From Grapes and Grapes Alone

Today’s Story: Anders Frederik Steen

Anders Frederik Steen, a chef and sommelier by trade from Denmark, started making wines in 2013 and is based in the village of Valvignères in the Ardèche of Southern France. Centered in a belief that wine should be made with grapes and grapes alone, Anders produces “one-off” wines each vintage that will vary in blend, style, and name simply because he makes wines in an incredibly natural style without following any “recipe.” What’s more, he never thinks ahead to what his wines will or should be like until actually tasting the fruit at harvest. Anders sources grapes from his friends Jocelyne & Gérald Oustric, who own a farm and organically-farmed vineyards planted in clay and limestone soils. Reds are either destemmed by hand or pressed directly, while the whites are pressed directly in an old wooden press. Fermentation occurs at times by single variety and at others with co-fermentation of several varieties, though the constant that remains is fermentation is spontaneous with only native yeasts in open-top containers under the sky. Anders is as hands-off as possible throughout the entire winemaking and aging processes, and all wines are bottled unfined, unfiltered, and with zero additions.

To explore Anders’ range of wines and their unique names, check out his website here.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Ce n’est pas mon chien

100% Grenache; 12% ABV

The 2015 Ce n’est pas mon chien (It’s not my dog) is pale ruby in color. This seemed fairly ready to go out of the bottle, so I elected to let this open up in the glass without decanting. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of cherry, strawberry, black raspberry, red rose, smoked game, scorched earth, mushroom, wet gravel, and charred green herbs. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of tart red cherry, stewed strawberry, red plum, mild tobacco, forest floor, dried green herbs, and earthy mushroom. There’s an incredibly mineral-driven backbone throughout the wine (both on the nose and palate) as well. This dry red is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $35. This is a very solid value, but it’s not for the faint of heart. If you like mineral and terroir-driven wines (particularly ones that show a variety in a way you’re not used to) this is for you. If you like fruity, easy-drinking modern wines…look elsewhere.

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.

People-Pleasing but Complex Grenache From a Boutique Central Coast Winery

Today’s Story: Archium Cellars

Archium Cellars is a relatively young passion project of Ian Sergy and Zach Jarosz, established in 2011 with a focus on Rhône varieties in the Central Coast of California. Though both Ian and Zach have backgrounds in the entertainment industry, travels throughout California wine country and Europe opened their eyes to the world of wines and the complexities that Rhône varieties can provide. When they realized they didn’t need to own their own vines to craft quality wines, they ventured into the Central Coast to create Archium. Though nowadays Archium has a small estate vineyard in Ventura County, they source most of their fruit from the Santa Ynez Valley and produce their wines at facilities in Buellton. The Thompson Vineyard provides Grenache and Mourvèdre while the Shokrian Vineyard provides Syrah, with both vineyards organically and dry-farmed with low-yielding vines.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Haven Grenache

100% Grenache; 14.5% ABV

The 2014 Haven Grenache is translucent medium garnet in color. I decanted this for about 45 minutes to an hour, helping the wine blossom as it is still fairly youthful. The nose is of medium (+) intensity, showcasing aromas of strawberry jam, raspberry, red plum, licorice, rose, leather, dried herbs, rocky earth, clove, coffee grounds, and a hint of oak that eventually blows off. Meanwhile on the palate, which is of medium intensity, I get notes of red cherry, stemmy strawberry, red plum, blood orange, sweet tobacco, charred green herbs, clove, cola, and white pepper. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, high alcohol, and a medium length finish. Typically 30 or fewer cases produced.

Price: $40 (2016 vintage on sale on winery website for $19). I think this is steep at the $40 level on a value perspective, perhaps why you can find the current vintage for about $19 on the winery website. It fits into the more people-pleasing camp for me in the ripeness of fruit, though it is surprisingly complex based on my expectations.

Fruity Châteauneuf-du-Pape Perfect for the Holiday Season

Today’s Story: Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe is a family-owned and operated wine estate located in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC of France. Tracing back to 1891, Henri Brunier gifted several plots of land to his son Hippolyte which, at the time due to their high pebble content, were thought to be nearly useless for viticulture. Nonetheless, Hippolyte planted vines on the plateau of La Crau and began the winemaking endeavors of the Brunier family. When Hippolyte’s son Jules joined the family business, he extended the estate to 42 acres and gave it the name we know today of Vieux Télégraphe.

