Simple but Tasty California Gamay

Today’s Story: Jolie-Laide

Established by Scott Schultz, Jolie-Laide is a small, boutique winery crafting wines in Sebastopol, California. Jolie-Laide is a French term of endearment for something unconventionally beautiful that translates to “pretty-ugly,” and Scott decided to use it in naming his winery following experiences in the restaurant business. When he worked at Bouchon in Yountville, Scott realized that the majority of people didn’t seem to explore the wine list but rather stuck to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Cabernet Sauvignon. He thought this was a travesty of sorts, given the wonderful varieties including Gamay, Valdiguié, Vermentino, or Trousseau Gris. Eventually Scott transitioned out of the restaurant business and found himself working alongside Pax Mahle, a wildly skilled winemaker in his own right. One year, Pax allowed Scott to make a wine of his own using 1-2 tons of fruit and he decided to use none other than Trousseau Gris because of how fascinating of a variety it is to him. Alas, Jolie-Laide was born and continues to produce magnificent and wildly fun wines today.

When it comes to sourcing his fruit, Scott works with farmers he has known for years who largely follow organic practices and work incredibly unique sites. After harvest, all of the Jolie-Laide red fruit is foot crushed and left whole cluster with some of the varieties (like Gamay) seeing carbonic maceration. Thanks to Scott’s selection of incredible sites, he can be pretty hands-off during the rest of the winemaking process and lets the terroir and fruit speak for itself. Scott lets his wines ferment naturally and, instead of using temperature control, says “we stick things in the sun if we need to get them warm” (source). Furthermore, Scott adds little SO2 when necessary in part because his wines tend to be bottled young to both preserve freshness in the fruit and provide barrels for the following year’s harvest.

I reviewed a number of wines from Jolie-Laide last year, but wanted to check back in with the Gamay bottling that I haven’t tried yet. For prior reviews, you can check out the 2016 Provisor Vineyard Grenache, 2019 Trousseau Gris, 2016 Halcon Vineyard Syrah, and 2017 Shake Ridge Vineyard GSM.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Barsotti Vineyard Gamay Noir

100% Gamay; 12% ABV

The 2019 Barsotti Vineyard Gamay Noir is pale ruby in color. Given some time to blossom in the glass, this opens with aromas of medium intensity and a nose that showcases notes of cherry, strawberry, red plum, cranberry, and dried underbrush. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity, with the palate displaying notes of ripe red cherry, strawberry, raspberry, licorice, dried green herbs, and cola. This dry red is light-bodied with medium (+) acidity, low tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium length finish. Though this is a very enjoyable and chuggable wine, I would like to see more depth and complexity to it especially on the nose.

Price: $30. I think this is priced fairly well given how high the quality is and how enjoyable it is to drink. While it’s not the most complex or expressive Gamay I’ve had, it’s perfect for warmer days when you want a red over a white.

Beautifully Pure Amador County Chenin Blanc

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’ve been in love with Sandlands’ wines that I’ve tried, and I previously reviewed the 2018 Lodi Zinfandel, 2018 Lodi Red Table Wine, and 2018 Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Amador County Chenin Blanc

100% Chenin Blanc; 12.2% ABV

The 2017 Amador County Chenin Blanc is pale gold in color and transparent. The aromas are of medium intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of lemon curd, crisp yellow apple, quince, honeysuckle, honeycomb, wet stone, and saline. The flavors are also of medium intensity, and the palate displays notes of lemon zest, underripe pear, yellow apple, chamomile, honey, crushed rock minerality, and oyster shell. This dry white is light- to medium-bodied with high acidity, medium alcohol, and a long finish. This took some time to come alive in the glass, but once it did the wine did not last long. Very tasty.

Price: $50. I know this is significantly cheaper direct from the winery, though retail pricing in the secondary market seems to be around $50. If you can buy this on the mailing list, don’t hesitate because it is a gorgeous wine that’s both beautifully balanced and fairly complex. As far as price I paid, I have no qualms.

Fresh, Elegant, and Budget-Friendly Red Burgundy

Today’s Story: Marchand-Tawse

Marchand-Tawse is a Burgundian négociant created through a collaboration between Pascal Marchand and Moray Tawse. Both Pascal and Moray are French Canadians, making their success in Burgundy somewhat unusual.

