Brigaldara Amarone della Valpolicella Case Vecie 2009 – Stefano Cesari’s Best Ever

Aerial View of Brigaldara

Aerial View of Brigaldara

“The impressive 2009 Amarone della Valpolicella Case Vecie is a protagonist of the vintage… an object of real beauty.” Wine Advocate (ML)

With those words – and the highest score for any 2009 Amarone published up to that point – Wine Advocate used issued #217 to place Brigaldara on a pedestal reserved for the singular names in Amarone and the Veneto. For Stefano Cesari, it would be a proper recognition of a life’s work.

Perfectly situated on an incline above the Marano Valley (one of the four valleys which comprise the Valpolicella Classico zone) to the north of Verona and just outside San Floriano, Bigaldara’s 125 acre estate includes vineyards within the most important communes of the DOC. In particular, their “Case Vecie” vineyard – in the commune of Grezzana – is one of their most important holdings.

The estate bottled wines from Brigaldara began to gain recognition in the 1980s and Stefano Cesari recognized the importance of augmenting the family’s “Case Vecie” holding with additional parcels at higher elevations. Through rental agreements, the family began planting additional parcels to the “Case Vecie” vineyard in the early 1990s. The fruit from this new plot – 1,500 feet in elevation – has added phenomenal depth to the Amarone Case Vecie bottling.

For 2009, Brigaldara bottled their single greatest version of this intense, full bodied, ultra-complex yet elegant, velvety and flat out sexy wine to date. Gambero Rosso: Tre Bicchieri; Bibenda Wine Guide: 5 GRAPPOLI; and of course, our beloved Wine Advocate: 95 points!

2009 Brigaldara Amarone della Valpolicella Case Vecie

The impressive 2009 Amarone della Valpolicella Case Vecie is a protagonist of the vintage thanks to the immense clarity and purity of fruit that is put on proud display. One step beyond those pretty fruit tones are more evolved and elaborate tones of leather, tar, resin, licorice and grilled herb. The wine is aged for four years in both barrique and botte grande and the oak has positively impacted the smooth, luscious texture of the mouthfeel. This is an object of real beauty.

95 points – Wine Advocate (ML)

For Amarone lovers and purists, this is a must-have …

Domaine du Clos des Fees – Hervé Bizeul’s Ethereal Cuvee le Clos des Fees

View from one of many old vine sites sourced by Hervé Bizeul

View from one of many old vine sites sourced by Hervé Bizeul

Among my most lasting memories of the Roussillon (France’s deep south-west at the border with Spain) was a visit to the region in the early 1990s. My host – pedal to the metal in his classic Citroen – zigzagged us up a seemingly abandoned, steeply angled road as we headed to the summit of a vineyard-capped mountain off the coast, near Port-Vendres.

Suddenly, he slammed on his brakes, summoning me to exit the car. Not quite to the summit, he said we’d made about 2,000 feet elevation, bringing my attention to the crumbling limestone slopes adjacent.

Dangling from the crumbling rock were the roots of vines from several meters above. The scree-covered slopes, eroded from years of wind-swept conditions were now exposing the roots of numerous vines. Yet these ancient roots had somehow remained burrowed into the mountain, their eventual source of nourishment seemingly dozens of meters below. Over the decades – battling every scourge from Mother Nature – these roots of time survived; life support for the ancient bush vines of multiple varieties covering the mountain above us.

These are the types of ancient vines and soils which comprise one fraction of the many complex parts that come together, resulting in some of the greatest wines now being made in the Roussillon. I’ve made this trip many additional times, searching for greatness.

I’m here to say that I’ve found it; and it resides at Domaine du Clos des Fees. Hervé Bizeul works with the most important terroirs on earth, every one of them available to him in the Roussillon. Tasting the fruits of his labor will utterly impress even the most seasoned tasters.

This is the kind of wine you want – it deserves discovery – and you’re going to be talking about it for years.

