Organolepticians Number Seventy-Three (February 28, 2007)

Late Winter Offering

There's snow on the tallest hills around the Bay Area this morning, and I'm wearing a few extra layers, trying to keep the PG&E bill down. As cold and wet as it's been lately, we're still way down on seasonal rain, and hoping for a few more storms as Spring moves closer.

But there's no shortage of good things to drink this Spring from Edmunds St. John. To start with, check out the three newest releases:

2006 BONE-JOLLY ROSE Gamay Noir, Witters Vineyard, El Dorado Cty.

When I found out that one of my favorite winegrowers in Beaujolais, M. Jean Paul Brun, had vinified some of his Gamay as pink wine, a bright light bulb went on in the recesses of this old brain, and it seemed almost unimaginable to me that this idea hadn't caught fire years ago! And though I have yet to taste the aforementioned pink, I determined, last Fall, that I would set aside a portion of the Gamay from Witters Vineyard to attempt to produce something like what I imagined the Brun wine to be. When I try to think of the perfect rose, the attributes that leap to mind are: A) Freshness B)Subtle, irresistible perfume C) Lively acidity, leading to D) Lightness on the palate, despite E) effusive flavor. I don't know of a single grape that can light up all five of these categories as successfully as Gamay, grown in the right spot, in a good season. And, without meaning to be too immodest, I think our attempt has succeeded handsomely. I can hardly wait to see what you think.

This was a fun wine to make. The grapes were picked early the morning of September 6th, destemmed into the membrane press, and held overnight to soak up some pigment from the skins. They were gently pressed first thing next morning, and the juice was transferred to tank, where the temperature was set at 58 degrees. After eight days, when just about a third of the grape sugar had been metabolized, we inoculated with a yeast strain originating in Southern France that had been isolated for the production of fruity roses (whatever that means). The wine fermented out dry in early October, and stayed on its primary lees until late January. It was bottled (under screwcap!) on the 13th of February, 2007.

Tom Rozum, mandolinist "Sans Pareil," and gifted graphic artist, came up with a lovely new label featuring more musicians from the Other World, based on a ceramic from Peru; it's really fun. This ain't your Daddy's vin rozay!

It's a pretty, vibrant pink-red, with an edge of blue. it's got a fresh, bright nose, slightly grapey. You might smell wild strawberry, a little woodsmoke, a little pepper. Nervous and wild in the mouth, with great focus, and electric tension between sweetness of fruit and snappy acidity. Juicy, and long.

340 cases produced Alcohol 13.2% $16.00/bottle $172.80/case

2006 Pinot Gris, Witters Vineyard, El Dorado County

In spite of the (little-known) fact that Edmunds St. John was the first winery in California to bottle a Pinot Grigio, (I can hear your jaws dropping out there! It's true!) I'm prepared to say, unequivocally, I may have made a mistake. And isn't it just too ironic that someone (like me) could insist that it's more important to let your grapes tell you what kind of wine they want to be when they grow up, and yet blindly decide that the wine from the Pinot Gris grapes I've worked with, from 1991 through 1999 at one vineyard, and since 2002 at Witters should be Pinot Grigio, a la Northeast Italy. Well, in 2006 the Pinot Gris at Witters decided to take matters into its own hands, er, tendrils, or--whatever it is grapes use. I am utterly humbled. Hoisted on my own petard, as it were. This is, in fact, and without any ifs, ands, or buts, Pinot Gris, stem to stern, top to bottom, soup to nuts. And I couldn't be happier about it.

The skins of Pinot Gris, when they're ripe, are decidedly purple, and in the '06 the color was darker than I've ever seen it. And when the wine's fermentation had finally completed, and I smelled it for the first time afterwards, I was stunned--smoke!!! There's a seven-alarm fire burning in the center of this wine. The classic aromatic note for Pinot Gris in Alsace is smoke, but I'd never encountered an example from this part of the world that displayed that same scent.

It's pale gold, with a startling, fresh, generous nose of nutmeg, Anjou pear, and the already-mentioned smoke. There's a firm back note of iron. It seems amazingly Alsatian; nice structure in the mouth to counter the textural sense of fat. Finishes with nut-oil, and a very slight, pleasing bitter note. Marvelously complex, it should be a terrific match for quite an array of dishes--charcuterie, smoked meat (and fish), sausages, cured meats, pork (especially), fowl, cheeses, etc.

620 cases produced Alcohol 13.2% $16.00/bottle $172.80/case

2005 Bassetti Vineyard Syrah, San Luis Obispo County

I don't think I've ever found a more dramatic match of site to grape variety in California over the last 22 vintages than Syrah at Bassetti Vineyard. That doesn't mean I'm right. But it doesn't mean I'm wrong, either. It's odd that, of the 6 years I made wine from this fruit, only in the odd years ('01, '03, '05) did I bottle a Bassetti vineyard-designated Syrah. (I won't go into the even years, here; each is a book unto itself, maybe in another lifetime.) All three of these odd vintages made very dramatic, perhaps profound wine. To choose the best of the three right now feels easy; it's the '05. I'm not sure I could make a better wine from any vineyard on this Earth, in any year, going forward or back, than the '05 Bassetti Syrah.

In the glass, it's nearly impenetrable purple-red. Tantalizing nose of olives, violets, and smoke; very integrated, fresh, fine, and miles deep. And still pretty primary beneath that developing layer of perfume. The wine's presence in the mouth is high-pitched and nervy, with silky but very firm tannins. Classic flavors are framed by considerable acidity, in breathtaking balance. This wine has the energy of the '03, but everything about it feels a bit more relaxed, it seems even more comfortable in its own skin. It's a dark beauty, the finest Syrah I've ever put into bottle. This, too, will quite possibly outlive me, but it will be such a beautiful thing when its time has arrived.

103 cases produced Alcohol 14.2% $45.00/bottle $486.00/case

And, in case you missed them the first time around:

2005 Redneck 101 (still a few cases to sell) $25.00/bottle $270/cs.

2004 Roussanne, Tablas Creek Vineyard $30.00/ bottle $324.00/cs. This wine is still a baby, still beautiful, lithe, structured, and biding its time.

2005 Shell And Bone White, Paso Robles $20.00/bottle $216.00/cs.

2003 Syrah "Wylie-Fenaughty" El Dorado $25.00/bottle $270/cs.

If you'd like to own some of these wines, please email: (Looking for other wines? Please inquire!)

Steve Edmunds