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Arnot-Roberts Wines is a joint project of Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts. Their goal is to make natural wines that express the uniqueness and beauty of their variety and location. To accomplish this, they draw on Duncan’s years of experience in some of California’s greatest wineries, Nathan’s craftsmanship as a cooper and the distinctive vineyards of a few meticulous Northern California grape growers.

All Arnot-Roberts wines are aged in French oak barrels built by Nathan and Duncan. All fermentations occur on native yeast and the wines are bottled without fining or filtration. The California Fuchsia on the label was painted by Margrit Biever Mondavi, Nathan’s grandmother. Production is around 700 total cases per year of five wines.

Last week, I went to a Beaujolais tasting at Dino in Washington, DC. I brought a Morgon Marcel Lapierre 2009 (more on that to come…) and for kicks I also brought the Trousseau from Arnot-Roberts. We planned on tasting some 16-18 wines in a blind tasting and thought the Trousseau would be an interesting twist. Trousseau is also known as Trousseau Noir or Bastardo — and is most commonly known as the grape used on Portugal to make Port.

It was probably the most interesting wine of the evening and certainly the most divisive. I had tasted the wine previously and so it stood out immediately for me, but I think it did for everyone. Some liked it, others did not…

Pale red in color, translucent and a little cloudy — from first blush, this is clearly a unique wine. It was not the most aromatic wine of the evening, but the nose shows a good amount of strawberry, sour cherry and floral notes. Sour cherry on the palate with some cranberry, pomegranate with some funky green leaves, oranges and earth. It reminded me a bit of a light-bodied Pinot.  This is wine that will not have mass appeal, it’s a bit of a nerd wine (ok, it is a total nerd wine) — but I thought it was unique, thought-provoking and enjoyable. 3 barrels produced. 12.5% alcohol.

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It’s been a while since my last post. There haven’t been a lot of wines that really excited me as of late. I was also sick for a couple of weeks — but in the last week there have been a number of wines that made me want to get back in the saddle. One of those wines was the Pleiades XVIII Old Vines. As I have written previously (and so many others have also suggested), Sean Thackrey is probably one of the most interesting people in all of California. If that weren’t enough, he also happens to produce some of California’s most interesting wines.

The Pleiades XVIII was bottled in January 2010 and is a non-vintage cuvée of Sangiovese, Mouvedre, Viognier, Syrah and Cabernet — to name just a few…I opened a bottle back in late February — and was really surprised how well it was showing. In late April, I opened another bottle and thought it had really shut down — but it showed much better on day 2 and was perhaps even better on day 3. As many have noted, his wines is that they often show better on day 2 — which has been my experience as well. Beautiful ruby red in color — somewhat transparent (I can see my hand through a glass). On the palate, strawberry, raspberry with some rhubarb and eucalyptus (another Thackrey trademark) and a little menthol. On the palate, bright sour cherry with raspberry — a little bit of meatiness and gaminess with some anise and violets. Lots of fruit, but structured — good acidity and fairly aggressive tannins — and a solid finish. 14.8% alcohol.

I know there are those that don’t drink California wines — and truth be told, I don’t drink very many, but I do drink a select number of them and Sean Thackrey will always be on that list. Recommended.

About Sean Thackrey
Sean Thackery did not get a degree in viticulture or enology, he studied art history. His wines are made with his intuition, what his palate tells him and tips from his collection of ancient oenological texts (the world’s largest such collection in his opinion). He has been making wine in a Bolinas eucalyptus grove for more than 20 years. The first wine he produced was a Cabernet Sauvignon, but quickly moved to other varietals. Tastings of his wines reveal consistently powerful, intense flavors and rugged tannins — and there is a signature minty, eucalyptussy component as well. His wines are thought provoking and complex. Unlike almost every wine in the world, Thackrey believes his taste better the day after they are opened — and I actually might agree.

“My wines are like a person,” he says. “They talk, they change, they tell you something different every sip. They taste different from one day to the next, from one hour to the next. That kind of complexity is what makes wine interesting.” Thackrey has his followers and his critics. There are those that love his wines and others who do not — and many of his thoughts do not find a lot of acceptance from some in the industry.

