It was a little over six years ago now that I first met James and Kerry MacPhail at their winery in the Russian River Valley. Both of them were hard at work, with Kerry buzzing about the winery, opening bottles, chatting up customers and media types (me), while James was manually filling large format bottles with Pinot Noir. While James’ task might not seem like all that “hard” it was certainly “work” and impressed upon me that the two had clearly allocated the work of the winery based on their strengths: Kerry shines when dealing with the public and James is at his best among the various barrels and tanks in the winery.
Since that first meeting, however, I have come to discover that there is much, much more to both of them. Kerry has a keen business sense about her and probably could tell you without consulting any of the multitude of spreadsheets she undoubtedly maintains, where every bottle of a particular wine was shipped (and likely on what date). James, on the other hand, is not the reticent genius, toiling away in the shadows; he is just as engaging and vivacious as his spouse and his mind is an amazing repository of winemaking knowledge.
While many might consider the previous paragraph hyperbole, I have tasted through multiple vintages of multiple Tongue Dancer wines and I can say without hesitation that James and Kerry are producing some of the best Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in the country. It would behoove the serious wine lover to get on their mailing list. Sure the wine is not inexpensive, but I contend that, given the quality, the wines are a bargain.
2019 Tongue Dancer Chardonnay Bacigalupi Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $65. I have spent a considerable amount of screen space professing my adoration for Tongue Dancer wines and the dynamic duo of James and Kerry MacPhail. I have professed my adoration for the couple and for their wines. And it continues. Holy cow. Rich lemon curd, a smoky vanilla, white pepper, hazelnut; there is far too much occurring on the nose to accurately express the euphoria. Well, on the palate? It just got even more difficult. A tart fruitiness initially, followed by depth, intrigue, and wave after wave of flavor. Sure, there is oak, but it is expertly balanced with the fruit and acidity. I have said it countless times, but James MacPhail, who considers himself a Pinot guru, is actually one of the top Chardonnay whisperers in the U.S. And I’ll stand by that. Outstanding. 96 Points.
2019 Tongue Dancer Pinot Noir Pinot de Ville Putnam Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $65. Heavy Bottle (although Kerry assures me newer vintages will be lighter). This is now the third vintage of the Pinot de Ville that I have tried and this 2019 is certainly related to the other two: it is big. While some of James’ other Pinots utilize a more subtle approach, the Pinot de Ville is where he really opens up the throttle and lets it fly. Quite dark in the glass with bushels of dark red fruit: plum, blackberry, dark cherry. There is also a healthy handful of spice and bits of vanilla and oak. Whoa. Incredibly rich and layered on the palate with, yes, a ton of fruit, but it is balanced by an underlying tartness. Surprisingly light on its feet (14.7% ABV) given all that power, but I guess I shouldn’t be all that “surprised”–James and Kerry repeatedly show why they are at the forefront of Sonoma wine. They freaking know what they are doing. Outstanding. 95 Points.
2019 Tongue Dancer Chardonnay Ultra, Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $95. Under cork. “Ultra” is the relatively recent well, *ultra* premium line from the already premium Tongue Dancer line. And it has lived up to its billing. Light straw in the glass with a delicious nose of lemon curd, pineapple confit, and a touch of white pepper. The palate is rich, but also subtle, revealing its soul slowly, with time. Impeccable balance as the tartness melds beautifully with the fruit and the oak influence. I say “oak” but it is much more in the Chassagne-style than almost anything I have tried from California. Initially, I liked the Tongue Dancer Bacigalupi Chard better, but as this wine approached room temperature? Whoa and holy cow. I would put this wine up against *any* Chard in a heart beat–not just domestic. Watch out Montrachet, watch out. The MacPhails are on your tail. Extraordinary. 97 Points.
2019 Tongue Dancer Pinot Noir Ultra, Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $90. Big Ass Bottle. The dynamic duo at Tongue Dancer, James and Kerry MacPhail, identify the absolute best barrel from the vintage (a scant 25 cases) to classify as their “Ultra” (both a Pinot and Chardonnay). This is my second Ultra Pinot and this is every bit as solid and fantastic as the first (2018). Dark in the glass with dark cherry, graphite, black pepper, a bit of sriracha, and oodles of verve. Whoa.The palate is voluptuous but also svelte with opulent fruit but also gripping acidity, this is a study in tension. Sure, there are “bigger” Pinots and there are certainly more subtle wines, but this breaks down the barrier between the two. Bold yet balanced, subtle and shy but also shocking, this is the classic clash in contrast. And it is lovely. And Bold, but also delightful. Bravo James and Kerry! And whoa. And a holy cow. Outstanding. 95 Points.