Why we’re always tasting Australia

Why is godello so pleased? #grenache @Wine_Australia @vintageMD and @Caplansky that’s why.

Mark Davidson, that’s why. We taste Australian wines with thanks to the intrepid Wine Australia ambassador, traveller and purveyor of everything you could ever want to know about that country’s wine scene. Davidson passes through our Toronto parts on manifold missions each calendar year and graces our collective wine writer-meets sommelier soul with non bottle-o Aussie bounty, not oft tasted before. In mutual abide our local agents are always willing to throw some gems into Mark’s mix and our finest restos lay out the food-matching compliments to accede the most excellent of wine tasting gatherings.

The last three sessions took place in June 2018, February 2018 and September 2017. For that September get together we convened at Caplansky’s Deli for a Smoked Meat and Grenache Lunch. “Pastrami to me smells like grenache,” says Davidson in candid equation. “Drink some and eat some meat.” In 2015 there were 1500 hectares of the varietal under vine, this compared to 44,000 of shiraz. On its agriculture in Australia he added “if you leave it untended it will go blowsy and slutty.” What about wood? “I don’t think new oak works with grenache. It dominates it.” These are my notes on the eight wines.

Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache 2015, Barossa Valley, South Australia (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

There is nothing here to raise an eyebrow’s moment of a suspicious mind. What you taste is what you get. Pure grenache. Tangy and spicy, fresh and walking with an easy stride. The youngest vineyard is from 1972 so that explains the confidence and yes, you can call this old vine, said with a wry smile. Really smart and teachable wine. When it comes to grenache, “we can’t build our dreams, on suspicious minds.” Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted September 2017  @yalumbawine  breakthrubevcanada  @yalumba  @BreakthruBev  yalumbawine  @BreakthruBeverageCanada

Alpha Box & Dice Grenache Tarot 2016, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Agent, $24.99, WineAlign)

Lighter style by way of a McLaren Vale mentality. Perhaps like somebody that I used to know the “death card” is a resurrective grenache to “chuck in the fridge and drink it,” as per the suggestion of Dylan Fairweather. But it’s really something else, comforting, helpful. Like Gotye, “a friendly face will bring you around and you’ll feel better.” This is a solidly pressed grenache with some cured, curative meaty notes, just where the varietal tendency should lead. “Better than before.” Drink 2017-2019. Tasted September 2017  alphaboxdice  awsmwest  @AlphaBoxDice  @AuthenticWineON  @alphaboxdice  @awsmon

d’Arenberg The Custodian Grenache 2013, McLaren Vale, South Australia (713040, $19.95, WineAlign)

This grenache may straight out remind “but what’s puzzling you is the nature of my game.” Place, name and grape all combine for notoriety, perhaps controversy but certainly greatness. The iconic house of d’Arenberg is the grenache custodian for McLaren Vale, the keeper of nearly one third of the region’s varietal vines. The process includes foot-treading, which does not make it old school as much as it presses the idea that human intervention is very much a part of the wine. The basket press adds to the beggar’s banquet gentility of the Custodian’s mystery, a deeply satisfying grenache of wealth and place. This is the juiciest of juicy grenache vintages, perfectly tart and sweet like candy for the soul. At four years of age the balance is struck and the evolution just right for current enjoyment. A rolling stone that will stand the test of time, one plus one bottle at a time. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted August and September 2017   darenbergwine  churchillcellars  @darenbergwine  @imbibersreport  @darenbergwine  @imbibersreport

Chapel Hill Bush Vine Grenache 2014, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Agent, $35.95, WineAlign)

Showing more than a major amount of fruit than most in a flight of eight grenache. Creamy, full of textured elements, tart and graced by a ying-yang of tenebrous-generous tannins. The ripeness is run through raised and chalky, like a mineral feel, searing at moments but mostly in a just so it happens or it happened way. Plenty of joy, curiosity and obfuscation. Give it a year or more to continue finding its course. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2017  chapelhillwine  chartonhobbs  @chapelhillwine  @ChartonHobbs  @ChapelHillWine

Kilikanoon Prodigal Grenache 2013, Clare Valley, South Australia (482547, $20.95, WineAlign)

From 80-90 hectares in the Clare. Kevin Mitchell’s bigger style is evident but not compared to 10 years earlier. Now in control of tangy grace and tempered volume. Needed six months to continue its settling and will only continue to improve.  Last tasted September 2017   kilikanoonwines  chartonhobbs  @kilikanoonwines  @ChartonHobbs  @KilikanoonWines

The fruit works well with the soil, sharing equal time in the sandbox and the acidity takes time to unfold but when it does, it comes smiling candid and sweet. A fine grenache and typically Clare Valley, perhaps more than what it offers in terms of varietal representation. Otherwise unexciting meaning easy to like and consume. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted February 2017

Oldest #grenache vines in Australia is one thing, über religiously delicious @cirillo1850wine juice another #barossavalley #ancestorvines

Cirillo 1850s Grenache 2011, Barossa Valley, South Australia (Agent, $69.00, WineAlign)

Australia’s oldest grenache vines provide the setting, architecture and unfathomable bestowal for a singular standard of grenache. So what does it all mean? First there is the lighter, cooler vintage setting the stage for this queued up, cued slice of Barossa history. In most respects this is grenache prone to and prepared for drought vintages, preserving a guarantee of tannic structure. Sure, it may be seen as well beyond perhaps but six years forward offers more than enough information and explanation. This is simply beautiful, just and enlightening. Flowing, plum ripe, melting, liquorice, smack piquant, mellowing and so bloody cool. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted September  2017 cirilloestatewines  bokkewines  @Cirillo1850wine  @bokkewines  Cirillo 1850 Estate  Marco Cirillo  @BokkeInc

