The pitch-perfect 2016 Southern Rhône vintage does not require much more explanation, and today's duo embodies the regions' best overachieving appellation, Gigondas. Commonly known as Baby Châteauneuf, Gigondas has the elevation and steep slope grade to induce a seriousness to these Grenache-dominant blends that are in another league of terroir from neighboring zones.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2016 Les Pallières Terrasse du Diable and Gour de Chaulé Cuvée Tradition.
2016 is a replay of the 2010 vintage in Southern Rhône—high ripeness, and superior finesse, cut, and definition. A perfect storm for classic-leaning palates, one that we're only rewarded with a couple of times each decade.
Terraces cut into the Dentelles de Montmirail hillsides give us Gigondas from the 15th century-founded Domaine Les Pallières. Of the two cuvées produced by the Brunier brothers (also owners of Vieux Télégraphe in Châteauneuf du Pape), it is the Terrasse du Diable (Devil's Terraces) that has always struck a chord for me. These are the highest elevation plantings on the estate, bringing the essential brisk structure to balance Grenache's forward-baked strawberry and white pepper profile.
Gour de Chaulé, like Pallières, focuses on extremely high percentages of Grenache in their blend, not relying on the dark and muscular tones of Syrah and Mourvèdre to impress. (Both domaines are over 85% for these two cuvées). While Pallières partially de-stems, GdC always sees 100% whole cluster fermentation. Here, there's an extra element of tension and a more reserved fruit profile that always reminds me that this gives one of the most disciplined frames of any southern Rhône red. Josh Raynolds of Vinous captures why this more reticent personality is greatly rewarding:
"In great vintages like 2016, this 15-hectare (10 of them in Gigondas and mostly composed of very old, low-yielding vines) domaine’s wines have proven that they can age remarkably well and better than most others from the region. Twenty years is usually the outer limit for cellaring Gigondas, to my taste, but plenty of two-decade-old (and even older) bottles of Gour de Chaulé over the last three decades have proven themselves worthy. [...] and the wines here, which have long been among the standouts of the appellation (especially for those whose tastes run to the traditional and unadorned), have never been better."
"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.
Although Bordeaux has been structuring their famous growth wines to offer more of a forward, approachable style than ever before, the truth is they are still in need of significant bottle age when they hit the market. Chateau Le Puy approaches their vineyard work with the same level of fastidious care as the first growth estates, but handles their work in the cellar very differently. Upon release, these are the wines that offer serious pleasure with no fear of infanticide.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2016 Chateau Le Puy "Emilien" Côtes de Bordeaux for $54 per bottle, and down to $48.50 for 6 bottles or more.
Chateau Le Puy diverges from so many norms in Bordeaux. Aside from organic and biodynamic work in the vines, their fermentation method and élevage is very uncommon. Le Puy is able to provide soft texture with bright, open-knit fruit out of the gate thanks to their protocol during fermentation. Infusion and semi-carbonic methods limit the extraction of hard tannins and retain the more primary fruit traits. And, aging in large foudre preserves all of the verve that carries those qualities into bottle. However, we are very much still in Bordeaux with tell-tale cigar box, graphite, and damp earth notes in abundance.
Unfortunately, the secret is out on this Bordeaux estate that exemplifies the rare farm-first mentality of the region. The New York Times' Eric Asimov's excellent piece shined the spotlight on this chateau which, in one sip, makes abundantly clear it's the real McCoy.
In college, it was a Médoc that ended up being my epiphany red wine moment. In just one sniff my growing fascination in wine shifted from California to France. Truth be told, when an unfamiliar Bordeaux is poured for me it brings the most hopeful sense of anticipation. Regrettably, those thrilling experiences via Bordeaux don't appear often. The point-chasing, over-extracted, and ripe-beyond-recognition style set in motion in the mid-80's has changed the region for the worse. Yet, terroir-driven producers do still exist.
It's no surprise the greatest of all the recent Bordeaux discoveries has come from importer, Neal Rosenthal. With names like Fourrier, Carillon, and Paolo Bea under his belt I'm always excited to taste new arrivals. When introduced to the new Bordeaux in the lineup I was transported to a time long ago.
