Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cabernet Franc from Jonata

When Jonata was founded in 2004 by Charles Banks and Stanley Kroenke (they also bought the famous Screaming Eagle one year later), not everyone was too excited. Up until then, Santa Barbara County was a quiet wine region with few superstars (Brewer-Clifton and Sine-Qua-Non belongs to them), and those great wine companies that existed, had a quite low profile. With Jonata, a taste of Napa Valley came to this part of the Californian wine country. Not that the winery itself is "Napa Valley fancy", it’s not - Jonata lives in a warehouse in Buellton previous used by Richard Sanford. However, the ambition to make super premium wines sure is related to Napa Valley. And with all that, the Napa Valley prices came to Santa Barbara County.

From 36.50 hectares of vines on their ranch in Ballard Canyon, the Jonata team with winemaker Matt Dees and consultant Andy Erickson crafts a range of rich, intense and very serious red wines. El Desafio de Jonata is based on Cabernet Sauvignon, La Sangre de Jonata is a pure syrah, the stunning La Fuerza de Jonata is made from one hundred percent Petit Verdot and La Tierra de Jonata is based on Sangiovese, and performs really well!
Then there is a wonderful wine based on Cabernet Franc, El Alma the Jonata. There is no justice in comparing French wines of Cabernet Franc with those of California. Everything except the grape variety itself is different, which is completely natural since both climate and soils are very different from those in Loire Valley of France. Then, of course, winemaking is totally different.
I love the labels of Jonata, but they are not too easy to read for those who are not familiar with their wines. You have to be sharp-sighted to read the name of each particular wine, as well as the vintage. But it looks good. It’s a better idea to read the back labels, where the information one looks for is. But the best you can do, it so open the bottles and the wines speak for themselves.

2006 El Alma de Jonata / 92-94 p
Of all franc wines I have tasted from California, this is normally one of the best and most elegant, and it delivers what I look for in this vintage as well. There is four percent Cabernet Sauvignon and one tiny percent of Merlot in the blend, and as expected from high aiming Jonata, the wine is raised in brand new French barrels for almost two years. You’ll never find the fresh grassiness or currant leaves qualities as in the elegant wines of central Loire, but there is a dash of something greenish and very elegant in the dark fruit. Not knowing this wine is made of Cabernet Franc, some tasters would probably use descriptions such as “cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon”, och “not perfectly ripe Cabernet Sauvignon”, but the truth is that it’s neither cool climate or unripe. It’s just a beautiful example of a richer style of ripe Cabernet Franc, from a relatively warm climate.
The variety signature of black currants is here, the sweet vanilla flavors from the oak as well. On the palate it is medium bodied with a lovely intensity of ripe and somehow sweetish but really not too sweet fruit, still young a bit firm, but with ripe and almost sweet tannins. The slight bitterness found in the aftertaste, comes from the barrels and will diminish over the coming years. I recommend decanting the wine at least one hour prior to serving it – I did, and it worked out pretty well.
Drink it 2011-2021.

Monday, December 27, 2010

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Darioush

Darioush Winery is one of the most spectacular wineries in Napa Valley. You just can’t miss it when driving on Silverado Trail in the southern part of the valley. Its pillars, copied from the famous Persian palace Persepolis from 500 BC, are dazzling white in the sunshine, and reveals either insanity, or heritage. In this case, you have to settle for heritage, bcause that what is is. Founder Darioush Khaledi was born in the town of Shiraz in what way back in time was known to be Persia, but had to leave his homeland in 1976. Los Angeles became his new home, and together his nephew he started a market to make a living. Two decades later this market had turned into a huge business (KW Mart) with 20 supermarkets and more than 1 500 employees!
His passion for fine wines nourished as his fortune grew, and instead of looking for a château in Bordeaux (which was his initial plan), he found a vineyard in Napa Valley that he bought in 1997. There was no winery at that time – the ground for it was broken the year after, and believe it or not, all stones were brought back from his homeland, Iran. That’s dedication and pride. Like it or not. I do like it.
Steve Devitt was appointed as winemaker, and that was a smart move. If someone knew about the terroir in this corner of Napa Valley, it was Steve. He worked in Napa Valley since mid 80s, and was at the winemaker at neighbor winery Signorello until he came over to Darioush. Production today has reached more than 10 000 cases, of which the cabernet wine is the by far most important.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon / 93-95 p
I’ve been following Darioush since their inaugural vintage. This cabernet may well be the finest yet produced from this so promising winery. The 2007 vintage is a blend of 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, seven percent Merlot, five percent Cabernet Franc and only three percent Malbec, as always only estate grown fruit and from two sites: the main source is the vineyards in Oak Knoll close to the winery, the rest comes from Mount Veeder. I don’t know for sure, and I might be wrong, but it seems like the share from Mount Veeder is more significant in this vintage compared to most of the previous ones. At least, this is what the palate tells me. The intense, dark and for the vintage so typical ripe and rich but still so elegant fruit is perfectly wrapped around a very serious structure of huge but ripe tannins, and there are plenty of mineral qualities from the well drained volcanic soil up on Mount Veeder. Tasted it directly from the bottle, it was tannic and closed and to be honest not so easy to enjoy. Leaving it in the decanter for another hour it started to open up, a bit. So I left it for another hour, and then another hour, and then it blossomed in my Riedel glass. It’s recommended to do either so, or to keep the bottles in your cellar for a few more years. Although I just love the wine today, I’d rather keep it a few more years to not only soften the tannins, but also see the rising of the first secondary aromas. I can’t wait for that day to come!
From being so closed and "hard to see the greatness in it" for a few hours, I later just loved every sniff and sip of the wine. Still dense, firm and marked by its huge structure, it’s a very fine wine indeed – it just need some time. You will find some sweet cassis and blueberry notes on the nose and on the palate, in that sense the wine is ripe and rich, but the structure and lingering aftertaste, in which complex notes of lead pencil shows up, is serious, very serious.
Drink it 2013-2027.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Two faces of Petite Sirah from Langtry Estate

Petite Sirah has over the last century become a typical Californian variety, just like Zinfandel. According to the latest harvest report, there's 2 864 hectares of Petite Sirah planted and in production. Still it’s not particular common as a varietal wine – most of the grapes end up in blends with Zinfandel and Rhône varietals, where they add color, structure, deep fruit flavors and some spiciness.
The most important regions for Petite Sirah are San Joaquin Valley (687 hectares), where it is blended into bulk wines at low prices, and San Luis Obispo County (470 hectares), where Paso Robles have proved to be a very reliable source of some very good varietal wines. Matthias Gubler, winemaker at Vina Robles in the eastern side of Paso Robles, is very excited about Petite Sirah and believes that Petite Sirah will be one of the fines grapes of the region in the future. He is not the only one to salubrate this grape. Well known Bob Foley of Robert Foley Wines in Napa Valley, is also very fond of Petite Sirah.
Today one will find some Petite Sirah in Sacramento, Yolo, Almeda, and Lake County. Napa Valley (283 hectares) and the inland of Mendocino (209 hectares), Sonoma (198 hecatres) are also homes of some fine wines of Petite Sirah.

Durif is the original name of this grape (at least, that’s the common and also by DNA proved theory), although there are a few alternatives to it. Anither one, not proved, is that Petite Sirah is a natural crossing that occurred in the late 1800s, at the time when many European grape varieties were brought to United States. I always refer to the evidences scientist like Dr Carole Meredith have come up with, and it this case it clear that Petite Sirah was born in France in the 1870s, as Durif. The French wine growers never liked it, but growers in California planted it in the 1880s, most likely as a field blend with Syrah (just to make it more confusing), Zinfandel, Carignane and Alicante Bouschet. At least, this is how you will find the oldest vines of Petite Sirah today.
The grape itself seems to have picked up more of the character of Peloursin than of its other parent, Syrah. Color is always dark and the tannic structure important, but although the wines are rich in dark fruit flavors, they most often lack the complexity the wines of Syrah shows.

Guenoc Valley is a single estate appellation in the southeastern corner of Lake County. It’s just in the shadow of Howell Mountain of Napa Valley – and so are the prices of the wines from here. There’s only one producer here, Langtry Estate, but on their ranch of 8 900 hectares, only 162 hectares are planted to vines. They make four wines of Petite Sirah, two of them from the Serpentine Meadow Vineyard, which is located on the valley floor below the winery (altitude is around 300 meters above sea level). The unique thing about this vineyard is that the soil is dominated by serpentine, a soil type very high in magnesium. That, and the fact that the soil tends to absorb a lot of water, and then dry out very quick, creates a lot of stress to the vines. Most winegrowers have noticed that the vines become weaker, thinner, more sensitive, and also later to ripen the grapes. Well, this may well be so elsewhere, but these wines are superb!

2007 Petite Sirah Serpentine Meadow Vineyard / 90-91 p
One hundred percent Petite Sirah normally results in a very rough and tannic wine, but in this case I find it to be surprisingly well balanced. The reason for that is spelled “tannin and bitterness management”. First of all it is important to reduce yields to get the grapes fully ripe – I guess the serpentine soil, to a certain extent, is part of that. A strict selection, fully destemmed grapes, and a careful extraction during the fermentation are also crucial. At Langtry Estate, the winemakers also remove as much seeds as possible during the fermentation process.
The wine is dark, dense and purple blue in color. On the nose, you’ll find a sweetish spiciness of the 24 months of ageing in the highest quality American oak barrels, but not too much oak tannins on the palate. The fruit flavors are truly text book to Petite Sirah – the wine is loaded with blueberries and sweet plums, but in a good way, and the richness makes a good balance with the structure. I kept the wine in the glass for 15 minutes, and it opened up beautifully during that time, so decanting is half an hour prior to serving it is recommended. It’s not a charming wine to just take a sip of – this is a wine that’s needs rich foods like steaks, venison, duck or goose.
Drink it 2010-2017.

