Arrested Development

After our adventure barrel tasting at Cartograph, we were lucky enough (ok fine, Alan knows people) to be treated to a very special private tasting at Arista Winery.  I’ve been to Arista before, and have always enjoyed their Pinot Noirs, but this was realy a treat a we were able to taste 7 older vintages of rare wines. Mark McWilliams met us outside with a plethora of older vintages and we were wowed by some of the Pinot Noirs from Arista.

Arista Winery was founded by the McWilliams family in 2002, with the intention of creating world class elegant Pinot Noirs from the Russian River valley.  Creating wines in the vineyard with sustainable practices and small lots, each wine is an expression on the local terroir.  OK yes, fluff and bother but true all the same.

We started with a Longbow vertical.  Longbow is known for it’s blend of the best barrels, and for creating a more powerful style.  As a general rule, it is unfined and unfiltered, and uses the racking process as a natural filter.  the Longbow series is minimally invasive, which allows the fruit to really show throguh.  Named for the midevel weapon that is very difficult to master, the Longbow series really shows the best of the bunch with Pinot Noirs that are difficult to master.

Megan is working very hard on her Pinot!

The 2004 Longbow Pinot Noir was dark and rich, with powerful black cherry and raspberry flavors.  2004 was a warmer year, and more new French Oak (60%)  was used to counterbalanced the strong fruit.  This is a blend of the Manoni and Taboni vineyards, and the vibrant cherries were followed by a chewy and rich flavor of stewed tomato, caramel, and balsamic strawberries.

the 2005 Longbow Pinot is slightly lighter than the 04, and showed more muddy earth flavors of allspice, nutmeg and black pepper.  I tasted forest floor and mushrooms, with bark and cedar followed by cola and hints of red fruit.

The 2006 was very aromatic and had strong rose petal aromas, with orange blossom notes.  It is primarily clone 113, and was very herbaceous with herbs de Provence, meaty earth, and less pronounced fruit.  there was a strong sense of smoke and sandlewood, which dark plums lingering.  It was quite smooth and velvety, but a bit too smoky for my taste.  Don’t get me wrong, I really liked all of the wines, but this was my least favorite of the batch.

2007 was too young, and the finish fell a bit short.  there was a lot of vanilla and cherry, but I also found tomatoes and soy sauce.  The wood was a bit too pronounced and needs more time to integrate.

I actually really loved all of the Longbow wines, and they are all very different.  My favorite was the 2004.

Mark McWilliams - Arista

Next we moved on to some barrel samples with the 2009 Two birds Swan Vineyard.  this was a HUGE wine, and I referred to it as my hunka hunka burning love.  The 2009 Two Birds Calera Selection was a completely different wine, with acidic zippy cherries and raspberries and bright red fruit.  It had a lot of spice and slightly muted earth.

After tasting both of these wines, we had some fun making our own blends, and I found that about 33% Swan and 66% Calera made for a beautiful wine with the dark red fruit, and zippiness of bright cherries.  I hope the final blend will be something like that1

Special thanks to Alan & Mark for yet another great day out at Arista!

On top of the world, looking down on…

Silicon Valley?  Yes Virginia, there is wine in the South Bay, high above the muck of Cupertino, on Monte Bello ridge.  Long before the computer chip was invented, the Monte Bello winery was started on this ridge.  At 2600 feet, the winery is located at the apex of the hill, where the upper most vineyards are.  Winding our way past the gravel trucks and up the mountain, there were precarious hairpin turns and road closures, but nothing was goign to stop me from getting to the good stuff at the top of that hill.

On one particularly gorgeous day recently, I was invited to attend a private tasting at Ridge’s Monte Bello property.  Although I adore Ridge wines, I often find myself avoiding the mayhem on holiday and special event weekends as it can get to be quite crowded.  It’s a long drive up the mountain, but the reward at the top is a sweeping view of the Bay Area, including a hazy glimpse of San Francisco in the distance.  Upon arriving at the tasting room, we were greeted by our host Christopher Watkins, the tasting room manager.  Here, we started with a glass of the Santa Cruz Mountains chardonnay as we wandering the garden, waiting for the rest of our crew to arrive.

