Archive for February, 2015
The Santa Cruz Mountain Appellation can be quite confusing at first to the non-professional avid wine lover. This mountainous AVA covers parts of 3 counties–Santa Clara, Santa Cruz & San Matteo & is much more of an altitude specific (covering the mountain terrain essentially above the fog line, ranging from 400 feet rising to nearly 3000 feet in elevation).
Without a doubt, the most famous of this AVA’s vineyards is the Monte Bello Vineyard, which ranges in elevation from 1300 to 2700 feet. This tract was purchased in 1959 by 4 Stanford Research Institute engineers. Their first commercial release was the 1962, but their rise to superstardom really began when they hired Paul Draper in 1969. The vineyard has a very unique green stone/clay soil with underlying decomposing limestone, which coupled with the cool, windy growing conditions, create a very different character to the wine than those from other Californian appellations. The 1977 I was fortunate to taste again in 2014, is still one of the very finest Cabernet based red wines I have yet to have out of California.
Kathryn Kennedy moved to Saratoga, California in 1949. I often wonder how & why she had the foresight to plant a 7 acre vineyard of essentially Cabernet clone #8 (which she got from David Bruce)in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountain appellation in 1973. When I first tried to contact the winery to get some wine sometime in the 80’s, I remember being told how much they struggled to get even a ton per acre from their vines & in 2 vintages the vines gave them a mere 1/4 of a ton per acre! That doesn’t sound like a very sound financial model to work. In addition because of the value of their land, being in close proximity to the Silicon Valley, I am sure the family has given over the years considerable thought to selling off to the highest bidder, strictly in a real estate sense. Still she perservered & her youngest son, Marty Mathis started in 1981 & eventually took over the reins, including winemaking. Theirs is an earthy, masculine Cabernet, with lots of structure & a unique character, which is VERY different from the fruit bombs one normally encounters from the Napa Valley & is well worth checking out!
Over the years, one of the true iconic Chardonnay & Pinot Noir estate standouts from California is Mount Eden. Located 50 or so miles south of San Francisco, at roughly 2000 feet in elevation overlooking Silicon Valley, this small, historic estate was founded in 1972 (essentially the year, the vineyard founder, Martin Ray, was kicked out by his partners/investors). The original plantings, however, began in 1945 for Chardonnay & Pinot & sometime in the 50’s for Cabernet Sauvignon (by Martin Ray). Theirs is a cool, exposed mountain top, with Montebello perched high above in the distance & the vines are planted in infertile Franciscan shale soils. The 20 acres of Chardonnay is Mount Eden selection; the 7 acres of Pinot is also Mount Eden selection (65 years of being around) & there is 9.75 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.9 acres of Merlot & roughly .4 acres of Cabernet Franc, mostly planted in 1981 & 82. The 2006 Chardonnay was barrel fermented & aged for 9 months in 50% new & 50% one year old barrels. This is big, wonderfully oak laden Chardonnay, broad, grand & full of character & hutzpah.
One of the relatively new standouts of the appellation is actually 2 labels–Varner & Neely. I group them together only because they overlap in many ways, starting with the fact their wines both come from the Spring Ridge Vineyard (which is actually located above the Stanford University golf course in the hills). Jim & Bob Varner oversee the farming & winemaking & Neely owns the vineyard. There are 3 distinct blocks for Chardonnay–“Home Block” (2 acres, east facing, 805 to 840 feet in elevation, of own rooted clone 4 which was planted in 1980); “Ampitheater Block” (2 acres, south facing, 735 to 780 feet in elevation, of own rooted Wente selection, which was planted in 1981); & “Bee Block” (3.5 acres, northeast facing, 670 to 735 feet in elevation, masale selection from Home Block, which was planted in 1987). Under the Varner label, there are then typically 3 single parcel Chardonnays produced in any given vintage. There is also a 4th Chardonnay produced, under the Neely label, which is a blend of the 3 parcels & the percentages different every year.
There are also 3 Pinot Noir parcels–“Upper Picnic Block” (2 acres, east facing, 645 to 660 feet in elevation, Dijon clone 777, which was grafted over to Pinot in 2003 from own rooted vines planted in 1981); “Picnic Block” (2 acres, east facing, 600 to 645 feet in elevation, Dijon clone 777, which was planted in 2000); & “Hidden Block” (3 acres, northeast facing, 650 to 730 feet in elevation, Dijon clone 115, which was planted in 1997). 3 single parcel Pinot Noirs are produced under the Neely label & a 4th Pinot, under the Varner label, is produced from a blend of the 3 parcels.
As you can imagine, the quantities of each are small & the media praise is high–& therefore availability limited.
