16 mind-blowing wines of 2016


This may or may not have happened #raveneau #memory #monteedetonnerre

It has never been this difficult to narrow it down. This frenetic, fast and forward moving blur of a year has blistered the patterns of thought so much so that I seriously considered throwing the whole 16 in 16 down the drain and laying it all out there. “Here are the 42 mind-blowing wines of 2016…” and then this wave of clarity came over me like a cloudless afternoon in Chablis. I mean I tasted 50-plus Grand Cru Chablis this year. They could all be on this list.

I meant this just the way I wrote it. The simplicity of wine is a beautiful thing. A vine grows and produces grapes. That fruit is picked and ferments itself with help from yeast it just happens to carry in its luggage. Time passes and wine is made. No one had to invent it. The most basic example of shit happens.

Related – 15 Mind blowing wines of 2015

As if to presumptuously bookend 2016 before it even began, that first post was apropos. New year, 16 new VINTAGES releases were not mind-blowing by any stretch of the waxing rhapsodic imagination but white space was filled. Like growing grapes in warm climates where just about anything can complete a phenolic journey, the possibilities are endless. So that I may feel comfortable quoting Godello again and again, multeity is the name of the game.

Related – Around the Cape in 50 wines

South Africa continued to occupy Godello for the early part of 2016 and that will never cease and desist. Hosting Andrea Mullineux at Barque Butcher Bar was one of the true highlights of the year. The landscape of South African wine is demarcated by ancient geology and by the geographical diversity of its regions, sub-regions and micro-plots. Varietal placement is the key to success. As I mentioned in previous articles, South African winemakers can grow anything they want, to both their discretion and their whimsy. The choice of what grows best and where will determine the successes of the future.

A new riesling on my radar was released in February. Creekside Estate Riesling Marianne Hill Vineyard 2014, Beamsville Bench, Ontario (443572, $19.95, WineAlign) and it paired beautifully with more foreshadowing than I’d like to admit.

Such a showing of 12 from Langton's does @Wine_Australia proud. Formidable, exemplary #AussieWine #vintagewineconservatory

Such a showing of 12 from Langton’s does @Wine_Australia proud. Formidable, exemplary #AussieWine #vintagewineconservatory

The Langton’s Classification: Excellent, outstanding, exceptional could have, would have placed 16 wines on this best of list were the rest of the planet not so adept at making wine. Like Wynns Coonawarra Estate John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Release 2010, Coonawarra, South Australia (466748, $99.95, WineAlign). Such a gathering of Australian wine delivers the preponderance of form, with the incantatory capacity of narrative to bring truth to light and fulness out of pleasure. The mantra repeated with Savouring the new Australia.

The #napavalley mustard is something else @CalifWines_CA #napa #califwine

The #napavalley mustard is something else @CalifWines_CA #napa #califwine

California stars showed up in droves and like any high quality engrossing preoccupation, the trip to Napa and Sonoma this year changed everything. Whatever I thought I knew or felt about the California wine industry now needs to be rewritten. First, Napa Valley: Where ripeness happens, then Napa Valley two: A question of ageNapa Valley: The next generationChardonnay in the Napa luxurySonoma gaps and single vineyardsSeven Grothic tales and Old vines for the Zin.

Vintage to vintage nuance and the common thread of %22grothiness,%22 or, @GrothWines in essence @TheVine_RobGroh #suzannegroth #napavalley #oakville #cabernetsauvignon

Vintage to vintage nuance and the common thread of grothiness, or, @GrothWines in essence @TheVine_RobGroh #suzannegroth #napavalley #oakville #cabernetsauvignon

The most pertinent question now in my mind is this. Can European wine keep up with the fictionality of North American reality? Even these wines could not make this list, however great and exceptional they are. Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, California (181131, $158.95, WineAlign), Forman Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (143925, $160.00, WineAlign) and Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1997, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $179.95, WineAlign). Sometimes the answer still persists. All in the Primum Familiae Vini. And by the way, The LCBO keeps Kosher.


Much of what I taste is in a lab with no windows. That is because VINTAGES is a mimetic project, which is a few projects too many. We wine trackers and writers are akin to Cricetinae, perpetually running in a wheel or like Sisyphus, forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down. We read the bi-weekly catalogue, pre-taste the newest offerings, make our lists and check them twice. In every batch there are 10-15 wines that stand out, as much about bell curve positioning as absence of singularity. That is why attending varietal-centric events like The dawning of the age of Austrian wine and travelling the world is so important. Not too mention in my dining room In the Campania of Vini Alois.


To name a few excursions, I visited California in February, Vinho Verde in March, Chianti Classico in May, Chablis in July and Valpolicella in September. November in Paris I re-connected with Earth and sky. The take aways were extraordinary and flush with the relish of new discoveries and brand new days. Who can forget Ca’ La Bionda Vigneti Di Ravazzol Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 1997? Italy in the fall reminded me that Franciacorta is the best kept sparkling secret on the planet. November is a sublime time to visit the province of Brescia and the cellars of Franciacorta. Meraviglioso! Meanwhile, Champagne has to be on the list, right? Lallier Cuvée Millésime Grand Cru Brut Champagne 2008, Champagne, France (Agent, $95.00, WineAlign) should be but again, space restrictions and there was this old bubble from the New World. Decisions, decisions.

Related – March of the Canadians

Which brings me back to Canadian and more parochioally, Ontario wine. The Canadian wine renaissance is attributed to high-end, artisan winemakers like Norman Hardie and Thomas Bachelder. That’s the cool factor. The truth of the matter is that Canadian winemakers have realized and capitalized on the significance and exceptionality of their terroirs in regions such as Niagara, Prince Edward County and the Okanagan Valley. Journalists and buyers from around the globe know it and have begun to spread the Canadian gospel.

