2016 Famille Gonnet La Julia Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc


Instinctively, when one thinks of the Rhone Valley, one inevitably thinks about red wine. Not surprising, given that the most famous wines of the region are red. But, like anything in life, if you look more deeply you will find hidden treasure. Many white wines of the Rhone are exactly that: hidden treasure.

There are many white varietals grown in the Rhone, but the principle white grapes are Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains. Roussanne and Marsanne are considered the work horses of dry white Rhone wines, with Marsanne providing strength and Roussanne providing aromatic appeal. Muscat is largely dedicated to dessert wines, or highly-perfumed, soft, light-bodied dry whites. Viognier, quite possibly the least-planted white grape in the world, is revered for its ability to create wine of infinite complexity and finesse.

In the Northern Rhone, Viognier finds it home in the famed appellations of Condrieu and Château Grillet, where wine that is the stuff of legends is produced.

As you move south, Viognier becomes more of a supporting cast member, providing seductive aromas and pretty floral flavors to blends of Roussanne and Marsanne in Côtes du Rhône Blanc wines. Some noted producers see the value of increasing the percentage of Viognier in their white wines. For these wines, the experience is all about beauty and exotic appeal.

Since 2006, cousins Guillaume and Bertrand Gonnet, the sons of Châteauneuf-du-Pape producer Font de Michelle’s owners, Jean and Michel, have been very involved in running the Famille Gonnet domaine. Overall, the domaine includes 74 acres in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and 50 acres in Côtes-du-Rhône. So far, the young sons are making quite a name for themselves with an array of wines that are very well-received. After tasting their CDR Blanc, it is clear they are doing things right.

This lovely Côtes du Rhône Blanc is produced from vineyards located outside of the village of Signargues, not far from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The cepage is largely Viognier, with small amounts of Clairette in the blend. The 2016 vintage is being touted as one of the best vintages in the Rhone in over 40 years. As such, this delicious 2016 white wine has many of the same endearing characteristics found in Condrieu, that famous all-Viognier Appellation in the north. The primary difference is that this CDR Blanc is a third to one quarter the price of Condrieu.

The wine itself is just lovely, featuring a seductive nose of bright citrus fruit and wild flowers. Medium-bodied and well-balanced with moderate acidity, the palate is redolent of refreshing stone fruits and hints of minerality. Elegant with a long finish showing slight almond-skin and lime notes. Not for aging and a tremendous value at an average price of $15.99/per bottle pre-discount. The downside – availability may be tight because of limited quantities. That said, the wine is worth the search!


The Bee’s Knees

This Prohibition-era cocktail borrows it’s name from the slang phrase at the time meaning “the best.”

Like most cocktails during this era, the design was more about concealing the poor quality of available spirits, especially “bath tub” gin.

This cocktail was unusual, in that it used honey as the primary sweetener, as opposed to sugar or simple syrup. The result is actually quite pleasant, with the unctuous quality of the honey lurking in the background.

The use of honey is a bit challenging, as shaking the drink with crushed ice makes the honey tough to fully integrate due to its thickening viscosity.

Refreshing and crisp, the Bee’s Knees is a welcome addition to one’s cocktail repertoire.

2 oz. London Dry Gin

3/4 oz. Lemon Juice

3/4 oz. Honey

Shake with crushed ice and strain into a coupe glass. Lemon twist garnish.

2001 Stephen Ross Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley

About fifteen years ago there was a great French Bistro in town that featured delicious food and intriguing wines. The restaurant partnered with a local wine shop to bring in small production wineries from California for a few truly awesome wine dinners.

One of those dinners was with Stephen Ross Winery, featuring their limited production wines made from the highest quality fruit found in some very sought after vineyards.

At the time, we bought a few cases of several of the wines – some Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Pinot Noir. The wines were awesome and deserved some cellar time.

Well, tonight we opened the 2001 Pinot Noir from the Bien Nacido vineyard and I can safely say that this wine is still incredible after 17 years in bottle.

Bright fruit with floral hints. Jammy on the palate with deep, red berry fruit. Long finish with a spicy aftertaste. I would guess that this wine will continue to improve for many years to come. Pleasantly surprised, as my personal experience suggests that West Coast Pinot Noir does not age well…

The not so good news… current vintage of the Bien Nacido is selling for $42/per bottle from the winery… not cheap, but the 2001 suggests exceptional quality!


2013 G.D. Vajra Albe Barolo


As promised, here is another exceptional 2013 Barolo. The wines of G.D. Vajra are truly artisanal, crafted from some of the best grapes in Barolo. The wines also represent a tremendous value when compared to Barolo of similar quality.

