Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What I learned in New York

I learned that when the bus driver tells you to get off the bus, just shut up and get off the bus. I also learned that a pimp's love really is unlike that of a square (thanks Silky). Wine-wise it became clear that New York is a different game. No wine in grocery stores is a game changer for sure and in a sense it is the potential equalizer that every small winery dreams of. Problem is, no one in NY cares about California wine.
Giggles telling his favorite camel and Audi joke to the unimpressed


For a long time the East Coast wine market has been said to be different. They drink drier wines, Italian imports reign supreme, and they group California with Australia. Rumor has it they understand the many faces of Riesling, and interestingly, Muscat is not quite so hot out there, met with a 50% meh ratio. California Cabernet is largely relegated to the tourist Steakhouse crowd, the kind of thing a sommelier loathes but pumps up a list with. Oregon Pinot is sought after but considered pricey.

But the clincher really is no supermarket wine, and no BevMo. There are around 2400 wine stores in New York. 2400. There are probably only 240 in the State of California. Imagine, no end stacks of Rombauer Chardonnay at every store. Cabernet Sauvignon is just one cultivar among hundreds and not some special something or other. And California Zinfandel - never even saw one. One shop had Obsidian Ridge, and another had Robert Foley Roussanne from Lake County grapes (though not protein stable and milkey white). Six Sigma was here and there. 

So what do those Left-Coasters drink? Well, every single store had at least one and often multiple bottlings from Occhipinti. That means high VA biodynamic Sicilian uniqueness in the $20s and up. Ever wonder where all of the Heitz Grignolino goes? Yup, 6 of 7 shops had it. Dan Petroski's Massican wines were well represented - as an ex-NY boy it makes sense but selling Tocai and Ribolla blends can't be easy anywhere, so good for him. Tablas Creek was fairly visible. Bordeaux was laughably absent, often relegated to six bottles collecting dust in the corner. The first store we stopped in claimed to sell 80 different rosés and were down to their last 20 of the year. Greek wine was always a pleasant surprise to see and the first shop had a Greek Refosco blend (!!!). Looking for that Alsatian Muscat Ottonel? Most shops had a bottle. In short unique was the rule, whether by cultivar or location. Price was a bit more flexible, but imports were the core.

On the huh side a couple of shop owners said that they were not interested in oak discussions anymore. If lots of sweet new oak was your house style, fine. This is the land of the hand sell and continual series of tastings. Something can be found for everyone at a particular price point.

Philosophically it is a confusing conundrum to think that the draconian protectionism New York practices might have created a vibrant wine culture. And also those of us in the meaty $15-25 segment have to deal with the unpleasant reality that our wine costs more in NY. The standard wholesale FOB as 50% of retail does not work there due to various costs, so your $18 bottle quickly becomes $22 on the shelf which can make or break you, though they don't seem quite so fixated on price brackets. The general perception is that California does not offer value, and Lake County is well positioned to challenge that perception.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Muscat

Finally, some action around these parts. Why does it seem like the really important stuff only happens once per year? This year's Muscat will be a blend of Canelli and Giallo types - this is  Giallo in the picture.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Nebbiolo roundtable tasting notes

Tom Hill graciously allowed me to repost his notes below from the Nebbiolo roundtable a few weeks ago in Napa that was mentioned last week - please see the prior post if you missed it right here. His tasting notes are precise to a fault I feel. This is probably the most comprehensive list of California Nebbiolo bottlings in existence (we did come up with a few missing though such as Graziano, Caparone  and Suncé) and without a doubt a comprehensive tasting. Many of the Italian bottlings are missing though. Everything that follows are Tom's notes. Enjoy:


I've long had a fondness for the Nebbiolo grape ever since Darrel lCorti first started selling them to me back in the early '70's. But more it evolved into sorta a love/hate relationship. I love the aromatics of the grape. It can be ethereal at times. The perfume has a distinct floral character of lilacs and violets and dried rose petals. It can sometimes smell of pungency and fresh road tar and licorice. And often those components can be intertwined. Especially when they have some age on them, they can be incredible and complex. But it's when it hits my palate that the problems begin. In their youth, the high acidity and tannin levels can be fierce. So you're always admonished to give them time to age. Sometimes yes/sometimes not. Sometimes the evolve into something ethereal and magical.
Sometimes they never shed those fierce tannins. So I've become sorta conflicted when it comes to Piedmonte Nebbiolo.

