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Impressive South African Red That Outperformed My Expectations

Today’s Story: Vilafonté

Vilafonté is a relatively new wine estate established in 1997 in the Paarl region of South Africa. A joint venture between Mike Ratcliffe of South Africa and Zelma Long and Dr. Phil Freese of the United States, Vilafonté consists of 42 hectares (104 acres) with 16 hectares (40 acres) planted to vine. A unique aspect of Vilafonté, and where it derives its name, is the ancient vilafontes soil which is recorded as one of the oldest soil types in the world between 750,000 and 1.5 million years old. This soil, having evolved over the centuries, encourages the vines to struggle and in turn results in smaller vines, lower yields, and higher quality fruit. The estate is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec with the ultimate goal of producing Bordeaux blends. Vilafonté produces two main wines, the Cabernet Sauvignon dominant Series C and the Merlot/Malbec dominant Series M. They also produce a second label bottling called Seriously Old Dirt which I’ll be tasting today.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Seriously Old Dirt

41% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Malbec; 13.5% ABV

The 2014 Seriously Old Dirt is deep ruby in color and opaque. I used my Coravin, so instead of decanting the bottle I let this open up in the glass for about 45 minutes. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of blackberry, plum, black raspberry, black licorice, violet, chocolate, a hint of vanilla, and mild oak. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium (+) intensity with the palate displaying notes of blackberry, red plum, black cherry, blueberry, sweet tobacco, crushed rock, charred green herbs, and mild baking spice. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) but refined tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $40. To be honest I wasn’t expecting a ton with this wine, but it greatly outperformed my expectations. I think this offers solid value and it is certainly a high quality wine. It’s beautifully balanced, offers considerable complexity, and has great length in the finish.

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Refreshing and Unique Austrian White Field Blend

Today’s Story: Weingut Werlitsch

Weingut Werlitsch is a relatively small family-owned and operated wine estate and farm located in southern Styria in Austria. Viticulture and winemaking are spearheaded by Ewald Tscheppe, who took over this family property at the age of 26. Though the Tscheppe family had been involved in winemaking and farming for generations, Ewald is part of a newer generation making exciting, complex, and long-lived wines while advocating for biodynamic viticulture and minimally invasive winemaking. The estate consists of about 18 hectares (44 acres) with roughly 12.5 hectares (31 acres) planted to vineyards and the balance dedicated to the winery, forests, pastures, and gardens. Weingut Werlitsch is certified biodynamic, and practically all of the vineyard work is done by hand thanks to the very steep slopes that make up the property. The vineyards are planted predominantly to Sauvignon Blanc and Morillon (a biotype of Chardonnay), though Ewald also grows Welschriesling. All fruit is hand-harvested, experiences slow pressing, and goes through fermentation only with native yeasts. Élevage is in large barrels and Austrian foudres, and the wines age typically for a minimum of 18 months but may see as long as 36 months. Bottling is accomplished with the wines unfiltered, and no SO2 is added unless absolutely necessary.

I recently wrote about the 2017 Glück from Werlitsch, which is a fun amber wine made from Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Ex Vero I

Field blend of Morillon (Chardonnay) and Sauvignon Blanc; 12.5% ABV

The 2017 Ex Vero I is medium gold in color and transparent but slightly hazy. Per the back label, I gave this a lengthy decant which I found to be optimal around the 2 hour mark. The aromas are of pronounced intensity and the gorgeous nose showcases aromas of yellow apple, white peach, white wildflower, dried garden herbs, popcorn kernel, gravel, and chalk. There’s also a good deal of reduction (gunsmoke, matchstick) and some flint on the nose which plays somewhat of a dominant role. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium intensity, with the palate displaying notes of yellow apple, pear, honeysuckle, seashell, wet stone, dried herbs, and saline mineral. This dry white blend is medium-bodied with high acidity, medium alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $35. Though this is a very different white wine, I feel comfortable calling it a great value. It’s incredibly fun while also maintaining a winning profile of intensity, complexity, length, and balance. Very excited to try this again in a couple years.

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The Wildest Wine I’ve Tasted

Today’s Story: Ochota Barrels

Ochota Barrels is a small, family-owned winery located in the Basket Range area of the Adelaide Hills in South Australia. The idea for Ochota Barrels came about in 2000, when Taras and Amber Ochota were wrapping up a surf and wine trip along the western coast of Mexico in a Volkswagen campervan. Following some time spent as a punk rocker, Taras graduated with a degree in Oenology from Adelaide University then worked as a “flying winemaker consultant” concentrating in Puglia, Abruzzo, and Sicily in Italy. Taras also spent some time making wines in California before he and Amber settled on their 9.6 acres in South Australia and Ochota Barrels launched in 2008. The Ochota Barrels philosophy is to produce pure and fresh wines which, in Taras’ words, are “something delicious and gorgeous for all of us to enjoy with none of the nasties and more of the love.” A blow to the South Australian winemaking community (and beyond), Taras unfortunately passed away last year at the young age of 49 following a long battle with an auto-immune-related illness.

The Ochota Barrels farming and winemaking philosophies center on minimal intervention to produce pure, expressive wines with a true sense of place and variety. Taras and Amber were inspired by the biodynamic producers they met in France, farming their own vineyards with many of the same practices. Fruit is harvested early to preserve natural acidity, and wild fermentation occurs with only indigenous yeasts. Whites see whole-bunch pressing and reds get whole-bunch fermentation and extended maceration with texture an important focus. The wines age in old French oak barrels before bottling with a minimal addition of sulphur.

To learn more or read praise for the Ochota Barrels wines, you can visit their website here. I also previously wrote about their 2020 The Mark of Cain, which is a fun wine made of 100% Pinot Meunier.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Botanicals of the Basket Range

Blend of Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Grenache, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Gamay, Isabella, and Shiraz; 12% ABV

The 2019 Botanicals of the Basket Range is deep salmon in color. This wine leaps out of the glass with aromas of medium (+) intensity and you immediately know you’re in for a fun ride. The nose showcases aromas of white strawberry, raspberry, cherry, rose petal, rosemary, thyme, sage, and chalky mineral. The flavors are of medium intensity, with the palate displaying notes of maraschino cherry, freshly-picked strawberry, raspberry, lavender, thyme, lemongrass, mint, and crushed rock minerality. This dry, vermouth-inspired wine is light- to medium-bodied with high acidity, light tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. In addition to the grape varieties listed in the blend below, 17 botanicals from the Ochota Barrels garden were submerged in the wine and they include sage, wild fennel, blood orange rind, elderflower, lemon balm, bay leaf, and thyme amongst others.

Price: $55. While I can’t put a value analysis on this as it compares to other wines since I’ve never tasted anything like it, I can say that for me this is absolutely worth the price and then some. This is one of the most unusual and fun wines I’ve tasted so far, all while maintaining impeccable quality, complexity, balance, and length. This is truly magical stuff.

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Historic Pomerol Estate Showcasing the Promise of the Underrated 2014 Vintage

Today’s Story: Château L’Évangile

Château L’Évangile is a historic Bordeaux wine estate located in the appellation of Pomerol on the Right Bank of Bordeaux. L’Évangile traces its roots back to the year 1741 when it first popped up in the land registry under the name Fazilleau, and it was owned by the Léglise family from Libourne. By the turn of the 19th century, the estate was fairly close to its current configuration and consisted of 13 hectares (32 acres) of vineyards. In 1862, Paul Chaperon purchased L’Évangile (as it was known by this time) and he built the reputation of the estate to greater heights and constructed the château in 1874. By 1900, L’Évangile was widely considered the third-best wine of Pomerol behind Vieux Château Certan and Château Pétrus. Chaperon’s descendants, the powerful Ducasse family, continued to run the estate until 1990 when it was purchased by Domaines Barons de Rothschild who own Château Lafite Rothschild on the Left Bank amongst other highly-regarded properties.

Today Château L’Évangile consists of 22 hectares of vineyards planted in prime sandy clay and gravel soils on the plateau of Pomerol. The property borders Château Pétrus to the north and Château Cheval Blanc to the south, so one can say they are in good company. L’Évangile’s vineyards are planted to about 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, though there is now a small plot of Cabernet Sauvignon that was blended into the wine for the first time in 2019. The vines at L’Évangile average about 30 years of age, and the estate started shifting to organic viticulture in 2018 before ultimately becoming certified organic in 2021.

In the cellar, all plots are vinified separately in vats with traditional pump overs and controlled maceration. The goal by the end of fermentation is to try to determine which plots/vats ultimately make it into the Grand Vin and which may end up in the second wine called Blason de L’Évangile. The Grand Vin ages for 18 months in 70% new French oak barrels, and total production of the Grand Vin and Blason de L’Évangile averages about 5,000 cases per vintage.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Château L’Évangile

82% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc; 14% ABV

The 2014 Château L’Évangile is deep ruby in color. Given my first taste and a check-in after 2 hours, I decided to decant this for a full 4-5 hours as it was rather shy. Once it opens up, the aromas are of medium intensity and the nose showcases notes of black cherry, spiced plum, cigar box, new leather, black truffle, clay, cinnamon, and toasted oak. The flavors are also of medium intensity, and the palate displays notes of blackberry, cassis, plum, black licorice, tobacco, scorched earth, sage, chocolate, and oaky spice. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but refined tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $160 (I paid $143). On a relative basis, this wine offers considerable value compared to stronger vintages like 2015 and 2016 which for this bottling are priced closer to the $260-300 range. This wine also shows incredible promise for the future, as I think it needs probably 3-5 more years of cellaring and should drink well for a couple decades beyond that.

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Another Solid Value From the 2014 Vintage in Bordeaux

Today’s Story: Château La Conseillante

Château La Conseillante is a historical family-owned wine estate located in the Pomerol appellation on the Right Bank of Bordeaux. The estate traces its roots back to the mid-18th century under the management of Catherine Conseillan where it gets its name, and they produced wines at least as early as 1756 which makes Conseillante one of the oldest estates in Pomerol. Though ownership changed hands a couple times after the passing of Catherine Conseillan, the Nicolas family purchased the estate in 1871 and they run it to this day now in their fifth generation. The original label on the wines dates back to 1871 as well, and it showcases the iconic shield and silver border of the estate. The purple capsule even dates to 1871, when it was chosen to represent the color of the wine, aromas (namely violet) often found in the wine, and so the bottles would stand out in cellars.

Château La Conseillante consists of 12 hectares (30 acres), the same size as when the Nicolas family purchased it, and the vineyards are planted to about 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. Though these vines are in a single vineyard block, they are broken up into 18 different parcels which are vinified separately in the modern winery. All fruit is harvested by hand from yield-controlled vines and then rigorously sorted to ensure only the highest quality fruit makes it into the winery. Once in vats, the fruit goes through cold pre-fermentation maceration for two to four days and then alcoholic fermentation for about a week and one to two weeks of maceration. Free-run wine is run off and any remaining fruit is gently pressed separately to produce “press wine” that is aged separately and only included in the final blend if of utmost quality standards. The Grand Vin ages in 50-80% new oak barrels depending on vintage and this typically lasts around 18 months. The wine is then bottled fined with egg whites but unfiltered.

In addition to the Grand Vin, Château La Conseillante released a second wine called Duo de Conseillante beginning with the 2007 vintage. Total production is about 4,500 cases of wine per vintage, with about 80% of that being the Grand Vin. To explore the estate further, you can visit their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Château La Conseillante

78% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc; 13% ABV

The 2014 Château La Conseillante is deep ruby in color with hues of deep garnet. I decanted this for 3-4 hours which seemed to put it in a good spot at this point in its life. The aromas are of medium intensity but the nose is fairly complex, showcasing aromas of blackcurrant, black plum, black cherry, violet, cigar box, a hint of black truffle, grilled herbs, pepper, and a touch of oaky spice. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of plum, crème de cassis, black cherry, anise, tobacco, dried green herbs, coffee grounds, and chocolate. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but silky tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $125 (I paid $107). While not the greatest 2014 Pomerol I’ve tried so far, this is certainly a solid value wine for Bordeaux. The “good not great” 2014 vintage proves once again that it deserves attention and considering the 2015 and 2016 vintages of this wine sell for closer to $200 and $250, respectively, this 2014 is certainly worth trying.

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Unmatched Elegance in Gevrey-Chambertin

Today’s Story: Domaine Fourrier

Domaine Fourrier is a family wine estate located in Gevrey-Chambertin of Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits. Previously named Pernot-Fourrier, the domain was established by Fernand Pernot during the 1930s/1940s who, since he had no spouse or children, brought in his nephew Jean-Claude Fourrier for help. Jean-Claude took over the domain in 1969 and Fourrier was one of the first in the region to export their wines to the US. Coupled with very highly-regarded land holdings, Fourrier commanded a great reputation and the wines were very high-quality. During the late 1980s, however, Fourrier went through a “dumb phase” of sorts until being rejuvenated by Jean-Claude’s son, Jean-Marie Fourrier, who took over in 1994. Jean-Marie was a pupil of the great Henri Jayer, and brought Domaine Fourrier to preeminent status with wines of elegance and finesse not often found in Gevrey-Chambertin. Jean-Marie remains at the helm today alongside his wife Vicki and sister Isabelle.

Domaine Fourrier consists of about 9 hectares (22 acres) of vineyards planted predominantly in Gevrey-Chambertin, augmented by small plots in Chambolle-Musigny, Morey-Saint-Denis, and Vougeot. Fourrier’s vines typically fall in the 50 to 70 year-old average range, and only their own cuttings are used to replace failing or dying vines. With a strict belief that vines need lengthy periods to fully grow and mature, Jean-Marie never produces wines from his vines aged younger than 30 years and instead sells this fruit to négociants in the region. With his belief that terroir is of utmost importance, Jean-Marie farms his vineyards without the addition of chemical fertilizers and only uses herbicides or pesticides when absolutely necessary if the vines or harvest are in danger.

Come harvest, fruit is hand-picked and sorted in the vineyard before being transferred into small baskets to take to the winery. Jean-Marie’s winemaking philosophy is minimal intervention, and the wines ferment separately by vineyard using only native yeasts and no sulfur additions. Fourrier’s wines age with minimal amounts of new oak (typically no more than 20%) to preserve the delicacy of the aromas and flavors, and remain in contact with their lees for anywhere from 16-20 months depending on vintage and bottling. All the wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered, with minimal or no SO2 added. Taking from his training with Henri Jayer, Jean-Marie aims to make all of his wines the truest sense of terroir possible while offering an elegance and balance that are often unmatched.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Gevrey-Chambertin Aux Echezeaux Vieille Vigne

100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV

The 2016 Gevrey-Chambertin Aux Echezeaux is pale to medium ruby in color. This requires a good 45 minutes to an hour to open up in the glass due to its youth, but once it does this is already a gorgeous wine. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of black cherry, strawberry, leather, forest floor, savory green herbs, and gravel. The flavors are also of medium (+) intensity, and the palate displays notes of tart cherry, strawberry, black raspberry, tobacco, leather, charred herbs, and peppery spice. This dry red Burgundy is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. While already very elegant and enjoyable, this has decades of life ahead of it.

