Syrah shows many different sides in California, from San Diego north through Mendocino. But, one thing is understood here by all: There's no producer in the state whose passion for the variety surpasses that of Pax Mahle.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2017 Pax Sonoma-Hillsides Syrah for $48 per bottle, with special pricing on the Pax Experience mixed 4-pack.For many years Pax has worked with a wide range of Syrah vineyards in California bottled under the Pax label, as well as Wind Gap. He's become obsessed with tapping vineyards on the extreme to prove the grape can flourish in conditions many thought were far too marginal. His fascination and love of the variety can be traced back to the traditionalists of the Northern Rhone Valley, the birthplace of Syrah. Beginning in 2016 Pax chose to pay tribute to one of the legends of the old guard, Raymond Trollat of Saint Joseph.As one would imagine, Sonoma-Hillsides is again 100% whole cluster fermented. Sourcing comes from three vineyards Pax feels capture the essence of cooler climate hillside 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 it's sites like these that have best expressed the fresh and vibrant personality that Syrah is capable of. His visits with Trollat and other vignerons in the Rhone have been a huge influence on his viticulture and vinification practices.At 12.9% the Sonoma-Hillsides cuvée exemplifies everything that's so thrilling about the more savory, spicy, and mineral-inflected qualities of Syrah. Trollat, whose vines are now farmed by Gonon, personified the soul and authenticity found in the best of Saint-Joseph. Pax, too, stands as a benchmark for what other producers in California aspire to craft, having served as a mentor to much of the younger generation of winemakers. He has a long history with the variety here, but it's this hommage to Raymond Trollat that hit the sweet spot with me more so than any other bottling to date. This is not to be missed!
Italy has long been maligned when the debate at a raucous dinner party turns to The Great White Wines of the World. Often, names like Miani, Gravner, Radikon, Emidio Pepe, and Valentini are quick retorts when Francophiles list off the dizzying array of top producers throughout the country. To be fair, I've long struggled in finding Italian whites that reverberate with me like the benchmarks of France, Germany, and Austria do.
The aforementioned five Italian estates can be difficult to source, and pricing is often astronomical. Making proclamations about the great whites of Italy may be silly considering the wild diversity of varieties grown. But, after revisiting the oldest Friulano release by I Clivi I'm throwing caution to the wind: The 2015 old vine BrazanFriulano is one of the great, great whites I've ever had from Italy. At $39 per bottle this is not to be missed.
I Clivi's Friulano (formerly known as Tocai Friulano) comes from 70-year-old vines in the Brazan vineyard. In Collio these revered marl soils are known as Ponca. As a variety Friulano can be tricky, often succumbing to fatty and overly-glossy characteristics as acidity can drop off quickly while grapes are on the vine. Ferdinando Zanusso has fought against this by his meticulous organic work in the vineyard and in regularly sampling grapes before harvest to ensure picking occurs at the optimal moment. He also began to block malolactic fermentation in order to retain tension and verve.
I can't overemphasize just how thrilling the Brazan is to drink. On the nose there's a massive brioche character derived from the long aging on lees. On the palate there's a seductive gossamer texture that's perfectly proportioned to the ripe fruit and laser-focused acidity. And, while creamy coconut characteristics sound like an impossible feat to execute being balanced by bright freshness, that's exactly what Brazan does that ultimately made my head spin.
Some wines take a moment to really pull you in and reveal their greatness, but upon first sip this Friulano's perfection is made abudnatly clear. The best of Collio can show rich textural and exotic fruit notes OR they're built on mineral drive full of mouth-coating salinity. There's only one bottling I've found that displays both, and with each year in bottle Brazan's magic is divulged even more.
For years there was building buzz about Dominique Lafon's new collaboration with Larry Stone in the Eola-Amity Hills. That buzz reached a crescendo when the first vintage was released, and today the wines of Lingua Franca stand as among the very best Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in the New World.
Today, I'm happy to offer the top Pinot Noir from Lingua Franca, the 2016 Mimi's Mind, sourced from Mimi Castell's iconic vineyard of heritage Pommard vines in the Eola-Amity-Hills.
Like all of the Pinot Noir from Lingua Franca, Mimi's Mind is all about forward, pristine red cherry fruits with great lift and dead-serious definition. It may sound trite, but the balance in Mimi's Mind is again sole reason Lingua Franca has skyrocketed to prominence in such a short period of time. These are just perfectly composed Pinot Noirs of grace, and Mimi's Mind is where the grandeur of all the elements reach its apogee.