I've long felt that Calif could do a better job w/ Nebbiolo than the Piedmonte. I'm still convinced that that's the case. PinotNoir was once considered a temperamental and problem grape in Calif. That thought was long ago put to rest. We can do the same w/ Nebbiolo I feel.

The first Calif Nebbiolo was produced in 1982 by NickMartin at MartinBros wnry in PasoRobles, using some old Nebb out of a vnyd in the SanJoaquinVlly. It was a pretty decent Nebb, especially considering it's lowly provenance. In the early '80's, Nick planted Nebbiolo Michet in his EastSide Paso vnyd and produced the first one in 1986. It was actually pretty darn good Nebb....not great Barolo...but good/tasty wine that spoke of Nebbiolo and was the first indication that Nebbiolo had a future in Calif.
Since those early years, there has been a quiet/under-the-radar interest in Calif in growing Nebbiolo. I think much of that interest was spurred by a comment that Parker once made at a talk afore some winemakers in which he flat-out declared Nebbiolo to be a failure in Calif. So some of the interest in Nebbiolo is driven by contrarian winemakers.

Several yrs ago, I was visiting with both EmilioCastelli/GreenVlly/RRV and KenMusso/ElDorado and suggested that  it might be a good idea to get some of the Calif Nebb producers together and taste the wines and talk about them. So, in August 2009; we got together at WindGap wnry for our Inaugural NAP (Nebbiolo Advocates & Producers). This was reported after that event (www.grape-nutz.com/recent.html). Since that first meeting, things have been sorta quiet on the Calif Nebbiolo front. More producers are giving Nebbiolo a shot. Last Spring, Ken thought it was time to have another NAP#2, to which I readily agreed. He agreed to host it at Silenus Winery, a small custom crush facility on the North outskirts of Napa where he makes his DueVigne wines, including a Nebbiolo and Dolcetto from his ElDorado vnyd. After some false starts, we got a date set in Aug the week after the FamilyWinemakers tasting at FtMason and started inviting. It was on a rather short
notice, so many of the winemakers were unable to attend.

Attendees were:
DawnMartella/KarmereWnry/Plymouth/winemaker
KenZinns/HarringtonWnry/SanFrancisco/cellar rat
BryanPastini/Freemont/home winemaker/Nebbiolo fan
EmilioCastelli/CastelliCllrs/GreenVlly/RRV/owner/winemaker
Ken&AnneMusso/DueVigne/ElDorado grower/winemaker
Pietro Buttitta/Rosa d'OroWnry/Kelseyville/winemaker
JoeHealy/BuonaVitaCllrs/RRV
Ron&BarbaraHoule/DueVigne/winemaker
Scott Meadows/Silenus vineyards
Erika
Brad Smith/Silenus vineyards/production manager
Tom Hill

It was a very casual gathering in the outside courtyard at Silenus under pretty warm temperatures. We just pulled together two picnic tables, sat outselves down, introduced ourselves, and started talking Nebbiolo. After that, we started pulling corks, passing bottles, and talking about the wines. My sketchy notes on the wines we tasted are below. Such as they are. After over an hour of this high-level/intellectual discussions, we adjourned to some light dinner fare and popped a few more corks. And then we adjourned into the dead of the night.

Castelli MayBlush Nebbiolo DryRose GreenVlly (12.5%) 2010: Pale copper/orange color; flowery watermelon/spicy slight earthy nose; dry lean slight tannic spicy/watermelon/juicy rather tart finish; a clean bright attractive rose for food in a Provencal style.

Madrona NebbioloRose ElDorado (13.5%) 2010: Darker copper/salmon color; pleasant/simple slight floral/spicy/earthy nose; bit soft maybe off-dry light floral spicy flavor w/ little tannins; not the lean/angular style of the Castelli and a bit on the simple side, but pleasant enough.

DueVigne Nebbiolo MussoVnyd/ElDorado (14.4%; + Barbera) 2007: Med.color; slight herbal rather floral/lilacs quite pretty fragrant nose; bit tannic/hard floral/lilacs/perfumed slight earthy more lush/Calif-style fairly tart flavor; long tart fairly lush bit tannic/hard floral/lilacs finish; lots of pretty floral character; still needs several yrs.

DueVigne Nebbiolo MussoVnyd/ElDorado (14.4%; 8% Barbera) 2008: Slightly lighter color; tighter bit alcoholic lovely floral/lilacs/violets some perfumed/fragrant nose; more tannic/acid bit tighter lovely floral/lilacs/violets flavor; long fairly tart/tannic attractive floral/lilacs finish; clearly a bit tighter than the '07 and needs more age; not quite as rich/lush & more lean than the '07.

