With the In Pursuit Of Balance tasting (which recently hit NYC), co-creators Parr and Jasmine Hirsch (of Hirsch Vineyards) have brought together some of the most exciting – and highest quality – producers of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in California (many of which hail from the West Sonoma Coast, where those wines are rapidly reaching world-class status).
For me, their invitation to attend the NYC event was a chance to catch-up with some of the wines and producers I’d first been introduced to last year at the inaugural West Of West festival in Occidental, catch-up with Raj, and maybe get introduced to some new wines.
I expected to find some really (really!) good Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at the IPOB tasting recently at City Winery in NYC.
I just didn’t expect some of best of those wines to be Raj’s.
But there you have it – the wacky world of wine, in which a sommelier can team up with a California native (Sashi Moorman) and make better wines than some people who have been at it for decades longer. And I’m merely calling it as I see (er, taste) it – the juice is the juice, and in this case the juice is pretty damn good; in fact, it was some of the best offered in a room full of wines where sub-par offerings were hard to come by…
It was roughly one year ago that Raj famously (in the wine geek sphere, anyway) had to publicly backtrack on his statement that he’d only purchase Pinots for his restaurant (RN74) that clocked in at 14% abv or under, when at World Of Pinot Noir Siduri’s Adam Lee deliberately swapped labels on the 13.7% and 15.2% Pinots he’d brought to the event, after Raj had asked Lee about purchasing what he thought was the 13.7% Pinot for RN74’s list.
So, Raj made quite a point about insisting that balance is not a function of alcohol levels when I interviewed him on video (you can watch that interview at the Wines.com video channel). On that point he and are in what one of my former bosses liked to call “violent agreement.”
I’ve found my tastes becoming more and more Catholic the deeper into the wine world geek forest that I get, so long as the entirety of the wine (its booze, structure, fruit, secondary aromas, etc.) are in line with one another; when one of more those dominate, then the balance of the wine, in my view, suffers. But it certainly allows for subtle, svelte lovelies along with big, powerful forceful wines – both can work, and work beautifully, if all the components are dialed up at the right volumes.
Raj clearly knows what he likes when it comes to wine, and he’s clearly been paying attention to those who are making those styles, because his Sandhi Wines (Sanskrit for “collaboration”) has damn nearly mastered those styles already. Sandhi practices what Raj refers to as “lazy winemaking – we crush, and press it, man,” he told me. Something tells me we’re oversimplifying the process just a bit.
I was shocked when I tasted Raj’s wines (a lineup of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – mostly from Santa Rita Hills and most of which, yes, clocks in at 14% abv or less), ranging in price from around $35 to around $90, and made in very small quantities. Not shocked that Raj and crew could make excellent wine, but shocked that a winemaking outfit that’s been around only since 2010 could offer wines this good this quickly. By and large they are mineral-driven, vibrant and expressive, and are clearly aimed towards playing nice at the dinner table.
Two of Sandhi’s upcoming releases (available in September) speak to what the Sandhi crew has already been able to achieve, and left me with the clear impression that they need to stay on my mental radar as a producer on whom I need to keep a close eye.
2010 Sandhi “Sanford & Benedict” Chardonnay (Santa Rita Hills)
This isn’t Sandhi’s best 2010 Chardonnay (in my view, that honor falls to the more expensive “Bent Rock” Chardonnay, which is made in such small quantities that I’m not yet convinced Raj will even give up enough of it from his personal stash to eventually sell to the public). But it’s a stellar wine, even for the not-inexpensive price tag. It’s one of the most “pithy” and crisp Chardonnays I’ve yet encountered from California, and it’s ridiculously complex: apricots, hints of smoke and toast. It’s a Chardonnay super-hero for food, cape and all, because its liveliness will make it much more versatile at the dinner table than your typical Chard. And it’s a gorgeous super hero, too – like Super Woman on a modeling shoot.
2010 Sandhi “Evening Land Tempest” Pinot Noir (Santa Rita Hills)
This wine is a baby right now and will take some time to fully come around. Reserved, meaty and feminine, when it does come into its own it will be long on elegance, spiciness, and lovely red berry compote, all of which it’s just hinting – no, teasing, really – at now. I don’t have a crystal ball, so I cannot promise it will stay this good for the long haul, but I’d eschew the crystal ball for the chance to gaze into a very large glass of this in about six years.