wine sketchez

Schug Winery – 2012 – Merlot – Sonoma County

img_7869Easy-going Merlot with that jazz that I look for in any wine.  And it’s not the Merlot type that so many self-sworn “experts” just want to write away with disgruntled barbs and obnoxious dismissal.  This bottle shows rounded and eclectic palate presence with an unusually convincing fruit structure entailing cherry, blueberry, a little strawberry and mint-chocolate.  Soft grip and a tremolo’d finish that’ll carry you to the next sip.  Not what people think of, or what they’re told to think of (what I find happens most often), when Merlot comes up in discussion or is poured at the table.  This wine shows speed and swagger, sense and syllabic sensibility.  Its own language and sound form.  One of those Coltrane solos that you replay over and over while driving down Highway 1, window down, where you smell the ocean, where the ocean talks to you through phantasmic breezy shoves.  After about 40 or so minutes open inviting oxygen down through neck, she starts to narrate what Sonoma is entirely about— elegant approachability.  No vanity, only a story and conversation through Bordeaux’s always shoved cast member.  It’s relaxed disposition is just what makes it un tel amour.

wine sketchez

Via Guisti Winery – 2015 – Vermentino – Carneros/Sonoma County

Not really one who chases Vermentino, but I found this one on a local wine list, at a localimg_7145 restaurant while out to dinner.  I didn’t know what to expect but I was irrevocably riveted by all sensory approaches, the paradiddles that sang to the palate… vanilla and orange, lemon and banana, pineapple.  This was not a wine that was trying to be safe, or mainstream.  It wanted to be honest with its narrative, tell a new turn in Vermentino’s volume and place, character and voice.  I kept sipping till dinner, nearly ordered another glass but had to refrain.  Been haunted ever since.  Wish I would have had just one more glass.  What I remember most was the texture of the wine and how it so luminously complimented the flavor complexion.  Maybe now I will hunt this varietal, but I’m fearful.  How could any other interpretation have this magnetic degree?  I don’t want to obsess over that, just want to remember what I tasted, how it taught me something about Vermentino and myself as a wine pursuer.  Easily one of the most pedagogical and enveloping white wines I’ve ever encountered.  And I have to laugh, as it just found its way to my life, my story, my writing.  You can never know what to expect in this wine stage, and Via Giusti’s enigmatically ethereal bottle reminded me of just that.  I left the restaurant more than enamored.  I was in longing, curious, writing in my head what I’d do if I had a bottle when back home.

David Coffaro Estate Vineyard

Reaction:  Loved the quiet persuasiveness of the property.  No large crowds, just cozy buildings enveloped by Dry Creek’s floor.  The tasting room is quaint and concise in its stretch.  Jesse poured for me, starting with some Sauvignon blanc, then moving to Rosé and a sparkling.  All the reds had voice and character, wanted me to like what they said, each of them, and I did, everything from the Pinot Noir to the side-by-side of the Block 4, ’13 vs. ’14.  Just what I expected after all the vaunt I heard from people I know in the industry.  I walked around the tasting room a couple times to further take in the atmosphere of that room— barrels and bar, bottles, the music, the pictures, everything.  Just what I needed for a new experience in the valley.

Don’t want to simplify this label and its story down to “value wine”, but the price juxtaposed with the quality you experience in whatever bottle you open cannot be dismissed.  The reds don’t see excessive oak residency, which is a relief.  I didn’t want to leave, go back to work.  I’m being honest, it was hard to return to my car.  But, what I took away was not just a new story but a tempered approach to and presence of wine. The flavors were commanding but not bossy or offensive.  Wrote in my little pages, about the ’13 Black 4, “Tasty amalgamated percussion”, but I could say that for the winery as a whole, each project in their lineup.  Definitely musical, everything Jesse poured.  This winery has an sizable audience, not too universal yet not too esoteric.  Symphonically animated, everything about that room and its wines.  Be back soon…


Occidental Respite

img_0931On a  day off, I wanted to taste.  And I knew where I was headed.  I just wasn’t anticipating this magnanimous impression.  Right when I parked, down a scenically stretched driveway from Occidental Road, I parked just outside the Balletto tasting room.  Relaxed and removed Xanadu sense enveloping me from the first step on that gravel, following me into the cozy room which reminded me of the living room of a friend’s Central Oregon cabin.  Met by Ms. Charlotte, warmly and genuine invite to the bar, she pressured me with nothing, only setting a glass before me and pouring me some of the exceptionally rounded and balanced sparkling.  The to a Pinot Gris and Sexton Hill Chardonnay which had me equally struck.

