Sunday, June 28, 2009

Brief notes from Pinot Days

Just got back from Pinot Days - a great event as usual. Got to see lots of friends and meet some new people.

Tried lots of interesting wines, mostly from outside the area. David Dain Smith is making some great wines out of Crushpad in San Francisco. Loved his American Beauty and Savage Juliet. Peter Cargasacchi had a very interesting rose-ish of Pinot Grigio; traditionally one of my least favourite grapes. Most people treat this as a white grape but the skins do have some colour. Andy Peay had a lovely Rousanne/Marsanne blend and some nice Pinots too. Eric Lundblad's Ladd Cellars had several interesting pinots, including a lovely Sonoma Coast. Carmel Road have a remarkably good value pinot from Monterey that can be found for under $15

Here are my rather brief notes from some of the local producers.

Coterie Cellars
A new winery that's opened up in San Jose, making Pinot Noir, Roussanne and Syrah from grapes purchased from the Russian River Valley and Santa Lucia Highlands. The owners used to be part of a group operating out of a facility in Berkeley. Very promising start; I hope to visit them soon.

2007 Fairview Road Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands $35
Smoky black cherry nose; Smooth, rich flavours of cherry, strawberry and smoke. Nice structure; dry, tannic finish 90

2007 Saralee Vineyard Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley $38
Tighter nose than the Fairview; some fresh strawberry. Earthy, with strawberry and a hint of menthol 87

2008 Fairview Road Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands (Barrel Sample)
Good cherry nose. Lots of sweet, primary black cherry fruit, some underbrush, dry tannic finish. 89+

One of my perennial favourite Chardonnay producers, and their Pinots are great too. All fruit is from the Spring Ridge vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

2007 "Hidden Block" Pinot Noir
Lovely spicy cherry nose. Rich, concentrated flavours of cherry, cranberry and sour strawberry. Oak shows on the longish finish. Very good indeed. 92

2005 Neely "Holly's Cuvee" Pinot Noir
Hint of funk, cherry, cinnamon & sandalwood. Good acidity; balanced and fresh. Nice cherry fruit, some tannin on the finish. Showing well 91

2005 Neely "Picnic Block"
Unusual nose; I got green apple/pear. Very tart, lots of acid & tannin 84

2006 "Ampitheater Block" Chardonnay
Nose showed vanilla & pear and a slightly mature character. Rich and creamy, green apple and pear flavours. Lots of lemon & lime and acidity on the finish 88

2006 "Bee Block" Chardonnay
Fresh apples and vanilla. Creamy lemon sorbet and vanilla ice-cream. Long finish. Lovely 92

Thomas Fogarty
All fruit sourced from their estate vineyard off Skyline boulevard in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

2007 Estate Pinot Noir
Light nose of candied cherries. Sweet cherry fruit, slightly tannic. Pleasant but fairly simple 86

2007 Windy Hill Pinot Noir
Nice sweet, floral nose. Rich flavours of sweet cherry & cranberry, some chewy oak tannins, good finish. 89

2007 Rapley Trail
Earthy, smoky nose. Smooth black cherry & lime flavours. Coarse tannins on the finish 88

Sarah's Vineyard
Good producer in the Santa Clara Valley, pouring two new single vineyard wines. The Veranda vineyard is an 80 acre vineyard in the Pajaro Valley near Corralitos; the fruit is purchased by several local producers. The Rebhahn vineyard is a 4 acre property planted in 1997 in Scotts Valley by Val Rebhahn. The fruit was used by his Glenwood Oaks label. The vineyard is now being managed by Sarah's winemaker, Robert Henson.

2007 Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Clara Valley
Sweet cherry nose. Smooth, rich cherry and loamy flavours, nice balance & structure 90

2007 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nice nose of cherry & oak, slightly floral. Great cherry, earth & cranberry, long tannic finish. 91

2007 Veranda Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
Earthy - almost cheesy - nose. Nice, rich cherry and strawberry with a little spice and a medium finish 87

2007 Rebhahn Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
Aromas of sour cherry, herbs and smoke. Lots of tannin; flavours of dried cranberry & black cherry. Sweeter on the finish. Needs time. 89

Naumann Vineyards

Naumann is a small vineyard located near the top of Monte Bello Road, just down the hill from Ridge. They produce around 700 cases of Merlot and Chardonnay with a reputation for great value. The winery is only open on SCMWA Passport days, but I was invited to join a special tasting organised by the group Friends of the Winemakers.

