Tuesday, November 30, 2010

2004 Screaming Eagle

Talking or writing about ”the eagle” is always controversial. Within a second or two, words and opinions about taste verses quality and price will come up, no matter you like it or not. The answer to that adequate and most welcome question is; will the wines of Napa Valley stand up to the competition and reputation of the finest wines from Bordeaux, and will they ever be worth the price?
In one way, it’s quite easy to answer that question, but then it always comes down to personal taste and expectation, if you can and are willing to spend that much money on a bottle of wine, and for what reason you want to buy particular wine.

To start with, yes, with no doubt the best cabernets of Napa Valley are very much up to the competition with the very finest of Bordeaux, whatever reasons the Francophiles give you to reject that idea. (Or fact!) They’re not likely to enjoy these wines anyway, since most Francophiles believes that Roussillon is this world most southern wine region, and Bordeaux is the only region able to produce great cabernet wines.

Quality is not only about taste, since taste is foremost a personal thing. Quality is numerous factors such as ripeness, level and maturity of tannins, overall aromatic profile, level of acidity, cleanliness, oak flavor (oh, yes, the oak is also very forward in young wines from Bordeaux), balance, the way the aftertaste lingers or not, also how well the wine corresponds to its grape varieties and origin. These factors all play an important role in what makes a great wine. In that sense, Napa Valley is as good as Bordeaux, but to be honest more even over vintages – which may be considered as a great advantage.
I fully understand that prices on so called cult wines of Napa Valley sometimes are crazy, still there’s enough people to buy them at the mailing list (at full prices) and even on the second hand market (at silly prices). So, what’s so fuzzy about that?
Even though some of these wines are truly great – Harlan Estate, Araujo Eisele Vineyard, Dalla Valle Maya, Bryant Family, Grace Family, et al – they are not wines for everyone. Nobody complains about the price of a fabulous car or a fantastic villa for several million dollars, since we all know they’re not for us. Still we make loud noise about certain wines we no longer can afford to buy.
Screaming Eagle is one of those wines. And it is a very, very delicious wine. It’s never powerful or overly ripe or alcoholic, its build on finesse and the sense of its birthplace, the reddish volcanic soil in the eastern section of Oakville.

I once asked winemakers Andy Erickson and Massimo di Costanzo how much they have made experiments since they came aboard at Screaming Eagle in 2006, and what these experiments resulted in. “First of all, we have full respect for what Jean Phillips and her winemaker Heidi Peterson-Barrett have achieved over the years, still we wanted to see if we could make the wine even better – but almost whatever experiments we did regarding maceration and extraction, the personality of the vineyard stood out”, they replied. It’s really a great terroir, just as at any château with a great reputation in Médoc.
After tasting their first vintages 2006 and 2007, I’ve noticed that the style has not changed, although the wines seem to be a bit more intense, still not ripe and heave – at least at this young stage. Perhaps that’s just the vintages?

2004 Screaming Eagle / 95-96 p
There’s always around 10-15 percent Cabernet Franc and Merlot in the blend, and some cold soak before the fermentation starts. Fermentation takes place in small stainless steel tanks with a capacity of 15 hectoliters, and the winemaker (in this vintage Heidi Peterson-Barrett) works with a combination of pigeage and remontage, and always very gentle. There should never be any sharp edges in the eagle. While almost all cult wines are raised in brand new French oak barrels, Screaming Eagle only sees 60-65 percent of new oak. The ageing is around 18-20 months, and there’s no filtration or clarification prior to bottling.
I decanted this wine four hours before serving it, which was needed. At first it was quite closed although slightly sweet on the nose, after all – this is the 2004 vintage, which was warm and gave the wines a riper and slightly more sweetish fruit. After a couple of hours, the wine opened up to be more intense and perfumed with is typical cassis notes. We tasted it with other cult wines this time, and as always the Screaming Eagle is the most elegant and silky (unless you pour it next to the Grace Family wine). The oak is extremely well integrated – nowhere in my tasting notes there’s a work of oak. I rather describe the texture as seamless as velvet. If one needs to complain on a small detail, the acidity may be a bit low (typical for the 2004 vintage), but not to that extent it makes the wine unbalanced.
What’s really interesting is to see how much the wine evolves during the five hours the wine spent in the decanter, and our glasses. If you look for pure power, this is not the wine for you. If you prefer balance and finesse, and a fine tuned flavor profile with great intensity, this is something to look for. Well, if you find it, and if you can afford it!
It was $300 on the mailing list – the 2005 vintage was $500 – but on the second hand market you have to be prepared to pay anything from $1200 to $1800, unfortunately.
Drink it 2010-2024.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

