Saturday, July 31, 2010

TN: Guido Porro 2005 Barolo Vigna Lazzairasco

I've been tinkering with Nebbiolos recently as they're kind of the Pinot Noir of wines that rip your face off with tannins and acidity. Aromatic, nuanced, and tough as nails. Real wines of character, with Barolo being the most famous expression. Generally they're not meant to be consumed young, but I decided it would be good to get a 'calibration' by drinking the Guido Porro 2005 Barolo Vigna Lazzairasco with some Gruyere, Gouda and a big old chunk of olive bolillo.

It's no surprise that this wine was acidic and tannic. But, as noted by Jeff over at Viva la Wino, there's a surfeit of ripe, plummy fruit to round it out. From an aromatic standpoint, some of the California Nebbiolos I've tried are similar. This is definitely a riper version of Nebbiolo. But the aristocratic structure is what separates it from the California versions I've tried. At $32 this was at the higher end of my target price range, but fairly inexpensive for Barolo. All in all a very reasonable price for a wine of this quality and pedigree. Incidentally, this wine was imported by Kermit Lynch, who is more famous for his French imports.
  • 2005 Guido Porro Barolo Vigna Lazzairasco - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
    Bouquet of tar, plums, prunes and anise. Some heat, but very aromatic overall. Actually similar nose to some CA Nebbiolos I've had. Lush and approachable flavors with dark plummy fruit, spice and earth. Finishes tannic. Medium acidity, medium-full body. Surprisingly approachable, but with nice structure (superior to its CA peers). Veering a bit to riper, dried fruit though this undoubtedly aids in its youthful pleasure. Check in on 2nd bottle in a few years.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

One to Watch: Virage Vineyards

I stumbled across an interesting new producer by the name of Virage Vineyards that is apparently following in the footsteps of the defunct Havens Cellars. Normally Napa projects follow some basic formula: wealthy investor wants to make trophy wine, overspends on land and McChateau, hires many top consultants, ignores these costs, makes a small production cult-style Cabernet Sauvignon. This one's a bit different, though. An investment banker named Emily--as relayed via the Virage blog--tasted the 2004 Havens Bourriquot and was hooked. Fast forward a few years and she's put together a project with a sensible business plan geared to produce a Cab Franc-based blend from the same vineyards in Carneros Havens used before going bankrupt. I'm liking the idea already, and there's even a well-known Napa winemakers with experience in St. Emilion, Aaron Pott, helming the winemaking portion of the project.

Clearly this isn't going to be a cheap wine. Sourcing excellent fruit, hiring a winemaker and renting space at a winery is definitely not cheap. But there also seems to be a focus on balancing costs to produce a wine whose quality is commensurate to its price. That's a worthy cause, especially when the stylistic goal is complexity over pure power.

There's a nice post on the Virage blog summarizing a wide array of Napa Cab Franc-based wines. A lot of these wines, quite frankly, are out of a sensible price range as dinner beverages, though they probably are aiming for a different purpose anyway. But this tasting offers a nice window into the range of styles available from Napa. I think it confirms what I've suspected all along. From a stylistic point of view, the cooler Carneros based wines are more likely to bring the freshness and complexity I crave from Franc. The more expensive wines tend to be more heavily oaked, though perhaps this could integrate with time. Northern Napa Cab Francs with heavy oak and big bodies are probably not something I'll seek out as the descriptions seem as if they could apply to any ripe Bordeaux blend.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

San Benito County--the Languedoc of CA--Plus Lots on Kennth Volk

I came across some interesting wines from San Benito County yesterday at Kenneth Volk's tasting room in Santa Maria. His Negrette from Caleri Vineyard in San Benito County is fairly well known in the wine nerd world--apparently the variety is only grown in San Benito County in CA (maybe a few other places?) and near Toulouse in France. I've had this before, but yesterday came across some even more fascinating esoterica.

