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Monthly Archives: February 2014

5

Happy Birthday to my sister Paula

Us Kids

us kids. from left: Melanie, me, Paula

My sister Paula today celebrates a birthday. Ten years older than me, she fills few memories of mine from before she left for college. But in her returning to Alaska before I myself left home, she stands instead as a guidepost through my adulthood. More than any other member of my immediate family, Paula has lived with a kind of malleable steadfastness I admire. The rest of us shine different gifts.

Soon after college my sister Paula returned to Alaska and began a job she still keeps. That was two and a half decades ago. A few years later she bought a condo she was later able to sell and invest from in a house with the man she’d marry a little before I graduated from high school. They still live in that home in Alaska.

Looking back, I see that I have lived my adulthood driven by curiosity and a thirst for improvement through challenge. In the midst of such searching, I’ve come to find clarity with gracefulness as the core of my values. In seeing this finally, I am able too to recognize it is Paula that has given me my example of a person living with strength through clarity. At the center of every decision she’s made there is a commitment to forthright follow through, to family, and, most central for her, to God. Such persistence has made her life a miracle.

Soon after turning thirty, Paula gave birth to their first daughter, also my parents’ first grandchild. Melissa was two months old when, having just returned to work after maternity leave, Paula had a grand mal seizure during a working lunch. She was diagnosed with a lethal brain tumor and immediately rushed to surgery. The prognosis gave her less than two years to live. It’s been now almost twenty.

Doctors have since told us she is one of two people in the country known to have survived such a tumor. Speaking with her about her miracle of health she states plainly that during her ailment she focused on one thing — prayer for her daughter to have a mother.

I return to Alaska once or twice a year. I am often lucky enough to see Paula outside Alaska again one other time a year. Still, I rarely tell her what today I wish for her to know. Here it is.

Dear Paula,

You have taught me the power of steadfastness. Your life is a testament to faith. I am grateful you are my sister. I wish for you to know, I count you among my blessings. You stand as a model to me of clarity, and learning to grow through grace. For by grace you have been saved by faith. Through your clarity, God’s light shines.

Happy Birthday to you. This is a day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

My love to you. God’s love for you. Amen.

Your sister,
Elaine

 

6

Continuing the Conversation with Tyler Thomas

Tyler Thomas

Tyler Thomas, Jan 2014, standing in Dierberg Sta Rita Hills

Tyler Thomas, winemaker at Dierberg and Star Lane in Santa Barbara County, brings a strong foundation in plant physiology to all his decisions as winemaker. His background includes work in Botany with him doing what was essentially an extended Masters in the field, before then going to earn another Masters in Viticulture and Oenology. In moving into his work at Dierberg and Star Lane he has chosen to spend as much time as possible observing the vineyards themselves, and also to increase small lot vinifications from the sites. Both choices, for him, are a matter of getting to know the site more intimately.

Last week I posted a portion of a conversation I had with Tyler Thomas during my recent visit to Santa Barbara County. That section of conversation focused on the controversy around ripeness in relation to site expression, and the idea of how a winemaker can get to know a particular site. These are ideas I’ve been lucky enough to speak with Tyler about on multiple occasions. In the post last week, I chose to offer quotations from Tyler’s side of the conversation, rather than offer my interpretation of his ideas.

Gratefully, the comments on the post have continued the discussion even further, giving interesting consideration of the problems with pursuing a sense of terroir in the New World, as well as what it means to work with and get to know a site to then show in its wine. If you haven’t looked back at those comments, check them out on the original post here: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/02/20/capturing-variability-as-capturing-opportunity-a-day-with-tyler-thomas-star-lane-dierberg/

Because of how the conversation has continued in the comments, and also my own experience in having these extended discussions with Tyler, I am choosing to post more from our conversation during my recent trip to Santa Barbara County. The following excerpts show more of Tyler’s views on the relevance of plant physiology, and how he thinks about getting to know a site.

Tyler Thomas

Tyler Thomas, Jan 2014, standing in Dierberg Sta Rita Hills

We’re driving to Dierberg Drum Canyon Vineyard in Sta Rita Hills. I’m asking Tyler about a conversation we’ve had before — how we can bring together scientific views of winemaking with the more transcendental views of winemaking. He responds, “When you have the opportunity to make good wine, having the opportunity doesn’t mean you will. It’s this idea we’ve talked about before that the person that can be most successful at winemaking is the one that can have a foot in both worlds, who can reach towards the ethereal, and yet also be tethered by a deep understanding of technique.”

I ask Tyler about how he is bringing his knowledge from previous winemaking experience forward into this newer position at Dierberg and Star Lane. “As a winemaker stepping into a new situation, I can lean on my understanding of how particular vineyards grow, and my understanding of the architecture of wine. In wine building, if you will, I can make decisions on what I think the mouthfeel should be like based on the standard varietal characteristics, and also my assumptions of what a site will be like. You can take over a place, and not have made any of the decisions about what varieties are there, and yet still make beautiful quality wine.

“In winemaking, it’s like wanting to have a vision for the wine, while also expressing the site. It’s like having a vision for your children doesn’t mean you box them in. You are trying to understand who they are, and help them be the best person they can be. In winemaking, you draw on your technical training, and that provides a baseline for being creative. Like being a painter, artists didn’t just do Cubism because they didn’t know what they were doing. They were pushing the boundaries of their training.

