50 California blasts from the past

Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

As each calendar year counts down I set out on a long December inward journey, sifting through thousands of tasting notes, looking for reminders to trigger emotion. The purpose is a honing, a zeroing in process, first to create a shortlist and then a numbered final register to match the century’s yearly suffix. The latest was Godello’s Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020. A bit painstaking to agglomerate while simultaneously offering a grouping of days in recollection of the year’s finest sips though rumination over the previous 365. On this the first of March 2021 there is a looming and gloaming of a particular sort, forced upon us by circumstance as the auspicious anniversary approaches. Thus it seems like a reasonably credible idea to act upon the concept of creating more top lists, or rather further “gathered reminiscences,” blasts from the past. These are 50 California wines tasted years ago, assessments that up until now remained raw and unfinished, just now committed to public record.

Carneros, Napa Valley

Chardonnay

Patz & Hall Chardonnay Alder Springs Vineyard 2014, Mendocino County

A vineyard of altitude and cool seven miles from the ocean at 1200 ft with fruit also sold to Kosta Browne. Her for banana, lemon and intense dry extract. Crisp as possible, freshness, balance, length, carries it all. No butter, no oil, no gratuitous aromas or flavours. Exceptional. Donald Patz has now retired having sold to Chateau Ste. Michelle. Buy it up. May never be this exceptional again. Wild ferment, full malolactic, 70 per cent new French wood. $60-70 US. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted August 2016

Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley

In the zone, reduction blowing off to the edges of the compound. The liberally spread butter fully absorbed, the wood subsidy subsided, now all laid out in retrospect. Ripeness from that beautiful vintage has settled into a cool, lemon curd tart and nectarous nectarine delectation. All tolled the cumulative is an effect of elegance, though in this case not necessarily richesse. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Kutch Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2014

Santa Mateo County, really reductive, very mineral, the most thus far in a line-up of 13 California chardonnays , from what is surely the coolest spot from the Santa Cruz Mountains. Great rocks, stones and bones. Yes bones, by karst and the sea air reaching out to make this seriously cool. The great mountain tang and natural acidity, intense, snappy, snapping back and long. From Jamie Kutch, “Burgundian to a fault,” this being his first effort with chardonnay. An “abandoned” chardonnay vineyard, 12 per cent abv, pH to give you lemon juice but when you get lemons you know just what to do. $40 US. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted April 2016

Keller Estate Chardonnay Oro De Plata 2014, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County

This makes the previous wine (RS) seem oxidative. Reductive is at the fore for the Keller, freshness locked in, really wound on the coastal spindle, intense fruit and even more so, acidity, circular, reeling, wild. A Petaluma Gap leader to be sure, chardonnay of heritage with a winemaking tie to Hansell. No malolactic and all neutral oak. This is so very Chablis, Côte de Lechet and so, wow. $35 US, 800 cases. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted August 2016

Benovia Chardonnay Fort Ross Seaview 2014, Sonoma County

A coastal vineyard (and fruit that is also employed by Flowers) and many will rank this as the coolest spot in California for growing grapes. Mike Sullivan is the winemaker, with fruit that used to go to Marquesan. This done in a richer, expressive, layered style. Some tropical notes, deeply hued, mango, nectarine, creamsicle. Fresh, tart depth, Champagne like with toast and brioche. Luscious custard, 40 per cent new wood, 400 cases made. $55-60 US. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted August 2016

Melville Verna’s Estate Chardonnay 2014, Santa Barbara County

Both rich and really reductive, deeply hued, fully sun-worshipped and deftly but intently extracted fruit. A bite into a barrel, a Mutsu apple and the inside of a platinum pipe. Big, unabashed style with never ending mineral, tart, ripping and wisely no real malolactic. Plenty of lees though and the oldest of the oak. It’s all fruit, lemon curd and so dessert-like chardonnay but of savour and spicy sapidity. Saline finish. $40-50 US. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Migration Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

The richest and most “old-school” California of the lucky 13 tasting, fruit orchard apple and pear albeit folded and blended through ripe and creamy custard. Or at least the renderings thereof. Likely able to attribute that opaque, cloudy, clotted cream sensation from the fog injection. $40-45 US. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Presqu’ile Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County

Nice reserve on this nose, teasing some tropical fruit but keeping it calm, cool and collected. The calcareous aromas are quite fine, delineated like a chalky streak though less so on the palate follow through. Quite tart and nicely dry extract turn to creamy texture but not so thick in fluidity. Like barrel fermented chenin blanc so a unique expression. Listed at 13.9 abv, low pH, neutral oak and stainless, half and half. Matt Murphy is winemaker and co-owner. $35-40 US. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Ramey Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley

Some reduction and quite a corpulent, sweet herbology, genovese basil, pine nut and quality olive oil. Pesto of herb, glade, lemon and fine acidity. Always perfectly Russian River Valley, with a warm steal but ultimately cool. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted August 2016

Ramey Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley

Really showing some age from not the top of the top vintage, holding up but in display of its new barrels, nose oxidized and flavours still buoyed by acidity. So the corrective structure seems out of balance now while the wine marches on. Musty and microbial at this point with a fading sweetness on the finish. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted August 2016

Sonoma County vines
Photo (c): https://www.facebook.com/SonomaCountyVintners

Beringer Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley

Continues along the Beringer scaling line of wood retreat, cool climate clarity and as a result a wider commercial appeal. Who would have predicted the success but it’s really working. There would never be a mistaking and the shining is always in play but the admiral work and practicum really does what is base, necessary and appreciated. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Martin Ray Chardonnay 2015, Green Valley Of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

A greener understanding, like the smell of algae on rock in a pretty little creek. Carries some unction and creamy sherbet texture on the palate. Listed at 13.7 abv, toasty by 40 per cent new french oak, full malolactic. It leans delicious but also verdant and commercial. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Rodney Strong Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2015, Sonoma Coast

Classic taut and reductive chardonnay with Petaluma Wine Gap scream, in suffragette of creamy, rich fruit. Early harvest, compressed vintage. The fruit is caught in the wine’s vacuum, a wine tunnel creating this centrifuge of richness and acidity. Commercial, composed and so very effective. $25 US Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted August 2016

Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands

A Wagner Family of Wines property, a fine restraint and a shine to cooler thoughts come from this highland chardonnay, with more than enough orchard pressed fruit to fill a trough for the quiet and the masses. Really ramps up and fleshes on the palate with some wild biters late. Good length. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Chamisal Stainless Chardonnay 2015, Central Coast

San Luis Obispo County, ocean proximate, cool spot, from the oldest producer in Edna Valley. Nicely lean, briny, saline, good acidity. Add some fish or seafood flesh and it will sing. Fresh and crisp. $18 US. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Menage A Trois Gold Chardonnay 2015

From the Trinchero Family Estates stable, classic buttery rich and slightly toasty broad California style. Barrel rendered middle road taken, wax polish, enamel-oleaginous spray. Intensely inward and uni-dimensional for commercial lobster fishing, crack a shell and pour into red plastic cup enjoyment. You know what’s it’s good for. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Scheid Chardonnay Escolle Road Vineyard 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County

The aromatics here are off the charts in the 13 strong grouping of this tasting. Waxy, caramel, smoky, flinty, butterscotch in gobs. Really odd conclusive nose and even stranger to taste, with a pencil lead and rubber tipped pencil flavour that reminds of childhood class boredom chewing mistakes. Inoculated, 7 per cent new oak, some of it “European.” Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Sonoma Coast
Photo (c): http://www.sonomawine.com/

Other White

Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley

Ripe and creamy aromas take this sauvignon blanc into fresh and exotic territory but it’s one of those wines that really improves on the palate, carrying weighty and energy together, expanding and elevating the status in so many ways. A gregarious and resourceful sauvignon blanc with more upside than many peers. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

St. Supéry Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley

The high stirred SS, SB style, from high and dry extract effect, fine acidity and faux sugary spell. Full fleshy mouthfeel and terrific 2015 tang. Lays out the green carpet for the vintage, the varietal and what’s to come. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

J Vineyards Pinot Gris 2015, California

J Vineyards Pinot Gris 2015, which strikes as pinot grigio in style, dry extract to aromatic sweetness, warm and inviting. Tart and citrus intense, very appealing commercial style and a buttery finish which tells some barrel is involved. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Treana Blanc 2015, Central Coast

A blend of 45 each marsanne and roussanne plus viognier, a bit of aromatic reserve, quite rich and dense on the palate. Flavours of very ripe pear and even riper apple. A bit into the sauce and the purée. Could use a more purposed shot of acidity and courage. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Cabernet Sauvignon

Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

As only Heitz can do this provides the combination of elegance and structure and what may just be the finest tannins available from Napa Valley for cabernet sauvignon. That this is so understated speaks volumes about the essence and the incredulity of a Martha’s and with the dry backdrop of a perfect Napa growing season this clambers through its reps with effortless ease, muscular tension and satisfying performance. More ballerina than gymnast and certainly more statesman than warrior. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted April 2016

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley

Continues the thread of dry, dusty, beautifully savoury and fruit fleshy cabernet sauvignon from the Groth team. It’s like biting into that perfectly ripe and juicy plum, in texture, not sweetness or even specific to the fruit, but that texture, its unmistakeable. Seamless, tender, age worthy and so friendly (but at the same time serious) cabernet sauvignon. Grothiness refined and defined. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted April 2016

Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

A different world here, very floral, historic site with vines that go back as far as 1972, organic since the mid-1980’s. With a slice of reduction to grant forward structure where candied roses will always be there. Classic 1990’s Napa style, rich and full but focused, pure and detailed. Complex, 20 months in French wood, 60 per cent new, 88 per cent cabernet sauvignon 88 plus (8) cabernet franc and some petit verdot. The potential is great. This will become picture perfect. $185 US. Drink 2019-2032.  Tasted September 2016

Etude Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

The combination of fruit (could it be any riper or improved upon), acumen and no expense spared makes this the cabernet sauvignon of great esteem in that echelon where few reside. Berries in many forms; fresh, puréed and in clafouti are fully engaged. What will this not do for you, for 20 years and more? Everything. The most refined and sophisticated such a wine can be. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted April 2016

J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley

From Schramsberg Vineyards, a Napa Valley aromatic beauty, the most floral of any on this table and in so many ways the most Bordelais, or perhaps more specifically Margaux with such perfume only a scant few know or understand. So pretty and powerful, lovely, structured and intense. This will age for two decades easily and tasting this really puts it all into perspective. The palate brings more of the divine, silky, fleshy and with some spicy bite and chew. Really fine. Really, really fine. Drink 2020-2035.  Tasted May 2016

 

Gallica Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, St. Helena, Napa Valley

Oakville valley floor Napa fruit gravelly soil, from Rosemary Cakebread. First wine in this haute line-up to amalgamate the blue, red and black fruit, with some volcanic aromatics. Acidity works in and all around and so this has it all going on with a chocolate finish more refined. Mainly (75 per cent cabernet sauvignon plus (25) cabernet franc, suave from blueberry to red currant to black berry. The corporeal tone is elegant and muscular. Has some real elegance and is is simply excellent. 249 cases. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted September 2016

Young Inglewood Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, St. Helena, Napa Valley

Deep, low, bench land gravelly soils, extended maceration, rich concentrated depth, amazingly void of chalk and grain though the tannin is intense. Very refined, spicy and great acidity. It’s all in napa, all in from Josh. Wow, so long. $157 US. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted September 2016

Signorello Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, Unfiltered

From 1990 planted hillside, bench site vineyards, gravelly with good drainage, young but structured, just east of the Silverado Trail. Rich, black fruit, chalky, fine-grained and very sweet tannin. All natural yeasts, 22 months in 65 per cent new oak. All in but because the fruit is so rich and pure there is balance. Rich, spicy and focused, tempered chocolate finish, a prime example of today’s Bordelais in the retro-modern world. $156 US. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2016

Silverado Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Also high-toned but the level of serious, depth and bad-ass intent is on the table. From steep shale soils, there is a mountain herb aroma that is distinct, ahead of the chocolate curve,. All in 100 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 45 per cent new wood, heat factor notably reduced. There is a cool-menthol note but the flavour is a change of pace, into cool, thin mountain air and the tannins are a beast. Tart and grainy finish. Needs five to seven years to integrate. Exceptional wine. $150 US. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted September 2016

Y Rousseau Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Yannick’s work, in reduction and Mount Veeder depth. Further south with fog-maritime coverage so here winemaking is in, Bordelais for sure, reminds of St. Éstephe. Dark, pitchy, cimmerian, with a steep remoteness about it. Volcanic, serious at 2000 ft, so great acidity that just seems natural and raging. Candied flowers and this is just simply intense, gorgeous and alone. Eastern exposure, naturally fermented, 18 months in 75 per cent in new oak. The structure here is second to none with focus, determination and very aggressive tannins. Quite hot on the finish being the only detractor. 150 cases made. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted September 2016

Daou Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Soul Of A Lion 2013, Paso Robles

Carries a cool, Mediterranean savour on the nose, with spirit, vitality and a black olive tapenade. Seamless, ripe in acidity and intensely naked but never wavering from its energy. This is a massively structured wine and no doubt will last 25 years but touched anytime in the first 10 will require hours of aeration and a more than obvious, double-digit ounce weighed, protein fleshy sidekick. It may be big and high octane on the nose, carry a truck load of architectural bones on its corpulent frame but it never loses sight of finesse and dare it be said, elegance. Well, maybe not elegance but it is charming, handsome and fine, even in the face of massive extraction. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted April 2016

Honig Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Going deeper and darker on the floor, ripe and tart black raspberries, dusty Rutherford fruit, 87 cabernet with a long splash of petit verdot, with some merlot. Aged in 100 per cent American oak (30 new). Good valley floor fruit absorption, some exotic black and white fruit, pod and kernel. Acidity is low profile, tannin slightly more but this is quite easy to get at for a Honig. A wine of good volatility. $78 US. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016

Terra Valentine Spring Mountain District Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

