PinotFile: 6.8 December 10, 2006
- Mayacamas Pinot Noir
- Churchill Cellars
- Lion’s Pride RRV Pinot Noir
- The Magic of Old Burgundies
- Minerality: Fact or Fiction
- Time of the Year for Champagne
- James Bond and Champagne
- Wine Terms from the Urban Slang Dictionary
Mayacamas Pinot Noir
Mayacamas Vineyards is one of California’s heritage wineries. Known for its longlived
Chardonnays and Cabernets, Mayacamas was one of the original artisan
wineries and developed quite a cult following beginning in the 1970s.
The Mayacamas Mountains that divide the Napa and Sonoma Valleys were originally
the home of the Wappo Indians who were stone age hunters. The first white
settlers came to the future site of Mayacamas Vineyards on Mt. Veeder in the
1860s and built a barn which still stands. Years later, a German immigrant and
pickle merchant in San Francisco, John Henry Fisher, planted a vineyard and built
a stone winery here The winery had multiple uses including a summer home for
his family and a ranch to raise and care for the horses he used to deliver pickles to
his clients in San Francisco. His wines were loaded into barrels, driven by horsedrawn
wagons 15 miles to the Napa River, and put onto ferry boats for the trip to
San Francisco where the wine was bottled and sold.
In the early 1900s, the Fishers declared bankruptcy and the winery quickly fell
into disrepair. In 1941, Jack and Mary Taylor purchased the land, restored and
lived in the old stone winery, and renamed the estate, Mayacamas Vineyards.
The current owners, Robert and Elinor Travers, purchased the winery in 1968.
They enlarged and improved the aging facilities, purchased adjacent land, and
planted and replanted vineyards. Under their direction, the winery became
famous for it’s rich and tannic mountain-grown Cabernets. Today, there are 53
acres of vineyards planted on mountain slopes ranging from 1,800 to 2,400 feet
above sea level. Production is about 2,000 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon (blended
with a little Merlot and Cabernet Franc), 2,000 cases of Chardonnay, 600 cases of
Sauvignon Blanc, and a small amount of Pinot Noir. The location yields small crops
(less than a ton per acre) and small grapes resulting in wines of intense flavor and
character. The winemaking style is intended to make wines that are not always
flattering when young and benefit from aging, an old-fashioned concept in today’s
instant gratification world.
An insightful interview with Bob Travers by Alan Goldfarb was posted on Appellation
America (www.appellationamerica.com) November 15, 2006. Travers calls
himself a traditionalist who shuns high-alcohol wines. “The highest and best use of
wine is with food. When they finally get there (mature), they (my wines) have a depth of character that high-alcohol wines don’t have.” Travers is one of the last in the Napa Valley to
release his wines and notes, “It’s always been my belief, and my findings have confirmed this, that the
wines I like the best are also the ones that take substantially longer to age and mature. If they do live a
long time, they develop different characteristics. If you have a good vineyard, its best to take it slow.”
Wine writer, Matt Kramer, is a big fan of Mayacamas wines, citing their ability to “convey a sense of
somewhereness,” and “profound expressions of high-elevation Mount Veeder place.” He continues,
“Really, you can’t do better than Mayacamas Vineyards for California wine profoundness.”
I must confess that I have never drank a Mayacamas Pinot Noir. In James Laube’s book, California
Wine, he derides Mayacamas Pinot Noirs, saying the Pinot Noirs are “very light and herbal in style.”
Based on my singular experience described below, I could not disagree more.
2004 Mayacamas Vineyards Napa Valley Pinot Noir
approx 200 cases, $32, Winemaking at Mayacamas is unique for Pinot
Noir. Fermentation lasts two weeks at 72-75 degrees. The wine is
racked several times while aging for its first half year in 1000 gallon
American oak casks, then spends a year in 60 gallon French oak barrels.
Only 10% new oak is used and after the barrels are five years old,
Travers shaves out the insides. The wine is bottled at 18-20 months of
age and usually released for sale when four years old. Travers recommends
savoring his Pinot Noirs between 7 and 12 years. The 2004 vintage
was drinking well early so it was released in September, 2006.
Pinot Noir is medium in body with a dark ruby color. The nose is alluring
with dark fruits, herbs and anise. On the palate, there is a complex array of ripe Pinot fruits enhanced by
plentiful earthy mushrooms. The texture is rich. The persistent finish reveals an attractive touch of oak and
dusty tannins. A heady Pinot Noir with great charisma.
