Sunday, January 3, 2010

Seduced by 2001 Sine-Qua-Non

Manfred Krankl is a magician. Few winemakers in the world are able to stuff as much flavors in a bottle of wine, and still make it taste delicious and even elegant. His preference is cooler sites in foremost Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo (Alban Vineyard in Edna Valley has always been an important source of grapes), but today his wines are almost all estate grown. Selection of grapes is a crucial key, and I actually believe Manfred when he tells me that he looks at every single grape before throwing them in the fermentation bin.
A few days of cold soak, small fermentation vessels, all natural yeast, manual pigeage and high fermentation temperatures are part of the practices, but Manfred claims there is no such thing as a recipe. Every single batch is a specific wine, and every single barrel live its own life until the very crucial blending session, almost two years after harvest. “I don’t want to be too intellectual about my winemaking”, he says, but still he is one of the most intellectual and philosophical winemakers on this planet.
Today Sine-Qua-Non is predominantly a Grenache and Syrah winery (small amounts of whites, and a few barrels of sweets wines are made every year), and production hits around 3 000 cases per year.

2001 Ventriloquist / 95 p
The 2001 vintage of the Sine-Qua-Non grenache bottling consists of 95 per cent Grenache and five per cent Syrah. As always, the two grapes are vinified separately, and both the grapes and each vineyard lot are kept apart in French oak barrels (50 per cent brand new) until time for final blend. At first, the nose was a bit closed, and it took almost 30-40 minutes before anything happened. As expected, the fruit is rich and dense with sweet and ripe flavors of baked plums, cherries and raspberries, and also the signature licorice notes of Grenache comes forward on the palate, especially in the long, silky and great aftertaste. Since Grenache doesn’t give long lasting wines, you can expect this wine to show some secondary flavors, but the wine is still surprisingly youthful and even fresh. The sweetness and tannins from the oak, seems to have disappeared, but the silky texture of the oak treatment is still there. It is a wonderful wine with a seductive and lingering aftertaste, and I do recommend a good half hour in a decanter before enjoying it. Drink it 2010-2016.

2001 Midnight Oil / 96 p
Over the years, I have enjoyed many bottles of this great syrah, and it keeps on evolving in an amazing way. It’s a pure Syrah from the great, relatively cool Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley, and it has been stored in French oak barrels, two thirds brand new, for 24 months, and as with all wines from Sine-Qua-Non, the wine was bottled unfiled and unfiltered. Today the wine still shows a wide range of its primary aromas, dark berries such as blackberries, but also with some spiciness (primarily black pepper, but also some licorice and tar), and a slightly toasty note from the barrels. It’s young and quite firm, and really need some time in the decanter before opening up, and this is also the way do handle the wine to get all the quality flavors out of the wine. Tannins are still firm, but as expected from the to the smallest details concept Manfred Krankl follows, the tannins are ripe and offers a great structure that is needed in a wine with this concentration. Drink it 2010-2021.

Impressive and promising Maybach

Car enthusiasts know about Maybach, now the turn has come to wine lovers to learn the family name. It was back in 1901 when Wilhelm Maybach and partner Gottlieb Daimler built the first Mercedes car, and 18 years later the first edition of Maybach saw the daylight in Germany. Almost a century later, Maybach family founded their Napa Valley wine estate, 300 meters above the valley floor – next to the famous vineyard Maya of Dalla Valley. Since the inaugural vintage, top notch winemaker Thomas Brown (former assistant winemaker at Turley Cellars, now at Schrader, Outpost and his own label Rivers-Marie), has made their wines.

2006 Materium / 94 p
This 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon from a single vineyard block on red volcanic soil has spent 24 months in French oak barrels, of which 80 per cent were brand new. Tasted it blind for the first time in August 2009, I actually thought it was Dalla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, or perhaps a wine from the adjacent vineyard. The fingerprint of the red soil was so obvious even though the wine was ripe, full bodied and impressive rather than silky and enormously complex. Yet the wine offered enough of mineral qualities to stay in mountains, but compared to the more seductive wines of Dalla Valley, the oak is more present here. Of course the wine is very young, actually far too young, but I just love the upfront but also deep and intense dark fruit that keeps on evolving during the one to two hours I had the wine in decanter this time. Tannins are marked, but ripe and well balanced by the rich body. This is a very promising wine (and wine company), and I just can’t wait to taste future releases, and this wine again in 10 years time. Drink it 2011-2026.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Many faces of Adelaida Cellars

Winemaker Terry Culton came to Adelaida Cellars in west Paso Robles in 2002, and since then he has crafted wines of excellence and many faces. I don’t know what the secret is, but as always I guess it is to be found in the vineyard. The strange thing here, however, is that Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and even Nebbiolo, grows in a series of adjacent vineyard blocks (57 hectares in total) in the same small valley, although on various altitudes. Although travelling all over the world, up to date to over a thousand of wineries on all continents, I’ve never before came across a vineyard like this. And it seems to work!

2008 Chardonnay HMR Vineyard / 87 p
Only 300 cases were made of this quite elegant chardonnay, fermented in neutral French oak with partial malolactic fermentation. It’s for sure a cool climate chardonnay, with a crisp acidity and delightful lemony fruit. The oak gives more texture that taste of flavor, and there also some steely notes that I guess derives from the mineral rich soil. It’s a very elegant wine with a greater relationship with fine burgundies than the regular Californian chardonnays, but the aftertaste i unfortunately quite short, which of course is a bit sad. Drink it over the next 3-4 years.

