July 26, 2018 13:54
I consider myself lucky being here in the wine country. Invitations for tastings like the Cabernet Sauvignon Round Up hosted at Passalacqua Winery featured mostly Dry Creek Valley Cabernets with a sprinkling of some ‘outsiders’ from the Alexander, Russian River and Napa Valleys.
I tasted through Cabernets ranging from a 2011 vintage to 2015 with a library 2007 thrown in for good measure as well as a magnum. It was a wide-ranging field for the King of Red Wines. I sipped and spit my way through 33 of them and came across some favorites. And to be fair I will not be ‘naming names’ because I didn’t take extensive notes (I was 'speed tasting') and because I wanted to just take notes about Cabernet Sauvignon without the brand being a thing.
The first wine that stood out to me was the one from the 2011 vintage. This was a cooler vintage and in fact it rained on a lot of Cabernet as most of the fruit wasn’t ready to be picked and had to wait out the rain, the ensuing mud and we all wanted it to ripen up a bit more before taking in the grapes. This one had what I thought was the perfect ‘dried cherry’ center. It was the lightest in color of all the others, wasn’t overwhelmed by new oak and when tasted left the most pleasant cherry essence. I immediately thought it would pair well with grilled salmon. The second wine that claimed my palate was a 2013 from an area of Dry Creek Valley that is quite steep. It had all the qualities I look for in Cabernet-it had dark fruits like plum and berry but tinged by a touch of tannin which balanced with the correct acidity. I thought of a pork chop and mushroom sauce.
A third from the 2015 vintage seemed to embrace the personality of the vineyard, located mid-valley, and featured the concentration this vintage is known for (the drought reduced production and the resulting wine, without enough rain, showed intense fruit). With that in mind I paired this with tri tip and roasted potatoes.
One from 2014 kept drawing another sniff of the glass. Concentrated like the 2015 vintage it was softer and more supple with those dark fruits showing through like boysenberry pie. This would go well with prime rib or a t-bone steak.
Others reflected oak notes both big and bold as well as soft and muted. Overall I could detect that bit of rotundone (think peppery) in most of them-except for the 2015s which were the most concentrated. That hint of herb defines Dry Creek Valley Cabernet for me and sets it apart from other appellations that are warmer and to the east of us. I appreciated the chance to taste and compare.
September 28, 2017 07:16
The theme of harvest this month includes the end of harvesting grapes but the cellar crew doesn’t consider harvest over until the last tank of wine has been fermented and pressed and sent to rest and await barreling in the winter. The process of fermentation, which transforms the sugar in the grapes to alcohol through a little chemical magic utilizing yeast, is the beginning of wine. The vineyards have done their work growing the grapes but once they are in the tank it is the winemaking crew that begins the transformation from a sticky mass of juice and berries to new wine.
We use temperature controlled stainless steel tanks to hold the must-which is a combination of the juice, skins and seeds transferred from the crush pad. If the grape is a white varietal like Sauvignon Blanc the must goes directly to press where the skins and seeds aren’t needed and then is transferred to tank for fermentation. Red wine grapes like Zinfandel go directly past the press and into the tanks. In the case of both white and red grapes the must rests for 24-48 hours to chill before yeast is introduced to begin the fermentation. This gives it time to cool down and the importance of this is to slow the process down to give time to the actual fermentation. Akin to a race horse, the juice is raring to get out of the gate and finish-which doesn’t allow for development of flavors. The winemaking team chooses the right yeast for the right grape in order to get the best out of the grape.
Another way to get the flavor developed is to pump over the cap. The skins and seeds naturally rise to the top of the tank so the juice is pumped up and over the cap-kind of like the immersion of a tea bag where you get more color and flavor when immersed. This occurs every day until fermented dry-every last ounce of sugar is converted to alcohol.
Some wines go through the secondary fermentation called malo-lactic fermentation. Quick definition: malic acid is similar to tart green apple, lactic acid is similar to butter. Sauvignon Blanc and our Rose do not go through this process but part of our barrel fermented Chardonnay does and all red wines do. The reason? This secondary process softens the wine and instead of rustic rough edges you'll have one with smoother mouthfeel (or palate appeal).
Now that we are finished with the fermentation the next stop is the press (for red wines) to remove the skins and seeds. The resulting mass is called pomace. It is taken up to the vineyard to 'season' for a year and then we add it back to the soil. Now we're done with harvest-in real time it will be mid-October before the final pressing. Until then I'll toast this harvest with a splash of Sauvignon Blanc!
