August 2012



Yesterday was World Cabernet Day, but I extend the concept to today’s “Friday Wine Sips” because I have a boodle of cabernet sauvignon wines or blends on hand. Here are 15, from 2009, ’8 and ’07, mainly from Napa Valley and Sonoma County but also an example from Lake County and two from Lodi. In fact, this column serves as a transition or segue to September, which for some reason has been designated California Wine Month. A couple of these wines I am lukewarm about — there’s even a “Not Recommended” — but 10 receive an Excellent rating. I haven’t done a “Friday Wine Sips” in two weeks, so I’ll remind My Readers that these brief, incisive, insightful reviews eschew technical data and historical, personal and geographical narrative for the sake of getting to the essence. All of these wines were samples for review.

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Mettler Family Vineyards Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Lodi. 15.3% alc. With 8% petite sirah, 4% cabernet franc, 2% petit verdot. Unpalatably sweet, hot and jammy, but alternately brusquely tannic and austere; a zinfandel lollipop gone to the dark side. What were they thinking? Not recommended. About $25.
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Mettler Family Vineyards Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Lodi. 14.9% alc. With 8% petite sirah, 2% cabernet franc. This is better or at least a bit more under control; very dark ruby-purple hue; yes, still big, rich, fruity and jammy — European palates avoid! — very spicy, very brambly and briery, brilliantly-etched black fruit with a blueberry tart edge, a velvet fist in a velvet glove but still more granite and flint minerality and bright acidity for backbone than the rendition of 2008. Now through 2015 to ’17. Very Good. About $25.
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Hess Allomi Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. With 9% petite sirah. Dark ruby-purple color; makes a fetish of its deep flint-graphite, iodine-iron character that gradually yields to notes of cassis and blueberry and plums laved with smoke, lavender and licorice; a few minutes bring in potpourri, mulberry and a touch of pomegranate, all ensconced in a dense, chewy texture freighted with finely-milled tannins. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $28.
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Obsidian Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Red Hills, Lake County. 14.3% alc. With 3% each cabernet franc and petit verdot. Sleek and scintillating, notably clean and fresh, a powerhouse of spicy black and blue fruit scents and flavors tempered by layers of earthy, dusty graphite and plush finely-milled mineral-laced tannins dressed out with vibrant acidity; comes close to being elegant, even as it conceals a truckload of coiled energy. Definitely needs a steak. Excellent. About $30.
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Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma Valley. Jackson Family Wines. 15.5% alc.(!) Pure and intense, a bright arrow of granitic minerality, very tight, very concentrated, very ripe and spicy; does it really need so much toasty, vanilla-laced oak? I don’t think so. 250 cases. Very Good+. About $35.
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Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Jackson Family Wines. 14.5% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 79%, merlot 14%, petit verdot 5%, malbec 1%. Dark ruby shading to medium ruby; lovely bouquet, cedar, lead pencil, tobacco, black currants and cherries with a touch of plum; but tough as nails; here’s the iron fist, where’s the velvet glove? very spicy, a little tart, finish is boldly tannic and austere. Try maybe from 2014 through 2017 to 2020. Very Good+. About $40.
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Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. Almost opaque dark ruby color; briers and brambles, cedar, thyme and leather; spiced and macerated black and blue fruit, dredged with dried spice and potpourri; buttresses of fine-meshed tannins and granitic minerality; moody and brooding, a note of tar and sweet oak; feel the power waiting to be unleashed. Try 2013 or ’14 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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As I said a few days ago, it’s not as if cabernet sauvignon languishes without fans, it’s not as if cab sav doesn’t have advocates all over the place, but here it is, World Cabernet Day, and what the hell, what else do we have to do to fill our empty lives but give days and months and whole seasons to the celebration of grape varieties. I offer two examples of cabernet sauvignon today, a selection that doesn’t even begin to scratch the top layer of veneer on the massive oak cabinet that metaphorically could stand for the monumental presence that the cabernet sauvignon grape exerts in the living room, as it were, of wine producers, wine drinkers and wine collectors; I mean to say, it dwarfs every other red grape that might attend the party. Cab sav is planted in most of the world’s wine regions, whether suited to them or not, but where does it perform best? The short list: The left bank of the region of Bordeaux (remember, the Right Bank is dominated by cabernet franc and merlot); a few spots in California, principally Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, Alexander Valley and Paso Robles; Coonawarra and Margaret River in Australia; Hawkes Bay in New Zealand; a narrow range of southwestern Tuscany, by the Tyrrhenian Sea. Other vineyard areas, such as Maipo and Aconcagua in Chile and Salta in Argentina are showing improvement.