2005 Seymour’s from Alban Vineyards

John Alban is one of the superstars of Central Coast. He was the first one to plant Rhône varieties in Edna Valley, a valley that at the time was considered to be to cool for the southern French varieties. Every single backbiter was soon proved to be wrong – after just a few vintages in the mid 90s, John Alban crafted wines of great finesse and complexity and soon he was the talk of the day.
The timing for Syrah in the 90s was perfect, not only did the vintners start to plant better clones, and also on good sites, the consumers also started to find this “new” grape and wine style as well. The cooler sites was soon the first to be chosen for Syrah, and today we see more Syrah in Sonoma Coast, Russian River, Carneros and Santa Rita Hills, than in warmer regions.
John Alban and his friend Manfred Krankl of Sine-Qua-Non were the first to make ripe, intense and concentrated wines of cult status from Syrah. Although many winemakers were inspired by them and their highly acclaimed wines and therefore went in their footsteps, they still play in their own league.
The Seymour’s is unfortunately a very rare wine. It’s not too likely to find it unless you are a member on the mailing list, or dine at a high end restaurant. However, you may find its siblings Lorraine of Reva, two outstanding syrahs in the same ripe and spicy style.

2005 Seymour’s / 96 p
One can easily say that since long time friends John Alban and Manfred Krankl find inspiration in each other wines. This vintage of Seymour’s shows, just like the great wines of Sine-Qua-Non, that pure power can live in harmony and absolute balance. Well, at least with a perspective of a few years of more bottle age. Drinking it today, it will of course be a heavy weight champion with less complexity and finesse, but the punch is remarkable. This 100 percent Syrah from the 4.45 hectare Seymour’s vineyard was kept in brand new French oak barrels for 40 months, and it is still in its first primary stage. Color is dark, almost opaque, and the nose is dense, concentrated and still marked by the sweet and coconut scented new oak barrels, but there’s a great purity and a power that’s quite remarkable. It’s not, however, a wine for those who seeks for elegance and finesse in the classic way – this is a wine for those who love full bodied, heavy weight champions with impressive fruit and length.
On the palate is full bodied, packed with dark and ripe almost sweetish berries, but there’s also a more aromatic note in the fruit. Some coconut flavors and Asian spices from the oak are found on the nose and on the palate, and the oak tannins and bitterness is still there – I guess they will hang on for another year or two. Again, it’s a great powerful wine reminiscent of those of Sine-Qua-Non, but actually with more power and concentration. The 15.2 percent of alcohol adds length to the aftertaste, as well as sweetness and structure, but still it is quite well integrated in the ripe, lush and lingering body. Tasted directly from bottle at this stage, it was brutal (but good), tasted three hours later from a decanter, it was still quite brutal (but even more good), and tasted again seven hours after decanting it, it was just brutal and absolutely wonderful. As John Alban told me a few times, this wine needs time. So please, give it time, in tour cellar, or in the decanter. And please, serve it in a large glass with some great food. Why not a steak?
Drink it 2014-2025.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

2006 Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard from Pax Wine Cellars

