FRANCOIS LECLERC GEVREY: ANOTHER DELICIOUS, WELL-PRICED 2015

Everybody enjoys a good tale about a wine, and, frankly, we like telling them.  But ultimately it is about the juice and sometimes there isn’t always riveting discourse to accompanying the offer.  We accept that sometimes, particularly with Burgundy houses which are often the toughest  to find info.  These are people tied to the land that make small bits of multiple wines, not the easiest fodder for their stories or ours.

But Burgundy in particular isn’t about glossy brochures and state-of-the-art websites.  Those things don’t actually fit in with the general vibe of the place.  There isn’t a lot of ‘technical’ discussion at most places either as most of the successful domaines these days are reaching back into the less-manipulative past as the game plan for the future.  Plowing by horses, harvesting by hand, using the minimal treatment in the vineyards and dialing back the oak are the current trends.

The story on Rene Leclerc is pretty straight-forward.  The current generation is the third to run the domain since its inception in 1976.  The reins have been quietly passed from father Rene to son Francois who still respects his father’s approach but has instituted a number of changes including lower yields, no new oak in the cellar, and an adherence to the current trend toward non-interventionist protocols.  Francois did some time in Oregon and has a clear vision of how he wants to play it here in the home estate.

We tell this rather typical story because we absolutely love this village Gevrey from the juicy 2015 vintage.  The Francois Leclerc Gevrey Chambertin 2015 is everything good about both this ripe, round harvest and the classic dark cherry fruit with some earth and mineral elements as dictated by this particular, special terroir.  The Rene Leclerc Gevrey Chambertin 2015 comes from 11 different parcels over 5.33 hectares including Pressonier, Croix des Champs, and Clos Prieur.  This is why people get hooked on Burgundy…tender edges, subtle, layered dark cherry fruit infused with notes of earth and darker mineral that support but don’t interfere with the fruit.  Complete, satisfying, and clearly sure about its origins.

We have had the good fortune to taste this wine on three different occasions, and it has been a consistent crowd-pleaser.  The price is at the lesser end of the quality ‘village’ Burgundy choices and the well expressed terroir and tender palate makes it our preference over similarly priced domestic versions.  The engaging 2015 vintage is in full array here.

2015 CHATEAUNEUF UPDATE

These are the ‘best of times’ when it comes to the southern Rhone.  Yes, we have sold through a number of great vintages before.  But we don’t ever remember a back-to-back quite like 2015 and 2016 in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Yet it’s hard to know even how to approach the current all-star lineup on the floor.  We could quietly hum ‘these are a few of our favorite things’ because this lineup is stocked with a number of offerings that truly are favorites.  Bosquet des Papes, Cristia Vielle Vignes, Saje and Bastide la Dominique all predominantly showcase gorgeous, sappy old-vine Grenache laced with complex spice and mineral unlike anywhere else on the planet.  They remind one of a richer version of great Burgundy.

The still Grenache-heavy Pegau, Mayard Crau du Ma Mere, and Cristia Rennaissance offer variations on that theme with higher proportions of the other varietals like Mourvedre and Syrah that add lift, darker fruit notes, and different nuance to the mix.   We could echo the campaign of a certain gas station snack area that claims ‘too much good stuff’, but this is so far beyond that.  Let them eat nachos.  We truly are proffering some of the best you can buy in an elite category from top producers in an excellent year.

If you are into reviews, this lineup has them in spades.  If you haven’t seen an overall vintage report, here is an excerpt from Vinous’ Josh Raynolds entitled 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape: Power and Balance, “…While the 2015s are definitely on the rich side, they’re much more in the style of the 2009s than the superripe 2007s or the frequently roasted 2003s. Broadly speaking, I view 2015 as a cross between the richness of 2009 and the energy and structure of 2010, with the overall personality of the wines leaning closer to ’09 than to ’10. The best examples show serious depth along with very good definition and back-end vivacity, and little in the way of cooked-fruit character…”

In other words, what you have here is very tasty Chateauneuf from top producers.   This lineup is also in the sweet spot, elite efforts where the prices aren’t crazy.  The one thing that is difficult here is to make a mistake.  This lineup is ‘all killer and no filler’, the only mistake being not grabbing some to enjoy now and ten years on.

