A ‘GIFT’ FOR YOU

Nobody brings the value drama like the Spaniards, and  that goes for every conceivable price level.  Izadi was founded in 1987 when the estate was purchased by the Anton family, who then hired Mariano Garcia (formerly Vega Sicilia, now Mauro and Aalto) as a consultant.  This bottling is from what is considered by the Anton family to be their premier site, El Regalo, a single vineyard of Tempranillo planted  in 1940 on a terroir of chalky limestone clay covered with pebbles near the village of Villabuena de Álava. 

‘El Regalo’ means ‘the gift’ in Spanish, and the family clearly considers this bottling a gift of Nature from this unique plot.  Hand harvested grapes from 70+ year old vines that are ‘practicing organically’ farmed certainly have the potential to make exciting wine. The press (94 Decanter, 91 James Suckling, 91 Wine Advocate) seems to confirm that happened here.  Firmly committed to straddling the stylistic spectrum between traditional and modern, the wine makes no reference to the typical crianza, reserve, etc. hierarchy.  It is merely “el Regalo”.  The wine sees 20 months in new French oak, more of a nod to the modern side.

The Wine Advocate shows the Izadi Rioja El Regalo 2014 at a $30 retail.  But with the current wholesale scenario of a staggering number of brands being offered through a small number of purveyors, there’s a limit to how much the ‘team on the street’ can sell in a given time period, or how committed they are to going beyond just selling the ‘easy ones’.  In such an environment, even some really good juice gets lost in the shuffle and the only way to create interest at that point is a hot price, like almost 50% off.  At $16.98, this wine becomes even more of a ‘regalo’ (gift). While it lasts.

SO NOW WHAT?

We just republished a piece we did more than a year ago that we called ‘score wars’ that spoke of our concerns as merchants about how more reviewers were tossing more and bigger scores into the collective well and how that might adversely affect the public psyche moving forward. In other pieces we have tried to present balanced views of what a ‘score’ actually meant and how the process of evaluating wines en mass, as most of the writers do, can yield much different results than someone evaluating them one or two at a time.

We realize there is no perfect system. But the massive amounts of information that most of scribes have generated over the years is of definite benefit to the consumer in terms of education and guidance. We can still remember the days when most wine reviews came out in the local newspaper on a Thursday (usually as a part of a high-end lunch paid for by the purveyor) or as some adjunct list in a monthly non-wine publication (which were usually way too late for any real market relevance as many of the selections were long gone or blatantly commercial).

The current review environment that has served the industry and consumers reasonably well over the last couple of decades is however at something of a crossroads. Previously consumers had a narrower but more predictable group of reviewers to rely upon. There weren’t that many publications that had significant impact, and you knew the ‘players’.
Whether or not you agreed with, say, Robert Parker, you knew where he was coming from and could calibrate the information within your own tastes.

Nowadays there are many more voices hurling a wide and sometimes disparate range of scores. Also there are significantly greater numbers of wines coming to market, so the amount of information the consumer has to digest to be really informed is daunting. We can tell you this. A few years ago, we didn’t have to know when a publication was due to release a new report (though we usually did). The phones would tells us. Nowadays a publication coming out and causing the switchboard to light up are extremely rare. Why is that?

Granted a lot of publications have changed the personnel doing the reviews and there are more reviewers out there being quoted. That can certainly be numbing to the consumer, especially those that are just getting into it. We like to think we do a lot to parse that sea of info and present it in digestible nuggets. But there is so much. Also, thirty years ago a great friend and mentor told me that ‘great wine is like a bus…if you miss one another will be along.’ That has never been truer than right now. There is an astonishing amount of great wine out there now, and maybe the sense of urgency in light of that is ebbing a little.

We are still believers in the reviewer-based info simply because, for better or worse, you have a body of knowledge and a track record that provides a consistency. We are very specific when purveyors present us score that they show us in print. Far too many times the truth gets ‘lost in transmission’. In the end though, you find out who said it and can calibrate accordingly.

While we are still on board with reviews, however, there are some disturbing trends that could derail a publication’s relevance, particularly with new consumers. Elitism seems to be growing among the ranks of reviewers, particularly if you believe as we do that they are beholden to their subscribers. It is bad enough that the same few labels always seem to come out on top, and they are usually the rarest and most expensive. But lately the ‘historic tasting’ is on the rise. Just who exactly is an article like “Drink Your Idols: Roumier’s Musigny 1976-2008” supposed to appeal to? It’s a small group to be sure.

