The pinnacle of the range from Erica Landon and Ken Pahlow of Walter Scott rests with their X Novo and Seven Springs Vineyard Chardonnays, though the Pinot Noirs are also among the best in the U.S.—the 2019 Bacocho Pinot Noir is a favorite. These are Grand Cru-level expressions of Willamette’s Eola-Amity Hills!
You'll also find a new addition to the lineup. The Williams family has been farming X Novo Vineyard with organic practices for over a decade. It’s now considered one of the most renowned sites in the valley. In 2018, they acquired an additional 40 acres neighboring X Novo, including the X Saxa Vineyard, originally planted to Riesling. They quickly grafted the vines over to Chardonnay and Aligoté. For a region that’s largely inspired by Burgundy, it’s still quite rare to find Aligoté in Oregon.
The X Saxa Aligôte and X Novo Chardonnay are reference points for Walter Scott and their touchtone finesse. Pahlow's harvests alongside Dominique Lafon in Meursault left their mark, as his white wines elicit a similar noble reduction and filigree. Compared to the Chardonnays, the Aligoté has even more alluring aromatics and opulent notes of pear blossom and green melon on the palate. If Aligôte in Burgundy can often verge on lean and pleasing, then X Saxa challenges that notion with its fruit-forward nature, tension, and seamless texture.
Rinaldi is a revered traditionalist following family techniques used since the early and mid-1900s. With long macerations on the skins aging in large botti, the results are powerfully deep Baroli met with precision and aromatics that make them incomparable. They offer wild spices, gamey notes, and of course, Nebbiolo's tell-tale tar and roses.The Giuseppe Rinaldi wines first appeared in 1921, though, it was during Beppe's lifetime that the world's attention turned toward Piedmont—Beppe's spirit is more immortalized than the legendary wines he produced. Sadly, he passed away in 2018, but he had several years to see his daughters, Marta and Carlotta, continue to raise the bar.
I visited the Rinaldi cantina just before harvest in 2012. It was nothing short of a privilege to meet the Rinaldi family and taste the wines, including the monumental 2010s still in botti. Finding back-vintage wines is not a common occurrence today, and I was thrilled to work with Rinaldi's US importer, Vinifera Imports, to acquire several older wines directly from the Rinaldi estate.
A June 2016 visit in Burgundy meant tastings with some of my favorite storied domaines like Mugneret-Gibourg and Denis Bachelet, but it was after a lunch with Jeremy Seysses at Domaine Dujac and a beautiful bottle of 1993 Clos de la Roche that I got tipped off to something happening across the street—the new Domaine Charlopin-Tissier.
Yann Charlopin-Tissier’s background is surrounded by legendary figures. His father, Philippe Charlopin, was a student of Henri Jayer as he started his own domaine in 1978. Yann worked closely with his father starting in 2004, and then with another mentor, Jean-Marie Fourrier, before launching his own domaine, now at just 4 hectares. Like these Vosne-Romanée and Gevrey Chambertin mythic names, Yann favors picking as ripe as possible and prefers de-stemming.
Yann filled me in on his methodical and organic approach to viticulture, his excruciatingly low yields, and his disdain for talking too much about winemaking choices in the cuverie. "These wines are made in the vineyard," he would repeat. And the dirt under his nails, and muddy boot prints littered throughout the courtyard drove home that point. For me, this image greatly juxtaposed with what you find in bottle––suave and sophisticated texture, luxurious mouthfeel, supported by very concentrated ripe fruit buffered with mouth-watering salinity.
My two favorite wines of the 2020 vintage capture precisely what is so special here: The Marsannay La Montagne is surely the sleeper pick in the range, but this lieu-dit coming from the top of the slope in Marsannay where it is substantially rockier than below offers a masterclass in balance, between bold, ripe, dark fruit with powdery tannins and mineral finish. The Pernand Vergelesses Sous Frétille is one of best kept secrets in Premier Cru white Burgundy. Always a site that delivers crisp salinity and a Grand Cru-level drama. Yann’s version has a ruthless intensity of fruit with a chalky grip that is truly head-turning. This reflects his ambition for powerfully concentrated wines that still somehow have a wizardly refinement on the palate.
Paolo Bea is most famous for its wildly interesting take on Montefalco's Sagrantino red grape variety, but today, I’d like to pivot to their orange wines. Paolo's son, Giampiero, was one of the first naturalists in Italy to adopt the practices of Josko Gravner and Stanko Radikon (the Friulian winemakers who repopularized the ancient-old tradition of fermenting white grapes on their skins). Today, Bea’s Arboreus is considered a benchmark in the world of orange wine, and it has a fascinating backstory.
These Trebbiano Spoletino vines were planted below oak trees on the Paolo Bea estate over 120 years ago and have completely wrapped themselves around the trees (Hence the name Arboreus). Once harvested and de-stemmed, the grapes ferment on the skins for several weeks and spend a minimum of two years on the lees in stainless steel tanks. Gravner and Radikon produce the most concentrated, structured examples of orange wine you’ll come across and are undoubtedly the pinnacles in this category. I more often gravitate toward Paolo Bea's style, though. Arboreus has that same deep amber hue, golden stone fruit showing apricot and yellow plum, powerful tannins—but with an added streak of freshness that balances its other components. Note: This is a great food wine with the tannins to take one heavier foods than typical whites (Lamb kabobs and saffron rice were on my mind when we tasted this).
If you prefer your orange wines, well, less orange-y, consider Lapideus. The grape variety, soil type, and winemaking are the same as Arboreus (same skin-contact and élevage regimen). Except, these 80-year-old Trebbiano Spoletino vines, trained in the traditional cordon method, grow in a cooler microclimate, resulting in a leaner, more acid-driven orange wine. Paolo Bea provides a counterpoint to the argument that this style of wine can’t be terroir-driven! There are also Monastero Suore Cistercensi’s orange wines, Coenobium and Ruscum, as value-driven options. Based in Lazio, these wines are farmed and produced by the Sisters of the Cistercian order, with some guidance from Giampiero.
Lastly, I highly recommend reading Giampiero's interview with Sprudge Wine, which includes a photo of those stunning Arboreus vines. If you are a skin-contact fanatic, like me, Paolo Bea is a must-try, as these were the among the defining wines for what's now a booming category.
Situated between Pomerol and Saint Emilion on the second-highest point along the Gironde estuary, Chateau Le Puy is a Bordeaux estate rooted in sensibilities more commonly found in Burgundy. The wines' finesse, dead-serious focus, and drinkability are worlds apart from the stylistic norm.
These vines have been farmed free of chemicals since 1610, and today full biodynamic practices are employed, with work done by horse. The estate's plantings include 85% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, and small percentages of Malbec and Carménère on an amalgamation of red clay, silex, and limestone soils.
In addition to working the vines organically and biodynamically, their fermentation and élevage methods are considered uncommon. Infusion and semi-carbonic methods limit the extraction of hard tannins and retain more primary fruit traits, providing soft texture with bright, open-knit fruit out of the gate. And aging in large foudre preserves all of that verve carried into bottle.