If this is the toughest choice you have to make today…it’s a pretty special day.  Here are some quick notes with full reviews below.  Don’t miss these and good hunting!  Quantities are definitely finite…

Bosquet Des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape Gloire De Mon Grand Pere 2015- “… Made from mostly (60-70 year old vine) Grenache… another beauty that’s up with the crème de las crème of the vintage. Kirsch, strawberries, dried flowers and spice notes give way to a full-bodied, supple, sexy red that has sweet tannin and a great finish. While it’s a big, rich wine, it glides across the palate and is never heavy. It should keep for 10-15 years. 95 points-“  Jeb Dunnuck

Bastide Dominique Chateauneuf du Pape Secrets De Pignan 2015- From vines planted in 1920, “…Coming from the Pignan lieu-dit, … just beside Rayas …it offers a beautiful, singular style in its blackberry, currant, leafy herbs, thyme, and olive scented bouquet. This carries to a full-bodied, sexy Grenache that has loads of fruit, terrific purity and a blockbuster finish…95 points”- Jeb Dunnuck

Cristia Chateauneuf du Pape Renaissance 2015-This has an intense core of crushed plum, raspberry and boysenberry fruit flavors, draped with melted licorice notes and backed by a wave of warm fruitcake. Hedonistic for sure, but accents of anise, violet and singed apple wood dart around, adding extra facets of intrigue to hold your attention. Grenache (60% from 100-yeaar old vines) and Mourvèdre (50 yr. old vines). ..96 points – Wine Spectator (also WA 95, JD 95)

Cristia Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes 2015- “…This delivers a lush, enticing blast of cassis and raspberry and boysenberry preserve flavors, carried by a silky structure that lets the fruit play out at length, giving adequate time for black tea, singed apple wood, dried anise and fruitcake notes to fill in throughout. Dreamy. Grenache (80-100 year old vines). –97 Points.” Wine Spectator (also JD 95)

Mayard Chateauneuf du Pape Crau De Ma Mere 2015-  “… fabulous notes of strawberries, black cherries, saddle leather and garrigue. Full-bodied, impeccably balanced, concentrated and layered, it’s a terrific cuvée and is certainly one of the standouts in this vintage. It’s also the finest wine I’ve tasted from this estate…95 points– Jeb Dunnuck

Pegau Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Reservee2015- “…A vintage compared to 2010 by Laurence, the 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape looks to be one of the big successes in the vintage. Possessing a ripe, rounded, sexy style backed up by solid density and concentration, it offers classic Pegau notes of currants, pepper, and cured meats. Big, rich, concentrated and beautifully textured, it offers a rare depth of fruit and richness in the vintage…95-97 Points“-Jeb Dunnuck

Saje Chateauneuf du Pape Marquis Anselme Mathieu  2015- “I enjoyed all of the wines from this estate, but I was blown away by the complexity and purity of the 2015 Chateauneuf du Pape Marquis Anselme Mathieu … Not only does it show beautiful cherry and stone fruit notes, it layers on hints of clove, allspice, garrigue and green peppercorn. There’s ample weight and texture on the palate, with the plush tannins drawing to a silky, spicy finish that lingers for minutes…96 Points!”  – Joe Czerwinski, Wine Advocate

BURGUNDY BARGAIN HUNTER: EPISODE 2

The Haute Cotes refers to some of Burgundy’s highest vineyards along the crest of the generally east facing hills, typically above the more famous vineyards on the upper slopes.  Usually fairly rugged land with the vines planted in more rock than dirt, these are typically firm and sturdy and require a bit of time to come around.  The difference a little bit more sunshine makes is that there is more ripe fruit over the typically edgy acidity and sometimes stern minerality.  That changes the whole personality of these wines for the good and gives them a more fruit driven persona.

