Archive for Wine Thoughts

Jul
15

A Quartet of Tuscan Sangiovese

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Back in the 1970’s, when I was just getting into wines, Tuscany had its share of controversy. In America, because of the great notoriety the name Chianti had, its straw flask and often elaborate/twisted shaped bottles, Chianti was synonymous with Italian red wine for the dinner table. Soon there was a sea of plonk coming out of the region to feed the HUGE demand. It was the tireless crusading of regional champions like Piero Antinori and the emergence of superstar winemaking and grape growing consultants, which thankfully moved Tuscany from misery and lackluster to superstardom once again. The quality pendulum then swung to the far side with the extreme use of Cabernet Sauvignon and new French barrique to the point where the resulting wines could be confused as not tasting Italian. The Sangiovese grape variety can fade into the background, I have found, with as little as 15% Cabernet blended in. So, where is the median, that point where better grape growing and winemaking can produce something noteworthy, yet still Tuscan? That was inspiration for this tasting! 

2012 Poggio Scalette Chianti Classico–Back in the 1970’s, we saw the emergence of consulting enologists, especially in Tuscany, and we subsequently witnessed a rise in the quality of the Tuscan wines. One of the three most prominent stars was Vittorio Fiore. Poggio Scalette is his own most prized property (today run by his son Jurg). It is located in Ruffoli, 1400 feet up above the town of Greve & its very rocky soils. It is truly a magnificent vineyard, whose grapes are done with elegance, refinement and class, while still be thankfully true to its Italian heritage.  Their 2012 Chianti Classico is 100% Sangiovese di Lamole, 10 months in cement, to highlight this wonderful heirloom vine which is grown in this very special site. 

2010 Villa di Geggiano Chianti Classico “Riserva”–This estate produces wines of sheer elegance and class, while still being vehemently Tuscan. Here is the highly acclaimed 2010–97% Sangiovese, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, grown in clay, silt, sand, limestone soils.  90%–20 months in 500L & 10% 225L French barrels (15% new) AND then an additional 12 months in 12HL & 20HL botti. 

2010 Villa Artimino Carmignano–Carmignano was granted DOC in 1975 & then DOCG status in 1990 and is today one of Italy’s smallest DOCG’s, roughly 270 acres planted and only twelve or so producers. It was also one of the original appellations permitted to use (up to 10 to 20%) Cabernet Sauvignon and later Cab Franc, in their blends. Here is one of the top estates.  “Villa Artimino is truly a historical site. There is a rich history on this property dating back to the Renaissance period, when ancients such as Galileo & da Vinci once visited. And it is here that Italy’s 1st wine was produced under the DOC rules (which was Carmignano, the answer to a wine-geeky trivia question!) back in 1716”. 

2009 Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva “Poggio al Sorbo”–When I was growing up in this industry, Fontodi was one of the two Tuscan standouts others were measured by, showcasing the world class skill of then pioneering consultant Franco Bernabei. Rather than resting on its laurels, this venerable estate is producing their best wines of all time. Here is their highly acclaimed 2009 Riserva “Poggio al Sorbo”–I was told 100% Sangiovese (their own heirloom vine), 24 months in Troncais & Allier barrique, 50% new.  94/95 point rating.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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The illustrious Domaine Tempier has shown that the Mourvedre grape variety can result in something special and soulful, all in a very unique manner. While many others have valiantly tried to grow and produce another rendition of that top rung, somehow the results don’t offer the same kind of magic. Still, because of the limited availability and rising prices of the Tempier Bandol, we continue to look. Here are four new standouts, maybe not quite at the level of Tempier, but certainly very interesting in its own right and well worth checking out! Join us on this search! 

2013 Chateau La Roque Mourvedre “Vieilles Vignes”–Here is yet another completely different take on what the Mourvedre grape variety can be. While Mourvedre seems to flourish in the soils and climates of southern France, especially in a wild countryside with clay/limestone soils and a fierce mistral wind to keep vines healthy. To really make superb renditions, however, one has to really almost coddle and nurture this vine and it is not as easy as one would think. Well, since the Romans cleared and planted this vineyard way back when, one can say, the vine has had hundreds of years to prove its worth. If it didn’t result in something special it would have been long gone.

2012 Domaine du Joncier Lirac “Les Muses”–Here is a completely different “look” to what this grape variety can be.  “The estate’s terraced vineyards of alluvial soil and galets roulés mirror Châteauneuf’s terraces right across the river. Cuvée Les Muses, an inky blend made predominately with Mourvèdre, which owner/winemaker Marine Roussel masterfully crafts into a masculine, suave red wine of wonderful balance, purity and minerality—a noble, if not challenging, goal given the sunbaked terroirs she farms”.

 

2013 Domaine de la Tour du Bon Bandol–Who says the Mourvedre grape variety can only produce, hearty, masculine, rugged wines? Here is the proof that does NOT have to be so.  “Domaine de la Tour du Bon rests peacefully atop a limestone plateau in Le Brûlat du Castellet, in the northwestern corner of the A.O.C. Bandol. Nestled beneath the mountains to the North, it is a bastion of tranquility, an oasis on the Mediterranean surrounded by beautiful gardens and vineyards.   Today, Agnès Henry runs the show, crafting wines with power and precision, but also finesse and charm. Who better to understand how to make the wine than the person who knows the story of the land the best?   Fourteen hectares of red earth, clay, sand, and gravel rest upon sturdy limestone bedrock. Brow-beating excavation and focused determination alone have built these vineyards”.

2008 Domaine du Gros Noré Bandol–We end this tasting with a slightly aged Mourvedre beast—the wild side of what this variety can be.  “Alain Pascal could be a character pulled right out of a Marcel Pagnol novel—a kind of Provençal Hercules. He is a strong, husky man with hands the size of bear claws. That he is a former boxer and an avid hunter should be no surprise, yet his physique matches both his spirit and his wine—this gentle giant and his cuvées are all heart. Kermit–“Magnificent Bandols made in the simplest manner, très franc de goût, with a whole lotta soul.”.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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Jul
07

BYOB Chardonnay Tasting

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On this night, tasters, mainly our VINO staff, brought an assortment of Chardonnays just to try side by side.  Since it was a group tasting, we asked everyone to add in their 2 cents, so we could all learn together as group, from the wines & each other’s comments.  Thank you Keith for hosting this wonderful learning opportunity.

Here is the list of wines everyone brought–

2010 Ridge Chardonnay “Monte Bello”; 2015 Ballard Lane Chardonnay: 2015 Foxen Chardonnay “Bien Nacido Vineyard–UU Block”; 2014 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Santa Barbara”; 2007 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Sanford & Benedict Vineyard”; 2013 Jean-Paul Brun Beaujolais Blanc; 2015 Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon Mâcon Chardonnay “Clos de la Crochette”; 2016 William  Fèvre Chablis “Champs Royaux”; 2104 Savary Chablis “Vieilles Vignes”; 2010 Jean-Paul & Benoît Droin Chablis Premier Cru “Vaillons”; 2012 Robert Denogent Pouilly Fuissé “Vieilles Vignes–La Croix”; 2004 Cherisey Meursault-Blagny Premier Cru “La Genellotte”; 1996 François Jobard Meursault Premier Cru “Genevrières”.  Yes, lots of highly rated wines!  Thank you all for sharing.

Here are some of my highlights.