High Mediterranean-savoury component, in black olive and caper volatility. So much ripe but tang-tart-sour raspberry, a product of high sun hours at elevation with the need for canopy management. Old vines, erosion hills, fog-influence, history and repetition. Very savoury and another wine with its very own kind of funk. Oak and spice with grainy tannins all over the finish. Wild, disparate and complex wine. A bit early to get to know and then it carries a bit of an advanced character or a natural cure to it that may always be there as it ages over a good long period of time. $175 US. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted September 2016

Trefethen Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley

Valley floor fruit where healthy ground cover leads for major florals and minor Mediterranean scents, namely black olive. Gravelly, Oak Knoll natural acidity giving rise to the AVA nature, that ripe and round acidity for a cool feel. Aridity, pinch of salinity, rises and lingers. Minor pitches from malbec, petit verdot and merlot. Overall epitome of red fruit. Better value than most. $60 US. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted September 2016

Rocca Family Vineyards 2013, Napa Valley

Single vineyard on a 21-acre farm, high toned, dark fruit from a warm bench land site, alluvial soil, organic. Sees 20 months in 75 per cent French oak and in this case it is necessary because the fruit and the acidity are ravers and ragers. Such a cooling back side, minty, chocolate mint, rubbed between the fingers, yes, like malbec. Oak is huge. $108 US. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2016

Darioush Napa Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

More of a proprietary red, 75 cabernet with some merlot and a minor amount of cabernet franc, plus malbec and petit verdot. More acetic tendency, tart and direct, even stark at first. High octane over bullish concentration, not so subtle, aromatically closed but the acidity and the overall structure is gritty. This needs time to settle, for the composed acidity to get together and layer into the fruit. The finish while hot is more composed. There is some dried fruit advanced character. Multifarious, both by varietal and picking times, or so it would seem. $95 US. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Farella Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

The tones are on the rise, up in the air, quite the herb influence, whiff of pipe tobacco, seems like a higher percent of malbec and/or petit verdot. From the most recently designated AVA, volcanic meets foxy, dried fruit with spice, fig, cherry, apricot, peach and plum. Chewy dried fruit, you need to work a while (it’s actually 100 per cent cabernet) some grainy, chalky tannin and really good length. New oak is well-integrated. Not as cultured and understood in fact perhaps a bit disjointed but so much potential and expectation runs high for what will come next. Oak is an imbalance factor. Simple finish. $65 US. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Sara d’Amato, ROM September 2016

Pinot Noir

Etude Grace Benoist Ranch Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros

The fullest of fruit, with spice and San Pablo Bay influenced tension. The combination of ripe and ripping, rich and ricocheting. Has found the right place. Typically atypical for Carneros or rather as Carneros within a Napa to Sonoma connectivity. Holds an ability to age like few varietal sistren or brethren in either AVA. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Longoria Wines Pinot Noir Lovely Rita 2015, Sta. Rita Hills

“Nothing can come between us.” A wine with a song in its title, offering up the lowest hanging fruit and ready for lyrical association. Fine and elegant pinot fruit, with slender, long fingers and legs, plenty of confidence and so perfectly Sta. Rita Hills representative of place. Restrained, elegant, beautiful and ethereal. That’s a really fine pinot noir with a shot of garrigue. Drink early, If for no other reason that there is no way to resist temptation. Drink 202017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma County

Now under the ownership of Chateau St. Michelle Wine Estates, this is one of Donald Patz’s swan songs, a wine that has swept into a new price stratosphere, 50 per cent increase in the last what seems like five years (but is probably more like ten). Sweet pinot fruit in such a refined, elegant and classically secure Sonoma Coast style, with altitude, diurnal temperature changes and the maritime air all influencing the style. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Marimar Estate Mas Cavalls Pinot Noir 2013, Doña Margarita Vineyard, Sonoma Coast

Marimar Estate’s Mas Cavalis 2013 pinot noir shows great tension as always, acts nominally rustic and engaging. A turnkey pinot noir, expertly ripe and accented with sweet if spicy oak, tart but never lactic. Just terrific varietal wine noting vineyard and AVA with alternating slash double entendre distinction. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Reata Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands

From out of the Santa Lucia Highlands and a property owned by Jamieson Ranch Vineyards. Rich and velvety, slightly spicy but certainly spiced, very consumer friendly at the higher end of the scale, interesting in that it hits all the right notes and lingers nicely but it’s almost too vivid and appealing. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Benovia Pinot Noir Cohn 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

Sweet tension, red berry emotion, tar and roses, not as intense as perhaps expected. Great example however of Russian River Valley fruit, though low acidity, easy to like, hard to keep around. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted April 2016

