The Way of Granite: Gideon Bienstock and the Wines of Clos Saron

In the most famous wine regions of the world, a tourist wandering the nicely manicured rows of vines that lead up to the front lawn of a gorgeous winery becomes easily lulled into the romantic fantasy of Wine Country.

In Wine Country, life is good. The view is awesome, the people are beautiful, the food is gourmet, and the wine represents a synergetic artistry—the apotheosis of terroir expression and human craft practiced with exacting detail.

Sometimes, the reality of Wine Country actually comes pretty close to that. This makes it all the more difficult to remember that growing and making wine is a precarious dance done with an unreliable and sometimes entirely unforgiving partner, Mother Nature.

As our current age of climate chaos unfurls, the relationship between winegrowers and the natural world can feel more like a battle these days than a dance.

A Complete Disaster

“It was like a scene from some disaster movie,” says Gideon Bienstock with tears in his eyes recalling the events of several months prior. “We were in a state of complete shock. Fully traumatized. I cried my heart out, and for a few days we were not coherent.”

On April 11, 2022 a severe windstorm swept through the Sierra Foothills of northern Yuba County where Bienstock and his wife farm a few scattered acres of grapes on thin decomposed granite soils amidst spruce, pine, and live oaks at 1500 feet of elevation.

Frost has long been an issue for Bienstock, who farms in a water-poor and fire-prone area of California, eliminating both sprinklers and smudge pots as options for fighting frost. This year, his approach involved wrapping the fruit zone of his newly budding vines with polypropylene fabric in the hopes of creating a warmer air pocket on cold nights.

When the windstorm hit, 40-mile-per-hour winds grabbed this fabric and ripped it partially free, leaving it to swipe and slam its way up and down the tender young growth of Bienstock’s vines.

“It was chaos,” remembers Bienstock. “We were out in the vineyards trying to put this fabric back, and you could watch it scraping all the new buds off, whatever new growth there was on the vine. And then it started to break the trellising.”

Bienstock and his wife frantically worked all afternoon and late into the evening to secure the fabric, but even as they did so, they could feel the temperature dropping precipitously.

“It was a total disaster even before the frost,” says Bienstock, “But by the time we finished getting the fabric back on in the dark, you could already tell there was frost damage beginning. You could take one look and tell it was fucked.”

The next morning, Bienstock and his wife emerged to find utter devastation—a total loss to frost across the entirety of their acreage, including all 1000 of the vines that they had just painstakingly replanted a few months earlier.

Adding insult to injury, 10 days later the region received a late-season rainstorm followed by three nights of more frost.

“Any tiny bit of plant that was trying to come back at that point was re-fried,” says Bienstock, shaking his head. “This year we have literally zero fruit. We can’t even make a quarter of a barrel of wine.”

The Clos Saron home vineyard this summer, finally showing some green growth, but zero fruit.

Bienstock buys some of his fruit from fellow growers in the area, not all of whom suffered total devastation as he did. However, their losses ranged from 25% to 50% of their crop, which means they will not have fruit to sell to Bienstock this year.

“How do you start from zero?” asks Bienstock, shaking his head. “We don’t know where to begin.”

The Wine Sage of Yuba County

Perpetually wild-haired and bright-eyed with a ready smile, Gideon Bienstock may be the best California winemaker that most serious wine lovers have never heard of. His obscurity ultimately has less to do with any desire on his part to remain out of the spotlight, and simply more to do with his vision as a winemaker, which comes down to a desire to help a very particular place express itself through wine.

That place is the North Yuba County AVA. For his part, Bienstock doesn’t care much about that official designation (or any appellation for that matter) remaining much more interested in the particular soils, elevation, and climate that happens to be found in this out-of-the-way section of Northern California.

The Way of Granite: Gideon Bienstock and the Wines of Clos Saron
Gideon Bienstock

How an Israeli-born artist ended up making some of California’s most terroir-expressive wines in the middle of nowhere turns out to be a story worth telling.

“My father was a military officer, one of the first generation in Israel,” says Bienstock. “I grew up in a tiny, isolated neighborhood outside Tel Aviv. There were maybe 200 or 300 families, and all of them were high brass, or the people that became the high brass in Israel. The founding fathers of the State of Israel were all family friends. Yitzak Rabin used to study French with my mother. The importance of all this is not that I knew all these people, the importance is that I sucked in the values that they lived. I grew up as a product of people who literally built a country from scratch.”

These values, says Bienstock, left him with little fear in life, allowing him to travel and explore different career options, which he says included working for the Israeli security service at Israel’s embassy in Paris, in security for El Al Airlines, and as a computer programmer, all while pursuing his personal passion for painting.

While he was living in Paris two crucial things happened to Bienstock that would end up shaping the rest of his life.

The first was a rapidly deepening appreciation for wine.

“I started studying wine in Paris in the 70s,” says Bienstock, “first just as an avid consumer. I met Spurrier at his store, and started visiting a lot of producers in France.”

The second was an exposure to “The Fourth Way,” an approach to attaining a higher state of consciousness and maximizing human potential developed by Russian philosopher and mystic George Ivanovich Gurdjieff.

Bienstock’s exposure to Gurdjieff came at the hands of a cult that was calling itself the Fellowship of Friends. Bienstock joined enthusiastically, and found, to his surprise, that one of the things this group did was make wine on a sprawling estate in California’s Sierra Foothills.

The Way of Granite: Gideon Bienstock and the Wines of Clos Saron
The Clos Saron Home Vineyard looking back at Bienstock’s house.

Learning that Bienstock had a passion for wine, the cult asked him to help them sell their wines in Europe in the early 1980s—first from Paris, and later from England where Bienstock would soon move. Once in London, Bienstock ventured even deeper into wine.

“I got involved in Decanter tastings, I even did some of the MW program,” says Bienstock. “I failed the practical exam, but passed the theoretical exam. I wanted an education in wine.”

By this time it was the early-to-mid 1980s, and Bienstock’s passion deepened with each passing year, as trudged around Europe from train station to train station with wine in tow.

A Door That Must Be Walked Through

One rainy night in London, a 36-year-old Bienstock had to get from Euston Station to King’s Cross Station, and couldn’t get a cab. Dragging his wine boxes in the rain on the long walk, Bienstock found himself grappling with something of an existential crisis.

“I broke down sobbing at one point and just sat down on my wine boxes in the rain,” remembers Bienstock. “What was reverberating in my head was ‘Do I want this? Is this really what I want from my life?’ I knew in that moment that I was at a crossroads, and there was a path I could go down where my life would just be about wine, and that anyone and everyone would equate Gideon with wine from now on. And I also knew that I could just walk away. I think it was a moment when I realized that as you grow up, the decisions you’ve made earlier in your life catch up with you.”

As the lights of London glimmered around him in the wet and dark, Bienstock decided that yes, it would be all wine, all the time.

“My attraction to wine was something I could never explain,” muses Bienstock. “It wasn’t about the taste of wine. It was a deeper infatuation, something about the phenomenon of wine. The fact that wine can be so specific in this expression of place. That to me is something I’ve never experienced anywhere else. By the late 80s, every time I stepped into a vineyard, I started imagining the wine that would come from that place. I was obsessed with vineyards, it was in my blood. There was a beauty in writing computer code, but it involved less of me. As a painter, I knew I was limited, I could improve my skills, but I could not change myself. But with wine, every part of myself felt connected. I knew that I could give up all the earlier things I did in my life without consequences to me or myself, but that wine was a door I had to walk through.”

The Way of Granite: Gideon Bienstock and the Wines of Clos Saron
Clos Saron Vineyard, with a hand scythe used to cut grass.

Around 1980, Bienstock got the opportunity to plant grape vines for the first time, while visiting Apollo, the cult’s 1300-acre compound just outside of Oregon House, California that was purchased by founder Robert Earl Burton in 1971.

Bienstock would continue to make occasional visits back to the vineyards through the 1980s, and each time, wonder what it would be like not just to sell wine, but to make it.

In 1991, he decided to move to California, where he made clear that instead of selling wine, he wanted to make it. The Fellowship, which had recently renamed their winery operationsRenaissance Vineyards, agreed.

I have written extensively about Renaissance, and in the process, I’ve related the story of how Bienstock quite literally found himself thrust into the role of sole winemaker for Renaissance, after merely one vintage of helping out in the cellar.

What happened next can’t quite be described without resorting to metaphor or poetry. Without any formal training beyond his tasting and book studies in Europe, Bienstock simply made wine based on his intuition. In doing so, he reached a place towards which his whole existence had been leading. If deciding to devote his life to wine had been walking through a doorway, making his first wines was like breaking through a wall.

“As soon as I saw that first fermentation, I knew I was home,” says Bienstock. “I was melting from the inside out. I am in love with whatever magic happens in that process.”

Finally, Bienstock found himself where he was supposed to be, doing what he was supposed to do. And the wines prove it.

Bienstock’s early vintages at Renaissance, in particular 1994, 1995, and 1996 are easily some of the most profound, terroir-expressive wines ever made in California, at least to my palate.

Deeply moved by the terroir he had essentially lucked into calling home, Bienstock began planting vineyards around his property in Oregon House, and in 1999, he started making wine under the Clos Saron label, named after his wife, Saron Rice.

California’s OG Natural Winemaker

Bienstock officially made wine at Renaissance until 2010, but 2006 was the last vintage he can stand behind as having been primarily his work. That year also marks his break away from the Fellowship, with which he says he had become increasingly disillusioned beginning as far back as 2000.

Working for the Fellowship came with a lot of baggage and politics that meant Bienstock never felt entirely free as a winemaker, despite really being the only one in the job and often the only one in the winery.

From the beginning, however, Clos Saron was the full expression of what Bienstock wanted from the act of winemaking, which, as it turns out is almost nothing at all.

Long before anyone in California had ever heard the term “natural” wine, Bienstock was stripping the winemaking process back to its most essential.

“In 1994 someone dropped a bin of Pinot Noir at the [Renaissance] winery in the middle of harvest, and yelled ‘hey, there’s a bin of Pinot there,’ before driving away,” explains Bienstock. “It was my first full year of making wine by myself and I couldn’t have cared less about a random bin of Pinot with everything else I had going on. I might have foot stomped it, then it got moved somewhere in the winery, and I promptly forgot about it.”

“At the end of the harvest, I said to someone, ‘Hey what happened to that Pinot?’ and they pointed out the bin in the corner that literally hadn’t been touched. We pressed off the very light pink juice, and because we didn’t have enough, we added some Chardonnay, put it in a single barrel, and forgot about it again.”

“By the time we got around to bottling it, the color had deepened. It had length, it had depth, and romantically, it was Pinot Noir. We never sold it. We just drank it. It was ‘our wine’ and it was really a guide for me in my early years. It’s like that Pinot was always there, giggling at me, saying ‘nyah, nyah, you didn’t make me.'”

Bienstock likes to point out that winemaking as we know it is not a necessity, it is a modern invention.

“Winemaking is not one thing,” says Bienstock, “it is many things to many people. But I am stuck on one thing, and that’s the vineyard. The vineyard is everything, so the winemaking must be as close to nothing as possible. I want to remove the winemaker from the picture. I am a radical in this way. You cannot make wines with less steps than I do.”

To that end, Bienstock’s winemaking regimen can easily fit on a 3×5 inch notecard with room to spare.

Grapes are hand harvested in the vineyard and put into a large bin as whole clusters, where they are stomped by foot. After using no sulfur at crush for many years, Bienstock is back to using 35ppm of sulfur dioxide when the grapes come into the winery to avoid mousiness. Other than that bit of sulfur, nothing else is added. No temperatures are controlled. The wine begins to ferment on its own, with ambient yeasts, in its own time.

Once it begins bubbling, whites are pressed into barrel, while reds continue to ferment with their stems. The juice is tasted once per day until the desired level of structure is reached. “I don’t care about color. I don’t pay any attention to color,” says Bienstock, “The mouthfeel is what matters.”

When he senses what he describes as a harmony between weight, density, and the phenolic grip of a wine, Bienstock presses the juice lightly into old oak barrels where it completes fermentation undisturbed and without any additions, not even sulfur. There was a period of time when Bienstock wasn’t even topping-up his barrels, but after some funky results, he returned to topping up barrels every week or two.

When Bienstock deems a wine ready (usually between 14 months and 3 years in barrel) it is racked into a tank, another 35ppm of sulfur dioxide is added, and the wines are bottled without fining or filtration.

So just to recap:

  • Harvest
  • Foot treading whole clusters before fermentation (+ a little sulfur)
  • Press to old oak barrels (top-up regularly)
  • Bottling (+ a little sulfur)

“All the steps of conventional winemaking, which are legitimate, are about crafting wine,” says Bienstock. “I’m trying not to craft wine. I don’t want to taste the wine, I want to taste the vineyard.”

Eventually, the natural wine thing “happened” and it became a big deal among the wine cognoscenti and for consumers. All of a sudden, Bienstock found a younger generation of winemakers beating a path to his door, as is depicted in the recent documentary film Living Wine, by Lori Miller.

Despite featuring as the wise old teacher in the film, a role he plays with pleasure for many aspiring young winemakers, Bienstock isn’t quite comfortable being called a natural winemaker.

“When people ask me about the natural wine world, I have mixed feelings,” says Bienstock. “It has made us. In that world we are icons. It is a blessing. [Natural Wine] brings a lot of people into drinking wine and into the industry. Other than that, though, it’s messy. There are a lot of shitty, problematic wines, and people glorify them because they’re natural and ‘natural is good.’ I prefer the description ‘minimalistic winemaking’ rather than natural winemaking. In the winery it is minimalistic. In the vineyard it is anything but.”

Farming With a Dogma Hangover

In a world seemingly full of regimens, Bienstock is just as unconventional in his farming as he is in his winemaking. Organic as a philosophy is his starting point, with no herbicides or pesticides ever used in the vineyards. Like many small winemakers, however, Bienstock can’t be bothered to pay for certification.

The young vines get compost and mulch to help them establish, but when they mature, their only input is water, a necessity in the arid warmth of the Sierra Foothills.

“To control weeds in the winter, we use ducks and sheep, but we don’t really have the infrastructure to let the sheep roam free in the vineyard,” says Bienstock. “Our trellises aren’t strong enough, so at the moment the sheep have to be watched very carefully.”

Bienstock experimented with biodynamic viticulture early on in his farming, long before most people in California had ever heard of it, but he says after 5 years of trying his best he didn’t see any correlation between what he did or didn’t do and the results in the vineyard. Bienstock once told me that he thought biodynamics was just as much of a cult as the Fellowship.

“When you go to biodynamic events, you get this vibe,” says Bienstock. “You behave a certain way, you talk a certain way. It’s a definite cult. It’s certainly not a dangerous one. But look, we were cult members for decades, so we’re a little allergic to that,” says Bienstock.

“It’s not that everything they say is wrong,” he continues, “but if you read Steiner, he doesn’t make any sense. He needs interpreters. And that’s where it starts. We have interpretations, and we get people very identified with their particular interpretation of what the ‘prophet’ said. Danger! Danger!”

“What I see is a correlation between biodynamics and high-quality wine, but the causation isn’t there,” continues Bienstock. “If you spend time in your vineyard every day, you will make better wine.”

Despite his disavowal of any sort of dogma around farming, Bienstock effectively practices no-till, organic viticulture with very few inputs, assisted by animals, which actually makes for something like biodynamic farming minus the official preparations.

When it comes to harvesting grapes, Bienstock again makes his own way, choosing to pick grapes not by chemistry, nor by taste, but by feel. He and his vineyard helpers make multiple passes through each vineyard over the course of weeks, harvesting only the clusters that, when given a gentle squeeze, feel… “right.”

“I had never heard of anyone else doing this,” admits Bienstock. “It didn’t start from any ideological thing. We first decided that we needed to do multiple passes because things just didn’t ripen at the same time and we were spending too much time cleaning up and sorting clusters that weren’t fully ripe. And then with time I just got this sense for how the clusters feel when they are optimally ripe. There’s no point in tasting grapes. Optimal ripeness is not when they taste good.”

The Way of Granite: Gideon Bienstock and the Wines of Clos Saron

Bienstock has also completely changed his approach to winter pruning in recent years, having learned of a new approach pioneered by Marco Simonit that purports to be much better at preventing Eutypa, a fungus that causes portions of a vine to wither and die, eventually killing the entire vine.

“I’ve been pruning vines for 40 or 45 years. I am well trained,” says Bienstock. “But I started watching these videos and they blew my mind. They showed me everything I have been doing is wrong. We realized that we’ve been inflicting severe wounds on the vines on a yearly basis. Is it any wonder that we have an epidemic of vine trunk disease around the world? This new approach respects the sap flow of the vine, and in some cases has completely revitalized and regenerated older, diseased vines.”

Putting the Micro in Micro Production

At its peak of production, Clos Saron was producing around 1000 cases of wine each year from a little more than 7 acres of vines. These days, production hovers around 400 cases a year, the depressing absence of wine in 2022 notwithstanding.

The roughly 6 tons of fruit that Bienstock processes each year goes to making a surprisingly wide array of wines, given such a small quantity of fruit. The typical lineup involves 4 different Pinot Noirs, a couple of Syrahs, a Zinfandel, a Tannat, two white wines, and a couple of rosés. Having said that, over the last 20 years, Bienstock has made a bunch of wines based on fruit that he gets for one or two vintages, and then never again. Every time I think I’ve finally heard of all the wines that Bienstock has made, another one pops up on my radar, usually with a clever, quirky name that seems to be one of Bienstock’s hallmarks.

The latest addition to his lineup is an unusual white field blend of Loire, Teutonic, and Rhône grape varieties from just below his house that he calls The White Field, which he makes with a few days of skin contact, and in microscopic quantities (think: less than 200 bottles).

Clos Saron wines are idiosyncratic and occasionally flirt with eccentricity. On occasion, they feature a little volatile acidity, and every once in a blue moon, a little Brettanomyces yeast. Generally, though, they are clean, if a little rustic. At their best, they are beautifully honest, unvarnished, and deeply expressive of the granite on which most of them grow.

Every time I taste a group of Clos Saron wines I am invariably brought up short by one wine or another, which seems to crystallize in the glass and transmit in that moment something quite profound about the place from which it comes. I find it mysteriously amusing (if not slightly maddening) that it is not always the same bottling that does this to me, though I will admit a perpetual fondness for Bienstock’s Syrahs, which I think are among the best of what he does.

Aficionados of natural wines will (and do) devour every one of Bienstock’s wines with delight. For those with less tolerance of wines with rough edges, some Clos Saron wines may lean a little savory or a little wild. If you’re interested in tasting somewhereness, however, there are few wines in California that so consistently deliver it.

The Way of Granite: Gideon Bienstock and the Wines of Clos Saron

An Uncertain Future

Facing the total loss of a vintage has accelerated conversations and thinking with which Bienstock and his wife were already beginning to grapple as the years have marched on. None of their adult children have expressed interest in taking over the vineyard operation. Even with interns and seasonal help, 7 acres is proving difficult to farm properly as the couple ages, even when nature fully cooperates.

As we sat under the oak tree that shades the vines in front of his house and tiny winery this summer, Bienstock seemed (understandably) a little unmoored as he reeled off all the options that he and Saron have considered in the face of this recent disaster: making piquette, buying grapes from somewhere else in the state, taking on partners with money to buy other vineyards, making “easy wines” while slowly selling the substantial library stock of wines they’ve built up—the list went on and on.

None of these options, however, provides much in the way of retirement security for Bienstock and his wife, something they’re thinking more about, especially in the face of an increasingly hostile climate.

“The vineyard is too small to lease to someone, and its sale price is near worthless,” says Bienstock. “We have two other worthless structures here. We could probably sell it all, but [the proceeds] wouldn’t really allow us to just retire, and we don’t really want to move away from our friends here.”

Bienstock shakes his head and returns, perhaps knowingly, to the metaphor of a crossroads. “We made choices earlier in life, and we have to live with the consequences. Many of those choices were positive. I would do all this again. We’re here for another 4 to 6 years for sure, maybe further, maybe not. The question of being burned is not if, but rather when. So far we’ve been spared, but how long does that luck last?”

Within an hour of Bienstock making this statement, we see a huge plume of smoke rising from the nearby hills—what would become the Rices Fire, a blaze that would go on to scorch nearly 1000 acres and come within a couple dozen miles of their home.

“For me,” says Bienstock, “wine is becoming the least interesting thing here, in a way. What’s more interesting is the question of what do you make of your life in these times? We’re living on the titanic as it’s sinking in slow motion.”

These questions may not have ready answers, either for Beinstock or the rest of us. But they make me think of Bienstock’s pithy description of his childhood: “We had no money, and we were surrounded by adverse conditions. And we thrived.”

Somehow, I suspect Bienstock will find his own way, just as he always has. Granite endures.

The Way of Granite: Gideon Bienstock and the Wines of Clos Saron
Gideon and Saron, courtesy of Gideon Bienstock, as shot by Julian Mackler @JujuShotMe

Tasting Notes For Current Releases

2019 Clos Saron “Tickled Noir” Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sierra Foothills, California
Pale coppery gold in the glass, this wine smells of rosehips and citrus peel, and a hint of acidophilus tang. In the mouth, wonderfully bright sour cherry and raspberry flavors mix with rosehips and a nice wet stone quality. There’s a sour cherry acidophilus note that lingers in the finish. 11.5% alcohol. Foot stomped and then pressed. No real maceration here. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2016 Clos Saron “Tickled Pink” Rosé, California
A light amber-pink in the glass, this wine smells of dried flowers, dried fruit skins, and wet leaves. In the mouth, dried apple and berry flavors are welded to a deep stony minerality with hints of sour cherry, apricot, and citrus peel. Long finish and fantastic acidity. A blend of 65% Merlot and 35% Viognier, but the percentage of each changes every year. As time has gone on, this wine is getting released older and older, with the target eventually being 8 years after the vintage. 12% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $55. click to buy.

The Way of Granite: Gideon Bienstock and the Wines of Clos Saron

2020 Clos Saron “Carte Blanche” White Blend, California
A cloudy, chunky pale orange in the glass, this wine smells of orange peel, a hint of cheese, and a salty, creamy note. In the mouth, saline flavors of citrus peel, a faint cheesy quality, and wet stone are bright and tangy. A field blend of Albariño and Verdelho. 12% alcohol. Gets at least 4 days of maceration, probably 5 or 6 on average. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $52. click to buy.

2018 Clos Saron “The White Field” White Blend, Sierra Foothills, California
Light amber gold in the glass, this wine smells of pennyroyal and wet leaves, wet stone, and orange peel. In the mouth, Ranier cherry, orange peel, wet earth, a hint of flowers, and herbs with excellent, kumquat acidity. Delicious with a hint of salinity. 24% Roussanne, 32% Riesling, 19% Viognier, 12% Sauvignon Blanc, 3% Petit Manseng. 12% alcohol. 144 bottles made. Gets about 4 to 7 days on the skin. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2019 Clos Saron “Black Swan” Zinfandel, Sierra Foothills, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberries and dried flowers. In the mouth, stony blackberries, sour cherries, and pulverized stone. Perhaps the stoniest Zinfandel I’ve ever tasted. And that’s a good thing. 13% alcohol. Comes from a small vineyard in Nevada county at 2900 feet of elevation planted on decomposed granite. This is what happens to Zinfandel when you treat it with respect. Nothing jammy or thick or clumsy about this. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $48. click to buy.

2019 Clos Saron “Cuvee Mysteriuese” Red Blend, Sierra Foothills, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of crushed stone and a hint of volatile acidity. In the mouth, powdery stony tannins sit like a haze surrounding cherry, berry, and a sourish yogurty tang. Juicy with great acidity. 12.9% alcohol. A field blend planted on decomposed granite at 2200 feet of elevation. Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Zinfandel are co-fermented. 1535 bottles made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2017 Clos Saron “Tête a Tannat” Tannat, Sierra Foothills, California
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and blackberry with a hint of earth. In the mouth, tangy black cherry, unripe blackberry, and crushed stone have a tangy umami character and a bitter yerba mate note in the finish. Also from a defunct vineyard in Nevada county that has since been sold, so this wine will no longer be made. 90% Tannat with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. 588 bottles made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2017 Clos Saron “Home Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sierra Foothills, California
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of red apple skin, wet leaves, and mulling spices. In the mouth, redcurrant, cedar, wet leaves, citrus peel, and dried flowers have a deeply stony, powdery tannic texture and great citrus peel acidity. Not like any other Pinot Noir made in California, but Gideon would probably say, that is precisely the point. Deeply mineral. 1140 bottles made. 13.3% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.

2014 Clos Saron “Old Block” Pinot Noir, Sierra Foothills, California
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of redcurrant, a hint of old socks, wet stones, and raspberry. In the mouth, raspberry and raspberry leaf mix with red apple skin, redcurrant, and powdered stone. There’s a volcanic tannic grip to this wine. Powerful, deep, and stony. Tangy redcurrant and amazing acidity linger in the long finish. This wine only gets made when there are 800 pounds of fruit that can be harvested in a single pass through the vineyard. The goal is to release it 10 years after the vintage. 660 bottles made. 13.1% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $90. click to buy.

2017 Clos Saron “Stone Soup” Syrah, Sierra Foothills, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of iodine, rust, and black fruit. In the mouth, intensely stony flavors of cassis, sour cherry, black cherry, and citrus peel are shot through with stony tannins. There’s a hint of volatile acidity in this wine, but that gives it a bright juiciness. It’s hard to explain just how much stone comes through in the glass. Still young yet. Contains roughly 10% Viognier. This is often my favorite bottling from Clos Saron, but sadly, Bienstock is no longer farming this vineyard. 12.9% alcohol. 1390 bottles made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.

1997 Clos Saron “Once Upon a Time Heart of Stone” Syrah, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, California
Light ruby in the glass with hints of brick, you’d think this was a Pinot Noir by color. This wine has a cidery note to its aroma. In the mouth, balsamic VA notes mix with cider, and dried fruit. There’s a creamy note to the finish that suggests oxidation. 100% Syrah from Renaissance Vineyards. 60 bottles made. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $??

The Way of Granite: Gideon Bienstock and the Wines of Clos Saron

Tasting Notes for Past Releases

2014 Clos Saron “Carte Blanche” White Blend, California
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of peach jam and white flowers. In the mouth, bright peach and apple flavors have a slightly herbal quality to them and a faint aromatic sweetness. Moderate acidity. A 50-50 blend of Albariño and Verdelho grown on decomposed granite. 12.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $85. click to buy.

2013 Clos Saron “Tickled Pink” Rosé, California
Pale salmon pink in the glass, this wine smells of strawberries, wet stones, and peaches. In the mouth, bright strawberry and watermelon rind mixed with a peachy flavor that has a nice silkiness and bright acidity. Great crisp length. A blend of 38% Syrah, 38% Graciano, and 24% Verdelho.11.9% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $55. click to buy.

2011 Clos Saron “Lower Block” Pinot Noir, Sierra Foothills, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, mulling spices, and black raspberry fruit. In the mouth, perfumed black raspberry fruit mixes with blueberry and crushed green herbs for a very aromatic and pretty complexity on the palate. Excellent acidity and length. Quite distinctive and pretty. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $??

2012 Clos Saron “Home Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sierra Foothills, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet leaves and boysenberry fruit. In the mouth, black raspberry and redwood bark flavors mix with wet leaves and a hint of river mud. There’s also a sort of green dandelion milk flavor to the wine that is quite unusual. Good acidity. Chalky tannins remain with a mineral quality in the finish. 13.2% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2011 Clos Saron “Old Block” Pinot Noir, Sierra Foothills, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cranberry, raspberry, and redwood bark. In the mouth, bright acidity brings a zippy juiciness to flavors of raspberry, cranberry, and mulberry. Crushed stone and redwood bark mix with the darker earth flavors that linger in the finish. 13.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9.

2010 Clos Saron “A Deeper Shade of Blue” Red Blend, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a wonderfully floral nose of blueberry aromas. In the mouth flavors of blueberry, black cherry, and wet stones dance with fantastically bright acidity that gets the taste buds working overtime. Excellent balance and nice length. An unusual blend of Cinsault, Syrah, and the white grape Roussanne. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $32.

2014 Clos Saron “Blue Cheer” Red Blend, California
Medium bright purple in the glass, this wine smells of mulberry and cassis and black cherry. In the mouth mulberry and black cherry fruit have a bright zingy quality that is, yes, cheerful. Faint tannins and herbal notes hang in the background along with a deeper mineral quality. A 50-50 blend of Cinsault planted in 1886, and Carignan planted in 1900. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9.