The 2010 Ridge Chardonnay “Monte Bello” (roughly $80 a bottle retail–92 to 94 point ratings)–showed lots of blatant, toasty oak/hazelnut (with apparent American oak pungency) notes right out of the gates.  Well made, good flow, structure, stony, surprisingly light on its feet (in comparison to what the nose forewarned), oak framed with prominent alcohol in the finish (more than the 14.4% shown on the label).  A question mark purchase for me after seeing the price.  2015 Foxen Chardonnay “Bien Nacido Vineyard–UU Block” (roughly $40 retail–rated 90 points)–reminiscent of the region’s old guard & therefore balance & mineral driven, more so than expensive oak,  flashiness & alcohol.  This wine showed a better finish & therefore was much more palatable than the previous 2.  Surprisingly elegant, though forward with well integrated oak & high lemon like acidity (almost too much so for some tasters).  It is also a peculiar combination of stony, fresh steamed rice nuanced & an old fashion pungency (the latter I sometimes get from Santa Maria Valley old vine clone 4).  Interestingly, the 2014 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Santa Barbara” (roughly $22 retail–88 points)–was much more seamless from beginning to end, classy, better textured & more complete than the previous 3 wines.  Tasting these wines side by side was really eye opening & made me appreciate the Au Bon Climat winemaking even that much more.  While it wasn’t grand or anything of the sorts, it displayed sublime minerality, grace, deliciousness & real value.  2007 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Sanford & Benedict Vineyard” (roughly $35 retail–88 points)–there is no doubt this was by far the most compelling of the Californian Chardonnays we sampled on this night.  By far!  The wine had mesmerizing vinosity, minerality & mojo, like one would expect from a Cru bottling with superb texture, seamlessness, balance & class. We hear more & more rumblings of how ABC has seen their best days or their production is way too high to make top echelon wines.  This bottling clearly shows otherwise……AND, at 11 years old.  What a wine!  Thank you Erica & Jamm for sharing.

We then segued into Chardonnays from Burgundy, France.  While on paper the list looked impressive & interesting, I scratched my head in wonderment as I felt some of them greatly under delivered.  Still, tasting these wines side by side turned out to be quite the learning experience–which made some wines really shine & others not.  (We didn’t do the tasting blind, in order to make the experience less intimidating for the new attendees).

The 2016 William Fèvre Chablis “Champs Royaux” was a real surprise, as it perennially receives media high praise, is surprisingly reasonably priced & has wide appeal.  The 2016 features a pretty floral, seashell & mineral scented nose with a delicious, rounder than expected mouthfeel.  In comparison, the 2104 Savary Chablis “Vieilles Vignes” was a Chablis of wonderful, sheer etherealness & mesmerizing, pristine purity.  The finesse, vinosity, delicate intricacies carry through on the palate, done with great class & truly remarkable lightness/airiness.  WOW!  The 2012 Robert Denogent Pouilly Fuissé “Vieilles Vignes–La Croix” also showed exceptionally well on this night.  Much richer, seemingly riper & therefore more showy than the preceeding Chablis born wines, this La Croix vineyard (but 2 hectares of 80 year old vines) bottling had prominent & captivating vinosity & character done with superb texture, balance & class.  Stellar!  I distinctly remember the 2004 Cherisey Meursault-Blagny Premier Cru “La Genellotte” upon its release, mostly because how much I loved this newly discovered domaine for me & its wines.  Theirs was very reminiscent of the old style of artisan white Burgundy I grew up with.  It was vehemently masculine, virile & seemingly like a chiseled block of rock……with a resounding oak thread framing it.  I remember thinking, “I wish I could taste this wine again when it is 20 years old!”  On this night, it was but 14 years of age & I was quite stunned at how beautiful, seamless & stunning it truly evolved to be in the bottle with age.   I understand & appreciate that it is a VERY unique style & therefore VERY different from the more highly acclaimed domaines such as Coche Dury, Ente & Roulot.  And, I am most thankful for the difference, because it is so good, artisan & unique.  (Thank you Cheryle for sharing!)   The shining star of the evening for me was the 1996 François Jobard Meursault Premier Cru “Genevrières” (thank you VERY much Jamm & Erica for sharing).  I also remember having this wine upon release.  It was unbelievably tight fisted & hard.  (I think this style has held them back from gaining the true acclaim they profoundly deserve).  I also remember thinking, I can’t wait to try this wine again when it is 25 years old.  Here it was  23 years old…..in all its glory.  For me, this was having a grand wine at an ideal point of its life.  (I should also mention, that in the early days, I thought their Premier Cru Charmes parcel was their showpiece.  While it still is so very impressive, I find their Genevrières to be worthy of Grand Cru level quality & this wine clearly shows why).

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Jul
02

Italian Barbera

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In the old days I would stumble upon a Piemontese Barbera & think to myself imagine the possibilities of what can be.  Barbera can produce & make really interesting AND food friendly red wine.  One of the big challenges it faced was living in the shadow of the highly esteemed Nebbiolo…..the grape variety used to produce Barbaresco & Barolo.  It was, after all, these appellations & wines which would draw so much fanfare within & to the region, even before their regional truffle came onto the mass American radar screen. 

Because of this, many of the finest sites (& MUCH attention) was devoted to Nebbiolo.  If Nebbiolo fared well in a spot, it was planted.  If it didn’t, then other indigenous grape vines were planted–Dolcetto, Freisa, Grignolino, Ruche, Croatina AND Barbera, just to name a few.

While those “other” grape varieties can be interesting & a really good drink, Barbera for me, was a possible though distant heir apparent to the throne.  It was capable of making interesting wine which could have character, mojo, tremendous food friendliness AND, it was much easier to grow.

The real challenge is Barbera actually likes to over produce.  It grows & loves to grow.

One of the secrets then is how does one harness its energy & attributes–essentially tame it, first in the vineyard & then in the winery.

I would further add that Piemonte is also the home to some of the world’s finest truffle.  Their vines therefore share the same soils as their truffle.  While, one may not get a “truffle”-ness in the wines, in my opinion, I find similar kind of pungency & savoriness in their core & that is another reason why good renditions can work well at the dining table.

Two of the early champions for me of this grape variety were the Coppo brothers with their Barbera d’Asti “Camp du Rouss” & Giacomo Bologna with his Braida Barbera d’Asti “Bricco dell’ Uccellone”.  Both created quite the sensation & really made others rethink what this grape variety could be.  Needless to say, the category grew in availability here in the U.S., in most cases however, with either wines overdone or wines that seemed like they were secondary to the winery–something I consider when buying each bottle & from each producer.

There are some very good Barbera out there that will show you what can be, but one just has to be very selective.  Here are several we tasted recently which are well worth checking out. 

Elvio Tintero Rosso–this bottling is not 100% Barbera.  It is also not labeled with a vintage.  I included this “country” wine because more often than not it is predominately Barbera & because it is delicious, food friendly & so gulpable.  This is the kind of wine one pops open when friends come over just to hang out &/or talk story.  Unpretentious, thirst quenching & brings a smile to your face with each gulp.  PLUS, it is a GREAT VALUE. 

2015 Cantine Valpane Barbera del Monferrato–what a discovery this has been for us!  It is a more meaty, musk oriented rendition–dark & intriguing in its core–with lots of character & mojo at an almost silly price, it is so reasonable.  It will never be confused as being Cru in quality, but it is very pleasurable, is an interesting drink AND does really over deliver for the dollar spent. 

2011 Cavallotto Barbera d’Alba “Vigna del Cuculo”–I am a HUGE fan of Cavallotto & their wines.  They have such purity, etherealness & refinement, done with wonderful texture, balance & transparency.  This wine comes from their Bricco Boschis Cru (wild yeast fermented & aged for 15 to 18 months in oak) & is one to search out for if you are looking for superb, interesting, classy, well made Piemontese red wine at surprisingly reasonable prices. 