Rosa d'Oro Nebbiolo Riserva Clear Lake/Lake County (13.8%) NV(75% '08/25% '09): Light color w/ slight bricking; slight funky/earthy/pungent slight herbal/roasted chile/pungent/tarry light floral/lilacs slight alcoholic nose; rather lean/tannic/hard light floral/lilacs some pungent/herbal/earthy/tarry flavor; med.long light floral/lilacs some pungent/herbal/earthy/tarry light floral finish; needs more age; shows more of the pungent/tarry side of Nebbiolo than most of the others; maybe road-tar Lite; interesting Nebb in a different style.

Karmere Empress LaPetiteMorgan Nebbiolo ShenandoahVlly (14.3%) 2007: Med.light color; bit alcoholic some briary/ShenandoahVlly/berry light lilacs/floral nose; soft fairly lush light tannic briary/berry some floral/lilacs/perfumed flavor; med. soft/ripe lush berry/briary/floral/lilacs nose; speaks of ShenandoahVlly/briary mostly and quietly of Nebb.

Karmere Empress LaPetiteMorgan Nebbiolo ShenandoahVlly (14.6%) 2008: Med.colr; stronger more fragrant/perfumed/aromatic strong blackberry/briary light floral/lilacs nose; bit more hard/tannic strong briary/berry light floral/lilacs soft/rich/lush perfumed flavor; med.long some hard/tannic strong briary/blackberry light floral/lilacs/perfumed slight pungent finish; speaks of ShenandoahVlly but more Nebb on the palate; needs some age.

BuonaVitaCllrs Nebbiolo RRV (14.8%) 2007: Med.light color; lots of toasty/oak slight floral/lilacs/perfumed some licorice/pungent attractive nose; soft fairly lush/ripe some floral/lilacs/licorice/pungent somewhat toasty/oak bit tannic flavor; med.long some toasty/oak light floral/lilacs/aromatic light pungent/licorice finish w/ modest tannins; rather Calif in style but speaks of Nebb.

Castelli Nebbiolo Estate/GreenVlly/RRV (13.3%) 2007: Med.color; bit pungent/earthy/dusty lovely floral/fragrant/lilacs/violets/Nebb very light toasty/oak slight tarry nose; tart/lean/acid some pungent/herbal/licorice/tarry strong floral/violets/lilacs/perfumed fairly lush bit tannic/hard flavor; very long strong floral/lilacs/violets rather tart/lean light licorice/tarry fairly tannic finish; needs 2-5 yrs age yet; lovely floral aromatics.

Harrington Nebbiolo PasoRobles AJB&LunaMata vnyds/WestSide (14.3%; 30% whole cluster) 2008: Med.light color; ripe/lush some Paso/jammy light floral/lilacs/Nebb slight licorice/pungent rather perfumed nose; softer/lush bit plummy/jammy/Paso light floral/violets/lilacs modest tannins light oak flavor; long bit softer/lusher floral/violets/Nebb light toasty/oak some plummy/jammy finish w/ light tannins; lots a pure fruit and some jammy Paso character.

Harrington Nebbiolo PasoRobles (14.1%) 2009: Med.light color; light toasty/oak quite fragrant/perfumed/lilacs/violets/floral aromatic lovely nose; tarter bit more lean/tannic/structured quite fragrant/floral/violets light toasty/oak flavor; very long floral/violets/lilacs bit hard/tannic/tart finish; the jammy Paso character is beaten down by the lovely/perfumed fragrance.

Gang of Six plus One Nebbiolo PasoRobles (14.5%; 50% whole cluster) 2009: Med.light color; fairly floral/perfumed some Paso/jammy light pungent/smokey nose; tart/lean light floral/lilacs bit pungent/smokey/tarry finish w/ modest tannins; med.long tart/lean some tannic light floral/perfumed light smokey/pungent/tarry finish; needs more age; more bass notes than the Harrington version.

Giornata Nebbiolo LunaMataVnyd/PasoRobles/WestSide (14.5%) 2007: Med.color; rather ripe/overripe/jammy/Paso light smokey/pencilly/cinammon some grapey/ripe little floral nose; soft/lush/ripe plummy/grapey/jammy/Paso some smokey/pencilly/oak very light floral/lilacs slight tannic flavor; med.long ripe/jammy/Paso/plummy/grapey light pencilly/oak finish w/ light tannins; seems on the ripe side and the Paso terroir trumps the Nebb aromatics.

