Notes on the Wine Road: JT’s Dispatch from California, Day 2

What a Day!

Heitz

We were fortunate enough to visit the historic winery instead of the tasting room.  We were greeted by Harrison Heitz, third generation of this great estate.  Heitz Martha’s Vineyard was, in 1968, the first single vineyard Cabernet produced in California.  Founder Joe Heitz passed away several years ago but Matriarch Alice still lives in a pretty little white house next to the winery.  I have always been a passionate supporter of Heitz.  Martha’s is a benchmark wine and belongs in any list of the greatest bottlings in the world and their Sauvignon Blanc is arguably the best made in Napa.  Martha’s Vineyard are wines capable of ageing nearly indefinitely and, as the fruit fades, they take on a particular eucalyptus undercurrent which is unlike anything else on Earth. 

A couple of eye opening facts:

Heitz, unusually, first age their Cabernet in large neutral oak barrels for a year.  They are also one of the only wineries to use Limousin oak (the same in Cognac).  As Harrison explains it, Limousin imparts a wood tannin spike to the wines early in the process and if they were to remove the wines after 12 to 18 months, as is the standard, then they would wind up with highly tannic, woody wines.  BUT, they keep their Cabernet in barrel for closer to 36 months.  So, essentially, you have heavy wood influence at the beginning, the Limousin gives all it has to give, then a mellowing, near neutral maturation for a further 2-3 years. 

heitz4 heitz3 heitz5 heitz1 heitz2

We tasted the newly released 2009s and they were delicious.  Heitz always does a great job in reflecting the vintage and the 2009s are soft, generous, sumptuous, and fine.  Those will be released shortly in NYC and believe me you’ll be hearing about them J  I’ll also be on the lookout for the Napa 2011 because they didn’t make Martha’s or Trailside in that difficult vintage, de-classifying everything into their entry level Cabernet.  Talk about a deal! 

Corison

Cathy Corison is one of the defining voices of Napa.  She was the longtime winemaker at Chappellet before going off to form her brand in 1987.  Around the winery, off Highway 29 is her Kronos Vineyard (notice the picture of some Greek Orthodox monks walking Kronos…not sure what that was about but it’s always neat to see Greek Orthodox monks walking around a winery).  Cathy is a great believer in picking early.  They were harvesting Kronos (almost done) when we walked in.  For Cabernet, September 17th is early!  Granted, 2014 is a very early harvest (and looks to be another good one, by and by).

corison3 corison4 Corison1 corison2

We were treated to several vintages of both her Napa Cab and her Kronos (2011/2006/2005 of the Napa and 2008/1998 of the Kronos) along with her Helios Cabernet Franc (which was Christie’s favorite wine on the trip so far) and a very cool Cabernet Rose which comes entirely from press juice! 

When Cathy took over Chappellet, she was only the third female winemaker in Napa and when she started her eponymous winery, she was the first female owner/operator.  She has served as an example and teacher to the glorious wave of female winemakers who have followed in her footsteps.  She makes elegant, old-school Napa style Cab which are pointed in their elegance rather than power.  The 2005 Napa was particularly striking and, amazingly, the 1998 Kronos was still an infant! 

Araujo

It’s official.  The Eiselle Vineyard, and the Araujo Winery which makes it, is THE “First Growth” of Napa Valley.  Recently purchased by the Artemis Group (owners of Chateau Latour, Chateau Grillet, and Domaine D’Eugenie), I was treated to a tour by Burgess, longtime Master of Hospitality, and Winston Chang, newly installed General Manager of the estate.  Their main refrain was of being good shepherds to the history and possibility of this remarkable vineyard (of which the winery and estate are built around).  I was absolutely struck by everyone I met’s humility in the face of their charge.  They were dead serious.  They think the Eiselle Vineyard is special and it’s their job to make sure it stays that way.

araujo1 araujo2 araujo3araujo4

And boy are they right!  I was fortunate enough to try through the 2011s (the last vintage made under the previous owners and the guidance of Michel Rolland) and the newly bottled 2012, along with their Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc.  What an absolute treat!  These are wines which defy easy categorization.  They are unmistakably Napa but show none of the ponderous weight of some of the “New” Napa Cabs.  They are light on their feet, yet swimming in depth, with great acidity, length, and refinement.  The 2011 Eiselle Cab and Syrah are 2 of my highlights thus far on the trip.  I’m currently reserving judgement on the 2012, because it was bottled less than 2 weeks ago, but I believe that will turn out to be a wine which improves for half a century.

