I’m in a rut?!? Say it ain’t so . . .

I find myself drawn to drinking a few style of wines from a few varietals.  I reach for wines within a pretty limited range over fairly long stretches of time, say three or four months.  For the last four months, I have been drinking a ton of big ripe California Pinot Noir, cooler climate Cali Syrah, and a little mountain grown Cabernet.  I hate to look at it this way, but have I fallen into a rut?  I hope not because I am still enjoying these wines from a sensory experience.  I am getting exactly what I want.  But there is a lingering doubt hanging over my head. Should I be opening other stuff? Should I care?

The definition of a Rut:

1. A sunken track or groove made by the passage of vehicles.
2. A fixed, usually boring routine.
Sunken track or groove? So, is my wine drinking falling into a fixed, usually boring routine.  I can argue no with ease. It is not boring!  Good, I was getting worried.  What about fixed?  If I focus on that side, I might, in fact, be in a wine rut.
My problem is I am not drinking broadly enough.  Rick and I talk about Italian wines all the time at work.  When I get home and raid my cellar, Italy accounts for about 14% of my cellar (love cellar tracker!), and I find myself picking up a Loring Pinot Noir. For every 100 bottles in my cellar 14 of them would be Italian and I can’t tell you the last time I opened a bottle!  Why?  No, really, why? I don’t have an answer.  I like Italian wines and like to drink them but I find myself making excuses or finding some else that catches my eye first.
France accounts for a whopping 41% of my cellar (not including new arrivals). 41%! It is the largest segment in my cellar and, while the last two bottles consumed were a Chablis and a Gigondas, it may have been 5 months or so before that . . .   I love red Burgundy (as a lot of you know) which accounts for 17% of my cellar (more than Italy as a whole). I haven’t had a bottle of red Burgundy for months!
Right now, I am just not excited about other wines.  This is not like me. So, I need help!  What do you do when you fall into a “rut?” How do you break out?

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Orginality: Owen Roe and Pilobolus Dance Theater

By Taylor Cram

Over the weekend, my wife and I headed to the Providence Performing Arts Center to see a Connecticut based dance company. Pilobolus Dance Theater is an intense, original, and thought provoking company; their performance was imaginative, inventive, and enthralling. The final act saw the debut of a new dance called Megawatt. It was exciting and mind-blowing with raw intensity and originality.  The company and choreography is ‘super genius’ (thanks to Sadat X from True Wine Connoisseurs for his phraseology).  While the performance was flawless and brilliant, it was the originality that really got me thinking.  Their ability to put a truly unique and identifiable stamp on a subject where exploration has been exhaustive over the years is what makes them special.

During the performance, three quarters of my mind was concentrating on the performance, while the small remaining quarter journeyed back and forth from Pilobolus to Owen Roe Winery. Owen Roe operates in an equally explorative, artistic, and competitive industry where being good and technically sound does not necessarily mean anything. In dance, being a technician is important but if you can’t hear the music or embrace the choreography than the performance can be flat and uninspired. In winemaking, you can understand appropriate PH levels and oak varieties but if you can’t feel the soil or the vineyard, even if the wine is technically sound, it will ultimately be unoriginal and not very satisfying.

Tasting through the wines of Owen Roe quickly establishes that David O’Reilly, the winemaker, understands his vineyard sites. The wines are unique and terroir-driven showing wonderful complexity, balance, and charm.  If it makes any sense, the winemaker has embraced the choreography of the terroir. The wines speak of the land and the soil. It is very rare to taste wines that are truly original and unique. The great thing is that each wine is distinctively Owen Roe rather than each wine reminding us of something else. It seems like a pretty simple concept . . .

Three Reds from Owen Roe

The Rook 2008– Merlot (45%), Syrah (40%), Cabernet (15%) Wild nose of spice, game, red fruits, iron, and tobacco leaf. On the palate, it is jammy with minerality, herb, soft tannins, and a nice acidity.  It is surprising to get so much complexity for the money. ~$15

Sinister Hand 2009– A blend of Grenache (70%), Syrah (25%), Mourvedre (3%), and Counoise (2%). Spicy nose showing black fruit, raspberries, and blackberries. On the palate, it shows a fresh, brighter juicy red and black fruit. Very fresh and soft. While, it is young it is much friendlier than the nose suggests. From Horse Heaven Hills AVA, Washington. ~$27

