Selections for August 2017

Grenache, honest and unfettered

2015 VASCO URBANO ‘Coco Noir’ GRENACHE – Cortez Vineyard, Contra Costa County

During my Livermore Valley Cellars days, Tim Sauer and I thought it fairly inappropriate to source grapes from anywhere but our own valley, considering our eponymous label.  Then we discovered how much we liked the Rhone varieties and realized some of California’s old vine sources were right next door in Contra Costa County; namely, Oakley and right-next-door Knightsen.  Many of these vineyards have survived longer than a century and are ungrafted.  That is, they are on their own phylloxera-threatened roots but that nasty louse is no problem here due to the uninhabitable sandy soils.  So deeply established are these root systems that irrigation is often unnecessary.  Whether Zinfandel, Mourvèdre, or Grenache, the wines from these old soldiers are intense in fruit along with the more mysterious addition of bramble and spice.  Old vines in Contra Costa County ROCK!

Then there’s the right way to treat them:  My nascent preoccupation with GSM blends from France’s Rhone Valley incited an inquiry:  “How do THOSE Old World guys treat these varieties?”  It turns out that regular-sized, new French oak barrels, so embraced in Bordeaux and Burgundy, are of little use in the Rhone.  That smaller barrel size has proven to hasten the oxidation of Grenache in particular, so storing that component in larger format “puncheons” or “foudre” is preferred for fruit preservation.  Vast subterranean vats made from fiberglass-lined concrete - some installed a hundred years ago - also provide this service.  Another feature of no-fuss Rhone winemaking:  A shorter stay in these vessels.  Certainly, some of the more important Chateauneuf-du-Papes might see up to two years of pre-bottling aging, but the other village wines and more simply-good Cotes du Rhones are often bottled before the next harvest.  These two approaches – larger barrel size and shorter time in barrel – are what we apply to our own Domaine des Plus-de-Vie.  This TWS ‘House Wine’ will feature both Livermore Valley AND Contra Costa grapes in its next iteration.  Stay tuned for that, but in the meantime: 

Without trying to sound patronizing, I must say I’m proud of Collin for applying the same winemaking ideas to ‘Coco Noir’ Grenache, of which only 168 cases were produced.  Five years ago he was using conventional barrels for such projects, and aging them longer.  Tasting those, I hoped he’d someday do something like THIS instead.  His own name for the winemaking that happened here:  “A poor man’s Pinot approach.”  Used puncheons (500-600 liter barrels rather than the more common 225’s) housed this Grenache for but ten months before bottling.  The purity and clarity of old vine fruit is uncluttered by either oxidation or new oak flavors.  Thin-skinned Grenache’s honesty is confessed by the delicate color (we discussed this last month per the Stolpman example).  Scents of cigar wrapper, raspberries, and thyme intimate a nearly-Rhone effect.  The palate is juicy and brambly; fuller if you serve this at room temperature and refreshingly crisper if you chill it a little.

Kudos to kindred spirit Collin and his nearly-Livermore, local wine!         

Sangiovese, unusually honored

2012 LUNA SANGIOVESE – Napa Valley

We’re happily surprised to find you a rare success:  California Sangiovese, a varietal too dependent on great soil and thoughtful winemaking to have a great track record.  We’re even more pleased to provide this from the high-rent Napa Valley for a very agreeable price.  Correctly-done Napa Valley Sangiovese for less than twenty dollars?  Now, that’s a rarity!

Full disclosure:  8% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon are helping out the modest, middleweight Sangiovese in this rendition, but the very same thing happens in the grape’s Tuscan homeland as well, so there’s some validating precedent. 

Bright cherries, a very “Tuscan” sense of sotto bosco (underbrush), and a tinge of tobacco comprise the perky, enervating perfume.  Smooth and supple textures finish with a nice food-inviting “nip” of tannin.  Just like the Italian versions, this wine’s mouthwatering acidity activates the appetite.  Listen to your Luna and “Mangia!