Price: $110. This is very reasonably priced in my opinion given a red Burgundy of this quality level. Burgundy prices have gone to sky-high levels over the years, and finding one around this price-point especially from a producer like Fourrier makes for an easy decision.

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Powerful Dry Red From the Douro Valley

Today’s Story: Prats & Symington

Prats & Symington is a joint venture established by the Symington family of Portugal and the Prats family of Bordeaux in 1999. Located in Portugal’s Douro Valley, Prats & Symington was created to showcase the possibility of creating world-class non-fortified wines from the region by employing long maceration and winemaking techniques common in Bordeaux. The estate consists of two owned vineyards, Quinta de Roriz which is a historic 42 hectare (104 acre) vineyard dating to 1565 and Quinta da Perdiz which is 23 hectares (57 acres). Both vineyards are planted largely to Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, however they also include smaller plots of Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Barroca, and Tinta Francisca which can all occasionally be included in the blends. All fruit is hand-harvested and carefully sorted before fermentation begins in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. Chryseia then ages in 400-liter new French oak barrels for 8 to 12 months, which is relatively short to avoid adding significant oak influence to the wine.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Chryseia

60% Touriga Nacional, 40% Touriga Franca; 14% ABV

The 2016 Chryseia is deep purple in color and nearly black at its core. I decanted this for about an hour and drank it over the following hour or so. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, and the nose showcases notes of blackcurrant, blueberry, blackberry, violets, black licorice, thyme, mint, slate, and a hint of vanilla. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity, and the palate displays plum, blackberry, cassis, sweet tobacco, anise, dried herbs, pepper, and mocha. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish. Quite enjoyable now with the air, though this should develop nicely over the next five years or so.

Price: $70. While no doubt a high-quality, delicious, and fun wine produced in a region known for Port, I struggle to tag this as a great value wine given the price-point. This is somewhat big and jammy for my personal tastes as well, but I did enjoy it.

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Young but High Quality New Zealand Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Burn Cottage

Burn Cottage is a family-owned wine estate and farm established in 2003 by Marquis and Dianne Sauvage in the foothills of the Pisa range in Central Otago, New Zealand. The Sauvage family purchased the property in 2002, but it was previously unplanted and used by sheep for grazing with no surrounding vineyard neighbors. The property consists of 24 hectares (59 acres) with roughly 10 hectares (25 acres) planted to vineyards, and all farming and viticultural activity is biodynamic and has been since the beginning. Though the vineyards are planted mainly to Pinot Noir, there are also small plots of Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. The rest of the land is home to livestock, beehives, olive groves, forests, and native vegetation. Marquis and Dianne sought out Ted Lemon of Littorai in Sebastopol, CA to help make their wines and, with a shared vision and philosophy, Ted joined the team. Winemaking is described as minimally invasive, relying on native yeast fermentation by vineyard block and minimal sulfur additions throughout the process. Once all vineyard blocks fully mature, production will peak around 5,000 cases per vintage.

To explore the range of Burn Cottage wines, view pictures of the estate, or read more in-depth information, visit their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Burn Cottage Vineyard Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.5% ABV

The 2017 Burn Cottage Vineyard Pinot Noir is medium ruby in color. Given about 30-45 minutes in the glass, the wine opens up nicely. Aromas are of medium intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of black cherry, spiced plum, violets, leather, dried green herbs, baking spice, and toasted oak. Flavors are also of medium intensity, and the palate displays notes of black cherry, plum, strawberry, thyme, smoke, and oaky spice. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Very good and enjoyable now, but will improve greatly in another 3-5 years.

Price: $70. I think this is relatively fairly-priced, though I can’t go so far as to say it’s a great “value” at this price point. It reminds me of a number of the California “cult” Pinot Noir bottlings I’ve had, so this could be a good exploration bottle for those who like high quality California Pinot Noir but want to explore New Zealand.

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Complex Loire Valley Cabernet Franc That Continues to Impress

Today’s Story: Domaine des Roches Neuves

Domaine des Roches Neuves was founded in 1992 by Thierry Germain following his move to the Loire Valley from his native Bordeaux. At 23 years old, Thierry soon met Charly Foucault from Clos Rougeard who would become an inspiration behind some of his winemaking practices. Thierry converted his domain to biodynamic viticulture, as well as being certified organic, in an effort to let his vines guide him rather than play a heavier hand that removes truth and transparency from terroir to bottle. This practice helps Thierry’s wines showcase vibrant ripe fruits (thanks in addition to relatively early harvesting) with incredible purity while avoiding rustic vegetal notes. Also, his red wines do not typically have high tannin but rather integrated, soft tannins conducive to drinkability.

When harvesting his fruit, Thierry practices very traditional methods such as hand harvesting and hand sorting at the winery. Further, all of his wines are fermented with natural yeasts in no new oak barrels or tanks. For the wine I am reviewing today, grapes are 100% de-stemmed and fermented in conical tanks. There is a great overview of Thierry’s history and practices here, as well as an overview of his wine portfolio. The domaine’s website also contains fact sheets and an overview of the history and people here.

I reviewed the 2015 Les Mémoires way back in early November 2019, and given the positive experience I decided to check in on the 2016 vintage today.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Les Mémoires

100% Cabernet Franc; 12.5% ABV

The 2016 Les Mémoires is deep ruby in color. I used my Coravin to pour a glass on night one but pulled the cork the following night, allowing this to open up in the glass over time. The aromas are of medium intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of black raspberry, blackcurrant, green bell pepper, violets, cigar box, gravel, scorched earth, wild herbs, and stony mineral. Flavors are also of medium intensity, and the palate displays notes of strawberry, raspberry, brambleberry, tobacco, cracked pepper, grilled green herbs, a hint of chocolate, and crushed rock minerality. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but refined tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Fruit for this wine comes from vines planted in 1904, which I think greatly adds to the complexity at such a young age. Given 3-5 more years in the cellar, this will only become more impressive and drink well for probably 5-10 years after that.

Price: $65 (less expensive in Europe). Though not inexpensive, I think this offers very solid value. The quality is incredibly high, while the balance, complexity, and power in this wine greatly impress me. Certainly my favorite Loire Valley red I’ve had up to this point, perhaps sharing the stage with the 2015 vintage of the same wine.

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Value Grand Cru Chablis

Today’s Story: Domaine Vocoret et Fils

Domaine Vocoret et Fils is a family-owned and operated domain, established in Chablis in 1870 by Edouard Vocoret. Today Domaine Vocoret is under guide of the fourth generation of the family, and their holdings are quite impressive at around 40 hectares of sustainably-farmed vineyards. Of these holdings, roughly 16 hectares are Village level, 17 hectares are 1er Cru, and 4 hectares are the Grand Crus of Les Clos, Blanchot, Valmur, and Vaudésir with the balance Petit Chablis. Though Vocoret invested in modern and high quality winemaking equipment, the production of their wines remains very traditional for Chablis. Grapes are hand-sorted before heading to the pneumatic press, and after fermentation the wines head into stainless steel for aging to preserve their fresh fruit and vibrancy (though the 1er and Grand Crus do see some new oak which is becoming more popular in Chablis today).

Today’s Wine: 2017 Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos

100% Chardonnay; 13% ABV

The 2017 Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos is medium yellow in color. The aromas are of medium intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of lemon zest, white peach, mango, white floral blossom, flint, chalk, and almond. Flavors on the palate are also of medium intensity, with the wine displaying notes of green apple, lemon, white peach, mild green herbs, wet stone, a hint of smoke, and mineral. This dry white is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, medium alcohol, and a long finish. A very precise and youthful white Burgundy that should develop nicely over the years to come.

Price: $90. While I would like more intensity out of this wine, it offers very solid value for Chablis especially at the Grand Cru level. It’s precise and well-balanced already, but I’m looking forward to revisiting this as it adds complexity over the future.

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Fun Hungarian Furmint for the Explorers

Today’s Story: Királyudvar

Királyudvar (which translates to The King’s Court) is a historic Hungarian wine estate with roots back to the 16th century. Királyudvar is located in the Tokaj wine region which sits about 220 kilometers northeast of Budapest, and the estate previously provided wines to the Habsburg dynasty. The estate as it is known today, however, was “established” in 1997 when American businessman Tony Hwang purchased it following a visit upon which the wines of the estate blew him away. Tony, alongside famed local winemaker István Szepsy, purchased 10 hectares of vineyards around the villages of Mád and Bodrogkeresztúr and reconstructed the château. Over time they expanded to about 75 hectares across the chief vineyards of Lapis, Henye, Percze, Becsek, Danczka, and Nyulászó, all of which are farmed organically with biodynamic practices in use as well. Királyudvar is known for their world-class wines across a range of styles, being highly regarded for dry, demi-sec, sweet, and sparkling wines produced with the native Furmint variety.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Tokaji Furmint Sec

Indicated blend of ~90% Furmint and ~10% Hárslevelű; 13.5% ABV

The 2015 Tokaji Furmint Sec is medium to deep yellow in color with golden hues. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of yellow apple, pear, quince, tropical citrus, white florals, honeycomb, wet stone, almond, and mineral. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium (+) intensity and the palate displays notes of lemon, peach, pineapple, banana, elderflower, a hint of smoke, white pepper, dried green herbs, and saline. This dry white is medium-bodied with high acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. This is a very refreshing and delicious wine that was fun to drink.

Price: $28 (I paid $21). This is a very nice value wine that’s fun for the explorers out there who may not be familiar with Hungarian wines or any of their native varieties. What’s more, since most of the Furmint wines I’ve had have been sweet this was interesting to try.

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Blending Traditional and Modern Practices in Piedmont

Today’s Story: Luciano Sandrone

Luciano Sandrone is a highly regarded producer in Piedmont, Italy, established by Luciano in 1978. Luciano was passionate for winemaking at a young age, exploring viticulture as young as 14 or 15 years old and ultimately working as a cellar hand at Marchesi di Barolo. In 1977, Luciano depleted his savings and purchased his famed Cannubi Boschis vineyard. Starting with his first vintage in 1978, Luciano crafted all of his wines at home and started in his parents’ garage so he could learn and hone his style and talents over time. When his wines started receiving high critical acclaim for the 1989 and 1990 vintages, Luciano started to think of building a winery which was completed in 1998 and first used for the 1999 vintage. Luciano today produces wines from Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto, with his most famous and prized bottling being the Cannubi Boschis Barolo.

Sandrone’s viticulture and winemaking styles are often characterized by straddling traditional and modern techniques. Sandrone farms about 27 hectares (67 acres) of vineyards, of which roughly 75% are owned and the balance is leased out under long-term contracts. They practice green harvesting with an incredible focus on training, pruning, and harvesting to limit yields and enhance quality of their fruit. Winemaking is where the blending of traditional and modern practices occurs most notably, as all wines ferment with native yeasts but typically see shorter maceration times than tradition dictates. During the maturation process, Sandrone also utilizes some new oak in 500 liter French barrels and ages his wines for slightly shorter periods which also blends the lines between traditional and modern. These wines are often much more approachable in their youth due to this blending of practices, though they retain the same structure and characteristics to provide for long aging potential as well.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Barbera d’Alba

100% Barbera; 14% ABV

The 2018 Barbera d’Alba is deep ruby in color and opaque. I decanted this for about 45 minutes, which the wine needs at this stage. The aromas are of medium intensity, with a rather gorgeous nose showcasing black plum, crushed blackberry, black cherry, anise, violet, scorched earth, sandalwood, and cracked black pepper. Flavors are also of medium intensity, and the palate displays notes of juicy blackberry, blueberry, cherry sauce, plum, dried green herbs, truffle, and mild peppery spice. This dry red is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (-) tannins, high alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Overall a very enjoyable Barbera that should only improve with a couple more years in bottle.

Price: $37 (though there’s a wide range of pricing depending on location). This is a very solid value to step into Piedmont with, particularly if you haven’t explored the region or the Barbera variety yet. It’s showing very solid complexity at this stage and is a high-quality offering from a great producer.

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Chuggable Austrian Amber Wine

Today’s Story: Weingut Werlitsch

Weingut Werlitsch is a relatively small family-owned and operated wine estate and farm located in southern Styria in Austria. Viticulture and winemaking are spearheaded by Ewald Tscheppe, who took over this family property at the age of 26. Though the Tscheppe family had been involved in winemaking and farming for generations, Ewald is part of a newer generation making exciting, complex, and long-lived wines while advocating for biodynamic viticulture and minimally invasive winemaking. The estate consists of about 18 hectares (44 acres) with roughly 12.5 hectares (31 acres) planted to vineyards and the balance dedicated to the winery, forests, pastures, and gardens. Weingut Werlitsch is certified biodynamic, and practically all of the vineyard work is done by hand thanks to the very steep slopes that make up the property. The vineyards are planted predominantly to Sauvignon Blanc and Morillon (a biotype of Chardonnay), though Ewald also grows Welschriesling. All fruit is hand-harvested, experiences slow pressing, and goes through fermentation only with native yeasts. Élevage is in large barrels and Austrian foudres, and the wines age typically for a minimum of 18 months but may see as long as 36 months. Bottling is accomplished with the wines unfiltered, and no SO2 is added unless absolutely necessary.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Glück

50% Sauvignon Blanc, 50% Chardonnay; 12.5% ABV

The 2017 Glück is medium amber in color and slightly hazy. I found this better after it warmed from cellar temperature, so I let it sit in the glass for a little while. The aromas are of medium intensity but the nose is rather complex, showcasing aromas of dried apricot, orange peel, bruised apple, yellow wildflower, honey, mild mushroom, grass, chalk, and saline mineral. Flavors are also of medium intensity, and the palate displays notes of mandarin orange peel, apricot, crisp red apple, orange marmalade, honey, dried green herbs, sea salt, and chalky mineral. This dry amber wine is medium-bodied with mouthwatering medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $47. I’m still relatively new into my exploration of amber wines, so I will refrain at this point from discussing an overall “value” perspective. However, this is one of if not the best I’ve had so far, and its quality, complexity, intrigue, and drinkability make it well worth the price for me.

