We’re not presuming to make an airtight case here.  People’s expectations as to what truly defines great Chablis varies greatly with some leaning to the steely, taste-of-the-sea dominance to the flavors to those preferring that character be an aspect to a vigorous fruit component.  There’s no right or wrong answer, simply a question of experiences.  In our experience, there is a lot to like about the Roland Lavantureux Chablis 2016 as it hits on all of the major themes and does so at a very tasty price.

Lavantureux isn’t the most famous guy in Chablis, nor even in importer Kermit Lynch’s Chablis portfolio.  But we have come to appreciate his consistent, rock solid performance in making wines that are precise and true to type, yet show a little flair to the fruit.  We have been following this house, which was founded in 1978, for only a few vintages but are convinced this is one of the as yet undiscovered gems.  The basics are all here… Kimmeridgian soils, 30-year-old vines, and the domaine is in the hands of Roland’s sons, Arnaud and David, who have demonstrated the desire to hone their skills to produce even more compelling wines.

This one, however, really hits the target in every way.  You like ‘classic’ Chablis, there’s plenty of that salinity and insistent minerality to give an excellent accounting of the region.  Yet at the same time, there’s an energetic fruit component of sour apple, citrus and pear to give the impression of a coiled-yet-round mid-palate that slides cleanly into a mineral laced finish that still showcases the fruit.  It checks all the boxes flavor-wise and was ‘love-at-first-sip’ for us, particularly given the modest fare.

We dare say this is the most compelling ‘regular’ bottling we have tasted from Lavantureux, possibly as the natural progression of increasing quality every vintage, or perhaps kicked up by the lovely (if sadly limited) 2016 vintage.  Too early to make the call on that, but we can assure you that we will be partaking of this one on a few occasions moving forward.  The style, the typicite, the fruit, and the price make this a must for Chablis lovers of any persuasion.



Every time we are presented something from a Kosher winery here in the states, or from Israel, the first thing out of the vender’s mouth is, ‘but don’t make a point of it being kosher’.  First off, what’s wrong with it being Kosher?  Does that pidgeonhole it for buyers, the practicing kosher ones thinking it is only for holidays and everyone else presuming it tastes like the mass produced, sweet reds whose names you all know.

We have a hard time believing it is that cut and dried for most people. But maybe it is.  Still it is our belief that if you have a wine that plays on the ‘celebratory’ table, that will afford it a built-in audience from which you move forward.  If it happens to be a well made, dry red, the potential followers pool should be even larger because it should make an interesting proposition for folks who are merely looking for something red and tasty without concern for any holiday/holy day applications.  If it happens to sell for a really good price as well, that would appear to be some sort of trifecta.  In other words, this is first a candidate for a versatile everyday drinking red.  Everything else is a bonus.  The Golan Heights Winery Mount Hermon Red Galilee 2016 is such a wine.

Golan Heights Winery/Yarden makes a lot of different bottlings under its various labels.  It is easy to get lost in the shuffle.  But in a recent tasting we zeroed in on this one simply because it was dark, tasty, and engaging and sold for a song.  The 2016 Mount Hermon Red exhibits notes of berries and cherries, along with nuances of Mediterranean herbs, chocolate, earth and a little minerality. Made from all five Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec), with Cabernet as the lead player, the grapes come mainly from  the Golan Heights, a raised volcanic plateau going from 1300 to 3900 feet in elevation that is the coolest wine region in Israel.  A small portion comes from vineyards in Galilee.

We have tasted examples of this before but this one made an impression.  We didn’t have our Israel vintage chart handy but apparently 2016 was a superior vintage in the region (a warm spring and the earliest harvest in nearly a quarter century).   Wine Enthusiast noted, “A  nose of cassis and vanilla sets the scene for flavors of black cherry, blackberry, butterscotch, juniper and violet. It’s easy on entry, offering smooth tannins that slowly reveal themselves, culminating in a floral and cranberry finish. ..92 points.”  Tasty, well-priced and, yes, kosher, but you don’t reason need a ‘reason’ to open this.  In the end it’s simply a tasty red.


Chile has come a very long way since we started to see the wines in the late 80s when the majority were  generally a collection of rustic juice that could sell for super low prices.  Given the development of higher end collectables like Almaviva, Seña, and Clos Apalta, a growing number intriguing boutique projects, and a general surge in quality from a number of the Chilean ‘old guard’ producers, there’s a lot to talk about.  Sadly, if it’s not ‘hot’, ‘elite’, or ‘new’, the wine media doesn’t pay much attention…a token 86 or 87 score and a cloud of dust.  We didn’t want this one to get lost in the footnotes.

That presents a little bit of a problem for those of us with boots on the ground who spend a lot of time to find tasty, well-priced and angst free beverages to recommend to people.  Talking about the things we do find isn’t exactly easy either.  In a world where one email after another hits your inbox making claims to be offering the ‘best ever’ in one way or another, giving someone a straight, honest assessment of a wine often proves to be a pointless exercise.  Hyperbole sells and we know that.

Even so, we feel compelled to mention things that got our attention and, in some cases, do so without overstating our case.  That being said, we like to mention the Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon 2015.  Yes the under $10 one!  We go back a long way with this label and have tasted many vintages.  They have usually been solid, honest Cabernets that you could serve with confidence.  Some have been a little leaner, occasionally they might have had a little green streak, but consistently serviceable Cabernet.