2006 Pinot Noir HMR Vineyard / 88 p
The grapes for this wine comes from one of the oldest vineyards with Pinot Noir in California, they were planted 1964 and 1965. Production is traditional, open top fermenters with manual pigeage and malolactic fermentation in small French oak barrels, of which only 25 per cent are new. This is a lovely pinot, at least for those who look for a more refined wine with a dry and classic structure, and although it is more complex than fruit driven, it is loaded with sour cherries. As the other wines from Adelaida, the finish is a little bit dry. Drink it 2010-2016.

2007 Zinfandel Michael Estate Vineyard / 90 p
This is a pure Zinfandel from old head pruned vines, and to select the very best and fully ripe berries, the grapes are harvested in several tries. The upbringing took place in neutral French oak barrels for almost two years, and neither the oak nor the 15.9% alcohol is very important in the wines flavor profile (there’s only a slight warming sensation in the aftertaste). Instead there are loads of pure, dark and aromatic fruit flavors and the tannins are relatively silky. It’s a very good zinfandel indeed. Drink it 2010-2015.

2006 Syrah Reserve Viking Vineyard / 92 p
This is one of the most impressive wines of Adelaida Cellars. It comes from a very low yielding quite steep slope, and the juice is fermented in small open top fermenters with daily pigeage and then the wines has been stored in French oak barrels (a third new) for almost two years. This is a dark, quite rich and spicy beauty, with hints of black pepper, licorice, violets and black currants, but it’s not as charming on the palate as on the nose – it is way too structured for that. But with some air, it opens up and reveals a lovely combination of backbone and upfront fruit. For a even more complex wine experience, keep this wine another year or two. Drink it 2011-2021.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Viking Vineyard / 91 p
This top notch wine of Adelaida Cellars it beautiful, and shows that Cabernet Sauvignon can stand on its own here I west Paso Robles, a wine region well known for its blends. Fermentation took place in open top fermenters, and the wine has then been stored in French oak barrels, only 40 per cent new, over two years. I like this wine for it absolute elegance, the pure and intense cassis flavors it offers, the notes of mineral and the very well integrated and polished structure. Still it is very young, but not closed, it just need some more years to really show its true complexity. Drink it 2010-2021.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Sweet kisses from Sine-Qua-Non

I adore Sine-Qua-Non, and I admire the hard work and focus for details owner and winemaker Manfred Krankl puts into his handcraft. However, there are some sad things about Sine-Qua-Non. One is that Manfred decided to reduce production of his white wines, to give more focus on his outstanding wines of Grenache and Syrah. The other is that he decided to end his small but highly exciting production of sweet wines. The reason is the death of his friend and partner in sweet wines, the great Alois Kracher of Austria. However, tiny amounts of sweet wines (one or two barrels per year) are still made, but not in a commercial scale – if anything from this ultra cult winery could be considered to be of commercial volumes.

2005 Mr K The Noble Man / 96 p
This is a very late harvest wine made entirely from Chardonnay grapes in Santa Barbara. The juice is fermented in brand new French oak barrels, but alcohol only reached a level of 12.1% in this case. Color is golden, quite deep and brilliant, and the nose is almost overwhelming with the same intensity you normally find in the Aszú Essencia of Tokaj, or high end passito whites from Italy. There is loads of ripe peaches, sundried apricots, sweet tropical fruits such as pineapple and mango, as well as orange blossom honey on the palate, but only a small fragment of the oak. On the palate, it’s full bodied, ripe and intense with a rich sweetness that gives the wine a silky texture and viscosity, and there is just enough acidity to make this compote well balanced. Again, the oak is just there – like a ghost in a haunted castle, and you’ll hardly see it. This is pure nectar. Drink it 2010-2015.

The Madrona Ranch 2001 of Abreu

Name one super premium Napa Valley vintner, and you'll most likely find the crew of David Abreu in her or his vineyards. David Abreu is the number one leading star of all vineyard managers in California, but he is also a vintner himself. Although not making the wines all by himself – until 2001 they were made by Ric Forman, and since then by former chef Brad Grimes as assistant winemaker – he’s considered to be one of top wine makers of Napa Valley as well.
Abreu owns and leases four vineyards in St Helena and Howell Mountain, and most of these grapes go into a total production of 600 to 1 000 cases per year of exclusive and hard to find red wines. The wines are made up at Sloan Winery, one of many esteemed clients of Abreu.

2001 Madrona Ranch / 96 p
There is approximately eight to ten percent of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and some Petit Verdot in this dark and still youthful Cabernet Sauvignon based premium wine. Tasted two years ago, it was massive and still quite tannic, tasted today it’s slightly more developed and much more elegant and drinkable. Still there are a lot of primary fruit flavors, also a delightful grassy note (which is not underripe, but a variety quality), and although young and densely full bodied with a slight sweetish touch, it is not closed or overly firm anymore. Expensive new oak barrels are still present on the nose as well as on the palate, but the oak flavors are much more integrated today than some years ago. Overall it is an impressive wine with intensity, depth and length, and the structure of skin and oak tannins has just begun to become softer – and it’s just delicious. Still, it needs at least 30 minutes in a decanter to open up. Drink it 2010-2019.