Blog Page 2

0

Nonino Grappa Cocktails

Gritti Palace Hotelthe bar at the Gritti Palace, Venice

Fall’s cooler weather, and aromatic breezes proves a perfect time to shift to warming aromatic cocktails. Part of the Nonino project instigated by the three daughters has been working with mixologists around the world to create unique cocktails using the Nonino distillates.

The monovarietal grappas, and grape distillates by Nonino offer a unique opportunity to play with distinct varietal characteristics. Their distillation process captures grape aromatics in what Giannola Nonino calls “a crystalline purity.” The flavors of each grappa reflects the character of the grape type used, with warmer blue floral notes lifting from the glass in the merlot distillate, and distinctly yellow flower and warm hay aromas for the chardonnay. Nonino’s first monovarietal, picolit, remains my favorite.

The Gioiello, their honey distillate made from acacia honey, too carries trademark flavors of autumn. It’s a beautifully nutty, forest floral aromatic that’s both warming, and spiced on the palate. A lovely sipping cocktail on its own.

Nonino, of course, also makes a tasty amaro that’s great over ice, or in a cocktail as shown below.

While visiting Venice last year we were able to meet several mixologists who were kind enough to share their recipes with me for three of my favorite Nonino cocktails. Each of the three recipes following are easy enough to make at home, and perfect for Fall weather with flavors of apple, rose, and herbal infusions.

(Some of the drinks they showcased brilliantly involved infused aromatic tea smoke, and other complicated ingredients. I don’t keep a vaporizer at home.)

 

Nonino Frozen, Mixologist Davide Girardi, Udine

Mixologist Davide GirardiMixologist Davide Girardi

Nonino Frozen
Mixologist Davide Girardi, Udine

5 cl Amaro Nonino Quintessentia
Soda Water
1 lime
cane sugar
2 mint leaves

Muddle and pound 1/4 of a lime with 2 spoonfuls of cane sugar.
Fill a glass with crushed ice, and Amaro Nonino Quintessentia, and top it up with soda water.
Mix it energetically in the glass in which it is to be served, and decorate it with mint leaves.

Passion Nonino, Barman Mirko Falconi, Gritti Palace, Venice

DSC_0383Barman Mirko Falconi in the library of the Gritti Palace

Passion Nonino
Barman Mirko Falconi, Gritti Palace, Venice

3 cl Grappa Nonino Cru Monovitigno Fragolino
1.5 cl white Cinzano
0.5 cl Aperol
1 cl passion fruit juice
1 cl rose syrup

Shake all ingredients except for the grappa.
Once shaken, pour in a mixing glass,add ice, and the grappa.
Stir slowly and serve in a chilled cocktail glass.
Decorate with peels of apple, melon, and pumpkin.

This cocktail is a lot of fun to play with switching up which flavor of the monovarietal grappa, and what type of fruit juice too. For example, the Picolit grappa works well with pineapple juice.

Nonino Cool, Head Barman Gennaro Florio, VeniceHead Barman Gennaro Florio Gennaro Florio, Venice

Nonino Cool
Head Barman Gennaro Florio

4cl Grappa Nonino Cru Monovitigno Fragolino
3cl Sour Apple liqueur
1 Tbsp blossom honey
drops of squeezed lime

Caramelize seasonal fruit (apple works well) in Grappa Nonino Monovitigno Moscato and cane sugar to use as garnish.

Shake all ingredients, and fill without ice into a cocktail glass.
Garnish with caramelized fruit.

Cheers!

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

1

Listening to Giannola Nonino

A year ago a few of us were lucky enough to share two days with the Nonino family. The Noninos are the most well known grappa producers in Italy, known for a series of innovations in production that succeeded in raising the status of grappa worldwide.

While Benito Nonino distilled the grappa, his wife Giannola developed many of the ideas, and packaging that helped raised Benito’s work to such prominence. Today their three daughters are thoroughly involved in running Nonino, and have gone on to continue the tradition of innovation and quality. After working on it for a decade, the three daughters succeeded at figuring out how to distill honey, for example.

If you don’t already know how grappa is made, you can check out my Behind the Scenes at Nonino piece over at Serious Eats, here

While with the Nonino family, Cathy Huyghe and I asked Giannola to share more of her story. Jeremy Parzen translated. The following is a transcript of her story as translated by Jeremy. She begins by speaking of her family history as the foundation of the work she did for Nonino, as well as for how she raised their children.

Giannola’s Family

Ginola Nonino“It’s really important to start this story by telling the education I received from my parents. My father was very learned, well read. They were children of immigrants.

“My grandfather, at the end of the 19th c. immigrated to Argentina from Italy. He was part of a big wave of immigration to Argentina. My father was born in Argentina, then came back to Italy. At the end of the 19th c. a lot of people went hungry in Friuli. There was a lot of suffering. My grandfather left Cividale all by himself.

“Thanks to the priest from Cividale he met his wife. He went to the priest in Argentina and said, I want to get married. I am in Argentina. I want to marry a nice girl with her head on her shoulders. The priest in Argentina wrote to a priest in Cividale. So thanks to the priest from Cividale, and another in Argentina, all by letter, he found a wife.

“He had gone to Argentina so he would put food on the table. You got off the boat in Argentina and they gave you a plow. They said, you can pick land. You put stakes around the land, and work as much as you want.

“My grandma left Italy without knowing anything about this person. They would meet at the other side of the journey, and when she said goodbye to family she didn’t know if she would ever see them again. This is what hunger and poverty did to people. They were forced to make such decisions.

“My grandfather was successful, and finally able to come back to Friuli with my father. At the time my father was 25 years old. He opened a small factory, made plows, and farming equipment. My father for this reason was a great lover of this land.

“He bought land in Percoto, Italy. At that point, my father had a company with 60 workers. At the same time, my father was a very sensitive person, and well read. He began to study customs, and traditions of Friuli. From the time I was very little we were going out and learning about Friuli tradition. That’s how as a young child I learned about indigenous grape varieties of the area.”

Giannola Nonino helped to preserve, and reestablish farming of indigenous varieties in Friuli. They had been illegal, and her work with farmers, and outreach to politicians helped instigate legal changes that supported the reestablishment of indigenous varieties in the region.

