Thursday, August 25, 2011

Captured by Kapcsándy’s 2008s

Since the inaugural vintage, I’ve been impressed by the wines of Lou Kapcsándy and his estate just outside of Yountville. Lou, who founded a construction company in Seattle, came in contact with the American wine business when he built the winery for Chateau Ste Michelle and Columbia Crest in Washington.

The Kapcsándy family moved to California in 1962, and wine slowly became a more important part of the daily life for Lou and his wife Roberta. At that time, there wasn’t too many wineries up and running, but Lou visited the very few that were operation in Napa Valley and Sonoma at the time. Later on, in 1998, he started to import fine wines from France, mostly from Bordeaux, and from his homeland Hungary.

For many years, he had been a huge fan of the Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Beringer, and he noted that the Cabernet grapes from the State Lane Vineyard in Yountville very often constituted a significant part of the blend. When he sectrely heard that this vineyard was for sale in 2000, he put a bid on it and bought it. At the time, the vineyard was heavily hit by phylloxera, and Beringer, who since 1975 had a 30 year long lease on farming the vineyard, had cancelled the contract already in 1999, with a new contract to buy grapes the remaining five years.
The truth is that Beringer had wanted to buy the vineyard and replant it, if they had been given such an offer. Instead Lou Kapcsándy bought the vineyard before Beringen knew if was out for sale.
When Lou Kapcsándy took over, he planted the vineyard according to Bordelaise methods, with higher density and lower trained vines, he also changed the row orientation to obtain a more optimal effect of the sun and the airflow. He also made deep analysis on the soil, so he could plant the right grape variety and clone in the perfect matching soil.
The result has since the first vintage 2003 been remarkable, and the wines from Kapcsándy are already now among the finest produced in Napa Valley. Behind that quality and style, one finds a small state of the art and ultra clean winery, a sorting of grapes that is unparalleled, and an ambition that is sky high. Only French oak barrels of the finest quality are used.
Alcohol levels were a bit higher in the 2008 vintage compared to previous vintages, and I hope this was an exception from the rule. Neither Lou Kapcsándy nor his winemaker Denis Malbec is very keen on high alcohol levels, they opt for a maximum strength of 14.5 percent, but most often the alcohol is normally in the range of 13.5 to 14.0 percent.

I must say that these wines are among the finest ever made at this estate. Still I can’t get the outstanding 2007s from my memory. I just tasted the 2007 State Lane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (below called "Grand Vin" in the 2008 vintage), which an absolutely stunning effort and a wine of great complexity, although still very youthful and marked by its classical structure. To be honest, you don’t have to look for any given vintage to find pleasure here, you just have to work hard find any bottle at all. And when you do, you’d better buy it.
The total production is around 4 000 cases of wine per year, and every single bottle comes from their own 6.50 hectare State Lane Vineyard.

2008 Endre / 90 p
According to Lou Kapcsándy, this is not a second wine, but another wine. “We put as much efforts in this wine as in the other wines, it’s just a wine with a lighter and more fruity body and leaner palate, made to be enjoyed earlier”, winemaker Denis malbec told me on my last visit at the estate. It’s a blend of about 55 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 percent Merlot, 15 percent Cabernet Franc and a splash of Petit Verdot, all grapes from the estate vineyard. The wine was matured in French oak barrels, 80 percent new, for about 20 months.
As the intention was explained to me, this wine is clean and fruit forward with a sweet dark berry scent, quite elegant and easy to drink thanks to its lean texture with just a fine tannic structure. Style wise it’s related to the more serious wines (sorry for this comment, Denis) of Kapcsándy, but it doesn’t have the weight or the mid palate, or the intensity of flavor or the length. However, it’s good and very drinkable wine.
Drink it 2012-2018

