The season for obligatory merriment is here, providing a variety of excuses to open delicious wines and share them with others! The domestic shelves are presently full of party-friendly and gift-worthy bottles, ranging from the experimental to the classic. Our California offers tend to be dominated by favorite winemakers from the north of the state. Today, in addition to some fine new arrivals from Salinia, Forlorn Hope, Enfield, Matthiasson, and Scholium Project, we are excited to represent the southern reaches of the vast Central Coast region with two excellent producers: AmByth Estate in Paso Robles and Dragonette Cellars in Santa Barbara County.
AmByth Estate was founded in 2004, when Phillip and Mary Hart planted 15 acres of 10 different grape varieties near the town of Templeton on Linne Calodo, the special limestone and clay soils of the region. AmByth is the word for "forever" in Welsh and an apt reference to the Harts' motivation to farm organically and biodynamically, and to eschew irrigation in their vineyards (as well as sulphur or additives of any kind in the cellar). The decision to dry farm is somewhat radical in hot, dry regions like Paso Robles and AmByth's yields are predictably low -- they are lucky if they achieve one ton of fruit per acre. (Average yields in Paso Robles are 2.5 – 6 tons per acre.) Consequently, there is not a lot of wine to sell. We are pleased to have the densely-flavored but incredibly fresh 2011 Red Table Wine as well as a few bottles of herbal, shimmering 2010 Counoise, both from AmByth Estate fruit.
John and Steve Dragonette and Brandon Sparks-Gillis, the talented founders of Dragonette Cellars, are making truly subtle and intriguing translations of Santa Barbara County's cool climate vineyards and terroirs. They meticulously select, farm, and harvest plots of vines in interesting regions like Happy Canyon, a young AVA in the Santa Ynez Valley that boasts iron-rich serpentinite soils, and in the cool, windy Santa Rita Hills, where grapes ripen slowly and flavors unfold with fascinating layers of spice, herbs, and musk. Dragonette offers new and memorable expressions of familiar varieties like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Grenache. The Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc achieves a delicious balance of ripe, succulent tropical notes with surprisingly bold acidity and mineral tone; the Santa Barbara Grenache is subtle, salty, and frankly outstanding -- the kind of wine that makes you wonder what else you're missing from the region.
Oregon wines are figuring prominently in holiday drinking this year. Loire-o-phile winemakers Scott and Dana Frank of Portland's Bow & Arrow provide the season's best party wines with light, zesty, and pleasurable cuvees from Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Melon de Bourgogne. (They even make a Gamay Nouveau!) Acid fiends and minimalists may rejoice at the return of Teutonic's risky renditions of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Gewürztraminer, while value hunters should nab a few bottles of Lundeen Pinot Noir.
Lastly, we would like to invite you to a special tasting with Abe Schoener, who is one of the most innovative and informative figures in American wine. Abe will be in the store tonight (Thursday, December 12th) from 5 - 6:30pm, pouring excellent new arrivals from his Napa-based Scholium Project and from Red Hook Winery in Brooklyn. We encourage you to come with questions (and prepare to leave with more). Happy drinking! AR
AmByth's 2011 "Red Table Wine" has earned a bit of a following, and for great reason. An exuberant and easy-drinking blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Grenache Blanc, Counoise, Syrah, and Marsanne from Phillip and Mary Hart's organic, biodynamic, and dry-farmed patchwork of (mostly) Rhone varietals, delineated by rows of olive trees. Fluttery florals combine with intense red fruit and wild, musky grape skins on the nose (like inhaling a fresh fermentation). Boysenberry, raspberry seeds, ripe cherries, and sweet tomato fill the palate, with hints of rose blossom, lavender, and light, powdery earth. Concentrated but clear-fruited, with wonderfully fresh acidity and length. AR