And now #cuvee2016 @CCOVIBrockU #vqa @winecountryont #scotiabankconventioncentre

And now #cuvee2016 @CCOVIBrockU #vqa @winecountryont #scotiabankconventioncentre

And so I asked Where does the taste of Ontario go from here? At Cuvée, where was the Cabernet Franc? Where was the rest of Ontario’s Go Gamay Go arsenal? Varietal lampoonery I tell ya. Over the highway and across the hills, No County for old wines and then, “a celebrated indictment of suburban surrender,” Too late for May Two-Four.

Related – 16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

This 16-strong list has much to do with the beg, Drink now or save it for later? I have spent the last 30 years considering wine in some respect. The last 15 much more so. The tries, trials, errors, tricks, and tribulations have taught me one thing. I prefer and receive much more instant gratification from drinking wines young but nothing compares to the insight and the exhilaration of partaking in older wines.

You never forget your first hunk of #kimmeridgian love @BIVBChablis @vinsdebourgogne #chablis #cotedelechet

You never forget your first hunk of #kimmeridgian love @BIVBChablis @vinsdebourgogne #chablis #cotedelechet

The year’s greatest distraction came at the hands of Chablis and fair warning, twenty thousand words are coming soon. In 2016 I published three times, Chablis from Dauvissat to VocoretLooking for Chablis in Ontario?Enlightened Chablis of Château De Béru and Paradox in Chablis. Chablis as a varietal concept, as opposed to and unlike anywhere else in the world, seemingly unrelated to chardonnay. How could these extraordinary Chablis not make the list? Domaine Laroche Chablis Grand Cru Les Blanchots Réserve De L’obédience 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (AgentWineAlign) and Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Grand Cru Bougros Côte Bouguerots 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (AgentWineAlign). Perhaps because I will soon publish Grand Cru hyperbole next month? That must be it.

Mirror to classicism, history and tradition. Purity from @valerialosi #querciavalle @chianticlassico #agricolalosi #sangiovese #granselezione #pontiganello

Mirror to classicism, history and tradition. Purity from @valerialosi #querciavalle @chianticlassico #agricolalosi #sangiovese #granselezione #pontiganello

For the first time, I think ever, I gave some love to Rosé in the Days of wine and Rosés. I also fell for new dessert wines and these two tried hard but came up just a wee bit short for the list. Domaine Cauhapé Jurançon Symphonie De Novembre 2012, Southwest, France (470344, $38.95, WineAlign), Losi Querciavalle Vin Santo Del Chianti Classico 2000, Docg Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $95.00, WineAlign).


@grahams_port insanity via @abnermallity #onceinalifetime #piratesonapicnic #piratesv4point0 #sharingiscaring #1948 #finestreserve

Graham’s Vintage Port Finest Reserve 1948 (with thanks to Peter Boyd) granted the year’s moment of providable history. Love in droves. Holiday season for the VINTAGES releases were split and categorized, from December 10th in VINTAGES: Canada through December 10th in VINTAGES: Old World and into December 10th in VINTAGES: New World.

Singolarità, qualità, diversità. Grazie di tutto @chianticlassico

Singolarità, qualità, diversità. Grazie di tutto @chianticlassico

In 2016, two words. Chianti Classico. The wines have embarked upon an ascension into their contemporary golden age. Image, perception and finalmente, reality, these are the truths all who feel the soul of Chianti Classico are in search of today. Today and moving forward, explaining to the world that Chianti Classico is not what you thought or think it to be. Colle Bereto Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2011, Docg Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $67.50, WineAlign) was a side-revelation, as were so many others in Three days, eight estates, Chianti Classico and Gran Selezione, The most important red wine from Italy. And in a year when CC is all that seems to matter, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Ornellaia 2012, Doc Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy (722470, $195.50, WineAlign) and Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2004, Tuscany, Italy (Agent$100.00WineAlign) are but mere mentions in addendum.

DavidPpelletier, 'Le Sommelier Fou' and friends in Vinho Verde

David Pelletier, ‘Le Sommelier Fou’ and friends in Vinho Verde

It may seem irrelevant now but Changes to VINTAGES release recommendations and notes on Godello will translate to a revolution at WineAlign in 2017. Wait for it. Most of all, 2016 will remind me that I will always raise my glass of Vinho Verde to Le Sommelier Fou. Here are Godello’s 16 mind-blowing wines of 2016.


200 yr old vines. 1300m above sea level @vignerietna @somesmartsomm #rosato #vinudilice 2008 #tastethelava #volcanic

I Vigneri Di Salvo Foti Vinudilice 2008, Igt Sicilia Rosè, Sicily, Italy (WineAlign)

So much about this introduction to volcanic Rosato falls under the category and melts into the realm of the impossible. Begin with Vigna Bosco planted to 10,000, (up to) 200 year-old bush-trained (Etnean alberello) vines per hectare in Bronte, Northern Etna. Consider the party goers, endemic alicante, grecanico, minnella and other minor if wholly obscure native varietals. Locate the vineyard at 1,300m above sea level. Tell me it’s not the highest in all of Europe. Go on, tell me. Tended by hand with the help of Ciccio the mule. No refrigeration, yeasts or filtration. Decanting and bottling follow the phases of the moon. Blush has never acted like this, suspended as if put into bottle yesterday, beautifully minutia funky, every detail in laser calm focus. There really is no reference point, not in the south of France or anywhere in Italy to prepare for such an intellection. Vinudilice is nestled in a wood filled with holly oak (quercus ilex or in Sicily, ilice) but in respect for its singularity I would hesitate to categorize or compartmentalize. In fact I would not use the term Rosé, or Orange or natural to realize a need for reason. I would simply taste the lava. Thank you SomeSmartSomm. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016  @ivigneri  @somesmartsomm  @WinesOfSicily


