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Wine & Spirits Sommelier Scavenger Hunt

Sommelier Scavenger Hunt Somms15 Sommeliers for Wine & Spirits Sommelier Scavenger Hunt

To open their Top-100 festivities this year, Wine & Spirits hosted their inaugural Sommelier Scavenger Hunt on Monday of this week. The event was designed to seek out, and celebrate the new classics of domestic wine.

As Wine & Spirits editor, Joshua Greene, explained, the last six months have been spent preparing for the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt event. Towards that end, five teams of three sommeliers each from around the country were selected. Each team was then assigned to visit a different domestic wine region tracking a particular varietal expression for that region. In traveling the region, they were meant to study the region’s specific viticultural conditions, and then select six wines to represent a coherent picture of the breadth and typicity of their region’s unique terroir. Along with each region’s flight, the sommeliers offered a ten minute informational presentation.

Joshua Greene introduced the event. Following are notes from his introduction, followed by a brief look at each of the flights.

Introducing the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt 2014

“Sommeliers like competition. They often test themselves, whether in sommelier exams, going to Tex-Somm, or otherwise. We wanted them to do something collaborative. Rather than battle on their own, we decided we would have them work together, and then compete in groups. To win, they would have to work together.

“[In this context,] what does winning even mean? Rather than finding a wine that would be hardest to guess in a blind tasting, [for the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt] it is about finding a wine that would be the easiest to guess [as from its region] in a blind tasting. We asked them to go out and find the future classics, that really describe the place the wine is from.

“[The Sommelier Scavenger Hunt] is also about travel, and getting to know the place. I got into [wine] because I like to travel. A lot of wine travel you see is more about lifestyle, and expensive. We decided we wanted them to do something more like The Amazing Race.

“While there they would select six wines meant together to be broad, and precise, [expressive of its region]. We’re asking them to show you a really specific connection between the place and the wine. We want them to show you that connection so that when you taste the wine you really feel that connection. We asked them to really think, what is terroir? and what is a great wine?

“Our staff got together and chose five sommeliers we really enjoy working with, and asked them to choose a team of two more, and then choose a specific region and varietal focus.

“We’d like you to think about these wines as you taste, as to where it is from, not do I like this wine?, but where is it from? how it communicates to you as a drinker, as a taster.”

Joshua Greene then introduced the first group from the Finger Lakes. Following are brief notes on the five group presentations.

Tasting the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt 2014

The quality of wines throughout was impressive. It was a pleasure to be able to taste these, to see the selections chosen to represent each region, and to be included in seeing the work each group had done together.

Sommelier Scavenger HuntJoshua Greene and 15 sommeliers from around the country fielding questions about domestic wines at the end of their Wine & Spirits Sommelier Scavenger Hunt presentations

TEAM FINGER LAKES: RIESLING

Matthew Kaner of Covell in Los Angeles, Pascaline Lepeltier MS of Rouge Tomate in NYC, Steven Morgan of Squire Wine Co in Chicago

While viticulture in the Finger Lakes has historically focused on hybrid varieties made into quaffing sweet wines, more recently winegrowing through the area has turned towards crafting serious quality wines in a range of styles. With the oldest bonded winery in the United States, newer producers have the benefit of a wealth of already established geological and viticultural knowledge to draw on in exploring quality wine production. Riesling has risen to prominence as the signature grape for serious wine with a range of possibilities for the region.

The Finger Lakes flight showed good consistency of quality over the broadest range of styles of any of the flights. Due to the vast range of winemaking goals or style choices occurring in the region, this group had the greatest challenge in striking the balance between expressing regional typicity and coherence with breadth. Producers of the Finger Lakes are still exploring the region’s unique signature. That said, the wines all offered distinctive personality, and very good quality at mind blowing value.

* Tierce 2012 Finger Lakes Dry Riesling
all stainless steel, no malolactic fermentation. a wine with nice clarity, lots of length and “extraordinary personality.” very small production.

* Bellwether 2013 Finger Lakes A&D Vineyard Dry Riesling
ultra small production. captures a nice balance of weight to acid without residual sugar. great mouth watering length.

* Kemmeter 2012 Finger Lakes Sheldrake Point Vineyard Riesling
nice precision, juiciness, and length. clarity, focus, and balancing breadth.

Ravines 2011 Finger Lakes Argetsinger Vineyard Dry Riesling
one of the stand out wineries of the region — available, affordable, bring out its personality with food

Hermann J Wiemer 2012 Finger Lakes HJW Vineyard Dry Riesling
one of the founders of quality in the region. nice overall balance, with a changeable finish. place along side food for additional balance.

Bloomer Creek 2012 Finger Lakes Auten Tanzen Dame Second Harvest
the wild card of the tasting, a very slow fermentation for additional richness and complexity, with an oxidative style, and a bit of residual sugar. pair with clam chowder to match the fleshiness of the wine, and give the acid something to cut into.

TEAM SANTA BARBARA COUNTY: CHARDONNAY

Ian Becker of Absinthe and Arlequin, Haley Guild Moore of Stock & Bones Group, and Gianpaolo Paterlini of 1760 and Acquerello all in San Francisco

Chardonnay proves to be one of the greatest quality varieties in the incredibly diverse growing region of Santa Barbara County. Though Pinot Noir from the region receives more consistent attention, the potential for quality on its white cousin is very high. The wines selected offered a very linear focus with lots of flavorful fruit expression and mouthwatering acidity.

The team for this flight chose to focus on a very specific style of chardonnay for the region. Within the competition, the Santa Barbara County flight was most expressive of the team’s preferred style, when considering the breadth of styles in the region as a whole. That said, the region’s signature clearly showed through the wines selected, and the quality was very good. This was also the most pleasing, tasty flight of the tasting.

Qupé 2011 Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Block Eleven Chardonnay
the outlier of the tasting, the Qupé was the only Santa Maria Valley chardonnay selected, and was chosen out of regard for the heritage it expresses of the region. giving nice citrus curd mixed with olive, this wine offers a oceanic creamy waxy quality familiar of the Santa Maria Valley with tons of mouthwatering length.

Au Bon Climat 2012 Sta Rita Hills Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Chardonnay
flinty mixed citrus, with a creamy palate. this wine strikes the balance of restraint, focus, and rich flavor, with tons of juicy length.

Chanin 2012 Sta Rita Hills Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Chardonnay
clean, crisp mixed citrus fruit, with a moderately creamy palate and a focus on length

* Tyler 2012 Sta Rita Hills Zotovich Family Vineyard Chardonnay
pleasing reductive tension brings a taut focus to the mouthwatering mixed citrus flavors. nice mineral length

Sandhi 2012 Sta Rita Hills Rita’s Crown Chardonnay
the most linear, and taut of the chardonnay’s shown. all about structure. mouth watering and lightly drying both.

Pence 2013 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay
delicate citrus blossom coupled with expressive citrus fruit layered with clay accents on a nervy taut mouthwatering line

TEAM ANDERSON VALLEY: PINOT NOIR

Vanessa Trevino Boyd of 60 Degrees Mastercrafted, Steven McDonald of Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, Christian Varas of River Oaks Country Club all in Houston

Ranging from a genuinely zone 1 cool climate close to the ocean just into a zone 2 climate a bit inland, Anderson Valley carries the most definitive signature of the region’s tasted. Pinot Noir has risen to prominence as the area’s trademark variety.

The Anderson Valley flight had the tightest, most recognizable expression of regional typicity giving a wash of red fruit, and buckets of mouthwatering acidity throughout. It was the flight in which the region offered the most apparent expression before cellar technique. It was also clear that this is largely due to the area, rather than simply from the group selection, for example.

Drew 2011 Anderson Valley Morning Dew Vineyard Pinot Noir
light carbonic elements on nose, a wash of red fruit through the palate, long mouthwatering finish. wants air to open

LIOCO 2011 Anderson Valley Klindt Pinot Noir
high tone, lifted aromatics, spiced palate. red fruit throughout. lots of length.

