Sunday, June 20, 2010

2007 Pinot Noir Reuling Vineyard from Aubert Wines

Mark Aubert, former assistant to Helen Turley of Marcassin and wine maker at Peter Michael Winery and Colgin, founded his own company in 1999 to make his own wines – ripe and intensely concentrated wines with a lovely perfume. The chardonnays, which are reminiscent of those from Peter Michael Winery (not surprisingly), were the first wines in the portfolio, but today there’s also a few pinots and a dense, concentrated and well structured Bordeaux blend from Lucia Abreu Vineyard on Howell Mountain.
Until 2007, the wines were made at Colgin winery up on Pritchard Hill, since then Mark Aubert have been renting space at custom crush winery Laird Family Winery in Oak Knoll (where he share space with famous wine makers such as Celia Welch of Corra, Scarecrow and Keever Ranch).
Mark owns 3.20 hectares of vineyard, all in one location – the UV Vineyard in Sonoma Coast. The vineyard is named after the vineyard manager, señor Ulizes Valdez. In addition to that vineyard, grapes are also sourced from other vineyards in Sonoma Coast.
This small company, from which almost the entire production is sold to the members of the mailing list, is a rising star among chardonnay and pinot producers, but the style is riper and more lush than that of for instance Kistler - more towards that of Peter Michael Winery, and Brewer-Clifton.

2007 Pinot Noir Reuling Vineyard / 93 p
Oh yes, this is a California Pinot Noir, ripe and rich for sure, still it is a true beauty! Already at the first sip, it reveals a lively, fresh and explosive flavor with intense notes of raspberries and sweet cherries as well as rose hips, and – which I find very attractive – just a small trace of fresh green grass which adds a very interesting personality to the wine. The first kiss of sweetness is finely balanced with a fresh acidity and a long dry finish, which adds complexity, and tannins are silky. One thing that is quite amazing is that the 15.6 percent of alcohol is so well integrated. There’s just nothing to complain about the alcohol content in this wine, but normally I’m not that forgiving about alcohol levels like this in a pinot. In this case, alcohol is not an issue!
Tasted completely blind, this wine reminded me of the riper, lush and fresh wines from cult producer Brewer-Clifton in Santa Rita Hills, but without the greenish and herbaceous note derived from the stems used by Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton. Apart from that, these wines are very closely related. A good recommendation is to serve this wine at 15-16 degrees Celsius, otherwise the ripe flavors and the higher alcohol might stand out just a bit too much. Looking for burgundian excellence? Then you have to look somewhere else – this is a much more expressive and intense pinot.
Grapes are sourced from the Reuling Vineyard in Sonoma Coast, and it’s said that the clones comes from Richebourg in Vosne-Romanée. The juice is fermented in small open top fermenters with frequent pigeage, and the wine is then matured in all new French oak barrels (the oak flavor is surprisingly well integrated). Production is small, only 110 cases were made.
Drink it 2010-2015.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

2007 Ancient Vines Mourvèdre from Cline Cellars

Cline Cellars was founded in 1982 by brothers Matt and Fred Cline. Their grandfather Valeriano Jacuzzi planted some vineyards in Contra Costa County already in 1896, so the brothers had wine and wine growing in their genes. Fred was in charge of the winemaking until 1999, when he hired a full time winemaker, and his brother Matt left the company in 2000. Today Cline Cellars owns 475 hectares of vines, of which approximately 110 hectares are located in Contra Costa wine growing region east of San Francisco. The vineyards are all sustainable farmed, but they are not certified as organic or biodynamic, since Fred wants to have a door open to use pesticides or insecticides if, and only if, it’s absolutely necessary.
At Cline Cellars, Zinfandel and Rhône varietals make up the wine list. Prices are moderate, most wines offer a great value, and the production now reach approximately 180 000 cases per year.