Abbot’s Table 2009– A crazy blend of Zinfandel (25%), Sangiovese (20%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), Syrah (10%), Grenache (13%), Blaufrankish (7%), Cabernet Franc (2%), Malbec (2%), Merlot (1%). Blaufrankish?! A wonderful nose of bright red fruit, dusty tannins, earth, and dry soil. It is delicious with soft, round, velvety, balanced fruit. There is a ton of subtle complexity that is lurking just below the surface. So tasty and inviting; worth every penny. From the Columbia Valley AVA, Washington. ~$26

Yakima Valley Red 2008– Cabernet Sauvignon (36%), Merlot (33%), Cabernet Franc (31%). Killer nose of pepper, herbs, rosemary, red peppers, mustard leaf, and red fruits. On the palate, the fruit is luxurious and toned with lots of mustard leaf, pepper and herb. The finish packs plenty of supporting tannins and acidity. Very impressive. Sourced from three vineyards in the Yakima Valley AVA: Red Willow, Elerding, and DuBrul. ~$38

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Big Press for Bedrock!

by Taylor Cram

I usually don’t post positive scores but Bedrock is a new winery that I feel is making extraordinary wines.  In the most recent Wine Spectator Insider (Vol. 6, No. 39), the 2008 Bedrock Vineyard Heirloom received a 95 point score with this tasting note:

An incredible Zinfandel that offers depth, balance and a distinctive sense of place. Bold aromas of violet, wild berry and licorice lead to rich, ripe and layered flavors of huckleberry, fresh sage and brown baking spices. The finish goes on and on. Zinfandel, Carignane and Petite Sirah.

‘Distinctive sense of place’ is the most important part of the tasting note as this is exactly what Morgan Twain-Peterson (owner/winemaker) is searching for.  I noticed the same attribute in the stunning 2009 Bedrock Heirloom I recently tasted.  I don’t know what the press is going to say about the 2009, but the wine is excellent and the vintage itself looks to be very strong.

Bedrock also had two other wines, both Syrah, score 93 points.

Kudos to Morgan!

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Talisman Cellars: A Sign of the Present

by Taylor Cram

It has been awhile since we have focused on the Pinot Noirs from Talisman Cellars. Why? I honestly cannot answer that. Maybe it is because they don’t get a lot of press and, therefore, suffer from out of sight out of mind?  One of the unfortunate realities of a store that focuses on hand-selling wine and the customer experience/interaction is the majority of the wine we sell is wine we specifically put into people’s hands.  If,  for whatever reason, we do not actively put a wine into consumer’s baskets it has the tendency to languish.

In the past, our staff has tended to focus on Pinot Noir from France rather than California when the dollars get to a certain point (over $30).  We have always been excited to showcase Pinot Noir from its famous home in Burgundy.  To our staff, the old school style of controlled fruit and greater complexity has always rang true as the proper (correct?) nature of Pinot Noir.  We tend to assign certain aesthetic values to wines from certain regions and, for right or wrong, assume these ‘universal’ truths:  Burgundian wines are more elegant, reserved, complex, and charming. They have more of the traditional qualities that ‘real’ wine drinkers savor. California wines have more fruit, richness, and extraction. They offer more upfront hedonistic pleasure. When it comes down to it, fans of Burgundy say the soul of the Pinot Noir is more fully expressed from the terroirs of Burgundy than anywhere else.

I love aged Burgundy and the intrigue it has on the palate.  What I don’t love is how hard it is to find a great example.  The wines, in my experience (regardless to how very small or large it may seem, I have professionally evaluated a thousand plus wines and consumed one hundred and fifty or so from Burgundy), don’t live up to the hype and expectations for the price paid.  It might be considered ‘sacrilegious’ but so be it. I still stock a ton of Burgundy as I really believe in the wines we carry. They are all of very good quality. Good they are, value they are not.  The wines that are truly special from Burgundy, the ones that reach a sublime nature, the wines that make the world stop, well, those wines are extremely expensive.  The pricing has gotten so high that the value wines are now in the forty to fifty dollar range.  You can get good wine for $50. I want great wine for $50.  The lower the price range for Burgundy (under $30 for instance) the higher the likelihood of getting something average, thin, and boring.  I do not require enough fruit to take on Smuckers, but I do expect enough fruit to provide enough initial pleasure to make the wine interesting.  This is not a bash on the Pinots from the Cote d’Or.  It is more about the inequities in our preference to sell Burgundies and how that might not make as much sense as it once did.  Burgundy has a place and a very important place, but California Pinot has its rightful place as an equal (in terms of attention).

