The Culture of Wine in the Age of the Kardashians

Featured

“Everybody wants to be a DJ, everybody wants to be an MC” – De La Soul, Magic Number

“You’ve got to have style, and learn to be original”  – Boogie Down Productions, My Philosophy

I cannot begin to understand why surgically manicured visages, post-operatively devoid of the originality with which they were genetically graced, dominate modern media.  Whether it be a Kardashian, a Lohan, or some vaguely feminine and slightly-over-tanned flotsam that washed up on the Jersey Shore, the normative female phenotype has been rhinoplastically re-defined and re-bootyed: plumped up lips; streamlined noses; oval-shaped eyes with curtly tucked eyebrows; salon-managed skin tones that are darker than streambed clay but lighter than a brown paper bag.  (Not to slag off just the ladies of the day; most of the Hollywood men-bots are just as devoid of character and individual nuance, save for the fat, stoner, comic stock characters that have always had their place near the sun, if not quite in it.)  This procedurally enhanced aesthetic similarity in the Age of the Kardashians is in stark contrast to the media darlings of the 1990s, where the lunch-starved waif look of Kate Moss shared the spotlight (but not the order of baby-back ribs) with the callipygean roundness of Anna Nicole Smith, both of which competed with Cindy Crawford’s beauty mark for magazine covers around the world.  Looking back, it is clear that 20 to 30 years ago, mainstream society had substantially greater appreciation for the genetic or experiential foibles that were unique to a person.  Warren Beatty’s nose?  Harrison Ford’s chin scar? 

Perhaps the “Pursuit for Sameness” in the Age of the Kardashians is parallel to a more ubiquitous development in the greater social construct: the rise of the Big Box store.  At no point in the history of this country have more people been able to go out and buy the same exact clothes, foods, homegoods, and appliances, regardless of their location.  Undoubtedly, there is a comfort in buying into the “sameness”; you know that enough other people are shopping at Target, Wal-Mart, or Costco and buying the same things you are buying, thus validating your decisions.  And if each one of us is primarily a compendium of decisions, well, you cannot be ill-judged by adopting such an approach.  The prevailing attitude seems to have become if we look alike, and we eat alike, and we like the same things, we put ourselves above reproach.  Either way, I can’t relate.  I grew up in the 1980s, about 25 minutes north of Yankee Stadium in lower Westchester, New York.  Rather than wear the brands of sneakers that were sold in the surrounding suburban shops and malls, my friends and I would go down to Fordham Road in the Bronx, and hit up the V.I.M. store for Diadora high-tops and other obscure brands and styles that were not available up by us.  The goal was to stand out by being different, original, by sporting a pair of kicks that were not only good looking but which nobody else in our high school could find.

How does this relate to the culture of wine in America?  There is a growing culture of sameness in the world of American winemaking that is equally disconcerting.  It is the sameness of grape varieties, the sameness of clones, the sameness of barrel coopers, the sameness of elevage techniques, the sameness of viticultural practices, and the sameness of parameters of wine criticism that threatens the industry.  Most of us love Pinot Noir, a lot of us can swoon over Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Grenache and Syrah as well.  But fewer and fewer winemakers are providing a new (or at least, long-lost) sense of Pinot Noir, Cab or Chardonnay.  So many American wines taste . . . just like the bottle next to it on the shelf. 

To be sure, the early 21st-century leaders in the lower-alcohol Pinot Noir school, such as Copain and Inman Family, as well as the early 21st-century leaders of the non-interventionist Pinot School, such as Littorai and Radio-Coteau, have demonstrated successful approaches that have been lauded and implemented by others with equal (and in some cases greater) success.  The In Pursuit of Balance and West of West groups, in particular, have done well to capture the public’s attention in this regard, and it is no accident that Littorai, Copain, Hirsch, Evening Land, Red Car, Peay Vineyards, and sommelier supreme Raj Parr hold down the vanguard in these groups.  But the members of these groups represent but a fraction of the marketplace.  Looking at the industry as a whole, there remains too many wineries that fail to demonstrate sufficient elements of originality and character in their wines to break out from the pack.  Rather, there seems to be an ever-growing group of 40- and 50-something men (very wealthy men), who have started wineries or purchased vineyards over the past 6 or 7 years and who are content just to be making wine with the same “ultimate set of winemaking tools” (to paraphrase Jeff Spicoli), with little concern for growing grapes that speak uniquely of a single site, or of crafting a wine that speaks in its own voice.  Just being recognized as the owner of a winery and invited to a couple of industry events seems to be enough to satisfy their soul.  When I was 18, De La Soul observed, “Everybody wants to be a DJ, everybody wants to be an MC.”  Nowadays, it seems everybody wants to be a winemaker.  And the by-product of this infatuation is a farrago of banal wine choking the distribution lines.

