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Archive for April, 2009

img_1204Eric Asimov has written a number of times about Rhys and Kevin Harvey. Asimov wrote that to call “Mr. Harvey a wine lover is a little like calling Thomas Keller a cook. It’s not wrong, but it doesn’t begin to get at the fanatical drive within.”

Asimov details Harvey’s quest, a long time lover of Pinot Noir and Burgundy, beginning with the itch to try his own hand at producing the a great California Pinot Noir. In 1995, he planted 35 pinot noir vines behind his secluded home in this woodsy, affluent town west of Palo Alto and adjacent to the Santa Cruz Mountains. Those few vines soon became a quater acre, enough produce a barrel of wine in his garage.

His ambitions and dreams grew. He wanted to make distinct wines with the earthy, mineral qualities of good Burgundy. Fascinated with the Santa Cruz Mountains, he began purchased three sites, each on rocky slopes yet each geologically different and hard to farm, a condition made even more difficult by his commitment to biodynamic viticulture.

In his quest to make distinctive wines, Harvey has taken a different approach from many California Pinot Noir producers. He chose not to follow the common path of  the new Dijon clones, opting instead on more traditional clones.  Harvey is content with Pinot Noirs that are a traditional pale red rather than the inky black, ripe and concentrated wines that characterize many California Pinots. And instead of destemming grapes before fermentation, he uses whole grape clusters in the tradition of some of the best Burgundy producers like Romanée-Conti, Leroy and Dujac. He also strives to avoid oakiness, and his wine are usually under at or under 14 percent alcohol, a rarity in California these days.

After reading Asimov’s praises, I figured it was time to get on their mailing list as it seems as though their wines are in limited production and high demand. While much of his focus is on winegrowing for his estate-managed vineyards, Harvey also explores distinctive California locations outside the Santa Cruz Mountains. Alesia is his second label made from these purchased grapes.

The Sonoma Coast Chileno Vally Pinot Noir is a beautiful ruby with a touch of violet in color, not quite transparent. Lovely aromas of crushed cherry, spice, herbs and some earthiness.  On the palate, sour cherries and raspberries with earth and savory herbs. Bright acidity with nice tannins, minerality and a pure, concentrated and long finish. This really was an extremely good bottle of wine — and I can’t wait to explore more of his wines. Recommended.

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img_1194Jaffurs Wine Cellars produces Rhône varietal wines – Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Viognier, and Roussanne. They produce about 3,500 cases a year. The first wine I ever had from Jaffurs was about 5 years ago. It was a bottle of Grenache that I still remember as being one of the best bottles of California Grenache I have had.

The 2001 Syrah exhibits dark cherry, violet, smoke, menthol and asphalt aromatics. On the palate, dark cherry, blackberry, dark fruit compote, tobacco with earth, cola and mineral notes. Tasting this blind, I might have pegged this as an Australian Shiraz — not over the top, but very ripe and hotter than I expected from the 14.2% alcohol listed on the label. I think those that like ripe and concentrated Syrah in a new world style would appreciate this. I certainly thought it showed some very nice characteristics, but it was a tad much for me — though I might have liked it more on a cold evening with a rich and hearty meal.

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22pour-600Great article by Eric Asimov on Randall Grahm. Randall had an a-ha moment a few years back — the birth of his daughter and then a health crisis gave him some additional context to reflect on his life, as as Eric writes:

Taking stock of what he had been doing did not leave him feeling particularly proud. “I actively resorted to all manner of marketing tricks,” he said, as if standing before the congregation to confess. “I don’t want to rely on winemaking tricks anymore,” he said, enumerating aroma-enhancing yeasts, enzymes and spinning cones among the modern techniques he’s used to change the composition of a wine. “You can’t make an original wine that way. You can make something clever or artful, but not great.”

Seeking land that could be dry-farmed and that was in driving distance of his base in Santa Cruz brought Mr. Grahm to some unusual sites for a new vineyard. He settled on 280 acres on a northeast-facing hillside outside San Juan Bautista, a mission town about 35 miles east of Santa Cruz.

It has not been a smooth process, but barring worldwide catastrophe, as Mr. Grahm put it, he is due to close on the parcel within a few weeks. “You could say it’s just a real estate deal, but it’s really been an existential struggle,” he said.