Jauma Grenache Gramp Ant 2015, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Agent, $54.95, WineAlign)

This one’s for their kids’ grandfather, Grandpa Antony, a grenache sourced from the best corners of their McLaren Vale Foreman block and Blewitt Springs Genovese Vineyard. The James Erskine and Fiona Wood “keep me satisfied, please keep me calm, keep me pacified” grenache. Renders sulphur and volatility into must with magic and preservation. Old plantings (to the 1970s) offer the prospect of a whole cluster, 40 days on skins raising. It smells and tastes like the scrapings and peelings of plums, peaches, apples, cherry and cranberry. The concentration factor is spiked by anise and tonic bitters, working out the kinks and comfortably leaving an aftertaste of pure finessed liqueur. There is no question in my mind that of the two, Gramp Ant is not merely superior to Like Raindrops but is so much more fun to drink. From thirst to appetite. “Sitting by the riverside.” Drink 2019-2025. Tasted September 2017  jaumawines  thelivingvine  @JaumaWines  @TheLivingVine  James Danby Erskine  The Living Vine inc.

Ochota Barrels The Fugazi Vineyard Grenache 2014, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (Agent, $57.95, WineAlign)

A different look for Australian reds and connective with Tool’s James Maynard Keenan but if Post-Punk, Prog-Rock grenache is what you’re after than this Tolken Silmarillion Fugazi is the one for you. Its fruit spent 80 days on skins and the resulting whole bunch umami resides in an MDMA-Ecstasy-Fugazi realm. Clean, pure and of a transparency that speaks to the realism of the dream. It’s bloody juicy and anything but messed up beyond recognition. In fact it speaks to the opposite of the nomenclature. “Do you realize, this world is totally fugazi?” Great wines like these are the head, the voice and the heart. Maybe even the prophet, the visionary, the poet and the sentimental mercenary. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted September 2017  ochotabarrels  thelivingvine    @TheLivingVine @Ochota Barrels  The Living Vine inc.

In February 2018 Mark hosted a tasting of 12 (mostly) alternative varietals at George Brown College. It began with the Clare Valley, once a massive mountain range, now an extension of the loft mountain ranges and just shy of a great outback. It’s an amazing micro-climate with huge diurnal temperature changes, It can be 40 degrees during the day in peak growing season and five at night. “There is dew and there is this revival process that happens with riesling.” Here are the notes.

There are seminars and there are elucidative @vintageMD seminars. The oracle of @wine_australia has been illuminated

Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2017, Clare Valley, South Australia (SAQ 10956022, $50.00, WineAlign)

Grosset’s riesling at Polish Hill Vineyard was planted in 1981, young for Australia, on limestone, shale and clay, underneath of which is 10,000,000 year-old blue slate. Austere when young, usually, it’s fleshier and more floral than limey but as always, it acquiesces the crisp, clear and cut brilliance Jeffrey Grosset expects and suspects Clare Valley riesling just is, or at least must be. So the choice is yours, enjoy it now because it can be, wait on its sneaky persistence or wait 20 years after you’ve tired of imagining the possibilities. Wait at least five for the screwcap to loosen and the riesling to abide as if. It’s pretty clear this is a forbearer clarified by a crystalline vintage. Drink 2021-2036.  Tasted February 2018  grossetwines  @GrossetWines  @GrossetWines

Pewsey Vale The Contours Old Vine Riesling 2012, Eden Valley, South Australia (Agent, $42.00, WineAlign)

Originally planted in 1847, passed through challenges, purchased by the Hill-Smith family and re-planted in 1961. This includes fruit from that original block, the “contoured site,” hence the name. Here five years on with some first developed character, with the airy, gassy (or Rose’s lime marmalade to an Australian ambassador), lemon-lime citrus spray ringing the inside of the glass. It’s a salty gas-powered riesling with innate Barossa ability to move forward with deceptive speed. This fin-slicing vapour trail of tonic and fine bitters is a personality I would gladly draught in for a bottle or more. One of the finest acidities of any wine on the planet. This is still the current release and that’s just perfect. Drink 2018-2027.  Last tasted February 2018

From vines originally planted in 1847, here is Riesling worthy of the longest run on sentence. Riesling of conventional wisdom from a cold, windy, chilly place, pricked with holes, atomized infiltrations, queued with basic intent, wise, driven, young, gaseous, of concentrated rage, bone dry and no, it does not feign sweetness, even if the texture makes nefarious attempts at confusing the palate. A decade on this will blow your mind, if you let it. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted at the Langton’s Classification Seminar, February 2016  pewseyvalevineyard  breakthrubevcanada  @PewseyVale  @BreakthruBev  @pewseyvalevineyard  @pewseyvalevineyard  @BreakthruBeverageCanada

Ochota Barrels Chardonnay The Stint Vineyard 2016, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (Agent, $57.95, WineAlign)

Chardonnay out of the Stint Vineyard is from Lenswood in the hills in surround of Adelaide, up to elevations of almost 600 metres. It’s really about site exposure, and undulations, but to be honest it does little at first to tell me that is noses as chardonnay because there is a layer of impregnable wax and forest wall. Impenetrable because it’s so verdant, equally distributable and obscured by clouds. Picked on acid, as in profile, not elevation, cloudy because of no filtration. Likely 20 year-old fruit and if you consider this as funk you’ve not quite been listening to the right beats. The funk will only get better. Ochota Barrels repping the Basket Range Collective with a side of Rolling Stones. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted February 2018  ochotabarrels  thelivingvine    @TheLivingVine  @Ochota Barrels  The Living Vine inc.

