The Derivative from Carlisle
I like to boast about the fact that The Wine House started carrying Carlisle wines from the very first vintage when Mike Officer, then a customer of ours with a taste for Rhônes, began making small lots of Zinfandel. Eighteen vintages later, we continue to still stock Carlisle wines only now their repertoire has expanded to include several single-vineyard and appellation-designated Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah (to name a few) and of late, white wine too. The 2013 The Derivative is a complex blend of several white grape varietals from multiple vineyard keeping in line with Carlisle’s zeal for sourcing old-vine fruit.
Semillon at Monte Rosso Vineyard
The base of the wine is Semillon, about half of the blend, from the famed and historic Monte Rosso Vineyard. Monte Rosso Vineyard is named for its rich, red volcanic soils and lies on the last high flank of the Mayacamas Range. The Semillon grown here was first planted in 1890. To this Mike adds Muscadelle from three different vineyards, and Colombard from Mancini Ranch. At the corner of Piner and Olivet Roads just west of Santa Rosa, Mancini Ranch was planted by Lucca Mancini in 1922. The Colombard adds a significant acid component, adding lift and zip to the wine. Only the Semillon was fermented in oak and of that, only 20% was new. The rest of the grapes were fermented in tank. Phew, that was a lot of information I realize, but I find it interesting to know how the pieces fit together to make a harmonious, complex wine. The wine is golden-hued with honey, grapefruit and beeswax notes. It has firm structure and the acid is notable and pleasant.
On a recent Monday morning, Peter said to me “guess what I drank yesterday?”. I of course had no idea, but my best guess was “Bordeaux”. Nope, he drank a glass of The Derivative with Sunday lunch at a restaurant. I hadn’t tasted it yet, so I asked what he thought of it. He told me he liked it very much and that it reminded him of White Bordeaux. Hmmm…that sounded intriguing to me. The winery notes on The Derivative specifically suggest that fans of White Bordeaux would find this wine “right up your ally”. I have to admit that when I took the wine home to try for myself, because of the percentage of Semillon, I had in mind a much different flavor profile. I expected it to be oily and round, but what I tasted was far more stealth and lively … like White Bordeaux. The grapefruit and spearmint flavors are followed by a slight oxidative note reminding me of the bottles of 1998 Domaine de Chevalier I polished off just a while back. In flavor and in structure, this wine suggests it will age quite comfortably. I would be curious to know how this wine evolves over time. For right now though, it is pretty delicious.
I siphoned off a bit of The Derivative into a vial to share with the guys at the store. I served them a taste blind just to make it more interesting. Chris, David and Pete liked it immediately and with some deductive reasoning, Pete recognized the wine as being the one he had at Sunday lunch. Chris remarked that he wished he could taste the wine with food, thinking that it would perhaps show differently. I got excited by his comment because I knew it to be true. As the cliché goes, The Derivative is a food wine. The Derivative takes on a much broader flavor spectrum with food and its acidity cradles rich, creamy flavors to higher heights. I write this because I know – at home the glass I tried became far more opulent and showy when I drank it with my dinner.
2013 The Derivative
Over the last eighteen vintages, I have witnessed the evolution of a winery go from a small unknown to one widely recognized as being one of the finest producers in California. An online wine forum that I follow from time to time – they claim to be “The World’s Largest and Most Active Online Wine Community”- even has a thread that reads “Which Carlisle are you drinking”? The thread has over 6,000 posts. Not just any winery can command that much interest and devotion.
School’s out for Summer! Alice Cooper’s lyric looped inside my head as I drove my daughter to her last day of 6th grade. I think I may be more excited than she is about the start of summer. I am hoping to slow down the pace, go outside, explore. As someone wisely said in a movie I watched with my daughter (her choice) last weekend, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Anya Balistreri
Poco a Poco Zinfandel
Zinfandel reached American shores approximately 200 years ago. Soon after arriving, Zinfandel travelled west to California where it flourished, achieved success and has become so respected and adored that it is now commonly accepted to refer to it as America’s grape. A true American wine tale. I understood its allure early in my wine life. Zinfandel makes a wine that is easy to grasp and appreciate. The flavors are bold and forward; the pleasure is immediate. For me the connection is Zinfandel + Russian River = family + summer + good times. That’s why to mark the unofficial start of summer, a bottle of Zinfandel will trek up north with me to the family dacha this weekend. What will I be toting along? Poco a Poco’s 2014 Russian River Zinfandel.
