Red Wines

Using Grapes from the same vineyard, Billo Nazarene found a way to make two distinct wines that flaunt Walla Walla’s newest sub-AVA’s unique terroir.

Steve and Brooke Robertson, Billo Navarene

In the southwestern corner of Walla Walla’s newest sub-appellation, The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, stands the SJR Vineyard. Home primarily to Syrah, but also Grenache and Viognier, the almost 8 planted acre site grows in the signature basalt cobbles and gravel that gave the sub-zone the moniker local vintners prefer, the Rocks.

The Rocks was registered as a recognized AVA in February 2015. Geologist Kevin Pogue articulated the appellation boundaries based almost entirely on its unique soil conditions, a basalt cobbled alluvial fan deposited by the Walla Walla River at the southern part of the valley. The stones of the Rocks District resemble those that made Chateauneuf du Pape famous, but unlike their French counterpart, the tumbled basalt boulders of The Rocks District can be found up to 600 feet deep. While the basalt has eroded to a shallow iron-rich topsoil in portions, the stones dominate the landscape throughout the sub-zone.

To keep reading, head on over to the Wine Business Monthly website where you can view this article in its entirety for free. It begins on page 30 of the November issue and digs into how Steve and Brooke Robertson (shown above left) have worked to fine-tune the farming quality of their SJR Vineyard while also working with winemaker Billo Navarene (shown above right) to dial in the unique style of their Delmas Syrah. At the same time Navarene has also made his own Rasa Syrah from the same site. The result is two utterly distinctive Walla Walla Syrahs that each clearly showcase the characteristics of the vineyard while still being unique from each other. 

This article is one of my favorite things I have written in a long while – the Robertsons and Navarene were incredibly generous with their time and willingness to share tips and techniques on vineyard improvement and every step of the winemaking for both wines. I feel privileged to have been able to share such an insider view to the wine growing and making process. 

Here’s the link to the article: 

http://bit.ly/2fan6lb

Cheers!

View from Howell Mountain

Elaine’s review last week of Cabernets with the general Napa Valley appellation stirred up some strong reactions, including on our members’ forum. She addresses some of the issues raised by the first of her two articles on Napa Cabernets in this introduction to the second one, a report on a total of 90 Cabernets with one of the many Napa Valley sub-appellations described below. A report on Napa Merlots will follow. Elaine’s picture was taken on Howell Mountain.

The over-arching region and AVA of Napa Valley includes 16 sub-appellations ranging in their combination of growing conditions – elevation, soil types, drainage, mesoclimate – to create unique subzones that offer their own stylistic range and expression.

Producers within Napa Valley can chose to label their wines with the Napa Valley appellation as long as 85% or more of the fruit going into their wine is from the region. Labelling requirements for the sub-AVAs of Napa Valley are similar. For a wine to be labelled with one of the 16 sub-appellations the wine must be made predominantly from fruit grown in that subzone. Additionally, any of the sub-AVAs fully within Napa County must include reference to Napa on the label. For example, a wine from the Rutherford AVA has to be labelled with both Rutherford and Napa Valley. The two exceptions are Carneros, which stretches across both Napa and Sonoma Counties, and Wild Horse Valley, which includes land in Solano as well as Napa County. (See the online World Atlas of Wine map of Napa Valleyfor many of the sub-AVAs.)

Many of the most delicious wines of the region come from producers focused intently on specific subzones who label their wine with their relevant sub-appellation. In many cases, the growing conditions of a specific sub-AVA are expressed in the bottle.

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues. You’ll need a subscription to read it.

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/napa-valley-subappellations-heartening

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

1

International Pinot Noir Celebration

One of the finest wine events in the world happens at the end of July every year in Willamette Valley. The International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) brings together pinot noir lovers from around the world to focus on the best of the variety over four days.

On the first night, host wineries from across Willamette Valley feature their own wines as well as those of guest wineries from other regions with food made by some of the best chefs of the Pacific Northwest. Festivities take off on the second and third days with a mix of off campus vineyard visits and seminars as well as on campus classes and tastings. The main event is the Grand Seminar, a master class on whatever aspect of pinot noir takes the stage that year.

In 2016, pinot noir of Australia won the focus bringing 14 of the best examples of the country as well as many of the winemakers behind them.

Australia: Pinot Noir Master Class

IPNC Australia Master Class

from left: Tom Carson, Michael Hill Smith, James Halliday

Panel hosts James Halliday, Michael Hill Smith and Tom Carson guided the 400+ person audience each of two days through an in-depth look at 14 Australian pinot noirs grown from sub-zones of Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia. Additionally winemakers Michael Dhillon, Peter Dawson, Mac Forbes and Mike Symons spoke about their regions and wines standing from the audience.

Michael Hill Smith, the first person to pass the Master of Wine exam in Australia, moderated the session guiding us through a thorough-going discussion of pinot noir in Australia as well as of the 14 wines presented and their regions. Wines were poured in two flights of seven. Additionally, the IPNC team offered us an impressive booklet of information to round out the master class concept of the seminar.