Another review site has been a little slow on posting their reviews because they are spending a great amount of energy hawking their ‘glamorous’, globetrotting wine shows. No offense but we subscribed to get wine reviews, not to get sold on some other agenda. As Bill Belichick might say, “Do your job.”

In the ‘old days’ competitions and fairs were more relevant. But you don’t know who the people judging the competition are so the ‘findings’ are somehow less significant. However if the reviewer ‘system’ continues to degrade or collapses altogether, what will people do? As we look at the world around us, and the current proliferation of the ‘public forum’ for everything from doctors to mechanics to restaurants, the prospects are a little chilling.

Things like ‘Yelp’, while we have some personal misgivings about the system overall, can be useful in finding certain things. Auto mechanics, for one. Someone can tell if their car runs correctly or not. It’s something everybody has some experience with. Allowing for the fact that the ‘naysayer’ types will respond disproportionately, the public forum may provide useful information in making a decision.

But when the subject is less black and white, and more subjective, the public opinions provided must be taken with a few grains of salt. Like those judges at the country fair wine competition, you have no idea who the people posting on a restaurant on Yelp-like sites are or what their experience/expertise is. A guy could bag on a place just because he didn’t get a free dessert, or say it is ‘hideously expensive’ because he usually eats at Olive Garden.

For all of the reasons we named, and many more we didn’t get into, it is quite possible that the world of ‘wine reviewers’ might not resonate with the next generation. It may well cease to be highly relevant with the current one if things continue as is. Then what? Wine reviews in the public forum where anyone with a keyboard can anonymously pass judgement whether they are knowledgeable or not? Vinous Yelp? Oy!

SUMMER RERUN: SCORE WARS

In January of last year we put out this piece, but we think the message is still relevant as well as a background for a couple of things we will be generating as the next chapter of this ‘story’.

It wasn’t that long ago, in a place not so far away, that we expressed concern about what would happen to the wine world as the media continued to expand.  This was pretty much back when James Suckling left the Wine Spectator to set up his own shop, and our fear at the time was that there might be a certain rise in overall scoring as this new entity tried to garner a readership.  After all, it is axiomatic that consumers do not concern themselves with wines that get a B+ (89 point scores), so one of the ways to get your name in front of a new audience was to become more ‘quotable’.  How does one achieve that?  One way is to issue ‘enthusiastic’ scores on certain wines that would surely be quoted by those of us trying to sell said wine, which in turn would give a certain credibility to the reviewer.

Selling by third party endorsement became a growing industry tool back in the late 1980s as certain wine media sources, mainly the Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator, made inroads into consumer wine awareness by virtue of their easy to digest 100 point scales.  Yes there were words, too.  But the familiarity of the general populace with number grading because most experienced it in school, and the quick evaluation a consumer could make just by quickly looking up a number, embedded the system in the collective wine psyche.

It didn’t help that most merchants were lazy and quick to adapt to someone else providing sales avenues via published reviews.  Using third-party press relieved them of the responsibility of actually doing their own work and removed their liability in actually giving their customers their own opinions.  This indemnification made the retail trade the writers’ biggest fans and the constant attention that the majority of retailers gave to third party reviews gave the media tremendous power.

Remembering back however, what was different back then was that the scores themselves seemed to have honest intention on the part of the media to give the consumer the appropriate perspective.  Back in the day, a 93 point score was a pretty enthusiastic endorsement, a 95 was a must have, and ‘88’ and ‘89’ were still viewed as positive prose for wines that were value priced.  There were shockwaves in the industry when Robert Parker issues his first ‘100-point’ score for a domestic wine, the 1985 Groth Cabernet Reserve.  Such scores were quite rare then.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and the value of individual scores gradually depreciated.  Sadly after the turn of the century, no matter how glowing the prose, a 90 point score barely elicited a response from buyers and ‘92’ became the new ‘90’ for value wines.   Giving a wine ‘89’ these days is like a witness protection program…no one will find the wine because they won’t look that for down the list.  All kidding aside, this is what we have observed behaviorally for a while now.  But the worst it seems is not over. 

Part of it has been predictable given the way the James Suckling site established itself.  Suddenly however there are a lot more ‘players’ competing for consumer attention.  Antonio Galloni worked for Wine Advocate, then left to set up shop on his own, subsequently purchasing Stephan Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar and incorporating that writing team into the fold.  Most recently he hired away the Advocate Bordeaux specialist Neal Martin.

