Tagged with 'Vintage'

An American Epic

I was having lunch with some Wine Friends (like normal friends except you can open a 15-year-old Brunello for them without crying on the inside), one of whom is a prominent Napa winemaker, when the topic turned to the disastrous 2020 vintage. The normally gregarious winemaker became diminutive and hushed, so much that I could barely make out his answer when I asked what kind of harvest he could produce, given the thick smoke that blanketed the region for months. “Did you say Fifty percent?” I asked, unsure of what he said. “Fifteen percent”, he replied. “If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to make 15% of what we usually produce”. 

Fifteen percent. The chronic fires aren’t the only threat: the same forces that gave Napa a golden run of stunning vintages (2012-2016, then 2018-2019) are now making it nearly impossible for them to make the wines that the world expects. While grape farming is way less water intensive than most other forms of agriculture (especially almonds, omg those thirsty cretins) you can’t really dry farm in Napa, and they are nearly out of water. The reservoirs are dry. Conditions are getting so bad that many wineries can’t even get insured anymore. In every way, the Californian climate has changed, the only constant that remains is demand. 

This winter could still see lots of badly needed, aquifer-filling rain to the region (unlikely, though, due to the expected La Niña), and the few wineries that do plan on releasing their 2020 vintages could be sitting on something amazing. I sincerely hope so. No one wants their Wine Guy to turn bummer – this is not what they teach you in Wine Guy School - but speaking frankly there is a reasonable chance that the 2018 and 2019 Napa/Sonoma vintages – both amazing years – will be the last ones that reflect the region as we now know it. Equally as likely is the prospect of greatly reduced quantities (of incredible quality, that’s the trade off) and prices soaring well past their current levels. If we look at the near-exponential price increases that inclement weather and its ensuing insurance pressures caused in Burgundy over the last decade, we glimpse a troubling scenario that could unfold in the coming decade; as high as the current Napa prices are, they could be adorable compared to a projected 2027 vintage. 

Oregon’s Willamette Valley, much more northern and temperate in a Maritime climate, won’t soon suffer the same climatic pressures as California – this year’s La Niña should actually bring more precipitation to that area (and to us) – but they felt the full effect of wildfire smoke in 2020. At one point surrounded by fires, the Willamette spent many weeks stewing in smoke, which was particularly harmful to the thin-skinned Pinot Noir grape. Many wineries I’ve talked to won’t be releasing their prestigious single-vineyard Pinots, they’ll opt instead to produce sparkling wines (no skin contact, thus no smoke taint) or declassify the fruit that’s untainted into their entry-level reds. 

And now, the awkward pivot. 

I’ve spent the last couple of months gathering some incredible wines from the American west coast (with a surprise bonus region at the end, no peeking!), and I’m proud to offer some houses that have never been here before now. Join me on this very American adventure: 

 

CALIFORNIA 

Nickel & Nickel. First time in BC, and topping the list of wines-people-always-ask-for-that-I-can’t-get, at least until now. Far Niente’s venture exploring the different characters of Napa’s best vineyards has now been copied by so many wineries, we forget how radical of an idea it was when they started Nickel & Nickel in the ‘90s. I brought in my two faves: 

Nickel & Nickel John C. Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Oakville, Napa. This wine is proof that Cab loves us and wants us to be happy. Plums, chocolate and blackberry knew it was your birthday and they baked a cake for you and there’s money in the cake. The Sullenger vineyard, full of sandy clay, is Nickel’s home vineyard, adjacent to the winery in the middle of Oakville, maximizing sun exposure but retaining the typical Oakville tannins, which would integrate better in a few years. Lovely baking spices on the finish with menthol hues hanging on for a minute. Everything you love about Oakville loves you back, turns out. 95 points Wine Enthusiast, 4 6-packs available, $206.98 +tax 

Nickel & Nickel Bear Track Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Napa. The first vintage from Nickel’s recently acquired Bear Track vineyard, just outside the Howell Mountain AVA, is singing its own song right out of the gate, distinguishing itself as clearly the most refined, elegant Cab in the stable. Quite a floral nose with rosewater lifting the soft blueberry notes and rosemary out of the glass, before a sleek palate pulls up in a limousine to take you to the Prince’s Ball. A far more refined structure suggests an easy 20 years cellaring time, but I wouldn’t want to lose the fruit, everything going on here is capital “P” Pretty. Not yet rated. 2 6-packs available, $206.98 +tax 

Hourglass Blueline Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Calistoga, Napa. Someone seems to have been drinking a lot of Bordeaux, and that someone is Robert Foley. Bob’s winemaking at Hourglass, a project he runs with its owner Jeff Smith, has always emphasized concentration overall, but this single-vineyard Cab from the recently acquired Blueline Estate blends that thickness with a bright streak of gorgeous acidity and a very French restraint. Cassis, graphite, cedar and tomato leaf on the nose, with a good deal of earth and tension stretching a ross the palate to the finish. Pure class. 96 points Vinous, 94 points Robert Parker, 1 6-pack available, $202.98 +tax 

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2018, Napa. The top cuvée of Phelps’ best sites from all over the valley, Insignia has always been an honest broker, presenting the vintage from all sides with full disclosure: possible rainy harvests, warm summers or drought-inflected heft will show up somewhere in the wine, depending on the year. Since the mild, drama-free 2018 was the viticultural equivalent of listening to Enya for several months – especially in the long, warm autumn - an honest cross section of the vintage is music to our mouths: Crème de Cassis lifts the chocolate blackberries and pencil shavings over the deep pools of mocha, caramel and pepper, leaving a mineral, cocoa-nibs spell in its wake. An excellent Insignia. 99 points James Suckling, 97+ points Robert Parker, 2 6-packs available, $505.98 +tax 