Today is another great day…

On the docket:

Patz & Hall

Ridge

Turley

Wish me luck!    ​

 JT

Notes on the Wine Road: JT’s Dispatch from California, Day 1

As many of you know, JT Robertson, our General Manager, is currently embarked on an epic journey to California, visiting producers and generally immersing himself in the wine culture of Sonoma and Napa.  We’ll be blogging his notes as we receive them…

The Drive

arriving at Faila

arriving at Faila

 

Wine Country kind of creeps up on you.  Headed North from San Francisco, flanked by hills which are almost casual in their beauty, you pass into Sonoma County and, on the side of the highway, instead of corn or soy or wheat (this Midwestern boy’s familiar crops), there are grapes!

As I made my way towards Napa (and on this day the Silverado Trail), I started to see the signs.  Posted in the vineyards or pointing towards driveways, there are names which I’ve known for years.  Big companies, Small companies.  Mondavi, Viader, To Kalon, Gloria Ferrer.  All just hanging out, along the highway.  It knocked me back a bit, to be honest.  Like falling in love and meeting her family for the first time.  How could something so wonderful actually COME from somewhere?  Or, at the very least, shouldn’t it be these hidden valleys, like Shambala or Shangri-La?  But signs off the highway?  It seems too simple!

By the time I was firmly in Napa, passing a sign which listed the milage distance to St. Helena, Calistoga, and Yountville, I was driving with my mouth open.  I understood Napa, intellectually, to be the epicenter for wine in California but nothing prepares you for just how completely this is a wine place.  I’m out here at the tail end of Harvest (super early this year but I’ll give my overall opinions about 2014 at the end of the trip) so there are trucks filled with grapes barrelling down back roads, tractors moving in caravans down sidestreets, fields filled with pickers.  “The Valley” (as everyone I’ve met so far calls it) really is a special place and I truly can’t believe I’m here.

Failla

Failla9

The first thing which greeted Christie and I (my lady-love and travelling companion) was a dog named Noah.  Both of us are going through doggie withdrawl so it was a great and immediate sign we were going to like it here!  For those who don’t know Failla, it is the brainchild of Ehren Jordan, to my mind one of the most talented and dynamic winemakers working in California.  What began as a side project, on loan from his former day job as winemaker of all-world Zinfandel producer, Turley, is now a full-fledged winery, with a cave and cellar drilled into the side of a hill.

tank sample

tank sample

We were greeted by national sales manager Matt Naumann who took us on a tour of the facilities.  It’s a striking time to be at Failla.  Almost all the grapes are in, representing the earliest picking they’ve ever done, though, in fairness, Failla always picks early.  Ehren later told me he picks his Chardonnay from Keefer Ranch only a few days after Schramsberg!  I was able to taste one of the blocks which go into the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, which had just finished fermentation, as well as the Occidental Ridge Pinot, which had just started.  I will refrain from making too many judgements about the final potential quality of the wine based on tank samples but if the Occidental Ridge tastes that delicious with loads of sweetness and only a few hours into fermentation, I can’t wait for the finished product.  We tasted Chardonnay from the Chuy Vineyard direct from concrete egg.  It was cloudy, rich, and sumptuous. I joked to Matt and Ehren (who had joined us at this point) they should bottle it as is.

Failla1 Failla2 Failla6 Failla7

left to right: tasting, the concrete egg, fermentation, sensory testing

Tasting through the 2012s with Matt and Ehren, it really put an exclamation on what I said earlier.  Failla is the real deal.  Their Sonoma Coast Pinot/Chard retail around $35.00 and represent the bulk of their production.  At this quality level, especially the Pinot, which was a stunning bottle of wine, they could easily add $20 to the price and I’d still think it was worth it.  In terms of single vineyards, we tasted through their Keefer Ranch and Chuy Vineyard Chardonnay, along with Hirsch and Occidental Ridge Pinot.  One of the remarkable things about Ehren, as a winemaker, is his adaptability.  The Keefer Ranch, which was by far my favorite Chard, was high-toned, quiet, focused, and brilliant in its transparency, and would be the Chardonnay I would give to a White Burgundy lover.  The Chuy was prototypical Cali Chard, with all sorts of rich tropical flavors and creamy weight bordering on decadence.  The Hirsch was unmistakable, though a little shut down (which is par for the course when dealing with that particular vineyard) but the start of the show was the Occidental Ridge.  I compared it to great 1er Cru Chambolle.

