Saturday, August 14, 2010

True love from Sine-Qua-Non

I remember tasting through the barrels of syrahs and grenaches with Manfred Krankl in 2000. To taste with Manfred is always one of the highlights of my trips in Central Coast. Most of the winemakers I meet are of course very passionate about their wines and all there is to know and talk about from the birth of the grapes until the wine is bottled and its life after that. So is Manfred Krankl too, but even more!
Although the wines from Sine-Qua-Non are never shy, Manfred himself is surprisingly modest when talking about his wines. One quite interesting detail in his strictly focused ambition is to taste all wines blind (even the barrel samples) to be completely free in his mind and never favor any vineyard source, particular lot or clone. Therefore all barrels are given fantasy names instead of the usual information regarding grape variety, clone and vineyard or even block source (so does his former winemaker Maggie Harrison at her great winery Antica Terra in Oregon).
During the tasting in 2000, we came to a few barrels I thought were so great that I had to ask Manfred if they were to be bottled separately (they came from Alban Vineyard and White Hawk Vineyard). He told me he was of course quite happy with these wines, but that they were not complete on their own. He compared each barrel with a singular instrument – only when you put them together, there will be an orchestra. Even though many of the single barrels at Sine-Qua-Non seems to be almost perfect – at least, that’s my impression after all the barrel tastings I’ve done with Manfred Krankl over the years – it’s in the blend the last part of the magic is created. Thus the Sine-Qua-Non wines are always blends from multiple sources, and therefore carry the entry level designation of just “California”.
The result of the blending from the barrels I tasted in 2000, ended up in the 2002 Just For The Love Of It. For me, this wine was love at first sight, and has always been a benchmark for my dedication and love of Sine-Qua-Non.

2002 Just For The Love Of It / 98-100 p
This vintage, the final blend was 96% Syrah and two percent each of Mourvèdre och Viognier, and they were sourced from (almost equal parts) Alban Vineyard in Edna Valley, Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley and Stolpman Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley, with small amounts from the magnificent White Hawk Vineyard (that I fell in love with) and Shadow Canyon.
I’ve tasted this wine on several occasions over the years, and a part from the bottles I’ve poured at my house they’ve all been tasted blind. I most of the cases, I gave the wine a perfect 100 point score, in some cases 98 or 99 points, hence the spread of score above. From being a very dense, lush, ripe and slightly spicy wine in its early years, still with a tremendous finesse, it has now turned into a more complex and silky wine. Still it offers the intensity it used to, it’s loaded with ripe and dark fruit, but it seems to be less "sweet" today. The lovely notes of violets I found in the young wine are still here, as well as sweet notes of expensive oak barrels (they have always been well integrated). On the palate, its ripe och silky, intense and with just some warmth of the alcohol which doesn’t disturb me at all since the taste is so rich and lingering. There is still enough glycerol to give the wine that seductive, silky and just lovely texture, and somewhere inside all of the good stuff this wine offers, the first notes of secondary aromas are beginning to speak. When I compare my tasting notes over the years, I’ve noticed one common thing that’s worth mention … give the wine air before enjoying it, at least 30-40 minutes in a decanter.
Drink it 2010-2018.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Pinot Noir and Petite Sirah from Red Truck Winery

“At Red Truck, we are serious about making great wine, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously”, states the back labels of the wines from Red Truck Winery in Sonoma. This may well be true, but I wouldn't call these wines great. Good and well made yes, but not more than that. Red Truck was created a a brand rather than a separate wine company by Fred and Nancy Cline of Cline Cellars in 2002 with the ambition to make tasteful wines in a reasonable price range, actually just like the wines of Cline Cellars. The success came at once, and production volume rose rapidly to 170 000 cases per year. Only three years later, Fred Cline sold 80 percent of this brand to Doug Walker and Dan Leese for 32 million dollars! Although Fred didn’t told me that, I suppose he found the offer generous and since he needed money to set up a another new wine company (Jacuzzi Family Wines) and break ground for a brand new winery for it across the street from Cline Cellars , the deal was too good to give up.

2008 California Pinot Noir / 80 p
Color is bright and cherry red, and the nose is open and quite aromatic with fine notes of red berries, predominately raspberries and redcurrants, and also a hint of rhubarb. At this price point, I’m positively surprised, although not overwhelmed. Also the oak integration is just perfect. On the palate it’s light to medium bodied, fresh and silky with a lively acidity – which most likely is adjusted, and if so, in a quite acceptable way. As on the note, the fruitiness is pure and slightly sweet, which makes a good balance with the acidity and tannins. The finish is quite short and a bit sweetish, and it lacks intensity to be a truly serious wine. Of course this is both acceptable and expected, based on the moderate price. It’s not a great wine you’ll pour to your pinotphile friends, still it’s absolutely drinkable and should be a good wine to introduce Pinot Noir to new consumers.
Drink it 2010-2013.

