to capture the nuance of the vintage, with was long and cool, perfect for this style of wine and to allow a real sense of place to shine through. These 2018s look to have fabulous aging potential and I was incredibly impressed by how good it was now, with air this Alder Springs just got better and better, with sublime mouth feel and gained aromatic intensity, as well as complexity over the hour or so I had it open with added floral dimension and a finish that went on and on featuring creme de cassis, herbs de Provence and touch of cool climate tapenade. Pax Wines, founded back in 2000, is led by Pax and Pamela Mahle, and has been a huge force in making Syrah as serious as it is in California these days, especially in the classic Northern Rhone style, hand crafting many small lot and single vineyard cuvees from organic and cooler climate sites in northern California. In recent years, besides these awesome Syrah bottlings, like this outstanding Alder Springs, Pax has been exploring a selection of esoteric varieties, like Trousseau, Trousseau Gris, Charbono, Valdiguie, Mondeuse, the Mission grape (aka Listan Prieto) and especially Gamay that he says showcase the great diversity of California wine. Mahle has also adopted a very non intervention or natural winemaking style, adding that from the vineyard to the cellar, Pax Wines employs sustainable approach with a holistic winemaking style. This means that all of Pax’s grapes are grown using organic or biodynamic vineyard practices, plus ultra low sulfites and no unnatural additions are used in the winery. Pax has nailed these 2018s and this one is the real deal, lucky are those that have a few extra bottles to savor and cellar, it should get even better in 3 to 5 years too, sadly patience wasn’t a virtue I was born with!
($55 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Willi Schaefer, Riesling Trocken, Graacher Himmelreich, VDP Grosses Gewächs, Mosel Germany.
The Willi Schaefer Gaacher Himmelreich GG is a unicorn wine, maybe one of the rarest bottles you’ll see of a current release by this winery and I feel incredibly to have got one, this Dry wine from one of Germany’s great vineyards and greatest producers is a treasure. Based in Graach, Willi Schafer has a fabulous collection of vines with south-to-southwest exposition, these parcels have great sun exposure all day as well as access to a natural spring that runs through the hillside, guaranteeing good water supply even in warm vintages. This GG is deeply mineral laced and shows a tight array of tart apricot, green apple, white flowers and zesty citrus fruits, flinty spices, wet rock, a touch of lees and almond paste. This is not as expansive and generous as the Schaefer Spatlese offerings are and this wine is nervy serious, though its personality really changes as it gets air and a bit more warmth in the glass, it impresses much more with food and time to unwind. The Romans knew the benefits of Graach’s sites and cultivated vines here in ancient times helping create the reputation for quality that has stood the test of time. In the Prussian times too this area was producing some of the world’s most expressive and prized wines and their classification of the Mosel vineyards from 1816 to 1832 indeed gave Graach’s vineyards, like the Himmelreich the highest ratings. Schaefer known for their classic Prädikat wines, Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese and Beerenauslese does an ultra small batch of Trocken, with this Graacher Himmelreich VDP Grosses Gewachs (Grand Cru) being the ultimate find in dry Mosel offerings, right up there with Dr. Lossen and Maximin Grunhaus, but far more limited.

According to the famed importer and Riesling guru Terry Theise, Schaefer is absolutely, without question, one of the greatest producers in Germany with Riesling that is crystalline, ethereally complex and limpidly clear, they have a quality of calm, these wines I will add are joyous and happy, you cannot be a wine lover without celebrating in them. This small family estate which dates back to 1121 and only does Riesling is a benchmark for the Mosel and are coveted not just by collectors, but by other growers. The Schafer’s plots are located on steep weathered Devonian slate (soil) slopes and consist of up to 100-year-old, ungrafted vines. Theise also notes that Himmelreich is buoyant, more floral, lighter in texture and is open from day one, all of which is hard to argue with and these qualities also make Graacher Himmelreich a superb source for Schaefer’s elite dry wine. In 2015 Christoph Schaefer took the helm of the winery from his illustrious father and together with his wife Andrea continue to run it with the highest level of quality. Christoph and Andrea met while studying oenology-and viticulture at university, the famous Geisenheim, where Germany’s top winemakers get trained. Christoph joined his father Willi back in 2002 so his experience and the transition was seamless guaranteeing that these wines remain some of the world’s most coveted, with this 2018 GG being a shinning star! I highly recommend putting this away for another 3 to 5 years and let it get some secondary elements going here, which I believe will transform this GG into a beautiful swan of a wine, patience will certainly be rewarded, in the meantime drink any and all of the Schaefer Kabinett(s) and Spatlese(s), from the Graacher Domprobst and Graacher Himmelreich you can get!
($65 Est.) 93-95 Points, grapelive

2019 I. Brand & Family, Pinot Noir, Enz Vineyard, Lime Kiln Valley, San Benito County.
The 2019 Enz Pinot Noir, yes Pinot, is one of my favorites in the I. Brand & Family lineup, and while this vineyard is legendary for its old vine Mourvedre, the dry farmed and small yielding Pinot Noir vines here produce a singular and thrilling example of Pinot that surprise for its energy and beauty, especially when fermented with some whole cluster and native yeasts. This is the first public release of Pinot Noir from Ian Brand, who has made many delicious Pinots for other people over the years, but who long resisted doing one one under his own label, preferring to focus on his Rhone style wines, in particularly his divine old vine Grenache and Mourvedre bottlings. This 2019 vintage, with its longer and cooler growing season made for almost perfect conditions for this Enz to shine with elegant lower natural alcohol and depth of flavors with layers of black cherry, raspberry, pomegranate and strawberry fruits, delicate florals, sage/lavender, peppery notes, orange tea and faint wood toastiness and a touch of toffee, all in a silky medium bodied Pinot Noir that is tasty and vibrant in every way. A few years back, I had Randall Grahm’s Bonny Doon version and I absolutely loved that Enz Vineyard Pinot, and knowing Ian helped farm this site in Lime Kiln Valley I asked him about the terroir here and frankly asked him, with as good as this wine was that he hadn’t done one himself, only to learn he had, though just not under his own label (yet), and that it also was fabulous stuff, so I’m really glad now that this wine has found a spot in his collection, a place it deserves. With air this wine, which is only a restrained 13.2%, really turns on the charm, it is very expressive with a little whole bunch pop, a bit Grenache like, and adds a nice sultry earthiness in contrast, making for a balanced food friendly wine.

Ian Brand, as I have called him, (is) a vineyard whisperer and has chosen to search out, as he puts it, remote and challenging vineyards, with hard depleted soils, in areas that have intense sunlight that are tempered only by the coastal breezes of the central coast. These vineyards, he adds, are capable of producing only the most idiosyncratic wines, which is certainly case with his Enz Vineyard wines, the Mourvedre and this dark ruby colored Pinot Noir. The Enz Vineyard, originally planted in 1895, with its famous Mourvedre planted in 1922, is a magical dry farmed and organic site not far from the famous Mt. Harlan where Calera and Eden Rift are, in the Lime Kiln Valley AVA, which was formed in 1982 with similar soils that are combination of limestone, dolomite and a touch of decomposed granite with a sandy/gravelly loam covering. This wine appeals to me, it is wild and unashamed California Pinot Noir, it is not ultra cool climate stuff, nor is it Burgundy like, and the better for it, it is a wine that defies expectations and rewards the adventurous. Brand, who is a practical and low intervention winemaker, uses gentle winemaking methods, going for vineyard expression over flashy techniques employs native yeast fermentation, hand punch-downs and foot trodding being the norm and he raises his wine mostly in well seasoned French oak. In recent years, Ian has taken on some new challenges and started producing some wines that push the boundaries, he just released a hibiscus infused Sauvignon Blanc Piquette (Pet-Nat lite) sparkler and a Ramato style skin contact Pinot Gris, a fine set of Cabernet Franc(s) as well as a long lees aged Melon de Bourgogne, all of which intrigue. If you haven’t yet had Ian’s wines, it is a great time to discover them and this Enz Pinot is one, I recommend not to overtook.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Maison Leroy, Bourgogne Gamay, Red Burgundy, France.
One of the more fun wines I’ve had in recent weeks and while not cheap, this dark and vibrant Gamay from the famed Domaine Leroy delivers a performance that will make me get a few more bottles and is a very smile inducing wine with tasty and crunchy black fruits, floral notes, spice and nice earthy tones. It was hard to find out much about this wine from the legendary Madame Bize Leroy, but I am seeing that it is the first ever US release of a Leroy Gamay with grapes coming from the Cote d’Or and it has all the hallmarks of a whole bunch and carbonic fermentation as it shows expressive fruit and aromatics. The palate is lively, with zippy acidity, but still round and ripe with a lingering softness, this Leroy Bourgogne Gamay flows seamlessly in the mouth with layers of dark plum, pomegranate, sweet strawberry and candied cherry fruits along with a touch of savory elements, snappy and minty herbs, crushed violet and lilac flowers, saline infused stones, a hint of walnut and anise. This is a very pleasing example of Gamay which I originally believed was from the clay and limestone soils of Burgundy rather than the granite based soils of its southern neighbor Beaujolais, though some outlets of this wine are calling it a Beaujolais sourced bottling, which is surprisingly allowed, regardless of this conflicting information, I found it wonderfully balanced and focused with classic varietal purity.

