We recently took a flyer on a wine from Washington state which I ended up enjoying immensely. Every time you strike out into a new wine region or style, it can be somewhat of of a crapshoot as you select a bottle and hope for the best. You may conduct some research beforehand, but chance quite often plays a great deal in whether you happen upon a special bottle or a run of the mill one.
In this case, we were both lucky and had some good guidance in the process. We were perusing the Washington wines at one of our favorite local bottle shops, and asked the owner for a recommendation. He actually gave us a few recommendations, and left it to us to make the final selection. Here is where the luck part came in. Perhaps we could have selected any of the bottles and thought they were excellent, perhaps not. But we chose this Syrah from Pomum Cellars and could not have been happier.
Pomum Cellars is a young winery started by a husband and wife team in Woodinville, Washington, north of Seattle. The winemaker spent much of his life in Spain’s Ribera del Duero, and after returning to the states and working as a hobbyist winemaker in his garage for several years, made the plunge and founded Pomum.
The winery focuses on producing just a few cases, with their current offerings encompassing a Riesling, a Syrah, and a red blend. In the past they’ve also made a Tempranillo. Their focus is clearly on the specificity of the grapes and vineyards that they work with, as evidenced by the vineyards page of their website and one account that I read of how far and frequently the winemaker travels to check on the grapes and confer with “his” growers. Reading the descriptions of each site gives you a clear sense of how much value he places in each of the vineyards they work with.
The other notable element about Pomum is their use of 500-liter oak puncheons for aging some of the wine. In the case of this Syrah, 23% of the wine was aged in these puncheons, with the remaining 77% being aged in used French oak barriques. I haven’t heard of other wineries using puncheons before, and find it pretty interesting. I would guess that a winery would be motivated to use them in order to moderate the impact of new oak on the wine, since with the greater ratio of wine to surface area in the barrel, the wine would come away with less oak compared to if it had been aged in a 55-gallon barrel. While this Syrah definitely has a strong oak backbone, it doesn’t overpower the fruit itself that the wine is built on. Perhaps this is indeed a result of the puncheons.
The wine is a deep, opaque purple red. The nose has dark notes of black cherry, currant, licorice, and subtle tobacco notes. The palate is soft and velvety, and the flavors are a continuation of the nose, with prominent dark fruits coupled with pipe tobacco and vanilla bean. The finish is pleasant, lingering with notes of of sweet black cherry.
This was a really enjoyable wine. It was sturdy and full-bodied while still expressing great flavors dark fruits and a nice presence in the glass. I suspect the age of the wine helped to calm down the Syrah a great deal, as some younger Syrahs that I’ve had have been much sharper and tannic, and less well-rounded. Having enjoyed this wine, I’d happily seek out others from Pomum in the future.
Ridge Vineyards is a winery that has fascinated me for much of the time that I’ve been interested in wine. Their wines, methods, and story are all a compelling source of interest for oenophiles.
Ridge’s history dates back to the late 1950s, when the property the winery and some of its vineyards reside on in Santa Cruz was purchased by a group of Stanford researchers. At the time, this didn’t include the Monte Bello vineyard, which was not purchased until a few years later. In the meantime, Dave Bennion and the rest of his partners had begun holding back some of their grapes to make wine themselves (the rest were sold to other wineries) and were becoming increasingly interested in using all of the harvest for their own wines.
In 1969 they hired Paul Draper, and the rest, as they say, is history. Draper became their chief winemaker and has remained at the helm ever since. The 1971 Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon that he led the making of was part of the historic Judgement of Paris in 1976, where it came in 5th. Over time, Ridge became one of the leading proponents of vineyard-designated wines, particularly with the range of single-vineyard Zinfandels the winery began releasing in the 1970s. The winery, led by Draper, also become a strong advocate for making wines with minimal intervention, allowing the grapes and their natural terroir come through.
While their wines are all excellent, it is this commitment to “natural” methods of winemaking that I find the most fascinating about Ridge. In a market favoring big, bold, often highly alcoholic red wines from northern California, Draper has continuously produced wines according to his own specifications. His restrained use of American oak, low yields, natural fermentations, and devotion to letting the unique characteristics of a specific site come through in the finished wine are all reasons that Ridge wines are both so compelling and so unique.