Jeb Dunnuck was brought on to Wine Advocate to focus on Rhones and then got other responsibilities on the domestic front.  Jeb left to set up his own service (or more correctly re-setup as he had his own service prior to his engagement with Wine Advocate), knowing full well that his own service would benefit from his exposure with wine’s most influential review source.  He just recently kicked off his own program.  Given the ‘defections’ and the fact that Robert Parker himself has greatly scaled back his post-sale involvement, editor Lisa Perotti-Brown, MW expanded her role in the Wine Advocate review writing.

So where are we now?  Well it is fair to say that previously there were two main review services being followed, 2.5 if you count the respected but not always ‘quotable’ Tanzer publication.  Now there are five that directly resulted from the initial two and a number of others that are at varied stages ‘market penetration’, but arguably have much less clout.  There are likely some ‘startups’ we haven’t even run across yet that are U.S. based.   All of them have plans to become, or in some cases retain a powerful voice among wine consumers.  Sadly, it appears that another dangerous score escalation may be in the offing.  It has been coming for a while.

A few years back, after the sale of the Advocate, Robert Parker did a ‘second look piece’ on 2002s from Napa Valley.  Now here was one of the most powerful critics of any kind, someone who had been generally judicious in handing out triple digit reviews (with the possible exception of elite Bordeaux and Guigal and Chapoutier  speicalty bottlings).  But in this particular issue in June, 2012, in one section, ‘The Bob’ handed out nineteen 100 point scores!  Now granted, one could argue that this was the beginning of Parker’s ‘farewell tour’ after a storied career and he was making friends.  One could also point to the lineup (Abreu, Harlan, Sloan, Schrader) as the Napa Cabernet version of the ’27 Yankees. So what’s a few 100s among friends.  That was unprecedented at the time and we saw it as a departure from the conscientiousness of Advocate’s prior history.

But it is what has been happening recently, with reviewers operating in new positions or trying to establish new services, really has us concerned.  Lisa Perotti-Brown’s first significant foray into the Napa Valley generated fifteen 100-point final scores and 32 that were either 99 or had a range score that touched perfection (98-100).  Perhaps a little surprising to some is that three Chardonnays were awarded triple digits.  Pretty rarified stuff.

Not to be outdone, there was plenty of firepower to Jeb Dunnuck’s opening report of the Napa Valley.  Now one of Robert Parker’s strengths was his enthusiasm which he could convey through the written word.  Jeb showed plenty of numerical excitement in his inaugural work, handing out no less than 31 ‘100s’ and a good slug of ‘99s’ (21 actually).   Thirty one ‘perfect’ wines?  In a single category? Really? Someone used the term ‘jumping the shark’ for this opening salvo/love fest.  More important, if the perfect score becomes commonplace, it also will seem less special and have less impact, not to mention how it undermines all of those poor souls that only got ‘96’ which, ‘back in the day’, was a very good review. 

We could make a few, albeit less sensational examples to illustrate what we are talking about with respect to the current round of ‘score wars’, but it’s the overall impact that is the problem.  With more publications slinging around more 100s and other lofty marks, perspective goes out the window.  The consumer will start getting confused, even numbed (a number of the trade already have), and sensationalism will rule the day.  With so many more items pushed up against that finite ceiling (since you can’t have more than 100 points) separation becomes much less clear and it all starts to lose meaning. 

In the end, if this proliferation of over the moon scoring continues, where does it end?  People thinking the only way to get a decent bottle of wine is to pay $300-500 on somebody’s mailing list? Does ‘95’ become the new ‘89’?

Is there really that much perfection in the world or are all these writers trying to win friends and influence the marketplace for their own agenda?  It’s hard to say but it is clear we are entering dangerous territory. 

These publications are supposedly designed to help consumers sort through the myriad of wine choices out there.  Passing out big scores like Halloween candy might get the writer ‘in big’ with the wine elite.  It might help Andy Beckstoffer charge even more for his grapes. But we fail to see how it helps the consumer very much, and they, my dear reviewers, are the ones that pay your bills.  If, for whatever reason, your audience stops listening, it’s nearly impossible to get them back.

