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.