Archive for March, 2016

The next flight of this comprehensive Rhone grape varietal tasting featured 3 white wines from southern France.  The first wine, 2013 Clos Ste Magdeleine Cassis comes from a Cassisbreathtaking vineyard jutting out into the surreal colored Mediterranean Sea in the Cassis appellation of Provence, France.  This wine, however, is far from being a romantic notion because of its spectacular vineyard setting.  If you look more closely at the soil below the vineyard, one can see it is limetone dominated, which gives this white its vitality, freshness, ethereal lightness on the palate &  mesmerizing minerality.  For many years, therefore, this iconic white wine was the definitive wine pairing with Bouillabaisse, the world renown fish B Wine #9soup of Provence.  The blend is typically 40% Marsanne, 30% Ugni Blanc, 25% Clairette & 5% Bourboulenc, fermented in stainless steel, after which the lees in added back in & then further aged for 14 to 18 months.  (I remember a time, when this wine was more Clairette & Ugni Blanc dominated…..& fermented in concrete, so times have changed).  Having said that, this is still a wine of the site–soil, the salty air, the generous sunshine & the cooling sea winds.  For me, a classic.  The 2011 Domaine Vinci “Coyade” is a very unique & interesting southern French white wine which I frequently refer to as “liquid rock”, as it really does smell & taste like sun baked rock, with some wild shrub & herb nuances.  Produced from 75% Maccabeu, 15% Carignane Blanc & 10% Grenache Blanc grown in clay limestone soils, foot stomped & wild yeast fermented.  1/2 of the Maccabeu is fermented in stainless steel (with lees) & the other half in old demi muids, where it will age for 16 months.  This is a very masculine, mega intense, wild, powerful, stony wine, which makes you rethink your previous perceptions/thoughts with each sip & taste.  The 2014 Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc is another mega intense, masculine, stony white wine.  The reason why we served this after the Vinci “Coyade” is because of its innate pedigree & more layered/nuanced character.  It, however, really took me a long time to understand this wine.  The 2014 is 40% Clairette, 30% Grenache Blanc, 15% Bourboulenc & 15% Roussanne, 1/2 fermented in cement, 70% malolactic & then aged in foudre/demi muids, 10 to 15% new.  Definitely a white wine of the stones.

The final flight of this epic tasting, “In Search of Good Wine” featured 3 pink wines produced from Rhone grape varietals.  The first wine, 2014 Domaine Fontsainte Corbieres “Gris de B Wine #10Gris” has grown meteorically in popularity since I first brought this wine to the Islands sometime in the late 80’s/ early 90’s.  I would say key factors in its growth include a charming, outgoing personality, deliciousness year in & year out, its incredible food friendliness AND mainly because it really does over deliver for the dollar!  The 2014 is 50% Grenache Gris, 20% Grenache Noir, 20% Carignane, 5% Mourvedre & 5% Cinsault, tank fermented with no malolactic.  I would also say, that the quality has really improved over the years, without any significant price increases amazingly.  In comparison, the next wine, 2014 Chateau D’Esclans “Whispering Angel”, has changed since I first had it.  I am sure that has a lot to do with its growth in popularity, as I readily see it on top wine lists across the country.  The 2014 is a blend of mainly Grenache, with Cinsault & a smidgeon of Rolle (all from La Motte en Provence), fermented in stainless with twice a week less stirring.  The wine is still delicious, light on its feet, ethereal & therefore quite remarkably food friendly.  The final wine of this flight & the tasting, 2014 Maxime Magnon Corbieres Rose “Metisse”, is quite a unique & interesting wine, one that took me some time to get a handle on.  While there has been a movement to lighter, more ethereal, minerally styled roses, this masculine, heady, minerally one comes along.  The 2014 is 40% Carignane, 30% Grenache, 20% Cinsault & 10% Grenache Blanc, direct pressed, whole cluster (the Grenache & Carignane co-fermented) in cement, malolactic, with 6 to 8 month aging in old barrels.  My aha moment was when trying this wine with foods, & then realizing it really is more like a red wine in style.  Having said that, rest assured there is lots of vineyard character still in the wine (not some fruit bomb) AND it still has wonderful deliciousness & gulpability despite its heady, robust style.

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The next flight featured Mourvedre based red wines.  For many, the Mourvedre grape variety is a tough one to get to know & understand.  It can very easily make very non-chalant, raisiny wine or very high acid, super tannic juice or a combination of all of the above.  In actually, therefore, there really isn’t too many I would buy for our restaurants, for many reasons.

