Tuesday, November 20, 2012

More California Wines for Thanksgiving

Long overlooked grape varieties planted in California before Prohibition have surprisingly become fashionable again. Prior to Zinfandel becoming the iconic grape of California, other grape varieties, particularly Grenache, Mourvedre, and Carignane, were also extensively planted in California vineyards.

During the past few years a growing number of new producers, most of them young winemakers, have shunned mainstream varietal wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and, yes, even Zinfandel, and, instead, have championed Grenache, Mourvedre, and Carignane. They are inspired by what they see as underrated heritage varieties that have thrived in California vineyards for over a century.

Yet, a vision has also taken hold of this new generation of young California producers influenced by the natural winemaking trends sweeping Europe. They believe they are pursuing an enlightened approach to California viticulture by focusing on grape varieties like Grenache, Mourvedre, and Carignane that are native to the Mediterranean region, hence more suitable to California vineyards than the cool-climate Cabernet, Pinot Noir, and Merlot, which often require a lot of manipulation in the vineyard and winery. In fact, after a sip of the delicious wines they make it would be difficult to disagree.

The wines from La Clarine Farm in the Sierra Foothills, Los Pilares in San Diego County, Folk Machine in Mendocino, and A Tribute to Grace in Santa Barbara are all produced in small lots from carefully chosen vineyards that are naturally farmed. They are honestly crafted, without tricks, as the aim is to deliver a product as pure as the fruit that they are made from.

San Diego County Grenache-Carignane, Los Pilares 2011 $23.00
A stunning second vintage of this 50% Grenache and 50% Carignane cuvee from fruit grown in meticulously farmed vineyards in the backcountry of San Diego County just east of Escondido. The area is ideal for growing these varieties, as it has the scrublands and Mediterranean climate that allow these grapes to produce intense, flavorful wines. 2011 produced delicate and fresh Grenache fruit that benefited from the earthy depth of the super Carignane. Made as naturally as possible with little manipulation. The fruit was hand sorted. Vinification was whole-berry, native yeast fermentation. No additives were applied nor inoculation for malolactic, just grapes. Aging was in tank, no wood. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. More elegant, higher acidity, and more polished than the previous 2010 vintage. Intense flavors that are bright and layered with delicious complexity. 13% alcohol. A revelation for San Diego County wine! Very limited availability. Just 120 cases produced

Sierra Foothills Mourvedre Sumu Kaw Vineyard, La Clarine Farms 2011 $24.00
The Sumu Kaw Vineyard is source of what I regard as La Clarine Farm's greatest red, the Sumu Kaw Syrah. The Mourvedre grown there has been used for blending with this superb Syrah, giving it structure and lift. Situated at an elevaton of 2,900 feet on a ridgetop overlooking Pleasant Valley, the vineyard is surrounded by tall pines that seem to lend some of its resiny, tarry flavors to the fruit. This is precise Mourvedre that recalls more the Provencal style. Only 81 cases produced. Enclosed in screwcap.

"This mourvedre, at 12.4% alcohol, was actually one of the first reds we picked in 2011.  The crop level was way down (which may have contributed to the increased flavor concentration) and the grapes seemed ready surprisingly early for mourvedre, a notoriously late ripening variety. It shows all the classic markers of the grape (earthiness, some leathery/dried leafy tones) in a forward, (all too) easy drinking package.  It is a wonderful introduction to the style of the vintage. It is delicious!" Hank Beckmeyer, La Clarine Farm

Sierra Foothills Mourvedre Cedarville, La Clarine Farms 2011 $24.00
From a single-vineyard up in the Sierra Foothills, farmed organically by Jonathan Lachs and Susan Marks. The fruit ripens fully and beautifully on this site, producing a wine that is readily appreciated from release. Gorgeous concentration and balance, with irresistible, seductive fruit. Scented by the Sierra Foothills garrigue. Tiny production of just 51. Enclosed in screwcap.

"It became immediately apparent that this wine was going to be something special. The aromas from the fermenters was incredible, and the wine from the press on November 8 (at dryness) was already quite drinkable. Malolactic fermentation bubbled along all winter long. By Spring of 2012, we had one of the most unusual mourvedre wines I've ever tasted. Lighter in color than most years, lower in alcohol (11.7%), but big in flavor, it's a wine you could very easily drink a lot of, if there were a lot. I jokingly started calling it my version of Beaujolais, and it does have a lot of similarities to a good cru Beaujolais, but with sort of a 'mutant beaujolais' feel to it." Hank Beckmeyer, La Clarine Farm

Mendocino Red "Three Ceremonies", Folk Machine 2011 $18.00
A unique blend of Carignan, Syrah, and Petit Sirah--a California pop version of the GSM Rhone blend. Superluscious without being overdone. Well balanced 13.2% alcohol. Layers of juicy red fruits and earthy spices. Just 125 cases produced. Helps bring luck for this year and next!

Santa Barbara Grenache Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, A Tribute to Grace Wine Company 2010 $41.00
One of the best California wines you would ever come across, this is very charming for its light but intense strawberry-filled flavors layered with sweet spices and herbs. 100% Grenache grown in the desolate Sierra Madre Mountains at 3,200 feet elevation. The soils are sandy and rocky and together with the cool climate produce a wine with bright, intense flavors. Brilliant proprietor and winemaker Angela Osborne vinified half the fruit in whole clusters, foot treading the grapes twice a day. The other half of the fruit was destemmed and given a light pigeage. The wine was aged over 16 months in one third new barrel and two-thirds neutral barrel. Just 141 cases produced.

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