Archive for Wines Revisted
Syrah is undoubtedly one of the true “noble” grape varieties of the world & has been for a long, long time. Unfortunately, Syrah is not in fashion right now & I am not sure exactly why. I, in fact, wish I had a dollar for every time a wine professional/wine buyer/server has told me in the past 5 years, how Syrah based wines, (especially New World versions) do not sell so well for them. I would be rich!
I am saddened to hear of this plight.
Well grown & crafted Syrah deserves a niche in the wine world. Not only does this grape variety have world class potential, it also can fill the big puka between Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of weight, drama & profoundness. The very best can have intricacy, pedigree, UN-heaviness & texture a notch or 2 away from Pinot Noir, with the depth, masculinity & regality a notch or 2 away from Cabernet Sauvignon. Syrah can be an ideal “tweener”.
Here are 3 examples which reminded me of this thought.
The Ogier family had been farming their vineyards & selling off to their grapes for many years (more recently to prominent producers such as Chapoutier & Guigal), until 1987 when they decided to grow & produce their own wine under their own label. At that time, they owned roughly 6 acres in Cote Rotie. Son, Stephane, started working alongside his father in 1998 & took over the domaine in 2000. Where previously, the winemaking was much more traditional with NO stems & NO new oak, Stephane changed his style to 100% Syrah, 80% de-stalked, 3 to 4 week stainless steel fermentation & 18 month barrel aging (30% new). In addition to their Cote Rotie, Ogier also began producing special bottlings–Embruns (2001) from purchased fruit & 50% new barrels; Lancement “Terroir de Blonde” & Belle Helene (a cask selection from their Cote Rozier parcel–30 months in 100% new oak). This is a producer of northern Rhone Valley Syrah well worth checking out. This 2001 Cote Rotie (13 years old), for example, was elegant, classy, refined, masculine, majestic with a surprising velvety texture. It had a gamey, rustic core with garrigue character & a sandalwood edge. I can imagine all kinds of meats & rustic meat preparations which one can have a field day with!
Noel Verset, for me, was one of the iconic stalwarths of the tiny Cornas appellation, who not only helped define an appellation, but shed a very different light on what the Syrah grape variety could be. His vines were old, his highly revered Sabarottes parcel yielded grapes like no other on the hillside & his winemaking was very traditional. I have to say, the resulting wines were truly one of a kind. They had a wild-ness–green & black peppercorns, true andouille sausage, raw meat, lots of red fruit, crushed rocks, garrigue with lots of herbal notes. His was a small winery, perhaps 800 case production in any given year. Rumors started circulating around the 2000 vintage, that he was retiring. (He even mentioned his thoughts on retirement on a visit I made in 1991). Subsequent vintages would pop up every now & then–I saw a smidgeon fo the 2003 & a tiny bit of 2006….& then quiet. It was the end of an era. Yes, there are other Cornas (Thierry Allemand & August Clape) which deftly carry on the appellation on the world class stage, BUT there was only 1 Noel Verset. I was completely enthralled with the 1995. It was quintessential Verset Cornas–wildly rustic, rock, peppercorns, wild herbs, with the rank smells of real French andouille sausage. It really sang out & was a thrill to savor.
For many, the Chave Hermitage is the pinnacle of northern Rhone Syrah. The family has been growing grapes & making wines on Hermitage hill since 1481. The vines today are organically & biodynamically farmed. “Every year, we start from zero in assembling the wine.” The core & backbone comes from the Bessards parcel, their largest parcel, located furthest west. Tasting out of barrel once with Gerard Chave, I found the Bessards to have a smokiness, a strong minerality with a certain elegance, velvety middle & lots of tannins in the finish. His parcels have very old vines. I found Le Meal was also smokey, but had distinct floral (violets, jasmine), ripe, jammy black cherry, green olive, spice & pepper with more of a middle, a riper, higher glycerine mouthfeel. Rocoules was fresher fruit, yet not as showy, with licorice, smoke, cassis, green notes & much more tannic. Peleat–more acid/structure with green olive, smoke & even an apple nuance. Diognieres had ripe cherries, jammy, bordering cassis like qualities with a funky/earthy edge. Baume–licorice, cherry, more austere, structured & refinement. L’Ermite–smokey, earthy, barnyard funk, green peppercrons, jammy–the most outgoing right out of the gates. The Chaves are master blenders, using all of the pieces to create a complete Hermitage–or as I used to say about the old Barolo masters—create an orchestra sound rather than just the horn section. Chave is the best at that! and HAS BEEN SINCE 1481!
The Bien Nacido Vineyard is located midway in the Santa Maria Valley.
“The vineyard traces its roots back to the year 1837 when a Spanish land grant of some two square leagues was made to Tomas Olivera by Juan Bautista Alvarado, then Gobernador of Alta California. This grant covered nearly 9,000 acres ranging upward to the San Rafael Mountains from the Santa Maria Mesa, which bordered the Sisquoc and Cuyama Rivers. The ranch was generously watered by Tepusquet Creek, so called by the Chumash Indians to whom it meant “fishing for trout.” Thomas Olivera sold Rancho Tepusquet in 1855 to his son-in-law Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros and daughter Martina. Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros started construction on an adobe in 1857 and moved to the ranch the following year. He and his wife raised horses, cattle, sheep, several grain crops, and grapes for the production of wine“.
The current owners, Miller family, purchased this tract in 1969 & soon thereafter renamed the vineyard “Bien Nacido”.