Giornata Nebbiolo LunaMataVnyd/PasoRobles/WestSide (14.5%) 2008: Med.color; some pencilly/smokey/oak less jammy more floral/lilacs/perfumed nose; bit less soft light floral/lilacs slight plummy/grapey light pencilly/oak flavor w/ some tannins; long bit tart/tannic somewhat floral/lilacs/perfumed finish; speaks more of Nebb and less of Paso/jammy terroir.

Novy Nebbiolo StolpmanVnyd/SantaYnezVlly (14.1%) 2006: Med.color; strange funky/wet dog fur light toasty/oak some pungent/licorice very light floral/lilacs/grapey nose; softer/lusher some pungent/licorice light toasty/oak very light fruity/grapey/floral bit funky/earthy some tannic/hard flavor; med.long bit funky/earthy slight grapey/floral/lilacs some toasty/oak bit tannic finish; not nearly as good as last one I had and seems a bit off.

Palmina Nebbiolo SantaBarbaraCnty (14.9%) 2006: Med.light color; slight tarry/pungent bright/floral/cherry/cherry cough drops/spicy bit pencilly/oak nose; slight tarry/pungent light cherry/cough drop/floral bit tannic/hard flavor; med. light cherry/cough drop/floral slight tarry/pungent/earthy some tannic/hard finish; almost a tutti-frutti or Pinot-like style to this wine and not a lot of Nebb character.

Palmina Nebbiolo HoneaVnyd/SantaBarbaraCnty (14.3%; Michet) 2006: Med.color; rather strong pungent/oak/smokey  some floral/lilacs bit earthy/dusty light pungent/tarry attractive nose; rather tannic/hard/tart strong pungent/smokey/oak fairly floral/lilacs/violets/grapey bit road tar/pungent/earthy flavor; long tannic/hard/angular light floral/lilacs/fruity some smokey/pungent/oak finish; needs some age; bit on the wirey/sinewey side compared to the Sisquoc.

Palmina Nebbiolo RanchoSisquocVnyd/SantaBarbaraCnty (15.5%; Michet) 2006: Med.color; some smokey/pungent/licorice light road tar fairly floral/fragrant/lilacs/violets/grapey some toasty/smokey/oak bit alcoholic nose; softer rather ripe/grapey/floral/lilacs bit licorice/pungent/tarry some smokey/oak rather hard/tannic flavor; long some grapey/ripe light floral/lilacs light pungent/tarry/licorice some smokey/oak slight alcoholic fairly hard/tannic finish; some like a Sfursat w/o the earthy Valtelline character; very interesting Nebbiolo.

Clendenon Family Nebbiolo BriccoBuonNatale BienNacidoVnyd/SantaMariaVlly (14.1%) 2003: Med.light color; lovely floral/lilacs/violets/licorice/perfumed some smokey/pungent slight tarry very aromatic nose; somewhat hard/tannic/lean/acid very floral/lilacs/violets/perfumed slight tarry/licorice flavor; very long hard/tannic/tart/lean/austere very floral/violets/lilacs/perfumed bit tarry/licorice/pungent finish; needs age and should go for more than 10 yrs or so; probably the most varietally correct and my favorite of the Calif Nebbs. (This one had a big dose of smokey Brett, but it worked in the Nebbiolo context for me - Pietro)

Madrona Nebbiolo ElDorado (14.5%) 2008: Med.color; earthy/dusty gout de terroir nose w/ little fruit or fragrance; soft earthy/dusty slightly fruity flavor; med. soft earthy/dusty lightly fruity/grapey finish w/ slight tannins; not much Nebb character and mostly speaks of ElDoradoCnty.

NadaFiorenzo Barbaresco (13.5%) 1996: Med.light color w/ some bricking; rather tarry/pungent/classic Barbaresco very slight floral/violets fruit nose; tight/tart/hard/tannic rather pungent/tarry light floral/fruit flavor; long/lingering tarry/pungent/road tar slight floral/lilacs some tart rather tannic/hard/lean finish; not a lot of fruit left but classic Barbaresco tarry character; needs age to take down the tannins but not sure what will be left.

