Showing posts with label terroir. Show all posts
Showing posts with label terroir. Show all posts

Monday, February 23, 2015

Paso Robles Terroir On Display In Ancient Peaks Zinfandel

The folks at Ancient Peaks Winery talk a lot about what unique terroir they have at their Margarita Vineyard.  All that talk about dirt is not just a lot of air, either.  The estate vineyard sports five different soil types, from ancient oyster beds to the remainder of ancient volcanos.  Indeed, they sit in the shadow of those ancient peaks.  They boast that the "Santa Margarita Ranch AVA is situated along the foot of the coastal Santa Lucia Mountain Range, roughly 25 miles southeast of the city of Paso Robles and just 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the west."  Oh, yeah, that's another claim they now have: "Our estate Margarita Vineyard now enjoys the rare distinction of being the only vineyard located within its own namesake AVA."  Well, isn't that special!  Yes, in fact, it is.

The 2012  Ancient Peaks Zinfandel blends fruit grown in three of those five distinct soil types.  As described by the winery, grapes from the volcanic soil of Block 32 provides a varietal spiciness to the wine, while fruit grown in the shale of Block 49 kicks in some dark fruitiness. From the gravelly soils of Block 39 come the wine's backbone.  91% of the grapes are Zinfandel, while 9% are Petite Sirah.

The individual lots were fermented and placed in oak barrels, 40% French and 60% American, of which 20% were new.  Aging took place over 17 months, so there is plenty of oakiness here..  6,072 cases were produced.

Medium ruby coloring decorates the wine visually.  Aromas of cherries - bright and ripe - lead the nose, with raspberry, vanilla, pepper and hot chocolate adding complexity.  Cherry plays on the palate, too, with blackberry, oak spice, black pepper, mocha, a little black tea in supporting roles.

There is a really great mineral streak here - no big surprise considering the array of rocks and shells apparent in the vineyard.  Juicy acidity and firm tannins make it a great wine to pair with a grilled burger.  It works well with a bit of a chill on it, but the flavors really open up as it warms.  Dessert fans should note that it's awesome with dark chocolate.

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Three Syrah Wines From Bonny Doon Vineyards

Bonny Doon Vineyards’ chief Randall Grahm has made wine from many different grape varieties during his illustrious career, but the ones with which he really resonates are the grapes of the Rhône Valley.  He has been labeled "the original Rhône Ranger" for his pioneering effort of making Rhône-style wines in California.  Grahm supplied me with samples of three of his Syrah wines, which demonstrate his ability to choose vineyards and do the best work possible with the fruit found there.

It is this connection to the sense of place - terroir - offered by different vineyards that has captured Grahm's fascination.  He considers his winemaking efforts now to be vins de terroir - in which the grapes do the work - rather than vins d'effort, in which the winemaker does the work.  Grahm described his laissez faire methods in a recent article, "We spend more time in the vineyard so we don't have to spend so much time in the cellar."

Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Central Coast Syrah 2009

This is the entry-level Syrah from Bonny Doon.  The grapes are 56% Alamo Creek Vineyard, 32% Bien Nacido Vineyard and 12% Chequera Vineyard.  A blurb addressing Grahm's hands-off style of winemaking, with minimal intervention, adorns the label.  The alcohol content is a restrained 13.5% abv and the wine retails for $25.

The wine is inky black, no light gets through.  The bouquet is as dark as the color, showing black fruit and bacon fat.  Plums and blackberries define the palate, but the fruit has to coexist with dark, savory notes.  Everything meshes seamlessly in a wave of minerality.  This is entry-level wine at its highest order.

Bonny Doon Alamo Creek Syrah, San Luis Obispo County, 2008

Grahm calls this one "intensely concentrated and mineral-rich."  The vineyard is located northeast of the town of Santa Maria ("where the wild things roam") and where rock outcroppings of the Alamo Creek Valley indicate the minerals to come.  At 13.5% abv, the wine retails for $35.  Again, decant before enjoying.

