Bedrock Wine Co Sherman’s Gold Zinfandel (Amador) 2014

Like the Mataro aficionados of Dirty & Rowdy, Bedrock seems dead set on exploring every plot of old-vine Zinfandel no matter what form it takes, and this is a very different take.

From the Esola Vineyard in Amador County, planted on granite at 1,600 feet, this is a highly distinctive, aromatic Zinfandel. A semi-transparent purple, it gave up little for an hour. Classic Zin notes, such as baking spice, did emerge but the fruit veered towards the Mourvedre realm with tart wild strawberries, rhubarb, cooler rocky tones, and bay. I would certainly have pegged this for a Mataro blend, or something from Central Italy perhaps, but not Zinfandel.  The palate was racy and electric, mellowing only with air and food and it delivered tart cranberry and strawberry flavors with a short snappy finish. Delightfully intriguing in its way, it will reward a few more years of patience for the acidity to cool down and aromas to find some lift. At the moment you have to work for it. Those seeking fuller riper Zinfandel flavor and texture will be disappointed, but it succeeds on its own merits.

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Bedrock Wine Co, the Bedrock Heritage 2013

From Bedrock Wine Co’s eponymous vineyard, the 2013 Bedrock Heritage is dense and layered with a great deal of material buried beneath the structure. Initially quite forward, this wine became reticent until hours later, when it revealed old-school notes of green tobacco, smoke, red fruits and oak spice. 22 grapes in this 100+ year old vineyard, the bulk for this bottle is 55% Zinfandel and 30% Carignane.

Lacking both youthful exuberance and mature complexity at this stage, it will no doubt age very elegantly and be terrific though a decant of a few hours will help if you are impatient. This confirms my suspicion that Bedrock’s so called heritage blends need to be enjoyed either right on release, or given a solid 7+ years. Better after 2020.

Tasted 11/19/2017 // Approximate drinking window 2017 (with decant) through 2030.

Produttori del Barbaresco ‘Barbaresco’ 2012 and ‘Pora’ 2008

The Produttori del Barbaresco is one of the greatest (no longer un)discovered gems of Piedmont, producing a phenomenally priced Barbaresco and 9 single vineyard riservas in select years. The Produttori used to be notable for it’s century+ of history and the fact that unlike most cooperative wineries, its quality was exceptional. These days it is still known for its great pricing and quality, but also for its standard setting portfolio of single cru Barbaresco that are a match for all but the best in the AOC. A full history of the Produttori and its crus can be found here.

 

Like many traditionally made Nebbiolos these wines do take time unwind, at least 5 years for the Barbaresco (called Le Torre informally) and over a decade for the riservas, as my tasting of a nine year old bottle of ‘Pora’ showed.

 

Produttori del Barbaresco ‘Barbaresco’ 2014

(Tasted 11/17) Decanted for 2hrs. This is especially youthful compared to the 2012. Robust aromas of candied red fruit, red licorice, fennel, and floral pastille. Full, sappy texture with broad acidity and predictably gripping tannin. This is another standout ‘Le Torre’ from Produttori. While it has some youthful appeal with its forceful structure and already impressive complexity, it will be phenomenal in ten years. Drink after 2020.

Produttori del Barbaresco ‘Barbaresco’ 2012

(Tasted 01/17) Despite the several hours I left it open on the counter, it really took another hour in the glass to unwind. Color was a deep, but clear ruby. Quite simple sweet cherry at first but after the time in the glass really opened into violets, candied cherries, and thyme. Later on, fresh mint/sage, under-ripe red fruits, and wet rocks. Medium bodied and structured.
Tannin too took time, with your typical Barbaresco sneak-attack of robust but fine grained finish. This wine will be stellar in a couple of years at least, and will drink well for over a decade more.

 

Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva ‘Pora’ 2008

Dark maroon core with garnet edge.
Right out of the bottle the nose is of truffle, pure sweet dried fruits, blue and black, cocoa dust, foresty notes of fresh evergreen and sage, continues to evolve with some earth, orange zest, and smoke.

Immense freshness on the palate, long finish, and with air the buried tannin made itself known. A long life ahead, just starting to hint at some non-primary notes, though after an hour or two it simplified, so maybe it will shut down in a bit? Hard to guess. The fresh spring forest notes are what really make this an experience.

It is a delightful Barbaresco, unique for the expression the Nebbiolo takes with this terroir rather than any heavy handed winemaking. Will evolve for a long while.

 

What struck me most about this tasting is the rather reductive notion of Barbaresco being lighter and more feminine than Barolo. While its true that the terroir and proximity to the river make this a warmer, more temperate climate, the diversity of vineyard sites means that this generalization is pretty useless. No doubt writers and retailers love the rhetoric of the ‘King’ and ‘Queen’ but when tasting the wines its mostly trash. A great Montestefano or Rabaja (or Pora) are just as powerfully deep as any Barolo of Cannubi, not to mention it continues the conceit that darker, more ‘masculine’ wines are by definition better.

