Hand or Land?

WineSmallBigSometimes there is nothing better than a big wine, a wine with loads of tannin, loud fruit right up front, and the heat of high alcohol. After a meal, in the dead of winter, when everyone is in for the night, that big, loud, hot wine is a meal in itself. Like a brash guest at a party, it won’t be particularly interesting or intriguing. There will be nothing subtle about it. But sometimes that lack of subtlety can be oddly satisfying. Sometimes we want a wine that doesn’t make us think or work too hard to enjoy it.

Sometimes there is nothing better than a delicate wine, a wine with soft tannins, gentle fruit that whispers quietly mid-palate, and the tang of cold-climate acidity. With a complex meal, this wine comes to life playfully weaving itself into the flavors and textures of the meal. Like the quiet guest at the party who speaks so softly, you can’t quite make out what she’s saying. But the more you catch, the more you want to hear. Sometimes you want a wine with enough complexity that it takes some time to get to know it.

In his book, Essential Wines and Wineries of the Pacific Northwest, Cole Danehower uses the term ‘hand over land’ to describe the first style of wine which he calls ‘plush.’ It is a wine that is made by man, where harvest is delayed for higher alcohol, maceration is prolonged for greater tannins, and more new oak is used for more flavor. The second style is what Danehower describes as ‘poised.’ This is the ‘terroir’ wine, wine that is made by the land. No winemakers here, only grape growers.

The author goes on to point out that one is not better than the other. He is writing specifically about Willamette Pinot Noir when he says, ‘Between poised and plush, neither is considered better than the other; they are both viable and popular wine styles.’

In a recent article about heat in wine, The Rising Tide; Alcohol in Wine Creeps up the Glass, Natalie MacLean writes that too high an alcohol content in a wine can overwhelm the other elements and ruin the wine experience. Her article points out that high alcohol is more likely to occur in new world wines where vineyard temperatures are higher. With global warming we’re likely to see more heat in our wines. Though early harvesting can reduce the alcohol levels.

MacLean does defend higher alcohol levels as an appropriate stylistic choice for many wines, such as Amarone and Chateauneuf du Pape. Certainly grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel have the tannic structure to hold higher alcohol levels. But how big should these wines be?

Simon Burton wrote about this style dichotomy in his article, Marques de Casa Concha; ‘I want to make wines I enjoy. I don’t want to make wines for a market.‘ Through his interview with Marcelo Papa, winemaker for Marques de Casa Concha, it’s clear that this big style in wine, a style that has been trendy for the past several decades in part because, as MacLean points out, we moved from high alcohol cocktails to high alcohol wines, may be on the wane. According to Burton’s article, ‘“super premium” is wine code for “red wine made using very ripe grapes and lots of new oak”, and increasingly winemakers – including, now, Papa – are backing away from that kind of thing.’

It seems somehow inappropriate to talk about trends in wine. Unlike in fashion, where trends turn every six to eight weeks, wine trends might take decades to wax and wane. Yet, the wine world does seem to be moving from big wines to cerebral wines, from brash to subtle, from plush to poised. Big wines will always have a place, certainly at my table, but there’s something more interesting about a refined wine. The harder we work to understand it, the more it gives us to think about.

Marques de Casa Concha: ‘I want to make wines I enjoy. I don’t want to make wines for a market’


Another excellent post from the Cellar Fella

Originally posted on :

Marcelo Papa of Marques de Casa Concha

There’s something particularly winning about a winemaker who tells you that he doesn’t like his own wine very much. Ultimately it might not be considered a particularly wise tactic – winemakers, or at least those of them that I come across, are employed with two tasks in mind: to produce wine and then to sell it. Telling people their wine’s not very good suggests a basic failure in task one, and more or less guarantees failure in task two.

And if Marcelo Papa doesn’t like his wine, it’s a serious problem. He is, after all, chief winemaker at Casillero del Diablo, who stick their label on 4 million cases – near enough 50 million bottles of wine – every year, which works out at around 250 million glasses of the stuff or, to put it another way, approximately enough to invite the entire populations of the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal and Italy round for a…

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Jory and Willakenzie

Spindrift Cellars2Who are Jory and Willakenzie? They are in part responsible for the world-renowned quality of Oregon Pinot Noirs. Neither vintners, nor grape growers, Jory and Willakenzie are not people at all. They are two soils found in Willamette. According to Cole Danehower, author of the book, Essential Wines and Wineries of the Pacific Northwest, Jory is a volcanic soil that gives its Pinot Noir red fruit aromas, silky texture and a hint of minerality. It is found mainly in the valley vineyards. Willakenzie is a sedimentary soil made up of marine sandstone and silt. It gives its Pinot Noir dark fruit aromas, along with aromas of earth and herb. This soil is found at higher elevations.

