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Archive for August, 2008

Points aren’t the only thing that sell wine. Good stories also sell wine and the story of Baker Lane caught my attention and sold me on trying a few bottles of their Syrah.

The owner of Baker Lane is Stephen Singer. Singer’s first wife was the legendary Alice Waters, chef and owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California.

He become involved in the Bay Area wine scene while working at Chez Panisse in the 1980s and ’90s. During that time he developed friendship with Kermit Lynch. Lynch was the first to uncover and import some of the Northern Rhône’s most sought after wines and it is said that Singer spent many an evening in the company of Waters, Lynch and wines from the Rhône Valley.

When Stephen Singer decided to take the leap from wine enthusiast to winegrower, he did so with the intention of making a California Syrah that combined New World flavors with the vibrancy and equilibrium of the Syrahs from the Rhône Valley.

I decided to taste both the 2005 and 2006 Sonoma Coast Estate Vineyard Syrah. I was impressed by how much I enjoyed each of the vintages, but also how each was quite unique from the other.

The 2005 is deep ruby and pomegranate in color. Dark raspberry, violets, kirsch, some smoke and mushrooms on the nose. Cranberry, pomegranate, wild game and some earthy dark truffle characteristics. The wine is quite dry with appealing chalky and mineral components. A true Syrah with some Old World character.

The 2006 is bright ruby in color and more compelling on the nose. I could have easily mistaken this for a Grenache as there are some very pronounced and bright notes of strawberry and black pepper. The wine is indeed a Syrah, and also includes a 4% inclusion of co-fermented Viognier. On the palate, the 2006 shows a more personality as well. The flavors are brighter, more pronounced and more expansive than the 2005. Again, it shows some Grenache characteristics, loaded with pepper and strawberry. As well as dark fruits, leather, graphite and a healthy dose of bacon fat and meatiness. 14.5% alcohol. 400 cases produced.

The 2005 might be aligned more closely to the Old World in style, but I have to give a nod to the 2006. Both wines were very enjoyable and would certainly purchase them again given the opportunity. Though if I could only buy one it would be the 2006. The wine retails for $40 a bottle, but I was able to find it on sale for about $32. I loved the strawberry, pepper and meaty components that showed on the nose and palate. Certainly one of the more compelling California Syrahs I have had this year. I would love to hear Kermit Lynch’s thoughts on this wine. Strongly recommended.

Also worth noting, tonight I used my new Schott Zwiesel Pure Tritan Crystal Cabernet Glasses. I love the design (which they say provides better aeration). The glasses are said to be durable and dishwasher safe thanks to the introduction of the proprietary Tritan Crystal technique (the result of special additives such as titanium and a unique tempering process). You can find the glasses for about $11 a stem. I think I like them even more than the Riedel Vinum Cabernet Glasses that cost more than twice as much. I was very pleased with the glasses and would certainly buy them again.

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Pax Mahle is considered to be an ultratraditionalist. “We take a very pure approach,” explains Mahle, “one that was more commonplace 100 years ago in France than it is today.” That approach includes organic farming, foot-crushing the grapes, natural fermentations and absolutely no fining or filtering.

As widely reported and detailed in a recent Wine Spectator article, Pax Mahle was recently fired as winemaker from Pax, and replaced by a new winemaker, Tyler Thomas. Thomas previously was the assistant winemaker at Hyde Vineyards.

The change comes as Mahle, his wife, Pamela Schaab, and Pax’s majority owner, Joe Donelan, are locked in a legal battle over the winery. Neither Mahle nor Donelan have made public comments on the current situation. But it is said that there have been ongoing disagreements over the allocation of winery funds as well as winemaking and management decisions. Mahle had expressed a desire for a buyout or outright dissolution of the brand, but it seems as though that was not an acceptable outcome for Donelan. After an attempt at arbitration to resolve the issues was unsuccessful, Donelan rejected a buyout offer and filed a suit against the couple.

Mahle has moved on and is now in the process of building a winery in Forestville, California. He plans to make a variety of wines, including a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, an old-vine Chardonnay from Paso Robles, a Nebbiolo and a Syrah (possibly from some of the same vineyards currently sourcing grapes to the Pax label). Meanwhile, Donelan said he intends to continue the Pax label, “we will continue to make Rhône varietal wines, principally vineyard-designated Syrahs.”

I certainly am not close enough to the situation to have any insights. I do know that many people speak well of the Donelan’s — and Pax Mahle is certainly a talented winemaker — so recent events seem to unfortunate for all involved, including those that liked the wines. Obviously there will be some changes and it remains to be seen if it will be a seamless transition, an improvement, or a negative (even if only a short-term negative).