2016 Giuseppe Cortese Barbera d’Alba–this is yet another winery who crafts very elegant, refined red wines & one of our favorites from Barbaresco.  The winery (& their house above) is located just above the iconic & breathtaking Rabajà CRU. Their Barbera (7/10’s of a hectare–planted in 1968), however, comes from the “other” side of the hill, 600 to 800 feet in elevation–Trifolera–on one of the 3 crests between the great Rabajà & Martinega CRUs.

SUPER Barbera.  While these are all quite good & interesting, these next 2 are really in a different class, which is why I refer to them as SUPER Barbera.

2009 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba “Cascina Francia”–As many have noted on line, this is considered the best of what Piemontese Barbera can be.  Here are some of my notes previously posted in this blog after our trip to Piemonte in 2016.  Giacomo Conterno is run by the current generation–Roberto Conterno.  Roberto said the estate vineyard, (a former wheat field)Francia was planted in 1974–9HA of Nebbiolo & 5HA Barbera.  (most sites however say that Francia was purchased & planted in 1976 & the first vintage was 1978).  In 2008, Conterno also purchased 3HA of Ceretta vineyard (1HA of Barbera).  Although these vineyards are only about 2km apart as the crow flies, the soils are so very different (Francia–more calcareous & Ceretta more clay)….& the wines are therefore very different.  (In 2015, Conterno also purchased a little less than 6HA of Arione vineyard, but is currently 100% Nebbiolo).  The 2 Barbera d’Alba we tried, both from 2014 were obviously different.  The 2014 Barbera d’Alba “Francia” was much more musky, masculine with more obvious mojo & distinct rocky, mineral & saltiness in character.  The 2014 Barbera d’Alba “Ceretta”, on the other hand, although made virtually the same way offered much more bay leaf, spice & a savoriness on a much more elegant, refined frame“.  On this night we tried the 2009 Barbera d’Alba “Cascina Francia”.  I was really taken by the class, character & impressive harmony this wine displayed, even at only 9 years of age.  I had not previously consciously really considered whether Barbera got better with age.  (I had previously only sampled slightly aged Coppo Barbera d’Asti “Camp du Rouss” & Braida “Bricco dell Uccellone” before & those wines did NOT wow me like this wine did).   While his Nebbiolo may have more pedigree, this 9 year old Barbera’s vinosity, harmony, balance & savoriness was really compelling & therefore a terrific drink.  Definitely impressive & I definitely learned a thing or two with this wine.

2012 Vietti Barbera d’Alba “Vigna Vecchia Scarrone”–here is another SUPER Barbera, one that like the Conterno “Francia”, supersedes any of its neighbors’ renditions. Located in the Castiglione Falletto commune, the Scarrone Cru has but 1 hectare of 90 plus year old Barbera vines.  Luca, in fact, vehemently believed in this wine & convinced his father they should keep their small parcel of old vine Barbera in this esteemed Barolo entitled vineyard (Scarrone) instead of replanting or grafting over to Nebbiolo.  This was a REALLY big deal!  Such a big leap of faith to say the least!  I absolutely loved the savory, roasted chestnut/sandalwood character of this bottling & its divine elegance, class & refinement.  Truly a standout!  Whether it is worth the price tag or not is up to the taster, but I will say, this is truly some kind of Barbera.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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May
30

A Taste of Paso Robles

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We have been spending quite a bit of time in the Paso Robles wine growing region over the past few years.  We have found in our search the most compelling wines display an earthiness/minerality, which not only makes the wines more interesting, but also create buoyancy in the wines that make the wines seem less heavy/dense then they really are.  We featured this set of wines at trade tastings, both on Maui & then again on Oahu today to share some of our “finds”.  (Sorry guys.  No Saxum to be had).

Ancient Peaks–was a very important “find” for us a few years back because of what great value their wines tend to offer.  Located in the southern nook of Paso Robles at roughly 1000 feet in elevation, this is also one of the coolest niches of the Paso appellation, greatly cooled by the fog & coastal breezes that roll in over the hills to the west.  In addition, the vineyard has 5 distinct soil types & because of the size (roughly 900 acres) of this estate vineyard, there are all kinds of nooks & crannies scattered throughout the hills to plant vines.  This vineyard (& the surrounding 14,000 acres) is owned by 3 ranching families, who also oversee its operation.  The 2015 Zinfandel “Santa Margarita Ranch“–This bottling was the first wine from this winery to really catch our attention, way back when.  We weren’t looking for another Zin, but jumped at the chance anyway because of how this wine really delivers for the dollar spent.  It is an earnest, blue collar red wine, nothing fancy & no bells & whistles.  Just good, interesting flavors, a solid core, structure & very satisfying (meaning I feel like I definitely got my monies worth & am appreciative of that).   100% Zin. 3 blocks—volcanic, shale & rocky alluvial soils. Harvested Sept 27, Oct 1, Oct 12.  16 months in oak—40% French, 57% American, 3% Hungarian, 25% new.  The 2016 Merlot “Santa Margarita Ranch”–was one of the prizes of this tasting for many, as it really was much more about the soil the vines grow in rather than fruit qualities.  We were also quite taken by the savoriness the wine had in its core, its structure & balance, all at less than $19 a bottle retail.  What a great value! 95% M, 5% CF—5 blocks—all ancient sea bed, where Merlot excels.  Harvested Sept 24, 28, Oct 8 & 27.  17 months—70% FR, 30% Am, 25% new.  The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon “Santa Margarita Ranch”–was another GREAT VALUE red wine.  After all, where else can one get interesting, estate grown Cabernet like this at less than $19 a bottle retail? The 2015 is quite masculine with a virile “beefy” character, & with a very satisfying core, structure, depth & earthy/savory/mineral driven edge.  85% CS, 15% Zin.  3 soils—seabed, rocky alluvial & shale parcels.  Picked Sept 25, Oct 5, 8, 27.  Oct 14—Zin.  16 months in oak—Fr & Am.  I would say the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc “Santa Margarita Ranch”–really caught everyone’s attention, because it was more about deliciousness & gulpability in a refreshing, uplifting, thirstquenching style & less about the grape variety’s characteristic fruit/pyrazine qualities & hard acids.  Yet, another great value.  100% SB  Block 41—rocky alluvial.  5 separate picks—5, 17, 20, 21, 23.  5 months in stainless

Broadside–we ran across the Broadside wines in San Francisco some years back.  This is another winery whose wines overall offer tremendous value.  The first bottle that caught our attention was a Chardonnay produced from the 30plus year vines grown in the iconic James Berry Vineyard, with a retail price of less than $20 a bottle!  Yes, we are always looking for these kinds of well priced, interesting wines.  We have since spent some time with (wife/vineyard-ist) Stephy Terrizzi & (husband/winemaker) Brian Terrizzi, in the vineyards & tasting their wines.  What another fabulous discovery for us…..wines that really over deliver for the reasonable prices.  The 2016 Chardonnay “Wild Ferment”– is done in a tasty, lively, uplifting style, featuring grapes from Arroyo Grande, Paso Robles & Los Alamos, wild yeast fermented/& aged in 90%  stainless steel & old oak barrels.  We have been carrying this wine for years on our lists.  The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon “Paso Robles”–is a VERY reasonably priced Cabernet–from Paso Robles/San Juan Valley vines–I would say targeted for by the glass considerations.  It is tasty, light on its feet & totally gulpable.  (please don’t take that meaning this wine is wimpy.  It is not).  100% Cab, 14% months in old French & American oak.  The 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon “Margarita Ranch” 2016–is another one their wines which really initially caught our attention.  Since the first vintage we tried of this bottling, we were taken by the wine’s elegance, civility, texture & balance, all at a great price.  The 2016 is 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot—from a parcel, comprised mainly of shale within the Santa Margarita Ranch.  14 months in French & American oak, 97% old, 3% new.  (I should add that Brian & Stephy really opened the door with the Ancient Peak people & we are thankful for that).  The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon “Ephemera” is uncharacteristic of the Terrizzi’s portfolio, because of its very upper tier/trophy pricing.  I would say, however, everyone has a dream to do something to the umpteenth degree, pulling out all stops, to make their dream wine.  I believe this is THAT wine for them.  I would also say, the wine is really good, guys.  Yes, very made, & with savoriness, style & class.  Kudos!  (As a side note, the Terrizzi’s also have their own Giornata label which specializes in Italian grape varieties grown in the appellation).