Macauley Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Oakville, Napa. Although the Macauley name is now synonymous with elite Cabernet Sauvignon, the first wine that Ann Macauley made when she bought the winery straight out of college in 1984 was a Sauternes-style Sauvignon Blanc. Tragically, Ann never got to try the finished wines as she died in a 1986 car accident, but years later her son Mac returned to Napa to revive his mom’s label, this time with a focus on reds. With access to what could reasonably considered America’s First Growth, the contemporary Macauley winery uses their wee allocation of To Kalon fruit to make a Cab that matches otherworldly fruit intensity and power with the sleek structure and gravel frame of more French-inflected wines like Opus One (which is itself largely built out of To Kalon fruit). Currant and blackberry notes over crushed rocks and tilled earth. Stunning. 98-100 points Jeb Dunnuck, 6 bottles available, $364.98 +tax 

Cakebread Dancing Bear Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Howell Mountain, Napa. Perched high above Napa Valley with nearly 360 degrees of exposure, there isn’t a lot of sun that Dancing Bear doesn’t get (maybe the bear is dancing because he’s way sunburned and it hurts to sit down), but the altitude is what spared this site from the smoke and heat spikes of 2017 (history will treat 2017 way better than the wine press did). The big diurnal shift keeps a measure of balance, building a svelte medium-full body underneath a decadent fruit pie of boysenberry, plum and cherry on the nose. Front of house is for pleasure but the back of house is all business. 97 points Jeb Dunnuck, 95+ points Robert Parker, 1 6-pack available, $231.98 +tax 

Diamond Creek Mixed Pack 2017, Diamond Mountain, Napa. Al and Boots Brounstein’s unassuming, unlikely cult wine became so sought after that when they wanted to retire, Champagne house Louis Roederer snapped up the house immediately. Sold only by the 6-pack (I can’t break it up, sorry), the wines focus on 3 adjacent terroirs on Diamond Mountain with different soils and temperatures: Gravelly Meadow (95 Suckling) is coolest, Red Rock Terrace (97 Suckling) is warmer, and Volcanic Hill (96 Suckling) is hotter than, well, a Volcano. The 3 Cabs are quite wildly different from each other but these is a smoky, sleek through line of minerality and Pauillac-like frame. Precious little is made and even less comes to Vancouver. 1 6-pack available, Case Price (again, can’t split it but I’m still a good person) $2,500.00 +tax 

Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Mt Veeder, Napa. As old as them there hills, Mayacamas was part of the US team that beat the French in the 1976 Paris Tasting, besting Mouton Rothschild and Leoville las Cases, among others. Other Napa wineries from the contest have since changed their style along with the times, but Mayacamas stays up in the hills, never botherin’ nobody, doin’ the same thing they done for years. A reserved, mountain Cab made with almost zero new oak, this 2014 reveals layers of dark fruit and earthy notes, with currants, cigar box and graphite underpinning the whole show. #1 – Vine Pair’s Top 50 of 2018, 97 points James Suckling, 96+ points Vinous, 2 6-packs available, $242.98 +tax 

Collina Dalla Valle 2018, Oakville, Napa. Although Dalla Valle makes stratospherically high-end wines at the top end, I’ve always been drawn to this complex, multi-faceted, ultimately drinkable blend of Cab Sauv and Cab Franc from their eastern Oakville property. Equal parts rich and racy, the fresh blackberries balance the dark chocolate, just like the pencil shavings balance the fragrant sage vibes on the long finish. Deep dark and delicious with a round body that flows over the fine-grained tannins. First time I’ve been able to offer this! 94+ points Jeb Dunnuck, 2 6-packs available, $208.98 +tax 

Matthiasson Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Napa. There are two ways to make a full-throated Napa Cab with 13% abv: 1) find a time machine, or 2) get Steve and Jill Matthiasson to make it. Pulling from 6 vineyards across the valley, they practice a nearly month-long ferment followed by 2 years in (mostly) old barrels, and this finished 2017 reminds me more of those rare, unblended Tuscan cabs from around Chianti and the coast: dusty currants (likely from the Rutherford component in the mix) and bright red fruit like cherry and cranberry, with a cedary mineral component closing off after a full, brisk palate. It has the bones to go 20 years, but the charismatic approachability that we’ve come to expect from a founding member of the Ashes + Diamonds group project. Not submitted for review. 24 bottles available, $114.98 +tax 

Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Howell Mountain, Napa. I’m not sure what happened behind the scenes during the decades where Randy Dunn helped put Caymus on the map, all I know is that in 1978 he headed for the hills, bought some vines on a mountain and vowed never to make a wine above 14% abv ever again. If this whole project was some sort of atonement then atonement is delicious. Sourced from his Howell Mountain vineyards, Dunn’s Cabs are neither fat nor lean, they’re athletic: power houses of energy and concentration, aged for almost 3 years in all new French oak, but medium-bodied at best. Mediterranean vibes play around the savoury herbs, but the intense blueberry and lavender notes bleed into a dream of spice and graphite. Statuesque. 97 points Decanter, 95 points Wine Spectator, 12 bottles available, $289.98 +tax 

Bevan Cellars “Ontogeny” 2018, Napa. Waves of deep fruit tumble endlessly from this Cab-dominated blend of 2 of Bevan’s best sites, the Sugarloaf Mountain vineyard and Tench, Screaming Eagle’s neighbour. Fine tannins try to restrain the finish but they never had a chance: it’s all fruit, all the way down, always and forever. Neither a bruiser nor a blanket, Ontogeny’s raison d’être is Luxury and its tools are cassis, lavender and garrigue. Blue fruits rule the finish. Will age by sheer concentration but is singing now. 99 points Jeb Dunnuck, 95+ points Robert Parker, 18 bottles available, $166.98 +tax 