2007 Petite Sirah Port Serpentine Meadow Vineyard
/ 90 p
This is quite funny – it’s actually almost the same wine as the dry version. During the fermentation, a small lot was treated differently … with the port wine method. When the alcohol had reached six percent, a neutral brandy from Sonoma was added to the fermenting wine, which killed the yeast and left around 75 grams of sugar unfermented. In the ready wine, alcohol then reached 19 percent. It’s a superb, sweet and quite port like wine with lovely flavors of sweet blueberries, cherries and chocolate. Acidity is good, and of course the high alcohol gives a kick in the long, sweet and silky aftertaste, but that’s just what it should. I’d love to taste this with a chocolate fondant with compote of cherries, or to a blue cheese like Forme d’Ambert. Serve it at 14-16 degrees.
Drink it 2010-2022.

Friday, December 24, 2010

2005 Zinfandel Ponzo Vineyard two styles

Russian River Valley is home to many fine zinfandel wines. The slightly cooler climate, compared to that of neighboring Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley up north, results in a slower ripening process with more intense perfumes and a fresher acidity, and quite often a more elegant and lighter colored fruit flavor. The Ponzo Vineyard is situated off the Old Redwood Highway, just south of Healdsburg, and it’s owned and farmed by the Ponzo cousins, Phil and Bob. The vineyard was originally planted in 1900, and there’s still around 4.25 hectares of vines from that year. Later on it was expanded with more blocks and it survived through the prohibition thanks to the admittance of making 200 gallons of wine per year and household over the country. Later on, some vines were replanted, and new blocks were planted, almost four hectares in 1985 and five hectares in 1999 and 2000. In the older blocks, some Carignane and Petite Sirah vines are planted mixed with the Zinfandel wines.

2005 Zinfandel Ponzo Vineyard from Ridge Vineyards / 90-91 p
This blend of 97 percent of old vines Zinfandel and three percent Petite Sirah comes from three distinct lots within the vineyard, the Old Vine Block, Triangle Block and Back Block. This may be one of the reasons for being so different from the Nickel & Nickel selection. Another reason is the different oak philosophy – at Ridge all wines are raised in American oak barrels. For the old time winemaker Paul Draper, it’s crucial to make the wines to be age worthy, and therefore they always show a good balance and a great structure. Compared to the previous wine, this wine offers a deeper and more concentrated body, not that it is sweeter, it just slightly more ripe and intense. Still it’s a bit closed compared to what I expected. Using American oak may often result in a sweetish and vanilla like flavor in the wine, but there are no such flavors here, which I find positive. Tannins are present but ripe, so there’s no bitterness whatsoever. To be a Ridge wine, alcohol is quite high – 14.9 percent – but it is very well integrated. As always with these wines, they need time to open up and show all their glory, and even if it’s good to drink today, I recommend just a few more years of cellaring for this particular wine.
Drink it 2012-2025.

2005 Zinfandel Ponzo Vineyard from Nickel & Nickel / 89-90 p
Nickel & Nickel are more famous for their Napa Valley tier of cabernet wines from various vineyard of interesting terroir, and they are also the ones to really look after. For this wine, they lease and work since 1997 with a 4.45 hectare block of dry farmed vines planted in 1920 in the Ponzo Vineyard (this is one of only two zinfandels they make. Compared to the Ridge wine, this is a bit lighter and less concentrated, and it also shows a bit more red fruit. Ripeness is most likely more or less the same, at least both wines are dry and both have the same level of alcohol (in this wine, 15.0 percent). The main thing that separates these two wines is the tannic structure, that in the Nickel & Nickel wine is much more marked, and therefore it seems to be a bit younger. Also the acidity is slightly higher, and the oak – French in this case – is actually a bit more present, especially in the aftertaste. All these characteristics corresponds pretty much to what is expected from Nickel & Nickel – their philosophy if a bit more French in that sense. It’s a good wine, but not great, and I suspect it to be a bit more elegant in a few years from now.
Drink it 2012-2020.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Kissed by a sweet Zinfandel from Bella Vineyards

It’s not easy to find great sweet wines produced in California. Botrytis of the good sort is not common in the dry and sunny climate (although there are a few delicious noble rotted wines made in the Golden State), the passito method is rarely used, and fortified wines seems to be part of the history rather than the modern wine list. However, there is a tradition of making late harvest or even fortified wines of Zinfandel. While most of them are heavy, overly sweet and high in alcohol, you can find well made elegant examples, if you search.
One of the finest examples of sweet, late harvest zinfandels comes from Bella Vineyards in the northwestern corner of Dry Creek Valley. This charming, medium sized winery was founded in 1999 by Scott and Lynn Adams. They didn’t start from scratch – they bought the very old Lily Hill Estate, which at the time of purchase was home of 28.30 hectares of gnarly Zinfandel wines planted in 1911 on a beautyful slope, under which the barrel cellars is. They also own the 40.10 hectares Big River Ranch in Alexander Valley, planted to Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Carignan in 1905.
The dry wines of Bella Vineyards are well worth looking for, at least if you don’t look for big, super ripe and fruit driven wines with high alcohol – you’ll not find that kind of wines here. Since 2009 they make a delicious and delightful Ten Acre Chardonnay (hardly any oak), but they are more well known for their zinfandels, of which the Lili Hill Zinfandel (97 year old vines in the current release, 2008) is the finest.

2009 Late Harvest Zinfandel / 92 p
This dark beauty is almost entirely made of Zinfandel, but there is a splash of Black Muscat in the blend to make it a bit more floral and charming. Grapes are harvested at full ripeness at 32 Brix, so the wine is rich, intense and sweet (residual sugar is 110 grams per liter, and alcohol is 14.2 percent). Since grapes are sourced from various appellations, the wine carries the generic origin “California”. However, there’s nothing everyday and average about this wine – on the contrary it’s exquisite, silky and lush with a seductive texture and flavor that lingers for quite a while. Notes of sweet blackberries, dark cherries, figs, plums and chocolate will be found in the flavor profile, as well as a touch of the finest chipotle. Tannins are moderate, so there will be no resistance in this wine. I’d love to have it at 15 degrees Celsius, served to a dessert made of dark chocolate and cherries or raspberries. And if you, for some reason, don’t finish the bottle at once, it could be kept in the bottle (store in cold) for at least 3-4 days.
Drink it 2010-2015.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Great Grenache from Unti Vineyards

Thinking about all winemakers with a passion for southern French and Rhône varietals, and taking into consideration that Châteauneuf-du-Pape almost has gained a kind of “holy grail” status over the last decade, one can easily end up believing Grenache would be a very popular grape variety. Well, it is, but not that popular, at least not if one looks at the figures. In 2007, there were 2 818 hectares of Grenache planted all over California, just slightly more than Ruby Cabernet, but less than the not so popular Barbera. One reason for that may be that very few wines are labeled as Grenache, and therefore that few consumers are familiar with Grenache and what to expect from it. It’s mainly used in blends. Since the 90s, some more Grenache have been planted, and its acreage will most likely increase over the coming decade.
Unti Vineyards is a small family owned winery with 24.30 hectares of vines in two vineyards in Dry Creek Valley in northern Sonoma. Of that, only 1.18 hectares in planted to Grenache. The vineyards were purchased in 1990 by George Unti, son of an Italian immigrant, but it wasn’t until 1997 that his son Mick made the first wines under the Unti Vineyards label.
The winery has one small fermentation room with small stainless steel tanks for fermentation and blending, and an adjacent room for the barrels. It’s not big at all, but enough for the annual production of approximately 7 000 cases.
Overall, the wines are predominately made of southern French and a few Italian varieties, they are elegant, quite classic and often more European than typical Californian.

2007 Grenache / 90-92 p
Owner Mick Unti and his winemaker produce some very interesting wines of great value, and this grenache is normally one of their very best wines, if not the best. It’s made of 80 percent Grenache and ten percent each of Syrah and Mourvèdre from vines planted in 1998, and around 20 percent of the Grenache clusters were added in the fermentation tank without being destemmed. After a few days of cold soak, some of the pink grape juice is bled off to make the wine more dense and structures. Fermentation is carried out with the indigenous yeast, and pigeage is utilized as extraction method. Wisely enough, the wine is then (since 2005 vintage) transferred into larger foudres rather than smaller barrels, to undergo malolactic fermentation and maturation over a year. Although the alcohol touch 15 percent (or just under that), the wine is not ripe, overly sweet and fiery. On the contrary, it’s very elegant and – to be very honest – very French! As expected, it shows a lovely raspberry fruit aroma, with some deeper notes of plums, also a lovely spiciness of licorice, white pepper and violet, but it will take at least 10-15 minutes before the wines opens of and shows all that. Therefore, decanting is recommended if poured young. Tannins are young, but not aggressive, and not to firm. Still it is recommended to keep this wine for a year more or two. Since the wines isn’t filtered or fines, it may be slightly hazy.
Drink it 2010-2017.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Copain goes white

When Wells Guthrie founded his own label Copain in 1999, his main focus was Pinot Noir and Syrah. He built the foundation of his philosophy from what he learned in France, where he travelled and worked before he started Copain. In Burgundy he was particularly impressed by the wines of Chambolle-Musigny (he often refers to domains such as Dujac, Roumier, Mugnier and Groffier), and in the Rhône Valley he found the inspiration in the wines from Thierry Allemand and August Clape in Cornas, and Jamet of Côte-Rôtie.
Although Wells had turned into a true Francophile, his first vintages wasn’t that French in style. Sometimes alcohol levels jumped up to 15 percent, but most of the time his wines were elegant compared to other Californian wines.
With 2006 vintage, Wells have taken a new direction, with earlier harvest, lower pH and sugars, which have resulted in much more profound wines with lower alcohol (around 13 percent for his pinots, slightly higher for his syrahs), higher natural acidity, greater finesse, and above all that, more intensity and elegant flavor profiles. His 2009 vintage, of which most of his reds are not yet released, is his best vintage ever.
And in 2009, he added, for the first time, a white wine.