2012 Domaine du Clos des Fees Cotes du Roussillon Villages le Clos des Fees

My favorite of the lineup, the 2012 Côtes du Roussillon Villages Le Clos des Fées is a sensational effort that’s most likely the wine of the vintage. Made from 50% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 20% Carignan and the rest Mourvèdre that was aged 16 months in roughly 60% new French oak, it’s a classic, structured, age-worthy Roussillon that exhibits lots of blackberry and cassis fruit, smoked herbs, licorice and scorched earth. Full-bodied and concentrated, yet light on its feel, with a firm, focused finish, give it 2-3 years and enjoy bottles through 2027. There are few wines from the Roussillon I’d rather have in my cellar.

97 points – Wine Advocate (JD)

Hunt this one down; tell me what you think…

Emidio Pepe, Godfather of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Emidio & Granddaughter Chiara, hard at work

Emidio & Granddaughter Chiara, hard at work

There’s Montepulciano, and then there’s Emidio Pepe’s Montepulciano. Much the same as there’s Valpolicella, and then there’s Giuseppe “Bepi” Quintarelli. I know there are many out there familiar with this sentiment; Emidio Pepe’s 2007 tops wine-searcher for popularity among all Montepulciano d’Abruzzo’s for the vintage. Price? Makes absolutely no difference.

It all began for this incredibly famous family in 1899. That was the year of discovery for the “original” Emidio, grandfather to current generation Emidio. In the far northeastern reaches of Abruzzo – very near the border with Marche, within 50km of the Adriatic Sea – Emidio Pepe discovered that the Torano hills offered the perfect terroir and microclimate for Abruzzo varietals. It would seem that no other place on earth would prove as perfect for the production of such ethereal Montepulciano.

For several generations – from grandfather Emidio on down – the Pepe family farmed their famous hills, producing the most sought after grapes in the zone. Content to sell their production, estate bottling would not enter the Pepe family business until the 1960s. Enter the “new” Emidio Pepe, grandson of the “original”.

Beginning with a single hectare of land in 1964, Emidio Pepe began completely replanting, rebuilding a family legacy dating to the 19th century. Steadfastly he honored strictly traditional methods; new wood never entered his cellars, cement vats his exclusive choice – even as the locals and press of the time derided his methods. As his estate expanded – now at a healthy 15 hectares – Emidio slowly, but surely became the envy of the zone. International press lauded him; vintages from the 1970s ‘till current releases have flirted with perfect scores.

Celebrating his 50th year of independent production – his wife, daughters and granddaughter all now working at his side – Emidio Pepe has secured a legacy for the wines from his estate near Torano Nuovo. He tells of his first adventure to Manhattan, attempting to sell his Montepulciano while speaking no English. He beams, recalling that in 1970 his first placement was at Felidia, Lidia Bastianich’s beloved eatery. Today, his 2007 marks another incredible high mark for the man from Abruzzo.

2007 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo  

Nearly impenetrable inky ruby color. Deep, brooding aromas of black cherry, violet, tar, shoe polish and botanical herbs. Sweet/sour flavors of black cherry, blueberry juicy, minerals and ink are complicated by a dusting of botanical herbs. This multilayered knockout of a wine finishes very bright and long, with repeating floral lift. Very clean and precise, and devoid of any funky animal aromas or flavors, it’s one of the best red wines from Pepe in years and a testament to the potential greatness of the Montepulciano grape.

96 points – Vinous (ID)

Precious few bottles make their way to retail of this great family’s heavenly Montepulciano. I’ve found mine, I hope your search is as successful…

Sigalas Rabaud Sauternes 2010 – Giving d’Yquem a Run for the Money

Quietly Famous Barrel Room at Sigalas Rabaud

Quietly Famous Barrel Room at Sigalas Rabaud

If Sigalas Rabaud is off your radar – even you die-hard Sauternes fans – it’s not a total surprise. With only 35 acres under vine, it ranks as the smallest of all the vineyards in Sauternes. Moreover, it has changed ownership so many times, it’s been difficult over the decades to discern the estate’s actual name at any time in history.

The current, hyphenated name reflects the original owners; the Rabaud family who were in charge in the 1600s, and the Sigalas family, who took over in the mid-1800s.

The final formation, which is recognized as Sigalas Rabaud today – land holdings, special hillside plantings – le bijou de Sigalas (“the jewel of Sigalas”) – and the rest, changed hands (with name variations ensuing) in 1903, 1929, and the ’40s.