Other Red

Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages 2013, Sonoma County

Full on deep, dark, arid and ranging wide trodding a silk road. Extensively far reaching red blend and with great formidable tannin and structure so perhaps the best of its ilk in many a moon. Top quality from Margo Van Staaveren through the looking glass of vivid transparency and vibrancy. Best I’ve tasted. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted April 2016

Duckhorn Three Palms Merlot 2012, Napa Valley

Duckhorn’s Three Palms ranks amongst the finest in Napa merlot and from 2012 I could paint my plate with this reduction. Thick, beautifully chocolatey and yet chalky, tart, angled and nearly bradding. It could pass for Masseto. Really Italianate and intense. So much chocolate and spice, clove, nutmeg, purple flowers. Not sure just anyone can handle its vivid truth but it’s a very intense and stylish merlot. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Twomey Merlot 2012, Napa Valley

From Silver Oak Cellars, just now coming into its window with the formidable barrel continuing its slow melt, now in a calm and gelid stage. Coconut and plum combine and then there is this chocolate smooth consistency and always the dusty feel of merlot. Still pulsing with energy but this is such a full on expression. All chocolate and espresso on the finish. So much oak. Silver oak. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2016

C.G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery Syrah 2012, Sierra Foothills

From the Sierra Foothills, this is deep mahogany red pitchy, meaty and cured syrah, full aromatic fleshy and mouth coating/filling with terrific silky addendum. A seamless syrah from start to finish. Turns into something firm (feels like granite) and even porcine at the finish. There’s a lot of fun complexity and ever-changing personality, from its roots to the Rhône and back again. Fascinating. approx. $40 CAN. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Cline Big Break Zinfandel 2013, Contra Costa County

Cline’s Big Break zinfandel 2013 is rich, brambly and so full of dark berry fruit, though also a bit of oxidation. Chalky, lactic, not overtly tart and I like the fennel, tar and roses aspect. Complex and really big. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted April 2016

Good to go!

godello

Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Seventeen in VINTAGES February 4th, 2017

breakfast

as seen on WineAlign

Familiar and not so familiar Europe, always cool chardonnay, seeing South African red (and a white)

These past two weeks have been difficult, bizarre and disturbing to say the least. No one is immune to thinking about the twists, turns and horrors of recent world events. With no disrespect to activism, especially on a personal level, at WineAlign our job as critics is to find ways to keep the machine running, in other words, to focus on wine. In 1975 Saturday Night Live did a skit in which Paul Simon played one-on-one basketball against one-time Harlem Globetrotter and NBA legend Connie Hawkins. Just before the game sports reporter Marv Albert asks Simon about his strategy in going up against The Hawk. “Uh, but I’ll just have to play my game, as I usually play it,” says Simon. “I mean, I’m not gonna change anything, I’ve gotta stay with my strengths… basically, singing and songwriting.” At WineAlign we’ll simply do the same.

Wines across the Mediterranean are a primary focus of the VINTAGES February 4th release. A great number of them will coax a feeling of familiarity and there are others that may not ring a bell. In any particular wine purchasing scheme it is always best to strike a balance between the poles of available options so best approached by looking to one and then the other. While France, Spain and Italy will always deliver the tried and true, a gem of a geeky or otherwise deferential varietal can be unearthed if your mind and your heart are open. Get into the corners and alleys of habituated Europe but also a place like Greece. You will marvel at how it can change your outlook to usher in the most interesting of times, in life and in wine.

Related – Only one in VINTAGES January 21st, a writer’s defence and nine more

A view through Vouraikos Canyon from Mega Spileo Vineyard

A view through Vouraikos Canyon from Mega Spileo Vineyard

Don’t worry. I’m not going to run off and wax rhapsodic about wines found “off the beaten path,” argue on the semantics of what exactly that means or how it should be defined. But I will tell you a little story. In July of 2016 I visited one of Europe’s most extraordinary vineyards, found in Achaia, located in the northern Peloponnese. At the top of this incredible canyon you stand at the foot of another even more imposing and massive rock face that is home to the 11th century Mega Spileo monastery. Gazing north through the cracks in the mountain cragges you can see the azure blue waters of the Gulf of Corinth. Looking straight down you see the greenery of the healthy Mega Spileo vineyard. The entire footage leaves an indelible mark. What’s the point? The point is to get out there and make discoveries. This also applies to what can be found in the VINTAGES catalogue.

Related – Seventeen for January 7, 2017

#cool

Chardonnay is always in the spotlight so why should February 4th be any different? This past summer at Niagara’s Cool Chardonnay conference I found out that we have to look at organoleptics and ask a very important question. Is your expectation of a Chablis going to be the same as chardonnay made from anywhere else? More important, who are we putting this wine in front of? Ian D’agata’s take struck a Canadian chord. He talked of “a welcome astringency characterized by piercing flavours. These are cool-climate wines. Cool climate chardonnay is not about a long litany of fruit descriptors. If you have a cool-climate viticultural area it behooves you to give the people what they are looking for.” More cool chardonnay examples available on this release are worthy of your time and your dollars.

