50 California blasts from the past

Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

As each calendar year counts down I set out on a long December inward journey, sifting through thousands of tasting notes, looking for reminders to trigger emotion. The purpose is a honing, a zeroing in process, first to create a shortlist and then a numbered final register to match the century’s yearly suffix. The latest was Godello’s Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020. A bit painstaking to agglomerate while simultaneously offering a grouping of days in recollection of the year’s finest sips though rumination over the previous 365. On this the first of March 2021 there is a looming and gloaming of a particular sort, forced upon us by circumstance as the auspicious anniversary approaches. Thus it seems like a reasonably credible idea to act upon the concept of creating more top lists, or rather further “gathered reminiscences,” blasts from the past. These are 50 California wines tasted years ago, assessments that up until now remained raw and unfinished, just now committed to public record.

Carneros, Napa Valley

Chardonnay

Patz & Hall Chardonnay Alder Springs Vineyard 2014, Mendocino County

A vineyard of altitude and cool seven miles from the ocean at 1200 ft with fruit also sold to Kosta Browne. Her for banana, lemon and intense dry extract. Crisp as possible, freshness, balance, length, carries it all. No butter, no oil, no gratuitous aromas or flavours. Exceptional. Donald Patz has now retired having sold to Chateau Ste. Michelle. Buy it up. May never be this exceptional again. Wild ferment, full malolactic, 70 per cent new French wood. $60-70 US. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted August 2016

Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley

In the zone, reduction blowing off to the edges of the compound. The liberally spread butter fully absorbed, the wood subsidy subsided, now all laid out in retrospect. Ripeness from that beautiful vintage has settled into a cool, lemon curd tart and nectarous nectarine delectation. All tolled the cumulative is an effect of elegance, though in this case not necessarily richesse. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Kutch Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2014

Santa Mateo County, really reductive, very mineral, the most thus far in a line-up of 13 California chardonnays , from what is surely the coolest spot from the Santa Cruz Mountains. Great rocks, stones and bones. Yes bones, by karst and the sea air reaching out to make this seriously cool. The great mountain tang and natural acidity, intense, snappy, snapping back and long. From Jamie Kutch, “Burgundian to a fault,” this being his first effort with chardonnay. An “abandoned” chardonnay vineyard, 12 per cent abv, pH to give you lemon juice but when you get lemons you know just what to do. $40 US. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted April 2016

Keller Estate Chardonnay Oro De Plata 2014, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County

This makes the previous wine (RS) seem oxidative. Reductive is at the fore for the Keller, freshness locked in, really wound on the coastal spindle, intense fruit and even more so, acidity, circular, reeling, wild. A Petaluma Gap leader to be sure, chardonnay of heritage with a winemaking tie to Hansell. No malolactic and all neutral oak. This is so very Chablis, Côte de Lechet and so, wow. $35 US, 800 cases. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted August 2016

Benovia Chardonnay Fort Ross Seaview 2014, Sonoma County

A coastal vineyard (and fruit that is also employed by Flowers) and many will rank this as the coolest spot in California for growing grapes. Mike Sullivan is the winemaker, with fruit that used to go to Marquesan. This done in a richer, expressive, layered style. Some tropical notes, deeply hued, mango, nectarine, creamsicle. Fresh, tart depth, Champagne like with toast and brioche. Luscious custard, 40 per cent new wood, 400 cases made. $55-60 US. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted August 2016

Melville Verna’s Estate Chardonnay 2014, Santa Barbara County

Both rich and really reductive, deeply hued, fully sun-worshipped and deftly but intently extracted fruit. A bite into a barrel, a Mutsu apple and the inside of a platinum pipe. Big, unabashed style with never ending mineral, tart, ripping and wisely no real malolactic. Plenty of lees though and the oldest of the oak. It’s all fruit, lemon curd and so dessert-like chardonnay but of savour and spicy sapidity. Saline finish. $40-50 US. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Migration Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

The richest and most “old-school” California of the lucky 13 tasting, fruit orchard apple and pear albeit folded and blended through ripe and creamy custard. Or at least the renderings thereof. Likely able to attribute that opaque, cloudy, clotted cream sensation from the fog injection. $40-45 US. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Presqu’ile Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County

Nice reserve on this nose, teasing some tropical fruit but keeping it calm, cool and collected. The calcareous aromas are quite fine, delineated like a chalky streak though less so on the palate follow through. Quite tart and nicely dry extract turn to creamy texture but not so thick in fluidity. Like barrel fermented chenin blanc so a unique expression. Listed at 13.9 abv, low pH, neutral oak and stainless, half and half. Matt Murphy is winemaker and co-owner. $35-40 US. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Ramey Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley

Some reduction and quite a corpulent, sweet herbology, genovese basil, pine nut and quality olive oil. Pesto of herb, glade, lemon and fine acidity. Always perfectly Russian River Valley, with a warm steal but ultimately cool. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted August 2016

Ramey Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley

Really showing some age from not the top of the top vintage, holding up but in display of its new barrels, nose oxidized and flavours still buoyed by acidity. So the corrective structure seems out of balance now while the wine marches on. Musty and microbial at this point with a fading sweetness on the finish. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted August 2016

Sonoma County vines
Photo (c): https://www.facebook.com/SonomaCountyVintners

Beringer Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley

Continues along the Beringer scaling line of wood retreat, cool climate clarity and as a result a wider commercial appeal. Who would have predicted the success but it’s really working. There would never be a mistaking and the shining is always in play but the admiral work and practicum really does what is base, necessary and appreciated. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Martin Ray Chardonnay 2015, Green Valley Of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