Copain 2011 Anderson Valley Kiser ‘En Haut’ Pinot Noir
lots of clarity, tight focus with lots of precise structure but soft red berry and open midpalate

Lichen Estate Anderson Valley Solera Volume 2 Pinot Noir
unique of the flight yet still expressive of the region. red berry fruit with layers and folds of concentration, vintages 2011, 12, 13 blended in solera-type method

Elke 2011 Anderson Valley Donnelly Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir
bright, crisp red fruit both nose and palate, accents of forest and herb, lots of mouthwatering length

Phillips Hill 2011 Anderson Valley Two Terroirs C&R Pinot Noir
nice cut of red fruit with structural strength, and spiced oak accents throughout

TEAM WASHINGTON: BORDEAUX-VARIETY REDS

Lindsey Whipple of Charlie Palmer Group in New York City, Will Costello of the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas, Mark Hefter of Crush Wine Bar MGM in Las Vegas

The Washington wines selected carried dusty mineral and saline crunch throughout. Five of the six wines grew from Red Mountain, and one originated from Walla Walla. We were also able to taste an older vintage on the final wine. Unfortunately, one of the wines was unavailable for tasting due to unexpected distribution issues.

This was the most challenging flight for me as several of the wines were intensely concentrated, inky dark on the palate. Still, the quality was good throughout.

Avennia 2011 Columbia Valley Sestina Red Wine
funky unusual nose, dusty mineral crunch through palate, bell pepper throughout

* Delille Cellars 2011 Chaleur Estate
nice acidity, opens and lengthens significantly with air, elegant finished, balanced concentration

àMaurice 2011 Walla Walla Estate Red Night Owl
intense concentrated palate, good tension, lots of length, inky dark

Upchurch 2011 Upchurch Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
highly concentrated, inky dark, challenging intensity

Fidélitas 2011 Red Mountain Optu Red Wine
unfortunately, do to a mix-up with distribution we were unable to taste this wine.

* Cadence 2001 Red Mountain Ciel du Cheval Vineyard
nicely balanced, aged wine with the dancy feet to balance the fruit concentration and dusty tannin. pleasant, beautiful.

TEAM NAPA VALLEY: CABERNET SAUVIGNON

Michael Madrigale of Boulud Sud in New York City, Josiah Baldivino of Bay Grape in Oakland, Michelle Biscieglia of Blue Hill in New York City

Team Napa Valley balanced their presentation of Napa Valley Cabernet with both valley floor, and differing mountain expressions of the fruit. The wines selected also paid tribute to a range of historic houses well respected for their quality contributions to the development, and sophistication of the region’s wine.

This flight was most successful in hitting the balance of the three elements requested of the sommelier team in choosing their wines — coherence, breadth, and typicity of the region.

Robert Sinskey 2009 Stag’s Leap District Napa Valley SLD Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
concentration, intensity, dark polish

Robert Mondavi 2011 Oakville Napa Valley To Kalon Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
considered the 1st growth of Napa Valley, Mondavi owns the largest portion of the historic To Kalon Vineyard. this is a wine of concentration, polish

* Corison 2010 Napa Valley Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
offering characteristic floral aromatics, and nicely balanced, mouthwatering palate

* Mayacamas Vineyards 2008 Mt Veeder Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
still ultra nervy youthful wine, pleasing mouth watering length and nice palate tension

* Smith Madrone 2011 Spring Mountain District Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
the most distinctive of the cabernets selected, the Smith-Madrone shows refreshing bell pepper aromatics, and ultra mouthwatering length

* Diamond Creek 2008 Diamond Mountain District Napa Valley Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
pleasing mountain tannin and dustiness, nice acidity, want to revisit

***

The winning team of the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt will be announced at the Wine & Spirits Tuesday evening Top-100 tasting.

Post Edit: It was announced tonight that Team Napa Valley won the Wine & Spirits 2014 Sommelier Scavenger Hunt. Congratulations Team Napa Valley!

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

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This write-up appears as a follow-up to a previous article on Santa Barbara County wine growing.

Santa Barbara Wine Country

For more information on over-arching growing conditions for the region, such as climate and weather patterns, please see that article, which appears here: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/05/20/understanding-santa-barbara-county-wine/

Santa Maria Valley

Driving South through California on Highway 101 the sand dunes begin to appear as the road comes closer to the ocean. By San Luis Obispo (SLO) county (home to Paso Robles, San Simeon and its famed Hearst Castle, as well as Morro Bay) ocean succulents, and cypress dot the roadway, growing from sandy loam of the seascape. The highway hugs ocean through Pismo Beach, then cuts inland again lifting over a slight climb in elevation, through the drop on the other side. You’ve arrived in Santa Maria Valley.

Santa Maria Valley proves the second oldest appellation in California, after Napa Valley, and includes some of the oldest contemporary vineyards in Santa Barbara County (SBC), as well as some of the most distinctive Chardonnay plantings in the state. However, the area has received historically less attention for wine than its Southern siblings such as the Sta Rita Hills.

The Agricultural Richness of Santa Maria Valley

The Northern most appellation in Santa Barbara County, the land formation as well as the appellation of Santa Maria Valley include sections of San Luis Obispo county. From the North, it is the San Rafael Mountains that circumscribes the Valley floor, and the intersection of the Santa Maria River with the water flowing through North Canyon from Twitchell Reservoir that marks the SLO-SBC border. Bien Nacido Vineyards, for example, sits just inside the North-western edge of SBC while its strawberry fields on the flats sit just inside the South-eastern rest of SLO.

Santa Maria Valley proves one of the most agriculturally diverse, and active regions of North America hosting a range of berries, avocado, spinach, beans, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, and even a cactus nursery. With avocado entering the region in the 1870s, this section of California quickly became the primary supply for North America. It still hosts (one of) the largest groves in North America.

Grape growing through the region reaches back to the 1830s, with more contemporary vineyards being established beginning in the 1960s, many of those early own root vines still giving fruit. As a result of such agricultural diversity, the area includes one of the more residential farming communities in the country, with farm workers able to remain year round as they rotate between crops.

Local cattle ranching and indigenous beans find focus through the tradition of Santa Maria BBQ. It appropriately claims the title of Best BBQ in the West, offering a local-oak fired tri-tip that proves more spice-rubbed than sauced, coupled with a side of pinquinto beans. The beans stand as a reminder of the relevance of land formations in agricultural development. The small pink morsels originate from and grow only within this area of the Central Coast.

Winegrowing Santa Maria Valley

SMV map

click on image to enlarge

Santa Maria Valley AVA offers the only valley in North or South America with unhindered ocean influence. No hillside formations rise within the center line of the appellation to shade or shield portions of the valley floor. The mouth of the valley opens to the Pacific, with the West-East narrowing funnel of the region cut by the San Rafael Mountains to the North, and the Solomon Hills to the South squeezing together near Sisquoc. The center of the valley is defined by the open pull of the Santa Maria-Sisquoc river bench.

The shape of the valley generates a clockwork regularity of fog at night through morning, then wind by afternoon. It is the wind that balances disease pressure from the ocean humidity. Open valley floor also means temperatures average one Fahrenheit degree warmer per mile driven East. Some slight nooks along the river bench, or canyon formation along the Northern mountain and Southern hills offer variation.

Considering Soils

Soil variation within the valley can broadly be cut into four types. Along the Northern portion of the Santa Maria-Sisquoc River colluvial soils cover slope sides giving rocky freshness to grapes grown throughout. Moving towards riverside, soils become unconsolidated as mixed alluvial soils appear from old wash off ancient mountain rains.

Bien Nacido, for example, grows vines from hilltop, through slope-side, and into the rolling flats approaching Santa Maria Mesa Road. The absolute flats they reserve for other crops. Walking the midslope vineyards of Bien Nacido offers a mix of rocky soils rolling into Elder Series, and then finally sandy loam near the bottom. Bien Nacido, and Cambria (growing directly beside Bien Nacido to the East) both contain a mix of colluvial and Elder Series soils, with some dolomitic limestone appearing near the tops of slopes, and shale in mid-slopes further East in the Valley. By riverside, soils are entirely unconsolidated giving a mix of some Elder series, and some sandy loam.

