Monday, December 12, 2011

Bold Pinot Noirs

2009 Bel Canto Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

I barely ever get excited about Pinot Noirs since I like my wine big, bold, and full of flavor. However, every once in awhile I come across a Pinot worth bragging about and the Bel Canto is definitely at the top of my list; Jim Olsen has done it again! He took the most exciting AVA in California for Pinot Noir right now and pushed it to the limits. The result is amazing—the 2009 Bel Canto from the Santa Lucia Highlands. Jim had a great vintage on his hands, and harvested late at the last possible minute. I can tell you, this totally stands out starting with the color; a deep, heavy purple—darker and fuller than most Pinot. There is rich black plum, coffee, and a bit of licorice on the nose. The palate is loaded with raspberry jam, and cherry compote—tall woven with layers of earth and fresh herbs. The finish is so great with notes of coffee, spice and mocha along with the fruit. The way Jim used all new French oak for 12 months was spot on. Everything is wrapped up in bold, sweet tannins—balancing the rich, juicy fruit perfectly. Serve this with grilled pork tenderloin with a coffee-vanilla bean spice rub and Portobello risotto for a great match!

Production Notes:
  • Jim Olsen is the wine maker
  • Bel Canto is an Italian opera term for “beautiful singing”
  • Vineyard at 1100 ft elevation
  • 2009 vintage is considered by many as the best showing ever in California for Pinot Noir, with small yields and intense concentration
  • 15 to 20 years-old vines of clones 113, 115, and Pommard#4
  • Aged 12 months in new French oak
  • 450 cases produced

Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir:
  • High above the Salinas Valley, with a reputation for producing wines with intense fruit character
  • Enjoys one of California’s longest growing seasons, benefiting from cool morning fog and afternoon breezes drawn into the Salinas Valley from Monterey Bay
  • This north-south oriented alluvial terrace benefits from well-drained granitic soils and shelter from the Pacific Ocean by the Santa Lucia Mountains
  • The AVA officially starts just 40 feet above the valley floor, but vineyards can be found at elevations as high as 1,200 feet where fog burns off much earlier than below
  • These higher altitude vineyards have the advantage of more direct sunshine—coupled with the natural southeastern exposure of these vineyards, the Santa Lucia Highlands have a specific terroir unique for Monterey

Clone Information:
  • Blending clones has been compared to voices in a choir, beautiful as soloist voices but when you hear the choir together, you realize the difference and what you’re missing
  • Clones 113 and 115 are known as “Dijon” clones, with smaller clusters, moderate crop levels, and slightly earlier ripening than other selections
  • The Pommard #4 clone is known for larger clusters, with jammy character, excellent texture and minerality.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Story Behind the Story

2009 Chateau Petrus-Gaïa—L’Élue

Last year during Primeurs (2010) Fonda (Founder of Montesquieu Wines), Helene, and Stéphane had dinner with Roland Guerin, the owner of Chateau Petrus-Gaïa, at La Plaisance in St. Emilion. He was a fascinating man—passionate, full of life, and much more energetic than most men his age with a real zest for life and a twinkle in his eye. He took particular pleasure in how unsettled the Bordeaux old-guard establishment felt that his property held the name Petrus-Gaïa. He was constantly battling the Moueix family and others in the French courts over his possession of the name Petrus as part of his estate, but he never tired of the battle—it only energized him.

Turns out that that earliest maps made for king Louis XIV (1638-1715), mention “Petrus” in connection with Roland’s property in Ruch (in Entre-Deux Mers), NOT in connection with the famous Petrus of Pomerol, which is how the courts decided to let Petrus-Gaïa keep its name of “Petrus”. The twists and turns of the four-year David-versus-Goliath legal struggle resulted in Chateau Petrus-Gaïa (David) and Petrus of Pomerol (Goliath) both retaining the use of Petrus.

Roland’s renegade style was a perfect match for Stéphane, deemed “Bordeaux’s Favorite Rebel” by the Wine Spectator. Stéphane was introduced to Roland through a mutual friend, Ambroise Chambertin, and when they met, the synergy was perfect in both—the personalities involved and the singular terroir of stunning inherent quality and character (which Stéphane immediately recognized). What ensued was a very deep connection and beautiful, expressive wines.

Sadly and unexpectedly, Roland Guerin passed away late last year of a suspected heart attack. As friends and colleagues are saying goodbye, there is much speculation about the future of the estate, with reported interested buyers including the Moueix family of Chateau Petrus in Pomerol. It would be a very common turn of events for Roland’s widow to accept an offer that would incorporate these unique, premium vines into another winery forever.

“It is a privilege to have known Roland, a kindred spirit who wasn’t afraid to buck the system” said Ambroise Chambertin in his farewell, “I was lucky to know Roland, to see him navigate the intricacies of Bordeaux and to see him fight like Don Quixote against the windmills. I can assure you he was a fabulous man, happy, honest, and humanistic.”

This 2009 Chateau Petrus-Gaïa L’Élue is the last vintage ever made under the ownership of the highly esteemed Roland Guerin, perhaps the last ever to be produced.