White Wines

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Respect for Pinot Gris

Pinot gris, aka. Pinot grigio, proves to be one of the most under celebrated of grapes. Thanks largely to a trend towards light touch, or sweet style mass produced wines from the variety, the grape now is often thought of as bland, or lifeless.

Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, however, disagrees, naming Pinot grigio one of the noble varieties, capable of transporting direct expression of its site through its wine. Travels through Friuli support Stuckey’s view. Heritage houses in the region respect the grape. With the local tradition of Ramato style wines, for example, a little skin contact can go a long way to carrying not only copper toned colors, but richer flavor, and stimulating mineral expression. Or, a little lees time, and greater complexity with richness appears.

In Oregon, David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards too believed in the value of Pinot gris, establishing the first plantings of the variety in the new world in 1965, and the first vintage in 1970. In 1976, and then again in the late 1980s, Lett established further plantings of the grape. Lett’s belief was that when grown well, and vinified to allow varietal expression, Pinot gris could produce fresh, flavorful wines.

Eyrie 2012 Estate Pinot Gris

Eyrie’s Estate Pinot Gris consistently offers ridiculous value. Part of its secret rests in vine age, with a huge portion of the fruit coming from vines planted in the 1970s, giving flavor concentration and complexity. Lett’s vision placed Pinot gris as the perfect pairing for salmon, rather than Chardonnay, illustrating Eyrie’s ability to combine flavor with fresh acidity, and mineral length through the variety.

The Eyrie 2012 Estate Pinot gris offers the expressive fruit liveliness of the vintage, with lots of freshness, and mineral crispness at only $15-19 per bottle. It’s sick. Expect fresh melon, accents of lily with greenery, and a hint of rhubarb on tons of crunchy mineral length. This wine is all about palate stimulation, and making your mouth water without gouging your pocket book.

Eyrie 2012 Original Vines Pinot Gris

Eyrie Pinot Gris Original Vines 2012click on image to enlarge

In 2011 Eyrie President and Winemaker, Jason Lett, launched a special bottling of Pinot gris made only from fruit of the original Eyrie Pinot Gris planting established in 1965. It proved to be one of my favorite wines of last year.

For 2012 he continued the project, again vinifying juice from only the original vines for their own cuvée. The wine is aged in old, large wood casks, or tun, remaining on lees for a year, with slow malolactic fermentation to bring a mid-palate creaminess to the intense vibrancy of the fruit.

The 2012 Original Vines proves to be ultra stimulating, offering thrilling acidity and freshness coupled with loads of flavor. The fruit forwardness of the vintage shines here on the wines pink-lightning structure. This wine has definite perspective. No questions asked. Just fresh fruit, mineral-zing truth. I am in love.

If you’re near Oakland, Bay Grape on Grand carries the Original Vines Pinot Gris. It’s a super secret, ultra limited stash so get there quickly and shh…

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

 

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Growing the Vinho Verde: The Wines of OLO

In the Basto zone of Vinho Verde, Jorge Quinta of OLO at Quinta de Val-Bôa grows white wines that bring together lifted texture–all lightness and length–with rich flavor. It’s a young project that has already garnered international attention, carrying distribution in the UK, and being regarded as one of the best wines of Portugal for 2014.

Basto Region of Vinho Verde  view from the front of Quinta dd Val-Bôa in the Basto zone of Vinho Verde

The project brings together long-standing friends Jorge Quinta and Dirk Niepoort. Prior to his venture into winegrowing, Quinta owned one of the top restaurants of Oporto, through which he and Niepoort’s father, Eduard, developed their most popular dish, pepper steak served with young vintage port. Sitting to lunch at Quinta’s table with the two men–Jorge and Dirk–feels like I’ve been invited into a great intimacy. I don’t glimpse all the details of its history, but I can feel the comfort between them.

Jorge Quinta pouring his brutoJorge Quinta pouring his OLO 2012 bruto, sparkling white Vinho Verde

Outside we begin the meal with Quinta’s 2012 bruto–a fully dry sparkling white Vinho Verde that carries a textural richness and purity refreshing alongside the salty meats and fish we’re eating. We’ve been served charcuterie, and what Quinta calls fried sardines though they look and taste just like smelts, small fish I grew up eating in Alaska.

The joke there has always been that you know you’re family if you’re invited to share smelts. The little fish are eaten whole like a breadstick from head to tail with the guts and bones intact. Cooking them smells up the house so much you have to be comfortable alongside the person you share them with.

Niepoort explains he wants Quinta to hold the 2012 bruto, and not release a sparkling wine until the 2013 is ready. The 2012 is delicious but Niepoort believes it will be insightful to see how the wine develops over time.

