Wineries > Wednesday Wine

Wednesday Wine

By GREG MAFFETT
Published: February 25, 2012

After becoming somewhat disaffected with my usual wineries, I decided to step off the beaten path and look for something different. Of course I found it as there really is a market for everything. I was admittedly bored with wines that pretty much tasted the same. It was, in a cliched manner, time to go sideways.

I started at Miner Family. They are about 5 miles up valley from my usual haunts. Very nice guy behind the bar. Just came back to the mainland from a few years in Oahu where he rommed with a Mechanical Engineering professor. As I was two weeks away from my next teaching assignment in Hawaii, we had lots to talk about besides the wine. But the wine was quite solid.

They started me with their "house Chard" and for a white it was quite drinkable. Not overly oaked or buttered, only half maloactic fermentation. Nice. Next up was the Gary's Pinot. Really brilliant. It was fruit from the Sideways part of the state, Santa Lucia. And while I was sipping that the winemaker popped out and even knew the surf shop where I got my hoodie. Turned out he was both a southerner and a surfer. That explained a lot about my gravitation to the wines here. The winemaker spent more time in salt water than I did, but that had to affect our palates in a similar manner.

I'd had their Sangiovese before and it was solid. Very earthy, fair amount of fruit. It was at the low end of the price spectrum and looking back that is about right. After that was the Cab Franc. I took one sip and the pourer immediately poured himself a glass. "Ugh!, that's not right!" He opened another bottle and poured that out. The first bottle was displaying a taste spectrum that was limited to gun metal. The second bottle was about as good as it gets for cab franc. Would have been good with lamb.

Next was their 09 Stagecoach Cab. It was huge, big tannins upfront. BUt also very drinkable. Just needed something rich on the food side to balance the tannins. But I would not have minded drinking this with a good meal. And this was what I was looking for in terms of "good but different".

After this came The Oracle (Bordeaux blend) and the Oakville Cab. I was not a fan of either. In the Oracle the tannins really were over the top. And then the Oakville was noticeably thinner in the range of flavors than the Stagecoach. So in the end, Stagecoach was the clear winner for the Cabs. But the wine I went home with with the Gary's Pinot. Possibly the best Pinot I've had this year...BUt I'll have to open it at home to confirm that as well, there is a process to selling wine and the order in the tasting room does set up expectations.

Next up was Goosecross. Very nice lady there doing the pouring. But this was very, very off the beaten path. Reminded me of some of the garage wineries I visited in Oregon in the last decade. The first wine up was labeled a Sauvignon Blanc. Now this winery is right across the road from Cliff Lede where they make a bipolar verion of this wine. At CLiff's, it is either sublime or subprime. Here? It was...really out there. Never experienced that flavor profile from that grape. Granted there were, as the name suggested, lots of Geese on the property and well, maybe that was what goose did to this particular grape.

They then moved to the Chard, which I think is what keeps them in business. Very drinkable, on par with the MIner house Chard. Then the Red's started. First was the AmerItal. Think that was their version of a Super Tuscan. Sangio and Cab. It was OK. The came their Merlot, which turned out to be their best red. Last up was their....Cab Franc? Yup. Very odd finish to the spectrum. But it was also drinkable. All of the red's did have noticeable tannins, so they were the kind of things I'd have aged a bit. But in the end, nothing really grabbed me here. Other than the weirdness of the cab sauv. That prompted me to officially designate this as Weird Wine Wednesday. And move on.

My next target was the Oakville Grocery. That was a 100 year old structure on highway 29 that sold very good deli sandwiches. Today, it was a construction site. Closed for renovations. Weird, no? So I ended up at Dean and Deluca's. Very much an upscale yuppified sandwich that worked in a pinch.

This led me to Merryvale. Another new place on my list. I was served there by none other than James Brown! Granted, this James Brown was barely 24 and had the pale look of a guy who just arrived from Minnesota and still wasn't sure it was safe to go out in the sun. But a very amicable lad who thought the alcohol business was his future. HE started me with another Sauv Blanc that was, yow, massive. Really rough, big acids. They tried to tame it with 10% semillion, but it needed a year or two to let the acids settle down to where they wouldn't etch a granite counter-top.

After that was the Carneros Pinot Noir. No where near Gary's, but it was light and food friendly. A return to earth after the Cab Sauv. Then the 07 Merlot. Lots of vanilla from the Oak, but still a big wine. Think they bolstered it with some Cab Sauv. Very solid backbone, quite drinkable.

