Le Metro + Hawk Wakawaka Mentions in LA Times + Washington Post

Le Metro and Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews Mentions

Los Angeles Times features Le Metro

In the last two weeks both the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post have printed write-ups on Le Metro: Wine. Underground, with recommendations for Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews included.

Aaron Epstein started a great wine service through Le Metro. It’s fantastic to see it getting recognition. I’m psyched to be included, as working with him and illustrating the monthly zine has been a lot of fun right from the start.

Check out the articles yourself through the links that follow!

Here’s a direct link to the article in the Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/food/dailydish/la-dd-two-unusual-southern-california-wine-clubs-20140321,0,4611380.story#axzz2wwFIi7g6

Here’s a direct link to the article in the Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/boutique-wines-how-to-find-and-acquire-them/2014/03/10/78953810-a349-11e3-84d4-e59b1709222c_story.html

For more on Le Metro: http://lemetrowine.com/

Congratulations to Aaron, and Le Metro for the awesome mentions!

Cheers!

A Taste of Nagy Wines

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

A Quick Look at 3 Santa Maria Valley Chardonnays

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

Considering the Role of Vine Age: #IPOB SF 2014

A Look at the Idea of Vine Age

The morning at In Pursuit of Balance began with a fascinating seminar on Vine Age, facilitated by Alder Yarrow. The panel proved particularly special for its participants, and their wealth of experience both in winemaking, and with vineyards that have helped define the possibilities for California terroir, including the oldest continuously producing Pinot Noir vineyard in the state. The panelists included Michael McNeill of Hanzell, Steve Matthiasson of Matthiasson, Adam Tolmach of Ojai, and Pax Mahle of Wind Gap.

The center piece of the discussion came in distinguishing between three general age ranges of vines.

Young vines have yet to adjust to their site, and as such show a lot of exuberance in their growth and crop production but not a lot of balance with the conditions offered by the particular site. As Matthiasson explained, with young vine vineyards a lot of work is done to mimic appropriate adjustment to the site — reducing crop size, dealing with canopy growth, removing excessive shoots, etc. Matthiasson likes to say because these younger vines haven’t gone through multiple vintages yet, it’s as if they don’t have memory of various climatic conditions effects on their growth, and thus how to respond to them. In the panel, he compared young vines to a teenager — they have a ton of exuberance but not a lot of self-control. By ten years these vines tend to have reigned in their excessive growth somewhat and as a result express some innate responsiveness to the place in which they are growing.

Matthiasson elucidated the issues with young vines pointing out that by definition they have shallower roots. As a result, they have less physical potential for handling stress in their environment. As a result, Matthiasson said, “you can really hurt a vine letting it do what it wants when it’s young.” From a viticultural point of view, then, a lot of work goes into maintaining young vine vineyards. Looking at it from the wine side, there are also flavoral differences. The panel agreed that younger vines tend to be more fruit focused in their flavor expression.

Most of the panel overtly prefered old vines for the complexity and completeness they show in the final wine. In considering the differences, Mahle described wine from old vines, compared to young, as “less overtly fruity with more umami, more broad and expansive.” He went on to clarify that when comparing the two really “the picture is completely different. It’s fascinating to me. It makes wines more interesting. [Old vines wines are] more reserved, and broad, less extroverted.”

Tolmach, however, emphasized that there is value to be found in wine from young vines as well. He distinguished the expression of the two vine ages. In Tolmach’s view, wine from young vines tend to give “a little more linearity and freshness” while older vines offer “a little more breadth.” He stated too though that he believed farming adjustments could be made to help young vines mimic the qualities of old vines. Tolmach also said that it is not only the farming that needs to differ between old and young vines. Picking times must also be adjusted. More recently he has also begun to treat the two differently in the cellar.

Mature vines, on the other hand, have adjusted to their site and hemmed in their vigor to a more reasonable balance with what they can support thanks to the nutritive conditions of their environment. After ten years, vines have become more steady. However, the panel agreed that the move from young to mature vines doesn’t simply happen guaranteed at the ten year mark, and in fact is likely older.

