Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tasting Panel: June 12-13 2007 Maboroshi Wines

Maboroshi Wine Estates of Russian River is a most interesting producer. Maboroshi is owned and operated by Tom and Rebecca Kisaichi. In 1991 this couple decided to pursue a dream of producing wines and left their home in Japan to train in Burgundy with Charles Rousseau of Domaine Armand Rousseau in Gevrey-Chambertin, one of Burgundy's greatest estates. Afterwards, they moved to Napa and Sonoma to continue their training and after several years decided to establish their own wine estate. Their first release was from the 2000 vintage. These are their current releases.


Russian River Pinot Noir "Maboroshi Vineyard", Maboroshi Wine Estates 2005 ($38.00 suggested)
100% Pinot Noir grown in the hills of western Sebastopol with micro yields of only 1 ton/acre. Harvested on Oct. 3, 2005 at 25.7 Brix. Pre-fermentation cold-soak. Aged for 10 months in 100% French oak (50% new). 14.3% Alcohol, 3.87 pH, and 3.87 g/L TA. 297 cases produced.

Napa Merlot, Maboroshi Wine Estates 2003 ($33.00 suggested)
91% Merlot and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon grown on Spring Mountain in Napa. Harvested Oct. 13, 2003 at 25.7 Brix. Pre-fermentation cold-soak of whole berries. Partial native yeast fermentation. Aged for 16 months in 100% French oak (75% new). 14.2% Alcohol, 3.81 pH, and 5.78 g/L TA. 323 cases produced.

Spring Mountain (Napa) Cabernet Sauvignon, Maboroshi Wine Estates 2002 ($48.00 suggested)
93% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Merlot grown on Spring Mountain in Napa. Harvested Oct. 11, 2002 at 25.7 Brix. Four-day pre-fermentation cold-soak of whole berries. All native yeast fermentation. Aged for 22 months in 100% new French oak. 14.2% Alcohol, 3.81 pH, and 5.81 g/L TA. 300 cases produced.

Pinot Noir
Thumbs Up: 44%
Thumbs Down: 56%
Pros: aromatic, nice acid balance, nice terroir, complex, fresh, good potential, fruit forward, concentrated
Cons: atypical, tight, underfruited, finish hot, petroleum taste, interesting taste but don't care too much for, try with food, bitter

Thumbs Up: 50%
Thumbs Down: 50%
Pros: round mouthfeel, soft, elegant, plumy, herbal, complex, smooth tannins
Cons: herbal, green olive, slight medicinal nose, nothing special, nose/flavor are unexpected for Merlot, better than the Pinot but still not good enough, bitter, too much tannin

Cabernet Sauvignon
Thumbs Up: 50%
Thumbs Down: 38%
Neutral: 12%
Pros: great cab nose, mountain fruit, minty/eucalyptus, firm tannins, good balance, strong, Port-like, best of the three but pricey
Cons: disjointed, restrained, underwhelming for price, best of the three but not fruity enough, can’t recommend over other Napa cabs for the price

1. None of the wines exhibited any fault and no one among the tasters noted any as well. So I would venture that the judgment and comments were more a reaction to the style of the wines than to their quality.

2. There wasn't any clear winner as the judgment was split almost evenly between thumbs up and thumbs down in all the three wines.

3. Tasters' comments were mostly mirror opposites particularly with regards to ripeness and flavors. Though the wines were technically fully ripe some described them as being "underfruited" and "not fruity enough", while others liked their "elegance" and "balance".

The wines' strong display of varietal and maybe even vineyard character were liked by some but abhorred by others. Note that the wines' producers used native yeast to ferment the wines as naturally as possible. The obvious herbal, minty varietal character in both the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon turned off some of the tasters, but appealed to others as being a "great cab nose" and as being "typical". The same was true for the Pinot Noir, whose layer of flavors was enjoyed by some as being "complex" and expressive of a "terroir", but dismissed by others as "atypical", "petroleum" and at best "interesting but don't care too much".

In retrospect, I think it is worth mentioning again that the winemaker, Tomohiro "Tom" Kisaichi, is a native of Japan and apprenticed at Domaine Armand Rousseau of Gevrey-Chambertin in Burgundy. Though still finding it a challenge to speak English well, Tom continued his wine education at UC Davis and worked at wineries in Sonoma and Napa before starting their wine estate in Russian River in the late 1990s. Over half of their production goes to the Japanese market.

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