Wednesday, May 4, 2011

TN: Château de la Maltroye 2006 Santenay 1er Cru La Comme

Burgundy is a region I'd like to explore. But it is simply too expensive to spend much time exploring. Except when I can find fair deals on wines like Château de la Maltroye 2006 Santenay 1er Cru La Comme. Primer Cru vineyards are upper echelon vineyards. But Santenay is less well regarded than other Burgundy regions. So perhaps this wine slipped through the cracks for this reason.

No matter, this is Pinot through and through. The elegance and perfume are typical, though the specific expression of the varietal is so varied. This actually does seemed a bit New World in the fruit-forward approach, but the weight and acidity are much more typical Old World traits.
  • 2006 Château de la Maltroye Santenay 1er Cru La Comme - France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Santenay 1er Cru

    Classic Pinot. Mid-weight, with floral, truffle and spice aromas. Opens up to red fruit flavors, mainly strawberry. Fruit-forward, but with excellent complexity and not bombastic at all. No heat, clean finish. Good value. Mild tannic structure, medium+ acidity.

    From southern portion of Cote de Beaune, southern exposure, limestone and marl soils.

Monday, May 2, 2011

TN: Clendenen Family Vineyards 2001 Bien Nacido Vineyards Nebbiolo

Now this is wine: Clendenen Family Vineyards 2001 Bien Nacido Vineyards Nebbiolo. I've yet to have a properly aged Barolo or Barbaresco, but surely this wine indicates I should be laying down high quality Nebbiolo. While Santa Barbara County isn't renowned for Nebbiolo, a notoriously finicky grape, this is excellent wine with years of potential development ahead of it. The structure is awesome, and there's enough flesh and complexity to make this wine far more than a rigid backbone. It's a wine I have when relaxing at home during the evening where I can sip it and let it evolve. If only my cellar had more wines like this!

The wine is produced by Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat from Bien Nacido fruit. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir typically come to mind with Clendenen and Bien Nacido. But I guess Clendenen wanted to take on a grape even more challenging than Pinot. While I'm no Nebbiolo expert, I think this was a real success and is better than the Piedmont Nebbiolos I've tasted around this price point.
  • 2001 Clendenen Family Vineyards Nebbiolo Bricco Buon Natale Bien Nacido - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley

    Right up my alley. Firm, but not heavy. Ripe, mature cherry and raspberry. Leather, violet, tar, cedar and spice. Complex, well-balanced. Med-high acid with chalky tannin. Long finish, I could sip this all night. If medium aged CA Nebbiolo can be this good, I should be stocking up on Langhe Nebbs.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

TN: Ironstone 2007 Sierra Foothills Cabernet Franc Reserve

The Ironstone 2007 Sierra Foothills Cabernet Franc Reserve was about what I expected it would be: a typical $15 reserve style wine. So your basic simple $10 wine, but pumped up in ripeness and oak treatment. Actually for the price it's a good wine. I think this would challenge many more expensive wines aiming for this style. But in my mind that really points to how overpriced many wines are when they can be easily imitated. If something is fungible, then it is simply a commodity. And this a solid reserve-style commodity wine.
  • 2007 Ironstone Vineyards Cabernet Franc Reserve - USA, California, Sierra Foothills, Calaveras County

    Decent wine for drinkin', not thinkin'. Ripe jammy berry nose and flavor with a lot of oak influence (toast, tannin). Does retain some of the Cab Franc herb/cedar. But pretty standard international style wine--could be from Chile, coastal CA, who knows.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

TN: Chateau Aney 2007 Haut Medoc

The Chateau Aney 2007 Haut Medoc is another Kermit Lynch import. If you are familiar with Lynch, you probably know he doesn't import much Bordeaux. The problem being that Bordeaux is a sort of vinous pyramid scheme. Typically an importer cannot purchase direct from the cellar because negociants insure the wine passes through middle men along the way, sometimes several sets. Every penny is squeezed out of buyers along the way.

Cheateau Aney (see Lynch's tech sheet here) is an exception, a Bordeaux producers not tied into the cartel of cynical schemers known as negociants. They make wine, good, elegant, drinkable wine, and sell it at a fair but not cheap price. It certainly drank very well now, though perhaps I am not giving it enough credit for potential. While it is elegant and enjoyable, perhaps the overall balance will bode well for development.
  • 2007 Château Aney - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc

    Gets better and better with air. Leather, tobacco, black currant and pomegranate. Creamy mouthfeel with medium acidity and mild tannin. Well-structured for near term consumption. Some chocolate and earth on the finish. Savory. Yum.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

TN: Chateau La Roque 2004 Pic St. Loup Cupa Numismae

The Chateau La Roque 2004 Pic St. Loup Cupa Numismae is good. And it cost under $15. What more can you ask for? Based on the lot number printed on the label ending in 11, I'm guessing this wine had been sitting in the producer's cellar since around 2005. Cheap, aged and good. Again, what more can you ask for?!?

Well, it does have nice varietal Syrah and Mourvedre character, plus a silky texture. Every Chateau La Roque wine I've had has been good to excellent. They are a bit modern in style, I'd say, but never lose their grounding in a top terroir in Languedoc. There is a sense of place in an accessible, clean style. Imported by Kermit Lynch.
  • 2004 Château La Roque Coteaux du Languedoc Pic St. Loup Cupa Numismae - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Coteaux du Languedoc Pic St. Loup

    Picked up a couple, L1.3.11. Wonder if these came direct from cellar, labeled this year??? At any rate, a nicely evolving S. Rhone blend of Syrah and Mourvedre. Very gamey, bacony nose. Mid-weight on the palate with silky tannins. Lively acidity. Not heavily extracted--perfect mix of fruit, herb and earth. Seems to have some good quality, well-integrated oak. Super QPR for the price!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

TN: Cabot 2006 Humbolt County Syrah Aria's Vineyard

A quick one here--Cabot 2006 Humbolt County Syrah Aria's Vineyard. While this was a delicious, excellent wine that compares well to any region, what really stands out is its AVA. It's from Humboldt County, a region better known for a different cash crop. The lesson: be open minded. There are excellent Syrahs from all over California, even in regions with little reputation for wine growing. Throw this wine in blind with Carneros, Santa Barbara and other temperate to cool regions and it will more than hold its own.

I believe this had a bit of Viognier blended. If so, no doubt this added to the aromatics while rounding out the wine. Others might like their Syrah pure, but I like the feminine edge Syrah gets with a bit of Viognier.
  • 2006 Cabot Vineyards Syrah Aria's - USA, California, North Coast, Humboldt County

    Excellent--silky texture with fine tannin and juicy acidity. Very typical Syrah aromas with dark fruit, smoke and bacony goodness. A bit of floral aroma. Round mid-palate, not too fruity, not too earthy, none of the bitterness and excessive smoke of some Syrahs. Finishes clean and long.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

TN: Domaine de la Butte 2005 Bourgueil Mi-Pente

The Domaine de la Butte 2005 Bourgueil Mi-Pente is absolutely awesome wine. While it's undeniably Old World Cab Franc, the structure in some ways reminds me of a high end Nebbiolo. The structure is immense.