The 2006 Sonoma Hillsides is 100% Syrah. Dark, inky purple in color. Dark cherry, cassis and smoke on the nose. On the palate, blueberry, plum, and currants with graphite, tobacco, and some earthy components. Substantial tannins, a bit austere and not showing a lot of fruit (it might with more time in the bottle). None of which are intended as a negative, but the wine didn’t really win me over, at least for me on this occasion. Pax wines are expensive and with higher prices come higher expectations. This was a very good wine, but I can get that at $20 a bottle.

In my opinion, Pax has better Syrahs in their portfolio. There are also better Syrahs and certainly better values than the Pax Hillsides. I would opt for a number of French examples at half the price even given the strength of the euro. I will put the rest down for 3-5 years and hope (and expect) it will improve with age. 775 cases produced and 14.59 % alcohol.

I know Pax is known for their Syrahs, but in the 3 wines of Pax I have tasted this year, my favorite was their Marsanne/Roussanne/Viognier, Nepenthe, Alder Springs Vineyard, Mendocino County, 2006.

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I’m a fan of Sean Thackrey and his wines — and have posted about him previously. I received an email sent out to his mailing list and thought I would post it here as you might want to pick up some Pleiades XVI. He says he will not be making that again for a while, but It sounds like he has some other interesting projects in the works.

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Dear Friends:

No, this isn’t the annual autumn wine offering; that will come along at its usual time, which should be the first week in October.

But it will come along without Pleiades, and I thought you should be forewarned of this fact while there was still time to do something about it.

In other words, we bottled the Pleiades XVI earlier this year, and are not planning another Pleiades bottling any time soon; which means that what remains of Pleiades XVI is all that there’s going to be for a while; and what remains will almost certainly be gone by October.

So it occurred to me that there might be much lamentation and rending of both vestments & wine-maker if I didn’t tell you this now, as opposed to then.

Thus, last call. If you do want more Pleiades – at least up to one case – right now is the time to say so. It can, of course, be shipped now as well, although I’d strongly advise waiting until the weather cools; my suggestion is that we store the Pleiades for you (at no charge) until the autumn offering comes out, and ship the two together. The price ($288./case, $24./bottle, less your usual discount) is unchanged: just return this e-mail with a note of what you’d like to order, be sure to include your preferred contact telephone number, and Leslie will do the rest, as usual.

Otherwise, we have a number of projects in spiritual fermentation at the moment, and now is as good a time as any to let you know about some of them.

When I first named my wines after constellations, I thought one virtue would be an immediate association of the former with the latter. But no. It turns out a startling number of people seem not even to have heard of the constellations; thus, answering questions about what “Ply-aidis”means, or hearing “Orion” pronounced as in “Oreo”, etc. But, not one to give up easily, it dawned on me there’s actually one constellation every American knows: that’s The Big Dipper, and I think it’s a splendid name for a wine; so I’ve trademarked it. It’ll be less expensive than the Pleiades, and probably will be a négociant production, which I expect to be a challenge and quite a lot of fun.

Then there’s my pink wine for the airhead niche market – being blond, I have a natural affection for airheads – to be called “Fifi” (& with the slogan, “Gosh; it came out all pink!”); probably a rosé of Sangiovese, but I’m still working on it.

And then there’s at least one more Pinot Noir, this one called “Cassiopeia”, & made from the splendid produce of a perfectly situated and organically farmed vineyard in the Anderson Valley, Mendocino.

And two more wines from an equally perfectly farmed and situated vineyard in Knight’s Valley; the first being a revival of the Taurus I made in the late 1980’s, thus a Mourvèdre; and the second a Viognier, to be called Lyra, which may turn out to be the first white wine I’ve ever released with a label on it.

But in the meanwhile, leap to your mice, or at least don’t say I didn’t warn you.

with all best wishes,

Sean

Sean Thackrey
e-mail: sean@wine-maker.net
website: http://www.wine-maker.net

Visit his site to learn more about him and also sign up to his mailing list.

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This wine is a Napa red meritage blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc).

The Quintessa estate is comprised of a total of 280 acres of which 170 acres are planted to the classic Bordeaux grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon (129 acres), Merlot (26 acres), Cabernet Franc (7 acres), Petit Verdot (4 acres), and Carmenere (4 acres). The estate is part of the Rutherford appellation. It lies in the heart of the Napa Valley and covers about six square miles between Oakville and St. Helena with a total of 3300 vineyard acres.

The wine was given to me by my best friend a number of years back. I had been saving it for a special occasion and decided that the other night was such an occasion and an appropriate time to open a bottle.

Very dark ruby red in color. Violets, baked blueberries, rhubarb and black cherry on the nose. Dark fruit compote, black cherry, crème de cassis, currant on the palate with coffee, leather, graphite and a hint of green pepper. Silky smooth with a broad mouthfeel, very approachable. Lots of fruit, but also showing some elegance and finesse.