“I definitely leaned on my understanding of how a grape vine grows in moving here. You just go back to the basics. All of the training helps me make presumptions about what a wine is and how it tastes. It doesn’t mean you’re always right, but it give you a base line. Like, fermentation temperature, for example, it has a big impact on how a wine is going to taste. If I can get that right it simplifies the other variables.”

Dierberg Drum Canyon

looking over the top through Pinot vines at Dierberg Drum Canyon

We arrive at the Dierberg vineyard in the Drum Canyon portion of Sta Rita Hills. Drum Canyon branches off the Highway 246 stretch of the appellation, wrapping North in a notch pulled back from the highway. The vineyard climbs a slope side growing from the rolling flats at the bottom, all the way to the crest of the hill. Tyler and I drive to the top, stopping in a couple places along the way, and he describes to me his walking the vineyard to try and identify naturally differing sections within it in order to articulate appropriate vineyard blocks. He believes really knowing the vineyard will take years but he’s been able to recognize some elements already. The top of the slope (shown in the image above) is basically pure sand. The bottom flats are sandy loam. The mid-slope is mixed. The further up the slope, the more the vines are exposed to wind.

Tyler begins to describe how he approaches thinking through the Dierberg Drum Canyon property. “Knowing how to separate out the impact of the wind here versus that of the sand is difficult. It’s incredibly windy here to the point that if there is not a wind screen on every fifth row the shoots won’t grow more than a foot.

“I love plant physiology. Part of what I love about wine is that we’re tasting the result of a plant interacting with its environment. A plant can’t just run inside when it gets cold.

“We can think of wind as a form of touch. The shoots being so short are a result of wind impacting the plant’s physiology. So, if we can accept that, it isn’t a stretch to say it impacts the berry physiology too. How it might impact the fruit flavor is much harder but we do know that flavors are impacted by stress, so does the wind impact the flavor?

“Still, I don’t worry about the flavor so much as I tend to focus on how these factors impact vigor and how that connects to quality. In winemaking, my focus is not on flavor as much as on the architecture of the wine. When it comes to architecture and vine physiology, the journey the berry takes is more important than where the berry ends up.

“If you understand the science, basic plant physiology, you have a lot to work with. We’ve known this stuff — that we can manipulate vines for varying results — since the 1980s. In the vineyard you can simply change the ratio of leaf to grape, of source to sink. The leaf provides nutrients the leaf uses. I don’t care about tons per acre. What is the ton per vine that the plant can support? This is our whole idea of balance. Balanced pruning equals balanced vines. Balanced vineyards equal balanced wine. The more in tune with plant physiology you are, the more readily you can reinterpret your experiences with the vine.”

***

To read the previous post on Tyler: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/02/20/capturing-variability-as-capturing-opportunity-a-day-with-tyler-thomas-star-lane-dierberg/

To read guest posts from Tyler Thomas that consider his winemaking philosophy, and views of wine further:

A Winemaking Philosophy: Guest Post by Tyler Thomas: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/01/29/a-winemaking-philosophy-guest-post-by-tyler-thomas-donelan-wines/

The Humanness of Winemaking: Faith, Hope, and Love: Guest Post by Tyler Thomas: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/01/28/the-humanness-of-winemaking-faith-hope-and-love-as-the-core-of-life-and-wine-guest-post-by-tyler-thomas-donelan-wines/

***

Thank you to Tyler Thomas.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

0

In Love with Sangiovese

Il Poggione 2008 Brunello di Montalcino

I imagine drinking good Sangiovese like the oral experience of excellent effleurage massage — a therapeutic practice that sweeps the fingers lightly over the body in long, lifting strokes that begin from the limbs and move towards the heart. The technique touches the skin without dragging against it, stimulating circulation while opening the muscles for more.

Sangiovese naturally carries beautiful acidity, lifted and vibrant without being aggressive. The tannins come in medium, and, when mature, offer long sweeping strokes that contact the palate without dragging. The texture of a deftly made Sangiovese gives the oral expression of pleasing, faintly erotic effleurage massage.

Il Poggione makes traditional Brunello di Montalcino, keeping its use of new oak to a minimum, and relying on only their older vines for the Brunello level wine. Younger plantings, with their brighter red and pink fruit expression are used for a lovely Rosso di Montalcino instead.

The 2008 Brunello di Montalcino from Il Poggione opens with lifted, juicy red fruit aromatics and palate giving savory and smoke accents. With air it changes significantly over the course of several hours. I strongly recommend opening the wine at the start of the meal so you can taste it immediately and enjoy it as it evolves, rather than decanting it for later. With air, the red fruit character turns to, what my friend Meredith describes as, an almost-creamy fig soaked in espresso, originating however from the fruit itself rather than oak influence. The wine carries long juicy, and savory elements dancing on dark-earth mineral lines all the way through from open to the long finish. This wine offers nice structure, and that long stroking tannin so seductive in Sangiovese.

***

To read more on Il Poggione:

Talking with Il Poggione winemaker, Fabrizio Bindocci, during harvest 2013 in Montalcino: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/10/03/harvest-in-montalcino-visiting-il-poggione/

Listening to Il Poggione vineyard manager, Massimo Ricco during harvest 2013:  http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/10/04/harvest-in-montalcino-a-life-in-wine-talking-with-massimo-ricco-il-poggione-agronomist/

***

To read Janice Cable’s recent love letter to Sangiovese: http://www.insideiwm.com/2014/02/24/siding-with-sangiovese-italys-absolute-accept-no-substitutes-best-grape/

***

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

0

Awesome Pack of Wines at Le Metro

The new Le Metro month of wines is getting ready to launch. This is a special one. Aaron has up’d the ante on hard to find, yummy wines here focusing on Italian varieties that have been made in California wine. These are special varieties, and some of my favorite wines coming out of California too.