2009 Chardonnay Brosseau Vineyard / 93 p
Since Chalone achieved it AVA status back in 1982, it has been referred to as a single winery appellation, with the well known Chalone Vineyard as the only winery. But there are actually a few other vineyards, five to be precise, and Brosseau Vineyard is one of them. This is a cool appellation at 450-500 meters above see level in the Gavilian Mountains, overlooking the Salinas Valley in Monterey County. With daytime temperatures of 17-22 degrees Celsius, this is a very cool appellation, and wines from here turns out to be very elegant with high natural acidity and, if red, a firm structure.
In 2009 Wells purchased some Chardonnay from 30 year old vines here to make his first white. He fermented the juice in neutral French oak barrels, five to six years old, so there is no oak flavor at all here – which is great. The oak just add some texture to the wine. Another smart move was to never do any bâtonnage, and even though the wine went through full malolactic fermentation, the acidity is lively and fresh (pH is 3.12), which in combination with lovely notes of minerals, adds focus and complexity in the perfectly dry and long finish. In many ways, there are a lot of burgundian styled qualities in this superfine inaugural vintage of this chardonnay. Although this wine may keep very well, it’s at it best quite young. It’s a good idea to decant it half an hour. Serve it at 12-13 degrees Celsius.
Drink it 2010-2017.

Kistler Vineyards in Russian River Valley may well be more known for their chardonnays, but there is actually a quite substantial production of pinots here as well. Around 10 to 20 percent of the total annual production of 23 000 to 28 000 cases of wines (depending on the vintage) will be made of Pinot Noir. Of that, the pinot from Kistler Vineyard is by far the most important.
Yields are always kept low, normally at 23-25 hectoliters per hectare, and there’s always a first strict selection in the vineyard before the grapes are trucked to the well designed winery at Vine Hill Road in the heartland of Russian River Valley. There will then be another selection at a sorting table, before the clusters are destemmed. Each single block and clone of Pinot Noir is fermented in separate lots in small open top tanks of stainless steel, and prior to the fermentation there will be a few days of cold soak at ten degrees Celsius. After almost four weeks of fermentation and gentle pigeage, the free run wine it then transferred into French oak barrels, approximately 40-50 percent new, to complete malolactic fermentation, (this will occur completely natural without any enzymes in slightly heated chambers in the underground wine cellar.
In the early days, the pinots were a bit more concentrated and oaky, but over the last ten vintages, there has been a slight change into something more elegant - lower alcohol, less new oak - just as for the chardonnays . Still, these wines are by no means fashioned in a burgundian style. They are Californian, and should be, whether you like it or not!

2008 Pinot Noir Kistler Vineyard / 92-93 p
This cuvée consists of Pinot Noir from several vineyard lots and of several clones, the Dijon 777 and the two older American selections Calera and Swan. It have spent a good year in oak. There have been some issues regarding the fires in 2008, and some wines from the vintage are tainted by smoke. This is not.
On the nose, it’s quite intense, and at first glance there are some quite interesting, fruit forward, dark scented and earthy aromas reminiscent of those in modern wines from Vosne-Romanée. However, there is a slight sweetness here, and no chalky mineral qualities, and of course there’s a good portion of oak, but not to that extent it makes the wine unbalanced. It’s just young, and it needs some time. I noticed, over the 30 minutes I had the wine in my glass, that the fruit opened up with air as the spicy oak almost went away, so decanting may be a good idea if drinking it young. The 14.1 percent of alcohol is well balanced by the medium intense body, but tannins are young but ripe and almost – at this stage – totally balanced by the fine, dark scented and sweet cherry fruit. I particularly like the lingering aftertaste – it’s noble, but young and not as silky as it will be in at years or two. Around 25 700 bottles were made.
Drink it 2012-2020.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Terroir expression from Ravenswood

Joel Peterson took his first steps in his wine life in 1973, at that time as a wine writer and consultant with a weekend job at Joseph Swan Winery in Russian River. Although Joseph Swan was (or were soon to be) famous for his pinots, he told the young Joel no to grow Pinot Noir because it was too demanding and difficult. Instead Zinfandel caught Joels interest. “At that time, there were a lot of old vineyards with Zinfandel in Sonoma, but few winemakers seemed to be interested to buy them, therefore I travelled around Sonoma to look at the vineyards, and later on to buy some grapes. In 1981 he and Reed Foster (a business man) founded Ravenswood.
Over the years, Joel Peterson and Ravenswood have been the leading forces behind the great success of Zinfandel. Or, the transition from being a booring grape destined for sweet pink colored White Zinfandel into something deliscious and serious. Today Zinfandel is, with its 20 383 hectares in production, the third most widely planted grape variety in California. Only Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are more important.
On the entry level, Ravenswood makes a quite average but acceptable Zinfandel Vintners Blend that reflects the grape variety without being distinct. I much more prefer the not particular more expensive appellation series, with an elegant and fruit forward Mendocino County Zinfandel, a more ripe and intense Sonoma County Zinfandel, a well structured Napa Valley Zinfandel and the Lodi Zinfandel, a wine with a lush body and a slightly more sweet scented fruit. But it is in the vineyard designated wines the true gems are to be found. These wines show that Zinfandel also can be transparent, that its wines can reflect terroir.
All the vineyard designated wines are made in more or less the same way. Some stems may be included in the vat, but most often all bunches are destemmed. Fermentation takes place in open top fermenters of old redwood and it’s always carried out with the indigenous yeast. Like for Pinot Noir, pigeage is utilized for extraction. The malolactic fermentation in the zinfandels is slow, very slow – sometimes the wines needs up to one year to complete it! The wines are then matured in small oak casks, for this quality most of them are French, 30 percent to brand new, for up to 18 months.
“I always make more wines than I need from each single vineyard, that allows me to make a strict selection of which barrels I’d like to use to the vineyard designated wines – the barrels that doesn’t make the cut, are blended into my regular Vintners Blend”, Joel says.

2002 Zinfandel Old Hill / 92 p
The Old Hill vineyard is probably one the oldest in Sonoma County. It was planted already in 1854, but was replanted in the 1870s and 1880s by William Hill. Joel Peterson once told me, this vineyard probably served as a nursery in the past. “Side by side to the Zinfandel vines, you’ll find other grape varieties, at least 20 of them, such as Alicante Bouschet, Malbec, Touriga Nacional and Petite Sirah”, he said. Not enough to make a descent volume of wine from each grape, but highly interesting to add to the blend. This is also how Joel Peterson uses these grapes in this wine. “As a spice”, he says. Since the vines are very old, the yields are extremely low, barely a half bottle of wine per vines.
Some wine critics claims that zinfandels should be drunk within five to ten years, and that may be true in many cases, but even after eight years this wine still shows its sweet scented primary fruit qualities, yet with a slight touch of secondary complexity. And that’s just fine, that’s the way it should be. Tannins are fine and silkier than in the Monte Rosso selection, but still the structure is there to hold up body. In the lingering aftertaste, there are notes of sweet tobacco and dried fruits, but less of that alcohol warmth (alcohol is only 14.2 percent in this wine) you find in the Monte Rosso wine. Production this year was 395 cases.
Drink it 2010-2016.

2002 Zinfandel Monte Rosso / 92 p
The southwest facing Monte Rosso Vineyard is one of the finest for red wines in Sonoma Valley, or actually at 250 to 360 meters of altitude above the valley floor, where the soil is rocky and dominated of a red volcanic soil (hence the name). It was planted with Zinfandel already in the 1880s, and of a total of 102 hectares, there’s as much as 16.20 hectares with vines from that time! The history says the cuttings came directly from Croatia, and therefore it’s likely that these clones are the oldest and most close to Creljenak Castelanski, the most ancient and original type of Zinfandel that was brought into United States in the 1830s. This vineyard was once owned by Louis M Martini, but when they sold their company to the Gallo family in 2002, they also sold this unique vineyard.
The wine is made in the same way as the one from quite nearby Old Hill, but the structure is much more firm due to the slightly cooler site, and the poor volcanic soil. The nose is just lovely, the still youthful dark and sweet fruit play around with the first signs of more complex secondary flavors, there’s actually a kind of stony mineral note that’s very attractive. Even though the tannins still are firm – in a way they hold back the fruit a bit – there’s enough fruit to make the taste, and the lingering aftertaste, very interesting. The 15.4 percent of alcohol stated on the label is very well integrated. Compared to the Old Hill selection, this wine offers fine notes of dried fruit such as prunes and raisins, which is quite common in ripe zinfandels. Still this wine hasn’t reached its perfect maturity yet. There was 3 075 cases made of this wine.
Drink it 2012-2018.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

2004 Screaming Eagle

Talking or writing about ”the eagle” is always controversial. Within a second or two, words and opinions about taste verses quality and price will come up, no matter you like it or not. The answer to that adequate and most welcome question is; will the wines of Napa Valley stand up to the competition and reputation of the finest wines from Bordeaux, and will they ever be worth the price?
In one way, it’s quite easy to answer that question, but then it always comes down to personal taste and expectation, if you can and are willing to spend that much money on a bottle of wine, and for what reason you want to buy particular wine.

To start with, yes, with no doubt the best cabernets of Napa Valley are very much up to the competition with the very finest of Bordeaux, whatever reasons the Francophiles give you to reject that idea. (Or fact!) They’re not likely to enjoy these wines anyway, since most Francophiles believes that Roussillon is this world most southern wine region, and Bordeaux is the only region able to produce great cabernet wines.

Quality is not only about taste, since taste is foremost a personal thing. Quality is numerous factors such as ripeness, level and maturity of tannins, overall aromatic profile, level of acidity, cleanliness, oak flavor (oh, yes, the oak is also very forward in young wines from Bordeaux), balance, the way the aftertaste lingers or not, also how well the wine corresponds to its grape varieties and origin. These factors all play an important role in what makes a great wine. In that sense, Napa Valley is as good as Bordeaux, but to be honest more even over vintages – which may be considered as a great advantage.
I fully understand that prices on so called cult wines of Napa Valley sometimes are crazy, still there’s enough people to buy them at the mailing list (at full prices) and even on the second hand market (at silly prices). So, what’s so fuzzy about that?
Even though some of these wines are truly great – Harlan Estate, Araujo Eisele Vineyard, Dalla Valle Maya, Bryant Family, Grace Family, et al – they are not wines for everyone. Nobody complains about the price of a fabulous car or a fantastic villa for several million dollars, since we all know they’re not for us. Still we make loud noise about certain wines we no longer can afford to buy.
Screaming Eagle is one of those wines. And it is a very, very delicious wine. It’s never powerful or overly ripe or alcoholic, its build on finesse and the sense of its birthplace, the reddish volcanic soil in the eastern section of Oakville.