2014 Clos Saron “Out of the Blue” Cinsault, California
Medium purple in the glass, this wine smells of beautifully perfumed mulberries, lilacs, and crushed stones. In the mouth, the wine has beautifully juicy mulberry and black cherry fruit that positively bursts on the palate thanks to fantastic acidity. A deep crushed stone minerality backs it up, and hints of flowers and herbs linger in the finish. Contains 2% Syrah. 13.4% alcohol. 200 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5.

2007 Clos Saron “Heart of Stone” Syrah, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of meaty, savory, tangy acidophilus aromas. In the mouth flavors of red apple skin, leather, and sour cherries have a wonderful juiciness to them thanks to fantastic acidity. With an enthralling twist, the wine turns darker as it lengthens on the palate, with blackberry flavors and wet earth lingering long after each swallow. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $120. click to buy.

2009 Clos Saron “Heart of Stone” Syrah, Sierra Foothills, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweetly perfumed cassis, lilac, and leather. In the mouth, the wine is gorgeously textured with fantastic muscular-yet-velvety tannins that cradle a juicy, SweetTart-bright mixture of cassis, black cherry, and oiled leather on top of which sings a bright floral note, likely thanks to the 10% cofermented Viognier. Deeply mineral with herbal notes and pulverized rock flavors that linger through the long finish. Outstanding. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $130. click to buy.

2010 Clos Saron “Stone Soup” Syrah, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of floral aromas and sweet cassis fruit. In the mouth flavors of cherry, juicy cassis, and wet earth have a wonderfully dynamic punch to them thanks to extraordinarily bright acidity. Notes of bergamot filter through the wines great length, as powdery tannins coat the mouth. Excellent. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $56. click to buy.

2012 Clos Saron “Stone Soup” Syrah, Sierra Foothills, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of beautiful cassis, violets, and white pepper. In the mouth, powdery muscular tannins wrap around a core of blueberry and cassis fruit shot through with white pepper and crushed herbs. Deeply savory, with a hint of saline quality in the finish married to the crushed stone minerality. Roughly 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $ . click to buy.

2009 Clos Saron “Cuvée Mystériuese” Red Blend, Sierra Foothills, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of mulberry, cassis, and white flowers. In the mouth, mulberries, crushed stones, white flowers, and green herbs have a nice savory balance to them. Nice finish and great acidity, with faint but muscular tannins. An unusual blend of Syrah, Merlot, and Viognier. 13.4% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $110. click to buy.

2009 Clos Saron “Black Pearl” Red Blend, Sierra Foothills, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of herbs, cola, mulberry, and cassis. In the mouth, juicy bright mulberry, cola, cherry, and a hint of green tobacco flavors are layered over a deep crushed stone minerality. There’s a very pretty aromatic sweetness. An unusual blend of Syrah, Cabernet, Petite Verdot, and Sauvignon Blanc. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $120. click to buy.

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The Emotion of Savennières: The Wines of Thibaud Boudignon

Winemaker Thibaud Boudignon looks me straight in the eye and says, “I want fresh vitality in my wines and an almost brutal minerality,” and I honestly have to catch my breath for a moment, since it’s been some time since anyone spoke to me so directly in my love language.

I gulp and take another sip of his electrically bright Chenin Blanc and concentrate on scribbling notes in my notebook, all the while thinking that I can’t imagine a better description for the kinds of white wines that I find most arresting.

I can say without question that Boudignon’s efforts are, in fact, truly arresting. This young man, a relative newcomer to the tiny Loire appellation of Savennenièrs, is setting a new standard for what Savennenièrs can be.

Boudignon never set out to be a winemaker. In fact, what he wanted more than anything was to be an Olympic champion in Judo. With his bearded, muscled frame and massive hands, Boudignon certainly looks like he’d make a formidable opponent in any contest of strength, but dreams and reality don’t always match up.

“By the time I was 21 I realized I was never going to be a champion,” says Boudignon with a shrug, “so I headed to the south of France to get some work.”

Boudignon’s Clos de la Hutte vineyard with its fractured schist soils.

Boudignon, who lost his mother Françoise when he was only 17, had spent some of his childhood playing in his paternal grandfather’s vineyards in the South of France, and also grew up in Bordeaux drinking Medoc wines at lunchtime with his mother’s father, François.

So when he headed south, he naturally fell into work first in the vineyards, and then in the cellar. Boudignon would eventually make his way to Bordeaux, where he worked at Château Olivier and Château Canon-la-Gaffelière, and then to Australia where he worked at De Bortoli, followed by a stint at Domaine Charlopin-Parizot in Gevrey-Chambertin.

“Eventually I arrived in the Loire, where I was put in charge of Chateau Soucherie,” says Boudignon, who arrived at that Savennières producer in 2007 and soon after realized that he and the estate’s owners had a different vision for where the wines should go.

“I decided in 2009 that I needed to work for myself,” says Boudignon, “but I knew I needed to have money to start something. I stopped being an employee in 2015, worked as a consultant until 2018, and since 2018, I have been focused only on my production.”

A Blanc Slate

After making that fateful decision in 2009, Boudignon began buying grapes in Anjou to make roughly 3000 bottles of Anjou blanc.

“I had three barrels that all tasted different in that first vintage, and I decided to blend them and make it a tribute,” says Boudignon, describing the creation of the Anjou Blanc he named ‘a François(e).’

“When you decide to write your mother and your grandfather’s name on the bottle, you don’t cheat on quality,” he says.

That wine would go on to win Boudignon his first notable acclaim as a vigneron and was snapped up by top restaurants across France. Boudignon took the money he received and reinvested it in his operation, something he has been doing ever since.

Within a couple of years, Boudignon had begun sourcing small amounts of Savennières, prompting him to learn as much as he could about the appellation.

“Do you know that there are roughly 300 hectares of land in Savennières, but only half are planted?” he asks. “I began to think to myself, ‘I wonder what the potential is here?'”

As he was doing research on the appellation, he came across an old reference to a walled vineyard named Clos de la Hutte. “I said to myself ‘where is this place?’ and I began to search.”

Resurrecting a Clos

He would eventually find the wall, but it no longer surrounded a vineyard. So Boudignon used the majority of his savings to buy the land and put a vineyard back in what he is convinced was one of Savennières’ historically significant lieux-dits, or named vineyard sites.

He got his first harvest off the vineyard in 2015.

“Clos de la Hutte is the culmination of everything I’ve done,” says Boudignon. “It is our grand cru, and it is always a monster. Whatever the year, what it produces is unbelievable. It is not impressive but it has power. It is like the gentle swipe of a tiger’s paw. He is not punching you, but you feel the power.”

The Emotion of Savennières: The Wines of Thibaud Boudignon
A view across the Clos de la Hutte with the stone wall in the distance.

Like most of Savenniéres, the six acres (2.5 ha) of Clos de la Hutte consists of shallow topsoil of light clay chock full of bits of the fractured dark schist (known locally as Anjou Noir) that sits beneath it.

This schist represents the metamorphic remains of something called the Amorican Massif, what was once a large Paleozoic mountain range that has been ground down to nearly nothing in the roughly 300 million years since. But the roots of this mountain range remain, offering up the sparkly, flaky rock of their buckled and compressed foundations as places for vines to grow.

These rocky shallow schist soils are the defining characteristic of the Savennières appellation, which is planted almost exclusively to Chenin Blanc (though there are some secret pockets of Verdelho, which is a tale for another time).

Investing In a Legacy

Continuing with his theme of reinvestment, Boudignon built himself a small winery in 2016 to exacting specifications, heavily focused on maintaining conditions in the cellar while keeping the carbon footprint of his operation to a minimum. Because the winery sits on the same schist bedrock as his vineyards, Boudignon couldn’t dig an underground cellar and has settled for a custom system that pulls ambient air into a buried pipe to reduce the energy required to cool it as well as allow precise control of humidity.

Boudignon has structured the building to require what he sees as the absolute minimum of handling from fruit to bottle. “I want to take 100% of the potential of the vines and put that into the wine,” explains Boudignon. “As soon as you cut the grapes you are losing potential. That is why I invested so much in this winery.”

Boudignon works biodynamically but seems content to dispense with all the dogma associated with the approach.

“When Steiner was looking at biodynamics it was about yield and quality, but really, biodynamics is about life,” says Boudignon. “For us, the vineyard is the most important thing. My goal is a healthy vineyard without stress, where the grapes can reach complete maturity. I like relaxed fruit. When the vines suffer things get out of balance.”

“It’s not just the grapes you want relaxed,” says Boudignon, “It’s also about the team. We respect the soil, but we also respect the people we work with, it’s an entire system. These kinds of wines are possible because of the work we all do in the vineyard.”

Boudignon does no analysis of his grapes or his wines through the winemaking process, choosing instead to pick when he thinks things are ripe, which for him is mature but not overripe. He assiduously avoids botrytis, which he believes makes the wine much more prone to oxidation.

Like many winemakers, Boudignon believes the single most important decision he makes every year is when to pick, a moment that is informed by his desire to express everything that his schist soils are capable of showing.

In Service of Minerality, In Search of Emotion

“Since 2018, all I do is eat, think, and sleep Chenin,” says Boudignon, “and the wines have started to be different.”

“I don’t want to produce a wine that has a lot of flavor,” he goes on to explain. “I want a wine that might sometimes be closed when it is young, but which ages well and more than anything else, expresses minerality. Minerality is key.”

“I don’t want the wine necessarily to be impressive on the table,” he continues, “I want the wine to keep the mouth fresh, to make me want to drink and want to eat. Acidity, yes of course, but also minerality. There is a difference. Acidity is vertical. Minerality is ongoing. It pushes and makes the wine long. These days it’s trendy to be focused on pH and numbers, but I don’t believe you can see minerality in terms of a number. You can see minerality when you walk through the vineyard and look at the fruit.”

The Emotion of Savennières: The Wines of Thibaud Boudignon
Another view of the Clos de la Hutte vineyard

Boudignon prefers to harvest as quickly as possible, and get the fruit into the cellar as cool as possible. He presses whole clusters into steel tanks chilled to 37˚F/3˚C, and then moves some of the wine to old oak barrels (and recently some concrete eggs) for fermentation with ambient yeasts. He likes to let the wine do its own thing in the cellar, though he prefers to inhibit malolactic conversion, keeping as much acidity in his wines as possible.

“I haven’t done malolactic fermentation since the beginning,” says Boudignon.  “The Chenin I like doesn’t have malo, and I want to make the wines I like to drink. I think a lot of people pick too early to preserve the acidity they lose during malo, and they aren’t getting full maturity. We keep things cold and then add sulfur in February or March. If the wine happens to go through malo, it’s not a big thing,” he shrugs.

The wines are never fined or filtered.

“I work for the taste,” continues Boudignon, “For the emotion of the thing. I am not afraid of what will happen. It’s like when you are in love with a girl. If you spend all the time being afraid that she will leave you for someone else, you can never really be with her. Maybe I’ll make mistakes, but mistakes are a part of the winemaking process. To make a mistake is not a problem. To keep making the same mistake, that is the problem. I learn from each vintage, and now I have the capacity to see what will happen.”

Farming in the Face of Disaster

From the 18-or-so acres (7.5 ha) he farms, Boudignon produces roughly 3000 cases of wine each year, all Chenin Blanc with the exception of a tiny amount of rosé.

That is when he gets a harvest at all.

In 2017, he and many fellow growers lost their entire crops to frost and hail. In 2019, he harvested merely 30% of his normal yield.

“When you go into your vineyard and see it all destroyed, it is like a bomb going off—in your vineyard and in your mind,” he says. “That is why I had to invest in frost protection. If I cannot protect my young vines, I think I should just stop doing this.”

Boudignon spent 30,000 Euros last year for an electronic frost protection system—a wire that runs along the length of each cordon that emits enough warmth when turned on to keep young spring buds and leaves from freezing. It’s not foolproof, but he showed me tender young leaves that were still clinging to life on vines that had the wires and desiccated dead leaves on those that didn’t.

The Emotion of Savennières: The Wines of Thibaud Boudignon
The warming wire of Boudignon’s electric frost protection, and an emerging bud that was saved.

Boudignon has planted his vineyards with 10 different massale selections of Chenin Blanc, some from Domaine Huet in Vouvray, and others from elsewhere around Savennières. Most of the vines are trained in the guyot-poussard method, a bi-lateral pruning that supposedly increases sap flow and prevents vine disease, but which Boudignon likens to training a bonsai.

In Clos de la Hutte he has also planted half an acre of his vines on their own roots, rather than using rootstock, in an experimental search for more mineral expression.

“I just wanted to see what the difference would be,” says Boudignon, who has started bottling those vines separately, as they do indeed express themselves differently.

Boudignon has also recently begun a new vineyard project in another walled site just down the road from Clos de la Hutte, in a sunnier, windier spot with more sand and even less soil between the sunlight and the schist. These 4.5 acres (2 ha) will be known as Clos de Vandleger.

The Emotion of Savennières: The Wines of Thibaud Boudignon
The recently planted Clos de Vandleger vineyard.

Anticipating Greatness

At 40 years old, Boudignon is entering the prime of his winemaking career, having already turned many heads. Indeed, his success as a young vigneron has brought renewed attention to the Savennières appellation, which he has mixed feelings about.

“People are arriving now in the wine business with Instagram and a lot of money,” he says with a shake of his head. “We have our 7 hectares and we are simply focused on nothing else but quality.”

Boudignon is pleased that he has gotten to the point where the economic pressure to make sales and support the business can take a back seat to the wines and his sense of what they need to show their best.

“Now I can say that people will not taste the wines until they are right,” he says proudly. “It is a responsibility rather than a pressure now.”

Right for Boudignon seems to mean chiseled wines, with resonant complexity, incredible expressiveness, and mouthwatering brightness. And yes, a more than an occasional dose of brutal minerality.

Please sir, may I have some more?

The Emotion of Savennières: The Wines of Thibaud Boudignon
Thibaud Boudignon

“When you are young,” says Boudignon, “You think having experience is something that older people hold over you like it helps them to say that they are important. But when you get older you realize experience is important for understanding, to anticipate. I am not living in fear. When you start your life in sport, you realize your career is very short. The same in wine. Maybe at the end of my life, I will have only 20 or 30 vintages. I don’t want to regret something. That is why I do everything with 100% passion and 100% investment. Everyone will tell you they want to produce the best wine possible, but the question is what do they do in the service of that? What you do is what makes the difference, every moment that you are ready to do what you have to do to get the kind of wine you believe in. When I do that, this doesn’t feel like work at all. In fact, when I do that, everything makes perfect sense.”

Tasting Notes

I don’t think I can recommend these wines highly enough. They now are among my absolute favorite renditions of Chenin Blanc.

In addition to the wines below, Boudignon makes a rosé, which he did not have available to taste when I visited, and which I am quite keen to try. Keep an eye out for it.

The Emotion of Savennières: The Wines of Thibaud Boudignon

2020 Thibaud Boudignon Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon oil, quince, and flowers. In the mouth, explosive acidity offers lemon and grapefruit flavors tinged with acacia blossom and a bit of quince and pear. Mouthwatering, fantastic crushed stone minerality. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2020 Thibaud Boudignon “Clos de Frémine” Savenniéres, Loire Valley, France
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of flowers, lemon oil, wet stones, and a hint of guava. In the mouth, bright juicy lemon, white flowers, and acacia blossoms all swirl with a silky texture and slightly softer acidity. This wine is detailed, deeply stony, clean, and bright with a long finish. Gorgeous. Aged in 600-liter barrels, with a total of about 10% new oak. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $85. click to buy.

2020 Thibaud Boudignon “a François(e)” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of wet stones and lemon pith with a hint of unripe pear. In the mouth, silky flavors of lemon and a hint of banana mix with pear and beautifully chiseled acidity. Gorgeous lemon pith and lemon oil flavors emerge with hints of flowers that linger in the finish. Silky texture and beautifully saline. This is now a selection of only free-run juice and only the best fruit from the La Gare vineyard from which Boudignon sources his Anjou Blanc. Sees 20% new oak. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2020 Thibaud Boudignon “La Vigne Cendree” Savenniéres, Loire Valley, France
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of quince and lemon pith. In the mouth, silky flavors of lemon pith, pear, grapefruit, and lemongrass have a fantastic juicy brightness. The wine features a long, stony finish with a hint of a chalky texture. Deeply mineral. This wine comes from a 1-acre parcel of vines that Boudignon has contracted. No new oak used. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $95. click to buy.

2020 Thibaud Boudignon “Clos de la Hutte” Savenniéres, Loire Valley, France
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet stone, tree blossoms, lemon pith, and grapefruit. In the mouth, incredibly silky flavors of lemon pith, lemon oil, unripe pear, acacia blossom, and quince have a cistern-like minerality with deep stony depths. Incredible acidity, great length. One of the best mouthfuls of Chenin Blanc I have had in a long time. This wine ages in 30% new oak of various sizes for 18 months before spending another year in the bottle before release. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $110. click to buy.

2020 Thibaud Boudignon “Clos de la Hutte – Franc de Pied” Savenniéres, Loire Valley, France
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon pith and wet stone. In the mouth, gorgeous stony lemon and grapefruit pith flavors are silky and deeply stony. Essential, stripped down, and ethereal, with some hint of greengage plum along with citrus and unripe pear. Stony, stony, stony. This is a special bottling made from only own-rooted vines planted in the stoniest sections of the Clos de la Hutte vineyard. The wine is aged in glass demijohns, “to go straight to the minerality,” says Boudignon. Only 300 bottles are made. 11.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $??

The Emotion of Savennières: The Wines of Thibaud Boudignon

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Carved From the Mountain: The Wines of WeatherEye Vineyard

Mark my words: the greatest wines Washington State has ever produced will come from one of the most ambitious vineyard projects I have ever seen in the United States. And when I say “will come,” what I mean is now is the time to get on the mailing lists for these wines (or go find them at your local specialty retailer) because they’re about to become some of the most sought-after wines made in Washington State, and perhaps the country.

Red Summit

Last November, I paid a visit to the Red Mountain AVA, where I spent some time exploring (for the first time) a place that I had written about several times previously. Most notably, I did a rather comprehensive, 2-part writeup on the region and its wines for Jancis Robinson’s website about 2 years ago.

While I was doing research for those articles, I got wind (pun intended) of a vineyard under development high up on the ridge of Red Mountain, and so when I finally made it to the region in person, I made sure to spend an afternoon exploring a vineyard project called WeatherEye.

But before I get to this project and its wines, let’s do a quick overview of the Red Mountain AVA.

Looking west-southwest across the Red Mountain AVA from the top of the mountain.

Red Mountain sits in the Yakima Valley region of Washington State which is itself within the greater Columbia Valley. This region of eastern Washington falls in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains, giving it a warm high-desert climate—one that gets one inch less rain each year on average than the Gobi Desert.

The geology of the region has been shaped by two incredibly dynamic and important forces. The first was the creation, 15 million years ago, of the entire Columbia Basin, which occurred when lava flows covered more than 210,000 square kilometers so deeply (up to 4 km deep in some places) that their combined weight created a massive, basalt-filled depression in the earth.

The second was the cataclysmic series of events from about 15,000 years ago, known as the Missoula Floods, in which ice-age glacial dams gave way, sending 900-foot-high walls of water and glacial sediments (and icebergs and car-sized boulders) rushing at 60 miles per hour across the northwest part of the United States. In the Yakima Valley region, these floodwaters were dammed up by a mountainous ridge with only a narrow opening (known as the Wallula Gap) creating a wide lake in which much of the sediment carried by these waters would settle.

Carved From the Mountain: The Wines of WeatherEye Vineyard
Looking up at Red Mountain, with the Col Solare winery and vineyards in the foreground.

The Red Mountain AVA then is 4040 acres of southwest-facing hillside descending from a ridge of Columbia Basin basalt, surrounded and covered with fine silt soils leftover from the Missoula Floods.

These soils have a very high calcium content, which over time has led to thin, calcareous encrustations known as caliche that coat most of the rocks in the area. The farther away from the ridge, the deeper the silty soils get, and the farther up you go on the ridge, the more you’re dealing with pure, volcanic, fractured basalt, as well as the fierce winds that whip across this desert landscape.

Carved From the Mountain: The Wines of WeatherEye Vineyard
Chunks of basalt covered in caliche at the summit of Red Mountain.

The Quieter Brother

The last name Myhrvold tends to mean something to anyone in the technology world and to anyone who considers themselves a really serious foodie. Both of those groups know Nathan Myhrvold, who was Chief Technology Officer for Microsoft between 1996 and 2000, after Bill Gates bought his software company for $1.5 million in Microsoft stock (you can do the math on present value).

Nathan was one of the most visionary thinkers of his time when it came to information technology, but would also go on to get a culinary degree and create a famous and groundbreaking set of books entitled Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, which instantly became the bible of the molecular gastronomy movement.

But fewer of those who know Myhrvold’s name and fame would register the name of his brother. Cameron Myhrvold helped his brother found the company that Microsoft purchased, and would go on to found several others (including the well-known venture capital firm Ignition Partners) after his tenure at Microsoft. But he has kept a much lower profile (notably, he has no Wikipedia page), despite being as savvy and successful as his brother.

Cameron Myhrvold does seem to share his brother’s interest in flavor, however, and specifically in wine. As long-time fan of Washington state wines, Myhrvold jumped at the chance to buy 360 acres of land high up on Red Mountain in 2004 when it came onto the market.

There was only one problem. The vast majority of the acreage was far above what most people considered the ideal plantable zone for grapevines, and part of the property even fell outside the boundaries of the Red Mountain AVA.

So for 10 years, nothing happened.

The Eye of the Storm

Eventually, Myhrvold connected with viticulturist Ryan Johnson, whose previous pedigree included the famed Ciel du Cheval Vineyard, Cadence Winery, and Force Majeure.

In 2014, Myhrvold hired Johnson as a consultant and sent him up on the hill to answer one simple question: how much of the property is actually plantable?

“After six months I put a report together,” says Johnson, “saying that if you were really ambitious maybe 25 acres could go under vine, but the thing to do would be to start with just a few fantastic acres and get a sense of what works, and what doesn’t.”

Carved From the Mountain: The Wines of WeatherEye Vineyard
Viticulturist and WeatherEye partner, Ryan Johnson

Johnson presented his report to Myhrvold in a meeting along with geologist Dr. Alan Busacca, whom he had brought in to help with soil analysis. Myhrvold listened to the presentation, said he liked Johnson’s approach and said he wanted to do it, but he just needed to find someone to manage the project.

“Then Busacca chimed in,” laughs Johnson, “and told Cam, ‘there’s only one guy in the state who can pull this off, and he’s sitting right there,’ and he pointed at me.”

And WeatherEye was born.

For a full year, Johnson wandered the hillside by himself, mapping out sites and making plans for what he increasingly believed would be a very special site, and one that might, with the right approach, allow for more plantings than he or anyone else might have thought possible.

Starting in 2016, Johnson began calling the most competent, dedicated, and daring folks he had worked with over the course of his career, asking them if they wouldn’t mind coming for a tour up a steep hillside of cheatgrass, yarrow, and sagebrush to the crest of a hill strewn with chunks of basalt.

Along the way, Johnson would paint a vision of what he wanted to achieve, and those who didn’t run screaming from the sheer insanity of the project saw a chance to create something magical.

Carved From the Mountain: The Wines of WeatherEye Vineyard
WeatherEye Vineyard blocks on the north side of the Red Mountain ridge, outside the boundaries of the Red Mountain AVA

With their help and a through a staggering amount of work, Johnson has now planted a total of 33 acres of vines on the hill across several locations, each with a different exposure, geology, and varietal mix, most on parts of the mountain everyone would have said was unplantable.

Changing the Planting Game

A significant amount of the acreage is planted to Rhône grape varieties, many of which, especially the Syrah and Grenache, are head-trained vertically along a stake in the en echalas style, and planted with meter-by-meter density, resulting in roughly 4000 vines per acre. Others are planted as head-trained bush vines.

Johnson meticulously oriented the vine rows based on the most accurate solar radiation data he could get his hands on.

“These echalas plantings are honestly a game changer up here,” says Johnson. “The vines shade themselves, preserve humidity, manage crop load, make better cluster placement, and manage the heat extremely well.”

Carved From the Mountain: The Wines of WeatherEye Vineyard

Johnson has left open corridors running through the vines that remain populated with the native high-desert scrub, wildflowers, and grasses, with sagebrush in, around, and between everything (as seen in the image at top).

“Sage is one of the most beneficial homes for good insects, and its volatile oils also help protect against some disease pressure,” says Johnson, who is taking a very holistic approach to managing vineyard health. He has additionally planted 3000 lavender bushes on the property and expects to plant more.

Carved From the Mountain: The Wines of WeatherEye Vineyard
Lavender and vines planted on the western side of the road leading up the property.

Across the 33 acres, Johnson has planted Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, Grenache Noir, Syrah, Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Graciano, Tempranillo, and Mourvédre.

“Our clonal diversity is our house secret,” says Johnson with a smile. “We’re using all the best clones and we don’t have a single monoclonal block on the property.”

Battling the Elements

Of all the plantings that Johnson has done thus far, nothing comes close to matching what he calls the “mountain monster” of his Mourvedre.

At the very crest of Red Mountain, taking a page from the otherworldly vineyards in the Azores and Canary Islands, Johnson has broken up the solid volcanic rock into cobbles varying from softball-sized to basketball-sized and scraped them up (with what little soil exists on the ridge) into hundreds of windbreaks, each sheltering an individual grapevine.

Carved From the Mountain: The Wines of WeatherEye Vineyard
The basalt rock windbreaks at the crest of WeatherEye Vineyard.

This was a preposterous amount of work for just a few hundred vines.

But there’s no doubt that such an extreme approach would be required to grow grapes on the crest of the mountain, where fierce winds rip across the ridge throughout the year.

The wind joins frosts, winter freezes, scorching heat, and various natural pests to make for what by any measure might be described as extreme viticulture.

“Great terroir should put up a fight,” says Johnson, when I ask him to sum up his feelings about farming in these conditions. Johnson’s farming regimen doesn’t necessarily fit any common label in terms of its approach.

“Cam calls it ‘Ryannic,'” jokes Johnson. “We incorporate many aspects of organic farming, but don’t limit ourselves to one set of tools. Our farming decisions must always consider the safety and well-being of our vineyard team as well as the long-term health and performance of the vineyard. Common sense (combined with experience) is key.”

The Fruits of Creativity

Exploring WeatherEye with Johnson is like touring a treehouse with the 10-year-old that built it. He can’t hide the passion, conviction, and pride in what he and his team of believers have created over the past 5 years.

“Things that were thought impossible, are now possible,” says Johhson. “Cam has allowed me to exercise my creativity with this project. This is 90% art, 10% science, and some experimentation thrown in there too.”

Not only has the team proven that grapes can be grown in places no one thought possible on Red Mountain, they have demonstrated that they can do so with spectacular results.

“Cam had enough confidence to keep pushing me along,” says Johnson, “with the belief that Field of Dreams-style, we’d be able to sell the fruit if we got it planted. My marching orders were simply to grow the best grapes in the world.”

Johnson seems well on the way to succeeding at that goal, according to my palate. Some of the first wines made from WeatherEye Vineyard are easily among the best wines I’ve ever tasted from Washington State. They possess a vibrancy of fruit, an intensity of perfume, a stony, volcanic depth that is frankly, breathtaking.

My first taste of these wines came after a day of tasting wines from some of the top producers on Red Mountain. My palate was properly calibrated to the wonderful qualities that this hillside can coax out of Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah.

But then I put some WeatherEye wines in my mouth, and they knocked me back in my chair with their power, finesse, and depth. No one can have a handle yet on what this site might be capable of from a winemaking perspective—it’s too soon. But if the wines below are what this place is producing in its youth, I shudder to think what might be possible in 5 or 10 years, as both the vines and the winemakers more deeply express the mountain.

And who knows what Johnson might plant next? He now laughs at his original estimate of only 25 plantable acres for the site.

“In my defense, that estimate was made when the conventional wisdom was that it was impossible to plant the top of Red Mountain. Based on what we’ve learned (hard-fought, of course), we feel we could now develop double that acreage or more at WeatherEye. But I would need to take a very long vacation first!”

