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Noël Verset–a note from Bruce Neyers

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Here is a note from our dear wine friend, Bruce Neyers that really moved meI thought you might want to read it too.

“Dixon reports on word just in from Thierry Allemand that Noël Verset died over this past weekend. Dixon called him, “A kind and gentle soul with a genie’s touch with the Syrah”.

Those of you who accompanied me on the early KLWM France trips will no doubt remember the tastings with Noël, on the packed earth floor of his ancient cellars in Cornas. His eyes twinkled like a fairy tale elf as he bounded up and down the ladder to draw samples out of the casks, some of them used for winemaking by his grandfather. I have one bottle of Noël’s Cornas left in my cellar. I plan to drink it next Saturday night, and think about this remarkable man who so changed my life. All of us who had a chance to meet him should take a moment and reflect on our good fortune. For those of you who might not have seen it, a few years ago I wrote a remembrance of my first meeting with Noël, on my 1993 Kermit Lynch trip to France with Ehren Jordan. I wanted to read it again while thinking of Noël, and I thought you might enjoy one last look at this remarkable man.



The World’s Greatest Syrah, and a Teardrop

I met Noël Verset in 1993, on my first trip to France for Kermit Lynch. Although he was then in his late seventies, he was still actively working the vines and making wine. Kermit had arranged a two-week trip for me to meet his growers; the itinerary that he laid out started in Alsace and ended 12 days later in Marseilles. My friend and former colleague, Ehren Jordan, had moved to France a few months earlier and was working for Jean Luc Columbo in Cornas. I was pleasantly surprised when Ehren offered to take some vacation time and join me for the trip. He said it would give him a chance to visit some other regions and taste a wide range of wines. I welcomed the prospect of another driver and especially an interpreter. After meeting at the airport in Strasbourg in early January, we traveled through France together — visiting many of Kermit’s suppliers and tasting their wines. I was learning as much as I could about the wines, their history, their production techniques, and any other details that would help me sell them.

After a short drive through Alsace, we continued on to Burgundy, then to Chalonnaise, Mâcon and Beaujolais. We entered the northern Rhône in Vienne. From Côte-Rôtie we drove to Condrieu. After stopping to visit a producer in St. Joseph, we drove on to Hermitage. All along this part of the route we tasted Syrah. In many places, we tasted Syrah like I had never tasted before, for we were in the home of that seductive wine. After a tasting with Gérard Chave, in Mauves, we drove on to Cornas for another visit, followed by dinner at a local hotel. Ehren was excited to return to Cornas; this was his new home. As the only American living in the region, he was a celebrity, well known by many of the locals. Everywhere we went, people would see his large white American car with its Pennsylvania license plates, and begin to wave at us enthusiastically. Since he didn’t want to be late for our appointment with Noël Verset, we sped through the tiny back streets of this ancient town. At the end of what seemed like a deserted alley, we parked the car and walked towards a sign noting the cellars of Noël Verset, Vigneron. We rang the bell and were immediately greeted by the short and cherubic Noël.

He was delighted to see Ehren. As I learned during our tasting, Noël’s wife of over 50 years had died four years before and, since his two daughters had long ago married and moved out of the area, he was living alone. Over the previous few months, he and Ehren had formed a close bond. Weekly, they prepared a dinner together and shared it, along with a bottle of wine, at Noel’s kitchen table.  At one point, Noël confided in me that the meeting with Ehren had been important for him, coming as it did during a time when he was still trying to come to grips with the enormous grief he felt over the loss of his wife. We tasted several wines in his rustic cellars, then adjourned to the kitchen, where Ehren and Noël assumed their customary spots at the table. Before Noel sat down, however, he walked across the room and opened the door leading down to his frigid basement. Behind it stood a recently opened bottle of Verset 1988 Cornas.

The 1988 vintage in Cornas, as I was to soon learn, had been an especially good one. Knowing how much Ehren enjoyed this wine, Noël had set aside a bottle for us to drink while we sat and talked. In a few moments, he reached behind him and withdrew from the bookcase a large, plastic-covered photo album. Drawing a satisfying gulp of wine, he opened the book to the first page, careful to tilt it so that I could see the photo, a black and white of a strikingly attractive, slender woman in a bathing suit of the 1930’s, standing on a beach on a bright summer day. Her hair was wet, presumably from a dip in the Mediterranean, which could be seen behind her in the photo. Noël said that it was his wife, during a summer vacation they took in Cannes. She died, he said, in 1988, and whenever he drank a bottle from that vintage he liked to look at the old pictures of them, enjoying the early days of their life together.

With this, he slowly turned each page, and made a comment regarding when and where it was taken. Ehren translated for me. In a few minutes, I was transfixed, both by the magnificent wine and by this beautiful woman who was, sadly, no longer part of Noël’s life. He seemed cheerful, though, especially when talking about the photos.  And then I noticed a drop of moisture as it fell from his eyes and splattered on the vinyl covering the photograph. I looked at him and saw his eyes full of tears. My eyes welled up, too.

Noël ran through the rest of the album quickly now, as his teardrops were coming a bit faster and the end of the bottle was in sight. With a final sigh, he closed the book, turned his back on us for a bit longer than he needed to, then turned back to face the table. He was entirely composed by then. I can’t remember if I was.