History and Conditions of Australian Pinot Noir

As described by Michael Hill Smith and James Halliday, pinot noir arrived in Australia within the original collection of grapevine cuttings to reach the continent, the Busby collection of 1831. The first cuttings were taken from Clos Vougeot and has established itself throughout pinot noir regions of the country as clone MV6 (Mother Vine 6 – so bad ass).

First attempts to succeed with pinot in Australia proved difficult so the variety did not truly take hold until the last century. Much of its growth has occurred since the 1960s. By 2015, 4948 hectares of pinot noir were planted with 43,223 tonnes produced that year across the country by 950 growers and winemakers. Today the focus in Australia is to make site expressive pinot noir, rather than attempting to emulate other regions.

Much of the pinot noir planted in Australia has been established with own-root vines. However, in the last decades phylloxera has taken hold in some of the pinot noir producing regions. Strict quarantines of those regions has helped slow its progress but nevertheless, vintners of Australia are now forced to grapple with finding best rootstocks in the midst of losing old vine sites.

Australian Pinot Noir Regions and the Wines

The Australian contingent IPNC

front left Mike Symons, sitting beside Michael Dhillon; front right Peter Dawson sitting beside Mac Forbes

REGION: Yarra Valley

Our tasting for the Grand Seminar began with a focus on the province of Victoria and a first look at its sub-region the Yarra Valley. As we were informed, 135 wineries produce pinot noir in the region an hour east from Melbourne. The region hosts a predominately continental climate with moderate to steep hillsides between 50 and 1000 meters in elevation. Soils tend towards ancient sandy clay loam and younger red volcanics.

WINE: Coldstream Hills 2015 Deer Farm Vineyard Pinot Noir Yarra Valley Victoria

Coldstream Hills was founded in 1985 by James Halliday and has since become part of the Treasury Wine Estates. The primary focus for Coldstream Hills rests with pinot noir and chardonnay with also some production of merlot, sauvignon blanc and shiraz as well.

The Deer Farm Vineyard pinot from Coldstream Hills is made when vintage conditions support single vineyard quality. In 2015 it was made with 50% new puncheons. The wine features a perfumed and herbal lift from a body of zesty, mixed red and dark fruits and a long mineral-spice spine offering plenty of concentration on an otherwise lighter bodied wine.

WINE: * Mac Forbes 2014 Woori Yallock Pinot Noir Yarra Valley Victoria

Mac Forbes established his eponymous brand after having worked previously at the iconic Mount Mary in the Yarra, with Dirk Niepoort in Portugal, and in vineyards throughout Austria. His focus remains primarily with pinot noir while also being known for his chardonnay and riesling.

In the Yarra Valley the 2014 vintage brought the concentration and focus of the smaller bunches with the hens-and-chicks berries of a wet and windy spring. The 2014 Woori Yallock carries subtle and lifted aromatics with an ultra stimulating and lighter bodied palate washed through with finessed mixed fruits, tons of sapidity, nuance and length.

WINE: Mount Mary Vineyard 2013 Pinot Noir Yarra Valley Victoria 

Founded in 1971 by the late John Middleton, today Mount Mary Vineyards hosts John’s grandson, Sam Middleton, as winemaker. Mount Mary holds one of the finest reputations for Australian pinot noir, considered a leader in the early contemporary push to understand quality expressions of the variety in the country.

With broader aromatics and palate than the other two Yarra Valley pinots, the Mount Mary 2013 shows the attributes of a slightly warmer vintage. It offers an ultra long zesty palate lifted by a perfume of cultivated flowers sprinkled through with spice. Lots of sapidity and silky tannin carry through a long finish.

REGION: Mornington Peninsula

With 80 wineries in the Mornington Peninsula producing pinot noir, the region sits an hour southeast of Melbourne. Sitting alongside the Southern Ocean, the Peninsula hosts a maritime climate with gently rolling slopes and a mix of soils.

WINE: * Stonier Family Vineyard 2015 Pinot Noir Mornington Peninsula Victoria

Founded in 1978, Stonier stands as one of the founding wineries of the Mornington Peninsula. The focus rests in pinot noir and chardonnay made by winemaker Mike Symons.

The Stonier 2015 presents compact and earthy with a zesty red fruit palate and a long stimulating finish. A pleasure.

WINE: Paringa Estate 2014 Pinot Noir Mornington Peninsula Victoria 

Established in 1985 by winemaker Lindsay McCall, Paringa Estate established both pinot noir and shiraz in an abandoned orchard of the Mornington Peninsula. Not yet available in the United States. 

Full of zesty fruit, the 2014 Paringa Estate offers a compact and focused palate with lots of sapidity and a long spiced finish.