If he can manage to tear himself away from his magnum opus, Johnson certainly deserves it. But it’s pretty hard to improve on the local views:

Tasting Notes

In addition to the wines and wineries represented by the tasting notes below, WeatherEye Vineyards sells fruit to Devium Wines, Dillon Cellars, Sleight of Hand, Kevin White Winery, and Upside Down Wines. A number of these wineries have not yet released their inaugural wines from WeatherEye and weren’t able to provide me with samples. In addition, Johnson and Myhrvold have launched a WeatherEye Vineyards estate brand, with the wines made by Todd Alexander (of Force Majeure fame). They have recently released their first two wines.

Betz Family Winery
Carved From the Mountain: The Wines of WeatherEye Vineyard

Bob Betz MW is a well-known figure in the Washington wine scene. He spent 28 years at Chateau St. Michelle in various winemaking and executive capacities, helping to steer Washington’s largest and most important wine producer. In 1997 Betz and his wife Cathy started Betz Family Winery, which has been a standard-bearer for Washington State wines ever since. Bob and Cathy sold the winery in 2011 to Steve and Bridgit Griessel, but Bob remains the consulting winemaker for with full-time winemaker Louis Skinner. The Betz Family Winery has been a long-time supporter of the Red Mountain AVA, and has made a vineyard-designated wine from the region for many vintages.


2019 Betz Family Winery “La Côte Rousse – WeatherEye Vineyard” Syrah, Red Mountain, Columbia Valley, Washington
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet earth, green herbs, and blackberries. In the mouth, powdery, stony tannins wrap around a core of blackberry and black cherry fruit that is shot through with pulverized stones even as floral notes drift across the palate. Excellent acidity, outstanding minerality. Fantastic. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $ . click to buy.

Valdemar Estates

The Bujanda Family has been growing and making wine in the Rioja region of Spain for five generations at their family estate known as Bodegas Valdemar. In 2019, the family opened Valdemar Estates, what they say is “the first internationally owned winery in Washington State.” The Walla Walla-based winery produces a number of different bottlings from around the state, including some single-vineyard wines from some of the state’s most legendary vineyards.


2020 Valdemar Estates “WeatherEye Vineyard Barrel Sample Trial 020-A” Grenache, Columbia Valley, Washington
Light to medium garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of strawberries, crushed stones, and dried herbs. In the mouth, bright strawberry and herbal notes are shot through with a lovely pulverized stone quality. Excellent acidity and basically imperceptible tannins round out the package. Notes of dried herbs emerge in the finish. Excellent. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Note that this sample does NOT represent the final wine that will be released, but it was quite encouraging.

Latta Wines

Andrew Latta got his start in wine as a sommelier working in Thailand. His passion for wine drove him to Washington State where he worked as a harvest intern and cellar hand, confirming that what he really wanted to do for the rest of his life was make wine. For the next 15 years, he worked his way up to the position of winemaker at Charles Smith Wines. In 2011 he started his own label, Latta Wines, where he makes small batches of wines from vineyard sites around the state.


I tasted two barrel samples of Syrah from Latta Wines that the winery later decided didn’t represent what they were planning to release to the public, so I’m not going to offer tasting notes for these barrel samples, but I certainly can characterize them as wonderfully deep and powerful but without being too sweet or rich. They offered what I’ve now come to expect from WeatherEye fruit: namely a combination of stony power, richness, but also elegance. Look out for Latta’s interpretation of this site whenever he decides he’s ready to release something.

Two Vintners

In 2007 young winemaker Morgan Lee teamed up with David and Cindy Lawson, the owners of Covington Cellars to form a new wine label that they called Two Vintners. Their initial wines were the (at the time) horribly unfashionable varieties of Merlot and Syrah, but their efforts converted many skeptics to these varieties. These days the brand has a heavy focus on Rhône varieties (with a little White Zinfandel thrown in!?) sourced from around Washington State.


Carved From the Mountain: The Wines of WeatherEye Vineyard

2019 Two Vintners “Oliver” Red Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of struck match, bacon fat, and a hint of black ad blue fruit. In the mouth, faint tannins wrap wispily around a core of blackberry, black cherry, and strawberry that have a slightly smoky aspect. A distinctly stony quality emerges in the finish. A blend of 70% Weather Eye Grenache, 20% Syrah, 5% Petite Sirah, and 5% Cinsault all from the Olsen Vineyard. 14.7% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $ . click to buy.

2019 Two Vintners “Weather Eye” Grenache Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon rind, Asian pear, chamomile, and a touch of summer squash. In the mouth, intensely bright and vibrant lemon, golden apple, and yellow herb flavors are juicy with fantastic acidity. Stony notes linger underneath the citrusy lean fruit that has a touch of bee pollen to it. Excellent. 14.4% alcohol. 100 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $ . click to buy.

2020 Two Vintners “Weather Eye” Grenache Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of white flowers, melon, golden apple, and citrus peel. In the mouth, intense apple and lemon peel flavors are bright with excellent acidity. There’s a faint salinity to the wine which makes it quite mouthwatering. A hint of herbal bitterness emerges on the finish. 14.4% alcohol. 110 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $ . click to buy.

Kobayashi Winery

Young winemaker Travis Allen and his wife Mario Kobayashi have been making tiny amounts of wine under their own label since 2014, all while he holds down a day job in the medical industry to pay the bills and help finance his passion for his “night job.” At Kobayashi Wines, Allen takes a decidedly non-interventionalist approach to winemaking, one which he says was heavily influenced by the late Sean Thackrey. He is highly focused on making individualistic, unique wines that stand apart from what he sees as the conventional approach to wine in Washington State. With input and advice from Rhône master winemaker Yves Gangloff, Allen’s micro-production, artisan wines have become something of an insider secret amongst the Washington wine industry.


2020 Kobayashi Winery “WeatherEye Vineyard” Viognier, Columbia Valley, Washington
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers, peaches and apricots. In the mouth, wonderful peach and white floral notes mix with lemon curd and grapefruit for a mouthwatering package, juicy and bright. Quite delicious. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.

2019 Kobayashi Winery “WeatherEye Vineyard” Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington
Inky garnet in color, this wine smells of blueberries and blackberries. In the mouth, powerful flavors of blackberry, cassis and woodsmoke mix with tangy sour cherry and tight, muscular, fine-grained tannins. Excellent acidity and length. But young and needs some time to relax. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $85. click to buy.

2019 Kobayashi Winery “Sans Soufre – WeatherEye Vineyard” Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dried flowers, cassis, and black cherry. In the mouth, powdery tannins coat the mouth and surround a core of black cherry, sour cherry, and blackcurrant that is vibrant with excellent acidity and deeply stony in quality. The tannins flex their muscles as the wine finishes, with bright juiciness. 100% whole cluster fermented with native yeasts and aged in an old puncheon. 14% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $85. click to buy.

Liminal Wines

Some of my favorite Washington State wines have long been made by Chris Peterson at his brand Avennia Wines, which is a partnership between himself and Marty Taucher, a former Microsoft executive who teamed up with Peterson in 2009 to launch Avennia. With their brand well established and highly celebrated, Peterson and Taucher were beginning to explore the question “what’s next?” when they got an invitation to come take a look at a new vineyard site high on Red Mountain.

What started as the possibility of a new fruit source immediately turned into an obsession.

“We talked about it the whole three-hour drive back to Seattle,” recalls Peterson. “There was immediately this sense that it had to be its own project. It was unproven, of course, but we had a feeling that it would be worth it.”

Liminal Wines immediately became WeatherEye’s first and largest customer, establishing a joint venture that reunited Taucher and Myhrvold, who knew each other from the Microsoft days, and combining the prodigious talents of Peterson and Johnson, who are working together for the first time, having crossed paths for more than two decades in the upper echelons of the Washington wine scene.


2019 Liminal Wines “Weathereye Vineyard – High Canyon Series” Viognier, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Washington
Pale straw in color, this wine smells of apricots and unripe peaches. In the mouth, the wine has remarkable acidity for a Viognier, with lean and bright flavors of unripe peaches, golden apple and citrus pith. Juicy, and mouthwatering. With a hint of a savory note on the finish. One of my favorite new world Viognier interpretations to date. Native yeast fermentation in neutral barrels. Aged for about 9 months before bottling. 14% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.

Carved From the Mountain: The Wines of WeatherEye Vineyard

2018 Liminal Wines “Weathereye Vineyard – Vineyard Series – GSM” Red Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of boysenberries and cherries with a hint of road dust and dried herbs. In the mouth, boysenberry, cherry, and herbal/floral notes are swirling with bright acidity under a very faint gauze of tannins. Fantastically savory, dusty road and sagebrush flavors mix with the slight brambly character that lingers in the finish. A blend of 42% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 38% Mourvèdre. Fantastic. 14.9% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2018 Liminal Wines “Weathereye Vineyard – High Canyon Series” Grenache, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Washington
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright strawberry and boysenberry fruit. In the mouth, silky, bright, and juicy strawberry and boysenberry flavors have a faint dusty tannin to them and lovely dried herb characteristics that linger in a long finish. Outstanding acidity and just the faintest bit of heat hinting at that 15% alcohol. Totally delicious with floral notes in the finish. Native yeast fermentation, about 15% whole cluster, both fermented and aged in a neutral puncheon. Outstanding. 15% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $80. click to buy.

2018 Liminal Wines “Weathereye Vineyard – Block 16” Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of incredibly floral cassis and blackberry fruit. In the mouth, deep blackberry and cassis flavors are bursting with acidity and shot through with dried herbs and just the faintest touch of white pepper. Faint, cotton-ball tannins buff the edges of the palate. Sumptuous, dark, and gorgeous, with a hint of iodine in the finish. Fantastic and compelling. Comes from the highest planting on Red Mountain, but it is just outside the boundary of the AVA, so it gets labeled as Columbia Valley. A small north-facing block, densely planted, with en echalas training, picked on September 18th. Fermented in steel with native yeasts, and then put into an old puncheon, a new barrique, and a used barrique, yielding about 20% new wood. Includes about 15% whole cluster. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2019 Liminal Wines “Weathereye Vineyard – Block 10” Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, Washington
Inky garnet in color, this wine smells of black plum and black cherry with a hint of Nutella. In the mouth, juicy bright black plum and black cherry fruit have incredible acidity that almost gives some structure to the wine along with fine tannins. The tiniest hint of dried herbs dances around the dense dark fruit with some crushed hazelnut in the finish. Sees about 65% new oak. 14.8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $90. click to buy.

2019 Liminal Wines “Weathereye Vineyard – Block 47” Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington
Inky opaque purple in the glass, this wine smells of incredibly floral black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, deep and powerful flavors of black cherry, cassis, cola, and dried flowers are grasped firmly in a suede fist of supple tannins. Excellent acidity and depth, this is a monster of a wine that can compete with the absolute top tier of Napa’s cult projects. This has some structure to it, to be sure, so give it 3 or 4 years for prime experience, but honestly, it’s delicious now if you’re into big-boned Cabernet. Fermented in upright barrels and then aged in 100% new French oak. “All the fanciest shit we can throw at it,” says winemaker Chris Peterson. Phenomenal. 14.8% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $125. click to buy.

Carved From the Mountain: The Wines of WeatherEye Vineyard

2019 Liminal Wines “Weathereye Vineyard – High Canyon Series” Syrah, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Washington
Dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of cassis and flowers. In the mouth, incredibly juicy flavors of blackberry, cassis, candied violets, and white flowers soar on and on. Faint herbal notes creep into the finish along with the texture of faint, powdery tannins that just barely tighten at the edges of the mouth. Contains 3% Viognier and the whole package is co-fermented in concrete. Stunning in its depth and profound aromatics. A showstopper of a wine. 14.9% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $80. click to buy.

2019 Liminal Wines “Weathereye Vineyard – Vineyard Series – GSM” Red Blend, Red Mountain, Columbia Valley, Washington
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of boysenberry and blueberries, and strawberries. In the mouth, stunningly juicy flavors of boysenberry and strawberry fruit mix with dusty roads and dried herbs including a dollop of sage. Incredibly fresh, bright, and juicy with fantastic dried herbs lingering in the finish. A stunning wine that I defy anyone to dislike. A blend of 38% Grenache, 36% Syrah, 26% Mourvèdre. A mix of concrete and steel fermentation. Native yeasts. 15% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $60. click to buy.

In addition to the above wines, I was also able to taste two of the 2020 barrel samples, both of which were outstanding.

2020 Liminal Wines “Weathereye Vineyard – Barrel Sample – Block 47 ” Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Washington
Inky, opaque purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells deeply of boysenberry and cassis fruit, with intense, supple tannins. Quite floral and bright, and powerful. Still has 9 months or so left in the barrel. Excellent acidity. Truly outstanding. Score: around 9.5.

2020 Liminal Wines “Weathereye Vineyard – Barrel Sample – High Canyon Series” Syrah, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Washington
Very dark purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of cassis and blackberries. Excellent acidity, thicker, putty-like tannins. A faint smoky violet note lingers on the finish. Intense, complex, and delicious. Score: around 9.5.

The post Carved From the Mountain: The Wines of WeatherEye Vineyard appeared first on Vinography.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 6/19/22

Hello and welcome to my weekly dig through the pile of wine samples that show up asking to be tasted. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

This past week included a handful of wines from a winery that prefers to be known by its initials, RG|NY. RG stands for Rivero Gonzáles, a winemaking family from Mexico that in 2019 purchased a vineyard on the North Fork of Long Island in New York. Their early releases are interesting. My favorite among them was the very lean, citrusy Viognier, but both the sparkling riesling and very light-bodied Cabernet Franc had merits as well.

I also received an Argentinian Malbec recently that is grown at one of the highest-altitude vineyards in the world. The Hess Family has long been a pioneer in the region of Salta, and their Bodega Colomé brand is one of the better wine values in Argentina. Their “El Arenal” Malbec is a single-vineyard expression of a sandy site with more than 8000 feet of elevation and sings with a rich, robust, and powerful voice.

The real star—nay, scene-stealer—this week, were the latest releases from Corison Winery in Napa. I’ve been writing about Cathy Corison and her wines for years, as I’m a fan of her old-school, low alcohol, restrained interpretation of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Her wines rarely exceed 14% in alcohol, yet they never lack for perfume or flavor, and they age exquisitely.

I don’t know what to say about her 2019 vintage effort other than it blew me away. Her 2019 St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon may well be the best-tasting new release I’ve ever had from the winery. It offers an incredible aromatic landscape in the glass while delivering a spectacular level of elegance and finesse on the palate. The companion Cabernet from the Sunbasket Vineyard doesn’t quite have the finesse of her standard St. Helena bottling…. yet. It has a more youthful expression that is perhaps not fully resolved. The Cabernet Franc that she calls “Helios” from the same vineyard is more settled in its identity, and positively delicious.

These wines aren’t cheap, but they are among the best that Napa Valley has to offer, and compared to other top Napa wines that are 4 to 6 times their price, they are positively a bargain. Put a few bottles away for 10 years and prepare to have your mind blown.

Tasting Notes

2020 RG|NY Viognier, North Fork of Long Island, New York
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of apples, lemon, and apricots. In the mouth, juicy and bright flavors of Asian pear, apricot, and citrus pith have a nice tangy juiciness to them thanks to excellent acidity. It might be hard for me to peg this as Viognier if tasted blind, so lean and citrusy as it is, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t tasty. 12.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $ . click to buy.

2020 RG|NY “Scielo” Sparkling Riesling, North Fork of Long Island, New York
Light cloudy yellow-gold with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of mandarin orange pith and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, a soft mousse delivers flavors of lemon oil, citrus pith, and winter melon. Lightly tart, with good acidity. My guess is that this is an un-disgorged bottle-fermented wine. No information is available on the bottle or the website about its winemaking, however. 10% alcohol. Closed with a crown cap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $ . click to buy.

2020 RG|NY Cabernet Franc, North Fork of Long Island, New York
Light to medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and a hint of nut skin. In the mouth, faintly candied flavors of cherry, green herbs, and caramel have a nice silky texture and good acidity. This is a somewhat simpler incarnation of Cabernet Franc but not an unappealing one, especially if you think of it as a dark rosé, which it nearly resembles. 11.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $ . click to buy.

2019 Corison Winery “Sunbasket Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackcurrant, cocoa powder, and black cherry. In the mouth, black cherry and cola flavors are surrounded by fleecy tannins as bright cassis and blackberry notes linger in the finish with a hint of citrus peel. Excellent acidity. Brimming with youthful energy and a spring in its step. Not fully knit together yet, I don’t think. Needs a little time. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $225. Not yet released.

2019 Corison Winery “Helios – Sunbasket Vineyard” Cabernet Franc, St. Helena, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of plums, cherries, and crushed hazelnuts. In the mouth, bright plummy flavors mix with cherry and cola as fantastic citrusy acidity electrifies the palate. Tight muscular tannins grip the edges of the tongue and the sides of the mouth, as the wine finishes juicy with hints of aromatic herbs. Excellent. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $100. Not yet released.

2019 Corison Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of flowers, dark ripe plums, and blackcurrants. In the mouth, gorgeously supple, velvety tannins wrap around a core of black cherry and cassis fruit that has a wonderful purity to it. Hints of graphite and dried flowers float across the palate, as bright acidity keeps the fruit juicy and the saliva flowing. Outstanding. The incarnation of elegance, and largely untouchable by most other Napa Cabernet. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $110. Not yet released.

2019 Colomé “El Arenal” Malbec, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of struck match and blackberries. In the mouth, rich blackberry and blueberry fruit is wrapped in a massive fleecy blanket of tannins. Excellent acidity keeps things juicy as rich earth and notes of citrus and cola linger in the finish. Grown at the jaw-dropping altitude of 8530 feet above sea level in extremely sandy soils, this wine comes from the El Arenal vineyard. 4.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $ . click to buy.

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A Boatload of Flavor: Tasting Some Smaller Loire Producers

A couple of weeks ago I resumed something that has been a regular periodic activity of mine for more than 15 years: traveling for wine. More specifically, I embarked on my first press junket in more than 20 years to attend a wine event that I was supposed to join in April of 2020, and that, like so many events, has been postponed multiple times in the past 24 months.

Put on every year by InterLoire, the regional organization in charge of promoting the Loire Valley, Val de Loire Millésime is a convocation of journalists and members of the trade brought together to learn and experience the breadth of what the Loire Valley has to offer. This event happens in conjunction with the Concours de Vins du Val de Loire, the region’s annual wine competition.

The evening of our third day, we attended a wine tasting that was remarkable in two respects. The first was that every single wine at the tasting was worthy of attention. This was particularly notable given the nature of these large regional press events, which usually have to include wines from all of their constituents, regardless of quality or reputation.

The second thing that made this tasting notable was that it was on a boat.

It turns out that the second fact was responsible for the first. The tasting wasn’t just on any boat, it was on BarcoVino, the floating wine bar in Angers, France that is my new favorite wine bar in the world. And instead of simply renting out the venue, the Val de Loire Millésime organizers did something clever. They asked the owners of BarcoVino to select a bunch of wines from their (excellent) list, and then they invited all those producers to come pour their wines for us.

The result was a near-perfect event for wine geeks like me. Gorgeous setting on the river (with the Angers cathedral and old city walls rising up to catch the evening light), fabulous wines made by small, thoughtful producers, and great food in the form of charcuterie, cheeses, bread, and other small snacks prepared by BarcoVino.

A Boatload of Flavor: Tasting Some Smaller Loire Producers

If you ever find yourself within striking distance of Angers, I highly recommend a stop at BarcoVino for a few hours of serious drinking tasting.

In the meantime, here are the wines we tasted that evening and what I thought of them.

Tasting Notes

Sparkling and White Wines
A Boatload of Flavor: Tasting Some Smaller Loire Producers

2020 Domaine Vincendeau “Loire Gold” Crémant De Loire, Loire Valley, France
Pale gold in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine smells of nutty herbs and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, the wine is deeply stony, with flvors of citrus pith, herbs and a touch of lemongrass all borne on a soft mousse. Excellent acidity. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $36. click to buy.

2018 Domaine Vincendeau “Le Carré Du Puits” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of poached pear and dried herbs. In the mouth, flavors of baked apple and quince have a distinctly tannic grip to them and a deep stony underbelly. Notes of herbs linger in the finish. 100% Chenin Blanc. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $??

2018 Domaine Les Grandes Vignes “La Varenne De Combre” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of smoky herbs and roasted nuts. In the mouth, gorgeously bright saline flavors of lemon and grapefruit mix with a flinty quality. Fantastically juicy with acidity and stony minerality. Delicious. Spends one year on its fine lees in an amphora. 100% Chenin Blanc. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $64. click to buy.

2020 Les Sables Verts “Les Rouères” Saumur Blanc, Loire Valley, France
Pale blonde in color, this wine smells of bright quince and lemon aromas. In the mouth, incredibly juicy flavors of lemon pith, membrillo, and grapefruit burst on the palate with a hint of salinty and fantastically bright acidity. Lovely crackling minerality. 100% Chenin Blanc ages for 12 months in an old oak foudre. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $??

2021 Mathieu Cosme “Le Facteur Su’L Vélo” Vouvray, Touraine, Loire Valley, France
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of wet stone and lemon pith. In the mouth, lemon pith, wet stones, grpefruit, and pear flavors have a nice hint of salinity and a dash of peach aromatics. Excellent acidity and depth. Delicious. 100% Chenin Blanc. Score: around 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2020 Mathieu Cosme “Le Facteur Su’L Vélo” Vouvray, Touraine, Loire Valley, France
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of wet stone, flowers and lemon pith. In the mouth, wonderfully saline flavors of lemon pith grapefruit and Asian pear have a faint tannic grip. Excellent acidity and minerality. 100% Chenin Blanc. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

A Boatload of Flavor: Tasting Some Smaller Loire Producers

2019 Mathieu Cosme “Le Facteur Su’l Vélo – Bénasse” Vouvray, Touraine, Loire Valley, France
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flower, citrus pith, and vanilla. In the mouth, vanilla and citrus flavors mix with pear and a hint of lemongrass as the wine flows silkily across the palate but with a nice stony underbelly. Great acidity. Grown on limestone soils. Spends 12 months in oak. 100% Chenin Blanc. Score: around 9. Cost: $??

2019 Terra Vita Vinum “Grandes Rogeries” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of smoky lemongrass and citrus pith. In the mouth, the wine is positively explosive with flinty lemon pith, grapefruit, and a crackling, crystalline saline quality that is positively mouthwatering. Incredible acidity and deeply stony depths are accompanied by a light tannic grip on the palate. Grown biodynamically on rhyolite soils, this single plot of grapes ages for 18 months in a combination of barrels and amphorae. Only some of the juice goes through malolactic conversion. 100% Chenin Blanc. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $34.

2020 Domaine Ogereau “Saint Lambert” Coteaux du Layon St Lambert, Anjou, Loire Valley, France
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of honey and white flowers. In the mouth, honey, asian pear, and white flowers have a clean, bright mineral quality to them. This wine tastes basically dry, though the aromatics let you know in the end that it’s a little sweet. Made from a selection of lightly botrytized fruit. 100% Chenin Blanc. Score: around 9. Cost: $??

2020 Domaine Ogereau “Bonnes Blanches” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
Palest gold in color, this wine smells of quince, flowers and vanilla. In the mouth, the wine has a round fullness, with flavors of vanilla, quince, grapefruit, and citrus pith. Very good acidity and a light tannic grip. 100% Chenin Blanc. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??

2019 Domaine Aux Moines Roche Aux Moines, Savennières, Anjou, Loire Valley, France
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of bruised apples and herbs. In the mouth, savory yellow herbs mix with apple and pear flavors with a decent acidity and nice clean minerality. 100% Chenin Blanc. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $38. click to buy.

2021 Domaine Arnaud Lambert “BrézéClos De Midi” Samur Blanc, Loire Valley, France
Pale blonde in color, this wine smells of vanilla cream and pear. In the mouth, that creamy sensation contninues with lemon puth, grapefruit, and pear flavors. Excellent acidity and brightness. Made without any added sulfur. Spends 6 months in tank. 100% Chenin Blanc. Score: around 9. Cost: $30.

2021 Manoir de la Tête Rouge Tête D’Ange Saumur Blanc, Loire Valley, France
Pale blonde in color, this wine smells of apples and pears. In the mouth, bright pear, apple and lemon pith flavors have a nice snap thanks to good acidity. Somewhat straightforward, but good flavors. 100% Chenin Blanc. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $23. click to buy.

Red Wines
A Boatload of Flavor: Tasting Some Smaller Loire Producers

2019 Domaine Arnaud Lambert “Clos Tue Loup” Saumur Rouge, Loire Valley, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of earth, plums and wet leaves. In the mouth, soft, plushy tannins wrap around a core of plum, cherry and earth that has the bright sour tinge of plum skin. Notes of dried flowers and the freshness of green herbs linger in the finish. Juicy acidity. Very tasty. 100% Cabernet Franc. Score: around 9. Cost: $39. click to buy.

2018 Manoir de la Tête Rouge “Enchantoir” Saumur Puy Notre Dame Rouge, Saumur, Loire Valley, France
A medium hazy garnet in color, this wine smells of plum and dried flowers. In the mouth, there’s a rustic honesty to this wine, whose fleecy tannins wrap around a plummy core of earth and plum skin. Made from vines planted in 1959, and ages for 12 months in amphorae with no added sulfur before bottling. 100% Cabernet Franc. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.

2020 Les Sables Verts “Les Poyeux” Saumur-Champigny, Saumur, Loire Valley, France
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of nut skin, spices, plum and dried flowers. In the mouth, the wine has great freshness even as fleecy tannins wrap around a core of plum, dried flowers, herbs, and the bright tang of plum skin. Grown on clay studded with limestone. 100% Cabernet Franc. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $??

2019 Domaine Grosbois “Clos Du Noyer” Chinon, Touraine, Loire Valley, France
Medium purple in the glass, this wine smells of dried flowers, plums and herbs. In the mouth, the wine is incredibly smooth and supple, with powdery tannins that wrap around plum and earth and dried herbs. Dried flowers and herbs linger in the finish but the wine has a great stony, mineral depth to it that is fantastic. Excellent acidity and length. 100% Cabernet Franc. Score: around 9. Cost: $52. click to buy.

2020 Domaine Grosbois “Gabare” Chinon, Touraine, Loire Valley, France
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of earth, plum, and plum skin. In the mouth, cherry plum, and nut skin flavors are buffed by leathery tannins and scented of green herbs. Very good acidity. 100% Cabernet Franc. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??

2018 Domaine Amirault “Le Fondis” Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil, Touraine, Loire Valley, France
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of herbs, dried flowers and plums. In the mouth, flavors of plum and earth are nestled into smooth, velvety tannins, and there’s a slight saline quality to the wine. Made from 63 year-old vines grown in deep gravelly soils cut into terraces, this wine undergoes carbonic macertion in old barrels, which are rotated like a rotofermenter. 100% Cabernet Franc. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??

2020 Domaine Amirault “Ferme Des Fontaines” Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil, Touraine, Loire Valley, France
Medium to dark garent in the glass, this wine smells of plum and earth. In the mouth, juicy plum and plum skin flavors mix with nuttier more herbal notes as soft tannins caress the edges of the palate. Great acidity and length, and a lovely stony depth. Aged in concrete tanks buried in the earth for 9 months. 100% Cabernet Franc. Score: around 9. Cost: $??

2017 Domaine Les Grandes Vignes “Les Cocainelles Village” Anjou Rouge, Loire Valley, France
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of earth, plum, and wet leaves. In the mouth, earthy flavors of dried flowers, dried herbs and plum have a nice acidity and quite savory depth. Destemmed and spends one year in oak. 100% Cabernet Franc. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??

2020 Terra Vita Vinum “Chant De La Pierre” Anjou Rouge, Loire Valley, France
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of dried flowers and mulberries. In the mouth, flavors of blood oranges, raspberry and sour cherry are dusted with faint powdery tannins and notes of dried herbs linger in the finish. Great acidity and length. Grown on schist and quartz. Score: around 9. Cost: $??

The post A Boatload of Flavor: Tasting Some Smaller Loire Producers appeared first on Vinography.

Bottles of Dear Old Blighty: A Deep Tasting of British Wine

For the longest time, my British friends have been bragging about their wines. Not the wines they’ve been drinking, mind you, but the wines that their countrymen and women have been growing. I’ve had the occasion to sample a bottle of Nyetimber here and a bottle of Bride Valley or Ridgeview there, but until recently I’ve lacked the opportunity to taste a lot of them side-by-side.

When I decided to take a quick trip to London for a celebration recently, I realized it might be my chance to rectify this lack. Thankfully, the folks at Wines of Great Britain were kind enough to assist me in my quest, putting together a broad tasting of both sparkling and still wines from recent vintages that I was able to spend the good part of a day exploring.