Across the street from Bien Nacido, the soils change, becoming unconsolidated alluvial soils. Rancho Viñedo grows in entirely unconsolidated soils, Pleasanton Clay Loam. In broader context these sorts of unconsolidated soils are often treated critically when it comes to grape growing. After rains soils like Pleasanton Clay Loam act like cement, as the soils do not absorb water easily crops grown in such ground tend to flood. However, in a region where rain is rare, thanks to the rain shadow effect of the San Rafael Mountains, such concerns become almost irrelevant. The rare cases when flooding does occur in the region come from ocean storms hitting so hard and fast the question of soil has little to do with the result. Flooding would have happened anyway.

On the Southern portion of the Santa Maria-Sisquoc River soils dramatically change. The Western portion of the appellation rises from ancient sand dunes, once part of the sea floor. Sections of the valley, then are almost pure sand mixed through in areas with silt from mountain erosion. The South-western quadrant of SMV moves from almost pure sand, into sandy loam as you travel North-east, or silty loam as you move into the Solomon Hills.

Sections of the newer Presqu’ile Vineyard, for example, appear as incredibly sandy giving a sense of suave tannin to red wines. By the time you reach the Dierberg planting a touch closer to the river, however, it has become more sandy loam. On the plateau of the Solomon Hills North of Cat Canyon, overlooking the valley, Ontiveros Ranch grows in unconsolidated silty soils.

Moving East along the Southern side of the river, the valley squeezes closer to the river bench, and the ground changes to predominately mixed cobbles and rocky loam. Riverbench Vineyard, for example, includes blocks on rocky clay loam, approaching Foxen Canyon, or more rocky plantings approaching the riverside.

While the North-eastern section of Santa Maria Valley contains a predominance of colluvial soils and Elder Series from the Mountains, sandy soils appear mixed throughout Santa Maria Valley with some sections of these vineyards including sandy loam.

Though the valley’s soils can be described through four major types, and the region’s climate has an overall sense of regularity, throughout the appellation there are subtler distinctions within sites that must be expected. As examples, thanks to the ocean influence salinity plays unexpected while sometimes significant role in vine vigor. Slight rolling character in what might seem an otherwise flat vineyard site can create slight air pools that change growing temperatures for vines in those sections. Individual vineyards, then, have significant internal variation.

Establishing Santa Maria Valley Wines

Modern day viticulture appeared in Santa Maria Valley in 1964, with the planting established by Uriel Nielsen in what is now the Byron Winery and Vineyard facility. The area benefits from the cool climate of SMV while hosting the slightly warmer day time temperatures that give darker red fruit in comparison to plantings on the Western side of the Valley.

In 1972, Louis Lucas and Dale Hampton would establish what would become the famous Tepusquet Vineyard, simultaneously pronouncing the great viticultural promise of the region shown through the cool climate, the ocean influence, and the water availability even in desert conditions. The Tepusquet Vineyard now stands in the Cambria Winery and Vineyard facility at the Northern side of the Sisquoc River.

Soon on the heels of the Nielsen and Tepusquet plantings, in 1973 the Miller brothers would begin one of the most influential vineyards of the valley, Bien Nacido. The site would establish itself as what was at the time the largest certified nursery-service-plus-vineyard in the state. By maintaining soil testing on a regular basis and ensuring the health of the vineyard through FPMS certification, Bien Nacido could not only generating crop for area winemakers, but also vine material for future regional vineyards.

These three early vineyards served as what were essentially viticultural test plots surveying what grape varieties, clonal types, and rootstocks could prosper in the region. Figures such as RIchard Sanford, while known more for his original plantings in Sta Rita Hills, also played key roles in helping to identify the appropriateness for Pinot Noir in the region, the valley’s signature variety.

Other vineyards, such as SIerra Madre originally planted in 1971, would prove influential for their later replants. Santa Barbara County includes a long history of influence on the more well-known Napa and Sonoma counties. Well established winemakers known for their North Coast wines utilized grapes grown in SBC to blend and bring added dimension to their North Coast wines. Off paper, then, SBC’s grape quality has been long established.

In the 1990s, however, that reputation was backed up by a series of purchases from big name wineries such as Robert Mondavi, and Jackson Family. In the 1990s, Robert Mondavi took interest in the Sierra Madre site, and decided to use portions to graft newer Pinot and Chardonnay clones in order to study their viability. The unique quality of the site became inspirational force for a range of winemakers both within the region and without. Mondavi’s clonal changes predominately remain within Sierra Madre, some of which offer fruit unlike that seen anywhere else in the state.

Newer vineyards such as Solomon Hills, or Dierberg both planted in the 1990s, and Presqu’ile in the 2000s, expand insight on ripening in SMV. Set near or on the Western boundary of the appellation, each receives cold air, and afternoon ocean wind bringing ultra cool climate focus to their fruit development.

Pinot Noir of Santa Maria Valley

Pinot Noir proves Santa Maria Valley’s signature grape. The valley’s signature marks its Pinot with red fruit character integrated through with the classic blend of Chinese Five Spice and tons of juicy length. The subtle complexity of this flavor study, coupled with the region’s mineral tension, and juiciness give it a profile distinctive from its Pinot Noir neighbors to the North and South.

Within the appellation, soil and temperature changes give fine-tuned distinctions to wines grown from different vineyards. Fruit from the South-western quadrant, for example, consistently carries the suave tannin of sandy soils, and a brighter red profile than the wines of the warmer North-eastern section. The sandy soils have also shown the ability to manage a high portion of whole cluster during fermentation to good effect.

With older vineyards such as Bien Nacido still showcasing own-root original plantings of Pinot Noir, now inter-planted with comparatively younger grafted vines of the same vine material, SMV also offers unique opportunity for winemakers to experiment with fruit from older and younger vines grown side by side. At Byron, sections of the original clonal and rootstock experiment planting are maintained allowing winemakers there the opportunity over decades to separately vinify fruit by clone-to-rootstock combination.

The best Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley has also proven its ability to age well. The subtlety of the valley offers its Pinots what is an almost brooding even while red fruit character, that turns outward again as it ages giving slightly older examples a beautifully surprising energy and lift.

Chardonnay of Santa Maria Valley

While Pinot stands as Santa Maria Valley’s best known variety, some of the most distinctive Chardonnays of California herald from the region. Unique clonal material grows through SMV offering distinctive flavor profiles from vineyards such as Sierra Madre.

The underlying Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay character shows up as Meyer lemon curd on toasted croissant with a long ocean crunch finish. Depending on area of the valley you can imagine that profile dialing down towards more mineral at the Western-reaches, or up towards riper in areas like Cambria. The ocean influence often gives a distinctively pleasing saline crunch or slurry to the white wines, in some of the cooler and sandier vineyard sites it verges into olive.

The mineral presence plus ample juiciness of the fruit give a lot of room for successful oak integration, and/or more reductive character. The two techniques give breadth and length of presence to the juiciness of the region’s fruit without having to dominate its flavor.

Other Varieties of Santa Maria Valley

Rhone varieties appear in small but successful portion through Santa Maria Valley. Most famously, Syrah has done well through the Northern-middle portions of the appellation with producers like Qupe bringing attention to the quality possible from the grape grown in the valley.

At the furthest Eastern side of SMV, Rancho Sisquoc grows a range of grape types successfully producing the range of Bordeaux varieties in warmer pockets near the close of the SMV funnel, as well as unexpected successes such as Riesling and Sylvaner.

***

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Tatomer Wines

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

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

Tatomerclick on image to enlarge

Gruner Veltliner

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

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

Riesling

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

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

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

Looking Ahead for Tatomer

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

***

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

***

Thank you to Graham Tatomer.

Thank you to Sao Anash.

