Friday, January 15, 2010

WN: Havens 2006 Hudson T Block Carneros Syrah

I've posted on a couple of wines from Havens Cellars in the past, with the general feeling that I liked the style more than the results. With the new owners of Havens, Billington Imports, declaring bankruptcy, however, there have been a lot of opportunities recently to purchase Havens wines at less than 50% their original price. The Havens 2006 Hudson T Block Carneros Syrah is one I picked up to see if I'd like to purchase more.

Although Alice Feiring has discussed Michael Havens' use of micro-oxygenation in the context of manipulated California wines, suggesting they are homogenized fruit/oak bombs, these are not typical California wines. They're grown primarily in the cool climate of Carneros and show a medium bodied complexity that is decidedly atypical for Napa. Havens' top wines were modeled after the Merlot and Franc heavy wines of the Right Bank of Bordeaux as well as the Syrahs of the Northern Rhone. Moreover, they have a fantastic reputation for aging.

Havens sold the winery to Billington Imports in 2006, though he remained as winemaker. By mid-2008, however, the corporate suits had booted him from his namesake winery, most likely because he was focused on quality while Billington was looking to leverage the brand's reputation to help the bottom line. Re-blending what should have been de-classified wine may have been one friction point. Creating a lesser tier of wines sold as "H by Havens," which has been on the market recently, may have been another. Regardless, by 2009 Billington had imploded, taking a respected winery down with it. This looks like the sad case of an independent vintner with an appreciation of both history and technology losing out to idiocy and mismanagement. [Ed: See discussion below, several changes have been made to the text.]

But the question remains, are the wines any good? The 2005s and 2006s should have been made by Michael Havens in full before he was fired. The upper tier wines in particular should have been safe from Billington's meddling since they are vineyard designated and outside wines legally cannot be blended. That leaves the '05 and '06 Hudson Syrah, Bourriquot and Reserve Merlot, all from Carneros vineyards, as candidates for purchase. I tasted the '06 Hudson Syrah systematically:

Pop and Pour

Definite meatiness on the nose. Bacon fat? Pork? Ham? Call it what you want, it's that Syrah smoked meat funkiness. There's also pepper and herbs. Maybe a little high toned floral quality as well. Definitely showing well right out of the bottle, better than I expected.

The wine is very viscous, good mouth feel. Not sweet or jammy in any way, though. Definitely not a Aussie Shiraz style of wine. There is some bitterness due to tannins, but they're very soft tannins. Acidity seems to be well balanced. No heat on the finish. It's a dark purple, but not black like a Purple People Eater Syrah would be.

1 Hour of Decanting

Opening up to show more fruit. Blueberries and blackberries, mainly. There is definitely oak in use, but it is well integrated so it's complementary. The nose is constantly shifting, one moment it's smokey, the next smells of cloves. The finish is longer now, and delicious. Good before, even better now.

With Food (About 2 Hours of Decanting)

Had it with burgers. What can I say, but it works. Not a magical synergy, but the wine has enough heft to hold up to the meat yet doesn't overpower everything else. Red meat is it's friend more than say chicken, I'd think.

The wine is showing much more fruit now. Think a blackberry liqueur. But then it shifts back to gamy and floral aromas. The initial bitterness is gone, and the tannins are a bit sweeter now. It's a robust wine; not thin, not thick. And it definitely shows ripe cool climate Syrah flavors with more game, spice and pepper than jam. It's inspired my new mantra for Syrah: Ham, Not Jam!


The first two Havens wines I tasted had potential. This one delivered in the way I'd imagined they might if everything came together. Moreover, based on the structure and balance, I'd bet on this wine developing well with age. While the tannins have a definite finesse--perhaps this is a byproduct of micro-ox--there's also a phenolic 'bite' that suggests there's plenty of stuffing there. I can definitely see this wine as a $40 wine, but at less than $20 it's a no brainer. I'll be buying up more Havens on the cheap while I can. It strikes an interesting balance between the New and Old World styles that's right up my alley.

Pros: Complex, Medium Bodied, Balanced, Aromatic, Long Finish, Structured
Cons: None
Decant: Yes, very young and opens up
Price: $18 from Wine House
QPR: Excellent (out of Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good or Excellent with Fair denoting expectations were met for the price point)


Jeff said...