When we heard that Phillip and Mary Hart of AmByth made a varietal wine from their 1.3 acre plot of certified biodynamic Counoise, we had to have some (and gratefully accepted the few bottles they could spare)! If pressed to refer to an "Aha" moment with domestic Counoise, it would be Broc Cellars' intensely herbal and sweet-fruited rendition from a Paso Robles vineyard that was subsequently leased to Tablas Creek. Ambyth's version is a similarly inspiring (and, given the quantities, similarly fleeting) combination of sheer, ripe raspberry fruit, earthy cherry, and tart crabapple, with gentle florals and savory flecks of pine needle, rosemary, minty thyme, and deep, musty sage. Buoyant acidity and a playful texture sweeten the deal from start to finish. Highly recommended with garlicky lamb meatballs and rosemary roasted potatoes. AR
Spicy and savory with no added sulphur, AmByth's Zinfandel comes from certified organic, 35-year-old, dry farmed vines in Paso Robles, California. Aromas of fresh figs, damp earth, nutmeg and tobacco; intense but velvety black raspberry and boysenberry fruit on the palate with supple black licorice, sweet smoke, white and pink peppercorn, salty garlic scapes, pretty young pea shoots, and cool vegetal flavors like green cabbage and turnip. Surprising, complex, delicious, and daring. (Planted in the middle of a recent French lineup, AmByth won over a good many Francophile tasters!) -AR
Dragonette's unique Sauvignon Blanc comes from Grassini and Vogelzang Vineyards in the Happy Canyon AVA, a newer appellation on the eastern end of Santa Barbara's Santa Ynez Valley. Dragonette farms each acre of vines with an eye toward controlling yields and harvest is conducted in successive passes to ensure perfect ripeness. What a treat to experience a Sauvignon Blanc like this -- ripe and fruity, but beautifully balanced with appetite-exciting acidity and a lovely mineral backdrop. Aromas are floral and creamy, featuring orange blossoms, white roses, key limes, and fluffy lemon buttercream; the palate packs a punch of golden citrus, ripe pineapple, and tangy passion fruit, with a swish of spearmint. (No grass, gooseberries, or peppers here!) An inspired pair for a creamy cheeses, roasted chicken, or flakey white fish with lemon butter and herbs. AR
Dragonette's 2011 Grenache is unexpectedly beautiful and significantly more complex than almost all of the Grenaches and Garnachas we taste. The minute you stop drinking it, you desire to drink it again! The Grenache fruit comes from a steep, cool, windy block of John Sebastiano Vineyard (just outside of the Santa Rita Hills AVA) that spans both pure sand and clay loam soils, as well as Thompson Vineyard in the Los Alamos Valley (a small amount of Mourvedre and Syrah are blended in as well). Demure aromas of purple flowers, cinnamon, wild strawberries, and a whiff of salt do not prepare the drinker for the layers of flavor ahead. Deep, dry, and salty, with musky raspberry, crisp cranberry and Bing cherry fruit; rich notes of celery root, jasmine, umami, and clove, and a streak of heady orange oil are woven in with bitter tannins, dusty earth notes, and dark dry chocolate that provide great balance and shape. An elegant and mesmerizing wine. AR
Salinia's Kevin Kelley has won us over with his creativity and consistent, skillful approach to making wines that both spark the intellect and quench the thirst. St. Marigold is a complex and sensuous example of this skill. Made from Kelley's most prized fruit (Chardonnay from Heintz Vineyard), the wine that would become St. Marigold spent a year in barrel before it stabilized. At this point, Kelley sealed off the barrel and rotated it to create a vaccuum and prevent the formation of a surface yeast (which requires oxygen to subsist). He then left it untouched for 4 full years. A potent and savory potion emerged, with abundant aromas of orange custard, pumpkin seeds, almond, honey, birch bark, and wild rose; the palate is rich and salty, with flavors of sweet corn, dried apricot, salted butter, popcorn husk, crunchy snow peas, orange pith, and a sprinkle of yeast on the finish. Over three tastings in 9 months, St. Marigold has shown itself to be mysterious and shape-shifting, but always delicious! Water evaporation over its long elevage increased alcohol to 16.5% (and perhaps allowed just a touch of sugar to peek out) making this a gorgeous wine to sip with cheese and dessert courses. AR