I didn’t tell the story of Pax Mahle and his Pax Wine Cellars before he left in 2008 to set up a new winery, Wind Gap Wines, to make quite different wines, more elegant to say. The wines of Pax Wine Cellers were, and still are under the name of Donolan Wines, deep, extracted and intense, but of great quality, but I doubt they will ever be as profound as they were under the stewardship of Pax. Time will tell, I’ll go there on my research trip in Sonoma and Mendocino in December.
The Pax Wine Cellars was founded in 2000 by Pax Mahle, a young and talented former wine salesman of Dean & Deluca who turned into a self made winemaker of cult status. With a kind of European attitude to wine, his winemaking resulted in relatively elegant and sometimes classic structured wines with Californian body and fruitiness. It was really exciting. The reason for the great structure of tannins and acidity is the cooler vineyard sites, among them the Alder Springs Vineyard, from which Pax made a selection of wines of the Syrah clones 99, 174, 300, 383, 470, 525 and 877 from several lots. He also planted some Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier here.
“I found this vineyard, at the time quite unknown, after tasting some pinots from Patz & Hall, and I totally understood that it had a great potential”, Pax told me.
Other great cool vineyards where grapes were sourced from are the Walker Hill Vineyard and the Lauterbach Hill Vineyard in Russian River, as well as the even cooler Griffins Lair close to Keller Estate in the Petaluma Gap area.
A selection of the finest wines included the lovely white Nepenthe (a blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier from Alder Springs Vineyard, the two very well made interpretations of the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape; Cuvée Moriah and the even better Alder Springs Cuvée, as well as the two selections of Syrah from Alder Springs Vineyard; the floral and spicy The Terraces and the very intense but firmly structured The Emerald Pool.
In 2008, annual production were at around 6 000 cases.

2006 Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard / 92-95 p
This 100 percent Syrah wine in just gorgeous, however not too charming and not a vine to recommend for those who seek silkiness in a wine. Color is dark and dense, almost black purple and opaque and of course this wine is still just a baby. It hard to tell that it has been raised in 80 percent new French oak barrels, it’s more easy to understand that a third of the grapes bunches were not destemmed – there’s a complex, very spicy and cedar like note that derives from the inclusion of stems, but there’s no green and herbaceous flavors at all. Since this vineyard is located 800 meters above sea level in the cooler part of Mendocino, the fruit flavors are very dark and intensive, at first with sweet and ripe flavors thanks to a long hang time, but with a great portion of elegance. Over the six hours the wine sat in the decanter, it opened up more and more, and the more it sat there, the more complex it became. And it’s just beautiful!
On the palate it’s as dark and fruit driven as on the nose, but as usual (from this vineyard site) the tannins are firm – ripe and of highest quality, but very firm. There’s also a fresh acidity to hold back sweetness, and even though there’s enough of greatness to enjoy at this young stage, this is a wine to cellar a few more years. Well, unless you serve it to a dish that balances the tannins and makes the wine a bit leaner.
Drink it 2012-2021.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A great white adventure – the Roussanne of Stephane Asseo

I’ve written about Stephane Asseo and his adventure of l’Aventure before, and this time I’ll focus on his white, the Roussanne Estate. If Rhône styled reds are well know and more and more popular among consumers as well as growers and producers, the whites counterparts are less known and made in minuscule volumes. There are 1 204 hectares of Viognier planted in California, less than 150 hectares of Roussanne, and just slightly more than 100 hectares in total of Grenache Blanc and Marsanne. The lion share of these whites is planted in the Central Coast, where producers such as Tablas Creek (partly owned by Châteauneuf-du-Pape based Château de Beaucastel), Alban Vineyards and Sine-Qua-Non have played a great part in spreading the knowledge and passion about these whites.
If the American chardonnays are notably different from the burgundian wines, the California white Rhône blends can, and actually often are, relatively similar to the French versions.
There’s only one white wine from the l’Aventure estate in the beautiful Paso Robles west, which is marked by the proximity to the cool Pacific, but also by the warm days. But is i a true white gem of the Paso Robles. At least if you enjoy rich and powerful wines in the style of Alban Vineyards and Sine-Qua-Non. This is another one …