Tolmach emphasized that when a vine moves into a new “age group” depends largely on the particular vineyard. That is, the overall health of the vines, the climate and soil conditions of the place in which it is grown, and the farming all factor into the overall development of a vineyard. Maturity happens when a kind of stasis occurs in the vines — their growth and crop development have come into balance with the nutritive conditions of the site. To put it another way, mature vines express healthy opportunity for that sites production levels. They are no longer overly exuberant to the point of damaging themselves, and they are not yet hampered by disease or excessive impediment.

The advantage of mature vines is that they are more self-regulating. As McNeill emphasized, however, the important point in these discussions comes with distinguishing mature vines from old vines. There is a tendency in the California wine industry to begin to pull vines a little after the twenty year mark. However, one of the implications in the panel discussion was that twenty years would not be adequate to claiming “old vine” status for a vineyard. The simple reality, then, is that there are few old vine vineyards in the state simply due to current farming practices. Further, because of the AXR rootstock disaster of the 1990s, most vineyards that could potentially have slipped by now into old vine status were pulled and replanted to new rootstock. (Interestingly, Mahle works with still healthy AXR vineyards for some of his wines.)

When considering when we can begin to count a vineyard old, Mahle clarified that the question proves site specific as well. Building on Tolmach’s point about stasis in mature vines, Mahle added that “when vines hit that stasis they are also very site dependent.” That is, the kind of balance seen in mature vines shows their healthy understanding of what the site can offer them for growing potential but that same balance also indicates that the vines’ growth has become dependent on the particular conditions of that site. In other words, how vines grow in one set of growing conditions differs from how it would grow in another. What counts as the balance of a vine is site dependent. As a result, what counts as old vine proves site dependent as well. Thus, a particular age number is not adequate to claiming a site to be old vine.

Thanks to the complexity of old vine wines, there is an easy fetishization that occurs for old vine vineyards. However, such sites tend to be rather peculiar in their growth patterns and as a result demand mostly hand farming, and more specific attention. McNeill stated that vine care in old vine vineyards is best left with highly knowledgeable crew with not only ample experience, but experience with those particular vines.

With this in mind, Matthiasson pointed out that health is what distinguishes old from mature vines. He clarified that by the time vines are moving from mature into old vine status “they tend to have a lot of problems.” Contrary to the shallow root conditions of young vines, old vines tend to have incredibly deep roots, which, to put it simply, means a huge distance from the bottom of the roots to the top of the vine. While we tend to talk about deep roots as an asset, at the same time such distance means genuine vulnerability. Matthiasson points out how much can happen underground to damage or pinch off such roots.

Along with root issues, old vines have also been getting pruned annually for much longer. Matthiasson states that those pruning cuts act as scars that impede water flow through the vine. Older vines have more impediments. Pruning sores also open the vine to virus and disease. “Old vines are just eeking along dealing with being old,” Matthiasson says.

However, these conditions are precisely what support the complexity found in old vine wines. Matthiasson states, “We already know that vines need struggle to develop complexity.”  By the time a vineyard is old, each vine has become not only deeply expressive of its site — it has enough of what Matthiasson calls vintage memory to know how to respond to varying climate and soil conditions — it has also become utterly unique compared to its neighboring vine.

McNeill agreed with Matthiasson’s account while emphasizing what has gone well with old vine vineyards. “By virtue of having old vines, there is something there. The thing about old vines is that someone got it right, whether by luck or by brilliance.” If the vineyard is intact and healthy, someone “got good budwood that grows well, and survives.”

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To watch portions of the discussion (technical difficulty lost part of it):

Part 1: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/44748020

Part 2: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/44748473

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Thank you to Alder Yarrow, Michael McNeill, Steve Matthiasson, Adam Tolmach, and Pax Mahle.

Thank you to Jasmine Hirsch and Raj Parr.

