Tuesday, May 10, 2011

2009s from Rhys Vineyard

Rhys Vineyards is, together with Ridge Vineyards and Mount Eden Vineyards, the stars of the Santa Cruz Mountain appellation. The company was founded by Kevin Harvey, who in 1995 planted a tine vineyard with Pinot Noir on his property and a few years later started to make some wines in his garage. The first commercial vintage was 2003, and since then production has increased over the years. In 2006 Jeff Brinkman was hired as winemaker. In 2009 a brand new winery and wine cellar was built on the Skyline Vineyard property, at one of highest peaks of the mountain. All wines are small lot fermented (there are 80 one ton open top fermenters in stainless steel and nine in French oak) and kept in French oak barrels in the caves.
Altogether Rhys Vineyards owns 18.20 hectares of vineyards in Santa Cruz Mountains and below in the San Mateo appellation, but they also planted around 10.00 hectares with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on high slopes in the deep end of the Anderson Valley appellation in Mendocino. That vineyard will bear fruit in 2013, or 2014.
Production is small, around 4 000 cases per year, and almost everything is sold through the winery’s mailing list.

2009 Chardonnay Alpine Vineyard / 94 p
The Apline Vineyard, planted in 2001 to 2003 at 380 to 450 meters elevation in the Santa Cruz Mountains, is a cool site with a thin, stony and well drained sandstone and slate soil with traces of limestone. It’s no wonder why the wine have such a structure and fine mineral notes – it’s almost like a part of the juice was fermented in stainless steel tanks. It isn’t. After a slow whole cluster pressing and settling of the juice, it’s completely fermented in French oak casks from François Frères (the oak at Rhys Vineyard is always air dried for four years), 25 percent new, in which the wine have spent 14 months, and even though the wine is fully malolactic, the acidity is fresh.
It’s a remarkable chardonnay, medium full bodied but still extremely elegant, with just a texture rather than flavor from the oak. The aftertaste is long, very elegant and absolutely dry. In many ways it reminded me of the wines of David Ramey, Mark Aubert and Steve Kistler. I kept the opened bottle and tasted it the day after, just to see how it developed with air, and as I expected, it tasted just fine, almost even dryer and more burgundian!
Drink it 2011-2017

2009 Chardonnay Horseshoe Vineyard / 92-93 p
Winemaker Jeff Brinkman crafts this wine in the same way, but with around 30 percent new oak here. The difference lies in the terroir, and it’s notable. “The vineyards are close to each other, just a few kilometers a part, but looking into the aspects of the soils, they are ten million years apart”, Jeff says. As in all vineyards of Rhys, this is stony and well drained, but of volcanic origin. The clones, which as for the previous wine, are the Old Wente and a selection from Hyde Vineyard, which is also of the Old Wente type, and they were planted in 2004 to 2006.
This wine is fuller than the Alpine Vineyard selection, not too much but still notable, with the same intensity and texture and – although at the moment a bit covered by the fruit – the acidity and mineral notes are more of less the same. Again, there’s a steely note in the wine that may fool you a fraction of it was fermented in steel, but again that’s not the case. The oak, or at least what I suspect is the oak, is somehow a bit spicier in this wine. Also this wine kept very well in the open bottle until the day after. For both these wines I recommend decanting at least one hour before you serve them. I suggest a serving temperature of 12-14 degrees Celsius.
Drink it 2011-2017

2009 Pinot Noir Family Farm Vineyard / 92 p
The Family Farm vineyard lies below the other vineyards at lower altitude, approximately 120 meters, therefore within the quite rare appellation San Mateo AVA, rather than Santa Cruz Mountains (which is created for vineyards above 240 meters of altitude). The soil here is less rocky, clay loam and alluvial, and in combination with the slightly warmer climate here, the wine is richer, fuller, more fruit forward and less structured than the other wines in the linup. I was a bit sursprised when winemaker Jeff told me that this wine is whole cluster fermented, still there’s no signs of bitternet or greenness – the spicy and earthy notes from the stems only shows after some time in the glass. Instead it’s the ripe fruit flavor that hits you, dark cherries and even blackberries at first, with air some more light red fruit nuances, as well as a fine note of orange peel. It’s a rich and in that sense very Californian pinot with ripe tannins, still with a fine acidity and a lingerling, deliscious aftertaste.
Drink it 2011-2019