Villa Creek–I happened to eat at the Villa Creek Restaurant (now closed) one year while visiting the area in search of wine.  They had several “designer” wine offerings, labeled as Villa Creek, which showcased different grape variety blends from some of the area’s most pedigree-d vineyard sites.  The wines were really good, certainly noteworthy without having the “over the top”, unabashed bravado some of the other top wines of the area (at least at this time).  We were really taken by the wines & the prospect of how this project would evolve.  A year or 2 ago, owner/winemaker Cris Cherry decided to take a big leap of faith & concentrate on his vineyards, his winery & his wines & less on the restaurant.  Fast forward to last Summer, I have to say, the Villa Creek 2014’s were without a doubt the best I had had from this estate.  Cris is in the “zone” & his wines are today some of the very best out of the Paso Robles appellation.  The 2013 Garnacha–is a wonderfully transparent, intriguing, delicious drink.  It is quite a unique Grenache red wine, as it’s underlying minerality makes it much more interesting & mesmerizing that just the typical cherry, cherry cough drop, cherry lifesavers like qualities one frequently finds in Californian Grenache based reds.  Thankfully, our friends decanted this wine just to make sure it opened up before service.  We also enjoyed its surprising elegance, grace & refinement.  For a restaurant, I would then also suggest this wine could readily help to fill the gap that lies between Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of drama & mojo.  100% Grenache—from the Luna Matta & Denner vineyards.  75% whole cluster.  Aged 500L puncheons—20% new.  The 2013 Avenger–The Avenger bottling was one of the first 3 we purchased from Villa Creek, way back when.  While the actual blended grape percentages change vintage to vintage, Avenger consistently offers a dark, mysterious, masculine, savory, sultry core, yet done with elegance, class & civility.   80% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre, 10% Grenache—Luna Matta, James Berry, Denner, Basetti (granite, serpentine).  60% whole cluster.  French & Hungarian oak, 20% new.  The 2013 High Road–The High Road bottling took me the longest to understand.  It’s not necessarily because the grape varietal mix is so different vintage to vintage.  High Road  just has a different intent.  It really is about Cris showcasing what the James Berry vineyard wants to say through its grapes in any given vintage.   It is therefore a very intellectual wine with much more refined layers of intricacies, nuances & character, which challenge the tasters in very different ways.   AND, the real pleasure comes when you have one that has a few years of bottle age.  40% Mourvèdre, 40% Syrah, 20% Grenache.  100% James Berry vineyard.  70 to 75% whole cluster.  50% concrete & 50% puncheons.

Daou Vineyards–The Daou brothers have moved into the appellation & certainly created quite the splash & attention.  The core of their 200 plus acres is & neighbors the old, historic Hoffman Mountain Ranch, with its highest 2100 feet apex.  They have also made the appellation’s Cabernet Sauvignon “cool” again & helped usher a resurgence of interest & plantings of this grape variety (& its peers).  Yes, they have an assortment of other grape varieties planted here & there, but so far their Cabernet based red wines are the ones grabbing the most attention & high acclaim.  The 2015 Chardonnay “Paso Robles”–the big question hiding behind all of the highly acclaimed red wines & their notoriety, is there an opportunity for Chardonnay grown in limestone/siliceous clay/marine soils of the westside to shine?  In other parts of the wine world, such marine soils works magic with the Chardonnay grape variety.  So, the bigger question would be the climate/temperatures.  Here is the Daou’s rendition of Chardonnay–Old Wente vine, grown in calcareous-clay, west facing.  Fermented in stainless steel, 7 months of lees contact with frequent stirring (batonnage) & then aged for  7 months in OLD oak.  The 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon “Paso Robles”–is currently the wine which grabs the most attention, because of perennial 90 plus point scores & a $20 retail price tag.  One shouldn’t expect the black fruit of those from the northern winegrowing areas of California.  This is red fruit & much more transparent with a thread of mesmerizing “minerality” from beginning to end.  How can one not love its interestingness & drinkability, done with elegance, class & style?  The majority of the vines–337, 15, 8., grown on clay/calcareous clay predominantly.  The wine spends 11 months in tanks as well as barrels. 60% new oak.  The Daou portfolio can be somewhat confusing at first, as there are so many different offerings.  The next interesting tier starts off with the 2012 Zinfandel “Reserve”–On first taste, one can immediately tell why the word “Reserve” was attached.  This not easy drinking, transparent red wine.  It has hutzpah & bravado–ripe, dense & oak laden with lots of core & frame.  100% Zin.  (south facing). Calcareous clay soils. Destemmed.  Fermented in stainless steel tanks. Aged for 16 months in French oak barrels, 50% new.  The 2015  Cabernet Sauvignon “Reserve”–is a step forward from their “Paso Robles” bottling in terms of density, depth, masculinity, oak presence & framing.  It is more studly & definitely has something to say.  337, 169, 412. Calcareous clay. Destemmed and optically sorted with a pellenc machine.  100% free run.  19-20 months in French oak, 50% new.  The next tier features 2 real studs, the first being the 2013 “Mayote”–Mayote is in keeping with what is currently being referred to as “crazy Paso blends“–the art of blending batches where the sum is a provocative, synergistic orchestra of flavors & character.  The 2013 is like a world class wrestler–full of unrestrained power, density & muscle–though surprisingly civil & well mannered.  45% Syrah, 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot.  Clones are 337, 169, 412 for Cab and for Syrah 877 ad 470. Calcareous clay. 100% Free Run.  Destemmed & optically sorted with a pellenc machine.  22 months in 100% new (expensive) French oak barrels.  “Soul of a Lion” 2013–in comparison is an aristocrat with more class & much more about the Bordelaise grape mix model, though featuring the Paso Robles soils & climatic conditions.  The 2013 is 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot.  Clones are 337, 169, 412, 191, 31 (To Kalon) for Cab. Calcareous clay soils.  100% Free Run.  Destemmed and optically sorted with a pellenc machine.  22 months in 100% new French Oak Barrels. .