The Rothschilds (yes the same folks that own Chateau Lafite, Duhart-Milon, Rieussec, and L’Evangile) have been in Chile for quite some time, taking over this estate in 1988 and giving it the name Los Vascos (meaning the Basques, a nod to their family heritage).  The wines have consistently improved over the years as the family has become more familiar with the terroir, but the 2015 vintage seemed to allow them to kick it up a notch.

Knowing Los Vascos as we do, we were immediately impressed with the more ample, supple fruit that this wine delivered…  a pleasing midpalate of dark red fruits reminiscent of a well made petite chateaux from Bordeaux with fleck of spice, earth, and graphite.  We were also pleased by what it didn’t have…the green peppercorn notes and overtly savory edge that seems to be a component of many Chilean reds at all price points.

Apparently James Suckling was as charmed by this Cabernet as we were, saying, “An attractive and delicate Cabernet Sauvignon with very fine tannins and bright fruit. Medium body. Black currant, walnut and wet earth. Delicious Chilean Cabernet. Fantastic value. One of best ever from here. Drink now…92 points.”

Ditto for Decanter Magazine.  The Brits know a good buy when they see it and, for them, this review is positively giddy, “A fresher and purer style seems to have emerged from this new release, part of the Domaines Barons de Rothschild holdings. It’s vibrant and bold, focused on primary cassis and red cherry fruit and a herbal hint. Silky textured and supple, it’s elegant with lovely depth to0. 90 Points ”

We’d go so far as to say it is the best we’ve had in this series, and this is a Los Vascos most folks will be able to get comfortable with.  We aren’t telling you to throw away all of your $50 Cabernets.  We aren’t shouting from the rooftops.  We’re simply telling you in a regular voice that this is a rather tasty little surprise and nine bucks well spent.


The Aftermath

Obviously, we need to start this by sending wishes and prayers to all of our friends in the wake of the fires in ‘wine country’.  The loss of life is horrific and the extensive damage to property, still being assessed, is clearly catastrophic.  Our heartfelt sorrows go out in particular to those who lost their homes and businesses.


There are a lot of folks who will be offering condolences.  The media has, and will, be full of articles about people’s heroics, first responders, and other encouraging tales about the human spirit.  It does seems like there have been way too many disasters this year in particular.   There are a lot of people that will tell you they know how you feel, but most don’t.  Being helpless in the face of an overwhelming tragedy isn’t something most humans have had to experience over the last few decades.


Around here, we’ve had a bit of an inkling (more than we cared to) of what NoCal has been going through as three of the ‘characters’ in our own Winex crew were far too close for comfort to the Corona fire a couple of weeks ago and Canyon Fire 2 early this week.  Having to decide what to save, considering the immediate and long-term importance of the item, and to have to make those decisions within a very short period of time and under duress, is scary enough in itself.   Our people were fortunate to be beyond the final perimeter in those cases, but others weren’t.


It’s certainly fair to say that some of us down here didn’t realize how bad things were in Napa and Sonoma because we had our own disaster going.  It was amusing to hear the national news people talk about our fires as ‘just outside of L.A.’  We’re an hour south on a good day and substantially more in traffic.  In any case we have been ‘shaken and stirred’ here to the point where we might vaguely be able to sense the situation up there.


We actually weren’t sure what to do given the events of the past week.  We know a lot of people in the north, and have friends that did lose houses.  But we also figured that a people are a little tired of hearing about things burning.  We’re supposed to be the ‘fun’ place.  But this particular set of horrific events is right in our own back yard and, both as wine merchants and Californians, we thought we needed to say something.


The only point we would make falls in line with that whole ‘the wine business isn’t like any other’ thing.  Given the fact that there are still fires raging up there it is still too soon to assess the damage.  There have been more fatalities, more evacuations and more structures burned.  Obviously, we aren’t trying to make light of anything.  But we are starting to see articles about ‘what happens next’ and ‘rebuilding’.  That caused us to ponder a little about ‘wine’ things.


How do you rebuild?  Let’s say you are a winery.   There’s no ‘good’ timing for a fire but right now is harvest.  There are still some ‘ready’ grapes on the vine, possibly partly scorched, heat damaged, or affected by smoke.  Even if they were still ok (apparently there were cases where the expanse of green healthy vines in a vineyard acted as something of a firebreak for crops, homes and buildings), how are wineries going to get to them?  It doesn’t sound particularly healthy or safe to put a crew on picking.   So, a lot of grapes are going to be lost in the vineyard.


If you were one of the luckier ones in this earlier harvest, a lot of your grapes are harvested and fermenting.  But a lot of folks can’t get to their wineries to do some of the simple things essential to the basic making of the wine.  As we have said many times on these pages, timing is an essential part of the winemaking equation.  Not everyone does things the same way, but each winemaker has a protocol that can be pretty time intensive at this part of the process.  Failure to do certain things at the right moment can create problems that cannot be fixed later on.


There are potential risks to existing stocks from fire, smoke or heat.  Some are preventable, some are not, but someone has to be there and able to do it.  Clearly that will be a problem for a number of producers.  Even if there aren’t the ‘specifics’ we mentioned to negatively affect grapes or wine, lack of access on the part of winery crews has its own unique set of problems this time of year.