1906 beer casks at Quinta da Val BoaAs we snack through the foods outside, Quinta describes a sort of experimental traditionalism. He wants to make wines of his region, but avoid knowing in advance exactly how they’ll be made. It’s a balance of making crucial decisions in advance, while avoiding a formula. “One of the most important things,” Quinta tells us, “is the point of the harvest. Without that there is no point, you have to adjust to it.” Each vintage, he explains, puts differing demands on the grower-winemaker. You decide what to do in response to those demands, rather than deciding in advance the wine you’ll produce.

As Quinta describes his goals, he excitedly points out his newest acquisition for the winery — two large casks he will use to make rosé. As he explains, five of the casks arrived in Portugal from Denmark in 1910 full of beer. He has no idea how old the casks were at the time. His father-in-law acquired them next to make red Vinho Verde. In the last year, Quinta received two of the five. They’ve been without wine in them now for six years, so he’s been soaking them to prepare the wood for next year’s rosé. After finishing the bruto, we move inside for a sit down lunch.

Val Boa whiteVal Bôa 2013 Vinho Verde

We begin with soup made half of wild mushrooms, and half wild asparagus, both harvested from Quinta’s 3.5 hectare vineyard. Quinta’s VAL-BÔA Vinho Verde pairs beautifully. It is a wine Niepoort describes as all about harmony — the kiss of sweetness balances the high acid so well the two appear together as simply light refreshment on the palate. It would be perfect too alongside spicy Thai food in the place of Riesling.

The VAL-BÔA opens a point Niepoort has come to believe strongly in winemaking. “It is more important to get the acidity right than to get the alcohol right.” He explains. That said, the VAL-BÔA comes in at 11%, the OLO wines at 12.5%. Niepoort’s point is on deciding when to harvest. He makes picking decisions now almost ignoring sugar levels in favor of the preferred acidity. The alcohol will take care of itself. It’s an idea he believes supports the ultimate aging of the wine, and, more importantly, it’s pleasure now. “The point of it is the lightness” of the wine, he says.

OLO Mondim de BastoOLO 2012 Mondim de Basto

We move to the main course. Quinta has chosen to serve us a traditional Portuguese dish, bacalao, of dried cod, and potatoes. That morning though he was also able to take a fresh white fish from a river that runs through the vineyard. They’ve baked it covered in herbs, alongside lightly minted rice. We enjoy both with the core wines of the OLO portfolio — Alvarinho, and Mondim de Basto, a Vinho Regional Minho white blend. The Basto brings together traditional Portuguese varieties–Trajadura, Pedernã, Alvarinho, Avesso e Azal–in a branco (white) blend.

The Mondim de Basto has recently received the country’s top attention. The news is to be released the day after our visit, and Quinta is very pleased. Jaoa Paulo Martins named it one of the top white wines of Portugal for 2014 in his book Vinhos de Portugal, considered the top wine review text for the country.

It’s a beautiful wine that offers incredible lightness amidst intensity of flavor and a creamy midpalate followed by tons of length. When it was first bottled, Niepoort explains, it was one of the best white wines he’d ever tasted from Portugal. Then it refermented in the bottle.

Jorge Quinta showing off his button hole napkin invention“It refermented in the bottle.” Quinta tells us. “I slept on it for three nights.” He points at his eyes. He’s actually saying he barely slept. “I have to either [dump it] or go forward. I decide I go forward, so I had to reopen 17,000 bottles.” To correct the problem they had to open every bottle to filter the wine, then rebottle everything. “Unbelievable amount of work.” Quinta says. The wine is beautiful, but Niepoort clearly misses the magic of what it had been before. For Quinta it’s still a wine to be proud of. Martins’s regard simply affirms it.

OLO AlvarinhoWe pour the OLO 2013 Alvarinho. I smell the wine and am immediately dumbfounded. It’s unlike anything I’ve smelled before, not a typical Alvarinho. It’s as if Quinta anticipates my thoughts. “There is no other Alvarinho like this,” he says. “You can like it or not but there isn’t.”

The wine is confounding but pleasing. It’s all lightness and pungency on the palate, simultaneously strange and attractive. The nose almost spiced, almost sweet, then both disappear. The palate almost hints oak, then stretches through the midpalate into a minutes-long and lifting finish. It’s a wine of contradictions–spicy but not, sweet but not, woody but not, intense but light–held through Niepoort’s idea of harmony.

Jorge QuintaLeaving the restaurant business to open the Quinta de Val-Bôa, Quinta carries what feels like realistic pride in OLO, as well as a new sense of inspiration. His wines are beautiful, and he keeps the achievement in larger perspective. “What I know about wine,” he explains, “is 15%. In that 15% I know a lot. I still have 85% to learn.”

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Quinta de Val-Bôa does not currently have, but is interested in representation in the United States.