Here are 3.  The 2009 Skaggs “Montage”–Superstar entertainer Boz Skaggs is also a real wine lover.  On his 2 visits to VINO, he ordered red wines from southern France.  So, it is B Wine #4understandable that when he planted his own vineyard, 1100 to 1400 feet up (3 to 4 week longer hang time in comparison to the valley floor below) Mount Veeder (Napa Valley), it would be to mainly Grenache, Syrah & Mourvedre grape varieties & which he would organically farm.  The mix of grape varieties %’s change each vintage.  The 2009 is 48% Mourvedre, 38% Grenache, 9% Syrah & 5% Counoise.  The resulting wine has a darker, more masculine edge than I tasted in his previous releases, but it still flows so evenly & completely from beginning to end.  The 2012 Force Majeure “Collaboration VI” features high quality Clos de Ciel vineyard grapes & the winemaking talents of James Mantone of Syncline.  The 2012 is 55% Mourvedre, 39% Syrah & 6% Grenache, fermented & aged in concrete & large puncheons.  This masculine, sultry, intriguingly rustic gives an inkling to the potential the Mourvedre grape variety really has in Washington state.  The 2013 Domaine Gros Nore Bandol–is the family project of avid hunter Alain Pascal.  The 2013 is 80% Mourvedre, 15% Grenache & 5% Cinsault grown in their estate’s clay dominated soils.  The 2013 was partially de-stemmed & spent 18 months in foudres.  Eventhough this remarkably “rising” star is only hundreds of yards away from the iconic Domaine Tempier, these wines are so decidedly different–much more masculine, earthy, robust….still with lots of the rustic, meaty, gamey, wild herb qualities it shares with Tempier.  B Wine #7

We decided to taste the 2013 Keplinger “Sumo” on its own as this wine is very different from anything else we poured on this afternoon.  I think we can safely say, this is a big, masculine, lavish, opulent, full throttle beast of a red wine, which the name “Sumo” aptly describes.  The 2013 is 76% Petite Sirah, 20% Syrah & 4% Viognier, all from the Shake Ridge Vineyard up in Amador county.  The 2013 was aged in muids d’Oc & demi muids from Burgundy.  Rated 94 to 95 points & a 270 case production, I would say, makes this a real challenge to get.