Here’s a preview of the accompanying zine that I illustrated:

le-metro_Vol-X California Soil, Italian Soul

If you would like to learn more, order just this month’s Le Metro, or subscribe, Aaron would love to hear from you.

He mentioned they have a few extra packs for sale with this month, so if you’re interested, get on it! They’ll sell out quickly.

To check out Le Metro: http://lemetrowine.com/

Cheers!

18

A Day with Tyler Thomas, Winemaker Star Lane + Dierberg

Tyler Thomas

Tyler Thomas, January 2014

Winemaker Tyler Thomas stepped into leadership of the wine program at Star Lane and Dierberg in Santa Barbara County during Summer 2013. Prior to his new position he headed winemaking at Donelan Wines in Santa Rosa, after having assisted winemaker Stéphane Vivier at HdV in Napa.

During his tenure at Donelan, Thomas and I were able to taste and interview on multiple occasions. I have been impressed by his thoughtfulness as a winemaker, and his attention to vine physiology as the root of his winemaking. His background in botany under girds his thinking. One of my interests, then, in visiting Santa Barbara County was in returning to Star Lane to see it under Thomas’s leadership, and to speak with Thomas about his work in the new-to-him vineyards and winery.

After tasting extensively through the cellar with Thomas and assistant winemaker, Jeff Connick, I am excited to keep following their development. Thomas spoke gratefully about his work with Connick. As Thomas explained, Connick’s knowledge of and attention to the wine program at Dierberg and Star Lane significantly advanced the process of getting to know the unique expression of the vineyards for Thomas as the new winemaker.

Thomas and I were also able to taste some older vintages of wines from the Dierberg and Star Lane vineyards. While the winemaking style was different from that expressed through the barrel tasting with Thomas and Connick, a distinctiveness and age-ability showed through. Thomas credits that sense of site expression with age worthiness as part of what convinced him there was something well-worth investing his time in at the Dierberg and Star Lane properties.

After touring the Dierberg Sta Rita Hills, and Star Lane Vineyard sites, we spent several hours in the cellar tasting through wines from both locations, as well as the Dierberg Santa Maria vineyard. Thomas and I spoke extensively about how he’s approaching his new position. Following is an excerpt from our conversation considering how Thomas thinks about and explores ideas of site expression in the context of various varieties, and also the controversial topic of ripeness levels.

Tyler Thomas

near the top of the mid-slope of Dierberg Sta Rita Hills, with Tyler Thomas discussing block expression, January 2014

“Part of our focus is on capturing opportunity by capturing variability. For example, how do we make a Cabernet Franc that is representative of Cabernet Franc of Star Lane, and then find a way to work with that. We work a little harder to capture variability in the vineyard so that we can add a little more nuance and complexity to the wine.” Thomas and Connick vinify small vineyard sections separately as a way of getting to know particular site expression. “We want to make Cabernet Franc as Cab Franc, rather than as the Cabernet Sauvignon version of Cab Franc so that we can see what Cab Franc from here is all about, while also recognizing it might later add to the complexity of our Cab Sauvignon. I don’t mind embracing ripe, rich flavors, but I don’t believe in doing it artificially by picking late and then adding water back.”

We taste through a wide range of Cabernet and Cab Franc from a range of picking times, and vineyard sections and then begin talking about what the unique character of Cabernet at Star Lane is about. “There are some ultra early picks on Cab from here that still don’t show pyrazines [green pepper notes], so I think the conversation, at least in this area, around Cab expression is on texture and mouthfeel rather than on pyrazine level.”

Thomas explains that we are tasting through the range of barrel samples around the cellar to show off the diversity of Star Lane that he is excited about. “This is all to show off the diversity of Star Lane. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about a conversation you and I had before [referencing a conversation Thomas and I had previously about asking yourself what you want to love in your life through how you choose to spend your time].

“I’ve been thinking about how we can ask, what do you want to love in wine? There is a question of how elements play out in a wine, rather than if wines taste of terroir or not. There is a lot of conversation around how a wine best expresses terroir. The truth is, riper wines can still show terroir or site expression. Of course Chardonnay raisins and Cabernet raisins still taste like raisins so one must admit there is a limit. Conversely, underripe grapes all taste like green apples so you can pick too far that way too.

“I don’t know if I can elaborate on it more than that. Sometimes you’re standing in a site and you feel like trying something but you don’t know if it’s just because you think you can or if there is something about the site that asks you to. But other times you can taste something there in the wine that you can’t explain, but at the same time can’t deny.

“In thinking about overly ripe wine, just because something is veiled doesn’t mean you can’t know what it is. On a good site, a riper style winemaker can still show site expression, the winemaking won’t completely obscure the site, even if it veils it some. Sometimes things are more veiled in a wine than others. Sometimes our role as winemaker ends up being unveiling the terroir.

“To put it another way, if everyone was picking at the same level of ripeness shouldn’t site be the difference that shows? Ripeness doesn’t necessarily obscure site, it just changes our access to it. In the end, it becomes a matter of what we value, of what we want to love in wine.”

