Monday, March 28, 2011

Zeductive Zinfandel from Turley Cellars

Turley Cellars is one of the most well known zinfandel specialists (Ravenswood, Seghesio, Rosenblum Cellars and Carlisle are other recommended zinfandelists), and their wines always have a typical house style. The winery is owned by Larry Turley, and the first vintages was 1993, made by his sister Helen Turley, who already at that time had become well known for her powerful and high scoring wines. The styles was pretty much set but her, but since Larry is a great fan of amarone wines, and likes his wines full bodied and rich, this is the style you can expect from Turley Cellars.
Helen Turley only made two vintages, and from 1995 the talented Ehren Jordan is responsible for making the wines and he’s doing a great job although the style is till immensely rich and extravagant. In total, there are 80.90 hectares of estate and leased vineyards (2.00 hectares around the estate and winery in St Helena in Napa Valley, the Rattlesnake Vineyard up at Howell Mountain, the Vineyard 101 close to the freeway near Geyserville in Alexander Valley, and the fine Pesenti Vineyard in Paso Robles). In addition to these vineyards, Larry and Ehren are buying Zinfandel and Petite Sirah from numerous vineyards with old vines (at least 40 years old) around the state.

These wines are not for everyone. Not that they are overly expensive – well, they’re not cheap – more that they are quite extreme in their concentration, ripe and almost sweetish fruit and above that, their high alcohol levels. It’s commonly known that Zinfandel is able to ferment into very strong wines with alcohol levels over 16 percent. Sometimes that’s not enough to measure the alcohol levels of the zinfandels from Turley Cellars. However, looking beyond the high alcohol levels, there’s a lot of quality in these wines. The intensity and aromatics of the fruit is impressive, especially in the wines from Paso Robles and from the mountain sites (such as the Pringle Family Vineyard in Howell Mountain, one of the finest zinfandels from Turley Cellars, and the Zinfandel Black Sears Vineyard from the same appellation). The two latter wines also offer a great structure, typical from mountain vineyards, which makes these wines even more serious and complex. Total production varies from 10 000 to 15 000 cases per year.

2008 Zinfandel Pesenti Vineyard / 91 p
The Pesenti Vineyard in the cooler but still warm western parts of Paso Robles was initially planted in 1923 by Frank Pesenti. Since then it has been replanted in 1947 and 1965, so vines are not extremely old here. A good thing though, is the chalky soils which brings a fine sour minerality to the taste. It’s always a good wine, one of the better and more elegant in the range of zinfandels from Turley Cellars, but from the upper parts of the vineyard, the grapes for the even better wine Zinfandel Überroth Vineyard are sourced. Color is purple red and quite deep, and the nose is (as expected from this winery) very ripe, almost sweetish, opulent and intense, with notes of dark cherries, blackberries and sweet raspberries. There’s just a hint of oak. On the palate, it’s full bodied without being too concentrated, however the fruit is ripe and sweet, quite lush and driven by the intense fruitiness. There are a lot of sweet raspberries, not too different from those found in the wines of Melville Estate (their pinots), but there is also a lively and fresh acidity and a fine tannic structure, as well as a rhubarb kind of bitterness and acidity, to balance the sweetness, but there’s also a significant warmth from the high alcohol. Although I really like the flavors of the wine, the fiery alcohol lower my score a bit. This is for sure a delicious wine, but based on the high alcohol, I’d rather drink it with a steak, or venison with a creamy sauce, that to drink it as it is. It needs at least half an hour in the decanter to develop more finesse.
Drink it 2011-2015.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Hirsch Vineyards, now and then