Lalou Bize-Leroy, one of the most powerful women in the world of wine, who once ruled over the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, presides over the Domaine Leroy, which has one of the most elite collection of sites in the Côtes de Nuits, with some of greatest Grand Cru parcels and her Maison Leroy line buys grapes from top growers from across the Burgundy region. Those lucky enough to get a few of these rare wines with tell you these are heavenly age worthy wines of prestige and elegance and of the Leroy’s I’ve been graced with trying, which has not been many, I was mesmerized by the regular AOC Vosne-Romanee bottling as well as a once in a lifetime taste (a tiny one) of the majestic Musigny Grand Cru from a well aged vintage cellar direct bottle that a very generous stranger shared with me.This offering is different than a Bourgogne Passetoutgrain, which must consist of at least a third Pinot Noir, though usually come with more than 50%, and usually are made in a more traditional method with mostly de-stemmed grapes, while this feels like whole cluster and doesn’t need as much aging to be enjoyed. Leroy is known for their more natural style with almost all of their vineyards seeing the use of Biodynamics, and low-Intervention winemaking, and are even listed as Vegan safe. The Bourgogne Gamay is a new A.O.C. designation that was instituted in 2011, it allows for the Bourgogne on the label and it can include grapes sourced from one of the Beaujolais Crus, and may have some Pinot Noir blended in, which is going to confuse many consumers, and me, to be honest, but that said I very much liked this wine.
($60 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Jim Barry, Assyrtiko, Clare Valley, Australia.
While famously known for their red wines and especially their legendary The Armagh Shiraz, which has been an Aussie icon since it was first released in 1985, it is lesser known that Jim Barry does an exceptional selection of white wines, with their Riesling collection being absolutely outstanding and now they have this equally compelling Assyrtiko, it is a star in the lineup and this 2018 is a stunning wine. I first tasted the Assyrtiko at a trade tasting a few years ago, and I have been waiting what seems ages now to get a take home bottle of this Greek varietal that is now planted on the Jim Barry estate in Australia’s Clare Valley, and it did not disappoint and is even better than I had hoped with crisp bone dry detail, fresh mineral focus and a vibrant array of lemon/lime, white peach, salty stones, apple skin, citrus blossom and a touch of hazelnut. I can’t wait to try the latest 2020 release when it comes out, from everything I hear it is another step up and that would seems understandable as the vines get into full maturity here this Australian Assyrtiko should get more deeply layered and complex, though I love this very much and highly recommend it, in particular with oysters, grilled shrimp and or with marinated goat cheese, an Aussie specialty.

Peter Barry, while on vacation to the Greek Islands in 2006 came across a tasty white wine on Santorini and became obsessed with Assyrtiko and thought, since the Riesling was so good at home, he could bring some cuttings back and see what happens, so after some careful research over a few years and a few headaches, he got his original Assyrtiko cuttings from Santorini, Greece planted in the Clare in 2012. An interesting side note, did you know Australia has one the highest populations of Greeks outside of Greece? It’s true, with close to 400,000 people of Hellenic/ Greek ancestry living down under. These vines were, as the winery explains, planted on the south side of the ridges where the soils are thinner and the vines are naturally de-vigorated, making for smaller yields, allowing the true character of the Assyrtiko to develop. In the cellar, the Assyrtiko saw a combination of stainless steel and oak aging with a portion of Assyrtiko, as the Barry’s add, being fermented in a seasoned, well used large barrels and aged on lees before the final blend is put together to add texture, depth and complexity to this intriguing wine. I am a huge fan of this wine, which I think is a fantastic success story and I hope that someone in California gives Assyrtiko a try too. This ultra pale, 12% alcohol, Jim Barry Assyrtiko is a serious Summer wine and a great alternative to some of the more generic bottles out there.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 St. Innocent, Pinot Noir, Freedom Hill Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
One of Oregon’s classic wines, St. Innocent makes profound and age worthy Pinot Noirs that remain some of the greatest values in American wine, with this Freedom Hill bottling being one of my favorites with its Burgundy like structure, as this 2016 showcases. I am not surprised that this 2016 is so solid and still firmly gripped by taut and tight or walled in fruit, as I had a 2000 vintage of St.Innocent recently and it was still youthfully fresh and showed almost no signs of age. But, that said, with most of the Willamette Valley’s 2016 Pinots were ripe and very lush, you’d think this would be a little more open knit and fruit forward by now. This 2016 Freedom Hill Vineyard, sourced from selected blocks of mainly Pommard and Wadenswil (Old Swiss Clone) as well as a little 777, which gives this version a deep color, set on marine sedimentary soils of the western valley’s Coastal Range with this site being just about 10 miles southwest of Salem in the foothills up at around 550 feet, with warm days and cool nights it provides excellent conditions for serious Pinot Noir. This densely packed Pinot is slightly reduced still, but flows nicely once it gets some air with dancing layers of blackberry, currant, plum and cranberry fruits that revolve around a deep core of cherry along with black tea, delicate florals, a touch of charred cedar, shaved vanilla. The smoky wood notes fade nicely into the background as this wine unfolds and the textural quality becomes much more impactful on the medium bodied palate in this studied and well crafted Pinot Noir.

Mark Vlossak of St. Innocent, is one of the state’s best winemakers with many outstanding vintages under his belt, and is of one of the Willamette Valley’s legendary generations that includes the greats like Ken Wright, Doug Tunnell (Brick House) Mike Etzel (Beaux Freres) and John Paul of Cameron Winery to name a few, who all set the world a light with their early to mid nineties wines, especially with the 1994 and 1998 vintages, which were wines that cemented the region’s place as one of the world’s great Pinot Noir terroirs. Vlossak employs old school methods to craft his wines, using carefully sorted100% de-stemmed grapes and indigenous yeast fermentation, with this Freedom Hill being done in a combination of 4 and 8 ton stainless steel fermenters without any added SO2 at cool temps. The wine is then gently pressed and racked to French oak barrels where it is raised for 16 months with 30% of the barrels being new, after which the wine gravity bottled unfined to preserve all of the wine’s purity and nuances. This 2016 has a long life ahead of it, I’m convinced it will be a modern classic and see it getting much better in the bottle over the next decade, so if you have this wine, I would suggest holding on to it for another five years before pulling the cork and if you can’t wait I highly recommend decanting it and be sure to have plenty of time to enjoy it, and especially with matching cuisine, which should be on the more robust side. I will also note that this 2016 Freedom Hill really turned on the charm and got much more aromatic after a full 24 hours, and the after taste vastly lengthened, making for a stunning performance.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Waxwing Wines, Pinot Noir, Deerheart Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
I had been thinking about the Santa Cruz Mountains wine region and just heard about the passing of one of the region’s legends, David Bruce, who I was lucky to have done tastings with with in the early 2000s, so I thought it would be a good tribute to him to open this Waxwing Deerheart Vineyard Pinot and it was a great way to remember him and look toward the future he helped create. Scott Sisemore, winemaker at Waxwing Wines, who has been more aligned with the Santa Cruz Mountains in recent vintages with this Deerheart Vineyard, a vineyard located just 5 miles from the Pacific Ocean and the Lester Vineyard in Corralitos, also home to Richard Alfaro’s Alfaro Family Estate and Jim Schultze’s Windy Oaks Estate. There are fabulous and unique Pinot terroirs scattered throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains, and Deerheart looks like an exciting site, especially after tasting the latest releases from here by Scott, with this 2019 showing a remarkably deep color and richness on the palate with an opulent array of dark fruits and a lush silky mouth feel, it almost reminds me of a Merry Edwards, Martinelli, Lymar and or a Rochioli Russian River Pinot with the black cherry, plum and raspberry core, along with delicate baking spices, sweet tea, mocha/cola and rose petal florals. This is a bigger framed Pinot, more seductively curvy in style than many would expect, but not without poise and or grace with a soft sense of acidity and as it has potential, with its substance, to age well.

Sisemore started working with Bob and JoAnn Larsons’ Deerheart Vineyard in 2017, and even though it is a young vineyard, planted 2013, it made a huge impression on him and the wines have been excellent. The Deerheart Vineyard is on the western slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains set between San Gregorio Beach and the La Honda Open Space Preserve where it gets cool breezes and lots of afternoon sunshine that have given these wines their distinct ripeness and supple body. The vines are a combination of clonal material with mainly Dijon selections, these include four blocks with 667, 777, 828, 943 and 459, along with a little of the old Swiss clone, Wadenswil (also known as clone 2A) that allows complexity and diversity of flavors. In an effort to highlight the luxurious nature in this Pinot Noir, Sisemore used 100% de-stemmed fruit, a week long cold soak and fermented this Deerheart Pinot Noir in a wood open top (upright) fermenter, with two or three daily punch-downs and pump-overs before aging it for 10 months in around 40% new French oak that adds a a toasty/sweet element and the creamy finish. Waxwing released this 2019 Deerheart Pinot Noir just before the 2020 Holiday season, with only about 100 cases available, so it should go quickly. Interestingly Sisemore made this version at FEL winery in Sonoma, where they have a fantastic cellar and are well known for their touch with Pinot Noir and offered Scoot a place to give this one some extra love and care. The Waxwing lineup always includes a few new things and in the last few years I have found a lot to like here at this micro winery, with this wine being one of the stars in Scott’s excellent set of small lot wines.
($55 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Drew Family Wines, Syrah, Valenti Ranch Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge.
Always a favorite of mine the Drew Valenti Ranch Syrah, is a beautiful and chiseled wine that is heavily influenced by its terroir, with the cold Ocean, the elevation and the gravelly loam and sedimentary soils giving this unique site its personality and soulful expression, with this 2018 version delivering a striking performance in the glass with a delicious array of classic Syrah flavors and whole cluster pop. The long and cool growing season of 2018 really makes this vintage a classic with super vivid and racy detail, it shows a complex range of dark fruit and savory elements on its medium bodied and lively palate with nicely flowing layers of briar laced vine picked blackberries, wild plum, tangy currant, blueberry and a bright kirsch note along with peppercorns, crushed violets, cinnamon, minty and tarry anise, a faint meatiness, plus a touch of coco, spring herbs and cedar. The color is wonderfully inviting with a dark garnet, almost opaque hue and purple edges and this wine’s youthful vitality makes it a compelling companion with many food options, with lamb and medium rare steak being ideal choices, though it was awesome with lasagna last night, and I can see it going great with spicy roast chicken and chickpeas or just with some Spanish sheep cheeses. As mentioned here, Jason Drew, the winemaker and vigneron at Drew in the western end of the Anderson Valley, is one of the best (in California) and his wines never fail to impress, these non flashy efforts are impeccably made and almost perfection in taste and feel with a wonderful play of energy, fruit, umami and textural pleasure, these wines should never be missed, especially this sublime Valenti Syrah.

