Best Syrahs In America – Reynvaan Reigns!

Matt Reynvaan’s trio of syrahs serve notice that this young producer has a knack for the variety: all three display their share of power and dense flavor, with plenty of savory attributes coaxed from the 17-acre, cobblestone-laced “In the Rocks Vineyard” at the base of the Blue Mountains known around Walla Walla for the soil’s similarity to Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The rocks absorb sun and radiate warmth to the vines through the cool nights. The Reynvaans have entrusted their entire operation to neighbor and Washington cult star Christophe Baron of Cayuse Vineyards. It is the only winery with which he consults because he has been given carte blanche to go for the best, and it shows in the Syrah-based wines’ vibrancy and unmistakable minerality. In less than 10 years, Reynvaan has already reached cult status. The winery is already sold out of its current vintage. No need to say anymore. It will be your only chance to grab these classics. World-class Syrah in Washington!


2010 Reynvaan In The Rocks

Polished, open-textured and compelling, with roasted beet, licorice, crushed rock and smoke accents surrounding a core of pulsing cherry and plum fruit, lingering intensely on the impeccably balanced finish….

2010 Reynvaan The Contender

Firm in texture, showing dense tobacco and brown sugar accents to the blackberry and licorice flavors, which linger against lightly crunchy tannins on the intense, deftly balanced finish….


2010 Reynvaan The Unnamed Syrah

Vibrant and crisp, with ripe currant and dark plum flavors washing over the crinkly tannins as the expressive finish takes hold. Hints of licorice and black olive lurk in the background….


Joseph Swan is Back With 94 Point Classics

In 1967, at the age of 45, Joseph Swan, a retiring airline pilot, bought a run-down Zinfandel vineyard, barn and house in the Russian River Valley. The house had been the general store for the tiny town of Trenton which is no longer in existence. A self-trained winemaker, Joe’s first commercial wine was the 1968 Estate Zinfandel which created a stir for its intensity, balance, and purity. Joel Peterson of Ravenswood fame actually used Joe’s vineyards for his first zinfandel. Later these vines were ripped out and on the advice the legendary BV winemaker, André Tchelistcheff, thought this location would be ideal for Burgundian varietals, and Pinot Noir and a little Chardonnay were planted. At that time there were very few Chardonnay or Pinot Noir vines planted in the area. Swan made his first Pinot Noir in 1973 and his first Chardonnay in 1974. From the very beginning the vines produced very low yields and grapes with very high natural acidity.

Joseph Swan, who died in 1988, is quietly considered the “Father of Pinot Noir,” and passed on his vision to his son-in-law Rod Berglund, who was the original owner and winemaker of La Crema Winery before he sold it to Jess Jackson. He continues the tradition Joe promulgated, opposing over-the-top, high extract, high alcohol, over-oaked, “tailgate” wines, still making wines traditionally, very burgundian and age-worthy.

The flagship wine remains the Trenton Estate Pinot Noir. Half of the vineyard replanted in the mid-90s, the youngest vines have now reached maturity enough to utilize the grapes of all of the blocks in the vineyard. Rod describes the character of the vineyard as “spice, earth, and concentrated fruit, with a slight tannic edge that softens with time in the bottle.” A tour de force in the classic pinot style. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Joseph Swan wines in these parts, but thankfully we can bring these classic wines back to let you see what you’ve been missing.


2010 Joseph Swan Vineyards
Chardonnay Saralee’s Vineyard

…attaining true complexity is something else…. elaborate, dry and rich in green apple, mango and orange flavors. The acidity is just about perfect, giving the palate a tart zinginess….


2007 Joseph Swan Vineyards
Syrah Great Oak Vineyard

The explosive blackberry, wild berry and raspberry flavors are snappy and vivid, deeply concentrated and sharply focused. Ends with a long, pure, spice- and berry-laced finish. Drink now through 2022….


2009 Joseph Swan Vineyards
Pinot Noir Great Oak Vineyard

…smell and taste… Flavors of earth, mushroom, decaying tree bark and pine needle are all present, and the notes of cherry, cola and pomegranate are intense…. fairly tannic, with a crisp edge of acidity….


2010 Joseph Swan Vineyards
Pinot Noir Trenton Estate Vineyard

Tannic and tightly wound… Intense notes of raspberry jam, cherry pie, anisette, Dr. Pepper are all present, and a rich, sweet jacket of smoky sandalwood adds further complexity….


