When Stones Speak: The Wines of Domaine des Ardoisiers

Some truly great wines sneak up on you, sip after sip, taste after taste—deepening, resonating, and ultimately resolving into your own realization that you are experiencing something profound. More commonly in my experience, however, great wines hit you like a lightning bolt, with a silent detonation that snaps every iota of your attention to the wine itself.

That’s what it felt like the first time I tasted the wines of Domaine des Ardoisiers, perhaps more than 10 years ago. I remember the moment well. I was sitting at a dinner table on the lawn at the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, Oregon, and two seats away from me sat the famed importer Martine Saunier, to whom I had been introduced a few minutes before. As we settled into our table, Martine retrieved two bottles from her oversized handbag and plunked them on the table.

The labels intrigued me from the very start, with their slightly amateurish label design and funky fonts. At the time, I had no idea where they came from. IGP Vin des Allobroges meant nothing to me. “Where the hell is Allobroges?” I thought to myself. Eventually, our attendant sommelier came by and opened them up, and then, at my first sip, the heavens themselves opened up, and I was hopelessly smitten for life.

Yes, I am a sucker for wines that taste like liquid stone. And few wines in the world manage to taste and smell more like pulverized stone than these, which are unquestionably among the very best that are produced in the little region of France known as the Savoie.

A classic U-shaped glacial valley in the Savoie

Nemesis of Ice

Few things can resist the power of a glacier that knows where it’s headed. When ten million tons of ice are headed your way, even at the creeping pace of a few centimeters per day, you get out of the way or you are ground to dust. Some of the world’s most spectacular u-shaped valleys are testament to this incredible power. Yosemite. The Fjords of Norway. Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland.

Occasionally, however, there are times when instead of obliterating, the ice embraces, flowing around and over a bit of stone instead of wreaking its slow pulverization.

Often, these snags of stone will become the sites of recessional moraines, buildups of soil and glacial effluvia that are left behind as the ice melts and the glacier seems to retreat back up the valley it has carved towards the cirque of its birth.

The glaciers that carved the Tarentaise valley started their grinding about 2 million years ago, and finished their retreat only about 10,000 years ago, leaving behind the beautiful valleys of the French Alps, and stunning lakes such as Geneva and Annecy.

And in a place that would eventually be called Cevins, in an otherwise beautifully scoured u-shaped glacial valley, as a glacier turned to water a small spur of solid schist gathered the stones and soil that the ice would no longer hold. Over time, a village sprang up in the shadow of the hill that rock and earth created, and the local residents, likely citizens of the Roman Empire at the time, planted grapes in the fractured schist soils. The vines were tended, some for better some for worse, and eventually, the townspeople placed a small chapel at the summit, dedicated to Notre Dame des Neiges, “Our Lady of the Snows.”

When Stones Speak: The Wines of Domaine des Ardoisiers

The Organic Visionary

Like many small-scale vignerons of his generation, Michel Grisard grew up on his family’s mixed farm, which produced wine as well as produce, eggs, and meats. The Grisard family, though, was perhaps a little deeper into wine than most, as they also ran a vine nursery, providing plants for new vineyards in their area.

 After studying Agriculture at university, Grisard joined the family business only to have his father pass away a year later, leaving Michel to run the nursery and winery. Once joined by his brother in the family business, Grisard decided his future lay elsewhere, and in 1982 he left to work with the small acreage of Mondeuse he had planted himself, renting the St-Christophe Priory in the village of Fréterive to use as a cellar.

Grisard’s approach to viticulture was quite traditional at first, in keeping with his university education, replete with herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, and fertilizers galore. However after meeting biodynamic consultant François Bouchet in 1994 through Michel Chapoutier, he quickly became the first biodynamic producer in the Savoie region and was certified organic three years later, and never looked back.

Soon after, thanks in part to having sold his wines to restaurant Paul Bocuse in Lyon, Grisard’s wines became quite sought-after.

As part of his explorations of nearby terroirs, Grisard eventually came across a tiny little town with a hillside full of derelict vineyards and crumbling stone terraces. The precarious slope over the little town of Cevins had been left out of the Savoie AOC region, in part because the narrow valley receives less sun than other areas of the region, and was thought to offer too much challenge in ripening grapes.

For Grisard, the unusual schist soils, steep southerly exposure, terraced plots, and a seemingly ancient history of wine growing were too much to resist.

Grisard created a company, solicited investment, bought or rented the majority of the land on the hillside, and between 1998 and 2002 he planted nearly 13 acres across the hillside with Mondeuse, Persan, Altesse, Jacquere, and perhaps some of the region’s first plantings of the little known Mondeuse Blanche.

As the first plantings began to yield fruit, Grisard made the wines under his Prieuré St-Christophe label, but as this unique hillside matured, it became clear that it needed its own identity.

When Stones Speak: The Wines of Domaine des Ardoisiers
A steep bowl near the top of the Cevins hillside

The End of a Journey, Beginning of a Calling

In the early 2000s, winemaker Brice Omont was working at a big production facility in Champagne, but while his hands were busy, his heart was somewhere else. He was both spiritually and literally searching for somewhere to make wine. He thought he might eventually end up in the Loire, given his interest in organic and biodynamic winemaking, but he made several trips to Anjou the surrounding areas and didn’t find what he was looking for.

Then some friends suggested he look at the Savoie. “I said ‘oh, you mean vin de raclette? I don’t think so,’” recalls Omont, referencing the Savoie’s (unfortunately still lingering) reputation for cheap, ski-resort swill. “I was prejudiced. But eventually, I took a vacation in 2003 and came to the region, thinking that I would just have a look.”

During his visit, he stopped off at the local Ministry of Agriculture office and explained that he was interested in organic winegrowing. “They said to me if that’s what you’re interested in, there is only one person for you to speak with. His name is Michel Grisard.” 

“I called Michel Grisard and I visited,” continues Omont. “I tasted his wines and…” he shrugs. “Wow. The Mondeuse, the Altesse. I realized immediately the brilliance of his approach. His wines were superior to every Savoie wine I had ever tasted. So I talked with him, I told him I was looking for a place to make wine, and he told me that a young vigneron he had been working with had recently left.”

Grisard then went on to describe a small hillside of schist in the Tarentaise valley.

“I came back to Champagne, and I told myself, ‘This is it. It’s not the Loire, it’s the Savoie.’ And I knew that if I didn’t do this that I would regret it for the rest of my life.”

One week later, Omont was back in the Savoie, gazing up at the little hill of vines with a tiny white chapel at its summit.

When Stones Speak: The Wines of Domaine des Ardoisiers

Ardoisiers Against All Odds

“On my first day,” says Omont, “I thought that this was no problem. The second year I realized what kind of a hill it was that we had to climb. It was very high, and very difficult, and I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to do it. We didn’t have the means at our disposal to achieve our ambitions.”

The bank agreed. When Grisard and Omont went looking for more money, no one was willing to give them a loan. “I told Michel it was a shame, but it looked like we needed to win the lottery in order to make it work,” says Omont. “Three years later we were completely out of money.”

Omont describes calling their first and best customer and breaking the news that the banks had turned them down. “He said to me, ‘What is the plan?” And I told him we didn’t have one. That we were done.”

Click the images in the gallery below for larger views.

But that customer called 10 other customers—some retailers, some restaurateurs and some consumers—and as a group they came back to Omont and told him to open a bottle of wine, and when he did, they said they would collectively co-sign for a loan, and that they would all come to help whenever the winery needed a hand.

“I pinched myself because I couldn’t believe what was happening,” says Omont. “The bank did not understand, but these people did. They had a passion for wine. Many people told me we were crazy to do this, that we’d lose control and that these people would run everything. But these people wanted no salaries, no investment returns. They just said, ‘take your time, don’t worry, do it the best way. We are just happy to drink it. If you want to give us some bottles, we’ll be happy,’ but no more than that. It’s the opposite of this kind of jungle economics you hear about. There are times when you’re scared of humanity. And then there are times like that where you just shake your head and say, ‘Fantastic.’”

Most of the investors remained silent partners, but eventually, two became advisors to Omont and Grisard, helping them think through the structuring of a healthy business, to plan for expansion, and in 2010 helped them secure the somewhat ramshackle building with a rare underground cellar that Omont located in the village of Freterive,

Around this time, Omont and Grisard had a falling out, and Grisard, who would retire from winemaking altogether in 2014, stepped away, leaving Omont solely in charge.

Soon after Omont joined, the wines were given their own identity, named after the slate (ardoise) roofs of the small vineyard huts that dot the hillside.

When Stones Speak: The Wines of Domaine des Ardoisiers

A Song of Schist and Clay

Ardoisiers farms 38.3 acres of vineyards located in two primary places, the fractured schist hill of Cevins and several plots surrounding the villages of St-Jean-de-la-Porte and St-Pierre-de-Soucy, which feature the typical Savoyard mix of clay and fractured limestone tumbled from the cliffs of the Combe de Savoie. From these two areas, the domaine has historically made five wines, named primarily for the soils in which they grow.

The Argile Blanc is a blend of Jaquère, Mondeuse Blanche, and Chardonnay farmed from 4 different locations around the village of St-Pierre-de-Soucy, some of which include some schist in addition to limestone. Some newly acquired vineyard plots that include some Roussanne plantings mean that a fourth grape may soon join the blend.

