Tenuta Cocci Grifoni, Colle Vecchio, Offida DOCG Pecorino – Worth Your Search

there’s Pecorino; and then there’s Pecorino!

With one whiff and my first taste, I contacted a buddy of mine who is also a big time Italian-wine-lover. I told him, with probably more excitement in my voice than usual, “We’ve had lots of Pecorino, my friend; there’s Pecorino; and then there’s Pecorino!”  I tasted some seriously delicious Italian wines recently thanks to a delivery from my Empson representative. These were not your run-of-the-mill daily sippers, by a long shot. These were wines based on exotic varieties, the types of wines Neil Empson specializes in. And the Pecorino stopped me in my tracks.

A fantastic grape, Pecorino was all but extinct, abandoned decades ago by grape growers and wine makers throughout Italy due to its natural tendency for low yields. By chance, on a high hill – 3,000 feet above sea level – in the Marche region of Italy, Guido Cocci Grifoni discovered a crop of abandoned vines in the tiny municipality of Arquata del Tronto. There, on Italy’s Adriatic Coast, Guido Grifoni struck gold.

It was 1982 and Grifoni had no idea what he was about to launch. Through painstaking work, analysis and vineyard care, by 2011 he and his vineyard achieved the much coveted DOCG status for the tiny zone of Offida. To put that in perspective, DOCG status is Italy’s top designation, limited to her very finest wines, to include the likes of Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello, Chianti Riserva, etc.

The Tenuta Cocci Pecorino is so strikingly head and shoulders above and beyond any other Pecorino that I’ve encountered that it’s difficult to describe. There’s an unmistakable spicy, floral aspect to these aromas: acacia and jasmine joined by licorice wafting from the glass. The palate is tropical without being flabby, strikingly pure and taught with acidity. You’ve got to try this; it’s a discovery you’ll be very glad you made.

Tenuta Cocci Grifoni, Colle Vecchio, Offida DOCG Pecorino

Straw-yellow with strong green highlights. Lovely fresh nose redolent of white flowers, white stone fruits and dried herbs, nicely complicated by menthol and citrus nuances. Enters bright and fresh, with lively, harmonious acidity and a pretty mineral underpinning adding bounce to the citrus and yellow apple flavors. Finishes long, with a mouthwatering quality and a hint of mint. This is an outstanding example of Pecorino from an estate that has dedicated itself to native grapes like this one over the years (they have worked long and hard with passerina as well), as opposed simply to jumping on the native grapes bandwagon recently, as quite a few others have done in Italy.

90 points, Antonio Galloni’s Vinous

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Argiano Non Confunditur – Super Tuscan at Rosso Pricing – Not to be Mistaken

For 2015, Not to be Mistaken Indeed!

 

In the deep, cool and very humid cellars of Argiano, just before you enter the ancient doors leading to a collection spanning hundreds of vintages, the old family crest is prominently displayed above. You have to look closely at the details, and if you do, you’ll make out the initials “NC”.

Since taking over the 16th century Argiano estate in 1992, Countess Noemi Marone Cinzano was considered the driving force behind the renaissance at Argiano. She may have subsequently sold the property to follow her dreams abroad, but before doing so, she launched a formidable company. One of her precious jewels was the wine known as Non Confunditur, which she dubbed her “Baby Solenga”.

She commissioned a bottle design with the initials NC very prominently displayed in the center of the label. Clients as well as critics world-wide were convinced these were her initials (NC: Noemi Cinzano). She kept the secret close to her vest, preferring to discuss the classic blend: primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, with Sangiovese comprising the bulk of the balance and Syrah finishing things off with a dollop of Merlot. So that, until recently, the fantasy behind the label held true.

But for those of us who’ve followed Argiano for a few decades, we recall the old family crest. “NC” has been around for quite some time. Translated into English it means “Not to be mistaken”, “unmistakable”…  So whether NC tells the tale of the glamorous Noemi or reflects Argiano’s ageless position as that unmistakable brand, be certain that for 2015 Non Confunditur will certainly stand out in the crowd!

