Edmunds St. John 2006 “Bone-Jolly” Gamay Noir Rosé Witters (El Dorado County) – Bright and ripe; strawberries tarted up with just a bit of cranberry. Pure fun, but there’s a foundational hum of some sort of vaguely-expressed minerality as well; it’s hard to get to because the wine’s tasted in the context of dozens of others. It could probably benefit from some isolation. (4/08)
Edmunds St. John 1999 Sangiovese Matagrano (El Dorado) – Served blind (by me), and while some of the early guesses are in the realm of grenache, eventually a few people close in on it, though no one guesses it’s California sangiovese. Charred strawberry and banana leaves turn seedy and dark, with blueberries and olive pits and a lot of amorphous tannin hanging around in the foreground. This would appear to be suffering from travel shock (it had been on a short plane ride earlier in the day), especially given the fine particulate matter suffusing the wine. (6/07)
Edmunds St. John 2006 Pinot Gris Witters (El Dorado County) – With a name switch from the Italian form, this carries certain stylistic expectations on which it doesn’t deliver. Which is not necessarily a criticism, as the following will detail. There’s honeysuckle and a flashing, floral palate full of pollen and spice. It’s weighty and a touch hot, but the balance is mostly solid, and there’s a deeply-buried foundation of sun-yellowed minerality. In other words, this is a really good Condrieu. Probably the best Condrieu made outside the region. Who could have guessed? (6/07)
Sierra Vista 2003 Zinfandel (El Dorado) – Dried wild berries, thorns, brambles and briars, with a black-stone foundation. Simple, but speaking of both grape and place with clarity. (3/07)
Edmunds St. John 2004 “Bone Jolly” Gamay Noir Witters (El Dorado County) – At long last, a non-corked version of this wine. Hallelujah! And it shows exactly the qualities I’d hoped for when I stuck a half-dozen (five of which have been corked) in the cellar: big, pretty fruit maturing into a beautiful, graphite-laced structure, and finishing with delicacy and poise. (2/07)
(The original version, with more photos, is here.)
28 April 2006 – Yosemite National Park, California
Mist Trail, Vernal Falls, John Muir Trail – The most popular hike in Yosemite, we’re told. It’s easy to see why, though the track is more popular in theory than in practice, as the lower elevations littered with the defeated demonstrate. Especially in the spring, a good soaking is promised, and a good soaking is delivered. What’s even more fun than the ascent, however, is looping back down via the end of the John Muir Trail, which provides breathtaking views of Yosemite Valley and Falls. Lunch – on a picnic table with nature all around – has rarely been devoured as quickly.
Harrington 2003 Pinot Noir Birkmyer (Wild Horse Valley) – Mixed red berries and plums with hints of graphite. Ripe and full-fruited, yet pretty. It’s a little on the heavy side, but then that’s hardly unusual for domestic pinot. Pleasant.
Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall – The eerie (and wet) moonscape of Yosemite Falls in full spring torrent is something to behold, but so is the drenching soak of the impossible approach to Bridalveil Fall. If you’ve ever wanted to get saturated without leaving “dry” land, this is the way.
The Ahwahnee Bar – The décor of this hotel lives up to the hype, though the combo Indian/medieval theme is a little jarring at first. The bar, however, is somewhat dreary…and the prices are wearying.
Bakers 7 Year Bourbon – Sweet peach and brown sugar. A little too obvious.
Dinner back at Yosemite West is a selection of sausages from a Ferry Plaza butcher – duck & pork, wild boar & beer, and veal with spinach – plus asparagus in a Meyer lemon dressing. This food needs a wine with some bite, and we’ve got just the thing.
Edmunds St. John 1999 Sangiovese Matagrano (El Dorado) – Crisp raspberry acidity spiked with strawberry seeds (that add both their fruit and their bitterness) with very slightly green tannin. It’s long and intense, however, and really sings with food. What is isn’t is completely ready; a few more years might help calm matters down.
Sierra Vista 2000 Zinfandel Reeves (El Dorado) – Hard-edged wild berry fruit ripped and rent by thorny vines and the slashes of a razor, with shattered tannin and acid providing a fierce sort of structure. Zinfandel can mellow into something Bordeaux-like with age, but it can also go in this direction…one that’s more difficult to love, but in a strange way might be a little more appealing. In any case, this is a somewhat angry wine that may benefit from a little more age; on the other hand, at that point the tannin might dominate. It’s a judgment call that I’m not qualified to make. (12/06)
23 April 2006 – San Francisco & Berkeley, California
Lichee Garden (1416 Powell) – A person could spend years touring the dim sum options in San Francisco (not to mention elsewhere in the Bay Area). It’s not generally thought that the best are in or near Chinatown, but for various logistical reasons we need to find one in that area, and thus after some research we find ourselves meeting out-of-town friends here. It’s quite good, with vivid flavors in the best dishes and inexplicably absent flavors in the worst (fish- and starch-based items seem to be the best, meat the most inconsistent), and seems to be primarily populated by locals. And, of course, it’s stupidly cheap…$12.50 per person, 17 “courses” later.
