|The Sarah Jane
English Newsletter: 9th Edition
April 8, 1998
DAVID FICKLIN, Winemaker Emeritus Ficklin Vineyards, died peacefully from leukemia on March 20.
BRL HARDY Wine Company, Australias second largest wine company, has opened a new $18 million South Australian Winery in Padthaway. The winery opening follows the $50 million vineyard acqisition and expansion program undertaken by BRL Hardy during the past three years.
CHALONE Vineyard survived El Ninos rage which pounded Californias Central Coast. In a flood report published by the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner s office, "over $800,000 in damage to vineyards has been reported to date (Feb.). Most of the damage is to the infrastructure and flooded acreage. Because Chalone is on the hillside, it survived the flooding."
CHATEAU STE. MICHELLEs President Allen Shoup and Tuscan Winemaker Piero Antinori announced the formation of a new partnership. They will make a Columbia Valley, internationally-styled red wine, Col Solarewhich means "brilliant or shining hill." It will debut next spring, 1999, with the release of the 1995 vintage, limited to 1,500 cases.
PORTO RAMOS-PINTO inaugurated the Museum of Ervamoira in honor of an unexpected archaeological discovery that saved one of the Douro regionss finest port vineyards from destruction. Destined to be submerged in order to build a dam by the Portuguese Electricity Authority, plans changed when archaeologists discovered rock engravings that turned out to be Europes finest collection of open-air Paleolithic art and bones dating back to 26,000 B.C.
WILLIAMS SELYEM Winery, a top pinot noir producer, has a new investorformer New York State Agricultural Commissioner John Dyson. Ed Selyem, who heads the business side of the winery, is suffering from a debilitating back problem that surgeons said would paralyze him in three years if he continued working. It prompted them to find a new partner committed to their quality. Williams will remain the winemaker for at least two years.
BOUCHANE 1995 Carneros Pinot Noir $19 (5,200 cases) suffered the same weather conditions with the same resultsripe fruit with intense flavors, ranging from cherries and berries to spicy to hints of leather and dried mushrooms.
DOMINUS 1995 Napanook vineyard red table wine $90 is the California expression of Winemaker Christian Moueix, whose family manages 15 properties in Bordeaux ( Please see MASTERS OF FOOD AND WINE, 8th Newsletter). Moueix says, "Comparable in quality to the lovely 1992, the 1995 DOMINUS shows intense ruby color and ripe, handsomely balanced flavor. Lively and fresh, the nose has hints of raspberry. While tannins are presentas expected in so young a winetheir exceptional suppleness makes them discreet. With a few minutes in the glass, the wine evolves nicely and is very enjoyable to drink now." The blend is 80% cabernet sauvignon, 10% cabernet franc, 6% petit verdot, 4% merlot.
CHÂTEAU ST. JEAN 1996 Sonoma Fume Blanc $9, a blend of sauvignon blanc/semillon, 30% of blend barrel fermented in French and American cooperage and aged sur lie, the remaining 70% was tank fermented, then barrel aged. Winemaker notes: perfume of pear, fig and spice with palate of grapefruit, vanilla and fig and smoky notes.
VERAMONTE 1997 Chardonnay $10 comes from a good vintage. Winemaker notes: "Citrus and floral perfume aromas and flavors of apples and tropical elements with rounding oak." 1996 VERAMONTE PRIMUS Merlot $15: "Dark, dark red, wild herbs and spicy oak, a massive and mouthfilling yet supple wine with smooth tannins and layered flavors with chocolate accents."
MERIDIAN 1996 Paso Robles Syrah $16 is the first vintage from a "new" vineyard. Winemaker Chuck Ortman says "My friend and neighbor, Gary Eberle, planted our estate Syrah vineyard in 1973. We found phylloxera a few years ago and I was devastated. After talking to Gary and our research department, my fears were alleviated. Before tearing out the old vineyard, we took cuttings and grafted onto disease-resistent rootstock. Throughout the course of a year, we grew enough new vines to re-plant the entire vineyard. The 1996 is the first from that vineyarddeep purple, concentrated black and red berry fruit framed by subtle pepper and smoke. I am a happy man!"
