Thursday, September 30, 2010

Day 2: Labor Day Weekend in Edna Valley

All in all, day two was a much better day than the previous one. Sharing tastes and dumping saved the day! I have to say the variance in quality in this region seems incredibly wide. I guess we hit more places since we weren't tempted to drink the wine at several wineries, but being prolific isn't exactly a goal of mine.

As far as the overall feeling, the Pinots and Chards are good to excellent, but depend on the style of the producer. A fair number are oaked into oblivion which is annoying. Bdx blends (sourced from Paso or warm areas of SB County) ranged from average to poor with most displaying one dimensional roasted, porty, jammy fruit. A few wineries were producing rather rustic wines in the sense they were fruity, unstructured and seemed to have a sweet-sour quality consistent with unevenly ripened fruit.

Bottom line, Kynsi and Stephen Ross (see below) are hitting it out of the park for New World Chard and Pinot. Claiborne & Churchill has a niche, and they're killing it in that niche, too. The larger producers like Laetitia and Talley (see the notes from Day 1) seemed a bit obsessed with making what I can only assume are wines meant to please critics judging by the various combinations of oak flavors, very ripe fruit and deeper extraction. Their pricing is a bit ambitious on the upper level as well, though some of their wines hit the right combo of style, price and quality. As for the small rustic places, sometimes I was hoping for a Brett bomb instead of a fruit or oxidation bomb.

: Probably the best producer on the trip top to bottom on the trip. The Bien Nacido Pinot Blanc was exotic and refreshing with excellent flavor intensity. The Chard was everything Chard can be--rich, full bodied, but fresh and balanced. At $18, superior to Chards double the price. Then the Pinots, lovely stuff! Some are more leathery ('07 Edna Valley), others are more mushroomy ('06 Stone Corral), while some are more spicy ('07 Bien Nacido). The '07 Stone Corral was the best of all worlds, and well-priced at $48. We left with the '07 Edna Valley at $32 as it was a slightly better value. Both Syrahs, a Bien Nacido and their Edna Ranch, were superb, with the Bien Nacido showing silky dark fruits and peppery spice and the Edna Ranch showing more herbs and red fruit. Bien Nacido only sources to producers that do their fruit justice; it's a tacit stamp of approval when any winery is allowed to buy Bien Nacido fruit repeatedly. These guys and gals are on the ball.

Claiborne & Churchill: Mostly Alsatian style blends. The Gewurztraminer was exotic and in your face as it should be. The Pinot Gris was more restrained, but just as refreshing and not watery as often seems to be its varietal stamp. The Riesling, which seemed just a hair off-dry, hits with a full dose of petrol and floral aromas. Their Edelzwicker, a blend of Riesling, Gewurz, Pinot Gris and Orange Muscat, gets the best of all worlds in an off-dry package. All nice values under $20 if not $15. The reds were less exciting, though the Pinot was a good value with typicity under $30. Their Rhone blend was simple, fruity and very ripe.

Cerro Caliente: I hate to be hard on these folks who seem like great all around people, but the wines were beyond rustic. The Viognier on the 1st pour was brown and smelled of butterscotch--oxidized beyond recognition. Each red--varietal wines no less--followed suit. All were porty smelling and oxidized. They made a point of stressing they make varietal wines to express the unique qualities of each grape. But you can't do that if the house style obliterates the grapes' intrinsic qualities. The proprietor is essentially a hobbyist who makes wine on the weekends when not working as a mechanic, so it's not some kind of snobby pretentious operation. But it was rather frustrating to visit after seeing an interesting list of varietals and finding every wine to be identical. I was expecting some rustic wines and a hit or miss scenario with each wine. This was a complete miss, unfortunately, though maybe someone likes this style. I dumped nearly every wine after a smell and a sip.

Tolosa: A large scale operation with soundly made varietal wines at typical prices points. Whites $15-$20, reds $25-$30 and some reserve level wines at $40-ish. The tasting room has a view of their fermentation tanks. Some are probably 3 or 4 stories tall! Seeing the scope of the production facility which stretches on and on reminds me of the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Anyway, the wines were sound and showed typical varietal character, but didn't excite me in particular. I did like the Petite Sirah, which had insanely powerful vice grip tannins and needed years to unwind despite the dark fruit on the nose. A big plus for a producer not whitewashing the character of the grape!

