Wine & Travel

Snooth User: Richard Foxall

Outthere hits it out of the park (again!)

Posted by Richard Foxall, Feb 18.

Last week, outthere posted a nice one about some newer wineries that received props in Antonio Galloni's article about new California wineries.

I had made plans with OT to meet up at Mike Smith's joint, the Carter winery, where he makes his own Myriad wines.  I had a half case of Myriad waiting for pickup and we were bringing my wife's new executive director and her husband as a way to welcome them here from New York.  Mike was going to let us taste some product.  OT suggested lunch afterward, then noted that another couple was also going to be there.  The scope of the visit was growing. 

OT then texted to tell me that Robin Akhurst, Mike's assistant and winemaker of his own Apsara wines was interested in pouring some finished wines and some barrel samples.  I had my concerns that our friends might be overwhelmed and I worried some of us would  lapse into uber-geekiness. I also wondered if it was really possible to seat all 8 of us for lunch at the same time.

Not to worry:  We arrived about five minutes after the designated time (nothing like getting stuck behind a few rental cars filled with first time Napa visitors) and parked in the lot.  No sign of OT at first, then he popped out from behind the tasting room building.  Folks, this is not your 4-deep at the bar, $20 flight tasting room.  That crowd will never find the building--it's on a side road beyond Calistoga and has just one sign.  Carter probably invites regular purchasers of its $125 plus Cabs to taste in the modest tasting room, and their wines are poured by knowledgeable and attractive folks in corporate-logo attire, but we were there to hang in a barrel room with the winemaker, and that's what we did.  Sure, our toes were turning blue, but the opinionated and passionate Mike Smith was a whole different guide to his wines and the political economy that surrounds them.  Talk about going to the source!

As a result, we drank four of the lables highlighted in Galloni's article.  Mike started us with his Ancillary Sunchase vineyard PN.  I'd had it at the Pinot throwdown in October and hadn't been overwhelmed, but then again it was in the middle of a large group over a long night and it was probably still in some state of bottle shock.  In any case, it was quite good, and incredibly long in the finish.  It was pretty smoky and rich, but not cola-laden or sweet.  There was still a nice structure, and it showed a pretty nice straddle of Cali fruit drive and Burgundian discipline. We started spitting in the drain of the barrel room, but the taste kept going well after the wine left our mouths.  Travis, one of our guests, proved a very adept spitter and Mike was kidding him that he had a future as an assistant winemaker.  Mike also poured the Patine from a bottle that was very chilly, but it warmed up enough that you could sense a style that was elegant but also fruit forward.  We moved on to some of Mike's Syrah under the Quivet label, and then started in on some Kennefick Ranch Cab and some Pellet Vineyard Cab, both under the Quivet label as well.  The Kennefick was pretty tannic, and a little tightly wound for morning drinking.  (Yes, we started at 11 a.m.) In fact, I'd put it aside for a good long time if I wanted real pleasure from it, but the pieces are all there.  The Pellet, on the other hand, was already gliding along, the tannins very silky and the whole package perfectly balanced.  Neither OT nor I spit the Pellet. Not sure if that wine is still available, but I could see paying a fair bit for it.  Unlike lots of cabs that seem to me to run the risk of overwhelming food, the Pellet would pair well with a raft of meat dishes but also rich sides.  Nice balance, not overwhelmingly plush but still round in the mouth, good secondaries already emerging of wood notes, cedar, a little tobacco--I think more of this last will emerge over time.  Restored a lot of my faith in the hedonistic pleasure of cabernet. 

A lot of tastings end at Cab for reasons of palate burnout and proportion, but now it was Robin Akhurst's turn to pour.  He came out with a bottle of his 2011 Las Madres Syrah.  OT was surprised there was any left of this very small production wine--it's probably a 40 case max.  2011 was a very challenging year, with cool weather, low yields, and a struggle to ripen in lots of locations.  But it still produced some terrific wines, and if you wanted good acids and restraint on the fruit side, well, that's going to help your Syrah if you want it meaty.  I loved it, and could completely understand what Robin was aiming for.  Robin's also completely down to earth and charming.  He's a Scot, which is funny because so is Steve Law at Maclaren, another Syrah specialist.  Keep an eye out for Robin--another one to follow, thanks, OT.  By the way, Syrah often has an incredible nose and a kind of consistent pattern of emerging aromas, but this Syrah just about took the cake--it was almost a shame to drink it instead of just nosing it.  Layer after layer of fruit, savory roasted smells, olives and flowers wafted up from the glass.  