I once asked winemakers Andy Erickson and Massimo di Costanzo how much they have made experiments since they came aboard at Screaming Eagle in 2006, and what these experiments resulted in. “First of all, we have full respect for what Jean Phillips and her winemaker Heidi Peterson-Barrett have achieved over the years, still we wanted to see if we could make the wine even better – but almost whatever experiments we did regarding maceration and extraction, the personality of the vineyard stood out”, they replied. It’s really a great terroir, just as at any château with a great reputation in Médoc.
After tasting their first vintages 2006 and 2007, I’ve noticed that the style has not changed, although the wines seem to be a bit more intense, still not ripe and heave – at least at this young stage. Perhaps that’s just the vintages?

2004 Screaming Eagle / 95-96 p
There’s always around 10-15 percent Cabernet Franc and Merlot in the blend, and some cold soak before the fermentation starts. Fermentation takes place in small stainless steel tanks with a capacity of 15 hectoliters, and the winemaker (in this vintage Heidi Peterson-Barrett) works with a combination of pigeage and remontage, and always very gentle. There should never be any sharp edges in the eagle. While almost all cult wines are raised in brand new French oak barrels, Screaming Eagle only sees 60-65 percent of new oak. The ageing is around 18-20 months, and there’s no filtration or clarification prior to bottling.
I decanted this wine four hours before serving it, which was needed. At first it was quite closed although slightly sweet on the nose, after all – this is the 2004 vintage, which was warm and gave the wines a riper and slightly more sweetish fruit. After a couple of hours, the wine opened up to be more intense and perfumed with is typical cassis notes. We tasted it with other cult wines this time, and as always the Screaming Eagle is the most elegant and silky (unless you pour it next to the Grace Family wine). The oak is extremely well integrated – nowhere in my tasting notes there’s a work of oak. I rather describe the texture as seamless as velvet. If one needs to complain on a small detail, the acidity may be a bit low (typical for the 2004 vintage), but not to that extent it makes the wine unbalanced.
What’s really interesting is to see how much the wine evolves during the five hours the wine spent in the decanter, and our glasses. If you look for pure power, this is not the wine for you. If you prefer balance and finesse, and a fine tuned flavor profile with great intensity, this is something to look for. Well, if you find it, and if you can afford it!
It was $300 on the mailing list – the 2005 vintage was $500 – but on the second hand market you have to be prepared to pay anything from $1200 to $1800, unfortunately.
Drink it 2010-2024.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

2005 Seymour’s from Alban Vineyards

John Alban is one of the superstars of Central Coast. He was the first one to plant Rhône varieties in Edna Valley, a valley that at the time was considered to be to cool for the southern French varieties. Every single backbiter was soon proved to be wrong – after just a few vintages in the mid 90s, John Alban crafted wines of great finesse and complexity and soon he was the talk of the day.
The timing for Syrah in the 90s was perfect, not only did the vintners start to plant better clones, and also on good sites, the consumers also started to find this “new” grape and wine style as well. The cooler sites was soon the first to be chosen for Syrah, and today we see more Syrah in Sonoma Coast, Russian River, Carneros and Santa Rita Hills, than in warmer regions.
John Alban and his friend Manfred Krankl of Sine-Qua-Non were the first to make ripe, intense and concentrated wines of cult status from Syrah. Although many winemakers were inspired by them and their highly acclaimed wines and therefore went in their footsteps, they still play in their own league.
The Seymour’s is unfortunately a very rare wine. It’s not too likely to find it unless you are a member on the mailing list, or dine at a high end restaurant. However, you may find its siblings Lorraine of Reva, two outstanding syrahs in the same ripe and spicy style.

2005 Seymour’s / 96 p
One can easily say that since long time friends John Alban and Manfred Krankl find inspiration in each other wines. This vintage of Seymour’s shows, just like the great wines of Sine-Qua-Non, that pure power can live in harmony and absolute balance. Well, at least with a perspective of a few years of more bottle age. Drinking it today, it will of course be a heavy weight champion with less complexity and finesse, but the punch is remarkable. This 100 percent Syrah from the 4.45 hectare Seymour’s vineyard was kept in brand new French oak barrels for 40 months, and it is still in its first primary stage. Color is dark, almost opaque, and the nose is dense, concentrated and still marked by the sweet and coconut scented new oak barrels, but there’s a great purity and a power that’s quite remarkable. It’s not, however, a wine for those who seeks for elegance and finesse in the classic way – this is a wine for those who love full bodied, heavy weight champions with impressive fruit and length.
On the palate is full bodied, packed with dark and ripe almost sweetish berries, but there’s also a more aromatic note in the fruit. Some coconut flavors and Asian spices from the oak are found on the nose and on the palate, and the oak tannins and bitterness is still there – I guess they will hang on for another year or two. Again, it’s a great powerful wine reminiscent of those of Sine-Qua-Non, but actually with more power and concentration. The 15.2 percent of alcohol adds length to the aftertaste, as well as sweetness and structure, but still it is quite well integrated in the ripe, lush and lingering body. Tasted directly from bottle at this stage, it was brutal (but good), tasted three hours later from a decanter, it was still quite brutal (but even more good), and tasted again seven hours after decanting it, it was just brutal and absolutely wonderful. As John Alban told me a few times, this wine needs time. So please, give it time, in tour cellar, or in the decanter. And please, serve it in a large glass with some great food. Why not a steak?
Drink it 2014-2025.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

2006 Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard from Pax Wine Cellars

I didn’t tell the story of Pax Mahle and his Pax Wine Cellars before he left in 2008 to set up a new winery, Wind Gap Wines, to make quite different wines, more elegant to say. The wines of Pax Wine Cellers were, and still are under the name of Donolan Wines, deep, extracted and intense, but of great quality, but I doubt they will ever be as profound as they were under the stewardship of Pax. Time will tell, I’ll go there on my research trip in Sonoma and Mendocino in December.
The Pax Wine Cellars was founded in 2000 by Pax Mahle, a young and talented former wine salesman of Dean & Deluca who turned into a self made winemaker of cult status. With a kind of European attitude to wine, his winemaking resulted in relatively elegant and sometimes classic structured wines with Californian body and fruitiness. It was really exciting. The reason for the great structure of tannins and acidity is the cooler vineyard sites, among them the Alder Springs Vineyard, from which Pax made a selection of wines of the Syrah clones 99, 174, 300, 383, 470, 525 and 877 from several lots. He also planted some Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier here.
“I found this vineyard, at the time quite unknown, after tasting some pinots from Patz & Hall, and I totally understood that it had a great potential”, Pax told me.
Other great cool vineyards where grapes were sourced from are the Walker Hill Vineyard and the Lauterbach Hill Vineyard in Russian River, as well as the even cooler Griffins Lair close to Keller Estate in the Petaluma Gap area.
A selection of the finest wines included the lovely white Nepenthe (a blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier from Alder Springs Vineyard, the two very well made interpretations of the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape; Cuvée Moriah and the even better Alder Springs Cuvée, as well as the two selections of Syrah from Alder Springs Vineyard; the floral and spicy The Terraces and the very intense but firmly structured The Emerald Pool.
In 2008, annual production were at around 6 000 cases.

2006 Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard / 92-95 p
This 100 percent Syrah wine in just gorgeous, however not too charming and not a vine to recommend for those who seek silkiness in a wine. Color is dark and dense, almost black purple and opaque and of course this wine is still just a baby. It hard to tell that it has been raised in 80 percent new French oak barrels, it’s more easy to understand that a third of the grapes bunches were not destemmed – there’s a complex, very spicy and cedar like note that derives from the inclusion of stems, but there’s no green and herbaceous flavors at all. Since this vineyard is located 800 meters above sea level in the cooler part of Mendocino, the fruit flavors are very dark and intensive, at first with sweet and ripe flavors thanks to a long hang time, but with a great portion of elegance. Over the six hours the wine sat in the decanter, it opened up more and more, and the more it sat there, the more complex it became. And it’s just beautiful!
On the palate it’s as dark and fruit driven as on the nose, but as usual (from this vineyard site) the tannins are firm – ripe and of highest quality, but very firm. There’s also a fresh acidity to hold back sweetness, and even though there’s enough of greatness to enjoy at this young stage, this is a wine to cellar a few more years. Well, unless you serve it to a dish that balances the tannins and makes the wine a bit leaner.
Drink it 2012-2021.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A great white adventure – the Roussanne of Stephane Asseo

I’ve written about Stephane Asseo and his adventure of l’Aventure before, and this time I’ll focus on his white, the Roussanne Estate. If Rhône styled reds are well know and more and more popular among consumers as well as growers and producers, the whites counterparts are less known and made in minuscule volumes. There are 1 204 hectares of Viognier planted in California, less than 150 hectares of Roussanne, and just slightly more than 100 hectares in total of Grenache Blanc and Marsanne. The lion share of these whites is planted in the Central Coast, where producers such as Tablas Creek (partly owned by Châteauneuf-du-Pape based Château de Beaucastel), Alban Vineyards and Sine-Qua-Non have played a great part in spreading the knowledge and passion about these whites.
If the American chardonnays are notably different from the burgundian wines, the California white Rhône blends can, and actually often are, relatively similar to the French versions.
There’s only one white wine from the l’Aventure estate in the beautiful Paso Robles west, which is marked by the proximity to the cool Pacific, but also by the warm days. But is i a true white gem of the Paso Robles. At least if you enjoy rich and powerful wines in the style of Alban Vineyards and Sine-Qua-Non. This is another one …

