ONE LAST WORD ON THE RAVENSWOOD ZINFANDEL BARRICIA FOR $14.98 THING

We sent this out as an email and then mentioned it again in our Sunday ‘week that was’ piece.  But we think this deal is so extraordinary, we want to make sure that everyone gets a look at it as, at the time of this writing, our source still has some wine:

“The odyssey continues, but the story lines are as interesting now as they were back some three decades ago when we started with Ravenswood, though for entirely different reasons.  Back in the 90s, Ravenswoods single vineyard wines were iconic.  We used to have ‘Ravenswood Day’ where we would offer up our allocations of these well reviewed , exceptional Zinfandels for distribution.  At the time we, a single store, were one of Ravenswood’s larger customers in California.  We sold everything from those compelling single vineyard bottlings to their ‘lowly’ but exceptionally performing ‘Vintners’ value series.

Then, one day, it all changed.  OK, maybe not all of it.  The key issue was that one of the first significant winery acquisitions of the modern era in California took place.  Winemaker/mind behind Joel Peterson and his partner Reed Foster sold Ravenswood to Constellation in 2001 for $148,000,000.  That’s a lot of zeros.  Can’t blame them for taking the money, but the rub was Joel had to stay and help keep an eye on things.  Small price to pay for that kind of coin and Joel, always the businessman, saw the wisdom in the move.

Once one of the most recognized brands in California, Joel had to know that the only way for the new owners to recoup that kind of investment was to ramp up production.  Once Ravenswood ‘went corporate’ most of the winery’s long term loyal supporters figured production of the personality filled, well-priced Vintners wines, as well as their other regional varietal bottlings, would predictably add a zero to their production level and churn out tens of thousands of cases of soulless corporate juice.   Predictably, that happened.

The same folks also dismissed Joel’s treasured line of single-vineyard Zinfandels as going ‘corporate’ as well.  What now?   Would there be some  50,000 cases of ‘Big River’ or 200,000 cases of ‘Old Hill’.  No. With these small, ‘heritage’ sites covered with low yielding old vines, there was no way to boost production.  The current iteration of Ravenswood does indeed put out a million boxes of Vintners Blend wines now.  But the historic single vineyard program has remained essentially the same as it was ‘back in the day’.  We talked with both Joel and his long-time winemaker Peter Mathis, who made Ravenswood wines for 20 years, and both of them had no clue why Ravenswood’s Historic Single-vineyard program was no longer revered.

Our best guess is ‘guilt by association’.  Certainly, there was an emphasis by the corporate bean counters to deliver big numbers. There were ‘stockholders’ and all sorts of new criteria by which Ravenswood would be judged.  As to the single-vineyard jewels upon which Ravenswood built their reputation in the first place, there was little reason to spend corporate marketing dollars to promote them.  In fact, we’d guess that the accounting dept. gets downright annoyed to have to keep track of such tiny numbers.  Eventually the media pretty much stopped talking about them.

Anyway the results of this story led us to a remarkable cache of Ravenswood’s treasured single vineyard Zins at fantastic prices in May of last year.  Don’t ask us about the machinations that brought this about, we couldn’t tell you. But we sent that offer to an enthusiastic audience.  We were pretty sure we were ‘killin’ it’ at $24.99 on Old Hill, Big River, Dickerson and Barricia, about the price we sold these special Zins for decades earlier in the mid-90s.

But even more inexplicable is the offer we are rolling out today on that 2013 Ravenswood Barricia Zinfandel.  What happened?  Beats us.  Everything with this program is the same or better.  Even though Joel’s bank account is larger, he still has ‘the fire’ concerning these vineyards.  The vineyards themselves are still the same, too…. old and super low-yielding. This is still some of the most treasured dirt in California.  Are they made the same way? Pretty much.  Joel himself says so, except now they can buy better equipment with a corporate bankroll.