A Short Explanation of a Long History

For even the most well-informed American wine lovers, British wine has seemingly appeared on the scene almost overnight. Certainly, when I started writing about wine seriously in 2004, it was so far off the radar as to be non-existent. But the modern British wine industry has a history comparable to that of the American wine industry in post-prohibition times, and a much longer origin story that stretches back nearly two thousand years.

Vines were likely planted in England during the Roman occupation going as far back as the first century AD, up until the departure of the Romans from the British Isles in AD 410. For the next 400 years or so, it was presumably tough for resident Britons to maintain much of a wine industry while fending off waves of invasion from the likes of Saxons, Vandals, and Vikings, especially when these barbarians’ favorite things to do included torching monasteries, the frequent home of both wine knowledge and production.

Gusborne Vineyards on a misty morning

But thanks to some particularly anal-retentive recordkeeping by William the Conqueror, we know that by 1066 there were at least 42 vineyards in England (mostly to the west of London). William’s so-called Norman Conquest brought with it French knowledge of viticulture that fueled a resurgence of winegrowing on the isle which peaked just in time for the 14th Century’s Black Death to wipe out the vineyard workforce (and presumably a large portion of the clientele, as well).

With the exception of a scattered few vineyard plantings in the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries, things didn’t really pick back up again until after the Second World War, when Ray Barrington Brock established his own private research station and nursery dedicated to vitis vinifera grapes. This unprecedented work ensured that when Major-General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones decided to plant England’s first modern commercial vineyard in 1952 (the Hambledon Vineyard, shown in the featured image at top) the knowledge and the grape stock required to do so were readily available.

The minuscule British wine industry grew in relatively tiny fits and starts for the next 15 years. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay didn’t really appear on the scene much until the late 1980s. Shortly thereafter, at least in part if not significantly due to the warming weather that accompanied climate change, the industry really took off.

Bottles of Dear Old Blighty: A Deep Tasting of British Wine
Simpsons Wine Estate © Thomas Alexander Photography

The British Bubbly Boom

Despite warming global temperatures, England is still pretty damn chilly. The weather is variable, the yields small, and ripening a challenge. This climatological reality, combined with the fact that parts of southern England are made up of exactly the same Cretaceous chalk formation as the grand cru sites of Avize and Cramant in Champagne, pushed most producers to focus on sparkling wines (even though many, including Salisbury-Jones, initially thought to produce still wines).

It should be noted that while the chalk congruence with Champagne is incredibly obvious, many of the early vineyards, and bunches of recent vineyards (including some of the top producers in the UK) are not, in fact, planted on chalk at all, lessening the argument that the industry’s success is geologically based (other soil types include sandy loam and something called greensand, which is the porous layer underneath all that chalk). All reasonably-well-drained soils being somewhat equal, so to speak, climate has really been the thing shaping the nature of British wines thus far.

But the industry has seen great success. Just as when California began to show real promise in bubbly wine production, the giants of sparkling have swooped in to purchase land or estates. Taittinger Champagne purchased 170 acres in Kent in 2015. Vranken-Pommery Champagne purchased about 100 acres around the same time, and recently Henkell-Freixenet (owners of sparkling estates in Cava, Champagne, and Prosecco) announced the purchase of the Bolney Wine Estate in Sussex.

Bottles of Dear Old Blighty: A Deep Tasting of British Wine
Ashling Park from above

The British wine industry is in what you might describe as explosive-growth mode. Visits to UK wineries were up 57% in 2021 despite the pandemic, and sales were up 30%. Impressively, a full 50% of the industry’s sales are apparently now direct to consumers.

There are just under 10,000 acres of vineyards in England, Wales, and Scotland at the moment. That’s a 70% increase over the past 5 years and a two-fold increase in the past 8 years. This acreage is shared across approximately 800 vineyards and around 178 wineries.

The majority of acreage (over 60%) remains dedicated to the holy trinity of Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, but a full 8.5% of the plantings are Bacchus, the early-ripening German cross between Silvaner, Riesling, and Müller-Thurgau. Another 4.5% are Seyval Blanc, a French hybrid grape that does well in colder climates.

Historically much of UK wine production has been sparkling wine, but still wines are quickly gaining ground. In 2021, still wines made up 36% of the country’s production, up from 28% just a couple of years ago.

Bottles of Dear Old Blighty: A Deep Tasting of British Wine
Distant vineyard at Hush Heath estate

Because many newer producers have a focus on sparkling wine (and therefore longer lees aging in the bottle), we’re seeing a bit of a lag between vineyard plantings and wine brands (and bottlings) hitting the market.

In other words, if you think there’s a boom now, just wait a couple of years.

My Thoughts on What I Tasted

I had a grand time tasting through the roughly 70 or so wines that had been generously gathered for me by Wines of Great Britain. There’s nothing quite so satisfying for wine writers as a deep tasting dive into unknown territory.

I’ll be honest, though, I expected to be more impressed. Maybe it was all my British friends and colleagues driving up my expectations, but I had the idea that some of these wines were going to blow me away. That definitely didn’t happen.

There were a number of excellent sparkling wines in the lineup, to be sure, but even while most of the wines were high quality, none yet sang of greatness, so to speak. As for the still wines, well, let’s just say after a few decent ones, the remainder of the pack lagged pretty far behind.

But let’s return to the bubbles for a moment. In general, it seems, British bubbly is… lean. By that I mean the wines are very steely, with heavy malic (i.e. green apple) and citrus qualities driven by high acidity. Tasted blind with a bunch of Champagnes, it strikes me that many could easily be mistaken for brut nature, or zero-dosage wines, even though most do have dosage at the fairly standard level of 6 to 8 grams per liter of sugar. I’m guessing some of the top examples will age extremely well in the bottle, and reward some cellaring. I would dearly love to taste a number of these wines with some significant bottle age one day.

When done well, the racy, angular quality of these wines is commendable and even attractive (to this acid-loving taster), but when not shaped properly through some combination of excellent fruit, proper pressing, longer lees aging, and proper dosage, just to select a few crucial factors in the making of bubbles, the results can be somewhat shrill or at the very least, lacking in subtlety.

Bottles of Dear Old Blighty: A Deep Tasting of British Wine
Squerryes Vineyard

That said, only a few of the wines I tasted felt entirely disjointed or searing. Most were straightforwardly well-made (if extremely high-acid) sparkling wines that would be easy to drink without too much thought.

Easy to drink provided, of course, that you’re buying them in the UK and paying with British Pounds. Unfortunately, those few wines that manage to get to the US (by the time you figure in the exchange rate, transport costs, customs duties, and Three-Tier markups) often end up feeling a bit pricey, especially in comparison with domestic options or theoretically comparable Champagnes. As an illustration, the Nyetimber Classic Cuvee, which clocks in at a reasonable-sounding (if it were in USD) £37.50, ends up being between $55 and $60 a bottle in the shops where I can find it, compared to say the non-vintage equivalent Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs or Blanc de Noirs bottling which would cost $37, or the Pierre Peters Cuvée de Reservée Blanc de Blancs Champagne which would cost me $59.

Nonetheless, I encourage you to explore British wine at every opportunity. It is clearly a young category, with a lot of potential ahead.

I have reviewed the entire set of wines provided to me at this tasting (as opposed to providing you with only the highlights) and I have included the suggested retail price in Pounds as provided to me by the producers. Where possible, I have included links to purchase the best of these wines in the US but, as you can see, there’s pretty slim pickings.

Bottles of Dear Old Blighty: A Deep Tasting of British Wine
Some of my tasting lineup

White Sparkling Wines

Wines With A Score Between 9 And 9.5
Bottles of Dear Old Blighty: A Deep Tasting of British Wine

2015 Wiston Estate Winery Blanc de Blancs, Sussex, England
Light yellow-gold in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of fresh and baked apples, sea air, and a hint of crushed nuts and butterscotch. In the mouth, a velvety mousse delivers wonderfully bright flavors of lemon pith, fuji apples, toasted sourdough, and pomelo. There’s a lovely faint salinity in the finish. 100% Chardonnay aged 50% in mature Burgundy barrels and 50% in stainless steel. Bottled in the summer of 2016. 8 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £85.00. This is the one wine in my writeup I have found a serious deal on. It can be found for $50 online at the time of writing. click to buy.

NV Hambledon Vineyard “Classic Cuvée” Champagne Blend, Hampshire, England
Light gold in the glass with a hint of bronze and fine bubbles, this wine smells of white flowers, melted butter, and citrus pith. In the mouth, a wonderfully soft mousse delivers salty, rich toasty flavors of lemon pith, buttered brioche, and seawater across the palate as lemon oil and juicy brightness linger in the finish. Outstanding. A blend of 56% Chardonnay, 27% Pinot Noir and 17% Pinot Meunier. Based on the 2016 vintage with 20% tank-aged reserve wine added in. A tiny (6%) amount of the wine was barrel-fermented. Spends 35 months on the lees. 4.5 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £30.00

NV Hambledon Vineyard “Premiere Cuvée” Champagne Blend, Hampshire, England
Light gold in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of wet stone, baked apples, and nougat. In the mouth, a voluminous, silky mousse delivers flavors of baked apples, lemon zest, grapefruit, and a hint of raspberries. Lovely salty notes combine with the berry elements through the finish. Excellent acidity and brightness. A blend of 67% Chardonnay, 11% Pinot Noir, and 22% Pinot Meunier. The base wine is 2014 and 18% of the blend is barrel-aged reserve wine. 4% of the base wine is barrel fermented. Spends 62 months on the lees. 2.5 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £45.00

NV Ashling Park Estate “Cuvée NV” Champagne Blend, Sussex, England
A light-to-medium gold in the glass with moderately fine bubbles, this wine smells of marzipan and baked apples. In the mouth, a velvety mousse delivers salty flavors of buttered sourdough toast, lemon peel, poached apples, and butterscotch. A wonderful lemon pith flavor lingers in the finish along with toasted nuts. A blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, and 10% Meunier. The base wine is from the 2013 vintage. 8 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £31.50

Wines With A Score Around 9

2015 Stonyfield Brut Seyval Blanc, Northamptonshire, England
Pale straw in the glass with gold highlights and fine bubbles, this wine smells of chopped apples and white flowers. In the mouth, a voluminous mousse carries mouthwatering flavors of green apple and cider apples mixed with white flowers and lemon peel. Fantastically bright, acidity gives a sour lemon zip to the wine, which finishes with lemon pith and juice and just the tiniest hint of sweetness. 8 g/l dosage. A blend of 80% Seyval Blanc and 20% Pinot Noir from a tiny 1-acre vineyard in Northamptonshire. 12% alcohol. Price: £45

Bottles of Dear Old Blighty: A Deep Tasting of British Wine

2017 Bride Valley Blanc de Blancs, Dorset, England
Pale gold in color, with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of lemon pith, orange oil, and a hint of sea air. In the mouth, a muscular, expansive mousse delivers flavors of bright lemon pith, pomelo, and a hint of toasted sourdough bread are shot through with seawater and citrus oil. Bright and juicy, with mouthwatering acidity and quite delicious. 100% Chardonnay. 7.1 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £35.95. click to buy.

NV Nyetimber “Classic Cuvee” Champagne Blend, Sussex, England
Light gold in the glass with a hint of bronze and medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of white flowers, pastry cream, and lemon pith. In the mouth, a velvety mousse delivers faintly saline flavors of pastry cream, linalool, white flowers, and Asian pear across the palate. Notes of green apple and white flowers linger in the finish. Quite clean and pretty. A blend of 60% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier most likely from the 2018 vintage, though that wasn’t 100% verifiable in the moment. 8 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £37.50. click to buy.

2018 Busi Jacobsohn Wine Estate “Cuvée Brut” Champagne Blend, Sussex, England
Light gold in the glass, with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of apples and white flowers. In the mouth, salty flavors of buttered toast, fuji apples, lemon pith, and white flowers have a nice plush mousse and a wonderfully clean quality to them. Salty notes of lemon zest linger in the finish. A blend of 60% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir and 20% Meunier. 6.1 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £38.00

2017 The Squerryes Partnership “Squerryes – Exclusive Vintage Reserve” Brut Champagne Blend, Kent, England
Light gold in the glass with medium bubbles, this wine smells of pastry cream, apples, and a hint of dried citrus peel. In the mouth, a rather robust mousse delivers flavors of pastry cream, fresh ripe apples, citrus peel, and a hint of white flowers. Crisp and balanced with just a hint of salinity in the finish. Excellent acidity. A blend of 48% Pinot noir, 30% Chardonnay, and 22% Pinot Meunier. 6.5 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £32.00

2014 Artelium Wine Estate “Curators Cuvée” Champagne Blend, Sussex, England
Light gold in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of marmalade and a hint of toffee and shaved balsawood. In the mouth, a soft mousse delivers flavors of cooked apple, sarsaparilla, lemon rind, and a touch of kelp. Lovely filigreed acidity and overall elegance. A blend of 60% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir, and 15% Meunier. Spends 60 months on the lees. 6.7 g/l dosage. 11.4% alcohol. Price: £32.00

Wines With A Score Between 8.5 And 9
Bottles of Dear Old Blighty: A Deep Tasting of British Wine

2015 Chapel Down “Kit’s Coty Coeur de Cuvée” Blanc de Blancs, Kent, England
Pale greenish gold in the glass with coarse bubbles, this wine smells of slightly yeasty fresh chopped apples. In the mouth, A slightly coarse mousse delivers flavors of apple, lemon pith, and a faint salinity. 100% Chardonnay. Not particularly complex. 6 g/l dosage. 12.5% alcohol. 1600 bottles produced. Price: £100.00

NV Exton Park Vineyard “RB28 Reserve Blend” Blanc de Noirs, Hampshire, England
Pale gold in the glass with moderately fine bubbles and a rather frothy mousse, this wine smells of plum and warm bread. In the mouth, lemon, berries, and apple flavors have a SweetTart sourness to them and mouthwatering acidity. A softer mousse caresses the palate with faintly saline notes along with the lemon pith that lingers in the finish. It’s kind of amazing how tart this wine is even after 10.1 g/l of dosage. 100% Pinot Noir. Spends 36 months on the lees. 11.5% alcohol. Price: £43.00

2015 Harrow & Hope Blanc de Noirs Champagne Blend, Buckinghamshire, England
Light gold in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine smells of baked apples, toasted bread, raspberries, and pomegranate seeds. In the mouth, a velvety mousse delivers wonderful lemon pith and grapefruit flesh flavors mixed with raspberries and apples. Excellent acidity. There’s a faint yogurty creaminess in the finish. A blend of 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Pinot Meunier that spends 40 months on the lees in bottle. 8.5 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £38.00

2017 Black Chalk Wine “Classic” Champagne Blend, Hampshire, England
Light gold in the glass with a hint of bronze and medium bubbles, this wine smells of lemon pith and chopped apples. In the mouth, salty apple and lemon peel mix with a hint of toasted nuts and a whiff of white flowers. Moderately full mousse. A blend of 40% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% Meunier. Spends 28 months on the lees. 9 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £35.99

Wines With A Score Around 8.5

2016 Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs, Kent, England
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of green apples and Fuji apples with a hint of citrus pith. In the mouth, a soft but voluminous mousse delivers green apple and saltine cracker flavors with a nice bright acidity. 100% Chardonnay, with all the wine put through malolactic conversion. Spends 42 months on the lees. 8.3 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £59.00

2016 Raimes English Sparkling Blanc de Blancs, Hampshire, England
Pale straw gold in the glass with moderately fine bubbles, this wine smells of green apple and a touch of kiwifruit. In the mouth, a moderately coarse mousse delivers quite clean and green flavors of green apple, cucumber, lime, and grapefruit. Serious acidity. 100% Chardonnay spends 42 months on the lees. 7 g/l dosage. 11.5% alcohol. Price: £35.00

2018 Balfour Hush Heath Blanc de Noirs Champagne Blend, Kent, England
Light gold in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of raspberries and orange peel. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of raspberry, orange peel, and citrus juice have a lean acidity to them and a zesty note in the finish. A blend of 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Meunier. 12 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £40.00

NV Langham Wine Estate “Corallian Classic Cuvée” Champagne Blend, Dorset, England
Light gold in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of baked apples and a hint of toffee. In the mouth, a velvety mousse delivers salty flavors of toffee, a touch of marzipan, apple, and lemon pith with hints of berries and lingering notes of green apple skin in the finish. 75% Chardonnay with 15% Pinot Noir and 10% Meunier. Spends 18 months on the lees. 1.5g.l dosage Mostly made of 2018, but with 17% reserve wines blended in. 12% alcohol. Price: £27.50

NV Grange Estate Wines LLP “The Grange CLASSIC” Champagne Blend, Hampshire, England
A light bronze-gold in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of baked apples, wet chalkboard, a hint of berries. In the mouth, lemon zest, unripe blackberries, and quite pretty saline notes are lifted on an airy mousse, with hints of citrus peel lingering in the finish. and A blend of 65% Chardonnay 20% Pinot Meunier and 15% Pinot Noir, mostly from the 2017 vintage. Spends 37 months on the lees. 9.1 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £34.00

NV Vranken-Pommery Monopole “Louis Pommery England” Champagne Blend, Hampshire, England
Light gold in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of apples and pastry cream. In the mouth, a soft, velvety mousse delivers creamy flavors of vanilla, apples, and white flowers with a hint of lemon. Softer acidity and quite creamy. A blend of 62% Chardonnay, 27% Pinot Noir and 11% Pinot Meunier. Primarily 2017 wine with 10% reserve wines blended in. 10 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £35.99

NV Digby Fine English “Brut” Champagne Blend, England
Light gold in the glass with medium bubbles, this wine smells of dried citrus peel and cooked apples. In the mouth, crisp cooked-apple and citrus notes mix with fresher Fuji apple flavors as a faint mousse moves across the palate. Good acidity and an interesting toasty nougat flavor lingering in the finish. A blend of 40% Pinot, 35% Chardonnay, and 25% Meunier that spends 24 months on the lees. 12 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Contains 20% reserve wines. Price: £32.00

2016 High Clandon Estate Vineyard “Euphoria Cuvée Brut” Brut Champagne Blend, Surrey, England
Pale greenish gold in the glass with fine bubbles this wine smells of wet chalkboard and green apple. In the mouth, a soft mousse delivers flavors of salty lemon peel, green apple, and a hint of orange peel. Good acidity and the salinity in the finish make the mouth water, but the flavors seem like they lack a little intensity. A blend of 57% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir, and 13% Meunier. Comes from a single acre of vineyard. 7 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £39.00

2015 Greyfriars Vineyard “Cuvée Royale” Champagne Blend, Surrey, England
Light to medium gold in the glass with medium bubbles, this wine smells of honey-roasted nuts, wet leaves, and baked apples. In the mouth, baked apples, lemon rind, and salty roasted nuts have a nice lemony kick in the finish along with a hint of nut skin. A 50/5 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir fermented and aged in old oak barrels. All the wine was put through malolactic conversion. 6 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. 2400 bottles made. Price: £32.00

Wines With A Score Around 8

2015 Sugrue South Downs “Cuvée Boz” Brut Blanc de Blancs, Sussex/Hampshire, England
Pale yellow-gold in color with medium bubbles, this wine smells of baked apples and brown sugar. In the mouth, a coarse and robust mousse delivers flavors of lemon, pink grapefruit, green apple, and green apple skin in particular. Most of the flavors are front-loaded leaving the finish sort of airy and empty. Excellent acidity. 100% Chardonnay fermented and aged in steel, with no oak used. 9 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £59.00

Wines With A Score Between 7.5 And 8

2018 Biddenden Vineyards Demi-Sec Ortega, Kent, England
Pale greenish gold in the glass with coarse bubbles, this wine smells of white flowers, vanilla, and pastry cream. In the mouth, moderately sweet flavors of Asian pear, white flowers, and melon mix with a hint of wet dog, with a touch of bitterness in the finish. 48.3 g/l dosage. 12.5% alcohol. Price: £24.80

Pink Sparkling Wines

2018 Camel Valley Sparkling Rosé of Pinot Noir, Cornwall, England
Palest peachy pink in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of strawberries and raspberries in sweet cream. In the mouth, bright berry flavors mix with citrus on the back of a soft mousse. Bright citrusy notes linger in the finish with a hint of sweet white flowers. Spends 12 months on the lees. 1 g/l dosage. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Price: £36.00

Bottles of Dear Old Blighty: A Deep Tasting of British Wine

2016 Ridgeview “Rosé de Noirs” Rosé Champagne Blend, Sussex, England
A bright coppery pink in color with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of sea air, white flowers and berries, and some dried herbs. In the mouth, bright notes of raspberry and citrus peel mix with white flowers across a lovely crisp chalky backbone. Clean and somewhat crystalline in aspect. Nicely balanced. A saignee of 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Meunier. 10 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Score: around 9. Price: £50.00

NV Henners Vineyard Brut Rosé Champagne Blend, Sussex, England
Light peachy pink in the glass with medium bubbles, this wine smells of berries and peaches. In the mouth, a velvety mousse delivers flavors of peach, strawberry, and a touch of honey. Excellent acidity and just a hint of aromatic sweetness as peach notes linger in the finish. A blend of 65% Pinot Meunier and 35% Pinot Noir. Spends 18 months on the lees. 6.5 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Price: £29.95

2018 Tinwood Estate Rosé Champagne Blend, Sussex, England
A bright baby pink or pale ruby in color with just a hint of copper to it, this wine has moderately fine bubbles and aromas of berries and flowers. In the mouth, bright and crisp notes of strawberries and raspberries mix with citrus peel and a moderately coarse mousse. Good acidity. Clean and crisp. A blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 20% Meunier, and 10% Chardonnay. 10 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Price: £31.00

2016 Roebuck Estates “Rosé de Noirs” Rosé Champagne Blend, Sussex, England
Light peachy pink in color with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of wet leaves and orange peel. In the mouth, a voluminous mousse carries flavors of orange peel, raspberry, and a bit of redcurrant across the palate. Hints of more savory notes linger in the finish along with a nice sourish cherry quality. Contains 5% Pinot Précoce, also known as Fruhburgunder, and is partially fermented in oak. Ages for 36 months on the lees. 6 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Price: £40.00

2018 Bolney Wine Estate “Cuvée Rosé” Champagne Blend, Sussex, England
A light to medium coppery pink in color with coarse bubbles, this wine smells of strawberry jam and stone fruit. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of berries, a touch of citrus peel, and a hint of bubble gum are borne on a soft mousse. A blend of 65% Pinot Noir, 35% Pinot Meunier, and 5% Chardonnay. 8.6 g/l dosage. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Price: £38.00

2017 White Castle Vineyard “Esmae” Sparkling Rosé of Seyval Blanc, Wales, England
A light peachy color in the glass with medium bubbles, this wine smells of sweet berries and passionfruit. In the mouth, a mouth-filling mousse delivers faintly sweet flavors of passionfruit and white flowers across the palate with a hint of citrus peel lingering in the finish. Slightly candied in aspect, and likely appealing to many, it is a bit confection-like for me, with its powdered sugar note in the finish. A blend of 88% Seyval Blanc and 12% Regent. Spends 36 months on the lees. 7.6 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8. Price: £30.00

Still White Wines

Wines With A Score Between 8.5 And 9
Bottles of Dear Old Blighty: A Deep Tasting of British Wine

2020 Burn Valley Vineyard Pinot Blanc, Norfolk, England
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon and grapefruit pith. In the mouth, wonderfully bright and zesty lemon and grapefruit flavors have a nice pithy, chalky grip to them and a lovely almost saline quality to the excellent acidity. Quite tasty. 13% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Price: £18.99

2018 Balfour Hush Heath “Springfield” Chardonnay, Kent, England
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon zest, lemon oil, and white flowers. In the mouth, lemon and grapefruit pith have a nice mouthwatering acidity and chalky minerality. Excellent acidity and zippiness. Fermented in steel with 20% aged in a mixture of French and American oak barrels for 5 months before bottling. 12% alcohol. Price: £35.00

Wines With A Score Around 8.5

2019 Davenport Vineyards “Horsmonden Dry White” White Blend, Sussex, England
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of honeysuckle, wet chalkboard, and a hint of herbs. In the mouth, the wine is very fresh with bright acidity and a nice crisp white floral, Asian pear, and very faint melon quality to it. Lovely stony minerality. A blend of 33% Ortega 33% Bacchus 14% Sigerrebe and 20% Huxelrebe fermented with native yeasts. 10% of the blend is aged in oak foudres. 11.45% alcohol. Price: £15.95

2018 Stopham Vineyard Pinot Gris, Sussex, England
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of green apple and unripe pear. In the mouth, cut grass, green apple, pear, and a touch of white flowers have a nice chalky minerality and crisp acidity. Lean and quite zippy. Contains 10% Bacchus. 11.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Price: £15.95

2020 Bolney Wine Estate “Estate” Chardonnay, Sussex, England
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon blossom cut with just the barest hint of green grass. In the mouth, flavors of lemon pith, cut grass, Asian pear, and white flowers have a nice crisp brightness to them and a lovely underlying minerality. 10% of the wine was fermented in new French oak, with a few months on the lees before blending and filtering. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Price: £25.00

2020 Hattingley Valley Wines Chardonnay, Hampshire, England
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of slightly grassy lemon pith and unripe apples. In the mouth, crisp unripe apples, lemon pith, and a touch of pink grapefruit have a lean, bracing acidity and nice crisp minerality. 12.6% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Price: £19.50

2019 Vagabond Wines Chardonnay, England
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of toasted oak, vanilla, and citrus pith. In the mouth, toasty oak mixes with lemon pith and lemon oil with a nice acidity and stony minerality. I wish the wood were a bit less prominent because the fruit is quite nice in its lean citrus aspects. Aged in 20% new French oak. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. 125 cases made. Price: £15.00

Wines With A Score Between 8 And 8.5


2019 Chapel Down “Kit’s Coty Estate” Bacchus, Kent, England
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of lemon balm and white flowers, and a touch of other herbs. In the mouth, a hint of oak mixes with lime flower, wet pavement, and herbs. Excellent acidity. Fermented with native yeasts in French oak for 9 months. 12.6% alcohol. Price: £25.00

2019 Woodchester Vineyards “Culver Hill” White Blend, Gloucestershire, England
Palest gold, almost colorless in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers, lime zest, and green bell pepper. In the mouth, lime zest, green bell pepper, green apple, and a touch of floral notes have a nice crisp acidity and faint tannic, mineral backbone. A blend of 34% Ortega, 33% Bacchus, and 33% Seybal Blanc. 50% of the wine is barrel fermented. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Price: £12.95

2020 Heppington Vineyard Pinot Gris, Kent, England
Nearly colorless in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers, pears, and a hint of green herbs. In the mouth, pomelo pith and Asian pear are somewhat chalky and austere, with racy acidity and lean fruit qualities. Crisp, but could be a little more balanced. 12.3% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Price: £15.00

2020 LBW Drinks “Lyme Bay” Chardonnay, England
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemongrass, lime zest, and a touch of oak. In the mouth, faint notes of oak mix with crisp lime, cut grass, lemon pith, and a hint of vanilla. 13% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Price: £23.49

2019 Gusbourne “Bottom Camp Vineyard” Chardonnay, Kent, England
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of oak and white flowers. In the mouth, notes of candied green apple and white flowers have a nice crisp brightness and clean stony quality. The oak, which sticks out a bit on the nose is less prominent on the palate other than the faint grippy texture. Fermented in barrel and then aged for 10 months in 80% new French oak. Price: £20.00-£29.99

2019 Westwell Wine Estates “Amphora” Ortega, Kent, England
A cloudy light-to-medium gold in the glass, this wine smells of nothing so much as fresh horse dung at first. Shockingly so. Then with some air fruit begins to emerge from the deeply herbal, earthy blanket of aromas to give you orange peel and wet leaves. In the mouth, earthy wet leaf and damp soil flavors have hints of citrus peel and herbs, with a deeply stony character. Quite unusual. Fermented with wild yeasts on skins and aged in custom terracotta amphorae for 10 months before being bottled without filtration. Price: £25.00

Wines With A Score Around 8

2020 Itasca Wines/Penn Croft Bacchus, Hampshire, England
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers and tinned green beans. In the mouth, white flowers, cut grass, and a touch of capsicum have a nice acidity and minerality but not much excitement. Contains 7% Chardonnay. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Price: £10.00-£19.00

2019 Nutbourne Vineyards Bacchus, Sussex, England
Basically colorless, this wine smells of green bell pepper, green beans, and white flowers. In the mouth, green apple, white flowers, and green bean flavors have a crisp, dry mineral quality to them as wet chalkboard pervades the finish along with lime zest and green bell pepper. Very green. 12% alcohol. Price: £13.50

2018 Danbury Ridge Vineyards “Octagon Block” Chardonnay, Essex, England
Light yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of toasted oak and lemon curd. In the mouth, lemon curd and toasted oak flavors battle for your attention on the palate, with the wood eventually winning. Notes of vanilla and lemon curd linger in the finish along with a woody sensation. Overdone. Fermented in barrels and left on the lees for 18 months, plus another 12 months of aging before bottling. 14% alcohol. Comes in a specially made fluted glass bottle that weighs much more than it needs to. Price: £52.00

Wines With A Score Between 7.5 And 8

2020 Freedom of the Press Bacchus, Oxfordshire, England
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers and green bell pepper. In the mouth, lime zest, green bell pepper, and crushed stones have a brisk, if slightly dilute quality to them. Hints of lime pith and a touch of grapefruit linger with the capsicum note in the finish. Good acidity. Partially fermented in amphora. 12% alcohol. Price: £15.50

2020 LBW Drinks “Lyme Bay Winery Bacchus Block” Bacchus, Devon, England
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of green apple, passionfruit, and capsicum. In the mouth, faintly sweet white flowers, green bell pepper, and green apple flavors are crisp and clean with a nice mineral backbone. Decent acidity. A bit too vegetal. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Price: £17.00

2019 Vagabond Wines Bacchus, England
Essentially colorless in the glass, this wine smells of green apple, capsicum, and white flowers. In the mouth, faint floral notes mix with green apple and green herbs. Delicate acidity. Less vegetal than some other renditions of this grape but also somewhat dilute. 11.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Price: £15.00

2020 Hattingley Valley Wines “Entice” Bacchus, Hampshire, England
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of sweet white grapes. In the mouth, bright acidity accompanies too-achingly sweet flavors of white grapes, white flowers, sultanas, and candied oranges. 4 tons of Bacchus grapes are put in a walk-in freezer where they stay at minus 10 degrees for two weeks. The grapes are then gently pressed and fermented to essentially make an icewine. 126.18 g/l residual sugar. 10% alcohol. Price: £22.50

Wines With A Score Around 7.5

2020 Sandridge Barton Wines “Sharpham Bacchus – Stop Ferment” Bacchus, Devon, England
Essentially colorless in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers and green bell pepper. In the mouth, faintly sweet and slightly vegetal notes of bell pepper, candied green apple, and white flowers have a faint tannic grip to them. Good acidity with notes of lime. Too vegetal. 10% alcohol. Price:??

