Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2005 Sones Wiedeman Vineyard Zinfandel

As winemaker for Bargetto, Michael Sones is responsible for one of the area's largest producers. However he still finds time to produce a few cases for his own label. He mainly sources fruit from the Wiedeman Vineyard in Santa Clara Valley.

The 2005 Wiedeman Vineyard Zinfandel checks in at almost 16% alcohol. This was served warmer than the last time I tasted it; as a result the alcohol seemed a bit more evident. It was also significantly heavier than the previous wines of the evening (a Pinot Noir and a Bordeaux). On the palate there was lots of sweet raspberry fruit and a bit of white pepper, but it could have used a bit more acidity. The tannins are soft; it's a wine that's made to drink now. Reasonable value at $16 from The Wine Club, Santa Clara.

Monday, December 29, 2008

2004 Testarossa Rosella's Vineyard Pinot Noir

There's no denying that Rosella's vineyard, in Monterey's Santa Lucia Highlands, produces some excellent fruit. The list of wineries that the vineyard sells to reads like a "Who's Who" of new-wave Pinot Noir producers, many of whom don't have estate vineyards but seek out quality fruit from across the region. Testarossa is one such producer; despite being based in the historic Novitiate winery in Los Gatos the vineyards are no longer in production.

I opened this for Chrismas dinner last week, and decanted it for a couple of hours. In the glass it has has a lighter garnet colour than many domestic Pinots. On the nose there's a delicious combination of fruit and flowers (roses?) and on the palate there are cherries and wild strawberries. A rich mouthfeel and a long finish with silky tannins. I'd say this was at its peak right now, but will certainly hold for a good few years if so desired. An excellent wine though sadly not an excellent price; at almost $60 it's not something I'd buy regularly.

2007 Calera Central Coast Chardonnay

Although Josh Jensen's Calera Wine Company is known primarily for its distinctive, mineral Pinot Noir grown in his estate vineyards in the Mount Harlan AVA, the winery also purchases fruit from other areas. The 2007 Central Coast Chardonnay includes grapes from seven different vineyards in three counties. Over 40% comes from Santa Clara County (San Felipe, Kellner & Besson vineyards), just over 30% from Monterey county (Scheid, Lone Oak and SMD) and 27% from Santa Barbara County (Los Alamos).

The wine comes sealed with a glass stopper; I've heard of these but hadn't seen one until now. It's a piece of solid glass shaped like a T, with a plastic ring at the top of the T. The stopper pulls out fairly easily provided your hands aren't too greasy; unlike traditional stoppers made from plastic and cork there's no ridges to grip onto.

Very light in colour, there's notes of vanilla and apple pie on the nose. The palate shows sweet apples and a caramel/butterscotch note. The acidity is reasonable and the oak isn't obtrusive. It retails for $16 at the winery, but I've seen it in a couple of local retailers for $11 - at that price it's a very good value.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wine Spectator's "report card" for 2008

The first critical reviews of the 2008 vintage are coming in, even though the wines are still fermenting. Wine Spectator has issued a "report card" which graded the vintage for some major growing areas. Over on his blog, Lenn Thompson has some valid comments and questions, many of which apply equally well here.

Looking at the article, it appears that anything south of San Francisco Bay has been lumped in the category of "Central Coast", which been awarded a grade of B-. Now while everyone agrees that 2008 was a tough vintage and that yields are much lower than expected, I'm not convinced that it was the same everywhere from Woodside to Santa Barbara. After all, we are talking about over 30 different AVAs spanning over 400 miles. The Santa Cruz Mountains was largely spared the spring frosts that caused so much damage elsewhere; on the other hand the effects of the smoke from the many wildfires is still to be determined.

The only local producer referenced in the article was Bill Brosseau of Testarossa which, despite being based in the old Novitiate winery in Los Gatos, has no vines and makes little or no wine from Santa Cruz Mountains fruit.

From what I've heard from local growers, the potential for excellence is certainly there from the best producers; good vineyard management, careful harvesting and sorting, controlling tannins during fermentation, should lead to some superb, concentrated wines. But anyone who tried to focus on yield over quality is likely to regret it.

Furthermore with such low yields producers who don't control their vineyards and rely on purchased fruit may have to decide between paying higher prices or settling for lower quality fruit. In the current economy none of those options really sound too promising.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

2006 Storrs Annamaria's Vineyard Chardonnay

In the late 1970s, Bob Roudon of Roudon-Smith planted a 5 acre Chardonnay vineyard in the hills between Scotts Valley and Soquel and named it after his wife Annamaria. Those vines provided the fruit for Roudon-Smith's estate Chardonnay for many years. Following the retirement of the founders, the winery and vineyard were sold separately; the latter being purchased by Cesar Ramirez, a long-time employee.

