Notes from the 2012 trade tasting event in New York City.
When people talk about Californian wine the word "balance" is mentioned quite often since it is not uncommon that there is a lack of it in wines which prefer to show off their extract muscles and are brimming with a 15%-alcohol-level confidence. These powerful and bold wines may enjoy a momentum of popularity, but they also put Californian wine into a dead-end corner from which it will struggle to get out of once the tendencies of taste have shifted yet again. But there is hope.
At yesterday's trade tasting of Californian wines the word "balance" was also mentioned frequently. For good reason. In Pursuit of Balance" is an annual tasting event conceived two years ago by Rajat Parr of Michael Mina and Sandhi Wines and Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards "to promote wineries who are striving to produce balanced Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in California."1 Twenty seven of these wineries poured their wines at Manhattan's City Winery to a great number of people who confirmed with their attendance that balance in wine is still the most important aspect of quality wine.
But what does balance mean? It does not impose a maximum alcohol level or strictly organic treatment of the vines in the vineyard. Nor does it exclude the maturation of wines in new oak casks or require whole cluster pressing of the fruit to reduce phenolics. The tasting booklet of In Pursuit of Balance describes a wine to be in balance when
its diverse components—fruit, acidity, structure and alcohol—coexist in a manner such that should any one aspect overwhelm or be diminished, then the fundamental nature of the wine would be changed.
I would like to add this definition that balance in wine usually has me close my eyes for a moment.
Due to the fact that my time was limited yesterday afternoon I was only able to visit a handful of the busy tables. My overall impression was that those wines I tasted did not try to mimic the old world style of Burgundy. Some were lush and opulent with dark ripe fruit and only occasionally did they reek of barnyard. They were as Californian as they can be with their at times almost decadent ripeness of fruit. But none of them were heavily oaked and the acidity was more often than not refreshingly high—particularly in the 2010 vintage—and corrected the image I had of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from California. Below are my tasting notes. I wish I had had time to taste more.
Anthill Farms Winery 2010 "Demuth" Pinot Noir
Pale ruby color, slightly cloudy, medium intensity of red berry aromas with a hint of orange peel, very fresh and lively. Floral and quite playful on the palate, soft mouthfeel with a touch of oak. Medium length.
Anthill Farms Winery 2009 "Comptche Ridge" Pinot Noir
Darker in color than the Demuth. Cherry and raspberry aroma. Granular tannins, flowery, sweet fruit flavors. Perhaps a bit unfocused.
Anthill Farms Winery 2010 "Tina Marie" Pinot Noir
Hint of barnyard aroma and sour cherry. Dry and earthy on the palate with very nuanced red fruit flavors and a nice touch of spices and licorice. Light and elegant with good length.
Au Bon Climat 2009 "Nuits-Blanches au Bouge" Chardonnay
Enticing aroma of a summer orchard, flowery, fruity, but with whiff of smoke. Apple and pear flavors, yeasty and buttery, with good acidity. Very elegant and complex.
Au Bon Climat 2009 "Bien Nacido" Chardonnay
Pronounced intensity of apple and barnyard aromas, lush pear and spices. Beautifully balanced with great acidity. Ripe stone fruit and hazelnut flavors. Long length with a spicy finish. Complex and exciting Chardonnay!
Au Bon Climat 2008 "La Bauge Au-dessus" Pinot Noir
Earthy aroma, yet lush with the aroma of raspberry and strawberry. Earthy, mineral flavors, ripe berries with a touch of chocolate. Very nice finish.
Au Bon Climat 2009 "Isabelle"Pinot Noir
Beautiful aroma. Pronounced intensity of red berries, flowers and hay. Good tannic structure and vibrant fruit flavors. Long length during which a touch of bitterness shines through, ending in a light spicy finish. Delicious, absolutely delicious.
Au Bon Climat 2009 "Sanford & Benedict"Pinot Noir
Very earthy, distinctly old world aromas of barnyard and raspberry. Mineral and rather lean on the palate, but with very ripe fruit flavors and excellent structure. Expressive and mouthwatering.
Calera 2010 Central Coast Chardonnay
Very nice and quite pronounced aroma of bruised apple. Spicy on the palate, apple flavors, quite lush. Maybe a bit too lush?
Calera 2010 "Mt. Harlan" Chardonnay
Medium intensity of ripe apple aromas, spicy and even a bit smokey. More floral on the palate with a very soft mouthfeel, medium acidity a touch of oak. A bit hot on the finish.
Calera 2009 "DeVillier" Pinot Noir
Sombre, dark fruit with medium amount of ripe tannins. Very lush.
Calera 2009 "Mills Vineyard" Pinot Noir
This was leaner than the DeVillier and more to my taste with its perfumed nose, good tannic structure and light bitterness on top of the dark red berry fruit flavors.
Calera 1997 "Jensen Vineyard" Pinot Noir
Fresh fruit aroma with a hint of barnyard. Medium(+) tannins. Medium intensity of dried fruit flavors. Seemed a bit unbalanced, as the tannic structure is still strong while the fruit tasted already tired.
Flowers Winery 2009 Chardonnay
Fresh citrus aroma. Medium intensity of pear flavors with a medium length. Light and elegant.
Flowers Winery 2009 "Camp Meeting Ridge Estate" Chardonnay
Grapefruit aroma with a whiff of spices. Refreshing apple and grapefruit flavors with a hint of spices and oak, both of which are well integrated.