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Beautiful but Youthful 2014 Bordeaux With Decades of Life Ahead

Today’s Story: Château Montrose

Château Montrose is a historical Bordeaux wine estate located in Saint-Estèphe on Bordeaux’s Left Bank. The estate was established in 1815 by Etienne Théodore Dumoulin on a patch of land his family purchased from Nicolas Alexandre de Ségur, but it was largely forgotten. At the time of Etienne’s death in 1861, the estate spanned 95 hectares though his heirs sold it in 1866 to factory owner Mathieu Dollfus who quickly redeveloped and modernized the buildings and winery with the best technology of the time. One of Mathieu’s most interesting achievements, in my opinion, was the construction of a windmill to pump water aboveground and flood the estate which ultimately saved much of the vineyards from phylloxera. After Mathieu passed away in 1886, the estate fell to the Charmolüe family who, from 1896 to 2006, guided Château Montrose through wars and financial crises while crafting some of the best vintages and providing stability. Martin and Olivier Bouygues acquired the estate in 2006 and engaged in a massive renovation project, propelling Château Montrose to ever increasing heights for decades down the road. Montrose, one of fourteen Deuxièmes Crus (Second Growths) in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, produces world-class wines and even placed third with their 1970 vintage in the Judgment of Paris in 1976.

I previously wrote about Château Montrose when I reviewed the 2016 La Dame de Montrose and the 2012 Château Montrose, so feel free to revisit those tasting notes if you would like to compare them to today’s wine.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Château Montrose

61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot; 13.5% ABV

The 2014 Château Montrose is deep ruby in color and completely opaque. This is incredibly tight, so I decanted it for 10 hours and drank it over the following two hours. Even when I checked in at the five hour mark it was still pretty tight. Aromas are of pronounced intensity and patience is rewarded, however, as the nose showcases aromas of crème de cassis, wild blackberry, spiced black plum, cigar box, pencil shavings, crushed violet and lavender, scorched earth, graphite, eucalyptus, cedar, and a touch of oaky spice. Flavors are also of pronounced intensity, with the palate displaying notes of blackberry, black plum, blackcurrant, tobacco, anise, graphite, iron, charred green herbs, chocolate, and vanilla. This dry red is full-bodied with high acidity, high but tightly-knit tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish. I suggest cellaring this for another 5 years or so, then drink over the following two decades. Very tense and precise.

Price: $150. Though not inexpensive, this bottle offers solid value in my opinion especially compared to stronger vintages like 2015 and 2016 that push closer to or above $200. This is another example of the underrated 2014 vintage showing incredibly well, though patience will be strongly rewarded with this one.

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California’s Best Take on Burgundy

Today’s Story: Calera Wine Company

Calera Wine Company is a very highly regarded wine estate established in 1975 by Josh Jensen. Located in the Mt. Harlan AVA in San Benito County on California’s Central Coast, Calera consists of several single-vineyard holdings known for their Pinot Noir. Josh picked up a passion for winemaking and Pinot Noir working harvests in Burgundy, first with Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and then with Jacques Seyesses at Domaine Dujac. His mentors taught him that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are best planted in limestone soils, so when he returned to the US Josh searched for land with excellent vineyard potential and, most importantly, limestone. Josh purchased his ideal property in 1974, later planting 24 acres of Pinot Noir in 1975 and producing his first vintage in 1978.

Today Calera produces six single-vineyard Pinot Noirs from Selleck Vineyard (4.8 acres), Reed Vineyard (6.04 acres), Jensen Vineyard (13.8 acres), Mills Vineyard (14.4 acres), Ryan Vineyard (13.1 acres), and de Villiers Vineyard (15.6 acres). They also produce Chardonnay (10.4 total acres), Viognier (2.2 total acres), and Aligoté (0.2 total acres). With an average elevation of 2,200 feet above sea level and coastal influences from the Monterey Bay, Calera’s vineyards are some of the coolest climate sites in the entire state of California. These vineyards are certified organic, and much of the work (including harvest) is done entirely by hand.

Minimal intervention winemaking is the name of the game at Calera, as both Josh and his winemaker Mike Waller share a philosophy of producing terroir-driven wines that are both elegant and incredibly age-worthy. This begins with the structure of the winery itself, which is designed to be entirely gravity-flow and is set across seven distinct levels built into the mountainside. There’s a great schematic of the winery here, as you can clearly tell minimal handling of the fruit and wines is of utmost importance. Calera also utilizes high percentages of whole-cluster fermentation with only native yeasts, and the wines experience little to no pumping to preserve purity and focus. The wines are not racked while they age, which is done using modest percentages of new oak (around 30%) to preserve the variety’s characteristics and wine’s sense of place. The wines are bottled unfiltered but lightly fined after 16 months of aging for the single-vineyard Pinot Noir.

Today’s Wine: 2010 Jensen Vineyard Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.1% ABV

The 2010 Jensen Vineyard Pinot Noir is deep garnet in color and opaque. I let this open up in the glass for 30-45 minutes, which helped to bring out the more nuanced aroma characteristics. The aromas are of medium intensity, but the nose is rather complex and showcases aromas of black cherry, plum, licorice, dried violets, cigar box, forest floor, truffle, garden herbs, and a hint of baking spice. The flavors are also of medium intensity, and the palate displays notes of black raspberry, muddled strawberry, fig, black cherry, tobacco, leather, mild mushroom, and green herbs. Dry and medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish. This is in a great spot right now, but certainly has the legs to go another 3-5 years.

Price: $75. While this is on the pricier end for California Pinot Noir, I believe it’s worth every penny and I’d even argue it offers solid value. This is a wine that frequently stands up to the great wines of Burgundy, and its balance, complexity, length, and age-worthiness are profound.

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Long-Lived Mosel Riesling Showing No Signs of Slowing Down

Today’s Story: Weingut Joh. Jos. Prüm

Joh. Jos. Prüm, situated in the village of Wehlen on the banks of the Mosel in Germany, is one of the most highly-regarded wine estates in the region and perhaps all of Germany. Though the Prüm family lived in Wehlen back to the year 1156, the estate as we know it today started to take shape during the 1800s under Sebastian Alois Prüm. Joh. Jos. Prüm itself, however, was established in 1911 when Johann Josef Prüm received part of the family estate which was split between him and his siblings. Joh. Jos. Prüm wasn’t in the greatest of health when his son Sebastian took over in 1920, and it again passed to Sebastian’s son Dr. Manfred Prüm in 1969. Joh. Jos. Prüm remains a family estate to this day, as Manfred’s oldest daughter Katharina now runs the show with minimal but ready input from her father.

The Joh. Jos. Prüm estate consists of about 14 hectares (35 acres) of vineyards, with important holdings in Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Graacher Himmelreich, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, and Bernkasteler Badstube. The Prüms exclusively produce Riesling in a range of styles, and an amazing 70% of their vines are ungrafted. The winemaking style here is rather traditional and harvest occurs on the later-end, ultimately resulting in wines that are delicate and restrained yet incredibly long-lived. Annual production typically hovers around 13,000 cases, and these are highly prized and collectible wines once they hit substantial levels of bottle age.

Today’s Wine: 2003 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel

100% Riesling; 7% ABV

The 2003 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel is medium gold in color. The aromas are gorgeous and of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing apricot, peach, yellow apple, pear, honeysuckle, petrol, dried herbs, and slate. Flavors are also of pronounced intensity, and the palate displays notes of mango, peach, apricot, dried pineapple, chamomile, honey, vanilla cream, almond, and saline mineral. This sweet Riesling is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, low alcohol, and a long finish. Outstanding bottle of wine that has at least 10 years left to improve and probably another decade after to drink.

Price: $120 (I got it for $75). This actually offers very, very solid value given the age, intensity, balance, and length of the wine. It’s an absolutely beautiful bottle, and I got it for a steal of a price.

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Elegant Yet Powerful Aussie Bush Vine Grenache

Today’s Story: Yangarra Estate Vineyard

Yangarra Estate Vineyard is a single-vineyard Australian wine estate established in 1946 in the Blewitt Springs district of McLaren Vale, South Australia. The vineyard was planted by Bernard Smart and his father with unirrigated bush vine Grenache, and this fruit became highly coveted by local winemakers for years to come. The property totals 170 hectares (420 acres), though only 90 hectares (222 acres) of it are planted to vine and Grenache is the signature variety. There are also plantings of Shiraz, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Picpoul Noir, Clairette Blanc, and Counoise. Yangarra farms their vineyard adhering to organic and biodynamic principles, a practice they began in 2008 and received certification for in 2012. Yangarra’s viticultural philosophy helps improve the quality and sense of place in their fruit, which transfers to a winemaking philosophy that is both gentle but characterized by incredible attention to detail. Yangarra’s wines ferment spontaneously with natural yeasts, and they use a combination of amphoras, ceramic eggs, and large format oak foudres with the end result being wines that are true to variety and true to the terroir.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Ovitelli Grenache

100% Grenache; 14.5% ABV

The 2018 Ovitelli Grenache is pale ruby in color and nearly transparent. I decanted this for about an hour and drank it over the following 2 hours, though it didn’t really change a ton with air. The aromas are of medium intensity, with the nose showcasing strawberry, baked cherry, pomegranate, licorice, leather, and clay. The flavors are also of medium intensity, and the palate displays notes of baked plum, wild raspberry, blood orange, licorice, and dried green herbs. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish. This is a very fresh Grenache but it has a restrained power to it, and while it’s not incredibly complex right now it should develop nicely and is already very well-balanced.

Price: $50. For the price, I don’t think I can argue this is a great value wine but I would contend this is definitely worth the $50. It’s young no doubt, but this is already showcasing an elegance and quiet power that will bring pleasure for years to come. Very enjoyable.

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Lebanese White Blend Reminiscent of Bordeaux Blanc

Today’s Story: Chateau Musar

Chateau Musar was established in 1930 in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon by Gaston Hochar when he was 20 years old. Inspired by his travels throughout Bordeaux and the 6,000-year-old winemaking history of Lebanon, Gaston set about producing wines with a non-interventionist philosophy and planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, and Cinsault for his reds in high-altitude gravel and limestone soils. During WWII, Major Ronald Barton of Château Langoa-Barton and Leoville-Barton was stationed in Lebanon and became friends with Gaston which strengthened the tie to Bordeaux that exists to this day. In 1959, Gaston’s eldest son Serge took over winemaking after studying at the University of Oenology in Bordeaux and started making wines “his own way.” Shortly thereafter, in 1961, Gaston’s second son Ronald joined the family business to handle the financial and marketing aspects. Serge was named Decanter Magazine’s first ‘Man of the Year’ in 1984 thanks to his steadfast production of quality wines during Lebanon’s Civil War (1975-1990) and the brand continued to build upon international fame for its elegance and quality. In 1994, Serge’s son Gaston joined the winery and was accompanied later in 2010 by his brother Marc. The two manage the estate together today with Gaston running the winery operations and Marc running the commercial aspects.

Chateau Musar became Lebanon’s first certified organic winery in 2006 and their wines spend a remarkable 7 years at the winery before release. The red wines are fermented in separate cement vats, racked 6 months after harvest, aged for 12 months in French Nevers oak barriques, and bottled without filtration at the end of the third year after harvest before the blended wine is aged an additional 3-4 years before release. The white wines also ferment in Nevers oak barrels for 6-9 months but are bottled after their first year and spend 6 years in the cellars before release.

I reviewed the 2011 Chateau Musar Rouge early last year, so feel free to read or re-read those tasting notes to further explore the Musar portfolio.

Today’s Wine: 2010 Chateau Musar Blanc

60% Obaideh, 40% Merwah; 12.5% ABV

The 2010 Chateau Musar Blanc is medium gold in color. I decanted this for 2 hours and drank it over the following hour or so, and this young Musar Blanc needs the air at this stage. Aromas are of medium intensity but the nose is absolutely stunning, showcasing notes of peach, candied pear, dried banana, white floral blossom, honey, white mushroom, toasted nuts, and wet stone. The flavors are also of medium intensity, but the palate is just as intriguing as the nose with notes of baked yellow apple, peach, tropical citrus, coconut, honey, mild green herbs, almond, chalk, and stony mineral. This dry white blend is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. This is still rather young but so hard to resist, and I will do my best to wait several years before revisiting it.

Price: $50. I’ve had plenty of Musar reds over the years, but this is the first white wine I’ve enjoyed and it is long overdue. This is such a fun and complex wine with the stuffing to go for another decade at least, and it is absolutely far and away worth trying. To put this into perspective, it reminds me of the 1979 Laville Haut-Brion Blanc I drank a couple years ago.

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Killer Bourgogne From a Rising Star Micro-Négociant

Today’s Story: Chanterêves

Chanterêves is a very small domain and négociant located in Savigny-lès-Beaune of Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune, and it was established in 2010 by the husband and wife team of Tomoko Kuriyama and Guillaume Bott. Tomoko was born in Japan, but cut her teeth making wines in the Rheingau wine region of Germany after graduating with an engineering degree in oenology & viticulture from Geisenheim University. Guillaume, on the other hand, is a native of Burgundy and began his wine career with Domaine Etienne Sauzet in Puligny-Montrachet before moving to Domaine Simon Bize in Savigny-lès-Beaune.

Though Tomoko and Guillaume now own about 5 hectares (~12 acres) of their own vineyards, they continue to purchase small quantities of organic fruit from vineyards throughout Burgundy. All of their owned fruit is also farmed organically, though they utilize biodynamic principles as well but are not certified. Working with the classic Burgundian varieties of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Aligoté, Tomoko and Guillaume practice minimal intervention winemaking with large percentages of whole cluster fermentation, only native yeasts, and very low SO2 additions. The wines age largely in used oak barrels with very little new oak, and SO2 is added only if necessary during aging and prior to bottling. The reds are bottled unfined and unfiltered, while the whites are bottled unfined but with occasional light filtration.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune Paris l’Hopital

100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV

The 2018 Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune Paris l’Hopital is pale to medium ruby in color. This really opens up nicely in the glass over 45 minutes or so, showcasing aromas of medium intensity. The nose displays notes of dried cherry, black raspberry, red rose, leather, crushed rock, and underbrush. There’s a gorgeous stream of minerality on the nose as well, and overall it’s downright pretty and pure. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity, with the palate showing notes of black cherry, stemmy strawberry, cranberry, dried green herbs, and crushed rock minerality. This dry red is medium-bodied with high acidity, medium tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Certainly young and therefore not too complex yet, but this is so unbelievably pure it’s nearly crazy.

Price: $46 (less in Europe). This offers incredible value for red Burgundy, and is well worth seeking out. The purity, freshness, and mineral backbone paired with this wine’s elegance and honest representation of its terroir is truly impressive, especially for the price.

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A Wine of Personality

Today’s Story: Thackrey & Co.

Thackrey & Co. (which is somewhat of a misnomer because it consists of practically only its founder, Sean Thackrey) is a small and esoteric winery located in Bolinas of Marin County, California. An art gallery director by trade, Sean transitioned into winemaking during the late 1970s and early 1980s and by modern standards is rather unconventional in his craft. Though he started with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from the esteemed Fay Vineyard in Napa (now owned by Stag’s Leap), he found the varieties and resulting wine too “proper” and set out to purchase varieties like Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah, and Syrah to broaden his horizons.