Stephen Ross: Competing with Kynsi for top producer of the trip. The Chard, sourced from Talley's Oliver's Vineyard, hit all the right notes. It's stainless steel fermented and sur lees aged, but without the ridiculous oak Talley applies to its Chardonnays. It has the tropical, apple and lemon character of the grape, yet also has body and depth from aging on the lees. I have a feeling this producer is friends with Kynsi; aside from the fact they share the Stone Corral Vineyard, they also have similar stylistic approaches. The Pinots are very pleasant, New World, of course, but displaying that earth-funk and Pinot perfume typical of the elegantly styled versions of the grape in this region. The 2006 Aubaine Pinot Noir, from a vineyard in Nipomo in the southern portion of SLO, was especially good compared to their Edna Valley bottling which seemed simple in comparison. The big winner, though, was their '06 Dusi Vineyard Zinfandel. It comes from 60+ year old vines in the Templeton Gap, a cooler section of Paso Robles. While quite ripe and full bodied, it was deliciously peppery instead of porty. The 15.2% ABV was well-integrated. I'd drink much more Zin if I came across Old Vine Zins like this that had a degree of elegance to complement the full bodied fruit. I tend to like Syrah from Pinot producers, and it appears Pinot skills also translate well to Zin.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Day 1: Labor Day Weekend in Edna Valley

I took a trip to San Luis Obispo and the associated wine country for Labor Day Weekend. While I didn't take comprehensive notes, I'll include a few highlights from each winery. Tastes were all in the $5 to $10 range with most closer to $5. A lot of wines were dumped along the way here, to be honest, except at Wolff, which had a 100% success rate. Not that the wines were great--they just were not abusive to the mouth as some earlier in the day. But dumping is a good policy anyway, and I suppose a little help from less compelling wines is a good thing!

Laetitia: Should have stuck with just the sparklers and Pinots here. The Roussanne was fat and oily with a seeming surfeit of oak. The Pinot Blanc had a fresh nose, but was light on flavor. The '06 Nadia Red, a Bdx blend, smelled like cherry liqueur and was simple and super-ripe. Tasted the Brut Blanc and Cuvée M sparklers and true to form, the blanc de blancs was higher in lemony acid while the Cuvee M was a bit rounder in apple and toast flavors. Both were fruit forward in CA fashion. Five Pinots, five impressions. The '08 Reserve was a bit oaky and extracted, but had good typicity and depth for a fair $35 price. The single vineyard Pinots each displayed a specific character; I enjoyed the 2007 La Colline most for its freshness and purity. La Coupelle and Les Galets were both more masculine and extracted, albeit it good in their style. At $60 per bottle, though, they're about $10-$20 above the competition per my experience. A clone 115 Pinot was also tasted, which seemed more fruit-forward.

Phantom Rivers: This was an underwhelming tasting. I did like their 2007 Larner Vineyard Mourvedre enough to buy it as it had gaminess and dark fruit, but the wines seemed otherwise lackluster. Their Pinot showed a sweet-sour quality with very ripe fruit but also some obvious green aromas and flavors. The Cab and Zin both had that liqueur-like quality and were simple, fruit-forward wines. Whites were typical--oaky Chard, feline Sauvignon Blanc.

Talley: Another disappointing tasting, albeit more due to style. The Chards were uniformly oaked into oblivion. It wasn't just butter from ML and body from sur lees aging, but overwhelming toast and splintery flavors. One of the higher end single vineyard Chards (Oliver's, perhaps) was better balanced, albeit by higher acid, better flavored fruit than a reduction in the oak regime. I did like their 'basic' Estate Pinot, though it seemed a bit attenuated aromatically to justify the $35 price. The higher end Pinot, '07 Rosemary's, was more extracted and oaky, albeit reasonably good for the style. At $70, though, easy pass. I ended up enjoying their $10 '06 Rock Sold Red the best. It smelled like roasted bell peppers, jalapenos, tobacco and more generally a vegetable recycling bin. Quite drinkable, and reminiscent of a cheap Chinon or Bourgueil in the excessive herbaceousness. By far the wine with the most character in Talley's lineup despite its severe imbalance.

Wolff: Small winery with a fairly large vineyard. Again, a fairly rustic style in general. Chard and Riesling both seemed a bit off-dry despite being listed as dry. The reds were fairly nimble and acidic. Not a ton of depth, but good qualities as tables wines. The $20-ish price point is just within the acceptable range for food wines like this. The Syrah and Pinot were both keepers (and quite light in color for their respective varietals), though the Pinot hinted at an unexpected bell pepper quality. The Petite Sirah is a cool climate one and quite distinctive. It needs years to unwind, though the cigar box quality on the nose is quite intriguing.

