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.


It’s that hustle and bustle time of the year.  People are busy and don’t necessarily have the time to read long, involved pieces on wines.  We get it. But we also don’t want you to miss out on anything.  So here are some quick notes on a number of different things that we haven’t had the opportunity to explore in depth with the understanding that there might be something more extensive on some of these later on…

**Chardonnay fans might want to take a quick look at some of the key reloads we got back in.  We sold out the De Wetshof Chardonnay Lesca 2017  on our email at the beginning of December.  The argument is pretty compelling here.  This one, raised in rare limestone soils, is the only under $25 Chardonnay to get a 93 point score from Wine Spectator.  Bright, driven, full of energy, South Africa can make exceptional Chardonnay and this one is a consistent bargain for the genre.

**Nobody is creating more drama for Chardonnay than Charles Smith (also of K Vintners and Wines of Substance).  His Sixto wines, all the result of finding some mature gem vineyards that were off the radar, are racking up big reviews.  We took serious hits to the Sixto Wines Chardonnay Frenchman Hills Vineyard 2015Sixto Wines Chardonnay Moxee Vineyard 2015, and Sixto Wines Chardonnay Roza Hills 2015 but were able to scrounge up a little more juice.  Given the premium quality and level of performance, the prices are quite attractive as well.  If you missed them before, here’s a reprieve.  If you haven’t tried them yet, it’s high time you did!

**We didn’t have the time, or the stock, to do a big offer on this breakthrough wine, but Lavinea is an important name to know.  Isabelle Meunier has worked at prestigious addresses such as Domaine de la Vougeraie in Burgundy and Felton Road in New Zealand, and is now committed to elevating the stature of Oregon Chardonnay on the world stage.  With a total production of 231 cases, the impact of their Lavinea Chardonnay Lazy River Vineyard 2015 on the broad market will obviously be limited, but it will make quite an impression on those fortunate enough to latch onto some.  It’s a James Suckling 93 and an ‘enthusiastic’ 97 from Wine Enthusiast.

**Yeah we know we said we were done buying Champagne for the season.  But when we had a chance to re-taste the Paul Dethune Grand Cru Brut, a favorite from years past, we had to squeeze in one more.  Just…too…good. Featuring 70% Pinot Noir from Ambonnay (Pinot Noir country), and 30% Chardonnay, it has the broad, mouthfilling, authoritative palate that reminds us of another favorite, Billiot, but with a bit finer, yeastier impression on the edges.  Exciting, engaging bubbles as always.

**We have seen very few examples from this respected vineyard over the years, but what we have seen has been impressive (St. Urbans Hof examples come to mind). The Carl Loewen Riesling Laurentiuslay Spatlese 2017 is a great, old-school, kick- your- tail spatlese, packed with dense fruit and stones. The grapes come from 80-100 year old ungrafted vines. Nothing else can make a wine like this but really old vines. Importer Terry Theise’s take, “In essence this is weighty, extravagant fruit anchored to profound and almost chewy earthiness. like a crème-brulée of Laurentiuslay, earth, apricots and butterscotch.”’s call, “A breathtaking Spätlese! Succulent and vibrant with a bright acidity, carrying the long and super clean finish. Better from 2020, but it shows enormous aging potential…96 points.”  A spectacular traditional spätlese.

**Bodegas Riojanas is a grand old label that ages gracefully like a fine Burgundy, and we have had some stellar experiences with bottles dating back to the ’50s and ’60s.  This year slipped by before we got the chance to talk these up, but long time followers know we have sold past examples of their Monte Real series and drank many bottles ourselves with gusto.  They never disappoint, always delivering seamless, elegant, supple and complex fruit supported by slightly dusty, ripe tannins.

The Bodegas Riojanas Rioja Monte Real Gran Reserva 1998, now age 20, shows the more earthy, complex, aromatic side of Rioja while the more direct Bodegas Riojanas Rioja Monte Real Gran Reserva 2004 has a plumper middle thanks to the riper fruit from the vintage.  If you came in and asked us for something to impress that you could take home and enjoy tonight, there’s a good chance we would hand you one of these.  Once again, nothing delivers value like Rioja.