2008 Estate Cuvée / 95 p
The estate cuvée is made to display the personality of the site, and the blend will vary quite a bit from year to year. In this vintage, the wine is made of 68 percent Cabernet Sauvignon (a relatively high proportion), 22 percent Merlot and five percent each of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. It was bottled after 20 months in 70 percent new French oak barrels.
Color is young, dark purple and almost opaque. Although it’s just a baby, the nose is open and offers a great bouquet of ultra pure, sweet and intense dark berry fruit with loads of cassis and blackberries, still it’s overall a very elegant wine with a youthful oak sweetness. What I really liked when I tasted it, and had it in the glass for around 20 minutes, was how slow but well it developed in the glass. Don’t forget it’s a very young wine, it’s should be (and it is) packed with primary aromas, yet I almost wrote complexity in my first tasting notes. On the palate, it is rich with that same purity I always find in the wines from Kapcsándy, they really can afford to use only the very best grapes, therefore the texture is lush and silky and just held together with a very fine tannic structure. The oak is well integrated, although at this stage just a bit toasty. Consider the youth of this wine, the finish is very long, and delicious.
Drinking it in the coming few years, I’d give it at least one hour in the decanter, and I’d pour it in large Bordeaux glasses. But I recommend a few more years of bottle age, and then the true complexity will be there.
Drink it 2013-2028

2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Vin / 98-100 p
This is another absolutely stunning effort of this wine, just like the 2007 vintage of it. In this vintage the blend was 87 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, five percent each of Merlot and Cabernet Franc and just three percent of Petit Verdot. It was kept in French oak barrels, 85 percent new, for around 20 months.
As the Estate Cuvée, the color is dark, almost opaque, but the rest is quite different although you’ll see the house style. First of all, the nose is just stunning, totally amazing in its intensity and concentration, which however doesn’t make the wine overblown in any sense. On the contrary it’s so elegant thanks to its purity and freshness, and in contrast to the Estate Cuvée, there are already those complex Bordeaux like notes of cedar, lead pencil and grassiness (which is not unripness, but a quality sign on a perfect harvest decision). Still the fruit is dark, a bit sweetish and just lovely. On the palate it’s very rich with a great intensity, good mid palate and lingering aftertaste, it is well held together by the firm but perfectly ripe tannic structure, and thanks to the acidity the taste is fresh. Neither oak nor alcohol stands out, which is another sign of a very great wine, but there is s slight oak bitterness in the very finish of the taste, which is totally natural is a young wine like this.
As for the Estate Cuvée, some more years of bottle age is recommended, and the serving recommendations are the same. This wine though, would most likely live much longer.
Since it was only made in 400 cases, and Robert Parker gave it a perfect 100 point score, it will be very hard to find. However, it’s well worth trying!
Drink it 2014-2038

2008 Roberta’s Blend / 98 p
I have said many times that the Roberta’s Blend is one of the very best Merlot wines in the world. This vintage is another proof of that statement. In this vintage, there’s just four percent of Cabernet Franc in the blend, and the wine was raised in brand new French oak barrels for 18 months. “This vintage may well be the best we’ve achieved so far”, Lou Kapcsándy said when we tasted the wine together, and I’m willing to agree. As in the others wines, color is impressive, as is the nose. It boasts of dark ripe fruit, loads of blueberries, blackberries and cassis, and there’s also a very fine note of hazelnuts and dark chocolate from the oak, that marries just perfect with the fruit. On the palate, it’s richer than the Grand Vin, still the structure is there to make it totally dry and perfectly well balanced, and it’s just a wonderful wine with a great intensity and energy, and it will be a lolely wine to keep at least ten years to see how the complexity evolves over the years.
Serving recommendation is the same as for the other wines.
Drink it 2012-2033

2008 Vino del Sol / 95 p
This is a fun little sweet wine, made in a different way than in the 2007 vintage, when it was made entirely from dehydrated Merlot grapes from Roberta’s Block. In this vintage, it’s a blend of 47 percent Merlot, 34 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 15 percent Cabernet Franc and four percent of Petit Verdot. The grapes were crished and fermented in steel tanks to around five to seven percent of alcohol before a neutral local brandy was added to stop the fermentation and leave around 90 grams of residual sugar in the wine and out the alcohol strength at 17.6 percent.
This port styled wine is lovely, loaded with sweet and delicious flavors of sun ripe blueberries, black currants and blackberries, and although it’s high in alcohol, it’s much smoother than most ports. Acidity is fine rather than lively, but it gives some needed freshness to the taste. I find it to be a delicious that I’d love to serve at around 16-18 degrees Celsius in medium size glasses to matured blue cheeses, or (which I prefer myself) to rich chocolate desserts.
Drink it 2011-2020

