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 2019 Pinot Noirs are also among the best in America today. These are Grand Cru-level expressions of Eola-Amity Hills Chardonnay and Pinot Noir!
Most of the 1983-planted Seven Springs Vineyard was devastated by phylloxera, until 2007, when Raj Parr and Sashi Moorman of Evening Land leased and revitalized the vineyard. Walter Scott is one of the few wineries with access to this site, sourcing less than two acres of Chardonnay from the south ridge.
Pahlow's annual harvest visits to work alongside Dominique Lafon must have left a mark, as his Chardonnays elicit Burgundy's precise form of noble reduction and filigree that I've come to obsess over. Notes of crushed oyster shell, lemon zest, and mouth-watering salinity are at the forefront, but like Comtes Lafon's brilliant whites, these are all about fine-grained texture and balance.
If Walter Scott's Chardonnays are a master-class in tension and balance, then the Pinot Noirs stand out for their silken tannin structure and full-bodied, concentrated style. The suave frame and harmony of fruit and earth meld perfectly with the slight whole cluster addition (15%) and modest application of new oak (35%).
Shop Eola-Amity Hills
Naples is famous for its Neapolitan-style pizza, but truth be told, its real magic is seafood. Situated just west of Mt. Vesuvius on the Mediterranean coast, the volcanic soils here and in Avellino are home to the white variety, Fiano, a perfect match for the ultra-fresh fare in Naples restaurants. Larger producers litter every wine list, but there's one particular small producer that's developed a cult following.
Ciro Picariello's wines come from parcels in Montefredane and Summonte (1,600 feet and 2,100 feet above sea level, respectively). His secret is fastidious vineyard work, of course, but he's also exact in the cellar, from pressing plots individually to undisturbed aging on the wines' fine lees. The wines ferment by native yeast, something commercial wineries in Campania view as risky.
Fiano speaks of apple, peach, almond paste, and flinty mineral quality. With time, the grape variety ages similarly to Loire Chenin Blanc, revealing honey, beeswax, and lavender notes. It's one of the most age-worthy white wines in Italy, and I always stock up on Ciro's top Fiano bottling, 906, which comes from his highest elevation plantings and sees an extra year of aging on fine lees.
Alberto Nanclares and Silvia Prieto's pergola-trained Albariño in Cambados, the seaside village with vines just meters from the Atlantic, marked a massive shift in my understanding of descriptors like "crystalline" and "acid-driven" when it comes to the Spanish white wine category.
Nanclares y Prieto's U.S. importer, the legendary José Pastor, has been the gateway to many new Spanish discoveries, including Envínate and Luis Rodriguez. Nanclares follows a philosophy that Pastor has used as his foundation in building such a critical and impressive portfolio of ultra-attentive, thoughtful growers and producers.
In 1992, Nanclares and Prieto left their native Basque country and settled in this extreme Atlantic Ocean setting in the beautifully green and lush northwest Galicia region. Organic viticulture is no easy task in Rias Baixas, as high humidity and constant rainfall mean conventional farming with chemicals and high yields are the overwhelming norm. Nanclares gradually shifted over the years to farm his parcels the right way through painstaking labor.
Like Dauvissat's La Forest in Chablis, there's an element of clay in the soil here (mixed with decomposed granite) that gives Soverribas more texture and breadth on the palate. This single parcel, Paraje Manzaniña, is a powerful and saturating style of Albariño; however, its profile is still very much founded upon a fresh streak and salty, long finish. Note: I recommend decanting to allow the layers of complexity to unravel.
Tasting the entire range with Raphael Bérêche last year was a masterclass in champagne precision. While this stable of artisanal wines are produced in very small quantities, the Coteaux Champenois Rouge is simply on a different scale. I'm thrilled to showcase two warm vintages where this rare bird soars.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 1999 and 2015 Bereche Coteaux Champenois Rouge Les Montées for $109 per bottle.
Bérêches's Les Montées is a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier from old vines in the Montagne de Reims. The grapes are only partially de-stemmed and the fermentation is done in barrel, sometimes yielding only a single one. There is no fining or filtering before bottling.
On one hand, Raphael is as adventurous as any vigneron I've met, with a child-like joyous demeanor exuding enthusiasm at every turn in the cave. On the other hand, him and his brother, Vincent (who focuses in the vineyard) take an exacting approach to every detail in this domaine founded in 1847.
The nine hectares owned by Bérêche are farmed by ten full-time workers, an extremely unusual ratio. But, Rapha knows the quality in bottle will be dictated, above all, by the number of minutes each vine sees of hand working through the growing season.
The Bérêche estate also stands out for a vast array of terroir at their disposal. Starting at home base with the chalky soils of 1er Cru Ludes, ideal for Chardonnay (pictured below), all the way to the western Valée de la Marne and those heavier clay soils, where Pinot Noir and Meunier excel. In addition to the Coteaux Champenois Rouge, these other cuvées are available below.
NV Brut Resérve is comprised of equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. The Premier Cru village Ludes in Montagne de Reims is where parcels of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are sourced to bring that nervosity from chalky soils. And the broader and richer tones come from Pinot Meunier and additional Chardonnay parcels from Mareuil le Port in the western Vallée de la Marne.
35% of the Brut Réserve comes from a perpetual blend of reserve wine and is supplemented with 65% from the harvest listed below. It's this reserve portion of the blend that brings a sense of grandeur perfectly suited to mesh with the more taut structure from the single vintage. Fermentation is split between 60% neutral French oak barrels and 40% small vats, aging taking place in 600-liter neutral barrels.
