Jordan Carrier

Toscanarama Part One

It’s proving to be a bonkers year for Tuscan wines, as we anticipate the arrival of the stellar 2018 IGTs and the 2016 Brunellos (best year since 2010), among others. I’ll offer them in tidy little groupings as they arrive, and you will want them so if you need room you should probably go to your cellar and get busy. That stuff ain’t gonna drink itself. I’ll help. We begin with Part One: 

Le Potazzine 2016, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. Look for this stunning achievement by the Gianetti family to get buckets of love at year’s end when everyone compiles their lists: Potazzine has always been one of Montalcino’s most elegant offerings, but Gigliola Gianetti’s 2016 blend of two sites – one high and one low lying – has crossed into Vosne-Romanée territory. This is, improbably, a statue made of silk, showing lavender, cinnamon and anise amongst the blueberries, raspberries, and the distinctly Tuscan sensation of cherries sun-drying on a hot stone. Given the softer touch this will come around sooner than other bruiser Brunellos of the same vintage, but I reckon that an additional 2 year will get us to the sweet spot. Beauty and grace. 99 points Wine Enthusiast, 6 6-packs available, $153.98 +tax 

Altesino Riserva 2012, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. And now the beast. I had the pleasure of trying this ballistic missile a couple years ago when I visited the winery, it was rightly served last in the flight because any other Sangiovese that follows this will taste like Bud Light – this is the maximum Sangiovese that you can Sangiovese. The hotter, dryer 2012 growing season added more heft and power to an already totemistic wine, like adding a half-dozen oxen on top of a tank, but it’s not all muscle, the seductive nose reminds me of ripe cherries drizzled with balsamic, held in a baseball glove. It’s like when the Coyote is irresistibly drawn to the come-hithering Girl Coyote only to find that she’s actually a dynamite stick with lipstick on.  Herbs and nutmeg round off the finish – this is so nearly perfect but I bet one more year will move the experience into nirvana. 98 points Wine Spectator, 3 6-packs available, $154.98 +tax 

Argiano Vigna del Suolo 2015, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. This tête-de-cuvée from southern-lying Argiano, sourced from the oldest plot of their estate (planted in 1965) used to be classified as an IGT but is now a Brunello proper. Kind of like Brunello by way of Pauillac, the French and Slovenian oak aging has braced the opulent cherry, game, smoke and coffee notes in a noble frame of graphite, pine and spice. Although Argiano sits in the hot south, the Suolo lieu-dit is the highest in the estate, and you can tell: there is a freshness to the nose and finish – much more than their normale Brunellos – and the affair is framed on both sides by herbs and violets. A gorgeous experience but best delayed – I’d start to think about drinking this after 2025. 97 points Decanter, 96 points Wine Spectator, one 3-pack available, $289.98 +tax 

Fontodi Flaccianello delle Pieve 2017, Colli della Toscana Centrale IGT. The rare Sangiovese practiced in the art of Jiu Jitsu: all the aspects of the Saharan 2017 that made it a challenging vintage for many Tuscan producers seem to have only strengthened Flaccianello, which seems to draw power from its neighbours’ tears. There is dark magic afoot here: jet-black cherries with blackberries stirred by licorice in a dark chocolate bowl, ferrous notes help the tannic structure contain it all and the finish is laced with plums, chalk and sage. A few critics – including Parker – have called Flaccianello the standout wine of the vintage. 97 points Vinous, 96 points Robert Parker, 5 6-packs available, $165.99 +tax 

Capezzana “Villa di Capezzana” 2016, Carmignano DOCG. A charismatic, racy red from the Medici’s resort town, and the first DOCG to allow Cabernet Sauvignon. This has always been one of my go-to bottles for Tuscan value, basically Tignanello for a third of the price (“Tiglet”?). 80/20 Sangiovese/Cabernet from the sleepy village of Carmignano, just northwest of Florence, brimming with tangible minerality, dark fruits and floral hints, all on top of a structured-but-drinkable frame with gravel notes and ripe cherry on the spicy finish. Drinks like a classic, great balance of fruit and tension. 96 points Decanter, 94 points Robert Parker, 2 cases available, $47.98 +tax 

Petrolo Galatrona 2016, Toscana IGT. The folks who tend the Galatrona vineyard in the Valdarno region of eastern Tuscany have pulled off a neat trick: they taught Merlot how to swordfight. Long considered an aspirational member of the Masseto Cadets, the last few years have seen the site produce power-pills of heroic might and beauty, like this nearly-perfect 2016 that sees the trinity of blackberry, blueberry and plum fit together like Voltron to slay space dragons. Floral notes at the front and back, a substantial body and frame that shows iron and tobacco. A classic Merlot from Lucia Bazzocchi Sanjust and her son Luca, best after 2024. 98 points Robert Parker, 98 points James Suckling, 6 bottles available, $188.98 +tax. 

NON-STOP CLASSIC HITS 

What follows is a brief listing of some wines that fit this theme and have previously been written about, but featured again for the benefit of those who’ve recently joined my Collectors List and may have missed ‘em the first time. If anyone requires more info I’m happy to send over the original blurb to you. 