So how did an outstanding example of true California Zinfandel, from a revered vineyard, made under the auspices of one of the true Zinfandel masters, end up at this kind of price?  Again, we have no clue, but we don’t care.  We simply grabbed every box we could of this once-in-a-lifetime offer.  This Zin  is sourced half from Zinfandel planted prior to 1892 and the balance from new plantings of Zin and Petite Sirah, which makes up around 20% of the blend.  That Petite gives the wine heft and another level of complexity.

The nose shows brambly blackberry and black raspberry augmented by brambly notes.  Big in the mouth with notes of pepper and spice, this one shows expansive volume yet both the tannins and acidity are nicely integrated.  The wine hasn’t skipped a beat over the years.  The only thing missing is the ‘aura’ of times past.  At roughly 1/3 the typical price, we can deal with that.  If you love Zinfandel, here’s a legendary Zin for a remarkable fare… ”

 

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THE THEORY OF RELATIVITY: REBROADCAST

From time to time we may republish some of our op-ed work because it is a window into how we see wine and, with readerships constantly in flux, it’s hard to know who has seen what.

“Einstein coined the phrase, and gave a very complex explanation for the ‘theory of relatively’ and how that space and time are relative, rather than absolute concepts.  If a bit of an arcane tangent, we have observed a similar relativity with wine.  It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the time/ space continuum, though the end results can depend on the bio-dynamic calendar and the barometric pressure on any given day.  What we are getting at is that we have observed a certain theory of relativity with respect to wines.

As we briefly mentioned earlier and in other pieces, how wines taste to you can be a varying experience based on a number of factors.  We are convinced that bio-dynamics can play a big part in the wine experience, an observation that has been confirmed on countless occasions.  For those not familiar with the bio-dynamic calendar, the basics are that there are four major aspects that are charted.  A day can be a ‘fruit’ day, ‘flower’ day, ‘leaf’ day, and ‘root’ day, with ‘fruit’ being the most conducive to tasting wine and each successive being a little less advantageous.

If it sounds like voodoo, that’s what we thought, too.  But time has taught us not to argue with Mother Nature.  Among those we know familiar with the concept of the biodynamic calendar, there are few that would dispute the validity. While we can’t explain the ‘vibes’, they are real.  There is also a pretty significant pattern with respect to barometric pressure, though because it is less ‘documented’ it is perhaps not as widely discussed.  In simple terms, wines can taste dramatically different when it’s bright, sunny, and clear outside and when it’s cloudy or even foggy.  Altitude?  Don’t even get us started.

All of these things add to the relativity of any tasting/drinking any wine at a given time, and can vary the experience of tasting same wine under different auspices.  Coupled with the fact that each bottle of the same wine might be slightly different anyway based on a host of factors (cork, age, storage, to name a few), the variation in experience can be rather extreme.  Yeah, we’re wine geeks and think about this kind of thing all the time.

Whacky as this may sound, our experience has taught us that this isn’t nonsense.  Variations in experience occur in relatively predictable patterns based on the phenomenon we have described. The same wine can taste vastly different on a ‘fruit day’ than on a ‘leaf day’, even within a relatively short time and for no other fathomable reason.  Also, we note that wines tend to under-perform when the air is heavier, as if they are affected by the barometric pressure.  Maybe it’s the wine, and maybe it’s the human.  Or a bit of both.  Or maybe we should just get out into the real world more often?

So every experience is to some extent affected by the individual bottle, the biodynamic aura, and the weather, not to mention your own frame of mind, palate experience within a given time frame, and perhaps even the amount of sleep you got the night before?  Yep.  But that’s not the end of it.  Now think about comparing notes with a friend, colleague, or that snotty sommelier at the wine bar.

There are different experiences based on a lot of things that you have no control over, both personally and in the big world around you.  You can have an entirely different opinion from someone else based on differences in palate experience and preference.  But also your ‘standard deviation’ is further increased/skewed by all those other factors we mentioned.  Person ‘A’ having ‘Wine A’ on a sunny, clear ‘fruit’ day can have a vastly different take away than the same person having the same wine on a foggy night that is in biodynamic ‘root’ mode.