The pursuit of superb red Burgundy is such a challenge. It really is hard to imagine a more elusive, fickle grape variety than Pinot Noir, even those from its home turf in Burgundy.
In a recent discussion with a wine friend & whose palate I greatly admire, I was amazed at how he diligently spends so much time looking for flaws & imperfections in wine. Well, one would have such a hard time looking for pure perfection in wines, especially in Burgundy.
I, on the other hand, now look whether I enjoyed the wine or not, a little brettanomyces, or a huge dollop of oak or not, especially in Burgundy.
Which brings us to the 2 red Burgundies we recently tasted, which we enjoyed, flaws & all.
I don’t think the Burgundies of Domaine Maume were or are on too many top 10 lists. There are many possible reasons for that, but the fact is, I tend to enjoy their idiosyncratic, more rustic, old style approach to their Gevrey Chambertin based Pinot Noirs. I was amazed watching their wine ferment in underground cement tanks, unlike those in so many other luxury domaines. The wines have a musky masculinity & a deep, resounding stoniness woven throughout the wine which sets it apart. Maume has 2 Grand Cru parcels–1 in Mazis Chanbertin & the other in Charmes Chambertin. 2000 certainly had its challenges for many producers & their resulting wines, but I don’t care about that in this case. I enjoyed this wine. It was like seeing an old friend again. I was saddened to hear that this domaine sold a little while back, which made tasting this wine even more memorable. I am sure what once was, may be only a memory shortly. Change is inevitable at this domaine.
1998 was yet another vintage with its challenges. I remember once hearing a winemaker say “anyone can make a really good wine in great vintages. It’s those challenging vintages which really shows the true skill of a master“. This wine had wonderful perfume & pedigree…..& definitely Grand Cru in character. There is a lot happening in this bottle & one can understand why Leroy has such a huge reputation for their wines. The biggest challenge for me is the price tag, so I am most thankful for having the opportunity to even try this superstar cuvee.
1989 Emmanuel Rouget Vosne Romanee “Cros Parantoux”
One of the true iconic collectibles from Burgundy today! I have tried in vain to write something logical, coherent about this wine & still express something that is not expressible to me. So….instead, here are some excerpts fromto the rescue–
Here was an opportunity to taste some hearty, masculine, rustic reds…..from some of our favorite standout American winemakers.
Carlisle vineyard was planted in 1927 in the Olivet Lane area of the Russian River & is organically farmed. This is owner/winemaker Mike Officer’s Cru Zin, which he says is ‘serious stuff”—produced from an old vine vineyard which has considerable stuffing, & vinosity yet with wonderful texture, balance & site specific character.
A terrific Argentinean, grown high up in the foothills of the Andes Mountains (the core—planted in 1926) & crafted by Pinot superstar, Steve Clifton of Brewer Clifton fame.
A sassy, spicy endeavor—rich, intense, extracted, gutsy, tannic, a powerhouse—36% each of Grenache & Syrah as the base. This is only Les Behrens’ 3rd Sainte Fumee bottling.
A dramatic, explosive 96 to 98 pointer from Washington state & phenom Matt Reynvaan, which shows the innate potential the Syrah grape variety has in Washington State.
As VINO regulars well know, we are HUGE fans of delicious, wonderfully light, food friendly & absolutely gulpable wines. Furthermore, because of our Mediterranean/Italian comfort style of cooking in VINO, we generally look to the Mediterranean basin for inspiration, both in food & in wine.
We are therefore absolutely thrilled that on this night, TWO of our favorite French producers of delicious “country” styled wines will be joining us at VINO– Ghislaine Dupeuble (Domaine Dupeuble) & Cyriaque Rozier (Chateau La Roque/Chateau Fontanes).
Dupeuble hails from Beaujolais where they have been for well over 500 years. Typically, theirs is one of our favorite because of its deliciousness, unpretention & incredible food friendliness. “They tend to their vines without the use of any chemicals or synthetic fertilizers. The grapes are harvested manually and vinified completely without SO2. The wines are not chaptalized, filtered, or degassed and only natural yeasts are used for the fermentation”.
“Cyriaque Rozier is the highly revered winemaker and vineyard manager at Château La Roque in the Pic St-Loup appellation of Languedoc. (He also makes his own wine under the label Château Fontanès). The land is hard as a rock, quite literally, and composed primarily of limestone and clay. To plant a vineyard here is a game of patience and incredibly hard work. Over the last few years, Cyriaque has taken to farming biodynamically, a noble task that forgoes the shortcuts that most vignerons have at their disposal today in favor of producing organic grapes in a rich, healthy soil. Make no mistake, raw terroir and spicy garrigue abound in these wines, with rich, juicy fruit and silky tannins”.