Chateau Le Puy is in its 14th generation of management by the Amoreau family. Situated in between Pomerol and Saint Emilion on the 2nd highest point along the Gironde estuary, this is home to the Bordeaux that's rooted in sensibilities more commonly found in Burgundy. The finesse, dead-serious-focus, and downright drinkability of Le Puy is worlds apart from the stylistic norm. It embodies that sense of place that so few do today, while not shortchanging on the regal qualities that are rightfully associated with Bordeaux.
“It’s the best Burgundy wine from Bordeaux”, proclaims the head of production, Steven Hewison. The son-in-law of the estate's owner is referring to the precision and ease of drinking that calls to mind the farm-first mentality of its sibling to the east.
Since 1610 these vines have been farmed free of chemicals, and today full biodynamic practices are employed, with work being done by horse. The soil is an amalgamation of red clay, silex, and limestone. Plantings are 85% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, and small percentages of Malbec and Carménère.
Emilien is the main wine of the chateau. Initially aged in 5,000-liter foudres (many over 115-years-old), and then into neutral 228-liter Bordeaux barrels. In personality, it shows silken tannins and elegance that neighboring Pomerol is so revered for.
Duc des Nauves sits at the lowest elevation on the property on a sandy limestone parcel. The wine is fermented and aged exclusively in cement. To see the best value available in Bordeaux today ($24) I cannot think of a better place to turn first.
Bartélemy comes from a single parcel of old vines known as "Les Rocs" planted on deep limestone. This is the most age-worthy wine of the estate. Élevage is in 228-liter barrels, of which less than 10% are new. The structure, saturating texture, and persistence of Bartélemy rivals those under the region's two famous classifications of 1855 and 1955.
Rose-Marie is a rosé in the style of Chateau Simone, offering transformative, age-worthy qualities that few rosés do. Produced by the "saignée" method where juice from red wine vats is "bled off". Fermented and aged in neutral oak barrels, bottled without filtration or the addition of sulfur. 30 cases were imported to the US.
Le Puy takes me back to a different era of Bordeaux, one where a sense of authenticity and traditionalism reverberate through the wines. With a lineup covering four distinct cuvées this is the prime chateau to reacquaint yourself with the region.
Vinous captured the excitement of the 2016's here,
"The 2016s are absolutely remarkable wines. The word that comes to mind, unfortunately so often overused, is balance. In technical terms, the 2016s boast off the charts tannins that in many cases exceed those of wines from massive vintages such as 2010. And yet, the best 2016s are absolutely harmonious, with the tannins barely perceptible at all. The 2016s also have tremendous energy and bright, acid-driven profiles, with many wines playing more in the red-fruit area of the flavor spectrum. One of the results of the unusual growing season is that alcohols range from 0.5% to 1% lower than what has been the norm in recent years."
Alain Graillot is to Crozes Hermitage as the Peyraud's are to Bandol: Benchmark and definitive representations of their appellations. Alain's journey to starting his domaine in 1985 began, of all places, in Burgundy alongside Jacques Seysses at Domaine Dujac. And, as one might imagine with Alain's Syrahs, there will be stems.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2017 Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage and 2016 Crozes Hermitage La Guiraude.
Additionally, featured below is a very special joint project between Antoine Graillot and Raul Perez, the 2017 Encinas Bierzo Tinto for just $30 per bottle.
Prior to founding his domaine in 1985, Alain's work with Jacques imparted two key traits. He wanted his wines to be both supremely fresh and spicy. Certainly elegance is part of this equation too, and as temperatures have warmed in the last 34 years, Graillot continues to be a beacon for Rhône enthusiasts passionate about terroir-driven wines that are steeped in an unwavering traditionalist approach.
Alain's two sons both produce Syrah under their own labels, but the eponymous domaine is still unwavering in their use of 100% whole clusters for fermentation and aging only in older wood - divided between barrique and foudre.
La Guirade is not a single vineyard, but rather a selection of the best barrels, as Alain tastes through these personally each vintage.
Crozes Hermitage has long been a great appellation for those looking for value when it comes to the best producers working in the most esteemed parcels. But, even as Graillot's wines nail the value element, they stand out from the pack, as he is undoubtedly the benchmark name in this zone of the Northern Rhône valley.