Andrea Franchetti’s Ethereal Passopisciaro Passorosso – Sicily’s Crown Prince

Fans of the greatest Italian wines of our generation are fondly familiar with Andrea Franchetti, among the most important, indeed the most passionate artists anywhere in Italy. As he describes his first visual encounter with the breathtaking Val d’Orcia when he arrived in 1970, his place here is evident. His estate of Tenuta di Trinoro – which he built in this southeastern corner of Tuscany one meter at a time, by hand – gained cult status with his first release.

Years later, Franchetti mastered the seemingly untamable Sicilian landscape as well. Galloni reported just as favorably,

“Andrea Franchetti wasn’t content to just make profound wines at his Tuscan estate, Tenuta di Trinoro, so he set out to replicate that success at Passopisciaro, his property on Mount Etna.”

I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, so the moment these utterly ethereal Sicilians became available for tasting, I seized an opportunity. I’ve witnessed the evolution of Passopisciaro, amazed at the relative values these prodigious treasures represent.

When Franchetti first arrived to the ominous, gloomy, desolate site which would eventually produce his glorious Sicilian concoctions, his visions for the future mirrored those from his first encounters in Val d’Orcia; he was ready for another labor of love. It was the winter of 2000; frigid cold, silent, inauspicious. Franchetti recalls the blackened streets, the churches buried with ash, wineries collapsed everywhere he looked.

Franchetti returned in the summer to find the perfect spot, glistening black in the sun, a wide, sprawling hump of black gravel. This would be the spot; this became the estate of Passopisciaro. This was where time stood still in 1947, where flowing lava simply stopped and it seemed as if the land awaited his arrival.

I have tasted so many versions of what was previously known as Passopisciaro Rosso – now renamed Passorosso – that to describe its nature is futile. It changes every year. One constant remains: the special sites. Upon his arrival in 2000, Franchetti discovered centenarian vines, bush-trained across the northern side of the volcano, altitudes between 1,800 and 3,300 feet; at the edge of that lava spill that went no further.

Franchetti experimented with various varietals at first, realizing the importance of the native, local Nerello Mascalese. Several individual crus are planted: Malpasso, Guardiola, Santo Spirito, Favazza and Arcuria. These single vineyards lend very specific characters to the Nerello Mascalese grapes. It is impossible to define this wine; multiple sites, a single varietal, and yet the ever changing activities of nature. At this altitude, you can lose everything in a night.

One thing however, which every critic and serious consumer of Passorosso / Passopisciaro Rosso agrees, is that there has never – EVER – been a vintage as special, as universally superior in this region as 2014. In the hands of the undisputed master, the wines are surreal…

2014 Passopisciaro Passorosso (Formerly Passopisciaro)

Bright red-ruby. The captivating nose combines strawberry, raspberry, minerals, violet and flint aromas. Creamy-sweet but amazingly light on its feet, offering palate-staining, perfumed flavors of soft red berries, ripe red cherry, vanilla, aromatic herbs and crushed rock. Rich, ripe and suave, but displays a penetrating, saline and energetic quality that gives this beauty a three-dimensional mouthfeel and a light-on-its-feet quality. Finishes with great length and wonderfully polished tannins. Absolute knockout wine: from a memorable vintage on Etna, this is most likely the best Passorosso ever (in earlier vintages, it used to be called simply Passopisciaro). Mainly Nerello Mascalese.

97 points – Antonio Galloni’s Vinous


Servin Chablis – Revisiting a Favorite – Smashing Wines from Chablis

François Servin - Tradition in the Cellars, Flamboyant in Person

François Servin – Tradition in the Cellars, Flamboyance in Person

François Servin – one of the more flamboyant winegrowers in Chablis – and his Australian-born winemaker Marc Cameron have been on a qualitative hot streak. With three consecutive vintages of the best juice I’ve tasted here, it’s high time these guys are on your radar. Whether Grand Cru, Premier or straight Village, the Midas touch is strong here, and at work across three of my favorite, most-recent vintages.

With parcels of the oldest vines comprising most of their holdings, ROBERT PARKER’S WINE ADVOCATE in particular insists:

“They deserve a berth in your cellar alongside those prized Raveneaus and Dauvissats.”

Having spent more than adequate time tasting the line-up, I get it. You will, too with a few glasses of their recent releases. Acidities are perfectly balanced with the fruit, but more importantly, the “Chablis” spirit is here – in buckets.

What I seek, foremost – my beloved Kimmeridjian vein of lip-smacking salinity – weaves its way throughout François Servin’s selections.

One of the dynamic duo’s top wines, in particular, the 2014 Le Clos Grand Cru is – in a word – smashing! The new oak is barely there; it’s all about fruit (buckets of it) and that classic vein of acidity. Everything graciously wrapped in harmonic salinity.