Budget Bordeaux for the Cellar!

If there is one wine producing region most guilty of runaway price inflation (and there are a few), then it is probably Bordeaux. The commodification of this once heralded wine has rendered most of its great names inaccessible to all but the wealthiest collectors, BUT hope remains…

While prices in Burgundy are driven by high demand on exceptionally limited supply (for the best grand crus at least), the Chateaus of Bordeaux actually produce quite a large number of bottles. The classified ‘growths’ are so well regarded for their ability to age for decades, that their popularity has turned them into a commodity to be traded like stocks (futures anyone?) and their prestige attracts those wishing to show off rather than enjoy the darn bottle. The attraction of Bordeaux to wealthy citizens of the world, including more recently China and Japan, has also been stoked aggressively by the Bordelaise, helping to drive up demand among people for whom money is no object.

 

That cynical rant aside, there are still some remarkable cru bourgeois and even some 4th and 5th growth Bordeaux wines that remain firmly in the relative value territory. Today we try two Haut-Medoc wines that trade for < $20 and one that goes for ~ $30 in most vintages. What’s extraordinary about these delightful wines (besides being reasonably priced) is that they have all the legendary longevity of great Bordeaux, offering a fascinating evolution that will please for 20 years at least.

 

Chateau Lanessan

The story goes that Lanessan was not included in the 1855 classification because the proprietor simply did not want to send in free samples to the committee. Their loss, but our gain. Lanessan trades in the mid-teens on release, and given their large production, lots of matured bottles occasionally appear in major outlets like K&L. A new oenologist was brought in starting with the 2015 vintage, and while critical reception has been highly positive (best Lanessan ever, and that sort of thing), the jury is still out as to whether or not it will maintain its classic, age-worthy Bordeaux character.

2007 —

Color was healthy and young, a rich velvet red. Nose was a bit weedy on opening, but fleshed out with air though green tobacco and herbs were quite dominant with only a modest underpinning of red fruit making itself known. Palate was medium bodied with relatively light ripe tannin and still good freshness. On day two, a hearty smoky quality dominated. Pleasant with dinner but needs five more years for my taste.

 

1999 —

Beautifully intact. Nice mature color, nose of green tobacco, purple flowers, leather, small red fruits, and earth. Palate has just enough freshness remaining, tannins are integrated, and it is tasty and smooth. I was surprised that there was fruit left, but it had a nice red berry quality mixed with the mature notes. Peak drinking for mature claret. $19.99!!

 

Chateau Senejac

Another classic Cru Bourgeois for under 20$, is Senejac. Typically more accessible than Lanessan, it show classic Medoc fruit that is much softer and less structured than Lanessan, but quite traditionally styled with appropriate tannin. 2014 was a very good year for traditional Bordeaux. Not overripe, it appealed to long-time fans of particular Chateaus who appreciate a more restrained style.

2014 —

Nice young Bordeaux, showing good typicity and some accessibility at this age. Nose is fresh earth, green tobacco, resin, dark fruits, and smoke, palate is medium fresh, silky smooth/ripe tannin and dark cherry/blackberry fruits. Nice structure for medium term aging, up to ten years at least, less built than Lanessan or Cantemerle at this stage. Quite nice now decanted if you like a bit of oomph. Still plenty of freshness to suggest it will age well for another ten years.

 

Chateau Cantemerle

The only classified growth in my tasting today, Cantemerle was accidentally left off the 1855 list due to a clerical error, which was corrected in 1856. Fortunately today, Cantemerle is a classic Medoc wine that is not only immensely pleasing to drink but will age gracefully for decades. At ~ $30 for all but the most outstanding vintages (2010), (and even then only after the scores are released), it is a very reasonable addition to the cellar.

 

2014 —

Tight as a drum of course. Left open for a few hours, then double decanted and left for a few hours more. At this point it started to show some nice aromas of red fruit, licorice, and oak while the palate broadened into a rich and powerful texture. The tannin was surprisingly ripe and pleasing though the oak unsurprisingly not integrated. Even after another day it improved showing rich spiced red fruit character and well balanced acid. A very very classy Medoc that will age handsomely for 20+ years.

A couple of Aussie Cabs

So rare is the occasion that I can break myself free of my ever tightening preferences that when the urge to try something new came upon me at Woodland Hills Wine Company, I grabbed a couple <20$ Cab blends from Australia. A year ago if you had asked me what my least familiar wine region might have been, I would’ve wagered either Germany or Australia. Well a case or two of Kabinett later I’m afraid Australia is the lone wild west resident for this guy.  Part of it has always been the region’s reputation; I dislike huge wines that overwhelm or over-intoxicate. Like many wine regions Australia is not just one thing however, and particularly these days there is tremendous variety to be had.

My two choices were based solely on price (20 or less) and grape (Cabernet or Cab blend).