WINE: Yabby Lake 2013 Block 2 Pinot Noir Mornington Peninsula Victoria

Founded by the Kirby Family in 1998, Tom Carson serves as the Yabby Lake winemaker with a focus on pinot noir and chardonnay. Not yet available in the United States. 

Aromatics with just a hint of funk turn to musk on the palate with a mineral sprinkled focus on zesty fruit and a long wash of acidity.

REGION: Macedon Ranges

One of the smallest and youngest areas for pinot noir in Australia, the Macedon Ranges an hour and a half north of Melbourne, host 37 wineries producing pinot noir. The area celebrates a cool to cold continental climate with elevated vineyard standing 500m above sea level in a mix of extremely old soils of mudstone, sandstone mixed through with quartz and other volcanics.

WINE: * Bindi 2014 Kaye Pinot Noir Macedon Ranges Victoria

One of the hallmark pinot noir producers of Victoria, Bindi helped bring attention to the quality wine possible from the Macedon Ranges. Established in 1988 by father and son team Bill and Michael Dhillon. Today, Michael continues the legacy he began with his late father with a focus on estate grown pinot noir and chardonnay.

The Bindi 2014 Kaye carries an earthy mix of perfumed dark fruits and a sense of delicacy through ample concentration riding all the way through a long finish. Tactile and stimulating tannin and a palate full of sapidity, this wine offers a nice balance of finesse, complexity and length.

Tasting in flights, IPNC

REGION: Gippsland

38 wineries make pinot noir in Gippsland two and a half hours east of Melbourne.

WINE: Bass Phillip 2013 Premium Pinot Noir Gippsland Victoria

Founded in 1979 by Phillip Jones to make small quantities of artisanal pinot noir, Bass Phillip relies on high density planting in an ultra cool climate.

Notes of musk and forest floor and a lengthy waft of perfume move on the palate to zesty, mineral-tumbled notes with a lengthy finish.

REGION: Geelong

50 wineries produce pinot in the Geelong region of Victoria just an hour southwest of Melbourne just opposite Port Phillip Bay from Mornington.

WINE: * By Farr 2012 Sangreal Pinot Noir Geelong Victoria

Established in 1994 by Gary Farr, By Farr quickly became one of the best known and respected producers of the country. Son Nick Farr today serves as winemaker making estate pinot noir with a focus on whole bunch fermentation.

Notes of pit fruit tested by citrus on the nose are accented by hints of cigar box and touches of forest floor with dried rose leaf in the mouth. A lovely light frame with impressive complexity.

REGION: Tasmania

124 wineries make pinot in Tasmania. The region is known primarily for two established growing zones, the Coal River Valley and the Huon Valley. The Coal River Valley in the southern part of the island is both cool and dry leading to low disease pressure and good fruit quality. The Huon Valley is the southernmost and coolest portion of the island with a wet maritime climate and a small concentration of vineyard plantings. Tasmania as a whole is both cold and relatively dry with a relatively long season.

WINE: Home Hill 2014 Estate Pinot Noir Tasmania

Terry and Rosemary Bennet established Home Hill Estate to pinot noir in 1994 with Gilli and Paul Lipscombe today serving as winemakers. Eventually chardonnay and sylvaner were also added. Not yet available in the United States. 

Notes of dried leaves and flowers move into a musky palate with plenty of length and a focus on intrigue.

WINE: * Tolpuddle Vineyard 2014 Pinot Noir Tasmania

Tolpuddle Vineyard was originally established in 1988 and were purchased in 2011 by Michael Hill Smith and Martin Shaw. The site sits in the Coal River Valley with a focus on pinot noir.

Note of musk and rose potpourri with plum and cherry pits and a flash of nectarine carry nose through a long, stimulating palate.

WINE: Dawson James 2014 Pinot Noir Tasmania

Founded in 2010 by Peter Dawson and Tim James, Dawson James has already had success with pinot noir from Tasmania. Not yet available in the United States. 

Fresh cut peach and cherry with a focused presentation and zesty, mineral length, the Dawson James 2014 offers nice purity with plenty of concentration and a lithe frame.

REGION: Adelaide Hills South Australia

74 wineries produce pinot noir in the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia. The Piccadilly Valley hosts the Ashton Hills winery represented at IPNC, and offers the coolest growing conditions of the larger region sitting at around 570 meters of elevation. The area is greeted by rainfall throughout the season.

WINE: * Ashton Hills 2014 Reserve Pinot Noir Adelaide Hills South Australia

Founded in 1982 by Stephen George, who still serves too as winemaker, Ashton Hills has worked extensively with the range of pinot noir clones available in Australia to identify the best suited cuttings for the region. Today he relies on five. In 2015, George sold his estate to Wirra Wirra and still lives on the property offering insight to the practice.

Showing evergreen freshness throughout and a spiced jalapeño snap the 2014 Ashton Hills is intriguing, distinctive and savory with accents of forest floor and a long finish.