Taking that all in, you have even more reason to question the review of a reviewer, particularly reviews on the lower side.  Today’s ‘87’ on a ‘leaf day’ where wines tend to lean a bit more savory in profile could be a 92 on a ‘fruit day’ from the same person because all the ‘good stuff’ is in array.  The ‘day’ doesn’t necessarily change what’s in the wine, only one’s perception of it.  Therein lays the relativity.

Too much to think about?  Yeah, we know.  We aren’t trying to scare anyone.  We’re just pointing out that a lot of factors are always in play that can affect the enjoyment of subjective things.  On a root day or a fruit day, one plus one still equals two.  But with the glass of Cabernet in your hand, it isn’t quite so black and white. “

NEW PINOT FROM AVERAEN

Every day is a winding road, and you never know what is going to roll in the door.  This was a good case for this particular wine as the buyer on call that day had never seen this particular wine before.  Came to find out that the store had sold the 2016 version of Averaen Pinot Noir and the other buyer, who had not seen the label previously, thought it was pretty cool juice and bought the 2017.  Can’t think of a lot better testimony for the wine’s quality than that.

The short story on this label was as follows.  The folks that made Banshee wines, and their value label Rickshaw, were at the INPC (International Pinot Noir Conference) and just ‘sittin’ round the campfire’ when they had a revelation that this appellation that they were in, located in McMinnville, was remarkably similar to where they were working in California’s Sonoma Coast.  Cold Marine wind funneling through low-lying gaps in the coastal mountain ranges and soils of a mixed volcanic and marine sedimentary soils played off of each other to create a very advantageous environment to grow Pinot Noir.  Clearly it was kismet.

Not only did the Banshee boys sense that this would be a good environment for premium Pinot Noir, but they had just completed a partnership deal with William Foley that took a lot of stress out of taking the Banshee/Rickshaw label to the next level, but they ran across one Adam Smith, a talented winemaker  who had bolted to the Northwest after making the first vintage of Banshee in 2010.  It was ‘kismet’ and Averaen was born.

The 2017 Averaen Pinot Noir reflects both their desire to make high-toned, cool climate Pinot Noir, and the distinctive element s of the 2017 vintage that made this a very successful but very unique expression of Oregon Pinot.  This was the fourth straight successful vintage in this part of the world (global warming?), but one that differed from the previous three harvests in its personality.  While the 2014-2016 run showcased the riper side of Oregon Pinot, the 2017s showed plenty of ripeness but also a higher pitched, fresher, more lifted profile.

The nose showed urgent but high-toned ripe red, spicy fruit from the get-go.  In the mouth, this expressive, lifted, almost ‘crunchy’ Pinot had plenty of well-defined, vivid red fruits that sat higher of the palate and delivered a wave of energetic flavors.  We were taken with the wine immediately and bought it.  Some two weeks later as we sat down to write these notes, Vinous Media put their comments on this wine on the front of their website.  Apparently we are not alone.

Josh Raynolds comments in that feature reflected our impressions of both performance and value here, “Displays abundant berry and floral character, with vibrant spice accents adding verve. Seamless in texture and appealingly sweet, the 2017 finishes with impressive, juicy persistence and resonating florality.  This is textbook Willamette Valley Pinot Noir at a great price. ..91 points (an even better score than he gave the  2016).”

The 2017 Averaen Pinot Noir Willamette Valley is  appealing, well-priced effort from a label that shows a lot of promise going forward from a group that was already quite successful further south (Sonoma Coast).  This juicy,  little number  plays nicely in the here and now in a higher-toned, ‘Burgundy’ sort of way .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TASTY ‘HOUSE’ RHONES FROM FERRATION

We sell all manner of wines great and small, and everything we present here we believe has a good reason to be here.  We can launch a treatise on virtually any vinous subject, but don’t think we always should.  A quiet word or two should be sufficient or some wines, and just because we didn’t generate a tome doen’t mean we didn’t like it.  If we didn’t like it, we wouldn’t buy it at all.  With that in mind here are a few words on the newly released Cotes du Rhones from Ferraton.