Willamette Valley is where 75% of Oregon’s vineyards are located. It is part of the cool region of Oregon. The grapes for which this region is best known are Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. The warm regions of Oregon are found to the south, in Rogue and Umpqua Valleys as well as to the northeast in Walla Walla. These regions are known for warm climate grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Tempranillo.

Matthew Compton moved from New Jersey to Willamette Valley Oregon, originally to manage vineyards. He moved into wine production a little over 10 years ago. Spindrift Cellars in Philomath Oregon is certified sustainable. Compton’s focus is mainly on Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, though he does produce some Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Syrah as well. He sources from both valley and hill vineyards using grapes with both Jory and Willakensie influence.

Spindrift Pinot Gris, 2013 Aromas of apple, citrus, grapefruit with a crisp, refreshing finish.

Spindrift Rosé, 2013 78% Pinot Noir, 22% Pinot Gris Aroma of watermelon with a Southern France minerality on the finish.

Spindrift Pinot Blanc, 2013 Tropical fruit aromas with a hint of oak

Spindrift Pinot Noir Croft Vineyard, 2011 Aromas of spicy cherries, oak and smoke. Light body, organically grown grapes. 12 months in oak, 25% new.

Spindrift Pinot Noir, 2012 Sourced from five different vineyards, all Willamette. Aromas of sweet cherry, almond, tang with some bittters on the finish.

Spindrift Pinot Noir, Lewisburg Vineyard, 2010 Medium bodied. Earthy, dark fruit with spice and minerality.

Spindrift 7 Hills Syrah, 2010 Sourced from Walla Walla in Northeast Oregon. Sustainable. Aromas of bacon, pepper, dark fruit.

Matthew Compton’s wines have garnered high point ratings from both Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, especially his Pinot Noirs often rating in the 90’s. It is the Spindrift Pinot Noirs that so beautifully reflect the soils of Willamette Valley.Spindrift Cellars1

There is No ‘R’ in Delicious

Solune Rosé 002Yes, it is October, and while it is never stated, the unspoken rule seems to be ‘no rosé in months containing the letter r.’  May to August isn’t enough time to enjoy all the beautiful rosés out there, especially when temperatures reach into the 80’s  and there’s a  salmon on the grill.  Rosé just seems right.

Solune is a winery in Grass Valley, California.  While many of the wineries in the Sierra Foothills are making some nice wines with Rhone Valley varieties, the winemakers who are experimenting with Italian varieties in this hilly, warm region are finding their terroir.

Solune is a mash up of the French words for Sun and Moon.  Jacques Mercier, the winegrower, claims French as his native language, hailing from Québec.  Yes, a French-speaking, Canadian is growing Italian grapes in California.  Does that sound wrong?  It is no more wrong than drinking rosé in October.  The result is a deep orange-red, Barbera rosé, with earthy, citrus and red fruit aromas.  The body is medium, the acidity is tart.  The flavors are cranberries and sloe gin with a hint of bitter lime peel on the finish.  It is juicy, tart and rich with color and flavor.

An Efficient Riesling Tasting

Riesling Tasting, 2014I recently had a wine tasting using the Society of Wine Educators’ tasting rationale. We tasted through six Rieslings from different regions, starting with the driest and going to the sweetest. Sticking to the form was a little like writing a lab report. It was somewhat frustrating to have to describe the flavors and aromas with the general terms given rather than using the words that came to mind. Words like ‘lemongrass’ had to be substituted with the word ‘grassy.’ What was ‘candied pineapple’ on our palates became ‘tropical fruit’ on paper. And ‘sweet iced tea’ became ‘honey’ and ‘tea.’ But there is a world of difference between ‘sweet iced tea’ and ‘honey’ and ‘tea.’ The former conjures up images of hot, lazy summer afternoons whereas the latter reminds one of a sore throat in the dead of winter.

While we addressed each quality on the form, there were other qualities to the wine that were not part of the form. For example, while one wine was quite interesting and stimulated a discussion about the importance of balance in not only the structural elements of the wine but also in the flavors and aromas of the wine, another wine could be described as nothing less than beautiful. Wagner Riesling from the Finger Lakes region had flavors of citrus, tree fruit, honey and tropical fruit along with a sweet iced tea flavor, but the flavors were a little disjointed, like the wine didn’t know quite what it wanted to be. But that disjointedness also made the wine interesting. The C.H. Berres, also had honey and fruit aromas with some petrol and floral, but that wine was downright beautiful. It knew what it wanted to be, and it just kept talking to us.

