Archive for September, 2014
The other night, our friend, Dr Chris, surprised us all by bringing in a selection of some interesting wines from the Isle of Corsica. As VINO regulars well know, I have a real hankering for Corsica, as I have wanted to visit there for well over 25 years, ever since I tasted my first glass of Luigi Clos Nicrosi. The wine had such interesting flavors, viscosity & unique character. I am sad the wine is no longer produced. Well, the importer, Kermit Lynch, has uncovered several other interesting producers over the past few years & is now importing them into the U.S.. Thank you Chris for a wonderful tasting AND including the map, pictured to the right, which gave everyone a better picture of where each of the wines come from.
Michel Angeli is the man behind this winery, which is located in Cap Corse at the northern tip of the Island. As the map will show you, this region actually looks like a finger pointing north. The soil is mainly schist-clay & Michel had first planted Vermentinu & Codivarta & later Niellucciu (he got from Patrimonio) & Aleatico he got from Elba. 1952 was his first harvest. This particular bottling is typically around 50% Niellucciu, 25% each of Aleatico & Merlot, which he ferments in 100% stainless steel. Yes, it is rustic in smell & taste, is quite masculine in character, but flows on the palate surprisingly well from beginning to end. Merlot makes a surprising appearance, given Michel’s appreciation of native grape varieties, but as expected, it really seems to round out the edges in this case. (By the way, we have also purchased some of his rare Rappu wine, which is Aleatico, dried out on straw mats for 10 days, pressed, fermented in concrete (a touch of residual sugar, 16% alcohol) & then aged in old oak barrels for 7 years.
2011 Canarelli “Corse Figari”
Canarelli comes from the southern tip of Corsica. The vineyards lie inland from the sea, along a plateau, on granitic-alluvial soils rich in minerals & is both organically & biodynamically farmed. The climate is greatly moderated by the winds gusting off the Gulf of Figari. The 2011 Rouge is 80% Niellucciu, 15% Syrah & 5% Sciaccarellu, 100% destemmed & aged in large foudres for 14 to 18 months. One could readily detect the Syrah in the nose & taste. Eventhough people say this is a rustic style, I think it would be an easier wean into Corsican red wines for the Californian palate than any of the other reds we tasted on this night. (On another note, they also have indigenous grape varieties such as Carcahjolu Nera, Biancu Gentile, Paga Debiti, Barbarosa & Minustellu planted & featured in some of their other bottlings).
Yves left his family domaine to create his own, which specialized in a single terroir–“E Croce” E Croce faces the Gulf of St Florent & features a chalky soil, which lies upon a thick bedrock of pure schist. This is essentially another 1 man show. This bottling is 90% Niellucciu & 10% Grenache, which was fermented in stainless steel & aged for 12 months before release. One could detect on first smell & taste there is some Grenache in the blend. (We tasted the wines with NO knowledge of the soils the vines grew in nor the grape varieties used). Leccia’s wines are more refined, elegant & quite classy. They are really a pleasure to drink.
Antoine Arena Patrimonio
Arena is certainly one of the most revered producers of the Island. His vineyards are located in the Patrimonio appellation. Within Patrimonio he organically farms several parcels. Carco (2 hectares, planted in 1987) is mainly Niellucciu in chalky-clay-limestone soils. Morta Maio (2 hectares, planted in 2001) on clay-limestone soils. Of the 3 tasted on this night, I much preferred the 2010 Carco, which had a complete-ness, balance & soul. This wine surprised me, as I usually find Arena wines too much for my palate. Yes, it was rustic, perhaps too much so for many tasters, but it really had something to say, in a VERY unique way.
Although, this wine was NOT tasted on this night (mainly because we have not been able to get for the past couple of vintages), I just have to mention it here, because it is so damn good! I remember Kermit Lynch once saying–“Drinking her rose is like drinking a cloud. There is an absolute weightlessness to it. Nothing is left on the palate but perfume“. Marquiliani is located on the island’s eastern coast (Costa Serena)….in the village of Aghione, high altitude, & therefore, cooler nights. The terraced vineyards are a mix of schist, granite & gravel with silt. The rose is typically 90% Sciaccarellu & 10% Syrah, direct pressed, fermented in stainless steel with NO malolactic.
- Our friend, Bruce “Big Red” Liebert, has been patiently waiting for us to do another Big Red tasting. Yes, limestone & minerality can be nice,
- pretty & ethereal, BUT can we just get some wines with substance & guts please? Here is that tasting….masculine, rustic red wines from California–
- 3 standouts (& 1 added by a participant just for fun). Each are grown in marine soils (sand, limestone or siliceous clay). One can get BIG, extracted, full flavored red wines without heaviness…..
- which will shed a different perspective for this evening’s tasters. Yes, just another really good opportunity to learn!
- 2009 Freakshow Petite Sirah “Heretic”
- A big, BLACK (as shoe polish), brooding, masculine beast from the winemaking genius
- of Christian Tietje & some interesting Paso Robles grapes.
- 2006 R Wines “Amazed”
- The grapes come from vines which, today, are 140 years old….so back in 2006, they were younger….only 132 years old–
- Carignane & Mourvedre. The soils is has lots of sand to it, which is why these vines are also own rooted.
- “Amazed” was crafted by superstar Australian winemaker Chris Ringland. I wonder if any winemaker has garnered more
- 99 & 100 point wines (according to the Wine Advocate) than Ringland. His are decadent, lavish, deeply flavored red wines.
- This is an interesting, unique combination of character, vinosity & viscosity. Definitely one of a kind..
- 2010 Jonata “Todos”
- Jonata is another standout estate vineyard from the Central Coast of California which is “changing the game”. Owned & developed by Stan Kroenke (who also owns Screaming Eagle in the Napa Valley), the 586 estate is actually located in the Ballard Canyon, down in the Santa Barbara appellation. There are 84 acres planted on rolling hills, mostly comprised of careaga sandstone. We were fortunate to see & walk the vineyard just before they released their first wine (2004 vintage) with winemaker Matt Dees. We just knew they would hit it…..AND boy have they hit it! The 2010 Todos is a wine of the vineyard….& is therefore a blend of many grapes–78% Syrah, 8% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Viognier, 1% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petite Verdot, 1% Sauvignon Blanc & 1% Semillon, aged in French oak, 50% new.
