A Tasting for Young Sommeliers Part 2

We continued this gathering & tasting of young sommeliers with wines produced from grape varieties they are more familiar working with–Cabernet, Pinot Noir & Chardonnay.  Again, the goal of this blind tasting was to reiterate the search for what is “good” wine.  Tasting all of the wines BLIND would help better understand & appreciate the wines from a different perspective, with the influences of labels, pricing & media scores/hoop-la.

SIXTH FLIGHT–Cabernet Sauvignon

We started this flight with a 2001 Forman Cabernet Sauvignon, which was kindly brought & shared by Brent.  As VINO regulars well know by now, we are HUGE fans of Ric Forman’s Cabernets & have been for quite sometime.  The first wine I tasted from this venerable winemaking icon/master is the 1969, when he was still a young turk at Sterling vineyards. As good as wines were back then (the 1974 Sterling “Reserve” in particular), the quantum leap in quality happened when the vines from his very own estate vineyard came to fruition.  The vineyard has 2 distinct parcels–one on the “floor” on a small amphitheater surrounded by solid rock.  The soil is whiter-gray gravel, which he had once told me was a pushed river bed.  This was the source for this particular bottling.  I watched in amazement how tasters could readily smell the gravel/crushed rock character this wine showed, which by the way, was WAY different from most of the Napa Valley Cabernets they were used to.  This wine was a real, intense, mesmerizing thoroughbred, which offered lots of character, mojo, texture & fabulous balance, which is a very different experience than the dried fruit, autumn leaves, cedar, cigar box nuances would get from similarly aged peers.  AND, it was so surprisingly youthful still in its core.  What a wonderful bottle of wine, which I felt we were drinking at an ideal time of its life!  In comparison, Ann kindly brought & shared the 2011 Arnot Roberts Cabernet Sauvignon “Bugay Vineyard”.  This was an ideal wine for a comparison, as Arnot Roberts is certainly so highly regarded by the sommelier community, because of their vineyard sourcing & how they chase the concept of “In Pursuit of Balance” in all of the various grape varieties & single vineyards they work with.  As expected, it was very elegant & classy in style.  Having said that, in all fairness, we should have poured this wine after the 2001 Forman, especially since the Forman is riper, blacker Napa Valley fruit AND the very fact it was 10 years older & has had a chance to resolve itself.  I certainly applaud Arnot Roberts for looking to produce more transparent, balanced wines.  For me in this case, however, I just wanted more.   Theirs was like a wine chasing winemaking & specifically the “In Pursuit of Balance” concept, rather showcasing character or really moving me.  I just think they haven’t hit their stride quite yet…at least consistantly.  (Still, although I didn’t say so at this tasting, I wish one could taste the 2012 Camino “Montecillo Vineyard” produced from a similar hillside on the Sonoma side of the Mayacamas to better understand what I am trying to say.  Another example worth checking out, although from a different sub-region of Sonoma–Alexander Valley–is the Scherrer Cabernet Sauvignon “Scherrer Vineyard”.  Both of these wines still exhibit the concept of “In Pursuit of Balance” but with more mojo & character, AND at 60% of the cost.)