Jonata “Todos” 2017, Ballard Canyon, Santa Ynez Valley. If I were the sister winery to Screaming Eagle, I’d make a bigger deal about it. Oh, they talk a lot about their special microclimate in Ballard Canyon, and how the sandy soils challenge the vines to root deeper and provide concentration, and omg they won’t stop about how the 2017 Todos (Syrah with Cab and Petit Sirah) is teeming with blueberry, game, black pepper, fig and jasmine, or how it’s massive body and smooth delivery fill you with happiness and change your life for the better and blah blah blah. Nowhere do they say “hey FYI we are owned by Screaming Eagle” and then drop a microphone on the floor. Oh well, one day they’ll let me write their blurbs for them. 94+ points Jeb Dunnuck, 12 bottles available, $88.98 +tax 

Eisele Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2019, Calistoga, Napa. Chateau Latour always did want to make a white wine. The Eisele vineyard has been a home to grape vines since 1880, and even kept growing through Prohibition (but only for juice, wink, wink). Through Napa’s renaissance in the 60s and 70s, Cabernet Sauvignon from Eisele showed up in Ridge Vineyards wines, Conn Creek, and several early vintages of Phelps’ Insignia. Now owned by Chateau Latour, their love affair with Bordelais-style Cab continues, but the eastern sliver of the vineyard is planted to a particularly aromatic clone of Sauvignon Blanc called “Musqué”. Kim Crawford this is not. Crafted like a timeless White Bordeaux, the Musqué is blended with a small portion of regular Sauv Blanc and then aged in concrete and oak, making a viscous, layered brew of citrus and sunshine, with peach, pear, yuzu lime, beeswax and hazelnut surrounding the nose. Commanding and potent on the front but luscious and disarming on the finish. Wow. 97 points James Suckling, 96 points Vinous, 9 bottles available, $180.98 +tax 

Littorai Block E Wendling Vineyard Pinot Noir 2019, Anderson Valley. Littorai’s Ted Lemon was the first American winemaker to ever be trusted with the reins of a Burgundy house when he took over operations at Domaine Roulot in the early ‘80s, after stints at Dujac and Villaine. After returning home to make wine with Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, he and his equally talented partner Heidi started Littorai, an immediately cult-ish Pinot and Chard house that nabbed Ted a Winemaker of the Year award (SF Cronicle) in 2010. The most northern and most coastal vineyard of the Anderson Valley AVA, the Wendling vineyard was planted with Ted and Heidi’s help so they got firsties in plot selection, and chose the steepest Block E for this amazing Pinot. Mineral chalk and white pepper notes undergird the classic candied blackberry and blueberry notes, with rose petals and mint riding a fountain of strawberry juice to a fresh, vibrant finish. 96+ points Vinous, 12 bottles available, $137.98 +tax 

Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs 2017, Dry Creek, Sonoma. The party wine for the well-informed, this blend of ¾ Zinfandel and ¼ Petit Sirah/Carignan harkens back to the freewheeling early days of California’s Wine Renaissance, when balance and poise was favoured over raw power. Cinnamon, violets and eucalypt surround the gorgeous red fruits and velvet delivery, medium-full bodied with a gently rustic vibe on mid-palate, finishing fresh and spicy with an elegant lift that Zin can’t always pull off. Tastes like more. 95 points The Tasting Panel, 24 bottles available, $80.98 +tax 

 

OREGON 

We talk a lot about Oregon Pinot Noir and rightly so: decades ago a bunch of hippies placed all of their chips on a fussy, invalid, thin-skinned grape that mutates if you look at it wrong and is susceptible to all kinds of environmental pressures, up to and including coarse language. It was a crazy, uninformed bet – and it worked. Oregon is Pinot and Pinot is Oregon, but the revelation that I’ve experienced this year is just how far the Chardonnay has come, even in just the last few years. Certain houses in the Willamette are making stunning, world class Chards with depth, power and tension, they are fresh and energetic completely on their own terms, nobody on the west coast is making Chards quite like these. Look, I’ll show you: 

Brittan Vineyards Chardonnay 2017, McMinnville. When I got the invitation to attend the Oregon/Washington Trade Tasting last week, I had an anxiety attack: do I remember how to go to these? There hasn’t been a tasting in almost 2 years, would I remember how to properly dress myself and open my eyes and speak English? Turns out yes, and despite getting lost in the Vancouver Club (I swear that place is Hogwarts – all the halls scramble every night) I had a delightful time and tried many great wines, but this Chardonnay from the esteemed Robert Brittan stole the whole show. Generous and mineral with lemon oil and pear strudel on the nose, leading towards the reactor core where its unexplained power and presence lights up the sky. Gorgeous 1-second bursts of mint, pear, jasmine and white pepper compete for attention; this complexity and depth is usually seen in modern Meursault or Chablis, often for at least twice the price. 95 points Wine Enthusiast, 24 bottles available, $61.98 +tax 

Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Chardonnay 2016, Dundee Hills. If I told you how I got this, we would both have to go into hiding. Despite making their reputation on Pinot (I can’t get any, sorry) many years ago, Ken and Grace Evenstad have contemporarily become just as lauded for this iconic, striking Chardonnay, even though it accounts for a tiny sliver of their total production. A smoky, nutty vibe permeates the melon and peach notes on the nose, and the citrus elements continue through the palate, which is a perfect balance of both heft and zing. Slight tertiary notes of ginger and honey persist on the finish – we are in the optimal drinking window now, and will be for the next 6 years. Unless a local agency decides to import Serene again (no one does, currently), I don’t expect to see this again. 96 points Decanter, 95 points Wine Enthusiast, 5 6-packs arriving next week, $107.98 +tax 