**With the remarkable parade this year of great wine  from the Southern Rhone’s 2016 vintage, it was simply a matter of so many great wines and a finite amount of opportunities.  It was a given that we wouldn’t be able to get to everything.  The Mordoree Chateauneuf du Pape La Dame Voyageuse 2016 is billed as something of a ‘second wine’ and a more approachable version of their flagship Reine de Bois Chateauneuf.

This is only the third version that we know of but it is the best Voyageuse of the series.  It didn’t finish far behind its vaunted sibling in the reviews and higher than a lot of other top Chateauneufs, and you can get the better part of two bottles of this for the price of one of the Reine de Bois.  Jeb Dunnuck 95, Advocate 94, this is a big, lush, lusty mouthful of 90% Grenache with bits of Syrah, Mourvedre, Counoise, and Vaccarese, all lifted and tempered by this one-of-a-kind vintage.  Very user-friendly, seriously good.

**There’s a bit of history here that can be confusing.  Briefly, Pax was a hot label a few years back and the recipient of numerous impressive kudos, followed by a period where there were some internal issues and Pax, the label, was ‘Pax free’, whereby winemaker Pax Mahle founded the Wind Gap label.  Long story short, Pax is back at Pax, and doing some fine work.

The Pax Cellars Syrah Sonoma Hillsides 2017 to us marks a new level of sophistication in the house style.  We recall a lot of those early Pax Syrah hits to be firmly planted in the power camp which was definitely the style of the moment.  But while the ‘Hillsides’ doesn’t lack punch, it stops short of being over done, shows a more focused and controlled rein on the fruit, and teases with whiffs of meat, smoke, and maybe even a little bacon.

By the winery’s own admission, this wine is the assemblage of juice from various higher, cooler sites made with a direct eye to the northern Rhone.  This is something that most of the acknowledged Rhone Ranger superstars have yet to do.  Syrah is still something of a work in progress in California, but this reaches a high level with a clear stylistic objective.  Bravo.


Keep a close watch on the arrival of the 2015 northern Rhones.  The vintage yielded spectacular Syrahs that were at once tender and authoritative, loaded with classic terroir yet engaging from a purely hedonistic sense.  Specific names to look for are Durand, Courbis, Ferraton, and CoursodonIf you are shopping ratings, some of these have pretty impressive ratings from Wine Spectator already, and fine range scores from Wine Advocate and Jeb Dunnuck that will surely end up on the higher end when the final reviews are issued.  Simply, as time passes these wines will get more ttention and quantities aren’t huge to begin with.  Don’t miss out on this epic vintage in the north.

Not meaning to be sectarian in any way, but it has really been a white Christmas with respect to uncanny deals on Chardonnay.  A measly $11 will buy you the spectacular new Novellum Chardonnay 2015 from Domaine Lafage (Wine Advocate 92 and arguably the best in the series, $10.98), consistently one of the best values on the market.  Even sillier are the special purchases on the breakout Chilean Ritual Chardonnay 2015 (a James Suckling 93 that we sold well at $15.99, now $9.98!), and the crisp, appealing Thorn-Clarke Mount Crawford Chardonnay Eden Valley 2016 (90s from both Vinous and Wine Spectator, $9.98).  This is a remarkable group of Chardonnays for this kind of price, with a special thanks to exceptional vintages and a quirky current market.  To find a scenario similar you would need a time machine to go back to the ‘90s to find Chardonnays this good for this kind of tab.

Just received what we believe to be the best damn bottles of Pinot Noir we’ve ever had form Australia.  The new releases from Gary farr’s eponymous label, By Farr, are, in a word, epic.  We were blown away by these micro-production gems grown in Victoria just west of Melbourne.  Glossy, seductive, spicy, world-class, with that Pinot umami that separates the legends from the rest, these offerings are a must-buy for fans of the genre….

We’ve managed to pull together a fair cache of older Sauternes all from top vintages, including a number of bits from 2005 that were enthusiastically re-rated by Wine Advocate in June of 2015, a variety of d’Yquem bottlings, and carefully selected stars from more recent collectible vintages.  It’s a good time for your sweet tooth. See all Sauternes.