There's an 85 year old vine Mourvedre from Enz Vineyard in Lime Kiln Valley (pictured left), a sub-AVA in San Benito. I didn't take careful notes--I was too excited by all of these interesting wines--but it definitely had the concentration, spice and funk of a good Mourvedre. Mourvedre isn't that rare, but vines this old are! Volk also has Cabernet Pfeffer from Siletto Ranch in San Benito County, which to me had a very peppery if not tobacco-y aromas. Supposedly this is actually the varietal Gros Verdot, though an alternate explanation claims it's a cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and another grape variety by a guy named Pfeffer. I have no idea on the age of the vines though. Made me think of a Chinon perhaps or Blaufrankisch.

Another interesting one is his Touriga Nacional from a vineyard in the Templeton Gap in Paso Robles, Pomar Junction. Definitely young vines. This is by far the most floral and spice laden red wine I've encountered next to Lacrima di Morro d'Alba. Touriga I suppose isn't that rare, but finding it is a varietal wine isn't something you see every day.

As a side note on Kenneth Volk, the guy is clearly driven to explore these rare grapes. I don't think every wine he makes works. His is Viognier was bordering on raisined flavors, for example, though that will have appeal to others and it's probably too hard to get all these disparate vineyards exactly as he'd like. But the majority really express unique character. Too often CA vintners simply take an unfamiliar varietal and turn it into another ripe, oaky wine with a different name. It's also pretty compelling that many of these "heirloom" varietals are not produced in any quantity anywhere in the world. Often times wineries use an important grape less known to CA consumers and make an overpriced, inferior young vine version compared to the old vine, old world equivalent. Volk is finding vines and grapes so unique that there aren't any equivalents anywhere. I don't even think Bandol has 85 year old Mourvedre vines as it was largely replanted in the mid-20th century after Phylloxera wiped out most of it.

OK, so this is turning out to be more about Volk than San Benito County. But it seems he's a big advocate for this region. I'd like to dig deeper on this area as it appears to be a very old region that's recently been rehabilitated, much like Languedoc. Surely there are some areas best for bulk wine, but given some of the old vines, the limestone soils in some areas, and the adjacent mountain range, there must be terroirs with stunning raw materials. And not just that, but unique and essentially indigenous grapes. The location at the top of a valley even sounds promising as it should be warmer than Monterrey, but still get cooling influence from the Pacific.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

TN: Couly-Dutheil 2009 Chinon René Couly Rosé

On my monthly trip to Costco much to my surprise I found the Couly-Dutheil 2009 Chinon René Couly Rosé in their wine section. A Cabernet Franc rosé from Chinon at Costco? Go figure, though I shouldn't be too surprised as they also carry a Chenin Blanc from this same producer. What was really surprising was how fruity and almost candied the wine was. I was expecting something a bit more austere, I suppose. It was certainly dry, though, and showed more varietal character with air. A fun wine and a nice deal for $13.
  • 2009 Couly-Dutheil Chinon Domaine René Couly - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Chinon
    Lots of strawberry bubble gum at first. With air showed some of the minty and savory edge I'd expect from Cab Franc. Very fruit forward and full bodied rose. Good acidity, yet still seemed a bit unstructured. Has a little herby quality to the finish. Seems simplistic and fruity now, but I'd bet in 6-12 months this will show more of its typicity. Right now this is a summer quaffer.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

WN: Havens 2006 Napa Valley Bourriquot & Charles Joguet 2005 Chinon Les Varennes du Grand Clos Franc de Pied

I was debating whether to post the Havens 2006 Napa Valley Bourriquot and the Charles Joguet 2005 Chinon Les Varennes du Grand Clos Franc de Pied as separate entries. But since I tasted them together and they represent such a tour de force of Cab Franc regional and varietal character, it's pretty clear they need to be posted together. Both are excellent wines with superb typicity, albeit rather different. Most interestingly, they cover the full Cab Franc tobacco spectrum.

The now defunct Havens winery has been a popular topic on my blog, and in fact I've tried two prior vintages of the Bourriquot, a blend of 2/3 Cab Franc and 1/3 Merlot. The 2005 was simply one of the best California wines I've tasted, though the 2004 wasn't too shabby, either. The 2006 Bourriquot, while not as complex and refined as the 2005, presented a very compelling profile in its own right. It was brimming with fresh tobacco aromas and flavors. Not exactly what most folks want in California wine, but I love it. One might be tempted to say this is Old World, but really it isn't. There's still a richness and forwardness to the fruit that's very Californian. While California often gets derided for its lack of terroir, this is one wine that has a certain sense of place and a stylistic sense of purpose. I also appreciated the sort of integrated, sneaky structure in this bottling. It doesn't hit you in the face with tannins, yet there's a definite backbone seamlessly built into the wine.

