Rhys owner Kevin Harvey and winemaker Jeff Brinkman tasted Paul Galli (the Testy Troll) and me through all but one of Rhys’s ’09 Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Syrahs in their winery cave at Rhys’s Skyline Vineyard. For a video tour of the cave and winery, see my prior post here: http://www.rjonwine.com/california-wine/rhys-vineyards-cave/ The Chardonnays–there are three of them for ’09: two vineyard designates, and a Santa Cruz Mountains bottling–had just been bottled five weeks before. The Pinots and Syrahs were all barrel samples, and we also had the ’08 Alpine Vineyard Pinot Noir to check in on.
The Chardonnays are awesome, and will continue and augment the great reputation Rhys Chardonnays already have. I believe they are the best Chardonnays in California at this point. The Pinot Noir and Syrah barrel samples were easily the most exciting Pinot Noir and Syrah barrel samples I’ve tasted since going through the ’07 Copains in barrel with Wells Guthrie a few years back. Even though still barrel babies, these wines are quite impressive, and the expression from each vineyard is very distinctive. Kevin also brought along the Pyramid Valley Pinots to share with Jeff, and us, as he and the gang regularly taste other interesting producers.
Kevin Harvey is a big proponent of stem inclusion in Pinot Noir, where stems can get ripe and not detract from the expression of the Pinot. I, on the other hand, have been sounding an alarm lately about the increasing use of stems in California Pinot, and Burgundy, and how I feel the practice, especially above a fairly low level of stem inclusion (15 to 25%) can lead to stemmy, menthol and green flavors dominating in the wine, at the expense of Pinot’s lovely and delicate fruit.
Kevin, who has a degree in Electrical Engineering from Rice, takes a very scientific approach to everything involved in growing grapes and making wine. He also has the resources to test and experiment with different clones, in different sites, with different winemaking techniques. The Rhys vineyards have been organized into half acre blocks, which are picked and fermented separately. This has enabled Kevin and Jeff, over the past several years, to get a sense of their vineyards at a pretty granular level. I must also say that I have had the pleasure of tasting other wines with Kevin–great Burgundies, other California Pinots–and I very much admire his palate and wine knowledge, as well as his passion for great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and his incredible drive to produce and perfect these wines. In his experience, which he and Jeff relate in video clips below, they have found they’re able to get very ripe stems in the vineyards that have shallow, rocky soils. This tasting was an experiential education for me, as I must say that I could not detect the 100% stem inclusion from the two vineyards that Kevin and Jeff have established as having shallow, rocky soils, where the stems and grapes ripen in a balanced fashion, producing stems with little sensory impact. By contrast, the Family Farm soils are deeper, and I do pick up green and menthol aromas and flavors from that barrel sample.
These are delicious, expressive, terroir-based wines. They’re even more amazing when you consider how relatively young Kevin’s custom-planted vineyards are at this point. The four San Mateo County vineyards–Family Farm, Alpine, Horseshoe and Skyline–were planted from 2001 to 2005. The Home Vineyard was originally planted in 1995, but in the case of that and the other vineyards, there have been some changes in clonal selections even since that time. For my prior report on a tour of the vineyards with Kevin, see http://www.rjonwine.com/california-wine/tour-rhys/ For more detail on the wines, individual vineyards, and Kevin and Jeff’s comments, see below:
As mentioned above, these are delicious Chardonnays. The Santa Cruz Mountains bottling is a blend of Horseshoe and Alpine barrels that didn’t make it into the vineyard designated wines–there’s more Horseshoe than Alpine in the mix. The malolactic fermentation of the Chardonnays was very slow, running from March to August. The Santa Cruz Mountains bottling is for earlier drinking–the vineyard designates should ideally have some bottle age. Jeff reports that the Chardonnays tend to show well when first bottled, then they tighten up for a year or so in the bottle. He says that’s the case for the Pinots as well. Between ’06 and ’07, they started picking earlier, and using less new oak on the Chardonnays. The Horseshoe and Alpine vineyards are only 300 yards apart, but have very different geological structures–with the Horseshoe being on 11 million year old Monterey shale as compared to the 3 million year old soils in the Alpine Vineyard. Here’s a brief clip of Jeff talking about how they’ve backed off on punch downs, and explaining how they decide when to bottle:
- 2009 Rhys Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Pre-release, bottled 5 weeks prior – light medium chartreuse yellow color with slight cloudiness; rich, ripe lemon, creamy, tart pineapple nose; rich, concentrated, tasty, creamy textured, mineral, ripe lemon palate; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
- 2009 Rhys Chardonnay Horseshoe Vineyard – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Pre-release (bottled 5 weeks prior) – light medium golden yellow color, a touch darker than the Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay; lovely lemon, floral, mineral, green herb nose; tasty, stunning, tart lemon, minerally, elegant, quince palate with body and depth but somehow weightless; long finish 94+ pts. (94 pts.)
- 2009 Rhys Chardonnay Alpine Vineyard – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Pre-release (bottled 5 weeks prior) – light medium golden yellow color; intriguing, saline, slightly earthy, tart lemon, powdery, lemon oil and rocks nose with a sense of green herb; tasty, stunning, minerally, rich but tart and poised lemon, quince, tart green apple palate, reminiscent of a Raveneau Chablis, needs 2-3 years; long finish (95 pts.)