2007 Ancient Vines Mourvèdre / 86 p
This wine is made entirely from Mourvèdre grapes sourced in vineyards in Contra Costa County, which also is the stated AVA for this wine, and the vast majority of the vines are 110 to 115 years old! These vines may well be the oldest vines of Mourvèdre in California. Just a small fraction of the wine comes from younger vines, 15-30 years old, and on average, the yields are at 25 hectoliters per hectare. No stems are used during the fermentation, which takes place in stainless steel tanks, and the wine is then transferred into small American oak barrels, just 25 percent new, to undergo malolactic fermentation and 8 to 10 months of maturation. Although the alcohol in the wine is 15 percent, of perhaps even a bit higher, it’s in balance with the lush dark fruit with sweet and delicious notes of cassis and blackberries. A fine floral touch reminiscent of violets as well as a fresh almost eucalyptus like note (there are no eucalyptus trees close to the vineyard, Fred told me) adds personality to the wine. Tannins are perfectly ripe and very well integrated even at this young stage, which is not the case in most wines of Mourvèdre, so the texture is quite silky. It’s not a great and complex wine, but delicious to drink at 18 degrees Celsius to rich dishes of steaks or venison.
Drink it 2010-2017.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Elegance from Robert Sinskey Vineyards

The 61 hectare family estate of wife and husband Maria and Robert Sinskey is since 2001 organically farmed, and since 2007 fully biodynamical. “It didn’t make sense to put poisonous chemicals in the vineyards where ourchildren are running and playing around”, Robert says and adds that the vines also suffered from the unhelthy treatment. Together with his winemaker Jeff Virnig, he travelled to Burgundy to visit vignerons working their vineyard fully natural and even biodynamical, like Jacques Seysses at Domaine Dujac and Dominique Lafon at Domaine Comtes des Lafon. This really made him understand the importance of farming his vineyards completely natural.
At Robert Sinskey Vineyards, the annual production reaches 25 000 cases the most, and the wine list includes a few whites of Alsatian grapes and Chardonnay, as well as a quintet of Pinot Noir wines, and seven reds of Bordelaise grape varieties. The style leans more toward the European palate than the typical American.

2008 Abraxas Vin de Terroir / 83-84 p
This is a quite unusual blend of 49 percent Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris), 22 percent Gewürztraminer, 20 percent Riesling and 9 percent Pinot Blanc. All grapes come from Sinskey’s biodynamical farmed Seintilla Sonoma Vineyard in Carneros. After a slow and gentle pressing, the juice is cold settled in stainless steel tanks, in which also the fermentation later takes place. Not all batches undergoes malolactic fermentation, hence the very fresh and lively acidity. Color is pale straw, the nose clean and delightful with notes of lemon peels, almonds and white flowers, and just a whisper of rose hips from the Gewürztraminer content. There’s also a touch of butter and a dash of fresh grounded black pepper which I believe comes from the Pinot Grigio component. On the palate, it’s fruity and finely textured, but dry and quite crisp with just a slight bitterness in the good, but relatively short aftertaste.
So, is everything perfectly enjoyable with this wine? Well, taken into consideration this is a quite ordinary wine style, there is not very much to complain about – but there is a moment where the alcohol is a bit significant. It’s just slightly a bit too high at its 14.1 percent to be in perfect balance with the fruit. Still, it’s very drinkable and good.
Drink it over the next year.

2005 Cabernet Franc Vandal Vineyard / 91 p
Cabernet Franc is one of the most underrated grape varieties in the world, and a part from a (far too) few wines and some villages in the Loire Valley, it’s rarely seen as a varietal wine. In Californian there are some 1 425 hectares planted – not very much compared to the 30 384 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon or 19 134 hectares of Merlot planted. In this wine, the cuvée consists of 75 percent is Cabernet Franc and 25 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, all grapes from the Vandal Vineyard in the northern part of Carneros. The wine is brought up during 18-20 months in French oak barrels, a third new. Color is still youthful, and so is the nose – pure, fresh, vibrant, loads of cassis, very fine notes of fresh grass just as expected of Cabernet Franc, also that lovely fine tuned nuance of cedar and Dominican cigars that is so complex. The palate is as well composed, not big, not great, but just fine. Tannins are ripe and very well integrated in the fresh cassis fruit, acidity lively but not fresh, there are some notes of lead pencils (which makes the wine quite Bordeaux like) and the oak very well tuned.
I really like this wine today, especially after 30 minutes (or more) in a decanter, yet it is a wine that will evolve beautifully in the coming years.
Drink it 2010-2025.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

2007 Pinot Noir Cahill Lane from Walter Hansel Winery

Car dealer and vintner Stephen Hansel runs his estate in the heartland of Russian River Valley in Sonoma with his heart. His 30 hectares of vineyards are planted to equal parts with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and in both disciplines he offers several site and clone selections (North Slope Vineyard, South Slope Vineyard, Cahill Lane Vineyard and the ripe, rich and lush Cuvée Alyce, the reserve style of the estate.
It all started when the late Walter Hansel planted his first vines in 1978 just for the love of farming. When his son Stephen later took over, he founded the Walter Hansel Winery in 1994 and begun to make wines, to his father’s surprise.

