98 Point Paleo: Bolgheri Beams

Bolgheri is home to some of Italy’s most revered wines: Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Tua Rita and Guado al Tasso to name just a few, but none more highly praised than Le Macchiole’s Paleo. Le Macchiole produces only 100% varietal wines, Paleo being made entirely of Cabernet Franc. The story of Le Macchiole winery is incredible. Cinzia Merli and her talented husband, Eugenio, transformed a small family vineyard into one of the most coveted and collected group of wines in the world. Then without warning, tragically, Eugenio died. Everyone expected Cinzia either to sell or to fail. But, to everyone’s surprise, she not only survived and succeeded, she became a superstar, her wines are now better than ever. They are distinctive and beautiful with the essence of pure, ripe fruit, balance and elegance, and definitely belong in any discussion of Bolgheri’s best.


2007 Le Macchiole Paleo

…drop dead gorgeous wine with amazing intensity and purity of aromas…. Bright berry notes, drying mineral, exotic spice, cooling acidity and firm, satisfying structure. It’s a rich, velvety and beautiful wine…

Killer Keenan Trio: ’08 Cab Franc, ’07 Merlot, ’07 Cabernet

Plus Killer Scores: 92WA, 92+WA, 94WA!

Michael Keenan’s quality never quits. Everything he brings down from Spring Mountain is big and rich, as close to Bordeaux as I get in Napa. His latest ’08 cab franc is dense, jammed with dark mountain berries and cherries, gorgeously perfumed. His ’07s are stunning, and sharp enough to impress Bordeaux top cru drinkers. You know I like Keenan, and I know you do too if you’ve met him and tasted his wines on one of his B-21 visits. I consider Spring Mountain first growth vines; and Mike’s winemaking is so sharp it’s invisible. What you get every time is elegant wine of intense fruit and pure terroir. To celebrate our long history and admiration, I’m offering all of Mike’s best to you at the lowest prices out there. Less than half of what some guys charge.


2007 Keenan Cabernet Sauvignon

…dense ruby/purple hue along with plenty of crushed rock, black currant, black raspberry, white chocolate, and earth characteristics. A supple texture, beautiful concentration, and a long finish…

2008 Keenan Cabernet Franc

…This dense purple-hued wine is richly fruity with a beautiful floral, blueberry, raspberry and black currant-scented nose, good underlying minerality and a gorgeous fruit intensity without any sense of heaviness…

2007 Keenan Merlot
Reserve Mailbox Vineyard

…reveals hints of tremendous richness and intensity as well as abundant notes of cocoa, chocolate, wood spice, and red and black fruits. The tannins kick in at the end, and the wine… it is locked and loaded….



Like ’07 Justin Isosceles? You’re Going To Love The ’08!

2008 Justin Isosceles
2008 Justin Isosceles

Isosceles is about perfect balance. That’s a lesson in Bordeaux as well as geometry, only played out in Paso Robles. Its juicy black fruits stop just at the brink of over the top. It’s still in harmony, sweet, silky and lightly spiced. Justin Baldwin started out to make a first growth Margaux in a very young appellation 30 years ago. Today, he has many fans. He’s kept to a left bank blend, mostly cabernet sauvignon, cab franc, merlot and a touch of petite verdot. Of course, the formula changes every vintage, but you always go wild for it and I continually run out. Now I have the 2008, his best in years, which is sold out at the winery. Justin Isosceles ’08 for $49.99? It’s a beautiful thing.

On The Road – Bourgueil’s Ageless Beauties: ’89 Cab Franc & ’09 Old Vine

You might not know Faugères and I could not have found this patch of the Languedoc without help. So I’m thrilled that Kermit Lynch showed the way to this special place and a very special winemaker, Didier Barral, and his beautifully pure wines at the Domaine of Leon Barral. As lush and earthy as any in Chateauneuf or Priorat at a fraction of the price.

Let me tell you about the place, Faugères is about 50 miles west of Montpellier and maybe 30 from the sea, sort of near St. Chinian and Minervois. High altitude vineyards up in hills with so much schist that some people say the grapes ripen at night from the heat of the stones. Faugères has grown grapes for centuries. Barral is one big reason Faugères is now on the wine route. Some of the wood and slate buildings have been there for ages and some it hand-built yesterday. Small and old-fashioned, certainly. Barral and his wines are famous across France and a beacon around the world for the biodynamic winemaking of the future.

On my visit a Japanese activist was spending a year with Barral to see how he does it. The answer? With cattle, pigs and sheep in the vineyards, ladybugs and earthworms in the soil and natural yeast and an antique wine press. I tasted the luscious 2009s and feasted on Didier’s food in their ancient barn. He then set out two boudins he had made, a roast haunch of pork and a two foot wheel of Franche-Comte.