- 2011 Saxum “Booker Vineyard”
- Here is your chance to taste a Saxum wine! Yes, it is one of the hardest red wines to get out of California.
- It is a lucky thing, we were at the door, before they bottled or released their first wine. Interestingly, Cheryle,
- Mike & I tasted this 2011, just before it was to be bottled, along with their other bottlings. For me, his 2011’s are
- some of the very best I’ve had from them. I love how gorgeous & long they are. The Booker Vineyard seemed
- the darkest, the most mysterious/provocative that day, maybe because the blend is 67% Syrah & 33% Mourvedre.
I cannot believe this winery & its wines are still “under the radar screen” for most wine aficionados. I truly believe their wines REALLY over deliver, quality for the dollar. The Estate “Gold Coast” vineyard is roughly 30 acres located on a wind pounded mesa, 5 minutes closer to the ocean from Bien Nacido—roughly 10 acres-Chardonnay & 20 acres-Pinot Noir (most of was planted in the late 80’s/early 90’s to heirloom/heritage plant material—mostly Martini for Pinot & clone 4 & Wente for Chardonnay). The soils are very sandy with tiny bits of seashells as it was one time under water. These soils & the sea breezes which pound the vineyard help create the sea-shelly minerality in the finished wines. Winemaker/co-owner, Gary Burk is another 1 man show operation….so it is yet another artisan, family owned, small, Estate project. The resulting wines are so pure & transparent (seashells), elegant, lovely, impeccably balanced with fabulous texture & superb balance. I also think DELICIOUS is the perfect word to describe their wines.
This is a wonderfully pure, transparent, lovely, seamless, UN-heavy Chardonnay totally about the marine soils it is grown in. Mostly comprised of estate fruit, although there is some Fiddlestix Dijon clones added for seasoning…NO new oak, 100% malolactic with some less contact.
2012 Chardonnay “Santa Maria Valley”
100% Estate fruit (clone 4 & Wente), 100% malolactic & 30% new oak. This wine still has the purity & transparency, but certainly more lush & textural. Way over delivers!!!!!!
2012 Chardonnay “Reserva Dorada”
250 case production—a selection of the best barrels—wild yeast fermented, 100% malolactic, 50% new oak. This wine is way more stony than it is minerally….but more subtle upon entry on the palate, though luscious, viscous & grandiose without any sense of heaviness or oakiness.
An absolutely lovely, delicious, seductively textured Pinot, which REALLY over delivers for the dollar. The 2012 is mainly Estate fruit (Martini selection) with tiny amounts of Kick On Vineyard (also Martini) & Solomon Hills (clone 115). The wine sees NO stem inclusion & is aged in OLD oak.
2012 Pinot Noir “Santa Maria Valley”
100% estate Martini selection (planted in 89 & 90)…10 picks thru the vineyard (23 to 24.5 brix), NO stem inclusion, 30% new oak. This wine certainly showcases the savory, reticent, earthy-floral spice of the Martini selection with a seasalt/nori character from the marine soils, BUT still sooooo delicious, lovely, ethereal & seductive.
2012 Pinot Noir “Oro Rojo”
A selection of the finest barrels (this year only 10). 50% new oak. Displays more grandeur, BUT still will lots of finesse & subtlety initially with elegance, gracefulness, class & refinement. WOW!! A real standout!!!!
Syrah is undoubtedly one of the true “noble” grape varieties of the world & has been for a long, long time. Unfortunately, Syrah is not in fashion right now & I am not sure exactly why. I, in fact, wish I had a dollar for every time a wine professional/wine buyer/server has told me in the past 5 years, how Syrah based wines, (especially New World versions) do not sell so well for them. I would be rich!
I am saddened to hear of this plight.
Well grown & crafted Syrah deserves a niche in the wine world. Not only does this grape variety have world class potential, it also can fill the big puka between Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of weight, drama & profoundness. The very best can have intricacy, pedigree, UN-heaviness & texture a notch or 2 away from Pinot Noir, with the depth, masculinity & regality a notch or 2 away from Cabernet Sauvignon. Syrah can be an ideal “tweener”.
Here are 3 examples which reminded me of this thought.
The Ogier family had been farming their vineyards & selling off to their grapes for many years (more recently to prominent producers such as Chapoutier & Guigal), until 1987 when they decided to grow & produce their own wine under their own label. At that time, they owned roughly 6 acres in Cote Rotie. Son, Stephane, started working alongside his father in 1998 & took over the domaine in 2000. Where previously, the winemaking was much more traditional with NO stems & NO new oak, Stephane changed his style to 100% Syrah, 80% de-stalked, 3 to 4 week stainless steel fermentation & 18 month barrel aging (30% new). In addition to their Cote Rotie, Ogier also began producing special bottlings–Embruns (2001) from purchased fruit & 50% new barrels; Lancement “Terroir de Blonde” & Belle Helene (a cask selection from their Cote Rozier parcel–30 months in 100% new oak). This is a producer of northern Rhone Valley Syrah well worth checking out. This 2001 Cote Rotie (13 years old), for example, was elegant, classy, refined, masculine, majestic with a surprising velvety texture. It had a gamey, rustic core with garrigue character & a sandalwood edge. I can imagine all kinds of meats & rustic meat preparations which one can have a field day with!