Still Pink Wines

Bottles of Dear Old Blighty: A Deep Tasting of British Wine

2020 Off The Line Vineyard “Hip Rosé” of Pinot Noir, Sussex, England
Pale pink in the glass with hints of orange, this wine smells of sappy orange peel and a hint of marijuana resin. In the mouth, juicy berry and citrus notes mix with some herbal notes and lovely bright acidity. Fermented in steel with lees stirring. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Price: £15.00

2020 Albury Organic Vineyard “Silent Pool” Rosé Blend, Surrey, England
A shiny coppery pink in color, this wine smells of strawberry and watermelon with hints of citrus peel. In the mouth, berries and orange peel have a nice crips brightness with just a hint of sweetness. Crisp and juicy, with a touch of tannic texture and a hint of dried herbs on the finish. Made with organic grapes. 55% Pinot Noir, 45% Pinot Meunier. 2 g/l residual sugar. 11% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Price: £18.95

2020 Yotes Court Vineyard “Best Turned Out” Rosé of Pinot Meunier, Kent, England
Palest pink in the glass, this wine smells of sweet berries and citrus peel. In the mouth, bright berry and citrus flavors have a nice crispness to them and excellent acidity. There’s little sense of the purportedly 5.6 g/l residual sugar. Clean and bright. 11.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Price: ??

2020 Folc Rosé Blend, England
A bright baby pink in the glass, this wine smells of citrus peel and herbs, with red berries. In the mouth, bright berries and citrus peel flavors have a hint of chalky texture to them and a touch of herbal qualities that linger in the finish. Good acidity. A blend of 53% Pinot Noir, 23% Meunier, 8% Chardonnay, 6% Bacchus, 6% Reichensteiner, 3% Schonburger, and 1% Dornfelder. 3 g/l residual sugar. 11% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Price: £15.99

2018 Bluebell Vineyard Estates “Ashdown” Rosé, Sussex, England
A bright orange-pink in the glass, this wine smells of wet leaves and dried citrus peel. In the mouth, that earthy, wet leaves quality continues with hints of citrus peel and dried herbs. Ends up being rather savory, with a faint tannic texture. 55% Pinot Noir, 45% Merlot. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8. Price: £15.95

Still Red Wines

Bottles of Dear Old Blighty: A Deep Tasting of British Wine

2020 Simpsons Wine Estate “Rabbit Hole” Pinot Noir, Kent, England
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of forest floor and red berries with a hint of vegetal green herbs. In the mouth, a lovely bright and pure raspberry and cranberry fruit are tinged new oak, but the fruit shines through, as does a nice herbal undertone. Good acidity, faint, velvety tannins. Ages for three months in 2-year-old French barrels. 1.7 g/l residual sugar. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Price: £26.00

2020 Biddenden Vineyards “Gribble Bridge” Dornfelder, Kent, England
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of oiled leather, a touch of barnyard, and blackberries. In the mouth, blackberry fruit has a soft tannic backbone and less acidity than I would like. There’s a hint of citrus along with the berries, and a faint note of earth in the finish. Ultimately a little flabby. 6.1 g/l residual sugar. 11% alcohol. Score: between 7.5 and 8. Price: £10.00-£19.99

2018 Chartham Vineyard Pinot Noir, Kent, England
A light ruby in the glass, light enough to almost be a rosé, this wine smells of tinned vegetables and wet earth. In the mouth, tart raspberry notes have at once a candied quality as well as an herbal savory note. Faint tannins. A bit too vegetal. Good acidity. 2.5 g/l residual sugar. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 7.5. Price: £16.95

2018 Danbury Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir, Essex, England
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of a touch of struck match and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, cranberry fruit is wrapped in a rather muscular fist of tannins, but the wood is better integrated here than the Octogon bottling below. Nonetheless, it seems to dampen the expression of the fruit, which comes across as more savory than bright. Aged for 12 months in oak. 13.5% alcohol. Comes in a fluted, custom-designed bottle much heavier than it needs to be. Score: around 7.5. Price: £34.00

2019 Gusbourne Pinot Noir, Kent, England
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells slightly of struck match and red fruits. In the mouth, raspberry and cranberry flavors are shot through with the flavors and tannins of oak, which turn somewhat aggressive in the end. Decent acidity, but feels heavy-handed. 828 and 777 clones fermented on their skins in steel, with 10 months spent in barrel. 0.5 g/l residual sugar. 12% alcohol. Score: between 7 and 7.5. Price: £33.00

2018 Divergent Drinks “Sov’ran” Cabernet Noir, England
Inky, opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raisins and licorice root. In the mouth, sawdust and brown sugar mix with raisins and licorice root with hints of incense. Leathery tannins, decent acidity. An odd flavor profile, however. 12% alcohol. Score: around 7. Price: £10.00-£19.99

2018 Whitehall Vineyard “Nethercote Hill” Red Blend, Wiltshire, England
Dark garnet in color this wine smells of blueberries and oak. In the mouth, somewhat syrupy notes of blue and black fruits are shot through with camphorwood and oak. Good acidity. A blend of 60% Rondo and 40% Pinot Noir. 3.6 g/l residual sugar.12.1% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 7. Price: £17.99

2020 Balfour Hush Heath “Luke’s” Pinot Noir, Kent, England
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of oak and red berries. In the mouth, both the flavor and texture of oak are dominant, with grippy tannins surrounding a core of raspberry and cranberry fruit. Too heavy-handed with wood for my taste. Decent acidity. 777 and 667 clones aged in a combination of French and American oak for 5 months. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 7. Price: £30.00

2018 Danbury Ridge Vineyards “Octagon Block” Pinot Noir, Essex, England
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of oak and cranberry, and brown sugar. In the mouth, bright cranberry and raspberry fruit are unfortunately wedged between two slabs of insistent wood, whose tannins grab hold of the tongue and don’t let go. Decent acidity. Aged for 18 months in oak. 13.5% alcohol. Comes in a fluted, custom-designed bottle much heavier than it needs to be. Score: around 7. Price: £55.00

2017 Sixteen Ridges Vineyard “Early Red” Pinot Noir Precoce, Worcestershire, England
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of incense and sawdust and mulling spices. In the mouth, flavors of brown sugar and mulling spices mix with forest floor and a touch of licorice along with dried cranberries. Lackluster. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 6.5 and 7. Price: £16.00

Featured image of Hambledon House vineyard at top courtesy of Hambledon House. All other images courtesy of Wines of Great Britain and their respective vineyards and noted copyright holders.

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 1/9/22

Hello and welcome to my weekly dig through the pile of wine samples that show up asking to be tasted. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

This past week brought an interesting set of wines from Spain and Italy to my kitchen table, along with one absolutely outstanding Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.

Let’s start with three wines I was particularly excited to receive recently. The estate of Parés Baltà in Spain’s Penedes (Cava) region, makes extremely soulful wines farmed biodynamically and organically. The wines are made by two young sisters-in-law, while the estate is run by their husbands and other members of the Cusiné family, who trace their winemaking heritage in the region back to 1790. I just adore the deeply mineral expressions of the Xarel-lo and their “Cosmic” blend of Xarel-lo and Sauvignon Blanc, and the “Indigena” Grenache basically explodes out of the glass with incredible aromatics. If you haven’t had wines from these folks, I recommend seeking them out. They’re not that expensive, but can be tricky to find.

I’ve written about the wines of Abel Mendoza before, who makes very clean natural wines (no added sulfur) deliberately outside of the Rioja classification. Mendoza ages his wines in French Oak and for shorter periods of time than is required for them to be labeled as Rioja Blanca, and he chooses to make single-variety wines labeled as such. I tasted three more of his whites this week, and found each delicious and compelling.

The folks at Château Moulin-à-Vent have been making a pretty big effort to market themselves to the US lately. Originally named Chateau des Thorins, with a history of making fine Gamays going back to 1732, the estate was renamed Château Moulin-à-Vent (after the nearby windmill) in 1924. The Moulin-à-Vent region of Beaujolais was given AOC status in 1936 with the identical namesake. This week I tasted a pair of wines that the estate sent for side-by-side tasting, the 2019 vintage and the 2009 vintage of their main Gamay bottling. They were clearly the same wine from the same place, but at very different points in their lives. The older wine had a slightly stinky nose, but resolved beautifully on the palate, remaining quite appealing in its old age. The younger wine was pretty and refined, and likely to more people’s taste.

The Bolgheri region of Tuscany became famous in the 1990s (and remains so) thanks to Sassicaia and a number of other high-profile Bordeaux-style blends that are made in the gravelly soils sloping down towards the Ligurian sea south of the city of Livorno. After Sassicaia was “discovered” prices for vineyards and the wines they produce shot sky high in a region that was charmingly rustic prior to that point. But there was a good reason for that. The warm weather and stony, well-drained soils provide an opportunity to make wines of great power and finesse, as many have proven. Tenuta Argentiera was established in 1999 and re-planted in 2000, incorporating the previously existing and long-standing estate Tenuta di Donoratico. The estate sent along three wines for me to try recently—their two flagship reds, and a less expensive red, all three of which are worth seeking out.

While the quality of the wines were quite high this week, with a significant deliciousness quotient, by far the highlight of the week was the newest release of Cabernet Sauvignon from Spottswoode. One of my favorite estates in Napa Valley, Spottswoode makes $230 Cabernets that easily compete with the valley’s $800 Cabernets. Even though they’re significantly less expensive than their peers, I still can’t afford to buy the wines myself, but that doesn’t keep me from adoring them. The 2018 that just hit the market recently may be one of the best bottles this estate has ever produced. Balanced, energetic, poised, and powerful (without being sweet, too rich, or overripe) this is what happens when Napa Cabernet gets classy. If you are in that small segment of wine drinkers or collectors who buys wines in this price class, I recommend going deep on this vintage of Spottswoode. It’s going to get better for a couple of decades and last for a few more than that. Yowza.

Tasting Notes

2020 Parés Baltà “Calcari” Xarel-lo, Penedes, Spain
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon pith, yellow plums and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, electrically bright candied lemon flavors are welded to an incredibly stony, cistern-deep minerality that is quite breathtaking. Faint saline notes linger in the finish. Fantastic acidity, and just a wonderful electrically bright quality to the wine. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $21. click to buy.

2020 Parés Baltà “Cosmic” White Blend, Penedes, Spain
Pale yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of crushed rocks, lemon pith, and green apple. In the mouth, green apple, lemon and wet pavement have a fantastic stony core. Excellent acidity and a nice faint tannic texture round out the wine. Immensely refreshing and crisp. A blend of 85% Xarel-lo and 15% Sauvignon Blanc. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $21. click to buy.

2020 Abel Mendoza Malvasia, Rioja, Spain
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of lemongrass, citrus pith and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, gorgeously saline flavors of lemon pith, grapefruit and wet chalkboard have a fantastic acidity and deeply wet-chalkboard minerality that lingers with a chalkiness in the mouth as the wine finishes crisp, clean and with just a hint of the vanilla of oak. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $50.

2020 Abel Mendoza Grenache Blanc, Rioja, Spain
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of pear, apricot, and star fruit with a hint of bruised apple. In the mouth, faintly saline flavors of peach, pear, and yellow plum have a lovely silky texture and excellent bright acidity. Complex and rich, but not overbearing, this is a delightful mouthful. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $50.

2020 Abel Mendoza Viura, Rioja, Spain
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of grapfruit pith and a hint of new oak. In the mouth, silky flavors of yellow plum, lemon curd, and the vanilla of oak have a nice rich weight to them as well as a bright salinity. Excellent acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50.

2019 Parés Baltà “Indigena” Grenache, Penedes, Spain
Light to medium ruby in the glass with just a hint of purple, this wine smells of aromatic herbs and berries. In the mouth, bright strawberry jam and hucklebery flavors are shot through with floral and herbal flavors that are very disarming, and a wonderful scent of thyme lingers in the finish, with a piney pungency. Fantastic acidity and barely perceptible tannins. A head turning wine to be sure. Extremely delicious. I recommend serving slightly chilled. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2019 Château du Moulin-à-Vent Moulin-à-Vent, Beajolais, Burgundy, France
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of saddle leather, dried herbs and berries. In the mouth, bright mulberry and herb flavors have a faintly meaty quality with hints of flowers. Excellent acidity and faint muscular tannins. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.

2009 Château du Moulin-à-Vent Moulin-à-Vent, Beajolais, Burgundy, France
A cloudy dark ruby in the glass, this wine smells of horse sweat and saddle leather and dried herbs. In the mouth, beautiful flavors of dried berries, forest floor and dried herbs mix with a very pretty umami quality somewhere between dashi and bone broth. Not nearly as funky on the palate as you’d have expected given its initial aromas. Nice acidity, very faint tannins. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.

2019 Tenuta Argentiera “Villa Donoratico” Bolgheri Rosso, Tuscany, Italy
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and vanilla. In the mouth, black cherry fruit dances right on the edge of being overripe, with hints of raisins in the mix, along with cola, cocoa powder, and vanilla. Smooth, with fine-grained, relatively restrained tannins and excellent acidity. A blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot aged in a mix of big and small barrels. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $42. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 1/9/22

2018 Tenuta Argentiera “Argentiera” Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cocoa powder. In the mouth, black cherry, cocoa powder, cola and dried herbs have a bright, lively acidity that brings more sour flavors of plum skin into the mix. Faint, fleecy tannins stiffen across the palate giving the wine an athletic, muscular quality. Notes of licorice root and bitter chocolate linger in the finish. A blend of 40% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc that ages in 50% new French oak barrels for 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $90. click to buy.

2019 Tenuta Argentiera “Poggio ai Ginepri” Bolgheri Rosso, Tuscany, Italy
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of chopped green herbs and cherries and blackberries. In the mouth, bright blackberry and black cherry flavors have a nice herbal brightness, made juicy with excellent acidity. Hints of dried and fresh herbs, along with licorice and black cherry linger in the finish with just a tiny hint of salinity. Faint, putty-like tannins. Tasty. A blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot. Half the wine is aged in oak, the other half in steel. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2018 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Inky, opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, earth, and flowers. In the mouth, gorgeous black cherry, plum, violets and dried herbs have an incredibly brisk freshness thanks to outstanding acidity. Gorgeous hints of earth, carob and licorice root linger with cola nut in the finish. Supple, muscular, but impeccably refined tannins run through the wine like a satin sheet pulled taut across a shapely body. Striking and fabulous. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $235. click to buy.

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Armenian Apex: The Wines of Zorah

When I first wrote about the wines of Zorah in 2013, most people had never heard of wine from Armenia. Until Zorik Gharibian introduced himself to me and poured me a taste during my visit to Turkey for a wine communication conference, I hadn’t heard of wine from Armenia either.

But in the years since, Armenian wine has undergone something of a rebirth, thanks in no small part to Gharibian’s pioneering work as the founder and proprietor of Zorah Wines, an estate that continues to demonstrate the promise and potential of Armenian wine. When Gharibian began his odyssey, which I chronicled in my 2013 writeup of his wines, there were no other commercial wine ventures active in the country. Now there are several, and the streets of the capital are apparently rife with wine bars celebrating the products of the country’s ancient wine-growing heritage.

The mountainous terrain of Armenia

Armenia holds not one, but two, particular distinctions in the human history of wine. Firstly, that the earliest known archaeological evidence of commercial winemaking was discovered in a cave in Armenia, dating back to approximately 5000 BC. And secondly, that DNA evidence points to the area occupied by modern-day Armenia and the Republic of Georgia as the likely place that the ancestors of today’s fine wine grapes were first domesticated.

I had the opportunity to check in with Zorik Gharibian recently after receiving samples of his recent releases and to hear how his incredibly ambitious and dedicated project is going.

“Everything is movement in Armenia,’ says Gharibian. “We are here, and we are doing what we do. There is no precedent. We have no neighbors to watch, there is no path. Everything we do is by experimentation and trying to match things together.”

Armenian Apex: The Wines of Zorah

Raiders of the Lost Varieties

Gharibian’s latest obsession is ferreting out as many native grape varieties from old, decrepit backyard vineyards that he can find.

“My latest project I am calling the Zorah Heritage Project,” he explains. “It will be a collection of different wines, all native varieties. Luckily we have plenty. We started with 8 or 9 different ones, and are narrowing them down.”

The first wine to be released from this experimentation is Gharibian’s bottling of Chilar.

“There is no one vineyard dedicated to this variety,” says Gharibian. “We are literally picking bunches here and there from among rows to make the first wine. Now we have propagated it and planted a small portion of a vineyard. The idea is to save this variety from extinction.”

Armenian Apex: The Wines of Zorah

The second wine will be a tannic red variety called Syreni, but it will also incorporate a white variety named Ararati, says Gharibian, “to give it some lift and energy.”

“We’re adding one or two hectares of vines each year,” says Gharibian. “It’s not mathematics and I don’t have a plan in my head. I want to keep space reserved for new varieties, and not go to too many extremes. The Heritage line will be four or five thousand bottles, maximum.”

The Amphora Obsession

When he began, Gharibian explored aging wines in oak, but quickly found that it obliterated the character of the indigenous grapes. Inspired by the ancient archaeological evidence nearby showing terracotta wine vessels, Gharibian went down the rabbit hole of fermenting and aging in amphorae, which quickly led to the even deeper hole of locally produced amphorae.

“What I am thinking for my next project is the revival of the craft of making karasi,” says Gharibian. “I have to make this a reality. I want to create a school and a building where we can teach and produce karasi for the local market, and who knows, even for export. And in this same building I want to have an exhibition place that tells the story of Armenian winemaking.”

Gharibian goes on to explain that Armenia clearly had a strong history and tradition of crafting amphorae that have been entirely lost.

“It is a shame for Armenia that we have totally lost this tradition,” he says, explaining that he has submitted it and been shortlisted as an example of an endangered cultural heritage with the Europa Nostra project.

“Our Karasis they have specificity,” continues Gharibian. “Amphorae exist in other countries but I believe the tradition of aging wines in amphora, my forefathers took the best from other countries and made their own. They perfected it.”

“When I first became obsessed with amphoras, I didn’t know how to do it, and what was the best way,” says Gharibian. “I just went from village to village collecting the best examples I could find. I started by filling them above ground. Then I buried them. But the more I learned about the golden age of our winemaking 3000 years ago, and began to see photos of winemaking excavations the more I realized that my ancestors had decided that the best way was to have three-quarters of the amphora underground and one quarter above ground.”

Armenian Apex: The Wines of Zorah

As evidence, Gharibian sends me a photograph of an archaeological site dating to roughly 700 BCE where more than 500 intact or nearly-intact amphorae were discovered in one spot. A clear line divides the more highly decorated “above ground” portion of the amphora from the rougher, buried portion.

“After experimenting, I realized this is the best of both worlds,” says Gharibian excitedly. “When you have the amphora buried completely, you get a constant temperature, but you lose control and it is very hard to make an inspection of the wine. When the amphora is above ground, micro-ox is fast. But when you are 25% out, you can inspect the wine easily, plus you have that slightly different temperature of the part above ground, and so it creates this fluid cycle that causes more mixing. I haven’t seen this partially-buried approach written about anywhere, and I think this is specific to Armenia.”

Armenian Apex: The Wines of Zorah

Tribute to Time

One of the things that Gharibian told me about when we first met was this ancient vineyard he had discovered, purchased, and slowly nursed back to life, at 1600 meters of elevation in the mountains near a remote village.

It took some time to rehabilitate the vines, and then even more time to make and age a wine that Gharibian thought was a fitting tribute to vines that might be as much as 200 years old.

Armenian Apex: The Wines of Zorah
The ancient vines of Yeraz

“I was trying to understand from the villagers, and talking to these 80- and 90-year-old people who were telling me that this vineyard was already old when they were little kids,” says Gharibian. “I kept telling [grape geneticist] José Vouillamoz we have to find out how old they are, and he stopped me and said, ‘what does it really matter if they are 150 or 200 years old? They’re old.'”

The wine Gharibian makes from these vines is known as Yeraz, and when he finally released it last year, he commemorated the occasion by climbing Mount Ararat with a group of friends.

“It’s the same grape, Areni, that is part of our Karasi wine,” explains Gharibian, “but when they say that age has a certain wisdom with grapes, you see that in Yeraz. They are the same family, but these vines have taken a different path.”

Gharibian ferments the fruit in concrete and then ages it in amphora, with a small portion aged in large oak casks, “Just to work on the tannins,” he says. “The wine ends up completely different.”

The wine ages for quite some time in amphora, and then longer in the bottle. The currently released vintage is 2016.

Armenian Apex: The Wines of Zorah

The Pull of Armenia

When I first met Gharibian, he was a fashion executive, living and working in Milan, and then jetting over to Armenia when he could find the time. But in the past 8 years, things have shifted for him.

“My fashion business was becoming not so exciting anymore,” admits Gharibian. “Even though the wine was financed by the fashion, wine was giving me much more satisfaction, and taking all my energy and thinking. I’ve realized in the last 2 years that I am spending more time in Armenia and traveling for wine than I am spending in Italy. So now I am building a house in the vineyard. My wife is certain that in a few years I will be here full time. As more time passes, Armenia becomes more important to me.”

Recent events have brought clarity and pain to that realization for Gharibian. When I spoke with him, it was the one-year anniversary of the death of several people related to his winery staff in the ongoing border conflict with Azerbaijan.

“Personally, as an Armenian, I am hurt by this conflict as you cannot imagine,” says Gharibian. “We are a peaceful people who have lived here for millennia. Everyone knows we are the native people of this region. But we continue to be peaceful and we continue to lose territory. The tragedy is that no one knows about Armenians. But one thing I know is that we shouldn’t cry about the past. We should get more organized, focus, create a good economy in Armenia, good education for the next generation, and keep remaining Armenians.”

Armenian Apex: The Wines of Zorah
Zorik Gharibian

Garibian, thus far, seems to be doing far more than his part to make that happen. While Zorah has been joined by several other high-profile winemaking ventures, all seeking to raise the profile of Armenian wine globally, Zorah remains at the pinnacle of both quality and passion when it comes to Armenian wine.

These incredibly impressive wines represent a kind of frontier in the world of wine, one that rewards the most intrepid of wine lovers with simultaneously a taste of the past, and a vision of the future. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

Armenian Apex: The Wines of Zorah
The current Zorah lineup

Tasting Notes

2019 Zorah “Heritage” Chilar, Armenia
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of peach and banana and a touch of pastry cream. In the mouth, it is quite creamy, and a bit weighty on the palate, with flavors of tropical fruits like Jackfruit and Cherimoya, and a hint of peach, and perhaps not quite enough acidity to make it truly lively. But it’s always fun to try wines made from grapes that most people haven’t heard of or tasted. Made from 100% Chilar, an indigenous Armenian grape. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2019 Zorah “Voski” White Blend, Armenia
Light straw in color, this wine smells of Asian pears and white flowers, and unripe apples. In the mouth, silky flavors of apple, pastry cream, white flowers, and a hint of grapefruit have a nice bright briskness thanks to excellent acidity and a nice rich complexity. Quite pretty. A blend of 50% Voskehat and 50% Garandmak. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.

2019 Zorah “Karasi” Areni Noir, Armenia
Dark garnet in color, this wine has a spicy aroma of mulberries, blackberries, and a touch of incense. In the mouth, perfumed fruit flavors of blackberry, blueberry, and mulberry swirl with floral notes and a touch of dried herbs. Silky but with excellent acidity. Alluring. Grown at 4600 feet above sea level. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $39. click to buy.

2014 Zorah “Yeraz” Areni Noir, Armenia
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of red apple skin and mulling spices. In the mouth, silky flavors of red apple skin, dried berries, dried flowers, and hints of stone fruit are gorgeously wrapped in a gauzy, wispy haze of tannins that just barely tickle the palate. Lovely. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $135. click to buy.

Images courtesy of Zorah Wines.

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Tasting Natural Beauty: The Wines of Rippon

When I was first learning the little bit of Japanese that I speak, I was interested in adjectives. Maybe it’s the writer in me, but I always want to know how to describe something effectively. My explorations of Japanese gardens, temples, and the deeply aesthetic crafts of that culture all but required me to know how to describe something as beautiful. That Japanese word is kirei. You would use it to describe a flower, a painting, or your lover.

But there’s another word for beauty that is reserved for things that transcend normal beauty and touch something deeper in us. The best translation of utsukushii I ever heard was “sublime” but that only captures part of the soul-stirring, divine beauty that I’ve seen my Japanese friends trying to describe when explaining the word to me.

If you’re a wine lover, there’s one place in the world that captures this essence more than any other. For shorthand, I personally refer to it as the most beautiful vineyard in the world. I’d almost be prepared to defend that claim with my fists. But that doesn’t really do it justice. No, utsukushii seems to be about right for Rippon.

A Place of Refuge

When you ask Nick Mills to tell you the story of Rippon, he tells you the story of the place. He’s not likely to begin with himself growing up on the family farm. It takes him a while to get to the 4 generations of his family that lived and worked on the edge of Wanaka Lake in the mountains of Central Otago. The establishment of Wanaka as sheep station in the mid-1860s isn’t far back enough, nor are the seasonal encampments of the native Maori people. No, when Nick Mills talks about the land under his (usually) bare feet, he starts at the very beginning.

“If New Zealand came up out of the ocean, whatever came here had to fly or to swim,” he says. “Maybe we had two bats and a seal. But no grazing mammals. What we did end up having were flightless chickens, and a lot of things happened out of that.”

Mills goes on to explain how predations by the native Moa helped many of the early plants of New Zealand to divaricate, or to form structures where their soft fleshy bits were on the inside, while their outsides got tough, stiff, and spiny. Many a bush-wacker in New Zealand has learned first-hand the uncompfortable results of divarication.

‘This is a hard land,’ says Mills. ‘A rough and tumble place that isn’t easy to live. There aren’t many carbohydrates, and there aren’t big animals to hunt.’ The implications for the native Maori being the absence of thick pelts to deal with the cold, and the need to have access to the coast to fish. Which means, mostly, they stayed out of the chilly mountains.