Looking to the 2015s, the very old-vine Selection Massale is a killer value, made all the more irresistible by a consumer-friendly growing season. There’s a gravel and Granny Smith bouquet which belies the “buy it by the case” pricing. This is my go-to value buy in classic Chablis for 2015. It’s thoroughly irresistible.


Without skipping a beat, the team rolled right into 2016 with one of the best versions of their 1er Cru Vaillons I’ve tasted since the late 1990s. Sit back, take in the aromas of the ocean – oysters, sea breezes – and then be prepared to be all consumed by the fruit of this stunner. Brimming with peaches, mandarin oranges and Granny Smiths, all wrapped nicely in Kimmeridjian complexity, this is a true dream of a Vaillons. And having consumed more of this 1er Cru than any other (it’s my favorite) I will tell you that you absolutely should not miss it!

Bethel Heights ÆOLIAN Pinot – Truly Profound

2014 Bethel Heights ÆOLIAN Pinot – 95 points Wine Spectator & Truly Profound

In 1977, bound by a love for fine wine, the Casteel, Dudley and Webb families acquired 75 acres northwest of Salem, Oregon. Their acquisition included 14 acres of un-rooted, freshly planted cuttings. These were promising times for the group, and they looked forward to their new life away from academia.

The next few years saw the clearing of acreage, additional plantings, inaugural bottlings – they bottled their first homemade basement batch in 1981 – and the first commercial offer, in 1984. The Eola Hills gave these families their independence, and some mighty fine wines, as well. It’s a true family affair, with the third generation of cousins now lending their hands in the winery.

Those early years were amazing according to the families:

“What we found here was a living landscape – a geological mosaic of benches and slopes covered with healthy living soils, a crystal clear stream running down the middle through a deep, wooded ravine, and a rich diversity of wildlife to share it all. Sheer magic.”

The ÆOLIAN wind blows up from the Van Duzer Corridor, west of Bethel Heights. It has been the singular, most defining aspect of this place since the 1800s. The ÆOLIAN wind has carved mountain, land and vineyard over the decades.

This is the moniker for Bethel Heights’ great Pinot Noirs. Nearly 30 vintages ago I tasted here, on my first visit to these windswept, hilltop sites. I recall that visit each time I taste their 2014s, especially the ÆOLIAN bottling. I love it, and consider it among the most profound wines I’ve yet tasted from this inimitable family of the vine.


2006 Salon Le Mesnil – One of the Greatest Salon Champagnes Ever Bottled

Salon 2006 – “Recalls the 2002”

2006 Salon – Greatest Ever?

While visiting the cellars at Salon a few years back, tasting back vintages, marveling at the precision and glorious collection in their frigid underground caves, Didier Depond made a point of showing us the quietly resting collection of soon to be released vintages. Before anyone else in the world would ever taste a single bottle, I had my first glimpse of those treasures to come: 2004, 2006, 2008…

Remember the 2004; the amazing bottles released last year? That cuvee spent an unheard-of 12 years resting on its fine lees. While other “fine” Champagne houses were celebrating the release of their 2008s, Salon was patiently awaiting perfection. Time stands still in the Salon cellars; no man was going to rush the strikingly pure 2004 to market.

It was incredible, was it not?

Friends, that was only a tease – a tiny precursor of the 2006. Didier spoke of 2006 while I savored one of the most glorious wines I have encountered in my life: the 1988 Salon (a wine requiring reverence, as well as an entirely new method of scoring wines – 100 points won’t cover it).

The cuvee now available for you – this Grand Vin with bubbles known as the 2006 Salon – will ease the memories of the 2004 right out of your prefrontal cortex. You will taste it and – if you are able to recall the perfection of its glorious sibling, the 2002 – you will be whisked away to nirvana.

Indeed, 2006 is easily the new 2002.

It may – in time – become my new 1988!

Here’s what Mr. Galloni had to say,

Salon 2006 Salon Le Mesnil Sur Oger, Champagne

The 2006 Salon is a very rich wine, almost uncharacteristically so. Deep and exotic the 2006 exudes richness in all of its dimensions, with myriad inflections of sumptuous fruit that fill out its ample, large-scaled frame. Today, the 2006 is surprisingly accessible for a young Salon, but it needs time to shed some baby fat. At times, the 2006 recalls the 2002, but it appears to have more phenolic intensity and overall structure. Even with all of its flamboyance and pure volume, the 2006 retains quite a bit of energy and freshness. I imagine it will be a fascinating, utterly compelling Champagne to follow over the next several decades.