This actually was the category I was most excited to taste & discuss, when originally putting together this tasting.  The concept, for example, of “In Pursuit of Balance”, was originally started by Rajat Parr & Jasmine Hirsch, which has in my opinion provoked a lot of really interesting thoughts & conversations.  While it may have sadly created a polarization & controversy amongst parts of the Californian wine community , it did raise a lot of questions.  Questions which I don’t think can ever be fully answered, as everyone has their own opinions, thoughts & beliefs.  Still, I cherish the fact that questions were & are being asked.  Thank you for that.  And, thank you to all of the winemakers who voice an opinion.  It really is a way for me to continue to learn.  I therefore headed into this flight looking for wines of balance–forward or elegant, oaky or not, Dijon clone or heritage–balance was for me the key.  We started this flight with 2013 Hilt Pinot Noir “Old Guard”.  This was a project that really caught my eye on a trip up & down California wine country a couple of years ago.  Spearheaded by winemaker Matt Dees (of Jonata fame), the project features fruit from a matrix of most interesting vineyard sites–old vine Sanford & Benedict (Mt Eden vine selection with some Martini, planted in 1971, own rooted & their 30 acre parcel is organically farmed); Bentrock & Radian vineyards (2 extreme vineyards located in the western most areas of the Santa Rita Hills) & Puerta del Mar (5 acres of extreme conditions actually outside of the Santa Rita Hills boundaries).  In addition, Matt has some older vine fruit from Solomon Hills & G Block (planted in 1973 on its own roots) of Bien Nacido to work with if needed.  The “Old Guard” is the bottling that wow-ed me the most.  Produced mostly from the old vine Sanford & Benedict parcel (25% stems, 10% new oak), I loved the masculine, vinous, savory, musky, classy character this wine shows.  In looking over my notes, I did not see any fruit nuances listed.  In addition, though quite masculine & full of mojo in style, this wine still displays fabulous texture & balance.  Yes, this certainly was a treat.  Thank you Cheryle for sharing.  The next wine of the flight was the 2012 Rhys Pinot Noir “Horseshoe Vineyard” a 94 point (by both Parker & Galloni) Santa Cruz phenom really exploding onto the wine scene.  The classy, gracious, seductive style certainly is quite alluring, charismatic & captivating.  I can better understand all of the hype & hoop-la for the Rhys wines. I surmise the only thing really holding it back is the roughly online $100 per bottle price tag, especially when one considers the roughly online $70 a bottle tag of the Hilt listed above!  Thank you to Keith for sharing this bottle!  The next blind wine, the 2006 Costa de Oro Pinot Noir “Gold Coast Vineyard” was the mind blower of the day for me.  It REALLY caught me off guard, because how sheer, ethereal, superbly light, airy & transparent it was truly was after 11 years of bottle age.  Now, this was definitely my kind of Pinot!  I never, however, dreamed this bottling of wine could evolve into something this special!  Talk about having a wine at the perfect time of its life!  And, thinking about it further, this was the perfect vintage to reward us in such a way.  Thank you Brent for sharing.  (By the way, the price tag of the current release, in case you are interested, is roughly $29 a bottle Hawaii retail.  Isn’t part of a floor sommelier job is to find wines that greatly over deliver quality for the dollar like this?)  The last Pinot of the flight AND actually the centerpiece wine that prompted me to do this tasting, was the 2004 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Q Block”, a wine shared by Nicholas Miller of Bien Nacido Vineyard.  As VINO regulars well know, I have been a huge fan of the early on Whitcraft Pinot Noirs from the 1990’s & on until the 2006 vintage from then owner/winemaker Chris Whitcraft.  His were VERY masculine, heady, rambunctious, wild & wooly Pinots, not always correct, but certainly well worth enjoying & provoking thought.  He was a devout disciple of world renown Pinot icon, Burt Williams (co-founder of Williams & Selyem, which they sold I believe in 1997) & was in fact best friends until Chris passed away a few years ago.  My anticipation to taste & savor this wine was so longing.  I was shocked, however, how belligerent, coarse, oaky & alcoholic this wine showed after following the 2006 Costa de Oro.  Such a big disappointment.  When I went back to the wine later, however, it tasted like a Whitcraft–masculine, savory, vinous & wild & wooly.  I should have poured the Whitcraft BEFORE the Costa de Oro.  Wow, what a lesson!


A few weeks back at a trade wine tasting, I was blown away at the truly superb quality offered by the 2014 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Sanford & Benedict Vineyard”.  My notes simply said–“tastes like liquid rock…..mega-intense, but elegant, refined, majestic & superbly balanced“.  I also remember saying…at less than $30 a bottle Hawaii retail!  OMG, are you kidding me?  The next day, I called the winery to see if I could buy an older vintage to showcase side by side at this tasting.  They thankfully sent the 2008, as a gift to this Young Sommelier tasting.  Thank you Jim & Jim.  The 2008 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Sanford & Benedict Vineyard” still showcased glorious minerality, structure & superb balance, but was so visceral, bordering somewhat creamy & so much more layered because of the additional bottle age.  In short, for my palate, these 2 wines were excellent……worldly….& truly memorable, all at quite the reasonable price, especially considering the quality.  Interestingly, someone kindly brought a highly acclaimed (94 & 95 point rated) Sonoma Coast Chardonnay to share.  I will leave it as unnamed for reasons which will soon be more apparent.  The website noted, words like minerality, seductive, formidably structured & grand.   I thought the wine to instead be–brazen, frantic, over oaked, hollow, VERY bitter & highly alcoholic.  Not only was I really turned off by this wine, but was even more so when I found out the online price tag to be $84.99 a bottle (not including shipping)!  Not only was the 2014 Au Bon Climat WAY better mano e mano….but then dwell on the fact that you can get 2 2/3’s bottles for 1 bottle of this wine!  NO brainer.

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