Sunday, August 14, 2011

2005 Rosella's from Kosta-Browne

Only the most reputed winemakers gets to purchase grapes from the famous vineyards of Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni in Santa Lucia Highlands, and Michael Browne of the premium Pinot Noir winery Kosta-Browne is one of very few who can boast to buy from both Pisoni Vineyard, Gary's Vineyard and Rosella's Vineyard.
The Rosella's Vineyard is located on the middle slope in the central parts of the Santa Lucia Highland bench, a location where the cool airflow from the Monterey Bay in the north still is important, but where there also are influences from the warmer inland part of the Salinas Valley. Therefore the wines from site normally combines high aromatics and a fresh acidity with some weight and good mouthfeel. The vineyard covers 20.25 hectares and is plantet to Pinot Noir of the clones Dijon 667, Dijon 777, Dijon 828, as well as the suitcase clone known as Pisoni Clone.
The 2005 is the first vintage from this vineyard for Kosta-Browne.

2005 Pinot Noir Rosella's Vineyard89 p
The clones Dijon 828 and Pisoni Clones are used for this wine, and the grapes are harvested at high 25.8 Brix, or higher (whoch in my opinion is too high to capture finesse). For some wines, or some part of some wines, Michael Browne works with whole cluster, but from this vineyard he prefer to destem all grapes. As always, there is a myriad of variations when it comes to vinification, each clone and vineyard, and part of the vineyard, are treated differently, and in the end it's all about blending all fractions for each wine in the very best way. For this wine, vinification goes something like this: five days of cold soak i small open top fermenters of stainless steel, followed by an alcoholic fermentatio that last for aound ten days, with pigeage two times per day. The wine is then transferred into French oak barrels, around 50 percent new, for malolactic fermentation and 15 monts of ageing.
In some years, alocohol reach around 14.5 to 14.8 percent, but in this vintage the label show 15.3 percent. Which is high, too high.
Even though ripeness was high, the wine offers a charming and intense nose, loades with red berries and a dash of rosehips. (I have tasted so many wines from Rosella's, from other producers, and the rose petals and rosehips seems to be part of the vineyards personality.) At first there was a slight oaky note, but it was toned down as the wine opened up with air. Lovely! I wouldn't really call it "burgundian like", it's to intense and rich for that, but there are several details in the wine reminiscent of great premier crus from Gevrey-Chambertin, although in a very ripe year. Also, details remiscent of Grenache...
On the palate, it's medium bodied, fresh and pure with a ripe but not really sweetish red fruit flavor. Tannins are silky, which makes the wine so enjoyable, and acidity is fresh but in no sense sharp. It's a very fine wine indeed, but I would have scored it slighly higher if it didn't have that slightly sunburnt grape skin flavor (it's almost not there) and if the finish would have been a little longer. Other than that, there's nothing to complain about if you are looking for a rich, intense and seductive Californian pinot.
I would actually pour it directly from the bottle, for everyone to enjoy the evolution with air (with more aeration, it becomes more Grenache-like), and I recommend a serving temperature at around 16 degress, but not higher than that.
Drink it 2011-2013

Saturday, August 13, 2011

2008 Patrina Syrah from Alban Vineyards

Since my first encounters with his wines in the early 1990s, John Alban has made remarkable progress in his viticulture and winemaking. There is no doubt that he is one of the most talented winemakers in Central Coast, and he is crafting some exceptional wines of Syrah from his own vineyards in the cool Edna Valley.
In the early years his bottlings of Syrah from the Reva and Lorraine vineyards was fantastic, and over the years they have gained more power, depths and structure. Following his intuition and the path of prominent wine producers such as Guigal in the Rhône Valley and Sine Qua Non in Ventura Couny south of Santa Barbara, he started to mature these vineyards selection and the ultra premium Seymour's, in oak for 38-42 months from the 2004 vintage. This was a smart move, I'm not the only one who felt the wines could take it, and that the extra ageing gave them a fine texture and mouthfeel.
The problem was that it took longer to get the wines on the market, and that prices went up. So, John wanted to make another Syrah, estate grown of course, but made to be a little bit lighter, with only 20-24 months of barrel ageing, and as important - less expensive. With the 2008 vintage, he made his inaugural vintage of that wine, the Patrina Syrah. And it's very good

