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.


Dan K said...

Thanks for the tips! My wife and I are heading to SLO / Edna Valley for the first time next month, for a 4-day weekend. Since your taste in wine seems to be very aligned with mine - anti-oak and pro-Burgundian - this'll help me out alot.
- Dan (Mountain View)

Cabfrancophile said...

I wouldn't quite say I have Burgundian taste. Not that I'm looking too hard, but I've yet to find a sub $30 value from Burgundy that tops what I can find locally. Then again, I taste way more local wines, so it's not surprising I find more to my taste!

I definitely prefer wines that show a sense of place and varietal character over stylization, though. That can be in a new world mode or an old world mode. I guess it's a sense of transparency--as hackneyed as the term is--that matters to me.