REGION: Southern Fleurieu South Australia

With only 3 wineries producing pinot noir, the Fleurieu Peninsula succeeds with the variety primarily in the highest and coolest elevations. The area is very maritime with extremely old sand stones and in the Foggy Hill Vineyard very low fruiting wines to stay close to the warmth of the stoney surface.

WINE: Tapanappa 2012 Foggy Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir Southern Fleurieu South Australia

Established in 2002 by Briane and Ann Croser, Tapanappa is one of the very few wineries of Southern Fleurieu making pinot noir. Brian serves as winemaker with a focus on pinot from the Foggy Hill Vineyard, considered a founding vineyard in the region for the variety. Tapanappa also works with other warmer sites to grow cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, merlot, and chardonnay. Not yet available in the United States. 

With notes of candied melon and powdered berry (not sweet) on the nose flavors of spiced chili and a savory core appear on the palate with lightly tactile tannin and an ultra long finish. Distinctive.

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

 

Understanding California Nebbiolo in Wine Business Monthly, August 2016

Wine Business Monthly

California Winemakers Trying to Make Sense of the Variety in Differing Conditions

In California, a small cadre of producers have been striving to understand the particular needs of Nebbiolo in their home state. Among them are Jim Clendenen of Clendenen Family Vineyards and Palmina owner/ winemaker Steve Clifton, who have worked with the variety the longest.

Nebbiolo’s potential quality is celebrated in the great wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. Along with aging requirements in cellar, the cultivar’s response to very particular soil types and climate conditions legally define quality desig- nations for Nebbiolo in Italy, differentiating from the highest designations like Barolo or Barbaresco, to the broader regional designation of Langhe. Vine age also proves relevant. The variety’s combination of high tannin and elevated acidity tends to be unruly in young vines, showing finer balance as the vineyard ages.

“The most important thing I ever did was learn from the guys in Piedmont,” Jim Clendenen said. He’s referring to his time spent in Piedmont to hone his Clendenen Family Vineyards Nebbiolo, which is based in Santa Barbara County. “You don’t have to copy them when you learn from them,” he said. Copying Italian techniques to Nebbiolo has its natural limits with the differing conditions found in California.

While Clendenen made his first Nebbiolo in 1986, planting his own site in 1994 to better control the farming, Clifton began making Nebbiolo in 1997, farming multiple sites in Santa Barbara County for the cultivar. Palmina focuses entirely on Italian varieties, and, like Clendenen, Clifton has spent time learning techniques directly from producers in Piedmont. He also emphasizes that the techniques he relies upon for Nebbiolo differ from those suited to any other variety with which he’s worked, including other Italian cultivars.

California Nebbiolo in the Vineyard

Though the variety arrived in California in the late 1800s, today 162 acres of Nebbiolo are established, according to the latest Grape Acreage Report compiled by the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service. Vineyards growing the grape are dotted throughout California but few existing today were planted before the 1990s.

To continue reading this article check out the August 2016 issue of Wine Business Monthly. The article is available beginning on page 32 of the print edition. Or, if you’re interested in reading the magazine electronically you can find it as a downloadable PDF or in a scrollable format.

You can check out the online edition here: http://www.winebusiness.com/wbm/?go=getDigitalIssue&issueId=8599

Cheers!

1

Australian Pinot

Mac Forbes

Mac Forbes

Several years ago a trip to Victoria, Australia renewed my faith in Pinot noir. I’d gotten lost in a sea of overly squishy, indistinct wines while doing mass tastings and lost site of the precision and energy that can be found in a truly excellent glass of Pinot. Then, at the start of 2013, David Fesq and Mike Bennie were kind enough to tag-team plan an incredible trip for me through some of Australia’s cool climate regions and the distant reaches of Victoria. David got me to Geelong and Great Western while making sure I tasted wines from the Mornington Peninsula, Macedon Ranges and beyond, then Mike took me about the Yarra Valley for a couple days. With them I rediscovered my love for Pinot noir – the grape that originally grabbed my attention for wine. The two of them hand-selected some of the best vintners of the region and while in the Yarra Valley, with my nose in the glass of a vineyard select Pinot by Mac Forbes, I found that nervy, energizing, sapidity, purity and length I love from a really good wine.

Mark Davidson has spent years now helping to re-educate the North American wine community on the virtues of Australian wine. North American imports of overly extracted, and low cost wines from that Southern hemisphere continent had incorrectly taught us to believe all Australian wines were of those styles. In reality the continent has always been more diverse. More over, in recent decades the wine industry there has undergone an evolution shifting to lower volumes of production with a greater focus not only on hand-crafted wines but also more delicate styles. The results are beautiful and intriguing.

