Wednesday, October 27, 2010

2007 Montebello from Ridge

There are two things that always surprise me with Montebello. First it’s almost always a very nice wine to drink young, if you're able to decant it a good hour before serving it. I guess that’s because the ripe but never overripe fruit creates a great body to balance the firm but ripe tannins. Secondly there's very few wines that can swallow 100 percent new American oak without being overly sweet and flavored with coconut and vanilla. Again, I guess it’s the body that takes care of these flavors, and that our senses will focus much more on the overall balance and the depths of the flavors, rather than just the oak.
The Montebello from Ridge is a true Californian classic, a Cabernet Sauvignon based blend that since its first vintage 1962 has proven to be a very long lived wine. The legendary winemaker Paul Draper once told me he was impressed and inspired by some century old red wines from Bordeaux, and then decided to try to make wines with the same capacity. Perhaps he found a way to do that – even the older vintages of Montebello seems to hold together very well. Not even the 1984 Montebello I poured in a 1984 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon tasting last year showed any sign of being old, not even fully mature!

2007 Montebello / 95 p
It is important to mention, that the wine was tasted after four hours of decanting, and then tasted in a big Riedel Bordeaux glass. This is the proper way to enjoy a young Montebello. It’s still very young, dense and dark and almost opaque. The nose is loaded with dark and ripe black currant and cherry fruit, still youthful and far from being developed or even open. It’s only with experience of wines such as this one can predict or at least imagine what will come out of it when the wines reach its first stage of maturity. I mentioned that the oak always is extremely well integrated, and it is. However, you’ll find some sweet vanilla notes as well a just a spicy touch of the oak, and I guess these notes will be absorbed by the fruit in some years as the wine opens up. On the palate, its intense and youthfully sweet but marked with a huge structure of (ripe) tannins and mineral.
This vintage is a blend of 79 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, ten percent Merlot, nine percent Petit Verdot and just two percent of Cabernet Franc. Grapes are harvested at approximately 24 Brix, which explains the moderate alcohol lever, only 13.1 percent by volume. “Any alcohol lever higher than that is by intention”, says winemaker Paul Draper and adds that hign alcohol has nothing to do with global warming, or the California sunshine and warm climate.
Vinification I simple, fully destemmed grapes, about ten days of natural yeast fermentation and maceration, followed by 18 months in completely new American oak barrels. The wines is then clarified with egg whites, then bottled.
Even though it tastes pretty good already today, wines like this always gains finesse and complexity with age, and it would be a kind of waist to pop the cork now. Be patient and you’ll be rewarded big time.
Drink it 2015-2035, or even later!

Friday, October 15, 2010

2005 Blanc de Blancs from Schramsberg

I (try to) follow a golden rule, never to compare sparkling wines from Spain or California with those from Champagne, because they’re not champagnes. Still, we (and I) tend to do so. In most cases, the battle is lost, there’s nothing like real champagne. Yet Schramsberg (and the great sparkling wines from Roederer Estate in Andersson Valley, Mendocino) will fool you at certain times in blind tasting.

The estate itself is old, founded in 1862 by the German immigrant Jacob Schram and his wife Annie Christine. At that time, they planted Riesling and Gewürztraminer on their mountain estate just north of St Helena in Napa Valley. They were truly pioneers in Napa Valley, only their fellow-countryman Charles Krug founded his wine estate a few years earlier. A part from that, there was nothing here! Back in those days, the production from the 20 hectares of vines reached almost 12 000 cases per year, but illness and the pass away of the 75 year old Jacob Schram in the early 1900s, and later on several changes of ownership and finally Prohibition would put and end to that.
In 1965 wines were produced here again, and since the new owners Jack and Jamie Davies just loved sparkling wines, and nobody made that kind of wines in Northern California at the time, they immediately gained a great reputation for their fine wines. Since then, the sparkling wines of Schramsberg have been the most exclusive and well known outside of Champagne.
Although there is a very good red estate wine produced here, the 60 000 to 65 000 cases per year production is almost entirely made up by sparkling wines. Around 2.6 million bottles is kept in the cool cellars, and some of the best wines here are aged up to five toor six years on the lees before disgorgement. The long ageing, the cool vineyard sites and the very focused vinification are the keys to the quality.
The wines of Schramsberg are well worth looking for.

