The aromatic, flavorful, structured Syrahs from this small area southwest of Los Olivos invite comparisons to wines of France’s Northern Rhone. The aromatics, firm tannins and good balancing acidities particularly remind me of the wines of Rhone’s tiny Cornas appellation.
The cool climate, super long growing season and largely poor soils here facilitate the production of wines that potentially “have it all”: weight, body, richness, minerality and scintillating acidity. Winemakers elsewhere around the world would kill to have this combination of favorable conditions, making it possible to produce fine wines in just about any style a winemaker wants.
Andrew, one of the lucky few of us who found his life’s calling in the wine business even before he was old enough to buy wine legally, tells me he’s on a mission “to make better wines every year of my life.” With access once again to “estate vineyards,” where he will have more control over the viticulture and day-to-day management, as well as a larger facility for practicing his craft, I have no doubt he will continue to achieve that goal.
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.
West of West is the early August weekend wine festival devoted to wines made from grapes farmed on the far western coastline of Sonoma County. This year was the event’s third outing, and it was based in an ideal new location: Sebastopol’s spacious Barlow Event Center. All in all, it was one of the most enjoyable and well organized regionally focused wine events I’ve ever attended.
This was an exciting sampling that included many characterful and intensely flavored but balanced wines. Wines like those from BK Wines, First Drop, Ochota Barrels and Sami-Odi had singular and distinct “voices” that made me want to hear a lot more from those producers. Judging not only from my reaction but the general buzz in the room and discussions with colleagues afterwards, I think this event went a long way toward initiating the process of rebranding Aussie wines in this country.
What was noteworthy for me among the wines I tasted was a decline in the overripe versions of these wines that had come to dominate production over the last two decades. Due, I’m sure, to the relative coolness of the last few vintages in California, as well as to a conscious aim for higher acid, more balanced wines by an increasing number of winemakers here, I tasted many more balanced, lower alcohol Cabernets this year.