2008 Roussanne Estate / 95 p
There is around 15 percent of Viognier in the Roussanne wine, which is fermented in 15-30 percent new French oak barrels and kept there for six months. Since yields are very low, only 13 hectoliters per hectare, the wine offers a great concentration of ripe but not too sweet yellow fruits like apples, sweet lemons and pineapples. There’s also a lovely honey note as well as a touch of bees wax and licorice, all quite common aromas in Roussanne. It’s full bodied, yet elegant, it’s ripe and lush with a silky texture of glycerol and an almost sweetish fruit, but there’s also enough acidity to balance all that fruit, body and alcohol, which in this wine almost touch 15 percent. Sweet lemons and honey lingers for a while in the lovely aftertaste, that’s completely dry and surprisingly fresh. I prefer to serve it at 12-14 degrees, but thanks to its fine acidity and great balance, it also tastes damn good at 16-18 degrees, just as many northern Rhône whites.
Drink it 2010-2018.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

2005 California Syrah of Piedrasassi

Piedrasassi is one of hundreds of smaller artisan wineries in California. The story is the same whereever you find a wine company like it - passionate and skilled winemakers with no vineyards of their own, instead contracts or a friendly handshake to buy premium grapes from selected vineyards. Also, they work in small warehouses where they have installed their own equipment and where they store their oak barrels. I’ve been to more than a hundred “wineries” like that in California, and Piedrasassi is just one of them.
Behind the doors to this winemaking facility you’ll find Peter Hunken and Sashi Moorman, the latter a quite well known guy in Santa Barbara wine country. Sashi was once the assistant winemaker of Adam Tolmach at Ojai Vineyards, and have been making the wines at Stolpman Vineyards for some years now. He also made two vintages at Bonnacorsi after Mike Bonnacorsi passed away. He is now also involved in the Parr Selection wines, made for top restaurants like Michael Mina and Per Se, as well as Evening Land Vineyards, a joint venture with Dominique Lafon of Meursault in Burgundy.
What I like with the wines of Piedrasassi, is the way Sashi Moorman manage to balance power with finesse.

2005 California Syrah / 92 p
One thing that’s great with Central Coast is that some awesome wines quite often come with a very nice price. This is certainly the case with this wine, and the wines of Piedrasassi. Here, in this 100 percent Syrah sourced from the very fine vineyard Purisima Mountain Vineyard and the even more fantastic White Hawk Vineyard in Santa Barbara County. Although it spent almost three years in new French oak barrels (a quite recent trend in California, especially at wine estates that aims very high), the oak is extremely well integrated. The reason is that the body is so packed with dark and ripe fruit that the oak is almost totally absorbed. On the palate the oak is a bit more present (as a slight youthful bitterness), but it is the dark and ripe but still fresh blackberry and blueberry fruit that dominates the taste. Tannins are youthful and relatively firm, but well balanced by the fruit and well integrated in the body. Although decanted for a few hours, the youthful primary fruit flavors stayed, which indicates that this wine will keep for many years in the cellar. At this stage, decanting is recommended.
Drink it 2010-2022.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

2005 Booker Vineyard of Saxum

Justin Smith is a star. Many growers and winemakers in Paso Robles admire him, and honor him for working so hard and focused to reach the highest quality. Although he’s young, and didn’t go to the universities at Davis or San Luis Obispo to study viticulture och enology, he knows exactly how to handle his vineyards, vines and wines.
Located in Paso Robles west, only 16 kilometers from the cool Pacific, the 20.25 hectare James Barry Vineyard is one of the best vineyards in the region. It was planted by Justin’s father James Barry 30 years ago, mainly with Syrah and Grenache, but also with some Mourvèdre. Justin and his wine company Saxum is a typical Rhône Ranger with a list of six different blends, most of them dominated of Syrah, and the wines are full bodied, ripe, with a high and sometimes too fiery alcohol level, and seasoned with the most expensive oak one can find. Quite often they are a bit too much, still there are a lot of qualities in them. No wonder that they have been under the Parker radar for some years, and that the 2007 James Barry Vineyard was awarded with a perfect 100 point score – as the first one in Paso Robles.
I normally find the Booker Vineyard wine to be slightly more "elegant", if one can use that work for these blockbusters. It comes from the Booker Vineyard, owned by Eric Jensen (a former apprentice at Saxum, and a big fan of Justin Smith), but it is planted in 2001 by Justin Smith who now works with a 1.62 hectare
These are not wines for those who are looking for finesse and elegance, these wines are blockbusters. So please, dear Francophiles, move on, there’s no need to complain – Justin will not change his ways.
Justin recommends to give his wines a lot of air, either decant them one or two hours before serving them, or even open the bottles a day in advance and let the breathe slowly.