Epoch–is one of the real rising stars of the Paso Robles appellation.  I was first introduced to this project by Justin Smith of Saxum, who was their consultant in the early days.  Now, the project is in the hands of immensely talented winemaker Jordan Fiorentini.  She has at least 3 incredibly diverse estate vineyards to source grapes from & an incredibly outlandish (though not gaudy) winery full of a whole arsenal of winemaking “tools” to craft the best wine she can.  This is definitely a winery to keep an eye on as the wines just seem to keep getting better & better as time goes on.  Jordan’s wines have precision, refinement, class, wonderful texture, balance & are thankfully so mineral driven.  The 2015 Rosé–a very mesmerizing, mineral driven, savory pink wine (nothing tooty fruity here)–54% Mourvèdre, 35% Grenache, 11% Syrah, 68% Catapult and 32% Paderewski Vineyards.  Fermented in stainless steel barrels with weekly batonnage. 50% whole cluster press/50% saignee.  5 months lees in stainless.  The 2013 Estate Red Blend–is a red wine blend that is the most masculine, studly, firmly structured of today’s Epoch entourage.  32% S, 25% GR, 25% Mour, 10% Temp, 8% Zin–intended to show the character of their sites rather than any grape varieties.  17% whole cluster in concrete, stainless, 1 ton bins & oak puncheons,  15 months in French oak & puncheon, 33% new.  The 2013 Veracity —this is a very provocative, seamless blend of 49% Grenache, 34% Mourvedre & 17% Syrah.  This wine has  bright acidity, a vivacious charm with superb texture, intricacy & balance. 227% whole cluster.  15 months in oak & puncheons, 32% new.  In comparison the 2012 Ingenuity shows a more masculine, darker side to what these estate vineyards want to say, while still being classy, wonderfully minerally & transparent.  The 2012 is 58% Syrah, 18% Mourvedre, 14% Grenache, 10% Petite Sirah.  80% Paderewski, 20% Catapult vineyards.  32% whole cluster in concrete, stainless, 1 tons bins & puncheon.  18 months in oak & puncheons, 40% new.  2015 Epoch White–early  on, I wondered why the New Age winemakers of the Paso Robles appellation were not embracing Chardonnay in their plantings or their portfolios  While Chardonnay may work some magic in these marine soils, as we are discovering, not with the lift, ethereal qualities & mesmerizing minerality other white grape varieties like Grenache Blanc, Picpoul & Viognier get.  We are also really digging on those that are worked in concrete rather than stainless.  Here is such a wine–46% V, 40% GR BL, 14% Roussanne.  71% Catapult, 31% Paderewski vineyards.. COOL concrete, tulips, barrels, weekly battonage.  15% skin contact, NO ML.  5 months less—61% concrete, 39% OLD oak, 9% new/1 year.

 Linne Calodo–we first encountered owner/winemaker Matt Trevisan when he was the assistant winemaker at Justin Vineyards & Winery.  He was a young turk, set on changing the local wine scene through a “dream” winery with his then cohort, Justin Smith.  They finally started Linne Calodo, I believe with the 1998 vintage.  Unlike his work at Justin Vineyards & Winery, Matt (& his partner Justin Smith) created red wine blends (mostly Rhone grape varietals) from a collection of vineyards on Paso’s westside in the Willow Creek AVA.  (There is no doubt that today, the Willow Creek AVA, a series of remote canyons & looming white/gray hillsides, is considered by many to be the epicenter for the region’s top wines.)  We were quite taken by what they were doing.  The wines were subsequently met with much acclaim & the wines received much accolades.  A lot has happened over the 20 or so years since (including Justin leaving to found his own project–Saxum).  Having said that, there is not doubt that Matt Trevisan has a gift, the talent & is today “totally in the zone” with craft, as the following wines will show.  The 2017 Pale Flowers Rosé–is a break out vintage with pink wines for Matt.  The approach is so different than in the past.  100% GR. 22 to 23 brix. From a specific block to make rosé. Whole cluster pressed in baskets over 24 hours. Fermented in fiberglass Gimar tanks.  The color is darker than I would have thought, & the wine is therefore quite masculine & savory, with lots of flavor, mineral character, a seamless flow on the palate & an uplifting finish.  The 2016Sticks & Stones”–This was the wine most tasters fawned over, in BOTH tastings.  It really is not about grapes or decadent ripeness.  It just has presence, transparency & magic–seamless & totally compelling. 74% GR, 19% M, 7% S, all Willow Creek—Trevy (1250 to 1350, planted in’13); LC Estate (1180-1000, planted in ‘05/’07) & Oakdale Ranch (1075 to 1175, planted in 1999, grafted over in ’08).  25% Whole Cluster Grenache, 75% Whole berry Grenache, 10% whole Cluster Mourvedre, 90% Whole berry Mourvedre, 100% Whole Berry Syrah.  6x6x6 concrete cubes, 2 ton stainless & 3 ton SS large. Aged for 16 months in 2250 liter Ermitage foudre, PLUS 2100 liter concrete cylinder & various OLD puncheons & casks.  The 2016 “Perfectionist”–is darker, more mysterious, sultry & savory in its core, effortlessly combining power & grace, reminiscent of a champion thoroughbred.  74% Syrah, 17% Mourvedre, 9% Grenache—(from Trevy & LC estate). 100% whole cluster. 2 & 4 ton fermenters. 2 ton basket press & then aged in 2100 liter concrete for 17 months.  The 2017 Contrarian” is another “game changing” wine for Matt TervisanAlthough, it is much better than previous vintages, I really think the 2017 is just the tip of the iceberg of what can be.  I suggest wine tasters keep an eye out on this cuvee, moving forward.  Here is what Matt had to say.  The “2017 Contrarian is a blend of 50% Grenache Blanc, 30% Picpoul Blanc and 20% Viognier.   Willow Creek District .  The Grenache Blanc and Picpoul come from the Linne Calodo estate and comprise 1.7 acres total.  The Viognier comes from Trevy Ranch and comprises 1/2 an acre.  The GB and PB are west Facing while the Viognier is East facing. Soils are Linne Calodo, Cropley and Naciamento.  Grenache Blanc is harvested at around 22-23 Brix and 3.10 pH .9 TA.  Picpoul Blanc is harvested at 21-22 Brix and 3.05 pH  .95 TA.  Viognier is harvested at 24-25 Brix and 3.35 pH  .6 TA.  The Grapes are whole cluster basket pressed into Nomblot Concrete Eggs 1600L where the wine is native/naturally yeast fermented.  The juice is co-fermented in the eggs and the basket pressing increases the amount of skin contact and thus the phenolic profile.

2017 Contrarian is an evolution of white wine making for LC.  The wine started out in 2003 as a 60% Roussanne and 40% Viognier blend with 24 hr skin contact and an oily rich texture.  As times have changed and my palate as well,  I’ve planted GB and PB in the search of acid and a more refreshing wine.  I have achieved this but felt like I needed to bring back a hint of volume and thus re-introduced Viognier to the blend.  All the fruit is hand farmed and picked, no pesticides or herbicides.   Contrarian is blended by combining proportions of the two concrete eggs in December and the settling of lees starts in February.  The wine goes through 100% ML.  The 2017 vintage is the first year I have filtered the wine using a CrossFlow membrane filter.  In the years past Contrarian has always seen a yeast/sediment pellet form in the bottle, didn’t bother me, but the consumer thought something could be wrong from the slight haze.  Now hazy unfiltered beer and wine are a thing? go figure.   The wine is not cold stabilized and thus could throw some crystals if chilled  for a significant amount of time ( totally harmless).  The Viognier that is not used for Contrarian, finds its way into the Syrah blends and does not make the label“.

That’s just a start.  To help you explore what Paso Robles has to offer, here is a list of those wineries who were selected to pour wines at Wine Speak 2018 this past January.  There really is so much to learn about this appellation.

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Categories : General, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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May
03

A Look At Paso Robles

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What makes Paso Robles special & unique? The soil is at least part of the reason.

 

 

 

 

 

Here are some of their top vineyard sites.

