Alternative and unexpected California

Pop goes @california.wines unexpected whites with phenomenal insight by @hawk_wakawaka ~ Thank you Elaine, Paula @CalifWines_CA

Elaine Chukan Brown came to town and if you’ve never heard her speak on the subject of California wines then you have yet lived. The California Wine Fair has been rolling through Canada for coming upon forty years running and this past April she and the show stopped in Toronto. It has continued to exist as the largest Canadian gathering of that state’s wines under one roof you are ever going to find. The American specialist at JancisRobinson.com, contributing writer with Wine & Spirits Magazine and eloquent meets erudite penner of Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews was the keynote speaker at the trade luncheon but it was her morning presentation of California’s unexpected white varietals that got me thinking. Thinking about California wine.

Elaine Chukan Brown

Unexpected might also mean alternative though when talking about grape varieties grown in a place where nothing is truly endemic and everything is expatriate, is there truly such an animal? I could digress into commentary about immigration policies but I’ll stay the course and stick to wine. Brown’s seminar was appropriately referenced with more than one headline because it wasn’t just about varietals. The lecture indeed touched upon malvasia bianca, vermentino and chenin blanc but it also spoke of sparkling, Rosé and iconic blends made by archetypal producers. Not a singular notion by any means of conferral and so ultimately necessary to be expressed in diversified terms. Alternative and unexpected but not without a hit of developed orthodoxy and a whack of doctrinal emigration.

The cross-Canada celebration of California’s wine community began as a single-city event in Ottawa in 1980 and is now the largest annual wine tour across Canada. The California Wine Fair is is the hands of Praxis PR’s Paula Oreskovich and I would be shocked if there is a more successful regional tour, especially at this scale. The 2018 edition was no exception and adding Elaine Chukan Brown to the bill was both a coup and a stroke of brilliant thinking.

There were 10 wines involved in the determinate and evaluative discourse. I could kudize the selections and the seamless flow from reception wine Rosé through epiphanic Brut and across a swath of right proper showing white wines. I could but I’d rather concentrate on Brown’s photographic mind and ability to convey California wine growing region geography, topography and climatic influences. To present these things to a Toronto wine body politic eager for information. This presentation was science incarnate, pure and motivating. It dispatched the essence of the California dialectic and if you understand varietals, growing conditions and economics, what you soak in may actually allow you to write down what will happen in the future, much like you might write down the history of the past. A California history that speaks of cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and pinot noir. A California future that is alternative, unexpected and wide open.

Folded Hills Lilly Rosé 2017, Santa Inez Valley, California (Winery, WineAlign)

From the Bush family, Rhône varietals are the impetus with this second fruit from a Rosé vineyard set situated in proximation of Ballard Canyon, where things ripen quite formidably. It’s a top location for pinot noir but here an even better place for grenache and syrah. The wine spent 24 hours on skins, was fermented and aged in neutral oak. Crisp acidity speaks to the area’s growing conditions and in its way acts as grenache vin gris, of tart pink to red currants in a glass. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  folded hills  @foldedhills  Folded Hills

Caraccioli Brut Cuvée 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, California (Winery, WineAlign)

Caraccioli Brut Cuvée 2010 is a pinot noir speciality transferred to sparkling for flinty, smoky, salty and briny sea fresh character from out of a cold Alaskan bred Pacific current. Top, absolute upper end of Brut with 12 g/L sugar and high natural acidity, which is essential. Four years on lees, but that burgeoning acidity works more magic than the yeasts do for texture. As tart as sparkling wine gets and it’s from California. A journey that began in 2010 for only 96 cases made. Price is $52 at the winery. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2018  caracciolicellars  @caraccioliwines  Caraccioli Cellars

Palmina Malvasia Bianca 2016, Santa Ynez Valley, California (Agent, WineAlign)

East of centre in the valley, just crossing into Ballard Canyon, from sand over chalk. These are soils that warm up fast, ripening a variety that wants to be bitterly phenolic but finds a way to make use of fog from coastal influences in a nook where the mountains run west to east. The limestone in turn acts as the conduit in delivery of great acidity. From green apple to south asian tropical fruit but I can’t say I’ve ever tasted anything like it before. Yes, the acidity is grand and yes, there is a bitter phenolic note though it’s like great gin. A wildly aromatic wine. There are 62 cases made. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  palminawines  barrelselect  @palminawines  @BarrelSelect  Palmina Winery  @barrelselect