Of course, I have to harp on the terroir. This is from the mid-slope (i.e. mi-pente) of a limestone based soil. That's the best exposure of the best soil type in the Loire. And 2005 was an excellent vintage. I suspect this wine can only get better as the structure integrates.
  • 2005 Domaine de la Butte Bourgueil Mi-pente - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Bourgueil

    Whoa, this is great Loire Franc. Only drink this now if you can handle some firm, ripe tannins. Nose of walnuts, menthol, celery, violets and macerated black cherries. High acid, big tannic structure--this is built to age. Very fresh red and black fruit up front, then turns more chalky with a peppery undercurrent. Definite minerality and a pleasant bitterness on the finish.

    Opened up with decanting over several hours--needs about an hour to hit its stride though there's a lot of interesting funk as it opens up to enjoy.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

TN: Foxen 2006 Tinaquiac Vineyard Cabernet Franc

I've been too busy to post recently, but will try to catch up in the next few weeks with a few interesting wines. One of them is the Foxen 2006 Tinaquiac Vineyard Cabernet Franc. The fruit is sourced from a dry-farmed vineyard in Santa Barbara County, or more specifically the Santa Maria Valley AVA. This falls stylistically in with a lot of CA Pinot Noir, which shouldn't be too surprising given the producer's track record with Pinot. Still, the profile is all Cab Franc, and on the earthy side. Didn't seem like a long ager, but it had character.
  • 2006 Foxen Cabernet Franc Tinaquaic - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley

    Very Cab Franc in character--not a given in CA Franc. Black cherries and tobacco nose, same flavors. Has a fair amount of oak, but the earthy finish meshes well with it. Plenty of fruit, plenty of earth. Structure about on par with a mid-level Pinot Noir, mild yet not formless. Finishes long.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Organic isn't what you think it is (maybe)

Organic is NOT pesticide free. In fact, some of the permitted pesticides from a pure chemistry perspective are inorganic. Benzene, ironically, is an organic solvent though it is a carcinogen. The upside is that the list of permitted pesticides is relatively short (see the end of this post), so you know what could have been used. But one would need to consult an expert to tell use the pros and cons of various treatments. Regardless, it bothers me that the lie "organic is pesticide free" is often repeated. Chances are if your food looks delicious, some kind of deterrent to bugs was used. The question is then associated risks, residues and quantity.

I actually like a lot of the same wines the “terroirists” do (and many they don’t), but if I hadn’t come across these wines via other channels, I’d be so turned off by the people supporting them I wouldn’t be interested. Much the way I’m turned off by the attitude of many $100+ Napa Cabs. Wine isn’t an ideology or an art installation; it’s an effin’ drink with good flavor, aroma and yes alcohol.

SO2 and organic are my biggest pet peeve with the “terroirists” because they simply don’t understand what they mean or do. SO2 is vital for microbial stability and scouring byproducts of oxidation. If you can’t assume perfect provenance and aren’t drinking the wine immediately, it is a net good. I suspect “terroirists” often confuse sulfites with sulfides or thiols, i.e. mercaptans. Scientific illiteracy is a dangerous thing in the hands of a ideologically bent idiot.

As for organic, I’m sure most “terroirists” are unaware that Copper Sulfate (gasp, an inorganic chemical) and elemental Sulfur are permitted as anti-fungal agents in USDA organic as well as European organic and biodynamic viticulture. Yet if you put SO2 in the finished wine, it is a crime. If an ideology lacks internal consistency, it fails. Talk about a failure: organic does not mean pesticide or fungicide free. It only limits the options to a specific list of traditional treatments.

Below is an excerpt from USDA regulations. I've bolded the section on plant disease control.
205.601 Synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production

In accordance with restrictions specified in this section, the following synthetic substances may be used in organic crop production: Provided, That, use of such substances do not contribute to contamination of crops, soil, or water. Substances allowed by this section, except disinfectants and sanitizers in paragraph (a) and those substances in paragraphs (c), (j), (k), and (l) of this section, may only be used when the provisions set forth in 205.206(a) through (d) prove insufficient to prevent or control the target pest.

(a) As algicide, disinfectants, and sanitizer, including irrigation system cleaning systems.
(1) Alcohols.
(i) Ethanol.
(ii) Isopropanol.
(2) Chlorine materials— Except, That, residual chlorine levels in the water shall not exceed the maximum residual disinfectant limit under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
(i) Calcium hypochlorite.
(ii) Chlorine dioxide.
(iii) Sodium hypochlorite.
(3) Copper sulfate—for use as an algicide in aquatic rice systems, is limited to one application per field during any 24-month period. Application rates are limited to those which do not increase baseline soil test values for copper over a timeframe agreed upon by the producer and accredited certifying agent.
(4) Hydrogen peroxide.
(5) Ozone gas—for use as an irrigation system cleaner only.
(6) Peracetic acid—for use in disinfecting equipment, seed, and asexually propagated planting material.
(7) Soap-based algicide/demossers.

(b) As herbicides, weed barriers, as applicable.
(1) Herbicides, soap-based—for use in farmstead maintenance (roadways, ditches, right of ways, building perimeters) and ornamental crops.
(2) Mulches.
(i) Newspaper or other recycled paper, without glossy or colored inks.
(ii) Plastic mulch and covers (petroleum-based other than polyvinyl chloride (PVC)).

(c) As compost feedstocks—Newspapers or other recycled paper, without glossy or colored inks.

(d) As animal repellents—Soaps, ammonium—for use as a large animal repellant only, no contact with soil or edible portion of crop.
(e) As insecticides (including acaricides or mite control).
(1) Ammonium carbonate—for use as bait in insect traps only, no direct contact with crop or soil.
(2) Boric acid—structural pest control, no direct contact with organic food or crops.
(3) Copper sulfate—for use as tadpole shrimp control in aquatic rice production, is limited to one application per field during any 24-month period. Application rates are limited to levels which do not increase baseline soil test values for copper over a timeframe agreed upon by the producer and accredited certifying agent.
(4) Elemental sulfur.
(5) Lime sulfur—including calcium polysulfide.
(6) Oils, horticultural—narrow range oils as dormant, suffocating, and summer oils.
(7) Soaps, insecticidal.
(8) Sticky traps/barriers.
(9) Sucrose octanoate esters (CAS #s—42922–74–7; 58064–47–4)—in accordance with approved labeling.

(f) As insect management. Pheromones.
(g) As rodenticides.
(1) Sulfur dioxide—underground rodent control only (smoke bombs).
(2) Vitamin D3.