Thank you to Dirk Niepoort, Jorge Quinta, and Joao Pires.

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

The Rise of the Rhone Garagiste Rhone Rangers Seminar

This past weekend the Rhone Rangers hosted a panel of eight “Garagiste” winemakers each producing less than 3000 cases of wine for their individual label. Luke Sykora facilitated the discussion crossing a range of wine types and locales. What the wines, selected by the Rhone Rangers Education committee from membership submissions, shared was a well made, food friendly character.

The Rhone Rangers celebrates wines made from Rhone varieties within the United States. Though the largest concentration of winery membership arises from California, Oregon, Washington, and Virginia also join the organization. Membership offers the opportunity to support and select research on Rhone varieties, and participation in both local and national events. The recent Rhone Rangers weekend marked their largest annual event with the largest Rhone wine tasting in the country.

In circumscribing its domain, the Rhone Rangers include 22 grape varieties within their description of Rhone wine. The 22 varieties predominately arise from the Rhone region of France, and include not only the widely planted and better known reds and whites of the area, but also grapes historic to the Valley. Additionally, the group includes Petite Sirah among their allowable grapes. The variety originates as a cross between two Rhone grapes developed in France in the 1880s. Though the variety is not today seen in the Rhone Valley, because of its Rhone parentage, and history of planting with other Rhone grapes in California it is included.

The Rhone Valley has a strong history of blending and co-fermentation of varieties. With that in mind, the Rhone Rangers count wines that blend any of the 22 grapes, as well as wines made to be at least 75% from Rhone varieties.

Most of the 22 Rhone varieties are planted in very small number within the United States. The truth is that Rhone wines still represent a small portion of the overall wine market with far more plantings rooted in the popular varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, as two examples. As a result, Rhone varieties are generally planted to small acreage.

For larger producers such small plantings are often used as a sort of spice box accent within a larger blend, sometimes still named by its predominate variety. A Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, might be given extra heft by an accent of Petite Sirah. However, the fruit of lesser known varieties often sells for far less than the commonly known types. For smaller producers, it can be almost impossible to afford the cost of well-known grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. Small plantings of unusual grapes, then, offer a more affordable option, but also the chance to work with something new without the pressures of market expectation. The Garagiste winemaker, then, represents the unexpected freedom of experimentation given by a shoestring budget, and a glimpse into the still uncharted possibilities of quality wine.

The Wines of the Garagiste Rhone Rangers Panel

The Rhone Rangers Garagiste panel offered the chance to taste from the range of 22 varieties and their blending opportunities, including some of the lesser known of the Rhone grapes, as well as some of the classics. As mentioned, what the 8 wines selected shared was a well made, food friendly character. Pleasing juiciness was a common theme across the tasting. Following are notes on the 8 wines.

Acquiesce Winery, Lodi, 2013 Picpoul Blanc Estate
presented by Sue Tipton, 65 cases

Offering a 100% Picpoul for her 2013 bottling, Acquiesce Winery‘s Picpoul Blanc showcases the “lip sting” element definitive of the variety through tons of juiciness. However, the wine surpasses the singular acid focus often found with the grape, to give a vibrant lift through the palate with a softening finish. The 2013 brings a nice range of fruit characteristics including white and pink grapefruit peel with touches of pear blossom and a lightly floral musk finish. The flavors couple with the juiciness to tumble across the palate into a long finish.

Caliza Winery, Paso Robles, 2012 White Blend “Sidekick”
presented by Carl Bowker, Roussanne/Viognier, 125 cases

The Caliza Winery white blend comes from limestone and shale soils near the cooler Templeton Gap of Paso Robles. The wine offers floral chalk and dried floral aromatics and palate moving through a juicy mid-palate and into a long, increasingly juicy, cracked white and green pepper finish. There is nice tension through the palate here and a good balance of rounded flavors with long energetic lines.

* Stark Wines, Healdsburg, 2012 Viognier
presented by Christian Stark, 125 cases

Based in Healdsburg but sourcing fruit from the granite soils of the Sierra Foothills, Stark offers a nicely focused, well balanced expression of Viognier giving just a kiss of tropical flower Viognier is known for without any sweetness. The floral elements show in softened, clean presentation run through with a nerviness throughout, carrying into an ultra long juicy finish. There is a nice blend of elements here — great juiciness with a softened aromatic, and a light pinch of dryness on the finish.

* Two Shepherds, Santa Rosa, 2013 Grenache Gris Rosé
presented by William Allen, 35 cases

Drawing from 100+ year old, dry farmed vines in Mendocino, Two Shepherds delivers a pink-red fruit-and-floral spiced example of the uncommon variety. The wine offers delicate (without weakness) flavor complexity with a slippery mouthfeel and crunchy, lightly drying finish. The focus here is on clean fruit expression and juiciness with integrated natural fruit spice.