There are two key things to know.  First, Ferraton is an accomplished house with a long history dating back to 1946.  Second is Michel Chapoutier, who started working with the property to convert to organic and ultimately biodynamic viticulture starting in 1998, and buying the place outright in 2004.  With Chapoutier at the helm, things are definitely on the upswing.   These are both outstanding value performers at their modest fares and both come from excellent vintages for their respective hues.

The Ferraton Cotes du Rhone Samorens Rouge 2016, a half and half blend of Grenache and Syrah that is brought up in concrete, shows an ample, supple core of berry fruit laced with spice and floral notes.  Jeb Dunnuck calls it “… Rounded, sexy and even voluptuous, with terrific purity in its black raspberry, violet and incense aromatics, this medium to full-bodied beauty has no hard edges, silky tannin and a great finish…90-92 points’

Perhaps even more of a surprise, because the southern Rhone isn’t necessarily known for crisp, engaging whites, is the  Ferraton Cotes du Rhone Samorens Blanc 2017A blend of Roussanne, Viognier and Clairette, all done in stainless steel to retain the freshness, it shows lovely, subtle tones of citrus and yellow stone fruits.  Again from Dunnuck, “…It’s fresh, vibrant, and crisp, yet has plenty of heft in its peach, tangerine, and citrus aromas and flavors. With bright acidity, outstanding balance, and a great finish, drink it over the coming 2-3 years…91 points.”  Both play well for their $10.98 tabs and are in a likeable, easy drinking style for the category.

THIS IS LAMBRUSCO CLASSICO: REFINED, VERSATILE, DRY

Popular wines in the 70’s sometimes resulted in a negative spin on a the categories at large.  Soave, Bardolino, Chenin Blanc, ‘Pink Wines’ in general, all had their purpose but those mass market versions tainted the genres’ images moving forward.   One of the unfortunate victims was Lambrusco, typically in those days seen as a fizzy, sweet, often mawkish red.  Believe us when we tell you that the Lambruscos we are talking about here bear no resemblance to those Cella/Riunite memories of times gone by.  Lambrusco has always had a cadre of more sophisticated wines and were are starting to see more and more of them now.  From Central Italy, they have been around for a long time, just not in this market in any significant way.

Bone dry with definite fruit character, these play beautifully with a plate of charcuterie, pasta dishes, and cheeses, to say nothing of drinking them alone where they play like a lower dosage Champagne only with more of a ‘winey’ character and gentler bubbles.  Certainly we have to be careful introducing new categories to people  but are pretty confident that the duo from Paltrinieri will make our point elegantly.

Paltrinieri Radice Lambrusco di Sorbara 2017 is a visual surprise with its coppery salmon color and crown cap closure.  The region is Emilia Romagna and the grape is Sorbara, and the flavors here run to a drier tropical fruit, early season strawberry, and intriguing notes of spice.  As a Wine Enthusiast piece states, “One of the wines that put Lambrusco back on the map, this vibrant, linear wine boasts aromas of wild strawberry, violet, red cherry and grapefruit. The aromas carry through to the slightly sparkling, savory palate along with cinnamon and white pepper notes. Crisp acidity lifts the savory finish…93 Points!”  A refreshing change of pace, very food friendly, serve chilled, a Suckling 92 as well.