 

 

 

Paderewski Vineyard 

 

 

 

 

James Berry Vineyard (LEFT–Bone Rock; RIGHT—Rocket Block)

 

 

 

 

Denner Vineyard

 

 

 

 

 

Heaton Ranch (notice the 2 very distinctively different parcels—(Poppy) in the foreground & (Whalebone Hill) in the background)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glen Rose Vineyard

 

 

 

 

Cherry Vineyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

Margarita Ranch (fossilized oyster shells)

 

 

 

 

 

AND…..this is just the tip of the iceberg! There is so much more to see! Amazing!

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Apr
20

JoMani & Girasole Wines

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Nunzio Alioto has been my best friend & true wine mentor since the late 1970’s.  We met here in Hawaii & our friendship has continued for 40 years since.

During that time, we have done, seen & experienced a lot, including taking the Master Sommelier examination together back in the 80’s.

One of our many adventures included creating wines under the JoMani label, starting with the 2000 vintage.  It involved acquiring 1, 2 or 3 tons of grapes from some very interesting vineyard sites & asking winemaker friends to craft the wines for us.

By chance, in 2000, we heard 1 ton of Pinot Noir grapes would be auctioned at a charity event down in the Santa Barbara appellation.  The vine selection was “Pommard”, planted in 1973 on its own roots, specifically in the “Q Block” of Bien Nacido Vineyard of Santa Maria Valley, California.  While that was news in those days, it would be HUGE news today, because of the clamor & acclaim that truly iconic vineyard parcel has received since & the huge waiting list of winemaking stars hoping to get some fruit.

Who should we get to make the wine was the next big question.

We settled on Chris Whitcraft, a then little known winemaker of, in my opinion, extraordinary single vineyard Pinot Noirs, most notably both “Q” & “N” blocks of Bien Nacido Vineyard.  The Whitcraft Pinots, from the 1990’s through 2006, were really like no other.  Unlike many of the fruit driven renditions making a name for themselves, the Whitcrafts were earthy, masculine, resoundingly savory, some would say flawed, robust, somewhat alcoholic & VERY idiosyncratic.  To me, they represented someone singing a song, maybe not completely pitch perfect, but certainly from the heart & therefore moved me.

The 2000 Chris made for us was very much along these lines, even quite oaky right out of the gates.

But, with time in the bottle, this wine turned out to be quite provocative, wonderfully savory & a fabulous drink.  When he passed, we sadly lost a true artist.

With the 2001 vintage, we changed the name of the label to “Girasole”, which Nunzio says means sunflower.  Joining the team was long time friend Jeff Figone & we broadened our grape sources & resulting wines.

Through Van Williamson then winemaker of Edmeades, we met Casey Hartlip, who managed Eaglepoint Ranch, located in Mendocino, roughly 1400 & higher feet above the town of Ukiah.  We committed to some of the vineyard’s Syrah, in rows adjacent to what both Van & Copain winemaker/owner Wells Gutherie were sourcing.  Being “mountain grow”, surly & thick skinned, we then asked Sebastopol Pinot Noir maestro, Fred Scherrer to craft the wine.  We felt Fred’s more “gentle”, masterful touch would result in something very unique & memorable.  (The resulting wine completely exceeded our expectations!)  As a side note, this wine is still drinking beautifully today.

In addition, we went up to the cool confines of the Anderson Valley to meet with Rich Savoy, another of the truly iconic Pinot Noir growers of the day & secured some fruit from his “Upper” Savoy vineyard, roughly 800 to 1000 feet in elevation on bear wallow soils.  For this wine, we asked Ken Bernards of Ancien down in southern Napa Valley to work his magic.  To this day, I can clearly remember the wonderful perfume & lovely texture this wine displayed.

Through superstar Master Sommelier Fred Dame, we were able to secure a visit with Gary Pisoni of the Santa Lucia Highlands.  He is quite a “larger than life”, colorful character with a big, kind heart.  He was kind enough to allocate us some Pinot fruit from his oldest vines up on top of the vineyard.  What a score!  We then asked Bryan Babcock to craft the wine, which turned out to be red colored with a browner edge (reminiscent of old style Burgundy), surly, masculine, savory Pinot beast!  OMG.

Lastly we also asked Bryan to craft a Chardonnay for us, which as it turned out was 2/3’s from Mount Carmel vineyard & 1/3 of his estate vineyard on the west side of what is today called Santa Rita Hills.  I still feel that these two single vineyards are two of California’s best for Chardonnay!  Yes, this was quite a wine.

With the 2002 vintage, we again purchased some Syrah from Eaglepoint Ranch.  For this vintage, we first asked Gary Burk of Costa de Oro, another of our favorite Pinot Noir makers to craft one of the Syrah based reds.  The resulting wine was very elegant, high toned, refined, suave & captivatingly delicious.  What a difference!  This wine just gave us another glimpse of what Syrah can be in California.

We also were able to purchased some Cabernet Sauvignon from Tournahou Vineyard in the Napa Valley, which is adjacent to both the Shibumi Knoll & Panek vineyards, just above St. Helena.  (Located next to a creek & therefore an abundance of gravel/small, river rocks, today, all 3 vineyards are considered to be “A” quality vineyards & each produced under the masterful, winemaking genius of superstar winemaker, Thomas Brown).   Since at the time we were really inspired by the Cabernet-Syrah-Mourvedre red wine of Domaine Grange des Peres of southern France, we decided to have Bryan Babcock blend the Cabernet with the remainder of the Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah.  As it turned out, based upon our trial tastings at Babcock, it ended up being 50-50.  We were so proud of this wine–50% prime Napa Valley Cabernet, 50% Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah crafted by a Santa Barbara Pinot Noir specialist.  We loved how it turned out!

The 2003 proved to be our last vintage & we decided on just working with Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah & winemaker Gary Burk.  (At least, part of the reason was the meteoric success & resulting fame & therefore price increases of the other vineyards we had previously worked with.)  We also loved this “last hurrah” bottling, as it was so delicious, elegant & classy.

Thank you to all, who helped us live the dream!

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Apr
02

Which wine is your favorite?

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I was fortunate to attend quite the winetasting today.  There were many really good wine featured.  Furthermore, almost all were family owned & operated & showcased their respective place of origin, authentically & in a very tasteful manner.

Here was the list–2012 Scaggs “Montage”; 2015 Le Pigeoulet Rouge “Vaucluse”;  2013 Les Vignes Oubliees “Terrasses du Larzac”;  2015 Domaine Roches Neuves Saumur Champigny “Terres Chaudes”; 2015 Domaine Joncier Lirac “Les Muses”; 2014 Famille Brunier Vieux Chateauneuf du Pape “Telegramme”; 2012 Gallety “Cotes du Vivarais”; 2014 Famille Brunier Chateauneuf du Pape “Piedlong”; 2015 Domaine Vinci “Rafalot”; 2015 Domaine Arretxea Irrouleguy;  2014 Francois Lumpp Givry Premier Cru “A Vigne”; 2013 Francois Lumpp Givry Premier Cru “A Vigne”; 2014 Francois Lumpp Givry Premier Cru “Petite Marole”; 2014 Guillemont Savigny les Beaune “Picotin”; 2014 Chateau Fontanes “Pic St.Loup” Rose;  2015 Domaine Arretxea Irouleguy Rose; 2014 Domaine du Durban Vaucluse Blanc; Punta Crena Spumante Brut; 2015 Quenard Vin de Savoie “Abymes”; 2015 Manni Nossing Sylvaner; 2015 Manni Nossing Kerner; 2015 Vignai da Duline Friulano; 2013 Maxime Magnon La Begou Blanc; 2014 Francois Lumpp Givry Blanc Premier Cru “Petite Marole”; 2014 Olivier Savary Chablis “Vieilles Vignes”; 2008 Chateau D’Epire Savennieres; 2014 Domaine De L’Alliance “Suve Des Eaux”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of our fellow employees who could not make the tasting, asked, which one was your favorite?

