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sauvignon blanc

Tasting Cowan Cellars

Over lunch a couple weeks ago I was able to taste through the current portfolio of Cowan Cellars’ wines with Jim Cowan, and his wife Diane Arthur. The couple spend harvest and Fall in Sonoma, then travel East in winter to be closer to family.

Jim Cowan’s route to winemaking began circuitously via online friendships with wine lovers. Then in 2006, in the midst of a visit in Sonoma, Cowan discovered Steve Edmunds needed help making wine at Edmunds St John winery and found himself working the cellar alongside an icon of California wine. The experience helped Cowan realize he could begin making his own wine. With surprise connections to vineyards and fruit along the way, and help from friends in finding harvest housing, Jim and Diane credit synchronicity and their friendships for finding their way into wine.

Following are notes via drawing and text on the current portfolio.

Cowan Cellars 2013 Portfolioclick on illustration to enlarge

Cowan Cellars portfolio of wines carries crisp, clean fruit with floral under currents expressed in taut structural focus. Where the saigneé of Pinot Noir softens the mouth feel, it focuses the fresh herbal lift, and keeps the juicy length. It’s a crisp, fun, tasty focus for rosé. As the Sauvignon Blanc dances in layers of tropical forest, white grapefruit with citrus blossom, and faint back hints of crisp quince without sweetness, it spins up the juicy tension, giving a clean, lean focus white.

The two skin contact wines — a Ribolla Gialla from Russian River Valley’s Tanya Vineyard, and a Sauvignon Blanc named Isa, heralding from Lake County fruit — are both beautifully balanced giving the textural interest and lengthening sapidity that can come with macerated ferments, while lightening the touch enough to make the style approachable and pleasing. The flavors and aromatics in both lend themselves to savory Fall foods, and invite Thanksgiving considerations (especially on the Isa).

Turning to the reds, the Pinot Noir takes a red currant herbal element alongside notes of feral forest floor and hints of bay leaf to give a clean wine with nice tension. The two Syrah vintages we tasted generate the most excitement in me. I’m a sucker for a good Syrah, and these give genuine vintage contrast not only arising from age differences that show in young Syrah. The 2010 is nicely open and ready to drink now with blue violet notes throughout, a pleasing spritz of feral musk, and the deepening aspects of cooler Syrah tension — tobacco, touches of tar, and a chocolate finish. The 2011 comes in tighter right now, opening with air in the glass to dark fruit way in the finish after more lifted aspects of tobacco flower, jalapeno spice hints, cocoa powder and red dust accents. I’m digging the length.

Each of these wines were tasted alongside food progressing through stages of a meal. These wines were a pleasure to enjoy with food.

***

Thank you to Jim and Diane.

Cowan Cellars wines are available here: http://cowancellars.com/wines/

To read more on Jim Cowan’s own account of how Cowan Cellars got started: http://blogs.gangofpour.com/cowan-cellars-beginnings

More on Jim and Diane in a future post.

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

2

Traveling Chile

This trip through Chile’s wine countries has taught me something valuable. I could have learned it years ago from the melodic stylings of the early-90s rock band Extreme, but I was too young at the time to really *get* the notion.

Here is the simplest version of the point. Hopefully it is obvious once said. Whether you love a wine doesn’t show from saying again and again, you love a wine. It shows in whether or not you want to drink it. To put it another way, if a friend comes over for dinner with a bottle of wine, is it one you open right away?

(Full disclosure (and Kelly forgive me for confessing this publicly): having Kelly Magyarics bust out of no where with acapella stylings of Extreme lyrics at the end of a late night in Argentina forever changed my view of this song–it actually makes me tear up now in a way it never did when I still thought it was merely a romantic ballad.)

Root: 1 Wines

Root: 1 offers a small portfolio of varietally focused value wines that give three of the things I want in drinking wine: wonderful juiciness, clean fruit presentation, and good balance. They also give savory complexity, concentrated while light flavors….

The trick behind Root: 1 though is giving these characteristics at extreme value, without the Yellow Tail headache the next morning. Root: 1 retails around $12 in the United States. I enjoyed drinking each of these four wines and was blown away most especially by the quality of the Pinot Noir offered at such a low price.

On our trip through Chile we were able to spend time tasting with and interviewing Root: 1’s winemaker, Sergio Hormázabal.

Root: 1 Wines portfolioclick on image to enlarge

“The responsibility of Root: 1 for each bottle, each glass, is to express the soul and personality of the variety without any fireworks.” -Sergio Hormazábal

The Environment of Root: 1

The Root: 1 plantings occur in two major wine regions of the country. The Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir grow North of Santiago in the cool climate area of Casablanca (more on the region in a future post), giving fruit tight focus, savory flavor, and a finish into tomorrow. Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon grow a few hours south of Santiago in the steep slope niche of the Colchagua Valley called Apalta.

Chile, as a country, has celebrated an absence of phylloxera to this day. Original cuttings were brought to the region prior to the phylloxera outbreak that devastated Europe, rooting many of its current day vines back in direct lineage to those earlier expressions of a variety. Additionally, today the country continues to plant primarily on own-root. Some wineries, however, plant portions grafted alongside ungrafted in order to track the quality differences.

The advantages of growing own-root varieties occurs in the direct route of transmission from soil to fruit for water, and nutrients. Without the thickening affect of grafting within the veins of the vine, fluids move more directly. According to Hormazábal, based on tracking the results from grafted versus ungrafted vines, “grafted vines always change the balance of the wine. Any planting done with grafting in Chile is to experiment and try changing the balance.”