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

 

A Thoughtful Look at Ripeness: #IPOB SF 2014

IPOB Panel on Ripeness: Considering the question of ripeness

The admirable Jamie Goode flew in from Britain to moderate a panel at In Pursuit of Balance this year. In participating he was able too to select the panel topic. With his wealth of knowledge and experience in wine, bringing him to the event proved a smart addition. He selected the topic of Ripeness for discussion, and immediately broadened perspective on the issue. While conversations around ripeness levels in the U.S., and especially California wine, have tended to quickly steer into discussion of alcohol levels, Goode immediately placed the question of ripeness within a broader context.

In explaining what led him to select the subject, Goode said, “I think ripeness is one of the most important factors in terroir.” The insight behind this statement came in him discussing his views of terroir. “There is no single interpretation of terroir. We can have several different intelligent interpretations of a site. The question is if this [particular wine] is an intelligent interpretation of the site.” He then went on to compare the idea of interpreting terroir to a conductor directing an orchestra’s performance of a composition.

I appreciate the insight offered by Goode here as it brings the appropriate complexity to an idea — terroir, or site expression in wine — that is often treated overly simplistically. To belabor the point behind Goode’s comments, the composer has written a piece, but with the music merely noted on paper, the conductor must interpret the best presentation of those notations. There are multiple possible ways to make such an interpretation. It is impossible to decide which is the best interpretation without having first assumed a collection of values that allow one to judge the success or failure of the performance.

Similarly in wine, when discussing ripeness levels, there is a range of potential picking decisions that could be made that fall after overtly green fruit and before the onset of dehydration. How one determines the point of optimal ripeness depends on what kind of wine a person wants to enjoy, that is, what kind of wine they value.

In the ways we talk about wine, it can be easy to insert judgments of optimal ripeness as if it simply is true that a certain style of wine is the best style. Goode’s point that there are multiple intelligent interpretations gets at the point that such judgments are not simply true, they are a matter of preference. It’s a matter of what we want to drink, not of what it’s right to drink. Still, his point retains the importance of parameters as well. That is, the implication behind Goode’s statement that the question is whether this is an intelligent interpretation of site retains the important point that a winemaker can easily go too far and lose site expression in their wine as a result. Some wines just needs grapes, they don’t care for where those grapes came from.

To give example to how a wine can go to far, Goode discussed the role of alcohol in relation to esters. “Certain levels of alcohol masks the aromatic expression of the wine. Alcohol masks the esters.” He then went on to compare such a phenomenon to drinking whiskey. Some whiskey lovers add a bit of water first because doing so changes the alcohol proportions slightly, and in lowering the overall alcohol level the whiskey shows a different aromatic effect. He also explained that studies have been done changing the alcohol levels on the same wine. The study showed that at different alcohol levels the same wine showed distinctly different flavor and aroma.

Ultimately, he stated that wine experience depends upon a synergy of elements — mouthfeel, flavor, alcohol, acidity — and no one factor is adequate to summing up our expectations with wine. In looking at ripeness, Goode selected a kind of galvanizing rod for other aspects to discuss in wine.

The Wines and Winemakers for Discussion

Tyler

Justin Willett of Tyler Winery presented two 2011 Pinot Noirs from Santa Barbara County with the goal of showcasing the distinctness between two appellations of the region, as well as to show what a cool vintage in California looks like. Both sites offered older vines from own rooted plantings.

His Sanford & Benedict Pinot, planted in 1971, offered the intense juiciness and core of strength signature of the Sta Rita Hills with light fruit spice and pepper integrated through raspberry bramble and fruit. The Bien Nacido Pinot, planted in 1973, showed restraint with still ample juiciness compared to the Sta Rita Hills, giving the focus on fruit known to the Santa Maria Valley. The wine offered raspberry and strawberry with hints of rhubarb and integrated fruit spice.