Murdoch Hill Artisan Sulky Blanc 2016, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (Winery, $62.95, WineAlign)

From winemaker Michael Downer the blend is riesling (50 per cent), sauvignon blanc (30) and pinot gris (20), left on skins, sent to barrel and also to tank. For an ambitious white it’s got remarkable entry-level gulpability. It’s an appellative blend built on acidity and so into the combinative texture. What you feel in the end is the alcohol, in a boozy warmth that hovers, broods and compresses climate like a rainforest village above the clouds. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018   murdochhill_wines  @Murdoch_Hill  @murdochhillwine

Angove Family Vineyards Shiraz-Grenache Warboys Vineyard 2013, McLaren Vale, South Australia (537209, $46.00, WineAlign)

No matter where you are in the throes of this blend there is a maritime influence and in a way, a Mediterranean-like feeling, with plum, black olive and brine. It’s saltier and more ferric than a Rhône syrah-grenache (plus likely one with mourvèdre) and it feels more like shiraz than grenache because of the grip, vintage-driven or not. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted February 2018   angovewine  churchillcellars  @AngoveWine  @imbibersreport  @AngoveWine  @imbibersreport

Henschke Henry’s Seven 2015, Barossa Valley, South Australia (685578, $42.95, WineAlign)

Shiraz is co-fermented with viognier, deciding the direction with holes and angles filled then lined by the grenache and the mataro. It’s floral, by flowers but also the leafiness that comes from raspberry and strawberry plants. Smells like fruit compost, sweet and savoury, Great acids and fine tannins. Really composed and grippy to delicious pile to be happy having consumed. Will be ideal in 18 months, give or take no time at all. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted February 2018   henschke  breakthrubevcanada  @henschkewine  @BreakthruBev  @HenschkeWine  @BreakthruBeverageCanada

D’arenberg The Derelict Vineyard Grenache 2013, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Agent, $35.00, WineAlign)

If there is a juicier, riper or more gregarious nose on a grenache anywhere I’d like to know. Which is all the more surprising considering the level of grippy tannin that comes around to knock you upside the cerebral cortex. Fascinating wine, always and with perpetual craziness. The old derelict vineyard strikes again. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted February 2018   darenbergwine  churchillcellars  @darenbergwine  @imbibersreport  @darenbergwine  @imbibersreport

John Duval Wines Grenache Annexus 2016, Barossa Valley, South Australia (Agent, $85.00, WineAlign)

There is certainly less immediacy and perhaps generosity but in its taut aromatic quietude there is this dusty, savoury fennel feeling going on. It is very much a grenache expressed in a vein like pinot noir, then again not really, but there is a skin-rubbed, umami quality about how it develops in the glass. It’s both forceful and virile. Duval does grenache in Barossa like Pommard in the Beaune. Warm climate and litheness get together at a grenache crossroads for firm if wonderful balance. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted February 2018   johnduvalwines  breakthrubevcanada  @JohnDuvalWines  @BreakthruBev  @johnduvalwinesbarossa  @BreakthruBeverageCanada

Delinquente Wine Company Vermentino Screaming Betty 2017, Riverland, South Australia (Agent, $20.00, WineAlign)

It’s by now safe to call vermentino an “emerging variety” for South Australia, here from Riverland off some of the 120 total hectares planted. You just know it’s vermentino but you also know it’s not grown along the Ligurian coast. It’s so bloody big, aromatically fruity and full of dry extract, wants to be savoury, but it’s more of a light charcoal sensation. That and an essential oil distilled through cookie dough, with white chocolate and peach. It’s tannic without being grippy and in the end, dry as the desert. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018   delinquentewineco  bespokewineandspirits  @BespokeWines  @delinquentewineco  Matt Wolman

Paxton Graciano 2016, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Agent, $26.99, WineAlign)

Rarely does an Australian red climb up to the tonal heights of this McLaren Vale graciano but there it is in the rare, aerified air, with red berries and their leaves. Steps into the Riverland, light, gives away this gulpable Kombucha in a flat out tart and quenching drink. Lovely at 11 per cent alcohol, high acidity and a pinch of residual sugar. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018   paxtonwines  noble_estates  @paxtonwines  @Noble_Estates  @PaxtonWines  @NobleEstates

Brash Higgins Nero D’avola Amphora Project 2016, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Agent, $51.95, WineAlign)

Part of the amphoric project of Brad Hickey, raised in 200L amphorae, the volatility is but a whisper, way more calculated than careless. A full come about turn away from the previous Riverland Graciano this digs deep into the soil for a funky nero d’avola, far away from the caky Sicilian style and now under the auspices of perspiring glands. It’s not nearly as dense and intense you’d think it might be, nor is it so very varietally obvious, but it’s level of intrigue meeting with the need to get in my mouth is the stuff of lyrical innocence inspiration. Nero, nero on the wall, who’s the coolest Vale of all? Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted February 2018   brashhiggins  thelivingvine  @BrashHiggins  @TheLivingVine  @BrashHigginsWine  The Living Vine inc.