At the same time, fewer winemakers seem to be taking the chance on obscure or foreign grape varieties that might thrive in California.  There seems to be a lot less risk taking, and a lot more playing it safe.  On the wine criticism side, the viewpoint continues to be “entertain me, and do it in 30-60 seconds ’cause I’ve got a whole lot of wine to taste and I haven’t got all day.”  Wine critics continue to judge wine based upon their preconceived notions of what a wine should be, without letting the wine unfold in a decanter over the course of a few days, or taken with food, and deliver up the goods on its own terms.  Consequently, I believe many wines are judged by a critic before they’ve had a chance to fully reveal their true nature and full range of complexities and strengths.  And therefore, the critic writes up a review that captures the sameness that is shared with other wines from the same AVA, but with little discernment between producers, without grappling with the individual nuances derived from site and farming.  What we are left with is a safe review for a safe wine that captures the sameness of its type, thus further reinforcing the narrow scope of what constitues “a very good to excellent wine.”

This is dangerous.  Because the Sicilians, the Corsicans, the Piemontese, the Slovenians, the Portuguese, and the farmers of the Alto-Adige, to name but a few, are not playing it safe.  They are making decidedly unique wines, in decidedly unsafe ways, from obscure grape varietals (or from well-known varietals presented in an atypical manner) that are delicious.  If they haven’t already, the likes of Abbatucci,  G.B. Burlotto, Castelfeder, Occhipinti, Hofstadter, Hauner, and Fiegl are about to blow the doors off your tasting cart.   

So what is the remedy?  In short, what we need now are more American winemaking visionaries, more producers like Randall Grahm at Bonny Doon, who is tearing between parallel universes to chisel an original, living college of grapes and grape-friendly organisms out of a bowl nestled in the hills of San Juan Bautista, while making a home for world-class Grenache, Albarino, Syrah, and Carignane.  We need more producers like Duncan Meyers and Morgan Peterson, who get amped just talking about the esoteric grapes and old vines they shepherd.  We need more visionaries like Pax Mahle, who was not afraid to train Nebbiolo to behave under the California sun.  We need more winemakers with guts like Wells Guthrie, who was willing to go long on Anderson Valley Chardonnay, and knockedout a killer Chard with a Chablisienne edge to it in the 2010 vintage.  We need more farmers like Nick Peay, who is still willing to use biodiesel for his tractor, despite the fact that it gums up the works so much that he spends most of his free time fixing the darn thing.  We need more people like Raj Parr and Sashi Moorman calling picks while the grapes still have their natural acidity intact.  We need more people like Ted and Heidi Lemon, who live by their words and improve the earth from which their grapes are grown.  We need more winegrowers like Alex Davis, who shy away from the spotlight and let their wines do the talking for them.  We need more winemakers like Eric Sussman, who refuse to rely upon inputs in the winery and insist upon making as honest a wine as possible.  We need more people to appreciate the genius of Paul Draper.  But most of all, we need more praise, in our wine media, for that which is original.