In discussing how he makes his picking decision, Willett explained that he is definitely looking at the juice, rather than just raw fruit. As he points out, in Santa Barbara County the focus is more often on letting the acidity soften, as it is naturally so high through that area, rather than looking more singularly at sugar levels.

Calera

Josh Jensen of Calera in Mt Harlan brought two 2013 barrel samples from the same vineyard picked at different times, as well as his intensely vibrant Versace jeans. (His pants were the ripest wine of the tasting.) As he explained, he likes to dip his toe in at harvest and pick some fruit earlier than he expects to pick in general just to see how its developed. With this in mind, he offered a barrel selection from his 2013 first pick, clarifying that he felt it showed flavors from jumping the gun too early.

The first sample, picked at 22.9 brix, had a nice acid to tannin balance and lots of length showing through flavors of strawberry and crushed green strawberry and strawberry leaf. The overt green notes Jensen felt showcased the idea of picking too early, though he also pointed out that in time such flavors do actually fade (though he implied this would happen over decades).

The second sample, picked at 24.2 brix, gave a strawberry perfume with herbal, red currant touches through the palate. When asked which the attendees preferred, the room overwhelmingly voted in favor of the second, with people also commenting the second wine seemed more complete.

In discussing his views on alcohol and age-ability in wine, Jensen emphasized that the question is still a work in progress. His belief is that higher alcohol levels likely do inhibit age-ability in wine. In considering how he determines picking times he admits they do look at the numbers but the decision is largely based in the flavors of the fruit.

LaRue

Katy Wilson of La Rue brought two different vintages of Pinot from the Rice-Spivak Vineyard on the Sonoma Coast in order to showcase vintage contrast, with the 2010 being a markedly cold year for the region, and 2012 comparatively more normal.

The 2012 Pinot offered peach perfume, with a raspberry-peach and peach skin palate moved through with red cherry and strawberry accents. There was a pleasant acid-tannin balance, and nice length. The 2010 carried a more red-pink focus with strawberry-cherry floral nose followed by a strawberry-cherry mouth with kirsch accents and a touch more pepper. The 2010 offered a stronger core of tension, a ton of juiciness and length.

In explaining her picking decisions, Wilson explained she is not picking based on ripeness and numbers as much as considering each vineyard in relation to the particular vintage and location. She states that she’s turned out to make different decisions each year but one that responds to the fruit showing in that year. For Wilson, the flavor development of the fruit turns out to be an important guide. She says she is looking to pick somewhere between strawberry and cherry in the flavor development of the grapes, but then she jokes that the most important part is getting on your grower’s picking calendar.

Copain

Wells Guthrie of Copain Wines offered two differing vintages of Pinot from the Kiser en Bas Vineyard in Anderson Valley. The 2010 gave raspberry and evergreen aromatics leading into a perfumed palate with dark edges and light fruit aspects of cherry and raspberry. Though none of the wines on the panel were overtly fruity, the Copain wines proved the most enigmatic of the selections also giving a bit more tannin, while still in good balance to acidity, than the other wines.

The 2007 Pinot showed a light cigarbox and cedar aromatic followed by good tension with dark edges and rubbed raspberry oil leaf with strawberry and raspberry backnotes on the palate moved through a long juicy finish.

Guthrie explained that when picking he likes to think of the grapes as fruit you’d be happy to eat. If you’re trying to pick too early you don’t want to eat the fruit — it’s too pert and firm — but at the moment of ripeness the grapes become something you want to bring home and eat. Past that point and the fruit has become shrunken.

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To watch the full discussion: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/44749809

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Thank you to Jamie Goode, Jordan Mackay, Josh Jensen, Wells Guthrie, Katy Wilson, and Justin Willett.

Thank you to Jasmine Hirsch and Raj Parr.

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

 

Hawk Wakawaka Interviewed over at Grape Collective

Interview at Grape Collective

If you haven’t checked out Grape Collective yet, you should. It’s a new site that’s brought together a wealth of good wine writers to look into wine, regions, and people from all over the world.

