Mon 1 Oct 2012
Though the concept of an etude could legitimately refer to any area of technical study, we are mainly familiar with its use in the realm of music, where an etude is a miniature piece designed to exercise a particular aspect of skills, such as, for the piano, playing runs with double octaves or developing speed and accuracy in chromatic passages. The most famous sets of etudes are Chopin’s Opus 10 and Opus 25, published in 1833 and 1837 respectively, brief works of fiendish difficulty and often ravishing melody, though some of the pieces are profound in their depths of fervor and bravado. It’s almost a paradox, then, that when well-known winemaker and consultant Tony Soter launched Etude Wines in 1985 he named the winery for an idea based on exercises that seek for mechanical proficiency, though Chopin demands emotional and psychological commitment from his performers, as Soter always did, in a sense, from his consumers. Whatever the case, these examples of a chardonnay and pinot noir from Etude reveal an extremely high level of proficiency and dedication. Winemaker is Jon Priest. Soter sold Etude’s brand and inventory — there was no winery facility — to Beringer Blass in 2001. Through a demerger from the Fosters Group in 2011, Etude (and a host of other interesting or important brands in California and Australia) is owned by Treasury Wine Estates.
These wines were samples for review.
The Etude Chardonnay 2010, Carneros, rated a “just beautiful” as my first note; this is exactly what I want chardonnay to be: cool, spare, elegant, pure and transparent yet displaying inner richness and succulence restrained by dazzling acidity and scintillating mineral elements. The wine aged 10 months in neutral French oak, meaning barrels that have been used for aging wine several times so that their effect on a wine is subtle and nuanced. Notes of green apples, spiced pears and grapefruit are buoyed by hints of limestone and flint and a bit of jasmine; this is wonderfully suave, smooth and supple, with an abundance of intensely ripe and spicy stone fruit and citrus flavors that are both off-set and highlighted by a crisp vibrant acid presence and an almost crystalline edge of limestone and chalk. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $32.
All right, so my first note on the Etude Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros, was “OMG!” As with the Etude Chardonnay 2010 reviewed just above, this exemplary model embodies exactly what I want a New World pinot noir to be: satiny and savory, with power and elegance married in equal measure and with a sense of delicacy bringing restraint to its intent and purposefulness. Many of the Etudes in Chopin’s Op. 10 and Op. 25 deliver a metaphorical sense of ineffable tinsel supported by the backbone of tensile strength, and this eminently drinkable yet somewhat age-worthy pinot noir feels the same. Under the lovely effects of pure and intense black cherries, black currents and plums permeated by hints of rhubarb and pomegranate, blueberry and sassafras, this wine delivers a lash of vivacious acidity and an undercoat of graphite and shale, all leading to a finish packed with the resonance of deep, spicy black and blue fruit flavors — there’s a hint of fruitcake, too, and a whiff of smoke and a bit of lavender — and the welcome earthiness and slight austerity of briery, brambly qualities. Now through 2015 or ’17. Excellent. About $42.