Tags Posts tagged with "sauvignon blanc"

sauvignon blanc

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Dan Petroski, photo courtesy of David Bayless

In 2009 Dan Petroski launched the entirely white-wine-focused brand Massican, sourcing fruit from iconic Napa Valley vineyards. In 2012, fruit from Russian River Valley was added to ensure adequate quantities for the various cuvées. Although Massican relies on fruit from California’s North Coast, the inspiration for the brand rests in the fresh, aromatic whites of north-eastern Italy. Petroski lived in Italy making wine for a year after leaving a publishing position with Time magazine, and fell in love with the high-acid whites of the country. Massican’s core blend, Annia, recalls the classic white wine blends of Friuli, bringing together the Italian grapes of that region with Chardonnay.

Since 2006 Petroski has also served as the winemaker for Larkmead Vineyards, one of north Napa Valley’s heritage wineries. There the wine programme centres more typically for Napa on red bordeaux blends, although it is also a source of old-vine Tocai Friulano. (In the United States the TTB still requires the variety be called by the full name, Tocai Friulano, even though international labelling laws demand it be called simply Friulano – see Farewell Tocai Friulano.)

Petroski’s decision to produce white wines only under the Massican label is unusual for Napa Valley. It hints at the potential diversity in a region that has so strongly aligned itself with Cabernet Sauvignon and structured reds. While Massican’s blends focus on Friuli’s characteristic white wine varieties, Petroski’s Sauvignon Blancs are also a stand out. His 100% varietal expression offers an example unique for the region, using just enough oak to give it pleasing palate texture, while in the end delivering a harmony of savoury notes, balanced by just enough sweet stone fruit, and just enough spice. The result is a serious but delicious example of Sauvignon that avoids its excesses or stereotypes.

At the end of April, Petroski opened complete verticals of every wine he has made for Massican. It provided a unique opportunity to taste his current 2016 releases and to revisit previous vintages to see how they have aged. While the earlier vintages of 2009 through 2011 show a sense of…

To keep reading this article, including tasting notes, head on over to JancisRobinson.com

Here’s the direct link: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/massican-italian-inspired-napa-whites

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Drinking Saint Bris

To the Southwest of Chablis, along the cut of the River Yonne, in the heart of Auxerrois sits the darling appellation of Saint Bris – darling because of its uniqueness, darling because of its smaller size, darling because the mere idea of it carries ineffable charm. The subzone of Saint Bris proves to be the only AOC in Burgundy to grow Sauvignon, the presence of which in that celebrated region is a surprise to many.

As if the idea of Burgundian Sauvignon isn’t enough, make sure to place it in Kimmeridgian limestone, near its eponymous medieval city of Saint Bris that includes what are apparently the most intricate and remarkable limestone cellars in the region of Burgundy (I haven’t seen them personally but how I’d love to).

A mere 133 hectares grow in the Saint Bris AOC. It’s been a recognized appellation since 2003. The variety found its way to the area sometime after the phylloxera blight devastated the now-obscure white varieties then growing in the region. Until that time the village of Saint Bris was actually part of Chablis but the radical change to viticultural health as a result of the louse infestation led to geographical reassignments as well, even with the still Chablisienne soils. Enter Sauvignon. By the 1970s it was being officially recognized for quality.

With its relatively small size and moderate obscurity, the area still hosts smaller production, hands on, family farmers. The Goisot family is one such example. Father and son farmers, Jean-Hughes and Guilhem, dedicate their time to the viticulture then keeping a less interventionist approach, to beautiful effect, in the cellar. The wines are stunning.

While Goisot also produces Bourgogne blanc – a Chablisienne Chardonnay, and also a classic while friendly Aligote – it was their Saint Bris I had to get my hands on. The wines are simultaneously charming and serious, full of refreshing minerality and impressive complexity. It was exciting too to taste the side by side.

Goisot 2014 Saint Bris: Exogyra Virgula and Corps de Garde

The aromatics of these wines carries the chalky signature of its region while the palate on both is mouthwatering, sophisticated and full of length. In both there is an impressive natural density to the core of the palate and a luscious mouthfeel full of mineral freshness and mouthwatering while delicate acidity. They are both impressively elegant wines with delicious length.

The Exogyra Virgula focuses on Sauvignon Blanc vines of the family estate with half approaching 40 years of age, and the other half around 15 years thanks to replanting. The vines grow entirely in Kimmeridgian lime, and are farmed biodynamically. Once in the cellar the wine is vinified in stainless with ambient yeast fermentation and a focus on freshness, then aged on fine lees also in stainless.