Today, it happens they decided to interview me. Jameson Fink pushed me into talking about my background in academia as it relates to wine, what personal stories have to do with it, and what it’s like to draw a wine label.

Here’s a preview:

Wakawaka at Grape Collective

To read the interview (subscribe to their newsletter while you’re at it. It’s worth the read): https://grapecollective.com/articles/speakeasy-elaine-chukan-brown-hawk-wakawaka-wine-reviews

Cheers!

Drinking Tatomer Gruner and Riesling

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

How Peruvian Pisco is Made (and some yum drinks)

The History of Peruvian Pisco

Peruvian Pisco celebrates a long history joining the cultures of Europe with those of South America, as well as North America. As the story goes, grape distillation practices used in Spain were brought to the New World along with cuttings for grape vines. Peru began growing and selling wine as early as the 16th century, and is known to have begun making Pisco from freshly made wine as early as the 17th century. The advent of mining in the New World helped spread Pisco throughout the colonies, with boats taking the beverage all the way North into what is now known as California in the 18th century.

Chilé claims the famous Pisco Sour as its national beverage. However, methods for making Chilean and Peruvian Pisco differ significantly. There has also been contestation over where the distilled drink originates. History rests on the side of Peru for Pisco beginning there prior to in Chilé but, ultimately, Chilean Pisco is simply a different beverage that shares the name with one made in Peru. All of that said, there are some wonderful drinks to make with Chilean Pisco, which I’ll focus on in a future post.

An important element that separates the two National types rests in government regulations around Pisco production. Peru maintains strict controls on what can count as Pisco with a focus on developing a pure expression of the grapes used. No water can be added for diluting the alcohol levels. No sugars can be added to increase alcohol levels or alter flavor. No additives of any kind are allowed. After distillation is complete, Pisco must be held at least three months to allow for the flavors and composition of the beverage to settle. However, such aging must occur in a vessel that does not impact the purity of flavor — stainless steel or glass are most commonly used. Wood is not allowed.

How Peruvian Pisco is Madeclick on image to enlarge

The beauty of Pisco rests in its pure aromatic expression of the grape. Peruvian Pisco in particular focuses on creating an ultra clean presentation through the methods used in production. Because distillation separates the alcohol from the heavier liquids, a clean distillation process can greatly increase the aromatics of the materials distilled. With this in mind, Peruvian Pisco must be made from a just-fermented, or “young,” wine. Producers focused on quality also sort their grapes to use only the finest, cleanest fruit. In order to reduce any sense of harsh aromatics, producers focused on quality also de-stem clusters prior to pressing. Further, Peruvian Pisco must be made with only vessels that do not impart their own aromatic qualities. That is, no wood is allowed in the process.

Style of Peruvian Pisco

There are essentially four types of Peruvian Pisco.

The two primary distinctions make Pisco either as a single-varietal distillate, or a blended one. Taking the first option, the most straightforward is the Pisco Puro, which distills wine made from only one variety into an ultra clean expression of the grape. Pisco can also be made as a blend of any of the eight varieties allowed in Peruvian Pisco. This style is called Pisco Acholado. Blending can occur prior to fermentation, or before or after distillation.

The eight varieties are recognized as four, which are considered to be overtly aromatic grapes — Moscatel, Albilla, Italia, Torontel — and four that, in comparison, are less so, and so called non-aromatic — Quebranta, Negra Criolla, Mollar, Uvina. A third style of Pisco, the Pisco Aromáticas, is made from any of the four aromatic grapes, with a particular focus on preserving and expressing their aromatic aspects. A Pisco Aromáticas generally also turns out to be a Pisco Acholado, that is a blended style Pisco.

The fourth style of Pisco less commonly leaves Peru than the other three. Pisco Mosto Verde may be made with any of the grape varieties, and with a single grape or a blend. What is important here is that the young wine distilled to make the Pisco has not fermented all the way to dryness. Some residual sugar has been left in the wine, which gives the final Pisco a little more weight and smoothness on the palate, with a touch of sweetness. This style of Pisco is more commonly meant to sip on its own, rather than for blending in cocktails.