L&L Nebbiolo mandolina SantaBarbaraCnty (14.3%) 2007: Med.light color; fairly grapey/lush slight floral/aromatic bit earthy nose; soft/lush/ripe grapey/fruit bit soupy slight floral bit toasty/oak flavor; med.short grapey/fruity/lush light toasty/oak finish w/ slight tannic bite; pleasant enough SBC red but a bit on soft/soupy side and not speak a lot of Nebb

Ca'Nova Bocciolo DOC: CollineNovaresi Nebbiolo (13.0%) 2006: Med.color; lovely floral/lilacs/violets fairly rich/lush light tarry/pungent nose; bit hard/tannic lush/floral/lilacs/violets ripe light road tar/pungent flavor; very long ripe/lush strong floral/violets/lilacs/rose petal somewhat hard/tannic bit tarry/pungent finish; needs some age; if Calif winemakers want to make Italian Nebb, this one is it; my favorite of the Italian Nebbs by far.

and from my FriuliFest notes in July:

Ramsay NorthCoast Nebbiolo 1992: Med.light color; lovely floral/lilacs/Nebb bit tarry/earthy/pungent
old Gattinara complex nose; tart still some tannic/hard lovely floral/Nebb light tarry/pungent slight faded
rose petal/old Gattinara complex flavor; a lovely complex old Nebb/old Gattinara nose but still rather hard/tannic on the palate and not likely to outlive them.

IlPodere Dell'Olivos SantaBarbaraCnty Nebbiolo 1988: Med.red color w/ no bricking; lovely floral/lilacs/violets slight smokey/tarry quite complex rather old Gattinara-like nose; lovely smooth light cedary/oak/pungent quite floral/lilacs/violets/Nebb very slight tannic complex flavor; long floral/violets/lilacs/Nebb slight pungent/tarry smooth complex finish w/ slight tannic bite; a really lovely example of an old Nebbiolo much like an older Gattinara.

And a few thoughts from the Bloody Pulpit:

1. I thought all of the above Nebbiolos were sound/well-made wines. They spoke, with varying degrees of strength, of Nebbiolo. In some cases, the terroir (SantaBarbara, ShenandoahVlly, ElDorado, Paso) tended to sublimate the Nebb character. It is not at all obvious to me that any region in Calif can lay claim to being a superior site for the variety. At least not yet.

My easy favorite of these Nebbs was the Ca'Nova CollineNovaresi. Of the Calif Nebbs,
my favorite was probably the Clendenon, primarily because of the aromatics. But it has the tannins on the palate you expect from Nebbiolo and I see little reason it won't easily go out 10 or even 20 yrs. This btl was a gift from MichaelWild at BayWolf who wanted me to toss it into the mix when he heard what we were up to. Close behind were the Castelli, DueVigne, and the two Harringtons.

2. The Calif Nebbiolo future: I think many of the folks out there buying wine share Parker's perception that Nebbiolo is a loser in Calif. I think that perception is flat-out wrong. But it will be a tough challenge to turn that ship around. As AdamLee suggested at NAP#1, Nebbiolo is probably going to remain a niche market for some time and that Italian restaurants are probably the best place to target for the market. People who are aficianodos of Piedmonte Nebbiolo seem to have pretty closed minds and if it doesn't taste like Barolo/Barbaresco, they're not likely to accept the Calif renditions. If Calif Nebb winemakers want to look to Italy for a model, I've long suggested the Novara Hills, Lombardy, and the Valtelline are where they should look.  Not Barolo/Barbaresco and the Langhe. But the key is to get people to just try the wines, with an open mind, and not have any preconceived notions as to what a Calif Nebbiolo MUST taste like.

3. I think most of the participants at NAP#2 left w/ a great deal of enthusiasm for Nebbiolo in Calif. KenMusso wants to put together a mailing list and do a quarterly Newsletter, an ambitious but worthy goal. I can see this  effort starting out much like the ViognierGuild, just a gathering of winemakers. And look at where that effort took Viognier and Rhone varietals in Calif. I hope these get-togethers can become an annual event. Maybe...someday.. even a FtMason tasting event??

4. The moniker NAP sucks big time. A better, catchier name must be come up with for this sorta rag-tag group of winemakers. Maybe we can get some of the best minds in Science to work the problem.
Tuesday (8/23) NAP#2

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

New York, Pourings and Distribution

Off to New York tomorrow for five days of pimping Rosa d'Oro. While I am excited to see The City the schedule is pretty packed - here is the rundown. RSVP addresses are below for trade:


Thursday: 
CALIFORNIA WINE RUSH NEW YORK TASTING 2011
Location: Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central Terminal
Time:  2:00 pm to 5:00 pm (Trade and Media only)
(California regional trade tasting - Six Sigma will be there with us representing Lake County)
To rsvp for trade please email michael@firstpresspr.com

Friday:
Date/time: Friday, September 16, 5–8 PM
Store: California Wine Merchants
Address: 15 Bridge St., NY, NY 10004
(Nice Friday evening pouring for consumers, please see California Wine Merchants website for details HERE)

Saturday:
Date/time:  Saturday, September 17, 2–7 PM
Store: Brooklyn Wine Exchange
Address: 138 Court Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201
(Same thing for this pouring HERE)

Monday:
And the big daddy of them all for us, the portfolio launch for the Fine Wine Agency who will be our new representatives in New York and New Jersey:

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Dear Wine Lover,
Fine Wine Agency would like to invite you to our first annual portfolio show. Join us to taste some of the finest new wine brands to hit New York and New Jersey, and participate in one of our exciting master classes.