“Who are going to buy these wines, and why do the bottles carry my name”, was the question Walter threw in the face of Stephen.

“Well, I named the winery after you, dad – after all, you were the one who planted the vineyards and started this – and I put your name on the labels just because I want to honor you – and if we can’t sell the wines, we’d better drink them ourselves”, Stephen replied.

After that, Walter didn’t complain, although he still didn’t understand.

Today Walter Hansel Winery produces some of the finest pinots in Russian River Valley. They are normally benchmarks for the vintage. Also, prices are fantastic! “Even if I could sell my wines for 70 or even 100 dollars per bottle, I wouldn’t – I like to keep the prices at a fair level”, says Stephen and explains: “It’s still a hobby, and I do it to honor my late father”.
Think about that when you enjoy these fine wines.

2007 Pinot Noir Cahill Lane Vineyard / 91 p
Having said all that above, I’m not as impressed by this wine (today) that I normally am, and that only because of one single detail in this vintage – I find the oak to be just a bit to toasted and spicy at the moment. The grapes, in this case Pinot Noir of the French clones Dijon 114, Dijon 115 and Pommard (from missal selection), comes from a single block in the vineyard, and after 5-7 days of cold soak, the juice is fermented in small open top fermenters with frequent pigeage. Malolactic fermentation and upbringing is carried out in French oak barrels (from François Frères and Seguin-Moreau), of which as much as 70 percent are new. Apart from the oak – of which the most spicy notes will fade away over the next 12 months or so – there is abundant of lively, sweetish raspberry and strawberry aromas in a very true to its origin style, which is a bit seasoned with red flowers, and it’s very charming. On the palate, the first sip reveals a lovely and quite seductive sweet fruitiness, which at first seems to be lush and rich in glycerol, but within a second or two, the lively acidity an also a touch of mineral notes makes the taste drier and more structured. The tannins are silky, and a part from the youthful oak bitterness, there is no bitterness derived from the skins or the stems (all grapes are fully destemmed). I’d like to give this wine some 10-15 minutes in a decanter to soften the oak a bit, and to let the fruity and floral qualities to arise. Serve it at 16 degrees Celsius.

If it wasn't for the oaky notes, I'd give this wine a higher score. Even so, it's a very good and charming wines, and I guess it'll taste even greater within a year, or two!
Drink it 2010-2017.

Monday, June 14, 2010

2004 Madder Lake Syrah from Copain

I really like the wines from Wells Guthrie and his Copain. They’re all most often quite elegant, I wouldn’t say truly classic since they have the typical Californian fruit, still they’re never too ripe, nor to strong. For the pinots, harvest is done at no higher ripeness than 23 Brix, for the syrahs just a bit riper, hence alcohol levels at moderate 13.5 percent for the pinots and 14.2 percent for the syrahs, the most.
For both Pinot Noir and Syrah, the vinification is carried out in the same way, which means a few days of cold soak before the juice is fermented with its natural yeast in small open top fermenters with frequent pigeage for a gentle extraction. However, for the syrahs, most of the grape bunches are not destemmed, like in this wine where Wells used 75 percent whole cluster.
The more European oriented philosophy have made Wells Guthrie turned his view to cooler vineyards sites, most of his Pinot Noir grapes are purchased from the cool wine region Anderson Valley in northwest Mendocino, whereas Syrah is sourced from many regions, like Santa Lucia Highland (the great Gary’s Vineyard) and Chalk Hill (the Brosseau Vineyard) in Monterey, Santa Ynez Valley (Harrison Clarke Vineyard) and Lake County.

