ERIC & JOËL DURAND – Rock Stars of Cornas – Hottest Wines of the Region

                               Cornas Rock Stars

 

Brothers Eric and Joel Durand are precise, authoritative artisans. Perhaps you’ve heard that from professionals such as Jancis Robinson, who, after the most exhaustive, comprehensive tasting of the region’s wines I’ve discovered (vintages spanning 1972 to 1991, multiple Crus, every major estate you can imagine) swooned for the Durand Brothers. Speaking of the Durands’ youngest cuvee at that time, Jancis Robinson reported:

“The wine is testament to some very fine, sensitive winemaking with lots of fruit in the middle to compensate for well-managed tannins.”

That started the ball rolling for the young artisans – European sommeliers couldn’t get enough – and soon the world was calling.

Approaching the Durand vineyards, one cannot help but be awestruck. You wonder how these guys ever mustered the strength – the stamina – to rework these treacherous, crumbling hillsides. After assuming the family estate in 1991, they began reworking their vineyards, but not the vines – not just yet – they had to first secure the terraces which supported their family’s old Syrah vines. One by one, rock by rock and parcel by parcel they rebuilt the terraces on their steeply sloping hillside vineyards – the only method to secure their incredible vineyards and save their Syrah from literally sliding into the valley.

From there, the brothers designed the most intricate trellising system I’ve ever witnessed. Zig-zagging their way up the granitic slopes of the Cornas hills, the vines in each of the Durands’ oldest parcels grow upwards, arching at the top, forming an upside down “U”, reaching the vine adjacent.

                                        Durand Vineyards

This work on the terraces as well as the wildly imaginative trellising spanned nearly 20 years; when I witnessed it, I was taken aback. Words cannot do justice.

Three unique, beautifully individual as well as incredibly limited cuvees (low yields are a given in this environment) are now offered by the brothers. Their soils change as you move gradually up the Cornas slope; silt laden deposits give way to pure granite, which then changes to migmatite (granitic components within metamorphic surroundings). Complexity; awe-inspiring; mind-changing – you have never tasted Cornas quite like this…

Take my advice; seek out the trio of their top offers (Prémices, Empreintes and Confidence). That’s the only way you will truly understand the minute differences and striking, individual personalities of each of these treasures of time, place, mono-varietal, and human endeavor.

If you’re curious where to locate, leave me a reply…

Desparada Wines of Paso Robles – The Most Important Winery In The Most Important Wine Region In California

                     Just a Few of Vailia’s Must-Haves – Desparada Wines

 

Centered at the halfway point between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Paso Robles has been one of my favorite hunting grounds for unique, thoroughly one-of-a-kind wines for years. It’s where I first discovered the Rhone Ranger glories of L’Aventure, and stumbled upon the mind-bending Syrahs grown in the western reaches of Paso Robles by Justin Smith of Saxum. Also home to some of the most prized bottlings in my personal collection – Linne Calodo – Paso Robles is one wine region I simply cannot visit often enough.

In the early days, the A-listers could be counted on a few fingers, to include the aforementioned and – of course – the ethereal Zins of Turley. That’s all changed though, with a new group of settlers finding their way to Paso Robles over the past decade, lured to the gentle rolling hills of this chaparral environment. Vineyard owners seem to be everywhere these days – eager to rent their homes when you come to town – thanks to the need for high quality grapes by some big name producers here.

But I’ve fallen in love with the wines of a winery I hope remains as boutique and under the radar as they’ve been for years. That winery is Desparada, and its owner Vailia is among my top 5 – make that 3 – very favorite people in the wine business. My wife and I recently paid a visit to Paso Robles, and our two hours in the cellar with Vailia were unforgettable.

The first thing you notice about Vailia is that smile. It’s real; never departing from her face, it reaches all the way to her eyes. That smile is as real as the wines she makes, wines that now fill at least 50% of our small 15 case “cellar” at home. Wines that speak of Vailia equally as much as Paso Robles and the single vineyards she sources from. Wines that perfectly speak of varietal – she works with so many, so unique – and, just as important, wines that allow each unique vintage to share their story. Vailia is a tremendous winemaker. As such, she thoroughly understands and respects her role as steward.

