Grapelive.com – Reviews – May 2022
2020 Samuel Louis Smith, Syrah, Sandstone Terrace, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The grippy and stony Samuel Louis Smith 2020 Sandstone Terrace Syrah has terrific length and substance with loads of Olallieberry, blueberry and damson plum fruit to go with a meaty and savory cool climate personality, opening up with Northern Rhone like violets, graphite, mixed spices and zesty natural acidity thanks to the near by Pacific Ocean. Only one barrel of this impressive deeply purple/ruby colored and intense Syrah was made and it should prove quite rare, but I couldn’t resist popping the cork, as I am a huge admirer of winemaker Sam Smith’s personal wines, as well as his work at Monterey’s classic Morgan Winery, where he is the head winemaker. Influenced by his visits to France and the Northern Rhone, Sam has become especially gifted with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah, as it shows here in his latest efforts, including this one from the southern part, the more marine affected, of the Santa Cruz Mountains. There’s a lot to unpack here and there’s certainly more to come with age, but this is already delicious stuff with contrast of ripe fruit, firm tannins and earthy tones, plus a health crunchy quality from the 85% whole cluster fermentation and stem inclusion here. Smith fermented with native yeasts and cold macerated this Syrah, allowing for good extraction and employed hand punch downs before pressing to the single neutral French barrique for 10 months. These Samuel Louis Smith Syrahs are sensational wines and attractive values, they really fill out this excellent small lot collection and while the Pinots here get a lot of attention, I must admit Smith’s Spear Started Rita Hills Chardonnay is one of my absolute favorites, it should not be missed.
Sam Smith’s Sandstone Terrace Syrah is usually a blend of Santa Cruz Mountains sites, but because of the fires, the 2020 version is 100% from the Gali Vineyard. Gali is located in the Corralitos sub-district of the southern Santa Cruz Mountains, mostly known for excellent Pinot grapes. It sits at lower elevation, about 400 feet above sea level and approximately six miles from the ocean, with Smith saying that Gali is one of the coolest sites in his lineup. The soils here, as Sam notes, are clay loam weathered from sandstone and shale, which were formed on ancient submarine terraces, hence the name. Though Gali is not farmed completely organic, no herbicides or harsh chemicals are used here and watering is quite minimal, making for small yields. As this Cornas like edition of Sandstone Terrace, which is less creamy and fruity than the 2019 was, unwinds slowly in the glass you get more interesting layers showing through with creme de cassis and peppercorns leading the way along with dried lavender, a hint of espresso grounds and tapenade. These elements to go along nicely with the echos of the mentioned initial flavors and florals, making for a riveting and raw experience that is best enjoyed with meat and or wild mushroom dishes. Smith’s efforts with Morgan are more polished and maybe more crowd pleasing, but they are no less serious, though this tiny hand crafted personal efforts are stunning wines with their own seductive and sultry charms. Like his wines, Smith doesn’t lack for confidence and his talents have made him one of the top guns of his generation, these 2018, 2019 and 2020 vintages have been awesome and I highly recommend getting on his mailing list as soon as possible. Smith is part of an exciting group of young winemakers that are taking California to the next level and there is even more to come, watch this label.
($36 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 La Marea, Grenache, Central Coast.
I’ve focused quite a bit on these new releases from Ian Brand, but each one deserves this attention, especially this exceptional Grenache value under his La Marea label, coming from his collection of unique and old vine vineyard sites in San Benito and Monterey County, it is what all Grenache lovers want in a wine and then some. The 2019 vintage, which Ian claims was warmer than 2018, but with a nice cut of acidity, makes this version round and satiny on the full bodied palate with loads of juicy crushed red berries, plum, pomegranate and strawberry fruit(s) that is accented by subtle savory and earthy notes, fresh cut flowers, wild herbs, spice and chalky stoniness. The year’s lush and ripe fruited mouth feel is compelling and reminds me of Gigondas, and shows just how good Grenache is getting in California, with Brand being one of the grape’s leading cheerleaders and talents. In recent years we’ve seen some star examples of Grenache in California and not just the nose bleed priceed versions from Sine Qua Non or Saxum, but from producers like Ian Brand here, along with Turley’s Tegan Passalacqua, (Turley Cellars & Sandlands), Angela Osborne, (Tribute to Grace & Folded Hills), Sheldon Wines, Birichino, Randall Grahm, (Language of Yes), Stolpman, Tablas Creek and Whitcraft to name just a few. There’s a lot to admire here and this Grenache will be a great pairing with BBQ and simple country cuisine, it has plenty of flexibility for a wide array of dishes.
The well structured 2019 Grenache, which sees grapes from Chalone’s chalky soils and other sites, including the famous Besson Vineyard, well over 90 years old, that is set on rocky soils influenced by decomposed granite, limestone and sand, all of which give this wine its concentration and tannic back-bone, was fermented mainly in tank using mostly de-stemmed grapes. The wine was matured for a few months in neutral French oak to allow for transparent nuance and varietal purity, which clearly has worked successfully here in this vintage. This La Marea lineup is Ian Brand’s middle tier collection of Spanish inspired wines, mostly known for the fabulous Albariño, as well as this Garnacha style wine. There are some similarities in the La Marea Grenache to the beautifully crafted wines from Spain’s Sierra de Gredos region in the mountains above Madrid, like those of Comando G, Dani Landi and 4 Monos, which are some of my favorite Grenache based wines these days. For more single vineyard distinction, you’ll want to check out Ian Brand’s signature I. Brand & Family wines, which has the 100% Old Vine Besson Grenache as a headliner, along with the Brosseau Vineyard edition from the Chalone AVA, both of which are incredible and individual efforts. I was very impressed with this ruby hued 2019 La Marea Central Coast Grenache, that I think is one of the best wines for the money you can find and after recently tasting the 2014 La Marea Grenache, I believe there is a long and interesting drinking window, I highly recommend this tasty stuff.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Odonata Wines, Sparkling Dry Riesling, Tondre Grapefield, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The latest Odonata wines, as tasted at the Santa Lucia Highlands Sun, Wind & Wine gala, were all excellent and stylish efforts, something we’ve been accustomed too in recent years as this winery continues to craft some of the most tasty and unique wines in the region, with this refreshing Sparkling Riesling being a prime example. While most people were fighting over the many fine Pinot Noir offerings, I got a chance to preview a couple of special sparkling wines at Odonata and chat a little with owner/winemaker Denis Hoey, who as well as being a skilled winemaker, is one of the most real and nicest people you could meet, a quality that even makes the wines taste even better. These two new bubbly offerings include an intriguing red sparkler made from old vine Grenache, which was also delicious, and this vibrant almost German Sekt like, mineral driven Tondre Sparkling Riesling. Brut dry and with a refined Champagne style mouse, this latest Odonata Riesling Fizz shows racy citrus, yeasty notes and a nice stony nature with hints of lime blossom, lemon, bread dough, wild peach and wonderful small beading bubbles, making for a clean, leesy and elegant version that sips nicely on its own, but has enough depth and structure to enhance a seafood meal. Odonata, founded back in 2005, came of age in 2014 When Hoey and his wife, Claire, bought the old Marilyn Remark Winery in the Santa Lucia Highlands, creating a home for their family and a state of the art facility from where to grow one of the region’s most exciting labels.
Odonata has great lineup these days and the quality in their 2018 and 2019 wines has reached a new level, especially in their reds, which include a seriously good Syrah and Brunello style Sangiovese, as well as top notch Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon(s) that offer way more complexity and pleasure than the price would suggest, it is a great time to discover these wines. There are also these Methode Champenoise offerings, all done with hand crafted precision and finished clean with cage and cork, letting you know they are more luxurious and transparent than the more raw Pet-Nat versions that are much easier and common these days. The Tondre Grapefield vineyard sits on sandy loams and is now highly regarded for Pinot Noir and Syrah, but the Riesling here has really come into its own, much like Morgan’s Double L Estate, giving grapes filled with dynamic acidity, varietal purity and ripe concentration, making for compelling dry still wines as well as this crisp Sparkling version. This wine needed no sugar dosage and it was aged on the lees and riddled in bottle over a long period to gain depth and richness, all the while keeping the Riesling’s classic electric zesty quality, which really shows in this latest offering. With the days being longer and filled with warm sunshine, this Odonata Sparkling Riesling is going to be even more rewarding and will be perfect for these gorgeous sunsets on the coast and it will go fantastically well with raw oysters and or fish tacos, I highly recommend giving this bubbly a try as soon as possible. Odonata has a great patio and tasting room in the SLH, right on the famous River Road, it is a great spot to visit and taste authentic and terroir driven wines.
($38 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2019 Mansfield-Dunne, Pinot Noir, Cortada Alta Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
I was very impressed with the 2019 Mansfield-Dunne Cortada Alta Pinot, entranced by the aromatics and depth of flavors in a wine with subtlety and lightness, it lacks for nothing from start to lingering finish and should evolve and age nicely as well. John Peterson’s Alta Cortada Vineyard is a unique organic and high elevation site, which was risky gamble to plant and tough to farm, has paid off with this 2019 vintage, with this wine showing this vineyard’s potential in glorious detail. The nose lifts rom the glass with a dark earthy array of florals, fresh berries and mineral notes that lead to the rounded medium bodied palate of black cherry, raspberry, red peach and plum fruits that are accented by baking spices, orange tea, rose petals, a saline element and a light toasty oak frame. The winemaking here is all about taming this wild site and allowing its nature to shine through, so Mansfield-Dunne carefully sorted the Pinot grapes and gently cold macerated them in small bins and hand punch-downs before maturing the wine in French oak for 14 months, using about 60% new wood to tame the mountain fruit. The dark ruby/garnet Mansfield-Dunne Cortada Alta’s impression of dark fruit keeps going long after each sip here and the texture is lush, but there is an underlying lively force here that lifts this wine and reminds you of the vintage’s complexity and balance. This is a quality effort that is flying under the radar, it should drink fabulously well for 3 to 5 years with ease and I highly recommend searching it out.
The Mansfield-Dunne winery was started back in 2011 and has quietly gained in popularity and is producing a solid selection of wines from their two Santa Lucia Highlands estate vineyards, with this Cortada Alta Vineyard being one of the most distinct in the region. Owner John Peterson deserves a lot of credit for his extraordinary efforts in establishing his passion project vineyard. He says he spent eight years searching California for the place for his ambitious plans, which ended in 2009 with him finding 300 acres of rugged scrub land that fit his dream, and that property would become the Cortada Alta Vineyard. Peterson, when looking for a someone to deliver the promise of the grapes from the vines to bottle, chose the talented hands of Ed Kurtzman, who has been crafting wines from the Santa Lucia Highlands since around 1994 and who has been a winemaker at some of the regions best sites, including Roar. Kurtzman’s efforts here has been exciting to follow and his 2018s and 2019s are exceptional wines, especially this one, which I admire for the elegant layering and beautiful long finish. Cortada Alta is the highest elevation vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands with some pretty steep slopes with some at a 44% grade at close to or above 1,500 feet up, it’s set on sandy loams with clay and decomposed granite. This site gets a cold blast of sea air and loads of sun, making for intense conditions, so to best exploit this special plot Peterson planted array of clones here, including Calera, Pommard, Swan, 2A, 23, 667, 828, and 943, all of which combine to make these wines complex and compelling. This is a label and a vineyard to watch in the coming years, as these vines come into their prime, I can only imagine things getting better and better!
($58 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Bruliam Wines, Pinot Noir, Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
It was great to catch up with Dr. Kerith Overstreet, who is the winemaker of Bruliam Wines, at the Santa Lucia Highlands Sun, Wind & Wine Gala this last weekend as well as taste her latest wine, the beautiful 2018 Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir, which highlighted the fabulous vintage, great Pisoni family farming and the gorgeous aromatics that this site delivers. I first tried Kerith’s wines in 2012 and loved her 2010 version of this wine, so it was thrilling to see how far she’s come as a winemaker and see how much potential as been realized at Soberanes, both have come along way since then, but the quality was very much in presence even back then. The 2018 Bruliam starts with morning roses and brambly red berries lifting from the glass and has a deep ruby color, both very inviting to the senses and the medium bodied palate is supple and silky, but has structure as well, it takes its time to fully unwind, though the rewards are a real treat for Pinot lovers. There is a luxurious elegance and energy that is seductive in this Soberanes Pinot that keeps your full attention and each detail is in sharp focus with satiny black cherry, raspberry and red currant fruit at the core along with background accents of floral tones, mineral, vanilla and Asian tea spices. This wine looks set for a long drinking window and has lots of cuisine flexibility, it can easily play with lighter and or more robust dishes with grace.
Dr. Overstreet says she is honored to be able to get the grapes from this vineyard, and she does her self proud in this vintage, paying tribute to the Pisoni and Franscioni families that have been farming in the Salinas Valley for three generations. According to Kerith, nobody does SLH better than the Pisoni-Franscioni collaboration, with Mark Pisoni’s team setting the standards for quality in the region, and who could argue, the grapes from their collection of Grand Cru vineyards, Rosella’s, Sierra Mar, Pisoni Estate, Garys’ and Soberanes are legendary. Overstreet, now with over a decade of making wine from this vineyard, adds that SLH Pinot Noirs are unapologetically Californian. And sensational. And crazy delicious. All of which is true with this vintage of Bruliam, which saw a modest amount of new oak and I believe as she has done in the past she used a Rhone submerged cap technique to extract more pigment and not get any harsh tannins and the results allow this youthful Pinot to shine in the glass. Another thing of note, Overstreet believes in giving back and at Bruliam Wines, they have always subscribed to a strong charitable mandate, with solid history of donations, which now total well over 80 unique charities and communities being supported by sales here. This 2018 Soberanes is drinking great and is well worth chasing down on its own, or join the mailing list at Bruliam to get, either way I highly recommend it.
($55 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Cattleya, Syrah, Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
Maybe the best wine of the 2022 Santa Lucia Highlands Wine, Sun &Wine tasting, this outrageously good Cattleya Soberanes Syrah from the 2015 vintage is absolutely stunning in the glass with the power and presence of a legendary Hermitage, this is as great as it gets for Syrah! Winemaker Bibiana Gonzalez Rave-Pisoni has crafted a masterpiece here and it is just starting to reveal its true potential with a gorgeous violet perfume, meaty density, beautiful blue fruits, peppery spices, licorice and intense earthy black olive details coming through on the pure and full bodied palate. This wine has a serious personality and impact on the senses with layers of boysenberry, plum, blueberry and kirsch fruits along with hints of cinnamon, briar, camphor, creme de cassis and a faint bacon note in the background. Still remarkably vibrant, fresh and taut this Syrah takes its time to get going, but when it does it makes an impression and looks to drink fabulously well for another decade! The Soberanes Vineyard, located closer to Garys’ Vineyard, but at a slightly higher point in the Santa Lucia Highlands, is the Pisoni’s youngest vineyard, but it maybe the one with the greatest potential, with its upper hillsides and its granite loams soil making it a perfect spot for high quality Syrah, though of course there’s some very nice Chardonnay and Pinot grown here as well. While this 2015 was a bonus pouring, Cattleya also showed off their 2019 version that has the stuffing and depth to be an equal to this one in a few years.
As mentioned here many times, Bibiana Gonzalez Rave-Pisoni, the Colombian winemaker and vineyard consultant, is making some stunning wines, especially this wine, which is a masterpiece. Gonzalez Rave-Pisoni’s stints in at some of the world’s great estates, including Stephane Ogier in Cote-Rotie, has helped her develop her love of place and to get the best out of each terroir, it also showed in her work when at Pahlmeyer with her Wayfarer Pinot Noirs from the Seaview/Sonoma Coast. Her talents are really on display here in the wines she does under her own label Cattleya, in particular in her gorgeous Alban clone Syrah from her husband’s (Jeff Pisoni) family farmed vines at Soberanes. I firmly believe, and have mentioned time after time, since 2004 the Pisoni’s and Franscioni’s have farmed some of the best Syrah in the state, anyones who’s tasted Pisoni’s Lucia, Tegan Passalaqcua’s Sandlands Soberanes Syrah, Roar, the original Novy versions by Adam Lee (Siduri) and this Cattleya will confirm this! The Cattleya Syrah, hand crafted with a long maceration time, saw a precision controlled primary fermentation with 20% whole clusters being used and the grapes got an extended cold soak to allow all the nuances to shine though in the finished wine. The Cattleya Syrah was aged about 16 months in luxurious and toasty French oak, which even with the high percentage of new barrels, upward of 50%, has integrated exceptional well and with age has become more subtle with just a hint of sweet toast and vanilla. I highly recommend these Cattleya wines, in particular this Soberanes Syrah and if you can find this 2015 you’ll be well rewarded, though the patient Syrah lovers will be advised to get the new 2019 release while you can!
($70 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive
2018 Gian Luca Colombo, Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC, Piedmonte, Italy.
Not to be confused with Jean-Luc Colombo of Cornas (Rhone) fame, Gian Luca Colombo is an excellent youthful viticoltore in Piedmonte who specializes on Nebbiolo and Pinot Nero, with some knock out wines under his belt, like this beautiful baby Barolo from the exceptional 2018 vintage. Colombo, new name for me, is a consultant for several producers in the Langhe and winner of the Gambelli Award for Best Young Italian Oenologist in 2014. Impressive, more so after I tasted his 2018 Nebbiolo d’Alba, which could easily be mistaken for a wine costing twice the price, as it delivers a very structured and serious medium to full bodied palate of classic Nebbiolo character. There’s a lot to admire here with layers of black cherry, damson plum, strawberry and mulberry fruits flowing precisely in the mouth with a dusting of spices, herbs and floral details adding nice accents along the way, touches of earth, licorice, lavender, cedar and mineral become more visible with air. This wine, 100% Nebbiolo, coming from classic marls (limestone and clay) and chalky soils saw fermentation in stainless steel tank, with a long cool maceration lasting between with a year of aging intriguingly in a combination of used Austrian oak casks and ancient style amphora. This pretty ruby hued and well crafted Nebbiolo d’Alba is seductive stuff, it is drinking great now, but easily can go a decade more in bottle.
Gian Luca Colombo, who is being touted as, A rising star in Piedmont, and already an award winning oenologist, who from a young age had a passion and skill in winemaking grew up in the Langhe and spent 11 years studying wine and completed his Masters in Viticulture and Oenology. After which is he travelled throughout Italy consulting before coming home in 2011 to a set up his own winery, that is located in Roddi, Segni di Langa with just 4 hectares of vines. I have learned, Gian Luca, who cultivates using only sustainable practices and has been working towards full organic and biodynamic certification, started just making his Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir), and That impressively he received a prize for Top Italian Pinot Noir in his very first vintage! That seems like a wine I’d also like to try, considering how good this wine is! Interesting too, is that he then started his efforts with Nebbiolo, in addition to his Pinot Noir, and in 2014 he received the mentioned, Gambelli award for the Young Winemaker of the Year. Gian Luca takes a minimal intervention approach to his winemaking, looking for purity and transparency, all of his wines are bottled without filtration or clarification. This Nebbiolo vineyard is located in Barolo, in the Langhe hills, not far away from the renowned cru site Monvigliero, that helps give this wine its class, terroir and substance, I highly recommend this 2018 and look forward to trying more from this talented producer.
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2019 Badia di Coltibuono, Chianti Classico DOCG, Tuscany, Italy.
Coltibuono’s 2019 Chianti Classico is bright and fresh, but with solid depth and a rounded mouth feel, allowing for beautiful and charming youthful drinking, it is especially good with simple cuisine, making for a smile filled meal without pretense. The dark garnet and ruby edged Chianti Classico is sourced from all organic estate vines in Gaiole, along with some coming from their Vitignano vineyard (in Castelnuovo Berardenga), with 90% Sangiovese and a 10% mix of Colorino, Canaiolo, and Ciliegiolo going into this wine that was fermented using indigenous yeast in stainless steel tanks. After the wine finishes both primary and malo-lactic fermentation the wine is pressed into large casks, a combination of well used 2,000L and 2,500L French and Austrian oak, where the Chianti Classico matures for 12 months. The 2019 profile is lively and shows lush ripe layers of blackberry, plum, strawberry and mulberry fruits that are accented by hints of pipe tobacco, anise, dried flowers, grilled orange, cinnamon spice, subtle earth, zesty herbs and wood details. This medium bodied Chianti Classico provides enough grip to be taken seriously, but is a comfort wine with its terroir driven Sangiovese personality and authentic style.
The historic Badia a Coltibuono estate, originally founded as an Abbey in 1051, is set in the hills in the Chianti Classico commune of Gaiole, one of the most prestigious parts of the region, not far from Radda, in the southern end of the zone. Coltibuono is now led by the fifth generation of the Stucchi Pirinetti family, including Emanuela, Paolo, and Roberto Stucchi Prinetti. There are 150 acres of vineyards on the property, dug into the clay loam and limestone soils, along with another 50 acres of olive trees here with as excepted a focus on Chianti’s signature grape, Sangiovese of course. The winery notes, Sangiovese is naturally the most important grape variety planted at Coltibuono, but following ancient traditions the family honors Chianti’s heritage by also keeping significant numbers of vines of other native varieties that are allowed but often omitted in the modern Chianti Classico wines. These grapes, planted in very small amounts include the red grapes Canaiolo Nero, Ciliegiolo, Colorino, Foglia Tonda, Malvasia Nera, Mammolo, Pugnitello, Sanforte and the white Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes used for Vin Santo. Badia a Coltibuono makes an authentic collection of wines from the traditional to the more innovative, though I really like this basic Chianti Classico best of all and impressed by its value and ease of use.
($22 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2019 Ryme Cellars, Cabernet Franc, Alegria Vineyard, Russian River Valley.
The Husband and wife team of Megan and Ryan Glaab at Ryme Cellars in Sonoma are turning out some fabulous wines and the latest releases include some intriguing efforts, like this beauty of a Cab Franc that pays tribute to the grape’s inner core of varietal character with loads of dark fruit and spice. This pretty example of California Cabernet Franc is nicely perfumed with hints of violets, mineral, brambly red berries and peppery notes with a medium bodied and energetic palate that highlights the vintage’s good acidity, soft tannin and ripe profile. In the mouth you find classic, more Loire like purity with crushed raspberry, red currant, plum and cranberry fruits along with a touch of earth, bell pepper, anise and subtle cedary notes. The Ryme Cabernet Franc grapes come from the Alegria Vineyard just south of Healdsburg in the Russian River Valley appellation, mainly known for the Acorn Winery’s Zinfandel. The vineyard is made up mostly of ancient field blend varietals from the 1800s, similar to what you’d expect in the vineyards used by Ridge, Bedrock and Carlisle. The Cabernet Franc vines that Ryme sources here were planted more recently in 1990, but they still are fully mature enough to provide excellent concentration and complexity as this wine shows. The Glaab’s note that this is a fairly cool climate site, influenced by the Ocean and fog that flows into this part of the Russian River Valley, once thought to be better for Pinot and Chard than for Cabernet Franc. But that said, for Ryme, the idea was to make a lighter bodied wine that embraced the natural herbal and floral qualities of the grape, which makes this wine so compelling and great with food.
The winery is well known for innovation and ancient inspired methods to ferment and age their wines with Ryme there is always something interesting to see and hear about in the cellar, and this Cab Franc saw a unique combination of techniques. Megan and Ryan fermented the 2019 in two separate lots, with one batch that was a full whole cluster fermentation in a tank and pressed gently by foot once a day to keep the top fresh and release some juice. This results, they say, in a partial carbonic fermentation, allowing a juicy fruitiness and stemmy crunch. The other lot was, as they add, also done with all whole cluster, but it was put into clay amphora to macerate and ferment, which I think adds a creamy texture and the savory elements. Ryme apply this regime into a few different versions of their wines sand it has been highly successful, but especially good here with this dark ruby colored Algeria Vineyard Cab Franc. Both of the Cab Franc fermentation(s) were pressed separately to neutral oak barrels for a year or so and then blended just a short time prior to the wine’s bottling. As I have mentioned here in recent reviews, Ryme is doing some very impressive stuff, with this Russian River Valley Cabernet Franc joining some tasty Italian varietals, including my favorite of their reds, the Aglianico(s), a quaffable Sangiovese/Friulano co-ferment and a brilliant array of whites made from Vermentino, Ribolla Gialla and Fiano, which all are absolutely delicious. I also, have to mention Ryme’s fun Pet-Nat style sparkling wines, because they are so much fun, in particular their red sparkler, the Crackling Valdiguie, which is mainly only sold on their mailing, so it s a good time to join it.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2020 Desire Lines Evangelho Red Wine, Contra Costa County.
This newer label, Desire Lines in Sonoma, with a stellar collection of small lot hand crafted offerings is fast becoming a favorite of mine and Cody Rasmussen, winemaker, is certainly one of his generations best, with wines like this proving the point. The latest Evangelho Red Wine, a blend of primarily Carignan with a touch of Mourvèdre, has become, as Rasmussen notes, one of his most important wines. This 2020 is deeply colored and flavored with an upfront personality, showing rich layers of crushed blackberries, plums, Italian cherries and currants on the full bodied palate along with a round lush texture, all accented by florals, spices and a subtle wood shading. This purple/garnet wine comes from very old vines in Contra Costa. Rasmussen says the heritage and historic Evangelho Vineyard is one of California’s greatest vineyards, and after many years of tasting wines from here, like this one, I’d have to agree. Cody Rasmussen, who is the assistant winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson MW’s Bedrock Wine Company, along with his wife Emily have carved out a niche for themselves with these Desire Lines wines, their Syrah is their signature grape with the Griffin’s Lair and Shake Ridge bottlings being some of the state’s best examples. Besides the stellar Syrahs, Rasmussen has made himself one of the best talents in dry Riesling in the country, especially his exceptional Cole Ranch, which I recently reviewed here. With this latest set of releases, Desire Lines have added some new things to the lineup, including a Viognier and a Sauvignon Blanc, both of which I am excited to try soon.
The 2020 Evangelho Red Wine is as Cody notes, a touch silkier on the palate, with youthful exuberance that highlights both the vintage and the vineyard in a typical year, making a very lovable wine with refined tannins that still provide for solid aging potential, while allow full pleasure even now. As in previous vintages, Rasmussen fermented with 30% whole cluster under a submerged cap and aged the Evangelho Red for ten months in neutral 400L barrels. As he has said before, Cody loves the bigger 400L barrel size for Carignan, as it retains freshness and builds tension in the wine like all large format casks, but with a less reductive tendency than the 500L and 600L barrels that I prefer for Syrah and Mourvèdre. As I reported last time trying this wine, Rasmussen believes the Carignan gives the wine a singular juiciness and floral and red-fruit aromas, with a soft tannin profile and vibrant acidity. Going on he adds that the inclusion of cluster (partial stems) adds spice to the nose, while the small portion of carbonic maceration and Mourvèdre add flesh to the palate. Desire Lines, for this wine, models their winemaking after the great cru Beaujolais, like Dutraive and or Chateau Thivin, crafting wines that are delightful when young but should mature beautifully in the bottle as well. These old vines, at Evangelho, were planted on their own-roots back in the 1890s in the Oakley Sands, giving this wine a sense of place and a wealth of complexity and depth. These deep say soils form this site into one of California’s most distinctive terroirs with the delta breezes giving the wines freshness, elegance and fine aromatic character, elements which are clearly on display here, and I highly recommend this incredibly delicious wine.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine Lionnet, Cornas, “Terre Brûlée” Northern Rhone, France.
This 2016 is still youthful and deeply colored Syrah with gorgeous layers of black and blue fruits along with a nice savory crunch, spice and floral details, making this Domaine Lionnet one of the most beautiful versions to date. A sexy mix of violets, peppercorns, herbs de Provence and blackberry coulis get things started here on the nose and the smoothly textured medium/full palate with fresh acidity and ripe tannins adding to the complexity and balance, adding damson plum, blueberry, tapenade, cinnamon and subtle earthy tones, lingering on and on with creme de cassis, cedary wood, anise and hint of graphite. This wine is just about perfect and expressive with the utmost purity of varietal and a sense of place, it rivals wines from the Northern Rhone that cost twice if not three times to place, if you’ve not had this outstanding small family producer, you should do your best to find a few bottles. This is absolutely one of my favorite wines and producers, Domaine Lionnet makes an incredible, transparent and authentic Cornas that never disappoints this Syrah geek!
As mentioned here at Grapelive, Corinne Lionnet’s family has been here in the region and wine growing since back in 1575, and for countless generations, with her husband Ludovic Izerable, who originally come from the tiny university town of Grenoble up in the alps, making the wines here, the two of them have run this winery since Corinne took the estate over in 2003. Ludovic has really stamped his style on the wine at Domaine Lionnet, with 100% whole cluster, 100% stems and all organic farming, he ferments native and uses long maceration (three weeks) in cement vats before malos in neutral, well used large casks without any additions. Each parcel for this Cornas is between 40 and 100 years old, they include four great Lieu-Dit sites in Cornas, Chaillot, Combes, Brugeres and Mazards with each hand picked and fermented individually. These highly regarded Crus add to the whole and give this wine it’s depth and structure, especially in vintages like this one. Domaine Lionnet’s attention to detail really shows in the bottle, these are electric and thrilling wines that have great aging potential, with this 2016 looking pretty legendary. A few years back, I got to meet Ludovic and Corinne and taste through a mini vertical of their glorious Cornas bottlings from 2012 to 2015, all of which were fantastic, but this 2016 feels like a step up, I highly recommend it.
($70 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive
2020 Hundred Suns, Cabernet/Syrah, River Rock Vineyard, The Rocks District, Milton Freewater, Oregon.
A new wine from Grant Coulter and his Hundred Suns label, the River Rock Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah blend from the Oregon side of Walla Walla is an intriguing blue fruited wine with dense fruit and supple ripe tannins, proving these varietals can play nicely together in an expressive way. This 2020 shows an array of blackberry, plum, brandied cherries and currant fruits along with bay leaf, tobacco, cedar, acacia flower and mission fig accents. Coulter, one of Oregon’s best Pinot Noir specialist, originally left California for Oregon’s Willamette Valley some 16 or so years ago, where he first worked as assistant winemaker at Hamacher wines before spending, as he notes, the bulk of 10 years as assistant winemaker and then (head) winemaker at the legendary Beaux Freres. After which, seeking a new and personal direction, Coulter and his wife Renée Saint-Amour founded their own Hundred Suns label in 2015 as well as buying a piece of land in the Eola-Amity Hills zone, where there was an old vineyard that they are now re-planting in hope to create a special estate for the future. In the meantime Coulter is consulting for Flaneur wines and doing his micro bottlings of single vineyard of regional Pinots, an exciting Gamay, Grenache, Chardonnay and a couple of Syrah offerings, as well as this tasty Cab/Syrah. I hope Hundred Suns continues with this special addition to the lineup for years to come, it is an intriguing effort and a delicious dark purple/garnet nectar that is fabulous with robust cuisine.
This unique Cab/Syrah was sourced from the famed River Rock Vineyard located in the The Rocks District of Milton Freewater, Oregon, an area made famous by Christophe Baron of Cayuse. These soils (or lack thereof), called the Freewater Series, as Coulter notes, are eroded basalt cobbles and pebbles from the Blue Mountains, these rocks, sand, and silt were laid down in layer upon layer forming an alluvial fan on the flat Walla Walla valley floor, leaving us a great terroir. These dynamic soils, Grant adds, require the vines to push roots deep between the rocks to find nutrients while the warmth absorbed by the rocks helps ripen the Cabernet grapes. Coming in at 14% natural alcohol, this is a ripe wine, but incredibly well balanced, or as Grant Says, its a Pinot Noir winemaker’s rendition of noble Cabernet Sauvignon, with a little dose of co-fermented Syrah that adds complexity. These grapes were hand-harvested and brought back to the winery in McMinnville where they were fully de-stemmed into a single one ton open top fermenter. After three days the native yeast took off and fermentation was on. Coulter gently pumped-over the juice twice daily and after ten days the primary fermentation was completed, then the must was pressed to neutral French oak and 450 liter amphora. The Cab/Syrah then was matured, unmoved, for one year and then the wine was gently racked into a bottling tank and was bottled unfined and unfiltered. As readers of grapelive.com know, the Hundred Suns wines are a favorite of mine and I highly recommend chasing some down and I suggest joining their mailing list as soon as possible, as these wines have truly been discovered and sell out fast.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Mauro Veglio, Barolo DOCG, Piedmonte, Italy.
A more recent discovery for me the Mauro Veglio wines, offering a studied series of Barolo, from many highly regarded Cru sites, as well as a collection of Dolcetto and Barbera based reds, with this 2017 basic Barolo showing very nicely, making for an almost guilt free, well priced and easy to love pure Nebbiolo. Brightly ruby in the glass and with a charming nose of red fruits, a light earthiness and delicate rose petals on the nose that leads to a satiny medium to full bodied palate with a nice concentration of ripe black cherry, plum, mulberry and balsamic reduced strawberry fruits as well as grilled fennel, cedar, garden herbs and a hint of iron. The tannins are very supple, but still provide just about the right amount of youthful grip to let you this is in fact a Barolo and while compliant in nature there is a seriousness to this wine’s purpose. This Mauro Veglio Barolo, that comes from mostly the estate’s younger vines, opens up well and is quite delicious, especially with food, it is a wine that may not be the most thrilling or with the most potential in the cellar, but I wouldn’t be disappointed to find it in my glass and I think it is a fine effort and value.
The traditionally crafted Veglio Barolo comes from vineyards in the townships of La Morra and Monforte d’Alba, with this 2017 vintage being one of the hottest years in recent times making for softer tannins and smaller yields than is normally the case, which may have helped this bottling a little, even though it was not an easy year in the region. For clarity and purity, the Barolo normale saw a maceration on the skins in stainless steel tanks for between 10-15 days, before the grapes are pressed with fermentation in stainless tanks, lasting about 20 days, with its malolactic fermentation also taking place in the tanks with cool controlled temperatures to preserve aromatics and fresh detail. After fermentation the Barolo is aged in a combination of oak casks with a small percentage of new barrels being employed to add a luxurious taste, with a touch of toast and vanilla and texture to this wine to allow for earlier drinking pleasure, as this wine does. The Barolo was in mainly 80% used wood, aging for a full 24 months and then rested back in stainless after blending and then bottled unfined and unfiltered, which the winery believes helps keep every nuance in the wine. Veglio makes close to 2,000 cases of the regular Barolo, making it pretty easy to find and it is not too spendy for the quality, I look forward to seeing their single Cru versions in the future.
($40 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2019 Weingut Bründlmayer, Dry Riesling, Ried Zöbinger Heilgenstein, Erste Lage, Kamptal, Austria.
The beautifully aromatic and elegant 2019 Bründlmayer 1er Lage Ried Löbinger Heilgenstein Dry Riesling rival top Grosses Gewachs from Germany and upper echelon Alsace Rieslings, in terms or power and finesse this is an absolutely killer Austrian example, perfectly capturing varietal, place and vintage. The palate is full of mineral intensity, delicacy of fruit, zesty acidity and has a gorgeous textural quality that sets it apart, with layers of green apple, muskmelon, sour peach, tangerine and tropical fruits, along with tea spice, verbena, bitter almonds and wet stone. White flowers and a light leesy note gets things going here and the length is impressive, over all this Riesling leaves a noble impression and highlights the talented touch found in Bründlmayer’s wines, and there looks to be more to come here with age. Bründlmayer has a very high proportion of old vines, with many plantings well over 50 years old, and a parcel in the Heiligenstein that was planted back in the 1920s, which shows in the concentration and sophistication in the wines. This Ried Zöbinger Heilgenstein saw a cool fermentation in stainless steel after a settling period and after primary is finished the Riesling is racked into large, old oak casks and left in contact with the fine lees for a couple of months, allowing for purity, freshness and balance.
Bründlmayer has some of most interesting and geologically diverse terroirs in Europe, in the heart of the Kamptal, near the blue Danube and Kamp rivers. The winery notes that the wooded hills of the Waldviertel forest create a climate with large diurnal temperature swings, essential to a long growing season and resulting in perfect ripe grapes. These rocky, terraced vineyards are are uniquely larger and wider terraces, each in its own individual micro climate. The most famous vineyards in this Kamptal region are located in and above the village of Zöbing including the Ried and its subplots, which are home to fabulous Riesling vines. This small village is home to a number of Erste Lagen (Cru) vineyards, including the Ried Zöbinger Heiligenstein, which is composed of 250 million year old sandstone soils, with feldspar (volcanic) and siltstone, not too different from German’s Pfalz region that is well known for many elite dry Rieslings. Bründlmayer has 90 Hectares of vines, all farmed organic, with about 33% Grüner Veltliner, 25% Riesling, 15% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay, 17% other varieties, including a rare plot of Cabernet Franc, which is used to make an awesome red single varietal wine. While famed for Grüner and Riesling, Bründlmayer also makes some incredible sparkling, Champagne style and method wines that are mind-blowingly good and regal. There’s a lot to get excited about in Austria right now, especially in the Wachau and Kamptal area, and Bründlmayer has plenty to offer, as this Riesling proves in style.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2014 Domaine Jean-Paul et Beniot Droin, Chablis Premier Cru, Vaillons, White Burgundy, France.
The brilliant, invigorating and brisk 2014 Vaillons by Droin is just starting to enter full maturity and has tons of personality with mineral intensity to go with its racy acidity, which is driving this wine even with the almost 8 years of age, making for a wine that delivers complexity and sharp detail. The beginnings of this steely wine’s potential are ever present, but truly come more into focus with food, transforming its electric vigor into a more rounded and pleasing Chardonnay that shows lime, green apple, peach and quince fruits, plus classic wet stone, a touch of reduction, oyster shell, hazelnut and clove spice. A big thank you to my friends Marc and John for stopping by and sharing this fabulous Premier Cru Chablis, which was a nice Thursday treat, especially with some soft farm cheeses from France that really brought out the best in this wine. After the wine opened up it added some citrus blossom and filled out more, revealing some depth and dimension, all the while staying laser focused and crisp, it is a very impressive effort and should continue to age gracefully for another 5 y3ears with ease. The Droin Vaillons and Monte de Tonnerre Premier Crus are top class and elegant examples which are really worth searching out, and their basic AC Chablis is a killer bargain to enjoy often and guilt free, without pretense.
The Droin wines, which are incredibly well made and terroir driven, still fly under the radar when compared to the super stars of this region, like Raveneau and Dauvissat, which allows them to be more accessible and are extremely well priced for the quality, especially their awesome collection of Premier Crus, like this Vaillons. Winemaker Benoit Droin employs natural yeast fermentation(s) in tank and some used French oak barrels, with gentle pneumatic pressing and lees aged in a combination of stainless steel tank and neutral wood depending on site. The Vaillons saw 10 months of elevage, with no batonage (stirring of the lees) and was 80% in tank and 20% old oak, which highlights the purity and the chalky Kimmeridgean clay and limestone soils on which the vines are set. The Droin Vaillons plot is at least 45 years old and is farmed using sustainable methods with mainly organic growing practices used here and the grapes really show the power of place, this exciting and distinct 2014 Droin version couldn’t be from anywhere else. Benoit sources his Vaillons grapes from the climats of Les Épinottes, Séchet, Roncières, Beugnons and Chatains, which are picked a bit earlier to preserve a dynamic freshness in his Chablis. Domaine Droin’s Jean–Paul and son Benoît can trace their family roots as vineyard owners here back to 1620 and are one of the region’s most historical producers with some fine parcels in top sites, and these are wines I highly recommend.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2019 Vincent, Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The 2019s here at Vincent have proved to be lovely and charming wines, especially the Eola-Amity Pinot with its fresh, almost tangy dry profile and purity of flavors that highlight the vintage and has a style that suits the fans of delicacy over richness. The palate is bright and tart with lots of cherry, red currant, strawberry and cranberry fruits to start, with this Eola-Amity Hills Pinot adding some depth and dimension with air and while lively the texture is supple and the wine reveals briar notes, spice, mineral tones, a subtle floral array and dried herbs. This year’s Eola-Amity Hills is a blend of barrels from Zenith, Bjornson and Silvershot vineyards, with the famed Zenith maybe providing the structure and soul in this delightful version.The Eola-Amity grapes, sourced from these top quality sites, set 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. Any whole cluster lots, if used, (depends 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. The wine is aged in used French barriques and bottled unfiltered with very low SO2 to promote transparency, which this Pinot delivers nicely.
Vincent winemaker, Vincent Fritzsche, started his small winery, 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. All of Vincent’s offerings are small lot hand-crafted wines, that he adds, are made in a natural way without a lot of fuss. While known mainly for his collection of single vineyard Pinots, Vincent does also a basic regional Willamette Valley bottling, as well as a couple of unique AVA versions, like this Eola-Amity Hills bottling, these wines, as seen with this effort, offer tons of value for the price and you should search these out and or join their mailing list. This ruby colored Eola-Amity Hills Pinot is very tasty, slightly earthy with an unfiltered cloudy appearance and gets better with every sip, in particular it goes well with food, which allows it to more expressive, lifting it to another level up in distinction and quality. Fritzsche has a pretty good following and while still under the radar, Vincent is a label to watch. These value packed Vincent wines are all very authentic and raw, but exceptionally delicious, I recommend the Pinots highly, along with the Gamay and the whites, with the Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and a Pinot Gris Rosé being of interest too.
($25 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Bruna Grimaldi, Barolo DOCG, Bricco Ambrogio, Piedmonte, Italy.
These 2016s are easy to love Nebbiolo wines, even now there is a lot of pleasure to be had, especially Barolo offerings like this Bruna Grimaldi, a producer I haven’t had much experience with, it drinks silky and complete and was excellent with a simple and hearty meal. The Grimaldi family has been in the Barolo business since 1957, but the modern version of this property really got started as a producer of fine wine with Bruna Grimaldi in 1990 and this label has gained a solid reputation over the last two decades. Now, winemaker Franco Fiorino crafts these wines with a passion for transparency and precision, as this pretty Bricco Ambrogio shows with a clarity of purpose, it delivers Classico Nebbiolo layers and highlights the vintage’s charm and substance very well indeed. This delicately perfumed and stony 2016, dark garnet and brick edged in the glass is very supple and flows smoothly on the full bodied palate with black cherry, damson plum, red currant and strawberry fruits, with a hint of earthiness, minty anise, cedar and dried lavender notes. This is not a blockbuster or one that begs for long term cellaring, but is a very nice value, I got it for under $40, and will be a rewarding and elegant traditional Barolo for the next 3 to 5 years.
Fiorino says, the Bricco Ambrogio is a Barolo of great elegance, which I can confirm with a satiny ripe profile, the vineyard set on blue Marls (clay and limestone) has a perfect exposure to the sun and a hot microclimate where Nebbiolo clusters are always picked a bit earlier, giving polished tannins, while retaining a good natural acidity. Going on, the winery adds that this Barolo is distinct with warm feel and has an open nose that is beautifully floral, tending towards ripe red fruits and spices notes. The palate captures the essence of the site nicely and allows for early drinking, which in some cases is very agreeable and this 2016 is expressive and has enough depth to keep your interest throughout the meal. The Bruna Grimaldi Barolo are made with a nod to the regions history with grapes that are harvested by hand and carefully sorted both in the vineyard and in the cellar before the clusters are all de-stemed and gently crushed. Fiorini uses a temperature-controlled fermentation with, as he notes, a long skin contact maceration that lasts 20-30 days, sometimes employing a submerged cap for perfect extraction of color and structure. The primary ferments of the must happen in a combination of stainless steel and concrete, after which the Nebbiolo gets aged and matured in large Slavonian oak Botti for between 24 and 30 months. Before release the Grimaldi wines see an extra bit of rest in bottle, with this one seeing close to a year, that helped it integrate all of its elements, making for a tasty treat on release.
($47 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2019 Sandlands Vineyards, Zinfandel, Lodi, California.
The darkly colored and deeply concentrated Sandlands Kirschenmann Vineyard Zinfandel is wonderfully rich and detailed on the full bodied palate, perfectly displaying the best qualities of the vintage and this old vine Lodi site. Its almost impossible not to love everything on offer here, this is a wine to thrill old school Zin fans with supple round layering of black raspberry, plum and Italian cherry fruits, along with ripe dusty tannins, lively acidity and subtle earthiness. This Zin has a chalky/stony elements and has background of brambly spice, dried herbs, floral tones and a light cedary note. Winemaker Tegan Passalacqua uses his own Kirschenmann grapes for this wine, it is located on the East Side of Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA that was originally planted back in 1915 and is set on silica rich, white sandy soils. This own rooted site in mostly all Zinfandel, but there is Carignane, Cinsault and Mondeuse scattered within a few blocks as well. With air and time in the glass this 2019 Zin gets almost silken in the mouth, it delivers a very solid performance and it is remarkably well balanced, even at 14.6% natural alcohol this wine never feels anything, but graceful. I have really enjoyed all of the latest Sandlands, especially this one, which maybe Passalacqua’s signature effort, along with his Carignane, one I try never to miss, as well as Trousseau, Cinsault, Chenin Blanc, Mataro (Mourvedre), Grenache, Syrah and Mission grape, also known as Pais or Listan Prieto. These 2019s are some of my favorites to date and I highly recommend getting on the mailing list, as these wines are super limited and sell out fast.
The Sandlands label, made by Passalacqua, is one of the most authentic collection of wines in California and these wines, like this one, are exceptional values that are hand made in a transparent style to showcase their individual terroirs and varietals. These stellar offerings are produced mainly with native yeasts and mainly neutral wood to promote purity of fruit and allow that sense of place to shine through, though as this wines, they are full flavored and wonderfully textural as well. Sandlands, as noted many times here, is the personal wine project of Tegan Passalacqua, head winemaker and vineyard manager for the famed Turley Wine Cellars, focused on primarily head-trained, dry-farmed and own rooted vines from historic sites and true California grapes along with a few lesser known varietals, such as Trousseau and the Mission grape. Passalacqua, who got his start by working in the lab in Napa Valley, has many talents, in the cellar and in vines, and he has an impressive resume, having done stints in the cellars of Craggy Range in New Zealand, with Eben Sadie in South Africa and with the late great Alain Graillot in the Northern Rhone Valley of France. All of these experiences has helped shape his style and he continues to turn out some impressive bottlings. The vineyards that Tegan uses, including his own family’s Kirschenmann, offer a taste of California’s past and future, they are set on primarily on sandy granite based based soils and are lovingly cared for by generational family farmers using organic and or sustainable methods. There were just 10 barrels of this beautiful Kirschenmann Zinfandel, but it is worth the struggle to find it.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Domaine Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Rully Blanc “Les Cailloux” White Burgundy, France.
This pale straw colored 2019 Rully Les Cailloux white Burgundy is pulsating with energy and its zesty acidity heightens the experience behind the beautiful round texture, this is performing well above its price point with crystalline precision. The palate has classic yellow fruits and mineral core with bright lemon, apple, Bosc pear and quince fruits perfectly accented by wet stones, hazelnut, bread dough, clove and subtle oak toastiness. Some of my first loves in Chardonnay came from Rully and the lesser known parts of the Cote de Beaune, which were much more affordable than the prestigious Crus, but Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey has taken his Saint-Aubin bottlings and Rully to unheard of heights, I mean this example could easily be mistaken for a big ticket wine from Puligny or Meursault! I opened this with a piece of fresh caught Monterey Bay salmon that was lightly smoked and the combination was absolutely magic, it left my friends who are not wine savvy utterly speechless, which was quite something. Being a fan of PYCM, this wine exceeded my lofty expectations and I’m so glad I got my hands on a few bottles of it! The Colin family has some fabulous plots in some of the Cote de Beaune’s best vineyards, from Chassagne to Batard (Montrachet), and Pierre-Yves added some high quality vineyards to his own portfolio, expanding into the Cote de Nuits and father north to the Côte Chalonnaise, where this wine was born.
Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, one of Burgundy’s biggest stars, 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 early picks being the norm, using indigenous yeasts and somewhat notably, he prefers larger format 350L French oak demi-muids instead of the classic 228L barriques, with his Lieu-Dit and Premier Crus seeing close to 30% new if not more, adding just the right amount of toasty accents. The grapes come from a parcel of vines in the northern part of the Côte Chalonnaise where light and sandy soils and climate promote mineral intensity and vivid acidity, giving this wine its charm and cool toned personality.This Rully is wonderfully balanced and seriously fantastic stuff to enjoy over the next 5 to 10 years, though not many, including myself obviously, will have that kind of patience! Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey is one of famous Colin clan with his father and his brothers all being highly regarded vignerons, but these days Pierre-Yves 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 they are based in their new modern winery in Chassagne where they turn out some of the most sought after wines in the Cote de Beaune. These latest 2019 vintage wines at PYCM are impeccably made and crystalline in focus, and it has never been a better time to stock up on Pierre-Yves’ wines, if you can find them.
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Saint Cosme, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge, Northern Rhone, France.