Taking it a step further, what if the winery goes altogether?  You not only have what is being made, you have a bit of what was already made and still aging in barrel.  So not only is the current ‘crop’ gone, so are portions of the last one or two vintages.  At White Rock, one of the wineries rumored to be destroyed (their website tells a more positive story), they age their Cabernet in French oak for 20 months.  So, the potential existed to lose three vintages.


The final assessment isn’t in for them.  There are storage caves on the property which may have saved a lot of the stock.  But White Rock serves as an example of what can happen.  It isn’t the first name you think of when Napa Valley is mentioned, even though they have been there for decades.  It is a unique, small production property in Soda Canyon that has a very specific style.  They have a carefully established network for sales and most folks that have been around Napa Valley for a while know who they are.


So, let’s say they did lose as many as three vintages of their red wines (hopefully not).  They could buy something else and bottle it, but it wouldn’t be the same thing that consumers have come to expect.  They could be off the market for three years and have to start the distribution process all over again, no easy feat these days.  If some of their 40-year-old vines were destroyed, it would take them, you guessed it, 40 years to get to them back to the same point.  A lot of folks went through this kind of decision-making with phylloxera in the 90s, but that was a slow, predictable process not an overnight wipeout.  You can’t plan for this sort of thing.


Finally, and again White Rock is just a real name that represents scores of wineries in every conceivable state of disarray from this terrible tragedy, what happens to such labels in the meantime?  If you make tables, and one of your tables burns, you can make another one (yeah, we know that there’s at least one guy out there mumbling no two pieces of wood are the same).  You can’t remake wine.  Vintages, vine age, blends, etc., cannot be precisely reproduced.  The competition in the marketplace is the fiercest we have seen in our decades of doing this, so coming to the market with less than your best is an uncomfortable proposition.   If you don’t come to the market at all, that’s bad for other reasons.


On top of it all, you’ve got tourism.  We are old enough to remember walking into a tasting room in the Napa Valley and seeing the owner behind the counter.  Of course, that was the 70s.  That was light years from where it is now.  It is an industry unto itself.  We read one article that said ‘wine country’ (however they defined it) had more visitors than Disneyland in the last year.  How will all of this destruction and relocation affect that aspect?


This is a nasty situation, lives lost, property lost, jobs lost, and more jobs lost by the people that support the people in the industry.  The whole industry will feel the sting of something of this magnitude in a number of different ways.   It will take weeks to assess the obvious damages, but perhaps a decade or more to see the full, as yet unpredictable impact on the region.  However, none of it matters until the winds die down and the fires subside, and that can’t come soon enough.

2003 Bollig-Lehnert Riesling ist zurück!

Summer rerun? Well maybe, but in the best way.  We actually ran this aged Bollig-Lehnert Riesling in an email nearly two years ago.  The importer apparently got another shot at this lovely aged Riesling recently and asked us if we were interested in more.  We said ‘jah’!  It would have been the subject of another email, but we simply don’t have enough for that.  We thought we’d leave a little note here for Riesling fans, along with the context of that piece we did before.

“Recently, there’s been a big push among German producers towards drier styles, presumably at the behest of the restaurant scene in Germany.  We could rail on about our opinion regarding the new dry ‘trocken’ Riesling movement, but suffice it to say we are not impressed with the direction things are taking.  German wines have been made a certain way for a long time for a reason.  The wines we are presenting today are perfect examples of why.

”Classic Rieslings with their zingy acidity beg for a little residual sugar to round things out, but they age beautifully.  As they age, they dry out a bit and take on more minerality and nuance as they reflect the site from which they were sourced.  The resulting wines have a charm, delicacy, and complexity that is unlike anything else.  We don’t run across fine aged Riesling in the marketplace all that often (remember that Schloss Schonborn Marcobrunn deal from a little ways back?).  But when we do, we pay attention.

“The Bollig-Lehnert Riesling Spatlese Dhroner Hofberger 2003 is a stunning example from what was one of the most controversial vintages in Germany in the last couple of decades.   A lot of people decided that 2003 was way too hot for Riesling.  They reputedly possessed lower acids that made them of questionable aging potential.  People in the know suggested that these wines would develop beautifully because of their high extract and concentration, supported by elevated tartaric acidity and fruit density.  In this case (and most of the others we have had the opportunity to taste) the latter folks were right.  This spätlese has hardly changed from its initial bottling with palate coating extract, high spätlese richness, brilliant clarity and palate freshness.  The fruit has settled down a bit as has the urgent sweetness, though this is still a classic spat.  This Hofberger doesn’t seem even 5 years old let alone 12 and the peach, citrus, cinnamon and slate nuances are delightful!”

At $14.98, it’s also a steal…



First off, our  apologies for not getting to this sooner, though it isn’t entirely our fault.  Given that Memorial Day has come and gone, we have to consider ourselves somewhat remiss in how little we have done promoting pink wine so far.  The season is upon us.  Now, in our defense, we have been a little preoccupied with a few other topics.

The 2016 Bodeaux prearrivals campaign demands a certain commitment of time.  It is the most important vintage to offered on pre-arrival since the 2010s, and possibly could provide the best opportunities for consumers since 2005.   But it is a slippery slope because, as good as the wines are, we have mixed emotions about how the campaign will play out given the remarkable sea of other choices there are out there today of all kinds of wine, and how many folks are willing to put up today’s money for something that isn’t coming for two years and really won’t be drinkable until a decade or so later.  In that sense it is a historic campaign in terms of what it will say about the whole futures market moving forward.

