This Week’s Wine Tasting
Spirits Wine Cellar’s 10th Anniversary Celebration
To celebrate this milestone we are excited to feature an amazing selection of California wine from six different top producers at this week’s wine tasting.
What these producers have in common is this: they are part of California’s “new generation” of winemakers; “the young, innovative producers who are rewriting the rules of contemporary winemaking; their quest to express the uniqueness of California terroir; and the continuing battle to move the state away from the overly-technocratic, reactionary practices of its recent past” (quote from Jon Bonne’s new book: The New California Wine; A Guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste. Each of the producers below is featured in the book).
“France’s Loire Valley is the inspiration for this new-ish label created by Justin Willett of Tyler Winery and Eric Railsback, former lead sommelier at Michael Mina’s RN74. Willett and Railsback chose to pick their grapes early and ferment them whole-cluster, resulting in a Sauvignon Blanc that drinks more like a lean and bright Sancerre. Grapes were sourced from three different vineyards on the eastern edge of the Santa Ynez Valley.”
Lieu Dit Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Santa Ynez Valley AVA (Santa Barbara County) Central Coast, California. “Tyler Winery in Santa Ynez has produced a very small amount of Sauvignon Blanc under the Lieu Dit label. Fruit for this bottling was sourced from three different vineyards to the eastern edge in the Santa Ynez Valley in the AVA Happy Canyon. The fruit was picked on the early side, whole cluster pressed into tank and then fermented in both stainless steel and in neutral barrels. After fermentation, all lots were put in neutral barrels through the winter before being racked a few months prior to bottling. The finished wine is mineral-driven, focused, and racy style that speaks more to Sancerre than to the riper, richer styles typical of California and other warmer climates. Fresh and bright, with lemony citrus under delicate floral notes wrapped around a taut core of acidity, this Sauvignon Blanc is superb. Whether you’re a fan of crisp, nervy whites or seeking a brisk, refreshing white to enjoy with fresh oysters or a garden salad with herbed goat cheese, this is a must-try.” 90 points Wine Advocate– “A grassy, perfumed and slightly exotic effort, the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc offers up plenty of lime peel, mineral and exotic flowers to go with more richness and texture on the palate. Tank and barrel-fermented and then aged in neutral wood, it’s delicious and a perfect hot summer day white that won’t disappoint.” $22.99
From Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate- “Knez is a new project being headed by proprietor Peter Knez and winemaker Anthony Filiberti of Anthill Farms. The wines are made with native yeasts and see fairly low levels of new oak, around 30-35%, in other words, very much the same style Filiberti pursues at Anthill. Based on these three wines, it certainly appears Knez is one of the most exciting new entrants on the Sonoma Coast. It will be interesting to see where things go in the coming years, especially as Knez’s Estate vineyard in Anderson Valley comes online with the 2012 harvest.”
(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.”
Knez Winery Demuth Vineyard Chardonnay 2011
Anderson Valley AVA (Mendocino County), 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.” (2010- 93+ points Wine Advocate). $34.99
From Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate- “This is another exciting, captivating set of wines from Wind Gap and Pax Mahle. Readers who have not yet discovered Wind Gap owe it to themselves to do so. These are some of the most gorgeous, nuanced wines being made in California today. Mahle continues to experiment with concrete and larger casks, both of which seem ideally suited to a minimalist approach that seeks to draw out the maximum expression of each of these sites. The Wind Gap wines achieve that elusive balance of depth without excess heaviness. Once again, I was deeply impressed with the range I tasted and can’t recommend these wines highly enough.”
“The story is becoming more and more common. An American winemaker, inspired by European tradition and elegance, ends up making wines that appeal to critics, only to change course and return the making the style of wines THEY want to drink. Pax Mahle is a perfect example. Pax fell in love with wine in restaurants and worked as both a waiter and sommelier in order to be near it. While visiting France in the 1990s, he met some of Burgundy’s and Rhone’s great traditional producers like Jacques Reynaud and Henri Jayer. These grower/farmers experienced wine in a far more personal and soulful way than Pax felt he ever could selling wine in restaurants. So after considering setting up a winemaking shop in Piedmont or Burgundy (two region’s that greatly influenced Pax’s palate), he eventually settled in Sonoma County.”