This post, however, offers two fairly directly appealing inexpensive cabernet sauvignon wines that reveal marks of individuality as well as adherence to the character of the grape. These were samples for review, as I am required to inform you by the Federal Trade Commission, though if I didn’t, would they slap me in chains and drop me in the hoosegow?

The photograph, taken by me, is of cabernet sauvignon grapes in the Fay Vineyard, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Napa Valley, August 6, 2012.
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BenMarco is a label from Susana Balbo who with all respect could be called the mistress of wine in Argentina. The BenMarco Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mendoza, contains 6 percent merlot and 4 percent cabernet franc; the wine aged a conservative 11 months in 60 percent new French oak barrels, 40 percent in second-use American oak. (The implication of “second-use” barrels is that their influence will be milder and more mellow, less spicy and woody than new oak.) The color is dark ruby-purple; the bouquet offers a heady amalgam of macerated and lightly roasted black currants and cherries, with an undertow of plum, bolstered by black olive, thyme and sage and a touch of lavender. In the mouth, BenMarco Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 is intense and concentrated, a mouthful of boldly framed, slightly grainy tannins, supple oak, vibrant acidity and ripe but slightly dusty black and blue fruit flavors. The finish is packed with spice and underbrushy earthly elements. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $18, though around the country you find prices from $15 to $20.

I also tried the Susana Balbo Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 and — another Balbo label — the Crios Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, both from Mendoza, and found them oddly stiff with oak and unpalatable.

Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, Ca.
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The Jacob’s Creek Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia, spent 18 months in French oak hogshead barrels, and while “hogshead” is a rather amorphous measurement of liquid volume I’m sure you get the point that it’s a large barrel, the point being that such a barrel will not have the intensity of influence exercised by the standard 59-gallaon barrel or barrique. This wine has its eccentricities, and they’re lively and attractive ones. The color, first, is dark ruby with a slightly lighter violet rim; aromas of mint, eucalyptus, celery seed and black olives burst from the glass, with notes of cocoa powder, licorice and potpourri, oh yes, and scents of crushed black currants, raspberries and mulberries. I have seen a few reviews of this wine that scored it down because of the herbaceous bouquet, but I think that aspect is part of the wine’s charm and individuality. Flavors of black currants and plums are cushioned by a texture that’s paradoxically a bit lush and velvety while being invigorated by taut acidity and moderately dense, slightly leathery tannins. The finish is rift with sandalwood and cloves and a hint of iodine-and-iron minerality. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $13, a Distinct Bargain.

Imported by Pernod Ricard USA, Purchase, NY.
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The Silverado Trail winds through the bucolic eastern side of the Napa Valley, a 29-mile long road that was created as a wagon trail in 1852 to link the cinnabar mines on Mount St. Helena with the shipping outlet of San Pablo Bay. The palisades of the Vaca range lie just east of Silverado Trail, which runs parallel to state Highway 29 a few miles to the west, the main road that runs up the center of the valley through Napa city, the small but important towns of Yountville, Oakville and Rutherford, to St. Helena and up to Calistoga in the north. Compared to the carnival atmosphere of Highway 29, especially on weekends, Silverado remains quiet and isolated, a reminder of the valley’s rural days.

Warren Winiarski arrived in the Napa Valley in the late 1960s, a political science professor from Chicago whose interest in wine had been piqued when he studied in Italy. He apprenticed himself at Souverain Cellars and Robert Mondavi Winery before buying 45 acres in 1970, between Silverado Trail and the Stag’s Leap formation, in what is now Stags Leap District, the little red area on the accompanying map. He was persuaded to do so after tasting the homemade cabernet sauvignon of Nathan Fay, produced from his vineyard next to the land that Winiarski eventually purchased. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars produced its first wine — 400 cases — in 1972, but it was the 1973 bottling that changed everything. (Consultant in the early days was the highly influential André Tchelistcheff, mastermind behind the Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.) That 1973 vintage of cabernet sauvignon, from the Stag’s Leap Vineyard, was chosen for the famous and infamous Paris Tasting of 1976, in which the wines of two obscure fledgling wineries, little known even in California, prevailed against the best estates of Burgundy and Bordeaux. The other triumphant wine was the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 1973, made by Mike Grgich.

