Pascal Agrapart is to Avize what Champagne Pierre Péters is to Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. Here, Avize is the personification of summer to Mesnil's winter, although we're still on the chalky slopes that define the Côtes des Blancs. In the epicenter of Chardonnay royalty, Agrapart's Avize champagnes show an amplitude and breadth that's completely juxtaposed with Mesnil's austerity.
But, make no mistake about it, these extra brut and brut nature wines are defined the very most by their taut and energetic personalities, the sort which pair magically with Avize's more charming and generous demeanor. The greatest thing I can say about Pascal's wines is that they truly beg to be drunk. They provide never-ending fascination, wild development in glass with air, and they offer a quenching characteristic that just fulfills summertime needs every time.
Today, I'm happy to offer the new 2012 Agrapart release, complete with a late winery disgorgement of the 2009 Mineral.
Agrapart farms 10 hectares covering 60 different parcels, all located in Grand Cru villages, but Avize is the source of his Tête de Cuvées. Wines here commonly go through full malolactic, and elévage takes place in both older oak barrels as well as stainless steel.
Terroirs is comprised of Chardonnay sourced from Grand Cru villages, Avize, Oger, Cramant, and Oiry. A blend of two consecutive vintages, with the older vintage being aged exclusively in neutral oak barrels. A NV Blanc de Blancs that is the first I reach for alongside Pierre Péters'. In fact, last month I brought magnums of both to a dear friend's wedding. The side-by-side comparison was simply awesome.
Minéral is sourced from extremely chalky soils in Avize (Les Champboutons) and Cramant (Les Bionnes). Pascal imagined Chablis would be a village that would most closely match with the personality of Minéral. Laser-focused, and finishes with a deep salty impression of white fruits.
Complantée is co-planted with Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Arbane, and Petit Meslier. Although it may appear this mix of varieties would define the wine, it's the unique parcel's terroir with its mix of chalk and clay throughout that's ultimately the unique component. Like Terroirs, this contains two consecutive vintages blended.
Avizoize is sourced from an upper hillside in Avize containing old vines. The soil here sees much more clay than Minéral, so it has a fuller texture and sense of gravitas, but the chalky bedrock still ultimately informs the backbone of the wine. Fully chiseled, with some up-front deep, textural impact and then firms up and gets surprisingly linear on the finish. Very long.
Venus, named after Pascal's horse who works this vineyard, is a single vineyard that takes us back to a more linear style along the lines of Minéral. But, the clay composition here brings a power and drive that's simply quintessential Avize Grand Cru. Pascal called to mind Meursault when thinking about the style that comes from this site. This sees no dosage due to the perfectly ripe and satisfactory vin clair we tasted in barrel. In fact, a still Coteaux Champenois would be an ideal partnership with this site. We'll see if Pascal decides to toy with that idea. No hints...
Experience was an adventurous endeavor by Pascal to produce champagne with only grapes (no sugar, dosage, or yeast). To do this he took his base wine (2012 here) and added unfermented pressed grape juice from the following year (2013 here) to use as the prise de mousse used to create the secondary fermentation. This cuvée is only made when two consecutive vintages are up to Pascal's high standards.
During my Summer 2017 trip to Tuscany no estate garnered the same respect from winemakers and sommeliers quite like Castell'in Villa. From Rome through Florence, top restaurant wine lists all find a space for these age-worthy Chianti Classicos from vintages stretching back to the early 70's. This is where the longevity and transformative capabilities of Sangiovese is best illustrated.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2010 Castell'in Villa Chianti Classico Riserva for $59 per bottle, and down to $55/btl for any order of 6 bottles or more! Also featured today are late releases direct from the estate: 1971 and 1993.
Castell'in Villa doesn't fall into any easy category, outside of being staunchly traditional in their vinification and aging. The estate's soil in Castelnuovo Berardenga has an unusual makeup of fossilized fragments that conjure Chablis more so than Tuscany (see pictures below). The limestone-based soil is still the mother rock here as it is throughout Chianti Classico, but the ancient artifacts point to a time long ago when this specific vineyard was under a small sea.
As you can imagine, the mineral component endowed to this wine is profound. Met with the structure from these choice old vines dedicated to the Riserva we have a magical combo that's made this arguably the most sought-after aged wine in all of Tuscany. At $59 per bottle from one of greatest vintages of the last 50 years it's no wonder why this disappeared from their importer in a flash.
The Greek Princess, Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa has overseen the property here for many years, residing in the 13th century tower above the winery. She keeps a healthy stock of back vintages, namely the epic 1971 Chianti Classico Riserva that's still found on top Michelin starred wine lists in Italy and offered here today.
The 2010's from Tuscany have come and gone. Being able to source a late release like this from the most timeless estate in the original Chianti zone was an unexpected surprise. There's no doubt, in 40 years we'll be looking back on the 2010 vintage much like we are now on the revered 1971, but pricing will surely have gone up six-fold.
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 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 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon for $68, and their 2005 Merlot for $39. I've also created special 6-pack pricing to sharpen up this rare back-vintage offer even more.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 Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot-based wines. When we talk about Ahlgren we need to pull away from this simple analogy a bit. Ahlgren produces wines from these two varieties 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.
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 found in both the 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2005 Merlot that's simply Bates Ranch. Tannin was never the basis of structure for these wines, interestingly enough from two varieties that rarely have a shortage in that department. Instead, it's the acidity and sense of freshness that serves as the wines' foundation today with bright red and black fruits pulsating with energy. Each has a soft and utterly drinkable quality that's at once fun and playful, yet lingers with dead-serious tertiary development that makes terroir the prime feature.
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.