Don Naumann had been thinking of planting a vineyard in Napa when the opportunity arose to purchase a 10 acre property just down the hill from Ridge. In 1994 he planted just over an acre of Merlot on the steep, rocky hillside, adding a second acre in the following years. He also manages a neigbour's Chardonnay vineyard and has recently taken over a nearby Cabernet vineyard.

The property enjoys spectacular views across the valley; on a clear day you can see from Mount Diablo all the way around to the Lick observatory on Mt. Hamilton. The hillside is so steep that the back of the house is at least 20 feet above the vines, and looks down on the treetops that surround it.

From 1997 to 2005 the wine was produced under a custom crush agreement at Burrell School; starting with the 2006 vintage production has transferred to Fernwood Cellars. The wines are aged in a combination of new and used French oak barrels.

2006 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains $18
Light, oaky nose showing some vanilla and sherbet. Creamy with notes of lemon curd and mineral, and a quick finish. 86

2005 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains $18
Shows less oak on the nose than the 2006; on the palate there's lots of fresh lemon, good acidity and a longer finish. Recommended 90

2004 Estate Merlot, Santa Cruz Mountains $26
This has a rather smoky blueberry nose. It's rich and fruity with good acidity, and a tart, tannic finish. 87

2005 Estate Merlot, Santa Cruz Mountains $26
Showing less smoke than the 04, with plums as well as blueberries. Overall it's richer still and more balanced. There's good structure and just a little heat on the long finish. Recommended 90

Friday, June 26, 2009

2008 Downhill Torrontés

Torrontés? A year ago I'd never heard of it either. Apparently it's a white grape that's popular in Argentina and is supposedly the Next Big Thing. DNA research has concluded that it's a cross between Muscat of Alexandria and the old Mission grape, Listan Prieto - also known as Rose of Peru, or Criolla Chica in Argentina.

Although the label simply carries the California appellation, the fruit is sourced from a new vineyard called Silvaspoons in Lodi, where the owner is experimenting with various - mostly Iberian - grapes, including Alvarelhão, Verdejo, Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional.

I wanted something to go with an Indian curry I'd made and went for this, nicely chilled. The nose comes over beautifully; it's floral, fruity and spicy all at once, and it just flows out of the glass. But on the palate it seemed a bit of a let down; didn't seem to match up. There was some peach, lime and flowers, but it seemed pretty thin and insipid. Oh well, can't win them all.

But gradually a change became apparent. As the wine warmed up it seemed to take on weight and mouthfeel, and the flavours really started to intensify. It has elements of Viognier, Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc. It's still a fairly lightweight wine and could use a little more concentration; it will be interesting to see whet the vines produce as they get older and what else comes from this vineyard. 90 $16 Value

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

2007 Windy Oaks "Terra Narro" Pinot Noir

Jim & Judy Schultze make some terrific wines from their property in Corralitos. Their Chardonnay is one of my favourites, and their entire range of critically acclaimed Pinot Noirs is impressive. The latest addition, named "Terra Narro", is designed to be drunk now while you're waiting for their more structured wines to mature.

The nose is light, but typical of the Windy Oaks style. On the palate there's loads of cola, with hints of cherry, cranberry and spice. It's balanced, light on the oak with a tasty if fairly quick finish. 88 points. Club members can pick it up for $23, which makes it a Value; if you aren't a club member you might want to try and get hold of the Diane's Block, or better still the Wild Yeast or Reserve, to see what the fuss is about.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Satori Cellars

Sandy & Tom Moller purchased a 20 acre parcel in Gilroy, just east of the 101, in 1993. The land had previously been a prune orchard, but the trees were old and diseased and had to be removed. An early plan to grow Christmas trees was eventually scrapped in favour of growing grapes. Their 15 acre vineyard is planted with Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Petite Sirah.

In common with several other Santa Clara wineries, the winery hosts an open day on the third weekend of every month, with special events every 3 months to celebrate the solstices and equinoxes. However Satori is unusual - possibly unique - in that its events are particularly family friendly. There is a large children's play area and there are activities such as face painting. One slight word of caution though; there is a pool which is not fenced off.

