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.

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