This certainly is not a value and probably not a wine I would purchase for myself; however, it was very enjoyable and helped make the occasion just a bit more special.

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I have been trying to manage my dwindling inventory. I have been having a hard time imagining the day when I didn’t have this on hand — it brought a sense of panic. My separation anxiety is now under control, at least for the time being…

I stopped in at Calvert Woodley tonight as they have a 20% off their entire Robert Kacher inventory, which was reason enough to get a little excited. Then I spotted a few bottles of Whispering Angel. Turns out they found a distributor, previously they imported directly and they just didn’t want to keep such a large inventory on hand, but now it is back in stock. They currently have 2 cases left of the 2006.

Chateau D’Esclans releases their wines later than most wineries — and I believe the 2007 was released in late June. Calvert Woodley expects to have the 2007 in stock by mid to late September.

The wine can be purchased for $19.99 a bottle at their store in DC or online at their website.

Read my original review of the 2006 Chateau D’Esclans Whispering Angel Rosé.

More rosé wines:
Lopez de Heredia Rioja Tondonia Rosé 1998
Mas des Bressades Rosé
Prieto Picudo Preto Rosado 2008

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Robert Parker stated this might be the finest example of the Viognier from California he has tasted. The points didn’t matter, but with that endorsement I set out to see what I could find. I love me some Viognier and my home does double duty as a hospice for stray California Rhônes — so deciding to adopt this wine required virtually no thought.

Pale straw in color. Vibrant and floral aromatics of orange blossom, white flower, honey and a hint of sea foam. On the palate, extremely rich, focused, powerful, exotic and profound. Apricot, nectarine, melon rind, pineapple, guava, nut and tangerine. Creamy with a big dose of minerality and acidity that combine with the fruit to hold you hostage for a 30-45 second plus finish.

Reading the label, I was concerned about the alcohol, but it didn’t show the expected heat; however, it was extremely rich and might overpower many food choices. If I served this with food I would probably opt for raw clams, oysters or mussels in a butter and garlic sauce.

This wine is definitely worth seeking out and a good value at about $20 a bottle. Recommended.

I also liked the McPrice Myers Viognier. While it was not quite as rich or powerful, it was a bit more approachable and food friendly — but I would recommend either based on mood, occasion and food pairing.

Other recommended California Rhône whites:
Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas Blanc 2006
Pax Marsanne/Roussanne/Viognier, Nepenthe, Alder Springs Vineyard, Mendocino County, 2006
L’Aventure Roussanne 2006
Gaillard Côtes du Rhône Les Gendrines 2006

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I recently tried to place an order with Salumi. It had been a good 6-8 months since I last had any of their cured meats and I started to get some serious cravings for Salumi when contemplating a trip to Seattle.

I placed my order a couple of weeks ago only to find out that there was now a waiting list. To make matters worse, there was a wait to get on their waiting list. They asked that I email them again in a couple of weeks and with a little bit of luck I would secure my place in queue. So I tried again yesterday and quickly received an email confirmation indicating that they could ship to me in mid-September. Right now that seems like a year away, but of course I jumped at the opportunity.

I would give just about anything for Salumi, including my little pinky — and I am only half joking. Last year, I was enjoying my last shipment from Salumi and wanted to cut my salami paper thin. I don’t own a professional meat slicer, but I figured my Kyocera mandoline would do the trick. It did work like a charm, as long as I applied pressure when slicing.

At one point there was a slip of hand and I knew I had caught my finger. I wrapped it immediately as it was bleeding a lot and I wasn’t ready to see the damage. The bleeding didn’t actually come to a complete halt for a couple of days and to this day you can see where I lopped off the tip. It did grow back but now it  looks like a blister at the tip of my finger — and the feeling has never totally returned. A very small price to pay for paper think slices of salami from Salumi.

Salumi is the love child of Armandino Batali. Armandino is the father of Mario Batali. Being a fan of Babbo, I knew I needed to try Salumi immediately. Armandino learned his craft from Dario Cecchinni, the mad butcher and owner of the macelleria in Panzano, Italy. Armandino had retired from Boeing and decided it was about time he pursued his passion for food, specifically, cured meat. If you don’t know the story, read chapter 19 of Bill Buford’s Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany. Actually, I suggest reading the entire book, it is one of my favorites.

All of Salumi’s cured meats are amazing, but the Mole Salami is a must — spiced with chocolate, cinnamon, ancho and chipotle peppers. It is absolutely delicious and an experience that will not be forgotten.

I can’t wait to receive my order in September and I know that at some point I will need to make the trip to the Seattle storefront.

The video of Armandino and Mario Batali at Salumi is a great introduction to what might be the finest cured meats made in the United States. I admire Mario and Armandino and to say I covet their food is an understatement.

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