A greener understanding, like the smell of algae on rock in a pretty little creek. Carries some unction and creamy sherbet texture on the palate. Listed at 13.7 abv, toasty by 40 per cent new french oak, full malolactic. It leans delicious but also verdant and commercial. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Rodney Strong Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2015, Sonoma Coast

Classic taut and reductive chardonnay with Petaluma Wine Gap scream, in suffragette of creamy, rich fruit. Early harvest, compressed vintage. The fruit is caught in the wine’s vacuum, a wine tunnel creating this centrifuge of richness and acidity. Commercial, composed and so very effective. $25 US Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted August 2016

Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands

A Wagner Family of Wines property, a fine restraint and a shine to cooler thoughts come from this highland chardonnay, with more than enough orchard pressed fruit to fill a trough for the quiet and the masses. Really ramps up and fleshes on the palate with some wild biters late. Good length. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Chamisal Stainless Chardonnay 2015, Central Coast

San Luis Obispo County, ocean proximate, cool spot, from the oldest producer in Edna Valley. Nicely lean, briny, saline, good acidity. Add some fish or seafood flesh and it will sing. Fresh and crisp. $18 US. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Menage A Trois Gold Chardonnay 2015

From the Trinchero Family Estates stable, classic buttery rich and slightly toasty broad California style. Barrel rendered middle road taken, wax polish, enamel-oleaginous spray. Intensely inward and uni-dimensional for commercial lobster fishing, crack a shell and pour into red plastic cup enjoyment. You know what’s it’s good for. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Scheid Chardonnay Escolle Road Vineyard 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County

The aromatics here are off the charts in the 13 strong grouping of this tasting. Waxy, caramel, smoky, flinty, butterscotch in gobs. Really odd conclusive nose and even stranger to taste, with a pencil lead and rubber tipped pencil flavour that reminds of childhood class boredom chewing mistakes. Inoculated, 7 per cent new oak, some of it “European.” Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Sonoma Coast
Photo (c): http://www.sonomawine.com/

Other White

Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley

Ripe and creamy aromas take this sauvignon blanc into fresh and exotic territory but it’s one of those wines that really improves on the palate, carrying weighty and energy together, expanding and elevating the status in so many ways. A gregarious and resourceful sauvignon blanc with more upside than many peers. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

St. Supéry Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley

The high stirred SS, SB style, from high and dry extract effect, fine acidity and faux sugary spell. Full fleshy mouthfeel and terrific 2015 tang. Lays out the green carpet for the vintage, the varietal and what’s to come. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

J Vineyards Pinot Gris 2015, California

J Vineyards Pinot Gris 2015, which strikes as pinot grigio in style, dry extract to aromatic sweetness, warm and inviting. Tart and citrus intense, very appealing commercial style and a buttery finish which tells some barrel is involved. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Treana Blanc 2015, Central Coast

A blend of 45 each marsanne and roussanne plus viognier, a bit of aromatic reserve, quite rich and dense on the palate. Flavours of very ripe pear and even riper apple. A bit into the sauce and the purée. Could use a more purposed shot of acidity and courage. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Cabernet Sauvignon

Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

As only Heitz can do this provides the combination of elegance and structure and what may just be the finest tannins available from Napa Valley for cabernet sauvignon. That this is so understated speaks volumes about the essence and the incredulity of a Martha’s and with the dry backdrop of a perfect Napa growing season this clambers through its reps with effortless ease, muscular tension and satisfying performance. More ballerina than gymnast and certainly more statesman than warrior. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted April 2016

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley

Continues the thread of dry, dusty, beautifully savoury and fruit fleshy cabernet sauvignon from the Groth team. It’s like biting into that perfectly ripe and juicy plum, in texture, not sweetness or even specific to the fruit, but that texture, its unmistakeable. Seamless, tender, age worthy and so friendly (but at the same time serious) cabernet sauvignon. Grothiness refined and defined. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted April 2016

Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

A different world here, very floral, historic site with vines that go back as far as 1972, organic since the mid-1980’s. With a slice of reduction to grant forward structure where candied roses will always be there. Classic 1990’s Napa style, rich and full but focused, pure and detailed. Complex, 20 months in French wood, 60 per cent new, 88 per cent cabernet sauvignon 88 plus (8) cabernet franc and some petit verdot. The potential is great. This will become picture perfect. $185 US. Drink 2019-2032.  Tasted September 2016

Etude Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

The combination of fruit (could it be any riper or improved upon), acumen and no expense spared makes this the cabernet sauvignon of great esteem in that echelon where few reside. Berries in many forms; fresh, puréed and in clafouti are fully engaged. What will this not do for you, for 20 years and more? Everything. The most refined and sophisticated such a wine can be. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted April 2016

J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley

From Schramsberg Vineyards, a Napa Valley aromatic beauty, the most floral of any on this table and in so many ways the most Bordelais, or perhaps more specifically Margaux with such perfume only a scant few know or understand. So pretty and powerful, lovely, structured and intense. This will age for two decades easily and tasting this really puts it all into perspective. The palate brings more of the divine, silky, fleshy and with some spicy bite and chew. Really fine. Really, really fine. Drink 2020-2035.  Tasted May 2016

 

Gallica Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, St. Helena, Napa Valley