Milbrandt Brothers Walla-Wallop all Other Values

Brothers Jerry and Butch Milbrandt grew up on the family’s farm in eastern Washington. When the grape rush began the brothers diversified, and with the assistance of famed Washington viticulturist Jim McFerran, began cultivating some of the state’s most sought-after fruit. Milbrandt has sold to many of the high-priced producers and they finally decided to make their own wines, and so Milbrandt Vineyards was born. Their Traditions series offers exceptional value and serious sipping that you’re gonna love!


2010 Milbrandt Vineyards
Cabernet Sauvignon Traditions
Polished, velvety and expressive, offering layers of black cherry, blackberry, chocolate and spice flavors that linger effortlessly on the extensive finish….


2009 Milbrandt Vineyards
Syrah Traditions
A polished red, displaying density to the blueberry, plum and dusky spice flavors. Finishes with a deftness that makes this feel vivid….

2011 Milbrandt Vineyards
Riesling Traditions

Fresh, light and vibrant, with juicy, tangy pineapple and pear fruit, picking up floral notes as the off-dry finish lingers….


2009 Milbrandt Vineyards
Merlot Traditions

Lush and ripe with plum, cherry and lots of sweet, toasted oak; smooth, dense and juicy with generous style and balance.


Northern Rhone Beauty from Saint Cosme

94RAS, 92-94WA

Winemaker Louis Barruol, the 14th generation of Barruol to make wine at Saint Cosme, has taken Mother Nature’s gift of a nearly perfect vintage in 2010 and crafted a sublime expression of Syrah. Many a St. Joseph is sourced from sandy soil flat lands. Not Barruol’s. His is old vine (50+ years) slope vineyards he sources, and he knows. His finest St. Joseph ever, Louis said so. I agreed. Black olives, ground white pepper, cassis, and whiffs of smoky barbecue supported by a palate that has great fruit, good acidity, striking minerality and a crazy long finish. Louis produced less than 5,000 bottles. Incredibly affordable syrah for syrah lovers.


2010 Saint Cosme Rouge, St.-Joseph

…His finest St. Joseph ever… Black olives, ground white pepper, cassis, and whiffs of smoky barbecue supported by a palate that has great fruit, good acidity, striking minerality and a crazy long finish….

Domaine Tempier, Move Over! This Summer’s Tavel Rosé Is Here! 92RAS

2010 Trinquevedel Rose Les Vignes d

This rare old-vine rosé from Chateau Trinquevedel is as good as any I’ve had. Amazingly sumptuous, with big toasty flavors besides the berries; shining crimson, not pink, and a very long pleasure. No quickie thrill here. A very special cuvee from a lovely place deep in the Rhone this winter (January is just as sunny as summer in Provence). Nothing frilly about Trinquevedel’s Les Vignes d’Eugène, but it’s still fun. The chateau is as old and classy as Bordeaux’s, but not as formal. It looked more like a Vogue fashion shoot of decadent Bohemian artists. I wanted to stay all day. The seriousness of the wine will stun any rosé skeptics. Flavors are extravagant and long. Tavel is the only apellation that makes rosé the first and only wine. It is not an afterthought here, and Eugène is one of its best. It is named for the family’s grandfather and boasts vines 60 to 80 years of age. The blend is equal parts of grenache noir and clairette finished off with syrah. Gently pressed and then kept in tank for another year before bottling, the wine shows a more developed and vinous quality on the palate than most rosé wines. Rosés of this caliber are hard to find. The production of Eugène is less than 10 percent of what the family makes, but I had to have it for you. These are the wines that made Tavel famous as far back as Louis XIV. Relax in Provencal style all summer.

Top of the Northern Rhone: Most Lush Saint-Joseph Blanc. VV Rouge, Too!

Lionel Faury in the cellar of Domaine Faury

I’ll be honest. It was very dark when I got to Domaine Faury in Saint-Joseph. We left Hermitage, Cote Rotie and the other great AOCs of the northern Rhone and climbed high up the granite sides of the valley. Don’t know how Kermit Lynch found it, but I’m very glad he did. I could tell that the farming was hard even if I could not see the terroir. But I could taste it, and recognized the passion of the wine grower when young Lionel Faury showed up with and his wines and his smile. The dark vanished and it felt like the noonday sun came out. Especially the 2010 Saint-Joseph blanc. Wow. Marsanne and roussanne. Like summer in full bloom. with a strong breeze too. Tropical, but not lazy. If you haven’t tried the magic of Rhone whites, join the fan club now and banish chardonnay boredom forever. The Saint-Joseph reds don’t get the hype of Hermitage, but Faury’s sleek and subtle syrahs definitely should. The old vines Vieilles Vignes cuvee is a knockout you won’t forget: hand-harvested, low yield and intensely pure. Not many others know Faury, but it’s a producer every Rhone lover should. This is a family to stick with. They’ve been here for a long time growing grapes and peaches and just put their name on the label 30 years ago. Already it’s one of the greats in the appellation. But Lionel only makes 2,000 cases for France and the world, so I jumped in line to get these for B-21. You’ve got to try them.