Rocca di Montegrossi San Marcellino Gran Selezione 2015, Chianti Classico DOCG. 96 points Vinous, 2 6-packs available, $71.98 +tax 

Supremus 2015, Toscana IGT 95 points James Suckling, 6 cases available, $49.99 +tax 

Tenuta di Trinoro “Le Cupole” 2017, Toscana IGT 93 points Robert Parker, 2 cases available, $64.98 +tax 

Gianni Brunelli 2015, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. 96 points Vinous, 95 points Decanter, 2 6-packs available, $118.98 +tax 

Piaggia Riserva 2016, Carmignano DOCG. Wine of the Year, Gambero Rosso 1 6-pack available, $65.98 +tax 

Ornellaia 2017, Bolgheri DOC. 97 points Vinous, 96 points Robert Parker, 1 wooden 6-pack available, $259.99 +tax 

La Serena 2012, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. 96 points Wine Spectator, 2 6-packs available, $119.98 +tax 

Until next time, Happy Drinking!! 

Pinot Trio

Today I’ve got three wildly different but outstanding expressions of Pinot Noir that you’re going want to build a Pinot Fort out of. Two of them have amazing ratings and one doesn’t submit but is just as awesome (and has developed a cult following). We begin: 

Blank Canvas Upton Downs Pinot Noir 2017, Marlborough, New Zealand. Such a serious, savoury Pinot, considering the price and place. The Upton Downs vineyard sits on the top of a white cliff overlooking the Awatere river, where the limestone underneath challenges the vines to produce concentrated, clearly frustrated berries, given their disposition on the nose. There is bright fruit (cherries primarily with apple and strawberry) as well as sweet floral notes (lavender and rose), but they take a backseat to the inexplicably herbaceous, spicy vibe that shows you different green herbs every 20 minutes. Quite entertaining to watch this evolve in the glass, it’s like checking the Magic 8 Ball for random messages every so often. There’s enough fruit weight on palate to balance the savoury intro, however, before building up to a surprisingly structured finish. I don’t mean to affect such astonishment but forty-dollar Marlborough Pinot doesn’t do this. Given the architecture I’d say you have a decade’s worth of cellar life, maybe more. A remarkable Pinot despite – or rather because of – the furrowed brow. 95 points Vinous, 95 points Bob Campbell, 24 bottles available, $42.98 +tax 

Zena Crown “Slope” Pinot Noir 2017, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette, Oregon. Long a top cru of wineries like Beaux Freres, Penner Ash and Soter, the Zena Crown vineyard started bottling their own juice a couple years ago, causing everyone to go nuts. Since the site takes the brunt of the cool Pacific wind coming through the Van Duzer Corridor, phenolic ripeness happens slowly, and the vineyard is usually one of the last to be harvested, giving deep, elegant and balanced fruit. The “Slope” plot is the sunniest, most south-facing area, and the muscular Pinot from there can handle a good amount of new French oak (60%, quite high for Oregon), but lest you fret that Slope slides too far south, think again: there is vibrant cherry, rhubarb, apple and green tea on the nose before swirling into an energetic tension between bitter chocolate and fat mushrooms and a lifted, graceful finish – this is real, legit Oregon, only more so. The buzz has been substantial, enflamed by the fact that they only make about 500 6-packs, and further enflamed by the fact that I took all four cases that came into BC (laughs sinisterly, twirls moustache). Let the games begin. 95 points Wine Spectator, 4 6-packs available, $107.98 +tax 

The Hermit Ram “Zealandia” Pinot Noir 2019, North Canterbury, New Zealand. Even though this purple sparkplug is never submitted for ratings, it is actually the most popular Pinot on this list, even after a dramatic left turn in winemaking and style (winemaker/druid Theo Coles switched from whole-cluster to destemmed and everyone just went with it). Made with minimal intervention or sulphur (and a low 12.5% abv) and aged only in amphora (!!!), Zealandia resides in the spirit realm of “natural wines”, showcasing racy acidity on the nose amongst the sour cherry, violet, cranberry, and saline notes, but displays none of the funk or freak of the more feral examples of the category. On palate the acid is edgy but not sharp, almost citric in nature, and finishes fresh, clean, and brighter than a math whiz. I love this “Burgundy + X-ray” style (similar to a light Mercurey) but it won’t appeal to everyone, although Vancouver restaurants have snapped up most of this because it’s a nearly perfect food wine. These 3 cases are all I’ll have for two years: the underreported 2020 Canterbury vintage was ravaged by hail and frost and only 90 litres were produced; since this winery is seldom sold outside of New Zealand we’ll not see it again soon. 3 cases available, $44.98 +tax 

Until next time, Happy Drinking! 