I am a huge fan of Louis Barroul’s negociant line of Northern Rhone bottlings, which seem, as I say almost every year, to get better with each new release and I especially love this Crozes-Hermitage bottling. The latest Saint Cosme Crozes-Hermitage, with its seductive purple/ruby hue, opens up with crushed violets and dark berries on the nose, leading to a full bodied palate of boysenberry, damson plum, blueberry fruits, along with light earthy notes, anise, cedar and olive tapenade. There is a purity flavors, in this 2019, along with good acidity and well judged tannic structure that hold things in taut detail, making for a beautifully crafted wine. The year provided good ripeness for a graceful mouth feel that is impressive for this appellation and this wine is a stunning value, delivering all the best that this grape has to offer. Barruol sources his Crozes-Hermitage from the granite hillsides of Gervans and Erôme, just behind Hermitage hill, noting himself that the wines are often quite similar to those of Hermitage, which explains why I can’t get enough of it. Going on, he adds that where these Syrah grapes are grown, it could almost be a unique appellation in its own right, because there is a huge difference within the terroirs of Crozes-Hermitage and this area is very different from the flatter sections. Saint Cosme, located in Gigondas, is famous for their estate and single terroir bottlings of Gigondas, which are maybe some of the greatest Grenache based wines on the planet. The property which dates back to 1416 was acquired Barruol’s ancestors back in 1570, and at the end of the sixteenth century they built a splendid residence over those ancient cellars. Château de Saint Cosme, which is on the 14th generation, is an exceptional and historical winery, with its Gallo-Roman fermentation vats perfectly preserved it lives and breathes with that connection to the past.
The Saint Cosme Crozes-Hermitage Rouge is crafted from 100% Serine clone, the area’s ancient Syrah variety, that many winemakers here covet for its extra dimension of complexity and most believe its the region’s best expression. Regardless, it really does transmit terroir wonderfully well, as on display here. For the 2019, again as he did in 2018, Barroul went with 100% de-stemmed grapes, preferring to promote a more elegant and fleshy profile, and while I admit that I am lover of the whole bunches and racy stem inclusion, this wine as I noted before is absolutely fabulous just as it is. The 2019 Crozes-Hermitage, again echos the 2016 and 2018 versions, two of my favorites, adding touches of lavender, spice, a subtle meatiness and low impact wood notes, as well as lingering creme de cassis, best to enjoy this Syrah with hearty and simple cuisine. These non estate northern Rhone bottlings from Barroul’s Saint Cosme include this Crozes-Hermitage, a lovely Condrieu, the Saint-Joseph, which can be wildly aromatic, as well as a series of collaboration wines with Kermit Lynch, along with a gorgeous Cote-Rotie, that is another incredible value. This vintage again saw a primary fermentation in vats and was aged in mostly used barrels with about 20% new oak being employed, that is impeccable here allowing for a touch of smoke and supple texture. I find the harmony in this wine almost perfect and the is a energy and roundness that gives this wine a luxurious feel, but doesn’t take away Syrah’s natural funk and savory tones. This impresses me every time I take a sip and makes this a crowd pleasing wine. Again, I love these Northern Rhone negociant offerings from Saint Cosme almost as much their legendary Gigondas, especially this Crozes, which is a stunning value, and if you’ve not had these wines now is a great time to explore them!
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
Grapelive.com – Reviews – April 2022
2020 Bedrock Wine Co., Evangelho Vineyard Heritage Red, Contra Costa County.
The latest releases from Bedrock are exceptional and have a sense of lightness and grace, traits not always found in Zinfandel based wines with the 2020 Evangelho Vineyard Hermitage Red showing wonderfully already, delivering a beautiful balance of fruit intensity and its underlying grip of tannic structure. This vintage shines with a rich array of flavors on the full bodied palate, it flows with black raspberry, dark plum, tart blueberry, currant and kirsch along with lovely florals, mineral and spice, adding anise, lavender, a subtle earthiness, sandal wood and lingering mure. The Evangelho Heritage is a field blend of Zinfandel, Mataro (Mourvedre) and Carignan from this historic vineyard originally planted in the 1890s, in the Contra Costa and each of these varietals plays a vital role, even though the Zinfandel has the leading role here. Ancient granitic sand was deposited on the edge of the Sacramento River Delta in an area that stretches from the eastern edge of Antioch to the far side of Oakley, where Evangelho is located. The winery notes, that over 130 years ago, people started planting grapevines, almonds, apricots, and other fruit in these deep, well-drained sandy soils. This vineyard got its name In 1936, when Manuel Evangelho purchased some of these grapevines, which he farmed his entire life before passing them to his son Frank. Twain-Peterson adds that Frank farmed the vineyard with care and purpose until 2017, when he sold it to Morgan, who also has the famed Bedrock Vineyard in the Sonoma Valley, which is lucky for all of us California wine enthusiasts as this gem of a vineyard is in good hands that respect the past and will keep it in good health for generations to come. In the 2020 vintage, Bedrock says that the Mataro did especially well and helped form the backbone here while the Carignan gave a real crunch and aromatic quality to the wine, all the while the Zin confidently performs its dominance with elegance, this is exceptional stuff.
The winemaking here at Bedrock remains faithful to their beliefs, made with simple low intervention traditional methods that showcase the vineyards first and foremost with Morgan Twain-Peterson MW saying “overly sculpted by activist winemakers tend to be less satisfying and soulful gustatory experiences..” Of which I totally agree and is a reason why that this winery has been elevated to the top echelon of California wine and Bedrock is one of my favorites, especially these Heritage Reds. The Bedrock reds are produced in most cases with natural uninoculated fermentations, native malolactic, and with the use of whole clusters in fermentation, the wine is left to do its thing with gentle attention along the way without additions. They take great care to use the best aging vessels as possible, preferring only to use quality oak in the aging process, using barriques and larger casks when the wine demands it. Really, Bedrock focuses on the individual vineyard and what it needs in each vintage, saying at the core of all of their wines is allowing these sites and grapes a stage to show ideal ripeness, freshness and aromatics, which this dark purple/garnet hued 2020 Evangelho Heritage shows to near perfection. This 2020, while taut and youthful at first opens up nicely and enjoys plenty of freshness with natural acidity providing a pleasing lift, giving this blend crisp detailing to go along with the concentration and depth of fruit. Peterson explains the vintage, saying the Evangelho Vineyard was cropped at the lowest levels in over twenty years, and the resulting wine is dense, with deft nuance, and is full of energy. He adds that the natural freshness in this year’s wine was imparted by the cooling afternoon winds and the pure sandy soils, resulting in a wine that knits the juiciness of the Zinfandel with the savory/meaty elements of the Mataro and bright vibrancy of the Carignan. Considering all the areas that saw devastating fire and smoke in 2020, this wine is real treasure, and I highly recommend it, along with all of the Bedrock offerings.
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2021 Extradimensional Wine Co. Yeah! Summer-Salters Rosé, Shake Ridge Ranch Vineyard, Amador County.
Hardy Wallace’s new Summer-Salters Rosé under his Extradimensional Wine Co. Yeah! label is unbelievably pale pink/salmon in the glass, but is full of depth and is a rare age worthy Rosé that reminds me of the geeky cool (pleasantly funky) Clos Cibonne Tibouren (Cotes de Provence Rosé), it even has the green tinted glass bottle and textural quality you find that Provence legend. That said, this is a wine that could only be made in California, with a blend of 50% Mourvedre and 50% Primitivo (Zin) coming from high elevation in Amador County at Ann Kraemer’s epic Shake Ridge Ranch Vineyard. The color, wet stone, muted fruit essences and subtle earthiness are incredibly seductive, this is no generic, mass produced and sterile pink, with complex layering of sour cherry, spiced raspberry, ruby citrus, red peach and strawberry fruits that are accented by dried herbs, a hint of iron, leather, rosewater and loam. The mouth feel and personality here is non too common in Rosé, again it takes on an old world kind of charm and rustic or transparency which you find in structured Mourvedre driven Bandol wines, and the Primitivo seems to give a touch of caramel and a nice contrasting slightly bitter Rhubarb freshness. All in all this is an impressive effort and one that deserves a meal to go along with, even though it would be no slouch if sipped with a warm sunset or by a cool steam on a hot day either. The intensity and lush mouth feel Wallace says are a direct result of tiny yields in this vintage, about a ton per acre, which is insane for a Rosé! Hardy Wallace, ex partner in Dirty and Rowdy Wines, is the winemaker here, he is a self professed Mourvedre fanatic and he has proven to have a great touch with the grape and he sources from some of the best and most historic low yielding vineyards in the state from the central coast to Mendocino, as well as Contra Costa and here in the Sierra Foothills.
This wine was no afterthought, it is serious stuff and took a lot of attention to detail and passion to achieve this result and it started with using grapes from a great vineyard, which Shake Ridge certainly is, known for an awesome selection of Rhone varietals, especially Syrah and the Mourvedre, that plays the main role here. This Shake Ridge Ranch Vineyard is truly a fantastic 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. Shake Ridge, farmed organically and holistically is set on geological wonderland of soils with schist, Mariposa slate, greenstone, and marble, and, as has been told to me, within the vineyard rows at Shake Ridge there are big chunks of pure quartz that are scattered about. The Sierra Foothills has a warm/hot climate, but, here at this elevation, it sees a huge day to night swing in temperature with the vines getting a nice cool rest during the dark hours, when they are picked too, helping retain natural acidity, which is evident here is this 2021 vintage. For this soulful Rosé, Wallace, who is a natural, non interventionist winemaker, just de-stemmed the Mourvedre and Zinfandel (Primitivo clone) grapes and directly pressed them into stainless steel without any soaking on the skins! (weird for a guy known for making orange wines!) Fermentation occurred spontaneously with indigenous yeasts before the wine went to barrel, where it went through malo-lactic conversion. The Summer-Salters Rosé saw no racking, no stirring and was aged in old neutral oak for the short lees aging, of around 6 months before it was bottled, and as per normal here there was little if not no sulfur (sulphates) added. This excellent dry Rosé, which should drink well for 3 to 5 years, joins an exciting list of authentic California Rosé wines that have really found their groove over the last decade and I hope this one is available for many years to come, it is worth joining the Extradimensional Wine Co. Yeah! mailing list just for this stuff.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 La Fiorita, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tuscany, Italy.
There’s a lot to be said about these 2016 Brunellos, much has been done already, but they will be talked about for decades and wines like this La Fiorita Brunello di Montalcino are ones that will much more to say in the future, this is a classic or legendary vintage in Tuscany’s most prized region. I tasted through the latest set of wines from Natalie Oliveros at La Fiorita, the two Brunellos, including this fabulous bottling, both of which were stunning, from this highly acclaimed 2016 vintage, as well as Fiorita’s 2018, value packed, garnet and ruby edged Rosso di Montalcino, which I reviewed on release last November. This dark and powerful Brunello flows across the palate with layers blackberry, plum, cherry and earthy mulberry fruits along with sweet cedar, anise, dusty spices, shy delicate florals, tobacco leaf and a touch of fig, and while taut and youthful there’s an expansive mouth feel and impressive length already. The nose is slightly subdued at this stage, but the wine as a whole opens up brilliantly and you can easily see this flagship effort from Oliveros has tons of potential and it should provide even greater rewards in the future, with cellaring, look for this year to age gracefully, like a Bordeaux, for 10 to 15 years easily. While some of the Brunello zone is on volcanic soils, the La Fiorita Brunello 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, giving it plenty of terroir driven (with a chalky mineral) character, a serious structure and concentration, as this beauty shows. This wine saw 36 months in wood, Slavonian oak casks, plus 2 to 4 months in concrete settling vats, after blending the select lots, before bottling, then 8 months in the bottle before its release.
La Fiorita, as I have noted here, gained a lot of notoriety in 2011 when former adult film star 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. This Brunello is sourced from three main sites, Poggio al Sole, Pian Bossolino and Giardinello with different exposures that help with balance and complexity here, allowing full ripened fruit and retaining good acidity. The La Fiorita, which I mentioned in recent reviews, winemaking is leaning toward a natural and traditional style, the team employs concrete tanks, some stainless 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, made the transition into her wine career, with humor and humility, overcoming some serious chauvinistic and prejudice issues with hark work and humor, which is something we should admire, as much as her wines, and this 2016 Brunello is the best yet I have tried, I highly recommend these La Fiorita wines.
($83 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2014 La Marea, Grenache, Brosseau Vineyard, Chalone AVA, Monterey County.
The single vineyard 2014 Brosseau Grenache by Ian Brand under his La Marea label is drinking fantastically well right now, eight years on from the vintage with loads of personality and varietal character showing a dusty dry old world charm in the glass reminding me of some excellent Sierra de Gredos Garnachas. This wine, one of a few library releases that Brand has available, for me was a pleasant surprise and I love Grenache with some age, so I am thrilled that I got a chance to taste it recently, admiring its structure, color and vibrancy of fruit along with the secondary elements that are now in evidence on the medium bodied palate. The aromatics are lovely with brandied red cherries and porporri leading the way in this shiny ruby/garnet Grenache that has a mouthful of earthy plum, raspberry, pomegranate and strawberry fruits that are accented by chalky terroir driven stony background along with dried lavender, cinnamon, pepper and anise. The tannins, which were soft and sweet earlier have found a backbone and offer some fine grip here and the fruit has evolved and left its youthful lushness behind and is embracing maturity with grace, this wine is singing now and especially good with food, which allows the wine’s full depth to reveal itself. Finding and enjoying aged California Grenache is not all that easy, especially a lighter expression, like this LaMarea, but it has its rewards and I’ll be grabbing a few bottles to drink over the next couple of years as it continues to reach its full potential and subtly of form. Everything here excites the senses and the lingering kirsch and savory crunch makes this Brosseau Grenache a joy and a good companion with Mediterranean cuisine as well as hard sleep cheeses.
Ian Brand’s La Marea line, mostly know for its crisp Albarino, is his Spanish inspired collection of central coast offerings that has been refined to include two versions of the Albarino and an old vine Grenache, with the single site (Grenache) expressions now included in Brand’s signature I. Brand & Family series that now includes this Brosseau and the ancient vines at the Besson Vineyard. The Brosseau Vineyard is located in the Chalone AVA and is set on chalky limestone and decomposed granite soils with the Pinnacles National Park and Monument as the backdrop, it is a great source for Grenache and other Rhone grapes as well as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, all of which Bill Brosseau farms organically. There is really a sense of place in the wines made from Brosseau fruit and this La Marea Grenache is a nicely cellared example of what to expect from this quality and distinctive vineyard that in the rolling hills of Chalone in the Gavilan Mountain Range that sees a wide swing in day to night temperatures that allows for complexity and balance. The Brosseau family began the transition to full organic farming practices back in 2006, the first to be certified in the region, and the results have been impressive to say the least, with Ian’s version of Grenache being a prime example of what this vineyard can deliver, especially in the cooler vintages that give this wine a delicacy that makes it have an almost Pinot Noir like class. Ian has refined his techniques over the years to promote purity with his Grenache getting indigenous yeast fermentation(s) and gentle maceration(s) with a good percentage of whole bunches before being pressed to neutral French oak for aging. The latest release of La Marea Grenache, the 2019 Central Coast, comes from a collection of old vine sites and is an exceptional value, it’s a wine that should be on your radar if you love Grenache in its freshest and juiciest best.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Ferrando, Carema DOC, Etichetta Bianca, Piedmonte, Italy.
The Ferrando Carema is a beautifully crafted wine from high up in the Canavese district, near the lake country in the Alpine foothills north of Torino, it’s a place that has gained attention for Nebbiolo wines lately with wines that are now thought of in the same breath as the fabled Alba and Asti zones, with Ferrando crafting some of the most exciting expressions here. This 2017, which is traditionally made and reveals bright and earthy layers of pure Nebbiolo with a dark ruby and amber edged hue in the glass, it has a lean presence and it is best served with food and decanted to allow for it to fill out and round off the firm tannins. With air pretty details emerge with dried roses, minty herbs and mineral tones coming out on the nose and the medium bodied palate flows with black cherry, damson plum, cranberry and red currant fruits. The background complexity includes hints of anise, leather, cedar and burnt orange, making for a complete and interesting wine that certainly gets old school Nebbiolo lovers more curious about this region of northern Piedmonte. For this wine, Ferrando ferments the 100% de-stemmed grapes with indigenous yeasts in stainless-steel tanks before a gentle pressing to Slavonian oak botti (casks). These Nebbiolo vineyards, many steeply terraced, sit on the mountainside terroir of Carema, in an amphitheater that is not far from Monte Bianco and gets good exposure to the sun, giving these wines a chance to fully ripen, while maintaining vibrant acidity that gives these intriguing reds there life’s blood and age worthiness.The Carema DOC wines cannot be released until they have a minimum of four years of aging with Ferrando’s Etichetta Bianca seeing an elevage (aging) period of 30 to 36 months in mostly used barrels with a combination of sizes being employed to maximize the transparency of the Nebbiolo.
Luigi Ferrando has long been the leading producer of wines from the Canavese region where his family’s winemaking tradition goes back to 1900, making him a fifth generation producer in this region just above Turin, close to the Val d’Aoste in Italy’s top left corner. The Canavese, Carema and Caluso areas are set in beautiful hills, seeing cool nights and long growing season, with ancient soils left from a glacier, all these elements add to the complexity and mix layers of acidity, juicy fruit and mineral tones, making for very interesting wines. The Ferrando family, with a long history in the area, has been selling wines since before modern Italy got established, and there has been wine made here since Roman times. This area of Alto Piedomte is fast becoming a place that savvy wine buyers are looking at, because of the quality Nebbiolo wines, be it here in Carema or in the neighboring areas of Ghemme, Boca and Gattinara. I also really like their dry Erbaluce wines here too, it a little know white grape that was close to extinction less than a generation ago. Erbaluce produces the only white wines of this region, that has now been granted full DOCG status. The Erbaluce di Caluso, is the classic dry version, though there is Erbaluce di Caluso Spumante (Sparkling), and the sweet Erbaluce di Caluso Passito, all of these being exciting stuff. The winery also notes that old historical records show that Erbaluce’s virtues were touted and admired as early as 1606, and I highly recommend the Ferrando example. The winery says the Erbaluce name reflects the grassy, hay-like qualities of its flavors and aromas (Erbe … meaning grass or herbs) and its ability to capture and thrive on the light (Luce) from the sun that sweeps across these terraced hillsides. Ferrando’s parcels have the zone’s Glacial moraine and slate with vines averaging about 50 years old, all of which are hand tended. The appellation of Carema is just 40 acres, making these wines extremely rare, and Ferrando’s versions are on the more elegant and delicate side, as this delicious 2017 shows, but with potential to cellar for many years, best from 2024 to 2035.
($79 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2020 Cameron Winery, Friulano, Clos Electrique Vineyard, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
This is ultra serious stuff, one of the most exciting and pleasing white wines I’ve had this year, it is Cameron’s amphora fermented Friulano, part of their Italian inspired lineup from winemaker John Paul’s organic estate vines at his legendary Clos Electrique Vineyard in the Dundee Hills. This rare and complex offering is bursting with energy and mineral intensity, glowing gold and bright in the glass with a sublime play between vitality and texture. This Friulano was whole berry fermented in specially made terra-cotta for 50 days before being pressed to neutral French oak, where it aged a full 14 months, resulting in a fantastic stony white wine that reveals white peach, green apple, lemon zest and quince fruits along with loads of dry extract, almost tannin like and accented by saline infused wet rocks, spices, wild herbs and bitter almonds in a round textural wine that impresses the palate. Unlike some more funky orange wines, this wine is exceptional pure, translucent and rewarding with crystal clean details. Coming from holistic and dry farmed (non irrigated) vines in the Willamette Valley’s Dundee Hills AVA with all of Cameron’s grapes being grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fungicides, making the wine feel more natural and with the Jory (volcanic) soils adding complexity and a spicy element.
One of best kept secrets of Oregon, as I’ve mention here before, are Cameron Winery’s Northern Italian inspired dry whites, especially their Giuliano, which is a blend of Friulano, Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc), Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris) and Auxerrois with a small bit of perfumed Moscato (Muscat) that winemaker John Paul, a huge fan of Friuli and Alto Adige whites, along with this new single varietal Friulano release. Cameron it should noted is legendary for their Burgundy inspired Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, with their estate bottlings being some of America’s great wines and their lineup of Italian influenced stuff is not far behind these days, in particular these whites, but John Paul also crafts an amazing Nebbiolo and a couple of intriguing skin contact Pinot Gris, one that is traditionally copper hued, a Ramato, and a deeply red version or Gris Rouge. There’s so much cool stuff coming from Oregon these days, it is remarkable and while yes, the Pinots are the state’s main attraction, there’s a lot more to discover up here, as this fabulous Friulano clearly demonstrates! This is not a just geeky hipster after thought, this skin contact wine is not overtly orange wine funky, it is more graceful than you’d expect and I hope hope it is a permanent part of Cameron’s collection. This Friulano would easily shine with briny sea foods, in particular I would love to have another few bottles around of this rarity for oysters, stemmed mussels and or clam dishes.
($45 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2019 Turley Wine Cellars, Zinfandel “Cedarman” Howell Mountain, Napa Valley.
In Turley’s awesome lineup of wines, it is hard to pick favorites, but this Cedarman consistently is one I am hugely drawn to, with its inky dark purple/garnet hue and mountain fruit core, it always impresses and it just might be Howell Mountain’s best red wine for the money. This 2019 has the classic brambly spice and black raspberry notes that are most common year after year plus a mix of dried lavender and mocha to start along with a full bodied palate that adds plum, a touch of blueberry, creme de cassis, sandalwood and minty herbs. There’s an underlying presence of muscle here, though the fruit is luxurious and supple in the mouth giving loads of pure Turley pleasure and it is a wine that rewards either patience, which obviously I didn’t have, or best with robust foods, though it did even over deliver with my simple Pizza. Without question, these 2019 Turley offerings are epic versions and are some of the most desirable California wines you’ll ever find, impressive now and with rewarding age worthy structures, which this one displays clearly. Since hitting the scene in 1993, Turley has has become one of the state’s legendary producers, focused on Zinfandel, which they took to the next level, and Petite Syrah (as Turley calls Petite Sirah or Durif) and still sets standards today. That said, I must also mention Turley’s exceptional White Coat, a lush California white made from mainly Roussanne, the super rare Grenache from the Pesenti Ranch, which has now become the Tecolote red wine with Carignan added (So rare I haven’t even seen a bottle yet!) and the lighter and vibrant Cinsault, both wines I have been thrilled with in recent years and reviewed here.
The Cedarman is a proprietary blend of grapes sourced from both Rattlesnake Ridge and Dragon Vineyards, which are located at the very top of Howell Mountain in Napa Valley and set on mainly red volcanic based soils. Although primarily Zinfandel, Turley notes that they use a small percentage of Petite Syrah from the Rattlesnake vineyard in the Cedarman as well, that gives a deeper color and provides more backbone. The result, especially in this 2019 vintage, as the winery suggests, is a truly powerful, dense and wild wine, but with exceptional balance between fruit and structural tannin, even at a hefty 15.5% natural alcohol this wine doesn’t feel hot or flabby, it delivers an impeccable performance, largely due the year’s cool season and the natural acidity found out the elevations of the vines. Turley Wine Cellars was founded in Napa Valley by former emergency room physician Larry Turley and now hand crafts about 50 different small lot wines from mostly historic old vine vineyards throughout California, with estate sites in Napa Valley, in St. Helena, as well as Paso Robles and in Amador County. Winemaker and vineyard manager Tegan Passalacqua, who is a keeper of old California traditions, is one of America’s great talents and his collection of treasures at Turley as well as his own wines under the Sandlands label are wines no one should miss. Turley’s Cedarman comes from all organic vines, is native yeast fermented and aged close to 15 months in 80% neutral oak with 80% being French and 20% being American barrels, with a small of new wood. In a perfect world, I would have bought more bottles of this exciting Zin and cellared them, I should think they would be awesome with another 5 to 10 years of age.
($35-50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
nv Pojer e Sandri, Zero Infinito, Pétillant Naturel, Trentino Bianco Frizzante, Alto Adige, Italy.
Located high up on the steep Eastern side of remote and deep valley above the Adige river in the Trento region, Pojer e Sandri is a fabulous producer of totally unique wines, like this beautiful and refreshing Zero Infinito Sparkling Wine, it is crisp, mineral driven, slightly cloudy and bone dry, a perfect Summer sip bubbly. Made from a rare hybrid grape, the bright and peachy Pojer e Sandri Zero Infinito Frizzante is crafted using the ancestral method or Pet Nat (Pétillant Naturel) style and finished with a non pretentious pop top cap. The all organic grapes here are set on the area’s volcanic origin, porphyry, soils that help give the very aromatic Zero Infinito its distinction and the mineral spiciness it displays in the glass. This release has loads of zesty character and vibrancy with citrus blossoms, the mentioned peach, green apple, lemon and a touch of tropical fruit along with mountain herbs, wet stones and chamomile. The mousse is a bit foamy at first, though it becomes more graceful as you sip on it and the beading bubbles feel nicely electric on the lighter framed palate.
The Pojer e Sandri Zero Infinito is made from 100% Solaris, a disease resistant varietal, that, as the winery says, was born in Freiburg (Germany) back in 1975, it was created to get ripe a bit early and adaptable for these cool high elevation regions. The vines used for this wine are in Maso Rella at Grumes in the upper Val di Cembra that reaches 900 meters above sea level with good south and south/west exposures that allow this cool and breezy site to fully ripen the Solaris grapes. Very few acres of Solaris are planted, but it was the result of many years of research work from France, Germany and even in Russia, without any notable success that I can see, except of course here in the Alto Adige where Pojer e Sandri have been using it for 39 years now. Pojer e Sandri is a holistic farm and winery, absolutely no chemicals are used and they make a wide range of products from speciality spirits, like grappa, to fruit and wine vinegars, as well as some very interesting wines from sweet to sparkling, with a beautiful dry Rosé as well that maybe be they signature wine, made from Schiava grapes. I highly recommend trying these natural wines from Pojer e Sandri, they are not easy to find, but well worth the chase!
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2019 G.D. Vajra, Barbera d’Alba DOC, Piedmonte, Italy.
I love these varietal regional bottlings from Vajra, especially their Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and this beautiful Barbera d’Alba DOC, with this 2019 vintage delivering a deep color and rich flavors with a purple/garnet hue and a dense core of blackberry, currant and cherry fruits along with hints of Asian spices, anise, mineral tones, savory and snappy herbs and a light loamy earthy note. This vintage has a lovely mouth feel and texture as well as a fresh core of acidity that keeps things nicely vibrant, crisply dry and focused, making for a delicious example of Barbera, showing the grape’s best character and it goes brilliantly with food, as it should and it really over performs for the price. This wine, 100% Barbera, is a blend of all organic fruit from estate vineyards growing on a wide range of terroirs with classic marl limestone, clay and sandy soils. The Vajra’s, pioneers of sustainable, organic and holistic farming in Piedmonte, promote, as they say, the biodiversity of both flora and fauna, not just in their vineyards, but also on the winery grounds and the near by forests.
The Vajra’s Barbera d’Alba, which is an outstanding example, is sourced from a selection of estate vines, some of which date back to 1949, with some coming from Bricco delle Viole, the Vajra’s great Barolo Cru and Bricco Bertone, providing this wine with concentration and a prestigious sense of place. Many of these vineyard sites are at higher and cooler elevations that allows for long hang time, that adds to the depth and charm found in this wine. Made from carefully sorted and 100% de-stemmed grapes that was fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel vats with 20 days of maceration, then this Barbera d’Alba DOC saw 12 months on the lees. Prior to release Vajra rests it a few more months in bottle to make sure the wine is fully integrated and harmonious at release. Vajra uses gentle punch downs and, explaining that they rinse he cap for longer periods of time, in order to capture all the fragrance of the grapes, with this bottling going through malolactic fermentation and aging exclusively in stainless steel, that promotes clarity and purity of this Barbera. The recent releases from Vajra are outstanding, of course led by their fantastic Barolo offerings, but even their basic stuff, like this Barbera, is tasty and very rewarding.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2019 Lucia Vineyards by Pisoni, Syrah, Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The 2019 Lucia Soberanes Syrah displays a classic deep intense color, blackish purple with dark garnet edges and reveals a heady perfume of crushed violets and lilacs, as well as smoky embers, black fruits and delicate spices before its full bodied palate flows with opulent boysenberry, creme de cassis/currant and sweet plum fruit. This vintage is ripe and well balanced with a lively cut of natural acidity and it adds mocha, black licorice, smoky sandalwood, a subtle meaty element and hint of peppery spice. The 2019 has silky tannins that are well integrated, but will serve this wine well for another decade in the bottle, it is Impressively dense and with a supple mouth feel this year’s Lucia Soberanes Syrah has plenty to admire and it thrills the senses. Winemaker Jeff Pisoni, again proves he is one of the best with his latest set of 2019 Lucia and Pisoni Estate wines, as this one shows, and while we all know that the 2020 vintage fire destroyed all of the red grapes, these 2019s offer exceptional quality and it is best to get as many as you can. This wine is pure class, and it certainly re-enforces my personal belief that Syrah here can be the equal to Pinot Noir in quality, if not better, as it loves the sandy decomposed granite soils. The Soberanes Vineyard is the part of the joint venture between the Pisoni and Franscioni families that has brought international fame to this region, with the Garys’ being instrumental into establishing the Santa Lucia Highlands. The Soberanes, with 33 or so acres of vines, has Chardonnay and Pinot Noir planted there, which produce some awesome wines under the Roar and Lucia labels, but the Syrah should not be overlooked!
The Sobernes Vineyard is a fantastic site and is the Pisoni family’s youngest vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands, set over the next ridge from the famed Garys’ Vineyard, but higher up, its on a sandy loamy hillside with an almost constant cool breeze, delivering a long hang time and incredible fruit concentration. Soberanes just might be the most exciting plot in the Santa Lucia Highlands right now and as I’ve said in the past, this Lucia Syrah shows why, it’s planted with an excellent set of clones, like the Alban clone (Cote-Rotie) for this Syrah, and makes for one of the best wines in the region. Not only is this Pisoni made wine stand out, also check out Cattleya, made by Jeff’s wife Bibiana Gonzalez Rave-Pisoni and the Sandlands Syrah by Turley’s winemaker Tegan Passalacqua for comparison, these are some of the best Syrahs in California, both also from the Soberanes Vineyard. The Pisoni’s say that 2019, like the 2018, cultivated another excellent year for grape growers and winemakers alike and this wine is the result of this exceptional vintage. The surprise here is the satiny, elegant and seamless style of this wine, that is was done with 100% whole bunches, such is the grace found here in such a youthful Syrah. Jeff Pisoni employed very gentle techniques, using carefully hand-picked and sorted grapes that were fermented with native yeast and aged in carefully selected French oak barrels, with about 30% new wood. Pisoni has a state-of-the-art winemaking facility in the Santa Rosa area and it exclusively uses gravity flow to move the wines, ensuring quality, with total control of the farming and winemaking process from start to finish. This wine, one of my absolute favorites, has lots more to offer and will evolve nicely for the next three to five years, best to enjoy it with robust cuisine and friends.
($60 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
nv R.H. Coutier, Cuvee Tradition, Grand Cru Brut Champagne, Ambonnay, France.
The unique and individual personality of R. H. Coutier’s Cuvee Traditional Grand Cru Brut make it irresistible, it is impeccably well crafted and luxurious and it’s price make it a must have grower producer Champagne, especially this latest disgorging which is graceful and elegant in the glass with a fine beading mousse. There’s a lot to like with these Coutier bubbles, usually I gravitate to their Rosé and the more rare Blanc de Blancs, but the Tradition Brut has a ton of charm and is easy to love, it goes with anything you might think of food wise, as well as being a sublime celebration sipper. I opened this bottle to share with childhood friends and while we had plenty to talk about, this Champagne did make us pause in gratitude and really enjoy the moment. The Courier family is based in the Grand Cru village of Ambonnay, which is legendary, as it produces some of the greatest Champagnes in the world. Located in the heart of the region’s prestigious Montagne de Reims, vigneron René Coutier’s family has been part of the fabric here in this small prestigious hamlet since 1619, and René is the fourth generation to run and work the family estate, along with his talented son Antoine, who is making a name for himself now. No wood is used here, on the Tradition Cuvee, relying only on stainless steel for fermentation and aged, with the grape clusters being pressed with their stems, as the winery explains, to act as a natural filter, facilitate drainage, and to best obtain clear juice from the Pinot Noir. They add that to best safeguard the freshness and natural acidity of the Champagnes here, only about half of the Coutier wines go through malolactic fermentation, although it also depends entirely on the vintage.
René’s father was the first in the village to plant Chardonnay here in 1946 and it has given Coutier added depth and character over the years and is very important for the house style. This has come to define the Coutier family’s collection, as seen here in the Tradition Brut, which as the winery notes, marries the traditional richness of Ambonnay’s Pinot Noir (70%) with the pure, racy crispness of its Chardonnay (30%). The brilliant R. H. Coutier Grand Cru Brut Tradition, coming estate grown grapes, from this Pinot leaning village of Ambonnay, that has more clay in the soils, along with the classic limestone, making for a structured, concentrated and textured expression. Coutier is an all organic and grower Champagne and they farm with great respect for the land and the environment. This effort impresses for its depth and decadence, while being also crystalline pure and full of energy, it’s wonderfully dry on the palate and rich in personality. The youthful Antoine Coutier and team are making some amazing all Grand Cru grower fizz these days, making a tidy collection of sparklers, in particular this Brut Tradition, with, as I’ve mentioned, the most recent disgorgement is performing beautifully. The nose here, as always, has plenty of yeasty charm and white flowers with a hint of wet stones and short bread biscuit, which leads to an opulent palate with it’s ultra fine mousse, providing class and energy, and it has a nice vinous textural elegance, showing an array of classic flavors, apple, lemon and doughy biscuit notes with a hint of chalk and subtle hazelnut. I really can’t find a flaw in the latest releases here and the low (sugar) dosage(s) allow the these wines to shine, displaying their crisp and dry detailing and lets the chalky terroir to take the stage. Deeper fruit density comes through with food, and this wine went great with salmon in pastry, I highly recommend this quality and value packed Champagne.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2019 Alma de Cattleya, Pinot Noir, Sonoma County.
Bibiana Gonzàlez Rave-Pisoni’s second label Alma de Cattleya is a rewarding, regional and value packed collection of wines, especially good is this beautiful Sonoma County Pinot Noir, this 2019 is silky, deep in flavor and well crafted with black cherry, red berry and plum fruits leading the way on the smooth and richly fruited medium bodied palate. This is excellent stuff with a subtle perfume and precise use of smoky/toast French oak, allowing for beautiful purity and capturing the subtle nuances perfectly, this is easy to love and it goes great with food. This 2019 has a touch of spicy accents with cinnamon, a touch of shaved vanilla and some earth charm in the background, this vintage is real crowd pleaser from one of California’s top winemakers. This delicious Pinot was the perfect choice with a comforting meal at Big Sur’s famous Deetjens restaurant, where it held up brilliantly with a range of dishes, including my hand made pasta and grilled shrimp and the herb crusted chicken. Bibiana Gonzàlez Rave-Pisoni has a great touch with Pinot Noir and this wine is very compelling stuff, it delivers no end of pleasure in the glass, it is hard to find this kind of quality for the price that she sells this wine for, making it an excellent choice on bistro wine lists, and is a sublime wine for by the glass pours, as I had it as.
The Alma de Cattleya (soul of the orchid) line is past of Bibiana’s signature Cattleya mostly single vineyard collection, where she features small handcrafted wines from top vineyard sites, one of which is her husband Jeff Pisoni’s family owned Soberanes Vineyard, where she gets her Syrah from and from which she produces one the state’s best wines. This Alma de Cattleya lineup includes, Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux varietals, Chardonnay and this Pinot Noir, all of which offer a big bang for the buck. For this wine, Bibiana sources the grapes from selected vineyards in the Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley AVAs and she ferments them in open top stainless after a cold soak to extract the beautiful dark ruby color, this 2019 saw gentle hand punch downs and a soft pressing before the Pinot was barreled down for 16 months. Favoring vines close to the ocean with its cooling influences allowed for a long growing season and concentration, but with plenty of bright acidity and for this vintage this wine saw primarily clones 114, 115, 667, 777, 828 and a touch of Pommard and Wadensvil (2A), the old Swiss clone for complexity. Bibiana Gonzàlez Rave-Pisoni, originally from Colombia, as noted in prior reviews, has an impressive resume from Bordeaux to Cote-Rotie and mostly as the winemaker at Wayfarer, and she also partners her husband, making a thrilled set of Sauvignon Blanc for the Shared Notes label, her own wines are incredible and I highly recommend checking them all out.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2020 Stars & Dust, Chardonnay, Old Vine, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley.
Just 80 cases were made of this gorgeous Old Vine Bien Nacido Chardonnay by Stars & Dust which was crafted using 100% handpicked vineyard designate old vine Chardonnay grapes, picked in the middle of the night, with lower Brix to promote mineral and bright fruit intensity. It was fermented and aged 10 months in 25% (one) new Damy French oak with the remaining wine done in neutral barrels. The well rounded and full palate delivers a California richness of texture with the vitality and low alcohol you would expect from a fine Meursault or Corton-Charlemagne with fresh lemony tones and wet stones accenting classic golden apple, pear and white peach fruits at this brilliant wines core along with clove spice, lime blossom, kiwi, a hint of campfire marshmallow and creamy/toasty vanilla. At 12.4% natural alcohol and with bracing acidity in the background this elegant Chardonnay goes great with food, like baked salmon in pastry that I had it with, and should age nicely too. Winemaker Nikki Pallesen says that these 43 year old vines are not messing around and are true cellar gems, adding that she could not be more pleased, this is a magnificent effort. The Bien Nacido vineyard has diverse soils that add to the quality here, with limestone, shale, uplifted marine volcanics and loam all playing a part. This is a wine that should please a wide range a Chardonnay enthusiasts, especially those that enjoy Premier and Grand Chablis and the wines of some of Burgundy’s new generation of stars. The Stars & Dust Old Vine Chardonnay has that awesome contrast between opulent fruit density and electric acidity providing vivid clarity and endless excitement in the glass.
Nikki Pallesen’s, formerly of Liquid Farm, new label Stars & Dust founded in 2020, focusing on small production, Santa Barbara County wines, featuring what she calls mineral driven Rosés, Single Vineyard Old Vine Chardonnays and a few fun Reds is just releasing her two Chardonnays, this one her most prized bottling to date, sourced from the historic Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley and the Hilltop Vineyard which comes from the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. The set of Rosé bottlings, released last year, and which I reviewed already are two of the most exciting dry pink wines in California, one is made from 100% Grenache and the other one, is crafted from 100% Mourvédre and done in a Bandol inspired style, comes with a serious demeanor and a racy intensity that really grabs your attention and it should aged well too. Pallesen says of her new project’s first releases, the 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 Pallesen notes) and that her Chardonnays are true old vine wines of depth and complexity. I had been highly anticipating this pale golden wine and it did not disappoint and (it) exceeded my own expectations, fans of Whitcraft, Tyler, Drew, Kutch, Arnot-Roberts, Samuel Louis Smith and Ceritas will very much enjoy this version of Chardonnay, that has a Wente clone feel to it, as well as California classic fans that like Mount Eden, Hanzell and Stony Hill! I can’t wait to Nikki’s Hilltop Sta. Rita Hills Chard next, as well as get the Rosé when the 2021 vintage comes out, which is coming soon.
($54 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Corral Wine Co, Petite Sirah, Paso Robles.
The latest release from Corral Wine Co is their dark purple teeth staining 2019 Paso Petite Sirah, a wine with tons of personality, fruit density and a Cabernet like structure, it shows an array of blackberry, blueberry, plum and currant fruits along with floral tones, a chalky note, bitter coco, toasted coconut, smoky vanilla and lingering acacia. The vintage has plenty of life and freshness with supple tannin, a full bodied and enough acidity to make all the flavors pop and stand out with heightened details that certainly hints towards a long life and happy future in the bottle, but it might be tough to let this one rest peacefully for any amount of time as it is so good right now. This Full bodied effort comes from a vineyard on Paso’s western side where you get the limestone soils and some cool breezes, making for compelling and balanced wines, with hedonistic richness, as this Corral Petite Sirah displays to perfection. Owner Larry Bell and winemaker Adrien Valenzuela did this small batch wine with de-stemmed grapes and a cool fermentation before aging it in a combination of 50% new American oak and 50% neutral French barrels for a full 22 months, to allow the fruit to shine and give it just the right amount of opulence. This all American offering from Corral will thrill the Petite Sirah fans and adds a full throttle wine to their lineup, it will go great with a robust meal and or BBQ, it is a very different animal to their set of fine and more delicate Pinots, but one that impresses for the style, it reminds me a bit of Jaffurs and not far off Turley’s Pesenti Vineyard version, which I loved and reviewed earlier this year. Corral’s ultra fresh Zabala Sauvignon Blanc is a great starting point for this winery, it can be used as an aperitif and palate cleanser or served ice cold by the pool, after which comes the stony, but creamy Chardonnay that is also easy to use, then you get into the Pinots here, mostly from the SLH, along with the more taut and delicate Estate bottlings, that I enjoy most. Then you get Enz Vineyard, Lime Kiln Valley Zinfandel and this tasty Petite Sirah to finish out this alluring collection.
The Corral Wine Co was founded in 2017, in the Bell family barn in Corral de Tierra, a little area between Carmel Valley and Salinas, when they barreled down their first batch of estate Pinot Noir from young vines they planted on the property. They are still in that same barn, but now they are a thriving local label that has created quite buzz, especially with their new tasting room in the Carmel Valley Village, right next door to Parsonage, giving them a place to showcase their quality set of wines. They have made even more wines from a selection of varietals, including the highly popular Sauvignon Blanc, a lovely Chardonnay, a Rosé of Pinot Noir, a complex and delicious set of Pinots from some of the best grapes on the Central Coast, including their tiny estate bottling, which is my favorite, as well as a special native yeast version, plus a Zinfandel and this inky and structured Petite Sirah. The 2018 vintage, was the debut for winemaker Adrien Valenzuela, who is now a partner here at Corral, and the new releases here have really shown his skills, these are authentic and high quality efforts, especially the Pinots and the whites which saw a perfect year in 2019, though I must say I was also very impressed by his Zinfandel and this Petite Sirah, that I’m focusing on with today’s wine of the day. As mentioned, a Salinas and Monterey County native, Valenzuela is one of hugely talented new generation of home grown local winemakers that are starting to make a name for themselves. Adrien, who was studying biology and nursing, took an internship at Estancia and caught the wine bug, and his first solo wine that he made in his garage turned out to be a hit at the Mid-State Fair, taking a Gold Medal and after working for a big wine company for a few years he got his chance with Larry Bell here at Corral, where is talents have been more fully realized, in particular with his 2019 lineup, and the rest is history. I got a chance to taste cask sample of the 2021 vintage and there’s a lot to look forward to at Corral and some very exciting stuff, including a new Cabernet Sauvignon, in the pipeline, this is a winery to keep an eye on.
($52 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Cayuse Vineyards, Flying Pig, Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley.
The stunning Cayuse Flying Pig red is made from 45% Cabernet Franc, 44% Merlot and 11% Cabernet Sauvignon coming from Christophe Baron’s En Cerise Vineyard that was planted back 1998 with Syrah and Bordeaux varietals with a high percentage of Franc which is exceptional in this wine, don’t let the weird or playful label fool you here, this is incredible stuff. This 2018 is deeply colored, perfumed and exotically spiced with earthy black fruit fruits and is rawly sexy in the glass, in a way that blows away most Saint-Emilion offerings right up there and including some very famous Chateaux, people that love and admire Cheval Blanc might want to look away! The Flying Pig, which typically sees between 40 and 60% new wood is beautifully opaque with a black/purple hue and has classic Cayuse, somewhat meaty presence, with a bouquet of mineral, crushed berries, Asian and sweet baking spices, incense and sandalwood that leads to an opulent full bodied palate black cherry, plum, blackberry and black currant fruit with an underlying feline power and tannic structure. The smoky wood is in perfect harmony with the density and luxurious fruit and accents of creme de cassis, tobacco, bell pepper, liquid violets and anise add to the complexity in this awesome wine. Air and time prove very helpful to fail out all areas and give a glimpse of the potential greatness this wine most definitely possesses, it adds blueberry compote, mint and sweet cedar to the fine mix of heady flavors, this Flying Pig will go decades in the bottle. The Flying Pig, is to Cayuse, for Bordeaux varietals as Bionic Frog is to Cayuse, for Syrah, exceptional quality and flair in the bottle and with a playfully strange label!
En Cerise, translated, means “cherry,” which is highly appropriate since this 10-acre vineyard was a cherry orchard in its former life and is set on the severely stony soils that first caught Christophe’s attention in 1996, and helped him make the decision to make wine here in the utterly remote area of Oregon, resulting in highly stressed vineyards that average a yield of only two tons per acre. While of course Syrah is the dominant fruit here, as Cayuse is most famous for, there is awesome Cabernet Franc grapes grown here, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Merlot, Tempranillo and a little Viognier, which is mostly co-fermented into the famed Syrah bottling, making up the balance. The Flying Pig and Cayuse’s other Bordeaux blend the Camaspelo that come from these grapes are uniquely different animals, with this Flying Pig being a bit more pretty and with lively acidity that gives it a lovely lift, while the Camaspelo is wildly raw, gamey and leathery, at least when I’ve had it and is for me less sultry seductive. The Flying Pig, which is aged somewhere between 18 and 24 months in barrique, keeps your attention for ages and the finish is forever with a combination of the fruit and floral notes lingering on and on, and it should gain a ton of extra dimension with age, there’s no question this is one of the most compelling Cabernet Franc led new world Bordeaux blends I’ve ever had, it joins Dalla Valle’s Maya and Favia is this rarified company. Tasted at the Slow Wine 2022 tasting in San Francisco along with Baron’s Horsepower Syrah, the Cayuse Armada God Only Knows Grenache and the Impulsivo, the Tempranillo based bottling, all of which were stunning, proving this winery’s staying power.
($150-240 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive
2019 Ryme Cellars, Vermentino “Hers” Las Brisas Vineyard, Carneros, Sonoma County.
Ryme’s whites are especially delightful, and this crisply dry and mineral driven 2019 Las Brisas Vermentino is aging nicely gaining a bright gold hue in the glass and delivering loads of lemon zest and tart white peach fruit leading the way along with bitter almond, a light herbal note and orange blossoms, making for a bracing light to medium bodied white that is salty fresh and delicately aromatic that gets the mouth watering. There is a bit of mature elements here that add to the complexity, it almost has a Riesling like flinty note, plus a whiff of paraffin and country French olive soap, which is more pleasant in flavor than the words can detail and the wine’s transparent personality is very welcome here, allowing a clarity of form and it’s just refreshing in vitality. At this stage it still over delivers quality wise and is great with lighter Summer food choices, in particular shell fish and Mediterranean cuisine. The Ryme Hers Vermentino is the more traditional example, while the Ryme His Vermentino is a skin contact, almost orange wine style with more body and savory tones. Winemaker, Megan Glaab, explains that the “Hers” with a green label is harvested for freshness and energy, which is clearly on display here. It is whole cluster pressed and bottled early from grapes grown in the cool foggy Las Brisas Vineyard, located on the Sonoma side of Carneros AVA. The vines here are situated on sandy silt and gravel at the end of the Petaluma Wind Gap and just off San Pablo Bay, that gives this wine its dynamic energy and racy citrus.
Ryme Cellars, founded in 2007 in Sonoma County, is led by Ryan and Megan Glaab, who met in Australia working as seasonal cellar hands at Torbreck Winery and fell in love, getting back together when they moved back to California. They have much more experience than you’d expect from such a couple still in their youth, having between the two of them an impressive resume already, they have worked at an awesome set of wineries, including Pax Wine Cellars, Peay Vineyards, Sine Qua Non, and even Marcassin, owned by the legendary Helen Turley. The Glass’s make a wide range of unique offerings, focusing on their two HIs and Hers Vermentino(s), a Ribolla Gialla, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Cabernet Franc, which is one of their signature reds and Aglianico bottlings, that have become my favorites in their lineup, as well as a Sparlkling Carignane and an excellent Fiano. These faithfully crafted Southern Italian varietal offerings, including this Vermentino, are some of the best versions in California and I highly recommend them. This Hers Vermentino was whole cluster pressed, settled clean to get the green phenolics out, and then naturally fermented, as the Glass’s note, without inoculation in a combination of old neutral French oak barrels and stainless steel, with this wine undergoing a spontaneous partial malolactic fermentation to a touch of texture and presence. I really enjoyed this vintage and ordered some of their new 2021 recently, along with Ryme’s outstanding Rosé of Aglianico, which I adore, and the latest release of Russian River Cab Franc. I look forward to reviewing them soon, though I suggest not waiting and getting some the Ryme as soon as possible, as their wines sell out fast.
