THE NEXT CHABLIS SUPERSTAR: SEBASTIEN CHRISTOPHE

Chablis is an interesting place.  The yellow soils are unlike anything we have seen anywhere else in the wine world.  Yet for as uniform as the surface area appears, there is a great variation to the various elements of terroir and how it manifests in the hands of a broad array of producers.  While people speak of the flinty aspects imparted by the Kimmeridgean and Portlandian soils, great Chablis is more than ‘how do you like your rocks’.

Some examples lean more chalky, some more like seashell in this ancient marine area, and a lot of producers can be successful by simply playing tht aspect of the terroir.  But the real differentiating factor is how the fruit plays.  It is remarkable how specific the profiles of the various Crus play out, with Les Clos having a more floral and peachy undercurrent to Grenouille with its extremely flinty, more savory profile.  We love quality Chablis in  virtually any form, but there is a particular profile that is perhaps our favorite.

We picked up on a certain aspect of fruit, for lack of a better description, sour apple back when we were exploring a new label we were quite excited with back in the early 90s called Raveneau.  We saw a certain expression of that same apple and flint combination woven through the wines of Tomas Pico’s Pattes Loup.   We see that again as a backdrop to the wines of the still relatively unknown Sebastien Christophe.

This guy isn’t in town but on the outskirts.  His first property was a tiny parcel in Petit Chablis.  But it has been clear from the first taste that this vigneron has special skills.  His domain has expanded via rental and purchase, but if you make your bones with Petit Chablis and Chablis Villages, it may be a while before fame hits you.  This guy is destined to be a force, but we are more than happy to quietly enjoy his appley, stony, bright, precise and reasonably fleshy Chablis at normal prices while the rest of the world figures it out.

The Christophe et Fils Chablis Village 2017 is not only beautifully made but reflects the specifics of a singular spot.  The wine exhibits serious endowment of talented vineyards as most face the Grand cru Blanchots and sit just behind the great 1er Cru Montee de Tonnerre.  The soils are almost purely Kimmeridgian stones that are unusually brittle and sharp.  It is a deeply savory and fully ripe wine that shows the greatest degree of what a Chablis “village” wine can accomplish.

In other words this does not show like an entry level Chablis, with a surprising density to the fruit that sits on top of perfectly proportioned acidity.  It is of an unexpected quality and purity for ‘villages’ level and can play with Premier Cru efforts from other producers.  We have been early to the table with a number of exceptional Chablis producers over the years, and we think this is one of those times.  For under $30, it’s a find and one that has found its way into our own drinking rotation.

THE FUTURE OF GERMAN RIESLING: FEINHERB

The direction of German Riesling has changed dramatically over the last decade.  There are lots of reasons.  Part of it is market perception.  In general, anything that is perceived to have any residual sugar is frowned upon by the new populace.  Spätlese is viewed as ‘sweet’, even though the elevated acidity strikes an amazing balance with the complex hillside fruit of traditional German estate Riesling.  Chardonnay is ‘dry’.  Never mind that many of the Chardonnays the populace drinks have substantial sugars woven into their makeup, and much lower acidity.

The sommelier set, particularly those in Germany that have the ears of the vintners, claim that traditionally styled Rieslings don’t go with food.  We’d love to debate that but the point is that they have been demanding searingly dry, skeletal trocken Riesling as the solution.  Do they go better with food?  Well some food, as long as you don’t care what the wine tastes like.  The best examples of the genre are generally the ‘Grand Cru’ Trockens, designated as GG (großes gewächs).  But while they have the peripheral fruit flesh that makes the style viable, they are erratic as a genre and typically cost $50 and up.

As we have stated many times, grapes should be made into the type of wine that best serves the varietal and the site.  In this part of the world where it is colder, leaner structures and some sweetness are magic together.  That may change with global warming, but it hasn’t yet.  In the meantime some very talented German estates have figured out what we think is a way to please everyone.  Over the years we have seen better and better examples of what are referred to as halbtrockens (literally ‘half dry’) a.k.a. feinherb, and this effort will be a game changer for a lot of folks.

The feinherbs have the firm backbone of great Riesling and, in concert with that acidity, have barely perceptible sweetness and finish dry.  Perhaps more important is that, with just a bit more ‘fat’ on the ‘bones’, the palate feel is much rounder and there is a place where the remarkable fruit and complexity of some of these historic vineyards have a platform to express those qualities.  To us, these are the answer to Riesling’s identity problem and a fantastic and versatile option for both food and non-food applications.  We wouldn’t think of making a pitch like this unless we had a  stellar example of the breed to make our case.  This A. J. Adam Feinherb is uncommonly good for the genre and pretty sensational juice by any standard.