Hooray for Chardonnay Spring 2021

A collection of Chardonnays today from several points on the globe but with extra focus on the US and Italy. We begin: 

FRANCE 

Anne Gros Bourgogne Blanc 2019, Burgundy. Behold the wisest spell to escape the wand of the She-Wizard. To avoid confusion, this isn’t the same as the $70 Bourgogne Blanc of Anne’s that I offered back in October. This stunning Chardonnay – a blend of parcels from the Côte de Nuits and Hautes Côtes de Nuits – finds Anne wearing her rare Négocient hat, purchasing fruit from her biggest fans and working her magic for a civilized bottle price. All grapes should be so lucky; this is the grapey version of finding the Golden Ticket in the Wonka bar. Fresh pear, Golden Delicious apples and chalk on the nose, a gorgeous melange of chamomile, rainwater and lime on palate. Chablis seems to be the north star, here – I’m quite sure I’d flag it as such were I blind tasted on this, the crisp acidity can see through walls and focuses the finish like a magnifying glass. Outstanding value, a great introduction to Anne’s oeuvre, will make your deck shine like a grail. 3 6-packs available, $51.98 +tax 

ARGENTINA 

Bodegas Chacras “Mainqué” Chardonnay 2018, Patagonia. Meursault’s Jean-Marc Roulot made this pure, focused Chardonnay to answer the question: What if you tried to make a white Burgundy on Hoth? The tempestuous landscape in South America’s southern, wild point (the indigenous population, first thought by Magellan to be giants, were dubbed the Patagon) throws all manner of curveballs at a humble grape-grower: dramatic temperature shifts, hail and heat waves, and yet Roulot manages to wrest some sort of elegance out of chaos every year. Aged in both oak and concrete, this 2018 experienced partial malolactic fermentation (they never control it, they just roll with what happens), so there’s a balance between brioche and brioche-with-a-laser-sword laying just underneath the Granny Smith, pears and jasmine on this expressive nose. The medium-full body brings tension, salinity and more brioche in case you didn’t get enough brioche. A lovely collection of opposites that’s so different each vintage. 97 points James Suckling, 12 bottles available, $71.98 +tax 

SOUTH AFRICA 

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2019, Hemel-en-Aarde. We weren’t supposed to get any of the miniscule-but-glorious 2019 vintage from Anthony Hamilton Russell: the tragic South African fires in early 2019, though less world-famous than Australia’s subsequent blazes, made life miserable and curtailed viticulture dramatically. The production was so small they thought they could only serve local markets for that year, but then (gestures broadly at everything). South Africa imposed an outright ban on alcohol sales, and while that really sucks for them it means more yummy HR for Jordan, so let’s rinse off that guilt with some good Chardonnay. Although usually destemmed, Russell crushed from whole bunches for this vintage to avoid the risk of smoke taint and employed the least amount of malolactic fermentation ever (only 10%), resulting in the most elegant and bright Chardonnay he’s ever produced, light on its feet without sacrificing the embracing intensity he’s known for. Limeade and candied pears line the crushed rocks on the fragrant nose, ending with just a hint of lemon danish and peach. 95 points Tim Atkins, 93 points Decanter, 3 6-packs available, $67.98 +tax 

ITALY 

Antinori Cervaro della Sala 2017, Umbria. The Antinori’s flagship white wine is a relatively young enterprise, seeing as the family started winemaking in the 12th century (I think my ancestors had contemporaneously discovered the Pointed Stick). The inaugural 1985 vintage could have been spread on toast to make an open-faced oak sandwich, but the ensuing decades have seen Cervaro evolve into an elegant, layered and powerful expression of warm-climate Chardonnay (with about 8% contribution from the local Grechetto grape). The Saharan 2017 vintage gave a nitro-boost to the wine’s weight and intensity, but the balanced élèvage (a portion spends 6 months in French oak, the rest in stainless) turned out a Chardonnay with a foot on two continents: the nose swims with the rich apples, pralines, stones and vanilla of Sonoma while the body holds that essential tension and agility of modern Beaune. This 2017 commands your attention so thoroughly, you might not even look at your phone for a couple minutes. 99 points James Suckling, 3 6-packs available, $79.98 +tax 

Gaja Rossj-Bass Chardonnay 2018, Langhe. Since Angelo Gaja is one of the fathers of modern Piedmont and Rossana (Rossj for short) is his daughter, I guess Rossj is… modern Piedmont? Figuring that out might take some time and a couple glasses of this luminous Chardonnay, grown in lower-lying (Bass) vineyards in Barbaresco and Barolo. Melon and white flowers bathed in honey – it’s quite a lovely, sweet nose – flow into a surprisingly structured frame and an almost Sancerre-ish, bracing finish. Not sure if this wine has made it into BC before, this is the first time I’ve seen it. Not yet rated. 2 6-packs available, $128.98 +tax 

Cantina Toblino Trentodoc “Antares” Brut Nature 2016, Trentino. From a snappy little organic co-operative in Trentino comes a brilliant shooting star of sparkling Chardonnay and a possible energy source to power cities of the future (diodes not included). From vines grown on the south-facing hills of Valle dei Laghi, the Chardonnay goes through the Traditional Method (can’t call it the Champagne Method because if you do, French spirits will visit as you sleep to turn all your snacks into cigarettes), spending 36 months on the lees after secondary fermentation. Full disclosure: I’m not always on board with the whole Brut Nature movement (no final “dosage” of sugar before bottling), I find that the more extreme cases are out of balance - just balls of acid that Somms dare each other to drink to see who cries first – but Antares Brut Nature is beautifully balanced and super-fab. Pastry notes are met by lemon meringue and river stones, gorgeous citrus and savoury saline mouthfeel, the finish is energetically zippy and zingy with persistent bubbles. Not often available outside of Italy, Antares is only rated locally: 4 Stars Vinibuoni d’Italia, 2 6-packs available, $55.98 +tax 