Oakville valley floor Napa fruit gravelly soil, from Rosemary Cakebread. First wine in this haute line-up to amalgamate the blue, red and black fruit, with some volcanic aromatics. Acidity works in and all around and so this has it all going on with a chocolate finish more refined. Mainly (75 per cent cabernet sauvignon plus (25) cabernet franc, suave from blueberry to red currant to black berry. The corporeal tone is elegant and muscular. Has some real elegance and is is simply excellent. 249 cases. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted September 2016

Young Inglewood Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, St. Helena, Napa Valley

Deep, low, bench land gravelly soils, extended maceration, rich concentrated depth, amazingly void of chalk and grain though the tannin is intense. Very refined, spicy and great acidity. It’s all in napa, all in from Josh. Wow, so long. $157 US. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted September 2016

Signorello Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, Unfiltered

From 1990 planted hillside, bench site vineyards, gravelly with good drainage, young but structured, just east of the Silverado Trail. Rich, black fruit, chalky, fine-grained and very sweet tannin. All natural yeasts, 22 months in 65 per cent new oak. All in but because the fruit is so rich and pure there is balance. Rich, spicy and focused, tempered chocolate finish, a prime example of today’s Bordelais in the retro-modern world. $156 US. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2016

Silverado Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Also high-toned but the level of serious, depth and bad-ass intent is on the table. From steep shale soils, there is a mountain herb aroma that is distinct, ahead of the chocolate curve,. All in 100 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 45 per cent new wood, heat factor notably reduced. There is a cool-menthol note but the flavour is a change of pace, into cool, thin mountain air and the tannins are a beast. Tart and grainy finish. Needs five to seven years to integrate. Exceptional wine. $150 US. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted September 2016

Y Rousseau Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Yannick’s work, in reduction and Mount Veeder depth. Further south with fog-maritime coverage so here winemaking is in, Bordelais for sure, reminds of St. Éstephe. Dark, pitchy, cimmerian, with a steep remoteness about it. Volcanic, serious at 2000 ft, so great acidity that just seems natural and raging. Candied flowers and this is just simply intense, gorgeous and alone. Eastern exposure, naturally fermented, 18 months in 75 per cent in new oak. The structure here is second to none with focus, determination and very aggressive tannins. Quite hot on the finish being the only detractor. 150 cases made. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted September 2016

Daou Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Soul Of A Lion 2013, Paso Robles

Carries a cool, Mediterranean savour on the nose, with spirit, vitality and a black olive tapenade. Seamless, ripe in acidity and intensely naked but never wavering from its energy. This is a massively structured wine and no doubt will last 25 years but touched anytime in the first 10 will require hours of aeration and a more than obvious, double-digit ounce weighed, protein fleshy sidekick. It may be big and high octane on the nose, carry a truck load of architectural bones on its corpulent frame but it never loses sight of finesse and dare it be said, elegance. Well, maybe not elegance but it is charming, handsome and fine, even in the face of massive extraction. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted April 2016

Honig Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Going deeper and darker on the floor, ripe and tart black raspberries, dusty Rutherford fruit, 87 cabernet with a long splash of petit verdot, with some merlot. Aged in 100 per cent American oak (30 new). Good valley floor fruit absorption, some exotic black and white fruit, pod and kernel. Acidity is low profile, tannin slightly more but this is quite easy to get at for a Honig. A wine of good volatility. $78 US. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016

Terra Valentine Spring Mountain District Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

High Mediterranean-savoury component, in black olive and caper volatility. So much ripe but tang-tart-sour raspberry, a product of high sun hours at elevation with the need for canopy management. Old vines, erosion hills, fog-influence, history and repetition. Very savoury and another wine with its very own kind of funk. Oak and spice with grainy tannins all over the finish. Wild, disparate and complex wine. A bit early to get to know and then it carries a bit of an advanced character or a natural cure to it that may always be there as it ages over a good long period of time. $175 US. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted September 2016

Trefethen Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley

Valley floor fruit where healthy ground cover leads for major florals and minor Mediterranean scents, namely black olive. Gravelly, Oak Knoll natural acidity giving rise to the AVA nature, that ripe and round acidity for a cool feel. Aridity, pinch of salinity, rises and lingers. Minor pitches from malbec, petit verdot and merlot. Overall epitome of red fruit. Better value than most. $60 US. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted September 2016

Rocca Family Vineyards 2013, Napa Valley

Single vineyard on a 21-acre farm, high toned, dark fruit from a warm bench land site, alluvial soil, organic. Sees 20 months in 75 per cent French oak and in this case it is necessary because the fruit and the acidity are ravers and ragers. Such a cooling back side, minty, chocolate mint, rubbed between the fingers, yes, like malbec. Oak is huge. $108 US. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2016

Darioush Napa Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

More of a proprietary red, 75 cabernet with some merlot and a minor amount of cabernet franc, plus malbec and petit verdot. More acetic tendency, tart and direct, even stark at first. High octane over bullish concentration, not so subtle, aromatically closed but the acidity and the overall structure is gritty. This needs time to settle, for the composed acidity to get together and layer into the fruit. The finish while hot is more composed. There is some dried fruit advanced character. Multifarious, both by varietal and picking times, or so it would seem. $95 US. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Farella Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

The tones are on the rise, up in the air, quite the herb influence, whiff of pipe tobacco, seems like a higher percent of malbec and/or petit verdot. From the most recently designated AVA, volcanic meets foxy, dried fruit with spice, fig, cherry, apricot, peach and plum. Chewy dried fruit, you need to work a while (it’s actually 100 per cent cabernet) some grainy, chalky tannin and really good length. New oak is well-integrated. Not as cultured and understood in fact perhaps a bit disjointed but so much potential and expectation runs high for what will come next. Oak is an imbalance factor. Simple finish. $65 US. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Sara d’Amato, ROM September 2016