To further this cause she conceived of the Nonino Prize for those growing indigenous grape varieties. Paolo Rapuzzi of Ronchi di Cialla famously won the Nonino Prize for his saving Schioppettino by hunting feral vines in the hills along the Friuli-Slovenia border.

Giannola Nonino“My parents taught us how to behave in the world. We were raised not to just be frivolous girls in the world. Our identity was in our intelligence, and how we conveyed our intelligence. We were determined our projects should be conceived without hurting anyone, and we knew we could overcome any obstacle. Never give up.

“I was not a good mother. I was severe. I would try to give them what they wanted but there were rules, and they needed to follow. They had to be good at school, to study. They had to be obedient, and from when they were very little they would get in the truck with me, and we would look for pomace [to make grappa]. But from third grade, they never went to bed without me checking their homework.

“The first thing to give your children is affection. The most important thing is affection. But then you have to teach them how to respect themselves, and how to respect others. You have to do well in school, and you have to play, and when you grow up you should do a job you really enjoy because if you don’t enjoy it it’s going to weigh on you.

“I know I love my children more than anything in the world but I never lost track that they would respect themselves, and respect others. As a mother you want to give them everything but you have to teach your children that anything they receive takes a lot of energy. Other people have put a lot of energy into whatever it is we have.

“My father is the one that gave the knowledge of our land, and the love of our culture to me. But above all he valued keeping alive all of this knowledge because otherwise the cost is the loss of our identity. Just like what she does.” Giannola points to me referencing an earlier conversation, “sending her daughter back to Alaska where her whole family is from. Otherwise all of these roots would just die in the street.

“In a society like we are living now, in the entire world, this is the foundation of this loss of security our children have, this loss of knowledge.

“That is my advice. Convey to your children that knowledge of your land, and your people. It is without this knowledge we cannot live like real people. It is without this that we fight and we kill each other. It is with this knowledge we live as real people.

” I believe my father, as the son of an immigrant who became an immigrant himself is someone who, the values are even stronger in him.

“What I give to my children, and what my grandparents give to me, the knowledge of family, is the most valuable thing we can have.

Growing Nonino Grappa

DSC_0424“First I fell in love with my husband, Benito, then I fell in love with his job. I call it the art of distillery. I hope you have felt the same emotion I felt the first time I watched distillation happening. From that moment I wanted to learn how to distill. It is a magical thing to take the grape, and turn it into a crystalline distillate of the grape.

“The first of December 1973 we made the first monovarietal distillate of Picolit. At noon sharp on that first of December 1973 as the first drops of the grappa came, I drew them to my nose, and I knew our experiment had succeeded.”

Nonino was the first in history to make monovarietal grappa. Winemaking in the region previously made mixed white wine, and mixed red wine without separating grape types. Because grappa is made with the grape pommace, after the wine is pressed from the skins, the material available depended on the style of winemaking already established.

Making a single varietal grappa in order to celebrate the varieties indigenous to the region was Giannola’s idea. She worked with farmer’s wives through the region, offering to pay them in addition to paying the husbands for the grapes in order to secure pommace separated by grape type. 

Prior to Nonino’s innovations with monovarietal grappa, grappa was seen only as a worker’s distillate, not as a drink for finer tables. Giannola also worked to change that attitude.

“It occurred to me at that time that consumers that had a snobby attitude about grappa, they needed to taste this grappa. If we sold it as a normal grappa, they would have refused to taste it. At that time we did not even talk about marketing or talk about packaging. I realized if I put it into a refined container that would make the consumer curious. Then they would taste it, and fall in love with it.

“So we put the grappa in the old medicinal style bottles, and had the label that described which grape variety and its qualities, and the bottles were individually numbered as well, and it was like the bottle had an ID card as well that came with it. All of these qualities together gave our grappa the right to be considered top quality. The packaging was just a means to an end, teaching the public about the quality of our grappa.

“In 1975 we created the Nonino Prize in order to save indigenous grape varieties of Friuli. It was forbidden at that time to grow them. From 1975 to 8 we worked to save, rescue those varieties. Then the law changed, and it became a literary prize. The literary prize started as a way to document realities of farm life in Friuli. Industrial culture may die, but the death of rural farming culture would also be the death of all humanity.”

The Nonino familythe Nonino Family, from left: Giannola, Cristina, Antonella, Elisabeta, Benito Nonino

“My daughters were with me even during the night. My daughters were born in the pommace. All we did was talk about grappa grappa grappa. They fell in love with work.

“Benito and I traveled through the best places for wine in Europe. We decided to make an artisanal distillery for our daughters so whenever the need arose, our daughters would know how to distill because they did it with their own hands. That is when we invented the UE grape distillate, a distillate from skin, and juice, and pulp, and grapes. The UE has the elegance of wine, the aromas and characters and flavors of skins.”

Grappa is made with grape pommace, that is after the wine has been pressed off the skins, what is left is distilled into grappa. The Noninos were the first to distill the entire grape in what they call their UE.

“In 2000, our daughters, so that they would not be outdone by their parents created honey distillate, Gioiello, which was extremely difficult. It was a huge victory for them to prove to themselves that they could achieve the same greatness as their parents.

“As a woman, I always had to battle because I was so determined, and I knew the high quality of grappa my husband produced. I decided we were going to make my husband the greatest distillate in the world. So, in the mid-1960s I started a battle to transform grappa from Cinderella to a quality distillate. I did it thanks to my determination, and especially because my husband is the best distiller in the world.

“He has such intimate knowledge of the raw material, and created a special still to preserve the aromas and flavors, and he is never entirely satisfied, always to make it better and better. I believe one of the qualities that helped us transform, the number one thing we were hoping to achieve was never perfect but the attainment of absolute quality of the best grappa.

“My first trip to New York, I did not speak English, and had no translator but wanted to tell my story. So in front of a mirror I memorized the story in English, and I understood the expression I had to make. I practiced again and again, and it was a great success.

“These were the grapes my father taught me to love. I had to preserve them, or I would have betrayed the values my father taught me to love. Twenty years later, our daughters, we have given them the value of our land, and they have become even more rigorous.

“My story is a story of passion. If I was born again, I would do it the same again.”

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

4

Biodynamics Posters

Interested in a Biodynamics poster?

I’m picking up poster samples this week of the following image. It will be available for purchase here.