Its red counterpart, Argile Rouge, is mostly Gamay, with Mondeuse Noir and Persan, and comes mostly from around St-Jean-de-la-Porte.

The Schiste white wine, an unusual blend of Jaquère, Roussanne, Pinot Gris, and Mondeuse Blanche comes from the hill at Cevins, as does the 100% Altesse wine named Quartz.

The red blend named Amethyste is also overseen by Our Lady of the Snows, and features a blend of Mondeuse Noir and Persan.

When Stones Speak: The Wines of Domaine des Ardoisiers
The mica-schist stone of Cevins.

The simplicity of Ardoisiers winemaking will come as no surprise to fans of biodynamic and organic wines. Harvests by hand proceed slowly, and the variety of exposures across his sites means that a month or more can pass between the first grapes harvested and the last.

I thought wines that were so good meant I had to know a thousand things to get them right. But in the end it’s just easy. You just have to take care of your grapes.

Omont uses whole clusters, presses his whites gently, and ferments with ambient yeasts, adding no sulfur until just before bottling. If the wines take 3 months or even 6 months to finish their fermentation, Omont is happy to let them do their thing. Malolactic conversion occurs naturally, and the wines age in enamel tanks or in used oak barrels. After the 2004 vintage didn’t go through malolactic, Omont has worked to reduce his use of sulfur to a minimum.

“I take my time. You have to let fermentation construct the layers of aromas in the wine. And the wines need time,” says Omont. “In the end, it is not complicated. When I started I told Michel that I wanted to do pump-overs. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Let it go.’ I thought wines that were so good meant I had to know a thousand things to get them right. But in the end, it’s just easy. You just have to take care of your grapes.”

Omont farms without pesticides or herbicides, applying compost to the vines, occasionally some copper and sulfur, and some (though not all) of the biodynamic preparations, choosing to pay more attention to his vines than any particular regimen of treatment.

But no matter how well he cares for his vines, there’s one thing Omont can’t control.

When Stones Speak: The Wines of Domaine des Ardoisiers
A steep section of the hill at Cevins

Climate Insurance

“Ten years ago, we had nine good years, and then one bad year,” says Omont. “Since 2018, we have had one bad, one good, one bad.”

Indeed, the week before I arrived in the Savoie in mid-July, the region had been hit by serious rainstorms, not to mention some frost in the spring, leading Omont and many vintners to estimate mildew-driven crop losses approaching 50%.

“We need to make sure that if I invest to make improvements to the building, and if we continue to sell our wines overseas, that we are OK. If tomorrow we lose 80% of our production, we are dead,” says Omont. “We have to prepare for the worst.”

In formulating his strategy for climate survival, Omont took inspiration from some winemakers in the Jura, where he saw small established players going to other parts of their region and leasing vineyards as a hedge against weather calamities.

“In the next ten years, we will for sure have more difficulties,” says Omont, “so I am preparing now to make more stock.”

In 2018, Omont debuted a Jacquère named Silice Blanc, and in 2020, he made a Silice Rouge from Mondeuse Noir. Both are labeled with the name “Maison des Ardoisiers” and are made with grapes purchased from organically farmed vineyards that Omont has identified and contracted around the Savoie.

As the wines of Ardoisiers have seen increased demand, these new wines are an attractive proposition that allows more people to try Omont’s wines, but without him feeling like he is sacrificing quality for the sake of commercial scale.

More importantly, the diversification of his vineyard sites has already proved out Omont’s strategy. “With this year’s rain and frost, we’d be dead without Maison des Ardoisiers.”

Custodian of a Voice

At 45 years old, and with just over 17 harvests at Ardoisiers, Omont is in the prime of his winemaking career, and the wines reflect his confidence and the understanding of both the grapes and the sites he has to work with.

One day I will die, and this terroir will continue. Have I listened correctly to the terroir? Have I expressed correctly the terroir? I am lucky enough to have the chance to do that.

“My biggest regret is that we didn’t build a library of these wines,” he says. “I know these wines will last 10 or 15 years or more, but at the beginning, I had no choice. When someone called and asked for more bottles, I was happy to help them.”

Altesse in particular, says Omont, has the capacity not only to age but to develop and improve with time. Like Riesling, Semillon, Assyrtiko, or Catarratto, Altesse begins with chiseled acidity and deep stony qualities, but it gains a fleshy weight and an attractive buttery, saline richness over time, undergoing a transmutation that seems almost magical.

Persan and to a lesser extent, Mondeuse Noir, also have the ability to develop attractive secondary and tertiary characteristics with age. “People say Persan ages like Pinot, and Mondeuse ages like Syrah,” says Omont.

Eventually, perhaps, Ardoisiers will be able to hold some bottles back, but with a production of only a few hundred cases for its top wines, that will be slow going.

In the meantime, Omont seems content with his progress, and quite comfortable with the direction he is headed.

“We are just messengers,” says Omont. “One day I will die, and this terror will continue. Have I listened correctly to the terroir? Have I expressed correctly the terroir? I am lucky enough to have the chance to do that.  Each vintage, I ask myself, did I do a good job expressing what this place has to say?”

For those of us who love to hear the whispers of magical places and taste the majesty of a landscape in the glass, the answer is an unqualified yes.

* * *

I am particularly indebted to Wink Lorch and her tremendous book Wines of the French Alps for some of the background information about Michel Grisard that I have included above.

Tasting Notes

In case it is not obvious from the above, or the scores below, these are some of my absolute favorite wines in the world, and (at the risk of making them harder to get for myself) they come with my highest recommendation.

2020 Maison des Ardoisiers “Silice Blanc” Jacquère, IGP Vin des Allobroges, France
Palest gold in the glass with almost no color, this wine smells of green apples and grapefruit pith. In the mouth, green apple, grapefruit, and a hint of white flowers are bright and juicy with fantastic acidity. Great wet chalkboard minerality. These grapes come from the limestone studded soils of Apremont. 11% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.

2020 Domaine des Ardoisiers “Argile Blanc” White Blend, IGP Vin des Allobroges, France
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of green apples, wet stones, and white flowers. In the mouth, deep stony flavors of green apples, white flowers, and citrus pith are welded to wet pavement. Incredibly stony and delicious. A blend of Jacquère, Mondeuse Blanc, and Chardonnay. Comes from 4 locations around the village of Saint Pierre de Soucy which feature limestone studded clays referenced by the wine’s name. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2019 Domaine des Ardoisiers “Schiste” White Blend, IGP Vin des Allobroges, France
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of star fruit and a bit of unripe greengage plums, and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, gorgeous star fruit, wet chalkboard, lime flower, and lime zest flavors are wonderfully mouthwatering with faint salinity. Mouthwatering and stunningly mineral. Like drinking stone. Comes from the vineyard on the hill below the Our Lady of the Snows chapel, along the Rue des Ardoisiers in Cevins. A blend of Jaquère, Roussanne, Pinot Gris, and Mondeuse Blanche. 12% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2019 Domaine des Ardoisiers “Quartz” Altesse, IGP Vin des Allobroges, France
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of citrus pith, warm hay, dried herbs, and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, grapefruit pith, dried herbs, and wet stones swirl in a wonderfully deep stony cistern of flavor and mineral expression. The crushed rock quality continues in the finish with some pithiness and a hint of lemongrass. These grapes are also from the Cevins vineyard. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $120. click to buy.

2012 Domaine des Ardoisiers “Quartz” Altesse, IGP Vin des Allobroges, France
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of melted butter and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, saline flavors of lemon oil, wet pavement, and seawater take on a shimmering ethereal quality that is simply and irresistibly mouthwatering. Rich on the one hand, and then also light and zingy on the other, this wine is utterly compelling. This bottle demonstrates what happens to Altesse with some age: it fattens up and to the searing liquid stone minerality it adds a layered buttery caramel quality. Boom. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $120. If you can find it, buy it.

2020 Maison des Ardoisiers “Silice Rouge” Mondeuse, IGP Vin des Allobroges, France
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of boysenberry and aromatic herbs like lavender and pennyroyal. In the mouth, stony bright flavors of boysenberry and dried sage are suffused with a cloud of powdery tannins that fill the mouth and leave a chalk-dust minerality lingering on the palate. Fantastic acidity. This is the only wine at Ardoisiers that is destemmed. After a week of maceration, this wine is fermented and aged in steel tanks. 10.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2019 Domaine des Ardoisiers “Argile Rouge” Red Blend, IGP Vin des Allobroges, France
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of berries and bramble, green herbs, and a hint of sawdust. In the mouth, gorgeously bright acidity makes flavors of mulberries, redcurrant, and plum mix with the faint bitter sourness of plum skin. Wonderful tangy flavors and faint herbal notes are welded to wet pavement minerality and a long finish. Whole bunches of 65% Gamay, 25% Mondeuse Noir, and 10% Persan macerate for 10 days before fermentation. Ages in large oak foudres for about 9 months before bottling, and then released the following year. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2018 Domaine des Ardoisiers “Amethyste” Red Blend, IGP Vin des Allobroges, France
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of mulberries, and aromatic green herbs. In the mouth, saline flavors of mulberries, sour cherry, and herbs swirl and crackle with phenomenal acidity and stony minerality, with the saline notes making for a mouthwatering finish for minutes. Incredibly delicious. Stony faint tannins. A blend of Persan and Mondeuse Noir that I could drink all day long. 11% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $105. click to buy.