This is a nice, structured Chardonnay. On the nose there's green apple, vanilla and lemon curd. As you'd expect there's decent acidity here; it's richly textured with a good finish, and was a splendid pairing to a herb crusted tilapia. Over a couple of hours an interesting butterscotch component developed.

This sells for $30 at the winery, but I've seen it for $24-$27 at other retailers; a fair price for a good wine. Don't waste your time looking for information on the Storrs website; for some reason it's not listed there.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Happy 75th Anniversary

75 years ago today Rusty Ray woke up Paul Masson by ringing a huge bronze school bell to celebrate the official end to prohibition. You can read the episode in the book Vineyards In The Sky, which is now available online courtesy of Google Books.

Unfortunately the wording of the constitutional amendment gave rise to a crazy system of distributors, state-run monopolies, byzantine laws and licensing requirements. For example: as a private individual I can legally ship firearms from one state to another, but I can't legally ship a bottle of wine. In several states you can order prescription drugs over the internet from around the world, but not wine. There are even 'dry' areas where alcohol can't be bought and sold. Yes America, you successfully replaced one ridiculous law with myriad little ones. But today is definitely a reason to celebrate. Raise your glass and toast Section 1 of the 21st Amendment!

PostScript: I discovered this marvellous quote on Wikipedia:

There are two ways, and only two ways, in which an ordinary private citizen ... can violate the United States Constitution. One is to enslave someone, a suitably hellish act. The other is to bring a bottle of beer, wine, or bourbon into a State in violation of its beverage control laws—an act that might have been thought juvenile, and perhaps even lawless, but unconstitutional?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

It's a funny thing, but when a producer makes one varietal so well you can often overlook the fact that they even make other wines. A couple of cases in point are Varner and Windy Oaks.

Now Bob and Jim Varner are justly famous for their excellent Chardonnay. From the Spring Ridge vineyard in Portola valley make the "Bee Block", "Home Block" and "Ampitheater Block", as well as a blend under the Neely label. However they also make a small amount of Pinot Noir. I tried the 2005 Neely Pinot Noir earlier this year, and frankly wasn't all that impressed. Then one evening last month I was looking through the cellar for something to pair with a stuffed pork chop and spotted a 2005 Varner Hidden Block Pinot Noir that I'd picked up. I decided I may as well quaff it, after all it was nothing special.

The colour didn't give much away; it's so amazingly light, I've seen darker Ros├ęs. If you drink a lot of Burgundy then you're no doubt used to it, but Californian winemakers (with a few notable exceptions) seems to prefer their wines much darker. And the nose wasn't much of a clue at first - dusty oak and some white flowers. But on the palate I was surprised - wave after wave of rich, sweet fruit; cherries and redcurrants, together with mixed spice and more. The depth was amazing and it just got better with air. Highly recommended.

On the other hand, Windy Oaks are best known for their Pinot Noirs. They have around 14 acres of Pinot planted down near Corralitos, together with one acre of Chardonnay. Yet that one acre makes some amazing wine. I've tried both the 2005 and 2006 recently; they each had flavours of lemon meringue pie, pineapple and custard. Overall I think the 2006 has the edge. Again, a highly recommended wine.

While on the subject of Windy Oaks I'd like to mourn the passing of a bottle of their 2006 Proprietor's Reserve Pinot Noir. I intended to open an older vintage to impress a good friend from France. Unfortunately the 2006 had just arrived and I picked the wrong one. If you own any of these babies I implore you to please let them rest; they need at least 3-5 years of beauty sleep before they are ready.

2004 Perrucci Family Sangiovese

Last August I wrote about the Perrucci Family Cabernet Sauvignon and noted that I'd picked up a bottle of the 2004 Sangiovese.

Last month I was invited to the Stefania Winery Volunteer Appreciation Dinner; since this was an ideal opportunity to share a new local wine with fellow enthusiasts I took it along. Unfortunately as a result I didn't get to take any notes on it. What I can say is that it was well received; several of the people who tasted it were surprised by it. It seemed to be fairly priced too at around $28. I shall certainly look for it again.

The wine of the night however was a 1994 Ridge Jimsomare Cabernet Sauvignon that Wes brought.