His operation is quite small (3,000-5,000 cases annually), only recently adding a forklift and a bottling line. He didn’t learn how to make wine by going to UC Davis — and has both feet firmly planted in the art, only sticking his toe into the science (but understands it does have its place in the process). Thackrey often notes that there is no word for “wine-maker” in French, adding that if “chefs were trained the way wine-makers are, you would rarely eat out.”

Thackrey says that each time he gets back from harvest, he turns off the engine, opens the cab, and looks back at the truckbed stacked with grapes, tons of them, in hundreds of boxes. He just looks; and after a very particular moment of silence, says to myself, “OK, Sean, there it is. Do something.” The first thing he does first is very interesting. After the grapes are picked, he lets them sit and “rest” at least 24 hours outside his home, a technique that one UC Davis professor says nobody else does today. Thackrey says the idea goes back at least to the Greek poet Hesiod’s book “Works and Days” (circa 700 B.C.).

“(Letting the grapes rest) is commonplace in wine literature until the middle of the 19th century,” Thackrey says. “That’s what impressed me about it. It’s a lot of work to do this, so they must have thought it was accomplishing some sort of useful purpose.”

Thackrey does use a machine to crush the grapes, but he pours the juice into open-top vats to ferment beneath the stars and eucalyptus trees — a technique that fell out of fashion more than 200 years ago. Thackrey reads 7 languages. In addition to making wine, he is also creating an online archive of original texts that document the history of wine and wine making. He has personally transcribed all of these documents and the library currently contains about 100 transcriptions. He hopes this will be one of his huge contributions to the wine world, but his contributions go well beyond — and he is so deserving of more attention, respect and adoration.

Related post:
Sean Thackrey Pleiades XV Old Vines Red

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IMG_1374Tablas Creek Vineyard was founded by the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, the longtime importer and founder of Vineyard Brands. Tablas Creek is dedicated to the production of wines made from Rhône grape varietals. All of their wines are made with grapes from their 120-acre certified organic estate vineyard.

Tablas Creek called the 2007 vintage the best to date — and so I was excited about the Côtes de Tablas Rouge given that I am generally a big fan of their wines. The 2007 Côtes de Tablas is 50% Grenache with equal parts Syrah and Counoise.  All of the varietals were fermented in stainless steel with the use of native yeasts: the Syrah in open-top fermenters, punched down manually, and the other varietals in closed fermenters with pump-over aeration. After pressing, the wines were racked, blended, aged for a year in 1200-gallon French oak foudres, and then bottled in February 2009. The wines underwent a light filtration before bottling.

On the nose, raspberry and cherry with some strawberry rhubarb and peppered bacon. On the palate, cherry with raspberry and some red licorice, a little leather with herbaceousness, pepper and mineral undertones — good backbone with ripe tannins and soft edges. The Grenache really shines and while this is juicy, it is not overdone, is very well balanced and actually a bit restrained. This is the best Côtes de Tablas from last three vintages and a great bargain at under $18 a bottle. 14.8% alcohol. Strongly recommended.

Other wines from Tablas Creek:
Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas Rouge 2006
Tablas Creek Grenache Blanc 2006
Côtes de Tablas Creek Vermentino 2008
Tablas Creek Vineyard Côtes de Tablas Blanc 2006

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IMG_1359I poured this the same night as the Domaine Gramenon Sierra du Sud 2007. I thought both of the wines were brilliant — and while I might give a slight nod to the Gramenon, the Edmunds St. John impressed me as a more “serious” wine with greater longevity.

I would also go so far to say it was more Rhône-like in style. I would open the Gramenon if I had the opportunity to open a bottle tomorrow. Given the same choice five years from now, I would opt for Edmunds St. John Bassetti Syrah 2005.

Deep, dark purple in color. Vibrant aromatics of cherry, violet, garrigue and smoke. On the palate, black cherry and raspberry wrapped in smoke, black olive, earth, wild game and herbs. Optimal ripeness and impeccable balance — not overdone in any respect. Solid acidity and firm yet silky tannins with a persistent finish. 14.2 percent alcohol. 103 cases produced. Strongly recommended.