Pinot Noir

Etude Grace Benoist Ranch Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros

The fullest of fruit, with spice and San Pablo Bay influenced tension. The combination of ripe and ripping, rich and ricocheting. Has found the right place. Typically atypical for Carneros or rather as Carneros within a Napa to Sonoma connectivity. Holds an ability to age like few varietal sistren or brethren in either AVA. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Longoria Wines Pinot Noir Lovely Rita 2015, Sta. Rita Hills

“Nothing can come between us.” A wine with a song in its title, offering up the lowest hanging fruit and ready for lyrical association. Fine and elegant pinot fruit, with slender, long fingers and legs, plenty of confidence and so perfectly Sta. Rita Hills representative of place. Restrained, elegant, beautiful and ethereal. That’s a really fine pinot noir with a shot of garrigue. Drink early, If for no other reason that there is no way to resist temptation. Drink 202017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma County

Now under the ownership of Chateau St. Michelle Wine Estates, this is one of Donald Patz’s swan songs, a wine that has swept into a new price stratosphere, 50 per cent increase in the last what seems like five years (but is probably more like ten). Sweet pinot fruit in such a refined, elegant and classically secure Sonoma Coast style, with altitude, diurnal temperature changes and the maritime air all influencing the style. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Marimar Estate Mas Cavalls Pinot Noir 2013, Doña Margarita Vineyard, Sonoma Coast

Marimar Estate’s Mas Cavalis 2013 pinot noir shows great tension as always, acts nominally rustic and engaging. A turnkey pinot noir, expertly ripe and accented with sweet if spicy oak, tart but never lactic. Just terrific varietal wine noting vineyard and AVA with alternating slash double entendre distinction. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Reata Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands

From out of the Santa Lucia Highlands and a property owned by Jamieson Ranch Vineyards. Rich and velvety, slightly spicy but certainly spiced, very consumer friendly at the higher end of the scale, interesting in that it hits all the right notes and lingers nicely but it’s almost too vivid and appealing. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Benovia Pinot Noir Cohn 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

Sweet tension, red berry emotion, tar and roses, not as intense as perhaps expected. Great example however of Russian River Valley fruit, though low acidity, easy to like, hard to keep around. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted April 2016

Other Red

Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages 2013, Sonoma County

Full on deep, dark, arid and ranging wide trodding a silk road. Extensively far reaching red blend and with great formidable tannin and structure so perhaps the best of its ilk in many a moon. Top quality from Margo Van Staaveren through the looking glass of vivid transparency and vibrancy. Best I’ve tasted. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted April 2016

Duckhorn Three Palms Merlot 2012, Napa Valley

Duckhorn’s Three Palms ranks amongst the finest in Napa merlot and from 2012 I could paint my plate with this reduction. Thick, beautifully chocolatey and yet chalky, tart, angled and nearly bradding. It could pass for Masseto. Really Italianate and intense. So much chocolate and spice, clove, nutmeg, purple flowers. Not sure just anyone can handle its vivid truth but it’s a very intense and stylish merlot. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Twomey Merlot 2012, Napa Valley

From Silver Oak Cellars, just now coming into its window with the formidable barrel continuing its slow melt, now in a calm and gelid stage. Coconut and plum combine and then there is this chocolate smooth consistency and always the dusty feel of merlot. Still pulsing with energy but this is such a full on expression. All chocolate and espresso on the finish. So much oak. Silver oak. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2016

C.G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery Syrah 2012, Sierra Foothills

From the Sierra Foothills, this is deep mahogany red pitchy, meaty and cured syrah, full aromatic fleshy and mouth coating/filling with terrific silky addendum. A seamless syrah from start to finish. Turns into something firm (feels like granite) and even porcine at the finish. There’s a lot of fun complexity and ever-changing personality, from its roots to the Rhône and back again. Fascinating. approx. $40 CAN. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Cline Big Break Zinfandel 2013, Contra Costa County

Cline’s Big Break zinfandel 2013 is rich, brambly and so full of dark berry fruit, though also a bit of oxidation. Chalky, lactic, not overtly tart and I like the fennel, tar and roses aspect. Complex and really big. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted April 2016

Good to go!

godello

Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

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WineAlign

Five more impressive, cool-climate, fog-injected wines from Sonoma County

Sonoma County vines Photo (c): https://www.facebook.com/SonomaCountyVintners

Sonoma County vines
Photo (c): https://www.facebook.com/SonomaCountyVintners

Sonoma, in terms of micro-climates, reckons itself as committed to three distinct turfs;  marine, coastal cool and coastal warm. Vines grow in all three spaces but it is only in the elevated mountain reaches upwards of the fog bank that the region considers itself anti-cool. Well, that’s just some people talking. Barometrically speaking, “coastal cold” is not on the radar.

Consider the moniker “cool-climate.” Can it mean one thing only? Is it to be labeled as a universal truth? Sonoma County can’t be compared to Niagara or the Okanagan Valley. That much we know. It’s no Prince Edward County. Chilling hours (below 45ºF) average approximately 1,300 per year but winemakers in Northern California are not “hilling up” or burying their vines to protect them from sub-20 degree zero Celsius temperatures in January and February.

