Archive for January, 2013
The highly acclaimed Durell Vineyard was “an old cattle ranch at the base of the southwestern hills of Sonoma Valley, which stretches across 3 appellations–Sonoma Valley, Sonoma Coast & Carneros“. Ed Durell was the original owner (1979) but sold it to the Price family in 1998.
The vineyard is 30 miles away from the Pacific Ocean (west)…..10 miles from the northern reaches of San Francisco Bay (south)…..& to the north a 2400 mountain.
Geologically, the soils are rocky-clay-loam. Yes, this vineyard is well renown for its rocks….which many of its winemaking fans say creates a distinct stoniness in the resulting wine.
I believe this vineyard is the source for many unqiue Chardonnays, more so than other grape varieties. The wines have a thickness/viscosity, a very tropical quality & innate bitterness, which really needs to be managed both in the vineyard & in thye winery, if you one strives for a bigger window for food friendliness. For me the true benchmark Chardonnay from this vineyard to date was the 2006 Patz & Hall.
2 days ago, we were fortunate to taste TWO versions of Durell Chardonnay. There was certainluy nothing shy or demure about either.
Star winemaker, Brian Loring, wanted to make a buttery, toasty, oaky goddess from this vineyard in 2011. The wine was whole clsuter pressed, barrel fermented, full malolactic & spent 10 months in equal amounts of French & Americak oak (of which 50% was new). Yes, it has that tropical aromatics, is rich, lush, ripe & showy.
2011 Witching Stick Chardonnay “Durell Vineyard”
Here is the first commercial Chardonnay release from Van Williamson. Where Van typically works with Anderson Valley/Mendocino fruit, in 2011 he was able to get some Wente clone from Durell. The crop was small, with low vigor & small berries. The 2011 was wild yeast fermented (NO SO2 at pressing), whole cluster pressed & saw 50% new French oak. To me…….a glorious fruit bomb.
Here is what the Vanimal had to say–“This wine has it all in spades. The first aroma is that of wet granite stones after a rainfall, next comes nectarines mixed with butterscotch candies and creme brulee, then the scent of spiced apple pie ala mode. No, I do not have a sweet tooth! The most remarkable thing about the flavors is the weight and texture on the palate. So much cream and viscosity that you wonder how a white wine could have so much body. Then, all that weight disappears and finishes light and crisp due to the high minerality. The oak mingles with spiciness from the grapes creating a nice spiced vanillin theme throughout the wines evolution in the glass.
The low acidity and high PH associated with the vineyard results in a lot of manipulation in most cellars. But the natural high phenolic level in the fruit and the unique amount of minerals on the palate allows the wine structure to hold up without acidulation. The wine has an apparent taste of tartness without actually having much acidity. Not adding acid to a Chardonnay with 3.92 PH is hard for most professionally trained winemakers. I am glad I left everything alone and allowed the wine to make a loud statement “.
I have been a HUGE fan of winemaking maverick Van Williamson for quite some time, starting with his tenure at the Edmeades helm. In addition to his wildly rustic, interesting Zin beasts he produced starting with the 1994 vintage, Van also made a string of fabulous, wild yeast fermented, intriguing, well textured Chardonnay (1994 thru 2000); masculine, provocative Pinot Noir (1994 thru 2000), which REALLY got better with some bottle age; hedonistic, black, murky, eccentric Petite Sirah, which were remarkably light on their feet & well textured; AND a few vintages of terrific, thought provoking Syrah. As I have said in the past, it is so hard to find a winemaker who masterfully crafts one grape variety well, much less 4, as in this case. Yes, the wines were NOT your normal wines, BUT they each had VERY interesting character & wonderful balance!
I was deeply saddened to hear he was let go at Edmeades by the owner Kendall Jackson. Still, I believe it will be better for Van in the long term as he creates his new chapter in life. Wine wise, it starts with his new label Witching Stick.
With the 2010 vintage, Van produced & launched his first wine–a Zinfandel from the Fashauer Vineyard. In the past at Edmeades, his single vineyard Zinfandels (Ciapusci, Zeni, Alden, Piffero to name a few) were big, hearty, wild & wooly, beasty wines–full of flavor & character with deceivingly high alcohol levels. I was always fascinated at how surprisingly well textured & delicious they all were.
The 2010 Witching Stick Zinfandel is on the other end of the spectrum, weighing in at only 12.8 degrees alcohol (naturally). This is what mother nature handed to him in this vintage, and at the same time I think Van learned greatly from this experience.
The Fashauer Vineyard is 800 to 1200 feet in elevation at the cooler, northern end of the Anderson Valley. Insiders who I have spoken to, marvel at how they are able to even ripen Zin there. This results in a VERY different profile of Zin then most are used to.