We also are spending a lot of time evaluating more deals in the marketplace than we ever remember seeing.  You’ve seen some of the stuff we have been tossing out there, and those are only the ones that pass muster.  There are nearly five times that many don’t even initiate a serious conversation, but we still have to look.  Finally, we are still wading through a ton of pink wines brought to us by the Johnny-come-latelys.  We  have already found plenty to get us through the summer in style, but you never know when the next gem will appear.

Finally, our choice of the word ‘roundup’ was made because of alliteration.  We couldn’t possibly cover all of the highlights of our current selection in one piece.  So we’re going to give you a few that come to mind so that you can start to get your pinks in order for the summer.  We’ll start with something that kind of surprised us.  Domestic rosés all to often lack the acidity and texture to be refreshing.  It’s nobody’s fault.  It’s just warmer here, generating higher alcohols and lower acidity, and too many folks are getting into the act just to cash in on the fad.  While we are getting a lot better at it here at home, far too many vintners here don’t have the experience in this arena and most of the local pinks are at a disadvantage outside their own tasting room.

The Andrew Murray Esperance Rose 2016 was a pleasant exception to that generalization.  It is nearly 100% Cinsault that is estate grown for making rosé (as opposed to a saignee of red wine).  Light, fresh, clean, there’s dried strawberry and red melon with an impression of minerality, a pleasing tactile crispness, and the flavors are dry.  In the winery’s own words, “this is definitely not a kool-aid Rosé of yesteryear from California”.  It got the attention of some serious Francophiles when it comes to pinks (us).  Pleasing juice, and the price makes perfect sense (far too many domestic pinks, besides being a little flabby, are kind of expensive).  A well conceived effort.

The Chateau de Trinquevedel Rose Tavel 2016 has been a staple here for some time.  Tavel has a certain cache when it comes to pink wine, which makes some of them a little expensive for what they are.  This small family farm makes classic Tavel with fresh acidity but also the defining mid-palate weight and somewhat deeper color.  The blend here is 45% Grenache, 24% Cinsault, 15% Clairette, 10% Mourvèdre, and 6% Syrah.  The flavors roll to red berry and red melon, with delicate underpinnings of spice and garrigue, and a little rounder midpalate than pinks from further south.  Far too easy to drink and very food friendly.

One of the consistent pink wine bargains over the last few years is the Le Cengle Cotes de Provence Rose Vieilles Vignes 2016, pale in color, delicate and crisp on the palate but with more going on than the visuals and price ($12.98) would lead you to expect.  The blend is 25% Cinsault, 35% Syrah, 35% Grenache and 5% Mourvedre, but there are refreshing citrus and white peach tones that give it a little bit of  white wine impression.  Certainly a candidate for go-to pink given the price and performance.

Domaine Tempier has made Bandol rosé a ‘thing’ almost by themselves.  There are some wonderful examples that cost nearly half as much because the market hasn’t caught on to yet. The Gros Nore Bandol Rose 2016 is a sensational follow-up to their outstanding 2015.  Former boxer Alain Pascal fashions this blend of 50% Mourvèdre, 25% Cinsault and 25% Grenache from grapes grown in clay soils.  Red fruit, minerals, a hint of honey at the crest, some ‘orangy’ citrus streaks, and just a touch of that cool Mourvedre earthiness, this is pretty serious as pinks go if you want to dive into it, but can play the casual, delicious quaff if called upon to do so.

Finally, here’s your absolute bargain, the Mourgues du Gres Fleur d’Eglantine Costieres de Nimes Rose 2016.  We have worked with this estate for years and they are usually in the mix with both pinks and reds.  To be honest, they don’t ‘hit’ everything every year.  But they have had a number of efforts that have ‘nailed it’ and, when they do, it provides a remarkable value performances.  The 2016 Rose is one of those ‘hit’ times.  The main thrust is Mourvedre with small parts of Carignan, Grenache, and Syrah.  The wine starts with red berries, slides into an orange and garrigue note and finishes with a little salinity.  At $9.98, it’s party time.





It seems like only yesterday (it was actually the mid-90s) that we were invited to a very low-keyed tasting that a supplier was hosting. That supplier, who pioneered Oregon wines in the late 80s, long before they really took hold in the broad market, had just come back from a trip to New Zealand. He brought with him bottles of Pinot Noir from New Zealand, something we had been exposed to before. Apparently the wine industry there was just starting to get a feel for the varietal and our geeky Oregon vendor felt compelled to drag a few bottles back (a lot easier to do in those days given current airport security) to test the water. Guess we were curious, too , since we attended this small scale event just to check them out. This was so early in the game, we weren’t even aware that there was a game.

Since we had no expectations, we went simply to do our jobs and taste because, as we have said so often, you just never know. The lineup of eight wines, which included Ata Rangi and Te Kairanga we recall, showed rather well. We were prompted to order small quantities of these, at the time, completely unfamiliar labels from a completely untrested genre. Perhaps more important, our take-away from this little show was “hey, this could turn into something”. Are we saying we were ahead of the curve. Yeah, we often are because we actually take the time to look. But that isn’t the point. Are we saying we could have predicted where Kiwi Pinot would go over the next couple of decades? Not a chance.