One of advantages of having the technology to graft vines rests in being able to intentionally adapt a vineyard to its environment. Roots can be found to increase or decrease vigor and water usage, and to modify the relationship to soil, as examples.

The Winemaking and Growing of Root: 1

Asking Hormazábal to discuss his views on the growth of Chilean wine, he offers an example from his ideas of quality Pinot Noir. “One of the main problems at the beginning as a winemaker, or a country’s wine industry is to try and make a wine, a varietal wine, like another grape. To try and make a Pinot like a Cabernet.” Quality expression of the two grapes are not made in the same fashion. Hormazábal explains, “You must taste a lot of Pinot Noir” to understand how to make it.

Hormazábal, then, recommends the value of tasting a range of wines from all over the world. The tasting experience is like a winemaking class for the winemaker honing recognition of how best to express ones own fruit. “You need to be very careful with use of wood in Pinot Noir. We want to show the clean fruit side of Pinot Noir with a touch of spice.”

Tasting wines from around the world, however, also gives insight on where best to grow. Different varieties have different needs. Where some grape types give their best in impoverished conditions, according to Hormazábal, Carmenere acts differently. “Carmenere needs the deepest soils with more fertility and water retention versus Syrah, which can grow in shallow, very rocky soils.”

Within Chile, Carmenere holds a unique position. In one sense the grape stands as the Flagship of the country. Chile is the one place globally where the variety remains in any real quantity. At the same time, Cabernet Sauvignon arises as the country’s most important and widely planted variety, followed closely by Sauvignon Blanc. Both grapes do well in Chile, and sell well internationally too.

Carmenere, as a variety (more specifically on the character Carmenere in a future post), readily tends towards herbal, green, bell pepper and hot pepper expression. Such flavor components, however, are seen as unpopular for some consumers. Within the country, then, there is debate on whether or not allowing for or eradicating such personality is the best expression of the grape. That is, do the herbal-pepper notes occur as a fault of grape growing then shown through the wine, or as part of the fruit’s personality?

The Root: 1 expression of Carmenere is meant to showcase the best-at-value of the grape within the unique environs of the Colchagua Valley. It carries fresh dark and red fruit notes danced through with light jalapeno lift on the nose, and red bell pepper breadth on the palate.

We ask Hormazábal about the pepper accents on his Carmenere. He responds, “The spice is the soul of Carmenere. A Carmenere without it has no interest.”

***

post update: MW Mary Gorman-McAdams was a fellow write also on my recent trip to Chile. To read her write-up of the Root: 1 wines head on over to The Kitchn here: http://www.thekitchn.com/root1-delicious-varietal-wines-from-chile-for-just-12-196404

***

Thank you to Sergio Hormazábal.

To see photos of the incredible sub-zone of Apalta in the Colchagua Valley in which Hormazábal grows the Carmenere and Cabernet: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/10/18/the-steep-slopes-of-apalta-colchagua-valley/

Thank you to Marilyn Krieger, David Greenberg, and Alfredo Bartholomaus.

WIth love to Marilyn, David, Kelly, Mary, Mary, Alyssa, and Alfredo. Miss you.

***

Extreme continues to make new music. According to their website, band member Pat Badger is currently recording a solo album in which he sings lead vocals for the first time. To read and hear more: http://extreme-band.com/site/pat-badger-is-recording-his-debut-solo-album/

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.

Tasting Goodland Wines

Goodland Wines

2011 Goodland Wines pre-bottling

“Goodland Wines is our thesis on Santa Barbara County.”

Considering History: Santa Barbara County Wine

At the end of the 1960s, the rolling hills of Santa Ynez in Santa Barbara County fed their golden grasses to cattle, the region largely focused on grazing and wide open spaces. Having graduated from UC Berkeley in 1965, Richard Sanford had a hunch that the cool climate of Santa Rosa Road, approaching the ocean, would serve grape vines. In 1970, along with Michael Benedict, he planted about a remote curve of Santa Rosa Road to establish what is now the oldest vineyard in the Santa Ynez AVA, an experiment that now gives insight to a still young wine valley. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from that planting still give fruit.

To the North, three years later two brothers moved into Santa Maria putting a mix of vines that would become some of the oldest plantings of Chardonnay for the region, also still producing fruit. Together these vineyards marked the start of a new turn for the area, a focus on wine that has helped reshape a still ranching focused County.

In the initial decades of planting vines through Santa Barbara County, the region was a wild experiment. Sanford & Benedict stands out as one example that hit the experiment right early, while others in the County placed Cabernet next to Pinot to see which would handle the climate and soils best, then tore out vines. It was a new region with little wine growing history to rely upon.

Forty years later, Santa Barbara County has reached what some describe as its second wave. Enough history holds to show insight into the regions’ best expressions in wine. Sta Rita Hills have proven apt for Chardonnay. Happy Canyon gives vibrant Sauvignon Blanc, as examples.

Enter Goodland Wines.

A Thesis on the Region: Goodland Wines

Together Matt Dees, Dave Potter, Chris Snowden, and Ruben Solorzano, each well established in the wine industry in varying ways, would revel in a philosophical debate–what is the best wine expression of Santa Barbara’s various AVAs?