While we have been big promoters of German wines since the 1980s, and have worked with some producers for that entire stretch, we only became acquainted with A.J. Adam with the 2010 vintage.  He has since become one of our favorite Häuser.  The A J Adam Riesling Mosel in der Sangerei Feinherb 2017 can be considered a ‘best of breed’.  Some folks might balk at a $40 fare for Riesling, but you can pay a lot more for wines that cannot touch this one.  To us, this should be the future of the trocken movement…back off the trocken a little and make something that’s both enjoyable and food friendly.

Importer Terry Theise’s comments on this one are, “A cadaster parcel within the Hofberg, this has often been a beloved wine for me. This ’17 is quite serious, in the vintage way, not as suave as usual but with a different kind of grip and length. Half was lost to frost, so there’s just one Fuder, of an earnest, dark-toned mineral wine, with a pointed acidity that sucks up every one of the 25g/l RS.”

While perhaps less cerebral, Stuart Piggott’s comments on James Suckling’s website are certainly more to the heart of the matter, “Super peachy with great brilliance and refinement. This is a great Spätlese that’s dry enough for the finest lobster dish, but it is also powerful enough to cope with the spiciest curry. The very long finish keeps pumping out fruit and minerals. Drink or hold…96 points.”

This is the type of effort that will please people on both sides of the Riesling debate.  By the way, if you are a fan of the more traditional Spätlese style, these guys make one of the best.

GREAT WHITES

I FAVATI FIANO di AVELLINO PIETRAMARA 2017This house has been one of a small number of Fiano di Avellino sources we have worked with over the years, and probably the most consistent as far as quality goes.  This is a definitive Campanian white with plenty subtle white stone fruit and floral aromatics alongside a high-toned minerality.  The wine is fleshy and fairly unctuous, yet all is nicely defined by well-positioned, well-integrated acidity which gives a nice lift to everything.

The I Favati Fiano di Avellino Pietramara 2017 absolutely ‘blows up’ with lighter handed, herb based pasta or risotto dishes and whitefish and shellfish preparations.  There’s a certain density and relaxed acidity that are kind of a surprise if you are coming from other genres of Italian whites, but that is exactly the charm of wines like Fiano and Greco di Tufo which make up their own unique stylistic subset.  There are few frames of reference for these wines but this is one of the textbook examples of the breed and a consistent favorite around here.  It has been a tre-bicchieri choice of Gambero Rosso on multiple occasions (this one not yet rated) as well.

PHILIPPE RAVIER CHIGNIN BERGERON 2017First, for those that don’t know the genre, it’s probably not a bad idea to define our terms.   This term Chignin-Bergeron refers to the appellation here in the Savoie which is, in turn, named for its only permitted grape variety.  That grape variety is called Roussanne everywhere else.   But it is fair to say that the character of the varietal is quite a bit different  here in these pristine foothills in eastern France.

Sparkling streams, blue skies, this almost idyllic area yields wines of uncommon freshness with bright stone fruit and minerality taking the forefront and the typically heavy, soily, almost oxidative nature of Roussanne definitely not a major part of the profile here.  These crisper, cooler versions have the honeyed tones and the earth elements present  but dialed back.  Bergeron gives a whole different impression when lifted and paired with a higher toned minerality that is a signature of this region.

Philippe and Sylvain Ravier cultivate 7 hectares of Roussanne (called Bergeron here as we said).  The vines are between 10 and 30 years of age and are planted on very steep, due south-facing slopes of the Massif des Bauges at 1100-1500 feet altitude. The soil is rocky, decomposed white limestone which drains well while retaining heat to help ripen the grapes and the cool nights keep everything crisp.   The fruit is harvested by hand, carefully sorted and moved into the press by gravity. After a light pressing, the must is protected from oxidization by a blanket of CO2.

The Philippe Ravier Vin de Savoie Chignin Bergeron 2017 has a rather surprising density to the delicate fruit that sits atop firm but giving acidity.  Honey and  nut elements play against the white stone fruit and flower core with subtle minerality throughout.  Fresh and light on its feet, it’s a fine example of the category.