The next flight featured 5 Syrah based red wines, so that tasters could better understand what this innately noble grape variety can offer.  The first of the 5 was the 2013 Gramercy Syrah “Lower East”–here is what the  winemakers had to succinctly say–“Walla Walla lies in the Lower East corner of Washington State. Our goal was to make a fantastic Syrah at a fantastic price. B Wine #8Previously called the Lower East Southern Blend, in 2013 we decided to change the wine to a 100% Syrah blend. The 2013 combines the freshness and acidity of Minick and Upland Vineyard, sitting at 1300 ft in the Yakima Valley, with the funk and meatiness of the rocks at Stoney Vine and SJR Vineyards in Walla Walla“.  The wine spent 16 months in French, only 10% new.  How can true wine lovers not love the wonderful elegance coupled with the gamey, rustic, masculine, savory character of this wine?  Furthermore, this is essentially the “entry” level Syrah for this standout Washington producer.  There are several other very stylish Syrahs in their portfolio to try, as well as a most interesting Mourvedre based red.  The 2012 Mollydooker “Carnival of Love”, exemplified a lavish, opulent, decadent 95 point rated Australian Syrah fruit bomb in all its glory.  The 2013 came from the Gateway Vineyard in McLaren Vale & was aged in 100% new American oak.  This side by side provided a very clear comparison between 2 very different takes on Syrah based wines of the New World.  The 2011 Faury Syrah “L’Art Zele”, in comparison is a more traditional minded Syrah from France’s northern Rhone Valley.   The grapes actually came from a small parcel, 850 feet in elevation, only 150 feet from the Cote Rotie appellation boundary.  The 2011 was 70% de-stemmed & spent 15 months in 5 to 15 year old demi muids.  The classical stony, meaty, gamey, lavender/violets, hawthorne northern Rhone character just jumped out of the glass with such a wonderful textural, balanced & classy mouthfeel.  This classical style reminded me of what true Syrah was like when I was growing up in the industry, & I was immediately reminded of such classics as those from Joseph Panel.  The next 2 wines came about from a collaborative meeting of 2 giants of the wine field–legendary French wine maestro Louis Barruol & superstar wine importer Kermit Lynch.  The first of the wines we tasted was the 2012 Crozes Hermitage “Les Batits”.  It’s not often one runs across an engaging,  attention grabbing Crozes Hermitage, much less a good one, worth the asking priceQuite candidly I was somewhat skeptical before trying this wine.  The dangling carrot, however, is that Louis Barruol has such a passion for the old, standout Petite Serine selection of Syrah grown in the northern Rhone Valley.  Because of his long time reputation & his (& his family’s) resulting network & relationships, Barruol is therefore able to find & source these heirloom/heritage grapes.  Because he then passionately crafts each as unique individuals, we therefore thankfully get some really “good”, authentic, artisanal Syrah rather than losing them to huge negociant blends (which usually are more about generalities rather than uniqueness).  This parcel features 40 to 50 year old vines in sandy loam soils, is 90% destemmed, fermented in cement & aged for 15 months in 1 to 2 year old barrels.  This really was a pleasure to savor & certainly (& thankfully) provided the impetus to reminiscent of the old days AND the pure enjoyment of & sense of wonder created by the wines of the old days.  B Wine #12The final wine of this flight was the 2009 Cote Rotie “La Boisselée”.  I really loved this wine as it vividly reminded me of the old days & why I so passionately loved northern Rhone Valley Syrah based reds.  Aside from the characteristic gaminess, rusticity, stoniness, pepper, it still was so wonderfully aristocratic & regal.  And, I am not sure how many would say this wine also had a loveliness & charm, without taking anything away from its masculinity, virility or rusticity.  I wish more people could taste wines like this, so they can better understand the incredible, true potential the Syrah grape variety innately has.  AND, although lately I have been more enamored by what I have been tasting out of Cornas than Cote Rotie, this wine resoundingly reminded me how inspiring Cote Rotie can be.  I am really hoping this collaborative project can continue sourcing this quality level of Petite Serine for their cuvees.

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On this day, with the help of Warren Shon, we put together another comprehensive tasting for young wine professionals.  The theme for this one centered around Rhone grape varieties.

The main goal was to again help shed light on what is “good” wine.  In most cases, therefore, I prefer to taste the wines blind.  No one has to guess grape variety, soil, region…NO deductive, grid kind of angle.  The questions we instead ask…..is it a good wine?  Why/why not?  How much would you pay for this wine?  What foods would you consider pairing the wine to & why?  And finally, when would you consider recommending the wine & how?  We feel this is much more pertinent to the restaurant or retail store floor.

The first flight featured Carignane based red wines.  This red grape variety, I find, is not as showy or flambouyant as the Grenache, Syrah or Mourvedre grape varieties.  BUT, well grown & crafted Carignane can have a wonderful deliciousness, pliability & a surprisingly wide opportunity for a whole myriad of foods.   The secret is finding the good ones.

B Wine #1The 2014 Neyers “Sage Canyon”–is, in my opinion, a homage to the totally inspiring wines of Didier Barral & Maxime Magnon down in southern France (whose wines we will discuss shortly).   The 2014 is 34% 100+ year old Carignane & 25% Grenache, 15% Mourvedre & 15% Syrah (all heirloom/heritage grape vines), which has been foot stomped & made with deliciousness & gulpability in mind.  This wine is really unlike anything else I have tasted out of California.  The 2014 has compelling, charismatic fruit, an unprententious personality, coupled with intriguingly rusticity & vinosity, all done with absolute deliciousness, balance & wonderful, seamless texture.  We are HUGE fans.   The 2013 Domaine Fontsainte  Corbieres “La Demoiselle”–is one of those wines we buy year in & year out because of its inherent deliciousness & food friendliness.  The Corbieres appellation is located in southern France & Fontsainte’s vineyard holdings have a mix of soils–silica, gravel, clay & limestone.  The La Demoiselle parcel has 102 year old Carignane vines which serves as the core of this cuvee–60% (done carbonic) with 30% Grenache Noir & 10% Mourvedre, fermented in cement & aged in barrels for 8 to 12 months.  The 2012 Leon Barral Faugeres–Faugeres is another village down in southern France.  The dominant soil is schist, the 40 to 70 years old vines are biodynamically farmed.  This wine sees wild yeast fermentation with whole clusters & spends 2 years in cement & stainless steel.  Unlike the previous 2 wines, this is much more gamey, wildly rustic, even with a little “fur” to it.  Furthermore, one can readily smell & taste the sun baked rocks, wild shrub & herbs that surround the vineyard.  The 2013 Maxime Magnon “Rozeta”–is typically the hardest of these wines for us to get.  The core is 50 to 60 year old vine Carignane with some Grenache Noir, Syrah, Grenache Gris, Maccabeu & Terret, all grown in limestrone/schist soils.  The wine is then aged in old Chassagne Montrachet barrels.  The wine’s outgoing fruity/gunflint core nose is somewhat reminiscent of the wines from Jean Foillard of Morgon, Beaujolais–(protege & teacher?), although actually so different in character.  Well worth checking out!!!  (We also opened a bottle of the 2014 Maxime Magnon “Campagnes”, but it was sadly corked).