Noël looked at me, as he was taking a final sip of wine. “So what do you think of my 1988 Cornas?” he asked. I paused for a moment, composed myself, and replied, “I think it’s the greatest Syrah I’ve ever tasted.”


Bruce Neyers Kermit Lynch National Sales Office

Categories : General, Red, Wine Thoughts
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I was greatly saddened to hear of Noël Verset’s passing this past weekend.  He certainly was one of the world’s true, iconic winemaking masters.

Sometime in the 1980’s I became so intrigued, bordering obsessed, with a group of Syrah Masters from France’s northern Rhone Valley–Chave in Hermitage, Gentaz in Cote Rotie & Clape & Verset in Cornas.  Each were imported at that time by Kermit Lynch.  (To that, I later would add Trollat in St Joseph & Allemand in Cornas to the list).  I am most thankful to Kermit for introducing me these wines.

In hindsight, I was very fortunate to be exposed to these masterful Syrahs before the meteoric rise to superstardom by Guigal & the sheer power of high Robert Parker ratings.  I therefore understood what true, authentic, pure, artisan Syrah could be.

While I genuinely loved each of these producer’s wines, the Verset Cornas truly had a special place in my heart.  Above all its attributes, they had soul.  People would always point out ‘flaws” in the Verset wines to me, but I REALLY didn’t care, as the Verset wines went straight from my taste buds to somewhere deep inside of me.  I therefore enjoyed them on SO many levels.

I remember reading somewhere Noël’s career in wine began in 1931, working alongside his father at the tender age of 12.  I believe his first vintage under his own label was sometime in the 40’s.  During his 70 plus year tenure, he was able to acquire great holdings on the Cornas hillside, including Champelrose, Chaillots & Sabarotte (the soul of his wines).  Interestingly, though, from those iconic lieu dits, he still produced only one Cornas.

I started hearing rumors, of an impending retirement by Noël with the 1999 vintage.  I was therefore thrilled to still get some 2000……then some 2003….& finally a smidgeon of 2006.  During that time, I later discovered, he had been slowly selling off his parcels to people he chose to sell to, which included Allemand & Clape, yet still made some quantities of wine for “home use”.

One of the crazy side notes to this story, is that his wines were so reasonably priced, considering how hard the vineyards were to work because of their remarkable rockiness/steepness.  Furthermore, how crazy is it that Guigal & Chapoutier were getting at least 10 times the price further north for their “fruit bombs”?  My mind set was always I’ll gladly take 1 bottle of Verset for 1 bottle of Guigal, much less the going rate of 10 to 1!

Yes, I am sorry to say….the end of an era.

Categories : General, Red, Wine Thoughts
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When one is looking for top echelon Cabernet, for most wine lovers Bordeaux, France or California’s Napa Valley would probably pop up first.

Makes sense.  After all, Bordeaux has quite a long history of producing world-class Cabernet based red wines.  The much “younger” Napa Valley, on the other hand, vaulted onto the world wine stage, when a bottling from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars finished first in the 1976 Paris Wine Exhibition blind, comparative tasting of Californian & Bordelaise Cabernet based red wines.

What most people do not know or remember is that the 1973 Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon “SLV” was followed (in order) by 1970 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, 1970 Chateau Haut Brion, 1970 Chateau Montrose & then the 1971 Ridge “Monte Bello” in fifth place.

Back then, in the late 70’s, I didn’t even stop to think that the Monte Bello vineyard was not located in the Napa Valley.  This iconic vineyard is actually located at somewhere between 2000 & 2600 monte bello2feet elevation in the Santa Cruz Mountain appellation, near Cupertino, overlooking the Santa Clara Valley.  I remember reading somewhere, that the vineyard is roughly 83.5 acres in size, spread out on 33 parcels on the hillside, (but not sure if this information is current today).

Makes you wonder why anyone would plant vines way up there on that remote, high elevation site? AND, it makes you wonder how could they have known the quality would be akin to Californian Grand Cru?

I’ve been fortunate to have tasted the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello a few times over the years & would wholeheartedly agree it is a standout wine.

Furthermore, just so you know, the 1971 Monte Bello was NOT a one vintage wonder for the winery either.  Several other vintages–1968, 1970, 1971, 1977 (one of the very best Californians I have ever had), & later the 1981 & 1985 have also really stood out.

