Last night, a stunning 1999 Ridge Monte Bello reaffirmed that within the discussion of What is California Grand Cru, this is where the argument should end.
Today, we're taking a look back at an earlier offer on the best value California Cabernet Sauvignon, a "Baby Monte Bello", Ridge's 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Also offered are a range of back-vintage Monte Bello, including one of the most prized American wines from the last 50 years, the epic 1991.
Monte Bello Estate vineyard atop the Santa Cruz Mountains needs little introduction. The Monte Bello designate Cabernet Sauvignon releases around $200 per bottle. What's still somewhat under-the-radar is their Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, comprised of 15 to 20 parcels on the Monte Bello vineyard that have historically shown a more approachable and softer fruit profile.
Each vintage the Estate Cabernet is a favorite of mine, still displaying the magic that Paul Draper started here in 1969. The drought conditions of 2014 gave an added element of concentration and weight to this Baby Monte Bello cuvée. For lovers of old school California Cabernet Sauvignon from the coolest, Pacific-influenced mountain terrain, this is a moment to take notice.
Monte Bello's black fruit, racy mint and graphite tones always impress, but the experiences also come at the expense of long bottle aging. The Estate Cabernet has all of these same inherent Monte Bello vineyard characteristics, only showing them through a softer focus. In all years this is the case, but 2014 was immediately recognized as something quite special:"Readers who are looking for a more affordable alternative to Ridge's iconic Monte Bello should consider the 2014 Estate. Look for the Estate to be a real overachiever in 2014 as well as one of the best - possibly the best - California Cabernet in its price range."
The history of Monte Bello extends as far back as 1885 when the 180 acres was purchased and planted by San Francisco doctor, Osea Perrone. Through a tumultuous series including prohibition, multiple sales, and re-planting, the Monte Bello estate really comes into its own with Paul Draper's arrival in 1969. Draper's insistence on producing "Pre-Industrial" wines has received a lot of attention, as he challenged winemakers to put the full list of ingredients on their labels. Draper's end goal is producing wines that reflect site, relying on native yeast ferments and strictly opposing modern manipulations such as Ultra/Mega purple concentrate, reverse osmosis, and the like.
Ridge also stands out from much of California Cabernet Sauvignon in their deft use of American oak. The limestone soils of Monte Bello have long stood up to the new oak regimen (here 70%), providing more silken texture and elegance without obscuring terroir - easy to say, not so easy to execute. Along with the fabulously open-knit 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, today's list features perfectly stored, back-vintage Monte Bello.
Purchase Here.2014 Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
$65 per bottle."Sustainably farmed, hand-harvested, estate-grown grapes; destemmed and sorted; fermented on the native yeasts; full malolactic on the naturally occurring bacteria; 0.25g/L calcium carbonate to moderate high natural acidity in four of twenty distinct parcels; 1.7% water addition to twelve of the twenty lots; minimum effective sulfur (25ppm at crush, 120 ppm during aging); a fining of 5 fresh, egg whites per barrel for the press wine; pad filtered at bottling. In keeping with our philosophy of minimal intervention, this is the sum of our actions." - Ridge 3x 2001 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon$399 per bottle.1x 1999 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon (not online)$199 per bottle.5x 1997 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon$319 per bottle.8x 1991 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon$679 per bottle.1x 1991 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon 1.5L$1,379 per bottle.1x 1980 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon$384 per bottle.
Naples is regarded as Italy's "ungovernable wild child", and exploring the city by foot last summer was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. Situated on the Mediterranean coast, it's ominously just west of Mt. Vesuvius. The city is synonymous with its famous Neapolitan style pizza, but truth be told, the real magic of Naples is its seafood. And, when I must choose from the delectably crisp and dynamic whites from the greater Campania region, without hesitation I turn to Ciro Picariello.
