Young Sommeliers Tasting–Rhone Grape Varieties–Part One

On this day, with the help of Warren Shon, we put together another comprehensive tasting for young wine professionals.  The theme for this one centered around Rhone grape varieties.

The main goal was to again help shed light on what is “good” wine.  In most cases, therefore, I prefer to taste the wines blind.  No one has to guess grape variety, soil, region…NO deductive, grid kind of angle.  The questions we instead ask… it a good wine?  Why/why not?  How much would you pay for this wine?  What foods would you consider pairing the wine to & why?  And finally, when would you consider recommending the wine & how?  We feel this is much more pertinent to the restaurant or retail store floor.

The first flight featured Carignane based red wines.  This red grape variety, I find, is not as showy or flambouyant as the Grenache, Syrah or Mourvedre grape varieties.  BUT, well grown & crafted Carignane can have a wonderful deliciousness, pliability & a surprisingly wide opportunity for a whole myriad of foods.   The secret is finding the good ones.

B Wine #1The 2014 Neyers “Sage Canyon”–is, in my opinion, a homage to the totally inspiring wines of Didier Barral & Maxime Magnon down in southern France (whose wines we will discuss shortly).   The 2014 is 34% 100+ year old Carignane & 25% Grenache, 15% Mourvedre & 15% Syrah (all heirloom/heritage grape vines), which has been foot stomped & made with deliciousness & gulpability in mind.  This wine is really unlike anything else I have tasted out of California.  The 2014 has compelling, charismatic fruit, an unprententious personality, coupled with intriguingly rusticity & vinosity, all done with absolute deliciousness, balance & wonderful, seamless texture.  We are HUGE fans.   The 2013 Domaine Fontsainte  Corbieres “La Demoiselle”–is one of those wines we buy year in & year out because of its inherent deliciousness & food friendliness.  The Corbieres appellation is located in southern France & Fontsainte’s vineyard holdings have a mix of soils–silica, gravel, clay & limestone.  The La Demoiselle parcel has 102 year old Carignane vines which serves as the core of this cuvee–60% (done carbonic) with 30% Grenache Noir & 10% Mourvedre, fermented in cement & aged in barrels for 8 to 12 months.  The 2012 Leon Barral Faugeres–Faugeres is another village down in southern France.  The dominant soil is schist, the 40 to 70 years old vines are biodynamically farmed.  This wine sees wild yeast fermentation with whole clusters & spends 2 years in cement & stainless steel.  Unlike the previous 2 wines, this is much more gamey, wildly rustic, even with a little “fur” to it.  Furthermore, one can readily smell & taste the sun baked rocks, wild shrub & herbs that surround the vineyard.  The 2013 Maxime Magnon “Rozeta”–is typically the hardest of these wines for us to get.  The core is 50 to 60 year old vine Carignane with some Grenache Noir, Syrah, Grenache Gris, Maccabeu & Terret, all grown in limestrone/schist soils.  The wine is then aged in old Chassagne Montrachet barrels.  The wine’s outgoing fruity/gunflint core nose is somewhat reminiscent of the wines from Jean Foillard of Morgon, Beaujolais–(protege & teacher?), although actually so different in character.  Well worth checking out!!!  (We also opened a bottle of the 2014 Maxime Magnon “Campagnes”, but it was sadly corked).