The next flight featured Grenache based red wines.  Grenache is typically a tough love for me.  I run across too many hollow examples & too many which B Wine #6have an extreme sun baked, raisiny quality which I find very distracting.  Still, passionately farmed bottlings from interesting vineyards & highly skilled winemakers can really help fill a void I see between Pinot & Cabernet based red wines, in terms of weight & drama.  The 2012 Villa Creek Garnacha–comes from 3 of the top caliber limestone/siliceous clay soiled vineyards of Paso Robles (Luna Matta, James Berry & Denner).  The soils help to create mesmerizing minerality in the finished wine, which makes it seem less heavy AND much more interesting.  This 91 point rated 2012 saw 75% whole cluster & was aged in 500 liter puncheons, 25% new.  I really believe that there is a huge opportunity with a wide audience of wine lovers for this wine because of how delicious & mineral driven it is.  The 2011 Samsara Grenache “Larner Vineyard”–this 100% Grenache comes from the limestone bedrock soils of the iconic Larner Vineyard of Ballard Canyon.  The resulting wine has more lushness, fullness & less obvious minerality on the palate than the previous wine, while still being elegant & refined.  The specs on the 2011–clone 136, whole cluster, aged in old oak….total of 56 cases….90 to 92 point rating.  The 2013 Keplinger “Lithic”–is a new wine to Hawaii.  Owner/winemaker Helen Keplinger has honed her skills & craft at several top caliber wineries including Bryant Family in the Napa Valley.  I find it so fascinating that the 2 wines we tasted on this day each came from the Shake Ridge Vineyard up in Amador county & its high altitude, quartz, basalt & shale soils.  The lavish, full flavored, outgoing, 93 point rated 2013 Lithic is 42% Grenache, 33% Mourvedre, 25% Syrah, 20 to 30 whole cluster & then aged for 16 months in 1 year old demi muids.  The 94 point rated 2012 Epoch “Veracity”–comes from the estate Paderewski & Catapult vineyards of westside Paso Robles & their rolling hills of limestone/siliceous clay soils.  The 2012 is 55% Grenache, 27% Mourvedre & 18% Syrah, fermented in concrete & stainless steel & then aged for 17 months in concrete egg & 30% new French oak puncheons.  Tasting this wine after the Keplinger clearly reminded the tasters how minerality from these kinds of soils can create mesmerzing minerality & buoyancy in the finished wine & thereby making it appear less heavy than it actually is.

