Wine’s Superego

June 20, 2012

Gritty, grainy, drying, grippy, emery board, ripe, fleshy, sweet, astringent,chewy,  fine-grained, structuring…Tannin be thy name.

Fruit and acid are the hip, well-dressed kids; the too-cool-for-school, let’s-smoke-pot-behind-the-7-11-rebels. Tannin is the righteous one; the responsible one that gives seriousness and meaning to wine.

If you’ve drunk Cabernet or Grenache or a young La Rochelle Pinot Noir – even – and felt the sides of your tongue or your cheeks go dry…that’s tannin for you. Derived from the skins and seeds of grapes and the wood from new-ish oak barrels, tannin is what gives ageability and a drying, astringent structure to young wines and allows them to age. Supergo to fruit’s id.

I had the chance to taste through a trial of wines today that had commercial tannins added to them. These tannins were natural, derived – too – from oak and grape skins, but they were meant to add to red wines what nature did not give them. The winemaker has many tools at her disposal to make wines better…and  what separates the good winemaker from the not-so-good one is the judiciousness with which those tools are used.

I tasted through several flights of wine, each of which had a control then varying amounts of a couple different kinds of tannin added. Unlike a series of fining trials tasted earlier (that’s another post), the control wines were aided, made more complete, by the structural addition of tannin. For a commercial winery that targets a specific consumer with wines that are carefully made to hit certain structural cues, this tool, used in a limited and intelligent fashion, can be very valuable.

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Things that are appealing just because they’re different rarely last.

The simple pleasure of unoaked Chardonnay is obvious if one has had his fill of the richer, woodier, malo-y versions.

In the case of the ole Chardonnay switcheroo, though, choosing stainless steel is like turning your cell phone off while you’re on a date with your wife: you’ll be thinking only about the last tweet you missed, the date will end, and your twitchy fingers will be grasping for the on-button faster than you can say uncle.

There is a middle path, however. Chardonnay is one of the most noble grape varieties because when it is done exquisitely well, there are few wines that can match its elegance, richness, and sense of vivacity. In an earlier post, I wrote about wines that show balance and life by the momentum with which they move through the mouth; great Chardonnay has this “alive” quality, with richness, too, to make it even more compelling.

The La Rochelle 2010 Chardonnay – Dutton-Morelli Lane is absolutely one of these wines. Grown in the Green Valley of Russian River Valley appellation, this Hyde selection (of an old Wente clone) Chardonnay is farmed by the renowned Dutton family. We only got 2 tons each of the first two years and made just over 100 cases of wine. I wrote in my original tasting notes:

In the nose, this Chardonnay has a staid elegance to it that is driven by the aromas of pear, peach, and subtle orange marmalade. The wine was sur lie aged for an extended period of time, and the notes of brioche and fresh bread are in great balance. This offering was aged in 100% French oak barrels, 40% of which were new (Billon, Rousseau) for about 18 months.  
 
In the mouth, this wine shows a wonderful tension between fruit and acidity. On entry there is a magical liveliness to this wine; its momentum through the mouth is compelling, lean but not austere. The purity of fruit, mineral-laden mid-palate, and gorgeous acid contribute to one of the finest Chardonnays we’ve yet made.  
 
 
 
 
 

Quest: Pinot Meunier

April 22, 2012

La Rochelle has released two vintages of Pinot Meunier from the Four Sisters Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast appellation, and each has been very well received. In 2011 a communication gap, the size of the Grand Canyon, prevented us from getting fruit from this site…both in 2011 and forever after.

We have been searching for a site since then and may have found one in Saralee’s Vineyard in the Russian River Valley.

Pinot Meunier is a genetic mutation of Pinot Noir, named for the fine white hairs that look like flour growing on the underside of the vine’s leaf (Meunier means Miller in French). The wine is Pinot Noir’s rustic country cousin…Mary Ann to Pinot Noir’s Ginger. It is overladen with wonderful plummy fruit, great aromatics, and is a wonderful accompaniment to all kinds of food.

There were just over 300 tons of Meunier produced in California in 2011…the vast majority used for Sparkling wine. Meunier is one of the classic Champagne varieties. That leaves a very small number of tons that are used to make red, still wine from. Hence the difficulty in finding available fruit.

Saralee’s Vineyard is a gorgeous site right on River Road in the heart of the Russian River Valley appellation. In fact, if you look at a map of the appellation, it is nearly dead center. The 260-acre vineyard was planted in 1989 to over 60 different varieties. Now, the count is down to 17 different grapes, Pinot Meunier comprising just over 3 acres.

There a number of issues to overcome, but our love for the grape is intense so we will keep working on it. Hopefully in the next 18 months we will be talking about how well the wine from the site is coming along.

La Rochelle 2011 Pinot Noir Rosé

In science news, it has been discovered by researchers that Rosés – those food-affirming, nay, life-affirming

dry pink wines made most beautifully from the Pinot Noir grape – actually cause the season known as “Spring.”

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one researcher underscored his team’s findings by commenting “…the color of the wine…the color of the sunrise on the first day of Spring. You know, it can’t be a coincidence.”

It has long been thought that the rotation of the Earth upon its axis resulted in the changing of the seasons, but with confirmatory zeal the same researcher asked “How could we have been so wrong? It’s just so obvious now.”

Filled up with the flavors and aromas of strawberry and dried flowers and dancing lightly and refreshingly upon the tongue, the La Rochelle 2011 Pinot Noir Rosé is the perfect partner for shellfish and charcuterie; walks on the beach and playing with puppies. Available for a limited time. It can’t be Spring forever.