2016 Domaine des Ardoisiers “Amethyste” Red Blend, IGP Vin des Allobroges, France
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dried sage and other herbs with sour cherry, mulberry, and dusty road notes. In the mouth, deeply mineral flavors come through a haze of chalk-dusty tannins and a core of sour cherry and mulberry fruit tinged with hints of citrus peel crackles with mouthwatering acidity. Wonderfully long, juicy finish. Outstanding. 12% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $105. click to buy.

When Stones Speak: The Wines of Domaine des Ardoisiers
Winemaker Brice Omont and the lineup of Ardoisiers wines

The post When Stones Speak: The Wines of Domaine des Ardoisiers appeared first on Vinography.

Wine Reviews: End of Summer Selections

Labor Day has come and gone, but as I’m wont to point out around this time of year – astronomically speaking, it’s still summer! The beaches are quieter here on the East Coast, the humidity is dropping, and I’m loving it. As such, I’ve gathered together a mix of wines that I think would pair wonderfully with early fall.

Destinata is a new label from California producer Tooth & Nail, who makes a wide range of wines from Paso Robles and other regions. This brand is focused on a less intervention approach in the cellar, with smaller batches, native yeasts, yielding wines with crushable appeal but surprising complexity. Natty wine fans looking to expand their horizons and try some good examples of this style out of Santa Barbara County should definitely check these wines out.

Chalk Hill delivers classic Sonoma Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in some half-bottles – which are inexpensive and great for those times when a 375ml is all you need.

And Dallas-based entrepreneur Casey Barber brings her new Rose Gold rosé from Provence, which is an impressive display. A rocking Champagne from Laurent-Perrier, two delicious Rieslings from Wines of Germany and some Proseccos round out this report.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

N.V. Laurent-Perrier Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature France, Champagne
SRP: $99
The nose boasts a mix of zesty lemon and quince, salty and chalky tones, with crushed limestone and oyster shells, with some bready, doughy accents. Zippy and racy on the palate with a pure, mountain stream meets the ocean vibe. Talc, minerals, quinine, accenting the lemon and green apple fruit. Bready, honeysuckle, some white pepper, this is pure, long, racy and complex, and just a joy to drink. A blend of several vineyards from the Cote des Blancs and the Montagne de Reims, aged six years before disgorgement. (93 points IJB)

2020 Rose Gold Côtes de Provence Rosé France, Provence, Côtes de Provence
SRP: $21
Pale copper color. Alive and airy on the nose with red apple peel, wild raspberry and lemon, topped in basil, honeysuckle and chalk dust. Crisp and punchy on the palate with some interesting textural depth, and plenty of red apple peel, sour cherry and watermelon rind flavors. White flowers, some freshly-sliced cucumbers. This is brisk, balanced, floral and fun, well done stuff. Half Cinsault and Grenache. (89 points IJB)

2016 Axel Pauly Riesling “Generations” Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
SRP: $21
Light yellow color. The nose shows a lovely mix of zesty and rich elements, with white peaches, papaya and honey contrasted with flinty, oceanic tones. Plump texture, balanced sugar, zesty acidity – it lines up well with the peaches, guava and lime fruit. Notes of slate, river stones and seashells blend well with clover, honey and yellow flowers. Nice vibrancy and clarity throughout, solid value as well. (89 points IJB)

2018 Schäfer-Fröhlich Riesling Trocken – Germany, Nahe
SRP: $26
Medium yellow color. Aromas of salty, peachy, limey goodness, with white flowers, chalk dust, minerals – so bright. Crisp and dry on the palate with delightful texture and racy acidity. Balances so well with this lime, white peach and kiwi fruit. Minerals, honeysuckle and flinty, white peppery notes round out this complex, racy, delightful wine. A great entry into what this producer can do. (90 points IJB)

N.V. Ca’ Furlan Prosecco “Cuvée Béatrice” Italy, Veneto / Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Prosecco
SRP: $12
Pale straw color. The aromas are zesty and bright with lemons, orange peel, honey, white flowers, with sugar cane and crushed sweet tarts. Chalky and refreshing on the palate with integrated sugarcane tones and lemon, orange peel and white peach fruit. Nice talc and flinty tones on a sweet tart frame. Fun stuff, and a solid bargain that would please a lot of palates. (87 points IJB)

N.V. Ca’ Furlan “Cuvée Mariana” Italy, Veneto, Veneto IGT
SRP: $12
Pale salmon color. Sweet and spritely aromas of lemon peel, watermelon rind, with verbena, crushed sweet tarts and floral perfume. On the palate, this is dusty and chalky with well-woven sugar. White peaches, raspberries and lemon tones mix with sea salt and floral perfume. Medium sweetness is balanced well, this is a fan friendly and fun and impressive for the price – nothing cloying here. (87 points IJB)

2020 Tooth & Nail Wines Chenin Blanc “Destinata” USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
Wine Reviews: End of Summer SelectionsSRP: $28
Pale lemon color. So bright and lively on the nose with limes, green melon and kiwi, along with a host of honey and a breezy field of lavender and daisies. On the palate, this is crisp and zippy but shows a deep, waxy texture as well with orange peel, lemon slices and juicy kiwi fruit, highly delicious. Complex floral and herbal tones, with basil, lavender and magnolia tones, a salty, tangy finish. Crystal clear and pretty Chenin Blanc. (90 points IJB)

2020 Tooth & Nail Wines Riesling “Destinata” USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $28
Medium yellow color. Riesling-tastic nose of limes and guava laced with honeysuckle, new tennis balls and some stony, mineral stream notes. Zippy acidity, a racy frame but the texture is creamy, too, gorgeous balance. Chalky, flinty, salty elements mix with yellow and white flowers, some grapefruit rind and honey – this has such a pure, vibrant feel. Exciting to see a California Riesling of this quality for this price. (91 points IJB)

2020 Tooth & Nail Wines Syrah “Destinata” USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $28
Bright purple color. Pretty and fun on the nose with a cool mix of raspberries and blueberries, along with black pepper, violets, tilled soil, some mesquite and pine tones, too. Wow, the palate shows such zippy acidity on a medium-bodied frame, dusty tannins, has a lively and balanced feel. Tart plums, strawberries and blueberries, tangy, ripe fruit, mixed with pepper, violets, mesquite, some grilled herbs. Complex but close to crushable, too – this stuff rocks. (91 points IJB)

2018 Chalk Hill Chardonnay USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $15/375ml
Medium yellow color. A nose of peaches, lemon curd, laced with graham cracker, shaved ginger, honeycomb and dandelion notes. Creamy texture on the palate, generous but well balanced with medium acidity. Yellow fruit (apples, plums and pears) abounds, mixed with whipped butter, lemon crème, yellow flowers and clover. Ripe but nuanced, with a creamy but crisp finish. All maloactic fermentation, aged 10 months on the lees in 25% new French oak. (88 points IJB)

2017 Chalk Hill Pinot Noir USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $15/375ml
Medium ruby color. Spicy herbal and floral tones on the nose, with cola and rhubarb, all overtop juicy raspberries and crunchy red apples. Crisp acidity, easy-drinking feel with dusty tannins and bright strawberries, red apples and raspberries. Rhubarb, mint, tobacco and white pepper add complexity, with a crunchy, fun, savory feel. A small bottle of reasonably-priced Sonoma Pinot goodness. Aged nine months in French oak. (88 points IJB)

2020 Castello di Amorosa Pinot Noir Rosato Cresta d’Oro USA, California, Sonoma County, Green Valley of Russian River Valley
SRP: $39
Light pink color. The nose shows white cherries, wild raspberries, McIntosh apple, along with mint, new tennis ball and sliced cucumber notes – a really interesting mix. Punchy, juicy but zesty, focused too, with bright acidity. Lemons, wild raspberries and crunchy red apple fruit blends well with floral perfume, sliced cucumber, honeysuckle and dandelion, while sea salt and minerals add complexity. Fresh and fun, but complex, too – really solid stuff. Aged in concrete eggs. (90 points IJB)

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 8/29/21

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.

Let’s get started with a lovely wine that I’ve now had a couple of times, which is a “side-project” of winemaker Marty Mathis, who makes the wines at Kathryn Kennedy Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The “M. Mathis Winegrower” Grüner Veltliner is one of the better renditions of that variety in California, and a lovely expression of the Alfaro Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

I’ve also got notes on the latest Jordan Chardonnay and Cabernet for you this week, both of which continue to do what Jordan has done so well for decades, which is to deliver consistently tasty wines at reasonable prices.

It’s rare that I get sent wines from Texas, but I got a couple recently from C.L. Butaud that were worth sharing. The Pinot Gris Ramato in particular, was quite tasty and well done, as was their Tempranillo, though it must be said for a winery that claims to produce “sustainably” their choice of packaging for the red is completely deplorable, representing one of the single heaviest dry-red wine bottles I’ve encountered. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times. Choosing lightweight bottles is literally the single easiest and highest impact thing a winery can do to reduce its carbon footprint almost overnight.

OK, now that I’ve stepped down off my soapbox, let’s not overlook the very pretty rendition of Pais, by the J. Bouchon winery in Chile’s Maule Valley. This wine is made from 100+ year-old vines of dry-farmed Pais. For my money, it’s one of the highest quality-to-price-ratio wines on the market.

