Wednesday, January 11, 2012

2002 pinot bonanza from Marcassin

Helen Turley is one of the most renowned winemakers. During her career, she's been making wines for numerous of high end wineries, such as Peter Michael Winery, Pahlmeyer, Bryant Family Vineyards, Colgin Cellars, Blankiet and Martinelli Vineyards.

   Her own Marcassin Vineyard was planted in 1991. At that time Helen Turley and her husband John Wetlaufer planted 3.45 hectares of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at the property with undeveloped land they had bought out close to Jenner out in the true Sonoma Coast in 1985.   
   The first wines under the Marcassin Vineyard label was made in 1990, but at that time they they only used grapes purchased from vineyards owned by the Martinelli family and by Jess Jackson, and since the Marcassin Vineyard selection was added, that vineyard has been planted with more vines several times, and now covers almost 16 hectares.
   Their own vineyard is located on at around 340-400 meters on a slope close to the clusters of vineyards owned by Flowers Vineyards, Pahlmeyer, Peter Michael Winery and not too far away from Hirsch Vineyard. It shares a combination of cool breezes from the Pacific and the warmer temperatures at the higher elevation.

   Helen Turley says that it's not important for a wine to be able to keep well in the cellars, and to her ageing does not always make a wine better of more complex. However, I have often noticed that I'm not too impressed by her wines when young, since I find them to be a bit closed, earthy and tannic, even with a little too much influence of the oak. Compared to others pinots of the same reputation (e.g. those from Williams Selyem, Hirsch Vineyard, Rochioli), they lack perfumes and floral notes. The Marcassin wines are quite different, they offer deeper and in one way more complex flavors, they seems to be more rustic and well structured in a Vosne-Romanée-like way.
   This tasting with almost ten year old wines, showed a quite different experience than I have had from tasting her younger wines over the years. Now, when the wines has come to age, the tannic structure is softer, the acidity is still fresh, and hand in hand with the more seductive secondary aromas that has developed, there's still a beautiful fruitiness in them. I must say I was totally impressed by some of these wines, and the verdict based on this tasting is that the pinots from good vintages should be kept at least 8-10 years. None of these wines were fully matured, and they all developed well in the glasses during the hour we had them there!

2002 Pinot Noir Three Sisters Vineyard / 91-92 p
Color is pale cherry red with some yellowish nuances of maturity. Of the four this is the most elegant, also the lightest although it still offers a good depth, but not as open as the others. At almost ten years of age, there's still a lot of primary red fruit aromas, and really no signs of maturation, and it's quite complex.
   On the palate it's almost medium bodied, very elegant and fresh with a fine and almost silky tannic structure, still it's a bit closed as the finish, which is totally dry and fresh, is not as long and open as in the others. The alcohol is a bit warm, unfortunately, and that's the main reason for not mistaking this wine from coming from Burgundy.
   I would serve this at around 15 degrees Celsius, normally in a Burgundy shapes glass, but if you feel the alcohol warmth, you may well pour it in a Bordeaux shaped glass, that would help a bit.  
Drink it 2012-2016

2002 Pinot Noir Bondi Home Ranch / 94 p
Color in this wine, as in all four, is identical to that of the Three Sisters Vineyard. It offers a deeper and a bit more intense strawberry fruit aromas, quite similar to what can be found in great wines from Gevrey-Chambertin, as well as some earthy and complex note. Compared to the Three Sister Vineyard bottling, it's just a bit more open.
   On the palate, it's medium bodied, quite rich and elegant with the same burgundian red fruit qualities, a lively acidity and some mineral notes, as well as a bit more firm tannic structure than in the previous wine. Again, there's bit earthiness and, which I really like, that sweet touch of raspberries and strawberries so often found in the best premier crus and even grand crus of Gevrey-Chambertin. Serve it at 15 degrees Celsius in a Burgundy glass. As for the others, I prefer to aerate it at least 30 minutes in a decanter prior to serving it.
Drink it 2012-2018

2002 Pinot Noir Blue Slide Ridge / 94 p
I really like the perfumes of this wine, it's more vibrant, intense, sweetish and at the same time with a lovely note of sour cherries, and it also offers some floral qualities that add complexity. Overall, the impression is that this site is cooler than the others, and the overall balance it just beautiful.
   On the palate it's more silky the previous two wines, most likely because it higher density, which also gives the impression there's more concentration and richer fruit here. I find the tannins be more or less at the same level as in the others, which gives a dry taste rather than a firm structure, as in the others, the acidity is lively and fresh. Again, the alcohol is a bit warm in the finish, but I don't really find it to be too negative. Overall, the balance is just fine and with food, which is the right way to serve these wines, the warm sensation of the alcohol will be totally incorporated. Serve it in the same way as the others.   
Drink it 2012-2018

2002 Pinot Noir Marcassin Vineyard / 95 p
If the other wines are the premier crus of Marcassin, this offers the concentration and depths worthy a classification of grand cru. It's not only more powerful and rich, it's also a bit more refined and elegant. It offers layers of sweet raspberries and strawberries as well as dark red roses and just a touch of earthiness and I have to say this is delicious.
   This is not the most concentrated of the quartet, but it is for sure the most structured wine. Tannins are still evident and keeps the intense fruit in a second position, although you for sure will notice the intensity of it. Dark cherries, ripe raspberries and strawberries are to be found here, but there's also a earthy and quite spicy quality that adds a certain complexity. The finish is quite long, but marked by the tannins and also a slight bitterness, which I guess will soften with another year or so in the bottle. One thing that strikes me with this wine, and the quartet in general, is that their flavors are more intense than their taste. To me, that's a positive thing. Far too many pinots are overly sweet and lush. Compared to what's found in Burgundy, if one even should make a comparison, is that most of the best wines in Burgundy are built on aromas and structure, and less on taste and sweetness. So I guess one could use the term "burgundy like here". But it took several years for this particular wine to reach that stage!
Drink it 2012-2020

