Saturday, February 1, 2014

Snowden Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

Snowden Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

We met Scott Snowden during one of our first Napa Valley excursions back in the mid-nineties. It was shortly after Snowden was featured in the Wine Spectator "A Dozen to Watch" chronicling twelve emerging hot producers of Napa Valley wines. He was a lawyer and former judge before taking over the family wine business with his brother Randy and their wives. Their father had acquired the Napa Valley property to move his family out of the congestion of city life in Oakland where he was a professor at U Cal at the time.

Over the ensuring years we met with and featured each one of the twelve in our Napa Wine Experience dinners and tastings. On this day, we met Randy at Brix Restaurant and tasted his wines over lunch. Over the following years we collected Snowden Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon including this 2000 vintage offering. We still hold in our cellar a vertical of vintages of Snowden dating back to their early 1993 vintage.

I recall hearing him recounting his story of the design of their unique label design by his wife Joanne Ortega Snowden, whom if I recall correctly, also designed the labels for Marilyn Merlot at that time.

Tonight we enjoyed Snowden at home over a perfectly matched dinner of T-bone steak, rice pilaf, and asparagus spears.

Eric Snowden and all the recent press about his betrayal of our government aside, there is no connection between him and Scott or his brother Randy of Napa Valley wine fame.

The Snowden was dark ruby colored, starting to show a tinge of brownish rust color, however it didn't reveal any diminution of its bright vibrant cherry, currant and berry fruits, accented by a layer of eucalyptus before giving way to leather and earth with tones of anise on the tangy tight tannin finish.

RM 90 points.

Cellartracker listed the drinking window of this vintage through 2012 and based on tonight's tasting I revised it to 2016. My records show we still have two more bottles and I'm not feeling rushed to consume them. In fact, we still hold four older vintages and I chose this one tonight based on it having the 'expired' drinking window.

Ghost Pines Red Blend 2011 - the 'un-terroir' wine

Ghost Pines Red Blend 2011 - the 'un-terroir' wine

This is an eclectic blend from a variety of grapes from a diversity of locations across California. By design, the philosophy for Ghost Pine's wines is to allow the winemaker to "enjoy (s) the freedom to choose the best grapes he can find, regardless of AVA. Inspired by the free-form character of its namesake tree, Ghost Pines embodies the progressive spirit of California winemaking – “excellence has no boundaries.”'

This is the opposite of the concept of terroir, that sense of place associated with the grapes from a particular vineyard and its distinctive combination of climate, micro-climate, soil, terrain, sun, drainage - all the elements that contribute to the character of grapes from specific place. In fact it takes that sense of place and multiplies it times three, four, five or more. And then take all of that times four or five different grape varietals that are in the composition for this wine. The result is a big complex flavorful wine.

Ghost Pines is named for a historic vineyard purchased in 1964 by Napa’s historic Louis M. Martini Winery. Ironically, they then go against all the heritage or sense of that vineyard and emphasize their approach to produces unique wines by giving Winemaker Michael Eddy 'the freedom to choose the best grapes he can find, regardless of AVA (appellation of designated place where grapes are grown with common characteristics).

Wine folks refer to 'old world' and 'new world' wines - the old world being wine regions that have been producing wines for centuries; France, Italy, Germany, Portugal, as compared to new world where wines have been produced for years ... or perhaps decades; Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Austrailia, New Zealand, .... America. Ghost Pines would be the epitomy of new world thinking.

While old world wines may be 'narrow' and perhaps uninspiring, those producers have become masters at getting the absolute most out of their particular 'patch' of ground that is their vineyard. This includes learning over time precisely which grapes (varietals) grow best in that place, and best reflect through their output that sense of place - terroir. As such, they'll also select grapes that compliment each other and go best together as in combination to provide the best results in the blend. One grape for depth, one for breadth, one for increased structure, and complementary flavors.

At the end of the day, lets never forget, its all grape juice!

Those with discriminating palates that have the experience and discernment to parse all the elements and characteristics of a wine so as to even detect that sense of terroir, or the nuances of the different grapes in the blend, let alone the effects of the particular vintage, appreciate comparing one vintage of an Estate wine to the next. Indeed, Estate bottled means that the grapes in that bottle were grown on the property of the producer as identifed on the label.

The French famously put on their labels (left) "Mis En Bouteille au Château", roughly translated as bottled at the Chateau or Estate or property. Adding the words "Appellation Original Controllee", (AOC) go further to certify that that wine conforms to rigorous controls over the grapes, their origin within the Appellation, and how the wine was produced. In Italy, the similarly equivalent references are DOC and DOCG (Denominazione di origine controllata - "Controlled designation of origin") that are the controls that enforce the quality of the wine in a particular area or appellation.

All this said, Ghost Pines is the result of free-form selection of grapes from many locales, from many varietals, blended together into their wines. This is the case in bulk wine, oft called 'jug wines', but in this case, they're striving for 'contemporary' quality wine from the same approach.

The result is not necessarily sophisticated, polished, harmonious or 'integrated', all words that might describe how well the different components of the blend complement each other, it is complex, perhaps to a fault. But then again, its a $15 wine, that no man's land between 'jug' wine and a Meritage (trademarked branding for a Bordeaux blend composition in a non-Bordeaux sourced wine - the Bordeaux varietals being Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot) or Bordeaux or other AOC wine.

By their own pronouncements they profess, "When our winemakers think about how to make a great wine, they start in the vineyard. And that vineyard has no boundaries. It may begin in northern Napa and end on the hillsides of Sonoma. It might stretch across mountains and valleys to Lodi in San Joaquin or meander down the Pacific Coast to Monterey. When the barriers of traditional appellations are lifted, a progressive group of winemakers sees no limit to the kind of wine they can make. Those winemakers, led by Ghost  Pines Vintner Michael Eddy, are turning out remarkable wines that blend the best of California's diverse appellations." 

In addition to this Red Blend, Ghost Pines also produce a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and a Chardonnay.

You be the judge. Its all in the eye of the beholder. I think in the end, they produce a wine that provides high QPR - Quality Price Ratio, and perhaps that is what is most important to the consumer anyway. While not true to appellation conventions, look for Ghost Pines for imaginative, bold and interesting wines.

Even the producer speaks to a Dr Jekyll, Mr Hyde combination in the blend of grapes used for this wine. "The Ghost Pines 2011 Red Blend showcases the complexity and balance that the right combination of the right grapes can achieve. The Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot in this blend act as the stoic Dr. Jekyll, while the Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Sangiovese are a classic Hyde: assertive, aggressive and maybe even a little disturbed."

The winemakers' notes for this wine describe, "Aromas of blueberry and blackberry pie are framed nicely by salted caramel, spice and truffle notes. Rich and full-bodied, this blend offers chewy tannins and a long, luscious finish."

I found this wine dark purple colored, full bodied, complex aromas and flavors of black and blue berry fruits, tones of cherry, graphite, spice and tea with a tight edge on the firm tannins lingering on the finish.

RM 87 points.

The blend is 48% Petite Sirah, 21% Zinfandel, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot, 9% Other.
The grapes are sourced from 56% Sonoma County, 23% San Joaquin County, and 21% from Napa County.