CHRISTIAN MOREAU CHABLIS 2016:   Chablis has been a bit of a ‘sticky wicket’ of late thanks to the fact that quantities have been erratic over the last couple of vintages and the currently widespread 2015s are generally overtly ripe and not quite so Chablis-like in terms of lift and acidity.  A few producers got it done right in terms of delivering wines that are true to type but still possess that essential combination of  flesh and zip to pull it off.   The Christian Moreau Chablis 2016 fills an important role as something the Chablis lover can go to with confidence.

Yes there is some volume in the mid-palate, but also the kind of zip one expects from Chablis with plenty of evident apple/citrus fruit up front that fades into a pleasing minerality.  As Burghound puts it, this has ‘… enough Chablis character to be persuasive. The round, rich and more voluminous flavors possess good punch and concentration while delivering better depth and length on the somewhat drier finish.”  That’s fair enough as a comment.

We like this as a great choice by virtue of the engaging, ‘drink me’ style that still says ‘Chablis’ in the glass and sells for a reasonable tab at a time where successful executions in this are much more scarce.  This was not an easy vintage from a farming standpoint and quantities have been erratic thanks to quirks in the weather.  So it’s great to have delicious a go-to in this important category.  Few are this ‘on target’.

 

 

 

TERLANO: SUPERSTAR HIDDEN IN THE MOUNTAINS

Sports teams like the New York Yankees, L.A. Lakers, Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Montreal Canadians are all hallowed franchises that are revered for their long-term success.  But part of the reverence is based on the reporting of their achievements via the media.  If you win a championship in the forest and nobody hears about it… well you get the drift.  There are long running, highly accomplished entities in the wine business as well.  Producers like Lafite Rothschild in Bordeaux, Opus One in Napa Valley, and the like, are famous because they have histories of great work, but equally because people have been told they were good.

Today’s producer has been working on a very high level for a long time, but isn’t as appropriately famous because Alto Adige doesn’t get anywhere near the media attention that, say, Bordeaux and Napa Valley do.  But in their little world in northeastern Italy, Cantina Terlano is a serious performer who consistently makes spectacular wines.  We have been following Terlano for a long time.  Admittedly we have a soft spot for the region and the precise, well defined, racy, riveting wines from the region from the likes of Terlano, Valle Isarco, Nals Margreid, and Elena Walch.  These can be some of the most compelling whites in the world in exceptional vintages, and the fresh arrivals from 2017 offer a fantastic opportunity for us to talk about this ‘champion’ producer.

In the world of wine, the story of Cantina Terlano is definitely somewhat unique.  Terlano was founded as a co-operative in 1893. It is made up of 143 growers that work approximately 170 hectares of vineyards.   The winery’s homepage very modestly describes Terlano as one of the leading co-operatives in the Sud-Tyrol region.  We’d take that several steps forward and suggest it is one of the most successful cooperative wineries in the world, to be favorably compared with Produttori del Barbaresco in Piedmont and Domäne Wachau in Austria.  These folks are among the elite of their field.

We were wowed by their new arrivals from the 2017 vintage, a harvest with which we haven’t had a lot of experience yet.  If these are any indication, 2017 was another banner year in the region and also one that will speak to a broader range of palates.  The 2016s were quite special to be sure.  But the intense acidity, normally a part of their makeup in this cooler, elevated growing region, might have been a tad too powerful for some consumers.  The 2017s are just as impressive but also are dialed back just a touch which makes their vigorous fruit component more giving.  In short, the 2016s were a great but powerful vintage, and the 2017s look to be at the same level of quality, but a bit more user-friendly.  Good times.

We’ve picked out three offerings from what we like to refer to as one of the superstars of the ‘German’ part of Italy.  These are riveting, impactful whites and outstanding representatives of not only this house, but the region as a whole.  The winery makes a number of wines, some of which reach into the $50-60 range.  But we feel this trio is so good that it will make our point quite handily, and way over-deliver for their respective prices.  These are driving, ‘naked’ wines that express the pristine terroir from which they come.  If the farming isn’t right, there are no cellar tricks you can to fix them.  These folks have it down to a science in the vineyard and, while they have wines that offer the opportunity to spend more, there isn’t necessarily a reason to do so.  These play at a high level.