Originally, I sat down a few years ago with Larry in La Jolla and tasted through the inaugural release from his winery, Lingua Franca. And since that time I've made two visits to his state-of-the-art winery in the Eola-Amity Hills. Tasting through the 2017's in barrel made clear this project is continuing to raise the bar.
Larry and Dominque had become very familiar with the Eola-Amity Hills working previously with the Seven Springs Vineyard, and in the end, Larry planted vines and built his winery right next door. Though their admiration of Oregon terroir throughout Willamette Valley was very high, both found a magic combination here where the entire picture of the wines maintained sharp focus. This was the sweet spot where minerality met ripe texture and the results personified that elusive Burgundian sensibility: Elegance and impact, without the compromise of terroir.
As consulting winemaker, Dominique Lafon of Comtes Lafon in Meursault, has a style that highlights silky fruit and seamless texture. His Volnay and Meursault wines are among the most collected in the world, and early on Larry Stone was a huge force introducing these to America. Larry was the 9th American to become a Master Sommelier and became the very first to win the Best International Sommelier in his competition in Paris. Working with Charlie Trotter's in Chicago and then the iconicRubicon restaurant in San Francisco Larry's work to cultivate the following of Burgundy in the US cannot be overstated.
The Jory and volcanic soils in Eola-Amity proved to be the ideal landing for this joint venture. And recruited from Burgundy was their winemaker, Thomas Savre, whose work in the cellars of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti brought a skilled and meticulous eye into the fold. Lingua Franca is one of the most exciting new estates I've been introduced to. The overall balance and purity of fruit to each of the cuvées ultimately reflect their place. The legendary names that built this winery from the ground up have surpassed even the highest expectations placed upon them.
In Saumur, Antoine Foucault, son of the late Charly Foucault, had seen the reputation and pricing of his father's Clos Rougeard wines soar across the globe like no other domaine in France. Today, little is known of Foucault's own domaine he founded in 1999. The Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc produced from the best limestone slopes in Saumur brings the unrivaled elegance of Clos Rougeard, with a singular potency that will guide this address into cult territory. We laugh when we hear of times past where Clos Rougeard sat on shelves for under $60, and here I expect the same to follow suit.Today, I'm happy to offer the Saumur wines of Antoine Foucault's Domaine du Collier.Visiting with Antoine in 2016 was a dramatic moment, there's no other way to describe the experience. For starters, descending into the cellar was akin to the fantastical space imagined for Indiana Jones' Temple of Doom. The cavern was close to 100% humidity, with walls of bedrock wet to the touch and stalactites at every turn. The shadowed figure of Foucault returning into faint light with a thief of wine from each new barrel further imprinted the mystique.Like his father, Antoine's greatest joy is working among the vines. Witnessing the meteoric rise of popularity of Clos Rougeard throughout his life has left him surprisingly humble, showing no interest in the limelight or travel. He speaks matter of fact, and his sensible philosophy on organic and biodynamic viticulture is ultimately defined by rigorous hands-on work in each parcel.There's a powerful concentration to Antoine's wines that differ from his father's, yet they're still built upon that familiar grace and seamless pleasure found in their texture. (Antoine vinified the 2016 vintage at Clos Rougeard upon his father's untimely passing). The real distinction on the protocol for Collier's wines is their unusually long aging, many times over two years in wood. Once fermentation is concluded the wines are gravity-fed into barrel and remain completely untouched, with zero sulphur additions.There's a large proportion of new wood used at Collier, but never have I tasted at a domaine where this level of oak was so imperceptible and pushed into the background of the wine. The wood absorbs much of the firm structure in these wines, softening the contours and bringing an added layer of refinement. Saumur Blanc is 100% Chenin Blanc primarily sourced from vines aged 25-75 years in the Ripaille site. Saumur Rouge La Ripaille is 100% Cabernet Franc sourced from a single vineyard of vines ranging between 30-60 years old.Saumur Blanc Charpentrie comes from 100-yr-old vines in this single vineyard.
The Rheingau's unconventional and delicious wines of J.B. Becker are known well for his very late winery releases. Vintages offered below are 1990, 1996, and 2008. But, his 2015 collection of dry and dry-ish (halbtrocken) wines are equally as intriguing.
Since 1971, Hajo Becker has been farming 11 hectares in the Rheingau. Certified organic since 2005, though Becker worked organically for decades. Native yeasts ferments and aging in massive 2,400-liter barrels. "Singular" is often the descriptor used for these mainly dry wines, and I cannot think of a better application of the word. These taste unlike any Riesling, or any wine you're likely to ever have. They are charming, supremely vibrant, and endlesssly thought-provoking.