If you’re interested in buying one, email me (lilyelainehawkwakawaka (at) gmail (d0t) com). Biodynamics Poster

For those of you curious about what biodynamics is all about, here’s a look back at some comics that explain the ideas behind the farming philosophy, including more on the treatments shown in the poster.

Biodynamics & Wine: or, What poop, crystals, and the moon have in common

(click on images to enlarge)

Biodynamics in the Farm Biodynamics in the Cosmost Biodynamics in the Vineyard Biodynamic Treatments

Cheers!

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

 

1

Visiting School House Vineyard

John Gantner, JrJohn M Gantner at School House, July 2014

It’s a hint of old Napa — a vineyard far up Spring Mountain set down a slope behind an old house. There are no signs inviting visitors, or announcing the name. It’s the site of School House Vineyards.

What is now School House Vineyards began as an 1800s 160-acre homestead, the School House just at the top, including tens of acres of vineyards. By the late 1930s, the last generation of the original homestead was ready to be closer to healthcare in town. Electricity didn’t reach the site until the late 1950s.

“My father purchased this in 1940. He wanted land in the Mayacamas Range.” Owner John M Gantner explains of his father. “It took him three years to find this place. He believed to make good red wine you should be in the mountains of the Mayacamas, not on the valley floor. At the time, acreage up here wasn’t worth anything. No one could afford to keep hillside vineyards in operation so it went to forest.”

Some of the original vines would be recovered on the property after establishing deer fencing, and clearing extra growth. The vines would prove to be an old vine mixed-blacks Zinfandel planting that has since served as the School House Mescolanza Red Blend.

Nancy Walker and John M GantnerNancy Walker and John M Gantner

School House Pinot began thanks to the experimental history of the Valley floor. Friends of Gantner, the story goes, had established Pinot vines with cuttings brought back from Romani-Conti in Burgundy. Valley floor temperatures proved too high for the fruit, however, so the vines were pulled out. John’s father believed, however, the mountain’s cooler temperatures would do well hosting the variety. In 1953, John’s father took cuttings before the vines were removed to plant on Spring Mountain.

“I dug many of the holes,” John explains. “My dad put me to work.” He laughs quietly. “I didn’t have much to say in it.” The Pinot remains to this day dry farmed.

IMG_1504“He made the first wine in 1957,” John says of his father. “We’ve made a Pinot Noir every year since.”

School House Pinots age beautifully. Earlier this year over dinner with friends we enjoyed a 1974 with still-vibrant, focused red fruit and forest. Over lunch this summer, Gantner and his wife Nancy Walker shared both a 1998, and 2002, both expressive of vintage with pure mountain fruit.

Chardonnay would be established in 1968 with cuttings from Stony Hill, though it wouldn’t be labeled and sold as a School House wine until 1991 when Gantner and Walker would take over the property from his father. Before that the family would make the white only for themselves.

Nancy laughs briefly as we discuss the Chardonnay. “The thing you learn from making wine,” Nancy tells me, “is you don’t place blame. Everybody makes mistakes.” The couple decide to share an example.

Gantner had traveled previously in China, but in the early 1980s decided he needed to return to the region. He wanted to see Tibet. Harvest had finished but Chardonnay was still finishing in barrel for home wine. Living in San Francisco at the time, Walker drove up the mountain to check on the wine only to discover the bungs had been pounded in too tight, and the wine had exploded over the entire garage.

IMG_1503In 2006, they would also establish Syrah, these vines in partnership with Pride Mountain who takes half the fruit. Gantner would break the rules, establishing the vines with irrigation, but then returning to dry farming once the roots were established. School House keeps the few rows of Grenache and Mourvedre mixed in to bottle as a Syrah blend.

Gantner hands me a bottle to take home and sample. It’s a beautiful, lean while expressive, fresh and savory Syrah, lightly grippy, and mouth watering with the long finish of pure mountain fruit.

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

 

0

Olives in Napa

The Matthiassons harvesting olives in Napathe Matthiasson crew harvesting olives for milling, Napa, Oct 2014

Olives are ripe in Napa Valley. Their harvest has begun. Yesterday, the Matthiassons harvested olives and brought them to the mill to press into oil. They use the oil for personal consumption, and also make it available to their wine club members as an option to add to club shipments.

I’ve always wondered how olives were harvested — surely they weren’t hand-picked one at a time from every tree. For the small-scale farmer, hand rakes are brushed repeatedly through the tree pulling the fruit off its branches onto a waiting tarp below. Then the tarp is gathered and its contents dumped into a bin.

After loading the bin, Steve took a quick break to offer each of us a bit of burrata on baguette topped with their previous years oil, and a touch of smoked sea salt as a toast to their days work, and the olives heading off to the mill. Yum.

Olive Oil Quality Designations: Extra-Virgin versus Virgin (vs Refined, or Pomace oil)

The term Virgin in olive oil refers to the means of production. When oil is extracted through only mechanical means the oil classifies as Virgin oil. An olive mill essentially presses the fruit causing it to release its oil without heat, and so is considered mechanical production. What is important here is that no chemical, or heat has been applied to oils classified as Virgin. In that sense, Virgin oil production preserves the purity and freshness of the fruit.

There are two types of Virgin olive oil — the basic Virgin classification, and a higher quality of the style. When an oil has been made mechanically, and is of the highest quality it is considered Extra-Virgin.

It is also possible to produce Refined olive oil through chemical means, or Olive Pomace Oil through heat extraction. These are both considered food grade, but are of far lower quality than Virgin style oils. Additionally, there is lamp grade olive oil, which is made through methods considered unsafe for consumption.

In Portugal last month I was lucky enough to learn more about olive oil blending, and how oils are assessed for quality. Harvest there will begin late this month, likely extending into January. Because olive harvest occurs over two calendar years, what would be called vintages in wine is instead referred to as the campaign in olive oil. For example, the upcoming olive harvest in Portugal would count as the 2014-5 campaign.

Olives in Portugal

Ana CarrilhoMaster Blender, Ana Carrilho, Alentejo, Portugal, Sept 2014

Portugal is unique in its oil production in that its regulatory system has chosen to keep the focus on small production, high quality oils, rather than allowing bulk oil production, or multi-country blending as occurs in much of the rest of the Mediterranean. For Portugal, the origin remains important. One of the impressive elements of all of this is how affordable Portuguese olive oil remains internationally. The quality-to-cost ratio for Portuguese oils is some of the best on the market.