Favorite?

How could one even begin to try & select one wine as THE favorite?   In this case, they all had something unique to say.

After much thought, my reply was–why do I have to choose?  Can I not appreciate my son for who he is AND my daughter for who she is AND NOT choose a favorite?

Categories : General, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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Mar
25

A Blind Tasting Just for Fun

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Some would view this tasting as a “leap of faith”. Why come to a tasting where I don’t even know what’s being poured? Just so you know, I have given the wine selections a lot of thought in an effort to shed some different light. AND, I am hoping most tasters will NOT be intimidated by the words—Blind Tasting. Just to be clear, participants will NOT be asked to identify the grape variety, the soil, the place of origin or the vintage. That is NOT the intention of this tasting. What we instead had in mind, was to choose four RED wines, those in the old days we would refer to as “bankers”—typical, well made and serve them blind. That way, we minimize any preconceived opinions. Then, the taster, can more objectively assess the quality in their eyes, estimate how much the wine is worth AND what kinds of foods they would consider having each wine with. To me, it is another really interesting, enlightening way to learn.

Tonight, we featured red wines from 4 TOP producers, just so one can sample something unique, interesting, authentic AND compelling. These tasting also gives these small, family run & owned wine projects a “voice”, amidst the growing sea of wine labels from larger, marketing driven wines.

2014 Carol Shelton Zinfandel “Wild Thing” (California)–We took this opportunity to showcase a really good California Zinfandel AND at the same time feature one produced by a small, true artisan winemaker.  Although there are many Zin labels & wineries available today, Carol Shelton produces ones that are very personal, provocative, well textured AND well balanced.  Nothing showy or flamboyant, just plain good & ones that really deliver quality for the dollar.  This is probably why, over the years, she is touted as one of the most highly decorated wine producers out of California, & mainly for her old vine Zinfandels.  The grapes for her “Wild Thing” bottling come from an organically farmed Mendocino vineyard planted in 1956, wild yeast fermented & bottled unfiltered & unfined. This is benchmark Zin for me.

2014 Charles Joguet Chinon “Cuvee Terroir” (France) —The Loire Valley is where Joan of Arc did her crusades. Yes, a long history of culture, eating, wines & vines. It is true, this iconic wine growing region is undoubtedly more famous for their white wines, such as Vouvray, Sancerre, Pouilly Fume & Muscadet just to name a few.  But as time went on & the growing frequency of warmer, more sundrenched vintages, more & more RED (as opposed to rosé colored) wines became more readily available.  The most notable were produced from the Cabernet Franc grape variety, which manifested itself in a VERY different profile then one would find from other parts of the world.  To show tasters what this meant, we tasted a classic Cabernet Franc based red wine, produced from one of the region’s most iconic producers, There is none like this from anywhere else in the world, although others have tried. 

2015 Faury St Joseph (France) –It really is a travesty to watch the popularity of the Syrah grape variety take a back seat over the past 2 or 3 decades.  Why or how are topics we can discuss at a later date.  The more important task at hand, is how can we all help to resurrect the high standing & appreciation of what this grape variety can really deliver.  In support of that, from my point of view, this is Syrah in all its glory, the way, it was & should be! Grown on steep hillsides in France’s northern Rhone Valley, we offer this taste, so one can better understand where we came from.  

2005 Lopez Heredia Rioja Reserva “Bosconia” (Spain)I must admit, Rioja has over the years fallen off my radar screen. This was that opportunity AND the wine, however, which could show tasters what is possible from these grape varieties, this region AND this family.  Yes, this family has been doing this for 140 years! And, this is a 2005, in all its glory. This will profoundly show tasters what Spanish Rioja can be….and that one doesn’t have to be powerful, opulent or decadently oaky.

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The 1980’s proved to be a whole new frontier of Californian wines for me to explore.  Where the 1970’s consisted of mainly Cabernet Sauvignon based reds, the new, standout wines of the 1980’s, ventured into other grape varieties such as Chardonnay & Pinot Noir.

1980 VINTAGE–The first eye opening wine from the 1980 vintage, was my first taste of a Kistler Chardonnay.  I remember the 1981 was from Dutton Ranch & I am pretty sure so was the 1980.  In either case, both opened a new horizon for artisan, “boutique” wine AND the Russian River Valley growing region.  The 1980 Acacia Pinot Noir (I believe the 1980 was St Clair Vineyard & the 1981 was the Madonna Vineyard) was also the notable wine I had from this fledging winery.  While also received a lot of clamor for their Chardonnays, their single vineyard Pinot Noirs from the 1980 & 1981 vintages were their most compelling wines for me.  I was introduced to the Vichon wines by my best friend, Nunzio Alioto.  His family & other Californian restaurateurs & investors founded this winery, which was spearheaded by winemaker George Vierra.  Their 1980 Vichon Cabernet Sauvignon “Nathan Fay Vineyard” was their first vintage of red wine & was in my eyes a standout.  This winery also produced a 1980 Cabernet Sauvignon “Volker Eislese Vineyard”, though also quite good, it just didn’t have the magic of the Fay Vineyard bottling.  (As a side note they also produced a wonderfully delicious Chevrier Blanc–later changed to Chevrignon–both blends of Semillon & Sauvignon Blanc which were also stellar.  Sadly, the winery was soon taken over by the Robert Mondavi family & became an after thought–it’s brilliance faded away into the sunset.

1981 VINTAGE–the 1981 Joseph Swan Pinot Noir was the first wine I had from this true artisan, old school winery.  I believe 1981 was also the first vintage we were introduced to the Tepusquet Vineyard wines from the namesake vineyard down in the Santa Maria Valley.  They produced a lively, crisp & refreshing Vin Blanc & a lighter, tasty Vin Rouge, which we subsequently used as the house wine for the Kahala Hilton.

1982 VINTAGE–The most prominent standout red wine from the vintage was the 1982 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon.  While we had previously tasted a 1978 & a 1979 from this winery, the 1982 was its first shining moment.  1982 was also the first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon I had from Spottswoode.  “Insiders” were already ear marking this winery as a “can’t miss”.  The 1982 Calera Pinot Noir “Reed” was the first vintage we had from this now iconic winery.  There was hints of minerality & wonderful acidity/vitality which made it standout from its peers.  Winemaker/owner Robert Stemmler had his moments of brilliance with the fickle Pinot Noir grape variety, especially early on.  The 1982 Robert Stemmler Pinot Noir was the first of his wines we encountered.

1983 VINTAGE–A friend, his wife & I were dining at Le Castel restaurant on Sacramento Street in San Francisco  Joining us was another couple (both considered wine experts) who brought the 1983 Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay “Les Pierres”.  Knowing his taste, I found it unusual he would bring a California wine to share.  The wine was so captivating, we were on the phone the very next morning hoping to get an appointment to see & meet with them.  The 1983 Calera Pinot Noir “Selleck”–while I had other bottlings & vintages from this relatively new face, this particular bottling from Calera was the one that captured my fancy & imagination.  It had something to do with the wine’s minerality!

1984 VINTAGE–was the first vintage I tasted of Byron Pinot Noir.   This wine reiterated the potential Santa Maria Valley of the Santa Barbara appellation had.  It was much lighter in weight & had more minerality than those Pinot Noirs I experienced from futher north.  I believe this was also the first vintage we were able to get the Etude Pinot Noir too.