California Wine Has Never Been Better

Featured

I’m deep into a book I’m writing on the stars of California wine.  I’m talking two weeks from (extended) deadline deep.  I don’t want to disclose too much yet about the particular angle, for a variety of reasons (no pun intended); all I can say is that it should be out by late fall 2012.  Think of the theme as the top 25 wineries in California, as of right now.  The book has copious tasting notes with ratings (100-point scale) and drinking windows.  One of the winemakers I interviewed was on the phone with me today, and he asked what my favorite wines were in the book.  The truth of the matter is, it is impossible for me to pick a “favorite,” as so many of the wines would be perfect with different foods, while others would be great for casual sipping on their own, and thus it simply comes down to mood and circumstance.  However, to come up with a quick answer, I made a list of just the wines and their scores, and I was shocked.  The number of 90+ scores is unbelievable.  Granted, the wineries I’m writing about are supposed to be the 25 greatest wineries in California right now.  No, there aren’t any 100 point wines, although one or two show potential to improve and come close.  But more than 90% of the 200+ wines in the book are rated 90+.  And there are a number of wineries that are just consistently hitting it out of the park, even across 10 or more bottlings and multiple varietals.  What’s even more exciting, my tastings have revealed that many of the best winemakers in California have been able to fashion exceptional wines notwithstanding the weather-related curveballs that tormented growers in 2010 and 2011.  In sum, California wine has never been better.  So, without disclosing too much, at least not today, here are some of my favorites from the book, with their numerical rating and a brief description of the wine; these are the wines that continue to haunt me, weeks and in some cases months after I first tasted them:

DuMOL Estate Chardonnay 2010 (96+) – This is a blend of the Hyde Wente Chardonnay selection (70%) and the Mt. Eden selection (30%), which are planted in a tight spacing of 4’ x 3’.  The nose shows beautiful, seductive aromas of lanolin and boxwood, with a hint of lemon rind.  Generous and layered in the mouth, this is aged in 40% new French oak (a mix of 225ml barrels, 300ml hogsheads, and 75 gallon “cigars”).  Rich and dynamic, this seamless wine is breathtaking in its balance between power and grace, as well as in its effortless transition from the midpalate to the never-ending finish. It possesses an inner essence, somewhere between a jus and plasma, that sets it apart from most wines in the world.  And the essence doesn’t just sit there.  I swear by all that is good, it has a vibration, a groove to it.  It’s like the Rolling Stones’ “Tumbling Dice”; it makes me want to dance. 

Rhys Vineyards Horseshoe Chardonnay 2009 (97) – This is clearly the product of people who have drunk a lot of Batard-Montrachet, and fell in love with grand cru white Burgundy well before the whole pre-mox debacle.  Granted, it has the sunny kiss of California sunshine, but it has such refined power, such puissance.  The combination of concentrated golden apple flavors sprinkled with notes of nutmeg and lemon oil are set off by a fierce acidity that indelibly marks the palate and eternally tethers this behemoth to the good side of the force.  

Sandhi Bent Rock Chardonnay 2010 (97+) – Shows what complexity can be achieved at 13.2% alcohol.  Displays the apricot/tropical aromatics and oily texture of a Montrachet, the blind purity that you get from the best Santa Rita Hills Chardonnays (esp. when picked on the “early” side), and this incredible focus from the midpalate through the finish where the wine becomes simultaneously more delineated and concentrated.  Kind of like the big bang in reverse I suppose. 

Radio-Coteau Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 (96+): Over the past nine years, Eric Sussman’s Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noirs have consistently shown the flavor and aromatic characters of this hillside vineyard through the lens of the vintage.  The 2002 was brooding and black fruited; the riper 2003 was more red cherry oriented; the 2005 exhibited a “big-boned” quality of natural extract, depth, and structure reminiscent of the larger-than-normal Pinots from the 2005 vintage in the Cote d’Or.  2009 was a lighter, more gracious iteration.  The Radio-Coteau Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, however, enchants you with its elegance at first, and then slowly builds to reveal a wine of great nervosity and Pinot purity.  This has more subtlety and restraint on the finish than any prior Savoy bottling from Radio-Coteau, and is Sussman’s best wine to date from this site. 

Ridge Monte Bello 1995 (97) - Nearly 17 years after the vintage, the tannins of the ’95 Monte Bello have melted into the dark fruit sea, which is still fresh and cool, and the wine is a glorious example of the purity and balance that can be attained when “mountaintop Cabernet Sauvignon” is blended with other Bordeaux varietals.  I don’t know if this bottle showed particularly well because it was consumed on site, over lunch with the charming and ebullient Paul Draper.  All I can say is, this is about as good as it gets.

