June 2011

That’s probably the most obvious and the lamest title anyone could come up with for this post, but so be it. The point is that these blended wines from X Winery will, um, hit the spot for your many wine needs this weekend, and in many states and cities, where wine and liquor stores stay open until 10 or 11 p.m., you have half a day in which to shop. X Winery released its first wines in 2001, beginning with 1600 cases. The result of Reed Renaudin’s thesis at Cal Poly-San Obispo, where he obtained an MBA, X Winery draws on highly-sought vineyards, such as Truchard and Sangiacomo in Carneros, Spring Mountain in Napa Valley and Roach Vineyards in St. Helena, for its reasonably priced wines. Its flagship wines, the Amicus Cabernet Sauvignon and Amicus Special Blend, at $55 and $45 respectively, are still reasonably priced for the quality and the competition. Today though, we’re looking at the bargain-priced White X and Red X wines. Winemakers are Reed Renaudin and Gina Richmond. These were samples for review.

The X Winery White X 2010, North Coast, is a blend of 55 percent sauvignon blanc, 18 percent chardonnay, 16 percent riesling and 11 percent malvasia bianca. This is indeed a North Coast wine, deriving from Lake (43%), Mendocino (25%), Napa (18%) and Sonoma (14%) counties. White X is made in stainless steel. This is a fresh, crisp and perky wine that offers a bouquet of melon and pear, touches of quince, ginger, orange zest and roasted lemon, and beguiling notes of honeysuckle and jasmine. What’s interesting about this wine, besides the fact that it’s downright delicious, is the way in which you identify its components as you drink: “Ah, there a bit of sauvignon blanc herbaceousness and leafy fig. And there’s a hint of chardonnay’s body and grapefruit-pineapple character; riesling’s lime, peach and limestone; malvasia bianca’s spice and flowers,” and it all rolls seamlessly over your grateful taste buds to a dry, tart, slightly austere finish. We drank this one night with Jamie Oliver’s Fennel Risotto with Ricotta and Dried Chili; the wine was charming, but the risotto was not as good as the first time I made it, something about the barometric pressure and my bad mood, I guess, risotto is so damned sensitive. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012. Very Good+. About $15.

The X Winery Red X 2009, North Coast, is a robust, wild and woolly blend of 52 percent syrah, 19 percent mourvèdre, 17 percent zinfandel and 12 percent grenache, drawn from Los Carneros (48%) and Mendocino (21%), Napa (16%) and Lake (15%) counties. Red X 09, as did its predecessors — the brand debuted in 2003 — delivers exuberant elements of black currants and cherries, blueberry and a touch of tart cranberry woven with briers and brambles, cloves and allspice and deep notes of black olive and dried thyme; think of it as a Côtes-du-Rhône with the addition of some bold and spicy California zinfandel. Though juicy black and blue fruit flavors dominate in the mouth, touches of leather, underbrush, graphite-like minerals and slightly toasty oak bolster the depths. The texture is supple and smooth, with a bit of litheness and sinew in structure and finish. The wine aged 21 months in oak, 20 percent new French and 10 percent new American barrels, the rest of the barrels being neutral, that is well-used. We drank this quite successfully with a charcuterie spread for dinner last night. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $15.

A number of adjectives thread through the reviews of these single vineyard, 100 percent cabernet sauvignon wines from Nickel & Nickel: dusty, granite-like, shale-like, deep, dense, austere. Such terms indicate a “house style” of cabernet for N&N, where the winemaker is Darice Spinelli and director of winemaking is Dirk Hampson. This firm, vibrant, brooding manner dominates whether the cabernet sauvignon grapes derive from high atop Howell Mountain, from the foothills west of Oakville or from the relatively flat warm area around Yountville; the premise seems to be that the wines should be attractive and broadly balanced in youth but not necessarily accessible or approachable and that they should require four to six years before mellowing out. The sensible (for these days) alcohol levels range from about 14 to 14.6 percent.

Much as I admire these single-vineyard cabernets from Nickel & Nickel — and the winery produced 13 cabernets for 2007 — I think that price is a consideration. Ninety dollars is a lot of money for a bottle of wine, and $140 is a whole lot of money. On the other hand, not everyone always looks for bargains; quality, vitality and quiet confidence (in wine or human beings) speak to us, and those who can unfurl the necessary fiduciary prowess to purchase wine that costs $140 a bottle — and there are plenty of wines that cost much more — can enjoy being a member of that elite group. For me, of course, these wines were samples for review.