1985 VINTAGE–I was really quite mesmerized by the 1985 Mount Eden Chardonnay.  It was quite the masculine, classy Chardonnay thoroughbred, which was really unique & unlike anything Californian I had previously had.  Upon further investigation, I couldn’t help but think, who had the vision to plant this vineyard 1000 to 2000 feet up in this remote, desolate, rocky, mountainous terrain, back in 1943?  At the time, I thought the Estate Chardonnay was far better than the Pinot Noir & Cabernet bottlings.  Legendary Master Sommelier, Fred Dame introduced me to his friend named Clark, who would in turn introduce me a whole new horizon of California wines.  The first was the 1985 Sarah’s Vineyard Chardonnay, which featured a very classy gold label & really upscale packaging.  The Chardonnay was in turn very classy & majestic, (AND much better than their Merlot).   In subsequent vintages, I recall the fruit coming from the Santa Clara appellation, a whole new scene for wines, at least for me.  A gentleman by the name of Mac McKelvey, who lived on Maui where he started his own Maui based wine distributor introduced me to the 1985 Ventana Chardonnay , which reiterated to me the wonderful potential the Monterey area had for the Chardonnay grape variety.  The 1985 BR Cohn Cabernet Sauvignon, although not spectacular, introduced us to the winemaking magic of then winemaker Helen Turley.

I should mention here, sometime between the mid to late 1980’s, I was introduced to the Draper & Esquin portfolio out of San Francisco.  I was initially searching them out for their Italian wines–Gaja, Jermann, Ca’ Ronesca “Ipplis”, Monsecco & Ca’ Rome wines–but also grew quite fascinated with their Californian wine selections as time went on.  The 1985 Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon “Sonoma Mountain” was something special, as was some of the single vineyard Zinfandels from Ravenswood & the Santa Barbaran grown Syrahs from Qupe.

Also in the mid to late 1980’s–I was introduced to the Chardonnays & Pinot Noirs from Au Bon Climat, Ojai & Whitcraft & these wineries changed the game what these grape varieties could be out of California.  It took us a while to get these wines to Hawaii.  In the case of the Au Bon Climat wines & winemaker Jim Clendenen, because of looming governmental potential restriction on Italian wine imports, I was actually trying to get some of Clendenen’s Italian look-a-like wines which were mostly grown in the Santa Barbara appellation which he marketed under the Il Podere dell’Olivos label.  As it turned out, superstar Hawaii chef, Roy Yamaguchi, worked his magic at a Los Angeles high end food event to help make the connection to get the Au Bon Climat wines first.

Around the same time or perhaps a short while later, Fred Dame also recommended I check out the wines from then youngster, Bryan Babcock, specifically his “Grand Cuvee” Chardonnay.  The Babcock estate vineyard is located in what is now called the west side of the Santa Rita Hills appellation.  Back then, it was considered in the middle of nowhere between the towns of Buellton & Lompoc.  (I asked myself, who had the sense/vision to plant this vineyard in such an isolated, undiscovered spot which had meager soils & a continuous, gusting ocean generated wind?  I guess I could ask the same question about the iconic Sanford & Benedict vineyard of the same general area.)  As it turned out, I ended up first buying the Babcock Gewurztraminer, then the Riesling, then a short time later the Sauvignon Blanc “11 Oaks”.  I thought each were special, especially for California, as was the Chardonnay “Grand Cuvee”.

Also in the mid to late 1980’s, I was quite taken by the Howell Mountain grown Chardonnays of Chateau Woltner–3 single parcels–“Frederique”, “Titus” & “St Thomas”–which at the time were under the direction, both in the vineyard & the winery, of Ted Lemon, freshly back from a stint as winemaker at Domaine Roulot in Meursault, France.   Though quite pricey & somewhat hard to get because of limited production, these “mountain grown”, non-malolactic Chardonnays were quite special & unique.

1986 VINTAGE–the most memorable “label” we purchased from the 1986 vintage was the 1986 Bonny Doon “Les Cigare Volant”.  I had previously heard all kinds of stories of this winery phenomenon from Fred Dame (who was a good friend of winemaker/owner Randall Grahm) & later was fortunate to taste a Roussanne bottling of theirs, named  “Le Sophiste” & an earlier vintage of “Le Cigare Volant”.  While the wines were tasty & good, the packaging & schtick/stories were incredible!  Wow!  What a unique niche & a fabulous cache.

1987 VINTAGE–1987 was quite the vintage for California & there were many really good wine produced.  The wine I most remember, however, was the 1987 Georis Merlot from Carmel Valley.  I don’t recall who recommended this winery (though probably Fred Dame).  While I had thought the 1985 & 1986 were good, the 1987 was something very special!  Owner Walter Georis also owned Casanova’s restaurant in Carmel & I later had to chance to meet with him & tour his estate vineyard.  On the white wine side, the 1987 La Jota Viognier was really the first wine I tasted from Bill Smith & his La Jota label that caught our attention, being so lush & extravagantly tropical.

1988 VINTAGE–the most unique wines we tasted from the 1988 vintage was the 1988 Kalin Cellars Chardonnay “LD”.  Owner/winemaker Terry Leighton really was far ahead of his time.  His Chardonnays featured heirloom./heritage vines, from then relatively little known growing areas such as the cooler confines of the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast & even Livermore.  His Chardonnays were wild yeast fermented & bottled unfiltered & most of the time unfined too.  Plus, he released them years AFTER the vintage, so they had a chance to resolve themselves & therefore be much more in harmony.  In most cases the wines, especially the Chardonnays, were terrific.  The 1988 Talbott Chardonnay was also quite a discovery.  Again based upon the recommendation of Fred Dame, we were mesmerized by their Chardonnay’s lavish richness, decadent opulence, lushness & base note stoniness.   At a Trade tasting at the Mauna Lani Resort on the Big Island, Donald Patz came up to me & asked if I wanted to taste his new 1988 Patz & Hall Chardonnay “Napa Valley”.  It was a unapologetically brash, bold, “game changing” Chardonnay, to say the least.  Interestingly, I stumbled upon the 1988 Justin “Isosceles” at a tasting in San Francisco.  What really caught my attention was the wine’s underlying high toned minerality, a quality I did not experience from the Cabernet based red wines out of the Napa & Sonoma valleys.  It was the minerality in this wine that opened my eyes to the potential the Paso Robles appellation had.

1989 VINTAGE–Although this vintage was generally maligned by the wine media, I tasted a few wines that caught our fancy.  The 1989 Talbott Chardonnay “Diamond T” was from their small estate vineyard adjacent to Rob Talbott’s home on a top of a windy hill in Carmel Valley.  While their other bottling of Chardonnay featured mainly decomposed granitic soils, “Diamond T” featured limestone.  Because this vineyard regularly yielded a scant 1 ton per acre, the bottle cost of the “Diamond T” Chardonnay was higher, almost like being a Reserve bottling.  It was a standout at the time nonetheless.  I was fortunate to also taste the 1989 Williams & Selyem Pinot Noir “Rochioli Vineyard”.  It was evident, even with the 1989 vintage, this vineyard had something special going on.  The 1989 Viader was also quite a unique wine.  The hillside vineyard was steep, spectacular & the planting scheme quite the sensation but later turned out to be quite controversial.  The wine was fascinating because of its Cabernet Franc dominance in the blend, its extreme hillside home & the winemaking prowess of Tony Soter.  In this less than heralded vintage, I also tasted the 1989 Alban Syrah “Reva” based upon the recommendation of Bob Lindquist of Qupe.  Although Alban also produced some Viognier based white wines, it really was the provocative, surly Syrah that stood out.

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