2008 Roussanne Estate / 95 p
There is around 15 percent of Viognier in the Roussanne wine, which is fermented in 15-30 percent new French oak barrels and kept there for six months. Since yields are very low, only 13 hectoliters per hectare, the wine offers a great concentration of ripe but not too sweet yellow fruits like apples, sweet lemons and pineapples. There’s also a lovely honey note as well as a touch of bees wax and licorice, all quite common aromas in Roussanne. It’s full bodied, yet elegant, it’s ripe and lush with a silky texture of glycerol and an almost sweetish fruit, but there’s also enough acidity to balance all that fruit, body and alcohol, which in this wine almost touch 15 percent. Sweet lemons and honey lingers for a while in the lovely aftertaste, that’s completely dry and surprisingly fresh. I prefer to serve it at 12-14 degrees, but thanks to its fine acidity and great balance, it also tastes damn good at 16-18 degrees, just as many northern Rhône whites.
Drink it 2010-2018.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

2005 California Syrah of Piedrasassi

Piedrasassi is one of hundreds of smaller artisan wineries in California. The story is the same whereever you find a wine company like it - passionate and skilled winemakers with no vineyards of their own, instead contracts or a friendly handshake to buy premium grapes from selected vineyards. Also, they work in small warehouses where they have installed their own equipment and where they store their oak barrels. I’ve been to more than a hundred “wineries” like that in California, and Piedrasassi is just one of them.
Behind the doors to this winemaking facility you’ll find Peter Hunken and Sashi Moorman, the latter a quite well known guy in Santa Barbara wine country. Sashi was once the assistant winemaker of Adam Tolmach at Ojai Vineyards, and have been making the wines at Stolpman Vineyards for some years now. He also made two vintages at Bonnacorsi after Mike Bonnacorsi passed away. He is now also involved in the Parr Selection wines, made for top restaurants like Michael Mina and Per Se, as well as Evening Land Vineyards, a joint venture with Dominique Lafon of Meursault in Burgundy.
What I like with the wines of Piedrasassi, is the way Sashi Moorman manage to balance power with finesse.

2005 California Syrah / 92 p
One thing that’s great with Central Coast is that some awesome wines quite often come with a very nice price. This is certainly the case with this wine, and the wines of Piedrasassi. Here, in this 100 percent Syrah sourced from the very fine vineyard Purisima Mountain Vineyard and the even more fantastic White Hawk Vineyard in Santa Barbara County. Although it spent almost three years in new French oak barrels (a quite recent trend in California, especially at wine estates that aims very high), the oak is extremely well integrated. The reason is that the body is so packed with dark and ripe fruit that the oak is almost totally absorbed. On the palate the oak is a bit more present (as a slight youthful bitterness), but it is the dark and ripe but still fresh blackberry and blueberry fruit that dominates the taste. Tannins are youthful and relatively firm, but well balanced by the fruit and well integrated in the body. Although decanted for a few hours, the youthful primary fruit flavors stayed, which indicates that this wine will keep for many years in the cellar. At this stage, decanting is recommended.
Drink it 2010-2022.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

2005 Booker Vineyard of Saxum

Justin Smith is a star. Many growers and winemakers in Paso Robles admire him, and honor him for working so hard and focused to reach the highest quality. Although he’s young, and didn’t go to the universities at Davis or San Luis Obispo to study viticulture och enology, he knows exactly how to handle his vineyards, vines and wines.
Located in Paso Robles west, only 16 kilometers from the cool Pacific, the 20.25 hectare James Barry Vineyard is one of the best vineyards in the region. It was planted by Justin’s father James Barry 30 years ago, mainly with Syrah and Grenache, but also with some Mourvèdre. Justin and his wine company Saxum is a typical Rhône Ranger with a list of six different blends, most of them dominated of Syrah, and the wines are full bodied, ripe, with a high and sometimes too fiery alcohol level, and seasoned with the most expensive oak one can find. Quite often they are a bit too much, still there are a lot of qualities in them. No wonder that they have been under the Parker radar for some years, and that the 2007 James Barry Vineyard was awarded with a perfect 100 point score – as the first one in Paso Robles.
I normally find the Booker Vineyard wine to be slightly more "elegant", if one can use that work for these blockbusters. It comes from the Booker Vineyard, owned by Eric Jensen (a former apprentice at Saxum, and a big fan of Justin Smith), but it is planted in 2001 by Justin Smith who now works with a 1.62 hectare
These are not wines for those who are looking for finesse and elegance, these wines are blockbusters. So please, dear Francophiles, move on, there’s no need to complain – Justin will not change his ways.
Justin recommends to give his wines a lot of air, either decant them one or two hours before serving them, or even open the bottles a day in advance and let the breathe slowly.

2005 Booker Vineyard / 94 p
Talk about opaque! This cuvée of 92 percent and 8 percent of Grenache from the Booker Vineyard in Paso Robles is purple ink, and it really coats the inside of the glass with its color. It offers a young, very concentrated with loads of dark berries and violets, at one point when it was poured from the bottle also quite oaky. Still it offered some kind of finesse – not that this is a light and truly elegant wine, more like it is surprisingly well balanced to be such a big boy. When standing in the decanter (I had it opened for six hours), the intensity of the fruits fades away a bit, instead a more earthy quality evolves, and it is actually a very interesting wine. The almost 16 percent of alcohol is of course too high, and adds as warm and fiery touch. I find the fruit to evolve into a greater complexity, which is a positive thing that answers the question whether this wine could age or not. I take it as it will. On the palate it is very intensive, full bodied and to a certain extent slightly sweetish, still with a firm tannic structure and a surprisingly fine acidity to make the taste balanced, and there’s just a slight bitter note from the oak. Overall, it’s a lovely wine for those who seek concentration and good structure. Serve it well decanted at 18 degrees, not warmer than that if you are a bit concerned about high alcohol levels.
Drink it 2010-2020.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A great 2006 Syrah from Colgin Cellars

Since Ann Colgin founded this highly reputable estate in 1997, her wines have been hard to find. And very expensive!
Beofore Colgin Cellars, Ann Colgin made wines with her former husband Fred Schrader, who since their divorce took his own path to fame with Schrader Cellars, a now fabulous wine estate with high scooring cabernet wines.

The perfectly managed estate, that sits on top of Pritchard Hill, is run by Ann and her husband Joe Wender. The young and talented Allison Tauziet is responsible for the wines since 2007, although she worked here side by side with winemaker Mark Aubert since 2005. I have noticed a slight move towards more finesse and silkiness in the past vintages, and I think it’s fair to give credit to Allison Tauziet for that, althoug the increased age vines in the IX Vineyard is also part of the very positive evolution.
The 8.10 hectares of vines in IX Vineyard was planted in 1999 by the brilliant vineyard manager and consultant David Abreu, who still is in charge of the viticulture. A total of 1.65 hectares were planted to Syrah, and the clones were taken from Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie in Rhône, France. With focus on the smallest of details in the viticulture, low yields and a rigorous selection of grapes, the total of 9.10 hectares of prime vineyards results in a production of no more than 2 500 cases of fine wines per year.

2006 Syrah IX Estate / 98 p
Poured in an extensive tasting of excklusive California syrahs, this was by far the greatest wine tasted! It’s in many ways a terrific wine, the overall balance is impeccable and the aromatic profile is almost perfect. Color is young, cherry red and dark, but not opaque, and the nose is open, intense and just fabulous. It’s loaded with dark fruits like blackberries and plums, but also with just a hint of red berries that adds elegance, and there’s also a very fine and complex spiciness with notes of licorice, violets and pine wood. Even though the wine was raised in brand new Burgundy barrels, the oak is as perfectly integrated as can be. Also on the palate, it’s extremely well balanced with ripe and sweet scented dark fruitiness, as well as a complex spice that adds so much complexity. Tannins are of course present, but they are not as marked as I expected them to be, and that’s because the balance is almost perfect. I did decant this wine for some hours before enjoying it, but to be honest – this wine tasted great from the very moment I pulled the cork, until the last glass was emptied seven hours later! It’s really a sensational wine, and it shows that the combination of the perfectionist Ann Colgin, the great vineyard IX Estate, the green fingers of David Abreu and his vineyard amigos, and the talented and very skilled winemaker Allison Tauziet is a perfect match. I guess this great wine will evolve into something very similar to the great wines of northern Rhône with age, and I'm very thrilled to be there when it happens.
Drink it 2010-2026.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

2004 The Rejuvenators from Sine-Qua-Non

Manfred Krankl doesn’t need any further presentation. His winery, his wines and his philosophy are well known, still there’s a lot of mysticism around him and his wines, kind of a cult. More and more, his focus has moved into the Grenache grape, still Syrah is his kingdom. Pinot Noir was given up some years ago, and since a few years, after the pass away of the noble sweet wine man Alois Kracher, there will be no more commercialized sweet whites. Sadly, in both cases. Also, the production of the fabulous whites has decreased significantly over the years, so every drop of the full bodied, intense, sweet scented but dry and complex extraordinary whites of Manfred Krankl will be rare. I just wished I could convince Manfred to keep on making more of his whites, I just love them!