2004 Madder Lake Syrah / 91 p
The grapes, in this cuvée approximately 95 percent Syrah and five percent Viognier, are all sourced from Lake County just north of Napa Valley. The two grapes are co-fermented and wine is then kept in French oak barrels to mature. Color is still youthful, dark and purple and almost opaque, and the nose is rich and densely fruit driven in a quite seductive way, where notes of dark cherries and blackberries as well as plums are enriched with a lovely aroma of sweet apricots and violets (these notes derives from the Viognier), and also a delicious dash of dried French herbs. It’s a young wine, quite ripe and lush with a fine texture of sweet fruit and glycerol, yet marked by tannins and a toasty and slightly bitter oak structure. It’s lovely, for sure, but still I’d like to keep it another year or two before I touch it again, only because the finish is a bit closed and bitter at present. When I tasted it, it took almost 30 minutes in the glass for the wine to open completely, so decanting is needed if served young.
Drink it 2011-2024.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Wines from Marco DiGiulio

In 1995 Marco DiGiulio was the first winemaker at Lokoya, a Jess Jackson winery in Napa Valley, which wines since then has turned into the most profound cabernets in California. The intention was to make great wines, and upon release the price tags were quite hefty, and Mark once told me he said to Jess: “Wow, 75 dollars for a bottle, I wouldn’t pay that, it’s too much”. Jess replied: “Marco, do you really believe that the workers at Rolls Royce actually buy those cars”.
I really like this exchange of thoughts!
Anyway, Marco made the great wines at Lokoya until 1999, and then the equal talented Chris Carpenter took over the role as winemaker, and did it with excellence. Marco took off to set up his own winery, a custom crush winery south of Napa where he makes many labels of fine wines, among them the rare but fine Bounty Hunter, Black Coyote and some even smaller labels. He also makes his own wines since 2001, and the inspiration for them is taken from Lokoya. These wines are really worth looking for – they are truly great, quite close to Lokoya which isn’t that strange since grapes are sourced from almost the same vineyards, and made in the way. This means 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from dry farmed and low yielding vineyards, they are carefully destemmed and gently pressed into small stainless steel fermenters with a total maceration of about 30-35 days. The wines are then transferred into brand new French oak barrels for malolactic fermentation and maturation during 20-24 months. They are bottled without being fined or filtered.
Oh yes, there is one difference … the price tags! Lokoya now sells for $220-225 plus tax, the wines of Marco DiGiulio for $80-90 plus tax.

2004 Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Mark K Vineyard / 94 p
For this wine, grapes are sourced from the Reverie Vineyard next to Diamond Creek and Von Strasser up on Diamond Mountain just south of Calistoga in Napa Valley. I decanted this wine two hours prior to pouring it, and that was needed. It’s a very youthful, dark and almost opaque wine with a dense, ripe and just delicious dark berry fruit driven nose seasoned with oak and with some meaty notes that are so complex, in a way I’d like to describe as postmodern Napa Valley. I just love it! The dark ripe fruit is also present on the palate, which of course is marked by tannins and mineral notes which hold the rich fruit back a bit. It’s very intense and even though I think it’s a bit closed (compared to what will come out of it in the future), is slightly sweet and lush, and the aftertaste lingers for a minute. Drinking it today, it would need a good decanting.
Drink it 2010-2020.

2004 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon Progeny Vineyard / 95-96 p
The most impressive wine from Lokoya is the one from their Mount Veeder vineyard. At Marco DiGiulio it’s the same – but grapes are sourced from the neighboring Progeny Vineyard belonging to Betty O’Shaughnessy. As expected from Mount Veeder, this wine is dense, very intense and full bodied, and since young very firm. It took a bit longer in the decanter for this wine to open up, but when it did, it really did. There are of course lots of similarities, but here you find even more of everything, and it also shows notes of walnuts, black olives and ink, which I find very complex, and the mineral notes are also a bit more forward. I recommend a few more years in the bottle, and then decanting it at least 30 minutes before pouring it. A steak and a side order with a creamy texture will be just perfect!
Drink it 2012-2024