Working with some of Paso Robles’ great single vineyards and perfectly tended vineyards, Vailia has shown me bottles of shockingly delicious blends spanning multiple vintages. My first experience has turned into a vertical of “Sackcloth & Ashes”, a multi-site, multi-varietal blend which I first encountered with the 2012 vintage. Now into my fourth vintage, I will attest that this striking wine – Cabernet, Petit Sirah, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec; hailing from the Happy Canyon, Coghlan, Roadrunner, Santa Barbara Highlands and Vogelzang vineyards – is one of the most profound of its type; worth 2-3 times what we pay.

Then there’s the vertical of “Borderlands” I cannot keep my hands off. Another stunning blend – this time equal parts Cab, Cab Franc, Grenache and Syrah – from the Coghlan, Santa Barbara Highlands, Spanish Springs and White Haw vineyards, it is so immensely irresistible that I’ve asked my wife to hide two bottles of each vintage from me. How Vailia bottles such deeply soulful wines at these earthbound prices is one of life’s great mysteries.

But there’s so much more – so VERY much more. So many shockingly delicious versions of Sauvignon Blanc; one that I’ve “blind” tasted my Francophile buddies on and convinced them it was La Mission Haut Brion Blanc (go ahead, look up the price difference). Amphorae fermented and aged wines of every type and description. Barrel fermented, stainless fermented wines based on the same varietal – just so Vailia can follow their evolution. Italian varietals, Spanish varietals – that truly and completely honor their native land while reflecting Paso Robles AND Vailia.

I’ll close now – probably said too much already (just can’t keep a secret) – by encouraging you to (at the very least) sign up for the

Desparada newsletter

the wines will quite possibly change your outlook…

 

 

2016 Bordeaux – My Days with the Big Guns – Chateau Margaux – Wine of the Vintage II

 

                           Chateau Margaux — the Appellation’s Wine of the Vintage

The day I would visit Chateau Margaux for my scheduled tasting of their 2016 during en primeur week – a week involving more than 400 samplings of 2016 Bordeaux – began bright and early with a formal, 9am (sharp) appointment at Chateau Lafite. Indeed, my day which included the unforgettable set of wines at Chateau Margaux (which I scored 97-99 points) – their Grand Vin very easily on par with Mouton Rothschild for Wine of the Vintage honors – included more riches than I can recall in a single day of tasting Bordeaux en primeur.

That brilliantly sunny day – impeccable, real “Chamber of Commerce” kind of day – witnessed yours truly at Chateau Palmer (which I scored 96-98 points), Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou (another 96-98 pour moi) where the “sights” are as beautiful as the Chateau and the many wines offered for tasting, as well as Chateau Leoville Las Cases (yes, another 96-98 points), where it felt I was tasting perhaps the most glorious Las Cases in years.

All of this just one day after finishing up at Chateau Mouton Rothschild (98-100 for me), as well as the drop dead gorgeous Chateau Latour (97-99 points), which we won’t see for years – and years.

Yes, there were more than 100 additional 2016 Bordeaux across those two days – plus an addition couple dozen over dinners and lunch breaks.

But there can be no denying the amazing presence, the glamor, the sheer “gotta have it” of the 2016 Chateau Margaux.

2016 Perfection?

For me, unfortunately, memories will have to suffice, as allocations of Chateau Margaux are so drastically limited that only a few of you will enjoy the opportunity to purchase this gem – I’ll have to rely on the generosity of others.

 

 

2016 Bordeaux – Multiple 100pt Chateau Pavie – Wine of the Vintage?

                                Chateau Pavie – Perfection in 2016 – Profound in Every Sense

My final full day of tasting 2016 Bordeaux during en primeur week culminated just at it should have, two hours at Chateau Pavie.

Approaching the Pavie hills – their historic coteaux rising steeply behind the white-washed stone Chateau – the sky a deep blue, not a cloud to be witnessed, a sense of something very special came over me.

I’d heard from other professionals during the week that the subtle changes at Pavie had returned the most profound wine; not just that Pavie had ever bottled, but quite possibly of the 2016 vintage. As I made my way up the majestic, “Gone with the Wind” staircase to the open air tasting room, you could have heard a pin drop.