B Wine #5We decided to showcase the Sella & Mosca Cannonau de Sardegna “Riserva” in this Grenache flight because it delivers such GREAT VALUE.  The enormous 1200 acre estate vineyard is located in northwest part of the isle of Sardegna.  Grown in clay-sand soils, this 100% Grenache is fermented in stainless steel & aged for 2 years in large Slavonian oak.  We have found the resulting delicious, wildly rustic scented wine has a wide appeal & with a wide array of Mediterranean styled foods it can readily work with. The 2009 Arrels Garnatxa “Clos Oblidat”—is 100% Grenache, which hails from the Montsant appellation of Spain (an appellation which surrounds the more famous Priorat).  This is the project of Master Sommelier Emanuel Komiji & the estate vineyard is only 6 acres in size with slate/clay soils & harvested at a scant 1 1/4 tons per acre (186 cases).  The 2013 Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras is typically one of our favorite bottlings from France’s southern Rhone Valley, because of its soulfulness & deliciousness, quite a rare combination.  A taster asked me the other night, if this wine had VA (volatile acidity) & brett (brettanomyces).  Yes.  And?  I still like the wine.  The grapes come the estate’s 17 hectare parcel on the “Plateau de Garrigue” & its combination of red clay, limestone & the round galet (stones).  Typically the blend is somehwere around 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah & 10% Cinsault, organically farmed, de-stemmed, fermented in cement & aged at least 6 months in foudre.  This is a masculine, virile, more traditionally made beast.  In comparison, the 2013 Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape “La Crau”, also from the southern Rhone Valley, is an aristocrat, with much more class & refinement.  We also love its strength, rusticity & great longevity.  I am absolutely blown away with each visit to the iconic La Crau vineyard.  It really does look like a sea of stones (galet).  Even when they dug down 20 feet, it still was 75% stones (with red clay “molasses” & some limestone).  The blend is typically 65% Grenache, 15% Mourvedre, 15% Syrah & 5% Cinsault/Calirette, partially de-stemmed, fermented in stainless steel & aged for 12 months in cement & foudre.  This is, without a doubt, the crown jewel of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which by the way, gets even more interesting & complex with further bottle aging.

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Mar
18

Oldies But Goodies 02-27-16

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One of the real pleasures of wines, I must say, is enjoying an aged wine at a perfect time of its life.  Not all wines, however, get better with age.  And, not all wines are in fact meant to age.  Furthermore, I have found ageworthy wines often periodically go through peaks & valley as it sleeps/ ages.  The question then would be, when do I open it?

I remember, for example, watching one of the true “trophy” wines early on in my career, the 1976 Chateau Lafite Rothschild, evolve over the years, both in bottle age development & price.  I marveled at how the 2 attributes were so linked.

The 1976 vintage, eventhough a lighter year which therefore produced more approachable wines, Lafite was the clear star, at least for my palate .  I really liked the wine, because it had Lafite’s standout pedigree/truly noble nuances while still being surprisingly approachable.  I didn’t have much money then, but I liked the wine so much, I splurged & also purchased several 1/2 bottles too.

Over the years afterwards, I followed the 1976’s development (AND the prices, just out of interest).  I was fortunate to taste the wine at my work place, where I would serve the wine now & then, & I could therefore periodically keep abreast of how it was developing in the bottle as time went on.

As another perspective, I noticed every time the price really spiked, I would then try one of my 1/2 bottles.  In every such case I was amazed at how the wine had come out of “hibernation” & had opened up again.  I then surmised that when the wine had in fact opened up again & showed well, collectors would want to go out & buy some, so the demand therefore increased, thus driving the price up.

Watching a wine evolve over the years was a truly invaluable experience.  Because of the insight experienced over the years, I now better understand what the real sweet spot is I want to look for in an aged wine.  First of all, I relish bottle age development–bouquet & perfume, as well as a wonderfully harmonious, balanced & well textured flow on the palate.  At the same time, I also still want there to be a virile, solid core to the wine as well.  I therefore generally look for 15 to 25 year bottle age for most “trophy” styled reds.

I recently had 3 standout red wines the other night in VINO that fit the bill.  I would also, in fact, say……..it was drinking each at the perfect time of its life!  OMG.  wine 1

1985 Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon “Sonoma Mountain”-this wine certainly caught my attention.  Although I have been an avid fan & follower of the Laurel Glen Cabernets over the years, I still marvel at what they did to produce such an amazingly ageworthy wine like this.  This 1985, which was young, virile & quite hard in its youth, was not the prune mui, dried autumn leaves, dried, leathery, sometimes pruney nuanced wines one finds in the majority of 1985 Californian Cabernets we typically run across.  AND, there were no raisined, deeply oak laden qualities one finds in aged, contemporary styled wines.  This wine had a strong, deeply flavored, surprisingly youthful core still, with wonderful structure, balance & texture.  The nose had all kinds of different nuances & earthy qualities which were mesmerizing.  Wow!  This was truly memorable & reminded me of the Californian Cabernets of old……..PRE-fruit bombs.  Thank you Kevin for sharing!  wine 2