Once we were assembled, we started our journey with the 2008 Jimsomore Chardonnay.   Not being a huge chard drinker, I really didn’t have that many expectation of the starter, but  this vineyard is dry farmed and head trained, and the wine undergoes full malolactic fermentation with native years.  I found it quite floral, with note of honey tangerine and cream caramel.  It was rich and viscous, with a hint of lemon curd.  this limited release only has 200 cases, and the vineyard lies below the fog line with hot summer days and cool nights, making for some great chard.

Next up the 2008 Santa Cruz Mountain Chardonnay.  this is a parcel selection, and is intended for longevity and complexity.  It is more vibrant than the Jimsomore, and has a bright acidity and is refreshingly ful of stone fruit and Meyer lemons, with some tropical influences.

Now we delve in to the zin, which is how I fell in love with Ridge.  First the 2008 East Bench Zinfandel, which is the youngest area designated benchland between Dry Creek and Alexander valleys.  The cuttings here are 120 years old, and this pre-release wine was spicy cherries with black pepper, soft berry jam, figs, beef jerky and a mellow soft medium bodied zin that is perfect with food.  We also tried the 2006 East Bench, which I found to have more fruit forward flavors of strawberry, cherry, smoke and tobacco.  This was a very cool year in Sonoma County, which made for a leaner wine.  It was a bright zin, and was the first vintage from the then 8 year old vines.  This was a terrific example of a complex zin that would pair well with food without being overpowering and jam packed with berries.

The 2008 Geyserville is a blend of 72% zinfandel, 20% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah, and 2% Mataro (Mouvedre).  it had a sweeter edge of big blackberries with a smoky backbone that I attribute to the Mataro, with flavors of raspberries and figs blended in a brambly pie with a faint hint of cedear.  The 2007 vintage, which is the current release, is 58% Zinfandel, 22% Carignane, 18% Petite Sirah and 2% Mataro, which made for a chocolate blackberry pie with brandied blackberries and coffee, followed by molasses and bittersweet cocoa over stewed fruit.  Each one of these blends is hand selected from a field blend, parcel by parcel, and depending on the best of the crop for a given vintage, the blend can change significantly.  Wine after all is half science, half dream, and half magic.

Lytton Springs, which is next door to Geyserville, showed less fruit and more structure in the 2008 blend of 74% Zinfandel, 21% Petite Sirah, 5% Carignane.  It was quite spicy with raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries.  The 2007 was much jammier, with black fruit, dried figs, and earth.  I found it a touch hot, but that soon blew off.  The 2007 blend was 71% Zin, 22% Petite Sirah, and 7% Carignane.

After meandering through the zinfandel country, it was time to get to the big boys of cab, which started it all for Monte Bello.  First, the 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Cab, which is a blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon and 42% Merlot.  It is not yet released, and was quite chewy and dense with scents of lavender and leather.  The 2006 is 56% Cabernet, 42% Merlot, and 2% Petite Verdot, and had coffee notes adn an herbaceousness that the 2007 did not.

Finally we worked through several of the Monte Bello Cabs.  Two of my favorites were the 2006, wtih 68% Cabernet Sauvigon, 20% Merlot, 10% Petite Verdot, and 2% Cab Franc.  I found chocolate coverted cherreis, bright fruit, and dusty cocoa and really enjoyed it.  The 2005 was also a favorite, with 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 6% Petite Verdot, and 2% Cab Franc.  It had a dusty earth cover, with blueberreis and blackberries, covered with instant coffee.  It was a very low yield in 2005, and this wine was muscular and lean.

As you can see, we did some serious damage to the Monte Bello libarry and I would like to thank Christopher for his hospitality and humor as we tasted some of these amazing wines!  Next up…who knows?