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!!!!!
These 2 wines are produced, by Mike Kuimelis, exclusively from their 4 estate vineyards. As you well know, we love working with family’s who own & work their vineyards. 2 of the vineyards are in the Dry Creek appellation (1 hillside & 1 hilltop) & the other 2 are located in the Alexander Valley appellation (1 hillside & 1 hilltop). This family definitely understands that true wine quality is created in the vineyard. We selected Mantra partly because of their terrific vineyards….AND mostly because of the unpretentious BUT passionate dedication of Mike Kuimelis to produce unique wines full of character. NO fruit bombs here!!!!!! No exaggerated, showy, flamboyant, fashion trending wines. His are elegant, suave, PURE, polished & classy. The wines are wild yeast fermented & then inoculated to finish.
2012 Zinfandel “Old Vine Reserve”–70 year old vines—94% Zinfandel & 6% Petite Sirah (field blend) from reddish stony Aken soils. 3 separate picks…16 months in French/Hungarian/American oak (25% new).
2012 Cabernet Sauvignon “Alexander Valley”–100% Cabernet Sauvignon (25 to 28 year old vines)—reddish, stony Aken soils (Cloverdale/Geyserville (hillsides)…Aged for 20 months in French/Hungarian/American oak (25% new).
Mobius is a project dedicated to offer more value oriented wines, still crafted by Mike Kuimelis of Mantra. While Mike still sources grapes for this label in an effort to keep the quality high, he is channeling more & more of his estate grown Zin, Merlot & Cabernet to this program. The wines are still stylistically more elegant, suave, well textured & polished.
2012 Zinfandel “Alexander Valley-Sonoma County”–100% Zinfandel from their Geyserville estate vineyard within the Alexander Valley appellation. This wine is aged for 16 months in French/Hungarian/American oak barrels.
2012 Pinot Noir “Central Coast”–The grapes come from westside Paso Robles (Eric Russell). NO stems, whole berry, open top fermenters & aged for 16 months in French & Hungarian barrels (25% new)
“Skirt Chaser” non-vintage (120 cases)–Mike Kuimelis’s latest “look”—roughly equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon (2007—Dry Creek), Merlot (2009 Alexander Valley); Petite Sirah (2009 Alexander Valley) & Zinfandel (2012 Alexander Valley)…Aged in French/Hungarian/American barrels for 16 to 20 months (30% new)
2011 Cabernet Sauvignon “California”–A much more value driven Cabernet produced from grapes—Estate/Paso Robles & Mendocino. 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% each—Merlot, Cabernet Franc & Petite Verdot….Aged for 16 months in American & Hungarian oak (20% new).
2012 Cabernet Sauvignon “Sonoma County”–80% Dry Creek & 20% Cloverdale (mainly Cabernet Sauvignon with some Merlot, aged for 18 months in French/Hungarian/American oak (20% new)
Jason Drew is essentially a 1 man show located up in Elk, California. When I first met him, he was working at a Napa Valley winery. He later worked at Babcock during their heyday, where, before he left, he was associate winemaker. He started his own winery, based in Buellton featuring some interesting Santa Barbara-n grapes. He & his wife Molly packed up & moved further North where they purchased their own place up in the Mendocino Coastal Ridge. Drew has been selected at least twice as “Winery of the Year”. His wines are lovely, delicious & impeccably well balanced. You can certainly win a lot of friends with these wines.
2013 Pinot Gris “Filligreen”–This vineyard is located on a rocky river bench, northeast facing in mid Andersona Valley. It is biodynamically farmed. Being so narrow, it actually is a cool, wind tunnel, which is ideal for this grape variety. The wine is fermented in 50% stainless & 50% old wood….50% malolactic, 5 months on the lees.
2012 Pinot Noir “Fogeater”–Fogeater is a Boontling term for the early settlers. The 2012 is 35% Balo Vineyard (organically farmed), 35% Atkin; 20% Morning Dew (Burt Williams’ vineyard) & 15% Wentzell….a combination of 777, 667. Old Rochioli, Pommard & La Tache. 30% whole cluster, 11 months in French oak (15% new), 29% each 1 year & 2 year old barrels & 45% old oak.
