Thursday, September 24, 2009

Chardonnays from Marcassin

There’s several cult cabernets in California, also some cult syrah wines (notably those from Sine-Qua-Non - I'll get back to those!), and a few of Pinot Noir. When it comes to whites, there’s still only one producer with some kind of cult stature – Marcassin. Helen Turley, the woman behind the winery, came to California in 1977 and started her career in the laboratory of Mondavi Winery. Later, she made wines at Chappellet on Pritchard Hill, at B R Cohn and then at Peter Michael Winery. She became a superstar winemaker of Sonoma and then Napa Valley with many highly acclaimed wineries in her consultant business. She was loved, she was feared, and her wines was awarded with top Parker scores.

In 1991, she planted a 3.45 hectare vineyard in the cool true Sonoma Coast, Marcassin Vineyard, and begun to make great chardonnays, and pinots. Today, the wines are extremely hard to get, sold only through the mailing list. You'll also find them on the second hand market, but there they are very expensive.
The chardonnays are all made in the same way, whole bunch pressed, very slowly fermented with the indigenous yeast in 100 percent new French oak barrels, and always with full malolactic fermentation. The wine style is somewhat extreme, especially when taste young. Helen Turley says the wines need some years of bottle age, sometimes even 10 years – and although I normally don’t think California whites are able to age very well, I do agree with here on these wines. Give them 5-7 years from vintage, and don’t serve them to cold, 12-14 degrees is great. Like the wines from Kistler, these wines benefit from decanting.

2004 Chardonnay Zio Tony Ranch / 88-93?
The Zio Tony Ranch in Sonoma Coast is owned by the Martinelli family. This wine was a bit strange. At first, it was very shy and closed, with a quite oaky note and something that felt a bit unclean. Under that, there were notes of yellow plums, lemon zest and vanilla. With air, the musty notes became stronger, and stayed there for almost one hour. The cork wasn’t very good, but there was no trace of TCA, neither of oxidation. It was more like reduction – so I waited. For two hours! Then it turned into something very enjoyable, still young actually (Helen is right, her wines needs air, and bottle age) and the roasted notes of oak became more and more balanced and there is lovely notes of honey and both white and yellow flowers. On the palate, the wine is full and rich, at first with an intensity that you almost would describe as sweet, but the taste is completely dry. Alcohol is 14.9 percent, but to be honest, I don’t really feel that. The notes of honey is there, combined with lemon zest and a kind of clove like spiciness from the oak. The aftertaste lingers for a minute, or two, and suddenly I really like the wine. Still I’m a bit confused. Is the wine too young? Was it a bad bottle? Drink it over the next 3-4 years.

2004 Chardonnay Marcassin Vineyard / 96-97
This is always the greatest selection of Marcassin wines. Made entirely from the estate grapes of the Marcassin Vineyard, and produced in the same way as the other wines. Unfiltered and slightly hazy, it doesn’t look too good (well, I know it's good, so I don't care), but just put your nose in the glass, and you’ll smile. This is almost as complex as California chardonnays gets, great and intense at the same time as there is finesse and cool but rich and ripe yellow stone fruits. The one hundred percent new French expensive oak is extremely well integrated, as in the finest grand crus of Burgundy, a proof of the intensity and quality of the site and the grapes … and the winemaker. If you focus, you’ll notice the high alcohol (14.8 percent), but most likely you’ll move on to enjoy the floral notes, the lemon zest, the cool Pacific influenced fresh acidity and the fantastic balance of this great wine. If there is something I miss that would bring higher score to this wine, is would be a bit more intensity and liveliness in the aftertaste. But as long as it is so damn good, I will not complain too much. After all, it is a truly great bottle of wine! Don’t serve it too cold, and don’t pour it directly from the bottle – it needs decanting! Drink it now thru 2014.

2001 Chardonnay Marcassin Vineyard / 93-94
I had this wine at French Laundry, and therefore it was tasted open. The sommelier decanted the wine, as expected, and it stayed in the decanter for 20 minutes before I really tasted it. I can just image how much it opened up during that short period of time. As always, I find the wines of Marcassin to be a bit oaky at first and when young, but when they open up with some air, they show much more of their rich body, their depth, their intensity. With this wine, although it was almost 8 years old the time and the honey notes were more present, the oak was still there. Marcassin is always a very rich wine, and you almost always expect to find notes of pineapple and sweet lemon here, but still the acidity is so fresh so you’ll never feel any sweetness. This is one of the great things about this wine. Let’s go for the silky and quite charming body, but there is nothing easy about these wines. The acidity is always marked, this is the sign of the true Sonoma Coast, and even if there is sweetness from concentration and alcohol, you will describe the wine as completely dry. This is for sure a very good wine, but knowing it was a Marcassin, I actually expected a litte bit more. Was the wine fading away? Was it too old? Or was it still closed? To be honest, I don’t know.

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