Upon arrival in Alentejo last month, we were invited to meet the Master olive oil Blender, Ana Carrilho, who leads the team for Esporão. Carrilho studied, and taught olive growing and quality in Portugal, Spain, and Italy before then returning to Portugal to help develop the industry in her home country.

Many of the regions in Portugal that support viticulture also grow quality olives. As a result, many estates host both plant species, and when large enough also produce both. Esporão was able to reach a sizeable enough production level of olive oil to begin releasing their own oils in 1997.

Portuguese DOPs for Olive Oil

Olive oil in Portugal originally included much smaller production than today. Historically the oil from the region was produced and exported as lamp oil. However, after the phylloxera decimation of the 19th century, the country replanted many of the former vineyard sites to olive trees in order to supplement lost income. A shift to olive oil as a quality food product began as a result.

Today, the country has 6 controlled regions for olive oil production, also known as DOPs. Oil within the DOPs must originate within its area, and also be tested for quality designation between Virgin and Extra-Virgin.

As Carrilho explained, unlike wine, olive oil is not meant to be aged. How long it keeps freshness in bottle depends partially on olive variety, with heartier varieties lasting up to two years, and more delicate ones being ideally consumed within six months of bottling.

In tasting oils, like wine, aroma, palate, and finish are all considered. It is actually possible to do varietal identification tasting for oils like doing blind tasting in wine (how fricking cool is that?). As Carrilho explained, in tasting for quality, and varietal or blend expression what is being looked for is fresh fruit character.

Because most consumers in the United States are actually used to consuming old olive oil, many of the characteristics we are used to expecting are actually the notes of expired oil. Still fresh oil offers the kinds of floral and fruit notes that lift from the glass with a sense of lightness and life, rather than carrying the heavier and darker notes of mustiness, wet paper, or biscuit of oil that’s gone bad.

Esporão Olive Oils

Portuguese Extra Virgin Olive Oil Tasting w Ana CarrilhoCarrilho guided us through a tasting of four Esporão olive oils, each of which is available in the United States, as well as one specialty oil only available in from the best campaigns within Portugal.

Azeite Virgem Extra, Galega, Ageite-Portugal $16 500mL
(the green band on the far right of the photo above)

The Portuguese olive variety Galega produces one of the more stable, as well as fruitiest of olive oils. It keeps well up to two years after bottling. In Portugal, consumers tend to like sweet (that is fruit focused) olive oils, and are less used to bitter or pepper flavors of some varieties. As such, Galega serves as a great base for Portuguese olive oils offering a clear fruit focus, and a lot of longevity in the bottle.

The Esporão Galega olive oil offers subtle while pure fruit notes with green apple lift, almond accents, and a lightly spicy, pepper finish. This bottling is made entirely of Galega. Good for all around use, and can hold up to stronger flavors without being over powering itself.

Azeite Virgem Extra, Organic, Ageite-Portugal $18 500mL
(2nd bottle from right)

The Organic olive oil from Esporão offers a blend of the varieties Cobrançosa and Arbequina. (Arbequina is one of my favorites, and as a side note goes great with chocolate.) Varieties are milled separately and blended after. Cobrançosa forms the majority of this campaign, with accents of the floral Arbequina for delicacy and lift.

The Esporão Organic offers a softer, slightly sweeter presentation than the Galega giving notes of fresh banana, mixed nut accents, a creamy palate, and long light pepper finish. This oil good for use on vegetables or fish after cooking for an accent of creamy fresh flavor.

Azeite de Moura DOP, Ageite-Portugal $16 750mL
(2nd bottle from left with the black band)

The Moura blend is an official DOP designate olive oil made to offer taste consistency from year to year. While the other oils vary in presentation to some degree by campaign, the Moura blend strives to offer a product recognizable by consumers with each bottling. As such the blend proportions shift from campaign to campaign. However, the varieties include Galega, Cordovil, and Verdeal. This is also the most widely available of the Esporão oils within the United States.

The Esporão Moura gives stronger aromatics with distinct herbal elements, green fruits, and green almond. The palate follows with a smooth presentation followed by a slightly sharp, bitter-spicy finish. As this oil has more intensity it works well on simple foods for additional flavor, and can hold up to spice as well.

Azeite Virgem Extra, Seleçção, Ageite-Portugal $18 500mL
(bottle on the far left with the gray band)

The Seleçção olive oil is made from a blend of the best, most mature varieties of each campaign. As such it is a special bottling that changes from year to year, and is the first of the blends made for bottling.  We tasted from the last campaign, that of 2013-4. For that bottling the varietal make-up included Cobrançosa, Picual, Galega, and Frontoio.

The Esporão Seleçção carries the greatest intensity, and also purity of precision of these four bottlings tasted. There is a greater sense of freshness, and persistence to this oil from aromatics through long finish. Look for grassy freshness, green almond, and a lightly buttery mid-palate, with a beautifully focused finish carrying bitter spice. Use as accent on dishes with otherwise simple flavors to allow the flavors of the oil to show, or enjoy simply with bread.

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

1

Brown Bag Wine Tasting: William Shatner interviews Misha Collins

Misha Collins beats up the innocent William Shatner

I’m a fan of William Shatner‘s new Ora.tv interview wine show, Brown Bag Wine Tasting.

When the show started, Shatner traveled around doing short-segment interviews with regular people asking them about their job details, then he’d blind pour each of them some sort of wine and get the person to describe the wine quality in the terms common to the individual’s job. It was hilarious.

As the show’s still-cult-status success has increased the interviews have become more and more about celebrities.

(And I mean, look, when it comes down to it there is only one reason this is disappointing. When it was still everyday folks I could still fantasize about someday being an interview guest on Brown Bag Wine Tasting sitting across from Shatner for no good reason except that I’m an everyday folk too, getting asked to describe wine in terms that brought together commercial fishing, camel training, philosophy, Sci-Fi, and wine all at once. Generally speaking, I don’t give 2 bits for being on TV. It’s fine for other people. It’s just not my thing. But the idea of meeting Shatner and then talking wine. Oh geez… Anyway, I digress.)

I’ve posted on Twitter about my love for the show. Today, the folks at Brown Bag were kind enough to send me the embed code for the current interview that is so up my alley it’s ridiculous — seriously, guys, thanks for paying attention.