USA 

Hartford Court Chardonnay 2018, Russian River Valley, Sonoma. I hope Don Hartford doesn’t travel with armed guards ‘cause if I met him I’d just hug him without saying hello first. Giving Don good vibes would be reciprocal: for nearly 3 decades his wines have quietly showcased Sonoma’s generous, positive disposition without falling into lushness or simplicity – these are real, classic wines with great structure and length, they just have various fruits and spices falling out of their pockets and they feel that you should have some too. If ever a wine could be called “optimistic” this entry-level (!) Russian River Chardonnay would be a prime candidate, exuding honeysuckle, brioche, cream, apple, peach and pepper notes before unfolding into a rich, full texture-fest, lifting up at the end with a touch of grapefruit. Great minerality on all levels, too. The premium buyers in this company periodically get together to blind taste wines; this one blew us away and we valued it at twice the price (this new price has actually come down from near $60). #44 – Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2020, 94 points Wine Enthusiast, 6 cases available, $46.98 +tax 

WALT Chardonnay 2018, Sonoma Coast. Decadence liquified. This is the perfectly normal thing that happens when a pear and a vanilla milkshake love each other very much. Made by Napa’s Kathryn Hall from the Bob’s Ranch and Sangiacomo vineyards, the opulent nose – no need to compare apples to oranges ‘cause this has both – leads into a medium-bodied palate that shines a bit brighter than the nose suggests, just enough to boost the length of the creamy, pear-laced finish. Quite beautiful, in a confected, naughty way, and underrated in my opinion. 92 points Wine Enthusiast, 2 cases available, $61.98 

Arnot-Roberts Trout Gulch Vineyard Chardonnay 2017, Santa Cruz Mountains. The Simon and Garfunkel of single-vineyard California Négoce wines have outdone themselves with this cabin-in-the-woods style Chardonnay that I’d never blindly identify (blindentify?) as Californian. The Trout Gulch vineyard lies in the heavily forested southern Santa Cruz mountains, the whole area looks like the Slocan valley or western Kootenays, and if you’re thinking “I’ve never seen any wines from Castlegar”, bingo. The site is at the edge of the ripening window, sitting 4 miles from the ocean at 600ft and regularly beset by fog; climate change has made recent vintages more reliable than when Bernard Turgeon planted the vineyard in 1980, but there’s perennially a chance you won’t get a usable harvest. The years the vineyard gives you, however, are racing powder kegs of energy and density, like a Chablis that cloned itself and then ate that clone. Citrus and flowers rule the roost, with a robust, saline mid-palate and long, chalky finish. Refreshing now but I’d like to check back in 5 years to see what happens. 95 points Vinous, 2 6-packs available, $99.98 +tax 

NON-STOP CLASSIC HITS 

What follows is a brief listing of some wines that fit this theme and have previously been written about, but featured again for the benefit of those who’ve recently joined my Collectors List and may have missed ‘em the first time. If anyone requires more info, I’m happy to send over the original blurb to you. 

Nicolas Catena Zapata “White Stones” Chardonnay 2017, Mendoza, Argentina. 98 points James Suckling, 1 3-pack available, $133.98 +tax 

Nicolas Catena Zapata “White Bones” Chardonnay 2017, Mendoza, Argentina. 99 points James Suckling, 2 3-packs available, $156.98 +tax 

Shaw + Smith “M3” Chardonnay 2019, Adelaide Hills, Australia. 96 points Decanter, 96 points James Suckling, 12 bottles available, $56.98 

Ridge Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2014, Santa Cruz Mountains, California. 95 points Decanter, 8 bottles available, $95.98 +tax 

Olivier Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Champ Gain 2015, Burgundy, France. 6 bottles available, $192.98 +tax 

Olivier Leflaive Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Champ Gain 2016, Burgundy, France. 6 bottles available, $192.98 +tax 

Until next time, Happy Drinking!

Habla Espanol?

Very pleased to offer a selection of outstanding and well-rated wines from several Spanish speaking countries (yes the conceit is flimsy but hey, you try theming). Many of these wines are hitting the province for the first time because buying wine is amazing right now. We begin: 

ARGENTINA 

Familia Zuccardi “Jose” Malbec 2014, Uco Valley, Mendoza. Remember that cool goth kid from high school that you tried to make friends with but they wouldn’t take off their headphones? But you just knew they were interesting so you bought them a hot chocolate so they’d talk to you but they just stared at it because of course, hot chocolate is for babies and what were you thinking, you’re both, like, practically adults? And it wasn’t until several weeks (and embarrassments) later that they actually said something to you, and you’re like “omg omg omg they talked to me”? Yes, this. “Jose” is the Argentine Malbec that most resembles Cahors, the birthplace of Malbec in France, and I mean that in the most austere, goth way (even the label looks like a Siouxsie and the Banshees cover). Deep, resentful and ferrous in the first few hours, “Jose” takes a super long time to open up to you – it’s actually more expressive a day after opening – but holy cow is it worth it. Once it decides to talk to you, it’ll scream about black fruits, white pepper and earth, with balsamic notes on the dusty, plummy finish. This’ll cellar like a Barolo, crazy value for such a serious wine, if it weren’t so angry it would be a Back Up The Truck selection. 94 points Robert Parker, 6 6-packs available, $53.98 +tax 