Mike Symons of Stonier Wines

Mike Symons of Stonier Wines

Yesterday, Mark brought together a few of us in the Bay Area for an intimate tasting of some choice Australian Pinots. There I was again with Mac Forbes wines and the man himself renewing my faith in Pinot noir. In good time too as tomorrow the world converges on Willamette Valley’s annual International Pinot Noir Celebration with the largest contingent of Australian Pinot producers ever seen there. I’m looking forward to it. Mark’s tasting also included vintner Mike Symons of Stonier wines from the Mornington Peninsula. It was my first time meeting Mike and his wines were also excellent – full of purity and a lovely balance of fresh red fruit with a savory belly of sapidity.

Here’s a look at some of the wines from yesterday’s tasting. All prices shown are SRP for the US market.

Stonier and Mac Forbes Wines

Stonier and Mac Forbes Wines

Stonier Pinot Noir 2015 Mornington Peninsula, Victoria $30
Meaty aromatics flooded with red fruit carry into a palate of bracing acidity, cascading flavor and a honed structure somehow at the same time delicate and without heaviness. Bright, stimulating and lengthy. It opens to notes of cherry blossom and prosciutto with air. Lovely purity.

* Mac Forbes Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2015 Yarra Valley, Victoria $32
Savory and multi-layered aromatics carry into a palate of complexity and textural layers. Simulating with intense minerality, tons of sapidity and length. Full of savory, red fruit with ferric accents and natural spice, this wine washes the palate with flavor while retaining freshness and lightness throughout. I love the purity and palate stimulation of this wine.

* Stonier Reserve Pinot Noir 2015 Mornington Peninsula, Victoria $50
Meaty and lightly spiced with a mix of flowers and powdered (but not sweet) cherry ride into a long savory finish. A deft combination of power and delicacy with a full mouthful of flavor that shows dance-y and fresh across the palate. Full of purity.

Mac Forbes Woori Yallock Pinot Noir 2015 Yarra Valley, Victoria $75
Really nice freshness and lovely subtlety throughout. Notes of red cherry with a faint pop of nectarine and tangerine on the nose and a refreshing lift of evergreen throughout. This wine is both delicate and lacy with power, filled with a crunchy, fresh minerality, tons of sapidity and lots of length. All about purity of expression and nuance.

Australian Pinot: Flight 2

Flight 2

Giant Steps Applejack Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014 Yarra Valley, Victoria $42
Just a hint of funk on the nose transforms into a persistent, lifting jalapeño that carries into the palate alongside stony fresh, spiced red cherry and peppered meat. Showcasing ferric accents throughout, lightly tactile tannin and lots of sapidity through a moderate finish. It offers a nice pinch of baby fat right now that will no doubt dissipate with more time in bottle as the wine also further integrates. Hold for a few more years.

Ocean Eight Pinot Noir 2013 Mornington Peninsula, Victoria $52
Fresh throughout with notes of cherry powder (not sweet) and a long savory line lifted by fresh evergreen notes. There is a feral wildness to this wine that is at the same time lithe and wirey. Give it a bit more time in bottle to integrate. Nice sapidity and a fresh wash of acidity that will no doubt develop nicely.

Kooyong Estate Pinot Noir 2012 Mornington Peninsula, Victoria $56
A bit muted and tucked in currently, the wine opens with savory aromatics that follows into a palate with still plenty of power and spiced red fruit. Accents of iron and saline. A plush palate with a bit less complexity currently than the other Mornington wines but might unfold with a bit of time in bottle and air upon opening.

Australian Pinot: Flight 3

Flight 3

Dalrymple Estate Pinot Noir 2014 Pipers River Valley Tasmania $44
Nuanced, concentrated, and at the same time delicate aromatics lead to a concentrated core of flavor not from over-extraction but natural fruit density. Rocky and textural with a mix of cherry and currant flavors and a refreshing evergreen lift. The wine feels simultaneously delicate and dense like a swath of handmade embroidered lace gathered into a ball of intricate fabric. There is a lovely textural quality as well as an almost chewy element I find appealing. I look forward to seeing this wine again in a few more years as the fabric has begun to uncurl.

* Tolpuddle Pinot Noir 2014 Coal River Valley Tasmania $75
A fresh pop of nectarine and just underripe red cherry couple with a hint of clove spice that twists into a persistent lift of jalapeño from nose through palate. A bit simple compared to the other wines but in a pleasing and delicious sense. Distinctive with massive aromatics throughout the long finish.

Bindi Dixon Pinot Noir 2015 Macedon Ranges Victoria $65
Fresh aromatics and a savory, rocky, almost perfumed palate. Flavors of a freshly split open cherry tasted close to the pit with savory and spiced notes throughout and a dry finish. A full round mid palate without heaviness or over-extraction finishes snug for a moderate finish.

Australian Pinot: Lunch Wines

Lunch wines

Over lunch we enjoyed several other wines. I did not take notes on these but they are listed as follows.