By the 1970s, Cordier – an established Bordeaux corporation – became interested, and by the early ’90s they owned a substantial stake.

And that’s when things took a major turn for the better. The Wine Advocate’s Sauternes critic, Neal Martin – decades of experience under his belt with the subject – began to report on the goings on Chez Sigalas Rabaud.

With reviews in the mid to upper nineties, and prose to the effect of “Though Sigalas-Rabaud 2010 was extremely promising out-of-barrel, I never expected that it would trump d’Yquem in a blind tasting once in bottle”, suddenly the little estate on the hill became the cult secret of the appellation.

2010 Sigalas Rabaud Sauternes

“Though Sigalas-Rabaud 2010 was extremely promising out-of-barrel, I never expected that it would trump d’Yquem in a blind tasting once in bottle. It has an engaging, pure and lifted bouquet with scents of lemon curd, honey, ripe oranges and quince that are extremely well-defined. The palate is well-defined with a fine line of acidity, crisp mineralite and tension. This is very composed and tightly wound, a Sauternes probably built for Sigalas Rabaud btlthe long-term and not giving too much away now. Yet the class is already tangible. This is one of the best wines from the estate in recent years. Drink now-2030+.”

95 points – Wine Advocate (NM)

One worth the effort to secure, costing a fraction of its famous neighbor’s bottlings…

A Jewel in Chateauneuf – Bosquet des Papes Cuvee “A la Gloire de Mon Grandpere”

Captivating Chateauneuf

Captivating Chateauneuf

I adore Chateauneuf du Pape – the place, the wine, and everything about its history and local quirks (a municipal decree in ’54 banned the overhead flying, landing or taking off of flying saucers). The wines are beyond unique. For those who have spent time studying the world’s finest vinous treasures (I’ve been at it three decades plus) it usually comes down to a choice between Bordeaux, Burgundy and Chateauneuf – in terms of selecting a favorite wine from France. Sure, there are fabulous wines made by a handful of superlative growers sprinkled throughout the Languedoc, Roussillon, Loire Valley, and such, but overwhelming majorities of truly phenomenal wines are most often concentrated in the aforementioned Big 3. Burgundy tugs at my heart, but a glance at my collection clearly indicates my adoration for Chateauneuf.

And when it comes to selecting some of my favorites, consistency across vintages is part of my criteria. Nicolas Boiron and family – Les Bosquet des Papes – immediately come to mind. In this century alone, across all of their various cuvees and vintages, I can think of at least 20 individual bottlings worthy of the “outstanding” descriptor. These are wines of extremely high caliber, wines which scream of their cepage and terroir, and which may be identified from one another across vintages; they are not homogenous, uniqueness is their calling card.

At the top of the list for me is their pure Grenache cuvee, which honors current winemaker Nicolas Boiron’s predecessor. Grown in the Gardiole lieu-dit (sandy soils; which seem to produce a lot of my top choices) and fermented 50% whole cluster, Nicolas Boiron and family introduced this mind-bending offering in 1998. Parker has consistently lauded the wine, rendering the tiny production all the more difficult to acquire. Moreover, Jeb Dunnuck recently pegged it as a “Best of Chateauneuf” selection in his 2014 report (may not ever find another bottle, now).

Simply put, in the words of Parker,

“Consumers should be looking out for this domaine’s wines as the quality has soared even higher than it already was.”


2012 Les Bosquet des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape

A la Gloire de Mon Grandpere

The finest vintage of this cuvee I’ve tasted, the inky 2012 Châteauneuf du Pape a la Gloire de Mon Grandpere comes from old-vine Grand PereGrenache vines planted in mostly sandy soils of the Gardiole lieu-dit. Aged in a combination of concrete tank and older, larger barrels, it’s a drop-dead gorgeous 2012 that reveals tons of sweet red and black fruits, lavender, pepper, licorice and hints of garrigue. Beautifully concentrated, seamless and textured, with extraordinary elegance and polish to its tannin, it’s up with the top 2-3 wines of the vintage and will have two decades or more of longevity.