Bethel Heights Casteel Estate Chardonnay 2017, Eola-Amity Hills. A regal, timeless Chardonnay, liquid evidence that oak and elegance are not enemies. Always a cuvee of the top barrels from their estate in Eola-Amity (one of a handful of Oregon’s pioneering vineyards), this full-malolactic rich feast still displays remarkable tension and lift, a result of being just east of the Van Duzer Corridor, which brings cooling Pacific breeze to this hotter, southern AVA. Baked apples and quince notes with whizz-bang menthol and apricot notes, a full body and a crisp finish that pops like a much lighter wine. 95 points Robert Parker, 94 points Wine Enthusiast, 94 points Jeb Dunnuck, 6 bottles available, $127.98 +tax 

Kelley Fox “Tir” Momtazi Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, McMinnville. One of the many apprentices of Eyrie Vineyards David Lett (the winery and wizard that put Oregon on the world’s Wine Map), Kelley Fox went and got a doctorate in biochemistry before returning to the Willamette to start this tiny winery with her dad Gus. From vineyard to bottling, Kelley does everything herself, but she won’t be doing it with fruit from Momtazi going forward as her lease ran out, making this 2016 the second last vintage of this outstanding, ethereal Pinot (only two cases came in, I took ‘em both). McMinnville can be a somber, dominating AVA (it often takes over any blend it’s in) but Kelley’s use of neutral barrels (4 of them) and 100% whole cluster pressing softens the attack, leaving bare the raw intensities of black raspberry, violet, tilled earth, rust and cocoa. Velvety layers of fine, integrated tannins deploy on palate and after, super seductive and complex. A rare find, mysterious and sexy. Not submitted for review. 2 6-packs available, $107.98 +tax 

Elk Cove La Bohème Pinot Noir 2018, Yamhill-Carlton. Arguably the highest vineyard in the Willamette and one of my very favourite Oregon wines, which made things awkward at that Oregon/Washington tasting when everyone tried it and fell in love with it but nobody could buy it because (pointing at me) that guy bought everything that came into BC. The Bohème Pinot is always a capital “P” Pretty wine, one of the most floral bouquets in the state, showing roses and violets over cherry cola and nutty vibes. The finish – surprisingly structured – acts more like Nebbiolo than Oregon Pinot, but altitude can increase the skin-to-juice ratio, and since this vineyard is higher than Snoop Dogg in the late afternoon, it makes sense. Fabulously delicious. Exclusive to Everything Wine River District. 18 bottles available, $76.98 +tax 

 

WASHINGTON 

Force Majeure. With Red Mountain fruit and Bryant’s winemaker on board, there was little doubt as to what kind of stuff this micro-winery in Walla Walla would make. With a production so small that it’s only gettable by way of mailing list down south, Todd Alexander was the first to plant in the rocky, steep upper slopes of Red Mountain and his wines are accordingly born battle-hardened. These are deep and timeless wines of purpose, with Napa intensity and French structure. During the first months of the pandemic their BC importer trimmed off this winery from their portfolio to be cautious, but at my insistence the following wines were brought in again just for me: 

Force Majeure Estate Syrah 2018, Red Mountain. A feast for the nose, tongue and, almost, teeth. The small Viognier co-ferment brings out the blue hues and blue fruits that become black fruits as you swirl. A tryst of flowers, blackberries and meat, this glorious 2018 makes its peppery way from nose to palate almost begging you to chew on it but the rich, generous delivery sheds both bite and bark and gives way to layers of lavender and gravel, with present but restrained tannins. Exclusive to Everything Wine River District. 100 points Jeb Dunnuck, 95 points Wine Spectator, 12 bottles available, $162.98 +tax 

Force Majeure Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Red Mountain. The emblematic, dusty signature of Red Mountain Cab opens the door to a tight, Saint-Julien-ish minerality (“Liquid Rock” was how one reviewer put it) with plum and cassis stepping into baking spice and cedar notes over a man-camp-drum-circle of brawn and bravado. Wondrous but young, needs time. Exclusive to Everything Wine River District. 97 points Jeb Dunnuck, 95 points Wine Spectator, 6 bottles available, $215.98 +tax 

Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Columbia Valley. Washington’s most iconic Cabernet celebrated it’s 40th anniversary like I celebrate my birthdays now – by not telling anyone. Seriously, dudes, you put Washington on the map for premium Cab, drove credibility and investment into the state and cranked out the most stunning wine every year for 40 years… and you didn’t put any of that on the bottle? Were you worried about tarnishing your dinky Chateau de Strip-Mall label? Well, packaging aside, this 2018 carries the torch admirably: always a bit more expressive than most WA Cabs, boasting a cigar box full of both black and red fruits, with incense, gravel and lilac. The wine’s signature layers start at the front of the palate and continue back to forever. Impressive now, unstoppable in 10 years. Of of the Great American Wines. 100 points Decanter, 98 points Robert Parker, 98 points Jeb Dunnuck, 98 points Wine Enthusiast, 98 points James Suckling, 9 bottles available, $337.98 +tax 

 

And now for our surprise state: 

 

ARIZONA 

Caduceus Cellars / Merkin Vineyards. Returning to BC for the first time in 8 years (and perhaps the last - the winery’s pre-Covid policy was to never export). The fact that there is indeed a vibrant, if nascent, premium wine industry in Arizona is due in no small part to the continuing  efforts of Maynard James Keenan, whose work in the cellar and vineyards (documented in the film Blood Into Wine), not to mention his celebrity (he is the Grammy-winning singer of Tool and A Perfect Circle) brought attention and interest to the desert state, although grape vines had already been there for over a hundred years, in a certain form. 

Spanish Missionaries, needing wine for Sacrament, planted vines wherever they went and Arizona was no exception, but they planted vineyards in the hot, dry south near Tucson, where the wines could have a cooked quality. Keenan sought and planted vineyards in the higher-altitude northern area, just south of Sedona, where the diurnal shift was much more pronounced and vital acidity could be retained. He had moved to nearby Cornville so that his kids wouldn’t grow up in L.A. and was drawn to winemaking by the discovery of his own ancestry, descended as he was from a long line of northern Italian winemakers. He started out cautiously by blending Californian juice with Arizona grapes when he found the local supply wanting, but over 15+ years he made the requisite changes in the vineyards to allow him to present 100% Arizonian terroir. 