Another non-Napa Valley Californian Cabernet Sauvignon site which has stood out to me over the years is the Laurel Glen vineyard. laurel glen 1 Located at somewhere between 800 to 1000 feet in elevation atop Sonoma Mountain, it was originally 3 acres in size (today, listed at 16 acres in size), planted in 1968 to an unknown Cabernet vine selection, (which is today considered proprietary).  Grapes from the earlier vintages were sold to Chateau St Jean & Kenwood.  Patrick Campbell purchased the property in 1977 & produced his first commercial vintage with the 1981. Over the years since, Laurel Glen produced some very provocative, earth driven, more elegant, balanced Cabernets……some of my favorites over the years……AND, which got better with age (unlike many of its Californian peers).  I was amazed, when the 1997 was released, as it was the very first Cabernet, Patrick (& co-winemaker Ray Kaufman) produced that was over the 14 degree alcohol mark.   Patrick sadly sold the estate a few years back.  Thankfully, I still have some older vintages stashed away somewhere.

scherrer vineyardWhen speaking of Sonoma born Cabernet Sauvignon, I also really have to mention those from Scherrer Winery & owner/winemaker Fred Scherrer.  The grapes actually come from his father’s vineyard located on a bench above the Silver Oak planting in Alexander Valley.  I am continually amazed at how elegant, classy, refined & wonderfully layered his Cabernets are.  One could say, they are Cabs, crafted by a Pinot master.  I am also amazed at how much better & more harmonious each get with some bottle age.  Just know, Napa Valley Cab lovers, the Scherrer renditions display red fruit, not black fruit & deftly display a stony minerality rather than decadence & opulence.

A growing hotbed today for Cabernet Sauvignon in California is Paso Robles, which is located roughly halfway between San Francisco & Los Angeles.  It seems the real sweet spot for this grape variety in the region is on the westside of Highway 101, amongst the rolling hills (& therefore hillsides) born daou-vineyardsof marine influenced, calcareous soils such as limestone & siliceous clay.  People are now comparing these growing conditions more & more to Bordeaux’s St Emilion sub-region.   The resulting wines therefore typically feature red fruit, rather than black fruit.  In addition, what really initially caught my attention was the innate minerality underlying throughout the wine from beginning to end, which not only creates interestingness, but a fascinating buoyancy too.  Where Justin Winery was the ground breaking pioneers back in the 80’s, it is becoming more apparent that today the Daou brothers star is really starting to shine brightly in the category of Paso Robles Cabernet based reds.  There is sure much more to follow in the future, pending dealing with the area’s extreme water shortages the past several years.

I almost excluded mentioning the vast potential I believe there is in the Happy Canyon sub-appellation of Santa Barbara.   Because it much further east, it is therefore much warmer than the other Santa Barbaran subregions.  Coupled with more shale & gravel soils, this has the making for some very interesting potential.  Keep an eye out.  Happy Canyon’s time will come!

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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It is amazing how every few years, a new superstar winery seems to emerge.  Today, it happens so quickly, the velocity largely due to the media, specifically the writings of Robert Parker, Stephen Tanzer & of course the Wine Spectator.

In contrast, when I was growing up in this industry, I had a bucket list of wines I would hope to taste one day.  The list included several vintages each of Chateaux Lafite, Latour, Margaux, Petrus, Cheval Blanc & D’Yquem, DRC Romanee Conti, La Tache & Montrachet, Chave Hermitage, Bollinger “Vieilles Vignes Francaise” & Egon Mueller Scharzhofberger Eiswein or Trockenbeerenauslese, just to name a few.

Outside of that classic realm, my list list also included a few iconic “other” wines, which I had only heard about–such as Penfold’s Grange Hermitage (as it was called way back when), Giacomo Conterno Barolo “Monfortino”, Bartolo Mascarello Barolo, Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino, AND, of course Vegas Sicilia Unico.

I was absolutely thrilled, for instance, to taste the 1971 Grange Hermitage in the early 1980’s.  The Food & Beverage Director I was working with at that time was from Australia & therefore had quite a stash of Grange Hermitage wines, I believe dating back to 1955.  I remember having to trade a 1966 Chateau Haut Brion and a bottle of 1971 Krug to get it.  (quite the cost for a young, aspiring sommelier back then).  I don’t even want to try & remember what it took for me to get some of the even older vintages.  But the experience was worth it nonetheless.

Likewise, I was absolutely thrilled to taste my first Unico, the 1962, sometime in the mid 1980’s.  unico2I must admit I remember being underwhelmed at first.  How could after all, an iconic wine, one only dreamed of one day tasting, ever live up to its almost mythological reputation?

With my second taste, however, I came to the realization that the pinnacle of wine for me at that time came from either Bordeaux and Burgundy and I was therefore comparing/judging “other” red wines based upon those 2 models.  Oh, the 1971 Grange was much bigger & more resoundingly deeper & opulent than the 19XX Chateau Latour……or the 1962 Unico was more rugged, hearty & coarser than the 1962 Chateau Margaux.

I instead now had to adjust my thinking to….the 1962 Unico was indeed a very interesting, unique red wine, which tasted like NO other.  Furthermore, it deftly showed the potential the Tempranillo grape variety has…..AND therefore set a standard for other Spanish reds to be measured by in the future.

I can still say the same today.

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Look what I found!

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I was over on Maui sometime in June to visit with my best friends & their family.  In the hotel complex we were staying at, closer to the beach & near the pool is a small, unpretentious “watering hole”/eatery named Castaway Cafe.  I have known the owner, Gary Bush, for some years & can readily say he is a true wine fanatic.

Sadly, I had not previously been to his spot in the 20 plus years it has been opened.  On this trip, my wife & I finally stopped by there to finally check it out, have a cocktail & enjoy the ocean, its smells & of course the setting sun & its colors.

