Monday, November 25, 2013

Neyers Vista Luna Zinfandel: The Story Behind the Wine

From: Bruce Neyers []

Subject: The 2012 Zinfandel ‘Vista Luna’ from Neyers Vineyards: The story behind the wine

I had a message recently from my distributor liaison in New York City, Chris Newman, with a question about our 2012 Vista Luna Zinfandel. At the end of his message, Chris asked if there was any interesting background information on this wine. There is, and it’s a fascinating story. It starts ten million years ago with the formation of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, however, so be patient.

The Sierra (without a plural ‘S’) are uplift mountains, were created 10 million years ago when a tectonic plate slammed into the west coast of what is now California, forcing thousands of feet of rock and earth to rise above the surface to form these mountains on the Nevada border. Over time, they have been worn and etched into their current shape by almost everything imaginable, from glaciers to earthquakes to man. At the western base of the mountains is the start of California’s lush Central Valley, but the area in the foothills immediately west of the Sierra – part of Calaveras and San Joaquin Counties -- contains some igneous rock that worked its way to the surface and remains there today. In 1995, a portion of this area was approved as a new AVA named Borden Ranch. Here, we like to say, the soil for grape growing begins to get interesting. A few years ago, Tadeo and I traveled there to visit with Markus Bokisch, a long-time friend and grape grower in Lodi. Markus took us to see a Zinfandel Vineyard that he was managing called Vista Luna. The vines were on a mound 100 feet or so in elevation, with the mountains visible to the east. We were immediately struck by the amount of Quartz that was scattered on the surface of the vineyard. In fact, I tripped over a large, partially submerged piece of quartz about every two or three steps. Markus confirmed that the vines were planted on an outcropping of Quartz, and that as far as he knew it was 100 feet deep, or more. Only two winemaking regions I know of in France are planted on Quartz: the Savoie in the foothills of the Alps, near the Swiss border, and northern Alsace, near Strasbourg, in the town of Epfig. Both regions make wines of remarkable character, with exotic mineral aromas, and crisp, elegant flavors. We eagerly agreed to buy the grapes.

But that wasn’t all that we found interesting about this vineyard. The clusters were much smaller than those we were accustomed to seeing in other Zinfandel vineyards, and the individual berries were smaller as well. We thought it might be due to the hard, rocky soil, but Markus – as a UC Davis graduate in Plant Science -- had a different, more educated theory. The vineyard had been propagated vegetatively from existing Zinfandel vines, and was not planted to nursery stocks. By law in California, vines obtained from a nursery must have been subjected to heat treatment -- to remove virus -- and are then cloned to eliminate variation. These vines at Vista Luna were, it turns out, an heirloom version of Zinfandel, neither heat-treated nor cloned. The smaller clusters allow for even ripening, with lower sugar levels at harvest. The alcohol level in the finished wine is accordingly lower. We knew we were on to something.

When I moved to San Francisco in 1970, Zinfandel was all the rage. It was fruity, quaffable and complex enough to enjoy regularly, and except for a few examples was modestly priced. I learned to love it. As stronger and more disease tolerant versions of the variety were developed through heat treatment and cloning, the size of the clusters grew, higher sugar levels were necessary for maturity, and the alcohol level increased in the finished wines. My fondness for Zinfandel declined. Many other wine lovers found themselves similarly less interested in the wine. But here we begin to see the charm of a return to the past. The heirloom plant material and the hard quartz soil in this Vista Luna vineyard favor the development of small clusters. As such, they ripen normally, and develop fruit flavors that are reminiscent of my early love affair with the grape and its wine. The flavors here are rich, as we expect Zinfandel to be, but there is a high-toned, graceful and vibrant side to the wine as well. Drinking a whole bottle is more of a pleasure walk than a determined amble. At the end there is that delicious, fresh berry finish that always seems to invite another glass. Join us in sharing a trip back in time. You’ll like it.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Corsican Wine, The New Surprise

When I heard we were getting some Corsican wines imported by Kermit Lynch, I didn’t know what to expect. Corsica is an island just off the coast of Italy and while Corsica is technically French (acquired from the Genoese in 1764,) its history and culture, its food and wine are Italian. We received wines from two producers. The wines from Domaine Maestracci are ripe and accessible and a little less expensive, while the wines from Domaine Abbatucci opened up new dimensions of flavor. When I tasted the wines, I was amazed by their brilliance and intensity. As a whole, the wines are characterized by ripe, acid-driven fruits with complex structure driven by lush minerals and fine tannins and express the rocky granite soils and the salty island breezes.