Starting on July 11th the winery will open for tasting only every weekend. A tasting fee of $10 may apply, which is credited towards any purchase.

2007 Chardonnay of the Pink Ray, Monterey County $18
A rose made by adding a small amount of Petite Sirah.
Rather thin and acidic, with flavours of pears and crab apples.

2006 Estate Merlot of the Violet Flame, Santa Clara Valley $25 (80 cases)
Nose of bluberries, oak and smoke. Concentrated blueberry and plum flavours, with soft tannins. Drink now.

2006 Estate Petite Sirah Ha-Ha, Santa Clara Valley $33 (185 cases)
Nose shows lots of toasty oak. On the palate there's some decent black fruits and liquorice behind some fairly big tannins. Give it cellar time and see what happens.

2006 Ta-Da Syrah, Santa Clara Valley, $25 (75 cases)
75% Dorcich vineyard, 25% Estate
Blueberry syrup on the nose. Bright, soft blueberry fruit and a fairly quick finish.

2006 Hallelujah Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley $30 (590 cases)
Fruity nose - Vimto & smoke
Rich sweet fruit - blackcurrant and toast. Soft crisp finish

2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon of the Blue Hand, Santa Clara Valley $30 185 cases
A cab for Zin lovers. Toast & berry on the nose, flavours of blackberry, raspberry, chocolate and espresso.

2006 Oh-So Zin, Fratelli Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley $25 (160 cases)
Nose of black raspberry and gooseberry. Extracted flavours of raspberry, espresso and smoke. Drinking well now.

2006 Estate ZenZin, Santa Clara Valley $28 (110 cases)
A soft, sweet raspberry nose. Palate shows strong raspberry flavours, with firm tannins on the finish. Currently rather tight, this should continue to develop over the next 2-3 years.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Muns Vineyard

At 2600 feet above sea level, Muns Vineyard is one of the highest in the country, and probably the highest Pinot Noir vineyard. The 77 acre property was a pine tree farm in the 1970s. During the 1980s a previous owner installed 13 acres of irrigation and trellising and planted Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. However the project was abandoned before any wine was ever produced.

Ed Muns purchased the property in 1988; by then the few remaining vines were in very pooor shape and the vinyard was completely overgrown. In 1997 he began refurbishing the vineyard and repairing the old damaged trellising and irrigation. He planted three different kinds of rootstock and grafted them with four different Pinot clones. Most of the fruit is sold to Silver Mountain and Sonnet, with a small portion being used for Ed's own label.

The first commercial vintage was 2004, and was custom-crushed at Soquel vineyards. Since 2005 the wine has been made by Tony Craig at Silver Mountain.

The wines were poured at the Forbes History Museum in Los Gatos during the Vintners' festival to celebrate the launch of their exhibit on the historic Novitiate winery.

2007 "Jazz On The Plazz" Rose $16
The rose is available in two labels, but it's the same wine. This particular label is to support the Los Gatos Summer Jazz series and is only sold within Los Gatos.
Very nice nose of strawberries and rose petals follows on to the palate. A light, fresh summer wine.

2004 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
This saw 8 months of new French oak. Good nose of sharp cherry and vanilla. Good, deep cherry fruit followed by a dry, fairly short finish.

2005 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
The first vintage made by Tony Craig. The wine spends 18 months in 30% to 50% new Hungarian oak. Rather than being racked the lees is stirred periodically.
There's a slightly oxidised note to the nose; on the palate the acidity overwhelms the fruit. Might appear better with food, but alone it comes across as disjointed.

2006 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
A very nice nose showing lots of rose petal. Lighter than the 2005; fresh and fruity, well balanced and drinking nicely.

2007 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
As with the 2007 rose, the nose shows strawberries and rose petals. Abundant strawberry fruit, nice balance and a good finish. While it's nice now, it should continue to improve for the next few years.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Spot The Difference

Sones Cellars make an interesting white wine - it's a blend of Viognier, Torrontes, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. They originally named it "La Sirena", however there's already a winery by that name in Napa owned by Heidi Peterson-Barrett. So following a letter from the lawyers the name was changed to the Siren Song. Problem solved? Apparently not.