Speaking of high QPR, you could do a lot worse than the 2019 Firesteed Pinot Noir I opened this week that, even with a little age on it, was still delivering excellent bright fruit that will satisfy a lot of folks, and at $15, it’s a helluva deal, especially for Pinot Noir, which is getting a lot harder to find at that price at all, let alone in decent quality.

Two slightly more expensive renditions of Pinot also satisfied this week: the Emeritus Hallberg Ranch Pinot from the Russian River Valley, and the Dutton-Goldfield from the Van Der Kamp Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain.

For many years I’ve been telling anyone who would listen that some of the best value red wines on the planet are the dry reds from the Douro Valley, and this week I got a couple of bottles from the Prats and Symington family that continue to deliver on that promise. Whether it’s the $18 Prazo de Roriz or the $27 slightly more complex Post Scriptum, both of these wines are delicious and punch well above their weight class.

Notes on all of these below.

Tasting Notes

2020 M.Mathis Winegrower “Alfaro Vineyard” Grüner Veltliner, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Light gold in color, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and citrus pith with a hint of yellow herbs. In the mouth, bright pear, lemon peel, and wet pavement minerality all have a nice briskness to them thanks to excellent acidity. Crisp and juicy and easy to drink. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $ . click to buy.

2019 Jordan Winery Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
A pale yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon curd and grapefruit. In the mouth, bright lemon pith and pink grapefruit flavors are mild and juicy, with a nice crispness and no overt oak character. Pleasantly tasty. 13.7% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $36. click to buy.

2020 C.L. Butaud “Ramato” Pinot Gris, Hill Country, Texas
A pale, coppery peach color in the glass, this wine smells of citrus peel and yellow plums. In the mouth, flavors of yellow plum, citrus, and a faint berry note are all juicy and crisp with a faint chalky tannic grip. Good acidity. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $22.

2018 J. Bouchon “Pais Viejo” Pais, Maule, Chile
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of berries and wet pavement. In the mouth, bright juicy berry flavors mix with wet pavement and a touch of flowers. Hints of strawberry linger in the finish. Faint, but muscular tannins. Great acidity. Made from 100+-year-old, dry-farmed vines of Pais. Aged for 4 months in concrete before bottling. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $17. click to buy.

2019 Firesteed Pinot Noir, Oregon
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry compote. In the mouth, sweetish cherry and cranberry flavors are simple and straightforward, if slightly confectionery in quality. But at this price, that’s more than acceptable. Faint tannins and decent acidity. 13.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $13. click to buy.

2017 Emeritus Vineyards “Hallberg Ranch” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of faintly meaty red apple skin and raspberry jam. In the mouth, bright sour cherry and raspberry flavors mix with a nice saline umami character that, along with faint dried flowers, lingers in the finish with citrus peel brightness. Excellent acidity, and a nice resonant depth to the wine. Quite delicious. 13.7% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

Wine Prats and Symington, Post Scriptum de Chryseia, Douro DOC, 2015, 750  ml Prats and Symington, Post Scriptum de Chryseia, Douro DOC, 2015 – price,  reviews

2019 Prats & Symington “Post Scriptum de Chryseia” Red Blend, Douro, Portugal
A very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, black currant, and chocolate. In the mouth, black cherry, blackberry, and cocoa powder flavors also have a hint of cola nut to them, along with a faint, fine-grained tannic structure. Good acidity and length, with just the faintest of heat on the finish. Quite tasty. A blend of 56% Touriga Franca, 33% Touriga Nacional, 7% Tinta Roriz, and 4% Tinta Barroca. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $27. click to buy.

2018 Prats & Symington “Prazo de Roriz” Red Blend, Douro, Portugal
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry and boysenberry fruit. In the mouth, wonderfully juicy blackberry and boysenberry flavors are dusted with fine tannins and a touch of mulling spices in the finish. Excellent acidity keeps things quite fresh in the mouth, making this a very easy wine to drink. A blend of 35% Touriga Franca, 25% Touriga Nacional, 20% Tinta Roriz, and 20% of many other red varieties. Ages for 6 months in large old oak casks. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2017 Jordan Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry with a hint of espresso and the barest whisper of green herbs. In the mouth, juicy and bright black cherry and cola notes mix with a boysenberry quality, as somewhat muscular tannins flex and tense around the edges of the palate. Hints of dried herbs linger with a touch of licorice root in the finish. Very good acidity keeps things fresh. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $ 59 . click to buy.

2018 C.L. Butaud Tempranillo, High Plains, Texas
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of red fruits and toasted oak. In the mouth, cherry and boysenberry fruit flavors are shot through with toasted oak and faint, putty-like tannins. Good acidity makes this wine quite drinkable, and the oak, while perhaps stronger a presence than I would like, has a refined character. 14.1% alcohol. 250 cases of obscenely heavy bottles made. And when I say obscene, I mean obscene. These bottles are like the Hummer H2 of wine packaging, some of the heaviest I have ever seen. Each full bottle weighs almost 2 kg, or over 4.5 pounds. Shame, shame, shame. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $54.

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Tasting Some of Colorado’s Best Wines

I don’t do a lot of wine judging. At least I haven’t done so in the past. In part, this was because the pesky day job kept me from being able to jet off and lock myself in a room for four days to taste hundreds of wines. When I do take the time to judge wine competitions, I’ve always been biased towards competitions run by up-and-coming wine regions, or for regions that I don’t know well, and for which I would like to deepen my experience and knowledge.

My annual trip to judge the Colorado Governor’s Cup Wine Competition fits into the first category. Colorado wine isn’t on most people’s radar, despite a long history of grape growing in the state. The fact that I also grew up in Colorado sweetens the deal a bit. So spending a couple of days tasting close to 100 local wines lets me support the home team, so to speak, with the hopes of encouraging rising quality.

Some of the lovely hues from competition wines.

The Colorado Governors Cup Competition evaluates wines, fruit wines, meads, and sakes (but not ciders) made in Colorado. A vast majority of the wines evaluated are made with Colorado-grown grapes, but that is not a requirement for entry into the competition, and occasionally a wine will be made from trucked-in fruit.

During this competition, I and my fellow judges agree on medals for the better wines, and then, in the end, select a group of wines that become the “Governor’s Cup Collection” – a set of wines that are sold as a unit to anyone interested in trying the best of what the state has to offer. There are some years where we can’t quite narrow the list to around 12 bottles, so sometimes, like this year, we end up with 14 wines.

I was particularly pleased this year to see that Colorado vintners have increased their exploration of alternative grape varieties, and as the results demonstrate below, with no small success. While Colorado does have a long history of growing grapes, a truly commercial wine industry is a relatively recent phenomenon, and we’re far from anyone having figured out the right grapes to grow in all the right places. Up-and-coming regions such as Colorado need to keep experimenting for a while to see what truly shines in their unique terroirs.

Tasting Some of Colorado’s Best Wines
My fellow judges.

Once all the medal winners from the entire competition have been announced, I’ll offer my personal scores and tasting notes for the wines, but for now, here’s what I thought of the 14 wines that the judges selected for this year’s Colorado Governor’s Cup Collection.

It is important to note that the tasting notes and scores below are mine and mine alone, and in many cases, they differed from the rest of the judges at the competition. Where available, I have provided costs and links to purchase.

Tasting Notes

2018 BookCliff Vineyards, Graciano
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of brambly berries and green herbs. Boysenberry and herbs linger with tacky tannins through a long finish. Good acidity that has a citrus peel snap to it. An excellent rendition of this grape that shows great promise. Score: between 8.5. and 9.

2018 BookCliff Vineyards Reserve Syrah
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of sweet oak and blackberries. In the mouth, sweet oak and blackberry fruit flavors are wrapped in leathery tannins that are fairly aggressive. I wish there was less oak on this wine, but many will find it appealing. Score: around 8.5.  

2019 Buckel Family Wine Cinsault
Light ruby in color, this wine smells of exotic herbs and flowers. In the mouth, silky flavors of red apple skin and peach and berries are spicy and floral and quite pretty. I wish it had more acidity, but it’s a pretty great wine, with subtlety, varietal expression, and deliciousness. Very faint tannins. Score: around 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.  

2020 Buckel Family Wine Pétillant Naturel Rosé
Pale peachy pink in the glass with medium fine bubbles, this wine smells of scrambled eggs and berries. In the mouth, flavors of pink Smarties mix with a hint of grapefruit, all with a tangy sour quality. Fizzy mousse. Fun. Score: around 8. Cost: $28. click to buy.  

2019 Carboy Winery Teroldego, Grand Valley
Dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of cassis and earth. In the mouth, cassis and blackberry flavors are silky and smooth, and seamless, but with less acidity than I would like. But damn, it certainly does taste like Teroldego. Score around 8.5.

2019 Carlson Vineyards “Tyrannosaurus Red” Lemberger, Grand Valley
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of herbs and boysenberries. In the mouth, boysenberry and herbs mix with some earthy notes and a touch of citrus on the finish. Faint tannins. Could have more acidity, but very expressive and quite exciting as a demonstration of what this variety might be able to do in Colorado. I just wish everyone would call it Blaufränkisch instead. Score: between 8.5. and 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.  

NV Sauvage Spectrum “Sparklet Candy Red” Verona, Grand Valley
Very dark garnet in the glass with medium fine bubbles, this wine smells of forest floor and cassis. In the mouth, earthy herbal notes suggest tree bark along with blackberry fruit. Surprisingly savory. Verona is a patent-pending American hybrid grape developed in the late 90s. Score: around 8.

