April 2013


No sense evading the truth: I’m a fan of Morgan Winery’s pinot noir wines from Santa Lucia Highlands, a northeastward-facing, hillside appellation in Monterey County. Dan Lee started the winery in 1982, while he was winemaker for Durney Vineyards in Carmel, taking the project full-time in 1986. Originally focusing on full-blown and thoroughly oaked chardonnay, the winery has changed emphasis considerably over several decades, the wines displaying much more finesse and elegance and with single-vineyard pinot noirs taking a definite lead in the roster; Morgan does not, however, neglect a full line-up that includes sauvignon blanc and pinot gris, syrah, a Rhone-style blend, an well-known unoaked chardonnay (Metallico) and a new riesling among other wines. Today, in the Weekend Wine Sips, I offer brief reviews — no historical, geographical or geeky tech info allowed — of Morgan vineyard-designated pinot noirs tasted over the past year and a half, from vintage 2010 back to 2007. Winemaker since 2005 has been Gianni Abate. These wines were samples for review.
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Morgan Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 13.9% alc. 575 cases. Dark ruby color; smoky black cherries, plums and currants; a little briery, with leafy and mossy elements, hint of mushrooms; pretty intense and concentrated; super satiny drape on the palate, lithe and supple; passing glance at cloves, cola and rhubarb; mainly about structure for the present. Try 2014 through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $50.
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Morgan Double L Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands. 13.8% alc. 670 cases. Medium ruby color, slightly lighter mulberry rim; moss, briers and brambles; cranberry, cola and mulberry; rhubarb, cloves and sandalwood; lavender and lilacs, smoky, spicy black cherries and plums; black tea, hint of tapenade; dense, chewy, supple, lithe; dry, a touch austere on the spice-and-mineral-packed finish. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $50.
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Morgan Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14.3% alc. 302 cases. Medium ruby-magenta color; has the earthiness and minerality that I associate with Garys’; deeply spicy, bright, briery, intense and concentrated; evocative red and black cherry and currant scents and flavors; gradually brings up the rose petal and lilac floral elements; slightly furry tannins and a touch austere in the finish; the muscular side of pinot nor. Now through 2015 to ’18. Excellent. About $50.
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Morgan Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands. 13.8% alc. 375 cases. Dark ruby color with a touch of magenta; ripe yet spare notes of black cherry, black raspberry and mulberry with undertones of rhubarb, cranberry and cola and subtle elements of clean earth, moss and briers and brambles: classic! Yes, it’s dry, but black and red fruit flavors are both succulent and balanced by bright acidity and a spine of graphite, while the finish, smooth and satiny, teems with cloves, sandalwood, underbrush and a touch of granitic minerality. Now through 2015 or ’16. Exceptional. About $48.
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Morgan Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands. 13.8% alc. 550 cases. Medium ruby with a flush of mulberry at the center; deep, bright, clean and vivid; iodine with a touch of iron, beetroot, rhubarb and black cherry, cloves and sassafras; very supple, lithe (but not muscular) and satiny, drapes the palate like a scarf of some significance; earthy, not so much moss as mushrooms and truffles, a sleek element of graphite to close the generous finish. Now through 2014 to ’15. Excellent. About $48.
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Morgan Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands. 13.9% alc. 190 cases. Gary’s 09 is more structured than Double L 09; you feel the tannin and the graphite/granitic minerality more, as well as more spicy wood; this is also more spiced and macerated with the black and red fruit scents and flavors; bright acidity cuts a swath on the tongue; with this pinot noir’s audacity yet beautiful balance, I am reminded of the Burgundian estate of Domaine de Montille in Volnay; this is vital, alive, dense with character but with nothing obvious or gratuitous to the grape and vineyard. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $48.
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Morgan Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands. 13.5% 95 cases. First note: “Bliss.” Not to go just absolutely delirious, but of this group of extremely well-made and presented Morgan SLH pinots from 2008, the Tondre Grapefield — and I love this vineyard, 80 acres of pinot noir grapes, 21 of chardonnay — is a singular example. Radiant medium ruby color, intensely magenta-like at the center; ripe and slightly smoky black cherry, black currant and plum scents and flavors, with notes of cranberry and pomegranate, rhubarb and cloves; extremely finely milled and grained, fabulously satiny texture yet properly spare and elegant, floats on the palate; long, dense finish, seething with spice, graphite, briers and brambles. Now through 2016 to ’18. Exceptional. About $48.
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Morgan Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14.4% alc. 550 cases. Medium ruby-mulberry color, darker at the center; black and red cherry, cranberry and cola, packed with cloves, sassafras and sandalwood; loads of personality, shines with vigor and resonance without beyond blatant; dense and chewy but not in the least heavy or obvious; clean, satiny texture, vibrant acidity; you feel the oak from mid-palate back, a bit more controlling than one would like, but still a well-balanced Garys’. Now through 2015 or ’16.
Excellent. About $48.
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Well, not much sounds more romantic, sun-splashed and authentically “South of France” than the region of Provence-Alps Côte d’Azur, which has, as travel writers like to say, its feet in the Mediterranean and its head in the Alps. They might add, with one elbow jostling Italy and the other resting in the Rhone. As one of France’s 27 regions, Provence-Alps Côte d’Azur encompasses six departments: Alpes-de-Hautes-Provence, Hautes-Alpes, Alpes-Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhône, Var and Vaucluse. This is a much-fought-over region rich in history and winemaking that nowadays ranges from the deep, dark rich wines of the Southern Rhône Valley to the delicate ineffable rosés of Aix-en-Provence, with incredible variety in-between. To say, then, on press material, that the “birthplace” of a wine is Provence-Alps Côte d’Azur (weirdly abbreviated to PACA) isn’t saying much or, at least, it’s being almost laboriously non-specific. In fact, bottles of the Luc Belaire Rare Rosé carry as appellation the single word — France. Not, I hasten to add, that there’s anything wrong with that; I just want My Readers to understand the geography and terminology behind the product.