Wind Gap Luna Matta Nebbiolo Paso Robles 2009 (97-100):  Through a use of whole-cluster and de-stemmed fruit, a nightwatchman’s diligence in the monitoring of skin contact in taking the juice off the skins at the right moment to avoid unnecessary tannins, this red raspberry elixir has the most floral of bouquets and speaks with a strong Langhe-accent.  Big, neutral Gamba puncheons help amplify fruit roundness without imparting any intrusive wood tones.  More than just the real deal, if this proves to be as profound when it is finally bottled (a year or two from now), it may trigger a Nebbiolo-grafting orgy in the Central Coast.

Reader Appreciation Day: Here’s a Tip: Jump on this Retailer Sale

Featured

Thank you to all readers, distributors, winemakers, retailers, writers, and friends for your thoughtful feedback and kind words about this website.  We try our best, although travel and book writing and day jobs can sometimes get in the way.  As a token of my appreciation, I thought I’d give a tip to all readers of the site: a retailer in suburban New York (Zachys; www.zachys.com) is blowing out wines at $10-$15-$20 price points, some of which have been reviewed here.  I believe they ship everywhere in the U.S. where permitted, but you’ll have to follow up with them for the details.  Anyhow, here are some suggestions of wines that you might want to purchase, with my thoughts:

Vocoret Chablis 2009:  My original review of this wine was a bit stingy.  I probably rated it around 86 points.  Fact is, this is the only wine of which I’ve purchased 2 cases in the past year.  Just bought another case this morning.  It’s an honest Chablis, with good minerality.  What it lacks in complexity it makes up for in acidity and precision.  This is not going to displace Raveneau or Dauvissat any time soon at the top of the quality hierarchy, but it’s a great every day sipper at $15 a pop on sale.  Perhaps what I love best about this wine is that you and your spouse can nearly finish a bottle with a meal, and you don’t feel the least bit intoxicated. 

Halos de Jupiter Costieres des Nimes 2008: Costieres des Nimes fared better than most other regions in the Rhone in 2008.  The vines are not far from the Mediterranean, and the wine tastes infused with cool ocean air, and a pleasant hint of brine/seaweed.  If you like the Arnot-Roberts Syrahs, you’ll probably love this wine.  I adore it wine for its balance, honesty, and aromatic complexity.  Again, a wine that you can sip with a meal and feel none the worse for wear.  Whoever said Phillipe Cambie only makes one style of wine is utterly uninformed.  Oh yeah, I picked up a couple more of these today for $10 a bottle.

Domaine Mas du Bouquet Vacqueyras 2009:  Probably the best red wine one can find for $10 a bottle in 2012.  This bottling exemplifies the classic dark fruit, spicy aroma, and tannic grip of wines from Vacqueyras.  I think I bought about 6 bottles of this today for $10.  Great to pair with meats and rich sauces.

Chateau Peybrun Cadillac Cotes de Bordeaux 2009:  This is a red Bordeaux blend from the Cadillac area, which is not far from Barsac and Sauternes.  A really classy wine, from an ancient site that is organically farmed.  66% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, this shows nice cherry/red currant flavors that are edged with notes of cedar, plums, and pine.  This wine takes it back to a time when all any vigneron ever wanted to do in Bordeaux was make a balanced wine.  Best thing about this wine: it improves over the course of 3 days, without gassing it or sticking it in the fridge.  On sale now for $15.    

Best,

John Bernard Dawson

thesonomawinejournal@gmail.com

Benovia Winery 2009s: Another Winner from a Glorious Vintage

Benovia Sonoma Mountain Grenache 2009:  Ruby.  Cherry-lavender aromas have a hint of salt, kirsch, and animale. Intensely concentrated, the round and ample fruit flavors are initially bright and generous, but become more sophisticated, darker, and more nuanced on the finish.  Full-bodied.  A great wine for leg of lamb. Drink now-2016.  (91+)

One To Watch: Domaine des Beaumont

Featured

Domaine des Beaumont is located in Morey St. Denis, not far from Maison Frederic Magnien.  For generations, the Beaumont family sold their grapes to Laboure-Roi, but now Thierry Beaumont is bottling the wines and releasing them under his own label.  These wines are fashioned in a soil-driven style, and offer solid value.  Particularly compelling is the Charmes-Chambertin, but all of the wines are delicious now and will age effortlessly.   