Alpha Box & Dice Dolcetto Dead Winemaker’s Society 2016, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (Agent, $21.95, WineAlign)

The name refers to an industry drinking session where you bring a wine made by a winemaker no longer alive and who was influential on you. From two vineyards (Paddock and Christmas Hill), southeast facing, 50-50 pick, fermented separately, all in old oak (as opposed to the 50 per cent in stainless from 2015). A much fresher vintage so thus the decision making. Such a ripe and joyful dolcetto should be every winemaker’s dream and it shows where the area first settled by Italians this variety and others like it would have been in the ground from the get go. Sour cherry and pomegranate, currants and all things citrus, red and ripping gather for great light possibilities. Surprisingly dry and tannic at the finish. Really just a joy. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018   alphaboxdice  awsmwest  @AlphaBoxDice  @AuthenticWineON  @alphaboxdice  @awsmon

Vintage MD time ~ #pinotandporchetta @archive909 ~ welcome back Mark

In June of 2018 we connected with Mark once again, this time at Archive Wine Bar for pinot noir and porchetta. We travelled through eight from the 2015 and 2016 vintages.

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2016, Yarra Valley, South Australia (Agent, $29.95, WineAlign)

A steeped black meets rooibos tea enters and opens before black cherry, orange and marmalade deliver the message of a three-fold schist-clay-volcanic earthiness. It’s a full combing in 2016, valley floor, lower and upper slope all contributing to character, structure and acidity. Bigger vintage than 2015 with a wealth of fruit and it will improve in a year. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted June 2018   #coldstreamhills  markanthonyon    @MarkAnthonyWine  @coldstreamhillswinery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Montalto Pinot Noir Pennon Hill 2016, Mornington Peninsula, Australia (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Lifted, higher and higher, sitting on a plateau built upon an acid structure squeezed from red currants and bled from stone. Also a slight cured salumi note mixed with wet concrete. Great palate presence and persistence, repeatable, replaying phenolics purely currant and with more electric current from leafy savour. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted June 2018  montaltovineyardandolivegrove  @montaltowine  @montaltovineyard

Dalrymple Pinot Noir 2015, Tasmania, Australia (Agent, $49.95, WineAlign)

Tougher nut to crack with a bit of a muted nose. Dalrymple is a Yalumba property in cool Tasmania and when this airs it brings spice first and foremost. Add to that some garrigue, fresh tea leaf and salumi savour. Sweeter fruit to taste, of watermelon and red apple plus cherry fruit and a slight pith. Pretty intense, inward and impressionistic pinot noir. Drink 2019-2023. Tasted June 2018  dalrymplevineyards  breakthrubevcanada  @DalrympleWine @BreakthruBev  @DalrympleVineyards  @BreakthruBeverageCanada

Bindi Pinot Noir Dixon 2015, Macedon Ranges, Australia (Winery, $85.00, WineAlign)

The Bindi Dixon Pinot Noir is based upon declassified grapes from the Original Vineyard planted in 1988 and grapes from the new Block K, planted in 2001. Crazy horse nose in the way that other varieties of the world will do, or at least try and simulate when they want to be pinot noir. Especially Italian varieties, like nerello mascalese, dolcetto, perricone and montepulciano. This is a natural leader for grape wishes like those of the lesser known. Very wise from the start, from birth, from creation with more savour and salumi then so many wannabe realists. There is a beautiful raw pasta dough note and then an exotica by fruit that isn’t really nameable. If this is the de-class from Michael Dhillon I’d like to meet the classified. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted June 2018  bindiwines  @Bindiwines  Michael Dhillon

Makers’ cool pinot noir warmth from regional @wineaustralia as explained by the man, @vintagemarkdavo

Wicks Estate Pinot Noir 2017, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (Agent, $25.95, WineAlign)

Lovely balance from the word yes by Wicks in a straightforward pinot noir expression with no agenda and no ulterior motive. It’s very forward, outwardly fruity and if basic, so be it because it really works. Some elevation (450-500m) makes a difference, bringing lift and cool tones to the ripe, sweeter and weighty warmth of magnanimous fruit. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted June 2018 wicksestate  azureau    @azureau  @wicksestate  @azureauwinesandspirits

Yering Station Village Pinot Noir 2015, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia (552166, $24.95, WineAlign)

Lifted into appropriate levels of volatility and ripe acidity the balance is struck by wide-ranging Yarra Valley fruit layering away and tempering the tonic coming from the tannin. Big bones and spirit for so little is quite the combination.  Last tasted May 2018

The Yarra Valley is pinot noir, for so many great reasons and Yering Station knows a thing or two about the connection. The brightness of acidity and tart cherry fruit meet with a sour edginess and sweet textural coverings to bring some sunshine to a dreary day. This is Victoria, cool and edgy in the grand scheme of Aussie reds but in the end, very true and correct for varietal and place. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted June 2018  yeringstation  noble_estates  @yeringstn  @Noble_Estates  @YeringStation  @NobleEstates

Woodside Park Pinot Noir 2016, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (47828, $20.95, WineAlign)

A rush of the juiciest Adelaide Hills pinot noir red fruit plays from the Woodside Park, a wine of breeze and potentially, so many memories. There is an early note of understanding, like a riff that reminds of childhood and in a way how wine knows how it will come to eventually be, even when its still so young. It’s this rustic, old world sensibility, with dried fruit, leathery to cedar forest feelings and a rustic cure. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted August 2017 and June 2018   #woodsidepark  nicholaspearcewines  @Nicholaspearce_   Nicholas Pearce