Sunday, June 6, 2010

La Carrière from Peter Michael Winery 2008-2005

The vineyards of Peter Michael Winery are among the most beautiful in California. The 225 hectare estate, of which 48.55 hectares are planted to vines, climbs from the Knights Valley floor in eastern Sonoma up on the mountain. At 300 to 400 meters, the white and red Bordeaux varieties are planted, and further up the mountain the Chardonnay vineyards are situated, from 500 to 600 meters above sea level. These are among the highest vineyards in California.
Some of the slopes, such as the La Carrière Vineyard, are as steep as 40 degrees (!), and the soil is composed of different volcanic materials which all adds a lovely and much so needed mineral note in the rich and ripe wines.
In many ways, this estate is unique. One of the most interesting aspects of it, is that just within some hundred meters you’ll find another soil type, altitude and/or exposure, hence the various personalities of the wines made here. This is, together with Diamond Creek Vineyards in Diamond Mountain further south in Napa Valley, the most impressive site of terroir in California.
La Carrière Vineyards is the steepest vineyard of the estate. It was planted in 1994 with Chardonnay of various Dijon Clones (60 percent), the fantastic Hyde selection (26 percent) and the See clone (14 percent). The beautiful vineyard stretches from 530 to almost 600 meters above sea level on a steep south facing slope with a dazzling white volcanic ash that makes it looks like the vineyards in Chablis, or even in Le Mesnil in Champagne. The soil may well have the same impact on the wines here in Knights Valley as in France, but the sunshine is for sure not French. These wines are true California chardonnays, rich and ripe, yet with a sense of finesse and classical winemaking.

2008 La Carrière / 93-94 p
La Carrière is always a 100 percent Chardonnay wine, fermented in brand new French oak barrels with the natural yeast, and after full malolactic fermentation and 11 to 12 months in the oak, the wine is bottled without fining or filtration. Alcohol level normally reaches 14.7 to 15.2 percent, in this vintage 15.2 percent, which has been absorbed pretty well by the ripe fruit, the silky body and the fine structure … it’s just in the finish where the warmth of the alcohol shines through. Color is pale straw, nose is slightly closed at first and it takes a few minutes and some aeration for the aromas to develop, then the youthful spicy oak find the balance with the ripe and concentrated but still quite elegant fruit. On the palate, the ripe fruit shows in a slightly sweet scented flavor, but the finish is completely dry thanks to the acidity and the tannins from the oak. I would keep this wine for another half year or year, or decant it one hour prior to serving it.
Drink it 2011-2016.

2007 La Carrière / 95-96 p
This is a great vintage, not only for this wine, but for most vineyards in California. Already when it was poured into the large glass, the lovely aromas filled the air. Color is still young and pale, the nose very elegant with a great flavor combination of the classic wine world and the new – cool climate fruit flavors meets the sunshine of California … yellow apples, pears, lemon peel, candid lemon, pineapple, as well as some spicy nutmeg flavor from the oak. Even though the alcohol reached 15.0 percent, balance is the word in this wine, which is one of the finest made from this vineyard up to date. When serving this wine, and other California chardonnays of this power and richness, it’s very important to serve it slightly chilled to keep the alcohol, spicy oak and sweet fruit in absolute balance, around 12 degrees Celsius is just perfect.
Drink it 2010-2017.

2006 La Carrière / 93-94 p
This vintage is absolutely great, and even if the 2008 and 2007 are as good or better, the 2006 drinks just perfect right now. As the other vintages in this tasting, the color is pale straw. I find the nose to be the mostly fine tuned and elegant of the four – which of course depends on a very good vintage and the fact that this wine at this stage has found a perfect balance between primary fruit and oak flavors and the elegance that comes with just some age. If I have been served this wine completely blind, I would have been in Bâtard-Montrachet for a while, just because this wine has that great fatness and texture as one finds in the greatest grand crus of Burgundy. However, the mineral notes are not as expressive in the 2006 La Carrière. Anyway, it is a lovely wine to drink over the next years.
Drink it 2010-2014.

2005 La Carrière / 92 p
Of the four, this is the fullest, ripest and the spiciest. Color is still young, pale straw with a slightly greenish rim. On the nose, the oak is quite spicy with notes of nutmeg. Still the oak is well balanced by the ripe but not too sweet fruit – notes of pears and apples as well as pineapple are intense but not overly heavy, so it is very well balanced and elegant. On the palate, it’s actually still young, rich with a slightly sweet scent of ripe fruit, but thanks to a good but not fresh acidity, a hint of mineral, and a spicy note from the brand new oak barrels, the structure is firm and elegant. It’s a very good wine – by itself it’s fantastic, but next to its more elegant neighboring vintages it’s not as outstanding.
Drink it 2010-2012.