2004 The Rejuvenators / 95 p
In this vintage, Manfred made his white wine cuvée of approximately 55 percent Roussanne, 25 percent Viognier and 20 percent Chardonnay, all grapes sourced from Alban Vineyard in Edna Valley and his own Eleven Confession Vineyard in Santa Rita Hills. Both sites are quite cool, which to a certain extent explains the freshness. Color is bright and golden straw, the nose intense and deep with notes of ripe tropical fruits, sweet lemon, vanilla (from the oak) and white flowers such as lilies. After four hours in the decanter, the sweeter aromas that I initially noted had faded away and evolved into more complex and sophisticated notes. On the palate, there’s abundant of fruit flavors to start with, but there’s also enough acidity to give the wine a very fine balance, sweetness or not, high and warm alcohol notes or not. The magic think about this heavy weight white, is that whatever power and depths it offers, there’s also a great portion of finesse to make the wine extremely well balanced, and the finish is phenomenal and lingers for a minute of two with a lovely licorice and bittersweet lemon touch in the very finish. I recommend decanting it at least one to two hours before serving it, and serving it at around 12-14 degrees Celsius.
Drink it 2010-2016.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

2008 Au Sommet from Heidi Peterson-Barrett

Heidi Peterson-Barrett just released her new baby, a winery called Au Sommet Wines that was founded in 2008 in partnership with her longtime friend John Schwartz. This is really a brand new project, and it’s based on a vineyard planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and some Petit Verdot in poor volcanic soil 300 meters above sea level in the Atlas Peak district in Napa Valley by the well known vineyard consultant Jim Barbour (he is, for those who doesn’t know, together with David Abreu, one of the most famous vineyard managers in California). The size of the vineyard is just 2.83 hectares, so production will be tiny and prices very high. It takes some guts to set the price on the inaugural vintage (2008) at 250 dollar per bottle – almost the same as the well established and highly acclaimed wines from Bond. On cannot help wondering if, and when, the so called cult thing about great cabernets from Napa Valley will come to an end. Do we need more of them? And, quite frankly, can there be more great wines from the tiny valley of Napa?
Nevertheless, the 2008 Au Sommet is a very fine wine indeed and nothing has been spared to make this wine what it is. Just an example, with the poor soil and the strict pruning to get good concentration in the grapes, yields are no more than 18 hectoliters per hectare! That may justify a part of the price tag. The second, and most important explanation, is of the course the winemaker, the famous Heidi Peterson-Barrett.

Heidi Peterson-Barrett was born into wine. Her father was a wine grower and winemaker and Heidi spent a lot of time with him, learning all the basics in viticulture and winemaking. After graduation in fermentation science at UC Davis, Heidi worked as assistant winemaker for several wineries in California, and among them with the legendary winemaker Justin Meyer at Franciscan Winery and Silver Oak Cellars. Heidi also worked in Germany, where she learned the importance of making wines with finesse, and in Australia.
At the age of 25, Heidi was hired as winemaker at Buehler Vineyards in Napa Valley, and according to herself, it was there she finally understood she wanted to craft elegant and exclusive wines. And that’s exactly what Heidi has become world famous for doing. Being the first winemaker at Screaming Eagle, and playing a very important role in the newborn wine cult in Napa Valley during the 90s, Heidi soon became one of the most renowned winemakers of California. As a consultant, she was (or, in some cases, still is) responsible for the wines from Jones Family, Grace Family, Hartwell Winery, Lamborn Family, Vineyard 29, Oakford (now closed) and Showket, and she also makes the wines for Barbour, Amuse Bouche and Revana, as well as making wines under her own label, La Sirena.

2008 Au Sommet Cabernet Sauvignon / 94 p
This inaugural vintage is a blend of 95 percent Cabernet Sauvignon of the very good classic clones 7 and 377, and six percent of Petit Verdot. Since the vines are young, the yield is very low, only 18 hectoliters per hectare. Grapes were harvested at a moderate ripeness of 24.5 to 25.8 Brix, which explains the elegance and vibrant and fresh perfumes of the wine. As expected, the wine have been raised in brand new French oak barrels, which has flavored the wine with some vanilla and chocolate notes, as well as some structure, but the overall impression is that the balance is just fine. The nose is driven by dark and concentrated but not heavy or overly ripe fruit, with just a hint of stony minerals. On the palate, it is surprisingly elegant and silky – no harsh tannins or bitterness whatsoever, and no overly sweet fruit or alcoholic spice. It’s actually quite silky and elegant, but the aftertaste is a bit short, but good and elegant rather than great.
I decanted this wine for four hours prior to pouring it, and it really needed that. It continued to develop and open up in the glass during the tasting (for at least 30-45 minutes), and what was left in the bottle for day after, was even more elegant and harmonious.
Although it is a very fine wine, it doesn’t have the intensity and depths that other great Napa Valley cabernets have, yet! I'm cinfident in that it will gain that weight and depth in the future vintages. Still, it is a very good first release, and it’s well worth following over the years as the vines are getting older.
Drink it 2012-2023.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Burgundy styled pinot from Flying Goat Cellars

As I’ve written before, Flying Goat Cellars is a small one man show operation in the so called The Ghetto in Lompoc out in the Santa Rita Hills far west. Here proprietor and winemaker Norm Yost crafts some of the finest pinots of the Central Coast. Norm makes his wines based on the philosophy that wines are made to be enjoyed with food – therefore his wines are refined and silky, never powerful, heavy and oaky. Since he doesn’t own any vineyards, all wines are made from purchased grapes from some of the coolest vineyard sites. With a tiny production of 2 500 cases per year, these wines are unfortunately relatively rare to see, but they are not as expensive as expected, and as they could be regarding the very high quality.

2006 Pinot Noir Salisbury Vineyards / 94 p
The Salisbury Vineyard is located only three kilometers from the Avila Beach out on the coast in San Luis Obispo, and is one of the coolest vineyards in the Central Coast. Norm buys the grapes from the highest vineyard blocks, which are planted with the clones Dijon 115 and Clone 2A. The wine is produced with classical methods in small open top fermenters, and it has been raised in small French oak barrels, of which only 20 percent were new. The color is pale cherry red and the nose open, intense and initially very burgundian like – then some more sweet scented raspberry aromas evolves. Still, on the nose it is remarkably close to a fine wine from Gevrey-Chambertin (the Rousseau style) or even the style of DRC’s Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Duvault-Blochet, but there’s no chalkiness or mineral notes as in the burgundian counterparts. The oak is perfectly well integrated, which again move your guesses in the blind tasting towards the old world style of winemaking. After ten minutes in the glass, the nose is even more complex and burgundian like, yet with the seductive sweetness – which is one the most charming parts of Pinot Noir.
On the palates it’s immediately sweet and lush, but acidity comes just in the second you fall in love with the sweet red fruit to tell you there’s also a good portion a lively structure here. If you concentrate, you might be able to taste some oak spiciness, or does that flavor derive from the soil? Tannins are silky and fine, the balance as good as can be, and the acidity is really refreshing. I just wish the aftertaste was longer …
To get the most out of this wine (and other Californian pinots), serving temperature is recommended to be around 15-16 degrees Celsius.
Drink it 2010-2014.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

2007 Montebello from Ridge

There are two things that always surprise me with Montebello. First it’s almost always a very nice wine to drink young, if you're able to decant it a good hour before serving it. I guess that’s because the ripe but never overripe fruit creates a great body to balance the firm but ripe tannins. Secondly there's very few wines that can swallow 100 percent new American oak without being overly sweet and flavored with coconut and vanilla. Again, I guess it’s the body that takes care of these flavors, and that our senses will focus much more on the overall balance and the depths of the flavors, rather than just the oak.
The Montebello from Ridge is a true Californian classic, a Cabernet Sauvignon based blend that since its first vintage 1962 has proven to be a very long lived wine. The legendary winemaker Paul Draper once told me he was impressed and inspired by some century old red wines from Bordeaux, and then decided to try to make wines with the same capacity. Perhaps he found a way to do that – even the older vintages of Montebello seems to hold together very well. Not even the 1984 Montebello I poured in a 1984 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon tasting last year showed any sign of being old, not even fully mature!

2007 Montebello / 95 p
It is important to mention, that the wine was tasted after four hours of decanting, and then tasted in a big Riedel Bordeaux glass. This is the proper way to enjoy a young Montebello. It’s still very young, dense and dark and almost opaque. The nose is loaded with dark and ripe black currant and cherry fruit, still youthful and far from being developed or even open. It’s only with experience of wines such as this one can predict or at least imagine what will come out of it when the wines reach its first stage of maturity. I mentioned that the oak always is extremely well integrated, and it is. However, you’ll find some sweet vanilla notes as well a just a spicy touch of the oak, and I guess these notes will be absorbed by the fruit in some years as the wine opens up. On the palate, its intense and youthfully sweet but marked with a huge structure of (ripe) tannins and mineral.
This vintage is a blend of 79 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, ten percent Merlot, nine percent Petit Verdot and just two percent of Cabernet Franc. Grapes are harvested at approximately 24 Brix, which explains the moderate alcohol lever, only 13.1 percent by volume. “Any alcohol lever higher than that is by intention”, says winemaker Paul Draper and adds that hign alcohol has nothing to do with global warming, or the California sunshine and warm climate.
Vinification I simple, fully destemmed grapes, about ten days of natural yeast fermentation and maceration, followed by 18 months in completely new American oak barrels. The wines is then clarified with egg whites, then bottled.
Even though it tastes pretty good already today, wines like this always gains finesse and complexity with age, and it would be a kind of waist to pop the cork now. Be patient and you’ll be rewarded big time.
Drink it 2015-2035, or even later!

Friday, October 15, 2010

2005 Blanc de Blancs from Schramsberg

I (try to) follow a golden rule, never to compare sparkling wines from Spain or California with those from Champagne, because they’re not champagnes. Still, we (and I) tend to do so. In most cases, the battle is lost, there’s nothing like real champagne. Yet Schramsberg (and the great sparkling wines from Roederer Estate in Andersson Valley, Mendocino) will fool you at certain times in blind tasting.

The estate itself is old, founded in 1862 by the German immigrant Jacob Schram and his wife Annie Christine. At that time, they planted Riesling and Gewürztraminer on their mountain estate just north of St Helena in Napa Valley. They were truly pioneers in Napa Valley, only their fellow-countryman Charles Krug founded his wine estate a few years earlier. A part from that, there was nothing here! Back in those days, the production from the 20 hectares of vines reached almost 12 000 cases per year, but illness and the pass away of the 75 year old Jacob Schram in the early 1900s, and later on several changes of ownership and finally Prohibition would put and end to that.
In 1965 wines were produced here again, and since the new owners Jack and Jamie Davies just loved sparkling wines, and nobody made that kind of wines in Northern California at the time, they immediately gained a great reputation for their fine wines. Since then, the sparkling wines of Schramsberg have been the most exclusive and well known outside of Champagne.
Although there is a very good red estate wine produced here, the 60 000 to 65 000 cases per year production is almost entirely made up by sparkling wines. Around 2.6 million bottles is kept in the cool cellars, and some of the best wines here are aged up to five toor six years on the lees before disgorgement. The long ageing, the cool vineyard sites and the very focused vinification are the keys to the quality.
The wines of Schramsberg are well worth looking for.