What is unique about Santa Barbara County is its varied climate within a very small area. At the coast, in the Sta Rita Hills, for example, the weather remains relatively cool throughout the day, with fog hovering close to ground and winds prevailing. Here Burgundy varieties and cool climate Syrah have been planted. Mere miles inland, the heat spikes enough that Bordeaux varieties show well in Happy Canyon, the hottest area in the County, also carrying the biggest diurnal shift with still cool nights. A touch between the two, a small bowl in the mountains, named Ballard Canyon, has proven well for Rhone reds.

As Dees describes, the variation within such close proximity makes the region exciting to work with as a winemaker. The current moment in the region’s development makes it exciting again. Still, the wine industry here is young enough that what grapes grow best where is still, to some degree, at play. As Dees explains, this point in history with the County’s unique conditions “gives us the chance to think about what we see here. That’s the joy of it.”

The four friends, then, decided to put their debate in the glass, so to speak, and establish what is a sort of thesis of Santa Barbara County wine–wines to express each AVA. In doing so, they also draw on the French model–labels that showcase the AVA first. As Dees explains, such a focus is not about a winemaker, but about what the appellation has to offer. “It’s the vineyard that matters.”

Knowing the Vineyards: Ruben Solorzano

DSC_0021

from left: Matt Dees, Chris Snowden, Ruben Solorzano (Dave Potter to the right of frame wrestling bear)

In talking to the group, Matt Dees and Chris Snowden both readily turn the focus to their friend Ruben Solorzano. The Goodland Wines project began as inspiration from the four of them together, but Dees and Snowden emphasize the important role Solorzano has played.

Solorzano has worked with vineyards throughout the County since the mid-1980s. In the region people call him “The Vine Whisper,” a title he laughs about but listening to him speak I begin to recognize why.

The four of us are standing next to Syrah planted through a limestone band in Ballard Canyon. It’s a vineyard that Solorzano knows well. I ask him to talk through how he works with the site. He walks up to the vine and touches his fingers to one of its arms. “The difficult thing about growing grapes,” he tells me, “is that there is no book you can follow. Every year you can learn, accumulate experience, but you have to start again every year.”

Dees compliments Solorzano’s intuition and knowledge of each of the vineyards the group works with. Solorzano responds that he’s been lucky to learn with lots of people, in lots of vineyards and get to know the area. Then he goes back to explain his work again. During the hardest part of the summer he visits each vineyard 3 or 4 times at different parts of the day. Each visit he simply walks up to the vines and touches them.

As he explains I feel my body slow down with his. “I walk through and touch the leaves, and touch the vines,” he says. He goes on to describe how he tries to imagine his way into what the vine is doing and what the vine needs. This is how he decides the best way to respond. “Somehow I just get to feel what the vines feel.”

Drinking the Wines

Ballard Canyon

the Syrah Vineyard in Ballard Canyon in January

Goodland Wines produces very small lots averaging only a barrel per wine, resulting in about 50 cases each. Together we were able to taste the 5 main 2011 wines, though they also have 2 entry level wines as well.

To be honest, I found the wines thrilling–lively, stimulating, and pretty, the cool nights throughout the County giving each wine vibrant acidity and an enlivening charge. As a portfolio too, I could read the thesis the foursome imagined writing, insight into the region presented by AVA.

Today Goodland Wines releases their label with three of the primary wines, and their two entry level wines available. In the Fall they will also release two additional reds.

The Individual Wines

The 2011 Sta Rita Hills White (a chardonnay) is full of “I love you” acidity, with a delicate nose, a citrus oil focus on the palate, and a long briny finish. It’s a fierce feather-weight fighter of a wine, and a bit of a trickster coming in with a delicate, pretty nose, that turns into a tiger on the palate.

Happy Canyon White from 2011 (Sauvignon Blanc) brings floral hints, and ultra light tropical fruit notes through the nose followed by a super clean and zippy lightly floral citrus bloom and tomato leaf palate. The acidity is a nice surprise with sea fresh touches and only hints of candy, followed by a long drying finish. This is a seafood wine with stimulating rich flavors and tight acidity.

2011s Sta Rita Hills Red (Pinot Noir) gives again a delicate nose followed by that tiger palate. It brings focused flavors with tons of acidity, red berry and rhubarb, lifted greenery, and a long brine finish.

The final two 2011 reds include a Happy Canyon Red (primarily Cabernet Sauvignon) and a Ballard Canyon Red (mainly Syrah) to be released in the Fall.

The team explains they have a passion for rugged mountain Cab and saw that style through Happy Canyon. They’ve been able to work with a high elevation site that gives tight little berries–concentrated flavors without over extraction. The wine is all dusty mountain fruit, with super fresh, pleasing green pepper, dried leather, tingling and drying tobacco, light menthol notes to keep it cool, and a long finish with great acidity.

The Ballard Canyon 2011 Red (primarily Syrah with a touch of Grenache) comes in biggest of all, a little more dominating on the palate with dark red and black berries, wrapped with black leather. It’s ultra tight with a juicy surface and a long tannic finish bringing in blueberry and a slight bitter grip at the end. It fills the mouth without heaviness.

In 2012 the gang was also able to work usher in a Santa Maria White offering the slightly more fruit focused give of that AVA accented with a lightly reductive style compared to the Sta Rita Hills presentation. They are also excited about the quality of their Grenache for 2012 for the Ballard Canyon Red.

To put it simply: Goodland Wines are recommended.