LAUREL PRIORAT SHINES AGAIN

Sometimes it is interesting to go back to the beginning.  In 1988 Daphne Glorian, at the time employed by an English Master of Wine in his Paris office, decided to spend her life’s savings on 17 terraces of hillside vines just outside the village of Gratallops.  Newly minted friends René Barbier and Alvaro Palacios encouraged her and together with Carles Pastrana and Jose Luis Perez, they pooled their talents and resources to make a new style of wine in a region rich in history but that had only really produced sturdy wine for the local markets.  In 1989 the modern Priorat was born.

Fast forward to today, and Clos Erasmus is considered one of the elite producers of the Priorat.   Their body of work is impressive and includes 98 (twice), 99 (three times) and 100 (twice) point efforts as reviewed by Robert Parker. The problem with Clos Erasmus through the years has definitely not been quality, but quantity.  There has been precious little to go around. Old vine Grenache, Carignane and a little Cabernet fruit make magic in Priorat in the right hands, and Daphne, along with her current super-star winemaker, the diminutive, dreadlocked Ester Nin are at the top of their game. 

These rustic hillsides produce wines of great power and character, yet in Ester’s hands also retain a surprising elegance.  Bordeaux had something like a three century head start on these folks and one has to appreciate how far Priorat has come in a mere three decades.  Like Bordeaux, particularly things like Chateau Margaux’s Pavillion Rouge or Lafite’s Carruades, Laurel is a ‘second’ wine comprised of the younger vines on the property, plus some declassified Clos Erasmus.  It is also another poster child for our mantra of buying little wines from the very best producers because they have better fruit, more talent, greater commitment and higher standards.  As with the first growth sourced examples we cited earlier, It is a ‘second’ wine only relative to its exalted sibling. 

Bottled unfiltered and unfined, the wine has a little bit of a wild side which gives it an exotic element, but it is absolutely packed with character and screams of its class and breeding.  We have followed Erasmus since the 90s and have tasted most of the offerings of Laurel along the way.  It seems like they are working at a higher level these days, which is saying a lot. The 2016 Clos I Terrases Priorat Laurel is once again a sensational effort and arguably worthy of ‘best yet’ considerations.  Laurel has always been impressive but it seems Ester is refining her touch. The vintage didn’t hurt either.

The Laurel 2016 shows fruit flavors of currant and black cherry, plus notes of coffee, cocoa and that insistent minerality from the llicorella (yic-o-raya) black slate soils makes Priorat a very special place for grapes.  It is aromatic, inviting, layered and remarkably engaging.  It delivers plenty even if you aren’t feeling cerebral and just want to relate to it on a purely hedonistic level.   If you need some numbers, this second wine received 93 points or better in every vintage since 2004 save one (2010, curiously enough the only vintage reviewed by Neal Martin during a very short stint as Advocate’s Spanish reviewer).   All the numbers aren’t in yet, but Jeb Dunnuck opened the topic with a 95 point review.

Dunnuck’s narrative makes the point, “The 2016 Laurel is sensational stuff and, in truth, matches several older vintages of the grand vin (Clos Erasmus) in quality. A blend of 80% Grenache, 15% Syrah, and the rest Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 16 months in a mix of oak, concrete, and amphora, this deep purple-colored beauty offers up a fresh, vibrant bouquet of blueberries, crisp plums, violets, and spring flowers. Possessing full-bodied richness, beautiful depth of fruit and richness, and a fresh, elegant style, it’s a brilliant wine that’s going to evolve gracefully for 10-15 years.”

Is there such a thing as a ‘blue chip’ second wine?  We think so. 

HIDDEN CAB STEAL

Talk about hiding in plain sight, this particular offer has us scratching our heads. In a world where Cabernet is king, and Napa Valley is the center of the Cabernet universe, why on earth would you market a Cabernet as Provenance Deadeye Napa Valley Red Wine 2016? The front label doesn’t even say that, or anything else. There is simply an artist’s rendering of something that loosely resembles a rifle sight or crosshairs zeroing in on some sort of target. While we had a good ‘what were these people thinking’ chuckle, the wine inside was anything but a joke.

This surprising complex Napa Valley ‘red’ is in fact 96% Cabernet Sauvignon (well into the realm where it could be labeled varietally) that sees 21 months in barrel! It has a real almost-old-school feel to it, and reminds us of some great Napa Cabs from the mid-90’s as Napa was just entering its cult period and things hadn’t gotten too ‘out of hand’ yet. Dark red and black fruit, something that could be described as “Rutherford dust” (though we have no idea where in Napa it came from), wonderful balance and a dense, juicy, rather polished palate, we expect most folks that are fans of Napa Cab will love the juice!