Winiarski coined the well-known phrase “iron fist in velvet glove” to describe the cabernet sauvignon wines from his Stag’s Leap Vineyard, a handy rubric for a character that combines a granitic quality with a plush texture. Indeed an almost feral iron-iodine element runs through all of the SLV wines that I encountered on a recent sponsored visit to the winery, where the group I was with tasted the 1979, ’83, ’93, 2003 and 2007, ’08 and ’09. The winery produces an SLV in every year, a Cask 23 wine only in the best vintages, and a Fay wine from the vineyard that Winiarski acquired in 1986. (This image of the Fay Vineyard looks east toward the Vaca palisade and the promontory from which the legendary stag is supposed to have leapt.)

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars — not to be confused with Stags’ Leap Winery, the position of those apostrophes the result of a lawsuit — thrived not only as a result of winning the Paris tasting but because of the quality of its cabernets and chardonnays, being regarded as one of the great Old School Napa Valley wineries, along with Heitz, Beaulieu, Caymus, Robert Mondavi, Freemark Abbey, Clos du Val, Beringer, Charles Krug, Montelena and others. Stag’s Leap, however, seemed to get lost in the shuffle as newer, heavily financed producers came along in the late 1980s and the 1990s and achieved the status of cult cabernet-makers in the hearts of well-heeled collectors. Perhaps the Stag’s Leap wines lost a shade of dimension and depth. In any case, Winiarski sold the winery, in 2007, to a partnership of Washington state’s Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Tuscany’s Marchesi Piero Antinori.

Vineyard manager for Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is Kirk Grace; winemaker, now in her 12th harvest, is Nicki Pruss.

On a side note, my first encounter with a wine from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, oddly, was not one of its vaunted cabernets but the Gamay
Beaujolais 1981, which I purchased for $6.99 and drank on November 5 and 6, 1983. It was quite charming, but I have never seen so-called “gamay beaujolais” mentioned on any product list for the winery, so I assume the attention it received was short-lived. Anyway, it turns out that gamay beaujolais was actually the French valdiguié grape; the term “gamay beaujolais” was banned on labels of American wine after April 2007.

Map of Napa Valley wine appellations from napanow.com. Image of Warren Winiarski from napawinelibrary.com.

Here are my notes on seven vintages of cabernets from the Stag’s Leap Vineyard, later abbreviated as SLV on labels, tasted at the winery.
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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars SLV 1979, Napa Valley. The vines were only nine years old when this wine was made; the wine aged 15 months in a mixture of French and American oak barrels. A dollop of merlot, 1.5 percent. The color is medium ruby-garnet with perfect clarity and transparency, in the old sense. The bouquet is warm and spicy and inviting, a gratifying amalgam of crushed and macerated black and red currants and plums with mint and iodine and graphite and hints of tobacco, cedar and soy sauce. The wine is well-knit, smooth and balanced, though vibrant acidity is a bit prominent; it grows more complex, more vigorous as the minutes pass, adding touches of celery seed, candied fennel and lightly roasted plums or fruitcake, and the tannins seem to expand in volume too, though they are soft and moderately plush. Altogether a lovely wine at 33 years old and with some life, say five to seven years, ahead. 12.9/13 percent alcohol. Excellent. Price at the time: $15; seen on the Internet for $180.