The nose hints at Sauvignon Blanc aromatics with a flash of fresh, pure fruits accented by wispy hints of fresh floral greenery but on the palate the wine feels like rolling river rocks through the mouth – full of not-quite-salty palate stimulation – with a satisfying balance of mouthwatering acidity and enough flesh to let the wine have presence across the palate from open to close. The elegance with texture, sophistication with easiness of this wine really impressed me. Definitely enjoy it alongside food as it would love white seafoods.

In the best vintages Goisot also produces the Corps de Garde bottling made from the family’s vines of Fie Gris, an ancestor of Sauvignon Blanc also referred to as Sauvignon Gris. The variety apparently naturally produces lower yields than its Blanc relation, which reduced its popularity among farmers, while also more readily retaining freshness. The Goisot family remains one of the few to preserve the variety in the region. They grow it too in Kimmeridgian lime, biodynamically, then vinify it in stainless steel with ambient yeasts and full malolactic conversion. The result is beautiful.

More savory, and intense compared to the more delicate Exogyra Virgula, the Corps de Garde offers wonderful complexity with elegance and an impressive detailing of flavors. There are inherent exotic spices, hints of wax, wispy floral greenery and a lot of mineral persistence throughout. Most of all I love the mouthfeel, the chalky accents, and the mouthwatering length. It’s a lovely and special wine that would enjoy more time in bottle to age.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Acumen – the importance of the human factor

looking across Acumen’s Edcora Vineyard – photo used with permission from Acumen

The exceptionally heavy and much-appreciated rains seen in California this winter have people through the region feeling as though California’s recent drought is at least temporarily over. While vineyards throughout the lower-lying areas of California’s North Coast were under water in places, vines were dormant and there should be no negative effect during the growing season. On the positive side, water stores are refilled, and the aquifer is presumably at least partially replenished. Most of all, vines have access to natural groundwater in the soils again, which is a benefit as it serves overall vine health more readily than irrigation usually does. How the 2017 vintage goes will depend on the weather during the upcoming bloom and fruit set period, and then of course during ripening.

Because of the rains I had to postpone my scheduled visit to Acumen estate in the Atlas Peak AVA of the Vaca Range on the eastern side of Napa Valley. Though its high-elevation vineyards and well-draining volcanic soils meant flooding was of no concern on site, for some time roads throughout the region were underwater, and landslides were an issue in places as well. Travel through the valley was so difficult that I put off my meeting on the estate with Acumen president Steve Rea (pictured below) until a dry day in March by which time the roads had cleared and the vineyards were dry enough to walk.

Acumen may be a new project for the region – with its 2013 vintage their first and current release – but the wines are built from a much older site, the Attelas Vineyard, planted in 1992 by Dr Jan Krupp. Krupp is known throughout Napa Valley for having had a considerable influence on the Pritchard Hill and Atlas Peak subzones. Although Antica was the first to plant in Atlas Peak, Krupp established one of the region’s most famous sites, the Stagecoach Vineyard, sold just last month to Gallo. Krupp began planting Stagecoach in 1995 having already planted Attelas.

Part of what makes Atlas Peak unique as an appellation, besides its high elevation (reaching 2,663 feet at its highest), is its sizeable amount of…

To keep reading this article, including tasting notes on all of their 2014 wines, continue to JancisRobinson.com

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/acumen-the-importance-of-the-human-factor

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

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Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

Looking over vineyards in the Riverlands area of Marlborough

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has a clear reputation for quality and expression globally. Winemakers through the region are impressively skilled at creating reliable wines that are both technically sound and on point. It’s near impossible to find a faulty Marlborough Sauvignon. The precision and consistency has served them well on the world stage ensuring that people know what to expect from the category. Consumers have responded enthusiastically. Even winery names that are otherwise unrecognized can benefit from the power of the regional brand with consumers having a sense of what to expect from the wine simply because of the region and variety association.

The strength of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has its disadvantages too. Such an established type can become entrenched with those same consumer expectations limiting producer options while closing consumer expectations to the idea of being surprised. I’ve always admired how effectively vintners from the area established their wines so powerfully on the world stage. At the same time in a US context the repetitiveness of the style has been challenging for me. Those same expectations of knowing what I’m going to get from Marlborough Sauvignon has made me less likely to seek it out rather than more.