Thackrey’s philosophy can be described quite easily as esoteric, as he eschews classroom and lab learning but rather views winemaking as a natural process that has no clear order and is filled with necessary and unavoidable challenges. He also takes many of his practices from long-forgotten ancient methods, one of which is allowing his wines to ferment at least 24 hours under the stars which can be found in ancient texts of Greek poet Hesiod. In fact a large number of Thackrey’s winery operations occur outdoors amongst leaves and pine needles in his eucalyptus grove, as there is a significant lack of order on his homestead where these wines are crafted. Don’t expect this perceived mayhem to stop with the wines either, as Thackrey often never knows the final blend of his wines but they are brooding, powerful, and eccentric.

Thackrey is known largely for two of his wines, one being the non-vintage Pleiades which is a blend of roughly six different varieties and is rumored to be at times Syrah-dominant and at others Sangiovese-dominant. The blend changes each release, which is signified by Roman numerals on the label. The second wine is his flagship, named Orion, and its fruit is sourced from the Rossi Vineyard in St. Helena. For much of its history, Thackrey thought the Orion bottling was old vine Syrah but, following a study of the vineyard, five types of vines could not be identified and the bottling is now labeled as an “old vine California red.” Total production sits around 4,000 cases per vintage, and while this background probably seems rather chaotic the wines are in high demand and often receive high praise from critics. I can tell you that of the four Sean Thackrey wines I’ve had over the years, I am always blown away and welcome the rustic power they bring.

Today’s Wine: NV Pleiades XXVIII

Unknown Blend (rumored to include Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Sangiovese, Barbera, Carignane, Viognier, and potentially other varieties); 14.4% ABV

The NV Pleiades XXVIII is medium garnet in color. This is one of those wines that constantly evolves over time in the glass, so I did not decant it but drank it over several hours. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with a complex nose of black cherry, blood orange rind, licorice, rose, violet, smoked meat, leather, tobacco, tar, cracked pepper, and pine. There’s slight heat from the ABV, but this should integrate with time. The flavors are of medium (+) intensity, but the palate is also complex and displays notes of cherry, redcurrant, red plum, anise, tobacco, cola, smoke, grilled herbs, and baking spice. This dry red blend is full-bodied with high acidity, medium tannins, high alcohol, and a medium length finish. Overall a very fun and thought-provoking wine. Bottled November 2020.

Price: $22. This is a very fun and unique wine that I think is absolutely worth trying. I haven’t had anything quite like it, but the quality and complexity are quite profound. Quite an interesting wine to shake up some palate fatigue.

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An Elegant Take on Sauvignon Blanc

Today’s Story: Domaine Vincent Pinard

Domaine Vincent Pinard is a family-owned wine estate located in Bué in the heart of the Sancerre region in France’s Loire Valley. Though the estate has been in the Pinard family for generations, the current iteration was established in 1996 and is currently in the hands of brothers Florent and Clémente who took over from their father Vincent. The Pinard family owns 17 hectares (42 acres) of vineyards planted to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, with their portfolio consisting of six Sauvignon Blanc bottlings, three Pinot Noir bottlings, and a rosé made from Pinot Noir. Florent and Clémente practice organic viticulture and are transitioning to biodynamic practices, remaining as natural as possible in the vineyards without the use of herbicides, pesticides, or anti-rot treatments. The vines see rigorous pruning to limit yields, and most of the work in the vineyards is done completely by hand (including harvest). Minimal intervention is also the name of the game in the cellar, where the wines ferment with indigenous yeasts and with no winemaking additions. Depending on vintage and cuvée, Florent and Clémente use a combination of stainless steel and old oak barrels to preserve the variety characteristics and showcase the terroir.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Harmonie Sancerre

100% Sauvignon Blanc; 13% ABV

The 2017 Harmonie is pale yellow in color. With aromas of pronounced intensity, the nose showcases notes of lemon peel, grapefruit, passionfruit, honeysuckle, raw asparagus, freshly cut grass, and wet river stone. Meanwhile flavors are of medium (+) intensity, with the palate displaying notes of honeydew, white peach, fresh pineapple, white floral blossom, limestone, and mild green herbs. This dry white is medium-bodied with high acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $52. I think this is pretty fairly priced given its quality, intensity, and complexity at this stage, however there are better values in the $30-35 range for sure. I’d be curious to see how this develops with another couple years of bottle age, but right now this is a very elegant and precise take on Sauvignon Blanc.

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Clean and Pure Amber Wine From the Carso Region of Italy

Today’s Wine: Azienda Agricola Škerk

Azienda Agricola Škerk is a small family-owned winery situated very close to the Slovenian border in the Carso region of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia in northeastern Italy. The winery is run by father and son Boris and Sandi Škerk, and they focus on the varieties of Malvasia, Vitovska, Sauvignon, and Terrano. The Škerk family cultivates seven hectares of vineyards, with densely-planted but low-yielding vines that see rigorous pruning but minimal treatments and no chemical fertilizer additions. Come harvest, everything is done by hand and the minimal intervention practices continue into the cellar. The wines ferment in contact with the skins using only indigenous yeasts, and there are no added enzymes or other winemaking additions. Sandi adds little to no SO2 throughout the winemaking process, and the wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered in an effort to showcase the varieties and a true sense of place. Škerk produces about 1,700 cases per vintage across four wines, including the Vitovska, Malvasia, Ograde (blend of Vitovska, Malvasia, Sauvignon, and Pinot Grigio), and Terrano.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Vitovska

100% Vitovska; 12% ABV

The 2018 Vitovska is pale amber in color. Given some time to blossom in the glass, this opens up with aromas of medium intensity. The nose showcases notes of peach, dried apricot, orange marmalade, perfumed florals, white mushroom, herbs de Provence, and wet slate. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity, with the palate displaying notes of apricot, mandarin orange, tangerine, honey, eucalyptus, saline, and a hint of smoke. This dry amber wine is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, no noticeable tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium length finish.

Price: $40. This is only my second Vitovska from the Carso region in Northeastern Italy, so while I am still exploring how this stacks up on a value perspective it is a very fun, delicious, pure, and well-made wine that I do recommend trying. Great balance to this wine.

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Refreshing White From the Island of Santorini

Today’s Story: Domaine Sigalas

Domaine Sigalas was established in 1991 by Paris Sigalas, Christos Markozane, and Yiannis Toundas. Though the winery was initially based in the Sigalas family home, in 1998 the team constructed a new winery, bottling, and aging facility in the area of Oia in the northern part of the island of Santorini. Domaine Sigalas today consists of about 20 hectares (~49 acres) of vineyards, planted to the indigenous varieties of Assyrtiko, Athiri, Aidani, Mandilaria, and Mavrotragano. Sigalas farms all their vineyards adhering to organic viticulture, and they’ve been a pioneer in organic viticulture on the island with participation in government programs for it since 1994. The soil type is typical of the island of Santorini, made up of high amounts of sand (sometimes 93-97%) in volcanic pumice and ash. This is a hazardous environment for Phylloxera to survive, so the vines on Santorini are still on their original rootstocks and Sigalas is able to farm very old Phylloxera-resistant vines. Total production of Sigalas is about 25,000 cases per vintage, and while they are known for their mineral-driven and steely Assyrtiko the rest of their wines offer a good range of variety and style.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Santorini Assyrtiko

100% Assyrtiko; 14.5% ABV

The 2019 Santorini Assyrtiko is pale yellow in color. I enjoyed letting this blossom in the glass over 20-30 minutes, as it is pretty youthful and I think will show best with another 1-2 years of bottle age. The aromas are of medium intensity, with notes of lemon zest, yellow apple, honeysuckle, flint, and saline mineral. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity, with the palate displaying notes of pear, lime zest, passionfruit, beeswax, and sea salt. This dry white is medium-bodied with high acidity, high alcohol, and a medium length finish. Very refreshing and enjoyable, but not really too complex. I think this will only improve over the next year or two.

Price: $40 (might be able to find closer to $34). I’m just starting to explore Assyrtiko, so I struggle to call this a solid value wine but take that with a grain of salt. For instance, the last one I had was about 25% less expensive but it drank just as well. That being said, this is no doubt a high quality and enjoyable wine I would love to revisit down the road, and perhaps it ends up being a great value as I expand my Assyrtiko horizons.

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An Old World Style Syrah From the Santa Lucia Highlands

Today’s Story: Sandlands Vineyards

Sandlands Vineyards is a small family-owned and operated passion project of Tegan and Olivia Passalacqua established in 2010. Tegan, a winemaker with a proven track record of crafting fantastic old vine Zinfandel at Turley Wine Cellars, branched out into this side project with a focus on ancient and “forgotten” varieties. In the far reaches of California winegrowing in Lodi, Contra Costa County, Santa Lucia Highlands, Amador County, and the more familiar Sonoma Coast, Tegan sources Chenin Blanc, Cinsault, Trousseau, Carignane, Mataro, Syrah, Zinfandel, and other varieties from vines that are at times more than 100 years old. Though these varieties and the vineyards he sources from have been farmed for decades and generations, they oftentimes lay outside of the “norm” for California viticulture and are even mostly planted in decomposed granite (i.e. sand). What’s more, the vineyards Tegan works with are typically head-trained, dry-farmed, and own rooted. Tegan crafts these wines in a traditional and minimally invasive manner, allowing the unique terroir and vine to shine through in each bottling which results in lower alcohol, easy drinking, but complex wines. Production is miniscule and quantities are quoted by the barrel, so these can be hard to find and the mailing list is the easiest way.

I previously wrote about Sandlands’ 2018 Lodi Red Table Wine, which is an interesting blend of 33.3% Cinsault, 33.3% Carignane, and 33.3% Zinfandel all from very old vines. If you’d like to check out other wines in their portfolio as well, visit the Sandlands website here.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah

100% Syrah; 12.8% ABV

The 2018 Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah is deep purple in color, certainly showcasing its youth. I let this open up for 1.5 hours and then drank it over the following 1.5 hours, which I think it needs at this stage. The aromas are absolutely gorgeous and of medium intensity, showcasing notes of crushed blackberry, black plum, wild blueberry, violets, licorice, gravel, graphite, and grilled herbs. Flavors are also of medium intensity, with the palate displaying notes of blueberry, blackberry, orange rind, leather, tobacco, cracked pepper, green herbs, and smoke. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but refined tannins, medium alcohol (shows slightly due to youth), and a long finish. Too young for sure, but already so delicious.

Price: $40. Prices are already on the rise for these wines, but at $40 (which is now low for the secondary market) I still think this is a very solid value for Syrah. It drinks rather Old World in style, and the complexity already is quite generous. Once the alcohol finishes integrating, this will be a showstopper.

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Fun Representation of Sicilian Terroir

Today’s Story: Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti

Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti is a continuously rising star of a winery established by Arianna Occhipinti in the Vittoria region of southeastern Sicily in 2004. Though Arianna started making her own wines at the young age of 22, she first got into wine even younger at age 16 thanks to a visit to Vinitaly with her uncle Giusto Occhipinti of COS, another benchmark Sicilian wine producer. Today Arianna works with estate fruit, sourced from her 25 hectares of certified organic vineyards which are planted to about 50% Frappato, 35% Nero d’Avola, and 15% between the white varieties of Albanello and Zibibbo. Arianna never irrigates her vineyards or uses any chemicals, and since 2009 she transitioned to biodynamic viticulture. As far as philosophy goes, Arianna’s wines are meant to showcase the terroir of Vittoria, and they are made in as “natural” a way as possible. Vineyard work is very manual, all grape and wine movements use gravity, and the wines ferment with only indigenous yeasts in concrete tanks before aging in neutral oak. Arianna produces ten wines (including three single-vineyard bottlings called Vino di Contrada) and total production each vintage is around 10,000 cases.

I somewhat recently reviewed the Occhipinti 2019 SP68 Rosso, so feel free to check that out if you missed it!

Today’s Wine: 2018 Il Frappato

100% Frappato; 12.5% ABV

The 2018 Il Frappato is pale to medium ruby in color. This is still very youthful and requires a good 45 minutes to blossom in the glass, though it’s already showing a very elegant representation of Frappato. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, showcasing a nose of strawberry, red cherry, leather, clay pot, tilled rocky soil, charred savory green herbs, mild chocolate, exotic spices, and clove. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity, with the palate displaying notes of dried strawberry, tart cherry, pomegranate, anise, sweet tobacco, ground green herbs, clove, and white pepper. This dry red is light- to medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium length finish. Certainly has the stuffing to go a few more years, but it is rather delightful and hard to resist already.

Price: $45 average in the US (cheaper in Europe). I haven’t had enough 100% Frappato to say how this compares to other representations of the variety, however compared to other wines of a similar price-point I think this offers great value. This drinks so pure and shows a lot of complexity for its age already, all while being decidedly high quality and a great representation of the terroir.

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Sancerre Unicorn

Today’s Story: Domaine Edmond Vatan

Domaine Edmond Vatan is a miniscule but highly regarded producer situated in the small town of Chavignol in the Sancerre appellation of France’s Loire Valley. The vineyards consist only of one hectare (2.5 acres) and are planted to the Sauvignon Blanc variety as is required for white wines in the appellation. Vatan’s vines, planted on the steepest slopes with optimal sun exposure, are low-yielding and severely pruned to maximize quality and intensity. Vatan also uses minimal additives/treatments in the vineyards, harvests later than his neighbors, and vinifies the wines adhering to very traditional methods in old oak barrels. The wines are racked only once and then bottled without fining or filtration. Since 2008, Edmond’s daughter Anne took over production following his semi-retirement during the early 2000s, though he is still involved as a guide and teacher. Production is incredibly limited, with about 500 cases total produced each vintage.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Clos La Néore Sancerre

100% Sauvignon Blanc; 14% ABV

The 2017 Clos La Néore is pale yellow in color. This is a baby by preposterous standards, so at this stage it needs several hours to open up. Only by the end of the day did this start opening up, and I wish we had the restraint to hold it into a second day. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, showcasing notes of lemon and lime zest, white peach, freshly cut grass, wet river stone, and saline mineral. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity, with the palate displaying notes of meyer lemon, tropical citrus, lychee, pineapple, chopped grass, wet slate, and crushed rock mineral. This dry Sauvignon Blanc is medium- to full-bodied with racy high acidity, high alcohol, and a long finish. Very, very good, but just way too young.

Price: $275 (shared by a friend who paid $200). I can’t call this a good value, but I can see what the hype is after this gets several hours of air. This is certainly an excellent representation of the Sauvignon Blanc variety, and one that has the ability to age for decades. But is it a necessary purchase given the price? Probably not.