The next flight featured Grenache based red wines.  Grenache is typically a tough love for me.  I run across too many hollow examples & too many which B Wine #6have an extreme sun baked, raisiny quality which I find very distracting.  Still, passionately farmed bottlings from interesting vineyards & highly skilled winemakers can really help fill a void I see between Pinot & Cabernet based red wines, in terms of weight & drama.  The 2012 Villa Creek Garnacha–comes from 3 of the top caliber limestone/siliceous clay soiled vineyards of Paso Robles (Luna Matta, James Berry & Denner).  The soils help to create mesmerizing minerality in the finished wine, which makes it seem less heavy AND much more interesting.  This 91 point rated 2012 saw 75% whole cluster & was aged in 500 liter puncheons, 25% new.  I really believe that there is a huge opportunity with a wide audience of wine lovers for this wine because of how delicious & mineral driven it is.  The 2011 Samsara Grenache “Larner Vineyard”–this 100% Grenache comes from the limestone bedrock soils of the iconic Larner Vineyard of Ballard Canyon.  The resulting wine has more lushness, fullness & less obvious minerality on the palate than the previous wine, while still being elegant & refined.  The specs on the 2011–clone 136, whole cluster, aged in old oak….total of 56 cases….90 to 92 point rating.  The 2013 Keplinger “Lithic”–is a new wine to Hawaii.  Owner/winemaker Helen Keplinger has honed her skills & craft at several top caliber wineries including Bryant Family in the Napa Valley.  I find it so fascinating that the 2 wines we tasted on this day each came from the Shake Ridge Vineyard up in Amador county & its high altitude, quartz, basalt & shale soils.  The lavish, full flavored, outgoing, 93 point rated 2013 Lithic is 42% Grenache, 33% Mourvedre, 25% Syrah, 20 to 30 whole cluster & then aged for 16 months in 1 year old demi muids.  The 94 point rated 2012 Epoch “Veracity”–comes from the estate Paderewski & Catapult vineyards of westside Paso Robles & their rolling hills of limestone/siliceous clay soils.  The 2012 is 55% Grenache, 27% Mourvedre & 18% Syrah, fermented in concrete & stainless steel & then aged for 17 months in concrete egg & 30% new French oak puncheons.  Tasting this wine after the Keplinger clearly reminded the tasters how minerality from these kinds of soils can create mesmerzing minerality & buoyancy in the finished wine & thereby making it appear less heavy than it actually is.

B Wine #5We decided to showcase the Sella & Mosca Cannonau de Sardegna “Riserva” in this Grenache flight because it delivers such GREAT VALUE.  The enormous 1200 acre estate vineyard is located in northwest part of the isle of Sardegna.  Grown in clay-sand soils, this 100% Grenache is fermented in stainless steel & aged for 2 years in large Slavonian oak.  We have found the resulting delicious, wildly rustic scented wine has a wide appeal & with a wide array of Mediterranean styled foods it can readily work with. The 2009 Arrels Garnatxa “Clos Oblidat”—is 100% Grenache, which hails from the Montsant appellation of Spain (an appellation which surrounds the more famous Priorat).  This is the project of Master Sommelier Emanuel Komiji & the estate vineyard is only 6 acres in size with slate/clay soils & harvested at a scant 1 1/4 tons per acre (186 cases).  The 2013 Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras is typically one of our favorite bottlings from France’s southern Rhone Valley, because of its soulfulness & deliciousness, quite a rare combination.  A taster asked me the other night, if this wine had VA (volatile acidity) & brett (brettanomyces).  Yes.  And?  I still like the wine.  The grapes come the estate’s 17 hectare parcel on the “Plateau de Garrigue” & its combination of red clay, limestone & the round galet (stones).  Typically the blend is somehwere around 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah & 10% Cinsault, organically farmed, de-stemmed, fermented in cement & aged at least 6 months in foudre.  This is a masculine, virile, more traditionally made beast.  In comparison, the 2013 Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape “La Crau”, also from the southern Rhone Valley, is an aristocrat, with much more class & refinement.  We also love its strength, rusticity & great longevity.  I am absolutely blown away with each visit to the iconic La Crau vineyard.  It really does look like a sea of stones (galet).  Even when they dug down 20 feet, it still was 75% stones (with red clay “molasses” & some limestone).  The blend is typically 65% Grenache, 15% Mourvedre, 15% Syrah & 5% Cinsault/Calirette, partially de-stemmed, fermented in stainless steel & aged for 12 months in cement & foudre.  This is, without a doubt, the crown jewel of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which by the way, gets even more interesting & complex with further bottle aging.

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