Tasting Events

I Wish They All Could Be California

North Coast

Although the French wouldn’t like to hear it, there are some high level similarities between the USA’s AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) and the French Appellations d’Origine Controlées (AOCs), namely that the most prestigious delineated areas are small and sit within larger areas, sometimes with multiple layers – for example, just as Puligny-Montrachet is a part of the Côte de Beaune and then the larger Burgundy area, Russian River Valley is part of Sonoma County, then the North Coast and finally the general California area.

Confusing?  Perhaps, but the relative size of an appellation within a region is one (of several) indicators to a wine’s quality.  Here are three wines from Cline Cellars – a producer I hold in high regard – that illustrate this.

Cline Cellars North Coast Viognier 2013 (14.0%, €17.99 at jnwine.com)

Cline_CATier_Viognier_NV_Stelvin small

The North Coast AVA is illustrated on the map above – it contains the world-renowned Napa and Sonoma plus other great areas such as Los Carneros.  If a producer uses grapes from one of those prestigious areas then s/he will use that on the label, but if the vines lie outside them or the wine is a blend from different regions then North Coast will be used.

This is a 100% Viognier, the aromatic grape that was once almost lost apart from a few plots in Condrieu in the Northern Rhône.  It manages to be fresh and rich at the same time, with typical Viognier aromas of flowers and stone fruit such as apricot and peach.  It has a little oiliness in the mouth and more body than many whites.  Viognier is a grape that I don’t always get on with, but this is the best Californian Viognier I’ve tried to date – and great value too!

Cline Cellars Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2013 (14.5%, €22.50 at jnwine.com)

 

cline_sonomatier_pn_nv_final small

Sonoma Coast is the part of Sonoma County that lies – you guessed it! – on the coast.  This obviously makes it a cooler climate area than inland Sonoma (it also receives more rain than the rest of the county), so it’s more suited to varieties such as Pinot Noir.  That being said, at 14.5% this is no shrinking violet of a Pinot – you’d never wonder if it was actually a rosé rather than a red, like some Pinots!  It has a lot of body and power, but it’s no monster either, as there’s plenty of acidity to keep it in balance, and although it feels silky and voluptuous in the mouth there’s no alcohol burn on the finish.  In line with the experience there’s an abundance of bold black fruit and a twist of exotic spice.  It’s an all-round impressive wine!

Cline Cellars Contra Costa County Big Break Vineyard Zinfandel 2011 (16.0% €29.50 at jnwine.com)

 

cline_singlevineyard_bigbreak_zn_nv_final small

Based on my somewhat basic understanding of California’ geography, Contra Costa County is actually just outside the North Coast wine area, right at the bottom of the map at the top.  This is a single vineyard wine, so perhaps some sort of equivalent of Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru Les Folatières?  Well, that might be a bit fanciful, but the (unirrigated) vines here are a century old and produce impressive concentration.  The sun beats down fiercely during the day but the nearby Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers provide cooling breezes at night which allow the grapes to rest.

Okay, there’s no hiding from the size of the Big Break Zin (named after an old levee in the area which broke decades ago) but you don’t have to – it’s approachable and cuddly rather than intimidating.  It wears its 16.0% well, just like its little brother Pinot, all down to balancing acidity.  In fact the acidity comes through in the type of fruit tasted on the palate – fresh black cherry and blackberry, with hints of cinnamon and other spices.

Conclusions

Of course the comparison between AVAs and AOCs can only go so far – the latter can be incredibly prescriptive in terms of varieties, yields, vine training, irrigation, alcohol levels and many other things, whereas AVAs are primarily just based on vineyard location.  But I think that the wines above do show that there are different quality levels and that smaller is generally better.  It could just be down to the nature of the grapes for each wine, but above all paying more definitely brings the rewards of higher concentration in the glass.

Are you inclined to agree?

 

And of course, those lyrics…

 

 

 

Opinion

Frankie, my dear, I don’t give a damn

Inspired by a comment from Mr Richie Magnier of The Motley Cru, here are 10 wines / grapes / regions / producers with some connection – however tenuous – to the name FRANKIE!  If this seems somewhat vain, well maybe it is, but hopefully also a bit of fun…

1. Cabernet Franc (Loire & Bordeaux)

Cabernet-franc
From Viala & Vermorel – Ampélographie

So we kick off with one of the classiest Francs around, a stalwart black grape of Loire and Bordeaux that’s also becoming quite trendy in Argentina.

In Bordeaux it’s a useful blending component on both Left and Right banks, especially as it ripens before its offspring Cabernet Sauvignon.  In fact, in Bourg, Saint-Emilion and Pomerol it’s not usual for “Cabernets” plural to indicate a mix of the two without giving their relative proportions.

In the Loire Cab Franc is important in Saumur, Chinon, Anjou and Bourgueil.  It’s often a single varietal here, whether as a red or a rosé such as Cabernet d’Anjou.