($25 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Leeuwin Estate, Chardonnay “Prelude Vineyards” Margaret River, Western Australia.
The 2018 Prelude Vineyards Chardonnay from the historic Aussie label Leeuwin Estate, owned by the Horgan family who pioneered this region not far from Perth, is drinking wonderfully well and aging beautifully with fine aromatics, mineral notes and textural grace, but still showing loads of vigor and vibrant acidity with classic apple and Bosc pear fruits leading the way along with pineapple and white peach coming through on the almost chalky medium bodied palate. The wine opens up well gaining richness and depth, without any flabby elements emerging, it turns round and subtly creamy, but remains balanced with a touch of saline, wet rock, clove spice and it makes for a Chardonnay that plays well with food, especially with fleshy fish dishes and or soft farm cheeses. With food, there is an orangey, citrus blossoms and honeysuckle delicacy that comes through, as well as having some nice hazelnut completing the impressions of flavors, this is solid effort again from Leeuwin and brings back my memories of my first experiences with these Margaret River wines. The barrel aged Prelude Chardonnay, the second label for Leeuwin, sees up to 40% new oak, but it is very restrained and never becomes overt and the wine does not go through malolactic fermentation to preserve freshness and energy, all of which puts this Aussie Chard somewhere between France and California in style with its own distinct personality.
The famed family owned, Leeuwin Estate, which is one of the five founding wineries of the now famous Margaret River region of Western Australia, is mainly known for their amazing Artist Series Chardonnay, that usually ranks in the world’s top 25 wines if not higher, though they also do some fantastic Bordeaux inspired red wine as well. Interestingly, it was our Napa legend, Robert Mondavi that first identified the potential here, a what would become the site of the Leeuwin vineyard, believing it to be an ideal terroir for the production of premium wine and he even provided an early mentorship to owners Denis and Tricia Horgan. He encouraged them all along the way, as they note, as they worked hard turning their remote cattle ranch and farm into what would become the famed Leeuwin Estate. The winery first released wine back in 1979 and was an almost instant hit with that Art Series Chardonnay wowing wine critics around the world, including as the winery remembers, Decanter magazine, which surprisingly gave the wine, the 1981 vintage, their highest recommendation to Leeuwin, putting along side wines from famous addresses in places like Montrachet! I’ve been enjoying the Leeuwin wines since the late 1990s and have long ben a fan, though I can’t always enjoy them here in California and I can’t often afford the Artist Series bottlings, so I was happy to find the lightly tropical Prelude Vineyards Chardonnay to catch up with the more recent releases, it especially pleases me that it is a fabulous value too. Once mainly, only highly regarded for Chardonnay and Cabernet, Leeuwin also does a Brut Sparkling Wine, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and a cool climate Shiraz, all that deserve attention too.
($25 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2017 La Mesma, Gavi Riserva DOCG, Vigna Della Rovere Verde, Piedmonte, Italy.
I don’t know about you, but this was the first time I’ve seen and tasted a Gavi Riserva and it was incredible, with mineral driven intensity and even with its age it was filled with electric vibrancy and clarity of form with bright citrus beaming throughout, but also showing enough leesy roundness to have an almost white Burgundy like presence in the glass, this La Mesma is very tasty stuff. This La Mesma, who’s cellar is in the small Piedmonte local of Tassarolo, 2017 Gavi Riserva, 100% Cortese, made by winemaker Massimo Azzolini, is a rare single vineyard wine that saw hand harvested grapes and was vinified in cement tanks with a temperature controlled fermentation, then raised for one year in the cement and then another six months in the bottle before release, following the DOCG rules to qualify for a Riserva. This vintage, which was a warm one, shows loads of lemony character along with hints of muskmelon, white peach and zesty kumquat, as well as wet stones, an herbaceous note, verbena and green almonds in a golden and straw colored medium bodied white. The Azienda Agricola La Mesma, that was founded in 2003, is an organic certified winery following strict organic and holistic practices, they are faithful stewards of their land and promote biodiversity to grow better grapes, as this lovely wine clearly proves is the right way to farm. A leader in the Slow Wine movement, La Mesma’s Gavi wines have been recognized as some of the top sustainable wines in Italy and they are committed to the best environmental practices, including going as green as possible, even adding solar panels to reduce their carbon footprint, as well as trying to be socially conscious by hiring and training displaced peoples, that had to flee war zones.
The La Mesma winery is a small family run business being owned and managed by three sisters, Paola, Francesca, and Anna Rosina that have turned a small plot of land into a very noteworthy estate making precise and soulful wines. Their importer Tanaro River were impressed by the quality of the wines here and note Paola and her two sisters were raised in the city of Genoa on the Ligurian coast, without any viticulture background, but that didn’t stop them from making a success of their project. The Rosina sisters’ journey to producing Gavi wines began about 20 years ago when they decided to turn their family country house, which is nestled in the peaceful hills on the border between Piemonte and Liguria into a tiny self contained estate winery. La Mesma, introduced to me by my Italian Sommelier friend Giuseppi Cossu, is located in famous the Piemonte region noted for little and zingy white wines made from the native Cortese grape. It was, as they explain, their mother that suggested to the sisters, that they plant a small vineyard here, thinking they could just make wine for family and friends. So what originally started out as a hobby vineyard would blossom into a viable, successful business with outstanding quality well beyond their imagination! While not born into a family of winegrowers, the Rosina sisters used their individual professional talents to good effect and their passion and hardworking or grit has served them well, creating winery that is now the pride of the region. The Rosina’s La Mesma is also the only producer to make the full range of Gavi wines adhering to the DOCG rules, including a still Gavi, Gavi Frizzante, Gavi Spumante Traditional Method and this Gavi Riserva. This wine, traditionally packaged, but with a gold wax capsule, still has plenty of life is an intriguing example of this region’s most acclaimed varietal, is well worth chasing down. This wine has whet my appetite for Gavi, a wine that is wonderfully refreshing with racy acidity, perfect for light Summer cuisine.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Avignonesi, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG, Tuscany, Italy.
Sangiovese fans will want to find some bottles of this ripe and expressive 2017 Vino Nobile by the famous Avignonesi winery in Montepulciano, it is a full bodied and opulent wine with classic terror and varietal character showing deep red fruits, a touch of spice, cedar and delicate earthy elements. The palate quite luxurious in feel with sweet tannin, a highlight of the warm vintage, and there is a smooth layering of raspberry, dark cherry, mulberry and strawberry fruits that a nicely accented by dried minty herbs, pipe tobacco, anise and a hint of candied orange rind. As it opens up it gains a sense of black fruit and adds some contrasting savory and pretty florals, making for an excellent example of Nobile that will thrill most lovers of the Sangiovese grape and it is a great food wine as well, going lovely with a selection of meat or mushroom dishes. The Montepulciano region has soils are mainly made of marine sediments and clay with some sandy areas that provide the perfect conditions, along with the warm days, for hillside Sangiovese to thrive, as this wine proves with its depth, complexity and old world charm. The Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano saw a natural fermentation and was traditionally aged 18 months mainly in large Slavonian oak casks, with just a small selection seeing smaller barriques, all to deliver the region’s authentic profile and capture the nature of this region. There’s a lot to admire here already and the structure underneath should allow mid term aging, with the 2017 not quite having the stuffing of the legendary 2016s, but the gap is not that far off and I really enjoyed this wine, which is a steal at under $25 bucks.
It was great to catch up with Avignonesi’s lineup of wines at the San Francisco Slow Wine tasting, these Montepulciano wines are beautifully made and very authentic terroir bottlings, with this 2017 Nobile being the star of the table, along with the 100% Merlot and the Amphora raised Da-Di, which I reviewed earlier. Avignonesi has a collection of about 444 acres of vineyards in Montepulciano and Cortona regions, all of which fully certified organic and biodynamic in the southern part of Tuscany. Named after the original founders of the estate, the Avignonesi family, the historic winery, has really taken a huge step up in quality in the last 15 years, and mainly as a result of it being acquired by Virginie Saverys in 2009, who has put so much passion and resources into Avignonesi, putting it into Tuscany’s elite group of producers. Saverys has grown the estate holdings in size adding some top vineyard sites and at the same time helping Avignonesi become a leader in biodynamic viticulture in the region. As well as the innovation in farming Virginie has built a state-of-the-art winemaking facility, which has become the pride of the Montepulciano appellation. She also brought in the youthful winemaking talent of Matteo Giustiniani, who was trained in Bordeaux as well as in Florence and who has crafted a gorgeous set of new releases here, including this dark garnet Nobile. This wine saw its fermentation carried out by pied de cuve (vineyard yeasts). Which the winery explains, the Pied de cuve is the process by which a vat of grapes is harvested in advance and used to prepare a natural yeast, specific for a grape variety and (or) vineyard to provide true site flavors. This Botti aged Sangiovese, which rivals more than a few Brunello wines three times the price, is highly entertaining and wildly delicious, I recommend getting a few bottles to enjoy now and for another 5 to 10 years.
($25 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Weingut Keller, Riesling Trocken, Estate QbA, Rheinhessen, Germany.
This crystalline and pure 2019 Estate Riesling Trocken from Klaus Peter Keller, one of Germany’s greatest winemakers, is an exceptional bottling and a sublime value, it drinks more like a Erste Lage or a baby GG, but with a little less concentration and no oak, showing fine aromatics, mineral notes and stone fruits. This dry Riesling delivers an energy driven performance in the glass with vibrant lime, green apple, tart white peach, grapefruit and quince fruits, along with orange blossoms, chamomile, wet stones, verbena and bitter almonds that accent this bracing wine. Klaus Peter Keller, a huge Burgundy fan, worked with Hubert and Roman Lignier and Eric Rousseau in the Cote d’Or, brings that experience to his wines here in the Rheinhessen, and he has a star studded collection of Rieslings which are coveted by enthusiasts with savvy Riesling fans grabbing these Estate versions. This wine has that amazing tension you want in Riesling, but is also impeccably balanced with nicely ripe flavors and is flexible with food choices, going with everything from oysters to cured ham.
Klaus Peter Keller and Philippe Wittmann have inspired an entire generation of young winemakers leading to a Renaissance in the Rheinhessen, a region that includes historic vineyards, including Grand Cru sites, like Kirchspiel, Hubacker, Morstein and Abtserde, as well as the workman like vineyard of Hipping, where these superstars have made some of Germany’s most sought after wines, with Keller’s G-Max bottling being one of the world’s most expensive white wines. Klaus Peter and Julia Keller have made Keller an iconic label, focusing on dry wines and now have a cult like following for their GGs, but don’t miss the basic estate efforts, like this Riesling Trocken, which has seen a huge rise in quality, with Keller using older vines here. While I can only dream about Keller’s Grosses Gewachs, which get Montrachet like money, wines like this one are cherished and give just a hint of just how good the top bottlings are. Keller also does fabulous work with other varietals, besides Riesling, crafting very tasty versions of Scheurebes, Rieslaners and Sylvaners, one I have really enjoyed in recent vintages. I highly recommend buying these entry level estate wines, especially on pre-sale (arrival) to get the best price, as they are exceptional efforts, like this one.
($25-$38 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2021 Holman Ranch Winery, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Susan’s Saignée, Carmel Valley AVA, Monterey County.
The estate grown dry Rosé from Holman Ranch is a refreshing and well rounded wine that was a treat on a warm Spring day with its mineral tones, wet stones and bright fruits makes for a tasty experience that gets better and better with every sip, especially extra chilled and with a bowl of steamed mussels. I hadn’t had the Holman Ranch wines in a while and after a few tough vintages they seem to have things going in a good direction, especially with this crisp Rosé of Pinot Noir, known as the Susan’s Saignée, that was crafted using ripe juice bled off their normal picks of Pinot Noir sourced from their picturesque Carmel Valley vines and clones 777 and Pommard. The 2021 retained good acidity and has a pleasing mouth feel with a nice tension between the zesty citrus and silken texture, it is a Rosé that looks to be a real crowd pleaser, perfect for outdoor dinning and or beach sipping. The Holman Ranch Susan’s Saignée shows ruby grapefruit, sour cherry, crushed raspberry, strawberry water and peachy fruits along with a hint of spice, seeped roses, orange rind and mouth watering saline. The historic Holman Ranch property was originally founded back in 1928, though the grape vines, mainly a selection of Pinot Noir parcels named after family members, came much later, with wine production beginning in earnest with the 2012 vintage, with quality getting better and better as the vines mature.
The Holman Ranch wines are hand crafted by the father and son team of local pros, Greg and Chris Vita, who also consult for a number of Carmel Valley producers, using 100% estate grapes and employing traditional and sustainable methods, with this wine seeing 100% stainless steel for a cool temperature fermentation and short aging period which lasted just three months before they bottled this pretty dry pink wine. These small production wines include a range of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with just about 400 cases done of this Rosé, it should be a popular Summer release to be enjoyed as soon as possible. According to the winery, the 2021 growing season began with bud-break at the beginning of April, starting growth out a little later than usual that ended up being a blessing with the extra hang time allowing for concentration and zippy energy in the must. The even but cool weather led to promising flowering and a good set, which the team at Holman only hung a modest crop. They add, that restricted yields allowed the small clusters to progress through verasion with very little irrigation, and the ripeness was achieved at the end of September, giving some floral perfume and opulence to this Rosé, which finished at about 13.5% natural alcohol, that resulted in full Pinot flavors to shine through on the medium bodied palate. This pale salmon hued Rosé is inspired by the Burgundy versions of Pink wines, like those from the Marsannay area, and while I recommend drinking it now, the winery suggests more patience and some bottle aging to let it fill out, but I personally like the youthful vibrancy it shows now.
($35 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2019 A Tribute to Grace, Grenache, Santa Barbara County.
The incredibly hard to come by Grenache bottlings, by Kiwi winemaker Angela Osborne have become quite an obsession for this grape’s fans, making them extremely coveted bottles, are very nuanced examples and are transparent and silky wines, as this new 2019 Santa Barbara County version shows with aplomb and an almost Pinot Noir like elegance. I got a few bottles from Osborne’s website, just before almost everything was completely sold out, with this one being the first I decided to open and share, thankfully it is already drinking nicely and pretty much all together with satiny layers of strawberry, plum, macerated cherries and briery raspberry fruits leading the way on the smooth medium bodied palate, which are well lifted by a pretty floral bouquet, a touch of earth, Asian spices, dried garden herbs, sassafras or cola bean, sandalwood and wild fennel accents. There is a lot to admire here and while I couldn’t find any flaw or faults, I might have been expecting or wanting too much from it, which is not this wine’s problem and I think it might get more appealing in a year or so, This dark ruby colored 2019 is delicious and never puts a foot wrong and it is flexible for a range of cuisine choices, serve with a slight chill, to allow a touch more acidity through, and have it with any of your favorite dishes, from grilled chicken to burgers, it is a wine that without question gets much better with food. Angela Osborne, a New Zealand born winemaker, who moved to California in 2006 with the dream of making Grenache, has quietly become one of the state’s best producers, with a truly gifted touch, and a fixture in the Santa Barbara area, after exploring northern Spain, southern France, southern Australia.
The Tribute to Grace Santa Barbara Grenache is 100% Grenache, made from five distinct vineyards and three different Grenache clones, with some Alban clone, coming from the Vie Caprice Vineyard and the Thompson Vineyard, and Tablas C clone, off the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard (Mesa block), plus the 362 clone, sourced from the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard again, but at their J block, and the Spear Vineyard, an organic site in the Sta. Rita Hills. Angela made about 800 cases of this wine, making it an easier get, as most of her Grenache offerings sell out fast, mostly going to her fanatic fans on her mailing list, with very few bottles making to wine merchants or bistro lists. Osborne says, she made this vintage, a result of the marriage of all five picks represents 23% whole-cluster love, 11 months in neutral barrique(s) and puncheon(s), with her wine seeing, as she continues, one racking under August’s new moon, then her SB Grenache was bottled under a Libra moon, as she again notes, in honor of all the beautiful flower energy espoused by these air signs. The 2019 vintage finished with a ripe 14.2% natural alcohol and is wonderfully balanced, textural and perfumed with just enough of that whole bunches (savory) pop to cut into the grape’s more expressive fruit overtness, it is a wine that lives up to the name, it is a graceful effort in every way. Grenache is having its moment in the spotlight and there are many awesome examples in California these days from which to chose from, including these lovable and exceptional A Tribute to Grace wines, which include a Sparkling version as well as many single cru efforts, there’s no time like the present to explore them.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Agricole Brandini la Morra, Barolo DOCG, R56, Piedmonte, Italy.
The 2017 R56 Barolo from Brandini is a classically styled and impeccably made Nebbiolo with fine tannins, pure red fruits, mineral and a delicate earthy charm, this is a wine for traditional enthusiasts that really shows a sense of place in the glass. This lovely wine, as the winery says, is born from the Cru that surrounds their cellar, and it is the result of a unique microclimate formed by altitude, ventilation, as well as the clayey and sandy soils here. This R56 saw a cool maceration and native yeast fermentation in tank and then was raised exclusively in old large cask. When Giovanna showed me this R56, from the La Morra zone, I spellbound by the gorgeous floral aromatics and seamless layers of red fruits with dusty raspberry, black cherry, damson plum and red currant fruits, a touch of cedar, minty herbs, anise, sweet tobacco leaf, dried violets and rose petals. This medium bodied Barolo looks to fill out over time and be its best in 3 to 5 years, its youthful taut features here hide the depth and complexity at this point, but the potential is clearly all here. The estate-owned vineyards that Agricole Brandini la Morra farm are all in the Barolo DOCG area and cover an area of just about 20 hectares now, in mainly in the municipality of La Morra, as well as newer plots in Serralunga and Monforte d’Alba, all prime spots, with this wine coming from their own Brandini Cru (R56) that has great southern exposure and high elevation influence, giving their wines a prestigious terroir backbone. This R56 saw a maceration on the skins for a full month and got frequent hand pump-overs to maximize a gentle extraction, but still allowing for the distinct lighter garnet/orangey hue and structural grip. The aging is done, as noted, in large oak barrels, lasting for 30 months, which is followed by close to eight months in bottle before release.
The Agricola Brandini La Morra Estate, as noted in my prior review, is owned by Piero Bagnasco and run by his daughters, Giovanna and Serena, it is a new producer for me and in fact they are a pretty recent venture, just starting back in 2007, they have a tiny collection of prime Barolo vines and I found the wines to be beautifully made and very exciting. It was nice to meet Giovanna at the Slow Wine tasting event in San Francisco and learn about her wines, especially her cru Annunziata Barolo and the R56 Barolo, which made my top ten Nebbiolo(s) list of the Slow Wine tour in the City (SF) and of which I really admired for it’s elegance and exceptional length. Agricola Brandini La Morra uses the phrase “Organic Human Barolo” to describe its wines, as all of their vineyards are certified organic, hand tended and their wines are traditionally hand crafted, with their Barolo being aged in large, used oak casks with minimal intervention and only minimal amounts of added sulfur at bottling. The grapes come from high elevation parcels, 450 meters up in some sites, which is amongst the highest-altitude vines in the Barolo zone all set on the classic clay and limestone marl soils, which all contribute to the wines quality and character. The color of the wines, as noted above, in particular their Annunziata, which I reviewed earlier and this R56 Barolo, were as Nebbiolo as it gets with those slightly orangey/bricky edges with a bright ruby core. Bradini does a number of other wines from Barbera, Arneis and Moscato, including a series of Champagne style Alta Langhe sparkling wines that I look forward to trying in the future. I was deeply impressed with Brandini’s 2017s, at this point, the aromas were inviting and very enchanting indeed, as was, the long finish, making for seriously seductive Barolo, this is a winery to follow and this signature R56 bottling, the single vineyard Brandini, in La Morra, should be one to search out.
($125 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Cantina Mesa, Giunco, Vermentino di Sardinia DOC, Sulcis, Sardinia, Italy.
The 2016 Giunco by Cantina Mesa is a pure and maturing Vermentino with lovely vibrancy, complexity and a fine stony quality, it delivers an almost Riesling like performance in the glass with bright acidity, a distinct, but delicate petrol note along with racy citrus and stone fruits leading the way on the light to medium bodied palate. There was a short period of cold skin contact that lasted about 48 hours, which adds depth, texture, color and a touch of phenolic savoriness that greatly enhance the personality of this Vermentino, making it even more intriguing as it gets age with an array of spices and tropical fruit in the background behind orangey layers of tangerine, dried apricot, mango and nectarine fruits, as well as flinty wet rock, tangy herbs, sea breeze and creamy verbena. The golden/straw hued white is evolving nicely and has plenty of charm and tanginess to go with a range of foods from sea food dishes, soft cheeses to roast chicken and or Middle Eastern cuisine. This was my first time tasting the Cantina Mesa wines and I was highly impressed with what I sampled here, the winery which was founded by Gavino Sanna, who wanted to create an estate that embodied the pride or soul of Sardinia. Cantina Mesa is now owned by the giant Santa Margherita and has an ultra modern facility, taking this label to the next level with a high quality collection of offerings, including a series of reds made from Cannonau di Sardegna DOC and Carignano del Sulcis DOC, as well as whites, like this one, made from Vermentino. Vermentino, a variety native of Liguria, where it is called Pigato, here in Sardinia, but is also successfully grown in Tuscany, Corsica, Piedmonte (Favorita), Provence and in the Southern Rhone Valley, as well as in the new world from Australia to California and Oregon.
Coming from the Sulcis area, in the far south west of Sardinia the Giunco is 100% Vermentino that is an all stainless steel fermented and aged wine that shows exceptional clarity, mineral intensity and has a crisp, salty freshness. The winery notes that the Vermentino for this Giunco grows on mainly sandy soils, and goes on to say it is made up of alluvial deposits and cemented aeolian sandstone with an underpinning of clay, with loam, formed during the Pleistocene era. These soils have a ph that is slightly alkaline, well-structured, with a good level of stony particles, rich in calcium, magnesium and potassium, all of which influences this wine’s character adding a bit of iodine and a chalky element. This is an island wine through and through with Mediterranean sense of place, the climate here is warm and dry, but gets frequent refreshing Mistral winds and cool nights that help give this Vermentino a fine balance and a zesty nature. The all hand picked grapes, which come from vines that are extremely close to the sea and at sea level, are chilled to 10 °C before de-stemming and then see a gentle pressing, with the mentioned skin contact and then the wine is raised for about four months of the lees before bottling to preserve the Giunco’s vitality. I am grateful to my Giuséppi Còssu, an Italian Sommelier and proud Sardinian, who is studying to be a winemaker and who has introduced me to some unique Sardinian wines as well as providing me a good winemaking background of this beautiful island, which has an incredible amount of history of wine growing, which goes back thousands of years, thank you my friend. Vermintino, which is now grown around the world, is now making a name for itself here in California, but is more commonly seen in Italy and France, where it is sometimes called Rolle. The winery says to drink this wine up while young, in the first 2 to 4 years, but I find this 2016 to be in a great spot right now and think it can go another few years.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Drew Family Cellars, Pinot Noir “The Fog-Eater” Anderson Valley.
Still youthfully fresh and expressively floral the Drew 2018 The Fog-Eater Pinot is bursting with Italian Cherry, crushed raspberry, strawberry and spiced plum fruits, bramble, seeped rose petals, tangy herbs and delicate wood notes with a sense of electric energy and silky muscle(s), this is exceptional Pinot Noir again from one of California’s very best producers. The pretty dark ruby red colored 2018 The Fog-Eater by Drew is absolutely stunning now, but really looks to reward patience as well, air brings added depth and texture, this year is fantastic and Pinots lovers would be best served to stock up on as many as they can get. Winemaker Jason Drew selects several sites within the Anderson Valley and brings them together to make this gorgeous “The Fog-Eater” Pinot Noir with the aim as it has always been, his says, to layer and elevate complexity and showcase this very special northern California coastal valley growing region. The 2018 vintage crop yield was roughly two tons per acre for us and a relatively cool vintage, no extreme heat spikes and some extended hang time. We combined two deep end vineyards and one east ridge site along with one mid valley site to complete this special blend, with various elevations from about 100 feet to over 1200 feet above sea level. The 2018 saw the lions share of fruit coming from the true ‘deep end’ or Mendocino Ridge, closer to Drew’s home estate, and with the coolest Ocean influences. The Drew family is quite smitten with this 2018 vintage, as am I, these will age exceptionally well without a doubt. The Drew’s are calling it the best in over a decade, and I’m not going to argue with that, after tasting it and enjoying it in the glass. At just 13.3% natural alcohol, this very Burgundian style Pinot with go with many food options and Drew suggests pairing it with slow cooked pork shoulder and roasted butternut squash, though it can go with almost anything and I might go with blackened salmon. There are a fabulous array of California cool climate Pinots available, but Drew still is a step above and this might be one of the finest wines for the money you can find, I enthusiastically recommend this The Fog-Eater, along with Jason’s single vineyard collection and estate offerings.
The Fog-Eater, an appellation blend, from several sites from both bench and hillside locales along with outer western rim vineyards in the Anderson Valley which Drew uses to create, as he puts it, a classic expression of (the) Anderson Valley. The term Fog-eater, as Drew notes, is a Boontling term, from the local dialect in the area, that is used to describe those who live out on the coastal margins, as the Drew family does and the outliers in the fog. Very fitting for this Pacific Ocean influenced area near the Mendocino coast, which delivers its signature on these wines, giving balance, low alcohol and long hang-time concentration. As with most all of the Drew wines, Jason used 100% native yeasts during the fermentation on this lovely and authentic Pinot Noir and he employed close to 20% whole clusters in this 2018, as he says brings additional structure and spice into The Fog-Eater. The charm and form of this great wines is also due to the complex Franciscan Series soils, with vines on the alluvial, gravel, loam and ancient seafloor uplift elements, as well as the special clonal selections of Pinot Noir used here, that in this vintage includes the Dijon Clones, 115, 667, 828 as well as heritage Mt. Eden and Rochioli clones. As per normal, The Fog-Eater saw just 10% new French oak and was aged just about a year in the barrel with just two gentle rackings, highlighting, as I’ve mentioned many times now, Drew’s graceful touch and desire to present wines of elegance, substance and transparency. After half an hour, this 2018 just raised its game, making for an excellent and textural wine that seduces the senses and the length, which is already impressive, lingers on and on with echos of the kirsch led fruits, adding cinnamon, pomegranate, an earthy sultry note, mineral and briar. Going on, as to why these wines move me, they have that great play between tension and textural pleasure, they are authentic, not flashy and they represent California with sublime grace and honesty. These Drew 2018 have a taut structure, sharp clarity of detail and alluring flavors, making them ideal wines to save a little longer, interestingly the younger 2019s are more plush, even though similar in numbers, and seem more ready to dig into, though I am quite sure they too will age wonderfully, these are two vintages you don’t want to miss, especially from Drew.
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Domaine François Merlin, Syrah “Broceliande” IGP Collines Rhodaniennes, Northern Rhone, France.
The brilliant, complex and meaty 2018 Broceliande Syrah from François Merlin is an absolute steal with pure terror and varietal character on full display, it is a medium to full bodied effort with layers of earthy blue fruits, bacon, smoky meat drippings, pepper, subtle floral tones and lingering creme de cassis and tarry licorice. Coming from vines between 20 and 60 years old and aged in used French oak barriques, François Merlin’s latest Broceliande gets better and better as it opens with boysenberry, damson plum, black cherry and an echo of currant fruits coming into focus on the palate along with snappy herbs and crushed violets, this is an old world Syrah that offers a tremendous value with a flavor profile that is very much inline with a Crozes-Hermitage that would cost you twice or three times the price. There is a lovely play between the supple fruit core and the savory elements, this is full of personality with rustic charms that does everything to tell you this is a Northern Rhone wines with its hints of sanguine iron rich mineral, a touch of funk and camphor, it is best to enjoy this with hearty cuisine, which would help bring out its pleasing fruit density. François has gained an admirable reputation as a grower producer in the Northern Rhone with some vineyards that he planted himself using ancient massele (Syrah) selections, in Saint-Joseph and in Cote-Rotie, he has refined his winemaking style, preferring riper de-stemmed fruit and an opulent elegance in his top bottlings.
François Merlin is a new discovery for me, this last year, and I’ve been very impressed by what I’ve tasted so far, this small domaine, run by Francois is a rarity here, being a first-generation Northern Rhône winemaker. He is the son of a chemical engineer, and he moved to Saint-Michel-sur-Rhône, just south of Condrieu, in 1989 to pursue a self taught dream of making wines in this historic region. He, as the winery notes, has officially never studied wine in school, but was mentored by some impressive names, including stints at Domaine René Rostaing, making Cote-Rotie, as well as learning about Condrieu at Georges Vernay, all of which shows in his wines. Now, François’s son Laurent, who studied viticulture has joined the family domaine in 2013 and has put in a huge effort in the vines here and it looks to have raised the game at Merlin, who now have a coveted array of parcels in top sites, including both Cote-Rotie and Condrieu, as well as vines in Saint-Joseph and areas without AOC status, like in this one. The farming is leaning towards organic, all sustainable with the grapes getting picked by hand, and, from I understand, the Merlin’s use of new oak has gradually been reduced, and they use the Austrian oak Stockinger demi-muids (mainly in their Condrieu) alongside the mostly used French barriques. The Broceliande is sourced from some sandy areas, some red clay, along with a galet stone covered mix of granite and decomposed gneiss soils. This dark garnet Syrah is too good to pass up on, I highly recommend these François Merlin wines, especially their Saint-Joseph Rouge, the Cote-Rotie which reviewed already, and this Syrah “Broceliande” IGP Collines Rhodaniennes that is itself a very tasty little treat!
($17 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2019 Montesecondo, Trebbiano “TÏN” IGT Toscana Bianco, Italy.
The organic and natural wine estate of Montesecondo, in Chianti Classico’s Val di Pesa, is a small property in San Casciano in the northern zone of the this famous Tuscan region near Florence, well regarded for their native varietal wines, especially the Sangiovese based offerings, but they also do a unique white made from skin contact Trebbiano, the TÏN Bianco that is aged in Amphora. I hadn’t had any Montesecondo in many vintages, so I was thrilled when a friend shared this 2019 with me, and even though I don’t always enjoy “Orange” wines, this one was full of charm and easy to enjoy with dried apricot, tangerine and nectarine fruits, along with dusty stones, mineral notes, almond oil, verbena and savory tones, adding a touch of garden herbs, dry extract (tannin), earth and delicate florals. The best thing, to me, is the energy and texture here, there is a really nice mouth feel and a crisp dry zesty quality that refreshes the medium bodied palate, it gives this usually mediocre grape some thrill and complexity. Montesecondo’s all biodynamic gently sloping hillside vines are set on deep clay and galestro rocks that give loads of fruit intensity, especially in the reds and winegrower Silvio Messana has a gifted and low intervention touch, making wines that a elegant and rustically charming. Montesecondo is not an ancient or old winery, in fact Messina founded it just over twenty years ago, and his first vintage was in 2000, but his wines were instant hits and continue to deliver authentic, raw and transparent flavors, they are always a treat to experience. Interestingly, Trebbiano, which is found all over Italy, may have originated in the Eastern Mediterranean, and has known in Italy since Roman times, it is also known as Ugni Blanc, and it made its way to France, possibly during the Papal retreat to Avignon in the fourteenth century. The grape is known to be bland, but helps provide acidity to blended wines as found a home in the Rhone, Provence and in Cognac, where it goes into the famous brandy.
Montesecondo’s Silvio Messana’s having been influenced by Alto Adige’s Elisabetta Foradori, has made a 100% Sangiovese aged in amphora since around 2011 with amazing results, and later added a skin contact Trebbiano to the lineup. This golden/yellow TÏN Toscana Bianco comes from Chianti Classico grown grapes is an outstanding orange style (skin contact) wine of distinction. Raising wine in ceramic vessels is an ancient art and a studied craft, and it is coming back in fashion in most regions of the world now, not just in the making of geeky or orange style wines, like this, but in places from Oregon to in fact Bordeaux! Even some top Chateaux are using amphora, including the famed Chateau Pontet-Canet, they even make the vessels from the local clay rich soils of their Pauillac estate. Italy has embraced Amphora, which is also much more common now, and to me it seems, amphora gives the texture and expansion that wood does, without inputting the sweet toasty elements or oak footprint on the wine. Montesecondo, which is more like Burgundy than Bordeaux in style, doesn’t always have wines that qualify to be called Chianti Classico, with certain cuvees, like their IGT Rosso, a 100% Sangiovese, is a bottling I adore, it delivers an elegant version of the varietal with bight flavors, subtle earthiness and medium weight, these wines are wonderful values too, I highly recommend searching them out. While growing many native grapes, Montesecondo has parcels of Sangiovese, Colorino, Canaiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon (for a single varietal offering), Trebbiano, Malvasia and a little Vernaccia as well. TÏn is Arabic for clay, and the winery says it is a nod to Silvio’s time living in North Africa with his family and the fact this wine is made in amphora, from all de-stemmed Trebbiano grapes and a eight month maceration and fermentation, aging on the skins, bottled unfined and unfiltered with ultra low SO2 addition. Also, Messana does a Rosé fizz, the Vino Frizzante “Ghazii” that is really fun, so there’s plenty of cool stuff to chose from at Montesecondo, with this TÏN white and TÏN red being wines that are tasty rarities that are well worth the chase.
($38 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2019 I. Brand & Family, Cabernet Franc, Bayly Ranch Vineyard, Paicines AVA, San Benito County.
Ian Brand’s latest releases include some of his classics, some new gems and a few swan songs, with this Bayly Ranch Cabernet Franc being a standout with an earthy Loire style profile, but showing the vintage’s deep concentration, vital acidity and exceptional aromatics, it is a wine I don’t want to miss, as it has been a favorite Cab Franc of mine for more than a few years now. While Brand’s Bates Ranch Cabernet Franc is more Bordeaux like, luxurious and will cellar brilliantly, I just love this more raw and rustic bottling that reminds me of Bernard Baudry Chinon and or Thierry Germain’s Domaine des Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny, which is high praise, with this 2019 Bayly almost eclipsing these old world stars. The dark saturated garnet and ruby edged I. Brand & Family Cabernet Franc Bayly Ranch starts with a sultry combination of chalky stones, violets, a touch of bell pepper and crushed raspberries that grabs your attention along with layers of black cherry, red currant, plum and mulberry fruits, as well as forest floor, brambly spices, cedar and anise accents. Everything folds together seamlessly and the tannins are ripely sweet and the structure is smooth, but there is enough underlying firmness and energy to provide the guts to age well too, this is wine that will benefit greatly and be more rewarding when paired with a hearty meal. My own notes from the last four vintages have been consistent, this vineyard provides a certain set of flavors that are very similar year in and year out, but as much as I loved the 2017 and 2018 versions, this 2019 might even be better and more rewarding, I highly recommend it and all of the new stuff under this label, but don’t wait this wines are pretty limited and sell out quickly.
The I. Brand Bayly Ranch Cabernet Franc, crafted using traditional methods, was vinified using carefully sorted whole berry (grapes)with some whole bunches that were picked at moderate sugars, usually with indigenous yeasts, with a cool, almost three week, maceration. Then it is raised for just under a year neutral (well seasoned) French oak, including old barriques and larger puncheons. The winemaking is non intervention within reason, all to highlight and promote this beautiful wine’s terroir character, varietal purity and natural vitality. Ian is a vineyard whisperer and has found many unique and remarkable sites through the years, he has also a way that gets the best and most authentic expressions out of these places, like this Bayly Ranch demonstrates in the glass. As mentioned in prior reviews, Ian has found some cool vineyards in 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 in the last dozen or so years. Brand, who says he rather just drive his ugly trucks (to vineyards) and make wine, does a wide selection of offerings, including his fun Le P’Tit Paysan line and the hugely successful La Marea Albarino and Spanish style Grenache, as well as his amazing set of signature single vineyard wines under his I. Brand & Family label, where you find wines like this Franc, his Mourvedre and old vine Grenache bottlings. As noted before, The Bayly Ranch is located in the San Benito County, within the Paicines zone, which is near the Tres Pinos Creek and the San Andreas Fault with some limestone like influence. The soils here consist of a stony mix including ancient alluvial deposits with an array of geologic structures, which adds to the complexity here. This place has a warm climate that is refreshed by cool nights and some coastal breezes, making it a sublime place for Cabernet Franc, as this wine confidently displays. There are plenty of things to admire in Ian’s collection, just don’t overlook this one, it’s a very understated and transparent Cabernet Franc for the grape’s enthusiasts, drink over the next 5 to 10 years.
($34 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
Grapelive.com – Reviews – March 2022
2019 Pieropan, Soave Classico DOC “Calvarino” Veneto, Italy.
The Pieropan Calvarino Soave Classic is a distinct and beautiful with crisp detail and surprising depth, it highlights Pieropan’s commitment to quality and this wine’s unique terroir character, but it also, as I have been mentioning for a few years now, puts a spotlight on incredible rise in greatness of Italian white wines in general and in Soave in particular. At the recent Slow Wine stop in San Francisco I was impressed by the whites, even with my expectations, they were well crafted and focused efforts, made from vast array of varietals, including rarities, from Falanghina and Fiano in the South to Manzoni and Kerner in the North, there are some amazing whites available, especially from this region and the Garganega grape found in this Soave. The 2019 Pieropan Calvarino is bright and energetic with a delicate white blossom nose and stony detail, it is a light golden wine with vibrant lemon/lime, peach and a hint of green apple fruit, along with snappy herbs, almond oil, dense round leesy notes and lingering jasmine. This dry Calvarino has a nice mouth watering saline, refreshing acidity and mineral tones, but feels rich on the medium bodied and elegant palate, making it a superb meal wine with enough depth and substance to go with many cuisine choices, though it is exceptionally good with Linguini and Clam pasta, as well as a nice pairing with roast poultry. The winery goes on to suggest that this Calvarino would be a lovely aperitif wine and great as a starter for a leisurely evening meal and adds, it partners a wide range of dishes, especially vegetable quiches, fish and cheese soufflés, which all sounds good to me.
The Pieropan winery, like Inama and Prà, makes a stellar Soave and were one of the first to do single vineyard wines, like this Calvarino, up at close to 300 meters, which comes from 30 to 60 year old organic vines set on a hillside in the Classico zone on complex volcanic soils with tufaceous elements and basalt, which gives this wine its soul and terroir flavor profile. The Calvarino is made from 70% Garganega and 30% Trebbiano di Soave, which is another name for Ugni Blanc, and crafted using hand-picked fruit, usually in two harvests to select only the best and the ripest grapes. The winemaking focuses on purity with the grapes getting a gentle de-stemming and crushed with the free run juice being fermented separately at cool temps in glass-lined cement tanks, where the wine is also aged for a year with lees contact before bottling. After a further rest in bottle to mature this Calvarino is then released from the cellars at Pieropan, to allow for everything to come together and this 2019 is a harmonious and delicious white wine, it is one of the stars in Pieropan’s excellent collection, just a few notches behind their awesome La Rocca bottling and a big step up from their base Soave Classico, which is an outstanding value. The winery notes that, Calvarino, that was first bottled as a single vineyard wine in 1971, is situated in the heart of the Soave Classico zone and is a cornerstone of the Pieropan’s family vineyards, who bought this cru site back in 1901. The name, they say, was derived from ‘Little Calvary’ referring to the difficulties in working the land here and the tortuously winding path that takes you from top to bottom. The Catina Pieropan, originally founded in 1880, continues to lead the way in this region and this Calvarino is one of stars, I highly recommend this bottle and exploring Soave wines, there’s plenty to admire here and discover, the wine here is a real bargain!
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 G.D. Vajra, Barolo DOCG, Bricco Delle Viole, Piedmonte, Italy.
The pretty and aromatic Bricco Delle Viole, from the warm and small yielding 2017 vintage, over delivers in depth and pleasure in a tough year and I was very impressed, especially coming after such a legendary vintage in 2016, it has a more supple mouth feel and silky red fruits, making it an attractive wine even at this stage. Giuseppe Vajra is one of the region’s brightest stars and I was thrilled with the latest wines, which I got to sample at this year’s Slow Wine 2022 tour stop in San Francisco, with this 2017 Bricco Delle Viole Barolo and the 2016 Ravera cru Barolo really standing out. I first tried Vajra’s Bricco Delle Viole with the 2008 vintage, and I have been a huge fan ever since, it is always a treat to experience, it gives me the same thrill as a Grand Cru Burgundy does and this latest version does not disappoint. This 2017 shows off in the glass with a dark ruby hue and a subtle floral perfume that leads to a full bodied palate of black cherry, fig/hoisin, damson plum and red currant fruits, along with dried herbs, earth, sandalwood, orange rind and tarry anise accents. Bricco delle Viole is one of the historical vineyards of Barolo, it is unique being one of the highest sites and the closest to the Alps. This vineyard, as the winery notes, rises from 400 to 480 meters above sea level, on the Western ridge of the village. Its name, which translates to “Hill of Violets”, comes from the flowers that blossom early here due to the perfect south exposure. Set on classic marl limestone and lots of sand and above the fogline, the Bricco delle Viole sees the earliest sunrise and gets the last rays of the sun every day. These vines date back to 1949, a they enjoy a dramatic diurnal temperature range that helps this Bricco Delle Viole Barolo with natural acidity and complexity, this is gorgeous stuff with lovely details and balance.
The G.D. Vajra wines are fantastic and getting better and better, they are one of my favorite producers in the world, with their Barolo’s being the top stars within the winery’s stellar collection, with their signature Bricco Delle Viole always displaying everything you’d want from Nebbiolo grapes, their Ravera, which is outstanding and their exotic and perfumed Coste di Rose Barolo, the newest in the Cru lineup here. 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. The vineyards are at heights of 350-400 meters, which plays a big part in terms of complexity and aromatic quality that winemaker Giuseppe Vajra achieves with his amazing set of offerings. The Vajra Barolo wines, like this one, see close to 30-40 days of maceration in stainless, with a submerged cap, which allows for a gentle extraction the tannins from the skins, also as Vajra notes, that there is a small percentage of stems are left in durning the primary fermentation depending on the vintage, with the riper years seeing more. The G.D. Vajra wines are not adorned with flashy sweet/toast French barriques, these wines are exceptionally pure, terroir driven and transparent versions of Barolo and this wine was aged in large (mostly older) Slovenian oak barrels for 25 months before bottling. This Bricco Delle Viole is a wine for collectors and enthusiasts, and while this 2017 is already drinking great, you should be patient here, though for immediate pleasure, I highly recommend the Vajra Albe Barolo, the entry level Barolo, as it is a hugely rewarding wine and a great value. If you open this 2017 in the near term, decant it and enjoy with hearty cuisine, I think 5 to 10 years will bring extra layers and allow its full maturity to shine through here in this 2017 Bricco Delle Viole, as it is softer and less tightly wound than the 2016, which will go decades.
($89 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Domaine Weinbach, Les Vignes du Prêcheur, White Field Blend, Vin d’Alsace AOC, France.
The newest wine in Domaine Weinbach’s stellar collection of Alsace wines is their Les Vignes du Prêcheur, which is single vineyard co-fermented white field blend of 5 native Alsatian grape varietals, with about 40% Riesling, 30% Auxerrois, 20% Pinot Gris, 5% Muscat and 5% Sylvaner. This vineyard, knowns as the Preacher’s Vineyard has mixed grape make up and sits just below the famous Grand Cru Kaefferkopf site that is set on sandy and clay based soils, which makes for expressive and ripe fruit. I have a long history with Domain Weinbach, it is one of my favorite wineries and I’ve tried almost everything they have produced, but this was brand new for me and I was very excited to try this Les Vignes du Prêcheur, which may have been inspired by historic blend of the past here in Alsace or the modern versions of field blends, as done fantastically well by Marcel Deiss or Marc Tempe. This 2019 Les Vignes du Prêcheuris nicely and subtly perfumed with citrus blossoms and jasmine flowers along with wet stones, orchard fruits and a hint of honey leading to a brisk dry medium bodied palate of kumquat, white peach, apricot and green apple fruits that are accented by almonds, quince paste, mint, chalk, spices and tropical essences. The wine gains a textural roundness, but stays firm and saline rich throughout with just right amount of tangy, savory and bitter elements to balance the fruit, this wine adds charm, complexity and purpose with every sip. This wine is very unique and distinct, it really impressed me, even though I am such a huge fan of the single varietal wines at this estate and I will certainly be getting more bottles. Weinbach is a celebrated and historic property run by the Faller family best known for Riesling, like Trimbach and Zindt-Hambrecht, with a top lineup of cru bottlings, but none of other grapes, like Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewürztraminer and Sylvaner should be overlooked as they too are some of the finest in the region.
Domaine Weinbach, one of Alsace’s great estates, was originally founded by the Order of Capuchin monks back in 1612, property was a walled in and a totally self contained site making some of the best wine in the region for the better part of a hundred years. The “Clos des Capuchins” is the vineyard that surrounds the domaine, it sits directly below the prestigious Schlossberg Cru (the first terroir in Alsace to receive the status of Grand Cru), along with the Grand Cru Furstentum (known for Gewürztraminer and as well as to the adjacent Altenbourg Cru (known for Pinot Gris) vineyard that rises above the Weinbach clos. The domaine is in the heart of Kayserberg’s hills and its valleys are some of the most picturesque places in Europe. The Les Vignes du Prêcheur vineyard is In the process of certification and has been converted to all organic and biodynamic farming methods, just like the Weinbach estate vines see. The Weinbach’s have employed a short pruning of the vines to keep yields low, to promote concentration and allow for aromatic intensity, which shows on this 2019 version, which looks like the debut release, as far as I can tell. The winemaking here is always impeccably clean and non interventionist in technique with this wine seeing a gentle whole cluster pressing in a soft pneumatic press, with indigenous yeasts and aging exclusively in large neutral oak casks. The Les Vignes du Prêcheur got an elevage on the lees of close to 8 months before bottling without fining, as Weinbach is all vegan, it saw just a light filtration for clarity and stabilization. The winery says this Les Vignes du Prêcheur white makes for an excellent aperitif, but can also be enjoyable also with a refreshing lunch. They suggested the following pairings, continuing on, it would be great with quiche, onion pie, fish terrine, cheese soufflé, light appetizers and grilled chicken, all of which I will not argue with, this is tasty stuff, perfect for the warm days and evenings of late Spring and Summer time.
($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Monte Rio Cellars, Rubired, Central Valley, California.
The Monte Rio Rubired is a no oak dark and intensely grapey red wine, seriously opaque, almost purple/black in the glass with a spicy floral nose and a full bodied palate of tangy concord grape like flavors with black plum, blueberry and marionberry fruits. The wine gains depth and savory complexity as it gets air, it reminds me a bit of Envinate’s Alicante Bouschet based “Albahra” from the south of Spain, and or a Saperavi from Georgia, with an array of spices, anise and stemmy/earthy crunch that nicely cuts into the primary fruit. Rubired is a hybrid grape developed at UC-Davis in the 1950’s. It is a cross between Alicante Ganzin and Tinta Cao, a Port grape, created by Dr Harold Olmo in 1958. Due to its relationship to Alicante Bouschet, it produces a dark red/purple juice which is used to add color in many jug wines. Like Ruby Cabernet, a crossing between the vitis vinifera (noble wine grapes) varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan that was first trialed by Dr. Olmo in 1936 before being released in 1948, Rubired was bred to produce significant yields in hot climates, and in the California Central Valley it regularly yields 8 to 10 tons per acre. However, Rubired is a teinturier variety with red flesh and pigmented juice. Most red wine grapes have clear juice, the red color of wines coming from extraction of pigment from the grape skins. Rubired, I understand, was originally intended for producing fortified port-style wines, and since the late 20th century, producers in Australia have included it in some port-style blends. Its intensely dark color is often useful in blending to intensify the color of other red wines, which is common in California, but it can also be used to create single varietal wines, like this one. Interestingly, Olmo created many hybrids or Frankenstein grapes, some more successful than others, from Emerald Riesling, a cross of Riesling and Muscadelle, plus a few version of crossing of Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon or a Cabernet/Grenache (cross like Marselan) and the Symphony grape, which is a crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris, which is used by Theopolis Vineyards to make a fruity off dry white wine.