2005 Booker Vineyard / 94 p
Talk about opaque! This cuvée of 92 percent and 8 percent of Grenache from the Booker Vineyard in Paso Robles is purple ink, and it really coats the inside of the glass with its color. It offers a young, very concentrated with loads of dark berries and violets, at one point when it was poured from the bottle also quite oaky. Still it offered some kind of finesse – not that this is a light and truly elegant wine, more like it is surprisingly well balanced to be such a big boy. When standing in the decanter (I had it opened for six hours), the intensity of the fruits fades away a bit, instead a more earthy quality evolves, and it is actually a very interesting wine. The almost 16 percent of alcohol is of course too high, and adds as warm and fiery touch. I find the fruit to evolve into a greater complexity, which is a positive thing that answers the question whether this wine could age or not. I take it as it will. On the palate it is very intensive, full bodied and to a certain extent slightly sweetish, still with a firm tannic structure and a surprisingly fine acidity to make the taste balanced, and there’s just a slight bitter note from the oak. Overall, it’s a lovely wine for those who seek concentration and good structure. Serve it well decanted at 18 degrees, not warmer than that if you are a bit concerned about high alcohol levels.
Drink it 2010-2020.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A great 2006 Syrah from Colgin Cellars

Since Ann Colgin founded this highly reputable estate in 1997, her wines have been hard to find. And very expensive!
Beofore Colgin Cellars, Ann Colgin made wines with her former husband Fred Schrader, who since their divorce took his own path to fame with Schrader Cellars, a now fabulous wine estate with high scooring cabernet wines.

The perfectly managed estate, that sits on top of Pritchard Hill, is run by Ann and her husband Joe Wender. The young and talented Allison Tauziet is responsible for the wines since 2007, although she worked here side by side with winemaker Mark Aubert since 2005. I have noticed a slight move towards more finesse and silkiness in the past vintages, and I think it’s fair to give credit to Allison Tauziet for that, althoug the increased age vines in the IX Vineyard is also part of the very positive evolution.
The 8.10 hectares of vines in IX Vineyard was planted in 1999 by the brilliant vineyard manager and consultant David Abreu, who still is in charge of the viticulture. A total of 1.65 hectares were planted to Syrah, and the clones were taken from Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie in Rhône, France. With focus on the smallest of details in the viticulture, low yields and a rigorous selection of grapes, the total of 9.10 hectares of prime vineyards results in a production of no more than 2 500 cases of fine wines per year.

2006 Syrah IX Estate / 98 p
Poured in an extensive tasting of excklusive California syrahs, this was by far the greatest wine tasted! It’s in many ways a terrific wine, the overall balance is impeccable and the aromatic profile is almost perfect. Color is young, cherry red and dark, but not opaque, and the nose is open, intense and just fabulous. It’s loaded with dark fruits like blackberries and plums, but also with just a hint of red berries that adds elegance, and there’s also a very fine and complex spiciness with notes of licorice, violets and pine wood. Even though the wine was raised in brand new Burgundy barrels, the oak is as perfectly integrated as can be. Also on the palate, it’s extremely well balanced with ripe and sweet scented dark fruitiness, as well as a complex spice that adds so much complexity. Tannins are of course present, but they are not as marked as I expected them to be, and that’s because the balance is almost perfect. I did decant this wine for some hours before enjoying it, but to be honest – this wine tasted great from the very moment I pulled the cork, until the last glass was emptied seven hours later! It’s really a sensational wine, and it shows that the combination of the perfectionist Ann Colgin, the great vineyard IX Estate, the green fingers of David Abreu and his vineyard amigos, and the talented and very skilled winemaker Allison Tauziet is a perfect match. I guess this great wine will evolve into something very similar to the great wines of northern Rhône with age, and I'm very thrilled to be there when it happens.
Drink it 2010-2026.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