Where: Union Square Ballroom
27 Union Square West (b/t 15th and 16th St).

When: 19th of September from 11am till 7pm.

We are also hosting an after party next door at the Union Square Lounge from 7pm till late. Entrance to the lounge will be 30 East 16th Street.

Times and topics of the master classes will be emailed to you upon receipt of your RSVP.
Please RSVP to:
info@finewineagency.com or (212) 627-0330

We look forward to hearing from you!

Anthony Allport
President, Fine Wine Agency
  


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Friday, September 9, 2011

Nebbiolo

I did the snoopy dance when I heard about it. Deep in Napa Valley, on a now-rare warm afternoon we gathered at Silenus to discuss making - wait for it - Nebbiolo. Not Cabernet or Merlot, but Nebbiolo. The king of wines, King Dick himself. We opened 28 bottles of California Nebbiolo and a nice battalion of Italian reference points at the end. California Nebbiolo is the heartbreak grape, and every Pinot maker in attendance commiserated over just how damn difficult the viticulture is and the winemaking with this uber-sensitive beast. Face-ripping tannins, high acid (3.01pH for one of them in the bottle!), in need of extensive aging and reacting unpredictably with oak were only part of the aired grievances. Nebbiolo just makes no damn sense, and that is why the good ones are so amazing and the poor ones are the mother-in-laws of the wine world - just horribly abrasive and charmless. As they say, one must kiss many frogs...

Full disclosure: the Italian wine moment that altered my consciousness forever was a tasting with Paolo di Gresy of Marchesi di Gresy side by side 1999 and 2000 Martinenga and Camp Gros Barbaresco bottlings. I had the opportunity to share a bottle of 2000 Martinenga last year and it was at least as good as I remembered. How many times does that happen in life?

Viticulture: Nebbiolo does not like sun and it does like sun. Like Grenache it will not develop color if it is in the shade, and it will not color if in direct light. But, it will grow exuberantly in warmth producing massive vegetative growth without a thought toward fruit quality. Nebbiolo bunches can be huge, easily a pound each. The quality thinning is one bunch per cane without exception; shoulders, wings or bottoms optional. Nebbiolo wants a type of limestone-y marine soil we have very little of in California, so good luck with that. It is also an inbreeding nightmare. It is the wine first to bud in Spring, practically guaranteeing frost damage. It will be one of the last to be harvested, so if it starts to rain = screwed. It must be cane pruned 95% of the time which means you can't just prune to two buds per spur and pretend to forget it. Fact is the Nebbiolo vine just does not like you and there is nothing you can do about it. It will always seem astringent, for that is its nature.

Tom, hard at work, crushing the notes
Enology: One of the fundamental things about Nebbiolo is that its tannin is not "noble". It will not polymerize a la modern Bordeaux into rich silkiness. It is dry and grippy with long chains just sucking and zippering to saliva on your tongue. From a nerd viewpoint it would be fascinating to hear of micro-oxygenation attempts. Nebbiolo is just sandpaper dry with high acid, the opposite of modern wine. It is a slap and tickle in all the wrong places that inevitably has you coming back for more, creeping into your daydreams. Fermentations themselves seem to be fairly normal amongst all of us with tannin management calling the shots. Some used enzymes and yeast products, others just let it go man, all natural. The general concensus is treat it like Pinot with hand-punch downs - don't beat it up but don't let it oxidize too much. Color you can't really control, and adding Barbera is a common antidote (field blending is the unspoken and silently practiced solution in some of Piedmont). Most of us agreed that keeping it 100% pure is important ethically and enologically. Large format wood is a dream for many of us but seems to be the best bet (we use very old Burgundy barrels whose thick staves tend not to breath after many years). Two years in wood is the minimum with stronger vintages able to go longer. Racking may be as low as once per year. Topping up is always a balancing act between do it too frequently and promoting oxidation or not doing it often enough and risking, um, oxidation and VA problems. Due to the low pH sulfur should be used carefully.