David Hirsch was one of the first to plant vineyards in the region known as True Sonoma Coast. Already in 1980 he planted a 1.20 hectare block with Riesling and Pinot Noir, at that time more for fun rather than thinking about becoming av full time winegrower and winemaker. The first years, all grapes were sold to Williams Selyem, and later on also Kistler Vineyard (not anymore), Littorai and Siduri. Over the years, David worked hard to understand his land, to see the details and the anatomy of his vineyard. Working close with several great winemakers who bought his grapes, he learned more and more about each single block in his vineyard, which had expanded into 29.15 hectares.
Still he wanted to go even deeper, and the only way he could truly see the microdetails and improve the quality of his vineyard management, was to start to make his own wines. The first true vintage was 2002, however, David told me he made some wines for fun earlier. He told med that the 2001 actually tastes pretty good!
Typically, wines are red at Hirsch Vineyard. There’s only 1.60 hectares of Chardonnay planted, so production of the white wine is small. There are now quite a few pinots made, with Bohan-Dillon from the youngest vines as the lightest and most deliscious of them all. The San Andreas Pinot Noir (until 2006, this was sold just as Pinot Noir) is a blend of different clones, mostly Dijons clones, but also Pommard and Swan, and approximately 75 percent of the grapes comes from blocks planted between 1980 and 1990.

There’s also a Pinot Noir “M”, named after Davids wife Maria, a barrel selection with the most elegant and perfumed lots of Pinot Noir. Since 2009, the wine is sold as Pinot Noir Reserve, and that vintage and wine tasted from barrels is one of the most profound pinots I’ve ever tasted from Sonoma Coast.
Since 2007, there are also small lots of single block wines that are very interesting. These wines are the result of understanding the vineyard and its different blocks through their own winemaking.
Since 2010 the young and talented Ross Cobb of Cobb Vineyard (they make a great series of pinots from the Freestone in the southern part of Sonoma Coast) is the winemaker. He finished the blend of the 2009s, and did that with honor.

Production reaches around 5 500 cases per year.

2009 Chardonnay / 92 p
This great wine is made from whole cluster pressed Chardonnay grapes, and fermented in a smart combination of 50 percent small French oak barrels, very little new oak, 35 percent small stainless steel tanks 15 percent in small glass damejeannes (from the 2010 vintage, all juice is fermented in oak, but only 20 percent new). Alcohol level is 14 percent, which is just perfect to add that backbone that the rich but still very elegant and freshly acidic body needs. On the nose, it’s almost burgundian like, the oak treatment is perfect, and there are small traces of minerality that may fool most tasters in a blind tasting. Although the wine has gone through full malolactic fermentation, there’s no buttery or creamy texture or flavor in the wine. It’s really a great Californian chardonnay in a style that would make any Franchofile thrilled. Only 600 cases were made.
Drink it 2011-2016.

2004 Pinot Noir / 92 p
The first vintage was made in 2002, but I wasn’t that impressed with that vintage (I actually preffered the Hirsch Vineyard selection from Failla and from Siduri). Since then the quality has improved significant, with the 2009 vintage as a great stand out for the new, ultrahigh quality. However, there have been some fine vintages and the 204 is for sure one of them. I just decanted it 15 minutes prior to pouring it at 17 degrees, and it showed just great in the big Riedelglass. The nose offered loads of dark and very aromatic cherries, some floral notes, just a dash of oak and overall a very intense and elegant wine with a good portion of complexity. (I actually poured it next to the 2002 Clos de la Roche Grand Cru Vieilles Vignes from Domaine Ponsot, and everyone around the table both preferred the Hirsch Pinot Noir, and thought for a while that is was the wine from Burgundy!) Well, to be honest, it didn’t have the typical chalky minerality found in burgundies, but the flavor profile was for sure very French. In the lingering aftertaste, there‘s some sweetness, but the alcohol is perfectly well balanced.
Drink it 2011-2018.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The 2005 cabernets of Eagle’s Trace

Gus Anderson founded Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards in 1983, and has since the early 1990s crafted a bunch of very good wines in a style that combines the finest of Napa Valley and Bordeaux. In 2003, a new brand was created, Eagle’s Trace. For this brand, grapes from the best lots (a total of 10.50 hectares) in the estate vineyard are used, and the wines are made by Gus (although he is not young anymore!) and Gonzalo Valleges, who worked at Caymus Vineyards for 16 years.
Besides the six barrels of Pinot Noir from Valhalla Vineyard in the cooler southern parts of Napa Valley, that I’m not particularly found of, the wines of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are very fine and well worth looking for. The Estate Merlot is a blend of 75-80 percent Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, and according to Gus, it’s inspired by the wines of St-Emilion and Pomerol.
The merlot, as well as the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and the top selection Cabernet Sauvignon Latitude 38, offers a very elegant aromatic profile, not so different from what’s found in fine bordeaux’s, when they age a few years. However, the body and the structure is for sure Californian, so they are better served to more flavorful dishes than the typical bordelaise food.
There’s not more than 2 000 cases produces annually, so the wines may be hard to find.