Day 2 to follow in my next post.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Trader Joe's Wine: A Love Story

A customer gets more than she bargained for when she goes wine shopping at Trader Joe's. Jeff, this one's for you.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

TN: Hyde de Villaine 2005 Carneros Belle Cousine

The Hyde de Villaine 2005 Carneros Belle Cousine is a wine I wouldn't ordinarily buy just based on price. However, an opportunity for a deal arose and I pounced. I've generally enjoyed Bordeaux blends from Carneros via Havens, and this blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon sounded right up my alley. For $30, it's on target for a special occasional, making it a nice choice for my birthday this year. The involvement of Aubert de Villaine, one of the heads of the legendary Burgundy producer Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, seemed auspicious, while the Hyde Vineyard sourcing also bode well for the wine.

I have to say, this is one crazy wine. There's all the structure and layering one would expect in a high end wine. In fact, this was pretty tight on the finish due to the fine but prominent tannins. But the real defining feature here was, surprisingly, seaweed. Could this be the reason this wine was being discounted? Or is it simply a casualty of the economy? Either way, I really was digging it. This is one of those wines that's like a meal all by itself: it's sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory all at once. It sounds disjointed, yet fits together nicely other than that youthful tightness. Glad I have a second bottle to visit in a good while. Another winner from Carneros!
  • 2005 Hyde De Villaine Belle Cousine Hyde Vineyard - USA, California, Napa Valley, Carneros
    This will be love or hate: briney, seaweed aromas and flavors upfront. I'm liking it, a real day at the beach in So. California (complete with tar). Eucalyptus, tar, oak spice, blackberry and raspberry aromas as well. Layered on the palate with plum, brine and then mocha on the finish. Nice juicy acidity. Quite tannic actually, though they are sneaky, kind of woven into the wine. At any rate, the tannins clamp down on the finish. Like the layering here. Does have a bit of heat. Weird flavor profile--enjoyed this immensely. Great Merlot, seems it will benefit from age due to tightness on finish, definitely old world/new world play here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Acoustics of Tasting Rooms

Here's an observation for wineries with large tasting rooms. When you get a room full of mildly intoxicated visitors, having four mostly bare walls and a stone floor leads to a very loud enclosure. This is all too common--Curtis Winery was the latest bad experience along these lines--in wine country. It's not something that is likely a top priority. But it matters.

The solution is pretty straight forward, though. Get rid of the hard, flat surfaces. Put in carpets. Add some kind of tapestries, fabric hangings or even canvas paintings on the walls. Even bookshelves or pictures might help as long as they have some angled surfaces. The big thing is getting some acoustic damping in the room, even if it's hidden fairly well.

I suppose if you're looking for a bar-like atmosphere, then loud noises are the way to go. I'm looking at you Fess Parker and Zaca Mesa. But for a more relaxed, upscale feeling, bring it down a few dozen decibels.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

TN: Charles Joguet 2008 Chinon Cuvée Terroir

It's been a while since I've had a Chinon largely because I didn't buy many 2007s for near term drinking due to general disappointment with the vintage. Meanwhile, I'm aging my older vintages. However, I've been drinking a lot of California wines lately, and it was time to change it up. The choice was on old favorite, Charles Joguet 2008 Chinon Cuvée Terroir, from a vintage I've yet to try.

For $20, this was everything I could want in an entry level Chinon, though less prominent producers might offer a slightly better value for this style. Joguet's website indicates this bottling has fruit from presumably sandy, alluvial soils and includes some press wine to provide tannic structure. There's nice fresh fruit, tobacco and plenty of acidity with fuzzy tannins. It's a light wine, very linear in flavor, and definitely is at its best with food. For me, that was a 'house special' pizza with everything but the kitchen sink on it. All in all, a solid, typical wine for Chinon that delivers for the price.

This isn't a profound or complex wine; it'll probably be at its best young. But it does what it does it does well. It's probably best to view a wine like this more like a white or rosé than a full bodied red for drinking purposes. Definitely not a cocktail, though the freshness and lack of heat make this very drinkable.
  • 2008 Charles Joguet Chinon Cuvée Terroir - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Chinon
    Cigarettes and cherry juice on the nose--nice typicity. Acidic on the palate with very linear flavors. Not round, light body. Punchy fruit with tobacco and minerality. Decent finish, no heat, fuzzy but not oppressive tannins. Very good wine, but not a ton of depth or layering and a bit tight on the nose. Still, spot on as an entry level Chinon and a pizza wine. Honest wine with a real sense of place and varietal expression.