It’s fascinating to read James Laube’s evaluation of this wine in California’s Great Cabernets: The Wine Spectator’s Ultimate Guide for Consumers, Collectors and Investors, published in 1989. He first writes, briefly, that that 1979 SLV “has an off, mossy quality.” In the principle review, he says: “This wine has never appealed to me — it tastes extremely dry and tannic without much in the way of fruit or charm. Drink 1990,” and he gives the wine a rating of 68 on the 100-point scale. As you can see by my notes, the wine must have shed its theoretically detrimental qualities, smoothed out those tannins, gained fruit and blossomed into something wonderful.
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SLV 1983. Poured from a 1.5-liter magnum. The color is radiant medium ruby with a light garnet-tinged rim. Again there’s that touch of mint and iodine, but the wine displays slightly less graphite or granite-like minerality; it is, on the other hand, slightly cooler, detached and more elegant than the ’79 discussed previously. On the other hand, again, even after 30 or 40 minutes in the glass, this example, anyway, did not offer quite the depth or complexity of the ’79, though it was still a lovely wine. Flavors of slightly macerated and stewed red and black currants are ensconced in a sizable, mouth-filling structure dominated by potent, even pregnant tannins that assert a dense and gritty presence. The finish brings in that back-note of slightly caramelized fennel. Drink now through 2020 to 2023. Very Good+. Price at the time: $18.
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SLV 1993. Poured from a 1.5-liter magnum. The wine aged 18 months in French oak barrels; there’s five percent petit verdot in the blend. A dark ruby color sports a slightly lighter ruby hue at the rim. Here’s a cabernet that feels, at 19 years old, whole, complete, authentic and essential. The wine is remarkably lively and vibrant, ringing with the resonance of its iron-and-graphite-like minerality, its fleet acidity and its dense, intense, pervasive, chewy tannins; in other words, it performs like a youngster, and while the wine could profitably be consumed now, it has many years ahead to develop and mature, say from 2020 to 2030. No kidding. Excellent. Original price: $40.
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SLV 2003. From an unpredictable year, with early heat spikes followed by the rainiest April on record, Stag’s Leap produced a gorgeous cabernet sauvignon for SLV. The color is solid ruby with a dark, almost opaque center and a shading toward magenta at the rim. The wine aged a whopping 27 months in French oak; a dab of merlot totals 1.2 percent. This is a deeply fruity, spicy and vibrant wine that draws you in with its power and vitality; SLV ’03 is profoundly minerally in the earthy, graphite, iodine-and-iron range, with attendant dense, dusty, leathery tannins, yet the wine is exquisitely detailed with hints of cedar and sage, celery seed and black olive, crushed black currants, plums and mulberries, all drawn out to a long finish packed with loam and underbrush. The alcohol content is a comfortable 14.1 percent. Drink now through 2030 to ’35. Excellent. About $110.
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SLV 2007. A contradictory year — some winemakers said that it was like having two or three different years in one — that turned into a great vintage for cabernet sauvignon. SLV ’07 is 100 percent cabernet; it aged 24 months in French oak, 88 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a purple-violet rim and an opaque center. Young as it is, as rigorous as the tannins are, the wine almost gushes with black and blue fruit scents and flavors that would edge close to being rich and jammy if not held in check by those finely-tuned, well-oiled tannins, by vibrant acidity and by a granite/graphite/iron character of magnificent proportions. Despite the profundity, though, despite the monumentality, the wine is precisely balanced and poised, and it’s edged by delicate details of mulberry, ancho chili, bitter chocolate, sage and lavender. 14.5 percent alcohol. Best from 2013 or ’14 through 2030 to 2037. Exceptional. About $125.
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Looking for a real mouthful of old-fashioned cabernet sauvignon? Fitting that description is the Justin Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles, made from 100 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, aged 18 months in American oak barrels, 28 percent new. The winery was established by Justin Baldwin in 1981, when there were about 10 wineries in Paso Robles. Justin’s reputation lies mainly in several levels of cabernet sauvignon, but the winery also makes an excellent sauvignon blanc. Winemaker is Scott Shirley. FIJI Water bought the winery in December 2010. (Mark the new label design: sleek, elegant, a little dangerous.)

The color is an almost opaque dark ruby tending even unto black. Aromas of black pepper, black olive and leather unfurl to reveal notes of intense and concentrated black currants, black cherries and plums that exude an aura of slightly exotic spice and dried Mediterranean herbs; then come the palate-challenging tannins, robust and grainy; the tongue-tingling acidity, vivacious and essential; the black fruit flavors, saturated by graphite, lavender, leather and loam-like earthy elements. It all adds up to real presence and tone in a wine that would benefit from a year or two of aging — or would probably be great right now with a medium rare rib-eye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. A mannerly 13.9 percent alcohol. Sort of now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $26.

