Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Casting About For A Couple Of "Cause Wines"

Steelhead Vineyards, out of Geyserville, CA, is a Sonoma County winery that donates a portion of their sales to fund the restoration of steelhead trout habitats, a cause to which they have devoted themselves since 2002. They are also high on water management practices - a nice thing to have at the forefront of your concerns, considering the drought conditions California faces. Consulting Winemaker Hugh Chappelle works with a variety of fruit from different sources to produces a Sauvignon Blanc that is wonderfully representative of the California style of the wine.

Steelhead Vineyards North Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2013

The year 2013 is acclaimed on the winery's website as "another great vintage!" 80% of the fruit in this wine came from the Lake County AVA, with a majority organically grown by Ron Bartolucci. The other fruit came from partners in Dry Creek Valley. The winery explains, "What sets 2013 apart is a riper, more tropical-citrus character in the wine, without higher alcohol, and a wonderfully balanced texture with soft, yet crisp acidity. Overall, an incredibly versatile vintage!" After their copywriter's liberal use of exclamation points, I can't wait for a sip.

This white underwent a complete, cold, stainless steel fermentation - no malolactic - to preserve varietal character of the Sauvignon Blanc grapes. A small portion spent time on the lees - the spent yeast cells - to give the wine richness and texture. It hits 13.5% abv and retails for about $14. It's a great buy.

The nervy white wine bears a nice straw tint and smells of freshly cut hay. Fruity aromas come through the grassy haze with pineapple and honeydew leading the way trailing citrus behind it. The palate is just as lively. Citrus plays a more prominent role in the flavor profile, with intense minerality and a salty spiciness. The finish is clean and refreshing and stays a long time.

Steelhead Vineyards Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2013

Fermentation takes place in open top tanks with gentle punch downs as well as closed top tanks. The wine is then aged in a combination of tanks and barrels on light lees - spent yeast cells - for up to 10 months with occasional stirring to bring out the wine's richness. The winery says, "This vintage of our Pinot Noir embodies everything we love about this varietal. 2013 was a great year for reds and a notable richness and concentration was immediately evident. This vintage will drink well on release but will award good cellaring over the next 2+ years." Alcohol hits 14.5% and the wine retails for about $15.

This Pinot Noir, I must admit, was a bit disappointing. The medium purple tint looks nice, but the nose plays rough. A highly perfumed funk dotted by violets and coffee grounds is interesting, if a little off-putting. In a Syrah it might be more welcome, but in a wine billed as 100% Pinot Noir, I want something a little more graceful. There is also a lot of heat right after pouring, with big tannins that might be expected from a much heartier grape. things settle down in a short time, but it takes quite a while to get to a level that might be called elegant.

Allow plenty of time for this wine to open up - and by that I mean open it the day before - maybe two days. Candied blackberry and plum are a surprise on the palate. There is more alcohol than I want with a Pinot, and a less complex palate too. Black tea notes show up eventually to help out, but it's still too grapey and too brawny.

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