2. Blaufränkisch / Kékfrankos

Blaufrankisch_close_upIn case you weren’t aware, these two names are the same grape in different languages – German and Hungarian respectively.  The origin stems from the colour – blue – and the supposed more noble Frankish (well I’m hardly going to disagree with that!) origins of Charlemagne’s Franks.

Blaufränkisch is grown across central Europe including Austria, the Czech Republic and many parts of former Yugoslavia, with just a few brave pioneers trying it in Adelaide Hills and Washington State.

3. Frank Phélan

frank-phelan-saint-estephe

Château Phélan Ségur of Saint-Estèphe in the Médoc was founded by Irishman Bernard Phelan who acquired and joined two existing estates in the early 1800s.  On his death the Château passed to his son Frank who spent a total of thirty years as the Mayor of the town.

The second wine of Phélan Ségur is named after Frank, and is both cheaper and more approachable than the Grand Vin.  It often receives accolades for quality v price (well this is Bordeaux) and its big and bold fruit shouldn’t be a surprise when you find out that Michel Rolland is the consulting oenologist here.

4. Ezerjó

What?  Who?  Where?  According to St Jancis of Robinson this is apparently a white Hungarian wine grape grown primarily in the Mór region which is mainly used for dessert wines.  And??  In the listings of the Vitis International Variety Catalogue (essential reading, I’m sure you’ll agree) Ezerjó is also known by the synonyms Biella, Budai Feher, Budicsin, Budicsina, Cirfondli, Ezer Jo, Feher Bakator, Feher Budai, Feher Sajgo, Feher Szagos, Frank, Kerekes, Kolmreifer, Kolmreifler, Konreifler, Korpavai, Korponai, Korponoi, Matyok, Predobre, Refosco, Refosco Weiss, Romandi, Satoki, Scheinkern, Scheinkernweiss, Shaikern, Staloci, Szadocsina, Szadoki, Szatoki, Szatoky, Tausendfachgute, Tausendgerte, Tausendgut, Tausendgute, and Trummertraube.

Wake up, you missed it!  I put it in bold and you fell asleep!  Shame on you!

5. Dr Frank Wine Cellars (Finger Lakes)

DF WinesDr Konstantin Frank emigrated to New York State from the Ukraine in 1951.  After years of research he became convinced that Vitis Vinifera (proper vines) could flourish in the cool climate of upstate New York if they were grafted onto the right rootstock.

He founded Vinifera Wine Cellars in 1962 and his Rieslings soon became successful.  The company is now run by the third generation with the fourth in training!  Rumours that Dr Frank used to gig with Dr John could not be confirmed.

6. Franken

franconia

Known as Franken in German or Franconia in English, this is one of Germany’s quality wine regions, and is the only wine region within Bavaria (I understand they make beer there as well).

The wines made are nearly always single varietals rather than blends and tend to be dry – even more dry than they have to be under German labelling laws.

The tasty-but-unfashionable Sylvaner is reputed to hit its heights here, though there is still more of the workhorse Müller-Thurgau at the moment.

Franconian wines are often easy to spot by their round, flattened flask shaped bottle known as a Bocksbeutel.

7. Frank Family Vineyards

Frank Family

In the heart of Napa Valley is the winery belonging to former Disney big cheese Rich Frank (I presume short for Richard, or perhaps he is just very wealthy).

Established as the Larkmead Winery in 1884, the building is now on the National Register of Historical Places and is listed as a Point of Historical Interest in the state of California.  Wines made here include the usual Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Petite Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon but also Sangiovese.

8. Bleasdale Frank Potts

bleasdale-frank-potts-blend

Bleasdale winery was founded in 1850 by English-born Frank Potts in Langhorne Creek, South Australia.  The firm remains in family hands – now onto the 6th generation – and so their flagship Cabernet blend is named after the founder.

This wine actually ticks five out of the six permitted black varieties in Bordeaux – Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  Bravo, Frank!

9. Francis Ford Coppola Winery

Francis Ford Coppola WineryWhen The Godfather was a critical and financial success for director Francis Ford Coppola he splashed out on a winery in Sonoma County, and quietly made wines there without ever referring to his film career.

Okay that last bit is a lie!  Among the many levels of Mr Coppola’s portfolio you can find both the Director’s and Director’s Cut ranges – including the  limited release “Cinema” blend – alongside the quotation: “Winemaking and filmmaking are two great art forms” stated by….Francis Ford Coppola of course!

10.Frankly Wines

And finally…

Frankly Wines

No, this isn’t my blog, it’s another Frankly Wines – it’s a wine shop in New York City run by Christy Frank, previously of LVMH’s US operation (which is where Kevin Judd (of Greywacke and formerly Cloudy Bay) knows her from – and he once thought my Frankly Wines t-shirt referred to her shop!).  Ok, no more brackets.