I had the vision that I was over at a friend’s house, simply tasting wine and talking about the Russian River dimension, the styles of Pinots and Chards you find around the tasting room versus other growing zones in the state, or even the county.img_0924

She as well put some of the ’14 Rosé of Pinot  before me which struck me in how assertive it was with its flavor; not in any way passive or quick, or one of those safe Rosés that someone would say, “Yeah, it’s great for just sipping on a hot day.” No.  This Rosé of Pinot translation delivered an acute dactylic dance; the luminary stylistic effulgence you hope to taste from Rosé bottle, but don’t, ever.  Here you will.  Balletto shows there doesn’t have to be the humdrum pattern of Rosé production.  There can be narrative, there can be liveliness, and persuasive qualities in what you let prance on palate.

Two Pinots, the ‘RRV’ and ‘Burnside Road’, respectively.  Both were fiery in the catapulting of fruit and terroir-sewn inference, but still with that gentle, feminine, savory tryst that Pinot denotatively ensures.  I didn’t favor one of the other, they both roared when with me, and showed me more of the stratospheric intensity to which Balletto cares for their wines; how they’re produced and how they reflect site in addition to varietal interpretation and oenological intent.

Then, the ’12 Zin, which I have to say is one of the most distinct and playful wines (regardless of varietal, region, or vintage) that I’ve tasted since, well, anciently.  Nothing excessively jammy or serrated about the texture or olfactory setting; all harmonized and communicative, depth and amorous with what it does; black, red, and a bit of blue fruit insinuation in all measures of the song.  Again, fun.  And if I ever do drink Zin, I hope to enjoy, not be deafened by high alcohol and scattered fruit intentions.

Coming home with me after my visit with Ms. Charlotte at Balletto’s base, were the Sexton Hill, Russian River Pinot, and the Zin.  So I ask myself as a wine chaser and writer and professor, ‘what I learned’.  Or as I ask my students, “What am I walking away with?” Hard to say, as I walked back to my car across that gravel thinking so much.  But for one, certainly a new affinity for artfully arranged wine.  Nothing self-anointing about this label, just humble, precise, prowess-stricken oenology.  Anyone reading this needs to visit if you not only want to taste wines, notably Pinots and Chardonnay—and that sparkling!—but be taught something about wine.  By the wines themselves.  Not some pseudo-sagacious host only wanting to hear themselves speak.  Balletto’s keepers, most keenly Charlotte, offer conversation, avidity, and kindness.

I’ve been taught.



Tasty Pedagogy

Stuhlmuller Vineyards – 2014 Estate Chardonnay – Alexander Valley

A jazzy Chardonnay algorithm from a producer a bit hidden but once found you have that oeno-phantasmic revelation.  You sip and see something different in the Chardonnay character and story.  From the first sensory stroke, the fruit is clean, coherent and img_0904convincing; apple and pear, light paradiddles of apricot, nectarine.  And with the acidic current, every flavor phrase and conversation is augmented.  So narrative and wild, a Chardonnay that speak, truly speak, and isn’t concerned with what you experience has been.  And in such urgency you find universality, a branch to the butter crowd as well as the stainless.

Just as artful as the label, equally the naturalist splendor and visual ardor of the ground.  Comforting and arcadian with everything greeting you.  I’ve found that Chardonnay, as you may or may not know from my past columns, has a troubled relationship with me, for which I take full responsibility.  But there wasn’t that invitation, there was only and esoteric appeal of the wine’s immediate and inferred body.  As the bottle acclimated to ambient temp in the kitchen of my Autumn Walk Studio, the fruit exercised volition to morph its mold to something more pair-centered.  Everything else was still there, just a new steering voice delivered the bottled thesis.  I was ever more taken with what I was sipping.  I sat and thought and knew I had to visit, and maybe I will next week, my next day off—  This wine is a separation from reality, from the mundane and the patterned template of any varietal, but especially Chardonnay.  There speaks its instruction, its truest boon; the truth itself, Chardonnay’s truth and identity, and you’ll be coerced that there is amicable Chardonnay.  Not many this well-crafted, you should note.  And I review my notes form last night, right before putting the bottle back its frigid domicile: ‘beatific, centered, peripatetic (with how it travels about your receptors), devoted…” A bottle with life.  That reminds me to live, find my road, my own translations, and be vocal, narrative, tell my story.  My stories with wine this vastly prodigious.