2005 Blanc de Blancs Brut / 90 p
One hundred percent Chardonnay, but sourced from vineyards in various appellations over the north coast, normally between 50-60 percent from the cool Napa Carneros, 22-28 percent from the even cooler Anderson Valley and some five to eight percent from really cool vineyards in Marin County. Approximately 80 percent of the wine has been fermented at low temperatures in stainless steel tanks, that and the cool vineyard sites defines the very dry and crisp taste of this cuvée. The rest was fermented in neutral French oak barrels, which gave the wine a more round texture for a better balance. After slightly more than two years on the lees, the wine was disgorged and given a dosage of 10 grams per liter (just like Dom Pérignon and Cristal). It’s definitely a fine wine, pale in color, light and elegant on the nose with notes of lemon peels and almonds with some depths and a quite complex nuance from the ageing on the lees. On the palate it’s light to medium bodied, dry and fresh with a fine texture and a very dry finish. It’s a perfect aperitif.
Drink it 2010-2017.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Two 2007 pinots from Kosta-Browne

I’m a bit confused over the wines from Kosta-Browne. It’s always one of the most exciting visits and barrel tastings one can do in California – then the wines show great finesse and complexity, and friends of mine with great skills as wine tasters, have been very excited after these barrel tastings, and even compared them with tastings in the cellars of great domaines in Burgundy. Then, when the wines are bottled and retasted back home, it's most likely they will taste more full bodied, riper and sweeter with a notable higher alcohol compared to what you remember from the cellar tasting. I know impressions will be the same in many cases at a lot of wineries, and the explanation is (most likely) that the cellars are cooler than your dining room, therefore the wines tend to show more of their elegance, and less of oak, sweetness and alcohol.
Still I continue to buy the wines from Kosta-Browne. I want to see which way they will go with age. And, I’m happy to say that they will become more elegant with just a few years of bottle age. At the moment, I just love to drink the 2005s of Kosta-Browne. Part of being a wine writer, wine connoisseur or wine lover is to understand how a certain wine evolves with age. Now I know how to treat these wines.

Kosta-Browne is an 11 000 cases per year operation based in a custom crush winery in Sebastopol, Russian River. It’s the Pinot Noir counterpart of wineries such as Kistler, and the range of pinot wines consists of a selection each from Russian River and Sonoma Coast, 8-9 vineyard selections per year plus a top selection of the four best barrels each year, logically called Pinot Noir 4-Barrel. Alsp you will find some syrahs here.

2007 Pinot Noir Gary’s Vineyard / 90-91 p
Gary’s Vineyard is one of the finest in the Santa Lucia Highlands, and for many winemakers who buy grapes from here, that selection will be one of their best wines. This is also what I have found at Kosta-Browne in some previous vintages – but not in this one. Perhaps it’s just because the wine is young and a bit sturdy, but even after an hour in the glass, the wine didn’t open up in the way I expected. Not that this is a bad or boring wine, not at all, it’s actually a very good wine, but compared to the lovely wine from Amber Ridge Vineyard, it doesn’t show. The color is slightly paler, the nose more acidic with sour cherries rather than sweet raspberries (this is something I like), but it doesn’t have the same intensity or body.
Drink it 2010-2015.

2007 Pinot Noir Amber Ridge Vineyard / 93 p
I have often found that the Amber Ridge bottling is one of the most elegant of the pinots of Kosta-Browne. It comes from a 12.15 hectare vineyard near Windsor in one the coolest parts of Russian River, which to a great deal explains the elegance and fine acidic structure of the wine. The vineyard was planted in 2000 with the French clones Dijon 115, Dijon 667 and Dijon 777 and the soils is, as so often out here, the fine goldridge. Vinification and oak regime is the same as in the wine above, but still the oak is a bit more integrated with just a slight sweet scent of vanilla. The overall balance is absolutely fine, the quality of the fruit is impressive – although the ripeness is high which have made the texture lush and silky, there is still a nice fragrance of sweet and freshly crushed raspberries with a lighter and more aromatic quality than in the wine from Gary’s Vineyard. It’s just in the finish of the taste the almost 15 percent of alcohol strenght reveals itself, so to avoid any “problems” with that, I recommend a serving temperature of around 16 degrees Celsius. You may decant this wine if you like, but it is not necessary.
Drink it 2010-2017.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

2004 Elivette from Spring Mountain Vineyards

In 2002, there was a change of vineyard management and winemaker at the large estate Spring Mountain Vineyards. The new team is managed by veteran winemaker Jac Cole, who since 1972 has been making wines at many highly recognized Californian wineries, such as Château St Jean in Sonoma and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in Napa Valley.

The 340 hectare estate, of which 91 hectares is planted to vines, is now managed by Ron Rosenbaum and his team of some 20-25 amigos. It’s indeed a hard working team, the 135 vineyards lots are scattered on slopes and plateaus from 120 to 480 meters above sea level in the Spring Mountains above St Helena. Most of the vineyard lots are replanted since 2000, is a much better way with higher density and better clonal selecions.
In the 2000s, there has been mayor quality improvements. There is a lovely, absolutely pure, crisp and fresh Sauvignon Blanc with a splash of Sémillon to add body and texture, a very good Syrah Co-Ferment (Syrah which is co-fermented with some Viognier) which offers a spicy touch of garrigue that makes it very French and complex, and a very serious and quite Bordeaux like Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Since 2000, they also make a top selection of the cabernet wine they call Elivette.

2004 Elivette / 93 p
This vintage is a blend of 80 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 9 percent Petit Verdot, 7 percent Merlot and 4 percent Cabernet Franc. The cabernet fraction is definitely in charge here, dark and dense with a serious tannic structure, paired with a significant amount of mineral notes, but as so many wines from the vintage 2004, the nose is dominated by a warm and sweetish blackberry and cassis fruit. There’s also a quite important and to be honest not too complex note of vanilla, chocolate and coco from the oak, but since that disappears after an hour of decanting and paves way for much more complex aromas, I guess the oak flavors will fade away over time. Remember, this is still a baby, and normally fine cabernets from Napa Valley rarely show true greatness until they are 7-10 years old. On the label, alcohol level is said to be 14 percent, but I do believe it’s slightly higher than that. My experience of Elivette is all good – this is a wine that evolves beautifully over time, and it will actually taste very much like a fine Pauillac (but a bit riper) when it reaches maturity. A few more years of bottle age is to recommend, even though this vintage is very good to drink already today. Pouring it today, make sure to decant it a good hour before serving it.
Drink it 2012-2024.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The new Le Caprice from Peter Michael Winery

Pinot Noir is just a small part of the Peter Michael Winery portfolio. Of their on average 14 000 cases annual production the pinots counts for only 500 to 700 cases. Yet, the two pinot wines stands for almost 90 percent of the request, reports the sales manager of Peter Michael Winery.
Peter Michael Winery is famous for their great chardonnays as well as the rich Bordeaux blend Les Pavots, and besides a tiny fraction of the latter and the grapes for the chardonnay Mon Plaisir, that are bought from Jess Jacksons vineyards, the grapes are estate grown on the upper slopes in Knights Valley. Then, there are two pinots, since 1997 the Le Moulin Rouge from grapes bought from the famous Pisoni Vineyard in Santa Lucia Highlands and now also a new pinot bought from a highly reputed vineyard in the cool Sonoma Coast.
This is the inaugural vintage of Peter Michael Winery from their new lease of a part of the famous Reuling Vineyard near Forestville, only 25 kilometers from the ocean in the cooler part of Russian River that belongs to Sonoma Coast appellation.

2007 Le Caprice / 92-94 p
The Reuling Vineyard is planted with the Calera Clone, which is said to have been taken from a vineyard in Vosne-Romanée four decades ago. The soil is dominated by goldridge, which adds a fine mineral note even in this rich and lush wine. Grapes are fully destemmed but not crushed and then the winemaker Nick Morlet gave the must a four day long cold soak in the small square open top fermentation tanks of steel. Fermentation was carried out with the indigenous yeast at around 27-31 degrees Celsius, with pigeage twice a day. Then the wine was transferred into French oak barrels from Damy and Louis Latour, around half new, for malolactic fermentation and a 15 months long ageing. The label state 14.4 percent alcohol and that may well be true – at least alcohol is only slightly present in the finish of the long aftertaste.
Color is dark cherry red, quite typical for cool grown pinots in Sonoma Coast. On the nose, it shows a great intensity and depths, loads of sweet raspberries and cherries, and just a small note of the sweet and not too spicy or toasty oak. The oak is a bit more present on the palate, especially in the end of the taste (just a dash of bitterness due to the youth). Acidity is fresh, which makes the silky, sweet scented and lovely taste very elegant. I just love the seductive, aromatic, silky texture – and compared to the much more structured Le Moulin Rouge pinot, this is good to drink already! During the tasting, the wine evolved beautifully in the glass over 30 minutes, which indicates a good potential for the coming years. It’s a great first release!
Drink it 2010-2017.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Seductive Pinot Noir from Flying Goat Cellars

Flying Goat is a one man show winery in Santa Rita Hills. A very good winemaker with almost 30 years of experience, good relations with grape growers throughout the valley, a small but functional winery and enough customers to sell his tiny production is what it is. The man behind is Norman Yost, who started to work as a cellar rat at Monticello Cellars in Napa Valley 1982. There he learned how to make elegant food friendly wines, a philosophy he has kept over the years. Not surprisingly, his pinots are built on aromas, texture and finesse, and they belong together with the wines from Brewer-Clifton and Clos Pepe to the premium wines of Santa Rita Hills.
All pinots are made in pretty much the same way, with a strict selection of the grapes before they are destemmed but not crushed. The juice is then, after three to four days of cold soak, fermented in small open top fermenters with two pigeage per day during two weeks. Then the wines are transferred into small French oak barrels, most of them from Rousseau and François Frères, for malolactic fermentation and 12-16 months of ageing.
Just 2 500 cases are made every vintage, 80 percent of which is pinot wines.

