Sunday, April 24, 2011

Two 2006 Cabernets from Notre Vin

The duo behind the higly recommended label Alienor, French winemaker Denis Malbec and his Swedish wife Maj-Britt Malbec, also makes wine under the label Notre Vin (“our wine”). They don’t own any vineyards, instead they purchase all grapes for their wines.
The French heritage is a great asset here, and although the wines are truly American, the concentration and alcohol level is moderate, which is very much appreciated. Except for the Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast, which I find to be a bit unfocused and lacking true intensity, I like the wines of Notre Vin more and more. They are fashioned in a very intelligent way and are very promising, the sad thing is that prices are too high.
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Cuvée l’Etrier / 90-91 p
This is a cuvée of approximately 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Merlot and just a few percent Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Grapes are sourced from the La Herradura Vineyard in Conn Valley (just opposite of Anderson Conn Valley) at the foot of Howell Mountain. After three weeks of fermentation and maceration, the wine spent 18 months in new French oak and it was bottled without being fined or filtered. It’s still dark with a youthful purple color, a young and very intense nose driven by primaty fruit aromas, but in a very elegant way that although typical for its origin also offers a French touch. On the palate, the fruit is much sweeter with loads of cassis and blackberries, but there’s a very good acidity and fine still young tannins to hold the sweet flavors back. There’s a fine but not marked mineral structure to make the wine serious, and even though I find the taste very pleasant, it doesn’t have the vibrant enegery I look for, at least at the moment. It lacks a bit of middle palate and the slightly greenish oak bitterness in the aftertaste needs to integrate a bit more. However, I don’t worry too much – time will make justice to that. Drinking it today or within a few years from now, I’d serve it to braised meet, steaks or venison and using a creamy texture in the dish, both oak and tannins will be balanced in a perfect way.
Drink it 2013-2021.

2006 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / 92 p
In this case, the Cabernet Sauvignon proportion is higher (93 percent to be exact), and the rest is small amounts each of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. All grapes are sourced from the Hughes Vineyard at over 500 meters elevation on the western side of Howell Mountain. Vinification would the same as for the wine above, and it was kept in new French oak barrels for 24 months. Again alcohol level is moderate, 13.8 percent. It offers a more elegant and although young more complex nose, where a stony minerality adds an interesting energy and also makes the taste more serious and structured. The acidity is quite fresh, lively and good, and evne though the fruit is lush, a bit sweetish and intense, the overall impression is that the wine is young and tight, but promising. The oakiness is tasted more in the finish of the aftertaste than in the actual taste, so oak integration is good. I’d like to keep this some more years for more complexity to evolve and for the rougher details to be polished. Then, I’m sure it will taste really good!
Drink it 2013-2021.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Four Vines, nine grapes, one wine!

A typical saying is that less is better. In cooking, that is often the golden rule. The more ingredients one uses in a dish, the more confusion on the palate. In winemaking, it may well be the same, at least one can wonder to what extent each and every grape variety contributes to in the blend. In Bordeaux, where blending has always been part of the philosophy, either Merlot (the most planted variety) or Cabernet Sauvignon play the leading role, and in Rhône Valley it’s normally Grenache, or Syrah. In addition, there are a number of blendning grapes. One may add body to the wine, another can contribute with a certain aroma or spiciness, and some grape varieties just add volume to make the final wine.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the most well knowm and, in the sense of number of variteties used of the blended wines in the world, the most complex. Fourteen varieties are allowed, although they all rarely are found in one blend. Most of these wines are based on Grenache, with the addition of five to eitght other grapes.
This kind of rhônish blends are also found in California among the so called Rhône Rangers. One of them is Four Vines Winery in the western part of Paso Robles. It’s a 40 000 cases per year winery founded 1996.
Overall, quality is good, but so far not impressive. A part from the quite elegant unoaked Naked Chardonnay from Santa Barbara fruit, most wines are a bit sturdy and lack finesse.
This wine, though, is one of the better.

2007 Cypher Ecelctic Red Wine / 88 p
Nine grapes were used in this wine, and the blend is in all aspects very unusual. Carignane is 22 percent of the blend, the Portugise port wine variety Touriga Nacional and the darkskinned Teroldego of Northern Italy 17 percent each. Three other port wine grapes are used in the blend, 12 percent Tinta Cão, 11 percvent Souza (sometimes called Periquita) and 6 percent Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo). Zinfandel is also here, at 8 percent, and so is Petite Sirah with only a single percent – I wonder how much that helped. The last 6 percent comes from Petite Verdot. Confused? For sure I am!
Color is dark purple, almost opaque. The nose it very intense, almost sweetish and very ripe, but there are so many types of fruit here – dark cherries, blackberries, cassis, a slightly greenish and vegetal touch, some vanilla, and some sweetness from the oak. At first, it’s not too elegant, and to be honest, it’s not elegant at all. However, it’s a very rich and powerful wine with some finer notes to it. Acidity is fine but not fresh, it’s more of a sweetish fruit driven wine with silky tannins and some warmth from the 14.7 percent of alcohol. It’s a great barbeque wine rather than a wine to more classic dishes, and it benefits from decanting, or at least one hour of aeration. Althoug drinkable now, I’d rather keep it another year or two to see if more complexity will rise through the massive fruit.
Drink it 2011-2017.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Second release of Ovid