  • It’s time, actually perhaps a little past the time to still get in on the 2014 White Burgundies. This is the best vintage w have tasted since 2010, and definitely more on point and well delineated than the 2015s that are now hitting the market.  We are still scouring the countryside for late arriving 2014s and suggest you take this opportunity to grab a few more things while you still can.  The new Chateau de Meursault Clos du Chateau 2014 is one of the best we have tasted from a series we have followed for years.  This beautifully situated little insiders’ gem just outside the village definitely plays at a high  2014, with a complex nose of mineral, honey, flowers and salt caramel.  In the mouth it delivers citrus, toast, grilled nuts, peach and pear with a deceptively rich midpalate and finishing lift.  We’re also getting final reloads on 2014s of value favorites Albert Bichot Bourgogne Chardonnay Secret de Famille 2014 ($19.98) and Olivier Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc Les Setilles 2014 ($19.98).  If you’re feeling flush there are a few bits left of the epic 2014s from Domaine Leflaive.
  • We probably don’t spend enough time talking about California Chardonnays. But honestly there is a lot of homogeneity stylistically and it seems to be one category where people are more brand conscious and less willing to listen.  So finding things we think are worth talking about and then choosing our ‘battles’ doesn’t allow for many opportunities.  We got quite excited about the Alma de Cattleya Chardonnay a while back from dynamic young winemaker Bibiana Gonzalez Rave, but hadn’t been significantly moved in a while since.  That being said, a couple of ‘old guard’ names got our attention recently.  The name Truchard has been on other people’s labels as well as their own, but often their own wines might have been a touch too restrained for their own good.   We appreciate the old school, sort of euro, less-fussed with style that we all grew up with, but there is a thin line between ‘sleek’ and ‘boring’.  The Truchard Chardonnay Carneros Napa Valley 2015 had just a bit more stuffing in the mid-palate than other versions we have tasted, and that little went a lot way to kick this wine to a new level.  Classic Carneros apple/citrus, deft oak, and ripe but fresh flavors with a little more carry, this works.  It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what was different about the Chappellet Chardonnay Napa Valley 2014, which is often overlooked in favor of their reds and even their Chenin Blanc.  This one got our attention right away, with what is aptly described in the wine Spectator review, “Pure, rich and graceful, centered on a core of green apple, pear, melon and spice… A classic old-school Napa Chardonnay.”
  •  If you had told us 20 years ago that the Cotes de Jura would be one of the hippest appellations around sporting several sought after whites that sold in the $50 range, we would have thought you were from an alternate universe. Yet that is the case, and some of the things coming out of there these days, like those from the Jean Francois Ganevat, have created quite a stir.  This estate is clearly looking like the ‘next big thing’ from this area.  Thanks to the serious folks behind it (Burgundy legend Marquis d’Angerville started here in 2012) suggests this wine will get media attention and clearly, from the juice, they are aiming high.  The Domaine du Pelican Savagnin Ouille Arbois 2014 is a riveting wine, this indigenous varietal showcasing  driving flavors and deceptive length.   Also, for those of you that think Jura is too oxidative, this one is ‘ouille’, which means ‘topped off’ so they keep the barrels full to control the ‘sherry’ notes.  The descriptors from a 2013 review hit home, “very subtle aromas of peach skin, oyster shell and white flowers. Crisp on the attack, showing a salty tension that animates the quince and herbal flavors on the palate.”  Serious juice, superb with food and well worth the freight.  Their Domaine du Pelican Chardonnay Arbois 2014 is a fine specimen of the more traditional ‘flor‘ style as well.  