 

Girt by Sea 2012 by Voyager Estate (not Grit by the Sea as I first read, shame) is a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend from Margaret River. At $20 this was right at the top of my targeted price. On opening and for the rest of the first night it was a huge initial disappointment. Uninteresting and monolithic, it was showcasing only unripe tannin and bitterness with a faint hint of fake grape candy, not my idea of fun. Fortunately, I did not think it was flawed and so tossed it in the fridge for a day. The next day it was much more interesting: smoky, with blue fruit and minerality, though with a touch of that volatile acidity (nail polish). Overall a very robust, earthy wine that you should absolutely decant for an hour or two at least.

 

Church Block Cabernet 2013 by Wirra Wirra was sourced from a vineyard in the McLaren Vale, a pretty well regarded Australian subzone. Far less Cabernet than the Girt, 50% Cab, 37% Shiraz, 13% Merlot to be precise. Appropriately priced (~17$). This was a robust, and muscular wine that never wowed me with any complexity, but unlike the Girt by Sea, it was ready to go as soon as I opened it (take this as a neutral observation). Big smoky aromas of mocha, dark blue and berry fruits, also baking spice, made me suspect a greater perceptible oak influence. The taste was surprisingly fresh with red fruits and med+ acid. Will drink well for 5-10 years. A good mid-week option for pairing with bigger foods or palates. In the trade you might say this tastes of the wine-maker not the vineyard. Very little of it tasted like Cabernet or Shiraz, as the oak and tannin and acid were all vying for attention. But blends are meant to have their own distinct personality and this one did have character, a touch more than you typically see for 17 bucks.

2013 Felsina Fontalloro

Felsina’s Fontalloro is a prestigious and semi-historical Sangiovese that is typically long lived and elegant and this 2012 is no exception. As a 100% Sangiovese from a special selection of high altitude vine in the Chianti Valley, Fontalloro could by all rights be labeled a Chianti. But Felsina bottles a single-vineyard Chianti Classico Riserva called ‘Rancia’ that is a similar price and highly regarded as well. Instead Fontalloro maintains its ‘Super-Tuscan’ roots, from a time when a Chianti could not be 100% Sangiovese, and so continues to use the IGT designation and the fantasy name of Fontalloro.

Very difficult to evaluate but loads of raw material lurking under the surface. 375ml, double decanted and left for a few hours, but still little change. Faint aromas of sweet cherry, vanilla, grilled herbs, and cigar smoke, distinct but faint. Palate is well textured with broad, sneaky tannin and distinctively sour finish. It gives the impression of a very well made wine but not giving anything up at the moment. Quite polished, like a Bordeaux not a Sangiovese, but that is the style of the Fontalloro.

Certainly enjoyable now with some fatty, grilled, herb-encrusted meat (or bitter chocolate), but worth laying down for ten years. In contrast to the Rancia, the Fontalloro reads as more polished, with a sweeter nose. The Rancia also sees time in new French oak barrels, but manages a more rustic and wild personality.

Elena Fucci ‘Titolo’ Aglianico del Vulture 2005

Aglianico and its most well known representation, Taurasi, has been called one of the great wines of Italy, as well as the catchy moniker ‘Barolo of the South,’ but despite the generally lavish praise it remains a relatively under-appreciated grape and wine. Hailing from Southern Italy, it is most commonly found in Campania and Basilicata. Campania’s ‘Taurasi’ is the most well known DOCG for Aglianico but Basilicata’s Vulture region is gaining traction, and for good reason.

Like Taurasi, Vulture is home to an incredibly diverse array of volcanic soil types, with vineyards at high elevations. Vulture however, because of its proximity to the sea (and exposure) tends to have even higher diurnal temperature variation than Taurasi, balancing out the effects of the unrelenting Southern Italian heat. That is why I believe in the best examples, Aglianico del Vulture beats out Taurasi for quality and ageability.

One of my favorites is Elena Fucci’s ‘Titolo.’ Elena Fucci makes only a single wine, 100% Aglianico, from old vine plantings in Vulture. In the late 90’s she convinced her family to let her making their own wine from the vineyards, which up to that point had been sold wholesale.

I’ve purchased more than a few bottles of Titolo over the past few years, but they were optimistic purchases as I had never tried a mature example. This particular bottle is soaring at 12 years old with another decade of reliable enjoyment ahead!

The color was a memorizing dark maroon with an opaque core. Aromas of dark berry fruits, grilled herbs, tar, and smoke gave a good indication of the terroir while a refreshing streak of saline reminded you of the maritime winds that cool this vineyard at night.

The palate is smooth, with a lush array of dark black and red fruits with ripe, persistent tannin emerging with air and a very nice savory finish. This wine is in a great place, though with air it picks up considerable tannin and a rich, dark dried fruit quality. After a few hours it was far more tannic and robust, with the aromatics continuing to shift.

I saved a glass for day two. It started to take on the qualities of a middle-aged Bordeaux, with aromas of tobacco and cedar. This wine will age evenly and for a good many years.