Patrick Cappiello, a famous Sommelier and restaurant owner, says Rubired, an inky dense hybrid, has been an obsession of his since he first tasted it in a blind tasting almost 5 years ago now. He goes on to thank Pax Mahle, the winemaker, for his diligent searching that finally found a vineyard owner in the Central Valley that allowed them to send a team in to hand harvest (this grape is almost always machine harvested and de-stemmed) the vines and get enough grapes to make this one of kind single varietal bottling. The sustainably farmed grapes were, as mentioned, hand harvested and left in whole bunches with Patrick and Pax employing a natural full carbonic maceration for this 2018 version. The fermentation and aging all happened in stainless steel, where it aged on the lees for 6 months. This clean, ripe and pure example of Rubired finished at 12.9 % natural alcohol making it a nicely dry and flavorful wine. As mentioned here and in prior reviews, Monte Rio Cellars is owned by Patrick Cappiello, who along with his friend and famed Syrah maker Pax Mahle produce a series of ultra small production, hand crafted and naturally made wines under this rebel label. Most of which are a collection of Zinfandels, one of which is labeled Primitivio, though they have started exploring other and or rare varietals, including this Rubired, a bottling of the Mission grape (also known as Pais or Listen), Petite Sirah, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Sangiovese, plus a couple of blended wines as well as some light sparkling wines called Piquette. This Monte Rio Rubired, like hybirds can be, is at first simple, but really grew on me, it would be great with pizza, and I would certainly buy it again, it offers a very distinct and quaffable experience, especially the teeth staining color and attractive aromatics. These latest releases from Cappiello are pretty big steps up in terms of quality, helped by some fine vintages, and the no pretense and natural style. The other thing is, these Monte Rio wines are ridiculously under-priced, in fact this wine is now offered (on sale) at almost half the release price, making it a steal! I highly recommend visiting their website and joining the mailing list, you get a lot for your money.
($18 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 The Eyrie Vineyards, Pinot Meunier, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
This is a very distinctly old world style wine, made from 100% Meunier, with burst of tart cherries and an earthy character, reminding me of an old school Fleurie Cru Beaujolais, especially after getting some air it gains dimension of a striking floral nature and a leathery element with added layers of wild plum, red current and strawberry fruits, accented by herbal tones, mineral, baking spices, violets and orange peel. Tangy fresh and with silky tannins, even in warm and ripe year this wine shows off is vibrant natural acidity, making for a medium bodied wine that is wonderfully detailed and balanced, best served slightly chilled and with food, which will allow the fruit to fill out and open up its complexity. The Eyrie estate vineyards are all certified organic, and two of the three local growers they purchase fruit from are also certified organic, while the third is organic, but not officially certified. Lett uses native/natural fermentations and old barrels for aging with a small percentage of whole cluster, with his Pinots especially this works brilliantly to showcase vintage nuance and terroir and this Meunier benefits from his approach and I am very impressed with the raw allure of this dark garnet and sultry wine.
Jason Lett, winemaker here at Eyrie, is a second generation winegrower, his dad David Lett, an Oregon legend, pioneered both Pinot Noir and its white wine cousin Pinot gris in the Willamette Valley, the two grapes that have defined Oregon wine the last three decades. David established the style of authentic wines with his artisanal, individualistic, transparent and even idiosyncratic in the state, that many later arrivals here been inspired by. David and Diana Lett founded Eyrie in the early 70s and had even back then believed in sustainable farming, an idea that was way before the current push toward holistic wine growing. Lett the younger is very much keeping the faith and things at The Eyrie Vineyard remain purposefully rustic and charming with a set of iconic Pinot Noirs, as well as still doing Pinot Gris, with some bottlings seeing skin contact for both a orange wine and a delicate Rosé like version, plus some interesting alternative varietals, like this Meunier, a Chasseles Doré, Trousseau, Pinot Blanc and Muscat. In fact, Jason Lett planted the Willamette Valley’s first Trousseau vines and his version of this Jura grape is highly coveted, and I think if people get this Meunier in their glass it will also attract a significant following, if it already doesn’t. This rare 2017 The Eyrie Meunier, the lesser known Champagne grape, has lots to admire, which the Dundee volcanic soils add to, makes for a deviously good wine and I look forward to seeing what the next vintage looks like.
($40 ESt.) 93 Points, grapelive
2020 Desire Lines Wine Co, Dry Riesling, Cole Ranch Vineyard & AVA, Mendocino County.
The beautifully aromatic and crisply bone dry Cole Ranch Riesling from Desire Lines Wine Co is a stellar california version of this varietal with mineral intensity, racy acidity and chiseled stony detailing that perfectly transmits the combination of rocky soils, that includes some limestone, gravel and loam. Desire Lines Wine Co, best known for their impressive, if not outstanding Syrah wines, also do a few intriguing whites, including a Shake Ridge Viognier, their Experimental Series Kick Ranch Sauvignon Blanc and this awesome Riesling from Cole Ranch, a site that benefits from Ocean breezes and cold nights that help store up the vibrant energy, while allowing an even ripening of the grapes. Interestingly, the Cole Ranch AVA, originally established in 1983, but the vines date back to 1971 when former owner Joe Cole planted them here, is an American Viticultural Area, and a single vineyard, located in Mendocino County, California. This area of vines, at less than a quarter of a square mile, about 60 acres, makes it the smallest AVA (appellation) in the United States. This tiny AVA is located between the Russian River and Anderson Valley and is home to some of the state’s most prized Riesling, as well as having small parcels of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir, all of which is sold to just a few wineries. This vineyard is set on a series of high hills ranging from 1,400-1,600 feet in elevation, and is now owned by the Sterling family, proprietors of the Esterlina Winery, that is located in Philo, controlling the entire vineyard acreage of the appellation, suppling Desire Lines with a some Riesling, as well as Pinot Noir guru Ross Cobb, who’s own version of dry Riesling has a cult like following. 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 wines from which to chose. 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 in total, which allows for a charming roundness, while focusing on absolute purity.
This dusty dry and steely 2020 Desire Lines Wine Co Cole Ranch Riesling shows off a lime citrus, tart peach, green apple and grapefruit led palate that adds tangy quince, bitter melon and a subtle tropical note as well as verbena, minty herb and crushed stones notes. As the wine opens you really take in the complexity, high toned floral aromatics, chamomile, clove spice, chalky sweet tarts and a gripping sense of dry extract, making me think of Rieslings from the Pfalz, and the Rheinhessen, like Keller’s Limestone bottling as well as a quality similar to what the best Aussie version from the Clare and Eden, this is outstanding stuff. Winemaker at Desire Lines Wine Co, Cody Rasmussen, as always, says that the Cole Ranch Riesling is a wine that’s especially close to his heart and this vintage is his fifth year working with the old-vine Riesling from Cole Ranch, a unique site that both a single vineyard and an AVA all to itself. Rasmussen adds, he tied his business card to the gate with the brown paper handle from his lunch sack in October of 2016, he didn’t ever imagine or think he’d get any grapes from here in the first place. Going on to reveal he never would have dared to dream that he’d grow to know and love the vineyard over half a decade (and counting) now, while I say he has done magic with this fruit and the Desire Lines Cole Ranch Dry Riesling is one of the best new world examples I’ve ever tasted. The 2020 Cole Ranch Riesling is cut in the mold of Rasmussen’s 2018, one of my favorites, with the numbers coming in at just 3.4 g/L residual sugar with a 3.03 pH and 7.3 titratable acidity, making it almost perfectly structured in a severe Trocken or Alsace mold. Cody sees this as a wine that’s going to age beautifully, though thinks, as I do, that it is delicious now. If you’ve not discovered Cody Rasmussen’s wines yet, you really should do your best to change that, as I’ve said before, and especially look for his Desire Lines Wine Co Syrah and Riesling bottlings. I highly recommend their Griffin’s Lair and Shake Ridge Syrahs, plus this fabulous wine, of course, as well as the Carignane and Mourvedre red blend from the Evangelho Vineyard in Contra Costa, which is owned by Cody’s boss, Morgan Twain-Peterson MW of Bedrock Wine Co. This Cole Ranch Riesling is a lovely and refreshing Summer sipper, but it really rises to the occasion when served with food, from briny oysters to traditional Alsace dishes it is up to the challenge and it should drink nicely for many years to come. There are very few wines that offer this much quality for the price, Riesling fans will want to find this wine and I suggest getting on the mailing list, as the 2021s should be equally compelling if not even better!
($25 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Chiappini, Guado De’ Gemoli, Bolgheri Superiore DOC, Tuscany, Italy.
There’s a lot to love with the Chiappini wines, and it was great to taste through them at this year’s Slow Wine tasting, especially good was their latest Guide De’ Gemoli Bolgheri Superior, which shows gorgeous depth and graceful mouth feel with this 2018 vintage showing blackberry, plum, cherry and mulberry fruits along with polished French oak shadings, as well as anise, tobacco, sandalwood and creme de cassis. This is Chiappini’s signature wine, modeled after their famous neighbor at Ornellaia, is classic Bordeaux blend featuring mainly Cabernet Sauvignon 70%, Merlot 15% and Cabernet franc 15% coming from their Bolgheri estate vines, including the Le Grottine Vineyard, which was planted back in 1978 along with Felciaino, that got planted in 1986, both set on the region’s alluvial and clay like soils with a concentration of calcareous deposits, which along with the Tuscan Coast climate makes for outstanding fruit density, flavor richness, elegant tannic structure and complexity. This vintage is exceptional and the Cab Franc has some nice exotic spice and violets, while the Merlot adds roundness and fills the gaps, backing up the dominate and powerful Cabernet Sauvignon perfectly, making for a wine that impresses the senses with a full body and a divine lingering dark fruited finish that has a touch of smoky vanilla and racy cinnamon accents. The Guado De’ Gemoli has long been a favorite of mine and this release is delicious, and the other one I usually go for is the Ferruggini, a blend of Sangiovese 50%, Cabernet Sauvignon 30% and Syrah 20%, which is a great value and maybe a touch juicier in style, though I must also mention the single cru Felciaino, which is a site blended red of Cabernet Sauvignon 50%, Merlot 40% and the rest a small dose of Sangiovese, it is in some years the best wine.
The wine making at Chiappini is a study in not doing too much, but giving the customer everything they expect with natural fermentation in steel tanks and a cool maceration period to extract color, flavor intensity and a tannic backbone. The maturation or elevage for the Guado De’ Gemoli lasts at least 18 months in classic French oak barrels, with just 15% being brand new and the rest seeing second or third use wood that tone down the sweet, smoky toast to an acceptable and well judged amount. The wines at Chiappini try to capture the essence of place and are an artful and soulful expression of the Bolgheri region that give a warmth of character that I find distinctive, it is shared by the legendary estates here, like the mentioned Ornellaia, as well as Tenuta San Guido (Sassicaia) and Le Machiole, to name a few. This is the region of Super Tuscans, with Cabernet Sauvignon being the star, but in recent times the wines with Cabernet Franc leading the way are being standouts, and of course the Merlot here has a cult following, as witnessed in the Masseto and Messorio bottlings by Ornellaia and Le Machiole respectively. Chiappini also does a line of single varietal wines as as the Bordeaux and hybrid Tuscan blends, this line known as Liena, includes a stunning Cab Franc, that I recently reviewed here at grape live.com, as well as a pure Cabernet Sauvignon, a Merlot, and a unique 100% Petit Verdot, which I am very much looking forward to trying. The Chiappini family is led by their patriarch Giovanni, who represents the beating heart of the estate and who has put his heart and soul into the dirt here, this place is a mirror of his hard work, and his son Alessandro makes the wines. I know his daughter Martina, the sales director for Chiappini, through her trips here to California and it was great to see her at Slow Wine, where she wowed this year’s gathering with these wines, and as mentioned, especially this Guado De’ Gemoli, which is awesome, it compares well with wines twice or three times the price.
($65 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Borgogno, Barolo DOCG, Cannubi, Piedmonte, Italy.
When I tasted the 2015 Borgogno Cannubi, I felt a sense inner peace and the presence of classic Nebbiolo purity, it excited my palate with layers of opulent density, showing macerated cherry, damson plum, strawberry and mulberry fruits that were admirably seamless on the full bodied palate, these flavors were joined by earth cedar, anise, mineral tones, distilled ros petals and a light truffle note. I should mention that there was a welcome tame feeling of tannins, rather than the usual youthful harshness and I think the 2015, which is more overt in fruit, seductive and or hedonistic is less fierce in grip than I expected and I believe it will appeal throughout its drinking window, which will be considerable, measured in decades. Maybe the warm of the year and transparent winemaking have benefited this gorgeous wine, I loved every sip of this Cannubi and the length is fabulous, making for a glorious Nebbiolo experience. I hope to re-visit this one in 10 years, I was lucky enough to try a Borgogno 2006 not too long ago and that was amazing, these are exceptional wines. Founded in 1761, Borgogno is the oldest continuously operating winery in Barolo, is now run by Farinetti family, who bought the estate in 2008. As noted in my prior reviews and as the winery explains, this historic property under Andrea Farinetti’s leadership, has seen an organic conversion and the winery reverted to using only cement vats for fermentation, and a return to the original or the estate’s original winemaking style. All the wines are made at the estate’s winemaking facility in the village of Barolo in their underground network of historic fermentation and aging rooms. Another bonus for Nebbiolo lovers, Borgogno has one of the deepest wine libraries in the world, with Barolo vintages stretching back decades. This brickish dark ruby/garnet 2015 gains from air and gets seductively aromatically in the glass, it is a wine that deserves to be a center of attention with a hearty meal.
The Borgogno Cannubi cru Barolo, like all of their single vineyard and riserva wines, was hand crafted with traditional methods, made only from the best grapes from Cannubi and fermented with native yeasts and sees a gentle extraction to allow for delicacy, while building age worthy structure. This spontaneous natural fermentation takes place in cement tanks at low temperatures and is followed by a long submerged cap maceration, which the winery says, can in some vintages like this one, reach 50 days before being raked off to mainly large oak casks. The Cannubi site is set on calcareous soils, with clay marl, and is slightly sandy, with Borgogno’s patch being perfectly situated to capture the sun, this terroir delivers power, chalky stoniness and ripe flavors. The aging for the Barolo Riserva happens exclusively in big Slavonian oak barrels for a massive six years, then this wine, like all Borgogno’s Riservas, was rested almost a year in bottle before being released from the cellar, while the Cannubi, as the winery says, gets 4 years in Slavonian oak casks (4500L) with a further 6 mounths in bottle before release. Cannubi is maybe the most famous and renowned cru of Barolo with a long history, that dates back to the 1700s, the Nebbiolo here is legendary and it is always a special treat to drink wines from this prestigious Piedmonte vineyard. Even though the year was marked by an extended period of heat, Borgogno’s vines weren’t overly stressed and even they had to pick early, they highly rate this vintage, which I cannot disagree with, as much as I enjoyed their effort here. This 2015, is quite expressive for a young Borgogno and it opens luxuriously, maybe this is baby fat and it performs as well as the nose and first impressions promised. In the past, I remarked that these wines had a hardness or an austere personality, but now I am thrilled by these wines, especially this one and can’t wait to try the upcoming Cru Vineyard 2016 releases, especially their Cannubi Barolo, which has wonderfully over delivered in the difficult 2014 and the warm 2015 vintages!
($150 to $195 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2020 Prá, Soave Classico DOC “Otto” Veneto, Italy.
Another brilliant example of just how good these modern Soave wines can be by Prá, one of the best producers here in the greater Veneto area, who put on a good display at this year’s Slow Wine tasting event in San Francisco. The Otto Soave Classico DOC from this 2020 vintage is wonderfully expressive, lively with good acidity and nicely textural in mouth feel, making it quite impressive and deep, especially for the price, this crisply detailed white flows gracefully, but brightly across the palate with juicy dry citrus fruits, plus white peach and white cherry notes, along with crushed stones, verbena, almond oil, delicate florals and spices. The Prá Otto Soave Classico DOC is made from Garganega, it is a white grape variety believed to be native to northern Italy and chiefly cultivated here in the hills around the ancient town of Soave, just east of Verona and near Lake Garda.
Prá is a historic, benchmark producer of Soave, along with Pieropan, Inama and Gini, and an often under-the-radar, as well as a solid producer of Valpolicella and famous also for Amarone, with vineyards that are all certified organic. Winemaker and grower, Graziano Prà uses grapes grown on volcanic soils with basalt and chalk for his Otto Soave that are entirely made of Garganega, the native varietal found here. The Otto, named after Graziano’s dog, sees stainless steel tank fermentation and aging, with no oak being used, getting six months in tank to mature and it reveals absolute purity of form and has a transparent personality and charm, it is an excellent sipper and food wine. I had a hard choice deciding between the Prá wines to review here, all of them deserve great attention and all were beautifully crafted, but I went with the Otto Soave because of it’s value and ease of use, it is a great way to start exploring this winery and the region and I highly recommend it.
($23 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2020 Il Colombaio di Santachiara, Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG “Selvabianca” Tuscan Wine Wine, Italy.
I recently reviewed one of the Il Colombaio di Santachiara Vernaccia di San Gimignano wines, but I could not move on without talking about this one, the 2020 Selvabianca, which is distinctly unique in this winery’s collection and is utterly delicious on its own and in its own right with brisk mineral intensity and hyper clarity of flavors and aromas, while having a beautiful textural presence in the glass. Two winemaking friends, Dylan and Tobe Sheldon of Sheldon Wines, are currently visiting Tuscany and taking a few romantic days in Florence, and by chance they had this wine while they were there and it looked perfect on a warm evening in such a dramatically beautiful setting, kicking me to get my own notes out on this one. The prior review on Il Colombaio di Santachiara, I wrote about the cement tank fermented version, which also saw an extended elevage, while this Selvabianca saw only stainless steel, both for fermentation and lees aging, to allow absolute varietal purity, vintage nuance and terroir transparency here. This steely 2020 edition shines brightly with an array of racy citrus, including lemon/lime, white peach, kiwi and quince fruits, as well as a hint of orange blossoms, wet stones, snappy herbs and a touch of almond paste. This is tasty white wine that has lots of character and charm that will be fabulous for Summer sipping and is a great food wine, it is wines like this that show that this region is not a one trick pony where only red wines, usually Sangiovese, rule the day, Tuscany has now a full range of quality white wines. I truly miss Italy and Tuscany, so this wine gave me a wonderful reminder of the joys of travel and this special place, bringing back fond memories of wandering through the narrow alleys of San Gimignano with the ancient towers above, this famous hilltop town is a must visit when in the region, along with the near by Siena and of course Florence.
The small family run winery, Il Colombaio di Santa Chiara, formerly a historic Parish known as San Donato, with buildings, chapel and farmland, has being become one of San Gimignano’s best producers, focusing on the Vernaccia grape and making wine of precision and elegance far removed from the generic light versions, which were far too common in this region until recently. The property, owned Mario Logi, and run by his three sons Giampiero, Stefano and Alessio, who is the winemaker here, is now called Locanda dei Logi, and is beautiful inn and winery just a short distance from the famous hilltop town with those ancient towers, San Gimignano, and just a short drive away from Siena. The Il Colombaio di Santa Chiara’s three fabulous bottlings of DOCG Vernaccia di San Gimignano, that I tried, one wood aged, one cement aged and this Selvabianca, as mentioned, done in stainless, all are outstanding examples that deserve attention, I highly recommend them, especially this one. Il Colombaio di Santa Chiara was, as I noted before, one of my best finds at the 2022 San Francisco Slow Wine tasting. The estate is holistically farmed and Mario and his sons are constantly among their vines, and like most producers, they believe a great wine is the result of great vines in a great terroir. The vineyard’s health requires hard work and lots of attention, and the Logi’s put the time in here, it shows in the wines. Mario, who has worked the land here since his teens in the 1950s, and his sons wanted to create a healthy biosphere on the estate for the vines and surrounding plants and it is for that the reason they worked hard to obtain full organic certification. This single vineyard, 100% Vernaccia di Gimignano, was sourced from vines set on chalky soils composed of old Pliocene sands and clays, it saw a soft pressing of the grapes, with indigenous yeast fermentation all cool and temperature controlled to preserve those pretty aromatics. Again, I recommend chasing these down, they have elevated this region greatly and are very exciting wines.
($23 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2020 Stars & Dust, Red Table Wine, Tierra Alta Vineyard, Santa Barbara County.
The dark ruby/magenta all Grenache Stars & Dust Red Table Wine is a single vineyard wine with loads of fresh pop and a quaffable personality, it is a wine that is more serious and aromatic that you first think, gaining complexity, spice and savory tones with every pleasing sip with brandied cherries, cranberry, juicy plum and crushed raspberry fruits, dried lavender, anise, cola bean, earthy elements, bright stem (peppery) bitterness and tangy pomegranate. This is delightful and medium bodied low alcohol Grenache that is very much a Cotes du California effort, no pretense, but absolutely delicious, perfumed and great with a wide range of foods. I am loving all the releases so far from the new Stars & Dust label, which started just a few years ago and best known for some stunning Rosé offerings, one made from 100% Mourvedre, which is incredible and Bandol like, plus a sublime Grenache based version, coming from the same Tierra Alta Vineyard where Stars & Dust got the grapes for this nice effort. Owner Nikki Pallesen has created a very tidy collection of small lot wines, most being four barrel each, like this one that saw just 80 cases being made. The more I sip on this Grenache, the more I want, and I can’t wait for Pallesen’s up coming 2021 Rosés, they are sure to be even better, since the vintage was more intense with great acidity, which will make for exciting wines, especially in the style she is looking to make.
Stars & Dust was founded by Nikki Pallesen, ex Liquid Farm, in 2020, focusing on small production, Santa Barbara County wines, featuring what she calls mineral driven Rosés, Single Vineyard Old Vine Chardonnays and now a few fun Reds, like this one. This wine, a Winter release, came as a bit of a surprise, but a very welcome one, even though I had been eagerly waiting Nikki’s set of Chardonnays, which I was also lucky enough to grab at the same time, coming from Old Vine sites they do look like special offerings, and I’ll review them soon. The Red Table Wine, 100% handpicked Grenache, was picked a bit early for freshness and comes in at just 12.4% natural alcohol, but to add a bit of refinement it was aged for 10 months in 100% neutral barrel, used French oak. This was made to be an enjoyable lighter style red, with a bit of Beaujolais like crisp stony character, and Nikki says that a friend playfully nicknamed it “Grenjolais” and I can see why, it is also good with a slight chill on a warm day. 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 ripen the Grenache at the Tierra Alta Vineyard. If you are looking for a Summer red, you would be advised to grab some of this stuff and get on the Stars & Dust mailing list to get the Rosés!
($28 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2017 Mount Eden Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The dark ruby colored and richly flavored 2017 Mount Eden Estate Pinot Noir is silky and ripe, this is exactly what you’d expect and want in such an iconic California wine with gorgeous layers of black cherry, plum and raspberry fruits along with tea spices, dried rose petals, smoky/toasty oak framing and blood orange accents. This medium/full bodied effort from Jeffery Patterson is showing fabulous right now, it was one of the stars of this year’s Slow Wine event in San Francisco and it looks like it will age very nicely, providing outstanding quality and depth, gaining complexity with every sip. In the more modern era of Mount Eden Vineyards, as I have noted here, Jeffrey Patterson, a traditional winegrower (vigneron) has made this historic estate one of California’s absolute best labels. This wine from the Saratoga area of the Santa Cruz Mountains is one of the state’s Grand Cru Pinots, joining legends like Rochioli, Williams Selyem, Joseph Swan, Calera and Hanzell, with this vintage impressing for its deep fruit density and energy, it is a very rewarding wine.
The famed Martin Ray originally planted Pinot Noir vines here at Mount Eden in 1945, with the budwood coming from Paul Masson’s original vineyard at the Mountain Winery that Masson, who was a good friend of the Louis Latour family of Burgundy, brought to California during the 1880s. This Mount Eden Pinot Noir vines occupy seven acres of the estate vineyard and typically yield a meager one to one-and-a-half tons per acre, which adds to the richness and concentration in these wines. Patterson employs natural yeasts, and his fermentations are done in small open-top fermentors, where maceration usually extends to between ten to fourteen days, with the musts seeing gentile punch downs by hand. The new wine, after primary is finished, is then immediately put into 75% new and 25% one-year-old French oak barriques. The Estate Pinot sees a long elevage, it matures in the barrel for eighteen months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered, plus it ages in bottle in the cellar for close to another year. I was great to taste through these beautiful Mount Eden Estate offerings at the Slow Wine show, and as you can see (from my reviews), I was very impressed with their Chardonnay as well as this Pinot and the awesome 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, these wines all are fantastic values too.
($65 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2019 Krupp Brothers Winery, Chardonnay, Stagecoach Vineyards, Napa Valley.
The very polished and decadently creamy Krupp Chardonnay retains the 2019 vintage’s cool inner brightness, making for an opulent full bodied version that still has energy, a mineral charm and complexity, it performs in the glass like one would expect from top Napa Chardonnays, in the vein of Kongsgaard and or Pahlmeyer. The mouth feel is lush with lemon curd, apple, white peach, pineapple and golden fig fruits, along with leesy brioche, clove spice, buttercream, toasty oak vanilla and wet stones accents. While weighty and with a serious presence, this vintage can surprise for its agility and the natural acidity comes through at the perfect moment to balance the luxurious personality here, it also allows real enjoyment with food, especially things like lobster tail, crab and soft cheeses. This Krupp Chardonnay, which comes from a special cool parcel on the Stagecoach Vineyard and hillside vines and saw barrel fermentation and aging, with an elevage of close to a year, after going through full malo-lactic conversion, with a high percentage of medium plus French oak barriques being employed. I gotta say, while I was nonchalant at first, tasting this wine with the Krupp’s awesome lineup of reds, this wine ended up impressing me with how well it stood up during my visit and I went back to it frequently to admire it.
As mentioned in recent reviews, it was long overdue to taste through the Krupp Bother wines and everything I tasted was impeccably well made and showing a purity of form, especially good on the day was their gorgeous 2018 Synchrony, a Bordeaux blend with good dose of Cab Franc, the dark and powerful Veraison Stagecoach Cabernet Sauvignon, the classic bottling from this small family winery, and the inky violet Black Bart Stagecoach Syrah, which has long been a favorite of mine. The winery, now located just off the Silverado Trail in a beautiful Tuscan style villa, which has surrounding vineyards that will go into some future bottlings, but still focuses on the Stagecoach fruit, even after the Krupp’s sold it off a few years back. The Stagecoach Vineyard, that the Krupp’s planted in pure rock, is a modern marvel that required a moving of heaven and earth to plant, is a rocky site, one of Napa’s most prized, situated between Howell Mountain and Pritchard Hill provides top notch grapes to some of the valley’s elite wines. The first time I visited the Krupp Brothers I visited Stagecoach, so this time felt different, but exciting to tour their new property and see a glimpse of their future, especially as winemaker Desiree O’Donovan is getting a chance to show off her talents going forward. After using top consultants for many years, the Krupp’s have put their faith in O’Donovan, a Napa native, who has loads of experience with these wines, being the long time assistant winemaker here, as well as some other boutique labels. The textural and expressive Krupp Chardonnay sometimes gets overlooked, but is a delicious effort and is performing exceptionally nicely right now.
($65 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Badia a Coltibuono, Montebello, Toscana IGT Rosso, Italy.
The Gaiole based Badia a Coltibuono, which dates back to 1846, makes some of the Chianti Classico’s most desirable wines and tasting the lineup recently at the 2022 Slow Wine tasting in San Francisco reminded me of how much that I miss Tuscany and how much I enjoy these wines. This 2016 IGT Rosso “Montebello” made by Roberto Stucchi Prinetti, along with consultant Maurizio Castelli really shined on the day, it is an interesting wine, because rather than focusing on Sangiovese (or international varieties), the winery uses a blend of nine of Chianti’s most important indigenous red varieties in equal parts, including Canaiolo Nero, Ciliegiolo, Colorino, Foglia Tonda, Malvasia Nera, Mammolo, Pugnitello, Sanforte and Sangiovese. This dark garnet colored and robust wine shows an earthy intensity and layers of dark berries, plum, currant and cherry fruits, along with tobacco leaf, cedar, minty herbs and a iron note, going some nice floral tones and anise with air. This wine is from a gorgeous vintage and brings an opulent sense and ripe character, making it an intriguing and compelling effort. All the grapes are from sustainable vines set on classic limestone and clay loam soils, that are Organic & Certified Organic. In some ways this wine is a throw back to another age, but done impeccably well and with finessed winemaking, this is not stuff you ever found in the straw basket bottles of the 1970s. Unlike old school field blends, each variety is fermented, with native yeasts, and aged individually in small lots and then blended after a year of barrel aging in a mix of mostly used French wood, with just 10% being new oak. Badia a Coltibuono was originally founded as an abbey (badia) in 1051 by St. Giovanni Gualberto, the founder of the Vallumbrosan Order of Benedictine monks, who may have been the first to cultivate Sangiovese in Chianti and these monks, who were very instrumental in wine growing, helped establish the traditions that have made this estate one of the best known and loved in the region.
The Tuscan sun and hillsides have been looking on the Badia a Coltibuono property for almost a thousand years with winemaking predating the Romans, and while the buildings here now were constructed long after wine was first made on the estate the is evidence that the wine-savvy Etruscans were present here as well. Grape-seeds, tartaric acid residue and amphorae from the first century A.D. Roman period, used for wine production, were found here. An archaeological dig on the estate unearthed ruins from these ancient times, but still, the modern version of Coltibuono is an old estate even by local standards and the vineyards, which are in the Chianti Classico commune of Gaiole in Chianti are led by the fifth generation of the Prinetti family. There are 150 acres of vineyards on the property, along with another 50 acres of olive trees, surrounded by the beautifully forested hillsides. Of course, as the Prinetti’s note, that this being Chianti Classico, Sangiovese is naturally the most important grape variety planted here, though following traditions, they also have Canaiolo Nero, Ciliegiolo, Colorino, Foglia Tonda, Malvasia Nera, Mammolo, Pugnitello, and Sanforte, all native varietals, as well as Trebbiano and Malvasia for their famous Vin Santo dessert wine. Owners, Emanuela, Paolo, and Roberto Stucchi Prinetti, winemaker, really have continued the long history here with lots of respect for nature and look to the future with pride of place and I can say the wines have never been better. While this wine really did captivate me, I must also report that the Sangiovese based wines were beautiful and rewarding as well, with the regular 2019 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico and the 2017 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva being outstanding examples, both offering immense comfort, complexity and drinking pleasure. This Badia a Coltibuono Montebello IGT Rosso bottling, with about 11% percent of each of the nine local grapes, is a wine that while not within the DOCG Chianti Classico labeling rules, that has plenty of terroir charm, serious fruit density (depth) and the structure to impress, I highly recommend chasing some down.
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Chateau de Saint Cosme, Gigondas, Rhone Valley, France.
As readers of this website will most certainly know, Chateau de Saint Cosme Gigondas is one of my personal favorites and a wine I drink for my own pleasure and try to review every vintage, it always seems to get better and better, even with such expectations this wine, especially this stunning 2019, continues to thrill me and impress for the depth and quality for the price, there may not be a better wine value anywhere! I am a huge admirer of Louis Barroul’s wines, from his outstanding 100% Syrah Cotes du Rhone to his signature Grenache led Gigondas, as well as his set of beauties from the Northern Rhone sites, including his Cote-Rotie, Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage and the Condrieu. This deeply saturated 2019 Gigondas opens with a mix of dark berry fruit, spice, heady aromas and savory elements with boysenberry, black plum, pomegranate and wild strawberry fruits flowing across the full bodied palate along with lavender, pepper, anise and subtle earthy tones, gaining impact and presence in the glass with every sip, while providing immediate pleasure. This is another sensational effort from Saint Cosme with fine grained tannins, raw transparency and a lingering creme de cassis finish, well worth aging, for those that have patience there will be tremendous rewards, even though the youthful fruit intensity makes for a hedonistic experience that is hard to resist even in such a youthful wine. Best to have this wine with simple, but hearty cuisine and I would, as always, suggest a 30 minute to an hour decanting here, which will bring additional joy and a more chocolatey mouth feel.
The Chateau de Saint Cosme estate in the Southern Rhone is one of the best and most consistent wineries in France, their signature Gigondas continues to be as good as anything made in the old world, with these latest three or vintages being nearly perfect in every way imaginable. Chateau de Saint Cosme was one of the earliest wineries in the region with caves that go back to before Roman times. Louis Barruol is one of the greatest Rhone vignerons of his generation and makes some of the best value selections in the region with estate holdings primarily in Gigondas, he also has a thrilling set of negociant wines from growers in both the Southern side as well as in top areas of the Northern Rhone. As I have noted in prior reviews, Barruol, who father was a pioneer and a traditionalist loved to co-ferment his grapes and paid great attention to detail and focused his vines to achieve individual varietal ripeness. Louis continues that today with his current Gigondas collection, he explains that this is why at Saint Cosme, the early-ripening cultivars (grapes) are planted in the late-ripening sites and the late-ripening varieties in the early-ripening sites, adding that, in this way, they all ripen at the same time and can therefore be co-fermented. This 2019 was a blend of 70% Grenache, 15% Mourvèdre, 14% Syrah and about 1% Cinsault, as mentioned, co-fermented in concrete from all organic vines. The Gigondas was then aged in a combination of vessels with nearly 20% in new oak, 50% in used oak and with close to 30% of this Rhone in cement vats, to promote purity and terroir, which this vintage does exceptionally well. This is a modern classic, very similar to the wildly good 2016, that should not be missed!
($40 Est.) 95+ Points, grapelive
2018 Ser, Sparkling Riesling, Wirz Vineyard, Cienega Valley, San Benito County.
I hadn’t had Ser in a while, so it was great that a colleague who works for another winery splashed me this zesty and bright Sparkling Riesling, it really hit the spot and reminded me that I need to check out this small winery’s latest releases. This 2018 Wirz Vineyard dry Riesling bubbly was made in the classic Methode Champenoise style, and the wine spent 16 months en tirage, on the lees and then disgorged for impeccable clarity and elegance. The pure Riesling flavor profile, with green apple, tart peach, racy lemony citrus along with the doughy brioche make for an easy to love sipper that can be enjoyed with or without food, though I highly recommend having it with shellfish, like oysters, clams or mussels. The aromas are muted, but the mineral chalkiness is delightful and as someone that is a noted Riesling geek, I loved how Sekt (German Sparkling Wine) like this wine is and how zingy the acidity is. I have been a fan of Nicole Walsh’s Ser wines for a while now and in the past was thrilled by her Enz Vineyard Cabernet Pfeffer, coming from those 133 year old vines. Cab Pfeffer is, as Walsh notes, a synonym for a rare grape variety grown in Southern France, called Mourtaou, and hers is a beauty, putting a spotlight on this dry farmed, head trained, and sustainable grown vines set on decomposed granite and limestone soils, like what this Wirz Riesling comes from. Ser also does a fabulous Cab Pfeffer Rosé to go with the red and I am looking forward to see the 2021 version that should be coming out soon.
Winemaker, Nicole Walsh, who has been girl Friday behind Randall Grahm at Bonny Doon for more than 15 years, created her Ser label to step out of the shadows of other wineries and present her own style to the world, with many unique bottlings, like this Sparkling Riesling. She says that Ser is an artisanal winery, crafting small lots wines, based out of Santa Cruz, CA, and specializes in pure varietal offerings, single vineyard designate, old world style wines. These are produced in a natural way, which she adds, to allow the expression of their varietal character and the vineyards from which they are sourced, highlighting the terroir influence. Ser works closely with Pat Wirz, getting 90+ year old Cabernet Pfeffer and 60 year old Riesling grapes from his all tended vines. The Wirz vineyard is located in the Cienega Valley (San Benito County), in the foothills of the Gabilan Mountain Range, it sits at about 1100 ft above sea level and nearly 25 miles from the Pacific. Some of the crazy may have rubbed off Mr Grahm, but certainly the joy of being different and celebrating wine has, and Walsh’s wines reflect this and her wines are lovely and rewarding bottles. Ser was founded in 2012 with grapes sourced from coastal sites primarily, with a collection of vineyards that were and are influenced by the Pacific Ocean. Nicole focused on these cool climate, central coast vineyards, which included vines in appellations like the Santa Cruz Mountains, Cienega Valley in San Benito, where Wirz sits, as well as Santa Lucia Highlands and more recently, she added Edna Valley to the lineup. These make up the core of the Ser efforts, they give Nicole a fresh palate of flavors to work with, providing vibrancy and balance throughout her collection.
($34 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Cantina Fradiles Vitivinicola, Muristellu – Bovale Sardo, Bagadìu, Red Wine, Isola dei Nuraghi IGT, Sardinia, Italy.
The Fradiles winery on Sardinia, was all new to me, as was the red grape Muristellu (also known as Bovale Sardo), but I am very interested now in both this organic and traditional producer and this deeply flavored varietal, after tasting this fabulous 2016 Bagadìu IGT Rosso, which is 100% Muristellu and reminds me a bit of the powerful Aglianico wines of Taurasi in Campania. This wine, oddly not allowed to be labeled under the DOC rules because it is all Muristellu, is very dark with a garnet crimson hue in the glass and has firm dusty tannins that support a beautiful array of fruit with black cherry, plum, mulberry and fig on the full bodied, slightly rustic, palate. There is a layer of earthy old world charm here that keeps things complex with hints of cut tobacco, leather, iron and truffle, as well as minty wild herbs, dried flowers, cedar, grilled orange peel and red spices. With few reference points, I can only say that this is intriguing stuff by Fradiles and I can’t wait to try more wines from this ancient indigenous grape, plus I am feeling a huge pull to visit Sardinia and explore the wines much more intensely than I have in the past, clearly there are many more treasures to discover here. Coming from a highly regarded vintage and with a bit of age, this wine is showing extremely well and only getting better, I’ll have to see if there is more available out there, it would be thrilling to re-visit this rarity in 5 to 10 years. I am incredibly grateful for the chance to try this wine and learn more about the history of this mysterious Mediterranean island with its many different terroirs, with this one being dominated by its decomposed granite sandy red soils, in the Southern part of the Island, not too far from Cagliari. This serious and compelling wine, which still retains good natural acidity, with be great with hard sheep cheeses as well as with grilled meats, wild boar and or lamb dishes, its a taut wine that will benefit from robust cuisine choices, that will allow the density of fruit to shine and soften the tannins.
My friend and Sardinian sommelier/winemaker Giuseppe Cossu has provided me with some incredible information on Sardinia and was kind enough to share this rare wine and varietal with me, he added many curious (facts) points to my own limited research into this and other mysterious local grapes. He even linked me up to the latest documentation on Muristellu, which was compiled by vinifera experts (which I need to credit and thank) that shows from the genetic analysis that it is definitively evident that Muristellu (Bovale Sardo) and Bovali Mannu (Cagnulari) are two distinctly different vines, but of which share in some family relations and excludes a possible relationship of direct kinship. Was thought to be similar or related to Bobal in found in Southern Spain, Muristellu is now known to be indigenous to Sardinia, which many experts believe is like Grenache (Cannonau) and born here on this island. Many Sardinian varieties are genetically close to Muristellu and analyses have also identified relationships of descent, while complicated this suggests that Sardinia itself is one of the oldest known wine growing regions in Europe dating back to the 11th century BC. It was once thought that the Spanish brought Muristellu and Cannonau (Grenache/Garnacha) to this strongly Mediterranean island, but it may just be the other way round. Interestingly, in Corsica, Muristellu is called Carcajolo Noir, where it is also now found, though it remains a rarity on both islands, but makes wines that are well worth searching out. Fradiles Vitivinicola makes a lineup of native varietal wines, as well as a blended wine made from Bovale Sardo (Muristellu), Cannonau (Grenache), Monica, another rare local red grape. The Bagadiu comes from mature 40 to 60 year old vines at close to 2,000 feet up that are all hand tended, that are, as mentioned all organic and the wine saw a native yeast fermentation in stainless steel, where it spent 6 months before being racked to large used oak casks for another 10 months. Fradiles, and winemaker Paolo Savoldo, made just about 200 cases of this sultry and captivating Bagadìu, so it will be a hard get for us in California, though I am motivated to find some more, along with their other offerings, especially their co-fermented field blends.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Weingut Leitz, Riesling Feinherb, Rheingau, Germany.
The basic Rheingau Riesling is fresh, fruity, but a bit drier in style than some and this 2019 offers up loads of classic varietal character with a range of citrus and stone fruits leading the way, all pushed ahead with racy acidity and crystalline mineral tones. While Leitz’s top wines come from the estate vineyards that lie entirely on the westernmost part of the Rheingau on the Rüdesheimer Berg, or Magic Mountain as Leitz himself calls it. This part of the Rheingau is a steep, south-facing hillside of extremely weathered old slate and quartzite and almost exclusively planted to Riesling, which encompasses the Grand Crus of Schlossberg, Rottland, Kaisersteinfels and Roseneck, while some of bigger bottlings see fruit coming from a mix of terroirs throughout the area. So, as we celebrate International’s Riesling Day and Riesling’s birthday, I just wanted to share an easy version and this hit the spot on a warm March afternoon with its grapefruit, mint, white peach and green apple fruits, zesty acidity and steely light personality, adding hints of green tea, citron, wet stones, clove spice and better almond notes. A bit of white flowers come through, but this Riesling is not overly aromatic and any RS is well hidden, it feels more like a Trocken as it opens up in the glass, and while not in the league with the Cru wines in Leitz’s impressive lineup, this wine has a no fuss charm and is quality enough for less serious occasions. Johannes Leitz has a sublime collection of offerings, like the mentioned Rudesheimer Berg (Grosses Gewachs) as well as traditional Kabinett, Spatlese and Auslese Rieslings, which deserve your attention, to wines like this, part of a regional range of drier stuff, and there’s never been a better time to explore them, with a string of exciting vintages to chose from.
Johannes Leitz, has taken the original Weingut Josef Leitz to the top of German wine and he has earned the reputation of being one of Rheingau’s top growers, with unbelievable care being given to the vines he uses, Leitz is without question one of the most innovative minds and one of finest producers in Germany. Since taking over his family estate in 1985, Johannes has grown his holdings from just 2.6 hectares to over 40, most of which are Grand Cru sites on the slate slopes of the Rüdesheimer Berg, and he’s been instrumental in preserving and rebuilding many historic parcels, including the old stone terraces at Kaisrersteinfels. Once the home of some of the world’s most sought after and expensive wines, and the most likely birthplace of Riesling, the Rheingau is a small, but mighty important region, it stretches only about 20 miles from east to west from the Main confluence past the tiny hamlet of Assmannshausen. It is marked by a course change in the Rhein River’s flow to the North Sea from its origins in the Swiss Alps as it passes the Nahe where it narrows from its widest point. As the Rhein flows north along the eastern edge of the Pfalz and Rheinhessen, it runs directly into the Taunus Mountain range which has a subsoil comprised of pure crystalline quartzite, which shows up in Leitz’s Drachenstein (Dragon Stone) bottlings. Leitz is focused clarity and transparency and is know for working gently in the press house and aging the wines on their gross lees. Johannes selects bottle closures to reflect, and more crucially serve, the individual cellar practices employed for each wine; Stelvin closures are used for wines raised in stainless steel to preserve freshness while wines raised in cask are bottled under cork to allow for a long development in the cellar. This Rheingau Riesling is pure and ready to drink, it is crisply refreshing and crafted without pretense to just be enjoyed with smiles, enjoy it over the next year or so. This wine, usually pretty easy to find, is a solid value and I recommend checking it out, but for a step up in complexity without busting the bank, I really love Leitz’s beautiful Dragon Stone.
($16 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2020 Cruse Wine Co, Pétillant Naturel Rosé, Sparkling St. Laurent, Ricci Vineyard, Carneros AVA, Sonoma County.
In a change up, the 2020 Cruse Sparkling St. Laurent is a Rosé rather than a Blanc de Noirs, and it is like Spring in the glass with pretty floral aromatics and a supple fruity palate with sweet pea, strawberry, red peach and zesty citrus leading the way, gaining a leesy mouth feel with air. This vintage is generous and even seems to have an off dry character, making it easy to sip on its own and good with more spicy dishes. Cruse does a fabulous set of bubbles and even does some custom versions for other wineries, like Stolpman’s Trousseau “Combe” Pet-Nat, with some interesting and rare varietals, like St. Laurent, an Austrian red grape, non too common here in California, as well as using traditional Champagne grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in his upper end fizz. This light pinkish Pétillant Naturel Rosé Sparkling St. Laurent is Cruse’s most open and fruit forward version with a refined creamy mousse and is nicely rounded, without overt frothy bubbles. The San Pablo bay climate and clay based spoils bring out a rich fruit detail, but retains lots juicy acidity, making for a bubbly that is balanced and will appeal to a wide range of palates, it will go great with sunsets.
The Cruse Sparkling St. Laurent grapes were whole cluster pressed using the same slow steady cycle as for his traditional method sparkling wines. The wine was then fermented a small stainless steel tank with a touch of skin contact to achieve that light pink tint, finishing at about 11.5% natural alcohol, which left plenty of fruit and a hint of RS, helping with texture here. Towards the end of the fermentation Cruse bottles the wine where it is stored a bit before it is classically riddled and disgorged for clarity, as Michael notes, (that) there was zero additions made in his Pet-Nats, no yeast, no sugar, or sulfur added, it is pure, fermented, grape juice, and that is exactly what you taste in this expressive version. As I’ve mentioned with prior reviews, Cruse is making some of California’s best sparkling wines and is certainly gifted with Pet-Nats, and I am fond, in particular, of his Sparkling Valdiguié Pétillant Naturel, it really is a pure California treat, as this one is too, they are quality efforts. all of Michael Cruse’s sparkling wines are joyous stuff rom his super rare and luxurious Methode Champenoise “Ultramarine” to these fun Pet-Nats that offer lots of drinking pleasures at a tasty price. Cruse has just released his new editions, and from what I hear they are some of his stuff to date and look forward to checking them out!
($32 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 I Custodi delle vigne dell’Etna, Etna Bianco DOC “Ante” Mount Etna, Sicily, Italy.
An outstanding dry Etna white from Mario Paoluzi’s I Custodi winery, the Ante comes from 2,500 feet up on north side of Sicily’s active volcano and made from a field or Contrada (vineyard) blend of native varietals with 90% Carricante, along with minor amounts of Grecanico and Minnella that was fermented and aged solely in stainless steel to preserve purity and freshness. This 2018 is beautifully detailed and starting to reveal its true nature and textural quality with mineral intensity, coming from that ancient lava (volcanic), mineral rich, sandy soils, as well as a saline persistence on the rounded, but steely medium bodied palate with white peach, tangerine, pear, delicate tropical and quince fruits, boosted as well by spicy accents, clove, crushed stones and a lingering lime tanginess. This lightly floral and crisp, greenish/straw hued Etna Bianco is energy filled and grows in presence with air and gains a more serious mouth feel as it warms in the glass, making for a stylish and delicious companion with an array of cuisine choices, though I can say for sure it is best with fresh catch sea foods from swordfish to octopus, as well as ceviche and or Moroccan inspired lemon chicken and couscous. As the price for white Burgundy and especially top Chablis goes up and up, the wine world has began to explore other options and certainly these mineral and terroir driven Carricante based Etna Bianco wines are great and slightly exotic alternatives, especially with efforts like this one.
The I Custodi delle vigne dell’Etna is an exciting label and is part of the I Vigneri collective dedicated to preserving historic traditions and natural wine growing from vines to bottle, overseen by the legendary Salvo Foti, the godfather of Mount Etna wines. The mission here is healthy vines and environment, with these grapes growing in densely planted parcels on ancient dry stone terraces on the slopes of the volcano. They are cultivated in harmony with the nature that surrounds them, hand tended only by the manual labor of the mention I Vigneri group, the skillful Etnean winegrowers with methods that have been employed on Mt. Etna for centuries, without synthetic chemicals or pesticides, in respect of the people and the land here. The Ante comes from a selection of younger vines, located at Contrada Puntalazzo, Mascali and Versante Est dell’Etna with the grapes being hand harvested and brought into the winery with great care in shallow crates and then gently whole cluster pressed with a cool fermentation, finishing with just about 12.5% natural alcohol. Then the wine is matured in the stainless steel vats for 12 months on the natural lees and allowed to go through malolactic conversion, after which the Ante Etna Vianco sees about 6 months of bottle aging before release. There were close to 800 cases made of the 2018 I Custodi Ante white, so while somewhat rare, it can be found and it is a fabulous and exciting example of Etna Bianco that I highly recommend, along with all of the I Custodi and any of the Salvo Foti wines. I tasted through the lineup of the I Custodi offerings at this year’s Slow Wine event in San Francisco and as I had in the past, was very impressed by them, especially the Nerello Mascalese based Saeculare Etna Rosso Riserva 2012, which I already reviewed, and this brightly focused Ante.
($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Pieropan, Soave Classico DOC “La Rocca” Veneto, Italy.