Related – Sonoma peaks from out of the fog

Sonoma may not be the cool-climate region its winemakers and marketers make it out to be. To a true, we the north (verb-constricted) grape grower, Sonoma does not know from cold. But it’s really not a matter of direct comparison. Sonoma has a cool-climate bent no other geography can lay claim to. A fog bank all along the coastline blows in, accompanied by cold air capable of such rapid temperature shrinkage it can be measured by swings as much as 50 ºF. The manifest vital spark that runs through all of Sonoma County’s fiords and chords, spuming with an irrepressible puissance is that fog.

Sonoma Vintners passed through Toronto last month. These three producers and five of their wines must not move on to the next town without mention. Here are the notes:

From left to right: Gundlach-Bundschu Mountain Cuvée 2012, Gundlach-Bundschu Chardonnay Estate Vineyard 2012, Ramey Syrah 2012, Thomas George Pinot Noir 2011, Thomas George Pinot Noir Cresta Ridge Vineyard 2011

From left to right: Gundlach-Bundschu Mountain Cuvée 2012, Gundlach-Bundschu Chardonnay Estate Vineyard 2012, Ramey Syrah 2012, Thomas George Pinot Noir 2011, Thomas George Pinot Noir Cresta Ridge Vineyard 2011

Gundlach-Bundschu Mountain Cuvée 2012, Sonoma County, California (397521, $30.00)

Shyness or hidden meaning are not a part of the MV’s MO. This is not brain salad surgery. What you see is what you get. Pure, unadulterated, separately vinified, last-minute blended, red and black indications of clean Sonoma fruit. Varietal barrel isolations are the key to nurturing individualistic phenolic development. The final composition’s hue shows no lack of anthocyanin and though not overtly long on tannin, the phenols have been laid bare on the same page. The first vintage of this circumstantial blend was in 2008 and by now the GB estate provides 70 per cent of the produce, helpful neighbours the remainder, though only in Cabernet and Merlot portions. Forty parts equal of those two are joined by Syrah (nine per cent), Zinfandel (eight) and smatterings of other Bordeaux grape varieties. Floral, juicy, pentose tannic and flat-out delicious is the struck chord at the hands of winemaker Keith Emerson. Not the most complex arrangement in the County, nor is it top 40, but it is certainly penned with a catchy hook. “It will work for you, it works for me.” Tasted October 2014  @gunbunwine

Gundlach-Bundschu Chardonnay Estate Vineyard 2012, Sonoma Coast, California (Agent, 0400051, $34.95) Ontario Release date: March 21, 2015

An intimately affordable Chardonnay from Sonoma Coast fashioned by a family in its 157th year of production is a rarity. Even more so from a cool-climate region oft-marred by the misperception that its Chardonnay are fat, buttery, over-oaked fruit bombs. From fruit grown on the Rhinefarm Estate Vineyard on southwest slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains, eight miles north of San Pablo Bay. Consider the antonymous solecism of zero per cent malolactic fermentation and you will see where this (20 per cent new) barrel fermented Chardonnay has come from and where it is going. Weekly battonage compresses and stirs up texture. Fog plays its part on the cool slopes of Huichica clay loam soils mixed in with gravel deposits. Acidity is preserved, hitting a classic number on top of healthy (14 plus per cent) alcohol. This is not a small Chardonnay. It stretches its legs and walks like a giant but not in 80’s or 90’s acid washed jeans or big hair ways. This is Chardonnay that leads in style and confidence of a most modern vernacular and fashion. It’s also a steal.  Tasted October 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Ramey Syrah 2012, Sonoma Coast (Agent, $47.99)

This is winemaker David Ramey’s sixth vintage composed from (91 per cent) Cole Creek Vineyard, with the rest coming from the Rodgers Creek Vineyard. Though not the first to draw roots and inspiration from a northern Rhône style, Ramey’s choice of co-planting five per cent Viognier is both curious and genius. The field blend supposition is gaining global traction and attraction, as witnessed by successes the likes we see with Marcel Deiss in Alsace. They are not just the rage; they are a philosophy and create a co-habituated/fermented energy. Though lifted by hedonism, this is a very pretty Syrah, yet it’s no timid lilac. A soft entry gives way to sharper tannins. The briny Mediterranean, smoked meat and roast pork belly notes arrive late, after the angles have softened and the integument has been cracked. There is much going on here, at once clear, other times in opaque fog, then back to blue skies. Follow this Syrah for five years to see the chains be connected by election.  Tasted October 2014  @RameyWineCellar  @BarrelSelect

Thomas George Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (Agent, 729417, $57.95, WineAlign)

A blend of three estate vineyards; Baker Ridge (49 per cent), Cresta Ridge (30) and Starr Ridge (21). Rigorous sorting, punch downs and the use of basket pressing combine for an all-out Pinot Noir expression of RRV’s diverse terrors, albeit within a framework outlined in smouldering charcoal chalk and coated with smooth sugars of inscrutability. Ranging in ways akin to Central Otago, this Pinot is bright yet earthy, intense and piercing. It combines cherries with ash and has got all the thyme in the world. Oak is not out of focus (the wine was aged for 11 months on lees in 100 per cent, 38 of it new, French barrels) but it still needs time to integrate. Two or three years will suffice and seven to eight more will turn a trick or two.  Tasted October 2014  @TGEWinery

Thomas George Pinot Noir Cresta Ridge Vineyard 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (Agent, 729417, $60 US)