Image from flavorwire.com.
Nickel & Nickel Martin Stelling Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 and 2007, Oakville District, Napa Valley.
N&N makes less of its Martin Stelling Cabernet than of the other single-vineyard wines: 547 cases in 2006, 521 cases in 2007; perhaps this rarity accounts for the price. The 100-acre vineyard at the base of the hills west of Oakville is the main source of grapes for Far Niente’s cabernet sauvignon, though N&N farms only two acres. The soil is deep and loamy over beds of clay and gravel. Oak aging is similar for the two Martin Stelling wines, 17 months in French oak, 61 percent new barrels for 2006, 55 percent new for 2007.

For 06, the wine is all plums and black currants, whiffs of black pepper, wheatmeal and graham crackers, dried porcini (dusty, earthy, mossy), pungent cassis and graphite, an overall effect of immense purity and intensity of origin, of confidence, of purpose and character; followed by walloping tannins; bright acidity; ink and iron; yet strangely the black and blue fruit flavors are lipsmacking and juicy; an hour later, it’s sleek, polished, burnished, austere, a little distant. Though not typically in these comparisons of N&N cabernets of 2006 and 07, in which I tend to like the 07s better — this is all relatively speaking in regards to such excellent wines — but I prefer this Martin Stelling 06 to its cousin from the next year which is monumentally, mountainously deep, steep, multi-dimensional, intense and concentrated, though there was a point, about 30 minutes in, when it emitted a winsome whiff of lavender and fennel, dried thyme, black olive and sage, signs that bode well for the future. The 2007 I rate Excellent; try from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’22. The 06 I call Exceptional, for drinking 2012 or ’14 through 2018 to ’20. Each $140.
Nickel & Nickel John C. Sullenger Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 and 2007, Oakville District, Napa Valley.
The 30-acre John C. Sullenger is the “home” vineyard for Nickel & Nickel and is situated right behind the winery in Napa Valley’s Oakville District. These are large-framed, stalwart wines, intense and concentrated, and they require two to four or five years in the cellar.

The N&N John C. Sullenger 2006 aged 16 months in French oak, 42 percent new barrels. It’s a sumptuous wine, broad and generous, ripe, fleshy and meaty, with loads of lavender and violets and a hint of licorice, smoke, ash and graphite, dried thyme, cedar, black olive and lead pencil; yes, you could spend some time getting acquainted with this bouquet, relishing its sensuous and savory character. Despite this lovely panoply, however, this is a serious wine that’s deeply grounded in the wheatmeal and walnut shell nature of rigorous tannins and polished, well-tuned oak. Intense, concentrated, dusty. Try from 2012 or ’13 through 2018 to ’20. Production was 3,108 cases. Excellent. About $90.

The Sullenger 07 (43 percent new French oak) feels like classic Oakville cabernet and is altogether remarkably similar to the 06 rendition though displaying even more size and more power, even unto a state of massive structure; everything about the wine is dusty and earthy: fruit, tannins, minerals and oak. Despite the fact that Sullenger 07 is velvety in texture and drenched with spicy black and blue fruit flavors, it’s in the deal for the long-haul and will benefit from cellaring for three to five years; drink then until 2018 to ’22. Production was 3,857 cases. Excellent. About $90.

Image (much modified) from californiawinereport.
Nickel & Nickel Vogt Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 and 2007, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley.
The 15-acre Vogt Vineyard occupies a southeast facing tract that stretches from high on Howell Mountain, where the soil is rocky and shallow, farther down to where the soil is deeper and loamier. The two vintages are consistent in character, though look at the difference in the alcohol levels: 14.1 percent for the 2007; 14.6 percent for the 2006, which was a bit warmer than ’07 in September and October. (Yes, federal law permits producers to fudge a bit on the stated alcohol content.) Notice, too, the difference in the oak treatment, a sign that the winemakers pay attention to important variations in climate, weather and ripening conditions and how those factors affect the individual wine; for 2007, the scheme was 17 months in French oak, 58 percent new; for the 2006, 17 months also but 46 percent new oak.

The N&N Vogt Cabernet 2006 is still quite youthful in its dark ruby-purple color and in its intense, dusty, graphite-laden bouquet that only slowly unfurls notes of ripe black currants and blueberries with hints of dried red and black currants; a few more moments in the glass bring in touches of cedar and dried thyme, black olives and smoked oolong tea. Notes, hints, touches: all of these details comprise a fabric of nuance in a wine that however sleek honed it may be still leans heavily on the elements of size and dimension, with attendant characteristics of chewy (but not gritty) tannins, earthy granite-like minerality and spicy oak, devolving to a long, dignified, austere finish. Try from 2012 or ’13 through 2016 to ’20. Production was 1,861 cases. Excellent. About $90.