Not members Blasted Mechanism. With Chris Wilton and Vasco Croft, Aphros Wines, Vinho Verde

Aphros Phanus Pet-Nat 2015, Sub-Região Lima, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (Agent, $34.95, WineAlign)

Loureiro of a fashion so rare for Portugal and this region, from a concrete pétillant-naturel style, vinified in stainless steel with wild yeasts and initially no additional sugar, then bottled with 20 grams of natural residual sugar, to alight the single fermentation conclusion. An 11 per cent contrariety of méthode ancestrale dialectic, like a lime-grapefruit cordial housing a dissolving lemon tablet. A bowie cut, boning and dressing of loureiro. This here the whole new way to take the grape, to send it sky-high and bring it down to the rustic roots of glam, sparkling funk. “Like to take a cement fix, be a standing cinema. Dress my friends up just for show, see them as they really are.” Vasco (Andy) Croft walking and his hunky dory pet-nat spinning an original tale of a time and a place, or perhaps a myth, like the rustic deity of the forest riding shotgun to Dionysus and his native war. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted March 2016    @LeSommelierWine

Oldest vines #barossavalley textures in #semillon and #grenache @cirillo1850wine @Wine_Australia #southaustralia #marcocirillo

Oldest vines #barossavalley textures in #semillon and #grenache @cirillo1850wine @Wine_Australia #southaustralia #marcocirillo

Cirillo 1850 Ancestor Sémillon 2011, Barossa Valley, South Australia (Agent, $36.00, WineAlign)

A sémillon revelation is found in this Barossa Valley ancient, a wine procured from vines dating back more than 150 years. To discount that prodigious bit of calculated fortuity would be wrong on so many levels. The Cirillo family are guardians of what may be the oldest continuously producing grenache and sémillon vineyards in Australia and by logical extension, the world. Here the combination of dry extract, mineral depth and straight-lined (unsalted) salinity is beyond special. While the Hunter Valley garners the most attention for aging immortal sémillon, this Barossan will likewise escape, somehow, to live another more complicated and mysterious life. I would wait three years for some extract meets tannic sweetness to begin its development and then take it slow for another six to 10. Incredible find here in Ontario from Marco Cirillo. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted May 2016  @Cirillo1850wine  @bokkewines  @BarossaDirt

Brash Higgins Nero D’avola Amphorae Project 2015, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign)

The renegade triumvirate of coagulation denotes the shock and awe of this outlier; McLaren Vale, Nero d’Avola and Amphora. Winemaker Brad Hickey and his nickname have taken the troika and created a beautiful monster. A non-oxidative, crunchy, spicy, toasty, chewy and tannic NdA in versicolour, mottled and florid in flavour. There is black and white pepper, cinnamon, zesty orange spritz and a clay influence (plus amphora) to waft one for the ages. The palate flaunts a tapenade of painfully brilliant chalky black olive. The swirl is chocolate and vanilla, mediterranean and meganesian. There should be zero attention paid to the unusual in its concept. This is both a pleasure to taste now and will evolve into something wholly other given enough time. At least 10 years to be sure. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted May 2016  @BrashHiggins  @mclaren_vale  @TheLivingVine


Rockpile Zinfandel Cemetery Vineyard 2013, Rockpile AVA, Sonoma County, California (Winery, US $47, WineAlign)

Look towards the other arm of Lake Sonoma and let your mind’s eye rest 250 feet higher than Jack’s Cabin Vineyard. The Cemetery plantation is a jagged, craggy outcropping with “a face uneven as a river jag and asperous as the mullein’s flannel.”  The Mauritsons are Los Campesinos of Cemetery Vineyard in Rockpile. The rocks below resemble giant headstones along the Rogers Creek fault and you just have to believe all this immensity of geology impacts the vines. It does but don’t ask how or why, just settle into the cimmerian depth of zinfandel touched by black fruit, spice and the akimbo savour of glutamate and amino acid. Three further months in barrel (85 French plus 15 American) accentuates the spice, smoulder and espresso con crema texture. Ripeness of fruit, tannin and acidity are simply stellar out of this dramatic place. “You know us by the way we crawl and you know us by our cemetery gaits.” Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted February 2016  @mauritsonwinery  @sonomavintners


Domaine Weinbach Gewürztraminer Cuvée Laurence 2013, Alsace, France (581975, $64.00, WineAlign)

Though it may long ago have been considered the quintessential one, there may be no other Alsatian gewürztraminer more important than Weinbach’s Cuvée Laurence. The reasons are manyfold but begin and end with memory and legacy. This was daughter and sister Laurence Faller’s prized wine, the wine she put her name to, that defined her gracious winemaking in echo of the estate she worked. Her family has carried the torch and yet her touch is all over this wine. Calm, composed, balanced and ethereal. Laurence is a clear expression of the marly limestone soil beneath the lieu-dit of Altenbourg, located at the base of the great Grand Cru Furstentum vineyard. Where else do you find gewürztraminer of such delicasse, from which classic aromas (rose petal, creamy to boozy-syrupy tropical fruit) and impossible unction combine without ukase? Nowhere. The acidity does not act with impulse. No, it rings, supports and lingers. The extract is intense but out of mind. Exceptional vintage. Drink 2018-2033.  Tasted October 2016    @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace  @ACT_Alsace  @VinsAlsace