1987 Domaine Tempier Bandol “La Tourtine”–I have been very fortunate to taste lots of Tempier Bandol over the years.  I must admit, it took me a while to completely “get it”….BUT I certainly finally got it.  I told tasters at this particular VINO get together, this was the most floored I had ever been with a Tempier wine!  This 1987 was so wonderfully developed AND open, in all its glory on this night.  I loved the nose–wildly rustic–hung, aged game, wild herbs & shrub, licorice, lavender, gunflint, sun baked rocks with all kinds of dried red fruit; the superb, harmonious mouthfeel & texture & the long finish.  This wine was truly glorious & was singing confidently & purely!  Thank you to Gail & Vern for sharing.  Wow!    A Wine #5   A Wine #6

Interestingly, roughly 2 weels later, we were able to taste a 1987 (La Tourtine) & a 1985 (La Migoua)  Tempier Bandol again, but this time side by side!  Initially, on this day, the 1987 seemed much more youthful with lots of vigor & virility in the core.  In comparison the 1985 seemed to be freying at the edges with a prominent charcoal nuance to the nose.  With some breathing, however, the 1985 came alive & showed more youth than the 1987.  This bottle of 1987 Tempier Bandol “La Tourtine” just seemed much more lackluster & tired than the one we had weeks earlier.  What a very different experience!!!  Thank you to Vern, Gail & Brent for sharing!wine 3

1994 Chave Hermitage–here was yet another epic red wine in all of its glory!!!  Again, I have been very fortunate to visit Chave a few times over the years & also privileged to taste this iconic wine in many different vintages.  I can’t think of an occasion, however, where I was as astounded as on this night.  This truly was having a standout wine at an ideal time of its life in the bottle.  The nose was majestic, confident, masculine, savory, stony with graphite, herbs, dried fruit, meaty/andouille sausage/feral rusticity, lavender, smoke, pepper & a thousand other nuances.  I absolutely loved the breed & vinosity this wine deftly & proudly exuded.  Yes, it was a most memorable wine!  (We had the 1998 a couple of nights later & it was unfortunately quite shut down in comparison).  This taste totally reinforced to me why the Chave Hermitage is truly & undeniably one of the great red wines of the world.  Thank you Mike for sharing!

 

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Mar
06

Two Standout Napa Valley Merlots

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Californian Merlot was once a very hot commodity in restaurants.  Seems like every restaurant we went to offered at least 1 by the glass & there were many on their list.

Still, the category of Californian Merlot then usually offered a very different profile/style of wine than the Merlot based wines we typically encountered from Bordeaux, France.  In short, they were often very fruit driven, ripe, forward, quite supple & easy drinking & thankfully attracted a new crowd to enjoying wine while dining or as a cocktail.

Over the past few years, however, stand alone Californian Merlots has greatly dipped in popularity in our restaurants.  Some will say the highly popular “Sideways” movie help nudge Merlot out of the lime light & bring Pinot Noir to the forefront.  I am not sure if that is true, but the reality is that today Pinot Noir is IN & Merlot is in the background, at least for Californian renditions.

In reaction to this changing trend, we have seen, are seeing & have heard that more & more Merlot plantings in California are being changed over to other grape varieties.  In the Napa Valley specifically, it makes sense that the growth in plantings would be Cabernet Sauvignon.

Merlot based wines from Bordeaux, France, on the other hand, still seems to be growing in demand.  Not only are the iconic Chateau Petrus & Le Pin, for example, still regarded as the most expensive & prized Bordelaise bottlings eventhough they are mainly Merlot based, but we also see a growing list of petite Chateaux Merlot driven wines, from lesser known appellations, becoming more & more available in the U.S..  (In the latter cases, I don’t know if the general public is really aware these wines are predominantly Merlot based, but are buying them because they are Bordeaux….AND at a very reasonable price).

There are 2 Merlots from the Napa Valley which deserve more recognition.  They are both interesting, more vineyard driven, superbly crafted & surprisingly reasonably priced, given today’s price of quality Napa Valley grown Cabernets.

SELENE MERLOT

Typically the Selene Merlot is one of our favorites out of California.  Owner/winemaker Mia Klein is a long time, highly revered Napa Valley winemaker/consultant.  Her past consulting  projects included Araujo, Dalla Valle, Etude, Palmaz & Spottswoode, a venerable who’s who list for the Valley.

When she first started her own label, Selene, she chose to feature only Sauvignon Blanc & Merlot so there would be no conflict.