Noel Verset, for me, was one of the iconic stalwarths of the tiny Cornas appellation, who not only helped define an appellation, but shed a very different light on what the Syrah grape variety could be. His vines were old, his highly revered Sabarottes parcel yielded grapes like no other on the hillside & his winemaking was very traditional. I have to say, the resulting wines were truly one of a kind. They had a wild-ness–green & black peppercorns, true andouille sausage, raw meat, lots of red fruit, crushed rocks, garrigue with lots of herbal notes. His was a small winery, perhaps 800 case production in any given year. Rumors started circulating around the 2000 vintage, that he was retiring. (He even mentioned his thoughts on retirement on a visit I made in 1991). Subsequent vintages would pop up every now & then–I saw a smidgeon fo the 2003 & a tiny bit of 2006….& then quiet. It was the end of an era. Yes, there are other Cornas (Thierry Allemand & August Clape) which deftly carry on the appellation on the world class stage, BUT there was only 1 Noel Verset. I was completely enthralled with the 1995. It was quintessential Verset Cornas–wildly rustic, rock, peppercorns, wild herbs, with the rank smells of real French andouille sausage. It really sang out & was a thrill to savor.
For many, the Chave Hermitage is the pinnacle of northern Rhone Syrah. The family has been growing grapes & making wines on Hermitage hill since 1481. The vines today are organically & biodynamically farmed. “Every year, we start from zero in assembling the wine.” The core & backbone comes from the Bessards parcel, their largest parcel, located furthest west. Tasting out of barrel once with Gerard Chave, I found the Bessards to have a smokiness, a strong minerality with a certain elegance, velvety middle & lots of tannins in the finish. His parcels have very old vines. I found Le Meal was also smokey, but had distinct floral (violets, jasmine), ripe, jammy black cherry, green olive, spice & pepper with more of a middle, a riper, higher glycerine mouthfeel. Rocoules was fresher fruit, yet not as showy, with licorice, smoke, cassis, green notes & much more tannic. Peleat–more acid/structure with green olive, smoke & even an apple nuance. Diognieres had ripe cherries, jammy, bordering cassis like qualities with a funky/earthy edge. Baume–licorice, cherry, more austere, structured & refinement. L’Ermite–smokey, earthy, barnyard funk, green peppercrons, jammy–the most outgoing right out of the gates. The Chaves are master blenders, using all of the pieces to create a complete Hermitage–or as I used to say about the old Barolo masters—create an orchestra sound rather than just the horn section. Chave is the best at that! and HAS BEEN SINCE 1481!
I first “officially” met owner Mark Tarlov when he was about to launch his Evening Land project. I was referred to him by winemaker Sashi Moorman. Mark has since left ELV behind, taking with him considerable experience & insight into how to do things better, & has now launched Chapter 24, his latest Oregon based wine project. He hired Oregon local, Mike Etzel Jr. (his father of Beaux Freres fame) & then convinced Burgundy superstar Louis Michel Ligier Belair to consult. Theirs is a completely different perspective into producing top quality Oregon Pinot Noir, one I believe will change the game there. For one, Louis Michel wanted to have MANY different clones/grape selections AND from many different sites to work with. As times goes on, they will then weed out some (already….those from Dundee Hills for instance) , while continually adding more & more interesting sites. The goal is to then, I am sure, also plant their own estate vineyard(s) as well. In addition, Louis Michel, having learned his craft from the iconic Henri Jayer, looks for true physiological maturity in the grapes & then by their long, cool, oxygen rich, 35 day fermentations produce better & better wines which are at the same time balanced (& more naturally). The resulting wines they believe should be first & foremost delicious BUT with intricacy, complexity, layering & intriguing character as one swirls the glass. Yes, we believe this is a game changing project.
2012 Pinot Noir, Two Messengers–The grapes come from 22 different vineyards, in keeping with Louis Michel’s thirst for bio-diversity. 35 day fermentation, NO stems inclusion, NO punch downs, 25% new oak. The wine is so pretty, enticing, elegant, refined & classy…AND delicious!
2012 Pinot Noir, Chapter 24 “Flood”–Produced from SIX vineyards with sedimentary soil. 35 day, whole berry fermentation, NO stems inclusion, NO punch downs, 33% new oak. Lovely with a BIG textural change without any sense of heaviness. 13.3 alcohol naturally.
2012 Pinot Noir, Chapter 24 “Fire”–Produced from SIX vineyards with volcanic (inorganic) soil. 35 day, whole berry fermentation, NO stems inclusion, NO punch downs, 33% new oak. Higher toned, more perfume, much more stony….again delicious, with much more seductive texture.
2012 Pinot Noir, Chapter 24 “The Last Chapter”–Produced in 2012 from 4 vineyards, the core being from the top of the hill of Shea vineyard & another with 40 year old vines. 35 day, whole berry fermentation, NO stems inclusion, NO punch downs, 75% new oak. Epitomizes elegance, refinement & sophistication, BUT with surprising deliciousness, alluring charm without being forward or too front loaded. It is a very sensual style of Pinot, which what Pinot should be, right?
Boy, is there a lot to say about rose to really better understand what’s the dealio. Good roses can be quite a revelation, not necessarily in terms of drama or profound-ness, but more about how they can add a whole ‘nother dimension to pairing with foods. The challenge is finding the good ones.
In the Old Days, winemakers looked to improve their RED wines by bleeding off some juice & thereby maximizing the remaining juice to skin contact ratio. With the bled off juice, the winemakers then sought to make something decent. While this may make for better (?) red wines, it often made for mediocre PINK wines…..unless one was looking for a wine to just gulp & wash the food down with.
More recently, we thankfully have witnessed a fast growing number of light & fruity roses, where the grapes are harvested at lower sugar levels (& therefore less drama & lower potential alcohol levels), direct pressed in stainless steel tanks at cool temperatures. These delightfully delicious, fruit driven roses are ideal for warm weather sipping with or without food.
Now, we are seeing the next generation of this style of pink wines—those grown in marine soils, which create minerality in the finished wines, in addition to being light & fruity. This minerality creates ethereal-ness/interestingness in the wines, in addition to adding refreshingness & accentuating the wine’s vitality & liveliness. From my point of view, these wines are also much more diverse at the dinner & lunch table AND with a wider range of foods.