2006 Pinot Noir Rancho Santa Rosa / 93-94 p
The Rancho Santa Rosa Vineyard is located in the eastern end of Santa Rita Hills, where the climate is slightly more temperate than in the very cool and windy western part. It’s a 97.20 hectare vineyard owned by Foley (where Norm Yost once was the winemaker) that consist of 59 different blocks planted with a wide range of varieties and clones of them. The grapes for this wine comes from Block 16, which is planted with the Dijon 667 clone of Pinot Noir. After fermentation, the wine spent nine months in French oak barrels, of which 35 percent were new. Now, after a few years in bottle, the wine still is dominated by a very intense, ripe but cool scented red fruit profile with loads of sweet and sour cherries, raspberries as well as rose petals, and just a minuscule note of the oak. It’s just lovely, and it actually reminds me of the very fine wines from the top producer Domaine Sylvain Cathiard of Vosne-Romanée, at least on the nose. On the palate, the wine is for sure Californian, with its lovely silky texture of sweet ripe red fruit, nicely balanced with a vibrant acidity and again just a small touch of the wood. After around 30 minutes in a decanter, the finish starts to taste a little bit drier, which makes the wine even more complex. I have a gut feel that this wine may evolve into a beauty over the years, and perhaps my prediction on drinking window below isn’t too good.
Drink it 2010-2016.

Monday, September 6, 2010

2007 Chardonnay line-up from Kistler Vineyards

Kistler Vineyards belongs to the better producers of chardonnays in California, and since their first vintage 1979, they have both put more focus and refined their ways of farming and making great wines, as well as gained some kind of a cult status for their wines. In the 80s and early 90s, the wines tasted richer with more forward oak flavor, now vintner and winemaking team Mark Bixler and Steve Kistler have found a much finer alance and therefore greater complexity in their wines.
They own around 24 hectares of vines in Sonoma Valley and Russian River Valley, and besides that they either farm and buy or only buy grapes from several top notch vineyards in Carneros, Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast. The grapes are whole bunch pressed, and the juice is then fermented with its natural yeast in small French oak barrels, of which 40 percent at the most are new, with the balance of one and two year old barrels. In the past, much more new oak was used.
Thanks to the same vinification across the range of wines, each vineyard selection will display the terroir of each appellation and vineyard. That makes Kistler Vineyard quite unique, only a few other producers in northern California works with such a wide range of Chardonnay vineyards as they do (Patz & Hall will be another very good example).
The total production is around 15 000 cases annually.

2007 Dutton Ranch / 92 p
The Dutton Ranch, or Dutton Ranches as one should call the wine if one wanted to be more correct, was the first wine made by Kistler already in 1979. The grapes are normally sourced from four of the several dozens of vineyards which covers a total of 380 hectares that Dutton family owns in Russian River. This is one of the most elegant wines in the range and it offers a lovely bouquet of citrus, white flowers, honey and bees wax, and just a fine touch of oak. On the palate it is medium bodied with a lively acidity (the vineyards are all located in the cooler parts of Russian River), a silky texture and just a dash of roasted hazelnut flavors from the oak barrels. As all wines, it benefits from decanting to breathe half an hour before enjoying it.
Drink it 2010-2014.

2007 McCrea Vineyard / 93-94 p
According to Steve Kistler, this vineyard gives one of the finest chardonnays in Sonoma County. It’s located at 240 meters of altitude in Sonoma Mountain and was originally planted with old low yielding clones back in 1970. The wine is elegant with a fine cool climate fruit aroma (citrus and yellow apples), and the oak is very well integrated with just a dash of roasted hazelnuts which is part of the signature of Kistler chardonnays. The cool scented but ripe, intense and almost fat fruit flavor is on finely balanced with acidity and oak (more flavors that actual taste) and there’s also a lovely salty taste of mineral. It’s easy to agree with Steve Kistler, this is a very fine wine. For those who seek a more refined taste, I would recommend a few more years of bottle age – this is one the wines that turns quite burgundian over the years.
Drink it 2010-2016.

2007 Durell Vineyard / 92-93 p
The Durell Vineyard is located very close to San Pablo Bay in the south of Sonoma Carneros, so it therefore belongs to the Sonoma Coast appellation. The soil is poor and stony and the vines in the lot that Kistler works with, was planted in 1993 with low yielding clones from Hyde Vineyard and of the Old Wente selection. As expected of this cool site, this wine always show a zesty citrus flavor, a fresh acidity and a touché of mineral. Perhaps the winemaking philosophy should be a bit more careful, the oak is at the moment more present on both the nose and the palate since the body is slightly lighter, and also since the acidity and mineral notes makes the aftertaste a bit shorter. That oak flavor will of course soften over the coming year, and it may be a good idea to let the wine mature for another six months or so before pulling the cork.
Drink it 2010-2016.

2007 Hyde Vineyard / 95 p
In whatever bottle the grapes from Larry Hyde’s vineyard ends up, the wine tend to taste pretty good. In the hand of the magicians Steve Kistler and Mark Bixler, it should taste better than good. And it does! This is normally one of my personal favorites from Kistler. As young as it is today, it offers a ripe and intense nose and palate with a spicy note of oak – however in full balance. But looking beyond the oak, there is a fabulous nose and taste that is reminiscent of a very fine and serious wine from Meursault (domains such as Roulot and even Coche-Dury, but slightly riper). The quiz weather this is American or burgundian is more apparent on the palate, where the texture is superb, silky, viscous and ripe as a grand cru wine, with a fresh acidity, very well integrated oak (it’s more of a texture than a taste) and a lingering aftertaste. This is a beautiful wine that will age just perfectly over the next years. And the burgundian equality will be more obvious in, let’s say, 3-4 years from now.
Drink it 2010-2017.

2007 Hudson Vineyard / 91-93 p
Lee Hudson is one of the best growers in Carneros, and Kistler have since 1994 been buying grapes from the famous E-Block that was originally planted with the Old Wente clone for Helen Turley. Compared to the Hyde vineyard selection, this wine is more dense and ripe (which surprised me a bit) and therefore more Californian in style. Still you’ll find some classic notes on the nose. The fruit is slightly sweet, and to be honest a little bit to warm and ripe to offer that brightness and finesse I expected, but since the wine is young and (perhaps) a bit closed, and it opens up during the time it sits in the glass, I expect it to taste a bit dryer and more elegant within a year or two. Of all the wines in this horizontal tasting, this was the one that confused me most. I look forward to taste it soon again.
Drink it 2010-2014.

2007 Parmlee Hill Vineyard Stone Flat / 94-95 p
Although the Parmlee Hill vineyard far out in Sonoma Coast was planted in 2000, it shows already a great potential to make one of the best and most impressive wines in the range. The nose is open and expressive, for the cool climate typical with its intense and almost sweet scented stone fruit qualities (due to the extended hang time on the vines), and there is also a slightly smoky aroma that I suppose comes from a combination of the soil and the oak barrels. On the palate it rich, finely textured and marked by fresh acidity, and although the oak is present with both a young bitterness and sweet vanilla flavors, it’s well integrated in the long aftertaste. During the 30-40 minutes I had the wine in my glass it gradually opened up and became more and more complex. It was a very positive first meeting!
Drink it 2010-2016.

2007 Vine Hill Vineyard / 93-94 p
Vine Hill Vineyard covers 8.10 hectares of vines and is one (the second) of two estate vineyards. It’s located at Vine Hill Road in the heart of Russian River Valley, and was planted in 1988 with a suitcase clone of Chardonnay that is said to have been taken from Corton-Charlemagne. It may well be so, at least this wine normally show the lightest body and finest texture of the chardonnays from Kistler. On both the nose and the palate, finesse is the dominant personality. The oak is perfectly well integrated, so the delicious floral note shines through and adds elegance to the wine. Acidity is lively but well balanced, and although the aftertaste is fine and harmonious, I miss the magic in the finish. Still it is a very fine wine. Perhaps it’s just a bit too young at the moment.
Drink it 2010-2015.

2007 Kistler Vineyard / 94-95 p
When Kistler Vineyards was founded in 1979, this was their first estate vineyard and the home of their small winery. At that time, the 14 hectares at 600 meters elevation above Sonoma Valley was planted to Chardonnay of the Martin Ray clone from Mount Eden Vineyards in Santa Crus, as well as some Cabernet Sauvignon which is not longer there. In 1995, two more hectares of Chardonnay was planted. I was surprised how closed this wine was at first, but that shyness also made the wine even more burgundian and classic. Even though the cooler fruit flavors of citrus and yellow apples are most evident, there’s also a touch of butterscotch, but the oak flavors are very mild. It’s really a beauty, and it will taste just phenomenal in the next year or two.
Drink it 2010-2016.

2007 Cuvée Cathleen / 92-94 p
This is the white special cuvée of Kistler (there are few top selections of Pinot Noir) and the source of the grapes varies depending on the vintage. Normally, a majority of the wines comes from either Vine Hill Vineyard or Kistler Vineyard, but since this is a cuvée of the best barrels in the cellar, there will always be a blend of vineyards. In this vintage, most or even all grapes comes from Kistler Vineyard, and as always it is the most concentrated wine. It’s not, a huge wine as so many “reserve” selections can be – the house style and finesse is still evident. However, there are more oak flavors here, both some spiciness and a sweetish note of vanilla, but thanks to the acidity the overall balance is just fine. One of the tasters made a very interesting remark, that this wine shows a little bit of everything – both the depths, the higher aromatics, the intensity, the lightness, the mineral notes and the acidity.
Drink it 2010-2016.