The article also details new developments that Grahm states are “going to revolutionize everything we do, or not” — not sure if viva la revolucion has ever been posed in such a manner, but seems as though a great revolutionary has had his own sort of revolution. Still one of my best life experiences was getting to work with him as he clear had a dream and a vision of his destination, but it is now also clear that it is indeed the trip, not the destination that truly matters. So he packs his bags and the next journey begins. In doing so, Grahm continues to embrace change and as a result will continue to be relevant and influential…or not. My bets are on Randall and it will certainly be interesting to see where he lands. Read the article>>

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img_1192This wine is a blend of 63% Roussanne and 37% Viognier. The Roussanne is from Bennett Valley and the Viognier from the Sonoma Coast. Cloudy and golden straw in color. Floral aromatics with honeysuckle, tropical fruit and citrus. White peach, pear and citrus on the palate with a hint of marzipan on the finish. Round, textured with good richness, minerality and acidity. Quite substantial in body and finish, though a touch of heat on the finish.

I thought this was well above average, but remember being more impressed by the Pax Nepenthe 2006. There are also many other whites that deliver as much enjoyment at a lower price point. That being said, I have a soft spot for well made Rhône inspired whites — and this certainly qualifies.

14.3 % alcohol
265 cases produced

Other wines from Pax:
Pax Marsanne/Roussanne/Viognier, Nepenthe, Alder Springs Vineyard, Mendocino County, 2006
Pax Syrah Sonoma Hillsides Russian River Valley 2006

Other recommended California Rhône whites:
Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas Blanc 2006
Melville Estate Verna’s Viognier 2007
McPrice Myers Viognier Larner Vineyard 2006
L’Aventure Roussanne 2006

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img_1184My friend Jon and his family came to visit this week, creating a perfect opportunity to open a number of bottles that have been patiently waiting for a special occasion. This might have been my favorite from the week. Dark garnet in color and showing a bit of age. Beautiful and complex aromatics of raisin, plum, earth, brett, roasted meat and violet. On the palate, dark cherry, raspberry, plum, tobacco, fig and earth. Medium bodied, with great depth and complexity. Soft and silky smooth. 14.5% alcohol. Imported by Robert Chadderon Selections. Recommended.

Known as “the Master of the Veneto,” Giuseppe Quintarelli is considered by many to be the best producer of Amarone della Valpolicella. The estate dates back to 1924 and Giuseppe has been in charge since the mid-1950s. He is an absolute traditionalist, not having changed the techniques set by his father. He ages his Amarone for seven years in Slavonian oak “botti”. The resulting wine is one of the most complex wines produced in Italy. Giuseppe is a known for his ability to create great wines in off vintages and legendary wines in good vintages. Many have tried to recreate his wines, but he is beyond imitation.

Other wines from Giuseppe Quintarelli:
Primofiore 2004
Bianco Secco Ca’ del Merlo 2005

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img_11631Montagnieu is a village south of Cerdon, with premières côtes overlooking the Rhône valley, and most of its production is a white sparkling wine made from Chardonnay, Gamay, Jacquère and Roussette de Savoie. Roussette is called Altesse locally, and it survives in the Bugey in a few patches of old vines, as it is not as hardy, reliable and productive as the others. Some have traced Altesse to be a relative of Hungarian Furmint (Tokaji). The origin of Altesse is also subject to various claims, including an origin in Cyprus, but a French origin seems more probable. Only two young winemakers in Montagnieu, Franck Peillot and Benoît Dumont, produce still wines exclusively from this grape.

Franck Peillot specializes in Roussette-based sparkling and still wines. Peillot has four generations of family winemaking in his blood as well as some very old vines. By employing low yields and a high level of ripeness, he has taken the obscure Altesse to new heights. Citrus aromatics with some grassiness, thyme and bay leaf. On the palate, a bit viscous and silky with citrus, minerals, sea foam, honey and a whisper of capers and lemon merigue. Crisp acidity with a touch of residual sugar, but finishes dry. Good crisp acidity. I could have mistaken this wine for a Riesling — and while I am generally not a huge fan of Riesling, this was clearly well made and quite enjoyable.

12.5% alcohol. Imported by Louis/Dressner.

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img_1089The Montirius domaine is in the south of the Vacqueyras appellation and has been under the ownership of the Saurel family for 5 generations. In 1996, they fully converted the vineyard to biodynamic methods and released their first biodynamic wine in 1999. Their wines are made entirely in large concrete tanks without any wood to showcase the purity of the fruit.

Their Gigondas is a blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Mourvedre. The majority of the juice comes from vines planted in 1925. Ruby with a slight touch of rust in color. Black cherry, baked plum, fig, licorice and pepper on the nose. Cherry, blackberry,  leather with cola and some earth, meat and pepper on the palate. Solid acidity and tannins with a lingering finish. I liked this, though I not as much as the Montirius Vacqueyras Garrigues 2005.

Also from Montirius:
Montirius Le Cadet 2006

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