Ochota Barrels Pinot Noir Impeccable Disorder 2016, Piccadilly, South Australia (Agent, $99.95, WineAlign)

Impeccable disorder or as I like to call it conventional dysfunction. It’s a late picked pinot noir from one of winemaker Taras’ cooler sights, not so much a regional Piccadilly snapshot as much as realistic dystopian universality. Lifted volatility, pure orange juice and whole bunch pressing add up to wild rides through a flat earth. It’s like seeing things in 3D without glasses or drugs. It’s filmmaking in a glass and it tastes like pinot noir should, not as it does. Wrapped so tight, chewy, chalky and its own tonic-twisted, shaken and stirred cocktail in a glass. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted June 2018   ochotabarrels  thelivingvine    @TheLivingVine  The Living Vine inc.

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

We take you now to garage wine in Chile

The antediluvian revival one percent from #chile @garagewineco via @cruontario with @cbriesling #derekmossmanknapp #pais #carignanfieldblend

‘Twas back in September that Charles Baker brought Derek Mossman Knapp to Butcher Bar for a sit down with Chile’s newest and oldest wines. You all know Charles from Riesling and Stratus Vineyards fame. Derek is a Canadian in Chile and few winemakers, expatriate or deeply local generational have delved as deep into the country’s heartland, oldest vines and ancestral traditions.

Known to the locals as “That Garage Wine Company,” Mossman Knapp and his wife Pilar Miranda source Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in Maipo. They draw Carignan and Cinsault from Itata. Derek and Charles (by way of Cru Wine Merchants importing agency) brought their Maule Valley project wines to taste; dry-farmed Mediterranean Carignan field blends grown on centuries-old rootstock by small farmers with Garnacha, Mataró and Cinsault. They also poured Pais.

Each wine is from a different place: Caliboro, Sauzal, Truquilemu and Portezuelo. Separate parcels of one or two hectares each belong to a small farmer who works with horse and plough as his family has done since colonial times. The wines are made by hand with native yeasts in small tanks, punched down manually and pressed out in a small basket press.

I tasted one Pais and three Carignan field blend lots that day with Jamie Drummond and Sara d’Amato. Here are the notes.

Derek Mossman Knapp with Jamie Drummond and Sara d’Amato

Garage Wine Co. Pais First Salvo Ferment 2015, Secano Interior, Do Maule Valley, Chile (Agent, $27.95, WineAlign)

“You tell me there’s an angel in your tree,” or in this case on the Pais vine, a.k.a. “Mission” or in the local vernacular, “Pipeño.” In the hands of Canadian Derek Mossman Knapp these high-yielding, nouveau producing Maule Valley ancients are taken on a tour of resurrection. He and winemaking partners Pilar Miranda and Dr. Alvaro Peña are taking these ‘old becomes new again’ varietal vines and making history in a glass. The First Salvo Ferment as they call it is “the wine they drank in colonial times” but here original, purer than natural, with minimal sulphites after the (no new oak) barrel ferment. As a red berry liquid salve it is chalky and full of grape cure, “a one winter wine” as Derek likes to call it. So enjoy this between when this is tasted and when this is written (April 2017), literally. A wine that pushes the lore of measurement, history and precision. The price reflects the one winter promise. familiar somehow and fantastic. So please, don’t burn down the mission but feel free to “take all you need to live inside.” Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted September 2016

Garage Wine Co. Lot #48 Carignan Field Blend Portezuelo Vineyard 2013, Maule Valley, Chile (Agent, $39.95, WineAlign)

From a wine company in which harvests were and are still are measured in barrels. The fruit is fermented in open-top vats, caps are punched down by hand, pressing is manual, yeasts are strictly native and work is done in a renovated (circa) 1840s cellar. The Portezuelo Vineyard in Itata is just the sort of place to give a bottle a wine a story, like this parcel of a hectare (or maybe two) farmed with horse and plough as the farmer’s family has done since colonial times. This carignan field blend curated by Derek Mossman Knapp, Pilar Miranda and Dr. Alvaro Peña delivers a deeper wealth of fruit so should be considered as carrying a longevity into a second winter. It is possessive of some sweet and fine-grained tannin and forges an impossible connective route from one fruit on to another; pomegranate to raspberry and vice versa. Really remarkable into its great length. Exactly what you need from a two winter wine out of which the field variegates in the glass. Also offers up proof that these wines are about places not varietals. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2016

Garage Wine Co. Lot #47 Carignan Field Blend Truquilemu Vineyard 2013, Maule Valley, Chile (Agent, $39.95, WineAlign)

A sister to the Lot #48 grown in Portezuelo, this Truquilemu field-blend of carignan, garnacha & mataró is grown by a small farmer using ancestral hand and horse methods in the tradition of the Secano Costero. This strikes an accord in similarity to Lot #48 but here of a more pronounced, deeper cure that is not just grape-derived but takes a bigger risk. More granitic, schist syrah-like with charcuterie aridity and the intense tang of dried smoky, meaty flesh running through its veins. More hematic, ferric too, deeper, grittier and firm. This carries tannin and will go three to five winters deep, at least. But you never forget about the fruit here. There are blueberries mixed into the red drupe. A complex conclusion is drawn. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2016