Domaine des Beaumont Charmes-Chambertin 2008:  Dripping with purity, the glorious 2008 Charmes-Chambertin is a magnificent example of the magic that can happen when winemakers farm their sites well, and then let the wine speak of its terroir instead of new oak.  A dazzling array of sous bois, black earth, rock shavings, and spicy black berries build in fragrance and flavor with time in the glass.  The intensity of fruit flavor is managed by round tannins that are firm but kept in check.  Though only medium-bodied, the concentration of flavors makes the wine seem much fuller.  The most exciting Charmes-Chambertin I’ve had in years.  Beginning with the 2008 vintage, this is a producer with whom every Burgundy collector should become acquainted.  Drink now-2025.  (95+ points) 

Domaine des Beaumont Chambolle Musigny Les Chardannes 2008:  Violet ruby.  Showcasing the intensity of small-clustered Pinor Noir, this Chambolle exhibits vivid aromas and flavors of black and red berries, freshly turned soil, and toasted sesame seeds.  A tasty saline note on the back end adds complexity.  Drink now-2016.  (90+ points)

Domaine des Beaumont Morey St. Denis Clos Sorbes 2008:  Featuring a ruby hue, the Morey St. Denis Clos Sorbes offers sappy, dark Pinot fruit flavors.  With aeration, the wine becomes richer, seemingly growing in body, but manages to maintain its Pinot purity.  Drink now-2017.  (90+ pts).

Domaine des Beaumont Morey St. Denis Les Ruchots 2008:  Stepping it up a notch is the Les Ruchots 2008, which possesses a stimulating bouquet of ripe black cherries, black gum drops, and fresh cream framed by notes of crushed rocks and dark soil.  On the palate, the fleshy fruit and mineral notes are counterbalanced by a layer of tannins and noticeable acidity.  The finish is particularly nuanced and delicate.  A spectacular bottling that should age well.  Drink now-2010.   (91+ points)

Majesty Defined – Barolo 2006

Featured

MAJESTY DEFINED: BAROLO 2006
 
How do we know that Barolo is God’s favorite wine?  Because at the end of every harvest, he rewards Barolo producers with the local Alba truffle, the most decadent and enthralling of foods known to man.  The Alba truffle (Tuber Magnatum Pico) is an underground fungus that grows in and around Piemonte in northwest Italy, and, in many respects, is the gustatory equivalent of Barolo but in a solid form: rich tasting but meant to be a complement to a dish; seductively aromatic; and of course, expensive.  Taking the cliché “what grows together goes together” to the highest of gastronomic heights, the marriage of Barolo and Alba truffle is arguably the holy grail of food and wine pairing.  Together, the musky, earthy, and gamy bouquet of the truffle is overlayed with the penetrating rose petal, piquant cherry, and tar-like earth notes of the wine, with no one aroma or flavor overtaking the others (assuming a subtle hand in the kitchen and in the winery).  This past November, I spent ten days in Italy, mostly in Piemonte, where I had the opportunity to taste freshly harvested truffles in a variety of dishes: cooked with eggs, generously shaved over pasta, over raw beef, atop braised Jerusalem artichokes, as well as draped over a beef filet in brown sauce.  In most cases, I was fortunate enough to have a glass of Barolo 2006 in front of me, and in each instance, the pairing of Barolo and Alba truffle was a match made in heaven.

Having tasted a number of the 2006 Baroli in more controlled settings beyond the dinner table, the vintage, on a whole, is excellent, and the wines more than live up to the old adage “the king of wines and wine of kings.”  Looking over my notes, the consistent themes are vigorous tannins, spicy red berry flavors (predominantly cherry and red raspberry), intense concentration, medium levels of acidity, and classic rose petal aromatics, in that order.  In terms of mouthfeel, the 2006 Baroli tend to exhibit firm tannins, but they are not as formidably concentrated and structured as the 2004s, and are certainly less backward then the 2004s.  In fact, for many producers the 2006s show more balance and are more approachable than their 2004s were at this stage.  The Baroli 2006s also tend to show sweeter, riper, and more red fruited flavors than their 2005 counterparts.  Overall, the 2006s should drink well young, but also age and improve through at least 2020.  2006 is essentially a classic vintage, in terms of structure and aromatic profile, but with just a bit more ripeness.  Perhaps this is the new “classic”?
Top Barolo producers in 2006 include G.B. Burlotto, Aldo Conterno, Elio Grasso, and Renato Ratti.  The following tasting notes feature the highlights of my Barolo 2006 tastings to date.