I have not had as good of luck since the great night of Syrahs last week. A bottle of Domaine de Boède Coteaux du Languedoc Les Grès 2007 was overripe and overdone — the bottle unfinished. Last night I opened a Rosenblum 2005 Zinfandel Snow Lake Vineyard Lake County that was hot, medicinal and ripe. I had a hard time finishing a glass and didn’t go back for more.

More about Steve Edmunds and Edmunds St. John
Steve Edmunds started Edmunds St. John in 1985 with his wife, Cornelia St. John, in an effort to explore the possibility of producing world-class, European-style wines in California, using Rhône varietal grapes: Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Viognier, etc. He quickly earned a lot of praise and by 1988, Robert Parker was calling Edmunds St. John perhaps the “finest practitioner” of Californians working with Rhone grapes. At that time, I was working at Bonny Doon Vineyard and was bitten by the Rhone bug and have probably bought some of Steve’s wines with each vintage since that time.

Other wines from Edmunds St. John
Edmunds St. John Rocks & Gravel 2005

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IMG_1320Arnot-Roberts Wines is a joint project of Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts. Their goal is to make natural wines that express the uniqueness and beauty of their variety and location.

All of Arnot-Roberts wines are aged in French oak barrels built by Nathan and Duncan. Fermentations occur on native yeast and the wines are bottled without fining or filtration.  Production is around 700 total cases per year of five wines.

The Coast Range Mountains in Northern California take a sudden dip and nearly disappear around Bodega Bay in Sonoma County, reemerging as the foot of Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County to the south. It is at this point that cool air over the Pacific Ocean is drawn inland via convective forces through what is referred to as the “Petaluma Wind Gap”. This cool and windy swath of the Sonoma Coast appellation is home to few vineyards. Clary Ranch is one of those vineyards, planted on a hillside in the Middle Two Rock Valley.

This wine was fermented retaining 100% whole clusters on native yeasts and was aged in one new and two neutral French oak barrels. Three barrels produced.

Beautiful bright and inky ruby in color. Aromatics of blueberry, violets, forest floor with bacon fat and lots of black pepper.  On the palate, more blueberry, blackcurrant and cherry with some tar, smoke and gamey notes. There is some size to this wine (though by no means big by California standards), well balanced (13% alcohol), structured and showing some restraint. The wine seemed a little closed (I probably won’t touch any more of this for another 1-2 years), but was still very good and think it will show even better over the next 1-3 years and beyond.

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IMG_1262Kunin Wines was founded in 1998 with wine production growing annually from 400 cases to a current 5,800 cases. Winemaker Seth Kunin produces his wines made with grapes purchased from the vineyards of the Central Coast region of California. Kunin’s varietals include Syrah, Zinfandel, Viognier and blends of Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah.

Their Viognier is from Stolpman Vineyard  in the Santa Ynez Valley. Pale straw in color. Aromatics of honeysuckle, tropical fruit with some citrus and cut grass. On the palate, stone fruit, pear and lemon meringue. A bit loaded up front, decent acidity, minerality and richness. I would consider this to be good, though it fails to really impress and certainly better options at the price point. 14.6% alcohol. 425 cases produced.

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img_1217The 2008 vintage of the Tablas Creek Vineyard Vermentino is their seventh bottling of this traditional Mediterranean varietal. Vermentino is a late-ripening white grape originating in or Madeira, or perhaps Portugal. It is now widely planted in Sardinia and the coastal arc running from Tuscany through Liguria and into southern France (where it is known as Rolle). Vermentino produces a wine that is bright, clean, and crisp, with distinctive citrus character, refreshing acidity and surprising richness. Tablas Creek was the first to introduce the grape to California in 1993.

Light golden straw color. Citrus, stone fruit, melon and spice aromatics. Light to medium body. Crisp and acidic. Refreshing green apple, pear with lime, citrus and mineral notes. The weight, citrus and acidity makes this a great pair for seafood and Mediterranean fare — or a great apéritif. 13% alcohol.

Recommended. Another example why Tablas Creek is one of my favorite producers in California. Others include:
Tablas Creek Grenache Blanc 2006
Tablas Creek Vineyard Côtes de Tablas Blanc 2006
Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas Rouge 2006

Of their whites, I think I may have liked their Grenache Blanc the best, but this was probably the most versatile and would give it a nod over the Côtes de Tablas Blanc.

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