Misha Collins, of Supernatural fame, appears on the show most primarily to discuss his charity work.

The idea of Shatner interviewing Collins is hilarious largely because on Twitter Collins and Shatner act as nemeses to each other. You can see why — each massively famous for Sci-fi shows with a huge fan base, but of two different generations, one indebted to the other… (Push me and I’ll back Shatner everytime…)

Anyway, if you haven’t checked out Brown Bag Wine Tasting before, give it a look. Here’s the link to the show in general. http://www.ora.tv/brownbagwinetasting

And here’s the current episode. My favorite part is when they describe the wine. It’s deliciously absurd.

The direct link: http://www.ora.tv/brownbagwinetasting/misha-collins-0_qn1o2fec0r0

Thanks to William Shatner, and Dana Steere
Cheers!

0

The Vineyards of Eyrie

With the 2012 vintage, Eyrie Vineyards bottled separate Pinot Noir cuvées from each of their five vineyards for the first time. They have previously bottled Sisters, and Daphne in select vintages, and consistently offer the Original Vines Vineyard on its own as well.

The warm ease of 2012 in the Willamette Valley brings fruit to the fore of Pinot Noir in a region that readily celebrates notes of cedar and earthiness. It was a year that winemakers easily could have gone for riper, plush styles. For Eyrie, president and winemaker Jason Lett, kept the focus on the vibrant fresh acidity Eyrie is known for, thus allowing the fruit of 2012 to carry liveliness, and show in concert with earth elements, silky texture and ultra long finish.

Refined rhubarb and earth in a mouthwatering and lean presentation describes how I think of the hallmarks of Eyrie Pinot. The combination first drew me to following their wines. Seeing the vineyard designates of 2012 side-by-side layers in fascinating surprises.

Citrus elements lift from the glass in many of these wines, ranging from hints of lime blossom, into grapefruit, and all the way to the nose tickling pith of pomelo. The red fruit includes cherry blossom in some cuvées, and mixed red with white cherry fruit in others. The hallmark rhubarb resonates in some sites with berry fruit, and in others just with cherry.

The great secret of Eyrie wines rests in them staying open for as much as a week, if you can last that long, getting better in the glass as time goes on. The third day sings where the first day is still waking up. I hold high admiration for the life Eyrie shows through in the glass. It’s a shame more wine tastings, or tasting notes don’t allow such time with a wine, to celebrate this side of wine.

The Individual Wines and Vineyards

Eyrie Pinot Vineyard Bottlings click on image to enlarge

In tasting these wines together, it is the energy and muscle that changes most clearly between them. In August, my sister Melanie and I walked the Dundee Hills with Jason, visiting each of the Eyrie vineyards. Following are notes on each cuvée bringing tasting and walking notes together for each.

The Original Vines Reserve

*** The Original Vines Reserve brings such complexity, energy, and pleasing palate tension thanks to those gorgeously knarled, own root vines planted in 1965. The Original Vines Vineyard was the first to be planted by Eyrie founder, David Lett, at 220′-400′ elevation. Hidden mid-hill near the center of the Dundee Hills, the site stands along the bathtub ring of the Missoula flood. As a result, the site shows the greatest soil diversity of the Eyrie vineyards.

Near the top of the hill (where the oldest vines grow, and the greatest varietal variation as well — all the first Eyrie plantings are there) the red volcanic Jory soil that defines the Hills puts a red dust patina on the wines. At the bottom of the slope, in what is called the South Block, it is more of a taupe colored sedimentary earth deposited from the Missoula floods. The vineyard as a whole comes with chunks of Jory coupling alongside sedimentary in a patchwork of color.

The Original Vines Reserve carries lithe ease of strength — neither sinewy nor muscular, neither soft nor too tight. Aromas and flavors bring together rose petal with white cherry, rhubarb and raspberry, and light cedar through a wonderful energizing palate tension, and ultra long finish.

Outcrop Vineyard

* The newest of the Eyrie vineyards, Outcrop Vineyard grows around 250′ elevation planted between 1982 and 2000 by the Eason family, then purchased by Eyrie in 2011. It grows a little under 5 acres entirely of Pinot Noir and stands adjacent to the lower portion of the Original Vines plantings. The Outcrop Pinot brings the most masculine structural presentation of the wines, while at the same time showing the most apparent pink and red berry notes. There is a lot of complexity here with layers of cedar and forest, alongside red cherry and berry, coupled with lime and grapefruit accents. The Outcrop carries an almost sinewy leanness, that expands into incredibly focused length with air.

Sisters Vineyard

*** Sisters Vineyard has consistently offered a beautiful delicacy in its single vineyard bottlings. There is a gracefulness to the fruit from this site that at the same time offers great persistence on the palate. The vineyard itself stands at 200′-360′ elevation, and is the most unique of the Eyrie sites, growing not only Pinot Noir but also a range of varieties not otherwise associated with Eyrie. First planted in 1987, the site originally was known as Three Sisters for its first vines of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Gris. As the varietal collection expanded, the name shifted to just Sisters.

Sisters Pinot is one of those wines I want to enjoy through the course of a day — a languid afternoon with just one bottle. There is so much sapidity here, coupled with floral elements, and that refined rhubarb, all touched by a volcanic patina, and refreshing evergreen accents.

Rolling Green Vineyard

* Up the road, Rolling Green Vineyard was established at 6 acres to Pinot Noir, with a small portion of Pinot Gris in 1988 at 540′-700′ elevation. The sloped site grows from more iron rich Jory soil than seen at the Original Vines site, with worn stones of basalt throughout producing a lean profile of lithe strength, with some of the masculine structure of Outcrop, but more pine, citrus, white and red cherry tension followed by a long saline crunch mineral finish. It tastes like that satisfying moment after a hike, drinking a citrus and cherry margarita on the porch of a cabin in the middle of a pine forest.

Daphne Vineyard

** Established in 1989, at the top of the hill, Daphne Vineyard grows Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Meunier in even darker iron rich Jory than Rolling Green, at an elevation of 720′-820′ elevation. The Pinot Gris from Daphne serves as the core of Eyrie’s Estate bottling. For the Pinot Noir, Daphne vineyard, with its slightly rounder, though still gracefully focused palate has been bottled on its own in select vintages.

