Monday, December 15, 2014

Lodi Cinsault: Onesta Bechthold Vineyard

Cinsault, that oh-so-blendable grape, got a moment in the spotlight during a Lodi Wines virtual tasting event recently, and it made the most of its time in the spotlight.

The subjects of the soirée were four wines produced from grapes grown in Lodi’s Bechthold Vineyard.  Bechthold is Lodi’s oldest vineyard - planted in 1886 - and the Cinsault vines there are ancient monsters - the kind winemakers respond to in the same way a starving man eyes a steak dinner.  Their reactions are basic, monosyllabic and guttural.  "Need! Want!"

Lodi Wine notes that old vines "tend to produce more intense wines because older vines naturally set lower crops."  The lower a vineyard’s yield, the more concentrated the aromas and flavors from those grapes.  "Bechthold’s old vines… continue to thrive while regulating their own fruit production, without a lot of human intervention:  the hallmark of 'old vine' viticulture."

Turley Cellars’ Tegan Passalacqua claims, "Bechthold Vineyard defies what a lot of people think of Lodi wines.  It makes a red wine that is not heavy, not high in alcohol, but rather, light and refreshing.  It reminds me of crus Beaujolais in some ways – it has structure, but also high drinkability, and its aromatics are intoxicating, extremely perfumed."  It's great for the holidays, by the way.

Onesta winemaker Jillian Johnson says they put "a little Bechthold in almost every wine we made" in the five years she spent at Bonny Doon Vineyard.  "There didn't seem to be a wine that a little Bechthold Cinsault couldn't improve," Johnson said.

Bechthold Vineyard's head trained vines - organically grown and dry farmed - take the full spotlight in Onesta's Cinsault.  The wine is born of the single vineyard and raised nine months in neutral oak barrels.  It has been said that this wine has the weight of Pinot Noir and the fruity nature of Zinfandel, but I quibble a bit with both observations.  It's a tad beefier than a typical Pinot, and a bit more savory than a typical Zin.

Alcohol trips the meter at 14.5%, but I would guess that to be a low estimate.  Tannins are forceful and persistent, right through the finish.  Only 370 cases of this wine were made, so it qualifies as a precious commodity.  The $29 price tag seems a bargain, considering what is in the bottle.

Aromas of raspberry, cherry and strawberry are joined by nutmeg and cinnamon.  The spices really leap out at me, and there is a tart and savory aspect - downright tarry on the second night open - to all that fruitiness.  The palate shows a tartness, too, and the fruit goes on for days, with a great level of acidity to offer as a bonus.  Onesta's Bechthold Cinsault is made for food, and the bigger and beefier the food is, so much the better.

On Twitter, @OnestaWines helped us out with some tasting notes: "black cherry, cinnamon, violets, Bay leaf, hint of lavender and tea."  @BigNoseWino tweeted that it "explodes with strawberry, spiced rhubarb pie; wild berries; big spicy kicker on finish."  @martindredmond liked the Rhônshness of it, showing " a bit of funk! Nice contrast to cherry, strawberry, and spice profile. Elegant too!"  @NorCalWine loved the "drying herb, earth, rare beef and meaty spice," while @thismyhappiness loved "the deep fruit ... Elegant. From the 'vineyard of the year' in CA!"

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