Abbona Marziano Barolo Pressenda 2006:  Dark garnet.  The Abbona Marziano Barolo Pressenda 2006 offers a complex and delicious perfume of roses, black cherries, cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg, and anise.  On the attack (the initial sip of wine passing through the lips onto the tongue), baked cherry pie flavors are garnished with the spice of warm earth.  Concentrated and full-bodied, with ample acidity and a long finish that bodes well for long-term aging.  13.5% alc.  Drink 2013-2030.  (92 points)

G.B. Burlotto Barolo 2006:  Deep garnet in color, the Burlotto Barolo 2006 exhibits juicy aromas of freshly pitted cherries and cranberries.  The wine is quite dry, medium-bodied, and shows ample tannins.  It is on the midpalate where the wine really begins to sing, showcasing concentrated flavors that call to mind mushrooms, spices, and red fruits.  The finish is long and intense.  14% alc.  Drink 2012-2022.  (90+ points)

G.B. Burlotto Barolo Acclivi 2006: Dark ruby with an exceptional sheen, the Burlotto Acclivi 2006 displays scents of rose petals, violets, face powder, oak, and red berries.  Painfully backward at this point, due to incredible levels of natural concentration and ripe tannin, the Acclivi is only hinting at what lurks below the surface.  The concentrated, never-ending finish of the wine begs for decades of cellaring.  Fine acidity from beginning to end.  Not for the faint of heart or for those without patience, as this is a wine for the ages.  14% alc.  Drink 2018-2040.  (95+ points)

G.B. Burlotto Barolo Monvigliero 2006:  Dark ruby.  The effusively aromatic Burlotto Monvigliero 2006 shows seductive notes of cherries, leather, game, and crushed rocks.  Silky soft in the mouth, the texture is nearly oily.  A cornucopia of intensely rich flavors practically overwhelm the palate in a blitz of cherry, wild berry, game, mushroom, and rose petal.  Despite packing such ripe flavor, the wine is fresh and vibrant.  Simply legendary.  It is particularly amazing is that this wine can be drunk with pleasure now and decades to come.  14% alc.  Drink now-2030.  (97+ points)

G.B. Burlotto Barolo Cannubi 2006:  Red ruby.  Attractive notes of leather, black olives, blackberries and black raspberries.  On the palate, the Burlotto Cannubi 2006 shows tea-like tannins, with lots of grip on the tongue, black fruits, and a hint of ash on the long finish.  Only 4,000 bottles produced.  14% alc.  Drink 2012-2025.  (95+ points)

Cascina Luisin Barolo Leon Serralunga 2006: Red-garnet.  Aromas of rose petals, cherries, and earth.  On the palate, spicy dark cherry flavors are intermingled with notes of iron.  Very saturated and round.  Profound.  Drink now-2020.  (92+ points)

Aldo Conterno Barolo 2006:  Light ruby.  Sweet aromas of cherry juice, violets, dark chocolate, and fruit drink powder are complemented by a high-toned and attractive counterpoint of tar.  Compact and concentrated on the attack, with firm, round tannins.  Elegant red berry and tea notes are subtle and dry on the midpalate.  Medium-bodied and quite light on its feet, with a lingering, dry finish.  Pairs well with mushroom risotto.  14.5% alc.  Drink now-2014.  (90 points)

Aldo Conterno Barolo Colonnello 2006:  Pale garnet with a hint of violet.  Attractive notes of stones, warm earth, and dried cherries on the nose.  In the mouth, this is an exceedingly pure, unadulterated Barolo, with dark berry flavors and outstanding structure.  Nearly full-bodied.  14.5% alc.  Drink 2013-2050.  (94+ points)