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

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Tasting Brooks with Janie Brooks Heuck

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

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

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

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

Tasting Dry Rieslings

Brooks Willamette Valleyclick on illustration to enlarge

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

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

Brooks Araclick on illustration to enlarge

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

Brooks 2012click on illustration to enlarge

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

Tasting Off-dry and Sweet Rieslings

Brooks Off-Dry Sweetclick on illustration to enlarge

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

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

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

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

1

Riesling from Red Tail Ridge, Finger Lakes

Red Tail Ridge Rieslingclick on image to enlarge

In the Finger Lakes Region of New York, Red Tail Ridge Winery has been growing in quality since 2004 offering unusual red varieties with a focus on Riesling.

The Finger Lakes Region of New York is known for its challenging climate that can bring serious growing difficulties in the vineyard including excess rain or moisture, and a genuinely cool climate. The area, however, has a long history of grape growing focusing on Concord grapes, and hybrids. More recently, some smaller growers have reached to International varieties with a strength for the cooler climate. In the last decade, these growers have successfully proven the region’s worth for quality Riesling.

Red Tail Ridge appears as an interesting winery for its focus on bringing together value-quality wines with both environmental and social commitment. Theirs is the first LEED gold certified green winery in New York State. Their Good Karma wine (labeled with the winery name on the back, it’s name, Good Karma, on the front) generates 10% of its profits for the region’s food bank, Foodlink.

The Wines

The Finger Lakes region produces Riesling presentation unique to the area. It succeeds at bringing together a cross section of fruits reaching out of citrus linearity into stone fruits and even light tropical freshness while maintaining acidity.

Red Tail Ridge offers Rieslings across a range of styles from dry to sticky. The three tasted here include the lighter side of their arc with a dry and to semi-drys. Each of the wines offers a strong focus on value with quality coming in well below the $20 mark. I am impressed by how much they are able to offer for their price.

The Dry Riesling is my favorite of the three giving clean fruit and flower across the full range of fruit characteristics showing a nice balance of citrus, stone, and tropical elements all with light feet and good focus. There are nice accents of mineral crunch and white rock here moving through a long finish. This wine retails for $18.95.

Good Karma brings together off-dry Riesling with unoaked Chardonnay for an accessible palate. The mineral elements on this wine range from crushed quartz to rock salt and bring another layer of interest to the nutty, lime blossom, and lychee combination. This wine retails for $13.95.

The Red Tail Ridge RTR Estate gives an off-dry presentation moving into more floral elements with its tropical notes giving jasmine and white tea alongside citrus and lychee, also retaining the mineral crunch. The light touch of sweetness here puts it alongside spicy food beautifully. The RTR Estate retails for $15.95.

Red Tail Ridge has also just released a new band of Rieslings, including their first dessert wine, and a late harvest presentation.

***

To read more on Finger Lakes Wines check out this article from Eric Asimov: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/12/dining/from-the-finger-lakes-seriously-good-wines.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

These wines were received as samples.

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

2

Tasting Australian dry Riesling

Riesling Characteristics

click on image to enlarge

Last week three of us got together and tasted through 24 wines focused on the theme of dry Australian Riesling. The goal of the tasting was to gather wines from all over the country, focusing centrally on dry examples. Bottles were selected based primarily on professional recommendation from wine educators specializing in the United States on Australian wine, and were provided by importers. Some wines were also selected based on prior tasting experience.

The quality through the tasting as a whole was impressive, with a high proportion of good wines. It was truly a pleasure. The top, stand out wines, Pikes 2011 “The Merle” and Pewsley Vale 2007 Museum Reserve, were excellent. Other stand out wines in the tasting are marked with an * asterisk. All wines are dry unless mentioned otherwise in the tasting notes below.

In designing these tastings, I prefer to have a particular theme that serves as the center line, while also including a few appropriate outliers as a way of bringing breadth to the tasting and offering perspective. In this case, we chose to include a few examples with a touch of sweetness, and one Riesling from New Zealand.

Wines were put in flights by region, and then arranged by alcohol level. The wines were initially tasted in succession over the course of several hours, then revisited in various arrangements over the two days following. Below are notes on Australian Riesling in general, and then on the particular wines by region.

Australian Riesling

Australian Riesling carries a unique style with a central focus of clean fruit flavors.

While German Riesling is commonly known for celebrating a petrol note, the characteristic is not necessary to the grape and arises primarily out of experience in the vineyard, such as high sun exposure of the grapes themselves, or water stress of the vines. Some skin contact en route to the winery also encourages the phenomenon. Historically the distance between vineyard and winery led to 12-48 hours from harvest to winery. Older pressing techniques served more to break up the fruit, rather than squeeze its juice out, leading to a more pulpy process than newer technologies. Historical necessity in some regions, then, encouraged a particular style to be recognized as the norm.

Australia’s Riesling culture, though, finding its roots in the 1800s, remains significantly younger than its old world counterpart. With the distance between them, Australia’s winemaking and viticulture were able to develop without direct influence of style. One of the effects includes a distinctive approach to harnessing the riches of the grape. Riesling culture in Australia, then, purposefully avoids inclusion of petrol notes, instead seeking a pure fruit expression. Less commonly, however, there are also individual producers that instead wish to utilize old world influence and instill petrol development in his or her wine.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Western Australia celebrates the advantages of a genuinely cool climate, and marine proximity for generating high acid whites. One of the effects on the fruit is longer hang time for a slow and steady development of flavor. The region is recognized for offering a touch more spice, with a focus on citrus fruit, floral notes, and a lot of mineral expression.

* Rocky Gully, Frankland River, Western Australia, 2012, 11%

Offering lots of evolution in the glass, the Rocky Gully gives an ultra clean, acidity focused wine. The aromatics here are light with delicate lemon-lime and touches of toast. Through the palate the citrus acidity carries forward into an ultra long finish. This is a wine all about acidity and linear focus.

Frankland Estate, Netley Road Vineyard, 2012, 11%

Giving aromatics of white peach and peach blossom curled through with white grapefruit, Frankland Estates Netley Road Vineyard rises over flavors of stone fruit and citrus then does a flip mid-palate into soft birch bark with a short finish. This is a clean focus wine with nice juiciness.

Frankland Estate, Isolation Ridge Vineyard, 2012, 11.4%

Frankland Estate‘s Isolation Ridge Vineyard generates a more floral focused wine with textural aromatics of narcissus flower and white peach. The juicy palate is delicate carrying birch bark through the mid-palate, then opening into white peach and cracked pepper for a short finish.

Leeuwin Estate, Art Series Riesling, Margaret River, 2012, 12%

With distinctive, sweaty fruit and flower aromatics the Leeuwin Estate showcases perfume. The plush floral aromatics roll into a perfumed palate of lemon and lime blossoms. This is a textural wine with good focus, while less crisp than the other Western Australian examples. The acidity here is juicy, continuing into a long finish perfumed all the way through.

* Plantagenet, Mount Barker, 2010, 12.5%

Plantagenet gives a creamier palate of lime and peach blossom by the ocean, giving textural aspects of fleshy fruit with saline crunch. There are layers of complexity here giving hints of dried fruit, on a moderately acidic presentation, with a nice balance of texture and zip.

TASMANIA

Tasmania also carries a genuinely cool climate with maritime influence, generating intensely juicy whites with closely focused flavors and lots of linearity. With so much structure, the wines evolve significantly with time and love to age in the bottle.

* Uberblanc, Glaetzer-Dixon Family Winemakers, Tasmania, 2012, 11.3%

Intensely juicy, with an ultra long finish, the Uberblanc emphasizes the gifts of Tasmania’s cool climate. The complexity of the nose includes toast with lots of perfume, including rose potpourri. The palate carries floral touches forward through long acidic lines of citrus blossom and touches of toast. Uberblanc has pulled off complexity with an ultra long mouth watering focused finish.

VICTORIA

Plantings of Riesling in Victoria are disperse. However, the state also features what may be the oldest vines in the country planted at the end of the 1800s, start of the 1900s at the Garden Gully Vineyard in the Grampions district of Great Western.

* Jamsheed, Garden Gully Vineyard, Great Western, 2012, 12.7%

A distinctive wine in the overall line up, the Jamsheed Riesling carries multiple stages of interest. Opening with a touch of sweetness, the flavors are rich and creamy, rolling into a cascade of juicy acidity and saline that wash and stimulate the palate, then carry forward into a moderate long finish of snap clean flavors. This wine is distinctly textural.