The wines of the Santa Maria area are among my favorites in California, mineral-driven and dark, with great complexity.  This wine is dark in appearance, and sports a dark nose of blackberry and black currant.  Gobs of tar aromas make it hard to stop sniffing.  The palate, once decanted, is extremely smooth with fine tannins.  Flavors are dark and rich, with a full ripeness that just explodes on the palate.

Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Syrah, Santa Maria Valley, 2008

Grahm's label notes: "The Syrah from Bien Nacido Vineyard is most evocative of the character of the genuine Northern Rhône article of any Syrah we see, likely owing to the exceptionally cool climate, the age of its (X-block) vines and calcareous soil."  The wine has a 13.9% abv number and retails for $40.  Grahm recommends decanting an hour or two for best effect.

Inky black, the wine is just as dark on the nose.  Minerals come forth strongly, with hints of tobacco under the black plum aromas.  Nice, chewy tannins decorate the palate, with extremely dark and savory fruit flavors.  There is a smattering of pepper and roast beef, with a beautiful minerality.  Pairing with dark chocolate and sea salt is magnificent.  It is quite possibly the best California Syrah I've had, and easily rivals the top French entries.

For something to drink right away, any one of these Syrahs beats the label off a cult Cab on the experience alone, not to mention the lower price points.  All three are the kind of wines you'll want to pop open for special occasions - but life is short.  Don't wait.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Pink Wine From Tavel With Kelly McAuliffe

There's a lot to learn about French wine and the regions from which they come.  It's a daunting task for many novice wine lovers.  Fortunately, there are opportunities to be instructed by experts.

The French Wine Society held a tutored tasting and masterclass April 25, 2012 in Los Angeles at the Hotel Wilshire.  American sommelier Kelly McAuliffe led the class of three dozen or so through a lesson and tasting of the wines of Tavel.

McAuliffe has been the sommelier for upper-tier restaurants in Las Vegas, Paris, Monte Carlo and Avignon.  He is a respected expert in the wines of the Rhône Valley and serves as a consultant to Inter-Rhône and other French wine agencies.  He also conducts guided wine tours of the Rhône Valley.  His passion for the rosés of Tavel are unabashed.

He summarized the challenges faced by Tavel producers in the global market by noting that "the horror of White Zinfandel has made it difficult to get people drinking dry rosé."  Dry rosés like the ones made in the Tavel region of the southern Rhône are "perfect for anywhere the weather is hot," said McAuliffe.  But he notes that when it comes to roses that are rich in color - like those of Tavel - the perception, "particularly among women, is that the wines are higher in alcohol and calories than the lighter-hued rosés of Provence.  That is not the case."

In Provence, rosés are made by the direct press method, which minimizes the grape skin’s contact with the juice.  For the grapes used to make rosé wines, the color is contained in the skin of the fruit.  Pressing the grapes without any skin contact produces a much lighter color in the wine than in the maceration process used in Tavel, in which the juice and skins are allowed to mingle together for a day or two.

McAuliffe presented a detailed look at the terroir of Tavel, showing it to be one of the warmest climates in France - second only to Languedoc - and possessing soil types that tend to produce wine rich in aromatics and minerality.

In the northern Rhône, granitic soils and steep hills are the rule, while in the south the land is flatter.  The southern Rhône was once an ocean - millions of years later it became a lake which eventually dried up.  The soils there are typical of this type of geological evolution.  The limestone of the ancient seabeds is what gives Tavel's dirt its demeanor.

Galets Roulés - This literally means “rolling stones,” rocks which have been rounded and smoothed by being swept along a in glacial flow.  These rocks are common in the southern Rhône, especially in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  The rocks hold heat, which helps give concentration to the grapes, and a higher alcohol content and tannic structure to the wine.

Garrigue - The wild-growing, aromatic vegetation on the alkaline rock soil imparts acidity, aroma and mineral notes to the grapes.

Red Clay - This clay-based soil is water retentive and iron rich, and gives power, tannins and age-worthiness to the wine.

