Saturday, October 24, 2015

Blind Tasting: Monday Study Group 1.3

After a couple of weeks off we're almost all back together. Two members have just taken new positions with new projects that will be opening quickly in the next couple of weeks. Exciting time for them, but now is not the time for them to be studying! So, it was a smallish group today. Ben, our tasting coach was able to join us and brought a pair of classic white wines for us to blind.

The first wine presented a powerful nose with plenty of viscosity and a deep gold color. Aromas and flavors were driven by peach skins and stone fruits. The wine was dry, the big round ripe flavors were offset by both the high acidity and high alcohol (always an unusual combination.) The initial call was Alsatian Riesling which made sense except for the fact that there was none of the petrol character which is such a signature of wines made from this grape. I thought it might be a Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay, either Melville or Brewer Clifton. Alsatian Pinot Gris was also suggested but the wine seemed too powerful to my thinking. BUT that's what it was. Rotenberg Pinot Gris from Zind Humbrecht. Which explains the power, the intensity and everything else. The Rotenberg vineyard is high on the slopes, near the forests and produces small, intensely flavored berries. The wine is aged on the lees for 18 months in 40 year old barrels. Not your typical Italian Pinot Grigio! Now I feel better about my call.

The second white wine was a Sauvignon Blanc. Period. End of story. Classic notes of grapefruit zest, lime zest with just a proper kiss of funk and screaming pyrazines. The question was one of origin. The high acidity and steely funk pointed to Sancerre. New Zealand sauvignon typically has more tropical fruit which obscures the mineral flavors and a California wine would typically show more melon and grassy characteristics. And Sancerre it was.

Yes, yes, yes. I know that there is a lot of talk that there is no chemical basis for ascribing different soil, rock and mineral attributes to wine. BUT those are scientific meanings of the word. Flavor descriptors are the language of wine. There are no more raspberries, blackberries or shoe leather in wine than limestone or chalk. Yet there are flavor components which we describe with those terms. Different words have different meanings in different contexts. Is there a better word to describe the flavors we ascribe to minerals and soil types? I remember tasting Fritz Haag's Brauneberg Riesling and touching pieces of red slate from the vineyard. The nuances of the 'mineral' flavor were very different from the Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling from Robert Eymael who had brought pieces of blue and grey slate from that vineyard. Say what you say, mean what you mean. If meaning is conveyed, GREAT SUCCESS!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Bruce Neyers' Heirloom Wines

Bruce Neyers was in town for a series of tastings a couple of weeks ago. Bruce has been in the business a while now and his work history is unique in that he has been deeply involved with wines from both Napa and France. In Napa, first with a long career with Joseph Phelps and then his own Neyers Vineyards. In France, with Kermit Lynch, the legendary Berkeley importer of some of the finest French and other European producers. I've been tasting once or three times a year with Bruce for some fifteen years now and more than ever he emphasizes the influence the great French winemakers he visits several times a year has on his California wines.

On his most recent visit we paired Bruce's wines with wines from the Kermit Lynch portfolio. There were several standouts. What they all had in common was the old age of the source vineyards and the heirloom purity of the vines themselves.

For his California wines, Bruce pays particular attention to the source of the vines. He demands that the budwood be taken from existing vines, selected for the quality of the fruit and the provenance of the vines themselves. He insists on vegetative reproduction rather than clonal to retain as much of the original genetic material as possible. Vines are then tended with biodynamic farming and wines are made naturally with indigenous yeasts and minimal intervention.

The Carignan was sensational. Most tasters did not know that Carignan is a grape. Over and over I had to explain that it came from the South of France, both in the Rhone Valley as well as Rousillon in the foothills of the Pyrenees as well as northern Spain. The wine spoke for itself with its silky, velvety almost Burgundian flavors and textures, but there was an exotic wildness that came from the 140 year old vines themselves. Yes, that is correct 140 years and on the original roots. The vines are in the 'ancient' Evangelho Vineyard in the hot sandy soils of Contra Costa County.

The Neyers Grenache comes the old Rossi Ranch in Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley. The story is the same: 70 cases were made from the ancient vines, resulting in a silky wine with penetrating red fruit characteristics. The Mourvedre is another tiny production from the Evangelho Vineyard.

All of these wines are treasures, heirlooms that have survived storms and drought, Prohibition and years of neglect, not to mention the pressures of expanding cities and real estate developers.

The other star came from France. Cotes du Rhone "La Sagesse" from Domaine Gramenon. When I started with Sigel's, Gramenon's wines were imported by Robert Kacher and I was blown away by their quality, but they soon left Kacher and I lost touch. Now they are being imported by Kermit Lynch and Sigel's now brings these treasures into the Dallas market.

La Sagesse is mainly Grenache from 50 year old vines which yield only 20 hectoliters per hectare, which is exceeding low. (The lowest required yield for any AOP vineyard is Chateauneuf du Pape at 35 hl/ha.) Again, this intense wine drinks like a rich, velvety Burgundy, but instead of the aromatic splendor of Pinot Noir, there is this deep, winey dark fruit inflected with the flavors of the Rhone Valley - lavender, thyme, and rosemary.

Spectacular stuff.
Photos courtesy: Evangelho Vineyards, Carlisle Winery, Domaine Gramenon.