This week we are excited to sample wines from two incredible, artisinal, small-production, family-owned-and-operated wineries from California- Knez and LIOCO. We are also pleased to be joined by special guest Marie Stitt, who will be on hand to present the wines and explain their nuances.
Knez Wines are brand-new to Alabama and we are excited to present these limited-production, hand-crafted wines of amazing quality to you at this week’s tasting. We tasted these wines for the first time last week (they’ve only been available in the state for a week or two!) and immediately felt that they are some of the best quality California Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs that we’ve sampled in a long time. You will see what I mean when you try them; they are soft, layered, complex, balanced, savory and long, in a nutshell, absolutely fantastic! All of the wines are unfiltered; the evidence is in the cloudy color, which contributes depth and nuance to the finished product. We can’t wait to see what you think of these excellent wines!
Knez Winery– “At Knez Winery, we believe that the deeper and more extensive our knowledge, the better our wine will be. We start with an Anderson Valley location that is epic in its richness—with maritime influences, complex soil, a near perfect amount of sun exposure and heritage clones like Martini, Pommard, David Bruce, Wädenswil and Wente. To this, we add the beauty of science—detailed analytics and painstaking research that help us make the most of our land’s bounty. All our vineyards are organic and our farming practices are sustainable and biodynamic. In our winemaking, we are hands-on in the vineyard and hands-off in the barrel room. Through careful stewardship of our land and attention to detail in every phase of winemaking, we are producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir every bit as complex, expressive and ageworthy as our compatriots in Burgundy, France.
Anthony Filiberti is our winemaker. He lives here at our vineyards, taking time every day to walk the vineyards and study the land and soil. He believes an intimate knowledge of the vineyard, along with persistence and patience, are essential to creating great wine. Anthony’s past experience includes working with Lynn-Penner Ash and Josh Bergstrom in Oregon, followed by a stint at Williams-Selyem, and continues with his ongoing work with Anthill Farms. In his winemaking, Anthony’s goal is to create wine that expresses a sense of place. He is especially drawn to the distinctive characteristics of cooler climate wines and single vineyards. He employs traditional winemaking techniques, and in fact crafts all our wine almost entirely by hand.
The 2010 growing season at the Knez vineyards in Anderson Valley, in general, was one of the coolest of the last decade. Spring was historically wet and cool well into early June during our flowering. The moisture diminished the number of flowers that were able to fertilize. This limited the yield and lengthened the time of flowering, creating uneven ripeness in the clusters. The less-ripe clusters were dropped in the summer, making an even smaller yield with estate averages at 1.5 tons per acre, much like the 2011 vintage. Throughout the summer cool weather persisted. It wasn’t until a short heat wave at the end of August and early September that we saw temperatures get to the low 80s. After the first week of September temperatures cooled again, and moisture increased without any real precipitation until the third week of October, allowing for extended hang time and flavor development but with very low sugars. Most blocks came in between 21.5 and 22.8 brix with very bright acids. Overall the weather has helped to create bright, sappy, red fruits and structure in the Pinots. The Demuth Chardonnay is detailed and intense but still a refined middle weight that will age for years to come. Aside from the low yields, we could not be happier with the character and quality of the 2010 wines, our second vintage.”
Demuth Vineyard– “This stunning patch of land was planted 30 years ago by the Demuth family. Deeper topsoil leads to sturdy, healthy vines that produce complex flavor profiles. Two blocks of Pinot, totaling seven acres, are planted to Wadenswil and Pommard clones. The Chardonnay, totaling eight acres, is entirely comprised of old Wente clone. The age of the vines enable the vineyards to be dry farmed to improve sustainability.”
Elevation: 1400-1700 feet above sea level
Soil: Mostly Bear Wallow-Wolfy with small patches of Hopland and Yorkville
Cerise Vineyard– “Planted in 1995, the Cerise vineyard grows 10 different clones in 15 blocks—a mix of primarily heritage clones like Martini, David Bruce, Pommard and Wadenswill, as well as Dijon clones 114, 115, 667, 777 and 828. Shallow topsoil and a 10-30% slope create small berries, resulting in deep, rich flavors.”
