Tuesday, September 30, 2008

J.K. Carriere's 2006 Releases

After trodding the dirt on Parrett Mountain, J.K. Carriere winemaker Jim Prosser led us back to the little white barn where he makes his Willamette Valley wines. Now, I started seeing a fair amount of high-end 2006 Oregon pinot on the shelves a year ago, but Prosser prefers to wait longer than most. His early drinker, the $24 Provocateur, was released back in May, and only as of September 21 did Prosser make available his 2006 Willamette Valley Chardonnay and his standard-bearer, the 2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.

Now, 2006 was the second-hottest vintage ever in Oregon and you might expect rich, opulent fruit, for that is what dominates so many 2006 Oregon pinots. This, happily, is more classic, and even downright reserved. As with all Prosser's wines this is built for age and I simply have to reserve judgment; suffice to say that the elements are here and the boysenberry and cherry fruit is nicely balanced with the acidity, the earth notes, and proper (though hardly hard) structure. I'm looking forward to popping this starting three years from now, though it might need still more time.

I'm not so reluctant to judge the Chardonnay. As I wrote yesterday, it's eerily reminiscent of a good village-level white Burgundy, and if this wine will last for (at least) five years, I'm pretty dang enthusiastic about it right now. The wine was whole cluster pressed and cold barrel fermented (using only wild yeast) in neutral oak only — so fear not, my Parkay-phobic friends, this wine will not invoke any naughty scene from Last Tango in Paris. Its fleshy round body is shot through with lovely acidity and a quiet minerality, which gives it focus, while the flavors of fresh pears are accented by brown baking spices. Prosser made but 90 cases of this, so if you want to check it out, do so soon.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Parrett Mountain's Red Red Dirt

You know, one day I'm telling you that I'm off to Oregon and California, and short days later I'm telling you I'm back. It would seem unremarkable, except for the interceding bank failures, financial system collapses, and Sarah Palin interviews. Ominous.

Yet if we are doomed, that is our future, not our present. So it's as good a time as any to celebrate dirt.
Coriander at J.K. CarriereYes, it was a great trip. Between a baby shower, a birthday dinner, and sundry visits with friends and family, I only had so much time for wine. But I made a special, specific visit to the Renaissance Vineyard & Winery in the Sierra Foothills — more about this soon — and prior to that, in the northern reaches of the Willamette Valley, I dropped by J.K. Carriere to check out their just-released 2006 pinot and chardonnay, that latter of which is eerily reminiscent of a really good village-level white Burgundy.

But prior to tasting the wines, we — I, my family, and other admirers of J.K. Carriere's natty wines — went to a 700 foot elevation site on Parrett Mountain to mark the groundbreaking of their forthcoming winery and vineyard.

As my sister's dog Coriander (above) discovered, the red Jory soil is the same as you'll find in the nearby Red Hills of Dundee, and it likewise stains your shoes like makeup. Less typical are the many cobblestones here. Winemaker Jim Prosser remarked that he had considered encouraging the formation of a trout pond, but the site is so well-drained that even after a heavy rain there was no runoff collected in the divot at the base of the slope. It's two to four feet down to bedrock across the 40 acre property.

Five years from now, when our economy will surely be back on track, Jim Prosser will harvest the first of his own grapes. In the meantime, we will muddle through, and Jim will do somewhat better than that with fruit from dry-farmed vineyards as diverse as Temperance Hill, Shea, Momtazi, and Anderson Family.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Off to Oregon and California

To the west coast I go; and what visit would be complete without visiting a few wineries? On Sunday the 21st J.K. Carriere will release their "regular" 2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Even better, they are celebrating the groundbreaking of their new vineyard site on Parrett Mountain. I will be there to help them break ground.

Later in the week it's off to the Renaissance Vineyard & Winery in the Sierra Foothills. For an idea of what I'll experience there, see the post on Wine Terroirs, complete with many pictures. I'm very excited for my visit in general and I'm looking forward to tasting some new releases. Of course, this is Renaissance, so among their newest releases are a 1992 Riesling Late Harvest, a 1996 Cabernet and their 2002 Granite Crown, which is a blend of syrah and cab.

This post reminds me that I forgot to tell you about the 2000 Renaissance Claret Prestige, which exemplifies what it means to be a living wine.

On day one, strong graphite, cassis, tobacco, lavender, and blackberry jam aromas leap from the glass. But pay attention and you'll also find sage, cumin, and black pepper. It's tannic, yet it has almost bracing acidity, with deep, thick, sweet flavors of blackberry and cassis. Nothing overcooked or jammy here; it's a pure wine with a lot of structure —and yet after all these years, it still needs time.

A lot of time, actually. On day three, the wine's inherent minerality has only begun to emerge, and tons of rich fruit are still in the foreground. Promisingly, a hint of worcestershire joins the purple and black characteristics. Yep, this wine's life is just beginning.

