Wed 16 Jun 2010
It’s ironic that the logo for August Briggs Winery features a delicate dandelion puff-ball with a few of its gossamer filaments a-drift on a gentle zephyr, because these six red wines are anything but gossamer-like. They are, instead, in a few words, solid, substantial, robust. The winery is on the Silverado Trail in Calistoga, in the north part of Napa Valley, but August Briggs draws on vineyards not only in Napa but in Sonoma and Lake counties, making small quantities of 16 wines. Under review here are two cabernet sauvignons, two pinot noirs, a petite sirah and an old vine zinfandel.
Samples for review.
The August Briggs Pinot Noir 2008 derives from three vineyards in Russian River Valley. The color is medium ruby with a radiant darker shade within. Aromas of black cherry, plums, cloves and cola unfold to hints of moss, autumn leaves and smoke. The oak regimen was eight months in 30 percent new French barrels, 70 percent two- and three-year-old barrels. There’s nice balance here initially between delicacy and something more dynamic, but the wine is also quite dry, and it reveals more spice and wood, in the form of brown sugar and allspice, that turns a little astringent on the finish. More time in the glass intensifies the cherry fruit. Production was 503 cases. Alcohol content is 14.2 percent. Very Good+. About $38.
More detail and dimension surface in the August Briggs “Dijon Clones” Pinot Noir 2008, Napa Valley. This is slightly darker than the Russian River Valley pinot noir, and its bouquet is more pure, intense and entrancing. Subtly expansive black cherry, cranberry and mulberry aromas are gently infused with sweet baking spices and a touch of the exotic, a hint of smoke and sandalwood. The oak treatment is the same for this wine as for its Russian River Valley stablemate, but you feel its slightly woody presence a bit more on the finish, but before that moment, your palate is engulfed in a lush swathing of satiny succulence and earthy, rooty black and red fruit flavors. Still, 20 or 30 minutes bring in the same austerity that defines the August Briggs’ Russian River Valley pinot noir, so what we see here is a stylistic choice. Perhaps a year or two of aging will soften the wine. Production was 805 cases. Alcohol is 14.5 percent. Very Good+. About $40.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________ Let’s do these two 100 percent cabernet sauvignon wines, one from Napa Valley, one from Sonoma Valley, together.
The August Briggs Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley, is all about structure. You smell it in the aromas of dust, briers and brambles, granite and lead pencil, cedar and walnut shell; you taste it in a mouthful of dusty minerals, dusty tannins and dusty oak from 20 months in half-and-half French and American barrels. Yet you also feel a richness, a smoothness and sense of dimension that speak of this wine’s potential for development over the next six to eight years; try from 2012 or ’13 through 2016 or ’18. Two vineyards were involved, the Stagecoach Vineyard in Atlas Peak and the Corbett Vineyard on Spring Mountain. 498 cases. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+ now with the possibility of Excellent. About $52.
Let’s remember that the Napa Valley designation on the previous wine implies a large growing region with smaller appellations, like Atlas Peak and Spring Mountain, within it. Sonoma Valley, on the other hand, is a vineyard appellation (or American Viticultural Area) within the larger Sonoma County region. In the case of the August Briggs Monte Rosso Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Sonoma Valley, it’s also vineyard-specific, and a venerable vineyard it is, first planted in 1880, purchased in 1938 by Louis M. Martini and replanted, and owned since 2002 by Gallo.
The color of the August Briggs Monte Rosso Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 is dark ruby/purple; the bouquet is rich and warm, fleshy, floral and spicy, and dense, if aromas can be dense, with macerated black and red currants, plums and cherries; a few minutes in the glass bring in elements of iodine, sea-salt, cedar and graphite. As you can tell, the wine, in its bouquet, is a testimony to defining (indeed, provocative) detail. In the mouth, the wine takes a harder edge, with sumptuous, chewy tannins and lavish oak — 20 months French and American, 50/50 — leavened by a feast of granite-like minerality and foresty qualities. Fine now with a piping hot rib-eye steak, but otherwise try from 2012 or ’13 through 2017 to ’20. Production was 598 cases. 14.9 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $55.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________ I’ll admit that the one of these six wines that I liked unabashedly was the exuberant August Briggs Old Vines Zinfandel 2008, Napa Valley, a clean, bright, pure and authoritative zinfandel whose grapes derived from two vineyards, one planted in 1908, the other in the 1940s and ’50s. Black cherry, black currant and blackberry scents and flavors are infused with smoky lavender and licorice and interesting hints of caraway and wheatmeal, the flavors ensconced in rip-roaring, lip-smacking tannins that are gritty and chewy yet plush, too, almost velvety. Tons of fruit here and tons of structure in great balance. You can’t get away from the fact that the alcohol level is 15.2 percent, but, hell, we get top-flight iconic cabernets now with that factor, so, you can live with it. Wrap this around game meats like venison and boar. 420 cases. Excellent. About $35.
And, the one of these wines that I disliked absolutely was the August Briggs Petite Sirah 2007, Napa Valley, which in its very evident 15.5 percent alcohol, its massive oaken influence and its overwhelming tannins makes a detrimental fetish of muscle-bound bigness. 296 cases. Not for this boy. About $38.