Made in a consistent style with the ’06, the N&N Vogt Cabernet 2007 offers more fruit in aromas and flavors — dusty, smoky black currants, blueberries and plums, a little fleshy and macerated — with that dusty, foresty quality equally lavished on dusty shale and granite, dusty lavender and dusty plums; I mean that for all its smooth, supple sleekness this is a wine of immense reserves of firmness, depth and power. In all of this “dust” and granite-and-shale-like minerality do we feel the influence of high elevation and thin soil where the vines have to struggle to find sustenance and in that struggle turn their skins into bastions of dense, velvety tannins? I like to think so. Vogt ’07 leans more toward power than elegance, but I have no doubt that three or four years aging will marry those qualities seamlessly in balance. Mark this for the long-haul, 2018 to ’22. Production was 2,327 cases. Excellent with Exceptional potential. About $90.
Nickel & Nickel State (Lane) Ranch 2006 and 2007, Yountville, Napa Valley.
The 06 is called State Lane Ranch, the 07 State Ranch; is this the State Lane Vineyard in Yountville that the Kapcsandy family bought in 2000? The 06 is the first release that Nickel & Nickel made from grapes selected from 11 acres of older vines here. Each wine matured in French oak barrels for 17 months, 47 percent new oak for the 06, 43 percent new oak for the 07.

The N&N State Lane Ranch 06 takes some minutes (or hours) to develop fairly juicy black currant, blackberry and mulberry scents and flavors (with mulberry’s quality of spicy piquancy), but the wine’s chief characteristic is a rigorous combination of vigor and deliberation; as vibrant, as resonant as it is, the wine feels reticent, slow-moving, thoughtful, as it were, and pretty damned austere from mid-palate back through the finish. A little time in the glass adds some juiciness to the black and blue fruit flavors, a tad more ripeness, but all enveloped by veils of dense, chewy tannins, a bit like dusty velvet woven with iron filings. State Ranch 2007 is actually bigger than 2006 — broader, deeper, more thoroughly imbued with dimension; the wine is very intense and concentrated, an amalgam of walnut shell, wheatmeal, briers and brambles, forest floor with a dried porcini, mossy element. For all its monumental qualities, the wine conveys the sense of excitement, the feeling of pent energy, of confidence and anticipation that all great red wines embody. Try the State Lane Ranch 06 from 2012 or ’13 through 2016 to ’18. Production was 430 cases. Excellent. About $90. Let the State Ranch 2007 rest until 2013 to ’15 and enjoy through 2019 to ’22. Bigger production: 1,746 cases. Excellent with Exceptional potential. About $90.
Nickel & Nickel Kelham Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Oakville District, Napa Valley.
The Kelham Vineyard lies west of Oakville at the base of the hills. As is often the case with gently-sloping, foothill-fringing vineyards, the soil here is alluvial loamy clay. Despite its youthful deep purple-blue color and its dense, dusty nature, the wine is surprisingly smooth and mellow. The bouquet seethes with black currants and black cherries, cedar and tobacco, briers and brambles and back-notes of cloves and lavender, slowly accumulating depths of graphite and shale. All right, I wrote “smooth and mellow,” and I admit that the adjectives apply to the first 10 minutes or so of experiencing this wine; it doesn’t take long for the full force of finely-milled tannins and spicy oak and the impression of honed granite to fill the mouth; and yet the wine is beautifully balanced, vibrantly poised as if on a pedestal of vivid acidity, and lovely to drink. The oak regimen is 17 months in French barrels, 43 percent new, 57 percent once-used. And give it some time in the glass to conjure hints of black olive, oolong tea, macerated black currants and blueberries and potpourri. Now through 2017 or ’18. Production was 1,162 cases. Excellent. About $90.