Ryme Cellars Hers Vermentino 2016, Carneros, Sonoma County, California (Winery, WineAlign)

From just over on the Sonoma side of Carneros, the last vineyard before you hit marshlands in San Pablo Bay. Alto, musky and floral notes on the nose, a deep sax, A Love Supreme. What’s curious and high level is the texture, which speaks to place, soil and I suppose, winemaking. It’s part malolactic from neutral oak to further explain, with a mix of stainless steel to keep it Trane chord change airy, elevated, ante-flat earth society vermentino. Approximately $25-29 US. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  ryme_cellars  @RymeCellars  Ryme Cellars

Matthiasson White Blend 2015, Napa Valley, California (Winery, WineAlign)

Ostensibly an example of a ribolla gialla led, Friuli styled blend by Steve Matthiasson. It’s a grouping of sauvignon blanc, sémillon, ribolla gialia and tokai friuli (friulano) as the components, turning the Friuli a bit on its head but its more about fruit than pyrazine with a ribolla lick off the ground. There is a nutty note, namely almond from tokai and a flinty strike by sémillon. Unilaterally fermented in neutral barrels and then eventually transferred back in. Great balance, complex and long as the coastal range. Come back to it and it has a wonderful savoury, candied childhood memory feeling. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  matthiasson_wine  @matthiassonwine  Matthiasson Wines

J Vineyards And Winery Pinot Gris 2016, Russian River Valley, California (Agent, WineAlign)

Introduced by Elaine Brown as “a testament to the notion that pinot gris is a noble grape, that expresses its place and adaptation from place to place.” A wine as child of western Sonoma County daily fog incursion, absorbed by the clay, a gift of natural refrigeration, non-pushed sugar development, working for gris, not just noir. Semi-mouth watering freshness, unctuousness and notable sweetness.”Round and hovering,” full and tart, mid-range in the mouth. Minor barrel fermented plus 15 per cent new, as kisses for a nutty depth and orange marmalade flavour. Quite delicious, full of texture and flavour. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  #jvineyardsandwinery  gallocareers  @JWinery  @gallocareers  J Vineyards & Winery  Gallo Family Vineyards  E. & J. Gallo Winery

Birichino Chenin Blanc Jurassic Park Old Vines 2016, Santa Ynez Valley, California (Winery, WineAlign)

From a site protected from wind, a diurnal temperature shift with more of a breeze effect, above the fog line at a high (1100 ft.) elevation. All this to say that you’ll end up with increased aromatics, from own-rooted vines planted in the 70s on sandy soils. Chèvre funky, tangy on the acid notes, with layers of ripeness, but with no developed botrytis and then some fruit picked in December mixed right in. It’s green, white, pink and yellow. It’s all in, not overly punchy but very expressive. From apple to brine and back again. This may be the vintage that has it all. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  birichino_official    Birichino

Chateau Montelena Riesling Potter Valley 2016, Mendocino, California (Agent, $36.95, WineAlign)

The first wine Montelena ever released was in fact riesling, a Bo Barrett obsession, slightly inland in the far north on Mendocino. It’s a high elevation at 900 ft., on highly oxygenated, well-draining, gravelly-loam soils with a touch of clay. Made in a combination of stainless steel and neutral oak. The lullaby phenolic and dreamy glycerin fruit content is high, with help from minor (4 g/L) of RS and what is essentially an arrested acidity. A very underdeveloped riesling, youthful and rich, just bloody delicious. Lime, snappy green apple and gravel stone bleed. Riesling as good as it gets in California, from Mendocino all the way down. Perfect for this desert life. “If dreams are like movies, then memories are films about ghosts. You can never escape, you can only move south down the coast…Hey Mrs. Potter won’t you talk to me.” Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted April 2018  chmontelena  rogersandcompanywines  @ChMontelena  @rogcowines  Chateau Montelena Winery  Rogers & Company

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc To Kalon Reserve 2014, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $44.95, WineAlign)