I am sure for them this trip all the way to Hawaii is part of a life long dream. For us, this will also be quite a dream come true, having such authentic, exemplary, artisan, “country” vignerons visiting us at VINO & a night of their delicious, gulpable, food friendly French “country” wines paired with a special menu created by VINO Chef Keith Endo. Here was the menu–
WINE: 2013 Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais Blanc–Beaujolais Blanc accounts for only about 2% of the appellation’s wine production & is mainly found in the northern & southern parts, where clay (& some limestone) can be found. This soil is very different from the more common granitic soils & results in a surprisingly, mesmerizing minerality & vibrancy in the Chardonnay based white. Dupeuble has but 4 hectares planted, which is why we do not see this wonderfully delicious, uplifting, food friendly, gulpable wine too often here in the Islands.
WINE: 2013 Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais –I have been a HUGE fan of this estate & its authentic, TRUE Beaujolais for many, many years, not only because of their much more natural approach to grape growing (now biodynamic) & winemaking, but mainly because of how delicious & incredibly food friendly their Beaujolais is, year in & year out. Most people would scratch their heads why we would pair this wine with a hearty, flavorful pork sausage & its fixings, but this wine’s innate fruitiness , stoniness & wonderfully refreshing edge not only counters the dish’s richness, but also absolutely keeps the palate fresh & alive between bites. (reminiscent of how the cranberry sauce works at the Thanksgiving feast). I hope the attendees walked away with a better understanding at how food friendly this wine truly is.
WINE: 2012 Chateau Fontanes Vin de Pays d’Oc (Cabernet Sauvignon)–on this night, I was clearly reminded why my wife Cheryle & I were so taken by this wine on a visit there some years back. It is a wonderful representation of what a really good, delicious, food friendly “country” wine can be. AND, it certainly smells of the earth where it is grown & the shrub, wild herbs & sun baked countryside which surrounds the vineyard. Cyriaque began this family project back in 2003. The soil is reddish with limestone chips scattered throughout. This wine is interestingly 100% Cabernet Sauvignon (40 to 50 year old vines, biodynamically farmed). It, however, is really NOT about the grape variety & therefore does NOT resemble any Cab from California or Bordeaux. In fact, if you think of this wine as a Cabernet, you might be missing out. It really is about a wild countryside & a family & should therefore be served at one’s family dinner table, just as they would do there.
WINE: 2012 Chateau La Roque “Cupa Numismae”–Cyriaque is the winemaker & vineyard manager for this venerable, historic site & estate. It is said the Romans first planted here, which is further supported by an old Roman coin found there. (By the way, it is this coin that is the legacy of Cupa Numismae). This is a remote, rugged terrain with clay-limestone soils & an abundance of wild scrub & wild herbs seemingly growing everywhere surrounding the vineyard itself, which also somehow finds its way into the core of each wine. “Cupa Numismae” is the bottling (of 8), which originally caught our eye. Once, it was Mourvedre dominated. Today, it is roughly 2/3’s Syrah & 1/3 Mourvedre, without compromising its sense of place, integrity & soulful-ness. (I was once VERY leary of the meteoric usage of Syrah booming down in southern France. Because Syrah can be such a dominant grape variety, it can easily mask a wine’s terroir, especially if it is not grown in the right place, by the right people). Having spent some time with Cyriaque, thankfully one gets an immediate feeling/understanding his is a belief of terroir & balance first & foremost. In fact on this night, one of the diners opened a 1997 ballyhoo-ed northern Rhone Syrah to share. Judging from his facial expressions, one could immediately tell this wine was not to his liking. It was not because of the near over ripe fruit, nor the lavish amounts of new oak dominating the wine, but instead, the presence of “green”, unripe tannins protruding. The wine was not balanced & therefore not drinkable/enjoyable. The $150 to $200 a bottle price tag was therefore quite disturbing to him. In the Chateau La Roque “Cupa Numismae” bottling, in comparison, Cyriaque was able to find an intriguing, synergistic coupling of Syrah & Mourvedre with seamless-ness & a fine tuned balance without compromising its strong sense of place, character & mojo. It really is such a pleasure to drink, with or without food. Kudos, my friend!
Our first winetasting of 2015! We begin the year with a trio of slightly aged French classics, produced in a style reminiscent of the old days. It is a homage & a remembrance of the way wines used to tasted or aspired to be like……Yes, PRE-fruit bombs, PRE-Robert Parker.
Again, it is a friendly reminder of estate grown wines, where the owners are vested in their land & their wines from the ground to the bottle.
Where, they look for heritage/heirloom vines rather than scientifically propagated material. Where they farm sustainable & therefore have a living vineyard.
