Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wine News From Here and There

Ken Wright's evaporatorJust a few odds and ends.

Many people agree with me that Remy Charest's article "Natural Wine: On a Practical Note.. may be the best article written of late on natural wine, as he highlights how the best practitioners are really quite pragmatic, if also dedicated and quite serious, in the way they make their wines. Really a must read.

Of course, it's easy to nod one's head at this article, as Charest profiles well-known, highly-trusted winemakers whose idea of practical intervention is to add a small shot of sulfur. What would they think of Ken Wright's practice of boiling water-logged grapes in a vacuum at 50 degrees Fahrenheit to concentrate the must? If people are not adverse to having Pierre Overnoy chaptalize (add sugar) in certain years to pump up the alcohol levels, would they be so sanguine about Wright using a high-tech device to simply take water away in a heat- and oxygen-free environment? The answer, of course, is contextual to the person learning this news (do they trust Wright?), the winemaker (what is his motivation, and how else is he intervening?), and of course the wine itself (what other reactions and results occur in the process, and what is the wine when one drinks it?).

Speaking of water in Oregon, rain is not the only threat to Oregon's exceptionally late 2010 harvest: hungry, migrating birds are wreaking havoc on vineyards throughout the state — and they quickly wise up to countermeasures. Egad.

Speaking of water in Oregon for the third time, a very alarming report from the National Center for Atmospheric Research projects that extreme drought will overcome much of the developed world by 2060, including much of Europe and the western US, if global warming emissions continue at their present rate — echoing previous studies on the subject.

Finally, in happier if less inevitable news, if you're able to get to Anjou in late November, get your buns over to St. Aubin de Luigné for Anges Vins 2010. Saurigny! Courault! Mosse! Angeli! Les Griottes! Sigh, if only I could be there...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

And On the Second Day, He Rested

Tuesday nights are not for opening the best bottle of wine, but — correct me if I'm wrong here — we all hope for something not merely tasty, but something darn good, yes? I opened the following sub-$15 wines on various Tuesday nights and was happy with two of the three.

Château de la Roulerie Anjou Rouge 2008
This cabernet franc comes from the schistous soils of St-Aubin de Luigné and it's textbook unoaked 2008 Anjou — there's an edge to the acidity that jousts well with the dark, juicy, and fairly concentrated plum / blackcurrant fruit, the stemmy dried herb notes, the brown and rock-flecked earth tones. Did I say the fruit is juicy? Yes, but it's also almost entirely bereft of sweetness. Clearly, this is old world and old school. I really enjoy the way this wine shows a fair amount of heft upon entry and then lifts nicely toward the back of the palate, and I enjoyed it with a spicy butternut squash soup. See a nice profile of the domaine from The Wine Doctor.

Domaine Catherine Le Goeuil Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne 2007
The 2007 Rhônes I've had that emphasize restraint can, I think, justify much of the vintage hype. Some I've tasted show phenomenal balance and depth. This, however, is not one of them. Despite the undercurrent of minerality and the fleshy, tasty fruit, this is a bit heavy, a touch hot, and quite alcoholic, and while there is acidity, this performs as if it were acidified — it isn't quite integrated into the wine somehow.

Quattro Mani [toh-kai] Exto Gredic Vineyard 2008
Once upon a time I had a sauvignon blanc from Slovenia and I thought, "If Chablis grew sauvignon blanc, this is what it would be like." I was wrong, in the sense that there wasn't any seashell chalkiness, but there was a dry, steely, acid-forward character to the wine that I've since found in all the better Slovenian non-contact whites I've had, and which I find in this wine as well.

I'm not sure who's behind the Quattro Mani brand but the concept is to hire named vignerons to produce wines from throughout Italy and points nearby. This one's made in Slovenia by Movia winemaker Aleš Kristančič and it's damn cool and distinctive. Hell, it's even a single vineyard wine made from the friulano grape, or tocai friulano as it is also known. The nose is, vinously speaking, exotically herbal — it has leek, macerated mint, and basil aromas — and it's also a touch honeyed. Its steely structure is unmistakable, and still it's overlain by a round, almost rich, yet somehow un-fruited body. The finish is long and fairly complex, and it's a pretty mighty achievement given the price tag.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Clos Saron's Great 2006 Home Vineyard Pinot Noir

Gideon Beinstock, Clos SaronWhen I visited Clos Saron in the Sierra Foothills two years ago and first tasted the 2006 Home Vineyard Pinot Noir, I noted its restraint and purity but mentioned that it needed time, as the tannins and the finish were not yet resolved.

The wine is now emerging — blooming, really — and it's clear that I didn't understand then how good this would become.

I tasted this over two recent days, but even from pop and pour the wine is sappy, pure, elegant, mineral, light but deep, structured, long, transparent, and complex — everything pinot noir is supposed to be. Gideon Beinstock is a winemaker who emphasizes terroir by showing restraint on the oak and the sulphur (only 30 ppm added at crush, none at bottling), and this wine shows specific, rocky, spicy tannins courtesy the granite and old volcanic ash soils from whence this came. As for the flavors, they're not overboard on the cherries; rather, the Home Vineyard shows lovely citric acidity, orange notes, rocky minerals, and a complete presence throughout the mouth, front to back. It also has just 13.4% abv — the northeastern-facing vineyard is in a cool corridor at 1600 feet. The fruit is still young, the acidity is robust, so this has a long way to go.