Garage Wine Co. Lot #45 Carignan Field Blend Sauzal Vineyard 2013, Maule Valley, Chile (Agent, $39.95, WineAlign)

Lot #45 comes from the Sauzal Vineyard and like sisters 47 and 48 is a carignan field blend co-planted with garnacha and mataró. The location is on the road to Constitucion in Empedrado in the shadow of the Sauzal Coastal Mountain Range. The older cracked granite soils cool slower than those of Andes proximity. If the Lot #48 in Portezuelo showed the region’s red fruit and #47 out of Truquilemu the schisty-mineral and meaty cure than it is here in Lot #45 where the twain is met. The freshness antithetical to taut stylistic combined and distilled into the most amenable is quite something. It makes sense that Derek Mossman Knapp would pour this last of the three, if only for educational purposes, but I prefer to call it revelation. Now we are tasting something you can store between two and five winters. The Sauzal persists as red fruit sumptuous with quite a bit of liquorice within a solid core of acidity. Fresh and yet quite firm, bright and cool. This will gift the broadest appeal because it has less cure and more middle of the road desire but it is still so very different than 99 per cent of Chile. Also noted are some herbs and fennel but it is not distinctly savoury. It is also the most tart of the four, the most recognizable in any commercial sense and yet it is anything but that. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted September 2016

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Old vines for the Zin

rockpile-ava-unparalleled-in-so-many-ways-mauritsonwinery-zinfandel-cabernetsauvignon-at-mauritson-rockpile-vineyard

Rockpile AVA unparalleled in so many ways @mauritsonwinery #zinfandel #cabernetsauvignon — at Mauritson Rockpile Vineyard.

Late one afternoon on a seasonally warm February Healdsburg day we walked into the boardroom at Seghesio vineyards for a Zinfandel tasting appropriated off of some of California’s oldest and dearest vines. On hand were Seghesio’s winemaking brain trust, Andy Robinson and Ted Seghesio. It was Seghesio who explained pretty much everything you need to know about Zinfandel and field blends in one sweet sentence. “These old vines are California’s treasures. We haven’t pulled one out yet.”

“Are the wines good because their vineyards are old

or are the vineyards old because the wines are good?”

Cart before the horse. What came first, the chicken or the egg? Catch-22. If we follow the ideas of Aristotle and Plato then we simply say that zinfandel and old vineyards first had their beings in spirit. The dialectical answer can’t help but make use of formal, linear cause-and-effect logic and so results in a paradox because this caused that. Old vines and zinfandel, two things uniquely Californian entwined in a set of mutually dependent circumstances. The question is ultimately moot.

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Godello listens, #tedtalks @seghesio #zinfandel #ravenswood #carolshelton #joelpeterson #califwine

Joel Peterson’s hat was the centre of first attention, that is until the Godfather of zin himself began to explain why the varietal tenets of experienced and gnarly are so important to understanding why zinfandel is the untouchable one. Peterson makes the case for zinfandel Grand Cru vineyards by referring to them as “historical treasures, extremely valuable and they are California.”

Carol Shelton is herself no stranger to the royal and ancient vines. She imagines them as both children and grandparents or rather that they are one in the same, innocent and experienced, but needing coddling and care just the same. Shelton has a soft spot for vineyards that are organically grown, dry farmed and many decades old. On her website Carol quotes Antoine de Saint-Exupery in reference to the Rockpile Vineyard. “A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.” Pretty apropos. It seems Carol Shelton sees the old vineyard before the zinfandel. I think they all do.

The next day we explored Dry Creek Valley’s AVA’s with John Doxon of Dry Creek Vineyards and in the afternoon walked up the ridge between the two arms of lake Sonoma with Clay Mauritson to stand at the top of the Rockville AVA. The vineyards are planted between 800′ and 2000′, with strong winds, soils that range from granite to volcanic and the ever-dangerous Healdsburg-Rogers Creek earthquake fault running through. Three things popped into my head. One, difficult growing conditions make for low yields. Two, above the fog and in the breeze means major league diurnal temperature swings and zero pressure from pests and diseases. Three, this is one of the most strikingly beautiful places on earth.

Rockpile Ridge Vineyard’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 is a Sonoma County tour de force and a steal for the money ($50 at the winery). But I’m here to discuss zinfandel and so we’ll look down left and down right to the Cemetery and Jack’s Cabin Vineyards. These two stunners from Clay Mauritson may be the most unheralded zinfandels you’ve never heard of. The first family vineyards were planted in 1884. It is here in the northern-most reaches of Dry Creek Valley where zinfandel may just find its highest California calling. “Pure geo-political drama.” What is Rockpile? Time in AND time out. James Woodsian fun stuff. Keith Moon of zinfandel. That is Rockpile.

