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.