Noemi would have been proud to sign her name to this version of her namesake…

2014 La Jota Cabernet Franc – Jackson Family’s Treasure – Finest Cab Franc in Cali

It is the finest Cabernet Franc made in California — Robert Parker

The history of La Jota is one of the great America tales of our time. The land, high atop Howell Mountain, originally settled by the Wappo Tribe ages ago, eventually became the property of a North Carolina pioneer, receiving his land grant from a Mexican general. The first winery was erected by a Swiss immigrant. He commissioned an Italian mason to design the estate, which was built stone by stone from volcanic ash-rock quarried on the property by Chinese laborers. Completing the American melting pot story, the vineyards were planted to French varietals.

All this history is packed into the La Jota Vineyard Co., which was founded by Frederick Hess in 1898. An active member of the community, he first launched a German-language newspaper in San Francisco before turning his sights to Napa. Rancho La Jota – 327 acres of a Mexican land grant – became home to Hess’ new venture. In addition to the stone building which housed his winery, Hess also fashioned fermentation tanks from the coastal redwood forests abutting his estate. Self-sustaining before it was en vogue, La Jota was organic from day one.

Success soon followed, as the wines from Napa’s Howell Mountain began earning tremendous praise – as well as medals – in one Paris Exposition after another. Unfortunately, Prohibition destroyed Howell Mountain’s burgeoning wine industry, leveling the majority of estates, turning even the finest to “ghost” wineries. By 1933, everything was gone.

La Jota’s first savior arrived forty years later, when former oilman Bill Smith acquired the “ghost” vineyard known as La Jota Vineyard Co. in 1974. He would formalize the paperwork and bond the company a decade later. Cabernet and Cabernet Franc were his primary varietals

California’s greatest businessman and man of the vine Jess Jackson arrived in 2005. Upon Jackson’s arrival, La Jota was in need of its next savior. Jess, and his wife Barbara Banke purchased La Jota and the rest – as they say – is history.

In his first reviews of Jess Jackson’s La Jota Cabernet Francs, Robert Parker declared, “I have been buying this wine over recent vintages, and frankly, I can’t get enough of it. It is the finest Cabernet Franc made in California, but, unfortunately, only 350 cases are produced.”

Parker continued heaping amazing – and deserved – praise on La Jota’s Cabernet Francs; the wines just kept getting better. With the release of the 2014 – highest rating EVER from Parker – we now have, “the greatest set of wines to emerge from La Jota Vineyard Co,” in the sage words of Robert Parker.

2014 La Jota • Cabernet Franc

The 2014 Cabernet Franc, aged in 70% new French oak, comes from relatively new plantings of Cabernet Franc in both the La Jota and W. S. Keyes Vineyards. La Jota had made some incredible Cabernet Francs in the 1990s…. This wine is sensational. Black purple, its incredible nose of truffles, asphalt, forest floor and white flowers is followed by blueberry and black raspberry fruit, a multi-layered texture, full-bodied richness, and a killer finish. This magnificent Cabernet Franc rivals some of the best being made in Northern California.

96 points – Robert M. Parker, Jr., Wine Advocate

Perfection in Saint Estephe – Parker’s Pick for 2010 and Beyond – Stunning Chateau Montrose

Perfection in Saint Estephe – Perfection In 2010!

 

I’ll never forget my first opportunity to taste and purchase this masterpiece – the 2010 Montrose. I was in attendance at the 2010 en premier tasting where this garnered throngs of curious Sommeliers, professionals buyers and personal collectors. Each had their glasses lifted for a thimble full of what Delmas announced as the greatest achievement Chez Montrose in his tenure.

Octogenarians back in America confirmed the 2010’s place alongside the 1945 and ’47, and Robert Parker pulled no punches – rating the ’10 a near-perfect 99 points once bottled. Multiple tastings later – one summer not too long ago the most recent as well as most exciting – the 2010 officially joined the ranks of perfection.

Ranked alongside such coveted treasures as the 1929 and ’59, Montrose 2010 will go down as the stuff of legends.

I wonder how many of you were gifted with the same foresight as I was when I first tasted it. How many of you purchased a half case to stash away for a long as humanly possible?