1884 The President’s Blend 2018, Uco Valley, Mendoza. A complete pivot from the previous Malbec: instead of ignoring you for a day, this brawny blend of Malbec, Cab and Syrah (and not an actual blend of presidents, sadly) will happily do your homework, make you a sandwich, and can probably find you some weed if that’s your thing. Ignoring the contemporary Mendoza movement away from Napa-inspired girth-bombs, 1884 wears 2003 like a prom dress and looks incredible doing it. Super jacked blueberries, blackberries and raspberries top this black forest cake of weight and comfort, the oak influenced full body glides down to earth like a magic marshmallow. In a good way. Nicolas Catena, who purchased the house back in the ‘90s, used to use this fruit for his top labels, but with the recent focus on terroir-driven wines from the Adrianna vineyard (see below), Catena has allowed 1884 to resume making the deliciously generous, mouth-filling comfort food it’s so very good at. 97 points Decanter, Best in Show, Decanter World Wine Awards, 95 points Tim Atkin, 6 6-packs available, $52.98 +tax 

Nicolas Catena Zapata “River Stones” 2017, Adrianna Vineyard, Gualtallary, Mendoza. I’ve said it before and will repeat it here: we’re at the dawn of a new First Growth and these prices will indeed rise accordingly (they already have, a bit). So focused on posterity is winemaker Alejandro Vigil that he excluded one of the riper vineyard plots from this 2017 so that the fruit weight wouldn’t obscure the limestone minerality that beams like a laser; this vintage is also the first to employ 100% whole clusters, which will be the practice going forward. Built like a Burgundian fortress on a Left Bank Bordeaux plot of land, the tannins and acid are a little delineating right now but should settle into this full body in about 3 years. The nose, which changes every 45 minutes or so, is dominated by violets and stones but hints of blackberry and sandalwood slowly emerge to lurk underneath. Freaking brilliant in every sense. 100 points James Suckling, 98 points Robert Parker, 3 wooden 3-packs available, $249.98 +tax 

CHILE 

Garage Wine Co. “Lot 67” Carignan Field Blend 2015, Maule Valley. If you’re experiencing flashbacks, no, this isn’t the Garage Wine Co. Vigno that sold out a few weeks ago, but both wines are related: this Lot 67 is essentially declassified Vigno. Sharing the same source vines (farmed by hand and horse by the Orellana family), the higher-acid, more ageable barrels go into Vigno but the tastes-awesome-now barrels of dry-farmed Carignan (with a small dose of Mataro/Mourvèdre) build this sexy beast Lot 67, which is a fuller, rounder wine. The ancestral farming is followed by near-ancestral winemaking, non-temperature-controlled ferments with old barrel aging and minimal sulphite additions, but there is no “natural” vibe to this: the nose is full of earth, smoked meat, blue fruit and flowers, and drinks much smoother than its famous older brother. 94 points Robert Parker, 18 bottles available, $53.98 +tax 

GERMANY 

Loosen/Rodriguez Graacher Himmelreich Riesling 2015, Mosel. Yep, I hear you. You’re saying “they don’t speak Spanish in Germany! Stop this bus, I want off!”. Well, I’ll have you know that this wine is bilingual because it’s a collab between good friends Ernie Loosen and Telmo Rodriguez, so I will accept your apology in writing. It works like this: Loosen ages his Riesling from the ancient Himmelreich vineyard for two years in the barrels that Telmo made (red) Rioja in, with a small measure of Riesling skins present for the ferment; although the process sounds like the kind of ideas that come from two dudes drinking too much wine together (which they did), it’s actually a practice called “naturrein” that was employed in the Mosel a century ago. The result is a golden, nearly orange wine with quince, citrus, mint and heaps of honey on the nose – the skin contact and oak aging give the body a round shape, and it finishes dry with wisps of honey and beeswax. I’m sure this can age but I’ve no roadmaps as to what it’ll turn into; I say drink now and be merry, these guys certainly did. 93 points Robert Parker, 6 bottles available, $66.98 +tax 

SPAIN 

Finca Casa Castillo Las Gravas 2018, Jumilla. Burgundy from the moon. Strange that so elegant a thing can escape so cruel an environment. The sun pounds Jumilla like a spotlight, the soil is more gravel (gravas) than dirt, and while other vines are trained in rows these bush vines are solitary and far apart, so that they don’t starve each other competing for the ground’s scarce nutrients. Any wine that can be made from this hellscape could be forgiven for holding a grudge, but Jose Maria Vicente manages to wrest singing, soaring expressions of Monastrell (Mataro/Mourvèdre) from this Las Gravas vineyard that hue closer to a Volnay or Chateauneuf than most lugubrious Jumillas. Green herbs give subtle hints around the red cherry, raspberry and jasmine aromas, the full-ish body flows like velvet towards a chalky, refined finish with great minerality. Even more impressive is that the almost innocent beauty of this wine came out of one of the most severe vintages in recent memory. Gorgeous and striking. 96 points Robert Parker, 4 6-packs available, $63.98 +tax 