Wind Gap Pinot Noir 2012
Sonoma Coast AVA (Sonoma County), California. Vineyards: Gaps Crown (40%), Griffin’s Lair (35%), Black Knight (15%) and Sun Chase (10%). 25% whole cluster fermentation. Aged for 12 months in neutral French oak and concrete then in stainless steel for 4 months prior to bottling. “Spicy and alive, the red fruit aromas are highlighted by flowers and spice until the darker black fruited character brings added depth and richness to an otherwise medium-bodied Pinot Noir. Complex and loaded with rights and lefts and ups and downs, this wine constantly evolves in your glass and picks up weight and verve the longer the wine is open.” 42 barrels/966 cases produced. $37.99
“LIOCO Winery, founded June 2005, is a collaboration between two “wine-pros”: Matt Licklider (a seasoned wine import specialist) and Kevin O’Connor (former wine director at Michelin Two-Star Spago-Beverly Hills). Owning no land, the two purchase fruit from some of California’s most exclusive vineyards and make the wine in a state-of-the-art crush facility in Santa Rosa, California. The wines are sold to a private mailing list of wine collectors, and to wholesalers in 25 states and three off-shore markets. The Pinot Noirs are picked at lower sugar levels and fermented 20%-40% whole-cluster on wild yeasts, aged in older French oak. They are largely bottled unfined and unfiltered.”
Michaud Vineyard: “A dynamic vineyard situated on a remote, arid hilltop. high-altitude exposures of 1600 ft. at the base of an extinct volcano (pinnacles national monument).D aily temperature swings of 40-60° F. Rare co-location of granite and limestone soils (from decaying marine organisms). Extreme microclimate produces structured pinots that age for decades. Farmed by the indefatigable Michael Michaud.”
LIOCO Pinot Noir Michaud 2011
Chalone AVA, Central Coast (Monterey County), California. Michaud Vineyard. “4.7 tons hand harvested and sorted on Sept. 25. All clones co-fermented- 30% whole cluster- in an open-top tank using wild yeasts. A 3-day soak preceded regular cap management for balanced extraction during a 15-day fermentation. Aged for 16 months in 20% new oak. Bottled without fining or filtration. Aroma: Christmas spice, cigar box, cranberry. Flavor: morello cherry, rhubarb, star anise. Food pairings: wood-grilled burgers, paella, Texas BBQ.” $52.99
From Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate- “Ehren Jordan is one of those people who are maddeningly talented at many things. Jordan recently left his post at Turley, where he spent nearly 20 years making a dizzying array of superb Zinfandels. At Failla, which Jordan owns with his wife Anne-Marie, the focus is on cool-climate Chardonnays and Pinots, rendered in a range that approximates Turley when it comes to the number of different bottlings. Did I mention Jordan is versed in the classics and is also a licensed pilot? Jordan wants to spend more time at Failla, and I believe it, given the breadth of this range. Frankly, I can’t imagine how Ehren took care of similarly large portfolios at both Turley and Failla while maintaining a sense of sanity. It will be interesting to see how things develop at Failla. The wines are already stellar, as I hope these notes amply demonstrate. Simply put, Failla is a reference point winery for the Sonoma Coast. This is as good as it gets.” “FAILLA is a top-notch source of high quality, European-inspired wines that combine flavor, intensity and elegance.”