CLARE VALLEY

Clare Valley hosts a high concentration of quality Rieslings, known as one of the smallest overall production zones of the country, but one of the highest production areas of quality wine. The area is known to generate intensely flavored wines with great longevity. The region is also quite varied, however, and as a result creates varied presentations as well. The wines of Polish Hill, for example, are recognized as more austere and subtle in their presentation, while those of Watervale offer great concentration and tension.

Some Young Punks, Monsters, Monsters Attack!, 2013, 10.5%

Meant as a good value wine with interest and a focus on fun, Some Young Punks give an off dry presentation of Riesling with light alcohol, good acidity, and a nicely achieved balance with sweetness. The flavors come in as lime juice, lime zest and touches of cracked pepper that waters the palate.

* Pikes, Clare Valley, “Traditionale,” 2012, 12%

Giving a crisp, clean fruit focus, Pikes Traditionale stands as their gateway to Riesling wine. White peach, is followed by white grapefruit with faint almond flower and touches of cracked pepper. This is a well made wine, with good value. It’s a Riesling that’s all about the fruit, and its smooth, easy long finish.

* Jim Barry, The Lodge Hill, 2012, 12.8%

Giving the most earth focused, though also one of the most delicate wines of the tasting, Jim Barry‘s The Lodge Hill showcased slate with touches of saline showing both in clean aromatics and palate. There are delicate hints of lychee in the pretty while light aromatics, and the well made, fine boned palate.

* Petaluma, Hanlin Hill Vineyard, 2012, 13%

With clean aromatics, the Petaluma turns into rich flavor with a broader palate. There is a lot of complexity here with good breadth of flavor including saline with faint hints of cracked pepper, guava, and a citrus mélange tumbling through a long, full mouthwatering finish.

** Pikes, “The Merle,” Clare Valley, 2011, 12%

With a textural nose and palate, Pikes “The Merle” focuses on fruit from the Polish Hill section of the region, offering greater tension and complexity, plus tons of juiciness. The wine gives green almond fruit with peach pit from the aromatics through the nervy mid-palate, full of action and length. I am a fan of this wine–a prize fighter with no need to show off.

Kilakanoon, Mort’s Block, 2011, 12.5%

The Kilakanoon Mort’s Block offers a clean, well made wine that, while a bit non-descript, offers nice fruit, and just a hint of toast. What the wine lacks in sophistication it makes up for in reliability and value. This is worth drinking.

Kilakanoon, Mort’s Reserve, 2012, 12.5%

Kilakanoon‘s Mort’s Reserve keeps it’s clean focus with a subtle expression. White flowers hint at narcissus and almond blossom carried through with lime and white grapefruit. The wine is clean, well made, and focused on delicacy.

EDEN VALLEY

Also known for its high concentration of quality Rieslings, Eden Valley competes with Clare Valley for its aging potential. By contrast, however, the region tends to generate lighter bodied wines with more subtle aromatics that focus on floral notes and orchard fruit.

Henschke, Julius, 2012, 11.5%

Subtle aromatics with still distinct elements throughout, the Henschke Julius keeps its focus on blossom notes bringing in moments of peach pit, peach blossom, and white peach with Meyer lemon, lime blossom, and a mineral crunch. The flower notes verge on bath soap but the wine focuses in on a pretty and light expression overall of well integrated scents and flavors.

Mesh, 2012, 12%

A cascade of juiciness pushes through light and subtle flavors in the Mesh. Citrus melange, complete with citrus blossom, dance with hints of bread and touches of talc. The wine is well balanced, and subtle, while also a bit generic. This is worth drinking.

St Hallett, 2011, 11.5%

With a touch of floral bath soap aromatics, St Hallett pushes into lemon with saline accents, leading into an explosively flavorful, juicy mid-palate and short finish. The wine also carries hints of lily, and charcoal to accent the central rush of salty citrus.

Dandelion Vineyards, 2012, 12.5%

The Dandelion Vineyards needs time to settle down as it opens a little disjointed while fresh. There are intriguing characteristics of delicate blossom aromatics, and fresh greenery leading into narcissus and grapefruit blossom on the palate. Compared to other wines in the tasting, this one presents as a bit clumsy while not badly made. This is a wine more like a country girl, less elegant, more at home in the fields and barn.

Penfolds, Bin 51, 2012, 12.5%

Unfortunately, Penfolds offered the only unpleasant wines in the tasting. Though many consider Penfolds an easy go to for Australian Riesling, Bin 51 drank with a more commercial quality than any of the other wines. The toast and citrus combination here performed as a singular note with medium high acid and a short finish. With such a singular expression, it’s one of the few wines tasted that stood out for lacking depth.

* Pewsey Vale, 2013, 12.5%

The Pewsey Vale shows a beautifully made classic Eden Valley wine. With a super floral (touch of bath soap) aromatic, the palate spins around a long and lifting ultra clean expression showing saline accents, and hints of potpourri on a creamy mid-palate moving into toast and nut on the finish.

** Pewsey Vale, Museum Reserve, The Contours Riesling, 2007, 12.5%

Aged in bottle 5 years before release, Pewsey Vale‘s 2007 Museum Reserve is a memorably beautiful wine. The subtlety and floral expressions here read as a sort of alluring inanimate intimacy. Hazelnut skin with toasted almond and touches of toast carry over into a palate of toasted lemon, touches of potpourri, and a long saline finish. This is a beautifully balanced wine with the most memorable nose of the tasting.

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

While both Eden Valley and Clare Valley fall within South Australia, they are considered distinctive zones in terms of style. The grape is planted elsewhere in the state as well at smaller concentration, as other grapes remain a larger focus.

Penfolds, Thomas Hyland, 2011, 11.5%

Unfortunately, Penfolds showed poorly in this tasting with its contrast to other wines highlighting the more commercial aspects of its flavor production. The Thomas Hyland drinks as though its meant to offer greater complexity than its Bin 51 counterpart, but the effect is of a wine trying to be something its not, generating a sort of faux petrol accent over toast, red apple, and muted fruit and flower.

Yalumba, Y Series, Barossa, 2012, 12.5%

Bringing fresh and dried floral notes with accents of spiced wood and bay leaf, the Yalumba Y Series also offers hints of apple, white peach, and peach blossom. This is a nicely made, and well balanced wine with a long clean, easy finish.

NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand Riesling differs from its Southern Hemisphere cousins by featuring the petrol notes absent in Australia. The common style incorporates floral notes with a mix of spiced citrus, stone fruit, and petrol accents. While dry Riesling is common throughout Australia, most examples in New Zealand incorporate the acid-sweetness balance of an off dry approach.

Greywacke, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2011, 12%

A refreshing contrast to the previous wines, the Greywacke carries distinctive aromatics of light smoke, apple blossom, and juicy peach with a touch of candied sour apple and chalk. The palate performs in an off dry (slightly sweet) style that balances juicy acidity with touches of white pepper and a medium-long finish.

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

 

 

4

Tasting Pikes Rieslings with Neil Pike

Chuck Hayward organized a small party vertical tasting of Pikes Clare Valley Rieslings with Neil Pike a few weeks ago. Around 10 of us got together to learn more about Pikes history, Riesling vintages from the region, and Neil Pikes own family history.

Understanding Clare Valley

Clare Valley produces some of the top Rieslings of Australia, showing nice aging potential, with distinctive aromatics from the variety compared to other locations around the world. Growing conditions are unique in the region, but Australian wine culture also carries its own view of appropriate style for the grape (partially due to how fruit does grow there). As Pike explained, petrol notes are seen as a fault in Australian Riesling as the country tends to look instead to pristine fruit expression as the ideal. In his view, canopy management plays into how the flavor and aroma profile arises, with too much sun exposure the skins toughen generating bitter phenolics.