A unique experience, wines like few others can make from syrah, carignan and mourvedre. Each wine is marvelous; even the “basic” cuvee from 40 year old vines is a huge helping of Faugères‘ rich, wild terroir. I know you’ll want more, and at B-21’s prices, you can have them all. This is the best of the very old way of France.

2009 Domaine de la Chanteleuserie, Bourgueil Vieilles Vignes
2009 Domaine de la Chanteleuserie, Bourgueil Vieilles Vignes

1989 Domaine de la Chanteleuserie, Bourgueil Cuvee Beauvais
1989 Domaine de la Chanteleuserie, Bourgueil Cuvee Beauvais

Vineyards in Central Park? Do my eyes deceive me?

The Miracle of Photoshop

It’s striking: The iconic image of high rise Manhattan with a green square in the middle. …Except, the green in the middle is the rolling vineyards of Tuscany with old stone barns and winery buildings. Part of a Credit Suisse ad campaign touting that the bi-deal banks has clients everywhere, in this case the estate of the Frescobaldis.

You could also read it as a pitch for the ultimate localism: Plough under the park and its running trails for vineyards. Also points up a big flaw for some local locos: most insist that they want to live on local everything until they realize that means no Italian wine, no Greek olives, no Moroccan olives, etc. …Actually they could do quite well with Long Island cab franc and Finger Lakes riesling.

Still it’s a great picture — look closely and you can see SoHo sommeliers picking grapes.

On the Road: Hunting Blanc and Franc on the Kermit Trail

Kermit day 2Day 2

This far north the sun sleeps in but I don’t mind. The holiday lights are still on and the French are masterful at illuminating public buildings. In Nantes, the musee and the streets around the plaza are hung with  gold and white lights like swags of bunting. In the next town the colors are white and blue.  In France Santa is in his sleigh and the locals wish everyone Bonne Annee all month long. We will encounter at least three New Year cakes as we follow the wine road up the valley but will find the litte king doll only once. And we are a troupe of 18, wine merchants from across the U.S. plus our guides.

The Loire is a valley of strong terroir and varietal character to match. Its grapes are those that fit this part of the north, in rare cases chardonnay Castle in Nantesbut cab sauvignon need not apply. At the coast, there is muscadet, muscadet and muscadet, until we cruise up into the lands of cabernet franc and chenin blanc.  Also-rans elsewhere, these grapes sing and dance here. You can think of the Loire as the land of beautiful castles; I think of Rabelais and his roustabout pals.  Before we leave muscadet, Eric Chevalier gives us a taste of sauvignon gris, the rarest grape we taste, and one not to forget, clean focused with cactus needling yet not unpleasantly so.

We head east in the valley of the Loire, now far over its banks, to Epire in Savennieres, our first stop in chenin blanc country, where an unloved grape achieves elegance. It has to here in an 18th century chateau and the much older Romanesque church that serves as its cellar.  Here the chenin can be austere crisp with the minerality of schist soils or a more powerful chenin aged in large chestnut barrels. Here we also meet chenin blanc’s longtime companion, plummy cabernet franc from Anjou. I think I could live the rest of my life with these as my only two wines.  After another stop deeper into the cab franc country of Bourgeuil, I am convinced, especially when the wine is old vines, ideally on limestone.

At the next winery, we dive deep into the cellar for a tasting of three chenin blancs, a dozen cab francs and a good helping of wit and charm from owners Catherine and Pierre Breton. Their rose of cab franc is named Avis de Vin Fort,  French for ”Small Craft Advisory,” and a fine time for sailors stuck in port to drink a clairette, summer or winter. Breton is fierce about the superiority of Bourgeuil’s franc; Fie on neighboring Chinon, he Pierre Bretonjokes. He uncorks a dusty bottle of 1961 Bourgeuil  to prove it. Fifty years old, lovely and lively.  No surprise, the Loire has shipped this wine to the world since the 1200’s. And as Breton notes, by the 15th century this was one of the power center of Europe; the castles and palaces prove it.

But we must on to Chinon, and why not,  many Rabelaisian tales of debauchery and cab franc are set here under the ancient castellated walls high on the north bank. We end the night at a warm old auberge with a beef daube in a saturated sauce of Chinon cab franc that has been slow cooking for centuries. Our wines come from Charles Joguet, an old firm known to many for its snappy rose in the 19th century label. Our hostess  however is one of the bright young faces in Chinon, Anne-Charlotte Genet, whose family runs the estate. Before the meal is over, she promises to try to visit B-21 in May.

“Freakishly Good”: Keenan’s ’08 Cab Franc At Its 94-pt Best.