2010 Domaine Faury Blanc
2010 Domaine Faury Blanc

2010 Domaine Faury Rouge
2010 Domaine Faury Rouge

2010 Domaine Faury Vieilles Vignes Rouge
2010 Domaine Faury Vieilles Vignes Rouge

Do you want merlot with that?

Fast food and wine
The American Dream

Maybe not. Wine and fast-food pairing is not so easy for some of the national chains that have tried it, the New York Times reports. Problem isn’t blue nosed prohibitionists so much as personnel and logistics issues, like needing older servers and occasionally bouncers. Still, you can more than caffeine, and fizzy sodas at a few Starbucks in Seattle, at Sonic Drive-In in Homestead, and a few of Burger King’s upscale Whopper Bars, like Vegas, New York City and South Beach. Don’t look for beer or wine in Orlando at Florida’s other Whopper Bar Universal’s City Walk, though they do have bourbon burgers.

I won’t argue whether that unoaked chardonnay or an ’09 CdR is best with Double Whopper or Sonic’s Bacon & Blue hot dog (crisp rose?). I do think that prudery and snobbery combine to opposes the idea of wine with everyday food. Beer has it easier. Beer goes with brats at the ballgame and burgers on the grill, but most of us like a cheap red with pizza. And why not? Saying “Europe does it better” is tiresome but sometimes true. In long road trips from Spain to Germany last year I avoided fast food but stopped in plenty of gas stations. Almost all served drink as well as food. Beer, wine, brandy as well as espresso. Nothing fancier than the cellophane sandwiches. Hard to call that wining and dining “sophisticated,” but it does seem …mature.

On The Road – My Juiciest 2009 Rhone Buy! CdR From Kermit & Friends

2009 Kermit Lynch Côtes du Rhône
2009 Kermit Lynch Côtes du Rhône

Once we reached this beautiful, remote plateau high in the Vaucluse I tasted the true genius of Kermit Lynch in his very own Cotes du Rhone. The mountain breeze was blowing lavender and rosemary and Kermit’s 2009 was smokin’, ripe plums and black cherries, meaty and smooth all at once.

Amazing. 92-points rich, richer than wines twice the price. Proves Lynch is a great wine-maker as well as a smart importer. He uses the same skills in both: a terrific palate, a sharp eye for terroir and good relations with the best small vignerons. I had met dozens of Kermit’s partners in the last ten days and more of them gathered here. Growers and winemakers like Louis Barruol from St. Cosme and Vieux Telegraphe’s Daniel Brunier.

In the brilliant sun that morning I saw why Lynch loves Provence and how he finds the perfect vineyards to make wines of his own. He selected 40 year old vineyards a few miles away on the outskirts of Avignon. Then Kermit put together his own robust southern Rhone blend, leading with grenache, then syrah and cinsault. All natural yeasts were used and the wine was bottled unfiltered.

What comes through is pure Kermit and pure Rhone; the finest value of all the wines I tasted on the trip. Lynch‘s vignerons have taught him well and he’s earned their respect. No wonder he’s at home in Provence. When you taste his Cotes du Rhone, you’ll be there too.

On The Road – Found In Faugères: Stunning Organic Mourvedre, 96RAS

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 Leon Barral Faugères
2009 Domaine Leon Barral Faugères

2009 Domaine Leon Barral Faugères Jadis
2009 Domaine Leon Barral Faugères Jadis

2009 Domaine Leon Barral Faugères Valiniere
2009 Domaine Leon Barral Faugères Valiniere

My Best Value In ’09: Kermit’s Own Cotes du Rhone, 92pts

2009 Kermit Lynch Côtes du Rhône
2009 Kermit Lynch Côtes du Rhône

Amazing wine. Just superb. I spent two weeks traveling through France this winter and tasted 800 wines that the intrepid Kermit Lynch has discovered over the years. Brilliant guy and great stuff. Oddly this was the best buy in the whole bunch, a wine of Kermit’s own making! He found the growers, selected the grapes and oversaw the blending deep in the southern Rhone. Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Mourvedre and more in one big juicy bite. The purest CdR with the earthy terroir, rough herbs, wild lavender and big ripe fruit of life in Provence. You can tell he loves this place. So bright and refreshing you’ll want to open a bottle every day, and you could at this price.