Here the vines offer a bit fuller flavor, and exuberance than the quieter grace of Sisters. The flavors come in as mixed red fruits and citrus alongside a touch of cedar and pine cascading into an ultra long, stimulating finish. It’s a wine that can’t help but light you up.

Oregon Pinot Noir

* Bringing together a blend of Pinot from each of the sites, the Oregon Pinot Noir bottling is effectively Eyrie’s Estate Pinot. A little snug on first opening, this wine loves air, showing better with time open. It brings together rose petal with ripe cherry and lime powder accents, on a body of wet rock, light saline, and a red volcanic patina for an ultra long finish with lots of focus.

The 2012 Oregon Pinot Noir is available now. Eyrie is planning a late Fall/early Winter release for the Vineyard designates.

***

Thank you to Jason Lett.

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

 

 

4

The Question of Natural Wine: A review of the book by Isabelle Legeron MW

Natural Wine, Isabelle Legeronimage from website of Anthony Zinonos

NATURAL WINE
Isabelle Legeron
An introduction to organic and biodynamic wines made naturally
208pp. Cico Books, July 1, 2014. $24.95
1782491007; 978-1782491002
book provided for review

***

[I]n its purest form
natural wine is almost a miraculous feat — a great balancing act between
life in the vineyard, life in the cellar, and life in the bottle.
– Isabelle Legeron

Considering a Larger Context

In 2011, French vintner Olivier Cousin intentionally provoked court proceedings with the threat of his being fined up to 37,000 Euros, and 2 years in prison. On the surface, Cousin had violated AOC regulations by using the regional name “Anjou” on his labels. However, for Cousin the situation was far more fundamental.

Cousin had left the AOC system in 2005 choosing to classify his wines as Vin de Table instead. Over the decades prior, Cousin watched large scale agro-industrial wineries pollute his beloved Layon river (within the Loire of Western France) destroying much of the region’s beauty, and the safety of the river itself.

For Cousin, it was clear that much of the pollution occurred within the legal allowances of the appellation system. The additives used in the wine, and the industrial sprays applied to vineyards were acceptable to the AOC system. In 2003, when the AOC decided to also allow acidification, and chaptilization, Cousin had had enough.

For the biodynamic grower, the use of additives and pollutants through the region was too unregulated, and the manipulation of winemaking had gone too far. Further, the reality of such abuses was entirely undisclosed to the consumer. At the same time growers like Cousin himself determined to do better were disadvantaged, told they could not use the name of their own region for labeling their wines, thus disenfranchising them from any claims of their own origins, and recognizability by consumers.

Cousin responded by designating his wines Vin de Table (therefore outside the AOC), while naming them on the label as Anjou Olivier Cousin (a cheeky dig at the abbreviation A.O.C., as well as a reference to the wines’ origins). The move was Cousin’s protest of the appellation system, and a fight for artisanal producers in general. In an interview with Vindicateur.fr, Cousin explained, “I’m defending the right to label an artisanal natural wine, like a basic food product, with all the applicable information.

Issues around Natural Wine

In the last five years, wines from producers such as Cousin have come together under a new, broad category called natural wine.

Like Cousin’s court case, discussions around such wines appear fraught. Central to disagreements sits the apparent lack of clarity for what counts as such wines. At the same time, people tend to understand that generally the category refers to the idea of doing, and adding less.

For many, the mere appearance of the category proves an offense — an insult to wines that fall outside it. While for many within the natural wine movement there need be no defense. Less additives is simply better. Add to that orthodox biodynamics on the far side of natural wine where you discover the spirits of the plant world, and a realm few skeptics are willing to travel. It quickly becomes difficult to speak across category lines.

More than that, however, natural wine as a category appears as the displaced focal point of an overdetermined system. Include in that system lack of disclosure on labels, poor appellation regulations otherwise supposed to protect consumers, and the disenfranchisement of artisan producers, all as fought against by Cousin. Add to that long term damage to the environment for short term gain, industrially made wines that ultimately taste of cardboard and jam, poisons named protectants, and more.

Select any one of these factors and you step into enough motivation for consumers to want more transparency, and greater health, regardless of attachment to the idea of “natural wine” or not. Put these factors all together, leave them ineffectively addressed and building in problematic over decades, and you find the explosion of a movement doggedly against what is seen as an agro-industrial-economic complex. It’s unsurprising techniques used to grow wine for thousands of years, have erupted into the symbol of a movement that wants to be different.

The difficulty of the discussion around such wines, then, occurs as much for the complexity of the innumerable factors that motivated the category to begin with, as issues within the category itself.

Enter Isabelle Legeron

In her new book, Natural Wine, Master of Wine Isabelle Legeron strives to find a clearer path through the complexity of such a system. She explains her motivation in the introduction. “[W]hile advances in technology and winemaking science have been enormously positive for the industry as a whole, today we seem to have lost perspective,” she says (p 13).

In naming the impacts of this lost perspective she describes how wine has become “a product of the agrochemical food industry” (p 14), a world created by a desire for “absolute control” of our natural world through science. Ultimately, according to Legeron, the negative effects of such practices are found in vines inability to uptake soil nutrients due to lack of life in the soils (p 27), the demand to use added yeasts, enzymes, and then intensive filtering in the cellar due to absence of healthy yeast to microbe balance on fruit (p 58), and finally on our own ability to process the wine without (a) hangover, or (b) negative long-term health affects (p 84).

To make consumption of the information easier, Natural Wine has been arranged in three major sections — (1) What is Natural Wine?, (2) Who, Where, When?, (3) The Natural Wine Cellar.

The challenge of the book rests in section 1, “What is Natural Wine?.”

Here Legeron takes an overview of the category in general covering the range from vineyard, to cellar, to taste. When distilled to its most coherent sections, a wealth of information and insight is provided throughout. For example, comparing winemaking to breadmaking gives an interesting perspective shift for understanding the role of quality in winemaking choices, and what it means to talk about wine as a living thing. There is also an impressive amount of insight given directly from producers on subjects such as dry farming, the role of sulfites in wines, the relevance of biodynamic treatments, and more.

However, chunks of section 1 also prove frustrating as Legeron falls to making claims about natural wine not adequately substantiated within the book itself. It is at these moments that Legeron inadvertently falls into a lack of transparency herself. Truthfully, this phenomenon appears most readily within the introduction, which, like opening arguments in a court case, might be the appropriate place for impassioned feeling. However, the presence of that approach in the introduction made me especially attuned to finding similar tone later in the book.