The Terlano Terlaner Classico Alto Adige 2017 is a great place to start, and this blended white dates back to the beginning in 1893.  This is a blend of 60% Pinot Bianco, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Sauvignon Blanc that sees 5-7 months on the lees, 80% in stainless steel and 20% in large, probably neutral oak.  The edges are polished and honed with nothing sticking out, and it shows plenty of deceptive power to the palate. You’ve got a variety of subtle flavors from white stone fruits to passion fruit to roasted grain with highlights of white pepper, wild herbs and a streak of minerality.  This lifts and brightens as it hits the palate, and delivers plenty of punch.  A 92 from Advocate in 2016, the 2017 is playing at the same level (we had them two days apart) as an authoritative quaff or versatile food choice.

The Terlano Sauvignon Blanc Winkl Alto Adige 2017 is a favorite around here as well.  A 100% Sauvignon Blanc that dates back to 1956 is made the same way as the Terlaner.  It is gentle and supple on the palate but sits nicely atop well-integrated, ripe acidity.  Again stone fruits with faint suggestions of honey play against ripe grapefruit, sage, and mineral tones.  Monica Larner, Wine Advocate’s Italian specialist, calls it one of her absolute favorite Italian whites. We definitely get that.   This has texture and suppleness, but finishes with a dash of mouth-watering zing.

The Terlano Pinot Grigio Alto Adige 2017 is no ordinary Pinot Grigio.  While the genre in general gets bagged on because there are so many banal, uninspired versions out there, this one has the kind of size, fruit and ‘pop’ that will get your attention and possibly frighten those who are patrons of those typical commercial examples.  This one is clean, insistent, and deceptively powerful for what it is.  The flavors have elements of stone fruit, grain, white peach and passion fruit with a fleck of wild herb.  This is a Pinot Grigio with substance and one heck of a value.

These riveting whites belong in everyone’s conscience as well as everyone’s cellar.  Fans of the genre know these for what they are, one of the best of the genre and world-class whites by any measure.  If you don’t know Terlano, it’s high time you did!

 

 

A CUT ABOVE: PADDY BORTHWICK SAUVIGNON BLANC 2017

It has been a very long time since we first started working with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, way back in the mid-80s with a brand called Cloudy Bay.  Yes that Cloudy Bay.  It was an impressive vanguard for a category that was at the time virtually non-existent, and certainly made an impression on anyone who tried it.  It didn’t seem all that long before Cloudy became the standard of a category that pretty much exploded.  These days Kiwi Sauvignons are a significant group of wines in the marketplace and there are certainly scores if not hundreds of brands to choose from.

It would be fair to say that not every example is compelling.  Some are a bit vegetal, others a bit sweetish, and there is a wide range of styles in between.  It is also fair to say that there are plenty of pleasing choices to be had, to the point where consumers have a bit of confidence in the genre and buy them regularly.  That is more than can be said for some categories (like South Africa) that consistently need a push.  As difficult as we can be, we still find a wide variety of Kiwi efforts that we can recommend.  You want a good to very good, tasty, brisk, lively New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc?  We usually have several.

However while “good to very good” is no problem, ‘great’ is another matter entirely.   The great ones are not that hard to remember because, frankly, we haven’t had many that have performed at the highest level.  Some of those first Cloudy Bays were memorable enough to create a category where none existed before.  There has been the occasional Villa Maria specialty bottling that has played above the crowd.  One of our favorite memories in the category was the first Mount Nelson from the esteemed Marchese Lodovico Antinori of Ornellaia. Considering we’ve been working with these wines for three decades, the list of superstars is pretty short.

Our first encounter with the Paddy Borthwick Sauvignon Blanc 2017 from the Gladstone area of Wairarapa (southern end of the north island near the east coast) was one of those rare magical moments.  Paddy Borthwick came from a ranching family and went looking for a place to diversify their farming interests by growing premium wine grapes.  He got a degree from Australia’s Roseworthy College in 1985 and then, as they describe it, “embarked on a career spanning five countries and three continents before settling back into the Wairarapa.”  He and his father planted this vineyard in 1996.

The vines, now 8-16 years old, sit in deep, stony alluvial soils in a place that is one of the warmest areas of New Zealand (though still pretty cool) with the least rainfall.  The grapes are harvested and quickly moved to tank where they are slowed fermented with about five months of lees stirring.  Sustainable practices and minimal intervention (as you would expect with Sauvignon Blanc) are the watchwords here.  It probably didn’t hurt that 2017 was a ‘cracker’ of a vintage.