A sample for review.

Thursday, August 30, has been declared World Cabernet Day — you know how these things go, like “The Month of Sauvignon Blanc” or “The Year of Riesling” — and I usually ignore such feats of marketing prowess and go about my merry old way, I mean, it’s not as if cabernet doesn’t have its champions or enviable recognition, but since I have a back-log of cabernets that I need to write about, I decided to be a good sport and try to review as many cabs as I can this week. I’ll celebrate World Cabernet Day in my own way, thank you very much.

At the Wine Bloggers’ Conference 2012, the Napa Valley Vintners Association presented a tasting of some of the top Napa cabernet sauvignon wines from 2002. This event precipitated happiness in many hearts and minds and palates, first, because most people don’t get many opportunities to taste 10-year-old cabernets, and, second, because 2002 was an excellent vintage that produced wines of intensity and concentration, depth and complexity, though with fairly prominent tannins; the year suffers a bit in comparison to 2001, which with its magnificent purity, dimension and balance is one of the best vintages in California’s history. Forget that quibble though; this little tasting was fun, even with what seemed like 100 people gathered in a hotel room, all reaching for the bottles arrayed on a table. These are going to be quick mentions rather than full reviews. The order is that of my tasting; no hierarchy is involved. The prices cited are average for the country. Mainly limited in production, these are not cheap wines, but benchmarks never are.

1. Far Niente. Deep purple color, opaque at the center; very lively, spicy and earthy; dense chewy velvety tannins; burgeoning hints of lavender, black licorice and bittersweet chocolate; powerful intensity and concentration yet deliriously sensuous on the tongue. Best from now through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About $144.

2. Heitz Martha’s Vineyard. I’m not always a fan of this wine, but for 2002 I think it’s fabulous. Beautiful balance, a sort of sweet aching poise between sheer sizable presence and lovely detailing; tannic, yes, but rolling and finely tuned, the pent energy of an XKE at idle; graphite, iron and iodine; deep, dense, chewy but with a high polish and intensely concentrated sweet black fruit. Now through 2020 to ’22. Exceptional. My first favorite. About $125.

3. Beaulieu Vineyards Georges De Latour Private Reserve. Profound in every sense; profoundly deep and earthy, profoundly iron-like in minerality with a modicum of the compensating velvet element; very dry, a trove of dusty, slightly leathery tannins; lacks the Lafite-like surface sheen that BV Private Reserve offers at its best. Give it a couple more years and then drink through 2018 to ’22. Very Good+. About $96.

4. Opus One. Pretty damned fathomless in its depth of dense dusty earthy and brooding tannins and granitic mineral qualities; imposing, majestic in black drapery but a little truculent; pretty damned unyielding even at almost 10 years; glimmers of intense and concentrated black fruit etched with spice and flowers, but I wouldn’t try until 2014 or ’15 and then drink through 2020 or ’24. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $250.

5. Spottswoode Estate. Black cherry and plum compote, a bit fleshy and roasted, broad and deep earthy and iron-like mineral influence but sleek and burnished; finely-milled tannins, somehow both hard and soft; a sense of intensity and compactness leaking into expansiveness and generosity; absolutely beautiful cabernet. Now — please with a steak — through 2018 to 2022. Exceptional. My second favorite. About $206.

6. Dyer Diamond Mountain. Whoa, unlimber the backhoe for these huge, impenetrable tannins; perhaps the most intense and concentrated of this selection of Napa Valley cabs from 2002; no denying its brilliantly dynamic character, its revelation of the pungent and pregnant darkness of the grape, but I wouldn’t touch it until 2014 or ’15. I’ll speculate a potential rating of Excellent, but for now Very Good+. About $62.

7. Corison. It’s testimony to the fine character of the wine and perhaps to the affection and regard with which Cathy Corison is held, but this was the first bottle at the tasting to be consumed, much to the consternation of those waiting eagerly in line. Again, a cab monumental in structure, truly so resonant and dynamic that it practically shimmers in the glass, though the energy is tempered somewhat by the authoritative yet gentle proportion and balance of its all elements. Remarkable purity, intensity and grace. Now or 2013 through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. My third favorite. About $95 and, considering the company, Great Value.

