"The 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Farella Vineyard is just as impressive as it was from barrel. A wine of tremendous gravitas and power, the Farella is endowed with so much personality. The darker side of this Coombsville site emerges with real power. Inky dark fruit, licorice, menthol, sage and lavender infuse with myriad layers of complexity. This is a reference point wine for Coombsville. In a word: magnificent." – Antonio Galloni, Vinous (Jan 2021)
New California Wine, as was appropriately dubbed by Jon Bonné in his excellent book, has brought to the forefront so many talented winemakers throughout the state who are working to express terroir through more minimal intervention and a scrupulous eye on balance. While so many exciting projects are coming from every corner of the state, Napa Valley as a region has been more tied to its recent history of bombastic wines than others. Today, there's no project more dynamic than what Erin and Massimo Di Costanzo are producing from the Cabernet Sauvignon grown in Coombville's Farella Vineyard.
I'm happy to offer Di Costanzo's 2018 Farella Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
Di Costanzo's Cabernet Sauvignon captures everything that's so thrilling about the variety when coming at it from a very sensitive and thoughtful approach. It's at once dark and savory with smoke, graphite, and scorched earth notes reminiscent of the volcanic ash scattered throughout the vineyard. And, at the same time the wine is supremely elegant and speaks to Massimo's travels throughout the world working with the tannic variety and getting accustomed to taming its burly predisposition.
Coombsville is perhaps the coolest AVA within all of Napa, thanks to moderating influences from the nearby San Pablo Bay. Before launching his label Massimo spent years working with the Farella winery getting intimately familiar with the nuances of the red gravel-dominant vineyard.
Massimo's 2017 "DI CO" Cabernet Sauvignon comes from a shale and sandstone vineyard at the foothills of Mt. Veeder in Napa Valley. Under 300 cases produced.
After receiving his Enology and Viticulture degrees from UC Davis in 2002, Massimo worked with wineries in Tuscany (Tignanello), Stellenbosch, Mendoza, ending at Ovid and then Screaming Eagle in Napa working as the winemaker alongside Andy Erickson. Massimo's extensive familiarity with old-school Napa Valley has greatly shaped his approach to production. It's these wines from the 1960's and 1970's that are the ultimate inspiration for what's being achieved today from this epic Coombsville site.
In the pursuit of crafting wines intended as the ultimate reflection of place, we cannot help but turn to the old world for inspiration. Within California Pinot Noir we've seen so many styles garner attention, whether they be wines of elegance and structure, or dark extraction and overt ripeness. Obviously, my sensibilities have gravitated toward the former. Finding wines that fully realize the potential of this more delicate approach is rare. Justin Willet at Tyler Winery in Santa Barbara is one of the few who's found it. And it's no surprise the Santa Barbara native's intimate knowledge of place is the reason why.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2017 Tyler Bien Nacido Vineyard N Block Pinot Noir.
American Pinot Noir built upon nuance undoubtedly means turning to the variety's birthplace of Burgundy for many answers. However, in the end, it's a connection to place here that will dictate the results. Justin Willet has a familiarity with these historic Pinot Noir vineyards in Santa Maria Valley and the Santa Rita Hills like few others do. He works with some of the very oldest parcels in the region, but one stands out from the pack.
Bien Nacido is one of California's most recognized vineyards and it's their N-Block parcel that contains rare ungrafted vines planted in the early '70s. Justin began with this parcel when he first launched his winery in 2005, and today he controls all aspects of farming. Of the full range from Tyler, N Block is produced in the smallest quantity, sometimes yielding only a single barrel. As you can imagine it's always the first to sell out.
Justin's relationships with the regions' growers over many years have afforded him opportunities that few have. Aside from gaining access to the most choice parcels, he takes a hands-on approach within the vine rows, working with a very small crew who has strict instructions. Yields are kept low, but it's the flexibility to alter practices each unique growing season that really highlight Willet's familiarity with this special site.
