HARTFORD HITS A HOMER

New World Pinot Noir is an interesting topic these days.  The wine world is constantly in a state of change as people’s tastes, economics, and world-wide competition alters the playing field on a constant basis.  We talk with distributors, winery owners, and winemakers on pretty much a daily basis and the subject of Pinot Noir is a recurrent one.  Our message over the last couple of years in particular has not necessarily been what the industry wants to hear.  While it is still a very popular practice among wineries to make multiple single-vineyard Pinot Noir bottlings, usually at rather premium prices, the people have shown a declining interest in the category over the last few years in recent times. 

People still like Pinot Noir.  A lot.  We aren’t predicting some sort of Pinot Armageddon.  But it is clear that, in the part of the world we see, people are considerably less interested in those small production offerings in the $50-100 range.  Oh sure there are a few mailing list types that claim that business is great for that sort of thing.  But our view of the marketplace would seem to suggest otherwise.  If we were to extrapolate our observations and project what market message is, it would seem to be this.  A lush, engaging, fruit-driven Pinot always has a place, but a price under $30 would be greatly appreciated.   Well, whether inadvertently or not, someone has created the perfect Pinot for the times.

It comes from the Jackson Family stable, a company that achieved wine-world domination by giving people what they wanted.  They became a major player from nowhere with a Chardonnay that pleased a wide audience, and built on that success.  Later on, it seemed Jess Jackson was concerned about his ‘legacy’, and much energy was spent creating brands that were intended to become iconic like Cardinale, Verite, and the like.  Hartford Court estate was the part of the family that focused primarily on individual bottlings of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Old Vine Zinfandel . 

Hartford achieved great notoriety with these stylish, distinct bottlings, but pricing was a little bit of a hindrance on some of the upper-end offerings.  They always made solid, expressive wines at every level, with the occasional home run.  But the current Pinot program has to be a little intimidating for consumers because there were so many specialty bottlings at $50-80, it had to difficult to make a choice. 

As we did the research for this piece, we noticed Hartford Court was offering 14 different designated bottlings on their website.  That’s fine from a winery perspective we guess.  The team here has always had ‘chops’.   But in the process, whether they wanted to or not, they made one of the best ‘regular’ bottlings in their history in 2017, as if they had once again perfectly read the needs of the market and created this wine to fulfill them, just like those early days.

The 2017 Hartford Court Russian River Valley Pinot Noir does everything right.  Deep, saturated color as Pinot goes, classic Russian River spice in the nose along with dark red leaning to black fruits, seamless palate feel, and sufficient weight and tenderness to please just about anyone, Pinotfile or not.  It checks all of the boxes and, if it errs, it does so on the side of hedonism.

We could go on but Jeb Dunnuck did a pretty good job of cheerleading here, “A crazy good value, the 2017 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley is the appellation release from this team, and it comes from all of the estate vineyards across the Green Valley, Laguna Ridge, and Sebastopol regions. Complex notes of strawberries, cranberries, violets, pine forest, and flowers all flow to a medium-bodied Pinot Noir that has a kiss of salinity and marine notes, ripe tannins, and a great finish. This beautiful wine competes with wines costing 2-3 times the price…95 Points.”

It checks all of the boxes and, for our part, we’re able to get it to you for under $30.  Like the song says, “You can’t always get what you want…”.    Only sometimes, you can.

MONTEPARONI: CHIANTI FOR MATURE AUDIENCES

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

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

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

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

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

NEW PINOT FROM AVERAEN

Every day is a winding road, and you never know what is going to roll in the door.  This was a good case for this particular wine as the buyer on call that day had never seen this particular wine before.  Came to find out that the store had sold the 2016 version of Averaen Pinot Noir and the other buyer, who had not seen the label previously, thought it was pretty cool juice and bought the 2017.  Can’t think of a lot better testimony for the wine’s quality than that.

The short story on this label was as follows.  The folks that made Banshee wines, and their value label Rickshaw, were at the INPC (International Pinot Noir Conference) and just ‘sittin’ round the campfire’ when they had a revelation that this appellation that they were in, located in McMinnville, was remarkably similar to where they were working in California’s Sonoma Coast.  Cold Marine wind funneling through low-lying gaps in the coastal mountain ranges and soils of a mixed volcanic and marine sedimentary soils played off of each other to create a very advantageous environment to grow Pinot Noir.  Clearly it was kismet.

