Saturday, March 21, 2009

Downhill Winery

The Santa Cruz Mountains has many winemakers who are enjoying a second successful career. Unlike most of them, Frank Ashton isn't a high-tech refugee. Instead he ran a specialty retail business for over 20 years before selling the company and taking on the role of general manager and winemaker at Byington Winery.

Not content with that, Frank has launched a side project of his own: Downhill Winery. The wines are made in Byington's facility and are occasionally available to taste there. I got a notification of two new releases, so went over to try them.

2008 Torrontés, California
The fruit is sourced from a small vineyard in Lodi whose owner has an interest in unusual varietals. Torrontés is a grape that is popular in Argentina and is believed to be related to Malvasia and to a similarly named grape found in Galicia, in Spain.
On first impression it resembles Viognier, having a fresh, floral nose with hints of peach. But on the palate it's closer to a Sauvignon Blanc, or possibly Gewurztraminer, with clean, fresh fruit and a hint of spice. The use of neutral oak rather than steel has given a rounded mouthfeel.

2008 Rosé of Barbera, California
A light, crisp summer rosé. Nose of wild strawberries. Bone dry, with flavours of fresh dough and a nutty finish.

2007 Chardonnay, Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
A remarkably fresh Chardonnay, made with only 20% new oak and 50% malolactic. A crisp wine with good mouthfeel and nice apple and tropical fruit flavours. Great value; wines from Sleepy Hollow typically retail for at least $10 more.

2007 "Alessia" Barbera
While I'm not ordinarily that keen on Italian varietals, this is a nice wine. The earthy nose also shows smoked meats; the rich palate has currant fruit and more smoke with a round finish. Good acidity, light tannins.

2006 Pinot Noir, Peter Martin Ray Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
The Peter Martin Ray vineyard used to be part of "Rusty" Ray's property. While most of the estate (considered by some to be one of the finest Pinot Noir vineyards outside Burgundy) is now Mount Eden, the family retained a small parcel.
Light in colour it appeared to be already showing some bricking (though the lighting didn't help). A beautiful perfumed nose, hinting at roses and cinnamon. Rich mouthfeel with good cherry flavours and a good, longish finish.

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Giuliani Vineyard, Yountville, Napa Valley
Good fruity nose, with some traces of tobacco and mint. Nice blackcurrant flavours and a touch of coffee. A wine that can easily stand up to more expensive Napa brands.


Tim Corliss said...

dave -thanks for the notes. the chardonnay and cab sound interesting/