Thu 17 Mar 2011
No, I’m not writing about baked goods; rather, I’m writing about three red wines I tasted recently from Villa San-Juliette, located in Paso Robles. The name sounds Italian, the label is decorous and attractive, but the wines are New World to the hilt: opulent, flamboyant, super-ripe, thoroughly oaked, and with alcohol as high as an elephant’s eye. Who drinks these wines? Turns out that the owners of the 168-acre vineyard in Pleasant Valley north of Paso Robles are Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick, producers of American Idol. Well, o.k., that fits, over-the-top wines from the producers of the country’s number one over-the-top television program. The prices, however, are not extreme at all, though to make them worth the money you have to love an exaggerated, if not parodistic style. Winemaker is Adam LaZarre, a well-known figure in California for two decades and former head winemaker for Hahn Estate Winery.
These wines were samples from a local wholesale distributor.
The Villa San-Juliette Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Paso Robles, ages 16 months in new and one-year-old French barrels, a process that resulted in a wine dense with creamy, spicy oak and sumptuous with rich cassis, plum and black cherry scents and flavors. This is a blend of 90 percent cabernet grapes, 4 percent each “shiraz” and tempranillo, 2 percent merlot. Give it a few moments and the wine dredges up notes of blueberry tart and boysenberry, the whole effect pretty damned luscious and jammy, and at this point I’m thinking that the VS-J Cab 08 is channeling a big-hearted, two-fisted Paso Robles zinfandel; touches of mint and cedar, lavender and licorice reinforce the notion. Layers of dense, thick, chewy, dusty tannins and graphite-like minerality provide structure. 14.5 percent alcohol. 3,900 cases. To my palate, this wine is a travesty of cabernet sauvignon. Rating is Good+, for those who don’t really want their cabernets to be anything at all like cabernet. About $17.
The Villa San-Juliette Petite Sirah 2008, Paso Robles, includes 10 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent syrah and 3 percent mourvèdre; it ages 14 months in new and neutral French barrels. The wine is sweet with oak, sweet with its 15 percent alcohol content, sweet with super-ripe, viscous black and blue fruit flavors permeated by blueberry tart and blackberry jam, smoke and ash, potpourri and dusty velvet and (paradoxically) almost iron-like minerality. Opulent and overwhelming. 3,900 cases. Good+. About $17.
LaZarre describes this wine, on the back label, as “blueberry motor oil,” and at first I thought he was apologizing, as in, “Gosh, I’m so sorry that the Petitie Sirah 2008 turned out like blueberry motor oil. I promise to do better next time,” but, no, the term was meant as high praise appropriate to the wine. I guess I’m just so fucking naive.
O.K., on to the Villa San-Juliette Chorum 2007, Paso Robles, a wine intended as the flagship for the estate. This is blend of 68 percent “shiraz” — fer gawd’s sake, just say syrah! — and 32 percent cabernet sauvignon, and perhaps using the Australian term “shiraz” indicates the wine’s affinity with Australian wines of the same ilk. It ages 16 months in new and one-year-old French oak, and it’s a huge, formidable, flamboyant, ripe and fleshy and meaty performance, a close to Baroque rendition of the companion grapes. Fie, it out-Australians the Australians! 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 510 cases. Good only. About $23.
I tasted those three red wines together day before yesterday, but I have a glass of the Villa San-Juliette Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Paso Robles, next to me as I type these words. While I find this bright straw-yellow colored wine the most reasonably proportioned of the VS-J wines I tried, it’s still far from the spare, reticent manner I prefer. Notes of roasted lemon, lemon balm and lemon curd distinguish a bouquet that also yields hints of tangerine, pear and melon, with after-thoughts of dusty, dried herbs and the waxiness of little white flowers that take it into Rhone Valley-marsanne/roussanne territory. Not that the wine is not extremely attractive, but it is a bit extreme. It ages 4 months in neutral French barrels, and one feels that oaken subtlety in the wine’s suppleness and smoothness; flavors lean toward stone fruit and mango and baked pear, with a burst of lime and grapefruit (in nose and mouth) that delivers crispness and liveliness to the finish. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 1,060 cases. Of this quartet, the VS-J Sauvignon Blanc 2008 is the one I recommend, for drinking through the end of 2012. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.