As expected, I was amazed at the wine list.  It wasn’t large but it is well selected & with reasonable prices.  Unfortunately, we did not have the time to enjoy one of their bottles, at least on this go around.

Well, last week, we made it a point to get there, looking to enjoy some0012 wine.  After much deliberation, we chose the 2004 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Morning Dew Ranch”, which was only $75 on the list!  Chris Whitcraft was a rambunctious, quick witted & wildly colorful character, who for my palate produced some of the finest Pinot Noirs out of California. He worked with some very prestigious vineyards including Hirsch from the true Sonoma Coast (1994 to 2000 vintages), old vine Q & N Blocks from Bien Nacido (both planted in 1973 on their own roots) and Melville, I believe beginning with the 2001.  They certainly weren’t for everyone’s palate, but the good ones really rang my bell.   His mentor was Burt Williams, the iconic, founding winemaker/owner of Williams & Selyem, when that meant something special.  During his tenure there, Burt brought such iconic vineyards such as Rochioli, Allen, Hirsch, Coastlands, Summa to the forefront & therefore truly championed the Russian River & Sonoma Coast appellations, back before it was en vogue.  In addition, he started to really get into the Anderson Valley as well.  It was therefore no surprise that when he & Ed Selyem sold Williams & Selyem sometime after the 1997 vintage, Burt purchased a spot there to plant his own vineyard, which he named Morning Dew.  The core of this vineyard is planted to old DRC, the old Rochioli selection & 2A, each heritage/heirloom Californian vines.  It also was NO surprise that Chris Whitcraft was one of the first to get some of this vineyard’s fruit.  In this day & age of snazzy, tooty fruity Pinot noses, I adore the muskiness, earthy, forest floor nuances & masculinity of this wine, which is much more pronounced now than when it was released.  That pheromone/muskiness core is very reminscent of smells I get from red Burgundy, specifically from more rustic Gevrey Chambertin renditions such as those of Domaine Maume.

I know there are many tasters who will pick this wine apart, pointing out flaws & less than squeaky clean technical skills.  That’s okay, cause that means there will be more around for me to buy & drink.  Why?  Cause I enjoy it, plain & simple.  11 years old, $75….even more so.  Thanks Gary!!!!

So, that bottle didn’t last very long!  The night was young & the conversation, fun & lively.  Ok, let’s order bottle #2.  00132005 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “N Block”.  This time, I asked the manager if he could stick the bottle in some ice for 7 or 8 minutes, as it was a VERY hot & muggy night.  Bien Nacido is a VERY large vineyard located in the Santa Maria Valley, down in the Santa Barbara appellation.  This parcel, N Block, was planted in 1973 on its own roots.  Chris typically got the Martini selection, & the resulting Pinot was typically the most reticent of his Pinots, requiring considerable coaxing/bottle aging for it to open up.  It is the bottling of his which shows the most vinosity, intricacies & character, & this certainly reaffirmed that.  Eventhough this wine was 10 years old, it was still a baby, surprisingly closed, deep & well structured.  I suggest you don’t open this wine at this time.  Be patient.  It will be worth the wait, believe me.

That bottle was also emptied far too quickly.  Ok, one last bottle.  We decided on the 2005 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Q Block”, 0014also $62.50!!!!  Q Block is adjacent to N Block & was also planted in 1973 on its own roots.  Whitcraft used to get the Pommard selection & the resulting Pinot was typically more forward, more masculine with rounder, deep flavors & more base note character.  As I would suspect & as I find normally the case, this was the favorite of the night for most of the tasters.

I found all 3 Pinots to be so enjoyable & heart warming.  Each was like a heart tugging song, sung by a truly soulful singer & in his own way.  There was only 1 Chris Whitcraft & this trio clearly reminded me why.

If you are in the Kaanapali area of Maui & looking for some good wine, make sure you visit Castaway Cafe!


Slightly Aged Gaja Reds

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Angelo Gaja certainly has been quite the controversial figure in his neck of the woods & for many reasons.  Still, he certainly has brought Italian nebbiolo to the world-class stage (with a huge cross over potential for Cabernet & Bordeaux drinkers) AND set the pace for top echelon prices & therefore a completely new standard for quality.  The wine media have, for the most part, enthusiastically jumped on to the fast moving Gaja train, which is reflected by the perennial big scores & high praise.  One would have thought with such a high profile meteoric rise to superstardom, there would have been a hitch, stall, or some kind of decline along the way.  No such thing.  The Gaja Piemontese train seems to be running at full steam & these 3 wines showed why.

1997 Gaja “Sori San Lorenzo” 012

Gaja produced some interesting red wines in the 90’s. I was, however, apprehensive about how his showy, flambouyant style would do in a big, ripe vintage like 1997. I knew the press would certainly love the wines, I just wondered if I would. Furthermore, I had recently had the 1998 & found it to be quite closed down & a shame to have opened the bottle at this atge of its life. It is so intense with a massive structure & quite a tannic grip. The 1997 in comparison, although also quite closed, is decidedly riper, with much more lavish, opulent fruit (MUCH rounder) & darker base notes than the 1998. A very powerful, mega-concentrated red which, in this case, can be quite the cross over wine for avid Bordeaux & California Cabernet collectors. You will be thrilled with this one, that’s for sure!