Paltrinieri Leclisse Lambrusco di Sorbara 2017 looks more like what you would expect from Lambrusco but, again, expresses itself with more of a wine personality with small, not overly aggressive bubbles rather than a soft drink kind of mouth feel.  Texturally appealing, you get more of the ‘red wine’ feel from this darker version but, more important, you get a unique experience with the berry/citrus flavors and creamy mouth feel.  Not a lot of folks write about this sort of thing, yet.  But what we did find was most ‘enthusiastic’ from Wine Enthusiast, “…this delicious, stunning wine opens with enticing scents of wild berry, rose petal and citrus. The aromas carry over to the elegant, foaming palate along with juicy strawberry, creamy nectarine, grapefruit and a sprinkling of white pepper. A silky mousse gives it an irresistible texture, while fresh acidity keeps it balanced…94 Points.”

 

NOT YOUR FATHER’S CHENIN BLANC

South Africa has been an interesting proposition winewise.  Starting to export in the 90s after the apartheid was lifted, the political stigma and rather parochial styles of most of the wines made it difficult to get any traction for the category in this marketplace.  Now that we are about a quarter century into the ‘program’, we and they have learned a few things.  The styles of many of the wines have become more international in an attempt to create better market penetration.  A lot of those wines are competitive internationally, but it is fair to say that a good many of them are not memorable or distinctive.

With a few exceptions, most of South Africa’s best efforts are uniquely South African.  Among the most notable are the work of folks like Erin Sadie and some dynamic new white blends from an emerging cadre of open minded, creative newcomers.  But the grape that seems to achieve the highest expression as a varietal is…Chenin Blanc!

Typically the vines are old, with deep roots extracting distinctive character from the unique vineyard sites, tremendous infused minerality and crackling, mouth-watering acidity.  This is not the sweet, quaffable stuff that permeated the American market in the 70s, sort of a precursor to the white Zin era.  In fact the best examples of South African Chenin can hold their own with the produce from the ‘motherland’ of the Loire Valley.  Which is better?  That’s not a sweeping debate but rather comes down to the individual comparison being made.

Huet or Chidane versus Sadie Family or Alheit?  Fantastic comparison on the quality front though the acidity is a bit more driving in the South African wines.  Frankly, for the most part, although the best of the Loire ‘giants’ are expensive these days, the best SA versions typically cost more.  Advantage Loire.  On the value end of the spectrum, however, we have seen things come out of South Africa that are downright unbelievable, and we have recently come across one of the most remarkable examples of South African Chenin Blanc we have ever tasted for this kind of price.

Simonsig was among the first wave of wineries that came over here when South Africa was permitted to enter this market.  We tasted a number of wines over the years but mostly reds.  We can assure you we never had their Chenin or it would have been a staple.  Apparently, Simonsig Chenin Blanc was the first wine released by founder Frans Malan in 1968 and this particular bottling marks their 50th Anniversary harvest.

For a wine that is going to sell for this kind of price, it is given the royal treatment in the vineyard with all hand harvesting from 30-40 year old bush vines and cool, controlled fermentation.   In the glass, a honey/peach aroma makes its presence felt right out of the gate. The flavor aromas of crunchy ripe kiwi and green melon jump out of the glass. The palate is crisp and fresh with Granny Smith apples and sweet tropical limes all sitting atop of driving acidity.  The Simonsig Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch 2018 is what Chenin is supposed to be, with broad, bright honeyed toast, peach, and subtle minerality all as part of the presentation, but with the kid of cut that makes it all quite vibrant.

Full and round up fruit, and so easy to sip, this has the kind of riveting acidity that makes an impression and makes the mouth water.  A complete effort with sizzling character, a little punch of berries and lemon drops underneath and mouth watering snap to the finish.  You can drink this with lighter fare or on its own as an amazing aperitif.  Normally with most wines we’d roll out some sort of reviews, but wines like this doesn’t get the kind of respect they deserve and this one wasn’t reviewed anywhere we saw.

Like we said, we don’t recall ever tasting past incarnations of this effort from Simonsig, but this is one is one of the best Chenins we have had at any price in terms of its verve and, certainly among the best value white wines we hve had period.  At $10, it’s downright silly.  Over the years one of our value, go-to Chenins was Mann (also from South Africa), but this one is better.  In fact we have tasted few others this compelling at any price.  A stunner!