Mia Klein is surprisingly low keyed & humble for someone of her superstar status as a winemaker.  I would say her Selene wines are along that line too, despite the fact that they exude class, with superb flow, texture & balance.  Her winemaking under this label never gets in the way or overshadows what the vines, sites & grapes want to say.  As terrific as they are, I am continually amazed at how “under the radar” they are to the general wine public & even the media, especially given their reasonable prices.

selene 1991Her first vintage of Selene Merlot was the 1991 & up to & including the 2000, she worked with Madrona Ranch grown fruit, eventhough the label only noted Napa Valley.  The 2001 & 2002 (15% Cabernet Franc) were a blend of Frediani & Blackbird vineyards.  She did NOT bottle a 2003 & 2004.

In addition she also produced some single vineyard designated Merlot as well along the way–1994 & 1995–“Toth Vineyard” (Coombsville); 1995, 1996 & 1997 “Hyde Vineyard” (Carneros) & a 1999 “Blackbird Vineyard” in addition to the “Napa Valley” bottlings.

Mia really settled in with the “Frediani Vineyard” for her Merlot with the 2005 vintage & it has been since.  Owned by Jeanne & Eugene Frediani & currently run by their children & grandchildren, this clay-loamy soiled vineyard is located on opposite side of Pickett Road & Silverado Trail from the much heralded Eisele Vineyard of Araujo & Joseph Phelps fame.  One block she uses was planted in 1971 & the other in 1997.  selene 2011

The 2011 spent 18 months in oak, 80% new & because of the growing season ended up below 14 degrees alcohol.  It is long in character, still with an earth driven, solid core & wonderful, seamless texture.  The 2012 has more heft to the frame & deeper, riper fruit without compromising texture & balance, also seeing 18 months in barrel, but only 60% new.  Like with many top producers, rather than choosing a favorite, I prefer instead to appreciate how both wines provide distinctly different snapshots of the same vineyard, different because of the varying weather & growing conditions.  (Kind of like appreciating my son for who he is & my daughter for who she is, rather than choosing a favorite.)   The bottom line is both are well worth searching out & for different reasons.  As a side note, there is much anticipation for the 2013!  (Many are saying this is a near perfect vintage for most of Napa Valley).

NEYERS MERLOT

Bruce & Barbara Neyers purchased their 35 acre lot in Conn Valley (an off-shoot of the Napa Valley) in 1984.  They started planting Merlot using UC Davis clone 4 & a massale selection from Beaulieu in 1989 & 1990.

I distinctly remember when & where I tasted the first commercial vintage, 1992, of the Merlot as the wine REALLY stood out.  It was 100% estate Merlot, which Bruce himself made & of the 12 barrels, 4 were new.  Imagine standing in a room of 15 or so top winemakers pouring their big time wines from around the world.  Bruce was in fact there pouring a collection of standout Kermit Lynch offerings.  2/3’s through the tasting, Bruce walked up to me & asked me to taste a red wine.  His.  I was completely entralled!!!  And, with a Californian Merlot at that.  It’s nothing about being Californian, but please understand, up to that point, I can’t recall perviously having a Californian Merlot so interesting & captivating before.  I was all IN.

Over the years since, lots have changed.  Ehren Jordan was brought as winemaking partner from 1995 to 2005.  Helen Turley was brought on as a winemaking consultant for a short while.  The estate vineyard grew to 45 acres.  Cabernet Sauvignon was planted in 1994 with the help of superstar vineyard-ist David Abreu.  They planted the Ame parcel on the steep, VERY rocky hillside in the back of their vineyard away from Conn Creek.  Tadeo Borchardt became the winemaker–2004 to present.  They built a winery.  Just name a few.

The common thread through all of this, however, is that Neyers looks to work with heirloom/heritage grape vines, farm sustainably & produce the wines with as little interference as possible especially in terms of additives.

neyers MerlotTheir wines, especially during the Tadeo winemaking, are gorgeous, interesting, soil driven with superb deliciousness, texture, balance & Old World sensibility.

While Neyers is producing some of the very best Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Mourvedre, Carignane & Grenache out of California, the Merlot is still the one that has my heart.  Theirs shows the potential Merlot can have in California; it was the first of the New Era of Neyers wines AND I have to say, at least partially because it is the underdog.

Yes, the Neyers rendition is one of Californian real Merlot standouts

I was sad to hear that they will be T-budding over their 5 acres of Merlot over to Cabernet Sauvignon in the Spring of 2016.  I suggest you buy up while there is some still around.

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