pigeage

pigeage

Beyond the wines, there was joy in the air at Failla.  I had a nice talk with the guy doing the punchdowns (he said Ehren’s been talking about getting a machine to do it but that’s been going on seven years so he’s not holding his breath) as well as a lovely lady named Savannah who handles the barrels (Ehren sources some from Louis Latour, by the way, one of the only people in America to do so).  Everyone seems proud of what they’re doing.  Everyone was smiling.  And now that It think about it, Ehren walked in with a grin, ear to ear.  You’d think this would be a stressful time.  He has vineyards hundreds of miles apart.  He’s got wine in the tanks, vineyards to pick, people like me to meet and greet.  I looked for a hint of anything but humble graciousness and could find none.  To a person, these are people who love what they’re doing and wouldn’t choose anything else.  It’s not a job, it’s a passion.  That feeling informs the wines and I found myself wishing I could have stayed all afternoon.

 

–JT

Eben Sadie: Swartland’s Soft-Spoken Revolutionary

If you’ve been receiving our email offers, you know that we think Swartland, South Africa is a big deal.  We were fortunate enough to host Eben Sadie, the great luminary of Swartland wine, at a wonderful dinner this past Sunday.   I also had the opportunity the next morning to attend a vertical tasting of his flagship red wine, the Columella.  So suffice it to say, I’ve just spent the better part of the last two days experiencing what I believe to be one of the most exciting things happening in wine today, and despite his soft-spoken, self-effacing manner, it was no secret to anyone that Eben Sadie knows he has something compelling and uniquely worthwhile to offer.  

g160-columella-sadie-family-wines sadie-family-palladius-20112012 Skurfberg

 

Sadie Family Old Vine Series Chenin Blanc Skurfberg 2012 – $45.00

Sadie Family Palladius 2012 – $100.00

Sadie Family Columella 2012 – $125.00

The 2012 Skurfberg is full of bright, vivid pear and tangerine fruit.  The palate, characteristically Chenin, was creamy with hints of honey and marzipan, and the finish unconvered layers of complexity, ending in a compelling dark crème brulee note, foreshadowing the direction in which I think this wine is headed.   Eben’s white wines have all the tension and mouth-filling chalky-creamy minerality of a great Burgundy.    At one point he lamented that white wines historically have not  been taken as seriously, but his whites make it clear that white wines have just as much potential for greatness as reds.

The 2012 Palladius, Eben’s white blend, dialed the Skurfberg’s chiseled mineral intensity up to 11.  Palladius is a blend of Chenin Blanc, Semillon, Verdelho, and several Rhône varieties.  This wine is about texture and length, rather than fruit.  The nose is all citrus zest, beeswax and gunflint.    Understated lemon curd and tangerine on the palate are framed by monumental granitic minerality.  Partial skin-contact fermentation of some of the fruit gives the texture additional definition.   The Palladius is vinified in a combination of large oak vats, 600-liter concrete eggs, and amphorae.

Eben’s flagship red wine is the Columella, a blend of Rhône varieties dominated by Syrah.   Despite its wild Mediterranean aromatics of laurel, violet and myrtle berry, the 2012 is still much a detailed, elegant wine on the Burgundian model.   Soft, gently chewy tannins give the wine just enough definition to frame some deeply satisfying brambly fruit.

The morning after the dinner, I had a unique opportunity to taste a complete vertical: every vintage of Columella produced.  It was fascinating to see not only the great aging potential of the wines, but also how the winemaker’s approach has evolved over the years.    The inaugural vintage, the 2000, easily had another decade ahead of it, despite being made without the benefit of subsequent refinements to his winemaking.    These were very much wines of the vintage as well as wines of terroir.  Early vintages were aged for two years in barriques, of which around 30% were new, and were sourced from three vineyards of almost entirely Syrah.  Today’s Columella is about 75% Syrah (the balance being Mourvèdre and Grenache) from eight different sites, vinified with 20% whole clusters, and aged the first year barriques (10% new) and the second in foudre (large oak casks).  The change to the new barrel regimen can certainly be seen in the newer vintages (from 2009 on) with a marked increase in the level of detail and focus in the wines.    In the beginning, Eben looked to the Rhône valley for inspiration when making this wine.  Tasting the younger wines, it’s increasingly clear that he is now pursuing a more Burgundian approach, dialing back the structure and extraction iphoto n favor of a lighter-handed, but still profound, expression of Swartland’s terroir.