***

If you’re interested in purchasing Goodland Wines, they’re available online here: http://www.goodlandwines.com

***

Congratulations to the Goodland Boys!

Thank you to Matt Dees, Chris Snowden, Ruben Solorzano, Dave Potter, Sao Anash, and Lacey Fussel.

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

5

Tasting the Massican Portfolio — 2012 and 2011

Yesterday we were lucky enough to taste the newly bottled Massican 2012 portfolio.

Dan Petroski’s Massican is characterized by texture and subtlety with a perfumed lift. His signature gives a consistent frame through which to taste distinctive variety and vintage character.

2012 as a vintage for Napa and Sonoma offers a vibrancy of flavor, with a softer structural profile than previous years (not just compared to the last two cold ones). In many cases, the flavors are far broader across the palate, while the acidity is softer.

This vintage effect shows on the Massican ’12s bringing a slightly rounder character to Petroski’s wines compared to the 2011’s linear drive. His distinctive texture, and chalky notes, however, still show throughout.

The 2012s were tasted yesterday afternoon at the winery, then again in the evening, and this morning. (Again, this is a very early tasting on the 2012 Massican portfolio, so there will be some evolution in bottle prior to release.) The 2011s were tasted at the winery, and have been enjoyed multiple times since release last year.

Here are drawings that offer side by side vintage comparisons.

Massican Gemina (100% Chardonnay)

Massican Gemina 2012 and 2011

click on comic to enlarge

The acidity is still vibrant throughout the 2012 portfolio, but where acid lines screamed through the ’11 Chardonnay, they merely drive on the ’12 (that is, they’re still strong, just rounder).

The 2012 Chardonnay opens up beautifully with air. It has similar flavoral elements to the 2011 with a more accentuated yum factor. It’s a wine I want to sit down with and just enjoy (in fact, I will later tonight. Praise the Lord).

Massican Sauvignon (100% Sauvignon Blanc)

Massican Sauvignon 2012 and 2011

click on comic to enlarge

Where the flavors are lean and vibrant on the 2011 Sauvignon, they’re pregnant and pulsing on the ’12. The biggest flavoral surprise, I believe, occurs here with the Sauvignon, as the presentation comes in broad across the palate in a way none of the ’11s did. Still, there is a lift to the flavors that means while they fill they mouth, they also have movement going through.

The flavoral finish is also softest here, but the acidity keeps the mouth watering for a long long time after. This wine will continue to evolve significantly in bottle, I believe. The 2012 Sauvignon will be a change for many, but it will not weigh down the palate.

Massican Annia White Blend

Massican Annia 2012 and 2011

click on comic to enlarge

The 2012 vintage brought a shift in production levels on Petroski’s Ribolla Gialla and Tocai Friulano leading to a difference in proportion on the Massican Annia, his white blend.

Where the 2011 carried a Friulano base, the 2012 relies more on Ribolla. Character-elements remain consistent between the wines but with a change in emphasis from one year to the next. The 2011 offers a lifted citrus blossom carriage with base notes of almond flower. In 2012 the presentation flips, bringing more of that bitter almond gravitas–but the more time spent with this wine, the more it lifts its profile with the floral elements showing more of Petroski’s signature perfume. Give this wine time to open up.

These are all excellent food wines.

***
Thank you to Dan Petroski for taking time, and for opening his wines for us.

Thank you to Carla Rzewszewski.

To read more about the Massican story, check out Talia Baiocchi’s article in Eater: http://eater.com/archives/2012/06/14/california-wines-pendulum-swing-isnt-just-about-style-alcohol-levels.php

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

2

Last week I drew up and wrote up the wines of the Scarpetta portfolio, along with a summary of the lovely lunch that Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, and Bobby Stuckey threw for several of us at St. Vincent’s in San Francisco. Unfortunately, I was traveling without my scanner and so couldn’t properly place the tasting notes illustration for the wines.

Here’s the Scarpetta comic properly scanned. (I’ve also replaced the photograph of it in the original post.)

Cheers!

Scarpetta wines

click on comic to enlarge

***

Jr and I are back in Sonoma again returning to our regular schedule of me tasting and interviewing people in wine, and her going off to school. Though, not till she recovers from some nasty cold. Hope you’re all well and enjoying the move from Winter into Spring with all its fits and starts. Joy to all of you!

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

First of all, please forgive. I am currently traveling without my scanner, so after spending the day drawing I could only post my notes from Scarpetta’s current portfolio by taking a photo of it. I’ll reload the scanned-in image after I’ve returned to Sonoma next week. In the meantime, let the photo of the drawing suffice. Thanks! Updated with the scanned image!

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Celebrating Friuli (w a little help from Barbera): Scarpetta & Frasca

Scarpetta wines

click on image to enlarge; click twice to enlarge more

Bobby Stuckey greets me at the door with a smile and a glass of pink bubbles. I’m happy I took the drive to San Francisco. After a few moments everyone has arrived and we sit. Lunch is going to begin.

Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, and Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson have traveled from Boulder, Colorado, home of their well-known and celebrated Frasca Restaurant, to share their love for Friuli. After establishing their Friuli inspired restaurant, the team expanded to begin Scarpetta Wine starting with Friulano, Friuli’s classic white.

Stuckey introduces the day’s activities. “I feel like I’m in the cool kids club. But it’s surprising too because I feel like I’m still punk rock, and I feel like I’m still a cross country running nerd, but I get to hang with you guys. So, thanks.” The event includes Sommeliers, Wine Buyers, and Wine Writers from around the Bay Area.