Over the last two weeks, I have twice had the opportunity to taste a number of wines from Talisman Cellars.  First, I tasted 4 single vineyard designates in a big tasting setting in concert with the 2007 Calera Pinots (holy christmas, these are good) and Talisman not only held their own but a few even surpassed the harder, more tannic Caleras of much higher reputation. The Talismans were more open knit, generous, and inviting. I then had the chance to taste three of them again at the store.

I could use a hundred superlatives to talk about these wines. They offer so much for the money which is in direct contrast with a similarly priced Burgundy.  I have been just as guilty to sell potential customers Burgundy without really giving wines like the Talisman a chance.  I have always rationalized the pricing of Burgundy as being necessary (and appropriate) and always treated California Pinot in the opposite light. Having tasted a lot of domestic Pinot Noir recently, and after really getting to know the Talisman (and Calera) wines, I see either times have changed or I was wrong.  Detractors of California Pinots point to the overly extracted Syrah like Pinots as the root of all evil. Traditionalists like to attach this style as the style of all California Pinot.  First off, we ALL know this isn’t the case, and second, I am a firm believer in Syrah-ish Pinots.  Do I want to drink them every day? No, of course not, but do I want to drink ethereal Burgundian Pinot every day?  The styles range all over the place and all of them are important.  Ultimately, what is important is that their value is off the charts when compared to the ‘golden slope.’  The Talisman wines are very well made with great fruit, intensity, charm, and appropriate levels of weight.  Balance, complexity, and elegance; sounds like what we actually want to see from Burgundy, but rarely do.

2007 Hawk Hill Vineyard Russian River Valley– Layers of dark, almost powerful fruit, notes of iron and minerality, and good grip.  It also has bright fresh red berry fruit. A more masculine Pinot with more structure and acidity. Inky goodness! (tasted twice with consistent notes) ~$44.99

2007 Gunsalus Vineyard Russian River Valley– Spicy, full, and juicy with red and blue fruit and a very pretty note of violets and baking spices. Very complete nose.  On the palate, it is lush, soft, and bright that deepens with a darker fruit component. It also showed a touch of chocolate. Very impressive. ~$39.99

2006 Adastra Vineyard Los Carneros– First off, the 2006 is the current release as it needed extra time to soften and it still has great aging potential. The nose was bright, perfumed, earthy, and showed nice minerality.  Exotic with wild strawberries and raspberries.  On the palate, it shows natural structure and elegance.  A beauty! (tasted twice with consistent notes) ~$44.99

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The New H.R. 5034

by Taylor Cram

Please read Tom Wark’s blog, Fermentation: http://fermentation.typepad.com

He is hard at work educating wine consumers, retailers, and specialty wholesale companies about the potential devastating H.R. 5034 congressional bill.  It is a bill that is being ‘bought’ by massive wholesale companies to restrict consumer access to wine stores across the country.  They want to make it so you can only buy your wine from the local in-state store. The consumer will ultimately lose with less selection and choice.  The law has recently been rewritten to allow wineries to sell across the country but restrict retailers from selling across the country.  Isn’t that sending the message that it should be legal to ship wine, but only when it from the producer.  Clearly retailers should not be afforded a similar customer base. Basically they want to make it more difficult for retailers to survive in order to ‘protect’ their ‘rightful’ in-state sales.

What this boils down to is money and protectionism. The wholesalers want to control where consumers buy their goods in order to protect their bottle line. They want Congress to sign off on a deal to help ensure their profits. It is not designed to benefit anybody but the wholesale companies.  Please read Tom’s blog to get more in depth with the bill and its implications.

Please write to your local congressmen and tell them to defeat H.R. 5034.  It is better for the consumer.

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Bedrock Wine Co: Two Wines: Changing an Industry

By Taylor Cram

Bedrock Wine Co. is quickly becoming a very important, albeit, new producer from California.  Winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson has evolved from a 5 year old kid making Pinot Noir at his dad’s winery, Ravenswood, into a brilliant and hard working producer. He is not living under the iconic shadow his father casts across Sonoma rather he is making his own history. It looks like his shadow is going to be pretty big.  The following is Morgan’s mission statement:

Bedrock is an itsy-bitsy winery making wine in a converted chicken coop. Fruit from only the most excellent vineyard sites is hand pitch-forked into the destemmer, fermented in open top redwood and stainless vats using only native yeasts, and are manually basket pressed by winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson into the sexiest oak from the coldest French forests.