I hope my readers don’t mind another rosé. Actually, I don’t care if you mind or not; I’m in a rosé state of mind and it’s my blog, so there. Besides, as an American and pronounced Europhile, I find the history behind a wine like the Chateau Saint Martin de la Garrigue “Tradition” Rose 2010, Coteaux du Languedoc, irresistible. There is indeed a grand chateau on this ancient property, erected around 1557 but, as you can see from the image, incorporating older and distinctively medieval walls and towers. The building seems to be a combination of castle, palace, manor house and farmstead. The oldest part of the chateau is a chapel that was built in 987. Artifacts and other materials unearthed by archeologists indicate occupation in the Roman era and even back to the Neolithic age, long before there were such concepts as wine and winemaking. The property, in the Coteaux du Languedoc between Béziers and Montpellier (inland from where the Mediterranean coast begins to slope in a southwesterly direction toward Spain), was acquired by Umberto Guida and his American wife Joëtta in 1992, and immense amounts of money were spent in improvements to the vineyards and facilities. Manager of the estate, which produces about a dozen different wines, is winemaker Jean-Claude Zabalia.

Chateau Saint Martin de la Garrigue “Tradition” Rosé 2010, Coteaux du Languedoc, is a blend of 50 percent cinsault grapes, 30 percent syrah and 20 percent grenache; the grenache and syrah are bled off the tanks in a method called saignée, while the cinsault grapes are pressed directly, given minimum skin-contact to keep the color a beguiling pale melon pink with a slight copper tinge and to reduce any element of tannin. This is a lovely rose, bright and clean and as fresh as a basket of just picked strawberries and raspberries, with a touch of dried red currant and whiffs of violets and cloves. Acidity is lively, crisp and brisk, and indeed the finish, for all its delicacy, seems to offer a note of salt-spanked sea-breeze amid hints — I mean hints — of dried thyme and tarragon, melon and peach and a concluding fillip of limestone, all of this amounting to an absolutely delightful quaff. A classic expression of the South of France for drinking now through the end of 2011 or into 2012. Very Good+. About $13, a Great Bargain.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Ca. Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event. Image of the Chateau Saint Martin de la Garrigue from stmartingarrigue.com.

In the indispensable Grand Vins: The Finest Chateaux of Bordeaux and Their Wines (University of California Press, 1995), Clive Coates unravels the long and tangled familial, political and financial history of Sauternes’ three “Doisy” estates: the two most prominent, Doisy-Védrines and Doisy-Daëne, and the seldom-seen Doisy-Dubroca, which produces only about 500 cases annually. All three were awarded Second Growth ranking in the 1855 Classification of the wines of Sauternes and Barsac; arguments could be made for or against that status now, but certainly Védrines and Daene often make superb sweet wines, while Dubroca would be difficult to make a case for since it is so rarely encountered. Suffice to say that Doisy was once a single and ancient vineyard that was divided in the 1830s or ’40s. Our concern today is Chateau Doisy-Védrines, because I recently tried Doisy-Védrines 2005, two glasses of which, in an untypical fit of decadence, I consumed with a lunch of pan perdu, maple syrup and blackberries. The property has been owned by the Castéja family since 1840. The estate covers just over 66 acres; the vineyards are planted with 80 percent semillon grapes, 15 percent sauvignon blanc and 5 percent muscadelle. For 2005, the wine spent 18 months in oak, 70 percent new barrels.

Chateau Doisy-Védrines 2005, Sauternes, sports a radiant medium gold color that goes quite delicate and limpid around the rim. The first impression is of ripe, spiced, macerated and roasted peaches, apricots and pineapple infused with honey, vanilla and cloves and a burgeoning element of honeysuckle, camellia and bees’-wax; the sense is of filigrees upon filigrees of scents layered in ethereal jewel-like proximity. Some dessert wines feel as heavy as money in the mouth; this, while not attaining elegance, is more refined than weighty, more supple than o’ermastering. Upon entry, Doisy-Védrines 05 is powerfully sweet and honeyed, with the super-ripe, earthy, creamy character we expect from a vintage that was rich in flavor but a little low in acid; this lacks somewhat the essential tension and ultimate resolution between enveloping richness and piercing acidity — I first wrote “squinching” acidity; do you get it? — that mark the best products of Sauternes and Barsac. This is, still, as lovely as it gets, and the acid does plow a moderate swath on the palate and the (slightly rotten) luscious peach and apricot flavors are tempered by a hint of bright green apple and toasted hazelnuts, all of this panoply leading to a finish that’s dry and a little austere and permeated by limestone. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 to ’18, well-stored. While my French toast may have been an extreme pairing — it really shivered my timbers — you could try this wine with simple fruit desserts, or just a plain shortbread cookie, or a piece of fine bleu cheese. Excellent. Prices on the Internet reveal a ludicrously wide range from about $30 to $60; look, realistically, for $45 to $50.

