March 24, 2012

North Shore Wine Tasting Group, California’s Best Vintage Ever, Gloucester, MA

1997 Talbott Chardonnay Sleepy Hollow Vineyard (Monterrey) – Chardonnay grape
In 1982, Robb Talbott began planting his original Diamond T Estate vineyard on a cold, windswept mountaintop in Carmel Valley. Conventional wisdom was against him, and many said the steep, exposed site with its massive shale boulders was “too cold,” “too difficult to plant” and “too challenging to grow on.” But Robb had a vision—a vision he held on to as he prepared the cliff-side vineyard by hand, breaking apart its massive boulders with a 12-pound sledgehammer. “It all began with my first taste of a great Burgundy,” says Robb. “That experience profoundly shaped my palate, and as I grew older I knew that I wanted to create unique and exceptional Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Wines that took their inspiration from the traditions of Burgundy, but had their roots in California’s soils.” After years of working with fruit from Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, in 1994 the Talbotts achieved another important milestone when they were able to acquire the property—making Talbott an all-estate winery. Featuring blocks of old Wente clone vines planted in 1972, Sleepy Hollow has earned a reputation for producing wines of great depth and voluptuousness. Today, Sleepy Hollow’s River Road block is home to the winery’s state-of-the-art winemaking facility, where Robb Talbott and renowned winemaker Dan Karlsen guide Talbott’s storied Chardonnay and Pinot Noir programs. These estate wines have gained a reputation for their lushness, grace and great aging potential, and have become benchmarks of quality on the Central Coast. Deep, ripe, rich and concentrated, this outstanding California Chardonnay delivers layers of fig, pear, apple and melon and gains nice oaky touches of hazelnut and cedar before finishing with a burst of fruit. Rated 92 Wine Spectator

1997 Far Niente Chardonnay (Napa Valley) – Chardonnay grape
Far Niente was founded in 1885 by John Benson, a forty-niner of the California gold rush and uncle of the famous American impressionist painter, Winslow Homer. Benson hired architect Hamden McIntyre, creator of the former Christian Brothers winery – now the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone – to design the building. Constructed against a hillside in western Oakville, Far Niente functioned as a gravity flow winery, gently moving the grapes through each stage of production. Tight, with a flinty, mineral edge to the center of pear, nutmeg and hazelnut. Needs short-term cellaring to unfold. Rated 88 Wine Spectator

1997 St Francis Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (Sonoma) – Cabernet Sauvignon grape
The 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (almost totally from the Nun’s Canyon Vineyard) is reasonably priced for a wine of such high quality. An opaque purple color is accompanied by a big, bold, spicy, oaky nose infused with licorice, coffee, and abundant quantities of blackberry and cassis fruit. Full-bodied, rich, and impressive, with sweet tannin as well as abundant wood, it will drink well for the next 15 years. Rated 92 The Wine Advocate

1997 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) – Cabernet Sauvignon grape
Few Napa Valley wineries can rival the rich and storied history of Freemark Abbey. It all began in 1886, when Josephine Tychson established the original winery along Route 29 in St. Helena where Freemark Abbey still stands. She kicked off a history of innovation, becoming one of the first woman winegrowers on record. In 1976, wine expert Steven Spurrier conducted a legendary blind tasting in Paris – pitting the upstart wines of California against the establishment of France. Of the 12 American wineries chosen to compete, only Freemark Abbey had two wines represented – a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon. In an upset that shocked the wine world, California wines won every category of the tasting, putting Napa Valley firmly on the world stage. Ripe and flavorful, with mature cherry and currant flavors that are deftly balanced, turning dry, with anise, earth and herbal notes that reveal complexity and concentration. Rated 90 Wine Spectator

1997 Beringer Merlot Bancroft Ranch Howell Mountain (Napa Valley) – Merlot grape
Jacob Beringer left his home in Mainz, Germany, in 1868 to start a new life in the U.S., enticed by his brother, Frederick, who had sailed to New York five years earlier and wrote home constantly of the grand opportunities to be found in the vast new world. New York did not appeal to Jacob, however. He had enjoyed working in wine cellars in Germany when he was younger and had heard that the warm, sunny climate of California was ideal for growing wine grapes. So in 1870 he traveled by train from the East Coast, first to San Francisco and then on to Napa Valley. To his delight, he discovered rocky, well-drained soils similar to those in his native Rhine Valley. A beautiful vineyard at an elevation of 1,800 feet on Howell Mountain. Bancroft Ranch produces intense Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The dark and intense Merlot from this vineyard has also been bottled separately since 1987. The 1997 Merlot Bancroft Ranch (100% new oak) is a dense, full-bodied effort exhibiting black cherry liqueur, chocolate, mineral, and lead pencil aromas and flavors. Fleshy, full-bodied, and chewy, it will be undeniably seductive upon release. It should drink well for 15+ years. Rated 92 The Wine Advocate

1997 Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) – Cabernet Sauvignon grape
The 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon Knight’s Valley is an excellent introduction to Beringer’s style. It offers black fruits, a touch of licorice and cedar, a supple texture, medium to full body, and a soft finish. The Wine Adovcate

1986 Renaissance Vineyard Riesling Late Harvest (North Yuba, California) – 100% Riesling grape
Made in a classic style – emphasizing elegance with a delicate balance of sweetness and acidity (just 7.5% residual sugar). Glorious golden color. Orange marmalade and pear confit nose with the classic petroley complex aged Riesling aroma. Pine nutty with rich and intense mouth feel. Honeysuckle and a slight spice on the palate. A clean harmonious finish. Great with Blue cheese, foie gras and light fruit desserts. At full maturity now but will hold 5 years more. Winery Almost amber-colored yet light in structure and flavor, definitely sweet but balanced short of syrupy. Notes of honey, apricot and pear. Best after 1996. Wine Spectator