FIRST MUSTER, DOUBLENAUGHT ONE:
Sound the Trumpets!
Perhaps a sign that EDMUNDS ST. JOHN is where it’s happenin’? (Or almost happenin’):
from the East Bay Express, personals ad section, 12/29/2000
EDMUNDS ST. JOHN WINERY
Sunday, December 3rd, 4pm, wine tasting. Slim, pretty blond woman, fuzzy tan shetland sweater, white car, dog, woman friend. Tongue-tied wine nut, leather jacket, cap. We said goodbye, not hello. I waved. Wine, talk, friendship?
Although we have a pretty good idea who these people were, our lips are sealed.
After our annual Fête du Vin on December 3rd (see above mentioned near-miss), Cornelia and I took our extraordinary crew of helpers to the BAY WOLF restaurant for a celebratory dinner, and, as usual, I brought along a few special older wines to share, among which were:
- 1990 Durell Vineyard Syrah (in magnum)
- 1993 Durell Vineyard Syrah (in magnum)
- 1993 Grand Heritage Syrah
and some other goodies, too. The three wines just mentioned, all really nice wines, have gotten great reviews when they were released, 90+ point scores from the most prominent reviewers. They’re big, powerful, rich, etc., etc., — wines that have held their own in comparative tastings, and are far better now, many years later, than they were when those scores were handed out.
But the wine I brought, of which I was most proud that evening, (which almost none of the critics even bothered to review) the one that kept several of us coming back for more, because of its sunny disposition, its pretty fruit, its lovely personality that sang so sweetly of its place of origin, was our 1995 Zinfandel, from Shenandoah Valley in Amador County. A wine that ISN’T dark, or thick, or rich, or “extracted” or oaky, but it smelled wonderfully spicy and fresh, smelled of raspberries, cinnamon, black pepper and dried fennel seed, and tasted so sappy and nervy, tasted of raspberry, cherry, and bitter almond. It had a quality the French refer to as “desalterant:” thirst quenching. I wish I could make such a wine every year; I never tire of drinking it.
I was invited to another wine tasting in mid-December, at a highly regarded Napa Valley winery. The theme of the event was Syrah wines from 1995, featuring four of California’s most well-thought of efforts, and four of the top offerings from the Northern Rhone. All of the tasters, except me, were employees of the host winery. I was invited because I’d produced one of the wines (the host winery is not currently a producer of Syrah.)
In the course of tasting I was able to correctly identify my own wine, one of the other California wines, and one of the French bottles, as well. It was interesting to me that though most of the tasters had relatively limited experience with French wines, and my assumption was that their preference would be for wines made in a more “Californian” style, when the bottles were pulled out of their brown paper bags, the top three wines, by group measure, were all from Hermitage. The highest ranked California wine was the ’95 Durell Vineyard Syrah from Edmunds St. John. Interestingly (also), the last-place wine was also from Hermitage (the ’95 Hermitage, La Chapelle from Jaboulet, one of the wines I identified by its characteristic smell that is frequently mistaken for oxidation — which mistake probably put it at the bottom of the rankings; I’d ranked it second). The group’s highest ranked wine was also my first choice: the incomparable red Hermitage from Chave. I had the ’95 Durell rated third, and I’m quite proud that the only two wines in the group that seemed to me to be a bit finer were the two most highly regarded wines from Hermitage.
THE COMPLETE LINEUP, listed by group preference: (prices “on release”)
1995 Hermitage, J.L.Chave $ 65.001995 Hermitage, Chapoutier “Le Pavillon” $100.001995 Hermitage, Guigal $ 29.001995 Edmunds St. John Durell Vineyard Syrah $ 30.001995 Qupe Wine Cellars Syrah, Bien Nacido Reserve $ 23.001995 Thackery Orion $ 45.001995 Araujo Eisele Vineyard Syrah $ 50.001995 Hermitage, Jaboulet “La Chapelle” $ 53.00
For the curious, my rankings:
1-Chave, 2-Jaboulet, 3-Edmunds St. John, 4-Qupe, 5-Guigal, 6-Chapoutier, 7-Orion, 8-Araujo.
One other comment, which I think worth mentioning: This tasting had its fun side, but let’s face it — this is not the way in which most wine is used, by most people. Wine is usually served with a meal, and its enjoyability (is that a word?) is greatly influenced by the food next to which it is served. Comparative tastings like the one I’ve just described tend to give a rather distorted impression of the wines tasted, providing little insight into how much pleasure each might give at the table. And because it’s a comparison, there tends to be a very competitive side to this kind of tasting (there’s almost always an implicit agreement to RANK the wines) which will often, depending on the experience level of the tasters, predispose the group to lean in the direction of bigger, richer, thicker, darker, more alcoholic, more “extracted,” oakier wines. One of the pleasant surprises at this tasting was that people seemed to lean a bit more toward wines with good balance, and distinctive personalities.
We’ve recently released a couple of ’99 reds that you’re going to want to try. Many of you are by now familiar with Rocks and Gravel, and know how delicious and satisfying it can be. Well, I think when you taste the ’99 you’re going to agree — this is the best one yet. The varietal proportions are the most, shall we say, Les Cotes Sauvages-like yet, and the wine has a lot of that kind of intensity. 46% Grenache, 40% Mourvedre, 14% Syrah. Mouth-watering stuff.
And some of you may remember a wine we did in ’93, called Pallini Rosso, a Zinfandel from our main Grenache supplier, Ed Pallini, with some of his Grenache blended in. I think the Grenache “lifts” the Zin a bit, and adds some sweetness to the fruit.
Call, or email for more info. The website will have more details soon.
Oh, and one more thing…
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! H*A*P*P*Y N*E*W Y*E*A*R !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!