These last two days, then, here on the ground tasting in Marlborough have been a wonderful surprise. I’ve actually gotten progressively more excited by the wines as we’ve tasted more. My enthusiasm has been peaked by the range of other successful wines from varieties such as Riesling, Pinot Noir, and even a solid Bordeaux blend as well. The sparkling wines from the area too include some of the nicest I’ve had recently. I’ll be writing more about both the Methode Marlborough sparkling wines and the various other varieties that have been stand outs here separately. Most of all though I’ve been relieved to find quite a range of styles on Sauvignon Blanc. It’s been refreshing and has reinspired my interest in the region. Additionally, we’ve been able to taste quite a few older vintages of Sauvignon, even going back to 2008, that has proved insightful. It’s been good to see how elegantly the wines can age.

While the US market (and others worldwide as well) has tended towards a rather narrow expression of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, a broader range of styles from the variety has always existed here in Marlborough. Smaller, boutique level grower-winemakers doing the work from farming to cellar are to thank. Their work too helped ignite the now international category by recognizing what the region has to offer – vibrant acidity combined with aromatic intensity – and so attracting the larger producers with the marketing capital to move wines worldwide.

Cool climate viticulture combined with the elevated UV levels of the area mean vines retain their acidity while still developing intensity on both the nose and palate. The area hosts a preponderance of high draining sedimentary soils ranging from sand to clay but throughout the region lifted aromatics remain the focus. Where sandy soils encourage those aromatics even further they also tend to create more supple phenolics. Clay, on other hand, creates more muscle and concentration. The wines here, then, of course cover that range.

Here are a handful of stand out examples of Sauvignon Blanc from the last two days.

The Seresin Marama captures an elegant while friendly expression of Sauvignon Blanc aromatics, rounding the edges of the ample acidity generated by the region through the palate. The result is a surprising and pleasant Sauvignon Blanc that carries sophistication in subtlety and a more casual though not unthought feel on the palate.

Giesen wines are all about sophistication with power. The Fuder Sauvignon Blanc delivers intensity through graceful concentration and a brilliantly executed use of oak. It’s a barrel fermented style that seamlessly weds the two – oak and variety – and is a good reminder of why the cellar approach became so popular. Delicious and elegantly done.

Catalina Sounds has captured subtlety from the variety through their Sounds of White Sauvignon Blanc. It ages beautifully becoming progressively more elegant with time in bottle. The 2013 vintage showed off nuance with delicate layers of aroma and flavor while still offering mouthwatering acidity and plenty of presence. I really enjoy the subtlety here.

Approachable and friendly, the Staete Landt Annabel uses oak for texture through the palate as well as a kind of textural layering to the aromatics. It brings depth to the wine. This is charming, and crowd pleasing while retaining nuance and avoiding the bore factor.

Brancott delivers a solid example of the Fume Blanc style with good integration of variety to oak hitting that midnote of the two seamlessly. Approachable quality. Nicely done.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Post Edit: This article will be available Tuesday, January 24, 2017, rather than Monday, January 23. Sorry for the confusion!

This autumn I was able to spend time with Antoine Donnedieu de Vabres, general manager of the Eisele Vineyard, previously known as the Araujo Estate, in Napa Valley. Together we walked the site, and discussed what changes the Artemis Domaines team has made since taking ownership of the property from the Araujo family in 2013. We were also able to taste the current-release 2013 vintage Cabernets, the first made by the new team, alongside previous vintages of Araujo, and take a look at their new Sauvignon Blanc programme.

In the summer of 2013 the Araujo family sold their famed Calistoga estate to French business mogul François Pinault, who also, through his holding company Artemis Domaines, owns Château Latour, a property on Bordeaux’s left bank, Domaine d’Eugénie in Vosne-Romanée and Château-Grillet in the northern Rhône. The 160-acre (65-ha) property included 36 acres of vines, historically known as the Eisele Vineyard. Donnedieu was made general manager with Hélène Mingot as winemaker. Steve Matthiasson, who began working with the vineyard under the Araujo family, stayed on as viticulturist. At the same time, previous vineyard foreman Victor Hernandez, who has been with the estate for years, was promoted to vineyard manager, working with Mingot and Matthiasson. Most of the vineyard crew, who have each been with the property for over a decade, also remained the same.

In 2016, Artemis Domaines decided to change the name back to its original, Eisele Vineyard, named for the family that established Cabernet Sauvignon on the property at the end of the 1960s. As a result, all wines from the estate bottled from 2016 onwards will be called Eisele Vineyard. Donnedieu’s explanation is that the vineyard name emphasises the site as the focus and source of quality for the wines, rather than any particular owner. It is also a way of celebrating the history of the site, which in turn emphasises their long-term vision for the property.

The rest of the article gets into the details of what changes the Artemis Domaines team has made since taking over the Eisele Vineyard, what their primary goals are for the wines, what made they decide to buy the estate, and how the wines from the new team compare to the previous Araujo wines. 