While this makes for a higher toned, tarter fruited RED wine, it is really intriguing fruit to make a rose with. To further bolster the RED Zin, Van saigneed the wine after only 8 hours, wild yeast fermented it & aged in the wine in neutral oak for a remarkable 18 months.
This “rosato” is a full flavored, masculine PINK wine, to the point it is actually stylistically more like a red wine. I would expect no less from Van Williamson. Still, the wine is amazingly NOT heady, bitter or alcoholic…..just full flavored……with a crisp, refreshing, palate cleansing finish. I don’t recall having a wine like this before, which is why I find it so fascinating. PLUS, in a warm climate like Hawaii’s, I would much prefer having a wine like this with long cooked meat dishes rather than a hearty, robust red wine. It is the same thought in my mind as having a dollop of cranberry with roast turkey & the fixings at Thanksgiving.
Van recommends you have this wine at cellar temperature….60 to 65 degrees. I suggest you serve it in a red wine bowl, so you can better swish it around & let it open up. Bravo, Van!!!!!!
Because of our VINO restaurant, we are always searching for tasty, interesting, food friendly Mediterranean white wines which will work with our foods. Easier said than done. Here are 4 of our recent “finds”.
This is Vermentino grown in the rugged, unhospitable, remote terrain of Cap Corse on the isle of Corsica. Cap Corse, a largely isolated and thinly populated peninsula at the top of Corsica, sits like a finger pointing up at Genova, its former colonial ruler. The Genovese landed on the Cap in the 14th century and from there soon conquered the entire island. Little has changed at the domaine since it began, and it is still Michel who works the vines and makes the wines on his own as he has done for nearly six decades.
Since the beginning he has paid little attention to the outside world, uninterested in the new technologies and fads that have afflicted so many other domaines. His wines have a timeless sense of place, much as the one who makes them, a wise, gentle, true artisan who lives for his métier.
This is a dry, very masculine styled white wine, as sun drenched, stony & earthy as its surroundings with the vigor & fortitude it needed to withstand the challenges of its origins. One can smell & taste the sun baked rocks & the wild shrub & herbs which grow nearby Nothing shy or demure here! Still, it is remarkable how this wine can pair up with more hearty, rustic seafood preparations & fishes like swordfish. This is a very fascinating, unique wine, that’s for sure.
An absolutely delicious, riveting, completely refreshing white wine (a blend of the Insolia & Cataratto grape varieties, although I believe because of the aromatics, there is also a smidgeon of Malvasia as well) from the Isle of Salina, which is located between Sicily & the tip of southern Italy. Yes, the aromatics & perfume is captivating AND uplifting, which is why I think it can work with a wide spectrum of seafood & vegetable dishes in a similar way to how basil or thyme lift foods. There is also a pungent underbrush character too, which reminds me of bushes & shrub I smelled in an October walk through Hermitage hill…which I believe the locals noted was hawthorne. The fruit is pungent with earth tones too, but still very lively, light on its feet & very crisp & refreshing. We have been waiting for this wine for quite some time!
2011 Pedres Vermentino di Gallura “Thilibas”
Here is a dry, crisp, invigorating white wine from the picturesque Isle of Sardegna which works wonders with VINO’s seafood dishes because of its lemony, citrus-y edge.
“Vermentino di Gallura is a white DOCG wine produced in Sardinia, and more specifically in Gallura, territory that extends into the remote, barren, hostile north-eastern part of the island“.
2011 Gramenon Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc “Vie on y est”
This is Viognier grown in clay-limestone soils (with gravel, galets & sand intermixed) in the northeastern stretches of France’s southern Rhone Valley…..done in a risky, uber non-interventionalist winemaking style. The wine therefore does not taste or smell so overtly varietal….instead is more about wet stones, more pungent fruit qualities (versus tropical or exotic), masculine in personality, rustic yet still surprsingly light on its feet.
“Domaine Gramenon is the authentic embodiment of the philosophies that the Laurent (family) espouse. They do not merely champion organic farming, but they incorporate the concept of sustainability into their daily lives by growing their own food and raising their own animals. The domaine bottles an AOC Vinsobres and a myriad of parcels of Côtes-du-Rhône located around the domaine. Though Michèle and Maxime continue to test the confines of the appellation, the cellars are unsurprisingly old-fashioned. The Laurents use gravity-fed cuves and age their wines in oak demi-muids and foudres. That they take such gutsy risks as bottling old-vine fruit with so little sulfur, without fining or filtration, only demonstrates the lengths they will go to in order to highlight the freshness, purity, and intoxicating aromas of their small, rare production“.