2008 Patrina Syrah / 93 p
At first, it was a bit rough with loads of dark scented, ripe and sweet fruit flavors with smoky, slightly bitter and to be honest, not too elegant oak characteristics. Also, on the palate, the stated 14.7 percent of alcohol was definitely there, especially with its warmth in the long aftertaste, and the tannins as well as the oak bitterness, was a bit oversized. So I let the wine sit in the decanter for another four hours, of course with a revisit every hour to see how it evolved. Almost nothing happened. So I poured the wine back in the bottle, and let it stand next to my desk for two days! Then, suddenly, the wine was just stunning. I know the wines from John Alban need time, even though they are showy at once – but in this case I was overwhelmed by the transformation from roughness to pure power and finesse at the same time. This was my first experience with this wine, six month ago.
Now, it's much more calm, although it still needs one to two hours in the decanter. The color is dark, almost opaque, and the nose is concentraded with ripe, dark scented fruit, somehgow sweetish but not cooked. Now, two days later, the oak is just sweet – there’s no bitterness at all, tannins have soften, and the wine is much more silky, still sweetish and intense, and there’s a lovely blackberry fruit flavor with fine notes of wild raspberries. Only snall notes of the smoky oak is still here, but now it’s much more integrated, therefore more enjoyable. Based on the long aeration, there are reasons to believe this wine can age well for many more years. This is not a shye wine – serve it to steaks, braised meet, or other tasty dishes.
Drink it 2012-2023

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A trio of pinots from Anthill Farms

I have had the opportunity to taste and drink the wines from Anthill Farms quite often the last year, at my home, with my friends, at top restaurants in Napa Valley and Sonoma, and I also visited the winery in Dry Creek Valley to find out more about this small operation.
Anthill Farms is the result of three friends with a passion for Pinot Noir. Anthony Filiberti was born in Sonoma and worked with wines at Bergström Winery in Oregon and later on in Sonoma. Webster Marquez grew up in Virginia and didn't have any connection with wine, except from loving it and drinking it. The third guy, David Low, was born in Kansas but went to university in Berkeley and found his passion for wine there.

The common denominator was the legendary pinot producer Williams Selyem, where they all worked as cellar rats over a couple of years. Inspired by the outstanding quality of the wines, the dream of making their own wines was inevitable. In 2004 their dream came true.
They bought some grapes, and rented space at Papapietro Perry Winery in Dry Creek Valley, where David Low worked (and still does) as assistant winemaker with Ben Papapietro. Since this is a small winery, Papapietro Perry produces around 8 000 cases annually, they have now moved into a neighboring warehouse to make their wines, around 2 000 cases of 12 bottles per year.

The first vintage of Anthill Farms (the name doesn't mean anything, it's just a funny name revealing the trio is working with small vineyard lots) was 2004, and it didn't take too long before word to mouth gave them a red hot reputation.

The ambition is simple, to produce outstanding and elegant wines without too much influence of oak. It sound pretty much what I hear in Burgundy, where I travel a total of four weeks every year. They never use more than 40 percent of new oak (less for the elegant Mendocino wines), which is very smart, but not too common in California. If the vintage allows, they work with some whole cluster (up to 20-25 percent), and compared to the wines of Papapietro Perry (even though it is a completely different company, I think the comparison is relevant), the Anthill Farms trio works with longer cold soak prior to the fermentation.
As of the 2010 vintage, Anthill Farms produces six wines of Pinot Noir and two of Syrah. "We're not aiming for more than that", David Low says. Focus is important, and besides that they all love their other jobs.
These are some of the finest Pinot Noir wines made in California today, still they are not too expensive. They sell for around 40-50 dollars a bottle in the few shops that have them.