2020 The Storm Cellar Rosé of St. Vincent, Grand Valley
Light baby pink with a slight coppery hue, this wine smells of orange peel and hibiscus. In the mouth, rosehip and citrus peel mix with lovely bright acidity and a hint of cotton candy. Delightful, and possibly the best American hybrid rosé I’ve ever had. The St. Vincent grape has been cultivated in the Midwest since the late 70’s. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.  

2018 Turquoise Mesa Winery Merlot, Grand Valley
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of oak, cherry, and plum. In the mouth, cedar and plum fruit is bright and juicy with excellent acidity. There’s a touch too much oak and its mocha flavor here for my taste, but this is an extremely well-made wine. Faint tannins. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.  

2019 Whitewater Hill Vineyards Chambourcin, Grand Valley
Very dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of wet dog, brambly berry. In the mouth, brambly blueberry and cassis mix with blackberry and tree bark. There’s a wet dog note on the finish. Chambourcin is a French-American hybrid grape developed in the late 60s. Score: around 7.

2019 Continental Divide Winery, Gewürztraminer, Grand Valley
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of lychee and orange peel. In the mouth, silky flavors of orange peel, white flowers, and rainwater have a nice cleanness to them. I’d like more acidity, but quite pretty and nicely balanced. Faint sweetness. 16 g/l residual sugar. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $29. click to buy.      

2020 Plum Creek Winery “Palisade Festival” White Blend, Grand Valley
Near colorless in the glass, with a hint of greenish-gold, this wine smells of honeydew melon and candied green apple. In the mouth, brightly aromatic flavors of green melon and green apple, and kiwi are bright and juicy with decent acidity. A blend of Aromella (a winter-hardy hybrid related to Traminette), Riesling, and Chardonnay. Score: between 8.5 and 9. click to buy.      

2019 Redstone Meadery Tupelo Mountain Honey Wine
Medium gold in the glass, this mead smells of roasted nuts and dried honey. In the mouth, honey roasted nuts and quince paste flavors have a dry hay quality to them. Good acidity and long finish. Quite tasty. Score: around 8.5. click to buy.      

NV Carlson Vineyards Cherry Wine, Grand Valley
Bright ruby in the glass, this wine smells of red apple skin, dried cherries, and orange peel. In the mouth, tangy bright orange peel, dried cherry, and honey flavors have only a faint sweetness to the wine’s benefit with a very balanced overall complexion. Good acidity. 55 g/l of residual sugar. Made with 100% Grand-Valley-grown Montmorency cherries. Score: between 8.5 and 9. $14. click to buy.      

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 8/22/21

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 week included two renditions of Sauvignon Blanc, a sort of New World / Old World counterpoint. The Sancerre from Domaine Gueneau got a slight edge on the competent rendition from Dogwood & Thistle in Mendocino, but both are reasonably good values, not to mention tasty. Don’t miss that winery’s slurpable Carignane either, this week.

I’ve also got a trio of rosés to recommend, each offering the lean, crisp berry freshness you want from a nice bottle of pink. In particular, the bottle from McFadden Vineyard, (which also confusingly goes by the name Blue Quail) in the little-known Potter Valley AVA of Mendocino is a screaming deal at $15 a pop. Their old-vine Zinfandel ain’t bad either.

It’s rare that I get sent a bottle of Cahors (the homeland of Malbec), but one showed up recently that is worth seeking out, especially if you’re looking for wines that won’t break the bank. The Petite Etoile is a wonderfully earthy mouthful for 14 bucks.

Recent years have seen many European producers setting up shop in California wine country. Gonzague and Claire Lurton (from the family that owns Château Climens in Barsac) have made their home in Sonoma County, and established a property they are calling either Trinité Estate or Acaibo (which confusingly is the name of one of their wines), where they are producing Bordeaux-like blends. They sent me a couple of their earlier vintages, and they will appeal to those looking for the savory side of Sonoma Cabernet and Merlot.

Lastly, I’ve got two more traditional Napa Cabernets, one from Calla Lily, which leans to the rich and ripe end of the spectrum, and the latest vintage from Unwritten, whose 2018 walks the middle of the ripeness road, and will match most people’s expectations for a big Napa Cabernet.

Tasting Notes

2020 Dogwood & Thistle Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino, California
Pale straw with a hint of green in the glass, this wine smells of gooseberries, green apples, and a touch of cut grass. In the mouth, candied green apple and gooseberry flavors have a nice herbal tinge to them, with good acidity to keep things bouncy on the palate. 13.6% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $22.

2019 Domaine Gueneau “Les Griottes” Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre, Loire Valley, France
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and green apples. In the mouth, green apples and star fruit flavors mix with white flowers and a nice brisk acidity. A lovely wet-slate quality pervades the finish. Made from 25+ year-old vines, and spends 8 months in steel tanks on the lees before bottling. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2020 Lobo Wines “Wulff Vineyards” Rosé of Pinot Noir, Napa Valley, California
Pale peach in color, this wine smells of citrus peel and hibiscus. In the mouth, bright citrusy berry flavors mix with watermelon and a faint sour bitterness that gets the tastebuds tingling. Very good acidity, and a nice silky texture. 13% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $28. click to buy.

2020 Inman Family “Endless Crush – OGV Estate” Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale salmon pink in the glass, this wine smells of watermelon rind and rosehips. In the mouth, bright tart flavors of watermelon rind, rosehip, and hibiscus are snappy and juicy, thanks to excellent acidity. Notes of orange peel linger in the finish, crisp and dry. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.

2020 McFadden Vineyard “Fontaine” Rosé of Pinot Noir, Potter Valley, Mendocino, California
Pale pink with a peach cast, this wine smells of watermelon and watermelon rind. In the mouth watermelon rind and strawberry fruit flavors are bright and zingy with excellent acidity. There’s a nice freshness to this wine, with a faint savory herbal tinge that lingers in the finish. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.

2019 Dogwood & Thistle “Testa Vineyard” Carignan, Mendocino, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry cola. In the mouth, bright plummy boysenberry flavors mix with a faint herbal and faint citrus quality as excellent acidity keeps things bright and fresh. Easy to drink, or as some might say, quite smashable. 12.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.

2018 McFadden Vineyard “Blue Quail – Old Vine” Zinfandel, Potter Valley, Mendocino, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry pie. In the mouth, bright and juicy blackberry and blueberry flavors have a remarkable freshness to them, but also not a lot of depth. Excellent acidity keeps things juicy but the fruit is somewhat simple. Pleasurable, to be sure, but missing some depth. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $24. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 8/22/21

2016 Mas des Etoiles “Petite Etoile” Malbec, Cahors, France
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet earth, dark fruits, and chopped herbs with a hint of meatiness. In the mouth, savory notes of blueberry jam and wet earth are shot through with dried herbs. Faint, grippy tannins, decent acidity. Spends 18 months in steel tanks on the lees. 25-year-old vines. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $14. click to buy.

2014 Trinité Estate “Acaibo” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
An inky, opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and tobacco. In the mouth, tobacco, cherry, cola, and plum skin mix with a darker roasted nut, tea, and leather quality. Good acidity and lightly muscular tannins. Notes of mocha linger in the finish. A blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon 9% Merlot, and 6% Cabernet Franc. 14% alcohol. 1621 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $70. click to buy.

2014 Trinité Estate “Amaino” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of smoked meat and leather, earth, and black fruits. In the mouth, savory flavors of black cherry, black tea, and blackberry mix with leather and earth and faintly meaty quality. Muscular tannins flex through the finish. Good acidity. Quite savory. A blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc, and 9% Merlot. 13.9% alcohol. 463 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $40. click to buy.

2016 Calla Lily “Ultimate Red” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and blackcurrant. In the mouth, very ripe and rich blackcurrant and black cherry flavors are embedded in muscular, fleecy tannins that squeeze the palate. Good acidity, but somewhat over the top for my taste. 14.5% alcohol. 1050 cases made. Unnecessarily heavy bottle weighs 1.66 kg when full. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $66. click to buy.    

2018 Lost Cellars “Unwritten” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, rich black cherry, black plum, and cassis flavors are shot through with espresso and the nutty notes of toasted oak. Excellent acidity, with just a touch of heat on the finish. Fleecy, plush tannins. 14.8% alcohol. Comes in a ridiculously heavy bottle weighing 1.79 kg when full. Score: around 9. Cost: $150. click to buy.

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Wine Reviews: Costières-de-Nîmes

For interesting, inexpensive Rhone wines, Costières-de-Nîmes is a fount of good options.

I’ve enjoyed sipping these wines over the years, and I dug into this region further earlier this summer, when I attended a wine tasting and webinar led by a great teacher, MS Evan Goldstein, and winemaker Michel Gassier.

The southernmost appellation in the Rhone, about an hour west of Avignon, the rosé and red wine production here is pretty evenly split, with about 8% white wines, too. Syrah is the dominant red grape here, supported by Grenache, and backed up by Carignan, Cinsault and Marselan. There are lots of old vines, interesting blends, and it’s also one of the “greener” appellations in the area, with 25% of vines farmed organically.

At the end of the Rhone delta, vineyards are situated in rolled, pebbly soils. The climate sees plenty of hot sun, but also cooling influences from the nearby Mediterranean Sea and Petite Camargue marshes. (As a winelover and birdwatcher, I’d sure love to visit this area to scope birds and taste wine all day.)

