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Overachiever Wines | 1 Wine Dude

Posts Filed Under overachiever wines

Cuckoo And Cocka-doodle-doo (Coquerel And Toquade Recent Sauvignon Blanc Releases)

Vinted on August 14, 2014 binned in elegant wines, overachiever wines, wine review

At this point, I think that we’ve established that Bordeaux native Christine Barbe is at least a little bit crazy. Very talented, but a little crazy. Crazy enough to justify the namesake of her personal brand, Toquade, anyway.

She has, after all, devoted a significant portion of her current winemaking career to – egads! – Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, a region/variety combo that is often either derided (justifiably, for the too-frequent examples that taste like melon-cream soda gone flat mixed with grain alcohol), or in the better cases (unjustifiably) pigeon-holed as always just-shy-of-greatness, the NV also-ran grape. It occurs to me now that NV SB is a bit like the Philadelphia Eagles of the wine world, only without the awesome fight song (seriously, it’s the best one in the NFL; yeah, the San Diego Super Chargers song has an awesome bassline, but otherwise it’s waaaay too disco for football).

NV SB is also the primary focus of Barbe’s other winemaking job, helming the juice at Clay and Brenda Cockerell’s Coquerel brand. They make wine from other varieties, too (the Verdelho and Chardonnay are both well worth seeking out), but it’s that underdog NV SB that has captured Barbe’s heart.

That’s crazy in a good way, of course, and I wish more winemakers had Barbe’s brand of eccentricity, because she’s making the kind of wines – both intellectually and sensually pleasing – that I like to drink on my own time and my own dime.

On one of my recent sojourns to the Left Coast, I got to catch up with Barbe over dinner at San Francisco’s Farallon, a restaurant that sports a décor that I can best describe as “Alice goes scuba diving in Wonderland.” Fortunately, they specialize in seafood, which made a natural match for our little Sauvignon Blanc-fest…

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Same Old Song (Ridge Lytton Springs Recent Releases)

“We sing the same old song
Just like a vintage car,
You can look, but you won’t ever drive it.
We drink the same old wine
From a brand new jar,
We get hung-over, but we always survive it.”
- “New Song” by The Who

Some tasks are just… unenviable.

Take, for example, trying to say something new about iconic California producer Ridge that’s not already been said. Go ahead, give it a shot; it’s not easy, folks. Some people are adept at taking the same few chords or themes and churning out something that sounds totally new; The Kinks, The Who, John Grisham (okay, maybe not Grisham). I am not one of those people. The Ridge story has been told several times in print, and from a wine perspective equates to something like “these are excellent, potentially long-lived reds, go buy some; the end… why are you still here?”

And so in recapping my visit to Ridge Lytton Springs in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley, I find myself entertaining a sense of dread that I’ve not felt since I’ve had to turn in a term paper in undergrad, the kind that you avoid for as long as possible because you know it’s going to be a bitch to write. I can offer at least one take on Ridge that is original, though, since it happened to me personally; so I suppose I’ll start there.

A couple of years ago, when interviewing the equally iconic California stalwart Kermit Lynch at his Berkley area shop, I noticed a shelf of old empty bottles on a wall in his office. I pointed out to him that only one of those bottles was from an American producer: Ridge. “Yeah!” he exclaimed, “and check this out!” taking the bottle from its display and showing me the back label, pointing to the small text that proclaimed its sub-14% alcohol by volume. I then tried (unsuccessfully, I think) to convince him that Ridge was still making elegant, long-lived, balanced wines that despite an uptick in abv, and that I’d had several aged examples over the years to prove it.

Interestingly, my host at Ridge’s DCV winery was winemaker John Olney (onboard at Lytton Springs since the 2003 vintage), who once worked for Lynch… see, I knew if I tried hard enough there’d be something new there…

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Enthralled With Pinot Noir (Thralls Family Cellars Recent Releases)

Vinted on May 29, 2014 binned in elegant wines, overachiever wines, wine review

It’s funny (as in “refreshingly interesting,” and not as in “ha-ha, I almost peed my pants!” or “ewww, well… that’s weird) how success in the wine business keeps getting redefined and reinvented.

To wit: by now, we shouldn’t be surprised that we’re seeing wine lovers migrate from the online wine world into viable writing and winemaking careers, but for whatever reason the Hardy-Wallace-type stories still seem oddly out of place in the wine biz. Oh, wait, it’s for “whatever” reason; the reason is that the wine world is still woefully behind on understanding that the online world is populated by actual human beings with actual passions, talents, and funding. Okay, whatever.

We can add another online-wine-wonk-to-promising-offline-wine-producer story to that growing lineup: that of Ed Thralls, who recently sent me samples of his personal project, Thralls Family Cellars.

A refugee from the east-coast (Atlanta) financial tech industry, Thralls was blogging and tweeting at the handle @WineTonite for some time, all the while building up real-world wine chops through an internship at Holdredge Wines, a stint in the Viticulture & Enology program at UC-Davis, and completion of the Certified Specialist of Wine qualification.

The result of Ed’s foray into personal wine branding is tiny quantities of Pinot Noir juice crafted from grapes purchased from interesting spots in Northern California, with an eye towards clonal selection, light use of new French oak, dollops of whole cluster and unfiltered processing, and generally trying to get the results under 14% abv. It’s Pinot that is promising – and elegant – enough that Thralls’ efforts probably ought to be considered for a seat at the “cool kids” table of In Pursuit Of Balance (and similar modern temples to the anti-largeness Pinot crowd; hey, I’m not complaining, I dig both styles)…

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Old School Cool (Casa Nuestra Recent Releases)

Vinted on April 24, 2014 binned in crowd pleaser wines, overachiever wines, wine review

A conversation I had at the tail end of the 2014 Premiere Napa Valley Auction:

Alder Yarrow: “So, where are you visiting when you’re in town?”

Me: “I’ve got appointments at Stony Hill, Kapcsandy, Casa Nuestra…”

Alder: “Casa Nuestra! Oh, yeeeah!”

Me: “Did you just squeal?”

And so there you have it, one of the best ways to summarize the Old School coolness of Casa Nuestra: they made the grand-pappy of wine blogging, Alder Yarrow, squeal happily like an eight-year-old girl at a princess party.

And they are, for sure, Old School cool: funky tasting room, tiny production, “unhip” grape varieties (Chenin Blanc was planted on their Silverado trail vineyards in 1979), and a winery website straight out of 1999. The only way that owner Gene Kirkham could further transcend the trappings of the modern Napa Valley would be by physically teleporting his entire operation to some other part of the globe entirely.

And the wines? Well, they’re straight out of 1979 or 1989. And in this case, that’s a very, very good thing…

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