The intensely flavored palate shows pink grapefruit, melon, tropical and ripe passion fruit with an underlying hint of gooseberry, guava and lychee.  This is a wine with great balance, structure and intensity, with the kind of balance and power rare for the breed.  There were some nice notes from Wine Advocate’s Joe Czerwinski (91 points… ‘Nicely done’), but we suspect 3-4 months in the bottle or more (the notes are from Feb, 2018 but we have no idea when it was tasted) probably allowed more nuance to poke out.   We’re not just praising this one vis-à-vis other New Zealand Sauvignons, but truly believe this one can play in any arena.  That is not something we say about Kiwi Sauvignons very often, but this one is very special. At under $17 it’s a pretty smoking deal as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliotheksfreigabe: Zilliken Riesling Spätlese #8 2003

You’ve got to love the German’s precision as they have managed to turn the phrase ‘library release’ into a single, if somewhat intimidating word.  Just for the record, this distinctive bottling came from Zilliken’s cold cellars and is in pristine condition.

We have had the occasion to present some stunning value examples of how German Rieslings age.  As we said repeatedly, such opportunities do not present themselves on a regular basis.  There are even fewer examples of top-tier bottlings like this one that make their way into the marketplace, usually being absorbed by the auction circuit in Deutschland.  Perhaps the last significant opportunity was several years ago was when we got a bunch of Bert Simon’s older Auslese. That was serious fun.

Herein we are talking about one of the stars of the Saar, Hanno Zilliken, arguably the producer that, over the years, has showed us some of the most exciting older examples of premium Riesling we have ever sold.   His 1983s and 1994s are legends for us, as well as things we had the opportunity to revisit on more than one occasion over the years.  They never failed to impress.

We feel the same about Zilliken’s Saarburger Rausch Riesling Spatlese #8 2003.  At age 15 it is still going strong and showing surprising freshness to the classic red current, apricot, quince and spice fruit, the slatey nature of the Saar is very subtly integrated into the mix.  While still proudly showing its auslese character, the bottle time has caused everything to settle into a nice groove where both the sweetness and the acidity are dialed back.  The wine shows plenty of complexity but also harmony with no aspect sticking out.

It has been a lot of fun showcasing aged Riesling over the last few years, but this one is on a whole different level from a top producer working a great vineyard in an outstanding vintage that, because of its unique weather profile, few thought would ‘go the distance’.  That certainly is not the case here.  Very few wines have this kind of purity and clarity of flavors at all, let alone at age fifteen.

Distinctive Corsican White: Clos Nicorsi

Vermentino has many manifestations.  There are crisp, high pitched versions that that come from Liguria and other parts of Sardinia that show a little hint of the sea  There are the somewhat riper, rounder versions that seems to be popping up from Tuscany, and the somewhat steely versions from southern France (where the grape is called Rolle).  We have tasted many versions of all of them, but we can’t say we ever had one like this.

This is from a unique spot, situated on Cap Corse, a finger-like peninsula on the northern coast of Corsica. that juts northward into the Tyrrhenian Sea.  This rugged area is a distinctive display of seascapes and vineyards.  Located on the coast near the village of Rogliano, Clos Nicrosi has been cared for by the same family since 1859.  The story goes that one Dominique Nicrosi left the island penniless, made his fortune in the southern U.S. (Alabama to be specific), and then left the U.S. because of the coming winds of the Civil War.

Upon returning to Corsica, he bought a mansion on the coast that had some vineyards which he renamed Clos Nicrosi.  His grandson, Toussaint Luigi, took over the estate a century later.  The wine was ‘discovered’ and presented to the world thanks to a ‘scouting’trip’ led by Jean-Marie Peynaud (son of Lucien Peyraud of Domaine Tempier) and Kermit Lynch.  It was this wine that proved to importer Lynch that all of Corsica wasn’t just a bunch of nice vineyards producing rustic ‘plonk’.

Apparently Luigi’s wines enjoyed great popularity on the island, but were virtually unknown anywhere else.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Clos Nicorsi is now farmed by the next generations, Jean-Noël Luigi, along with his daughter, Marine, and son, Sébastien.  They farm 20 hectares of vines, half of which is located on the Cap Corse itself.

The Clos Nicorsi Coteaux du Cap Corse Blanc 2016 is made with 100% Vermentino from 15-20 year-old vines planted in shale soils from the Cap itself.  They do all the right things in the vineyard and in the cellar including controlled yields, hand harvesting and direct pressing.  The fermentation happens in thermo-regulated steel tanks with only native yeasts.