Si Vintners Halcyon Pinot Noir 2012 Margaret River Western Australia $46

Artisan by Murdoch Hill Phaeton Pinot Noir 2014 Adelaide Hills South Australia $45

Eden Road The Long Road Pinot Noir 2013 Tumbarumba New South Wales $27

Kooyong Massale Pinot Noir 2014 Mornington Peninsula Victoria $38

Holm Oak Pinot Noir 2015 Tamar Valley Tasmania $30

Thank you to Mark Davidson, as always, for including me. 

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Why I Love Smith-Madrone

Charles Smith

I have a horrible big crush on Charlie Smith (shown above). He and his brother, Stu (shown below), express pretty much all of the desirable aspects of masculinity a girl born-and-raised in Alaska now living in California (and in love with wine) could possibly want.

Stu Smith inspecting Chardonnay, March 2013

The affection I feel for them parallels the qualities I enjoy in their Smith-Madrone wines – decidedly California flavor bred through a farmer’s tenacity, beautiful fruit wed to wry minerality with herbal deftness. Layer in the poetry Charles hangs in the winery (shown below), and I’m done for.

The romance of Smith-Madrone

Smith-Madrone Vineyards – farmed by Stu while Charles mans the winery – sit near the top of the Spring Mountain District between 1400 and 1900 ft in elevation, in a mix of volcanic soils and sedimentary rock. The site’s knit through by a forest of deciduous and evergreen with a single, historic alley of olive trees. In 1970, when Stu launched what would become the brothers’ project, Spring Mountain held few vineyards.

A small outcrop community from the Swiss-Italian Colony had previously settled the hillsides, dotting the landscape with vines. Others would follow. The Beringer family expanded its holdings to the Eastern slopes of Spring Mountain in the 1880s. The Gold Rush brought new investors to the region. But with the onset of first phylloxera and then Prohibition, the vines of Spring Mountain vastly diminished. Stony Hill and School House Vineyards were among the first to plant again in the region in the 1950s. Then at the start of the 1970s, Smith-Madrone served as part of the lead pack of young winemakers along with Keenan, Yverdon, Spring Mountain Vineyard and Ritchie Creek, planting the Spring Mountain District hillsides before the value of Napa Valley was widely known.

Today, Smith-Madrone celebrates 44 years, one of the treasures of Napa Valley. Their wines are entirely estate made, the fruit grown in blocks spotted about the site’s steep slopes and hillsides in 34 acres of vines. The property is dry-farmed. They have recently released their 2013 Chardonnay, and 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. Notes below.

Smith-Madrone 2013 Chardonnay

Smith Madrone 2013 Chardonnay

Simultaneously racy and succulent, friendly and focused, the Smith-Madrone 2013 Chardonnay offers fresh aromatics with notes of lemon curd and crisp melon set on a toasted oat cracker. Delicious and pretty with a long finish.

Smith-Madrone 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

Beautiful aromatics of cedar and herbs carry into a palate of iron and spice with mixed dark fruit. The Smith-Madrone 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon carries a surprising composure – ample flavor on a moderate body with a supple-while-snappy backbone of tannin. Mouthwatering acidity balances through a long finish. This is a young, taut wine today that would benefit from a few years in cellar.

Alternatively, it opens significantly on the second and third day with the fruit that sits behind the herbal elements on the first day stepping decidedly to the fore. For those familiar with Smith-Madrone’s green and lean 2011 Cabernet, the 2012 is a completely different animal. The brothers tout the by-vintage character of their winemaking and the Cabernet serves as a perfect illustration of that truth.

***

Happy New Year!

To read more about Smith-Madrone, you can see one of my previous write-ups from a lunch I shared with them in 2013 that was recommended by Eric Asimov for NYTimes.com: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/06/19/a-life-in-wine-stu-and-charles-smith-smith-madrone/

For more recent looks at the Smith brothers’ work, Eric Asimov asks them how Smith-Madrone has handled the drought here http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/26/dining/wine-california-drought.html?emc=eta1 and Esther Mobley of the San Francisco Chronicle considers Cabernet from beyond the hillsides of Napa Valley here http://www.sfchronicle.com/travel/article/Venture-beyond-the-valley-floor-in-Napa-6584745.php. Both articles have paywall restrictions.

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

For Love of Pinot Meunier

Last year I celebrated 12 Days of Christmas by enjoying a different 100% Pinot Meunier every day for 12 days. It was wonderful. Pinot Meunier is the grape that made me irretrievably fall in love with wine. Burgundy and Tuscan Sangiovese were the two wines that had made me start paying attention to wine, but it was Pinot Meunier that ruined me for life.

It’s no small thing that Pinot Meunier won my heart. Though it is widely planted through Champagne, it is actually quite uncommon to find a 100% Pinot Meunier bottling anywhere sparkling or still. So for me to happen upon a still red Pinot Meunier by Eyrie Vineyards rather accidentally early in my wine education is surprising.

Though claims have long been made that the variety doesn’t age, the truth is Pinot Meunier can age wonderfully. I’ve been lucky enough to taste examples of still red Pinot Meunier from as far back as the 1970s that not only held up but developed a sultry earthiness in that delicate frame I couldn’t get enough of.