We are now also seeing more & more masculine styled roses rising in availability & popularity. These versions are produced from more hearty, rustic red grape varieties, often grown in more rugged terrain & harvested at modest sugar levels, direct pressed & fermented at cool temperatures, BUT are just more masculine, hearty with more structure, drama, depth & hutzpah. More reminiscent of Rhone Valley Tavel….which in my mind is more similar in profile to a lighter red wine of the old days. One could readily pair these kind of roses to lighter meats AND even red meats.
Think about—a Thanksgiving feast with all of the fixings….& then there is the cranberry. This has been a big revelation, which I think we will see more & more of, once the public acclimates to the bigger price tags (which are highly deserved in the finest examples).
So….that is the inspirations for this tasting. A chance to taste 4 really good examples of what rose can be!!!
Yes, just another opportunity to learn!
Every winegrowing seems to have a real shining star who emerges from the crowd & vanguards the region into the modern era. The very best of them capitalize on modern techniques both in the vineyard & the winery to produce better wines than their neighbors, WITHOUT compromising a core of traditions, such as using indigenous grape varieties & never losing sight of purity of terroir & unique-ness. In the Nantais region, the western most outreach of France’s Loire Valley, that man is Eric Chevalier. “Éric sustainably farms twenty-five hectares of vines, producing wines of great character and finesse. The Nantais is a maritime climate, and the vineyards are not far from the Atlantic Ocean. Consequently, there is an interesting variety of sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rocks, as this area once was ocean floor”. Eric has a little over half a hectare of a grape variety, named Grolleau (20 year old vines), from which he produces a superb, interesting, ethereal PINK wine. The wine is wild yeast fermented & aged on its lees in subterranean, glass lined cuvees for more texture & complexity. Here is that wine! Remarkably light, ethereal, salty, pure, precise AND most imporatant delicious!
Domaine Gramenon & its winemaker Maxime Francois Laurent is certainly that standout young phenom leading the charge in France’s southern Rhone Valley. His style of wine is a distinct move away from the bigger, burly, brooding wines the southern Rhone has been known for, for at least since the 1930’s. More importantly he is part of that vanguard looking to be uber-sustainable & back to basics both in the vineyard & the winery, which is why he & his wines have garnered an almost “cult” like following. Yes, these are really hard wines to get….& for good reason. 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. 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. In addition to his work at his family domaine, Gramenon, Maxime also produces a small of wine under his own namesake label, which are even harder to get than those of Gramenon. Here is his rose—1/3 each of Syrah, Grenache & Cinsault (25 year old vines) grown in clay limestone soils, direct pressed, wild yeast fermented with NO malolactic. Another example of his thirst of purity, sense of place deliciousness & authenticity. This wine definitely smelled & tasted of the soil. NO tooty fruitiness here! BUT, still brimming with deliciousness.
The Maxime Magnon wines are some of the hardest for us to get. Magnon is part of one of the most revolutionary wine movements in France should give him a justifiable swagger to his step. He was fortunate to have purchased some prime parcels of old vines from abandoned plots and rents his cellar—a garagiste if ever there was one. He farms nine parcels over eleven hectares, with steep vineyards that reach high altitudes, and manages it all on his own. Maxime is part of the new wave of passionate viticulteurs who cultivate their vines with the utmost respect for nature and the soil. He’s certified organic, but also incorporates biodynamic practices into his vineyard management. Most of Maxime’s vineyard land is comprised of schist and limestone subsoils in the sub-appellation Hautes Corbières, bordering Fitou to the South. This is incredibly tough terrain to farm in, as there is virtually no top-soil, just pure rock and garrigue. His one rose is 30% each Cinsault & Grenache Noir & 20% each of Carignane & Grenache Blanc (80 years-average age). The wine is wild yeast fermented (the Cinsault separately) in concrete & aged for 6 months in 6 to 9 year old barrels. Yes, 1 case made its way to the Islands. I think most tasters were taken back by the darker color. It has a very unusual color, quite striking in fact. This wine also has a quite exotic nose–stony, flinty, even peppery with strawberry in the finish. I would say, this is a masculine, delicious rose….one I will remember for a long time.
Yes, Corsican wines are really happening across the country with sommeliers. And, Corsica has been on my wine bucket list to visit for at least 20 years. I have been warned however not to travel there alone. Seems like the remote parts of the island is rugged & inhospitable in more ways than just the countryside itself. Where Bordeaux, Burgundy & Champagne are regions producing wines of grandeur, class & sophistication, I would say Corsican wines tend to be more hearty, masculine in nature with lots of Old World character & spirit. That’s not to say, they aren’t good…..just intriguingly different. In France, Leccia’s have often been referred to as the “Rolls-Royce” of Corsican wines, a reputation earned after nearly 30 years of making consistently elegant and sophisticated wines. Raised in a small village in the heart of Patrimonio, Yves worked alongside his father in the vines and cellar at the earliest age he could. The Leccias have been making wine from some of the finest terroirs of Patrimonio for countless generations, Yves decided to branch off on his own in 2004 and focus on the single terroir he felt was the top in Patrimonio. This terroir, “E Croce,” sits on a thin chalk soil above a thick bedrock of pure schist, facing the gulf of St. Florent. This rose is 60% Niellucciu & 40% Grenache, direct pressed, wild yeast fermented & full of true Corsican character. Wow! Unlike the previous 3 vintages I had tried in the past, the 2013 had elegance, refinement & ethereal minerality, which really caught me by surprise. Kudos.
The Bien Nacido Vineyard is located midway in the Santa Maria Valley.
“The vineyard traces its roots back to the year 1837 when a Spanish land grant of some two square leagues was made to Tomas Olivera by Juan Bautista Alvarado, then Gobernador of Alta California. This grant covered nearly 9,000 acres ranging upward to the San Rafael Mountains from the Santa Maria Mesa, which bordered the Sisquoc and Cuyama Rivers. The ranch was generously watered by Tepusquet Creek, so called by the Chumash Indians to whom it meant “fishing for trout.” Thomas Olivera sold Rancho Tepusquet in 1855 to his son-in-law Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros and daughter Martina. Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros started construction on an adobe in 1857 and moved to the ranch the following year. He and his wife raised horses, cattle, sheep, several grain crops, and grapes for the production of wine“.