Winemaker Kevin Kelley's desire to blend a wine he was positively in love with resulted in this unique and delicious blend of 60% Chardonnay, 20% Sauvignon Blanc, and 20% Pinot Gris, fermented separately with 35 days of skin contact on the Chardonnay and 25-30 for the Sauvignon Blanc. Demure aromas of pink grapefruit, mustard seed, and pink peonies work well with the zesty, textured palate. Salty, surprising flavors fill the mouth, including strawberry juice, celery leaves, pickled peaches, and a tart, fresh finish with a hint of clove. Orange-glazed duck, roasted chicken, and tangy aged cheddars would be great matches for this wine. AR
The last time our friend Steve Edmunds was in town he said that to his knowledge Neil Young is not aware of this wine. Neil's loss! This wine is an almost even blend of Vermentino and Grenache Blanc from El Dorado County. Even with the Grenache Blanc, known for its viscosity, high alcohol, and low acidity, Heart of Gold shows intense minerality and freshness. Malolactic fermentation is blocked to contribute to the wine’s salty tension, and the vines are located all the way up at 2800 feet. Steve only makes about 140 cases, so we’re happy to get what we can! JR
We expect great things from Forlorn Hope's Matthew Rorick and this complex, vibrant new vintage of Que Saudade Verdelho does not disappoint! 50% of the fruit comes from the granitic soils of DeWitt Vineyard in the Sierra Foothills and 50% from the quartz stone-studded, iron-rich soils of Lodi's Vista Luna vineyard. Dense, electric acidity dominates the texture of this richly mineral white, with flavors of pear, apricot, lime curd, earthy parsnip, and touch of white pepper. A delicious match this winter for roasted root vegetables or creamy seafood chowders with crusty bread. AR
A blend of Viognier (47%), Marsanne (41%), and Petit Manseng (18%), the Marsanne spent 24 hours on its skins before being pressed and the Petit Manseng took until May of 2013 to fully ferment. The result is cloudy and unfiltered in appearance but nevertheless crisp and refreshing. Bursting with aromatic mountain flowers and chamomile, this is round, gingery, and held aloft with delicate acids. A complex aperitif, a late summer sipper, and a perfect foil for sheep's milk cheeses. JK
Winemaker Angela Osborne, a New Zealand expatriate deeply passionate about Grenache grown in California's Central Coast, named her project for her grandmother, Grace. The 2011 Grenache from the Santa Barbara Highlands vineyard is richly fragrant with soft fruit, concentrated and nearly syrupy, like an orange liqueur reduction. Supple texture and notes of salted caramel, toffee, and macadamia nuts are added through careful use of oak. A sensual wine that caresses and lingers. JK
Winemakers Faith Armstrong (Onward Wines) and Angela Osborne (A Tribute to Grace) wanted to collaborate on a project for some time before they finally came together in 2010 to create Farmers Jane, combining fruit from their respective stomping grounds of Mendocino and Santa Barbara Counties. The 2012 is 75% Carignan from Mendocino's Redwood Valley and 25% Grenache from Santa Barabara, plenty ripe and rich but not aggressive or alcoholic. Rather, it is seductive, warm-hearted, and soft. A little bit of new French oak adds wispy undercurrents of vanilla, roasted cashew, and a subtly sweet creaminess that perfectly complements the raspberry-tinged fruit. This is a wine to crack open with or without food, a picnic wine, a wine that will clear the clouds from a winter's day with its unapologetic California charm. JK
Chardonnay producers in California must get tired of the adjective “Burgundian.” Is there no higher achievement for the grape than to resemble a wine made almost 6,000 miles away? And it’s not like every White Burgundy we’ve ever tried has been worthy of imitation. We firmly believe that the United States’ best Chardonnay exhibits its own qualities, and Porter Creek’s old vine Chardonnay is an absolutely delicious example. The wine shows lots of lush orchard fruit, but has a snappy backbone of minerals and a very interesting herbal quality with hints of mint and sage. One of the vineyards used has since been ripped out because of its very low production, which is a shame because surely it contributed to the wines rich concentration. JR