Bush vines, Groot Drakenstein Mountains @AnthonijRupert Wyne @WOSACanada #lormarins #franschhoek #southafrica #winesofsouthafrica #mesmerizing

Bush vines, Groot Drakenstein Mountains @AnthonijRupert Wyne @WOSACanada #lormarins #franschhoek #southafrica #winesofsouthafrica #mesmerizing

South Africa is a geographical and geological land of wonder, of ancient soils and picturesque intrusions. Extreme examples include the shale and schist of Swartland that turns into dust and the granite domes of Paarl, which are 30 million years old. We are talking about beginning of time stuff, but how does it impart into wine? Taste more than just a few South African reds and you will get a sense.

I’ve said it before and will repeat myself. South African wine is not what we thought it was. This mantra can’t be repeated often enough. Ventures into the Cape wine lands, tastings and zealous immersion into Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek, Swartland and Hemel-En-Aarde see to that. If you’ve not visited you can’t possibly know what revelations lurk but you can get a glimpse by drinking South African wines here in Ontario.

Familiar Europe

sierra

Sierra Cantabria Selección 2014, Doca Rioja, Spain (Agent190520$14.95, WineAlign)
@RiojaWine  @azureau

nimes

Château d’Or et de Gueules Les Cimels 2013, AC Costières de Nîmes, France (Agent480301, $15.95, WineAlign)
  @RhoneWine  @VINSRHONE  @NaturalVines

Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace

Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace

Jean Biecher & Fils Schoenenbourg Riesling 2014, AC Alsace Grand Cru, France (Agent, 469767, $23.95, WineAlign)
  @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace  @VinsAlsace

not-all-terroir-is-created-equal-cinque-cru-barone_ricasoli-granselezione-castellodibrolio-chianticlassico-massimilianobiagi-francescoricasoli-stefanocapurso

Five terroirs of Ricasoli

Barone Ricasoli Castello di Brolio Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2013, DOCG Tuscany, Italy (Agent, 942607, $59.95, WineAlign)
@barone_ricasoli  @chianticlassico  @imbibersreport

Not-so familiar Europe

There's a new obsession in town- #campania @vinalois #falanghina #greco #fiano #aglianico #pallagrello #pallagrellonero #palagrellobianco #cassavecchia #pontepellegrino #therealcampania #massimoalois #vinialois #brandnewdaywines #bndwines

There’s a new obsession in town- #campania @vinalois #falanghina #greco #fiano #aglianico #pallagrello #pallagrellonero #palagrellobianco #cassavecchia #pontepellegrino #therealcampania #massimoalois #vinialois #brandnewdaywines #bndwines

Ponte Pellegrino Greco di Tufo 2015, IGT Campania, Italy (Agent477760, $13.95, WineAlign)
@vinialois

prunotto

Prunotto Mompertone 2015, DOC Monferrato, Piedmont, Italy (Agent, 388587, $18.95, WineAlign)
  @HalpernWine  

alicante

Tommasi Poggio Al Tufo Alicante 2013, IGT Toscana, Italy (Agent, 70797, $22.95, WineAlign)
@UNIVINS  @Tommasiwine

Mega Spileo Monastery

Mega Spileo Monastery

Domain Mega Spileo Red 2010, Peloponnese, Greece (Agent, 466110, $29.95, WineAlign)
@DrinkGreekWine  

chenin

Domaine F L Savennières Chenin 2012, AC Loire, France (Agent470971, $33.95, WineAlign)
@DomaineFL  @vinsdeloire

spatlese

Maximin Grünhäuser Abtsberg Riesling Spätlese 2014, Pradikätswein, Germany (Agent, 481374, $39.95, WineAlign)
  @germanwineca  @WinesofGermany

More cool chardonnay

citry

Simonnet Febvre Bourgogne Chitry 2014, AC Bourgogne, France (Agent, 479667, $19.95, WineAlign)
@SimonnetFebvre  @LouisLatour1797  @ImportWineMAFWM  @BourgogneWines  @vinsdebourgogne

Blue Mountain Vineyards Phoo: (c) www.bluemountainwinery.com

Blue Mountain Vineyards
Phoo: (c) http://www.bluemountainwinery.com

Blue Mountain Gold Label Brut Sparkling, Traditional Method, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Agent, 206326, $28.95, WineAlign)
@BlueMtnWinery @rogcowines  @winebcdotcom

Time to taste at Domaine Queylus

Time to taste at Domaine Queylus

Domaine Queylus Tradition Chardonnay 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent, 489591, $24.95, WineAlign)
@QueylusVin  @Dandurandwines

luminous

Beringer Luminus Chardonnay 2014, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley (Agent, 395699, $39.95, WineAlign)
@beringervyds    @NapaVintners

