Posts Filed Under elegant wines

A Winemakers’ Winery (Amici Recent Releases)

Amici's John Harris & Joel Aiken

Amici’s John Harris & Joel Aiken

“This is a winemakers’ winery.”

That Amici’s Associate Winemaker Bobby Donnell was speaking truth to me – and not just laying out the typical wine country cliché – was evidenced by the total lack of anything resembling Napa Valley “Why, yes I DID!” pomposity in Amici’s vinous Calistoga hamlet.

Maybe it’s due to owner John Harris’ down-to-earth influence, consulting winemaker Joel Aiken’s humility, or the winery’s somewhat-off-the-beaten-path location (or all three), but the Adult Wine Disneyland factor is pretty much approaching the zero line when it comes to graphing the esprit of Amici’s Cabernet production. Their reds are certainly Napa-esque fruity and powerful, but they’re also often tinged with energy, depth, and nuance. They wear lace in all the right places. And based on the asking prices, they got the laces at a discount (by Napa standards, anyway).

Amici trailer

Trailer, but not trash

But the above is also a nice way of saying that when you visit Amici, you’ll see… trailers. With barrels and space heaters in them. That’s where Aiken and Donnell house “a whopping ten tons” of production using whole berry fermentation, mostly for experimentation (though some portion now makes it into the Napa Valley Cabernet and Reserve Cabernet production). The reason? Outside trailers are the only room that they have left.

As Donnell put it, “the nickel tour involves bathroom, too!”

For my dinero, though, that’s all just fine. A lack of showcase winery adornment is more than made up in the experience that you’ll have in the bottle of typical Amici Cab, which offers the better aspects of NV red with a number on the price tag that’s about 33% lower than what we ought to expect from something that has Napa printed prominently on its label.

Yearning for lofty marble columns, classical music, and pomp and circumstance? You’ll have to look elsewhere. Fancy classic rock music playing while a smoker servers up BBQ fare out back beyond the trailers? Then Amici is your place, and these just might be your wines…

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Burdened With Glorious Purpose (Livio Felluga Terre Alte 2011)

Vinted on November 20, 2014 binned in elegant wines, wine review

It’s been a while since I bitched and moaned about tasting (okay, and drinking) wines long before “their time.” So I think we can both agree that I am due for a repeat.

The trouble is, in the words of Loki, “I am burdened with glorious purpose!” when it comes to wine criticism. Generally, I’m supposed to taste vino, ascertain where it sits on the quality spectrum from worst to best in the world, taking into account where it’s from, what it’s made of, and when it was crafted, and guessing at the intentions of those who made it, then make a determination of a recommendation (or not), including guessing when it will likely be drinking at its best, even though that last part is almost entirely subjective.

Easy, right?

It also makes the “job” bittersweet, in that occasionally I run into a bottle from the sample pool that is excellent and downright stunning, enjoyable now but teasing at how, given X amount years of further bottle repose, the constituent elements might come together to offer something even more compelling.

It’s the “f*ck!-this-tastes-great-now-dammit-why-couldn’t-I–have-waited?!??” syndrome. First World problem, yes. But doesn’t make the tinge of regret any easier to bear, probably because I am a weakling.

Anyway, before I flagellate myself over this and you start playing sad songs on the world’s smallest violin, let’s talk about the stunner…

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Northbound Pachyderm (Tasting Claypool Cellars, Cobb, And LaRue 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinots)

Vinted on November 13, 2014 binned in elegant wines, on the road, wine review

A note to musically-inclined wine people: if you help the nice folks at Claypool Cellars folks pick their consulting winemaker, eventually you’ll get to hang backstage at kick-ass Primus concerts.

And while that might at first sound like a raging conflict of interest, I suppose it’s worth noting that a) that hasn’t stopped me from telling them how I think the wines could be improved, and b) I didn’t charge them any consulting fees (so maybe we’re just about even, actually).

Anyway, long-time 1WD faithful will know that we’ve been following the career of Claypool Cellars (founded by Primus front-man Les Claypool and his wife Chaney, both Sonoma-area residents) with great interest over the years.

And while it might seem strange that a rocker who is performing trippy, virtuosic renditions of music from the 1971 Willy Wonka movie would be attempting to make world-class California Pinot Noir, I can offer this tidbit from Les: “We want it to be like Primus; I mean, we’re goofy, but underneath, it’s pretty serious. We can play.”

[ Editor’s note: for what it’s worth, Les has also told me things such as “have you ever had cannabis wine?” and “hey man, where’s the fanceé booze?!???” ]

I am happy to report that, since picking up Ross Cobb as their consulting winemaker, Claypool Cellars has come closer to achieving their goofy-meets-serious goal, and have in their 2012 releases produced the best wines I’ve yet to taste from them. I recently caught up with Chaney, Ross, and Ross’s winemaker partner Katy Wilson to eat some viddles in Sonoma, and taste through some of their single-vineyard 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinots (yeah, I know, tough life I’ve got here)…

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That Old, Old, Old, Old, Old Place In Lodi (A Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault Tasting)

Vinted on November 6, 2014 binned in crowd pleaser wines, elegant wines, kick-ass wines, wine review

Remember when we talked about that old Cinsault vineyard in Lodi?

I mean, that REALLY OLD Cinsault vineyard in Lodi?

The tiny, flat, rectangular Bechthold vineyard – all 25 acres of it, or just about 0.0025% of Lodi’s overall plantings – is an organic, own-rooted, sandy-soil patch of Cinsault in the Mokelumne River area, near the town of Lodi itself. Once just a holdover from a time when such vineyards were being ripped out and replanted in the rip=roaring 1990s, it now counts Turley and Bonny Doon among its clients, with a long waiting list for its fruit.

We can thank German settlers for Bechthold’s orerly layout, which is still owned and farmed by descendants of the family that broke vinous ground there in the late 1800s. Given that phylloxera hit the Cinsault plantings of Europe pretty hard, this little Lodi spot is as close as we’re likely to ever get to original, un-grafted Cinsault. In fact, it’s likely the world’s oldest Cinsault planting.

Farming there is a challenge not just in that the vines are still relatively productive, but also because their age (nearly 130 years) basically guarantees disease. As grape grower Craig Ledbetter told me (and a handful of other Right coast media types) at a recent tasting of Bechthold Cinsault wines held at Brooklyn Wine Exchange (I was a guest of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, which Ledbetter chairs): “at 128 years old, you have to assume that it has it, no matter what disease you’re talking about.”

The results of the wines crafted from this special plot of Earth? Well, I’m not going to say that they’re profound wines, because they’re not; at least, not in the way that we typically think of profundity in wine these days, which is basically in terms of complexity and harmony. But more authentic wines you are unlikely to ever taste. In that sense, they’re wonderful, geek-gasm treasures of juice…

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