Brachetto is a grape variety grown in the Piemontese region of northwest Italy. Over the years, I have tasted only a few still red versions, none of which were anything really to write home about.
My first eye opening experience with this grape variety was tasting a Brachetto d’Acqui….which today is a DOCG. I found this fruity, slightly sweet & fizzy red frizzante wine (which can also be made in varying degrees of sweetness & bubble strength),which when made well can be an absolutely delicious, remarkably light, carefree & delightful, thirstquenching & completely refreshing, lower alcohol, RED wine, especially when served well chilled.
The DOCG zone of Brachetto d’Acqui include the Monferrato hills that extend southeast from the town of Asti with some overlap into the Asti DOCG zone. Interestingly, this same grape variety grown in the Roero region of Piemonte, made in the same fashion must be called Birbet, since it lies geographically (& probably geologically & somewhat climatically different) out of the approved D’ Acqui zone.
In both cases however, one has to really dig around to find well made versions.
Because the Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG is growing so fast in popularity, probably piggybacking on the heels of Moscato D’ Asti, albeit on a much smaller scale, the prices for the really good ones has recently quickly escalated AND the availability is much more limited.
It has therefore made us to really search around for some interesting Birbet, now while the prices & availability are still good.
One of the very best Birbets we have had to date is produced by Malvira, a high recommendation from superstar winemaker Giorgio Rivetti of La Spinetta fame.
This family estate is committed to growing & producing truly superb quality wines….white, red & Brachetto….& are well worth seeking out.
While this kind of wine is ideal for sipping, well chilled on a hot day or after a hard day’s work, it can also be the way to end a meal on an uplifting, completely refreshing note. Another interesting thought is to try a glass with seared foie gras, in place of rich, unctuous Sauternes. Plus, the pairing is much easier to follow in the sequence of the meal. Think about it….How can one follow Sauternes & foie gras?
In our VINO restaurant tonight we did a winetasting featuring the wines from FOUR French winemaking “mavericks” . Having visited several top restaurants in New York recently, I was clearly reminded of this new generation of French winemakers as their wines are being featured on the city’s most progressive wine programs. Fortunately we had gotten their wines before the meteoric, global hoop-la these producers & some of their contemporaries have created. Some say, they are radical, changing regional & winemaking traditions. I believe instead, the very best advocate & practice a very “back to basics” philosophy both in the vineyard & the winery…..organic/biodynamic farming, minimal sulfur use, if any, wild yeast fermentation, minimal use, if any, new oak, bottling unfiltered & unfined, all in pursuit of true purity & clarity of terroir. It wasn’t that long ago, when a scant 25 or so cases of some of these wines made them way into the U.S.. While the allocations have thankfully risen… at the same time, judging what I saw in New York, I am so surprised some still somehow makes its way to Hawaii.
To me, Foillard is the superstar of Beaujolais. He typically produces TWO Morgon, one from granitic soils & this one from 80 year old vines grown in sandstone. Don’t think of this wine as a Beaujolais. It really is a world class, soulful, remarkably light & absolutely delicious red.
2010 Maxime Magnon “La Demarrante”
Magnon is a disciple of Foillard & adheres to the same kind of au natural practices. Because he couldn’t afford vineyard land in Burgundy, he settled in southern France specifically in Corbieres. La Demarrante is a blend of 50 to 60 year old vine Carignane & Cinsault, intriguing, wildly rustic yet also light colored, VERY delicious & totally gulpable.
One of the most radical of them all. The 2002 was the last time we were able to get some. Jadis to Hawaii. Some say bizarre….I say genius!!!!!! In any case, these are extremely grown & made wines. The 2009 Jadis is 50% Carignane, 30% Syrah & 20% Grenache grown in schist dominated soils. While Carignane may not result in showy, flambuoyant wines, this grape variety when done well, certainly adds delicious-ness to red wines..
2009 Domaine Gramenon “Sierra du Sud”
Sierra du Sud is Syrah grown in gravel/sandy/limestone soils in the northern part of France’s southern Rhone Valley. It is one of the many bottlings from this truly standout winery & winemaker , as they are one of the leaders of this whole new approach to grape growing & winemaking. I can’t recall having a Syrah like this before. It is minerally, remarkably light on its feet, masculine, intricate & quite transparent at the same time with a signature rustic, gunflint edge to its aromas.
At the same time, we also had the opportunity to try two more classical, rustic red wines the night before.