Draper’s note on the back of the label for this 2008 Estate Cabernet sums it up nicely: “The distinctive character of the world’s great wines has always been determined by their site – not by man.”
I really enjoy reading about Ridge Vineyards and the work that Paul Draper has done there. You may as well, so here are links to a few good resources. Most are interviews with or profiles of Draper, but at this point he is nearly synonymous with Ridge itself:
- “History and Philosophy of Winemaking at Ridge Vineyards, 1970s-1990s.” This extensive interview with Paul Draper is one of a series of oral histories that were collected by UC Davis.
- “Letting a Grape Be a Grape.” Very good profile of Draper and Ridge by the always interesting-to-read Eric Asimov of the New York Times.
- “A Non-Action Approach to Winemaking.” Another brief profile by Asimov.
- “Paul Draper.” Profile of Draper by Wine Spectator writer James Laube.
This 2008 vintage of the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon was produced from 66 tons of grapes harvested from 34 acres of vineyards, resulting in 24 parcels of this wine. The grapes are all from the Monte Bello vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where the grapes for the famed Monte Bello wine are also grown. This bottling includes 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 3%, Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc.
The wine itself is a deep, black red. The nose has notes of black licorice, raspberry, cherry, oak resin, and an undercurrent of vanilla. The palate’s texture is soft and supple with medium tannins supporting dense flavors of tart black cherry, rich plum, tobacco and a healthy dose of spicy, resinous oak. The lingering finish is rich with tart, dark fruit. All in all, this is a big wine that deftly blends rich fruit flavors with tart ones and has a strong current of oaky flavors running through it.
On the label, Eric Baugher (vice president-winemaking) writes this note about the vintage:
“A severe winter ended In early February, leaving the vines short of water by late August. Moderate summer weather ripened the small crop during the first three weeks of October. Color and tannins extracted rapidly from the small berries. Parcels that make up the Estate Cabernet consistently produce wines that are more accessible and elegantly structured than those dedicated to the Monte Bello. Typically, we reduce pump-overs and press early, balancing tannins to fruit.”
White wines from the Jura are truly something special. In the oceans of wine out there, the emphasis of this strikes home with me more each time that I taste one. Unfortunately, that remains a relatively rare experience, as finding these wines is difficult. In 2006, the Art Of Eating featured Jura wines in a fascinating in-depth article. This was the first time I’d heard of them, and at the time finding them was all but impossible. But slowly, and I believe partly as a result of the interest sparked by this article among a small group of wine drinkers, certain shops in Boston began carrying more of them. Even Vin Jaune could be found if you were especially fortunate.
Of late, I’ve found that these wines are harder to find, which is a real shame because they can be so utterly fascinating. Wines from this region simply aren’t like wines made anywhere else in the world, and the best of them are truly sublime. Of course, I’m speaking here largely of the whites, which are the Jura’s calling card. The reds, made largely from Pinot Noir, Poulsard, Trousseau are nowhere near as impressive, often light in body and flavor. But the whites can be amazing.
Vin Jaune is the white that the Jura is most famous for, but many of their other white wines, typically made from Chardonnay or Savagnin, can be very delicious and feature many of the same qualities that Vin Jaune does. This all owes to how these wines are produced. The combination of the Savagnin grape (unique to the Jura) and their method of aging wines sous-voile (also unique to the Jura) produces white wines like no other.
The production of Vin Jaune requires the use of 100% Savagnin and aging the wines in barrel for at least 6 years, during which time the barrel is never topped up, allowing it to develop a thin film of yeast on the surface of the wine. The result is that the wine oxidizes very slowly during those 6 years, developing the characteristic flavors of walnut, butter, coffee, honey, apple, and cocoa.
Other whites from the Jura do not have such requirements. Yet, nonetheless many are made in a similar fashion, often both using the Savagnin grape and aging sous-voile. The distinction between these and Vin Jaune would be the duration of aging, which is closer to 1-2 years.