There has also often been talk of the variety lacking finesse for sparkling wines but, again, with the right vintners that couldn’t be further from the truth. My very favorite examples have been extra brut or no dosage. The fleshiness of the grape seems to do well without added sugar. That said, there are some delicious examples of brut sparkling Pinot Meunier as well. Egly Ouriet brut “Les Vigney des Vrigny” was the first sparkling example I ever tasted years ago and it’s definitely recommended.

Visions from Instagram

Over on Instagram I share photos with explanatory captions when I’m on wine trips or working on detailed projects, like the 12 Days of Pinot Meunier. With the wine trips especially the collection of photos from a particular wine region tend to go fairly in depth and all together share the story of a region.

I’ve been asked by several of my readers if I’d be willing to gather some of these photo sets from Instagram and share them here so that the information is more readily accessible. Over the next several months in the New Year, then, I’ll be posting some of those regional collections here alongside more in-depth features on producers from those regions.

Several people also asked if I’d please share my holiday with Pinot Meunier from Instagram here. With that in mind, here is the collection captured from Instagram in screen shots. Thank you for asking, and enjoy!

Happy Holidays!

12 Days of Pinot Meunier

Day 1: The Eyrie Vineyards 1996 Pinot Meunier

Day 2: La Closerie Les Beguines (2009)

Day 3: Lelarge Pugeot Les Meuniers de Clemence (2010)

Day 4: Breech et Fils Vallée de la Marne (2009)

Day 5: Chartogne-Taillet Les Barres (2009)

Day 6: Best’s Great Western 2012 Old Vine Pinot Meunier

Day 7: Christophe Mignon 2008 Brut Nature 

Day 8: Teutonic 2013 Borgo Pass Vineyard

Day 9: Vineland 2011 Pinot Meunier

Day 10: Darting 2012 Pinot Meunier Trocken; Heitlinger 2009 Blanc de Noir Brut 

Day 11: René Geoffroy 2008 Cumières Rouge Coteaux Champenois. 

Day 12: Lahore Freres Blanc de Noirs 2009 + Rosé de Saignée w Eyrie 2012 Pinot Meunier

To follow me on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hawk_wakawaka/

I also received numerous requests to get Hawk Wakawaka t-shirts back in stock over at my shop. So, Pho t-shirts and Pinot Noir t-shirts are now both available in a range of sizes, as are my biodynamics posters and Corison 25-yr Vertical art prints. Here’s the link: https://www.etsy.com/shop/HawkWakawaka

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Illustrating Sonoma Cabernet

The editors of Wine & Spirits asked me this Fall to take on a rather unusual project. They wanted me to get to know the shape of Sonoma Cabernet. As Joshua Greene, W&S Editor, presented it to me, as a group they could readily articulate the shape of Napa Valley Cabernet. That is, there’s a recognizable character to the famed Valley’s Bordeaux reds but that of those same grapes grown one county West is less well-known. 

Sonoma County stands as the largest of the North Coast counties. With its reach all the way from the Pacific, across several river valleys and into the Mayacamas that separates it from Napa Valley, Sonoma’s growing conditions vary widely. A few pockets in the region capture the ideal warmth-light-and-drainage combination needed for Cabernet. Greene asked if I would focus in on four of these sites, dig into what makes them unique, and articulate how those conditions show in the wine. Through illustration. My task was to draw the sites and wines, not how they taste, but their shape on the palate. 

To be honest, this was one of the hardest projects I’ve done so far in wine. It was an incredible amount of fun at the exact same time that I felt like I was having to change fundamental aspects of my thinking to make it work. Illustrating the shape of a wine and its relation to its site isn’t anywhere near as straightforward as illustrating tasting notes as I usually do here. The resulting illustrations bare imagistic relation to the sites from which they arise but really are meant to show what you’ll find in the bottle. Have you ever had a wine that tastes like a mountain? I drew two. (They taste like very different mountains.)

Having put so much into the project it was a wonderful bonus to then have the editors select my work for the December cover. The illustrations themselves appear flat inside the magazine coupled with text about the project and each of the sites. The editors also printed the illustrations and placed them, as if labels, on bottles for what turned out to be the cover. Here’s a preview… 

Wine & Spirits Dec 2015

The Shape of Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon
text and illustrations by Elaine Chukan Brown

The Pacific coast, the Russian River and the Mayacamas Mountains shape Sonoma County. Vines fill the region, reaching up the ridge lines and blanketing the valleys.

The Coastal Range protects much of Sonoma County from the direct effects of the Pacific Ocean. But thanks to the Petaluma Gap and canyon folds within those coastal mountains, cool maritime air reaches vines throughout the county. It’s a Pacific chill that might only tickle Sonoma’s eastern side, but when I drink finely grown Sonoma County cabernet, I can taste that maritime breeze.