We love what we've tasted from Enfield, a small label started by talented winemaker John Lockwood in an effort to shine light on grapes of incredible character and quality growing in more obscure and recent Napa AVAs like Wild Horse Valley and Coombsville (respectively). The delectable 2011 Chardonnay comes from the rugged, rocky Heron Lake vineyard, which sits at 1400 feet altitude and is one of only three vineyards in the Wild Horse appellation. It has become a particular favorite here for its defiant mixture of dreamy, creamy Chardonnay fruit and blazing, chiseled acidity. When we asked how this combination was possible, Lockwood (who was formerly responsible for farming Failla's Sonoma Coast properties) replied that the Heron Lake fruit has more flavor at 19 Brix than comparable Sonoma Coast Vineyards have at 21-22 Brix. (Brix is a unit of measurement for sugar level in grapes and an indicator of ripeness.) This is a special bottle of wine, where hedonism and precision unite. We look forward to drinking many more vintages! AR
For the Enfield label, John Lockwood makes tiny production (as in 40 to 50 cases) California wines sourced from some of the state’s most exciting vineyards. The Syrah comes from a cool pocket of Napa that boasts stony soils and volcanic ash. Although full flavored and bodied, the wine also shows a spectrum of savory Syrah characteristics like anise, black olive, and cracked pepper. The fruit tone is warm with plum and crushed blackberry notes – delicious now, and structured for years to come. JR
Big, racy, and fresh. An intense backbone of acid and minerals that matches the weight of the Semillon and Friulian varietals. 56% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Ribolla Gialla, 18% Semillon, and 8% Tocai Friulano. The Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon come from Ryans Vineyard, sitting on alluvial gravel on the valley floor of southern Napa. The Ribolla Gialla and Tocai Friulano are from a tiny plot right next to Dry Creek that is cooled by brisk canyon air. Aged on its lees in 25% new barrels but prevented from undergoing malolactic fermentation. JK
For those not familiar with Kalin Cellars, we should say a few words. Their release timetable is at least a decade behind most wineries. This means that the 1993 Chardonnay has spent 20 years in their cellar achieving maturity – if only more producers had a system like this. The wine certainly shows evolved Chardonnay character with stone, salt, caramel, apple fruit, and a touch of smoke. The wine is rich and full-flavored, absolutely mature, and a rare opportunity. JR
Phillip Togni is one of the few Napa producers still around making wine and growing grapes as they have in the past. The land has been in the family’s hands since 1975, and is true mountain fruit grown at over 2,000 feet above the vineyard floor. The main Togni label is famous for its age-ability, and Togni periodically releases library vintages to show the wine’s capacity to evolve. Today we are happy to offer Tanbark – the Tognis’ second label, which shows much of the estate’s powerful structure and reserve at a very fair price for fruit of this pedigree. A recent bottle showed earth flavors like pepper and rich mulberry and plum fruits, it was a fantastic accompaniment to a pork chop served with a rich bean stew. I would imagine that the wine will continue to integrate and show a bit more fruit, but this is delicious now. JR
Abe Schoener's Napa-based Scholium Project has become a go-to for oddly beautiful white wines and FTP is no exception -- a stunning peachy rose quartz in the glass with musky pear and white pepper on the nose and tons of fuzzy orchard peach and dry tropical notes (papaya and mango) on the palate. 100% Pinot Gris from the silica-rich sandstone soils of Lodi's Kirschenmann Vineyard, which is planted to century-old, head-trained, dry-farmed Zinfandel vines with a little bit of 40-year-old Pinot Gris. A handful of whole clusters were submerged in the fermenting juice, which gives FTP its distinctive hue and texture. (500ml bottle) AR