***

To read guest posts from Tyler Thomas that consider his winemaking philosophy, and views of wine further:

A Winemaking Philosophy: Guest Post by Tyler Thomas: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/01/29/a-winemaking-philosophy-guest-post-by-tyler-thomas-donelan-wines/

The Humanness of Winemaking: Faith, Hope, and Love: Guest Post by Tyler Thomas: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/01/28/the-humanness-of-winemaking-faith-hope-and-love-as-the-core-of-life-and-wine-guest-post-by-tyler-thomas-donelan-wines/

***

Thank you most especially to Tyler Thomas.

Thank you to Jeff Connick. Thank you to Sao Anash.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

Tasting Sta Rita Hills with over 200-yrs of Winemaking Experience

On my recent visit to Sta Rita Hills, Greg Brewer and Chad Melville were kind enough to organize and host a round table with a few other winemakers of the appellation for me. As a result, I spent several hours tasting and talking with Richard Sanford, Rick Longoria, Bryan Babcock, as well as my hosts. Jenne Lee Bonaccorsi was also included, and unfortunately unable to attend at the last minute. She sent wines in her stead.

To say the occasion was a genuine honor for me would be an understatement. The figures sharing their wines represent the very founders of wine in Santa Barbara County both in terms of literal first plantings, as well in being the sculptors of its development and future since. It would be impossible for me to overstate the importance of this group’s presence in the region. To prepare to meet with them the thing it was most pressing for me to do was take a moment alone to calm the hell down. I was excited, and deeply grateful. Once there they were, of course, one of the warmest groups I’ve ever had the pleasure to taste with.

One of the special aspects of the tasting was that every person sharing their wine was also a grower-winemaker, making wines from Sta Rita Hills while growing their own vineyards, and having worked with many locations throughout the region. Such an approach offers unique insight into the qualities of a place.

Babcock Winery

Babcock WInesclick on image to enlarge

Bryan Babcock grows along the Highway 246 corridor of Sta Rita Hills, while also sourcing fruit from the appellation’s edge in the Southern Sweeney-to-Santa-Rosa-Road stretch. For the tasting he brought a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from a band just inside the Southwestern AVA boundary where Radian Vineyard (within the Salsipuedes Vineyard) carves the slopes of the Western line. “I like tasting that expression of edginess as you venture to the Western edge [of the Sta Rita Hills],” Babcock explains. Radian Vineyard pushes as close to the Pacific Ocean, and its cooling influence, as the appellation allows. Fruit, then, grows at the boundaries of ripeness with Chardonnay not always developing enough to turn into wine. Wines from the region, as a result, carry the incredible tension and mineral focus of such an oceanic influence, while still offering the undulating flavors from so much solar radiation. Cooler climates that still show higher UV levels can ripen their grapes’ flavor while keeping the structure taut.

Babcock’s “The Limit” Chardonnay carries an intriguing interplay of elements with there being no question of flavor ripeness, and round lifted aromatics, on a wine showing a persistent palate presence without heaviness. There are also long mineral lines throughout that give the wine a sense of crunch and complexity. “The Limit” was also my favorite Chardonnay of the tasting.

As Babcock explains, he has a sort of prejudice for the Western Edge of Sta Rita when it comes to Pinot Noir, as he believes the extremity of the location gives its wines a marked sense of provenance — a windy, climactic extreme. Babcock’s “Appellation’s Edge” Pinot Noir shows off the red fruit and flower-black tea character that speaks of Sta Rita giving a juicy, jaw-pinching acidity to open followed by that pleasing drying black tea finish.

Longoria

Longoria Wineclick on image to enlarge

With his own vineyard planted along the Santa Ynez River on Sweeney Road, Rick Longoria has been making wine in the Sta Rita Hills since the 1970s, beginning his Longoria label in the early 1980s. He also sources fruit from other older vine locations in the appellation. In selecting wines for the tasting, Longoria brought an elevation Chardonnay from the famous Rita’s Crown location — a low vigor stretch at the top of the South-facing slope above Mt Caramel — as well as a Pinot Noir from his Fe Ciega Vineyard.

Rita’s Crown shows a different version of Babcock’s notion of appellation’s edge, not due to literal map boundaries, but instead growing conditions. The vineyard perches along the top ridgeline in what is otherwise the map-center of the AVA at an elevation between 650 and 900 ft, making it one of the highest plantings in the appellation. Longoria’s Chardonnay carries delicate sea fresh aromatics with cedar accents on nose and palate overlaying light toasted croissant, lemon blossom mid-palate, and a lemon marmalade finish. The wine shows that classic Sta Rita Hills character possible with a deft hand — strength of flavor with still a sense of delicacy.

Longoria’s Fe Ciega Pinot Noir came in as one of my favorites of the tasting showing an even more distinctive expression of wine with an intense strength housed in elegance. The wine still comes in taut as 2011 is right now young for the region, but is readying to open to nice flavor.

Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards

Alma Rosa Wineclick on image to enlarge

Richard Sanford has witnessed the full arc of Sta Rita Hills, planting the first vineyard in the area along with Michael Benedict, the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. “From a regional perspective seeing a lot of younger winemakers dedicate themselves to the region is very cool. It’s an indication of a new wave of quality development,” he comments. In considering the strengths of Sta Rita Hills he emphasizes too that while the area is touted for its quality Pinot Noir, it was originally the quality of its Chardonnay that brought people to the area.

Sanford’s wine selections showcased a sense of refined delicacy with genuine presence that resembles his own calm character. His Alma Rosa El Jabali Vineyard grows near the Western edge of the appellation, planted by Sanford in the early 1980s. The Chardonnay gives a smooth mouthfeel moved through with delicately attenuated flavor into a long finish, coming after equally subtle aromatics.