1994 Tempier Bandol “La Tourtine”
It really took me a long time to understand & fully appreciate the red wines of Domaine Tempier. I really wish I could have grasped their special-ness at a younger age, so I could have somehow stashed some away from way earlier vintages, especially after having tasted this 1994. For me this wine is earnest, authentic, salt of the earth & soulful rather than being about grandeur & nobility. The 1994’s core is still youthful & full of vigor. It also was an ideal pairing with VINO Chef Keith Endo’s Veal Cheek Raviolis he made for the night.
Another superb, truly amazing, rustic red wine, which had such a gorgeous harmony to it on this night. I could smell the compelling baked stones, the roasted herbs, white pepper, baked fruit….in addition to all of the other nuances which kept eke-ing out as the wine opened up in the glass over the 1 1/2 hours it was opened. VERY impressive to say the least!
Why was I so excited about James being here & doing a tasting with him?
First of all, James works for several top caliber sites in the Central Coast of California….such as Bien Nacido, Solomon Hills, & French Camp vineyards, as well as overseeing his very own vineyard—Rancho Ontiveros. He is therefore a wealth of knowledge on what’s happening in vineyards & with clones & farming.
Secondly, James & his winemaking partner, Paul Wilkins, have THREE top caliber wine labels together….Alta Maria, Native9 & Autonom. Each is some of the very best out of California today.
Alta Maria currently offers a Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay & a Pinot Noir, each a blend of grapes from some very special sites.
Native9 is currently one Pinot Noir produced from Rancho Ontiveros fruit exclusively done 100% whole berry, more new oak, all in a more “Grand Cru” style of California Pinot.
Autonom is a label for their Grenache & Syrah based red wines. Given that Winemaking Partner Paul Wilkins formerly worked at Alban Vineyards for 7 or so years, it makes sense that there were be some Rhone Varietal reds somewhere in their portfolio. For the 2005 & 2006 these wines were labeled as Alta Maria. Beginning with the 2007 vintage the wines are now labeled as Autonom.
I have been a HUGE fan since day 1, but at the same time believe this dynamic duo is just hitting their stride as we speak. Oh my goodness!!!!!!
Here are the wines we tasted with James & some of our VINO regulars.
The 2008 was a blend of 3 SENSATIONAL Santa Maria Valley vineyards—Bien Nacido (the highly revered, old vine W Block clone 4), Solomon Hills (clones 76, 95 & 96) & Rancho Ontiveros (Wente clone)….& saw roughly 40% new oak. We love how layered, seamless & balanced it really is.
Because James Ontiveros is a vineyard-ist, they keep tweeking the grape sources for this wine every year, in an effort to get a more diversified & interesting grapes mix. The core for the 2010, for instance, is 39 year old Pommard from Q & G Blocks; with some 17 year old vine Dijon clones (115 & 777) from N & U Blocks. We love how pretty, ethereal, stylish & well textured these wines typically are.
Rancho Ontiveros is James’ own vineyard across the river closer to the ocean from Bien Nacido.. The 2009 is comprised of the following clones–80% Joseph Swan; 10% each of Sanford & Benedict & Dijon 114. The wine saw 100% whole cluster & 70% new French oak. This is a much more masculine, showier style of Pinot, which is at the same time surprisingly light on its feet because of the sandy soils & brisk ocean winds which pound this site. I think to get the point of this wine across better, this would be their Grand Cru bottling. I have heard more than one insider note this bottling also has a humus/musky/earthy characteristic reminiscent of Burgundy, which I think is a huge compliment.
2007 Autonom Syrah “Law of Proportions”
James’ winemaking partner is Paul Wilkins (go to chuckfuruya.com—Autonom for more info), who worked at Alban Vineyards (a very highly accolade Rhone varietal specialist) for quite some time. It is therefore no surprise that this dynamic duo would also produce some Rhone varietal wines….now under the Autonom label. This one is 100% Syrah (75% Laetitia vineyard & 25% from Hampton Vineyard)….saw 80% new oak & NO stems……75 case production. The 2007 is a very masculine, sinister, dark side beast…..mega-intense, dramatic, provocative & sultry without any sense of heaviness or gaudiness.
At a previous tasting, we also tasted the 2010 Alta Maria Sauvignon Blanc. Here are the notes, as a reminder–
2010 Alta Maria Sauvignon Blanc–another really eye opening Santa Barbara born white!!!!! I always am challenged to find really interesting, worldly white wines like this from the New World. The 2010 is roughly 80% from a vineyard in the cooler side of Solvang, 4 miles east of the Santa Rita Hills, which is own rooted, planted in 1972 with clone 1. The other vineyard , which consists of the other 30% is White Hills located in Los Alamos, planted in 1986 & is also own rooted. The juice is whole cluster pressed, aged in 70% in stainless & 30% in old oak & only partial ML. We are REALLY impressed with this VERY limited wine, especially for the price.