Ranchero Cellars, Paso Robles, 2010 Carignan, Columbini Vineyard
presented by Amy Butler, 150 cases

Based in Paso Robles, but sourcing Carignan from 90+ year old vines in Mendocino County, Ranchero Cellars delivers vibrant while dark aromatics with a body of earthy fruit and flower of wild rose and dark floral musk, touched by a faint mint lift. This is a super juicy wine with easy tannin grip and a moderately long drying finish.

Folin Cellars, Gold Hill, 2010 Red Blend “Misceo”
presented by Rob Folin, 40% Syrah 40% Mourvedre 20% Grenache, 225 cases

Celebrating Rhones in Southern Oregon, Folin Cellars gives a classic, well balanced Rhone red blend with a focus on dark fruit and floral accents, integrated through with natural fruit spice character and a moderately long cracked pepper finish. There is nice palate tension and texture on this wine. It’s offers a drying palate, juicy enough for movement, and clean fruit expression. This is a wine perfect for salumi.

* MacLaren Wine Co, Sonoma, 2010 Syrah Judge Family Vineyard
presented by Steve Law, 122 cases

With fruit from Bennett Valley, the MacLaren Wine Co offers a ton of yes!-ness in really a pretty, while hard to describe Syrah. The wine opens to pretty, round aromatics with menthol accents, then turns into a super juicy palate of dark rock and quartz mineral crunch, and savory earth elements brushed through with floral lines. The wine gives a surprising, clean, floral presentation with an earthy underbelly and integrated spice and herbal elements. I vote yes!

Kukkula, Paso Robles, 2012 Red Blend “Noir”
presented by Kevin Jussila, 86% Syrah 14% Counoise, 149 cases

From the Westside of Paso Robles, the Kukkula red blend presents dark cherry and alpine strawberry fruit candy aromatics moving into a juicy palate of dark plum with blossom, wild violet musk, and menthol with cracked pepper finish. The wine moves from floral aromatics into a musky juicy palate. There is just enough tannin grip for a pleasing mouthfeel but the focus is on juiciness and length.

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Thank you to the Rhone Rangers and Luke Sykora.

Thank you to William Allen.

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

Tasting Nagy Wines with Clarissa Nagy

Nagy Portfolio

click on image to enlarge

Focusing on two whites and two reds, Clarissa Nagy offers wines with a focus on fresh aromatics, clean fruit presentation, with tons of juiciness. Nagy’s touch as a winemaker is wines with a lot to give through a delicate presentation moving with a heart of strength.

While also making Syrah from Los Alamos, her Nagy Wines showcase the style of Santa Maria Valley — pretty and feminine floral fluit notes carrying an integral spice element on a body of juicy mineral length and easy, while present, tannin. The wines throughout are beautifully clean, and fine, with lovely concentration, expressive while retaining that delicate touch.

Giving crisp and fresh floral aromatics with a hint of wax, Nagy’s 2011 Pinot Blanc moves into crisp, fresh length through the palate. The wine offers a vibrant stimulation of citrus through the mid-palate rolling into touches of wax and white pepper on the finish, with a seaside mineral crunch throughout.

Nagy’s 2012 Viognier carries mixed floral notes coupled with a present and mouthwatering citrus element and mineral crunch that bring a dynamic balance to the wine.

The reds from Nagy are my favorite. The 2010 Pinot Noir gives nicely open, pretty aromatics with wild edges touched by sea sand. The palate carries a pretty balance of juiciness and length to light tannin traction, giving the integrated spice room to touch the mouth. The fruit here is clean and juicy.

I really enjoy Nagy’s 2010 Syrah from White Hawk Vineyard. The site produces incredibly tiny berries and low yield, with Nagy taking fruit from a hillside section. The combination leads to an inky, almost brooding Syrah lifted by Nagy’s utterly clean, fresh fruit focus. The wine hits the balance of lightness with genuine concentration on the nose brought into lots of juiciness and length on the palate. This Syrah is all red rose with mountain violet, dark rocks, and sea sand texture with a Shawarma core, that touch of bbq crackle spice that brings something to chew on. It’s a natural spice integral to the fruit itself.

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The Nagy Wines website: http://nagywines.com/

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Thank you to Clarissa Nagy.

Thank you to Sao Anash.

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

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I am traveling and as a result, relying on a different scanner than usual. The color quality of the drawings posted here, then, are different than I would normally expect. Please excuse the change.

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Three Santa Maria Valley Chardonnays

Last week I took the full 7 days to focus on a cleansing diet, eating only vegetables for the duration. By the end of my week without wine, sugar, salt, or coffee I’d stopped craving chocolate chip cookies, and realized the thing I looked forward to tasting again was finely crafted chardonnay.