Today, Bien Nacido covers roughly 800 acres of vines & is still quite breathtaking in scope. There is a myriad of designated blocks & soils, each “farmed to order” to the leaser. A good portion is sandy loam with tiny bits of seashells & sees morning fog & is cooled by afternoon sea breezes.
What is most tantalizing to winemakers is that several of the blocks still have the vines, which were planted in 1973 AND on their own roots. Of course, there is a pecking order to who gets what grapes. First in line for the prime parcels, includes those who worked with the grapes since nearly the beginning such as Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Adam Tolmach of Ojai & Bob Lindquist of Qupe. We are also seeing a transition, as some of the Old Guard who helped bring this vineyard to the forefront, such as Chris Whitcraft & Bryan Babcock, no longer work with the fruit. In their place, we today see a whole slew of young bucks such as Justin Willett of Tyler & Gavin Chanin of Chanin wines just to name 2.
Just the other night, two of our really good wine friends, Gail & Vern Isono, put together a BYOB tasting themed “Bien Nacido Vineyard wines” at our VINO restaurant. It really turned out to be a VERY memorable tasting, to say the least, as the participants brought an interesting selection of true standouts from this iconic vineyard to share with the gang.
There is no doubt that Jim Clendenen has over the years crafted some of the most compelling Bien Nacido Vineyard wines. I also would say, he was one of the biggest believers/advocates who helped bring the Santa Barbara appellation onto the world stage of quality wines. This specific bottling, which was previous named simply “Bien nacido Vineyard” was his signature wine. The grapes came from “K” Block (Chardonnay planted in 1973 on its own roots in sandy loam soils). I have always been amazed at how Au Bon Climat’s Bien Nacido” Chardonnay always showcased real physiological ripeness, innate compelxities & class with remarkably lightness, 13 plus alcohol, well integrated oak (despite being barrel fermented & with roughly 25% or so new oak) AND ageworthiness. Here is the living proof!!!!!!! The wine was all about mineral out of the gates…high toned, highly refined with fresh peach skin & layers of marzipan, which acvhnged to more of a creamsicle note with more air. This 1995 was so pure, seamless & complete with fabulous texture & balance (2 of Clendenen’s signature winemaking traits) with a long, citrusy finish. AND, it was so surprisingly youthful still! Crazy good!
1998 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Nuits-Blanches–Why Not“
Though Au Bon Climat’s more ethereal, highly refined, higher acid, lower alcohol Chardonnays had quite a following with the wine professionals, the wines were only lukewarmly received by the major media. BIG, oaky, lavish Chardonnays were in style & the emerging new age of wine drinkers readily jumped on the band wagon. Where there was once a waiting list of customers, times were changing. With the 1997 vintage, Clendenen decided to add another Chardonnay to his portfolio, one which tasters later would playfully say was more of a homage to the newer, IN style of wine. The “White Knight” was also produced from Bien Nacido’s “K” Block, but was picked a week or 2 later AND aged in a considerable amount of new oak. The bottle was more fancy & heavy in weight with a newly designed “look”, with the designation “Nuits-Blanches”…& his statement–“Why?”…front & center. This wine, of course, was ABC’s highest scoring wine in quite some time. Depressing????? Maybe for an artist, but Clendenen followed that wave of success in 1998 with his third “Nuits-Blanches”, this time with his simple statement–“Why Not“. Even though this Chardonnay comes from the same “K” Block, the resulting wineis so VERY different! The wine is more stony than minerally, with marzipan, orange blossom, fennel, creamsicle, apricot pit nuances. Dry, still quite oaky up front & quite youthful & resoundingly structured in its core with a long, grandiose finish.
2006 Foxen Pinot Noir “Block 8-Bien Nacido Vineyard”
2006 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “this is the “n” my only friend the “n””
The Foxen gang are really good people who helped bring Santa Barbara along wine wise. Bill Wathen studied under the legendary Pinot maestro, Dick Graff, at Chalone & along with his partner Dick Dore founded Foxen in the 1980’s. Their wine, unfortunately, did not show so well on this night. We’re not sure if it was shipping, storage or what. The 2006 Whitcraft was also in a dumb stage….but showed MUCH better than the Foxen & was so much more vinous, balanced & complete. As the night wore on, one could readily tell this wine has the stuffing & all the right fixings….just needs time. Chris Whitcraft, for me, was one of the “larger than life”, REAL characters of the wine industry. His wines were like him, in that one never knew what to expect, not only with each vintage, but when opening any of his wines at any given time. In short, they were all idiosyncractic & I have found over the years, either people really liked them or they really hated them. Chris was a protege/friend to the iconic Burt Williams, the namesake, founding winemaker of the old Williams & Selyem. He defined his winemaking as artisan & done without electricity. From early on, his 3 prized parcels were “Q” & “N” Blocks from the Bien Nacido Vineyard….as well as the Hirsch Vineyard of the true Sonoma Coast. When he hit it, he hit a home run. In 2006, Chris produced a terrific “N” Block Pinot Noir. He felt, however, after tasting through the barrels with Burt, there was one barrel, which had to be singled out & bottled on its own. This is that wine!!! ONE barrel. Sadly, either the 2006 or perhaps 2007 vintage , Whitcraft decided to say aloha to Bien Nacido. It really was the end of an era. On this night, the wine had a surinam cherry kind of pungency, with much earth, spice–rustic, totaly vinous, great core, mineral, showy….much more showy than his normal “N” Block bottlings (Martini selection–planted in 1973 & own rooted). I remembered how proud Chris was of this wine, when I first tasted it with him. I too agreed this was one of his finest, which is saying alot, considering all of the giants he made during his career. I was sad to hear of Chris’ passing earlier this year. He & his wines were like no other. Aloha, my friend. RIP.
