October 2002 Newsletter
Wines evaluated last month: 213
Rejected: 195 Approved: 18 Selected: 2
AS GOOD AS IT GETS
We committed to the Crow Canyon Chardonnay almost six months ago. We never do that! It's just that this wine was so spectacular, we couldn't say no, and yet our commitments wouldn't let us offer it until now. This offering has all the components of the much higher priced wines and even a few qualities to which they can only aspire.
First there is the presence of oak, but not so much that it is overbearing. Then there is that wonderful fruit basket of flavors and finally the clincher that sets it apart from its contemporaries, lees contact. We've never tasted a wine with the mouthfeel of this one at anything even approaching the price. We don't know how they did it, but we'll keep it in stock until every drop is gone.
Our little French beauty, the Cuvée de Peña, just knocked us out when we first tasted it. All that lovely sweet/tart cherry and spice made us run out for some BBQ'd chicken and it wasn't even 11:00 am yet! You're going to love this gem. It's as food friendly as wine can get.
Franciscan friars, in the Spanish mission of Soledad, planted the first crop of wine grapes over two hundred years ago. Those vines withered and, sadly, no trace remains today of what was to become more than 40,000 acres of prime vineyards. It was not until the early 1960's that the full potential of Monterey County, as a wine producing region, began. In 1960 Professor A.J. Winkler, a viticultural authority from the University of California at Davis, published a report classifying grape growing districts by climate. Monterey County was classified as Region I and II, comparable with the premium regions of Sonoma, Burgundy and Bordeaux.
All grapes grown in Monterey County are wine grapes, there are no table grapes or grapes sold for juice. Wines from these vineyards have unique qualities which make them easily distinguishable from those produced elsewhere in California or the world. All have intense varietal flavor, which means the true taste of s the grape is reflected in the wine. In Monterey County, Chardonnay is an especially important grape, as it comprises 40% of the total grape acreage. Chardonnay grapes from Monterey County vineyards have become especially prized by winemakers throughout the state. Currently, the northern areas of the county are heavily planted in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Pinot Blanc.
Our prize comes from the Arroyo Seco Vineyards. The wine is named after an canyon adjacent to the vineyards. Arroyo Seco has produced as many award-winning wines as many of the better known vineyards in Napa and Sonoma. The vineyard is owned by the Zininovitch family. They are Third Generation farmers whose ancestors first planted table and raisin grapes in the Central Valley in the 20s. They currently own 10,000 acres in the Central Valley as well as the 280 acres, which comprises Arroyo Seco.
Rich and extracted green apple, lime and guava in the nose and mouth. Broadly textured with a gripping finish to match the shrimp with serrano mint pesto recipe on page 6.
Perfect now. Serve
about 2 hours in the
Chateau de Peña is under the direction of Jean¬Christophe Bourquin, a pioneer in the Pyrénées Orientales. He was the first to plant Syrah here, which is now the most successful grape in the region.
Jean Christophe farms a mere 90 acres of vineyards. The vineyards are located 25 miles north of the Spanish border and 25 miles inland from the Mediterranean. It is one of the most scenic areas on earth. Add to the scenic beauty, the lusciousness of their wines and you have a combination which might be as close to heaven as we're allowed to get before actually reaching it.
Cuvee de Peña is a blend of 50% old vine Carignan, blended with Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah. No oak is used in order to preserve the great, ripe fruit. Carignan is not well thought of in most of the world. It tends to make coarse and harsh wines with little appeal. In the Southwest corner of the Languedoc, however, it not only turns into a lovely swan, but most of the vineyards here are 50+ years old. This adds complexity and flavor that are unattainable anywhere else in the world.
The principle appellation of the region, Cotes de Provence stretches from Marseilles near the tip of the Pyrenees, in the Bouches-du-Rhône across the central and southern Var to the Alpes-Maritimes. The vineyards grow on the limestone soil around the Maures. This is what accounts for the piquant acidity that the wines exhibit. It is the only fine wine district that actually is bordered by two major mountain ranges, the Pyrénées and the French Alps.
A vin de pays is a higher-class table wine, from a particular region of France in this case the Provence. The vin de pays is controlled primarily for the source of the grapes and also for the density of vines: the amount that can be produced per acre. This offering actually tastes as if it is in a higher classification. And, from a phenomenal vintage like 2001, it offers one of the best values we've seen for awhile.
Cuvée de Peña
Soft and luscious flavors of ripe strawberry jam and flecks of earth. Terrific with the Turkey Thigh recipe on page 6.
Perfect now. Will
hold for another
year or two.
Serve cool, about
30 min. in the
"Paul, sometimes you talk about the climate and other times about the soil. Which is more important"
Great question, tough answer. In some ways, it really depends on where you are. In the New World regions of California, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, scientists have long stressed the importance of climate, rather than soil, in the making of wine. In Europe, the reverse has been the case. This difference of approach reflects differing natural conditions in vineyards around the world. In France, for example, as much as half the rainfall occurs during the growing season, but it is usually spread evenly throughout the season.
In Australia, by contrast, rainfall during the all-important spring and summer months is often inadequate to nourish the vine, leading to a lack of moisture, producing grapes that are low in acid and chemically out of balance. This preoccupation with the climactic challenges leads winemakers in the New World to downplay the importance of soil as a factor in the quality of wine. But during the 1980s, growers, notably in California, came to understand that soil really does matter. "Wine begins in the vineyard" became the slogan of the decade, which is another way of saying that it is essential to grow the right sort of grape in the right sort of soil.
Wine grapes can only be grown in a narrow latitude in both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere where the climate is fairly temperate. The only exceptions are very high altitudes like those in Mexico, Chile and Argentina which are much cooler than the areas at the valley floor.
All soil is a mixture of minerals and organic matter, and the particles that form soil are of different sizes. The largest are the stones and small gravel; fine sand is smaller; silt is composed of particles that are smaller still, and clay has the smallest particles of all. The higher the clay content of a soil the richer it will be. Soil composed of a high percentage of bigger particles will have better drainage.
The size of the particles determines the texture of the soil; what is described as the structure of the soil is the molecular structure. This is again relates to drainage. Cold soils are those that retain water, so that the warm air cannot penetrate. Cold, rich, heavy soils therefore tend to be late ripening sites, whereas warm, poor, gravely soils are early-ripening.
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