Luiano Chianti Classico 1979, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Alessandro Palombo is skeptical at first, one eyebrow raised but with the look of possibility on his face. Takes me very little time to acknowledge that this ’79 is very much alive, fruit not predominant (and surely some prune) but neither cooked nor bruised. The brown nose (earth and spice) purports a full concentration of anthocyanins, acidity still full in, dried fraises de bois, black liquorice, dirty leather and worth repeating, still very good acidity. Truffle, forest floor and then black olive tapenade on the palate. This is 70-80 per cent sangiovese with colorino and canaiolo and for 1979 it’s quite incredible. It should not have lasted this long.  Antonio says that up to 10 per cent could have been malvasia blanca and trebbiano because at the time it was a field blend, co-planted with the sangiovese, which could explain some of the variegation in the colour. This is a Chianti Classico to lend credence to the idea of using multiple fruit, vegetal and animale descriptors when assessing an old wine. It’s also the reason why you put them away and open them with friends who’s eyes are wide open. Thank you Alessandro for the opportunity and for the connection to your grandfather Alberto. He was a very good winemaker. Drink 2016.  Tasted May 2016  @LuiLuiano  @chianticlassico


Château De Béru Chablis Clos Béru Monopole 2012, Ac Burgundy, France (Agent, $87.95, WineAlign)

In 2012, less density and iodine matchstick is on display in performance for the historic, south facing vineyard beyond the Château’s walls. From this her eighth vintage in the resurrection of the family’s estate wines, Athénaïs de Béru has assembled fruit from Kimmeridgian limestone in rapport with a vintage of portent and intent towards elegance. The acidity is much more linear (than 2013) and the limestone sensations less metallic. Here the feeling is more of a liquid chalk and the balance is much improved. Also less evolved, bright and a much more amenable of a bitter pith, more citrus (lemon and lime) and not as earthy. Longer finish too. What 2013 lacks this ’12 gains and vice versa. The comparative literature and parenthetical study is duly noted as apples to oranges so the wines are exempt of one another. Neither answer all the questions asked and both express their terroir from their time spent on it. This ’12 story will become clearer in another year or two. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted July 2016       


Granja Remelluri Rioja Gran Reserva 2009, Rioja, Spain (Agent, $89.99, WineAlign)

“What is Rioja?” asks Telmo Rodríguez. He notes that Lopez-Heredia still manages small vineyards, Grand Cru and Premier Cru plots, but most Rioja houses are industrial. Their wines age in barrels in 100-150 year old wineries but have no sense of place, of origins, of an amazing vineyard. “I want to be radical. I believe it (Rioja) can be one of the most beautiful places in the world but I told my brothers it needed to go in a very particular direction. My brothers agreed.” So costs went up 35 per cent. They bought no grapes. “If you want to work properly in Spain, you have to be a hero.” You have to work the most difficult vineyards, where production costs are five times that of Grand Vin Bordeaux but the price sells for 10 times less. And so Telmo Rodríguez produces this Gran Reserva, a wine that adheres to a Rioja systematic but does so from a blind-eye turned, high density field-blend planting of tempranillo, garnacha, graciano, muscatel, viura and malvasia. A field blend, unlike Bordeaux but a local village farmed gathering of the best fruit. The 2009 is showing no age but the difference between 2010 Reserva and 2009 Gran Reserva is night and day. This makes the ’10 seem fresh, alive, open, almost simple. Here the variegation is distilled down to laser focus, as if the varieties all become one and most people would simply say tempranillo, but who has ever tasted and been dealt such a tempranillo? This is oozing of a liqueur like no other, rich, viscous, natural and dry-extract sweet. An expression of the best microclimates and their vineyard kin. Wait another five years to allow it to remember and tell its tale. Drink 2022-2034.  Tasted September 2016    @TelmoRodriguez_  @Noble_Estates


Dominus 1998, Napa Valley, California (212381, $176.95, WineAlign)

When I tasted the 1990 in 2012, hanging on to every thread of oscillation from death to life and back again was exhausting. The 2008 tasted that same year could not have been more life affirming. This ’98 is such a zoetic Dominus beast with an embarrassment of resplendent riches. It is everything 1990 wished it could have been and yet the light-hearted George Hrab geological funk reminds me of that wine. The 1998 trips on a trebuchet and I weep at its aromatic reverie. It is hypnopompic, a state immediately preceding waking up, whiffing the most beautiful Brett there ever was or could ever imagined to be. Volatility in a bubble, circumstantial, lost in a dream. Get lost in the butcher shop, the natural cure here, there, everywhere, curative and comforting. Porcine and rapturous, fruit perfect and entitled, structure supprting every note. If 1998 was both a curious and concerning vintage this wine lays those worries to rest. The fretting may have swayed feelings and been difficult to glide fingers across but the harmonics extend with ease. Finishes with staccato calm, a palpable exhale of breath and silence. Five more years will be like this and five more without threat. Drink 2016-2026.  Tasted October 2016     @rogcowines  


Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello 2013, Santa Cruz Mountains, California (405332, $191.95, WineAlign)