Loess/Molasse - Wind-blown silt and sand provides warmth and fast draining.  Floral reds made to be consumed young are popular in this type of soil. Wines made from grapes grown in it are marked by freshness, finesse and elegance.

You can also  factor in the Mistral to the southern Rhône’s terroir.  This cold, dry northerly wind blows ferociously across the land at speeds of up to 60 mph for 130 days a year.  That's why vines are trained closer to the ground in the southern Rhône.  That’s also why the Dentelles-de-Montmirail Mountains are topped with a distinctive, bare rock ridge - the Mistral has blown the vegetation away over time.

McAuliffe displayed a Google Earth photo which clearly showed the different soils of Tavel appearing as different shades in the satellite image.

Although McAuliffe maintains that wines from Tavel are age-worthy, he also cites that “most Tavel wine is consumed between April and August.

There were several Tavel rosés poured and tasted by the group:

Flight 1

Domaine de Tourtouil 2010
light pink color, gentle strawberry nose, good tannic structure, melon, cherry, minerals on palate

Domaine Le Vieux Moulin 2010
medium deep pink, herbal element on a Jolly Rancher nose,  smooth mouth, watermelon, strawberry

Domaine Moulin La Viguerie 2010
magenta, fruity cherry nose,  cherry and minerals, good tannins, acidity

Flight 2

Château de Trinquevedel 2011
salmon color, strawberry ,cherry nose,  great acidity, flinty edge to strawberry on palate

Domaine de la Mordoree - La Dame Rousse 2011
light salmon hue, great acidity, big cherry palate, minerality and tannins outstanding

Domaine Maby - Prima Donna 2011
deep salmon color, much rounder mouth, very full, great cherry, strawberry palate

Château d'Aqueria 2011
magenta color, earthy cherry nose, very full mouth with strawberry and minerals on palate

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Holus Bolus Syrah Octobrist at Bar Bouchon

A wine's sense of place is its most important characteristic.  It's called terroir - the way the grapes, the soil, the climate and the winemaking all come together to create something much bigger than the individual pieces of the puzzle.

A sense of place is also important when tasting a wine.  A wine sampled in the hurried and sometimes chaotic atmosphere of a big tasting event may not fare as well as when it is sampled in a more relaxed and personal manner.

That note was gently brought home to me during lunch with Denise on Valentine's Day.  Almost by chance, we lunched at Bouchon in Beverly Hills, but not actually in the Bistro.  We had our Valentine lunch at Bar Bouchon, downstairs from the restaurant.  A few tables scattered along the beautiful courtyard in the bright, warm sunshine of February in Southern California called to us strongly, and we took a seat.

The wine I enjoyed was the '06 Holus Bolus Syrah Octobrist, a Santa Ynez Valley product of Black Sheep Finds , a winery located in a nondescript warehouse facility in Lompoc.  Peter Hunken - formerly winemaker at Stolpman Vineyards - heads up the collective which includes his wife, Amy Christine.  This Syrah is one of the most intense and delicious wines I've had recently.  Would it have been so good in a one-ounce sample, swirled, savored and spit at an event with other tasters crowding in at my elbow?  Maybe the taste would have been there, but the experience would have been missing.

The setting was perfect.  Valentine's Day lunch with my wife, bright sunshine warming us on a day that was just barely cool, and the food of the Thomas Keller eatery would have been enough to write home about.  But a big tip of the pork-pie hat should go to Bouchon's Beverly Hills sommelier, Alex Weil, for including the Holus Bolus on his list.  Kudos also go to Hunken for making the wine in the first place.

Inky black, this 100% Syrah has a nose that is dark, dark and darker still.  Dark blackberry and cassis fruit are joined by aromas of roasting meat, smoke, cedar and tar.  The taste is full of blackberries, spices and a Slim Jim component that both amuses and thrills me.  My BBQ sandwich of braised Hobbs Shore pork shoulder, cabbage and Fuji apple coleslaw paired perfectly with the Syrah.  The wine costs $13 by the glass at Bouchon.