Tale of Two Tastings: Mendocino vs Hospice du Rhone-2

by Laura Ness - HerVineNess on May 4, 2010

hillary gravesLast week was a bounty of blessings. “Taste of Mendocino” at the Presidio in San Francisco showcased the splendid aromatic whites of Anderson Valley, like the Husch Chenin Blanc, Handley Viognier, Barra Pinot Grigio and Cole Ranch Riesling from Esterlina. Bink’s Sauvignon Blanc is ripping with juicy grapefruit and tantalizing acidity, and Claudia Springs has a Pinot Gris that is by far and away the most delicious I’ve yet tasted from this superb crafter of everything he touches.

Winemaker Bob Klindt has a way with grapes that few could ever hope to achieve, turning out delicate Viogniers, graceful Pinots, sock-it-to-me Syrahs and give-me-more Zins. The Mendocino wineries showed their firm grasp of sparkling delights from Scharffenberger to Roederer, and established their Pinot pre-eminence once more with resoundingly impressive efforts from FourSight (2007 Zero New Oak is naked fruit splendor, $38, while “All-In” does it with new wood for $46), Londer (2007 Paraboll is oak-clad elegance, $54), plus all-around pleaser, the 2007 Anderson Valley from Handley Cellars ($30).

The most interesting, in a bizarre sort of way, was the Philips Hill 2008 “Ring of Fire” Pinot, a clever way of marketing a smoke-tainted vintage that will never lose that singed charcoal edge. Drinking it transports you directly to a campfire, complete with s’mores.

But if you’re craving Chardonnay with the fresh-faced exuberance of a young girl skipping rope (and skipping all the new oak as well), this is the place to come. You won’t find any butterballs here. Chardonnays from the Anderson Valley have such soul, such depth, you need an architect’s vision to appreciate their cellarful of apple fruit and minerality, their breezy first floor of lacy curtained windows wafting in fresh citrus and wildflowers, and their vaulted ceiling of celestial acidity.

Three caught my attention: 2008 Seabiscuit Ranch Chardonnay, done with natural yeast, flavors of lemon curd and pie crust, a perfect texture and a fab finish. At $23, this is a steal. Dreyer Wines’ Il Cuore brand Chardonnay, is light, cheery and vibrant for $12.50. Demuth Kemos sources their Chardonnay fruit from a 1600ft elevation vineyard on Mendocino Ridge, where the soils are super-shallow, but do they deliver a stunning wine, harvested at under 23 Brix. Fabulous, but $45.

And yet, there are far, far more red wine offerings than white from this storied land, planted by Italians who like their hearty pasta dishes with big-boned teeth-stainers. Tasted some amazing old vine Carignane, Barbera and Sangiovese as well, from the warmer slopes of Redwood Valley, along with some mighty fine Petite Sirah (2006 “True Grit” from Parducci is the real deal down to the mud-caked boots). Chance Creek has a solidly captivating 2006 Sangiovese for about $16, and Chiarito impressed with a youthful, acidic and enormously engaging 2007 Nero d’Avola, $36. Mariah’s 2006 “Syriah” was a cool climate marvel of pure lean muscle and white pepper, a lot of multi-chaptered reading for your palate at just $26.

Then it was on to Hospice du Rhone in Paso, where white Rhones are really clawing their way back to the top of the heap of high alcohol Syrahs and GSMs that have riddled the place with shots from a Brix-load rifle. I love Viognier done crisply, Grenache Blanc done with deftness and Marsanne and Roussanne properly schooled in l’ecole de finesse.

joechristycharlesFavorites include Alta Colina’s 2008 “Claudia Cuvee”, Denner’s 2009 “Theresa“, Halter Ranch’s 2009 Rhone White, Kukkula’s 2008 “Vaalea”, Katin’s 2008 Grenache Blanc and Fausse Piste’s 2009 Viognier from Washington State, the crispest, most daringly perfumey of all. Hilary Graves’ 2009 “La Chuparosa” Rose from Mourvedre, Grenache and Counoise was indeed a lot like a hummingbird in its zingy, flitting delivery that darts from cherries to strawberries to guava.

When one begins to swim in an increasingly crowded pool of acronymically and mysteriously named GSM blends, one can get a bit lost. Last year, I dove into the Sea of Syrah, and found myself lost without a compass. Someone needs to slice this pound cake of possibility into consumptively manageable 1/2-inch slices of sanity. This year, I tried to focus on things like Grenache and Mourvedre. Anglim’s 2006 Grenache (which has a cherry pie dosage of Counoise), Graves 2007 Mourvedre, Augie Hug’s Hug Cellars 2008 “el Maestro” Grenache, J.Lohr’s 2008 “Gesture” Mourvedre, and Big Basin Vineyards 2008 Grenache/Syrah from Booker. I LOVE GRENACHE! There, I said it.

That said, I did find two standout GSMs: J. Lohr’s new 08 “Gesture” GSM blend ($30), a surprisingly satisfying feast of fruit, leather and meat, and Caliza’s 2007 “Azimuth” GSM ($50), another true benchmark for balance and constellational complexity. Gesture was created for Club and online purchases as a “gesture” of thanks to their loyal fans. And a nice gesture, indeed.


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