From a serious drought vintage, dry, warm and demanding, the 2013 Montebello’s Draper perfume is as heady as ever, to such effect that after one whiff this is where daydreaming takes over consciousness. Montebello gets inside the head, with allegory, radio frequency waves and platonic thought, as if inside a cave. An 80 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot (8), Cabernet Franc (7) and Merlot (5) classic, lithe and restrained blend of sheer, utter exceptionality. The balance in 2013 is impeccable but dont be fooled into thinking this is not a big wine. The acidity is dramatic, the tannins fine and demanding and the amount of pure extract whorled and revelling. All in dark red fruit and a coolness through the mid-palate that threads like silk through fine stainless steel fibre. “This goes beyond me, beyond you.” Drink 2018-2030.  Tasted May 2016  @RidgeVineyards  @rogcowines  @CalifWines_CA

Fino, Don P.X. '86 and '62 w: @sorgatoBTA @toroalbala @LeSommelierWine Magical, impossible, unchanging. Bucket list to revisit in 150 years #pedroximenez #bodegastoroalbala #montillamoriles #spain

Fino, Don P.X. ’86 and ’62 w: @sorgatoBTA @toroalbala @LeSommelierWine Magical, impossible, unchanging. Bucket list to revisit in 150 years #pedroximenez #bodegastoroalbala #montillamoriles #spain

Bodegas Toro Albalá Don P.X. Selección 1967, Do Montilla Moriles, Spain (491647, $199.95, WineAlign)

You know it’s a good month when you are afforded the opportunity to taste two Montilla-Moriles Pedro Ximenez oldies, first the Alvear Solera 1927 in Paris and now this Selección 1967 bottled in November of 2016. The vintage-dated PX are produced from sun-dried grapes fermented for two months to eight or nine per cent alcohol, at which point a distillate made from the same PX pressings is added to bring the wine up to 17 per cent. First in concrete vats and then a transfer into 50-150 year old American oak barrels. Only 630 bottles were filled in a PX of awakening and hope that finished at an indiscernible 17 per cent alcohol. Some dessert wines can be cloying Popskull but Bodegas Toro Albalá delivers yet another impossible and crazy dessert wine of heavy fuel, impeccable balance in the face of Lugduname breaching sweetness and aromas sin fronteras. The gamut glides through roasted nuts and dried fruits, from almonds and Van Gogh Museum memories of their abundant flowers plus pomegranate, apricot, peach, nectarine, damson plum and pistachio. So much pistachio!! In between there is orange marmalade, quince jelly and prune preserve. Plenty of acidity extends and narrows into a sharp, pointed tang. No matter how many times you try to empty the glass there is always more wine. Always another sip. Is it viscosity, a truco del ojo or trampantojo? Is there some kind of wizardry at play? Then finally, well, actually never, a finish with no end, or a pause in a never-ending 49 year-old (and counting) story. So where is the beginning? 1967. Drink 2016-2040.  Tasted November 2016  @toroalbala  @sorgatoBTA  @MontillaMoriles  @LeSommelierWine


Schramsberg Sparkling J. Schram 50th Anniversary Late disgorged 1999, Napa Valley, California (Winery $175 US, WineAlign)

In celebration of Schramsberg’s golden anniversary, 50 years after Jack and Jamie Davies revived the historic Schramsberg estate for the purpose of making the nation’s first chardonnay and pinot noir based, bottle-fermented sparkling wines. A North Coast (57 per cent Napa, 25 Mendocino, 15 Monterey and 13 Sonoma) blend of 74 per cent chardonnay and 26 pinot noir. Seventeen years have come to ginger, cumin, coriander and galangal in laminous, oxidative ingenuity, wholly arid in kicking up the aromatic dust. Flavours of pressed lemon, bitter brioche and then tannin, yes tannin. From a protracted year, picked as late as October 19th, disgorged in August of 2014 at a dosage of (very necessary) 11.5 g/L RS. Blessed with high natural acidity of 9.8 tA. How can I not concur with Hugh Davies. “What we’re really showing here is Napa Valley Chardonnay.” Drink 2016-2031.  Tasted February 2016  @Schramsberg  @TheVine_RobGroh

Down by the river with #raveneau #grandcru #blanchot #chablis @lafolieauxerre #2009 #francoisraveneau #thankful

Down by the river with #raveneau #grandcru #blanchot #chablis @lafolieauxerre #2009 #francoisraveneau #thankful

Domaine François Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru Blanchot 2009, Burgundy, France (WineAlign)

It would be misleading to address Raveneau’s Blanchot as chardonnay even as we know it as such because Raveneau produces wines as unique as door keys. They are so inimitable and each will only open the gate to its own unique perception. Blanchot is the southernmost of the seven Chablis Grand Cru climats and blankets the southeastern side of Les Clos. The Raveneau narration does not convey the notion of manifest feeling but instead splits the axiomatic atom of the climat. A sip and you are inside the Blanchot, gliding and passing through rock as if you are the ethereal and the wine is the solid foundation of thought, pathos and avowal. There are aromas that combine citrus and umami with a sweetness that can’t be denied or defined. The wine is just a child, complex, shy and yet unable to express both its meaning and power. But you try to get inside its head, stumbling over kimmeridgian rock replete with the smithereen-crushed shells of ancient fossils. This is a calm young Blanchot and you melt away while under its spell. Three more years should render its hidden meaning. Drink 2019-2034.  Tasted July 2016

A great pleasure and exercize in humility to taste with #vincentdauvissat in his cellar @BIVBChablis #humanity #chablis

A great pleasure and exercize in humility to taste with #vincentdauvissat in his cellar @BIVBChablis #humanity #chablis

Domaine René et Vincent Dauvissat Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2001, Burgundy, France (WineAlign)