The Reserve is the top level for fumé blanc (aside from the I-Block) and a wine made since 1966. There must be more sémillon in 2014 because it’s as smoky and flinty as it ever has been. A portion of the 1945 I-Block vines generously add sauvignon blanc in this wine. This is the original, the history of California wine, the alternate varietal spoken ahead of all the others. Reduced vigour vines from volcanic, well-draining soils for purity and decades long honesty. Always absurdly fresh, integrated, with an ability to age low and slow. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted April 2018  robertmondavi  #constellationbrands  @RobertMondavi  @cbrands  Robert Mondavi Winery  Constellation Brands

Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit De Tablas Blanc 2015, Paso Robles, California (Agent, 735506, $44.95, WineAlign)

From the far western side’s folded, undulated hills on the western range that bring in cold air through its streams. A place of cold night and even some persistent cool air during the day. It’s roussanne based, but this ulterior vintage means an elongated ripening so the roussanne was low in acidity, therefore more picpoul was employed for acid. It’s fleshy, creamy toffee, candied floral and candied citrus plus orchard fruit and mango. Should turn waxy and seem more mineral as the alloys emerge and the fruit dissolves. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  tablascreek  @TablasCreek  @ChartonHobbs  Tablas Creek Vineyard  CHARTON-HOBBS QUEBEC

Pop goes @california.wines unexpected whites with phenomenal insight by @hawk_wakawaka ~ Thank you Elaine, Paula @CalifWines_CA

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign

March 7th seven blazon party

Home spun Barque Smokehouse brisket sandwich

Home spun Barque Smokehouse brisket sandwich

As VINTAGES rolls out another army of bottles in proclamations of blatant multiplicity and, as I mentioned yesterday, in duplicity, it is time to settle into the recommendations encampment. Trudging through the trenches of Sparkling, White, Red and Dessert the divisions are laid, dispatches ordered and strategies finalized. Staffers go here, front liners there and commanders bring up the rear.

Related – Why it matters to taste wines again

A little bit of everything, as always, defines the March 7th release. Tidy little sippers work the hardest and make sacrifices for the rest. In this release Kosher wines prepare to tackle Passover but that we will save for next week, or perhaps the week after. Italy is the focus, bellowing commands from the bull horn, making decrees like colosseum commentators at Hunger Games. “We have wines that are just too goddamn vivid!” “We have wines with language that is fairly formal and sometimes flowery!” “Occasionally we stop to smell the adjectives!”

Tuscan wines always seem to possess what has heretofore been referred to as collectively having “a firm jaw and an air of tragic nobility.” As a group they are confident, steeped in tradition and now, as much as any wine-producing region, captured within the heart of the state of the art. The sea is murky because the obvious separations between varietal and blend are hard to discern but one aspect is not under dispute. Overall quality has never been higher. Tuscan wines are just plain fun to drink.

The seven blazon party from March 7th attacks with Chardonnay, Yellow Muscat, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and two rounds of Sangiovese. The notes, here, now.

From left to right: Fielding Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Puklus Pincészet Tokaji Yellow Muscat 2013, The Good Earth Cabernet Franc 2012, Castelli del Grevepesa Panzano Chianti Classico 2008, Rocca Di Castagnoli Poggio A'frati Riserva Chianti Classico 2010, Château De Cruzeau Blanc 2009, Chateau Montelena Estate Zinafandel 2012

From left to right: Fielding Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Puklus Pincészet Tokaji Yellow Muscat 2013, The Good Earth Cabernet Franc 2012, Castelli del Grevepesa Panzano Chianti Classico 2008, Rocca Di Castagnoli Poggio A’frati Riserva Chianti Classico 2010, Château De Cruzeau Blanc 2009, Chateau Montelena Estate Zinafandel 2012

Fielding Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (164491$14.95, WineAlign)

One of the best deals going in oak-less Chardonnay, a glug, glug, line up at the jug kind of guiltless white. Pure, cool-climate variegate, with the cool of the Peninsula overridden by the vacuous warmth in the saddle abutting the Escarpment. Very pear, all in slate, exit to daylight acidity for a Chardonnay that hit the switch. Spot on in 2013 with an even keel of personality, warm but never far from cool.  Tasted March 2015  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Puklus Pincészet Tokaji Yellow Muscat 2013, Tokaj Hegyalja, Hungary (46508$15.95, WineAlign)

