Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier produces wines best described as desert island Pinot Noir. We're talking about the shortlist. One cannot overstate how beloved these red Burgundies really are.
The domaine lies in the heart of the village of Chambolle-Musigny, home to the most ethereal wines of Burgundy. Mugnier's gentle approach to winemaking is more synonymous with Chambolle-Musigny (Dubbed the Queen of Burgundy) than any other producer. In fact, Mugnier only produces one Pinot Noir from outside—the Premier Cru Monopole Clos de la Maréchale in Nuits-Saint-Georges.
Mugnier applies the lifted style of his Chambolle wines to his Maréchale, hailing from a village better known for dark earth and muscular structure. Maréchale lies at the southernmost end of N-S-G, coming from the Premeaux commune, described as the most elegant wines of the appellation for centuries. Here, oolitic limestone and sandy soils are wildly different from the rest of the village. This terroir plays as much a role in the elegance of the wine here as Mugnier's soft touch in the cellar.
Maréchale shows a stunning array of red fruits like pomegranate and wild strawberry, a tell-tale mocha note, and finishes with a sappy, black cherry core. Mugnier de-stems 100% during fermentation. Punching down of the cap is very gentle and done relatively infrequently, and new oak usage is minimal. The goal is to never over-extract too much tannin or color. These wines are on the paler end of the spectrum, dominated as much by their notes of roses and violets as they are by fruit. Mugnier is the essence of perfumed Burgundy.
It's hard to comprehend how one producer, like Raul Perez, can redefine the Spanish white wine category. His most monumental wine is Sketch, an Albariño sourced from a 0.5-hectare parcel of old vines in Rias Baixas, priced at $100-plus per bottle. It's worth its weight in gold, but upon release, rumors swirled that his other Albariño was going to be the proverbial mic drop moment for the variety.
Our go-to Atalier bottling, "A Cruz das Animas" comes from two parcels of Albariño vines in the Cambados area of the Salnés Valley, located in the southern portion of Spain's northwest tip. And today, we're adding "La Encrucijada" from Atalier's oldest and most sea-adjacent vines, which sees extended aging in barrel (About 14 months) on its fine lees before bottling. Raul's greatest influence is white Burgundy, and he takes every step possible to preserve Albariño's cut and delineation iwhile also pushing for maximum ripeness and flavor development.
The key steps are harvesting very late and then blocking malolactic fermentation, which allows for superb ripeness but eliminates the more viscous and creamy elements of Albariño that don't appeal to Raul. Aging is in older French foudre, which preserves tension and softens texture. Perez redefines what a mineral-driven Spanish white wine is capable of, showing the same depth and nuance I expect from Chablis and Côte de Beaune Chardonnay. Simply put, his Atalier over-delivers.
Value aside, Sandhi's 2016 Blanc de Blancs ($36) is the most delicious sparkling wine produced in America today. Full stop. While certainly not defined by citrus and green apple notes of the classic category mold, this 100% Chardonnay is analogous to drinking 20-year-old champagne in its prime with a sprinkle of hazelnut. Deep golden fruit with faint, waxy butterscotch tones and a finish that puts the exclamation point on the fact this is the apex of what extended-aged California sparkling wine can do.
Sashi Moorman and Rajat Parr's 2016 was sourced from arguably the central coast's most heralded single plot of vines––own-rooted, 1971-planted Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay. After fermentation in neutral oak, the wine spent forty months sur lie (on the lees) in bottle with zero dosage. Then, five years aging in bottle post-disgorgement in the Sandhi cellars of Lompoc.
When we tasted it, I was sure the price for such a multidimensional sparkler with so much aging would be around $80. I was shocked to learn we could offer single bottles at just $36. With holiday season in full bloom, this wine leaves the most significant impact at the most palatable price. Do not miss it!
We reserve our biggest boats for the most prime catches. Today that means Jean-Michel Stephan's first-time cuvée from Syrah vines planted just outside Côte Rôtie's zone. This 100% Syrah, labeled Vin de France, was the most transcendent find for us in a long time. At $39 per bottle, this wowed us for its Côte Rôtie-like concentration of blackberry fruit, roasted meat notes, with loads of lavender and black pepper––the intensity we're accustomed to finding in bottles well over $75.
Maison Stephan's Syrah comes from just one hectare of vines in Ampuis and Chasse-sur-Rhône. As is the norm here from a Marcel Lapierre disciple, Stephan relies on carbonic and semi-carbonic fermentation with native yeasts and zero additives. Unfiltered and unfined without sulfur. Aging six months in stainless steel means this 2022 harnesses the primary fruit from the sunny growing season and has a fresh streak on the finish that screams granitic minerality.
We see this as an ideal option for holiday feasts with chicken, pork, beef, and lamb, and it will also be brilliantly served with a slight chill once we enter spring and summer 2024. We love Syrah, and this is our value champion of 2023.
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 the 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.