Massachusetts Beverage Business


Article By: Sandy Block, MW

Buying wine in the United States used to be a big deal, something almost ceremonial and definitely out of the ordinary. One of the major reasons that consumption's reached a new height of popularity in the past decade is that we've finally overcome the idea of wine as a "special occasion" beverage whose primary purpose is to commemorate memorable events. Through repeated exposure it's successfully shed this image and become an integral part of the daily diet for an increasing number of people. Still, everyone understands that there is a category we might call luxury wines, comprised of bottles we probably wouldn't ever open, for instance, sitting on a couch watching television or even during the course of a casual meal. The great thing about these "important" wines, however, is that while they represent significant upgrades from everyday bottles, few are so expensive that they are totally out of reach.

Wine of this type can be a wonderful gift because the recipient can enjoy it at a time of his or her choice and, if properly stored, it can improve in the bottle as the years pass. One of the great things about the way most wines capable of bottle development are being produced today is that they also taste great when they're young. The point is that while their flavors and textures change, for the most part you can enjoy the wines at any stage of their evolution. The following is a list of wines I tasted in California during a recent Master of Wine Symposium and tour of the North Coast wine regions, that fall into this luxury, potentially age worthy category, each of which would constitute a superb, if somewhat expensive, choice to give someone who has a cellar. Some may be difficult to find, because they are produced in limited quantities, but each is highly recommended and well worth a search. Each is from a single estate, and, while I am not a proponent of terroir for its own sake or a believer that blends can't produce great wine, there was clearly something unique about the site in each of these cases that allowed special qualities to express themselves.

Rubicon Estate Red
Napa Valley, 1999

If you can still find this wine, do it! Along with the 199O vintage, this was the standout for me in a vertical tasting of the Coppola Estate's proprietary red wine going back to the very beginning that oenologist Scott McLeod conducted. Although all of the vintages were outstanding (with the exception, interestingly enough, of the highly regarded 1987), there was something so exotic and dark chocolatey in the flavor of this wine that it stood out. Still quite youthful in color, with opaque purple-hued ruby filling the glass, the seductive aromas of vanilla and smoky ripe berries also seemed restrained enough to reflect a much younger bottling. On the palate, however, the creamy, blackberry, cocoa, and toasted herb flavors were quite open. Beautifully balanced, this big Rutherford district red strikes me as having the structure and complexity to continue developing for another 1O to 15 years without any problem.

Opus One
Napa Valley, 2OO3

The neighboring Oakville Bench produces some pretty good blends as well. This legendary wine is actually a current release, so it will be easier to locate than the Rubicon. Sometimes when wines achieve iconic status they also become targets and as such are paradoxically easy to dismiss. If they're produced in quantities that make them available to anyone who has the money and they strike some as being consumed uncritically, without the proper reverence, skepticism naturally arises that the excitement is primarily about marketing. Big mistake! The latest in a line of standout vintages, and I had an opportunity to sample several going back to the original, 1979, which contrary to press reports I've seen, tastes delightful and is still quite vigorous, this wine is massive. It actually is a great contrast to the 2OO2, which I rated just about as highly, but was softer and more approachable and moderate in style. Why single out the 2OO3 then? Because it will last longer, and if you're spending this much money you might as well put the bottle away for awhile and delay your gratification. With an aroma of fresh packed currants and leafy herbs, the ripeness of the flavors is staggering. Anise, sage, cedar, and coffee accents all add grace to the saturated black fruit. Sometimes the Emperor does have clothes!

HdV Syrah
Carneros, 2OO4

This estate winery is a partnership between the famous de Villaine family of Burgundy (former proprietors of the legendary Domaine de la Romanee Conti) and Larry Hyde, owner of perhaps the most sought after vineyards on the eastern edge of the Carneros district (A Patz & Hall Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir from the same vintage could have easily made this list). Syrah in the cool Carneros? When I visited in June the temperatures had soared close to 1OO┬║. Organically farmed, this pure varietal wine is unfined and unfiltered. Aged in a high proportion of new French oak barrels, the wine has a dark garnet color with beautiful raspberry and violet aromas. Plummy and ripe, with a very lush soft texture, it's deceptively open on the palate. It's one of those "wow" wines whose silkiness cloaks a core of black fruit and spicy intensity. It reminded me in style of a great Cote Rotie and, delicious as it is now, would not surprise me if it aged for ten years. Great Syrah from California (of which I tasted several on my trip, the HdV being the best) remains a largely untold story, partly because of the limited quantities made. There are less than 1OOO cases of this wine produced.

Lucia "Gary's Vineyard" Pinot Noir
Santa Lucia Highlands, 2OO4

Pinot Noir shows no signs of slowing down in popularity, and while there are outstanding wines being made at all price points today, this one is a stunner. It has a lot in common with the HdV Syrah. Hailing from one of the most highly acclaimed hillside Pinot vineyards of Monterey County's Santa Lucia Highlands, it is also estate bottled and represents a joint partnership between longtime growers Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni who also make the wine in an artisan, labor intensive manner &endash; with hand punch-downs during fermentation and aging in French oak barrels. The aromas are super-concentrated with black peppery spices and tarry, smoky accented dark berry fruit. On the palate, however, the texture is pure velvet, with a creamy richness that supports the soft tannins and ripe black cherry flavors. Finishing with a dash of brown sugar and earth, this is a Pinot that stands apart from its class and will easily last for 5 to 7 years.

HdV Chardonnay
Carneros, 2OO1

What? No Chardonnay? This was the most satisfying one I tasted over a 14 day span. Incredible that it's made from fruit grown on the same 175 acre Hyde Vineyard as the Syrah. This proves conclusively that it's not the AVA but the specific site of the vines, their soil, exposure to marine influence, and elevation, that has the greatest influence on what should be grown where. I'm no Chardonnay-basher, but there's a disturbing sameness to many of even the most highly regarded North Coast renditions &endash; as in, I enjoy them but they often taste interchangeable and other than label-flashing, there doesn't seem to be anything special or unique about them. Not so here. Still light straw in color after several years in the bottle, this floral, apple-scented wine is beautifully structured. Produced from impeccably ripe California fruit, it also, like the Syrah, seem to show European bloodlines &endash; meaning the dominant impression is one of finesse, lees-accenting, elegance, and subtle hints of sweet spices. The fruit was more understated white peach and spring apple, with a hint of lemon, than anything else, and even though this Chardonnay was aged for a considerable length in a high proportion of new French barrels, there is no jarring distinctively oaky sensation. This is for all of those snobs who say: 1Chardonnay doesn't age; 2 California Chardonnay is heavy; and 3 Who needs Chardonnay? If you can find this vintage, don't be in any hurry to drink it. If you can't, the younger ones are outstanding too.

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