0131997 Gaja “Conteisa”

Gaja’s Conteisa, although the grapes are grown in the Barolo appellation, is classified as Langhe DOC due to the 8% Barbera that is added to the Nebbiolo. Much to the chagrin of the local cognoscenti, Angelo believes the Barbera addition adds acidity and freshness to the wine. He also firmly states that this is no indication of a trend towards making Super Piemonte wines and his relatively new approach is used only in vintages that merit the addition. The wine is named for the medieval ‘conteisa,’ or quarrel, between the zones of La Morra and Barolo over the prime vineyard land of Cerequio“.  Quite a different take on Nebbiolo than what I had previously experienced through his Barbaresco–seemingly more masculine, muskier & leaner.  I have not had many Conteisa, so cannot make any broader statements, but will say I don’t think this 1997, as resounding as it is, is of Grand Cru kind of quality, at least in its youth.

1993 Gaja Barbaresco  b9

I liked this wine alot.  I remember thinking upon release how tight fisted, seemingly lean & mouth puckering this wine was.  It has really started to open up again, even in comparison to 5 years ago when I last had it.  It is pretty, has enticing perfume, wonderful fruit, structure & balance, done with class & superb craftsmanship.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wines Revisted
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“A Quartet of Classic Burgundy”

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In our ongoing search for “good” classical wine, here are FOUR from Burgundy.  I use these as standards, not only for blind tasting, but more importantly to measure others by.  Yes, just another really good opportunity to learn!

2012 Chignard Julienas “Beauvernay”  Julienas

One of our all time favorite Beaujolais producers.

While many critics attribute Michel Chignard’s success to the soil, Kermit would argue that his traditionalist stance on vineyard management and winemaking is essential to craft such great wines.  As ardent defenders of traditional Beaujolais methods, the Chignards take a minimalist approach in both the vineyards and the cellar.   The Chignard’s have recently started making wine from another Beaujolais cru, Juliénas, which produces a beautiful, high-toned wine in keeping with the style of the domaine. La Revue du Vin claims that the aromas from their wines evoke memories of the great Chambolle-Musignys from Burgundy, to the North…but who’s to say, maybe they got it reversed”.

2011 Henri Perrusset Macon Villages

A favorite, absolutely tasty, delicious, ‘country” styled Chardonnay.  Not everything has to be aristocratic or grand.  I also find “genuine” quite a fine attribute!

For decades, the Mâconnais has been dominated by the banal bottlings of cooperative cellars; not the sort of quality that leads novices to explore the wines of the region. Henri Perrusset’s vineyards and home are located in the small town of Farges-les-Mâcon, on the northernmost spur of the limestone subsoil that characterizes the appellation of Mâcon. Farges is not far away from the village named (believe it or not) Chardonnay. The limestone in Farges is more marly than the compact limestone farther south in Pouilly-Fuissé. It is hard and intensely white, but breaks apart into small pieces and it is loaded with quartz and marine fossils as well. This type of soil is easier to work despite all the stones, provides great drainage for the vines, and gives the wines their grainy minerality. Our Mâcon-Villages is a custom blend of all his other holdings around Farges”.

2009 William Fevre Chablis Grand Cru “Valmur”

Chardonnay in it’s purist form!  Precise……pure……ethereal……sophisticated!  In addition, these wines are certainly capable of aging, but for me, the real fascination is how these wines work at the dinner table.  Furthermore, when one actually sees how small of an acreage the Grand Cru vineyards really are, perhaps they will appreciate the wines even more.

2006 Lucien Boillot Gevrey Chambertin  Premier Cru “Les Cherbaudes” 

Classic RED Burgundy.

Pierre Boillot is a rare master of both the Côtes de Beaune and the Côtes de Nuits–abbbbbb 003not only does he have the vineyards but also the savoir-faire and skill.  He  inherited very old vines from his father in the Côtes de Nuits, including a parcel of 94 year old vines right next to the Grand Cru, Chapelle Chambertin and some in the Côtes de Beaune from his great-grandfather Henri Boillot, who was originally from Volnay.  Every wine is a classic representation of its appellation–from Volnay and Pommard to Gevrey and Nuits-Saint-Georges, as Pierre’s work in the cellars is geared towards transparent, terroir-driven wines of purity and finesse”.

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Mourvedre from Southern France

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Mourvedre is a grape variety grown in many parts of the world, most notably in Spain & southern France.  Many wine lovers today, however, might know this grape as the “M” found in many of the popular GSM blends coming out of warmer climates such as Australia & California. We put this tasting together to show, while Mourvedre is not a mainstream grape variety, it is capable of producing some VERY interesting, provocative masculine red wines which are truly like no other, especially in certain parts of France.  We, then, served several of these French bottlings to help tasters see & hopefully better understand what potential this grape variety has.  Just another really good opportunity to learn!

03j2011 Chateau La Roque Pic St Loup “Les Vieilles Vignes de Mourvedre”–This is unique terroir. Garrigue, the aromatic scrub brush that dominates the landscapes of the South, asserts its presence among these vines”.  Terraced hillsides, clay-limestone soils, 50 to 60 year old vines, organically/biodynamically farmed.  Though quite masculine & sultry, the wine is thankfully done in a much more delicious, “country” style.