An example can be found in her section “Taste: What to Expect.” Though she began the book clarifying there is no definition of natural wine, here she goes on to proscribe what counts as natural while also asserting what natural tastes like.

In terms of taste or palate experience, she asserts that natural wines (a) “have a greater array of textures than conventional wines” (p 75), (b) have more deliciousness, (c) show umami, (d) tend to be lighter and more ethereal, with freshness, and digestibility, and (5) are also moody, or change-able. Having tasted many of the wines Legeron recommends as natural, however, it is clear these characteristics do not necessarily dominate the category.

As for proscribing the approach for natural wine, she offers that with natural wines (a) “the way in which they are farmed, […] the vines are encouraged to cultivate deep roots” (p 75), and that in the cellar they (b) are “neither fined” (c) “nor filtered but, instead, are” (d) “given time to stabilize and settle” (p 75 her emphasis). Her claim of deep roots here depends on assuming that natural wines are made naturally in the cellar while also grown as such in the vineyard. However, many of the wines named in the back of the book do not fit all of these descriptions, thus illustrating the issue of inconsistency, and lack of coherent definition that many find inadequate with the category itself.

Part of the concern here is that while Legeron does not define what counts as natural wine she clearly does assume something coherent to the category that might not actually be supportable. Honestly? I’m not convinced the definition question is as central an issue as many critics of the category make it to be, but I’ll save that for a future discussion. However, there is an inconsistency happening in Legeron’s claims here that open the door good and wide for skeptics to have their hay day. As a leader in our understanding of this type of wine, part of her role is to address such issues.

Part of the brilliance of Legeron’s book can be found in sections 2, “Who, Where, When?”, and 3, “The Natural Wine Cellar.”

Here, Legeron shows off her ample knowledge of the wine world offering unique insights into the people, and places that make natural wines possible, as well as guiding the interested consumer on a tour through the wines she wants to drink. It’s a well-handled overview of the world of natural wines that goes in-depth enough to be useful to even the most knowledgeable reader, while still accessible enough for the novice.

The wealth of information offered throughout Legeron’s book proves impressive. She offers readers accessible explanations of key aspects of wine from wine faults to the role of the full process of farming to bottling, as well as insights into the relevance of dry farming, and what it means to be an artisan winegrower. In the midst of all this she shares charming profiles on exemplar producers, who in turn give a surprising range of insights on everything from harvesting birch water, to making apple cider.

At first brush, the range of information offered could seem in excessive of its subject. Some of it seems to have nothing to do with wine, like the birch water mentioned, a listing of medicinal plants and their uses, or instructions on how to forage a wild salad. However, the inclusion of such segments gives insight into Legeron’s overall view — the point is to think holistically.

For Legeron, natural wine is a matter of taste. She thinks it’s more delicious. As well as a question of health. She believes it’s better for us. And also a choice in lifestyle. For Legeron, natural wine reminds us we have the opportunity to choose what, as well as how we consume.

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

1

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

 

2

Tasting Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet with Alder Yarrow

As part of the VH1 Storytellers series, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson record an acoustic album together. For classic country fans, like myself, it’s a beautiful moment bringing two of the greats together. In the liner notes Cash explains how sitting side-by-side with Nelson on stage, Cash couldn’t help but envy Nelson’s picking ability. He plays fine guitar.

In the world of wine blogging, I’m no Johnny Cash (he’s one of the best, most soulful that ever was) but I do think it’s fair to call Alder Yarrow our Willie Nelson — prolific writer, writes notes for the best (Jancis Robinson as the wine world’s Patsy Cline-one of the finest country voices in history?), one of the longest blogging careers at the top.

Still, why the comparison?

The Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers’ Association invited Alder Yarrow to participate in an exclusive appellation tasting of Cabernet. He was kind enough to extend the invitation to me. So, this past weekend the two of us sat side-by-side tasting through 53 Cabernet library wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains. Sitting there side-by-side with Yarrow, I couldn’t help but admire his wine note ability.

Keep an eye out for Alder’s write-up on the tasting at his site Vinography (here: http://vinography.com/). He is likely to post thorough-going notes for the wines, as well as his overall assessment of quality for the variety in the region. Speaking with Alder after it was clear our views overlapped around a number of aspects, and diverged in others. I’ll let him share his own thoughts when he chooses to post them.

The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA

Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernetclick on image to enlarge

An AVA since 1981, the Santa Cruz Mountains was one of the first appellations to be defined by its mountain topography. The San Andreas fault carves the region running roughly diagonal up the middle north to south. Acreage within the appellation rises to the highest peaks around 2600 ft. but, importantly, not all acreage within the overall area count as part of the AVA. Instead, the boundaries descend to around 800 feet on the Eastern side, and 400 feet on the coastal, with valley floor properties falling outside the region. Fog articulates the limits of the lower elevations — the appellation grows above it.

The Santa Cruz Mountains count as their own unique region. The AVA stands below what we call the North Coast, and above what the TTB describes as the Central Coast. Though they often get lumped into the Central Coast in wine review discussions, the mountains technically, and climatically prove separate. The Mountains also fall outside the San Francisco Bay appellation. Effectively, then, the Santa Cruz Mountains rise as islands on their own above the fog — from the Bay to the East, from the ocean to the West, between the North and Central Coasts.

Historically, the area has produced some of the most important wines of California. Paul Masson began growing sparkling wine on the western slopes, eventually inspiring Martin Ray to produce the first varietally specific still wines at what would become Mount Eden. Later, in the 1960s, Paul Draper would help rediscover what we now call the Ridge Monte Bello site, growing wines that would compete against the best of Bordeaux.

Variety in the Santa Cruz Mountains

The Santa Cruz Mountains wine growing region includes around 1300-planted acres. The vineyard totals separate into fairly even quarters, with Cabernet, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay encapsulating three, and mixed other varieties taking the fourth.

After our tasting we enjoyed lunch with Paul Draper. As he explains, historically houses with vineyards on the eastern side of the San Andreas fault such as Ridge, Woodside, and Kathryn Kennedy grew Cabernet, while domains on the western side such as Thomas Fogarty or Varner grew Pinot. Chardonnay has done well throughout. Mount Eden, along the center line of the AVA, has long grown all three.