I was totally blown away byt the inaugural 2005 vintage of the estate wine from Ovid in Napa Valley. Since then, I’ve tasted both the 2005 and the 2006 vintages on several occasions. Every time, tasted open or blind, my impression stands – Ovid is a great site for vines, and a truly impressive wine. This second vintage is a blend of 43 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 41 percent Cabernet Franc (which thrives just perfectly in the reddish volcanic soil and high altitude on Pritchard Hill). The rest is a balance of Merlot and Petit Verdot.
The team behind this outstanding winery is owners Dana Johnson and Mark Nelson, and the superstar trio of winemaker Andy Erickson, viticulturist David Abreu and consultant Michel Rollad.

2006 Ovid / 95 p
This baby is so young, color is dark purple and almost opaque. On the nose it’s initially a bit closed, although it’s packed with dark, ripe and an almost sweet cassis and cherry fruit – but it is massive in the way that the deliscious and fragrant aromas of violets, sour cherries and the stony minerialty of the volcanic soil is almost totally covered. Therefore, I let the wine sit in the decanter for another hour, and then two hours, to open up and reveal those finer notes. The oak is there, sweetish and slightly toasted, but still very well integrated. To achieve that, you need the highest quality of fruit and barrels, and the wisdom to use the oak in a smart way. I think that Andy Erickson does that. One could easily expect this wine to be heavy and sweet on the palate, and of course it’s rich and very intense, the with a lively to fresh acidity, huge but ripe tannins, and a thickeling saltiness of minerality, I find the overall impression to be extraordinary well balansced and elegant. The fruit is at first somehow sweetish, with both blackberries and cassis, but the sweetness is held back a bit, and even the oak is extremely well in tune with all other components. Balance is the key word here. It’s an impressive wine with a very promising life, which if kept in a good way will evolve to give pleasure for another 10-15 years, and for those who enjoys fully mature wines, even longer that that. Decanting is recommended, at least the two hours I did at first, but even when I tasted the wine the day after, it was very enjoyable – the fruit was the a bit more elegant with lovely notes of black currants and sour cherries. Drink it 2014-2031.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

White power from Sine-Qua-Non

Sine Qua Non is much more famous for their stunning reds of Grenache and Syrah, than their whites. A reason for that is that the reds are slightly better and more complex, another that the production of the whites is much smaller, hence the rarity to find them. However, the reds are not more impressive than the whites – the latter are wines of great power and intensity, wines with as much personality as concentration, depth and length. These are not wines for those who seeks finnesse and fine tuned fragrance. These wines are true power, yet with elegance.
While Manfred Krankl crafts his reds from either Grenache or Syrah with small proportions of the other, the cuvée of the whites is more various. The blend may be based on Roussanne (most of the times) or Chardonnay, but there’s almost always an important fraction of Viognier to add floral notes and spiciness to the blend. Every vintage will be different, and the spectrum of flavors and texture is much more various from vintage to vintage, compared to the evenness of the reds, if one compares several vintages of those. Grapes are mostly sourced from Alban Vineyard in Edna Valley, a great source of white Rhône varieties, and the juice is always fermented in new French oak barrels. One thing that surprises, is that Californian whites normally is at its best when served at around 12 degrees, but in the case of the Sine Qua Non whites, I’ve often noticed that they benefit from decanting (2-3 hours) and a serving temperature of 14-16 degrees.

2006 The Hoodoo Man / 93-94 p
This cuvée, 39 percent of Roussanne and the rest to me an unknown blend of Chardonnay and Viognier, is golden straw, and since not filtered, slightly hazy. As all white SQN’s, this one is ripe and very intense with lovely floral notes (violets and lilies, and lavender) as well as a licorice spiciness, vanilla sweetness and slightly roasted notes from the oak. I most cases, I find the oak to be too loud, but thanks to the intensity, it’s pretty well integrated here. On the palate, it’s full bodied and fruit forward, slightly sweet at first, but with a lovely acidity that lingers longer than the sweetness last, but in the long finish there’s a bit too warm alcohol that lower the score a bit. Still, it’s a delicious wine with a great personality and a very long taste with notes of sweet lemon and flowers. When served, at first it was more sweet and powerful than elegant, but after two hours in the decanter, it really showed just great! A serving temperature at around 14 degrees is recommended, but after tasting the wine five hours after it was decanted, it tastes just great at 18 degrees! I suppose this tells me the wine will benefit from another year or two in the bottle. Drink it 2011-2016.