2006 California Petite Sirah / 79 p
As expected from Petite Sirah, even at this moderate price point, the color is dark, almost opaque. The nose is intense, packed with dark ripe berries like cherries, blackberries and even oven baked plums, but there’s also a more fragrant and lighter fruit quality, and it’s actually quite charming rather than complex. Right there, in the compote of fruit flavors, there’s also a fine note of cedar tree, as well as cherry stones, which is quite attractive. Compared with high end wines of Petite Sirah, this wine is much softer – but make no mistakes, you’ll still find a good and for the variety very typical tannic structure here – and the texture is more built on the lush and slightly sweet fruitiness than tannins and oak. Drinking it on its own, you’ll find some bitterness in the finish, but if the pinot above is good to drink as it is, the petite sirah is made for steaks or stews.
Drink it 2010-2014.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Atlantis wines from Sine-Qua-Non

Having tasted the wines from Sine-Qua-Non on a regular basis over the last ten to twelve years, I have noticed that the grenaches have improved significantly. From early 2000s, there’s more finesse to be found in the all of the wines from Sine-Qua-Non, and from 2007, I would say the syrahs and the grenaches are at the same level (until just a few years ago, Syrah var superior).

Manfred Krankl utilizes the same techniques for both Grenache and Syrah. In both cases, a great amount of whole clusters are used, and vinification is carried out in small open top fermenters with, depending of grape variety, vineyard source and vintage, a cuvaison that stretches from ten to 18 days. During that time, both pigeage and remontage are done for extraction. After alcoholic fermentation, the wines are moved into oak barrels, normally 50 percent to two thirds brand new and the rest are one to three years old. To some 90 percent, the barrels are made of French oak, but Manfred uses up to ten percent of American oak to add some flavor to the wines. Malolactic fermentation always takes place in oak, and during the almost two years long ageing, the wines are only racked twice. Before bottling, Manfred uses to egg whites per barrel to clarify the wine, but there is no filtration.
Even though the concentration is massive, over the years more finesse have been captured in these wines. It’s not easy to understand how a dens wine like a syrah from Sine-Qua-Non can be described as transparent, because they are not if you compare them with a red burgundy, but still they have what normally is described as terroir – a sense of place! One explanation is how Manfred sources the grapes, the vineyard sites he works with today are cooler than in the 90s. Another may be the age of the vines. The dedication of Manfred – to every single detail from vine to bottle – is still the same. And I guess that’s the overall most important factor.

2005 Atlantis Fe2O3 Grenache / 96-97 p
At first, before I tasted the wine, just put my nose in the glass, I thought I was on a very high level at a more modernly influenced estate in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This wine is loaded with ripe, sweet cherries, blackberries and raspberries and there is also delicious spicy notes, very typical Grenache, but also found in other local grapes in the south parts of France, and even Spain. But I didn’t stay in either Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Languedoc, or even Spain, too long, for three specific reasons, 1) this wine didn’t have the mineral notes so often found in wines from soils rich in limestone, in France. for instance, and 2) it didn’t have the young, often very marked tannic structure found in the wines from Priorat, and 3) it was too great and powerful to be any of the finest Grenache based wines I have tasted so many times in other parts of Spain. Therefore it was California, and if so, only one producer to make this kind of wine is Sine-Qua-Non.
Although the tannins are firm and youthful, they are covered with the ripe lush fruit and glycerol, therefore the texture is smoth and silky. At this young stage, oak is of course present, but more with some sweetness on the nose and just a slight bitterness in the lingering aftertaste. It’s still very young and needs a lot of air – as with the syrahs, I’d recommend at least one hour in a decanter.
This vintage, the wine consists of 93 percent Grenache from Eleven Confession in Santa Rita Hills (which gives the most elegant fraction of the wine) and Alban Vineyards in Edna Valley, and just seven percent Syrah from the estate vineyard Eleven Confession. This year, Grenache wasn’t harvested until November 7, and approximately 50 percent of the clusters were not destemmed. The wine was kept in French oak barrels, 54 percent new, during 22 months.
Drink it 2010-2020.