The Clairs have owned parcels in the region for generations but sold mainly to negociants.  Denis founded the domaine in 1986 with the intention of bottling his own wine.  Here the dark red leaning to blue fruits has a tension with the more typical fresh acidity to create a rather compelling mouthful, and the extra weight from the vintage makes the whole proposition work in a way that it rarely does giving the wine a tenderness and weight that will appeal to a larger audience, though there is still plenty of tension from these elevated sites.

The Francois & Denis Clair Haut Cotes de Beaune 2015 comes from 35 year-old vines situated with a south-east exposure looking out over Maranges.  All hand harvested, the wine sees 15 months in vat.  What a difference a little bit more flesh can make and, once again, the area’s more typical lack of fame helped keep the price down.  It’s a rather screaming bargain for a red Burgundy in the in-demand 2015 vintage at under $20.

BURGUNDY BARGAIN HUNTER: EPISODE 1

Named for the 300-year-old Southern Burgundy village in which it is located, Monthelie-Douhairet was run by the Douhairet family for many years.  In 1989, Madame Douhairet asked renowned winemaker André Porcheret to take charge and added his name to the domaine.  One of the great figures in Burgundy during the past half-century, André was the cellar manager at the Hospices de Beaune from 1976–1988, before he was hired by Lalou Bize Leroy to make wines at the newly created Domaine Leroy from 1988–1993. He returned to the Hospices de Beaune from 1994–1999, and since 1989, he has also been overseeing Monthelie Douhairet Porcheret’s 15 acres, mainly in the Côte de Beaune appellations of Pommard, Volnay, Meursault and Monthelie.

Located between Volnay and Auxey Duresses set back a bit from the main route through Burgundy, this is one of those spots that has a solid history but only hits the high notes in top vintages.  For a winemaker like Porchoret in a warm year like 2015, the sweet red fruits pulled all of the minerality and earth notes together within one elegant presentation.  The Monthelie Douhairet Porcheret Monthelie 1er Cru Les Duresses 2015 presents dusty cherries, a bit of mulberry, and some subtle stony minerality underneath.

What a vintage like 2015 does is provide the additional flesh and weight that this area usually is a little short on, which changes the whole dynamic of the wine.  And, with the less exalted reputation of the region overall, there is an upper limit to what vintners can charge,  making the price something of a bargain.  In truth this producer has been a go-to in warmer vintages here for several years now.   A fine effort.

BEST CAYRON IN A LONG TIME

When we first got into Rhones in a big way back in the early 90s, Domaine Cayron was certainly one of, if not the ‘standard’ in the appellation.  Always very big, bold and expressive, the wines were loaded with blackberry and black cherry fruit that could best be described as a walk on the wild side.  Lots of well infused gravel, anise, roasted herb or dark chocolate nuance could pop up in any version, but they did all share a certain jump-out-of-the-glass fruit component.  They also, in those early days, sported a fair bit of chewy tannin, as did most Gigondas.

For many years Cayron was marketed by Kermit Lynch.  Not sure if his leaving the Kermit portfolio, or a bit of a slump in his winemaking was the cause, but Michel Faraud’s wine kind of dropped out of sight for a while.  The current purveyor referred to this estate, founded in 1840, as the ‘benchmark producer in the region’.  Not sure if we buy into that entirely.  Domaine des Bosquets and Saint Damien have been doing some outstanding work and there are a number of rising stars in the region as well.  But with this particular vintage, Cayron is definitely deserving of the limelight again.