The Cresta Ridge is unique to the Russian River Valley and to the Thomas George Pinot execution as its soils at some of the highest elevation in the area are of the Goldridge series. Very deep and well-drained, its composition is of material weathered from weakly consolidated sandstone. Like all of their wines, the 100 per cent estate fruit from this particular ridge is a ream of pure silk, clean, pure and so much quieter on the brushstroke and basalt tendencies of the combined RRV bottling. The tannins truss the fruit to seek a low and slow rotisserie of development. Could drink a boat load of this refined Pinot Noir, now and for 10-12 more years.  Tasted October 2014  @bwwines

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Wine on company time

Algonquin Park, October 2014

Algonquin Park, October 2014

From the Middle English octobre and the Latin October, meaning “eight,” just how the month of October became the Julian and Gregorian 10th is a matter of bad juju. The corporate bumbling by way of the insertion of January and February into the Roman calendar screwed up all available etymological kismet. Perhaps in abbreviation or acronym, October, shortened to OCT, means “On Company Time.” That might explain its delay and parlay to 10th month status.

October has made its sad and beautiful way into song, rarely in joy or rebirth, almost always in tragedy and death. What’s up with that? With leaves turning to every shade of a Tom Thomson watercolour amid Ontario’s landscape that is all pan and even more orama, why the long faces? James Mercer writes, “to hell again and back,” and Amy Winehouse “today my bird flew away.” The lyrics in these songs are anything but uplifting but the tunes themselves are scrappy.

Then there is the October as envisioned by U2, well, there’s an entire album of oppression, repression and depression. “And the trees are stripped bare, of all they wear, What do I care.” 

The good news, through tough times and innocence lost, is the availability of wine. VINTAGES is our facilitator and we are the benefactors, to concentrate on seeking solace in the living, breathing and most complex organism that genies into great bottles of grape ferment. This coming weekend one of my favourite releases on the perennial calender rolls out more value and less plonk than usual. On the heels of anything will sell for Thanksgiving and predating the shelves emptying free for all that is Christmas, October 25th is ideal and satiating. Here are 16 new releases, guaranteed to restore faith in this most troubled month.

From left to right: Andreza Reserva 2011, Flat Rock Unplugged Chardonnay 2013, Morandé Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Château Rigaud 2012, Loimer Grüner Veltliner 2013

From left to right: Andreza Reserva 2011, Flat Rock Unplugged Chardonnay 2013, Morandé Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Château Rigaud 2012, Loimer Grüner Veltliner 2013

Andreza Reserva 2011, Do Douro, Portugal (385849, $16.95, WineAlign)

This blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz (Aragonez) from Lua Cheia em Vinhas Velhas is certainly funky and vineyard driven so that’s a bit of all right, isn’t it? Its phrasing is indelicate and slightly hot but its message is quite clear. Former winemaker for Offley Port and Technical Director for all the Sogrape Vineyards in Portugal João Silva e Sousa and consultant winemaker Francisco Baptista bring forth honest Douro red fruit, along with some mineral and righteous wood spice. Dark, deep and with a wonderful level of anxiety and tension. Gives purpose to modernity.  Tasted October 2014  @FreeHouseWine  @wines_portugal

Flat Rock Unplugged Chardonnay 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (68015, $16.95, WineAlign)

A stoic and fruit aplenty Unplugged, less aromatic than some, equally magnanimous as others. Juicy, orchard fruit that is ripe and then elongated, with just enough acidity to keep it honest through the middle acts of savoury balm. Late tonic pungency lines the output. A very good, if not the finest ever unoaked Chardonnay at the hands of Jay Johnston and Ed Madronich. Then again, the ’07 tasted in February 2014 was a revelation. Who knows what the future may hold for this aloof ’13.  Tasted October 2014  @brightlighter1  @Winemakersboots

Morandé Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Maipo Valley, Chile (389254, $17.00, WineAlign)

Despite the 14.5 per cent alcohol this is beautifully bright, fresh, red cherry fruity and with nary a sign of abstruse chocolate or coffee. The southern hemisphere pulsates in here like a chromosphere of massive, meaty fruit. There is a funk per se but in earth, not wood. Good grain, honest grain, de facto grain. Spice from wood but just as an accent. A romantic one. Admittedly more Maipo than Cabernet but well thought on with the texture of haptic contours. Will satisfy a hunt for October reds to drink right now.  Tasted October 2014  @MajesticWineInc

Château Rigaud 2012, Ap Faugères, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (393561, $17.95, WineAlign)

A bold and beautiful southern French rapport of 55 per cent Syrah, 26 Mourvèdre and 19 Grenache, so very modern and explicitly floral. A veritable Midi garden salad lives in the glass; chicory, acacia, iris, black cherry and lemon. Brassy blend from Languedoc-Roussillon, tangy and of the earth in cohorts for simple, if semi-hedonistic pleasure. Nothing about this screams oak and if the shed was open for a lay down it kept its splintered mits buried within the pockets of its staves. The ’12 Rigaud is meant for near-term luxury, alone or with sundry kinds of protein.  Tasted October 2014  @oenophilia1  @VinsAOPFaugeres

Loimer Grüner Veltliner 2013, Dac Kamptal, Austria (142240, $19.95, WineAlign)