What an absolutely delicious and serious white wine, this single cru Soave “La Rocca” by Pieropan is a stunning example of pure Garganega with deep complexity and textural grace. This is an outrageously good edition, showing citrus and orchard fruit and loads of mineral intensity and a dry presence in the glass. There is a sense of depth and power in this La Rocca with palate impact that sometimes reminds me on a Hermitage Blanc or Condrieu with crushed stones, white flowers, orchard fruits, clove spice, a touch of bacon fat, a flinty mineral tone and leesy pleasure, all in an almost full bodied palate and with an underlying energy from the natural acidity. The oldest family-owned estate in Soave, Pieropan, which was founded back in 1880, oversees some of the most acclaimed and coveted vineyards in the region that sits between Lake Garda and the Veneto’s main hillside area. Among the most vaunted are Calvarino and this La Rocca, which is the richest Soave in the Pieropan portfolio, and crafted exclusively from 100% Garganega grapes. La Rocca sits below a medieval castle on the Monte Rocchetta hill and is notably characterized by its calcareous like hardened clay soils, it’s at between 200-300 meters above sea level and, as Pieropan explains, encompassing several long, narrow terraces facing southwest, picking up the sun, but also getting a balancing cooling influence. The soil and climate at La Rocca, together with its other singular or distinct qualities, gives the wines a unique jasmine and or orange blossom perfume and the mentioned mineral tones. The aromatic and lengthy La Rocca Soave Classico DOC comes from 10 to 50 year old vines, set on those chalky clay soils that allows that richer dimension to show through, and it was indigenous yeast fermented and then aged 12 months on lees in a combination of larger format 500-2000L Slavonian oak barrels. Historically, Soave has been a flexible food friendly wine, it goes fabulously well with many pasta dishes, soft cheeses, lighter poultry fare, with linguini and clams being an excellent pairing, while this more exotic and denser version being able to handle more robust cuisine.
In the last 10 years I’ve noticed a huge rise in quality in this region and wineries like Pieropan have shown the world the true potential of the Garganega grape, crafting outstanding versions throughout there range, along with the likes of Prà and Inama pushing Soave to new heights. The Pieropan family has been a force here, helping to revolutionize the winemaking in Soave, on the way to becoming one of the most critically acclaimed Italian wine families. The Pieropan legacy began, as the winery itself notes, in the late 1800s when their visionary winemaker Leonildo Pieropan purchased the historic Palazzo Pallucci in the medieval village of Soave and searching out top hillside vineyards. Today, the traditions carry on with Leonildo’s great-grandsons, Andrea and Dario, the winemaker, carry on the family’s patriarch’s vision making top quality Soave wines from all organically grown grapes. The Pieropan’s are committed to native varietals and minimalist winemaking, as is the trend in all of Italy, resulting in expressive, terroir-driven wines, such as this gorgeous La Rocca cru example. The Pieropan family cultivates the land with an environmentally-conscious, low-impact approach, which Dario believes, brings the wines to life here in their historic and modern cellars that perfectly blend tradition with the latest technology. Pieropan was the first winery to label and offer a single-vineyard (Cru) Soave Classico with the release of their Calvarino in 1971, and Pieropan is widely credited with initiating a renaissance in quality winegrowing in Soave, which has seen a new burst in excellence in modern times. The family’s persistence in releasing single-vineyard Soave Classicos from select hillsides makes them leaders here, but honestly their base regional blend Soave Classico bottling is pretty darn good and tasty stuff too, it is a superb value and something I look forward to during the warm Spring and Summer months, so if you’ve not explored Soave, it is a great place to start. This 2019 La Rocca, my favorite in the lineup, is just hitting the market and it is really worth hunting down, I tasted it along with the mentioned basic Soave and their signature Calvarino bottling at this years Slow Wine event and was incredibly impressed by the beauty and texture in these exceptional whites.
($39 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Extradimensional Wine Co. Yeah!, Love Language Glowing Red, California.
To take a walk on the wild side, get on the Extradimensional Wine Co. Yeah! list and try these completely unique bottlings, like this The Love Language Glowing Red that completely confuses the senses and makes you rethink about what expectations your palate has for a red wine, it is very different, with a light to medium weight, textural form, a range of flavors that includes reduced strawberries, wild plums, golden raisins and bright Italian cherries, all accented by dried herbs, earthy/savory elements, unsweetened honey and a touch of floral highlights. Winemaker Hardy Wallace, who is pushing the limits with his new Extradimensional Wine Co, Yeah! label is a huge fan of Mourvedre and Orange wine, and with this wine, he combines both his passions in this offering, he blended lots of Mourvedre, Barbera and skin fermented Chenin Blanc. At first I was dumbfounded and not too convinced by this Glowing Red, but it slowly grew on me and after I had it with food it became a much more pleasing experience with the Mourvedre coming through more clearly and allowing a sunny array of red fruits to fill the mouth. This is stuff that should be slightly chilled and drunk young and fresh, as many natural style wines should be served. This wine joins a unique set of counter culture releases in California, like those from Ruth Lewandowski Wines, Martha Stoumen and others, that takes its own path, very much at odds with mainstream ideas of wine, and while I wouldn’t want a full cellar of this one, I admire the brave risk taking here.
The Love Language Glowing Red is a totally different wine and concept from Hardy Wallace, formerly the co-founder and winemaker at Dirty & Rowdy wines, who has taken his ideas to the level here at his and Kate’s, his wife’s Extradimensional Wine Co. Yeah! label, with this new release being a blend of 54% Shake Ridge Vineyard Mourvèdre, from the Sierra Foothills and 12% Old Vine Barbera, along with 34% Old Vine skin contact Chenin Blanc from Mendocino County. Because of multi-regional collection here, this is a “California” red table wine, but the grapes do come from top sites in highly regarded AVAs, including Amador and Mendocino Counties. The high percentage of the white varietal in this red wine, certainly sets it apart from most wines, especially considering it is Chenin Blanc, which I don’t believe I’ve ever had in a red wine before. This crazy Love Language Glowing Red, as Hardy says, is a wine that is an ode to a juicy wild love, and who could resist that imagery, not me, that’s for certain, though he then goes on to suggest pairing it with love and your best dance moves, which I’m only half on board with. Like most modern natural winemakers, Wallace sources from organic vines and uses indigenous yeasts, after which the wine is aged in very seasoned used oak, in order to promote raw transparency, with almost no additional sulfites. This Extradimensional Wine Co. Yeah! wine has soft tannin, low alcohol and a good dose of natural acidity, making it crisply refreshing, it won’t be crowd pleaser, but will challenge you in a most interesting way! I am looking forward to seeing how Hardy’s new straight Mourvedre bottlings turn out, especially the Old Vine Evangelho version that I just got.
($47 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2012 Rivetti & Lauro, Valtellina Superiore DOCG, Uì Inferno – Vigna 117, Lombardy, Italy.
This gorgeous and fully mature 2012 Uì Inferno – Vigna 117 Valtellinna Superiore by Rivetti & Lauro comes from terraced vines in this alpine region in upper Lombary and is made from Chiavennasca, the local name for Nebbiolo, it is a wonderfully open wine with outstanding purity, silken well integrated tannin(s) and opulent red berry fruit, with black cherry, earthy currant, wild plum and balsamic strawberries leading the way, along with hints of herbs, spice, black licorice, tobacco leaf and sandalwood. As this Rivetti & Lauro, with its classic amber/brick edged dark ruby color, opens on the medium bodied palate pretty dried flowers and sultry kirsch liqueur come through and the natural acidity becomes more and more refined, making for a seamless Nebbiolo experience, and this wine would be exceptionally good with simple meat dishes, as well as a welcome partner with seared duck breast with a red berry reduction or woody mushroom risotto. This example of Valtellina drinks with an aged grace and sophisticated elegance that is usually reserved for elite Barbaresco wines or even a Premier Cru Burgundy with a compelling textural quality and this Valtellina is an extraordinary value too. This was my first ever taste of Rivetti & Lauro and I hope to try more from this producer, especially their Grumello and Sassela crus, which are highly regarded and coveted bottles. The 2012 Uì Inferno, a steep sun soaked site, Vigna 117, a single terraced parcel, is made from 100% Nebbiolo and comes in at about 14% natural alcohol, it highlights the ripe flavor intensity of the vintage and lush mouth feel, as well as its lingering, long and divine finish, this is a very pleasing wine and reminds me why I love this region. I will add Rivetti & Lauro to my watch list along with another new favorite, Tenuta Scerscé, as well as long time favorites Nino Negri, Nobili, Alfio Mozzi, Conti Sertoli Salis and in particular Ar. Pe Pe (Arpepe), which are a bit easier to find here in the states.
Valtellina is a high Alpine valley in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, bordering Switzerland and renown for its mountain Nebbiolo wines, which have really gained worldwide attention in recent times, even though this area has flourished since Roman times. During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the Valtellina region belonged to what was know as the Three Leagues (the “Grey Leagues”), which was then a mutual-defense zone that was independent of Switzerland, but was part the easternmost Swiss Canton of Graubünden. This remote area in which German, Romansh, Lombard and Italian languages are all spoken, the region became known variously as Veltlin, or Westtirol (West Tyrol) in the 1800s, but now proudly Italian. Interestingly, because of Valtellina’s remote location and easy to defend terrain, during the last months of World War II, the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and other diehard fascist leaders of the Italian Social Republic (RSI) proposed making a “last stand” against the advancing Allied forces in the Valtellina, but their plans never got a chance to came into being and the area became much more well known for its wine culture. As noted, In Valtellina, the wines are mostly made from Chiavennasca (the local name of Nebbiolo), along with some percentage other local varieties such as Rossola Nera of which is permitted up to 20% in the DOC and just 10% for the DOCG bottlings like this one. Grapes, by local rules must be small yields for the utmost quality and the finished wines have to be aged for at least 24 months prior to their release or three 3 years if labeled a Riserva bottling, also they need to be at least 11% natural alcohol. The yields for the DOCG wines are restricted as well to promote concentration, with requirements of a minimum alcohol level for the DOCG wine at 12%. The Cru Villages for red wines in Valtellina are Grumello, Sassella, Inferno, where this Rivetti & Lauro comes from, Valgella, and Maroggia. The village names, as in Burgundy are normally indicated on the labels, plus Valtellina also has an Amarone style DOCG Nebbiolo wine called Sforzato, where the grapes see a period of drying on straw mats to give hedonistic density and richness of flavors. If you’d not discovered Valtellina, above Milan and the lake district, yet, it is a great time to get started.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2021 Le P’Tit Paysan, Rosé, Pierre’s Pirouette, Central Coast, California.
Ian Brand’s delicious and more serious than the name Pierre’s Pirouette would suggest, dry Provence style Rosé, made with 75% Mourvedre, 14% Cinsault and 11% Grenache Noir is Bandol like blend that gives the right amount of structure and intensity to impress even the most high brow wine enthusiast, especially this vintage which is one of my favorite to date with its driving acidity and bone dry crisp detailing. The racy palate is nicely balanced between fruit and savory elements and has a lovely mineral core showing ruby grapefruit, sour cherry, strawberry, watermelon and orange rind, along with chalky wet stone, snappy herb, spice and a touch flinty/smoky cured bacon. The Mourvedre is dominate with its meaty grip, but with air the 2021 Pierre’s Pirouette adds rosewater and fresh crushed raspberry along with a textural feel in the mouth, which is from the Grenache and the zesty Cinsault that makes this wine even more compelling and fabulous with steamed mussels in spiced broth or Marseille bouillabaisse, while local to Monterey a bottle would be awesome with cioppino. Along with this tasty Le P’Tit Paysan Rosé, Brand is releasing a Spring collection, all of which are as good as expected, especially the new 2019 Bayly Ranch Cabernet Franc and the outstanding old vine Massa Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon! This Rosé is steely with low alcohol, it comes in at just about 12%, and still has loads of flavor, plus the twist top makes it great for beach use and or picnics.
The pale pinkish Le P’Tit Paysan Pierre’s Pirouette Rosé shines youthfully in the glass with a hint of vivid magenta and salmon hues, it comes from grapes grown in various plots in the Central Coast, including Arroyo Seco, in Monterey County and San Benito County. The grapes are picked early to retain vibrancy and this wine really benefits from that fresh acidity and the stony elements that come from, what Ian Brand calls, the calcium rich Aguajito Shale bluffs above the dry river bed in the Arroyo Seco AVA, as well as the calcareous alluvial soils around the San Benito Arroyo. Brand, a noted geology (dirt) geek and vineyard whisperer, along with his team employed a clean and transparent approach to their P’Tit Pays Pierre’s Pirouette Rosé, choosing to pick at a tick under 22 Brix and doing a direct pressing in separate small lots with between 3 to 6 hours of skin maceration. To promote the zingy character they chose to arrest secondary fermentation after the lots finished their cool temperature primary in stainless steel, where the wine aged as well with a minimum lees contact and bottled after just a few months. This vintage was cold stablized and sterile filtered to be as clear and as zesty as possible, making it a perfect Spring and Summer sipper, I highly recommend enjoying this one over the next 6 to 12 months. The latest offerings by Ian Brand, throughout the range and regardless of price are some of his best efforts to date and deserve your immediate attention, from the Le P’Tit Paysan Rosé and Le P’Tit Pape Rhone Blend to his La Marea Albarino and the top line I. Brand & Family stuff, like the mentioned Cab Sauvignon and Cab Franc, as well as the Grenache and Syrah bottlings are stunning!
($19 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 G.D. Vajra, Langhe Freisa DOC “Kye” Piedmonte, Italy.
I first tried Vajra’s Kye Langhe Freisa DOC in 2013 with their 2009 version being shown at a trade show and I was blown away, and every time I’ve had it since it continues to entrance and intrigue me, with the 2017 being remarkably similar to the 2009 with a deep perfume and wonderfully exotic fruit layer, all wrapped up in a silky, but structured wine, this is as good as this rare Piedmonte grape gets! Coming from estate vineyards, the oldest located in San Ponzio, on the lower west border of Bricco delle Viole (a top Barolo cru on classic Marl, sand and limestone), and as the winery notes, this is the closest vineyard to the winery, and a selezione massale planted by Aldo Vajra back in 1980. The Freisa, which has loads of strawberry, plum, vine picked berry and tangy cherry fruits, presented with spicy accents and a bit of Nebbiolo like character, but slightly more floral (roses and geraniums) on the nose, making for beautifully detailed, structured and lengthy wine that adds hints of earth, cedar and mineral with air. There is a lot going on here and you can see why this grape is making such an impressive comeback and winemaker Giuseppe Vajra has done a masterful job in a tough vintage with searing heat and where the vines struggled to produce worthwhile yields, especially considering how fabulously balanced this wine is and how utterly delicious it is on the palate. This wine is highly rewarding already and delivers seamless pleasures in a medium full red wine that goes stylishly well with a variety of dishes and authentic Northern Italian cuisine, being a gracious companion with meat and or mushroom dishes as well as hard cheeses. I tasted this terroir driven Freisa at the Slow Wine tour stop in San Francisco along with Vajra’s signature 2017 Bricco delle Viole Barolo and the sublime Ravera cru Barolo from the epic 2016 vintage, which was easily the best wine at the show.
In 2004, Freisa was discovered to be the closest relative to Nebbiolo, Vajra explains, thus explaining the deep bond this variety has with Piemonte and its people. With a noble profile and similar characteristics to the Nebbiolo, we have been bottling a dry Langhe DOC Freisa ever since 1989. Kyé means ‘who is?’ and represents the surprise for this indigenous and forgotten grape that has seen a glorious resurrection in modern times, especially good is this one, as well as Vietti’s, which has also become a fan favorite. In 1971, Aldo Vajra was one of the earliest adopters of organic farming in Piemonte and his vineyards have been nurtured holistically and soil preserved by grassing and cover crop for almost 50 years now. Vajra gained full organic certification in 2019 and the new generation here, led by Giuseppe Vajra, continues the family traditions here, but have also opened a new and world class cellar facility and the wines get better and better here. The winemaking for this wine is pretty close to how Vajra makes their Barolo with the Langhe Freisa DOC Kyé being aged for 26 months, mostly in large oak casks with incredible attention to details from vine to bottle. This Kye bottling is a rare and rewarding treat, and while not easy to get it certainly is well worth the chase, it drinks lovely on release, so no extra waiting is needed, though it will be fun to see it get some years on it too. Freisa is one of the latest varietals to be picked by the Vajra family, due to its late ripening pattern and the grapes are sorted manually three times, including directly on the vine, as whole clusters on the sorting tables, and lastly as single berries after a gentle de-stemming. Fermentation, according to the winery, lasts around 15 to 25 days in vertical vats, and is followed by spontaneous malolactic fermentation before going into the big boti (wood). As you might have noticed in my reviews, this winery is making some of my favorite Piedmonte wines from Dolcetto to Riesling, as well as this Freisa and their exceptional Barolo offerings and I highly recommend all of them!
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Cayuse Vineyards, Grenache, Armada Vineyard “God Only Knows” Walla Walla Valley.
The amazing 2018 God Only Knows Grenache from Cayuse’s legendary winemaker Christophe Barron, who’s roots are from the Champagne region in France, is an absolute rock star wine and one of the most unique Grenache based wines in the world. This vintage with its deep purple/garnet hue, fruit density and a raw earthy sex appeal is close to perfection, but not over worked and with loads of umami with a sultry spicy edginess. Some Grenache fans, and maybe rightly so, compare Barron’s Grenache to Chateau Rayas, standing head and shoulders above all the rest in its own style, especially as it has such depth and truly distinct singular character, unlike almost any other wine made from this varietal. This vintage has layers of black raspberry, brambly huckleberry, creme de cassis, tree picked plum, pomegranate and kirsch all accented by a array of spices, dried flowers, minty herbs, leathery notes and woodsy elements that all make this wine incredibly compelling, along with the year’s bright acidity, stony/savory expression and cool toned mineral charm. The bouquet perks up as the wine unfolds in the glass, fading the more rustic edginess and allowing the inner beauty of this taut God Only Knows Grenache to shine though its youthful intensity with peony florals, anise, cinnamon and sweet smoke coming through. Barron, who originally came to America to make Oregon Pinot but ended up turning to Rhone and Bordeaux grapes, has an amazing touch for Syrah and Grenache, as this bottling proves. He makes riveting wines, that combine power, sensuality and texture, again proven majestically in this wine and of course in his epic Bionic Frog Syrah, the flagship Cailloux Vineyard Syrah and the awesome Flying Pig, which I also tasted recently, made from a right bank collection of grapes led by Cabernet Franc, think Cheval Blanc! I was lucky to taste with Christophe before he got famous and was blown away by his En Cerise Vineyard Syrah in the early 2000s, a wine I compared to Chapoutier’s Le Meal ‘Ermitage in presence, it was an experience I didn’t soon forget and his current set of wines are even more memorable and monumental! Barron has also gone back to his roots and crafts a small lot grower producer style Champagne, it is also creating a lot of buzz.
The creation of Cayuse, more than twenty years ago now, as well reported and told by the winery, is an almost mythical story, about how a brash, young French Vigneron who visited the then little-known town called Walla Walla, and fell in love with a few acres of seemingly useless, stone-covered farmland. This district, the Rocks, that sits between Oregon and Washington has become an iconic sites in the new world. While the nay-sayers nayed, as Cayuse continues, Christophe Baron deftly turned that field of stones into this acclaimed and remarkable area into one of the most coveted in the world. And borrowing again from the winery, the rest, as they say, is history. Cayuse Vineyards, is like the Pacific Northwest’s Sine Quo Non and one of their top cult wines along with the famed Leonetti. The Armada Vineyard, as Barron notes, at 1815 vines per acre, this 7-acre vineyard, planted back in 2001, was the highest vine density planting in the Walla Walla Valley at the time. The notable Cayuse wines from this vineyard wines include their Armada Vineyard Syrah, this outrageous God Only Knows Grenache and the rare Edith Grenache Rosé, which I’ve never even seen. Currently, Cayuse farms five vineyards spread over 47 acres in the Walla Walla Valley, all of which are planted in stony soils. This rock terroir and rugged terrain is what first caught Christophe’s attention in 1996 and led him away from making his home in the Willamette Valley. The resulting conditions here are tough and the vines are highly stressed, meaning that vineyards average a low yield, of about only two tons per acre, helping explain the deep flavors and concentration in this wines. The winemaking is traditional minimal intervention, with this God Only Knows Grenache typically seeing 100% whole cluster fermentation in concrete and it is aged mainly in well seasoned French oak, normally using a combination of neutral puncheons and foudre, with a little bit of it getting elevage in concrete eggs. This is brilliant and gripping stuff, I am grateful I got to taste the latest set of Cayuse at the Slow Wine tasting in San Francisco, I only wish I could afford these bottles! In recent years I’ve managed to score some of Barron’s other label bottlings under his Horsepower and No Girls labels, which are tasty in their own right, but the Cayuse still take it to the next level, they are bucket list wines.
($150 to 180 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2015 Williams Selyem, Pinot Noir, Thirty-Fifth Anniversary Vintage, Vista Verde Vineyard, San Benito County.
One of the first post Bob Cabral era wines from Williams Selyem, the 2015 vintage, which was the winery’s 35th Anniversary release, was highly anticipated by Pinot lovers and fans to see where this iconic producer’s wines were headed and if this Vista Verde Vineyard, from the wilds of San Benito County, not far from the famed Calera winery and Mt. Harlan, is anything to go by, there is good times ahead here. This gorgeous dark ruby Pinot Noir has beautiful fruit and a sensual textural quality with ripe flavors and surprising depth with layers of black cherry, earthy vine picked berries, plum and red currant fruits, a light touch of oak and a rustic charm that is sometimes missing in modern wines. The satiny medium bodied, but richly detailed Vista Verde adds dimension with air helping give it more presence in the mouth and adds floral tones, a dusty/stony saline note and lingers with burnt orange and kirschwasser. This bottling, sometimes declassified to Central Coast, can sometimes pull off a surprise, and this 2015 certainly does, drinking on equal terms, with pleasure and personality, to some of the more famous vineyard sites in the Russian River, Sonoma Coast, Yorkville Highlands and the Anderson Valley, quite impressive for a warm year too! One of California’s most famous Pinot producers since 1980, Williams Selyem, made legendary by Bert Williams and later by Bob Cabral, still makes lustful wines, from their cellars almost across the road from Rochioli on Westside Road a stones throw from Healdsburg in the Russian River Valley.
The Vista Verde Vineyard, an ex cattle ranch near the town of Hollister, is planted to a mix of Pinot Noir selections, including heritage David Bruce, Pommard and Calera as well as some modern Dijon clones set at between 700 and 1,000 feet above sea level with a under pinning of fractured limestone with gravelly loams over the top. The climate sees big day to night temperature swings as well as coastal breezes, making for a more suitable terroir for Pinot Noir that one would expect and in combination with the soils this place consistently provides complexity and intensity. The winery says, this area, near the small town of Tres Pinos, directly east of the better-known Monterey County, on the other side of the Gavilan Mountains, in San Benito County, which is one of the oldest growing regions in the central coast, boasts four recognized AVAs with La Cienega Valley, Paicines, Lime Kiln Valley and the famed Mt. Harlan. This area, boasts, like Chalone, lots of limestone, with a complex maze of mountains, canyons and valleys, as Williams Selyem notes, some of which run east-west rather than north-south, this channels substantial marine influence into San Benito from the Pacific Ocean, only 20-30 miles away, which gives the freshness in the wines. As per normal here, the Vista Verde Pinot was de-stemmed and fermented in small lots then aged for close to 16 months in French oak with about 50 to 60% new wood. It seems that the Williams Selyem wines have a touch more maceration and pigment than the prior bottlings, but that could be my imagination, either way the 2015 Vista Verde is impeccably well made and utterly delicious, just starting to reveal its full potential, it is a sleeper in the lineup!
($56 to 70 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Krupp Brothers, Syrah “Black Bart” Stagecoach Vineyard, Napa Valley.
The deep and inky purple Black Bart Syrah by the Krupp Brothers coats the palate with fine grained tannins and opulent fruit density with seamless layers of blackberry coulis, blueberry, black currant and sweet plum fruits along with mocha, smoky embers, kirsch liqueur, anise, dark floral aromas and light forest floor earthiness along with dried sage and peppery spices. This is pure and hedonistic Syrah with a powerful, but ripe presence in the glass, the 2018 vintage brings a lively burst of coolness and acidity that really gives this wine an extra pop and while weighty and chocolatey, it feels remarkably well balanced, it was one of the many highlights of a recent visit to this winery. Jan and Bart Krupp, who founded and planted the Stagecoach Vineyard, which is one of the premier sites in the eastern hills of the Napa Valley, nestled between Pritchard Hill and Howell Mountain, and widely acclaimed for the incredible quality of the grapes. This awesome vineyard, that the brothers Krupp sold recently, still provides the fruit for their collection of wines, including this fantastic and heady Syrah bottling. From the beginning Rhone grapes played a passionate role with the Krupp wines, and I remember visiting Stagecoach early on and talking with the Krupp family about them and how excited by the Syrah and their white Rhones that they had started experimenting with at the time, so it was great to see they still have a love for them and that the wine has become so good. Of Course Stagecoach is mostly known for Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Bordeaux varietals, with the Krupp Brothers doing some fabulous versions, but on this trip I was blown away with their Tempranillo based “The Doctor” Red Wine, also from the 2018 vintage and this wine, which especially was showing well and is one of the best values in the limited small lot lineup. I highly recommend visiting the estate off the Silverado Trail, the tuscan style villa and views are absolutely stunning, as well as the wines.
The Stagecoach Vineyard, with its many different exposures and grades, provides many top wineries with premier grapes, from Chardonnay to Cabernet Franc, along with the mentioned Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as Petit Verdot, Malbec, Roussanne, the Syrah for this wine and many other intriguing varietals. The red, rocky volcanic soils, and hillsides that rise up to 1,900 feet above sea level, helps Stagecoach produce some of Napa Valley’s most prized fruit and the cool night time temps help refresh these vines, that were planted via dynamite blasting, with good natural acidity. Unlike the coastal Syrah in California, this Napa Hillside version is more polished, less edgy in style and was crafted to cater to its own niche, it’s more like Guigal’s La La’s (Cote-Rotie) rather that Clape’s Cornas with all de-stemmed grapes and aging in small barriques, with some toasty new oak. While I admit to loving the whole cluster and more stemmy examples, there is a lot to admire here too and this wine really grew on me as it opened up in glass and even at 15% it never felt hot or flabby, in fact with a bite of hard cheese it came across as sublimely elegant. No question this is a big wine, it never hides that fact, but it really is delicious stuff and I got a bottle tucked away for some extended cellar aging, which I believe will prove very rewarding. Dr. Jan Krupp and Bart Krupp founded Krupp Brothers with the release of their first wine in 1999 and have build a strong following over the years, and the future looks very exciting, especially with Desiree O’Donovan, their winemaker, now taking the helm in the cellar and many years as the assistant here, working under some of the valley’s top gun consultants and other boutique wineries. As a longtime fan of this label, it was very much impressed with everything I tasted here, the wines have never been better and I cannot wait to taste O’Donovan’s new wines, that are coming out this fall.
($90 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Mount Eden Vineyards, Chardonnay, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The 2017 Estate Chardonnay by Jeffery Patterson and his team at Mount Eden is everything that expectations had imagined and is a gorgeous full bodied wine with opulence, elegance and hedonism, but still finely detailed, balanced and a reflection of place, it impresses from start to finish and shouldn’t be missed. Over the past couple of years with Covid and general unease, I haven’t had many chances to taste the Mount Eden Vineyard wines, but when I have, I have been rewarded with exceptional efforts and at San Francisco’s Slow Wine tasting I was treated to this beautiful and classic version of their Chardonnay. The nose is stony with subtle orange blossoms, saline and clove spice that leads to the dense mouth filling palate that delivers layers of golden apple, pear and lemon curd that are accented by wet chalk, brioche (leesy notes), golden fig, vanilla and mineral tones. This vintage, which saw a bit of heat, will likely mature a tad faster than the upcoming 2018 and 2019 vintages, but there is still a underlying acidity that keeps things energetic and makes this edition great with a variety of flavorful cuisine, including lobster and thick soft cheeses. Patterson notes that his Chardonnay, which come from unique Burgundy clonal material, is know known as Mount Eden Clone, which has become a California heritage clone. He details the winemaking here as follows, with this Estate Chardonnay, the grapes get harvested when slightly yellow to yellow-green and are pressed without crushing. All of the juice is barrel-fermented in new and one-year-old French Burgundy barrels, where the wine undergoes primary and full malolactic fermentation and sees an elevage on the lees lasting for close to ten months before being lightly filtered prior to bottling. Patterson likes to give his wines time to mature and fill out, so his Estate Chardonnay is rested in Mount Eden’s cellar for two solid years before being released into the wild. As I have said before, we all benefit from that dedication to quality, with the later release of these wines, we get stunning more evolved bottles.
Mount Eden’s winery and vines, as I’ve written before, sit about 2,000 feet up above what is now Silicon Valley, it was originally founded as the Martin Ray Estate back in the mid 1940s and over the following 20 plus years became known for exceptional Chards and Pinots. In 1970 Ray lost the property to an investor coup and in 1972 it became Mount Eden, and they hired Pinot guru Richard Graff who had founded Chalone, who crafted the legendary 1972 and 1973 vintages before the owners brought on the little known woman winemaker Merry Edwards, who is now a California legend! In the more modern era of Mount Eden Vineyards Jeffrey Patterson, a traditional winegrower (vigneron) has made the estate one of California’s absolute best labels, after he was originally hired as the assistant winemaker back in 1981. Having graduated in biology from UC Berkeley in 1975, Patterson was fortunate to have been in Berkeley in the 1970s when local food and wine in the Bay Area were becoming relevant with the likes of Alice Waters creating a huge buzz. This is when she opened the famed Chez Panisse and Kermit Lynch had just started bringing in some of the great undiscovered wines of France, and the public were getting their first chance to explore French cuisine as well as have it paired with famous old world wines, all of which inspired and helped form Patterson’s future approach to his wines. There is so the admire in the latest releases from Mount Eden, with their 2017 Estate Pinot and 2016 Cabernet, which I reviewed recently, being fantastic examples of terroir and varietal. For those that love elite California Chardonnay, like Kongsgaard, Hanzell, Stony Hill, Aubert and Peter Michael, will want to get this Mount Eden Vineyards Estate Chardonnay, which remains a fabulous value for what you get. There’s a good reason why Mount Eden is one of the most celebrated and cherished small boutique wineries in California, making their world class estate Pinot Noir, this Chardonnay and the Cabernet Sauvignon from this hillside estate. Jeffery along with his wife Ellie have made Mount Eden an iconic producer and have influenced many wineries and winemakers, their wines speak for themselves.
($65 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2019 Vietti, Langhe Nebbiolo DOC “Perbacco” Piedmonte, Italy.
One of the first tables I visited at this year’s Slow Wine 2022 tasting event in San Francisco was of course Vietti, especially since they had just a lineup of their Nebbiolo wines, it included the majestic Lazzarito cru Barolo, their main Castiglione Barolo and this savvy Perbacco Langhe Nebbiolo, which is a bargain hunters favorite and a wine I can’t seem to get enough of. This 2019 version is fabulously pure and youthfully bold in the glass with pretty aromatics, taut structure and delightful fruit definition, depth and fresh acidity, it delivers a Nebbiolo experience and quality way above its price class. Not far off the basic Barolo and Barbaresco in terms of class with a traditional array of comforting Nebbiolo character showing crushed raspberry, black cherry, plum and currant fruits along with subtle earthy elements, minty herb, anise, burnt orange rind, seeped dark flowers and a hint of cedar and chalk. The lingering echos of kirsch and rose petals are lovely and the Perbacco turns silken and graceful, but with just enough tannic bite to remind you where this wine was born and tells you to enjoy it with robustly simple cuisine.
Known to many as a “baby Barolo”, Vietti’s Perbacco is always 100% Nebbiolo, made by the legendary Luca Currado, sourced from some of the fifteen different Grand Cru vineyards in Barolo and now more recently the winery started using a small portion of grapes from its vineyards in Barbaresco. In order to create a stylish gateway wine, Vietti only uses top quality sites to be part of the blend of this valued packed Perbecco Langhe Nebbiolo. The finished wine is a barrel and or tank selection, with each Cru being vinified separately, then lots are chosen and aged for two years in oak (as with the Barolo) after which a selection is made that highlights the region as well as the expression of the vintage. Vietti, one of Piedmonte’s great producers, does an impeccable job on this wine, it is an incredible value, the Perbacco is intended to show, as the winery says, the full complexity of the zone and the Nebbiolo varietal to novice and seasoned wine lovers alike. Vietti’s collection of varietal wines are always on point, from their Arneis, Timorasso, Barbera and Freisa to Dolcetto, Moscato d’Asti and this Langhe Nebbiolo, there’s no slouch in this set, all are ready to please and rewarding, so if you are looking to get your Piedmonte on, this is a great place to start!
($25 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
Grapelive.com – Reviews – February 2022
2021 Arnot-Roberts, Rosé, California.
The latest Arnot-Roberts Rosé is really tasty stuff, made from mainly from Touriga Nacional, the famous Port grape though rare here, as per normal, but this year also includes some Gamay, Grenache and another Port varietal Tinto Cao, which adds to the complexity to this excellent Californian bone dry, mineral driven and low alcohol pink wine. This crisp and pale Rosé which comes it at just about 11% natural alcohol, but is filled with flavor, depth and even a sense of texture, making it a fabulous wine with a touch of savory smoky elements going nicely with a zesty array of retained fruit. The nose intrigues with a delicate floral note, ruby citrus, a hint of bacon and crushed stones that leads to a vibrant, but subtle palate of racy grapefruit, strawberry, sour cherry and melon fruits, plus rosewater, dried/dusty herbs and wet rocks. Totally unique in make up and style, this wine has the class and quality of the top Provence Rosé, though true to its own sense of place, being a wine that could only be made here in California, it speaks to the passion and pride of the winemakers here. This year’s Light salmon hued Rosé is 67% Touriga Nacional, 21% Gamay Noir, 10% Tinto Cao and just 2% of Grenache, picked early with low sugars and was crafted with precision and with a short maceration and aging period for freshness.
This beautifully detailed 2021 Rosé comes from various sites, depending on the varietals, but mostly it is Touriga Nacional that is sourced from the Luchsinger in Kelseyville, Lake County, where Arnot-Roberts first found Trousseau and still use. The Touriga Nacional for Arnot-Roberts Rosé loves the cool nights and warm days here, the Luchsinger Vineyard is up at 1400’ and set on volcanic alluvium soils, which are laid over ancient riverbed cobblestones, in the Big Valley area west of Clear Lake. The winery adds, Clear Lake is the second largest natural body of water in California after Lake Tahoe and is an influence on the climate and the quality in the grapes grown here. There are, an ever growing set, of fine Californian examples of dry Rosé and I am thrilled by what I’m tasted and reviewed in recent years, though this Arnot-Roberts version is still right at the top of my list of must haves and it remains a great value too. Arnot-Roberts was founded in Healdsburg in 2001 by childhood friends from Napa Valley, Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts, who have excelled in creating some cult like favorites made from alternative varietals, like the mentioned Trousseau, Falanghina, Ribolla Giallo, Gruner Veltliner and this Touriga Nacional based Rosé, as well as an awesome set of Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet and Gamay offerings, all of which are worthy of searching out!
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Porseleinberg Farm 798, Syrah, Riebeek Kasteel, Swartland, South Africa.
This little known Porseleinberg wine by winemaker Callie Louw, part of the Boekenhoutskloof collection is an absolutely stunning Syrah, I can honestly it is one of the best versions in this style I’ve ever had, seriously rivaling Thierry Alemand’s famed Cornas and or Domaine Jamet’s iconic Cote-Rotie! This awesome full whole cluster Syrah from South Africa’s Swartland region bursts from the glass with a tantalizing mix of savory meatiness and utterly perfumed violets and an array of dark fruits that all leads to a full bodied and youthfully taut palate with layers of boysenberry, blueberry, damson plum and dusty black cherry fruits that are perfectly accented by an echoing of violets, anise, Greek black olive tapenade, lavender, cinnamon, garden herbs and rich creme de cassis. This wine starts slow, but really hits the gas when fully open, a few swirls and time turns this chiseled Syrah into one of the most fascinating experiences you’ll ever have and is a monumental effort, proving again that Syrah is a world class varietal that produces some of the greatest wines and values in the wine world, this wine is as pleasing and as complex as anything from Bordeaux or Burgundy and has intense palate impact. This is a special wine, it is without question an exciting discovery and one of the best South African examples of Syrah I have tried and joins an elite set of labels here, like Sadie Family and Badenhorst, if you can find it, don’t miss a chance to get it.
Started in 2010, this Porseleinberg (Syrah) project, has become one of the Cape’s most exciting reds, which after tasting this vintage, I can see why and from what I hear this 2018 is a more finessed edition than prior offerings that have been described as monsters or tannic powerhouses. It’s been said that Callie Louw has been very Influenced by some time spent at the mentioned Domaine Jamet in Cote Rotie and the employment, as noted by the winery, of a submerged cap maceration during primary fermentation. In a traditional nod, this 2018 Porseleinberg was 100% whole-cluster fermented in concrete vats using native yeasts, making for an old school style Syrah that excites the senses with a world of spices, camphor, mineral notes with raw peppercorns, snappy cloves, rosemary that never takes away from the deep blue fruits and depth of flavors. Porseleinberg started when South African Marc Kent (Boekenhoutskloof) searched out a unique site for Rhône grapes, which led him to the Swartland, where top Cape wines have been gaining notoriety. He believed he found the perfect place and purchased this small wine farm atop the Porseleinberg mountain and put the talented Callie Louw to work, with unbelievable results now in the bottle. Grown on this area’s schist soils, this Porseleinberg Syrah saw a maturation or elevage in a combination of mainly large and seasoned foudres and concrete eggs, this ended up contributing to the fantastic purity and fabulous concentration here. I can imagine this rare bottle aging for decades with your patience being well rewarded, though I don’t think I’d have the will power to wait!
($90 Est.) 98 Points, grapelive
2016 Chateau Pradeaux, Bandol Rouge, Provence, France.
Etienne Portails’ 2016 Bandol Rouge from his family’s Chateau Pradeaux is a rich and full bodied effort, showing a soulful Mourvedre dominated palate with earthy dark fruits, led by mulberry, black currant, plum and cherry, along with a light dusting of spices and accented by wilted flowers, leather and anise. There is a sense of raw transparency here, no flashiness or glitz, this is pure as it gets, but still the wine charms and beguiles in the glass and opens up nicely for complete enjoyment, even in its youthful form and its firm tannins melt away with food, this is very fine version from Pradeaux. This dark garnet and purple Bandol is a wine of place, first and foremost, and shows pride and passion for its terroir, taking its clues from its limestone influenced Provence soils, adding dimension and savory/stony elements as well as echoing its fruit for a long complex finish. Bandol, one of the great wines of France, often ages decades or more, rivaling Bordeaux, and are great with robust and protein rich cuisine, going great with lamb and mushroom dishes and or hard sheep cheeses.
The Château Pradeaux, run by Cyrille Portalis along with his two sons Edouard and current winemaker Etienne, is situated on the outskirts of the town of Saint Cyr-sur-Mer that lies directly on the gorgeous azur (Blue) Mediterranean between Toulon and Marseilles. The estate has been in the hands of the Portalis family since before the French Revolution and the wines themselves transmit that long history and tradition and Pradeaux has been farmed to organic principles for many years. The estate is all about Mourvedre and this classic cuvée is 95% Mourvèdre and 5% Grenache, all whole cluster and with indigenous yeasts the wines then get a long élevage in large oak foudres, in fact they can last as long as four years. The concentration comes from the old vine fruit with the grapes only coming from vines at least 25 years of age, with most much older. The wines of Château Pradeaux are authentic, bold and sometimes rustic, though under Etienne this wines have been elevated and the quality is exceptional, without losing the domaine’s traditional character, as this 2016 shows. I a big fan of the Pradeaux lineup, especially this bottling, which is a stunning value too, plus I can’t seem to get enough of their Bandol Rosé cuvée classique, which is always outstanding.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Bava, Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG, Piedmonte, Italy.
The heavenly perfumed, but dry Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato by Bave is cherry and plum fruit wine with a liquid rose petal nose, a sultry earthiness and a lightly tannic medium bodied palate. This is pretty stuff and distinctly Piedmonte in the glass with some fine almost Nebbiolo like details, a ruby/garnet color and brambly spicy, with hints of candied orange, minty herbs and with a chalky mineral element. All of which making this an exciting example of this rare Langhe red grape that has made a big come back in recent years largely due to the quality of the Bava and Montalbera wineries versions. Montalbera’s Ruchè, which I love, is more high profile and has more availability stateside and maybe setting the standard for quality, at least in what I’ve tasted so far, so it was nice to see Bava’s version right up there.This varietal is highly unusual with incredible aromatic character, Ruchè is as the Bvga family asserts, simply original and unique, once only found in sweet wines it has found a new life and following as a fragrant dry wine, with sweet and light tannins and moderate acidity and a good alcohol content. Ruchè can only be produced in seven municipalities of Monferrato, with Castagnole Monferrato being the highest regarded. Castagnole Monferrato, became a DOC in 1987, then a full DOCG, the more prestigious classification in 2010 and locals claim Ruchè as their own and it is considered the legacy wine of the Parish’s Priest, claiming that Father Cauda was in fact the creator of the modern Ruchè, though the grape has been grown in the region for hundreds of years. Ruchè is a mysterious grape once believed to have originated in the hills northeast of the town of Asti and I haven’t encountered too many notable versions, as noted, here in the states, especially as it is made in very low numbers and not imported often, though when done right it can be exceptional and very memorable, as Bava’s 2019 is.
The history of the Bava Family also goes back six generations, over 100 harvests, and starts in the village Cocconato, near vineyards that dominated by the Romanesque church of La Pieve and the Bava’s most cherished Barbera vines. They are know equality for whites and reds, but I really only tried a collection of the red wines at San Francisco’s Slow Wine 2022 tasting, with this Ruchè and their Nizza DOCG Barbera being the two standouts. This all stainless Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato was crafted to highlight the gorgeous aromatics and purity of this grape, making it bright and crisp, allowing its true personality to shine through without the use of wood. The Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato terroir is similar to Barolo and is up at about 200 meters with classic limestone soils with some hardened clay, sand and mineral sediments all of which add to the complexity and balance here. The Bava’s say, as a grape with primary aromas and few tannins, Ruchè does not need a long period maceration and finishes fermentation quite quickly, and they try to preserve the grape’s natural fragrance and avoid aging in barrels, preferring to bottle early as well in the following Spring. The exact origins of Ruchè are still unknown with ampelographers holding different theories, with two most prominent theories, one being an indigenous Langhe grape native to the Piedmont region or that it originated in Burgundy and was brought to Piedmont sometime in the 18th century, though that idea seems a touch far fetched as I have yet to see a grape similar in character in that part of France. For most of its history in Piedmont, the grape has been cultivated in relative obscurity, but now the secret is out and there plenty of excitement for it at home and even abroad, like here in California, where excitingly, ex Bonny Doon founder Randall Grahm is planting some Ruchè for his Popelouchum estate in San Juan Bautista. Imported now by Siena Imports, Bava should get easier to find, look for this Ruchè, and get to know this grape, it is well worth your time.
($25 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2019 Chesebro, Albarino, Cedar Lane Vineyard, Arroyo Seco AVA, Monterey County.
Mark Chesebro’s crisp and bone dry Albarino is a delightfully fresh and pure version that goes great with everything from oysters to lemon chicken dishes and it highlights just how good this varietal is when grown in a coastal climate and the saline rich stony alluvial soils here in Arroyo Seco. This 2019 is maturing well and has a nice background textural quality while still being racy and refreshing on the lighter framed palate with vibrant citrus, tart cider apple, peach and melon fruits leading the way in a zingy mineral driven wine that is lightly floral, salty and has a faint touch of straw and almond nuttiness. The 2019 is pretty sold out out, but the 2021 is out now and I look forward to trying it soon, but the vintages are likely not all that different, in fact I think the long cool growing season, while similar, should enhance the zesty style Chesebro goes for, making it a wine that looks to perk up those warms days ahead. Chesebro sells most of the grapes he grows, supplying some of the fine artisan brands that are better known, but these small lot wines under his own label are solid authentic wines without pretense, I highly recommend discovering the range of wines here, especially this Albarino and the Vermentino, a favorite of mine, made in the Favorita (Piedmonte) style, more zippy and lighter than Sardinian, Tuscan or Corsician versions. Chesebro is mainly known for the Rhone inspired reds as well as Sauvignon Blanc, but he also does some Bordeaux varietals, Gamay and Pinot Noir, all of which lean a more old world and less oaky style.
Albarino, a Spanish and Portuguese grape, most in the Rias Baixas region of Galicia, came to California in the late 1990s and has been a huge success throughout the cooler zones of the state. The first California Albarino was made by Michael Heavens (now of Cave Dog wines) from his small parcel of vines in Carneros and it was almost revolutionary, given us a great alternative to grassy Sauvignon and overly butter Chardonnay that was popular at the time. The grape made its way here to the central coast in the mid 2000s and has become a star in the Monterey region with some exciting versions really taking off in recent years, in particular the La Marea line by Ian Brand, which are delicious and includes a version with some skin contact, as well as Russell Joyce’s Joyce Wine Co Albarino that has a huge following too. Mark Chesebro, who was a winemaker at Bernardus, went 100% stainless steel with his Albarino and focuses on purity and transparency here, preserving all the intensity of the grapes natural acidity in the finished wine. As a fan of Rias Baixas wines, especially those of Nanclares and the like, this Chesebro version really appeals. Chesebro, who studied chemistry and biology at UC Riverside and UC Santa Cruz, before going back to school at UC Davis to study enology and viticulture with an eye toward creating a sustainable farm and vineyard, as he puts it, to live off the land, based on a suggestion of some Europeans he met while at Davis. He and his family presently on a ranch in Carmel Valley, where they grow grapes, apples, near to the vines in Arroyo Seco, which he farms. It’s a great time to discover these Chesebro wines and the Albarino is tasty way to start.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2019 Bucklin, Grenache “Ancient” Old Hill Ranch, Sonoma Valley.
The beautiful full bodied old vine “Ancient” Grenache by Will Bucklin at his family’s legendary Old Hill Ranch, home to California’s oldest Zinfandel, and most likely Grenache vines, is a deep and pleasure filled wine with seductively smooth layers of red fruits, hints of spice, sweet floral aromas and elegant wood shadings. These Grenache vines were mostly planted here in 1882 and they deliver amazing concentration and vinous mouth feel in a wine that is uniquely like if you took a Chateauneuf du Pape and blended it with 100 year old vine Zin in the way this wine sensuous hits the palate with thick fruit density and subtle earthiness. In mouth this Grenache delivers raspberry, candied cherry, plum and pomegranate fruits, white pepper, briar notes, sandalwood, lavender and anise. Will Bucklin’s wines are transparent and eager to please, he says that healthy, well-grown grapes are predisposed to becoming (great) wine. Going on he adds, the grapes are coated in natural yeasts, full of minerals and sugar that ferment without the need for nutrient additives, and they are not over-ripe from excessive hang time (late picking) that would require dilution or acid additions. Bucklin is mostly known for his Old Hill Ranch Zinfandels, but he does a few micro bottlings, like this “Ancient” old vine Grenache, as well as single parcel field blends, as well as a tasty Rosé and a Cabernet Sauvignon, all of which are incredible values and distinct wines. This dark garnet and ruby colored 2019 Grenache is rich and robust, but even at close to 15% natural alcohol, it has a Pinot Noir like elegance and drinks gracefully, it is sublime now and should age nicely for the nest 5 to 10 years.
One of Sonoma’s oldest and most historic vineyards, Old Hill Ranch was founded in 1851 by pioneer William McPherson Hill. The vineyard, which has 30 or so varieties inter-planted, that existed that was re-planted in the 1880s to include its famous Zinfandel, was purchased by Otto and Anne Teller in 1981 and today, Anne’s children, the four Bucklin siblings, including winemaker Will Bucklin, produce field-blended wines from the vines on the family ranch. This Grenache is selectively and exclusively harvested from the ancient vines, and is thus some of the oldest vine Grenache in the state. The blend consists of approximately 85% Grenache, with the remaining grapes a blend of Syrah, Carignane, Mourvedre, and Alicante Bouschet. Will Bucklin’s Old Hill Ranch farms its grapes all sustainably, he follows in the footsteps of his stepfather Otto Teller, a renowned conservationist who started a more holistic style farming in Sonoma Valley in the late 1950s. Otto, says Bucklin, was an ardent organic farmer, decades before this notion caught hold in this part of California and who thought dry farming was the only way to go, to protect ground water and save steams locally, so generations could still fish these natural treasures. After graduating from UC Davis in 1986, Bucklin interned at Château Lafite Rothschild before moving to Oregon to make wines, where he learned that the best wines were the result of healthy soil, that produces a healthy plant and in turn healthy fermentation(s), believing that if you farm the soil, the rest will follow. He employs low intervention winemaking adding no nutrients or the like, preferring natural fermentation and low sulfites, with aging done in mainly used barrels as to not hide the wine’s true nature and personality, and trying to make wine in the vineyard and to express the vineyard.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Cantina Gostolai, Rosa ‘e Monte, Vino Bianco Secco, Sardinia, Italy.