Perhaps it’s that I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time in Sonoma vineyards. I’ve begun to form associations between the conditions of the site and the experience of the wine, to associate angular tannins with mountain vineyards, and fuller, rounder wines with warmer temperatures or more generous soils. The place a wine is grown begins to take shape on the palate. It’s an experience that differs from that communicated in a typical tasting note.

Tasting notes describe a wine’s …

To continue reading pick up a print or electronic copy of the December issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine, available now. The issue includes an in-depth look at five regions from Australia via the recent Sommelier Scavenger Hunt; the year’s best Champagne, Barolo & Barbaresco, US Cabernets, Porto, and others; a dining guide to Montreal (my favorite); a look at pairing food with sweet wines, and more. Here’s a peek inside the December issue: http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/S=0/subscriptions/entry/december-2015

For more information on how to subscribe: https://members.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/Subscribe/Select

Sonoma’s Far Coast: A haven for pinot noir

Wine & Spirits pinot noir

We step out of the forest into a glade where light pours through. Ted Lemon has guided me to the top of a hill at 1,200 feet of elevation in The Haven. He has been farming half of this tenacre property since 2001, using biodynamic methods, and he left half of the land wild.

“This is why it’s called The Haven,” he says of Littorai’s estate vineyard. The surrounding forest and coastal scrub provides animal habitat to foster biodiversity. Behind us, pinot noir, chardonnay and chenin blanc grow from a mix of shale, iron sands, compressed clay and serpentine.

These hills are part of Sonoma’s coastal mountains, most of which remain covered in conifers, too steep for cultivation. Vineyards have only arrived in the last 30 years, almost all planted in the 1990s or later on the gentler slopes and hilltops. (Until 1994, when Williams Selyem, Kistler and Littorai came knocking, even David Hirsch’s now sought-after fruit was going to Kendall-Jackson for blending.)

To read the rest of this article click on over to the Wine & Spirits Magazine website. It’s currently free-for-all there. Here’s the link: http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/S=0/news/entry/sonomas-far-coast-a-haven-for-pinot-noir

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Langmeil The Freedom 1843 Shiraz

Langmeil The Freedom 1843 Vertical Tasting

click on image to enlarge

The world’s oldest still-producing Shiraz vineyard, The Freedom 1843, grows in Barossa near the North Para River. Planted in 1843, with a bit added in 1886, the vines root into alluvial loam and red clay over limestone mixed through with ironstone. Today, 3.5 acres remain of the site.

The old vines survive today thanks to the attention of the Lindner family of Langmeil winery who purchased and resuscitated the site in the mid-1990s. Entirely dry farmed, with deep roots, the vines naturally produce fruit with concentration, firm while supple tannin and mouthwatering acidity.

Langmeil winemakers, Paul Lindner and Tyson Bitter choose to take a hands on, rather minimalist approach to producing wine from The Freedom 1843 vineyard. As such, they also only bottle it as a vineyard designate wine in good vintages (the first bottled in 1997) in order to preserve a sense of site integrity. With only 3.5 acres of the old vines remaining, when produced The Freedom 1843 remains a small production bottling.

The Freedom 1843 wine is made to age, ideally kept in bottle for several years before opening.

Recently I was able to enjoy a four vintage vertical of The Freedom 1843 Shiraz (unfortunately, the 2010 was corked). Following are notes on the four vintages, as illustrated above.

The Freedom 1843 – generally kept 24 months in all-French oak (of varying sizes) before bottling then kept around two years in bottle before release.

2002 – Delicious and sophisticated with nice movement through the palate, the 2002 offers richness housed in a supple mouthfeel with nice focus and a good frame. There is lovely poise here – a strong wine with the balance to stand on point. Showing notes of black and red fruit nose to finish with accents of spiced leather and tobacco leaf, and a band of cedar throughout. The 2002 carries slightly dry fruit currently. Drink soon.

2004 – Showing nuance and complexity with a depth of concentration, the 2004 offers the combination of poise in richness possible from old vines. Offering savory elements throughout a body of dark, earthy fruit and a through-line of cedar, this wine carries notes of tobacco and mint with chocolate and pepper through the finish. Rich and supple with firm tannin and an ultra long finish.

2006 – With a sense of freshness and a stimulating mineral element of wet river rock rolled through saline, the 2006 offers nuance in the midst of richness. The 2004 revels in dark tones – dark while fresh, juicy fruit, deep forest accents, and deep bass notes – carried by mouth clenching acidity through an ultra long finish.

2012 – Under screwcap. Full of energy, pretty and poised, the 2012 brings freshness and exotic perfume to a bright palate of red fruit. With notes of mixed blossom, cedar and a wash of wet river rocks, the 2012 looks to develop its richness in the bottle. This is a vintage meant to age with a nice structural focus and mouthwatering acidity.

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Thank you to Penelope Goodsall.

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.