Brittan Vineyards Pinot Noirs – Lovers of Great Burgundy, It Doesn’t Get Much Better!

Brittan Vineyards

I’ve been at the Burgundy game for 30 years; tasting my way through every village of the Cote, north to south and back again. I’ve personally visited with vignerons through thick and thin on more than 2 dozen occasions. It’s maddening some times, the elusive bottle of mind-bending Pinot.

Oregon ain’t no picnic either, might be even more frustrating. Pinot won’t be tamed, tricked, cajoled, manipulated, masked. Cabernet? Grow it anywhere; it’ll still show its stuff. Try that with Pinot and you might as well sell it off to the distillery.

Estimates put the top performers – those who garner the BIG points – at less than 1% of all growers.

So imagine the look on my face when reading the headlines in the Wine Advocate,

“Brittan’s wines with low pH and firm acidity (without sacrificing flavor) are sure to send bolts of rapture through lovers of great Burgundy” .

Visions of Mortet went dancing through my head. Let me conclude by saying, any bottles remaining after this pre-sale will find themselves quietly resting next to verticals of Aubert’s best in my cellar.

Don’t dilly dally…

Available for a short time…

 

 

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Lail Vineyards – A TRUE American Tale!

Lail House

Having been in the biz this long, I’m often guilty of wandering back to Europe when writing about California wines – I’ve even been called out on it…

But this is a family’s story so deeply rooted in the vinous fabric of America that even I can’t think of anywhere else but Napa when sharing their story. Follow me now; this one has a lot of forks in the road…

It all began in the late 19th century when Robin Lail’s Great Grand-Uncle Gustav Niebaum (ya’ the one and only!) built Inglenook Vineyards – talk about an American icon. By the turn of the 20th century, American wine had no rival. Niebaum’s Inglenook passed down to his Great-Nephew, John Daniel Jr. in 1936 after Prohibition, and Daniel Jr. would be the catalyst for bringing many of Niebaum’s dreams to life.

Daniel Jr., along with Robert Mondavi, made the Napa Valley appellation a reality. The sale of Inglenook in the 1960s made history, as it signified a family’s legacy in the Napa Valley.

Enter Robin Lail – John Daniel Jr.’s daughter. She inherited the Napanook Vineyard (again, ya’ the one and only!) and, after a brief hiatus, “went on to co-found Dominus in 1982 with her sister Marcia Smith and the brilliant winemaker Christian Moueix”.

Pride of ownership beckoned (obviously) and after a successful run with Bill Harlan, Robin sold her portion of Dominus and Merryvale, hooked up with rock-star wine-maker Philippe Melka in 1998, and gave the world Lail Vineyards!Lail Logo

 

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…

 

Xavier Vignon Does It Again – Chateauneuf la Reserve VII IX X – An All Time Favorite!

Xavier Vignon - One of Chateauneufs Finest!

                             Xavier Vignon – One of Chateauneufs Finest!

Regular readers of these pages are no stranger to the stunning wines being produced by Xavier Vignon. As one of the top two leading consultants in the Rhone (Cambie the other), Xavier has established a flawless reputation working with such luminaries as Marcoux, Grand Veneur, Raymond Usseglio and others. Through these relationships, he has gained access to incredibly pristine parcels of very old vine plantings across the valley (especially in Chateauneuf) where he works with centenarian vines of Grenache and Syrah as well as 75-85 year old plots of multiple other varieties.

For his Reserve lines, Xavier hand picks his top barrels of Anonyme from his favorite vintages, blending them in perfect proportions to reach an insanely delicious cuvee that rewrites the books on Chateauneuf du Pape. Every detail is there – these are not Frankenstein wines – from the textbook terroir and Provençal notes to the ethereal depth of fruit we fans of the region’s very finest expect. In addition, you have Xavier’s unmatched depth of talent in blending. You can taste the aspect of each vintage he utilizes in the blends. These are truly magical wines.

My personal shipment of the Reserve VII IX X arrived three weeks ago and after ample down time to allow it to recover from shipment, I finally cracked a bottle. To say that I concur with my favorite critic on all things Rhone Valley – Jeb Dunnuck – is putting it lightly. My final 5 bottles will be hidden in the cellar for some very special events…

NV Xavier Vins • Chateauneuf du Pape la Reserve VII IX X

While I reviewed this NV Châteauneuf du Pape La Reserve VII IX X (a blend from the 2007, 2009 and 2010 vintages) last year, I was able to taste it again this go around, and it still blew me away. Fabulously full-bodied and decadent, with loads of lavender, incense, black raspberry and cured-meat nuances, it’s still youthful and vibrant, with notable freshness and purity. Enjoy this brilliant wine through 2028.

Consulting at a number of top estates (Marcoux, Grand Veneur, Raymond Usseglio, etc.), Xavier Vignon (along with Philippe Cambie) is one of the leading oenologists in the Southern Rhone – and you only need to taste his own negociant wines to understand why. I was blown away by these current and new releases. Across the board they showed beautifully made profiles, with not only loads of fruit and texture, but superb balance and classic Southern Rhone characters. In fact, each of the wines showed what I think of as textbook characteristics of the terroirs from which they come. In addition, the prices remain remarkably low, and these wines are a treasure trove for the savvy buyer.

96 points – Jeb Dunnuck, Wine Advocate

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…

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…