Chardonnay at its best is an almost perfect grape. Grown in the right location, made with the right hands, it gives a balance of fruit expression on mineral drive, with light phenolics and juiciness for days that is hard to argue with. (In fact, good chardonnay obliterates argument as it hums through your mouth with juicy joy.) The grape’s recent history of shame cannot cover over the potential for the genuine beauty it offers.

Santa Maria Valley, in the northern portion of Santa Barbara County brings together the ripening flavor potential of ample UV exposure with a climate that carries a persistent inland wind, and daily fog movement, as well as unique soils. The result is lean focused, mineral-laced chardonnay with a presentation moving from floral through fruit on juicy juicy length.

Recently I was able to taste through a number of Santa Maria Valley chardonnays. Following are four of my favorites from three labels.

Falcone Family Wines

Falcone 2012 Chardonnayclick on the image to enlarge

The Falcone Family Wines focuses their winemaking primarily on fruit from their own Templeton Gap-influenced property in San Luis Obispo. However, they also make one chardonnay from the Sierra Madre Vineyard of Santa Maria Valley. The site carries unique clonal plantings for California. The Falcone Family’s chardonnay celebrates the uniqueness of the site, bringing long mineral lines to a wine with layers of flavor on a clean, focused and juicy palate. The citrus aspects move through the whole range of blossom, to zest, accented by smooth nut notes, all cascading through mineral length.

Paul Lato Wines

Paul Lato 2010 Chardonnayclick on image to enlarge

Paul Lato Wines offer focused intensity humming on the rich side of finesse. His Santa Maria Valley chardonnay deepens into savory notes with age, holding onto its core of vibrancy and length. His “le Souvenir” shows off the advantages of the Valley, also drawing on the unique Sierra Madre site, bringing both a lot of juiciness and sapidity through an ultra long finish. The flavors are surprising as they give notes of olive leaf and lemon salt touched by hints of beeswax. The mineral crunch throughout couples with juiciness to keep the palate watering through a long finish.

Riverbench

Riverbench 2012 Chardonnayclick on image to enlarge

Clarissa Nagy stepped into the winemaking at Riverbench with the 2012 vintage. She brings to Riverbench her talent in winemaking, with her wines consistently carrying a delicate presentation moving through a heart of strength. Nagy’s wines celebrate the structure and juiciness of Santa Maria, while also bring the focus to the Valley’s pretty flavors. The Estate and Bedrock chardonnays bring a slightly different style focus to the Riverbench fruit, with Bedrock focusing in on the clean, lean juiciness offered by stainless steel fermentation, and the Estate giving the textural, ultra light toast touch possible with barrel fermentation. Both wines are beautifully made, with the focus on a range of feminine citrus elements and lots of length.

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

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Tatomer Wines

Tasting with Graham Tatomer is an experience in site expression. His Tatomer wines are built to age, full of tautness, and length with flavors that uncoil into ample presence with age and air. Combining hands-on attention in his vineyards with winemaking built for stability, Tatomer wines are an expression of excellence in craftsmanship. They’re also unique for the state of California as he funnels his years of winemaking experience through a genuine dedication to the quality of Austrian grape heritage. To deepen his knowledge of the grapes of that country he worked his way into not only an interest in the wines there, but also wine work there over several years. Such grounded follow-through of intention shown in Tatomer’s winemaking history expresses the sense of authenticity felt while tasting the wines. Tatomer wines are just plain well-made, and a pleasure to drink.

Gruner Veltliner and Riesling are not common in the state of California, though plantings can be found.

Tatomerclick on image to enlarge

Gruner Veltliner

For Gruner, Tatomer sources from two uniquely different sites. His only San Luis Obispo vineyard, the Paragon in Edna Valley, gives him a clean and delicate, while present, aromatic expression of the grape. The wine is wonderfully textural, with a sense of quartz crystal crunch though the palate, giving touches of almond paste and pear blossom, accented by cracked white and green pepper corn. The Paragon carries a core of clean and poised strength. I really enjoy the ultra clean length of this wine.

The Paragon drinks like alpine water to the Meeresboden Gruner Veltliner’s ocean water. Where the Paragon is ultra clean, refreshing, cold water from the mountains, the Meeresboden carries the touch of sea sand slurry, and saline element only found at oceanside. The Meeresboden Vineyard rests within Santa Barbara County. It gives peach blossom and beach grass aromatics with that ocean shore note already mentioned. On the palate, the flavors roll into yellow flowers with ground almonds through an ultra long finish.