South African reds (and a white)

Rustenberg R.M. Nicholson 2013

Rustenberg RM Nicholson 2014, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, 278390, $19.95, WineAlign)
@RustenbergWines  @WoodmanWS  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

mentors

The Mentors Shiraz 2012, Wo Paarl, South Africa (Agent, 403618, $29.95, WineAlign)
@KWVwines  @Dandurandwines  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

Avondale_Wines_Jonty_s_Ducks_Pekin_White_web

Avondale Jonty’s Ducks Pekin White 2015, Wo Paarl, South Africa (Agent, 439554, $15.95, WineAlign)
@Avondalewine  @RareEarth_Wines  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

 

I would like to wish you all great February release wine hunting and gathering. The WineAlign team is in travel mode these days but rest assured the reviews from upcoming VINTAGES releases will be dutifully covered. I’m off to Antiprime Toscane next week and will be back in time for everything March. The February 18th release will find a focus on Australia and March 4th, well, it’s anyone’s guess!

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Chardonnay in the Napa luxury

Treasury Wine Estates Napa Valley Chardonnay

Treasury Wine Estates Napa Valley Chardonnay

What’s in a varietal? Do Greek Roditis or Savatiano float your endemic boat? Are Italian Grecanico or Cerasuola your wayfaring, off the beaten path, go to grape variety strays? Could it be that French Arbois or Sylvaner are your geek out points of reference? If any or all of the above speak coquettish truths about you, then how do you extrapolate epiphanies from a credit-worthy, dyed-in-the-wool list borne out of the Napa Valley?

Related – Napa Valley: The next generation

On a California journey the indenture is written as a very fixed notion, a contract between vintner and taster, specific to and bonded by preordained expectation. So far I have waxed on about Cabernet Sauvignon and ripeness. I have made not so infrequent mention of Sauvignon Blanc and I have dipped with fervent foray into the inner workings of Pinot Noir. On that same trip the holiest of sunshine daydream holies was presented to our sundry Canadian group. The light of west coast life. Napa Valley Chardonnay.

Related – Napa Valley two: A question of age

Six Napa representatives of the highest order, the vinetarius maximus of the valley if you will, gathered in a great big house out on the St. Helena Highway. They came to the 10,000 square foot, Luther Turton-designed Rutherford House at Beaulieu Vineyard to pour their Chardonnay wares. Our moderator was Ginevra Altomara AS, CSW, Trade Education Manager for Treasury Wine Estates. The six of the best tasting gathered together winemakers Jon Priest of Etude Wines, Mark Beringer of Beringer Wine Estates, Domenica Totty of Beaulieu Vineyard, Christophe Paubert of Stags’ Leap Winery, Matthew Glynn of Acacia Vineyard and Harry Hansen of Sterling Vineyards. There was no sighting of any alleged ghost that lives under the staircase.

Related – Napa Valley: Where ripeness happens

The best of the six draws into question old versus new world theories and Napa Valley’s current position relative to Burgundy. Times have changed. Forget about the 1976 Judgment of Paris. Its relevance in 2016 is merely historical. California Chardonnay is more diverse than it has ever been. Progression, climate change, raw materialistic availability and market share all conspire to reside on its beautiful hillsides. So it must be asked, can Burgundy keep up with the fictionality of the Napa Valley reality? If Chardonnay in these parts is worthy of fetischistic yardsticks usually extended to measure anthologist wines, how can the European union keep up with the North American machine?

The epiphany drawn from such a tasting corroborates the intellection of suggestive antithetical theory that the further south you plant Chardonnay in Napa Valley, the more restrained and elegant it will have a chance to be. If Carneros was not already widely agreed upon as the sub-appellation to rival Sonoma for cool-climate Chardonnay distinction, these wines conjoin to push the point. The apodictical is in the tapioca.

View of the Mayacaymas Mountains from Rutherford House

View of the Mayacaymas Mountains from Rutherford House

Etude Heirloom Chardonnay 2013, Carneros, Napa Valley, California (Agent, Winery, $60 US, WineAlign)

Taken exclusively from the estate ranch, out of well draining, volcanic soils at 400 feet of elevation. Rocky, cobbly, clay loam  soils that “takes you off of the floor of the valley.” Makes for compact grapes, condensed, of low yields. “Hens and chicken clusters” notes Jon Priest. A beautifully wood restrained Chardonnay, with orchard fruit aromas and a lacy, silky texture. Mineral tang as gossamer as any, with a fine, cool and clear circuitous Carneros night carnival of vivid luminosity. Old school winemaking you might say, introduced by some skin contact, set in all French oak (10-15 per cent new), ubiquitous yeast spontaneous, primary and then elongated malolactic fermentation. Protracted wine of length the same, for delicasse, with ode to 16 months sur lie making for the gossamer texture. Autolytic Chardonnay that is totally dry but with fruit sweetness. Of the bees and to light a candle to last in the temple. Only 300 cases made. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted February 2016  @etudewines  #treasurywineestates

