Ernst and Guillaume have at least a few things in common. They’re the same age–34. Both are drawn as much to farming and viticulture as they are to making wine. Both have “day jobs” at large wineries and make only small quantities of wine under their own labels as a side project. Both impress one as very grounded, and quite serious about their work. Nonetheless, the two are also undeniably charismatic. Ernst has even been the subject of a couple of mini-documentaries to date. Both also have a penchant for wearing shorts.
The major stars of the tasting for me, with strong lineups overall and one or more wines rating 93 points or higher, were Bien Nacido, Benovia, Chateau Montelena, Grgich Hills, Herb Lamb, Kaena, Keenan, Ladera, Lagier Meredith, Lamborn Family, L’Aventure, Ottimino, Paloma, Saxon Brown, Seavey, Thomas Fogarty and Vino Noceto.
Based on last week’s tasting of 72 wines from this appellation, I am happy to report this region is definitely starting to fulfill its promise as a source of characterful, balanced and terroir-driven wines—from flavorful Chardonnay and Viognier to minerally and complex Pinot Noir and Syrah. I was, in fact, thoroughly delighted with the wines overall.
Terry’s Estate Selections and the sparkling wines and Champagnes from the WineWise Portfolio that were presented at the tasting event I attended in mid-October include most of the great grower producers: Vilmart, Pierre Péters, H. Billiot, Chartogne-Taillet, Gaston Chiquet, Henri Goutorbe, Jean Milan, Marc Hébrart, A. Margaine and Pierre Gimonnet. These great Champagnes, represented in many cases by the winemaker or a member of the family that owns and runs the domaine, were poured alongside a variety of other sparkling wines. In all, I tasted 87 sparkling wines from 25 producers at this event. These were impressive wines across the board, and a very strong group of producers.
I’ve become rather fascinated with Lake County these days. It’s California’s newest region, with a bunch of brand new sub-appellations, and it’s all a little mysterious yet. I’ve made three trips to Lake County over the last few years, but found it difficult to get a real handle on the area from those visits–in part because of the long driving distances between sub-appellations. There are only a tiny handful of producers that were around even 20 years ago–most of them have gotten started in the last 10 years. I was therefore very much looking forward to this event as a chance to compare a wide array of Lake County producers.
What I tasted that particularly stood out for its quality, however, were whites made from Viognier and Chardonnay, and reds from Bordeaux varietals. There were some quite decent Cabernet Francs, Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots and Bordeaux blends that could give most Bordeaux superieur and the like a good run for their money. And as I’m a fan of Petit Verdot when it gets fully ripe, I was quite excited about some varietal bottlings of Petit Verdot, and other wines where the grape made up a substantial component of the blend. And most of the Bordeaux varietal bottlings I tried had good balancing acidity.
The summery theme for our July Euro Lunch was sparkling wines from throughout Europe with the exception of Champagne. We excluded Champagne so as to give more focus to our theme, and to afford ourselves the opportunity to taste and compare some of the wonderful Cavas, sparkling Loire and Jura wines, and fizzy Italians that are out there, among others. As usual, our chef at Donato, Pedro Ayala, did an outstanding job of pairing very creative dishes to our wines. The result was a delightful summer afternoon of bubbles and flavor that made me thankful for the felicitous combo of summer weather and sparkling wine, as well as for wonderful wine-loving friends to enjoy them with.