Following WWII, the estate was in desperate need of revival and fourth generation Henri quickly took up the baton. Henri grew the estate to 136 acres and then shifted focus toward creating a “signature style” for his wines and marketed them abroad. As the 1980s came around, control of the domaine fell to Henri’s sons Frédéric and Daniel who now farm 247 acres in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and an additional 49.5 acres of IGP Vaucluse and Ventoux AOC. They are not without extra family help, however, as sixth generation Nicolas and Edouard remain dedicated to the family business as well.

Vieux Télégraphe farms all of their vineyards adhering to sustainable practices, though in reality they practice organic viticulture. From the winter months with pruning, spreading organic manure and compost, and plowing to the spring and summer months with manual debudding and thinning, the team works tirelessly to guide healthy fruit. Come harvest, the fruit is picked by hand and sorted in the vineyards twice before a third sorting at the winery. The winemaking team doesn’t follow a particular process set in stone, outside of course making sure they adhere to AOC rules and guidelines on the process. Instead Vieux Télégraphe moves through the winemaking process led by the fruit, helping to tailor each wine to the vintage conditions, its structure, and terroir.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Piedlong Châteauneuf-du-Pape

90% Grenache, 10% Mourvèdre; 14.5% ABV

The 2015 Piedlong CdP is translucent medium garnet in color with ruby hues in the bowl of the glass. I decanted this for 2 hours, though it really started opening up around the 1 hour mark. The nose showcases bright red fruits of raspberry, strawberry, and bing cherry alongside red licorice, rose, dried gravel, slight smoke, and oak. There is some slight heat too, but it does start to blow off a bit and should integrate with bottle age. Moving onto the palate, I get more vibrant fruits of stewed strawberry, black raspberry, boysenberry, and blood orange with violet, dried green herbs, crushed rock, thyme, and mild spice. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium tannins, and a medium length finish. A very easy-drinking CdP that’s loaded with red fruits and berries, which would have been perfect for Thanksgiving.

Price: $60 (I found it for $50). This isn’t necessarily my style of CdP (I prefer the more terroir and mineral driven bottlings) but I can see this being widely enjoyed. I don’t really see this as good value, and though I don’t see it as too overpriced either I’d really like to see it around the $40 mark.

Another Delicious Bottling From Jolie-Laide

Today’s Story: Jolie-Laide

Today I return to another bottling from Jolie-Laide, a boutique winery established by Scott Schultz in Forestville, CA that I have written about several times already. If you missed my prior posts, my review of the 2016 Provisor Vineyard Grenache linked here contains the most in-depth background on Jolie-Laide and Scott, and I encourage you to check it out. If you would like to read my reviews for the 2019 Trousseau Gris and 2016 Halcon Vineyard Syrah to augment your knowledge of the portfolio, they are linked here and here, respectively.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Shake Ridge Vineyard GSM

Blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Viognier (no tech sheet); 13% ABV

The 2017 Shake Ridge GSM is mostly opaque medium purple/ruby in color with pale purple variation at the rim. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, blueberry, anise, violet, slight barnyard, stemmy underbrush, and granite. On the palate, the wine displays notes of plum, brambleberry, tart wild blueberry, lavender, tobacco, gravel, herbs, black pepper, and mild spice. This is light- to medium-bodied with high acidity, fine-grained medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $38. I think this is a good value GSM blend, and while it comes across slightly bigger than other Jolie-Laide wines I’ve enjoyed the same quality and focus on an honest wine is still starkly apparent. Pair this with venison steak, grilled lamb, or charcuterie.

Unique Grenache That Drinks Almost Like a Rosé

Today’s Story: Whitcraft Winery

I wrote about Whitcraft a few days ago when reviewing the 2016 Pence Ranch Clone 828 Pinot Noir, so I’ll make your Saturday reading light and move onto the tasting notes. If you missed my post about Whitcraft earlier this week, you can find it here.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Stolpman Vineyard Grenache

100% Grenache; 12.79% ABV

The 2018 Stolpman Vineyard Grenache is deep salmon and rose petal in color with medium pink variation. This is a very light Grenache, looking and drinking almost like a rosé. On the nose, I get aromas of strawberry, cranberry, rose, leather, gravel, underbrush, rocky mineral, and slight spice. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of raspberry, tart red cherry, baked plum, red and purple florals, cinnamon, mint, herbs, and peppery spice. This is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) finish. All around a great summer red.