(h) As slug or snail bait. Ferric phosphate (CAS # 10045–86–0).

(i) As plant disease control.
(1) Coppers, fixed—copper hydroxide, copper oxide, copper oxychloride, includes products exempted from EPA tolerance, Provided, That, copper-based materials must be used in a manner that minimizes accumulation in the soil and shall not be used as herbicides.
(2) Copper sulfate—Substance must be used in a manner that minimizes accumulation of copper in the soil. 3
(3) Hydrated lime.
(4) Hydrogen peroxide.
(5) Lime sulfur.
(6) Oils, horticultural, narrow range oils as dormant, suffocating, and summer oils.
(7) Peracetic acid—for use to control fire blight bacteria.
(8) Potassium bicarbonate.
(9) Elemental sulfur.
(10) Streptomycin, for fire blight control in apples and pears only.
(11) Tetracycline (oxytetracycline calcium complex), for fire blight control only.

(j) As plant or soil amendments.
(1) Aquatic plant extracts (other than hydrolyzed)—Extraction process is limited to the use of potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide; solvent amount used is limited to that amount necessary for extraction.
(2) Elemental sulfur.
(3) Humic acids—naturally occurring deposits, water and alkali extracts only.
(4) Lignin sulfonate—chelating agent, dust suppressant, floatation agent.
(5) Magnesium sulfate—allowed with a documented soil deficiency.
(6) Micronutrients—not to be used as a defoliant, herbicide, or desiccant. Those made from nitrates or chlorides are not allowed. Soil deficiency must be documented by testing.
(i) Soluble boron products.
(ii) Sulfates, carbonates, oxides, or silicates of zinc, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and cobalt.
(7) Liquid fish products—can be pH adjusted with sulfuric, citric or phosphoric acid. The amount of acid used shall not exceed the minimum needed to lower the pH to 3.5.
(8) Vitamins, B1, C, and E.

(k) As plant growth regulators. Ethylene gas—for regulation of pineapple flowering.
(l) As floating agents in postharvest handling.
(1) Lignin sulfonate.
(2) Sodium silicate—for tree fruit and fiber processing.

(m) As synthetic inert ingredients as classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for use with nonsynthetic substances or synthetic substances listed in this section and used as an active pesticide ingredient in accordance with any limitations on the use of such substances.
(1) EPA List 4—Inerts of Minimal Concern.
(2) EPA List 3—Inerts of Unknown Toxicity allowed:
(i) Glycerine Oleate (Glycerol monooleate) (CAS #s 37220–82–9)—for use only until December 31, 2006.
(ii) Inerts used in passive pheromone dispensers.
(n) Seed preparations. Hydrogen chloride (CAS # 7647–01–0)—for delinting cotton seed for planting.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

TN: Château La Gaffelière 1996 St. Emilion 1er Grand Cru Classe

I'm trying to figure what I'm missing in the Château La Gaffelière 1996 St. Emilion 1er Grand Cru Classe. There's nothing here that I can't find in a middle of the road Loire red from a warmer vintage, though this is mostly Merlot with Cab Franc and Cab Sauv as blenders. Yet this is more expensive, and significantly older than most of what I drink. The balance is fine--it's just not that interesting to drink and is aromatically challenged.

I guess I expected a bit more from a wine just a rung below Ausone and Cheval Blanc in classification. Despite the fact that it has aged well--it's not dried out, tired or oxidized--it's simply underwhelming.
  • 1996 Château La Gaffelière - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru

    Kind of perplexing--this is what aged 1er Grand Cru Classe is supposed to be? True, this is not tired, oxidized or otherwise past it. It's just very middle of the road. Tight nose of band-aid and cherry. Medicinal cherry flavors with a metallic aftertaste. Tannins are well resolved, acidity is medium. Not bad, but not exciting either.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Clos Pepe, Cold Heaven and Longoria


Since we were due to pick up our first Longoria shipment of the year, we decided to make a full day out of the trip to Los Olivos. At first we were thinking about heading to the beginning of Foxen, but at Larry Shaffer's (of Tercero and Fess Parker) suggestion we scheduled a tour at Clos Pepe, then worked back towards Los Olivos.

Clos Pepe Vineyard

Bar none, this was the most interesting, thorough and hospitable vineyard tour and tasting I've had the chance to enjoy. Wes Hagen, winemaker and grower at Clos Pepe, leads the tour and is a fountain of information. Tours are only given once a day, at 10:30 AM, and for good reason: it's thorough. We started off with a quick introduction to the sheep, dogs and even chickens on the estate. The sheep are used to mow down the cover crop between rows, which is important for nitrogen fixation. To protect the sheep, a mastiff stands guard against any intruders such as coyotes.

Next we moved onto a brief tutorial on pruning and general background on the vineyard. The vines are cordon trained, meaning there is a permanent, lignified, thick piece of vine running horizontally. The previous vintage's canes are then clipped down to the cordon leaving behind only a spur with a bud on it. On each cordon there are about five spurs, and each vine had two cordons. The vineyard as a whole is oriented with rows running from north to south. Wes Hagen commented that while in the Old World south-facing vines are more typical to encourage ripeness, in California there is ample sunshine. Thus the orientation is chosen to limit exposure such that the fruit can hang longer before it reaches sugar maturity. Wes joked that whenever he comes back from France, he has to forget everything he learns about viticulture. Of course, there was mention of the transverse (east-west running) mountain range due to the peculiar tectonic action in this corner of the world as well the the diatomaceous earth that provides the soil with silica and calcium.

The tasting took place in the Pepe's home--incredible hospitality if you ask me. Wes provided a cheese course--Gouda, (real) Cheddar, Camembert and goat cheese--along with the five wines. Notes are below. All the while Wes provided commentary on a variety of topics. On sulfites, he noted you can't fear them as a winemaker. And while Clos Pepe is farmed organically, he had strong words along the lines of "organic is BS" in terms of the organic movements as a whole. For him it appears organic farming is a means to an end--better wine. But it's not reasonable in his mind to demand all types of farming pursue organic techniques at this point. He also suggested that often it's good to let go as a wine drinker. Geek out when appropriate, but just enjoy it otherwise: "drink like a 5 year old." Another nugget was wine is a craft, not art, like making a chair. This was one of those times where it was great just to sit back and absorb while listening to a very entertaining and informative lecture.

The tour and tasting wrapped up at about 1 PM.

  • 2009 Clos Pepe Estate Chardonnay Barrel Fermented - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills - Sta. Rita Hills

    Very fresh, citrus and white stone fruits. Clean (precise), dry with a long finish. Minerality. Pears on the nose. Took a few minutes to open up--sulfites blowing off, perhaps?

    Fermented in neutral oak, goes through ML and aged on lees. But also has rippin good acidity. I love this style that gets the body and richness with balancing acidity and light-handed oak influence.