‘This,’ he says, sweeping his arm to take in one of the most stunning landscapes you’ll ever hope to see, ‘was summer camp. The Maori used to come up to these inland hinterlands to collect pounamu [greenstone] and hunt for game. The families would stay here by the lake, and while the men hunted, the women would teach their children hunting, fishing, and gathering. It’s a place of rest and education. Wanaka and wananga have the same root: school, workshop, education.’

Mills is unflinching as he goes on to describe the tumultuous history of the place his family calls home—the ambush and eating of the southern Maori by the northern island war chief Te Puoho, the retaliation and massacre by the southern tribes, the European settlement and parcellation of native lands—but eventually he arrives at the point where most winemakers would begin their story: the 100 years that the Mills family has spent as farmers on this little patch of ground.

This history, in a way, tells you almost everything you need to know about Nick Mills and the depth at which he feels his connection to the place from which he coaxes some of New Zealand’s most profound wines. It’s an awareness of place that transcends the scale of human lifetimes, and an appreciation for everything that has gone into producing the soil he works, since the beginning of time.

“It’s a piece of land first. I see it as a unique individual. The craft is about the land,” he says. “It’s about looking after that land, which is what us humans have to stand behind right now.”

It’s also what humans literally have to stand upon. Mills once spoke perhaps one of the most profound narratives I’ve heard about wine a number of years ago at the New Zealand Pinot Noir event in Wellington, as he explained his understanding of the Maori term turangawaewae, which literally translates to “a place to put your feet,” but is infinitely more personal and complex, as you will appreciate if you click that link.

Tasting Natural Beauty: The Wines of Rippon

The Shaping of Rippon

The family farm gradually became the family vineyard, beginning in the 1970s.

“Dad went off to World War II in submarines,” says Mills. “He came back via Portugal. He saw schist in the Douro and when he came home, he noticed the resemblance and basically started planting everything he could find, even while people were telling him nothing would work. I remember taking cuttings during many of my school holidays.”

From the 25 varieties that Rolf “Tinker” Mills planted, roughly 80% on their own roots, six varieties ended up being the right ones for the sloping hills of decomposed schist kept just a little bit warm by the lake: Pinot Noir, Gamay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, and Osteiner. The latter is an exceedingly rare cross between Riesling and Sylvaner of which there are perhaps 2 hectares grown in the world, one of which is at Rippon.

When Nick and his wife Jo took over from his father in 2003, the vineyard already had nearly 30 years of dry-farmed, organic cultivation, without the use of pesticides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers. The younger Mills immediately began the process of converting to biodynamics, which was accomplished in short order.

Tasting Natural Beauty: The Wines of Rippon
The schist at Rippon

Apart from selecting the vines and maintaining the health of the soils, Mills tries to let the place shape the wines. He’s lucky enough to have been born someplace quite suited for it.

Lake Wanaka sits in a small basin within the Southern Alps mountain range in the center of New Zealand’s south island. The Central Otago wine region is the only part of the country that can be said to have a continental (as opposed to coastal) climate, with hot summers, cold winters, and a noticeable lack of rainfall. While the Roaring Forties (strong westerly weather fronts between the 40th and 50th southern parallels) bring massive amounts of rain to the western coast of New Zealand’s south island, the alpen rain shadow keeps most of that moisture from the interior.

The lake itself is a large thermal mass that further moderates the temperature, giving the plants just that little bit of extra warmth they need to avoid the hardest freezes of the winter. Consequently there’s less diurnal shift than in other parts of Central Otago, and Mills says his grapes tend to ripen with lower potential alcohol than in other regions of the South Island, and ultimately yield paler, less intensely pigmented grapes.

The massive outcrops of decomposing schist provide a mineral-rich, inorganic substrate for the vine roots to explore, with shallow topsoils of glacial and alluvial origin adding yet more rock to the mix.

And then, of course, there’s the view. What vine wouldn’t thrive on that alone?

Tasting Natural Beauty: The Wines of Rippon
Looking across Rippon towards Lake Wanaka in mid-summer

Listening For the Land’s Voice

Since taking over from his father in 2003, Mills has had a singular focus when it comes to winemaking: allowing the place he lives to express itself through wine.

As you might expect for a long-time biodynamic producer, nothing is added to Rippon wines save a small amount of sulfur. The grapes, if they are crushed, are crushed by foot, and the whites ferment in horizontal fermenters to maximize lees contact. There’s no temperature control.

In years when Mills believes the fruit from his oldest vines is totally pristine, he will make wines without any added sulfur at all, labeling those wines “bequest.”

“Sometimes nature grants us the opportunity to make something special,” says Mills. “We’ve been bequeathed an opportunity, and we don’t take it for granted. The only way we’ll make a so-called ‘natural wine’ is if we can make a truly fine wine naturally. In 2013 and 2016 everything came together like that.”

Mills has strong feelings about winemaking, something he has long done intuitively, rather than by any standard formula. If the Gewürztraminer ferments finish early, he’ll sometimes throw the lees into the Riesling fermenter. He’s been known to take a hose tocapture the carbon dioxide coming off one fermenter and then bubble it through another wine just beginning to ferment. To Mills, flavor is not nearly as important as texture.

“Fruit is what gets the bird to eat the seed. It’s what brings us to the wine, of course,” says Mills. “That’s important, but the truth of the fruit is the seed, the genetic material the vine can issue. The transmission to seed is very important, you might say it’s the whole purpose of terroir. You can’t really taste and smell a seed. But seeds make form and shape. I’m really driven much more by dry matter and texture and elasticity than I am by smells and flavors. This is what dry-farming, and own-rooted vines do—they drive energy into the skins and seeds of the grape.”

He continues, “For me wine is a digestive. It’s for the human body. Sure, aromatics and olfactory stimulus are brilliant, but that’s not so important.Keynotes, esters, aromatics, they aren’t the healthy stuff.. Wine is a tonic. It’s something you’re giving to your body, it needs amino acids broken down to glutamates. When we first had wine, wine was a food. You bought it, drank it until it became vinegar and then you used that too. I would rather have a wine that is about digestion than one that is about olfactory stimulus.”

Mills makes his wines in a relatively compact, modest cellar that honestly isn’t much more than a shack. Separate blocks of the vineyard are picked and fermented separately. Each fermenter or batch of wine is given a name starting with a sequential letter of the alphabet, and then each barrel of wine from that fermenter gets a corresponding unique name, often a play on words. When I visited the “Easter” fermenter had spawned barrels named “Bunny” and “Island” while the Jack fermenter begat “O Lantern” and “Knife.”

Most of the fruit from the main vineyard, Tinkers Field, gets blended together and simply becomes a Rippon “Mature Vine” wine, with the younger vines bottled separately under the moniker “Jeunesse.” A small block of the oldest vines is labeled as “Tinker’s Field” each year, and another block is bottled separately as “Emma’s Block,” named after the Nick’s great-great-great grandmother, who was the first in the family to take the surname Mills.

More Than Beauty in a Bottle

I adore the wines of New Zealand, but Rippon’s wines hold a special place in my heart. I won’t demean the uniqueness of the place by trying to find some analogy to convey the special quality of the site that Mills has made his life’s work. There simply is no place like Rippon, and there are no other wines like Rippon in New Zealand, or the world.

This isn’t a revelatory statement. In the upper echelons of the wine world, it’s pretty well accepted that Rippon stands apart.

But that doesn’t mean Mills has an easy time selling his wines.

“It’s like we’re starting with a severe handicap,” muses Mills. “It makes me grumpy. I know where our wines sit in the context of the world. I’ve traveled, I’ve tasted, I’ve worked, and I know just how well these wines express their place. Yet somehow, in many places, we’re not taken as seriously as wines from the ‘Old World.’ I sometimes think it’s unfortunate that New Zealand has that word ‘New’ in it.’

Don’t get him started on geographic prejudice.

“Honestly, sometimes I have sommeliers tell me that they ‘don’t do southern hemisphere wines,’ as if it’s a real thing instead of some imaginary line humans invented. This craft is universal, and my peers don’t have a country. We’re all just people who believe in growing the soil and guiding the living tissue of that soil into something we can taste or feel.”

When someone who appreciates the qualities of his wine still won’t buy it, Mills feels it like a gut-punch.

“This isn’t for me. It’s far beyond us. It’s not about building our brand. There’s greater things at stake here than whether people buy the wine or not. Rippon is a piece of land that is worth holding on to, worth protecting. It warrants the care we’re giving it over generations. But in order for people to look after a piece of land the market has to stand behind them. All that brand stuff is fine and good, but at a deeper level, this is about giving people the ability to make a living and stay on the land, to help it reach its potential through the culture that is developed on it.”

It’s not hard to sense the depth of Mills’ passion in the wines themselves. They are as honest as they are complex, seemingly unvarnished while also being incredibly refined. They don’t wear makeup because they don’t need any, lacking any pretentions towards perfection.

I’ve enoyed Rippon’s wines for years, but I hadn’t had older vintages until my visit, and they were frankly revelatory. These are wines that age incredibly well, blossoming into technicolor auroras of flavor and aroma, irrespective of Mills’ focus on texture. As if the beauty was there, just waiting to emerge.

“I’m just receiving the information we’ve been given by the land, and issuing it through a craft,” says Mills. “The place sends us in a certain way. For me this is doing justice to the farm and to the place.”

If there were ever any wine that could do justice to the sublime beauty of a place, it’s a bottle of Rippon.

Tasting Natural Beauty: The Wines of Rippon
Nick and Jo Mills

Tasting Notes

These wines are made in very small quantities, and not all wines make it to the US. Pretty much only the current release wines are findable online. I have provided links to buy where available. The wines are imported by Wine Dogs Imports.

2018 Rippon “Mature Vine” Riesling, Wanaka, Central Otago, New Zealand
Light straw-gold in color, this wine smells of tangerine zest and tangerine oil. In the mouth, pear and orange peel mix with a touch of baked apple and the sneaky brightness of grapefruit that emerges as the wine moves across the palate. Excellent acidity and distinctive character. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $32. click to buy.

2014 Rippon “Mature Vine” Riesling, Wanaka, Central Otago, New Zealand
Light blonde in color, this wine smells of mandarin zest, Asian pears, and honeysuckle. In the mouth, gorgeously stony flavors of wet chalkboard, pink grapefruit pith, and mandarin oranges have a bright honeysuckle sweetness as they head through a long finish. Stupendous acidity. 11% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $32.

2013 Rippon “Mature Vine” Riesling, Wanaka, Central Otago, New Zealand
Pale blonde in color, this wine smells of mandarin zest and a hint of paraffin and Asian pear. In the mouth, delicate flavors of mandarin zest and lemon pith mix with crushed stone. Softer acidity than the ’14 vintage, with a beautiful liquid stone quality. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $32.

2019 Rippon Gewurztraminer, Wanaka, Central Otago, New Zealand
Pale straw in color, this wine smells of orange peel and unripe peaches. In the mouth, crisp orange peel, citrus pith, and faint peachy and lychee flavors are backed by stony brightness and good acidity. There’s a light tannic chalkiness to the texture. Lean for the variety, and quite easy to drink. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $32. click to buy.

2016 Rippon Gewurztraminer, Wanaka, Central Otago, New Zealand
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and dried orange peel. In the mouth, crushed stone, orange peel, and a hint of lychee are welded to a chalky, tannic backbone. Good acidity and bright. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $32.

2016 Rippon Osteiner, Wanaka, Central Otago, New Zealand
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, Asian pear, and white flowers. In the mouth, a bright lemony explosion in the mouth gushes with pink grapefruit and lemon juice. Fantastic brightness and juiciness. Love it. 23-year-old, own-rooted, dry-farmed vines of the variety known as Osteiner, which is a cross between Riesling and Sylvaner. 11.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $32.

Tasting Natural Beauty: The Wines of Rippon

2017 Rippon “Mature Vine” Pinot Noir, Wanaka, Central Otago, New Zealand
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of dried herbs and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, dried herbs and flowers mix with raspberry and redcurrant flavors shot through with a touch of cedar. Earthier notes add a dusty quality, while the faintest of gauzy tannins caress the mouth. Fantastic acidity leaves a wonderful citrusy brightness in the finish along with a hint of dusty earth. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.

2013 Rippon “Mature Vine” Pinot Noir, Wanaka, Central Otago, New Zealand
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet earth and forest berries. In the mouth, gorgeous savory cherry and raspberry flavors are shot through with a hint of citrus peel. Fantastic acidity keeps the wine lush and fresh across the palate, emphasizing the wet-chalkboard minerality and letting the berry, herb, and floral notes soar for a long time in the finish. Powdery tannins, beautifully fine. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $90.

2012 Rippon “Mature Vine” Pinot Noir, Wanaka, Central Otago, New Zealand
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of dried flowers and raspberries and forest floor. In the mouth, juicy, bright raspberry and redcurrant flavors have a deep crushed stone and forest floor backbone. Powdery tannins billow around the edges of the mouth as the fantastic acidity makes the wine dance across the palate. Lovely dried herb and citrus peel notes linger in the finish along with that pulverized rock that is so enthralling. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $90.

2010 Rippon “Mature Vine” Pinot Noir, Wanaka, Central Otago, New Zealand
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of fantastically perfumed dried flowers, forest floor, and crushed mixed berries. In the mouth, juicy mulberry and black raspberry fruit seems strained through crystalline quartz (or schist as the case may be) as it soars through an incredibly perfumed finish. Deeply mineral, with fantastic acidity and muscular tannins that are starting to lounge their way into a beautiful structural support for the fruit. Hints of dried herbs linger in the finish with citric notes. Stunning. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $90.

2008 Rippon “Mature Vine” Pinot Noir, Wanaka, Central Otago, New Zealand
Light to medium ruby in the glass with still a hint of purple, this wine smells of red apple skin, raisins, dried cherries, and forest floor. In the mouth, sweet raspberry and cherry fruit mix with cedar, nutmeg, and dried red apple skin for a beautifully mouthwatering mélange of fruit and spice and earth. Is this wine at its peak? I don’t know. But I love the heights it takes me to. Utterly compelling, complex, and commanding attention. 13.5% alcohol. (Tasted out of 375ml) Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $90.

2013 Rippon “Emma’s Block” Pinot Noir, Wanaka, Central Otago, New Zealand
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of dried herbs, dried flowers, and forest berries. In the mouth, gorgeous wet-chalkboard minerality underlies pure and clear flavors of raspberry, mulberry, and redcurrant. Dried flowers and herbs soar through the finish while powdery tannins grip the edges of the mouth. Fantastic length. Amazing acidity. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $100.

2013 Rippon “Tinker’s Field” Pinot Noir, Wanaka, Central Otago, New Zealand
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of forest floor and berries. In the mouth, very tightly wound flavors of black raspberry and raspberry leaf have a muscular tannic structure to them that speaks of the need for time to mature in the bottle. Excellent acidity and length with notes of green herbs lingering in the finish with a deep pure wet pavement minerality. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $100.

2013 Rippon “Tinker’s Bequest” Pinot Noir, Wanaka, Central Otago, New Zealand
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of rich forest berries and deep loam. In the mouth, gorgeously bright and pure mulberry and cranberry flavors seem strained through powdered rock. There’s definitely a hint of the carbonic grapeyness you’d find in Beaujolais, but with the depth and complexity of Pinot fruit. Fine-grained muscular tannins persist for a long time in the finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $120.

2015 Rippon Gamay, Wanaka, Central Otago, New Zealand
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright mulberry and cherry fruit. In the mouth, stony flavors of mulberry and cherry, and strawberry have a wonderful fine powdery tannic skein to them and bright juicy core thanks to excellent acidity. Incredibly easy to drink and beautifully balanced. 28-year-old vines – 12 rows in Tinker’s Field – somewhere between 30 and 80 cases made each year. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $60.

The post Tasting Natural Beauty: The Wines of Rippon appeared first on Vinography.

Poised for Greatness: Tasting The Evolution of Anderson Valley

Given all the fuss that has been made about Pinot Noir in the post-Sideways era, you would think that Mendocino’s Anderson Valley might have eked out a bit more mindshare in the brains of wine lovers, along with the attention being given to other sources of great Pinot right now, such as Santa Barbara, the Sonoma Coast, and the Santa Cruz Mountains.

But somehow, this tiny wine region’s reputation, not to mention awareness, for consumers remains throttled by at least two main natural constraints: being an hour farther from San Francisco than Russian River Valley wine country (decidedly not on a major thoroughfare), and the dearth of fancy places to stay and eat when you’re done with your day of wine tasting.

Those in the know (or simply intrepid enough) who venture over the Yorkville Highlands and down into the idyllic, quiet green of Anderson Valley can discover something that most of the state’s top winemakers have known for years. It’s one of the best places to grow Pinot Noir on the planet.

Lichen Winery in Booneville, photographed by Seth Lowe.

A World Apart

Every time I make my way down the winding curves of Highway 128 into Anderson Valley, I am struck by just how different it feels from the wide-open river flats and hills of the Sonoma appellations from which I came. The light is different, the scale of the landscape is different. There’s an arboreal intimacy to Anderson Valley unlike any other place in California Wine Country.

Only 1 mile across and roughly 15 miles long, bounded to the northeast and southwest by heavily wooded ridges, this little valley carved by the Navarro River feels diminutive, precious, and a little wild—like you’ve discovered someplace secretly special.

Compared to just about any other California coastal wine region, that’s almost certainly true. Distinctly more rural, less populated, and less wealthy than other coastal wine country destinations, Anderson Valley sports less than 150 hotel rooms and a mere 8 sit-down restaurants (two of which only serve breakfast and lunch).

This little valley carved by the Navarro River feels diminutive, precious, and a little wild—like you’ve discovered someplace secretly special.

Local zoning laws prevent short-term rentals and make the creation of grand winery architectural statements (let alone buildings with multiple stories) all but impossible. The lack of city-like infrastructure for water and sewage, not to mention internet and electricity, dramatically limits whatever growth the strict local laws and preferences might allow.

Anderson Valley towns are more like villages, and the wineries more like farms with tasting rooms than thriving tourist destinations. In a way, the valley has managed to preserve a sense of how California’s wine country used to be, before wine and wine tourism became big business. Because, for the most part, wine is not yet big business in Anderson Valley.

While the sparkling winery Roederer Estate farms 620 acres of vineyards in the valley, and Jackson Family Wines farms more than 300, most people own less than 20 acres of vineyards, and 1/3 of the vineyard properties in the valley are less than 5 acres in size.

The entire AVA is a mere 2500 acres, split among roughly 90 different vineyards. Roughly 30 wineries make their home in the valley, while the grapes from the 2017 vintage were purchased and bottled by more than 110 wineries located outside the valley.

Poised for Greatness: Tasting The Evolution of Anderson Valley
Looking northwest towards the coast on the southern edge of Anderson Valley

A Long Quiet History

The Anderson Valley was first planted with grapes in 1894 by Italian immigrants who came over the hill and settled in the valley named after early pioneer Walter Anderson, who arrived in 1851. And while wine was certainly made in the valley during the early part of the 20th century, things didn’t really get going until after the repeal of Prohibition.

New vineyards were planted by farmers in the 1940s and 1950s, with middling results, often due to poor choice of grape varieties. But the first real efforts to make wine in the valley weren’t until 1964 when Dr. Donald Edmeades, a physician from Southern California, planted 24 acres of grapes under a sign that read “Edmeades’ Folly.”

Edmeades was joined by the Husch family a few years later, and the modern era of Anderson Valley wine was born. Navarro Vineyards started in the early 1970s, and as these three made better and better wines, the industry’s reputation and population grew.

Several well-known Anderson Valley names arrived in the 1980s, including Milla Handley, who, as one of the first women to graduate with an Enology degree from UC Davis, got her first job working for Edmeades.

But the most significant event of those times was the entrance of Champagne Louis Roederer in 1982, who cannily recognized that the unusually cool valley was perfect for the high-acid, early-picked grapes needed for sparkling wine.

For a long while (and, it might well be argued, still to this day) the best Anderson Valley wines, in particular, Pinot Noirs, were usually made by wineries located outside the valley.

Around this time, the region applied for and received its American Viticultural Area designation, listing 6 wineries, 16 vineyards, and 582 acres under vine.

The Roederer purchase had a seismic impact on the valley (and frankly on California wine as a whole), resulting in a significant influx of new wineries and the planting of many more vineyards in the 80s and 90s. By then, these vineyards tended to be focused on either a more Germanic (or Alsatian) angle, with Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris, or, alternatively, on Pinot Noir.

Thanks to pioneering efforts in the 1980s by names such as Williams-Selyem and Merry Edwards, California Pinot Noir had become “a thing.” In the early 1990s, many of those who were (or who would become) the most famous names in California Pinot Noir began sourcing grapes from Anderson Valley or occasionally purchasing vineyards outright.

Despite increasingly appearing on the labels of wines costing $100 or more, Anderson Valley remained something of a sleepy little slice of wine country.

Poised for Greatness: Tasting The Evolution of Anderson Valley

The Journey to Quality

Like many emerging wine regions, especially those that are slow to attract wine tourism, the wines of Anderson Valley were fairly mixed in quality up until quite recently. A few early pioneers in the region such as Navarro Vineyards and Handley Cellars made high-quality wines as far back as the late 1980s, but the journey of Anderson Valley has been something of a slow emergence from being little more than a cottage industry.

For a long while (and, it might well be argued, still to this day) the best Anderson Valley wines, in particular Pinot Noirs, were usually made by wineries located outside the valley.

While the demand for grapes from the likes of Williams-Selyem, Littorai, Copain, Peay, and others encouraged quality farming and increased acreage in the 1990s, little of the winemaking knowledge from those efforts made its way back to the local producers.

“It took a long time for the local wine community to be a majority populated by people with a) formal wine training, b) knowledge of the wines of the world, and c) access to the world of information about wine that the internet has made available,” says Thom Elkjer, an author and journalist who has lived in Anderson Valley since 2001 and now spends half his time working as the valley’s sole ambulance driver.

Even by 2005 or 2006, when I began to taste California wines extensively and regularly, there were still a lot of fairly poor wines made in Anderson Valley, both among the Alsatian varieties as well as in Pinot Noir.

That is true no longer.

Poised for Greatness: Tasting The Evolution of Anderson Valley
The Maggie Hawk Vineyard

Hey, Neighbor

Jackson Family Wines purchased the original Edmeades property in 1988 and went on to purchase several other vineyard plots over the years, culminating in the purchase of Balo Vineyards in 2019. In addition, the company bought Copain Wines and Siduri Wines in recent years, both of which owned no vineyards but sourced fruit from Anderson Valley.

Jackson Family now owns and farms more than 300 acres in the valley, with fruit going to a number of their wine labels, including the exclusively Anderson Valley wines of Maggy Hawk, a brand started by Jess Jackson’s wife Barbara Banke in 2007.

Anderson Valley has always been the refuge of people who want to get away from everyone else.

When Jackson and Banke first came to town, they were treated much like any large corporate outsider who arrives in the cloistered and quirky Anderson Valley. Which is to say, they were pretty much seen as Satan incarnate.

Anderson Valley has always been the refuge of people who want to get away from everyone else. Indeed, the Anderson family from whose name the valley derives moved there to get away from the people flooding the Sacramento area during the gold rush of the 1850s.

By 1900 or so, the largely counter-culture residents had developed an extensive slang vocabulary, known as Boontling, which has continued to evolve over the years. Now more a local legend than a serviceable argot, Boontling is still spoken by a few die-hard locals in the town of Boonville.

“Mendocino is not a place people come to fit in or go along,” says Elkjer. “People come up here to escape regulation and do their own thing.”

Needless to say, the locals didn’t take too kindly to the Jackson Family at first, but after twenty years of being a relatively upstanding member of the community, they’ve gained a little social capital, which is just what Gilian Handelman needed for her latest project.

Handelman is Vice President of Education at Jackson Family Wines. A former enologist and a former director of marketing and education for Wine & Spirits magazine, Handelman is both amazingly connected in the world of California wine and insatiably curious.

“Did you know that Anderson Valley has one of the lowest prices per ton for Pinot Noir of anywhere in coastal California?” says Handelman. “Only Monterey county is lower than us. I found that very surprising.”

Sparked by this fact and a long-standing passion for underdogs, Handelman conducted surveys of what sommeliers across the country thought of Anderson Valley, and the comments that came back were “all over the map.”

What this meant to her is that unlike other wine regions (she points to the Willamette Valley as a prime example) Anderson Valley has not told its story very well.

In fact, thought Handelman, Anderson Valley doesn’t even know what its story is.

Getting to Know the Neighborhoods

For years, locals in Anderson Valley have had nicknames for different sections of the valley. The farthest northern, fog-laden reaches out towards the coast that are among some of the coldest vineyards sites in California are known as the Deep End. Further south up the valley towards Philo, but still heavily foggy and cold, is a neighborhood called Poleeko, which is how you say Philo in Boontling.

Around Philo, the valley narrows considerably, and this pinch point, along with a raised ridge just to the south, tends to stop the advance of the coastal fog.

This effect is so pronounced that the temperature differences on either side of Philo put Poleeko and the Deep end into the coldest, Region I classification of wine-growing climates (known as the Winkler Scale), while on the other side, the large neighborhood known as Boonville falls into Region II (more like the Russian River Valley, or the Coombsville AVA in Napa).

Poised for Greatness: Tasting The Evolution of Anderson Valley
A map of the “neighborhoods” generated by Gilian Handelman, looking northwest towards the Pacific.

The remaining neighborhoods are the Western Ridges and Eastern Ridges, which even at their Northwestern extremes often sit above the coastal fog and receive significantly more sun.

These neighborhoods were the closest thing Handelman found to any systematic understanding of the valley as a whole, so that’s where she began. With the aplomb of someone who knows how to do serious enological research on terroir, she began a campaign to convince local winemakers to do a scientific study of whether these neighborhoods actually meant anything in terms of the wines the valley produced.

“I basically sent a note to everyone in the valley saying we’d like to explore the terroir better and consider ways of studying it so we can all speak with a unified voice,” says Handelman. “We told everyone to show up with a barrel sample of 2017 wines from a neutral barrel, and then we lined them up from North to South and tasted through them. About 45 people showed up, probably half of them just to find out what those crazy Jackson Family people were up to. But some were genuinely curious.”

It was a haphazard tasting and was more about building trust than anything else. The group discussed getting weather station data, digging soil pits, and more. Of course, there was also controversy.

Some people believed that identifying sub-regional differences could be an important part of telling the valley’s story and learning about the terroir. Others worried that focusing on such differences has the potential to dilute the broader Anderson Valley story. A few others suggested the neighborhoods weren’t actually aligned with the true factors that shaped the nature of the valley’s wines.

In the end, though, Handleman sensed some enthusiasm, even if slightly tepid, for the idea of such a study.

But then the pandemic hit, and things got wonky. Handelman managed to get some weather data, but couldn’t find anyone to crunch it. The soil scientists who had said they’d dig some pits and do analysis for free weren’t returning e-mails or phone calls.

But even amidst all the craziness, in 2020 Handelman managed to convince 18 producers to harvest grapes from various neighborhoods at roughly the same sugar levels, and then to make the wines exactly the same way, using the same yeasts, the same barrels, and the same winemaking protocols.

The tastings so far and the data they have yielded are still preliminary, but some of the variables such as perceived tannin levels, acidity, and body aren’t showing clear correlations to neighborhoods.

Definitive results, however, aren’t what Handelman was shooting for. “I think most importantly, [the study] has gotten us talking and tasting more together. The valley has been tight-knit forever, and there’s been some of the ‘you’re an outsider’ thing going on. But being together, tasting together, talking about each other’s wines, influencing each other? That’s the glue that helps you develop the terroir story. Part of terroir is cultural.”

Unmatched Potential

It’s been several years since I’ve tasted more than 20 or 30 Anderson Valley wines in a sitting, so I was particularly excited by the prospect of getting to taste more than 100 of them, thanks to the generosity of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association.

Just for fun, the tasting was organized to group the wines according to the neighborhoods in the valley, in the event that I or the other journalist present were able to glean something from that context.

While in all honesty I was likely biased against discovering clear sub-regional signatures from the start (having participated in many different tastings along these lines in California), I can say with certainty that no clear pattern or characteristic emerged that might clearly distinguish one neighborhood from another. At least to my palate.