The 2015 Domaine du Cayron Gigondas has collected a nice range of reviews including ‘over 90’ barrel scores from Wine Advocate, Jeb Dunnuck and Vinous Media and we can see why.  That bouncy, gregarious, in-your-face herb-laced fruit component is back with a vengeance.  While everybody’s enthusiasm is clear, the writers’ descriptors have quite a range from plum to boysenberry.  We’ll borrow the prose from Vinous’ Josh Raynolds as a reference, “Dark ruby. Potent mineral-and-smoke-accented cherry, boysenberry and garrigue scents pick up a sexy incense nuance as the wine opens up. Sweet, seamless and penetrating on the palate, offering intense red and blue fruit, spicecake and lavender pastille flavors and a hint of smoked meat. Concentrated yet light on its feet, playing power off finesse with a smooth hand and finishing impressively long, sweet and youthfully tannic…”

While he commented on the wine’s ‘youthfulness’, we would point out that this tasting note was based on a barrel sample from a region not exactly famous for its polish.  Michel Faraud’s three daughters are at the helm now, under his watchful eye of course.  However we sense a little more seamlessness to the back half of this wine and a less rough-and-tumble demeanor.

All of that put together makes for the best Cayron in some time. They do all the right things here…hand harvesting, indigenous yeasts, and bottling unfiltered and unfined.  As you would expect, Grenache is the workhorse here (78%) with the balance from the ‘usual suspects’ (14% Syrah, 6% Cinsault, 2% Mourvèdre), all finished in large older barrels.

Is Cayron back or is this outstanding, mouth-filling red just the result of a sensational vintage?  Can’t answer that just yet, but that doesn’t stop us from enjoying this one for what it is…big, bold, and delicious.

 

‘Serious’ Beaujolais from Joseph Drouhin

For even as long as we have been in the wine game, we can still get surprised.  Perhaps not as often, mind you, mind you, but it still happens. Last year we reported on the inaugural releases for the new Beaujolais project from Burgundy powerhouse Joseph Drouhin. Given the wines success in that that opening offer, we were anxious to see where the path lead, particularly given the fact that Drouhin’s next releases were from the amazing 2015 vintage.

Last go around with Drouhin, however, we ran across something we had never seen before, three site-designated Cru Beaujolais.  As always, we check the stuff out.  It’s our job, but we really didn’t know anything about these wines and had no expectations back then. There’s a pretty cool story to go along with these classy Beaujolais.

The Hospices de Belleville (a hospital) opened in 1773 to take care of the poor and the sick in the region.  The Hôtel-Dieu of Belleville benefited right from its construction from charitable donations from generous benefactors hoping for the salvation of their souls (kind of like the Hospices de Beaune in Burgundy). Today, the hospital has retained ownership of the 14 hectares of vineyards across Fleurie, Brouilly, and Morgon.  As of the 2014 vintage, the Hospices has entrusted Maison Joseph Drouhin with the production and the marketing of their wines under their name “Hospices de Belleville.”

After last year’s fantastic opening salvo we were most excited to see what we got in a critically acclaimed vintage like 2015.  The 2014s as a group impressed, got good reviews, and generally hit all the right buttons.  We found the 2015s to be pretty remarkable as well, but not necessarily what we expected stylistically.  In a vintage that was generally about as subtle as a strumpet, the Drouhin versions came off more like great Burgundy with refined structure and perfectly measured fruit.

If you are looking for something gregarious to drink in the short-term, that is a somewhat different matter.   If instead you are looking for something that you can cellar and pull out down the road that emulates the structure and complexity of a fine Burgundy, and didn’t cost you a small fortune, this one plays that hand beautifully.

We first tasted this wine several months ago and our impression at the time was that this one had ‘all the right stuff.’  But our feeling was that, from the standpoint of marketing, this one was going to be much better with a little time in the bottle.  It is interesting to note that the reviews for this wine, from people who aren’t necessarily inclined to pass out big scores, spanned nearly a year (December, 2016, April, 2017, and December 2017) and were noticeably better at each juncture.

Once again the talents of the Drouhin team and this very special dirt combined to make something very special.  We chose to focus specifically this time on the Joseph Drouhin Fleurie Hospices de Belleville 2015.  Drouhin has done Belleville proud again here, and the Fleurie expresses the individual terroir of this Beaujolais Cru.  All the wines are crafted in a Burgundian style, using 500 liter barrels and only a small amount of carbonically macerated fruit.  The Fleurie comes from three separate parcels owned by the Hospices totaling 6.4 hectares.