Winemaker Luke Bass
Poco a Poco is a line of wines made by Luke Bass of Porter Bass Vineyards. Luke sources organic grapes along with his own biodynamically grown grapes to make easy, immediately accessible, well-crafted wine at more than fair prices. Thinking about this now, I can’t really come up with too many other producers who are deliberately using grapes of this quality to make value-priced wine on a small scale. Maybe there is no glory in it or probably the economics don’t play out well enough. All this means is that this wine buyer spends a lot of time combing through offers, meeting with vendors and keeping her eyes and ears open to who’s doing what to find such a gem.
Luke and Son on tractor
The 2014 Zinfandel is sourced from the Forchini family that owns a 24 acre vineyard 1/2 mile east of the Russian River just south of Limerick Lane. The vineyard is farmed organically. Luke, as he does with all his wine, approaches winemaking by celebrating the grape. For this Zinfandel, he fermented the grapes with native yeast and aged the wine in neutral French oak. Pretty straightforward, if you ask me. The resulting wine captures the zesty berry burst of Zinfandel allowing the tanginess of the fruit to emerge. Not soupy or marred by oak notes, this is a resoundingly bright natured Zinfandel. The inherent acidity will play nicely at the table, especially with bold-flavored grilled fare and won’t shy away from American barbecue.
I called my mom to find out what was on the menu for the family get-together dinner. She said “the usual Zaharoff cook-out…Bulgogi, rice, fresh cabbage salad, bean sprouts salad and a bunch of other stuff”. For years growing up I thought the classic Korean Bulgogi was actually a Russian dish. It is not a far stretch to imagine how a Russian immigrant family came to adopt classic Korean dishes as their own and turning it into their American tradition, serving it on National Holidays at family gatherings. I am excited to see how the Poco a Poco Zinfandel will soak up the savory flavors of the rum-marinated beef and sesame seed oil seasoned salads. I think its going to be a sensational pairing. And yes, Kon, I really am bringing a bottle of this wine to the River! – Anya Balistreri
Cold wintry weather, a warm cozy home, a delicious one-pot dish and a full-bodied red to share can add up to a magical night indoors. A good winter tuck-in is my favorite time to reach for a fuller, more loud red than I typically drink. One such red, the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon “E” from Enkidu, hit all the right marks for that distinctly new world, unabashedly full-styled wine. Big fruit, big aromatics, and yet still harmonious. If you’re in the mood for something less restrained, this Enkidu Cabernet Sauvignon is worth checking out.
Courtesy of Enkidu FB page
In retail, you must plan for the holidays. Keeping stock of the best wine in different categories at various price points is essential, but things can happen unexpectedly. All of a sudden, TWH needed a local Cabernet Sauvignon under $25, preferably from Sonoma or Napa but not necessarily, and, as we like to support the “little guys”, it had to be from a smaller producer. It was hectic around here and there was little time to be out searching and tasting new products. So I did what I often need to do in a pinch, rely on my relationships. I found a Cabernet Sauvignon I thought would fit the bill and asked the wine rep who sells it what they thought of the wine. If you’ve led me in the right direction before, I’m more than willing to listen to your advice. In this case, I was told that the wine I found was fine but what would better suit TWH is the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from Enkidu. He explained the 2013 Enkidu Cabernet Sauvignon was well received and a hit at many Bay Area restaurants because of its fresh, rounded fruit. It’s yummy right out of the gate, er’ bottle.
On good faith, I brought in the wine. A sample was soon provided that was shared at a staff tasting. At first, I have to admit, I was hesitant and a bit skeptical; the label read 15.2% abv. That seems high to me, but I also know that numbers, especially in wine, can be deceiving. I was the first to try the wine and it put to rest any concerns I had upon first whiff. Deep berries, cocoa nibs, very expressive aromatics. The flavors on the palate mirror the aromatics adding notes of tangy fruit and seasoned barrel notes. It’s a delightful drink. Next up were the serious critics, my colleagues, and they too thought the Enkidu Cabernet Sauvignon was delightful. Even Pete, our resident Bordeaux Scout, found much merit in this affordable domestic Cabernet Sauvignon. We concluded that for customers who describe themselves as liking big reds, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, the Enkidu would be a great option for them! The price, at under $25, is an added bonus.
Courtesy of Enkidu FB page
Phil Staehle is the owner/winemaker at Enkidu. Phil cut his teeth at Carmenet Vineyards before starting his own business. The 2013 “E” Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County is sourced from a number of vineyards, mostly from the Sonoma Valley floor. An inclusion of 10% Petite Sirah from the Red Hills gives the wine girth and a touch of flamboyance. Phil writes in his tasting notes that he included a higher percentage of Moon Mountain District fruit which “raised the already very good quality of the “E” to the best yet of this bottling”.