Look, I’m like you, and the idea of celebrity gimmick wines (Wayne Gretzky/Dan Aykroyd/Some Golfer Guy?!? That sounds delicious!) or athlete tax write-offs (Yao Ming’s Napa venture, although those wines were actually not bad) sends me running away in disgust. Caduceus Cellars is not one of those. It’s not a brand. M.J. Keenan is the winemaker and devotes his life to it – Tool went 13 years between 10,000 Days and Fear Innoculum, winemaking is pretty much all this guy does now, and his restless creativity – using grapes and methods largely unseen in Cali, Oregon or Washington – is consumed by viticulture and vinification. Caduceus gives us another legit square in the American Wine Quilt, which is why I’m excited to finally offer the following: 

Caduceus Cellars “Sancha” Tempranillo 2017, Yavapai County. The Sancha Tempranillo, modelled after wines from the Rioja Alta, is sourced from the Buhl Memorial vineyard, a south-facing bed of clay and limestone that sits at 4300ft, with a diurnal swing that can reach up to 50 degrees. The harsh conditions manage to wrest elegance out of Tempranillo, and the structured finish lifts everything up, like the red cherry, licorice, cinnamon and vanilla notes that float above the stones and tilled earth. Robustly bodied with a long, bracing coda, this Spanish grape is right at home in the desert. Wicked stuff. Not submitted for review, 3 cases available, $82.98 +tax 

Caduceus Cellars “Nagual de la Naga” Sangiovese 2017, Yavapai County. Unlike more restrained Tuscan wines, the Sangiovese from Keenan’s Eliphante block is a giant shining beam of red fruit with a body to match. Oaky cherry notes, tobacco and dried tomato pour forth with abandon, as the generous, plummy frame deploys new coats every few steps on the palate. Good acidity with green herbs on the finish. Not submitted for review, 12 bottles available, $82.98 

Caduceus Cellars “Primer Paso” 2017, Yavapai County. One of Keenan’s earliest bottlings (he used to add Cali Juice to this), Primer Paso has evolved to show the terroir of the Eliphante block and the 2017 is the first vintage entirely sourced from there. 80% Syrah with Garnacha and Petit Sirah rounding off, co-fermented with a smidge of Malvasia for colour stability and fresh vibes. Desert climes give the Syrah some smoky notes with orange peel and blackberry holding firm. This is the biggest beast in Keenan’s stable, corpulent and smooth with a dusty, herbal ending. Not submitted for review, 12 bottles available, $82.98 +tax 

Merkin Vineyards “Shinola” 2020, Yavapai County. Treating the Merkin label as his entry tier, Keenan does a rustic Italian blend of Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Dolcetto and Barbera with a smidge of Primitivo, all from the Buhl site. Aged in minimal neutral oak, this reminds me of the Tuscan table wines in every restaurant there, where you didn’t ask what it was because it was just good. Medium bodied with a fresh, citrusy acidity and mineral elements, with bright cherry, black pepper and a lot more complexity on palate than the nose suggests. Not submitted for review, 3 cases available, $44.98 +tax 

Merkin Vineyards “Shinola Orancia” 2020, Yavapai County. The Italian white grape Malvasia Bianca done with a measure of skin contact, but despite the name it’s not really all that orange, more of a deep gold. From the Buhl Memorial  vineyard, the grapes are fermented on skins for 10 days in stainless steel, and that process adds a complex, layered shape with a bit of astringency on the finish. Honeyed melon, honeysuckle and orange peel with citrus oil and lilac. Gorgeous and substantial. Not submitted for review, 3 cases available, $41.98 +tax 

That’s it! Thanks kindly for your time and attention. Rhône and Piedmont collections in the near future! 

Until next time, Happy Drinking! 

 

Postscript: If you’re feeling too amazing today and want to take things down a peg, I can send you the New York Times article about Napa upon which I based my preamble. Just ask. 

Toscanarama Part Three

Our third instalment in this year’s cavalcade of amazing Tuscan wines continues, focusing again on titanic examples of the best Brunello vintage since at least 2010: 

BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO 

Conti Costanti 2016, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. One of the original founding estates of the Brunello appellation (along with Biondi Santi), Costanti holds down the Old Guard, building a statuesque, long-looking Brunello from high-altitude sites just below the mountain-top village. Orange zest and lavender are just some of the fresh high-tones that lift the sour cherry and candied raspberries before slowing down to the speed limit on the palate and the brisk, garrigue-inflected Mediterranean finish. Act One starts in 3 years, but oh, what a play that will be. Best Costanti that I can remember. 99 points Wine Enthusiast, 98 points Decanter, 97 points Wine Spectator, 5 6-packs available, $160.98 +tax 

Fuligni 2016, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. A stone’s throw from Costanti, Fuligni’s nose adds heat and spice to that highly situated style, showing kirsch and strawberry compote amongst the sanguineous plum and anise notes, coasting briskly over the palate before the law gets laid down with a traditionally tannic profile and a lifted, ferrous finish. Boasting a restored convent on the property, you wouldn’t plant anything but grapes on Maria Flora Fuligni’s 1450-ft high site, it’s basically bunch of rocks that produce small, angry bunches of Sangiovese, making a deliberate, inscrutable Brunello that needs a further two years for the finish to integrate. Once it does, it’ll show Fuligni’s perfect balance of elegance and power. 99 points Wine Enthusiast, 99 points Decanter, 98 points Vinous, 3 6-packs available, $145.99 +tax 

