Wed 24 Apr 2013
Sean Thackrey is the monk of the California wine industry. Actually, that’s a misnomer, because Thackrey checked out of that “industry” decades ago and working in isolation and according to the lights of ancient, medieval and Renaissance texts on winemaking produces some of the most distinctive, highly individual and frankly magnificent wines in the Golden State. This is not a man who thinks of grapes as “blank slates” upon which winemakers work their wills and bend to their own necessities and egos; both grape and vineyard site are sacred to his sensibilities. Thackrey issues an interesting roster of red wines from his modest facility in Bolinas, in Marin County. The entry level is the non-vintage Pleiades, a blend of five or six or seven grapes the nature and percentages of which Thackrey does not make known. In fact, unlike about 99 percent of producers in California, who broadcast the minutiae of their vineyard practices and technical methodology on press materials and on their websites, Thackrey releases NO such information, believing, I assume, that the wines speak for themselves and the rest of the folderol is none of our damned business. While I’m geeky enough to enjoy such detailed farming and winemaking intelligence and to pass it along to My Readers, I also have to admire the stubbornness and integrity of Thackrey’s position. Be sure sometime to take a gander at Thackrey’s website, on which he utters not a syllable about his own wines, not even to list them, but instead offers texts from the history of winemaking (derived from his extensive collection of books and manuscripts) and his commentary about them. You won’t learn a darned thing about what kind of oak barrels he uses or how long he ages his wines; you might, however, be exposed to valuable lessons about the long cultural context of winemaking and its relationship to human attitudes and our endless thirst.
The preceding paragraph serves as prelude to my review of Sean Thackrey’s Andromeda Devil’s Gulch Ranch Pinot Noir 2006, Marin County, a wine I purchased on sale (and with, thank god, reduced shipping) through Gilt.com, along with Thackrey’s Cassiopeia Wentzel Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley; the Sirius Eaglepoint Ranch Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County; and three bottles of Pleiades Old Vines XXII, one bottle of which we quite happily consumed.
At a bit more than six years old, the Andromeda Devil’s Gulch Ranch Pinot Noir 2006, Marin County, feels remarkably young, fresh and vigorous. The color is intense, jewel-like ruby with a magenta tinge at the rim; aromas of red and black currants and mulberries with a touch of dried cranberries are infused with notes of cloves and sassafras, violets and potpourri and a hint of graphite-like minerality. Flavors tend more to black and red cherries, a little spiced and macerated, ensconced in a texture that’s fairly dense and chewy, revealing the sinews, the litheness, the briers-and-brambles qualities yet maintaining — and here is the gratifying miracle of all great wine — its subtle dynamic virtues with lovely deftness and delicacy, a sense of felicity that shades into decorum; the wine is, in other words, a perfect example of the marriage of power and elegance. Tannins and oak are so deeply absorbed and integrated that their influence seems subliminal though ever-present, abiding and, in a way, chastening, especially on the finish, which, while ultimately smooth, sleek and satiny, brings in more measures of earthiness and minerality. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016 to ’18. We took this wine to the restaurant Acre in Memphis last week, dining with friends, and it was superb, in my case, with medium rare grilled duck breast. Exceptional. Still available at retail in some pockets of the country, typically about $40.