The hallmark of the N Block is bright and lifted qualities with a reserved tension that finishes with supreme focus. The Heritage and Martini clones from the 1973-planting bring a pure and transparent character that meshes perfectly with the low-extraction and minimal oak protocol in the cellar. If Justin produces wines with Burgundian sensibilities then N Block is the special bottling that brings this comparison closer than any other.
Today's magnum-only offer is a first. But, I cannot think of a wine better suited to the format than Enfield Wine Co's 2015 Haynes Vineyard Chardonnay. While 750ml's disappeared in a flash, I made sure to go deep on magnums of this personal favorite, from the growing legend that is, John Lockwood.
When John Lockwood's 2015 Haynes Vineyard Chardonnay floored me, his initial reaction was to point to a "perfect storm" of growing conditions. Knowing John, this modesty is key to the success in all his wines. But actually, it's his relentless curiosity and ever-questioning approach that's responsible for one of the greatest wines from California I've yet to drink.
Sommeliers have blinded it as Pierre Yves Colin-Morey. Descriptors like laser-focused and weightless flood the mind when tasting. Lockwood has produced some terrific wines, but for me the 2015 Haynes Chardonnay is his most thrilling achievement to date. This month, Eric Asimov of the New York Times gave us a close look into Lockwood's steady rise in becoming a household name in the wine world.
Today, I'm happy to offer John's 2015 Enfield Wine Co. Haynes Vineyard Chardonnay 1.5L for $100 per bottle. Also featured is a wide range of additional wines from Lockwood.
John and I met while working at Failla Wines in 2011. From a solar-powered cabin on the extreme Sonoma Coast, four of us in total organically-farmed the Failla Estate Vineyard, home to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. In retrospect, taking the leap to that plot of vines was perhaps the single most important professional choice I've made.
Getting to know John in tight quarters and amongst vine rows was a never-ending exploration into all things wine. Early mornings, late nights, the discussions never ceased. It was clear immediately that his thirst for discovery would be the root of all accomplishments to come. It was that summer of 2011 that John bottled his very first wine for his Enfield Wine Co. label, from Haynes Vineyard.
Haynes, located in Napa's coolest AVA Coombsville, is home to a special parcel of 51-yr-old Chardonnay vines. These same vines were the source of John Kongsgaard's early work with the seminal Newton "Unfiltered" Chardonnay of the 70's. Lockwood had sourced from Haynes since 2010, but it wasn't until 2015 that he was given the opportunity to work with this prized, old vine parcel.
The magic of these old vines isn't just in the obvious concentration, but rather it's a story of soil. Haynes is famous for a very high pH powdery white volcanic ash subsoil, endowing wines with wild levels of acidity that are rare to find in this region where ripeness is never too shy. The younger vines John had previously worked with here had shallower root systems that only tapped into the alluvial gravel topsoil. When the change was made to the old vine parcel in 2015 the real magic of this fascinating subsoil came to fruition in bottle.
The 2015 growing season saw a heat spike toward the end where sugars rapidly rose, outpacing the expected drop in natural acidity. Lockwood was given substantially ripe Chardonnay with wildly high acidity levels - an easy comparison would be 2010 in the Mosel. The wine was gently and directly-pressed to avoid any unwanted phenolic character. And the wine was aged in large 500L neutral French oak barrels and did not see sulphur until after 1 year in barrel.
For me, finding white wines in California that are built upon their focus and agility is the ultimate rarity. There's a head-spinning level of refinement and incisiveness to this wine that will appeal to every single white Burgundy lover. There are no bones thrown when it comes to selections for the shop. I buy what I love to drink, it's that simple.
And, I'm so confident this wine will appeal to lovers of finely-tuned styled white Burgundy and Chenin Blanc that I will give a full credit to the shop for anyone who isn't pleased with what they find in their glass. That's a guarantee.
Syrah shows many different sides in California, from San Diego north through Mendocino. But, one thing is understood here by all: There's no producer in the state whose passion for the variety surpasses that of Pax Mahle.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2017 Pax Sonoma-Hillsides Syrah for $48 per bottle, with special pricing on the Pax Experience mixed 4-pack.