The Clos Nicorsi has the brightness, lift, salinity and minerality that connects it with all of the other manifestations of Vermentino.  Where it differs is in size, mid-palate volume, and palate authority.  This one has a more substantial mouthfeel, more like a Chateauneuf Blanc, but with the lilting spice notes of Vermentino and a certain subtle nuttiness to the flavors that makes this an intriguing drink.

It sure caught us by surprise.  A unique and classy rendition of this varietal and a superb choice with fish in particular.  It is still well under the radar as evidenced by the fact  that we found zero reviews in any of the major publications for any vintage.  But this stylish white definitely deserves a wider play.

2016 ITALIAN WHITES: MAKING A POINT (plus three more winners)

The more we taste examples from the 2016 vintage in northern Italy, both red and white, the more wonder we experience.  Wine after wine shows a clarity of purpose, purity of fruit, and uniquely expressive nature unlike anything we can recall in recent times.  Are these wines really that good?  The more we experience, the more inclined we are to say ‘yes, they are!’

It wasn’t that long ago we were pretty gaga over the 2010 whites from this part of the world.  The fruit had substance and power, there was plenty of zip and verve and, in short, they were everything that you could expect n Italian white to be.  We remember the 2010s fondly, and were using them as the ‘benchmark’ for  everything that was special about Italian whites.  The 2016s are all of that and more, with everything that the 2010s had plus an undefinable ‘presence’ and harmony that sets the 2016s on another level.  That being said here are three more outstanding examples to make our point:

Filippo Gallino Arneis 2016The story here isn’t extensive, just a committed producer that consistently makes very good wine and doesn’t charge a lot for it.  With a ‘naked’ grape like Arneis you can’t really tweak it in the cellar with wood and have to be very careful with extended lees contact as both can negatively affect the desired freshness of the wine’s profile, you get what Nature gives you.  Wines like this really are made in the vineyard and those that farm meticulously are the successful ones.

Sure there are slightly more exotic aromatics with some of the big dogs labels that cost a lot more.  But this one presents all of the fresh floral nuances and apple-skin aromatics and the lively fruit driven palate that are the essence of this genre.  The 2016 simply has more energy and fruit weight than past versions, which makes this one a killer deal.

Inama Soave Classico 2016– As we have remarked, even the little wines are noticeably better in 2016.  Somehow they have a little more punch, a little more lift, and a surprising degree of harmony that forces you to take notice.  Inama is a staple around here, and we buy it almost every year.  But there’s just ‘more’ to this wine than any that we have tasted in recent memory.

There’s no big story here.  This is just Garganega, the classic grape of Soave, done in 100% stainless steel.  Sure it sounds simple enough.  But again this is a ‘naked’ wine which they can’t really mess with in the cellar of everything doesn’t go right, so there is a bit more to it.  All of the words matter.  To carry the name ‘classico’ the grapes must come from the hillside vineyards around the municipalities of Soave and Monteforte d’Alpone in the original and oldest classic “zone” of Verona established back in 1927.

Forget those over-produced, insipid Soaves that flooded the market 20-30 years ago.  This is nothing like those.  Advocate’s Monica Larner’s words are precise enough, “This entry-level Soave Classico delivers the elegant mineral definition and fruit sensation you should expect of the best Garganega grapes. The 2016 Soave Classico Vin Soave benefits from very favorable growing conditions in a classic vintage. The bouquet is refined and polished with stone fruit, citrus, dried sage and saffron.”  Driving and quite engaging for the fare.

Keber Collio Bianco 2016No place does this kind of thing like the northeast  of Italy.  Riveting, purposeful blends of a mixture of white varietals make for some uniquely compelling whites with lifted fruit, plenty of sizzle, but also unexpected palate presence.  In that realm, Keber has always been one of the stars.  Their Collio Bianco can stand with the best in the region, but is much more attractively priced.

Maybe it was just a good day, but the 2016 Keber Collio is the best version of this wine we can remember tasting, everything the past efforts have been but with seemingly another gear.  The blend is 70% Friulano , 15% Malvasia Istriana, and 15% Ribolla Gialla.  The concept is Friulano for structure, Malvasia Istriana for its aromatic qualities, and Ribolla Gialla for
acidity. These varietals do very well in the so-named “Ponka” soil, composed of marl and sandstone, that naturally stresses the vines.  The grapes are whole cluster, soft-pressed to minimize oxidation during crushing. The juice is fermented and matured on the yeasts for 6 months in
cement vats. Twenty per-cent of the Friulano is aged in older, large barrels.