Riesling

Planted in 1968, the Sisquoc Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley gives textural white and clear aromatics, rolling into a palate showing notes of wet sand and river rocks, an inner core of faint petrol surrounded by crisp bread, all touched by tons of juiciness with red cherry and lime through a long textural finish. The Sisquoc carries the most intensity of the Rieslings. I love the texture. I love this wine.

The Vandenberg and Kick-on Rieslings both come from Kick-on Ranch, an incredibly cold vineyard site so far west in Santa Ynez it falls outside the Sta Rita Hills boundaries. Tatomer explains that he is able to implement viticultural knowledge learned in Austria especially at this particular site, and focuses a good amount of energy on the farming practices used on his block. The two wines are distinguished in selection and vinification methods. The Kick-on Riesling draws from only ultra-clean fruit with a little bit of skin contact picked a bit earlier. The Vandenberg takes advantage of hints of botrytis before real flavor concentrating impact, to give the final wine deepened flavor.

The Vandenberg Riesling offers white and yellow aromatics with hints of golden raisin bread moving into the most breadth of flavor showing almond and peach leaf through a smooth rolling palate, lots of juiciness and length. The Kick-on Riesling carries mint accents on almond leaf and dried jasmine flower, with the most focused flavor of the three Rieslings moving through tons of juiciness, and length with a strong but easy focus.

Looking Ahead for Tatomer

In 2013, Tatomer also started making Pinot Noir. In moving into red wine for the label, he chose to work with a dark, more tannic vineyard expression of the grape, and then treat it with a lighter touch in the cellar. The combination brings a lot of structure to the wine, with a more elevated palate. Keep an eye out for Tatomer Pinot Noir.

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For more on Tatomer Wines: http://www.tatomerwines.com/pages/wines

To read more on Graham Tatomer and his wines check out Jon Bonné’s recent article naming Tatomer one of 2014’s Winemakers to Watch: http://www.sfgate.com/wine/article/Winemaker-to-Watch-Graham-Tatomer-5174137.php

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Thank you to Graham Tatomer.

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

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Drinking White Stone and White Bones Chardonnay

The light hugged up against the Andes in the Gualtallary zone of the Uco Valley glows. The atmosphere is thin at such high elevation. It pinches to breathe. The intensity of sunlight changes, comes less filtered from less air, literally more radiation, or ultraviolet reaching the surface of the earth. The air itself shows luminous.

At the Western-most edge, the Adrianna Vineyard pushes through sand and lime into a nest of seashell laden, fossilized white stones. Roots of chardonnay wrestle for water here, the vines surrounded by stark temperatures of the highland plateau.

The thought of an old seabed at 4800 feet/1450 meters stuns me–the white, fist-size rocks full of ocean evidence. We are standing at the foot of the Andes in luminous light, surrounded by stark landscape in air so thin it hurts to breathe–standing on ground the result of missing water.

The Andes through White Stones Chardonnay

the Andes through White Stones Chardonnay

Catena Zapata White Stones and White Bones Chardonnays originate as two separate block designates in the Adrianna Vineyard. Further East, the White Stones block riddles through with rounded white stones bringing calcium concentration to the already limestone rich plot. 400-yards West, the White Bones block rushes with fossilized seashells. Between, a meter deep well of sand separates the two.

We visit the high-elevation vineyard standing beside holes dug in between the vines as soil studies to view the distinctions between the multiple blocks. Then we move to the side and taste the wines.

Catena Zapata’s high elevation chardonnays deliver a taste of their mountains’ luminous austerity. The flavor presentations beautifully confuse, giving simultaneously a sense of delicacy and richness. Where the White Stones offers intense, lean mineral texture, the White Bones layers an additional viscosity of floral flavor. Both carry a structural core of energetic strength with juiciness, enough to stand up to foods unexpected for Chardonnay–spiced meats, empanadas, even espresso I discover when I taste the wines again later.

The 2009s showcase the lean high-elevation focus of whites grown in such a unique zone. Comparing them to the 2010s, however, highlights the additional softening (though slight–these wines are not in themselves soft) and flavor of an extra vintage. The 2010s come in right now more clear and focused by comparison. All four of these wines–two Chardonnays in two vintages–offer beautiful focus with presence that is thrilling.

***

2010 is the current release vintage of both Chardonnays. Some 2009s are still available in the US market.

Thank you to Laura Catena, David Greenberg, and Marilyn Krieger.

Thank you to Mary Orlin, Mary Gorman-McAdams, Kelly Magyrics, and Alyssa Vitrano.

For distribution information: http://www.catenawines.com/eng/locate/north-america.html

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Tasting with Sandi Skerk

Sandi Skerk

Sandi Skerk and his 2009, 2010 Ograde White blend

Kevin Wardell of Bergamot Alley in Healdsburg, Cailfornia opened his doors early yesterday to a small industry tasting of Skerk wines. The event was guided by both Sandi Skerk himself, and importer Oliver McCrum of Oliver McCrum Wines, and hosted too by Kris Clausen of Vinifera Marketing.