My Greatest Fine Wine Value In Years: 2010 Casa Castillo, 92RAS

2010 Casa Castillo Monastrell
2010 Casa Castillo Monastrell

The single finest and most serious wine value I can recall! You may know the big brother “Las Gravas,” but Casa Castillo is no longer the little kid. In 2010, it has shot up in stature. A departure from the previous 2009 vintage: more complex, textured, with the monastrell rounded out and seriously sophisticated. The 2009 is more dense, monolithic, packing a huge punch, rather like syrah and its Rhone kin. A whole lotta bang for the buck. This 2010 is more complex on the nose, more refined and polished. More of the style of serious pinot noir than typical monastrell. Shows Jumilla is able to exhibit elegance as well as power. An exquisite release and remarkably complex finish that just isn’t found in bargain-priced wine anywhere. Critics like Parker loved the 2009 (90WA). The 2010 is in another league. Whether you love Spanish wines, Rhones, pinots or just appreciate sensational values, you’re gonna want a case of this.

Meet Erasmus’ Prodigy: 2009 Laurel, Best Buy In Priorat

2009 Laurel by Clos Erasmus
2009 Laurel by Clos Erasmus

Erasmus would be proud to have such an impeccable sibling, sleek and strong as anything born on the steep, rocky slate of Priorat. The 2009 Laurel may be the most exciting wine to come out of the D.O. Think of it as garnacha (65%) meeting cabernet sauvignon (30%), and flirting with syrah (5%) on the side. It’s as big, long and packed with black fruit and minerals as the big guts, yet very approachable. For a price that’s a fraction of the $200 trophy wines! Priorat has been the rock star of Spain for many connoisseurs and one of my favorite regions for expressive terroir, so I love this. Laurel comes with the special breeding of our friend Daphne Glorian, one of the pioneers of the Priorat revival. Hope you got to meet her last year when she was here when we opened a container load of wines from her husband, the importer Eric Solomon. Laurel is a brilliant new idea from an ancient region. Sadly, there’s still not much of it, but you can get you some at B-21. A terrific opportunity to meet Priorat and drink it sooner and more often.

What Were We Drinking …with Grilled Pork Tenderloin?

2009 Rodney Strong Pinot Noir, Russian River
2009 Rodney Strong Pinot Noir, Russian River

Most wine-foodies talk about pork. The pig still trots a fine line between nutritional demon and meat of the moment. Count me on the side of pork (spare me another boneless, skinless chicken breast). Is pork white meat or red? Such rules are beside the point.

When I grilled one of those long-herbed tenderloins (twenty minutes or so to just shy of medium) it had a taste of flame and was bursting with juice; it called for a medium-bodied red with cherries, berries, and a bit of spice. A little turkey-cranberry action.

Pinot noir, says I, but a tad sweeter than Burgundy so I turned to California. Rodney Strong’s Russian River (91 points, Wine Enthusiast) fills the bill perfectly.

I must qualify that I am talking about modern pork, so lean it could run a triathlon. I dream of fattier days and wish we had an appellation system that would certify old-fashioned pork, the kind with a crust of crispy fat. Then I’d break out the petite sirah.

Spain’s Best CdP: ’07 Casa Castillo Las Gravas. I give it 94 points.

2007 Casa Castillo Las Gravas
2007 Casa Castillo Las Gravas

If you own this, try it. Tonight. If you don’t own it, buy it! This is an incredible wine. Two words: Jumilla Monastrell. That’s Jumilla as not that far from Priorat, and Monastrell as the French call Mourvedre. For me they have never come together better than in Las Gravas, the top cuvee from Casa Castillo. So rich, it makes me think of Chateauneuf du Pape and the great Clio too, except those cost twice and sometimes even thrice the price. Maybe even more.

Las Gravas is my new favorite Spanish red, and I’ve touted Casa Castillo since tasting their entry level red (still a bang of a bargain). I was stunned when they kicked it up a notch with Las Gravas, from their most prized vineyards at the foot of the mountains. You can taste the big fruit of monastrell bolstered by cab and syrah, and something else too: my kind of classy minerality from the heavy gravel and chalky soil of a world class terroir. The winery itself is much older than you might think. It started out 100 years ago when French winemakers discovered how good the area was for the grape they loved in the southern Rhone. That’s clear with the juicy purity of 2007 Las Gravas. Hard to believe you can drink like this at my price. If you haven’t explored Spain yet, now’s the time to do just that. It’s never been easier.