Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Featured Wines: California Gold

If any of the wines in this week's Featured Wines column tickle your fancy, you can order them directly from Jordan by email (JCarrier@everythingwine.ca) or find him in the Vintage Room of Everything Wine's Morgan Crossing location in South Surrey.

California Gold

If you believed the disaster movies, 2012 was supposed to be the year that California broke apart, swallowed its cities and turned its vineyards into fish food. Instead, 2012 ended up being the first of a string of amazing years in Golden State vineyards. California’s water troubles, while verging on crisis for most agriculture, have contributed to 3 – possibly 4 – stellar vintages in a row from 2012 to 2015. We may well be entering a golden age of California wines. Presented here are some premium examples of the 2012 vintage (with gems from 2010 and 2013 thrown in because I’m sneaky-like-ninja) for your perusal. You will want to grab all of them, this is normal. Strap in and let’s begin.

Araujo Estate 2012 Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
A 38 acre vineyard east of Calistoga that was planted in 1880, and has been planted to Cabernet since 1964. Poor, gravelly soil and old vines contribute to super low yields and super high concentration, so much so that fruit from Eisele has built Ridge’s wines, Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernets, and Joseph Phelps Insignia until the late ‘90s when the Araujo family took over the vineyard and hired Michel Rolland to kick everyone else’s behind. He did. The estate is now owned by Chateau Latour, and the wines now rival Harlan and To Kalon in quality, price, and difficulty for Jordan in finding them. (96-98+) points Robert Parker, $849.99 +tax

Signorello 2012 Padrone
Ray Signorello Jr’s tribute to his Italian father returns with a drinkable, dense intense-fest of blackberry, coffee, stones and currant. Mostly Cab Sauv, with a voluptuous, ultra-tangible mouthfeel that gives Shafer Hillside Select a reason to look over its shoulder. Like Hillside, this is awesome now and awesome in 2035, although by then the word “awesome” won’t be spoken anymore, they’ll say “this bleep-blop Padrone is Kanye-tastic”. 97+ points Robert Parker, $210.99 +tax

Kathryn Hall 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
Remember when you first heard this name. The Hall family has owned vineyards since the ‘70s, and Kathryn helped manage them with her brother until she went to law school, then into public life, and eventually became the US ambassador to Austria, after which she seized her family’s reigns again, returning to steer the winery forward to awesomeness. The Hall winery is certified organic and LEED Gold, and makes this Cabernet with an abundance of energy, flavour and charisma, showing blueberry, raspberry mocha and remarkable drinkability for such a thick, structured wine. 97+ points Robert Parker,  $225.99 +tax

Orin Swift 2013 Machete
Firstly, let’s understand that “Orin Swift” is the “Monty Python” of the California wine world, meaning that a) they’re super creative and ground-breaking, and b) there isn’t one. “Orin Swift” is a construct of Dave Phinney, who got super-famous making The Prisoner, and super-rich selling it off, freeing him to create his idiosyncratic, kitchen-sink blends of thick, opulent comfort wine from a multitude of regions. In this case, he found some Petit Sirah, some Syrah and some Grenache, vine ripened it like crazy, crushed it and aged it in 40% new French oak. The 2013 earthquake damaged a lot of Orin Swift’s 2013 wines but it only made Machete angrier, this is one of the best wines they’ve produced in a very long time. 94+ points Robert Parker, #97 – Wine Spectator’s Top 100 List of 2015, $69.99 +tax

2012 Continuum
The Mondavi family’s only wine, after getting ejected from their namesake winery in a hostile takeover, is a testament to the power and depth of hillside fruit in the Napa Valley. Grown on Pritchard Hill, an iron-rich eastside slope looking over Oakville with volcanic soil and invaluable western exposure. Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon (what else?) with a small but vocal Cab Franc component. Black cherry, graphite and coffee on the nose, happiness on the finish. I still don’t have a Parker rating (maybe he hasn’t finished the bottle?) but the well-known point-fountain James Suckling did score this at 96. I think it’s the best Continuum since 2007. 96 points James Suckling, $257.49 +tax

Cakebread 2012 Benchland Select Cabernet Sauvignon
Another Goldilocks Napa Cab (perfect now, perfect in 15 years) from the Valley Floor, with crème de cassis and a willingness to please. Smells like a blackberry and a pencil had a lightsaber duel to the death and it was a tie. Former San Fran mechanic Jack Cakebread started buying vineyards in Rutherford in the early ‘70s, and the winery remains a family affair, his kids now run the show with winemaker Julianne Laks. 95 points Robert Parker, $147.99 +tax

Freemark Abbey 2010 Sycamore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Freemark Abbey, one of the original competitors of the Paris Tasting of 1976, has a long history of peaks and valleys. The first woman to build a US winery, Josephine Tychson started her eponymous winery Tychson Cellars back in 1894, growing Riesling and Zinfandel, and it changed hands several times before going fallow due to Prohibition. 3 L.A. businessmen Albert "Abbey" Ahern, Charles Freeman and Markquand Foster bought the property in 1939 and combined portions of their names to rename it Freemark Abbey. Since the Paris success (it placed 6th), quality has risen and fallen along with countless ownership changes, but the ship was righted a decade ago when Jess Stonestreet Jackson bought the legendary house, ushering in consistency and the capability to make HUGE wines like this. The body is enormous, but it’s a friendly giant, fear not. Licorice and spice surround the familiar Napa fruit, and the body and finish are pure fun. Best thing I’ve tasted from this winery. 94+ points Robert Parker, $134.99 +tax

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