The organic Valenti Ranch Vineyard sits just six miles from the Pacific Ocean on what Drew says is a mid elevation windswept east facing ridge, it is up at between 1,300 -1400 feet, which makes for a classic style cool climate Syrah. The winery notes that, the constant maritime winds coupled with thin marginal soils of oceanic sedimentary origins, lends itself to naturally lower yields and gives the grapes a greater intensity, depth and fruit (or flavor) development at lower sugar levels and allows for restrained alcohol and a vivid acidity, all which makes for a structured and very northern Rhone like wine. The Drew’s have been working with this vineyard for 13 years, and now do all of the farming here, which is planted to some exciting suitcase selections including an alleged Chave selection (Hermitage clone), along with parcels of Durell clone in this Syrah block. The Drew Valenti Syrah saw a 100% native Yeast and a 75% whole cluster fermentation, a cool maceration period to extract pigment and preserve those lovely aromatics, and was raised in all neutral French oak barrels that lasted about 15 months, with just two gentle gravity flow rackings and finished at just 13.2% natural alcohol. The winemaking here is studied and transparent, making for a Syrah of exceptional purity and crunchy details, Jason has mastered is art and craft, and while known for his Pinot Noirs, which are some of the best being made in California, his Syrah offerings are just as thrilling and prove, like Halcon, Pax and newcomers like Desire Lines Wines, as well as Adam Tolmach of Ojai Vineyards and Sashi Moorman of Piedrasassi, that the state can rival the best from Syrah’s spiritual home in the northern Rhone Valley. This Valenti Syrah is fantastic stuff, drinking great even now, but has a good long life ahead of it, I recommend grabbing some while you can!
($55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2020 Monte Rio Cellars “Pinkette” Rosé Piquette, California.
The strawberry/ruby and dark pink Pinkette from Monte Rio Cellars is slightly fizzy reminding me of a lighter version of Lambrusco with more flavor and intensity than I had expected from this Rosé Piquette, an interesting new California interpretation of an ancient method style sparkling wine, which for a lack of a better explanation will call Pet-Nat 2.0 or a Glou-Glou Fizz. Patrick Cappiello, the famous Sommelier behind Monte Rio Cellars, a small micro craft winery in Sonoma County, explains that Piquette was started many decades ago by vineyard and winery workers in France who discovered that by taking the grape must out of the press and adding water, they could start a second fermentation, which results in a fresh, low alcohol, slightly sparkling wine. Cappiello adds, that over the past few years these style of wines have seen a big resurgence here in the United States and this 2020 vintage is his second harvest making them, of which he did two, one white made from Vermentino, Chardonnay and Melon de Bourgogne and this reddish/pink version crafted using an interesting combination of Gamay, Trousseau Noir and Trousseau Gris. More full flavored and almost meaty than you’d think the 2010 Pinkette shows a rustic and raw quality that is very appealing and it is much less foamy than a Pet-Nat with tart cherry, strawberry and plum water along with racy spices, sage/herb, mint and citrusy Moro orange zest, all of which makes for a refreshing more chilled red like than a delicate Rosé.

The Monte Rio Cellars wines are made in a partnership with Pax Mahle of Pax Wines, famous for some of California’s best Syrah offerings, as well as a series of natural style wines, so these wines are done using some of the same sources as he uses, with these vineyards, all organically farmed, Alpine Peaks for the Gamay and Bearg Ranch suppling the Trousseau Noir, plus Fannuchi giving the splash of the Trousseau Gris for this Skull Pinkette. For actual winemaking, according to Cappiello says, water is added to the grape must and is steeped for two days before it’s put into stainless steel barrels, with some unfermented Chardonnay (grape) juice added to assist a indigenous yeast fermentation. Then after primary is done, the wine is rested for five months in the steel barrels before another little bit of unfermented juice is added on the day of bottling to start second fermentation in bottle. These Piquettes have zero sulfur added and the finished alcohol is just 7% natural alcohol, making them lively, refreshing and surprisingly dry. This Pinkette is easily quaffable and fun stuff, it will be a smiles with BBQs and picnics, and like mentioned its Lambrusco like character makes it great with salami and cured meats. I honestly found this much more fun than most Pet-Nats and its less frothy spritzy light frizzante is more appealing to me, and I admit, I was more impressed that I that I would be. I have really enjoyed the last few vintages from Monte Rio Cellars, especially their old vine, whole cluster Zins, as well as their Skull series of wines, the Mission grape red and now this one too, all of which are old school and natural wines that are priced extremely well for their limited quantity.
($20 Est.) 88 Pointsgrapelive

2019 Clos Cibonne, Tibouren “Cuvee Speciale” Rouge, Cru Classe Cotes de Provence AOP, France.
This Clos Cibonne Rouge, from the Cotes de Provence region and made with the rare ancient Tibouren grape, is one of the coolest and most unique wines in France, it is a medium bodied wine with firm tannins and vibrant acidity that shows an almost Nebbiolo, though more delicate, like character, it is impossible not to be thrilled here, especially when it is as tasty as this 2019 version is. We have much to thank this estate for, especially their incredible and iconic Rosé, which is extended lees aged under flor, like sherry and made with this unique varietal that they helped resurrect. It was Clos Cibonne’s André Roux who, in the 1930s and with a leap of faith, planted his estate almost exclusively to Tibouren, instead of the more common imported Grenache and Mourvedre that came to the region in the 1800s, also creating these iconic labels which remain unchanged to this day. This Tibouren revival, according to local lore, ignited an era that brought fame for the Rosés of Clos Cibonne, which led to their inclusion in a 1950’s classification of 18 Cru Classés in Côtes de Provence, which is still going strong today. André Roux, the winery adds, was also instrumental in the creation of the Côtes de Provence appellation in 1973 and responsible for the inclusion of his beloved Tibouren grape into the region’s list of official and accepted grape varieties. This riveting aromatic 2019 Rouge is bright, crisply detailed and starts tight and youthful with tart cherry, plum, cranberry and currant fruits along with a slowly developing, but deep perfume with rose oil, geraniums and lilac notes as well as an array of spices and warm climate herbs with hints of rosemary, thyme and lavender(y) sage. This wine is ever changing in the glass with a surprising grip and release that, especially with food and slightly chilled, allows a seductive textural mouth feel, an absolutely fantastic experience.

The Tibouren grape is believed to be an ancient variety, maybe originally grown in Mesopotamia, that was propagated by the Greeks, though it is odd that it doesn’t look to have survived in their own territory, before being transported by the Romans to Italy, where it found a great home in the Liguria region just south of Genoa and not far from Portofino, where it is known as Rossese and makes some of the most underrated and divine wines in Italy. In an interesting side note, legendary American winemaker and Rhone Ranger Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon fame, loves this grape and is planting California’s first plot of it at his new Popelouchum estate vineyard near San Juan Bautista, and it is widely known he loves the wines of Clos Cibonne and intrigued by this wonderful grape. Clos Cibonne has became synonymous with Tibouren ever since it received special permission from the Provence appelation governing body to list the grape on its labels and as noted, allowed Clos Cibonne in the elite Cru Classe group there. The estate’s vineyards, all farmed organically and set on clay and calcareous soils are located a stones throw from the blue Mediterranean sea, a mere 800 meters from this famous coastline and are surrounded by hillsides that faces the sea, a perfect southern exposure to capture the sun in what is a natural amphitheater. This provides conditions and an air circulation that is perfect getting the Tibouren ripe, but also keeping refreshing acidity that leads to their wonderful balance and vivacious personality. After the Tibouren grapes are harvested, all by hand, they are directly cool pressed and fermented in stainless steel, then the Rosé wines are then aged under fleurette (as explained by the winery, as a thin veil of yeast, known as Flor, similar to what is seen in Sherry or even some Jura wines that protects the wine from oxidation) in 120-year-old oak casks, 5,000L foudres for one year, while this one (the red wine) crafted from 90% Tibouren and 10% Grenache, was macerated for under a week and then saw a short lees aging, usually just 4 to 6 months, in used barrels. This is so good, I want more, it is fabulously geeky stuff that rewards the adventurous.
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Lucia Vineyards by Pisoni, Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands.
This 2019 Santa Lucia Highlands cuvee by Jeff Pisoni is stunning in the glass with pure regional character and depth of flavor, it way over performs for the price and shows the greatest of all of his family’s Cru vineyard sites with this edition seeing 52% Pisoni Estate, 18% Garys’ Vineyard and 30% from the Soberanes Vineyard grapes, with a lot of the famed Pisoni clone as well as a savvy mix of dijon and heritage selection that add to the complexity here. 2018 and 2019 were exceptional years for Pinot Noir in the Highlands with their long mild (cool) growing seasons and deep flavor development make them two of the best years I can remember, and as the wines come out these 2019s are showing fabulously well and may go on the eclipse the fantastic ’18s, this is true with this Lucia SLH bottling, which could be my favorite ever version of this offering, a wine that I have loved since its first release. The dark ruby color is vivid and inviting, everything about this wine excites the senses and tells you this is a Pisoni Pinot Noir, it starts with a beautiful bouquet of red berries, cut flowers, a delicate spice and a smoky sweet toasty oak note, which leads into a rich and medium bodied palate with brambly black raspberry, dense cherry, plum fruits along with a touch orange and red apple skins as well as vanilla, cola bean, wild fennel, tea spices, sandalwood and echos of the lovely florals. The be honest this regular Santa Lucia Highlands is not far off the single Cru wines and it should age well with its natural acidity and concentration, it also can be enjoyed right now, especially with matching cuisine, I can see it playing well with lots of dishes, ranging from blackened salmon to seared ahi (blue-fin tuna) and or duck breast, as well as meat and poultry. Pisoni employed about 20% whole cluster and native yeast fermentation for this 2019 vintage and was aged in 40% new French oak for just under a year before bottling, this all allowed the grapes to show off their very best and is perfect for the years’ fruit profile, this is nothing short of brilliant.