RETURN OF THE BUNNY

This has been a wonderful recurring theme since Charlie Coniglio first walked into our office a few years ago with a Napa Cabernet in tow.  Sure we see a lot of folks peddling expensive Napa Cabernets but this one had style, depth, and the kind of vanillan, chocolatey blackcurrent theme that Cabernet drinkers love.  Even back then, $50 was considered a pretty attractive price on serious Napa Cabernet and we started to carry it in the regular lineup.  That was a 2004.  A few months later he came back to us with an extremely aggressive price on that same delicious Napa Cabernet and, well, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse.

We have done a number of deals since that time and have come to depend on this quirky relationship to keep us supplied with sensational and well priced (for the quality level) Cabernet whenever he had some to sell.  We dubbed the series ‘The Bunny’ because it is our euphemism for Coniglio, the family name (which is also the Italian word for ‘rabbit’).  ‘The Bunny’, by virtue of the series of thrilling Cabernet deals we have launched over the last half decade or so, has become something of a brand around here.

The style is remarkably consistent over the years.  We could almost cut-and-paste the descriptors from one year to the next as the style is classic, Cabernet lovers juice.   People have enjoyed these lavishly styled, full throttle Napa Cabernets, particularly at the kind of reduced prices we are selling them for.   It has been a classic win-win, and we are always interested to see what Charlie has in his bag.  The most recent ‘visit’ turned up another can’t miss Cabernet for a thirsty world.

The Coniglio Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2014 looks quietly impressive with its black label and broad-shouldered bottle.  It certainly doesn’t taste like a sub-$35 Napa Cab, though that might be because the listed winery price is $70.  Technically, this wine could have carried an even groovier Stags Leap District appellation on the label but ‘the bunny’ knows they’d probably have to charge more if they did that.  That kind of decision-making is above our pay grade and we certainly didn’t want to create a case for raising the tariff.  Let sleeping bunnies lie.

So what you have here is legit, well-endowed Stags Leap juice at a fantastic price.  This is typical ‘Bunny’ style.  You’ve got your dark, chewy, powerful Napa Cab with loads of cassis and inky black fruits, with a lovely sheen of chocolatey nuance from what tastes like expensive oak.  This wine has a bit more volume than many SLD wines, with more weight and a broader palate impression.  But the telltale elegance of the appellation lurks beneath. At $31.98 this is a pretty sensational value for a high quality Napa Cab!

 

PICARO: RIBERA GONE ‘ROGUE’

We go out of our way to taste as many things as we can.  But for us Spain is a particular penchant.  We taste a lot of remarkable wines in the course of our research, as well as the usual percentage of clunkers and other offerings that are getting a lot of critical attention that we simply don’t ‘get’.   Ribera del Duero is seen as a more ‘serious’ appellation with the neighborhood harboring such heavyweights as Vega Sicilia, Hacienda del Monasterio, Pingus, and Pesquera.   There are plenty of discussions about ‘old school’ and ‘new school’, but one of the wines that lit our fire from a discovery perspective last year didn’t seem part of any school.

Jorge Monzon and Elizabeth Rodero founded the winery only in 2010 after Jorge spent years selling his produce to ‘several high profile neighbors’.  They have definitely separated themselves from the pack in a very good way and we can only marvel at their successful new approach and how Aguila takes such a stylistic diversion and makes you wonder why more people haven’t done this.