2010 Domaine du Joncier Lirac  “Les Muses”–03hHere is a wonderful discovery from the village of Lirac of France’s southern Rhone Valley across the river from the more famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  This unique cuvee is predominately Mourvedre, biodynamically farmed & pounded by the fierce mistral wind.  The inky black color will tell you it is Mourvedre, but the surprising refinement & suave-ability, will tell you this is crafted by a female vigneron, which all makes for a very different & unique perspective on what this grape variety can do.

03g2010 Domaine du Gros Nore Bandol–As importer Kermit Lynch once wrote—“Magnificent Bandols made in the simplest manner, très franc de goût, with a whole lotta soul”.  The vineyard is but 16 hectares of clay limestone soils located right down the road from the iconic Domaine Tempier.  This is a much more masculine, robust, earthy style of Mourvedre with a dark, more sinister personality.  We find this wine to be especially well suited for wild game & aged meats.  Furthermore, it gets even more provocative & intriguing with a little bottle age, so we suggest you put a few bottles stashed away to enjoy later.

2008  Domaine Tempier Bandol “Cabassaou”–03fone of the true iconic wines of southern France!  Tempier produces 3 single vineyard Bandol–La Migoua, La Tourtine & Cabassaou.  Cabassaou used to be a lower, old vine parcel of LaTourtine, but was produced & bottled (at least commercially) as single vineyard with the 1987 vintage.  This cuvee is typically 90-95 % Mourvedre & is therefore very masculine, dense, powerful, highly vinous & soulful.

03b1997 Domaine de Terrebrune Bandol–this domaine is located in Ollioules, east of Bandol, at a higher elevation than Tempier with terraced hillside vineyards.  The soil is still clay limestone with some marl.  I find their Bandol wines, eventhough produced from at least 85% Mourvedre, to be more ethereal & more refined than those of Tempier or Gros Nore in its youth.  I was very surprised at how wonderfully perfumed & mesmerizing the nose was when we popped the cork.  It almost had an apricot/nectarine quality, along with underlying floral nuances amid the earth & rustic character.  Even on the palate, this wine also had a deliciousness & a prettiness, which are not qualities I would normally associate with Mourvedre.   I only wish I had bought more!  This is definitely a Mourvedre in all its glory.

1985 Domaine Tempier Bandol “La Migoua”03etypically, this is the Tempier bottling which speaks to me the most.  For my palate, La Migoua is the most forward out of the gates, the most masculine, the most rugged, the most stony & the most soulful, if soulfulness could ever be defined.  In terms of rusticity, which the Tempier Mourvedre red wines are well renown for, La Migoua has more base notes, deep, bordering brooding, with a musk character underlying the resounding earthy nuances. Interestingly, the vineyard is at the highest elevation of the 3 (270 meters), an almost ampitheater like setting with red, ochre, blue clay & limestone soils.  It also typically has the least % of Mourvedre to the blend of the 3.  Tasting this 1985 was like tasting a bit of history….when all of the Peyrauds were healthy & working at the winery……when Domaine Tempier was a more country-ish kind of Camelot–full of magic & romantic notions, all done in a very “down to earth ” Provencal way.  In its youth, I remember this wine had a VERY rustic character, which many New World wine drinkers might consider too rustic & off-putting.  With this kind of bottle age, however, the perfume is truly captivating, as the sun baked rocks, surrounding wild shrub, herbs & pine trees again make an encore appearance in the nose & taste, amongst the cedar, tobacco, smoke, dried cherries, leather & li-hing-mui smells.  Tempier magic!

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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2007 was a pretty good vintage for Pinot Noir up & down California.  Even before any wines were actually released, several of the wine media were hyping the vintage as one of the best ever for Pinot.  That was 8 years ago.  We did this tasting to see how a few are doing today.  Yes, just another opportunity to learn.

02a2007 Roessler Pinot Noir “Alder Springs Vineyard”–the founder, Roger Roessler, had a real fascination for Pinot Noir (& Chardonnay) & sourced fruit from some pretty interesting vineyards in his search for excellence.  Alder Springs, for instance, is made up of rolling hills with many different sun exposures in the northern part of the Mendocino county near Laytonville.  It is very remote & quite breathtaking in its scope.  Owner Stu Bewley is a vineyard fanatic with all kinds of viticultural & farming techniques/experiments going on there.   I also recall that Wells Gutherie at one point was helping Roessler produce the wines, all making for a very intriguing wine project, which insiders have kept an eye on for some years…..that is until Roger sold the project.  I am not sure what to make of this 2007 today.  It might have been in a dumb stage, as it was really dominated by oak nuances, even in the taste with the alcohol really poking out in the finish.  We have 1 bottle left & will look to retaste again in the near future.

