We gathered the gang again to do yet another BYOB BLIND tasting. The theme was to explore “other” grape varieties in the New World……yes, still in search of what is “good” wine. We ask, how much would you pay for this wine? And, what kinds of foods would you pair it with? Yes, questions pertinent to working the floor…….just another way of learning!
2013 Palmina Dolcetto “Santa Barbara”–we started the tasting with an Italian grape variety grown & produced in the Santa Barbara appellation of California. I had previously tasted & enjoyed many Italian grown Dolcetto red wines over the years, BUT not too many ever REALLY rang my bell. What drew me to this bottling, however, is how delicious, juicy & well made this wine is & still with the earthy, savory, masculine, dark fruited qualities one normally would find in Italian versions. I also feel the price makes since this wine even more compelling, especially when one compares the quality/dollar ratio of other red grape varieties such as Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Barbera & the sort. the challenge then for the sommelier is how to sell it on the floor.
2011 Scherrer Zinfandel “Shale Terrace”
1998 Scherrer Zinfandel “Old & Mature Vines”
Both of these Zinfandels come from Fred Scherrer’s father’s vineyard in Alexander Valley, located on a bench above the Silver Oak planting. The Zinfandel was first planted in 1912 & was subsequently supplemented in waves over the years. As I have mentioned before, the Scherrer Zinfandel “Old & Mature Vines” are some of our all time favorite bottlings of this grape variety. They standout because of how surprisingly elegant, suave, & well textured & balanced they are……quite the contrast to hearty, robust, higher alcohol versions from other wineries. The 1998, brought & shared by Erica & Jamm was stunning. The edges were even rounder & the wine much more integrated. In addition the old vine nuances really sang out with the fruit & spice qualities now much more in the background. Who says Zinfandel doesn’t get better with bottle age? In comparison, we tasted the 2011 “Shale Terrace” which from a particular parcel of this vineyard which as the name suggests, much more rocky in make up. It really does want to say something different, with higher toned, almost nectarine/peach fruit aromas & seemingly much lighter on its feet. In both cases, I felt the wines were excellent!
2013 Ancient Peaks Petite Verdot “Santa Margarita Vineyard”–The Santa Margarita Vineyard is located at 1,000 feet in elevation down in southern Paso Robles. I had tasted a Petite Verdot (blended with Merlot) bottling from this vineyard produced by another winery a few years back & was so impressed I started working on actually visiting the ranch. After much effort, we were finally able to get in & 4 wheeled our way through all of the nooks & crannies of this remote, 900 plus acre “mountain” site. There are actually at least 5 distinct soil types here, & the most compelling were the fossilized oyster bed & the more common shale parcels. When I was later asked to help find wines for the First Class service of Hawaiian Airlines, I instantaneously knew this was the vineyard I wanted to work with AND I had a notion there would be a good portion of Petite Verdot used in the blending. Yes siree! As it turned out, however, on the first go around, I realized that this vineyard’s Petite Verdot was much better as a blending component rather than being a stand alone. This 2013 reconfirmed that. While I think the wine was good, it actually got unintentionally dwarfed by the 2012 Cambiata Tannat “Monterey” it was paired with. This was truly a black beast–black as old fashion shoe polish, mega-intense, dense, seemingly just packed as packed could be, hearty, robust, masculine though surprisingly well textured & well balanced. How does one corral such a wild, full on monster like this? How does one manage the searing tannins & acidity? Other winemakers, first of all, would probably not even take on such a project. And, if they did, many today, I would guess, certainly would explore what micro-oxygenation could do. Winemaker/owner Eric Laumann instead chose the virtue of patience. The first vintage of this wine, 2004, I had tasted was aged for I believe an astounding 40 plus months in oak barrels. The 2012 was a mere 28 months. In both cases, the time in oak helped to round out hard edges & helped frame an otherwise uncontrollable beast. I am not necessarily looking for such esoteric wines, BUT when it is this good, especially when one considers the price tag, how can you not go all in?