 

These wines were all profoundly expressive, even in their youth.   Made with the utmost care and thoughtfulness by one of the world’s most talented young winemakers, they are complex and cerebral, as well as being a great joy to drink.  They deserve a place on your table and in your cellar.

–Duncan

Le Du’s Wines 9th Anniversary Party!

poster-smallSaturday, September 27th – 4:00pm – 7:00pm

Can you believe it’s been nine years already?  Come help us celebrate in style!  We’ll be pouring 50 of our favorite wines (and eight spirits) for you to enjoy.  The party starts at 4pm, and it’s free for everyone (21 and over of course). It’s sure to be a blast!

Here’s the lineup:

France

Pithon-Paillé Anjou Blanc

Château de Fosse-Sèche Anjou Blanc

Domaine J. Despesse Cornas

Clos de Rochegrès Moulin-à-Vent

Lornet Arbois Poulsard

La Caravelle Listrac-Medoc

Domaine de Reuilly Pierres Plates

Domaine de l’Ecu Muscadet « Granite »

Francis Chidaine Vouvray Clos Baudoin

Fontaine Gagnard Bourgogne Rouge

Goisot  Sauvignon-St Bris

Champagne Colin Blanche de Castille

Domaine Grapillon d’Or Gigondas

Clos de la Roilette Fleurie Cuvée Tardive

Champagne Ployez-Jaquemart Extra Quality Brut

Fronton de Oro Malpais Gran Canaria

Karine Lauverjat Sancerre Rosé

Vincent Latour Meursault-Blagny

Berthet-Bondet Côtes de Jura

Domaine Faiveley  Mercurey Rouge la Framboisère

Domaine Lignier Michelot Morey St. Denis En Rue Vergy

Domaine Faiveley Mercurey Blanc  Clos Rochette

Domaine Oudin Chablis

Clos Siguier Cahors

La Grange Tiphaine « Nouveau Nez »

La Grange Tiphaine Tiphaine Clef del Sol

Dufaitre Côte de Brouilly

Gaudry Sancerre « Melodie »

Monnière Saint Fiacre Muscadet

Domaine d’Ardhuy Côte de Beaune Villages

Clos Magne Figeac St-Emilion

 

Italy

Collina Malvasia Secco « Lunaris »

Francesco Rinaldi Barolo

Foradori Teroldego

Paolo Bea Sagrantino « Pagliaro »

Latium Morini Valpolicella

Pacherhof Kerner Alto Adige

Odoari Savuto Rosso

Roddolo Barbera d’Alba

Roeno Teroldego

Guidobono Roeno Arneis

 

USA

Demuth-Kemos Syrah

Eric Demuth Pinot Noir

Au Bon Climat Le Du’s Chardonnay

Au Bon Climat Le Du’s Pinot Noir

Tierra Divina Reds Old Vine Blend

Lemelson Pinot Noir Stermer Vineyard

Ridge Vineyards Three Valleys

 

Germany

Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Spätlese

 

Portugal

Viuva Gomes Collares

 

Switzerland

Cidrerie de Vulcain « Grand Brut »

 

Spirits

Mezcal Vago Barro

Mezcal Vago Espadín

Mezcal Vago Mexicano

Mezcal Vago Tobalá

Guillon Painturaud VSOP Cognac

Navazos-Palazzi Rum

 

 

Thank you so much for all your support over the past nine years.  We hope to see you there!

 

The Quiet Art of Flavio Roddolo

Isolation yields art which looks inward.  Kerouac’s time on Desolation Peak gave us Dharma Bums.  Thoreau is remembered from his time alone at Walden Pond.  Beethoven wrote his greatest works after the world went silent.  And for Flavio Roddolo, living alone in his small winery in Piedmonte, on the border with Dogliani, he brings us wines which seem to speak of the quiet wind between the vines.

roddolo

I’ve always been captivated by Flavio’s wines.  They are brooding, deep, and full of soul.  He grew up in the winery he now runs by himself.  He is a quiet giant in the world of Piedmonte.  He neither craves nor receives the attention he deserves.

And now here’s the surprise.  I’m not here to talk about Barolo!  Flavio does make a Barolo, and it’s marvelous, but he also produces what, to my mind, is one of the greatest expressions of Barbera in all the world.  Barbera is the third most planted grape in all of Italy and generally is made in a fresh, cherry-fruit style which is not intended for extended ageing.  Flavio’s Barbera transcends the category.