It is my personal belief that there are too many variables at play (harvest date, grape chemistry, yeast type, maceration duration, stem inclusion, pressing strength, barrel regime, cellar temperature, oxygen exposure, racking regimen, just to name a few) for commercial wines to clearly demonstrate differences across sub-regions as small as those in Anderson Valley. Which is why, of course, Handelman is doing her terroir study with as many of these variables controlled as possible.

I’m also likely in the camp with those who believe that the neighborhoods are probably all wrong anyway in terms of what might actually drive serious differences in wine style. Leaving aside the important fact that these neighborhoods have nothing to do with soil types within the valley, they also don’t really distinguish between elevations. Upper hillside fruit in a given region is going to perform very differently than valley floor fruit, just to select one variable of many.

Something is going on in Anderson Valley, and it’s pretty damn exciting.

My tasting of 170+ Anderson Valley wines didn’t yield much in terms of conclusions about sub-regionality. But it did yield some pretty strong conclusions about just how far things have come in the valley when it comes to wine quality.

Frankly, I was very impressed with the overall level of quality across the board with these wines. Even six or eight years ago, a tasting like this would have had a lot of wines in it that had issues — faults, clunky winemaking, egregious use of new oak, ripeness problems, and more. Such flaws were remarkably absent from this tasting. Instead, the wines were almost uniformly of high quality, and many were nuanced and excellent.

What’s more, I genuinely liked a large majority of the wines. Had I done a tasting of Napa Valley Cabernets, Dry Creek Zinfandels, or Paso Robles Rhone Blends, it’s far from certain that I would have liked as many wines as I did in this one.

Something is going on in Anderson Valley, and it’s pretty damn exciting.

Even leaving aside the wines made by superstar wineries located elsewhere, the advancement of quality, with Pinot Noir in particular couldn’t be more evident. While the varied micro-climates of the valley continue to yield wines that range from ethereal and delicate to more robust and powerful, Anderson Valley’s resident winemakers seem to have acquired a confident restraint and an appreciation for subtlety. Put another way, the winemakers of Anderson Valley have gotten a lot better at letting the place do the talking.

“Part of what’s happening, I think,” says Handelman, “is that we’re seeing a younger generation taking over in the valley, and these folks are experimenting more, with more stems, less new wood, earlier picks—all of those things that a younger mindset in the Pinot universe has been pushing towards. And those practices are now more widely revered, adopted, and shared. The valley is evolving.”

“Everything’s more professional, is the simplest thing you can say,” adds Elkjer, “but that touches everything. Just take farming for example. There’s three vineyard management companies, if my numbers are correct, that farm about half the appellation. They’re taking some direction from owners in a few cases, but largely they’re relying on very smart [outside] people’s advice. The bozo farming of the past has gone right out the window.”

So perhaps we are entering the golden age of Anderson Valley wine. The real question is whether the region can, or even wants to take things to the next level.

Poised for Progress

By my calculations, roughly 140 producers in Northern California make Anderson Valley designated wines. Yet the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association has only 64 winery members. The operating budget of the organization is so small that it has a hard time paying its staff what they are worth, and relies heavily on volunteer work to make ends meet. Never mind doing something like putting on a roadshow of top wines for sommeliers in New York.

In some ways, the counter-culture, introverted, scrappy rural sensibilities of Anderson Valley may be holding the region back from greater fame.

While the valley might be ready for its moment in the spotlight from the standpoint of wine quality, it’s not ready for prime time yet when it comes to building a brand for the region and marketing that brand in the crowded public square of the wine industry.

In some ways, the counter-culture, introverted, scrappy rural sensibilities of Anderson Valley may be holding the region back from greater fame.

“There’s a scarcity consciousness here that makes things like marketing a luxury,” says Elkjer.

On the one hand, that’s not such a bad thing if you’re a serious Pinot-file or a Riesling nut. For now, you can still pick up an absolutely killer bottle of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir for $30 to $45. Wine of the same quality from the Sonoma Coast or Russian River Valley would probably cost you $60 or more. The idea that there are great Anderson Valley Rieslings and Gewürztraminers to be had under $20 is almost shocking in this day and age.

But in order to truly grow and flourish, Anderson Valley needs more attention. It needs more visitors. It needs more mindshare among consumers.

The Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association recently went through some serious upheaval, leading to something of a house cleaning, and the installation of a promising new Executive Director who brings a level of professionalism to a position that has been held in the past simply by well-meaning winegrowers who wanted to help.

A clear vision and strategy are great starting points. So is better organization and collaboration. But what the region really needs to take things to the next level is more money. For starters, the Winegrowers Association needs to raise its annual dues.

While there are a few big players in the region who can do more (and some are doing a lot already), it’s really the many small producers, many of whom can’t be bothered to even be members of the winegrowers association, that could make all the difference.

If you’re a winery that makes Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and you’re not a part of the Winegrowers Association, it’s time to join. Help the tide rise and lift all the boats.

Anderson Valley wines are ready to compete at the next level of excellence. The question remains whether the people behind them are ready to do what it takes to make that leap.

No matter what, though, there has never been a better time to go discover some great wine in Anderson Valley.

Trust me when I say it’s definitely worth the drive.

Poised for Greatness: Tasting The Evolution of Anderson Valley
The tasting lineup.

Tasting Notes

Notes on more than 170 different Anderson Valley Wines follow below. The wines are listed by color in descending order of their scores, and roughly grouped by variety within each score band. Most of these wines were provided as part of the large, focused tasting shown above that took place over 2 days in early July 2021. Some of the wines below were press samples sent to me at a later date and most were tasted between July and the date of publication.

Sparkling Wines

Poised for Greatness: Tasting The Evolution of Anderson Valley

2015 Roederer Estate “l’Ermitage Brut” Champagne Blend
Pale gold in the glass, with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of salty sea air, buttered toast, and apples. In the mouth, a silky, voluminous mousse delivers wonderfully bright lemon peel and apple flavors mix with toasted brioche and seawater as beautiful saline lemon notes linger in the finish. Fabulous acidity. 12.5% alcohol Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $55. click to buy.

2013 Lichen Estate “Grand Cuvee” Blanc de Noirs Sparkling Wine
Pale greenish-gold in color, with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of toasted brioche and lemon oil. In the mouth, apple, and crabapple mix with toasted sourdough, seawater. Crisp, but with some lovely toasted bread notes, too. Mouthwatering. Disgorged in August of 2019. 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Pinot Gris. 10 g/l. 60 months on the lees. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $85 click to buy.

2016 Lichen Estate “Blanc de Gris” Sparkling Pinot Gris
Palest greenish-gold in the glass, with extremely tiny bubbles, this wine smells of apples and pears and white flowers. In the mouth, a soft velvety mousse delivers flavors of apple and pear and white flowers with a faint tangy sweetness that is quite charming. 32 months on the lees. 100% Pinot Gris. 11 g/l dosage. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $50 click to buy.

2015 Handley Cellars Blanc de Blancs Sparkling Wine
Palest greenish gold in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and lemon pith. In the mouth, some wonderfully steely and stony lemon pith, green apple, and sea air flavors have a gorgeous minerality. Quite pretty. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $56 click to buy.

MV Roederer Estate “Brut Library Reserve” Brut Sparkling Wine
Pale gold in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine smells of lemon and apples. In the mouth, a moderately coarse mousse delivers apple and lemon flavors mixed with a hint of orange peel and butterscotch. Excellent acidity, with a faint bitterness and salinity in the finish. Disgorged in 2018. 12 g/l dosage. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $35

2017 Reeve Wines “Kiser Vineyard” Blanc de Noir Sparkling Wine
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd, butterscotch, buttered toast. In the mouth, toasted brioche, lemon oil, and golden apple flavors have a nice cut to them thanks to excellent acidity and a very low 1g/l dosage, there’s also a hint of herbs that evoke a touch of marijuana to this wine. Chalky notes linger in the finish. Very nice. 12% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $85

2013 Roederer Estate “l’Ermitage Brut” Rosé Champagne Blend
Light to medium peachy-bronze in color with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of mulling spices and dried citrus peel. In the mouth, an expansive, silky mousse fills the mouth with flavors of bitter orange, candied citrus, seawater, and yeasty, toasty bread. Distinctly savory with a dried herb note that lingers with citrus peel in the finish. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $70. click to buy.

2018 Bravium “Wiley Vineyard” Blanc de Noir – Brut Nature Sparkling Wine
Palest peach in color with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of crabapples and citrus peel. In the mouth, apples and citrus peel and a nice saline character also offer some raspberry notes. Despite being called a blanc de noirs, this wine has some color to it, that might lead you to call it a rosé. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50

2016 Lichen Estate Brut Rose Sparkling Wine
Palest peach in color with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of berries and cantaloupe. In the mouth, juicy berry and citrus flavors have a nice candied orange peel quality. Excellent acidity. 100% Pinot Noir with 2.5% still Pinot Noir for color. 32 months on the lees. 11 g/l dosage. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50 click to buy.

Poised for Greatness: Tasting The Evolution of Anderson Valley
County Line “Beads” Pet-Nat

2020 County Line Vineyards “Orfin Lotts – Beads” Rosé of Pinot Noir Pet-Nat
A cloudy, peachy pink in color with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of peach yogurt and berries. In the mouth, juicy and bright flavors of berries, peaches, and Ranier cherries are lifted across the palate on a surprisingly expansive mousse, which leaves a faint impression of sweetness on the palate. While the nose is slightly funky here, the rest of the wine is quite clean, with just the barest tang in the finish. Quite tasty. 12% alcohol. Closed with a crown cap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $36. click to buy.

NV Roederer Estate “Brut” Rosé Champagne Blend
A light peach color in the glass with medium bubbles, this wine smells of strawberries and citrus peel with a hint of warm hay. In the mouth, a silky, voluminous mousse lifts flavors of berries, citrus peel, and herbs across the palate with a lovely aromatic sweetness that cruises to a nicely dry finish with a saline kick. Incredibly easy to drink, with great acidity. 12.5% alcohol Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $29. click to buy.

MV Scharffenberger Cellars “Black Label” Brut Sparkling Wine
Pale greenish-gold in color, with moderately fine bubbles, this wine smells of green and golden apples. In the mouth, apple and citrus pith mix with white flowers and a faint sourish star fruit quality. Good acidity, faint bitterness in the finish. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25 click to buy.

NV Roederer Estate “Brut” Champagne Blend
Light gold in the glass with medium bubbles, this wine smells of freshly cut apples and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, a smooth and fluffy mousse delivers flavors of apples, pears, a hint of citrus peel, and just a touch of buttery salinity. The finish is just faintly bitter. Still seems to be the best value sparkling wine made in California. 12.5% alcohol Score: around 8.5. Cost: $23. click to buy.

2015 Toulouse Vineyards “Goose Bubbles” Brut Sparkling Wine
Pale greenish gold in the glass, with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of green apple and white flowers. In the mouth, green apples, sweet celery, and white flower flavors are bright and crisp, and fruity. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $48

2019 Bee Hunter “Method Rurale” (aka PetNat) Blanc de Blancs Sparkling Wine
A faintly cloudy, pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of chamomile and honey. In the mouth, a faint effervescence delivers flavors of apples and some citrus pith with a sourish acidophilous tang in the finish. 12.4% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $??

2017 Goldeneye Brut Rose Sparkling Wine
Palest peach in color with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of baked apples and orange pith. In the mouth, raspberry jam and orange marmalade mix with a faint sweetness have less acidity than I would like. 4 g/l dosage. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8. Cost: $65

2017 Pennyroyal Farm “Blanc de Noir” Blanc de Noir Sparkling Wine
Palest greenish gold in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of green apples and white flowers. In the mouth, fairly sweet green apple and white flowers recall prosecco. Clean and bright and doubtless crowd-pleasing, but a little sweet for me. 10g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8. Cost: $4

White Wines

BETWEEN 9 and 9.5
2017 Bee Hunter “Filigreen Farms” Pinot Gris
Pale straw in the glass, this wine smells of chamomile and poached pear. In the mouth, bright pear and lemon flavors mix with yellow herbs and a wonderful, yes, bee pollen note that lingers in the finish. Excellent acidity and length. Quite delicious. I suspect there’s a little residual sugar here, but it’s definitely to this wine’s benefit. 13.2% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $28

Poised for Greatness: Tasting The Evolution of Anderson Valley

2018 Lichen Estate “Noir” Pinot Noir Blanc
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of Ranier cherries and white flowers. In the mouth, Ranier cherry and floral notes have a bright juiciness to them and a faint tannic texture that adds complexity. Notes of cherry linger in the finish. Excellent acidity. 12.5% alcohol Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $32 click to buy.

AROUND 9
2014 Bee Hunter “Late Harvest” Riesling
Light yellow gold in the glass with a hint of green, this wine smells of honey and orange peel. In the mouth, flavors of honey and citrus pith mix with blood orange and white flowers. Despite being labeled late harvest, this wine has remarkably little overt sweetness. Very unusual and compelling. This tastes a bit like a Spatlese or Auslese trocken. Unfortunately, this vineyard was mistakenly sprayed with a chemical that killed the vineyard, so it is no more. 9.7% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $32 click to buy.

2019 Handley Cellars Pinot Gris
Palest straw, nearly colorless in the glass, this wine smells of citrus pith and pears. In the mouth, crisp and clean flavors of pear and white flowers have a nice hint of minerality as a light tannic grip lingers in the finish along with floral and Asian pear notes. 13.6% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $24 click to buy.

2019 Lichen Estate Pinot Gris
Pale straw in color, this wine smells of pears and sweet cream with a touch of honeysuckle. In the mouth, there’s a faint sweetness and notes of white flowers, pears, and sweet cream. Nice acidity keeps the wine crisp and juicy across the palate, and there’s a sweetish note in the finish suggesting a little residual sugar. 2.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $29 click to buy.

2019 Maggie Hawk Pinot Noir Blanc
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and citrus pith. In the mouth, bright berry and citrus peel mix with Ranier cherries and a touch of tropical fruit. Excellent acidity and brightness, with a faint salinity. Quite delicious. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $57 click to buy.

2020 Navarro Vineyards “Edelzwicker” White Blend
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers, pears, and a hint of lychee. In the mouth, lightly sweet flavors of white flowers, lychee, and Asian pear have a nice juicy brightness thanks to excellent acidity. Lovely balance, and very classic in its expression. A lovely aperitif wine. A blend of 40% Pinot Gris, 28% Riesling, and 32% Gewurztraminer. 13.3% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $19.5 click to buy.

2019 Phillips Hill Riesling
Pale greenish-gold in the glass, this wine smells of honeysuckle and mandarin orange zest. In the mouth, wonderfully bright Asian pear and mandarin orange flavors mix with a hint of aromatic herbs. Excellent acidity, and wonderful balance, with only an aromatic sweetness. I think there might be some sugar there, but like all really good Rieslings, it’s balanced by enough acidity that the wine doesn’t taste sweet. 12.6% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $26

2019 Toulouse Vineyards Gewurztraminer
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine has an incredible floral perfume with hints of tuberose and orange peel. In the mouth, juicy and bright orange peel and very strong lychee flavors keep the mouth watering thanks to excellent acidity. Quite delicious. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $28 click to buy.

2018 Rhys Vineyards “Bearwallow Vineyard” Chardonnay
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of bee pollen, lemon pith, and grapefruit pith. In the mouth, Meyer lemon curd and pink grapefruit flavors are silky and suffused with notes of white flowers. Delicate acidity. Named after the shale soil series in the vineyard: Wolfey-Bearwallow). 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $90 click to buy.

2018 Copain “Skycrest Vineyard” Chardonnay
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and lemon pith. In the mouth, wonderfully bright citrus pith and lemon curd flavors have a hint of vanilla and a wonderful floral citrus pith finish. Bright, juicy, and delicious. 13.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $55

2018 Drew “Bahl Briney” Chardonnay
Pale yellow-gold in the glass with a hint of green, this wine smells of white flowers and lemon pith. In the mouth, lemon and apple flavors have a nice crystalline brightness to them and a faint hint of lemongrass, lemon, and orange oil in the finish. Excellent acidity and length. 13% alcohol Score: around 9. Cost: $33 click to buy.

2019 Dupuis “Ferrington Vineyard” Chardonnay
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd, lemon juice, and white flowers. In the mouth, wonderfully bright lemon curd and lemon pith flavors mix with pink grapefruit and a hint of vanilla. Foot trodden and then aged in neutral barrels. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $52 click to buy.

BETWEEN 8.5 and 9
2018 Foursight Wines “Charles Vineyard” Semillon
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of candied lemon peel and yellow herbs. In the mouth, candied lemon, chamomile, and bee pollen flavors mix with a hint of citrus pith, and a faint aromatic sweetness that lingers in the finish. Very pretty.13.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $29 click to buy.

2019 Handley Cellars “Estate Vineyard” Gewurztraminer
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of honeysuckle, jasmine, and candied orange peel. In the mouth, silky flavors of orange peel and orange blossom have a nice citrus snap thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a trace of bitterness and a tiny bit of heat in the finish, but the flavors are super compelling. 13.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $26 click to buy.

2018 Lichen Estate “Les Pinots” White Blend
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of candied orange peels and mulling spices. In the mouth, citrus peel and berry notes have a bitter/sweet quality to them that is fairly compelling. Hints of pear and citrus peel linger in the finish. Excellent acidity. A blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Gris. 11.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $32 click to buy.

Poised for Greatness: Tasting The Evolution of Anderson Valley

2020 Pennyroyal Farms “Pinotrio” White Blend
Palest greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of Ranier cherry, pear, and citrus peel. In the mouth, citrus peel, cherry, and Asian pear flavors have a nice crispness thanks to excellent acidity. There’s also a faint tannic grip to the wine that adds complexity with texture. Quite pretty, though with a distinct off-dry, light sweetness to it. An unusual blend of 39% Pinot Blanc, 38% Pinot Noir, and 27% Pinot Gris. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $33 click to buy.

2019 Phillips Hill Gewurztraminer
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of orange blossom water and floral aromas. In the mouth, faintly sweet orange blossom and lychee notes have decent acidity and crispness. There’s a faint bitterness in the finish like pear skin. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $19 click to buy.

2018 Rhys Vineyards “Alesia” Chardonnay
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon pith and a touch of Meyer lemon blossom. In the mouth, lemon juice, lemon pith, and pink grapefruit flavors have a brisk zippiness thanks to excellent acidity. Notes of citrus pith linger in the finish. Mouthwatering. 12.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45 click to buy.

2018 Maggy Hawk “Skycrest Vineyard” Chardonnay
Light gold in the glass with a hint of green, this wine smells of lemon curd and cold cream. In the mouth, silky flavors of lemon curd and cold cream have a nice zippy brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity. Lemon peel and a touch of herbs linger in the finish. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $65 click to buy.

2019 Radio-Coteau “Savoy Vineyard” Chardonnay
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon and grapefruit pith with a hint of buttered popcorn. In the mouth, silky flavors of lemon curd, melted butter, and a hint of pineapple are rich and sensual, but missing just a little kick of acidity that would make them more exciting to me. I’d love this wine to have a little more edge. But it’s hard to argue with the flavors. Unfiltered. 13.4% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $52. click to buy.

AROUND 8.5
2020 Fathers+Daughters Cellars “Ferrington Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lime and lemon pith. In the mouth, lemon and lime pith and juice have a nice crisp brightness and a faintly chalky pithiness that lingers in the finish. Excellent acidity. Quite refreshing, if slightly on the austere side.12.4% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $25

2019 Goldeneye Winery “Randolph Block” Gewurztraminer
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of orange blossom and honey. In the mouth, silky flavors of orange blossom water and orange peel are clean and want to be crisp, but don’t quite have enough acidity to pull it off. It’s hard to argue with the flavors, however. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $40.

2020 Navarro Vineyards “Cuvèe Traditional” Gewurztraminer
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of orange peel and white flowers. In the mouth, lychee, orange peel, and a touch of citrus pith have a nice crisp brightness and a lightly chalky tannic texture. 13.4% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20.

2019 Reeve Wines “Vonarburg Vineyard” Riesling
Pale gold in the glass with a hint of green, this wine smells of tangerine and white flowers. In the mouth, a slightly austere wet chalkboard quality underlies citrus and floral notes. There’s a chalky quality to the finish. Quite dry. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $38.

2018 Copain “Dupratt” Chardonnay
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of oak and lemon pith. In the mouth, lemon curd, vanilla, and the toasty notes of oak have a nice clarity and brightness to them, thanks to very good acidity. Silky and smooth on the palate, I wish I tasted less wood here. 13.3% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50 click to buy.

2019 FEL Wines Chardonnay
Pale greenish-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and a touch of orange peel. In the mouth, lemon curd and a hint of orange zest mix with a faint hint of pineapple and vanilla in the finish. Very good acidity and length. 3.9% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $32 click to buy.

2019 FEL Wines “Savoy Vineyard” Chardonnay
Light gold in color with a hint of green, this wine smells of lemon curd and pineapple and white flowers. In the mouth, crisp and juicy lemon curd, vanilla, and a touch of oak mix with pineapple and some additional tropical fruit flavors. Excellent acidity keeps the wine bouncy, though there’s a touch of heat in the finish. 13.9% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $48.

2018 Meyer Cellars “Donnelley Creek” Chardonnay
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and oak. In the mouth, lemon and golden apple flavors mix with toasted oak and a hint of white flowers. Good acidity and length. I wish I tasted less wood. 13.6% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $32 click to buy.

2018 Kosta Browne “Cerise Vineyard” Chardonnay
Palest greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon curd and lemon pith. In the mouth, lean and bright flavors of lemon zest, grapefruit pith, and a hint of toasty, nutty oak have excellent acidity but leave a slightly bitter note in the finish. 13.4% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $110 click to buy.

BETWEEN 8 and 8.5
2019 Bravium Chardonnay
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of lemon pith and a hint of Play-Doh. In the mouth, lemon pith, citrus peel, and a touch of cold cream are bright with decent acidity. Citrus pith and hints of bitter orange linger in the finish. 13.4% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $25 click to buy.

2018 Domaine Anderson “Estate” Chardonnay
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of candied lemon peel and a hint of apple skin. In the mouth, apple skin, lemon juice, and a touch of bitter herbs have a nice brightness thanks to decent acidity. The herbal and citrus peel astringency lingers in the finish. 13.1% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $30 click to buy.

2020 FEL Wines Pinot Gris
Pale straw in the glass, this wine smells of pear and pear skin with a hint of dried herbs. In the mouth, pear and pear skin flavors have a faint bitterness to them, along with the sweetness of the fruit. A hint of citrus oil comes into the finish. Decent acidity and length. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $28 click to buy.

2019 Foursight Wines “Charles Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of citrus peel and pith. In the mouth, crisp lemon and lime flavors have a faint pithy bitterness as they head to the finish. Good acidity. 12.7% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $29 click to buy.

2018 Handley Cellars “Estate Vineyard” Chardonnay
Pale to light gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and tropical fruits. In the mouth, silky flavors of lemon, pineapple, and tropical fruit cocktail lean slightly towards the bitterness of orange peel in the finish. Decent acidity. 13.2% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $28 click to buy.

2020 Husch Vineyards “Dry” Gewurztraminer
Palest greenish-gold in color, almost colorless, this wine smells of orange peel and white flowers. In the mouth, the wine is restrained, with orange peel and lychee flavors mixed with an Asian-pear-skin bitterness. Comes across as slightly dilute. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $16 click to buy.

2020 Pennyroyal Farm Sauvignon Blanc
Palest greenish-gold, nearly colorless in the glass, this wine smells of green apple and pear and a hint of candied lime. In the mouth, lime and green apple and pear flavors have a faint sweetness to them, with decent acidity. There’s also a creaminess to this wine that is unexpected. 12.9% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $25.

2020 Read Holland Wines “Wiley Vineyard” Riesling
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of honeysuckle and green apples. In the mouth, tart green apple and floral notes have a mouthwatering quality thanks to excellent acidity. Very green in quality, with a hint of celery of vegetal note along with the green apple skin in the finish. 12.8% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $30.

2019 Husch Vineyards “Vine One” Chardonnay
Palest straw, to the point of being nearly colorless in the glass, this wine smells of sweet floral notes that have a hint of bubble gum to them. In the mouth, linalool and floral notes are somewhat confection-like, backed by decent acidity. Comes across as slightly candied, with a tiny bit of heat in the finish. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 8. Cost: $20.

2019 Pennyroyal Farms “Hammer Olsen Vineyard” Chardonnay
Pale to light gold in color, this wine smells of slightly yeasty lemon and pineapple aromas. In the mouth, lemon, some bitter herbs, and citrus pith have a slightly yeasty note to them, with a touch of oak on the finish. 13.1% alcohol. Score: around 8. Cost: $35.

2020 Philo Ridge Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of candied green apple and gooseberries. In the mouth, green apple flavors are slightly candied and a little flat, missing some acidity and crispness that would make it more vivacious. The flavors are good, however. 13.2% alcohol. Score: around 8. Cost: $20.

BELOW 8
2020 Fathers+Daughters Cellars “Ferrington Vineyard” Chardonnay
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells unusually of herbal oils, alfalfa, and citrus pith. In the mouth, citrus pith and herbal notes make for an unusual character. Slightly odd. 13.2% alcohol. Score: between 7.5 and 8.

Pink Wines

2019 Foursight Wines Rosé of Pinot Noir
A pale peach in the glass, this wine smells of raspberries and watermelon rind. In the mouth, bright raspberry and strawberry fruit have a brilliant, bright snap thanks to excellent acidity. Faint aromatic sweetness on the finish with a hint of citrus peel. Delicious. 13.1% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $35.

Poised for Greatness: Tasting The Evolution of Anderson Valley

2020 Navarro Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir
Pale baby pink in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, strawberries, and raspberries. In the mouth, lean and bright berry and citrus flavors have a fantastic, mouthwatering brightness to them, with hints of citrus peel and a faint savory herbal note that adds some complexity. Excellent. 13.2% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $22 click to buy.

2020 County Line Vineyards “Elke Home Ranch” Rosé of Pinot Noir
Palest peachy-pink in the glass, this wine smells of citrus zest and floral notes with a hint of marijuana resin. In the mouth, zingy and bright citrus peel and strawberry flavors have a nice silky, even creamy texture and lovely pastry cream overtones complete the finish. Very pretty. 12% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2020 Pennyroyal Farm Rosé of Pinot Noir
Pale baby pink in color, this wine smells of hibiscus and cranberry. In the mouth, cranberry and rosehip flavors have a nice juiciness to them and a lovely silky texture. Very good acidity and length. 13.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $25.

2020 Lula Cellars Rosé of Pinot Noir
Pale baby pink in the glass, this wine smells of red berries and citrus peel. In the mouth, berry and citrus peel flavors have a nice bounce thanks to very good acidity. Silky and slightly weighty on the palate. Clean and bright. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $36 click to buy.

2020 Toulouse Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir
Pale peachy pink in color, this wine smells of watermelon and a hint of radish. In the mouth, berry and watermelon fruit flavors are subtle and soft, with a faint woody radish note to the wine. Decent acidity. 13.6% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $28 click to buy.

Red Wines

AROUND 9.5
2018 Drew “Wendling Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dried flowers and black raspberries. In the mouth, crystalline flavors of raspberry and dried flowers are wedded to a stony earthy core of this wine. Wonderful floral notes linger in the finish. Fantastic acidity and purity.Outstanding purity and complexity. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $70 click to buy.

Poised for Greatness: Tasting The Evolution of Anderson Valley

2019 Drew “Fog-Eater” Pinot Noir
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of intensely perfumed raspberry and floral aromas. In the mouth, raspberry, and redcurrant flavors are bright and mouthwatering with fantastic acidity. Hints of floral and citrus peel linger in the finish, along with a stony note that is quite compelling. Barely perceptible tannins. 13.4% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $45 click to buy.

2019 Willams-Selyem “Savoy Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet with purple highlights, this wine smells of cherries and floral perfume. In the mouth, wonderfully bright cherry and raspberry flavors are bursting with juicy acidity as citrus peel and a hint of bergamot oil linger in the long finish. Barely perceptible tannins. Delicious, fresh, and incredibly aromatic. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $120. click to buy.

2019 Willams-Selyem “Ferrington Vineyard” Pinot Noir
A faintly hazy, medium-to-dark garnet color with purple highlights, this wine smells of intensely juicy and sweet raspberry aromas. In the mouth, that intensity continues with positively mouthwatering flavors of candied raspberries and faint floral notes. Wonderfully perfumed, with only barely perceptible tannins. Fantastic acidity carries through a long finish scented with orange peel. Simply bursting with flavor. 13.6% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $100. click to buy.