From Tokaj Hegyalja in Bodrogkeresztúr found tucked into the northeastern corner of Hungary. One could imagine the air thick as sweet cool soup in summer, perfumed by basil and lemon verbena. Designated “semi-sweet” the varietal is so much more than pedestrian when handled with this kind of poise and concern. Highly aromatic, viscous and wildflower floral. Honey and honeysuckle, fresh lemon, beeswax and citrus pith. Sweetness begins, abides, subsides and melts in the mouth. Buckley‘s medicinal to a fundamental degree but not to a fault. Delicate and delightful. Muscat of a grace that makes you feel and wish, “my kingdom for a kiss upon her shoulder.”  Tasted March 2015  @WineofHungary

The Good Earth Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (164491$20.95, WineAlign)

While wood plays a prominent role it does not saturate to distraction. The barrel extract adds warmth and spice in contribution to balance. A high-toned syrup on the nose gives way to an evenly weighted palate. A scraped bean flavoured creamy toddy texture is topped with chocolate shavings, a dry of bell pepper and tobacco smoulder from out of the chamber. Nicely judged fruit, acidity and texture with admirable length. A necessary example of $20 Lincoln Lakeshore Cabernet Franc offering up every reason to drink it and demand that more me made.  Tasted March 2015  @goodearthtweets  @EpicW_S

Castelli del Grevepesa Panzano Chianti Classico 2008, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (972695$23.95, WineAlign)

A very honest take on Sangiovese and Chianti Classico. When it appeared from the 2006 vintage it had been a while since this Panzano came to market, having been a stalwart presence in late 1990’s vintages. Modern now, very much a child of 21st century winemaking but in retention of loyalties to red, sour cherry and dusty 90’s Sangiovese. Remains slightly austere, angular and tension-filled, as if a scraping noise could be heard as the fruit, acidity and tannins fight for purchase on the floor. Chalky lactic and really juicy. Drink now and for three to five further on.  Tasted March 2015  @chianticlassico  @ProfileWineGrp  Castelli del Grevepesa

Rocca Di Castagnoli Poggio A’frati Riserva Chianti Classico 2010, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (350751$29.95, WineAlign)

Very expressive aromatics in dried flowers, earthy red perfumed fruits, orange peel, clove and a full crumble of cinnamon fill the air. Rampant but not relegating (at this early, five-year juncture) acidity drives the engine, running on vineyard funk, a hint of game and fruit ripened to optimum clarity. This is faultless Sangiovese of guts and guile, really well-made, classic yet modern CCR. Dances like Sangiovese should, “well, you wiggle to the left, you wiggle to the right, you do the ooby dooby with all your might.” No factory made CCR here, nor from out of the cosmos. Just simply down to earth. Were $30 all that I had to spend and a Chianti Classico Riserva the only choice, this would have to make the shortlist. Tasted March 2015  @chianticlassico  @ProfileWineGrp

Château De Cruzeau Blanc 2009, Ac Pessac Léognan, Bordeaux, France (966010$31.95, WineAlign)

That VINTAGES was able to secure another sku of this Bordeaux Blanc is both fortuitous and a gift. For the cost of an I-Tunes song you can have a peak into the generosity of the 2009 Bordeaux vintage through the senses of a top-value producer. From Les Vignobles André Lurton comes this white beauty. Though slightly musty upon entry this shows immediate yet perfectly evolved poise. Ready to strike with much persistent verve and density in 100 per cent Sauvignon Blanc singularity. Wood is very involved (10 months in 35 per cent new oak barrels on full lees with bâtonnage) by adding precious layers of necessity. Very layered indeed, honeyed, anti-hackneyed, buttressed, really fine and generous. Most excellent work by oenologists Denis Dubourdieu and Valérie Lavigne.  Tasted March 2015  @AndreLurton  @KirkwoodDiamond

Château Montelena Estate Zinfandel 2012, Calistoga, Napa Valley, California (69633$49.95, WineAlign)

A rare, in the neighbourhood of elegant and exquisitely refined Zinfandel gives all red fruit with just a faint raise of raisining. Quite pure, with heaps of liquorice, smouldering cedar bough, brushed and bushy, big but shy of the peak. The English punk of Zinfandel but with melody and charm. Says to the world we have “our own raison d’etre we can’t see?” The quality is in, raising the Zin bar to a level not oft seen, with restraint and complexity. Never mind the bullocks, Montelena offers a buzzcock of a Zinfandel. Here lies a Zinaison d’être.  Tasted March 2015  @ChMontelena  @rogcowines

Good to go!

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