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  • Razor's Edge Last Dance: Enfield's Haynes Old Vine Chardonnay
    Razor's Edge Last Dance: Enfield's Haynes Old Vine Chardonnay
    John Lockwood's 2015 Haynes Vineyard Chardonnay was one of the most memorable California wines ever tasted. 2021 is the last vintage John worked with this revered old vine section of the iconic Haynes Vineyard.
     
    Sommeliers have blinded it as Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Meursault. When tasting, descriptors like "laser," "weightless," and "palate-staining" flood the mind. 
     
    Haynes, located in Napa's coolest AVA, Coombsville, is home to a special parcel of 55-year-old Chardonnay vines. These same vines were the source of John Kongsgaard's early work with the seminal Newton "Unfiltered" Chardonnay of the 1970s. Lockwood had sourced from Haynes since 2010, but it wasn't until 2015 that he got to work with this prized, old vine parcel.
     
    The magic of these vines isn't just in the obvious concentration but rather a story of soil. Haynes is famous for its very high pH, powdery white volcanic ash subsoil, endowing wines with wild acidity that are rare in this region, where ripeness is never 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.
     
    John and I met while working at Failla Wines in 2011. From a solar-powered cabin on the extreme Sonoma Coast, four of us organically farmed the Failla Estate Vineyard, home to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. 
     
    Getting to know John in tight quarters and amongst vine rows was a never-ending exploration into all things wine. Early mornings and late nights, the discussions never ceased. It was clear immediately that his thirst for discovery would be the root of all future accomplishments––well documented by the New York Times
     
    For me, finding white wines in California that are built upon their focus and agility is the ultimate rarity since ripe forward fruit is ubiquitous. This wine has a head-spinning level of refinement and incisiveness that will appeal to every single white Burgundy lover.

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  • Holding Nothing Back: Champagne Larmandier-Bernier
    Holding Nothing Back: Champagne Larmandier-Bernier
    No producer in the Blanc de Blancs champagne category nails the low dosage form better than Larmandier-Bernier of Vertus. Pierre and Sophie Larmandier have been pioneers since going complete biodynamic farming in 1999, way ahead of the curve. The protocol here is harvesting at maximum ripeness and wines going through full malolactic fermentation in large oak vessels––allowing these low-dosage wines to avoid coming off austere or shrill. These are champagnes full of charm and personality while showcasing the chalky terroir of the Côte de Blancs with precision. They've led by example, with dozens of grower-producers following a similar philosophy in the vines and cellar, but nobody has excelled at the level of Larmandier-Bernier.
     
    Latitude, from deeper clay soils over chalk, is broader, with slightly richer tones of crisp orchard and citrus fruit, with baked brioche notes on the finish. Sourced from Premier Cru Vertus.
     
    Longitude is sourced from Grand Cru villages Caramant, Avize, Oger, and Vertus. Topsoils are more shallow, hitting pure chalky limestone immediately. Comparatively, this is more incisive and linear, with an obvious conclusion of chalky minerality.
     
    Rosé de Saignée is among my favorite wines in Champagne. The best Pinot Noir clusters are held separately for this cuvée, which sees maceration for a couple of days to pull out the brilliant color. Raspberry, plum, and ripe red berry notes give a full-bodied frame. Yet, the two grams/liter dosage keeps this so perfectly mineral and dry tasting that it's the kind of gastronomic rosé champagne you can pair with grilled meats–I challenge you!

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  • Bitouzet-Prieur: Classicism Holding Steady
    Bitouzet-Prieur: Classicism Holding Steady

    We all have regrets. One of mine was passing on Bitouzet-Prieur Volnay and Meursault when I turned on the lights in 2015. A friend once said, “If you’re not embarrassed by choices made in the previous year, then you’re not growing.” The 2020 vintage of this domaine marks my redemption.

    With winemaking medals galore filling the home of Vincent Bitouzet back in 1860, the marriage to Annie Prieur after that marked the official start of what is now the most classic domaine in Volnay, along with Lafarge. And the whites from vineyards like Meursault 1er Cru Charmes and Perrières are now another great reminder that value is alive and well in the Côte de Beaune.

    I only have a few wines from Bitouzet-Prieur, but they are the best cuvées to me after an extensive tasting with the domaine in Brooklyn last year. The Volnay is destemmed, and pigeage (punchdowns) occur twice per day—a process that has seemingly gone out of fashion in Burgundy of late as many opt for remontage (pumpovers) to bring softer contours and more immediacy to the fruit. But the 2020 Volnay is pure class and is precisely the type of Burgundy I seek out—from the greatest red village of the Côte de Beaune.