One of the cooler zones of South Australia, Clare Valley offers a cool and wet winter, followed by a very dry spring. The combination gives vines a good dormant period followed by healthy growing conditions that allow for generally no need for humidity intervention (little to no mold or mildew). Clare Valley is one of the latest harvesting regions on the continent.

Pikes sits around 500 meters/1640 feet elevation, with 650 m/2132 f at its highest point. Clare Valley is a small region producing only 2% of the wine in Australia, but 15% of the country’s premium wine. The Valley’s Mediterranean climate carry cooling breezes of the Spencer Gulf, balancing the warmer day time temperatures with cooling breezes and a diurnal shift that keep acid levels up.

Pikes Riesling “Traditionale”

Pikes Traditionale

click on drawing to enlarge

Pikes Riesling “Traditionale” comes in as the labels annual, more accessible style wine. The fruit is sourced from two locations with 75-80% brought from their Polish Hill Vineyards on the Easter side of the Valley. There is always some Watervale fruit as well, as it lends a softer and more opulent presentation to the wine. The Polish Hill Vineyard, on the other hand, grows in blue slate giving a needle tension. When coupled with the Watervale, the pair dance with long juicy lines and a friendly lightness of flavor.

Pike explains that the region offers high acidity. The house focuses on picking to preserve that juiciness. He also recognizes, however, that the type of acidity impacts the mouth experience with tartaric acid, in his view, giving a softer overall feel when compared to higher malic acid numbers, which he views as sharper and harder to drink (this will be explored more directly in a post tomorrow looking specifically at acids found in wine). As such, Pikes likes to maintain high TA with a lower focus on MA.

Pikes Riesling Reserve “The Merle”

Pikes Merle Vertical

click on drawing to enlarge – (each vintage came in at 12%)

Only in the best years, Pikes also produces a reserve style Riesling that is meant to age and offer greater intensity in its youth. The wine is held back slightly longer by the winery too as a result. Named for Pike’s mother, “The Merle” offers a pure Polish Hill expression, the vineyard growing in blue slate with some iron stone spotted throughout generating a light ferris element mixed into all that tension. In Pike’s view, the Merle is their more challenging and austere Riesling, as it is meant to drink after some time in bottle and is more loved by Riesling devotees.

The Wines

Both flights offered lovely aging characteristics with the older vintages giving a nice combination of fruit-flower expression and secondary deepening. The middle years tended to be pretty while light in comparison to either the seering acidity of the new wines or the thickening plushness of the older. The line drive intensity of the Merle was impressive giving too a rich textural experience. It had a lot of energetic focus while being a wine to slow down with. The Traditionale, on the other hand, came in all about pep, verve, dance and lift with tons of energy certain it was meant to wake the palate up.

***
Thank you to Neil Pike.

Thank you to Chuck Hayward, Peter Bentley and Kat Luna.

***

To read Blake Gray’s write-up of this same tasting: http://www.winereviewonline.com/Blake_Gray_on_Aussie_Riesling.cfm

***

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

 

Thank you to Eric Asimov for recommending this post in the Friday, June 21, 2013 edition of The New York Times Diner’s Journal “What We’re Reading.”

***

The History of Smith-Madrone

Stu Smith inspecting Chardonnay, March 2013

Stu Smith inspecting Chardonnay, April 2013

Smith-Madrone began on a Santa Monica beach at the end of the 1960s, where two brothers, Charles and Stu Smith, grew up. It was a time when an otherwise middle class family could afford vineyard land in Napa Valley, and start a winery fresh becoming owners that produce their own wine, a phenomenon rare in the region today.

Stu Smith worked as a summer lifeguard while completing a degree in Economics at SF State. His brother, Charles, earned his undergraduate at the same institution with a focus on English Literature, also taking a lot of Philosophy classes.

In the midst of his undergrad, Stu developed the idea of studying viticulture, and buying land in the Napa Valley to grow wine. While defending swimmers, he got to know a beach regular that expressed interest in the vineyard idea, offering to help with the purchase. Though the man ultimately had no connection to the future of Smith-Madrone, never paying for any property, the suggestion of a potential investor gave Smith the gumption to move north and begin looking.

In Fall of 1970, then, Stu Smith began the Masters program at UC Davis, while also seriously looking for land. Charles had an interest in wine as well, and so began commuting to Davis, sitting in on Stu’s courses. Though Charles was never enrolled in the program, he completed a portion of the training alongside his brother.

Spring Mountain was largely undeveloped in the early 1970s. As Stu describes it, the hillside was covered in trees, mainly Douglas Fir at least 2 1/2 feet in diameter. “The land was completely over grown, but it had lots of good aspects for sun, and obviously had good soils.” Stony Hill Winery had established itself a little down the mountain from what is now Smith-Madrone, so he had a sense the region could support vines. Then, while hiking the forested property he looked down and found old grape stakes there on the forest floor. The hill had once been planted to vineyard. Though the original investor fell through, in 1971, Stu gathered support from a small group of family and friends to purchase and start what would become 38 vineyard acres.

Cook's Flat Reserve, Smith-Madrone

2007 Cook’s Flat Reserve, Smith-Madrone’s inaugural reserve wine

The brothers now know their hillside property had been planted entirely in vines in the 1880s. The original deed, signed under then president Chester A. Arthur, establishes George Cook as owner on December 5, 1884. Prohibition would later end the life of the Cook Vineyard, but on December 5, 1933, the anniversary of Cook’s purchase, the Volstead Act would overturn Prohibition. In the midst of Prohibition, however, the property returned to forest until Smith-Madrone began. Though Stu instigated the project, thanks to its size and mutual interest, Charles became part of it within a year. Today, as the brothers describe, Stu manages everything outside, while Charles takes care of everything inside. The two are the sole full-time employees of their 5000 case winery.

Touring the 1200-2000 ft elevation site, the landscape reads as a history of Stu’s genuine curiosity and drive for experimentation. Its hillsides weave a range of planting styles, and rows at differing angles to sun. Asking Stu to talk me through the changes, we begin at one corner where own-rooted Chardonnay planted in 1972 has just been pulled. “In the early 1970s,” he explains, “heat treated, certified virus free plants were just coming out. We had the opportunity to get the certified vines, but we couldn’t get appropriate rootstock so we planted on own roots. We brought in non-vineyard equipment [to lessen the chance of phylloxera], and we got 40 years out of those vines.”

Moving across the different plots, Stu shares a history of viticultural knowledge. The age of the vines matches the viticultural insights of their birth year expressed through their planting style. Between plots, vines change spacing, and height, training styles, and angle to sun, all in an attempt to learn what best suits the needs of the site. After traveling the 40 years of site development, we go inside to Charles for lunch and wine.

Smith-Madrone’s Evolution in Wine

Charles Smith

Charles Smith tasting a 1983 Smith-Madrone Riesling

We turn to discussion of Smith-Madrone’s wine history from its first vintage in 1977. Today they are known for Riesling, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon but they have played with their winemaking. From 1977 to 1985 Smith-Madrone also produced Pinot Noir. “The best wines we ever made were Pinot Noir.” Charles tells me, “but the worst wines we ever made were too. Our 1980 was one of the best Pinots ever made in the United States. We just couldn’t do it again.” The grape is often referred to as a heart breaker for the challenges presented in vineyard. Finally, the brothers decided to pull their Pinot and focus on the other grapes instead.

Stu nods. “The reason we did it was to experiment. We wanted to try making Pinot Noir. If you only ever do the same thing, you get stuck in a rut, and don’t improve.” What is consistent in Smith-Madrone is the intention Stu calls “get the best of the vintage into bottle.” Their focus is less on style and more on responding to the conditions given that year.

In their view, it is Chardonnay that most readily shows the effects of such an approach. The structure and flavors shift year to year, from the ultra fresh, citrus and saline presence of the 2010, to the slightly more candied, chalky, lean-lined body of the 2011, as examples.