The 2019 Lucia Vineyards Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir comes from grapes, as noted above, grown exclusively from the Pisoni, Garys’ and Soberanes Vineyards, making it, as the winery says, a wonderful representation of their estate vineyards, each block for this wine is cultivated to the same high standards that the Pisoni family led by the lregenday Gary and his older son Mark Pisoni have set. The younger brother Jeff, the winemaker, who is now one of California’s top guns, uses select vineyard blocks to craft this wine, with designated lots of free-run wine and hand-select barrels used in the blend, which Pisoni hopes, creates a “world-class” appellation blend. The Pisoni wines really capture the soul of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA that the family helped create and has been farming since 1982, when Gary planted the first experimental parcels at his remote estate. The Santa Lucia Highlands set in the western mountains of the Salinas Valley, it is a higher bench above the Salinas River in the famous Steinbeck country with mostly sandy loam soils that allow for the opulent richness of fruit in the Pinots. This hilly range of gentle slopes faces east, receiving the gentle morning sunshine, while always getting a cooling influence from the deep Monterey Bay and its underwater canyon of ultra cold water. The Salinas Valley naturally channels that cool breeze from the Pacific Ocean which refreshes the vines and leads to the area’s long growing season, one of the longest in the state. The Santa Lucia Highlands owe much to the pioneering spirit of the Pisoni family and their 2019s perfectly reflect the regions best qualities for growing distinct Pinot Noir, as well as Chardonnay and Syrah, a grape that I think does almost as well as the Pinot here, especially at the Soberanes Vineyard. This is the 21st vintage from Pisoni under their own label and one of their most seductive and desirable, making for a not to miss collection of small batch wines and these new releases will sell out fast, so don’t wait too long, and be sure not to overlook this one!
($49 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Ruth Lewandowski Wines, Boaz Red, Testa Vineyard – Zero, Mendocino County.
The alluring and deep colored Boaz Red is made from old vine Carignan, mostly, plus some very old vine Grenache and good dose of what Evan Lewandowski, the natural winemaker his Ruth Lewandowski Wines calls the sexiest Cabernet Sauvignon (fruit) he’s seen, all from Mendocino’s organically farmed Testa Vineyard, a real hot spot for exceptional Carignan, which drives this outstanding red blend. The Carignan is all from vines close to 100 years old and its just awesome here in this wine with loads of blue and black fruit, touches of spice, loamy earth and beautiful floral notes. The Testa Vineyard, a sixth generation family run site, has been farmed since 1912 and is close to Ukiah in the Redwood Valley area of Mendocino County, and is set on a combination of sandy loams, alluvial deposits and sedimentary (rocky) soils. This Boaz really impresses with its 76% Carignan, the 13% of Cabernet Sauvignon and its 9% Grenache all playing influential roles here, it reminds me a little of Maxime Magnon’s awesome Corbieres and even a bit of Laurent Vaillé’s famous Grange des Pere, which is a blend of 40% Syrah, 40% Mourvèdre, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Counoise! This Boaz goes extremely well with robust foods and simple meat dishes as well as woodsy wild mushrooms, hard cheeses and roast chicken over bitter greens.

Evan says his Boaz is from three parcels off the Testa Ranch and are picked together and co-fermented using 100% whole cluster and native yeasts without additions and or added SO2, all to produce a natural style wine, but one with a burly intensity, rich fruit density and with the nice acidity of this vintage, this is wonderfully balanced and laser focused with a structure that age. Lewandowski says to make his wines, everything is done to make them in the vineyard and concentrates on getting ripe and health grapes, so his job in the cellar can be as low intervention as possible and he adds that this is all started with healthy soils and holistic care in the vines. He is one of the most precise in his handling of the fruit, no short cuts and everything in the winemaking is clean and meticulously cared for, all of which shows in these wines, especially this robust and expressive Boaz, maybe my favorite of Evan’s lineup, certainly in this vintage it is. This wine is label Zero, as a reference to the fact that there was absolutely no added sulfites at any stage of the winemaking, nor at bottling, which was done unfined and unfiltered. If you are looking for what California natural wine can be, this one is a must, it is a killer bottle that opens nicely, when the tannins settle, with black raspberry, dark currant and kirsch along with anise, cinnamon and herbs de Provence, brilliant stuff.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Sheldon Wines, Graciano, Luc’s Vineyard, Fountaingrove AVA, Sonoma County.
Dylan and Tobe Sheldon have been exploring the rare Graciano grape since the early 2000s, an ancient and obscure varietal, found in Rioja mostly, but it is also known as Tintilla and grown as far away as the Canary Islands and in the flaky white soils of the Sherry region in Jerez, and have been making some of the most compelling versions of this varietal in California, like this gorgeous 2018, a wine I have been sitting at their advice to allow it to fully develop, which it has, making it an absolute joy in the glass. I reviewed the 2019 and loved it, but this wine, from a similar vintage, has a deeper perfume with a bouquet of peony, lavender and lilacs lifting from this dark violet/magenta and ruby colored wine along with spiced berries and subtle minty herbs before leading to a medium bodied palate of silky black fruits including vine picked forrest huckleberry, plum, strawberry and Italian cherries along with a touch of earth, dusty cinnamon, an echo of florals, a iron/mineral element and a faint cedary note. The aromatics are so captivating at this stage it is hard to keep your core away from the rim to soak in all of this beauty which compares well to a morning walk in the flower garden when the smells are completely seducing and at their most intense and the textural feel is fabulous in a wine without any heaviness, it has the sensation I sometimes and hope to find in Vosne-Romanee wines, a heavenly sense of seamless balance and lengthy after taste, this 2018 Sheldon Graciano is addictive and wildly delicious. As I noted recently, the Sheldon Graciano joins a celebration of obscurity along with Luke Nio’s Filomena St. Laurent, Arnot-Roberts’ Trousseau, Michael Cruse’s Tannat, Martha Stoumen’s Nero d’Avola and Jaimee Motely’s Mondeuse, to name a few fun and rare offerings from lesser known grapes in California.

The small basket pressed Sheldon Graciano was hand harvested from the tiny Luc’s Vineyard in the Fountaingrove AVA, of Sonoma County, not far from Healdsburg, and fermented slowly in ½ ton open top bins, using whole bunches and indigenous yeasts resulting in a naturally lower alcohol, light to medium bodied red wine with heightened aromatics, plus a spicy pop and a divine textural quality. A effort was made to keep everything nicely fresh, starting with the grapes coming in ripe, but at a bit lower Brix (sugars) and the fermentation was kept cool to ensure all the striking details were preserved and no new wood was used, only well seasoned French Burgundy barrels were used in this Graciano’s elevage, which usually lasts about 12 months. This Sheldon Graciano, comes from a small home vineyard on the cool rocky hillsides between Healdsburg and the Chalk Hill district in the newly formed AVA of Fountaingrove where the Sheldon’s get small amounts of Tempranillo, Grenache and Syrah as well, all of which, especially this Graciano, are tasty and aromatic expressions that are impeccably hand made, with these 2018s being outstanding offerings. Graciano, which is usually blended with Tempranillo in Rioja wines, can be a great solo varietal and as mentioned here, has been gaining traction in California, with some newer plantings coming online in Paso Robles, where the grape thrives, even in some unlikely blends, on the westside’s limestone soils, interestingly some of these vines were a mistake, as they were supposed to be a new Monastrell clone of Mourvedre, but happily they are being embraced by the growers and winemakers there, as well as being grown in the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valley areas as well, notably by Verdad winery. There is a lot to love in Sheldon’s lineup these days and highly get on this micro winery’s mailing list and be sure to check out their Sangiovese, Grenache and this Graciano while they are still available!
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Cameron Winery, Pinot Blanc “Giannani” Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Fast becoming one of my favorite white wines in Oregon, the Cameron Giovanni made exclusively from Pinot Blanc delivers smooth layers of apple driven fruits, brisk citrus, peach flesh, mineral tones, wet stone, as well as a touch of honey, herbs and white flowers. This vintage is zesty and has a bit more acidity than the last two of three versions and feels a touch lighter in style, but still very compelling and gains a nice textural form with air, it shines for its varietal character and freshness, making it a good Summer white and impeccable with a range of food and cuisine choices, including creamy soft cheeses, shell fish and herb crusted or lemon chicken dishes. As I have been saying for a while now, Pinot Blanc is becoming one of the best white grape expressions in Oregon, especially this one, as well as the very stylish versions crafted by Ken Wright and the talented Kelley Fox, both of which come from the coastal range side of the Willamette Valley, like the famed Freedom Hill Vineyard on marine sedimentary soils, while Cameron’s comes from the red hills of Dundee on the classic volcanic Jory soils, that gives a unique individual character with a touch of spice and that mineral streak.

