California, Washington & Other Domestic

Stars & Dust: Another Vintage in Bottle, it’s a Beauty!

The impressive talents of proprietor Nikki Pallesen continue to blossom with the 2021 vintage of her wines in bottle. The Rose is showing exceptionally well, the Chards more impressive than ever, and in this vintage a Red, which could have been labeled Grenache, has been introduced. Her production is on the rise, with a more than 9,000 bottles produced. Nikki’s style stays focused toward keeping it as hand-off as she can, and her commitment continues to reflect a very modest amount of new oak, and all neutral barrels for the Rose, Young Vines Bien Nacido Chardonnay, and Red Table Wine. Her Old Vine Chardonnay is seeing some new barrique blended with neutral, old barriques, but I couldn’t detect it aromatically, while it did show ever-so-slightly in a textural sense. Overall, the wines are gorgeous representations of the varieties, exemplifying a sound sense of origin and their focus on pure varietal expression.

The future looks bright for this rising star, I look forward to many wonderful coming vintages and her bright future!         

2021 Stars & Dust, Santa Ynez Valley, Crowded Table Rose (RT92) A classic blend of 52% Mourvèdre, 48% Grenache from the Kaerskov vineyard in Los Olivos, and the Tierra Alta vineyard in Ballard Canyon. This is a barrel aged Rose, which spends 7 months in neutral oak. 400 cases produced from 100% hand-picked fruit. The color is gorgeous, with a distinct, copper undertone. Shows fruit-driven notes of tangerine, apricot, Satsuma orange, a hint of citrus blossom with faint notes of crushed rocks. As it opens in the glass it develops a more masculine character showing rich, ripe fruit, perfect acidity, wonderful balance and finishes with a whispering note daring you to “take another sip”. Outstanding! Drink now-2025+

2021 Stars & Dust, Santa Maria Valley, Chardonnay, Young Vines, Bien Nacido Vineyard (RT93+) A small production Chardonnay crafted from 100% hand-picked fruit, aged for 10 months exclusively in neutral barrel. 140-12 bottle cases produced. Here the younger, 23-year-old vines show a deep, richly nuanced expression of Chardonnay with a focused bouquet of yellow peach, golden apple, crème fraiche-richness, and a smattering of crushed rock. The palate is equally luxurious but maintains sharp focus while conveying inspired energy. Another very attractive wine from Nikki Pallesen. Drink now-2030+   

2021 Stars & Dust, Santa Rita Hills, Chardonnay, Old Vine, Top of the Hill Vineyard (RT94) Crafted from 48 year-old vines and produced in miniscule quantities of a mere 100 cases. This wine employed 75% used (neutral) barriques, with just 25% new for its 10 months of aging. Bright, energy charged aromatics serve up notes of citrus blossom, chalky lemon, white peach, and hints of sea salt. The balanced palate is superb, showing the depth and dimension of fruit only bona fide old vines can deliver. Utterly magnificent! Drink now-2030+  

2021 Stars & Dust, Santa Rita Hills, Red Table Wine, Old Vine, West (Top of the Hill Vineyard) (RT92+) This bottling, crafted from hand-picked, 100% Grenache fruit is aged in old, neutral barriques, with just 100 cases produced. The translucence speaks toward the house style, which stays squarely focused on varietal and terroir expression. Notes of freshly picked strawberry, red raspberry, hints of eucalyptus and hibiscus build a charismatically attractive center piece. The palate is packed with ripe, fresh fruit, coating your mouth with lusciousness, the acidity is refreshing, the soft tannins ripe while artfully taking a background position. While Nikki tells me of her inexperience with crafting reds, this wine speaks exquisitely well of her talents and is all about the fruit and it being crafted with tender, loving care. Uber-deliciousness defined! Drink now-2026 to capture its fresh fruit.       

A Pair of New Gems from Rasa Vineyards September, 2022

These wines are in the +/- $20 price range.

2021 Rasa Vineyards, Columbia Valley AVA, Occam’s Razor, Pinot Gris (RT93) The recently released 2021 Occam’s Razor Pinot Gris shows a bit paler than its predecessor but, reflects remarkable wine making skills that appear to be on the rise. Billo and Pinto – the owner/winemaker brothers – continually impress and these new releases set a high bar for this set of wines. Crafted from Pinot Gris grown in the Gamache and Frenchman Hills Vineyards. Laser focused aromatics reveal a core of tangerine, white peach and hints of fresh almond and white flowers. The palate is equally focused, yet generous in its mouth texture, with its ripe, succulent fruit balanced with bright, fresh acidity. In a few words, this is a fabulous Pinot Gris outperforming its price point and setting a standard of excellence. Catch it while its fresh and alluring. Drink now-2025

2019 Rasa Vineyards, Columbia Valley AVA, Occam’s Razor, Red Blend (RT91) A creative blend of seven varieties: 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Syrah, 9% Grenache, 8% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Touriga Nacional, 2% Petit Verdot, the 2019 vintage is showing exceptionally well and transcends the rusticity that characterized previous vintages. Aged 19 months in oak, of which only 15% is new, it expresses the mouth texture of cask aging yet shows no toasted oak characteristics. Deep ruby in hue, notes of blackberry, plum, dark ripe cherry, brambly brush and hints of white pepper frame a masculine bouquet. In the mouth this conveys a sense of sophistication and refined wine crafting with bright, ripe fruit, fresh acidity, and sweet, ripe tannins. This wine is a real beauty for the price point, simply outstanding! Drink now-2028+

Stars & Dust: up-and-coming Santa Barbera Winery!

The recent project of Nikki Pallesen started in 2020, this is a terrific winery well worth following. The wines are magnificent, capturing purity, finesse, and elegance. You can find their wines by ordering direct online from their website:

2020 Stars & Dust, Rose of Grenache, Ballard Canyon, Tierra Alta Vineyard (RT91) Small, handmade production, 80 cases of this Grenache Rose are all that was produced in this vintage. Closed with a “Diam 5” cork. Copper tinged, pale rose hue, this is florally lifted, classic grenache with notes of white peach, tangerine, citrus blossom, and marmalade. Delivers a lovely, lifted palate is well balanced and delivers fresh, bright fruit and refreshing acidity. A charismatic sipper! Drink now-2024     

2020 Stars & Dust, Rose of Mourvèdre, Los Olivos District, Koerskov Vineyard (RT91+) Another handcrafted bottling from Nikki Pallesen, a mere 100 cases total production of this delicious rose! Pale rose/copper hue with a hint of terracotta pink, the bouquet is florally driven revealing notes of orange zest, white peach, rhubarb, and citrus blossom. The palate is light, dry, elegantly savory and almost weightless. Along with its sister Grenache, this is a tasty warm weather refresher that embraces more about Provence style rose than a typical Santa Barbera one. Drink now-2024

2020 Stars & Dust, Chardonnay Old Vines, Santa Rita Hills, Hilltop Vineyard (RT93) 100 cases produced crafted from 47-year-old vines. As stated on their website, the grapes for this wine are 100% handpicked, harvested in the middle of the night, and aged for 10 months in 20% new Damy French oak with the remainder in neutral barrel. The result is fabulous revealing zero new oak in the aromatic profile, but with just enough textural lift to make it highly attractive. Shows a beautiful, deep light golden hue, this Burgundy reminisce wafts alluring notes of white peach, crème fraiche, smokey chalk dust and hints of lightly roasted almonds. The mouthfeel is elegant as it stands nearly weightless, hovering on the palate with masterfully integrated toast-free oak. The acid is fresh and invigorating, the balance wonderful! This is a fabulous effort from Nikki Pallesen, bravo! Drink now-2028+

2020 Stars & Dust, Chardonnay Old Vines, Santa Maria Valley, Bien Nacido Vineyard (RT94) A bit smaller in production than the Hilltop Vineyard bottling with just 80 cases made harvest from 48-year-old vines. From their website “100% handpicked vineyard designate old vine Chardonnay, picked in the middle of the night, aged 10 months in 25% new Damy French oak with the remainder in neutral barrel”. This attention to detail shows as it reveals a paler hue than the Hilltop bottling, the Bien Nacido is a bit more shy and less expressive initially, but with time in the glass reveals a more focused, higher toned aromatic profile showing notes of green honey dew, Asian pear, citrus blossom, and a touch of crème brulee which lead to a stylish, refined, and weightless mouth feel. An overall gorgeous textural presentation with succulent fruit, fresh zesty acidity, and a super clean finish. This is a really wonderful expression of Chardonnay from the legendary Bien Nacido vineyard. Drink now-2032+     

2020 Rasa Vineyards, Occam’s Razor, Pinot Gris (RT92) This voluptuous, beautifully textured Pinot Gris, crafted in Washington State by the brothers at Rasa Vineyards, is totally off the charts delicious. Showing its long skin contact with its deep color, it delivers a supple mouth texture few Pinot Gris can. Warm, rich notes of ripe yellow peach, decadent Comice pear, white flowers, and a hint of Meyer lemon leads to a gorgeous mouthfeel layered with delightful ripe fruit and soft acidity. This is a serious stand out! Drink now-2025 to catch the freshness.

2016 Mail Road, Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills (RT94) A mere 100 cases of this stunning juice is produced from Mail Road’s Estate grown, cream of the crop declassified production. This is their newest bottling: Mail Road Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills. An expression of Mt. Carmel’s unique terroir, this wine is everything I look for in a Santa Rita Hills bottling and at an impressively affordable price. Ripe and powerful, with a laser focus. A beautiful wine showing dark cherry and strawberry fruit with hints of sexy cocoa powder, black pepper and chalk accents. Pure pleasure in a focused, gorgeous style. Drink now-2026

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