Sanford’s Pinot Noir comes from his other Alma Rosa vineyard, La Encantada, which stands as one of the cooler sites in the region. The Pinot Noir hovers through layers of flavor offering light herbal aromatics moving into raspberry and blackberry bramble. The palate carries forward with a nice balance of juiciness-to-grip and a real sense of persistence and concentration.

Brewer-Clifton

Brewer Clifton Wineclick on image to enlarge

Together Steve Clifton and Greg Brewer began Brewer-Clifton in the mid-1990s, helping to preserve and improve the health of various vineyards around the appellation as a result. In the more recent trajectory of their venture, the duo have chosen to devote their efforts solely to vineyards they own or on which hold long-term lease. The difference affords them control over farming and clonal choices, as well as the opportunity for them to keep year-round employees. The economic sustainability of this approach is one of the impressive aspects of their business.

Brewer brought a Chardonnay from their own 3-D Vineyard, planted in 2007 by Brewer-Clifton to a mix of clones and California heritage selections. (In the Brewer-Clifton program as a whole, 2011 represents the last year of any purchased fruit, as with 2012 they were able to step entirely into relying only on their own vineyards.) The 3-D Chardonnay carries Brewer’s attention to letting a region’s assets speak through a sort of point-counterpoint interplay. With the ripe flavor readily given through California sun, Brewer keeps a structural tension on the wine to bring precision, and a nipped edge to the fruit. The wine comes in richly flavored, while simultaneously tight, opening finally to a softened feminine lushness.

The Machado Vineyard represents Brewer-Clifton’s devotion to stem inclusion. Planted by the pair in 2008, the clonal selection was chosen based on Brewer’s decades of experience experimenting with whole cluster on vineyards throughout the Sta Rita Hills. Thanks to his previous experience, they were able to plant Machado entirely to vines he has seen easily carry the benefits, without the overt challenges, of stems during fermentation. The Pinot shows of vibrant red and dark red character on a lean, mouth watering black tea palate with mixed floral, hints of citrus, and a touch of Italian herbs with lavender offered throughout.

Bonaccorsi Wine Company

Bonaccorsi Winesclick on image to enlarge

As we talked through the Bonaccorsi wines, the group celebrated founder Michael Bonaccorsi’s dedication to winemaking through the region. He was devoted to exploring the appellation, and learning quality winemaking alongside those that had established their knowledge of the area. After Mike’s death in 2004, his wife Jenne Lee has continued making the Bonaccorsi wines while exploring the wine potential of the region. Originally, the Bonaccorsi’s intent had been to make wine in the Russian River Valley, but after getting to know the wines of Santa Barbara County in the 1990s they recognized an intense quality potential to the lesser known region that compelled them to invest instead in the Sta Rita Hills.

Jenne Lee offered two vineyard select Pinot Noirs for the tasting. The Bentrock Vineyard rises from a rolling Northfacing bench on the Western side of the appellation, offering a cooler sun exposure to benefit the Pinot Noir. The wine carries intensely mineral focused strength and concentration that opens to red and black red fruit with roasted black tea notes throughout. The wine is powerful while accented by delicate juicy flavor and rose petal lift. Intriguing complexity.

The Fiddlesticks Vineyard, along Santa Rosa Road, shows off a more open presentation in comparison carrying red fruit and rose focus showing up in a mix of potpourri and fresh floral elements alongside raspberry leaf and black tea, with a mineral crunch through the finish.

***

Thank you most especially to Chad Melville, Greg Brewer, and Sao Anash for organizing the tasting.

Thank you very much to Richard Sanford, Rick Longoria, Jenne Lee Bonaccorsi, and Bryan Babcock. It truly was my honor to have time with you and your wines.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

1

Attending a Paris Popup at Penrose in Oakland

Laura Vidal

Laura Vidal preparing the team on wine selections, Penrose, Oakland

Last week Laura Vidal and Harry Cummins were kind enough to invite me to their Paris Popup at Penrose in Oakland. The duo began the events while working together in Paris at Frenchies, taking over restaurants around the city. What would be a regular night off for the business would become a special treat for the owners — seeing their facility through the eyes of another team. The Paris Popups would open for one night only to a range of guests within an already established restaurant space, and provide dinner to the owner in exchange for using the space.

Laura Vidal and Harry Cummins

Laura Vidal and Harry Cummins

Originally from London, Cummins had returned home to visit friends and saw that a new style of food event — popups — were happening around the city. Returning to Paris he realized he hadn’t heard of them taking place on the French side of the Channel. He and Vidal decided to design their own, and Paris Popups were born. The venture developed organically. After their first successful occasion, restaurants around Paris began reaching out to the team offering to host. Paris Popups popped up all over the city, until the pair decided to take a year to both share and learn food and wine culture all over the world, beginning what would become a Popup world tour.

Harry Cummins

Harry Cummins

Unleashed from the team that was integral to their work in Paris, Cummins and Vidal have found their world tour defined by collaboration. The duo selected their route, then reached out to venues, wine distributors, and chefs in cities around the world. In each location they have sought to work intimately with area chefs to develop the menu with consideration for local ingredients, and bring in winemakers or distributors whose work they wish to support. Part of the point is to celebrate the unique offerings of a particular area. In selecting wines too, the people behind the wines are invited to participate, offering guests direct contact not easily afforded elsewhere. Evan Lewandowski of Ruth Lewandowski wines, Raj Parr of Domaine de la Cote, and Anthony Lynch of Kermit Lynch wines all poured, for example, in Oakland.

