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Wine & Spirits Top 100

The Top 100 Wineries of 2008


Eola-Amity Hills

A geologist from Chile and a vigneron from Vosne-Romanée explore Oregon soils, revealing new facets of Willamette terroir.

With Chapter 24 Winery, Mark Tarlov and Louis-Michel Liger-Belair formed a partnership, a team and a brand around a conceptual view of Oregon geology. It featured two diametrically opposed wines, Fire and Flood, representing the two principle soil types of the region, volcanic and sedimentary. The brand was established with terroir in mind, but predicated on blends. With Rose & Arrow, a subdivision they established this year, the team has flipped that original approach on its head.

This is largely due to the intervention of Pedro Parra, a Chilean geologist who had been working with Louis-Michel Liger-Belair in Burgundy. Parra’s initial impressions of Oregon soils were not favor­able, but the more he studied them, the more interesting they became to him. Using electrical conductivity mapping, he studied the soil composition beneath the vineyard surface and compared that infor­mation with what he found digging pits in the ground. He began to map distinct areas of volcanic flow where the rock had eroded, frac­tured and degraded. Parra believed that these alterations in the rock combined with a certain amount of clay, would provide optimal con: ditions for the vines-and the team set out to isolate the wines that came from them.

The seven Rose & Arrow wines are limited selections, harvested from ribbon-like parcels that follow these particular edges of lava flows. All of this geological study and viticultural effort is filtered

through the ‘infusion’ winemaking approach practiced by Liger-Belair and his resident winemaker, Felipe Ramirez, steeping whole berries without any punchdowns, and feeding oxygen to the must through gentle, carefully timed pumpovers. He believes that infusion results in more color, flavor intensity and textural richness at lower conver­sion rates for sugars than extractive fermentation techniques do. Their winegrowing strategy came together in a range of 2016 Pinot Noirs that are drop-dead gorgeous and wholly distinct from one another that are, texturally, both challenging and seductive. They another; that are, texturally, both challenging and seductive. They don’t so much fill the mouth as drench it with flavor, with levels of saturation that compel you to blurt out the word ‘ripe’ and then with­draw it, because they offer so much more than ripeness in their depths of flavor and distinctive character.

93 pts    Chapter 24 Rose & Arrow Eola-Amity Hills 1st Stonecreek Pinot Noir 2016
It’s not a huge surprise that much of Parra’s focus has been on the Eola Hills, where Chapter 24 recently purchased the Witness Tree Vineyard and leased another, Dubay. A portion of Dubay is rockier than the rest, a perfect place for a rockhound like Parra. It also seems to grow compelling wine: They named it Stonecreek and bottled a rocky, compact and deeply structured wine with a weighty foundation supporting its rippling, brimming cherry fruit. Its texture is still in a slurry and suggests the wine is moving toward a brighter, more revealing place, so lose this in the cellar for a few years before opening.

92 pts    Chapter 24 Rose & Arrow Eola-Amity Hills Hopewell Hills Pinot Noir 2016
Hopewell Hills parcel has almost no topsoil, the vines planted in fractured volcanic rock that has decomposed into stones resembling small flat cobble. The wine it grew in 2016 feels broader and more saturated than Stonecreek, with generous fruit framed by a smoky, sanguine minerality. That contrast creates an engaging tension, and a mildly grippy texture that would pari well with something substantial like duck confit.

94 pts    Chapter 24 Rose & Arrow Dundee Hills Black Walnut Worden Hill Pinot Noir 2016
Black Walnut comes from Chapter 24’s estate vineyard on Worden Hill Road in the Dundee Hills. It’s selected from less than an acre of what Parra calls “alterite;” he characterizes this particular ground as “oxidized volcanic rock, not yet soil” and, as such, it diverges from what others refer to as the volcanic Jory soils of the Dundee Hills. It is an unusually dark-fruited Dundee Hills wine, like a black-cherry tea flecked with dark red soil, supple in its tannic grip. Despite its suede-like feel, this is a wine of impressive movement and lift, with energy and presence.


McLaren Vale

Chester Osborn has saved hundreds of old-vine vineyards from the plow, now celebrating them in McLaren Vale classics.

This is the ninth year that d’Arenberg has earned a place in the W&S Top 100, an honor based both on the Osborn family’s commitment to Australia’s old­vine vineyards, as well as its forward-looking approach to viticulture. Fourth-generation winemaker Chester Osborn joined his father, d’Arry, at the winery in the mid-1980s, when the government was paying people to pull up their old Shiraz vines and plant Chardonnay. The Osborns refused, buying up what vineyards they could and contracting with others to keep their vines in the ground. Today, the winery farms some 450 acres in McLaren Vale, including Shiraz dating back to d’Arenberg’s first planting in 1912, and nearly one-third of McLaren Vale’s old bush-vine grenache. Focused on the Rhone grapes that have historically defined the region, Chester recently converted all his vineyards to organics and biodynamics (certified 2016), moved to solar energy in the winery, and is adding warm-climate varieties such as Mencia from Spain and Assyrtiko from Greece to the vineyard mix. Meanwhile, in the winery, not much has changed-all the wines are basket-pressed, the reds foot-trodden during fermentation; everything is done in small batches, leading to a mind-boggling array of bottlings every year, each showing a different facet of McLaren Vale terroir.

94 pts    d’Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz 2014
A d’Arenberg classic, this is Chester Osborn’s top selection of old-vine Shiraz. While a warm spring in 2014 sped up the harvest—it was the earliest vintage on record at d’Arenberg—the mild autumn allowed the grapes to retain balance and fragrance. This wine smells like summer, with scents of wild blueberries and basil over warm earth, while its flavors are powered by a gripping mineral intensity. Fresh, brisk and open, this is a particularly friendly vintage that still holds Dead Arm’s potential to age.

91 pts    d’Arenberg The Hermit Crab Viognier-Marsanne 2016
Chester Osborn’s talent for sustaining freshness in his Rhone varieties extends to white wines. This 2016 is a case in point, a cool and juicy white he grows in free-draining soils over limestone, bedrock built by the shells of creatures like hermit crabs. He blends fruit from early and late harvests, balancing Marsanne’s crisp Asian-pear flavors with Viognier’s peach and floral notes, the wine ready to chill for Dungeness crab.


 Yarra Valley

Working in Victoria’s cool Yarra Valley, Steve Flamsteed turns out some of Australia’s most finessed Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Like John Coltrane, who left a successful collaboration with Miles Davis to release his ground-breaking album, Giant Steps, Phil Sexton sold a successful vineyard, Devil’s Lair in Western Australia, to launch a winery with a completely different approach halfway across the country. Sexton chose a high, north-facing slope in the Yarra Val­ley’s Warramate Hills to plant 75 acres of chardonnay in 1997; then he began exploring other cool-climate parcels, building a collection that now covers 115 acres. Along the way, he found a like-minded partner in Steve Flamsteed, who’d put in time as a chef and cheese­maker before studying wine. The two of them focus on chardonnay and pinot noir, farming organically, with some parcels under biody­namics. They take a gentle approach in their gravity-flow winery: whole-bunch pressing, spontaneous fermentations, minimum fining and no pumping, producing wines that communicate their power in cool clarity and fine detail rather than brawn.

93 pts    Giant Steps Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2017
A blend of fruit from five estate parcels, this holds its own among Giant Steps’s single-vineyard wines. Fermented spontaneously in 500-liter puncheons, 20 percent new, and bottled without filtration, it’s supple and savory, with a clean peach succulence and apple-blossom fragrance that give it grace and elegance.

91 pts    Giant Steps Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2017
Culled from estate-grown fruit, fermented in combination of open-top oak vats and stainless-steel tanks, this pinot captures the coolness of its high-elevation vineyards in its tight, raspberry-scented fruit. While oak shows a bit in the scent of the wine (ten percent of the barrels are new), the lasting impression is a red glow of flavor, earthy and penetrating. Give it another year or more in the cellar, then open at the holidays for a roast bird.

Top 100 Wines of 2018

95 pts    Chapter 24 Last Chapter Pinot Noir 2016
Chapter 24’s Last Chapter used to be a blend of fruit from sedimentary soils and volcanic soils. This vintage reflects Chapter 24’s new exploration of basalt permutations, focusing on fruit grown on very rocky basalt sites, according to owner Mark Tarlov. When first poured, its varied spice brings to mind dancers doing warm-ups—each individually impressive, if not in harmony. Then the dance begins, and the beauty of the wine is in watching it harmonize. The spice notes move from a background fuzz of herbs to something fine-ground and precise; the fruit loses its jitteriness and becomes round and generous while retaining a pleasant tension. It feels confident and poised.

100 Best Buys of 2018

91 pts    Maison L’Envoyé Straight Shooter Pinot Noir 2016
Coasting on a seductive mélange of savory tobacco, woodsmoke, Scotch and mushrooms, this pinot opens to reveal a lonely core of muddled strawberry flavor. It’s generous but made tense by acidity and all that savor. Chill slightly before serving with a wood-fired mushroom pizza.

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