Beringer Luminous Chardonnay 2013, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, California (395699, $39.95, WineAlign)

This is the 3rd vintage of the Luminous, taken from one vineyard site on Big Ranch Road in the Oak Knoll District. Seductively reductive and and celestially volatile for Chardonnay, tender rich in mineral and rendered in citrus fruit. The accumulative tang gives its luminous aspect ratio, like glowing metal, infrared, incandescent. Compressed orange, of zest but not flesh really opens as the acidity prepares the palate for waves of scraped citrus. Done up all in French oak, 30 per cent new. A long fermentation ameliorates the aromatics and opens the door for subsequence by subtle toast. All that said, the tension is not so high, but the finish is long. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016  @beringervyds

Beaulieu Vineyard Ranch 8 Chardonnay 2014, Carneros, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $35 US, WineAlign)

A foot in two worlds young Chardonnay, at once easy with ripe fruit and honey butter spread on golden, caster crystallized toast. Fashioned in a very accessible and peripheral commercial style, more block than greater vineyard driven. The well-drained, hilly site is off of Deadly Lane, at a southerly aspect, on the beach, against a sand bar. Eight is from an earlier pick then the rest of the ranch, for a Chardonnay of natural acidity, sweetly viscous and rich. Crafted to be a high malolactic influenced, 55 per cent new, 11 months in French oak of medium toast structured, in avoidance of caramel and butterscotch Chardonnay. Within and without of 25 per cent natural fermentation and 95 per cent malolactic, made with a yeast cocktail. Driven to be a softer, textural wine, which it is. Soothing Carneros Chardonnay for when “I follow the road, though I don’t know where it ends.” Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted February 2016  @BVwines

Stags’ Leap Winery Chardonnay Barrel Selection 2013, Carneros, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $45 US, WineAlign)

A big barrel effect is wholly, utterly and diametrically mitigated with exceptional fruit quality and a minerality as stoked and striking as any. This represents the multi-faceted displays of all in Chardonnay replete with a linear streak of raging acidity.  Bathed in 50 per cent new oak and considering the implosive integration that is nothing short of remarkable. The fruit comes by way of 65 per cent northerly Stanly Ranch vineyard, the rest from Poseidon in the south of Carneros. Settling was encouraged before going to (a shortish stay) barrel, for protection, then bottled in May. Only available through the winery, this barrel selection Chardonnay should easily linger into its 10th birthday. Only 500 cases made. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted February 2016  @stagsleapwines

Civilization found in Napa Valley @CalifWines_CA #treasurywineestates #etude #beringer #stagsleap #acacia #beaulieuvineyard #sterlingvineyards

Civilization found in Napa Valley @CalifWines_CA #treasurywineestates #etude #beringer #stagsleap #acacia #beaulieuvineyard #sterlingvineyards

Acacia Chardonnay Sangiocomo Vineyards 2012, Carneros, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $55 US, WineAlign)

The most sunshine and buttery goodness. Full on expression with new oak at the forefront. A style that has stuck and wont go away. Grown in the “California sprawl,” from 30 year-old vines with just two wires, floppy vines with fruit tucked inside a canopy plus exposed fruit, caramelized and glazed. The disposition is nothing less than blessed, with charismatic personality and weight. Native yeast leads the faux-secondary fermentation, acts and acquiesces to quite toasty and really lingers. Definitely makes a statement, albeit a natural, 14.9 per cent alcohol one. A six or seven chord wine, atmospheric and orchestrated, with thankful necessary acidity to render it more than likeable, sellable and consumable. Needs two years to reign in the wood. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted February 2016  #acaciavineyard

Sterling Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve 2012, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $60 US, WineAlign)

Commensurate restraint emerges and out of a vintage that gave generously. Fruit comes first though barrel has more than a few paragraphs to dictate for a very ripe wine on the edge of ripeness. Rutherford provides 58 per cent of the fruit (in a vineyard located across the street from BV house). The balance (42) comes from Oak Knoll District,  a warm, warmer and warmest place. The addition is both hefty and prodigious, with brown butter glazed on route. The barrels are 100 per cent French, 60 per cent of them new and malolactic is gifted to 100 per cent. It all surmises up, up and away to the creamiest of expressions, flavoured in baked apple, vanilla and crème caramel. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016  @sterlingwines

Perfect lunch at Rutherford House

Perfect lunch at Rutherford House

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign: Michael Godel

Facebook