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zeroing in on old vine #zinfandel significance @sonomavintners @seghesio #ravenswood @CBSbrands @WildThingZin

We tasted nine zinfandel with Ted, Joel and Carol, one with John plus two more with Clay. Here are the notes:

Seghesio Family Vineyards

Seghesio Zinfandel Rockpile 2013, Rockpile AVA, Sonoma County, California (Winery, $46.00, WineAlign)

Rockpile is Sonoma’s newest AVA,  straddling the ridge between the two arms of Lake Sonoma. The Mauritson farm is perhaps the most dramatic inland vineyard site in Sonoma. It is a relatively cool-ish appellation in part because it is based on ridge tops but notes Ted Seghesio, “I don’t think we can dry farm up in Rockpile, it’s just too warm.” No wonder the zinfandel here develops rich, dusty, of high impact intensity, pressed and controlled with addendum by remarkable palate spice. It’s chewy and intense, without heat, though expected, but there is not. Saw the insides of 25 per cent new French oak, the rest neutral for 12-14 months. Flavours well up with the liqueurs from a multitude of ripe red and purple berries, hematic, loamy and all in. Somewhat imbrued with the folly of youth so exercise some patience. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted February 2016  @seghesio  @sonomavintners

Seghesio Zinfandel Old Vines 2013, Sonoma County, California (Winery, $46.00, WineAlign)

From a blend of vineyards planted on the Dry Creek bench and the cooler southwest Alexander Valley. Old vine is often loosely interpreted and the general Seghesio rule is 50 years plus, though the average age is approximately 70 years-old, planted here because they were the original cheap, peasant purchased sites. True old vine zinfandel is distinguished by head-trained vines with thick, gnarled trunks and is planted with ancient clones dating back to the turn of the century. I personally am finding more warmth and a slick of oleaginous matter, like white pepper liquid smoke. The temper and texture are pure zin wisdom, knows exactly its place and the time. The early picked Old Vines offers a reference point for the accumulation of varietal time. You sense this though the briary spice of layering in the blending of two vineyards from berries through to that spice. The treatment was 25 per cent new wood, 14 months maximum on fruit that it typically at the extreme end of high acid and sugary fruit. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February 2016

Seghesio Zinfandel Pagani 2013, Sonoma Valley, California (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign)

Sourced from the Pagani family’s deep-rooted, storied Ranch in Sonoma Valley. The dry-farmed vineyard provides for a rich and nuanced, though not necessarily the most age-worthy structure to the fruit. Certainly a whole other, darker matter, pitchy, rock-blasted cimmerian mess of density and temper. The increased character is a drawn-out dramatic affair, feigning sweetness, with a high amount of Alicante Bouschet mixed in (perhaps as much as 50/50) for what is ostensibly the original California red. “The curtain” is an abiding history marker and maker and yet is low in tannin so drink this during the freshness of its youth. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016

Ravenswood Winery

Ravesnwood Estate Zinfandel 2013, Sonoma Valley, California (Agent, $46.00, WineAlign)

Typically 20 per cent petite sirah field blended in, from five sites with a collection of zinfandel clones planted in Ravenswood’s heritage vineyard back in 1997. Now old enough to stand alone, these vines grew from budwood collected from several of Sonoma County’s finest old-vine zinfandel vineyards. Like the single-vineyard zins, all are made the same way, save for a few micro-decisions for each wine. Time is 18 months in 35 per cent new oak for a level playing field so that each will show typically of site. The quinate muddling is made moot by fruit picked early enough to ask the ripeness not to be the dominant character of the wine. So there is a cooling, not so much herbal but a methylated effect, with depth of cherry and leather and the fleshy underside of the animal. A texture comes across creamy and so different from Seghesio, with a dry-brush aroma and flavour led by dark chocolate. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @RavenswoodWine  @CBrandsCareers  @michellesaba

Ravenswood Zinfandel Belloni Single Vineyard 2013, Russian River Valley, California (Agent, $46.00, WineAlign)

Belloni carries a riper, naturally current cure, seemingly suspended in an evolutionary state of grace. The chocolate is tempered, smoothed into the reality of haute-ganache. It’s a bit of a teaser but there is length not yet found in rest of a nine-strong zinfandel the line-up. Will not yield to relinquishing length and still in such an amazing lingering state of berry flavour. “My middle-aged wine,” says Joel Peterson. From a site on Fulton Rd, of sandier soils above an ancient river bench. Riccardo Belloni planted it, around 1971, same time he purchased land on along Wood Road on the outskirts of Santa Rosa. Aye, there’s the saline and antediluvian rub. A very mixed vineyard, barely 75 per cent Zin, plus alicante, petite sirah, carignan and mourvedre. All tolled known as mixed blacks, the varietal melded, mixed and markedly RRV boysenberry is brighter and with great freshness. “It’s treated like pinot noir,” notes Peterson, “and we are conscious of how much oxygen it is gifted along the way.” A gracious Zin to be sure. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted February 2016.

Ravenswood Zinfandel Old Hill Vineyard 2013, Sonoma Valley, California (Agent, $75.00, WineAlign)

Old Vine, Old Hill is rich, smooth and chocolatey, from “Mr. Hill’s vineyard, William McPherson Hill,” who founded Old Hill Ranch in 1851. Joel Peterson is wistful in just thinking about it. “An important and historic vineyard,” resurrected by Otto Teller housing forty different varieties, re-planted in 1985. The vineyard is 68 per cent zinfandel with grenache, mourvedre, syrah, petite sirah, alicante and heretofore referred to as the black panther grape, all together called the Mixed Blacks. It is organically farmed and is indeed of the oldest vines in the Valley of the Moon. In 1983, Ravenswood began this vineyard designate Old Hill Ranch zinfandel, just as the vineyard was turning 100 years old. So at 130 years what further wisdom can it pass on? Plenty, with the classic house treatment of 18 months in 35 per cent new oak. A capacious, fruit-teeming, chestnut-ochre-liquorice-plum pudding zinfandel blend with texture threaded through ages from samite to mantua. The gift of old vines. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted February 2016