Coteaux Champenois Blanc 1er Cru Les Monts Fournois is the rarest wine from the domaine. A still, single vineyard Chardonnay, this wine from a surprisingly warmer vintage (2013) in Champagne has all of the chalky drive and crystalline personality that you'd imagine, but with a definitive weight that fleshes out on the palate and finishes very long. I've stashed many bottles in my cellar and always am amazed at the evolution from one year to the next, slowly picking up more deeper color, orchard fruit tones, but framed by wild acidity, nonetheless.
Remensis Rosé comes from a single parcel in the Petite Montagne de Reims village of Ormes. 2/3 Pinot Noir, 1/3 Chardonnay, with all color coming from small addition of still wine. This has always been a favorite for its ginger and tangerine notes supported by beaming acidity and a precision rare to find in the world of rosé champagne. Today's offering features wines from the 2012 base vintage, the maturing in bottle has put this in a perfect spot where all of the notes are now more pronounced and expressive than I've ever tasted before, still finished by laser-focused salinity.
Les Beaux Regards is sourced primarily from vines planted in 1902 by Rapha's great-grandfather in his home village of Ludes (pictured below). The interplay between finely-woven threads of minerality and a concentrated driving force through the finish really had the tasting come to a halt in my mind. The balance is an ideal example of how Rapha is at the top of the echelon today. 2013 and 2014 available below.
Les Cran is equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay coming from old vines in the best mid-slope parcels in Ludes. Raphael has an interesting take, "[Le Cran] demonstrates that there is much more minerality in the mid-slope of a premier cru than at the base of the slope in a grand cru.”
Reflet d'Antan is as special as they come. Sourced from a solera started in 1985 by Rapha's father, Jean-Pierre. This is equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. Each vintage 2/3 of each barrel is removed to blend with the Brut Reserve. "Reflection of yesteryear" tells the story of this esteemed producer, still showing the fine lacy texture and brimming energy that you will find with the youngest wines here.
Two things initially jumped out when visiting Saumur in the Loire River Valley. The idyllic, undulating hills perfectly matched my notion of pastoral France, but I hadn't the first clue on where to spot the grand terroir. Since the middle ages, the hill of Brézé was esteemed as any white wine terroir in France, but the secret was in the bedrock of this unassuming, gentle slope.
Here, the famed tuffeau limestone is the backbone of France's single most celebrated Chenin Blanc, Clos Rougeard's Brézé bottling, which surpasses $400 per bottle. But, the Brézé producer who offers the ultimate intersection between this site's brilliance and value is, undoubtedly, Romain Guiberteau. After mentoring under the Foucault family of Clos Rougeard, Guiberteau's eponymous domaine today captures Chenin Blanc at its most crystalline and pure.
Today, I'm happy to offer Guiberteau's top white and reds from the famous hill of Brézé.
For more than 100 years the Guiberteau's have farmed Saumur's hill of Brézé. But, it was when Romain left Clos Rougeard and implemented critical changes in the vineyard that quality began to soar. Unlike the Chenin Blanc coming from neighboring appellations where rounded, more overt orchard fruit dominates, in Saumur the alkaline limestone soils bring the same sense of cut and lacy minerality that shares much more in common with Chablis and Champagne.
Guiberteau's Brézé bottling comes from a 1.2 hectare parcel of vines planted in 1933 and 1952. This parcel's limestone soil also contains sand and clay, bringing a textural weight that balances the razor sharp focus from Brézé's tuffeau bedrock. Simply put, this is world class Chenin Blanc to rival top white Burgs.
Arboises is a 1 hectare, south-facing portion on Brézé of 1957-planted Cabernet Franc. Sand and silt sits over the limestone bedrock here. All grapes are de-stemmed. Aging takes place in 80% new French oak. This is a wickedly precise and mineral-driven style of Cabernet Franc that elicits Burgundy before Bourgueil.
Les Motelles is another 1 hectare parcel of Cabernet Franc vines, planted in 1955 on sand and gravel above clay. As you'd imagine, versus Arboises, there is more breadth and density on the palate here, but the absence of weight is a perfect example of Guiberteau's deft touch. Aged in 2-3 year-old French barrels.
Saumur Rouge comes from a 2 hectare parcel of 1955 & 1957-planted Cabernet Franc over silt and sand over a softer limestone. 100% de-stemmed and aged in steel. The quintessential example of how sophistication Cabernet Franc is capable of does not need to be tied to price.
Les Moulins comes from a 1.9 hectare portion of Chenin Blanc vines ranging from 7 to 80-yrs-old planted on sand over a limestone-clay mix. Aged in stainless steel. Nervy, supremely fresh, dominated by citrus tones that slowly open to reveal more typical orchard fruit and faint lanolin.
Clos des Guichaux comes from a 1.3 hectare parcel of Chenin Blanc planted on silt and sand over limestone. Vines were planted in 2003. Aged 9 months in neutral oak. As compared to Les Moulins, the enclosed Guichaux has an intensity and long finish that belies the younger age of these vines.
The long-used selling point for the wines of Brézé have been that they're the first place in the Loire Valley for white Burgundy collectors to turn. But, at the highest order from Guiberteau (and Clos Rougeard), these are whites that simply exist among the most royal in all of France.