The current owners, Miller family, purchased this tract in 1969 & soon thereafter renamed the vineyard “Bien Nacido”.
Today, Bien Nacido covers roughly 800 acres of vines & is still quite breathtaking in scope. There is a myriad of designated blocks & soils, each “farmed to order” to the leaser. A good portion is sandy loam with tiny bits of seashells & sees morning fog & is cooled by afternoon sea breezes.
What is most tantalizing to winemakers is that several of the blocks still have the vines, which were planted in 1973 AND on their own roots. Of course, there is a pecking order to who gets what grapes. First in line for the prime parcels, includes those who worked with the grapes since nearly the beginning such as Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Adam Tolmach of Ojai & Bob Lindquist of Qupe. We are also seeing a transition, as some of the Old Guard who helped bring this vineyard to the forefront, such as Chris Whitcraft & Bryan Babcock, no longer work with the fruit. In their place, we today see a whole slew of young bucks such as Justin Willett of Tyler & Gavin Chanin of Chanin wines just to name 2.
Just the other night, two of our really good wine friends, Gail & Vern Isono, put together a BYOB tasting themed “Bien Nacido Vineyard wines” at our VINO restaurant. It really turned out to be a VERY memorable tasting, to say the least, as the participants brought an interesting selection of true standouts from this iconic vineyard to share with the gang.
There is no doubt that Jim Clendenen has over the years crafted some of the most compelling Bien Nacido Vineyard wines. I also would say, he was one of the biggest believers/advocates who helped bring the Santa Barbara appellation onto the world stage of quality wines. This specific bottling, which was previous named simply “Bien nacido Vineyard” was his signature wine. The grapes came from “K” Block (Chardonnay planted in 1973 on its own roots in sandy loam soils). I have always been amazed at how Au Bon Climat’s Bien Nacido” Chardonnay always showcased real physiological ripeness, innate compelxities & class with remarkably lightness, 13 plus alcohol, well integrated oak (despite being barrel fermented & with roughly 75% to 100% new oak) AND ageworthiness. Here is the living proof!!!!!!! The wine was all about mineral out of the gates…high toned, highly refined with fresh peach skin & layers of marzipan, which acvhnged to more of a creamsicle note with more air. This 1995 was so pure, seamless & complete with fabulous texture & balance (2 of Clendenen’s signature winemaking traits) with a long, citrusy finish. AND, it was so surprisingly youthful still! Crazy good!
1998 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Nuits-Blanches–Why Not“
Though Au Bon Climat’s more ethereal, highly refined, higher acid, lower alcohol Chardonnays had quite a following with the wine professionals, the wines were only lukewarmly received by the major media. BIG, oaky, lavish Chardonnays were in style & the emerging new age of wine drinkers readily jumped on the band wagon. Where there was once a waiting list of customers, times were changing. With the 1997 vintage, Clendenen decided to add another Chardonnay to his portfolio, one which tasters later would playfully say was more of a homage to the newer, IN style of wine. The “White Knight” was also produced from Bien Nacido’s “K” Block, but was picked a week or 2 later AND aged in a considerable amount of new oak. The bottle was more fancy & heavy in weight with a newly designed “look”, with the designation “Nuits-Blanches”…& his statement–“Why?”…front & center. This wine, of course, was ABC’s highest scoring wine in quite some time. Depressing????? Maybe for an artist, but Clendenen followed that wave of success in 1998 with his third “Nuits-Blanches”, this time with his simple statement–“Why Not“. Even though this Chardonnay comes from the same “K” Block, the resulting wine is so VERY different! The wine is more stony than minerally, with marzipan, orange blossom, fennel, creamsicle, apricot pit nuances. Dry, still quite oaky up front & quite youthful & resoundingly structured in its core with a long, grandiose finish. (FYI–starting with the 2000 vintage, Clendenen again adjusted this bottling by blending in some earlier harvest K Block & later some Chardonnay from his own Le Bon Climat vineyard across the river….& renamed this wine Nuits Blanches au Bouge).
2006 Foxen Pinot Noir “Block 8-Bien Nacido Vineyard”
2006 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “this is the “n” my only friend the “n””
The Foxen gang are really good people who helped bring Santa Barbara along wine wise. Bill Wathen studied under the legendary Pinot maestro, Dick Graff, at Chalone & along with his partner Dick Dore founded Foxen in the 1980’s. Their wine, unfortunately, did not show so well on this night. We’re not sure if it was shipping, storage or what. The 2006 Whitcraft was also in a dumb stage….but showed MUCH better than the Foxen & was so much more vinous, balanced & complete. As the night wore on, one could readily tell this wine has the stuffing & all the right fixings….just needs time. Chris Whitcraft, for me, was one of the “larger than life”, REAL characters of the wine industry. His wines were like him, in that one never knew what to expect, not only with each vintage, but when opening any of his wines at any given time. In short, they were all idiosyncractic & I have found over the years, either people really liked them or they really hated them. Chris was a protege/friend to the iconic Burt Williams, the namesake, founding winemaker of the old Williams & Selyem. He defined his winemaking as artisan & done without electricity. From early on, his 3 prized parcels were “Q” & “N” Blocks from the Bien Nacido Vineyard….as well as the Hirsch Vineyard of the true Sonoma Coast. When he hit it, he hit a home run. In 2006, Chris produced a terrific “N” Block Pinot Noir. He felt, however, after tasting through the barrels with Burt, there was one barrel, which had to be singled out & bottled on its own. This is that wine!!! ONE barrel. Sadly, either the 2006 or perhaps 2007 vintage , Whitcraft decided to say aloha to Bien Nacido. It really was the end of an era. On this night, the wine had a surinam cherry kind of pungency, with much earth, spice–rustic, totaly vinous, great core, mineral, showy….much more showy than his normal “N” Block bottlings (Martini selection–planted in 1973 & own rooted). I remembered how proud Chris was of this wine, when I first tasted it with him. I too agreed this was one of his finest, which is saying alot, considering all of the giants he made during his career. I was sad to hear of Chris’ passing earlier this year. He & his wines were like no other. Aloha, my friend. RIP.