Can any entry level (used with latitude) Grüner speak more clearly of varietal truth than Fred Loimer’s Kamptal? Saline, herbal, juicy and mineral all roll off the golden carpeted tongue. A ripe merging to oxidative line is straddled but acidity keeps reeling in the fruit so no harm, no foul. Flavours of citrus and white peach. Heads medicinally sweet on the finish and lasts longer than could ever be expected. From my earlier April 2014 note: “Increased hang time has put this Kamptal in a deeper state of focus and understanding concerning the intricacies of Langenlois Grüner Veltliner. Continues the pure, clean and crisp axiom of the basic Lois but here the aromatics are spoken in acroamatic terms, obvious to disciples and yet available for all to comprehend. Though five per cent big wood barrel aging does not seem significant, that practice along with four months of aging on the fine lees has had a textural impact. The added weight is a questionable thing, though arguably just splitting hairs. Will help carry this vintage through five to seven years of graceful settling. Last tasted October 2014  @FredLoimer  @LeSommelierWine

From left to right: Bordón Gran Reserva 2005, Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Domaine Hamelin Beauroy Chablis 1er Cru 2011, Giacosa Fratelli Bussia Barolo 2009, Giacosa Fratelli Bussia Barolo 2009, Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay 2011, Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Pinot Noir 2011

From left to right: Bordón Gran Reserva 2005, Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Domaine Hamelin Beauroy Chablis 1er Cru 2011, Giacosa Fratelli Bussia Barolo 2009, Giacosa Fratelli Bussia Barolo 2009, Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay 2011, Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Pinot Noir 2011

Bordón Gran Reserva 2005, Doca Rioja, Spain (114454, $22.95, WineAlign)

If it were so because of cryogenic preserved must or an accidental tipping and topping up into an unused barrel by recent vintage juice I would not be left hanging with mouth fully agape. Considering the amount of time this flat out delicious Gran Reserva saw in barrel, the mystery must somehow be explained, how it came to be so surprisingly modern and bright (for its age), especially at $23. But it has been seen many times before, with no greater example than the Montecillo 1991 GR that drank fortuitously well into the last years of the previous decade. This is the magic of Rioja. That said, there is some sinew and some raw character here as well – that’s the old school treatment and style talking. Red cherry fruit. Ripe fruit roasted, rested and now sliced, showing its perfectly cooked rare cut. Juicy and with sanguine notes still running through its grain. Wonderful old school yet bright Rioja. Riotous red wine with a calming aura of quietude.  Tasted October 2014  @RiojaBordon  @Eurovintage  @RiojaWine

Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (677450, $24.95, WineAlign)

Dog Point’s principals Ivan Sutherland and James Healy know the innuendo of that ever present Marlborough SB subtlety by allowing the vineyard to show up in the glass. That sussuration is the hallmark of this most righteous bottle. The VINTAGES October 25th release indicates a 2014 debut when in fact it is the ’13 that was presented for tasting and likely that vintage will show up on shelves. This ’13 bring elegance, less weight and more fruit. Round and rippling, spiced but in spicy check. Not the finest but persistent in class and crowing achievement for the stomping ground.  Tasted October 2014  @DogPointWines  @TrialtoON

Domaine Hamelin Beauroy Chablis 1er Cru 2011, Burgundy, France (391805, $29.95, WineAlign)

Thierry Hamelin and his son Charles (no, not the Olympic Speed Skating gold medalist) are eighth generation family winemakers and their 2011 Beauroy, one of the most underrated vineyards in Chablis, or anywhere Chardonnay is made, is both an ode to tradition and an immaculately clean look at the future. Prototypical steely Chablis in every nook of its lithified being and befitting of a 1er Cru designation. Fruit comes by way of some pretty wizened vines (30-plus years) and steep, south-facing slopes. The exposition is both fresh and flinty, the logic sound and spotless. If a creamy, leesy note is felt it’s just a case of genes. In every other respect this is Chablis as both a child of the present and the future. Quality vineyard, vines and fruit given the gift of no mask. This will drink well for five plus years.  Tasted October 2014  @BIVBChablis

Giacosa Fratelli Bussia Barolo 2009, Piedmont, Italy (344721, $39.95, WineAlign)

From the hills of Monforte d’Alba in Piemonte, Bussia is laid out like an amphitheater, the soil is all clay and the Nebbiolo is rich and often austere. Now, here is what temperance and a reliability in attention to classicism is all about. Cherries and ferric earth. Roses and funky beet beats. Tannins stuck on 10, winding and unwinding, but mostly winding. Wild herbs, sweet candied flowers, tight angles, tough and beautiful. Needs many years to wind down. Exceptional value for the real deal in Nebbiolo.  Tasted October 2014  @stradadelbarolo

Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (56929, $40.00, WineAlign)

The Claystone 2005 made by Thomas Bachelder was the single-vineyard ringer that shocked the Chardonnay world when it trumped international competitors in a Montreal grand tasting. The 2011 made by Sébastien Jacquey recently won a Silver Medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards. This Jordan, Ontario vineyard is a key clay-limestone foundation for both the Claystone and Village Reserve botttlings. Yet another exemplary ’11 Chardonnay with the omnipresent Jacquey handling for aromatic freshness and layering; candied flower, fresh morning glade and lemon drop, amplified to 11 in ’11. Moreover there is a level of honey not previously witnessed. It smells like natural sugars and like a bloom of sunflower lollipops. Very little (15 per cent new) oak was used so the texture is fluid and palpable, with just a touch of stone/toast/wood spice, but ultimately it’s the top quality fruit allowed to speak its own language.  Tasted October 2014  @LeClosJordanne  @20ValleyWine

Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (33951, $40.00, WineAlign)

