2015 Johan Pétillant Naturel ($25)
Willamette Valley, Oregon
Johan is a biodynamic estate in the Willamette Valley that was created in 2005 by Dag Johan Sundby, who moved to the US from Norway in 2004. He was part of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon and later on, received his MBA from the University of Denver. Johan specializes in Pinot Noir, but grows eight other wine grapes as well. Dan Rinke, who previously worked at Rhys, has been the winemaker since 2007.
Vineyard: Planted in 2002, the Pinot Noir is sourced from a two-acre block with Helvetia silt loam soil with a northwest aspect.
Farming: Biodynamic (certified by Demeter). Since all of the grapes are used to make this sparkling wine, it is cropped to achieve higher acidity.
Vinification: Destemmed, cold soaked for four days and pressed to tank to begin fermentation. Racked off heavy lees and bottled, unfined and unfiltered.
Tasting Note: Fresh with piquant, austere lemon and raspberries that leaves a long, juicy finish.
Food Pairing: Oysters, sushi, poke, and crudo. Creamy cheeses with fruit.
Drinkability: Now and over the next couple of years.
SO2: No SO2 added.
2016 Arndorfer Vorgeschmack White ($21)
Grüner Veltliner (80%), Riesling (20%)
Across the board, the young Austrian couple, Martin and Anna Arndorfer, make superb and exciting wines. This white blend is a great intro to their other cuvees.
Vineyard: Loess and partly primary rock soil. Vines planted between 1960 – 2012.
Vinification: Fermented in large barrels (80%) and stainless steel (20%). Aged six months. Filtered.
Tasting Note: Super clean and fresh with zesty acidity and hints of citrus and white pepper.
Food Pairing: Grilled ocean trout with chervil and lemon. Sushi, especially oily fish such as sardines and mackerel.
Drinkability: Now and over the next four years. While the fresh vivacity of the fruit is its main attraction, there is enough acidity to keep it going for a while.
SO2: 30 ppm added at bottling.
2015 Justice Grace Vineyards Semillon ($25)
Randall Hills Vineyards, Yorkville Highland, Mendocino, California
Semillon (98%), Roussanne (2%)
Eric Cohen made Semillon in 2013, skipped a year and brought it back in 2015. It is the only white wine he makes and it has as much heart and personality as his reds. He wears his social conscious on his winemaking sleeve and admittedly, this makes me biased. This said, I’ve always liked his wines in blind tastings so his dedication to social and economic justice is more of a bonus in my view than the main attraction.
Vineyard: Thin rocky soil with gravel at 1,000 – 1,200 elevation. Two blocks planted in 1982 and 1989.
Farming: Certified organic.
Vinification: Fifteen-month ferment in neutral oak and stainless steel. Unfiltered.
Tasting Note: Effusively aromatic with lemon, bergamot and fresh oregano with screeching acidity and a long, mouth watering finish.
Food Pairing: Squash blossoms stuffed with basil and goat or ricotta cheese. Fruit and goat cheese tarts.
Drinkability: The youthful citrus character is immensely charming, but given its acidity and Semillon’s tendency to pick up layers as it ages, I bet his wine will age for a good five years, maybe more.
SO2: 37 ppm
2014 Dominio del Urogallo Pesico Blanco ($37)
Asturias in northwestern Spain is an area to watch. It is still pretty small insofar as production and wineries are concerned, but there has been a lot of interest and change over the last ten years or so. Recognizing this potential, Nicolas Marcos left his native Toro and works with ten acres in Cangas del Narcea, which is still not recognized as a D.O. (Denominación de Origen) but, as Marcos has proven, is capable of making wines every bit as good as Rioja or Priorat (which are Denominación de Origen Califada).
Vineyard: Steep hillside planted on quartz, slate, and anthracite, which is a type of coal.
Vinification: Fermented in 300 – 500-liter neutral barrels. Aged on fine lees for one year in neutral barrels. Bottled unfiltered.
Tasting Note: Albariño might be Spain’s most famous white wine grape, but this Albarin Blanco (no relation) is one of the most complex whites I’ve had from the Iberian Peninsula in recent memory. It has a rich, hazelnut quality that made me think of Meursault, but with a saline minerality.
Food Pairing: Rich, oily fish such as salmon or sturgeon.
Drinkability: Now – 2014.
SO2: None added
2016 Purity Roussanne ($28)
Oakstone Vineyard, Rough and Ready, Nevada County, California
Noel Diaz is one of the most inquisitive winemakers I know and since meeting him almost two years ago, I’ve noticed a change in his wines that is probably, at least in part, a result of his curious mind. This orange wine, composed entirely of Roussanne, is a good case in point. He made it once before, mostly as an experiment, and even tries to play down the seriousness of this sophomore effort. Unfortunately, very little was made – 25 cases in all and six bottles are mine – but since not too many people are aware it exists, you might be able to find it through the winery.
Vineyard: Heavy granite with a light iron rich topsoil. The vines were planted in 2001 on a southeast-facing hillside at about 1800 feet.
Farming: Organic. Bullshit, literally. To quote Noel, “There are a couple of bulls to protect the vineyard from wild animals, and to provide shit.”
Vinification: Picked September 25, 2016.
Tasting Note: I had the opportunity to try this wine, almost as an afterthought, during a winery visit recently and was bowled over. Noel sent me home with the bottle. I finished it one week later and it barely changed. With an abundance of exotic citrus – kumquats, bergamot -, apricot skin and citrus chamomile tea, it is fleshy yet has terrific structure and length.
Drinkability: This is the second year Noel has made this Roussanne so whether or not it will age is anyone’s guess. I can safely say the chances are infinitely higher than the Giants defeating the Dodgers again this year.
