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Foley, Food Porn, And A West Coast Wine Geek-out | 1 Wine Dude

Foley, Food Porn, And A West Coast Wine Geek-out

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At the end of July, I wound up at the top of Chalk Hill in Healdsburg.  It was one of those events that I should be used to by now but that make me slightly uncomfortable anyway because they a) are held in lavish settings that seem to cost a billion dollars, b) usually end three and half hours late with an over-the-top, impeccably prepared/served lunch cooked by a French chef (and likely weighing in somewhere in the neighborhood of a billion calories – food porn coming in a minute or two, I promise), and c) have winemakers who’ve been flown-in from all over the place, any of whom may or may not be all that interested in making small-talk with you.

Events unfolded pretty much exactly to that plan during my visit to The Hill, though thankfully the folks who make up the winemaking crew of Foley Family Wines, whose portfolio we were tasting through, proved an amicable bunch.

Far and away the most exciting thing for me at these events is not the lavish stuff – and there was no shortage of that shizz: Chalk Hill’s pavilion, where we tasted and then lunched, has a 21-foot limestone fireplace, a panoramic view of the estate, and an Olympic-sized dressage riding arena made of Alaskan golden cedar that required a highway shutdown to transport, in which the horses ride (I am not making this up) on imitation dustless “dirt.”  Not that the setting is intimidating or anything…

Anyway… for me, the most exciting bit is always tasting the wine.  Is it any good? Is it worth the price?  Does it have a story it’s trying to convey?  Having the winemakers there just adds exponentially to the geek-out factor, and so eventually my nose gets in the glass, the surroundings get tuned out, and I enter geek-the-hell-out mode.  And it turns out, in a rare convergence of high incomes and good tastes, that the Foley portfolio has a lot in it that’s worth geeking-out over…

For those who haven’t been keeping up on such things, Foley Family Wines has been scooping up producers at a pretty speedy clip over the last few years, and aside from their eponymous label established in the late `90s they now own Two Sisters, Three Rivers (who you might recall also produces a wine with rocker Geoff Tate), and way-more-than-four other brands including Altvs, Clifford Bay, Eos Estate, Firestone, Kuleto, Lincourt, Merus, Sebastiani (probably their most publicized acquisition – and by the way, no, we’re not done yet), NZ’s Vavasour and our hosts that day, Chalk Hill.  Whew.

The amazing thing, to me, was that in tasting through damn nearly fifty of the wines from almost all of the above producers that July day, I encountered very few dogs and quite a few winners.  Not a result one might expect from a obscenely-rich-guy-buys-up-wine-brands-he-likes scenario, but I’m convinced at this point that Bill Foley has decent tastes (at least when it comes to wine).

That’s not to say that I advocate the swallowing up of smaller producers – generally, I don’t.  But in this case, the Foley brands seem to operate with relative autonomy (though there have of course been staff changes, awkward periods of employees re-interviewing for their current jobs, etc.) and I think that probably has a direct impact on the quality level of the juice being made by the winemakers I met during the tasting.

In at least one case – Sebastiani – the acquisition (and subsequent shake-up) by Foley might actually have helped winemaking matters. According to winemaker Mark Lyon, after the acquisition, “I didn’t have to worry about many different bosses, I could focus, and focus on one area – Sonoma County; and, voilà, the quality improved dramatically.”

My ten faves from the Left Coast portion of the Foley brands I tasted are below – oh, yeah, don’t worry, I didn’t forget about the food porn…

2009 Lincourt “Courtney’s Chardonnay” (Santa Rita Hills)
Price: $25
Rating: B

Tropical, buttery, but not without elegance coming by way of one serious mineral/stoniness streak.  Hell, there’s even some stone fruit showing up.  I really dug how this wine was able to show those two sides of Chardonnay – mineral/steely and lush/tropical – while staying charming and without the whole thing turning into a disjointed mess.