Poggio Landi 2016, Brunello di Montalcino 2016. The best value of the Brunello 2016s that I’ve come across thus far, Poggio Landi straddles the trad/modern divide, aging in French oak but keeping the elegance and soft power of the classic houses. Sourced from vineyards in the north of the appellation, including the mighty Montosoli, this 2016 is a balance of fruit and savoury elements: black pepper and licorice mix with dried cherry, cedar and pine notes, before tomato leaf and blackberry zing across the palate and long floral finish. Medium-bodied with considerable intensity and a great future, the fruit presence is fantastic now but (broken record) I’d like the finish to poke out a little less – a two years nap should do the trick. 97 points Wine Spectator, 10 6-packs available, $77.98 +tax 

Canalicchio di Sopra 2016, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. Situated on the steep northeast side of the mountain in what’s now a Unesco Heritage site, Canalicchio di Sopra blends their Brunello from their home site and the Montosoli cru, mixing a classic delivery with bright freshness and slightly earlier accessibility. Lilac and soft balsamic notes lift the cherries and licorice above a ferrous, citrus-laced frame, hints of sweet spice along the palate and one of the longest finishes of the appellation. Still needs a nap but showing great early promise. 97 points Wine Enthusiast, 4 6-packs available, $106.98 +tax 

Canalicchio di Sopra La Casaccia 2016, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. Only the second vintage produced from the Casaccia plot in the home vineyard, a two-hectare site with an unusually high level of minerals in its clay soils. I can year you saying “two hectares?!? How much wine can you squeeze out of that?”. The answer is surprisingly specific: 4,133 bottles, and I have 6 of ‘em. The most idiosyncratic plot in Canalicchio do Sopra’s oeuvre, Casaccia unsurprisingly shines with minerality and saline notes before the army of flowers invades: smoke-tinged jasmine and violets precede lovely cherry, pine and citrus aromas. Finishes long and herbal, with even more minerals. 98 points Vinous, 97 points Decanter, two wooden 3-packs available, $222.98 +tax 

PRE-ORDER: Le Chiuse 2016, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. Just clearing customs now, will be in store in a couple weeks.  Although no one officially crowns a “Wine Of The Vintage” in Montalcino, let me put it this way: can you name a better candidate than Le Chiuse? This timeless Brunello that was cleaved from Biondi Santi as dowry (it used to be Biondi’s reserve vineyard) has fully met its moment in 2016 – two perfect scores, and although it isn’t officially released yet, Wine Enthusiast let the winery know that this 2016 Brunello placed #2 on their year-end Top 100 Cellar Selections list. Electric red fruit with savoury green herbs, orange peel with crushed rocks, sour cherry with topsoil, the supple palate is upstaged, currently, by a rigid frame, but that should begin to soften by 2024. Years from now, we’ll remember that 2016 was the vintage that vaulted Le Chiuse into the elite echelon of Brunello producers, joining the benchmark houses that define the genre. No way it stays this price. 100 points Jeb Dunnuck, 100 points Wine Enthusiast, 98 points Wine Spectator – 20 6-packs available for pre-order - $151.98 +tax 

Biondi Santi 2012, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. The grand-daddy of them all in a new release (they hold back for bottle-aging longer than most). The 2012 finds lots of graphite and blood orange amongst the characteristic herbed cherries, with soft currant and tea notes building before the austere finish returns to Biondi Santi’s natural lack of youthful charisma. Some reviewers suggest that the window on this 2012 is already open, but those people must enjoy getting slapped. As it has always been, Biondi Santi is a time capsule and must be aged accordingly; this will be singing in another 6 years but it’s currently growling. 96 points Wine Enthusiast, $263.98 +tax 

 

OTHER TUSCANS 

Istine Vigna Cavarchione 2018, Chianti Classico DOCG. Although old-vine vineyards are never a risky bet, sometimes a young ingenue can turn heads and sing new tunes: the Caverchione vineyard isn’t even a decade old yet, and it’s already producing stunning Sangiovese with energy and precision. The Fronti family spent decades planning and managing vineyards for Chianti’s elite houses, but never making wine themselves until Angela Fronti convinced her dad that their talents should stay in house, and the Istine label launched in 2009. Built upon the family’s uncanny knack for identifying the best plots, Istine makes several crus but the Cavarchione site has stood out for its brawn and depth: this is a big, complicated Chianti Classico, with layers upon layers of plum, orange peel, cherry and stone drawing you into the glass. Finishes like a laser despite its weight, outstanding stuff now, and it’ll be fascinating to watch what this vineyard gives us going forward. 96 points Vinous, 3 6-packs available, $66.98 +tax 

Terralsole “Trio” 2008, Toscana IGT. Although made by a famous Brunello house within the boundaries of the Montalcino appellation, I can’t put Trio in the “Brunello” category as it’s a blend of French grapes created initially to piss off Mario Bollag’s dinner guests. While most Tuscan producers experiment with international grapes here and there, Terralsole’s Mario found himself hosting several snotty neighbours - Brunello winemakers who were taking turns throwing shade on those non-traditional wines over dinner. When asked to sample them on his recent Brunellos in barrel, Mario descended resentfully into his cellar clutching a decanter, which he then filled with equal parts Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Merlot. He served the ad-hoc jungle juice to his guests, gleefully expecting to revel in their disgust, but was thrown by what happened next: they loved it. Then he tried it. Turns out that Mario had haphazardly created an amazing Supertuscan: lovely dark berries with toasty oak notes and tertiary notes of leather and dried currants (he holds these back longer than his Brunellos because I don’t know why). Smooth as silk and richly textured, I wish I made accidents like this. Not Rated. 2 6-packs available, $58.98 +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. 