There’s the ‘rub’ and the advantage. Finding competent Napa Cabernet for under $50-60 is no easy task these days. Looking at the bottle, however, you would have no idea that this was Cabernet, and not some goofy proprietary kitchen sink blend vying to be the next ‘Prisoner’. The beauty is that neither will anyone else unless they read something about it somewhere (though there isn’t much). Apparently, this is the first release so few have seen Deadeye at all. Good vintage, fine effort, a delicious Cab for a modest fare and almost ‘witness protection’ anonymity, it’s a great deal as it is and there is no guarantee that the next one will hit the mark the way this one does.

PINK WINE TIME: PART 2

Muga Rioja Rosado 2018 -This one just rolled in, making it a little late to the ‘party’ but the distinctive styling and lifted freshness make this a fine summer quaff and the pricing has made it a consistent favorite over the last few seasons. This is made as a rose (as opposed to being the result of a saignee or bleeding of red grapes) and the blend is 60% Garnacha,
30% Viura and 10% Tempranillo. The usage of the white Viura gives this rose some impressions of white stone fruits like white peach to go along with the more traditional berry flavors. Lifted, fresh, and very food-friendly, this is another value performer.

Terrebrune Bandol Rosé 2018 –As we spoke about the Pradeaux in part 1 of this rosé focused piece, we mentioned that the 2017 may have been our favorite of the lot for that vintage. In the 2018 lineup, this could well be the MVP (Most Valuable Pink). These folks have been doing great work for a while but the 2018 just seems to have a little bit more ‘pop’ and vigorous yet engaging fruit. As is the norm, Mourvedre (50%) is the star of this show with the other half of the wine is split roughly equally between Grenache and Cinsault. Half of the juice is saignee (bled from the red grapes) while the other half is made directly into rosé. Limestone and organic farming are key elements in this story, with this pink as the happy ending. Equal impressions of both berries and yellow stone fruits like peach and apricot, that cool, funky little twist is the Mourvedre speaking its piece, and there’s a nice touch of minerality to the finish.

La Mordoree Cotes du Rhone Rosé 2018-This family winery has been a Winex favorite for a long time and this is the entry-level bottling among 4-5 different rosés that can range up to $50. We like this one because it gives the Mordoree experience at the most attractive price, and this 2018 is the most engaging we have had in some time. Their pinks have a huge following and for good reason. This version is made up of 40% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 15% Cinsault, 10% Carignan, and 5% Mourvedre. In the glass the Grenache appears to be the lead singer, delivering a broad, juicy blast of decidedly red berry fruit. It’s rounder in the mouth than some but still maintains plenty of freshness and finishes with a touch of garrigue. Far too easy to drink and a strong choice for under $20.

Leoube Rosé Cotes De Provence 2018 –Our lineup of pinks changes every year based on our tastings, so it is important to note that Leoube has been on the roster five of the last six vintages since we first discovered it. Though it doesn’t make much of a point of it, the folks that bought the Chateau in 1997 made their money in organic groceries. Also the property is located next to one of the top sites for the famous Domaine Ott. As a matter of fact, Jean-Jacques Ott of Domaine Ott wanted to sell his property but still wanted to stay in the business. The new owners of Leoube just so happened to be looking for a winemaker at the exact same moment. So, Jean-Jacques and his son Romain head over to Leoube after selling their eponymous property to Roederer Champagne and boom, magic. Now, father and son Ott work the vineyards and make the wine at their next-door neighbor. A crisper and more delicate style with a pale salmon hue, it is mainly Grenache and Cinsault with bits of Syrah and Mourvedre. Light, dry, fresh, berries, apricot, and citrus, and a touch of salinity in the finish, it is quite civilized.

Nervi Conterno Il Rosato Piedmont 2018-You can make rose out of anything, as the market continues to prove. But not all of those efforts are compelling. But there are a few cases where a non-mainstream example shines brightly. We have seen rose of Nebbiolo before, but not very many and not very often. The way this one came out, there might be a lot more folks trying their hand at it, though hitting this mark will be no picnic. The grapes come from the Nervi estate in Gattinara that was acquired by the Giacomo Conterno estate, hand-harvested with the intent to make a pink wine, fermented in stainless steel and then exposed to the lies for four months. Made from 90% Nebbiolo and 10% Uva Rara, this has an inviting nose of melon, berry, wild herbs and that perfumy floral aspect that is Nebbiolo. Deceptively broad on the palate, with plenty of energy underneath, this delivers in an aperitif scenario but has enough substance to play with some meat and sausage dishes. A 91 score from vinous. A cool diversion in pinks.