  • 2009 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills - Sta. Rita Hills

    Primary, but open. Plummy, red fruits, perfumed, sage. Some smokey flavor, integrated structure. Complete wine--beginning, middle and end--long finish. Tightly wound at present, though showing well.

  • 2007 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills - Sta. Rita Hills

    Cherry jam, spice, sage and ginger on the nose. More open than 2009. Structured with integrated oak. Pretty ripe on nose and by flavor, though not heavily extracted or alcoholic.

    Wes Hagen suggested 3-4 years further aging to bring out earthier characteristics.

  • 2006 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills - Sta. Rita Hills

    Favorite of tasting--seems to be at a really good spot right now. Earthy, mushroom, truffle, floral (rose) and mild spice. Good acidity and core of fruit. Integrated structure, fine tannin.

    Interesting to compare to the '06 Ojai Clos Pepe tasted a few months ago. The Ojai had a more extracted, baked fruit quality to my palate. Supposedly Ojai's was all Pommard clones, but I'm not sure if it was harvested later or treated differently otherwise.

  • 2008 Axis Mundi Syrah Sleepy Hollow Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands

    Meaty/bacon aromas, lavender, round fruit and zippy acidity. Very fruit-driven wine. Tannins not noted, but acidity gives it balance.

Cold Heaven

After the atypically long and interesting tour and tasting--plus lunch by the pond in Clos Pepe's vineyard--the Cold Heaven tasting was a more typical format. However, the wines are anything but typical. Cold Heaven's tasting room is a tasting bar at the front of their winery in Buellton. And by winery, I mean utilitarian space in a small industrial park. Exactly my style!

While Cold Heaven is best known for its Viognier from a variety of SBC vineyards (Le Bon Climat, Sanford and Benedict, Curtis and formerly Vogelzang), Morgan Clendenen's collaborative efforts with Condrieu vintner Yves Cuilleron and the remarkable Syrah should not be missed. Jeb Dunnick's Rhone Report totally nails it when it comes to Cold Heaven's wines, IMO. I'm just a 2nd assenting opinion here. If you like Syrah in a lower octane mold, this is the one to pursue. The 2004 is pretty funky, though, in an old world farmyard sense. The 2003 and 2005 are more spicy, floral and garrigue-laden with a core of fresh fruit.

  • 2008 Cold Heaven Sauvignon Blanc Strangelove - USA, California, Central Coast

    Peaches on the nose, fresh, high acid mouth watering sort of wine. Grapefruit pith on the finish. 50% stainless, 50% neutral oak.

  • 2008 Cold Heaven Viognier Le Bon Climat Santa Barbara County - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County

    Continues to be favorite in Cold Heaven Viognier lineup. Perfumed, honeysuckle, great balance, medium body with med/high acidity. Combines the honeyed aromatics with unreal freshness and precision. Finishes with a bit of pith. World class stuff, IMO.

  • 2009 Cold Heaven Viognier - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley

    Bigger bodied, lower acidity than Le Bon Climat--from Curtis Vineyard in warmer heart of the Santa Ynez Valley. Floral, spicey and a notion of toast--maybe some SO2? Solid wine, just isn't as racy as the Le Bon Climat.

  • 2007 Domaine des 2 Mondes Viognier Saints and Sinners Sanford & Benedict - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills - Sta. Rita Hills

    Floral, broadly textured yet finely woven, big, serious and tropical. This is the Viognier if you like Cali style Chardonnay--it's a white wine for red wine drinkers. But it is not overly oaky or toasty, just creamy, and the acidity is really lively underneath it all.

  • 2004 Cold Heaven Syrah Second Sin Santa Barbara County - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County

    Smelling this immediately takes me to France--leathery/horsey aromas, earthy, tar and herbs. The palate is lively with good fruit and tannin. Definitely of a certain style, let's say just a wee bit Bretty. I suspect if poured side by side with some expensive French N. Rhone Syrahs or S. Rhone CdP it would more than hold its own due to the funk. Alas, I'm looking for something a bit cleaner from CA Syrah.

  • 2005 Cold Heaven Syrah Second Sin Santa Barbara County - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County

    The Syrah counterpart to the great Le Bon Climat Viognier. Very similar to the '03 vintage which was flat out one of the best Syrahs I've tasted. Elegantly styled, more fruit driven than the '04. Perfumed with spice and pepper. Firm tannin, lively acidity, creamy texture. Cold Heaven is known as a Viognier house, but the Syrahs are a hidden gem. 13.6% ABV, by the way, and not at all underripe in flavor.

Longoria Wines

This is our only wine club (or mailing list). The commitment is minimal--8 bottles per year--and we get to participate in the various open houses and special events. Plus, the wine is uniformly good to great. Definitely of the fruit-forward style, but with plenty of structure and acidity for larger framed wines. The Pinots are my favorites, and that's the overall consensus as well. Just another bandwagon for me to joyfully hop on, I suppose!

Richard Longoria is pretty old school. He's one of the originals in Santa Barbara County of the same generation as Jim Clendenen, Adam Tolmach and Richard Sanford. He's also very proud to have learned under Andre Tchelistcheff early in his career. But he's a quiet, unassuming sort of vintner, so he tends to fly under the radar, especially with the rapid growth in the post-Sideways era.

  • 2009 Longoria Pinot Grigio - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County

    See previous note. Varietally on-target, and priced fairly. One for sipping on a hot day or with the right food pairing.

  • 2009 Longoria Pink Wine Cuvee June - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County

    Same experience as with my previous note. Watermelon and strawberry. But doesn't have the gum numbing acidity I look for in a rosé. Plenty of juicy fruit, just feels a little flat to my taste.

  • 2008 Longoria Pinot Noir Rancho Santa Rosa - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills - Sta. Rita Hills

    Loved the '07 vintage of this cuvee; this is just as good. A bit more acidic and lighter in weight with cranberry and cherry flavors. Mushrooms on the nose. Medium body, fresh, structured with fine tannin.

  • 2007 Longoria Pinot Noir Fe Ciega Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills - Sta. Rita Hills

    Seems to be opening up. Shows mushroom and a definite spiciness. Full bodied and rich. Complex with firm structure. Plenty of fruit here, but not showing the baked edge to it I found in the '06. This looks like it'll get really good soon.

  • 2008 Longoria Tempranillo Clover Creek Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley

    Big ripe fruit, but also tannic and tightly structured. This needs several years to unwind.

  • 2007 Longoria Syrah Alisos Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County

    Huge structure! Tannic and acidic with dark fruit (berry, cassis) and complexing pepper and licorice aromas. Alisos isn't a truly cool climate vineyard, but isn't hot, either--this sits in that middle ground between the two poles. Big and ripe, yet structured and savory. Needs 3-5 years to unwind, I'd wager. Sometimes this bottling has a slightly porty feel to it; this is really chiseled. 6.9 g/L TA, 3.57 pH, 15.1% ABV.