Buon Tempo 2010, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. 12 bottles available, $89.98 +tax 

Casanova di Neri 2016 (I got more!) Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. 95 points Wine Spectator, 12 bottles available, $105.99 +tax 

Il Paradiso di Manfredi 2013, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. 97 points Wine Enthusiast, 12 bottles available, $207.98 +tax 

Arcanum 2015, Toscana IGT. 97 points Robert Parker, 18 bottles available, $108.98 +tax 

Le Macchiole “Paleo Rosso” 2016, Toscana IGT. 97 points Robert Parker, 97 points Wine Enthusiast, 1 6-pack available, $170.98 +tax 

Tolaini “Legit” 2016, Toscana IGT. (it’s back and it’s on sale!) #13 Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2020, 95 points Wine Spectator, 4 cases (12) available, reg price $64.99, SALE PRICE $59.99 +tax 

New Zealand Pinot Noir and Riesling plus Canada's top Pinot Noir!

Hi wine friends,

I hope you are enjoying the summer. There are a few new exciting arrivals in the Vintages Room this week.

Leeuwin Estate 2018 Art Series Chardonnay:

Definitely one of my favourite producers of Chardonnay in Australia. The Margaret River is such an amazing winegrowing region.

Immaculate, powerful, intense nose with purity and clarity of primary fruit characterised by pear, white peach, lime curd and custard apple. There are infinite layers of brioche, grilled hazelnuts, cinnamon quill, shaved nutmeg, black cardamom and almond meal. A thread of graphite in the background adds elegant complexity.

"Let's put it this way. This is the closest I have come to awarding a wine 100 points...Stellar wine from a stellar vintage. The remarkable this is that this is a wine 100 percent barrel fermented in new French oak barriques with regular lees stirring for 11 months - and it certainly doesn't taste excessive, or even slightly oak. It has such high-fidelity purity with complex seductive aromatics of vanilla bean and light oatmeal with a cutting minerality and spicy lift. But the palate, oh the palate. This is where things start to explode. Power, poise an​d persistence with a dry savouriness balancing the intense ripe fruit. It ​is such a long finish with an ever so slightly, charry finish completing a remarkable wine".​ 99-plus/100 Ray Jordan, The West Australian, 27 February 2021​

​$115.98 per bottle plus tax.

Champagne Varnier Fannier Grand Cru St. Denis:

Incredible Blanc de Blancs made in tiny quantities. The history of this estate dates back to 1860 when the Fanniere family began growing grapes and selling them to Champagne negociant houses. It was only in 1950 that the family started producing champagne under their own name.

$89.99 per bottle plus tax.

Rippon Mature Vine Riesling 2019: 95 Points JS

A warm & productive summer put plenty of flesh on this wine. The fruit is issued from Rippon’s mature vines, whose root hairs have invaded the schist rock below. Lurking towards the end of the first mouthful is substantial phenolic power and it soon starts to take charge of the wine… and give it its sense of place.

Rippon's 2019 Mature Vine Riesling strikes a winning balance between fresh green apple, tangy citrus and spring-like florals. It's medium-bodied (12% alcohol) and almost dry, with great concentration and length.

$49.98 per bottle plus tax.

Rippon Mature Vine Pinot Noir 2017: 99 Points JS

The farm voice of a distinct parcel of land: Rippon. On the western board of Roy’s Bay, Lake Wanaka, Rippon’s north-facing escarpment forms the meeting point of terminal moraines and coarse gravels, all based in schist, on which some of the region’s earliest vines were planted. Rippon is a Wine issued from all of the fully developed Pinot Noir vines growing in this land.

This offers aromas of violets, blueberries, red and dark cherries, fragrant, freshly cracked black pepper and wet dark stones. Complex, but still tightly wound and reserved. The palate is very concentrated, dense and elegantly poised with such powerful tannin, carrying concentrated blueberry and dark-cherry flavors long. Really taut, fully ripe and mouth wateringly intense pinot noir. Dark cherry-pit freshness to close. From bio dynamically grown grapes. Drinkable now, but better in five years.

$76.98 per bottle plus tax.

Little Engine Gold Label Pinot Noir 2018:

A deep purple colour, luxuriant with dark cherry, strawberry, and rhubarb aromas, layered with notes of chocolate and subtle vanilla. The palate is pleasing on entry with inviting dark fruit, cassis, cocoa, and hints of cola, along with savoury notes inviting us to take another sip. Tannins are round and rich. Good acid balance with a generous finish. The winemaking team recommend patience and a favourable cellaring environment to encourage the development of alluring tertiary characteristics. This wine will age beautifully through 2025.

95 Points - Gold, Decanter World Wine Awards 2021. The highest scoring Canadian Pinot Noir!

$69.98 per bottle plus tax.

Deckbusters!

It’s time for a slate of amazing wines for outdoor sipping (or outdoor gulping, I don’t know what kind of day you’ve had), this time in both reds and whites. I didn’t plan on including white wines in a Deckbusters email, but nor did I imagine that my own deck would reach 42C, so here we are, adaptable and thirsty. We begin with the Reds. 

REDS 

Kathryn Hall “Darwin” Syrah 2014, Napa Valley, USA. Ok ok yes, you’re not used to Syrah from Napa and yes, the only dude who reviewed it was Wilfred Wong (wine.com) and he’s weird, but if I’ve built up any trust with you, believe me when I tell you that this is INSANE value – it’s basically Shafer Relentless with less grip and far less price. Prizing power over subtlety, I had presumed that this bruiser earned its name in honour of all the other Syrahs it had to kill to achieve species dominance, but in fact it’s named for the northern Australian town where Kathryn Hall’s private plane had to make an emergency landing (winemakers: they’re just like us!). She and her husband Craig were so taken with the Shirazes they tasted that night that they resolved to pay tribute when they returned home with this gorgeously floral, opaque Syrah that burns villages and slays all enemies. Violets and blackberries rule the roost, with cassis, black pepper and pencil shavings leading towards a classically tempered body and a surprisingly elegant, long finish. Nothing but purple smiles when I tried it - a joyful find. 94 points Wilfred “Weirdo” Wong, 5 cases available, $59.99 +tax 

Comando G “La Bruja de Rozas” 2019, Sierra de Gredos, Spain. A returning champion to these pages, an elegant, fresh, eminently drinkable Garnacha from the hills surrounding Madrid. At the front of the pack of young winemakers seeking to redefine Garnacha for a new generation, Daniel Landi and Fernando Garcia treat the grape more like a Pinot Noir, prizing acidity and beauty over the oxidatively rustic styles Spain has been flooding the world with for decades. Quite floral and herbal on the nose, Bruja starts to show gamey, mineral notes on palate, reflecting the sandy, granitic soils in the vineyard. Medium bodied and perfectly balanced, this can handle most of what your grill throws at you. 93 points Robert Parker, 2 cases available, $52.98 +tax. 

Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2018, Cotes-du-Rhône, France. Another returning champion, this time representing the superlative 2018 Chateauneuf-du-Pape vintage (and only 2 Parky-points lower than their Grand Vin). Essentially a geographically inconvenienced Chateauneuf-du-Pape sitting across the street (and outside the appellation) from Chateau Beaucastel, the 2018 Coudoulet is a Prince wearing the King’s clothes: denser and darker than usual (more Mourvèdre in the mix than other years), showing bright red fruits, sage and white pepper before tumbling into a medium-full body with great freshness and a long, satisfyingly grippy finish. I’ve long gone on and on about the value of Coudoulet, nothing has changed. 93 points Robert Parker, 93 points Decanter, 3 cases available, Reg Price $39.98, Sale Price $37.98 +tax 

Finca Ygay Marqués de Murrieta Reserva 2016, Rioja, Spain. Enjoying quite a moment right now (the top wine from this house won Wine of the Year last year), Ygay builds on their momentum with this iconic 2016 Reserva, boasting its best scores in well over a decade. Sourced from a single estate at the bottom edge of Rioja Alta, this Tempranillo (with drinking buddies Graciano, Mazuelo and Garnacha) shows intense red and black fruit over a bed of crushed rocks (I can see someone blind tasting this as a Supertuscan). Full and generous in the mouth, the finish tightens up nicely with good acidity and fine tannins before lingering elegantly for well over a minute. Great now, great in 5 years. 95 points Guis Proensa*, 94 points Robert Parker, 4 cases available, $49.98 +tax 

 

WHITES 

Wittmann Westhofener Riesling Trocken 2018, Rheinhessen, Germany. There is so much Riesling Hesitancy in the world today that I’ve largely abandoned the argument. If you’ve decided not to get a Riesling for yourself then there’s nothing I can say to change your mind, but I implore you: think of the sausages. Right now, all over this province, defenceless sausages are being grilled with no access to proper wine pairings – in fact, cases of grilled sausages being paired with Yellow Tail are dangerously on the rise. You can help by grabbing one of these sublimely delicious offerings from the Wittmann family, who’ve farmed around the old market town of Westhofen since 1663. The nose is an aromatic blast of tropical fruit and pastry, but the palate and finish are dry and focused, expertly suited to cut the fat of those helpless sausages. This is crackerjack stuff for the price, and pairs with Bratwurst like a key in a lock. 95 points James Suckling, 4 6-packs available, $59.98 +tax 

Sartori Marani 2018, Veronese Bianco, Italy. Returning in fine form, the unofficial White Amarone from the esteemed Amarone house Sartori shows the strength of the 2018 vintage in its long, persistent finish, full of minerality and glycerine. Holy cow, this wine is a lot. Garganega grapes from the Soave appellation (but declassified because of the process) are dried like Amarone grapes for a couple months before pressing, concentrating everything to produce a luscious, honeyed nose of peaches, melon and jasmine. A large footprint in the mouth, indeed, but not inelegant, with a balanced body and the aforementioned eternal finish. No ratings found. 4 6-packs available, $39.98 +tax 

Domaine Delaporte Sancerre Les Monts Damnés 2018, Loire Valley, France. There is, of course, nothing wrong with simple, linear Sancerre, but this ain’t that. Sourced from arguably the best vineyard in Sancerre, Delaporte’s take on Les Monts Damnes (the “damned hills”, to give you a feel for the amount of direct sun it gets) is a round but piercing blast of citrus and stones, softened with herbal and apple notes. It still starts and finishes with beautifully crisp austerity, it just has a nice fat middle: if Sancerre is a snake, the Les Monts Damnes is a snake that just ate a racoon. Brilliant stuff, doesn’t need food. 95 points Wine Enthusiast, 3 6-packs available, $76.98 +tax 

Venusa Bianco 2018, Mazzorbo, Venice, Italy. A millennium ago, the wines that the Venetian empire used to ship around the Mediterranean were actually grown right in Venice, in fact the area where the Piazza San Marco sits today used to be a vineyard, likely growing the ancient white grape Dorona di Venezia. Tourism, rising waters and urban growth pushed viticulture out to just a handful of islands in the Venetian lagoon, but as recently as 60 years ago Dorona was grown on Mazzorbo, Burano and Torcello, otherwise known as Native Venice. The flood of 1966 put the nail in the coffin of Venetian viticulture, and Dorona became nearly extinct. I say nearly because the Bisol family (Prosecco makers) discovered some Dorona in a private garden in 2002 and replanted it in their ancient walled vineyard on Mazzorbo (connected to the more populous Burano by a footbridge). The variety is perfectly suited for the salty, silty soils of the lagoon, which stress the vines and produce a wine – called Venusa – with an ethereal minerality aside the stone fruits and quince that dance lithely on the nose and palate. The short period of skin contact adds both golden pigment and some citrus rind astringency on the finish, wickedly unique, I’ve never quite had anything like this. If you only take one chance this year on a new, strange white wine, it should obviously be this. Not rated (production is too small). 4 6-packs available, $107.98 +tax 

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!

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