This wine, from a 10-acre estate near the Slovenian border, always has remarkable weight, body and a distinctive, super-minerally aspect typical of the region.  The estate produces just this wine but it is a constant winner.  This time around, it’s just a notch or two better, which is pretty sensational.

 

The Return of Grey Stack: Sauvignon Blanc like no other…

If you go through and read enough winery websites, you will see a similar thread where the producer is selling the proposition that there is no place like their site for whatever it is that they make.  In the absolute sense that is true, but in the reality of tasting as many wines as we do, the differences are generally not all that dramatic.  But the Bennett Valley in Sonoma is one of those places where the claim has exceptional merit.  We recall some of the early examples of Sauvignon Blanc from Matanzas Creek when it was still run by the original owners.  The fruit component was distinctive, unique and quite delicious.

As we have tasted through California Sauvignon Blancs through the years, there have been many fine examples, but only a handful that have set the bar.  The most memorable was one called Grey Stack Sauvignon Blanc Rosemary’s Block that pretty much set us on our collective ear and got more attention from the media at that point than any Sauvignon of its time.

This was a dynamic mouthful, notably rich and palate stimulating, with a brilliant beam of acidity and tight focus, but at the same time juicily textured flavors of fig, apricot, grapefruit, and honeydew melon along with some floral notes and Loire-like notes of flint. Long, pure, and remarkably expressive, tasting this 2016, which is apparently the first release by a newly formed partnership, we were immediately transported back to those remarkable efforts that were pulling down 92-94 point reviews back around 2010.

We hadn’t seen the label for a while, nor had there been any reviews save some pretty tepid ones from Wine Spectator in the interim, but we are thrilled to have something back that is truly definitive for a genre.  Where does the magic come from?  Well we have, as we said, always noticed the uniqueness of the Bennet Valley going back a long ways.  There are those that point to the particular clone used here, said to come from Collio in northeastern Italy near the Slavonian border.  The winery website says it’s ‘the people’.

Our guess is some combination of ‘all of the above’.  But whatever the reason, this Sauvignon is special in the way the Eric Kent we sold a while back was (half of the grapes for that wine came from this vineyard, incidentally).  Special juice here, Spectator’s 90-point tout does not do this wine justice.

WELCOME BACK, DONABAUM (GREAT GRUNER)

It’s always about the wine, but sometimes it is also about the connection.  Without going into detail about the cottage industry of wine brokerages that exists in a place like California, sometimes we don’t see certain labels for a period of time simply because the representative of some small entity simply can’t be bothered to make the trip down the freeway.  This is our life as it exists in the wine industry.  But we deal with all manner of folks because that is what you have to do to see all that is out there.

Johann Donabaum’s Austrian wines were an immediate favorite when we started working with them about a decade ago.  We liked his stuff for a couple of reasons.  Clearly the guy had good vineyards, and clearly a unique touch where his Gruners and Rieslings were very typical of the personality one expected from vineyards like Spitzer Point and Setzberg in the Wachau.  These wines had all the terroir and minerality one could expect, but still a certain accessibility that offered some hedonistic appeal as opposed to just “rocks and acidity’.  Second, for as good as the wines were, there was a certain rational sense to the pricing.

The Johann Donabaum Gruner Veltliner Spitzer Point Federspiel 2015, the first Donabaum we have seen in a while was a perfect example of what we mean.  Clean and beautifully executed as always, it is particularly gratifying to have the stuff come back in one of the best vintages we can ever recall for Austrian wines.  This Federspiel (the Austrian equivalent of a kabinett in must weight) has the weight and roundness of a lot of Smaragd, with the well infused minerality one expects with a yellow stone fruit character that this particular vintage brings.

From classic gneiss (typically coarse-grained earth consisting mainly of feldspar, quartz, and mica) soils, these 30-year-old vines sit in an east facing vineyard sitting at 1000 ft. elevation.  This wine sees nothing but exposure to its own lees in the cellar in an effort to express the site in its purest form.  Plumper yet still crisp, this is an appealing Gruner in a great vintage from a talented source for under $20.  That’s the meat of it.