G.D. Vajra was started by Aldo and Milena Vajra in 1972 and produced minuscule quantities of various Piemontese wines. The grapes were sourced from vineyards planted by Aldo’s father in 1947. Originally, the fruit was sold in bulk to negociants, but in 1978 that all changed, when Aldo produced the first serious commercial bottling bearing the family name.

Today, the family owns approximately 100 acres of vineyards in Barolo, consisting of holdings in Fossati, Coste de Vergne, and La Volta. The winery is very traditional and macerates its wines for 20 to 30 days depending on the vintage. The wines are typically matured in large neutral Slavonian casks. Stylistically, the wines possess finesse and elegance and are more refined on the palate.

The Albe is a very seductive wine, with a highly perfumed nose and ripe cherry aromas. Well-balanced with moderate acidity and well integrated tannin, the wine has a tight fruit core and a long, complex finish. Drinking well, but should benefit from many more years of bottle aging.

In the Boston area the wine is retailing for $39.99 per bottle, pre-discount, which is an outrageous value for wine of this quality. Given the aging potential of the wine, the value only increases.


2005 Chateau Peyrabon Haut Medoc


Chateau Peyrabon is a cru bourgeois property in the appellation of Haut Medoc in Bordeaux. The chateau has vineyards in both Haut Medoc and Pauillac, although the Haut Medoc vineyard is one of the largest holdings in that region at over 70 acres. The location of the parcel is several miles inland from the Gironde estuary, lying within a mile of the Pauillac commune. The gravelly soil imparts classic “Left Bank” minerality to the wine.

The chateau was purchased by noted Bordeaux merchant Patrick Bernard in 1998 and has been the recipient of generous investments to improve quality and production. The results are clearly evident in greatly improved scores for wines judged after 1998. Peyrabon is not without a bit of controversy. Back when the original Medoc Chateau were classified in 1855, Chateau Peyrabon was excluded from the list, despite commanding prices that were commensurate with other listed properties (historic selling price was the primary criteria for inclusion in the classification). As we all know, the classification has withstood many challenges, relenting only once to elevate Chateau Mouton Rothschild from second to first growth in 1973. Peyrabon’s 14 year challenge was ultimately unsuccessful, but the chateau was able to get in on the cru bourgeois extension of the classification, so there is some acknowledgement of the historic quality and importance of the property.

As a “Left Bank” Bordeaux, the wine is typically a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot and 23% Cabernet Franc.

The 2005 vintage in Bordeaux was very highly-touted, coming after several weaker vintages. As such, the futures market was very active with some of the highest prices recorded to date. In addition, many top-rated chateaux sold out during the futures campaign, meaning that many wine lovers would only get to acquire their favorite wines at full release price, assuming they could get them at all.

The 2005 Peyrabon is classic “Left Bank” Bordeaux with lots of minerality and savory fruit notes. At thirteen years old, the wine is showing great maturity with evolved bottle-aged complexity. The wine is still a deep ruby red color, possessing an almost obscure robe with a hint of brick on the disc. On the nose, strong cherry fruit is evident with hints of menthol, dried herb and wet stone – classic. On the palate the wine is very well-balanced with an elegant structure, moderate acidity and well-integrated tannin. Cherry fruit is again evident, dense but not jammy. The finish is long with unfolding layers of complexity that open with time in the glass. The wine is drinking well and will likely continue to improve for another 5 to 7 years in the bottle.

Availability is another matter. We’re blogging about the wine because it was recently offered in the Boston market at an unbelievable price. The thirty cases that were offered sold out within an hour. That said, the wine is a spectacular value and worthy of coverage, if for no other reason than to put it on people’s radar screen in the event more shows up at some point. As a point of reference – the wine typically sells for between $28 and $30 per bottle – the offering that I reference had it on sale for $19.99 net per bottle. Now you can understand why it sold out in an hour.

This was the first time I experienced Peyrabon – based on how this vintage showed, it will not be my last… Looking forward to tasting some other noted vintages like 2009, 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2016.


2013 Cantina del Taburno Fidelis Sannio Aglianico DOP



Cantina del Taburno was built in 1972 in the town of Foglianise on the slopes of Mount Taburno. The winery is owned by the “Consorzio Agrario di Benevento” (Agricultural Consortium of Benevento), which was founded in 1901 to promote development of agriculture in the Sannio region of Italy.