September 28, 2017 07:07
Harvest for us started on August 25 with Pinot Noir from one of our growers. Estate harvesting began on August 28 for our Sauvignon Blanc. The last grapes in were Cabernet Sauvignon from the Three Vineyards block on September 28. Just over 5 weeks and we crammed quite a few grapes into tanks during that time. I asked Montse Reece to sum up this year-her 11th harvest at Pedroncelli, in three words. "Heatwave, concentration, and good." She continued, “The rain during the growing season helped restore nutrients in the vines, so I am seeing intense colors and aromatics across all varieties. The heatwave on the Labor Day weekend only affected our zinfandels, lowering yields but concentrating the already high phenols (color+aromas). Overall a good harvest season.” We have seen many harvests here at Pedroncelli. Our goal is to showcase the best of the vintage. This year had its challenges and we met them as they came along. It’s what farmers do. Now onto the next stage of the wine's journey as they ferment and settle in the cellar. The vines will rest now and enter their dormant phase readying themselves for what the next growing season will bring. I'll celebrate with a splash of Mother Clone Zinfandel in my Dino!
September 28, 2017 07:01
The last five weeks have been filled with exciting weather patterns from the 112 degree heat wave over Labor Day Weekend to the cooler weeks following with a few heat spikes. Natural for September-we’ve seen it all before. As farmers we all need to be prepared for weather challenges. Usually it is rain that we worry about but the heat spike that came just 7 days after the first grapes were harvested at Pedroncelli was reminiscent of a nearly identical one in 2010. We lost nearly half of our Zinfandel that year because the heat spike came at the end of a very cool summer. This year we had a hot July followed by a temperate August. Then September roared in with heat blazing. The vines and grapes felt the heat and we employed drip irrigation to give the vines much needed hydration. Many vineyards including ours did suffer from loss of juice due to dehydration especially in the Zinfandel vineyards. The crew picked the Mother Clone Zinfandel as fast as they could and dealt with shorter days due to the excessive heat. While it wasn’t as intense as the 2010 heat wave it had its’ effect. Loss of juice translates to a higher concentration of flavor in the wine-and Zinfandel was most affected because it was closest to being ready. While it is a bit early to tell, Lance Blakeley, Vineyard Manager, estimates a 25% loss for our Zinfandel production. Many other red varietals weren’t as affected because they still had some ripening to do. This one is in the books at the end of September. I am looking forward to trying this Zinfandel in a few years to see the effects of this harvest year.
May 25, 2017 12:01
As we move through our 90th anniversary year we are taking some of our cellared wines from the library and giving them some consideration. Many are 20, 30 and 40 years old. Today we are celebrating National Wine Day (May 25). I thought I’d discuss my experiences of tasting some of our older wines, a few of them in great condition and others have gone over the wine colored rainbow bridge.
With this in mind I found, for the most part, our Cabernet Sauvignons have held their ground in the world of cellar aging. The 1966 I tasted last night was a bit tired in the aroma department and once tasted I think actually held onto some of its’ youth with touches of tobacco, a bit of acidity and tannin, overall very soft. At this point, for many wine lovers and fans, this wine has joined the ‘over the hill’ gang but I am still fascinated by the longevity—51 years old!
A 1977 Cabernet Sauvignon fared a bit better-and coming from a drought period. The wine still captured the fruit and acidity with a bit more concentration from the lower yield influenced by drought that year. With a bit of zestfulness it holds as one of the best from an uneven decade and did well in my opinion. Not for the faint of heart and certainly something you want to pour and serve almost immediately-the more aeration the faster the bouquet disappears and my advice is not to linger.
Our 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon is a good example of a well-aged wine at 22 years old. It had life left including fruit framed by still-present tannins and hints of warm toasty oak, although the tannins had softened up and acidity provided the tart palate. Predictions of a Cabernet worthy of aging, based on the growing season that year, proved right. Decanting the wine would not be required, drink up because older wines don’t last into the next day.
Heading into the first decade of the new millennium the Cabernets of this period tend to be doing well with plenty of aging capability left. The 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon shows fruit over tannin, beautiful toasted oak and acidity frame the wine. Decanting at this stage in the aging game would be recommended.
Take a look around your stash and don’t wait too long to enjoy the fruits of your cellar. You don’t have to reach into your cellar (closet, garage, wine refrigerator) for an older wine. Enjoy a glass of your favorite today. Pair with whatever you are having, from a quick weeknight meal to after dinner reflection. Post photos using #NationalWineDay on your favorite social media channel. A toast in my Dino with a splash of 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon!
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