2009 Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Chardonnay (Santa Rita Hills)
Price: $30
Rating: B+

Peach, apricot, and true grit.  There’s minerality here, too, but it’s sneaky – it doesn’t show up on the nose but jumps in during the mid-palate, like someone just hit your tongue with gravelly confetti… surprise, beeeatch!  A bit like the Lincourt’s big (and curvier) sister – and a real bargain even at the over-$20 mark.

2009 Sebastiani Patrick’s Vineyard Chardonnay (Carneros)
Price: $35
Rating: B+

Annie, get your notebook because you’re gonna need it to record all the stuff going on in the nose of this wine. Oak spice, cream, green apple, lemon custard, toast… Then the lemony palate hits you, with yellow apples, marzipan… hell, this might be one of the few times I’ve actually liked marzipan…

2008 Sebastiani Cherryblock Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Valley)
Price: $90
Rating: A-

Like a can of compressed, 100% pure Kick-Ass that will explode with savory, dark cherry awesomeness in about six more years.  Black currant, dark chocolate, plums, this is complex, well-structured stuff. And while it’s primed for ass-kicking, it has plenty of class to go along with it (think Michelle Yeoh in Tomorrow Never Dies and you’ll get the general idea).

2008 Firestone Clone 174 Syrah (Santa Ynez Valley)
Price: $30
Rating: B+

A dark, sweet (as in sweet fruit, not sugar), vanilla-and-spice take on Syrah; it’s supple, full, jammy and lush but well-balanced.  Aside form being a pretty decent bargain, it will disappear quickly if popped open next to a serving of BBQ ribs.

2008 Three Rivers “River’s Red” (Columbia Valley)
Price: $14
Rating: B

For me, this wine demonstrates just how much winemaker Holly Turner knows what the hell she is doing when it comes to blending. A wine blended from something like six different locations and four different red grape varieties, aged in new and old French and Hungarian oak, probably shouldn’t taste this coherent.  But it does, and it’s a crazy good deal for everyday drinking, offering peppery, bright red fruits and a touch of tart cranberry.

2007 Three Rivers “Svelte” (Columbia Valley)
Price: $65
Rating A-

Another blend (naturally). At first, I got worried because it’s a touch raisined/pruney on the nose, but that quickly gives way to dark fruits, oak spices, earth, leather, mocha and a fabulous mouthfeel.  Best part about this vino? The juxtaposition and tension between the tartness and the juiciness of the fruits on the palate.  Give it about five to seven years.

2009 Chalk Hill Estate Red (Russian River Valley)
Price: $70
Rating: A-

First things first: this wine is just too boozy. But… it’s tough to convey in words how much ass this wine would kick if they can manage to get the abv down a bit without watering the juice down and diluting the flavors.  Because this an inky, seductive wine, throwing out sandalwood, black pepper, coffee, dried herbs and dark, concentrated fruit all over the place. Very boozy, but very smooth, very high quality, and very, very demanding.

2009 Kuleto Estate Chardonnay (Napa Valley)
Price: $45
Rating: B+

Feminine but angular, supple but displaying grip and minerality, peachy yet full of citrus zest and perfume – this one is a bit enigmatic and like an elegant woman that just makes it all the more appealing.

2008 Altvs (Napa Valley)
Price: $75
Rating: A

Camille Benitah is a bit of a wonder.  A transplant from Pessac-Léognan who fell in love with California, she clearly felt relief not to be making wine under the strict tenets of Bordeaux’s production laws and her creative freak flag is passionately flying.  There’s a sense of free-spirit to this wine, as if it doesn’t care if you like it or not, it’s just enjoying life.  But I’m betting that you will like it, because there’s a lot to like here for CA wine fans: blackberry, dark plum, anise, spices, chocolate, dried tea leaf… It just about melts in your mouth, but avoids feeling flabby, and it’s just a complete package, with the finish being nearly as complex as the nose.  Not for those who aren’t down with concentration, however (you’ve been warned).

Whew!  Ok, I’m tired.  But not tired enough to renege on my promise!  So now… your food porn:

 

Cheers!

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