8. Pride Reserve. Wrong about #6; the Pride Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is the biggest, hugest and most enormously tannic, mineral-laden, the most intense and concentrated of these wines. Will it ever soften and mature and allow the fruit to come forward? I’m not certain about that. No rating; just wait, patiently, as for Godot, drinking other wines to pass the time. About $207.

9. Spring Mountain Elivette Reserve. Oh damn, oh joy; what a beautiful cabernet. Polished and sleek, deep, dark and spicy; the iron and iodine and slightly minty syndrome happily married to gushing black currant, black cherry and plum fruit bolstered by massive, hard-edged yet paradoxically velvety tannins and a smoldering core of potpourri, lavender, black pepper and ancho chili. Wonderful purity and intensity. Best from 2014 through 2020 to ’24. Exceptional and my fourth favorite, I mean chronologically in the tasting. About $94, and relatively speaking Good Value, meaning that it doesn’t cost $250.

10. Robert Mondavi Oakville District. Another beauty cloaked in monumental tannins; spiced, macerated and slightly roasted black and blue fruit scents and flavors; perfectly balanced in terms of all elements and a wine that for its size and power and resonance feels suave and elegant; no mistaking those austere tannins on the finish, though, or that sweet loamy earthiness. Now through 2018 to ’20. About $40, and the Bargain of this Bunch.

11. Chateau Monetelena The Montelena Estate. I have tasted several of these Montelena Estate cabernets from the late 1990s and early 2000s, and this rendition is easily the most daunting and demanding of them all. This is a huge, multi-dimensioned wine in every sense, and yet, because great wines always present themselves as a series of unfolding paradoxes, it offers lovely details of fruit and spice and dried flowers that one could almost call winsome, and, funny, when I first typed that word, I wrote “wisdom.” A fruitful slip of the fingers, since great wines also embody the wisdom of their vineyards and the soil from which the vines sprang forth. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $122.

One of the interesting aspects of Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine region is that few vineyards are planted on the valley floor, because the soil is too good, too rich, dense with the nutrients of ancient floods and river deposits. The vineyards tend to be planted on the hillsides, above 200 feet, where the soil composition is more spare and more demanding and requires the vines to work for their nourishment. This phenomenon is true of Burgundy, for example, where the best vineyards, the Premier and Grand Crus, are planted in the mid-range of the southeast facing slopes; lower and higher are the vineyards that produce the more generic “village” wines. Of course Willamette and Burgundy also share a red grape, the noble pinot noir. Anyway, several of the Willamette’s sub-appellations include the designations “hills” in their titles, such as Dundee Hills and Eola-Amity Hills, and it’s from Dundee that today’s Wine of the Week originates.

The Sokol-Blosser Pinot Noir 2009, Dundee Hills, Oregon, is an organically-produced wine that contains 87 percent estate grapes. The winery was founded by Oregon pioneers Bill Blosser and Susan Sokol Blosser in 1971, when grapes were quite new to Willamette Valley; they were preceded by Dick Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards in 1965 and Dick Erath in 1967. Sokol Blosser in now run by siblings Alison and Alex Sokol Blosser; winemaker since 1998 has been Russ Rosner. The Sokol-Blosser Pinot Noir 2009 aged in French oak for 16 months in 44 percent new barrels. The color is a lovely ruby-mulberry hue, with a rim just tinged with violet. The whole package displays exquisite poise and balance, though as is typical with Dundee pinot noirs the wine emphasizes a distinct earthy, loamy character that begins with briers and brambles and ends with deeper inflections of graphite and truffles. Red and black cherries and plums with a slight tang of red currants and cranberries are woven with notes of cola and cloves and a smoky back-note. Tannins are grainy and modulated but with enough bark and bite to let you know they’re right there at the threshold. The texture is smooth, dense and satiny. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $38.

A sample for review.

Boy, a lot of people blog about wine. If there were a conference of people who blogged about watches or sailboats or sandwiches or collecting Hummel elves would there be so many? By many I mean about 375, so, sure, that’s a drop in the wine barrel compared to bloggers that concern themselves with national affairs or neo-nazi hate music, but when you see all of these eager shining faces gathered in one place (with their computers, iPads, electronic notebooks and phones), it’s rather overwhelming.

