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.
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.
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.
When I have the opportunity to prove that Chianti Classico can show grace and pristine fruit quality akin to Red Burgundy, I use Giovanna Morganti's Le Boncie as my first example. I implore you to trust this will be your moment of clarity for Sangiovese.
Importer Neal Rosenthal's Montevertine is a benchmark for the region, but his other discovery, Le Trame, better illustrates Sangiovese's sometimes elusive, fruit-forward profile and silken tannins. Also consider Chiesamonti, which comes from a one-hectare parcel in Castelnuovo Berardenga. The stonier soils here result in a wine with brighter red fruits and a long saline finish (Differing from Giovanna's other wines that exhibit more fleshy characteristics). These two Chiantis are all class.
Giovanna farms her five hectares using organic and biodynamic principles. I could go down the rabbit hole on farming, fermentation, and aging specifics, but I'd like to cut this one short and say: This is a profound wine that's a joy to drink. I've lost count of the number of times I've used this bottling to convince friends that Sangiovese can be fun, approachable, and deadly serious. Below is a photo from my 2017 visit and the gorgeous color of the Stockinger barrel sample that had me in love.