I hope you enjoyed the ride!

 

 

 

 

Tasting Events

My Favourites from the James Nicholson Christmas Portfolio Tasting (Part two)

Part one of my report covered some delicious sparkling and white wines.  Now it’s time to focus on the red wines that I really liked at the James Nicholson Christmas Portfolio Tasting:

Vignobles Alain Maurel Château Ventenac La Réserve de Jeanne 2012 (€15.45)

Domaine Vententac La Reserve de Jeanne 2012
Château  Ventenac La Réserve de Jeanne 2012

An unusual (officially speaking) but traditional (entirely off the record) blend of Bordeaux and Rhône varieties, this typically consists of Cabernet Franc (30%), Merlot (30%), Syrah (35%) and Grenache (5%), though the precise assemblage is vintage-dependent.  There is a long tradition of using robust and fruity wines from the Rhône to add a bit of oomph to Burgundy and fruitiness to Bordeaux.  In Australia the Shiraz-Cabernet blend is an established part of the winescape, but only recently have premium multi-region blends started to reappear in France.

Vignobles Alain Maurel is based near Carcasonne in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Domaine Ventenac is used for everyday-drinking varietal wines whereas Château Ventenac is for terroir-driven more complex wines under the Cabardes AOC.

Vinification is in large stainless stell tanks.  The grapes are cold soaked for five days then fermented at 28°C.  The juice is pumped over every day for the whole 35 days of the process.  10% of the blend spends 12 months in American oak barriques and 90% spends 12 months in slightly porous concrete  tanks.

Although in the south of France the aspect of the vineyards enables the wines to be kept fresh rather than jammy.  This wine exhibits lots of herb and spice characters, particularly liquorice, with acidity keeping it interesting.  An absolute steal at this price!

Societa  Agricola Piero Busso Barbaresco Mondino DOCG 2009 (€39.50) & Barbaresco San Stunet DOCG 2008 (€57.50)

Societa  Agricola Busso Barbaresco Mondino DOCG 2008
Societa Agricola Piero Busso Barbaresco Mondino DOCG 2008

I couldn’t decide which I preferred of this pair so I put them both in!  Produced in the “other” top wine area of Piedmont’s Langhe (the more famous being Barolo) this is a 100% Nebbiolo. If you are interested in the differences between the two areas then Kerin O’Keefe’s new book “Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine” is a great place to look further.

The winery was founded by Piero’s father in 1953 and is still a family affair – his wife Lucia, his daughter Emanuela and his son Pierguido are all intimately involved in the vineyard and the winery.  Fermentation is in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and then maturation is 18 months in large oak barrels with a further 6 months in bottle.

The biggest difference between the two wines was explained as the altitude of the respective vineyards; the Mondino is at 190 M whereas the San Stunet Stefanet M.  The obvious implication is that temperatures tend to be cooler at higher altitudes and the wines are “cooler” as a consequence.  On tasting, both wines showed power and tannin but finesse.  The Mondino was more feminine in character, and the San Studet Stefanetto was definitely masculine.  For Bordeaux lovers, Margaux v Pauillac is something of an illustration.

So which would I chose?  I’m not sure the San Studet Stefanetto is worth the price premium for my palate so I’d buy the Mondino – but if someone else was paying then definitely the former!

Cline Vineyards Sonoma Coast Cool Climate Pinot Noir 2012 (€18.45)

Cline Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012
Cline Vineyards Sonoma Coast Cool Climate Pinot Noir 2012

I was lucky enough to taste this wine when James Nicholson had a table at the Big Ely Tasting (keep your eyes peeled for the post(s)!) and liked it so much that I was very keen to try it again at JN Wine’s own tasting.

Based in California’s Sonoma County, Fred and Nancy Cline started out by restoring old vineyards planted with Rhône varieties, then adding Zinfandel and later Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah.  They produce several different quality levels, from “California Classics” up to more premium “Single Vineyard” bottlings.

This is their excellent version of a “cool climate” Pinot Noir, though “cooler” would be more fitting as it still manages to hit 14.5% abv.  The alcohol level is not apparent when tasting as the wine is so well balanced.  It’s big and powerful, yes, and more Central Otago than Marlborough, but it’s savoury and smooth rather than jammy.

Cline Vineyards Big Break Zinfandel 2011 (€29.50)

Cline Vineyards Big Break Zinfandel 2011
Cline Vineyards Big Break Zinfandel 2011

Another fine Cline wine – and if you thought the Pinot sounded big, it’s but a baby brother to this Big Zin which boasts 16.0% abv!  It is a huge wine but it’s not monstrous, it’s well balanced and tasty.  Black fruit rules here, with stewed, dried and fresh plums, black cherry and blackberry, along with toasted notes from the oak, and framed by firm tannins.

It’s not a summer afternoon wine, but now winter is upon us it very much fits the bill of what I want in my glass.

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