Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Two new releases from Cinnabar (and one older one)

This review marks a milestone for the blog; it's the first time that a winery has contacted me to submit wines for review.

The first wine is Cinnabar 'Lot 310 Philosophers stone' As I've noted before, non-vintage wines and wines with a 'California' appellation can be something of a hard sell. The Philosopher Stone is such a wine; it's a blend of 67% 2006 Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley and Sonoma Valley, and 33% 2004 Teroldego from the Mistral Vineyard in the San Ysidro District.

I decanted and served it immediately. In the glass it had a clear, deep garnet colour. The nose jumped out with black fruits, oak and white pepper; with a little air more perfume emerged. On the palate it was spicy and peppery, with lots of raspberry fruit and an oaky finish. It was nicely balanced; the acid seemed a little on the light side and the tannins were soft. It didn't seem to change significantly over the course of the hour or two that it was open; I think it's probably as good as it's going to get but can hold. Overall it's a delicious wine and at $32 I'd definitely buy this; it's comparable in quality to a Ridge Zin. 92 Recommended.

The Teroldego intrigued me; apparently it's a grape from northern Italy. It's not a variety I'm familiar with, though it's name rang a bell. On checking my cellar I discovered that I had a bottle of 2004 Cinnabar Teroldego, Central Coast, so the following day I opened that as a comparison.

The nose was very different; savoury, with notes of grilled steak, earth/compost, tar and smoke. While there were flavours of sour raspberry and blackberry there was lots of earth and tannin, and as the evening went on that came to dominate the fruit. I'm not sure what that says for its ageing potential; could well be that the tannins will outlast the fruit. Although it's compared by some to Zinfandel I thought it had more in common with Petite Sirah. An interesting wine, but not as good as the blend, and at $35 it's a touch more expensive. 89

The other wine in the package was 2007 Cinnabar Merlot, Paso Robles.

The fruit for this was sourced from two distinct vineyards in the Paso Robles AVA and includes 5% Petit Verdot.

The nose shows black fruit, dust and a little heat from the whopping 15.9% alcohol. On the palate it's fairly flat; there's some nice fruit, soft, ripe tannins which become more prominent on the finish and a fair degree of acidity. I know some Merlot fans who would enjoy this, but for my tastes it's not a particularly interesting wine; I greatly prefer their Mercury Rising blend. $21 86

Loma Fire update

CalFire reports that the fire is just 485 acres, down from earlier estimates, and is currently at 75% containment, with full containment expected today (October 27th).
Over 1700 personnel are fighting the blaze. There have been 4 reported injuries and three outbuildings or trailers destroyed. All road closures and evacuations have now been lifted.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Updated: Loma Fire

The Loma Fire has grown to 800+ acres. A couple of outbuildings have been destroyed and around 160 are threatened. Containment is reported at 20%. It appears to be in an area south east of Muns Vineyard and Loma Prieta; there are a few domestic vineyards around there but no wineries. No word on the cause as yet. More info may be available on the CDF website

Report of the fire on Mercury News. At least one fire fighter has been injured in the blaze.

Search for real time updates on Twitter using the hashtag #LomaFire

Saturday, October 17, 2009

2004 Ahlgren 'Bates Ranch' Merlot

Despite the 16.2% alcohol, there's very little heat apparent. Instead the nose is rather floral, with notes of brambles and coffee.
On the palate there's lots of sweet fruit and soft tannins. There's decent acidity too and a lightly spicy finish. A nice wine, but a little on the ripe side for my taste. 88

2005 Naumann Vineyards Merlot, Santa Cruz Mountains

There was some obvious alcohol on the nose at first, but this blew off to reveal cinnamon, leather and dusty oak. With more time an earthy note emerged.
There was a lot of acidity and tannin initially; I should probably have decanted it for an hour or so. Underneath there was nice fruit - plum and cassis - and a good finish. 90. I think it was $24 at the winery.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New blog: Friends of the Winemakers

Friends of the Winemakers is a local non-profit organisation whose purpose is to preserve the history of winemaking in the Santa Clara Valley and the Santa Cruz Mountains. They recently launched a blog of their own and my friend Paul Romero of Stefania Wine asked me if I'd be an occasional contributor.

I don't intend to cross-post articles to both blogs, but this will remain my primary focus. News and tasting notes will only appear here; articles for the FoW blog will probably be general or historical. My first piece is now up; it's another look at the larger vineyards of the Santa Clara Valley.