To keep reading, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues. You’ll need a subscription to read it.

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/eisele-vineyard-pinaults-california-outpost

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

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Spending the Day at Frog’s Leap with John Williams

John Williams was kind enough to meet photographer Stephen Smith and myself to spend the day sharing and showing us the Frog’s Leap story.

The three of us met first thing in the morning to walk the vineyard and winery in the heart of the Rutherford Bench, then drove north through Napa Valley to see Frog’s Leaps other estate vineyards. Frog’s Leap is known for its Bordeaux varietal wines – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc – and Chardonnay and also makes a succulent, fresh Zinfandel inspired by California’s old field blend style. At the vineyard near his home, Frog’s Leap recently planted an experimental block testing to see what new varieties respond well to the specific conditions of Rutherford. In a different block of the same site they also farms a collection of mixed-black old vines that go into the Frog’s Leap Heritage blend.

Frog’s Leap doesn’t just grow vineyards though. John has brought his focus to sustainability in farming practices such as dry farming while also focusing on sustainability of overall estate management. To preserve the economic health of the Frog’s Leap team, the winery established year round food gardens that are used on-site for winery meals and by winery employees. The gardens are also maintained by the winery and vineyard staff so that in the months when vines need less tending the garden keeps them busy and employed.

John’s inspiration for California’s old style can also be found in his restoration of the historic winery building from the 1880s that serves as part of the structure for his own contemporary winery, as well as his love for old trucks and cars.

We drove up the valley together in his 1969 Chevy. It was the fulfillment of a dream I’d had to cruise Napa Valley backroads in John’s iconic pick-up truck. That truck is an important part of Napa Valley history, full of Frog’s Leap stories. Incredibly, the three of us had so much fun that the day culminated finally in this…


Over the course of the day, while I interviewed John, Stephen documented our time together in photographs. He’s been generous enough to let me share his photos from the day here. I love the way they tell the story on their own.

Visiting Frog’s Leap in Photographs by Stephen Smith

Frog's Leap Winery

Frog's Leap Winery

Flowers at Frog's Leap

Starting the Garden at Frog's Leap

The Orchard

The Vineyard

The Vineyard

Bottling Frog's Leap

The Historic Winery

The Historic Winery

The Historic Winery

Inside the Winery

Entering the Winery

John Williams

Discussing Winemaking

Inside the Winery

Driving in the 1969 Chevy Pick-up Truck

The Old Vines

Inside the Old Winery

Dinner with John

Thank you to John for the great day and to Stephen for the fantastic photos.

Check out more of Smith’s photography at his own site: http://www.iamstephensmith.com/ and follow him on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/iamstephensmith/. I really enjoy following his photographic travelogs online.

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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Grimm’s Bluff Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara

Grimm's Bluff olives + vines looking into Grimm’s Bluff Vineyard & olive grove from the hilltop above, Nov 2014

Before he and his wife Aurora planted it, “this was all native grasses,” Rick Grimm tells me as I step onto their ranch, Grimm’s Bluff. Grimm’s Bluff stands at the southern most boundary of the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA in Santa Ynez Valley. At 859 ft, the property lifts above the Santa Ynez River to the south, the rest cupped by the rolling hills of Happy Canyon.

We pass a large-ish personal garden as we head towards the vineyard. It looks to be a mix of flowers, and vegetables — aesthetic and produce plantings. A comical mix of spotted hens cluck after us briefly as we walk but stop before we reach the vines.

Establishing a New Vineyard

“We knew what type of wine we liked,” Rick Grimm explains, “but not how to grow it.” Happy Canyon itself proves one of the younger zones for vines in the county and includes an array of aspects, and elevations thanks to the varied hills and peaks that surround the canyon. Prior to establishing their site, the Grimm’s subzone of Happy Canyon had no vineyards.

Even vineyard companies through the region “didn’t know what would grow best,” Grimm explains, “since they hadn’t grown in this area.”

The Grimm’s reached out to celebrated winemaker Paul Lato for winemaking. His own label, Paul Lato Wines, has earned him regard from critics and wine lovers alike. Then they also connected with Philippe Coderey to help establish the vineyard. Coderey’s well-respected work in biodynamics includes tenure at sites ranging from Domaine M. Chapoutier in France, to Grgich Hills Estate in Napa, Tablas Creek in Paso, and Bien Nacido in Santa Maria Valley, among others.

Together, the team discussed their goals for style and expression while studying the property. They chose Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Sauvignon as their varieties — two grapes that have done well in the appellation — then researched to best match clones and rootstock to site and intention.