There seems to be a rare accord among the critics with regard to the Drouhin wines in general, and the Joseph Drouhin Fleurie Hospices de Belleville 2015 in particular.  James Suckling was concise, “ This is very linear and refined with beautiful tannins and minerality. Medium-bodied, very pretty and focused. Tight and polished. Serious… 93 points”

From Alan Meadows, aka Burghound,”A similar if slightly more elegant nose that is a bit spicier if less earthy introduces notably finer middle weight flavors that possess a velvety texture before terminating in an impressively persistent finish. This is really very good and a wine that could be enjoyed young or aged for a few years to good effect…92 points ♥” (the ♥ is an extra ‘bonus’ tout from Burghound for wines with a special appeal).

Finally, from last December, Vinous’ Josh Raynolds offered, “Vivid ruby. Very fresh and expressive on the nose, offering intense cherry and red berry liqueur qualities and a smoky mineral overtone. Shows very good freshness and thrust on the palate; vivacious raspberry and bitter cherry flavors become sweeter on the back half. Displays excellent clarity and delineation and closes long and sweet, featuring lingering red fruit character and harmonious tannins…92 points.”

The testimony is voluminous, the promise of this nascent project clear, and the potential of this particular bottling for both the glass and the cellar clearly evident.

 

 

 

 

 

‘Little’ Wine from a Top Dog, Northern Rhone Style

So years ago (2000 actually), we attended the first InterRhone exposition in the Rhone Valley, an event dedicated to presenting Rhone wines in groups during presentations within the various appellations.  One of the most memorable days was the ‘show’ in Hermitage, with a large number of who’s who producers.  It was in a bank building and the various growers were stationed behind teller’s windows presenting their wares.

The majority of the wines were from the outstanding 1999 vintage, there were three producers whose wines stood out even among the power lineup that was presenting that day.  One of the three was a house we had read about but had never yet seen in our part of the world, nor had the opportunity to taste.  That was Domaine Sorrel.  That event made a lasting impression and we spent the next few years trying to find a viable source for Sorrel’s wines.  We got a couple of scraps in the European market but were generally unsuccessful in our effort to solidify a steady source.

About a decade later, the Sorrel wines showed up at a local importer and it was a pretty happy day for us when we snagged the tail end of Sorrel’s 2010 Hermitage.  A  beautiful wine that encapsulated Sorrel’s distinctive style to a tee,  it showed depth and presence but also an uncommon elegance.  This wasn’t the biggest or jammiest example of the genre.  But it did not lack for stuffing and was impressive for its balance and polish.

Fast forward to today and the 2015 vintage.  We had never seen Sorrel’s Crozes Hermitage before but the house style was in full array.  The Marc Sorrel Crozes Hermitage 2015 showed plenty of dark fruits with insistent undercurrents of minerality, but the wine also had a harmony and presence that set it apart from the rank and file from this ripe, weighty but sometimes California-like vintage. Crozes can be a little curious from the standpoint of quality because the appellation extends from the hillside to flatter areas near the highway.  As we say here, hillside Crozes is better than ‘freeway’ Crozes.  In the hands of someone like Sorrel, the equation only gets better.

The reviews indirectly speak of the value in that the score was very close to the Hermitage but the Crozes costs about half as much.  Josh Reynolds of Vinous saw it this way, “Deep vivid ruby. Ripe blackberry and cherry scents are energized by cracked pepper and smoky mineral accents. Fleshy and open-knit, offering sweet dark berry and violet pastille flavors and a touch of salty olive paste. The peppery note recurs on a long, blue-fruit-inflected finish that’s given structure by mounting tannins…91 points.”  The wine definitely has an upscale feel to it, but at a touch over $30 its pretty wallet-friendly for what it delivers.

