Thursday, November 15, 2007

Part IV Chasing New Pinots

Getting back to the story . . . It's tough to keep track of all the new California Pinots that have come on the market in the last three or four years. Hardly ubiquitous these offerings, from the likes of Black Kite, De La Montanya, B. Kosuge, Three Saints, Segue, and Alta Maria, to name just a few, bespeak quality. IMO quality keeps improving across the board and excellent wines under $40 a bottle can be found readily. Without exaggeration, we're in a Pinot lover's dreamworld with bountiful, delicious offerings to be had across the board. Sigh!

As I mentioned in my last post, my neighbor with a real job in the wine industry slipped a bottle of the Alta Maria in my mailbox as a thank you for the emergency Alstatian riesling. I'd say it was a fair swap, all things being equal. The Alta Maria Vineyards website is a bit, well . . . eerie. "Salvation" is the first word to appear, then a statue of Mary, a "Devotee List" in lieu of the mailing list, other religious folderoll. A bit much for me as drinking the Alta Maria wine, while enjoyable, was hardly a religious experience. The winery makes Syrah, Mouvedre and Pinot and links your purchases together, so you have to buy x bottles of one varietal to get y bottles of another, and can't buy single bottles. If this relatively restricted approach to doing business is working then who am I to question success but internet ordering should be seamless and should focus on the buyer's wishes, not the seller's peculiarities and attempts at exclusivity or whatever else they are trying to prove here. At any rate, the gift wine was quite good though it did not really challenge the mystery contestant. Here are my notes:

Alta Maria Vineyards 2005 Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Barbara County. The wine checks in at 14.1% alcohol and is comprised of the N Block 115 clone and the Q Block Pommard clone.

Tasting Notes: Purple/violet in the glass, mint and blueberry nose, menthol dark fruits and violets. Nicely balance acidity, lush with some depth, quite rich finish of more dark fruits.

Rating: Very good.

Cheers, Barrld

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Mystery Continued--Part III

Just back from vacation, one where tragically I consumed no Pinot. Before I turn to my notes on the next challenger to the mystery Pinot, I received an unusual request from one of my neighbors, who is in the wine business. Seems that she was entertaining a client up the street from me and was buried with personal matters. She asked if she could "borrow" a bottle of a Alsatian wine, I told her my inventory, then carried a bottle of Riesling up to her front door, something that she really appreciated. At any rate, she returned the favor the next day with a bottle of . . . Pinot! Apparently the gift selection is sold out and, well I will put her choice up to the mystery challenge as well--suffice to say that I liked it well enough to jump on the mailing list and buy some Grenache and Syrah, even though the winery's Pinot was sold out.

The next challenger also hails from St. Rita Hills (Sta. is a ridiculous acronym) and is the work of the widow of Mike Bonaccorsi, whose death still remains a bit of a mystery, at least to me. That is how does a guy who is in prime of his life at age 42 (43? the reports list both ages) in good shape just drop dead? Heart attack? Give me a break! Kind of spooky if you asked me. Anyway, Jenne Lee Bonaccorsi has kept the Bonaccorsi Wine Company going strong and its wines continue to get favroable reviews and are very well liked by Laube. I had yet to try any Bonaccorsi b/c it struck me as a bit ghoulish to run out and buy its wines after Mike's death. Anyway, I got over that kneejerk reflex.

The wine in question is the Bonaccorsi 2004 Red Monkey Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills. Checking in at 14.7% alcohol the wine is unfined, unfiltered and made without any "monkey business." I picked up a couple of bottles in my mixed case from the Wine Cask and paid $36 per, with the case discount. I enjoyed the first bottle of this wine I tried and will revisit it again shortly to confirm my notes. No reason not to go back to Bonaccorsi Pinots esp. if I can get them under the $40 price point.

Tasting Notes: Garnet in the glass, nose of plums and cherries. Cherries and blackberries mid-palate, structured and deep, earthy and juicy, with vanilla and birch bark tones. Long finish. Age worthy.

Rating: Excellent.

Cheers, Barrld

Friday, August 17, 2007

Mystery Pinot--Part Two

So I did score a case of the mystery Pinot, tracking it down through the retailer who advised that I could get additional wine (maybe) from the maker and then, the next day, I received a confirm that indeed a case was available with the 10% discount, meaning I spent about $34 for a wine that will easily trump cult Pinots at twice the price. Plus, I ended up owning 2 of the 55 cases, or a considerable percentage of the available juice. I like those numbers!

