Posts Filed Under kick-ass wines
The conclusion of the recent 2012 Drink Local Wine Conference in Denver was a “taste-off” competition of sorts in which twenty-plus Colorado wine producers each poured two of their offerings, with the media and attendees voting on which of those offerings were the “best” on hand (technically, one producer wasn’t pouring wine, in terms of grape wine, but showcased their Mead – Redstone Meadery, who took the “people’s choice” award for their intriguing Nectar Of The Hops).
As a competition, it was fun but given the levity and structure of the proceedings, it shouldn’t be taken as a be-all, end-all statement on CO wine hierarchy (we are talking about a competition with a quarter of the state’s producers, only pouring two wines each); but gems are gems no matter how or where you happen to uncover them.
I will get to my thoughts on the gems – the winners on the wine side of that taste-off – in just a minute (or three), but first I want to tell you about the clearest winner of the Taste-Off:
While I maintain my stance (firmly, I should add) that the region is a “nascent” producer in that Colorado has not fully cracked the code of what grapes to plant where to consistently produce world-class wines, and while the quality levels between (and even among the offerings within each of the) producers is still way too broad (there’s plenty of mediocre wine to be had), I can also tell you emphatically that there seems to be no ceiling for Colorado wine’s quality potential.
Colorado is already making world-class wines – it just happens to be in tiny quantities and can’t be made consistently enough (quite a bit of that being due to extreme vintage variation brought on by the intensity of its continental, high-elevation climate). And while you’re certainly likely to find some real clunkers in CO (its bad wines are epic in their terribleness), the best ones really are gems worth wading through the muck to unearth; in some cases – particularly in the case of one of the DLW Taste-Off winners – CO wine has already arrived…
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In a thrilling, tightly-fought contest, the 2009 Frank Family Vineyards SJ Vineyard Reserve Petite Sirah was crowned Champion of the 2012 1WineDude.com Petite Sirah Taste-Off tournament, edging out its Napa neighbor rival in the finals, the 2007 Stanton Vineyards Petite Sirah.
The contest was widely dubbed “The Slapper Down In Napa” by the press, since both finalists hailed from California’s Napa Valley winemaking region.
“Wow… just… wow!” Frank Family’s violet aromas told reporters when asked about its game MVP award-winning performance during the bought. “You know, we were favored, but a lot of people maybe thought that we were too big, that the tannins and alcohol would hog the ball… but we played like a team today!” the MVP remarked as it choked back tears of joy.
Stanton Vineyards Petite Sirah had been a meaty, deep and demanding wine throughout the tournament, widely agreed that it lived up to its $40 SRP ranking, and garnering a reputation as the “George Foreman” of the field of sixteen: stocky, focused and powerful.
But it wasn’t enough against the highly-ranked, slightly-favored Frank Family Vineyards PS. Punishing and also powerful – and, at times, criticized as being too flamboyant for its own good – the 2009 Frank Family displayed depth and poise and prettiness in the final round, to augment its power-forward tannin-and-grip game. Like Ali or Michael Jordan, it was just fun to watch it do its thing – and see it win it all.
Both wines insisted that that they’d be going right back to work on the current vintage.
“Win or now win, vines gotta be pruned, and eventually grapes gotta get picked – and crushed,” Frank Family Vineyards PS told reporters at the close of their post-championship press conference.
No stops in Disneyland for these two stalwarts; only a momentary pause to contemplate and appreciate a fleeting moment (or two) of glory…
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It’s not a stretch to say that Philippe Melka is, right now, the hottest winemaker in all of the Napa Valley (hottest as in “most in-demand,” and not as in “most hunky,” though admittedly I’d be a pretty poor judge of the latter). He’s got a 100-point Wine Advocate review under his belt with Dana Estates (no denying the power of that, no matter what your take on wine scores might be), and is now riding high on Dana’s stunning 2012 Premiere Napa Valley auction lot, which took the top-grossing slot at $70K.
So it’s interesting, in retrospect, that he was… let’s just say cautiously optimistic about Californian winemaking potential when coming to Napa from France with Dominus in the early 1990s. Being skeptical is part of the French culture, of course; and being skeptical about Napa wine is probably even more understandable when you’ve cut your winemaking teeth at Bordeaux stalwarts Haut Brion and Pomerol darling Chateau Petrus.
“In France I kept hearing, ‘in California they make good wine, but they have no sense of terroir’” he told me over lunch in the trailer that now marks the entrance to what will become the Napa Valley tasting room for Melka Wines, the only brand to which he’s attached his now-famous (in winemaking terms, anyway) surname. “And to some extent, they were right. I mean, everyone was planting Cabernet Sauvignon no matter what – regardless of the soil, the sunlight, everything. I was looking for limestone in Napa. I am still looking for limestone in Napa!”
Fast forward twenty-some-odd years from those cautiously-optimistic days, and through the thoroughly French exterior, you find someone that seems thoroughly Northern Californian at heart – a laid-back, down-to-earth surfer-dude of a winemaker. Philippe now consults on wines from the elegantly powerful (Vineyard 29, Parallel Wines, Entre Nous) to the sometimes-just-too-damn-powerful (Gemstone and Moone-Tsai), and he’s involved in at least one worst-kept-secret “cult wine” Napa project that I’ve tasted (if you’re wondering if that last one is worth the ton of money it would cost to try it, I’ll say this: I’ve had few wines that were bigger, but also few big wines that were better, and it’s got the purest black licorice and dark chocolate aromas I’ve ever encountered in a wine, period)…
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