Adam Tolmach is another one of Santa Barbara’s (if not all of California) REAL superstar winemakers! His wines are THAT GOOD! He was once co-founding winemaker at Au Bon Climat, but eventually packed up his bags to found his own winery, which he named Ojai. His wines thankfully also have Old World sensibility. Where his Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, & especially his Syrahs used to get HUGE scores from the major publications, especially Robert Parker, one could see over the years his decision to trim the oak usage appealed to the scorers less. How crazy is that? For me these same wines are better than ever. In fact, let me just say, when touring Californian wine country, our last visit is typically Ojai. It really is hard to follow his wines with any others. His top Bien Nacido Pinot parcel is “N” Block (planted in 1973, on its own roots). Unfortunately, on this night, the 2001’s nose was completely & utterly shutdown….despite us trying to agressively decant it back & forth for 25 minutes. On the palate, the wine, however, showed hard mineral, immense structure, HUGE vinosity, intensity with great texture & flow…..just so damned tight. I think this will be quite a wine, though, once it comes out of hibernation.
IN REPLY (from Fabien Castel of Ojai Vineyard)–“Incidentally I read the note about your recent tasting of the 2001 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido.The wine does need a lot more time and I can give some background as to why it tasted the way it did. It was my first year working with Adam. The 2001-2002 vintages ended being the densest and most angular for Pinot Noir. Part was extraction levels (punch downs), inclusion of a new cooper, occasional saignee and other finer details in the cellar. Ultimately it prompted Adam to rethink the way he was dealing with those wines and not repeat that level of texture that was drawing praises but not satisfying his sense of what the varietal had to offer. The wines had been softer in prior years (1996 to 2000) and would return to gentler textures in 2005, 2006. By 2007 Bien Nacido was less extracted with grapes picked earlier, now showing on an ideal course, 7 years later. Today he is adding again some extraction since he moved in a different realm of physiological maturation of the grapes. He has found delicacy and is ready to reintroduce power“.
1993 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Bien Nacido Vineyard”
Chris Whitcraft excelled at producing real provocative, HUGELY vinous, masculine, savory, rustic Pinot Noir from both the “Q” & “N” blocks of the Bien Nacido Vineyard. He was lucky to be there in the early days & was therefore able to garner getting the Old Vine fruit from each, which came from the vines planted in 1973 on its own roots. Sometime in the 90’s, since the rows between the vines were so wide, they went through & planted another row in between (referred to as interplantings). In the case of “Q” Block, I believe it was clone 667. & for “N” Block I believe they planted clone 115. So, every now & then, when Chris felt some of the juice did not reflect a “Q” or “N” Block designation, he would produce a “Bien Nacido Vineyard” designated bottling. AND, in some of the cases, he would also add some interplanting grapes in as well, just to add dimension. In any case, the Bien Nacido designated wines were VERY different from either Q or N Block & spoke of the vineyard rather than either parcel. On this night, the 1991 showed more of that pungent, rustic surinam cherry fruit, a peach tang in the middle with sandalwood, sap, funk/shoe polish/leather. It definitely had more vinosity than the 1993 poured along side. The 1993, on the other hand, seemed much more Californian. It was lighter in color, much more perfumed–light funk, peach/apricot middle, roasted coffee grinds, a more ethereal middle with a more fruity finish. We were all so surprised how youthful these 2 wines were.
What an intriguing contrast to the any of the other wines, that’s for sure! Much more elegant, feminine, refined….so seamless, impeccably balanced & so wonderfully textured. The fruit is sweet, ripe & surprisingly forward, but I believe that is part of the intention of this bottling. I also loved the vinosity & surprising vigor of this 19 year old wine!!!
1997 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “N Block”
I have been an avid fan of Chris Whitcraft’s Pinot Noirs for many years. I would be hard pressed to think of too many Pinots in the 90’s which had as much character & vinosity (old vine-ness) than his Q & N Block bottlings. ( Certainly nothing tooty fruity there!) Where his Hirsch single vineyard designated Pinots (1994 being the first) were much more masculine, sultry, darker, intriguing & harder edged, his Q & N were so much more vinous, rounder & more open. Chris worked with a Pommard selection in Q Block (planted in 1973 & own rooted). The resulting wine was typically the most open upon release. His N Block was Martini selection & was typically more earthy, reticent & shy upon release. The 1996 had a strong roasted coffee grinds/cocoa quality, with a very earthy tone. It was totally vinous on the palate, seamless, complete & long. The 1997, on the other hand, had a stemmy, spiced edge with a more ethereal middle & a long finish. It was much more refined & elegant than the 1996. Interestingly, I found this to be opposite when they were released. Both are still surprisingly youthful.
In 2000, my best friend, Nunzio Alioto, & I bought some Q Block grapes at a charity auction. ( He & I in those days typically bought small amounts of grapes from some storybook vineyards like Pisoni, Savoy, Mt Carmel & Eaglepoint Ranch & asked some friends to make it for us.) So, for the 2000, we asked Chris Whitcraft to make this wine. I believe it was 1 barrel’s worth. On this night, this seemed to be grandest of the night! Or, maybe because it was biggest, a beast with lots of hutzpah, chocolate, coffee & oak nuances. It also had, by far, the most vigor in the core. I found it way more interesting than a 2000 Whitcraft Q Block & a 2000 Hirsch I recently had tasted. Sorry, my last bottle. Thank you Chris!!!!!
These 2 wines are produced, by Mike Kuimelis, exclusively from their 4 estate vineyards. As you well know, we love working with family’s who own & work their vineyards. 2 of the vineyards are in the Dry Creek appellation (1 hillside & 1 hilltop) & the other 2 are located in the Alexander Valley appellation (1 hillside & 1 hilltop). This family definitely understands that true wine quality is created in the vineyard. We selected Mantra partly because of their terrific vineyards….AND mostly because of the unpretentious BUT passionate dedication of Mike Kuimelis to produce unique wines full of character. NO fruit bombs here!!!!!! No exaggerated, showy, flamboyant, fashion trending wines. His are elegant, suave, PURE, polished & classy. The wines are wild yeast fermented & then inoculated to finish.