The Cameron Pinot Bianco (Blanc) or “Giovanni” as winemaker John Paul calls it, is fermented in cool stainless steel tanks, which the winery notes, typically is from 3 different lots of estate grown grapes that are from non irrigated vines with appropriately chosen cultures of aromatic yeasts, and bottled early after a short 6 to 8 months in its exuberant youth, to preserve vitality, usually in the early Spring, after harvest. John Paul, who’s Cameron Winery is one of best known and admired Pinot Noir producers in the Dundee Hills AVA of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, has been influenced and inspired by the winemakers of northern Italy, especially the wines of Friuli, Alto Adige and Piedmonte regions. In this case he brings a little bit of the Dolomites to us with his Giovanni, it shows the beautiful crisp details and mineral charm of some the top producers there, like Manincor and Terlano. The Italian style lineup at Cameron (what they call Cameronis) includes a fabulous Nebbiolo, that will certainly surprise and impress the Barolo and Barbaresco drinkers out there with its purity and classic Langhe personality, plus a collection of whites, including this 100% Pinot Blanc and the Friuli style Fruliano blend of Friulano, Pinot Bianc, Pinot Grigio and Auxerrois along with a small touch of Moscato, as well as the skin contact “Ramato” coppery Pinot Grigio. All of these are fantastic values and intriguing wines.
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Hundred Suns, Grenache, Elephant Mountain Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington State.
Grant Coulter and Rene Saint-Amour’s Hundred Suns winery, based in McMinnville, is one of the most exciting labels in Oregon these days and while Grant’s experience with Beaux Freres, as head winemaker, makes him a top gun in Pinot Noir, he also made their rare estate Grenache, which I was lucky enough to have tasted and had bottles of when I first met him at Beaux Freres back in 2008, so it was exciting to see his new take on Grenache with his own Hundred Suns, which is sourced from Elephant Mountain in Washington State’s Yakima Valley. This 2018 is a thrill ride of unique layers of energy filled red fruits and a feral earthy/savory edginess, it reminds me of the first time I tasted Christophe Barron’s Cayuse, No Girls and Horsepower Grenache wines, it is really an amazing wine with a full bodied palate and is texturally sublime, all accented by a racy array of spices, floral details and tangy herbs. There is a cascade of black plum, pomegranate, loads of strawberry and brambly raspberry fruits along with touches of briar, pepper, shaved cinnamon stick, kirsch, minty notes, cedar and warm roof tiles. Grenache freaks will go absolutely orgasmic for this dark ruby hued wine, it is an incredible version of this grape that will appeal to those that love some of rarities, it is more like what you would find in the Sierra de Gredos, rather that in the Rhone Valley, but with its own intriguing twist of character and with a singular charm.

This Hundred Suns Grenache comes from the Warden silty loam soils of Yakima’s Elephant Mountain Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills, set at good elevation and seeing a big swing in day and night temps here, allowing for beautiful fruit density and ripeness, but with good natural acidity and freshness, which Coulter really achieved here in his 2018 vintage, a long and cooler than average growing cycle. This stuff has 14.2% natural alcohol and feels wonderfully balanced with a pleasure inducing warm mouth feel that is elegantly silken without losing its vivid and lively personality. Grant took great care and put a lot of thought into this Grenache and he went with 100% whole cluster and a hybrid carbonic maceration in a sealed small fermentor, then after 20 days the still intact berries and clusters are pressed and allows to go through spontaneous indigenous (yeast) fermentation, after which it saw 12 months in terra-cotta amphora and then another five months in neutral french oak before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. All of this pain staking hand crafted technique pays off in the way this complex wine shows off in the glass and gives this impressive Grenache its distinction and makes it ever more alluring and seductive, it is especially good with food, where it deepens and gains a more profound impact and fruit truly excels. Sadly this 2018 Grenache is hard wine to find, I certainly wished I had bought a few more bottles, a mistake I didn’t make on their extremely limited Space Cat Rosé. The latest set of Hundred Suns is an impeccable collection of wines, with the Pinots and the Gamay from the 2019 vintage being unmissable and remarkable values, in particular the Old Eight Cut and the single vineyard Sequitur and Shea offerings!
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2019 Nanclares y Prieto, Albarino, Dandelion, Rias Baixas DO, Galicia, Spain.
Always a treat and a tasty one, the Nanclares Albarino Dandelion 2019 delivers a vibrant crisp apple led light bodied palate with zesty lime and light spritz, making so good with briny sea foods like sardines and or mackerel as well as oysters and claims too. There is a hint of saline, crushed wet rock and steely mineral, all of which give this vintage a nice contrast and it is very compelling, though less densely complex as the upper end Crus and the estate bottling that see more lees aging. That said, this little wine delivers everything it promises and is a fantastic value. As I have mentioned many times, Alberto Nanclares, based in the Cambados, started in the mid nineties just tending a vineyard in his semi retirement home as a hobby is now one of the greatest producers of fine Albariño in Galicia’s famous Rias Baixas region crafting an awesome set of single vineyard versions as well as his regional Dandelion cuvee and this outstanding example, known as the “Alberto Nanclares” or sometimes referred to as the “Estate” with the grapes all coming from the Val do Salnés sub zone. Nanclares brought the talented Silvia Prieto on board a few years ago now and has gone from strength to strength with her energy and commitment helping lift this label to new heights and expanding the range of wines with the additions of a few red wines, including an elegant and complex Mencia from grapes coming from the Ribeira Sacra.

The Nanclares y Prieto winery is now all organic and has added some biodynamiques to their practices, even employing compost from collect seaweed from the near by Atlantic Ocean, all which proves their dedication, in this humid region that is terribly difficult to farm without convention methods. But, the wines have really benefited from this extraordinary effort and they are unbelievably compelling wines, especially this one which saw natural winemaking in the cellar with only a tiny dose of sulfur and native yeast fermentation with no malos and 90% stainless steel and 10% used French oak cask being used here. The Dandelion cuvee, as noted in my prior reviews, is the freshest and most fruit forward of Nanclares’ Albarino(s) coming from 30 to 60 year old vines near Val do Salnés grown on sand and granite soils, right at sea level with locally historic pergola training. The organic grown Dandelion is fermented with native yeast, naturally, in stainless steel with no malo and bottled unfined and unfiltered allowing the complete capture of every nuance and terroir elements. Nanclares y Prieto, led by the humble and hard working Alberto Nanclares and his youthful and talented partner Silvia Prieto are one of best producers and super stars from the Cambados area of the Rias Baixas region. The Nanclares wines are all made from organic grapes and show the cool Atlantic influences. If you’ve not had these Nanclares y Prieto wines, you need really should, they are some of the most delicious being made in the Rias Baixas!
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Felsina, Chianti Classico DOCG, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Tuscany, Italy.
Sitting in between the amazing 2016 and the pretty and fresh 2017 vintages in style, the 2018 Felsina Chianti Classico is a solid effort with many attractive features and is lovely with food with classic Felsina Sangiovese density and purity, it shows a ripe smooth palate of red berry fruits, spice, dried flowers, a subtle earthiness and lingering kirsch notes. This vintage gives plenty for the money, but just doesn’t excite the senses as much as the last two versions, though its still very charming, again especially with a meal, it won’t take center stage or draw a lot of attention, it is more a companion, rather than a stand out. The 2018 gets better with air and ends on a high note with layers of plum, raspberry, strawberry and mulberry coming through along with grainy tobacco leaf, silky tannins, mocha/toffee, minty herb, licorice and a faint cedary note. This invitingly deeply crimson/garnet hued wine, always a favorite and a go to when I want some Tuscany or Sangiovese in my life, usually when I make pasta, as I did last night, it reminds me of driving through Chianti Classico’s beautiful hillsides with its old growth forrest, castles and sloping vines that capture the amazing light that makes this place so remarkable, it is like a magical kingdom, from Florence to Siena.