MOCK SOMM:  2012 Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Pastorale Vineyard

  Animated, brilliant, a subtext of a dominantly pervasive message of Burgundian woo.  Surprisingly dark, convincing but still gentle, convivial— a delicious Sonoma Coast dote.  I’d been meaning to open this bottle for a while, since I visited JPV at the Silverado Trail fort toward the end of Fall semester.  But last night it forcefully beckoned, charmed, spoke and sung with its alchemically flavorous wings and wrapped me in spells of phenolic Equilibrium and sensory order.  I wasn’t shocked that I loved it as I did, leaving half the bottle for the next night, tonight (1/3/16), to see how it’ll evolve, develop and compound with identity and conviction; its textual and deliciously suggestive rhetoric— rich and precise intentions, layered and cosmic, right after cork removal…..

More communicative than most Pinots I’ve recently met, and again I sipped it first during my visit a couple months ago.  But it speaks, it commands more now, it remembers me— and the hue is surprisingly deep and radiant, quixotic, it teaches and humbly so.. soft palate music and artful notes from palate’s front to back.  Prior, on nose, violet and plush plum and dark cherry— a reserved vanilla drumroll, tremolo.  This Pinot is precisely and  

 poignantly what I mean when I cite the musical, notably jazz, dimensions of wine, especially Pinot.  It recites then hides then you chase it to the next sip hoping for the music to come back and when it does you sip slow, and the small placements of the bottle’s contents to echo, Zen reverb and angularity— the wine’s meditation with you sits; no time, no place, just the amalgamation of you and the ’12 Sonoma Coast world— the fog, the subtlety, the salty oceanic mist and phantasmic motions, ghostly enveloping mise en scène.

Tonight I’ll intersect with the remaining sips, jot my reflective trots.  And with thanks to the producer, the estate, winemaker and team and the fact I visited when I did.

MOCK SOMM, quick sips.

IMG_96962013 Cartograph Wines Pinot Noir, Choate Vineyard, Green Valley:  Seraphic from the first contact to palate’s end.  Thick and melodic chords of strawberry and cherry, coupled with some unexpected plum and minted chocolate; but what separates this Pinot from others is the pervasive equilibrium of each sip.  I wouldn’t wait on this one, I’d pop it now, but if you forgot about one or two in the cellar and run into those bottles down the line, you’ll be fine.  (MM92)

IMG_96802013 Boekenoogen Winery Syrah, Bell Ranch, Carmel Valley:  Wholehearted and robust, encompassing and persuasive in its interplanetary intonations.  Not too heavy, nor at all passive, more rounded and capturing than any Syrah I’ve tasted in the last few years.  Musical and tempered, audacious but somehow savory in its coy taste equator.  Its own language of Syrah, dactylically delicious.  (MM93)

IMG_9723-02011 Valdez Family Winery Zinfandel, St. Peter’s Church Vineyard, Alexander Valley:  This wine is just fun to be around, dark and with a sexy weight to its texture and motion.  Nothing like I’ve had from Zin’s all-too-excessive of a world.  Nothing astringent or sharp or tart about her.  Just in line with every fruit suggestion and smokey/charcoal/chocolate wink.  Had it with a slow-roasted chicken and well-done sourdough garlic bread and was only smitten by the synergy.  I’ll be going back for a couple more of these, and what a brilliant object to all those boo-hoo-ing the ’11 vintage.  (MM92)

MOCK SOMM:  Gundlach Bundschu Reaction; Sustainable Farming Boons

IMG_9604 Sipping some of the Merlot I bought yesterday at Gundlach Bundschu, the ’12, and I can see why so many are behind sustainable farming, and the stark and boldly beaming evidence that it translates to an increasingly truthful, more site and vintage representative wine.  The fruit is more rounded and robust, engaging and elemental in its palate gallop than other Merlots you’d pull from a store shelf, or even find at esteemed wineries in any valley.  And the Chardonnay I opened last night had a similar momentum, holistic and embracing in its flavor modes and moods, and a storyteller unto itself; naturalist and natural in its voicing.  A relief for a wine consumer like me, finding something forthright, a winery that respects its vineyards and the environments and enabling a candid couriering of terroir as other wineries merely aspire to.


As I now tilt the class toward my senses, it yields a riveting richness that you can only experience, I believe, from wineries that farm sustainably.  ‘Gun Bun’ as it’s amiably monikered, has been certified by Fish Friendly Farming since ’12, and you can appreciate and actuate in their adoration for the environment by tasting their wines, as I did yesterday after my draining workday, stopping in somewhat randomly (and I say ‘somewhat’ as I was thinking while earlier IMG_9605prepping for the day, “I should stop at Gun Bun’, haven’t tasted their in years), hosted by Ms. Danielle, a sweetly soft octave’d young woman whose familiarity and oeno-prowess was visible but not bragged.  Which I enjoyed.  Nothing more irking that being hosted by someone who tactlessly aims to perform what they think they know.  Nothing like that from Danielle.  And each wine, composed and coherent, convincing and wildly indicative of meticulous nearness from the farming and winemaking brigades.