Paris Popup

Halibut, clams, blood oranges

The menu development occurs as a kind of ongoing conversation. Vidal selects wines in advance allowing for a progression through a multi-course meal. By this point, the chefs have already begun to brainstorm ideas, but now coordinate in concert with consideration of the wines as well. Vidal’s and Cummin’s expertise shows in listening to their process. Their skill in designing a meal in advance of an event reflects their experience with flavor and pairing. For the Penrose event, Cummins and Vidal were able to work with Bones Restaurant’s James Edward Henry and Austin Holey, as well as Charlie Hallowell, the chef of Penrose in the kitchen and to develop the menu.

Paris Popup

Sweetbreads, poached egg, Périgord black truffle

Each city’s food culture comes with a different infrastructure and dynamic. Where New York relies on ordered formality in a restaurant team, California’s Bay Area approaches evening meals with a more relaxed service style. Recognizing and working with the different styles of service for each location, then, becomes integral to the world tour.

Paris Popup

Uni, fermented squash, kumquats

The Oakland popup included two nights in Penrose, serving a seven course meal including wine pairings. The team accomplished an impressive, and well-executed menu showcasing the experience of pairings at their best. My favorite of the night rests strongly in the second course. We were greeted with a glass of Raveneau 2001 1er Cru Chablis then coupled with a dish of Dungeness crab, grapefruit, and artichokes. The pairing gave a beautiful example of how flavors can synthesize. While one of my favorite wines, Raveneau carries incredible strength, approaching the edge of pleasurable intensity on the palate. Similarly, the dish carried a strength of flavors with the richness of the crab absorbing the force of the grapefruit. The food followed by the wine, however, created a sense of elegance through the mouth that was truly beautiful.

Paris Popup

Oysters (served alongside the Rib eye)

Paris Popup

Rib eye

My other favorite pairing brought Les Palliéres 1999 Gigondas alongside a course of Rib eye with a side of oysters, and a green salad of citrus dressing. Rib eye is a classic suggestion for Gigondas, but the oysters nicely celebrated the sea-air freshness I find in the nose of older Les Palliéres, and the citrus note brought out the bright red elements of the wine on the palate, showing off the youthful vibrancy of the 1999. The combination was beautifully done.

Paris Popup

Apples, Penrose tonic ice served with Neige 2011 Apple Ice Wine

The other pairings throughout the night showcased differing approaches to marrying food and wine. Where the two courses mentioned celebrated an approach of complementing flavors, others focused on contrast. The sweetbreads, poached eggs, and black truffle dish brought a real richness to the palate that was cut through, and refreshed by the red fruit and black tea spine of the Domaine de la Cote 2011 Bloom’s Field, an elegant expression of what Sashi Moorman calls the Heart of Sta Rita Hills. Throughout the courses, I was impressed with the focus on texture. Each dish showcased a blend of varying levels of firmness, and push so that the pleasure of the palate was more than just taste. Such attention to texture showed in the way the wines paired as well. The light grip from skin contact maceration in the Ruth Lewandowski 2012 Fox Hill Vineyard Chilion Cortese Zero, for example, brought a vibrant citrus flavored texture alongside the slippery give of the uni and fermented squash with kumquat dish.

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The Penrose Paris Popup had a collaborative menu developed by James Edward Henry, and Austin Holey from Bones, Harry Cummins from The Paris Popup, and Charlie Hallowell from Penrose. Wine Selection was done by Laura Vidal.

Rajat Parr, Eric Railsback, Anthony Lynch, and Evan Lewandowski helped with wine service, while the Penrose team provided floor service.

La Face Cachée de la Pomme has sponsored the Paris Popup since its arrival in Montreal.

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All photos in this post are the work of Diane Yoon, and used with her permission.

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Thank you to Laura Vidal.

Thank you to Anthony Lynch.

Thank you to Diane Yoon.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

10

Reflections on Beauty and Strangeness in Wine

“Strangeness is a necessary ingredient in beauty.” -Charles Baudelaire

Last night in the midst of a Paris Popup dinner at Penrose in Oakland I unexpectedly found my nose in a glass of Domaine Raveneau 2001 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre Chablis. The profundity of the experience proved quite simple. In the grapefruit, forest musk of the glass I smelled only joy.

A particular explanation of philosophy remarks that the philosopher’s work is to notice the strangeness of the ordinary. Such a view forms a sort of paradox. That is, the ordinary is in its nature strange, in other words, not really ordinary at all.

In what are known as the Kallias Letters, German poet-historian-philosopher Friedrich Schiller gives an account of beauty. “A form is beautiful, one might say, if it demands no explanation, or if it explains itself without a concept.” Within Schiller’s idea of the beautiful is the point that it transcends us — what is truly beautiful is not a matter of our own personal preferences (our preferences are fickle), but instead a characteristic of the beautiful thing itself. In saying that the beautiful needs no explanation, Schiller is pointing out that what is beautiful is simply complete — it needs no supplement. It is beautiful. A kind of straightforward aesthetic truth.

Schiller’s account of the beautiful seems to present an example of the very thing it works to define. It too needs no further explanation. That is, for any of us that have encountered moments of beauty in wine, his definition of beauty feels right. In the nose of Raveneau, there was nothing to say. I could try to describe aromas for the wine but the truer point was that the wine smelled of joy. It had no other explanation.

It must be said too, that for those of us that haven’t witnessed a moment like this of the beautiful (whether through wine or anywhere else), there is nothing to understand in Schiller’s point either. He can give no explanation because there isn’t one. You’ve either seen beauty, and so recognize the simplicity of it, or you haven’t.