Flowers Winery 2010 Pinot Noir
Dark red fruit aroma. More floral on the palate, with ripe raspberry and strawberry flavors. Medium tannins. Medium length.
Flowers Winery 2009 "Camp Meeting Ridge Estate" Pinot Noir
Lush red fruit aroma. Soft on the palate, delightful fresh red berries and chocolate, with touch of bitterness on the finish of a medium(+) length.
Flowers Winery 2009 "Sea Ridge View Estate" Pinot Noir
Lightly perfumed aroma, red berries, pleasant. Quite vibrant on the palate, with a very good tannic and acidic structure. Refreshing strawberry and raspberry flavors finishing very soft and elegantly.
Joseph Phelps 2009 "Freestone Vineyards" Chardonnay
Pronounced intensity of ripe stone fruit with an elegant touch of restrained oak. Dry on the palate, medium(+) acidity, rich and dense quince flavor. spices, yet light and elegant due to the refreshing acidity. Medium(+) length with a buttery finish. Rich, well-structured Chardonnay.
Joseph Phelps 2008 "Freestone Vineyards" Pinot Noir
Light and fruity aroma, perfumed yet at the same time quite earthy - interesting nose! Medium alcohol and firm, ripe tannins. Medium intensity of raspberry flavor with a touch of oak but also balancing bitterness, nice. Long length.
Joseph Phelps 2009 "Freestone Vineyards" Pinot Noir
Vibrant fruit aroma, exuberant, full of warmth. Fairly complex palate of dark cherry and strawberry flavors with both a hint of licorice and a touch of bitterness. Medium(+) length with a moderately spicy and mineral finish.
Kutch 2009 "Falstaff" Pinot Noir
Warm, soft aroma of black cherries with a hint of oak. Medium(+) acidity and ripe tannins on the palate, medium alcohol nicely integrated. Red berry fruit and blood orange flavor with some bitterness and oak. Velvety mouthfeel, medium(+) length.
Kutch 2009 "McDougall Ranch" Pinot Noir
Barely any oak on the McDougall, although it has seen more of it (50%) than the Falstaff (25%). The ripeness of the fruit balances it well. Fresh, herbal strawberry aromas. Ripe, tannic structure and good acidic backbone. Very bright and herbal fruit flavors with notes of licorice and cocoa.
Kutch 2010 "McDougall Ranch" Pinot Noir
Dark cherry aroma, soft and sweet. Dry on the palate, with medium(+) ripe tannins and very good acidic structure and well integrated alcohol. Refreshing and elegant. Sombre fruit flavors with a touch of bitterness and medium(+) length. Still very young and needs a couple more years, but showing very well already.
Sandhi Wines 2010 "Rita's Crown" Chardonnay
Very light and playful nose of grapefruit and oak aromas. Soft on the palate with a somewhat shy mid-palate and oaky finish. Rather disappointing.
Sandhi Wines 2010 "Sanford & Benedict" Chardonnay
Very different than the Rita's Crown - ripe apple aroma with hints of yeast and smoke. Good acidity, refreshing on the palate. Grapefruit and mineral flavors, offering some spice during a medium(+) length. Interesting Chardonnay with good structure and aging potential.
Sandhi Wines 2010 "Bent Rock" Chardonnay
Vibrant apple aroma, smokey, spicy and also oak, but moderately so. Overall lighter than the Sanford & Benedict and less complex, yet very refreshing.
Sandhi Wines 2010 Pinot Noir
Fruity nose of red berries but surprisingly inky and bitter on the palate. Medium intensity of ripe tannins carrying a medium intensity of cherry and cocoa flavors. Medium(+) length.
Sandhi Wines 2010 "Sanford & Benedict" Pinot Noir
Vibrant red berry aroma, elegant. The acidity is just as vibrant and needs a couple of years to relax. Raspberry flavors, but distinctly herbal and bitter at the moment. Medium length. Interesting to see where this goes in 2-3 years.
Sandhi Wines 2010 "Evening Land Tempest" Pinot Noir
Rich aroma of overripe cherries. Medium(+) acidity. Very perfumed, alluring red berry flavors and strong tannic structure. Also still very young and needs some age, but the nose is already remarkably interesting.
Twomey Cellars 2009 "Bien Nacido" Pinot Noir
Flowery nose, rose petals, dark cherry fruit, overall very elegant aroma. Red berry fruit on the palate, but also a bit shy and lacking acidity.
Twomey Cellars 2009 "Anderson Valley" Pinot Noir
Red berry aroma. Soft, but also quite vibrant on the palate with a nice touch of spice towards the end of a medium length.
Twomey Cellars 2009 "Russian River Valley" Pinot Noir
Fruity nose, black cherries. Dry on the palate with very lush fruit flavors and velvety mouthfeel. Lots of extract and struggling to find a balance due to the lack of acidity. Hint of oak during a medium(+) length.
Twomey Cellars 2010 "Russian River Valley" Pinot Noir
Lively, red fruit. Lean, light and elegant palate of vibrant red berry fruit flavor. Well integrated notes of spice and herbs add complexity to this and well-structured Pinot Noir. Nice acidity, too. Medium(+) length.
- 1. Quote from the introduction of the event's tasting booklet.