 

JUFFER SONNENUHR TWO WAYS

There are lots of ways to present a wine and we thought that, over all the time we have been doing this, we had probably done all of the possible permutations at one point or another…until today.  But then offer like this have never came along before.  We had the opportunity to purchase two different Rieslings at great discounts, from one of the greatest vintages in Germany in this century and from one of the most storied vineyards in the Mosel.  Same price, same pradikat levels, both knockout deals, but the wines are from two different producers.  You talk about wine being made in the vineyard? You will never have a better chance to see that it action, and get some pretty wicked spatlese in the bargain.

We’ll start with the vintage.  As we have said on multiple occasions, the 2015 vintage in Germany (OK, a lot of places in Europe for that matter) was special.  It stands alongside the 2001 as the icon vintage of the 21st Century (thus far anyway).  The wines have unique power and cohesiveness to the fruit and surprising palate length.  Wine after wine has exhibited the same vintage personality as we have tasted through probably 200+ examples.

The vineyard?  Maybe Brauneberger Juffer isn’t quite as well known to the broad market as Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Graacher Himmelreich, and Bernkasteler Doctor because producers like Prum and Thanisch have been here much longer promoting them.  But among those more tuned in to great Mosel vineyards, Brauneberger Juffer is one of the great ones.  We have come to appreciate the vineyard a lot over the last three decades as we have been presented several striking examples from the likes Fritz Haag and Schloss Lieser.  More specifically the Sonnenuhr part of the Brauneberger Juffer is the best part, the ‘sweet spot’ if you will.

Given those similarities, and the strong characteristics of both the site and the vintage, our ‘tale of two Juffers’ would seem to come down to the producers.  Or does it?  That is what makes this exercise so exciting.  Besides the fact that the producers are different, and presumably the grapes came from different plots in the vineyard, we don’t actually know the harvest must weights.  There is a range to qualify for spatlese designation, including declassified auslese.  The alcohols are .5% apart (8% vs 8.5%), but that is all we know.

Both the Karp Schreiber and St Nikolaus Hospital labels boast long histories, the Karp Schreiber tracing its roots back to 1664 and the St. Nikolaus Hospital winery having existed for more than 500 years as the money-raising arm of the  foundation that runs  the actual hospital in Bernkastel-Kues, the hospital itself founded in 1458.  As we opened these two side by side, they started in different places.  The Karp Schreiber Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese 2015 shows a more delicate, filigreed profile, with whiffs of slatey minerality to the peach and pear fruit, a livelier, more active mid-palate and an airier finish of spice and slate.  It is a bit higher pitched on the palate with a more evident mineral element.

By contrast, the  St Nikolaus Hospital Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese 2015 is a more centered wine that shows a more direct, pronounced element of peach and pear, with a little hint of apricot possibly as a result of a greater must-weight (this is the one that is the .5% higher in alcohol), but not necessarily.  The sweetness level seems slightly more overt out of the gate and the palate is more concise.

As we sat there going back and forth and between the two, it was fascinating to watch them change in the glass, and certainly even more intriguing to watch as they began to show a much more familial streak that we have to presume is the vineyard talking.  The Karp got more mid-palate-focused as time passed while the St. Nikolas more high-pitched minerality and lift than it had presented early on.  In short, as they developed they became much closer to each other as the elements of one of the middle Mosel’s best terroirs took hold of the proceedings.

While there were still slight differences in line with their original profiles, it was Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr that won the day with the strongest voice.  As to our preference, it was not unanimous and way too close to call.  We highly recommend taking the opportunity to experience this unique comparison yourself.  As to predicting a winner, the winners would be those that take advantage of these two exciting spatlesen from a great vineyard  in an epic vintage for a good 40% less that you would typically find anything from this esteemed dirt.  These are steals for under $20, the educational/geeky opportunity merely a special bonus here!

Pinot Noir auf Deutsch?  Sehr gut!

Pinot Noir has been a hot topic for some time now.  And the usual discussion about whether the pricing and performance is currently more exciting in California’s Central Coast or Russian River, or in special vintages from the Motherland (France), is the norm.  But with global warming, there are new considerations to the Pinot discussion, particularly in a juicy vintage like 2015.  Like …Germany?

