Edmunds St. John 2003 Viognier Rozet (Paso Robles) – This has taken on deeper, earthier, more coppered (or perhaps bronzed) characteristics with a little extra age; almost, but not quite, a sort of fetid fruit “funk” to go with the well-oiled flowerbed that is viognier. I think it’s drinking marvelously well, but it’s probably a little bit controversial at this stage, and the timid might want to approach gingerly. (Speaking of which: there’s just a hint of ginger in there. Coincidence?) (6/06)
I’m occasionally asked, “what do you think is the most overrated grape out there?” (Actually, people usually say “overrated varietal,” but we’ll forgive them the grammatical error for the time being.) A semi-professional cynic, I’m frequently moved to be snarky and answer “chardonnay” (or “merlot”, or perhaps “cabernet sauvignon”). A bit of actual thought sometimes leads to sangiovese, based on the devolving mess that is Tuscany. But truth be told, I think the answer has to be viognier. In its “qualitative home” of Condrieu, a relatively small number of wineries made decidedly overpriced wine that is almost inevitably both too alcoholic and lacking in acidity. Elsewhere, things get even heavier and less interesting, and the ugly specter of new wood too often raises its vanilla-infused head (in Condrieu too, these days). It would be easy to completely dismiss the grape, except that when it is good, it’s so deliciously individualistic – fragrant, summery, silky and seductive – that hope is, at least in part, restored. In the U.S., however, I have to say that pretty much all of it sucks. A producer here, a producer there…really no different than in Condrieu, to be honest…but most of it is just not worth drinking, unless motor oil blanc is your thing. Based on recent efforts, however, I think Steve Edmunds is getting a handle on this grape, which he more typically uses in Rhône-style blends. The results, from a winery who most definitely does not overprice its wines, should be interesting if they continue. Alcohol: 13.9%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.edmundsstjohn.com/.
Edmunds St. John 2001 Zinfandel Peay (Sonoma Coast) – Aggressive, with delicious blueberry and olallieberry marmalade fruit zested by crisp acidity and that very slightly spirituous midtone that is so often present in high-octane zin. But there’s chunky, graphite-infused earth as well, and a nice, balanced finish that shows less heat than the initial palate impression promises. A very good wine, made in a more classic style, and rounding into some tertiary characteristics that really improve it. (6/06)
The story of the making of this wine is rather entertaining, and illustrates some of the problems that non-industrial winemakers (those who don’t work via recipe) face on a yearly basis. I have no idea if the 9% syrah (added not for its syrah character, but to re-energize the fermentation) or the two years it took to finish said fermentation made this wine into something it might not otherwise have been…though it seems likely…but the end result is so definitively zinnish that it hardly matters. I’ve often read that many historic zins were actually field blends of semi-mysterious composition, so maybe as a mutt rather than a purebred this represents something more authentically, historically Californian than all the carefully-managed single-site zinfandels of today. And then again, maybe I’m overanalyzing this, and should just shut up and drink the wine. Alcohol: 15.2%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.edmundsstjohn.com/.
Edmunds St. John 2001 Syrah (California) – Leathery, smoky and a little sweaty, with old blueberry and decidedly carnivorous characteristics thickly coated by layers of tannin and dried fruit residue. The finish is a little brighter – raspberries, mostly – but then heavies up again…and lingers, and lingers, and lingers. For the sub-$20 price, this has always been, is, and probably will be for some time a spectacular value, showing more character than scores of California syrahs at three times the price. (6/06)
A multi-site blend, usually from lots and sub-lots that don’t make the single-site bottlings, but while it doesn’t speak of place that much (it seems a little confused if it’s from California or the sun-drenched hills of southern France), it most certainly speaks of a recognizably Old World expression of varietal character, but with the elevated fruit of a New World wine. Alcohol: 14.1%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.edmundsstjohn.com/.