Tasted from a bottle opened five days prior which is nothing really for a wine that can age easily for 30 years. It resides in a perfect state. Vincent concedes “over 20 there is nothing to be gained” and yet the still terrifically raging acidity would suggest this 15 year-old specimen is only halfway there. The texture is nothing if not persuasive. In 1931 Vincent’s father began this journey. Here 70 years later is a wine so perfectly intact, the lemon-waxy aspect almost on the edge of the hive. But not quite because of the taut bracing and tight embracing. There is a chew to this and Dauvissat shrugs. “What’s to say?” Nothing but a great piece of his history and his father’s legacy. If this wine is a sentimental tribute to a childhood village, it is never uncomplicated. Drink 2016-2031.  Tasted July 2016


Catena Adrianna Vineyard Mundus Bacillus Terrae Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $325.00, WineAlign)

In this extremely specific malbec from a diagnosed block of the Adrianna Vineyard we are graced with the micro-science of wine. And if you feel that using the name of an aerobic bacteria in the nomenclature is an odd choice, consider the mind of Dr. Laura Catena and her biological approach to viticulture. If we can understand and differentiate the microbes in the soil we can make better wine. It’s as simple as that. When wine is broken down to the biological level it becomes something entirely different and this is the road travelled by the Mundus Bacillus. Catena’s usage of 70 parcel pits per hectare has unearthed this single parcel within the vineyard, again completely different and the pinpointed microbial discussion initiates right here. The soil stakes a claim for this malbec only, certainly not in any way that tends to funk but surely as an impresario of soil. Talk about eugenics in the MBT because that science is compelling and can be related to in this wine. It can offer keys towards improving genetic quality of the vinous population. Here we are faced with rich and dusty, a mean streak of malbec intensity made elegant by earthly microbes. This section draws parallels to the (chardonnay) White Bones soil from which there transfers an excess of dry extract and tannin. Patience please for a malbec that will be long lived. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted November 2016

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello


Old vines for the Zin


Rockpile AVA unparalleled in so many ways @mauritsonwinery #zinfandel #cabernetsauvignon — at Mauritson Rockpile Vineyard.

Late one afternoon on a seasonally warm February Healdsburg day we walked into the boardroom at Seghesio vineyards for a Zinfandel tasting appropriated off of some of California’s oldest and dearest vines. On hand were Seghesio’s winemaking brain trust, Andy Robinson and Ted Seghesio. It was Seghesio who explained pretty much everything you need to know about Zinfandel and field blends in one sweet sentence. “These old vines are California’s treasures. We haven’t pulled one out yet.”

“Are the wines good because their vineyards are old

or are the vineyards old because the wines are good?”

Cart before the horse. What came first, the chicken or the egg? Catch-22. If we follow the ideas of Aristotle and Plato then we simply say that zinfandel and old vineyards first had their beings in spirit. The dialectical answer can’t help but make use of formal, linear cause-and-effect logic and so results in a paradox because this caused that. Old vines and zinfandel, two things uniquely Californian entwined in a set of mutually dependent circumstances. The question is ultimately moot.


Godello listens, #tedtalks @seghesio #zinfandel #ravenswood #carolshelton #joelpeterson #califwine

Joel Peterson’s hat was the centre of first attention, that is until the Godfather of zin himself began to explain why the varietal tenets of experienced and gnarly are so important to understanding why zinfandel is the untouchable one. Peterson makes the case for zinfandel Grand Cru vineyards by referring to them as “historical treasures, extremely valuable and they are California.”

Carol Shelton is herself no stranger to the royal and ancient vines. She imagines them as both children and grandparents or rather that they are one in the same, innocent and experienced, but needing coddling and care just the same. Shelton has a soft spot for vineyards that are organically grown, dry farmed and many decades old. On her website Carol quotes Antoine de Saint-Exupery in reference to the Rockpile Vineyard. “A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.” Pretty apropos. It seems Carol Shelton sees the old vineyard before the zinfandel. I think they all do.

The next day we explored Dry Creek Valley’s AVA’s with John Doxon of Dry Creek Vineyards and in the afternoon walked up the ridge between the two arms of lake Sonoma with Clay Mauritson to stand at the top of the Rockville AVA. The vineyards are planted between 800′ and 2000′, with strong winds, soils that range from granite to volcanic and the ever-dangerous Healdsburg-Rogers Creek earthquake fault running through. Three things popped into my head. One, difficult growing conditions make for low yields. Two, above the fog and in the breeze means major league diurnal temperature swings and zero pressure from pests and diseases. Three, this is one of the most strikingly beautiful places on earth.

Rockpile Ridge Vineyard’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 is a Sonoma County tour de force and a steal for the money ($50 at the winery). But I’m here to discuss zinfandel and so we’ll look down left and down right to the Cemetery and Jack’s Cabin Vineyards. These two stunners from Clay Mauritson may be the most unheralded zinfandels you’ve never heard of. The first family vineyards were planted in 1884. It is here in the northern-most reaches of Dry Creek Valley where zinfandel may just find its highest California calling. “Pure geo-political drama.” What is Rockpile? Time in AND time out. James Woodsian fun stuff. Keith Moon of zinfandel. That is Rockpile.


zeroing in on old vine #zinfandel significance @sonomavintners @seghesio #ravenswood @CBSbrands @WildThingZin

We tasted nine zinfandel with Ted, Joel and Carol, one with John plus two more with Clay. Here are the notes:

Seghesio Family Vineyards

Seghesio Zinfandel Rockpile 2013, Rockpile AVA, Sonoma County, California (Winery, $46.00, WineAlign)