Pascal Marchand comes from a background in wine (after working a few years as a merchant sailor on freighters in the Great Lakes), having taken over Clos des Epeneaux in Pommard in 1985 at the age of 22. Pascal was one of the early adopters of organic and biodynamic viticulture in Burgundy, bringing heightened quality to Clos des Epeneaux and world renown to its name. Jean-Charles Boisset later approached Pascal to run his family’s Domaine de la Vougeraie in 1999, and he remained there until 2006 when desiring more freedom in his ventures. Pascal took over at Domaine Jean Fery, all the while setting the stage for his own label that would eventually become Marchand-Tawse.

Moray Tawse, on the other hand, has a background in finance and co-founded First National in Canada which focuses on real estate lending. He has had a long-standing love of wine, however, which led him to establish Tawse Winery which is one of Canada’s leading wineries. Thanks to his love of Burgundy, Moray approached Pascal in 2010 and the two established their partnership.

Marchand-Tawse sources fruit from a great number of vineyards, most of which are either organically or biodynamically farmed. The négociant produces a wide range of wines, spanning appellation and village bottlings up to some of the greatest Grand Crus. Pascal’s winemaking style is rather traditional, seeking to have the fruit and terroir express themselves in a most honest and transparent form. Much of the fruit is left 100% whole cluster and not destemmed before fermentation in stainless steel tanks. Furthermore, aging for many of the wines occurs in minimal or even 0% new French oak barrels and there is no fining or filtration before bottling.

I previously reviewed the 2016 Coteaux Bourguignons from Marchand-Tawse, which is a lovely Gamay offering exceptional value.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Côte de Nuits Villages

100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV

The 2017 Côte de Nuits Villages is pale ruby in color. This needs about 45 minutes to open up at this point, but once it does you find an elegant, fresh, and vibrant expression of Pinot Noir. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of cherry, strawberry, red rose, cured meat, dried gravel, underbrush, and white pepper. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium (+) intensity and the palate displays notes of black raspberry, cherry, strawberry, red licorice, dried tobacco, dried green herbs, and crushed rock minerality. This dry red is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. 133 cases produced.

Price: $40. This is a red Burgundy that offers very, very good value. It’s incredibly difficult nowadays to find quality red Burgundy for this price-point, and the expression of variety and terroir here is very well done. This is no doubt young, but the elegance and vibrancy are already hard to resist.

Fruity, Floral, and Refreshing Summer White

Today’s Story: Arnot-Roberts

Arnot-Roberts is a boutique winery established in 2001 by Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts, two childhood friends who grew up together in Napa Valley. After college, Nathan started working with his father as a cooper of oak wine barrels while Duncan pursued winemaking throughout Napa and Sonoma counties. Arnot-Roberts began with a single barrel of wine the duo produced in their basement and over time grew through the purchase of fruit from renowned vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, El Dorado, and Amador counties as well as the Santa Cruz Mountains. When selecting vineyards, Arnot-Roberts makes sure the farmers are both “passionate and conscientious” because their goal is to produce small quantities of honest, terroir-driven single-vineyard wines which truly express their unique place. The winemaking style is a mix of Old World and New World, with use of indigenous fermentation, little or no new oak, and often whole cluster.

Arnot-Roberts is a producer I keep coming back to, as I previously reviewed the 2016 Que Syrah Vineyard, 2018 North Coast Trousseau, and 2018 Watson Ranch Chardonnay.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Vare Vineyard Ribolla Gialla

100% Ribolla Gialla; 12.2% ABV

The 2016 Vare Vineyard Ribolla Gialla is pale gold in color and transparent. The delicate and inviting aromas are of medium intensity, and the nose showcases notes of pear, lemon zest, green apple skins, white lily, beeswax, and delicate dried green herbs. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of fresh pear, green apple, lemon peel, tangerine, white florals, dried thyme, and chalky mineral. This dry white is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol, and a long finish. Very refreshing and enjoyable, so I could see this becoming a staple for my summer. 6 barrels produced.

Price: $44. Though this isn’t inexpensive and there are better “values” out there, I believe this is very fairly-priced and I would certainly buy it again over and over. I think this is a very nice representation of the Ribolla Gialla variety, and the beauty and purity in this wine is quite impressive.

Young, Complex, and Very Promising Ribera del Duero

Today’s Story: Dominio de Pingus Psi

Psi was born out of passion by Peter Sisseck of Dominio de Pingus fame. While Pingus is arguably the pinnacle for the best that wines can be from Ribera del Duero and Spain overall, Peter established Psi to focus more on how old vines and improved farming practices could demonstrate the true overlooked potential of the region. Ribera del Duero has long been a source of “quantity over quality” mentality because the farmers are often paid by the ton and chemical use runs rampant. Peter, however, works with growers who he has helped shift to organic and biodynamic farming practices with emphasis on quality, purity of fruit, and expression of terroir. As quality of fruit improves, Peter pays his partner growers higher rates. The wines of Psi are then produced using more traditional winemaking techniques, with long macerations and rare use of new oak. Psi is no doubt an exciting development in Ribera del Duero, and it will be fun to see how the wines change and improve over time.