Adam Tolmach is another one of Santa Barbara’s (if not all of California) REAL superstar winemakers! His wines are THAT GOOD! He was once co-founding winemaker at Au Bon Climat, but eventually packed up his bags to found his own winery, which he named Ojai. His wines thankfully also have Old World sensibility. Where his Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, & especially his Syrahs used to get HUGE scores from the major publications, especially Robert Parker, one could see over the years his decision to trim the oak usage appealed to the scorers less. How crazy is that? For me these same wines are better than ever. In fact, let me just say, when touring Californian wine country, our last visit is typically Ojai. It really is hard to follow his wines with any others. His top Bien Nacido Pinot parcel is “N” Block (planted in 1973, on its own roots). Unfortunately, on this night, the 2001’s nose was completely & utterly shutdown….despite us trying to agressively decant it back & forth for 25 minutes. On the palate, the wine, however, showed hard mineral, immense structure, HUGE vinosity, intensity with great texture & flow…..just so damned tight. I think this will be quite a wine, though, once it comes out of hibernation.
IN REPLY (from Fabien Castel of Ojai Vineyard)–“Incidentally I read the note about your recent tasting of the 2001 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido.The wine does need a lot more time and I can give some background as to why it tasted the way it did. It was my first year working with Adam. The 2001-2002 vintages ended being the densest and most angular for Pinot Noir. Part was extraction levels (punch downs), inclusion of a new cooper, occasional saignee and other finer details in the cellar. Ultimately it prompted Adam to rethink the way he was dealing with those wines and not repeat that level of texture that was drawing praises but not satisfying his sense of what the varietal had to offer. The wines had been softer in prior years (1996 to 2000) and would return to gentler textures in 2005, 2006. By 2007 Bien Nacido was less extracted with grapes picked earlier, now showing on an ideal course, 7 years later. Today he is adding again some extraction since he moved in a different realm of physiological maturation of the grapes. He has found delicacy and is ready to reintroduce power“.
1993 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Bien Nacido Vineyard”
Chris Whitcraft excelled at producing real provocative, HUGELY vinous, masculine, savory, rustic Pinot Noir from both the “Q” & “N” blocks of the Bien Nacido Vineyard. He was lucky to be there in the early days & was therefore able to garner getting the Old Vine fruit from each, which came from the vines planted in 1973 on its own roots. Sometime in the 90’s, since the rows between the vines were so wide, they went through & planted another row in between (referred to as interplantings). In the case of “Q” Block, I believe it was clone 667. & for “N” Block I believe they planted clone 115. So, every now & then, when Chris felt some of the juice did not reflect a “Q” or “N” Block designation, he would produce a “Bien Nacido Vineyard” designated bottling. AND, in some of the cases, he would also add some interplanting grapes in as well, just to add dimension. In any case, the Bien Nacido designated wines were VERY different from either Q or N Block & spoke of the vineyard rather than either parcel. On this night, the 1991 showed more of that pungent, rustic surinam cherry fruit, a peach tang in the middle with sandalwood, sap, funk/shoe polish/leather. It definitely had more vinosity than the 1993 poured along side. The 1993, on the other hand, seemed much more Californian. It was lighter in color, much more perfumed–light funk, peach/apricot middle, roasted coffee grinds, a more ethereal middle with a more fruity finish. We were all so surprised how youthful these 2 wines were.
What an intriguing contrast to the any of the other wines, that’s for sure! Much more elegant, feminine, refined….so seamless, impeccably balanced & so wonderfully textured. The fruit is sweet, ripe & surprisingly forward, but I believe that is part of the intention of this bottling. I also loved the vinosity & surprising vigor of this 19 year old wine!!!
1997 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “N Block”
I have been an avid fan of Chris Whitcraft’s Pinot Noirs for many years. I would be hard pressed to think of too many Pinots in the 90’s which had as much character & vinosity (old vine-ness) than his Q & N Block bottlings. ( Certainly nothing tooty fruity there!) Where his Hirsch single vineyard designated Pinots (1994 being the first) were much more masculine, sultry, darker, intriguing & harder edged, his Q & N were so much more vinous, rounder & more open. Chris worked with a Pommard selection in Q Block (planted in 1973 & own rooted). The resulting wine was typically the most open upon release. His N Block was Martini selection & was typically more earthy, reticent & shy upon release. The 1996 had a strong roasted coffee grinds/cocoa quality, with a very earthy tone. It was totally vinous on the palate, seamless, complete & long. The 1997, on the other hand, had a stemmy, spiced edge with a more ethereal middle & a long finish. It was much more refined & elegant than the 1996. Interestingly, I found this to be opposite when they were released. Both are still surprisingly youthful.
In 2000, my best friend, Nunzio Alioto, & I bought some Q Block grapes at a charity auction. ( He & I in those days typically bought small amounts of grapes from some storybook vineyards like Pisoni, Savoy, Mt Carmel & Eaglepoint Ranch & asked some friends to make it for us.) So, for the 2000, we asked Chris Whitcraft to make this wine. I believe it was 1 barrel’s worth. On this night, this seemed to be grandest of the night! Or, maybe because it was biggest, a beast with lots of hutzpah, chocolate, coffee & oak nuances. It also had, by far, the most vigor in the core. I found it way more interesting than a 2000 Whitcraft Q Block & a 2000 Hirsch I recently had tasted. Sorry, my last bottle. Thank you Chris!!!!!
