Saturday, June 28, 2014

One of the ten best red wines I've made in thirty years, but I like it too!

Behold, the amazing 2013 Stillman “Zeppelin” Pinot Noir, San Luis Obispo County.

100% Clone 777 Pinot Noir, alc. 14.9%, $60 retail – for strangers, which you are not.  (Vastly preferable club price via email, with mention of the Secret Password, at the bottom of this post.)  The vineyard is extremely cool-climate and very low yielding,  1.6 miles from the Pacific, above the town of San Simeon;  I've had my eye on it for several years but only picked twice.

This is a very powerful but balanced style of Pinot Noir, both very ripe and deliciously tart.  Denser and riper than almost any other example of the variety, with very ripe red cherry, blackberry and pepper, and a moderate amount of once used French oak.  The nose is blatantly Pinot Noir; the structure is rich, full and balanced with minimal tannins.  It’s definitely one of the ten best red wines I’ve made in my thirty years of enological malpractice.  I’d be happy to prattle on and on, and may write a long blog post about the wine, but it’s time to share it:  $209/6 bottles, $399/12 bottles, temperature controlled shipping included.  Orders and questions, email me at StillmanB@aol.com
The secret password is:  lignification


Monday, June 9, 2014

Wine competition judges and critics explained by an actual expert?

As I thought it might, the 2014 Orange County Fair Commercial Wine Competition gave the 2013 Chateau d'Abalone Verdejo a silver medal;  I received the notice by snail mail today.  Having judged this California-only event since 1990, and other judgings open to international entries as well, I didn't take it too hard.  The OCF is not a consensus judging, where assorted winemakers, chefs, sommeliers and writers bicker and bargain over what to give, say, PN#105 in price class M.  The OCF has winemaker-only judges who score wines independently without discussion;  numerical scores are crunched in a non-smoke-filled back room and medals are awarded later.  At lunch, I overheard a judge on the panel that tasted the Vermentinos admit that she'd never had one before:  not exceptional, but unfortunate, as she certainly judged a wine I made for a client who'd entered several.  (Just found out that it actually did get a gold medal, so I really shouldn't complain.)

The Syrahs and Tempranillos I've done for this client have done exceptionally well in the last few years, by the way, and the Syrah, Tempranillo, Counoise and Vermentino did in fact win a gold medal at this same competition - the excellent Viognier only got a bronze despite that category being judged by my panel!  If the other three judges gave the Verdejo 92 points and she gave it 82, it gets a silver - in a consensus judging it gets a gold.  Oh well...

I only entered the wine at the direct request of the organizers, who guilted me into it.  Making very small amounts of wine means running out, and regretting giving it away for unneeded hype when a customer wants a few bottles and there's none left.  Critics ask for fewer bottles than competitions, but they naturally expect you to subscribe to or advertise in their publications, and that adds up too, and some of them are prima donnas who hold grudges against their betters for mocking them.  (Some of them are even more arrogant than winemakers.)  In the words of the great Rik Mayall (who passed away extremely recently) as Lord Squadron Leader Flashheart in "Black Adder": "Right! Let's dig out your best booze and talk about me till the car comes."

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A flying V dream of acid rain?

Of the great wine varieties*, I have the least knowledge and experience of Riesling in growth and production; learning by osmosis is another matter.  In fact, this is only my second, the previous being the softer if not sweeter 2007 Red Zeppelin, also from Monterey.  I did not grow or purchase these grapes: the fraction of the wine that was picked and fermented which bears my label was the result of what I am pleased to call consulting;  my advice is worth its weight in copper sulfate.  (Which was not needed here, should you wonder.)  I wound up with barely more than a barrel's worth, though utterly unoaked;  those wishing a few more details about the wine should read my email offering it for sale.  The wine is acidic, and the vines didn't see a drop of rain from flowering until harvest.

'Fliegentraum' means 'flight dream' though the Germans don't make a single word of it;  considering the language it's a miracle there's only one more letter for the same meaning, instead of a full paragraph.  A hallucination would be another basis for the label's artwork, though in fact it started out as a different idea, was modified by a friend of the artist (and mine) after the piece was commissioned, and only named after the art was finished and the wine bottled.  If it makes sense to you, please explain it to us.

The Flying V guitars in the upper right look something like the XB-70 Valkyrie bomber, said by some to be the loudest aircraft of all time;  the Flying V guitar in the foreground is modeled after one owned by one of the members of the late great rock band, Meth Leppard.**  They were pretty loud, too.

*I shouldn't have left out Chenin Blanc.
** No relation, cover, or tribute to Def Leppard; Meth Leppard was an outstanding band in their own right, with one of the most outlandish and only partially misleading names since Dread Zeppelin.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Apres moi, le deluge!

Perhaps you've heard that California is experiencing a drought, which is true - Paso Robles got less rain last year than Death Valley does in some years.  (Parenthetically, I am quite confident that I could make excellent wine there as well, if not on the salt flats.)  So you ax, what does drought do to vineyards?
Generally, not a lot;  Vitis Vinifera is quite drought resistant, most vineyards are drip-irrigated to optimize, according to the desires and knowledge of the management, the delivery of water to the vine, and old dry-farmed vines have roots that go deep into soil and rock.  We're having a different problem - our water tables are down, and older, shallow wells are drying out.
One extremely well-financed (vanity) winery on the west side of town dug big new wells and drenched their hillsides with two feet of water last summer (irrigation can be measured in hours applied, and/or depth of the water used if conceived as a horizontal sheet coming down all at once) - though a wine grapevine in this area needs no more than ten or twelve inches a year, these people were in a hurry, wanted to plant new vines in the heat of the summer, and poured on the water to soften up the rocky hillside soils.  A neighboring small winery and vineyard, which has been there for decades, saw their well go dry soon afterwards.  
Other vineyards on the east side of town, some very large, are pumping major gallonage to sustain big yields from the vines - more water, more fertilizer, more leaves, more grapes, less flavor, coming to a grocery store near you.  First the Flood, then the Ziggurat of stacked cases!
As this is California, the water lawsuits and politics will go on for decades, with one certain outcome:  there will be more attorneys and politicians planting vineyards and building wineries with their cut of the loot.  So you need a consultant?  Well, let me interview you first.

