Sunday, December 20, 2009

From Eden with love

It’s hard to imagine what a struggle it must have been for Martin Ray to plant and farm his vineyards in the mountains above Saratoga in the 1940s. Even today, the drive up there is all but an easy ride. And when you go there, I promise you will start to wonder if this really is the right way. It’s only a dirt road, winding and narow to the point it almost feels dangerous, and sometimes also very steep (my car almost didn’t make it in certain parts), and it seems to lead to nowhere. It’s so unlike a truck could drive up and down this road with barrels and cases of wines – so of course this must be the wrong way. Yet, there is no other way up the hill. After 2.2 miles, you’re finally there!

The Mount Eden Vineyards saw the start of its modern era in 1981, when Ellie and Jeffrey Patterson bought the historic property. Here, some of the best clones Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon from high end domains in Burgundy and France were planted long time ago, and when the new owners took over, there were still some of the old vines left (however, in 1997 the oldest block of Cabernet Sauvignon was ripped out and replanted).
It’s wrong to say that Mount Eden Vineyards is a hidden gem. Hidden might be a good description when talking about its location, but the vineyard is far too famous to be called hidden. Forgotten may be a better word. The wines, especially the chardonnays, are famous for their longevity, and they belong to the most classic of the white wines of California. But one should not forget the cabernets, which combines the complexity of the great wines of Bordeaux and the well structured and long lived wines from mountain vineyards in California, such as those from Ridge, Diamond Creek and Dunn.
Production is now up to 10 000 cases in a good year, and prices are great – around 50 dollar per bottle!

2005 Estate Chardonnay / 91 p
One of the secrets is the relatively early harvest, and the other is the soil and cool vineyard site. That’s what makes this chardonnay so long lived. Grapes are whole bunch pressed, and the juice is then fermented in equal parts new and one to two year old French oak barrels. It undergoes full malolactic fermentation (of which you can’t tell) and will stay in the oak for ten months. It is for sure a very classic wine, Californian by all means, with a golden straw color, rich and intense nose with notes of tropical fruits (but no sweetness) and lemon peel, as well as hazelnuts. Still there is enough complexity to, if so only for a moment, think about the wines of Bâtard-Montrachet. On the palate it is rich but completely dry with a lively acidity and a structure that is almost tannic, and again there is a kind of French touch to it. But there’s no doubt about this wine’s origin – it is so Californian, but in a style that even the more classic oriented wine drinkers would love. Drink it 2010-2015 (or later).

2007 Estate Pinot Noir / 90 p
Although a good wine, I’m not as impressed of the pinot as of the Estate Chardonnay, but that’s most likely due to the youth of this vintage – it is a bit dry, tannic and short. On the nose, it’s at first a bit closed, but with some air it opens up and reveals lovely aromas of dark cherries and sloe, and there is also a slight floral note. This is not one of those seductive and ripe pinots, this is more earthy and deep, also more well structured and mineral driven, and it needs some time in the bottle to show its full potential. It is made in a classic way, but there is as much a 75 per cent of new oak, and the wine has been kept in the barrels for 18 months. Considering the time and amount of new oak, it’s very well integrated. I would love to see this wine a few years from today. Drink it 2011-2019.

2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / 95 p
This is the star of the show. In this vintage, which is great from a vintage point of view, it’s a blend of 76% per cent of Cabernet Sauvignon, 22 per cent of Merlot and only three per cent of Cabernet Franc. The wine has been treated with both new and older French oak barrels for 24 months, and took the oak very well. Although very young and far from it will be in the coming years, the nose is already gorgeous, massive and complex. There are loads of dark but not sweet fruit, intense in a way that only great wines can be – yet so young and tight. It is easy to say “Bordeaux like”, and yes – it is. In ten years from now, you can fool most tasters in a blind tasting with this wine. However, the mineral notes and firm structure is much more California and poor mountain vineyards, than the gravelly soils of the left bank of Bordeaux. From pouring it directly from the bottle, it transformed from a massive and tight wine, to a more open and ultra complex cabernet during the 30 minutes I had the wine in the glass. Decanting is therefore recommended, now as well as within the coming 10-15 years. Drink it 2012-2030.

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