As it turned out, that showing proved to be no fluke. Here we are roughly two decades later, and the Kiwis are accepted players on the world stage. Not only are New Zealand Pinot Noirs taken seriously in wine circles these days, their ‘top guns’ have been consistently producing lights-out juice that should be a part of any serious collection. Our subject here is one of those ‘players’, Pegasus Bay. We aren’t going to claim this is the most consistent of the top drawer estates, but they certainly hit ‘higher highs’ when they’re ‘on’. This is one of those times.

The Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir Waipara Valley 2012 also gets a little less visibility because they because of their location. The name Marlborough is certainly more ingrained in the wine buying public’s psyche and Central Otago is the more ‘glam’ locale. Now we aren’t going to mix words. Sometimes Kiwi Pinots in general can be a little too savory for their own good. But when it gets a little warmer, as it did in 2012, the riper fruit component fills in the middle and plays nicely off the cooler notes while there are none of the green edges that can sometimes get in the way. That leaves a pretty compelling drink when all is said and done.

We’re not the only fans. The added ripeness and flesh (think Burgundy not Santa Lucia Highlands) got multiple ‘thumbs up’ from the critics, including a 92 from Wine Advocate and 93 from Wine Enthusiast. The lead cheerleader in this case, besides us putting our money where our mouths (keyboards?) are, was James Suckling. He dropped a ‘96’ score on this one with the comments, “A sense of real depth, soothing dark cherry notes, some forest floor and deeply knitted oak. The palate has noble tannins and the sort of structural complexity and completeness that is the envy of most other NZ Pinot Noir makers”

As a matter of course, Kiwi Pinots can use a good splash in a decanter before serving. Who knew back in the day that New Zealand would become a world player in Pinot Noir?  It is examples like this that drive the point home. As wines with this kind of reviews goes, and compared to most reserve level California Pinots, it’s quite the bargain, too…$34.98

The 2015 Germans: Sie Sind Gut!

We actually wrote this piece a couple of months ago to with the idea of promoting a couple of specific, higher end estates that happened to arrive ahead of the pack.  As it turned out, we never fired it out because savvy buyers hit them pretty hard before we ever had the chance.  Some of our suppliers treat vintage like a nuisance in their quest to get wines ‘branded’ so that people buy them every year.   But let’s face it, vintage matters.   Some folks can get more out of a difficult harvest than others, and, funny thing, there is always seems to be more widespread success when Nature is kind.  But ultimately vintners are limited by the cards they are dealt no matter how good a player they are.

our assessment has been and continues to be  O! M! G!”

What’s our point?  Well, after an extensive tasting of the Germans in 2015, our assessment has been and continues to be  O! M! G!  We left two massive tastings this spring shaking our heads.  Are the 2015 Germans really that good?  In both cases, we had the opportunity to retaste a few selections from each event in our own, somewhat more clinical environment and let’s just say that we are pretty sure these are the real deal like there hasn’t been in quite some time.

We have a perspective there having been deeply involved in the subject (Germans) since the early 1980s, and have tasted extensively virtually every year since the mid-90s.  We think we have a pretty good handle on the subject, we dare say perhaps better than most critics.  The Germans have had an excellent run over the last couple of decades from a historical perspective.   However, based on the 200+ wines we have tasted thus from the 2015 vintage, we can honestly say it is one of the best vintages we have ever had.

If you are a true fan of great Riesling, it is go time.  The 2015s have powerful but ripe acidity, plenty of packed-in fruit, and already show some complex and defined aromatics even though they were still wound up from bottling and transport back when we had the majority of them.  Even beyond the impressive up front ‘attack’ that you intuitively knew was only going to get better with a little time, and the subtle but sizzling underpinning of acidity, there was a ’second gear’ to almost all of them.  You’d taste, you’d spit (mostly), and the wine would still linger a bit, after which it had an unusual ‘second hit’ on the palate, almost elevating again and saying ‘I am not done with you yet’ (say it with a German accent and you’ll really get the feel).  The wines are precise, loaded and true to their pradikat levels.

We know there are pundits who may not be on the same page (even though they should be), though we have not seen a lot of widespread commentary thus far (which is surprising).  For the most part the pundits seem to favor wines that are sweeter and softer, just the opposite of what we think makes for exceptional Riesling.  We would hold forth high scoring examples from vintages like 2011 and 2014 as proof of our premise.  We found consistent concentration issues that we were not particularly enamored with.  In fact even when some of these wines were offered to us at discounted prices, with scores in hand, we passed!

If you go back to the turn of the century and read the reviews since, the written word would suggest that 2001 would still be the reigning ‘vintage of the century’.  In our minds, 2015 looks to be at least the equal of 2001 and we’d actually give it a slight edge. That’s saying something from a long term perspective, but we are pretty thrilled with the 2015s overall and it is a vintage where the ‘big dogs’ truly shined.  The only downside to the vintage is, as it is so often with exceptional vintages, quantities are rather small.

Needless to say it is high time we started seriously promoting this great vintage, and do we have a lineup for you!  We’re going to make references to a few specific bottlings, but consider this an endorsement of 2015 as a whole.  The beauty here is it is an amazing vintage, and we’ve already done a bit of filtering.  So if you love Germans like we do, have at it knowing full well it’s impossible to make a mistake.