So, here we are at the Doubletree hotel in Portland, Oregon, on what I can’t help thinking is the wrong side of the river from Downtown. The schedule is filled each day with myriad activities, including, yesterday, visits to wineries in the Willamette Valley — everyone piles into buses and isn’t told where they’re going until the buses take off — and today sessions of discussions on various aspects of blogging about wine, including what I’m sure will be an eagerly attended panel about monetizing our efforts instead of endlessly laboring on our blogs for the sake of free wine, a privilege that’s gratifying indeed but doesn’t pay the bills. Later today occur the announcement of the winners of the Wine Blog Awards — keep your fingers crossed for Your Truly in the Best Writing category — and a banquet hosted by King Estate.

What I discovered is that a huge amount of ex officio activities take place, mainly in the form of tastings put on by different wineries and trade groups. Some of these events occur during the day, but most of them fall after hours, by which I mean that they start at 10 p.m. and go on until after midnight. Last night I finally turned in my glass and closed by notebook at 12:15 a.m., after having gone to five tastings — including one that was shut down by hotel security for being too loud — but I know that other people stayed up much later. I can only do what I can do, n’est-ce pas?

I’ll get to the details of some of these tasting events in a few days; I don’t want to neglect some of the spectacular wines that I tried, many of which were new to me, but right now I have to hurry off to breakfast off-site to meet a winery person and then get back to the Doubletree for the first discussion meetings.

Let me add, though, a final observation, and that is that attending a conference like this tends to put things in perspective. You can imagine how gratifying it is to be told by a winery person or importer that “we send you wines because you’re one of the top ten wine bloggers” — yeah, I liked that! — or to have fellow bloggers come up to me and say things like “I’ve been reading your blog forever” or “I’ve always wanted to meet you” or, at least, “Oh, I follow you on Twitter.” And yet just as many times, on introducing myself to let’s say someone who has been to every Wine Bloggers’ Conference, the response is a stare or nod of polite incomprehension. We are never as important as we think we are.


My Readers, beginning tomorrow through Sunday, I’ll be posting to this blog and to Twitter and Facebook from the 2012 Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Portland, Oregon. The roster of activities and tastings and discussions, as well as after-hours tastings set up by various wineries and importers — these occur from 10 p.m. until midnight — is awesome. The weather in Portland is unseasonably warm, so I won’t be getting the relief from the hideous heat in Memphis that I thought I would, but I’m taking shorts and sandals for comfort. I’ll get back to posting as soon as I can. The winners of the Wine Blog Awards will be announced Saturday night; keep your fingers crossed for this blog in the Best Writing category.

Since Tom and Sally Jordan purchased 275 acres in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley in 1972, the purpose of Jordan Vineyards has not changed. The first cabernet sauvignon was produced from the 1976 vintage and the first chardonnay in 1979, and the regimen has not changed. Here is a winery dedicated to only two wines; no attempt has been made to produce wines in many categories in a range of prices to appeal (or pander) to all palates and pocketbooks, as so many wineries in California see fit to do. Even the original winemaker, Rob Davis, remains at his post. Some may see this adherence to a principle and tradition as deeply conservative; I see it as devotion to an unswerving ideal, one that embodies the notion of wines that are immediately drinkable but with the character and backbone — I’m speaking of the cabernet sauvignon — to develop and age gracefully.

Our Wine of the Week is the Jordan Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, produced from 20 vineyard blocks from eight small growers. The grapes fermented one-third in stainless steel tanks and two-thirds in French oak barrels. The wine aged five months — that’s right, five months, not 11 or 14 months — in French oak, 47 percent new barrels. Thirty-six percent of the wine went through malolactic fermentation in barrel. The result is a chardonnay that practically shimmers with crystalline purity and intensity that express themselves through exquisite balance and layers of nuance. The color is pale straw-gold; aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are wreathed with notes of green apple, cloves and tangerine, jasmine and candied ginger and an intriguing hint of kumquat, which also shows up on the finish, lending a tiny bracing bite of citric bitterness. The wine is dense and lithe, supple and elegant, and flavors of slightly macerated and roasted grapefruit and yellow plum are bolstered by fleet acidity and a burgeoning element of limestone-like minerality. This is, in short, a beauty. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16, well-stored. We drank this with grilled swordfish with grilled squashes, red bell peppers and tomatoes. Excellent. About $29.