Though many were in attendance, there was a reverence in that space that day.

This was my 8th version of Pavie. This was the first time I have ever been so moved.

To say the Pavie terroir spoke through the wine is the understatement of the vintage. There has never been such a profound Pavie.

Wine of the vintage? Certainly better than a few of the Premier Crus.

Unquestionably among the top 3 of the 2016 Bordeaux vintage.

2016 Bordeaux – Thoughts On A Selectively Superb Vintage

                  One Of The Top Three Wines Of The Vintage For 2016 Bordeaux

 

Having recently returned from 8 grueling days in Bordeaux, tasting the 2016 Bordeaux during en primeur week – most days beginning at 7am, ending after even the pigeons had gone to sleep, usually close to 11pm – I can personally attest that the name of the game this year is “selectivity.”

Two thousand sixteen is NOT an across the board, knock it out the park home-run vintage.

Peaks and valleys – extreme highs, pitiful lows – exist practically everywhere when discussing 2016 Bordeaux.

The top producers – Premier Cru estates – performed very well, generally speaking. Pavie outdid themselves.

But as I made my way through some of the finest wines, tasting approximately 400 samples at various locations to include top negociants, the finest Chateaux, multiple UGC events (some visibly under-attended), certain aspects of the 2016 Bordeaux vintage became clear.

This was a vintage that challenged winemakers; many spoke of their fears – a repeat of 2013, troubles with mildew, uncontrolled yields – while others rightfully proclaimed they had made their finest wines ever.

I’ve tasted in Bordeaux for many years, and I concur with the assessment shared by Justine Tesseron at Pontet Canet when asked which vintage 2016 most closely resembles.

She looked me dead in the eye and said,

“2016; there’s never been anything else to compare.”

2004 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blanc – A “Visceral Thrill”

 

One of the first lessons we connoisseurs of the really good stuff figure out is “the French keep the good stuff for themselves.”

So it is with Champagne Ruinart, named in honor of the Benedictine Monk, Dom Ruinart – the bulk of their production is still sold mostly in France. Precisely why I attempt to squirrel away a few precious bottles of the 2004 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blanc whenever possible.

Established in 1729 with the inimitable declaration,

“In the name of God and the Saint Virgin shall this book be commenced”

Ruinart was the First Champagne House the world had ever known. The firm survived and even flourished through the upheavals of the Revolution, the Empire and the Restoration, celebrating successes in America, making an indelible impression on President Jackson in 1827.

This is a Blanc de Blanc truly without comparison in the ranks of the Grande Marques; produced entirely in steel, full malo, a significant holding on the Montagne de Reims. Time in bottle broadens this vinous treasure, today the 2004 is far superior when compared to my notes from last year.

Galloni – perhaps this nation’s greatest taster of Champagne – fawned over it,

“…viscerally thrilling…exceptionally beautiful…”ruinart-ii

2012 Rippon “Rippon Mature Vines” Pinot Noir – Phenomenal Old-Vine Beauty

 

Where The Rippon Magic Happens

 

I first began drinking these phenomenal Pinots with the early 2000s, earning the chance to work directly with the estate a couple years ago with a small release of their 2010s and sensational 2003s. My adoration is well known to friends, family and colleagues alike, with the Wine Advocate on record as well, referring to Nick’s wines as “Pinot Noirs that rekindled memories of those glorious Burgundy 2005’s”. You’ll be as thrilled as I am to hear that Nick’s most well-priced treasure – the 2012 Rippon “Rippon Mature Vines” – has finally landed in the States – ready for your immediate, hedonistic enjoyment!

The site which would eventually become known as Rippon was first planted to 25 various varietals during the 1970s by its founder, Rolfe Mills. Rolfe had spent time in the Douro Valley during the 1940s and the site of schist, rich in foliated mica and quartzite, on his land in Central Otago sparked a great curiosity. Rolfe began experimenting with his soils, isolating a parcel on the western board of Roy’s Bay, Lake Wanaka.

This ancient parcel is Rippon’s north-facing escarpment, and it forms the meeting point of terminal moraines 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 (and his father Rolfe before him) is renowned for.

2012 “Rippon Mature Vines”

For those new to these pages, I’d like to take the time to remind folks 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.

 

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