2012 Zinfandel “Old Vine Reserve”–70 year old vines—94% Zinfandel & 6% Petite Sirah (field blend) from reddish stony Aken soils. 3 separate picks…16 months in French/Hungarian/American oak (25% new).
2012 Cabernet Sauvignon “Alexander Valley”–100% Cabernet Sauvignon (25 to 28 year old vines)—reddish, stony Aken soils (Cloverdale/Geyserville (hillsides)…Aged for 20 months in French/Hungarian/American oak (25% new).
Mobius is a project dedicated to offer more value oriented wines, still crafted by Mike Kuimelis of Mantra. While Mike still sources grapes for this label in an effort to keep the quality high, he is channeling more & more of his estate grown Zin, Merlot & Cabernet to this program. The wines are still stylistically more elegant, suave, well textured & polished.
2012 Zinfandel “Alexander Valley-Sonoma County”–100% Zinfandel from their Geyserville estate vineyard within the Alexander Valley appellation. This wine is aged for 16 months in French/Hungarian/American oak barrels.
2012 Pinot Noir “Central Coast”–The grapes come from westside Paso Robles (Eric Russell). NO stems, whole berry, open top fermenters & aged for 16 months in French & Hungarian barrels (25% new)
“Skirt Chaser” non-vintage (120 cases)–Mike Kuimelis’s latest “look”—roughly equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon (2007—Dry Creek), Merlot (2009 Alexander Valley); Petite Sirah (2009 Alexander Valley) & Zinfandel (2012 Alexander Valley)…Aged in French/Hungarian/American barrels for 16 to 20 months (30% new)
2011 Cabernet Sauvignon “California”–A much more value driven Cabernet produced from grapes—Estate/Paso Robles & Mendocino. 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% each—Merlot, Cabernet Franc & Petite Verdot….Aged for 16 months in American & Hungarian oak (20% new).
2012 Cabernet Sauvignon “Sonoma County”–80% Dry Creek & 20% Cloverdale (mainly Cabernet Sauvignon with some Merlot, aged for 18 months in French/Hungarian/American oak (20% new)
Jason Drew is essentially a 1 man show located up in Elk, California. When I first met him, he was working at a Napa Valley winery. He later worked at Babcock during their heyday, where, before he left, he was associate winemaker. He started his own winery, based in Buellton featuring some interesting Santa Barbara-n grapes. He & his wife Molly packed up & moved further North where they purchased their own place up in the Mendocino Coastal Ridge. Drew has been selected at least twice as “Winery of the Year”. His wines are lovely, delicious & impeccably well balanced. You can certainly win a lot of friends with these wines.
2013 Pinot Gris “Filligreen”–This vineyard is located on a rocky river bench, northeast facing in mid Andersona Valley. It is biodynamically farmed. Being so narrow, it actually is a cool, wind tunnel, which is ideal for this grape variety. The wine is fermented in 50% stainless & 50% old wood….50% malolactic, 5 months on the lees.
2012 Pinot Noir “Fogeater”–Fogeater is a Boontling term for the early settlers. The 2012 is 35% Balo Vineyard (organically farmed), 35% Atkin; 20% Morning Dew (Burt Williams’ vineyard) & 15% Wentzell….a combination of 777, 667. Old Rochioli, Pommard & La Tache. 30% whole cluster, 11 months in French oak (15% new), 29% each 1 year & 2 year old barrels & 45% old oak.
2012 Syrah “Perli”-Perli is 2200 feet up in the Mendocino Coastal Ridge, 10 miles from the ocean. co-fermented with 3% Viognier….40% whole cluster, 15% stems…11 months in 3 year old oak. We think there is a HUGE opportunity to fill a vast void that lies between Pinot & Cabernet, which wines like this can aptly & profoundly fill.
“Maison L’Envoyé, ‘The House of the Messenger,’ tirelessly explores the finest sites dedicated to the cultivation of Pinot Noir. We strive to craft wines that not only jubilantly sing of their origins, but are also delicious in their own right. With winemaking footprints in both Burgundy and Willamette Valley, Maison L’Envoyé champions many unsung growers who have farmed their vineyards over multiple decades and generations. Led by former Evening Land founder, Mark Tarlov, Maison L’Envoyé brings together a colorful cast of Burgundian winemakers, Oregon vignerons and Napa Valley based wine importer, Old Bridge Cellars. In Burgundy our winemaking team is based in the town of Beaune, drawing from several sites including the Premier Cru, Savigny Les Beaune ‘Les Marconnets.’ In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, we source a selection of Pinot Noir grown in both volcanic and sedimentary based soils, from multiple AVAs including Yamhill-Carlton, Ribbon Ridge and Eola-Amity Hills”. Maison L’Envoye from my point of view strives to produce wines of purity, transparency, elegance, refinement, deliciousness AND probably most importantly, offer GREAT VALUE.
2012 Maison L’Envoye Pinot Noir “Attache” (Oregon)–Produced from vines grown in 75% volcanic soil & 25% sedimentary soil. So, I asked Mark, what is the difference between this wine & the Two Messengers Pinot Noir? He said simply….”just try the 2 wines”. Attache has much more aromatics/perfume, richer with more extract yet more elevated character & certainly more focused. 35 day, whole berry fermentation, NO stems inclusion, NO punch downs, 33% new oak. More, more, more!!!!
2012 Maison L’Envoye Morgon “Cote du Py”–A VERY delicious, more “country” styled Cru Beaujolais (VERY different from the more supped up, SUPER Beaujolais renditions from Foillard, Diochon & Chignard). These are 40 year old vines from the Cru Morgon & its most revered “Cote du Py”, in fact located at the top of the hill, with its pebbly, schist soils with manganese & iron. The wine is wild yeast fermented, whole berry then aged for 12 months in 3 to 4 year barrels & bottled unfiltered & unfined. GREAT VALUE. Wonderfully food friendly!!.