2007 Cobb Pinot Noir “Rice Spivak Vineyard”02b–the Cobb family own the highly revered Coastlands Vineyard.  Son, Ross Cobb, has his own label & also made the wines at Hirsch Vineyard, after a stint working at Williams & Selyem.  The roughly 6 acre Rice Spivak vineyard is a combination of Dijon clones & the Swan heritage selection, all planted in sandy loam/volcanic ash soils.  Wild yeast fermented & the juice spent 17 months in French oak, 30% new.  This is a very graceful, classy, suave style of Pinot & is showing really nicely right now, with harmony & wonderful balance.

02c2007 Brewer Clifton Pinot Noir “Ampelos Vineyard”–here was an opportunity to taste a BC Pinot with some age on it.  Because they typically use a lot of stem inclusion, the resulting wines need some bottle age to resolve itself some….& this wine has finally started coming out of its shell.  Yes, this is a surprisingly big, flambouyant  Pinot, with the minerality definitely there in support, which by the way also helps with the wine’s buoyancy as well.  Well worth checking out!  Ampelos is a hillside vineyard on the eastern side of the Santa Rita Hills.  The 2 acre parcel which BC works with is 828, planted in 2004.

2007 Scherrer Pinot Noir “Big Brother”02gFred Scherrer produced his first “Big Brother” Pinot Noir with the 1999 vintage.  His next one was the 2006 & here we are with his 3rd.  The fruit is mostly Dijon 777 grown near Annapolis out on the true Sonoma Coast.  This very cool spot is why there is much structure & hutzpah in the wine.  Amazingly, even though this wine is 8 years old, one wouldn’t even notice on first taste.  This is a gorgeous, delicious, well balanced beauty with a long way still to go.  Save your bottles for another day.  You will be glad you did.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wines Revisted
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Some Thoughts on Syrah & Reduction

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I recently sent out an email. which stated the following, & here are some of the responses I got back.  I purposefully did not include names, as who said what is not the point.  It really is about sharing insights & learning from each other.  I have found there is never just one answer.

I am writing a piece on Syrah and am hoping to get your thoughts on the subject.  I recently read somewhere the Syrah has a propensity to go “reductive” in bottle.

What does that mean?  How?  Why?

Is there other grapes with this tendency?


Reductive, anaerobic, as opposed to oxidative.

Reduction can show as shut down with muted aromatics and palate to an extreme of stinky, sulfitey aromas and off flavors.

Syrah is notorious for being reductive in the cellar, as well. Wines are made using non-oxidadative techniques more and more, resulting in wines with a tendency towards reduction. Syrah is oftentimes aged on lees. This helps protect the wine, keeping CO2 in solution and oxygen away. This can drive the wine further into reduction.

When I’ve had the opportunity to taste at Clape and Faury they pour young Syrah’s from foudre or barrel, they are often reduced. They often then follow with the previous vintage out of barrel and bottle and the reduction has disappeared.

Syrah made by Cabernet Sauvignon makers where they rack and return the wine often tends to be less reductive. However, the wine tastes less like Syrah, in my opinion.

I like having some reduction in our Syrahs, and most of our wines for that matter, during the aging process. Keeping our wines on lees in barrels enables us to use less SO2 during the barrel aging process. The wines tend to be a little closed, especially during the winter. I like that. The wines evolve slower and are a little tight when bottled. A little time in bottle or decanting will help.

If a vineyard has been sprayed with sulpher too close to harvest, there will often be some residue on the grapes and will result in stinky, reductive, sulfite-like aromas and off flavors in the wine.

Chardonnay comes to mind as a variety that also tends to be reductive. We always have several barrels that show those reductive characteristics. These barrels tend to be barrels that were the last filled from that particular lot and tank. So these barrels likely have more lees and heavier solids in them.

I’ve read recently regarding the style of Chardonnay winemaking, Burgundy in particular, and the inclination winemakers have towards the reductive, matchstick quality. Think about winemakers whose style and trademark go hand in hand with the matchstick quality: Coche-Dury, Roulot, Pierre Yves Colin.

We like some of that character in our Chardonnays, for sure.

It’s a fascinating topic always worth chewing on.  I’d love to hear your impressions and thoughts on it and your experiences with wines in bottle and in winery cellars.

I did forget to some notes regarding nutrients during fermentation.

If a vineyard is low or deficient in nitrogen, the grapes or juice in the fermenter will be low in nitrogen.  We know this by a juice sample we send to the laboratory to measure sugar concentration, acidity, potassium, and nitrogen and ammonia for fermentation.

Yeast, native or lab, can stress during fermentation if there aren’t enough nutrients in the must. A too warm fermentation and not enough oxygen will also stress yeast. When yeast are stressed, not only is there a risk of a stuck fermentation but the wine can also end up with the hydrogen sulfide spectrum of odors and flavors – extreme reductive smells and flavors.

We don’t add nutrients to our Chardonnay. We taste and smell our red fermentations along fermentation observations. If there’s an off smell or flavor we’ll pump it over longer to introduce some oxygen to the fermentation. Usually, that helps a lot. If that doesn’t do the trick we will add small doses of yeast nutrients to rid the wine of those attributes. These nutrients include nitrogen, ammonia,  yeast hulls.

It’s much harder to rid the wine of any of those characters once the wine is dry and in barrel.