If complex, long-lived pinot noir a la The Eyrie and Rhys turns your crank, you need to add Clos Saron to your list.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Visiting Evesham Wood, Eola Hills OR

Erin Nuccio, Evesham WoodLongtime Evesham Wood followers were likely surprised by the note that owner Russ Raney posted back in July: "After 24 years of a mixture of euphoria and despair (only a little bit of the latter) - Mary & I faced the golden opportunity to retire early... So as of August 2010, Erin & Jordan [Nuccio] will be the new owners of Evesham Wood Winery & Le Puits Sec Vineyard."

Myself, I'd never had the wines before, but I knew their rep as some of the more elegant from Oregon, and so I set up a visit in mid-September. As we (my friends and I) discovered after winding our way up the gravelly drive, one reason you need to set up a visit is because there's no fancy tasting room: just a cellar, a tin shed, a house, and a vineyard. And dang, that vineyard: the basaltic, reddish-brown soil was gorgeous, completely uncompacted, covered in dry grass, with not an irrigation hose in sight. After all, Russ helped found the Deep Roots Coalition, which advocates for non-irrigated grape farming, and the home vineyard, Le Puits Sec, is certified organic.

But it was Erin, as the new owner, who greeted us and began the visit with a brief tour of the vineyard. Erin's a peach (new rule of thumb: the coolest people make the best wine) and he exuded a quiet respect for the soil and the grapes. Here, he said, you can see we missed a weed, but we'd rather plow than spray Roundup. Yes, Russ planted some savagnin. Savagnin? Far out! We also talked about the difficult 2010 vintage (see my previous post for details).

Erin will, for now, keep things the same at Evesham Wood: he will continue to cork bottles by hand, rack the wine twice a year from bunghole, rather than speed things along with a bulldog pup, and inoculate using yeast that Russ isolated from a bottle of Jayer rather than inoculate with a commercial yeast or leaving things to native yeast. On the other hand, Erin will continue to run his own label, Haden Fig, and on these wines he will allow himself to experiment with, for example, native fermentation. Surely these experiments will cross over to the Evesham Wood wines, with time.

Erin was kind enough to have us taste from barrel and bottle both.

2009 Le Puits Sec Pinot Noir (from barrel) - This shows tasty blueberry and good acidity despite the heat of the vintage. It's somewhat simple right now but will won't be released until September, 2011, so it has time to develop.

2009 Temperance Hill (from barrel) - Temperance Hill is a high elevation vineyard in the Eola Hills which survives the hot vintages much better than lower vineyards. I smell a very sweet herb / syrup nose that's really familiar but which I cannot put my finger on. Erin helps: "Some people say wine from this vineyard has a cannabis quality." Ding! That's it! Amazing. The texture is really smooth, and quite fresh and light, and the wine persists on the finish.

2009 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir - This was just released and we tasted it from bottle. It's made all from purchased fruit (mostly from local, Eola-Amity vineyards) and it shows a long, orangey profile. Taken together, the three 2009s demonstrate that while all are made in (mostly) the same way from the same isolated yeast, each is specific.

2008 Le Puits Sec Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir - Now this is great stuff; top of the pops here, my friends and I agree. It's a complete wine that shows red and black fruit, lovely acidity, gracious structure, and the kind of length and finesse you look for. My cheeks quivered with acid and fine tannin. It's one of those wines that seems necessary: it's a wine with soul.

2009 Haden Fig Willamette Valley Pinot Noir - This shows a bit of the sweet herb thing, which is present mostly at the sides of my tongue — it's enough to distract me from the midpalate. I also get some peppery spice.

If I were a better writer I'd more ably convey how good it was to be there. The wines were terrific and the vibe was right. It's not just about what's in the bottle, it's about the land, and what people are doing, and how, and why. Obviously Erin's barely into his tenure but I'm betting things will continue to go well at Evesham Wood.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hens and Chicks In Oregon, Sept 2010

hens and chicks, Evesham Wood, Sept 2010I snapped the photo at right two and a half weeks ago at Evesham Wood's dry-farmed home vineyard, Le Puits Sec. Flowering was extremely late in the Willamette Valley this year thanks to a very cool late spring and the cool conditions of summer further contributed to uneven ripening (see all them green grapes?) and the old "hens and chicks" phenomenon, wherein tiny, undeveloped berries are bunched together with normal-sized berries. I saw this in every WV vineyard I laid eyes on in mid-September.

Still, things might — just might — turn out very nicely this year in Oregon. Lots of folks dropped fruit to direct ripening energy to the remaining grapes. To paraphrase Erin Nuccio of Evesham Wood, "It's like watching money fall to the floor," but that's life at the edge of ripening, and Erin, for one, prefers the cooler vintages that result in lower alcohols and greater nuance. His hope (mine, too) is that the remaining grapes are not just fully developed but show the complexity that can result from a long, cool growing season. Conscientious wineries could, with rigorous selection at the sorting table, turn out very good wines. I'm no winemaker but I don't think this vintage will be as easy on winemakers as was 2008.

Some WV wineries began harvesting last weekend, thanks in part to the modestly warm and gentle weather of the last two weeks. Others are waiting in hopes that the weather holds, meaning not that brix levels will shoot up — it's too cool for that — but that the rain holds off. We'll see: the forecast calls for nice weather over the next two days, then some rain after that. Migrating birds need to cooperate as well.