2004 The Rejuvenators from Sine-Qua-Non

Manfred Krankl doesn’t need any further presentation. His winery, his wines and his philosophy are well known, still there’s a lot of mysticism around him and his wines, kind of a cult. More and more, his focus has moved into the Grenache grape, still Syrah is his kingdom. Pinot Noir was given up some years ago, and since a few years, after the pass away of the noble sweet wine man Alois Kracher, there will be no more commercialized sweet whites. Sadly, in both cases. Also, the production of the fabulous whites has decreased significantly over the years, so every drop of the full bodied, intense, sweet scented but dry and complex extraordinary whites of Manfred Krankl will be rare. I just wished I could convince Manfred to keep on making more of his whites, I just love them!

2004 The Rejuvenators / 95 p
In this vintage, Manfred made his white wine cuvée of approximately 55 percent Roussanne, 25 percent Viognier and 20 percent Chardonnay, all grapes sourced from Alban Vineyard in Edna Valley and his own Eleven Confession Vineyard in Santa Rita Hills. Both sites are quite cool, which to a certain extent explains the freshness. Color is bright and golden straw, the nose intense and deep with notes of ripe tropical fruits, sweet lemon, vanilla (from the oak) and white flowers such as lilies. After four hours in the decanter, the sweeter aromas that I initially noted had faded away and evolved into more complex and sophisticated notes. On the palate, there’s abundant of fruit flavors to start with, but there’s also enough acidity to give the wine a very fine balance, sweetness or not, high and warm alcohol notes or not. The magic think about this heavy weight white, is that whatever power and depths it offers, there’s also a great portion of finesse to make the wine extremely well balanced, and the finish is phenomenal and lingers for a minute of two with a lovely licorice and bittersweet lemon touch in the very finish. I recommend decanting it at least one to two hours before serving it, and serving it at around 12-14 degrees Celsius.
Drink it 2010-2016.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

2008 Au Sommet from Heidi Peterson-Barrett

Heidi Peterson-Barrett just released her new baby, a winery called Au Sommet Wines that was founded in 2008 in partnership with her longtime friend John Schwartz. This is really a brand new project, and it’s based on a vineyard planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and some Petit Verdot in poor volcanic soil 300 meters above sea level in the Atlas Peak district in Napa Valley by the well known vineyard consultant Jim Barbour (he is, for those who doesn’t know, together with David Abreu, one of the most famous vineyard managers in California). The size of the vineyard is just 2.83 hectares, so production will be tiny and prices very high. It takes some guts to set the price on the inaugural vintage (2008) at 250 dollar per bottle – almost the same as the well established and highly acclaimed wines from Bond. On cannot help wondering if, and when, the so called cult thing about great cabernets from Napa Valley will come to an end. Do we need more of them? And, quite frankly, can there be more great wines from the tiny valley of Napa?
Nevertheless, the 2008 Au Sommet is a very fine wine indeed and nothing has been spared to make this wine what it is. Just an example, with the poor soil and the strict pruning to get good concentration in the grapes, yields are no more than 18 hectoliters per hectare! That may justify a part of the price tag. The second, and most important explanation, is of the course the winemaker, the famous Heidi Peterson-Barrett.

Heidi Peterson-Barrett was born into wine. Her father was a wine grower and winemaker and Heidi spent a lot of time with him, learning all the basics in viticulture and winemaking. After graduation in fermentation science at UC Davis, Heidi worked as assistant winemaker for several wineries in California, and among them with the legendary winemaker Justin Meyer at Franciscan Winery and Silver Oak Cellars. Heidi also worked in Germany, where she learned the importance of making wines with finesse, and in Australia.
At the age of 25, Heidi was hired as winemaker at Buehler Vineyards in Napa Valley, and according to herself, it was there she finally understood she wanted to craft elegant and exclusive wines. And that’s exactly what Heidi has become world famous for doing. Being the first winemaker at Screaming Eagle, and playing a very important role in the newborn wine cult in Napa Valley during the 90s, Heidi soon became one of the most renowned winemakers of California. As a consultant, she was (or, in some cases, still is) responsible for the wines from Jones Family, Grace Family, Hartwell Winery, Lamborn Family, Vineyard 29, Oakford (now closed) and Showket, and she also makes the wines for Barbour, Amuse Bouche and Revana, as well as making wines under her own label, La Sirena.

