Browse Tag

sonoma coast


[hirsch]Hirsch 2010 Pinot Noir “San Andreas Fault” (Sonoma Coast) — Just enough nervous energy to battle back a dense, earthen minerality. Otherwise, this feels like some sort of savory beet slurry in the hands of a creative chef; surprisingly heavy without being concentrated, tannin and acid simultaneous apparent and unintegrated. A second bottle introduces pine resin and green grass to the finish. Many of these signs point to an awkward stage rather than some fundamental flaw, but I also worry this wine will forever be accompanied by its struggle to regain coherence. I like everything here, yet this ends up being my least favorite wine of the tasting, because my affection for the materials isn’t retained by the finished product. (12/16)

Hirsch 2011 Pinot Noir “San Andreas Fault” (Sonoma Coast) — Much nervier than the 2010, its upfront floral notes slashed by a brittle, acid-forward structure. Black trumpet mushrooms are the baritone counterpoint. Poised, elegant, and balanced, with a long finish. (12/16)

Hirsch 2012 Pinot Noir “San Andreas Fault” (Sonoma Coast) — Dense layers of tannin, dark fruit with a hint of black pepper, and a slight astringency. Very, very long. The more air it gets, the more it closes in on itself. One fellow taster remarks that he’d like to drink this now; I can’t think of anything I’d rather drink less from this lineup right now. After a decade or more, though? Count me in. This is in desperate need of time. (12/16)

(Hirsch amusingly characterized the reaction of customers, when faced with the burly 2012 after the slender 2011, as, “what the fuck did you guys do?”)

Hirsch 2013 Pinot Noir “San Andreas Fault” (Sonoma Coast) — Dust and sweet black ink, dark cherries steeping on their skins and seeds, walnut. Juicy, but overwhelmed (in a delicious way) by its fine particulate dustiness. (12/16)

Hirsch 2014 Pinot Noir “San Andreas Fault” (Sonoma Coast) — Plums, berries, green olive…and yes, that’s surprising in a pinot noir. Supple and round, but with prominent acidity and a very slight astringency. Both eventually integrate with air. Balanced and confident. (12/16)


The fault in our stars

Jasmine Hirsch is, these days, probably better known as the co-provocateur (provocateuse?) behind In Pursuit of Balance, but with that flashy (if sometimes haphazardly defined) project shuttered, she’s free to return to her other full-time job as the face and voice of her family’s eponymous Sonoma winery.

The cringe-inducing whining about IPoB was often as overblown as the wines against which it sought contrast (and even “against” is more antagonistic than the reality), but Hirsch’s basic message hasn’t changed at all: ripeness can obscure difference, intervention can obscure difference, even intent can obscure difference. Obviously her argument is more nuanced than that, but the core of the philosophy is to make wines of response or revelation rather than wines of intention…which is why there was always a certain irony surrounding the word “pursuit” in IPoB’s name.

By “intent” I mean something other than the basic desire to turn grapes into salable wine. Not even the most hardcore naturalistas operate from a position of utter indifference to material or process. Hirsch has selected its preferred grapes, its preferred clonal material, the sites on which its vines grow. It most certainly practices viticulture of intent, and harvest dates aren’t selected at random. A sufficiently problematic fermentation would likely be dealt with, one way or another. But on a continuum from industrial to natural, wines of intent invite — in fact, demand — a lot more meddling than is evident here.

“Revelation” is an equally tricky word, in that it usually bears a promissory burden. That’s not how I’m using it here. I mean only that a wine of revelation is one that differs from vintage to vintage in response to its natural inputs — weather, mostly, but also less welcome participants like pests and diseases — and the oenological decisions such inputs encourage. Big house non-vintage Champagne is the ultimate wine of intent, requiring dramatic interventions all through the process, up to and including blending to achieve the house style. Wines of revelation aren’t the total antithesis of such machinations, but they’re a lot closer to the other end of the spectrum. 

That said, it’s impossible to entirely disentangle intent from the drinkable results; Hirsch probably couldn’t make the style they obviously prefer were their vineyards in Paso Robles. Also, the notes below are for blended wines, not terroir wines (except in a general regional or communal sense). Still, the wines themselves can’t help but reveal the truth or lie in the claimed philosophy; if they hold fast to an identity, year after year, they’re wines of intent. If they waver in response to season and the resulting variabilities in vine/grape chemistry, they’re wines of revelation.

Hirsch’s are clearly the latter. Keep Reading

Florida via Sonoma

Cowan Cellars 2010 Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast) – Light fruit, low-impact. Gentle, simple, not very expressive. Closing? It’s the most likely explanation. (8/12)


Chad 2009 Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast) – 14.3%. One of those “we can’t tell you where the fruit is really from” wines that are never as good as whatever price they would have gone for in some theoretically better economy. Well, what about at this price? It’s nice. Good pinosity, as the invented term goes, supple fruit with a little earth for muscle, fair structure, ripe but not overblown. Finishes just a touch short, but in this guise it’s inexpensive pinot, so who demands an endless linger? (7/11)

Painful wing

Wind Gap 2008 Syrah Armagh (Sonoma Coast) – 12.7%. Before they became monstrous tubs of goop, there was a time when the signature of certain Aussie shiraz regions was a soy/bacon/Worcestershire aroma that took the grape to one of its organoleptic extremes. At a much lower alcohol than anyone would expect, this syrah follows that soy-soaked path, almost to the point of caricature. It’s quite tannic, and time might bring some tamer personality traits. But I doubt it. (5/11)