Price: $45. I find this one tough to describe on a value perspective, because it’s not your typical Grenache and it’s not a rosé. This in mind, it’s a super fun wine to taste and I loved it for the warm weather. It’s also very high-quality like most Whitcraft wines are. Pair this with bruschetta, charcuterie and cheese, or a lobster roll.

Rasteau That Unfortunately Does Not Live Up to the Hype

Today’s Story: Domaine Gourt de Mautens

Domaine Gourt de Mautens was established by Jérôme Bressy in 1996 and is located in Rasteau of Southern Rhône. Though Bressy’s family owned vineyards in Rasteau for some time, the small AOC was not incredibly well-known. Jérôme’s father Yves converted his vineyards to organic viticulture in 1989 which allowed Jérôme to inherit healthy vines (30-100 years old) and soils for his first vintage, though he quickly took this a step further and started practicing biodynamic farming (later certified in 2008). The domaine consists of 13 hectares with chalky top soil composed of rocky clay and marl, largely attributed to the fact that water tends to flow toward the domaine following a storm. The name itself comes from “a place where the water flows” (Gourt) and “storm or bad weather” (Mautens). Bressy’s vines struggle due to poor nutrients in the soil, however, and produce low yields of 10-15 hl/ha. All harvesting is manual, and the fruit is sorted three times before beginning natural yeast fermentation. After the wines age, they are bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Vaucluse Rouge

Blend of Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Counoise, Cinsault, Vaccarèse, and Terret Noir; 16% ABV

The 2016 Vaucluse Rouge is opaque medium to deep purple in color. This needs some generous time in the decanter to open up, but once it does the nose showcases aromas of black plum, crème de cassis, black raspberry, fig, black licorice, crushed rock, mild herbs, and black pepper. There’s also a slight sting of alcohol. Once on the palate, the wine shows notes of black cherry, candied strawberry, spiced plum, violet, light smoke, savory herbs, and milk chocolate. This is full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $60. This is not my style of wine. It comes across rather big, sweet, and boozy (though I will say the ABV surprisingly doesn’t throw off the balance too much). It drinks more like a cocktail to me, and though I hoped saving some wine for day 2 would be better, it is all too much the same. Perhaps this is a vintage (or off bottle) story, but I don’t think it lives up to the hype.

Beautiful Paso Robles GSM

Today’s Story: Epoch Estate Wines

Epoch Estate Wines, located in the Willow Creek District of Paso Robles, was established by Liz and Bill Armstrong in 2004. Liz and Bill are geologists by trade, and knowing the importance of terroir in winemaking they settled on Paso Robles for its weather, rugged terrain, breadth of soils, and fruitfulness for Rhône varieties. The couple purchased the Paderewski Vineyard in 2004 and later expanded with the Catapult Vineyard in 2008 and York Mountain Winery in 2010. Paderewski is composed of limestone and calcareous rocky soils, Catapult of shale, clay, and silt rocky soils, and York Mountain of sand and fragmented sandstone. Though very different in climate and soil composition, all Epoch vineyard sites have one thing in common: they force the vines to struggle, reach deeply for nutrients, and produce concentrated and quality fruit. Across these incredibly diverse vineyards, Epoch plants Grenache, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon for the red varieties and Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Picpoul Blanc, and Viognier for the whites.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Veracity

47% Grenache, 34% Mourvèdre, 19% Syrah; 15.4% ABV

The 2015 Veracity is opaque medium purple/ruby in color. I gave this 2 hours to open up, but the wine really started showing beautifully an hour or so in. The expressive nose showcases aromas of blackberry, blueberry, plum, violet, cigar box, graphite, smoked game, black pepper, and chocolate. Once on the palate, this wine displays notes of blackcurrant, spiced black plum, black cherry, anise, tobacco, rocky soil, ground pepper, clove, and coffee grounds. This is medium-bodied with medium acidity, fine-grained medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $65. This is very fairly priced, and one of the better GSMs I’ve had from Paso Robles save for Saxum (but there’s a significant price jump there). This Epoch is very well-balanced, expressive, and the high ABV goes unnoticeable. Pair with herb-roasted lamb, barbecue pork ribs, or mushrooms.

