Sorry its taken a while between entries. I have been working on several related pieces that by coincidence were related. I decided to condense and combine. I have included numerous links to relevant resources if you want to spend some extra time and explore.
Part I : Ramey Revisit
In my blog “Searching for Terroir in Napa, and Finding It” I included impressions from a tasting of appellation and vineyard designate wines at the Ramey Winery in November 2012. We left the winery with several bottles, including the 2009 “Pedregal” Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Hyde Carneros Chardonnay. Today, I visited with Silas Rushton, the southwest regional sales manager for Ramey and had the opportunity to re-taste both the Pedregal 2009 and the Hyde 2009, along with the Russian River Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2009, and the Napa Cabernet 2009.
The opportunity to revisit the Ramey lineup confirmed that I had made wise purchases at the winery. The 2009 Hyde Chardonnay has all the hallmarks of a fine white Burgundy that will develop nicely over the next decade or more. The Pedregal Cabernet was as dense and complex as I remembered it. According to Silas, tannin management is a focus of Dave Ramey’s winemaking philosophy. With this in mind, the Pedregal is relatively approachable now. But, it is certain the Pedregal is a wine that will be far better with at least ten years of cellaring. As I don’t have great depth in my wine collection, impatience is something I battle with constantly. Nonetheless, this is a wine that I will put in the back of my chiller and forget about for a while.
The Ramey tasting provided an excellent segue to a Master Class on Napa wines that I attended at Pappas Steakhouse in Houston. The class was sponsored by the Guild of Sommeliers and Napa Valley Vintners and taught by Matt Stamp, the Guild’s educational director, who gained notoriety as the Sommelier at the French Laundry.
The class included a flight of whites and two flights of reds.
Flight One, Whites:
Matthiasson White 2011 – 56% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Ribolla Gialla!!, Semillon 18%, Friulano 8% – Made in a style reminiscent of the whites of Northeastern Italy in the Grave and Alto Adige.
Chappellet Chenin Blanc 2011 – Available in small quantities at the winery
Massican Chardonnay 2011
Mayacamas Chardonnay 2000 – Yes, a 2000 vintage, drinking beautifully!!! This amazing wine dispelled any notion that a California white cannot age very gracefully.
Kongsgaard Chardonnay 2010 – A bold, California-styled Chardonnay. It was noted that this wine is made through a “death and revival” process, meaning that the wine is allowed to completely oxidize in the barrels and then is revived with sulfur. According to Matt Stamp and Drew Hendricks, the barrel samples prior to “revival” are undrinkable. The bottle tastings are dramatically different.
Flight Two, Valley Floor Reds:
Frog’s Leap Merlot 2010 – A restrained, food-friendly Merlot.
Corison “Kronos” Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Bressler Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 – Tech Sheet
Arajuo “Eisele” Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 – From a bottle labeled on a piece of masking tape. Property abuts to 100 Acre Vineyards
Heitz “Martha’s Vineyard” 2005 – The first vineyard-designate Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa. Showcasing “airborne terroir” Eucalyptus trees surround property. A consistent eucalyptus component on the nose is attributed to some of the oils depositing onto the grapes. For more information also check out this link.
Robert Mondavi “Reserve” Cabernet 1992 – To illustrate the “old school” style of Napa Cab prior to the “Parkerization” of California wines. A style that would age magnificently, and did – Brilliant!!
Flight Three, Mountain Vineyards:
Lagier-Meredith Syrah 2010 – Syrah is the focus of this Mt. Veeder vineyard. Click through and explore the Lagier-Meredith website.
Spring Mountain Vineyards “Elivette” 2009
Ovid 2009 (Pritchard Hill)
Continuum 2010 (Pritchard Hll)
Dalle Valle “Maya” 2009 (Pritchard Hill) Uber-expensive – Not a somm in the room indicated they would pay the price of entry
Diamond Creek “Gravelly Meadow” 2008 Diamond Mountain – Noted as the most tannic of the bunch. Diamond Mountain in general tends to render the most tannic wines in Napa. I personally gravitate towards this AVA. A visit to Diamond Creek Winery and a sampling of their wines provides an excellent lesson in how a wine will express different soil types.
Cardinale 2001 Napa Sonoma – Soft and smooth. I recently attended a Jackson Estates (Majestic Brands) tasting and had the opportunity to visit the current release of Cardinale 2010. It is a fantastic, though expensive, wine for those who prefer velvety smooth tannins and complex fruit character. The 2010 is featured on the website through the link above.
One of the more interesting points that came out of our discussion was that changes are occurring in what might be considered “Napa Style”. As we know, the Napa Style, and perhaps New-World style in general, has become associated with super-ripe wines that exhibit jammy fruit, high ABV (Alcohol by Volume), low acidity, and that don’t tend to age well. The emergence of this style of wine is largely attributed to winemakers going for big scores by trying to please the “Parker palette”. During this era, there has been a stalwart core of winemakers that have ignored the trends, refusing to alter their styles, content to stay off the radar. But, as the pendulum swings in both directions, more producers are moving towards the “new trend”, shifting their focus to the creation of balanced wines. Matt jokingly referenced an article that he read on a United in-flight magazine titled “The New Napa”, which detailed this trend. According to Matt, “If it has made it to the United magazine, it must be mainstream now.”
“Balanced” does not always indicate a low ABV. A wine that is balanced will have alcohol, tannin, acid and sweetness incorporated in such a manner that no component stands apart from the others.
The “New Napa” at $20 and Below
I am fortunate to have the opportunity to tastes a lot of wine. I am pleased to confirm that I am finding increasing numbers of balanced wines from California. Based on my experience, the trend has thoroughly pervaded white wines, particularly Chardonnay. The days of “butter bombs” are long past. The percentage of creamy-buttery Chardonnays has fallen dramatically in the last couple of years. Undoubtedly, this trend has been accelerated by the ABC (i.e. Anything but Chardonnay) movement that has led consumers to seek out alternatives to Chardonnay. This is definitely not a bad thing as it has opened the doors to the fabulous whites of the Tre-Venezia and other food-friendly whites of Italy. It has also brought a new group of consumers to sample the bounty of French whites. Fortunately, there will still be stalwarts that hold fast with the “old style” Chardonnays as well. Variety IS the spice of life.
I also see this trend in the California red category as well. Merlot is making a comeback from the, perhaps justified, damage from the film “Sideways”. The $15 gems from Highway 12 (Available exclusively at Spec’s in Texas) are great examples of what an inexpensive California red can be. Wente is making a nice product in that same price tier. The Robert Hall Cabernet from Paso Robles (recently tasted, also a Spec’s exclusive in Texas) is excellent! Tudal Family Wines Cabernet is an equally good value at $20. A number of wines from the Jackson Family Estates portfolio are excellent. These wines still show a purity of fruit that should and will remain a hallmark of California wines, but in a more restrained style. Of course, this list is far from complete, but I hope it compels you to keep an open mind and keep tasting.
Last night, as I left work with two bottles, a co-worker peeked into my bag and surprised, he commented, “All New World tonight”. Yes, times are changing.