  • 2009 Longoria Albariño Beso del Sol Clover Creek Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley

    Delicious dessert wine with honeyed aromatics. The real quality here is lively acidity with a lighter texture than a typical sticky. 11.9% ABV, 12% RS (~120 g/L RS) and 6.6 g/L TA with 3.36 pH. Apparently the result of a heat spike roasting the fruit, but only enough so that it raisined a bit then developed with further hang time. A fortuitous accident of nature it seems, and just the sort of dessert wine I like.

All in all, a great day in the valley. I'll miss it when we move!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Is this s--- for real: great moments in uninteded self-parody

Is this for real? Sadly, the answer is yes. For every genuine enthusiast (who also runs a huge wine shop) like Gary Vaynerchuck or analytical scientist like Jamie Goode, there are about a dozen of the type of people in the wine world who I'll be bashing in the rest of this post.

Probably one of the top bullshit artists in the world of wine right now is James Suckling. Pretension in fine wine is unavoidable on some level. But Suckling oozes pretension. If he was a slug, that sticky trail he leaves behind would be pretension distillate. Watch and learn in these two videos as Suckling gives a master class in egotism, stuffiness and, yes, unbearable pretentiousness:

I'm 99 points on not wanting to hear another damn over-enunciated word out of Suckling's mouth ever again.

Of course, making obnoxious videos is not the only way to ruin wine for the general public. You can always write a note with so many descriptors it ceases to have meaning. Now, I like to both read and write thorough notes. But they have to actually contain, you know, information. Words describing body, acidity, tannin, flavor intensity, style--primarily structural descriptors--are very useful. A few specific flavors can be of help, but at a certain point it is not telling you anything other than the author is full of shit. Take this example from a person who calls himself the Sonoma Sommelier:
Anaba 2007 “Coriol” Red Rhone Blend: "a wine that delivers . . . . flavors of acai berries, black currant liqueur, fig bar, tamarind, raspberry bramble, red plum, balsamic strawberries, clove, rose water, cigar box, barnyard, teriyaki, stone, apricot, coriander, butterscotch, hazelnut chocolates, brown leather and Columbian coffee beans."
The enological diarrhea is even more exaggerated in this example:
VJB 2007 Estate Aglianico: "It has both Sonoma Valley and Italian flavors of wild red currants, red licorice twist, raspberry Pimms Cup, red apple skins, barnyard game, suede leather, rhubarb pie, baked red plum, star anise, sage, rosemary brush, guava candies, roasted portobello mushrooms, hibiscus flower, passion fruit puree, lavender, tomatoes on the vine, paprika, horehound candy, sea salt, nori sheets, cappuccino froth, molasses, nutmeg and Connecticut cigar wrapper."
Stop, just please stop, Sonoma Somm!

To his credit, the first sentence or two in both reviews I linked does tell you much of what you'd want to know structurally about the wines, albeit in an annoyingly literary style. But after that, it's just self indulgent garbage. If you tried these wines, you'd never find that many flavors in a single taste. You know why? Because humans can only differentiate a few aromas at a time, and most of what we perceive as taste is really retronasal olfaction.

How this sort of criticism became the norm, I do not know. No, actually, I do know. This variety of sewer feces appeals to people with lots of money but no common sense or knowledge of wine. Why learn about where the wine comes from and how it's made when you can just hear a point score and a bunch of fancy sounding adjectives? It's the easy way out--instant validation.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

TN: Tablas Creek 2005 Paso Robles Syrah

Here's another Tablas Creek from the local grocery store close-out, the Tablas Creek 2005 Paso Robles Syrah. Definitely this drinks like a warmer climate Syrah--lots of blueberry, and not much herb or meat nuance. But I love the firmness of the structure. A lot of Syrahs of this ripeness level seem to turn into pure fruit bombs or get over-extracted in a way that muddies flavors. This one has a pure expression of its region. I think cool climate is still where it's at for complexity, but this is a wine that makes a compelling argument for the pure range of Syrah when handled by a top producer.
  • 2005 Tablas Creek Syrah - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles

    Blueberry and cassis with a little Syrah funk and spice on the nose. Definitely in the riper styled mold. Big, round blueberry and plum flavors. Iron minerality. Finishes long with spice and drying tannin. While this is fruit-driven edging towards dried fruit, there is very serious structure. Acidity adds some refreshment. I feel like the tannins should resolve further, but the fruit character might move towards the less fresh variety. Tough call to drink or age. This has a lot of character and a unique backbone for a warmer climate Syrah; not so heavily extracted it tastes dirty, nor is it melted and syrupy. It's an old fashioned teeth stainer, not a mouth coater.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

TN: Eroica 2005 Columbia Valley Riesling

Why don't I drink more Riesling? It's often inexpensive, versatile and delicious. The Eroica 2005 Columbia Valley Riesling was all this and more--I found it on closeout for $7 (cheap!) instead of its suggested retail of $20 (not cheap!). Anyway, this was impressive. It was off-dry, but had great balancing acidity. Plus, there was that diesel/petrol aroma that makes Riesling so unique, and in this wine it was complexing, not dominant.

Who knew a 5 year old Riesling from a grocery store (I doubt they treat the wine carefully) would deliver so nicely? I guess that's why Riesling is one of the most age-worthy wines in the world--takes a lickin and keeps on tickin. The store had some '06s and '07s, but someone bought those out before I could return.

  • At first found the sweetness forward, but cooled it off a bit and this is a beauty. Diesel, lychee and lime aromas. Dried peach/apricot flavors with off-dryness up front followed by great sustaining freshness on the finish. Acid-sugar balance here is really nice. A little peach pit at the end as well. Very easy-going style that should be versatile with sweet and/or spicy foods.

    Picked this up on closeout at a grocery store--not exactly the best sign for provenance. Quite impressed this is so fresh given dubious storage, especially with the price being what it was . . . .

Monday, February 7, 2011

Parker Drops a Bomb: Galloni Taking a Bigger Role at WA

Robert Parker unleashed an epic press release this weekend (see the email published on Vinography). He is no longer personally reviewing California wine; instead Antonio Galloni will be taking up that role at The Wine Advocate. Galloni will also be covering the heart of Burgundy, taking over that gig from David Schildknecht, who will still retain responsibilities for Beaujolais, Macon and the Loire as well as Germany, Austria and the Eastern US. Champagne also goes to Galloni.

Parker has been expanding the roles of his contractors for some years now. But this is a more surprising move than any previous. Parker will continue to review Bordeaux and the Rhone, which are historically his favorite regions. However, California has been perhaps the most dependent upon his reviews. Parker has made quite a few wineries in California with his scores, and arguably has driven the popular style in the state more than any other person.

