Saturday, September 17, 2011

To Joe...

It was around 11:30am on a Tuesday, I think. The restaurant's dining room had been converted wine tasting style: tables organized around the exterior, with dark table cloths covering them, bottles lined up on the surface, ice buckets on the ready to chill the whites and sparkling wines. A few folks were still working on opening the last few bottles. Though it was not yet crowded, people started to slowly shuffle in. I was glad to have arrived a bit early, since this was not just another swirl, taste and spit affair.

This was a Dressner tasting. The average quality of the wine would be much higher. Nearly every wine - regardless of one's taste - would at the least be a wine with some character. And, the people here would be serious. Some socializing, schmoozing, shop talk and shit talking, to be sure, but also lots of impressions waiting to be formed on some wineries whose products have no shortage of followers.

Also, fresh off the plane from New York, cancer in remission (or, at least under much better control after weeks of treatment) was Joe Dressner, public face of the importing company of all these delicious French and Italian wines. I wanted to quickly introduce myself prior to slurping and spitting. As we talked, I noticed someone in close proximity to us pouring themselves a taste of one of Dressner's Beaujolais producers.

"Hey, what do you think you're doing? That's not a tasting pour."

A younger guy looked over at this somewhat large guy with a big bald head filling out a kangol hat.

"Yeah, that's right, that's more than 2 ounces. You're tasting the wine, not drinking it. Who wants to show this guy how to do this?"

Thoroughly embarrassed, the younger guy did not stick around much longer, not while he was jokingly, but firmly, being skewered by Joe.

Meanwhile, I took my leave and moved through the room, as there were simply too many people who wanted to catch up with the wine importer, all of whom Joe greeted quite warmly and with the kind of personal questions you might expect out of someone who is both socially adept as well as in good health, not from someone who perhaps was known to be a bit prickly and whose bout with brain cancer was ongoing.

A few takeaways from that first and only encounter with Joe Dressner:

Joe was opinionated.
He was feared.
He was loved.
He was occasionally a bit of a jerk.
Joe was a warm soul.

It was his show, and it still kinda' is.

I extend all my best wishes to Joe's family and friends, as well as to his many admirers and folks who, like me, know the man more through anecdotes and second hand tales than anything else. You don't have to be known to be sorely missed, and I think it's safe to say that many folks in the world will miss Joe.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mount Veeder and the Mighty Mayacamas Vineyards

The more I casually taste current release California wine, the less I find worth drinking. The more I explore - in a targeted, more carefully researched way - California wine, the more I find that is not only worth drinking, but interesting, and occasionally compelling. Such was yet again proven to be the case after a recent visit to Mayacamas Vineyards.

Mayacamas Vineyards has a continuous history of producing grapes dating back to the late 1800s, a history which you can check out on their website. While I cannot comment as to how these wines tasted back in the 40's, or even in the 70's and 80's, I can say with confidence that almost any current release wine of theirs which I have drunk of late has been terrific: firm, balanced, with more than adequate acid, pretty aromas, and a very strong future to be sure. While there are other renowned cab producers in California (Ridge, Dunn, Heitz, Laurel Glen, Corison, et al) as well as producers of ageworthy Chardonnay (Mount Eden, Stony Hill, Montelena) I cannot think of one winery who makes both whites and reds as classic, appealling and age-worthy as Mayacamas. I'm not sure why this is, and why I'm so much in love with these wines right now, though I do think that the factors below have something to do with it:

- old vines planted in poor, rocky soil in a volcanic bowl
- picking most grape varieties at 23 brix
- indigenous yeast, naturally temperature controlled fermentations
- ageing in OLD oak (90 year old foudres are still in use here; also the reds do not go into any barrel younger than 10 years old)
- Late releases (typically 3 years in wood, followed by another 2 in bottle, for reds)

Some notes from wines tasted up here in the mountains:

2008 Mayacamas Vineyards Chardonnay Mt Veeder

Lemon curd aromas, coupled with some traces of coconut, remind of Lopez de Heredia. The flavors are mouth filling yellow fruits, with fresh, balanced acidity.

2003 Mayacamas Vineyards Chardonnay Mt Veeder

A pretty, deep golden color, this somewhat aged chard showed ripe yellow fruit aromas, with a very mellow, rich and rounded palate. Acidity softening a bit. This is a wine in a good spot right now - drink it up.

2007 Mayacamas Vineyards Pinot Noir Mt Veeder

I don't think they generally pour this during visits, so to satisfy my curiosity, I purchased a few bottles. And was I ever glad that I did! I have yet to have a California pinot noir as simultaneously DARK fruited and bright, mineral and tense, as this one. Like a young villages NSG from a top ranking grower, only more fruit, slightly more generous. WOW.

2006 Mayacamas Vineyards Merlot Mt Veeder

Next to the pinot noir, this is my favorite. Deep cherry/burnt earth scents. Black cherry with terrific intensity and acid for the grape variety (17% cab is blended in as well). A touch floral - violets. For a young wine, especially one you may want to drink over some years, "firm" is a desirable trait in my book. This merlot is firm, delicious and balanced.

2005 Mayacamas Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Mt Veeder

Smells like black currant, black cherry, and a hint of smoke. Intense and long on the palate. Once again, the acidity is more than sufficient for the grape variety, and just like the merlot this wine is firm, with great structure and minerality.

1997 Mayacamas Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Mt Veeder

Intense cherry, cedar, and subtle eucalyptus notes on the nose, leading to a palate of tasty cherry fruit that is just starting to soften. Though this was my least favorite, it is no slouch. Just a bit more cabby in the warm, Napa sense. Still, though, this wine has developed well and shows solid old school California cab character.