Autumnal employees

Alesia 2006 Pinot Noir Falstaff Road (Sonoma Coast) – A bit heavy, with good black fruit struggling to get through a clumsy structure. Time might help; it certainly couldn’t hurt. (6/08)

Cutrer remark

[bottle]Sonoma-Cutrer 2004 Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast) – Quaffable and a good cocktail pinot, but with repeated trips to the well the old flaw of Sonoma pinot – a confected, almost candied cola character – rears its head. It almost makes me nostalgic for the days when this, rather than searing alcohol and zinfandel-like fruit intensity, was the predominant bugbear. Beets abound, and the finish is quite short. (3/08)

TN: Big & tall (California, pt. 12)

[reflection](The original version, with more photos, is here.)

29 April 2006 – Yosemite National Park, California

Mariposa Grove – The most accessible of Yosemite’s giant sequoia groves isn’t all that accessible at the moment, thanks to an inexplicably closed access road (the grove itself is still a slop of snow, water and mud, but the road is clear, and so is the parking lot). Nonetheless, the road is hikeable, and so after a morning spent admiring differently-lighted views of Yosemite Valley, and then a brief lunch near one of the park’s entrances, up (and up, and up) we trudge.

Edmunds St. John 2002 “blonk!” (Paso Robles) – Vivid wet stone fruit and white limestone dust, with faint dried meat notes, plus peach/pear skin adding a touch of pleasant bitterness to the finish. The finish is strikingly long.

In most other settings, the endless parade of majestic, ramrod-straight redwoods that litter this area would be a visual highlight. But not here, where the rich tans and incomprehensible girth of the giant sequoias dominates all else. We slog around the muddy grove, taking in most of the key sights, but in the process the sole of one of my hiking boots starts to separate, which makes walking difficult and lets water sneak into the interior of the shoe. It’s time to go.

Wawona Hotel – Tired and sole-sick (sorry), we plop down into comfortable veranda seats at this beautiful, historic hotel to have a few restorative drinks…for which we have to wait, as we’ve apparently arrived fifteen minutes before drink-serving time. What is this, France? Well, the setting makes up for it.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (California) – Hoppy and astringent. Never a favorite of mine, but the only other options are mass-market inanities.

Back at Yosemite West, we sear one of the most amazing slabs of venison I’ve ever eaten (seasoned only with black pepper and fleur de sel), add a few fresh morels, and make surprisingly quick work of what must be nearly three-quarters of Bambi. Poor deer (again: sorry).

Edmunds St. John 2001 Zinfandel Peay (Sonoma Coast) – Heavy, dark and concentrated, with briary blackberries (in whole and juice form), good acidity and a spicy, spirituous finish. It’s excellent with food, but a bit heavy by itself.

Dönnhoff 1999 Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Auslese 19 99 (Nahe) – From 375 ml, and now open for three days. It’s still flawless, now showing molten metals at the heart of the sun (if Pink Floyd will excuse the literary license). A truly stunning wine.

TN: H, a, double-r, i… (California, pt. 3)

(The original version is here)

23 April 2006 –Berkeley, California

Wine tasting in Berkeley (con’t)

Harrington Pinot Noir Rosé (appellation unknown) – “Just for fun” announces our pourer – I assume without evidence that he’s the Bryan that lends his last name to Harrington, the second winery at this tasting – and fun it is, with big, giggly strawberry fruit. It’s in an unlabeled bottle, and no information other than its cépage is forthcoming, but it’s a bit of a shame it’s not for sale. I’d buy it.

Harrington 2002 Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley) – Orange rind, red cherry and strawberry seeds; sweetly pretty, though simple.

Harrington 2003 Pinot Noir Birkmyer (Wild Horse Valley) – Sweet plum, strawberry and rhubarb with some structure and a long, metallic/iron flake finish. Nice acidity, too. This ends up being my favorite of the entire lineup.

Harrington 2003 Pinot Noir Hirsch (Sonoma Coast) – A rough nose, perhaps with slightly burnt notes, opens up to a somewhat hard, watermelon-shaped wine. I’d like more finish (and more attack, even in the lighter-entried pinot noir sense), and in general I’d like better fruit. I do note, however, than most of my fellow tasters seem to regard this wine as one of the best, so maybe I’ve misjudged it.

Harrington 2004 Pinot Noir Brosseau (Chalone) – Thick, meaty and heavy, showing chunky peanut butter and big tannin. A sticky wine, more akin to a paste than a pinot.

Harrington 2004 Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley) – Full-bodied cherry and blueberry with a long, juicy finish made ever so slightly edgy by a stemmy note. Almost really nice.

Harrington 2004 Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown (barrel sample) (Sonoma County) – From a decanter. There’s huge fruit here – blueberry and black cherry – with fair acidity; a “fruit bomb” with at least one redeeming quality. Moreover, it doesn’t taste particularly spoofulated, just explosive. People of a certain taste will love this, assuming it holds form through bottling.

TN: Gardens & grigios (San Francisco, pt. 2)

[Lichee Garden]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…

[hanging birds]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.)

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