Food Pairing: Maybe none. Both Noel and I think it might be better without food but as always, drink a glass of water for each glass of wine.
SO2: None added.
2015 Cacique Maravilla Pipeño Pais ($19/one liter)
Sur, Bio-Bio, Chile
There are some extremely old vineyards still producing fruit in Chile and one of them belongs to Manuel Moraga Gutiérrez, a 7th generation winemaker in the Bio-Bio Valley. The vineyard has always been organic and dry farmed, making it even more of a natural wonder.
Vineyard: Planted in 1766. Volcanic soil.
Farming: Dry farmed, organic.
Vinification: Eight to 15-day maceration in open wood tanks, aged seven months in Ecotank.
Tasting Note: When I first opened the liter bottle I wasn’t too impressed, yet it grew on me and by the time I was half way through my second glass, I was fully in. There is noticeable volatile acidity, but it adds character and contributes a refreshing balsamic-like tone. Spicy with black currants and herbal overtones, those who can hang with the VA will really enjoy it.
Food Pairing: Beef tartare.
Drinkability: Now. Serve slightly chilled.
SO2: 11 ppm
DOC Encostas D’Aire – Medieval de Ourém, Lisboa, Portugal
Fernao Pires (80%), Trincadeira (20%)
Quinto do Montalto is a fifth generation, certified organic winery near Lisbon. This wine, Medieval de Ourém, follows an 800-year-old process that was actually outlawed. I emailed the winery to get more information and this is what I was told.
“When Portugal entered the European community in 1986, this wine became illegal because it is forbidden to mixture 80% white grapes with 20% red ones. From one day to another, a winemaking process with more than 800 years was condemned to disappear! An association was created in the beginning of the 90’s to save this heritage and only in 2005, after many years of fighting against politicians, we got legislation that allow us to produce this wine. In the beginning of this “fight” we were more than 3000 small producers. Today there’s are around 10 that produce the Medieval wine according to all the established rules.”
Vineyard: Chalky clay.
Farming: Organic (Ecocertified)
Vinification: The white grapes (Fernao Pires) were pressed into wood barrels but filled only 80%. It began fermentation and at the same time, Trincadeira (red grapes) were destemmed and placed in wood vats called “dornas.” After a four to ten day fermentation, the fermenting red fruit was added to the fermenting white juice and both finished fermentation together, in the wood barrels. The cap from the skins and pits sank to the bottom, naturally filtering the wine.
Tasting Note: This wine’s flavor is as unique as its method. Slightly toasty with rose petals, white pepper, nutmeg, and cola, it has alluring aromatics with spiced red fruit, superb length and a fair bit of tannin.
Food Pairing: The first thing that comes to mind is Serra de Estrela, a soft, buttery, pungent sheep’s milk cheese from a region of the same name. Get some dried fruit and roasted nuts and you’re all set.
Drinkability: Now – 2024, maybe longer.
SO2: Under 50 ppm.
2016 Coturri Young Carignan ($25)
Poor Ranch, Hopland, Mendocino, California
The Young Carignan is probably the closest thing Tony Coturri will ever make to glou glou.The heavy inkiness of his wines is what makes them so singular and that is not a small feat.
Vineyard: Clay soil with high magnesium, low calcium, 18 – 47-year-old vines.
Farming: Dry farmed and practicing organic.
Vinification: Ten to 14-day fermentation in neutral French oak barrels, aged in neutral oak, racked off gross lees, bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Tasting Note: Rich and ripe with generous, inky fruit to the point where it almost seems slightly sweet, there is plenty of acidity so it doesn’t come across as flabby. Serve slightly chilled.
Food Pairing: BBQ, meat or vegetarian. Hamburgers or rare steak.
Drinkability: Now and over the next couple of years.
SO2: None added
2014 Bernabeleva Navaherreros Tinto ($24)
San Martin de Valdeiglesias, Madrid, Spain
Bodegas Bernabeleva is a well-known estate near Spain’s capital. It was founded in 1923 by Vincente Alvarez-Villamil, a doctor from Madrid who purchased land near the foothills of Cerro de Guisandro (which is now a protected natural area) in Castilla Y Leon. He made wine until the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939. His granddaughter, who is also the mother of one of the current owners, Juan Diez Bulnes, made some wine in the 60’s, but it wasn’t until 2007 when Juan and another descendent, Santiago Matallana Bulnes, launched Bernabeleva, that the estate was brought back to life as a winemaking facility.
Vineyard: Composed of 20 vineyard parcels with 60-year-old vines grafted on American rootstock on granitic sand or decomposed granite at 2100 – 2700 feet.
Farming: Practicing organic with some biodynamic methods.
Vinification: The fruit was cooled down for one day and then foot tread with a large proportion of stem inclusion (ouch)! They use an IFO (identified flying object, which is called “OVI” in Spanish), a small tank that is elevated with a forklift to gently wine hose the cap. Fermentation is not the same for all of the parcels. Some are in oak, others in concrete, for two or three weeks and it is macerated for another six or seven weeks in French oak barrels, mostly 500 to 3000 liters in volume. It undergoes malolactic in barrique and after one year in wood, the wine is blended and spends the winter in stainless steel tank.
Tasting Note: Minerally and a little meaty with red fruits and a hint of aged balsamic. I tasted two of Bernabeleva’s single vineyard wines at the same time and this truly tastes like a blend of the micro terroirs.
Food Pairing: This is what Juan suggested,” I would eat grilled lamb chops anytime, but maybe not only with Navaherreros. Sukiyaki could be a good pairing or an aged red meat. It is not time for lunch yet in Spain, but I feel I have to eat something right now, after writing this.”
Drinkability: Now – 2014
SO2: 40 – 50 ppm