Not only did the Banshee boys sense that this would be a good environment for premium Pinot Noir, but they had just completed a partnership deal with William Foley that took a lot of stress out of taking the Banshee/Rickshaw label to the next level, but they ran across one Adam Smith, a talented winemaker  who had bolted to the Northwest after making the first vintage of Banshee in 2010.  It was ‘kismet’ and Averaen was born.

The 2017 Averaen Pinot Noir reflects both their desire to make high-toned, cool climate Pinot Noir, and the distinctive element s of the 2017 vintage that made this a very successful but very unique expression of Oregon Pinot.  This was the fourth straight successful vintage in this part of the world (global warming?), but one that differed from the previous three harvests in its personality.  While the 2014-2016 run showcased the riper side of Oregon Pinot, the 2017s showed plenty of ripeness but also a higher pitched, fresher, more lifted profile.

The nose showed urgent but high-toned ripe red, spicy fruit from the get-go.  In the mouth, this expressive, lifted, almost ‘crunchy’ Pinot had plenty of well-defined, vivid red fruits that sat higher of the palate and delivered a wave of energetic flavors.  We were taken with the wine immediately and bought it.  Some two weeks later as we sat down to write these notes, Vinous Media put their comments on this wine on the front of their website.  Apparently we are not alone.

Josh Raynolds comments in that feature reflected our impressions of both performance and value here, “Displays abundant berry and floral character, with vibrant spice accents adding verve. Seamless in texture and appealingly sweet, the 2017 finishes with impressive, juicy persistence and resonating florality.  This is textbook Willamette Valley Pinot Noir at a great price. ..91 points (an even better score than he gave the  2016).”

The 2017 Averaen Pinot Noir Willamette Valley is  appealing, well-priced effort from a label that shows a lot of promise going forward from a group that was already quite successful further south (Sonoma Coast).  This juicy,  little number  plays nicely in the here and now in a higher-toned, ‘Burgundy’ sort of way .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TASTY ‘HOUSE’ RHONES FROM FERRATION

We sell all manner of wines great and small, and everything we present here we believe has a good reason to be here.  We can launch a treatise on virtually any vinous subject, but don’t think we always should.  A quiet word or two should be sufficient or some wines, and just because we didn’t generate a tome doen’t mean we didn’t like it.  If we didn’t like it, we wouldn’t buy it at all.  With that in mind here are a few words on the newly released Cotes du Rhones from Ferraton.

There are two key things to know.  First, Ferraton is an accomplished house with a long history dating back to 1946.  Second is Michel Chapoutier, who started working with the property to convert to organic and ultimately biodynamic viticulture starting in 1998, and buying the place outright in 2004.  With Chapoutier at the helm, things are definitely on the upswing.   These are both outstanding value performers at their modest fares and both come from excellent vintages for their respective hues.

The Ferraton Cotes du Rhone Samorens Rouge 2016, a half and half blend of Grenache and Syrah that is brought up in concrete, shows an ample, supple core of berry fruit laced with spice and floral notes.  Jeb Dunnuck calls it “… Rounded, sexy and even voluptuous, with terrific purity in its black raspberry, violet and incense aromatics, this medium to full-bodied beauty has no hard edges, silky tannin and a great finish…90-92 points’

Perhaps even more of a surprise, because the southern Rhone isn’t necessarily known for crisp, engaging whites, is the  Ferraton Cotes du Rhone Samorens Blanc 2017A blend of Roussanne, Viognier and Clairette, all done in stainless steel to retain the freshness, it shows lovely, subtle tones of citrus and yellow stone fruits.  Again from Dunnuck, “…It’s fresh, vibrant, and crisp, yet has plenty of heft in its peach, tangerine, and citrus aromas and flavors. With bright acidity, outstanding balance, and a great finish, drink it over the coming 2-3 years…91 points.”  Both play well for their $10.98 tabs and are in a likeable, easy drinking style for the category.

AN EXCITING ‘REFUGE’ FROM HIGH PINOT NOIR PRICES

We said back in January, 2016, “We expect Chile to continue its breakout ways and surprise us with more ‘wait, that’s from Chile?’ type stuff…”   The progress has been coming slowly, progressively, and unimpeded for a few years now.  But it seemed like we started seeing some really ambitious new things coming along through the latter part of 2015.  It was clear then that the Chileans are going through an ‘awakening’ of historic proportion. They are finding new terroirs and creating new projects, as well as rediscovering and reenergizing some of their longtime producing areas.

Definitely the biggest surprise in Chile has been Pinot Noir.  Who knew? With over 2600 miles of coastline, it makes perfect sense that there would exist some unique spots in coastal valleys with mediating ocean influence in which Pinot would thrive.  Folks think of Chile as Cabernet country, but the real excitement has been producers figuring out what to do with other varietals.  Some of these breakout Chilean Pinot Noirs have been very compelling stories, though we still haven’t run across a more interesting tale than Montsecano.

The cast of characters is small, but interesting.  Julio Donoso, who founded this estate, is a world famous photographer who had a passion to create a wine project from scratch.  This he did by researching a number of different terroirs not far inland from the Chilean coast.  He settled on a rather wild, unspoiled spot located near the town of Las These, in the commune of Casablanca. The narrow, winding road leading to the cellar speaks volumes about his Cordillera de la Costa.  Here, 10 kilometers from the sea, there’s no power, steep slopes and poor granitic soils, an unattractive place to establish ‘conventional’ viticulture, but Montsecano is anything but.

Of course, by nature, photographers see things a little differently.  Hence, against the advice of the locals, the not-particularly-conventional Donoso planted six hectares (about 15 acres) of Pinot Noir on steep, rocky hillsides in the Chilean version of ‘the middle-of-nowhere’.  Who was going to make this Pinot?  Well, Julio took the next ‘logical’ step by enlisting the services of one of Alsace’s greatest talents, Andre Ostertag, who is typically not as busy in France during Chile’s (opposite) growing season.  The idea of working with reds intrigued Ostertag.  Thus, a label was born.

Andre also directs the farming, which is done biodynamically, with plowing by horses.  The cellar, which is unobtrusively wedged into a hillside, has no corners (it’s oval).  The wines are made as naturally as possible in a facility that depends on natural power, and there is no oak involved as everything is done in stainless steel and concrete eggs.  We featured this walk-on-the-wild-side project a couple of years ago and they have only improved in that time

These clearly delineated, expressive Pinot Noirs are considered by some among the best wines in South America.   They are still not a household word around these parts because they don’t make a lot of wine and are brought in by a small, extremely passionate and knowledgeable importer who hasn’t had much time to ‘network’ yet.  But here they are making news again with their Montsecano Pinot Noir Refugio Casablanca Valley 2017.  This is a dark, powerful Pinot that, quite honest, takes a little while to open up, but has a remarkable density and purity of fruit to reward a little patience.   Full bodied, plush, superbly balanced, this has a seamless, sweet core of mulberry are dark cherry fruit with subtle streaks of minerality.   The original bottling we reviewed (2015) was a James Suckling 93, and so is this one.

But the energetic review by wine Advocate’s Luis Gutierrez kicks it up a notch, “The 2017 Refugio Pinot Noir shows a reductive personality that I love as well as some flinty notes, so decanting in advance could be a good idea… Ostertag’s son, Arthur, is now involved in the winemaking, and as a result, they made a lot of changes in 2017, such as including about 25% full clusters in the fermentation. They use no sulfur and no oak in the production of this wine, and it has some of the character from the full clusters. However, the palate is very relaxed and harmonious and also mineral, with plenty of finesse and perfectly ripe fruit without excess. This is subtle, elegant and simply amazing; it has depth yet is approachable and very drinkable. I love the style of this wine. I believe this is the best vintage they have ever produced. A real bargain. I’d buy this by the case...94 points.”

All of that and under $20? Couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

 

 

Classic Gruner at a sub-$20 fare

We have espoused on our version of the theory of relativity on a number of occasions.  The heart of that theory is that one’s perception of a wine is greatly influenced by what else might be on the table.  You are likely to have a better impression of a particular wine if it is tasted among lesser efforts, and, conversely, a really great wine’s magnitude might not be fully appreciated if it is tasted solely amongst other great wines.