This fairly delightful sparkling wine, in a sleek package, is produced, we are told, by the Piffaut family, which established its estate in 1898, so indicated on the neck label. The wine is composed of 90 percent syrah grapes, 5 percent grenache and 5 percent cinsault, which could be the blend in many still wines from all over the region. The color is pale copper with a pale peach-salmon scale overlay. The bubbles, of which the complement is plentiful, swirling and twisting upward, are the result of the Charmat or bulk process, in which the second fermentation (which produces the bubbles) is not accomplished in the bottle in which the wine will be sold, as in the Champagne method, but in large tanks; such sparkling wines can convey a great deal of charm but not a lot in the way of depth.

The first impression in the aromas and flavors is pure strawberry quickly overtaken by pure black raspberry and currant, with a pleasing touch, in the mouth, of the slight “raspiness” of the raspberry plant. A hint of sweetness on the entry quickly turns dry under the influence of scintillating acidity and a fluent element of flint-like minerality. I mentioned Lambrusco in the title of this post because, while the color here is lighter and more ephemeral than the dark purple typical of most slightly sparkling Lambruscos — which originate in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region — there’s a similar feeling of earthiness, a similar touch of supple robustness to serve as counterweight to the delicate superstructure. 11.5 percent alcohol. Drink up; not for aging. We drank the Luc Belaire Rare Rosé as aperitif over two nights and were quite pleased with it; I’m happy to give it a Very Good+ rating. What I’m not happy about is the suggested retail price of $35. As they say in Marseilles, “No way, Jose.” $18, maybe; not $35.

The press material accompanying this product is filled with laughs. Monaco is not one of the “stunning French Riviera cities”; it’s a sovereign principality. Neither “Van” Gogh (related to Van Johnson?), Matisse, Manet or “Cesanne” were Impressionist painters. Did nobody read this stuff before it was mailed out to the world? Is the notion of a copy-editor hopelessly passé?

Imported by Luc Belaire, New York. A sample for review.

The pizza was pretty simple — and great! — consisting of lots of fresh basil, sliced Roma tomatoes, diced green onions and sopressata and loads of mozzarella, and then just a minute before the pizza was done, I flung on a handful of baby spinach and arugula and let that cook briefly. I wanted a red wine with some power and flavor but nothing flamboyant or overwhelming, and I got that from the Gary Farrell Bradford Mountain Vineyard Zinfandel 2010, Dry Creek Valley.

Gary Farrell produced his first pinot noir under his own label — from the Rochioli Vineyard — in 1982. He sold the winery in 2004 to Allied Domecq; it’s owned now by Vincraft, which also owns the noted pinot noir producer Kosta-Browne. Present winemaker for Garrell Farrell (the winery) is Theresa Heredia (formerly at Joseph Phelps’ Freestone), but the wine we’re looking at today was made by Susan Reed, now at Geyser Peak Winery. Gary Farrell (the person) presently is a partner in and makes the wines for Alysian. Readers, you can’t tell the players if you don’t have a scorecard.

The color of the Gary Farrell Bradford Mountain Vineyard Zinfandel 2010, Dry Creek Valley (made from 48-year-old vines), is medium ruby from stem to stern, not the deep purple-black of heavy extraction. There’s nothing over-ripe or sweet here, no boysenberry or fruit tart elements; instead , this is a balanced and integrated zinfandel that features aromas and flavors of blueberries, black currants and plums bolstered by cloves and allspice, clean graphite and a slightly and appropriately rustic brambly quality. The wine is quite dry, and it’s packed with dusty graphite-like minerality, spicy oak — it aged 13 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels — and fairly dense, chewy tannins, though the effect isn’t ponderous, and in fact this zinfandel feels pretty light on its feet for all its dimension, aided by the bright acidity of a cool vintage. The long finish brings out touches of leather and pepper and a hint of fruitcake. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Production was 318 cases. Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.

Say, how about a steely, limestone-soaked, oyster-shell-tinged, high-toned little white wine for your delectation? I have just the number you’re looking for. It’s the Chanson Viré-Clessé 2011, a tightly-wound yet paradoxically charming chardonnay from an appellation, created from these two villages in 1998, in the Mâconnais just south of Burgundy proper. The domaine is one of the oldest in Burgundy, dating back to 1750; it has been owned since 1999 by the Family Champagne Group Societé Jacques Bollinger. The color of the Chanson Viré-Clessé 2011 is pale pale straw-gold; aromas of lime peel, lemon and pear are permeated by flint and limestone and a sort of talc-like minerality, by which I mean that gratifying (and symbolic) combination of lilacs and dust. Oh, this is fresh, clean and crisp and crisper, with snappy acidity and the snap of flint and shale that warns of austerity from mid-palate back through the finish. This is not just about structure, however, allowing a winsome floral, fruity and slightly spicy element to emerge, just a hint, you understand, but enough to please before the limestone takes over. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014. The spareness of the new label matches the lean and lithe nature of the wine. Very Good+. About $22.

Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill. A sample for review. Image, much modified, from hogsheadwine.

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