To fill out the initial partial case of my mystery Pinot from the retailer in question I pulled down 7 other bottles from a couple of Pinot producers that I hadn't previously tried. One was the Demetria Estate 2005 Pinot Noir Jours de Bonheur Gaia Vineyards, Sta. Rita Hills. The Gaia Vineyard used to be known as Ashley's Vineyard, producing fine juice for Brewer-Clifton, Melville, Tantara and many others in the area. Demetria now owns the vineyard and produces its Burgundian varietals from its own grapes. The 2005 Pinot was grown, produced and bottled by Demetria, is unfined and unfiltered and has 14.2% alcohol. I paid about $35 retail for the wine, including the case discount. Demetria is biodynamic and this is the winery's first release. A bit more than 700 cases were made of it.

Tasting Notes: Violet in the glass, cherry nose, lots of very forward fruit. Juicy, expressive of red fruits, jasmine and sage, a carefree Pinot. Expressive and balanced, the wine is easy to drink and thirst quenching, going well with a host of food choices. While not complicated and with little mystique, it is thoroughly enjoyable for its bouquet of flavors and its drinkability.

Rating: Very good.

Cheers, Barrld

Monday, August 6, 2007

Pinot Mystery--Part One

Well, I found the best Pinot in memory but I can't tell you about it b/c only 55 cases were made by a guy from another country who is the full time winemaker at a Santa Ynez winery. I'm sure his moonlighting is kosher but don't know what his plans are for next year as I found out that he was pedaling his first vintage of the heretofore unknown wine door to door. I found the wine via an email add from a Santa Barbara area wine retailer of repute (who told me that they tasted it and flipped) and then bought the rest of the store's inventory so there is none of this wine on the market from 2005. Why am I telling you this, if not just to piss you off? More on that question in a bit.

Anyway, to confirm the quality of this particular Pinot from the Sta. Rita Hills appellation, I forced myself to drink 4 other fine Pinots out there, amidst the current sea of very good to excellent California Pinots from 2004 and 2005, to see if the fave held up to the test. Over the course of the next week or so I will give you my notes on the four comparison wines, then maybe I will give you more clues, and some notes on the mysterious blockbuster. I may have a means of getting more of this wine and, if I do, will reveal its identity to you.

Emeritus. Founded by Brice Jones of Sonoma-Cutrer fame, 2005 was the opening vintage of Emeritus. Don Blackburn, the winemaker, has a lot of quality experience with Pinot and knows the various Sonoma appellations. In June I bought a case of one of its two inaugural wines after Laube extolled its virtues. The wine in question is the 2005 Emeritus Pinot Noir William Wesley Vineyards Sonoma Coast, which was produced and bottled by the Emeritus folks. It checks in at 14.3% alcohol and I spent about $34 on it direct from Emeritus, with the case discount from the winery. Laube found it full bodied with firm tannins in need of time. I disagree with much of his notes, and the guzzlers chimed in quite consistently following a second tasting of the Emeritus after lusting over the afore-mentioned mystery wine.

Tasting Notes. Ruby red in the glass, dark cherry and currants on the nose, red fruits and tannins, tightly wound, almost closed and needs time (my only agreement with Laube). Lovely bouquet, earthy, tart blackberry and refined, medium bodied with structural elements that could come together nicely, just not yet. Second tasting was consistent, though the Emeritus suffered in comparison to my blockbuster.

Rating: Very good.

Cheers, Barrld

Thursday, May 24, 2007

White Burgundy Value

With the dollar's continual pummeling at the hands of the euro, the pound and other currencies around the world it is much more difficult to find good values from abroad, especially from the old world. Take that up a notch with excellent wines from all over France out of the 2005 vintage and you're looking at $30 a bottle "bargains" from across the pond. Thus, though I regularly get pinged about the reasonable prices of French juice, the tag line generally includes a price north of $30, with most in the $45+ range. D. Sokolin hypes a lot of RP rated wines and I have done a lot of business with that retailer, usually through its fine salesman Daron. Sokolin's prices are generally fair, some times the best (you have to be choosy and use Wine-Searcher relentlessly) but even then it's impossible to find well priced 2005 Bourdeaxs or red Burgundies from anywhere. When a mixed case offering of 2005 white Burgundy from Sokolin crossed my desk a few weeks ago I ran the wines through the wine-searcher grind and found that the prices were very good, all below $25 a bottle. I bought the case and, after waiting for the wine to settle a bit, opened one of the 3 varietals I bought. My picture here shows the 2003 vintage--it was the best one I could copy from the net; I drank the 2005.

Vincent Girardin is apparently the negotiant of the moment in Burgundy and seems to be everywhere. He produces all sorts of wines out of his "Domaine" (this wording appears on wines where he owns the grapes too, but I suspect that all of his wines are produced at the Domaine), which is in Meursault though he sources red and white grapes from all over Burgundy. I've had many of his wines and find them to be very good to excellent with a high quality to value ratio, though his prices have also crept northward of late. I hadn't really paid attention that I was buying mostly Girardin wines when I ordered the case but that's what I ended up with and am not complaining now. The moral of the story is to pay attention to the "good value" emails as you might find one that's true.