The winery uses grapes harvest from vineyards (approximately 1,500 acres) spread among the towns of Foglianise, Torrecuso, Vitulano, Campoli del Monte Taburno, Castelpoto, Apollosa, Bonea, Montesarchio, Ponte, Tocco Caudio, Paupisi and Benevento. Many factors contribute to the exceptional quality of the grapes, including soil (a mix of clay and calcareous), climate (mild Winters with Fall and Spring rainfall and warm, dry Summers) and the slope-side positioning of the vineyards. The consortium has also been very careful to ensure that the most modern wine-making techniques are employed at the winery.


As a consortium-owned facility, the winery is used by approximately 300 grape growers. The primary red grape vinified at the winery is Aglianico del Sannio, with other minor red varietals, such as Piedirosso and Sciascinoso present. The primary white grape vinified is Falanghina, with other minor white varietals, such as Coda di Volpe, Greco and Fiano present. Despite the breadth of wines produced, one of the most-popular wines is the Fidelis.

The Fidelis is a blend of 90% Aglianico along with Sangiovese and Merlot. The vineyards are located on slopes approximately 1,000 – 1,800 feet above sea-level and have a southeast and northeast exposure. The soils, as previously noted are clay and calcareous, which add a distinctive minerality to the wine. Vine density is limited to no more than 1,500 per acre with a Guyot trellis system to promote maximum sun absorption. Harvesting is accomplished entirely by hand with only the ripest clusters being chosen and used in the must. Extended maceration to improve color and phenolic saturation, along with full malolactic fermentation to promote roundness, are employed in the winery. The wine is then aged in second and third use oak barriques to smooth and temper the wine.

The wine is a delight on the palate with vibrant, dark fruit flavors and pretty floral notes. Well-balanced with firm acidity and great structure, the wine makes for a very pleasant accompaniment to a meal. Not for long term aging, but the wine will gain complexity with a few more years in bottle.

The wine is a great value, with an average cost of $17.99/bottle. In some markets, the wine is certainly priced to move at $10.99/bottle, which represents a fantastic everyday wine. Despite the bargain price, the high-quality of the grapes and production are clearly in evidence in the wine.

2013 Cantina Luigi Pira Serralunga Barolo


Barolo is known as the “king” of Italian wine, heralding an elegance and nobility that is fitting of royalty. Produced in the region of Piedmont from Nebbiolo grapes, the wines are characteristically shy, taking many years to fully bloom. Even with more than twenty years of age, Barolo can be tight and reserved, but with coaxing the wines give forth layers of delicate complexity and nuance.

As a true student of wine, I have been an avid follower of Barolo since the beginning of my wine journey thirty-five years ago. I truly became a fan with the 1997 vintage, within which there seemed to be a limitless collection of amazing Barolo. Having acquired and laid-down many producers from this pivotal vintage, the wines are showing incredible grace and elegance with a twenty-year patina that is like no other wine.

Prices escalated as Barolo racked up successive vintages of stunning wines. It was clear that a favored region was becoming inaccessible.

And then the 2013 vintage arrived. Heralded as one of the best vintages of the decade, the wines are coming to market with all the characteristics of the famed 1997 vintage, and surprisingly in some cases the prices are actually quite reasonable.

I have tasted through most of the major producers and will be highlighting those that I have chosen to purchase over the next few months. The good news is that if you are lucky enough to grab some of these wines, you will not be disappointed. Their aging potential seems as prodigious as the wines of 1997, so keeping them around is an admirable end game. The bad news is that in many cases the quantities of some of these wines is limited, so finding them may be a challenge. Especially finding them at reasonable prices. Like any supply-and-demand market, as supply dwindles, demand rises and so does price.

The Cantina Luigi Pira is a Barolo that is new to me. The winery was opened in the 1950’s, first supplying grapes and then primarily bulk wines through the 1980’s. In the 1990’s, Pira began to stress quality over quantity and in 1993 they produced their first Barolo. Later in the decade the winery acquired the three Serralunga plots that provide the Nebbiolo for its single vineyard Barolo wines: Rionda, Marenca and Margheria.

The estate now farms 12 hectares (approximately 29 acres) of vineyards planted mostly to Nebbiolo, with smaller plantings of Dolcetto and Barbera. Cantina Pira Luigi avoids the use of chemicals in the vineyard, instead favoring natural farming practices that emphasize low yields. Production is relatively small with just 5000 cases made annually.

The wine featured here is their basic Serralunga Barolo, made from grapes obtained from the “Le Rivette” zone located in the lower parts of the Marenca and Margheria vineyards. Like a second label wine from a fine Bordeaux Chateau, the essence of quality present in the “first growth” wines is clearly in evidence. The calcareous-clay soil provides great structure and terrior to the wine.

The wine is showing very well now, with a vibrant nose featuring cherry, dried herbs, mineral and light floral hints. Very pretty. Well-balanced with firm tannin and moderate acidity. The palate is dense and dark with tightly-packed fruit, exhibiting gamey, savory notes and a hint of allspice. The finish is very long and somewhat closed. With time, the aftertaste blossoms with layers of wonderful complexity. The wine should improve with time in the bottle, perhaps ten years or more.

I picked this wine up at the Medfield Wine Shoppe a few weeks ago. It was priced very reasonably at $39.99/bottle before any case discounts. I can’t say if they have anymore at that price, or if they have anymore of the wine period, but I can say that if you enjoy Barolo and you want a wine that can age gracefully for at least the next ten years, then this wine is an extraordinary value worthy of a phone call…


2015 Emporium Appassimento Rosso Salento IGT

An unusual Italian offering… Vino Passito from Salento… what is Vino Passito from Salento? Well, Vino Passito is a style of wine, also known as Straw Wine, which involves the drying of grapes on straw mats to concentrate and “raisinate” the grapes before fermentation. The byproduct of the process is a heightened complexity and intensity in the resulting wine. In the case of this wine, the process involves late harvesting the finest grapes after they have been allowed to dry on the vine. Not quite traditional, because the process does illicit similar results.

Salento is a region in Puglia in Southern Italy known for full-throttle reds made from the native Primitivo and Negroamaro grapes. This wine is a 50/50 blend and the late harvest process showcases the intensity of these two varieties.

My impressions… Lush, fruity nose with loads of cooked fruit and exotic spice. Broad palate with jammy, dark flavors. Well-balanced and smooth with soft, integrated tannins. Long finish with layers of unfolding complexity. Drinking superbly with moderate aging potential. Simply wonderful.

The other good news? This wine is a fantastic value at an average price in the Boston-area of $14.99/ per bottle pre-discount.

2015 Domaine Anne Gros – Jean-Paul Tollot La 50/50 Cotes du Brian


A charming, full-throttle wine from Minervois, although because of varietal requirements the wine can only carry a “table wine” designation. The product of a 50-50 partnership between two eminent Burgundian producers – Anne Gros and Jean-Paul Tollot. Both produce infinitesimally small amounts of Cote d’Or Burgundy from some of the most sought-after plots of soil, which are testaments to their skill as winemakers. In choosing to go south into the Languedoc, the pair bring their Burgundian skills to bear on a fabulous site of old vines in Minervois – 35 year old Carignan, 60 year old Cinsault, 22 year old Grenache, and some younger Syrah, each go into the cepage of this wine.

As previously noted, although the grapes all come from old vines in Minervois, the wine is only entitled to a “Vin de Table” designation because the Minervois AOC requires at least 40% Carignan. However, Anne prefers a balance of more or less equal amounts of Carignan, Cinsault and Grenache with some Syrah rounding out the blend. Like Marilisa Allegrini in Valpolicella choosing to delimit their Palazzo della Torre from Valpolicella Classico to IGT Verona many years ago, Anne prefers delimiting to IGP Pays de Herault, rather than make an inferior blend tied to AOC Minervois. This kind of bold decision-making in the face of global marketing pressure is why the wines of Anne Gros are so fabulous.

The wine itself is terrific, with an explosive nose filled with fresh cherry, black berry and rose petal notes. Stainless-steel fermentation preserves the freshness and purity of the fruit, which sings boldly on the palate. Dense and juicy with great acidic balance, the wine is clearly at home with food. And yet, the subliminal complexity of exotic spices, wet stone and fresh herbs offer contemplative rewards. Drinking exceptionally well now, the wine should mature nicely over the next 2 to 3 years, but this is not a wine for aging.

In the greater-Boston area the wine is represented by Arborway Imports and was available in limited quantities at Berman’s in Lexington, MA. Regular, pre-discount pricing is $24.99/per bottle… the wine was on sale at $15.99/per bottle in case quantities… If there is interest, I strongly urge acting FAST.


2018 Musings on the Vine Wine Events!


To Our Supporters…

The Schedule of 2018 Wine Events is now available on the Musings website here: 2018 Wine Events

You can also check out our: Facebook Events Page

Please visit for all the details and make sure you sign up early! These events usually always fill up fast!

** Please Note: Attendance at all events MUST be confirmed by sending email to Paul_Malagrifa@MusingsOnTheVine.com