Wed 24 Mar 2010
… and not being tremendously happy that I did. I’m referring specifically to the winery’s “Hummingbird Series” of moderately priced wines, the whites about $15, the reds about $18.
The winery, located about 20 miles south of San Jose in the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation, was founded by backyard grape-growing enthusiasts Bill and Brenda Murphy, who released their first commercially available wines in 1992. Eighteen years later, there are a winery, a hospitality center and tasting room, wedding and reception facilities, and a bocce court.
Clos LaChance offers wines at three levels: the Special Selections Series, priced at $35 to $50; the Estate Series, $19 to $40; and the Hummingbird Series, $14 to $18.
I recently tried five wines from the Hummingbird Series. Each wine in the series is named for a different species of hummingbird, though the labels for all the wines in the series carry the same picture of the same bird. The labels pictured here are one vintage behind the wines under review.
There’s no doubt that my favorite of this group is the White-Tufted Sunbeam Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Central Coast. A blend of 82 percent sauvignon blanc, 15 percent semillon and 3 percent muscat blanc, the wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks except for 16 percent that goes into neutral French oak barrels. This is a stupendously lively and refreshing sauvignon blanc that bursts with a flurry of grapefruit and lime peel, dried thyme and fennel and hints of grass and hay. Flavors lean toward juicy pear infused with tangerine and hay and a touch of leafy fig, all ensconced in an attractive texture that neatly balances crisp acidity with moderate lushness. A trace of grapefruit bitterness makes for a bracing finish. Here’s a clean, bright, tasty sauvignon blanc that will make pleasant quaffing this Spring and Summer, either as aperitif or with such dishes as grilled shrimp or ceviche. Very Good+. About $15, a Great Bargain.
The Clos LaChance Glittering-Throated Emerald Chardonnay 2009, Monterey County, sees no oak and does not go through the malolactic process, so it’s not surprising that it offers, if not glittering, than certainly sprightly acidity and slick-as-a-whistle minerality in the damp shale range. This is a charming, easy-drinking chardonnay that delivers, first, green apple, and then spicy pineapple-grapefruit flavors in a package of moderate richness. The major lack here is an engaging personality. Very Good. About $15.
The problem with these three red wines is that toasty oak renders them almost indistinguishable.
The Violet Crowned Merlot 2007, Central Coast, for example, a blend of 76 percent merlot, 22 percent cabernet franc, 1.5 percent cabernet sauvignon and 0.5 percent malbec, displays a nose of smoke, mint and minerals, blueberry and boysenberry tart, woody spices and toasty oak, and in the mouth it’s dense, chewy and dusty, almost powdery, and in effect feels like a merlot in zinfandel clothing. The Buff-Bellied Zinfandel 2007, Central Coast, for its part, presents mint, minerals and toasty oak in the nose — my final note says “very toasty” — and could easily be mistaken for its merlot stablemate. (The blend is 77 percent zinfandel, 16 percent petite sirah and 7 percent alicante bouschet.) And the Ruby-Throated Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Central Coast (76 percent cabernet sauvignon, 14 percent merlot, 6 percent petit verdot, 4 percent malbec) is so toasty that my notes conclude with the question, “Where’s the cab?” I kept these three red wines going all afternoon, going back and sniffing and tasting, and my notes are consistent with what I have recorded here.
Not that the oak regimen is rigorous or excessive. Winemaker Stephen Tebb carefully calibrates these matters, using no more than 30 percent new oak (for the Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel) and 15 percent (for the Merlot), and usually in a mixture of French and American barrels, yet the result swamps the wines and detracts from their individuality and authority. If you like oak, you’ll like these red wines, but I don’t. Each about $18.
Samples for review.