• Definitive Crozes-Hermitage: 2019 Alain Graillot

    Definitive Crozes-Hermitage: 2019 Alain Graillot

    Crozes-Hermitage has long been a great appellation for those looking for value from esteemed parcels. Graillot's wines nail the value element, and he is undoubtedly the benchmark name in this zone of the Northern Rhône Valley.

    Graillot's journey began in Burgundy alongside Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac, so as one might imagine, there will be stems! The eponymous domaine is unwavering in its 100% whole clusters for fermentation and aging in older wood, divided between barrique and foudre. La Guiraude is not a single vineyard but rather a selection of the best barrels according to Alain.

    Before starting his domaine in 1985, Alain's work with Jacques imparted key traits to his winemaking style—he wanted his wines to be both supremely fresh and spicy. While temperatures have warmed in the last three decades, Graillot is still a beacon for Rhône enthusiasts passionate about terroir-driven wines steeped in tradition.

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    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Bona Fide Cornas: 2018 Domaine Clape

    Bona Fide Cornas: 2018 Domaine Clape

    A visit to the Northern Rhone for my birthday started by hitting the road at dawn. I was short on sleep from the previous night's festivities in Burgundy, but the anticipation for the next stop on the tour was all of the fuel I needed: Domaine Auguste Clape.

    The style here has always pushed for maximum ripeness, choosing to pick at the last moment before the ominous fall rains begin. These fruit-forward Cornas from porous granite soils endow the wines with tremendous structure but with a pleasurable side of lusciousness. It's often argued that of the Big Three, including Hermitage and Côte Rôtie, Cornas offers an up-front approachability thanks to its southern and warm amphitheater setting. However, the savage scorched earth quality where Cornas derives its name is the foundation of this fabled domaine.

    Clape's five hectares of vines in Cornas cover over 10 parcels, such as Allemand's Reynard and Chaillot and Nöel Verset's Sabarotte. This dizzying array of Cornas terroir plays a huge role in the success that's spanned so many decades here. The wines are produced most traditionally with 100% whole cluster fermentation and aging in old barrels, with the two Cornas cuvées seeing 22 months in large foudre.

    Finding adequate words to place Auguste Clape into the context of Northern Rhone's history is difficult—Eric Asimov does a much better job in the NYT. Auguste started bottling under his own name in 1955 and stopped all négociant sales in 1968. Sadly, the day after I visited his son Pierre-Marie, he passed away at 93. Auguste is a pioneer of the Rhone alongside Noël Verset, Raymond Trollat, and Marcel Juge.

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    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Santa Cruz Maverick: 2020 Madson Wines

    Santa Cruz Maverick: 2020 Madson Wines

    I met Cole Thomas at a 2019 tasting event highlighting the next wave of Santa Cruz winemakers. Coincidentally, I was in town that weekend to work on a story about four other young winemakers in the region for the San Francisco Chronicle. I've been following Cole's exciting project, Madson Wines, ever since.

    The Santa Cruz Mountains are one of California's top sites for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the western side of the region having a front-row seat to the Pacific's coastal winds and morning fog. Cole says he is always looking for Chardonnay, though that's easier said than done. Most vineyards here are allotted to Pinot Noir and consist of a few acres at most, vying with the mountainous landscape, redwoods, and forest. Regardless, Madson produces compelling, spice-driven Pinot Noirs that remind me of driving through the Santa Cruz Mountains with the windows rolled down.

    Cole has built his career here in the Santa Cruz Mountains. After earning a degree in environmental studies at U.C. Santa Cruz, he worked in vegetable farming and landscaping before landing a job at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, where he met viticulturist Ken Swegles. They launched Madson together in 2018 and solely farm using organic and regenerative practices.

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    Posted by Sydney Love
  • Delectable Dijon: 2019 Domaine de la Cras

    Delectable Dijon: 2019 Domaine de la Cras

    In the hills above Dijon, you can find one of Burgundy's greatest inception stories. It is a fresh departure from a domaine's normal evolution, but the wines in bottle are the most thrilling element from Marc Soyard. In a short time, Domaine de la Cras has gone from obscure to having a cult following.

    Five years ago, the city of Dijon purchased a vineyard just outside its limits, and they essentially held a casting call to find a winemaker for the property. The criteria were: The winemaker must be young, have no family vineyard holdings, farm organically, and open the domaine for educational tours. Rent for the land would be paid to the city in 2,000 bottles.

    Marc Soyard, originally from nearby Jura, was chosen. Soyard does not come from a family of vignerons but previously worked for Vosne-Romanée's esteemed Domaine Bizot, known for its rigorous vineyard work, minuscule sulfur regimen, and whole-cluster fermentation.

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    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Süd Sensation: 2020 Gramenon Release

    Süd Sensation: 2020 Gramenon Release

    Domaine Gramenon's brilliance comes in harnessing sun-baked Southern Rhône and producing fleshy wines with a level of briskness and refreshment that's simply unrivaled. If Southern Rhône has pulled you toward Châteauneuf du Pape, or even quaffable Côtes du Rhône, you must try Gramenon.

    Drinkability isn't the sexiest descriptor, but damn, Gramenon epitomizes a quenching trait more than any other name in this region. They're often the first wines emptied on a crowded dinner table, showing soft tannins, seamless texture, and fruit so fresh as if just plucked from their gnarled gobelet vines.

    Michèle Aubèry-Laurent and her husband Philippe founded Gramenon in 1978, and 11 years later, the couple bottled their first wine. Their grand vision was to create an estate where organic farming and biodynamic principles extended beyond wine, growing their own produce and raising animals too. I suggest you use the modest pricing below to reacquaint yourself with the alternative and natural side of the Süd.

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    Posted by Max Kogod