The Sparkling Rosé

Bobby Stuckey

Bobby Stuckey setting the stage

Stuckey continues, focusing on the wine. He explains that the rosé offered upon entry is made with the Charmat method using a slightly unusual blend for the style of Franconia (aka. Blaufrankisch) and Pinot Nero (aka. Pinot Noir). Though the Charmat method is often maligned for its association with poor quality versions of Prosecco, Stuckey explains the technique is more centrally all about capturing tenderness and aromatics. Combined with care, and old vine material, Stuckey believes it creates a unique sparkling rosé.

The wine is paired with a winter Friulano Salad of apple, radicchio, shaved horseradish, and shaved hard cheese. The salad is all lightness and zest alongside the savory, floral bubbles. A beautiful opening.

Love for Friulano

To put the wine Friulano in its proper context, Stuckey compares it to Chardonnay. Where the French grape offers a neutral palate that allows technique to be shown on top, Friulano doesn’t. Where the French grape has been cleaned up and clonally selected, Friulano hasn’t. Instead, Friulano carries distinctive, even funky aromatics that Stuckey compares to the “wild dog of agriculture.”

For all the funk Stuckey ascribes to his beloved grape, the Scarpetta version is a clean, refreshing offering of its wine–all lifted aromatics, rounded palate, and pleasing viscosity on a stimulating palate. (Truth is though, whatever funk Friulano may have, I’m simply a fan of the grape.)

The wine comes to us alongside Friuli’s Native food, Frico–a fried cheese dish bringing together dried firm cheese with a molten center of Montasio cheese. Last year during COF2012, a group trip to Friuli six of us were lucky enough to take, we ate Frico daily. Don’t hate me Italy, but Mackinnon-Patterson’s version is even better, all smooth, lush, pungent, and easy mixed with smoked ricotta and sprinkled with fresh green onion.

Tasting the Whites

Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson

Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson serving up his risotto

Over time, Scarpetta expanded its white focus stepping into International varieties that have become classics of Friuli in their own right, both giving a unique presentation in that region.

* Pinot Grigio

As Stuckey explains, Pinot Grigio, though often maligned, can give a sense of freshness, with seriousness and concentration. Stuckey tells us, Pinot Grigio properly understood is a vehicle for terroir. “It is that,” he says, “that makes it a noble grape.”

Mackinnon-Patterson comes out from the kitchen to serve his Risotto and builds on Stuckey’s idea by drawing a parallel between cooking food and making wine. For Frasca’s chef, cooking is all about layers of flavor made through treating the flavors with time. In listening to Mackinnon-Patterson explain the courses, while tasting the foods and the wine, what I find in common are delicate flavors with stamina and presence. Each course, like the wines, comes in lifted, dancey, and rich.

* Sauvignon

Stuckey considers the idea of Sauvignon Blanc in Friuli, there referred to as simply Sauvignon. In Stuckey’s view, Sauvignon is the secret weapon of the region. It is the Ponca, their calcium rich soil, combined with the marginal climate of the area that offers a unique opportunity for the grape to give a triology of fruits–orchard, citrus, and stone–layering the mouth in unexpected complexity. Such flavors alongside the great acidity indigenous to Friulian wines and Sauvignon gives something more than a simply refreshing white wine.

Turn to Barbera

Scarpetta wines

Our meal finishes with a surprising turn (if you didn’t already know the Scarpetta portfolio), a red from Piedmont. Stuckey explains why they decided to focus on Barbera, their only wine from outside Friuli. In his view, the grape is the gateway wine to drinking Italian reds. For people used to French reds, Italians come with a lot more traction. For those drinking New World reds, the earthy flavors are often surprising. Barbera, on the other hand, offers a textural and flavoral connection to other Italian reds in a lighter, juicier, food friendly physique. This wine we drink with meat.

While Barbera is most commonly made in the Barbera d’ Alba DOC of Piedmont, there the grapes play second fiddle to their more popular neighbor Nebbiolo. In the Barbera del Monferrato DOC, however, Barbera is the focus with the vines being planted in high density, steep vineyards, and given the chance for old vine age.

Stuckey describes how he thinks of the grape’s characteristics. “This is what I think about Barbera,” he tells us. “It’s tangular. This grape is tangy, and angular. So we give it no new wood. It’s all about letting it be noble–a vehicle for terroir. That’s tangular.”

Stuckey invites us to enjoy the wines and food with one final comment. “Here’s what I want you to know,” he says. “When it comes to Scarpetta and Frasca, I would like to meet you on the corner of drinkable and thinkable.”

***
Thank you to Bobby Stuckey, Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson for the food, wine, good company, and invitation.

Thank you to David Lynch for hosting the tasting at St. Vincent, San Francisco.

***

For great photos and more from the LA Scarpetta-Frasca tasting check out Whitney’s post over at Brunellos Have More Fun.

For more on the Seattle offering read Jameson’s post at JamesonFink.com.

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

Meeting Ian and June Marks

Ian and June Marks

When we arrive at the Gembrook Hill winery down the hill from the Marks’ home, June Marks is picking tall grass to feed to the horse next door. She realizes we’re there and invites us up to sit with her and her husband, Ian, to taste through wines. She’s already done her weights, she explains. She’ll just feed the horse and then go up and get things ready.

Over thirty years ago the Marks moved into what was then uncultivated property. No one had planted vines as far south in the Upper Yarra subregion, and not in their nook of the valley. The wine divisions were based on shires, rather than distinct growing zones.