Schiller’s account of beauty forms a sort of paradox as well. In his account, he shows that beauty is not a matter of personal preference. There is nothing fickle about the beautiful. Our tastes may change, but a beautiful form is in itself a beautiful form. Our recognition of it (or not) does not impact the truth of the object. Yet, there is a kind of problem.

The idea of beauty is an aesthetic one. Aesthetics is, by definition, a study of the principles behind beauty, but it is also a study of our sensory experiences, or that which we can witness about the world. The point is that, something like Raveneau may be beautiful in itself, but it can only be recognized or exist as beautiful because as humans we have the capacity to witness it. This point is tricky, and almost circular, so let me restate it.

Because beauty is an aesthetic concept, it is necessarily subjective — we are the sensual creatures that seek it — and yet, the beautiful thing exists in and of itself as beautiful, whether we recognize its beauty or not. We are the creatures that generate the very concept (beauty) that we then find in the world regardless of us.

It is here, then, that we discover the gift and strangeness of encountering beauty. We are struck dumb by the beautiful. In encountering beauty, we in a sense escape ourselves. Yet, we are always implicated in its form. Precisely because beauty is an aesthetic notion, it links necessarily to our senses. The experience of sensing something beyond ourselves at the same time gives us strength — we have the capacity to access, witness, and experience something beyond our own limits. Here, the intertwined nature of beauty — that it transcends us and yet we are implicated in it — reveals part of its power. The thing that transcends us roots us more fully in ourselves, precisely by its pulling us beyond ourselves, another paradox. In doing so, beauty reveals to us how much more is possible. It becomes a kind of motivation for us to be more than we thought we were.

Beauty reminds us how much more is the world than any of our self-involved analysis of it, and also of our ability to live more fully in it. In his book, The Aesthetic Education of Man, Schiller goes on to develop an account in which he treats the beautiful as an example for improving ourselves as people. There he tells us that we can strive to achieve in ourselves a sense of the completeness we witness through the beautiful. That is, when we are good there is no explanation, we simply are good. Yet, for us as humans, such goodness feels more tenuous than those moments with the beautiful, precisely because goodness for us must be an ongoing process. We must always strive for such balance without an ability to permanently arrive at it. In its parallel to goodness, beauty becomes a motivator to find comfort in our own uncertainty.

In smelling my Raveneau last night, I had no words and only smiling. The wine changed remarkably over the course of the evening, yet always carried that initial experience of my being struck. In as much as I gave myself to the wine, there was little I could say about it. To write any sense of typical wine description, I would have had to take a stance of analysis that necessarily would remove me from the very thing I sought to describe. As a result, what I find to say is this. (It is both utterly inadequate, and in itself complete. Forgive me. I can only hope the people for whom it’s meant will recognize the statement for its intended truth.)

Last night I drank Raveneau. All I can say emphatically is, Thank you.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

1

Selecting Prosecco

The sparkling wine Prosecco rises from the dramatically lifting foothills of the Alps in Northeastern Italy, with its quality center stretching from Valdobbiadene to Conegliano. The method for making Prosecco, Metodo Italiano (also known as the Charmat process), brings a more delicate focus than the Champagne method allows, presenting more distinctive aromatic qualities, as well as preserving fruit and flower characteristics of the grapes used as a result.

Glera and Metodo Italiano

Metodo Italianoclick on image to enlarge

Regulated Prosecco allows use of only the glera grape (previously known as the prosecco grape but renamed to avoid confusion). Glera is preciously fruit focused in its flavor, carved through its edges with a green-salt bitter note that at its best gives its wine shape.

Metodo Italiano does not require the high acid levels demanded from the Champagne method, therefore generating a sparkling wine with less overt linear tension than its counterpart. In lower quality examples the lack of tension means an overly simple fruit-only wine I tend to find cloying. As with any region, however, such examples tend to appear from the bulk, industrial segments of the production process. It is important to remember that many producers play with only the best fruit, earlier picking times, and some technique variations to keep the wine focused and clean in its core.

Though Prosecco is generally finished today in pressurized tanks (in the stainless steel tank portion of Round Two shown above), the introduction of these tanks is quite recent. Prior to the 1970s, the approach to making Prosecco still included movement into a secondary vessel, but culminated finally with fermentation finishing in bottle under crown cap. It is uncommon for Prosecco makers to take this approach today, but a few still do.

Prosecco Favorites

Following are notes on a few special examples of unique Proseccos available within the States.

Ca’ dei Zago

Ca’ dei Zago DOC “Col Fondo”
My favorite of the Proseccos mentioned here utilizes the older method of finishing fermentation under crown cap. The Ca’ dei Zago offers a slightly cloudy body, as a result, but also brings with it an additional biscuit note thanks to the crown cap completion that is pleasing. This wine carries those crisp biscuit notes topped through with lemon zest and the distinct glera edge to carve its shape over the palate. The wine also brings nice focus and good mineral tension through clean fruit and floral aromatics. The Ca’ dei Zago is a nice example of a Prosecco that succeeds at complexity and a core of tension within a wine that is still distinctively Prosecco.

Zardetto

Zardetto “Tre Venti” 2012 DOCG
As a single vineyard Prosecco, Zardetto’s Tre Venti succeeds at showing the unique fruit character possible from this sparkling wine method. The Tre Vigne shows apple and ginger with a touch of narcissus on the nose, tightening through the palate into a wire-y, masculine body of apple with blossom, toasted notes and hints of marmalade through a long finish. I enjoyed the surprise of this Prosecco quite a bit, and would like it with food.