I previously reviewed the 2009 Psi Ribera del Duero, so I wanted to return today and taste a younger vintage.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Psi Ribera del Duero

86% Tempranillo, 12% Garnacha, 2% other local varieties; 14.5% ABV

The 2018 Psi is deep ruby in color and entirely opaque. I decanted this for about two hours due to its youth, and drank it over the following hour-plus. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, and the nose showcases aromas of black cherry, fig, anise, tobacco, smoked meat, scorched earth, gravel, grilled herbs, cedar, and chocolate. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium (+) intensity, with the palate displaying notes of black cherry, stewed black plum, fig, blackberry, black licorice, tobacco, crushed rock, baking spice, and cedar. This dry red is full-bodied with high acidity, high tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish. There is already great balance here and this bodes well for the long haul as well given the structure.

Price: $32. This offers great value in my opinion, particularly given you can find it at some stores for closer to $25 and to me it drinks closer to a $40-50 bottle. The quality is no-doubt incredibly high and I was blown away by how complex this is for such a young age. Definitely decant for a while if you open this now.

Crisp and Incredibly Fun 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.

I recently reviewed two other bottlings from Weingut Werlitsch, first the 2017 Glück which is similar in profile to the wine I’m reviewing today and then the 2017 Ex Vero I.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Freude

70% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Chardonnay; 12.5% ABV

The 2017 Freude is pale to medium amber in color and slightly hazy. Given some time to warm up from cellar temperature and breathe, this blossoms into a gorgeous and complex wine. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, and the nose showcases aromas of orange marmalade, dried apricot, dried orange peel, honeysuckle, oregano, wet slate, brine, slightly under-baked bread, honey, and toasted almond. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity and the palate displays notes of peach, mandarin orange, dried apricot, marzipan, dill, chamomile, honey, chalk, toasted almond, and unsweetened vanilla yogurt. This dry amber wine is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish. Absolutely outstanding.

Price: $55. I know this is not an inexpensive bottle, particularly for an amber/orange wine, though I think this offers tremendous value. Not only is this incredibly complex, well-balanced, and of extreme quality, it’s a very fun wine and I prefer this to the Glück I had recently.

Affordable but High Quality Madeira

Today’s Story: The Rare Wine Co. Historic Series Madeira

The Rare Wine Co. Historic Series Madeira is a project launched in 1998 by Ricardo Freitas (owner of Madeira producer Vinhos Barbeito) and Mannie Berk (owner of The Rare Wine Company). The project was launched out of a mutual appreciation and love of Madeira, a wine that was America’s most highly sought-after during the 18th and 19th centuries before falling into obscurity. With a core portfolio of wines names after American cities where Madeira was most-prized, the Historic Series Madeira bottlings are meant to capture the unique style of each place. These include the Baltimore Rainwater Special Reserve, Charleston Sercial Special Reserve, Savannah Verdelho Special Reserve, Boston Bual Special Reserve, and New York Malmsey Special Reserve which showcase the tendency for drier Madeira in the southern states and sweeter Madeira in the northern states. In addition to this core portfolio, the Historic Series Madeira also includes limited releases named for Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, and the city of New Orleans. All wines are blended with Madeira ranging from 10 to 60 years old, and they are meant to be affordable bottlings to re-introduce this great wine to wider groups of consumers.

Today’s Wine: NV Charleston Sercial Special Reserve Madeira

100% Sercial; 19.5% ABV

The NV Charleston Sercial Special Reserve is pale tawny in color. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, and the rather complex nose displays notes of dried red apple, orange peel, dried apricot, toffee, caramel, honey, hazelnut, walnut, and saline. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity, with the palate showcasing notes of fig, charred lemon, orange peel, dried apricot, honey, caramel, nutmeg, and toasted almond. This off-dry Madeira is light- to medium-bodied with mouthwatering medium (+) acidity, low tannins, high alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $50. I think this is a solid value for Madeira, and I’ve found that to generally be the case with the Rare Wine Co. Madeira bottlings I’ve tried. This is a very good representation of Sercial Madeira, and it offers very solid complexity, balance, and length.