Based in Sardinia’s Nepente di Oliena, Cantina Gostolai is one of the island’s most interesting and influential producers, widely admired for their traditional and authentic wines and mostly for their beautiful Cannonau (Grenache) and Vermentino efforts, which I have only recently discovered, along with this rare and intriguing skin contact white blend Rosa ‘e Monte made mainly from an indigenous ancient varietal. This wonderfully textural and aromatic Rosa ‘e Monte white, is made outside of the regional and DOC rules, crafted from 70% Vernaccia di Oristano, an at least 3,000 year old local grape with no know relatives outside of Sardinia and 30% Vermentino that was fermented naturally with 24 hours of skin maceration and lees aged in stainless steel. The wine, which cannot be labeled with a year, is from the 2017 vintage and glows in the glass with a rich yellow/gold hued with a hint of amber, it fills the palate with a structured array of flavors and complexity, led by white stone fruits, preserved lemon, dried apricot and fleshy melon fruits that are nicely accented by mountain herbs, fennel, almond, verbena and a sense of tannin or gripping extract in a mineral crisp bone dry wine. This wine is joyously pleasing in the mouth, not at all funky or oxidative with a refreshing vibrancy and a stony finish, making it great to sip on and especially good with sea food, in this case I had it with Paella, that really suited this Mediterranean wine. This Vernaccia di Oristano grape can develop flor and be sherry like if desired, but this Gostolai version is clean and lively. It should noted that DNA testing has shown that there is a possible close genetic relationship of parent-offspring between Vernaccia di Oristano and the white Emilia-Romagna wine grape Santa Maria, though it looks it originally to have been born on Sardinina.
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. Gostolai fermented their Rosa ‘e Monte dry white was done completely in stainless steel, it was whole cluster pressed with the grapes allowed 24 hours of skin contact in temperature controlled vats. This skin contact allows for a touch more pigment, extract and that structure I mentioned above, enough to be noticeable on the palate, but without any hard edges, in fact this wine gains a vinous, almost oily silkiness with air and time in the glass. I was introduced to this winery by the Sardinia native and Italian sommelier Giuseppi Cossu, for which I am grateful as he has provided insights and history that I wouldn’t ever found on my own. Interestingly, ampelographers believe that the Vernaccia di Oristano grape, unrelated to the Vernaccia found in Tuscany, may be native to the Tirso river valley that crosses the island of Sardinia before emptying into the Gulf of Oristano, hence the name. This Vernaccia, first documented in 1327, was thought to have been introduced to the island of Sardinia by the Phoenicians, but grape seeds now have been found here that were over 3,000 years old, making it almost certainly that it here even earlier. The vines here are located at about a 1,000 feet of elevation on the Dolomite like granite based sandy soils on the the northeast side of Sardinia, that, as mention, is mostly known for their Vermentino di Sardegna and Cannonau (Grenache) di Sardegna wines, but Gostolai also produces small lot real rarities as well, including a sweet Muscat, an almost unheard of other local varietal Arvesiniadu and of course this wine. Gostolai, was founded and started making wines in 1988 and strives to preserve the region’s tradition, history, terroir and culture, producing wines of transparency, rustic charm and natural character, a mission that shows in their wines, like this one.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Vietti, Barolo DOCG, Lazzarito, Piedmonte, Italy.
One of the greats of Barolo, View’s Lazzarito never fails to disappoint and this 2017 is a stunning wine, tasted at this year’s Slow Wine tasting in San Francisco, it was one of the wines of the show with incredible depth, complexity and purity of flavor, it delivers a knock out performance, especially considering the vintage conditions. The 2017 is a powerhouse of classic Nebbiolo showing branded Italian cherries, plum, red currant and strawberry fruits on the full bodied and structured palate, accented by balsamic notes, iron, cedar, licorice and wild herbs. The tannins are firm, but allow seamless enjoyment even in such a young wine and melt away with food, while aromatics lean toward lavender and rose petals along with leather and sandalwood, all making for impactful and gorgeous wine. Vietti, originally founded back in 1873, is now owned by Americans, the Krause family, but the wines are still made by the legendary Luca Currado (Vietti) and these are some of the best wines in the region, with this Lazzarito being the flagship wine, and the 2017 version might be one of the wines of the vintage, it is a truly stunning Barolo. While most people would agree the 2010 and 2016 vintages are Barolos for the long term, 2013 and 2017 are fine vintages to enjoy in the more near term, though they still are top notch in terms of complexity and pleasure, and for savvy buyers they might be a bit less expensive and more available, with this Lazzarito lacking for nothing, with its muscular presence, aromatics and elegant length, it is hard not to swoon when tasting this edition. I think extra care was given here to make such an incredible wine as the year was searingly hot in the region and the yields were dramatically reduced to ensure the resulting quality found here. This year’s Slow Wine tasting in San Francisco was a showcase of the glories of Piedmonte and the Nebbiolo grape with many stars on display, with Vietti’s being some of the standouts on the day.
Having tasted through most of the Vietti collection of Barolo wines, I find their Lazzarito cru bottling singular and iconic, it usually tops my list in their exceptional lineup. This 2017 vintage is proof of the quality here at Lazzarito, and it is not far off the brilliant 2016, one of my favorite years since the mighty 2010s and 2006s, and the Lazzarito impresses with every sip and will please Nebbiolo lovers for many years to come. Located, as the winery notes, at a top of hill near Serralunga, the Lazzarito vineyard, which is now all organically farmed, is set in a historic site long known for its fresh air and favorable exposition, making for Nebbiolo of density, gripping structure, but with loads of natural acidity and beautiful perfumed fruit. Located in the Eastern part of the Barolo region, wines from this vineyard, the winery continues, are best known for their more “masculine” style, with intensity and powerful, which is true to the territory and Barolo, as it is also known as the King of Wines. This epic Barolo comes from mature vines, planted in 1983 on clay and limestone, this along with the climate here make for Nebbiolo of Grand Cru quality, think Mazi-Chambertin! Luca Currado does a natural yeast fermentation and cool maceration with the Lazzarito then seeing close to 30 months in cask, which vary slightly with each vintage’s nuances, with a combination of small French barriques and traditional large Slovenian casks employed. People were concerned when Vietti sold recently, but I can tell you that so far there is absolutely nothing to worry about with the quality of the wines, in fact they are even more precise than they have ever been and the future looks secure. This winery is one of Piedmonte’s best and continues to lead with pride and passion, this Lazzarito Barolo is a masterpiece and helps cements Vietti’s place in the regions elite producers. I hope to re-visit this Lazzarito in the future to see how it progresses, in the meantime I will drink Vietti’s “Perbacco” Langhe Nebbiolo, which is one of the best values and a great way to start exploring the Vietti wines.
($175 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Tement, Sauvignon Blanc, Reid Grassnitzberg, STK 1er Cru, Südsteinermark DAC, Styria, Austria.
An area that doesn’t get much attention, but one that can producer remarkable Sauvignon Blanc, like this wine from the renown Tement winery in southern Austria, a region very different from the other parts of Austria, like the Wachau or Bergenland in the northeast of the county where Gruner Veltliner and or Blaufrankisch are more famously grown. This aromatic and crisply dry2017 Tement Reid Grassnitzberg Sauvignon is a very distant white wine with a steely mineral core and stony elements on display behind layers of lemon/lime, guava, gooseberry and white orchard fruits. There’s tons of personality here and terroir character shows throughout, the single vineyard Grassnitzberg was the first vineyard owned by the Tement family and was planted in the early 1950’s, making for old vine concentration as well. The medium bodied bone dry palate delivers exceptional quality and highlights Armin Tement’s gifted touch and the careful and organic work in the vineyard. The Grassnitzberg Vineyard, as the winery states, is a special site with coralline limestone soil with south-southeast facing slopes, which adds to the complexity and the ripe nature in the wines, with this wine adding spicy accents, a crystalline mineral note and a faint trace of grassy herbs that provides a nice contrast to that expressive tropical fruit. A big thank you to my friend Alex Lallos, who kindly shared this bottle and reminded me just how good this producer and region’s wine are, it is nice to have colleagues that are curious and keep you on your toes.
Weingut Tement is a small family run winery, run by vigneron Armin Tement, who took over from his father Manfred and turned this label in to one of world’s Sauvignon Blanc producers, he is supported by brother Stefan and his wife Monika, along with his parents who continue to help out here at this Styrian estate. Armin has since then made Weingut Tement Southern Austria’s number one artisan winegrower and who’s father has helped create what is known as STK, the official Styrian Terroir and Klassik growers association that has lifted the image in this lesser known region. Over the years Tement has built a huge reputation for their Sauvignon Blanc, in fact they have won the title of world’s best Sauvignon Blanc many times, and tasting this single vineyard wine certainly cements that view and honor, it is a serious version of this grape, putting it in league with some of top names in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume with Dageneau coming to mind. The single vineyard wines, including this Reid Grassnitzberg Sauvignon Blanc, are made without any sulfur during vinification or aging. These whites, mainly Sauvignon and Chardonnay, which is known as Morillon locally, only get a little sulfur at bottling, allowing the wines to display a full expression of their sites. They are fermented and lees aged in large neutral Austrian oak barrels for eighteen to twenty months to develop their full range of flavors and texture and are bottled without filtration. This pretty, lightly floral and charming pale golden Sauvignon Blanc has a seductive charm and goes great with a range of food, especially soft cheeses, smoke trout and or roast poultry, keep an eye out for these Tement SBs, they are rare, wildly enertaining and delicious treats!
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Hundred Suns, Pinot Noir, Old Eight Cut, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
In a vintage that winemaker Grant Coulter says was kind of a return to normal or a classic Willamette year, cooler and on edge with loads of natural acidity, the 2019 Hundred Suns Old Eight Cut Pinot shines with bright intensity and tart Gamay like flavors, in fact as I have in prior reviews, I find this naturally styled Pinot thrilling in the same way I love the Cru Beaujolais wines from Morgon legendary producers Lapierre and Foillard. Dark garnet and with a touch of stemmy crunch, this spicy Oregon Pinot opens up to reveal black cherry, tangy red currant, pomegranate and garden grown strawberry fruits along with subtle earthiness, sweet and sour herbs, cinnamon, mineral, rose petal and a crisp saline finish that highlights the zippy acidity. With time and air the more sensual and textural side of this exciting Pinot comes through and the wine settles into a more elegant mood and get back into its varietal character with impressive flair, especially for a wine in this price class. The Hundred Suns Old Eight Cut Pinot, is, as Coulter puts it, a cellar selection (that) stitches together pieces from unique sites across the Willamette Valley, including some elite vineyard sites. The separate lots are fermented with all native yeast, partial whole cluster (25% this vintage) and with a variety of traditional and experimental techniques, sometimes including carbonic maceration and or amphora, all to create a layered and transparent wine of great complexity, which I can attest to in the last three or four vintages I’ve tried.
Grant Coulter, the ex Beaux Freres winemaker and his wife Renée Saint-Amour’s Hundred Suns label, which focuses on innovative hand crafted single vineyard Pinots, is one of the most coveted newer wineries in the Willamette region and while once under the radar, is now fully discovered. The top set of Pinots come from unique parcels at Shea Vineyard, in the Yamhill-Carlton district, Mike Etzel’s Sequitur Vineyard in Ribbon Ridge, and the classic Bednarik Vineyard that was planted back in 1998 with a selection of Pommard and Wadensvil clones on marine sedimentary soil. All the vines providing grapes for the Hundred Suns wines are fully sustainable and or organic and the winemaking employed by Coulter is very much on the natural side of things with ancient and traditional methods, but mostly it is about minimal intervention, almost no new wood and very low sulfites, to promote purity and freshness in the wines. I also have fallen in love with the limited Gamay bottling here from the Tualatin Estate Vineyard, it has become one of my geeky favorite Oregon wines, and it is worth being on the mailing list here just to get a few bottles, though I due recommend gripping the killer Pinots too of course, this one, the Old Eight Cut Pinot Noir is one of the best values in the state. The next release from Hundred Suns is this Spring (2022) and it will feature some new things, a Eola-Amity AVA Pinot, a co-ferment Cabernet/Syrah from the Rocks District (Oregon/Washington border area), an amphora raised Syrah and a follow up release of Chardonnay, which I am sure will be awesome, as the last release was excellent. These are not to be missed wines and while they are getting much harder to get, they are well worth the effort!
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 La Spinetta, Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG “Ca’ Di Pian” Piedmonte, Italy.
One of my secret favorite wines, La Spinetta’s Ca” Di Pian Barbera is a wine I like to stock up on and drink with simple meals and this 2018 is easily a vintage to continue my trend, I love the expressive fruit, jazzy acidity and dark floral aromatics, it is a wine that goes great with all kinds of foods, especially classic northern Italian cuisine as well as our local dishes, here in California. I have long been a fan of Giorgio Rivetti’s wines and while the Nebbiolo bottlings are legendary, it has always been the seriously taken Barbera at La Spinetta that has thrilled me, especially the single Cru Gallina and this Ca’ Di Pian for its ability to be noteworthy in quality, but still a non pretense, pure and authentic wine that makes for casual pleasure. Barbera and Docetto, known for ages as peasant wines, when grown in the right spot and made with passion can rise to unexpected heights and complexity, in particularly for Barbera in the hills of Asti, Alba and Roero where it thrives on the same soils as the Nebbiolo enjoys. The Ca’ Di Pian is purple/garnet colored and inviting in the glass with black currants, cherry and blackberry fruits leading the way on the full bodied palate, it gains depth as it opens and gets nicely textural, while still very lively and tartly fresh, adding hints of sweet violets, minty herbs, anise, earth and touch of mocha and cedary wood. This Barbera Superiore gets a treatment in the cellar that is close to what you’d expect from a known perfectionist, it is crafted more like a Burgundy, or a California Pinot than the old school and rustic version of this grape, but that extra care is appreciated each time you open a bottle of the Ca’ Di Pian. The La Spinetta lineup is impressive, and throughout the range there is quality, though it is hard not lust after the top set of Barbaresco offerings, the Valeriano, the Gallina and Starderi, and the Campe Barolo, which are some of Piedmonte’s most sexy bottles.
The Rivetti family, Giorgio’s dad and two brothers, started humbly and were mainly growers and makers of Moscato d’Asti into the late eighties before Giorgio pushed La Spinetta into the wine world’s spotlight with a series of fabulous Barbaresco and Barbera wines in the nineties. After which Rivetti turned his attention to Piedmonte’s King of Wines, Barolo, first making a single cru version with his epic 2000 Campe Barolo, which I was lucky enough to taste as a cask sample in 2002, when I first met and tasted with Giogio in San Francisco. I have been a huge fan ever since that first tasting, and I’ve been grateful to have had the opportunity to catch up with Rivetti a few more times over the years and I have learned a lot from him. The winery in Barbaresco has notably focused on native varietals and sustainable farming, while not being afraid to change it up a bit in the cellar, where they blend modern techniques with traditional methods. This Ca’ Di Pian, which is a full Superiore DOCG, meaning it was from smaller yields and saw a year in wood, 100% Barbera, is sourced from mainly younger vines grown in two premier sites, in the Castagnole area of presigious Asti zone, including the Bionzo Vineyard, which is also the source of La Spinetta’s single cru bottling. The vines are between 10 and 25 years old about now, set on the calcareous soils with classic marl, sand, limestone and clay at close to 300 meters of elevation with a perfect Southern exposure. The Ca’ Di Pian, as the winery notes, sees a short fermentation and maceration in tank, it lasts for 6 or 7 days, but still has plenty of extraction, as this wine shows, before being aged 12 months in a mix of new and old, medium toasted, French oak barriques, allowing for a clean, sleek and elegant style. At this year’s Slow Wine event, I also tasted La Spinetta’s Langhe Nebbiolo 2019, which was also an excellent value, with grapes sourced from the younger part of the Starderi Cru (The famous Barbaresco vineyard) in Neive, along with the entry level 2019 Barolo Garretti and 2019 Barbaresco Bordini, that were youthfully fresh, but showing nicely as well.
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Weingut Donnhoff, Dry Slate Riesling, Tonschiefer, Nahe Germany.
Like the 2018 version the 2019 Donnhoff Tonscheifer (Dry Slate) Riesling is pristine and crystalline with crisp details and a salty freshness with a slate/stony core, it shows a range of tangy white and yellow orchard fruits and racy citrus. The nose is smoky and lightly floral, it leads nicely to a poised lighter framed palate that hints at green apple, tangerine and peach all in perfect proportion as one expects from this famous winery in the Nahe region. Terry Theise, one of the world’s most renown Riesling gurus, has often quoted Helmut Dönnhoff “Extraordinary wines are based on extraordinary vineyards.” has always stuck with me, and it shows in these Donnhoff wines, throughout their full range of offerings, and I also feel grateful whenever I can sit back and enjoy a bottle, which I did with this 2019 Tonscheifer with sushi recently. The terroir driven Tonschiefer is heavenly weightless, bone dry and zesty with flinty intensity, wet rock and with laser like focus, while still being nicely generous in the glass, it was perfect with the purity of the raw briny selection of fish, proving an excellent companion and palate cleansing, it was especially joyous with the Spanish mackerel and local catch crab roll. As the wine opened it gave even more, adding apricot and a white currant fruits, as well as chamomile, delicate rosewater and orange blossom. This bottling is value priced and well crafted with Cornelius Donnhoff choosing to ferment and age this Tonsheifer in a well judged combination of stainless & used large oak to preserve its dynamic personality and transparent flavors, while also allowing a subtle textural presence. Tonschiefer, which means “clay slate”, is named for the soils that dominates the Leistenberg vineyard, that rarely sees any botrytis, making it perfect for wines like this. This is also the original Donnhoff vineyard site, so for the family it holds a very special place in their hearts, and I can feel the pride in this wine, as well as in their Oberhäuser Leistenberg Kabinett.
The Dönnhoff’s, one of the great German winemaking families, first came to the Nahe region over 200 years ago, and after establishing a modest farm, it slowly evolved into a full-fledged wine estate, in more modern times it became world renown when in 1971 Helmut Dönnhoff began the making the wine here. Now Helmut’s son Cornelius runs the show and crafts the wines, and as I’ve suggested, the wines seem to just get better with his gift touch, both the ultra premium dry stuff led by his awesome GG’s and the off-dry and sweeter versions from Kabinett to Eiswein, which maybe be one of the greatest wine I ever tasted, are just fantastic and elegant examples! I love their Spatlese and Auslese bottlings too, these are high residual sugar wines that do not taste overly sweet, the they are impeccably balanced, complex and glorious wines of class and refinement. That said, it is almost impossible to resist these Dönnhoff Trockens, like this one, and especially Cornelius’ drop dead gorgeous Hermannshohle GG, one of the planet’s absolutely best dry white wines! The Nahe, and Dönnhoff, have a wide variety of soils from loess to volcanic, as well as gravel, sandstone and a mix of slates to work with and Donnhoff puts them all to good use. The Tonschiefer Dry Slate Riesling comes from a pure slate set of vines, all between 25 and 40 years old, at the Oberhausen Leistenberg estate vineyard. The weathered grey slate and clay Leistenberg vineyard, a VDP Grosse Lage (Grand Cru), lies in a small side valley of the Nahe just outside Oberhausen where these warm, carbon-laced decomposed argillaceous slate soils and steep terraced hillsides provide ideal conditions for Riesling, and the cooler afternoon conditions here allow for long hang times and lower natural alcohol, making for sophisticated versions of this grape. Like all of the Donnhoff wines, this Tonscheifer comes from organically grown grapes with Fair’n Green certification and while it was made to be drunk young, the quality here allows for solid midterm aging as well. Now, I can’t wait for the much hyped and acclaimed 2020s, though I will happily cherishing these 2019s in the meantime!
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 G.D. Vajra, Barolo DOCG, Ravera, Piedmonte, Italy.
I recently attended the fabulous Slow Wine tasting in San Francisco, an event that highlights small sustainable and organic producers and always is filled with authentic and thrillingly honest wines with this year’s being no exception, but there was one wine that stood head and shoulders above the rest, it was no surprise though it was made by Giuseppe Vajra. His family’s wines have always stood out and speak me, it was even with these high expectations that I was blown away with this 2016 Ravera Barolo! The ’16 G.D. Vajra Barolo Ravera Cru starts with a chorus of angels singing a heavenly tune and your senses weep in gratitude for what they are experiencing, well it seemed that way at the time, but seriously this is near divinely perfect and a wine of chiseled feminine beauty. This 2016 Ravera is perfumed with dark blossoms and a mix black and red fruits, spice, earth, along with hints of game, ceps and minty herbs. The texturally sensual Ravera is powerful, but the ripe tannin is silken, a hallmark of this exceptional Nebbiolo wine past and present. Layers seamlessly guide by with accents of dried roses, distilled violet, lavender oil, tar, salted black licorice, stony mineral, cedar all playing supporting roles to a core palate of black cherry, damson plum, balsamic strawberry and tangy currant fruits. Everything is a heightened thrill and exciting with a burst of natural acidity providing a lift and the length here is extraordinary, even by Vajra’s standards this is next level stuff and it never takes the foot of the gas. The vinification was carried in Vajra’s custom-designed vertical tini, with gentle punch downs and pump-overs during the maceration and primary fermentation of the carefully hand sorted berries. This lengthy start goes for close to 60 days, including a submerged cap, for complete extraction. After which, the winery notes, spontaneous malolactic fermentation took place in Spring and the wine was racked to large Slavonian casks of 25HL and 50HL sizes where it matured for two years before bottling.
In 2016, when I tried Vajra’s 2012 cru Barolo(s), I said, Giuseppe Vajra’s work with these these vineyards, Bricco delle Viole and Ravera was something truly magical, and today I feel the same. These are thrilling wines and true expressions of place, and in particular I loved this Ravera, claiming then as now, it is as good as Nebbiolo gets and then some! It is worth noting that all of Vajra’s top Crus, this one, the newer Coste di Rose and his signature Bricco delle Viole are gorgeous wines. I thought at that time, that in bottle the Bricco delle Viole might just surpass the 2012 Ravera, but this time I think the 2016 Ravera could be the wine of the vintage, it’s heavenly deep, layered and hauntingly beautiful wine, like in the 2012 version, it has Burgundy like elegance and if you were comparing to a Grand Cru Burgundy, and I did and will, for all the right reasons, you’d say Ravera was a bit more Chambertin, think the iconic Armand Rousseau, while the Vajra Bricco delle Viole is no slouch either, which I have likened to Musigny in the past! Giuseppe Vajra himself explains Ravera this way “I am intrigued by Ravera’s indomitable personality. It is crisp like the sound of a Telecaster, straight and electric.” Going on, he points out that Ravera is the most important single vineyard in Comune di Novello and it’s on a very complex soils, including marls of Tortonian origin mix with sandstones and clays of the Serravallian period, that contributes to the depth and serious nature of this wine. Vajra’s parcels at Revera are located in the most southern amphitheater, getting good exposure and even ripening and up at between 320 and 340 meters to get a cooling influence that allows for the amazing balance you find in the wines. It is also important to remember, in 1971, Aldo Vajra, Giuseppe’s dad, then still a university student, was one of the earliest to adopt organic farming in Piemonte, something the Vajra’s are proudly continuing with all their vines being sustainable and organic certified, and they pay respect to traditions as they do to nature in their wines. Nebbiolo lovers are going to want this wine, I can already tell you that this 2016 Ravera is going to be in my top wines of the year, I highly recommend grabbing it while you can.
($90 Est.) 98 Points, grapelive
2019 Domaine Saint-Damien, Gigondas, Les Souteyrades, Vieilles Vignes, Rhone Valley, France.
The fabulous and sultry Grenache based 2019 Saint-Damien Les Souteyrades Gigondas has layers of black raspberry, boysenberry, plum and grenadine on the full bodied palate along with that anise, floral incense, baked cherry, chalky stones and peppery spices. This vintage is less gamy/earthy than the prior couple of years and there is a thrilling sense of energy and an exceptional sense of purity in this dark purple/garnet Rhone red, the good dose of Mourvedre does add a meaty and savory dimension to this outstanding version, making for wine that way over delivers for the price, competing with Chateauneufs that go for three times the cost of this Saint-Damien single Lieu-Dit bottling. This winery has become a must have to satisfy my personal Grenache and Rhone habit, along with Saint-Cosme’s legendary Gigondas. The aromatics and mouth feel are really seductive, and air only brings more excitement and complexity here with a heady mix of dark florals and grenadine going to the fore. The underpinning tannin is sweet, but there is some serious structure to this Les Souteyrades, this wine has tremendous potential for long term cellaring and is a savvy buy for bargain hunters. The winery is named after St. Damien, who was an early Christian saint considered the patron saint of doctors, and was an ancient chapel honoring him in the tiny hamlet of La Baumette, just outside the village of Gigondas, where Joel Saurel has his Saint-Damien cellars, hence the name his family used for the domaine. This is a killer bottle of wine, it thrills and completely pleases the senses and is a wine that lacks for nothing, glad I bought a few to enjoy now and into the future.
Joel Saurel’s Domaine Saint-Damien is a top estate in Gigondas offering amazing set old vine wines classical crafted by Joel’s son, Romain who now is becoming more and more involved in the winemaking at this famous winery. Saint-Damien has many old vine cuvées, though mainly known Gigondas, also does a lovely Cotes du Rhone, as well as a Gigondas Rosé that is in high demand. The Vieilles Vignes Gigondas lieu-dit “Les Souteyrades” sits on a small hill with the vineyard being a blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Mourvèdre (and the wine here is the same percentage) with the main plot consisting of old Grenache Noir vines, that were planted back in 1948 and 38 year old Mourvèdre vines that are set on an outcropping of pure grey clay soils with a scattering of stones. This cru site makes for deep fruit intensity and rich concentration, which this gorgeous 2019 shows with flamboyant hedonism in the glass. The Saint-Damien “Les Souteyrades” Gigondas is fermented traditionally with old school techniques with a long maceration, lasting for between 6 to 8 weeks on the skins, in concrete vats before moving to large oak foudres for about a year. This unfined and unfiltered and native yeast fermented cuvée sees all from organic grapes that are carefully hand picked and sorted to best show off the terroir here and while hefty and close to 15% natural alcohol, this Les Souteyrades doesn’t feel hot or flabby, in fact the balance is fantastic. This entertaining and rewarding Southern Rhone wine deserves a big robust meal to allow all its pleasures to shine through, and this vintage never puts a foot wrong, it is close to perfection in every way, I highly recommend these Saint-Damien 2019s, especially this one, along with their “La Louisiane” that has become their signature wine.
($38 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2019 Arnot-Roberts, Trousseau, North Coast, California.
Just when you thought this wine couldn’t get better, especially after the pretty 2018 version, the guys at Arnot-Roberts step it up again with their translucent and wonderfully pale North Coast Trousseau, it delivers tangy fresh details, a light and enchanting floral nose and layers of of minerally sour cherries, strawberry, wild plum and cranberry fruits accented by snappy herbs, cinnamon and red spices, wilted roses and orange peel. This lighter red loves a slight chill, which enhances the purity and true nature of this rare Jura varietal that these guys at Arnot-Roberts have excelled with and who have made it their own here in California. This version comes off three distinct sites, two on the Sonoma Coast’s marine sedimentary soils and one in Lake County on volcanic soils, all of which, as well as the natural whole cluster winemaking, adds to the complexity and personality of this tasty wine. The Trousseau grape remains a bit of a mystery in its origins and is thought to have a distant relationship to Petit Verdot, but has been in the remote and high elevation region of France’s Jura for longer than anywhere else that we currently know of, where it is the top red grape and famous in the wines of Tissot, Ganevat (Pein Sud), Labet and Jacques Puffeney to name a few of my favorites. Trousseau is also often blended with Gamay, Poulsard, another rare Jura (pale colored) varietal, and Pinot Noir as well, both in its native home in the Jura as well as here in California, with Jolie-Laide doing a stellar blended version of the Jura grapes. It is also worth mentioning that Trousseau is sometimes a component in Crémant de Jura sparkling wines, highlighting the grape’s flexibility and its importance. In California, largely with the success of Arnot-Roberts, you are seeing more quality Trousseau, like those of Whitcraft, Stolpman’s Combe, Sandlands and Pax, all worth chasing down.
The Arnot-Roberts label, founded in Healdsburg in 2001 by Duncan (Arnot) Meyers and Nathan Roberts, two Napa Valley boys, has, as I have said in prior reviews, helped elevate many unique varietals including Trousseau, like in this post modern classic, Gruner Veltliner, soured from Richard Alfaro’s estate vineyard in Corralitos (Santa Cruz Mountains) and Touriga Nacional, from the Luchsinger Vineyard in Lake County, which they make one of the state’s best Rosé wines out of, in California. The Arnot-Roberts North Coast Appellation Trousseau, as revealed by the winery, is sourced from the three distinct vineyards; the mentioned Luchsinger, Bohan Ranch and Bartolomei, all of which have distinct soils and climate influences in these sites that results in a wine that shows their singular personalities. Duncan and Nathan harvest and ferment the each vineyard separately with whole-cluster and native yeasts, without de-stemming the grapes you can taste the stemmy crunch and punchiness, that adds to the thrill here. After the different lots of Trousseau are through primary fermentation these are gentle pressed and racked to barrel, they then aged separately in a mix of neutral (old)French oak barrels and stainless steel. I’ve reviewed and followed this wine since the 2011 vintage, often tasting it with Duncan at trade tastings and this one is without question my favorites in their lineup, and I was told this ’19 was good so I had high expectations, which were easily met, this is delicious stuff again, one that I’m glad I stocked up on, along with their Chards, which have also made a real step up in 2018 and 2019 too, especially the Trout Gulch, sourced from Richard Alfaro in the south Santa Cruz Mountains! It is a good time to get on the Arnot-Roberts list as they are about to put out their new release offer, that includes the Touriga Nacional based Rosé, which I try not to miss.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Borgogno, No Name, Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, Piedmonte, Italy.
The impeccable and finely detailed 2018 Borgogno No Name Langhe Nebbiolo, which really is a de-classified Barolo that saw the same winemaking and treatment as the rest of the Barolo wines, with a rumor that this wine was from an identical batch of Nebbiolo that was no certified and came from a large cask that was divided into two lots, one got approved as Barolo and this one didn’t, but whatever the truth is, this is a delicious value with classic terroir character. The nose is a mix of dried roses and earth that leads to a bright and youthfully tannic medium to full bodied palate of brandied cherries, damson plums and red currant fruit, along with savory/meaty elements, black licorice, mint, cedar and orange rind. This wine is much more serious than the No Name would have you believe and it has potential to reward those that tuck a few bottles away, its structure and core of fruit density are compelling indicators of future rewards, while the price and overall grace allow for guiltless pleasures in the short term as well. This garnet/brick red hued wine has made me a fan, especially after getting to try it over the course of a few hours, it gains a sense of pedigree and poise with air, adding more dimension, aromatic excitement and elegance, it also whets your desire for Borgogno’s cru bottlings, in particular their gorgeous Cannubi Barolo! The No Name offers remarkable drinking at a fair price, giving a vinous and sensual Nebbiolo experience, with this 2018 proving very nice and will be an eager companion to robust and hearty meals, with dishes like quail, wild mushrooms and roasts being good pairings, as well as more simple things like pasta or risotto working well too.
The historic Borgogno & Figli label and winery has been restored to the highest level of respect and quality under the ownership of Andrea Farinetti, who has a string of intriguing wineries and projects throughout Italy and who is dedicated to native varietals and traditions within the regions. The No Name Langhe Nebbiolo comes from vineyards located in the Langhe area in the villages around Barolo set on the classic Marl limestone and clay soils with all the estates vines being certified organic and is crafted with the idea of being a more early drinking example of Nebbiolo, but with real Barolo presence in the glass. Borgogno, as mentioned in my prior reviews, is one of Piedmonte’s oldest and most revered Barolo properties, founded back in 1761, employs traditional winemaking, and the No Name Langhe Nebbiolo shares in this, getting the same fermentation and long maceration of about 2 weeks as the Barolos, The primary fermentation, with all de-stemmed grapes, is done in temperature controlled tanks, with what the winery says was a submerged cap maceration with a variable duration between 10 and 20 days, to allow the gentle extraction of structure and depth of flavors. After going dry the No Name juice gets the Barolo like treatment of being aged in large Slovenian oak botti for an extended period of about 24 months before bottling. Again as noted before, Borgogno has some incredible plots in some of Barolo’s most admired Crus including Liste, Fossati and the mentioned Cannubi, one of the world’s greatest vineyards, so for Nebbiolo, this is a must try winery. Tasted at the San Francisco stop of the 2022 Slow Wine tour, Borgogno, again impressed with their trio of Nebbiolo wines they were pouring, with their 2015, 2017 and 2018 all showing purity and class.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Mount Eden Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The 2016 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Mount Eden Vineyards is a stunning bottle and has the stuffing to age decades, I was thrilled by what I found in these new releases from Jeffery Patterson, his son Reid and his team, especially the top estate offerings like this Cabernet with its inky dark color, full bodied density and exceptional length, this has to be one of my favorite vintages, even though I said that about the 2014. The 2016 no doubt has the edge on concentration, but the balance is lovely and the ripe tannins melt in your mouth with opulence, even though they are still youthfully firm, this is a California Cabernet for Bordeaux lovers, much the same way as neighbor Ridge Monte Bello is. This 2016 leads with rich currant, blackberry, plum and black cherry fruits, along with hints of pencil lead, anise, creme de cassis, smoky sandalwood and savory tobacco leaf and age notes. The Soils at Mountain Eden are very thin with a dominant base of Franciscan shales, which are found in these coastal range vineyards, which suits these vines and adds to the concentration of flavors. The climate is cool, with the Pacific Ocean near by, especially for Cabernet, and influenced by the vineyard’s altitude and its proximity to San Francisco bay as well. The vines are trellised in a modern fashion, which promotes even ripening, with the long growing season adding refined tannins and complexity, along with nice natural acidity. The Mount Eden Cabernet Sauvignon was fermented in small 1,000-gallon stainless steel tanks, with Patterson doing punch downs manually and macerated it, as he notes, for about ten days after fermentation completed, then was transferred into new Bordelaise chateau (French oak) barrels where aged twenty-two months in the cellar.
Mount Eden’s estate as started by Martin Ray and now run by the Patterson family sites on a rugged mountaintop in the Santa Cruz Mountains with 40 acres of low-yielding Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, plus tiny amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc vines that go into the Cabernet Sauvignon bottlings. Mount Eden Vineyards is one of the longest running family estates in California that is maybe most famously known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but has always done a fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon. Interesting, separate from the relationship with Paul Masson, the heritage of Mount Eden Cabernet Sauvignon dates back to the 1890s, when the famed viticulturist Emmett Rixford of Woodside, California, obtained selected cuttings from Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux and it’s from Rixford’s famous La Questa Vineyard with these selections that were used to plant parcels at Mount Eden. This historic winery is perched up at 2000 feet, with an eastern exposure above Saratoga and overlooking the Silicon Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountain Appellation, just about 50 miles south of San Francisco. Mount Eden was founded in 1945 and was one of the original “boutique” California wineries by famed vintner Martin Ray, who as mentioned, focused on small lots of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Since 1981 Jeffrey Patterson, the current owner along with his wife Ellie, has guided the winemaking and grape growing at Mount Eden, taking it to the very top in terms of quality and distinction, making it an iconic California winery. Mount Eden is still turning out some of the best wines in the state, as this powerful, complex and acacia flower scented 2016 Estate Cabernet proves. Tasting at the 2022 Slow Wine tasting in San Francisco, normally an Italian themed affair, but the American wineries that were in attendance really put on a phenomenal display of class, with Mount Eden being one of the best on the day.
($90 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive
2019 Il Colombaio di Santachiara, Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG “Campo della Pieve” Tuscan Wine Wine, Italy.
The small family run winery, Il Colombaio di Santa Chiara, formerly a historic Parish known as San Donato, with buildings, chapel and farmland, has being become one of San Gimignano’s best producers, focusing on the Vernaccia grape and making wine of precision and elegance far removed from the generic light versions, which were far too common in this region until recently. The property, owned Mario Logi, and run by his three sons Giampiero, Stefano and Alessio, who is the winemaker, is now called Locanda dei Logi, and is beautiful inn and winery just a short distance from the famous hilltop town with those ancient towers, San Gimignano, and just a short drive away from Siena. The Il Colombaio di Santa Chiara’s three fabulous bottlings of DOCG Vernaccia di San Gimignano are each distinct and delight the palate, with a stainless, wood aged and this “Campo della Pieve” being cement raised are all stunning whites with depth and grace, but I chose this one for the purity, energy and complexity, though it was a tougher choice than I could have imagined. The “Campo della Pieve” is wonderfully mineral driven with delicate aromas and a light herbal/spicy element and a fine salty crispness, it shows white blossoms, wet stones, lemon/lime, tart peach and a hint almond oil. There is a brisk dryness here and it is mouth watering, but there is a lovely vinous quality that puts everything into a harmonious state of balance, this is incredible stuff. This golden straw yellow Vernaccia di San Gimignano is brilliant with food and especially fish dishes, though flexible enough to go with a lot of different things, including as the winery suggests, soft and hard cheeses or wild mushroom risotto.
Il Colombaio di Santa Chiara was one of my best finds at the 2022 San Francisco Slow Wine tasting and I owe Santi, of Vinity Wine Company (importer), a big thank you for finding me and taking me over to these wines, which I could have easily overlooked and missed out on an incredible set of white wines. The estate is holistically farmed and Mario and his sons are constantly among their vines, and like most producers, they believe a great wine is the result of great vines in a great terroir. The vineyard’s health requires hard work and lots of attention, and the Logi’s put the time in here, it shows in the wines. Mario, who has worked the land here since his teens in the 1950s, and his sons wanted to create a healthy biosphere on the estate for the vines and surrounding plants and it is for that the reason they worked hard to obtain full organic certification. All this has paid off handsomely, and with the help of oenologist, Nicola Berti, who has mentored Alessio in the cellar and who has instigated shorter maceration(s), resulting in wines that, the winery says, are more balanced, fresher and elegant, while still having sensational palate impact and mouth feel, as I found here in this lovely Campo della Pieve. This single vineyard, 100% Vernaccia di Gimignano, was sourced from vines set on chalky soils composed of old Pliocene sands and clays, it saw a soft pressing of the grapes, with indigenous yeast fermentation all cool and temperature controlled to preserve those pretty aromatics. The Campo della Pieve’s maturation is done on the fine lees and takes place in cement vats, seeing, the winery says, periodic bâtonnage (stirring) for close to 20 months, which adds the texture and length, while maintaining vitality and lift. This wine opens up and keeps getting better and better, giving me confidence that this will age well too, I highly recommend searching for these Il Colombaio di Santa Chiara wines.
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Halcon Vineyards, Esquisto, Grenache/Syrah, Halcon Estate, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
While mainly known for their fantastic Domaine Jamet like estate Syrah bottling(s), Halcon Vineyards has done a stellar job in 2019 with their Esquisto Grenache based red, which is turning out to be a gorgeous effort with loads of concentration, opulent fruit and savory crunchiness. This vintage was close to 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah, not unlike some of the best Gigondas and or Vacqueyras wine, but with lots of whole cluster and stemmy bite and raw tannins, making for a deep, wildly aromatic and complex Rhone styled wine. Winegrowers Paul and Jackie Gordon, who have just announced the sale of this vineyard and estate and sadly will not continue the Halcon Vineyards label, which had become a real favorite of mine over the last 7 or 8 years, bit least they are going out with a bang and a fabulous set of wines, including this full bodied Esquisto with its sweet Grenache core and earthy/floral Syrah meatiness. The 2019 is showing boysenberry, damson plum, pomegranate, strawberry and black Italian cherry fruits that are accented by spicy peppercorns, graphite, pronounced bay leaf, anise, bacon and a touch of sandalwood all framed by a firm structure and plenty of umami that balances the juicy Grenache. The Esquisto opens slowly and takes on the darker note with tangy blueberry and violets, both from the percentage of Syrah adding an extra dimension to this fine effort, this wine is best decanted and served with robust cuisine. Those, like me, who are fans of Halcon, fear not the vineyard is in good hands, with Pax Mahle, one of California’s Syrah masters, and the future looks bright, I hear there are some exciting things coming in the next vintage or so, so stay tuned.
The Halcon Vineyard, set on what is known to be Yorkville Complex soils, for those that geek out on geology, a rare soil type based on fractured shale, mica-schist, some compressed sandstone, and quartz-rich rock, and is located in the Mendocino County’s highest elevation appellation of the Yorkville Highlands. Once thought to be better for Pinot Noir, Halcon Vineyards overlooks the Anderson Valley and the Pacific to the west sitting up at 2500ft and it is one of the highest elevation 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 that of the Northern Rhône region of France and the wines have that kind of personality and similar character. The vines here are mostly Syrah, with heritage clone selections planted here that are originally from both of the most classic areas for this grape, Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie, with some of the best genetic material available, 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 are used to make this blended Southern Rhone influenced wine, though this vintage Esquisto saw no Mourvedre, which can be fickle here. Note, the 2018 edition saw almost 20% Mourvedre and seemed much tightly wound. The impressive swan song of Halcon Esquisto is one of the most exciting and unique Grenache based wines of the vintage, and it is well worth chasing down any bottles left out there, they are delicious now, but should age exceptionally well for the next 5 to 10 years. Again, it makes me sad that the Halcon Vineyards label is disappearing, it has been the source of my drinking pleasure and I wish the Gordon’s well on their next adventure in Life, I have really appreciated their efforts and will enjoy each of my last bottles.
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2020 Troon Vineyard, Vermentino, Kubli Bench, Estate Vineyard, Applegate Valley AVA, Oregon.
Much credit and attention needs to be directed at Craig Camp and his team at Troon Vineyard for the quality of their wine and equally for their work in organic and holistic wine growing, turning this little known winery in Grant’s Pass, in Southern Oregon, into a new world leader in biodiversity. I am a huge fan of their wines, especially this bright and crisp Vermentino and their Rhone style wines and I was thrilled with the new releases I recently tasted at the Slow Wine 2022 Tour in San Francisco. The Troon Vineyard winery is a Demeter Biodynamic Certified and Regenerative Organic Certified farm in Oregon’s Applegate Valley, making small batch natural style wines. The Vermentino shows racy acidity and vitality and has energetic layers of lemon/lime, peach and honeydew melon fruits, along with a hint of spice, wet stones, verbena, orange blossom and a fine salty note that excites the saliva glands, making for a vividly fresh and almost tangy white wine that will go beautifully with briny seafoods as well as lighter cuisine. Vermentino, also known as Rollé, is a Mediterranean varietal mainly, found mostly along the coasts of France and Italy, along with the islands of Sardinia and Corsica. It is also one of the classic Chateauneuf du Pape grapes and does well in a range of climates, from Piedmonte to Paso Robles. In California, Vermentino has really taken off with wineries like Ryme Cellars, Tablas Creek, who brought over Vermentino cuttings over in the late1990s, Chesbro in Monterey County’s Arroyo Seco, Unti Vineyards and Filomena Wine Co, all doing exceptional versions in a variety of styles. The delicious Troon Vermentino is a wine that delivers plenty of tang and zest, but with it being aged on the lees for five months also gives it a pleasing vinous quality, which adds to the enjoyment in this 2020 edition.
Troon, owned by visionaries Denise and Bryan White, is located on the Kubli Bench, high above the Applegate River in the Siskiyou Mountains, as mention, in the wilds of Southern Oregon. It is a biodiverse farm of almost 100 acres, with a mission to make special wines from what they believe is a special vineyard, a unique and largely undiscovered terroir, with what they hope has exceptional potential, and they wines I’ve tried so far certain are good indicators that Troon is on to something here. The life on the farm, here at Troon, includes cider apples, a vegetable garden, re-wilded honeybees, sheep, chickens, wildlife, dogs, humans and, of course, grapevines, all of which are treat with the same care and respect, they all pieces of the circle of life, with each’s energy ending its way into the bottle. The goal, as expressed by the winery, is to express our vineyards rather than winemaking techniques in our wines. All Troon Vineyard wines are fermented only with native yeasts and no commercial yeasts, acids, sugar, enzymes or additives are added to any of the wines, in a traditional fashion adopted by passionate natural producers. Troon’s white wines, like this Vermentino, are whole-cluster pressed then barrel fermented in mature French Oak barrels, and for their “Orange Wines” they, like in parts of Italy and the Public of Georgia, are now using clay amphorae to allow extended skin contact after fermentation. Troon also makes a range of fun Pétillant Natural sparkling wines, naturally fermented in bottle, including a Tannat based bubbly, which I hope to get soon. For their red wines, Troon focuses on lots of whole-cluster and whole berry fermentation, which gives these wines some nice savory elements, they use only mature French Oak barrels for aging so, as they put it, that they can capture every nuance of our unique Applegate Valley fruit, and lets each wine express itself in Troon’s wines. I was lucky enough to taste through some of Troon’s latest and upcoming bottlings, including this Vermentino, with winemaker Nate Wall, who is full of insight and obviously very talented, these new Troon wines are exciting and serious, I highly recommend checking them out.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Agricole Brandini la Morra, Barolo DOCG, Annunziata, Piedmonte, Italy.
The Agricola Brandini La Morra Estate, owned by Piero Bagnasco and run by his daughters, Giovanna and Serena, is a new producer for me and in fact they are a pretty recent venture, starting back in 2007, they have a tiny collection of prime Barolo vines and I found the wines to be beautifully made and very exciting. It was nice to meet Giovanna at the Slow Wine tasting event in San Francisco and learn about her wines, especially her cru Annunziata Barolo, which made my top ten Nebbiolo(s) list of the Slow Wine tour (SF) and of which I really admired for it’s elegance and exceptional length. Agricola Brandini La Morra uses the phrase “Organic Human Barolo” to describe its wines, as all of their vineyards are certified organic, hand tended and their wines are traditionally hand crafted, with their Barolo being aged in large, used oak casks with minimal intervention and only minimal amounts of added sulfur at bottling. The grapes come from high elevation parcels, 450 meters up in some sites, which is amongst the highest-altitude vines in the Barolo zone all set on the classic clay and limestone marl soils, which all contribute to the wines quality and character. The color of the wines, in particular this Annunziata, were pure Nebbiolo with slightly orangey edges with a dark ruby core at this point and the aromas were inviting with floral and herbal notes, very enchanting indeed.
The tiny production Annunziata cru Barolo by Brandini, as mentioned new winery for me, is a elegant, but firmly structured traditional Barolo with classic Nebbiolo savory intensity and power that absolutely seductive on the medium to full bodied palate with purity of flavors a raw transparency, this is an enthusiasts wine that will drink nicely for many years to come. I was very impressed by the two special bottlings I tried by Brandini at the Slow Wine tasting event in San Francisco, with both this Annunziata and their R56 Barolo being outstanding efforts, well worth searching out, though very little has so far found its way to the states. Made with all sustainable vines and organic grapes, the warm vintage, 2017 Barolo Annunziata was crafted using old school methods, it saw a cool maceration and native yeast fermentation in tank and then was raised exclusively in old large cask. When Giovanna showed me the wine I found a pretty aromatics right away and while the wine was obviously young, it opened up to reveal alluring layers of black cherry, spiced plum, earthy currant and blood orange fruits as well as tarry licorice, cedar, minty herb and dusty tannins that subtly remind you that this is (a) Barolo. I look forward to following this label in the coming years and I can see this Annunziata evolving nicely over the next decade, it certainly is wine that deserves some attention, and it is inspirational to see a new project hit the ground running and cause such a stir, bravo to the Brandini team.
($111 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Schlossgut Diel, Riesling Trocken, Eierfels Dorsheim, Nahe, Germany.
One of my favorite dry bottlings at Schloss Diel is Caroline Diel’s Dorsheim Riesling Eierfels which is a special cuvée that Diel puts together and is a remarkable value, it offers layered complexity, striking mineral intensity and Caroline’s signature elegance and this 2018 vintage is a gorgeous yellow fruited and leesy version. Brilliantly golden in the glass, this 2018 Diel Dorsheim Riesling Eierfels is beautiful aromatic and has crystalline detailing with apple, peach, kiwi, tangerine and quince leading the way on the steely medium bodied palate along with saline notes, wet flinty stone, chamomile/mint tea and verbena notes. As the wine opens it gains dimension and presence, it casually reminds you of the pedigree it has and it is slyly confident in the way that Diel’s top GGs do, there’s a lot to admire here. The aromas lift from the glass with rosewater and apricot flesh delicately present and lingering, making this wine incredibly pleasing, with all the flavors given a lift by the natural acidity and crisp mouth watering dry extract. While taut and brisk, these dry Rieslings by Diel are generous and impeccable wines of which I try to never be without and I highly recommend them, especially this wine, it is a savvy buy for Riesling lovers that want guilt free quality and terroir distinction. The Nahe is one off Germany’s smallest regions, with a great diversity of soils fro slate to volcanic and gravels plus a warm climate and steep slopes, especially around Schlossgut Diel, making for a dramatic and picturesque setting for grapevines and a quality area for all types of wines, as witnessed by the stellar producers, like Schlossgut Diel, as well as Schafer Frohlich, Kruger-Rumpf, Hexemer and the absolutely awesome Weingut Donnhoff.
