• Hommage to Saint Joseph

    Hommage to Saint Joseph

    Syrah shows many different sides in California, but no producer in the state has a passion for the variety quite like Pax Mahle. For many years, Pax has worked with a wide range of Syrah vineyards in California bottled under his namesake label, formerly under Wind Gap. He's obsessed with tapping vineyards on the extreme to prove this grape can flourish in conditions that other winemakers thought were too marginal.

    Pax's love for this variety traces back to the birthplace of Syrah. Starting in 2016, he wanted to pay tribute to Saint Joseph's Raymond Trollat, a legend of the old guard. As one would imagine, Sonoma-Hillsides is 100% whole cluster fermented. Sourcing comes from three vineyards that capture the essence of cool-climate, 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, sites like these have best expressed the fresh, vibrant personality that Syrah is capable of.

    At 12.5% alcohol, the Sonoma-Hillsides cuvée exemplifies everything thrilling about the more savory, spicy, and mineral-inflected qualities of Syrah. Pax is a benchmark for what other producers in California aspire to craft and serves as a mentor to much of the younger generation. He has a long history with Syrah, but it's this hommage to Raymond Trollat that hits the sweet spot for me more so than any other bottling.

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    Posted by Max Kogod
  • New California Frontman

    New California Frontman

    Farmer turned viticulturist turned winemaker, Steve Matthiasson is one of the leading figures in the wave following Robert Parker’s era of high-octane wines. In 2013, Jon Bonné cannoned Matthiasson and his peers as the New California, the next generation of winemakers focused on balance and terroir. If there's anywhere to begin the exploration of New California, Steve Matthiasson is a good place to start!

    Today, I'm happy to offer the 2017 Matthiasson Phoenix Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

    Last August, I wrote a story for Wine & Spirits Magazine on California winemakers farming white varieties for skin contact wines. Steve’s affinity for Ribolla Gialla and other Italian varieties was at the forefront of that story, and he talked about growing Cabernet Sauvignon in comparison. While Steve allows Ribolla Gialla full sun exposure, he’s more protective of his Cabernet, keeping the vines in balance with minimal leafing, so the fruit is sheltered from Napa's Mediterranean climate. He’s also drawn to cooler sites with rocky soils for the freshness and structure they provide.

    2017 was a big year for the Matthiassons. After 14 years of making wine in other wineries, they purchased a property from an elderly couple who could no longer keep up with the day-to-day tasks of farming and winemaking. With it, the Matthiassons inherited a winery and a 1982-planted parcel of old heritage field selections of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, which has since been converted to organic farming.

    The Phoenix Vineyard sits on a steep hillside above the Matthiasson winery. While most of the Napa Valley consists of volcanic soils, Phoenix Vineyard is situated on a ridge of ancient marine shale soils. Steve says it's the rock content and sea minerals here that especially attribute to the wine's aromatic, high-toned red fruits, what's intertwined with the supple tannins and structure I look for in Napa Cabernet. The wine does take some time to unwind, really blossoming on day two, so this would definitely benefit from decanting.

    Napa faced dire wildfires in 2017. However, the Phoenix Vineyard ripened quickly that vintage, and the fruit was harvested and finished fermentation by the time the fires struck in October. The fruit was fermented in small, open-top tanks and punched down by hand one to three times per day depending on taste. Like all of the Matthiasson Cabs featured below, elevage was for 20 months. Only 98 cases produced!

    Posted by Sydney Love
  • Turning Back the Clock: 2018 Di Costanzo Farella Cabernet Sauvignon

    Turning Back the Clock: 2018 Di Costanzo Farella Cabernet Sauvignon

    "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.

    Posted by Max Kogod