Aldo Conterno Barolo Cicala 2006:  Light ruby.  More floral than the Colonnello, the Cicala exhibits aromas of fresh roses and Bing cherries.  In the mouth, this shows impeccable balance, excellent presence on the midpalate, and flavors of red berries.  Soft and round on the finish.  Already showing praiseworthy integration and depth, the medium-bodied Cicala 2006 will age and improve for decades.  14.5% alc.  Drink 2016-2050.  (97 points)

Aldo Conterno Barolo Romirasco 2006:  Garnet color.  Ripe red cherry aromas soar from the glass, and with just one whiff, you are under the spell of Romirasco!  Upon the first sip, the luscious fruit flavors, gorgeous black spices, and sexy texture are so compelling that you immediately know you are tasting greatness in the glass.  On the midpalate, the wine unfolds to reveal even greater layers of flavor and tension.  This tension sustains itself for nearly one minute after swallowing the wine, after which the finish becomes elegant, almost graceful.  Nearly full-bodied.  A legendary wine.  Romirasco is not a vineyard, but the proprietary name attached to a blend of Aldo Conterno vineyards, and in 2006, approximately 70% of the fruit came from the historic Gran Bussia site, with the remainder split evenly between the vineyards of Cicala and Colonnello.  Although delicious now, this wine will need another ten years before it begins to blossom.  14.5% alc.  Drink 2013-2060.  (98+ points)

Cordero di Montezemolo Barolo Enrico 2006: From a two-hectare parcel on the Villero hillside (1,000 feet above sea level) in Castiglione Falleto.  Medium ruby.  Shows an attractive, nearly oily texture, with waxy cherry fruits.  With aeration, notes of leather and eucalyptus emerge.  Drink 2012-2020.  (90+ points)

Cordero di Montezemolo Barolo Bricco Gattera 2006:  Ruby.  Gorgeous floral scents offer an alluring bouquet for the medium-bodied, well-balanced Bricco Gattera.  The cherry and red raspberry flavors linger favorably on the extended finish.  Needs time.  Drink 2013-2025.  (91+ points)

Cordero di Montezemolo Barolo Monfalletto 2006:  Composed from a careful selection of top Monfalletto vineyards with vines aged between 20 and 40 years, sited between 800 to 1,000 feet above sea level.  Pale ruby.  Penetrating floral aromas are intermingled with scents suggestive of black cherries.  Nearly full-bodied, the concentrated black cherry flavors are complemented by notes of anise, sandalwood, persimmon, and rhubarb.  Impressive and delicious.  Drink now-2020.  (91+ points).

Luigi Einaudi Costa Grimaldi Barolo 2006: Dark ruby.  Ripe black cherry and black raspberry fruits are showcased in this attractive, full-bodied wine that should be accessible fairly early.  Drink 2012-2020.  (92 points)

Luigi Einaudi Barolo Cannubi 2006: Dark ruby.  Practically unyielding at this point, the Luigi Einaudi Cannubi 2006 is shut down and backward.  That said, there is a solid dark fruit component beneath the layers of tannins and earth that merits a second look at this wine in a couple of years.  Hold off for now, and drink 2016-2030.  (91+ points)

Elio Grasso Gavarini Chiniera Barolo 2006:  Medium ruby.  Showcases a mesmerizing perfume of distilled roses.  On the palate, the flavors call to mind cherries, raspberries, and leather.  Rich, with a front-loaded, fruit-driven personality, and yet not over-extracted or one-dimensional in the least!  An outstanding wine that is already quite accessible.  14% alc.  Drink now-2025.  (93 points)

Elio Grasso Ginestra Casa Matè Barolo 2006:  Deep ruby.  Spicy black cherry aromas and flavors abound, with exceptional grip on the tongue.  Full-bodied and formidably structured, this is almost painfully tannic at this youthful juncture.  The finish lasts for nearly a minute.  If you are tempted to drink this young, pair it with wild boar (cinghiale), osso buco, or other high-protein dishes.  A masterpiece from Elio Grasso and winemaker Piero Ballario.  14% alc.  Drink 2013-2030.  (96 points)

Massolino Barolo Serralunga d’Alba 2006: Translucent violet.  Musky nose of potpourri, dried cranberries, and stewed cherries, with a trace of leather.  Very dry in the mouth, with slightly abrasive tannins.  Medium-bodied.  More tannic than fruity.  Good acidity.  14% alc.  Drink now-2013.  (86 points)