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Beautifully Aged Madeira

Today’s Story: Blandy’s

Blandy’s is a historic and family-owned producer of Madeira wines, established in 1811 on the island of Madeira by John Blandy. John Blandy arrived on the island in early 1808, later establishing his own wine shipping and merchant business in 1811 alongside brothers Thomas and George. As Blandy’s grew and exported wines to all corners of the world, they unsurprisingly became a beacon of quality and strong proponent of Madeira wines over the decades that followed. In 1925, Blandy’s decided to join the Madeira Wine Association which was a group formed by multiple producers to weather the economic and political woes facing the world at that time, continuing to maximize global exposure of their products. Fast forward to 1989, and Blandy’s partnered with the Symington family (a well-established producer of high quality Port wines) so together they could further augment the reputation and quality of Port and Madeira wines throughout the world. This partnership continues to this day, under the title of Madeira Wine Company. Today, Michael and Chris Blandy who are sixth and seventh generation members of the family, respectively, work for the company while Chris handles the day-to-day as CEO.

Blandy’s works with the typical grape varieties for Madeira, which include Tinta Negra, Sercial, Verdelho, Terantez, Bual, and Malvasia (Malmsey). Tinta Negra is used to produce dry and off-dry wines not subject to maceration, as well as medium sweet and sweet wines which do involve maceration on the skins. Meanwhile all the white varieties are subject to skin contact to obtain maximum dry extract from the fruit. Fermentation occurs in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, though it is interrupted with natural grape brandy for fortification at different stages. For example, sweet wines are fortified roughly 24 hours after fermentation begins whereas drier wines may spend up to seven days fermenting before fortification.

During the aging process, the wines are heated and this practice occurred by accident when Madeira wine as we know it was first created during the 15th and 16th centuries. During this time, visiting ships to the island were loaded with barrels of wine to both “nourish” the sailors and help provide ballast as they travelled to other ports around the seas. Legend has it that one ship returned with a barrel in tact and, when the producer tasted it, the wine was improved by the warm tropical temperatures that several trips across the equator brought. From that point forward, barrels of the wine were loaded onto ships so they could naturally warm during voyages until this became too costly. Now two main methods exist, the “Canteiro” method where the wines age in American oak casks in the warm attic of the cellars, and the “Estufagem” method where the winemaker controls the heat levels during aging. The Canteiro method, which is used to produce high quality Madeira like the bottle I am reviewing today, is an interesting one. The barrels are never 100% full, allowing the wines to slowly oxidize over time to bring out the signature characteristics of Madeira. Blandy’s loses about 7% of their volumes every year due to evaporation, and this must be controlled by moving barrels from warmer floors to cooler floors of the attic at varying stages.

To learn more, I highly suggest visiting the Blandy’s website here. They have incredible detail regarding the history of both their own company and that of Madeira as a whole, as well as pictures, cultural elements, and a detailed description of the varieties used in their wines.

Today’s Wine: 1968 Verdelho Madeira

100% Verdelho; 20.5% ABV

The 1968 Verdelho Madeira is medium brown in color. Given a bit of time to blossom in the glass, the wine draws you in with aromas of pronounced intensity and offers up a nose of fig, orange zest, raisin, apple pie, salted caramel, toffee, tar, wood varnish, vanilla, and oaky spice. Flavors on the palate are also of pronounced intensity, displaying notes of fig, baked apple, orange peel, caramel, chocolate, almond, and oak-driven baking spice. This medium dry Madeira is full-bodied with high acidity, high alcohol, and a long finish. 100 cases produced, and bottled in 2009. Showed best on days 2 and 3.

Price: $300 (I paid $250). Though I purchased this with a friend for a very good price, I still think the going market rate is more than reasonable. This is a captivating wine that showcases its age beautifully while remaining well-balanced and fairly complex. The only reason this lasted more than one night is because it was not our first or only bottle of the evenings…

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Fun Austrian Blend With a Unique Family Background

Today’s Story: Gut Oggau

Gut Oggau is an exciting, relatively new winery in the small town of Oggau in Burgenland, Austria and it was established in 2007 by Eduard and Stephanie Tscheppe. Eduard comes from a winemaking background, having helped his father make conventional wines in Styria. Meanwhile Stephanie has a culinary background, with her family owning the Michelin-starred restaurant Taubenkobel. The couple purchased an abandoned 17th century winery and about 20 hectares (~49 acres) of vineyards, working tirelessly to restore and renovate the facilities which included a 200-year-old screw press. The vineyards were abandoned for about 20 years, so Eduard and Stephanie commenced their venture with biodynamic viticulture without having to worry about any lingering chemicals or treatments that may have been used before. Working with the varieties of Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt, Grüner Veltliner, Welschriesling, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), and Gewürztraminer, Eduard and Stephanie craft wines in a minimally invasive and “natural” manner. All wines ferment spontaneously with natural yeasts, age in used barrels, and are bottled unfined, unfiltered, and with zero or minimal added sulfur.

I would be remiss if I did not discuss the interesting labels on these wines. As Eduard and Stephanie crafted their wines adhering to their biodynamic and natural philosophies, they realized that each bottling and each vineyard plot offered differing characteristics and personalities but still had a common thread to show they are “family.” Therefore the Gut Oggau wines are all part of a family tree, with Atanasius, Theodora, and Winifred making up the “young generation” and being more bold and energetic in style. The prior generation, or “the parents,” consists of Joschuari, Wiltrude, Emmeram, Timotheus, and Josephine with these wines characterized by riper notes and more body. Lastly the “grandparents” consist of Mechthild and Bertholdi, with the wines produced from vines up to 60 years of age and they are more traditional in style. Each label has a unique sketch for each fictional family member, and all have their own unique stories to share.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Timotheus

70% Grüner Veltliner, 30% Weissburgunder; 12% ABV

The 2019 Timotheus is medium gold in color and somewhat hazy. Aromas are of medium intensity, showcasing notes of tangerine, peach, apricot, mandarin orange, white wildflower, and slate. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity, with the palate displaying notes of peach, apricot, dried green herbs, seashell, honey, white pepper, and saline mineral. This is dry and medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, light tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Very fun and different, but also very, very good. One-third of the grapes ferment on the skins for about three weeks and the rest are directly pressed before they’re blended. The wine ages for about 12 months in used barrels before it’s bottled unfined, unfiltered, and with zero added sulfur.

Price: $60. Wines of this style are difficult to discuss in terms of value for me, for one thing because they are not “traditional” and two I haven’t had enough of the “natural” wines with some skin contact for comparison sake yet. However, I find this to be an incredibly fun, enjoyable, high quality, and intriguing wine and for these reasons it was worth the price paid for me.

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You Win Some, You Lose Some

Today’s Story: Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande is a Second Growth (Deuxième Cru) estate based on the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Pichon Lalande is considered by many to be a classic example of Pauillac, known for its deep, concentrated layers of ripe fruit accompanied by notes of cassis, tobacco, and earth.

With nothing short of a somewhat tumultuous history, Pichon Lalande’s ownership changed hands over the years and earned its name when the founder’s daughter Therese received it as a dowry for her marriage to Jacques de Pichon Longueville. During the 18th century, the estate was dominated by women (Therese de Rauzan, Germaine de Lajus, and Marie Branda de Terrefort) throughout the winemaking process until Baron Joseph de Pichon Longueville took over for his mother. In 1850, with his death, the estate split between his two sons and three daughters and ultimately resulted in the division of Comtesse de Lalande and Pichon Baron.

With no familial heirs, Edouard Miailhe and Louis Miailhe purchased Pichon Lalande following WWI. Edouard’s daughter, May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, took over management in 1978 and became a prominent ambassador for Bordeaux wines while dramatically increasing quality of her estate. One of her major endeavors, and possibly most famous, was growing the size of Pichon Lalande from 40 hectares of vines to 89. In 2007, however, May-Eliane sold a majority stake of the estate to the Rouzaud family, owners of Roederer Champagne, and management changes as well as renovations took place.

I’ve written about Pichon Lalande several times before, with reviews on the 1966, 1986, 1989, 2003, and 2008 vintages.

Today’s Wine: 1982 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

Bordeaux Blend (no tech sheet); 12.5% ABV

I must put a disclaimer on this bottle, as we learned only after pulling the cork this was recorked at the château in 1993. The bottle appears immaculate, fill level is into the neck, the cork is in perfect shape, and there are zero signs of seepage. However my tasting companions and I were disappointed in the wine and I think it might have something to do with the recorking…especially how recent it occurred after the vintage.

The 1982 Pichon Lalande is deep garnet in color. This was rather muted out of the bottle and after 30-45 minutes in the glass, so I decided to decant it. The aromas are of medium intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of blackcurrant, cigar box, scorched earth, graphite, eucalyptus, cinnamon, and creme brûlée. Meanwhile the palate is certainly better and flavors are pronounced, displaying notes of blackcurrant, dried black plum, tobacco, graphite, forest floor, truffle, and cedar. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) but fine-grained tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish. The structure is still very impressive, but the nose is quite lackluster and the palate is better but not at all complex. Overall this was very disappointing given the reputation of the wine, but I think it’s due to the bottle being recorked so early in its life.

Price: $1,000 (shared by a friend who paid $500). I would like to taste this wine again, preferably one with its original cork and strong provenance. This was supposed to be an ethereal wine, but unfortunately it had its issues that outweigh the incredible structure. Certainly not worth the price paid in this instance.

Recorked in 1993

As you can see on the cork, this bottle was rebottled at the château in 1993, per the phrase “rebouche au château en 1993.” I think this is why the bottle didn’t live up to our expectations, as this is certainly not ideal. What’s interesting and somewhat concerning is how short after the vintage this occurred (assuming this was bottled after two years that’s only nine years in bottle before being recorked). You win some, you lose some.

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Tense and Precise White Burgundy Built for the Cellar

Today’s Story: Domaine Vincent Dancer

Domaine Vincent Dancer is a small, rising star estate located in the village of Chassagne-Montrachet in Burgundy, France. Established by Vincent Dancer, the domain consists of about 5-6 hectares under vine and was the first certified organic producer in Chassagne-Montrachet. Vincent is originally from Alsace, and though he studied engineering in school he picked up a passion for wine along the way. After some urging from his father, Vincent spent time in Burgundy to learn viticulture and oenology before taking over small acreage of family vines in 1996. Known as a quiet and humble winemaker, Vincent quietly expanded his vineyards and today has holdings in Chassagne-Montrachet, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Pommard, and Beaune. A staunch proponent of hands-off winemaking, Vincent hand-harvests his fruit from fairly low yielding vineyards and refrains from adding any commercial yeasts, enzymes, or acid adjustments during natural fermentation. He also resists bâtonnage, the practice of stirring the lees which is practiced by many producers in Chassagne-Montrachet to add flavors, aromas, and texture to the wine. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered, with common descriptors of “tense,” “precise,” and “graceful.” Total production is I believe still under 2,000 cases annually, and not a lot of Vincent’s wines make their way to the US.

I previously wrote about Vincent Dancer when I reviewed the 2018 Bourgogne Blanc, which is a wonderful entry-level wine for the domain.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Vincent Dancer Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Tête du Clos

100% Chardonnay; 13% ABV

The 2018 Tête du Clos is pale yellow/gold in color. This needs about an hour and a half to two hours to really open up at this young stage, but the nose blossoms into aromas of pronounced intensity. The nose showcases aromas of lemon, crisp golden apple, white floral blossom, flint, wet river stone, a touch of smoke, freshly-baked bread, and saline mineral. Meanwhile the palate is also of pronounced intensity, showcasing notes of crisp pear, lemon zest, yellow apple, honeysuckle, almond, mild dried green herbs, wet stone, and crushed rock mineral. This dry white is full-bodied with high acidity, medium alcohol, and a very long finish. This is outstanding already, but I’ll wait probably five years before opening my next bottle. Very tense and precise.

Price: $175 (I paid $160). By no means an inexpensive white Burgundy, however I think this is absolutely worth the price and I would wager these prices rise further in the years to come. Vincent Dancer is making some of the greatest white Burgundy right now from the wines I’ve tasted, and these should be a must-try for any white Burgundy lover.

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Mouton Just Over the Hill

Today’s Story: Château Mouton Rothschild

Château Mouton Rothschild is a historic and highly regarded wine estate located in the Pauillac appellation on the Left Bank of Bordeaux. It is one of five First Growths in Bordeaux, however it did not achieve this status in the original Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855 and instead received the status in 1973 after significant lobbying by Baron Philippe de Rothschild. The estate traces its roots back to the year 1720, when it took its name of Château Brane Mouton from Joseph de Brane when he purchased the estate from Nicolas-Alexandre de Segur. The estate was producing world-class wines during the 18th and 19th centuries, ultimately shifting hands when Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild purchased Brane Mouton in 1853 in a somewhat run-down state. Baron Nathaniel replanted the vineyards and changed the estate’s name, so Château Mouton Rothschild was born.

Though the Rothschild family owned the estate, Baron Nathaniel was part of the English branch of the family and never really traveled to or became involved in the estate. The modern era of the estate actually began in 1922, when Baron Nathaniel’s grandson Baron Philippe de Rothschild, then 20 years old, took over the estate and devoted his life to it. Baron Philippe wasted no time in improving the status of Mouton, becoming the first owner in Bordeaux to insist that all his wine should be bottled at the estate to maintain the highest quality standards and control from the vineyards to the finished product. This was at a time when many producers sold their wines to négociants in barrel for them to bottle, so it was already a revolutionary idea. With all bottling done at Mouton beginning in 1924, Baron Philippe built the now-famous Grand Chai in 1926 for necessary added storage. This Grand Chai is a popular and awe-inspiring stop on a visit to Mouton, as it is 100 meters long, beautifully designed, and home to 1,000 oak barrels on a single level.

Another important contribution Baron Philippe made to Mouton is the tie into art. Beginning with the 1945 vintage, the labels of the Grand Vin change each vintage and feature artwork created by world-renowned artists specifically for the Mouton bottles. For example, a couple of my favorite artists including Picasso and Warhol were featured in the past and add a unique, fun, and eye-catching aspect to the estate’s wines.

When Baron Philippe passed away in 1988, his daughter Baroness Philippine de Rothschild inherited the Mouton estate and left her acting career to pick up after her father’s passion. With her children Camille, Philippe, and Julien, the Baroness not only expanded the reach of the estate but also oversaw still-increasing quality and a stronger tie into the world of the arts. She also oversaw a renovation of the château, and a new vat room came into function in 2012 with a marriage of traditional and technological progress.

The Mouton estate today consists of 90 hectares (222 acres) of vines, planted to roughly 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. The vineyards lie on deep, gravelly soil which provides optimal growing conditions and the average vine age is 44 years. All harvesting occurs entirely by hand, with the fruit destemmed and sorted again at the winery before being gravity fed into the fermentation vats. The majority of these vats are made of oak, with a decent percentage left to stainless steel as well. All aging occurs in new oak barrels for about 20 months.