2008 Au Sommet Cabernet Sauvignon / 94 p
This inaugural vintage is a blend of 95 percent Cabernet Sauvignon of the very good classic clones 7 and 377, and six percent of Petit Verdot. Since the vines are young, the yield is very low, only 18 hectoliters per hectare. Grapes were harvested at a moderate ripeness of 24.5 to 25.8 Brix, which explains the elegance and vibrant and fresh perfumes of the wine. As expected, the wine have been raised in brand new French oak barrels, which has flavored the wine with some vanilla and chocolate notes, as well as some structure, but the overall impression is that the balance is just fine. The nose is driven by dark and concentrated but not heavy or overly ripe fruit, with just a hint of stony minerals. On the palate, it is surprisingly elegant and silky – no harsh tannins or bitterness whatsoever, and no overly sweet fruit or alcoholic spice. It’s actually quite silky and elegant, but the aftertaste is a bit short, but good and elegant rather than great.
I decanted this wine for four hours prior to pouring it, and it really needed that. It continued to develop and open up in the glass during the tasting (for at least 30-45 minutes), and what was left in the bottle for day after, was even more elegant and harmonious.
Although it is a very fine wine, it doesn’t have the intensity and depths that other great Napa Valley cabernets have, yet! I'm cinfident in that it will gain that weight and depth in the future vintages. Still, it is a very good first release, and it’s well worth following over the years as the vines are getting older.
Drink it 2012-2023.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Burgundy styled pinot from Flying Goat Cellars

As I’ve written before, Flying Goat Cellars is a small one man show operation in the so called The Ghetto in Lompoc out in the Santa Rita Hills far west. Here proprietor and winemaker Norm Yost crafts some of the finest pinots of the Central Coast. Norm makes his wines based on the philosophy that wines are made to be enjoyed with food – therefore his wines are refined and silky, never powerful, heavy and oaky. Since he doesn’t own any vineyards, all wines are made from purchased grapes from some of the coolest vineyard sites. With a tiny production of 2 500 cases per year, these wines are unfortunately relatively rare to see, but they are not as expensive as expected, and as they could be regarding the very high quality.

2006 Pinot Noir Salisbury Vineyards / 94 p
The Salisbury Vineyard is located only three kilometers from the Avila Beach out on the coast in San Luis Obispo, and is one of the coolest vineyards in the Central Coast. Norm buys the grapes from the highest vineyard blocks, which are planted with the clones Dijon 115 and Clone 2A. The wine is produced with classical methods in small open top fermenters, and it has been raised in small French oak barrels, of which only 20 percent were new. The color is pale cherry red and the nose open, intense and initially very burgundian like – then some more sweet scented raspberry aromas evolves. Still, on the nose it is remarkably close to a fine wine from Gevrey-Chambertin (the Rousseau style) or even the style of DRC’s Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Duvault-Blochet, but there’s no chalkiness or mineral notes as in the burgundian counterparts. The oak is perfectly well integrated, which again move your guesses in the blind tasting towards the old world style of winemaking. After ten minutes in the glass, the nose is even more complex and burgundian like, yet with the seductive sweetness – which is one the most charming parts of Pinot Noir.
On the palates it’s immediately sweet and lush, but acidity comes just in the second you fall in love with the sweet red fruit to tell you there’s also a good portion a lively structure here. If you concentrate, you might be able to taste some oak spiciness, or does that flavor derive from the soil? Tannins are silky and fine, the balance as good as can be, and the acidity is really refreshing. I just wish the aftertaste was longer …
To get the most out of this wine (and other Californian pinots), serving temperature is recommended to be around 15-16 degrees Celsius.
Drink it 2010-2014.