No, we are not talking about some leafy tasting, brownish Spätburgunder that garners little interest outside of Deutschland itself.  We are now talking about extremely appealing examples of German Pinot Noir these days, wines that are competitive on the world stage.  At the top of our list in that category is today’s selection from Meyer-Näkel.

This player is no surprise either to us any more, though we must admit our surprise from our first trip to the region more than a decade ago.  We have sold several vintages of the Meyer-Näkel wines  since that time and they only seem to be getting better.   Werner Näkel himself is credited with putting the Ahr on the map internationally back in the 1990s and nothing has changed, other than the Pinots have taken on a deeper fruit component and a more tender mouth feel,  while never losing the lift, clarity and purity that make them special.  The Ahr Valley has a long history with the varietal and is only elevated by the current weather trends.

Yes there are easier things to sell than German Pinot Noir, but the quality at Meyer-Näkel has earned them the right to be included in any serious discussion about the varietal.  As you might have guessed, the 2015 vintage that was a watershed for the Rieslings was also very kind to Pinot Noir.  So the Meyer Nakel Spätburgunder (aka Pinot Noir) Estate 2015 has a bit more flesh and sweetness on the palate, making it perhaps the most ideal ‘crossover’ Pinot they have made.  Yet it still speaks of the unique micro-climate in this river valley.

Lively cherry and red berry fruit is accented with some smoky tones, cinnamon, slatey minerality, and a whiff of damp forest.  The fruit takes hold on the palate but there is a perfect tension that keeps everything bright and expressive.   For under $30, it can hold its own in any arena, with the personality best pegged as somewhere between Oregon and the Cote de Beaune, but with its own spin.  A must for Pinot lovers.

Benovia Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2015

If you look at our product listings, you will note that we post ‘third party’ reviews on the wines offered just like most everyone else.  What’s different about our approach is that you will also note we write a number of original pieces.  We taste a lot of wine over the course of the year and will make the point that context makes a huge difference in how a wine comes across.  So we give ourselves the opportunity to use our own voice to point out exceptional efforts that may not get that big score when judged in some sort of rapid fire tasting but sure hits the right notes for us ‘one-on-one’.  That is, incidentally how most of you will be consuming your wines.

If there was ever a prime example of how we see things quite a bit differently than the wine media, it is with Benovia winery.  We have been big fans of winemaker Mike Sullivan since back in his early Zin days with Deloach, and through an impressive group of Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Zinfandels as he got the Hartford Court project going.  We have been quite pleased with his work since becoming the mind behind Benovia and have recommended a number of things from there over the years.

We’ll be the first to admit that the Benovia wines aren’t the kind of blowsy monsters that get easily noticed by the media.  They are, rather, succinct, pure and harmonious with well-woven flavors and nothing sticking out.  These are the kinds of wines to drink because they are outstanding examples of California classics of the type that were prevalent back in California’s more ‘formative’ years.  They are made to ‘seduce’ rather than ‘bludgeon’.

Not a lot of evident wood here, the style of this Chardonnay is an exploration of the terroir of the Russian River.  You’ve got finely meshed apple and citrus fruit with hints of almond and spice notes, the result of night harvesting, indigenous yeast and whole cluster fermentation and a sojourn of 12 months in oak.

The flavors are clean, persistent, and engaging while always fresh and vibrant.  The Benovia Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2015 comes mainly from the winery’s Martaella estate and relies on a layered, nuanced, rather impressive demonstration of the vivid house style for its impression.  It will probably again get modest reviews from the press because it isn’t overtly big (though don’t get us wrong there is plenty of character).  But this one impresses where it counts, in the glass.  That is where this Chardonnay is made to perform, and we’d rather drink this than a lot of the other, higher- scoring (often oaky and flabby) options we have.

It would be easier for us to simply point to a Chardonnay that got a big review, and we have those, too. But this is one we believe in and the 2015 is a fine example to make new friends for what we feel is one of the more under-rated wineries around simply because the wines are balanced and made to drink rather than to go after ‘numbers’.