Today’s Wine: 1988 Château Mouton Rothschild

75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot; 12.5% ABV

The 1988 Château Mouton Rothschild is deep garnet in color, not really showing any signs of bricking. I drank this as a pop-and-pour, which seemed to be the best bet as this didn’t really change too much over time in the glass. The aromas are of medium intensity, showcasing notes of cassis, cigar box, graphite, green bell pepper, olive, forest floor, coffee grounds, and cedar. Meanwhile the wine’s flavors are also of medium intensity, displaying notes of dried blackcurrant, tobacco, mocha, mushroom, dried green herbs, and cracked pepper. This is a dry red that is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium length finish. Though I still get some nice notes on this, it is certainly over the hill with the tertiary notes dominating and the structure showing the test of time. I think drinking this 5 years ago would’ve been the correct timing.

Price: $550 (shared by a friend who paid $450). The value proposition of these wines is often less than stellar, for one because there are incredible values for half the price and two with wines of this age provenance becomes key. This bottle I would say was in very good condition and of excellent provenance, however you may get luckier in your tasting if you have an immaculate bottle. Nonetheless, consider drinking up.

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Fun and Easygoing Riesling From Northwest Italy

Today’s Story: Oddero

Oddero is one of the great, historical producers of Barolo and Barbaresco, with the family owning property in Piedmont dating back to the 18th century. This being said, Giovanni Battista Oddero started producing wines in the commune of La Morra sometime between the 18th and 19th centuries, kicking off what today marks seven generations of winemaking for the Oddero family.

As Oddero’s wines found their way into the world, first by small barrels, bottling began in 1878 under Giacomo Oddero and the winery recently discovered that their Barolo was exported to the Americas via small barrels as early as the late 19th century. This is in stark contrast to today’s winery, which is impacted immeasurably by another Giacomo (grandson of the above).

The second Giacomo worked tirelessly during the 1950s to renovate the farm and winery, meanwhile fighting to demonstrate the quality of Piedmont wines to the world. In doing so, Giacomo helped lay the foundation for DOC and DOCG certifications for wines of the Langhe and guided agricultural regulation for products such as cheese, nuts, and vegetables.

Today, Oddero is led by his daughter Mariacristina and two grandchildren, Isabella and Pietro. Together they work 35 hectares (about 86 acres) of vineyards of which 16.5 hectares are planted to Nebbiolo in Barolo and Barbaresco. Oddero started experimenting with organic farming practices in 2008, ultimately becoming certified organic in their Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto vineyards while the Moscato and Riesling vineyards are still sustainably farmed.

I previously reviewed a couple of Oddero’s wines, first the 2010 Oddero Barolo and then the 2012 Barolo Riserva Bussia Vigna Mondoca.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Langhe Riesling

100% Riesling; 13.5% ABV

The 2016 Langhe Riesling is pale yellow in color. Aromas are of medium intensity, showcasing notes of tropical citrus, tangerine, white peach, yellow apple, white floral blossom, petrol, and stony mineral. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity, with the palate displaying notes of white peach, pineapple, lemon zest, stone fruit, honeysuckle, and crushed rock. This dry Riesling is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. This is a very easy-drinking wine, quite enjoyable for patio sipping. It’s not too complex and not as intense as other Rieslings, but it’s a fun wine. Roughly 333 cases produced.

Price: $25. I think this is pretty fairly priced, but there are better values out there in terms of complexity and intensity. It’s a fun wine with an uncommon variety in its region, and as I mentioned a great patio sipper.

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Classy and Elegant Barossa Valley Syrah

Today’s Story: Sami-Odi

Sami-Odi is a small but highly regarded winery established in the Barossa Valley of Australia by Fraser McKinley in 2006. Working exclusively with Syrah/Shiraz from the Hoffmann family’s esteemed Dallwitz Vineyard, McKinley farms his rows of often very old vines (some dating back to the 1880s) adhering to organic viticulture. He also picks earlier than most around him, based largely on his high level of importance placed on acidity. Sami-Odi produces two wines each vintage with blending the name of the game, one of them being a vintage bottling assembled from fruit of varying vine age and blocks, with the other being a non-vintage assemblage of various blocks, vine age, and vintage. The Sami-Odi wines are a result of traditional winemaking, with manual work prevalent alongside whole-cluster fermentation and no additions save for a minimal amount of sulfur. Aging occurs in neutral oak, and bottling is gravity-fed with the wines always unfined and unfiltered.

I previously wrote about Sami-Odi when I reviewed the NV Little Wine #9, which is a very fun wine if you missed it.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Hoffman Dallwitz Syrah

100% Syrah; 14.9% ABV

The 2017 Hoffmann Dallwitz Syrah is deep purple in color, certainly very youthful. I’ve read this needs a very long decant right now, and it certainly does so I decanted this for about 9 hours and tasted it a few times along the way. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, showcasing notes of blackberry, blueberry, black plum, violet, smoked game, grilled green herbs, cracked black pepper, cinnamon, allspice, chocolate, and cedar. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity, with the palate displaying notes of black plum, blackberry, tobacco, game, scorched earth, black pepper, coffee grounds, cedar spill, exotic spice, and clove. This dry red is full-bodied with high acidity, high tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish. There’s a beautiful elegance and finesse to this wine not often found in Barossa Valley Shiraz.

Price: $170 (very difficult to find). While I think the Sami-Odi non-vintage bottling holds the better value distinction, it’s remarkable how pure and complex this is given such a young age. There are some elements that need time in the bottle to fully integrate, but given another 5 years or so of cellar age this will be even more exquisite.

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Legendary Alsatian Riesling With a Long Life Ahead

Today’s Story: Maison Trimbach

Maison Trimbach is one of the most notable winemakers in Alsace, established in 1626 by Jean Trimbach. Today Trimbach is under the guidance of Hubert Trimbach and his nephews Jean and Pierre, rounding out 12 generations of family ownership and shared knowledge. Pierre’s daughter Anne, the oldest of the 13th generation, also now works in the family business. Though Trimbach’s world recognition greatly expanded in 1898 when Frédéric Emile Trimbach earned the highest marks at the International Wine Fair in Brussels, Trimbach is largely famous for the legendary Clos Sainte Hune vineyard. Located in the Rosacker Grand Cru vineyard, Clos Ste Hune has belonged to the Trimbach family for over two centuries and produces some of the most exquisite Alsatian Riesling in existence.

The Trimbach estate consists of 40 hectares (about 100 acres) encompassing 50 parcels across six villages that include Bergheim, Ribeauvillé, and Hunawihr. Trimbach also operates as a négociant business to produce additional non-estate wines. All of Trimbach’s winegrowing practices are sustainable and they try to preserve the natural environment of the vineyards. Trimbach practices close pruning and soil tilling while encouraging moderate yields and rigorous fruit selection come harvest which is accomplished entirely by hand. When the grapes are gently crushed at the winery, juices flow via gravity and Pierre vinifies and matures the wines adhering to centuries of tradition with both finesse and focus on the terroir. After being bottled each spring, the wines are released by maturity with some spending 5 to 7 years in the cellars to achieve balance before release.

I previously wrote about Trimbach when I reviewed their 2016 Gewurztraminer, so feel free to check that out if you missed it!

Today’s Wine: 2014 Clos Ste Hune

100% Riesling; 14.5% ABV

The 2014 Clos Ste Hune is pale yellow in color with greenish hints. Aromas are of pronounced intensity and laser-focused, with the nose showcasing lemon, crisp green apple, tropical citrus, white peach, honeysuckle, petrol, a hint of smoke, and crushed rock mineral. Meanwhile flavors on the palate are also of pronounced intensity, displaying notes of green apple, lemon zest, pineapple, white peach, white florals, petrol, mild smoke, and saline mineral. This Riesling is bone dry and full-bodied with razor-sharp high acidity, high alcohol, and a long finish. Outstanding with a long, long life ahead but this is already showing incredible precision and balance.

Price: $300. This is another wine with a value proposition that’s difficult to discuss, simply because there are better “values” out there for significantly less money. That being said though, these wines are truly legendary and perhaps the greatest Riesling the Alsace region has to offer. It’s certainly the best Riesling I’ve had to date, by a mile.

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Ultimate Napa Valley Cult Cabernet

Today’s Story: Harlan Estate

Harlan Estate is a highly regarded “cult” Napa Valley winery, established in 1984 by developer H. William Harlan in the western hills of Oakville. The Harlan property consists of 240 acres, about 40 of which are cleared for viticulture activity and planted to 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. Harlan’s first commercial vintage is the 1990, which was released in 1996, and over time the estate has commanded incredible critical praise and accompanying price action in becoming what many people refer to as the ultimate cult Napa wine. A staple in the winemaking process at Harlan is rigorous selection of fruit both in the vineyards and the winery, as only the highest quality fruit is accepted, triple sorted, and destemmed. Fermentations occur in open top vats with indigenous yeasts, then the wines feed into the barrel room for aging in French oak barrels for 24-36 months depending on vintage. Production is fairly limited, with 1,200 to about 2,000 cases produced of the flagship Harlan Estate bottling and about 900 cases produced of the estate’s second wine called The Maiden.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Harlan Estate

Proprietary blend, but I believe about 85% Cabernet Sauvignon with the balance Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot; 14.8% ABV

The 2015 Harlan Estate is deep ruby in color. This powerful and opulent red needs at least 3 hours to open up in the decanter at this stage, but one is highly rewarded with the air time. Aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the remarkably complex nose showcasing cassis, blackberry, blueberry, violet, licorice, cigar box, pencil shavings, graphite, scorched earth, coffee grounds, vanilla, caramel, and clove. Meanwhile the palate also offers flavors of pronounced intensity, displaying notes of blackcurrant, blackberry, blueberry, anise, violet, tobacco, graphite, mocha, chocolate, and clove. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high but velvety tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $1,350. The value conversation kind of goes out the window at this price-point, and all I can really say is this is a gorgeous cult Napa Cab that hits on all the quality measures. The balance at such a young age is already near perfect, the length of the finish hits that one minute mark, and the intensity and complexity speak for themselves. Glorious wine, but it really needs the air or cellar time.

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Ole Reliable From Reims

Today’s Story: Krug

Krug is a highly regarded Champagne house established in Reims, France in 1843 by Joseph Krug. Krug has maintained a reputation throughout its entire existence of producing incredibly high quality wines, being unique to this day as the first and only house to create only prestige Champagnes every year since its establishment. Krug’s most widely produced Champagne, the Grande Cuvée, is the house’s most popular and a blending of more than 120 wines to craft the best expression of time and place each vintage. The house produces several other wines, including a non-vintage Rosé, vintage Krug, a vintage single-vineyard Blanc de Blanc called Clos du Mesnil, a vintage single-vineyard Blanc de Noir called Clos d’Ambonnay, and Krug Collection back-vintage wines. Though the house is now owned with a majority by LVMH, the Krug family remains actively involved with sixth-generation Olivier Krug today.

Today’s Wine: NV Krug Grande Cuvée 168ème Édition

52% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, 13% Meunier; 12.5% ABV

The NV Grande Cuvée 168ème Édition is pale gold in color with lively bubbles. The aromas are of medium intensity, showcasing yellow apple, pear, white blossom, brioche, slight reduction, and chalky mineral. Meanwhile the palate is also of medium intensity, displaying notes of crisp green apple, white peach, white florals, almond, brioche, and honey. This dry Champagne is medium-bodied with high acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $170. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is a great value, but that’s simply because there are so many grower Champagne’s out there that come in at half or less than half the price and drink just as well. Krug is, however, probably my favorite Champagne in this price range and this 168ème Édition is a great bottling based on the 2012 vintage. Krug is consistently exceptional and every Champagne lover needs to try some at least once.

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Shining Star in Tuscan Winemaking

Today’s Story: Bibi Graetz

Az. Agr. Bibi Graetz is a Tuscan wine producer located in the hills of Fiesole overlooking Florence, and it was established in 2000 by artist and winemaker Bibi Graetz. Bibi has quickly catapulted to near cult-status, producing exceptional wines from old vines using Sangiovese, Colorino, and Canaiolo for the reds and Ansonica and Vermentino for the whites. Bibi started off small, making wine from 5 acres of vineyards on his parents’ property around the medieval castle, Castello di Vincigliata, they call home. He also sources fruit from vineyards around Tuscany, putting an emphasis on old vines for their added complexity and concentration. In the Testamatta I am reviewing today, for example, vine age is 35-50 years and for his Colore bottling the vine age is over 70 years. These vineyards total around 75 acres across 20 small plots, which are all farmed organically. Bibi does not adhere to DOC or DOCG regulations, instead practicing an “artisanal approach” to winemaking (he has no formal training) so his wines are labelled as Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT).

Today’s Wine: 2016 Testamatta

100% Sangiovese; 13.5% ABV

The 2016 Testamatta is medium ruby in color. Given about 1-2 hours in the decanter, this blossoms into a beautifully expressive wine with aromas of pronounced intensity. The nose showcases black cherry, black raspberry, anise, lavender, tobacco, leather, scorched earth, black truffle, tomato leaf, clay, and mild baking spice. Meanwhile the palate is also of pronounced intensity with notes of red cherry, red plum, black raspberry, roasted tomato, tobacco, black tea, oregano, iron, and clove. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high but refined tannins, medium alcohol, and a long, long finish. Outstanding wine that is already beautifully balanced and finessed with only promise for the future.

Price: $100 average (though I paid $70 and you can oftentimes find it for a similar price). This is a glorious Sangiovese, offering great balance, length, intensity, and complexity for the price. I’ve seen these prices creep up (and these wines get considerable attention from critics) however for now these remain a very strong addition to your cellar.

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Refreshing Italian White for the Summer Months

Today’s Story: Feudi di San Gregorio

Feudi di San Gregorio is a fairly large winery established in 1986 in the village of Sorbo Serpico in Irpinia (Province of Avellino) of the Campania region of Southern Italy. Though Feudi di San Gregorio consists of about 300 hectares of vineyards and they produce roughly 3.5 million bottles of wine annually, the winery is known for their high quality and a dedication to native varieties such as Aglianico, Falanghina, Greco, and Fiano. Many of their vines are a century old (some even closer to 150 years old), providing Feudi di San Gregorio with unique holdings after many of their neighbors replanted to non-native varieties. This being said, they don’t entirely ignore non-native varieties and have a small percentage of their vines planted to Merlot. With all these factors in mind, Feudi di San Gregorio is often credited as a leading winery bringing glory to Campania with a marriage of tradition and modern winemaking.

I previously wrote about the Feudi di San Gregorio 2010 Pàtrimo, so feel free to check that out if Merlot is your thing!

Today’s Wine: 2016 Fiano di Avellino

100% Fiano; 13% ABV

The 2016 Fiano di Avellino is medium yellow in color with deep straw hues. Aromas are of medium intensity but beautifully perfumed, showcasing notes of lemon, pear skins, yellow apple, honeysuckle, beeswax, dried green herbs, and chalky mineral. Meanwhile the palate is also of medium intensity, with notes of lemon, pear, honeydew melon, nectarine, chamomile, flint, white pepper, and savory herbs. This dry white is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol, and a long finish. This is a very enjoyable and refreshing wine.