Some interesting Mediterranean RED wines were opened & shared by the gang on this night. They also made sense for the kinds of foods we do in VINO.
Chapoutier owns 79 acres of prized parcels on Hermitage hill. That is a sizable chunk, to say the least. The core of their Sizeranne bottling comes from Les Bessards & its predominately granitic soils. There is also some Le Meal (old alluvial terraces with gravel & some calcareous) & some Les Greffieux (silt with shingles at the foot of the hill). The grapes are de-stemmed, fermented in concrete & aged in casks for 12 to 14 months. This 1989 was wonderfully aged–a peach/nectarine aroma with red & black fruit, dried flowers/hawthorne, forest floor, leather, peppercorns, camphor, sandalwood….very refined, classy & sophisticated. The various components were very much in harmony & this proved to be a fabulous drink.
I first visited Rostaing, I believe in 1991. Having visited his uncle Marius Gentaz just prior, I was really taken back at first with Rene’s VERY modern looking winery, especially when one compares this to the cellars of Gentaz Dervieux, Clape, Chave, Noel Verset I had visited earlier. In addition to the building itself, I was also quite surprised to see so many NEW barriques in use down in the barrel room. Interestingly, I did taste this very wine on that visit. My notes–“smokey (ash tray like), tarry, PEPPERY, black fruit, cassis, blackberry, tremendous concentration, high glycerine, lots of wood tannins, some caramel in the finish“. Since I did put any stars by the wine, I am not sure that I didn’t like it that much back then. Well, the wine has changed considerably since then. Everything is well integrated, though one could still smell & taste the considerable amount of new oak used in its production. It was, however, stylish, well polished & very well balanced. Typically Rostaing blends in fruit (95% Syrah & 5% Viognier) from 13 different lieu dits (schist, mica & silex soils)…partial de-stemming,..& aged in 228 liter barrels with a big chunk being new (in 1989). I went back to see Rene a couple of years ago. Because it was in the middle of harvest , we did not get to chat so much this go around & tasted but a few wines. I like his wines much better now. I did notice he has a roto fermentor now & also uses demi-muids in addition to the 228l barriques.
The Ceretto brothers sure shook the bushes in their neck of the woods, especially keen at marketing. When I first visited them in the early 80’s, their newly built winery looked like a modern Californian. The staple of their Nebbiolo was their Zonchera Barolo bottling (produced from a core of Zonchetta of La Morra, just under Brunate, which they discontinued with the 2010 vintage) & their Asili Barbaresco (which they discontinued with the 2011). The 1988 Zonchera was still alive in the core, just lean & refined. It is a pretty wine, but I would have probably liked several years younger, when it still had more flesh to the bones. OR, maybe it just got dwarfed by all of the other standout wines tasted on this night. I am still very thankful at having tasted it.
Now, here was a very interesting wine! Elisabetta Foradori is the master of the Teroldego grape variety. Her biodynamically farmed vineyards (of massale selections) are located in the Campo Retaliano valley. Some say, Teroldego is genetically related to the Syrah grape variety. I am not sure if that is true, but it certainly can make for complex, deeply flavored & colored, compelling wines, that’s for sure. Granato is all estate fruit & produced only in certain vintages & generally aged in OLD oak for 12 to 15 months. The 1999 was still VERY youthful at its core–sweet, black fruit, olives, herbs, earth, even chocolate & spice, while being well focused, hearty, masculine yet so cerebral, graceful & well balanced. This sure was a pleasure to experience.
Aldo Conterno was certainly regarded as one of Barolo’s iconic figures. He left his family’s domaine, Giacomo Conterno & founded his own in 1969 in Monforte d’Alba. His top holdings–Vigna Cicala, Romirasco & Colonello–are all top notch parcels within the Bussia Cru. His Granbussia bottling is a Riserva blend of all 3 parcels, produced only in great vintages which features much structure & depth of fruit. Grandbussia is released at least 7 years afterwards. Unlike his devout “traditionalist” brother Giovanni at Giacomo Conterno, Aldo adapted techniques from both the new as well as the old in pursuit of making better wine. He reduced, for example, the time on the skins, and vehemently believed in long maturation in large oak. This 1996 was stellar–classy, stylish, majestic & sophisticated. The perfume showed classic Barolo/Nebbiolo character, as did the palate, in a very refined, well balanced style. Yes, it can go on aging for a long time, but I loved how well it showed on this night with lots of vigor to its core.
Sweet wine is an interesting topic.
How does one get such ripeness & sweetness in the wines?
One answer is to simply leave the grapes on the vine longer or until they start to raisin. This is a very tricky line to walk. As the sugar rises, the acidity lowers. If you are therefore not careful, you could end up with a cloying or flabby wine. A simpler way is to stop the fermentation early, so the finished wine has residual sugar. Another way, would be to dry your grapes, such as they do in Italy, on straw mats. Yet, another way, is to encourage botrytis cinerea to infect your grapes. This beneficial mould will essentially get rid of water & thereby concentrate the extract & acids in the grapes. Or, one could do a combination of the above. The point being, there is more than one way.
These 3 wines feature very different & interesting approaches & it is a reminder why the resulting wines are so VERY different, especially with age.
Furthermore, I personally don’t talk about sweet wines too much, mainly because the wines are really about super ripeness & sometimes botrytis, especially in their youth & the terroir therefore often gets masked. It is true, however, after considerable age & the sweetness & the ripe fruitiness has a chance to resolve, the terroir can make an appearance again. Such is the case with this trio of wines.
Chateau de Fargues has been owned by the Lur Saluces family since 1472. They are the same family which also owned Chateau d”Yquem, which they sold off in 1999. This estate has 15 hectares of vines planted on a clay-gravel plateau, roughly 4 kilometers southeast of d”Yquem. Typically their blend is at least 80% Semillon with Sauvignon Blanc AND the yields are often lower than d’Yquem’s. The grapes are harvested through many vineyard passes (sometimes as many as 12) & are aged for at least 3 years in once used barrels from d’Yquem. This 1983 had lots of dried fruit nuances, honey, beeswax, stoniness, apricot, earthiness & a real waxy feel to it. One could see that this wine also had started making the transition from sweetness to a more tactile quality on the palate, which is also part of the resolvement. I felt, however, with the drying of the fruit, the alcohol & a bitterness poked out in the finish, which makes me better understand why many love to pair these kinds of wines with richer, fattier foods such as bleu cheese, pates & even foie gras. Thank you Michael for sharing this treat!
Now, this is a VERY unique & interesting wine, which is remarkably still under the radar screen for most wine aficionados. The appellation is Anjou in France’s Loire Valley & is actually located in the heart of the Coteaux du Layon, which is famous for their late harvest Chenin Blanc based whites. This 145 acre estate has been in the Touchais family for 8 generations (1787). My first experience was a 1947, which I tasted in the mid 80’s. I was blown away how unique & interesting this wine was. These wines are reputed to live as long as 100 years & the 1947 tasted so surprisingly youthful. I suspected this 1975 would therefore be an infant, but was still anxious to try it. The soils are schist, clay & limestone. The most curious aspect of the Moulin Touchais wines is how they are produced. (It wasn’t that long ago, no one was allowed in the cellar, & people therefore questioned the authenticity of its longevity). They say, 20% of the grapes are harvested only 80 days after flowering, when the grapes are essentially unripe with high acid levels. The other 80% is then harvested 120 days after flowering (dehydrating on the vine). (Botrytis is rare in this neck of the woods, which at least partially explains the nose, taste & color of the resulting wines). The wine is fermented in stainless & aged at least 10 years before release. The 1975 has a surprising freshness with baked apple, quince, mint, apricot, honey nuances. It was amazingly precise, fine, refined, intrguingly minerally with balanced acidity. Because of the bottle age, the wine’s once apparent sweetness had changed considerably to a much more tactile sensation. It was fabulous!!!! AND so interesting! Thank you Brent, for sharing.
The records show this estate has been around since 1561. Most of their vineyard holdings have red slate soils–Nierstein (Hipping, Pettenthal & their monopole Brudersberg) & a little in Nackenheim Rothenberg. This wine was the most gracious of the 3 “stickies” tasted tonight.. NO hard edges whatsoever AND had the most finesse. I had always previously thought Oelberg was a grosslagen (large collective site), but on a recent map, I noticed it was a single vineyard, past Hipping, down the hillside some. This wine was rich, lush with tropical fruit character, some botrytis & a distinct stoniness. One could also see that the once apparent sweetness is changing to a more tactile creaminess on the palate.
3 epic, rustic red wines from the 2007 vintage (7 yars old)—2 from Italy & 1 from Spain. Each should really ring your bell. It is VERY important for us at VINO to continually feature top caliber wines from the Mediterranean basin. Yes, it is our passion….BUT….it makes sense with the kind of foods Chef Keith creates. How does the lay person sift through all of the labels & marketing jargon to better determine what to buy? Here are 3. Yes, just another opportunity to learn!
There are many top caliber Brunello di Montalcino. Ciacci Picolomini, however, standout because of their desire to make the wines in the vineyard & then showcase its purity in the finished wine. Although many producers may say that in their spiel, Ciacci Picolomini truly delivers it in the wine. Pianrosso is their top site—stony slopes near the Orcia river in the south-southwest corner of Montalcino. This majestic, 100% Brunello is fermented in stainless & concrete & aged for 36 months in 20 to 62 hectoliter Slavonian oak.
This is a very masculine, provocative style of Barolo from Alice Bel Colle in the Alto Monferrato area of Piemonte. Theirs is a contiguous 96 acres of hillside, east to southeast facing at 950 feet elevation. This wine was aged for 24 months in large Slavonian casks & old French oak barrels.
Clos Pissarra is a new standout wine project from Priorat, Spain, under the direction of Mater Sommelier Emanuel Komeiji. They excel at small batches of superstar wines, grown in the VERY steep, non-terraced hillsides of slate with virtually no top soil. La Vinyeta is their top bottling, 2.5 acres of 125 year old Carignane & Grenache. The yield in 2007 was a miniscule 1 ton, for the 2 ½ acres!!!!!!—2/5 of a ton per acre……50 cases worth..
When I was growing up in this industry, we were always taught…..there were only 5 noble grape varieties—Chardonnay & Riesling for white wines….AND Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon & Pinot Noir for red wines. Back then, many of our favorite Pinot based wines were light in color, elusive, more fragile & all about refinement, purity, finesse, nuance & seductive-ness. (Of course there were exceptions, but not like today!) As I have mentioned in past VINO tastings…we look in 2014….to show participants….our version of what is good wine…..examples which can serve as benchmarks, which subsequent wines tasted can be judged by. On this night, we will be featuring THREE examples of what we mean….1 each from California, Germany & Burgundy. We are, by no means saying this is all that Pinot can & should be. It is more about understanding where we came from….so we can ask better questions moving forward. Hopefully, this tasting will be insightful. Just another learning opportunity. To make things even more fun,we will serve them BLIND!
One of Burgundies standout producers of more classically styled wines. “Chaignots—where the oak trees grown”—is 60 year old vines on a 8 to 20% slope, 260 or so meters in elevation.
What classic Burgundycharacter–dark cherries, earth, spice, decaying Autumn leaves, with a tight knit weave from beginning to end, still tight in structure, but impeccably balanced. Don’t even think about opening another bottle for a few years, that’s for sure.
2007 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir “Bien Nacido Vineyard”
Here is a truly superb, pure, transparent older vine Californian Pinot crafted by a Master, using grapes from his home turf. I have heard some people say, Au Bon Climat is producing too much wine nowadays & the quality has suffered. I do not agree, I really think the ABC wines typically showcase elegance, refinement & balance (which includes balanced alcohol & oak). This is just another example of what I mean.
2007 Rudolf Furst Spatburgunder “Centgrafenberg”
A silky, highly refined, wonderfully ethereal Pinot Noir from red sandstone soils & superstar German winemaker Paul Furst. This wine definitely displayed the decaying leaves, musky, earthy characteristics of Burgundy, that’s for sure. If you get the chance, you should look to try the Furst Pinot Noirs……of which he has several bottlings–“Tradition”, “Centgrafenberg”, “Hunsruck”, “Klingenberg”; “Schlossberg”….AND his Fruhburgunder. They are well worth the search.
2001 Robert Chevillon Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Les Roncières :
• “Before the land was cultivated with vines, it was full of brambles or ronces. 52 year old vines, East by southeast sun exposure, 250-300 meters in altitude, with a steep grade of 20%“.
Our friend Brent kindly brought this wine. Eventhough it was from a different Chevillon Premier Cru than the one listed above, in this case Roncieres”, it did showcase the Chevillon style. In fact, on first sniff, I thought this wine was aged Volnay…..BUT with the first sip, I was pretty sure it was a Robert Chevillon Premier Cru & therefore Nuits St Georges. They have a different weave to their matrix….& this 2001 was much more open & outgoing. One could tell it was high quality….as it really dwarfed the preceeding wine, which was a 2001 Grand Cru from another producer. In comparison the Chevillon displayed lots of intricacies, character & sublime pedigree, which may not have noticed on its own, but was certainly evident side by side with the previous wine! I though this was a fabulous drink.
That is not meant to be a criticism of the previous wine. When we first smelled & tasted it, I thought it was really good & quite interesting. It also said Cru quality right out of the gates. No, this was meant to be more of a comment/reminder how fabulous the subliminal, often under rated style of Chevillon can be.
After we finished our New Age Kaiseki @ Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas, we did a Blind Tasting with the “guest sommeliers” who poured wines for the dinner. Our goal was to show this new generations of wine professionals what our teachers from England referred to as bankers–typical, “spot on” wines.
Again, I don’t think we as an industry spend enough time teaching people what is good wine. Hopefully we accomplished that on this night, in a small way.
1995 Felsina Chianti Classico “Riserva”
Red in color with some browning mixed in going to orange on the rim. The wine was murky. The nose had lots of development & complexities–sandalwood, dried cherries, tobacco, roasted nuts, coffee & lots of spices. It tasted dry, medium bodied, medium high acidity & medium tannins with a long finish. Definitely aged in taste. The tasters quickly zero-ed in on aged aged Chianti of high quality. Hopefully, this wine will serve as a benchmark of what good Chianti can be like.
1996 Marcarini Barolo “La Serra”
The tasters quickly started rattling off lots of descriptors, as there really was lots to say about the appearance & nose of this wine. One taster then said roses…..& I watched the rest dive their nose back into their glass & slowly each one started to nod their head in agreement. Roses….truned on the light bulb. I thought this was a stunning bottle of Italian Nebbiolo. It was still vigorous & youthful in its core, but the color was noticeably lighter than the last time I had it 8 months ago & the nose just jumped out of the glass. Yes, it is finally coming out oif its shell again. The gang nailed this wine!
2000 Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape
The group were saying alot of the right descriptors–earth, lavender, stony, baked, raisins, cherries, game, dried herbs….BUT it really was when one blurted out “white pepper” that put everyone on the right track. Yes, they nailed this one too…..even down to the vintage. Kudos!
Here is something superstar wine importer Kermit Lynch once wrote, which helps one better understand Vieux Telegraphe & its wines.
“The source of his wine’s quality, he says, is his stony terrain, situated upon the slope of the highest ridge in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation. To the eye, there is no soil here and one would think it is a barren, but living vines poke out from the thick layer of smooth, oval stones……They look like Sierra riverbed stones…..One tasets the influence of the stones in the wine. Eperienced tasters in the area recognize a Vieux Telegraphe by its expression of pierrer a feu, or gunflint. A great Chateauneuf-du-Pape tastes almost as if it had been filtered through the stones…..In addition, the stones account for Vieux Telegraphe’s characteristic power & generosity because they reflect & collect heat…..”.
When one of the tasters said “raisin”, I understood. I often find the sun baked stones creates the kind of ripe, bordering raisin-like character in Grenache, especially in hot vintages & the “power & generosity” noted above. It comes from the stones.
2001 Saint Cosme Cote Rotie
I was quite surprised how much oak showed in this wine…..at least this time I think it threw tasters off at first. Luckily someone said peppercorns & black pepper…thick skin grape…with nobility…..& the tasters started down the right track again. Just as we earlier paired an Italian Sangiovese with a Nebbiolo, I thought it would be insightful for tasters to taste a southern & northen Rhone Valley red wine, side by side. It was impressive how well the tasters deducted this wine.