Rockpile is Sonoma’s newest AVA,  straddling the ridge between the two arms of Lake Sonoma. The Mauritson farm is perhaps the most dramatic inland vineyard site in Sonoma. It is a relatively cool-ish appellation in part because it is based on ridge tops but notes Ted Seghesio, “I don’t think we can dry farm up in Rockpile, it’s just too warm.” No wonder the zinfandel here develops rich, dusty, of high impact intensity, pressed and controlled with addendum by remarkable palate spice. It’s chewy and intense, without heat, though expected, but there is not. Saw the insides of 25 per cent new French oak, the rest neutral for 12-14 months. Flavours well up with the liqueurs from a multitude of ripe red and purple berries, hematic, loamy and all in. Somewhat imbrued with the folly of youth so exercise some patience. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted February 2016  @seghesio  @sonomavintners

Seghesio Zinfandel Old Vines 2013, Sonoma County, California (Winery, $46.00, WineAlign)

From a blend of vineyards planted on the Dry Creek bench and the cooler southwest Alexander Valley. Old vine is often loosely interpreted and the general Seghesio rule is 50 years plus, though the average age is approximately 70 years-old, planted here because they were the original cheap, peasant purchased sites. True old vine zinfandel is distinguished by head-trained vines with thick, gnarled trunks and is planted with ancient clones dating back to the turn of the century. I personally am finding more warmth and a slick of oleaginous matter, like white pepper liquid smoke. The temper and texture are pure zin wisdom, knows exactly its place and the time. The early picked Old Vines offers a reference point for the accumulation of varietal time. You sense this though the briary spice of layering in the blending of two vineyards from berries through to that spice. The treatment was 25 per cent new wood, 14 months maximum on fruit that it typically at the extreme end of high acid and sugary fruit. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February 2016

Seghesio Zinfandel Pagani 2013, Sonoma Valley, California (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign)

Sourced from the Pagani family’s deep-rooted, storied Ranch in Sonoma Valley. The dry-farmed vineyard provides for a rich and nuanced, though not necessarily the most age-worthy structure to the fruit. Certainly a whole other, darker matter, pitchy, rock-blasted cimmerian mess of density and temper. The increased character is a drawn-out dramatic affair, feigning sweetness, with a high amount of Alicante Bouschet mixed in (perhaps as much as 50/50) for what is ostensibly the original California red. “The curtain” is an abiding history marker and maker and yet is low in tannin so drink this during the freshness of its youth. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016

Ravenswood Winery

Ravesnwood Estate Zinfandel 2013, Sonoma Valley, California (Agent, $46.00, WineAlign)

Typically 20 per cent petite sirah field blended in, from five sites with a collection of zinfandel clones planted in Ravenswood’s heritage vineyard back in 1997. Now old enough to stand alone, these vines grew from budwood collected from several of Sonoma County’s finest old-vine zinfandel vineyards. Like the single-vineyard zins, all are made the same way, save for a few micro-decisions for each wine. Time is 18 months in 35 per cent new oak for a level playing field so that each will show typically of site. The quinate muddling is made moot by fruit picked early enough to ask the ripeness not to be the dominant character of the wine. So there is a cooling, not so much herbal but a methylated effect, with depth of cherry and leather and the fleshy underside of the animal. A texture comes across creamy and so different from Seghesio, with a dry-brush aroma and flavour led by dark chocolate. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @RavenswoodWine  @CBrandsCareers  @michellesaba

Ravenswood Zinfandel Belloni Single Vineyard 2013, Russian River Valley, California (Agent, $46.00, WineAlign)

Belloni carries a riper, naturally current cure, seemingly suspended in an evolutionary state of grace. The chocolate is tempered, smoothed into the reality of haute-ganache. It’s a bit of a teaser but there is length not yet found in rest of a nine-strong zinfandel the line-up. Will not yield to relinquishing length and still in such an amazing lingering state of berry flavour. “My middle-aged wine,” says Joel Peterson. From a site on Fulton Rd, of sandier soils above an ancient river bench. Riccardo Belloni planted it, around 1971, same time he purchased land on along Wood Road on the outskirts of Santa Rosa. Aye, there’s the saline and antediluvian rub. A very mixed vineyard, barely 75 per cent Zin, plus alicante, petite sirah, carignan and mourvedre. All tolled known as mixed blacks, the varietal melded, mixed and markedly RRV boysenberry is brighter and with great freshness. “It’s treated like pinot noir,” notes Peterson, “and we are conscious of how much oxygen it is gifted along the way.” A gracious Zin to be sure. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted February 2016.

Ravenswood Zinfandel Old Hill Vineyard 2013, Sonoma Valley, California (Agent, $75.00, WineAlign)

Old Vine, Old Hill is rich, smooth and chocolatey, from “Mr. Hill’s vineyard, William McPherson Hill,” who founded Old Hill Ranch in 1851. Joel Peterson is wistful in just thinking about it. “An important and historic vineyard,” resurrected by Otto Teller housing forty different varieties, re-planted in 1985. The vineyard is 68 per cent zinfandel with grenache, mourvedre, syrah, petite sirah, alicante and heretofore referred to as the black panther grape, all together called the Mixed Blacks. It is organically farmed and is indeed of the oldest vines in the Valley of the Moon. In 1983, Ravenswood began this vineyard designate Old Hill Ranch zinfandel, just as the vineyard was turning 100 years old. So at 130 years what further wisdom can it pass on? Plenty, with the classic house treatment of 18 months in 35 per cent new oak. A capacious, fruit-teeming, chestnut-ochre-liquorice-plum pudding zinfandel blend with texture threaded through ages from samite to mantua. The gift of old vines. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted February 2016

