Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Touring the St. Clair Winery in Deming

March 29, 2011
I recently had the privilege of touring the St. Clair winery with Farid Himeur, who handles national sales for Southwest Wines. He had written a very nice review of my wine book; Wines of Enchantment, but we had never met in person. That includes his tour at Gruet before joining Southwest Wines. I found him to be as amiable and knowledgeable a guide as I could have wished for. Before long it seemed we were just two wine dudes exploring the newest wines of Southwest Wines.

First off this facility is huge and expanding even as I write this. Several smaller wineries could fit inside St. Clair with room to spare. We began by tank tasting some of the whites. In tank tasting, one sidles up to a towering stainless steel tank with glass in hand, and draws off some of the liquid from a spigot. All four whites were very good, being well on their way to ready.

Many of the whites were a bit on the sweet side, but had good acidity and fruit, making them food-friendly. I particularly liked the Muscat of Alexandria, which could well be the wine Cleopatra, used to entice Marc Antony to her bed. You don’t think she did that just with her looks, do you? Liz Taylor, she wasn’t.

After tasting the whites we went into a storage room and barrel tasted the reds, beginning with a St. Clair 2010 Pinot Noir. This is not a classic grape for New Mexico as most of the great ones come from coastal areas, but this is a very impressive effort. The wine is varietally correct, which is not often the case in New Mexico, and I’ll be anxious to try it after a few months in the bottle. The 2009 Syrah was chewy, rich and loaded with dark fruit.

The 2009 Cabernet Franc was a real eye-opener, however. Echoing the flavors that made the 2007 Limited release a red sweepstake winner at the SF Chronicle wine competition, this will be a wine to queue up for. Knowing that future releases were doing well, we went into the tasting room to try some of the current releases. A cheery and enthusiastic Terri behind the counter kept us well fortified.

The one wine I’ll mention here is the DH Lescombes 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. I’d reviewed this wine here on my examiner.com blog site. I enjoyed a bottle almost a year ago, and thought it had definitely earned its gold medal. Now that it has had a year in the bottle, Farid suggested I should try it again. How right he was! I could not believe how much better it was now. The fruit seemed richer, there was definitely a lot more complexity including scents of forest floor and spice and a lush mouthfeel that made me ask for a second taste.

At $24, I’d match this against Sonoma and Napa Cabs costing twice as much, it is that good. If you’re wondering why I waited almost a month to tell you dear reader, it’s because I wanted to make sure I got my case first. Salud!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Spin through Alexander Valley

March 2, 2011

OK, I admit it, I’m writing under the influence. But that’s not a bad thing for a wine writer. I just opened a bottle of Field Stone 2008 Syrah from Alexander Valley in Sonoma. The grapes come from an estate vineyard called Marion’s Block named after Field Stone’s co-founder Marion Johnson. The first word that popped into my head after tasting this luscious Syrah was opulent. I don’t typically use words like that, because they seem overused and not always accurately. Trust me, this wine you can call opulent and it is eminently justified.

Fieldstone has been a presence in the Alexander Valley of Sonoma for many years. Their wines have always been enticing so tasting the latest releases of the Syrah and Petite Sirah (different grapes, just like different spelling) was one of anticipation rewarded. That also goes for the Cabernet Sauvignon and the entire line.

As an aside, I had compared notes with their assistant winemaker, Scott Sabbadini, years ago about cooperage. No this is not esoteric rambling, but a key element of winemaking. To wit, what kind of oak to use, what toasting level and for how long. These are all elemental to winemaking because of the accents and tasting notes imparted by oak. At that time they were evaluating the choices of Hungarian, Rumanian, Polish and America oak on their current release of Syrah. French cooperage is around $1,000 per barrique (barrel) and adds to the cost of the wine versus American ($400-$500) and other European oaks. You can read about that trip here.

I was invited to barrel taste the wines, which all began as the same juice before aging. I was amazed at how different each wine tasted! No surprise to winemakers, but I was relatively new to the technology of wine then and always appreciated the initiation provided by Field Stone.

Fast forward 3 years and I’m tasting the results of the oak choice they made back them. A great choice that has yielded a wine of amazing grace. Rich, dark, seductive red berries and violets such as a good Pinot possesses on the nose, a hint of bacon without the fat, typical of some California Syrah, but admirably understated here which winds into dark fruit, plum-like and dense with peppery tannins on the palate.

One sip invites another in an endless procession that will only end when the bottle is empty. And I haven’t even opened the Petite Sirah yet, but I’ll have to save that for another time. I’m only good for one bottle pre review. Salud!