Price: $22. Fiano is a variety that I need to explore further, though for the price-point here I think this offers pretty solid value. The quality is palpable and this wine is an absolute pleasure to drink, so I’ll be stocking up for the warmer weather.

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Fun Sicilian Blend From a Rising Star

Today’s Story: Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti

Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti is a continuously rising star of a winery established by Arianna Occhipinti in the Vittoria region of southeastern Sicily in 2004. Though Arianna started making her own wines at the young age of 22, she first got into wine even younger at age 16 thanks to a visit to Vinitaly with her uncle Giusto Occhipinti of COS, another benchmark Sicilian wine producer. Today Arianna works with estate fruit, sourced from her 25 hectares of certified organic vineyards which are planted to about 50% Frappato, 35% Nero d’Avola, and 15% between the white varieties of Albanello and Zibibbo. Arianna never irrigates her vineyards or uses any chemicals, and since 2009 she transitioned to biodynamic viticulture. As far as philosophy goes, Arianna’s wines are meant to showcase the terroir of Vittoria, and they are made in as “natural” a way as possible. Vineyard work is very manual, all grape and wine movements use gravity, and the wines ferment with only indigenous yeasts in concrete tanks before aging in neutral oak. Arianna produces ten wines (including three single-vineyard bottlings called Vino di Contrada) and total production each vintage is around 10,000 cases.

To learn more or view the portfolio of Occhipinti wines in more depth, I recommend visiting the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2019 SP68 Rosso

70% Frappato, 30% Nero d’Avola; 12.5% ABV

The 2019 SP68 Rosso is medium ruby in color. Given about 30-45 minutes to open up in the glass, the nose offers up aromas of red cherry, dried strawberry, red rose, mild tobacco, gravel, dried garden herbs, and scorched earth with medium intensity. Meanwhile the flavors on the palate are also of medium intensity, showcasing notes of pomegranate, red plum, tart cherry, candied rose, eucalyptus, white pepper, and crushed rock minerality. This dry red is light- to medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $28. I think this offers pretty solid value for the price. Even though I would prefer a bit more intensity out of it, the balance, length, and complexity of the wine all shine and should only get better in another year or two. Very easy to drink, so the bottle didn’t last long.

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Quintessential Northern Rhône Syrah

Today’s Story: Domaine Faury

Domaine Faury is a family-owned and operated Northern Rhône wine estate, established in 1979 by Philippe Faury. Though Philippe’s father, Jean, settled the family in the tiny hamlet of Ribaudy in the hills of Chavanay, his wine production was somewhat limited and often sold in bulk to locals alongside peaches, cherries, and apricots. When Philippe took over, however, he transitioned the estate to focus entirely on wine production and grew the 2.5 hectare holdings over time into the 17 hectares the Faury family owns today. In 2006, Philippe’s son Lionel took over management of the estate and the two work side-by-side crafting traditionally made and terroir-centric wines. Dedicated largely to Syrah with smaller plantings of Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne, Domaine Faury owns vineyards in the appellations of Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu, and Saint-Joseph as well as IGP Collines Rhodaniennes.

Lionel seeks to produce wines with a true sense of place while also showcasing the signature characteristics of each variety. Winemaking is therefore rather minimally invasive, starting with gentle crushing and temperature-controlled fermentations onto pigéage (punch downs) by foot rather than machine or tools. To preserve the more delicate and floral aromas of his wines while offering an accompanying freshness, Lionel eschews the overt use of new oak and instead opts for a combination of very large old barrels such as demi-muids and foudres. Attention to detail and an artisanal approach to winemaking is palpable in these wines, and production is capped at around 7,000 cases per vintage.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Côte-Rôtie Emporium

+/- 98% Syrah, +/- 2% Viognier; 13% ABV

The 2019 Côte Rôtie Emporium is medium purple in color. I decanted this for an hour and drank it over the following two hours, with it only becoming more impressively nuanced over time. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, showcasing notes of blueberry, black cherry, blackberry, violet, sweet tobacco, smoked game, crushed rock, graphite, black pepper, and roasted coffee. Meanwhile the palate is of medium (+) intensity, displaying flavors of brambly blackberry, blueberry, plum, black olive, blue and purple florals, charred green herbs, iron, a hint of smoke, and mild baking spice. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium but refined and silky tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $100. While this may not be the best “value” of Northern Rhône, I struggle to recall a wine I’ve had that has been this spot-on of a representation of the variety and the region. This is a gorgeous, gorgeous wine with elegance, finesse, and a magnificent perfume already at such a young age.

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Traditional Dolcetto From a Piedmontese Legend

Today’s Story: Cantina Bartolo Mascarello

Cantina Bartolo Mascarello is a highly regarded wine producer located in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy, and they are known for their traditionally-made Barolo. Though the Mascarello family traces their viticultural roots back to the 19th century, they typically sold grapes to the larger houses and did not bottle their own wines until Giulio Mascarello established his own cellar in 1918 after returning from World War I. Giulio learned winemaking from his father Bartolomeo, who was previously the cellar master at the Cantina Sociale di Barolo, and it was a rare feat at the time for Giulio to bottle his own wines. He did, however, sell a majority of his wines in demijohns as well to start.

By the 1930s, Giulio was purchasing prime vineyards in the crus of Cannubi, San Lorenzo, and Rué for blending into his signature single Barolo bottling. Giulio’s son Bartolo, for whom the estate is named after today, joined his father in 1945 after World War II and the two worked alongside one another until Giulio’s death in 1981. Though many producers during the 1960s and 1970s started bottling single cru Barolo, Bartolo remained steadfast to traditions in only bottling a blending of his vineyard sites. His reputation as a staunch traditionalist grew even more during the 1980s and 1990s, as critics and consumers forged an assault on traditional Barolo by favoring the bigger, bolder, and barrique-aged wines. Bartolo never wavered in his traditions, and passed this spirit onto his daughter Maria Teresa Mascarello who runs the estate today.

Bartolo Mascarello is a relatively small producer of Barolo, owning and farming 5 hectares of vineyards which results in about 1,250 cases of Barolo and an additional 1,250 cases of their other bottlings (Barbera, Dolcetto, and Langhe Nebbiolo) produced each vintage. Maria Teresa maintains holdings in the Cannubi, San Lorenzo, and Rué crus of the Barolo commune, as well as the Rocche di Annunziata cru in the commune of La Morra. All sites are farmed by hand without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and harvest is accomplished by hand as well. The Barolo goes through alcoholic fermentation in old cement vats without temperature control using indigenous yeasts, sees 30-50 day maceration, and then ages in large untoasted Slavonian oak botti for generally three years. Once the wine is bottled, it sits for one year prior to release. In addition to the very traditionally-made Barolo, Maria Teresa produces small amounts of Barbera, Dolcetto, and Langhe Nebbiolo as well.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Dolcetto d’Alba

100% Dolcetto; 13.5% ABV

The 2019 Dolcetto d’Alba is medium purple in color with ruby hues. Medium intensity on the nose, offering up aromas of blackberry, black plum, blueberry, violet, leather, black pepper, and mocha. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity, with the palate showcasing notes of blackberry, black plum, black cherry, tobacco, black pepper, charred green herbs, and cocoa. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium acidity, light tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium length finish.

Price: $45 (I paid $35). I admittedly don’t drink really any Dolcetto, though from what I’ve read this seems like a very nice wine for the $35 I paid for it. I can tell the traditional winemaking and attention to detail are there, and this is simply a beautifully perfumed and easy-drinking wine.

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Grower Champagne of the Utmost Quality

Today’s Story: Champagne Lilbert-Fils

Champagne Lilbert-Fils is a small, family-owned and operated grower Champagne located in the village of Cramant in the Côte des Blancs. Though written records show the Lilbert family cultivating vines there back to 1746, it is suspected they have deeper roots to perhaps the early 1700s. Bertrand Lilbert runs the estate today, after he joined his father Georges during the 1990s and took the helm in 2005. The family only owns 3.5 hectares of all Grand Cru vineyards with roughly 60% in Cramant, 30% in Chouilly, and 10% in Oiry. These holdings are planted to 100% Chardonnay with an average vine age of 45 years for the exclusive production of Blanc de Blancs. Bertrand practices sustainable viticulture, makes his wines in stainless steel vats, and they do experience malolactic fermentation. Bertrand still riddles all of his bottles by hand, and they are disgorged without freezing the plug of lees in the neck of the bottle. Dosage remains pretty low in sugar because Bertrand prefers to preserve acidity over ripeness, and the resulting wines are filled with intense mineral and chalk characteristics alongside crisp and vibrant citrus and orchard fruit. Total production is typically a measly 2,300 cases per vintage, making these wines very difficult to find.

Today’s Wine: NV Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs

100% Chardonnay; 12% ABV

The NV Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs is transparent pale gold to a medium yellow in color, with incredibly delicate effervescence. On the nose, this gorgeous and utterly complex Champagne emits aromas of green apple, golden pear, a hint of lemon, white florals, white truffle, delicate green herbs, brioche, lees, and crushed stone minerality. The knock-your-socks-off palate then picks up the reigns with yellow apple skins, crisp pear, white peach, lemon citrus, honeysuckle, toast, cheese rind, toasted almond, chalk, and saline mineral. This is light- to medium-bodied and very dry (dosage 5g/L) with racy high acidity and a long finish that is both tantalizing and mouthwatering. My bottle was disgorged in Autumn 2017 and is a blend of 50% 2014 vintage, 35% 2013 vintage, and 15% Reserve Wines.

Price: $60. This is an incredible value Champagne and one that I buy whenever I find it (which isn’t easy because it is super small production with an almost cultish following). I’ve had these wines on 4 or 5 occasions and every time they punch up with the “big dogs.” Buy some if you can.

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Fun but Beautiful Italian “Orange” Wine

Today’s Story: Vodopivec

Vodopivec is a boutique winery established in the Carso region of northeastern Italy by Paolo Vodopivec. The estate consists of six hectares of vineyards, planted entirely to the Vitovska variety and farmed adhering to organic principles with the use of some biodynamic methods. Simply put, Paolo views himself as an observer and never irrigates his vineyards, transports top soil, or uses synthetic chemicals, herbicides, or pesticides. In a given vintage, Paolo will produce one to four wines depending on conditions, though he seems to average one to two wines per vintage. Paolo is not a man to force his vines into production either, and may skip a vintage if the conditions are poor (the rainy 2008 vintage, for example, yielded no wines). Paolo is minimally invasive in the cellar, pressing with a manual basket press and allowing his wines to naturally ferment on the skins in Georgian amphora. The wines age in large Slavonian oak botti for 2-3 years, then spend another year or so in bottle before release. While production varies vintage to vintage, Paolo will generally only reach 11,000 bottles (about 916 cases) at maximum.

Today’s Wine: 2010 Vitovska

100% Vitovska; 12.5% ABV

The 2010 Vitovska is medium amber in color. It’s transparent but a touch hazy due to small amounts of sediment in the bottle, but you can filter this out. Aromas are of medium intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of ripe apricot, peach, tangerine, mandarin orange, white florals, dried thyme, basil, wet stone, and a hint of crushed rock minerality. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity, with the palate offering notes of dried apricot, orange zest, peach, honeysuckle, dried green herbs, and saline mineral. This dry “orange” wine is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, light tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish. Destemmed and fermented in Georgian amphora with 6 months of skin contact.

Price: $60 (I paid $35). This is a very fun, pure, and well-made wine that, while I haven’t had enough wines like it to determine a value proposition, I think is worth trying. The balance and sense of place coming from the glass is both very impressive and inviting. I plan to buy more, especially at $35.

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Benchmark Pinot Noir From a Pioneer in South Africa

Today’s Story: Hamilton Russell Vineyards

Hamilton Russell Vineyards is a family-owned and operated wine estate located in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley appellation of South Africa. The estate was established in 1975 by Tim Hamilton Russell, who purchased 170 hectares of undeveloped land only 2 miles from the Atlantic Ocean with the intent of producing world class wines in one of South Africa’s coolest climates. In 1991, however, Tim’s son Anthony took over and transitioned the property to only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay production. He also registered Hamilton Russell as an estate to signify they will only be making wines with owned fruit. In 1994, Anthony purchased the property himself and conducted a soil study which identified 52 hectares of optimal stony, clay-rich, and shale-derived soil which all plantings call home today. Anthony and his wife Olive own the estate, working alongside winemaker Emul Ross and viticulturist Johan Montgomery to produce terroir-driven examples of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Production numbers are relatively small thanks to very low yielding vines, with the most recent vintages producing 2,438 cases of 2018 Pinot Noir and 2,852 cases of 2019 Chardonnay. I would say these wines are worth seeking out though if you prefer the wines of Burgundy, as these are fantastic representations of their terroir made in a similar style. To view the offerings or learn more about Hamilton Russell, check out their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.5% ABV

The 2018 Pinot Noir is pale to medium ruby in color. Given about 45 minutes in the glass, the wine blossoms with aromas of pronounced intensity which include cherry, black raspberry, red rose, leather, cured meat, barnyard, grilled herbs, gravel, a hint of asphalt, menthol, and clove. Meanwhile flavors on the palate are of medium (+) intensity, showcasing notes of dried cherry, stemmy strawberry, tart raspberry, red plum, tobacco, worn leather, tea leaf, mild vanilla, and clove. There’s some gorgeous bright minerality there as well. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Rather Burgundian in style and will only be better in 3-5 years.

Price: $45. Though not an inexpensive Pinot Noir, I think this offers very solid value given its complexity, balance, intensity, and promise for the future. Hamilton Russell is a benchmark producer of Pinot Noir in South Africa, and they’re surely demonstrating it with this bottling.

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Refreshing Etna Bianco With a True Sense of Place

Today’s Story: Tenuta delle Terre Nere

Tenuta delle Terre Nere is a somewhat young but highly regarded winery and estate founded by Marc de Grazia on the northern slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. Tenuta delle Terre Nere produced its first commercial vintage in 2002, and the estate focuses on local Sicilian varieties with Nerello Mascalese and Carricante of principal importance. The estate today consists of about 55 hectares, of which 27 hectares are planted to vines in production and 7 hectares are breeding. The holdings are broken up into 24 parcels across six crus and range in elevation from 600 to 1,000 meters above sea level, with an ultimate plan to reach 38 hectares planted to vine. Aside from the 7 hectares recently planted, Terre Nere works with vines aged 50 to 100 years old, and the estate even has one parcel that survived phylloxera and is 130-140 years old! Marc de Grazia has long been a proponent of single cru Etna wines, so he vinifies, ages, bottles, and labels each of his crus individually. These include Calderara Sottana, San Lorenzo, Bocca d’Orzo, Santo Spirito, Guardiola, and Feudo di Mezzo. All viticulture has been organic since Terre Nere was established (certified in 2010), and the prior owners farmed their vineyards organically for the previous two generations as well. Winemaking is meant to be minimally invasive, allowing de Grazia to showcase the unique Etna terroir in all of his wines.