The Schlossgut Diel, founded by the Diel family in 1802, is one of the great wineries in the world, not just Germany or Europe, and is widely known for the amazing dry Rieslings bottlings, especially their set of Grand Cru or Grosses Gewachs from the legendary Pittermannchen, Burgberg and the majestic Goldloch crus. Caroline Diel’s wines are some of the finest white wines you’ll ever try no question with the Goldloch Grosses Gewachs being an epic dry Riesling and one highly coveted by collectors. Not only does Caroline have a gift with Riesling, she has also mastered Pinot Noir with her Cuvee C, her signature bottling being easily an equal to some of the Cote d’Or’s most fabled wines and she has quietly crafted some amazing vintage Sekt(s) sparkling wines that see up to eight years of lees aging, these seriously rival Krug Champagne, and or among the greatest sparkling wines I’ve ever tasted. The Eierfels Riesling is a special declassified selection from the GG vineyards of Burgberg and Goldloch with the fruit, as noted by the winery, is either whole-cluster pressed or, if vintage necessitates, de-stemmed by carefully by hand, with Diel adding it is very important to not break the skins and allow oxidation and or bitter extracts during the juicing. For the Rieslings, Caroline employs her primary fermentation(s) spontaneously in large German oak casks, using stuckfass and doppelstuck mostly, though some see cement tanks. Caroline Diel, who took over the estate in 2012, after joining the cellar team in 2006 also has enjoyed winemaking stints at some famous places including Domaine de la Romanee-Conti in Burgundy and Château Pichon-Lalande in Bordeaux, as well as prestigious German vineyards such as Robert Weil, Toni Jost and Dr. Deinhard/Von Winning. Her dad Armin, had put this famous winery on the world stage in the 1990s with his dry style wines and Caroline talent(s) has since taken Schlossgut Diel to even greater heights, from her little Kabinett(s) to her GGs, these wines are all fantastic, none should be missed.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Sandlands, Grenache, Besson Vineyard, Santa Clara County.
Tegan Passalacqua’s Sandlands beautifully detailed and aromatic Old Vine Grenache comes from the historic Besson Vineyard, near the Hecker Pass and the town of Gilroy, which is now way past one hundred years old and produces fantastically pure and concentrated wines, as this one shows, but also in a vintage like 2018 it gives deep flavors and low natural alcohol, making it a unique expression of this Rhone varietal, most famous in Chateauneuf du Pape, but is also the grape of Sardinian Cannonau and the fine high elevation Garnacha of Spain’s Sierra de Gredos. The 2018 Sandlands Grenache is sumptuous from the start and feels heavenly vinous on the palate while displaying a cool and crisply detailed personality that gets more and more expressive as it opens up on the medium to full bodied palate with black raspberry, candied cherry, plum and pomegranate fruits along with tangy herbs, earthy pine, subtle peppery spices, cut flowers, licorice and soft wood notes. Only a few barrels were made of this nicely structured and smooth Grenache that comes in at just 13.4% natural alcohol and as with all of Tegan’s wines it was indigenous yeast fermented with some whole bunches and aged in well used barrels, mostly if not entirely old French oak. Passalacqua, who is the head winemaker and vineyard manager for Turley Wine Cellars, makes some of the most authentic and soulful expressions of non mainstream California wines out there, and they are all exceptional values. I highly recommend joining this Sandlands mailing list, none of his offerings are to be missed, especially the Cinsault, Carignane, Trousseau, Mission, Mataro (Mourvedre) and this Grenache, as well as the Soberanes Syrah and his signature Zinfandel from his family’s Kirschenmann Vineyard in Lodi.
The Besson Vineyard is owned and farmed by third generation farmer George Besson Jr, was first planted to the Mission grape in the 1800s, then saw its Grenache planted on its own roots back in around 1910, is finally getting the acclaim and attention it deserves, it has been the source of some outstanding wines, it transmits transparent flavors and is a unique terroir. Most of this vineyard, which is organic, is set on gravelly soils with clay and loam and is a stones throw from the border with the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA and sees a nice cooling influence from the Pacific and gets some marine layer fog at night early mornings. In recent times it has had lovingly maintained vines with a focus on quality fruit and natural methods has been sustainably dry farmed ever since it was originally planted. This site, as I have noted in prior reviews of this and other wines from this vineyard, first came to the wine world’s attention when California icon Randall Grahm used these grapes in his Clos de Gilroy Grenache. Now this vineyard is well represented by Ian Brand, with his signature I. Brand & Family version being a huge hit and more recently Besson is being used by Angela Osborne of Tribute to Grace, the Kiwi who is one of California’s top Grenache producers, as well as one of Brand’s friends John Locke of Birichino, another label that is putting out a beautiful version of this Besson Vineyard. This dark magenta/ruby colored Sandlands Grenache is right up there with the best wines sourced from this site and this 2018 is drinking outstandingly well right now and makes me wish I had a bunch more of this limited bottling. I typically try to give these Sandlands wines a bit of cellar time before opening them, but I just had a feeling this 2018 was going to be a thrilling wine on the night and I was right, it is really hitting its stride and should continue to do so for another 5 to 7 years easy.
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2012 I Vigneri I Custodi delle Vigne dell’ Etna, Sæculare, Etna Rosso DOC Riserva, Sicily, Italy.
The Salvo Foti made I Vigneri I Custodi delle Vigne dell’ Etna Sæculare Riserva, which I was lucky enough to try at the San Francisco Slow Wine Tasting last month, is a Nerello Mascalese based red from old vine sites on Mount Etna, Sicily’s iconic active Volcano and one of Italy’s most prized growing areas. This wine is fantastic and pure Foti excellence with everything you’d expect from this place, it is very Nuits St.-George is scale and presence in the glass, but with exceptional varietal character and intensity with brandied cherries, dried flowers, iron mineral tones and red spices leading the way on the gorgeous medium bodied palate that adds plum, candied orange peel, anise, tobacco leaf, crushed rock, sanguine and lavender. Even at almost 10 years old this wine is tightly focused and taut with natural acidity and firm old vine dusty tannins, but that said the flavors are evolving nicely and there’s an amazing depth here that is completely seductive, it is a wine that also deserves a meal built around it and local inspired dishes would be awesome with this incredible Etna Rosso. I Custodi is run by Mario Paoluzi and relies on I Vigneri, led by Salvo Foti, and his team of Etnean winegrowers, plus Ciccio the mule to tend the vines and make the wines in the ancient way of Etna, as it has always been on Mt. Etna for centuries, without synthetic chemicals, as Paoluzi puts it, in respect of the people, the classic stone terraces, the landscape and the nature.
This absolutely stunning and structured Sæculare Etna Rosso Riserva is beauty and a terroir driven wine made from mainly Nerello Mascalese (80%), Nerello Cappuccio and some Alicante, which in this case is probably Grenache and not Alicante Bouschet, grown on the lava based soils of the volcano and using parcels of top vineyards on the cooler north face of Etna. The vneyards are up at 2,000 feet with sandy and mineral soils, they include the Contrada Feudo di Mezzo, Castiglione di Sicilia and Versante Nord dell’Etna, with some vines here close to 250 years old! For this special Etna Riserva, the grapes were all hand harvested with extreme care and methodically sorted and then brought to the winery in shallow crates, where they are crushed after de-stemming, but about 20% were whole clusters with partial stems included with fermentation and maceration going, as the winery notes, for about 12 days in steel vats. After which the wine is racked and the malolactic fermentation and aging is done in 500 Liter tonneaux and the elevage was close to 24 months. The 2012 Sæculare was then bottle aged in the cellar for another two years before release to allow the wine to mature and develop, which it has with remarkable poise and palate impact. Foti, the godfather of Etna wines has made another soulful masterpiece here with this I Custodi Sæculare Riserva, and I recommend getting some if you can find, it will drink fabulous for another decade, and don’t overlook the white here at I Custodi, it also is a brilliant offering that Carricante based gem.
($55 to 75 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2018 Domaine Camus-Bruchon, Savigny-Les-Beaune “Aux Grands Liards” Red Burgundy, France.
Guillaume Camus at Domain Camus-Bruchon is making some incredible wines right, especially this 2018 Aux Grand Liards from this old vine Lieu-Dit in Savigny-Les-Beaune, that is quite stunning and pure with flavors that remind you of Pommard and Beaune area. This Savigny-Les-Beaune not not overt or flashy, but it’s hard to image a more quality Burgundy for the price with exceptional clarity and detail here highlighting the Pinot fruit, subtle floral perfume, mineral notes and seductive earthiness that draws you in, but never takes center stage. The Liards is a dark ruby color and wonderfully silky in texture with seamless layers of black cherry, currant, plum and red berry fruits and light accents of fresh cut roses, fine chalk and with the faintest whiffs of smoke, tea spice and baking spices on the round medium bodied palate. Guillaume’s vines are all mature averaging at least 35 years and in this case very old with 95 years old vines here in Aux Grands Liards. With these Camus-Bruchon wines there is a long lineage of continuous quality and they reflect the classic clay and limestone soils, for ages these Burgundies have 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. So it is clear he spends much more time with his vines that he does in the cellar, as it should be, especially when you have the parcels at your disposal like he does. The Camus-Bruchon Savigny-Lès-Beaune 1er Crus are stunning values and this Aux Grand Liards is one of many in his collection to stock up on, this Lieu-Dit many not be Premier Cru, but this Aux Grands Liards Vieilles Vignes just might be the best Pinot for the price in all of Burgundy. I can this bottle a serious test, it was drunk with two spicy dishes and in the warm sunshine, but it came through with flying colors, handling everything with poise and grace, letting the food shine and still showing an impressive depth of form, satiny textural pleasure, as well as providing a natural freshness and cool fruit, only bringing out the best in the steamed mussels in broth with Fresno (hot) peppers and pesto like basil, as well being a fine companion to raw tuna crudo with shaved fennel and raw ginger.
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 area. 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 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. As with most all of the Camus-Brochon wines, you can enjoy this 2018 Savigny-les-Beaune Aux Grand Liards now, particularly with robust cuisine, though personal experience has proven that these wines can age incredibly well, so you can put some bottles away and be gloriously rewarded with patience, as I have no doubt this wine will be excellent in 10 to 15 years too.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2020 Avignonesi, Da – Di, IGT Toscano Rosso Biologico, Tuscany, Italy.
This easy delicious, uniquely made Da – Di Rosso by Avignonesi, the famous producer of classic Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, is crafted from all organic Prugnolo Gentile (Sangiovese) that saw an all whole berry, partial whole cluster and carbonic fermentation with natural yeast and no sulfites added, making for a lighter and juicier style red with fresh red fruit layers, bright spices and a light to medium body. This 2020 Da – Di Rosso also was aged in terra-cotta amphora and saw no wood, all the winemaking methods used here is why this Avignonesi is not labeled under the DOC or DOCG rules for the area’s Montepulciano designation, it certainly doesn’t taste like those wines either, but it is very fun stuff. The Da – Di is vibrantly presented with tart cherry, strawberry and plum fruits leading the way along with crushed stones, a faint earthy element, a herbal crunch from the stems, anise and delicate florals, this is special project by Avignonesi, which I hope they continue and was a tiny limited bottling for now, it should be enjoyed with a slight chill, like a Cru Beaujolais. The Montepulciano region has soils are mainly made of marine sediments and clay with some sandy areas that provide the perfect conditions, along with the warm days, for Sangiovese to thrive.
It was great to catch with Avignonesi’s lineup of wines at the San Francisco Slow Wine tasting, these Montepulciano wines are beautifully made and very authentic terroir bottlings, with their 2017 Nobile being the star of the table, but I just couldn’t get enough of this rarity after it was pointed out to me by a friend, I’m glad I didn’t overlook this Da – Di, which is one of only a handful of Amphora raised Tuscan reds, joining Montesecondo’s Tin bottling from near Rada in Chianti Classico. Avignonesi has a collection of about 444 acres of vineyards in Montepulciano and Cortona regions, all of which fully certified organic and biodynamic in the southern part of Tuscany. For this particular wine, Avignonesi has put aside steel and oak in favor of Tuscan clay and the winery says this wine labeled with the Chinese phrase for “earth and soil”, hence the name Da-Di, adding it was chosen to underline the process and sense of place. All of the amphora was produced locally, with a total of eleven being used in this vintage, where the wine was raised, the maceration on the skins lasted 40-45 days with manual punching downs and the aging lasted about 90 days in total. While amphora is widely used in Italy again, this ancient vessel is seeing quite a renaissance and their use is getting more attention, with this Da – Di Rosso, the third edition to be released, having a pure expression the Sangiovese grape, it’s a fun offering that I highly recommend.
($22 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
N.V. Victorine de Chastenay, Brut Crémant de Bourgogne, Sparkling Wine, Burgundy, France.
It is so nice that after more than 25 years in the wine business that I can still be totally and happily surprised by a new discovery, and this brilliant Victorine de Chastenay Brut sparkler absolutely thrilled me and it takes this category to a new level for me, this Crémant de Bourgogne Brut bubbly drinks as grand as many grower producer Champagnes! I am very familiar with Crémant and how savvy a choice they can be, but this Victorine de Chastenay blew me away and it delivered a fabulous performance both with and without food, it is almost Extra Brut like in dry intensity and its vitality, but still has remarkable depth and elegance. Kudos to Lovina Restaurant in Calistoga for finding this excellent and distinct sparkler and putting it on their tight and well thought out list, they deserve some credit, as they could have put almost anything in its place, but they chose a unique and high quality alternative, which is not all that common, gotta love that commitment to pleasure and passion. This impressive stuff is a killer value and it way over delivers, all sparkling wine lovers should make note to get this Victorine de Chastenay, it is a ridiculous bargain and guilt free bottle.
The non-vintage Victorine de Chastenay Brut Crémant de Bourgogne comes from all sustainable vines in Burgundy and it was made in the classic Methode Champenoise in the manner of fine estate hand-crafted Champagnes, it has a vigorous small beading and a delicate mousse that is just about perfect. The cepage here in the Victorine de Chastenay is a blend of about 75% Pinot Noir, 10% Gamay, 10% Aligoté and 5% Chardonnay that was stainless steel fermented and lees aged for 20 months, all of which adds to the vinous nature and complexity in this stylish and crisply focused sparkling wine. The Victorine de Chastenay Brut is sleek and zesty fresh with a range of lemony citrus fruits along with a hint of stone fruit, wet rock, brioche, hazelnut and faint florals, all presented in a light and mineral driven fizz that brings out the flavors in the companion dishes and cleanses the palate, making it an exciting addition to any meal. The grapes come from 100% Cote d’Or fruit, with Victorine de Chastenay using vines in both the Hautes Côtes de Beaune and Hautes Côtes de Nuits to craft their Crémant de Bourgogne offerings, mainly relying on Pinot Noir for the core of these well made wines, but I like the intriguing use of both Aligoté and Gamay here! Also, after enjoying this Brut, I’m really looking forward to getting the Victorine de Chastenay Rosé too!
($20 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Krupp Brothers, The Doctor, Red Blend, Stagecoach Vineyard, Napa Valley.
On a brilliant sunny crisp winter day I ventured out to the Krupp Brothers estate off Napa’s Silverado Trail to taste their latest releases and catch with this small high end label that has largely been focused on rich mountain Cabernet Sauvignon(s) since it was established in the 1990s by Jan Krupp, who was responsible for the heroic effort in creating the famous Stagecoach Vineyard. These new, mainly 2018 vintage, wines are a stunning set of offerings, and interestingly, as great as the Cabernet Sauvignon is, I found myself drawn to their gorgeous Cabernet Franc bottling called the Synchrony and this thrilling Tempranillo based wine, that is very much a Ribera del Duero meets Napa styled red. This youthful wine is really starting to come alive with compelling opulence and vinous fruit density with a deep purple/garnet color and heady aromatic leading the way to a rich full bodied and structured palate, it shows loads of dark fruit including layers of blackberry, plum, cherry and a touch of blueberry that are accented by toasty oak, sandalwood, licorice, crushed stones, delicate florals, cigar box and lingering mure liqueur. The Doctor opens beautifully in the glass and its texture is outstanding and mouth coating, it is a wine to pair with a meal, which would smooth out its tannins and allow all of its complexity to show through, even with just a few hard cheeses in the tasting it performed brilliantly, this is a standout and intriguing wine. Tempranillo is a Napa Valley rarity with just about 12 acres planted and has been a tough varietal to grow or get a handle on, but this is awesome stuff and well worth chasing down.
The 2018 Doctor Red Blend is made from 64% Tempranillo, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Malbec and 6% Petit Verdot all from Stagecoach Vineyard on the eastern side of the Napa Valley between Pritchard Hill and Howell Mountain, which is set on almost pure rock formed by ancient volcanic activity, it was an incredibly hard site to plant for the Krupps, but is now one of the most prized vineyards in the region. The hand harvested grapes used in The Doctor red saw a three day cold soak and was macerated on the skins for close to four weeks, after which, once primary fermentation finished in was then racked to high end French oak barrels for aging. The elevage lasted a total of 19 months and was done with about 50% new oak with a mix of cooperage, including Taransaud and Francois Freres barriques that add a smoky sweet framing to this big wine. Once fully open this wine turns on the charm and shows off its class with the addition of a warm chocolately note and more of an exotic spiciness, making this wine, which clocks in at about 15% natural alcohol, great with duck, meat dishes and or leg of lamb. There is a lot to admire in this wine and the full lineup at the Krupp Brothers, I’m grateful for the opportunity to visit, taste and tour in this idyllic setting, so I must thank Ms Nicole Lincoln, Director of Hospitality & Regional Sales Manager for the Krupp Brothers, for being such a gracious host and taking me in on short notice. It should also be noted these wines are now being made by the talented Desiree O’Donovan, who has been with the Krupps for a while now, after working behind the scenes at a few notable wineries, and who is taking this winery to impressive new heights and giving these wines their elegance and balance!
($100 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
Grapelive.com – Reviews – January 2022
2001 Chateau Branaire (Duluc Ducru), Saint-Julien, Grand Cru Classé, Red Bordeaux, France.
One of my favorite Bordeaux vintages to drink, 2001, and an en 1855 classified Chateau that always offers a solid value, Chateau Branaire Ducru made for a near perfect wine and food experience while celebrating Napa Valley Food Week at the fabulous Lovina Restaurant in Calistoga. The Branaire’s perfect cellaring showed here, the cork was like brand new and came out easily and the color was just as a 20 plus year old Bordeaux should be with a deep purple/garnet core and burgundy edges leading to a seductive silky mature palate. The aromatics lifted heavenly from the glass with peony, loam, currant, cedar and dusty kirsch and echoed on and on in mouth with blackberry, plum, tobacco leaf, minty anise and a hint of savory sous bois. The tannins are still sweet, but dry and add a nice tartness holding the fruit in place and make this wine lovely with food, especially hard cheeses, meat dishes and or wild mushrooms. The length here was quite impressive and lingered with a refined delicacy that you might expect from a more pricy Chateau and this Branaire stayed extremely poised for the whole evening, not letting the foot of the gas even for a moment over the couple hours it was open.
The historic Château Branaire Ducru, located in the Medoc’s Saint-Julien region, is one of the ten classified fourth growths from the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Branaire Ducru, which dates back to 1680, was a originally part of the huge Beychevelle estate and was sold off because of big debts owed with Jean-Baptiste Braneyre giving this place the name. Braneyre bought the land because he was convinced the outer Medoc with its gravelly soils was prime Cabernet Sauvignon terroir, which proved to be the case and the Grand Vin of Branaire is Cab dominated blend with the vineyard planted to 65% Cabernet-Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, and 3% Cabernet Franc. Today, it is pretty much the same as it has been since the 1855 classification and best part of the property is very close to the Gironde River with the gravel over clay soils, bringing out a deep sense of fruit coming through in the wines. The Branaire Ducru sees fermentation in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, with different sized vats used for each parcel and everything is fed by gravity flow and after primary fermentation the wine is racked in French oak barrels for between 16-20 months, about which are 60 to 65% new. Sandwiched between the 2000 and 2003, the supple and generous 2001 continues to over perform in drinking grace and elegance, I couldn’t be happier with the way it is showing, wish only I had a few more bottles to enjoy over the next 3 to 5 years.
($65 to 80 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Dirty & Rowdy, Mourvedre, Enz Vineyard, Lime Kiln Valley, San Benito County.
One of the very last releases from the now defunct Dirty & Rowdy Wines, the 2019 Dirty & Rowdy, Old Vine Mourvedre from the Enz Vineyard in San Benito’s Lime Kiln Valley and the 90 year old vines set on broken limestone and decomposed granite soils is a perfumed and wildly beautiful wine with seeped flowers, anise, delicate spices, crushed rock and elegant, but deep red fruits on a seamless medium/full palate that belies the natural ruggedness of this varietal, best known for powerful and meaty Bandol wines. This fresh and lively effort that shows crushed raspberries, strawberry, dusty plum and cherry fruits, comes from this head-trained, basket-pruned, dry-farmed, own rooted vineyard, that is known as one of California’s historic treasures and that has been brought to famed by Ian Brand, a vineyard whisperer who has made a signature collection of bottlings from this unique site. Hardy Wallace, the winemaker here, who will now go his own way with his passion for Mourvedre and his new label Extradimensional Wine Co. Yeah!, made sure Dirty & Rowdy went out with a bang, and this 2019 Enz just might be their best wine to date! The Enz was 100% Whole Cluster Mourvèdre fermented all naturally with indigenous yeasts and gentle maceration to capture the true nature of the vintage and the distinctive terroir here, Wallace has crafted a fabulous, silken and transparent wine with stunning aromatics.
As for getting things done, in other words the winemaking process employed by Hardy Wallace, he says they don’t make wine by numbers, recipes, or additions, but we aren’t zealots … unless we’re talking about that spicy fried chicken and try to let the wine do its own thing, embracing natural wine, but within reason. The Dirty and Rowdy wines saw fermentation(s) in cement vats, clay pots, then aged in pretty concrete eggs and well seasoned old barrels, all without additions and no added sulfur. Wallace says, the wine’s real story is about (its) source, a sense of place, and not the stamp he puts on it. He continues, If he finds a consciously farmed, unique vineyard, and he (and crew) nail our picking decisions, then the wine goes about its own business without a lot of monkeying around, and the results have proven delicious as this remarkable Enz Vineyard Mourvedre shows with divine presence and grace in the glass. Going forward, Hardy’s new project Extradimensional Wine Co. Yeah!, will carry on his mission and core beliefs and his wines will be made with that same flair and after trying his limited selection of new stuff I am very excited to see where this path takes him and I look forward to reviewing his Old Vine Mourvedre, Evangelho Vineyard, Contra Costa County bottling soon! If you can find the 2019s from Dirty & Rowdy I highly recommend grabbing them, especially the Mourvedre bottling and in particular this Enz version, but I also love their Barbera, which I hope will come back to life in Wallace’s Extradimensional Wine Co. Yeah! collection.
($50 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Cameron Winery, Pinot Noir, Arley’s Leap, Abbey Ridge Vineyard, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
This year’s Arley’s Leap Pinot is a dead ringer for some old school Burgundian classics, in particular Bernard Maume’s famous Gevrey-Chambertin Lavaux St. Jacques bottling with a deep and earthy medium bodied, but firmly structured palate, that after air opens up wonderfully. This 2018 is complex with layers of black cherry, mulberry, currant and cranberry fruits along with reductive earthy elements, hibiscus tea, sanguine iron tones, tobacco leaf and wilted roses. Cameron’s legendary winemaker John Paul has nothing but high praises for this site, saying year after year the Abbey Ridge Vineyard produces some of the best Pinot Noir in Oregon, going on he adds that It is not the richest or the ripest, but it is clearly one of the most elegant sites in the the Dundee Hills if not the entire state. This wine really bares that out and I was incredibly impressed by the ever lasting finish and lingering violets, blue fruit, rosemary and sandalwood, making for a thrilling experience, even though it looks to have even more potential to evolve over the next decade. The Arley’s Leap, as with all of Cameron’s Pinots, it was fermented with the indigenous yeasts in open top tanks in which, Paul jokes, beautiful women immerse their nude bodies in the warm must to keep things exciting in the cellar, but more seriously the wines are made in a traditional Burgundian way with a gentle regime of daily punch downs and minimum intervention. The resulting wine was aged for nearly 2 years in a mixture of French oak barrels varying from new to completely neutral and bottled without filtration.
The Cameron Arley’s Leap Pinot Noir, named after Bill & Julia Wayne’s beloved dog Arley, is sourced from a single block of grapes that is located at the highest point within their Abbey Ridge Vineyard. This wine, as winemaker John Paul explains, is solely composed of a handful of old red burgundy clones, and the grapes from this 25 year old section are typically the very last Pinot Noir to be harvested in the Dundee Hills and have loads of energy and earthy tones, slightly less ripe than other prime spots. The resulting wines, Paul continues, are therefore relatively high in natural acidity and display old world aromatics, certainly as this one does, with a dark pigment, stoniness and lifted by red spices. Set on the red dirt and Jory volcanic soils of the Dundee Hills, there is always a unique sense of the exotic, though well contrasted by the raw and rustic personality, these Cameron wines never fail to excite Pinot Noir fans. Cameron believes the best grapes come from dry farmed vineyards and he likes to have his wine aged longer in barrel with most his top Pinots, as noted above, seeing an elevage of close to 24 months. For his barrels, he chooses a small cooper who lives in the village of Saint Romain in Burgundy. His name is Claude Gillet and together with his children and several master coopers they turn out some of the most exquisite wine barrels to be found, and almost Every year Claude and his son, Laurent, visit Paul’s winery, to taste the wines in barrels and make recommendations for choice of forest, toast level and all of the other minutia that go into crafting an oak barrel. Since Paul believes that barrels reach their perfection only after a couple vintages, he prefers to utilize cooperage which is 1-3 years old for our most precious cuvées. These are stunning artisan wines and this one is well worth searching out!
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2014 Weingut Friedrich Becker, Pinot Noir, Pfalz, Germany.
Still fresh and gracefully textured, the basic 2014 estate Pinot Noir is nicely put together with layers of smoky black cherry, plum and strawberry fruits, all accented with spice, mineral, forest floor and black tea notes, it gains a pretty floral background and has a dry stony saline element makes it joyous on the medium bodied palate. My first German Pinots included the famed Meyer-Nakel, in the Ahr valley, August Kesseler, sourced from the historic Assmanshauser Hollenberg in the Rheingau and Friedrich Becker’s Pfalz Pinot that comes from vineyards the cross the border with France, they all left a massive impression on me and remain some of my favorite wines and this wine is a reminder of why, with its class and quality. Intriguingly, Becker has an interesting array of grapes, from rarities in Germany, Meunier and Cabernet, along with a collection of Alsace varietals, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Gewürztraminer and even some Sylvaner. So, there is a lot to discover here, but you really need to chase down the stellar lineup of Pinot (Spatburgunder) at Becker, with this bottling being an excellent place to start. The Becker winery isn’t that old by German standards, founded back in 1973 when Friedrich Becker Sr. filled his first bottles with the iconic fox on the label and a star was born.
As I have noted in my prior reviews, one of Germany’s best known Pinot Noir producers, Weingut Friedrich Becker, in the Pfalz crafts some beautiful and detailed wines in this unique terroir, these are wines that, especially their Pinots that have Burgundy like class and character. The winery is run by the Becker family, Friedrich Becker Senior and Junior, who’s doing most of the heavy lifting these days, they have Gerard Paul, an Alsatian as their general manager, as well as the talents of Sandrine Eichenlaub in vineyard and cellar along with Daniel Scheib. Becker’s tight team are extremely focused and the wines speak for themselves, especially the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay offerings. The Pinots come from the area’s sandstone and alluvial soils and sustainable vines, they are then produced with traditional Burgundian methods. The Becker wine-making process itself is, as they explain, rather simple and classic, using all de-stemmed berries and are macerated and fermented in open top fermenters allowing the must time to dissolve the tannins from skins. After which they take the spicy and aromatic mash by hand to the wine press where it gently pressed and then racked to toasty French oak barrels, with this one seeing a small percentage of new wood. Becker continues to raise the bar and these wines are coveted by enthusiasts and the latest Pinots are delicious, plus their Chard, which I recently reviewed is outstanding too, don’t miss a chance to try them.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2020 Jaimee Motley Wines, Rosé of Mondeuse, Rorick Heritage Vineyard, Calaveras County.
The latest release of the Rosé of Mondeuse, Rorick Heritage Vineyard by Jaimee Motley is brighter and more delicate in style, much more entertaining to me personally, and shows a beautiful array of subtle fruit, floral notes and a faint earthy element in a crisp, mineral driven and spicy dry pink wine. The light to medium bodied palate continues to follow a distinct profile of flavors including notes of hibiscus tea, guava, shaved cinnamon, wet stones and peach as well as pink citrus, strawberry and watermelon all supported by zesty acidity and a steely frame. There is much more clarity in this vintage, it is less rustic or funky, making it very approachable and pleasing to just sip, while still being complex and very unique. Mondeuse, the classic Savoie alpine red grape, while extremely rare here, has been in California for a long time, probably since the late 1800s and was interplanted in some of the historic heritage vineyards, where it is still found today. At one point it turned up in Santa Maria, where it was sometimes confused with Pinot Noir, and where the late great Jim Clendenen made a version that he blended with Pinot as well as a single varietal version, both of which were my first experiences with the grape in California. Jaimee’s ruby/pink colored and vinous Rosé, might be the only ever bottled dry pink version of Mondeuse in the state and it joins an outstanding group of new generation Rosé wines made from lesser known grapes, like the Arnot-Roberts Rosé of Touriga Nacional and Filomena Wine Co’s Rosé of Cabernet Pfeffer!
This rarity is from the Rorick Heritage Vineyard in the Sierra Foothills region of Calaveras County, grown on limestone with top layer of schist, with long warm days and cool nights the Mondeuse has found a happy home here developing ripe flavors, though picked early to retain fresh acidity. Motley chose a unique route with her Rosé, going somewhat old school with traditional maceration and native yeast fermentation for primary before aging and malos in neutral oak cask with the wine resting on the lees for about 5 months. As mentioned in my prior reviews, Jaimee Motley, is one of the rising stars of the California wine scene and has joined the exciting team at the famous Stony Hill Winery in Napa Valley, where she’ll lead a new generation of wines here. Motley’s own label, which has really taken off, credits her travels to the Loire and Savoie, where she fell in love with Chenin Blanc and Mondeuse wines, as being the reason to get into winemaking in a serious way and these grapes have become her signature wines. I also love the almost Syrah like, dark and violet scented Mondeuse “Argillet” Santa Maria Valley that Jaimee does. Motley, as mentioned also, formerly an assistant winemaker at Pax Wines, was born and raised in Annapolis, Maryland before moving to SF to peruse artistic talents, though after working in some of the City’s more iconic restaurants she caught the wine bug, which led to her exploration of those old world European wine regions. In recent years she has added a serious mountain Cabernet Sauvignon to her lineup, coming from the old vines in Carmel Valley, it also shows her touch with a mainstream varietal, it is well worth searching out, along with her Mondeuse based wines.
($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Chiappini, Cabernet Franc “Lienà” IGT Toscana Rosso, Bolgheri Italy.
It was great fun to catch up with Martina Chiappini at this year’s Slow Wine SF Tasting and taste through her incredible collection of Tuscan coast wines from Bolgheri where her estate sits, very near the famed properties of Le Machiole and Sassicaia, I especially loved her gorgeous Lienà, crafted using 100% Cabernet Franc. Martina, who is not only here, believes Cabernet Franc is the most important grape in Bolgheri, even if Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, in particularly in the legendary Masseto, get all the headlines, and hers is absolutely beautiful and extremely nuanced with a divine weightlessness and stunning length, it highlights the grace and delicacy this varietal can show, in contrast to the density and power you find in the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Bordeaux blends. This 2018 is impeccable and impresses for the shear beauty it delivers with a serious likeness to some very famous Saint-Emilion right bank wines with floral and spicy notes both on the nose and on the velvety medium to full bodied palate of this Lienà, with a luxurious layering of crushed red berries, currant and plum fruits that are nicely accented by lightly smoky sandalwood, anise, mineral tones and lingering kirsch. The fermentation is initiated spontaneously and the lengthy maceration extends for close to a month using temperature controlled vats before being racked to 225L French oak barrels with a well judged use of wood, about 30% being new. The Lienà Cabernet Franc, like the Guado de’ Gemoli is bottled unfined and unfiltered after being aged between 20 and 24 months.
The Chiappini estate, founded by Giovanni Chiappini, possesses 27 hectares of prime vineyards that is spread across four different parcels and set on fabulous soils that are made up of alluvial calcareous deposits that drain well and add to the complexity and depth of the wines. Elevation is not to high here and the climate is warm but moderated by the close by Mediterranean Sea, which brings balance to this region that sees optimal ripeness and a suppleness of structural tannins. Chiappini is not an old label, with Giovanni’s first vintage being back in 1999, He learned winemaking at the feet of his father and the rest of his family that are originally from the Marche region and who, since moving to Bolgheri in the 1950s sold their wines in bulk until deciding on doing their own label. While Giovanni is still very much responsible for the vineyards and wine production, his daughters Martina, who traveled here to show off their wines, and Lisa, who joined him in the family business manage sales, marketing and the increasingly more in the cellar. The Chiappini winery is located on the Via Bolgherese, in the row of elite estates, immediately adjacent to Orenellaia and the mentioned Le Macchiole, which is now some of the most coveted land in Italy. To preserve the soul and nature of the land here, Giovanni farms the Chiappini vineyards all organically, with unique parcels of Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Vermentino and their Cab Franc, which makes for the secret sauce in this wine as well as their signature blend Gaudo de’ Gemoli, that is one of the top wines of the region. The Lienà range, which I hadn’t tried before, includes a single varietal Merlot, a Petit Verdot and this brilliant Cabernet Franc, they are pretty rare bottles too, none to easy to find here in the States as of yet, but are well worth the effort to get!
($78 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Cayuse, Tempranillo “Impulsivo” En Chamberlin Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley.
While renown for his Syrah and Grenache based wines, Cayuse’s Christophe Baron also does some fantastic Bordeaux blends, Cabernet Sauvignon and this awesome Tempranillo, called the Impulsivo, which is very much in the mold of a great Ribera del Douro, with incredible fruit density and thrilling palate impact, it’s a real head turner, something you’d not want to miss. Tasted at the San Francisco Slow Wine Tasting along side Cayuse’s Grenache, the rare Cabernet Franc led Flying Pig and Baron’s Horsepower Syrah, the Tempranillo “Impulsivo” En Chamberlin Vineyard, making for amazing set of rarities to review, and super hard choices to pick a favorite, but this Tempranillo was a clear stand out in the line up. This 2019 Impulsivo has a seductive inky blue/black and garnet hue in the glass and a sultry dark and smoky nose that leads to a complex array of flavors on the concentrated full bodied pale with blackberry coulis, black cherry, plum and grilled orange fruits that are accented by graphite, cedar, sweet pipe tobacco, caramelized fennel, mineral tones and a subtle floral dimension. Think of this wine as an American Pingus! Thick and opulent for sure, but with some nice lift from natural acidity and an earthy and transparent personality, along with a young taut structure and balance that certainly gives the impression that it will age well.
Cayuse is a small domaine located in the Stones of the Walla Walla Valley, that is area that sees its vines crossing over to the Oregon side (from Washington state) and set on big cobbles, it is almost insane to think how these vines were planted in the rocky terroir here. These sites, which some compare to Chateauneuf du Pape with the large stones are some of the most unique plots in Pacific Northwest, and have made Cayuse one of the most iconic wineries in the new world. All Cayuse wines are created from estate fruit, and this one comes from the En Chamberlin Vineyard, which Christophe planted in 2000 on 10 stony acres with the Tempranillo being grafted on phyloxera resistant rootstock. This vineyard produces three of Baron’s most celebrated wines, including The Widowmaker Cabernet-Sauvignon, this Impulsivo Tempranillo and very Heritage like En Chamberlin Vineyard Syrah. These new releases from Cayuse are tight and powerful wines that should be decanted and paired with hearty cuisine, but they also posses a raw beauty and finesse that truly make them so alluring, especially the God Only Knows Grenache, which has a soulful expression, reminding me of Rayas and Sadie Family, and this very sexy Tempranillo that should drink well for decades to come. Cayuse employs all organic and biodynamic farming and minimal intervention in the cellar to make wines influenced by place first and foremost, which has made them incredibly hard to get, but well worth the effort!
($139 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2017 Mueller-Catoir, Scheurebe Trocken, Haardt, Pfalz, Germany.
The nose on Mueller-Catoir’s Haardt Scheurebe Trocken is exotic with lime blossom and jasmine, but not as perfumey as Muscat and the palate has a lush tropical medium body that has a nice crisp play between fruit and edgy bitter elements with some white peach and pineapple fruits accented with spearmint, zesty grapefruit and mineral spice. Shuerebe is a rare varietal, mostly found in Germany, though some exists in Austria as well, its’s a very aromatic grape, also known as Samling 88 (Austria), that was created from a seed crossing of Riesling and a little known varietal called Bukettrbe back in 1916 by Doctor Georg Sheu, hence the name, which became official as tribute to its creator. I should state my thanks for these newly researched details by Anne Krebiehl MW, who presented these now known facts in her book “The Wines of Germany” also as she notes, that for many years, it was thought Scheurebe was a crossing of Riesling and Silvaner, but more conclusive studies has proved otherwise. Scheurebe, it is said, grows best in Calcareous soils, with Muller-Catoir’s Pfalz version regarded as maybe the greatest expression of this grape, coming from mainly the sandstone soils here.
Mueller-Catoir’s Scheurebe Haardt Trocken is sourced from multiple plots in Haardt vineyard area that are composed of some primary rock (urgestein) and the mentioned sandstone, with proportion of gravel located lower on the slopes here. This famous 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, and while there has been some ups and downs, it remains one of the best wineries in Germany. Mueller-Catoir which has a tradition of reductive winemaking implementing a gentle crush, a long skin contact, slow gentle pressing, and then ferments at warmer, according to the winery again, than customary fermentation temperatures in stainless steel to promote transparency, with this 2017 dry Scheurebe being full of energy and with a touch of fresh tartness, making it compelling and food friendly. Mueller-Catoir makes an exceptional st of Rieslings from lightly sweet to powerful dry GGs and I highly recommend exploring their awesome range of whites, especially those Rieslings, but don’t overlook the Scheurebe, Muskateller, Grauburgunder and Rieslaner, a grape not related to Riesling and one that makes a sublime sweet wine, you can’t go wrong with any of these and I am looking forward to grabbing some of the highly acclaimed 2020s.
($26 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Desire Lines Wine Co, Syrah, Griffin’s Lair Vineyard, Petaluma Gap, Sonoma County.
The 2018 Desire Lines Griffin’s Lair Syrah is taut and powerful, but delivers a wonderfully pure Syrah experience on the full bodied and meaty palate with an array of dark fruits, spiciness and feral notes with some violets, creme de cassis and tarry licorice, making for an impressive wine again from winemaker Cody Rasmussen and his tiny small lot label. This vintage needs food, and robust cuisine to give a good account for itself at this young stage, so be sure to prepare something hearty. I love this Syrah, and this vineyard, with this wine, Pax’s version and Luke Nio’s Filomena versions all being excellent, with Cody’s 2018 being one of the most exciting and with potential to get even better with age. The depth of flavors lean on blue and black fruits with blackberry, damson plum, blueberry and huckleberry being the core here with accents of forest floor, camphor, sanguine, tapenade and peppercorns in the background giving this deeply saturated purple/garnet wine loads of personality and rustic umami intensity. Rasmussen has proven himself equally as good with Riesling as he is with Syrah, his Cole Ranch Dry Riesling is one of the state’s best examples and he also does a fabulous Carignan based red, the Evangelho Old Vine Red Wine (95% Carignan & 5% Mourvèdre) and the exotic, wildly perfumey and hedonistic Shake Ridge Syrah from the Amador County in the Sierra Foothills, which is also a must for Syrah lovers.
As I’ve said since first trying these wines a few years back, Cody and Emily Rasmussen’s Desire Line Wine Co. is one of the most exciting new California labels to discover with a great set of new releases to chose from, especially this thrilling cool climate dark fruited Syrah from the famed Griffin’s Lair Vineyard in the Petaluma Gap AVA near Lakeville. Cody, the winemaker, who along with his childhood sweetheart Emily moved from Iowa to Sonoma in 2011 hit the ground running, starting as an harvest intern that fall and by next harvest he was drafted into the assistant winemaker’s position at Morgan Twain-Peterson’s Bedrock Wine Co., one of the state’s best small producers. For this Griffin’s Lair Syrah, Rasmussen fermented it with 50% whole cluster, with a submerged cap for the first half of fermentation, a little like the fabled Cote-Rotie by Domaine James is done, and then it was raised in neutral large format barrels, French puncheons, for 15 months before bottling without fining or filtration. He picks during a cooler window to preserve purity and freshness and I think this really paid off with the wine showing an inner energy, vibrant black and blue fruits as well as solid structures with a nice savory tone from the stems. There is good, fresh acidity to balance and contrast to the ripe density on the palate and this vintage looks structured for the long haul, best to decant or hold for another 3 or so years.The Griffin’s Lair Vineyard in the Petaluma Gap, set on gravel and clay loamy soils always gets those “Gap” breezes and cooling influences which allows deep ripe flavors, but with vivid detailing and the noted good acidity, making for wines with a northern Rhone character, but with California concentration and smooth tannins. Not much of these Desire Line Wine Co efforts get made, so it is best to get on their mailing list, Rasmussen is about to release a new set of wines, including an all new Bedrock Vineyard Mourvedre!
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Carl Loewen, Riesling Trocken, Longuicher Maximin Herrenberg 1896, Alte Reben, Erste Lage, Mosel Germany.
I’ve long been a follower and fan of the Carl Loewen wines, but I have say since Christopher Loewen took over they are some of my absolute favorites, with this Old Vine Longuicher Maximin Herrenberg Dry Riesling being one of the wines I try to get every vintage, as it is seriously close in quality to the GGs, but almost half the price, it is a killer bargain for what is in the bottle. The 2017, I somehow missed and just found now, is gorgeous crystalline wine that is developing nicely. The historic Weingut Carl Loewen estate dates back to 1803 when a set of vineyards and buildings that was formally owned by the Maximin order, much the same way the famous Maximin Grunhaus (Von Schubert) started after the Church’s lands were sold off to fund the secular Napoleonic government, and this sale included Loewen’s prized, ultra steep, Longuicher Maximiner Herrenberg, one of the Mosel’s greatest vineyards, where this wine was born. The soils here are unique with a combination of Devonian era slate (red) with a band of red iron and volcanic veins running through these vineyards, which Christopher notes that this band of soil runs between Urzig and Longuich that which is very rare in the Mosel and adds to distinction of these amazing wines. This 2017 is lightly golden in the glass with delicate florals, smoky slate and the palate is vinous and rounded, but the early fat fat this vintage had has largely turned into a thrilling sex appeal with highly attractive layers of tangerine, apricot, quince and a touch of tropical fruit that is perfectly accented by wet shale, a salty note, tangy peach pit, apple skin, key lime, clove spice and a decedent leesy yeasty finish. This wine is really coming into its own and as it warms in the glass it gets more and more interesting and has a thrilling impact, it doesn’t get much better than this, instead of severity and or brutal force, there is a heightened sense of pleasure and beauty to be admired here.
Christopher Loewen, who’s brought in a new sense of passion and organic farming to the famous Weingut Carl Loewen after taking over the winemaking here new, has a set of offerings that are brilliant Rieslings, absolutely world class stuff, especially his gorgeous dry styles, including this Maximin 1896 Herrenberg Alte Reben Trocken Premier Cru (Erste Lage) that has the class, mineral intensity and elegance of a Grand Cru Chablis, but with the slate driven terroir of the Mosel. The GG’s and the 1896 Feinherb here are without question some of the best Rieslings in Germany, but when you get into the basic and Premier Cru stuff, you see some outrageously good values, like this one and the Kabinett bottlings, none of these wines should be missed. The Maximiner Herrenberg vineyard, as mentioned in my prior reviews and as well noted was originally planted in 1896, making it the oldest ungrafted Riesling vineyard in Germany and is now farmed by Loewen using organic methods. Loewen carefully sorts the grapes here as to not have botrytis in the dry wines with this parcel being in the lower slopes, set on red slate soils, closer to the Mosel river, where they benefit from reflective light from the river that adds to the full ripeness. Using modern natural methods in the cellar, Christopher, the grapes are all whole cluster pressed, and Loewen is careful not to move the pomace so to not get bitterness or harsh phenolic flavors, then the juice, according to the winery, is “browned” or oxidized pre-fermentation to stabilized the wine and get away from reduction. All of Loewen’s ferments are “Sponti” completely natural without addition of enzymes or nutrition, with these single vineyard wines, Christopher notes, are individually block picked with the above treated juice going directly into classic Fuder barrels (German oak) which average 25 years old to age. With the dry wines seeing about a year on the lees in these large oval casks to allow depth and complexity to develop before bottling, these wines are stunning in any vintage, but the string of years, 2016 through 2020 are extraordinary and should be on any Riesling lovers radar and wish list!
($48 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2019 Bow & Arrow, Gamay, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
This 2019 version of Bow & Arrow’s Gamay is one of my favorite vintage’s to date with tons of energy and stemmy crunch, it shows off deep black fruits, hints of violets and zesty orange rind along with racy acidity, mineral notes and is led on the medium bodied palate by blackberry, tangy sour cherry and plum fruits that are accented by hints of loam, leather and fennel. Bow & Arrow and winemaker Scott Frank go their own way, focusing on cool climate natural wines made from more humble grapes and sites, including this Gamay, and they use a different template to explore this different, simpler side of the Willamette Valley. Instead of Burgundy, Frank adds, he pays homage to the refreshing and decidedly working class wines of France’s Loire Valley and the wines show a rustic edgy quality and are incredibly value priced confiding the small batch and handcrafted effort that goes into them. Frank says, even after one of Oregon’s great contemporary Pinot Noir and Chardonnay masters, John Paul of Cameron Winery, drafted him to be his unproven assistant winemaker in 2007, the thought of bottling Loire Valley varieties, like Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne and Sauvignon Blanc was never far away, and his interpretation of Gamay is based on his Loire experiences, in particular in areas like Touraine and Cour-Cheverny.
The Bow & Arrow Gamay is faithfully produced using old school traditional methods with carbonic whole cluster permutations and native yeasts with exceptionally low SO2, or without sulfur added in the process which includes cement vats and used very old barrels. This wine is without pretense and even carries its rawness with a certain pride, with the 2019 having a touch of funk, stemmy bite and brett, though not enough to be off putting, it just adds to the complexity and soulfulness of the whole experience. The Hughes Vineyard, Located in the South Salem hills, an area Frank feels holds some of the best untapped potential in the valley set on Jory and Nekia soils south of Salem, with Ed and Kathy Hughes farming this 27 year old site that provides Bow & Arrow with Gamay for this Willamette Valley bottling and some Pinot Noir for a single vineyard offering. These vines at an elevation of near 700 feet, the winery notes, are own rooted and have been dry farmed using sustainable methods from the beginning. The aspect here is slightly Northernly facing which translates in a light, with more cool climate natural acidity and a savory expression of the varietal, which this 2019 shows with exceptional clarity and with an earthy effect, making for old world style wines. In recent years I have grow fond of the Bow & Arrow Air Guitar, which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Franc, like seen in Anjou and the Rhinestones, a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay, which I think is the signature wine of the winery, both of which I highly recommend, along with this 100% Gamay.
($23 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2021 Lepe Cellars, Rosé of Sangiovese, San Antonio Valley AVA, Monterey County.
One of the first out of the gate in the 2021 vintage is a tasty Rosé of Sangiovese from Miguel Lepe at his personal label Lepe Cellars, it is a bright and mineral focused dry Rosé that bursts from the glass with racy ruby grapefruit, strawberry, sour cherry and hibiscus leading the way with hints of rosewater, saline infused stones and watermelon. This wine is going to be a hit, maybe the best version Lepe has done, it delivers vivid clarity and has the perfect delicate color with mouth-watering natural acidity, all true to Sangiovese’s nature and personality, it reminds me of some of the best Italian Rosatos, but even more vibrant and refreshingly dry. This wine has some fun times ahead, though delicious now, it will provide great companionship to those having sea food, steamed claims and mussels in spicy broth as well as basil based dishes and Ahi tartare. Miguel, who is the assistant winemaker at Wrath and formerly a winemaker at Figge, has gained a strong following for his own wines in recent years and his downtown Carmel by the Sea tasting room is a very comfortable way to explore his wines.