The 3 top appellations of the northern Rhone Valley, for many, are–Cornas, Hermitage & Cote Rotie. Each is a very dramatic hillside & each specializes in Syrah. “The taste of Cornas is as bold as its appearance. You chew it around in your mouth, & it seems to stain the palate. There is nothing like it.” Hermitage further north is a hill which over the eons, glaciers smashed different soils they collected up against the previous deposit. When one walks the hillside, the various soils are very apparent. Cote Rotie is yet another impressive, imposingly steep hill. I remember back in the early 1990’s, Marius Gentaz drawing us a map of the different hillsides of Cote Rotie, making sure we understood there are more than one— the Cote Mollard, Blonde, Brune, Moutonnes, Landonne & Vieillieres,–which “are separated by deep, steam eroded ravines“, which has then created a complex matrix of different soils.
I think again, Kermit Lynch in his book, Adventures on the Wine Route, says it best–“Apollonian. Master of oneself, harmonious, a beauty that is more formal, more architectural, as in the wine of Hermitage. Dionysian. A wilder force, instinctive, immediate, a beauty that is more passionate than cerebral, as in the wine of Cote Rotie.”
1996 Francois Jobard Blagny Premier Cru “La piece sous le bois”
Here was a very pretty, interesting, aged red Burgundy. The tasters knew it was Burgundy…lighter in color……cherries, funk, humus, sandalwood, spice with really fresh & a long finish. Impressive collaborative effort….& a solid methology. Kudos.
Hopefully tasters walked away thinking about the difference between wines from the Cotes de Beaune (which is where this wine is from) & the Cotes de Nuits farther north. There is a reason why the ancient ones drew a line between the 2. Why not leave it just as Cote d’Or, 1 appellation? It would have been much more simple. And when you stop & think about it for a second how many great Grand Cru white wines have you heard of from the Cotes de Nuits? Yes, the Cote de Nuits, at least today, is more generally known for their list of red wine villages……and sadly as it may seem, the Cotes de Beaune is most know today for their white wines. This red wine, however, should show you there are interesting red wines still to be found in the south. How can one resist such a pretty, flirtatious, layered & absolutely delicious wine like this!!!!
1994 Ramonet Puligny Montrachet Premier Cru “Champ Canet”
This one, not surprisingl,y really threw everyone for a loop. After all, how many times does one have a chance to sample a well aged white Burgundy like this….in all its glory. This wine was definitely singing…glorious, majestic & completely mesmerizing! As it turned out, when someone said honey…..then limestone, most tasters ended up with aged Vouvray Sec. What I was hoping to show was the nuances of aged Burgundy & its limestone soil-ness……. at an ideal time of its life. I think some tasters, more accustomed to tasting mainly New World wines, might think this wine to be oxidized. Yes, there is oxidation, BUT, for me in the right way. By the looks on everyone’s faces, this is a wine they will remember for a long time.
Thanks everyone for a wonderful tasting! Toast!!!!!
1997 was a VERY highly lauded vintage in Italy, which many people believe one of the best vintages ever. On this night we tried 3 standouts (16 years old), side by side. They are just now opening up again. Just another opportunity to learn.
1997 Terreno Chianti Classico Riserva
a very elegant, classy, highly refined 90% Sangiovese Riserva by superstar consultant Franco Bernabei. “The estate consits of 150 hectares of oak, chestnut trees, vineyards (30 hectares) & olive groves on an amazing terrain. The soil is of the galestro type with large amounts of stone at roughly 1000 feet elevation“. the 1997 had 10% of “other” red grape varieties (Cabernet, Merlot & Canaiolo Nero). Yes, this wine has really opened up again–classy, stylish with forest floor, cedar, stony nuances. This is a very pretty Chianti, which is NOT overdone or internationalized.
1997 Michele Satta “Piastraia”
Michele Satta owns roughly 30 hectares out on the Tuscan Coast in Bolgheri. His plantings began in 1991 & shortly thereafter, his wines became quite the rage. I remember going out to Italy & seeing his wines at all of the top wine stores throughout Italy. Furthermore, the store people would pull his wine & recommend them when I asked what should I buy. At first I latched on to his “Cavaliere” bottling, which was dominately Sangiovese. After some time, however, I found that his Piastraia (a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet, Merlot & Syrah) bottling was the more interesting wine…..especially with some bottle age. I have heard from several palates I respect, the 1997 is his finest red wine to date. On this night, it had a very rustic, deep, provocative nose with lots of fruit & structure in the core. The oak was well integrated, but the wine is still amazingly youthful. very impressive!
1997 Moccagatta Barbaresco “Bric Balin”
Some years back, my wife Cheryle & I visited the Minuto brothers of Moccagatta in Piemonte. Cheryle still tells the story that eventhough Serge spoke no English & I spoke no Italian, we had quite the afternoon chat, vineyard tour & tasting. Moccagatta has 3 standout Barbaresco Crus….the most fascinating one for me typically is the “Bric Balin” (4.7 hectares on a calcareous marl hillside) located just below their home. The 1997 spent 18 months in French barrique (of which 40% was new). I don’t think of the Moccagatta Barbaresco’s as being typically Grand Cru (if there was such a thing). They are, however, still pretty, classy & quite aristocratic with charm & unpretention. The 1997 has really opened up again & the tannins, acids & oak have really integrated into the wine. I would be most thankful to have this for dinner one night was our braised lamb shank.
Certainly one of the highly regarded estates of Chianti, with vineyard holdings just over 65 hectares at between 1000 & 1700 feet in elevation….with calcareous clay, pebble rich soils. The 2006 was rated 92 points by The Wine Advocate. It certainly displays the dried cherry/red fruit & autumn leaves nuances, one would expect from Tuscan Sangiovese with the pedigree & character would one expect from such a top estate. We were also glad to see the 2006 open up again, eventhough only slightly. The big question is…….is this wine worth $42 retail?
Melini first designated their “La Selvanella” bottling with the 1969 vintage, making it, according to them, the first single vineyard designated bottling for Chianti. Over the years, this bottling has received a Tres Bischeri designation by Gambero Rosso magazine on a few occassions, including this 2006. The wine spends 36 months in French oak, which is now really intergrating itself wonderfully into the wine, thus framing a deep, resounding fruit & structure core & rounding out the edges, which seemed almost impenetrable in its youth.
2006 Tenuta Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino
I remember having the wines from this estate back in the late 70’s/early 80’s, when superstar, iconic oenologist Vittorio Fiore was the consultant. The 90 hectare estate is located at roughly 750 feet elevation. Eventhough this wine was rated 91 points by one publication & 93 points by another, some of the tasters felt, it was lean & higher in acidity than a typical 90 point wine, I just feel their wines have always seemed to be more on the elegant, refined style & this again seems to be true with the 2006.
2006 Donna Olga Brunello di Montalcino
The 11 hectare estate vineyard is located at roughly 700 feet elevation & the soil is mainly marl & volcanic in composition. The resulting wine is deeper, with more stuffing & testosterone in terms of structure, which at least partially explains why it was rated 92 points by both the Wine Advocate & the Wine Spectator. The nose definitely was more rustic in character than the other 3 wines…..AND it REALLY opened up after an hour of breathing & wow-ed all of the tasters.
Top echelon Tuscan Sangiovese really needs some years in the bottle before it will start to show its peacock feathers. At 7 years old, they are still surprisingly closed & backwards, eventhough one can really sense the potential they will have with patience & therefore more cellar time. Do yourself a favor & wait a few years before popping one of their corks.
CABERNET SAUVIGNON–’07 Duckhorn; ’98 Hess; ’99 Artesa; ’97 Chateau St Jean “Reserve”; ’01 Philip Togni; ’06 Groth “Reserve”; ’08 Groth “Reserve”; ’96 Heitz “Martha’s Vineyard”; ’05 Palmaz; ’03 Caymus “Special Selection”; ’07 Caymus “Napa Valley”; Ardente “Atlas Peak”; ’97 Livingston Moffett; ’06 Ghost Block; ’05 Flora Springs “Out of Sight Vineyard”; ’03 Flora Springs “Out of Sight Vineyard”….PLUS–’83 Chateau Lynch Bages; ’03 Chateau La Gomerie; ’09 Kistler Chardonnay “Dutton Ranch” & ’09 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir “Sonoma Coast”.
I helped to open & decant the wines & then unfortunately had to rush back to our VINO restaurant. BUT, I was able to taste a few REAL gems before heading out. ( Thank you all for sharing).
2005 Palmaz Cabernet Sauvignon
Palmaz is an exciting Napa Valley wine project. The Estate vineyard is 55 acres on the slopes of Mount George at the southern end of the Vacca Range. It consists of 14 unique terroirs at 3 elevations–400, 1200 & 1400 feet. The consulting winemaker is superstar Mia Klein (Selene). As I told the attendees, Mia always crafts such gorgeous wines, which tend to be more about elegance, class, fabulous texture & balance & sophistication.
2001 Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon
I remember having a fabulous 1976 Chardonnay made by Philip Togni when he was still winemaker at Cuvaison. He was a real standout winemaker back then. Philip studied with the legendary Emile Peynaud at the University of Bordeaux & was also assistant regisseur at Chateau Lascombes, both quite the accomplisment back then. In 1981 he planted his own vineyard, 2000 feet up, near the top of Spring Mountain. His first commercial Cabernet Sauvignon was with the 1983 vintage. Sadly because of phylloxera, Togni had to replant his 25 acre parcel in the early 90’s. Tasting his 2001, reminded me of the Californian Cabernets of Old….earthy, sturdy, complete, well structured & well balanced. (When I first had it upon release, it was tight fisted, closed, puckering & unyielding). I really miss the old days & these kinds of wines. Bravo!
I smiled to myself when I saw this bottle. The theme was Cabernet Sauvignon & two people brought French versions. The second curve ball was this wine is 100% Merlot…albeit a 94 pointer! The home base property is Chateau Beau-Sejour-Becot of St Emilion, which was purchased by Michel Becot in 1969. In 1995 Becot purchased the adjacent 2.5 hectares & is today looking to produce “garage wine” under the Chateau La Gomerie label with the help of French superstar wine consultant Michel Rolland. The wine initially had some bottle stink to it, which dissipated after me decanting it back & forth for 20 or so minutes. Thank you Ed for bringing this wine!
I was really taken back when I saw this bottle. 30 year old, classified growth Bordeaux? When decanting, the wine’s nose was simply intoxicating–so glorious, classic & full of pedigree & breed. Yes, there was the cedar box/tobacco/dried fruit smells characteristic to Pauillac, but the breed/pedigree is what took it over the top for me. Just stellar!!!! And amazing. Thank you David!