Without getting into gains and losses of electrons, “reductive” is a loosey-goosey term used by wine tasters to refer to a wine that show sulfur-based aromas, things like rotten egg, burnt rubber, burnt match, rotten cabbage, etc.  With oxygen, these sulfur-based aromas can dissipate to reveal the true character of the wine but occasionally they can develop into something more permanent.  Copper sulfate is used to remove excess sulfur based aromas but it does not remove mercaptans (more the rotting cabbage/onion smell).  Why is Syrah more prone to reduction?  I don’t know exactly why but it may have to do with with the lack of nutrients available for yeast and/or the chemical makeup of Syrah.  Other varieties with which we work that are prone to reduction during elevage are Mourvèdre and Petite Sirah.  Interestingly, I have never had a reductive Zinfandel.  Sulfur-based compounds play a significant role in the aromas of many whites such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Colombard, Sauvingon Blanc, and Petit Manseng.


For a nice overview of reduction in wine see ( Syrah and other varietals ( Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and certain Pinot noirs for us) have a biochemical propensity to resist oxidation and therefore being reductive. It is positive as it gives them a greater ability to age but will also present challenges as it goes through phases where it generates sulfur compounds that change the fragrance and mouth feel of a wine (usually for the worst or at least masking other features). It is complicated to explain as Oxidation and reduction happen at the same time and has to do with layers of chemical reactions I am not that comfortable with and are actually not that well understood. We learn how to link it with, the farming, the fermentation, nutrients, temperatures etc. One becomes familiar with it through sensory analysis and empirical observations.

You know I’m not a chemist so I’m sure you will find the chemistry answer from someone else.  What I can tell you is the practical side, and that is Syrah is opposite of Pinot Noir in this regard.  I take a completely different approach in protection of the two varietals.

Pinot needs to be protected from oxygen, it breaks down easily, the color, the aromas the textures all seem to be unstable.

Its its not cellared at the right temp, if the lees are not perfectly clean, if the ph is too high, if the free so2 is below molecular threshold, pinot can fall apart.  I only go 6-9 months before the lees have consumed all the extra o2 thats available, and needs to be racked then sulfured.

Syrah on the other hand is very forgiving.  Although I cellar everything at the same temp, (55 degrees year round) syrah eats up oxygen at any opportunity.  I typically go an entire 24 months in barrel on the gross lees before its racked for the first time and receives its very first addition of so2.  Pretty crazy huh?   Obviously I only work with cold climate syrah (low ph, high acid) and this allows me to take this approach with much more confidence, because the chemistry of the wine is stable.

Reduction is lack of oxygen.  Syrah eats up oxygen and when its tapped out the wine goes into a reductive state.  Once the wine hits more oxygen, the reduction aroma lifts off the wine like a protective blanket.  Chardonnay (Roulot is a great example) is another grape always flirting with reduction.


Syrah does have an odd perpensity to become reductive or form H2S, Hydrogen Sulfide or rotten egg aroma.

So does Gamay. People think it is due to the thick skin on a big grape. Serine which is smaller doesn’t do it as much. It is tougher to aerate after it forms because it oxidizes easily. It probably has something to do with the nature of the chemicals in the larger skins.


This is a complicated issue.

‘Reduction’ is not a term used consistently in even the most technically savvy wine communities.  It can be a term for a ‘not very splashy racking strategy’ vs reduced sulfur compound formation at some point in the wines development. The t wo do not have to be connected by anything other than Sulfur being part of the chemistry.

Sensory wise, it’s about how volatile thiols pose themselves according to the reduction-oxidation potentials of their parallel equilibria.  If they are not there in large numbers or in highly stinky form, nobody senses them.  If conditions vary to Chang amounts or forms, even low levels are distracting.  It’s not a nutshell subject.

Makes sense now.  Right?

The two usages of the term are not joined at the hip.  It drives me crazy.  Once you have Carbon and Sulfur joined, the options become…complicated.

Think more about HOW you get there vs WHERE you happen to be.

There’s way more to say on the subject, but I’m tapped out right now keeping things at home happening.  Plus, I’m no expert chemist. I only have a BS with at-home graduate studies and decades of experimentation.

Thank you for digging into that mud hole.  It is a fertile subject.

Keep asking those questions.


Never if one’s systems are in place.

“Reductive” is an excuse.


I find that Syrah likes a traditional approach to fermentation, and using native yeast, moderate amounts of nutrients, low SO2 at the destemmer, some whole cluster inclusion, all help to bring the level of sulfide development in the must to about the same level as any other grape. Basically, sometimes a little happens, but if it is a small amount I don’t worry about it too much.

Regarding elevage, I find it all starts in fermentation, so if the lees are clean and your fermentation went well, no further problems occur. I keep Syrah on the lees for about 8-10 months usually, sometimes longer, with no problems.

If Syrah goes reductive in bottle, it was already reductive in barrel. period. The same thing goes with screwcaps. It was a problem that the winemaker thought was addressed, which reared its ugly head again in bottle.

But, as others have noted, some “reductive” compounds bring typicity in small amounts. I don’t mind it in small amounts, but I don’t want to smell vinyl or perm or diapers. :)

I also am not a fan of many Roulot wines that too me are deeply flawed. Coche on the other hand I think is well judged.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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