Having considered property throughout Victoria, the Marks arrived in the Yarra Valley as part of a second wave of winery owners. Some vine experimentation had been done to see what grew best in the region, but the area was still largely undeveloped. After planting, the Marks would become part of the turn in attention to the Yarra region as a good place for making quality wine, and Ian would help redelineate the appellation boundaries based on growing characteristics.

This vintage marks their 30th anniversary.

The Marks’ Story

Ian Marks, Gembrook Wines

Ian Marks

In the early 1980s, the Marks had been looking for property to build a home and plants some vines. “Eventually we saw this place and bought it in a quarter of an hour.” Ian tells us. “We didn’t really know anything about the soil, or rainfall, so it was quite a bit of luck. When we bought it, it had three cows and a tree. So, June and I planted everything.”

“On the weekends,” June adds.

Earlier June had pointed out parts of the property and explained together she and Ian had planted, tended, and cropped the vines themselves. She’s comfortable now leaving the work to Timo Mayer and their son Andrew Marks, Gembrook Hills’ winemakers, she explains because “I’ve already done everything.” She laughs.

Ian nods and continues talking about how they got started. “We planted one clone of Sauvignon Blanc originally but it picked at about one-quarter ton to the acre so we had to plant a new clone. Ian pauses, “it makes a beautiful wine.” He continues, “we’ve been lucky. That one clone is about the only big mistake.”

From the top of Gembrook Hill

from the top of Gembrook Hill

Gembrook Hill’s Sauvignon Blanc is widely considered the best in Australia. When we taste their 2011 current release I am surprised. It’s style rests outside the variety’s stereotypes. It is a texturally focused, light and lifted wine with real herbal, bay leaf elements, delicate fruit, and a long seashell, sea air finish. The acidity is dancing.

Gembrook Hill still whites

The Australian white wine market generally considers young wines the most desirable. Even among the winemakers and wine geeks I spent time with on this visit, the older vintage whites I’d brought from the States consistently got a surprise remark, though the wines were then enjoyed after. As Mike Bennie explained to me, as far as sales here go, in Australia people most often want to drink their white wines within the year of their vintage date.

But the Marks’ Gembrook Hill wines are known to age well. To showcase the quality of their whites, the couple recently hosted a vertical tasting of their Sauvignon Blanc, written up by Tim White in the Financial Review.

Ian Marks continues his story, revealing more luck in securing the quality of their white wine. “To be honest, this was 30 years ago. I’d never heard of Sauvignon Blanc.” The Marks’ had a friend help them with planting advice to best judge the character of the site. “He surveyed the property and said, this is the perfect site for Sauvignon Blanc, and I said, okay.” Ian pauses. Referring again to their advisor, “he doesn’t even like Sauvignon Blanc.”

Tasting Gembrook Hill Wines

Gembrook Sparkling Blanc de blancs

The Marks’ success has extended beyond the white grape. They’re also appreciated for their sparkling Blanc de blancs. They’ve produced still Chardonnay as well, and I quite enjoyed the 2008, but they’re shifting their attention with it to the bubbles.

Gembrook Hill Pinot Noir

The Gembrook Pinot Noir also shows off how well the wines age. We did side by side tastings of their current 2010, and the 2002. The ’10 was lifted, again with a textural focus, and plush while lean dark lines. The older vintage was still youthful and vibrant with a perfumed nose and graphite tension. The flavors had deepened into meats and cigar box. Ian explained that 2002 was an intense year with very small cropping. They didn’t produce that much fruit. But the wine is elegant, with supple tannin.

***

Thank you to Timo Mayer, Andrew Marks, Ian and June Marks, and Mike Bennie.

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

Thank you to Eric Asimov for recommending this article in The New York Times Diner’s Journal “What We’re Reading”, February 19, 2013.

***

Circling George Vare: One Way White Maceration Ferments Came into California

George Vare, an investor with decades of experience in Napa wine, celebrates the work of experimental winemakers. For Vare, the passion of young people trying new approaches exemplifies the future of the California wine industry.

Operating outside the mainstream appears as a theme in Vare’s own history with the industry. In early 1995, Vare and Michael Moone decided to step outside the Cabernet and Chardonnay focus of 1980s and 90s Napa Valley and established a new company, Luna Vineyards. Vare had worked for decades already at scouting and expanding the commercial success of now historic Napa wine labels, including Geyser Peak Winery, Beringer Wine Estates, and others. In 1995, however, after considering the pulse of Napa wine, Moone and Vare realized there was room for taking their business in a different direction.

George Vare in his Ribolla Gialla vineyard

George Vare in his Ribolla Gialla, Friulano vineyard

Though Italian immigrants had helped establish the original wine industry through the valley, by the end of the last century, little interest in Italian varieties could be found rooted in the area. Together, Moone and Vare decided to take advantage of that missing piece by making Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio.

The original goals of Luna were to make Italian varietals to rival old world quality. Early vintages were described as carrying “old world austerity and terroir, bolstered by new world fullness and verve” (Boca Raton News 16 March 2003).