MONTEPARONI: CHIANTI FOR MATURE AUDIENCES

As we see it, our job is to find the good stuff.  Period.  If there is widespread success, and lots of good stuff, so be it.  If there is a concentration of standouts in one region as opposed to others, that’s OK, too. Tuscany has had their share of good fortune of late, though 2017 was a bit more difficult from a farming perspective, though mostly from an economic standpoint (early weather quirks curtailed a lot of cropload). We aren’t going to tell you the vintage was like 2016. There haven’t been many at that level. But there certainly was a good enough vintage canvas for talented artists and this small estate is one of the under the radar stars.

This will be our third straight vintage with Monteraponi. Yes, for some folks, Chianti comes in those little, woven fiasco bottles.  But this is on a completely different plane. Value is a relative thing and means delivering for the fare. This estate makes one of the more serious Chiantis you’ll taste, though it isn’t all gussied up with wood.  It can go toe-to-toe with Gran Seleziones, a new, and still rather nebulous ‘reserve plus’ designation.

Monteraponi is in Radda and the vineyards are at high altitude (from 1300-1500 feet above sea level).   The wines are carefully made in a very natural way, which is to say no added yeast, nutrients, or malolactic bacteria are used, fermentation takes place in cement tanks, followed by long macerations (even the Chianti Classico is kept on the skins for at least 25 days), the wines are aged in large neutral oak only, and they are not fined or filtered.

Plenty of complex, terroir-driven fruit, this ‘regular’ bottling somehow has more gravitas than most Chiantis we encounter, price notwithstanding.
The deep core of dark red fruit comes to the fore, with accents of earth, menthol, pepper, cedar, sandalwood, and violets.  But it also has another gear that carries more through the back of the palate and length to the flavors. It gets pretty consistent accolades from the press (93 for both the 2015 and 2016 from Vinous for example) and we expect the same here. It has plenty of fruit and, if you had the 2016, this one will be a little higher toned and lighter on its feet by virtue of the vintage. Delicious and very soulful, a little air time will allow it strut its stuff.

Monteraponi is in Radda and the vineyards are at high altitude (from 1300-1500 feet above sea level).   and the wines are carefully made in a very natural way, which is to say no added yeast, nutrients, or malolactic bacteria are used, fermentation takes place in cement tanks, followed by long macerations (even the Chianti Classico is kept on the skins for at least 25 days), the wines are aged in large oak only, and they are not fined or filtered.  

FINALLY IT’S PINK WINE TIME: PART ONE

We’ve been tasting roses literally since January, and selling them in earnest since the 2001 vintage, so we have been ready for rose season for quite some time. The weather had not been as cooperative on that front until mid-July but now, at long last, it’s pink wine time. As a vintage, 2018 wasn’t as broadly successful as some. The’hit ratio’ wasn’t as high as it has been, in part because there is simply too much mediocre pink wine out there trying to cash in on the craze. But we did find plenty of really exciting stuff over the course of some 200 offerings we tasted. Good times.

Solitude Cotes du Rhone Rosé 2018-This may be the best value of 2018. It is certainly one of them. The property has a glorious past and wines have been made at this place for several hundred years. The owners have had connection to the church and the three hats on the label refer to two bishops and a pope among the forefathers of the Lançon familiy. The medal on the label refers to an award from Napoleon after the battle of Waterloo to one family member. We have sold a number of Chateauneufs from this domaine over the years as well. Cinsault takes te lead here supported by Grenache and Syrah. Pale pink/salmon color, the delicacy of the CInsault is evident with notes of red melon, berries and a backnote of garrigue in the finish. Delicious and versatile.

Cardwell Hill Cellars Rosé of Pinot Noir 2018We have watched as this winery has become a very consistent source for quality red Pinot and, more recently, producers of a very appealing and very cost-effective Pinot Rose. They are very natural in the vineyard, and are devoted to being Salmon Safe by doing their part to protect the water quality and biodiversity in the Willamette Valley and other important northwest salmon watersheds. This is made from 100% Pinot Noir ( about 70% Pommard and 30% Dijon 777 clones if you are into that sort of thing) that is grown specifically to make this rose. The color is a moderately deep rose pink and the flavors have a definite varietal signature as well as floral aromas and immediately appealing notes of strawberry. Tasty, easy to quaff, ‘green’ environmentally, and well priced for what it is.