  • While we could write volumes on all of these (and may later on), we’d like to call attention to a few cool, off-the-main-road whites we’ve gathered in over the last few weeks.  A little sunshine can do that.  We’ll start by saying the 2015 whites from Savoie have been wonderful surprises.  A little warmer vintage in these pristine high-valley vineyards add a layer of flesh and fruit as a bonus to the crisp minerality and pure, floral flavors.  If we have to name one, start with the Jean Masson Savoie Vieilles Vignes Traditionnelle Apremont 2015, a fresh, delicate white with plenty of verve that is a star with lighter fish dishes.
  • Got Greek?  We stumbled across Assyrtiko, a crisp, mineral infused white from the Greek island of Santorini during an attempt to put together a Greek wine section with a Greek food importer some years back.  Curiously, not many years later, the brand, Sigalas, turned up on the Wine Spectator Top 100.  Since that time more, and more serious Greek producers have found their way here.  Ktima Vourvoukeli is new to us, and the winery is located in northeastern Greece about 30 miles from the Mediterranean.  The Ktima Vourvoukeli Assyrtiko 2015 is an exciting find, especially considering the Sigalas has become trendy, more expensive and harder to keep in stock.  This one is a touch fleshier with a nice layer of yellow stone fruit, a little less severe minerality, but still plenty of lift and brightness.  We aren’t sure, since this is our first go-round with Ktima, if its the region, the vintage, or both that gives it its particular character, but it is a superb alternative white at a great price.  Oopah!
  • We have been threatening to bring out examples of the new wave in South Africa but have be restrained to a large extent by some of the passionate new importers’ lack of logistical skills.  We know enough to tell you that there is a groundswell of fresh activity around the Cape and some unique and exciting new faces coming down the pike, however slowly. We’ve been doing this long enough to know that you likely aren’t going to go looking for something called Thorne and Daughters Rocking Horse Cape White 2015 unless we give you a good reason.  This is a captivating if previously unimagined white blend of 33% Roussanne, 28% Semillon blanc, 20% Chardonnay, 18% Chenin Blanc and 6% Clairette that comes together to deliver a sleek melange of white stome fruit, citrus, delicate botanicals and a slightly honeyed note. There’s a tactile yet waxy mouthfeel with a good backbone of acidity.  Skillfully done, this one really grabbed us.


  • This is why you taste. One would have expected the highly touted Cune Imperial Reserva 2010 to stand as something of a monument to a seminal vintage. Most people will presume the 2010 will be the play with a Parker 92 and comments like, “…a textbook Reserva”. Hey, it’s a great drink, don’t get us wrong. But we wondered if James Suckling, who isn’t known for Spanish wines, was a little overzealous when he gave the 2011 a ’96’.  Turns out the 2011 Cune Imperial, from a less touted, warmer vintage, exceeds its sibling in deliciousness, so maybe James was onto somethiing.   Ripe, creamy, tender and fruit forward, it is a pretty irresistible beverage.
  • We try not to repeat ourselves often, but after opening a bottle of the Vina Santurnia Rioja Gran Reserva 2004, we are and wondering why this stuff isn’t flying off the shelves. There aren’t any reviews that we could point to, but this plush, velvety, spicy, plummy red has a lovely texture and tender edges. In our minds this lush, smooth, tasty Rioja with substance and without any ‘bite’ would be the profile of what a lot of folks would describe as ‘the perfect red’.
  • We just tasted it, so consider this an early warning. Be on the lookout for the Cristom Pinot Noir Jefferson Cuvee 2014, one of the most complete under $30 Pinots we have tasted thus far from this spectacular Oregon vintage. The wine has a beautifully dense core of sappy cherry fruit with a precise savory underpinning of forest floor and minerality. It makes us really wonder just how good Steve Doerner’s vineyard bottlings are going to be. We also feel a little sorry for a lot of Oregon vintners that are going to try to get $50-60 for their ‘double-secret-reserve’ bottling when a wine like this can be had for half that price.
  • Just a quick note, as the boats are beginning to land. As an overall guideline to 2015, the little reds like Dolcetto and Barbera in Piedmont, Loire Reds, Beaujolais, and ‘entry level’ Burgundies and Rhones promise to be the best in years. Our job is easy when there are just a few diamonds in the rough. When virtually everything is this tasty, it’s a lot harder to pick and choose, though it’s also hard to make a mistake. Great time to stock up over the next year.