Archive for August, 2015
It is amazing how every few years, a new superstar winery seems to emerge. Today, it happens so quickly, the velocity largely due to the media, specifically the writings of Robert Parker, Stephen Tanzer & of course the Wine Spectator.
In contrast, when I was growing up in this industry, I had a bucket list of wines I would hope to taste one day. The list included several vintages each of Chateaux Lafite, Latour, Margaux, Petrus, Cheval Blanc & D’Yquem, DRC Romanee Conti, La Tache & Montrachet, Chave Hermitage, Bollinger “Vieilles Vignes Francaise” & Egon Mueller Scharzhofberger Eiswein or Trockenbeerenauslese, just to name a few.
Outside of that classic realm, my list list also included a few iconic “other” wines, which I had only heard about–such as Penfold’s Grange Hermitage (as it was called way back when), Giacomo Conterno Barolo “Monfortino”, Bartolo Mascarello Barolo, Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino, AND, of course Vegas Sicilia Unico.
I was absolutely thrilled, for instance, to taste the 1971 Grange Hermitage in the early 1980’s. The Food & Beverage Director I was working with at that time was from Australia & therefore had quite a stash of Grange Hermitage wines, I believe dating back to 1955. I remember having to trade a 1966 Chateau Haut Brion and a bottle of 1971 Krug to get it. (quite the cost for a young, aspiring sommelier back then). I don’t even want to try & remember what it took for me to get some of the even older vintages. But the experience was worth it nonetheless.
Likewise, I was absolutely thrilled to taste my first Unico, the 1962, sometime in the mid 1980’s. I must admit I remember being underwhelmed at first. How could after all, an iconic wine, one only dreamed of one day tasting, ever live up to its almost mythological reputation?
With my second taste, however, I came to the realization that the pinnacle of wine for me at that time came from either Bordeaux and Burgundy and I was therefore comparing/judging “other” red wines based upon those 2 models. Oh, the 1971 Grange was much bigger & more resoundingly deeper & opulent than the 19XX Chateau Latour……or the 1962 Unico was more rugged, hearty & coarser than the 1962 Chateau Margaux.
I instead now had to adjust my thinking to….the 1962 Unico was indeed a very interesting, unique red wine, which tasted like NO other. Furthermore, it deftly showed the potential the Tempranillo grape variety has…..AND therefore set a standard for other Spanish reds to be measured by in the future.
I can still say the same today.
I was over on Maui sometime in June to visit with my best friends & their family. In the hotel complex we were staying at, closer to the beach & near the pool is a small, unpretentious “watering hole”/eatery named Castaway Cafe. I have known the owner, Gary Bush, for some years & can readily say he is a true wine fanatic.
Sadly, I had not previously been to his spot in the 20 plus years it has been opened. On this trip, my wife & I finally stopped by there to finally check it out, have a cocktail & enjoy the ocean, its smells & of course the setting sun & its colors.
As expected, I was amazed at the wine list. It wasn’t large but it is well selected & with reasonable prices. Unfortunately, we did not have the time to enjoy one of their bottles, at least on this go around.
Well, last week, we made it a point to get there, looking to enjoy some wine. After much deliberation, we chose the 2004 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Morning Dew Ranch”, which was only $75 on the list! Chris Whitcraft was a rambunctious, quick witted & wildly colorful character, who for my palate produced some of the finest Pinot Noirs out of California. He worked with some very prestigious vineyards including Hirsch from the true Sonoma Coast (1994 to 2000 vintages), old vine Q & N Blocks from Bien Nacido (both planted in 1973 on their own roots) and Melville, I believe beginning with the 2001. They certainly weren’t for everyone’s palate, but the good ones really rang my bell. His mentor was Burt Williams, the iconic, founding winemaker/owner of Williams & Selyem, when that meant something special. During his tenure there, Burt brought such iconic vineyards such as Rochioli, Allen, Hirsch, Coastlands, Summa to the forefront & therefore truly championed the Russian River & Sonoma Coast appellations, back before it was en vogue. In addition, he started to really get into the Anderson Valley as well. It was therefore no surprise that when he & Ed Selyem sold Williams & Selyem sometime after the 1997 vintage, Burt purchased a spot there to plant his own vineyard, which he named Morning Dew. The core of this vineyard is planted to old DRC, the old Rochioli selection & 2A, each heritage/heirloom Californian vines. It also was NO surprise that Chris Whitcraft was one of the first to get some of this vineyard’s fruit. In this day & age of snazzy, tooty fruity Pinot noses, I adore the muskiness, earthy, forest floor nuances & masculinity of this wine, which is much more pronounced now than when it was released. That pheromone/muskiness core is very reminscent of smells I get from red Burgundy, specifically from more rustic Gevrey Chambertin renditions such as those of Domaine Maume.
I know there are many tasters who will pick this wine apart, pointing out flaws & less than squeaky clean technical skills. That’s okay, cause that means there will be more around for me to buy & drink. Why? Cause I enjoy it, plain & simple. 11 years old, $75….even more so. Thanks Gary!!!!
So, that bottle didn’t last very long! The night was young & the conversation, fun & lively. Ok, let’s order bottle #2. 2005 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “N Block”. This time, I asked the manager if he could stick the bottle in some ice for 7 or 8 minutes, as it was a VERY hot & muggy night. Bien Nacido is a VERY large vineyard located in the Santa Maria Valley, down in the Santa Barbara appellation. This parcel, N Block, was planted in 1973 on its own roots. Chris typically got the Martini selection, & the resulting Pinot was typically the most reticent of his Pinots, requiring considerable coaxing/bottle aging for it to open up. It is the bottling of his which shows the most vinosity, intricacies & character, & this certainly reaffirmed that. Eventhough this wine was 10 years old, it was still a baby, surprisingly closed, deep & well structured. I suggest you don’t open this wine at this time. Be patient. It will be worth the wait, believe me.
That bottle was also emptied far too quickly. Ok, one last bottle. We decided on the 2005 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Q Block”, also $62.50!!!! Q Block is adjacent to N Block & was also planted in 1973 on its own roots. Whitcraft used to get the Pommard selection & the resulting Pinot was typically more forward, more masculine with rounder, deep flavors & more base note character. As I would suspect & as I find normally the case, this was the favorite of the night for most of the tasters.
I found all 3 Pinots to be so enjoyable & heart warming. Each was like a heart tugging song, sung by a truly soulful singer & in his own way. There was only 1 Chris Whitcraft & this trio clearly reminded me why.
If you are in the Kaanapali area of Maui & looking for some good wine, make sure you visit Castaway Cafe!