Knock, Knock, Knockin’
I feel like a marked man. The circumstances were not extraordinary; I was checking in on the progress of a wine that had only been in the bottle a few months (since February this year), trying to get a fix on how well it had recovered from the shock of being compressed into 750ml glass, under a cork. It usually takes six months to a year for most red wines to reassemble themselves sufficiently, so that some sort of accurate evaluation is possible (See Organolepticians #50). The 2003 Bassetti Vineyard Syrah can probably still use a few months for everything to really come into focus, enough, at least, to get a sense of how long it needs, before it’s singing its most heart-rending passages (hey—it’s Italian, right?? Rhymes with Donizetti!). The color is ravishing, the kind of blue-crimson that seems like it must lead to the heart of passion itself. The nose is an ocean of purity, and sweetness of expression, in the most elegant and graceful manner that one can imagine. And when the wine enters one’s mouth, as lovely and flawless as each sensation presents itself, it quickly becomes apparent that this is a wine made out of solid steel. There is no bottom to this wine, that can be perceived at this early hour. The structure is not large, but, rather, unyielding, despite the beautiful aromas, of violet, pepper, framboise, smoke, and blood.
Perhaps you recall the 2001 Bassetti. It was a wine, as critic Stephen Tanzer (The International Wine Cellar) described it, “not for the faint of heart.” (Or something like that.) It’s been pronounced, by a few pundits with the credentials to make you think about it, one of the best Syrahs ever made in California. It’s been compared to Hermitage, Cote Rotie, Cornas, by people who know those wines reasonably well. It’s a wine with a great, long future ahead of it; I’d guess it might show at its finest in, perhaps, another 10-12 years, or thereabouts. Well… I’ll be 70 in 12 years, if my luck holds out. I feel some confidence that I’ll taste the ’01 at it’s peak. But my impression, checking in with the ’03, (back there in the first paragraph) is that this is a wine that will very likely live quite a bit longer than I do.
I’ve been in this business since 1972, and have been blessed (or the other, depending on your viewpoint) with some ability to estimate, with some accuracy, the aging capabilities of wines. I think it’s a highly intuitive enterprise, and that seems to be something for which I have a good feel. Back when I began, the most prized wines, at least among those interested in the concept, were those which could age and develop (and improve) over a long period of time. The years that produced the French wines capable of improvement in bottle over the longest span of time from the 20th century were, according to the experts, 1929, 1945, and 1961. Many of those wines are still improving. A lot of people say the ’61s are ready to go. I don’t know—I haven’t had any for quite awhile (over 20 years). I had a ’45 Lafite in 1980, and it seemed to me to be, at age 35, perhaps 35 years too young to be drinking just yet. This ain’t rocket science. But I’ve never before tasted a wine at a time in my life when it seemed to me that I would not still be around when the wine had reached its pinnacle of development. I don’t know if I’m right, but that’s the way it seems to me, and it certainly gives me pause. (I wrote about this wine back around Hallowe’en in 2003, and knew it would be a keeper, but didn’t quite imagine, as it flowed from the press, just how long the keeping might be.)
Cornelia and I have a grandson, Aidan, born at the end of February in ’03, and I’d venture to guess that by the time he has children in middle school, or maybe high school, the ’03 Bassetti will be breathtaking to behold! In the years between now and then, I hope to give young Aidan something good to hold onto about his Grandpa. Perhaps, then, if he drinks an ’03 Bassetti with his son or daughter on a 21st birthday, the wine will give just that much more pleasure.
We released a couple of other wines on September 1 that may pique your interest. Our third vintage of Bone-Jolly, the 2004, is the most dramatic so far. There’s a level of intensity to the ’04 that leaves the previous two editions in the dust. Mark you, they were good wines, and I’ve enjoyed every drop of them that’s passed down my gullet. But there’s vibrancy and nerve in the ’04 that will swivel your head around on your neck when you try it. It’s a wine that will reward a bit more patience. AND… it’s juicy as all get-out! Even in Beaujolais, some crus will see years when the wines behave more like their big brothers to the North, and demand some time to evolve in bottle, offering the complexity of very fine Burgundy. In California the analogies are not so obvious; Pinot Noir here is just beginning to find out what it might be, and nobody else is making real Gamay.
How does it taste? You’ll find a noseful of violets, the fruit of blueberry, cranberry, raspberry, a dash of pepper. The flavors are sweet and focused, and the acidity keeps it long and lively. Charcuterie, sausage, cheeses, rabbit fricassee—it makes them all sing.
Then there’s the Roussanne we made from Tablas Creek Vineyard grapes. The term minerality has become the hot new wine buzzword, and it’s worth thinking about; it’s perhaps a synonym, in a way for the other buzzword: terroir. If you taste the ’04 Roussanne the significance of the term will make itself apparent. Minerality is a character perceived in a wine that suggests, by smell and taste, the soil in which the vines grew and produced grapes. The Roussanne at Tablas Creek grows in fractured Cretaceous-Era limestone, and the aromas and flavors in the wine evoke the smell of the ocean, and the shells and bones that litter the floor of the sea. It’s a bracing, refreshing, enlivening character that makes one sit up and take notice when such a wine comes into contact with the olfactory system. What we have here is a study in the tension between richness and nerve. As white wines go, this is going to be a keeper; I’d expect an easy 12-15 year aging trajectory to a peak, and an 8-10 year plateau beyond that. Maybe this will outlive me, too.
2003 Syrah Bassetti Vineyard Syrah (150 cases produced)$40.002004 Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir (460 cases produced)16.002004 Roussanne Tablas Creek Vyd. (180 cases produced)30.00
Prices shown are suggested retail. Questions? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Other wines currently available:
2004 Pinot Grigio$16.002004 Shell and Bone White (West Side Paso Robles: Viognier 39%, Roussanne 38%, Marsanne 23%) 24.002001 California Syrah18.002001 Los Robles Viejos Red (West Side Paso Robles: Mourvedre 49%, Grenache 30%, Counoise 11%, Syrah 10%) 25.002001 Syrah “Wylie-Fenaughty” El Dorado County 30.002001 Zinfandel, Peay Vineyard Sonoma Coast 25.00
Yet another harvest is in process, and it’s as unique and compelling as any of the other 20, so far. Watch this space for details.
I’m so tired of cloudy skies;
(I miss the sunshine in your eyes)
And I wonder when
We’ll see the end
Of all this rain…
copyright © March 1980