Wine tasting in Berkeley – Steve Edmunds is having a little inventory blowout, and with a few other wineries hawking their wares and my wife busy at a conference, it seems silly to not go. The room is small and dark, but there’s light (and food) in a sort of courtyard, and the operation – which involves both tasting and selling – is relatively efficient. What I really notice, however, is that despite our being in a relatively unassuming location, far from anything else commercial, there’s a steady inflow of consumers – even passersby – on an otherwise restful Sunday. Only in California…
Edmunds St. John 2002 Pinot Grigio Witters (El Dorado County) – Juicy pear skins and dried leaves. Just barely rises to the level of “eh.”
Edmunds St. John 2003 Pinot Grigio Witters (El Dorado County) – An improvement, especially as the flavors drift over to the red side of things (for dark-skinned pinot gris, I think this is a highly positive quality), showing strawberry and rhubarb. It’s fuller-bodied than the ’02, but it also has an odd, out-of-place feel to it.
I admit that I’ve never been much of a fan of Steve’s pinot grigios (I’ve decided that my long-time affection for the Alsatian expression of this grape must have something to do with it), and these wines do nothing to change my mind. He claims his 2004 is better, but I’ve tasted it and can’t share his enthusiasm. Well, tastes differ…
Edmunds St. John 2001 “Los Robles Viejos” (White) Rozet (Paso Robles) – Fat and fruity, like thick peach soda. There’s also pear, grapefruit rind, and a long, sticky finish. This is just a bit on the goopy side at the moment, and I think it was better a few years ago.
Edmunds St. John 2002 “blonk!” (Paso Robles) – Balanced and pretty, with richly-spiced nuts (mostly cashews) and a lovely finish. This is one of the wines I take home with me…
Edmunds St. John 2003 “Los Robles Viejos” (White) Rozet (Paso Robles) – …and if I didn’t already own a whole bunch of this, here would be another. Peach flowers in a thick brew, with a slight bitterness that adds to the complexity and helps prevent it from being as sticky as its older brethren. The finish is long and broad, and there’s clear potential for development.
Edmunds St. John 2003 Viognier (Paso Robles) – Everything you want in a viognier: flowers, apricots, peaches, and a silky texture. Heavier vs. most quality Condrieu, but then that’s to be expected from Paso. This, too, hits the shopping cart.
Edmunds St. John 1999 Sangiovese Matagrano (El Dorado County) – I’ve always felt about this wine the way I feel about ESJ’s pinot grigio: indifferent at best. But today, I’m forced to drink my words. Spicy, black pepper-encrusted strawberry and bitter walnut skin with some tannin and biting (but not overdone) acid. In other words, the ultra-rare California sangiovese that tastes like a sangiovese. It’s still a little on the extreme side, but this has finally come around, and I can’t resist a few bottles.
Edmunds St. John 2001 Zinfandel Peay (Sonoma Coast) – 15.2% alcohol, though there’s reason to believe it’s a bit higher than that. In any case, it doesn’t really taste more than a little bit hot. What we’ve got here is actually zin done in an older, almost bygone style, with concentrated wild berries, tannin and acid to spare, and a peppery finish. The heat expresses itself with a little herbality, a bit like juniper (or, I guess, gin). Steve hears our discussion, notes that this bottle was opened yesterday, and uncorks another.
Edmunds St. John 2001 Zinfandel Peay (Sonoma Coast) – Bigger, juicier and fruitier than the aerated version, with spicy berries dominating and the structure retreating a bit in the face of the “zinberry” assault. Yet another wine to purchase.
(For updated and more detailed takes on a few of these wines, take a look here.)
Sierra Vista 2003 Grenache (El Dorado) – Weighty but not powerful, with raspberry and pomegranate but very little of the expected bubblegum, a slightly sludgy structure (though there’s plenty of it), and a somewhat more promising introduction of ground-flowerbed earthiness and spice on the finish. I’m unsure about this wine.
This producer, hidden amongst the remote hills of California’s gold country, gets very little respect vs. the quality of wine they produce…an obvious result of location; put them in newly-hip Paso Robles and the wines would be both expensive and impossible to find. Their syrah, zinfandel, and cabernet are often world-class, and the rest of the portfolio isn’t bad either. This bottling, formerly a blending component in a Rhône-style wine called “Fleur de Montagne,” perhaps shows some of the potential flaws of varietal grenache…except that it is apparently the recipient of a little blended syrah. I do wonder if they’re using their best grapes for this wine, and based on their other results I suspect that if they did, matters would improve. I could easily be underrating it, however. Alcohol: 14%. Web: http://www.sierravistawinery.com/.