We sampled six vineyard designate ’09 Pinots, one appellation bottling, and then the ’08 Alpine Vineyard. All were distinctive and complex. The vineyard designates are all quite impressive. Kevin said he found the ’09 vintage to be suave and sensual in texture and character. From this sample, and a few other ’09s I’ve tried, I would have to agree. The Bear Wallow Vineyard, from Anderson Valley, stands out for sheer lusciousness of fruit. It was formerly known as the Griffin and Horse Haven Vineyard, and contains 12-year-old vines planted to Dijon clones 115 and 777, along with Pommard. The Skyline barrel sample has an exotic flavor profile; the Alpine is creamy textured, with some green flavors; the Swan Terrace is elegant, and “Chambolle-like”; the Horseshoe, on the other hand, is intense and powerful, reminiscent of a Corton. Here’s a video clip of Kevin and Jeff talking about vineyard decisions they make, which ultimately influence the character of these wines.
- 2009 Rhys Pinot Noir Family Farm Vineyard – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, San Mateo County
Barrel sample – medium dark cherry red color with pale meniscus; big, menthol, sweet green herb, sweet green pepper nose with a touch of chocolate oak; tasty, smoky, tart cherry, tart black cherry, sweet green peppercorn, smoke palate with some menthol; medium-plus finish 92-94 pts. (100% whole cluster; 13.3% alcohol; 40% new French oak) (92 pts.)
- 2009 Rhys Pinot Noir Bearwallow Vineyard – USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
Barrel sample – dark purple red violet color; sweet, black cherry, ripe raspberry, cherry, sweet green herb nose; luscious, tasty, rich, tight, tart black cherry, black raspberry palate with sweet green herb; medium-plus finish 93-96 pts. (50% whole cluster; 13.2% alcohol; 10% new French oak; 1st year that Rhys team farmed the vineyard) (93 pts.)
- 2009 Rhys Pinot Noir Skyline Vineyard – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Barrel sample – medium dark purple red color with pale meniscus; big, spicy, Asian spice, tart black cherry, black raspberry nose, not showing stems; gorgeous, tasty, exotic, spicy, tart raspberry, black cherry, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 94-96 pts. (100% whole cluster; 13% alcohol) (94 pts.)
- 2009 Rhys Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Barrel sample – dark purple red violet color; big, tart black fruit, tar, menthol, smoke, deep nose; tight, tasty, smoke, charcoal, berry, green herb, green peppercorn palate; medium-plus finish 91-92+ pts. (100% whole cluster; 13.3% alcohol; fruit from Horseshoe and Alpine Vineyards) (91 pts.)
- 2009 Rhys Pinot Noir Alpine Vineyard – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Barrel sample – very dark purple red violet color; big raspberry, baked raspberry, sweet black fruit, plum nose with a touch of green herb; tight, creamy textured, greenish, gunpowder, ripe plum palate; medium-plus finish 92-94 pts. (100% whole cluster; 13.1% alcohol) (92 pts.)
- 2009 Rhys Pinot Noir Swan Terrace Alpine Vineyard – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Barrel sample – dark purple red violet color with pale meniscus; nice baked cherry, berry, black plum nose; tasty, poised, elegant, tight, black cherry, black raspberry palate; long finish 93-96 pts. (100% whole cluster; 12.7% alcohol) (93 pts.)
- 2009 Rhys Pinot Noir Horseshoe Vineyard – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Barrel sample – very dark purple red violet color; tight, coiled, intense, black raspberry, pepper, green pepper nose; intense, tight, powerful, ripe and tart black cherry, black raspberry, pepper palate, somewhat reminiscent of a Corton in its power and intensity; long finish 93-95 pts.(100% whole cluster; 13.3% alcohol) (93 pts.)
- 2008 Rhys Pinot Noir Alpine Vineyard – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Opaque purple red violet color; tar, espresso, smoke, olive, tart black fruit nose; tight, smoke, tart black fruit, tar palate, needs 4-5 years; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
- These are terrific Syrahs. Here’s a brief video with winemaker Jeff Brinkman’s take on these Syrahs, and how they’re basically the same (clones, rootstocks, winemaking) except for the site selection:
- 2009 Rhys Syrah Skyline Vineyard – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Barrel sample – dark black red violet color; lavender, subtle green herb, baked plum nose; tasty, rich, baked berry, black fruit, poised, plum palate with rather a diffuse finish at the moment; medium-plus finish 93-95 pts. (100% whole cluster; less than 10% new French oak) (93 pts.)
- 2009 Rhys Syrah Horseshoe Vineyard – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Dark black red violet color; tart black fruit, pepper, tar, charcoal nose; tasty, black pepper, black fruit, tar, charcoal palate; medium-plus finish 94-96 pts. (94 pts.)
Pyramid Valley Pinots
For more info on Pyramid Valley, see my prior post here: http://www.rjonwine.com/new-zealand-wine/pyramid-valley/
- 2008 Pyramid Valley Pinot Noir Angel Flower – New Zealand, South Island, Canterbury, Waipara
Bricking, slightly cloudy, medium dark red color with 10 millimeters clear meniscus; floral, tart red fruit, cranberry, green herb nose; light-medium bodied, tangy, cranberry, floral, hibiscus, earth palate with some back-end structure, but not a long ager; medium finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
- 2008 Pyramid Valley Pinot Noir Earth Smoke – New Zealand, South Island, Canterbury
Cloudy, bricking, medium dark red color with 5 millimeter clear meniscus; smoky, earthy, soy sauce nose; smoky, earthy, soy sauce, baked berry, brown spice palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)