Robin also pulled a barrel sample of the '12, which is about three to four weeks from bottling.  At first, I thought the oak was intrusive, but I waited quite a while to start sipping in earnest, and then I was pretty sure that what I was drinking was black olives that had been crushed with a little lamb fat.  Rich, savory, even a little salinity like you get in a piece of roasted meat with a salt crust, or cured meat.  So, to add to my haul (six bottles of Myriad and some things OT brought for me), I added three bottles of that 2011.  And you can bet I'm asking for a few more of the 2012. As ripe and accessible as 2012s are going to be, this one wants some time.  I think Robin took a chance that a wine that big could handle the oak, but it's going to want some time or at least a long, cool decant.

Then we cancelled our reservation at the Michelin starred place and  headed to Buster's for barbecue--again OT's idea.  One of our guests is from North Carolina, the capital of slow cooked meat (okay, I'm going to hear it from Texans and KC BBQ fans, maybe even Memphians) and she cleaned her plate. Mike joined us, and invited us back to do it again.  You bet we will.

Thanks again to OT for putting this together and proving that more of a good thing can be wonderful.

Replies

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Reply by outthere, Feb 18.

Wondering if you took home the Patiné label you had around your wrist at the tasting. There is a story behind that unique rubber band. One of the partners in Patiné is Jimmy Fox, former NHL star and the radio voice of the Los Angeles Kings. The black rubber ring around the bottle is meant to emulate a hockey puck.

Jim and his wife were in town last week and I met them at the winery.

 

And now you know....

The REST of the story!

That Pellet was good huh? Multiply by 2 or 3 and you get Dr Crane! Like Mike mentioned it's not easy to make high alcohol wines that are balanced and nuanced. It takes more expertise than does the 12-13% wines of earlier generations. Quite a talented guy.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 18.

I had that around my wrist for a while, but then Mike took it back and gave it to the guy from Ag Credit.  I'm blanking on his name, I know his wife is Esmeralda and she's a teacher.  Nice folks.

Multiply the price by 2 or 3 and I can buy Dr. Crane, eh?  That stuff gets a little rich for my blood, esp when I can buy Halcon, Apsara, Myriad, Jemrose, and on and on for $25-45.  I love a value play, and I love Syrah.  So Cab gets a lot less attention these days. True that some of those great old vineyards do produce just about the most hedonistic and amazing cabs even now.  And once in a while, I get to drink one. 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 18.

BTW, wife is leaving town later this week, so I think we need to step up the quality over the next couple days.  Maybe even dig into one of those bottles, although I am inclined to let them rest from the journey home. 

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Reply by outthere, Feb 18.

That was Brent. Next time you come up you'll have to visit and I'll step it up with a Myriad or Rivers Marie Cab. I don't get into them very often either. Need others to geek with.

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Reply by JonDerry, Feb 19.

Sounds like you guys had a good time...

The commentary on the high alcohol wines is interesting. I've only tasted a few of Mike Smith's wines but they've all been fairly young and definitely with higher alcohol, though I've found the Cabs to really deliver that delicate balance of power and elegance. The Semillon was too much, definitely out of bounds for my palate though the fruit seemed tasty. I guess that's where it gets tricky, the higher the alcohol the more quickly and significantly the pendulum can swing. Can't wait to finally taste one of the Syrah's.

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Reply by EMark, Feb 19.

Outstanding.

I guess I'm going to have to go back to Packing House WIne Merchants over in Claremont and pick up more of that '11 Aspara Las Madres.  I only bought one bottle, but my recollection is that they had more stacked up, there. Not sure how they were able to procure such a stash of such a low production wine.

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Reply by EMark, Feb 20.

For a couple reasons I am adding onto this conversation.

Jim Fox was a pretty darned good hockey player.  He was the Kings' #1 pick in the 1980 entry draft an he played for the Kings on Right Wing for 9 years.  A knee injury ended his playing career.  He is now in his 24th year as the analyst for the Kings' telecasts.  I don't usually listen to games on the radio, but I would not be surprised if he was doing that for games that are not telecast.

So, another celeb/athlete goes into the wine business.

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Reply by outthere, Feb 20.

Nice ring he has too!

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Reply by EMark, Feb 20.

Yup, very cool.

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Reply by outthere, Feb 20.

BTW Fox, that Pellet has not released yet. The cabs release in mid-summer. Reasonably priced for Beckstoffer fruit at $65.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 21.

According to another winemaker who charges about $65 for a cab with Beckstoffer fruit, but can't say as much, if you put ToKalon or G3 on the label, Andy insists on a certain pricing floor that would add $30 per bottle. But he honors many of  his old customers and continues to sell them fruit, so it's not all bad if you know where to look.

But my research indicated that Pellet is next to Dr. Crane, or very near, and has historical connections to Crane (Pellet made wine with Crane's grapes and put that vineyard on the map), but isn't owned by Beckstoffer.  (It's owned by someone named Krill.)  It's certainly not on the Beckstoffer website under their holdings.  Did I miss something?

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Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Feb 25.

Pretty awesome report and back and forth here fells!

Living the dream!


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