GEYSER PEAK offers three stunning wines: 1995 Reserve Alexandre "Meritage" ($28)a stylish, full-bodied and extremely complex wine. "1995 in Alexander Valley had near perfect climatic conditions, achieving optimum color and development." 1995 Reserve Merlot, Alexander Valley $32the second release of GEYSER PEAK Reserve Merlotpowerfully structured, a nose of exotic dark cherries and clove, mint and cigar box and a big, rich palate. 1997 Gewurztraminer $7.50, "a lovely, delicate clean wine with spicy character."
FLORA SPRINGS has four new releases: 1996 Merlot $15, "We want our Merlot to show the intense fruity characteristics of the grape," says Winemaker Ken Deis. "The 1996 is rich and plump with lush fruitiness and smooth lingering flavors, showing plums and black cherries with earthy cedar aromas." The 1996 Sauvignon Blanc ($17) "has a concentration of floral and fruity notes and hint of herbs. The mouthfeel is silk, yet crisp and refreshing." 1996 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay $23, "shows tremendous complexity and character, a mix of tropical fruit and spices, clean and creamy." 1996 Sangiovese $15first released in 1994--"is a lively, bright wine that pairs well with all foodsespecially fresh ripe tomatoes," says Deis.
SHAFER 1995 Firebreak (88% sangiovese/12% cabernet sauvignon) $27, Shafers first proprietary red wine (introduced 91), is named after a wildfire that scorched the hill above the winery. Firebreak names the wine and the vineyard, planted to sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon.
SHAFER produces a total of 28,000 cases, 100% Napa Valley, of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay and sangiovese. Chairman John Shafer bought the Stags Leap District estate in 1972 and established the winery in 1979. Doug Shafer became winemaker in 1983 after graduating from U.C. Davis with a degree in enology and viticulture and is president today, overseeing the winery and 146 planted acres, while Elias Fernandez is winemaker. Doug manages an intensive program of low impact, sustainable agriculture to preserve the long-term health of the soil and environment. Cover crops on level vineyards are mowed and left to enrich the soil, give better aeration and drainage. Cover crops help leafhopper control by preserving the habitat of insects that prey on leafhoppers, such as, wasps, spiders, ladybugs, lacewings, damsel bugs and flies.
On the steep hillside vineyards where mowing isnt possible, clover is used as the cover crop. It wont overtake the vines in seeking moisture and nutrients, and it chokes out unwanted weeds. It does, however, attract gophers and other rodents, so Shafer constructed nest boxes for barn owls and perches for hawks.
"I told Greg Fowler (vice president and senior winemaker) when I interviewed for the job that I wanted to re-engineer the winerylook at the operations and make recommendations. While Sterling wines have received acceptable reviews and sometimes good ones, its time for a change. I said I wanted to be a winemaker exclusivelyto focus only on the wines. I want Sterling to be the best wine in California-not just Napa. With our resources in vineyards and peoplesuch great toolswhy hasnt it come together sooner? The wines are good, but I want greatness. Its like going back to a favorite restaurantyou like the food and youre comfortable going there; then a new chef arrives and takes the food to a new level. Thats what were trying to do without pricing the wines out of reach.
I began in July 97 when the grapes were being delivered to the winery. Timing is crucial. Grapes can be ripe without being mature. Grape ripeness is a measure of sugar and acidity and pH, but seeds need to reach maturity, tooa golden brown, when tannins change from stemmy or green tea to the varietal character. Theres a sudden burst of flavor of whatever that character may be. I want to add flavors, to get the varietal characteristics. You can lower sugar, heighten tannin or add acidbut you cant add flavor.
One device is to use rotary fermentors. They give good extraction without excessive tannins. Taste has become the important factor among American wine drinkers, not just drinking.
1995 Sterling Winery Lake Chardnnay: oak, vanilla, rich and buttery.
1995 Sterling Winery Lake Pinot Noir: classic nose of cola, nutmeg, leather, nicely textured and lively aciditylovely expression of this varietal.
