Tuesday, March 24, 2009

More Highlights from the Skurnik Grand Portfolio Tasting

Though you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise if you caught the first part of my coverage of the recent Michael Skurnik Wines grand portfolio tasting, there were wines on hand from regions other than Burgundy. Actually, without doing a thorough statistical analysis of the event’s tasting notebook, I’d hazard a guess that there were more wineries represented from the US than from any other single nation. Before we get to the small handful of American wines I sampled, though, let’s finish up with France and dabble in Italy.

Outside of Burgundy (though not by much), the lineup that most impressed me was that of Stephane Robert, from Domaine de Tunnel in the Northern Rhône. His wines showed enough richness to appeal to voyeuristic imbibers but maintained a sense of purity that clearly expressed each wine’s terroir and typicity. Robert makes two varietal cuvées of Saint-Péray rather than the Marsanne/Roussanne blend that’s more typical to the AOC. His 2007 “Cuvée Marsanne” was round, clean and pure, while the “Cuvée Roussanne” from the same vintage showed a grippier, higher acid profile with a touch of vegetal savor to its fruit. In the Syrah department, a 2007 Saint-Joseph was aromatically closed but displayed fantastic length on the palate, while his 2006 Cornas, produced from 50 year-old vines, was redolent of sour black olives. Produced from 100 year-old vines, the Cornas “Vin Noir” is the top wine at Domaine du Tunnel; the 2006 delivered substantial richness bolstered by a firm backbone of oak-driven spiciness. A sample of Stephane’s 2007 Cornas, which I tasted when stopping by for a re-visit toward the end of the day (something I did only here, at Domaine de l’Arlot and, of course, the Theise Champagne table), was full of lively red berry fruit laced with aromas of pumpernickel rye. Very tasty stuff.

After a Burgundy-intensive spell on the ground floor, I headed downstairs for a quick glimpse at some of the Italian producers who’d flown over for the event. As I’d tasted through many of the wines at a Marc DeGrazia event last year, I picked and chose my way around the room, eventually spending a good chunk of time chatting with Sara Palma, Sales Manager for Azienda Agricola Matteo Correggia. Sara, who is pictured above, walked me through Correggia’s current lineup, including a tank sample of their 2008 Roero Arneis, a wine for which I’ve always had a soft spot, and an herbal, refreshing Brachetto called “Anthos,” which tasted of marzipan and wild cherries. Sara taught me that as much as 75% of all Barbera d’Alba is produced in the Roero and also spoke of the struggles the Correggia estate has been faced with overcoming since Matteo Correggia's untimely death in a 2001 tractor accident.

I was also pleased to discover the wines of Romagna-based producer, Fattoria Zerbina. Winemaker Cristina Giminiani (sorry, no pic) was on hand, pouring her direct, juicy, good-value 2007 Sangiovese di Romagna “Ceregio” as well as a delicious and finely balanced botrytis-affected 2006 Passito di Romagna called “Scacco Matto,” produced from 100% Albana.

Back upstairs, I made an even stricter selection when pruning my way through the huge array of American wines. I stopped for a quick visit with Peter and Willinda McCrea, both of whom I’d missed during a trip to Stony Hill Vineyard a couple of years back. Their 2005 Napa Valley Chardonnay was the star of their lineup, a classic example of the old school, age worthy style that continues to earn the estate its reputation. A half step away, I also tasted through the Chardonnays from David Ramey. Though much more modern in style, they’re well done, showing good differentiation from site to site and always retaining bright acidity that helps to balance their sometimes intense weight. My favorite was their “basic” 2006 Sonoma Coast bottling, crisp and full of tropical fruit flavors.

Last up, I wandered over to the Dashe Cellars table to check in with Michael Dashe. After eight years on the winemaking team at Ridge Vineyards, Michael and his wife Anne are now on their own, turning out wines produced from fruit sourced in various parts of Northern California. The wines don’t show the strong oak stamp I associate with Ridge but do, as at Ridge, clearly reflect their places of origin. They’re not shy but are also not over-the-top. Michael is avoiding manipulation in the winery and is not afraid to let the naturally tannic structure of some of his wines show. His 2006 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon displayed good fruit clarity and structure, while a 2006 Zinfandel from Louveau Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley was crunchily tannic, its texture providing startling counterpoint to its raisiny fruit. I’d hoped for a taste of his Potter Valley Zin called “L’Enfant Terrible.” It wasn’t listed in the book but when I asked about it Michael uncovered a sample bottle of his 2008, which he’d drawn from tank just after a recent racking. It’s an intentionally cool climate Zinfandel, finished at less than 13% alcohol and treated with minimal intervention and very low doses of sulfur. Mike’s goal with his “wild child” is to make a Zin that drinks more like a Morgon. I was pretty convinced. Now if only I can get my hands on a few of the very few bottles from Dashe’s 280 case production that make it to the New York market, I’ll be a happy camper.


Michael D. said...

Great observation on the "L'enfant". Certainly has the perfume of a Cru Bojo. Hopefully they share the love woth philly this year.....

David McDuff said...

I hope so too, Mike, but I'm pretty sure M. Dashe said the wine will only be available on the CA and NY markets.

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