Failla Syrah Hudson 2010
Napa Valley AVA (Napa County), California. Hudson Vineyard.”Our inaugural Hudson Syrah was fermented as whole clusters, concentrating the distinctive peppery aromatics that epitomize the northern Rhône, then barreled-down in French oak, 1/3 of which was new. Boasting classic aromas of violets, bacon fat, leather, rosemary and graphite, this vineyard asserts itself as a worthy successor to the Phoenix with structured, well-integrated tannins. Think cassoulet, rack of lamb, beef bourguignon. Will age well for 8-10 years.” 95 points Wine Advocate– “Black olives, savory herbs, asphalt, bittersweet chocolate, cloves and menthol all flesh out in Failla’s 2010 Syrah Hudson Vineyard. A dark, rich wine, the 2010 saturates the palate with endless waves of flavor. There is so much going on in the glass, it’s hard to know where to start. A deep, layered finish rounds out this explosive, rich Syrah beautifully. Jordan used 100% whole clusters here, but they are totally integrated with the wine. Anticipated maturity: 2015-2025.” $58.99
“MATTHIASSON is a family endeavor, the effort of Steve and Jill Klein Matthiasson, and our two young sons. We have both had life-long careers in sustainable agriculture, and we apply those ideals of balance, restraint, and respect for the individual—and for the whole—to our wine. Our production is simple but careful. This concept is central to the tradition of viticulture and winemaking. Respect for this tradition forms the core of our work. To that end, our hands literally touch every vine and every bottle.
As a vineyard consultant Steve teaches and makes decisions, such as when to water and how to prune, on vineyards throughout Napa and Sonoma. Steve’s current clients include Araujo Estate, Spottswoode, Chappellet, Hall, David Arthur,Robert Sinskey Vineyards, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Long Meadow Ranch, Trefethen, Limerick Lane, and others. On our own vineyards, however, Steve cares for the vines with his own hands, driving the tractor at night, and working with the crews on Sundays.”
Matthiasson Napa Valley Red 2009
Napa Valley AVA (Napa County), California. “The 2009 Red Wine is a blend of 62 percent Merlot, 33 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 3 percent Cabernet franc, 2 percent Malbec, and 2 percent Petit verdot. The fruit was fermented at low temperatures in small, open-top tanks and punched down by hand one to three times a day, depending on taste during the fermentations. Maceration was 28 days. The wine was partially co-fermented and partially blended immediately after the lots were pressed, so that the wine could marry from the very beginning. The wine was aged in 50% new French oak (Taransaud and Bossuet), and 50% neutral barrels. After 20 months of elevage, with only one racking when it was blended, the wine was bottled, unfined and unfiltered. This is a riper vintage, reflecting the warm growing conditions and tiny crop that Mother Nature provided. There is plenty of freshness, but the ripe bing cherry and rich chocolaty tannins really characterize this vintage. The aroma includes red and black cherries, dark chocolate, ripe blackberries, and notes of black tea and bay leaf. The flavor on the palate reminds us of chocolate covered cherries, very juicy, and the finish continues with chocolate, dark fruit, and black tea. There is a fair amount of tannic grip, with a high volume of fine-grained tannins. 259 Cases produced.
The Red Hen Merlot Vineyard, along Dry Creek, at the very top of the creek’s alluvial fan, is a warm site with very light and thin soils, composed of a foot of silty loam sitting on top of at least 20 feet of pure cobble. The vines are naturally small berried and early ripening. The stress results in extremely low yields, barely making over a ton per acre of intense and concentrated fruit. In the 1950’s through the 1970’s, this block produced the top fruit for Christian Brothers, when it was still run by the Church (it was called “block 74”). The vineyard provides rich ripe aromatic fruit.
In the mouth of the Dry Creek canyon, upstream from the Red Hen, the Meadowbrook Cabernet Sauvignon receives the nightly air current off of Mt. Veeder, which also blocks the intense late afternoon sun. This makes it the cool foil to the warmer Red Hen. The coolness and sun protection lets the fruit develop and maintain an unusually strong backbone of acidity and tannin. Every year, on schedule, as the nights get cold, the leaves change color and drop before any other vineyard in the area, signaling that the fruit is ready to harvest. The vineyard sits on old creek deposits, and the spots selected for harvest are on shallow clay with coarse sand, over dry cobbles and silt. The vineyard provides structure and firm acidity.
The Cabernet franc and Petit verdot are from our Le Rev Vineyard, our home.” $75.99