97 points – Antonio Galloni, Vinous

Updates from The Greats – Donelan Family Wines


Donelan Family Wines

If you have plans for being in the Sonoma area in early August, add this event to your itinerary, NOW.

For ME, when it comes to selecting the top 5 or so greatest experiences my palate has enjoyed, considering wines from America, there will simply not be a better offer to come our way this year. For true Syrah aficionados, Grenache fanatics or lovers of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Hermitage, Donelan Family Wines (formerly known as Pax) bottles the most expressive, sublime, powerful and hedonistic single-vineyard-designated and blended wines of this generation.

I have been drinking and collecting these exquisite wines for many vintages now. I encourage you to do the same.

Donelan Summer 2010 Open House and current offers:

via Donelan Summer 2010 Open House.

2009 Les Maître Vignerons de la Presqu’ile de SAINT-TROPEZ Rose’ Cotes de Provence Cuvee Premier (50% Grenache/50%Cinsault)

Summer in Provence

I suppose the one aspect of being a wine shop owner I miss most, aside from all the fabulous new wine discoveries, would have to be the trips I made to France so often. Being the die-hard French wine fan that I am, my first trip to France would not be to focus on the trappings of Paris but to trudge around the damp recesses of Burgundy and the Cote D’Or. From that first trip, I would visit the countryside of France dozens of times – perhaps even up to as many as 25 more visits if I really started counting – all with the intention of discovering every vinous corner of the country I could handle.

As enthralled with the sloping hills of Burgundy as I am, one little sun-coated region of France’s Deep South may be even more a favorite of mine. Nestled in the southeastern corner of France, to include such world renowned cities as Cannes and Nice, France’s Provence region is home to some of the most succulent dry wines you’ll ever experience. White wines from the Clairette and Marsanne grapes will be found under the Cassis appellation (not to be confused with the liqueur of the same name), while the more famous and profoundly robust red wine of Mourvedre will be bottled carrying the Bandol appellation. And while the whites and reds of Provence are thrilling examples of France’s treasures, to be sure, for THIS wine drinker, few drinks can match the pure pleasure of a fine Rose’ from the Cotes de Provence appellation.

The area under production, spanning some 45,000 acres, by anyone’s standard, is huge; finding a Cotes de Provence Rose’ shouldn’t be difficult. Finding one that resembles what the local’s drink – now that’s the real trick. One of my trips to France would see me spending a long week-end in a quaint, very sleepy, one-horse town called Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer. Photos do the view zero justice. And the wines are as pure as everyone always brags: “You know, when we were over there, everything just tasted better.”  But in Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer, from the oysters, to the herbs, to the wine, to the fish, it DOES all taste better.

And the wine we’re now drinking by the case at home reminds me of the Rose’ I drank on that long week-end in Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer. The color is the palest salmon pink. The aromas are of fresh strawberry combined with that almost indescribable saline quality that comes from being so close to the ocean. And the flavors? Wow! Purity of red berry fruit, crisp acidity, strawberry, and a lusciousness that are all matched to a medium- bodied frame; so easily gulp-able pool-side with appetizers, grilled fish/seafood/chicken, or even raw oysters, like you won’t believe.

Les Maitre Vignerons Rose’ is one of those little treasures that I simply stumbled across one afternoon and have been lucky enough to find ample supply of locally. There seems to be no U.S. source on-line, so if you’re interested, drop me a note and I’ll divulge my source (no affiliation as always, I do this for sport).


LOS COWBOYS Torrontés – Summertime, and the Sippin’ is Easy

Los Cowboys Torrontés

Back in the day, at the old wine shop, I championed this grape as an affordable, daily alternative to Viognier. Drinking Torrontés, a grape primarily found in Argentina, is like a breath of fresh air; the aromas and flavors are refreshing, with a floral sensation that is quite captivating when the wine is well-made. My favorites in this category will be quite dry, with no sweetness to them, yet the fruit will be unmistakable, with that tell-tale tropical quality of mango or papaya combined with a citrus quality that will have you thinking of oranges or nectarines. The perfect summer quencher, Torrontés wines should offer some crispness, as well, due to a natural acidity; we’re not talking French Chablis, though. So try these wines with lighter fare but I don’t particularly care to pair them with oysters – grilled, seasoned fish dishes, however, work quite well.

Important to note is that Torrontés wines drink best young, allowing the fruit to best express itself, so look for the recently released 2009.

The best of the current lot I’ve recently experienced comes from Los Cowboys. Being a Natural Wine fan, as I am, I like what these folks are up to, check out the link….

I’ve found it on-line, using, for about $7-$8 bucks, so do your research – Texas retailers are generally too high; you can thank our Texas wholesalers for that!

All the best!