In March 1995, Vare and Moone’s Luna purchased a Chardonnay vineyard at what were then the Southern reaches of the Silverado trail. What is remarkable about the story is that soon after buying the 82 acre vineyard they replanted most of the site to Pinot Grigio, establishing 44-acres of the variety by 2000, and increasing from there. At the time, the idea of pulling out Napa Valley Chardonnay and replacing it with Pinot Grigio, was surely crazy. So, the group renamed themselves the Luna-tics. Where Oregon had begun the Pinot Gris experiment as early as the mid-60s, Luna stood as one of the leaders of the grape in California. In this way, the intention to do things differently defined the beginnings of Luna. As John Kongsgaard once explained, the self-named Luna-tics even used to play classical music to the vines.

John Kongsgaard Starts the University

After 20 years of success in the Napa Valley wine industry, Kongsgaard was brought in to Luna in 1996 to establish the house’s winemaking style. Konsgaard had started his career making wines in 1980, side-by-side with Doug Nalle at the now defunct Belvedere Winery. By the mid-1990s, however, Kongsgaard had proven himself as an influential winemaker through his 13-years of work with Newton Vineyards.

In 1997, Kongsgaard and Vare began making regular trips to Italy, originally searching for “the holy grail of Pinot Grigio.” As Vare explained, they searched first in Alsace, and though they liked those wines, the climate didn’t suit Napa. Alto Adige also proved too cold. Finally Friuli gave a closer parallel, and a wealth of influence through small scale and experimental winemakers of the region.

Kongsgaard worked with Christopher Vandendriessche, of White Rock, as assistant winemaker initially. Together they helped establish what Abe Schoener calls a university environment in Luna’s winery. Schoerner had begun working with the team at the end of the 1990s, gathering data on their vineyard sites, but also learning from Kongsgaard as Schoener’s mentor. Schoener makes clear too that Vare supported and encouraged the winery’s university methodology.

By allowing interns to make their own barrels of wine, while also doing their work for Luna, the facility trained a number of young wine enthusiasts that would go on to influence the area’s wine industry. But the approach also effectively expanded the experimentation witnessed by the mentors as well. Kongsgaard has stated that he fine-tuned some techniques he’d go on to use for his own label through the early investigatory period of Luna.

Schoener explains, Kongsgaard had a talent for standing back to let his mentees explore their interests in wine, while being there to facilitate a successful project at the same time. Vandendriessche operates with a similar approach in his work today at White Rock as well. The site served as Schoener’s first winery in establishing Scholium Project, and today facilitates the work of other new winemakers getting ready to release their work.

Learning from Radikon and Gravner

After Vandendriessche chose to move his attention to the White Rock facility, Kelly Wheat was brought in as the new assistant winemaker to Kongsgaard. Wheat began traveling to Friuli with Kongsgaard and Vare, who had already established strong relationships with the winemakers through Friuli and Slovenia. Wheat benefited, then, from the friendships already started with the likes of Stanko and Sasa Radikon, Josko Gravner, and others.

Radikon had begun experimenting with making his wines with extended skin contact in 1994, utilizing open top wood fermenters. Stanko Radikon’s father had talked about techniques used in Oslajve prior to the onset of more contemporary pressed wine techniques. Eventually Stanko decided to invest in using them.

Previously, Radikon explained, wines were made using all of the fruit, rather than removing the skins. The result was to develop wines with greater texture, aroma, and flavor, that also kept longer after being made. The skin contact style of winemaking, then, was historically situated–a normal approach for the technology of the time–but it was also economical–it made the wine last.

Drawing on Georgian winemaking history, Gravner began using extended maceration fermentation in clay anphora in 1996. He had helped introduce the focus and freshness of temperature controlled stainless steel vats to Friuli, thus introducing the winemaking changes associated with newer technologies. But after a friend brought Gravner a kveri (Georgian anphora), the winemaker experimented with the winemaking techniques of that region, known to be thousands of years old.

With both Radikon and Gravner there was an adjustment period while moving to the historical-but-new-to-them techniques. Each winemaker had developed expertise with their previous styles, and were known for making quality, terroir-driven wines. In shifting to the use of extended maceration, however, they also needed time getting to know the effects of the approach. In 2001, Gravner released his first fully anfora based portfolio (though bottlings as early as 1998 are still available for purchase in the United State). In establishing friendships with both Radikon and Gravner, the Luna-tics were able to learn new techniques both through direct witness at the Italian wineries, and through on going consultations had by phone.

Kongsgaard and Vare had befriended Radikon as early as their first trip to the region, meeting Gravner a few trips later. On one visit with Gravner, a barrel with a plexiglass side stood in the corner. Grapes were inside aging not only on lees, but skins, with the wine in such a state for over a year. The Americans were able to taste the wine from the experiment and were pleased at the result, not having heard of such an approach previously. As Vare described it, the wine had a nice weight and texture, without any bitterness.

Showing Skins: the practice moves to California

After returning from a visit with these winemakers in Friuli in 2000, Wheat decided to try the techniques himself and make extended skin contact lots for some of the white wines at Luna.

In 2000, Wheat began making a Pinot Grigio blend that sent 40% of the grapes straight to press before fermentation, while the rest were put through a crusher to allow more aromatic and textural contribution from skins.The technique loosely resembles the impact of older technology that broke up grapes more than simply pressing them, causing more skin and stem influence (and thus both more aromatics and more body) on the juice.

Wheat experimented further however, making small lots of white wine left to ferment like a red. Inspired by his time in Friuli, Wheat located some Friulano in 2001, sourced from the Hollister area (and grown in limestone) and fermented to dryness on skins, working similarly as well with Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grown in or closer to Napa. The most successful of these, Schoener believes, was the Fruilano.

