A Tribute to California Grenache
Santa Barbara County is producing some of the most thought-provoking and impressive wines in the U.S. If a sense of place is what we're after, Angela Osborne's Grenache-focused label, A Tribute to Grace, is a great place for our exploration to start.
Working closely with Angela during my time at Failla Wines, in 2011, I remember the first time she poured the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard Grenache for our crew, and the enthusiasm that followed. With partial whole cluster fermentation and minimal new oak, the wines are light on their feet and showcase all of the delicacy that Grenache is capable of but rarely achieves in California.
Angela grew up in New Zealand, and upon tasting the greatest expression of Grenache in the world, Chateau Rayas, set out to find the perfect terroir to produce a Grenache-focused label. Angela's grandmother, named Grace, was an equally forceful inspiration toward her landing in California. As terrific as these wines are, knowing the kind person crafting them makes the appeal even greater.
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Dreamers of Vittoria: 2021 COS Release
There's no better introduction to Sicily's Vittoria than the dream project started by Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti, and Cirino Strano (COS) in 1980. These groundbreakers put the once obscure Frappato and Nero d'Avola on the world map!
Driving from Mt. Etna to Vittoria reminded me just how varied the landscape and terroir of Sicily were. Temperatures rose, and the climate turned arid. It was hard to believe the place I was heading was beloved for the freshness and clarity of its wines.
They key? There's a constant breeze going through the Hyblaean mountains, and the vines here are on red clay and sand over a deep bedrock of limestone. The wind helps moderate the inland temperatures, the red sand cooling immediately after sunset, and the limestone is responsible for low pH levels in the wine, giving high acidity and nervy minerality.
I visited Giusto Occhipinti just as they were bottling a new vintage. The wines we tasted were fermented in cement and aged in large Slavonian oak casks, similar to one's used for traditional Barolo and Brunello. This technique ensures the wines accentuate crisp, refreshing notes that make the wines a joy to drink.
The Beat of a Different Drum: Giovanni Canonica Barolo
There is a firm dividing line of style between the modernist and the traditionalist in Barolo. And then there's Giovanni Canonica. Although his approach is rooted in traditional methods in the cellar, the wines produced at this tiny estate are singular expressions of Nebbiolo. Upon first pour, it's clear the aromatic profile, supple tannins, and ultra-pure fruit sit outside the norm of Piedmont.
Canonica's Baroli are known for their elusiveness and outrageously vivid perfume. The vines (Less than two hectares) sit at 400 meters above the town of Barolo. This higher altitude site puts forth a Barolo defined by grace and open-inviting nature rather than a monolithic structure. Menthol, sage, cinnamon, and tobacco are tasting notes to gush over, but above all, this is an unadulterated, fruit-forward expression.
Neighbors Bartolo Mascarello and Giuseppe Rinaldi have a vineyard-first mentality, employ long macerations in the cellar, and age in Slavonian botti. Canonica's style takes cues from these legendary figures and heightens the pitch of the black cherry fruit while doubling down on the florality. If Nebbiolo's calling card is tar and roses, then Canonica seems intent on displaying the rose descriptor with high-definition focus.
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Rising Star in Verzy: Adrien Renoir Champagne
What is the most exciting element of grower-champagne today? Finding thoughtful vignerons and introducing them to the best-suited palates. On a trip to Verzy in October 2019, Adrien Renoir, just 29 years old, was someone I knew I should meet. My first impression of his champagnes left me with a thirst to learn more (and drink more).
The most unmistakable quality in these wines is their balance and shimmering sense of composure. It's apparent Adrien has already found a way to fine-tune the wines from these Grand Cru vines in Montagne de Reims to highlight their elegance.
Over the last several years, I've been so impressed by what I've seen from this younger generation in Champagne as they have immediately made their mark. Like Adrien Dhondt of Dhondt-Grellet, Renoir is an ideal example of the under-the-radar stars in the progressive grower-champagne scene.
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Baden Benchmark: 2020 Enderle & Moll Release
Sven Enderle and Florian Moll are lucky to farm some of the oldest Pinot Noir in Baden. If there's one undiscovered Pinot Noir producer that warrants your attention, this would be the duo. Their exacting approach in the vineyard and cellar allows minimal sulfur additions, highlighting the vivid purity of their Pinot Noirs.
There are two wines from the Buntsandstein Vineyard: The 1954-planted Buntsandstein is deep and powerful, with great length and refinement, and Liaison, planted in 1970, is spicy, mineral-driven, and ethereal. Muschelkalk, sourced from 80-year-old vines on pure limestone soil, is lighter than Buntsandstein with more tension and chalky minerality.
After working across the globe, Enderle and Moll returned home in 2007 with a clear mission: To work in Baden using organic and biodynamic viticulture. The natural wine crowd and critics alike have championed these wines upon their relatively recent release in the U.S. Most notably, Jancis Robinson went as far as to place them in the "cult" category. This is the new frontier of German Pinot Noir!
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Photo Credit: Vom Boden