Friday, January 6, 2012

Echoes from the past - Louis M Martini wines with age

Only five wineries survived the prohibition. Two of them was in Napa Valley, Beringer Vineyards (founded 1876) and Beaulieu Vineyards (founded 1900). After prohibition, just a few wineries came back in production, and by 1960 there was just around 250 wine producers in California. In Napa Valley, there were a dozen. The new golden age wouldn't come until early 1970s, in the footsteps of the opening of Robert Mondavi Winery in 1966, and some years after the Paris Tasting in 1976, wine had become a more significant part of the culture in California.  
   Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the wine scene looked much different than it does today. I Napa Valley, some good wines was made at Beringer Vineyards, Beaulieu Vineyards, Christian Brothers, at the legendary Inglenook, by the Mondavi family at Charles Krug Winery, and at Louis M Martini in St Helena.

Louis Martini established his wine company already in 1923, when he bought a small winery in Fresno in Central Valley and started to buy, pack and sell grapes to home winemakers all over the country. Ten years later, after repeal, he moved to Napa Valley, which at that time was a rural valley with orchards, walnut farms and cattle ranches. There were only a few wineries, but no market for fine wines.

In 1940 Louis Martini begun to bottle some of his wines under his own label, and over some years he also bought several vineyard and more land to plant vineyards in Napa County (he was one of the pioneers in Carneros), Sonoma County (notably the famous Monte Rosso Vineyard) and in Lake County. 
   The Louis M Martini Winery reached its peak during the 1950s and 1960s, at that time the only wineries that could compete with their quality was Inglenook and Beaulieu Vineyards. In the late 1950s, Louis Martini was the first winemaker in California to install stainless steel tanks to ferment his wines in - up to that date, only old redwood tanks or cement vats were used.

When Louis Martini retired in 1959, his son Louis Peter Martini took over and was in charge of the wine making until 1977, when his son Michael Martini took over. He's still in charge of the production, even though the Gallo family bought Louis M Martini Winery in 2002.
   I decided not to rate these old wines, how does one do that? What does the scores tell you? These are old and rare wines, echoes from the past. They are part of the Napa Valley wine history, of the California wine history. Bottles like these are not easy to find, they just show up if you are lucky. I was blessed by the opportunity to buy parts of an old cellar, and it was worth every dollar. Memories from the past are in my world not subjects for judging, for scoring, or for even consider if they are worth the prices asked for or not. For me, they are part of the lifelong education, and they tell you something about where we are today. If these wines have kept so well, I guess we don't have to worry too much over more recent vintages.

1966 California Mountain Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon / NR
As for the 1958 wine, this bottle was also in good shape with a firm (but short) cork and good level. Surprisingly, it was almost a bit closed the first ten minutes in the glass - I decanted it from its sediment right before serving it - but it opened up just fine over time in the glass. It wasn't as intense and concentrated as the 1958, but it shared the same earthy and sous bois complexity and that kind of sweet fruitiness and tobacco aromas that matured wines shows. I followed this wine over almost an hour in the glass, and it didn't fade away, which I find to be remarkable. On the palate, it's lighter that the 1958, totally mature with silky tannins, a quite soft acidity and a fine sweetness, and the aftertaste is good but not as long and complex as the one in the older vintage. I wasn't around in the wine world at that time, so my knowledge and experience of the vintages is limited, if not non existing. However, I guess that 1966 wasn't as great vintage as the 1958. Still this is a delicious wine that all my wine loving and wine collecting friends were totally overwhelmed by. I would definitely buy another bottle if I come across one.
Drink it over the next few years

1958 California Mountain Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon / NR
The bottle was in good shape, the level was high shoulder and color looked reddish through the bottle. Of course there was some sediment in the wine, but it looked just fine. It was surprisingly easy to pull the cork, it came out in one piece without any problems. I needed to decant the wine to remove the sediment, but since it was a 53 year old wine, I only decanted it just before serving it. Far too many old wines has died on their way from the bottle to the last served glass, and I didn't want that to happen with this rare wine.
The wine has a bright, clear and mature appearance with tawny brick color with just a slight brownish nuance. The nose was surprisingly clean and vibrant despite the fact that is shows a distinct maturation with notes of prunes, sweet tobacco, chocolate, sous bois and truffles. It may have been a desire or imagination, but I actually felt a totally clean and sweet red fruit aroma as well, which to me indicated the wine was still alive and kicking.
The most interesting detail about this tasting, was that it was poured blind next to another wine, which was younger and more lively, a very good wine but actually not that much more exciting. That wine was the 1976 Château Petrus from Pomerol. Good God!
Well, back to the 1958, on the palate is was just lovely with a seductive texture, just like velvet. The tannins were fully matured and silky, yet they added a certain structure to the superb, slightly sweet fruit. By all means this wine is fully mature, and will not gain anything from further ageing, but I have to say I was more than surprised to see how well the wine kept in the glass, and the decanter, for more than one hour! Even what was left with the sediment in the bottle survived in a surprising way to the day after. I guess this bottle was a great one!
Drink it over the next few years