IMG_9614Just a little bit of the Merlot left in glass, and I’m annoyed with self that I sipped it so swiftly, but I couldn’t help that self, and what can I do but follow the wine, wines like this, of this elevated character and deific loop.  My thoughts triangulate taking the next sip.  Showing me the rows, the temperatures and amalgamated atmosphere of 2012– This wine teaches from its acutely touched rows, and I sit here at the end of my day and sip, envision what happened that year on their property, and know I have to go back for a few more bottles.  Wish I could sip some more but this is all the warrant I need to put more on the shelves of my quasi-”cellar”.  Enough for me to get more than enough.  I think 6 bottles, then a case, then I don’t know what I’m thinking only I know I want more and I will get more, sooner than soon.  And who authors this entry, the Merlot.  So I’m sent to go.

And it’s more than clear, the sustainable treatment and relationship with IMG_9607vineyards bridges to a more appealing cluster.  The other wines I sipped in my quick visit, such as the Gerwurtztraminer, Rosé of Tempranillo, the Tempranillo, Pinot, and all the others Danielle politely place in the bowl cemented the validity and visibility of sustainable farming’s bounty.

MOCK SOMM: Interview with Arista Winery Winemaker, Matt Courtney

I started by asking him what his “oenological voice” was, rather than just plainly what his style was in IMG_8912his mind.  He smiled lightly, and said that would be a question better suited for someone like me, a writer.  He then added that he didn’t think that most winemakers approached making wine with a style in mind, it’s more a matter of making the best wine you can, the most expression of site.  The “style” that so many address is more an understanding from the consumer’s mentality.  He said he can speak on what his goals are, his approach, and that is about as close as he could get to answering me–  But more than anything, he noted, “I want to make wines that are delicious, that are profound, but that are balanced.” And if you taste the Arista lineup, the appellation blends or single vineyard translations, Chardonnay or Pinot, you’ll appreciate this methodology and practice, as it’s palatably executed.

Matt’s character is empowered by his synthesis with his favored varietals, not inoculating with any commercial strains of yeast or malic bacteria.  You can blow out the nuances of a given site if you overwhelm it with commercial yeasts, he stated with low-volume, easing and nearly poetic rhythm to his speech.  The emphasis is on the vineyard, and doing an unprecedented familiarity with the vineyard site so that when the fruit comes in, it’s only a matter of shepherding the wine, as he said, through vinification.

“You are stripping something away, even if you improve it,” he says about fining and filtration.  Maximum amount of material in the bottle, he stressed.  I told him I found his style of winemaking as more “truthful”.  He preferred the word “transparent”, that gives the sipper the most optimal picture of the microclimate and geographic specificity where the wine comes from.  You’re stripping less away, you’re adding less.  It’s clear Mr. Courtney values the site where the Pinot and Chardonnay come from, and how that site can be tasted and the picture needs to be maintained, shepherded as he said.  “We’re measuring three times before we cut.”

Chardonnay and Pinot to this winemaker walk a funny balance, in that they can be light on their feet, as he specified, but also be complex and layered.  It’s a magic trick, he said, trying to have either of those varietals be that delicious dichotomy, keeping them interesting and captivating.  “I want people to go back for that next glass.”

He likes Chardonnay that’s diligent and develops in the bottle.  And with the Chardonnays he’s produced for Arista, since his start in 2013, we see this bright presence of fruit but yet this interesting palate weight and unique complexity, layered and savoringly compounded with flavor.  He said that Chardonnay and Pinot can be all things to all people in ways that other varieties can’t.  And that ties into this assertion of the magic trick.  There’s a special relationship with this winemaker and these two potentially moody varietals.  And his Pinots demonstrate the same verisimilitude and ardor as the Chardonnay, just ten, twenty-fold.  His Pinots provide this tasty spacial awareness.

Our talk was briefly interrupted by one of his crew members coming in to ask him a question, something about malolactic fermentation, or something.  Can’t remember precisely but it reminded me I was taking him from his day, that these winemakers, especially of this stratum, are always moving, always measuring three or four times then deciding, deciding…  So I had to close, quickly.  Of course Matt being the convivial chap he is didn’t say anything of any dire or rushed tenor, but I intensified my momentum. 