Miguel’s latest lineup is a very pleasing collection of finely crafted wines and he has some even more exciting stuff in the works, like a soon to be release set of Pet-Nat’s, including a Sangiovese sparkler that has been disgorged for clarity, but still has a slightly cloudy strawberry appearance, as well as a Sauvignon Blanc bubbly in a more raw natural form, and he is planning on doing a Gamay next year, so a lot of exciting stuff for Lepe. In the here and now, I really enjoyed the 100% Petit Verdot bottling with its deep color, its spicy menthol, dried flowers and red currant led full bodied palate, and this all stainless Rosé of course. Lepe did a direct press into stainless tank with about two hours of full skins to get that beautiful light pink hue and aged it for only a few months, as mentioned, 100% in stainless, before bottling in December to keep all the energy and vitality here. The grapes come out of the warmer southern section of Monterey County, in the San Antonio AVA, which was established in 2006, though it first saw a planted vineyard as far back as 1771, when the Mission San Antonio de Padua was built, making it one of the oldest growing regions in the state. It sees warm days and a climate similar to the west side of Paso Robles, benefiting from the cooling effects of nearby Lake San Antonio and the Pacific Ocean to give ripeness and balance, which this Rosé shows.
($28 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2019 Jolie-Laide, Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre/Viognier, Shake Ridge Vineyard, Amador County, Sierra Foothills.
The gorgeous 2019 Sierra Foothills Rhone style blend from Scott Schultz and his personal Jolie-Laide label is pure and transparent with a classic Gigondas or Vacqueyras feel and profile with a Grenache led full bodied palate of crushed mixed berries, including boysenberry, plum, pomegranate and a touch of blueberry compote, along with graphite, earth, anise, mocha, peony florals and lingering kirsch. At Jolie-Laide, most all the grapes were all crushed by foot trodding and fermented 100% whole cluster, with nothing more than gentle punch-downs throughout and indigenous yeasts, with aging be done in used French oak barrels, all to allow the great terroir, like here in this GSMV, to shine through. Shake Ridge Ranch Vineyard is an epic site and is farmed by the Ann Kraemer, a pioneering legend in the Sierra Foothills, who has been a consulting viticulturalist for Domaine Chandon, Swanson, Cain, Calera, Paul Hobbs, and Shafer, to name a few. The Shake Ridge Vineyard is set on geological wonderland of soils with schist, Mariposa slate, greenstone, and marble, plus the are big chunks of quartz that litter the ground. The Sierra Foothills has a warm climate, but here at this elevation it sees a huge day to night swing with the vines getting a nice cool rest during the dark hours, helping them retain natural acidity, which is evident here is this vintage and the natural alcohol is low, remarkably just 13.2% in such a concentrated and densely packed wine.
Jolie-Laide is Scott Schultz’s one-man operation based in a Sebastopol and while having gained a reputation for geeky cool wines in recent years, his Syrah is nothing but old school traditional and with loads of class and distinction with a clean and transparent profile. As mentioned in my prior reviews, Scott moved to Napa from Chicago in 2007 with mostly fine dinning experience in the restaurant business on his resume which led him into a position at famous chef Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro in Napa’s Yountville, where he became head of their wine program and fell in love with California wines. He worked with Arnot-Roberts and Ryme Cellars, two modern new generation wineries, before joining Pax Mahle at Windgap and Pax Wine Cellars, where his talents have helped produce some of California’s best loved Syrahs. I must say this Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and a small amount of co-fermented Viognier is really drinking fantastic right now, but is still beautifully fresh and vivid, giving me the impression that it will age another 5 to 10 years, it is easy to love, though very serious too. Earlier this year I enjoyed Schultz’s Gamay Rosé and his delicious Melon de Bourgogne white, each wine in the Jolie-Laide lineup highlights a sense of place. I was a little late getting into these wines and I am thrilled by what I’ve tried, making me happy I joined the mailing list. The Jolie-Laide wines just keep getting better and better, with the lineup expanding to include some outstanding stuff, in particular I recommend their red wine offerings, this dark colored and well balanced Shake Ridge Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre and Viognier for sure, plus his Gamay, the Jura inspired blend, the Freisa, and the Syrahs.
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Turley Wine Cellars, Zinfandel, Juvenile, California.
One of California’s best Zin values and a great way to start your journey into the fabulous collection of wines at Turley Cellars, the Juvenile bottling, comes from vines that range in age from about 6-25 years, and, as the winery notes, are pulled from a selection of their best vineyards across California, including the famous Hayne, Pesenti, Salvador, Vineyard 101, Fredericks, and Kirschenmann sites from Paso Robles to the Napa Valley, as well as Amador and Lodi. This 2019 is wonderfully balanced with expressive fruit and nice natural acidity, its ripe core includes crushed raspberries, black currants, plum and juicy kirsch along with hints of fresh ground pepper, deep violet and peony florals, dried herbs and dark cocoa. Full bodied and quite luxurious in mouth this vintage is full of pleasure and is easy to love, easily hiding its potent natural alcohol (15.3%) and it has velvet covered muscles with supple tannin and an elegant finish, not unlike youthful Chateauneuf du Pape reds, but proudly Californian to be sure.
The Turley Juvenile, made by Tegan Passalacqua and his team is sourced from close to 27 vineyards, mostly all organic and sustainably farmed and is traditionally fermented using fully de-stemmed Zinfandel grapes and native yeasts. Turley notes that the Juvenile is actually composed of a variety of young vines that have been replanted in several of their old vine sites. They tag the younger vines then pick them, which is done separately and make they make each a distinct wine in separate lots, and blended to taste and style later. Turley has been hand crafting this Juvenile since 1999 and the recipe hasn’t changed too much, though certainly under Passalacqua’s vineyard and cellar guidance Larry Turley’s wines have continued to rise in quality, highlighting the care and extreme effort he has put in here since taking over the winemaker duties. The dark garnet hued Juvenile Zin, following the classic single vineyard wines, saw about 12 months in 80% French and 20% American oak with 95% being used barrels and just 5% new here and the Zin was bottled unfined. These 2018 and 2019 wines are outstanding, I highly recommend grabbing what you and or joining their mailing list for upcoming releases.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2019 Monte Rio Cellars, Mission, Lodi, California.
Still very fresh and lively with a range of spicy and floral aromatic, the ruby/orangey colored 2019 Mission grape red from Patrick Cappiello, the famous New York Sommelier and Pax Mahle of Pax Wines, famous for his outstanding and iconic Syrah bottlings, under the Monte Rio Cellars label is an all natural throwback winery focused on classic old California grapes and vineyards, is a lighter colored, slightly rustic and earthy wine that is as this bottle suggests a gulpable quaffer with a certain historic charm. This distinctive dry and low alcohol red shows layers of dried cherries, dusty raspberry and tangy tree picked plum fruits, a red pepper spiciness, a hint of funk and leather, along with orange rind, garden herbs, rose oil and sprigs of lavender. This is a fine effort and nice vintage to explore the Mission grape, this rare old grape, also known as Listan Prieto, that originally came to the new world with the Spanish missionaries, hence the name it goes by here in California. The grape, a very minor one in Spain, first got planted down in Chile back in the 1500s, where it is called Pais and eventually made its way north all the way to Sonoma by the late 1700s and early 1800s, it seems to have grown best in southern California, where it was made into California’s first commercial wine, as well as in the Lodi area, where it still thrives today, like here at the Somers Vineyard that supplies fruit for some of the best examples I’ve tasted. The Monte Rio Mission is best served with a slight chill, much the same as a Beaujolais and is perfectly suited to picnics, simple foods and or beach time with friends.
The 2019 vintage Monte Rio Mission, bottled in normal 750ml and in this retro jug 1.5L bottle was made from 80 year old vines at the organic Somers Vineyard in Lodi and was 100% whole cluster fermented and aged for about 6 months in neutral barrels. It saw a full carbonic maceration for 10 days in stainless steel vats before being pressed into a combination of concrete and stainless steel tanks for 7 days to get through primary, with absolutely no sulfur used in the winemaking and an all natural indigenous yeast fermentation before in was put to the very old oak. I have really enjoyed these last few vintages from Monte Rio Cellars, these no pretense offerings are fun and unique wines, with their Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and this Mission grape red being some of my favorites from these guys. I had saved this bottle, because I liked the look, and even reviewed the 2020 version before this vintage, though it was in no way inferior and was very smooth on the palate and maybe with a more exciting nose, which has a bit of cinnamon jolly rancher and rose petals to enjoy. As noted before, it is likely that the Mission grape was first planted for trade production at the 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, about a hundred or so years before Zinfandel arrived in the state. Never always loved as a wine in the past, Mission has made a comeback in recent years and the Mission by Monte Rio, that comes in at just 11.5% natural alcohol, is juicy and very enjoyable.
($23 Est. for 750ml) 90 Points, grapelive
2019 Domaine Weinbach, Riesling, Vin d’Alsace, France.
The baby Riesling from Weinbach is a killer value and exceptional wine, crisply detailed, but with opulent texture and balance showing a real presence in the glass with apricot, white peach, melon, a crunch of apple and zesty lemon/tangerine citrus fruits along with spicy clove, verbena, chamomile, salty wet stones and touch of round leesy brioche. The aromatics are delicately floral with a wisp of jasmine and orange blossoms along with a mineral tone, not to be confused with petrol fumes and subtle a earthiness that is wonderfully appealing in this stylish dry Riesling, it is always a treat to have a Weinbach and this is no exception. Women and nature have always played a big part of the success at Weinbach, which continues today.In recent years, Catherine Faller took over the leadership of the winery, made famous in a large part by her late mother Collette who brought the winery to the very top of wine world and her late sister Laurence, who was the winemaker for many years before sadly passing away at the young age of 41, and has kept the estate in the elite of Alsace wineries, along with her sons Eddy and Théo, who lead the next generation at this historic domaine.
The grapes for the basic Riesling are all organic and or biodynamic, they are all hand picked from parcels in the Valley of Kaysersberg, home to Domaine Weinbach with sandy silt soils on granite pebbles that give this wine its mineral focus. The grapes growing in this terroir, which is a bit warmer and sees lots of sun ripen a lot earlier, which the winery notes, produces wines with complex aromatics and a potent concentration, though there is loads of zesty acidity, meaning there is lots of depth and fruit density in most years, which this 2019 coming in about 13.5%, making for a rich supple body, though very dry with a touch of bitter almond coming from the phenolic extract. The 2019 saw a gentle whole cluster press in a Champagne style pneumatic press, then a spontaneous fermentation with indigenous yeasts, that the Faller’s believe add an element of the terroir, enhancing the depth and complexity in the wine, in old oak vats. The basic Weinbach Riesling sees eight months on the lees in the large neutral wood barrels, which is just about perfect to mature this outstanding Alsatian white, and like all of the Weinbach offerings, this is an all vegan bottling, it goes great with a wide array of cuisine too, from cured ham to Cajun spiced shrimp or crayfish.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine L’Austral, Saumur Saumur Puy-Notre-Dame Rouge “Vigneaux” Loire Valley, France.
The exceptionally perfumed and pure old vine Saumur Puy-Notre-Dame Rouge “Vigneaux”, which is 100% Cabernet Franc, from Domaine L’Austral was macerated in vat on the skins for about seven days and then fermented and aged in concrete eggs for 18 months, making for a wine that drinks like a fine Burgundy or Barbaresco, but with true Cab Franc varietal character. The delicacy and depth is quite stunning here, the nose draws you in with violets and rose oil, with heavenly layering on the weightless palate of black raspberry, ripe currant, plum and kirsch along with chalky stones, wild herbs and classic bell pepper notes. Unlike the tannic and animal laced old school Chinon, this Saumur is all about grace and sublime clarity, it is a stunning wine of gorgeous detail and absolute purity that feels wonderfully textural, lingering on and on with echos of the fruit and florals. The Les Vigneux, an outstanding value, is a from 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 the former Tour Grise estate, which obtained full biodynamic certification back in 1998, this wine clearly shows this fabulous vineyard at its mature best.
La Tour Grise estate, now know as Domaine L’Austral, 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, and Philippe Gourdon originally 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 in Gourdon and in the new owners, Pauline Mourrain and Laurent Traubat have faithfully made these wines their own, but continue in the prior owners footsteps, under the L’Austral label. Pauline and Laurent have employed 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, with this one seeing only those concrete eggs, and used French oak to age these wines. The L’Austral wines are all naturally vinified, with long maceration(s) and indigenous yeast fermentation(s) and then 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 also give these Cabernet Francs and Chenin Blancs grown their striking characteristics. Domaine L’Ausral does a fabulous collection of hand crafted wines, including this awesome Vigneaux, as well as a delicious selection of Chenin(s), a cool sparkling wine and even a full carbonic Cab Franc that is wonderfully quaffable, I highly recommend them all!
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Corral Wine Co, Sauvignon Blanc, Zabala Vineyard, Arroyo Seco AVA, Monterey County.
Very much like the premier release 2018, the new Corral Sauvignon Blanc was fermented and aged in stainless and is just as excitingly vivid, zesty and pure, as the last one, making it a great Summer sipper and a white that goes great with lighter cuisine, especially delicate fish, goat cheeses, salads and picnic foods. The nose again is striking with gooseberry, wild herbs, white flowers and citrusy, with a touch of guava in this vintage and with a bit more density and presence on the tangy refreshing palate with loads of lemon/lime, white peach, quince and melon fruits. A bright pop from the natural acidity as well as some mineral, saline and wet stone elements make it even more compelling. It has been very interesting to see, as mentioned last time I was reviewing this wine, a Monterey County renaissance of Sauvignon Blanc, it is an amazing turn around for this grape locally, in which a flood of dull wines had made Savvy B a hard pass, it’s a trend I admit I didn’t see coming at all, especially with all the cool alternative grape varietals doing so well here, like Vermentino, Picpoul, Grenache Blanc, Melon, dry Riesling, even Arneis and especially Albariño showing incredibly here. So it is good to see some focused efforts put into the grape and having wines like this one, which is superb with soft cheeses and or grilled shrimp to quaff around with. As I noted before, local winemaker and vineyard guru Ian Brand really thinks we are just beginning to see this grape’s potential in Monterey, especially in Arroyo Seco, it just needs some TLC, in a way it (this wine) reminds of how good some South African coastal climate Sauvignon Blancs can be, like those of Neil Ellis.
The Corral Wine Co., started by Larry Bell, is a family run micro (craft) winery in Corral de Tierra, set in between Carmel Valley and the Salinas Valley, that has a few acres of Pinot Noir vines and has just released their first estate Pinot Noir, which is a beauty as well (more on this one soon) and is available at their newly opened tasting room in the Carmel Valley Village. They have also done a nice job with their Zabala sourced Chardonnay, to go with this tasty Sauvignon Blanc. This wine in the 2018 vintage, was the debut for winemaker Adrien Valenzuela, at Corral, who has been patiently waiting for his chance to show of his cellar skills outside his day job at Constellation Brands in Gonzales. A Salinas and Monterey County native Valenzuela, is one of hugely talented new generation of home grown local winemakers, who was studying biology and nursing, took an internship at Estancia and caught the wine bug. His first solo wine that he made in his garage was a hit at the Mid-State Fair, taking a Gold Medal. As mentioned before, young winemakers have a tough road to success and there are many roadblocks along the way, so it is great to see young people taking their chance and making it in this business. The lineup at Corral is well worth checking out, from this Sauvignon Blanc to their set of Pinots, as well as a deeply colored and full bodied Petite Sirah, I highly recommend trying the full collection. This 2019 Zabala Sauvignon Blanc by Corral is an interesting white, grown on an alluvial wash, ancient river bed and extremely rocky soils, with crisp dry details and mouth watering freshness, it makes for a nice change from the generic versions coming in from New Zealand and its heightened Musqué clone aromatics just adds to the wine’s personality and charm, it is nicely done and it is worth checking out.
($28 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Georg Breuer, Riesling, Rauentaller Nonnenberg “Monopol” Rheingau Germany.
This 2017 Rauenthaller Nonnenberg, that was sourced from Breuer’s all organic monopole vineyard site, was fermented with native yeasts and traditionally aged in old wood, is one of the winery’s top dry bottlings and one of my favorite Rheingau Rieslings, with this vintage showing a wonderfully concentrated and balanced drier palate, highlighting the ripe, almost plush nature of the vintage in the region. While I love the Breuer Rudesheimer Berg, slate driven, offerings, especially the Roseneck and the mighty Schlossberg, this Rauenthaller Nonnenberg Monopol is iconic and uniquely distinct in their lineup of dry Rieslings with its textural depth and earthy complexity, making it one of the great wines of the region. This 2017 has really come together nicely, getting much better after a few years in the bottle showing an array of citrus and orchard fruits with layers of tangerine, yellow peach, apricot, apple and tropical fruits along with dried honey, an earthy stony and mineral core, as well as having an inner energy, zesty but smooth acidity and fine floral aromatics. I am always impressed with the transparency and rustic charms in these Breuer wines and I have really loved my visits to their tasting room in downtown Rudesheim, both times, back in 2009 and more recently in 2016, when I got to taste through a great selection of their wines, including a few older vintages of this Nonnenberg. This vintage is nicely expressive, lightly spicy and deep, giving a generous mouth feel and lingering saline quality, making it great with classic pairings and with just enough residual sugar to stand up to a little heat, great with Asian cuisine and or poultry dishes.
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. Bernard, as mentioned in my prior reviews, was also a strong advocate for a vineyard classification system based on geology, historical precedent, and the quality of wines, he also is credited with discovering the potential of the Rauenthal zone, which has become one of the top crus in the Rheingau and in particular the incredible Nonnenberg Monopole site. 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, as this 2017 shows perfectly. While waiting for the Covid pandemic to subside, I’m dreaming of returning to Germany and getting back to Rhein wine growing area, with this wine transporting me back there.
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Jean-Paul & Charly Thevenet, Morgon “Vieilles Vignes” Cru Beaujolais, France.
The 2019 Thevenet Old Vine Morgon is vibrant and zingy with loads of natural acidity, mineral notes and subtle fruit density, highlight the lively personality of the vintage that reminds me of 2010 and 2014, or a more classic year, but as it opens it turns on the charm and gets much more rounded and exciting with dark fruits bursting from the glass with air. Thevenet just makes one wine and only 2,000 cases per year are made, making this a treat, especially with the demand for top notch Gamay these days. The Morgon Vieilles Vignes, which shows a delicate floral note, pecan husk, crushed raspberry and earthy elements on the nose, then reveals zesty currant, plum, strawberry and citrusy fruits on the taut medium bodied palate. The old vine concentration shines especially when you give this wine time to awaken and it gets more entertaining and pretty, losing some of its rustic sharpness with food. There is more of a reserved quality here and a savory edginess that time with resolve, so if you do lack the patience it deserves (like me), I suggest decanting and a leisurely meal to allow all the best comes out here. The Thevenet’s employ long fermentations in cement cuve, with 100% whole clusters, for 15-25 days at low temperatures to allow for longest skin contact possible, delivering depth, extract and firm tannins. Made with all indigenous yeasts, with punch downs and pressing uniquely only after primary fermentation is complete and then it is aged on the lees for about 8 months in used Burgundy barrels. This is pure and raw in style, but the fruit ultimately leads to pleasure here and it is vivid terroir driven example of the Morgon cru.
One of Kermit Lynch’s original Gang of Four, and known as “Paul-Po” among friends, Jean-Paul is a reserved yet fun-loving third generation winemaker who along with his son make some of the best Gamay in the world. This old vine Morgon, the only wine they focus on at this famed Beaujolais estate comes from two parcels, one from 110 year old vines planted, as Kermit Lynch notes, before WWI and another plot that is 45 years old, set on decomposed granite and sandy soils. Thevenet farms this small five-hectare domaine with his son, Charly, who also makes his own fabulous Gamay from the neighboring Grand Cru Régnié, and who has taken over the helm here in recent years. Charly is a rising star with huge charisma and who is staunch advocate of natural wine just like his father, and since 2008 the two have taken the domaine to the next level by adopting all organic and biodynamic viticultural practices here, adding to the quality and intensity to this Morgon bottling. It’s well noted, that In the early 1980s Beaujolais was flooded with mass-produced, over-commercialized wine, destroying the reputation of this once highly regarded region that was once the equal to Burgundy, but the push back came when winemaker and viticultural prophet Jules Chauvet influenced a generation to return to more traditional holistic practices and love of their land. Jean-Paul and three other local vignerons, Marcel Lapierre, Guy Breton, and Jean Foillard, as Lynch famously chronicled, soon took up the torch of this “natural wine” movement, with Kermit dubbing them the Gang of Four, and the rest is history, and Beaujolais has never been better. Of course there are many other great producers here, but you’ll never be a miss when you get a bottle of this wine, with Thevenet’s 2019 being a classic.
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2019 Brovia, Langhe Freisa DOC “La Villerina Secca” Piedmonte, Italy.
In recent years Freisa, a local rarity, has made a comeback from obscurity to be a darling of the Piedmonte region as top producers like G.D. Vajra, Vietti and Brovia put their talents to it. Freisa, a close but little-known relative of Nebbiolo has some similar characteristics, got popular in the 1800s and was used for sparkling, still and sweet wines and there are two major clonal varieties of Freisa-a small berried clone known as Freisa Piccolo which is more widely planted, and used here, and a larger berry Freisa Grossa or Freisa di Nizza, which is not known to produce any wines of merit. This perfumed, vibrant and delicious organic Brovia Freisa comes from the Barolo region and their estate vines in the Castiglione Falletto area, set on the historic clay and limestone soils. This 2019 La Villerina Secca Langhe Freisa DOC is mineral intense and chalky with a weighted rose petal bouquet and with a fresh medium bodied palate of strawberry, crushed spicy raspberry and Italian cherry fruits along with dried herbs, candied orange peel and white licorice. The Brovia wines are vinified in the classic style, especially the higher end Barolo wines, with all the grapes being fully de-stemmed and then lightly crushed before going into the cement fermentation tanks, all with native yeasts. The length of the fermentation period depends on the grape variety but the Nebbiolo for various Barolo cuvées can extend as long as a month or more, while the Freisa is a shorter period to retain fresh fruit detail and aromatics. The Baroli are aged for at least two years in mainly large format casks of Slavonian and French oak, while the Freisa sees just the stainless steel, which is usually an elevage of 6 to 12 months, with the wine staying on the lees through malo-lactic fermentation with the Freisa getting a racking to another tank to clarify before bottling. The Brovia wines are all bottled unfined and without filtration, then released only after the wine is matured in bottle for an extended time, for the Freisa it is typically again 6 months to a year, with the Barolo coming to the market after an additional 18 to 24 months of bottle-aging.
The famous Brovia estate, now run by Elena Brovia, was originally established in 1863 by Giacinto Brovia, who founded the winery in the village of Castiglione Falletto, in the heart of the Barolo district. The family has been continually engaged in the growing of grapes and the production of wine since that time, through many up and downs and have emerged as one of the top properties with a focus on traditional Barolo and native varietals, like Nebbiolo, Barbera and this rare Freisa, as well as notable efforts with Dolcetto and Arneis. The Brovias have concentrating their efforts in their home village of Castiglione Falletto and the neighboring Serralunga d’Alba. Brovia has an elite collection of parcels in a variety of the best crus in this part of Piedmont, including awesome plots in Rocche, Villero and Garblét Sue, which, as the winery notes, are all in their home district of Castiglione Falletto, as well as Brea, located just down the road in Serralunga. These different vineyard plots, Brovia adds, represent a range of soil types, from heavier clay to friable limestone, which goes from heavier fruit density to a more structured and tannic wine. The family is extremely conscientious of nature and the environment and as winegrowers they farm organically, though without being formally certified they are passionate about being sustainable and holistic in their methods, both in the vineyard and in the cellar. With some digging around I found that plantings of Freisa in the Piedmont region date back to at least the 11700s, but it is believed to have been there much longer, and ampelographers believe that the grape likely originated in Piedmonte, in the hills between Asti and Turin. It was only recently that DNA profiling by the UC Davis revealed that Freisa has a parent-offspring relationship with Nebbiolo, as mentioned above. I’ve been a fan of Brovia for a decade or so now, especially their Nebbiolo and Barbera based offerings, but now that I’ve had this Freisa for the first time, it moves right up to the top of my list, this was an unexpected pleasure not unlike when I had the Kye Freisa from Giuseppe Vajra for the first time, this was a lovely experience and it is a wine that can be enjoyed with a wide range of foods, I highly recommend it.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2020 Filipa Pato & William Wouters, Baga “Dinamico” Vinho Tinto, Bairrada D.O.C., Portugal.
One of my favorite producers in Portugal, Filipa Pato, along with her husband, Belgian sommelier and restaurateur William Wouters, make what they call vinhos autênticos sem maquilagem, which translates to ‘Authentic Wines Without Makeup.’ and use only ancient native varietals like Baga, the grape in this lovely little red wine wine from her home region of Bairrada. The no wood Dinamico Vinho Tinto is deliciously fresh and a ridiculous bargain, it delivers a ripe and vibrant array of racy red fruits on the medium bodied palate, along with zingy acidity, like a Gamay or Pinot Noir, spice and mineral notes, it way over performs for the price, which puts in with some generic and or bland stuff, making this wine even more attractive. The 2020 version has brandied cherry, plum, strawberry and earthy cranberry fruits, as well as a touch of saline, leather, all spice, blood orange and dried lavender notes. Filipa could be considered a star in the wine world along the lines of a Arianna Occhipinti or Elisabetta Foradori, working her estate with biodynamic practices, and with very minimal-intervention or natural winemaking in the cellar and with a focus of local and historic grapes to the region. The use of different sites in this wine helps round out the personality with the clay and limestone soils producing Baga with lighter tannins and more depth of concentration, whereas the schist-based soils produce firmer tannins and some highlight the spice and mineral dimension. This is certainly a wine without make up, it is raw and pure with good balance, for those that like old world and authentic regional wines will very much enjoy this Dinamico Vinho Tinto and I highly recommend Pato’s wines.
The 100% Baga “Dinamico” Vinho Tinto, Bairrada D.O.C. by Filipa Pato is sourced partially from Filipa and William’s estate vineyards in Ois do Bairro, and partially from other growers in various villages in the Bairrada zone. For this cuvée Filipa uses 100% handpicked and fully de-stemmed grapes that are all organic with native yeast fermentation employed and it is raised entirely in tank with a very gentle extraction to promote absolute purity of terroir and varietal. Filipa, who is intensely passionate about her region of the unique varietals here, like this Baga, as well as Bical, Cercial and Maria Gomes, the main local white grapes found in Bairrada, does a beautiful series of single varietal wines, plus some amazingly tasty sparkling wines that include a blend of these grapes, especially good is her 3B Extra Brut Rosé. Pato use of various plots throughout the Bairrada appellation and of individual terroirs make all of her wines very singular and distinct, with this one highlighting the Atlantic continental climate and nature exceptionally well. The soils here, in the Bairrada DOC, set slightly inland are mainly of the limestone and clay types, but with some schist and alluvial areas too, all of which Baga enjoys and helps give the Pato wines their complexity and noted age worthy (longevity), in particular the thin-skinned Baga grape wines, which sometimes are compared to a combination of Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir. This vividly ruby/garnet Baga is a crisply dry red wine that has plenty of charm and flexibility for cuisine options, going with lots of dishes from pizza/pasta to grilled octopus, and it can be served with a slight chill too for outdoor dining or sipping. For a little more seriousness, depth and distinction try Pato’s single cru versions as well, they can pretty special, in particular the amphora raised Post-Quercus bottling.
($16 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2019 Yann Chave, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge, Classique, Northern Rhone, France.
My very first quality Crozes-Hermitage was this Yann Chave’s basic no oak version and it really opened my eyes to Northern Rhone Syrah and I quickly became a huge fan of this region and still am today, it is one of my go to areas for great value in Northern Rhone Syrah with many delicious options, like this one, plus the wines of the other Chave (Jean-Louis), Yves Cuilleron, Alain Graillot, Saint Cosme and Vincent Paris to name a few. So, coming back to Yann’s Crozes always brings a smile and a delight to the senses, especially in vintages like this dark purple/ruby 2019 with its gorgeous and pure bouquet and palate of blue fruits, violets, earth and spice. The full bodied mouth feel is vinous and shows boysenberry, blueberry, damson plum and creme de cassis along with camphor, iron, fresh cut violets, anise and cracked peppercorns accents in a youthfully firm, but fruit forward and joyously expressive wine.Yann took over from his father, Bernard Chave, and released his first solo effort in 2001, when the name of the Domaine also changed to Yann Chave, he instantly became a star and gained a cult like following with Syrah enthusiasts. While at that time, mostly what we saw coming from Crozes was pretty rustic and lean, but Chave’s wines had a richness and depth that set them apart and pushed the region to make higher quality stuff. He also has a tiny section of vines on the legendary Hermitage hill, though those bottlings are unicorn wine and almost impossible to find, while this one is a bit easier to get and a superb value.
Yann Chave’s The traditional (Classique) Crozes cuvée, 100% de-stemmed Syrah, is produced from vines grown around the three villages of Mercurol, La Roche de Glun and Pont de l’Isère with large round pebbles over loess soils. There are several plots of Syrah used here and they were planted at different times, but the winery says the average age of vines is close to 20 years. The farming of all of the Yann Chave vineyards is done with organic methods and the leaves of the canopy are trimmed around the fruit clusters for optimal exposure to sunlight, and grapes are harvested by hand and these picks are late to give ripe density to the wines. As with Yann’s white wines, he does not use selected yeasts, relying on indigenous yeasts to ferment his reds. Grapes as mentioned, are de-stemmed, and Chave then allow the vinification temperature to warm up gradually from 20° to 30°C, which he carefully maintains to achieve optimal extraction and coax out beautiful aromatics from the Syrah. Vatting or maceration lasts about three weeks on average, with pump-overs done twice a day, and Chave always tries to wet the whole surface of the cap. The aging is very shot on this Crozes-Hermitage lasting only a few moths and is exclusively in tank to preserve the fresh fruit character and avoiding any wood influence. This inky dark purple/black Crozes will appeal to Northern Rhone fans certainly, though it will equally impress even new world wine drinkers and it gets better and better in the glass, it is an exceptional vintage to stock up on and have with a robust winter meal.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Le Complice, Rhone Blend, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
A wine that I have not tried before the Le Complice Rouge from Talbas Creek in Paso Robles is a classic California Rhone that is uniquely different from their flagship Esprit de Beaucastel Rouge that features Mourvedre more dominantly. While this Le Complice is an alternative Chateauneuf style blend of 60% Syrah, 24% Grenache and intriguingly 15% Terre Noir, one of the rarest Chateauneuf du Pape red grapes, and one that provides a bit of ying and yang to the heavy dose of the dark fruited Syrah here, as it is lighter and brighter toned, meanwhile the Grenache adds some forward fruit density and hedonism, all making this wine incredibly attractive, elegant and complex on the palate. The rich palate of black raspberry, plum, pomegranate and blueberry compote fruits has a lively energy behind it and the layering is especially beautiful and it show a real nuanced delicacy with a fine mineral detail, brambly spice, a touch of earthiness and well judged oak framing with a full bodied texture, as well as excellent length. With some air the nose opens up delivering some dark florals, a hint of graphite, pepper and anise that also echo in the mouth and linger on with a bit of fig and creme de cassis. The Syrah allows the other grapes to really lift this wine and it is absolutely brilliant as a total package, making it a delicious version to enjoy with robust cuisine.
The Tablas Creek Vineyard 2018 Le Complice, is the third vintage of their first new blend in a decade, and interestingly one that doesn’t rely on Mourvedre, it celebrates, as the winery puts it, the kinship between Syrah and the vineyard’s newest red grape, Terret Noir. In French, the winery adds, Le Complice means, roughly, “partners in crime” with the note that although the Syrah is dark and the Terret light, both share some common characteristics, including wild herbs and black spice, and Terret’s high acids bolster (the) Syrah’s tendency, what Tablas says, toward stolidity. Tablas explains that they added some Grenache for mid-palate fleshiness, which I noted above, and there was a touch of Roussanne, that was co-fermented with a Syrah lot, but it didn’t equal a percentage. The grapes for the Tablas Le Complice were grown on their Regenerative Organic Certified™ and biodynamic estate vineyard in the Adelaida District AVA and the wine, which was fermented in separate varietal lots was blended after 9 months and raised for close to 10 months in large French oak foudres. There is a lot to love here and shows the quality and flexibility of Tablas Creek in crafting some ultra small lot bottlings that shine with vastly different combinations of varietals and percentages, it highlights the terroir and vintage perfectly, it should drink nicely for years to come as well.
($55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Sheldon Wines, Tempranillo Brut Rosé, Luc’s Vineyard, Fountaingrove AVA, Sonoma County.
Super crisp and bone dry this 2019 Sheldon Brut Rosé, made from 100% Tempranillo and has a nice cut of tartness and fresh acidity to go with an array of citrus, red apple and strawberry fruit along with hints of stones and subtle leesy brioche. This is very tasty and refreshing going great with steamed mussels, oysters and crostini bites with a variety of toppings, it also works beautiful as a starter aperitif with its low alcohol feel and brisk nature. Unlike some frothy Pet-Nat bottlings, this Tempranillo Brut Rosé was hand made done with Champagne method and the mousse is energy filled with small bubbles, a luxurious creamy beading, but still naturally racy and mouth watering. The Brut Rosé is a very limited bottling with only 50 cases made in this vintage, with Sheldon just releasing the new 2020 version now on their website and mailing list.
Sheldon Wines says this zero dosage sparkling wine is made in the traditional method by hand from a tiny organic vineyard in the Fountaingrove AVA in Sonoma County, in the cooler hills around Healdsburg, that is set on rocky soils and Sonoma volcanics. Winemaker Dylan Sheldon, who is getting close to his 20th professional vintage, has to hand riddle each bottle of his Brut Rosé 200 times during the process, as he notes, taking it from still wine to sparkling to coax this elixir into being, as we now see it in the bottle. Sheldon has taken his own path as a winemaker and has focused on unique varietals and a lower alcohol style, even before it was all the rage, he has in particular championed cool climate Grenache and he makes one of California’s best versions of Graciano, the rare Rioja grape that he is doing as a still and sparkling red, as well as some intriguing field blends, Sangiovese, a tawny Port and he is even exploring Frappato, the signature grape of the Vittoria region of Sicily.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2020 Vincent Paris, Syrah, Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes, Northern Rhone, France.
The basic 2020 Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Syrah from Vincent Paris is a bright and fresh wine that is round and earthy with a salty and stony core with vibrant blue fruits, spice and a soft easy texture, making it a wine to just enjoy young and with pretense. The 2020 is less elevated and serious as some of the other recent vintages, especially the string from 2016 to 2019 which were much closer to being a true baby Cornas or like his Crozes-Hermitage, but still very nice and a great value. This all tank raised Syrah comes exclusively from young organic Crozes Hermitage vines and set on alluvial soils with a lot of galets roulés scattered the vines, which absorb heat and that restore the soils in the evening. This electric ruby hued vintage, which gets more entertaining with air, opens up with boysenberry, fresh currant, juicy plum and tart cherry fruits, along with a mix of spices and wild herbs, all lifted by zesty acidity, mineral notes and subtle floral tones in a wine with a lighter frame, velvety tannins and a medium body.
Vincent Paris, as I have noted in my prior reviews, is a native of Cornas and one of the new superstars in the region, joining legends and cult heroes like Clape, Allemand and one of my other favorites Domaine Lionnet to name a few. Vincent inherited most of his vines, which are mature and well cared for, including a fabulous plot well over 100 years old, from his grandfather and he also rents vines from his famous uncle and Cornas vigneron Robert Michel. These ideal biodynamically farmed vines, which are set in various parcels along the southeast facing Cornas slope, these include the steep set that make backbone of two of Paris’ most famous bottlings, his Granit 30 and Granit 60, they take their names from the slope and grade in these vineyards and average vine age, respectively. His famed Geynale single Cornas parcel wine, La Geynale, is comprised exclusively of old vines in Genale that were planted in 1910, making for a wine that is highly prized and almost impossible to get. I highly recommend checking out these terroir driven and soulful Paris wines, in particular his Granit 30 Cornas, which is one of the great values in the collection, and this highly quaffable Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Syrah, which was 100% de-stemmed and aged in vat for nine months, there’s a lot to admire here.
($18 Est.) 87 Points, grapelive
2016 J. Rochioli, Pinot Noir, West Block, Estate Grown, Russian River Valley.
Sometimes, you pull a special bottle out of the cellar, just because, and the experience takes on a life of its own, taking an unremarkable Tuesday evening in early January to almost unimaginable heights and this West Block with its sensual palate and hedonistic fruit density did just that. The 2016s are turning out to be epic here at Rochioli and the West Block is a luxurious example of the vintage in its best form with an outrageous deep color, powerful fruit concentration and structure, but with layer upon layer of silky flavors that include classic Russian River black cherry, along with crushed raspberry, sweet plum and some blueberry fruits that are wonderfully accented by wilted rose petal, a hint of loamy earth, sandalwood, cola bean and shaved vanilla. This wine really engages the senses with its opulent richness and complexity, it easily overcomes the influence of the toast sweet oak that provides the framework to show off the gorgeous fruit here and it impresses for its textural pleasure and length. Sometimes it is different to put into exact words just how good a wine is, and this is the case here, with this 2016 West Block, it brings a massive amount of quiet joy that is hard to explain, but thrilling to endure, this Pinot is simply spectacular from start to finish with energy and impact, it is not a copy of anything else, it is a singular wine that couldn’t be confused for anything but a Rochioli. Of course this is not news for those that are on Rochioli’s mailing list, they are the lucky ones when they open their bottles and I wish I could afford and be allocated cases of this stuff, these wines has a long life span and I am always amazed by just how great they are when allowed to mature properly, and while this 2016 is a tad early to open, it was almost absolutely perfect, though I would say it will go easily another ten to fifteen years more. This bottling is one of the wines that truly put California on the map during the 1990s and it lives up to its glorious reputation, it is still one of the state’s benchmarks and most prized.
I’ve always been a fan of Rochioli’s West Block, sourced from vines originally planted back in 1969 and with a newer section parcel that saw a more recent re-planting in 2008, with it’s heritage selection of clones, it always delivers an incredible dark ruby/garnet hue in the glass and intense full bodied depth, making it one of the California’s great wines. 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). As noted before, 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 original West Block selection clone, which is now regarded as a California heritage clone, known by some as the Rochioli clone, was most likely the old Martini clone, which was mainly replaced by modern Dijon selections in the mid to late 90s, but has proven to be truly special, as witnessed here in this amazing wine!
($125-185 Est.) 98 Points, grapelive
2019 Sandlands Vineyards, Syrah, Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
Winemaker Tegan Passalacqua crafted a beauty with his 2019 Soberanes Syrah from the Santa Lucia Highlands, though with only a mere four barrels produced it will be a prize for those lucky enough to be on the Sandlands mailing list, it delivers a gorgeous array of blue and black fruits, spice, feral meaty notes and perfumed florals in a style that unmistakably Californian, but with a nod to the northern Rhone with pure varietal character and low natural alcohol. Soberanes, set over the next ridge from Garys’ Vineyard, but higher up, just might be the most exciting plot in the Santa Lucia Highlands right now and is planted with an excellent selection of clones, like the Alban clone, which is originally from suitcase cuttings from Cote-Rotie, for Syrah. This is a very primary young wine, so it needed time to open up, but when it did, wow, this is awesome stuff, it gained incredible dimension, aromatics and an intensity of detail that is spellbinding with layers of blackberry, boysenberry, plum and currant fruits that are accented by violets, peppery sage, cedar, flinty mineral, sanguine, bacon fat, grilled fennel, kirsch and espresso bean. The purple/garnet hued Sandlands Soberanes Syrah joins an elite group of sexy cooler climate Syrah bottlings in California that includes the Pisoni family’s own versions of Soberanes, both Jeff Pisoni’s Lucia and his wife Bibiana Gonzalez Rave-Pisoni’s Cattleya, plus Pax’s excellent collection of single vineyard Syrahs, Piedrasassi, Halcon, Filomena, Jolie-Laide, Samuel Louis Smith, Lagier-Merideth, Peay, Desire Lines Wine Co and Drew to name a few.
The Soberanes Vineyard, impeccably farmed by the Pisoni family, is planted on the Santa Lucia Highlands well drained Arroyo Seco sandy loam soils, and riddled with chunks of quartz and granite, that along with the cool ocean breezes coming off the deep cold water in the Monterey Bay, create near perfect growing conditions for exceptional Syrah. Each vintage of this Sandlands Soberanes Syrah seems to get better and better with more complexity and nuance coming out as these vines come into full maturity. Passalacqua himself seems in awe of the fruit quality here noting that he he sees a reoccurring theme in this wine with a classic rotation of lavender, graphite, dark berries and smoked meats showing up each year, with this 2019 having more of a medium body, but with an exceptionally long and structured finish, which I agree, quite amazing to is the concentration for a wine with just 12.8% alc. Tegan, who is the head winemaker and vineyard manager at Turley, used whole bunches and employed native yeasts in the fermentation achieved a semi carbonic like effect here, giving the wine a supple mouth feel and smooth tannins. The Soberanes Syrah was raised in used barrels for about a year before bottling, with everything done to promote transparency and keep the wines natural energy, this vintage is stunning and as pure as it gets and it certainly looks forward to a long life and even more excitement looks a given with additional age. There is a no pretense and rawness to these Sandlands wines that is completely seductive, they are unapologetic old school California wines that highlight terroir and transmit the individual nature of each vintage, in particular look for their Carignane, Zinfandel, Mataro and this Syrah!
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Weingut Peter Lauer, Riesling Feinherb, Fass 9 Kern, Ayler Kupp, Saar, Germany.
I’m always thrilled to try the wines from the Peter Lauer estate in the Saar , as winemaker Florian Lauer is one of the region’s best and the wines all show a crystalline purity and are mineral intense with lots of dry extract, but with a divine sense of lightness to them, and this off-dry Fast 9 Kern, Riesling Feinherb, is no exception. For Lauer, the large size of Ayler Kupp Lage (vineyard) gives it many different terroirs, as he puts it, rather than a single, defining character. With subtle changes in soil composition, exposition, altitude, and micro-climate as well as vine age all play influential roles, giving each wine their own soulful expression as is on display here with the 2019 Fass 9 Kern, which comes from a vertical parcel of old vines, showing smoky slate influence and a pleasing roundness from the concentration of fruit, but with loads of fresh acidity, all which makes this Riesling feel and drink on the drier side. There is a racy array of citrus, green apple and tart apricot fruits that lead the way on the palate here along with quince, wet shale, muskmelon, rose oil and with a bit of saliva inducing salinity. These modern Feinherbs are serious efforts, they are really fabulous wines with depth, generous mouth feel and structure with zesty acidity keeping things lively and fresh, especially these Saar Rieslings by Lauer.
The winery notes that “Kern” is named after the 19th century industrialist that cleared this more-western part of the Ayler Kupp Vineyard, it is a small parcel that spans the entire top-to-bottom reach of the Kupp. The vines are old here, well over 70-years-old with mostly slate intense soils. Coming into the winery the golden Riesling grapes are whole-cluster pressed directly in a gentle pneumatic press, with the juice occasionally pumped back in for a short maceration with the skins. Florian Lauer does his Riesling fermentations with native yeasts and is committed to very natural style with no fining agents or any other additions are ever added, except a touch of SO2. The Lauer wines see a fairly short aging period with elevage in a combination of vessels, with the majority done in stainless steel, but also fiberglass vats and with most of the Cru trockens going into traditional Fuder oak casks for 1-6 months, with varying time on the lees, depending on the cuvée. The wines at Peter Lauer are lightly filtered with diatomaceous earth, and for those that quite particular about it, all wines are completely vegan. This 2019 Fass 9 Kern wears its residual sugar nicely, it gives this brilliantly balanced Riesling Feinheb a less severe personality, it’s less fruity than a Kabinett, coming across crisply dry, making it easy to sip and even more exciting with food, excelling with things like lighter curries and or sushi.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Tenuta Tascante, Contrada Rampante, Etna Rosso DOC, Sicily, Italy.
The 2017 Tenuta Tascante Contrada Rampante is warmly ripe and spicy, highlighting the year’s heat and the terroir influence here in Mount Etna with its lava and basalt based soils and the elevation allowing a depth and finesse here that is very alluring and enjoyable. The fruit concentration is pure and lush here with a silky medium/full bodied palate of brambly raspberry, racy cherry, wild plum and candied orange rind, dried red peppers, anise, crushed stones, Thai basil and delicate floral notes. Made from 100% Nerello Mascalese, the most noble of Mount Etna’s varietals, with all the grapes being grown sustainably and the vines are hand tended, with the Contada Rampante being planted in 2000 and just entering full maturity. This Cru bottling by the Tasca family and Tenuta Tascante was crafted by Stefano Masciarelli, the winemaker here using all de-stemmed grapes and fermented in tank with a selected yeast with a gentle and cool maceration to promote clarity and give the wine a less rustic or earthy personality. This ruby/garnet hued wine is very polished and smooth, it is delicious effort that will certainly appeal to newcomers to this region’s wines.
Mount Etna, which is Europe’s largest active volcano, is the Island’s most significant landmark, it is located on the eastern side of Sicily and is home to some of Italy’s best terroir driven and nuanced wines. The Contrada Rampante (Cru) single vineyard is located in Sicilies Castiglione di Sicilia, between Passopisciaro and Randazzo, in maybe the Volcano’s best grape growing zone, on the Northern side of Mount Etna, where the vines see cooler conditions and the grapes show a finer balance and complexity, it’s why these wines are nicknamed the Burgundy of the south or Sicily. This vineyard that has large dry-stone wall terraces at an average slope of 4.7% with soils that were formed between 4,000 – 15,000 years ago, the Etna DOC is divided into 132 Contrade, or wine districts, with each Contrada being characterized by its soil components and the age of the lava underpinning of each site. Masciarelli did his best here to make this wine appealing to a wide range of wine lovers, but to also wanted it to be expressive with a sense of place, and to achieve this he aged this Contrada Rampante in large Slavonian oak casks for a full 12 months and kept it in bottle for another year in the cellar before release. There’s a lot to like here and this wine is a great way to start exploring the wines of Mount Etna, with this wine’s poise and polish makes it easy to love, especially with Sicilian inspired cuisine and or hard cheeses.
($45 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2001 Chateau Charmail, Cru Bougeois, Haut-Medoc, Red Bordeaux, France.
The Chateau Charmail is an old estate that dates back to the later have of 17th century and is located in the Haut-Medoc region on the Left Bank of Bordeaux’s famous the Gironde river and is planted to Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and a small quantity of Petit Verdot. The soils here are largely made up of classic gravel and clay that most common on this side on the river, which along with the mild climate, are perfectly suited to grape growing, allowing Cabernet Sauvignon to get fully ripe and structured as shows in this beautifully drinking 2001 vintage. Opening this 20 year Bordeaux, which is more of a value, rather than a prestigious growth, brought the best kind of surprise in that is impeccably cellared and had a perfect cork and fill as well as being wonderfully fresh and fleshy with a classic nose of mulberry, creme de cassis, cedar, pencil lead, subtle floral notes and loamy earth leading to medium/full bodied palate of blackberry, dark currant, kirsch and plum fruits that are accented by tobacco leaf, black olive, graphite, anise and a touch of vanilla. Things just kept getting better and better as it opened gaining some nice secondary character with a fine mineral elegance emerging and the vintage’s purity and lift really shines through, it lingers on and on, making for an impressive performance for a wine that mostly was drunk young, delivering pleasure way beyond its price, both new and now.
This 2001 Chateau Charmail was made up of a blend of close to 55% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc, plus I believe a tiny fraction of Petit Verdot, which Charmail has planted more of in recent years, along with a bit more Cabernet, that is always clearly present in the profile regardless of percentage in the final blend of the property’s Grand Vin. The soil types here in the Haut-Medoc consist mainly of gravel and clay, along with sand and colluvial sediments. This combination, the winery suggests, is what gives Charmail wines their balance and distinctive qualities, with wines having a subtle elegance from the stones, a sense power and concentration from the clay, which also gives richness to the body, especially with Merlot. Chateau Charmail has moved towards sustainable farming and has refined its techniques over the years, according the winery, to get the best out of their vines and now everything is hand tended and picked, then after the sorting table, where only the best grapes are selected, the fruit is handled in a very gentle manner and by gravity only, so that no pumps or screws damage the grapes as they are fed into the tanks for a slow and cold maceration and fermentation. cold skin contact, developed on the estate, serves to extract from the grape skins all the components that will ensure an optimal tannic structure in the wines. The aging on this Haut-Medoc lasts 12 months in barrels, all of which are, of course, French oak, but with only one third of which are new. I’ve always been a fan of 2001s and this Charmail certainly confirms my views and made for a compelling experience.
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive