Sunday, March 13, 2016

La Paulee San Francisco 2016 - Featuring 2013 Burgundies

Another La Paulee is in the books. The 2016 edition roared through San Francisco to the delight of Burgundy lovers. The 3-hour (all-too-short) Grand Tasting focused on the 2013 vintage, and it did not disappoint. The reds and whites across the board showed clear and consistent vintage characteristics. For the reds, this meant tart acidity and sufficient ripeness and depth without overt over-ripeness, suppleness or fat of such recent years as 2009 and 2012. The whites were consistently excellent, with high acidities, citrus, minerality, crystalline purity, and loads of grip. The best reds I think came from higher cru's, which had a bit more flesh on the bones to balance out the high acidity of the year. Same with whites - the higher cru's with a bit more sweetness were well balanced by a level of freshness and purity rarely seen. I have generally recommended caution with 2013 whites, as this is a rather leaner, high-acidity vintage. The tasting did not change my mind, but it also confirmed that good producers made classic white burgundies from great terroirs. From my limited experience tasting the 2014 whites, that appears to be a much surer vintage across the board, with more flesh and slightly better balance. Yet, the 13's tasted here were beauties that will deliver pleasure over many years.

w/ Jean-Marie Fourrier
Overall, in terms of the entire lineups presented at the tasting, the most consistently delicious producers were Fourrier, Hudelot-Noellat, Drouhin, Chateau de la Tour, Bernard Moreau and Antoine Jobbard. Obviously it's hard to omit Roulot, Lafon , Dujac, Mortet, Lamy, Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey from this list, and they certainly poured excellent wines, some of which were among the very best, and I would be happy with any of their wines in my cellar, but they just didn't impress me across the board quite as much.

The top 3 reds of the tasting for me were Fourrier Clos St Jacques, Mortet Lavaux St Jacques, and Hudelot-Noellat RSV. Arnaud Mortet noted the lowering of new oak in his Lavaux in the last few vintages. I think the sleeker, slightly more angular style of 2013 also worked well in the wine, giving it a level of definition and elegance I hadn't seen since Arnaud took over. Among the whites, Bernard Moreau Grandes Ruchottes, Drouhin Batard, and Comtes Lafon Charmes were the most memorable.

Other notable reds were Domaine Jean Grivot Les Beaux Monts, Dujac Aux Combottes and Clos de la Roche, Chateau de la Tour (all wines), Lafon (Santenots), Hudelot-Noellat (Vosne villages, NSG Murgers), Jadot (Ursules), Drouhin (Chambolle 1er & Clos Vougeot), Camille-Giroud (Santenots), and Chandon des Briailles (Corton-Bressandes).

Other notable whites were Domaine Lamy (En Remilly), Paul Pillot (Grand Ruchottes & La Romanee), Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey (Chassagne Caillerets & Meursault Genevrieres), Roulot (the whole lineup), Antoine Jobbard (the whole lineup), Pierre Labet (of Chateau de la Tour -- Meursault Tillets), Mikulski (Poruzots, Goutte d'Or).

I must mention the wines of Nicolas Rossignol. They were very distinctive and obviously good quality, but they surprised me with high level of extraction and power, unparalleled at the tasting. The acidity of the year helped balance the wines. Still, I was taken aback by how potently concentrated and ripe they seemed, making me wonder about the alcohol level. Another interesting showing was from Benjamin Leroux, whose Volnay Clos de la Cave des Ducs was very pretty and distinctive and Clos St Denis tasted like a beautiful fruity Barbaresco, delicious but perhaps not exactly what I expect from a burgundy. A few people remarked how much they liked the wines of Grivot. Unfortunately, to me they were too reduced (full of meaty stink and coffee grinds) to appreciate, other than Vosne Beauxmonts which showed enough fruit underneath the mild stink to give a glimpse of future potential. Chandon de Briailles' lineup of two Pernand-Vergelesses and Corton Bressandes was very solid. Camille-Giraud's David Croix is getting much recognition these days in the wine community, but unfortunately only his Volnay Santenots showed well, while NSG Boudots and Clos Vougeot were just so-so for me.

And now, for reference, here are my rushed tasting notes. Apologies in advance for missing some of the wines and providing rather insufficient notes for many others. Although every two years I try to refine my tasting strategy and tactics, three hours is clearly not enough for this caliber of tasting. Oh well...

Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin vv - plush, fruity, delicious
Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin Les Gruenchers - spice, crunchy red fruits, silky
Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin Cherbaudes - long, perfumed, silky, tart and suave
Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St-Jacques - silky, plush, gorgeous hints of blueberry, cream, pepper, dark pine forest, great wine

Domaine Dujac Morey-St-Denis - savory, stem, nice and smooth, a hint of earth and leather
Domaine Dujac Morey-St-Denis 1er Cru - savory, tannic, quite tart with green peppercorns
Domaine Dujac Gevrey-Chambertin Aux Combottes - nice spice, more volume and precision, red fruits
Domaine Dujac Clos de la Roche - darker fruits, stems are evident but in a classy way, quite silky

w/ Jeremy Seysses of Domaine Dujac

Denis Mortet Fixin vv - creamy nose, creamy tart red fruit
Denis Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin Mes Cinq Terroirs - tart, silky, creamy
Denis Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru - plusher, fuller, suave, very nice
Denis Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin Lavaux St-Jacques - great, darker tone, perfect silkiness, great balance, new oak in 60-70% since 2011 or 2012.

Arnaud Mortet

Camille-Giroud Volnay Santenots - rich, very well balanced, dark fruits, spice, very nice
Camille-Giroud Nuits-St-Georges Aux Boudots - oak nose, toasty oak palate
Camille-Giroud Clos de Vougeot - very primary, good balance, but not special, just ok for me

w/ David Croix of Camille-Giroud

Drouhin Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru - silky smooth, very pretty, creamy, nice
Drouhin Clos de Vougeot - intense, pure, penetrating, balanced, some vanilla, very nice
Drouhin Batard-Montrachet - intense, zesty, oyster, grippy, long.

Veronique Drouhin-Boss

Grivot Vosne-Romanee - stinky, reduced, meaty nose, similar palate, like out of a can
Grivot Nuits-St-Georges Aux Boudots - tannic, stem, spice
Grivot Vosne-Romanee Les Beaux Monts - again reduced nose, but the palate is silk fruit, good intensity, very nice, other than reduction, long creamy aftertaste with lingering tannins and sweatness that comes on later.
Grivot Clos de Vougeot - oak, tart, tannic

Hudelot-Noellat Vosne-Romanee - whiff of vanilla nose. The palate - oooh very nice, clean, focused, balanced, nothing sticks out
Hudelot-Noellat Nuits-St-Georges Les Murgers - very smooth, nice spices, tannins, quite good
Hudelot-Noellat Vosne-Romanee Les Suchots - smooth, less focused than previous wines
Hudelot-Noellat Romanee-St-Vivant - excellent, feminine, delicate, silk and lace, sweet and perfumed, vanilla and flowers

Charles Van Canneyt of Domaine Hudelot-Noellat

Benjamin Leroux Volnay Clos de la Cave des Ducs - ooh, pretty mint spice, nice.
Benjamin Leroux Clos St Denis - beautiful fruit jam nose, reminds me of Barbaresco, similar on the palate - very Barbaresco-like, vanilla, tart creamy raspberries

Benjamin Leroux

Jadot Beaune Clos des Ursules - very good, deep, tannic, dark fruit, mint, I like it.
Jadot Corton Pougets - tart, meaty, sleek dark fruit, quite nice

Thibault Gagey of Louis Jadot and Resonance (Jadot venture in Oregon)

Chandon de Briailles Pernand-Vergelesses Les Vergelesses - quite nice, tart, sleek, but enough sweetness
Chandon de Briailles Pernand-Vergelesses Ile des Vergelesses - stem, riper and more suave
Chandon de Briailles Corton Bressandes - stem nose, dark, quite serious, long finish, I like it.
Chandon de Briailles Corton (blanc) - just ok, not memorable

Claude de Nicolay of Domaine Chandon de Briailles

Chateau de la Tour Clos Vougeot classique - perfume, great tannic palate, delicious fruit, structure.
Chateau de la Tour Clos Vougeot vv - focused, pure, intense, long, tighter than the classique
Pierre Labet Beaune Coucherias - sweet stems, perfume, vanilla, soft tannins, very nice
Pierre Labet Meursault Les Tillets - wow, great spice.

Francois Labet of Chateau de la Tour and Domaine Pierre Labet

Hospices de Beaune Pommard Epenots "Cuvee Dom Goblet" - meaty, reduced nose. Palate: plush fruit, quite silky
Hospices de Beaune Corton "Cuvee Charlotte Dumay" - soft, vanilla, hint of meat, very nice and tasty

Nicolas Rossignol Volnay Clos des Angles - sweet, intense, wow big wine!
Nicolas Rossignol Volnay Chevret - very stemmy, intense, wow tannic big wine!
Nicolas Rossignol Volnay Cailleret - meaty, more elegant, spicy, wow that's a long finish
Nicolas Rossignol Volnay Santenots - very intense, rich and ripe, meaty

Nicolas Rossignol

Lamy St Aubin Derriere Chez Edouard - orange and cream
Lamy St Aubin Les Frionnes - lemon/lime and slate
Lamy St Aubin Clos de la Chateniere - nose of spice, flower pollen and white pepper, long creamy finish
Lamy St Aubin En Remilly - more volume, slightly sweeter

Olivier Lamy

Bernard Moreau Chassagne-Montrachet -- ooh nice and sweet, really delicious
Bernard Moreau Chassagne-Montrachet Les Chenevottes - full, ripe, great acid, intense and flavorful
Bernard Moreau Chassagne-Montrachet La Maltroie - a bit fresher with floral spice, tons of perfume in my mouth, grippy
Bernard Moreau Chassagne-Montrachet Les Grandes Ruchottes - sweet, spicy, floral, intense, hint of honey, but fresh with lime acidity. Great.

Alexandre Moreau

Paul Pillot Chassange-Montrachet Clos St Jean - spice, stone, cream, very nice
Paul Pillot Chassagne-Montrachet Les Caillerets - stony, lime, tannic grip
Paul Pillot Chassagne-Montrachet Les Grand Ruchottes - mineral, grippy, high acid, consistent with vintage
Paul Pillot Chassagne-Montrachet La Romanee - intense mineral, fresh, really good

(2014) Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey St Aubin Chateniere - viscous, flowers, lime, stone, intense
Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Chassagne-Montrachet Les Ancegnieres - riper, cream, minerals
Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Chassagne-Montrachet Les Caillerets - more viscous, spicy, lime, cream, long finish
Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Meursault Les Genevrieres - honey, flowers, cream. I like the sweet and acidic combo. The honey really makes this stand out. Lovely.

w/ Pierre-Yves Colin

Roulot Bourgogne Blanc - intense, sweet, concentrated for the level
Roulot Meursault Meix Chavaux - straw, long mineral finish
Roulot Meursault Tesson Clos de mon Plaisir - sweet and mineral, grippy
Roulot Meursault Clos des Boucheres - spice, grippy, sweet.

w/ Jean-Marc Roulot

Comtes Lafon Meursault - nice, rich and full
Comtes Lafon Meursault Clos de la Barre - flowers, lime, perfume in my mouth
Comtes Lafon Meursault Charmes - nose of straw. Wow, intense, pure, expands in my mouth. Cream, perfect balance, big step up from Clos de la Barre.
Comtes Lafon Volnay Santenots-du-Milieu - spice, nice grip, intense and focused. Good.

Dominique Lafon

Antoine Jobbard Meursault En la Barre - intense, iodine
Antoine Jobbard Meursault Blagny - same style as above
Antoine Jobbard Meursault Poruzots - similar, intense chalk, creamy aftertaste
Antoine Jobbard Meursault Genevrieres - sweet

Thierry & Pascale Matrot Meursault Charmes - a lot of spice, rather ripe and spicy
Pierre Matrot Puligny-Montrachet Les Chalumeaux - really ripe and spicy, almost painfully

Francois Mikulski Meursault Poruzots - delicious
Francois Mikulski Meursault Charmes - high acid
Francois Mikuslki Meursault Goutte d'Or - grip, intense lime and mineral

Truly an embarrassment of riches, so to speak, the 2013 vintage gave us many delicious wines which don't seem to need a very extended cellaring. Already showing well, perhaps a few more years will better meld the fruit and acid.

(The 2014 coverage of the 2011 vintage two years ago was documented here.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

La Paulee 2016 coming to San Francisco

This year the much heralded La Paulee event comes back to San Francisco (last year was in New York), with the focus on 2013 vintage in Burgundy. It really needs no advertisement, the event tends to be fully booked, regardless of the lofty admission price tags, because of the quality of wineries and wines showcased there, and the grandeur of the events. I will be attending the grand tasting for the 4th time in a row, and this tends to be my most memorable wine event of the year, and the opportunity to taste once-in-a-lifetime burgundies and rub elbows with gods of the wine world. Last time in SF (in 2014) featured the 2011 vintage and was covered here.

I will point out a couple of lesser known events in the week-long La Paulee program. The Off Grid tasting and the Roulot Play.

The Off Grid "Tasting of Burgundy's Hidden Gems" event showcases 50 wineries from Burgundy's less premium appellations and up-and-coming winemakers, along with small plates from SF's trendy restaurants. For more info, click here.

The Roulot Play is unexpectedly a theater act by one of Burgundy's preeminent winemakers - Jean-Marc Roulot, who also happens to be an accomplished actor. He will be starring in Meursault Les Luchets 2011, A Play by Jean-Marc Roulot. This sounds cool! See details here.

Enjoy! And hope to see you there!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Rombauer Vineyards

I don't always drink new-world Chardonnay, but when I do, it's Rombauer! Stay thirsty, my friends!

kidding... kidding...

My palate gravitates toward French, Italian, and German. For whites - white burgundy - Chardonnay that expresses fruit, minerals and cooler climate of Côte de Beaune (Burgundy, France) and Chablis in a leaner, higher acidity, and dare I say, a more nuanced way that challenges many American palates. Polar opposite of Rombauer. Rombauer is colloquially known as everyone's mother's favorite Chardonnay - a rich, sweetly, buttery, and approachable California Chardonnay, a style that huge number of domestic consumers adore. I rarely make it to Napa anymore, but recently when I got an invitation for a press tasting and tour at Rombauer, I cast my personal preconceived notions aside, and decided to learn more about what makes Rombauer a public's darling, with 100,000 cases of their "house-style" Carneros Chardonnay sold each year. It's polarizing - on one side are wine geeks for whom Rombauer is a symbol of what's wrong with New World wine. On the other side are consumers who just love the taste at the price they can afford, without necessarily the need for intellectual intrigue of Old World, or the prestige, exclusivity and price tag of California top "cult" producers (like Kistler, Marcassin, etc). Keeping an open mind, and after having tasted Rombauer Chardonnay before, and again at this event, I find it an unapologetically rich and oaky style, and I think it represents "sweet spot" (pun intended) value $$-wise. I respect that. I could see enjoying a glass of Rombauer Chardonnay by itself or with buttered lobster or heavier fried foods that can stand up to the caramelized fruit and oak flavors - a slutty, guilty pleasure. In fact, tasting their four Chardonnays, I couldn't help but imagine I was drinking liquified buttered lobster. It turned out to be the wrong imagery because a few days later when paired with lobster roll from Lobsta Shack, the Rombauer all but overwhelmed it.

Frankly, having a whole meal with the 2014 Rombauer Carneros Chardonnay initially seemed like a good idea, for about 1 glass. After that I couldn't go on. The (14.5%) alcohol, heft, and the sweet caramel / butterscotch really tired out my palate long before the dinner ended. A bit too young obviously, I expect with age the oak flavors would integrate better. Some of my friends who love Rombauer told me they love drinking it without food.

At Rombauer I learned that their Cabernets are also of solid quality but seem to be made in less opulent style than the Chardonnays. They too are value in the category of premium Napa Cab.

The tasting and tour began with Richie Allen greeting the press with a glass of 2015 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. Very fresh expression, a good start. Richie is the director of viticulture and winemaking since 2013, after he had worked his way up through the ranks of Rombauer, starting as a harvest-time intern in 2004. They have 2 more winemakers, but Richie is the boss now. Originally from Australia, he is extremely enthusiastic and passionate about Napa Valley and his employer.

The owner, "KR" Rombauer (Koerner Rombauer III), son of the founder Koerner Rombauer, showed up with his dog. He explained his family had moved to Napa valley in 1972, and been in wine business ever since. His dad's great aunt, Irma Rombauer was the author of the internationally-renowned Joy of Cooking cookbook, perhaps the most famous American cookbook of all time! Originally partners in Conn Creek winery, the Rombauers founded Rombauer Vineyards in 1980, and over the years have been expanding their holdings to support the enormous appetite of American public for their Chardonnay. His philosophy: "Understand what customers like, and what customers love. Make wines their customers love."

All wines were opened for ~1-2hrs prior.

1. 2015 Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc, 14.2%. 10% neutral (5yr old) French oak, pick in August (cooler site) bottle in Dec. Very classical grass and lime, some glycerol but not thick, actually quite fresh and elegant, good acidity, and not hot despite the alcohol in the 14% range. $24. Quite good quality. Richie recommends drinking this from Spring 2016 while young.

For reds, 40% of 2013 Napa Valley cab and all reserve cabs are barrel fermented and barrel aged in new French oak. The red varietals are partly barrel fermented for richer, deeper, rounder profile. Richie would have them all that way, but he is constrained by time, resources, space, etc. Barrel fermentation approach is extremely labor intensive, as it requires turning barrels by hand frequently during fermentation. He talks a lot about relentless focus on the quality, sorting, types of barrels and how key they are to the quality and style of their wines. Clearly at Rombauer, Chardonnay is the claim to fame, but Richie is very serious and excited about their reds program as well.

Then we head to the chilly caves dug in the side of the mountain abutting the production facility where hundreds of barrels are resting. Here we have a taste of Merlot. A bit too cold. Everything is so pristine, without the spittoon I can't gather the courage to spit on the ground. So I take a small sip and savor it in my mouth for a long time, before finally swallowing.

2. 2012 Rombauer Carneros Merlot - 86% merlot, clay soil, small amount of barrel fermented. Chocolate, ink, smoke/tar, black cherry / blackberry. Quite good. Not heavy, not thick, quite lively actually. $35

Back at the main facility, we continue with a sit-down portfolio tasting of Rombauer Chardonnays, Cabernets, and Zinfandels.

3. 2014 Rombauer Carneros Chardonnay (house-style) ripe pineapple coconut vanilla nose (Pina Colada). Heavy rich full body, very viscous, spice, a lot of melted popcorn butter, caramel, butterscotch. Recommended started drinking 2 years in. Low acidity. Really begs for lobster with butter, but in actuality turns out a better match with coconut-popcorn shrimp. KR Rombauer recommends cellaring for 7-10 yrs for aged flavor. 100k cases. 1/3rd new oak. 14.5%

4. 2014 Rombauer Buchli Station Chardonnay more lifted nose. A bit lighter in profile, more refined and citrusy, but otherwise similar. Longer finish. 120 cases. 50% new oak, mostly French. 14.6%. This was my favorite of all the Chardonnays.

5. 2014 Rombauer Home Ranch Chardonnay lifted citrus again on the nose, sweet flower pollen. Spicy minerals more evident on the palate. Verbena? (Aloe spice?) Quite spicy finish. Sweet caramel & flower spice. Heavier and slightly less acidity than Buchli. 14.6%. 120 cases

6. 2014 Rombauer Proprietor Selection similar. A lot of thickness, viscosity. It's solid underneath, but why this much sweetness? 800 cases. Recommend drinking 4-5yrs.

Then come the Cabs.

7. 2013 Rombauer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - crushed stones, spice, well balanced, deep but not thick or heavy. Tannic. 12k cases

8. 2012 Rombauer Diamond Selection Cabernet Sauvignon - tannic, clean & spicy. 1500 cases

9. 2012 Rombauer Atlas Peak Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - smoother & sweeter, graphite, but still tannic. 250 cases

10. 2012 Rombauer Stice Lane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - quite grapy (welsh's grape juice), unsweetened chocolate, crushed gravel. 250 cases

11. 2012 Rombauer Le Meilleur du Chai "Best of the Cellar" blend (75% cab) - tannic, dark, still not super dense (which I appreciate), inky. 250 cases.

The Chardonnays are poster-boy Cali Chard, full of richness and brute-force sex appeal. If that is the style you like, I think the quality is solid and they are a relative value at $30+/btl for the Carneros Chardonnay (wine-searcher pricing) and $65 for the single-vineyard and reserve cuvees sold at the winery. The cabs are more restrained but are also well made and represent value, in the range of $35-100/btl, possessing a consistent, intense but not heavy style with some strong fine tannin, relatively light on their feet, not thick texture, crushed gravel & graphite. Solid stuff.

We were also served 3 different Zinfandels with lunch. They paired nicely with duck confit smothered with lentils and roasted dry fruit jam. I recall Fiddletown Zin was particularly satisfying in a sweet and juicy kind of way.

And finally, a rare and quite tasty bottle of 2011 vintage Zin Port from El Dorado County, which is Richie's pet project, currently not commercially available.

Bottomline - good quality, good value. Matter of style. Chardonnay is a bombshell Napa. I asked Richie if he had tried making them without oak, just as an experiment, and he replied "I like my toast buttered." There you have it. At 100,000 cases of their "house" Carneros Chardonnay made and sold each year, the public clearly agree.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Dunn Petite Sirah

When I started covering Dunn Vineyards few years back, they seemed to be a classic winery, kind of left in the past, unpretentious, un-marketed, appreciated mainly by wine geeks. I immediately fell in love with the wines, and wrote about them with great enthusiasm and appreciation on this blog. In the last couple of years, the famous critics seemed to have re-discovered Dunn, bestowed raving articles and high scores upon them, and the winery now enjoys more prestige and buzz, which in my opinion they duly deserve. I am proud to have jumped on the Dunn band-wagon earlier, and happy to see that Mike Dunn has not let the recent recognition go to his head. Still the same down-to-earth, easy-going man that makes you feel comfortable whenever you sit down with him at the Dunn's family home in Angwin (Howell Mountain). Unfortunately, alas, prices expectedly are up, though still far below other top cabs.

In January, I made a trek over there to pick up my case of 1998's - one of my favorite Dunn vintages, both Napa Valley and Howell Mountain, and to catch up with Mike. He surprised me with a mini-vertical of Dunn's little-known Petite Sirah, made in classical Dunn style by Randy in the stretch of 4 vintages - 1992-1995, and practically forgotten in the cellars until about 10 years ago, when they decided to dust them off and offer to select customers. With only a few cases now remaining from the original production of approximately 150 cases, these are very rare bottles. Just like the Dunn cabs from the 90's, Dunn's Petite Sirah is very different from what I have come to expect from that varietal in California, which usually delivers heavy, jammy, thick fruit and high alcohol. In the hands of Randy Dunn, these wines produced from the Park Muscatine vineyard near their house show savory, dark, tarry mountain fruit, lithe body, great acidity, low alcohol, and grippy tannins, quite serious albeit more rustic than the cabs. Even at 20+ years, they seem to need another 10 to mellow out, not totally surprising given that Petite Sirah is known for being a very structured, tannic grape, often blended in to reinforce Zinfandel. Would have never guessed this was Petite Sirah though - an impressive effort.

In 2003 Mike got Randy to agree to let him make his own wine. So Randy handed the Petite Sirah Park Muscatine vineyard to Mike, who proceeded to make wine from the same good old vineyard and the same good old vines under his own Retro Cellars label. So it was fascinating to taste the 2003-2005 vintages of the Petite Sirah right next to Randy's original 1993-1995. It appears when Mike was getting started on his own, he went into higher level of ripeness and alcohol, but the more recent vintages of Retro Cellars Petite Sirah pulled the alcohol and ripeness back down to 12-13%, and I recall them being more drinkable and closer to the classical Dunn style.

Tasting (wines were opened 1 hour prior)

1993 Dunn Howell Mountain Petit Sirah (13.6%)
Very restrained. High acid, tannic, fresh, foresty, herbs, zesty, pretty

1994 Dunn Howell Mountain Petit Sirah (13.6%)
Fresh zesty nose. Smoother tannins, herbs but not herbaceous

1995 Dunn Howell Mountain Petit Sirah (13.6%)
More powerful, sweeter, orange peel, good acid, smooth tannin, old leather. I tasted it the next day again. It didn't smell quite as "old". Zesty peppercorns, tart plums, olives (briny and leathery), still tannic and tight (not super aromatic). With braised beef, this was singing! Then after pouring off to a half bottle (3/4 of 375ml filled) and keeping it refrigerated, a week later it was still going strong when paired with rare New York steak which brought out the earthy tones of the wine. That's Dunn DNA! It suggests that the wine is still about 10 years away from its peak.

Next, Mike's wines. The key to making good Petite Sirah, according to Mike, is the right kind of oak barrel, with tight grain, that serves to soften the tannins without imparting much wood flavor.

2003 Retro Cellars Howell Mountain Petite Sirah (14.4%) plum liqueur, a hint of brandy, herbs, leather, loads of tannin, acid

2004 Retro Cellars Howell Mountain Petite Sirah (14.2%) - riper, smokier, cumin, tannic, pepper, probably would be great w/ Chilli.

2005 Retro Cellars Howell Mountain Petite Sirah (14.3%) - ripe, very tannic, herbs, sweet plums, cherries, chocolate.

Petite Sirah is a lot more work to farm, says Mike, and it is not a great business, doesn't sell as well as other varieties, especially when he charges ~$40-45/bottle to justify the effort he puts in. He plans to reduce production from ~1000 cases down to 400. It was a great way originally for him and his wife to venture out on their own, but now Mike feels he is happy to invest more of his energy elsewhere. Interestingly, the nursery that supplied the original vines for the Park Muscatine vineyard must have accidentally included some genetic ancestors of Petite Sirah -- Syrah and Peloursin, the latter being a very rare variety now. There is apparently enough of it found in the vineyard that Mike will actually bottle some - a hoot for wine geeks!

Bonus bottle

2011 Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet (13.9%) opened 4 days prior, about half full now. Hint of zesty roasted bell pepper, delicious velvety fruit, like a rich velvety borscht, unsweetened chocolate, tannins, with very fragrant red fruit and zesty herbs, fantastic food wine, fine tannins, tart zesty finish. Should be great with time (10yrs+). Finished the bottle the following day. Mineral dust, rich velvety roasted root vegetables, caramelized tomato, pomegranate, unsweetened cherry extract, herbs, hint of chocolate. Happy to have two hand-signed mags of this in the cellar for my son's birth-year collection.

Great visit, as always. Thank you Mike and Randy!

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