Given that belief, it would follow that the Vorspannhof Mayr Gruner Veltliner Ried Loiser Weg Kremstal 2017, which we tasted after a knockout lineup of Ott Gruners, should have been swept away.  The fact that it held its own in that company speaks volumes.  From the northern end of Kremstal, near Kamptal, the soils here are loess and gravel, and the wine’s style and expression is much more ‘traditional’ with in the realm of Gruners.

Classic snap pea and watercress high tones with some white pepper and a little apricot, with a driving minerality and salinity through the middle to make everything sizzle, these folks are bringing it ‘old school’ in a good way.  It could hang with the flashier Otts because of its drive.  This one slices through food and leaves the palate energized for more, and the price performance in particular was impressive at $18.98.

BILA HAUT: AN UNCOMMON VALUE ONCE AGAIN

Not everything in the wine business makes sense (in fact a lot of it doesn’t).  Take for example Michel Chapoutier.  Here’s a guy that makes some of the most compelling single vineyard wines in the world from iconic sites on Hermitage.  Yet we can’t remember the last time we got really excited about one of the other bottlings he presents under the Chapoutier label.  You rarely see these on our shelves as they are serviceable but not compelling.

Enigma?  You bet.  Yet this guys makes some of the best values in the wine world.  He just doesn’t do it in the Rhone.  His Bila Haut program in the Roussillon has been an iconic source of value since Michel bought the property in 1999.  Yeah they have put out a number of memorable specialty bottlings during that time, but it is their bread-and-butter entry level offerings that amaze the most, vintage in and vintage out.

The beautifully appointed Bila-Haut (Chapoutier) Cotes Du Roussillon Villages Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rouge 2017 hits that mark again.   Since it is one of the first 2017 reds to hit the floor we can’t make any sweeping statements about the vintage.  But if this wine is any indication, it’s looking good.  The fruit component suggests red and black fruits, some white pepper, tea, and a subtle underpinning of slatey minerality.  There’s plenty of energy and urgency to the fruit and an underly lift comparable to the 2016.

While we aren’t necessarily in agreement with Jeb Dunnuck’s suggestion that this is a doppelganger for a Saint Joseph, and see more of the higher toned Grenache in the mix, he got the rest right, “The 2017 Côtes du Roussillon Villages Les Vignes de Bila Haut reminds me of an impressive St Joseph (despite having lots of Grenache in the blend) with its black raspberry, white pepper, and leafy herb aromas and flavors. It’s seamless, elegant, and balanced, with both acidity and richness. Put this in a blind lineup of Northern Rhônes and shock your friends. ..92 points.”  As always, a fine buy at $12.98.

THE OTHER DAUVISSAT

In ancient growing areas, there are families whose names become inexorably connected to the region through long time association and success.  Reverdy in Sancerre is such a name where the reputation is associated with one house in particular, but the name through extended familial connections appears on many labels.  On Chablis, the name Dauvissat is a revered one for those who appreciate the best in traditional styling.  Vincent and Rene Dauvissat are the icon source and among the most respected in all of Chablis alongside Raveneau, names notwithstanding.  But a family that has been in an area for a long time should be expected to have some sort of family tree.

We have sold a number of V&R Dauvussat’s Chabis over the years, as well as a few things from extended family members Jean & Sebastien Dauvissat.  Agnes et Didier Dauvissat are new to us and, themselves, are distant cousins who worked in vineyards but, prior to 1987, owned no vines.  Their estate is in the town of Beine about ten minutes west of Chablis.

Thanks  to the familial connection, Didier did do his apprenticeship with Vincent.  There are three different estates with this Dauvissat moniker, this being the youngest.  But whatever the gene is for making good Chablis, these folks seem to have inherited it. We tasted three wines from the estate, a Petit Chablis, Chablis ‘villages’, and a Beauroy 1er Cru from the 2017 vintage.

While we would happily consume any one of them, the Agnes et Didier Dauvissat Chablis 1er Cru Beauroy 2017 was simply too good to say no to.  This is a powerful, classic Chablis with intense minerality and salinity exploding out of the pear/citrus fruit.  Stop and smell the rocks?  This Chablis grabbed our attention even among an impressive lineup of other and the authoritative palate and overt ‘Chablisness’ made it most memorable.

