California certainly has been producing world class wines, which has steadily risen in perceived quality since the 1976 Paris Wine Exhibition. Take Napa Valley grown & produced Cabernet for instance. The critics’ scores & accolades rival, & in some cases exceed, the very best from France’s iconic Bordeaux region.
One could certainly make a similar case for Chardonnay & Pinot Noir as well.
California is also making great strides in raising the quality & the awareness of their wines made from Rhone grape varietals as well. It has taken some time, but as time goes on, the very best are finally getting recognition, culminating with the selection of the 2007 Saxum “James Berry Vineyard” Red Wine by the Wine Spectator as the numer one wine of their Top 100 Wines issue a few years ago.
I have had a real fascination with this category as well. From the restaurant point of view, I believe there is a huge opportunity for well grown & crafted Rhone varietals on wine lists, which will help create a step ladder of offerings that will bridge the gap between Pinot Noir & Cabernet in weight & bravado.
Thankfully, the list of Californians which fit this style & profile is growing. Here are 4 for you to check out.
Owner, Bruce Neyers, is also the long time National Sales Manager for Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants. One of my favorite wine producers from that portfolio is Maxime Magnon from the Corbieres region down in southern France.. Magnon was raised in Burgundy & later apprenticed under Jean Foillard, the iconic, uber-au naturale minded superstar of Beaujolais. Maxime realized he really couldn’t afford too much land in Burgundy, so he chose instead to move down to Corbieres to start his own Domaine. Today, he has his own cult-like following not only for his wines, but his “on the edge” vineyard & winemaking philosophies as well. This Sage Canyon red wine, to me, is reminscent of the Magnon wines, more than Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines others readily compare it to. As we have noted in previous blogs, Bruce believes in finding & using heirloom grape selections rather than developed clones. Furthermore, nothing is added to the fermentation tanks, as Bruce notes, except grapes. These are two of the core values, I also find in this wine. The Carignane & Mourvedre of this blend are 130+ year old vines from the Evangelho vineyard out in Oakley. The Grenache comes from the Sierra foothills & the Syrah from the Old Lakeville Road vineyard (from suitcased cuttings from France’s Rhone Valley & 4 esteemed, iconic vineyards). The wine is foot stomped, wild yeast fermented & aged in OLD oak. Yes, it is rustic in character (thankfully), but still has a REAL delicious-ness which makes it such a pleasure to drink, with or without foods. It certainly is a wine worth seeking out. The quantities produced was small,but don’t give up.
2011 Neyers Syrah “Old Lakeville Road”
Since the 2007 vintage this bottling is undeniably one of the very best Syrahs out of California. Former winemaker, Ehren Jordan, used to work at Jean-Luc Colombo in Cornas & therefore had a much more worldly approach to growing & making the Syrah grape variety. It was, however, when the plantings from “suitcase” cuttings from France at this vineyard, did the Neyers Syrah program take a quantum leap in quality, especially under the direction of winemaking phenom Tadeo Borchardt. The resulting wines have had lots of rustic,provocative, meaty, green peppercorn, wild herb, pan grille nuances, yet delicious, voluptuous & superbly textured…..all at 13.6 alcohol naturally. I was sad to hear 2012 will be Neyers last bottling of this single vineyard Syrah. (As an update, of the 3 parcels planted, sadly one has been grafted over to Chardonnay….another is under achieving & one still going strong).
2011 Linne Calodo “Perfectionist”
Here is the first of 2 Paso Robles wines on this short list. We are really hot on some of these contemporary Rhone varietal. red wine blends, because of the remarkable minerality one can find in the finished wine, which many attribute to the limestone/silaceous clay soils the vines grow in. This minerality creates buoyancy in these often lavish, deep & ripe fruited red wines of amazing power, depth, heft & dramatics.
One of the true winemaking standouts of this region is Matt Trevisan of Linne Calodo. As we have noted in earlier blogs, Matt is totally in stride professionally & is producing some of the most interesting, provocative red wines out of California. Of his 2011 line-up, we were really drawn to his “Perfectionist” bottling, a blend in 2011 of 62% Syrah, 27% Mourvedre, 7% Grenache & 4% Tannat, which comes from his estate vineyards.
This particular bottling is more gritty with more Old World flavors, in comparison to his others. Furthermore, in 2011, the wine is much more restrained, higher in acidity & longer on the palate.
Here is what Matt had to say about this wine–” The Perfectionist is all about experimentation, always trying new things in the pursuit of life. Perfectionism- Never to be attained but something to strive for. There is this very cool velvet like quality in this wine that keeps me very intrigued “.
I would be remiss not to again mention the 2011 Saxum “Bone Rock“. (please check out the Saxum blog posted earler this year). Although I did not taste the finished bottled wine, the tank sample we tried, just before it was to be bottled, was sensational & the very best wine I have had from Justin Smith in all of these years. It deftly & wonderfully showcased such mesmerizing minerality much more clearly & succinctly than previous renditions. Furthermore, the 2011 had such length to it, in addition to the depth & innate layering of complexities one typically finds in this bottling. I could tell Justin also agreed, as he was beaming like the proud father of a newborn child would. Kudos to you, my friend.
This is just a short list of wines we recently tasted. It is by no means exclusive. There are a growing number of wineries which also easily deserve to be listed in this blog. We recommend you also check out the Rhone varietals based wines from–Autonom, Epoch, Paul Lato, Samsara, Scherrer & Jonata, just to name a few. I would also throw in the Cabernet Franc from Lieu Dit to the list just because stylistically & food compatibility wise it fits the bill.
The point here is, there are a growing number of these small projects well worth checking out. For the professional, it can give you more tools to work with on the restaurant floor.