Today, I'm happy to offer Ciro's first ever release of the "BruEmm" Falanghina Beneventana for $25, complete with special 6-pack pricing down to $23.16/btl.Ciro Picariello is the rockstar of Campania. Everything he touches simply turns to gold. Even on a value-driven scale Ciro's whites have a richness and an extra 6th gear depth that's on a completely different level from his contemporaries.
The debut of Falanghina Beneventana from Ciro is immediately the benchmark for the grape. Tasting much over the years I'm accustomed to the variety's rich, textural personality with green apple notes and a faint honeyed inflection. Ciro's example works off these traits, but endows them with an pulsating stream of mineral verve and a textural gloss that surprisingly remains taut despite the extra horsepower. There's an added layer of white peaches and mountain herbs that showcase Falanghina's most compelling side.
Without a doubt, this debut was one of the most thrilling young Italian whites I've ever tasted. At $25 per bottle, the value here is shocking until you look at the entire Picariello portfolio. It's the model for affordable, great Italian whites that transcend their categories. I've also featured the range from Ciro below, including his Greco and Fiano.Ciro's small production comes equally from 7 hectares where high altitude plantings are the focus. Only stainless steel is used at the winery, wines are kept undisturbed on fine lees for aging, and only small amounts of sulphur are added. As Ciro has proven, when executed with precision this brings the flavors one step closer to the raw materials on vine and a distinct sense of place. This is the best stable of young white wines coming from southern Italy today.Often I'll beat the drum for the small, family producer. Campania's wines are overwhelmingly dominated by large brands with insipid products from an industrial approach. Ciro represents the other side of the spectrum, the absolute height of what can be achieved when conscientious and fastidious work is the foundation. To close out August, there's no white wines more salivating and delicious than those from this Campania benchmark!Purchase Here.2016 Ciro Picariello "BruEmm" Falanghina
$25 per bottle.
Special E-mail Falanghina 6-Pack Pricing: $139 ($23.16/btl.)
2016 Ciro Picariello Greco di Tufo
$25 per bottle.
Greco shows the more citrus and melon notes with volcanic minerality. It ages well, putting on weight with notes of orange blossom developing.
2017 Ciro Picariello Fiano Irpinia
$25 per bottle.
Fiano speaks more of apple, peach, almost, and a flinty mineral quality. With time Fiano ages similarly to Loire Chenin Blanc, revealing honey, beeswax, and lavender notes.
2014 Ciro Picariello Fiano di Avellino "906"
$38 per bottle.
The magnum opus of the estate, sourced from the highest elevation plantings of Fiano. The best option in Campania for long aging.
My next visit in the Northern Rhone brought me to Jean-Luc Jamet and his new winery built next door to his brother, Jean-Paul's. Sometimes a domaine's split between siblings is smooth and agreeable. This one, not so much. Of course there's much I don't know about specifically what lead to this separation, one officially marked by the 2013 vintage. But, of this I'm certain: Jamet is Côte Rôtie gold.
Today, I'm happy to offer wines from both brother's domaines, as well as back-vintage wines produced when they worked together.
Joseph Jamet started the domaine in 1950 and by the early 90's the production was under the control of his two sons, Jean-Paul and Jean-Luc. The wines have truly been benchmarks for the Côte Rôtie appellation. Elegant, age-worthy, with an undeniable sense of place like no other domaine. When given the choice to drink any producer from Côte Rôtie, there's no debate from my perspective.
Although Jean-Paul and Jean-Luc worked closely for decades, the split essentially came down to Jean-Luc's desire to produce wines with a slightly more modern footing. Jean-Luc's wines see more de-stemming, more new oak (still modest levels), and greater extraction during fermentation. While Jean-Luc's wines show more unctuous plush fruit, softer tannins, and darker concentration, the wines of Domaine Jamet (Jean Paul) show more transparency and a more tightly coiled sense of minerality. Both produce wines of exquisite balance and sophistication, yet rooted in the tradition their father Joseph instilled.
As the 25 parcels were split between the brothers in 2013, we see Domaine Jamet's (Jean-Paul) more evenly divided between the iron-rich granite of the Côte Brune and the lighter and chalkier Côte Blonde. Jean-Luc's plots are more concentrated in the Côte Blonde.