If you have gone through various cycles of discovering exciting wineries or regions, only to watch them explode in popularity (and price) to the point where you feel priced or crowded out – I can relate. And I was mulling over that dynamic while tasting these wines, thinking about how they have a refreshing sense of timelessness. Inexpensive pink wine that packs a punch and tastes “real”? Or complex, spicy, earthy red blends that evoke roasted meats and herbs? White blends that are juicy but fresh and salty? Those are all to be found in Costières-de-Nîmes – all without the crowded, overpriced, celebrity label vibes. And $15 to $30 will take you pretty far. If you haven’t yet, you may find a lot to like exploring Costières de Nîmes.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2020 Mas des Bressades Costières-de-Nîmes Cuvée Tradition Blanc France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Costières-de-Nîmes
Wine Reviews: Costières-de-NîmesSRP: $14
Medium yellow color. The nose pops with white flowers, nettle, sea salt, with some honeyed, raw almond tones, over top of lemon and orange peel. Delightfully zippy yet creamy on the palate with a vibrant, chalky, salty appeal. Lemon, orange peel and apricot fruit mix with hay, nettle, almond and honeycomb complexities. Fresh but shows such impressive depth, especially considering the price. A versatile and dynamic blend of 50% Roussanne, 30% Grenache Blanc, 10% Marsanne and 10% Viognier, fermented in concrete. (90 points IJB)

2018 Michel Gassier Costières-de-Nîmes Nostre Païs Blanc France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Costières-de-Nîmes
SRP: $23
Deep yellow color. The nose shows a nice mix of rich fruit (yellow apple, apricot and orange marmalade) with some chalky, sea salt, yellow flower elements, too. Punchy on the palate but shows solid acidity, which keeps if focused and fresh. Yellow apples and creamy pears meet clove, honey and graham cracker flavors, with waxy, nutty tones. Rich but nuanced and complex, this seems like a crowd-pleaser to a lot of palates. 45% Grenache Blanc, 20% Roussanne, 20% Clairette, 10% Viognier and 5% Bourboulenc, aged half in old barrels, half in concrete, from 40-year-old vines. (91 points IJB)

2020 Château St-Louis la Perdrix Costières-de-Nîmes Rosé France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Costières-de-Nîmes
SRP: $13
Pale copper. Boisterous nose of white cherry, red apple peel, with spicy, piney, peppery, floral perfume and sliced cucumber notes. Crisp acidity sets the stage but there’s this pleasant richness to the texture as well. Provencal-looking but more textural depth and fruit. White cherries, watermelon and red apple fruit blends well with white pepper, lemongrass, rose petals, and some wild strawberry and herbs, too. Delicious, and a solid value. Average vine age is 50 years, this is a saignee blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah. (87 points IJB)

2020 Château Mourgues du Gres Costières-de-Nîmes Rosé Fleur d’Eglantine France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Costières-de-Nîmes
SRP: $16
Deep copper color. A nice mix of plump cherry and watermelon fruit along with honeyed pears, white and yellow flowers, cantaloupe, a deep but vibrant approach. Such juicy texture on the palate with a pleasant creaminess buttressed by vibrant acidity. Peaches, watermelon and strawberry fruit, generous and round but with a crisp edge. A super cool mix of roasted red pepper, honeycomb, warm clay, along with nettle and sea salt tones. This is generous, complex, deep wine, one of those Tavel-esque pinks that would benefit from a few years of age, too. 60% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre and 10% Syrah. (90 points IJB)

2018 Château de Valcombe Costières-de-Nîmes Tradition France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Costières-de-Nîmes
SRP: $20
Deep purple color. An eexciting nose of spicy, fruit tones, with deep plums and juicy black cherries, along with violets, sage, roasted red pepper and cracked black pepper. Silky but structured on the palate, with moderate tannins and vibrant acidity to support the tangy plum and black cherry fruit. Notes of violets, coffee, tar and glove mix with these red pepper flakes and paprika elements that are really delicious. Dusty, earthy, gravelly, black olive tones add complexity. Nice to age but solid now, especially with a lot of air. A grill-friendly mix of 70% Syrah and 30% Grenache, fermented and aged 10 months in concrete tank. From 45-year-old vines in one of the appellation’s southernmost estates, limestone soils. (90 points IJB)

2018 Château Beaubois Costières-de-Nîmes Denim by Beaubois France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Costières-de-Nîmes
SRP: $30
Light purple color. A spicy aromatic mélange of pepper, paprika, leather and campfire smoke on the nose, with plum sauce, currant jam and crispy bacon – a delightful mix. Full, chewy texture with moderate acidity on a frame of dusty tannins and juicy, dark fruit (plum sauce, currants and blueberries). Notes of charred herbs, black pepper, roasted red pepper, with smoky earth and leather. Coffee and tar tones on the finish, but this stays lively, too. Could stand a few years in the cellar or a decant. 50% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 20% Cinsault, aged 12 months in a mix of barrique and concrete tanks. (90 points IJB)

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 51: Figuratively Pint-Sized (Launch of Le Grand Verre Wines)

Maybe it’s because I’m expecting my second kid and have a temporarily renewed affinity for all things small and cute, but I found the idea of Le Grand Verre’s figuratively pint-sized (they’re actually 6.3oz) packaging intriguing enough to accept their live virtual tasting/samples invitation.

I mean, the sort of test-tube-esque bottles are kind of cute, in a mad-scientist-meets-excited-wine-lover kind of way. The fact that they focus on providing wines from French producers that are led by women, and that focus on sustainable/organic offerings was really just cool icing on the cake for me.

Nicolas Deffrennes, the founder of Le Grand Verre, grew up in what he described as “a really small town in Cotes du Rhône.” When attending Harvard, Deffrennes “had my ‘eureka’ moment” after joining the university’s famous wine club. “My dream job was to be helping French exports,” he noted.

As for the selections at Le Grand Verre, Deffrennes explained that their focus on organic/sustainable and female-led estates developed more naturally from their primary goal, which was to showcase “more off the beaten path, more authentic wines” Receiving a grant from Burgundy, they designed their proprietary packaging (shatter-proof, double sided, recyclable PET mini-bottles) and toured vineyards to find wines for the program.

As we’ll see in a minute, the wines are good and, for the most part, outperform their extremely modest price points (I’ve tried to extrapolate full bottle prices below based on what their flights cost), but the packaging kind of shares equal billing with them at the moment. Deffrennes vision was to provide “the freedom of sampling, without the need to open an entire bottle” (is this actually an issue that most of us even have after sheltering-in-place?). The minis are deliberately designed so that the color of the wines can be seen easily, with the elongated, slim shape apparently helping to make pouring easier. They are double-coated to help preserve freshness. When pressed to detail how long a wine might stay fresh/drinkable in LGV’s proprietary, Deffrennes demurred that the design was meant to preserve the wine “for a long time.” At which point, I had to channel my inner K2-S0:

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 51: Figuratively Pint-Sized (Launch of Le Grand Verre Wines)

Anyway, let’s see how the contents of that innovate packaging fared, shall we?

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 51: Figuratively Pint-Sized (Launch of Le Grand Verre Wines)2020 Domaine de Caylus Chardonnay (Pays d’Herault, $6.25)

Domaine de Caylus resides on 25 hectares of organically farmed vineyards in the South of France. Inès Andrieu calls the shots there, her grandfather having bought the Domaine in 1963. “My father [still] lives downstairs,” she noted. The family have been winegrowers since 1865. “It’s difficult, as a woman, but it’s a good life, it’s a beautiful life,” she told us. “Now, I am the manager. My first goal is to preserve our lifestyles. We live here, and it’s important for us to preserve the future of my children.”

This white sees no oak, which helps put its white flower, lemon blossom, lemon, white peach, and yellow apple aromas front and center. It’s a pure nose with very good intensity. In the mouth, it’s refreshing, with lovely white peach and pear flavors, along with some lovely apple notes. Just really, really fresh. “We’re trying to minimize any intervention” Andrieu explained, and this Chardonnay seems all the better for it.

 

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 51: Figuratively Pint-Sized (Launch of Le Grand Verre Wines)2020 Domaine de Caylus Rosé Blend (Pays d’Herault, $6.25)

A Grenache/Syrah blend that’s redolent with aromas of roses, bright cherry fruit, watermelon, and wild strawberry. Delightful stuff once you sip it, with lots of bright and ripe red fruit on the finish, which has good length. “You can share it with your love. It’s very good with vegetables. Maybe you can take it to the beach with a picnic. Not complicated, but fresh and fun,” Andrieu explained. Yep, nailed it.

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 51: Figuratively Pint-Sized (Launch of Le Grand Verre Wines)

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 51: Figuratively Pint-Sized (Launch of Le Grand Verre Wines)2020 Domaine de Val d’Arenc Bandol Rosé (Provence, $7.50)

“Of course” is how Château Val D’Arenc’s Gérald Damidot put it when asked about whether or not they were now focused on organic viticulture. Val D’Arenc has been practicing organic viticulture for over 10 years, and Damidot has been in the winemaking biz for double that (13 of those years being in Bandol). “I make the wine with all the passion I can,” he emphasized, preferring a “delicate, feminine” style for his wines.