While Savagnin is perhaps the grape that the Jura is most notable for, Chardonnay is also widely grown, and just as often treated in the same fashion. This wine from Domaine Rolet is a great example of this. It is from grapes grown in the the l’Etoile appellation (also home to the excellent Domaine de Montbourgeau), but they also grow grapes in the Arbois and wider Cotes du Jura appellations. Domaine Rolet is a family-owned winery, tended to by the four Rolet siblings, and overseeing 60 hectares that include the 5 typical Jura varieties: Chardonnay 34%, Savagnin 21%, Poulsard 21%, Trousseau 10%, and Pinot Noir 13%.
The label on the wine has a small statement reading:
La constitution geologique du sous-sol jurassien fait du Revermont une terre de predilection quant a l’obtention de vins blancs secs d’un haut niveau. Celui-ci, privilegement le cepage Chardonnay restitue bien toute la delicatesse du terroir de l’Etoile.
“Revermont” refers to the ridge of hills that runs north-south through the l’Etoile appellation, and throughout much of the Jura generally. L’Etoile is the second smallest appellation in the Jura, covering 160 hectares. It gets its name from the small star-shaped fossils of pentacrines (extinct relatives of starfish) that are found in the soil. This is an appellation well-known for its oxidized wines, both Vin Jauneand other whites. I’ve had several whites and a Vin de Paille from this appellation and all have been excellent.
The wine is a ight, greeny gold with auburn tints. The nose is bright and promising, with notes of apple orchard, pear, and hazelnut. On the palate, the wine is soft and smoothly textured, with dense flavors of poached pears, brioche, vanilla, and walnut, all ringed by a nutty acidity. Much more full, well-textured, and layered with flavor than the nose indicates. The finish is lingering, with notes of pear and walnut.
This wine does a great job of walking a tightrope between the soft and supple texture and fruit-driven flavors of Chardonnay, and the nutty, sweet acidity characteristic of many Jura whites. It’s really enjoyable, and the flavors continued to develop as the wine warmed. Highly recommend…
I’ve long been a fan of Zinfandel, and of Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel in particular. I’ve tried Zinfandels from all over California, including those areas where I think it grows best (Paso Robles, Alexander Valley, and Rockpile Road for instance). But in the end, I always come back to Zins from Dry Creek Valley.
The Zinfandels made in this appellation exhibit a degree of character that isn’t quite there in other Zins, however good they may be. I often identify this as a brambly, earthy, rustic element that makes the wines just breathe a sense of place.
Now, there may be a certain degree of romanticism to this belief of mine, but then half the joy of wine is it’s romanticism, isn’t it? A given wine conveys to us its own meaning, a meaning undoubtedly imbued with our own thoughts, expectations, and beliefs. Great wine or not, we enjoy it for reasons beyond merely what’s in the glass.
But I tell you, Zins from dry creek valley really are unique, and delicious too. And this example from the Hobo Wine Company is no exception.
Who is Hobo Wine Company you ask? Good question, and it’s the first question that popped into my head when I saw this bottle. It was a gift from a good friend whose taste is entirely trustworthy, so I figured the wine had a lot of promise. But nonetheless, it was a complete unknown to me. It turns out that the Hobo Wine Company is the name of winemaker Kenny Likitprakong. Begun in 2002, the label was his first foray into winemaking under his own “name”, after having worked in various wine-making capacities at a handful of California wineries.
Initially, Hobo Wine Co. made all of their wine from purchased grapes, establishing relationships with growers throughout Sonoma County. A few years later in 2006, he began leasing vineyards in both Dry Creek Valley and Santa Rosa. Since then, the company’s vineyard holdings have increased incrementally, as has production. Whereas initially Hobo Wine Co. put out a Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel and Dry Creek Valley Port, today the range of releases is somewhat broader, with a year-round lineup that includes two more Zinfandel bottlings and two Cabernet Sauvignon bottlings, alongside special small-lot releases or single-vineyard bottlings.
Their approach is typical of many smaller, more craft-oriented winemakers nowadays, with an emphasis on minimal intervention, selective use of natural yeasts, and a light-handed use of (both French and American) oak.