My most memorable Syrah experience was a bottle of 1988 Jamet opened at a restaurant with friends in the Rhone several years ago. As sense memories go, it's one that has stayed with me more vividly than any other. The combo of perfume, delicacy of fruit, and that finely woven mineral lacing was Syrah at its most pure and haunting. A first sip that was followed by a deafening silence that filled the table for what seemed like minutes on end. That's why we hunt.
2013 Jean-Luc Jamet Valine VDP
$37 per bottle.
2013 Jean-Luc Jamet Côte Rôtie Terrasses
$108 per bottle.
5x 2015 Domaine Jamet Côte Rôtie Côte Brune (Jean-Paul)
$639 per bottle.
3x 2014 Domaine Jamet Côte Rôtie Fructus Voluptas (Jean-Paul)
$117 per bottle.
12x 2013 Domaine Jamet Côte Rôtie (Jean-Paul)
$159 per bottle.
2x 2013 Domaine Jamet Côte Rôtie (Jean-Paul) 1.5L
$374 per bottle.
1x 2001 Domaine Jamet Côte Rôtie
$339 per bottle.
2x 1998 Domaine Jamet Côte Rôtie
$379 per bottle.
9x 1999 Domaine Jamet Côte Rôtie
$526 per bottle.
“I make my wine like Bartolo Mascarello!”
That's what Massimiliano Calabretta told Mascarello's New York importer when he first visited the estate on Sicily's Mt. Etna. Taking cues from Piedmont's iconic producer is not something one would expect to hear in these parts of Italy. Etna is a landscape built on rich winemaking history, but the style has veered modern as global awareness has skyrocketed.
At Calabretta the wines are firmly entrenched in the traditional, just as Bartolo Mascarello would've approved. And for a turn to Calabretta's white, Carricante from vines up to 100 year of age, we're looking at the single most precise and delicous example I had during my June 2017 visit.
Today, I'm happy to offer the two wines that best illustrate the magic of Calabretta and the own-rooted old vines they farm on Mount Etna's volcanic soils.
You may consider Nerello Cappuccio to be an Etna blending grape (and you'd be right). But, Calabretta saw his old, ungrafted vines offered a very differnt expression of the variety used by many to add color and body to their Nerello Mascalese blends.
Cappuccio certainly adds something special to the Mascalese-dominant wines that are Etna's signature. But, the primary reason Cappuccio is rarely seen on its own relates more to viticutture difficulty and its succeptibility to diesease than to any varietal shortcoming. Own-rooted vines often give an aromatic lift that simply stands apart from grafted counterparts.
In Calabretta's Cappuccio it's this animated yet sensual quality that's so delicious, and so unique. There's dark red fruits, smoke, lavender, violets, and a saline-infused finish that make reaching for this glass of 12% alcohol wine habitual.
The formula at Calabretta is a simple one, with organic farming, reliance on old vines (over 60-yrs), and own-rooted parcels preserved as long as possible. The 100% Nerello Cappuccio is fermented in steel with pumpovers only by hand, contributing a seamless and velvety texture that stands out first and foremost. Elévage takes place in a combo of used barrique and steel for 6 months. These two parts are then blended into 12-hectoliter botti for an additional 6 months prior to bottling.
For Sicilian whites, Carricante's bar is set very high for me, just in terms of what really pulls me in and brings a refreshing elemenent that I often find missing from producers here. Calabretta's Carricante has become my favorite white in all of Sicily. First sip immediatley showcases that crisp structure, with deep and incisive volcanic minerality that almost dances on the palate. White pear, lemon oil, and green apples cover the kaleidoscope of fruit here, but it's the crystaline core of pulverized volcanic soil that ultimately grab my attention and linger on the finish.
Vines range in age from a selection of 100+ yr-old through some younger plantings. Fermentation and aging is done in steel, a huge factor in how this Carricante maintains that sleek and taut structure, but buffered with those deep and textural traits from these old vines. If there's one white in all of Sicily I can get behind enthusiastically this would be it!