“Paul had been tasting different clones,” Grimm says. “We researched what rootstocks would do well here. Then, it was, head trained, or, VSP? We chose both with some clones of each, and both rootstocks on both sides.” By diversifying planting within the property vintners mitigate their risk while also increasing knowledge of the site over time.

Biodynamic Farming 

Wishing to create the highest potential for quality through the health of the vines, the team established Grimm’s Bluff using biodynamics. While other vineyards in the region are farmed biodynamically, Grimm’s Bluff remains one of the few done so from the start. Integral to biodynamic principles is biological diversity.

“We have chickens.” Grimm says, referencing the hens that greeted us when I first arrived. “They’re part of our biodiversity element, but then Aurora turned them into pets so we’ve been considering other birds,” Grimm laughs. “Birds are like a walking insecticide.”

Besides vineyard, the Grimm’s have also planted olives, a personal garden, and wild flower insectariums. “Aurora does a lot of gardening,” Rick tells me. “She is good at seeing every part, and how it will fit into the big picture.” Her vision has helped guide the overall design for the property and their family home.

They’ve also kept both untouched and pasture land. By leaving uncultivated, and wild plant zones including forest, and natural transitions of scrub brush and grasslands, greater insect, and animal stability is held through greater plant diversity. The increased health of insect and animal populations helps balance the health of the vines as well. It’s a focus on the biology of not just the vine but its surrounding environment.

Pasture land with cattle helps the team’s need for organic compost. “We make all our own compost.” Grimm explains. “We started from day one making our own. It is difficult to make sure [purchased] manure is all organic with no antibiotics.”

The Stages of Light

RickGrimmsBlufflooking north into Happy Canyon from the top, with Rick Grimm, Nov 2014

Exploring the property with Rick Grimm, gives glimpse into intimacy with a special site. We stand now on the highest point of the site on a hill looking over the vineyard to our east, and the rest of Happy Canyon to our north. The view leaves us dumb for a time. Then, reflecting, Grimm slowly names four stages of the Bluff’s day.

“There is early morning mist on the lake, animals and birds everywhere,” he says, describing the ranch as the sun comes up. “Then, low morning light. The animals have left. There is still a lower, clear light but no mist.”

Finally we come to afternoon when the direction of everything switches in the Santa Ynez Valley. Thanks to the transverse mountain range that defines the valley with an open mouth to the ocean, the region’s wind moves in and out in regular daily rhythm. You can almost set a clock by when the coastal influence reaches your portion of the valley.

“Around 1 PM,” he says, “it’s the heat of the day, and the wind picks up. Then, there is evening. It’s totally clear. There are tons of stars. At night we’ll build a bonfire and just see the clear sky.”

The Wine the Site Gives

Rick and Aurora’s time with Grimm’s Bluff has begun to give fruit. The Grimm’s Bluff 2013 Sauvignon Blanc marks the first release for the project. They have also harvested and vinified their first Cabernet Sauvignon in 2014, yet to be released.

Descending the hillside back towards the vineyard, I ask Rick how he enjoyed bringing in the Cabernet for its first fruit.

“I’d never tasted Cabernet right after it’s been pressed, before it goes into barrel. Is it supposed to taste good?” He responds smiling. “When Paul offered me a taste, I thought he was joking. Then I tasted it and I thought, you know what? I could drink this.”

Grimm’s Bluff 2013 Sauvignon Blanc


Grimms Bluff 2013 Sauvignon click on image to enlarge

Grimm’s Bluff
Sauvignon Blanc
Grimm’s Bluff Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara

13.8%
3.27 pH
0.696 TA

all organic & biodynamic farming
clone 1 & musque clone, first fruit

$40
90 cases

Grimm’s Bluff 2013 Sauvignon Blanc delivers lifted aromatics, and a palate of mixed citrus — kefir lime, grapefruit, and hints of mandarin — in both fresh fruit and blossom all carried on a nice backbone of mouthwatering acidity, crushed oyster shell, and saline accents. Winemaker Paul Lato weds crisp focus with a creamy midpalate for a beautifully balanced wine — both refreshing and giving, lithe and supple. Ultra-long finish. Nicely flexible with food. Recommended.

***

To read more about Paul Lato, check out my previous interview with him: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/01/15/living-courage-paul-lato-wines/

I had the most striking photos of Grimm’s Bluff — it is a beautiful site — and of Rick and Aurora. Then my computer crashed and I lost them. Remember to back-up, dear ones.

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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

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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.”

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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.