So the back-story was a good one, but how would the wine stack up? I mean, when it comes to Zins, my expectations are somewhat high…
The wine pours a dark, inky purple. The nose is ripe with notes of blackberry and black currant, dark earthy mint, and more subtle notes of French oak and vanilla. The palate is a balanced blend of flavors both earthy and sweet, with ample tannin to boot. In fact, it’s more balanced than the richness of the nose would have you expect. Flavors of sweet and tart black and red berries dominant, with a dark coffee element thrown in for good measure. The tannins dry out the palate and lend a gripping oakiness to it. Over time in the glass they soften, but never fully go away. The finish is medium-length with black fruit left on a drying palate.
I was surprised at how tannic this wine was, and felt that either a) it could have been aged even longer, and b) it should have been opened much earlier. In fact, we kept a couple of glasses worth for the next day, and the tannins had softened considerably by then, making for a much smoother drinking experience. All in all though, a very tasty wine, and I’d be game for looking into more of their wines if I see them in the future.
Serendipity is an amazing thing. Happenstance, chance, whatever you want to call it. Sometimes you just luck out. This happened to us recently, as we stumbled across a great little wine shop, and an absolutely top-notch winery. In some sense, we have the weather to thank.
As you may have heard, it tends to rain a fair amount here in Portland. Particularly in the winter, the weather can be pretty fickle, switching from overcast, to patches of sunshine, to drizzly rain in the space of a few moments. And that covers the pattern of most days. Then occasionally, pretty infrequently, it starts to really come down in buckets.
On a recent Friday afternoon we had opted to walk home from the city center, and were about halfway when the sky really opened up and let us have it. The rain was coming down in droves, and even with our umbrellas (yes, we carry umbrellas) we were getting pretty soaked. Just as we were starting to envision the need to swim home, we realized that we’d made it as far as a wine shop that we had been intending to stop at for some time. So, welcoming a break from the slogging rain, and with no time as good as the present, we stopped in at Garrison’s.
This is one of those ideal wine shops that has a good selection without being too big, and who have clearly made careful, well thought-out decisions about which wines to carry. The selection was pretty well-balanced between U.S., French, and Italian wines, with the majority of the U.S. wines given over to Oregon selections. Not surprisingly, Oregon had the greatest presence among these wines, with several wineries represented that we had not yet come across.
What was most exciting was the selection of half-bottles of Oregon Pinot Noir. Half-bottles are a real rarity in general, and particularly so for Oregon Pinot. But Garrison’s had several available, including some of multiple vintages. The owner, a friendly and very tall guy by the name of Travis, was very helpful as we selected a few half bottles to take home with us. All in all, we’re looking forward to going back for more good recommendations.
This bottle was one of the ones we picked up that evening. Matello is a small winery located in Newberg, Oregon, with an annual production of 2000 cases. They make a number of pinot noirs, alongside a couple of whites, a rose, and a few wines made from other red grapes. At Garrison’s, Travis had spoken very highly of the wines and the winemaker, and this bottle very much confirmed the impressions he had given.
The Whistling Ridge Pinot Noir is produced from grapes sourced from the eponymous vineyard, located in the Ribbon Ridge AVA. This is a sub-AVA of the larger Willamette Valley AVA, and includes 20 vineyards covering 350 acres of grapes. It’s a relatively recently identified AVA, having become official in 2005. But grapes have been planted here for three decades. The vineyard that Matello sources its grapes from is made up of very shallow soil, forcing the vines to work that much harder to dig their way into the ground for nutrients. The result are grapes with great intensity that produce tightly wound wines that will take time to open up in the glass (and in the bottle).
The wine is medium-hued, pouring a dark-toned ruby red. The nose is fresh and lively, with notes of cranberry, black cherry, cocoa, and menthol. The palate is soft and supple, with flavors of currants, plums, figs, ash, underscored by a subtle creaminess, lively acidity, and medium-strong tannins. The lengthy finish has methol and dark fruits.
All in all, a very exciting wine. It felt as though it needed some more time in the bottle for the tannins to mellow out. But, this didn’t detract from how enjoyable it was. We’ve got a couple other bottles of Matello Pinots on hand – their Willamette Valley and Souris bottlings – and this wine very much whet our palate for them. So stay tuned, more to come on this winery!