Zardetto “Zeta” Dry 2012 DOCG
Delicate and pretty floral aromatics, alongside ripe apple with light toast and ginger accents breeze into a giving fruit focused palate with refreshing saline-mineral length. Where the Tre Vigne vibrates wire-y, the Zeta is all feminine flow. This is a wine to drink easy with friends, and a smile.

Nino Franco

Nino Franco Grave di Stecca 2010
Nino Franco brings a single vineyard, older vine focus to their Grave di Stecca also choosing to pick earlier to bring juicy focused length to this Prosecco. The Grave di Stecca 2010 gives a crisp spice nose carrying into a uniquely spiced palate of orchard fruit, on a palate that simultaneously offers rich depth and nice focus with lots of mineral length and a long juicy finish. This wine holds up very well alongside a range of foods.

Though the Grave di Stecca follows all of the DOCG requirements, because the family wishes to honor the unique flavoral characteristics of the vineyard, they choose not to submit it to the actual DOCG inspection. This wine, then, is essentially a declassified DOCG. Incidentally, I have also had positive experiences with the aging potential of this particular Prosecco.

Nino Franco Riva di San Floriano 2012 DOCG
Heralding from a beautiful steep sloped vineyard on the edge of Valdobbiadene, the Riva di San Floriano brings a star bright, perfume spice nose through to its ultra crisp apple and spice palate. This is an elegant example of a single vineyard Prosecco with lots of vibrancy and a long juicy finish. This wine does well as an aperitif and alongside white fish, or lighter risottos.

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Drinking Bubbles from Limoux

An under-celebrated while reliable source of value sparkling wine rests in the Southern France region of Limoux. In the foothills of Languedoc’s Pyrénées, near the historic city of Carcassonne, stands the original Abbey of Dom Perignon, the legendary cultivator of the wine that would later come to be known as Champagne.

As the story goes, the Dom practiced his methods first in Limoux, before carrying them North to Champagne to popularize the drink there. In its elevation, Limoux offers the vibrant acidity needed to give focus and length in the Méthode Traditionelle. One of the pleasures of Limoux rests in its common use of grapes such as Chenin Blanc, and Mauzac alongside the more familiar Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Chenin Blanc gives an earthy-herbal-floral depth and richness with mineral length to its sparkling wines, while Mauzac brings a unique pert-apple with cut grass character.

Crémant de Limoux AOC

Sparkling wine from Limoux shows as two distinctive styles, Crémant de Limoux, and Blanquette de Limoux. Crémant de Limoux celebrates Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc primarily, with no more than 90% together forming the wine. The final portion brings in Pinot Noir and/or Mauzac.

Crémant de Limoux offers a great source for bubbles at a screaming value. With the long standing history of the region it’s easy to find bubbles well below $20 that are also a pleasure to drink.

Domaine Collin

Domain Collinclick on comic to enlarge

Domaine Collin produces two Brut Crémant de Limoux sparkling wines — a Chardonnay, Chenin, and Pinot white blend, as well as a rosé of the same grapes. Both wines offer nicely subtle complexity with depth. The white came in as my favorite of the Limoux wines presented here. It’s a wine for people that want palate tension placed alongside richness, juicy mineral length coupled with depth of flavor. At $13 it’s a screaming deal. The rosé is a beautifully made balance that’s a touch softer, and more approachable than the white with its cherry elements dancing through the citrus and floral notes.

Gérard Bertrand

Gerard Bertrand 2011click on image to enlarge

Gérard Bertrand offers a crisply focused, clean, and elegant Chardonnay, Chenin, Mauzac 2011 white blend coming in around $16. It’s a nice balance of dried flower-herbal notes coupled with delicate fruit creams, biscuit accents, and a long mineral finish. There is a nice balance of complexity to value here.

Blanquette de Limoux

Limoux holds the primary source of Mauzac in the world. The grape is required at minimum 90% of the Blanquette de Limoux — a Méthode Ancestrale style sparkling wine. However, in recent years Mauzac plantings have been replaced by Chardonnay, leading to a decline in the unusual variety.

Blanquette de Limoux is one of the gifts of the region. Though Méthode Ancestrale originates as the first approach to champagne method sparkling wine, it is uncommon today. The style offers a creamy palate with low alcohol as wine is generally not fermented entirely dry. Since the style originates with the monks of Limoux, it has been treated to its own controlled appellation with Mauzac determined as the dominate grape. 10% of the wine may be blended to Chardonnay and/or Chenin Blanc.

Cote Mas

Cote Masclick on image to enlarge

Cote Mas offers great value in their brut Crémant de Limoux, both coming in between $13 and 16, depending on the retailer. The white blend brings all four grapes together for a clean, meyer lemon cream-on-a-biscuit nose followed through to dried jasmine, hints of kumquat, white grapefruit pith, and orange blossom on the pert, juicy palate. Chardonnay, Chenin, and Pinot Noir blend into the pert, refreshing rosé giving floral citrus alongside cherry blossom to round the juicy palate.

Cote Mas also offers their Blanquette de Limoux celebrating their love for Mauzac through a 100% rendition of the wine. The jasmine and mandarin aromatics roll into a giving creaminess on the palate spun through with ginger flower. With its ultra low alcohol, and touch of sweetness this is a wine to enjoy slowly through the evening. At $13, the Méthode Ancestrale makes this a special, ultra-affordable wine.

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