The wines are the brainchild of Dominio di Aguila, and he labels them ‘Picaro del Aguila’, the term Picaro making reference to someone as a ‘rascal’ or a ‘rogue’.  The playful nature of the program belies how serious these folks are about what they do and the clarity and purpose of their vision.  The winemaking is purposeful and innovative, but ultimately all of the serious winemaking goes to produce wines that are, ultimately, ‘fun to drink’

We first profiled Domino del Aguila last year with the tasty and rather eye-opening 2015 version. The ‘recipe’, if you will, relies heavily on the appropriate clone of Tempranillo.  But he has chosen some rather unusual bedfellows for this part of the world including Grenache, Bobal, a varietal we associate more with Valencia to the southeast, and Albillo, the rare, indigenous white of the Ribera.  Put them all together (del Aguila actually co-ferments them) and what do you get.  As we described the 2015, you get a Ribera with its ‘party hat’ on.  The 2015 went on to get 92+ points and a small novelette from Advocate’s Luis Guttierrez.

The 2016 walks the same line, scored higher and is clearly an even more complete effort.   There’s plenty of richness here, but there is also a lift to the flavors that is unlike anything else we have tasted from the area, probably due to the inclusion of the white grapes in the fermentation a la Cote Roties in the northern Rhone.  Gushing mulberry and cassis flavors abound but there’s a streak that is like a marinated black cherry and more expressive floral elements to the aromatics that announce this is no garden variety Ribera.

The viticulture and winemaking here are more than serious.  The vines, somewhere north of 50-years-old, are farmed organically/biodynamically,  The grapes are trodden by foot before being put in French oak for malo-lactic fermentation and a sojourn in wood (though there is no obvious wood in the flavors).  The vineyards here are north-facing, which give the wine a little cooler profile to begin with and affords the grapes a little more hang time.  The fruit  notes have a certain ‘wild’ character, a more lifted personality that doesn’t sit heavy on the palate, and an effusive spiciness.  The Dominio del Aguila Picaro Ribera del Duero Vinas Viejas 2016 is a gregarious, slippery, tasty and, yes, fun beverage.

Advocate’s Gutierrez went off again, “The youngest of the released wines I tasted is a red—the 2016 Pícaro del Águila Tinto. It is from what they consider to be one of the best and freshest vintages in recent times. This is produced with the vines from the warmer parts of La Aguilera, a cold place to start with (and in a cooler year). The old vines are planted with a mix that is dominated by Tempranillo but also contains some 5% other grapes. All the grapes are picked and fermented together with full clusters and natural yeasts in concrete and stainless steel vats. It matured in oak barrels for 13 months.

“This is fragrant, expressive, open, aromatic and really attractive. The palate is really balanced, with great freshness, fine tannins and a very pleasant mouthfeel—supple, balanced and with great depth. This is the best version of this bottling so far…”   Juicy, well-meshed (it was quite engaging on day two as well), well-priced and versatile, all done in a style all its own, the eagle (aguila is Spanish for ‘eagle) has landed.

 

 

Domaine du Gour de Chaule Gigondas 2015

Given how long and extensively we have worked with the Rhone, and the southern Rhone in particular, it’s a little surprising that this is only our second go around with this stylish Gigondas estate.  Our first foray, the 2010 Gour de Chaule Gigondas was a huge hit and lot of boxes disappeared from the old location.  This is actually the first volley in the newer spot, and the price is a little bit more than it was five years ago (that’s to be expected), but we are big fans of what this estate is doing.

The fact sheet reads something like this, with deference to the importer’s extensive and accessible information.  The Domaine du Gour de Chaulé, situated in the heart of the village of Gigondas, was founded in 1900 by Eugene Bonfils, the great-grandfather of the current proprietor, Stephanie Fumoso. All the wine produced at the estate was sold in bulk to negociants until 1970 when Madame Rolande Beaumet, Eugene’s daughter and the grandmother of the current owner, Stéphanie, began to bottle a small percentage of the estate’s wine for sale to private clients.

Madame Beaumet’s daughter, Aline Bonfils, took the reins of the domaine in the early 1980s and it was she that broadened the tradition of estate bottling significantly.  Stephanie was at the helm when we flipped over that 2010, and we were immediately captivated by a wine that, while it had all of the moxie one would expect from a Gigondas, it also had a polished presence that was considerably less ‘rough and tumble’ than most of the other ‘local produce’.