I love the SWE form for its efficiency. It really forces one to focus, study and identify. But in that efficiency, some of the poetry of the wine is lost.

Trefethen, 2012 is from Oak Knoll California. The clarity is brilliant, the depth of color is pale, the hue is lemon green and it has tiny bubbles. The condition is clean, no off odors and medium intensity. The aromas are citrus fruit, honey, tree fruit, petrol, vanilla and floral. The maturity is young. The sweetness is dry. The acidity is medium high. There is no bitterness, no tannin, a low/medium alcohol and a light/medium body. Flavor intensity is medium/plus consisting of citrus, spice, honey, tree fruit, and tropical fruit. There were no off flavors and the finish is short to medium.

Albrect 2012 from Alsace, France is brilliant with pale depth and a lemon-green hue. There are small bubbles. In aroma the condition is clean with no off odors. The aroma intensity is medium with petrol, honey, spice, citrus and tree fruit. The maturity is developing. On the palate the sweetness is dry. The acidity is medium/high with no bitterness and no tannins. The alcohol is medium. The body is medium. The flavor intensity is medium plus with citrus, honey, tree fruit, and spice. There are no off flavors and the finish is medium.

Thorne Clark, Mt. Crawford, 2012 from Eden Valley, Australia is brilliant with pale depth and a lemon-green hue. There are bubbles. In aroma the condition is clean with no off odors. The intensity is medium with aromas of petrol, tropical fruit, citrus and vanilla. The maturity is developing. On the sweetness is dry. The acidity is medium high with no bitterness and no tannin. The alcohol is medium, the body is medium, the intensity of flavors is medium plus with citrus, tree fruit and minerality. There are no off flavors and the finish is medium.

Dr. Loosen Eroica, 2012 from Columbia Valley, Washington is brilliant in clarity with a pale depth and a lemon-green hue. There are no bubbles. On the nose the condition is clean with no off odors. The intensity is medium with petrol, honey, grass and citrus. The maturity is developing. On the palate is is off-dry and a medium acidity with no bitterness nor tannins. The alcohol is medium as is the body. The intensity is medium with flavors of tropical fruit, citrus fruit and honey. There are no off flavors and the finish is short/medium.

Wagner, 2008 (not affiliated with Wagner Family Wines of California) is from the Finger Lakes region of New York. The clarity is brilliant. The depth of color is medium, the hue is lemon. There are bubbles. In aroma the condition is clear with no off odors. It is intense with aromas of tropical fruit, honey, oak and nuts. The maturity is developed. The sweetness is light medium. The acidity is medium with no bitterness nor tannins. The alcohol is medium. The body is medium plus. The intensity on flavor is medium plus with citrus, tree fruit, honey, and tropical fruit. There are no off flavors and the finish is short to medium.

C.H. Berres, Auslese 1997 from Mosel Germany has brilliant clarity, medium depth and a lemon hue. In aroma the condition is clean with no off odors. It is intense with aromas of nuts, honey, and petrol. The maturity is developed. There is light medium to medium sweetness and low medium acidity on the palate. There is no bitterness and no tannin. The alcohol is low/medium with a medium plus body and a medium plus intensity of flavor with Floral, petrol, honey and dried fruit being the most prominent. There are no off flavors and the finish is medium to long.

Wine, Buffalo and Stewardship

The day after tomorrow I will be taking my son to college two states away. It isn’t so much the distance as it is the transition that is somewhat unsettling. The most comforting thing I’ve found to get through this impending change comes from the animal kingdom. What would a mother buffalo say to her boy if he left  for college? Part of the difficulty of transitioning a child into college has to do with stewardship.

Stewardship plays a big role in the world of wine. A vineyard site must be carefully chosen, looking at the climate, the soil and the culture of the area. In a new wine region, the grape grower will experiment with different varieties to find the right match for the terroir. All of this is a big investment in both money and time. Vines don’t produce until third leaf, that is three years after they are planted. The wines from that first harvest won’t be ready for market until a year or so after harvest. The soonest a vintner can begin to see any return on investment is at least four years, and often it is longer. During those years, the vines must be carefully tended, planted, pruned, and cared for in many ways including defending the plants against pests, mold, and bacteria, managing the canopy for optimal sun, and managing the plants so that they have the optimal yield, which usually means a smaller yield in order to produce flavorful grapes.