Guimaro “Camino Real” 2018, Ribera Sacras, Galicia. I believe we’ll be hearing a lot more about Ribera Sacra in the coming years, not only for its killer value, but also for its unique expression of the Mencia variety (pronounced Men-Thee-A in Galego because long ago someone sneezed in the middle of the word and now they’re stuck with it*). Famous for the kneecappingly severe wines of Bierzo, Mencia takes a more feminine turn in Ribera Sacra, where the steep slate speckled vineyards resemble the canyon-like topography of Côte Rôtie or the Mosel, and the grape’s high terpenoids and aromatics almost form a halo above the glass. Pedro Pérez’s mid-level “Camino Real” (the “Royal Way” to anyone who hasn’t read The DaVinci Code) is a nose-feast of hibiscus, roses, dried cherries, red apples and crushed rocks, the medium body proceeds with perfect tension towards a long finish laced with pomegranate. Keep your eyes on this region and this producer. 94 points Robert Parker, 4 6-packs available, $43.98 +tax 

Envinate “Migan” 2018, Tenerife, Canary Islands. Prepare to be Funkified. Situated off the western Moroccan coast and just north of the Tropic of Cancer, that fact that any wine grapes can be grown on these blistering, desert islands seems like a miracle, but it’s actually a function of altitude and the Canary Current, part of the North Atlantic Gyre that brings cooler air to the Canaries and influences the viticulture there almost totally. Grown on the oldest, highest vineyard available (600m), the Listan Negro vines, a local variety brought to the islands by the Spanish centuries ago (a genetic match with the Pais/Mission grape in the Americas but clonally quite different), must be trained into hair-like braids in order to withstand the constant Atlantic pressure. The young folks at Envinate craft this grape into a weird and wonderful brew of salinity, strawberry, pepper and smoke (due to the volcanic soils), atop a medium body and mild tannin – the whole package reminds me of a premium Blaufrankish more than anything else – and the finish shows flowers and more pepper. Only the 3rd vintage made, I’ll be watching these brilliant weirdos much more closely in the future. 95 points Robert Parker, 2 6-packs available, $51.98 +tax 

USA 

Stolpman Vineyards “Para Maria de los Tecolotes” 2018, Santa Barbara, California. Although probably inadvertent, the pendulum that for decades was over on the South-America-tries-to-be-like-California side now appears to be swinging towards the other polarity. Case in point: this drop dead gorgeous blend of Syrah and Petit Verdot that could, in times past, feel at home atop a stack of pancakes is now a blazing streak of freshness and fruit purity brimming with life, not dissimilar to some of the outstanding Syrahs out of Chile (minus the stank). The hot/cool Santa Barbara climate chimes in with vibrant blue fruits and boysenberry, but the Syrah (once in a decanter for 2 hours) starts to show smoke, black pepper and dark chocolate. Full bodied but still agile, this’ll be a matchless BBQ wine once that’s a thing again. Not sure why Tom and Marilyn Stolpman called this wine “For Maria of the Owls”, but the striking black and white owl on the label stared into my soul and told me I was worthy. 92 points Wine Enthusiast, 2 cases available, $41.98 +tax 

NON-STOP CLASSIC HITS 

What follows is a brief listing of some wines that fit this theme and have previously been written about, but featured again for the benefit of those who’ve recently joined my Collectors List and may have missed ‘em the first time. If anyone requires more info, I’m happy to send over the original blurb to you. 

Losada 2017, Bierzo. 95 points James Suckling, 6 cases available, $39.98 +tax 

Aalto 2018, Ribera del Duero. Not yet rated, 6 bottles available, $88.98 +tax 

Vega Sicilia Reserva Especial v.20, Ribera del Duero. 98 points Robert Parker, 2 bottles available, $1082.98 +tax 

Small Batch Series: Pinot Noir

Today I’ve got a tasty curation of Pinots from all over the world, but after having an otherwise illuminating conversation with a fantastic Pinot producer from down south, I have to get something off my chest first: 

I love Oregon completely. I’ve been to the Willamette a few times, had amazing experiences and would very much like to be allowed back in someday. I love the natural, non-elite wine culture there, it’s refreshing and welcoming, absolutely. 

But Oregon, dear Oregon, my one complaint involves how many of you pronounce your leading grape variety: in an attempt to resemble the original French pronunciation more closely, you’re inadvertently using an existing French word that doesn’t actually mean “wine”. 

The problem is Pinot Noir, specifically the word Noir. Certain languages contain sounds that other languages do not: the dental fricative “th” sound (/θ/) so prominent in English doesn’t exist in French, so native French mouths are unaccustomed to making it, leading French speakers to sub in other sounds that their mouths are more familiar with: “theatre” may be pronounced as “tee-atre”, “dee-atre” or “zee-atre” depending on where the French speaker is from (Quebec favours the “d”, France the “z”, that’s how you can spot them in the wild – saves you turning them over and looking at their bellies). 

The French pronunciation of “Noir” contains a brief uvular trill, sort of like a “rolled R” (R) at the end (“Nwah-rrr”), a sound that seldom appears in English. In North America our natural tendency is to read the “r” at the end of a word as a rhotic consonant: when we say “Noir” it rhymes with “Gwar” (or “Drakkar” if you nasty). It’s a perfectly normal way to approach those words in Anglophone Canada or the US – heck, even the name of the Oregonian valley where the Pinot is grown is properly Americanized: we rhyme “Willamette” with “dammit”, not “vinaigrette”. 