Tasting Notes: The wine is Vincent Girardin 2005 Rully 1er Cru Les Cloux which checks in at 13.5% alcohol. I paid $24 a bottle from Sokolin. The wine is straw in the glass, opening with delicate notes of lemon, plumeria and vanilla, very fragrant. Citrus/lime notes take over mid-palate offering a refreshing juicy wine, with a creamy finish that includes gooseberries and spice. Balanced and nicely acidic, this is both an easy drinking every day wine and good party wine with seafood grilling. I'd buy this again.

Rating: Very Good.

Cheers, Barrld

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Pinot Heaven

I've written about Red Car Wine Company previously, with its art deco labels and back of the bottle chapters telling noir tales of affairs of the heart. Though most of Red Car's wines are Syrahs, both single vineyards and blends, it also produces a couple of Pinots, mostly under the Amour Fou sub-label. With an address in the heart of Los Angeles, all grapes are sourced and produced elsewhere, at what used to be more than one co-operative. The Company now has a winery in Santa Maria, though I wonder about trucking Pinot grapes there from the Russian River, given the delicacy and think skins of these grapes. As you can see below, it works somehow.
At any rate, the Red Car Syrahs are generally huge and jammy, but very well made and stylistic. I've found the couple of Amour Fou Pinots that I've tried from the 2002 vintage to be very good but missing a bit of complexity and length. I opened a 2003 Amour Fou the other day and, well, it's the real deal. I picked up this wine direct from Red Car for about $40 a bottle when it was released 2 or so years ago.
Tasting Notes: The wine is Red Car 2003 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Amour Fou Chapter Two, which checks in at 14.9% alcohol. The grapes were sourced 70% from Keefer Ranch and 30% from Martinelli and a good dose of new French oak was used along the way. The wine is a lovely garnet in the glass and virtually explodes with alluring fragrances of camellias and blackberry pie, with a dash of white pepper on the nose. Chocolate, dark fruit and earth control the mid-palate, framing a dynamic set of flavors, complex and juicy. Full bodied but not heavy, with good balance and acidity. Long, long finish with tiers of flavors, mixing robust raspberry, smoke, fennel, blueberry compote, wow! This is the complete package, a classy, delicious wine of many dimensions. Bravo!
Rating: Superb!! (only my second one!)
Cheers, Barrld

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Over Rated?

While I can't rank Zinfadel in my top 5 wine varietals, I do occasionally enjoy that deep purple juice both straight up and in well crafted blends. At the same time, the sheer full throttle vibrancy of some Zins, coupled with the grape juicy sweet style I find in less expensive Zins makes me wary, esp. at potlucks. My preference for stylized, refined wine with multiple tiers of flavor tends to exclude most Zins, which lean towards a huge fruit/alcohol punch in the mouth. Honestly, though I base my prejudices on my early wine drinking days in the late 90s and I know that Zins have evolved away from one dimensionality. All the more reason for me to pick up a few bottles of The Prisoner from 2003.
A guy I know has a considerable gray market deal going in his house in Brentwood. Where he gets the wines, I don't know, but his prices are good, his selection excellent and no sales tax. I've bought a couple of cases of fine first growths from him (1994s, very well priced) and some of this and that. Anyway, I was buying some 2002 white Burgundy and my friend J said, ever try this? He plucked a bottle of The Prisoner from his cluttered shelves and handed it over. Good juice, he said, Laube loved it. Being a sucker, I bought 3 bottles for $22 each, did I say no sales tax? Anyway, I drank one soon thereafter (no memories one way or another) and lost the other two somewhere in the cellar. I found the bottle consumed for this review when I was rearranging my wines. I took a peek at the WS ratings and saw that Laube gave the wine a 92 in 2005 so I looked forward to tipping back a couple of glasses. Unfortunately, that proved to be a let down.
Tasting Notes: The wine is Orin Swift The Prisoner, Red Table Wine 2003. Swift is obviously sourcing juice from various AVAs as the wine notes that it was "Bottled in Napa" but has no AVA listed. The wine checks in at 15.2% alcohol and is a blend of Zin, Cabernet Sauvignon, Charbono (from where? I thought that all of the Charbono vines in CA were replaced long ago) and Petit Sirah. Not sure of the percentages as there is no info on the website but it's clear that Zin controls the blend. Dark purple in the glass, alcoholic nose with berries and clay, black fruit and maple syrup mid-palate, with a decent though tannic, viscous blackberry finish. Frankly I expected more--better fruit expressions and integration, softer tannins, fuller balance. Honestly, I couldn't have a second glass and had to drink the bottle over a couple of days, which took the starch out of the tannins but dulled down the fruit too. Maybe I will give the last bottle away.
Rating: Good.
Cheers, Barrld