Sounds like an awesome wine. I picked a bottle up at K&L, but it was 25$ instead of 18$. I also got a couple bottles of that Napa Merlot because it was only 7$.

It's interesting how intriguing the good California wine-makers can be, isn't it? It's just that you really have to seek them out...

CabFrancoPhile said...

Yeah, I saw the '04 Hudson Syrah was a bit more expensive at K&L. Should be interesting since it has a little age. Notes on the '05 Hudson Syrah have been mixed--either it's too young, or has more oak and tannin than the fruit can support. '04 and '06 are getting positive rep, though.

I'm very interested to see what you think about these. There are definitely good winemakers in CA, but signal to noise ratio is an issue. So many new producers charging a lot for simple, big, fruity wines. Takes effort to dig up the gems.

Jeff said...

Oh, I didn't even realize that I picked up a different vintage. You're right. I got the 04. It will be interesting to see whether or not I like these, but I'm a whore for a good Syrah--California or not. (And for the record, I've liked Zaca Mesa and Pax quite a bit in the past.)It will be interesting to see how this measures up to the Owen Roe I had the other day...I don't know if I'll drink it this weekend, but I will soon.

Matt Mauldin said...

That sounds like a really good wine. I appreciate your take on Alice Feiring. I like the ideas of bio-dynamic viticulture, natural methods of production, lower alcohol etc as much as the next person. But none of these things are always black and white, and her dogma is a turn off IMO...

Jeff said...

What dude, you don't like Alice? Just kidding...her dogma is a bit much for me as well. If it's good wine, it's good wine. Right? Who cares what happens to it (well, to a certain degree). I think that's how I feel most of the time.

Matt Mauldin said...

If the wine is good, the producer has solid philosophical reasoning for however they make the wine, and their not wrecking the environment in doing do- that's good enough for me.

Life's too short to wring your hands over this stuff the way some folks do IMO.

Alice said...

I'm not sure how you extrapolated that I criticized Michael for using MOX.

He willing participated in that interview in 2001.

Michael was a peach, very helpful.

Back in 2001, MOX was totally new to me. I didn't have an opinion on its use. I was just researching an article and trying to figure it out for myself. 

After that piece ran, he sent me some samples and true, I wasn't a fan. Must have been the 1999 vintage. And no I can’t remember my notes as I took them way too long ago and perhaps before you were drinking. 

Let me state clearly, I have never written about his wines pro or con. So let me ask you, where is the basis for your Feiring slurs?

 Where is your basis for saying I've written negatively about him? Most importantly, how can you possibly surmise that I would be’ smiling’ about someone else's misfortunes? What possibly could be your motivation for writing (and in public) such a mean-spirited and wrong-minded concept?

Look, bash me for raising awareness on the use of wine technology, bash me for being an advocate of natural wines, bash me for something I wrote---if you have the need to bash without discussion---but please, just bash me for the right reasons instead of taking irresponsible swipes because you have this prejudice against and dislike for me.
January 16, 2010 7:51 AM

CabFrancoPhile said...

Alice, perhaps you didn't outright bash the process, but it more or less read to me as one process and one winemaker being lumped in amongst other more nefarious processes and winemakers. And no, I haven't tasted any of the older vintages. So they may well differ. I haven't like every Havens wine I've tasted, but they aren't the typical squeaky clean Cali fruit bombs.

I've engaged in a bit of hyperbole here. Haven't you ever done the same? (I'd say yes.) I'll happily edit the offending text so I'm not putting words in your mouth, however. My intent was not to attack you personally, just to write something mildly provocative for my tiny subset of readers.

CabFrancoPhile said...

Alice, please see the edited text. I still interpret your article as I did. But I hope I've been more fair to you in this version.

I do respect and appreciate your recommendations, especially with respect to the Loire. I'm not anti-natural, nor am I pro-Parkerization. Hell, if it's imported by Kermit Lynch, that's a recommendation to me in and of itself.

It's just the partisan nature of the discussion gets tiresome. That's what I intended to highlight.

K. Glass said...

Just saw this, late in the history. But if you read Alice Feiring's old NYT article on "wine technology," nothing more specific, it is a case study in special pleading, a set of Luddite conclusions looking for any detail to back them up. You will find there neither good science journalism nor good wine journalism. Might have something to do with her abrupt exit from that job??

Do the tendencies of that article correspond with her latter-day wine prejudices? It appears so.