California Sun (Apr. 2019)

A travelogue of family vacation in Silicon Valley captures what my drinking would look like if we had ever relocated. It's a fair example of the eclecticism offered by the local wineries, the boutique shops and even the supermarkets.

But let me start with a visit and tasting at local legend Ridge, one of the stars of the famous Judgement of Paris in the seventies.

The first thing that struck me when we drove up the winding road to the original winery location right next to Montebello vineyard  was how high and cool the vineyard is and how off the beaten track thelocation must have been in the early 60's when Ridge set up shop and reclaimed the Montebello vineyard. They've since expanded to Lytton Springs in Sonoma, but you can read all about that in their own site.

The flight I tasted featured some flavorsome red wines, their richness supported by elegant tannins - even the East Bench, Zinfandel, 2017, the biggest surprise of the tasting, for me, is a suave, elegant wine. The Lytton Estate Syrah, 2014, was exactly what I expected from a Sonoma Syrah, peppery and muscular. The Perrone, Merlot, 2014 is also dense and muscular, like a young Right Bank, the tannins lither and slightly sweeter than a Pomerol, say. The Torre, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 and the signature, Bordeaux blend Montebello, 2015 offer bountiful, elegant riches, with a piney, herbal edge. Stylish, elegant, deep wines, both of them, the Montebello especially. The Montebello, at 250 USD, is aimed at the filthy rich lawyers, accountants and entrepreneurs of the Valley, but the Zinfandel and Syrah are fairly priced at around 40-50 USD and even the Merlot and Cabernet are not too pricey, considering their quality, for the 80-90 USD price point.

Now on to the rest.

J. H. Strub, Rheinhessen, Niersteiner Bruckchen, Herzstuck, Riesling Kabinett, 2016

Strub is one of the mainstays of the Terry Theise portfolio that I’d been perusing in the annual catalog for years without ever buying. Israeli importers never carried the house and I’d always had better things to carry home from my travels than a little known name from Rheinhessen. But I was looking for interesting things to drink at the fifteen dollar price point and this caught my eye. 

This is a single vineyard wine and the Herzstuck tag means free run juice. While Bruckchen is not a Grand Cru, Theise says the vineyard has warm micro-climate with cool soils making for ripe wines with high acidity. That’s a very good entry point to the wine. Young Riesling is always dominated by apples, and this is no exception, although the ripeness of the fruit introduces aromas and flavors of peaches and apricots. The acidity ensures not only structure but an expression of salinity on the finish. Lovely purity and great value.

J. H. Strub, Rheinhessen, Niersteiner Paterberg, Riesling Spatlese, 2016

In contrast to the Bruckchen Kabinett, this is totally dominated by apples. It’s also fuller, rightfully so, being a Spatlese. Great purity of fruit, again, the saline/mineral nuances more obvious. Despite a thrilling balance of sweet fruit and intense acidity, it’s less expressive right now than the Kabinett.

Jos Christoffel Jr., Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Erben Urzinger Wurzgarten, Riesling Spatlese, 2011

Crystalline, gossamer, purity on palate, nuanced aromatics of apples and icy rock. Typical Mosel, in short. Better defined, refined and focused than the Strubs, if you need a comparative context (that sidesteps terroir, age and vintage variations).

Chateau Peyros, Madiran, Tannat-Cabernet, 2014

60-40%, young vines. New World techniques (micro-oxygenation and pre-fermentation maceration) manage to temper the Tannat’s tannic bite with smooth, ripe fruit, while leaving in place many things to appeal to lovers of classic France: rusty tannins, aromas of iron and rock co-mingling with black fruit. A ten dollar wine offering the delights that twenty-forty dollar Bordeaux clarets forgot they once had in them.

Domaine Pichot, domaine de Peu De La Moriette, Vouvray, 2017

One of the big surprises of the trip, considering it's a ten dollar wine at Costco. Sometimes capitalism wins. Full, yet surprisingly zesty. Melon and wet wool. A bit of rocky chalk. Very good.

Mount Edward, Central Otago, Pinot Noir, 2016

The fruity side of Pinot, and I mean that in a complimentary way, the fruit being so restrained and compact. Smooth, silky, supple cherry fruit, an earthy note providing sobriety. Only fair complexity, and the tannins are a bit firm and drying, but overall, this is very pure and moreish. And I like it a lot.

Adelsheim, Williamette Valley, Pinot Noir, 2017

The interesting manifestations of Pinot Noir juggle spicy, earthy and floral components with fruits of varying colors. This regional wine from one of the first pioneers of the grape in Oregon moors black cherries in a spicy, earthy framework, with violets in deep outfield and a touch of pine needles. It may not have the class and blast of single vineyard bottlings, but don’t underestimate it, it’s graced with a downhome, exotic flair and requires a couple of hours of airing.