97 points – (JD) Wine Advocate

This may take some special effort to locate (at a price that’s not outrageous), but it’s a truly special bottle from a truly gifted estate…


Bodegas Toro Albala – “Incredibly Elegant” – 1949 Don PX Reserva Especial

"You should drink it whenever you have the occasion." Advocate

“You should drink it whenever you have the occasion.”

Niche wines are thrilling, I love hunting them down – even in tiny parcels. Especially these heady concoctions from Andalusia in Spain, where time seems to stand still.

Imagine the amazement; pulling a cork from the 1940s. Think of the history this bottle has witnessed.

This corner of Spain is literally the birthplace of not only Spanish wine, but likewise of Western Europe. This place – Andalusia, which includes Jerez, Montilla, and Gibraltar – once formed the center of the Western World.

The family behind Bodegas Toro Albala (producers of the Don PX) traces their local roots to the 19th century, forming their modern business in an abandoned electricity plant just north of Montilla in the ’20s. Theirs is Pedro Ximenez country – that grape destined for intense, sultry, broodingly deep, dark sweet wines that are becoming increasingly popular Stateside. The longer these treasures of time, place and history are allowed to age, the darker and more ethereal they become.

And their seemingly newly bottled 1949 Don PX Reserva Especial – at the ripe young age of 65 years – is a broodingly unctuous beauty; quite properly described by Luis Gutierrez as something “You should drink whenever you have the occasion.”

1949 Bodegas Toro Albala Don PX Reserva Especial

The 1949 Don PX Reserva Especial differs from the other old wines from the winery as it is less dark, it even has a (very dark) translucent tone compared with the others, maybe because it has 2% more alcohol. It feels incredibly elegant and balanced, fresher in comparison than the beasts from 1962 and 1946, medicinal, full of spicy notes of cinnamon, cloves, a touch of ash, and the smell of an antique shop. The palate is fluid, sweet and fresh. Putting a drinking window to these wines feels a bit silly. You should drink it whenever you have the occasion.

97 points – Wine Advocate (LG)

This is a slow, sweet, intentional drink; do not be in a rush, do not take it all in at once… These are the types of vinous experiences which come along very, very rarely…


Xavier Vins Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Anonyme – One of the Best & Latest Released 2007s


Xavier, the man behind the late released, phenomenal “Cuvee Anonyme”

Along with Henri Bonneau and his notoriously difficult to acquire, always last to market Reserve des Celestins, Xavier Vignon’s Cuvee “Anonyme” requires immeasurable patience on the part of passionate Chateauneuf lovers. This stuff is legendary – for those lucky few to have tasted it. The 2007 vintage was (and remains) the greatest vintage for the wines of Chateauneuf du Pape in generations. Parker declared it was “the vintage of a lifetime.” Following up with his in-bottle summary, “this is a truly historic and profoundly great vintage.” (emphasis his)

Taking full advantage of the bounty set before him, Xavier Vignon patiently nurtured his top cuvee for a full 36 months, allowing the elevage to take place in a combination of demi-muids and seasoned, small oak casks. So complex is the cuvee for “Anonyme” that Xavier prefers to discuss the cuvee by parcels – no less than 120 individual plots contribute to the blend; many vines from the best sites have seen their 100th birthday. This is very truly and without exaggeration one of the most unique, difficult to acquire and staggeringly exotic wines ever made in Chateauneuf.

It’s no wonder Xavier is as famous and in demand as Cambie. Some of the most famous wines in the village would not be what they are today without Xavier – Marcoux, Grand Veneur, Usseglio, Beaurenard – all these domaines utilize Xavier’s direction as consulting winemaker. Once the 2007 “Anonyme” caresses your palate, it will all make sense…

Except for Henri Bonneau’s 2007 Reserve des Celestins (which is still in barrel), the last 2007 Chateauneuf du Pape to be released will be Xavier Vignon’s Anonyme. This sensational wine spent three years in a combination of demi-muids and small oak. It boasts an inky/purple color along with a sweet nose of underbrush, garrigue, licorice, blackberries and black currants. Full, thick, unctuously textured and even flamboyant, this stunning 2007 should drink well for another 15-20 years.

96 points – Robert ParkerAnonyme

This may require a special effort to acquire; I’ve got mine, you should have yours…