Sunday, April 7, 2013

The 'California Legends' Tasting

A few weeks ago, we went to a tasting of Californian wines held at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum. It was billed as a tasting of the icons of the industry - some of the pioneers, the old-timers who built the reputation of California. I was so pumped to attend - I needed a break from writing applications, and our regular tasting group was in full attendance - not to mention, Calera, Dunn, and Ridge was pouring.

The wines were stunning. I started as always with the chardonnay. I expected a certain style - not necessarily that big, buttery, obnoxious chard stereotype, but a certain sunshine-y style nonetheless -  but the wines delivered (pleasant) surprise after surprise. They were definitely new world chardonnays. Ripe and viscous, with good amounts of caramel and sweetness from the oak. But they're fresh - great acidity with balanced alcohols. Wines that I would easily be comfortable putting away for 10 years. Fabulous. And then came the pinot noirs and cabernet sauvignons. The pinot noir was, as expected, more variable in style. Some super big and overripe, the worst kind of wines - flabby and lifeless. But the best, from Calera, some of the most exciting new world pinot noirs I've ever come across. By that point, I was pretty lubed up, and we had yet to taste the cabernets. The majestic cabernet sauvignons, both varietal and blended wines. My goodness. The quality was just mind-blowing. And the one thing I kept thinking about during the tasting was something I never expected to be the main takeaway: balance. BALANCE, in California. Complex, interesting, balanced wines that showed so much character. Completely changed the way I see these wines, and although expensive, worth every penny. Incredible. I've never come out of a tasting so excited about what I had just tasted, and although my memory of what happened afterwards is a bit hazy, our photos show some of the carnage. Tasting notes from the evening below.

Beringer | Napa Valley
2000 Chabot Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon:  so French, graphite mineralis, lean berry fruit, good structure, fresh and lively; a vibrant wine

Bonaccorsi | Santa Rita Hills
2009 Cargasacchi Pinot Noir: burnt wood, way overripe, physically painful to smell, completely dull and one-dimensional
DF and the great Josh Jensen, Proprietor/Winemaker of Calera

Calera | Central Coast
2011 Chardonnay: so ripe, fragrant of orange and citrus oils, sweet fruit, caramel oak, good acid on a crunchy finish
2009 Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir, Mount Harlan: more depth, fuller and heavier, good tannin structure, a beautiful wine
2007 Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir, Mount Harlan: slightly more vegetal, but showing good tannin, juicy and fresh
2009 De Villiers Pinot Noir, Mount Harlan: big, slightly dried fruit, jammy raisins, with an intense sweet palate

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley: subtle, integrated oak and fruit, very good oak profile
2010 Belle Glos Las Alturas Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands: ripe fruit, slightly jammy here, candied, that big style of red wine that has little varietal character

Chateau Montelena | Napa Valley
2010 Chardonnay: completely subtle, slightly oaky palate, but elegant and harmonious; needs time
2009 Cabernet Sauvignon: subtle fruit, fragrant, on a sweet, elegant and finely structured palate; great potential here

Dominus | Napa Valley
2009 Dominus: the grand vin, tight and a bit closed, lean fruit, very compact at the moment; like a St. Julien with the raciness
2009 Othello: the entry wine, slightly overripe, deep fruit, more of the sunny Californian style here, some savoury, soy elements on the palate, slightly saline
2009 Napanook: from declassified Dominus fruit, this was a revelation; fresh, vibrant nose, beautifully fragrant and minerally; palate is gorgous, sweet and linear, fresh yet fine, dark and underlined with graphite minerality; beautiful!

Duckhorn | Napa Valley
2010 Merlot: soft, round fruit, ripe and sweet, good structure, primary but some potential here
DF and Randy Dunn, Winemaker/Proprietor of Dunn

Dunn | Napa Valley
2002 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon: saline and mineral, lean fruit, wonderfully savoury on the palate, like seaweed and kelp; so elegant, fabulous length, a stunner!
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain: fine and lean fruit, so French here, dark and mineral; ripe on the palate, so integrated and fresh, a truly vibrant wine
DF and the legend, Gary Eberle, Owner/Founder/Winemaker of Eberle

Eberle | Paso Robles
2009 Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah: 50/50 of each, fresh, ripe fruit, very juicy here, great balance
2008 Côtes-du-Rôbles: syrah, mourvèdre, and viognier; classic, ripe nose, sweet fruit with an elegance; juicy and surprisingly fine

Frog's Leap | Napa Valley
2012 Sauvignon Blanc: my goodness, booming grassy notes, pungently oily, almost pickled; unsubtle sauvignon aromas to say the least, but good acid, fresh fruit on the palate, almost a bit bi-polar in that aroma and palate have almost no correspondence
2011 Chardonnay: round oak, great acid on the palate, vibrant

Joseph Phelps | Sonoma Coast
2010 Freestone Vineyards Chardonnay: spicy oak, somewhat muted, round palate; good extract, elegant, with great acidity

Kistler | Sonoma Coast
2010 Trenton Roadhouse Chardonnay: spicy oak, nutty and round, good extracted acidity on the finish
2009 Vine Hill Vineyard Chardonnay, Russian River Valley: good focus, lean and minerally; round oak on the palate, some spice
DF and Stephan Asseo, Owner/Winemaker of L'Aventure

L'Aventure | Paso Robles
2010 Côte-a-Côte: fresh, linear fruit, good sweetness, very good stuff here
2010 Optimus: graphite minerality, intense, rich and filling; elegant palate, wonderful extract and precision on the palate; wonderful and so damn French!
2010 Estate Cuvée: freshness, combined with good ripe fruit; lean but intense

Pahlmeyer | Napa Valley
2010 Chardonnay: subtle, round nose, some minerals, a bit closed at the moment

Paul Hobbs | Sonoma County
2010 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley: good colour, very oak, spicy and rich, integrated oak on the palate, finishing slightly bitter

2010 Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley: fresh, vibrant, and minerally, like spring water; good tannin, elegant in structure, and very subtle
2009 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Cabernet/Merlot: wow, so earthy, so dense, wonderfully rustic; even slightly stinky, but so good, and so French

Sea Smoke | Santa Rita Hills
2010 Southing Pinot Noir: big name, with equally big prices, but what a disappointment; incredibly jammy and dried out, what's the point
2010 Ten Pinot Noir: at $109, I just don't get it; completely nuked fruit, slightly saline, so overdone and coca-cola-ish as to be undrinkable

Stag's Leap Winery | Napa Valley
2010 Chardonnay: round, integrated fruit, great oak, fresh and structured


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