California dreaming… Or not?
I love tasting wine with winemakers. I love their energy, their enthusiasm and, most of all, their passion. Quite often you get a sense of a winemaker from tasting his or her wine, but also you can be swayed into unwarranted compliments, influenced by the context.
Earlier in the week Roberson put on a very interesting and stimulating tutored tasting (link to upcoming events). The two winemakers presenting their wines were California trailblazers Raj Parr and Jamie Kutch. They are part of a new Californian collective who want the US and the rest of the world to reevaluate Californian wines and to demonstrate how the area can deliver elegance and finesse, as well as brute force and power.
In Pursuit of Balance (web link) “seeks to promote dialogue around the meaning and relevance of balance in California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay”. To an extent the wines presented are definitely on their way to accomplishing this. However, I did find some of the Pinots a shade underwhelming and in need of some of that power that the grape can deliver, in order to really achieve the balance the wine makers are searching for.
The wines were served in two flights, starting with Raj’s wines as he was presenting both Chardonnays and Pinots. I really wanted to love the wines as much as I loved the stories that supported them, but only one of the flights really shone for me… And at a price.
Flight #1 – Sandhi Wines
Focussing on selected vineyards from the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County, Raj is in love with the Chardonnay grape and what it can offer. The three Chards on show were really delicious and delivered a lovely balance of fruit and salty/savoury. These wines are produced in a minuscule scale (70 cases of the Bentrock!), hence the hefty price tag, but there is much to enjoy here. The Pinots also delivered bright fruit and energy and if they were half the price I would love to add a few to the cellar.
Santa Barbara Chardonnay 2011 (£26.95)
Peachy, nutty and toasty with plenty of citrus fruit and a hint of grapefruit. This wine is surprisingly light bodied, as the nose suggested an all together bigger wine. The acid is fantastically refreshing and delivers loads of citrus fruit and buttered toast on the finish. This is a lively, energetic and a “happy” wine. I was just left thinking how much more Chablis or Macon I could get for my money. 91 points
Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay 2010 (£44.95)
Very toasty and smoky nose with plenty of citrus on the nose. Fuller in body, actually very rich and round, but still with that lively, citrus-driven mouthwatering acidity. You could really taste the salt from the ocean in this wine, but I found the finish a little short and underwhelming on the finish. 90 points
Bentrock Chardonnay 2010 (£69.95)
Wine of the night by some distance. Tropical aromas, especially mango along with a lovely touch of brioche. Quite a nervy palate of lemon and lemon balm, with a surprisingly grippy, almost tannic structure. Salty again but with a delicious tension between the salinity and the fruit. Delicious savoury and long finish. 94 points
Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir 2010 (£44.95)
Very ripe red cherry and menthol on the nose and very juice straight-line cherry and raspberry on the palate. Young and tannic, slightly hiding some of that delicious fruit at the moment, delivering lots of grip and again that salty finish. Good freshness and acid but just a bit short at the end. 89 points
Evening Land Tempest Pinot Noir 2010 (£69.95)
Deeper and darker cherry aromas here, with even a touch of blackcurrant and a hint if menthol and spice. Deeper and richer body than the Sanford and lots of energy – the fruit really does dance all over your tongue. With menthol and some anise on the finish – this will just get better with a few years in bottle. 91 points
Flight #2 – Kutch Wines
Jamie is an ex Wall Street trader who followed his dream out west. He is all about Pinot and really wants to show how elegance and balanced can be delivered in California. Obviously a huge fan of Burgundy, Jamie is an experimenter, which is quite a tough task when you don’t have a great deal of grapes to play with! He hasn’t reached where he wants to be yet but he will get there… And soon.
Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2009 (£38.95)
As with most of Jamie’s wines I found myself having to work very hard to get a lot of fruit on the nose. There are ripe red fruits here but they’re just not very forthcoming. Along with the hidden fruit there is menthol and spice but there is also a resounding warmth of alcohol. There is tension here but not quite the balance. 86 points
Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 (£42.95)
Again I struggled to get a great deal on the nose here. There is some very pretty red fruit on the palate and a hint of leather and savoury notes. Again there is just too much alcohol showing through at the end. 85 points
Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2010 (£38.95)
This is much more interesting with sweet red cherry, some mushroom and some roasted meat, even gamey notes. More weight and power here and the fruit is far more concentrated. Lots of grippy tannin but this is one I would like to try again in a year or two. 90+ points
McDougall Ranch Pinot Noir 2019 (£44.95)
Very light in the glass and again just a hint of ripe red fruit. There are fine tannins providing some nice structure behind the cherry fruit, black spice and a certain amount of animal, and an elegant sweetness at the end. 89 points
Falstaff Pinot Noir 2009 (£41.95)
Ripe red fruit on the nose he along with a bit of spice, anise and menthol. Very austere and tight on the palate but the fruit is in the hiding somewhere. Certainly more oak in use here which certainly adds to the enjoyment. Another one that needs another year or two. 90 points
I would like to say a massive thank you to Raj and Jamie for sharing their passion with us and also to Roberson for putting on such an interesting and thought provoking evening.