2008 Keenan Cabernet Franc, Spring Mountain (750ml)That’s language anyone can understand from Michael Keenan about his killer Cab Franc. Perfectly franc! Sorry, couldn’t resist. But my friend Mike’s Cabernet Franc is close to perfect, 94 from Parker. As dense, sexy and energetic as this grape has gotten so far. Keenan knows Cab Franc is more than a supporting character and Merlot surrogate in Cab blends. Sure, he makes muscular Merlot and ripping good Cabernet Sauvignon but he’s just as proud of his Cabernet Franc. And he should be. B-21 diners loved them all when he was here for a rollicking dinner this spring. The Cab Franc is all estate fruit from high on Spring Mountain and it has that big mountain-climbing power plus plenty of perfume. Mike approaches all his wines like the hardest working guy on the Right Bank in Bordeaux. He grows by the rocky terroir he has and keeps the winemaking invisible for pure, well-structured drinking. Yet elegant and charming in glass now and in your cellar for years to come. You’re gonna want that.

2008 Keenan Cabernet Franc Spring Mountain

“This dense purple-hued wine is richly fruity with a beautiful floral, blueberry, raspberry and black currant-scented nose, good underlying minerality and a gorgeous fruit intensity without any sense of heaviness (14.3% alcohol). Elegant, pure and well-textured, this is a stunning Cabernet Franc…”  94 Points, The Wine Advocate


TOP 100: Andrew Will Sorella Cab From Horse Heaven Hills

2008 Andrew Will Sorella, Horse Heaven HillsBeen too long since Chris Camarda was in Tarpon but we’ve been fans of him and his Andrew Will winery for years. Note to Chris: Come back soon. Btw, Will and Andrew are the names of his son and nephew. Camarda is a world leader in Merlot but he’s a Washington state all-star precisely because he champions terroir over grape varietals. My kind of thinking. He’s dedicated to the particular nuances of each region within the state and celebrates each of the nine prize vineyards he uses from Red Mountain to Puget Sound. Of them all, windy Champoux Vineyard in H3 may be tops for Cabernet Sauvignon and that’s where he scores the Cab for Sorella. It’s his kind of blend, long on the Cabernet Franc and a bit of Merlot that grows so well in Washington’s long hot summer. Together they make a heady wine, mixing plums and berries with chocolate, cedar, and spice. The 2008 is explosive if you ask me. Or Wine Spectator or Steve Tanzer (both rave 95 points) or Camarda himself. He didn’t think it could be as good as 2006 but the 08 is better! You’re gonna want that.

2008 Andrew Will Sorella Horse Heaven Hills

“Impressive for its intensity and elegance, packed with black cherry, cherry, plum and spice flavors, hinting at roasted red pepper and a tarry minerality as the finish glides smoothly over refined tannins. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot…”  95 Points, Wine Spectator

New York gets the bad news: They can’t afford the top crus

Kermit LynchThe good news flipside to the outrageous prices of top label Bordeaux and Burg’s is that there’s oceans of good wines elsewhere. That was the wise and frank advice from Eric Asimov to wine-column readers of the New York Times this week.  Asimov admitted that drinking the great old names is a growing rarity for most modern wine buyers and a fading memory for the lucky from a greater diversity of places than ever  before.  He singles out the new interest in Spain, well beyond the Rioja, the wines of southern Italy and the Veneto, Santa Cruz mountains and previously overlooked corners of France. Beyond that is Greece, Hungary and Uruguay.

As an example importer Kermit Lynch told Asimov that there’s a new thirst for Cabernet francs from the Loire.  I agree with both of them;  love the Rabelaisian reds Kermit brings in from Charles Joguet. In fact, we’re already booked to see and taste some of his favorites in a trip through chateaux country next month.

98-pt Napa First Growth: ’08 Conn Valley Eloge!

2008 Conn Valley ElogeThat’s as low as it gets anywhere for this truly great American wine in a superb vintage and only for my best friends for a limited time. Long tall Todd Anderson comes as close as anyone in California to making a perfect Bordeaux; Parker rates it 96 to 98 closing in on perfection. Anderson makes a classic blend, only a little over half Cab in 2008, the rest Cab Franc with lesser amounts of Merlot and Petit Verdot, and he does it superbly. His other secret may be the real reason I like him: Like me, he’s got rocks in his head. Mean that in the best sense, he was a professional geologist and to me understanding the rock beneath the vines is the key to great vineyard in Napa or the Medoc. Oh yeah, the wine is remarkable, deep purple, dark, voluptuous, full of black coffee, licorice, and graphite. It’s one of those special wines Parker calls “hedonistic.” When RP invokes that word, I’m ready for full-throttle pleasure. You’re gonna want that.