As far as what to buy, it’s all about personal choice.  But we’ve highlighted ten that represent a lovely cross-section of styles and appellations.  We’ll start with Stefan Gerhard Hattenheimer Hassel Kabinett Feinherb 2015.  As most of you know feinherb is another way to say halb trocken or ‘off dry’.  Gerhard was a favorite of ours a few years back before his importer liquidated and the wines were off the market for a while.  The 2015 has the riveting fruit, sizzling acidity and drier profile that defines the style of this up-and-coming Rheingau estate.

On the kabinett front, this is a sensational vintage with the traditionally styled wines showing plenty of fruit and nicely tucked away, lifted acidity.  Start with the Shafer-Frohlich Bockenauer Felseneck Kabinett 2015At the first major German tasting we attended last June, in a lineup filled with top drawer traditional estates Tim Frohlich’s wines were one of the two clear winners in the room (along with Schloss Lieser).  This young, talented Nahe winemaker is emerging as one of the top guns in all of Germany and his 2015s are epic from top to bottom.  Intense fruit, plenty of verve, and beautifully infused minerality, this Wine Advocate 93 is a winner.

In a slightly fruitier vein, we have the pick-a-pair from the reliable Monchhof and Christoffel, both made by the talented Robert Eymael of Monchoff.  These definitely play at a little sweeter end of the kabinett range with the biggest different being the sites themselves, with the J. J. Christoffel Riesling Kabinett Erdener Treppchen 2015 playing the tighter, mineral-laced, highly spiced precision hand while the Monchhof Riesling Kabinett Urzig Wurzgarten 2015, while still playing the spice and slate card, leans more in the direction of red currant and violet in its profile.  These are some of the classiest kabinetts you will find for this kid of fare.

It should come as no surprise that Willi Schaefer hit it out of the park in 2015.  His layered, honeyed, insistent, stony Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spatlese #10 2015 is, as importer terry Thiese puts it, profoundly expresses the vintage and, like epic vintages 2001 and 2010, more electrifying, and in many ways more astounding.  Selbach Oster seems to have upped their game over the last three or four vintages and the 2015s are a high point.  This single bloc masterpiece from a super-steep slatey site, the Selbach-Oster Riesling Zeltinger Schlossberg ‘Schmitt’ 2015, has impressive density and range, and it’s just getting going.

Finally, after a couple of surprisingly ‘un-amazing’ vintages, the 2015 Donnhoffs are some of the best we have ever had from this Nahe legend.  The Donnhoff Oberhauser Brucke Riesling Spatlese 2015 (WA 92) and Donnhoff Riesling Spatlese Schlossbockelheimer Felsenberg Nahe 2015 (WA 91) play way above these modest scores..

Hey, it is still early in the game because there hasn’t been a lot of ‘chatter’ in the press about the 2015s in Germany (or about German wine in general for that matter). But this is an epic year that we speak of in terms of the all time greats we’ve experienced like 2001, 1990, and 1983.  See our complete 2015 German Wine List here.

And Now, A Look Even Further Ahead: Part II

To briefly recap from last time, the production side of the wine industry is better than ever, more people have the tools and the knowledge to make the best wines ever.  There are very few ‘bad’ wines these days that suffer from bacterial, microbial, or other forms of ‘funk’ that hygienic winemaking has mostly eliminated.  The most significant source of bad bottles stem from the closures, either those with TCA that cause the wine to be corked, or an imperfect seal that allows the wine to oxidize.

Screw cap closures virtually eliminate all of those problems, and the next generation is not as connected to the ‘screw caps mean cheap wines’ mentality.  Millennials grew up with fine wines that came with screw caps and there’s no reason to think the acceptance of screw caps will not continue to increase moving forward to the point where most of the wines that are consumed ‘off-the-shelf’ will come in cap closures, allowing the cork trees to replenish to make better corks for those ‘special’ bottles destined for the cellar.

One must ask a simple question here before moving on.  Presumably the wine industry will cater to the market (though it is known to try and manipulate certain aspects) as time marches on.  But what exactly is the market?  Is it the small upper part that maintains cellars and buys wine on a regular basis, usually with the curiosity to try new genres just because they want to and the itch to keep up on trends?  The small, savvy group is the one we maintain has the most impact on the market and spends the most money proportionately.  The trends often start here.

Is it the second tier that is willing to spend money on high priced wine clubs and restaurant markups with just enough knowledge to know they want something better?  These are professional folks that have the money to spend but not necessarily the experience or desire to sort through the rhetoric.  They are more susceptible to price (more expensive is better, right?) and marketing (‘being in a wine club makes me a special insider’) impressions.  There’s a mediocre, single vineyard $60 Petit Verdot Reserve out there somewhere for these folks but they do make up a sizeable buying force.  Certain market brands (not mentioning names) have established remarkable followings with this largely loyal group.  This is the ideal target for most wineries and direct-to-consumer entities. Some will take the step to the smaller group, others will become disenchanted with the lack of value, but the remainder is still a sizeable group with buying power.

The third group is the largest in population though probably far less connected.  These are the more occasional buyer that purchases wines pretty much the same way they buy potato chips and soda.  They find a brand they like and stick with it unlike shaken out of the pattern.  Of course they make up the largest group in terms of tonnage and are the targets.  For the most part these are the folks that like wine but aren’t fanatics about it.  They will see things when they filter down to the grocery/’big box’ level, and won’t see or seek out many opportunities to try something different.   These are the ‘brand buyers’ that corporate wineries seek.