And yet the tendency in Oregon is to pronounce “Noir” like the French, but without the trill that closes the word: I kept hearing “would you like to try some Pinot Nwaahh?”. I understand the desire to try and respect the original name, but to French speakers it’s actually a shade creepy, however inadvertently:  

You see, “Nwaahh” isn’t just a swing and a miss, it’s an actual French word, and that word is “Noix”, which means “Nuts”. Pronounced this way, you are saying “would you like to try some Pinot Nuts”, and no thank you I would not. 

It’s ok to speak English. It’s ok to speak non-English words with English sounds, you were born with them and those are your tools. By saying “Nwaahh”, you’re not approaching France, you’re not even missing the turn-off, you’re taking an entirely different turn-off to Nut Town, and it’s weird. 

Please please let me back in I love your wine. 

Let’s start in Oregon and move outwards from there: 

USA 

Ken Wright Cellars Canary Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017, Eola-Amity Hills. It’s been too long since I could get any of Ken Wright’s wondrous juice; a living legend in Oregon, he was a founder of the seminal Panther Creek and one of the original prophets of single-vineyard winemaking on the west coast. There’s no overarching style to Ken’s wines (other than, like, “good”), he lets the ground speak in his stead, and the Canary Hill has a lot to chirp about (I’m sorry). Bright red fruit and tropical notes with ferrous tinges, burnt orange, a fairly voluptuous mouthfeel, this is good to go, majestic and magnificent. Welcome back, Mr. Wright, you got, like, hotter while you were gone. 94 points Wine Spectator, 2 6-packs available, $100.98 +tax 

Elk Cove La Bohème Vineyard 2017, Yamhill Carlton. Willamette’s highest vineyard (800ft) is also one of its most expressive and floral – you can practically smell it as you walk through there – with violets and lavender taking centre stage in front of a chorus of singing cherries, closing off with vanilla, black pepper and garrigue. One of the first families to plant vines in Oregon (way back in 1974, which gives them Elder Scrolls status), the Campbells practice a fairly severe green harvest in the La Bohème vineyard, and the reduced yields bring piercing concentration and energy to this 2017, counterbalancing the capital “P” Prettiness on the nose. 6 bottles available, $74.98 +tax 

Resonance Pinot Noir 2017, Willamette Valley. Although French families like Chapoutier and Barons de Rothschild pursue projects all over the globe, Burgundian fixture Maison Louis Jadot has only this one remote winery, a surprising measure of restraint considering who their winemaker is. Jacques Lardière was chief winemaker at Jadot for decades until 2012, when he left Burgundy to help start this Willamette project called Resonance. If you can picture a hyper-caffeinated Albert Einstein with a French accent, speaking only in poems and visiting multiple dimensions of time and space while in mid-sentence, you begin to get what it was like attending his seminar back in 2011. I speak English and French but Jacques continually existed in the middle, weaving historical anecdotes with visual analogies for tasting notes straight out of Yellow Submarine – it was an amazing, untethered experience, although I did at times wonder if I should have instead taken the Blue Pill. Resonance is every bit a Lardière wine, blending Yamhill-Carlton and Dundee fruit into an éclair of bright red fruit surrounded by a savoury, herb-informed frame. Pomegranate, rhubarb and tobacco lead into an earthly palate of cherry and roses. Bright and tannic, it’s safe and fun to drink now but should gain Elegance Points® as this decade unfolds. #19, Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2020, 93 points Wine Spectator, 3 6-packs available, $61.98 +tax

Citation Pinot Noir 2005, Oregon. Although the creation of new AVAs is an arduous, political affair, it is widely expected than one of Willamette’s next additions will be the Mount Pisgah region, at the southern end of the Willamette AVA, south-east of Eugene. Here the Willamette’s oldest volcanic rocks are covered by a thin veneer of marine sediment, the combination of which adds elevated acidity and longevity to Pinot Noir. Witness this 2005 Pinot from Citation, sourced from Pisgah and further south, with broad shoulders and deep wells of mushroom, cinnamon, ripe cherries, orange peel and earth. Leather and tea surround the fruit, and the tannins have softened to more of a vibe than a sensation. It isn’t often that we’re able to try aged Oregon Pinot that isn’t the fruit of our own patience, this is a real treat. 2 6-packs available, $110.98 +tax 

WALT “La Brisa” Pinot Noir 2016, Sonoma Coast. Who is WALT and what does WALT want? While the sad news is that there’s no actual dude-named-Walt involved, the awesome news is that this is Napa star Kathryn Hall’s sister winery – “Walt” was her maiden name – not sure why it’s in all-caps except maybe her mom and dad used to shout a lot. Judging from how ripe this Sonoma Coast Pinot is, what WALT wants is two things: lots of root beer and for us to be happy. Violets and minty notes permeate the chocolate-covered black cherries and sarsaparilla, the nose and body are generous, but the finish lifts nicely and just makes the runway of Elegant-town. Since many of Kathryn’s offerings clock in at well over $200 per bottle, WALT is an opportune way to experience her wines within a certain sphere of reason. 2 cases available, $62.98 +tax 