Fontenille Luberon Rosé 2018- While we have danced a few rounds with Fontenille and sold lots of their red wine over the years, this is the first time we can recall buying (seeing?) the rose. It stood out in our tastings as showing lots of engaging fruit and complexity at a very affordable price. The Luberon is a little more of a rustic area and the wine shows a bit of a wild, mineral side as well as a surprising depth and substance for its modest fare. The mix here is 50% Grenache Noir, 20% Syrah, 20% Cinsault and 10% Mourvedre that gives the traditional berry/red melon profile but also an unexpected streak of yellow stone fruits. A lively pink with evident terroir notes.

Thivin Beaujolais Villages Rosé 2018Now for something completely different. You won’t find many rosés made like this, in the Beaujolais or anywhere else. It is fermented with ambient yeasts, completes malolactic, and is bottled only when the wine is deemed ‘ready’. Thivin makes it like any other serious wine and allows it to run its natural course rather than manipulating it to “some ‘designer’ specs and rushing it into bottle”. The result is a sleek, nervy, mineral laced, suave rosé that expresses the nuances of where it comes from…granite soils outside the cru of Brouilly. From a one-hectare parcel of 50-year-old vines in sand and pink granite, there’s succulent flesh and a mouthwatering finish punctuated by a pleasant salinity, but the insistent minerality is a definite stylistic distinction.  

Meyer Nakel Spatburgunder Rosé 2018-A few years back when we started to see the first Germans roses, our first thought was that the ‘fad’ had gone too far. But as soon as we started tasting them, we were convinced that this was something that went beyond mere copycatting. One of our first experiences with Deutscher pinks was this one and we have been fans ever since. So what does a 100% Pinot Noir Rosé crafted by the best Pinot Noir producer in Germany taste like? It is pretty special stuff. It is light and fresh enough on the palate but still feels like a red wine by virtue of its palate weight and presence. What is it with Pinot Noir Pinks and the Germans? These guys are making better pink wine from this grape variety than anyone else in the whole entire world. This one excites with its red cherry and strawberry echo, dense yet pinpoint mid-palate and that elusive combination of ‘serious’ and ‘joy’ that separates the great pinks from the good ones. It can play with ‘serious’ food as well.

Pradeaux Bandol Rosé 2018-Last year’s(2017) was something of a best of show for us, and the 2018 is in the same mold with perhaps a little more perceived palate weight and slightly lower acidity. The blend here is 50% Cinsault and 50% Mourvedre, with the latter imparting the wine’s distinctive undercurrent of that unique musky minerality that seems to be proprietary to how Mourvedre performs in this particular terroir.  In more rustic versions it can be overwhelming, but here it is another instrument in a virtual symphony of flavors.  The effusive nose speaks of red berries, blood oranges and that earthy/mineral thing that is so indicative of the region.  In the mouth it shows layers of flavor including, strawberry, orange, earth, mineral, and spice.  There’s enough outgoing fleshiness to easily make friends who aren’t necessarily even fans of Bandol but the flavors are unmistakable. If you were as big a fan of the 2017 as we were, you will be quite happy with this one.

BRIEFS 7-24-19

*La Rioja Alta is one of the elite producers in Rioja founded in 1890. Their La Rioja Alta Rioja Reserva Vina Alberdi is consistently one of the go-to values in Spain and the 2013 once again outperforms, particularly given that this was not a noteworthy harvest. This is Tempranillo from vines averaging 40 years of age in chalky-clay soils located at an altitude of 500-600 meters (1600-2000 ft) above sea level. A remarkably precise and tasty effort from a vintage that typically yielded more savory styled wine.  Red currant and strawberry with classic Rioja notes of balsamic, wild herbs, coffee and caramel. Typically this bottling pulls in 90+ scores and delivers plenty of character for its modest tab. This one hasn’t been reviewed as yet but we can assure you it is a wise choice as always and we expect it will get its due from the media in time.

*Winemakers Anthony Riboli and French born Arnaud Debons work closely with multiple vineyard owners from various districts within Paso Robles on long term contracts to produce the Opaque Zinfandel Paso Robles 2015 Each lot is fermented separately then blended and put in barrel for 14 mo. A classic, lush ‘old school’ Zin with outgoing boysenberry and blackberry fruit laced with peppery spice, but with sufficient lift and freshness to play in the current, more sophisticated marketplace.

