Pegasus Bay 2011, Pinot Noir — Memories and Whole Bunch Fermentation

Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir 2011

Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir 2011

Pegasus Bay 2011, Pinot Noir — Memories and Whole Bunch Fermentation  

Wine is all about memories of place and experiences that have brightened our lives.  We drove in, surveying the impressive architecture of the winery and restaurant situated north of Christchurch in the Waipara Valley of New Zealand.  Relaxing at a table on the outdoor terrace, I can remember the feel of the place more than the food and I recall the utmost delight in a wine worthy of a moment that celebrated the completion of one of my books.  Emotions kept morphing into more complex feelings; calm led to peace of mind, while the colors in the gardens stimulated moments of excitement and delight that faded again into the calm of contentment.  Just as expected the emotions are the essence of the easily and oft recalled memory.  Trees and grasses edging a large lawn waved gently in a cooling breeze.  When the wine had been consumed we walked the Impressive gardens and longed to linger or spend the day in such refreshing surrounds. “Wine is emotion in a glass” and the emotions of the place mingled with the tasty Pinot Noir.

The 2011 Pinot Noir that sits on my desk being evaluated comes from a vineyard on a stoney north face (warm in the southern hemisphere) and ideal for stressing the vines when necessary.  This is a fertile valley overall, but the soils can vary from limestone to rocky gravel beds.

Whole bunch fermentation can be tricky, but it was used for a lot of the grapes in this wine.  The whole bunch — grapes and stems — are fermented together.  The stems add bulk to the tank (usually an open fermenter), allowing the juice to drain more easily through the mix and oxygenate the wine well.  The tricky part is that the stems can add too much harsh tannin to the wine and unless the grapes are really ripe, it becomes a “hard” wine.  This was a warm summer that produced very ripe, rich grapes, so the method was well chosen.  The alcohol reveals the ripeness at 13.8%.  The result is a wine that is full, round, and rich with well married flavors.  Dark cherry and blackberry dominate with cedar, vanilla, and smoke adding big depth to the wine.  Strawberry hides in the background while the wine finishes smooth and without any faults on a very long finish.

Rating: 89+

Emotional rating:  The memories affect my biased rating, but I enjoyed the depth of this Pinot and would suggest a rating of great pleasure.  It needs no food but could enhance a pork dish and both food and wine could rise higher.

Available?  Try winesearcher.com and wine.com.

Experiencing Unusual Wines

Fallegro 2012

Fallegro 2012

Gianni Gagliardo, Fallegro, 2013 

From the western hills of Barolo in the La Morra region of Italy comes this unusual vino blanco at 12% alcohol.  You will probably find it hard to get this wine, but every now and then we need to highlight an interesting wine, encouraging each of us to explore and widen our experiences.  The soils are calcareous marls — more like the soils of Barbaresco — producing less intensity than the soils responsible for those big Barolos.  Since this is a white wine and a very unusual one from the Barolo area, it spiked my interest.  What might it say to us?

With emotions on alert (they always should be), I opened the wine to find a wine of perfect balance.  It’s hard to say one balanced wine is more balanced than another.  Balanced is balanced.  But some balance is more complete or rewarding than others.  A balanced wine should be a pleasant mix of acid, tannin (if present), fruit, sugar (or lack of it), and alcohol.  We could also ask, “Are the fruit flavors balanced?”  Have they marinated into a pleasant whole?  What does the balance create — an unusually smooth and softly textured liquid?  That is the message of this wine.

Lemon and apple flavors combine with very delicate floral notes and just a suggestion of honey that leaves the mouth feeling it has been coated with unctuous wine using a velvet brush.  The wine is light bodied, dry, not overly acidic, and sports a lemony brightness.

It is another great aperitif wine and one you will remember.  Do experiment with at least one new wine a month and soon you will  have built up a memory of wines that increase your pleasure and experience.

Rating:  89+

Emotional rating:  A contrast of softness and lemony brightness, and a memory as rich as the region is in its renewed vineyards.

Availability: try winesearcher.com.

A “Heavenly” Chenin Blanc from the Horse Heaven Hills

Columbia Crest Res. Chenin Blanc 2014

Columbia Crest Res. Chenin Blanc 2014

Columbia Crest Reserve Chenin Blanc, 2014

From old vines in the Horse Heaven Hills, this small lot (500 cases) preserves the greatness of the Chenin Blanc grape.  In France’s Loire Valley this grape can produce some of the world’s best wines.  They can be “to die for.”

In the New World, Chenin Blanc can be quite ordinary.  It’s firm acid backbone can make it useful for adding to blends and even for a component in sparkling wines, but even though its acids hold up well in hot climates, it seems to need a cooler region to show its best.  Therefore, what will this grape show us when grown in the Horse Heaven Hills?

The flavors to expect from Chenin Blanc range from apples, nectarines, and stone fruit to more tropical fruits like pineapple.  A touch of honey is something all fans of this grape look for.  Honeyed Chenin Blanc’s can be delicious.  Most are vinified with some residual sugar.  A lot of residual sugar ends up making some of the world’s greatest dessert wines, but you can find appealing dry Chenin Blancs, too.

Because this very ancient variety tends to vigorously produce foliage and grapes, look for a low yield example for the better wines.  When kept to lower yields, it can produce richly flavored wines with lower acid levels.  Another thing you need to know is that it favors a little oak.