Monday, October 5, 2009

2001 Clos de la Tech 'Domaine de Docteur Rodgers' Pinot Noir

There's an old saying that you can make a small fortune in the wine business, provided you start with a large fortune. As the founder of Cypress Semiconductor Corp., TJ Rodgers started with a fortune larger than most.

In 1994 Dr Rodgers planted a 1 acre 'Domaine de Docteur Rodgers' Vineyard in the grounds of his home in Woodside, with the aim of making "the best Pinot Noir in the New World". He emulated some of the practices of his favourite Burgundy producers with tight vine spacing and manually treading the grapes, as well as sourcing the same barrels used by Romanee Conti. Following a couple of unsuccessful vintages that he termed "cycles of learning" the first commercial release of Clos De La Tech was in 2001 from the 1999 vintage. It was sold exclusively to his friends, primarily other Silicon Valley CEOs.

That year the winery began their expansion plans, first planting a 3 acre 'Domaine Valeta' vineyard to the east of Skyline Boulevard in Los Gatos. This was followed by the purchase of a 160 acre plot of land off Langley Hill Road, close to Fogarty winery, with the aim of installing one of the largest and certainly the most high-tech vineyards and wineries in the mountains. Despite opposition from local residents three large caves have been blasted into the hillside. Millions of dollars have been spent preparing the rugged hillside for viticulture, including the design of a custom 'tractor' that can traverse steep slopes at an angle.

As of yet, Clos de la Tech does not have a permit for a winery on the site, so the wines are all made on a custom crush basis at Domenico's winery in San Carlos. Just 100 cases are made each year of the 'Domaine de Docteur Rodgers', and less than 50 cases of the 'Domaine Valeta'. The most recent release of both wines is from the 2003 vintage. While I've yet to see a review from any of the major publications the wines got positive reviews by Rusty Gaffney on his Pinot File site.

When the 'Domaine de Docteur Rodgers' was first launched it caused something of a stir on the internet discussion groups with its price tag of $101.50; this made it one of the most expensive wines in the AVA behind Ridge Monte Bello and Kathryn Kennedy, and by far the most expensive Pinot Noir. Similarly the debut release of 'Domaine Valeta' was priced at $81.50. While we are used to seeing high priced first releases, these typically are Napa Cabernets from 'rock star' winemakers and vineyard managers; flashy, concentrated and heavily oaked wines that inevitably garner high scores from the critics. Domestic Pinot Noir on the other hand has generally resisted price inflation with only a handful of producers commanding triple-digit prices. In fact while there are several semi-cult releases that can fetch large sums on the auction market most of those are priced under $100 on release (and have long waiting lists).

I was lucky enough to pick up a bottle of the 2001 release on closeout at K&L for the far less eye-watering price of $30, and finally broke it out last weekend for the benefit of some fellow local wine enthusiasts. The presentation is striking; the neck of each bottle contains a real silicon chip embedded in the wax (the chip changes with each vintage), the foil has the winery name printed around it in the style of Romanee Conti, and each bottle is individually numbered.

2001 Clos de la Tech 'Domaine de Docteur Rodgers' Pinot Noir
Quite dark in colour for a wine that aspires to emulate a Burgundy. On the nose there's cherry and star anise, with caramel showing more as the wine opened.
There is good cherry fruit; fairly low acidity and the tannins are soft. A slight 'green' hint and a longish peppery finish. 90. Worth what I paid, but I can't imagine anyone who stumped up the original release price being too happy with the value.

Notwithstanding the deep pockets - not to mention the hubris and enthusiasm - of its owner it will be very interesting to see whether the winery can yet live up to its own hype and produce truly world class wines from this already world class region.

Friday, October 2, 2009

2007 Foxglove Zinfandel, Paso Robles

Foxglove is the second label of Varner, makers of some of the best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Initially there was just one Foxglove offering, a Chardonnay from Edna Valley that was priced in the $10-$15 range and has always offered excellent value for money. This was followed by a Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles, and now a third has joined the range; a Zinfandel also from Paso Robles that's blended with 14% Petite Sirah.

The nose shows raspberry, pepper and spicy oak. There's a good balance of fruit and acidity, with nice black pepper particularly on the finish. Enough tannin that the wine doesn't appear flabby, but there's absolutely no reason to cellar this as it can't possibly get any better with time. Buy it by the case and enjoy it now. 89. $12 at K&L