According to the lawyers, Siren Song is still too close to the trademark. Sones can't use the name Siren in any form. Or Mermaid. Or Manatee, Dugong, Seacow - or any sea creature whatsoever, lest the poor customer somehow get confused. So even "Sea Urchin" would be out of bounds.

Fortunately the new labels hadn't been printed, so the wine is currently called "White Table Wine", which apparently even the lawyers couldn't object to.

Which reminds me of a joke - what's the difference between a sea urchin and a room full of lawyers? A sea urchin has the pricks on the outside.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

2005 Ahlgren Semillon, Livermore Valley

On my recent visit to Ahlgren Vineyards, Val Ahlgren gave me a bottle of the 2005 Semillon to review at my leisure. I finally got around to opening it last night.

Now most of the Semillon based wines that I've drunk have been sweet; I'm a big fan of Sauternes, but don't recall any dry Semillon that I liked enough to buy twice, so I was curious to see what this would be like.

Nice pale golden colour (the photo doesn't really show it very well). The nose is quite floral - white flowers, with pear and pineapple, and a little honey. It has a rich mouthfeel from barrel fermentation coupled with almost 3 years in the bottle. As to the flavour, well it's rather like a dry Sauternes. Now I've had dry wines made by Sauternes producers such as Rieussec; they tend to show structure, acidity, minerality and not a great deal of fruit. This isn't like that; it really does taste like a dry Sauternes. Certainly there's acidity, but there's tropical fruit and honey, yet it's bone dry. Instead of the botrytis spiciness there's some white pepper. Initially the wine was cold (since that's the way my wife likes her whites); as it warmed up to room temperature it showed much more character. At $17 a bottle I would call it a Value. 89

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Santa Cruz Mountains Vintners Festival

June is here, which means it's tine for the annual Vintners Festival. For the next two weekends many of the local wineries will be pouring their wines for you to taste. There are details here on the SCMWA web site.

If you're not sure which wineries to visit and want to minimise your driving then on the first weekend visit Santa Cruz and Soquel. In downtown Santa Cruz you'll find Equinox, Bartolo, Trout Gulch, Bonny Doon, Vino Tabi, Sones, Odonata, Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard and Pelican Ranch in close proximity, with Storrs not far away.

Aptos Creek, Cordon Creek, Heart O' The Mountain, Naumann and P*M Staiger will be at Michael’s on Main in downtown Soquel. Other nearby wineries include Poetic Cellars, Bargetto and Hunter Hill, while in nearby Aptos at the Seacliff Inn you'll find Domenico, River Run and Martin Ranch.

The following weekend it's the east side. In Saratoga you'll find Bonny Doon, Cordon Creek and Poetic Cellars at la Fondue, with Cinnabar, Cooper Garrod and Savannah Chanelle nearby. The Mountain Winery will probably be open too, though they aren't part of the festival.

In Los Gatos you will find Naumann pouring at Forbes Mill and Big Basin, Clos Tita and Roudon-Smith at Trevese. The Fleming Jenkins tasting room is nearby, as is the Novitiate winery, home of Testarossa. A little further afield is Black Ridge, while at Nonno’s Restaurant in Redwood Estates you can sample McHenry, Odonata, P*M Staiger, Pelican Ranch, Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, Sones and Storrs.

Also in downtown Los Gatos, the local history museum is presenting "From Vine to Wine: A History of Local Vintners". The exhibit doesn't officially open until July but will be previewed the weekend of the 13th and 14th.

Further north, you can find Heart O' The Mountain and Muccigrosso pouring at Domenico Winery in San Carlos, and King's Mountain and Michael Martella at the La Honda Winery in Redwood City. And while you're there, visit Thomas Fogarty, up on Skyline.

Wherever you decide to go, drive carefully and don't forget to spit.

Friday Twitter Taste Live: Clos LaChance

Clos LaChance is hosting a live tasting via Twitter this weekend. If you're in the bay area head down to the winery in San Martin and join the fun; if not you can always grab a couple of bottles and join in on line.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Video: Woodside Vineyards

I met Kevin Monahan of Video 4 at Pinot Paradise. We had a brief chat; I enjoy video editing too, but it's very time consuming. He was recording the event, and has a series of videos up on YouTube. This is one of his - it's a short segment on some of the various vineyards that Woodside Vineyards manages.