A sample for review. Image of Chateau Doisy-Védrines by Neal Martin at Wine Journal.

The story is fascinating.

Lou Kapcsándy fled Hungary after the uprising of 1956 was quashed by the Soviet Union. A soccer player before his escape, he made the transition to American football and — after a stint with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division — played for the San Diego Chargers. Kapcsándy’s business career was spent in the fields of petroleum and pharmaceuticals engineering and design, but he was hooked on wine after experiencing Chateau Leoville-Las Cases 1961 (we should all be so lucky), eventually building a notable wine collection of some 20,000 bottles. What person — who possesses the means — that loves great cabernet-based wine doesn’t want to own a vineyard or winery and make wine too? In 2000, Kapcsándy, his wife and son purchased the well-known State Lane Vineyard near Yountville in Napa Valley. Beringer had leased State Lane in 1974 and beginning in 1979 produced a single-vineyard cabernet as well as making State Lane fruit the backbone of the award-winning, highly-rated Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon; the vineyard was devastated by phylloxera in 1999. After buying State Lane, Kapcsándy replanted the vineyard and brought in celebrity winemaker Helen Turley to oversee the vintages of 2003 and ’04. Consulting winemaker now is Dennis Malbec, from Chateau Latour in Bordeaux’s Pauillac region.

I recently tried two wines from this limited-edition winery, the Kapcsándy Family Winery Endre 2008, which falls little short of superb, and the Kapcsándy Family Winery Estate Cuvée 2008, about which my thoughts are divided. These wines were samples for review.
The Kapcsándy Endre 2008, Yountville, Napa Valley, is unquestionably a wine in which structure is the most important factor now, yet at the same time it displays the integration and harmony that we desire from a great wine meant to express the true marriage of dimension and detail, power and elegance. A blend of 51 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, 25 percent merlot, 16 percent cabernet franc and 8 percent petit verdot, the wine aged 18 months in oak barrels, 75 percent French, 25 percent Hungarian. You sense that structure in brooding aromas of briers and brambles, dusty shale, cedar and tobacco given a lift by notes of spiced and slightly macerated black currants, black cherries and plums. Endre 2008 is intense and concentrated, packed with earthy yet finely milled and poised tannins and honed graphite qualities that lend the wine a keen mineral edge, in addition to the essential flare of vibrant acidity. There’s a deep and profound core of licorice and lavender, potpourri and bitter chocolate that lays the ground for ripe and spicy cassis and black cherry flavors. While oak provides a sensible and subtle frame and foundation, the wine is not toasty or strident or vanilla-ish. (In all my years, I’ve never understood why winemakers and writers describe an aroma or flavor of vanilla in wine as a good thing; vanilla belongs in ice cream or pound cake, not wine.) Here’s a classic Napa Valley cabernet-blend of lovely purity and intensity that will be best from 2012 or ’13 through 2018 to ’20. Alcohol content is 14.1 percent. 370 cases. Excellent. About $75.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ All right, so here’s the wine about which I feel a large dose of ambivalence. The Kapcsándy Family Winery Estate Cuvée 2008 is a blend of 68 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, 22 percent merlot and 5 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot, all from the winery’s State Lane Vineyard. What does one smell and taste in this wine? Oak. And more oak. The regimen is 20 months aging in 97 percent French oak barrels, 3 percent Hungarian. Certainly all the instruments agree that the details are spot-on, at least in the beginning: a bouquet that teems with aromas of mulberries, blueberries, black currants and plums, woven with hints of exotic spice, notes of lavender and leather — good name for a cologne, that — smoke and licorice, cedar and graphite; structure and texture that convey suppleness and suavity, on the one hand, and, on the other, the depth and essential rigor of finely-milled tannins, a well-honed granite-like mineral component and vivid acidity; ripe and luscious black and blue fruit flavors that manage to be delectable without being assertive. Over all of these necessary and even exhilarating qualities, however, hovers the enveloping and permeating influence of very toasty, woody oak. Listen up, winemakers, producers, winery owners: I’ll say it again — If a wine smells like oak and tastes like oak, it has too much oak. And let me add: To produce a wine based on its origin in a well-known, even a legendary vineyard and then mask or negate with oak whatever individual character that plot of earth might have imparted seems to me an exercise in tragic futility. 825 cases. 14.5 percent alcohol. Best from 2013 or ’14 through 2018 to ’20. Very Good+. About $135.

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