Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sauvignon Blanc à la Lail Vineyards

Although Lail Vineyards made their first wine in 1996, it rests on a story that’s amazing. It’s founder Robin Lail is the daughter of the late John Daniel Jr, who in turn was the son of John Daniel, the legendary winemaker of Inglenook, a vineyard that his uncle Gustave Niebaum planted in the 1880s.

At that time, Inglenook was the most famous vineyard in the still young valley, and although Inglenook today is a simple wine brand, the reputation of the old vineyard and the wines of that time, is impeccable. But that’s all old history.

In 1983 Robin Lail founded Merryvale together with Bill Harlan, and founded Dominus Estate with Christian Moueix in 1991. Things didn’t work out the way Robin wanted, as she told me she’s not a woman who takes five bites on the apple and is happy with that, she’s a woman who wants the whole apple. So she sold her shares in both ventures to found her own company, Lail Vineyards. She still had a 0.85 hectare portion of the famous Napanook Vineyard in Yountville that she together with her winemaker Philippe Melka budded over to Sauvignon Blanc, but also had planted 1.20 hectares of Cabernet Sauvinon (predominately) on a beautiful northwest facing slope way up on Howell Mountain. That’s the source of the grapes to the great J Daniel Cuvée, a very elegant cabernet wine with good ageing potential.
But there’s more to Lail Vineyards than that fine wine, and the almost as good Blueprint Cabernet Sauvignon, sold at half the price. These wines are very good, but the true jewel of the crown is the high end Georgia Sauvignon Blanc – one of the most profound sauvignons of the world outside Bordeaux.

2009 Blueprint Sauvignon Blanc89 p
This is made of 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc sourced from the estate Napanook Vineyard in Yountville as well as a cool vineyard down in Coombsville and, a bit surprisingly, the much warmer Crocker Vineyard that sits right in the middle of the valley in St Helena. “I just love the fruit from this vineyard”, Robin says. The grapes are slowly whole cluster pressed, but then the vinification takes a slightly different turn than in most cases – the juice is totally fermented in neutral French oak barrels with its own yeast, and then transferred into stainless steel tanks to mature for some months on its lees. The reason for this type of reversed oak and steel vinification is to gain texture and just a minimal touch of the oak, but the freshness and elegant fragrance that is kept, perhaps even enhanced by the time in steel. The result is very attractive, lively and fresh with a absolutely pure gooseberry, citrus and Granny Smith fruit. Compared to most California sauvignons without oak flavor, this has a very long and almost creamy texture, with weight and great mouthfeel, and that’s very attractive.
Serve it at around 12 degrees rather than very chilled to enjoy the richness.
Drink it 2011-2013

2008 Georgia Sauvignon Blanc / 93 p
This is a completely different wine, totally. “One shouldn’t compare them, that’s not fair”, Robin says, and I understand her perfectly well. For this wine, grapes are only sourced in the Napanook Vineyard, again the grapes are slowly whole cluster pressed before the juice is transferred into brand new French oak barrels to ferment with is natural yeast. Just a fraction of the wine underwent malolactic fermentation, so the acidity is marked and lively, which is a great asset in the rich wine. The wine spent 18 months in the barrels, and during that time Philippe made bâtonnage to add texture.
This is truly an exceptional wine, richer and deeper than the regular bottling, and it offers intense flavors of citrus, grapefruit peels, white flowers and a dash of elderberries, also some vanilla from the oak. On the palate, its rich and creamy without being full bodied, and the high but very well balanced acidity gives the wine an almost astringent structure, and the flavors and overall impression is that it’s very Bordeaux like (but a bit richer and with a slightly higher alcohol). The finish is just amazing, and it kept on lingering for minutes. I’d recommend decanting this wine, as I do with the whites from Bordeaux.
My experience in keeping white wines from California for a long time is limited, and so far it has told me not to keep them too long.
Drink it 2011-2016

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