Interestingly, this is a blend of 24% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 15% Sangiovese, 12% each Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, and 6% each Syrah and "miscellaneous" grapes. Not your typical claret, eh? And yet the Claret Prestige does resemble a naturally-made right bank 2000 Bordeaux — or at least make you think it's what one should be like. In any case, it's quite nice with pork in a balsamic reduction.

I'll post a full report upon my return.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Two 2006 Italian Reds

Sorry for the spotty posting. As always, though, I have some things to say about wines that are anything but spotty; in this case, two 2006 Italian reds. I didn't deliberately hunt down either the vintage or the country. Instead, it was like they came to me.

Carpineto Chianti Classico 2006
Carpineto may have a modernist reputation, but that doesn't mean they produce New World lookalikes. Rather, this is fresh, balanced, and honest Chianti Classico that flashes its charm subtly. The spicy, earthy aromas hit me first; it's a moment later that I notice the layered sangiovese aromas of fresh and dried cherry, lavender, and thyme. On the palate the energy is simultaneously vigorous and relaxed, with lovely acidity and velvety tannins, and over the next few years I'd drink this with anything this side of shellfish.

Canaiolo makes up 10% of the blend and all the grapes are dry farmed. The fermented wine is aged in cask for six months.

Giuseppe Nada Dolcetto d'Alba Casot 2006
I am not a label whore, but the drab rose printed on the Nada labels suggested a drab wine. Now I feel dumb, because this is the finest dolcetto I've ever had (not that I've had tons, but still...)

This traditionally-styled, single-vineyard dolcetto has all the bright red fruit you'd expect, yet its depth and complexity is top of the pops. With each sip its many layers of fruit, earth, and savoriness are driven by refreshing acidity and supported with substantial, well-structured, fine-grained tannins. It was almost a shame that my friends and I drank this with a mundane pizza — even if it was a good pairing.

This wine was $18 and so good for its price that I rushed out to buy Nada's 2001 Barbaresco Riserva (also from the Casot vineyard) for $32. I've no doubt it was money well spent.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I had written a rant on John McCain's spoofulated campaign, which is now predicated on ginning up phony outrage and distracting us with tinkling shiny objects, but I removed it. This man says it best.

I am, by the way, saving my only bottle of the Huet 2002 Vouvray Brut Pétillant for election night in hope of a good outcome. Something deep, grounded, and alive, without excess frothiness. It should pair well with victory.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Is Italian, Is Not Italian

As if anticipating the cooler weather to come, I recently opened two reds that I'd normally pair with the heartier fare of autumn. This is actually par for me — I think of the wines I'll want in the coming season, then anticipation turns quickly into action. (The equal and inverse result: I have a few leaner whites and rosés that are begging to be drunk soon, but I'll get to those soon enough...)

Ferrando Nebbiolo di Carema White Label 2003
You will learn a lot about the Carema appellation generally and Luigi Ferrando specifically if you read importer Neal Rosenthal's Reflections of a Wine Merchant. I'll let you read Rosenthal's personal perspective on your own, but suffice it to say that Carema is a tiny, 40 acre appellation that lies in the steep, slate-strewn hills of subalpine Piedmont. Nebbiolo is the grape, but, as Rosenthal puts it, "[it] is an elegant and graceful wine with a subtle tenacity that is breathtaking... Ferrando's Carema does not have the force or tannic presence of its regal brethren, Barolo and Barbaresco; but there is a balance and energy within this wine that gives it punch and staying power."

Staying power? Yes, I should think so. Ferrando's Black Label is a reserve bottling made only in the very best vintages; this is the regular White Label release, and even so, five years on it is only beginning to mature. For now, it requires a serious decanting at the very least, what with its rock-ribbed acidity and still-resolving tannins. There's a serious sour cherry component here and behind its armor there's the suggestion of depth. I'll wait at least five years to open my next bottle, after which this will be very, very good.

Palmina Mattia 2004
Half a world away and one vintage on comes this refosco-dominated blend from Palmina, the Santa Barbara-based winery that's dedicated to growing Italian varietals. Refosco is a high-acid red grape indigenous to Friuli and Slovenia and, in Palmina's able hands, it is no less acidic or refreshing. In fact, this deep purple wine's acidity was unyielding on its first night, but it showed nicely on night two. The acidity is energetic and the tannins are fine-grained yet substantial, and so the aromas and flavors of plum, graphite, dried herb, currant, and smoke are simultaneously bright and dark.

Plum? Graphite? From refosco? No, that would be the 30% cabernet franc and 15% merlot talking. Refosco speaks of acidity and pepper, and the Mattia pairs well with both peppered fresh heirloom tomato and spicy pork sausage. Although it's showing some depth now now, this should catch fire in the next few years.