2011 Maison L’Envoye Bourgogne Rouge–Produced from fruit–7 villages, the core coming from the Hautes Cotes de Nuits & 15% Premier Cru—“Les Marconnets” from Savigny-Les-Beaune (clones/selections—877, 114, 113 & 119). The winemaking is overseen by Olivier Merlin. –wild yeast fermented in stainless steel (long & cool) & then aged for 12 months in old oak. A very pretty, refined, finesse oriented Burgundian Pinot at a fabulous price.
2011 Maison L’Envoye Bourgogne Blanc–A classical Maconnais Chardonnay—pure, light, fresh, minerally & food friendly. The 2011 is a blend of grapes from the villages of Vire, Prissey & Fuisse & is direct pressed, wild yeast fermented & aged for 12 to 14 months in old oak barrels. Another GREAT VALUE!
2011 Maison L’Envoye Savigny-les-Beaune Premier Cru “Les Marconnets”–“Savigny-lès-Beaune, a humble commune off the beaten path in the northern reaches of the Côte de Beaune, is divided by the river Rhoin. On the southern side, closest to Beaune, the slope faces northeast; this is where the premier cru climat of Les Marconnets sits. The soil here is sandy and pebbly, rich in iron, and ideal for the aged vines which call it home. The wine is wild yeast fermented in old oak barrels & aged for 12 months. This wine displays the dichotomy of Savigny with an elegant fruit profile contrasted by savory notes. Petite, red berries share the palate with forest floor and roasted meats, sewn together by a taut mineral core and fine oak tannins. In a word: silky”.
Some interesting Mediterranean RED wines were opened & shared by the gang on this night. They also made sense for the kinds of foods we do in VINO.
Chapoutier owns 79 acres of prized parcels on Hermitage hill. That is a sizable chunk, to say the least. The core of their Sizeranne bottling comes from Les Bessards & its predominately granitic soils. There is also some Le Meal (old alluvial terraces with gravel & some calcareous) & some Les Greffieux (silt with shingles at the foot of the hill). The grapes are de-stemmed, fermented in concrete & aged in casks for 12 to 14 months. This 1989 was wonderfully aged–a peach/nectarine aroma with red & black fruit, dried flowers/hawthorne, forest floor, leather, peppercorns, camphor, sandalwood….very refined, classy & sophisticated. The various components were very much in harmony & this proved to be a fabulous drink.
I first visited Rostaing, I believe in 1991. Having visited his uncle Marius Gentaz just prior, I was really taken back at first with Rene’s VERY modern looking winery, especially when one compares this to the cellars of Gentaz Dervieux, Clape, Chave, Noel Verset I had visited earlier. In addition to the building itself, I was also quite surprised to see so many NEW barriques in use down in the barrel room. Interestingly, I did taste this very wine on that visit. My notes–“smokey (ash tray like), tarry, PEPPERY, black fruit, cassis, blackberry, tremendous concentration, high glycerine, lots of wood tannins, some caramel in the finish“. Since I did put any stars by the wine, I am not sure that I didn’t like it that much back then. Well, the wine has changed considerably since then. Everything is well integrated, though one could still smell & taste the considerable amount of new oak used in its production. It was, however, stylish, well polished & very well balanced. Typically Rostaing blends in fruit (95% Syrah & 5% Viognier) from 13 different lieu dits (schist, mica & silex soils)…partial de-stemming,..& aged in 228 liter barrels with a big chunk being new (in 1989). I went back to see Rene a couple of years ago. Because it was in the middle of harvest , we did not get to chat so much this go around & tasted but a few wines. I like his wines much better now. I did notice he has a roto fermentor now & also uses demi-muids in addition to the 228l barriques.
The Ceretto brothers sure shook the bushes in their neck of the woods, especially keen at marketing. When I first visited them in the early 80’s, their newly built winery looked like a modern Californian. The staple of their Nebbiolo was their Zonchera Barolo bottling (produced from a core of Zonchetta of La Morra, just under Brunate, which they discontinued with the 2010 vintage) & their Asili Barbaresco (which they discontinued with the 2011). The 1988 Zonchera was still alive in the core, just lean & refined. It is a pretty wine, but I would have probably liked several years younger, when it still had more flesh to the bones. OR, maybe it just got dwarfed by all of the other standout wines tasted on this night. I am still very thankful at having tasted it.
Now, here was a very interesting wine! Elisabetta Foradori is the master of the Teroldego grape variety. Her biodynamically farmed vineyards (of massale selections) are located in the Campo Retaliano valley. Some say, Teroldego is genetically related to the Syrah grape variety. I am not sure if that is true, but it certainly can make for complex, deeply flavored & colored, compelling wines, that’s for sure. Granato is all estate fruit & produced only in certain vintages & generally aged in OLD oak for 12 to 15 months. The 1999 was still VERY youthful at its core–sweet, black fruit, olives, herbs, earth, even chocolate & spice, while being well focused, hearty, masculine yet so cerebral, graceful & well balanced. This sure was a pleasure to experience.
Aldo Conterno was certainly regarded as one of Barolo’s iconic figures. He left his family’s domaine, Giacomo Conterno & founded his own in 1969 in Monforte d’Alba. His top holdings–Vigna Cicala, Romirasco & Colonello–are all top notch parcels within the Bussia Cru. His Granbussia bottling is a Riserva blend of all 3 parcels, produced only in great vintages which features much structure & depth of fruit. Grandbussia is released at least 7 years afterwards. Unlike his devout “traditionalist” brother Giovanni at Giacomo Conterno, Aldo adapted techniques from both the new as well as the old in pursuit of making better wine. He reduced, for example, the time on the skins, and vehemently believed in long maturation in large oak. This 1996 was stellar–classy, stylish, majestic & sophisticated. The perfume showed classic Barolo/Nebbiolo character, as did the palate, in a very refined, well balanced style. Yes, it can go on aging for a long time, but I loved how well it showed on this night with lots of vigor to its core.