The Felsina Chianti Classico, 100% Sangiovese, 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. As noted here many times, this wine 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. I high recommend grabbing all the 2016s from Felsina you can find, this wine, plus the top Crus, Rancia and the Fontalloro and the Riserva Black label, that said, this 2018 won’t disappoint either.
($28 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive Reviews – April, 2021

2019 Clos de la Roilette, Fleurie “Cuvee Tardive” Cru Beaujolais, France.
One of Beaujolais’ most classic producers, the Clos de la Roilette in Fleurie, run by Alain and Alexis Coudert, is a small estate that made traditional wines of old vine concentration, texture and complexity, but that are always wonderfully delicious with a bit of raw earthiness along with the granite influenced mineral tones. This 2019 Cuvee Tardive is beautifully round and silken with pretty floral detail, dark berry fruit and hints of spice, leather and walnut wood, the opulent and ripe medium bodied palate delivers crushed blackberry, plum, strawberry and kirsch as well as touches of cinnamon, anise, rose oil and orange tea. I loved the depth of fruit and ease of drinkability here, this is a fine example of elegant and pure Gamay from Fleurie, though these vines in particular are close to Moulin A Vent and have that Cru’s influence and muscle tone, it is really enthralling now, but looks to have substance and structure to age with studied evolution and grace. The deep garnet and ruby hued Tradive is really appealing and gets more and more interesting in the glass with its pure Gamay charm bringing many happy smiles, it is a tasty treat and a top value still in a world of ever increasing demand for these Fleurie and Cru Beaujolais wines and rising prices.

The Clos de la Roillette, is in fact not a “Clos” or walled vineyard (estate) and this Cuvee Tardive, is not a later picked wine, so the label is a bit misleading, though neither takes away from the pleasure in the bottle! This wine, the Cuvée Tardive, is always crafted using the estate’s oldest vines, which are now 80 plus years old, set on the heavy clay and granite soils, again just inside the Fleurie zone with a cooler northeast exposures, which allows this wine to preserve its fresh and lively acidity. The domaine Clos de la Roilette got its name from the prior owner’s prized race horse Roilette and the iconic yellow horse label remains a big part of this estate’s identity. Clos de la Roilette has been around more than a hundred years, but it was in serious decline and most of the vines had gone feral when the Couderts took it over in 1967, and after a lot of hardwork, they turned things around and have especially flourished under the guidance of Alain, who after joining the winegrowing team in 1984 turned the property into one of the region’s most admired producers. The Cuvee Tardive is 100% whole cluster with a spontaneous native yeast primary fermentation, it is done in open-top, neutral wood vats with, as the winery notes, the cap submerged for an extended maceration, that lasts for Tardive about 18 days. The aging or elevage is on the lees in old foudres, typically it is raised about 9 months in the wood before bottling with low SO2. These Clos de la Roilette wines are very authentic and joyful offerings, and these 2019s are exceptional, especially this attractive Cuvee Tardive.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2020 Pax Wines, Charbono, Lushsinger Vineyard, Lake County.
The fresh new Luchsinger Vineyard Charbono is vividly electric purple and tangy on the palate, made with 100% whole cluster and indigenous yeasts, it is a semi carbonic easy drinking red wine that shows a fun mix of bright blackberry, açaí and tart plum fruits and crunchy savory elements, mineral tones, floral detail, wild herbs and zesty acidity. This Glou Glou (quaffable) low alcohol Charbono was aged for just 5 months in large, well seasoned, French 500L puncheons to allow for a bit of leesy texture, but to preserve all of the vibrantl youthful form, it is like a California Cru Beaujolais and fans of Valdiguie will love this stuff that clocks in at about 12% natural alcohol, it is best enjoyed with a slight chill and simple foods. As the winery notes, Charbono, as it is known as in California is also known as Bonarda in Argentina, and thought to be originally from northern Italy, plus Douce Noire in France’s high alpine region of Savoie. This rare varietal has been here since at least just before WWII and was once highly planted in Napa Valley, and Pax says Charbono has a storied place in the history of California wine with styles over the years that have ranged from medium-bodied and snappy, as his version is done to richly extracted, almost Zinfandel like, and aged in flashy new oak barrels, as done by Toffanelli, one of the last to make in Napa from old vines in the Calistoga area. My first experience with Charbono came about by ancient, when I grabbed a bottle of Turley Charbono (ages ago now) thinking it was one of their Zins, and wow, I had to get more and went on a Charbono finding mission, finding a disappointing amount of options, but tasty ones, like Summers, at the time in the remote area between Napa and Knights Valley, so I was glad when Pax turned his talents to this remarkable grape a few years ago.

Pax Wines was founded back in 2000 by Pax and Pamela Mahle, this small California winery made a name for themselves with a stellar lineup of truly profound Syrah bottlings and helped start a wave of modern Rhone wines along side Copain, Big Basin and Drew to name a few and inspired many young winemakers, now Pax focuses on Syrah (still) and Gamay Noir from cool, coastal sites, as well as a selection of esoteric varieties, like this Charbono, Trousseau, Trousseau Gris and the Mission grape that showcase, as he puts it, the great diversity of California wine. From the vineyard to the cellar, Pax has become a proponent of natural wines and uses a holistic style of winemaking. This, Pax adds, means that all the fruit is grown using organic, sustainable, or biodynamic methods and no unnatural additions are applied in the winery, which all adds up to transparency and purity in the wines, which are more raw, much less polished than mainstream wines and they filled with their own personality, as his latest set of releases shows. This Pax Charbono is one of the first 2020 red California wines I’ve tried, and while nervous about smoke taint, this one shows no ill effects and is enjoyable I wish I had bought a lot more, and I’m really excited to try the rest of new wines, especially a brand new single varietal Freisa, the rare Piedmonte grape that smells and tastes of fresh picked strawberries and made famous in recent years by G.D. Vajra, who make one of the most impactful examples I’ve ever tried. After tasting Jolie-Laide’s version, I look forward to comparing it to Pax’s and of course I am equally geared up to try the latest Syrah and Gamay offerings as well, in these last few vintages there is so much to be thrilled about from this Sebastopol based winery and it is a great time to stock up, and or join Pax’s wine club, as they get first shot at these, moon phase label, value priced rarities!
($28 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 René-Jean Dard and François Ribo, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge, Northern Rhone, France.
The deeply purple and fresh 2018 edition of René-Jean Dard’s and François Ribo’s iconic natural wine styled Crozes-Hermitage is another no pretense and rawly delicious Syrah, it is always a wine to be thrilled to drink, and this vintage is everything fans of this small producer enjoy, it shows a pure and transparent medium bodied palate of classic earthy character with crushed violets, dark boysenberry, damson plum, black currant and kirsch fruits along with tapenade, peppercorns, a light Syrah funk, damp earth, flinty camphor, cedar and tarry black licorice. Not as dense in form as the warmer and ripe 2015, 2016 and 2017s, this 2018 is an energetic, fun and easy quaffer that might be a more entertaining wine in its youth, while the fruit is vibrant and nicely juicy still before the rougher edges, rustic details and a hint volatile acidity get more pronounced, these elements are well integrated now and add to the Dard and Ribo Crozes’ charm and complexity in their current state. This is a wonderfully delicious Syrah that absolutely could not be from anywhere else, it wears its terroir as a badge of honor and I wouldn’t change a thing here, it is a wine I could literally could drink almost everyday. Dard and Ribo have become one of the labels I covet and have become one of my rotation from the Northern Rhone along with Alain and Maxime Graillot, G. Gilles, Lionnet, Yves Cuilleron and Louis Barruol’s Sant-Joseph and Crozes Saint-Cosme bottlings, to name a few.

René-Jean Dard and François Ribo, who produce some of the most sought after natural Syrahs, are famously media shy and hermit like vignerons from Mercurol, north of Valence, founded their tiny Northern Rhone estate in 1984 with a small cellar and micro parcels of vines and a focus on non intervention wines. These humble winemakers, that have adult like following, are mostly known for the their reasonably priced Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph reds, also do a micro bottling of their “unicorn” Hermitage, which I have never seen available in California, as well as a nouveau style early release C’est le Printemps Crozes-Hermitage, a wine I reviewed at the beginning of the Covid lockdown last March, and not too far off the quality of its bigger brother, plus a Blanc made from Marsanne and Roussanne. As reported in my earlier reviews, the Dard and Ribo Crozes-Hermitage vines are all from organic plots, farmed without chemicals, mostly hillside, set on iron rich red clay soils with gravel and alluvial stones scattered throughout the vines, which give these wines true terroir character and this 2018 vintage shows the classic markers that this region is known for. Made with native yeasts and whole bunches with minimal intervention, Dard and Ribo commonly don’t use any sulphites (added sulfur) at all, although they are not driven by extreme dogma and really just want to make wines they themselves would enjoy without doing anything or thought toward anyone else’s expectations. With the following they have these Dard and Ribo wines take a bit of chasing, but the hunt is well worth it and rewarding.
($40 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Nikkal Wines, Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia.
The elegant, cool climate influenced, though slightly reductive Nikkal Pinot Noir is a barrel selection of Pinot Noir from three vineyard sites which, Nikkal Wines believes, truly captures the essence of the Yarra Valley region, an area of cool climate diversity and one of Australia’s best regions for Pinot Noir, as this tasty version shows with bright fruit intensity, silky texture and accented with delicate earthiness, spice and floral notes. This wonderfully expressive Pinot is luminous and vividly ruby in color with an array of red fruits on the satiny medium bodied palate, it starts with plenty of black cherry, garden picked strawberries, tart plum, cranberry and blood orange fruits, a light dusting of baking spices, aromatic tea leaf and herbs, along with a kiss of sweet toast from the French oak. The vigor and vitality is welcome, this Nikkal’s energy keeps everything flowing and racy, it stays fresh and entertaining in glass making it very easy to enjoy with many food choices, it takes on a deeper level of excitement with matching cuisine, it went especially well with grilled salmon and a salad. The reductive graphite and underbrush fades away with air, best to let this Pinot open for a short period of time to allow this to blow off and or decant, much in the same way you would with a young Burgundy, which this wine is not unlike.