Overall temperatures certainly factor in to the historic placement in plantings. Generally the eastern side tends to be warmer. However, thanks to the folds and faults of the mountains, an incredible variability of microclimate dominates the appellation. More recently people have begun identifying warmer pockets on the western side as well so that today Cabernet is planted throughout the AVA.

Tectonic activity produces soil richness. With its multiple plates, the Santa Cruz Mountains offers a lot of soil diversity as well. Ridge, for example, sits atop some of the only limestone in California, while Varner rests in mixed loam over rock, and other areas depend upon decomposed rock, or clay.

Thanks partially to its remoteness — its harder to build direct roads in mountain terrain — the Santa Cruz Mountains have predominately held smaller producers. One of the effects of size, however, includes greater variability in wine quality. In an area not dominated by large name houses, it becomes easier for anyone to enter the industry, buying a few grapes to try out making wine. That sort of situation also often means producers with less connection to overall trends or styles of the wine world. So, while some of the best of California owe their heritage to the mountain AVA, the region as a whole does not currently meet that benchmark.

Cabernet Tasting from the Santa Cruz Mountains

Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet

the line-up of 53 Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernets

The library tasting consisted of 53 Cabernets (blend and varietal) from the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. The producers were invited to select bottles from their library collection in order to show their wines across vintages, and with some age. Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards selected four wines from the mid-1980s. With the exception of two newer projects, all other producers selected wines from the mid-2000s. Left Bend, and Lexington are both younger projects, and as a result presented wines since 2010. During lunch Draper also opened a 1985 Ridge Monte Bello.

Because I expect that Alder will likely present thorough-going notes for the wines, I am going to share overall impressions from the tasting. Alder’s insights through wine notes are reliably good.

Post Edit: Alder Yarrow’s write-up on the Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet tasting has just gone live. It’s excellent. Check it out here: http://www.vinography.com/archives/2014/10/bay_area_bordeaux_tasting_sant.html

Overall Impressions of Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernet

Throughout, the wines carried a sense of persistent and vibrant acidity, with a stimulating presence. The Cabernets also consistently held a line of aromatic, oily-tree forest ranging from eucalyptus, to pine, to cedar, often showing pine alongside one of the other two. The fruit notes varied through a range of dark fruits and creamy violet in the younger wines, or red currant and rose in the older wines, however, the wines throughout showed a note of sour or bing cherry.

Faults appeared in around a handful of wines, though never through an entire portfolio. In each case we opened a backup bottle to check whether or not it reduced to bottle variation, or a winemaking issue. In a few portfolios where there were not necessarily faults, cellar quality was problematic. Due to proximity to fog, disease pressure can be an issue within the Santa Cruz Mountains. However, the loose bunches of Cabernet tend to mitigate such issues for that variety.

Considering that the overall fruit quality was good in more than half the wines, it was disappointing to discover a predominance of oak that cloaked or obscured the fruit. In many cases, oak use in the wines was difficult. It is clear that there are high quality sites within the appellation for Cabernet. With the amount of work that goes into farming such fruit, it is a shame to see site quality obliterated by woody character. The issue tended to be a matter of over-oaking wine, but in some cases appeared to be also a question of oak type with wood spice standing disjointed to the fruit.

Stand Out Examples of Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet

Five individual wines in particular stood out for quality in the tasting.

* The Santa Cruz Mountains Vineyard 1985 Bates Ranch Cabernet, 12.5%, showed nice vibrancy with a lot of life, offering floral and berry aromatics alongside a pleasing mid-palate through finish of red and dark berry, eucalyptus, and pine with hints of molasses and tobacco. The wine carried still strong, though not aggressive tannin, and a long lightly drying finish.

* The Santa Cruz Mountains Vineyard 1986 Bates Ranch Cabernet, 12.5%, offered wet tobacco, eucalyptus, and floral aromatics, followed by a creamy mid-palate of violet cream, and integrated berry with eucalyptus and pine. The tannin to acid balance was pleasant and well executed, coupling with pleasing subtlety of flavor throughout.

* Ridge 2005 Monte Bello, 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 6% Petite Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 13.4%, while still quite young, offered a nicely integrated wine of strength with elegance. Sour cherry comes together here with both red and black currant alongside Monte Bello’s characteristic eucalyptus, and still apparent oak baking spice. The wine wants a lot more time to develop and deepen, but is structurally beautiful now.

* Mount Eden 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, 83% Cabernet, 14% Merlot, 1.5% Cabernet Franc, 1.5% Petite Verdot, 13.5%, carried creamy aromatics of cedar integrated with dark fruit, carrying forward to a creamy mid-palate of black currant and cassis, cedar, hints of butterscotch, and a pop of hot pepper heat through a long drying finish. I’d love to taste less wood here, but for the most part the spice knits well with the wine.

* Kathryn Kennedy 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.2% proves to be riper in style than the other stand out wines of the tasting, but carries a seamless presentation. Graceful aromatics of creamy spice, and violet carry forward into elegant tannin with flavors of sour cherry and dark fruit accents, creamy ginger, and violet. I believe this wine will continue to increase in elegance as it ages.

I am also interested in keeping an eye on the two newer projects — Lexington, and Left Bend.

Lexington offers good quality right out of the gate, which is no surprise considering its pedigree. Tommy Fogarty, and Nathan Kandler have been developing the site for quality fruit, and make beautiful wines through their other label Thomas Fogarty. They poured both the Lexington Gist Ranch 2011 Estate Cabernet, and their blend, the 2011 Apex (which in 2011 proved to be almost entirely Cabernet). Both wines are nicely done, and Apex carries a lightness, with less woody character to it I find exciting.

The Left Bend wines currently show a lot of new oak, which is challenging. However, I mention them because the 2010 and 2011 wines appeared to have pleasant fruit quality. My hope is that new label==new barrels, and that as the winemakers develop they will shift to letting the fruit more clearly shine through.

***

Post Edit: Alder Yarrow’s write-up on the Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet tasting has just gone live. It’s excellent. Check it out here: http://www.vinography.com/archives/2014/10/bay_area_bordeaux_tasting_sant.html

If you are interested in tasting more Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernets, Premier Cruz will be happening in early November, and this year focuses on Cabernet. Tickets are already on sale.

For more information: http://scmwa.com/event/premier-cruz/

***

Thank you to Megan Metz, Marty Mathis, and Alder Yarrow.

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