Where, the winemaking is the way it used to be, much less scientific & much more about the way their ancestors taught them.
PLUS, because each wine has some bottle age, one can better experience what the vineyard wants to say. Yes, this definitely a different kind of tasting……at least for these times.
Just, another opportunity to learn!
Their best parcel—1 hecatare, a limestone hilltop of 50+ year old vines, organically & biodynamically farmed. This is Bourgueil, NOT a Bordeaux or Californian wannabee & the Cabernet Franc therefore manifests itself very differently. NO bigness or showmanship. Wildly rustic character with refinement, etherealness & structure throughout. We tend to think wines of an appellation, like Bourgueil, to all be representative of the appellation. While that is a noble thought & while many producers certainly try, it just doesn’t end up that way. Bourgueil is located in France’s Loire Valley & over the centuries, I am sure it was greatly influenced by the ocean at one time or another, as well, as the powerful Loire river. These 2 factors had to affect the soils. Hence, the sandier soils from the flat parcels would certainly result in a different Bourgueil than those grown on the rockier hillsides & their strong limestone influences. This is a more masculine Bourgueil, with a wildly rustic, intriguing, provocative, dark nuances & lots of structure. The 17 years of bottle age has done wonders in harmonizing the components. AND, it has way more verve & vitality than the 1993, 94, 95 & 96 I have tasted recently.
Located on the Pomerol plateau of Right Bank Bordeaux. Mostly Merlot with a dash of Cabernet Franc, grown in gravel/flint/clay soils (rich in iron), organically & biodynamically farmed. The results—a classic reflection—rich, supple, yet with grace & finesse & a deep, gravelly minerality & structure. This is done in style reminiscent of Bordeaux in the 70’s & before.
The village of Blagny lies between Meursault & Puligny Montrachet, slightly offset & higher in the hills.The higher elevation & the high percentages of marl in the soils create very different wines than those of the lower vineyards. This Premier Cru parcel is only 1/3 of a hectare & was planted in 1934. Domaine de Cherisey is a stalwart of classic wines of intensity, structure & integrity rather than showiness & fashion statements. I am always amazed at how ethereal their Pinot is. It reminded me how pretty, intricate, sheer & haunting a Cotes de Beaune Pinot Noir can be. Wow!
In January of 1991, I had the good fortune to visit France’s northern Rhone for the first time & walked away with a real fascination for the Syrah grape variety, & its iconic home turfs–Hermitage, Cote Rotie & especially Cornas. Cornas is a small appellation, & the best parcels are on the steep, mostly granitic hillsides rising above the town. Cornas is 100% Syrah, very masculine in character, chunky, sultry, wildly rustic & so intriguingly provocative. The 3 finest maestros of this appellation, each of whom I visited, are–Noël Verset (now retired), Auguste Clape (now run by his son Pierre Marie & grandson Olivier) & at a later date, Thierry Allemand.
Inexplicably over the years, Cornas, especially Clape Cornas, has not garnered the prestige & clamour it deserves, which I never could understand. I guess I should be thankful that one can still get some & at prices a fraction of those of the top echelon Syrahs from Chapoutier & Guigal. The Clape Cornas wines are so personal, have such sincerity & soulfulness as these 2 wines (1996 & 2000) clearly reminded me of. In both instances, these wines are really vin de terroir oriented, meaning they showcase the Cornas hillside character, rather than the Syrah grape variety or the opulence of a sun rich vintage. While they both may never get HUGE scores & accolades, I found both wines to be so fascinating, soulful & full of old vine vinosity & the true character of a special piece of earth. (Tasters should not expect BIG, opulent fruit, eventhough both wines are quite masculine & vin garde).
I fell in love with Noël Verset Cornas on first taste. They were so masculine, rugged, hearty & sinfully rustic & sauvage in their youth, yet intricate, nuanced, provocative & UN-heavy. I always thought I was a minority for these wines, until I noticed the skyrocketing, meteoric rise in their prices recently. Although I am sure alot has to do with the scarcity of the wines (since 2006 was his last vintage), but at the same time, I believe there are wine lovers out there who appreciate good old fashion tradition, staunch, passion driven authenticity of a world-class wine & site which really is like no other. With Verset Cornas, I would always get green peppercorn, andouille sausage/raw meat, musk character, which I later discovered must have come from his old vine Sabarottes parcel. (Clape bought some of the parcel, which we tasted & found it to have a similar character). Cornas is a VERY different slant on what Syrah can be, AND Verset was a pillar of what it was traditionally like. I am sad to say that the number of his bottles are dwindling. I am also happy to say tasting this 2000, at this time of its life, is a memory I will cherish forever. Thank you for sharing.