Elevation: 700-1100 feet above sea level
Soil: Mix of Bear Wallow-Wolfy, Hopland, and Yorkville soils
Knez Winery Demuth Chardonnay 2010– Demuth Vineyard, Anderson Valley, California. “Pungent, very detailed aromas of lemon and quince are complicated by anise and licorice that weave in and out of the nose. With some air, more quince, iodine, and a bit of pineapple become more apparent. This is a flavorful and intense middle weight wine in the mouth. Here, like the Pinot, the flavors mirror the aromas. Zesty, citrusy acids add focus and linger on the long finish. The coolness and length of the growing season shows its character in this refined Anderson Valley Chardonnay. Will age well for 6-8 years.” Jen’s note- Pale, lemon/straw yellow in color and slightly cloudy. Toasty, complex lemoned nose. Very creamy, textured and full with nice grip and acid. Spicy, juicy and complex. Lively, long and integrated. Tasting $30.99
Knez Winery Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2010– Anderson Valley, Anderson Valley, California. “All estate fruit from Cerise and Demuth grapes. Extremely fragrant, aromas of red cherries, spicy carnation and a subtle nuance of earthy green tea. A gently sweet mouthfeel and elegant weight followed by beautiful flavors that echo the aromas in the mid-palate and finish, showing more spicy red fruit. The supple texture is kept focused by bright acids and the lightly tannic structure. A pure, sappy and very pretty wine that reflects the area and vintage. Best over the next 5 years.” Jen’s note- Pale strawberry red and cloudy. Savory, pure fruits; subtle, beautiful nose. Elegant mouthfeel, soft and integrated. Savory, complex. Tasting $25.99
Knez Winery Demuth Pinot Noir 2010– Demuth Vineyard, Anderson Valley, California. “An airy nose of briary red cherries, orange peel, and forest floor. With time, the aromas turn more floral and are complicated by nuances of cacao and strawberry seed. Open, elegant and very pretty flavors match the nose. Currently more accessible than the Cerise but will continue to become more expressive over time. Chambolle [-Musigny] to Cerise’s Gevrey [-Chambertin].” Jen’s note- Slightly darker (than Anderson Valley), cloudy. Pretty nose, sweet rhubarb, berry fruits, tart and tangy cranberry. Lots of complexity/layers. Savory finish. Very long, lingering cinnamon/spice. Tasting $38.99
Knez Winery Cerise Pinot Noir 2010– Cerise Vineyard, Anderson Valley, California. “High toned raspberry, carnation and baking spice aromas with a fleeting scent of iron fill the nose. Its character becomes hugely spicy and floral with air, with penetrating red fruit taking center stage. Intense mouthfeel and depth of flavors remain elegant, as the taste echoes the nose. This is a sappy, classically styled Cerise with years of rewarding aging ahead.” Jen’s note- Deep ruby, cloudy color. Candied nose of cherry and baked rhubarb; sweet fruit and spice. Complex entry. Notes of earth and mineral, more so than other Knez Pinot Noirs. Good complexity and texture. Beautiful. $38.99
Lioco has been one of our favorite California wineries for several years due to their commitment to natural winemaking, French-inspired techniques, quality wines for the money, and producing American wines that display a sense of terroir. Matt (Bologna) met Matt Licklider several years ago at his production facility in California, and ever since then we have had regular contact with Licklider and proudly represented his amazing Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, red blend (Indica) and rose as part of our everyday selection at Spirits. The Lioco and NoCo wines are limited-production, meaning that from time to time (between vintages) the winery may sell out of a particular wine, however, they do a great job of offering several selections so that something is availalble year round.
Most notably, Lioco limits the use of new oak, which can sometimes muddle the nuance of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Until recently, none of their Chardonnays were even aged in oak, only stainless steel or neutral “vats”. However, they are now experimenting with various types/ages of oak, and the newly released Sonoma County Chardonnay 2011 that we will sample at the tasting this week is aged in neutral oak barrels.