The Domaine is run by Jean-Charles Abbatucci, a direct descendant of General Jean-Charles Abbatucci, a hero of the French Revolution and comrade in arms of another local hero, Napoleon. The grapes are indigenous Corsican varieties, many of them recovered from small farmers in the mountains and reintroduced into producing vineyards by Jean Charles’ father thus saving them from extinction.

The Abbatucci estate is in the granite mountains south of the capitol of Ajaccio with vines planted on ancient terraces among groves of olive trees and sheep foraging on the grass covering between the vines. The vineyards are totally organic and certified biodynamic. To keep the vines happy, Jean-Charles is known to drive his tractor around the vineyards and play traditional Corsican polyphonic music over loudspeakers. After harvest, he does the same in the cellar. Does it work? Have a taste for yourself.

Ajaccio Blanc “Cuvee Faustine” 2012 $33.99
100% old vine Vermentinu hand harvested at extremely low yields (20 hl/ha). Slow, cold fermentation in stainless steel yields a brilliant bone dry yet lush wine with rich suggestions of stone fruits and a shimmering minerality.

Ajaccio Rose “Cuvee Faustine” 2012 $29.99
100% Sciaccarellu, vinified in stainless steel. Very crisp and clean, perfumed with notions of strawberries, the wine is bone dry, yet has a rich presence on the palate.

Ajaccio Rouge “ Cuvee Faustine” 2011 $33.99
70% Sciaccarellu, 30% Niellucciu fermented entirely in stainless steel. Intense light ruby in color with aromas of flowers, minerals and red berries, the delicate flavors intensify into rich pure cherries with a long mineral finish lifted by the lingering fruit and fine tannins.

Monday, June 17, 2013

St George and the Gin and Tonic

A while back in the heyday of the absinthe renaissance, there was a legendary (in Texas at least) American absinthe that came on the market. It was notable not only for the quality of the absinthe, but for the monkey on the label beating on a skull with bones instead of drumsticks. And it was notable for the distiller, Lance Winter, whom the New York Times photographed with his gleaming copper still. The distillery had a small but geeky reputation for its eau-di-vie and Single Malt Whiskey, but was more widely known for the Hanger One Vodkas whose brilliant infusions blew open the doors for high-quality infused vodkas. Although St George still produces the vodka, they sold the brand in 2000 allowing them to expand their portfolio.

Which they did.

Into their true love: Gin.

Which happens to be my true love. Big Confession. Even though wine is now my profession, Gin and Tonic has been the singular beverage of my adult life. I've had flings with Beer, Bourbon, Scotch, and Tequila. I've even danced with Cognac, Rum and Eau-di-vie. But there is something about living in a hot climate that makes a well-made GT the most refreshing beverage in the world.

I was almost arrested by Turkish soldiers at the Greek border over an incident about a bottle of Gordon's in the duty free shop. We drank it with tonic, without ice in our cheap hotel in Istanbul. We searched out Genevers in the hash bars of Amsterdam. We never went camping without a bottle of gin, a lime and some tonic and a bag of ice. I've backpacked a flask over the Continental Divide.

Recent years have seen a revival of gins. Fresh botanicals, cucumbers, saffron, herbal infusions designed by celebrity chefs, malt gins, Old Tom gins, Navy gins have filled the shelves, each costing more than the last.
However, I was excited I heard that we were getting St. George Gin. And not one gin, but three. And they are amazing!
The Terroir uses herbs from the California coastal range, primarily Douglas Fir. It tastes like a walk though a damp forest. Drink it from a flask by a glacial lake. Or drink it straight up, icy cold. Maybe an olive.

The Botanivore is their version of classic gin. A clean spirit driven by juniper and citrus, rich, round and smooth. Perfect Martinis and G/Ts apply here.

In the Dry Rye juniper and pepper focus the botanicals on the dry and spicy base rye spirit. The stout backbone will stand up to any flavor. Bring on your bitters, your vermouth and cordials, MIX AWAY!

We also received the St. George Absinthe with the monkey and the bone drumsticks, but minus the skull. The absinthe is impeccable and that's the best way to describe it. Smooth and massive, sweet and bitter, long and complex, with anise aromatics lasting into next week.