Galloni built his reputation by reviewing northern Italy in The Piedmont Report. In other words, he is a Nebbiolo nut. He is no stranger to acidity and overpowering tannin. If he retains this preference while reviewing California wines, producers pursuing the soft, melted style of wine may need to refocus their approach. (Parker is no stranger to heavy tannin, either, but he seemed to really enjoy the rich mouth-coating sort as opposed to the tougher astringent tannin Nebbiolo produces.) I'm also curious to see what this means for Cal-Ital producers. Will Galloni judge them harshly for not replicating Italy? Or will he promote them as a variation on an ever-evolving theme?

Friday, February 4, 2011

TN: Tablas Creek 2006 Paso Robles Grenache Blanc

The Tablas Creek 2006 Paso Robles Grenache Blanc was another find from my local grocery store's Tablas Creek closeout. It was not quite as nice as the 2006 Cotes de Tablas purchased concurrently. This was under Stelvin closure and wasn't showing any noticeable oxidation, but it didn't have a ton of flavor, either. I did like the petrol character which seems to be in most Central Coast Grenache Blanc, though it is more often linked with German Riesling.

The alcohol was listed at 15.3%, and unfortunately it shows a bit. I'm guessing this drank better younger when the fresh esters from fermentation were at their peak. The Cotes de Tablas, in contrast at 13.5%, was much more balanced. My general feeling at this point is alcohol can be fairly high as long as there is plenty of acidity, fruit and extract to balance it. In this wine at this age, none of these components was working in its favor.
  • 2006 Tablas Creek Grenache Blanc - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles

    A lot of petrol (lanolin?) with lemon on the nose. Full bodied, viscous mouthfeel. Seems like a dry Riesling with high alcohol. Flavor intensity isn't very high at this point. Medium low acidity. Finishes with mild heat. High ABV seems to show a bit, but overall an interesting GB showing that Central Coast petrol character.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

TN: Bernard Baudry 2008 Chinon La Croix Boissée

We paired the Bernard Baudry 2008 Chinon La Croix Boissée with stuffed pork chops made with a filling of bread, pecans, cranberry and rosemary, glazed with rosemary, and finished with balsamic. It was a spectacular pairing! As for the wine, it is very primary in dark fruit and I think the oak is not yet integrated, but there is very serious substance and Chinon typicity. All the pieces are present: mid-palate, minerality, savory flavors, balanced acid, ripe tannin. The pairing was great as the balance of savory (rosemary & pork) and tart (cranberry) to sweet (balsamic) was in parallel between the Croix Boissée and food.

The usual correlation between soil and my enjoyment played out here as well. The fruit for this particular wine is grown on tuffeau, a calcareous soil. Whatever the specific cause, the acidity is better balanced and there is more depth than one finds in a typical Chinon (or Bourgueil). Although these higher end cuvées often cost closer to $30, for me it is worth it to splurge on occasion as these have more body and superior aging upside than the sub-$20 Loire Francs.
  • 2008 Domaine Bernard Baudry Chinon La Croix Boissée - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Chinon

    A major improvement over the Grezeaux per my taste, albeit still primary with unintegrated oak and dark fruits. Loads of potential. Medium body, medium acidity with a rounded mid-palate. A complete wine with beginning middle and end finishing savory with iron and 'mineral' flavor. Very pure black currant, similar to fruit-driven Chilean Bdx varietals in purity, albeit not bomby. Secondary flavors of red fruits, mint, pencil shavings, cedar and tobacco. Superb balance, though the tannins and oak do need to resolve as they are somewhat awkward now.

    Decanted 45 minutes after initial taste, then consumed over about ~3 hours. Expressed more Chinon typicity as it opened. This should be very interesting to follow over many years.

Monday, January 31, 2011

A Blind Tasting of Kermit Lynch Wines at East Beach Wine

The local shop East Beach Wine was hosting its weekly tasting, and this week's tasting was especially compelling. Six wines, blind, from various regions in France, all imported by Kermit Lynch. Not only is that a slam dunk as far as overall quality, it's also a challenging prospect as the selections are fairly diverse.

We were not going into this double blind, though. It was essentially single blind as we were given lists of varietals and regions to pair with each wine. The varietals were Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat, while the regions were Bordeaux, Loire, Burgundy, Rhone and Beaumes de Venise.
  • 2009 Domaine Daniel Chotard Sancerre - France, Loire Valley, Upper Loire, Sancerre

    Melon, citrus, high acid, minerality, medium body.
    Guess: Loire/Sauvignon Blanc. Actual: Loire/Sauvignon Blanc.

  • 2008 Domaine Lucien Boillot et Fils Bourgogne - France, Burgundy, Bourgogne

    Floral, spice, mushroom, light/medium body, cranberry, pepper, slight cow pasture, linear flavor, mild tannin.
    Guess: Burgundy/Pinot Noir. Actual: Burgundy/Pinot Noir.
    Flavor and weight had potential as entry level Loire Cab Franc, but floral and spice aromas definitively pointed towards Burgundy. If Cru Beaujolais was a choice, though, it would have been a tougher call between Burg/Bojo.

  • 2008 Kermit Lynch Selections Côtes du Rhône - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône

    Jammy, lavender, low-acid, bitter finish, unstructured.
    Guess: Rhone/Grenache. Actual: Rhone/Grenache.
    Commented this tasted cheap relative to other wines in tasting; indeed it was. Definite pass, very mediocre wine.

  • 2008 Domaine les Pallières Gigondas Les Racines - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Gigondas

    Perfumed, medium/full body, medium/low acid.
    Guess: Rhone/Grenache. Actual: Rhone/Grenache.
    Very rich wine. Aromatics suggested Burg/Pinot at first, but flavors eventually pointed to a much warmer climate. Reminds me of how CA Pinot is often Grenache-like IMO--throw a full-bodied Cali Pinot in and I'm stumped!

  • 2007 Château Aney - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc

    Grass/bell pepper, dark fruit, earthy flavor, full body, medium acidity.
    Guess: Bordeaux, Cab Franc. Actual: Bordeaux, Cab Franc.
    This one was the most obvious red in the tasting. It had to be CF, and nothing else could have been Bdx. Bought it.

  • 2006 Domaine de Durban Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise

    Floral, honeyed, sweet, full body
    Guess: Beaumes de Venise/Muscat. Actual: Beaumes de Venise/Muscat.
    Had to be Muscat given the options. Figured a dessert wine appellation would be the odd man out, so we went with Beaumes de Venise.

Success! But without the list of regions this would have been an intractable problem. Cab Franc, Pinot and Grenache can be surprisingly similar if grown in similar climates (say entry level Chinon vs. Burgundy, or California Grenache vs. Pinot), so the appellation laws in France regulating variety were a big help assigning varietal to palate character I'd expect from a given climate.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Some Thoughts on Terroir

I definitely agree that terroir exists: all the aspects of the growing environment affect the character of wine grapes. It's pretty easy to show on a fundamental level just by comparing varietal wines from disparate climates made by the same producer. QED. Even different exposures in the same vineyard can be remarkably different. Heck, I bet grapes from one side of a vine vs. the other would have distinct character, especially if one side gets superior sun exposure. That certainly applied to my tomato crop last year where one side of the vine burned in the hot sun, while shaded fruit ripened beautifully. I've also heard anecdotally that growers occasionally harvest one side of a vine before the other due to differing sun exposure.