The team selected side by side vintages of four wines central to the Skerk portfolio, as well as a preview of upcoming releases, and a not-for-sale passito.

Skerk originates at the Italy-Slovenia intersection of Karst (or Carso), so named for the geological formation of the same name that dominates the area. The region sits atop a bed of limestone, shaped and hollowed by movements of water, then layered over with shallow red-iron soils. Skerk’s own cellar rests along a limestone hollow with holes in the floor blowing fresh sea-influenced air from below.

Vineyards only a short distance from the Adriatic, and grown up hillsides North of Trieste, Skerk exemplifies the magical, quiet presence of the region. His wines and personality both showcase a steady persistence, carried on fine frame, with elegant aromatics, and savory delicate palate.

It is hard to describe the stimulation and life found in a glass of Skerk wine — they are simultaneously clean, and unexpected; at once pretty and yet carrying notes of meat; the palate persists through delicate frame full of sapidity and Italian salato. These are wines designed to showcase tradition and elegance both.

Skerk’s family carries a history of winemaking, though Sandi’s own professional training begins with mechanical engineering. Eventually choosing to return to the family business, Sandi began in 2000 experimenting with techniques practiced by his grandfather.

As Skerk explains, in his grandfather’s generation, winemaking typical to the region fermented all white grapes together on skins, and all reds together on skins. Macerated ferments normally lasted 10 days to two weeks, before being pressed and aged. Skerk’s father focused instead on straight-to-press practices, fermenting whites’ juice only.

In 2000, Sandi returned to experimenting with extended fermentation on skins lasting around 30 days. In his most recent vintages, Skerk has reduced maceration length to 2 weeks, bringing his approach closer to that originally used by his grandfather.

Grapes are picked based on taste, with beautiful juiciness and clean aromatics consistently showing through his wines. By utilizing only pristine fruit, Skerk is able to avoid sulfur additions until prior to bottling.

Skerk keeps his cellar techniques disciplined while also straightforward, choosing to keep a steady eye on helpmates like pristine picked fruit, CO2, and submerged cap. The wines are kept on lees until a month prior to bottling, to further support the wines’ own natural immune system. In this way, Skerk is able to keep free sulfur targets around only 20 ppm.

Tasting Skerk Wines

Skerk portfolio

Skerk Vitovska 2009 and 2010

Indigenous to the region, Vitovska grows with thick skins and big bunches. Skerk head trains his Vitovska in order to encourage smaller berry and bunch size, thus increasing the skin-to-juice ratio for his macerated ferments.

The aromatics of all Skerk wines are greatly increased from his reliance on skin contact. With scents of fruit-based (not oak) nutmeg and cardamom integrated into the apricot blossom and orange spice of the nose, the 2009 cascades into savory flavors of prosciutto, pepper and melon on the palate. This wine exemplifies the Italian idea of salato and sapidity–intensive mouth stimulation with savory, mineral salinity.

The 2010 drinks like picnic on the sea shore, with orange and apricot blossom laced through with clove aromatics, followed by prosciutto on a touch of melon and breadstick, hints of red berries and salty seagrass on the finish.

Skerk Malvazija 2010 and 2011

Made with the Malvasia Istriana grape, the 2010 Malvazija shows pretty aromatics of pink and yellow flowers, followed by a tightly focused palate that opens significantly with air to reveal crisp apple, quince, touches of red currant and black cap. The wine is both savory and floral, with beautiful integration, and long palate stimulation.

Malvazija 2011 gives apple blossom, pink tea rose, crisp apple, and quince, giving savory palate notes of rock salt, cracked pepper, and mineral crunch. The wine offers textural richness and a long finish. The 2011 Malvazija will be available for release in February 2014.

Skerk Ograde 2009 and 2010

Made in a cofermented blend of Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon, Vitovska, and Malvasia Istria, the Ograde offers the sophisticated, fine boned, complexity possible with a harmony of grapes. I enjoy Skerk wines very much generally, but this was my first taste of the Ograde. I especially enjoyed it.

Skerk 2009, 2010 Ogradeclick on illustration to enlarge

Giving pretty floral aromatics, followed by textural savory palate, the 2010 shows herbal aspects, to the 2009’s lightly jalapeno notes. Where the 2009 offers pink and fresh floral apects, the 2010 crisp white notes. These are beautiful wines.