2007 Pinot Noir Comptche Ridge Vineyard / 92 p
Grapes for this wines is purchased from a tiny vineyard, 0.80 hectares, north of Navarro Vineyards but outside the appellation of Anderson Valley, hence the generic Mendocino County designation. It's owned by the Weir family and planted to the old Pinot Noir clone from Swan Vineyards in Russian River Valley. It's just a few miles from the coast, so it's a very cool site.
To be a Pinot Noir, color is quite dark, but that's not so unusual for Pinot Noir grown in such cold regions, where the grapes gets small and the skin grows thick. It's a lovely wine with a great personality and a quite intense perfume of dark cherries, ripe wild raspberries and sloe, and there's almost a Gevrey-Chambertin like punch to it as well. The oak, just 20 percent new, is beautifully well integrated, and alcohol at 13.7 percent. Therefore it's no surprise the one may put it in Burgundy if tasting it blind. It's medium bodied but intense and very silky, with a slightly sweetish texture and a lively acidity. I tasted it the first time a year ago, and again some months later, and found it to be a bit closed in the finish then, but now it's lovely. I prefer to decant it just prior to pouring it, so the aromas evolve a bit.
This time, I left a glass in the bottle to taste the day after, and although I still loved it for its intensity and lingering aftertaste, I missed some of the more aromatic perfumes from when it was newly opened.
Drink it 2011-2017

2007 Pinot Noir Abbey Harris Vineyard / 91-92 p
The 0.60 hectare Abbey Harris Vineyard is a lease, it's located at 330 meters altitude above Boonville in the warmer southern part of Anderson Valley. That's the reason why this wine have slightly higher alcohol, 14.1 percent. Compared to the Comptche Ridge Vineyard selection, this wine see around 30 percent new French oak barrels, but again the oak is not at all important in the flavor profile. Again, one could call this wine "Burundian like", at least when talking about the aromas. However, it doesn't have the Burundian mineral nuances. I forgot to ask David Low from Anthill Farms when I tasted the wine with him, if they use some whole clusters in the fermentation, at least there's some herbaceous notes reminiscent of stems. At this level, I like it (as I love the wines from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, where they uses a hundred percent whole clusters), and it certainly adds some complexity to the wine. Acidity is lively and it gives freshness to the slightly more riper fruit, and the aftertaste is long and delicious. Decanting recommendations are the same as for the wine above (and all wines from Anthill Farms), and I'd prefer to serve it at 16-17 degrees Celsius. I'd probably use a burgundy glass with a wide bowl, but intense pinot wines like these may also be served in Bordeaux shaped glasses.
Drink it 2011-2017

2008 Pinot Noir Tina Marie Vineyard / 90 p
Please understand this tasting note is 2008, a vintage that in some parts of Sonoma (the coast line especially) to some extent was affected by the forest fires in Mendocino in August. Growers all over Sonoma Coast and the western part of Russian River (this vineyard is located in the cool Green Valley) told me that the smoke from the fires went out to the ocean, and was then pushed back in over land further south in Sonoma. I have tasted some wines from Sonoma, even down in Carneros (!) that had that smoky taint, that reminds me of the smoky flavor in some South African wines. Based on this theory, and I find just a "shadow" of burnt grape skins in this wine, I'm very positive about the 2008 vintage of the Tina Marie Vineyard. Yet, I have given the 2007 vintage a higher score (92-93 p) in previous tastings.
Okay, back to the wine.
Color is relatively dark for Pinot Noir, again it's a very cool site in Green Valley (which is cooler than most parts of Sonoma Coast), and the perfume is so seductive with its intense floral (rose petals) and reddish fruitiness (raspberries, sweet cherries, rosehip). Like the other pinots, it's silky and fresh with a moderate alcohol and lively acidity, the oak is perfectly integrated, and the aftertaste lingering. Compared to the wines from Mendocino, this one have a deeper and more concentrated fruit, therefore it's not as classic as those. However, it's seductive enough to make you wish for another glass, and another.
Drink it 2011-2016