2005 Blanc de Blancs Brut / 90 p
One hundred percent Chardonnay, but sourced from vineyards in various appellations over the north coast, normally between 50-60 percent from the cool Napa Carneros, 22-28 percent from the even cooler Anderson Valley and some five to eight percent from really cool vineyards in Marin County. Approximately 80 percent of the wine has been fermented at low temperatures in stainless steel tanks, that and the cool vineyard sites defines the very dry and crisp taste of this cuvée. The rest was fermented in neutral French oak barrels, which gave the wine a more round texture for a better balance. After slightly more than two years on the lees, the wine was disgorged and given a dosage of 10 grams per liter (just like Dom Pérignon and Cristal). It’s definitely a fine wine, pale in color, light and elegant on the nose with notes of lemon peels and almonds with some depths and a quite complex nuance from the ageing on the lees. On the palate it’s light to medium bodied, dry and fresh with a fine texture and a very dry finish. It’s a perfect aperitif.
Drink it 2010-2017.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Two 2007 pinots from Kosta-Browne

I’m a bit confused over the wines from Kosta-Browne. It’s always one of the most exciting visits and barrel tastings one can do in California – then the wines show great finesse and complexity, and friends of mine with great skills as wine tasters, have been very excited after these barrel tastings, and even compared them with tastings in the cellars of great domaines in Burgundy. Then, when the wines are bottled and retasted back home, it's most likely they will taste more full bodied, riper and sweeter with a notable higher alcohol compared to what you remember from the cellar tasting. I know impressions will be the same in many cases at a lot of wineries, and the explanation is (most likely) that the cellars are cooler than your dining room, therefore the wines tend to show more of their elegance, and less of oak, sweetness and alcohol.
Still I continue to buy the wines from Kosta-Browne. I want to see which way they will go with age. And, I’m happy to say that they will become more elegant with just a few years of bottle age. At the moment, I just love to drink the 2005s of Kosta-Browne. Part of being a wine writer, wine connoisseur or wine lover is to understand how a certain wine evolves with age. Now I know how to treat these wines.

Kosta-Browne is an 11 000 cases per year operation based in a custom crush winery in Sebastopol, Russian River. It’s the Pinot Noir counterpart of wineries such as Kistler, and the range of pinot wines consists of a selection each from Russian River and Sonoma Coast, 8-9 vineyard selections per year plus a top selection of the four best barrels each year, logically called Pinot Noir 4-Barrel. Alsp you will find some syrahs here.

2007 Pinot Noir Gary’s Vineyard / 90-91 p
Gary’s Vineyard is one of the finest in the Santa Lucia Highlands, and for many winemakers who buy grapes from here, that selection will be one of their best wines. This is also what I have found at Kosta-Browne in some previous vintages – but not in this one. Perhaps it’s just because the wine is young and a bit sturdy, but even after an hour in the glass, the wine didn’t open up in the way I expected. Not that this is a bad or boring wine, not at all, it’s actually a very good wine, but compared to the lovely wine from Amber Ridge Vineyard, it doesn’t show. The color is slightly paler, the nose more acidic with sour cherries rather than sweet raspberries (this is something I like), but it doesn’t have the same intensity or body.
Drink it 2010-2015.

2007 Pinot Noir Amber Ridge Vineyard / 93 p
I have often found that the Amber Ridge bottling is one of the most elegant of the pinots of Kosta-Browne. It comes from a 12.15 hectare vineyard near Windsor in one the coolest parts of Russian River, which to a great deal explains the elegance and fine acidic structure of the wine. The vineyard was planted in 2000 with the French clones Dijon 115, Dijon 667 and Dijon 777 and the soils is, as so often out here, the fine goldridge. Vinification and oak regime is the same as in the wine above, but still the oak is a bit more integrated with just a slight sweet scent of vanilla. The overall balance is absolutely fine, the quality of the fruit is impressive – although the ripeness is high which have made the texture lush and silky, there is still a nice fragrance of sweet and freshly crushed raspberries with a lighter and more aromatic quality than in the wine from Gary’s Vineyard. It’s just in the finish of the taste the almost 15 percent of alcohol strenght reveals itself, so to avoid any “problems” with that, I recommend a serving temperature of around 16 degrees Celsius. You may decant this wine if you like, but it is not necessary.
Drink it 2010-2017.