Charles clarifies further, “we do pay attention to style on Riesling because style in Riesling is largely determined by sugar level.” Smith-Madrone makes theirs dry. “You can’t bounce around on sugar level with Riesling or no one knows what you’re making.” Even within their dry Riesling, however, the brothers have explored the best approach. A particularly busy vintage in 1984 led to their Riesling getting left overnight on skins. “It was a blistering hot harvest,” Charles explains. “We just kept processing grapes like crazy, just the two of us. If we told our harvest guys to leave, we didn’t know when we’d get them back so we just kept going. We did 127 hours in one week, the entire harvest in one week.” As a result, they simply couldn’t process all the fruit fast enough, and some Riesling got left overnight in the bin. After vinification they liked the increased aromatics and mouthfeel of the wine, and stuck to the practice through the rest of the 1980s. However, after about 8 years they realized something.

Excited by the conversation Charles has run downstairs to grab a 1985 Smith-Madrone Riesling so we can see how it’s drinking. Stu continues to tell the story. “We did overnight skin contact on our Riesling from the mid-80s. The flavor held up well with age but the color changed after 8 years or so. The wine turned orange.” When Charles arrives again with the bottle I’m thrilled to see its darker color and can’t wait to taste it but Stu is unimpressed. The wine tastes wonderful, a fresh juicy palate with concentrated while clean flavors, drinking far younger than its 18 years. Charles and I are agreeing on the virtues of Riesling and its ability to go on forever while Stu is still facing his discomfort with the color. “If I close my eyes and pretend it isn’t orange than I agree it’s a good wine,” he finally tells us.

lunch with Charles and Stu

part of the aftermath of our lunch together

After 41 years of winemaking, to inaugurate the anniversary of the original Cook’s purchase, and the repeal of Prohibition, the Smith brothers released their first Reserve wine on December 5, 2012. We’re drinking the first Cook’s Flat Reserve vintage, the 2007, along side its sister 2009.

In 2008, smoke from wildfires in Mendocino settled into the valley North of Spring Mountain and covered the grapes in smoke taint. Going straight to press, the whites were unaffected, but fermenting on skins the reds never did lose the smoke flavor. The brothers decided, then, to sell the 2008 reds off in bulk and release only whites from that year.

Short of knowing it took 41 years before they launched the Cook’s Flat Reserve, the wine itself would answer the question of why make a reserve wine–both vintages offer the dignity and graceful presence genuinely deserving of the title. Where the 2007 offers lithe masculine presence, the 2009 flows in feminine exquisiteness. The ’07 gives impressive structure and darker earthier flavors, to the core of tension and mid-palate lushness of the 2009. Keeping to their best of vintage commitment, what changes the shape of the 2007 versus the 2009 on the palate is the success of the fruit each year. Both wines are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc blends, but the proportions changed.

In an industry where reserve wines are common (made even within the first few years of a new winery’s inception), I ask the brothers both what made them wait so long, and why now. They explain that they started studying the reserve market and tasting through wines at different price points to make sure they understood what was available. They only wanted to make the wine if “we could do this and still give value,” Stu says.

After several years of consideration, Charles tells me, they were clear. “We resolved we could” make a wine truly distinct from their Estate Cabernet while still Smith-Madrone. To describe the intention behind their Reserve, the brothers compare it to their Estate. The Estate pays heed to old school, California mountain Cabernet relying entirely on American oak. The Reserve, on the other hand, is a nod to Bordeaux pulling only from a particular section of their property that they’ve always felt gave distinctive fruit, then aged in French oak.

The Romance of Wine

The romance of Smith-Madrone

a gift from a friend in the winery

The conversation turns finally to the change in the wine business from when Smith-Madrone began. The Smith brothers represent the last generation of winemakers in the region that could also own their own vines. Today, by contrast, getting into the industry, Stu explains, looks more like a sacrifice. “If you want to go into winemaking now and be pure, you have to give up something.” He says. Most people end up making wine for someone else because it’s such an expensive industry.

“Part of why I got into the wine business,” Stu continues, “was Hugh Johnson and his book talking about the romance and magic and business of wine.” Charles is quietly nodding. “And you know,” Stu continues, “Hugh Johnson would eat his heart out to be here today.” He’s referring to our conversation over wine with lunch. We’ve tasted through multiple vintages of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Riesling at this point and fallen into as much discussion of my life in Alaska as their life in wine. The whole day all I’ve felt is happy.

We’re sitting at a table in the winery tasting wines with lunch and talking. Beside Charles hangs a placard that reads, “We are all mortal until the first kiss and the second glass of wine.” He explains that a friend bought it off the wall of a bar in St. Louis then sent it to the brothers as a gift. Charles painted several coats of shellac over the saying written in chalk and hung it in the winery. The quotation reflects a feeling about wine that got the brothers into their profession. “As far as I’m concerned,” Charles remarks, “this is what wine is all about. It’s not all business. You sit down, enjoy conversation, and eat food.”

***
Thank you to Charles and Stu Smith for sharing so much time with me.

Thank you to Julie Ann Kodmur.

For Michael Alberty, Steven Morgan, and Fredric Koppel.

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

3

The Big Table Farm Barn Effort

This summer Big Table Farm will begin building a new barn to serve as their on site winery. They’ve been using a shared space since getting started in 2006.

To make the effort easier, they’ve created a Barn Raising Founders’ Offering that gives people the opportunity to support the cost of the barn building and receive 6 magnums of wine as well.

To read more about the Big Table Farm Barn Raising, check out Clare’s blog here: http://oregonfarm.blogspot.com/2013/05/big-table-farm-barn-raising.html

I’ll post on their current portfolio of wines soon but in the meantime I wanted to share photos of our visit from last summer.

Beautiful Big Table Farm, Gaston, Oregon

Here are the photos of their beautiful home.

Approaching Big Table Farm

approaching Big Table Farm

Last summer I was lucky enough to spend a month in Willamette Valley, welcomed by a host of wonderful people into local life. The region celebrates an incredible down-to-earth sense of community. The feeling of it echos through the calm of the residents, and in their stories of sharing equipment, technique tips, and meals. It’s a place for which I hold strong affection.

The Front Door

Artist Clare Carver and Winemaker Brian Marcy, the husband-and-wife team behind Big Table Farm Wines, invited Rusty Gaffney, aka The Prince of Pinot, and his wife, Patricia, and me for dinner one night. What a hoot! The entire dinner was made from Brian and Clare’s farm (with a bit of cheese from down the road), and their wines (along with an excellent old Burgundy plus a Sonoma Coast Pinot).

Looking Across the Living Room into Clare's Studio

looking across the living room into Clare’s art studio

Big Table Farm makes great Pinot Noir in Oregon, and one of my favorite domestic Rieslings (from the Brooks Vineyard) as well. In a recent North to South West Coast N. America Pinot Noir tasting theirs were among the top contenders. Their Riesling was a hit at last years Summer of Riesling party here in Napa Valley too.

Art on the Walls

Establishing the roots of his viticulture and oenology training at UC Davis, Brian Marcy moved to Napa Valley in 1996 working for the likes of Neyers Vineyards, Turley Wine Cellars, and Marcassin, mixing a stint in Australia with Trevor Jones Fine Wines in the middle.

The 2011 Rose'

the 2011 Pinot Noir rosé to start (Clare hand draws, then letterpress prints the labels. Each is hand cut and placed on the bottle. They also change each vintage while keeping a recognizable theme from their farm–more of their labels follow below.)

Clare Carver’s career, on the other hand, took her through art school all the way into Napa Valley, showcasing her fine art along the way in California and Oregon, and leading into a wine label design business as well. The couple met in California.

Clare with the Prince and Princess of Pinot and her two workhorses

we started with a tour of the farm–Clare’s work horses, they plow the garden

In 2006, however, they moved North to Willamette Valley, Oregon, recognizing the insurmountable nature of the Napa real estate market. In moving, they were able to establish their label, Big Table Farm, and their home on 70 acres in Gaston, Oregon.

the goat

“We always knew we had more in us than just mowing the lawn.” Marcy explains. “We just didn’t know it was all this.” The couple’s Big Table Farm site includes two flocks of chickens–some for meat, some for eggs–at least two pigs (again for meat), meat cattle, gardens, and bees, all tended by the two themselves and their two work horses.