Oh so pretty Claystone. Like a butterfly, delicate and gossamer. How can you not mark the change in direction to a most inviting and positive way for the Pinot program with Sébastien at the helm? The paint fumes are dissipating with each passing vintage. These vines belong in Jacquey’s hands – they were made for his touch. He understands them and they are now speaking so clearly, sweetly, with texture that underscores their elegance. When fruit is this subtle, acidity magnified and tannins feigning dry in the early stages of development, a wine can confound and sometimes even seem to be failing. In my view, it is the obtuse that are perhaps guilty of being under appreciative of the Pinot Noir paradox. Like the rest of the ’11’s in the LCJ stable, this is a terrific Claystone with 10 years ahead in sublimity.  Tasted October 2014

From left to right: Ramey Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2012, Besserat De Bellefon Cuvée Des Moines Brut Champagne, Jean Gagnerot Meursault 2011, Château Cantenac Brown 2010, Ornellaia 2011

From left to right: Ramey Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2012, Besserat De Bellefon Cuvée Des Moines Brut Champagne, Jean Gagnerot Meursault 2011, Château Cantenac Brown 2010, Ornellaia 2011

Ramey Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2012, Sonoma County, California (288035, $45.95, WineAlign)

Buttered toast and lemon meringue are clear and concise in this inner-coastal, altitudinous Chardonnay. You just know there is a pent up, wound intensity lurking. Somewhat slow to start, it not being a jump to the front of the pack, first furlong leader. Then it gathers horsepower from texture and power from acidity. While the fruit remains unreleased beneath the moving parts, it’s the spice, lime tang and bitters that propel this Sonoman from sheer wildness in complexity. Impeccable equine balance. Likes the longer track to make the most out of its endurance. Will show its best down the stretch, at the end of the decade.  Tasted twice, October 2014  @RameyWineCellar  @BarrelSelect

Besserat De Bellefon Cuvée Des Moines Brut Champagne, France (724955, $54.95, WineAlign)

This Cuvée Des Moines Brut is fashioned in a decidedly aerified yet grappling crémant style, of firm jaw and air of tragic nobility. Low pressure and dosage in this Chardonnay (35 per cent) , Pinot Noir (20) and Pinot Meunier (45) mix make cause for a new Champagne slang. More than a pinch of ginger burrows into the waft of baking apple scones, marked by sody saleratus and more (two and a half years) leesy tang than you can dip a canoe paddle into. The flavours continue with something akin to pickled apples and sweet pork, if there were such a souse. Really tangy and overtly complex, with a long, long finish, if just a shade on the oxidative side of town.  Tasted October 2014  @BesseratB  @DionysusWines

Jean Gagnerot Meursault 2011, Burgundy, France (390369, $57.95, WineAlign)

Gorgeous and subtle yet clearly spoken aromatics; just a hint of tonic piques some ripe orchard fruit, along with a crisp spike of very little citrus. Round, moving, enveloping and circling, parts unified and oscillating. Great round acidity as a membrane to a full, fleshy Chardonnay that returns again and again, to strength and from strength. The length goes on and snaps back to the beginning. Most excellent Meursault.  Tasted October 2014  @grapewines  @BourgogneWines

Château Cantenac Brown 2010, Ac Margaux, 3e Cru, Bordeaux, France (259424, $89.00, WineAlign)

Whether or not you have left the modern Bordeaux market, attention needs to be paid when an incredible wine at a fair price is made available. Not to be found for any less cash south of the border or across seas, the 2010, 3rd Growth, Margaux Cantenac Brown is the best $50-100 Bordeaux buy of the vintage. Composed of 66 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 34 per cent Merlot, the wine saw its fair share soak in 60 percent new oak. This classic beauty is the epitome of lush and welcoming Bordeaux from a vintage with more sun than 2005. It will make you stop to smell the adjectives. Rich red and black fruit, so very floral and void of any harsh moments about it. I don’t imagine this is to be the longest lived because of its inviting immediacy but it is no shrinking violet. The fruit is in charge and will give it five to 10 years of that parsimonious pleasure. Great late spice and line dancing energy.  Tasted October 2014  @Cantenac_Brown

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Ornellaia 2011, Doc Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy (722470, $189.95, WineAlign)

Hasn’t lost a moment of time through six months in bottle. This should give an indication as to its near-unprecedented longevity. Six years will cast a moment’s advancement, sixteen a fortnight. Not saying it can go 60 but half of that is in the realm of the serious and for certain. Candied yet tempered violets, rocks crushed and sprinkled on cryogenic frozen and restored heirloom berries of yesteryear. Huge tannins. From my earlier, June 2014 note: “The blend of the 2011 Rosso Superiore is Cabernet Sauvignon (51 per cent), Merlot (32), Cabernet Franc (11) and Petit Verdot (6). From a near-sweltering vintage, tempered by a cooling spell in June and July. The late August heat spike brought on early ripening which explains the intense aromatic waft that fills the AGO’s tasting room air. Though following the same (post 12-month) assemblage and return to barriques for a further six months, the richesse in fruit quality and 70 per cent new oak envelopes this ’11 with so many structured layers there remains many years to see where it will go. The rose petal meets violet florality can elicit no parochial parallel, the anxiety in hematological ooze neither. A consideration of the phenolic exceptionality follows suit. Chalky tannins follow chains in a world spinning ’round in lush circles. This is the reference point for such assemblage in Bolgheri. The breakdown will not begin for a minimum 10 years and evolution will continue comfortably, gently and effortlessly for 15-30 after that.”  Last tasted October 2014  @Ornellaia  @sherry_naylor

Good to go!

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