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

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