Errata: It came up once with Emilio that rootstock may have a greater impact on the qualities of Nebbiolo than the scion choice. We (including I) often regard clonal options as a grocery-store, choosing some qualities (small berries, low vigor, open bunches) over others and imagining that we will get those things. But, in the real world, site usually overrides selection. And with something as touchy and finicky as Nebbiolo, rootstock/site combinations may be more important that whether it is Lampia 01 or 10. Two years ago Adam Lee opined the same vein. We are still very much in the dark regarding rootstock interaction when it comes to enology, not just shatter and nematodes. Much work remains to be done here.

Clone 08 ripening in Dunnigan, pre-thinning
Carving a giant: Roundabout to the first paragraph is that the (potential) beauty of Nebbiolo lies in its Nietzschean agglomeration of the greatest number of opposing forces retained within the simplest and most grounded dialectical structure. What can be right about Nebbiolo is the sum of things potentially wrong squared. When fermenting Nebbiolo its true soul as a white grape comes out, and when DNA testing finds the mother to be Viognier it is not surprising to anyone. Its bizarre ephemeral delicacy is apparent. It does smell like roses and lilacs, cinnamon and a little clean lavender. But, it should also smell eventually like tar, truffles and all manner of wonderful stank, almost like a homeless guy in Starbucks eating seared foie gras while smoking a Havana. It should have this beauty but also this animalistic kinky visceral component and unpleasant acid/tannin thing that would be horrible were it not for this perplexing, dignified charade. It is the tension between light and dark, tenuous integration and looming collapse that is possibly most important. It is almost ecstatic in the aesthetic sense, showing us everything all at once were it not for that fact that it fails most of the time. To moderate the tannin is heretical though this would be the "correct" think to do in the modern idiom. Lower the acid, eviscerate the soul. Augment the color, corrupt the flesh.

Tasting notes:
These tasting notes were written and compiled by Tom Hill, tasting guru at www.grape-nutz.com from the first Nebbiolo Producers' meeting two years ago (tasting notes from this year's event will be forthcoming). His notes are quite good. Being one of the interested producers it does not seem quite right to pass notes on others wines in this context, and I was too busy asking questions anyway, so having his experience to rely on is a blessing. In general, I was surprised and impressed, feeling that we actually had more uniformity and cohesion than expected. The level of insecurity most of us had while pouring our own was pretty charming too. Oak levels varied but for the most part varietal typicity held strong, though California-inflected. The fruit was often beautiful and of even greater delicacy, but it also seemed that we in general missed the basso profundo part of the puzzle. Tar and truffle were hardly ever seen, missing the critical polar anchor. Several bottles from Paso Robles I thought were quite good provided they did not verge into jamminess and excessive hang-time tannin. The future may rely in either working with viticulture to produce fruit that can successfully go reductive and dig deep, or abandoning that part of the paradigm and concentrating on high-toned tannic elegance. As Tom says, Valtellina may be our model in many cases, not Barolo.

Huge thanks to Due Vigne for putting this all together!