Now, what do we find in this example from the Horse Heaven Hills?  A clean, clear wine with the slightest hint of color greets your senses.  Lime, pear, and white peach with tantalizing floral notes on the nose introduces the wine well.  It is off dry, which means it is a great aperitif wine.  With shrimp and a lightly spiced cocktail sauce, it pairs very well.  The wine is lively, delicate, and the hint of honey is there in a beautifully smooth, rich mouthfeel.  What a long finish!  The fruit lasts and lasts.  Go back and taste again and note the balance and the follow-through of the flavors, giving this wine a harmony that truly makes it a worthy Columbia Valley example of the Chenin Blanc grape.

Rating: 91

Emotional rating:  A soft lively and appealing elegance.  Wonderful!

Limited Availability

Balance and Liveliness in a Cabernet Sauvignon from Colorado

Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, from Creekside Cellars, Colorado

Creekside Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Creekside Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Cabernet Sauvignon (“king of the red wines”) is a grape that adapts well to various climes but not with the same presentation.  You will notice a distinct difference between a Cabernet Sauvignon grown in a warm climate and one from a cool climate.  Brix at picking is a key factor, too.

The perk that Cabernet’s herbaceousness can give to the fully rounded flavors of the wine can be very attractive and are what some Cabernet lovers look for.  It is not pronounced in this sample from Creekside Cellars in Evergreen, Colorado.  Guess why.  Black current has a bright edge to its deep, warm, black fruit flavors and it is noticeable on the nose of this wine when first opened.  The flavors in this wine are further rounded by the caramel and cedar notes imparted by the oak.

Announcing to us the style of this wine is its bright edge — the liveliness of its acids.  Against a deep, dark background, such as Cabernet can present, acids show up readily and often seem stronger than they really are.  In this Cabernet the acid level is not extremely high, but certainly high enough to lighten the finish of the wine, making the wine a perfect fit with a grilled steak and salad meal.  Here’s why:  the rich savory meatiness of the steak is matched to the blackcurrant and oak flavors and the light green flavors of the salad are highlighted by the acids and slight herbaceousness in the wine.  The wine holds them together nicely.

Ninety minutes later the wine opens up with more of the cedar note dominant in the aroma and the tannins are a little more prominent.  It is a young wine.  The color is an appealing, deep ruby, clean and bright, and the body is medium weight.  What the wine exhibits is a lovely balance that does not obliterate its character.  Taste a Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon with this wine and you will see Cabernet in two easily distinct styles.  Which one do you prefer and with what food or on what occasion?

From an emotional perspective, this wine leans to the side of elegance for a Cab and promises some very interesting days ahead in its development as the wine lives on and the flavors marry and develop.  Aging potential?  Ten years.

Congratulations to winemaker Michelle Cleveland, for a well made Colorado Cabernet Sauvignon.

Rating: 90

Emotional rating:  High, for an invigorating lively Cabernet with a promising future.

Available from the winery.

Around the Edges — Chateau St. Michelle Syrah 2011, Columbia Valley

Chateau St. Michelle 2011 Syrah, Columbia Valley

Chateau St. Michelle 2011 Syrah, Columbia Valley

Where was it grown?  In most technical sheets published by wineries, where the grapes came from is omitted.  When you think of a wine being an expression of place, this is surprising.

Cabbage does not express its terroir.  Grapes can and do.  They keep that expression, if kindly treated, through the process of fermentation and élevage.  They lose it if they are man-handled and altered by winemaking interventions that go beyond astute and artistic adjustments.  This one shows aspects of place that are known to Washington Syrah.

We like to see the differences that Syrah, for example, shows when grown in gravel (Hermitage) or in soils that are richer, lighter, and more fertile (Barossa) .  Columbia Valley soils range from light loam to stoney, gravely terroir.  This Syrah, from Chateau Ste. Michelle, displays an acid lift on the edges of its flavors — a noticeable facet of some Washington Syrahs.  Main flavors of dark ripe fruits (just a splash of fresh raspberry) and judiciously added oak flavors (dominantly vanilla and spice) round out the core of the wine.

As it breathes more oxygen, notes of clove and toast emerge and the darker side deepens.  But as the wine finishes on the palate, the edges become more apparent.  It finishes with an acid lift that causes the mouth to salivate assertively and very pleasantly, and it does not lose this over several days.

It is not a sign that the wine is out of balance but a sign that the wine has kept something in reserve to show you.  Do you prefer a wine that is consistent from sniff to swallow, or one that develops and reveals different faces?  The lift around the edges is not dominant in the wine but an encore, with a flourish as the curtains descend on its performance that gives this wine character.  Without it, the wine is just another Syrah, albeit a good one.  Syrah from Washington State in certain soil types can exhibit this quality.  This is terroir speaking.

We could even call this lift a hint of citrus — to my taste, lime.  The beneficial factor is the cleansing the wine offers at the end of its journey and I’m ready for the next taste or bite of food before returning for another interesting journey.  Not all Syrah is the same, as Australia has proved, and not all are the same within one region, either.  Please explore as you experience wine.

Get yourself a bottle and see for yourself.  Ask yourself which representation of this classic grape you prefer — a Hermitage, a Shiraz, or a Syrah from another place: Washington?

P.S. The comments above are not a snapshot of the wine but an examination over a period of four days.

Rating: 90

Emotional rating:  High, where rich foods need a relief and yet the main element of dark fruit and oak are needed to complement.

Available almost anywhere.