Last night was another tasting with our VINO wine friends. Two of the wines were “Helfer Vineyard” Chardonnay from 2011 & 2006.
We frequently get asked how wines change with age & we thought showcasing 2 of Fred Scherrer’s single vineyard “Helfer”, 5 years apart, would be an interesting example.
Helfer Vineyard is located in the Russian River Valley on Vine Hill Road, slightly north of Kistler. I believe this vineyard is less than an acre in size, located in a bowl, with more whitish, sandy Goldridge soils, planted in 1993 mostly to Kistler Hyde selection with smaller amounts of Dijon clones 76 & 96. The 2011 was wild yeast fermented, whole cluster pressed, spent 15 months or so on the lees & saw roughly 50% new oak. Having tasted many of his Helfer designated Chardonnays, we were very surprised how open & forward this wine is at such a youthful age. It certainly was a crowd favorite because of its elegance, refinement & class, despite have a strong & virile core & structure. The 2006 in comparison, was fermented with Montrachet yeast, 50% new oak & 100% malolactic. It was still very tight fisted & intensely structured, with however, much more ethereal & lanolin nuances & a profound stoniness peaking through. I think this will be some kind of wine once it has a chance to resolve itself.
The wine gang followed the tasting with bottles they had each brought of other older Scherrer wines. Oh my goodness! What a memorable tasting this now turned out to be. Here are some of the highlights–
Scherrer Vineyard is roughly 20 acres of vines planted in southeast Alexander Valley on a bench above the Silver Oak holdings. The soils is more clay-loam-gravel & the Chardonnay parcel Fred works with–the vines were grafted over in 1989 using budwood they got from Ulysses Lolonis of Mendocino. On this night, we tried 3 different vintages (all 3, harvested at roughly 1 ton per acre). Interestingly, all 3 were essentially treated the same way–using Montrachet yeast, whole cluster pressed, 100% malolactic & roughly 50% new oak for 14 to 16 months. (the 1999 was slightly different–two, out of the 8 barrels, were 500 liter puncheons used). The 2007 was a mega-intense, unyielding stud with lots of vanilla/oakiness showing…& yes a stoniness, but it was definitely hibernating. I was going to use the word beast to describe this wine’s magnitude, but this wine really has just too much class to be considered a beast. I have been fortunate to have had the 2002 “Scherrer Vineyard” bottling quite a few times over the past 2 years. 5 years ago at a tasting at Sansei Kapalua, I then proclaimed it was one of the very best Chardonnay I had ever had! On this night, the 2002 tasted much more youthful than any of the other tastings over the past 2 or so years. In fact, it was still oaky & very tight fisted in its core. For those of you who still own some, this is an absolutely stunning wine, which hopefully will set a standard for you to measure others by, as it did for me. 1999–This was a pretty as pretty can be, ethereal wine butterfly. I had never had something like this from California. It was very floral, delicately spiced & so sheer & airy-like on the palate. Simply divine. I suggest this was having a glorious wine at the perfect time of its life. There was some real golden shadows, so I suggest one enjoy the wine shortly. I am sure it can go longer, by why wait?
Both of these were 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Scherrer Vineyard in Alexander Valley. The 1999 was still so amazingly youthful. Initially, it had a bark quality that I had never experienced in a Scherrer Cabernet before, but that blew off after some air time. The wine displayed red fruit with a stoniness in the core. We love the wine’s class, superb texture & wonderful balance & once again showed Fred’s masterful touch. FYI–I did notice some oak characteristics still, but I really had to look for it, rather than anything poking out. Fred recalls he used about 2/3’s new oak & the wine aged in the barrels for about 24 months.
The 2003 was much more refined, but still quite remarkably youthful. In a blind tasting I would never have guessed this wine was 12 years old. Although there were certainly bottle age nuances, the core & structure was still tight & virile. I was surprised to hear that Fred used 75% new oak & aged the wine in barrel for about 30 months.
It is hard to find wineries which do 1 grape variety well enough to standout. Fred Scherrer undoubtedly deftly crafts Chardonnay & Cabernet on that level as these 7 wines confirmed. I should also add that he also produces truly superb Syrah, Rose, Zinfandel AND Pinot Noir.
Thank you VERY much to all attendees for sharing! It really was a special night.