This was my first try of a Nikkal Pinot and I was happily impressed with the quality and value, the packaging is also quite nice and I’d definitely enjoy this one again in the future, especially as I’m a fan of the Yarra Valley, which is not far from Melbourne, the Yarra Valley is also Victoria’s oldest wine region, dating back to 1838, it is one of the wine regions of the world that is on my bucket list to visit and explore much more in depth and in person. The Nikkal Pinot Noir Yarra Valley 2018 was sourced from three distinct vineyards, Upper Ngumby, at Steels Creek, Gist in the Christmas Hills, and the Willowlake in Gladysdale, they all play a significant role in making this wine more balanced and complex, giving this wine a core of structure as well as a sense of place. Winemaker Kate Goodman uses whole clusters and native yeast fermentation on her Nikkal Pinot, which adds to the thrill here with hints of pomegranate and its heightened bouquet. Each vineyard parcel of fruit for the Nikkal Yarra Valley Pinot is kept separate in the winery before and after fermentation with each lot done in small bins with each wine being matured in barrel for six months before the blending starts here. Then the final version settles in tank and then bottled, the faily short elevage is to promote its vibrancy of flavors, which shows in this 2018. There is a lot to like in this Nikkal Pinot and it is great way to start exploring the Yarra, this is a solid choice and the price here in the states makes it even more attractive.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Sandlands Vineyards, Carignane, Contra Costa County.
I’ve been a fan of the Sandlands Carignane since I very first tried it and in fact it was the first Sandlands wine I got to taste, and I’ve been chasing bottles of it ever since, it is one of my favorites, though hard to get as the production is tiny and the demand for these wines always out strips supply. This grape, which doesn’t get the respect it certainly deserves, really excels here in the 2019 vintage, a smaller yielding year with a mostly long and cool growing season that allows for excellent flavor development and retaining an awesome freshness of detail with lively natural acidity as well as lower alcohols, similar in style, though maybe even better, to the fabulous 2018s that Tegan Passalacqua made here at Sandlands. The deep purple opaque old vine Carignane is at first crisply dry, tartly fresh and vibrant with a mix of zesty juiciness and savory crunchy elements with a medium bodied palate of crushed berries, plum, cherry and grilled orange fruits along with a nice mix of generous florals, spice and snappy herbs de Provence with just a kiss of cedary wood. As the wine opens, a more elegant and opulent side emerges and especially when matched with food it gains a beautiful roundness and textural quality, which is a common grace in these Sandlands wines, which are exceptionally well balanced and tasty efforts. The fruit really deepness with simple and or rustic cuisine, it matches well with BBQ, pasta dishes and wild mushrooms, at just 12.6% natural alcohol, it is a fun wine to enjoy with a slight chill, in much the same way you’d do with a Cru Beaujolais and the Sandlands Carignane is perfect for Spring and Summer outdoor dining. Carignane (or Carignan) is the main grape in the Corbieres region in France’s Languedoc, where you can find it in hearty reds and as a component in Rosé as well, it has a long history here in California, where it has long been part of field blends, usually picked and co-fermted with mixed blacks and as a part of heritage Zin blends.

As noted here in my reviews, and from the winery, Sandlands is the personal project of Turley Cellars head winemaker and vineyard manager Tegan and his wife Olivia Passalacqua. The line-up of Sandlands, as the Passalaqua’s add, encompasses many the forgotten classic California varieties, like this Carignane, plus Cinsault, Chenin Blanc, which is making a huge comeback and the extremely rare Mission grape, that are primarily grown on California’s decomposed granite (sand), from regions and vineyards that have been farmed for many generations, but have somehow, as Tegan puts it, remained the outliers of California viticulture. These vines are primarily old gnarly head-trained, dry-farmed and own rooted, with the vineyards Sandlands work with being sites that take us back to California’s roots. The wines here highlight the hardworking farmers of yesteryear and the honest and authentic wines of a different era, they pay tribute to the state’s fascinating history of rugged viniculture. Tegan Passalaqua’s Sandlands 2019 Contra Costa County Carignane, only 5 barrels produced was sourced from an old vine vineyard that was planted back in the 1920s in one of California’s most unique terroirs, it is set on what is classified as Dehli blow sand, that is made up of decomposed granite that has been deposited here by wind and water. Made using classic old school methods with lots of whole bunches, native yeast fermentation(s), with lots of gentle hands and feet being employed and aging or elevage being done in well seasoned (used) oak barrels. I know, these are unicorn wines and incredibly hard to get, but search them out, get on the mailing list and never miss a chance to enjoy them with friends, they are worth it! Carignane is a really compelling grape and I have been really thrilled by what this new generation of winemakers are doing with this grape here in California, especially in the wines of Ridge Vineyards, Broc Cellars, Liocco, Martha Stoumen, Desire Lines Wine Co., and in particularly here at Sandlands, keep an eye out for these tasty versions.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2015 Lindes de Remelluri, Vindeos de Labastida, Rioja DO, Spain.
When it comes to value in hand crafted small lot Rioja, the non estate Lindes de Remelluri bottlings by Telmo Rodriguez at his family’s Remelluri are top of my list and this particular offering is my absolute favorite and my go to wine. This 2015 version of the Lindes de Remelluri Vindeos de Labastida is wonderfully pure, deep in ripe flavors and gorgeous in the glass with its dark opaque purple/garnet color, it is incredibly inviting and seductive with impeccable layering of seamless Tempranillo led fruit, showing dense, but elegant blackberry, mulberry, plum and kirsch along with subtle earth, anise, chalky stones, cedar, plus pretty mineral and floral notes all in a taut full bodied wine that impressively lingers for minutes in the aftertaste. This wine way over delivers for the price, it is truly stunning from start to finish and is loaded with pleasure and damn near perfect Rioja in every respect, highlighting the massive talent that is Telmo Rodriguez, one of Spain’s leading lights and one of the world’s great winemakers. This wine was was fermented using all native yeasts in cool stainless steel tanks and then raised in barrel, 100% French oak for 12 months before bottling, then once in bottle it is rested a good amount of time in the cellar to mature as well. There’s a lot to process here as this beautiful Labastida opens up, it adds finer points and sensuality to its opulent profile with hints of pencil lead, minty herb, lilacs and delicate spices with the warm vintage giving a sweet tannin, allowing this wine to drink fabulously well right now, though I suspect it will continue to develop in intriguing ways for many more years.

Grown at elevation, from very old vines in the Rioja Alavesa zone, set on chalky soils, the Labastida shows wonderful depth, life from the cooler night time temps up here and the noted length, this Lindes de Remelluri is made from mostly ancient vine Tempranillo, though it likely has a good dose of Graciano and Garnacha as well, though Telmo is always coy with exact varietal content, preferring to speak only of place, rather than the grapes in the blend. Telmo is noted for making for a complex wines of sublime texture and detail, anyone not familiar with his wines should try them as soon as possible, and without question never miss the chance to taste his Remelluri Rioja Blanco, it might be the greatest white wine in Spain and truly unique, rivaling both classic white Burgundies and Hermitage Blanc. As noted in my earlier reviews, Telmo Rodriguez, one of the most iconic and best winemakers of his generation, having made wine at Jean-Louis Chave in Hermitage and at a few Chateaux in Bordeaux, returned to his family’s Remelluri estate back in 2008. He has accomplished himself as a champion of terroir over varietal and employs artisan craftsmanship in the cellar, with his wines hardly ever showing overt oak or aggressive alcohol, they always show distinctive purity and a sense of place, and these secondary wines known as Lindes de Remmelluri are magnificent expressions of Rioja, they are richly flavored and soulful wines crafted from old vine purchased fruit from vineyards that prior had got into the family’s main wine. These two vineyard select wines, this Labastida and this San Vincente, which is slightly more feral and raw, sourced from vineyards that used to go into the Remelluri Reserva, but that are now separated into these two new single vineyard bottlings. I always love these Remelluri Riojas, especially this one, I will certainly get a few more for myself and highly recommend it.
($26 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Brick House “Clos Ladybug” Casserole Red Wine, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The delightful and elegant Clos Ladybug, by Doug Tunnell at the famed Brick House, is a unique blend of Pinot Noir, Gamay and a splash of Chardonnay in what is a tribute to the rare Bourgogne Passetoutgrain (Passe-Tout-Grains), which are made from a Burgundy grown blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir, these French versions are sometimes the region’s best values as well as best kept secrets, with Tunnell’s all biodynamic Willamette Valley example also being a great secret value in his beautiful collection of estate wines. This lighter and brighter Clos Ladybug is an easy to love and quaff red wine with nice acidity and silky textures with vibrant layers of tree picked tart plum, strawberry, cherry and red apple skin fruits, a light sense of cedary wood, wild herbs, delicate florals and mineral notes. The mouth feel is refined and smooth, getting nicely lush with air and while seemingly simple at first the Clos Ladybug opens up to reveal some serious depth and adds some welcome earthiness, saline stony elements and umami to the medium bodied juicy palate, making for a graceful and balanced wine that is best with a slight chill and served with less complicated meals. Founded back in 1990, Brick House continues to be one of the Willamette Valley’s most inspiring organic estates, renown for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines and one of the first to plant and make true Gamay Noir in the state.