Friday, November 22, 2013

No closure on closures - Elvis' wine list?

If you don't want to read about corks, skip down to the picture! 
A semi-brief technical matter before the entertainment, kids:  some of you may have noticed that I have discontinued use of screwcap closures and have been using agglomerate corks of various shades and decorations as closures for the past few years, but not so-called 'natural' one-piece corks (except in one special circumstance which is immaterial to this discussion of materials).  I am still supportive of screwcaps despite their physical vulnerability to a 'rim strike' on the bottle, but my mobile bottler has five lines with varying schedules, and only one has a machine that applies screwcaps.  
The producers of agglomerate corks have made tremendous progress over the last decade, after some false starts and one persistently flawed product, the "1+1" - identifiable by the relatively large (2-6mm) and irregular cork chunks that make up the bulk of the cork cylinder, and the thin disc of 1-piece cork at either end.  The modern agglomerates, on the other hand, consist of small and relatively uniform cork pieces (under 2 mm) that have been carefully washed and purged of TCA and other contaminants.  They may look cheap, but they can cost 2-5 times as much as a one piece 'natural' cork.  (Of course, there are some very expensive "natural" corks available, and some producers of $100+ wines use them, but as there's no way to wash, purge, or reliably test one piece corks, they're playing Moldy Lotto.)  My quality control method is simple - I get a sample bag from a producer whose website says the right things about the specifics of their production technology, and then I bite a cork in half.  Sniff.  Repeat until I get a bad one, or the bag's empty.

Something to drink while the King sweats?   Chapoutier Tavel Rose, $12.  Puligny Montrachet, $22.  Two Cold Ducks!  Printed only two years before his death; it's a shame he didn't ask a lovely young thing in the front row for one of these.  
"Hey Charlie, get me one bottle of everything on this list, and I'll see what I like best.  These damn pills are killin' me."

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Decanting For Wankers

The decanter differs from the tastevin in that it is not completely useless; some elderly wines are so sedimentary that the assistance of a sommelier with a candle and an expensive piece of crystal can be entertaining, if not actually helpful.  I've used a plastic pitcher for aeration and CO2 dissipation, upon occasion.  For aged, dormant or juvenile wines, however, the use of a decanter is hit or miss -  it can be a  ramp strike.


Decanting, properly done, excludes most bottle sediments and exposes the wine to oxygen, but it does not replicate the anaerobic aging of wine in the bottle, facts known to all professionals and knowledgeable amateurs.  What is less known, if in practice harder to employ, is that what we colloquially call the 'opening up' of a wine and, in the case of red wines, the softening (linking) of its tannins, is often best observed over a period of days, not the minutes or hours usually allowed by the use of a decanter in a restaurant, or at home when you have the best intentions but many an inquiring and parched guest.
So, try this:  open a dormant or young wine and pour a glass, then replace the cork.  Wait a week.  The effects are often far superior to decanting - as a simple test, leave the initial glass to breathe for an hour or so, and memorize it.  If the wine is better a week later, well, there you are!
This is a tried, if imperfectly true, test.  For what it's worthless, this post was inspired by recent experiences with the "Deep Purple" Petite Sirah, and the "Longboard Ambassador" Pinot Noir, amazing to behold.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Harvest, bottle, harvest!

As most of you will know from getting my emails, the 2013 Verdejo is already in the bottle - it went from grape to glass in five weeks, and another three weeks have passed since then;  local winemakers with more experience than I (and this is my thirtieth harvest in California) have pretended to be impressed - they might not be, if they knew how much wine I lost in hurrying it along.  In the meantime, I've also picked Viognier, Tempranillo, Tannat, an utterly fantastic Pinot Noir, Zinfandel (two clones) and Vermentino;  all but the last two have finished fermenting.  The Zinfandel 'stuck' at a far higher sugar than I've ever experienced, about 5 brix, leaving me with three options: attempt a referment with nutrients and an allegedly stronger yeast, blend with another wine in such a ratio as to almost guarantee refermentation to dry, or make a port.
Of course I'll do all three - I have three barrels to play with, after all!
The Vermentino isn't finished because it was picked recently;  it's foaming along very nicely, with some beautiful exotic aromas.  In about five hours, the Syrah 877 pick starts at Gill Vineyard;  this is the wine that has produced the Colossus.  Because we grafted over some of the miscreant Grenache to Alicante Bouschet last year, with the right blend I can produce, bottle and label another 'La Mort Du Roi' aka Dead Elvis wine (elvisdiedforyoursins.com)- as long as nothing changes on the label except the alcohol and the vintage, it need not be resubmitted to the Feds.  And there's no sense taking that chance that some bureaucrat will make sense of the label, if indeed it makes sense to anyone but me.  For that matter, it seems that Verdejo is not an 'approved variety' for American wine, notwithstanding that I am the third producer in California (but the only coastal one) the other wineries/growers having legally called it White Table Wine on the label and claimed that Verdejo was a 'fanciful name'.  As the Chateau d'Abalone label was approved as a varietal Verdejo last year, this means I can't change anything but the vintage and alcohol without exposing myself to a considerable delay, or worse; a shame, as I would like to vineyard designate (Twin Coyote Vineyard).

  

Band practice

Band practice