Spring has officially arrived, with the opening day of Major League Baseball today and the explosion of flowering trees blooming everywhere. Another aspect of Spring, at least in our part of Virginia, is the inability to pick your wardrobe for the day, with frost conditions in the morning switching to shorts and t-shirts by noon. Basically it means that EVERY wine option is available right now, from light whites to roses to heavy reds. Whatever mood strikes you, the weather won't restrict your choice of wine. It's still weeks away from the dreaded 'triple H' of central Virginia weather (hazy, hot, and humid) so a full throated Californian Cabernet is definitely in play. This estate located in the southern foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains has had an on again/off again relationship with the Virginia market, but has been on our radar here since visiting over 20 years ago. A nice spread of varietal wines from their 150 acres of estate grown, sustainably farmed/vegan friendly vineyards, and this is our favorite thus far.
A rarity in Californian Cabs, this is not only a strong value but shows remarkable restraint in structure, avoiding the fruitier and extracted character so often found in this price range. Deep cassis and earthy black skinned fruits on the nose, showing more soil and black walnut elements as it opens up. The texture in the mouth is impressively rich showing more dark fruits and dusty cocoa tones, and not a shred of sweetness to be found. This isn't to say it's austere either, as the tannins are super fine and polished for a Cab, allowing the dark dusty fruit to linger on the finish in as very Old School manner. A delicious option for the dinner table, and a brand you will likely see more of in the future around the store.
Since our store opened up in 1994, the focus of the layout was to present the wines (and beers) by state or country of origin instead of variety. The land, the environment, and even the culture of the people around the vineyards have a monumental impact on the character of the finished wine, we have always found that to be more essential to our mindset than sorting by variety or flavors or winemaking process. Where it sometimes reaches out and bites us on the butt is when we forget a wine outside the regions we usually feature for certain varieties. When people are looking for Pinot Noir, for example, the classic regions of Burgundy, Oregon and California are chocked full of options. We have to check ourselves to make sure we include the tasty outliers from areas like Austria, Alto Adige in Italy, and of course New Zealand. While they can be a bit pricey by the time they get here from halfway around the world, when we find ones that succeed they are well worth the try and show distinction from those in the rest of the world.
From a cooler climate in Marlborough, this is a Pinot Noir that compares more favorably to the style of wines from Oregon than the extremes of California or Burgundy.Smokey nose of cool cherry and dusky black fruits, almost a hint of wild game as well when it first gets poured but having the red fruits catch up and bring out a sweeter perfume after some time. The palate has nice weight for a Pinot at this price, but still leans more towards the savory side with currant flavors and a touch of smokey/iodine on the finish. A little rugged, a little wild on the palate, but still finished with the polished velvety tannins people expect from Pinot. More of a food wine than for sipping by itself, but an ideal pairing with duck, rich savory soups, and pork with dark spicing.
El Dorado County is the heart of the California Gold Rush, one of the major historical influences to westward expansion and European immigration in the mid-1800s. It was also an important home to the early days of Californian wine as many families brought vine cuttings from their native lands to create their own vineyards. Several of the first wine companies in the state developed here and along the Sierra Foothills range, but faded in importance as the population shifted to San Francisco area and the surrounding vineyards. The Skinner family established one of the first wineries and distilleries in 1861 and ran a fairly large operation for many years, but faded into an obscure fragment of history until 2006 when a branch of the family picked up the rights to the name and 'rediscovered' the vineyards. Their vineyards focus on Rhone varieties, capitalizing on the dramatic elevation changes along the Sierra Foothills to grow grapes in a variety of conditions to develop great complexity and subtlety in their many blends.
The winery's Smithereens series pays tribute to the miners of the Gold Rush using dynamite to blast out gold deposits (not the 80s band of the same name), and is built to be their more basic Cotes du Rhone style wines. Primarily Grenache with Mourvedre in support, the aromas are warm and forward with lots of spicy red berries with hints of forest floor and dark spices. The palate is where the character of the region truly shines through, with lots of acidity and texture born from the variety of elevations and soil types in the vineyard sources. It brings out more bright red fruits, even some cranberry-like tartness that keeps the fruit tones from feeling too sweet or heavy on the finish. Super polished flavors, modern and juicy, this is an exciting addition to the 'Rhone Ranger' selection in the store, great for food or easy drinking enjoyment.
Beaujolais has had a streak of excellent quality over the last few vintages, continuing its reputation as one of the great sources of value for its best wines, at least for those that are fans of the style. 2017 may put a momentary blip in that streak, as several hailstorms caused substantial damage to stretches of prime vineyards, some of which were victimized for the second year in a row. The timing of the storms reduced volume by as much as 80% for some producers, which is causing many wines to jump sharply in price just to stay in business. Fortunately the fruit that survived was still of high quality, so even with price increases the wines are still worthwhile and exciting. Those lucky enough to have dodged the hail are truly blessed to have yet another strong vintage under their belts, and like Chateau Cambon don't have to see their prices budge. This house has roots back to the late Marcel Lapierre, one of the most important names in modern Beaujolais and organic/Biodynamic winemaking, and continue their tenets of minimal intervention, low sulfur usage, and general 'hands off' winemaking.
Beaujolais is never a wine that expects to be judged based on the tremendous weight or size, so for this to be described as light and pretty is exactly where they set out for it to be. Classic spot-on Gamay aromas of cherry skins and purple flowers pop from the glass, not as juicy or sweetly fruited as the warmer 2015 vintage. On the palate the unfiltered texture gives the fine tannins a little something extra to grip onto behind the savory cherry fruit, and the bright acidity brings out the dark iodine tones, almost reminiscent of tasting blood in your mouth (but in a food flavor way, not 'I just got punched in the lip' way). That is the aspect of good Beaujolais that makes them such a great match with thinly cut cured meats, one of the great lunch time/snacking wines around.
The Best of the Best.
We offering free tastings on these wines in the store every Thursday and Friday, and a 10% discount off the retail price through the duration of the day. Come on by and give them a try!