Mauro Molino Barolo 2006: Medium garnet-violet.  On the nose, rose, cinnamon, iron, and minerals.  An extremely well-priced example of the legendary 2006 vintage.  Drink now-2018.  (91+ points)

Parusso Barolo 2006: Garnet with a violet hue.  Notes of dried red berries, potpourri, black pepper, and Asian black spices, with hints of raspberry and balsam wood.  Medium-bodied, with high-toned cherry fruit and a trace of orange peel on the palate.  Good balance between acidity and tannins.  Robust, with a long finish.  Needs time.  Drink 2012-2016.  (87 points)

Prunotto Barolo Bussia 2006: Deeply pitched red berry aromas are followed by a tannin-laden attack and serious depth of fruit on the palate.  There is a lot lurking below the surface of this wine, it just needs time in the cellar to show it.  14% alc.  Drink 2014-2030.  (94 points)

Renato Ratti Barolo Marcenasco 2006:  Ruby.  Penetrating aromas reminiscent of flowers, raisins, and black fruits.  Tannic on the attack, with rich soil tones compressed over brambly, wild berry flavors.  Mildly tart, with a long, earthy finish.  Drink 2013-2030.  (92+ points)

Renato Ratti Barolo Conca 2006: Pale red ruby.  Reticent on the nose, with subdued black cherry notes and a touch of dark earth.  Super spicy on the palate, with black   (92+ points)

Renato Ratti Barolo Rocche 2006: Blood garnet.  Effusive notes of black cherries, Rugasa roses, rose water, and black spices.  Fantastic grip on the palate, with spicy flavors and a touch of sandalwood.  Full-bodied, but still with lots of verve.  A legendary wine with the structure to age for decades.  No heat on the palate despite the 14.5% alc.  Drink 2014-2040.  (95+ points)

Ricossa Barolo 2006: Light garnet, turning dark brick at the rim.  The attractive gamy and rose petal aromas are succulent and savory.  On the attack, there are flavors of wild red berries, cherries, rose petals, beef jus, and an inkling of truffle.  Admirable tannic grip on the midpalate, which continues through the long, acid-driven finish.  There is a bit of warmth on the backend, but it does not detract from the wine.  Kudos to winemaker Gaitan Carron.  13.5% alc.  Drink now-2016.   (91+ points)

Rocche Dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella di S. Stefano 2006:  Pale ruby.  Concentrated cherry aromas lead to flavors of plums, earth, and oak in the mouth.  Fiercely tannic at this point, with some nice spice notes on the finish.  This will need time to integrate.  14.5% alc.  Drink 2013-2020.  (89+ points)

Foggiest Notion

Featured

 I have the foggiest notion that harvest is just around the  corner.  Except for those vineyards socked in by the fog that has draped much of Sonoma County this summer.  Below is a picture of a harvest morning (around 8:30 am) taken at Peay Vineyards in Annapolis, California, in September 2009.  As you can see, the fog is dissipating, and the grapes and grapevines are just then beginning to warm up from the exposure to sun.  These types of mornings in 2009 — where the cold nights transition into cool mornings and gradually warm up through the day — contributed to the slow accumulation of flavors in the grapes, resulting in the profound Peay Vineyards Pinot Noirs from that exceptional vintage.  By contrast, in 2011, some vineyards in the towns of Occidental, Forestville, and elsewhere along the western Sonoma Coast, have been covered by a dense fog that is leaving the grapes in a state of “suspended animation,” where grape ripening is slowing to a snail’s pace.  Coupled with the rains and other climatic events of this spring and early summer that had already contributed to a late start to the growing season, as well as delayed bloom and set, this might turn out to be a true Halloween harvest for varieties other than Syrah.  Stay tuned.

The Most Humble Rock Star You’ve Never Met

Through a cloud of beige dust kicked up from the gravel road, I see the outline of an industrial building that could not be more out of place here on the floor of the bucolic Green Valley. It’s mid-afternoon, and the curtilage around the no-frills structure is so devoid of activity that the site looks almost abandoned. A knock on the side door goes unanswered. Continue reading