There are two areas where interpretation of terroir often loses its grounding. The first is attribution of characteristics of the finished wine to specific qualities of the vineyard or growing region. For example, I view Brettanomyces expression as terroir-specific in the sense that the yeast strain likely depends on the region, and the chemistry of the wine derived from the terroir in a given vintage will affect the expression of the yeast. But winemaking choices undeniably are also a factor in this specific example. Linking very specific characteristics directly to the soil composition is dubious at best when the mechanisms are complex. For example, calcareous soil apparently facilitates cation exchange due to the alkalinity of the soil. It's not just a case of the roots taking up calcium cations because they are nearby.

The second issue concerns creation of a hierarchy based on superior terroir. Some people seem to assume there is some "uber-terroir" that intrinsically is superior to others. (Sean Thackrey frames this more forcefully as "viticultural racism.") While there clearly are vineyards and regions that cannot produce balanced grapes (CA Central Valley, large stretches of N. Africa), assigning value to high-quality regions is a pointless task. Much of the coastal CA wine growing terroir is subject to lots of sunshine, large diurnal flux, and low humidity. That produces more fruit driven wines in part I believe due to lower fungal pressure than is the case with continental climates typical in France. That is legitimate terroir expression; whether that is more or less interesting than an earthier, lighter bodied wine is a matter of personal taste.

Ultimately, I think you could substitute "uniqueness" for "terroir expression" when considering whether a wine is worthy. If a wine is not unique, then there is no need to buy a specific cuvee at an elevated price point. It needs some sort of differentiation. When a producer allows some compelling aspect of the grapes and fermentation to show, usually that passes as both "terroir expression" and "uniqueness." It's circular logic that I oppose: "this wine is great because it expresses its superior terroir, and the terroir is superior because it is expressed in great wine." It's a fallacy, pure and simple, and an unnecessary one at that. There are genuine differences expressed in wine, and both aesthetic and economic factors contribute to their valuation. There's no need to invent additional justification to enjoy something for what it is.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

TN: Tablas Creek 2006 Côtes de Tablas Blanc

I was shopping at my local Von's, just a typical weekend trip to load up for the week, when I decided to hit the restroom. Right across from the restroom, I noticed a rack with wines at 50% off. About half the wines on the rack were Tablas Creek, much to my surprise!

The Tablas Creek 2006 Côtes de Tablas Blanc is the first wine I've tried from this hidden stash. While the acidity isn't especially strong, there's a refined texture that belies the modest ambitions of this wine. Who would have thought a white wine built to drink young would be delicious at 4 years of age? Young CdT Blancs I've tasted have been very 'in your face' and somewhat imbalanced to my taste, so this was a mild surprise to say the least. This was listed at 13.5% ABV and sealed with a Stelvin closure (screw cap), by the way. My suspicion is these two factors in no small part helped this wine to evolve pleasantly in the near-term.
  • 2006 Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas Blanc - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles

    This is one of those silly accidents--bought half price in a grocery store bargain bin. I was optimistic since this has a stelvin closure, and indeed there's no sign of oxidation. Dried apricots and an interesting petrol component I often associate with central coast Grenache Blanc on the nose. The palate is full, creamy and rounded, though there is no obvious oak--seems to be the viscosity of the Viognier and Roussanne at play. Very refined impression, no rough edges, seams or heat. Medium-low acidity. Seems like a baby Esprit Blanc more than anything else if you ask me, not a bombastic drink two years ago Viognier blend--go figure!

    59% Viognier, 32% Marsanne, 6% Grenache Blanc, 3% Roussanne

Friday, January 21, 2011

TN: Chanteleuserie 2008 Bourgueil Cuvée Beauvais

I preferred this to the '08 Baudry Grezeaux in my last post. While it's more herbaceous and 'basic' as far as Chinon/Bourgueil go, the balance is much better. At the sub-$20 price point, definitely this is a buy and seems to have upside as well. While this isn't going to light the room on fire right now, I'm very appreciative of the typicity and balance.

On a side note, this is from sloped, tuffeau-based terroir according to Kermit Lynch's blog. While I can't speculate on causation, definitely I'm correlating my Loire Cab Franc preferences strongly with calcareous soil types.
  • 2008 Domaine de la Chanteleuserie Bourgueil Cuvée Beauvais - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Bourgueil

    Really nice, very typical Cab Franc. High toned florals are underlined by deeper bass of tobacco aromas with some fresh cherry. Light-medium body with medium acidity. Fresh red fruit on the attack, a little roundness to the middle. There's a definite iron mineral note. Finishes with earthy, savory tobacco and olive. More standard Loire Cab Franc than the '08 Baudry Grezeaux, but balance is much better. Nice dusting of tannins on the finish to firm it all up.

    Edit: Pencil shaving/fresh cedar characteristics (not oak). No impression of sweetness; all savory and fresh.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

TN: Bernard Baudry 2008 Chinon Les Grézeaux

Given how much I loved the 2007 version of this cuvee, this was a letdown. Definitely this is an ambitious wine with more depth, especially aromatically, than a rank and file Chinon. But right now the acidity is really out of whack to the point of eclipsing the rest of the palate. Will it come around? That's a question for more experienced tasters. I did find it odd how high the acidity was despite the minimal herbaceousness--usually these qualities scale together.

I must admit, though, that the 2007 Grezeaux was a personal outlier in some sense. I have not generally liked gravel-based Cab Franc from the Loire, so perhaps that was the exception, not the rule.
  • 2008 Domaine Bernard Baudry Chinon Les Grézeaux - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Chinon

    Great typical nose--leather, musk, underbrush and a hint of tobacco. Unfortunately, the acidity is sharp and unyielding. Light body. This is all pomegranite and grapefruit, with a bit of pith on the finish. Very angular though not overly tannic. Minimal oak influence, no heat. The herbaceousness that Chinon can have is definitely well in check, but the acidity is a few notches too high for my comfort. Much preferred the 2007 which was a fruit bomb in comparison (at least in Chinon context).

Monday, January 17, 2011

Wine Movie: Blood Into Wine

I'm inherently suspicious of celebrities or other simply rich people who jump into making wine, even if out of passion. It's like any other field: proper training and experience are vital components of success, though often celebs simply outsource the work to others with the necessary background. Thus, I approached the documentary Blood Into Wine with some suspicion. It presents the story of Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan's (pictured on the right) winery Caduceus, located in the Verde Valley of Arizona.