Top-Notch and Beautifully-Aged New Zealand Syrah

Today’s Story: Bilancia

Bilancia is a small winery and estate established by Lorraine Leheny and Warren Gibson in 1997 in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. Lorraine and Warren are both winemakers by trade and studied at Roseworthy Agricultural College in South Australia, ultimately making wines in Australia, Hungary, Italy, California, France, and Portugal between the two of them. Bilancia’s focal point is a 6 hectare (15 acre) vineyard known as La Collina, and it is planted to Syrah, Viognier, Chardonnay, and a small amount of Gewürztraminer. Bilancia also sources Pinot Gris from Black Bridge Estate and other high-quality fruit from several renowned Hawke’s Bay vineyards.

Today’s Wine: 2007 La Collina Syrah

100% Syrah; 13.5% ABV

The 2007 La Collina Syrah is deep garnet in color but it’s still holding onto some deep ruby hues as well. The aromas are of medium intensity, and the nose showcases notes of blueberry, blackberry, anise, forest floor, truffle, milk chocolate, and dried green herbs. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of blueberry, dried plum, sweet tobacco, earthy mushroom, cracked green peppercorn, chocolate, and mild spice. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish. The tertiary characteristics are certainly pronounced in this beautifully-aged Syrah, however the fruit is still very much alive and well.

Price: $85. Given the age on this and the rarity of the wine, I think this is very fairly priced. This is drinking beautifully right now and I would argue has a few years left, but the balance, purity, and length of the wine all speak to the high quality.

Beautifully Pure Lodi Zinfandel

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.

It seems Sandlands is becoming somewhat of a staple for me, as I previously reviewed the 2018 Lodi Red Table Wine and 2018 Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah. I also plan to review the 2017 Chenin Blanc soon.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Lodi Zinfandel

100% Zinfandel; 14.4% ABV

The 2018 Lodi Zinfandel is medium ruby in color. This was a late-night Coravin pour, so I simply let it open up in the glass. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, and the nose showcases aromas of blueberry, blackberry compote, plum, muddled strawberry, sweet tobacco, and cinnamon. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity, with the palate displaying notes of blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, black raspberry, sweet tobacco, mild green herbs, and a touch of baking spice. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium tannins, high alcohol, and a medium (+) finish. There is remarkable balance in this wine for how young it is, and in my opinion this is one of the best expressions of Zinfandel that I’ve tasted.

Price: $50 (I paid $40). I think this offers very solid value, particularly for how pure and true to variety and terroir it is. I don’t drink a ton of Zinfandel, but when I do wines like this are exactly what I’m looking for.

High Quality Sonoma Cab for the Masses

Today’s Story: Little Boat

Little Boat is a very small winery in Sonoma, California, however there is practically zero information about them that I could find. They did come onto my radar lest year though, when I happened to meet proprietor José Ignacio Cuenca at a Los Angeles restaurant and we struck up a friendly conversation and discussed his wines. I also had the pleasure of meeting his son Mateo, who created the artwork on the Little Boat labels. Little Boat is a group effort, and José works with winegrower Brad Alper, winemaker William Knuttel, Mike Miller, and the Treyzon family. They also receive help from sommeliers Harley Carbery, Phillip Dunn, Lucas Payá, and Robert Smith MS. Little Boat produces three wines including a Russian River Valley Chardonnay, a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, and a Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Quantities appear to be very limited, with the wines generally found in high-end Los Angeles hotels and restaurants or highly curated and boutique wine stores.

I very recently wrote about the 2018 Little Boat Pinot Noir, so please feel free to check out those tasting notes if you haven’t already!

Today’s Wine: 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% ABV

The 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon is deep ruby in color. I let this open up for about an hour, though for being so young it was fairly friendly right out of the gates. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of blackberry, redcurrant, red plum, sweet tobacco, dried earth, dried green herbs, chocolate, vanilla, and cedar. There’s some heat there too from the alcohol. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity, and the palate displays notes of redcurrant, black cherry, black raspberry, blueberry, tobacco, coffee grounds, milk chocolate, vanilla, and baking spice. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high tannins, high alcohol, and a medium (+) finish.

Price: $60 (I paid $43). This offers fairly solid value, especially at the price I paid, though for me it fits into the camp of high-quality people pleaser. The fruit is pretty jammy, though there is some complexity here that’s intriguing. You can certainly notice the oak as well, so while not my preferred style I think many consumers would enjoy this.