The winery’s objectives are:

  • To channel the fruit of ancient vines into powerful, elegant, and distinctly Californian wines.
  • To spread the gospel of Syrah in California by sourcing fruit from great terroirs throughout the North Coast.
  • To proclaim the greatness of Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon by sparing no expense on wines of uniqueness and personality.
  • To reclaim rose’ from the excesses of saignee and focus on precision, delicacy, aromatics, and food friendliness.
  • To make fascinating and quixotic white wines from unique sites and interesting varietals.
  • To make California Pinot Noir that ages as well as ’74 Swan.
  • To dream big but keep production low!

As I have gotten more interested in west coast wines of the last few years, I have spent increasingly more time searching out new and progressive producers.  At times, my philosophies on small producers and balanced wines  make it difficult to get excited by the Cali wines readily available in the market. Finding both small producers and ones that value balance is difficult, surprisingly so.  I have become smitten with cool climate Syrah (which Morgan has covered in spades), defined and ‘burgundian’ Pinot Noir, and traditional Cabernet (but not necessarily Bordeaux-ish Cabernet).  I am getting into exploring more whites as well, but hampared by my prejudices towards Cali Chard, it is hard to find lots of Trousseau Gris or Ribolla Gialla. Thankfully, Morgan has no problems pushing the expectations and conventions of the Cali wine industry.  After having the Cuvee Caritas White last night, I loved reading what Morgan had to say on the importance of Graves Blanc blends.

Get the soapbox ready…

I am, year in and year out, both disappointed and bored with the quality of Sauvignon Blanc being made in the United States. It is not because the right terroir is lacking here; there are any number of wonderful spots for the grape. Rather it is lack of winemaking inspiration and money grubbing that is at fault. With the onset in popularity of the squeaky clean, dime a dozen, New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, many other wineries in the U.S. are trying to copy the Kiwi model. This means picking early, fermenting really cold in stainless steel to preserve aromatic esters, impeding ML, sterile filtering, and getting the wine in bottle within 4-5 months. The wine is almost always fine tasting, if uninspired, and really cheap to make.

The Cuvee Caritas White 2008 won me over from the start. I always approach new school whites with a bit of a raised eyebrow and a guarded stance.  I hate to say it but I usually don’t like them (personally speaking). Morgan is clearly onto something here; could Graves Blanc blends start to matter in California?  2008 Cuvee Caritas: The nose started out with white peaches, sweet citrus, high-toned flowers, fresh clean aromas, and a note of lychee nuts. As it warmed and opened up, brown asian pears dominated the nose with more spiced notes and lychee nuts. On the palate, it was more aggressive with powerful polished citrus fruit and wonderful texture (oak presence?). While it was powerful, it was still elegant, almost creamy on the palate, and graceful. Everything was well proportioned, nothing was out of place or balance, and it was ripe without being heavy. I can assure you that from the beginning this white grabbed every bit of my attention.  Wow, if this is a sign of things to come, Morgan is a star.

After spending quite a bit of time with the Cuvee Caritas, I popped the cork on the Bedrock Heirloom Red Blend 2009. An Heirloom wine is essentially a field blend from really old vineyards dominated by Black varietals: Zin, Carignane, Petite Sirah, Mouvedre, Tempranillo, and others. The Bedrock vineyard in Sonoma is planted with vines that are about 120 years old!  In order to keep a little more focus on the wines, to learn more about the Heirloom wines and Morgan’s thoughts on them, read http://www.bedrockwineco.com/importance/california-heirloom-wines/   The 2009 is a brand new puppy, seemingly just days old, but I had to treat it unfairly!   Initially, I was only mildly interested in the Heirloom wines as I usually don’t like Zin (too big and over blown or not interesting enough if balanced) and the Bedrock is roughly 40% Zin. But my excitement for Morgan’s wines supersede my suspicions of Zin, and I jumped in.  2009 Heirloom Bedrock Vineyard: Juicy red and blue fruits leap from the glass with supporting Asian spices, animale, and exotic fruit. It is jammy and juicy but not heavy or sweet. It is bright and streamlined but never lacking flavor or intensity.  On the palate it is flavorful and very elegant with spicy fruit, minerals, iron, and lots of blackberry fruit.  It has length and acidity. It needs time to flesh out which, I feel, will add  more punch to the mid-palate. Very impressive. Wow, I can’t wait to see what this is like in a few years. I am grabbing some for my cellar!