2005 Atlantis Fe2O3 Syrah / 100 p
This vintage, the blend was 93 percent Syrah, five percent Grenache (only from the estate vineyard Eleven Confession in Santa Rita Hills) and two percent Viognier. Most of the grapes came from Eleven Confession, which explains the cool scented fruitiness, slightly more than a quarter came from ungrafted vines in the excellent White Hawk Vineyard, and there is still some 20 percent coming from Alban Vineyard in Edna Valley, as well as a small fraction from Bien Nacido Vineyard. What might be surprising, knowing that 75 percent of the clusters were not destemmed, is that there is just a slight fragrance of the stems on the nose. Today, that note adds to the complexity, and it will of course fade away over the coming years and be replaced with more seductive secondary aromas. So will the slightly sweetish oak flavor, which is easy to detect today but still amazingly well absorbed and integrated.
This is of course still a very young wine, dark and dense and as always with the Sine-Qua-Non wine with that almost magical balance between pure power and great finesse. Even if it’s so young, there are layers of dark fruit, some earthy qualities and a delicious touch of licorice, fennel and white pepper, which reflects both the personality of the grapes, and their birthplace. There are not very many wines on this planet that taste like the syrahs from Sine-Qua-Non (the wines from John Alban are close, as of the three premium selections of Côte-Rôtie from Guigal, particularly La Mouline, but in riper years such as 2003, even La Landonne and La Turque). A month ago, the 2005 Atlantis Syrah outclassed the 2003 Côte-Rôtie La Turque in a blind tasting among a dozen wine collectors and connoisseurs – and this was not the first time.
I’ve had this wine on several occasions, blind of course, and one thing that always amazes me, is the length of the aftertaste, and the silky texture. And even though the alcohol touched 15.7 percent, I have never written anything about it – other than a slight touch of warmth in the aftertaste. This is truly a world class wine!
Drink it 2010-2025.

Friday, August 6, 2010

2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Spottswoode

Spottswoode is a very well managed estate with 16.20 hectares of organic farmed vineyards (since 1985 – they are now moving towards biodynamic practices) at the foot of Spring Mountain just west of the small hamlet St Helena in Napa Valley. It’s mainly planted to Cabernet Sauvignon (15.20 hectares) with a few of the in total 23 small blocks planted with Cabernet Franc and also Petit Verdot, as well as one hectare of Sauvignon Blanc. Spottswoode makes one of the finest sauvignons of Napa Valley, it’s well worth looking for.
Besides the first seven vintages since the founding of Spottswoode in 1982, when Mark Aubert was the winemaker, this has always been an “only women vineyard and winery”. It’s own by Beth Novak-Milliken and her mother Mary Novak, and wines have been made by the talented winemakers Mia Klein (1990-1995) and Rosemary Cakebread (1996-2005) and since then by Jennifer Williams who came to Spottswoode as assistant winemaker already in 2002.
The winery is relatively small, but allows the winemaking team to ferment each block separate in the 17 small stainless steel tanks and three cement vats, as well as three cement eggs that are all used for the red wines.
I was never really impressed but the early vintages, and they never kept very well either. Of course the vines were young back then, but also the acidity was adjusted in the early years to the extent the wines were a bit out of balanced. After moving to organic practices, the wines became much more nuanced and elegant in the end of the 80s, and even more so in the early 90s. Although Spottswoode made a very good 1992 and 1994, the 1995 vintage makes the turning point in the history of the estate. Since the magnificent 1995, almost every vintage have been very good to excellent.
Today Spottswoode counts among finest wine estates of Napa Valley.

1995 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / 95 p
I don’t know the precise blend of this vintage, but normallythe estate wine is made of 95-98 percent of Cabernet Sauvignon and just a small splash of Cabernet Franc. Depending on the vineyard block and vintage, fermentation and maceration stretches from four to six weeks, with a daily pump over to make a gentle extraction, and the different lots are kept separately in French oak barrels from coopers Taransaud, Nadalie and Seguin-Moreau for one year when the first blend is done. The wine will then go back to the barrels for another ten to twelve months of ageing before it’s bottled with just a light filtration.
Now, at an age of 15 years, this wine is just gorgeous. Color is still dark, but with the first visible notes of age. The nose is open, deep, rich and intense with lovely notes of sweet dark cherries and blackberries as well as black olives and some secondary and highly complex aromas. As always, the oak flavor is well absorbed by the wine and the ageing process. It’s easy to take a shortcut and describe this wine as “bordeaux like”, and for sure it is, at least on the nose. On the palate, however, it’s more full, riper and longer, but it carries the same seductive finesse and tannic structure as its counterparts from Bordeaux. The texture is more silky. There’s also a note of mint here that I find very attractive. Another great thing about this wine – it opens up beautifully with air, which indicates a long life and further ageing for those who like to keep some bottles.
The 1995 vintage is definitely a very good one at Spottswoode, and it’s recommended to keep the fine wines from Spottswoode for at least ten, or rather 15 years before pulling the cork. Part of the magic in these wines comes with age!
Drink it 2010-2018.