Domaine Ostertag has long gone against the grain of Alsatian expectations, crafting dry, disciplined wines that still summon the sunshine that marks the region. His Fronholz and Grand Cru Muenchberg Rieslings especially imbue the transparency and purity of a mountain lake. These wines are a moment of clarity for Alsace!
Alsace is in the cool northeast pocket of France, and its protection from the Vosges Mountains means it receives the least amount of rainfall of any region. This abundant sunshine has long given Alsatian wines a rounded and golden orchard fruit quality, often with a dollop of residual sugar. However, several elements separate Ostertag from the norm. André studied viticulture in Burgundy and returned home in 1998 to employ organic and biodynamic principles in the vineyard. He also decided to ferment his Rieslings completely dry and age them in stainless steel.
Today, Alsace is famous for having the highest percentage of organic and biodynamic producers in France. While the quality at harvest couldn't be higher, I still find few producers that execute with the same sense of harmony that Ostertag is adored for.
Before Barolo and Barbaresco earned their stronghold, there was a time when Alto Piemonte, just two hours northeast, was the more sought-after region for Nebbiolo. We have a handful of Alto Piemonte wines in our collection, but the name to know among its current revivalists is Cristiano Garella.
Over the last decade, Garella has helped revive Alto Piemonte as a wine region, advising about 20 wineries. Colombera & Garella is his personal project in partnership with Giacomo and Carlo Colombera, who have grown grapes in Bramaterra since the early 90s. Together, they farm nine hectares using organic and low-intervention practices: Native fermentation in concrete tanks, minimal sulfur, and 24-month élevage in neutral barrels.
Compared to Barolo and Barbaresco, Alto Piemonte has a cooler, rainier climate. The soils are significantly more acidic, with Bramaterra having reddish-brown sand from an ancient volcano. This terroir results in a more mineral-driven expression of Nebbiolo with fine tannins and nerving acidity, which make for more approachable and readily drinkable wines than their slower aging counterparts in Piedmont.
Oakville's To-Kalon is arguably the most hallowed vineyard in all of California, planted in the 1870s. Most notably, it's been the main component of Robert Mondavi's Reserve and To-Kalon cuvées. Mondavi also buys fruit from the MacDonald family, whose parcel sits at the desirable westernmost part of the vineyard at the Mayacamas Mountain Range base. For 60 years, the family farmed their head-trained Cabernet Sauvignon and sold all the grapes to Mondavi.
Graeme MacDonald has an impressive resume: He studied wine at UC Davis, then worked at Opus One, Colgin, Kongsgaard, and Scholium Project. But his most difficult task was convincing his family to let him farm and produce wine from their sacred To-Kalon vines. After all, they could sell the grapes to Mondavi for $20,000 per ton. Graeme and his brother, Alex, negotiated with their family to harvest a small portion of the vines, and their inaugural release was the 2010 vintage.
While To-Kalon translates to "The Highest Beauty," its first owner, Henry W. Crabb, was fond of calling it "The Boss Vineyard." MacDonald's Cabernet is both beauty and boss. It's incredibly structured with hints of black olive, bitter chocolate, and graphite. While the fruit spectrum is dark, vivid raspberry and violet tones point to Graeme's insistence on preserving freshness and avoiding the overripeness that has permeated Napa in recent decades.
Graeme's philosophy is as old-school as the 19th-century photos on his small farmhouse's walls. The rare California Sprawl vine-training allows the canopy to shade grapes, prevent sun damage, and preserve freshness. As neighbors tear out vines that aren't capable of giving six tons per acre, Graeme is taking steps to ensure the oldest vines continue to thrive. The unique location of Macdonald's parcel is over 90% gravel, which allows the vines to travel deep below for water and nutrients. In the context of Grand Cru To-Kalon, MacDonald's parcel sits in the sweetest spot.
Toscana lovers are likely familiar with Radda because of Montevertine’s Le Pergole Torte or Monteraponi (Two estates we’ve heavily cited here at KWM over the years). They have brought worldwide attention to this small village, and for good reason. But these days, true Chianti enthusiasts are turning to another name: Paolo Cianferoni of Caparsa. These 100% Sangiovese wines still fly under the radar, for now, but they’re quickly gaining notoriety, as you’ll see from Antonio Galloni’s recent reviews.
Chianti from Radda is distinctly known for its elegance and finesse, and it’s no different in the case of Caparsa. Though traditional in every sense, Paolo’s natural-leaning tendencies and his devotion to preserving his estate’s sense of place—the flora and fauna, microorganisms, and soils, as Paolo says—truly shine through in bottle. These wines will transport you to Radda! They’re pure, vibrant, and have a quiet but fierce wildness too. The Rosso di Caparsa, which only sees cement, is high-toned and cherry fruit-forward, while the plush, neutral barrel-aged Mimma shows a fuller spectrum of red-black fruit, green olive, cedar, and blood.
The Cianferoni family has been growing Sangiovese in Radda for as long as its more famous neighbors. Paolo’s father, formerly a professor at the University of Florence, purchased and planted vines at Caparsa in the 1960s. Still impacted by World War II, much of Tuscany lay abandoned, but the Cianferonis stuck to their inclination. Paolo, with his wife and children, took over in 1982 and introduced organic farming. From the same importer who has brought us our top-selling Italian discoveries in recent years, including Amorotti in Abruzzo and Paso Delle Tortore in Campania, Caparsa is our latest reference point for Radda.
The value that's offered in Chablis is seemingly more and more unmatched. While prices for White Burgundy climb in the Côte de Beaune, the artisanal producers in Chablis continually over-deliver, and the small domaine of Moreau-Naudet captures some of the best current affairs.
Moreau-Naudet falls into a select camp of Chablis producers who are incredibly skilled at pushing ripeness to the maximum, the old-fashioned way, with serious hands-on farming. In the cellar, the non-interventionist approach is focused on two elements: Preserving the distinctive characteristics of each site and maintaining tension and salinity. The style here is supremely textural and deep Chardonnay with an unmistakable Chablisienne oyster-shell mineral component, exemplifying that ultimate ideal of density without weight.
Stéphane joined his father at the family domaine in 1999 and flipped everything on its head. Today, the regimen is full-organic farming with biodynamic principles, natural yeast ferments, and 100% harvesting by hand. Relentless focus in the vineyard means picking here—in the coldest region in France for still Chardonnay—is pushed as late as possible to ensure maximum ripeness. Moreau-Naudet joins the likes of Thomas Pico and Alice et Olivier de Moor!