Earlier this year, the International Wine Review was invited by Rhys Vineyards to taste a selection from their extensive portfolio of world class wines. Rhys is a small operation located in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. It was established more than 15 years ago by Kevin Harvey, a successful software entrepreneur and investment banker with a passion for Burgundy and the desire to produce world class wines. In describing Harvey, the New York Times’ Eric Asimov wrote, “To call Mr. Harvey a wine lover is a little like calling Thomas Keller a cook.” In this article we review wines sourced from the Santa Cruz Mountains, Mendocino’s Anderson Valley, and Sonoma County. Rhys also makes several world class, single vineyard Pinot Noirs that we will taste and review during our upcoming trip to the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Today, Rhys appears to have exceeded Kevin Harvey’s aspirations. Since it was established Rhys has acquired seven first-class vineyards, six in the Santa Cruz Mountains and one in Anderson Valley. We earlier reviewed the Pinot Noir from the Bearwallow Vineyard in the Anderson Valley in our report on The Wines of Anderson Valley. Each vineyard is densely planted and micromanaged to achieve balanced vines within biologically diverse ecosystems. Rhys follows organic and biodynamic farming methods with as little intervention in the vineyard as possible. Also, Rhys has conducted extensive trials of clones and rootstock selections, which help optimally match plant material to the diverse geologies found in the vineyards.
Rhys is a producer of single vineyard estate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah sourced from its seven estate vineyards, as well as excellent quality generic wines. Winemaking is under the direction of veteran winemaker Jeff Brinkman. The wines reviewed here include two varieties derived from Sicily’s Mt. Etna that Rhys now cultivates on a remote ridgetop in northern Sonoma County; we’re especially impressed with the Aeris Carricante. Mr. Harvey also makes wines on Mt Etna in association with Salvo Foti. For more on Carricante, Nerello Mascalese and the wines of Mt Etna, read our report Wines of Sicily.
Rhys 2019 Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 91 The 2019 Chardonnay offers a lemon curd bouquet and is full on the attack with ripe flavors of citrus and apple with hints of toast. It has a creamy palate with good balance and weight. Rich and mouth filling, it has a medium long finish.
Rhys 2018 Chardonnay Anderson Valley 93 The Chardonnay from Anderson Valley is a cut above the Chardonnay from the Santa Cruz Mountains. It offers citrus-like aromas and flavors with notable minerality and firm acidity. It has good weight and is quite ripe with a persistent, flavorful finish.
Rhys 2017 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley 92 The 2017 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley displays ripe cherry and herbal scents. It offers rich layered flavors of medium density with good balance on the palate and perfect tannic grip. Finishes long with pretty, ripe fruit.
Rhys 2019 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains 93 The Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains is lighter in style than the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. It offers lovely red cherry aromas and flavors with excellent acidity and freshness. It has a lovely mouth feel, nice round tannins, and a persistent finish.
Rhys 2019 Aeris Carricante California 94 The Aeris Carricante displays a pale yellow color with aromas of fragrant flowers, ripe pear, and mango. It is very flavorful, showing touches of citrus with a hint of lychee. It reveals firm mineral notes with medium high acidity and a rich extracted finish. Sourced from the Centennial Mountain Vineyard, this very good wine is to our knowledge the first Carricante produced in the US. This is a rare variety with just 146 hectares planted on Sicily’s Mt. Etna.
Rhys 2018 Aeris Nerello Mascalese California 91 Also sourced from the Centennial Mountain Vineyard, the Aeris Nerello Mascalese displays a carmen-garnet color and offers aromas of ripe and dried red fruit. It is soft on entry with red fruit and herbs on the palate. It has medium weight and reveals dry tannins on the finish. Give this wine a little more time in the cellar. 14.5% alc. Nerello Mascalese is another grape variety from Mt. Etna where it’s highly sensitive to its terroir, varying depending on the contrada (cru) where it’s grown.
*Photo by Francesca Tamse for The New York Times