LIOCO– “LIOCO is the result of a years-long conversation between Matt Licklider (a seasoned wine import specialist) and Kevin O’Connor (former wine director at Michelin Two-Star Spago-Beverly Hills) about whether California could produce a true “wine of origin.” After gathering opinion on the subject from some of the world’s great wine producers, we arrived at our conclusion: California can achieve a wine of origin, provided certain protocols are adhered to–both in the vineyard and in the cellar.
Everything begins in the vineyard–without a compelling vineyard site, there is little chance of creating a distinctive wine. Inspired by traditional European winegrowing practices, we seek out vineyard sites with tougher soil, older vines, and some stress-producing aspect (altitude, extreme temperature, poor soil, etc). Then we simply shepherd the grapes from bud to bottle in the least intrusive way possible.
This disciplined approach serves to amplify the voice of the vineyard, or the unique flavors and aromas tied inextricably to the soil. What registers is: this wine came from this place only, and could not have come from anywhere else. This is a wine of origin. Such singularity in wine is worth pursuing. It is alas what keeps our fires burning.
LIOCO: pure, honest, principled wine.”
NoCo– ““NoCo” is our abbreviation for North Coast, which denotes the six viticultural counties north of San Francisco (Marin, Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa, Lake, and Solano). A winemaking mecca since the mid-19th century, this area is largely moderated by the cool Pacific Ocean. Our interest is in sourcing the best possible fruit from the North Coast and producing authentic wines which deliver value. While Chardonnay will be a cornerstone of this label, the red offering will be more fluid—allowing for the topsy-turvy fruit market to dictate where the best values will be found. From the abundant, financially recessed fruit market of 2009 we stole a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. From the late-ripening 2011 harvest…a Cabernet blend?
NoCo was founded in 2009 by Matt Licklider & Kevin O’Connor, co-proprietors of LIOCO Wine Company in Santa Rosa, California. The principled philosophy which propelled LIOCO into the limelight is applied here—source fruit from interesting vineyard sites and make the wines with as little intervention as possible.”
LIOCO Sonoma County Chardonnay 2011– Sonoma County, California. “The 2011 “SoCo” is a bellweather wine for us. We’ve always pursued the purest expression of place and vintage in our wines. Historically we achieved this by using stainless steel. In 2011, with winemaker John Raytek at the helm, we incorporated some neutral oak into the cellar. Gasp! Rest assured, the wine neither smells or tastes of oak. It’s all about texture—texture reminiscent of our favorite $30+ wines in the Macon. Notes of lemon peel and crushed rock are delivered with the kind of precision found only in the coolest years.” Jen’s note- Pale in color with a faint nose- opens with herbs and savory notes- interesting, unique and inviting, as always. Nice texture, waxy. Very tasty, will only improve with time to settle. Savory finish. (This fantastic wine has taken a slight price increase, but is still a great value.) Tasting $20.99
LIOCO NoCo Pinot Noir Chalone 2010– Chalone, Monterey County, California. “Vinification: Several unique lots were hand-harvested and sorted during the second half of September…The wine was aged for 12 months in 1-, 2- and 3-year-old barrels. Site: This wine was composed from two distinct Pinot Noir sites in the Chalone Pinnacles AVA…Both sites were meticulously farmed and harvested by hand.” “The cooler, wet 2010 vintage produced remarkable fruit quality (and a lot of it) in the Chalone AVA. One seasoned grower called it “the best in 30 years.” The very thing that inhibits consistent yields in Chalone- a shortage of rain and ground water- was off the table in 2010. It rained all the way until June! This produced the kind of bumper crop not seen in a long, long time here. The cooler weather also allowed for grape maturity at lower-than-normal sugar levels. This means wines of balance. There is just something special about a cool year in an otherwise warm wine-growing zone.” “Aroma: black plum, dried orange peel, lilac. Flavor: sour red cherry, rhubarb, star anise. Food Pairings: Peking duck, maple glazed pork belly, cold smoked salmon.” Tasting $21.99