Having worked with Luna in various capacities for several years, Schoener became winemaker there after Wheat’s departure in 2002. Witnessing Wheat’s trials with skin contact, Schoener encouraged the Luna label to make some skin contact bottlings. Having become more mainstream by that point (Vare was also no longer acting president), the board was resistant to investing in wines without more proven market success. Schoener stayed in the role at Luna long enough to help winemaker Mike Drash take up the reins in 2003, only ever intending to secure a smooth transition from Wheat to the new person. After Schoener dove into his Scholium Project, beginning to make a skin contact Sauvignon Blanc, the now oft mentioned Prince in his Caves, in 2006.

Luna would not be bottling skin-contact only white wines. However, drawing on Wheat’s experience with the approach, Drash continued making what Luna called their Freakout White blend. The wine included extended maceration of Sauvignon Blanc, as well as Friulano left to ferment to dryness on skins.

Looking for Texture: Pax Mahle experiments

Over in Sonoma County, independently of the work being done with the Luna-tics, Pax Mahle had started Pax Wine Cellars in 2000. The label had a central focus on Syrah, but made Rhone whites as well. Working against the norm at the time, Mahle was committed to making low alcohol white wines, without the influence of new oak. One of the downsides of whites made in this approach, however, is a textural change in the wine’s mouthfeel–they become lighter, with less weight, and to some people, less interest. Searching for a way to offer more textural interest without reliance on new wood, while keeping alcohol levels low, Mahle began experimenting with skin contact lots in 2003. Just like the adjustment period between a new technique and quality wine necessary for Radikon and Gravner, Mahle explains it wasn’t until 2007 that he bottled a skin contact wine. He wasn’t willing to put a label on something he couldn’t get behind. It took those several years to find a barrel he believed in as a stand alone wine. Prior to 2007 the experimental lots were blended back into other white blends.

***

To read part 2 in this series: The Butterfly Effect: How the death of a fad gave birth to beautiful color in wine, Part 2: Variety, Terroir, and Mind Scrambling

Part 3: The Butterfly Effect: How the death of a fad gave birth to beautiful color in wine, Part 3: The Craft of Wine Tasting, and the Question of Responsibility, Conversation with Two Sommeliers

To read last year’s series explaining Orange Wines beginning with how they’re made, then their presence in Georgia, Italy, and California, begin here: Understanding Orange Wines Part 1: A Quick and Dirty Look at How They’re Made and What Their Tannins Do To Our Saliva

***

Over the next weeks I’ll be exploring the work of contemporary skin contact wines from California and Oregon winemakers, both varietals and blends. I’ve been lucky enough to taste several dozen examples both bottled and barreled from a range of grape types in both California and Oregon, and to interview a range of people on the subject.

I’ll be traveling in Sydney, Melbourne, and Geelong as well, however, and so my posts here will be mixed in with updates from Australian adventures.

Cheers!

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

 

Santa Barbara Wine Country

Goodland Wines

Goodland Wines

unreleased Goodland Wines portfolio

Ballard Canyon

looking into Ballard Canyon AVA

Ruben Solorzano

Ruban Solorzano, Vineyard Manager, Goodland Wines partner

Limestone Soils, Harrison Clark Vineyard

Ballard Canyon Limestone Soils

Matt Dees

Matt Dees, Winemaker, Goodland Wines partner

Chris Snowden

Chris Snowden, Goodland Wines partner

Harrison Clark Vineyard

Harrison Clark Vineyard Syrah, Ballard Canyon AVA

Matt, Chris, Ruben, long term friends

Star Lane Vineyards & Wines, and Dierberg Wines

Star Lane Winery

Star Lane Winery, Happy Canyon AVA

1500 ft elevation Cabernet Vineyard, Happy Canyon

Star Lane Vineyard, 1500 ft elevation Cabernet Sauvignon

Andy Alba

Andy Alba, Winemaker Star Lane & Dierberg Winemaker

Star Lane Vineyards, looking into Happy Canyon

Looking over Star Lane Vineyards, the oldest Vineyards in Happy Canyon; Looking into Happy Canyon AVA from 1500 ft

Gravity Feed Winery, Star Lane

 

Star Lane Winery Gravity Flow Winery

Star Lane Wines

Star Lane Wines

Dierberg Wines

Dierberg Wines

Sta Rita Hills Pinot Noir Cluster (full size, not a wing)

Sta Rita Hills high elevation Pinot Noir cluster (photo by Andy Alba): actual cluster size (not a wing)

Rusack Vineyards & Wines

Rusack Vineyard

Rusack Vineyard, Ballard Canyon AVA

Rusack Vineyards, Ballard Canyon

Looking into Ballard Canyon AVA, Rusack Vineyard

Rusack Winery

Rusack Winery

Rusack Wines

Rusack Wines

Rusack Wines, Catalina Vineyard Project

Rusack Wines Santa Catalina Island Vineyard Project

Terroir Selections, and Sandhi Wines

Terroir Selections Wines

Terroir Selections Wines by the glass, The Watering Hole Tasting Room

Sandhi Wines

Sandhi Wines

***

Thank you to Matt Dees, Chris Snowden, and Ruben Solorzano.

Thank you to Andy Alba, Sarah Hunt, and Jim Dierberg.

Thank you to Steve Gerbac.

Thank you to Nat Gunter.

Thank you to Sao Anash, and Lacey Fussel.

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