His current release is 2007.  He produces 340 cases from 60 year old vines.  This is one of those wines we feel honored to represent.  It epitomizes one man’s journey into the heart of his little bit of the world.    If you are at all a fan of old school Italian wine, you owe it to yourself to discover the art of Flavio Roddolo.

Flavio Roddolo Barbera D’Alba Bricco Appiani 2007  

$32.99

Kirsch, bacon fat, violets, and framboise on the nose, followed by a high-toned and quiet cherry fruit entry but the mid-palate comes alive with burnt earth, tart raspberry, flower stems, shitake mushrooms, and red pepper flakes.  The tannins on the back end are potent but not at all aggressive, keeping in mind there is no new oak here, so this is all-natural structure, with a bright acidity and a finish which lingers for nearly a minute.  This is a Serious wine (with a capital “S”).  This is so far beyond most Barbera D’Alba, it should practically be considered in a different category.    

 

–JT

The Delicate Side of Jura

In the glass, a crystalline pale garnet color.  This delicate, eminently drinkable red is fresh and vibrant with wild rose, orange peel, and pine aromatics overlaying a core of lingonberry and strawberry.  Clean, plain-spoken, it conveys a vivid sense of place, with refreshing acidity and ethereal tannins. The fruit is both pretty and compelling, inviting sip after sip. 

Frédéric Lornet Arbois Poulsard – $21.99lornet-crop

The Jura is in many ways the land that time forgot.    Nestled in the forests of the sub-alpine foothills, just a stone’s throw away from Burgundy, a handful of growers  cultivate scattered plots of heirloom vines and making wines according to time-honored traditions.  With their tiny output, the Jura’s vignerons were never trying to cultivate an international audience.  So it must have come as quite a shock to most of them when a few intrepid wine merchants brought these delicate, perfumed reds and chunky, intense whites to our shores, making grapes like Poulsard and Savagnin household names among sommeliers and wine journalists.

The son and grandson of coopers, Frédéric Lornet inherited his father’s three hectares of vines and began making his own wines in 1974.  In the 1980s, he greatly expanded his vineyard holdings, as well as purchasing and painstakingly renovating the Abbaye de Genne, a historic 13th-century Cistercian abbey which now serves as both winery and farmhouse.  The Poulsard (or Ploussard, as it is locally known), is fermented in stainless steel tanks and delicately transferred into old foudres (Frédéric repairs these himself) to rest for about six months before bottling.  The result is elegant yet rustic:  a brisk, refreshing, and delightfully food-friendly late-summer red.

–Duncan

Barolo’s White Wine

The bright leafy and citrus-peel aromas of this pale-gold, unoaked wine are enhanced by a short period of pre-fermentation skin contact, giving it a delicate pungency.  Light and crisp, there is chamomile, kaffir lime leaf and a faint, refreshing bitterness. guidobono

Guidobono Roero Arneis 2013 - $17.99

I love heirloom Piedmontese varieties, and the wines from the best producers, as they continue to work toward the ideal balance of tradition, varietal typicity, and modern winemaking know-how, keep getting better and better.   Arneis is the region’s flagship white variety, and has been at the forefront of the movement to bring Italy’s viticultural heritage into the 21st century.

Going by the alias “Barolo Bianco”, it was historically planted in small amounts in Barolo vineyards, where its intense sweet aromas distracted birds from the less pungent but more commercially important Nebbiolo.  What fruit survived the resulting avian onslaught was blended in small amounts into the Barolo wines to soften the acidity and tannins and add a layer of aromatic opulence, a practice similar to the use of white grapes in Chianti or Rioja wines but now illegal for Barolo.

Tricky to cultivate and to vinify (the name Arneis means “little rascal” in the local Piedmontese vernacular), this variety had by the early 1970s dwindled down to a few hectares cultivated by a handful of dedicated, tradition-minded producers committed to preserving the region’s unique specialties.  A resurgence of interest in regional Italian whites in the early 1980s led additional producers to adopt its cultivation, but as of 2000, it still only accounted for a modest 745 hectares of vineyards.

There is a lot of personality in this crisp, gently aromatic white.  It would be excellent as an aperitif, with seafood, or on its own on a sunny August afternoon.

 

–Duncan