2009 Pinot Noir Skyline Vineyard / 94-95 p
Again a 100 percent whole cluster fermented pinot, but this one with a much more aromatic, intense and less spicy nose. At first, it seems to be more concentrated, with a dark fruit body reminiscent of blackberries and dark cherries. The oak, 50 percent new in this case and of the same type as for all wines here – four year air dried oak from the François Frères cooperage company in Saint-Romain in Burgundy – is extremely well integrated, almost invisible. The spicy and earthy notes from the stems, shows only after 30 minutes of aeration, but then only very little.
The mayor difference from the Family Farm bottling is the structure. The 1.20 hectare Skyline Vineyard is situated at an altitude of around 700 meters in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where temperatures are lower and the growing conditions much more extreme. The soil is thin and based of sandstone, limestone and mudstone (a type of lime and clay soil), which gives the wine a serious structure and minerality, that gives energy to the taste and lingers for a minute on the tongue. By the way, another great asset of the wine is the low alcohol – not even noted in the taste. It’s only 12.7 percent! “If I would have been a French winemaker in Burgundy, I guess I should have chaptalized the juice”, winemaker Jeff says.
Drink it 2011-2022

2009 Pinot Noir Alpine Vineyard / 93-95 p
Just one sniff on the wine and you’re stuck! It’s so different from the previous presented wines. It has a fantastic nose, bright and extremely intense, loads of both dark and light red cherries, sweet and sour, a floral touch and the typical aromatics derived from the stems, in this case 65 percent of the cluster wasn’t destemmed. Again, the oak (60 percent new) is extremely well integrated – bravo! On the palate, it is medium bodied, a bit more shy and closed that expected, but with good intensity and fine mid-palate and with marked tannins and a lively minerality that, at least today, gives a kind of closed impression. I’d give this wine another year or two in the bottle to let the structure soften a bit, and when that happens, the wine will be even more seductive and elegant.
Winemaker Jeff Brinkman was kind enough to open a bottle of the 2006 Pinot Noir Alpine Vineyard (95-96 p) to show me how the wine develops over time, and is was a stunning bottle of wine. On the nose, it reminded me of the cherry notes in the grand crus of Morey-Saint-Denis, and the body, earthy notes, structure and minerality of the grand crus of southern Gevrey-Chambertin – but with a much more Californian type of richness.
To me, the Pinot Noir Alpine Vineyard may be one of the finest bottling from Rhys Vineyards.
Drink it 2013-2022

2009 Syrah Horseshoe Vineyard / 94-95 p
Another outstanding wine! If I have been served this wine completely blind, I believe my first guess would have gone to a slightly warmer vintage in the northern Rhône valley. Color is dark, almost opaque, and the nose is very dense, dark berry scented with loads of blackberries, plums and dark cherries, but also with that typical peppery and meaty note from Syrah grown in marginal climates. And the Horseshow Ranch is one of those cooler vineyards in California which can produce very Rhône like syrahs. It’s surprising how elegant this wine is, and knowing is have a 100 percent stem inclusion, there are no notes of greenness, bitterness or earthiness from the stems – only after 20 minutes in the glass, small signs of that shows, which throws you back in the northern Rhône again. In this wine, only 10 percent of the barrels were new, Jeff doesn’t like oak in his syrahs, again something that gives this wine a more rhônish personality. It’s a remarkable wine, and I can only dream of tasting this a decade from now. Then I’d put a thousand dollars on it as great St-Joseph or Cornas.
It’s recommended to decant this wine at least one hour before serving it.
Drink it 2013-2027

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