Skerk Terrano 2009 and 2010

Made with the Teran grape, Skerk’s Terrano carries bright red fruit acidity coupled with savory plum, and touches of pickled cherry. The 2009 opens with pink floral and plum blossom, moving into prosciutto, black pepper, and long savory, salato finish. The 2010 offers plum and cherry blossom, alongside the savory palate, with pickled cherry, and refreshing cucumber moving with beautiful length. This is an ideal wine for crusted, medium rare, red meat.

(Not for Sale) 2010 Passito Terrano

We closed the tasting with Skerk’s hand-bottled Terrano passito. The wine offered a beautiful example of juicy-to-sweet balance, concentrated red currant, cranberry, and blackcap, moving into an impressive savory finish. A hand written home bottle is a special joy of mine. What a treat to enjoy this one all the way from Carso.

***
Thank you to Sandi Skerk, Oliver McCrum, and Kris Clausen.

Thank you to Sam Bilbro, Megan Glaab, and Kevin Wardell.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

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Tasting Brooks with Janie Brooks Heuck

A couple of weeks ago Janie Brooks Heuck and Revel Wine hosted a Brooks Riesling tasting at 18 Reasons in San Francisco. The event brought together a small group of writers and wine industry folks to taste through four flights including two dry Riesling verticals, one 2012 horizontal showing soil variation, and one off-dry to sweet style flight.

The grape has been planted through the Willamette Valley since the early stages of their industry, however, initial styles were largely unsuccessful. Most early examples are today jokingly compared to Sprite. The future of Riesling in Willamette Valley became uncertain, then, when many early planters of the variety began pulling vines to shift attention to the more sale-able Chardonnay.

Jimi Brooks, however, saw potential in the Valley’s cool climate viticulture for the grape. He wished to preserve the heritage Riesling plantings in the region, with the idea that older vines would also produce higher quality fruit. He spent years hunting old vineyards, and convincing vineyard owners if they kept their vines, he’d buy their harvest. Some of the oldest Riesling vines in Willamette, then, continue today thanks partially to Jimi’s work. Brooks Wines now owns one of the oldest Riesling vineyard in the region, planted in 1974 on own roots.

Following are drawn notes, and brief information for each of the four flights tasted.

Tasting Dry Rieslings

Brooks Willamette Valleyclick on illustration to enlarge

Brooks’ winemaker, Chris Williams, ferments everything in small lots, then generating the best blend.

The Brooks’ Willamette Valley dry Riesling consists primarily of Brooks’ Estate fruit, with some grapes from sites further up Valley as well. The Willamette Valley blend flight began with the 2004 vintage, Chris’s first vintage as winemaker for Brooks. The second wine, 2007, was the coldest vintage on record at the time, later trumped for depth of chill first by 2010, and finally by 2011, the current coldest on record. 2009, on the other hand, was one of the Valley’s hottest vintages, with consistently higher yields and higher alcohols throughout Willamette. The first flight, then, shows a generous range of climate impact on the Willamette Valley blend, with lots of youth still throughout the four wines. The Willamette Valley blend is considered one of Brooks’ flagship whites. It reliably offers intense juiciness and linear character. I am a fan of its focus on mouth quencing acidity.

Brooks Araclick on illustration to enlarge

Another flagship white for Brooks, the Ara offers pretty floral notes alongside juicy length, countering the more linear character of the Willamette Valley blend. The five-year span on the Ara flight showed how beautifully the wine ages, with 2005 carrying a still youthful presentation.

Brooks 2012click on illustration to enlarge

In order to showcase the soil variation expressed through Riesling, Janie and Chris selected a 2012 horizontal of their three dry wines. The Yamhill grows from sedimentary soils giving a complex, multi-fruit focused presentation consistently showing peach and green apple through vintages. The Estate fruit, however, grows from volcanic soils and moves to a more floral and citrus focus. The Ara offers a blend of both soil types bringing the advantages of each with plush fruit character, lifted floral aromatics, and long juicy lines.

Tasting Off-dry and Sweet Rieslings

Brooks Off-Dry Sweetclick on illustration to enlarge

Today, Brooks produces nine different Riesling labels ranging through each step of the dry-to-sweet range. Though the overall tasting was focused primarily on dry wines, the final flight offered insight into their medium-dry and sweet styles.

Chris likes to entertain the sweet-to-juicy balance, letting the acidity focus wash the residual sugar from the palate. Though my preference falls strongly in the dry category of Rieslings, Brooks off dry, off sweet, and sweet wines have consistently proven pleasant to drink. With the winemaker’s focus on keeping acidity up, and Willamette’s cooler climate supporting that goal, their wines with residual sugar move through the palate with lots of palate stimulation and juicy length. The final flight, as well as the dry flights, showed again the quality of Brooks’ Rieslings. I am a fan.

***
Thank you to Janie Brooks Heuck, Chris Williams, and Dan Fredman.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com