At a recent tasting of Scholium Project's delicious new releases, Bricco Babelico was a standout for its sinewy texture and structured, chewy fruit of sweet floral cherry, deep stemmy blueberry, rich jammy apricot, and dark chocolate length. Bricco Babelico is made from dry-farmed Petite Sirah from Tenbrink Vineyards in California's Suisun Valley; consuming it is always a joy and education in one! Please join winemaker Abe Schoener for a discussion of this wine and others on Thursday, December 12th, from 5- 6:30pm. AR
Most Pinot Noir growers dream of making their own Musigny or Chambertin, but not Scott and Dana Frank, who look a bit further west to the Loire Valley. “Rhinestones” is a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay from Oregon. I’m not sure if you’ll confuse it with a Cheverny, but you will find lots bright, berry, fruit and a stony core of minerality. We also have a little bit of their fantastic Melon de Bourgogne, and we’ll soon see some of their Gamay Nouveau… JR
Scott and Dana Frank, the fine couple behind Portland's Bow & Arrow Winery, were kind enough to share with us their first-ever vintage of Melon de Bourgogne (otherwise known as the great grape of Muscadet). The grapes come from Willamette's biodynamic Johan Vineyard and the wine is incredibly tasty! Oodles of juicy orchard peach and crisp nectarine, with pear skins, crunchy golden apple, zesty lemon, and an herbal note of fennel on the long, mineral finish. You will likely be rewarded for sharing one of these with the open-minded Muscadet lover in your life! AR
In the Beaujolais tradition of drinking copius amounts of joyful, just-fermented juice, Bow & Arrow has released a Gamay Nouveau. Juicy and light at just 12% alcohol, but with delicious intensity on the palate! Funky raspberry seeds and violet flowers on the nose, with tart cherry, black raspberry, salty minerality, and a nice dose of earth. Way more interesting than your average Nouveau, this is a a spirited and affordable all-purpose wine for hostess gifts, cocktail hours, and simple meals. AR
This is the most substantial Pinot Noir that we’ve had from the folks at Teutonic Wine Company – some of the earlier efforts were delicious, but only for lovers of wines that show a sheer, mineral-driven character. It’s still a lean 11.9% alcohol, but there is a bit more plush plum fruit and some very smoky/herbal flavors. The wine finishes with a pretty, light character and refreshing acidity. JR
I have to admit that I usually don’t love Gewurztraminer – we probably all have a grape variety that just doesn’t appeal to us. I too often find it lacking in acidity, oily in texture, and smelling of cheap perfume. As with Teutonic’s other wines, they’ve managed to make a crisp, refreshing wine laced with minerality, as well as a Gewurztraminer believer out of me. The grape’s signature rose and spice characteristics are there, but so is a heaping serving of acid and not a touch of sugar. Recommended for Gewurz lovers and converts alike! 10.45% alcohol and only 97 cases made. JR
Teutonic Wine company makes wine like no one else. The alcohol level usually falls way below 13% (this wine is all of 11.8%), and the wines are intensely dry and stony. I had the good fortune to follow a bottle over several days, and what started as a wall of minerality opened up into red fruit with notes of flowers and spice. This is the first Pinot Blanc they have made – we hope they keep it up! JR
Lovers of the wildly popular Drover's Pinot Noir should take notice! Michael Lundeen launched his own label after winemaking stints at such venerable Willamette wineries as Belle Pente, Illahe, and WIllakenzie (as well as Castello di Verduno in Piedmont). This is a delicious light-to-medium weight Pinot with warm, spicy aromas of strawberry, cinnamon, sour cherry, maple sugar, and hibiscus tea; the palate is fresh and pretty, with mouthwatering acidity, tart cherry fruit, a whisp of cedar, and long floral finish. The cuvee combines fruit from Illahe and Poverty Bend Vineyards, both Willamette AVA. AR