Am sure I finished with a massively tannic something. A Cab Sauv or a Bordeaux blend, i don't recall now and I didn't make a note on the finish here. But I do know I left starting to get the corduroy feeling in my mouth indicating that I'd been exposed to more than my usual share of young tannins.

This is, in fact, why I ended up at the wineries I always drank at. They managed the tannins so all of their wines were drinkable early. The corduroy thing that was happening in my mouth was not sustainable. There was no way I could drink like this everyday and I had to wonder how the wine pro's did it. In fact looking back, I recall that in my early days I had to really bulk up on cheese or something high in fat to get through the tasting days.

So yes, this was why I was at Pine Ridge and Cliff Lede and Audelssa. They got the tannins under control. I could drink there all day and the inside of my mouth did not feel like the thighs of a cellulite laden hooker. (Really, why would someone with legs like that go into that business? Well as I said, there is a market for everything.) And I think that is true of the wine world, there are those who really do enjoy the pucker that comes from young tannins. Just not me.

So I ducked into Prager Port Works for a brief respite from the tannin wars. Prager is dusty, musty and unchanged. As it will be as long as the Prager's run it. Which, thankfully, they still do. I passed on their obligatory still wine, a Petite Syrah that I'm sure would have send me over the edge on tannins and stuck with their sweet wines. They were pouring 4. 3 Red's a white. The first red was simple but fine. The second was billed at "halfway to the Royal Escort". Then there was the wine. Royal Escort is the only wine I'd buy. Yep, 77 a bottle, but worth every penny of it. Possible the best red dessert wine made. Certainly the best I know of. Yes, Torri Mor does a great port in Oregon. And NIcholson does a white that can hand in there with France's best. But this is all around one very solid wine. You need depth on the fruit and solid acids to balance the sugar. They hit it every year, this was no exception. I don't drink a lot of Port, but this is well worth it.

After they they poured the Aria, their white. Not bad, but after the RE, well, anything else is an afterthought.

Moving on, one last stop. Grgich.

The Chard there tasted heavily like it was heavily processed. They said it wasn't. Humm. Next was a Fume Blanc that elicited another Humm. They whites were not working. They shifted to red. First up was an 08 ZIn. It was a little rough. Ok, it was a lot rough. Bleeding tannins. Plus the guy pouring the wine was doing education on how organic they were. Not good. The only other organic place I had hit in the Valley was Sinskey. I never go back to Sinskey. Grgich, in spite of the excellent use of G's and R's, was looking to join Sinskey.

Next up came the Merlot that, like at Merryvale, was actually pretty drinkable. I think the deal with Merlot is this. If the house style is not to tame the tannins, then the Merlot works. They then opened the 08 Cab which opened gaping wounds on the inside of my mouth. Pure tannin bomb. Then the 06 Cab arrived and yes, that had settled. So Ok, these were almost all "cellar wines" that I was drinking today.

They did bring out the Violetta, with was a late harvest Reisling and Gewurztraminer blend that was the best of show. But at $85 for a half size bottle, well, you needed to be a bigger fan of white dessert wines than I was to bite on that.

So when the wine pourer ducked into the back room to check on availability for another customer, I was done with Weird Wednesday.

Driving out of the Valley, I did pass Cliff Lede and decided to pop in. Not for wine, but for water. Something to try to bring the insides of my mouth back to life. Chatted with the pourer there a bit, older white haired fellow. Told him that I had been to Miner Family and he asked about what they were pouring. He was a huge fan of their Oracle (not my fave) and the Wild Yeast Chard (I passed on that.) But this final conversation did lock in a couple things in my head.

One, I do like my regular places, even if they are very similar. They are similar in that they are functional. Wine and beer were basically created as beverages for the upper crust at a time when drinking water had the real possibility of killing you. So in those days, even bad beer or bad wine was better than, say, death. So now it has evolved to where it is not needed to stay alive, but has the possibility of being just plain awful to some palates. So accept that and stick with what works. That was lesson one.

Lesson two, I do need to make a return trip to Miner Family next time I'm in Napa. Yes, they are a little on the high side for tannins on their big red's...but they do a fine job with the whites. And if I'm going to buy some "lay down" wines, Miner is a good place to start.

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