- Q & A
May 2001 NewsletterWines evaluated last month: 213 Rejected: 194 Approved: 19 Selected: 2
I can't remember offering two selections with roots as old these. While 116 years isn't too impressive to the Europeans, it sure stands out in California. Of course, it makes no difference when the caves were hollowed out, only how good the wine is. But, when you can get a bit of history AND a great wine together, who's to argue? This month's Diamond Grove Chardonnay is a perfect example of classy Chardonnay's from the sunshine state. Too much sun, however, can flatten a wine. Fortunately, Diamond Grove understands that better than most, producing a cool climate wine with plenty of flavor and expression.
Historic may be a better adjective for Max Aubert's Domaine de la Presidente Côtes du Rhone. After all, it's only been around for 350 years and was once the social palace of the entire area. It has been owned past and present by Presidents of States, wine organizations and universities. What a great intro to a wine that tastes like royalty but you don't have to hock the entire kingdom to drink it. This beauty is a guaranteed sell out. Don't dawdle.
Domestic SelectionDiamond Grove is part of the ultra premium arm of Golden State Vintners. Their extremely modern facility in St. Helena, in the heart of the Napa Valley, was first founded in 1885. Diamond Grove ages their wines in the original cellar, which has been expanded and upgraded, yet still retains the charm of over 100 years of winemaking.
Diamond Grove sources their grapes from estate vineyards in the cooler areas of California. This gem comes primarily from Sonoma and Monterey with a dash of Napa to add the boldness we expect from a world class wine. The wine was barrel fermented and aged in oak which accounts for the vanilla and spice that are present, but not at the expense of the multi-layered fruit components.
Chardonnay is so identified with California that it may not be a coincidence that they begin with the same first letter. It is the most planted premium white grape here, eclipsing the next varietal by nearly double. There's a reason for that. In order to achieve the golden color and rich tropical fruit essences we associate with this wine, the grapes must ripen evenly, yet slowly. This can only be accomplished in cool, dry areas where the threat (not to mention the potential reality) of rain during harvest is almost non existent. In these areas, the grapes mature on the vine at a slower pace and produce wines of richness and balance.
Few places allow this to happen as well as the cooler areas of Sonoma and Monterey. Monterey especially is one of the coolest grape growing districts in the state. So cool, in fact, that it has taken winemakers several years to learn how to deal with Monterey's climate. They have succeeded beyond the expectations of most as Monterey wines consistently garner accolades and awards for their richly-textured and multi-dimensional wines. Enjoying this wine with a rich lobster or crab dish will make the point perfectly clear.
Bold, authoritative pineapple and spice with hints of green apple and cinnamon. Perfect with the Crab Souffle recipe on page 6.
Perfect now. Will hold for another year. Serve chilled (approx. 1 hr. in refrigerator).
Imported SelectionThe fascinating history of Max Aubert goes back to the middle of the 16th Century. The winery, in the heart of the Southern Rhone, was owned by the Galliffet family and managed by one if its members, Simon Alexandre. He was also President of the Parliament of Provence. His wife was one of the grand socialites of the region. It was such a great honor to dine at the chateau that it became known as "La Presidente."
After the French Revolution in 1789, the estate became a national property and changed hands several times until purchased by Max Aubert in 1968. Aubert was the best person to take over this historic and relevant site since he came from an old grape growing family, was president of the Wine University and Grand Master of the Commandery of the Côtes du Rhône.
Today, Max Aubert is one of the largest and most honored estates in the Rhône and is managed by a third generation Aubert. Their impressive collection of vineyards spans the hierarchy of prestigious sites including Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas and Cairanne along with our superb Côtes du Rhone.
The Rhône is without question one of the greatest red wine producing areas in the world. It is a place where soil and climate coalesce into a united entity producing power and elegance almost beyond compare.
There are 13 permissible grapes allowed here. The major reds are Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Cinsault. Each adds its own imprint on the finished wine and together, when grown in the warm bask of the sun's glow and imbedded in the calcareous and granite laden soil, produce complex and enticing wines that one will never tire of.
As if this were not enough, the 1999 vintage produced wines of such power and presence that we are hard pressed to remember an equal in the last decade. Only the price brings all this lofty verbiage back to earth. But, you'll figure it all out once you pull the cork.
Cotes du Rhone, 1999
Coat do Roan Max Oh Bear
Enticing nose of black berry and earth mingled with spicy overtones. Full and rich in the mouth with a long finish. Terrific with the lamb recipe on page 6.
Will continue to improve for 3-5 years. Serve cool (approx 30 min. in fridge).
Member Inquiry"Paul, How do California wines compare to other countries?"
P.F.C., Montebello, CA
I believe a winemaker's first duty is to make a wine which is true to the grape and vineyard. France makes the best French wine in the world. Oregon makes the best Oregon wine in the world. While we should revere great wines and try to emulate their greatness, I don't believe we should be trying to copy them. These lofty goals usually end in failure. We should try to do our best with what we have to work with instead of making a "me too" wine.
Another important consideration is vintage dating. The vintage date tells when the grapes were picked and converted into wine. Mother Nature is unpredictable, often bringing hailstorms, frost, rains, unusual cold or hot spells at the wrong time. Wide vintage variation and, occasionally, total losses, are a way of life for the winegrowers of Europe. The big difference in California and many other temperate areas is that the wine crop seldom experiences a major loss or a vintage of very poor quality.
For most of the world's finest wines, knowing about a specific vintage is helpful because it tells you something about the wine's quality and also about its aging potential.
The following is a listing of premium grapes and their origin or best known areas of production.
Cabernet Sauvignon Bordeaux, France; Chile; Australia
Merlot Bordeaux, France; Friuli, Italy; Chile
Pinot Noir Burgundy, France
Syrah/Mourvedre/Grenache Rhone and Provence, France; Australia
Sangiovese Chianti, Italy
Nebbiolo Piedmont, Italy
Barbera Piedmont, Italy
Chardonnay Burgundy and Chablis, France; South Africa; Chile; Australia
Sauvignon Blanc (Fume Blanc) Sancerre and Pouilly Fume, France; So. Africa; Chile; Australia,
Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon Bordeaux, France,
Riesling Alsace, France; Mosel, Rheingau, Germany; South Africa; Australia
Gewurztraminer Alsace, France; Rhinehessen, Germany; Friuli, Italy