Were going to go out on a limb and suggests that a woman’s touch is clearly evident here (are we allowed to say that any more?) as the wine has the size and substance to stand among most Gigondas, but without the gritty tannins that are so often a part of wines from this appellation.  Dark berries, stony minerality, pepper, and garrigue here, typicite is not an issue but this is a more white tablecloth version of the genre.

This Grenache based cuvee comes from three separate plots with the average vine age approaching age 60.  Yields are most and the grapes are hand harvested, never destemmed, and sees no new oak.  The wine is put into large foudres for 18 months before it is bottled unfiltered and unfined.  Bottom line, this is a classy example from an often rustic area.

This is still kind of an under-the-radar property in the broad market, but the media is starring to take notice.  Wine Advocate’s  Joe Czerwinski had this to say, “Still in foudres and concrete, the 2015 Gigondas Cuvee Tradition is incredibly creamy, ripe and fresh. This full-bodied wine is bursting with ripe Grenache fruit, while the finish displays plush tannins. It’s not hugely complex—or maybe the fruit is just covering some of that complexity right now—but it sure is delicious…90-92 points.”  He got the delicious part right, but that review was posted in Oct., 2017, which means it was tasted well before that.  A lot can change in a year and a half (or more).

Even more upbeat was the prose from Josh Raynolds of Vinous, “Brilliant ruby. A heady bouquet evokes ripe red and blue fruits, Indian spices and smoky minerals, along with a hint of candied lavender in the background. Deeply concentrated yet energetic black raspberry, boysenberry and spicecake flavors unfold slowly, picking up a licorice quality that expands on the back half. Shows excellent clarity and mineral cut on a sweet, seamless finish shaped by smooth tannins…92-94 points.”

We know a lot of folks out there aren’t necessarily convinced by ‘barrel scores’.  We tasted the Domaine du Gour de Chaule Gigondas 2015 out of the bottle.  It’s delicious, complex and all we can say is ‘you go, girl’.

Special Red: ‘Superior’ Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore

This is a difficult category for a lot of people because of the diversity.  The basic story is that a Ripasso spends time on the lies of the Amarone which enriches and amplifies the Valpolicella.  So what is it?  Is it the glorious and memorable (and very expensive) efforts from the likes of Dal Forno, Tommaso Busoll, and Accordini?  Or is it the sweetish, slightly oxidized Amarone wanna-be that, sadly, too many are.

While there are some exceptional and identifiable labels out there, all too often it is a crapshoot.  So when we find something new that works at a high level, we get very excited.  The Corte Sant’Alda Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore Campi Magri 2015 is one of those rare finds that brings the magic.  The first order of business for this kind of wine is texture.  There must be a luxurious mouth feel,  smooth edges from front to back, and, in the best cases, weightiness without being ponderous.  Bingo, the Corte Sant’Alda has it all.

Dark fruit, a little bit of a roasted character yet fresh at every point, this wine is deceptively full sized and definitely grabs your attention.  For those who know the genre, this is a beautiful version that is among the best examples we have had at any price.  If you are more of the New World school, we’d be surprised if you had many Italian wines sporting this kind of palate weight and plush demeanor.   The warm 2015 harvest was great for this genre of wine and this came from a densely planted vineyard of head trained bush vines farmed biodynamically. Corte Sant’Alda Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore Campi Magri 2015 then sees a 24 month sojourn is large and is made from ‘the usual suspects’ (Corvina Grossa, Corvina Veronese, Rondinella and Molinara).

James Suckling took a shine to this one as well, commenting “An expansive yet elegant nose of dried mulberries, blueberry tart, mince pies and hints of ash and bark. The palate taps into the wonderful freshness but there is also a nicely structured palate, grainy tannins and a pretty finish. What a find! Drink now. … 95 Points!”  What a find indeed.