The pinnacle of the range from Erica Landon and Ken Pahlow of Walter Scott rests with their X Novo and Seven Springs Vineyard Chardonnays, though the Pinot Noirs are also among the best in the U.S.—the 2019 Bacocho Pinot Noir is a favorite. These are Grand Cru-level expressions of Willamette’s Eola-Amity Hills!
You'll also find a new addition to the lineup. The Williams family has been farming X Novo Vineyard with organic practices for over a decade. It’s now considered one of the most renowned sites in the valley. In 2018, they acquired an additional 40 acres neighboring X Novo, including the X Saxa Vineyard, originally planted to Riesling. They quickly grafted the vines over to Chardonnay and Aligoté. For a region that’s largely inspired by Burgundy, it’s still quite rare to find Aligoté in Oregon.
The X Saxa Aligôte and X Novo Chardonnay are reference points for Walter Scott and their touchtone finesse. Pahlow's harvests alongside Dominique Lafon in Meursault left their mark, as his white wines elicit a similar noble reduction and filigree. Compared to the Chardonnays, the Aligoté has even more alluring aromatics and opulent notes of pear blossom and green melon on the palate. If Aligôte in Burgundy can often verge on lean and pleasing, then X Saxa challenges that notion with its fruit-forward nature, tension, and seamless texture.
Paolo Bea is most famous for its wildly interesting take on Montefalco's Sagrantino red grape variety, but today, I’d like to pivot to their orange wines. Paolo's son, Giampiero, was one of the first naturalists in Italy to adopt the practices of Josko Gravner and Stanko Radikon (the Friulian winemakers who repopularized the ancient-old tradition of fermenting white grapes on their skins). Today, Bea’s Arboreus is considered a benchmark in the world of orange wine, and it has a fascinating backstory.
These Trebbiano Spoletino vines were planted below oak trees on the Paolo Bea estate over 120 years ago and have completely wrapped themselves around the trees (Hence the name Arboreus). Once harvested and de-stemmed, the grapes ferment on the skins for several weeks and spend a minimum of two years on the lees in stainless steel tanks. Gravner and Radikon produce the most concentrated, structured examples of orange wine you’ll come across and are undoubtedly the pinnacles in this category. I more often gravitate toward Paolo Bea's style, though. Arboreus has that same deep amber hue, golden stone fruit showing apricot and yellow plum, powerful tannins—but with an added streak of freshness that balances its other components. Note: This is a great food wine with the tannins to take one heavier foods than typical whites (Lamb kabobs and saffron rice were on my mind when we tasted this).
If you prefer your orange wines, well, less orange-y, consider Lapideus. The grape variety, soil type, and winemaking are the same as Arboreus (same skin-contact and élevage regimen). Except, these 80-year-old Trebbiano Spoletino vines, trained in the traditional cordon method, grow in a cooler microclimate, resulting in a leaner, more acid-driven orange wine. Paolo Bea provides a counterpoint to the argument that this style of wine can’t be terroir-driven! There are also Monastero Suore Cistercensi’s orange wines, Coenobium and Ruscum, as value-driven options. Based in Lazio, these wines are farmed and produced by the Sisters of the Cistercian order, with some guidance from Giampiero.
Lastly, I highly recommend reading Giampiero's interview with Sprudge Wine, which includes a photo of those stunning Arboreus vines. If you are a skin-contact fanatic, like me, Paolo Bea is a must-try, as these were the among the defining wines for what's now a booming category.
Many have sought to express this distinct terroir from the eastern slope of the volcano, but one family is most synonymous with the greatest heights it has achieved. Etna doesn't have a classification system to rank estates or vineyards like Bordeaux and Burgundy, but if there was one Grand Cru white from these volcanic slopes perched over the Mediterranean, it would surely be Benanti's Pietra Marina.
Sourced from 80-year-old vines, Pietra Marina showcases Carricante at its most structured and age-worthy. While salinity is a hallmark of this grape variety, the defining element here is a tightly wrapped core of citrus, orange peel, and almond. There's a frame and touch of austerity to Pietra Marina that shows a discipline worlds apart from the more oxidative and plush style of wine commonly found in Milo. In the end, it's the vein of minerality and grip that appropriately put this benchmark bottling on the table with top Chablis and Burgundy.
Benanti's story began in the 1800s, but it was in 1988 that the estate began to garner fame. Giuseppe re-examined and questioned every aspect of Benanti's viticulture and winemaking, challenging conventional wisdom on clones and their compatibility in each parcel. Aging in stainless steel is a crucial element in keeping this southerly white wine so fresh and crisp. But make no mistake—it's these same qualities that give Pietra Marina its backbone to age in your cellar for many years to come.
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.
Pierre Menard reaches cult status in Europe for his lieu-dit (single-vineyard) Chenin Blancs. Simply put, Chenin gets the prime slopes in Anjou, where schist dominates, and the flatlands may see some Sauvignon Blanc. However, Menard discovered one of the first Sauvignon Blanc parcels in this region, the tiny 1957-planted Clos de la Roche atop a slope in Faye d'Anjou.
Before tasting Laïka, one should expel any notion of what this variety delivers. Typical grapefruit and lime fade into the background—much like earth did when the first living creature, a dog named Laïka, was rocketed into space in 1957—those flavors are replaced by saffron butter, a kaleidoscope of yellow fruits, and a mineral underpinning that only Anjou's schist-laden slopes convey.
Only a few cases of Laïka enter the U.S. each year. Also, do not miss Menard's stellar Chenin Blancs in equally small quantities. While we don't focus on many sweet/dessert wines, the "Cosmos" Coteaux du Layon (500 ml) blew us away. Perfect for pairing with cheese or dessert, but save the chocolate for Port!