California – Life beyond Cabernet and Chardonnay
Continuing with highlights from the Spring tastings, I’ve picked out some interesting and more unusual highlights encountered around California. The State may be best known for Napa Valley and full-blown and exceedingly expensive Cabernet’s and Bordeaux blends but there is much else to excite the wine drinker. The wines profiled here may not fall into the cheap category but they do offer value and character.
2013 Precedent Wines – Old Vine White Cienega Valley
Precedent is a small artisan operation based in Contra Costa County to the east of San Francisco. Owner/winemaker Nathan Kandler is a firm believer in terroir and bringing a real sense of place to his wines. His vineyard sources are sustainably farmed, wine making is with natural yeasts and bottling with minimal sulphur, unfined and unfiltered.
His Old Vine White is a Riesling sourced from the Wirz Vineyard and a patch of dry-farmed, head trained old vines now over 60 years old. Vinification is distinctly different from many established “classic” examples you may be familiar with from Germany, Alsace or Austria. Whole bunch pressing then slow barrel fermentation in used French oak followed by the malolactic fermentation. The result is a wine with a rich opulent texture, zesty fresh acidity and hints of floral, citrus and peach fruits.
Nathan Kandler also makes a dry Chenin Blanc from Clement Hills in Lodi. Among his reds he also currently produces a Zinfandel, which is also Contra Costa County sourced from the Evangelho Vineyard. Earlier releases included a Syrah from the Bennett Valley in Sonoma County and a Pinot Noir from Marin County.
UK Importer – Indigo Wines
2014 Wind Gap – Trousseau Gris Russian River Valley
Wind Gap are based in Sebastopol in the Russian River Valley but make a range of characterful wines from a number of areas under the guiding eye of winemaker Pax Mahle who has also made some exceptional Rhône styles at the Pax Wines company.
The Trousseau Gris, a rare example of the variety in California is sourced from the Russian River Valley. Like all the wines here cool climate sources are sort to provide a fresh edge and drinkability. There is a traditional vinification with a brief skin contact, fermentation in a mix of stainless tanks and concrete, and then aging in neutral oak and stainless steel to lend the wine a little structure and emphasise the quality of its fruit. The result is impressive weight on the palate with an interesting array of floral and exotic fruit aromas.
UK Importer – Roberson Wine
2013 Lioco Wines – Sativa Carignan Mendocino County
Lioco Wines source fruit from Sonoma, Mendocino and Santa Cruz counties. While their artisan range is dominated by Pinot Noir and Chardonnay they also source Carignan from old vines for their Santa Rosa winemaking base. They refer to themselves as a European style négociant and produce wines with a restrained elegance often missing in the State.
The Sativa Carignan is an impressive red which bears comparison with the best examples of the variety from France’s Midi regions. The vines are 70 years old, are head-pruned, dry-farmed and have an ideal southerly exposition. Vinification is from whole bunches and aging is in neutral oak. There is a really characterful old-vine complexity and a beguiling array of dark berry fruits and herb spices.
UK Importer – Roberson Wine
2014 The Prisoner Wine Co – The Prisoner Red Napa Valley
While this blog looks at some rarer wine styles in California, The Prisoner Wine Co are in fact based in the Napa Valley. The Prisoner Red also includes a small proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon, however the rest of the blend is distinctly less Napa like. The wine is dominated by Zinfandel and also includes Syrah, Petite Sirah and Charbono as well as Cabernet resulting in a unique blend with winemaker Jen Beloz sourcing fruit from a number of small farmers.
Marked by intense dark berry fruits, hints of raspberry, pepper spices and coffee, the wine offers impressive depth, intensity and concentration. Aging in oak is not overdone, 30% of the barrels are new with a combination of both French and American wood used.
We can certainly certainly also recommend the white blend Blindfold which combines a base of Chardonnay with an interesting mix of Roussanne, Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Chenin Blanc. Three additional wines are made. Cuttings is their Cabernet Sauvignon, Saldo a Zinfandel while Thorn is a Merlot including a little Syrah and Malbec.
UK Importer – The Wine Treasury
Coming next – some top wines from the Pacific North-West