Clare and the Laughing Pigs

the laughing pigs, Petunia and Rose

“We’ve done a lot of research since moving here,” Clare explains. “The Omnivore’s Dilemma gave us a lot of inspiration. We got our chickens a bus, instead of a coop. They roam all over.” The name of their endeavor arises from the creative, full investment approach they take to their home. “The best food is fresher, and when it comes from your own work, it’s just a little bit sweeter. We love to eat and drink. The big table aspect encompasses the whole picture, the art and the food.”

Looking out across the farm

getting ready for dinner. Brian cooked a fantastic meal including homemade bread, fresh vegetables, and meat cooked in an egg smoker.

The farm approach also arises out of Carver’s own love for animals. “I brought home animals faster than Brian could build fences,” she says. Still, the animals are not simply pets but help to maintain the longevity of the situation with chickens, cattle, and pigs seeing regular turn over for meat. Carver explained that their first year harvesting animals was hardest. Now the day of slaughter is still a challenge but they have found a way of showing respect to the animals and at the same time getting it done quickly that frames the experience more readily.

Getting ready for dinner

Big Table Farm Pinots, a 1999 Burgundy, and a Sonoma Pinot

The couple have not yet planted vines on their own property. As Marcy explains, “When we plant grapes it will be well thought out and researched. We’re still finding out what the climate in this little canyon is.” In the meantime, they’ve been buying grapes since beginning their label. To focus on quality, they source fruit from vineyards in which they are able to establish long-term relationships with growers, and also buy grapes by the acre, not the ton. The approach is risky in Willamette’s vintage-by-vintage varied climate, but it gives them closer understanding of the fruit. Their goal in building an on site winery is to extend that closer contact even further into the wine.

Dinner with friends

from left: Clare Carver, Brian Marcy, Rusty and Patricia Gaffney

Wakawaka and the Prince

Clare titled this: Wakawaka Meets the Prince

Pup

Clementine, one of their two honey dogs.

To feed the Farm’s pigs and chickens Clare developed an organic non-corn, non-soy grain blend and then started a grain cooperative to share the mix with others through the area.

Sweet peas

Clare tells me that bees bump a person three times before they sting. They don’t want to sting since it would kill them, after all. Her suggestion is that the best thing to do when encountering a bee is to take a deep breath (with your mouth closed?) and back away slowly. (Sounds like a bear.)

Clare's label design

a quick glance at some of Clare’s label design work

One of the impressive aspects of Clare’s label portfolio is how varied the styles are. If you line the labels up side by side you can’t recognize the same person designed each of them. She says she loves “the process of helping a winery find their story through their label.” In asking her about the variation through the portfolio she comments, “it’s not my story. It’s their story.” Each design is meant to express them.

***

To read more about Big Table Farm:

More on their Barn Raising Effort: http://www.goodstuffnw.com/2013/05/big-table-farm-crowdsourcing-winery.html

The Prince of Pinot’s Account of the Winery & their Wines: http://www.princeofpinot.com/winery/964/

Forbes Collection of this year’s coolest wine labels: http://www.forbes.com/pictures/emkd45fdmi/2011-big-table-farm-pinot-noir/

***

Best of luck to Clare and Brian as they make this next leap forward. I am rooting for you.

Thank you to Clare and Brian for having me.

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

2

Welcoming Austrian Wine Month

Austrian Lunch Wine Itinerary

the official tasting itinerary, with a few extras included along the way

Austrian Wine Month began last week with a series of focused lunch and dinner “Master Classes.” The meals brought together Importers, Retailers, and a few writers in discussion of Austria’s wine regions, terroir, and food pairings. The purpose is to bring attention to wine retail, with the goal of extending enjoyment of Austrian wines at home. To do so, shops across the United States (and elsewhere) have organized tastings integrated with wine education.

Willi Klinger

Willi Klinger

I was lucky enough to attend one such lunch at San Francisco’s The Slanted Door restaurant, affording the opportunity to witness the brilliance of Austrian wines with Vietnamese food. It was delicious. Willi Klinger, the head of Austrian Wine Marketing, facilitated discussion throughout.

The Austrian Wine Marketing Board operates as an umbrella group, not promoting any one wine or label, but instead working to increase awareness of Austrian wine in general. Klinger speaks passionately about his work, with a commitment to not just spread the word but “connect with people and share what wine is and can be.”

Sudsteiermark

one of my top favorites, the Sattlerhof Sudsteiermark 2010 Sernauberg, rich and fresh aromatics, brilliantly textural with vibrant acidity, and rich, fresh flavors of citrus and blossom

Cabbage Citrus Salad

Klinger wants to increase the accessibility to Austrian wine on a day to day basis, as well as overall interest. But the country is also small, with small volume produced. The reality, then, must keep Austrian wine focused not on expanding everywhere, but only in viable markets. Wine education, then, becomes a central goal.

Stadlmann Rotgipler

In considering wine education, Klinger comments, “We don’t want to simplify wine too much.” He continues, “Great wine can never be simplistic. Like Classical music, you have to dive in and you have to work to understand it. It is not just an easy going category.” Asking Klinger the best means to shift public understanding of either a challenged, or underrepresented wine category he responds, “First you must give dignity to the grape itself.”

Curried Halibut

With Austrian wine in general now being a recognized source of quality wine, the shift of attention can turn to sharing particular regions in Austria, as well as consideration of its particular terroir. As discussion moves through lunch, focus turns from the grapes unique to the country, to International varieties.

Der Ott

Bill Mayer, Importer for The Age of Riesling/Valley View, turns to Riesling as an example. In Mayer’s view, Riesling gives terroir’s most transparent presentation among white grapes. In comparing Rieslings of Germany, Alsace, and Austria, not to mention Australia or the United States, distinctive character presents region to region. The distinctions grow complicated when the question of sweetness is also layered into the equation.

Spicey Tofu

Klinger agrees. He describes the particular characteristics that Austria has to offer. He first emphasizes the significant diurnal shift the country carries. “We have cool wines, in cool climate viticulture, but with good grapes,” he says. The temperature shifts “allow maturity of grapes without getting wines too heavy.” Multiple growing regions are established within the country. Steiermark he presents as an example.

Nikolaihof Gewurtztraminer

In Klinger’s view, Steiermark offers a unique microclimate that is good for cooler climate grapes, and sparkling wines. But, he explains, it also banks steep hills of limestone that generate precise linear wines, and great fragrance. The Sernauberg from Sudsteiermark, a wine we drink alongside fresh yellowtail, and cabbage-grapefruit salad, is my favorite wine of the meal. It’s a Sauvignon Blanc that must be named by region rather than grape, as it bears no obvious resemblance to the New Zealand or French examples that dominate the fruit’s stereotype.

Motic Red

Claiming the Sernauberg wins my favorite is no small feat, as each of the wines presented are pleasing. Austrian whites consistently show me a textural complexity I appreciate. We enjoyed too several examples of the country’s classic, Gruner Veltliner, including a sparkling version that was wonderfully fresh and crisp. The most surprising wine of the afternoon was a 2009 Nikolaihof Gewurztraminer, a wine so rare many of the other attendees had not seen it before. It is imported exclusively for The Slanted Door, and Gus offered it as an apt (though unusual) pairing for our final lunch course before dessert, un-spiced, ultra lean, red meat. (I like meat.) We enjoyed too here two reds. The reds gave a pleasing mid-weight with a focus on freshness. They were a nice affirmation of Austria’s relationship to red wine improving, as it has perhaps struggled with oak in the past.

Enjoying Dinner

Klinger discusses Gruner Veltliner briefly, pointing out its incredible flexibility in food pairings. But he then turns to considering the current state (success with quality whites) and next step (continuing to grow the reds) for Austrian wine. “It is important to think of established wine culture as a process,” he says. In succeeding at one step, you must still be striving for the next. “This is a process that never ends. If it ends, we have lost.”

The final wines

***
Thank you to Willi Klinger.

Thank you to Chaylee Priete and Gus Vahlkamp. Thank you to Michael.

Thank you to Dan Fredman.

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