Carol Shelton Wines

Carol Shelton Zinfandel Rocky Reserve Florence Vineyard 2013, Rockpile AVA, Sonoma County, California (394510, $48.00, WineAlign)

Insieme with Rockpile by Seghesio in dusty, high impact zin, here liquid saturated and steeping of a complex berry syrup, silky, stylish ands with a certain palate spice thanks to American wood. Vanilla and liquid lavender, ichorous, fusible elasticity. Quite pretty and some heat in the tannins. Defined by elevation at 1400 feet (800 is required) above Lake Sonoma. Basically dry-farmed, planted in 1998, terraced, a morning sun vineyard that receives hot sun into the evening. Thus spiking the fruit but breezes temper ripening (as compared to Dry Creek Valley) so the tannins are polished. Built with cabernet-like structure and blended with 14 per cent petite sirah, in 40 per cent French oak (20 new) plus (40) American (20 new) plus some older irrelevant barrel. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February 2016  @WildThingZin  @KylixWines

Carol Shelton Zinfandel Peaceland 2013, Fountaingrove District, Sonoma County, California (Agent, $40.00, WineAlign)

The “Friedland” is ambient and racked of floral certainly and also elevated of its varietal tones, with even more blueberry and peppery backbone than the Rockpile. Has increased its viscous and elastic chew with a dollop of melted milk chocolate and the earth’s granola; hemp, chia and all things fibrous and healthy. The jammiest and most texture on the table. Planted in 2001, a “young wine” out of a historical 1800’s place, a commune at 1100 feet of elevation. Represents three different clones of zinfandel (DuPratt, Costa Magnum and St. Peter’s Church). The united zin of red and black fruit, plus 7 per cent petite sirah. The new kid on the block. Needs to get more comfortable in its skin. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016

Carol Shelton Zinfandel Mancini Old Vine 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (Agent, $50.00, WineAlign)

Mancini Vineyard is Carol Shelton’s tribute to old vines, planted in 1922 (one mile from Belloni) to mostly (78-80 per cent) zinfandel and a Northern California varietal who’s who; carignane, alicante bouschet, petite sirah, grand noir, mataro and some yet unidentified vines. This is a field blend of decided depth, very cherry and exponentially increasing of varietal to wood spice. There is much liquor emulsified into liqueur. Such a highly concentrated wine is ripped with red citrus acidity and strays far from bramble. A wine of high acid, pH and oak with never-ending gobs of dark fruit. A little monster. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016


There is no substitute for old vines #zinfandel @DryCreekVnyd — at Cafe Lucia.

Dry Creek Vineyard

Dry Creek Vineyard Zinfandel Old Vines 2013, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California (412288, $34.75, WineAlign)

As it should be this falls into the category of the mysterious and the enigmatic, a field-blend conjoining zinfandel (75 per cent) with petite sirah (23) and carignane. It takes nearly a month to bring in the multifarious and full-scope ripening varietal mix, between mid September and October. This elongation and elasticity mixes into the old vine magic and spits out strength and complexity. High pH and really pitchy acidity handle the bold and brooding fruit and then there is the presence of meaningful oak. Sixteen months in French, American and Hungarian oak, 29 per cent of it new. Dried fruit and spices rehydrate into a black fruit swirl of sweet leathery pods and perfumes. A blessed convocation is the result, part concoction, part confection and all in. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016  @DryCreekVnyd  @WineLoversAgncy  @drycreekvalley

Mauritson Wines

Rockpile Zinfandel Jack’s Cabin Vineyard 2013, Rockpile AVA, Sonoma County, California (Winery, US $45, WineAlign)

A haunted cabin settler’s story, of one Jack Ireland, of sheep, cattle, clearing the land, moonshine and nights spent in the county jail. A connection through three generations of Mauritsons. Such fresh red fruit is rare (these days) when alcohol (14.75 per cent) and oak (15 months in 90/10 French/American) work the room but welcome to the Rockpile elephant in the room. It’s called balance because of natural acidity, grapes that were not over-pressed and the magic-umami-impossibility of place. My mind digs for Sonoma equivalents in this scarlet, rubicund, ochre magnetic field but fails to draw a similar example. Except greatness from this AVA and winemaker Clay Mauritson in the years to come. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted February 2016  @mauritsonwinery  


What is Rockpile? Time in AND time out. The fun stuff. Keith Moon of #zinfandel @mauritsonwinery #sonomacounty #jameswood

Rockpile Zinfandel Cemetery Vineyard 2013, Rockpile AVA, Sonoma County, California (Winery, US $47, WineAlign)

Look towards the other arm of Lake Sonoma and let your mind’s eye rest 250 feet higher than Jack’s Cabin Vineyard. The Cemetery plantation is a jagged, craggy outcropping with “a face uneven as a river jag and asperous as the mullein’s flannel.”  The Mauritsons are Los Campesinos of Cemetery Vineyard in Rockpile. The rocks below resemble giant headstones along the Rogers Creek fault and you just have to believe all this immensity of geology impacts the vines. It does but don’t ask how or why, just settle into the cimmerian depth of zinfandel touched by black fruit, spice and the akimbo savour of glutamate and amino acid. Three further months in barrel (85 French plus 15 American) accentuates the spice, smoulder and espresso con crema texture. Ripeness of fruit, tannin and acidity are simply stellar out of this dramatic place. “You know us by the way we crawl and you know us by our cemetery gaits.” Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted February 2016

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello