Lately we have spent much of the mid-winter checking in on wines we made several years ago. At times we are impatient to see how our Pinot Noir or Syrah or whatever develop because that information can inform what we do in the upcoming vintage (which is why we often taste verticals as harvest approaches). It was with great pleasure though, and patient savoring that we recently cracked a 2009 Nancie Sonoma County Chardonnay, our inaugural vintage (we recently uncorked our 2009 Pinot Noir too).
When first bottled, this wine was reticent if at once richly textured and crisply structured. Those mouth feel characteristics have been happily retained but the aromatics have begun to complexly open and develop in a way that expresses classic Chardonnay. The nose seems Californian with its riper tropical fruit but mixes in hints of wet stone and other “mineral” notes along with citrus and white peach. The palate continues to be where the wine shines and orients itself toward its cousins across the Atlantic. If you have any of 2009 Nancie Chardonnay left, check in on it with some fish or scallops, it won’t disappoint. It should also continue to nicely develop over the next several years.
With the impending release and bottling of the 2011 Two Brothers Pinot Noir, I (Tyler) recently dipped into my allocation to enjoy our inaugural vintage: 2009. The context was perfect: on a ski trip with a bunch of colleagues I have known since my genesis in this industry. The perfect crowd for constructive critique but the perfect setting for utter enjoyment after a day of skiing.
If you are like me, you’ve hoarded at least few bottles of this wine, and yet also have consumed more than you probably wanted. The latter fact is due to the wine’s delicious youthfulness. After reading this note you’ll likely wish you had more. Sadly the wine is very much sold out so grab hold of the 2011 while you can!
The 2009 Two Brothers is a classic for what we think Pinot Noir ought to be: perfumed with fruit and spice, layered, delicate, refined, quite youthful, supple, and finesse driven. Tart red fruit, cardamon, and hints of sweet spice pour from the glass. The wine demonstrates the paradox of light color, delicate texture, but utter depth and complexity. Think of it like lace: gentle, elegant, but intricate. Beyond all that flowery description it is just a darn good drink. The constructive critique confirmed this, and I can officially recommend pairing the wine with a long day of skiing!
Winemakers, what a life we live and what a job we have. As harvest approaches we hope to continue to use this platform to help you understand exactly what it means to “make” wine. Do we really just take Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, or Syrah, or whatever, crush it and let it go? Well, kind of; but like anything there is so much more that goes into it.
Would you believe that tasting verticals, the same wine over several vintages, helps you make better wine? At Donelan we believe “the best wines are not made but discovered and we take pride in the privilege of distilling for your pleasure the greatest qualities and natural variations in a vineyard and a variety.” Huh? Basically, we believe you need great fruit and you need to work to understand that fruit. We work with 14 different vineyards, make 4 single vineyard Syrahs (and maybe a Pinot soon!), and it is imperative to understand those vineyards.
So how do we do this? Many ways of course, but one way is to occasionally revisit the wine’s history. Enter tasting verticals which help a winemaker think about the “big picture” of a terroir prior to harvest. Then applying that taste information to the vintage standing on our doorstep: 2012.
Below is the Cote-Rotie-inspired Kobler Family Vineyard Syrah, 2003 through 2010. Continue reading
While reading C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian to my sons, I was struck by Lewis’s description of wine. It’s toward the end of the story; the big battle has been won andAslan the great Lion King is touring the Narnian countryside with a singing, dancing, joyous Bacchus and his revelers freeing the once oppressed Narnian creatures. They come upon the house of an ailing woman and Bacchus offers her a pitcher of water from an old well. Lewis writes:
“…but now it was not water but the richest wine, red as red-currant jelly, smooth as oil, strong as beef, warming as tea, cool as dew.”
While this may not strike you as an appealing wine, I appreciate the simple and broad way that the description captures a wine’s greatness and emphasizes its role. I agree with New York Times wine columnist Eric Asimov who a while back spoke of the “tyranny of the tasting note.” He observes that people feel pressured to “understand” a wine by dismantling it. This obligation to deconstruct the wine into “bee pollen” or “sexy smoke” detracts from the wine’s foremost purpose: pleasure. Don’t be intimidated by the tasting note or the need to create one. While understanding individual elements of a wine might be a sufficient condition to increase your pleasure, it certainly is not a necessary condition. Learning about wine is important, but writing a tasting note and understanding great quality are two different endeavors. Increase your pleasure by decreasing your anxiety.
This is not to say that tasting notes are useless or negative. Indeed, the desire to talk about what delights us seems inherent in our nature (I can go on for hours about my wife, my children, and baseball). How else can I tell you about Donelan Cuvee Christine Syrah except by attempting to tell you what in particular I enjoy in the wine (a seamless balance between cherry licorice, clove, cardamom, and silk)?
Yet I wonder if broad, overarching descriptions that carry an elegant simplicity and convey context communicate quality and pleasure more successfully? Our Rosé descriptor merely says “fresh, pink, delicious.” When I evaluate whether we’ve produced a very good wine or a wine of greatness, I don’t examine whether it has notes of cherry, or clove, or bee pollen, or any other specific descriptor to make my conclusion. I look for overall complexity, depth, texture, mouth feel, and the persistence of the wine as a whole after your sip. These elements in the right proportions (enough, but not too much) make up the greatest wines.
So in the context of merrymaking and good people, spring’s warmth or Narnian creatures, C.S. Lewis teaches us what we need to know about Bacchus’s wine: it delivers richness, smoothness, strength, warmth, and refreshment. Fill my glass with more that I may fill my belly and draw my pleasure!
Originally written and published for Smart Tastes.
How much you are using your nose? Sure you’re breathing, but how often do you notice the aromas you encounter on a daily basis? In the book Aroma: the cultural history of smell the authors make a compelling case that we have lost an appreciation for aromas in the West. We’ve become a de-odorized culture. Is there a case to be made for reversing this trend? I think so, and I think wine can help.
You might wonder “for what purpose?” Why have a greater appreciation for even the more pungent and foul aromas like gasoline, sewage, or body odor? As a winemaker who appreciates aromas on a daily basis for employment I wish I could make a passionate moral case that you will be a better person if you awaken your olfactory sense. But let’s face it, there is no such case. Yet there may be reasons that are motivating enough.