The documentary, however, peels away various misconceptions I had going into it. Just as one might expect Arizona to be blisteringly hot--it's not at higher elevations where Keenan farms--I'd expect Keenan to be kind of a stuffy, obnoxious guy thinking he is running some modern day wine plantation. He's not, though sometimes a bit of overconfidence shows. In reality, he's down to earth about his approach. Most impressively, he has joined forces with Eric Glomsky, a professionally trained winemaker. Glomsky isn't simply his wine-monkey, though, not by a long shot. There's a give and take evident, and Keenan views Glomsky as a mentor, not an employee.

Glomsky actually steals the show at times with his passion for the 'terroir' of Northern Arizona. He has a clear distrust for the wine establishment's hard-wired belief that certain regions and styles are inherently superior. Much to his credit, Keenan also does not go around name dropping famous producers or regions much, nor does he seem concerned that his wines are not imitating those of other regions. In fact, when James Suckling (pictured on the left) compares Keenan's wines to various reference points, Keenan rather visibly seems annoyed. The blog HFF delves into this subject a bit more deeply, and is definitely worth a read. Suckling comes across, unsurprisingly, as a pompous snob; out of all wine critics, he is probably the one who most fully personifies the typical wine snob stereotype.

There are definitely some running gags intended to bring levity to the proceedings, but fall a bit flat. In sum, though, I came away with a positive view of Maynard Keenan James and am especially interested in tasting Verde Valley wines at some point. This is a very good wine documentary that balances nerd appeal with more broadly accessible material. Additionally, it's worth adding that Caduceus' wines have dropped in price recently. When I checked out the price list over a year ago, it was kind of outrageous for wines with no track record. The wines are still not cheap, but they are more in line with what I'd expect for a younger wine region. It's not that I don't think the wines could command a premium eventually. Rather the market is competitive, and it's probably smart to get the wine into folks' hands to try rather than make it just a collectible.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Are There Objective Wine Faults?

While wine enjoyment is primarily about personal preference, there are certain 'faults' that are identified in the wine trade. Most have to do with intent--still wine shouldn't have spritz, dry wine shouldn't taste sweet, etc. Brettanomyces and its funky byproducts often fall in this group as well, though opinions vary. Oxidation is generally not good, but there are nonetheless oxidative styles of wine that are well-liked. Even volatile acidity (VA, similar to a bit of vinegar) has its place, especially in dessert wines.

I believe there are some faults, though, that have a purely physiological basis. Hence they are essentially objective; there is no context where noticing them is good. The only issue here is that not everyone has the same sensitivity--witness a debate about a wine being corked and this becomes clear. Here I'm thinking of a hypothetical scenario where a person is presented with two identical wines except for the fault--one that is clean, the other that has been dosed with the offending chemical. Assuming the chemical was in sufficient concentration to be smelled, virtually any person would prefer the clean wine.

High Levels of Mercaptans: A mercaptan is used in natural gas (at very low concentrations because most people are so sensitive) to give it a stinky aroma. Skunk spray also has several different mercaptans. The fact that mercaptans are a defense mechanism suggests they are almost universally offensive. I suppose some rotten cabbage, skunk, or rubber tire could be complexing at very low levels. But I doubt many people would find skunk-cabbage wine pleasing if presented with a non-skunky version of the same wine.

TCA/corked wine: At low levels, it seems simply to flatten a wine. At high levels, it's like a moldy basement. I don't think TCA could ever be a positive feature. Humans are programmed to generally avoid eating mold, and without fail when a corked wine is compared to a non-faulty version, the clean version is almost universally preferred.

Are there others? Geosmin, a byproduct of moldy grapes, is sometimes mentioned. But often enthusiasts enjoy earthiness, and moldy grapes can also give rise to certain 'noble' styles. I think what I describe as seaweed and like as a complexing aroma probably is also related to moldy grapes. I purposely left out volatile sulfides (non-thiol sulfur compounds), though, as these seem to be double edged swords, often contributing to varietal character lit black currant in Cabernet.

It does make me wonder about Brettanomyces byproducts. From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense that humans would avoid moldy and skunky smelling foods. So why not cow pasture smelling foods? Feces are not good to eat, hence people are repelled by the smell. But it seems at low to moderate levels if you did the thought experiment--one clean wine, then the same wine with some 4-EP--the latter might be preferred, though probably only by enthusiasts.

This is what makes this question tricky. If horse sweat and barnyard can be acquired tastes, what's to stop skunk and moldy rag? Farmyard is more positively evocative, and to me has a nice rustic and agrarian connotation. But does everyone feel this way? Maybe burning rubber tire and stewed cabbage are nostalgic for a person who grew up on a cabbage farm next to a tire manufacturing plant.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

WN: Charles Joguet 2005 Chinon Clos du Chêne Vert

There are some wines that simply are gripping for one reason or another. The Charles Joguet 2005 Chinon Clos du Chêne Vert was one such wine for me. It's everything I love about Chinon that can be summed up in two words: rustic elegance. As paradoxical as this sounds, I have no other way to sum up wines such as these. They are unassuming in weight and often funky, yet have a special harmony and complexity.

All the pieces are here: a great vineyard, a great vintage, and a top producer. The Clos du Chêne Vert (roughly translating to the Enclosed Vineyard of the Green Oak) is on the north bank of the Vienne River and has clay and silico-calcareous soil. There is a lot of characterful, yet simple wine made from sand and gravel soils in the Loire. But it's these sloped vineyards with clay and limestone that produce special wines that marry the regional and varietal character to depth and structure.

Interestingly, while this wine did show some of the characteristic "farmyard" stink--think horses and cow pastures--of the yeast Brettanomyces, in a certain way this enhanced the wine. I do not know the reason behind it, but this funk seems to be a regional expression. Brett can and does ruin many wines with what I'd describe as band-aid and antiseptic flavor that tastes identical regardless of varietal or region. Yet here it is different, and I'd argue it's an expression of terroir in some sense. While it is not the earth or countryside that is locked in the wine, some combination of the indigenous yeast strain(s) and chemistry of the Chinon fruit yields a typical funk to the finished wine.
  • 2005 Charles Joguet Chinon Clos du Chêne Vert - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Chinon

    Epic Chinon. It's not really a powerful wine, but needed a good hour in the decanter to open up. At first has barnyard, menthol and cassis aromas. (OK, there's some Brett here, but it is more fertilizer/soil than the band-aid/medicinal Brett typical in CA--seems to be a Brett strain or expression specific to the Loire.) Medium bodied with medium high acidity on the palate. Chalky tannins. A mix of blackcurrant, tobacco pomegranate and chalky mineral flavors. All of these just linger on the finish, and there's no heat or weird off flavors. Tobacco and minerality were more pronounced over time. This is not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but this is amazingly concentrated Chinon Cab Franc that is a straight beam of awesome in my book. Nowhere near mature, either, though it oozes class right now.