“Really quick, thoughts on ’15…” An interesting year in his mind, partially because of the drought, but as well attributed to the early bud break and the challenging weather during fruit setting.  Diminished yields in some sites, and some vineyards hit much harder than others.  But, in his words, “very variable”.  This will affect the amount of fruit yielded.  He also cited the uneven ripening and the heat spikes have provided challenges in their own arena, making it “interesting” as he said.  But he assures the wines in tank and in barrel are tasting quite good.

I told him that I heard some people, some winemakers say the shatter out there is “winemaker shatter.” He smirked, and said, “I don’t even know what that means.” But Matt expressed optimism about the wines that were fermenting and vinifying, and he again returned to this subject of shatter, and said that in some of his vineyards it didn’t harm the pick and eventual fermenting wines that much.

We returned to the topic of Arista, and what the winery, or label has done for him as a winemaker, and then I had to ask him which of his wines, notably the 13’s, is his favorite.  “That’s like asking which of your kids is your favorite,” he said.

“Which of your kids is your favorite?” I said, laughing, then he laughed, but he then disclosed that he holds a beaming affinity for the estate wines, the Two Birds and Harper’s Rest Pinots.  If you’ve ever had these wines before you can see why–  bold and complex, the volume and layered magical beauty of each…

We closed our conversation with the new production facility on the Westside property and getting the vineyards to where they want them to be, to always push the envelope of quality, getting the vines in better health, year to year.  Again, only optimism and a soft, understated but still vibrantly visible confidence about this winemaker, and for anyone loving wine, it rubs off on you.  You’ll walk away from the chat, length no matter, feeling closer to wine, closer to Arista if you’re already a fan.

“It’ll be a huge help for us in the cellar,” he noted, when the facility is on the property.  Getting more precise with irrigation strategies… vine-water status…  “There’s no limit to how good we can get, that’s what keeps it fun.” Again, the yay-saying sentiment I expected from him toward the end of our talk.  So his “style”, or his voice, if I can attach a new “descriptor”– balanced, just like what he aims to bottle year to year.  And, profound, whether he intends it or no.  Balanced in his tone, his demeanor, and his explanations.  Profound in his presence.

Oh, then there’s the extraordinary, magical wines he brings to fruitful fruition.  There’s that, too.  So, I, the writer, goes back for that second glass.


And I feel, I don’t know,

scattered or stressed or something.  Want to research in wine or something wine-related but I know nowhere to start.  Need another small glass of the Cabernet I opened, an ’09 from that winery I used to work at.  Not in the mood to note its name, just sipping something I was sure was shot but actually has quite the quietude about it.  And it’s from the wine world being in a state of flux– the vineyard purchased by this person but the original owner is still in possession of this % of the land and keeping this much interest in this and–  I just get lost, and when I try to “research” or write or do something “professional” with wine I just find myself getting lost.  So, then, I do what I do, as I now do: sip Cabernet and meditate in the quietly quietude of this downstairs.  No TV, just thoughts, and confidence, and knowing that tomorrow, a Monday, will be better than today which was a full day to my own Time.

This ’09 speaks a certain tongue, yes that purposeful and poised Cabernet presence, but not with what I’m used to.  It’s its own climate and cycle, voice and momentum– like a machine that isn’t too loud but it moves, oh does it move.  And an idea that my friend Sara mentioned to me, writing for wine and wine & food publications, a blogger, a writer traveling and blogging on wines and wine events, covering them as a true journalist but one with literary and wildly creative rootings.  Huh, that could work.  Sara referred to me as a “Sonoma wine expert”.  Which I’m most soundly not.  But, even still, I am here.  I do love Sonoma wines more than any other region and I do write about them.  I’m sipping one right now.  No, still not naming the name but my friend Zach did the final blend on this, I believe.  There fermentations and initial treatments were handled by the previous winemaker.  Wine– Sonoma– wine tasting and sipping and drinking the wines you love, the ones that add to your moments and character– all wine love, and blogging about wines all over the world from a more Human angle and less from a “professional one”.  So funny to me how so many are caught up in being “professional” in wine’s world, or industry.  Isn’t the “professional” demeanor  more or less common sense?–  Don’t want to fixate on that now, I want to delve into this wine, the Cabernet 2009 I just sipped, just a minute ago walking softly into the kitchen and finishing my glass.  Think I could have let it sit for another couple years, but, you know what, I opened it tonight.  I didn’t even know I had it in that little wine closet, it was a surprise, the past Mike packaging it up prior to the move, just for this night, this moment and this writing.  Going to think a bit more, close the session, enjoy moments before bed.