The traditionally made Clos Ladybug – Casserole is an all estate offering with 42% Pinot Noir, 53% Gamay Noir and 5% Chardonnay from fully Demeter certified biodynamic grapes at Brick House in the Ribbon Ridge AVA, with the region’s classic marine sedimentary soils and hillside vines. According to the winery, the idea behind Clos Ladybug came about in 2017 when owner and winemaker, Doug Tunnell and his cellar team noticed that there was a few small bins of Gamay and Pinot Noir leftover and were at a loss as what to do with them, when Tunnell, a huge Burgundy enthusiat, suggested that these leftover grapes be thrown together in a single fermentor. The Clos Ladybug was thus born for the first time, in a style very similar to those Burgundian ‘passe tout grains’ which are village-level Cuvees of Gamay and Pinot Noir, which the crew then decided to add a little Chard for good measure, thinking that would add a bit of texture, and nicknamed their creation a Casserole! So this dark ruby colored 2018 Clos Ladybug Gamay/Pinot Noir, with that tiny amount of Chard, is the second vintage here, it was a co-fermented wine done with gentle winemaking techniques and aged in what tastes like mostly used French oak barrels with just a hint of toasty sweetness. This wine will certainly keep a place in the lineup and is a fun way to get to know this pioneering producer, who’s outstanding Pinot Noir bottlings are some of Oregon’s greatest ever wines.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2000 Domaine Gramenon, Cotes du Rhone Rouge, Le Gramenon, Rhone Valley, France.
Another gem from a perfect cellar, the Le Gramenon Cotes du Rhone 2000 is drinking amazing with remarkable elegance and depth of flavors with plenty of maturity, but with lovely freshness, this little Cotes du Rhone is drinking better than a lot of top Chateauneufs at this point. The Domaine Gramenon was founded back in 1979 and has been a leader of biodynamic, organic and holistic natural wines in the region ever since, making this 2000 vintage an even greater and welcome surprise, that it has aged so gracefully and with impeccable clarity is a testament to the care in the vineyard and run the cellar by the Aubèry-Laurent family. The 2000 Le Gramenon shows Syrah like essences with waxy blueberry, violets and some savory elements, which is not uncommon for wines in this part of the southern Rhone, like Saint Cosme’s Cotes du Rhone, that is made from 100% Syrah, and the palate is mineral toned, softy tannic and medium bodied at this point in its life with an array of pretty red berries, a touch of stewed plum, that is very much in line with this wine’s age, light peppery spices, a touch of iron/meatiness, dried porporri and old cedar. This dark garnet/ruby (with just a hint orange on the edges) Cotes du Rhone opens nicely and holds on, it doesn’t crash into a sous bois or balsamic mess, instead the fruit stays sweet and even pairs well with hearty foods, which I maybe unfairly chose to match it with, in fact it never lost its sense of poise throughout the few hours I was sipping it.

Domaine Gramenon, based in the Vinsobres zone, as importer, the famed Kermit Lynch explains, is the authentic embodiment of the (natural winegrowing and no additions in the cellar) philosophies that the Laurents espouse, adding that, they do not merely champion (their) organic farming, but they incorporate the concept of sustainability into their daily lives by growing their own food crops and raising their own animals. The domaine bottles an AOC Vinsobres of course, plus many single cru wines from parcels, of mainly Grenache, but with lots of Syrah too, their own Côtes-du-Rhône Appellation vines, all of which are located around the domaine and set on clay and limestone soils with some plots seeing classic galets, the large river stones that are most notable in the Chateauneuf du Pape area. Domaine Gramenon, now led by Maxime François Laurent, uses gravity-fed tanks, cement and stainless to ferment, with indigenous yeasts and no additions, with exceptionally low sulfites (SO2) and age the wines in a combination of well used (neutral) oak demi-muids and foudres. As this very old Cotes du Rhone shows the wines has exceptional purity and lasting vibrancy and anyone that loves the Rhone, will want to explore the range of wines made here at Gramenon, I recommend, especially, the 100% Syrah Sierra du Sud Cotes du Rhone and the Ceps Centenaires La Mémé, that comes from 100 plus year old Grenache vines!
($40 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Lucia by The Pisoni Family, Chardonnay, Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
These 2019s from Pisoni are some of the most complete and complex bottlings they have ever produced, this is not a vintage to miss from them, and the Santa Lucia Highlands, with this gorgeous Soberanes Chardonnay being one of the top picks here, this profound wine is one of the best I’ve tried from the region offering amazing fruit density, fascinating textural layers, inner energy and length for days. While obviously known for their legendary estate Pinot Noir, the Pisoni Chards are now a match for the Pinots and in some vintages they are the best wines and this 2019 is a mind-blowing example with the same impact that the state’s best wines show, from Mount Eden, Littorai, Peay, Brewer-Clifton, Marcassin to the Morlet Family, Hanzell, Aubert and or Peter Michael, where Jeff Pisoni cut his teeth as a winemaker, this Soberanes rivals these elite efforts. This is a monumental version from a vineyard site that is fast becoming one of the top Crus in California, producing exciting Pinot Noir, outstanding Syrah, one of the secrets of the site, and incredible luscious Chardonnay, formed by various unique Burgundy and heritage clones, including the Old Wente Clone that adds intense concentration and depth. The Soberanes Chardonnay is beautifully bright and delicately perfumed with cascade of rich flavors on the broad and full bodied palate with orange blossoms, subtle sweet oak toast, wet stones and peach flesh revolving around a core of golden delicious apple, bosq pear and lemon curd fruits. The 2019 just keeps on going and going, it deserves a meal to enhance with it, especially something like a decedent lobster tail, and or at least a round of Époisses de Bourgogne, the famous pungent creamy cheese with its rind washed in brine and Marc de Bourgogne, the local pomace brandy, Burgundy’s version of Cognac.

The Soberanes Vineyard, set high up on the SLH bench, which again was farming partnership between Pisoni and Franscioni families, bears the family name of José María Soberanes, who marched from Mexico to Monterey Bay with the famed Portolá expedition, and his son Feliciano, who, as the Pisoni’s note, acquired the 8,900-acre land grant (here in the what became the Santa Lucia Highlands) as repayment for his loan of forty horses, fifty head of cattle, four oxen and some sheep for the journey. Cooled by the near by Pacific Ocean and the deep cold water of the Monterey Bay, and sitting adjacent to famous Garys’ Vineyard, the Soberanes Vineyard is set on the classic sandy loams, with soils, as the winery adds, that boast significant sub-soil boulders layered into the alluvial fan with a complex array of mineral deposits as well, all of which provides the vines everything they need to deliver absolute world class quality. The 2019, like the majestic 2018s, were formed by the long col growing conditions here allowing the deep flavor development and still having refreshing acidity, with the ’19s having maybe a slight edge with smaller yields and fabulous structure. Jeff Pisoni, the family’s hugely talented winemaker, hand crafts these wines from his state of the art facility in Sonoma, where is is still one of the most sought after consultants, using the best selection of the family’s grapes, which are also some of the best farmed in California. These hand picked Chardonnay grapes come in cool to the winery and are gently treated with only gravity flow of the juice with Pisoni using 100% native yeast barrel fermentations employing about 40% new French oak and with the wine being raised for close to 15 months before bottling. This wine shows its lees aging and really opens up with air with additional dimension coming out, it just awesome with a light hazelnut, lavish mouth feel and its brilliant vitality, this is stunning stuff.
($65 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive

2018 Bodegas y Vinedos Raul Perez, Ultreia, Saint Jacques, Valtuille de Abajo, Bierzo DO, Spain.
Raul Perez’s 2018 Ultreia Mencia based Saint Jacques from the Beizo region of Spain is wonderfully fresh and vibrant, perfect with a big bowl of spicy steamed mussels and pomme frites, showing bright dark berry fruits, nice acidity and mineral notes. I am a big fan of this bottling, which is juicy and easy to enjoy in its youth, somewhere between a Cru Beaujolais and a Crozes-Hermitage in style with blackberry, dark cherry and plum fruits along with a hint of dried flowers, cinnamon, anise and chalky stones. Some of the bigger wines from this area can take on a more dense, Cab Franc like character, but Perez’s wines are less heavy and give a more authentic Mencia profile with some rustic edges, but with an over abundance of charm. These Raul Perez wines, all made from organic grapes, are stylish efforts that showcase this region’s soils and climate, which is moderate and continental, a bit drier and warmer than the more coastal Ribeira Sacra and with more limestone and clay that gives the rich textural and deeper flavors. This medium bodied wine has loads of energy and fine tannins, making it wonderful with all kinds of foods, though it goes gracefully or better with more simple dishes, it is a nice companion to a range of hard cheeses, like Basque Idiazábal and or aged Manchego.

As noted in my prior reviews, the Raul Perez Ultreia Saint Jacques (mostly old vine Mencia) is multi vineyard old vine 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 includes inter-planted other varietals, including a small bit of Bastardo (believed to be Trousseau) and Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet). As noted in my reviews and from what Perez has noted, he uses lots of whole bunches that keeps things well balanced and the fruit is contrasted by earthy, savory notes, bright spices and (crunchy) mineral elements. 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 world wide, clearly defining what it is and should be. His influence and generous guidance to young winemakers has launched a whole generation of Spanish talents with many on their way to super stardom. 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. This vintage seems a touch lighter than the 2015, 2016 and 2017, but has a elegant roundness that is highly compelling, I recommend enjoying over the next 2 to 3 years.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive