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!
The Scherrer Vineyard is located on a bench in Alexander Valley, above the Silver Oak planting. The first vines were planted in the 1912. The “Mature” vines were planted in the early 70’s.. The best way, I can describe this SENSATIONAL bottling, is to say, this is a superb old vine Zin crafted by a Pinot master—elegant, suave, well textured, seamless & so impeccably balanced.
The legendary Monte Rosso vineyard was planted in the 1880’s on a steep, rocky hillside on the Sonoma side of the Mayacamas Mountains. This wine is 99.8% Burgundian oak, 25% of which is new. If you haven’t checked out Robert Biale before, here is your chance…..& with their best bottling.
Carol Shelton has garnered so many awards & acclaimed for her single vineyard Zins over the years, it really is hard to keep up with it all. Still, she is remarkably & thankfully as humble & “down to earth” as can be. We love her Zins because they exude a ‘sense of place”, have vinosity & have wonderful texture & balance. I believe this is the last vintage she used the 105 year old vine fruit from Rue Vineyard on revered Wood Road for this bottling. The 2007 spent 18 months in oak, a combination of French, American & Hungarian to “frame” her art piece.
This is a masterful Zinfandel blend (78% Zin, 28% Syrah & 4% Mourvedre) grown in the limestone/siliceous clay hillsides of Paso Robles from winemaking superstar Matt Trevisan. Matt has several really interesting Zin parcels to work with–Heaton, , Whalebone Hill, Poppy & Cushman being the most notable. Typically Whalebone Hill forms the core of the “Outsider” bottling, blended with some lower brix/higher acid Syrah to keep tension in the wine & lowering the over alcohol content. He is without a doubt at the top of his game right now & this wine will show you first hand why.
Carlisle is undoubtedly the most highly acclaimed Zin maestro in the game today as supported by all of the high scores & press he deservedly garners year after year. This organically farmed vineyard was planted in the 1927 in the eastern bench of the Santa Rosa flood plain of the Russian River Valley. They have so far identified 50 different grape varieties in the vineyard–a TRUE heirloom vineyard! Truly, one of the standouts today!
Here are 4 tasty, very interesting red wines from southern France.
I have become a real sucker for Old Vine Carignane, especially when it is grown & produced in the hands of an artist like this. Yes, this is a relatively new domaine, but the vines of this 1 hectare parcel are over 100 years old & now really showcases the clay-limestone soils the vines grow in. It really is about the hands on farming & the
hands off winemaking. BUT you really need to know what you are doing!
2009 Roquete Chateauneuf-du-Pape
The Brunier brothers of Vieux Telegraphe bought this domaine a few years ago. This domaine produces a very different Chateauneuf-du-Pape, eventhough the Brunier brothers oversee it. It is really because the vineyards are so different than Vieux Telegraphe & its highly revered La Crau parcel. One vineyard, for instance has more sand, which gives the wines more finesse. Another has galets, for the stony character of top notch Chateauneuf. Yet another has clay on a bedrock of limestone. So, eventhough the grape mix is similar to Telegraphe, the resulting wine is VERY different. Kind of like singing a song in a different voice.
80% Mourvedre, 18 months in foudre, this is bold, masculine Bandol with character, depth, complexity, soul AND finesse in a very unique & different way than its more famous neighbor Domaine Tempier, a few stops down the road.
This is classic Old World Syrah in all its glory. For those tasters asking what a bench mark French Syrah smells & tastes like, here is the one for you. 850 feet in elevation & only 150 feet away from the officially designated Cote Rotie hillsides. WOW!
Today’s winetasting VINO was an opportunity to explore…AND hopefully have some fun along the way.
2012 Chateau Feuillet Petite Arvine
A VERY unique white wine from Valle D’Aosta at high altitudes & hand built stone terraces to hold the soils & vines in place. I believe that is why they planted vines too….so the roots would help hold the soil in place.
“The vines actually sit in a very shallow sandy soil, but their feet wriggle into crevices in the solid granite bedrock. Any rain is quickly dried out by cleansing winds. And the vineyards are planted on an ancient riverbed, where over the millennia the Dora Baltea River has cut through the mountain, creating the current river valley and leaving behind mineral deposits that the wines happily lap up. The trump card, however, may be the exposition of the vineyards, which in combination with the chilly climate, high altitude, and drastic diurnal temperature shifts provides the magic charm sought by vignerons everywhere: extremely long hours of gentle sunlight”.
“Maxime Magnon is part of one of the most revolutionary wine movements in France should give him a justifiable swagger to his step. Born & raised he Burgundy, because he could not afford land there, he founded his domaine down in Corbieres, amid a rocky, limestone-schist terrain, thankfully already the home to a series of organically farmed, really old vines, from heirloom grape selections. La Begou is currently his one white wine—primarily a blend of 50 to 60 year old vine Grenache Gris & Grenache Blanc, wild yeast fermented & so VERY unique in character”.
wild yeast fermented, partly in stainless, though mainly in old demi-muids….& aged for 16 months in 12 year old barrels.
As VINO regulars well know, we are big fans of the wines from Maxime Francois Laurent & Domaine Gramenon. He is part of the vanguard who are passionately & dedicatedly looking to grow & produce their wines as naturally as possible. Here is one that is truly unique!!!! 80% Clairette, 20% Viognier, 30 year old, organically farmed vines grown in clay limestone. The wine finishes its fermentation in the bottle
When I mentioned German wines, most people make funny faces in response. It has become very apparent to me, the words “German wines”, conjure up images of sweet, syrupy wines for many.
There are many things I would love to say about that, but we’ll save that discussion for another day. I would prefer to instead focus on the thought that ALL wines can be made dry, medium dry, medium sweet, sweet & dessert in style…….depending on what the winemaker wants to do…..whether it is Cabernet, Chardonnay, sparkling, red or white.
While it is true that there are many German wines which are made sweet, there are also many wines vinified DRY. For many years, VINO regulars have been asking us to do a German wine tasting.
Well, here it is. We chose to do a DRY white wine tasting first, because it is regarded as the purest form of German white wine.
Great producers believe any flaw in a dry white wine can readily be seen, smelled & tasted in their dry wines. The growing & selection of grapes is therefore of paramount importance.
In addition, for this tasting, we looked to feature 4 of the VERY best dry wine producers out Germany…..kind of a dream team!!!! The goal is to show tasters what excellence is. Wines like these don’t come around too often….just another opportunity to learn!
2012 Hans Wirsching Scheurebe DRY
The Scheurebe grape variety was an attempt to have a grape variety which had Riesling-esque nobility but would ripen earlier. It was created by Dr Scheu in the 1916, when he crossed the Riesling grape variety with what is now believed to be a wild grape variety. While it has had its moments over the years in production, I would say, most thought of it as a secondary grape variety, used for bigger production. Part of it can be attributed to its seemingly lack of acidity & its real citrus like flavors. To date, for me, the finest Scheurebe’s are undoubtedly produced by Hans Wirsching of the Franconia region. Their estate vineyard sites are high in gypsum content. The 2012 was harvested at 88 degree oechsle & 5.9 total acidity. Wirsching Scheurebe has some “quietly” exotic fruit, along with the minerality….with a little more roundness, which would appeal to a wider spectrum of wine drinkers, without taking away from its wonderfully friendliness. Well worth checking out to say the least!
2012 CF Wines Muller Thurgau DRY
Next in the line-up is the CF Muller Thurgau, which is a wine crafted for DK Restaurants by Paul Furst of Franconia, Germany. The Muller Thurgau grape variety was created in 1882 by DR Muller…..by crossing Riesling with what is now believed to be the Madeleine Royale grape variety. This resulting grape variety was one of the other Riesling crosses which caught quite a few eyes for its potential. The finest is undoubtedly produced from Paul Furst, under his family’s label Rudolf Furst. Their estate has but ¾’s of a hectare (red sandstone soils) planted to this grape variety. One cannot help but be amazed at how ethereal & effortlessly light in weight it is, which is further enhanced by the innate minerality from the red sandstone the vines grow in.
Here is a DRY Riesling from one of Germany’s true iconic Masters—Helmut Donnhoff of the Nahe region. Sourced mostly from Schlossbockelheimer Felsenberg (90%) the rest comes from his Niederhausen Hermannshöhle & Leistenberg vineyards—both steep,, rocky hillsides which has lots of porphyry rock soils. Wonderfully pure, captivating & remarkably food friendly!!!!
The Rothenberg Cru is a gentle, red slate soiled slope rising from the Rhein River, which produces some undeniably powerful, masculine Rieslings. The 2011 GG was harvested at 95 degrees oechsle & 5 total acidity. Despite the power & immense concentration, I marvel how unboastfully this wine comes across. In the 90’s these GG styled wines from this estate were MEGA-intense, tight fisted & unyielding. What a change!!!! Truly masterful. This estate is really in the “zone” right now.
A co-worker came up to me yesterday to say, “Boy it’s a hot one! I think this is going to be a real hot summer”.
Yes, summer is just around the corner! The sun will be more glaring and the days are getting longer. It is a time to change–lighter clothing, lighter & fresher foods & also the kind of wines we drink.
The profile of wine conducive to hot weather sipping is also lighter in body, fresher, crisper, lower in alcohol content and usually less oaky.
So here are some recommendations on how to find such wines, especially those offering great value for the dollar.
The first place to look would be in the sparkling wine category. French Champagne is always a treat, no matter what time of the year and there are also many apropos bubbly selections from California. For real value, however, consider Italian Prosecco or Spanish Cava. The finest are often medium dry to dry, have remarkable lightness on the palate and are absolutely delicious at half the price!
Another reliable source for summer thirst-quenchers is German Riesling. The ideal style for me at least would be a medium-dry version, which has just a hint of sweetness to round out hard edges and should translate into more moderate alcohol levels. Plus, you will be amazed ate how versatile this style of Riesling really is, from the picnic table to the barbecue setting to a home cooked Asian stir fry.
White wine lovers should also consider lighter, crisper styles of sauvignon blancs from California and France’s LoireValley.. For value seekers Chile can be quite a treasure chest for bright, clean, completely refreshing Sauvignon Blancs and similarly styled Chardonnays as well.
For the Chardonnay lover, Summer is really the opportune time to sip well chilled ,UN-oaked versions of this grape, which thankfully there are a quickly growing number of delicious renditions more readily available.
For the real foodie, you have probably already read in some magazine, Summer is the time for dry, exuberant, deliciously fruit driven pink wines. As the traveling gourmet well knows, this is THE wine style most commonly served this time of the year at cafes and bistros along the Mediterranean basin. WHY? Because the best ones are thirst-quenching, incredibly food friendly and gulp-able.
The best advice from there is to serve the wines well chilled and have some fun this summer.
Lastly, for the red wine drinker, ‘tis the time for Beaujolais (hopefully true artisan, “boutique” versions) and more elegant, prettier styles of Pinot Noirs. Choose one, where delicious-ness is the priority.
It’s NOT that often we run across white wines from California, which have the weight of Chardonnay, with unique-ness & interesting-ness, especially on such a high level as these 2 display. You should, therefore, take a serious look at these 2.
2011 CARLISLE “THE DERIVATIVE”
Winemaker/owner Mike Officer has made quite a name for himself through his big, full throttle red wines, many of which comes from really old vineyard sites. If you look at the scores & ratings his wines perennially get, you will be astounded, as he seems to do it below the radar screen. Curently he produces but 2 white wines. The 2011 Derivative is 66% Semillon (from Monte Rosso vineyard, which was planted in 1886) on a steep, rocky Mayacamas hillside, on the Sonoma side, fermented in 37% new oak; 24% Muscadelle (from Pagani Ranch, planted in 1920) fermented in stainless steel & 10% Palomino (from Saitone Ranch, 118 year old vines) fermented in old oak. Yes, it is safe to say, this is an Old Vine cuvee! Leave it to someone like Mike Officer to have the discipline & dedication to collect & produce a wine like this.
2012 LINNE CALODO “CONTRARIAN”
As you may know, we are avid fans of the great potential Paso Robles has for making interesting wines. A lot can be attributed to the limestone/silaceous soils of the westside. These poor soils not only help to slow down sugar ripeness, but also help to deftly create buoyancy in the finished wines. While many of the region are looking to Viognier, Roussanne & Marsanne to produce whites, we have seen even more potential for interesting-ness so far from grape varieties such as Grenache Blanc, Picpoul & Vermentino. I think most aficionados would agree one of the 2 leading the charge of moving Paso Robles onto the world stage is Matt Trevisan of Linne Calodo. Here is his one 2012 white wine.
“I planted Grenache Blanc and Picpoul in 2007. My older Contrarians were Roussanne Viognier blends, but I felt like they lacked the acidity to be refreshing on a hot day. Basket pressed whole cluster for 48 hours with some skin soaking contact. pressed into a concrete 2000L tank. Native fermentation, co-fermented as the different picks come in. I can only handle 1-2 tons at a time for pressing, but I make so little of this white that I can take my time. I leave it on lees til 1 month prior to bottling then clarify by racking. Unfliltered, unfined. No barrel for this vintage. Viognier for this vintage is from Denner. I use the Viognier to just slightly round out the acidity. I’m planting a half acre of Vio on the new piece to either use in this blend or with the reds”.