1994 Sterling Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon: intense, blackberries, well-structured with smooth tannins.
1994 Sterling Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: complex, well-integrated flavors, delicious and rich.
SWEET WINES may be the dessert, may accompany a dessert and, in some cases, complement several different foods. The classic food pairs with Sauternes, for example, are foie gras and Roquefort or other blue cheeses. My tasting group enjoyed these delicate and delicious wines with blue cheeses and chocolates.
When I think of light, fanciful wines to start an evening, the EBERLE MUSCAT CANELLI $13, ST. SUPERY MOSCATO $13 and the MARTIN BROS. "ALLEGRO" MOSCATO $11 come to mind. Theyre fresh, fruity and delicious without being too sweet.
For sweeter wines, several are recommended. The 1995 FLEUR DU CAP NOBLE Late Harvest is made 100% from Chenin Blanc grapes grown in the cool Coastal Region of the Cape of Good Hope where they ripen slowly and evenly, building up a high concentration of flavors and aromas. Well-made and reasonably priced, $12.50 for 375 ml.
1995 COLUMBIA CREST ICE WINE, White Riesling, Columbia Valley is rich and aromatic and irresistible. This wine sold out almost immediately upon releaseunderstandablyso it may be difficult to find. It was harvested entirely in the estate vineyard. $25 for 375 ml.
1994 VIOLETTA is the premier bottling of a late harvest wine named for Mike Grgichs capable daughter Violet. The exquisite decal label is designed with highlights of green and gold to punctuate the bouquet of violets. The wine is a luscious, elegant dessert wine with 12% sugar and reminiscent of a Sauternes. It has its own special character with a wonderful balance of sugar and acidity and a clean, refreshing finish. $25 for 375 ml.
1993 MAYACAMAS Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc is a dense wine with lovely extracts. It was harvested at 34.6% Brix and the residual sugar at bottling was 10.2%. We loved it with chocolates and blue cheeses. $18 for 375 ml.
1994 P.J.Valckenberg MADONNA Berich Wonnegau Beerenauslese Rheinssen Qualitätswein mit Prädikatwas good enough to warrant learning how to pronounce all those words. $16 for 375 ml.
1992 DOLCE (dol-chay) was inspired by the romantic Italian phrase "Dolce Far Niente" (Sweet doing nothing). The bottlings of this incredible wine began at Far Niente; however, now in its own facility, Dolce is the only winery in California (to my knowledge) to specialize solely in the production of late-harvest wines. 1992 Dolce is a blend of 66% semillon and 34% sauvignon blanc, fermented 100% in new French oak barrels and aged over two years for the flavors to combine and develop. They do! $50 for 375 ml.
1995 CHÂTEAU STE. MICHELLE Reserve Ice Wine Columbia Valley White Riesling is a treasure. This elegant elixir is satin and pears, silk and honey. Its truly a rare treat. ($ NA)
LA FAMIGLIA di ROBERT MONDAVI has a new home. The formerly Vichon Winery on the Oakville Crossing has been artistically brightened with Italian murals. The Tasting Roomfeaturing a vineyard scene along one entire wallhas a conveniently long bar as well as a lovely array of selected gift items to purchase. I tasted through the new releases and was delighted by the freshness and fruit in all the wines:
CERETTO 1993 LA BERNARDINA Monsordo Bianco (Its viognier, but Italian law prohibits mention of this variety since its non-traditional for the region), $24 is stunning, beautifully structured and invitingly full of restrained fruits and fresh country smells. Look for current vintage.
|1998 MASTERS OF FOOD
The Highlands Inn offers natures drama and the art of nurture annually at the Masters of Food and Wine. This year (1998) mother nature mercifully ceased her roiling exhibit for the week to let in the sunshine, the chefs, the vintners and the guests.
If you tire of the view from Highlands Inn, you probably belong on another planet. And as if the rugged beauty of the Pacific coastline and prolific gardens arent enough, theres the ambiance and hospitality surrounding the excellent food and wines.