The Joguet offered an interesting contrast. While 2006 was a relatively cool year in California, the 2005 vintage in the Loire Valley was one of the warmest and ripest in its history. And yet the Chinon had much cooler edge to it. What really struck me was the juxtaposition of cigarettes and roses. Just a crazy pairing of aromas. A lot of the tasting notes in CellarTracker mention more fruit, which leads me to believe this bottle had shed a good bit of its primary fruit in the bouquet. And yet despite the green edge on the nose, this wine was far less earthy in flavor than the Bourriquot. This wine was entirely an exercise is concentrated sour fruits and stony minerality. Go figure! The finish was long and there's a ton of depth of flavor--I'll be checking in on my other bottle in a few years if not more to see how it develops.

One important side note concerns the cuvee and terroir of the Joguet. Franc de Pied means the vines are own-rooted, which is rarely the case because the vine louse Phylloxera simply destroys European rootstock. Usually the vines are grafted to Phylloxera resistant American rootstock. Unfortunately, the inevitable is occurring with Joguet's Franc de Pied vines: they are dying due to Phylloxera. As to the effect of the own-rooted vines, who's to say? I do have the regular bottling of this cuvee from 2005, so perhaps I'll have to compare the own-rooted to the grafted vine wine in a few years. On the Varennes du Grand Clos Franc de Pied, the Joguet website says:
This one-hectare plot of non-grafted vines was planted in 1982, in conjunction with INRA. Half of the plot was replanted in 1992 and 1995.
Produced from the same terroir as Les Varennes du Grand Clos, Les Varennes Franc de Pied is vinified separately in vintages that seem to best distinguish their typicity.
This experiment should produce all the typicity of "pre-grafted" Cabernet Franc, but there is a risk, however, of phylloxera resurfacing.
We limit the yield of this plot to 30 hl/ha (or 1,210 litres per acre).
For the regular Varennes du Grand Clos, they write:
At the foot of the gravelly terrace formed, in part, by the erosion of the limestone slope, this very particular silico-clay and silico-calcareous terroir lies on the left bank of the Vienne, in Sazilly.
These 4.5 ha (10.8 acres) of vines planted between 1962 and 1976 have an average yield of 40 hl/ha (or 1,620 litres per acre).
I guess I'll just have to try the wines side by side to see what difference the rootstock actually makes. One interesting point is that the own-rooted vines are young, relatively speaking. Conventional wisdom says old vines produce the most profound wines. But maybe the rootstock offsets the age difference in some manner. Ah, the questions that can never be fully answered.
  • 2006 Havens Wine Cellars Bourriquot - USA, California, Napa Valley
    Tobacco (of the fresh cut variety), tar, violets, currant and cherry on the nose. Tart cherry followed by a tobacco heavy, earthy finish. Full bodied, definitely showing CA fruit. But ripeness is held in check so earth and acid are still there. Tannins are soft, integrated. There is a little heat there, though. Nice job of making a non-CA style with CA fruit. Oak is nicely integrated. Not quite as deep as the '05, though.
  • 2005 Charles Joguet Chinon Franc de Pied Les Varennes du Grand Clos - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Chinon
    Tobacco--like smashed up cigarettes--and roses on the nose. At this stage this one is for hard core Cab Franc fans. Very little funk/Brett here if at all. Very fresh on the palate. Under-ripe plum and currants. High acid, concentrated, tannic. Mineral and crisp fruit laden finish that carries on for quite a while. More mineral than earthy in flavor. Hold for a at least 3-5 years to see where this is going.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Cab Franc Kick

It's been a while since I've had any Cab Franc. Well, I've been on a bit of a Cab Franc kick lately a will be posting a few on the blog in the next week or two.