2003 Sublime Isolation / 93 p
All grapes in this cuvée, 44 percent Chardonnay with 37 percent Roussanne and 19 percent Viognier, were sourced from the great Alban Vineyard in Edna Valley. I’ve tasted it several times before, and always liked it because it richness and honey notes, but even though the fine notes of violets, I noted this time that the oak was a bit more present than last time. Yes, it may depend on the bottle – this one may have been kept a bit warmer and therefore matured a bit quicker. At least the small note of yellow apples tells me so. Still there are enough floral notes to add elegance, and given the fact that it evolved just fine with four hours in the decanter, it’s not in any way over the top. It’s just the vintage that’s a bit more rustic than the 2006 tasted the same time. On the palate, it ripe and rich, loaded with sweet citrus notes and honey flavor, the acidity is lively and surprisingly fresh (especially after the initial sweetness has faded away after decanting), and there’s also an almost tannic sensation in the long, lingering aftertaste. I actually liked more after some hours of air, than directly from the bottle. Serve it at 12-16 degrees, depending on your tolerance for temperatures and power. Drink it 2011-2014.

1997 Twisted & Bent / 88 p?
Well, to be honest, this wine is on its way down, for sure. Still I kind of liked it, especially when it was served with rich food, which balanced its fully mature flavors and covered most of its slight oxidation. The wine was made of 60 percent Roussanne from Alban Vineyard in Edna Valley and 40 percent of Chardonnay, as always fermented in French oak barrels and bottles without being filtered. Color is deep straw towards golden, but it didn’t look too matured. On the nose, it shows maturity, honey and yellow apples as well as a slight nutty and almost smoky note is there, but all this is in balance, not on the edge of being too much. Actually, I was a very surprised over how well the wine kept in the glass, even two hours after pouring it! To me, that shows the wine, if not having more to offer, at least may keep another year or so. On the palate, it was at first rich and glycerol textured, still dry and very complex in a way that was a bit “Bâtard-Montrachet-like”, but with sweeter fruit and higher alcohol, and it also showed an almost tannin like structure. It’s quite honey like in the long, lingering and dry finish, and I have to tell it’s quite delicious as well. Drink it 2011-2012.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Napa Valley diversity from Nickel & Nickel

Nickel & Nickel is a very interesting winery in the heart of Napa Valley, owned by the team behind the equally interesting and good, but totally different winery Far Niente. While Far Niente is based on the philosophy of an estate blend, just like a château in Bordeaux, Nickel & Nickel crafts their wines from single vineyards around Napa Valley (mostly), thus more like what’s done in Burgundy. Nickel & Nickel and Far Niente owns around 97.00 hectares of vines, among them the John G Sullenger Vineyard (17.00 hectares) close to Opus One next to the winery in Oakville, and the Stelling Vineyard (40.00 hectares) that surrounds Far Niente, just south of the famous To Kalon Vineyard and right below the great Harlan Estate. Further south in the valley, in the cooler Coombsville, they also own the Carpenter Vineyards, 10.50 hectares, in which the grapes for the Far Niente Estate Chardonnay is grown (the 2009 vintage of that wine is particularly good). This vineyard was previously partly planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, but since the site is so cold, these grapes didn’t ripen every vintage, so these vines were replaced with Chardonnay after the 2004 harvest.
Winemaking is overseen by co-owner and senior winemaker Dick Hampson, who has been with Far Niente since 1982, and at Nickel & Nickel since their inaugural vintage 1997. However, the everyday winemaking is since 1998 done by chief winemaker Darice Spinelli. She’s been working at Inglenook and Beaulieu Vineyards, and came to Franciscan in 1990, so her knowledge of the terroir in Napa Valley is deep. All wines are more or less made in the same way, but since the expression of terroir is the driving force at Nickel & Nickel, adjustments in viticulture as well as winemaking is done to enhance as much of each vineyards expression as possible.

“It may be that we harvest the grapes in the various vineyards at different maturity levels, ferment them at different temperatures, work with different length of maceration and oak ageing, and use different proportion of new oak for different wines, and different vintages”, Dirk says.