2. Naked Lady Castelli Estate Nebbiolo 2005: Med.lighht color;
attractive floral/violets/Nebb slight tarry/
pungent light toasty/smokey/oak very attractive nose; rather
tannic/acid/hard strong floral/violets light
toasty/oak very slight brett light pungent/tarry flavor; med.long bit
hard/tannic/acid strong floral/
violets/Nebb light tarry/pungent finish; needs more time; lots of
classic Nebb aromatics.
________________
3. Novy StolpmanVnyd Nebbbiolo 2005: Med.color; light floral/lilacs
somewhat pencilly/toasty/oak nose; tart
fairly smooth/textured some floral/violets some pencilly/oak light
tannic flavor; med.long light floral/
violets some toasty/pencilly/oak slight tannic finish; speaks gently
of Nebb but more like a Siduri
Pinot in style because of the oak.
________________
4. JeffPisoni StolpmanVnyd Nebbiolo 2006: Light color; very
fragrant/perfumed floral/violets/spicy light
toasty/oak nose; tart/lean bit tannic/hard slight
tarry/smokey/pungent rather floral/violets/lilacs
some toasty/oak flavor; med.long spicy/floral/lilacs/violets light
toasty/oak bit hard/tannic finish;
needs some age; lots of floral almost-Pinotish character.
________________
5. Novy StolpmanVnyd Nebbiolo 2006: Fairly light color; somewhat
tarry/pungent very light floral/lilacs
rather tight/closed nose; tart/lean/tannic slight floral/lilacs/tarry
tight/shut-down flavor; med.long
tart/tannic/lean/hard lighht floral/lilacs very light tarry/licorice
finish; mare angular & hard than
the '05 and seems somewhat tight & closed.
________________
7. DueVigna ElDorado Nebbiolo 2006: Med.light color; light
toasty/oak/pencilly slight herbal/earthy fairly
floral/lilacs interesting nose; tart bit tannic light floral/lilacs
light toasty/oak slight herbal/
earthy flavor; med.long light floral/lilacs/herbal/earthy/dusty bit
hard/tannic finish; good Nebb
character and some of that earthy ElDorado terroir.
________________
8. WindGap GlenroseVnyd/PasoRobles Nebbiolo 2006: Med.color; very
strong/fragrant/perfumed violets/floral/
Nebb very spicy almost Pinotish nose; tart bit lean/hard/tannic very
floral/violets/spicy quite perfumey
flavor; very long very perfumed/floral/violets/lilacs some
tannic/haard/tart finish; speaks loud & clear
of Nebbiolo w/ very perfumed/fragrant character; bright pretty Nebb.
________________
9. WindGap LunaMattaVnyd/PasoRobles (100% whole cluster) Nebbiolo 2007:
Med.light color; bit more toasty/oak
strong floral/lilacs/perfumed/Nebb lovely nose; tart bit tannic/hard
strong floral/lilacs/Nebb some low-
key toasty/oak flavor; very long lovely/floral/lilacs/Nebb light
toasty/charred/oak some tannic/hard
finish; lovely expression of Nebbiolo; more base notes and less
high-toned character than the '06.
________________
10. Novy StolpmanVnyd Nebbiolo 2007: Very light color; light
floral/violets vey slight tarry/pungent some
tight/closed nose; softer light/floral/violets light tannic very
slight pungent/tarry flavor; med.long
light floral/violets/aromatic somewhat softer light tannic finish;
seems a bit tight & closed; lighter
more elegant expression of Nebb; quite a pretty wine but needs age.
________________
11. Novy StolpmanVnyd Nebbiolo 2008: Light color; strong
blackberry/floral/lilacs/spicy almost Zin-like
fragrant/spicy nose; tart lush/grapey/floral/berry/lilacs bit
hard/tannic flavor; long ripe/lush
floral/lilacs spicy/berry finish w/ some tannins; lots of lush fruit
and almost Zin-like in character.
________________
12. WindGap Glenrose&LunaMatta/PasoRobles Nebbiolo 2007: Med.dark color;
lovely floral/lilacs/berry/Nebb
very light toasty/oak almost Pinotish nose; tart bit tannic/hard
bright/floral/violets somewhat cherry/
Pinotish very perfumed flavor; long bit hard/tannic tart
pretty/bright/floral/violets/cherry finish;
needs more age; a very pretty/perfumed/fragrant almost Pinotish
rendition of Nebb.
________________
13. WindGap Nebbiolo 2008: Med.color; much more
floral/lilacs/violets/Nebb-like quite perfumed/aromatic
slight road tar/pungent nose; tart/hard/tannic very
floral/perfumed/lilacs/violets/spicy light tarry/
pungent flavor; very long perfumed/floral/lilacs/violets/classic Nebb
some hard/tannic finish; needs
more age; probably the most classic Nabb of Pax's Nebbs.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bottling time, new additions

This is the crunch. Harvest is sneaking up fast (the Muscat is running scary fast) and we need to bottle the 2010s. Being a small winery our barrel room can hold a maximum of 64 225l. standard-size barrels, leaving just enough enough room to crawl and contort oneself through inch-wide cracks and shimmy under the roof on your belly. We reuse all the barrels for the upcoming crush - with the exception of the 2010 Aglianico which is so burley and ridiculously good that it will need at least six more months of barrel age, but I digress - giving them a serious cleaning in between. Barrels are without a doubt the weakest link or HAACP point in a winery. All of this means bottling, which we do ourselves. Every year we have a few new additions we try out, and a couple of gripes as bottling is labor, time and stress intensive, and it just downright sucks.

But, so far, complaints are just not coming. We have only bottled 230 cases so far (about 2600 bottles), but we have not had a single bottle break, no explosions to clean up, no lips cut by flying glass shards. This year we also trying out Diam corks on the reds which seem to be functioning beautifully with the corker. So, here are two of three new releases for next Spring:

Nero d'Avola (144 cases)

Montepulciano (94 cases)
Sagrantino, 96 cases