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon / 90 p
This could be considered as a second wine to the Latitude 38, and in fact it is. Yet it is a very serious wine, fashioned in the same way as its bigger sibling, but with less intensity and concentration. It’s also kind of classic wine, made in a style right inbetween the most typical Napa Valley and Bordeaux styles, with a medium intense and fine tuned dark fruit and a slightly toasted and coffee like oak aroma. Compared to the bigger Latitude 38, I find this to taste even more Bordeaux like, and I cant wait for the years to pass and the wine to evolve into something even more complex. There’s just one negative thing, the finish is a bit dry, but I guess that will change over the coming years, when the tannins starts to soften. Drinking it today, half an hour in a decanter would be just fine, and serving it to lamb, a medium rare steak, braised beef or venison seems very tempting.
Drink it 2013-2020.

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Latitude 38 / 91-93 p
Color is young and purple dark red with high intensity. On the nose, it’s concentrated and generous with ripe and deep dark fruit qualities, yet with a very classical scent that reminds me of that of riper vintages at young age in Bordeaux. Part of that resemblance is due to the coffee like oak flavor, which is more common in Bordeaux than in California. Still young, it’s not fully developed, and I noticed how well the wine opened up during the 20 minutes I had the wine in my glass. On the palate, it’s also quite Bordeaux like, however much richer with a sweet scent and a slightly more notable alcohol. It’s still young, tannins are serious and even though they are ripe, they are still not yet fully polished. In the long, rich aftertaste, there’s a slight green note – that’s not because the grapes were unripe, that’s just because the wine is a bit too young. I’d give it some more years.
Drink it 2013-2025.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A good cabernet from Duckhorn Vineyards

Duckhorn Vineyards, founded by Dan and Margaret Duckhorn back in 1976, was one of the first wineries in United States to focus on Merlot. At the time, Merlot was almost unkown and rarely used for varietal wines, it was, as in Bordeaux, a blending variety. Even though the Duckhorns became famous for their merlots, it took until the early 1990s for Merlot to be fully accepted as a variety of its own. For the Dockhorns, Merlot was love at first sight on their first trip to St Emilion and Pomerol, and when they returned to California to plant their vineyards, Merlot was the grape of their preference. The legendary winemaker Ric Forman, one of the first to make a varietal wine of Merlot (in the late 1960s), stood by their side and helped them to get started.
Although Duckhorn Vineyards are considered to be a Merlot producer, this wine is made of approximately 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon with the balance of the other Bordelaise grapes. They are all sourced from the southern parts of Napa Valley, around Yountville, and the wine has been raised in French oak barrels for 16 months. Normally I don’t find this wine to be more than “just good”, but in this vintage, I really like it.
The wines to look after are the merlots, with the exception of the regular Napa Valley Merlot (which is good, but far too expensive for its quality), they’re very good. The Three Palms Vineyard Merlot from a vineyard on the flatland south of Calistoga is generally very good, but more often I find the Howell Mountain Merlot more impressive. The best bottling is normally the Estate Merlot, the most structured and serious merlot of Duckhorn Vineyards.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon / 89-90 p
I have quite often found that the wines of Duckhorn Vineyards are not to the level of their price, and that they somehow lack intensity even though they have concentration. And normally their merlots are better than their cabernets. This wine, however, is very attractive, although young and still a bit closed. On the nose, if offers a good, quite high intensity without being rich and ripe, and the dark scented fruit balances the oak in a very good way. On the palate, it’s medium full bodied with a very attractive, young and intense, pure and fresh dark berry fruit, still a bit closed (especially in the aftertaste) but with a very fine tannic structure to promise a good life in the cellars. There is still some oak bitterness in the aftertaste, but drinking the wine to a dish with some creamy texture, both the bitterness and tannins will integrate perfectly. Well, unless you want to cellar it for some more years, which of course is a very good idea.
Drink it 2012-2020.