Since this plot, called the Cote de Savant, is located on the slope that sits above the pond, the presence of the water has the micro-climatic effect of mediating temperatures when the weather gets warm.  The vines are hitting 20 years old with this vintage.  This particular presentation added a lot of information to the database.  This Dauvissat definitely has chops and is another to pay attention to.  The 2017 vintage in Chablis is at least very good to excellent based on what we have tasted thus far, but there is precious little of this delicious, well-priced ($24.98) Premier Cru to go around (only about 500 bottles are produced).

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.

IN THE PINK, PART TWO: ROSE TIME AGAIN

We spoke our piece last time about the current market for pink wine.  In short, it is stronger than ever, but there has been a proliferation of labels well beyond what should have been.  In other words, there is a lot more rosé to look at these days, which by definition would give us more things to choose from.  That is partially true.  There are more good rosés out there, but a much higher percentage of clunkers in the mix because there are a lot of mediocre efforts being made by people who are just trying to participate in the market and many examples being made from places that really haven’t made them before.

All of this just makes our job harder because there is much more pink wine to slog through to find the few gems.  But it’s summer, we love pink wine, and the 2017s are generally quite satisfying.  So here’s another update on a few more favorites from this year’s crop.

LE PARADOU CÔTES DE PROVENCE ROSÉ 2017– This wine’s performance should be no surprise given the people involved.  The Paradou project is a partnership between the brothers Alex and Fred Chaudière of Château Pesquié and importer Eric Solomon.  We have been selling Pesquié wines for years and appreciate the honest, terroir driven character that the wines exude.  It seems only natural that these folks could create something enjoyable for this label and the  Le Paradou Côtes de Provence Rosé 2017 is that wine.

The grapes for this wine come from the more remote center of Provence, a land of lavender fields, olive groves, and wild herbs growing on the hillsides.  This is far from the French Riviera and the Cinsault, Grenache and Vermentino (known as Rolle in this part of the world) grapes come from a vineyard at the foot of Sainte  Victoire, a peak featured in a number of works by Cezanne.  The term ‘Paradou’, while it might sound like some ancient French word for ‘paradise’, actually refers to the old watermills that once dotted the landscape

Each grape plays its part.  The Cinsault provides this wine’s delicate fruit flavors reminiscent of raspberries and strawberries, the Grenache its color and spice, and the Vermentino its freshness and acidity plus a hint of white stone fruit in a supporting role.  Put it all together and you have one engaging, tasty rosé.  Here they do all the right things as the grapes are sustainably farmed, harvested by hand in the early morning, and pressed whole cluster in a cool cellar to extract the lightest color possible.

The 2017 pinks in general show a bit rounder demeanor up front and a bit more weight, yet still deliver the classic rosé experience.  Besides that the wine is nicely packaged and well priced.  Again, this one checks all the boxes.  Jeb Dunnuck had some praise for this juicy pink, “Light pink in color, the 2017 Côtes de Provence Rosé from Le Paradou is a juicy, yet textured, lively rosé that does everything right. Offering lots of white cherry, strawberry, and floral notes, with an almost salty minerality, this beauty hits the palate with medium-bodied richness, nicely integrated acidity, and a clean, dry finish. This is what Provençal rosé is all about and it’s worth a case purchase….90 points.”

 CHATEAU DE SEGRIES TAVEL ROSE 2017–  Here’s one of those classic Tavels that still thinks it is red wine.  The color is a deep orange/pink and there is considerably more mid-palate weight than most of the rosés out there.  Yet at the same time it still has the required lift to function beautifully in its capacity as a rosé.

Segries has provided us with a number of tasty selections over the years in both the red and pink variety, and it is one of the sources that still provides ‘old school’ value.  It’s added muscle allows it to play with a bit more substantial fare like grilled pork, smoked chicken, sausages, or even meats and provide a more refreshing alternative when the weather is warm.

This is a mix of 50% Grenache, 30% Cinsault, 10% Clairette, and 10% Syrah from 60-year-old vines planted in soils composed of pure silica, sand, clay, pebbles and, of course, stones.  This is a saignée which means it was light pressings from grapes that were ultimately destined to be red wines.  Everything is done by hand, the grapes were destemmed, and the fermentation takes place at low temperatures to preserve the fruit component.