Trouble in a heartbeat.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Some Old Armagnac

In the days before Christmas some old Armagnacs came into the store. The producer was Chateau du Busca from the Tenareze region of Armagnac. The history of the estate goes back to the 16th centery, the family was enobled in the 17th and Armagnac production goes back a long ways. We had some of the vintage products a few years ago. During a staff tasting with Alain Royer, who assembled the released products I remember describing the 1985 as a dreamsicle, with its strong vanilla and burnt orange peel characteristics. Comparing notes with my colleague, he noted the vanilla and orange in more proper technical terms. A few months later, in a tasting with the Countess from the estate, she described the same vintage as having definite vanilla and orange highlights. (Sometimes we get these things right!)
The 1985 was not among the vintages we received, but we did get 1979 and 1982 which just happen to be the birth years of my sons. Opportunities for birth year vintages are rare and even more rarely affordable, so I indulged in a couple of bottles for Christmas presents. After a family dinner at my son's house in Santa Fe on a cold January night, we had the opportunity to taste.

The 1979 was like slipping into an old jewelry box, with patinaed satin and rich warm wood. Musty orange and dried fruits and flowers danced in the warm richness of the distillate. Flavors were deep and long and rich.

The 1982 followed with a slap to the face. Christmas spice and fruit cake laced with candied fruit in the warm molasses cake lingered long on the palate. The '82 was as open and joyous as the '79 was elegant and reserved.

As I contemplated the remarkable difference between the two, I remembered that '82 was famous for the benchmark quality of the Bordeaux vintage. It was the year that made the young Robert Parker into a superstar wine critic.And that is what separates great Armagnacs from great Cognacs. Great Cognacs are blended while great Armagnacs change with the vintage.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

BT 11: A Long Time Ago...

On one of the last evenings before the total descent of Christmas madness fell upon us all, a bare quorum gathered around a dark table in a rundown neighborhood in Old East Dallas and drank some fine bottles of old wine and enjoyed another great meal thanks to Mitch and the crew at Urbano Cafe. All notes and descriptions of that event have long since been lost, but the following is set down from what memory still lingers...

Three of us started with a white wine. It was weighty on the palate with unctuous notes of pear and honey, finishing with a minerally richness. Brad said it was the last of the bottles he had bought. To start the conversation I threw out Condrieu. "OK," said Brad, "You win. It's Viognier." I think the producer was Jaffurs, but I could be wrong.

John put out the second bottle. The wine was dense and massive, tight and massive, seamless and massive. We kept going back to it over the evening. Notes of espresso and  black fruits slowly emerged. Any discussion is forgotten, but not the wine. 2005 Clos Fortet.

The third bottle was Brad's. Again, the producer and vintage is lost in time. (reminders would help) The wine remains. Elegant Napa Cabernet Franc. Red and black fruits, but the defining flash of fresh tobacco leaf tagged the variety. Rich, full, elegant and delicious.

The next wine had been decanted for the fourth time when we arrived at the restaurant. Opulent aromatics of red and black fruit combined with the complex savory notes of earth and underbrush let tasters to the Rhone Valley. A massive wine. The extensive decanting allowed a glimpse of what the wine has to offer in years to come.2010 Bosquet des Papes Chantmerle.

Tran joined us for the last two bottles which he brought. The first was a Diamond Creek Volcanic Hills 1996 if I remember correctly and it's not the first time we tasted this wine. The aromatics are always the same cedary potpourri that takes me back to my grandmother's cedar chest. This bottle showed less aging than the previous one with young vigorous fruit.

His second bottle was another beauty from Napa. Graceful, aromatic, yet with elegant power, it was the 1995 Meritage from Cosentino. What a treat it was to taste these older wines. They let the evening coast to a close.

When we were the last customers remaining, Mitch and his chef were able to join us and taste through the wines with us as we finished a memorable evening.

I wrote this post from memory several weeks ago, but did not post. I was too embarrassed to post with incorrect identification of the wines. Finally, I found my notes and am happy to say that I got most everything correct. Well, I got the order wrong on the last two wines. Here's the list in the correct order. Sorry the notes are so late. Having finally finished, I am DEFINITELY READY for our next gathering!

#1    Jaffurs Viognier 2009, Santa Barbara County
#2    Clos Fortet 2005, Saint Emilion, Bordeaux
#3    Ovid Experiment K1.5 2005, Napa
#4    Bosquet des Papes Chantmerle 2010, Chateauneuf du Pape
#5    M Coz 1995, Cosentino, Napa
#6    Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill Cabernet ????, Napa.(Vintage not in notes.)