BETWEEN 9 and 9.5
2016 Bee Hunter “Angel Camp” Pinot Noir
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and dusty dried herbs. In the mouth, the wine has a nice savory dried herb and dusty road flavor, with a core of cherry and raspberry fruit. Hints of redwood bark linger in the finish with a hint of bitterness. But then, just when you think you’ve experienced everything this wine has to offer a wash of floral perfume enters the finish and blows your mind. Excellent acidity.14.2% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $80.

2017 Copain “Edmeades” Pinot Noir
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of sweet cherry compote. In the mouth, juicy and bright cherry and raspberry fruit flavors are dusted with faint tannins and touched with a hint of citrus peel and dried flowers. Very pretty, with excellent acidity and length. 13.1% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $59 click to buy.

2019 Failla Wines “Savoy Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberries and raspberry leaf with a hint of woody stems. In the mouth, wonderfully silky flavors of raspberries, dried herbs, and dried flowers have a wonderful electricity to them thanks to fantastic acidity. Hints of herbs ad citrus peel linger in the finish along with faint, grippy tannins. 14% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $55. click to buy.

2018 Foursight Wines “Zero New Oak” Pinot Noir
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and raspberry leaf. In the mouth, gorgeously bright raspberry and redcurrant flavors mix with sour cherry and a faintly saline quality that, combined with the excellent acidity, makes for a mouthwatering, totally delicious package. Outstanding. 13.7% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $44.

Poised for Greatness: Tasting The Evolution of Anderson Valley

2019 Foursight Wines “Clone 05” Pinot Noir
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry, sour cherry, and floral aromas. In the mouth, juicy and bright raspberry pastilles and a hint of strawberry mix with floral notes and excellent acidity. Perhaps missing some depth and complexity but who wouldn’t love the positively vivacious bright raspberry fruit here? Faint, powdery tannins tickle the edges of the palate. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $57.

2017 Kosta Browne “Cerise Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of ripe cherry and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, raspberry and cherry notes mix with a hint of dried herbs and cedar. Silky, nicely balanced, with excellent acidity and barely perceptible tannins. Quite pretty. 13.4% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $150. click to buy.

2018 Peay Vineyards “Savoy Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and sour cherry and a hint of resinous herb. In the mouth, juicy raspberry, sour cherry, and redcurrant flavors mix with citrus peel and a touch of herbs. Excellent acidity keeps the saliva flowing as does a faint salinity. Delicious. 13.3% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $61 click to buy.

2018 Phillips Hill Winery “Day Ranch” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass with purple highlights, this wine smells of dried flowers and black raspberries. In the mouth, juicy cherry and black raspberry flavors are mouthwatering thanks to excellent acidity. That floral quality continues with dried flowers that linger through the finish. Faint muscular tannins. 13.7% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $47 click to buy.

2018 Read Holland “Deep End” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and raspberry, and citrus oil. In the mouth, juicy cherry and raspberry fruit is tinged with cedar and a nice earthy undertone. Excellent acidity leaves citrus peel and dried herbs lingering in the long finish. 13.7% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $60 click to buy.

2018 Reeve Wines “Wendling Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright cherry fruit and a hint of dried flowers. In the mouth, exceptionally juicy cherry and raspberry fruit flavors have a citrus peel kick and excellent, mouthwatering acidity. Faint, powdery tannins linger with hints of dried flowers in the finish. Very pretty. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $??

2018 Rhys Vineyards “Bearwallow Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of earth and candied redcurrant. In the mouth, raspberry and redcurrant flavors are fantastically juicy with hints of dried flowers and cedar. Fantastic acidity keeps the wine bright and zippy, as notes of candied orange peel linger in the finish. Layered and delicate with barely perceptible tannins. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $90 click to buy.

2018 Boonville Road “Broken Leg Vineyard” Syrah
A cloudy dark garnet in the glass, this wine makes the mouth water right from the very first sniff of white pepper and charred steak layered over black cherry and blackberry. In the mouth, beautiful white and black pepper flavors mix with blackberry and black cherry that have an almost saline quality. Soft, leathery tannins buff the edges of the mouth. Gloriously cool-climate in aspect, and refreshing with its mere 13.9% alcohol, this wine has excellent acidity and balance. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $35

Poised for Greatness: Tasting The Evolution of Anderson Valley

2019 Rivers-Marie “Bearwallow Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of bright cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, gorgeous cherry and cranberry flavors are silky and juicy with fantastic acidity and possess a lovely purity. Faint dried floral and herbal notes surface in the finish. Definitely leans towards the rich side of Pinot, but wonderfully lithe and bright. Only the faintest of tannic textures. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $80. click to buy.

2018 Gros Ventre “Cerise Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberries and dried herbs with a hint of cedar. In the mouth, lovely raspberry and redcurrant flavors are wrapped in a gauzy blanket of tannins, as dried herbs and dried flower notes float across the palate and sour cherry lingers with a note of citrus peel in the finish. Thrillingly bright acidity and a lovely texture. 13.6% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $62. click to buy.

2018 Arista “Ferrington Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cranberries. In the mouth, flavors of raspberry and cranberry are zingy and bright thanks to fantastic acidity, while faint tannins brush the edges of the palate and citrus peel notes linger in the finish with a hint of forest floor. Quite delicious. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $80. click to buy.

2018 Papapietro Perry “Charles Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Medium ruby in the glass with garnet highlights, this wine smells of cedar and raspberries. In the mouth, bright raspberry and pomegranate flavors have a lovely aromatic sweetness to them and excellent acidity. Faint, gauzy tannins buff the edges of the mouth, while hints of raspberry pastilles linger in the finish. Lovely and finessed. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $64. click to buy.

AROUND 9
2017 Bee Hunter “Wentzel Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass with ruby at the rim, this wine smells of tart sour cherry and raspberries with a hint of pennyroyal. In the mouth, raspberry, redcurrant, and sour cherry fruit make for a tangy, mouthwatering experience with hints of dried herbs and citrus peel that linger in the finish. There’s a nice stony underbelly to this wine, accentuated by chalk-dust tannins.13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $60.

2014 Bee Hunter “Wiley Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Light to medium ruby with a hint of brick at the rim, this wine smells of dried apples and dates and dried herbs. In the mouth, silky flavors of raspberry and dried herbs mix with citrus peel and dried apple. Unusual and distinctive, and starting to show some of its secondary aged characteristics. Excellent acidity.13.7% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $60.

2017 Copain “Les Voisins” Pinot Noir
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cranberry and cherry fruit. In the mouth, silky flavors of cherry and raspberry mix with a darker, earthier carob note that blends with the faint dusty dried herbs on the palate. Barely perceptible tannins. Very good acidity. Pretty. 13.2% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $42 click to buy.

2019 Dupuis “Wendling” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and raspberry and earth. In the mouth, cherry and slightly meaty umami flavors mix with hints of herbs and citrus. Very good acidity, but could be brighter.13.9% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $57 click to buy.

2017 Dutton-Goldfield “Angel Camp Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and dried flowers. In the mouth, raspberry and cherry flavors have a snappy brightness thanks to excellent acidity and a nice dusty road and dried herb underbelly that is very pretty. Faint, grippy tannins add structure to the wine and linger in the finish with a hint of citrus peel. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $62 click to buy.

2018 Foursight Wines “Charles Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and mulling spices. In the mouth, bright raspberry fruit has a deliciously bright juiciness thanks to excellent acidity. Faint, powdery tannins grip the edges of the palate as hints of cedar and citrus peel linger in the finish. 13.7% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $52 click to buy.

2017 Handley Cellars “Helluva Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Medium ruby in the glass with garnet highlights, this wine smells of cherry and cedar and dried flowers. In the mouth, bright and juicy cherry and raspberry fruit flavors are shot through with dried herbs and citrus peel, with hints of dried apple and floral tones emerging on the finish. Powdery but muscular tannins and excellent acidity. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $45 click to buy.

2017 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of ripe cherry fruit. In the mouth, ripe cherry and cedar notes are zingy with excellent acidity that brings an orange peel quality to the finish along with raspberries and nearly imperceptible tannins. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $100 click to buy.

Poised for Greatness: Tasting The Evolution of Anderson Valley

2018 Lula Cellars Pinot Noir
Medium garnet with purple highlights, this wine smells of intense cherry and cranberry aromas matched with a hint of sinsemilla. In the mouth, bright and slightly candied flavors of cherry and raspberry are shimmering and pure and very juicy thanks to excellent acidity. A vibrant, juicy wine that many will love for its fruit expression. Faintest tannins. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $45 click to buy.

2019 Lussier “Cote de Boont” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of floral and raspberry aromas. In the mouth, raspberry, herbs, and a very stony quality are quite compelling, draped as they are in gauzy tannins. A savory, earthy, herbal note lingers in the finish with a hint of oak. 13.6% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $40.

2019 Lussier “Roma’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Light ruby in color with garnet highlights, this wine smells of raspberry and redcurrant and dirt. In the mouth, very stony, crunchy, lean flavors of raspberry and redcurrant mix with herbs and florals as slightly muscular tannins grip the palate. Excellent acidity. 13.2% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $??

2018 Maggy Hawk “Afleet” Pinot Noir
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and cranberry fruit with a hint of dried herbs. In the mouth, bright raspberry fruit is dusted with powdery tannins and the scents of dried herbs and orange peel. Excellent acidity keeps the wine bright and juicy. Hints of cedar enter the finish. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $65 click to buy.

2018 Maggy Hawk “Unforgettable” Pinot Noir
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and pomegranate. In the mouth sweetish cherry and pomegranate flavors have a wonderful brightness thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a hint of herbs and the tiniest hint of fresh jalapeño greenness in the finish, along with faint tannins. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $65 click to buy.

2018 Meyer Cellars “Monument Tree” Pinot Noir
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dried herbs and muddy earth and white miso with a hint of raspberry. In the mouth, raspberry and dried herbs, cedar, and road dust all combine for a fairly savory combination with a hint of oak that lingers in the finish. Faint, dusty tannins. Interesting and distinctive.12.7% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $56 click to buy.

2018 Navarro Vineyards “Deep End” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass with a hint of a haze to it, this wine smells of raspberry and lavender. In the mouth, that floral quality continues with raspberry and cedar notes underneath. Excellent acidity and dusty, fine-grained tannins. Savory herbal notes in the finish. Gives the impression of honesty, as opposed to flashy winemaking. Lovely.14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $55 click to buy.

2018 Navarro Vineyards “Methode a l’Ancienne” Pinot Noir
Light garnet in the glass but headed towards ruby, this wine smells of crushed dried herbs and dried flowers. In the mouth, faint but athletic tannins wrap around a core of savory herbs, red berries, and road dust, even as bright acidity brings in notes of citrus peel and blood orange. Quite delicious, especially for those who appreciate the savory side of Pinot Noir. I know from experience that this wine ages beautifully for decades. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $35 click to buy.

2018 Pennyroyal Farm Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and cherry. In the mouth, somewhat stony cherry and raspberry flavors have a nice crystalline clarity to them, thanks in part to excellent acidity. Hints of fresh herbs garland the finish. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $39.

2018 Reeve Wines “Rhoda” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of slightly meaty cherry and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, raspberry and raspberry leaf flavors have a nice brightness thanks to excellent acidity, along with fairly muscular tannins for a Pinot. Notes of dried flowers and a hint of umami linger in the finish. 13.6% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $48 click to buy.

2018 Reeve Wines “Kiser Vineyard Suitcase Block” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and redcurrant. In the mouth, raspberry and redcurrant flavors mix with sour cherry for a tart, lean vibrancy. Fantastic acidity keeps the mouth watering, as fairly muscular tannins grip the palate. There’s boisterous energy to this wine, and a citrus-saline kick in the finish. Quite tasty. 12.4% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $??

2018 Rhys Vineyards “Porcupine Hill” Pinot Noir
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry fruit and a touch of orange peel. In the mouth, raspberry, orange peel, and redcurrant flavors mix with dried herbs and a touch of earth. Excellent acidity, silky texture, and the faintest of powdery tannins. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $105 click to buy.

2018 Siduri “Edmeades Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherries. In the mouth, bright cherry and sour cherry fruit have a muscular, powdery tannic texture and bright citrusy acidity that keeps things vibrant on the palate. Quite tasty. 14.2% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $55.

2017 Smith Story Wine Cellars “The Boonies” Pinot Noir
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and cedar. In the mouth, bright raspberry, cedar, and orange peel flavors are wrapped in a suede blanket of tannins. Excellent acidity and length. Very pretty. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $58 click to buy.

Poised for Greatness: Tasting The Evolution of Anderson Valley

2017 Smith Story Wine Cellars “Helluva Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet raspberry pastilles and herbs de Provence. In the mouth, bright raspberry fruit is juicy and lean, but carried on a silky texture, with wispy tannins that tighten the corners of the mouth. Hints of herbs and citrus peel hang in the finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $48 click to buy.

2018 Smith Story Wine Cellars “Helluva Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberries and floral scents. In the mouth, bright raspberry, black raspberry, and floral flavors have a nice brightness to them and great acidity. Somewhat surprisingly muscular tannins coat the mouth and put a slight squeeze on the palate through the finish. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $48 click to buy.

2019 Weatherborne Wine Corp Pinot Noir
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of floral cherry and raspberry aromas. In the mouth, raspberry and cherry flavors have a nice tinge of violets to them with gorgeous acidity and gauzy tannins that coat the mouth. Excellent acidity and balance. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $??

2019 Wentworth Vineyard and Ranch “Nash Mill Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberries and herbs. In the mouth, bright raspberry and herb flavors are wrapped in a powdery haze of tannins that stiffen slightly as the wine finishes with hints of orange peel and dried herbs. Quite juicy and delicious with excellent acidity. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $75 click to buy.

2018 Radio-Coteau “Savoy Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet cherry and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, wonderfully bright cherry and raspberry fruit have a faint earthiness to them, along with a hint of toasted oak and vanilla. Wonderfully balanced between richness of fruit and brightness of acidity, with hints of bitter green herbs lingering in the finish. Barely perceptible tannins. 13.4% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $70. click to buy.

2018 Cakebread Cellars “Annahala Ranch” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cedar. In the mouth, raspberry and cherry flavors blend under a suede blanket of tannins. Good, citrusy acidity keeps things bright, even as some earthier notes creep into the finish, leaving things nicely savory. Ages in 33% new French oak. 13.4% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.  

BETWEEN 8.5 and 9
2019 Bravium “Wiley Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of crushed herbs, wet wood, and the floral aromas that suggest whole clusters. In the mouth, raspberry, herbs, and green wood flavors have a silky texture and faint but muscular tannins. I’d like slightly more acidity here if I could get it. 13.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $40 click to buy.

Poised for Greatness: Tasting The Evolution of Anderson Valley

2019 Dupuis “Le Benedict” Pinot Noir
Medium to dark garnet in the glass with a purplish cast, this wine smells of black cherry and black raspberry. In the mouth, rich black raspberry and cherry flavors are wrapped in a fleecy blanket of tannins. Excellent citrus-peel acidity keeps the darker, richer flavors from being too thick, but there’s a brooding, denser quality to this wine. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $49 click to buy.

2019 FEL Wines Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cranberry and pomegranate. In the mouth, cranberry, pomegranate, and raspberry fruit flavors have a nice brightness thanks to excellent acidity. Faint, powdery tannins gain strength as the wine finishes, with notes of citrus peel and cedar lingering on the palate. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $40 click to buy.

2018 Goldeneye Winery Pinot Noir
Medium garnet with purple highlights, this wine smells of bright cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, bright and juicy cherry fruit is rich and pure with a nice cedar and dried herbs note that emerges in the finish, along with a hint of orange peel. Excellent acidity. On the rich side of Pinot, but so well balanced by acidity it’s hard not to be charmed. There’s a tiny bit of heat on the finish, however. 14.6% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $58 click to buy.

2017 Handley Cellars “Estate” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dusty roads, dried herbs, cherry, and a hint of carob. In the mouth, cherry and cranberry flavors mix with mulling spices and road dust. Fine-grained tannins add texture around the edges of the mouth. Good acidity. Definitely more on the savory side. 13.3% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50 click to buy.

2019 Lichen Estate “Moonglow” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and floral notes. In the mouth, raspberry and black raspberry flavors have a nice stony underbelly and thick, powdery tannins that flex their muscles as the wine heads to the finish with hints of dried flowers. Excellent acidity. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $39 click to buy.

2019 Littorai “Les Larmes” Pinot Noir
A light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and raspberry fruit with a hint of dried herbs. In the mouth, cherry, raspberry, and hints of cedar are bright with good acidity. Dusty tannins add some texture to the wine and savory notes of dried herbs linger in the finish. Excellent acidity, but perhaps not as complex as it could be. This is basically all the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir that didn’t make it into vineyard-designated bottlings at Littorai. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $60 click to buy.

2019 Lussier “Golden Fleece” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of earth and raspberries. In the mouth, deeply earthy raspberry flavors are shot through with green herbs and road dust. Muscular, mouth-coating tannins make for a fairly brawny expression of Pinot Noir. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??

2017 Pangloss “Charles Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cedar and raspberry, and redcurrant. In the mouth, raspberry and cherry flavors have a nice gauzy tannic texture and hints of dried flowers and herbs. Good (but could have better) acidity. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $63 click to buy.

2018 Philo Ridge Vineyards “Philo Ridge Vineyards” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of sweet cedar and raspberry, and dried herbs. In the mouth, raspberry, redcurrant, and dried herb flavors are dusted with powdery tannins and a touch of citrus peel. Dried herbs linger in the finish. Good acidity. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $32 click to buy.

2018 Rhys Vineyards “Alesia” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of redwood bark, cherry, and cranberry. In the mouth, bright cranberry and raspberry flavors have a faintly candied note to them, but are enlivened with excellent acidity and shot through with a faint dried herbal note. Fresh and juicy. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45 click to buy.

2018 Toulouse Vineyards Pinot Noir
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dried herbs and raspberries. In the mouth, savory notes of dried herbs mix with raspberry and redcurrant as dusty tannins coat the nooks and crannies of the mouth, gaining strength as the wine finishes with dried herbs and road dust. Good acidity.14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $42 click to buy

2019 Twomey Cellars “Monument Tree” Pinot Noir
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry, raspberry leaf, and miso paste. In the mouth, slightly saline flavors of raspberry and cherry mix with a hint of nutmeg and white miso. Herbs and a touch of dried citrus peel linger in the finish. Faint, dusty tannins. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $68 click to buy.

2018 Walt Wines “Blue Jay” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry jam. In the mouth, sweetish, bright candied raspberries mix with a hint of citrus and cedar. Decent acidity, but a tiny bit of alcoholic heat creeps into the finish. 14.9% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $38 click to buy.

2019 Wentworth Vineyard and Ranch Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and raspberry leaf. In the mouth, bright raspberry and green herbal flavors have a nice brightness thanks to excellent acidity which leaves a touch of grapefruit pith in the finish. Faint, dusty tannins. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50 click to buy.

2018 Dupuis Wines “Baker Ranch” Syrah
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberries and struck match. In the mouth, crunchy blackberry and blueberry flavors crackle with bright acidity and are shot through with green herbs and notes of black pepper that linger in the finish. Nice balance between fruit and savory qualities. Fermented with whole clusters and native yeasts, then aged in neutral oak barrels. Comes from a vineyard high up on the southern ridge of Anderson Valley at 1200 feet of elevation. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $47 click to buy.

AROUND 8.5
2017 Baxter “Valenti Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cedar. In the mouth cedar and cherry and raspberry flavors mix with an angular slightly bitter quality. Excellent acidity, with herbal notes on the finish. Lightly muscular tannins. Feels slightly compressed. 13.4% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $52 click to buy.

2017 Baxter “Langley Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dried flowers, plum, and black raspberry. In the mouth, somewhat heady flavors of black raspberry and dried herbs and flowers have a fleecy tannic texture, with some drying of the mouth. To me it the texture feels like too much oak influence in this wine, though the flavors of oak are relatively minor notes at this point. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $52 click to buy.

2018 Bee Hunter Wine Pinot Noir
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and plum and herbs. In the mouth, plum and cherry flavors have a dark, dusty earthiness to them, with notes of cedar and sawdust. Good acidity, with citrus peel lingering in the finish. 14.3% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $42 click to buy.

2019 Bravium Pinot Noir
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet wood and herbs with red berries. In the mouth, cedar, green herbs, and woody-stemmy flavors mix with cherry and candied raspberry notes. Very good acidity, with sneaky muscular tannins that show up with some squeeze in the finish. 13.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $32 click to buy.

2018 Cakebread Cellars “Two Creeks Vineyards” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of struck match and raspberries. In the mouth, raspberries, and cherries mix with dried herbs and some dusty earth. Good acidity and a nice herbal freshness to the finish. Leave alone for a while, or decant to get past the reduction. 13.7% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $45 click to buy.

2018 Cakebread Cellars “Apple Barn Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of struck match and cherry fruit. With some time and air, that reduction aroma dissipates. In the mouth, cherry and raspberry fruit flavors have a nice fleecy tannic texture to them and hints of herbs and citrus that linger in the finish with a nice umami note. Ages in 40% new French oak. 14% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.  

2018 Fathers+Daughters Cellars “Vineyard Select: Roma’s” Pinot Noir
Light ruby in the glass with some garnet highlights, this wine smells of red apple skin, mulling spices, and potpourri. In the mouth, lean raspberry and dried herbs mix with potpourri and mixed dried herbs for a savory mouthful that features a lot of dried orange peel. Very good acidity. 13.7% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $45.

2019 FEL Wines “Savoy Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Medium purple in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and black plum. In the mouth, sweetish notes of black cherry and raspberry mix with a hint of dried herbs. Powdery, mouth-coating tannins gain stiffness as the wine finishes. Good acidity.13.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $70 click to buy.

2019 Hartford Family Winery “Velvet Sisters” Pinot Noir
Medium purple in the glass, this wine smells of dried flowers including lavender, and dark cherry fruit. In the mouth, slightly sweet cherry and black raspberry fruit has a nice brightness thanks to very good acidity, but also a sweet density that will appeal to those who like their Pinots dark and intense. Well balanced, though, for all that richness. 14.9% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $70 click to buy.

2018 Husch Vineyards Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of candied raspberries and cherry. In the mouth, lightly bitter notes of cedar and licorice wrap around a core of sweetish cherry fruit. Faint tannins. Decent acidity. 13.9% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $25 click to buy.

2018 Lichen Estate Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of earth and cherries. In the mouth, fairly round flavors of cherry and earth have a somber, subdued quality, draped as they are in a thick, muscular blanket of tannins. Decent acidity keeps things moving along across the palate, but there’s a darker, muddier quality to this wine that will appeal to those looking for the savory side of Pinot. 14.4% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $65 click to buy.

2017 Pangloss Cellars Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry aromas with a hint of dried herbs. In the mouth, cherry and cranberry fruit is a little flat on the palate, and wants more acidity. Nice flavors, with a cedar-citrus note at the end, but I would like it to be brighter. 13.9% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $40 click to buy.

2016 Philo Ridge Vineyards “Helluva Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Light to medium ruby in the glass with orange at the rim, this wine smells of raisins, dried apples, and mulling spices. In the mouth, dried apples, dried cherries, and mulling spices mix with dried orange peel and herbs. Very bright acidity keeps things fresh, but this wine is showing a lot of aged characteristics at the moment. Time to drink up. 14.1% alcohol. 110 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $32.

2017 Texture Wines “Ferrington Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cedar and cherry and a hint of manure. In the mouth, that faintly barnyard quality continues with cherry and raspberry fruit, along with faint herbal notes. Peanut-buttery tannins. 13.9% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $48 click to buy.

2018 Thomas T Thomas Vineyards “Buster’s Hill” Pinot Noir
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry compote and cedar and herbs. In the mouth, cherry and raspberry fruit mixes with dried herbs and citrus peel as bright acidity keeps things vibrant. Muscular tannins. A hint of astringency in the finish. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $85.

2019 Twomey Cellars Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass with purple highlights, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, cherry and cranberry fruit are wrapped in a skein of fine-grained tannins. Decent acidity, but not enough to keep the flavors from feeling slightly flat. A slight hint of carob creeps into this wine, along with dried herbs that linger in the finish. 14.4% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50 click to buy.

2018 Walt Wines “The Corners” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherries and a hint of cola. In the mouth, sweet lush cherry fruit is dusted with faint tannins and heads to a citrus-tinged finish that also has some alcoholic heat, thanks in part to this wine’s prodigious 15.2% alcohol. Slightly lower in acidity than I would like. Fairly plush. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2016 Woodenhead “Wiley Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cedar and cranberry with chopped green herbs. In the mouth, roasted fig and red apple skin mix with raspberry jam and notes of wet earth. Good acidity leaves notes of orange peel in the finish, along with the faint suede of tannins. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $60 click to buy.

BETWEEN 8 and 8.5
2018 Goldeneye Winery “Gowan Creek” Pinot Noir
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of rich cherry compote, prunes, and oak. In the mouth, dark plummy and cherry flavors mix with cedar and the vanilla of oak. Muscular, slightly drying tannins. Good acidity. Dark and ripe and too much of both for me. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $88 click to buy.

2019 Hartford Family Winery “Muldune Trail” Pinot Noir
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry cordials. In the mouth, rich and sweet cherry and slightly bitter herbs mix with cedar and tacky, muscular tannins. Good acidity, but comes across as a bit too brawny. 15% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $70 click to buy.

2017 La Crema Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cedar and cherries. In the mouth, somewhat flat cherry flavors mix with cedar and hints of herbs. Faint tannins buff the edges of the mouth. Needs more acidity and more complexity, but there’s nothing wrong with these flavors. 14.4% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $50 click to buy.

2017 Pennyroyal Farm Pinot Noir
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of earth and cherry and a hint of manure. In the mouth, a bit of barnyard mixes with saline flavors of cherry and black plum. Herbs linger in the finish with fine-grained tannins. Good acidity. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $39.

2018 Siduri Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass, with purple highlights, this wine smells of cherry and even darker berry flavors. In the mouth, a touch of raisin character mixes with cherry and cranberry compote. Faint, putty-like tannins. Decent acidity. Slightly overripe for my palate. 14.2% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $40 click to buy.

2018 Smith Story Wine Cellars “The Boonies” Pinot Noir
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of dried herbs and oak. In the mouth, raspberry and dried herb flavors are oak-inflected and feel a bit squeezed on the palate. Muscular tannins coat the mouth. A bit too much wood influence here for me. 12.7% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $65 click to buy.

2017 Texture Wines “Wendling Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass with purple highlights, this wine smells of cherry and black raspberry fruit. In the mouth, there’s a slightly muted quality to the wine, with cherry and raspberry flavors wrapped in a muscular skein of tannins. Decent acidity but somehow not as expressive as it could be. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $ click to buy.

2018 Thomas T Thomas Vineyards “Reserve” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cedar. In the mouth, earthy cherry and cedar flavors are wrapped in a muscular fist of tannins that give this wine, despite bright acidity, a sort of brawny character. Earthy finish. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $80.

2019 Twomey Cellars “Bearman Bend” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of sweet cherry fruit. In the mouth, silky and rich flavors of cherry and raspberry jam don’t have quite enough acidity to keep them from feeling a little flat on the palate, while thick muscular tannins coat the mouth. A bit ripe for my taste.14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $??

AROUND 8
2018 Baxter “Ferrington Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of oak and red fruits. In the mouth, spicy oak notes mix with raspberry and sour cherry flavors that are vibrant thanks to very good acidity. Muscular, powerful tannins squeeze the palate and dry out the mouth. Too much wood here, which is felt in texture more than flavor. 13.7% alcohol. Score: around 8. Cost: $56 click to buy.

2018 Domaine Anderson “Estate” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in color with purple highlights, this wine smells of cassis and raspberries. In the mouth, somewhat angular tangy flavors of black cherry and raspberry have a faint sourness to them. Putty-like tannins, sharp acidity. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 8. Cost: $45 click to buy.

2018 Husch Vineyards “Knoll” Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry compote. In the mouth, cherry and tamarind flavors are slightly muted and compressed, with notes of oak hanging around the edges. Bitter finish. Decent acidity. 14.4% alcohol. Score: around 8. Cost: $42 click to buy.

2019 Lula Cellars “Lula Vineyard” Pinot Noir
Medium to dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of very ripe dark cherry and black raspberry fruit. In the mouth, rich black cherry fruit is tinged with oak and wrapped in stiff, mouth-drying tannins that also seem to come from wood. Perfumed fruit struggles to shine against the weight of the oak. 14% alcohol. Score: around 8. Cost: $65 click to buy.

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