To learn more, view images of the estate and vineyards, or explore the range of wines from Tenuta delle Terre Nere, I recommend visiting their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Etna Bianco

60% Carricante, 25% Catarratto, 10% Grecanico, 5% Minnella; 12.5% ABV

The 2019 Etna Bianco is pale yellow in color and transparent. Aroma intensity on the nose is rather light, and this took some effort to pull out notes of crisp underripe pear, meyer lemon, white peach, white florals, dried herbs, mild cheese, and volcanic minerality. Meanwhile the palate offers medium intensity, showcasing notes of crisp yellow apple, lemon curd, white grapefruit, lime zest, underripe pineapple, honeysuckle, and saline. This dry white is light- to medium-bodied with high acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Very crisp and refreshing, and it seems like it’d be a good pairing for oysters.

Price: $25. I would like to see some more intensity out of this wine, though perhaps it will evolve in the bottle over the next few years. Nonetheless, this is a good Carricante-dominant wine showcasing its sense of place well for the price.

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Fun, Vibrant, and Refreshing Pinot Meunier From South Australia

Today’s Story: Ochota Barrels

Ochota Barrels is a small, family-owned winery located in the Basket Range area of the Adelaide Hills in South Australia. The idea for Ochota Barrels came about in 2000, when Taras and Amber Ochota were wrapping up a surf and wine trip along the western coast of Mexico in a Volkswagen campervan. Following some time spent as a punk rocker, Taras graduated with a degree in Oenology from Adelaide University then worked as a “flying winemaker consultant” concentrating in Puglia, Abruzzo, and Sicily in Italy. Taras also spent some time making wines in California before he and Amber settled on their 9.6 acres in South Australia and Ochota Barrels launched in 2008. The Ochota Barrels philosophy is to produce pure and fresh wines which, in Taras’ words, are “something delicious and gorgeous for all of us to enjoy with none of the nasties and more of the love.” A blow to the South Australian winemaking community (and beyond), Taras unfortunately passed away last year at the young age of 49 following a long battle with an auto-immune-related illness.

The Ochota Barrels farming and winemaking philosophies center on minimal intervention to produce pure, expressive wines with a true sense of place and variety. Taras and Amber were inspired by the biodynamic producers they met in France, farming their own vineyards with many of the same practices. Fruit is harvested early to preserve natural acidity, and wild fermentation occurs with only indigenous yeasts. Whites see whole-bunch pressing and reds get whole-bunch fermentation and extended maceration with texture an important focus. The wines age in old French oak barrels before bottling with a minimal addition of sulphur.

To learn more or read praise for the Ochota Barrels wines, you can visit their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2020 The Mark of Cain

100% Pinot Meunier; 11.6% ABV

The 2020 Mark of Cain is pale ruby and almost rose petal in color. The nose is beautifully perfumed and of pronounced intensity, showcasing aromas of bright red cherry, ripe wild strawberry, raspberry, crushed pomegranate, red rose petal, lightly tilled garden soil, delicate dried green herbs, and wet granite. There’s also a touch of strawberry yogurt and light bread, but these blow off in the glass. Flavors on the palate are also of pronounced intensity, with notes of pomegranate, tart red cherry, raspberry, white strawberry, a hint of eucalyptus, rose, a pinch of white pepper, and crushed rock mineral. This dry red is light-bodied with high mouthwatering acidity, low tannins, medium (-) alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. This is vibrant, refreshing, and unbelievably pure while showing great complexity for its youth. 190 cases produced.

Price: $60. Though fairly pricey, I think this is absolutely worth trying and buying multiple bottles of. This is one of those “wow” wines for me, particularly given the youth. I haven’t had a wine this fun, vibrant, crunchy, and refreshing in a long time.

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Young Napa Cab With Exceptional Vineyard Pedigree

Today’s Story: Memento Mori

Memento Mori is a producer of premium Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, established by friends Hayes Drumwright, Adriel Lares, and Adam Craun with their inaugural vintage in 2010. Prior to establishing Memento Mori, the three friends traveled often to Napa and met Juan Mercado of Realm Cellars on one of these occasions. Juan introduced Hayes, Adriel, and Adam to famed winegrower Andy Beckstoffer and they negotiated the purchase of a small block of grapes from his Georges III Vineyard. Winemaker Sam Kaplan (also of Arkenstone and Nine Suns) joined as Memento Mori’s founding winemaker and he remains in the post to this day. Though Memento Mori no longer purchases fruit from the Georges III Vineyard, today they source from Beckstoffer’s Dr. Crane and Las Piedras vineyards, as well as the Weitz Vineyard, Oakville Ranch, and Vine Hill Ranch vineyards. The Memento Mori flagship wine is a blending of these sites, though they do produce highly limited quantities of single-vineyard bottlings as well.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Vanitas

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.8% ABV

The 2017 Vanitas is opaque deep ruby in color and nearly black at its core. Given its youth, I decanted this for 3 hours though it is surprisingly expressive and complex. The nose is of pronounced intensity, offering up aromas of crème de cassis, blackberry, black cherry, black plum, black licorice, a hint of bell pepper, dried herbs, scorched earth, cedar, clove, and chocolate. There’s a touch of heat, though this should integrate with bottle age. Meanwhile the palate is also of pronounced intensity, showcasing notes of blackcurrant, blackberry, blueberry, anise, sweet tobacco, savory grilled herbs, a touch of vanilla, clove, charred oak, and mocha. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high but fine-grained tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish. Gorgeous now, but I need to revisit this in 3-5 years when I imagine tertiary notes may start surfacing.

Price: $100 (Wally’s Los Angeles exclusive). This is actually very well priced for a premium Napa Cab, even if it is the label’s “entry level.” The purity and depth of fruit is exceptional, and the primary note complexity at this stage only showcases promise for the years to come. Pedigree of the vineyards (Beckstoffer Dr. Crane and Las Piedras, Weitz Vineyard, Oakville Ranch, and Vine Hill Ranch) shines.

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Unique White Blend for Napa Valley

Today’s Story: Massican Winery

I very recently wrote about Massican when I reviewed the 2019 Sauvignon Blanc, however I loved that wine so much I wanted to return today for another bottling.

Massican Winery was established in 2009 by winemaker Dan Petroski (also of Larkmead Vineyards) and was born out of his passion for Italy and the country’s lifestyle, culture, and wines. Massican is a very unique endeavor in Napa Valley, focusing exclusively on white grape varieties including Tocai Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Pinot Bianco, and Greco common in northeastern Italy as well as the more “expected” varieties of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. True to Dan’s mission, the Massican wines are not only made with uncommon varieties for Napa but they are also not the stereotypical oaky white wines the region is known for. Dan uses varying amounts of new and neutral oak as well as stainless steel, also not allowing his wines to go through malolactic fermentation so they maintain the crisp, fresh, and refreshing characteristics of each grape variety. Another contributing factor is how Dan picks his grapes at lower sugar levels, preserving the vibrant acidity and resulting in often lower-alcohol wines.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Annia

53% Tocai Friulano, 39% Ribolla Gialla, 8% Chardonnay; 12.8% ABV

The 2019 Annia is pale yellow in color, and almost pale gold. The aromas are of medium intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of yellow apple, tangerine, white peach, pear, honeysuckle, crushed stone, and mild green herbs. Meanwhile the flavors on the palate are also of medium intensity, with notes of white peach, lemon zest, pear, tangerine, white florals, and beeswax. This dry white blend is light- to medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length but well-rounded finish. I didn’t find this as vibrant or complex as the Sauvignon Blanc I recently reviewed, but it still makes for a fun summer wine and a perfect match for shellfish.

Price: $30. This is a fun wine for the price, however I do prefer the Massican Sauvignon Blanc and I think that offers stronger value given its complexity, vibrancy, and mouthwatering higher acidity. I still think this Annia is worth checking out though, because it’s uncommon to find these varieties coming out of Napa and it is a well-made wine.

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Young but Promising Bourgogne Rouge

Today’s Story: Domaine Méo-Camuzet

Domaine Méo-Camuzet is a very highly regarded domain in the Côte-d’Or of Burgundy, situated in the heart of the prized Vosne-Romanée appellation. The domain was established by Étienne Camuzet, a political figure who represented the Côte-d’Or as mayor of Vosne-Romanée and an MP in Paris. Étienne purchased the Château du Clos de Vougeot in 1920, but due to his political commitments did not live there or farm the vineyards and instead leased it out to tenant farmers. Though he sold the château in late 1944 (it was heavily damaged during the war), 20 hectares of vineyards went up for sale and he retained 3 hectares for himself. Upon Étienne’s death in 1946, the holdings passed to his daughter Maria Noirot and she kept the tenant farming system in place. Having no heirs of her own, with Maria’s death in 1959 the domain passed to her nephew Jean Méo who was in General de Gaulle’s cabinet. Jean Méo took over the domain with help from his parents, but kept to the tenant farming system with the legendary Henri Jayer being one of them. In 1981, the domain was named Domaine Méo-Camuzet, domain bottling and labelling commenced with the 1983 vintage, and Jean Méo proposed passing the reins onto his son Jean-Nicolas in 1984.

Jean-Nicolas took several years to pick up the task, immersing himself in the domain in 1989 following education at the University of Burgundy to study oenology. He also studied at the University of Pennsylvania to build his business acumen. As he was nearing retirement in 1988, Henri Jayer agreed to coach Jean-Nicolas alongside Christian Faurois, a son of another highly regarded tenant farmer. As Jean-Nicolas learned, grew, and experimented with new techniques at the domain, the Méo-Camuzet wines gained great appreciation around the world, particularly in the American markets where Jean-Nicolas used his business savvy to his advantage. By 2008, all tenant farmers had retired and Jean-Nicolas took complete management responsibility over the vineyards. As he struggled to keep up with demand, he and his sisters established the Méo-Camuzet Frère & Soeurs négociant business to expand their portfolio into wider and more accessible bottlings. Today, Jean-Nicolas runs Méo-Camuzet with his wife Nathalie and they have three children who will perhaps one day carry on the family legacy. Christian Faurois remains a right-hand-man as well.

Domaine Méo-Camuzet today consists of 14 hectares of vineyards which include holdings in a range of villages, 1er Crus, and several Grand Crus. Practically all viticulture is organic, though the domain does not seek certification so in their most difficult vineyards or vintages they can react prudently if needed. For instance, some of their sites that are difficult to farm may need small amounts of occasional herbicide or anti-rot treatments. Harvesting is completed entirely by hand, and sorting first occurs at the vineyard level where fruit deemed below quality standards is dropped to the ground. Fruit is sorted again and destemmed at the winery, before fermentation begins in concrete vats with temperature control only ensuring the temperature doesn’t cross over the critical 95 degree Fahrenheit level. The wines mature in new oak barrels, ranging from about 50% new for the lower level wines up to 100% new for the Grand Crus. Come bottling, the wines see no fining or filtration.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Bourgogne Côte-d’Or Cuvée Étienne Camuzet

100% Pinot Noir; 13.5% ABV

The 2018 Bourgogne Côte-d’Or Cuvée Étienne Camuzet is pale to medium ruby in color and transparent. This took a good hour to open up in the glass, eventually showing aromas of medium intensity. The nose showcases notes of ripe red cherry, cranberry, black raspberry, red rose petal, leather, dried herbs, crushed rock minerality, and a hint baking spice. Meanwhile the flavors on the palate are also of medium intensity, displaying notes of black cherry, red plum, crunchy cranberry, brambly black raspberry, anise, tobacco, cola, stony mineral, clove, and a touch of smoke. This dry red is light- to medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish. Overall pretty complex for its youth and very well-balanced. Purity and freshness of fruit here is gorgeous, as is the minerality.

Price: $65 ($40-50 in Europe). Given where the pricing of Burgundy has headed, I think this is actually pretty decent value. I certainly think this drinks about the regional Bourgogne level, and should only improve with several more years of bottle age.

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Coveted Paso Robles Rhône Blend – For Good Reason

Today’s Story: Saxum Vineyards

Saxum Vineyards is a highly regarded winery in the Willow Creek District of Paso Robles, established in 2002 by husband and wife Justin and Heather Smith. The winery is situated in the James Berry Vineyard, a property purchased by Justin’s father around 1980 which he planted to white grape varieties popular at the time. However, toward the end of the 1980s the Smith family started replanting their vineyard to Rhône varieties following the suggestion by a friend, and today Saxum is known for their Grenache, Syrah, and Mataro dominated blends.

The Saxum vineyards are planted on steep hillsides and rocky soils, with the region offering sunny days and cool ocean breezes. Yields are kept low to create healthy, concentrated berries and the fruit is picked at optimal ripeness to ensure profound texture in the finished product. A sustainable and rather uncertified organic viticultural philosophy is followed by minimal intervention in the cellar, allowing each of the ten crus produced by Saxum to show a true sense of place while being profound and elegant at the same time. Saxum produces roughly 8,000 cases of wine per vintage nowadays, with all bottles highly allocated to a mailing list with a very small amount making it to retail or restaurants. To put this demand into perspective, I’ve been on the Saxum waiting list for about 4 years already and from what I hear have several more years to go.

To learn more about Saxum, particularly their individual bottlings with incredible libraries of tasting notes, check out the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Broken Stones

52% Syrah, 18% Mataro, 10% Grenache, 10% Tempranillo, 8% Petite Sirah, 2% Roussanne; 15.9% ABV

The 2016 Broken Stones is opaque deep purple in color with deep ruby hues. I decanted this for 3 hours and drank it over the following 2 given its youth. There’s pronounced intensity on the nose, offering up aromas of blackberry, juicy black plum, black cherry, violet, lavender, licorice, roasted game, grilled herbs, scorched earth, gravel, clove, vanilla, and charred cedar. With the proper stemware, the alcohol level goes practically unnoticed. Meanwhile the palate also offers flavors with pronounced intensity, including blackberry, blueberry, black plum, anise, smoked meat, violet, cracked black pepper, dried green herbs, a touch of smoke, vanilla, baking spice, and coffee grounds. This dry red blend is full-bodied with medium acidity, high and grippy tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish. Surprisingly the alcohol practically blows off and this wine showcases great depth, balance, and immense promise at such a young age.

Price: $135. While there are better “values” out there, I think this is fairly priced in the secondary market even though it gets released at $98. The complexity, elegant power, and depth to these wines are truly special based on the several I’ve tasted over the years and this 2016 Broken Stones is no different.