One of My Favorite CdP’s

Today’s Story: Domaine du Pégau

Domaine du Pégau is one of the great estates in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and though it became officially established in 1987 its roots and those of its proprietors extend significantly further back in time. Today the domaine is under guidance of Paul Féraud and his daughter Laurence, though the Féraud family can be traced as far back as 1670 in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Titles to the earliest Féraud vineyards reach 1733, though the family sold most of their production in bulk to top négociants (like Jaboulet-Aîné, David & Foillard, and Guigal) when Paul joined the family business. In 1964, however, this all changed when Paul decided to bottle about 420 cases under his own name when estate bottling really started to pick up. 1987 marked the year when Laurence joined her father and the duo changed their name and label from Domaine Féraud to Domaine du Pégau. Pégau spanned a somewhat small 17 acres of vines at this time, with still a significant amount of produce sold to négociants, but as Laurence took a larger and larger role they phased out selling fruit and the 1990 harvest was fully used for their own wines. Today the domaine consists of 21 hectares of vines in Châteauneuf-du-Pape with another 5 hectares in Côtes du Rhône, 20 hectares in Côtes du Rhône Villages, and 19 hectares classified Vin de France.

Today’s Wine: 2009 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réservée

85% Grenache, 9% Syrah, 4% Mourvèdre, with the balance Counoise and other authorized varieties (best guess – no tech sheet); 14% ABV

The 2009 Cuvée Réservée is opaque deep garnet in color with medium ruby variation. I decanted this for 3 hours, which allowed some funk to blow off the nose. Once this opens up, aromas of blackcurrant, black raspberry, boysenberry, cigar box, graphite, forest floor, truffle, slate, clove, and underbrush leap from the glass. On the palate, I get notes of brambleberry, figs, black cherry, anise, red and purple florals, tobacco, charred earth, earthy mushroom, rocky mineral, coffee grounds, and game. The wine is medium-bodied with medium acidity, dusty medium (+) tannins, and a long finish with added notes of iron and smoke. This is drinking magnificently right now, given the time to open up.

Price: $100. I think this is very fairly priced, as Pégau with the 2009 vintage produced a wine of depth, elegance, and complexity that reaffirms them as an estate to beat in CdP. Pair with herb-grilled lamb, wild boar, or charcuterie.

Chuggable Rhône Blend

Today’s Story: Ad Vinum

Ad Vinum is a small natural wine producer established in 2016 by Sébastien Chatillon, a former sommelier at Le Chateaubriand in Paris. Sébastien was not always interested in wine, however, and after dropping out of college he worked as a candy salesman, stablehand, and rock band member amongst other odd jobs. Sébastien’s interest in wine actually stemmed from partying with his friends in one of their father’s wine caves, thanks to his realization that he truly loved the beverage and wanted to learn more about it. After his time at Le Chateaubriand and taking a deep dive into natural wines, Sébastien moved to Vallabrix in the Gard department of southern France with the goal of making his own wine. Ad Vinum’s fruit is all organically farmed and hand-harvested, with the fermentation process accomplished spontaneously with only indigenous yeasts. Some of the wines also see carbonic or semi-carbonic maceration. Practicing restraint in the cellar, Sébastien wants his wines to speak for themselves and the terroir and he bottles them unfined, unfiltered, and with zero added SO2.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Bim!

Blend of Grenache, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre (no tech sheet); 12.5% ABV

The 2018 Bim! is mostly opaque pale to medium purple in color. Once this opens up, the nose becomes incredibly aromatic and fresh with aromas of blackberry, candied plum, stemmy red berries, violet, crushed rock, black pepper, and bright mineral. On the palate, this lively wine displays notes of blueberry, boysenberry, brambly raspberry, strawberry licorice, sweet tobacco, green underbrush, and rocky mineral. This is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $35. This is a delicious, highly chuggable wine that can be perfect for those branching into natural wines. Bim! is wonderfully balanced and made with carbonic maceration and spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel tanks, providing a beautiful freshness to it. Pair this with grilled lamb, spicy Mediterranean chicken, or barbecue.