GERMANY 

Thörle Hölle Spätburgunder 2018, Rheinhessen. This is one of the two top rated 2018 Pinots in Germany, a grand statement from a country whose talent for ripe, generous, timelessly structured Pinot is rivalled only by their skill in putting dots on top of letters. Called Spätburgunder locally because “Pinot Noir” is much too short and easy, the variety is only 5-10% of the Rheinhessen’s output, but it often finds its way into some of the best, limestone-rich plots like the hills around Saulheim (Riesling tends to favour the red slate soils), where young brothers Christoph and Johannes Thörle have helped give rise to a New Wave of German Pinot: Burgundian in build (thanks, limestone!) but more Oregonian in fruit profile – decidedly non-rustic. The 2018 Hölle (loosely means “Heart of Hell”; a different Hölle than the famous Mosel Hölle vineyard, for all you Hölle-Monitors out there) is brilliantly bursting with dark cherries, garrigue and an almost tangible minerality. Freaking gorgeous now, I imagine that it’ll be stunning in 3-4 years; tightly allocated by the winery, I only got these 2 cases. 99 points James Suckling, 2 cases available, $80.98 +tax 

ITALY 

Giulia Negri La Tartufaia Pinot Nero 2017, Langhe. Riding a wave of buzz since she took over her family’s 150-year-old La Morra winery (boasting the highest altitude in Barolo) at the age of 24, Giulia Negri has carved out a nice side hustle by releasing non-Barolo wines made of Chard and Pinot, grown on the north-facing slopes where Nebbiolo is forbidden. Violets and roses surround the tart red cherries, the tannins are considerable and may take a couple of years to stop obscuring the gentler cinnamon and white pepper vibes on the finish. Like a Nuit-St-Georges in build, but less ferrous and more floral. 6 bottles available, $50.98 +tax 

FRANCE 

Confuron-Cotetidot Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Suchots 2007, Burgundy. A wondrous find from 3 Presidents ago, sourced from a Premier Cru surrounded on nearly all sides by the Grand Cru vineyards of Richebourg, Romanée-St-Vivant and Echézeaux. Brothers Yves and Jack run the cellar now (their parents choose to work the vines cuz vines don’t talk), but their lineage traces back to the 1600s, when the Confuron family was primarily known for vine propagation (they even have their own Pinot clone called Pinot Confuron). This celestial 2007 is in partial hibernation but can be reawakened with a couple hours in a decanter, whereby a heady brew of flowers, mushrooms and black-hearted berries shall swirl and resurrect, jarred by licorice, thyme, game and the desperate angst of a love forlorn. ARISE, young Suchots! Arise and greet this new world! Someday you may die but today is not that day…..    that got away from me, apologies. Um this wine is really good. 6 bottles available, $315.98 +tax 

Robert Groffier Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Sentiers 2017, Burgundy. One of the reasons I’m so stoked to do what I do right now is the quality and breadth of producers and categories available to me that were a mere dream just a couple years ago. Case in point: Robert Groffier, a cult Burgundy producer that collectors have been asking about for years, available to offer for the first time. Now run by grandson Serge, Groffier runs some of the best plots in Burgundy’s exclusive crus (Amoureuses, Bonnes Mares), and has scaled down new wood aging in favour of sensuous, more emotional wines (everyone says “we let the vineyards speak through the wine” but it’s in Burgundy where this phrase is most literal). Their 2017 Sentiers offers a mineral, slightly smoky take on the cru, boosting the raspberry and nutmeg notes nicely. 5 years out from Drinktown, the stony finish should integrate with the fruit beautifully by then. 5 bottles available, $370.98 +tax 

NON-STOP CLASSIC HITS 

What follows is a brief listing of some wines that fit this theme and have previously been written about, but featured again for the benefit of those who’ve recently joined my Collectors List and may have missed ‘em the first time. If anyone requires more info, I’m happy to send over the original blurb to you. 

Kosta Browne Pinot Noir 2018, Sonoma Coast. 94 points Jeb Dunnuck, 6 bottles available, $194.98 +tax 

Sea Smoke Southing Pinot Noir 2018. Sta. Rita Hills. Not yet rated, 6 bottles available, $154.98 +tax 

L’Usine Pinot Noir 2017, Sta. Rita Hills, 93 points Robert Parker, 93 points Wine Spectator 12 bottles available, $99.99 +tax 

Until next time, Happy Drinking! 

POSTSCRIPT 

The world of wine would look very different indeed if it weren’t for Steven Spurrier, the British wine writer and educator who sadly passed a couple days ago. Besides organizing the seminal Judgement Of Paris in 1976, which changed the planet’s perception of New World winemaking when French judges blindly favoured Californian wines over French labels, he also founded Decanter Magazine, a distinct voice in the sphere of wine reviewing providing a distinctly Euro take on wines (whilst still using impeccable English) in a sea of American-centric publications (Wine Spectator, Robert Parker, Wine Enthusiast and James Suckling are all based in the U.S.). His understated and humble tone, which masked his vast depth of knowledge, will indeed be missed. R.I.P., Steven, and say hi to Alan Rickman. 

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