Opening night is an extravaganza of feasting. Vintners and chefs offer tastes of their exquisite fare. Jamie Shannon of Commanders Palace in New Orleans prepared thin slices of smoked salmon wrapped around a concoction of fresh crab meat; Alan Wong of Alan Wongs in Honolulu seared tuna and topped it with a nest of sheer shredded vegetables, ginger sauce and cilantro; Dawn Sieber of Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada, Florida, offered crab claws polished like porcelain dipped in creamy horseradish sauce and a pan sauteed orange roughy with citrus and black beans, and Janet Rikala baked her grandmothers lemon meringue pie.
Champagne Jacquesson was served by Jean-Hervé Chiquet before every event. All expressionsBlancs de Blancs, Signature Brut, or Roséwere elegant with minuscule bubbles.
I tasted delicious viogniers from Beringer (available only in the tasting room) and Pride; cabernet sauvignons from Staglin and Ferrari-Carano; chardonnays from Chalone, Pahlmeyer, Joseph Phelps and Bernardus; merlots from Havens, Duckhorn and Château La Grave; pinot noirs from Acacia, Domaine de lArlot Nuits St. George and many others.
Chefs Charlie Trotter, Wolfgang Puck and Lydia Bastianich held cooking demonstrations on three different mornings. Lydia and Felice Bastianich combined their given names and opened Felidia Ristrorante in 1981 in a converted old brownstone. Lydia develops the menu while Executive Chef Nicotra Fortunato cooks.
RIVER PINOT NOIR:
DEHLINGER: Started in 1975 by U.C. Davis-trained enologist Tom Dehlinger, the Dehlinger Winery islocated in the heart of its 50-acre vineyard in Sonoma Countys cool Russian River Valley. Production remains under 10,000 cases annually with a focus on perfection of technique and refinement of style. Dehlinger believes in dealing with small, individual portions of the vineyard , harvesting grapes at advanced states of maturity and extended aging in small oak cooperage.
ROCHIOLI: The Rochioli family has been growing grapes at their 130-acre ranch since the 1930s. In 1983, Tom Rochioli, a banker, was drawn back to the family ranch to work the land with his father. The wines they began to create from the Rochioli estate grapes were an instant success. Rochioli wines have consistently received very high ratings in wine magazines and one year the winery was christened "1993 Top Estate Winery of the Year."
PINOT NOIRS TASTED
1995 Dehlinger, Octogon (single vineyard) Reserve: dark purple garnet, spices, nutmeg, tea, cola, bing cherry, tight and big, large structure. (T.D. In my vineyard, 15 acres equal 15 wines, each fermented separately and blended after racking.)
1995 J. Rochioli West Block Reserve: deep purple ruby, subtle fruit, cedar box, balanced evolution over palate, nicely structured, evidenced tannins manageable.
1994 Dehlinger Reserve: deep, dark purple garnet, lovely concentration of fruit, complex and integrated nose, big, tightly textured but balanced and generous, delicious and clean.
1994 J. Rochioli West Block Reserve: deep purple garnet, cherry-vinous odors, integrated and perfumy, lovely soft tannins add flavor and texture, nice evolution, elegant and big. (J.R. The wine macerated for three days at 58° to 65° on its own yeasts.)
1992 Dehlinger Reserve: mahogany rim with brick-orange hints to light garnet, subdued nose, fresh red meat, cola, powdery perfume, big tannic structure but fruit holds, lovely evolution. (T.D. Warm, whole-cluster grapes with some stems were chilled to 55° and fermented up to 90° in open top tanks, punched down twice a day, one-third new barrels, medium to heavy toast.)
1993 J. Rochioli West Black Reserve: mahogany-chestnut-dark-brown garnet, cola, smoky, leather, spice hints, forest floor, compelling complexity on nose, perfumy, palate of earthiness with firm fruit proliferating, delicious.