We aren’t casting judgment from our perspective, just observing.  At this point we have described these groups from a multigenerational context.  In truth the big change in wine perception came with the baby-boomers, arguably the first American generation to have some sort of wider-spread wine culture.  It was rare to see people ordering wine in restaurants or bars as an aperitif or cocktail back in the day.  But it is pretty common now and the next generation, the millennials, grew up with this around them.  Most ‘boomers’ are now in their 60s and 70s and aren’t buying a lot any more.  The industry looks to the next-gen buyers to try and figure it out.

“It was rare to see people ordering wine in restaurants or bars as an aperitif or cocktail back in the day.”

It’s a little hard to cover all the bases, and our perspective is certainly a bit skewed as we deal largely with the savviest group.  But there are a few things we have noticed over the last few years.  The media has changed buying patterns.  We hardly ever hear the term ‘vertical’ from a buyer any more.  For those that don’t know the term, a lot of folks would find a few wines they liked and buy some every year, year in and year out.  These days a buyer will be more sensitive to reviews on high end wines and cluster buy the highest rated vintages and top wines from the media.  He is more attuned to score than brand if push comes to shove.

Back in the olden days, brands established themselves more slowly but on a much more solid footing.  In today’s lightening communication world, wines and labels can get hot overnight and disappear almost as fast.  In the ‘148 character’, digital world where a lot of folks don’t ever look up from their phones, slow building would seem to be at a disadvantage.  It’s hard to get someone’s attention long enough to tell much of a story (unless you have them trapped in your winery tasting room).

Most of the wine purchased is drunk right away, though that isn’t necessarily a massive societal change.  It is however on a bit of an upswing.  The next-gens seem to be more inclined to meet outside the home, which kind of precludes the whole cellar building process.  We would suggest that this trend has supported the explosion of casual restaurants, ethnic eateries, and ‘pub-like’ venues over ‘fine dining’ (that itself is a very fertile subject for another time).  Suffice it to say that those are less likely to provide that ‘revelation’ moment wine-wise, and support the more casual buying of wine.

On the production end, things are technically much better as we said.  But the combination of the media formats favoring blowsier, more overt styles and the general public’s waning attention span (air a wine for a half hour?…omg, lol what am I supposed to do in the meantime?), favors the sweeter, more commercial, more obvious style of wine.  Sadly for the big picture, we see wine, like the world, becoming more homogenized.  Busy people don’t have time for details, so simple and non-obtrusive has a ready market.

Another key issue is how wines are sold (we’ll address this detail next time).  There are more exceptional wines than ever as we said in our last piece.  So let’s take our next-gen buyer, the people that the industry will have to rely on for the next 20-30 years, and let’s make a couple of big suppositions.  Let’s assume that a couple a next-geners were at lunch and ordered a glass of wine and actually paid attention to it for a moment.  Now this presumes a lot of other things, like the wine they got poured was actually opened within the last 24 (or 48?) hours and the batteries on their smart phones, tablets and smart watches all ran out at once and they left their wireless charging devices at home.

That a pretty unlikely convergence of events but for the sake of theory let’s move on.  Under these extreme circumstances, let’s say they find they really like what they were drinking.  Suddenly, through no fault of their own, they have the ‘aha’ moment (like we all had at one point or another) and decide maybe they’d like to pursue the wine thing a little bit.

Where are they going to do that?  How are they going of do that?  Where’s the next generation, the generation that will be expected to support the wine industry, going to learn about wine?  That probably is the biggest question because, as much as the wine industry loves to tell itself otherwise, the world has changed a lot since the baby boomers turned 21.  But that’s too big a question for right now.  We’ll take a swing at it in a couple of weeks…

2017: Good Things on the Horizon

This has become a tradition for us to give everyone an outline of what to expect out of the coming year.  Part of the reasoning is that we have the information because we rely upon this info as part of our yearly business plan seeing as there’s always a limit to the amount of money one can spend (even, of course, for the U.S. Government who can simply print it).  Since we have already done the homework, there’s no reason not to share it with you so you have the option of strategizing your own purchases and consider cellaring options.

Some years there is a lot going on, other years less so.  Last year (2016) had a few strong categories and a few big categories that were not so strong performance-wise.  We dare say 2017 has the possibility of being one of the best years for wine buyers in half a decade.  We say that without considering an improved economy which some are predicting.  We are merely talking about the quality and breadth of really good stuff we anticipate should hit the market.

While the domestic market is not near as volatile from a vintage perspective as Europe, particularly in California, the top domestic regions all seem to be on a continuing ’roll’.   California, Oregon and Washington will be mainly rolling out 2014s and 2015s, which are surprisingly uniform in quality, appealing and, from what we’ve seen from 2014, quite accessible.

Domestic quality is such that there should be a trickle down into the next level of players and even the ‘bargain’ producers should be able to find good juice to work with (provided they can find any juice).  That’s the one caveat… quantity.  It is low in certain areas, particularly in 2015, a consistent theme with most of the California producers we’ve spoken with.  What that means to you is that, if you see something that strikes your fancy (particularly among those 2015s), you should move in some haste as they may not be around long if they get any critical attention at all.

The big news of course is the ‘foreign’ 2015s.  The vintage promises to be a watershed for quality wines.  We haven’t seen this much uniform success across borders since 2010, and can only think of a few other times (1985, 1990, 2005) where so many folks from virtually anyplace that grew grapes had a smile on their face.