The constant care continues in the winery after the grapes are harvested. The vintner will make many decisions at each point in the process from harvesting, pressing, fermenting, aging, and finally to bottling. Each decision along the way will effect the flavor and body of the final outcome, the wine. It is a very focused labor much like parenting, the most important stewardship of all. As with wine, each decision we make along the way effects the final outcome. The final product, the good citizen we hope he or she will become is not the result of a few great and sweeping choices, but a million small daily decisions that accumulate over 18 years. The real difference between the stewardship of wine making and the stewardship of parenting is that the winemaker will never turn that responsibility over to the grapes themselves. Yet, we parents must hand over the reins of stewardship of our children to our children themselves as they become young adults. We just hope that we have made mostly good daily decisions and that our children continue to care for themselves as well as we hope we have cared for them.

So, what would that mother buffalo say to her boy if he left for college? Bison.

My Boy

If There Were Such Thing as Vector Winemaking…

Montoliva Sangiovese Grapes‘You’re taking vector calculus? You must be smart,’ my friend was saying to my son. ‘ I don’t know what vector calculus is…I don’t even know what a vector is. What’s a vector?’

I braced for the answer, ready to take in every detail of what would surely be a long, complicated and involved oration.

‘A line with direction and magnitude,’ my son answered simply and without hesitation. I think I’d like vectors. They sound strong and decisive.

I couldn’t decide which wine region to visit this past week-end. I love visiting Napa and Sonoma, but hesitated at the thought of the three hour drive. As I studied the map, Grass Valley caught my eye. It isn’t its own AVA, but part of the Sierra Foothills AVA. There are about a dozen wineries there, and it is just a short hour and a half drive from home. Because of the warm climate, I expected Grass Valley to be like other Sierra Foothill regions, big on Rhone varieties and Zinfandel.

Chicago Park is an unincorporated section of Grass Valley in northern California. It was settled by four Italian families who after immigrating to Chicago, decided they wanted to live in a rural area to get back to their agrarian roots. They came to California for the warmer climate. They settled in Chicago Park because it reminded them of their place of origin, Italy.

Mark Henry, owner and winemaker of Montoliva Vineyard & Winery settled in Chicago Park for a similar reason. When he came to the Sierra Foothills in search of a site for his winery back in 2000, he was looking for three things. He wanted bad soil, as in ‘What soil? We plant on rock…the rock is granite.’ He wanted good climate, warm days, cool nights. And he wanted culture, a story behind the region. He found all three in Chicago Park. He also found rolling green hills similar to the hills of Italy.Montoliva Vineyards

Both the Italian heritage of the region as well as the Tuscan scenery are the inspiration for his Italian grape variety wines. His vineyards are organic. The rows of grapes are planted close together, just as they are in Italy, so that the vines have to compete for nutrients, producing more intense, flavorful grapes. Montoliva makes some blended wines. But if there is a variety named on the label, then the wine is 100% that variety, not 75% which is allowed by law. Much like a European wine maker, Mark Henry feels passionately that the grape and terroir alone should speak for the wine. He wants a bottle of Sangiovese to taste like a bottle of Sangiovese. The 2008 has great acidity and medium body with flavors of cherry, sweet herb and a little smoke. When I noted the slight smoke aroma, Kristin who was pouring told me that there had been a fire in the area in 2008. It is possible to remove smoke aroma from grapes, but Mark considers the fire part of the terroir, so the slight smokiness became part of the wine.

The 2013 Pinot Grigio has a nice crispness to it with aromas of white flower, pear and mineral. The Folio is a blend made with Pinot Grigio and unfermented Muscato. It tastes like a sweet juicy apple. Sei Ore Rosé 2013 is a blend of Sangiovese and Barbera. It is earthy and dry with aromas of rhubarb and strawberry.

Montoliva, 2011 NebbioloThe 2011 Nebbiolo is a new release. It is meaty with a medium plus acidity and tar and roses on the nose. The 2010 Aglianico has a slight coffee aroma with cherry and cranberry notes. Sierra Bella 2011 is a blend of Teraldego, Nebbiolo and Barbera. It tastes of tart cherries and rose water. The 2011 Barbera has soft fruit aromas, tangy acidity and medium tannins. The 2010 Late Harvest Barbera is rich with sweet bing cherry aromas, raisins and a whisper of lemon.

All the wines we tasted at Montoliva are intense. In that way they reflect not just the terroir, but also, the winemaker. Mark Henry took the time to show us his vineyards and spoke with us extensively about his winery. During the course of his talk it became clear that he doesn’t just take pride in his wines; he loves them. He is very focused on and very intense about both the vineyards and the wines. One might even say he produces wines like a vector; with direction and magnitude.