The nose has an almost red wine element to it as well as notes of ripe melon, red berry and blood orange.  All of that plays on the palate along with subtle notes of mineral and pepper.  Like we said, this is a more mouth-filling and weightier version of rose than the rank and file, but it still has the freshness to pull it off.  It is one of the more impressive and distinctive efforts from this year’s crop of pinks.  Thus far the wine got a 92 from Wine Enthusiast with comments, “Beautiful ripe cherry and red berry aromas with floral scents. Good concentration on the palate, flavorful and perfectly balanced. Good acidity and mineral backbone make it a great match with Provençal or Asian cuisine, grilled meat, fresh fruit salads.”  We expect there will be more.

CHATEAU PRADEAUX BANDOL ROSE 2017- Every year as we taste through countless pink wines we find a reasonable number of engaging examples and one or two that play on a level all their own.  Most long time Francophiles will tell you that Provence is a fine source for rose, but that Bandol has ‘home run’ potential.  When a Bandol rosé hits its highest level, it is the quintessential choice.  Domaine Tempier has set the standard for years and now sits in the $40 range more or less, expensive even for Bandol.  But this one was one of the standouts we have tasted this year, and arguably one of the most memorable ever for its sheer richness, style and layered complexity.

We have had a positive, if somewhat inconsistent relationship with Chateau Pradeaux dating back into the 1990s.  This is one of the few times we have had their rosé, but we dare say that it is the most complete, impressive, engaging examples of this category we can recall.  This is classic Bandol rosé in both the most traditional and best possible way.  The current family took the helm around the time of the French revolution, and the near-the-coast location clearly has a profound effect on the wine’s personality.

The blend here is 50% Cinsault and 50% Mourvedre, with the latter imparting the wine’s distinctive undercurrent of that unique musky minerality that seems to be proprietary to how that varietal performs in this terroir.  In more rustic versions it can be overwhelming, but here it is another instrument in a virtual symphony of flavors.  The effusive nose speaks of red berries, blood oranges and that earthy/mineral thing that is so indicative of the region.  In the mouth it shows layers of flavor including, strawberry, orange and spice.  The tension is nearly perfect and there’s enough outgoing fleshiness to easily make friends who aren’t necessarily even fans of Bandol.

The bottom line is that the Chateau Pradeaux Bandol Rose 2017 is an enlightened version of a traditional style and operates in this vintage a level or two above most everything else we have tasted this year.  Rosé doesn’t get much better at any price and, at $25, the intensity and complexity in this wine over delivers.  If you can find a more compelling pink drink, good on’ya.

DOMINIO DEL AGUILA PICARO CLARETE ROSE 2014- Now for something completely different.  First it is important to point out that this is the current release, not some ‘old rosé’ we found in the back room.  Some rosés are built to develop in the bottle.  The Alphonse Mellot we sold last year is still developing and the Tiburon-based wine from Clos Cibonne is kept in bottle a year before release, just to name a couple.  So we are already in rarified air with this element in general, and that is further compounded by the completely unique approach of Dominio del Aguila Picaro Clarete Rose 2014.

Firm, melon, citrus, and berry fruit laced with a kind of chalky minerality and surprising verve for a pink wine at this age, this lets it be known right away that it is not your rank and file pink.  A rather unusual blend of Tempranillo, Albillo (a  white grape unique to the Ribera del Duero), Garnacha, and Bobal (neither of which are usually associated with the Ribera), this unique mix of red and white grapes is sourced from 60-year-old vines sitting at nearly 3000 ft. elevation.  It spends 16 months in a combination of French and American oak, another indication it isn’t necessarily made to be quaffed in its youth.

Wine Advocate’s Louis Gutierrez was quite taken with this wine, and the estate in general.  His comments, “The 2014 Pícaro Clarete… is more in the style of a white wine than a red. There are white flowers, aromatic herbs, fine spices and a touch of petrol? The palate is extraordinary, incredibly fresh and complex, with good weight and very good acidity. This has to be the finest vintage to date. The 2012 is drinking superbly today and it’s still young, so I don’t see why this 2014 should not age the same or even better, as I see more freshness and balance here...93 points.”