A sample for review.

The Yamhill-Carlton District was granted status as an American Viticultural Area in 2004, though its history as a grape-growing and winemaking region goes back to 1974, when the pioneering Pat and Joe Campbell founded Elk Cove Vineyards. The area, in the northern stretch of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, is now home to 34 wineries and some 60 vineyards that cultivate about 1200 acres of vines. Set into a rough horseshoe-shaped amphitheater of ragged hills (and centered around the two hamlets of its name), Yamhill-Carlton, the yelow area on the accompanying map, features ancient marine sedimentary soils that are among the oldest in Willamette Valley and that drain quickly, a necessary aspect for successful grape-growing. The rules of the AVA stipulate that vineyards must be planted between 200 and 1000 feet above sea level.

One of the youngest of the wineries in Yamhill-Carlton is Lenné Estate, started in 2000 by Steve and Karen Lutz, who found an old pasture that year, near the town of Yamhill, and decided, because of its exposure, soil and drainage, that it would be perfect for growing pinot noir vines. The soil is called peavine, described in official surveys as “poor, shallow and gravelly,” meaning that vines have to sing for their suppers if they’re going to find the proper nutrients deep in the bedrock. All the wines produced at Lenné derive from this 20.9-acre vineyard.

Bloggers and other wine industry people attending the Wine Bloggers Conference this week in Portland should know that Steve Lutz will be pouring the three wines that I review here at the opening reception Thursday night. These were samples for review. Map from winesofwoi.com.
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Lenné Estate Karen’s Pommard Pinot Noir 2010, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley. The wine, a selection of the best barrels from the vineyard’s Pommard blocks, is named after Steve Lutz’s wife. The color is an enchanting limpid, almost transparent medium ruby; aromas of smoky black and red cherries with touches of plum and mulberry are bolstered by notes of clean earth and loam and just a hint of graphite and bittersweet chocolate. The wine aged 11 months in French oak, 66 percent new barrels. The emphasis now lies with the stones and bones of structure in the realms of vibrant acidity, supple oak, moderately dense tannins and a pretty profound granitic-loamy mineral quality, but fear not, because the wine still feels succulent and satiny, spicy and paradoxically ethereal. The finish is dry, a little mossy and brambly, a touch austere. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 125 cases. Best from 2013 or ’14 through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2009, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley. The wine aged 11 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. The hue is medium ruby with a shading of scarlet fading into garnet. Seductive and exotic aromas of sandalwood and cloves, violets and rose petals and potpourri are woven with roasted plums and a hint of fruitcake. A product of an unseasonably hot year, this 2009 is intense and concentrated, deeply flavored with a combination of spiced and macerated cherries and plums with dried cherries and cranberries; there are distinct backnotes of the Willamette Valley’s characteristic loamy influence, as well as a bit of spice cake and mocha. The whole package is beautifully balanced and integrated, though the wine is fairly dense and chewy, and the finish flushes out dry and a little austere. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 450 cases. Best from 2013 through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $45.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2008, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley. Again 11 months in French oak, only 30 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby with a slight garnet-mulberry hue at the rim. The nose is clean and fresh, engaging and appealing, yet with a serious iodine and iron edge highlighted by earthy briery and brambly elements; curiously, you feel the wood a bit more in this wine than in its cousins from 2009 and ’10, yet give it a few minutes in the glass, and it conjures notes of cloves and sassafras, rose petals and violets, spiced and macerated red and black cherries and plums, characteristics that segue smoothly onto the palate. The texture is platonically satiny and sensuous, but the wine is no kissy-face crowd-pleaser; rather, it drapes that texture around a structure deeply infused by essential acidity and the loamy, gravel-like minerality that ties all these wines to each other and to their birthplace. I wanted to weep because I didn’t have a roasted Cornish hen with which to drink this pinot noir. 14 percent alcohol. 491 cases. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $55.
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