2008 Anderson’s Conn Valley Eloge Red, Napa

“exhibits a dense opaque purple color followed by aromas of espresso roast, cassis, blueberries, licorice and lead pencil shavings. Deep, full and layered with phenomenal concentration and purity, this wine satisfies both the hedonistic and intellectual senses. It should drink well for 15-20 years…”  96-98 Points, Robert Parker’s WA

Will riesling and cabernet franc be the Finger Lakes’ signature?

Wines of the TimesNew York State wines got high praise recently in an unusual place, the New York Times. Although the snootier corners of the market of New York wine buyers dismiss prefer France to California, let alone home-state wines. Wine writer Eric Asimov took readers on a tempting tour of the Finger Lakes and offered encouraging words.  He frowned on the more common hybrid grapes but was high on the most noble varietals: Riesling is made for the cold and cabernet franc has already succeeded on Long Island.  I wouldn’t write off the hybrids too soon but it’s good to see appreciation for  the hard work in unfashionable vineyards around the country.  The people work hard and the wine is, how you say, local.

Napa’s King on the Mountain: Keenan’s Mernet (97), Cab Franc (94), Merlot (92+)

Yes, Napa can compete with Bordeaux; in fact I think Mike Keenan’s vineyards may be on the Right Bank instead of Spring Mountain. That’s where his brain and palate are. His Cabernet Sauvignon’s exceptional, yet it’s the Merlot and Cabernet Franc that knocks me over, same with the crowd at the B-21 dinner this year. These are big, deep wines, full of dark fruits, chocolate and slippery with licorice; tannins are strong enough to carry the wines for decades. My favorites may have been the Mailbox Reserve Merlot (92+) and that was the low scorer! The 2007 Cab Franc won a 94 rating and a spot on our Top 25 of 2010; you rarely see this little grape so well regarded. His Merlots, especially the Mernet Reserve (half Merlot, half Cab), can be even better: 97 points and a “wow wine” in the Wine Advocate. No kidding. To me Keenan is the best master of terroir-driven Merlot and Cabernet this side of St. Emillion; and he has great terroir to work with, the rocky, limey, high altitude vineyards of Spring Mountain. Mike treats it right too, without heavy oak or overripe picking; he’s old-school Bordeaux. Hard to find anywhere, and not at our price (plus I’ve got a few magnums for the lucky). You’re gonna want that.

2007 Keenan Mernet





2007 Keenan Cabernet Franc

“A brilliant effort, it boasts elegant blue, red, and black fruit notes intermixed with abundant spring flower and forest floor aromas. Intense, yet light on its feet, medium to full-bodied, stylish, and gracious…”  94 points, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

2007 Keenan Merlot Reserve Mailbox Vineyard

“That said, this opaque purple-hued wine reveals hints of tremendous richness and intensity as well as abundant notes of cocoa, chocolate, wood spice, and red and black fruits. The tannins kick in at the end, and the wine seems atypically structured and accessible for a Merlot, but it is locked and loaded…”  92+ points, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

2007 Keenan Mernet

“A brilliant blend of equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, is prodigious. Floral notes interwoven with white chocolate, creme de cassis, graphite, licorice, and a hint of bay leaf are followed by a substantial, full-bodied wine with a finish that goes on for nearly a minute…”  97 points, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

Cabernet franc: Cab for the rest of US

2005 Domaine Des Roches Neuves (Saumur-Champigny)
2005 Domaine Des Roches Neuves (Saumur-Champigny) $15.99

I missed the Tampa Bay festival because of a sortie to Ohio where I found the local food movement in full bloom. The Midwest wine industry has produced dozens of wines in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Indiana, enough good ones that most restaurants can find a few to put on the list.

The grapes range from nobles like cabernet sauvignon to Marechal Foch and Franco-American hybrids, but increasingly the star red is cabernet franc.

While cab franc is usually third ranked in the Bordeaux it has a noble history, of its own and now a proud future. It’s the mainstay of no less than Cheval Blanc and more poular on the merlot-loving right bank than we realize. The roses of Anjou and the Rabelaisian reds of the Loire, from Chinon and Bourgeuill are based in cab franc too. Our favorite is the 2005 Domaine des Roches Neuves ($15.99)

California figured out the appeal of cab franc in the ‘90s when merlot-madness here made it an expensive addition to red blends: they turned to cab franc and now they’re making varietals too. It’s at the heart of Justin’s Isosceles.

Keenan and La Jota make top cab francs ($49.99 , $54.99), but you can find clear varietal character for much less in the 2006 Hahn on the Central Coast for ($12.99).

Cabernet franc doesn’t have the color of its big brother but it has a bright raspberry fruit and peppery edge, and the ability to survive in less than Bordeaux conditions. More and more is being planted in Next World vineyards from Hungary to the Finger Lakes.

Renaissance here we come.

- Chris Sherman, The Blogging Nibbler