From making six different wines in 1997, the wine list has grown to around 25 different wines every vintage. “It’s a great challenge to understand all these terroirs, and making the best wines out of them, but that’s also to great fun about my job”, Darice adds. And she’s doing her job very well – the wines from Nickel & Nickel are very good indeed, and they shows the width, diversity and complexity of the terroir in Napa Valley. Production stretches from 25 000 to 30 000 cases per year, of which the 12-13 cabernets counts for around 50 percent.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon John G Sullenger / 93-95 p
This wine comes from the estate vineyard John G Sullenger in the heartland of Oakville, where the soil is dominated by clay with some gravel. This is quite often one of the most complex and finest in the line up of cabernets from Nickel & Nickel. As all four wines in this tasting, it’s youthful and a bit closed, even though the nose is quite intense. Dark ripe berries such as black currants and blueberries, lead pencil and cedar tree dominates the aroma profile, and with some air the typical Bordeaux like complexity start to show. With that, one finds the first signs of the great classic complexity so often found in this wine, with a few more years of bottle age. The oak, the upbringing took place in 43 percent new French oak during 16 months, is very well integrated, and just adds complexity and some structure. There’s a good mouthfeel, it’s rich and intense with loads of dark berry fruit, but it’s fresh and elegant rather than full bodied and cloying, I would say it’s concentraded with a great classic complexity, and the taste lingers for a minute or so, with a fine but still youthful tannic structure and a lively acidity. It would benefit from a few more years of bottle age, but the way to enjoy this wine is to keep it for at least ten years. This count for all cabernet wines from Nickel & Nickel.
Drink it 2013-2027

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon CC Ranch / 91-92 p
The grapes for this wine comes from a 6.10 hectares fraction of the CC Ranch vineyard, which covers 46.50 hectares on gentle rolling hills in the easter part of Rutherford, very close to Frog’s Leap vineyards. The soil is dominated by weatheres gravel. This wine is a bit more dense, fruit intense and sweetish than the John G Sullenger, therefore (at this stage of maturity) it doesn’t show the same finesse, range of nuances and complexity. Still, it is delicious, almost impressive, and based on the evolution in the glass (during the 15 minutes I tasted the wine), it will evolve into something more elevant over the coming years. As with most wines from Nickel & Nickel, the oak (in this case 16 months in 46 percent new French oak) is well integrated, therefore in full harmony with the fruit. On the palate, its medium towards more full bodied, rich and although with a young and relatively firm tannic structure, almost silky thanks to the glycerol like fruit texture, and inte the long aftertaste there’s abundant of ripe and lush blueberry like fruit, fine tannins, a hint of oak as well as a energic touch of minerals. Although it’s the best today drinking wine of the quartet, I’d love to come back to it in a few years time to taste the beauty that’s today a bit covered by the lush fruit. An hour in a decanter would help the wine to find part of that already today.
Drink it 2011-2025

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon State Ranch / 92-93 p
For some reason, this was the first time I tasted a wine from this vineyard, so my knowledge of is is close to zero. However, it was a great first taste – love at first sight! Looking for a very fine wine with a neoclassic and true Napa Valley expression, this wine may be a one to look after. It offers a relatively open and expressive nose with dark, ripe fruit with cassis flavors as well as black olives, lead pencil, ceder tree, tobacco and just a fine fragrance of the new oak (43 percent new, for 17 months) that may be described as a cup of coffee being served in the room next to where you stand. On the palate, it is medium bodied with intensity and a good depth and length, but the tannins and minersality still holds the fruit body back, making the wine firm and a bit closed. It took around ten minutes to really get the flavors free flowing, then the wine tasted just glorious. The alcohol, around 14.5 percent, gives the wine a warm aftertaste, but I guess that’s just because the lushness and body is a bit closed due to the firm structure. With some air, aromas of cedar tree, tobacco and lead pencils shines through the taste, especially in the aftertaste, and I really enjoy that. It’s a true example of the greatness of Yountville. I’d keept this wine for several more years.
Drink it 2013-2027

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Branding Iron / 91-92 p
Branding Iron is a 1.60 hectare vineyard on a gentle slope inbeteween the famous Martha’s Vineyard and Harris Vineyard in the western part of Oakville. It’s truly a great location – the vines are exposed to sunshine all day long, therefore the wine often gets a ripe fruit flavor. Still, it’s often a very elegant wine fashioned in a classic way, but compared to the wine from State Ranch it’s (as expected) richer, slightly more fruit driven and almost sweetish. There’s also a bit more oak spicyness here, although the oak regime is the same (43 percent new French oak, for 17 months), but I find it common that oak flavors tend to taste more obvious in riper wines, as if the fruit sweetness enhances the oak tannins and flavors rather than cover it. This doesn’t make the wine lesser interesting, just different, and for me ripe fruit and spicy oak (well, it’s not that spricy) tells me I have to wait a few more years before the wines true complexity reveals itself (for instance, I found many Napa Valley cabernets from 1997 to be too sweet and too oaky in the beginning – now many of them are fabulous). The lush fruit gives the wine a richer and fuller body and a more silky texture, which I find very attractive rather than complex, and also makes me wanting to serve this wine to richer dishes. Still there is enough tannin and fine acidity for making the wine keep in the cellar for a long time. Drinking it today, which is also recommended, I’d give it an hour in a decanter to let the wine open up a bit.
Drink it 2011-2025