*They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery. But what if your imitation is better than the original. This is our second go-round with one of the great under-the-radar Pinot Noir buys around. There is an extended story about owner/winemaker Seth Cripe who left Florida at age 17 with the idea of getting into the wine business. He worked at a number of Napa Valley venues starting at Swanson, and including eight harvests at Caymus. The short story is that he is making value wines in the mold of popular commercial brands like Meomi, but that have the purity, integrity, and varietal character that such brands don’t. Like the 2016 before it, the Lola Pinot Noir California 2017 surprises with its burst of plush, honest, varietally true dark cherry and mulberry fruit with tinges of spice and floral notes. For under $20, it’s a crowd-pleaser while also showing varietal integrity and honest flavors.

*It’s always kind of a dilemma deciding how much to say about something. If you are talking about a great functional wine at a value price, and excess of superlatives and an expansive story could end up being counterproductive. On the other hand, if we are too concise with our words, people might interpret that as a lack of enthusiasm. Be that as it may, the Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2018 deserves a word or two. This has been a staple for us during long stretches of our history. There has been some label tweaking and some inconsistencies along the way, but this is the the best version of this wine in many years. Many examples of the Kiwi 2018s are overtly acidic, but the one hits all the right notes with tropical and grapefruit fruit, bright but not overly aggressive acidity, none of the ‘green’ flavors that plague many value Kiwi bottlings,and substance on the palate. One of the worlds great Sauvignon Blanc values.

STILL UNDER THE RADAR SPANISH GEMS

This particular traditional Rioja house has been a part of our set for at least fifteen years as well as being one of the prime grabbers for home ‘research’. You may not have heard of it under its formal name Ramon de Ayala Lete e Hijos Vina Santurnia Rioja. You quite possibly haven’t heard of it at all. We simply call it Vina Santurina. We have consistently carried one or more of the Crianza, Reserva, and Grand Reserva bottlings for a long time.

You likely haven’t read about it either unless you are one of those rare folks that reads archived wine review magazines. We have not been able to find anything more recently than 3 years ago in the Wine Spectator and, mind you, these weren’t the 100-pointers, usually grabbing high 80s to low 90s scores from the critics when they were mentioned at all. At this point you might be wondering why we are talking about them.

The simple story is that, while these are not the wine version of ‘super models’, they are character-filled, honest, classically rendered wines that deliver every time at prices that are pretty easy to swallow. Familiar notes of plum, cranberry, spice, leather, and vanilla play at every level. While they have that engaging Rioja muskiness and dusty note to the finish, they tend to be riper, more substantial, and fuller-bodied than your garden variety Rioja.

These folks are traditional to the core, as in organic farming (unless some seriously bad weather dictates otherwise) and even some foot-trodding in the cellar. The wines exude great authenticity will still delivering an ample blast of fruit. The Viña Santurnia Rioja Crianza 2016is a plumper-than-normal version of this wine. It is their best crianza we can recall. We usually play the reserva and gran reserva bottlings but this plays at that level qualitatively this time around. Plenty of dark cherry and red plum with notes of spice, coffee, sweet earth and vanilla. Made from 100% Tempranillo from vines planted between 1986 and 1998, sourced from both Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa, it is a lot of wine for the dinero and accessible now though there is no hurry.

Given the producer and vintage, the performance of the crianza wasn’t as big a surprise as this one. While 2008 isn’t necessarily considered an epic vintage, we have had a lot of very successful wines. But few have shown the plushness, roundness and flesh of this one. The Viña Santurnia Rioja Gran Reserva 2008 from a character standpoint is the reasonable upgrade from the delicious crianza, though more refined, resolved, better balanced, and classier. It is one of the better 2008s we can recall, and as you know we deal with a lot of bodegas. It’s the classic Spanish bargain of a high quality red with bottle age for under $30. This one is a blend of Tempranillo 90%, Mazuelo 5% and Graciano 5% that sees the traditional 24 months in a mixture of French and American oak.

We have been selling these wines for a long time as we said. But more importantly they are regular visitors to our own table as we appreciate quality and value as much as anyone. The wine media doesn’t tell you everything and some labels get overlooked simply because they don’t come from from some high profile, big budget importer. However these deliver where it counts, in your glass.