For many years Pax has worked with a wide range of Syrah vineyards in California bottled under the Pax label, as well as Wind Gap. He's become obsessed with tapping vineyards on the extreme to prove the grape can flourish in conditions many thought were far too marginal. His fascination and love of the variety can be traced back to the traditionalists of the Northern Rhone Valley, the birthplace of Syrah. Beginning in 2016 Pax chose to pay tribute to one of the legends of the old guard, Raymond Trollat of Saint Joseph.
As one would imagine, Sonoma-Hillsides is again 100% whole cluster fermented. Sourcing comes from three vineyards Pax feels capture the essence of cooler climate hillside California Syrah. Castelli-Knight Ranch and Walker Vine Hill from Russian River Valley, and the iconic Griffin's Lair vineyard on the Sonoma Coast. Through Pax's illustrious career it's sites like these that have best expressed the fresh and vibrant personality that Syrah is capable of. His visits with Trollat and other vignerons in the Rhone have been a huge influence on his viticulture and vinification practices.
At 12.9% the Sonoma-Hillsides cuvée exemplifies everything that's so thrilling about the more savory, spicy, and mineral-inflected qualities of Syrah. Trollat, whose vines are now farmed by Gonon, personified the soul and authenticity found in the best of Saint-Joseph. Pax, too, stands as a benchmark for what other producers in California aspire to craft, having served as a mentor to much of the younger generation of winemakers. He has a long history with the variety here, but it's this hommage to Raymond Trollat that hit the sweet spot with me more so than any other bottling to date. This is not to be missed!
My fondness for the old school winemaking mentality that can be regularly found in pockets of the Santa Cruz Mountains is no surprise. Names like Ridge, Mount Eden, and more recently Arnot-Roberts have proved emblematic of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon's ability to show a more nuanced and earth-inflected tone in this ultra-cool zone of California. This is where my excitement for the variety reaches its fever pitch in America.
There's always an element of mystery to these vineyards that have remained way off the radar as compared to Napa counterparts. Among the mysteries residing in the Santa Cruz Mountains, no winery elicits the same intrigue as that of the former Ahlgren Vineyards and their Bates Ranch bottlings.
Today, I'm happy to offer the late release direct from the winery of Ahlgren's 2005 Merlot for $47 per bottle.
Val and Dexter Ahlgren had been producing wines from this Boulder Creek zone of the Santa Cruz Mountains since the 70's. Upon their relatively recent retirement they had sold all of their library stock to a favorite distributor of mine whom I've long turned to for everything from Soldera Brunello to Foradori Teroldgeo to Cedric Bouchard champagne. When they announced these Ahlgren wines would be poured at their portfolio tasting I was very excited to taste. The results in bottle were so impressive I took every bottle available.
Now, I've painted the Santa Cruz Mountains with a broad brush in the past, describing a middle ground between Napa and Bordeaux for the Merlot-based wines. When we talk about Ahlgren we need to pull away from this simple analogy a bit. Ahlgren produces wines from Merlot with a transparency and light extraction that actually bears little resemblance to either Napa or Bordeaux. Ahlgren exists in its own category of style, and pointing to similar references wouldn't do these wines justice or accurately explain what you'll find in bottle. The 2005 Merlot pulls us further away from primary fruit and into a deeper emphasis on the tertiary, floral, and earth tones.
For me, these late releases impress first and foremost in their soundness of fruit. These had been resting at the winery since initial bottling until their recent purchase.There's a singular sweet brown spice I find in the 2005 Merlot that's simply Bates Ranch. Tannin was never the basis of structure for these wines, interestingly enough from a variety that rarely has any shortage in that department. Instead, it's the acidity and freshness that serves as the wines' foundation today with bright red and black fruits pulsating with energy. There's a soft, drinkable quality that's at once fun and playful, yet lingers with dead-serious earthy inflection that puts terroir front-and-center.
Late releases from wineries always offer something that's worthy of getting excited about. Especially in these more delicately constructed wines, the provenance is so critical in enjoying them at their apogee. Today's final release from Ahlgren Vineyards Bates' Ranch is one that sums up why this ultra old school zone of California warrants so much attention.