What I couldn’t help but think as I sipped on the Heirloom was these wines have the potential to define an ‘era’ in the California wine industry.  These wines are progressive in that they ignore the abstract nature of so many of their over-blown counterparts and they engage the old school nature of old world wine making. Yet, they insist on being decidedly California: terroir is of the upmost importance to Morgan. Bedrock is moving the industry forward (with a few others) to more balance and flavor without overdoing it with oak, alcohol, and ripeness.  All the praise and press Bedrock is getting might not be enough. I’ll say it again, this is a very important winery. You should be paying attention.

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A Sort of Impromptu Tre Bicchiere Tasting

By Taylor Cram

Frederick Wildeman and one of the local wholesale companies, MS Walker,  put together a killer line-up of wines for the trade to get to know Wildeman’s Italian wines more intimately. For those who are not in the know, Tre Bicchiere (Italian for three glasses) is the highest level of quality awarded to Italian wines from the Gambero Rosso, the Italian wine guide; Tre Bicchiere is leveled to wines considered “extraordinary.”  Undoubtedly, it was a wonderful collection and introduction to the under-appreciated side of Frederick Wildeman.

And I didn’t go.  Why? Many reasons, but ultimately, I was pretty busy.  Regrettable?  It sure would have been.  Luckily, I had an ace in the hole, our Italian expert extraordinaire Rick, who was more than willing and suck it up and attended.  His report was good. Actually, his report was very good. Music to my ears. I trust Rick’s palate completely (and who wouldn’t? The man is a genius) and if he was excited, I knew I was going to be excited.  I felt good about things despite having missed this wonderful collection.

Low and behold, my salesman and good friend decided to collect a dozen or so of the stand outs and bring them to the store for me, Mike, and Elliott to taste. An impromptu Tre Bicchiere Tasting?  Yeah, that works.  The wines were in excellent condition and all seemed to have hit their stride at a half to two thirds down through the bottle. This was proving to be a very good day. The wines were polished, unique, and true to place. The terroir expression in a number of the wines was downright filthy. While each wine was singing, the following were my highlights of the must have in the store:

Marziano Abbona “Rinaldi” Barbera 2007- A pretty, pure dry fruit style nose with floral notes, cinnamon, and brown sugar (but not in a sweet way). In a way it was elegant and refined, with just a hint of exoticness. On the palate it was quite generous with a strong firm backbone of fruit and flint.  Very beautiful. A really classy Barbera.

Marziano Abbona “Bricco Barone” Nebbiolo 2007– Again, a very pretty nose of flowers and cherry fruit with subtle savory notes. On the palate, it had wonderful presence and persistence. It was well fruited with a pretty high toned cherry that was well supported by dark berries and chaulky tannins.

Le Ragose Garda Cabernet 2004– A cab from the Veneto? Rick had warned me that I was going to love this one.  Well, he was spot on.  I spent a good amount of time just smelling it.  My initial thoughts were, and I quote, “Holy S*#T nose! Deep, minerals, earthy, tobacco, Frank’s red hot spicy (but not the heat), mustard, wow. Leather. Layers of fruit: dark Berries and blue fruits but not at all jammy. On the palate, it was soft, inviting, and beautiful. Awesome. Needs to be experienced. Mike and I talked about this wine at length, and both agreed it is not necessarily for the Napa Cab drinker. We weren’t even sure that if tasted blind would we have called it Cab. What we did call it was awesome.

Castello Monachi “Piluna” Primitivo 2008– Savory and spicy with really nice juicy and taunt fruit. Talk about a great nose on Primitivo. Complex and interesting, very unexpected. The fruit was loaded and rich, yet soft and polished. Maybe the best Primitivo I have had in years? Ever?

La Ragose Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso 2006– Big, spicy, peppery with lots of upfront fruit. The nose is super interesting, but this wine really shows off on the palate with plush berry fruit, savory herbs, and leather. Complete with good structure, balance, and length. It is going to be a huge value!

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