Getting back to the Vanguard show this past Monday, there were a great many California wineries represented, as well as some awesome wines from Oregon and Washington State as well. And I had to first visit Selene Wines’ table, where assistant winemaker Tracy Hall was pouring. I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating every chance I get – Mia Klein, Selene’s winemaker – is my Eric Clapton. So I guess Tracy would be Jack Bruce (great singer and bass player BTW!). Tracy started me off with the Selene Sauvignon Blanc Carneros Hyde Vineyard 2009 (Grade=Amazing), which showed off exceptional notes of lemon and lime, with floral and herbal notes in abundance, surrounded by splashes of guava, grapefruit and slight kiwi tones. This is the only Sauvignon Blanc to come from the acclaimed Hyde Vineyard, so it’s really something special. The Selene Merlot Frediani Vineyard 2007 (Grade=Amazing) is truly remarkable, full of depth, complexity and richness. Smoky plum and blackberries with a bit of anise and chocolate come together in a juicy, luscious finish. One of the best Napa Merlots you are going to find. The Selene Cabernet Sauvignon Dead Fred Vineyard 2007 (Grade=Amazing), an homage to the vineyard owner’s late cat (I am already sold being a big cat lover myself), is an impressive, concentrated effort that reveals layers of blackberry, black currant, dark chocolate, coffee, tar and spicy vanilla bean. Its fleshy tannins build intensity as it cascades into a creamy, smoky oak finish. And my favorite of the lineup, the Selene Chesler Red Napa Valley 2005 (Grade=Amazing) completes the grand slam with this dedication to Mia’s mom. It shows off its beautiful Cabernet Franc-dominant red with lush blackberry and blueberry fruit aromas and flavors, mocha, espresso, baking spices, violet and baked chocolate pie. Mia is truly a master composer, and her arrangements will forever be legend (sorry Mia for breaking out my fanboy antics).
From Oregon, Vanguard has two terrific wineries: Soter, and Domaine Serene (which in my haste, I completely missed). Soter’s table has 3 great wines, all being poured by James Cahill, Soter’s winemaker. Founder Tony Soter is legendary in Napa, with his winery Etude, as well as being a consultant for such wine luminaries as Shafer, Viader, Araujo and Dalle Valle. James started me off with the Soter Brut Rosé 2005 (Grade=Amazing) is a phenomenal sparkling wine that is 100% Pinot Noir. It is all strawberries, raspberries and toasted brioche with bright, refreshing effervescence and a light, zesty finish. The Soter Pinot Noir North Valley 2008 (Grade=Amazing) is one of my favorite Oregon Pinot Noirs, with its light-to-medium-body, luscious cherry fruit aromas and flavors, some splashes of dark plums, white flowers, wet stone, and cinnamon. Only slightly-oaked, it is clean, fruit-driven, and well-balanced. The Soter Pinot Noir Mineral Springs Vineyard 2008 (Grade=Amazing) is richer and denser, with dark cherries and black raspberries, perfumy flowers, white pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg, and a bit of cherry cola. It is a gorgeous, seductive Pinot Noir that is definitely a benchmark for the region.
One of the preeminent Syrah producers in California is Lagier Meredith, operated by owner/winemaker/professor emeritus at UC Davis Carole Meredith. Showcasing her Lagier Meredith Syrah Mount Veeder 2007 (Grade=Amazing), you get the sense of her devotion and passionate abandon for the grape. This elegant, profoundly complex Syrah is full of seductive blueberry, raspberry and rhubarb pie, with notes of black pepper, fresh sage and rosemary, a bit of olive tapenade, cinnamon stick, black currants, Darjeeling tea, and the list goes on and on. It’s what Syrah should be, regardless of its zip code.
I am a huge Cabernet Franc fan, and for the money, the best at Cab Franc is Lang & Reed. The Lang & Reed Cabernet Franc North Coast 2008 (Grade=Outstanding) is chock full of black cherries and plums, with roasted herbs, hints of mocha, dark roast coffee beans, and smoky vanillin oak. A great introduction to the grape itself and a great example of how Cab Franc is done right. The Lang & Reed Cabernet Franc Two Fourteen 2007 (Grade=Amazing) is brand new for the brand, and showcases a lot of cherry, raspberry and black currant notes, with a bit of forest floor, violets, bitter chocolate and baking spices. It’s an impressive first effort, and shows its St.-Emilion influences well.
Two of the three wines from winemaker Charles Bieler come from his partnership with wine madman/future Pokèmon character Charles Smith – the wines of Charles and Charles. I passed on the Rosé only because it is sold out (it really kicks ass, but why would I tease myself?) so I moved on to the Charles and Charles Red Columbia Valley 2009 (Grade=Outstanding). This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah shows off both Bieler’s prowess and Smith’s bravado, all in a medium-bodied, jammy, juicy presentation of black and red fruit flavors, black and white pepper, chocolate and espresso notes. This is definitely an incredible value. (Author’s Note: I’ll talk about Charles Bieler’s Cotes du Ventoux wine next time.)
Hitting the Talley table, I have always equated Talley as being one of the best Chardonnay producers from Santa Barbara. Talley is a specialist of serious Maconnais-style Chardonnay and Cotes du Nuits-inspired Pinot Noir. Their second-label, Bishop’s Peak, was also represented and David Block, the national sales manager for Talley and Bishop’s Peak, started things off with the Bishop’s Peak Chardonnay Central Coast 2007 (Grade=Outstanding) is a wonderful value, showing off quality sourced-fruit that lends to its combination of malo-‘d and unmalo’d fruit, which displays a Chard with tropical fruit, creamy apple, buttered popcorn and butterscotch notes. Next, the Talley Chardonnay Arroyo Grande 2008 (Grade=Amazing) is lightly-oaked, with splashes of creamy lemon meringue, baked apples, toasted almonds and orange zest. It is framed around lively acidity and finishes with some nutmeg and allspice. The Talley Chardonnay Oliver’s Vineyard 2007 (Grade=Amazing) is full of ripe pineapple, nectarine, orange, and toasted nuts, with splashes of baking spices, Golden Delicious apples, and toffee. The midpalate is dense and lush, and the finish lingers extensively. It’s a gorgeous Chardonnay. The Talley Pinot Noir Arroyo Grande 2007 (Grade=Amazing) displays beautiful notes of raspberries, pomegranate, cola, nutmeg and cherry tartlet, with nice acidity, hints of spices, and a sultry, sleek finish. The Talley Pinot Noir Rincon Vineyard 2007 (Grade=Amazing) demonstrates a more majestic, masculine style with its black fruits, cinnamon, pepper, anise, baked earth, and vanilla notes. It is richer and more complex than its sibling, and finishes magnificently. The finale was the Bishop Peak’s Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles 2006 (Grade=Outstanding) is a fruit-driven, comsumer-friendly Cab that isn’t too complicated, medium-bodied, with rich blackberry jam, black cherry pie, and hints of chocolate and pepper.
All-in-all, these wines were fantastic, yet the afternoon was still rolling right along. There was a lot more to taste. Next time, I will finish up my California notes and wrap-up with some French, Spanish and Ports.