“The good times are going to roll.”

The good times are going to roll.  As northern Italy gets through the remainder of their rain-affected 2014 whites, they will be (and are being) replaced by the sensational 2015s.  We haven’t had anything this good since 2010, though the more fruit-driven profile is more specific to 2015.  Very tasty.  We have been pleased with some of the whites from the Rhone as well, but will admit that the 2015 whites from Burgundy, while quite good, are a little riper and lower in acidity that the outstanding 2014s.  They will however make for an excellent bridge for fans of domestic Chardonnays who are used to ‘fatter’ wines.  Buy up those 2015 Loire Valley whites as they arrive and the Cabernet Franc-based reds in particular appear to be the finest since the 2005s.

We have already talked at length about the 2015 Germans and Austrians which are both very special vintages.  For whatever reason, the media has not given these wines their due as yet (if they ever will…it’s a Cabernet and Bordeaux world…still).  This has afforded a longer buying window, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and we continue to tell anyone who will listen that this is a vintage of historic quality in both regions.

Bordeaux has the opportunity to really make a comeback, provided that they don’t lose sight of reason when it comes to prices.  The 2014s are delicious and should provide some really appealing earlier drinking, the 2015s are definitely vins de garde, and the 2016s, which should be offered as ‘futures’ this spring, are rumored to be spectacular in certain areas (clay soils, old vines) that were able to handle the unprecedented drought that hit the region.  Good times for Bordeaux lovers, particularly if the euro stays on the low side (the euro was around $1.35 back when the 2010s came out, it’s now around $1.05).

Sadly, the euro probably isn’t going to be much help in Burgundy because the highly anticipated 2015 vintage was also short on quantities (and because it’s Burgundy).  But the little red Burgundies we have tasted so far have been remarkably appealing as a group, which only means good things for the ‘bigger dogs’.  It’s definitely a vintage to keep an eye on the entry-level Bourgognes, well priced village bottlings, and places like the Cote Chalonnaise and Marsannnay as well as Beaujolais.  If you are super ‘brand conscious’, acquiring certain labels might be frustrating, but we anticipate there will be some opportunities if you love the genre and are looking for some very tasty juice.

There will be lots of ample southern Rhones and seriously good northern Rhones.  We suspect the 2015 Chateauneufs will require some attention as there hasn’t been a vintage this good since 2010.   As to the ‘top notch’ Cote Roties and Hermitages, etc., quality will be ‘amaze-balls’, but a lot of the small, famous names will be hens teeth when it comes to sourcing.

The great thing about 2015 reds is that they are generally gregarious and outgoing.  We have seen that all over France and in the ‘little’ reds from northern Italy.  If you can’t find something delicious, you’re not trying.  There will be those that will say that, because of their outgoing fruit, these wines aren’t structured enough to be considered ‘serious’.  They are ‘fat’, true, but also fresh, which bodes well for development.  We have tasted enough ‘super jammy’ vintages that have been declared ‘great’ that haven’t necessarily aged as well or as uniformly as some experts said they would.  Besides, what’s wrong with being pretty and precocious?

We expect South America will continue to be one of the biggest surprises.  We keep finding really compelling start-ups and producers previously unknown to us that have raised the bar considerably.  We said they same thing last year about Argentina and Chile, which at the time, probably raised a few eyebrows.  In fact, we ran across a lot of stuff that exceeded even our expectations and have to presume that there is a lot more to be found.  What is perhaps even more telling is that some of the labels that have been around a while have upped their games as well (just today a Malbec from Bodega Neomia showed a touch and fruit component that got us excited…we don’t recall something of this fineness from this source in the past).

Finally, our ‘dark horse’ prediction for 2017 is…South Africa.  Now we have been trying to create a niche for South African wines since the 90s.  The wines were often parochial, sometimes solid, and occasionally breakthroughs.  But sustainability of the genre proved to be elusive.  As soon as we stopped promoting them, they seemed to have little carry through on their own.  We have happened upon a few interesting, some maybe a little quirky but delicious items that indicate there is another tier of innovative South African small producers that we have not seen in this marketplace.

By ‘dark horse’ we kind of mean these South African boutiques haven’t had, nor do we expect that they will get much media exposure, and there are all kinds of marketing and distribution issues with small importers and unknown genres by definition.  In other words, we aren’t going to bet the grocery money on their success, but only because market mechanics kind of work against them.  The wines we are talking about got us really pumped, and we have to assume there are some others out there like them.  These wines definitely deserve an audience.

This promises to be a very exciting year for wine drinkers.  Besides all that we have alluded to thus far, there are still remnants of the 2010 Reserva and Gran Reserva Riojas from Spain to be had, and Italian reds will certainly have their share of successes (2013 Tuscans, 2015 Barbera and Dolcettos, 2015 ‘little’ Chianti Classico wines) on an individual basis. The only question we can’t answer yet is if this will be Australia’s time to recapture the market share they deserve, that will be up the consumer as the wines are better than ever.  We’ll also be on the lookout (and hoping) for ‘deals’ on the delicious 2014s from the southern Rhone and Burgundy, a vintage that got largely overlooked as buyers focused ahead on the more ‘newsworthy’ 2015s.  At reduced prices, we will be all over those wines.

Are we looking forward to 2017?  You bet!  Happy New Year…