I took the remnants of the sample bottle home. Curled up on the couch, watching the end of the Warriors game, I savored the rich, sweet fruit, delighting in the dark cherry, dusty cocoa, and brown sugar notes. Let me tell you, it sure was a pleasant way to end the day! -Anya Balistreri
I have a confession to make: I do not visit local wineries as much as I should. What’s even worse is that I do not visit as much as I would like to either! Never mind the reasons why I don’t get out to Wine County often enough; it’s simply the reality. What’s even worse is that when I vacation at my family’s dacha along the Russian River, which I do as often as possible, I am only minutes away from hundreds of wineries! As luck would have it, my staycation up at the River this July coincided with Scherrer Winery’s Open House. Normally open by appointment only, Scherrer’s Open House is for mailing list customers to come try new releases and taste wine out of barrel. I’ve been a mailing list customer ever since the winery began in the early ’90s and as a wine buyer now, I am always eager to expound my admiration and preference for Scherrer wines.
The winery itself is a humble structure (an old apple-packing building) and is down a now-paved driveway that always makes me second-guess myself whether I turned down the right way. I love this place! Here there are no meticulously maintained gardens, gift shops, or pool cabanas. It’s a place where they make wine. Inside it’s dark and cellar-cool. The Open House is a family affair, with Fred and his father Ed pouring wines, and Fred’s wife, Judy, helping customers with their wine purchases. Even Fred’s daughter, home for the summer from college, was helping out pouring wine and reciting her father’s morsels of wine wisdom. And of course, you can’t forget about the dogs. Lots of them. All corralled in a pen near some barrels stacked up high.
I arrived at the winery with husband and daughter in tow, so I planned on making a quick pass through the wines. Fortunately, my daughter was preoccupied with the dogs and the tasty appetizers that were served. I had gotten through the first couple wines when I noticed a TWH customer. It was like running into an old friend! We ended up staying, tasting, chatting for a long time. I was enjoying being a customer and soaking up the atmosphere as more Scherrer fans came through the winery to taste. I didn’t bother grilling Fred with lots of questions this time. Instead I was more like a fly on the wall and just listened to what was going on around me. If you are ever interested in learning even more about wine (and have some time), check out the series Ask a Winemaker that frequently features Fred Scherrer. His thoughtful and clear explanations on wine topics are invaluable.
I wanted to properly thank Fred before I left the winery, and as I tried to catch his attention before heading out the door, Fred waved me over and asked if I had time to taste one more thing. What a question! How could I say no? Why would I say no? Fred pulled out a bottle of 2012 Grenache Sonoma County from behind a barrel. He explained that it was a wine he felt could work well in our store, given our customers’ palate preferences (and mine). It’s a wine that is almost exclusively on restaurant wine lists, as the tannins are smooth and the fruit prevalent without being over-the-top; in other words, a classic-styled Scherrer wine.
The 2012 Grenache has a Sonoma County appellation, but it is essentially a single-vineyard wine from Kick Ranch, which is situated along the eastern edge of Rincon Valley. Fred and Ed have been having a lengthy, on-going dialogue about what to do with a part of their Scherrer Vineyard in Alexander Valley that has laid fallow for some time. They settled on the idea of planting Grenache. Typical of Fred’s curious and methodic nature, he wanted to first work with the varietal before making any decisions in the vineyard. The 2012 Grenache is an impressive effort. I loved the voluminous texture and the soft-edged tannins. The finish gave off this milk-chocolatey nuance that reminded me of the finer Vacqueyras I’ve tasted. The 2012 Grenache captures the liveliness of true Southern Rhone wines but with the juicy fruit expression of California.
In his newsletter, Fred writes that “we have done extensive research at the dinner table pairing this wine with many different foods from tomato-based sauces and pasta, simple grilled pork to braised beef and antelope and find that it is extremely versatile. It also handles a diverse set of food spices and sings with rosemary in particular [no great surprise there].” I am eager to test out his findings at home. I particularly like the rosemary angle…perhaps a grilled leg of lamb basted with rosemary dipped in olive oil or jus? That could be epic! – Anya Balistreri
|For many of us, Labor Day Weekend marks the end of summer. Why bid adieu so early? I would like to assert that summer is in fact in effect for yet another 3 weeks! Grape harvest is in full swing in California, I’ve been glued to my Instagram account following the dramatic journey from vineyard to winery to juice. Outside I’ve noticed early mornings are nippier, the sultry Naked Ladies lilies that erupt in August are withering dry, and trees are dropping leaves in greater numbers.The transition from summer to fall shouts out for Zinfandel! Therefore, I present to you an exciting new project spearheaded by Mady Peterson and executed by her husband Joel and his son Morgan Twain-Peterson, the 2011 Papa’s All Blacks.