2013 Linne Calodo “Nemesis”–we have been huge fans of the wines from Linne Calodo for quite some time. We shared this bottle of 2013 Nemesis (82% Syrah, 14% Mourvèdre, 4% Grenache) to show tasters an example of well grown & crafted Syrah based red from the westside of the Paso Robles appellation. Despite this being a lavish, opulent, luscious, higher alcohol wine with lots of bravado & mojo, the wine’s innate minerality from the limestone/siliceous clay soils it was grown in, made it so provocative & surprisingly more buoyant. It certainly had the wow factor & was quite impressive. Because of its density, showiness & mouthfilling richness, we feel this wine could be a segue for many Cabernet fans into a whole new world of wines to experience, once again helping to fill that puka between Californian Pinot & Cabernet (closer to the Cabernet end of the spectrum). The 2015 Stolpman Syrah “Estate” on the other hand, shared by Rick, was a much more elegant, suave, more transparent style of Syrah & therefore lied closer to the Pinot end of the spectrum. What a fabulous comparison!
2013 Gramercy Cabernet Sauvignon “Columbia Valley”–there is little doubt it is becoming Washington state’s “time in the spotlight” more & more. The wines have gotten much better, partly because the vine material & plantings have gotten much more interesting AND there is quite a growing number of winemakers (& grape growers) changing the game. One of those leading the charge is Greg Harrington of Gramercy Cellars. A Master Sommelier & former wine director for both the Wolfgang Puck & Emeril Lagasse restaurant groups Greg intuitively grows & makes wines in pursuit of balance. While his Syrah & Mourvedre based red wines are at the head of the class, we wanted to showcase one of his Cabernets just to show tasters, Washington state has arrived! we were so fortunate that Brent & Helen brought & shared a bottle of the 1997 Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon “Sonoma Mountain”. It was a very fine example of where we came from, in terms of Cabernet Sauvignon in California. Back in the 80’s & 90’s, this bottling was one of the very best California had to offer. Grown in a very spiritual felt vineyard on top of Sonoma Mountain, this was one of those vineyards that offered something special & unique & this wine really showcased that. These Laurel Glen Cabernets were always something more than fruit, ripe fruit & oak. They had mojo, spirit & heart. This one was spectacular on this evening AND soooo remarkably youthful still. I wish more people would make & appreciate wines like this today! AND, if my memory serves me correctly, the 1997 was the first Cabernet, winemaker/owner Patrick Campbell produced up to this point that was over 14 degrees alcohol.
2015 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir “Santa Barbara”–Au Bon Climat is one of the true leaders (AND for quite a long time) out of California for producing more elegant, highly refined, very transparent & worldly Pinot Noirs. This is an example of his work, although there was a surprising rustic edge to the wine showing (perhaps from some Mondeuse he typically blends into this bottling). Still there is a fine-ness on the palate with wonderful texture & balance. I believe he has never really gotten enough credit for all he & his wines have done for the Californian wine industry. Thank you John for sharing. I was glad Ann kindly shared a bottle of the 2015 Maison L’Envoye Pinot Noir “Tasmania” on this day. When I was growing up in this industry I would frequently hear about the terrific potential the Island of Tasmania had for growing & producing sparkling, Riesling AND Pinot Noir wines. This bottling is by far the best example I have to date, 30 years later. I would not even think this was Cru quality by any means, BUT it is elegant, fine, classy, well textured & balanced…all at quite a remarkable price.
2012 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir “Bien Nacido Vineyard”–I just loved this wine for its intoxicating perfume–musk, earth & funk AND its wonderful transparency, refinement, remarkable texture & balance. It was the wine of the day for me, which is saying a lot. PLUS, when one considers the quality for dollar ratio, it’s an absolute NO-brainer,” on the list” wine for me. Done deal! I also greatly appreciate Rick bringing to share his wine, the 2015 Tyler Pinot Noir “12th Ave Grill” with all of us. Tyler winemaker/owner Justin Willett masterfully crafts Pinot Noirs like this (& a bevy of Chardonnays) all about precision, refinement, transparency, texture, balance & class, as this wine clearly showcased. Kudos to Rick & Justin!!!!! I just wished I had poured it before the Au Bon Climat.