    The whites see extended lees contact and a maximum of 20% new oak. They pull back on the fruity Chardonnay traits, instead digging deep for a saturating mineral through-line that reminds me of wines common pre-2005 heat. Still bursting with site-specificity and deliciousness, they take my mind back to another time with their soft-spoken spirit.

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  • Florence Cholet: Burgundy's Best Kept Secret
    Florence Cholet: Burgundy's Best Kept Secret
    Florence Cholet's under the radar wines
  • Sta. Rita Hills Sensation: Sandhi Blanc de Blancs
    Sta. Rita Hills Sensation: Sandhi Blanc de Blancs

    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!

     

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  • Leaping Over Legacy: Pierre Girardin Bourgogne
    Leaping Over Legacy: Pierre Girardin Bourgogne

    Vincent Girardin's name was synonymous with Burgundy's breadth, with wines coming from enviable vineyards throughout the Côte d'Or. Although the vast terroir had undeniable gems from Grand Crus and Premier Crus, the large production made for boring wines. When Vincent sold the domaine in 2011, he kept 4.5 hectares of the top holdings for his son, Pierre. After spending time in the vines, cuverie, and cellar from a very young age, the 21-year-old Pierre wanted to take a different philosophical path with his label. He was determined to be associated with the highest quality work––albeit with much more limited availability. 

    As the cuvée's label suggests, calcaire (limestone) is what Pierre wants to express, and the lens of terroir is in focus with these terrific Bourgogne wines. Pierre's methods highlight freshness and finesse––a rare move was selecting considerably larger 456L barrels for aging and favoring punchovers (as opposed to punchdowns) for the reds to keep their tannins silken. The value proposition in Burgundy is one that we bring up a lot. No doubt, pricing keeps climbing, but the emergence of new values is always around the corner. Pierre Girardin is a name that delivers in a big way with a relatively low price tag, given the quality and terroir. 

     

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  • Burgundy Fireworks: Yann Charlopin-Tissier
    Burgundy Fireworks: Yann Charlopin-Tissier

    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.

     

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  • Stéphane Tissot’s Jurassic Bubbles
    Stéphane Tissot's Jurassic Bubbles

    There's no producer in the Jura that executes brilliance across such a diverse range of wines and styles like that of Stéphane Tissot. And, "BBF" is the sparkling white from the Jura that you've always wanted to find in your glass. As a category, Cremant du Jura can be delicious and pleasing but rarely would take your mind to Champagne. BBF delivers here.

    The name is a play on the use of 228-liter barrels for elévage, Blanc de Blancs élevé en Fût. Where this benchmark Cremant du Jura diverges from champagne is in its faint nutty aromas, baking spices, and ripe tropical notes. However, the structure is as serious as much of what you are to find from the Aube, with even more salinity and razor-fine cut reminiscent of the Côte de Blancs.

    Tissot took control of his family's domaine in 1990 and worked very quickly to drastically reduce yields and convert the vineyards to organic and biodynamic viticulture. Today, Stéphane is seen as one of the world's most respected and prominent voices on the subject.

    Tissot's Chardonnays each have that unmistakable reductive, flinty note that's often referred to as Noble Reduction. If you're a fan of the wines of Jean-Marc Roulot and Coche-Dury in Meursault, this distinctive smokey and matchstick trait, at its best, adds mesmerizing personality to Chardonnay.

     

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  • Chablis King in Waiting: Patrick Piuze
    Chablis King in Waiting: Patrick Piuze

    It's overwhelmingly agreed that Raveneau and Dauvissat represent the most crowning achievements in Chablis, but Patrick Piuze is a king-in-waiting. Piuze is a wizard at working with stainless steel and oak to craft Chardonnay from Chablis' fossilized ancient sea bed that delivers the grandeur expected from these top vineyards. Like Raveneau and Dauvissat, it's the regal structure, seamless contours, and definitive cut married to this breadth that places Piuze in elite company.

    Wine critic William Kelley on the vintage:

    "2020 is another excellent vintage at this address, and even if the two years were very different on paper, it might be compared to a more extroverted, open-knit version of the superb 2017 vintage at this address... The resulting wines are elegantly textural but incisive, clearly differentiated by site. This is also the best address to explore the village-level Chablis AOC, as Piuze produces a number of cuvées and lieu-dit bottlings designed to highlight the diversity that this large appellation encompasses."

     

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