|Papa’s All-Blacks was named to honor the tradition of the early “field blends” of the late 1880’s and early 1900’s. Back then grape growers planted a mix of grape varieties and co-fermented them. The grape varieties included mostly black-skinned grapes, notably Zinfandel, with a smidgeon of white grapes. These “field blends” that survived are now our greatest old-vine vineyards. Many growers who are dedicated to preserving and promoting these vineyards have also taken to reproduce them with original cuttings. Joel Peterson, founder of Ravenswood, has championed these vineyards for decades. His son Morgan, no stranger to TWH with his delectable Bedrock Wine Co. and Lacuna wines, is such an advocate of these precious old vineyards, he formed the non-profit Historic Vineyard Society. Together, they have created a wine that looks to these field blends as benchmarks. The 2011 Papa’s All-Blacks is approximately 60% Zinfandel with Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouchet and Carignane in the balance sourced from old-vine vineyards all located in Northern California. The grapes were fermented in small open-top fermenters using native yeast and then aged in 25% new French oak barrels. This is a wonderfully supple, rounded red that imparts the zesty-ness of Zinfandel and is augmented with added depth by the other varietals. The fruit is a harmonious blend of plum and brambly fruit and the aromas sing out with berry notes and a floral flare. You could tuck this away for a bit, but I think the temptation to drink up the 2011 Papa’s All-Blacks right now is way too strong!
|The long weekend couldn’t have come at a better time now that school has started and schedules have been re-shuffled; I am in need of some down time. What better a way than a day spent at the beach followed by dinner with la familia under the Redwoods drinking a robust red like the 2011 Papa’s All-Blacks?
Good times! Speaking of good times … made it to The Mayflower in San Rafael’s lovely West End district to catch our very own Pete Z. shred it up with his band, Over Time, to kick off his 3 week long BirthdayFest. The man sure knows how to celebrate! Cheers to you! —Anya Balistreri
| The 2011 Juicy Villages from Juicy Rebound is fun, delicious, and quite a remarkable wine value when you consider the quality of grapes that go into the blend. Winemaker Douglas Danielak took 120+ year old Mourvedre from the famed Evanghelo Vineyard in Contra Costa County and added a bit of Sonoma County Syrah and Grenache for the Southern Rhone-inspired Juicy Villages. You would think that fruit from any one of these sources would command a higher price tag, but Douglas was looking to make an entry-level or villages level, if you would, wine that could be enjoyed immediately.
As is so often the case, Douglas Danielak is not only a winemaker who we have been following for many, many years starting with his pioneering years at Jade Mountain and then at White Rock and now with Paras Vineyards, but is a customer of The Wine House, having a penchant for French wines. Currently, Douglas makes wine for a number of micro-boutique wineries. It is only recently that he has started his own labels, Juicy Rebound and Pont Neuf, with his wife Mary. Douglas’ hobbies extend beyond wine; he is an avid fan of hockey and also plays in local leagues. This seems incongruous to his friendly demeanor and encyclopedic knowledge of wine. When Douglas came by the store last, we got on the subject of premature oxidation in White Burgundy. Douglas gave a quick lecture citing several theories, explaining them in easy-to-understand language, quoting sources from the many French winemakers he personally knows and visits frequently. This AND the fact that he makes fabulous wines and can skate on ice while swinging a stick at a fast moving puck, is impressive, I’d say.
The 2011 Juicy Villages, though approachable and well… JUICY, is not devoid of that dark brooding fruit you’d expect of a wine dominated by Mourvedre. The Mourvedre from Evanghelo Vineyard, which was planted in 1880, grows in sand. Yes, sand. I’ve included a photo, courtesy of Douglas, that puts this fact into vivid view. This sand bank was created where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers merge. The vines are all head-pruned, non-irrigated and on their original rootstock – Douglas calls them “little trees”. All this contributes to lush aromatics, beautiful violet aromas and tangy acidity. Douglas has worked with fruit from Evanghelo Vineyard for 20 years. You can tell how special Evanghelo is to Douglas not only by the deliciousness of the finished wine but by how intimately he describes this unique vineyard site. A strong connection between winemaker and vineyard makes for very interesting wine. The Syrah and Grenache are not afterthoughts but rather intentional components that add richness and sweet fruit. The 2011 Juicy Villages is an example of the exciting and noteworthy wines being made in California that buck the trend of massive, oaky, Cab-centric reds at a budget-friendly price. —Anya Balistreri