2010 Montrose St Estephe

This is considered to be among the greatest vintages ever made in Montrose, right up with the 1929, 1945, 1947, 1959, 1961, 1989, 1990 and 2009. Harvest was October 15 to 17. The wine has really come on since I last tasted it, and it needs at least another 10 years of cellaring. The blend was 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. The wine is opaque black/blue, with an incredible nose of blueberry and blackberry liqueur, with hints of incense, licorice, and acacia flowers. Tannins are incredibly sweet and very present. The wine is full-bodied, even massive, with great purity, depth and a finish that goes on close to a minute. This is a 50- to 75-year-old wine that will repay handsomely those with good aging genes. (Note: The Chateau Montrose website gives an aging potential of 2020-2100.)

100 points – Robert Parker

 

2012 Rippon Pinot Noir Mature Vines of Central Otago – New Zealand’s Very Best

New Zealand’s Finest!

 

I first began drinking Rippon’s phenomenal Pinots with the early 2000s, continuing my enjoyment and the consumption of their finest juice a few years ago with the release of their 2010s and sensational 2003s. My adoration is well documented in these pages.

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate is on record as well, referring to Nick’s wines as

“…Pinot Noirs that rekindled memories of those glorious 2005 Burgundy’s”.

I was also quite impressed to hear the news a few months back that Nick Stock, Senior Editor for James Suckling.com, in the New Zealand issue of “The Top 50 New Zealand Wines of 2016,” ranked Rippon’s 2012 the #7 Top New Zealand Wine for 2016!

The fruit for Rippon’s Pinot Noir Mature Vines is culled from an ancient parcel on the estate’s north-facing, steep, eroded slope. It’s a meeting point of glacial deposits: ancient soil, rock and coarse gravels, all based in schist, where Central Otago’s earliest vines were planted. Rippon’s Mature Vines cuvee is issued from all of the fully developed Pinot vines growing in this expansive parcel. This is where it all began for Rippon, and the fruit of the vine from this parcel bears witness to the perfectionist style Nick Mills (and his father Rolfe Mills before him) is renowned for.

For those new to these pages, I like to remind everyone just how vital Nick’s training has been to the continuity of these world class Pinot Noirs. Not only are these the oldest plantings in the region, but they are tended by a man who spent his formative years working the soil and terroirs of Burgundy; he knew how vital his understanding of such things would be. To that end, Nick tenured with de Villaine (Domaine de la Romanée Conti) , and spent time with Jean-Jacques Confuron, Lucien Jacob, Alain Meunier, Nicolas Potel and Domaine de la Vougeraie as well. His are truly the wines of a master craftsman.

2012 Rippon Pinot Noir Central Otago Mature Vines

This is the mature-vine assemblage of the entire property and has a more granitic, schist, wet-stone and rock edge as well as delicate perfumes and hints of pepper, not to mention poached raspberries and cherry fruit. Great depth and weight and good phenolic concentration. It’s all saturated in dark cherry flavors and plenty of tannins. No compromise in detail. Best from 2018, but will grow well past that.

96 points, Nick Stock for James Suckling.com

2014 Hahn Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir – SLH As It Should Be!

2014 Hahn Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir – SLH As It Should Be!

Monterey County is one of the most scenic regions in Southern California. Spanning roughly 90 miles, this is an all-important wine region stretching from Monterey Bay south to the edge of San Luis Obispo County. Vineyards here are flanked by the Galiban Mountains to the east, with the gorgeous Santa Lucia Mountains along the Pacific encompassing the western edge.

Nicky Hahn is a bit of rock-star here. It was his idea that the Santa Lucia Highlands – once simply part of the Monterey County wine zone – be carved out, recognized as a unique appellation. Achieving such recognition doesn’t come easy; involving bureaucrats is a process. It can take years to move the mountains of paperwork as well as attitudes required to have a new wine region officially recognized.

But Nicky pulled his fellow vintners together; they made their appeals, showed their wines, explained the benefits, and showed a few more wines… Three years later, Nicky had his new AVA (American Viticultural Area) – Santa Lucia Highlands became a reality.