1991 Dehlinger Reserve: mahogany tinge, dark brown-red, nose of smoky, charred oak, forest floor, older aging characteristics evident, fruit is gone, palate show tannins and diminished finish. (T.D. One should drink wines at five to ten years of age. The best years have small berries. There are three zones in my vineyards: hilltop grows more slowly, one portion is too vigorous and the other third is just right. The wines that come from areaseven 20 feet a part--make a big difference in their ripeness. )
MERLOTS OF THE NEW WORLD:
BERINGER: Ed Sbragia is the third generation member of his family to work in the California wine business. Eds father taught him winemaking. After earning a masters degree in enology at California State University in Fresno and working for a year at a Sonoma winery, Ed became assistant to winemaker Myron Nightingale at Beringer. When Nightingale retired in 1984, Ed was named chief winemaker and has been making lovely Beringer wines since, including the successful Private Reserve program.
DUCKHORN: Dan Duckhorn has been involved in grape growing and grape plant propagation since 1971. This experience, combined with his strong background in corporate finance, has been instrumental in guiding the growth of Duckhorn Vineyards (founded 1976) to international prominence and acclaim. Margaret Duckhorn coordinates all aspects of marketing and sales for the winery, which produces the world-class Merlot sold worldwide.
LEONETTI: Gary Figgins makes superb merlot and cabernet sauvignon, onlyand to the disappointment of many wine-loversvery limited productions. Knowing quality grapes are in short supply, rather than meet the demand with something less than the best, he opted to handcraft rich red wines with small harvests from his vineyard and selected lots from other growers. In an age of powerful red wines, Leonetti Cellar wines are known as among the best in the world, combining intensity of fruit and oak with a finesse mastered by few. Garys elegant, beautifully balanced wines are treasures.
PAHLMEYER: A California trail lawyer who found he spent more time reading wine journals than law journals, Jayson Pahlmeyer emerged in the wine field fifteen years ago. His goal has been to make great Bordeaux-style wines by blending classic Bordeaux varietals. Pahlmeyer harvests grapes with high sugars late in the growing season to make big, expansive wines with high viscosity, flavor and alcohol. Since Pahlmeyers first release in 1986, his wines have received outstanding reviews from the press and consumers.
1996 Pahlmeyer Napa Valley: bright dark purple, charcoal, smoky, some bell pepper, big tannins some harshness, modest elemental fruit with oak sweetness, will age well.
1994 Beringer Vineyards Howell Mountain: garnet purple, aromatic earthiness, perfume, spices medley, complex, big tannins and good flavors, plum and pepper.
1994 Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley: deep purple, cola, hint brett, less forward nose, fruit underneath, big tannins, nice palate evolution (13 blocks of vineyard in blend).
1995 Leonetti Cellar Columbia Valley: dark purple garnet, fruit forward with coconut and gardenia, fruit and oak complexity, nicely balanced, full-flavored and delicious long finish.
1995 Pahlmeyer Napa Valley: dark purple, fennel, anise, liquorice, lovely fruit and wood complex nose, big/fat/rich, perfume evolves with fruit hints.
1991 Beringer Vineyards Howell Mountain: dark garnet, smoky, toasty, soil character, mint and berries, red meat, big tannins, nice complexity and long finish. (big crop, finished picking Nov. 10long hang time).
1993 Duckhorn Vineyards Howell Mountain: bright garnet with purple highlights, complex nose, fruity/pepper/subdued fruit, soft tannins, good flavors, nice palate.
1994 Leonetti Cellar Columbia Valley: dark purple, lovely nose of coconut and flowers, frutiness, herbal nuances, burst of flavors on palate, rich, forward, opulent, big and delicious, excellent wine, a classic Leonettistunning!
1994 Pahlmeyer Napa Valley: garnet, hint of brett, smoky, dusty, big tannins, nice palate, concentrated on center with a slow evolution.
1987 Beringer Vineyards Bancroft (first vintage release): brick edged garnet, herbal backbone, charcoal, tea, mint, tar, complex, green olive, full flavor with some softness, forest floor.
1987 Duckhorn Vineyards Three Palms Vineyards: brick ruby, complex integrated nose, tea, oak, soft fruit, big structure, nice sweet focus of oak and fruit, dry, it has piqued. (75% merlotmust add a lot of cabernet to this vineyard and new French oak).