Carol Shelton Wines

Carol Shelton Zinfandel Rocky Reserve Florence Vineyard 2013, Rockpile AVA, Sonoma County, California (394510, $48.00, WineAlign)

Insieme with Rockpile by Seghesio in dusty, high impact zin, here liquid saturated and steeping of a complex berry syrup, silky, stylish ands with a certain palate spice thanks to American wood. Vanilla and liquid lavender, ichorous, fusible elasticity. Quite pretty and some heat in the tannins. Defined by elevation at 1400 feet (800 is required) above Lake Sonoma. Basically dry-farmed, planted in 1998, terraced, a morning sun vineyard that receives hot sun into the evening. Thus spiking the fruit but breezes temper ripening (as compared to Dry Creek Valley) so the tannins are polished. Built with cabernet-like structure and blended with 14 per cent petite sirah, in 40 per cent French oak (20 new) plus (40) American (20 new) plus some older irrelevant barrel. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February 2016  @WildThingZin  @KylixWines

Carol Shelton Zinfandel Peaceland 2013, Fountaingrove District, Sonoma County, California (Agent, $40.00, WineAlign)

The “Friedland” is ambient and racked of floral certainly and also elevated of its varietal tones, with even more blueberry and peppery backbone than the Rockpile. Has increased its viscous and elastic chew with a dollop of melted milk chocolate and the earth’s granola; hemp, chia and all things fibrous and healthy. The jammiest and most texture on the table. Planted in 2001, a “young wine” out of a historical 1800’s place, a commune at 1100 feet of elevation. Represents three different clones of zinfandel (DuPratt, Costa Magnum and St. Peter’s Church). The united zin of red and black fruit, plus 7 per cent petite sirah. The new kid on the block. Needs to get more comfortable in its skin. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016

Carol Shelton Zinfandel Mancini Old Vine 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (Agent, $50.00, WineAlign)

Mancini Vineyard is Carol Shelton’s tribute to old vines, planted in 1922 (one mile from Belloni) to mostly (78-80 per cent) zinfandel and a Northern California varietal who’s who; carignane, alicante bouschet, petite sirah, grand noir, mataro and some yet unidentified vines. This is a field blend of decided depth, very cherry and exponentially increasing of varietal to wood spice. There is much liquor emulsified into liqueur. Such a highly concentrated wine is ripped with red citrus acidity and strays far from bramble. A wine of high acid, pH and oak with never-ending gobs of dark fruit. A little monster. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016

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There is no substitute for old vines #zinfandel @DryCreekVnyd — at Cafe Lucia.

Dry Creek Vineyard

Dry Creek Vineyard Zinfandel Old Vines 2013, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California (412288, $34.75, WineAlign)

As it should be this falls into the category of the mysterious and the enigmatic, a field-blend conjoining zinfandel (75 per cent) with petite sirah (23) and carignane. It takes nearly a month to bring in the multifarious and full-scope ripening varietal mix, between mid September and October. This elongation and elasticity mixes into the old vine magic and spits out strength and complexity. High pH and really pitchy acidity handle the bold and brooding fruit and then there is the presence of meaningful oak. Sixteen months in French, American and Hungarian oak, 29 per cent of it new. Dried fruit and spices rehydrate into a black fruit swirl of sweet leathery pods and perfumes. A blessed convocation is the result, part concoction, part confection and all in. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016  @DryCreekVnyd  @WineLoversAgncy  @drycreekvalley

Mauritson Wines

Rockpile Zinfandel Jack’s Cabin Vineyard 2013, Rockpile AVA, Sonoma County, California (Winery, US $45, WineAlign)

A haunted cabin settler’s story, of one Jack Ireland, of sheep, cattle, clearing the land, moonshine and nights spent in the county jail. A connection through three generations of Mauritsons. Such fresh red fruit is rare (these days) when alcohol (14.75 per cent) and oak (15 months in 90/10 French/American) work the room but welcome to the Rockpile elephant in the room. It’s called balance because of natural acidity, grapes that were not over-pressed and the magic-umami-impossibility of place. My mind digs for Sonoma equivalents in this scarlet, rubicund, ochre magnetic field but fails to draw a similar example. Except greatness from this AVA and winemaker Clay Mauritson in the years to come. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted February 2016  @mauritsonwinery  

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What is Rockpile? Time in AND time out. The fun stuff. Keith Moon of #zinfandel @mauritsonwinery #sonomacounty #jameswood

Rockpile Zinfandel Cemetery Vineyard 2013, Rockpile AVA, Sonoma County, California (Winery, US $47, WineAlign)

Look towards the other arm of Lake Sonoma and let your mind’s eye rest 250 feet higher than Jack’s Cabin Vineyard. The Cemetery plantation is a jagged, craggy outcropping with “a face uneven as a river jag and asperous as the mullein’s flannel.”  The Mauritsons are Los Campesinos of Cemetery Vineyard in Rockpile. The rocks below resemble giant headstones along the Rogers Creek fault and you just have to believe all this immensity of geology impacts the vines. It does but don’t ask how or why, just settle into the cimmerian depth of zinfandel touched by black fruit, spice and the akimbo savour of glutamate and amino acid. Three further months in barrel (85 French plus 15 American) accentuates the spice, smoulder and espresso con crema texture. Ripeness of fruit, tannin and acidity are simply stellar out of this dramatic place. “You know us by the way we crawl and you know us by our cemetery gaits.” Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted February 2016

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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