In 1980 Hahn released its first wine and by 1991 Nicky’s Hahn Winery gave birth to the Santa Lucia Highlands. Hahn, Nicky’s dream now a reality, became synonymous with what today is one of California’s most important, most respected Pinot Noir zones. Nicky (Nicolaus) Hahn was a visionary. His vision gave the world one of its most important wine zones.

Hahn’s estate in this zone is breathtaking, their wines undeniably class-leading. Today the wines are made by Paul Clifton, his Midas touch undeniable. For 2014 – if you can dig up a few bottles – this estate hit a level of quality with their estate bottled wines that keeps me coming back for more. In particular Clifton’s SLH Pinot for 2014 is magical. Today, five years on, it’s only just beginning to spread its wings!

A smokin’ effort, as well as a terrific value, the 2014 Pinot Noir Hahn SLH (mostly from the Smith Vineyard) offers classic notes of forest floor, toasted spice, licorice and tons of Pinot Noir fruit in its medium-bodied, textured and layered profile. … I’m hard pressed to come up with a better value in Pinot Noir. Drink this pleasure bent beauty over the coming 4-5 years.

An estate that has hit another level of quality over the past few vintages, Hahn Family Wines focuses on estate vineyards in both the Santa Lucia Highlands and the Arroyo Seco Valley. The wines are made by Paul Clifton, everything is destemmed and aging occurs all in French oak. The big change recently is the moving of their limited-production, single vineyard releases to their Lucienne label. These are all made in tiny, 80- to 600-case quantities and are beautiful wines. In addition, their entry level wines and the new SLH releases (which are a blend of the single vineyards) are absolutely worth checking out.

92 points – Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate — Drink 2016-2021

2010 Clos de Sarpe Saint Emilion – “Quintessential Blockbuster”

Ancient, Historical Clos de Sarpe

Just north east of Saint Emilion’s city center in the heart of the region’s Sarpe zone, Chateau Clos de Sarpe has been owned by Jean-Guy Beyney’s family for three generations. Originally held by the Baron du Foussat de Bogeron until 1923, this is one of the smallest properties in the zone, totaling just under 4ha (roughly 12 acres). Tasting the wines here is a step back in time; a lesson in profound, historical exuberance.

Every aspect of the estate pays homage to and reflects the characteristics of ancestral times in Saint Emilion. In tasting the recent releases – in particular the ravishing, brooding 2010 – Parker informs us that these are

“…Wines that probably have more in common with the great vintages of the late 1800’s than anything produced today.”

Current proprietor, third generation Jean-Guy Beyney manages a unique terroir, a crumbling, thin layer of clay resting atop deep layers of limestone. Today, the youngest vines – 70% of the vineyard – average nearly 80 years of age, the balance of the estate’s vines are approaching 95 years of age.

With this age and the density of plantings, Clos de Sarpe is consistently massive, a

“… Pedal-to-the-metal … sort of wine”

… as Robert Parker has told us in past reviews. The 2010 is one I’ve always loved in blind tastings. It’s one of the most thrilling, confounding, complex, hard to define, yet exciting throwbacks you’ll ever encounter. The vintage has yet to be toppled, so if you come across a few bottles, add them to your cellar, as have I.

2010 Clos de Sarpe

The 2010 Clos de Sarpe is deep garnet-purple in color with a profound, very youthful nose of blackcurrant cordial, warm plums and blueberry pie with hints of chocolate box, roses, star anise and cigar box plus a beautifully fragrant waft of lilacs. Full-bodied, rich, opulent and oh-so-seductive, it has a firm frame of grainy tannins and explosive freshness to lend an electric charge through the mid-palate and epically long finish. Amazing wine.

98 points – Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

I have always loved to taste this wine, because it comes from a tiny, nearly 12-acre property owned by Jean-Guy Beyney, who, I have said, before tends to go overboard making wines that probably have more in common with the great vintages of the late 1800’s than anything produced today. How long will these wines last? Certainly the great vintages are 50+ year wines. Beyney’s absurdly low yields in 2010 (15 hectoliters per hectare) have fashioned a blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc that hits all the sweet spots on the palate.

96+ Robert Parker