Saturday, July 24, 2010

2005 Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Beringer

Knights Valley is the easternmost appellation of Sonoma. Its situation just east of the small Chalk Hill AVA (where Chalk Hill Winery makes fine chardonnays) and the much warmer Alexander Valley AVA, where some great full bodied zinfandels and cabernets are made, makes it even further away from the cooling breezes of the Pacific. Hence the very warm and arid conditions for the vines, which tends to produce thick skinned, well structured full bodied wines that will age for decades.
Vines have been growing here for more than a century, but it wasn’t until Beringer planted their vineyards here and from 1977 bottled their fine Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, before the valley gained its reputation. Anyone who have tasted either that wine, or those of Peter Michael Winery know there is a great potential in the wines from this almost forgotten valley.

Knights Valley gained its status as AVA in 1983, and today there are some 620 hectares of vines here. Beringer is by far the most important player, with around 240 hectares under vines, most of it on the valley floor. From almost 49 hectares of vineyards, scattered on small terraces and slopes with south, southwest and west exposure that rises from 300 to 580 meters above sea level, Peter Michael Winery produce stunning whites of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Chardonnays, as well as impressive and age worthy reds of bordelaise grapes. The latest planted vineyard belongs to Luc Morlet, former winemaker at Peter Michael Winery and since 2006 vintner with his own winery, Morlet Family Wines. In 2008 he planted 4.85 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot on an east facing slop in the southern part of the valley (from there, it’s only a ten minutes drive to Calistoga in the northern part of Napa Valley).

2005 Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon / 90-91 p
This is normally a pure Cabernet Sauvignon, but in some vintages some Cabernet Franc and even some Petit Verdot may be added to the blend. Winemaker Laurie Hook, who has been with Beringer since 1986 and for 20 years worked with the great winemaker Ed Sbragia, told me they sometimes also blend in some percent of Cabernet Sauvignon from their Home Ranch in St Helena, just to soften the tannins of the Knights Valley cabernets. The wine is fermented in steel tanks and raised in 35-40 percent new French oak barrels for 18 months (in the early years, 60 percent of the barrels were new, and the wine then spent 22 months in them - todays version is much finer).
The color is very dark and youthful, and the offers a ripe and rich, still pleasant and elegant nose with dark cherries, cassis, just a touch of wood and a kind of stony earthiness that remind me of the volcanic dust in the air of the region.
For sure this is a very serious wine that easily can compete with much more expensive wines of Napa Valley, the structure is important, tannins are young and very firm, acidity good and lively and the mineral notes present. At this young stage, the wine needs a lot of air to open up, or even better some more years of bottle age. Although the fruit is ripe and slightly sweetish, there is a lovely bitterness (a sense of walnuts, but not aldehydes) in the lingering aftertaste, as well as just a dash of grassy notes, which I find very attractive.
One detail that really impresses me, is that Beringer actually makes 60 000 to 80 000 cases of this wine every year. Also, the price is very attractive – it’s easily one of the best values from the north coast of California!
Drink it 2010-2025.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

2008 Theresa from Denner Vineyards

The Rhône varietals thrive in California, and the growers and winemakers handles them better today than ever. Syrah is with is 7 642 hectares under vine the far most planted and popular Rhône grape in California, followed by Grenache with 2 818 hectares and Carignane with 1 499 hectares. Viognier is the most widely planted green Rhône varietal, and in 2008 it covered 1 204 hectares. Introduced in the 1970s, winemakers used the same techniques as with Chardonnay, resulting in full bodied, heavy and overly oaky and alcoholic wines of Viognier with no finesse. Since then, the style has moved towards lighter wines (still, alcohol levels reach 14.5 percent or even more) with less use of new oak, shorter ageing time in oak, less bâtonnage if at all, and no malolactic fermentation to retain the so needed acidity.
Of the other Rhône varietals, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc are the most important, if a total of 141 hectares and tiny 65 hectares for them can be called important. For most American consumers, these grape varieties are almost unknown, for the simple reason that they were rarely mentioned on the labels, until quite recently. With a growing interest for both red and white Rhône styled wines, the acreage of these grape varieties are steadily growing.
In Paso Robles, which is a great source of fine wines in this category, there are numerous producers of distinction. My favorites are l’Aventure, Ed Sellers, Tablas Creek (they make the most French styled wines in California) and Denner Vineyards, which has been presented before here on California Wine Report.

2008 Theresa / 92 p
This is a blend of 62 percent Roussanne, 24 percent Viognier and seven percent each of Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. The four grapes are processed separately in either steel drums or used French oak barrels – Ron Denner and his winemaking son Brian doesn’t want to hide fine fruit in too much oak, which is wise – and to preserve the so needed acidity in these moderately acidic grape varieties, the malolactic fermentation is always blocked. The color is golden straw, and the nose invites you to a journey in white and yellow flowers, honey and tropical fruits, almonds and spices like black pepper and licorice. There is really note more that a smallest trace of the oak, which is just perfect. It’s really intriguing and a very good example on how good the Californian whites of Rhône varietals can be. Without any doubts, this wine could easily be taken for a profound Rhône wine in any blind tasting, at any time. It’s really the best out of two worlds – the ripeness is there, the body and the texture as well, but alcohol is at 13.5 percent (or, at least not more than 14.0 percent) and the classic finesse found in classic wines from Europe dominates over power and richness. Also, even though the acidity is moderate, it’s good enough to balance the fruit and together with a tickling note of mineral, it actually gives the wine a delicious freshness. It’s not the best, but it is one of the most elegant white Rhône styled wines from California I have tasted.
Drink it 2010-2013.