2012 Syrah “Perli”-Perli is 2200 feet up in the Mendocino Coastal Ridge, 10 miles from the ocean. co-fermented with 3% Viognier….40% whole cluster, 15% stems…11 months in 3 year old oak. We think there is a HUGE opportunity to fill a vast void that lies between Pinot & Cabernet, which wines like this can aptly & profoundly fill.
“Maison L’Envoyé, ‘The House of the Messenger,’ tirelessly explores the finest sites dedicated to the cultivation of Pinot Noir. We strive to craft wines that not only jubilantly sing of their origins, but are also delicious in their own right. With winemaking footprints in both Burgundy and Willamette Valley, Maison L’Envoyé champions many unsung growers who have farmed their vineyards over multiple decades and generations. Led by former Evening Land founder, Mark Tarlov, Maison L’Envoyé brings together a colorful cast of Burgundian winemakers, Oregon vignerons and Napa Valley based wine importer, Old Bridge Cellars. In Burgundy our winemaking team is based in the town of Beaune, drawing from several sites including the Premier Cru, Savigny Les Beaune ‘Les Marconnets.’ In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, we source a selection of Pinot Noir grown in both volcanic and sedimentary based soils, from multiple AVAs including Yamhill-Carlton, Ribbon Ridge and Eola-Amity Hills”. Maison L’Envoye from my point of view strives to produce wines of purity, transparency, elegance, refinement, deliciousness AND probably most importantly, offer GREAT VALUE.
2012 Maison L’Envoye Pinot Noir “Attache” (Oregon)–Produced from vines grown in 75% volcanic soil & 25% sedimentary soil. So, I asked Mark, what is the difference between this wine & the Two Messengers Pinot Noir? He said simply….”just try the 2 wines”. Attache has much more aromatics/perfume, richer with more extract yet more elevated character & certainly more focused. 35 day, whole berry fermentation, NO stems inclusion, NO punch downs, 33% new oak. More, more, more!!!!
2012 Maison L’Envoye Morgon “Cote du Py”–A VERY delicious, more “country” styled Cru Beaujolais (VERY different from the more supped up, SUPER Beaujolais renditions from Foillard, Diochon & Chignard). These are 40 year old vines from the Cru Morgon & its most revered “Cote du Py”, in fact located at the top of the hill, with its pebbly, schist soils with manganese & iron. The wine is wild yeast fermented, whole berry then aged for 12 months in 3 to 4 year barrels & bottled unfiltered & unfined. GREAT VALUE. Wonderfully food friendly!!.
2011 Maison L’Envoye Bourgogne Rouge–Produced from fruit–7 villages, the core coming from the Hautes Cotes de Nuits & 15% Premier Cru—“Les Marconnets” from Savigny-Les-Beaune (clones/selections—877, 114, 113 & 119). The winemaking is overseen by Olivier Merlin. –wild yeast fermented in stainless steel (long & cool) & then aged for 12 months in old oak. A very pretty, refined, finesse oriented Burgundian Pinot at a fabulous price.
2011 Maison L’Envoye Bourgogne Blanc–A classical Maconnais Chardonnay—pure, light, fresh, minerally & food friendly. The 2011 is a blend of grapes from the villages of Vire, Prissey & Fuisse & is direct pressed, wild yeast fermented & aged for 12 to 14 months in old oak barrels. Another GREAT VALUE!
2011 Maison L’Envoye Savigny-les-Beaune Premier Cru “Les Marconnets”–“Savigny-lès-Beaune, a humble commune off the beaten path in the northern reaches of the Côte de Beaune, is divided by the river Rhoin. On the southern side, closest to Beaune, the slope faces northeast; this is where the premier cru climat of Les Marconnets sits. The soil here is sandy and pebbly, rich in iron, and ideal for the aged vines which call it home. The wine is wild yeast fermented in old oak barrels & aged for 12 months. This wine displays the dichotomy of Savigny with an elegant fruit profile contrasted by savory notes. Petite, red berries share the palate with forest floor and roasted meats, sewn together by a taut mineral core and fine oak tannins. In a word: silky”.
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.
As you may know, Palmina is a wine project dedicated to Italian grape varieties grown & produced in the Santa Barbara appellation by Chrystal & Steve Clifton. The 2012’s are a truly stunning set of new releases…..actually better than most Italians we taste. The quantum leap in quality is because their vines are maturing AND the wines are now wild yeast fermented & aged for a short time in OLD oak, as opposed to only stainless steel as we saw in the past. The minerality & terroir is still clear & transparent, but with more round-ness & texture.
Arneis “Honea Vineyard” 2012–From the Honea vineyard—sandy soils in the Los Olivos district. Wild yeast fermented & aged in stainless & old oak. Definitely has a green thing running around in the nose & taste, rounder than previous vintages with a crisp, refreshing edge. My over all comment is, if the staff can sell a sauvignon blanc, they can certainly sell this wine. For the price—much more quality for the dollar than many Italian versions.
Tocai Friulano “Honea Vineyard” 2012–From the Honea vineyard—sandy soils in the Los Olivos district. Wild yeast fermented & aged in stainless & old oak. Again, my over all comment is, if the staff can sell a sauvignon blanc, they can certainly sell this wine. For the price—much more quality for the dollar than many Italian versions (where it is now named Friulano). 90% of this wine is whole cluster pressed into stainless, & wild yeast fermented. The other 10% sees a 30 day skin contact, wild yeast fermented in OLD oak. While this grape has similar characteristics as sauvignon, it also innately has a slight nuttiness/bitterness & should be paired with more complex dishes, which have vegetables or some meat to it.
Palmina Malvasia Bianca 2012–These kinds of aromatic grape varieties I believe is a VERY important & needed segment of white wines, instrumental in better pairings with today’s contemporary foods. As I mentioned to one wine professional today, I think it is important to teach the staff how to sell these kinds of wines. The mentholating/perfume qualities really help heighten the foods, just as herbs will. The garpes for this wine come from the Alisos Vineyard of Los Alamos & the Larner Vineyard of Ballard Canyon. After 24 hours of reefer, the grapes are whole cluster pressed, wild yeast fermented, which finishes its fermentation in OLD oak.
Young winemaking phenom, Gavin Chanin, is hotter than hot right now, including at least 1 “Winemaker of the Year” award. He therefore is moving up the pecking order for top quality parcels in some of Santa Barbara’s most revered vineyards & prized parcels. What separates the Chanin Santa Barbaran grown wines from those grown in other wine growing regions, is minerality. This helps to push the wines beyond fruit & oak, as well as help buttress the wine’s acidity, keep the alcohol levels moderate & much more balanced. These wines were REALLY terrific at today’s tasting & without a doubt the best we have had from tis young winery.
Chanin Chardonnay “Los Alamos” 2012–The grapes come from the highest point in the vineyard, where the sandy soils change to more calcaric shale/limestone. The wine is whole cluster pressed, barrel fermented & aged for 16 months in French oak (15% new). This wine was so ethereal, pretty, with fabulous texture—Quite ABC Nuits Blanches like. Fabulous!
Chanin Chardonnay “Bien Nacido” 2012–I believe Gavin gets W Block, 41 year old vines. Whole cluster pressed, barrel fermented, 11 months in French oak (30% new). This wine was much more stony, more masculine than the Los Alamos with more grandeur.
Chanin Chardonnay “Sanford & Benedict” 2012–This is definitely one of the finest Chardonnay vineyards in ALL of California. Gavin gets fruit from one of the older parcels (planted in 1976)—rocky soils with diatomaceous earth. They believe this is a Wente Chardonnay selection from Mt Eden. The wine is whole cluster pressed, sees 11 months in French oak (25% new). Definitely has breed & class!
Chanin Pinot Noir “Los Alamos” 2012–777 & 115, NO stem inclusion, 11 months in oak (20% new). This is a VERY pretty, lighter colored, REALLY ethereal, enticing, more feminine Pinot with is still SO seamless, charming, refined & classy. VERY impressive!!!
Chanin Pinot Noir “Rinconada” 2012–This vineyard is located next to Sanford & Benedict, 50% Pommard & 50% Mt Eden, 40% stems, 15 months in French oak, 25% new. Still lighter in color, BUT much more masculine & grander in style.
Justin Willett is is a NEW AGE superstar & his wines are on the very top winelists in New York, San Francisco & the other major markets. OUTSTANDING!!!!! He is just now hitting his stride & many insiders are saying his 2012’s are his finest wines to date!! His is a passion for purity, finesse, texture & balance (naturally)…almost effortlessly so.
Tyler Chardonnay “Zotovich” 2012–Dijon clone 76, grown in the wind pounded, sand, extreme Zotovich vineyard. This wine is SOOO pure, seamless & sophisticated. Many say, this is his finest Chardonnay to date…..which is saying alot.
Tyler Pinot Noir “La Encantada” 2012–667 & Pommard, panted in 1999 & organically farmed. 20% new oak. This is his most savory Pinot….only 4 barrels produced. WOW!
It has been a while since we tasted Beaujolais Here are three 2013’s. In a former professional life, we fell in love with a group of 9 from the region. This would have been back in the late 80’s/early 90’s. The wines were so darn good, tasty & soooo irresistible. Here are 3 of the 9. Isn’t it amazing, that after the 20 plus which have passed, & ALL of the wines I have since tasted, that that list of 9 has not changed!!! It just doesn’t get better for me. When you taste these, you will understand.
Chignard Fleurie “Les Moriers” 2013–The Les Moriers parcel is like a finger jutting out & therefore surrounded by Moulin-a-Vent. His is 8 hectares of 60 year old vines. Sees 13 months in OLD foudres. “light, playful yet deep, ripe fruit”, with a lovely charming personality. Superb!
Nicole Chanrion Cote de Brouilly 2013–Located mid-slope on the Mt Brouilly—black/blue granite, which is very different from the pink granite below.. 6 hectares of 50year old vines. Whole cluster/carbonic. Intriguing, frisky with a slight, surprising masculine edge.
Chateau Thivin Cote de Brouilly 2013–The oldest estate on the MT Brouilly. The grade is steep (48%), black/blue granite, high up. “handsome, virile, earthy aristocrat”.
I have a true passion for great Riesling & it has been very long running. Bert Selbach & his Dr F Weins Prum has to be top 4 for me. Having said that, though, if I were to start a German wine portfolio & could choose whoever I wanted, Bert Selbach would be #1!!!! First of all he is descendent of the iconic Prum family & therefore inherited a dream team of single vineyard parcels. Secondly, he is essentially, a 1 man show & the wines are certainly artisan & handcrafted.. Thirdly, & probably most importantly, his wines have incredible, captivating lightness, ethereal-ness, delicious-ness, refinement & sophistication, and they can therefore appeal to a wide audience of wine drinkers, from layperson to the most picky of wine expert. Here are 2 standouts for you to see for yourself.
Dr.F. Weins-Prum Riesling Kabinett “Urziger Wurtzgarten” 2011–½ a hectare in one of the steepest vineyards of the Mosel with a reddish to the slate…..which clearly shows in the perfume. What an amazing wine this is!!!!! Harvested at 89.7 oechsle, 7 total acidity, 51 g/lresidual sugar. For me, the wine of the day!!!
Dr.F. Weins-Prum Riesling Spatlese “Wehlener Sonnenuhr” 2012–One hectare in this “Grand Cru” (my words). Harvested at 100 oechsle, 7 .8 total acidity, 90g/l residual sugar. OMG!!!!!
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..
A while back, a friend asked me to start digging around for interesting Washington state wines. He strongly felt, this is the time, as there is a whole, NEW generation of winemaking phenoms emerging in the Washington state wine scene AND taking it by storm. This whole scene reminds me of what unfolded in Paso Robles, Santa Barbara & the Anderson Valley, where a group of young bucks are looking to change the game. Furthermore, the Rhone varietal based reds can provocatively fill that opening between Pinot & Cabernet, in terms of weight & drama. Thankfully, the pursuit is making wines offering better natural balance without compromising depth & true character.
Here is one of the real standouts…..created by Sean Boyd…in homage to the wines of France’s Rhone Valley. Thankfully, these wines are very balanced, elegant, refined & classy.
Rotie Cellars Southern White 2013–60% Viognier, 25% Roussanne & 15% Marsanne, wild yeast fermented in stainless steel. These kind of exotically perfumed, seamless, well textured white wines are especially well suited for contemporary styled foods.
Rotie Cellars Northern White 2013–100% Marsanne, wild yeast fermented in stainless with 30% malolactic, this wine is much more masculine & structured with a more stoniness.
Rotie Cellars Southern Red 2012–65% Grenache, 25% Mourvedre & 10% Syrah. The whole berries are cracked not crushed, wild yeast fermented & spends 16 months in 2 & 3 year French oak barrels. Such a lovely, charming, seductively textured beauty.
Rotie Cellars Northern Red 2012–97% Syrah & 3% Viognier co-fermented. One can smell the rocks of Walla Walla in this wine 16 months in 2 & 3 year barrels. This is a gorgeous, savory, masculine, yet seamless, well textured & delicious.
Here is a VERY interesting project we have anxiously waited for, for some time. The estate vineyard is located in the Red Mountain appellation at higher (930 to 1230 feet), more rocky site than the highly revered Ciel du Cheval. The first wave of Force Majeure wines which have arrived to the Islands are part of their “Collaborative Series”. Each is a collaborative bottling features Ciel du Cheval fruit, crafted by some of the VERY top winemakers of the state…..with Wine Advocate scores beginning at 93 points & the highest being 96 points. The production levels of each wine range from 180 to 280 cases, which coupled with the high scores, makes it that more amazing we even were get some for the state of Hawaii!!! Furthermore, for the long term, as their estate vineyard matures, they have hired on Todd Alexander, former winemaker of Bryant Family in the Napa Valley, who also worked with icons such as superstar vineyard-ist David Abreu & superstar French consultant Michel Rolland. This certainly is a project to continually keep an eye on!
Force Majeure Collaboration Series II Syrah 2011–A collaboration with Ross Mikel of Ross Andrew winery. 98% Syrah & 1% each of Viognier & Roussanne (Ciel du Cheval)..20 months in French oak (33% new). 93 to 95 points—The Wine Advocate….only 180 cases produced. Smokey, dark, sinister, intriguing, intense, masculine yet very aristocratic.
Force Majeure Collaboration Series VI Red Wine 2011–A collaboration with James Mantone of Syncline. 47% Mourvedre, 42% Syrah & 11% Grenache (Ciel du Cheval). Fermented in concrete egg & old oak puncheons, aged for 18 months. 94 to 96 points—The Wine Advocate….only 280 cases produced. Another masculine, mega-intense beast.
Force Majeure Collaboration Series IV Red Wine 2010–A collaboration with Carolyn lakewold of Donedei wines. 75% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc & 2% Petite Verdot. (Ciel du Cheval). Essentially FREE run juice aged in French & American oak (50% new). 94 points—The Wine Advocate….only 200 cases produced. A “tour de force”, sophisticated Right Bank look-a-like.
Force Majeure Collaboration Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2011–A collaboration with Chris Gorman of Gorman wines. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon (Ciel du Cheval-from the incredibly steep parcel). 20 months in 100% new Taransaud barrels. 93 to 95 points—The Wine Advocate….only 200 cases produced. A masculine, statement Cabernet of incredible intensity & fortitude.
Again, one of our goals for 2014 is to feature more & more good wines……those which others can be compared to. This will help tasters create a solid base to work from as their tasting adventures continue. It is not as easy as one would think. Here are 4 standouts for our tasting in VINO tonight. Yes, just another really good opportunity to learn! Wines like this just don’t happen along!
In a time where people seek Brunello which have a more King Kong persona, here is a much more elegant, suave, highly refined version masterfully crafted by “Hall of Famer” Vittorio Fiore. In speaking with Vittorio recently, I admire how he champions bio diversity in the vineyard & specifically the appreciation for heirloom & heritage plant material. I also love how he strives for purity, texture & balance in his wines, rather than power, showiness & clamour. Here is an example.
2012 Lionel Faury St Joseph
SENSATIONAL French Syrah—hillside grown (up to 35% slope), granitic soils, stomped by foot, 12 months mostly in large foudres & demi muids (10% new oak)–gloriously Old World Syrah, the way it should be—explosively aromatic, wildly rustic, masculine, stony & authentic. What a perfune!!!!!–meaty, peppery, peppercorns, gamey, lavender/violets. I am sure glad there are still winemakers looking to make more authentic, classical, handcrafted wines like this, that’s for sure!
2012 Domaine Trotereau Quincy “Vieilles Vignes”
TOP echelon Sauvignon Blanc grown in sandy soils & silex with underlying pink limestone. Not too many people will remember that Quincy was the 2nd recognized AOC in France (1936)….& that monks started planting here in the 12th Century. There is a reason, isn’t there? There are today only about 200 hectares planted & the majority of the fruit goes to co-ops. Here is one of the true artisan “boutiques”—dating back to 1804. The vines for this “Vieilles Vignes” cuvee were planted in 1905 through 1943. This wine has a wonderful, flinty kind of minerality which is more masculine than ethereal, but captivating & riveting nonetheless. Here is yet another example of why I am glad some things don’t change!!!!!!
2009 Franz Hirtzberger Gruner Veltliner Smaragd “Rotes Tor”
Hirtzberger is certainly one of the true pillars (5 generations) of Austria’s Wachau Valley. Here is one of their standout, single vineyard Gruner Veltliners—from Rotes Tor, a steep, very rocky hillside. You will be surprised at the intensity, immensity & concentrated character of this wine. Yes, this wine has a thickness, an almost unctuous viscosity, which is not heavy or overbearing to the palate The Oechsle levels must have been really higher than what is labeled. The resounding stoniness helps to buttress the wine’s acidity levels. This is an example of power, character & grandeur, that’s for sure!
One of our goals for 2014 is to show more & more tasters what is “good” wine. On this night, there was no serious agenda. It was just to show some of our wine friends, how blind tasting could help discern different attributes of some, what I think, good wines.
Our first wine of the tasting was a new release from Andis Wines, which is located in Plymouth, California. We think what winemaker Mark McKenna is doing, is worth checking out. He seeks delicious-ness, texture & balance in his wines. With the 2011 vintage Andis purchased grapes (115 cases worth) from the iconic Grandpere Vineyard. (Because someone else is using the same name, this 10 acre vineyard is now referred to as the “Original Grandpere Vineyard”). The now VERY fragile vines are 143 years in age & cared for by Terry Garvey with motherly love & care. Located at 1300 feet in elevation, this is the “oldest documented Zin vineyard in California“. The soil is sandy loam on decomposed Sierra Nevada granite.
The tasters noted ripe fruit…(my wife Cheryle noting strong blueberry character)……raisiny….oak, spiced, VERY vinous with lots of underlying character & nuance. The wine had a wonderful mouthfeel–rich, lush, seamless–with a little alcohol poking out in the finish. Everyone really loved the wine’s innate vinosity…its flow, texture & over all balance. Yes, we would all buy it again…..which I think says alot. I believe, however, this wine is only available at the winery.
This is a Bordeaux, which we feel offers GREAT VALUE. The estate is 10.4 hectares of vineyards, with very gravelly soils, in the Haut Medoc (in fact across an old drainage ditch away from Chateau Giscours in Margaux). The 2010 is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot & 20% Petite Verdot, which was aged in oak (40% new) for 14 months.
On first whiff, one can definitely smell the gravel….& most tasters immediately started discussing Bordeaux. The gravel/pencil lead quality permeated throughout the wine from beginning to end. The wine has wonderful balance & flowed very evenly & seamlessly on the palate. A pretty, tasty wine.
Here was highly quality Italian Nebbiolo in all its glory. Most tasters were quite surprised at how open it showed. Tar, earth, musk, cedar & floral nuances just jumped out of the glass. The wine has refinement, class & pedigree & was the most complex, by far, of the first 3. YES, we would all definitely buy another of this majestic Italian.
The estate is but 4 hectares of 50 to 70 year old vines. The vineyard is terraced & meticulously farmed. (On our last visit, my wife Cheryle was surprised to hear cuckoo birds in the vineyard). The 2007 was aged in 80% German & Austrian oak (20hl) & 20% French for 2 years.
2009 Muller Catoir Gimmeldingen Riesling Dry & 2011 Schloss Lieser Spatlese Dry
Our goal here was just to show tasters how soil can greatly affect a Riesling. And as tasters soon saw, DRY versions are most transparent. One has to, therefore, be precise & skillful in producing one.
The Gimmeldingen parcels (of Pfalz, Germany) are largely loess & sand, & this wine in comparison showed a softer, lush, rounder wine with a more tropical fruit profile.
The 2011 Schloss Lieser Estate Spatlese in 2011, on the other hand, was 100% Niederberg Helden (on the Mosel)–steep, rocky(weathered slate)–with NO botrytis–(harvested at 95 degress oechsle) with pencil lead, higher toned pear, apple, slight lychee fruit & much more pronounced acidity. I think tasters will remember this comparison for a long time!
Thank you to all who participated!