Case in point on that latter remark: this Mouvedre-based pink. The grapes are hand picked, and meant for rosé production. Damidot described it as “Not a simple rose, it’s gastronomic”—and he’s right. Pomelo, white peaches, flower petals all mark the alluring nose. Super fresh on the palate, there’s a ton of citrus pith, white pepper, and texture here (especially for the price). It really does suggest food in that pithy astringency and long citric finish.

 

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 51: Figuratively Pint-Sized (Launch of Le Grand Verre Wines)2019 Château Peyredon (Haut-Medoc, $7.50)

This family-run, organic Bordeaux estate can boast a respectable neighborhood, bordering the likes of Château Poujeaux, Château Chasse Spleen and Château Maucaillou. Gamey and spicy, with hints of smoked meat, black fruits, and clove, this is a fresh take on Bordeaux red. Just-ripe blackberry, toast, smoke, chewy tannins, and good structure mark the palate, leading to a tangy, long, and earthy/funky finish.

Cheers!

Upscale your palate! My new books are now available from Rockridge Press!

Copyright © 2020. Originally at Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 51: Figuratively Pint-Sized (Launch of Le Grand Verre Wines) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

The Soul of Refinement: Recent & Upcoming Releases from Corison Winery, Napa

There most definitely was a time, not so long ago, when you couldn’t begin an article about one of Napa’s greatest winemakers with the phrase “Cathy Corison needs no introduction.” But now, I wonder. The combination of interest in women winemakers, an increasing emphasis on balance in California wine, and the decline of the ParkTator hegemony have resulted in Cathy Corison finally getting the attention she so rightly deserves, both in terms of media mentions and increasingly high scores for her wines.

Regular readers will know I’ve been a fan of Corison and her wines for a long time, and since I’ve written extensively about her (most recently after a 25-year retrospective of her wines) I’m not going to tell her full story today. Instead, I’m going to share my thoughts on some of her recently released wines, specifically the 2016, 2017, and 2018 vintages.

Three Excellent Vintages

The 2016 growing season started early in Napa, with a very warm April and after some typical heat in June, the season almost seemed to get cooler as time went on, with no serious heat spikes. And then, as is sometimes typical, things got warmer as harvest approached but without extremes. It’s something of a fleshy vintage for Napa in general, though with Corison picking earlier than most of her peers, it simply means a lovely vintage for her wines.

The winter preceding the 2017 growing season was quite wet, especially relative to the drought conditions that set in between 2012 and 2015. After a relatively uneventful Spring, the weather began to warm considerably as August transitioned to September, and then some serious heat settled in and made for a highly compressed harvest for Corison to avoid losing the acidity that she seeks to retain in her fruit.

Corison describes the 2018 vintage as perhaps the “darkest, inkiest” vintage she can remember, as moderate weather stretched from a perfectly undisturbed flowering in spring to a leisurely harvest, with cool nights all along retaining acidity and allowing a smooth and slow maturation of the fruit. Of course, when other people say “inky” you might start to imagine 15.5% alcohol, opaque wines that slip across the palate like olive oil. Corison’s 2018 wines clock in at 13.7% alcohol with fantastic acidity.

The Barn at Corison Winery

Patience is a Virtue

I tell most people that they should really drink Corison’s wines after a minimum of five years, but optimally after about 10 years. The old-school style of these wines deeply rewards time in the bottle. That’s not to say these wines aren’t delicious out of the gate. As you can see from the tasting notes below, they absolutely are. But the real magic with Corison Cabernet comes from the secondary and tertiary aromas and flavors that can only come with time in the cellar. I wouldn’t necessarily make the same recommendation for a lot of Napa Cabernets, many of which (especially the higher-alcohol wines) I find drink at their best within the 2-5 year timeframe when you can revel in their richness of fruit.

With Corison’s wines, though, it’s the refinement of fruit over time with dried flowers, pencil shavings, aromatic herbs, cedar, and cigar box flavors and aromas that truly demonstrates the potential of the vineyards that Cathy farms, and the style with which she crafts her wines.

So if you’re going to buy these wines, I recommend buying them in multiples of three. Drink one if you have to in the next 2 years, drink one between 5 and 7 years later, and save the last one for 10 years or more. You can thank me later.

If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of tasting Corison’s wine, you’re missing out on one of the most consistently excellent wines made in Napa.

Here’s a photo I took of Cathy amidst her oeuvre, so to speak.

The Soul of Refinement: Recent & Upcoming Releases from Corison Winery, Napa

Tasting Notes

2016 Corison Winery “Kronos Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dusty earth, dried herbs, and dried flowers. In the mouth, gorgeously refined notes of black cherry and cassis mix with dried flowers and road dust. The texture here is lovely, with delicate, fine-grained tannins that billow like gauze in the mouth, as the juicy berry flavors get a tinge of citrus peel brightness as they finish but also a savory, salinity that adds an umami kick to this wine. Fantastic acidity. Delicious now but in 5-10 years, watch out. 13.3% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $210. click to buy.

2016 Corison Winery “Sunbasket Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherries, blackcurrants, dried flowers, and dried fennel seeds. In the mouth, juicy blackcurrant and black cherry flavors have a tangy sour cherry note as hints of dried flowers and herbs creep into the mouthwatering finish. Fantastic acidity and the faintest of fleecy tannins. 13.4% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $200. click to buy.

2017 Corison Winery “Helios – Sunbasket Vineyard” Cabernet Franc, St. Helena, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of plum and plum skin with hints of dried green herbs. In the mouth, juicy plum skin, sour cherry, and dried flowers are bursting with bright acidity and shot through with dried green herbs. Lovely faint powdery tannins give some structure to the wine, but this is largely just mouthwatering juiciness. Very light on its feet and easy to drink. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $115. click to buy.

2017 Corison Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and blackberries. In the mouth, juicy black cherry and blackberry fruit is shot through with lightly muscular tannins and fantastic acidity that leaves a sour cherry, mouthwatering quality to the wine. Young yet, and likely to improve for the next 10 years. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $99. click to buy.      

2018 Corison Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of dried herbs, black cherry, blackcurrants, and lavender. In the mouth, intense blackcurrant and dried herb notes are juicy with fantastic acidity and savory with hints of dried flowers. A hint of salinity creeps into the finish along with a dusty earth note. Powdery tannins flex their muscles on the edges of the palate. While this is tasty right now, I’d leave it alone for 5 years to start getting the true magic here. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $99. (this wine is due to be released on 9/1/21 – click to buy.      

2018 Corison Winery “Helios – Sunbasket Vineyard” Cabernet Franc, St. Helena, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dusty earth, black plum, and black cherry. In the mouth, incredibly juicy flavors of black plum, cherry, and citrus oil pucker the mouth with fantastic, mouthwatering acidity. Faint tannins and hints of dried herbs and flowers add texture and complexity to this wine. This is young and quite primary at the moment but will blossom even more with time. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $110. This wine is due to be released on 10/1/21 – click to buy.    

2018 Corison Winery “Sunbasket Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark purple in color, this wine smells of black plum and black cherry. In the mouth, muscular tannins wrap around a core of black cherry and blackcurrant with the tangy brightness of plum skin that makes the mouth water. Hints of dried flowers and licorice linger in the finish. This one definitely needs some time in the bottle, but I predict it will be fantastic in a few years. 13.7% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $200. This wine is due to be released on 11/1/21 – click to buy.      

Some images courtesy of Corison Wines.

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Wine Reviews: California New Releases

This week, I have a handful of new wines from all over California worth getting excited about.

I’m a big fan of the dynamic wine scene in Paso Robles, so I was delighted to taste three new-to-me wines and chat about Paso with the winemakers over a Zoom meeting. They focused on the region’s well-known calcareous soils, and each winemaker (from Linne Calodo, Caliza and the aptly-named Calcareous Vineyard) spoke about the importance of these soils in their wines. The three wines I tasted are good examples of how that ancient ocean bed soil can result in some exciting wines.

Some value Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Nielson in Santa Barbara County also make an appearance, and a cool Chenin Blanc. Lastly, La Pelle’s new offerings continue to show why they are worth watching.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

White wines

2018 Caliza Winery “Sidekick” USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $36
Rich yellow color. Aromas of rich apricots and baked apple, with tones of honey, graham cracker, with notes of flowers, honey and even some fresh chanterelles. The fresh acidity is really nice, surprisingly so, and it balances that classic, creamy texture. Flavors of apricot, baked apples and pineapple, rich fruit but it stays surprisingly fresh with tones of yellow flowers and honey, almond, white tea. Delicious, focused stuff. 90% Roussanne and 10% Viognier, aged in French oak. (90 points IJB)

2020 Aperture Chenin Blanc USA, California, North Coast
SRP: $30
Light yellow color. The nose pops with lemon, quince and yellow flowers, with interesting spicy, herbal, white floral elements. Crisp acidity, punchy texture, a citrus-infused delight with chalky, oceanic, crushed shell tones, with some white tea and minerals. Bright and fun but a lot of complexity, too. From a Clarksburg vineyard, this is aged six months on the lees in used French oak and stainless steel. (90 points IJB)

2019 Nielson Chardonnay USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $16
Medium yellow color. Aromas show apricots and lemon drops with lemon verbena, light butter, some bright, sudsy, floral tones. Crisp but flesh on the medium-bodied palate with lemons and peaches, bright but not light on the flavor. Lemon drops and honey mix with some almond and some brighter floral tones. Approachable, fun, yummy, value-driven stuff. Aged eight months in French oak, stainless steel and concrete eggs. (87 points IJB)

