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A Quiet Resistance (Eyrie Vineyards Original Vines Pinot Noir, In Retrospect)

Vinted on August 21, 2014 binned in elegant wines, on the road, wine review

Generally speaking, when you’re attending a Pinot Noir masterclass-style tasting hosted by one of a wine region’s most historically significant properties, it’s not considered good form to giggle like an eight year-old girl.

Which, of course, didn’t stop me from doing it.

The trouble was, I just found the irony so damned funny, it was like being back in my Oblate grade school church, the nuns patrolling the church aisles, my buddies and I joking around and trying hard to suppress laughter that would most certainly get us into major trouble. Which just makes it funnier

Here’s the thing: when you’re tasting through a retrospective of the Pinots representing those produced by our host – The Eyrie Vineyard’s Original Vines Reserve Pinot Noir – in a masterclass session that’s supposed to highlight vintage variation, it’s just freakin’ funny.

Not that there isn’t vintage variation – there is, for sure, vintage variation in Eyrie’s Pinot. It’s just that when the style is (thankfully) one of the entire wine world’s most consistent, the irony of trying to highlight that variation is… well, it’s freakin’ funny.

So, I was giggling. Don’t judge me (I know, it’s probably already too late; fine, whatever).

Anyway, I now probably owe one to second generation vintner Jason Lett (who hosted that masterclass), so let’s talk about how freakin’ interesting these Pinots were, already…

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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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Lower Alcohol Wines Can Still Get You Sh*t-faced (What We Drank With The Greeks, Part III)

Vinted on August 7, 2014 binned in crowd pleaser wines, elegant wines, wine review

If you are under any delusions about lower (under 14% abv) alcohol wines being inherently superior to higher (15% abv and above) alcohol wines, let my recent foray into the lonesome and loathsome territory of sweating profusely from dehydration and feeling nauseous in the middle of the night be a beacon of light guiding you to the truth.

That truth being the fact that wines that clock in at sub-14% abv can also be just as totally unbalanced as 15%+ monsters, and over-consumption of them in good company (followed by glasses of Ouzo) will still do a fine job at getting you sh*t-faced and hung-over. I mean like sweating sheets/buckets hung-over, folks.

Just sayin’. I meant it when I said that the wine alcohol debate was a total red herring that tells us nothing significant or predictive about overall wine quality, balance, potential longevity or getting-you-sh*t-faced potential.

Anyway…

I hereby submit to you three wines from the sample piles to you as evidence of the above, as each is well under 14% abv and delicious (and balanced) enough to promote abundant and quick over-consumption, particularly when imbibed in the presence of great friends like our Greek neighbors (for more on the drinking exploits with those fine folks, see Parts I and Part II)…

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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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