Calabretta was founded in 1900, but it wasn't until 1997 that the father and son team of Massimo and Massimiliano decided to bottle their best wines and sell under their own label. This was a guarantee that historic practices of vinification and aging would stand protected as the world around them was changing at a rapid pace.
2014 Calabretta Carricante
$24 per bottle.
2014 Calabretta Nerello Cappuccio Etna Rosso
$42 per bottle.
After I finished up a great birthday dinner with friends in Meursault, I packed my bags and prepared for the 6am departure for Cornas. Leaving eight days of Burgundy in my rear view was difficult, but the upcoming appointments in the Northern Rhone Valley had enthusiasm sky high. First stop: Domaine Auguste Clape.
Today, I'm happy to offer wines from the legendary Cornas family, stretching from 1988 to 2016.
Finding adequate words to place Auguste Clape into the context of Northern Rhone's history is difficult. Eric Asimov does a much better job. Of course, being the original producer in Cornas to bottle under his own label is a notch on the belt. And, having worked exclusively by hand on these treacherously steep terraces is another. Sadly, the day after my visit with his son Pierre-Marie, Auguste Clape passed away at 93.
No domaine founded in the birthplace of Syrah captures the soul of its appellation like Clape has with Cornas. Having started with a domaine bottling in 1955 and having stopped all négociant sales in 1968, Auguste Clape is a pioneer of the Rhone joined in ranks with names like Verset, Trollat, and Juge.
Clape's 5.5 hectares of vines in Cornas cover over 10 parcels, such as Reynard and Chaillot from Allemand fame, as well as Nöel Verset's cherished, 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 in the most traditional fashion with 100% whole cluster fermentation and aging in old barrels, with the two Cornas cuvées seeing 22 months in large foudre. The style of the domaine has always been one that's pushed for maximum ripeness, choosing to pick at the last moment before the ominous fall rains begin. This style of fruit-forward Cornas coming from porous granite soils endow the wines with tremendous structure, but with a pleasurable side of lusciousness. Unlike Hermitage and Côte Rôtie, the argument is often made that of the Big 3, Cornas offers an up-front approachability thanks to its southern and warm amphitheater setting. However, the typical savage scorched earth quality where Cornas derives its name is the foundation of the wines from this fabled domaine.
Tasting through each parcel and visiting the vines with Pierre-Marie was a window into a time long ago. Methods and settings have remained unaltered. There hadn't been rain for some time, and just maintaining footing on these steep slopes was a challenge, as both of us used a grasp on the échelas stakes for support.
In the cellar, tasting 2017 in foudre back through bottles from the 90's was a great lesson in the transformation of the wines. The highlight may have been that 2017 barrel sample of the isoloted 80-yr-old, 1.2 hectare Reynard parcel. A concentrated and chiseled beast from the robust 2017 Northern Rhone vintage.Côtes du Rhone is 100% Syrah from 30-50-yr-old vines. 100% whole cluster fermented. Aged 6 months in cement, and another 6 months in foudre. 2% is comprised of free fun juice from young vine Cornas.
Cornas is sourced from 30-60 yr-old vines. 100% whole cluster fermented. Aged 22 months in 6 or 22 hl-foudres.
Cornas Reinassance is sourced from younger vines. Fermentation and aging is the same as the Cornas.8x 2016 Clape Côtes du Rhone$49 per bottle.6x 2015 Clape Côtes du Rhône$49 per bottle.7x 2014 Clape Côtes du Rhône$46 per bottle.7x 2015 Clape Cornas Renaissance$99 per bottle.4x 2000 Clape Cornas$227 per bottle.4x 1999 Clape Cornas$299 per bottle.5x 1995 Clape Côtes du Rhone$135 per bottle. (Pre Arrival)1x 1989 Clape Cornas$579 per bottle.1x 1988 Clape Cornas$579 per bottle.