2019 La Pelle Sauvignon Blanc USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $45
Pale straw color. Wow, the nose pops with limes, kiwi and papaya, topped in floral perfume, daisies, lemongrass and sea salt. Pure and vibrant on the palate with a racy, stony presence and deep texture. Lemons, white peach and orange peel, crunchy fruit mixes well with stony, oyster shell and mineral tones, and elements of flowers and honey. This is nervy, vibrant and balanced Sauvignon Blanc, with a salty finish. A whole lot to ponder and enjoy in here, and it will reward patience in the cellar, too. (93 points IJB)

Red Wines

2018 Nielson Pinot Noir USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $19
Deep ruby color. Juicy strawberries and red cherries are met with rhubarb, rose petals and some cola. Fleshy, juicy strawberries meet with light tannins and vibrant acidity. Cherry rhubarb pie flavors mix with white pepper, black tea some oregano. Fun and fresh despite the juicy fruit, this has a smooth, accessible feel but shows solid complexity for the price as well. Aged 12 months in French oak. (87 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: California New Releases2018 Calcareous Vineyard “Lloyd” USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $65
Vibrant purple color. The nose shows a whole lot of spicy, earthy, savory tones, with mesquite and leather over top of cherries and lively currants, cocoa and anise. Full-bodied but so fresh and lively, it maintains a tanginess that is refreshing throughout. All sorts of plums and currants, the fruit deep but crunchy and mixed with complex tones of grilled herbs, black tea, black pepper, sage and leather. Highly delicious, but has lots of tricks up its sleeve and needs age, too. An estate blend of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot, aged 18 months in 40% new French oak. (92 points IJB)

2018 Linne Calodo “Overthinker” USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles Willow Creek District
SRP: $95
Light purple color. Ooh, the nose shows deep cherries and currants with enticing notes of leather, mesquite, violet petals, black pepper and black tea. Full-bodied but moderated well by the acidity, and the tart plums and black cherries are deep but crunchy. Complex iron, meat, graphite and creosote tones add complexity. This really needs time to open up and show its floral, meaty and earthy tones. Give this a decant or a few years, but it’s exquisite. 55% Syrah, 38% Grenache and 7% Mourvedre. (92 points IJB)

2019 La Pelle Cabernet Sauvignon ­- USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $80
Deep purple color. On the nose, it’s exciting the way the roasted red peppers, sage, tobacco and earth tones mix with tart currants and black cherries, with coffee and dark chocolate tones. Structured well with a solid backbone and vibrant acidity to support the tangy black currant fruit. Complex tones of roasted red peppers, savory spices, tobacco and earth, and elements of coffee and clove. There is a ton going on here, and it maintains a fresh, earthy, flinty mystique. This will do wonders in five or six years, but it’s impressive how balanced it is so young, too. Includes 2% Petit Verdot aged 18 months in 50% new French oak. (93 points IJB)

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 8/15/21

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.

I’ve got a range of wines for you this week from cool-climate Chardonnay to fancy-pants German dessert wine and more.

Let’s start with a couple of new releases from Dutton-Goldfield—their Devil’s Gulch Vineyard Chardonnay and their Redwood Ridge Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay is crisp and bright and lean for those looking for a nervy quality to their California Chardonnay (I am). And the Pinot offers a nice earthy cranberry character that will appeal to many.

Sticking with Pinot for a moment, I’ve got one of the latest wines to come off the line at Eden Rift Vineyards, down in the La Cienega valley south of Gilroy, California. It shows a strong signature of the 69% whole cluster fermentation with green herbs and woody notes.

Next up we’re taking a little stroll through the Napa sub-AVA of Saint Helena, with a couple of different Cabernet Sauvignons and red blends from different producers. I liked the restraint showed by the MC4 wine from Martin and Croshaw, a comment that could also be made about the Beringer Home Vineyard Cabernet as well. The “El Coco” from The Crane Assembly has the rich ripeness that has become the signature of its founder Dave Phinney, who invented a wine named the The Prisoner.

Two Cabernets from St. Helena Winery both offered a nice plush brightness with well-integrated wood, both feeling like classical expressions of Napa Cabernet.

Before we move onto sweeter options, it’s worth taking a look at the OVR – Old Vine Red from Marietta Cellars, which may well be one of the best wine values in California. It’s a mere $12 online, and offers a nice Zinfandel-like profile that is quite appealing.

I don’t get a lot of sweet wine samples, but I did work through three of them this week, and the three of them could not have been more different. The Jules Taylor late harvest Sauvignon Blanc was full of apricots and honey, while the Campbells Rutherglen Muscat had the coffee nib and caramel thing going on that you expect from that unique tradition in Australia.

Last but certainly not least it’s pretty hard to find fault with one of the Mosel’s great vineyards and an Auslese version of its impeccable Riesling. It’s not cheap, but it’s got the weightlessness and ethereal quality that great Rieslings have.

Notes on all these below!

Tasting Notes

2018 Dutton-Goldfield “Devil’s Gulch Vineyard” Chardonnay, Marin, California
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and a hint of pastry cream. In the mouth, creamy, silky flavors of lemon curd and vanilla crème brulee have a nice bright snap to them thanks to excellent acidity. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $55. click to buy.

2018 Dutton Goldfield “Redwood Ridge” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberries and a hint of sawdust. In the mouth, raspberry and cranberry flavors mix with a muddier earthy note as hints of dried herbs linger in the finish along with a touch of citrus peel. Faint, fine-grained tannins tickle the edges of the palate. Good acidity. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $68. click to buy.

2018 Eden Rift “Terraces” Pinot Noir, Cienega Valley, Central Coast, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberries, dried flowers, and green wood. In the mouth, raspberries and peeled willow bark flavors mix with dried flowers and cranberries. There’s a faint woody bitterness that lingers in the finish along with a hint of tannic texture. Fermented with approximately 69% whole cluster (the balance destemmed). 13.9% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $64. click to buy.

2017 Martin & Croshaw Vineyard “MC4” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and blackberries. In the mouth, cherry, tobacco and a touch of dried herbs have a nice fleecy tannic texture and excellent acidity. This is a wine that shows some nice restraint and isn’t trying to be too flashy. Notes of herbs and mint linger in the finish. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2018 The Crane Assembly “El Coco – G.B. Crane Vineyard” Red Wine , St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry pie and blueberry compote. In the mouth, sweetish blueberry and blackberry flavors mix with cherry under a wooly throw of tannins. Missing some acidity, but surprisingly smooth given its 15.7% alcohol. A blend of Merlot, Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah. Too ripe for my taste, and I suspect it won’t age well, but likely to please some who are looking for the next darkest, richest thing, which is what co-owner Dave Phinney did so well with the Prisoner (for whose label this wine could easily be mistaken). Score: around 8.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2016 Beringer “St. Helena Home Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
A dark opaque garnet in color, this wine smells of rich cherry and black cherry fruit with a hint of tobacco leaf. In the mouth, cherry and cola and dried herbs have a bright juiciness thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a hint of heat in the finish that betrays this wine’s 15.5% alcohol. But some nice dried herb and mint notes linger as well. Very fine-grained tannins. Score: around 9. Cost: $150. click to buy.

NV Marietta Cellars “Old Vine Red – Lot Number 72” Red Wine, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry and boysenberry fruit. In the mouth, blackberry bramble and blueberry flavors have just the faintest hint of sweetness to them, with hints of cedar and licorice root lingering in the finish. Decent acidity, faint tannins. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $12. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 8/15/21

2016 Saint Helena Winery “Sympa” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, black cherry and blackberry flavors have a creamy quality to them, along with extremely powdery tannins and decent acidity. Smooth and a bit mysterious. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $82. click to buy.

2016 Saint Helena Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and sweet black plum. In the mouth, rich black cherry flavors have a plum skin brightness to them as fleecy, fine-grained tannins coat the mouth. Notes of herbs and licorice root linger in the finish, 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $89. click to buy.

2018 Jules Taylor “Late Harvest” Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand
Light amber in color, this wine smells of apricots and honey nougat. In the mouth, moderately sweet flavors of apricot, honey, and butterscotch have a nice lightness to them thanks to excellent acidity, which also tempers the perception of sweetness. 13.5% alcohol. 147 g/l residual sugar. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

NV Campbells “Rutherglen” Muscat Petite Grains Rouge, Victoria, Australia
A dark amber color in the glass, this wine smells of distilled spirits, bitter orange, and burnt brown sugar. In the mouth, exceedingly silky flavors of burnt brown sugar, butterscotch, coffee nibs, and raisins are weighty and heavy on the tongue. Smooth, with a vanilla caramel finish that goes on for a while. A solera blend made from many vintages, going back two or three decades but primarily the last three vintages. Fortified to 17% alcohol. Tasted from 375ml bottle. Closed with a screwcap. 230 g/l residual sugar. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20 for 375ml. click to buy.

2017 Dr. Loosen “Erdener Prälat Auslese Goldkapsel” Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Light gold in color, this wine smells of wildflower honey. In the mouth, wonderfully weightless flavors of honey, lychee, and candied citrus taste only lightly sweet thanks to fantastic acidity. There’s a faint chalkiness to the wine as it finishes with hints of candied citrus peel. 9% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $110. click to buy.  

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