Three Piscos to Try

Macchu Pisco, Pisco Puro — Quebranta, 40%, $25 http://www.macchupisco.com/
A premium Pisco perfect for the Pisco Sour, the non-aromatic Puro style Pisco from Macchu Pisco keeps a strong focus on tradition, family, and quality in its production methods. The grapes are de-stemmed, then foot pressed (rather than hydraulic) with all seeds removed prior to fermentation to reduce any chance of bitterness. The result is an ultra clear, ultra clean lightly floral nose, with a citrus palate dancing with savory back notes and lots of freshness. The quality here is wonderful, and lifting.

La Diablada Pisco 2011 Achlado Pisco — Quebranta, Moscatel, Italia, Torontel, 40%, $40 http://www.macchupisco.com/
Another premium Pisco, this blend gives a lot of floral aromatic focus offering a mix of melon, stone-fruits (both cherries and peach), and touches of fruit spice. The name “La Diablada” refers to the dance of angels and demons fighting for balance. The Pisco itself seems to represent such a dance through its giving a pretty and elevated expression of a firey drink — there is no doubt this is alcohol but it’s pleasant. This Pisco does well for other styles of mixed drinks that bring in a range of fruit and spice flavors, or also other mixers, rather than the more singular Pisco Sour, which would overpower the subtlety here. The Pisco Punch would be a classic example.

Campo de Encanto, Acholado Pisco — Quebranta, Italia, Torontel, Moscatel, 40.5%, $35 http://www.encantopisco.com/
Focusing on the Pisco blend, the Campo de Encanto shows off citrus notes on the nose, while shifting to orchard fruit and flower alongside a fresh winter forest element on the palate. Apple plus almond flower and evergreen show up here giving a rich while lifted, fresh and energetic flavor to the Pisco. While the Campo de Encanto can work for a Pisco Sour, it suits blending for light fruit focused cocktails that step outside a singular citrus expression. The Pisco Punch is a classic example.

Drinking Peruvian Pisco

The Pisco Sour and the Pisco Punch are two classic cocktails but a ton can be done with Pisco. Though I’ve been playing with mixing Pisco drinks myself, I am going to refer you to cocktail recipes developed by others here.

The Classic Pisco Sour, from Imbibe Magazine:
https://imbibemagazine.com/Recipe-Pisco-Sour

Pisco Punch (invented originally in SF), from Pedro Miguel Schiaffino:
http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/pisco-punch

To play outside the classics, following are some recipes that will take advantage of the Acholado Pisco style.

An Andean Dusk, developed by Meaghan Dorman:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/26/dining/andean-dusk-recipe.html?_r=0

A TON of fun Pisco recipes great for Acholada Pisco, and some for Puro: http://www.thepiscobook.com/recipes

Cheers!

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To read more on Pisco:

An article in PUNCH from Alia Akkam: http://punchdrink.com/articles/into-the-mystic-discovering-piscos-spiritual-roots/

An article in BEVERAGE JOURNAL from Robert Plotkin (including more recipes): http://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/the-second-coming-of-pisco

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Dedicated to Marilyn, David, Kelly, Mary, Mary, Alyssa. sniff.

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Thanks to Melanie Asher. Thanks to Marilyn Krieger and David Greenberg.

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

 

Happy Birthday to my Sister Paula

Happy Birthday to my sister Paula

Us Kids

us kids. from left: Melanie, me, Paula

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Paula,

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

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

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

Your sister,
Elaine

 

Plant Physiology, Wine, and Site Expression: Continuing the Conversation w Tyler Thomas

Continuing the Conversation with Tyler Thomas

Tyler Thomas

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

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

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

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

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

Tyler Thomas

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

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

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

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

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

Dierberg Drum Canyon

looking over the top through Pinot vines at Dierberg Drum Canyon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thank you to Tyler Thomas.

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