Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Born in The USA: California Dreaming Wine Tasting Pt.2

It's #WineWednesday again - hooray - and for that reason, I'll just cut to the chase...

Last week I told you all about the fabulous Californian wine tasting at my new local, The Grape Escape, Cheltenham. However, I clearly got way too excited in telling you what an awesome place it is, because after writing about the wonderful whites, I couldn't fit in anything about those regal reds! Still, that just means that we've been able to spread the love over two weeks, as opposed to just the one - winner! 

So, the first red we were treated to was Domaine de la Côte Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Rita Hills (retail approx. £55). The Domaine is a collection of 6 vineyards planted over 40 acres across Cali's Santa Rita Hills. They have a very organic approach; making wines with the philosophy of 'add nothing; take nothing away,' trying to change people's perceptions on Californian Pinot.

The 2012 appellation Santa Rita Hills is the first vintage where the use of sulphur dioxide was removed from the wine making at harvest. Preserving and promoting all the natural yeasts has become one of the Domaine's most important goals, believing that the unassuming microorganisms really help translate the expression of terroir. Taken from the 15 acres of vineyards planted at 200 feet above sea level, the wine is fermented with 50% whole bunches, and aged in 0% new oak. As a result, the wine is a brilliant red colour with earthy, mushroom-y notes, and it certainly tastes a lot older than it is.

There's a damp green-ness about it's scent, but sharp currants, pomegranate and spun sugar lift it up from the depths of the forest floor. Fresh garden herbs, elderflower and black fruits appear on the palate, and it simply slips down, finishing with savoury tannins.

Next was Wind Gap 'Sonoma Coast' Syrah, 2011 (retail approx. £38). Winemaker Pax Mahle started out as a sommelier on America's east coast, however it wasn't long before he decided that he "wanted to be the guy with the dirty boots making wine, rather than the guy with the bow tie serving it," and with some financial backing, he was able to realise this dream. After various shifts in his career path, he's now focussed on Wind Gap; a project which pays attention to cool climate sites that provide more elegant, balanced wines with delicate perfume. Many of these sites are located in 'wind gaps' (hence the name), where the cool air ensures a longer and steadier ripening process, producing much brighter wines with higher natural acidity.

There's something quite funky and feral about the Sonoma Coast Syrah; it's loaded with complex spice - turmeric, pink and black pepper - with wild berries and wild herbs too. The spiciness continues in its taste; the deep flavours jump up and down on the tongue, and resilient red fruits become apparent on the finish. It's a joy (and the cheapest of the bunch!).

Our third red was from one of the Californian big boys - legendary some might say - Ridge 'Lytton Springs' 2009, Sonoma County (retail approx. £49). There isn't much that hasn't already been said about Ridge, which shot to fame via The Judgement of Paris; it produces fine Bordeaux blends, sublime Chardonnays, and renowned Zinfandels that have no peers. It's a simple ethos at Ridge; 100% dedication in the vineyards to grow the most concentrated and flavoursome grapes, followed by 100% dedication in the winery, with minimum intervention, to draw all the fruit's natural richness into the wine.

The 2009 Lytton Springs contains 71% Zinfandel, 23% Petite Sirah, 6% Carignane, and is a hefty 14.5% ABV (though doesn't taste it). It has spent 14 months in American oak, with only a small amount new, allowing the full expression of the wine's fruit and elegance to shine through.

There's ripe black fruits on the nose, with a punch of pepper, and tobacco smokiness. On the palate, cherries and berries dominate, and whilst there's sweetness and viscosity, it's not coming at you all-guns-blazing. With luscious tannins and a layered finish, it seems quite restrained, and a little too easy to drink.

Last, but definitely not least - The Grape Escape's Ant was having a bit of a fan-girl moment over it, and it was a hands down winner for favourite red of the night - Corison 'Napa' Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Napa Valley (retail approx. £87).

Cathy Corison is rightly recognised as being one of the region's finest winemakers; with a 40 year plus career in the industry, she's never wavered from producing the style of Cabernet that she loves, despite what the critics said (see California Dreaming Pt. 1). Picking grapes earlier than most, when they are ripe but not overpowered with alcohol, ensures that Corison's wines are nicely balanced, and it's her commitment to this that's inspired the new generations of Californian winemakers to reject those turbo-charged wines that have been dominating for so many years.

The 2005 'Napa' Cabernet (what an absolute treat), has fresh and inviting aromas of cherries, allspice and nutmeg.  This deep crimson number entices you further on the palate - juicy plums, cassis, violets - and the fine subtle tannins give you the most wonderful texture. Considering its age, it's fresh and frisky, though has a warm seductive finish that makes you not want to share a single drop… Get your eyes off of my glass!

All in all, a fantastic start to The Grape Escape's monthly wine tastings; not only have me and The Chap signed ourselves up to every single one of them, but we're now also dead set on wanting to go and check out the wineries in California!

A triumph for all don't you think?

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