Seavey Vineyard – California Wines for the Cellar

I had the pleasure of meeting Arthur Seavey of Seavey Vineyard yesterday.  He was in Houston briefly, to tell the Seavey story and offer samples of the Seavey wines.  Seavey is a family-owned vineyard that by all definitions, qualifies as a boutique operation.   Production is miniscule and all wines are estate produced.

IMAG1445Winemaker Jim Duane brings extensive knowledge of winemaking, with a Master’s Degree in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis.  Before joining the Seavey team in 2011, he worked with Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.  He has focused on Bordeaux varietals throughout his career.  He approaches his winemaking with a Bordeaux sensibility.

Phillipe Melka, who has worked with Haut Brion, Dominus, Hundred Acre, and Quintessa, and Vineyard 29 to name a few, is consulting winemaker.

Seavey produces three bottlings, a Merlot, the Seavey Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cavalina, the Estate’s second wine.   We tasted the 2007 Merlot, which was firm and muscular, not a “fluffy” wine.  The structure of Merlot is attributed by 25% Cabernet Sauvignon included in the blend.   The Cavalina 2009 is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.  It is a structured, complex wine with dark fruits, and aromas of toasted coffee.  I tasted this wine late last year and was still a little disjointed.  Six months in the bottle has allowed this wine to integrate.  It is still very young, but becoming approachable.  It should drink well for at least another 10 years.  The Seavey Cabernet Sauvingnon 2007 is a beast!  The flagship wine of the estate is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and generous 15% Petit Verdot.  The wine is completely opaque, with color that clings to the inside of the glass.  It is brooding and complex with ample black fruits, coffee, and a very interesting smoky undertone.  This wine closely follows Parker’s Bordeaux palette.  Her scored it 96+!!  This is completely justified as this wine is a keeper for the cellar, easily a 30-year wine.

It was a great opportunity to visit and revisit these wines.  I would reference my blog on “Searching for Terroir in the California Wine Country – and Finding It”.  The Seavey wines are serious wines for serious wine consumers.  They are bold, and unapologetic, needing time to unwind and show their true potential.  The Family holds back about 20% of their production each vintage with this in mind.  Currently, an 18-bottle vertical that includes wines from 1990-2007 is available – what fun!  I look forward to visiting the Seavey Estate next time I travel to Napa.

 

Ramey Revisit and Napa Valley Master Class with Matt Stamp and More Balanced Wines from California

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.

Ramey Revisit Cropped

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 LabelMayacamas 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

Araujo Eisele Label

 

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 LogoDiamond 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.

 

 

 

Stereotyping Wines – A Lesson from a Glass (or Two) of Merlot

S t e r e o t y p e noun: something conforming to a fixed or general pattern; especially: a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment

Duckhorn Merlot: A wine that changed my mind.

Upon my return from a recent trip to California, I had an epiphany as I stocked a case of Duckhorn Merlot in my store.  Even though I jogged through the vineyards at Duckhorn every morning during a recent Napa visit, I didn’t taste a single Merlot while I was in Napa.  Strange, because although I have never had the “I’d like to drink a good California Merlot tonight” thought cross my mind, for the first time ever, it happened.  I took a bottle of Duckhorn Merlot home and serendipity ensued.

The Duckhorn Merlot had the expected juicy dark fruits, but the fruit was balanced with great acidity and a firm structure.  This was not expected.  I was intrigued.  So, I selected a Twomey Merlot, knowing that Silver Oak tends to follow a restrained, Old World approach to winemaking.  The Twomey showed ample fruit with a good balance of acidity and was slightly more taut than the Duckhorn, despite being a 2007.  These two wines opened my mind to the possibilities that exist in California Merlot.  I might have facetiously named this piece, “Merlot Smerlot” with the full intention of presenting a case to challenge some of the negative stereotypes that have been cast upon the much-maligned varietal. However, I realized that I have had many experiences with wines that have challenged my preconceived notions. My experiences continue to teach me that even if I have tasted a number of wines of a particular type that don’t speak to me,  most probably,  I haven’t tasted the right wine yet.

I have heard too many people say “I don’t like Chardonnay, but I love Pouilly Fuisse”.  Wait, Pouilly Fuisse IS Chardonnay.  When someone says “I don’t like Merlot, but I like Bordeaux.” they are often surprised to learn that a majority of Bordeaux blends rely heavily on Merlot.  In fact, Merlot is the most widely cultivated red grape in Bordeaux. I once had a stereotypical Texas oil man tell me Petrus was the greatest wine he had ever experienced, and then told me he only drinks Cabs – REALLY!!

Pouilly Fuisse = Chardonnay

Wine provides and opportunity to travel the world every day without enduring TSA pat-downs and peanut lunches.  We have a bounty of wines from different countries, different terroirs, made by winemakers with different training and winemaking philosophies.  The variety of expressions within every category of wine is immense.  While everyone will have certain varietals and expressions that they grow to love, anyone with true passion for wine will certainly find serendipity when keeping an open mind.

Taste whenever the opportunity presents itself, even if the wine is from a category you don’t think you like.  Taste blind when you can, as this will erase your preconceptions.  Research (i. e. drinking wine) is fun!  From time to time, you will be pleasantly surprised.

As a result of my research, I’ve thought, “I’d like to drink a good California Merlot tonight”  more often in the last few months than ever before.

Here is a short list of wines that might change your ideas about Merlot.  Even though my inspiration here was Napa Merlot, I have also included Bordeaux.

Duckhorn Merlot 2008 $40 Fleshy with dark fruits, dusty tannin and palette awakening ACIDITY, great freshness and balance.

Twomey Merlot 2007 (Silver Oak) $47 Following a pseudo-Old World model.  Hint of spice with dark fruits, good acidity, more tannin and a drier finish than the Duckhorn, despite the additional age.

Gloria Ferrer Merlot 2007: Even the shape of the bottle is different. Proof that all $20 California Merlots are not fluffy fruit juice.

Petrus:  If the undisputed King of Merlots as well as one of the most expensive and coveted wines in the world doesn’t change your mind about Merlot, there might not be much hope.  Either way, at well over $1000 per bottle, It isn’t likely that many of us will have the opportunity to see if this wine is a game-changer.

 

 

St Emilion: The Bordeaux of the Right Bank appellations are Merlot dominant, with some Cabernet Franc and a dollop of Cabernet Sauvignon on occasion.