Mayacamas Vineyards is located at 1155 Lokoya Rd, Napa, CA 94558. The phone is 707-224-4030
and the website is www.mayacamas.com. There is a mailing list for the semi-annual newsletter.
Visitors are welcomed Monday through Friday by appointment.
Ken and Susan Churchill are Pinot Noir enthusiasts who sold their environmental consulting business
and moved to the Russian River Valley to make ultra-premium Pinot Noir. Their first Pinot Noir, the
2003 Churchill Cellars Bella Luna Vineyard Pinot Noir, won a Gold Medal at the 2006 San Francisco
Chronicle Wine Competition. Inspired by their success, they are now pursuing their dream in earnest.
They are committed to sustainable and precision farming and have talented winemaker, Anthony
Austin, on board to steer the ship. Anthony Austin crafted some memorable Pinot Noirs in the early
days of Santa Barbara County wine history and is also currently the winemaker at Sonoma Coast Vineyards.
Winemaking is typical for California Pinot Noir. The grapes are de-stemmed and cold soaked for 9
days. Punch downs are done twice a day. The fruit is fermented with both natural and Assmanhausen
yeast. The grapes are then pressed and placed in new French oak barrels for 18 months.
The estate vineyard, Bella Luna Vineyard, is located on the Churchill Estate in the Russian River Valley.
Soils are sandy loam and clonal selections are Dijon 115, 667, 777, and 459.. The vineyard is planted
with 4’ x 4’ spacing, similar to Burgundy. Watering is kept to a minimum to mildly stress the vines and
concentrate the flavors in the grapes.
2004 Churchill Cellars Russian River Valley Blend Pinot Noir
alc., 479 cases, $36. This wine is a blend of six Russian River Valley and
Sonoma Coast vineyards. Clones are Dijon 115, 667, 777, Swan and
Pommard 3. 25% whole clusters are added in. Aged in 50% new Tonnellerie
Sirugue oak barrels and 50% seasoned barrels.
This is a medium to fullbodied
Pinot Noir with a deep, ruby color. Aromas of damp leaves and dark
stone fruits lead to fruit-driven flavors. The wine is tight and concentrated at
this stage, and although it is fat on the palate, it lacks acidity. As it warms, the
nose and finish deliver a little heat.
2004 Churchill Cellars Bella Luna Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 124 cases, $45. 15-18% whole clusters. Aging and winemaking
the same as above.
The aromatics in this wine are to die for: ripe cherries, vanilla,
and Xmas spice. Tasted over a few hours, the wine kept pumping out
these terrific aromas and I was thoroughly content just to sniff. It was a nose
you could drink. I am convinced that this type of perfume is distinctive and
typical of great Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs. The wine is full-bodied and
rich with red and black fruits and tea flavors, but the nose trumps the flavors at this point. The mouth feel
is luxurious. A slight astringency at the finish will flush out with cellaring. This vineyard is a star in the
making and in the same mold as its neighboring prestigious vineyards such as Olivet Lane and Olivet
Churchill Cellars is located at 1574 Olivet Rd, Santa Rosa, CA 95401. The phone number is 707-578-
5393. Wine may be purchased on the website at www.churchill-cellars.com.
Lion’s Pride RRV Pinot Noir
The Russian River Valley Winegrowers Foundation (RRVWF) have collaborated with El Molino High
School to make and market the inaugural Pinot Noir from the school’s one-acre vineyard in Forestville.
The winemaking was directed by Merry Edwards who was assisted by the viticulture students at El
Molino High School. Grapes were harvested in 2004 and crushed at Taft Street Winery. Only 6 barrels
of this wine were made.
Half of the proceeds of the sale of the Pinot Noir will go to the agriculture and viticulture program at El
Molino High School to help educate future vintners and growers. A good cause and a good Pinot Noir.
The wine may be reserved at
$275 half case or $500 full case
through the website:
www.rrvw.org or email at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Wine pick up
and payment are only allowed
between 2/30/07 and 3/20/07.
The Magic of Old Burgundies
Drinking aged Pinot is a completely different experience than imbibing recent vintages. The primary
fruit aromas give way to the smells that fine wine acquires over time, known as the bouquet (or to the
chemist, ’reductive bouquet’). After many years in the bottle, old wines develop smells of truffles,
fungi and mushroom. There are often other olfactory charms as well, including loamy earth, sweaty
leather, old library book, garbage, mahogany, smoked bacon, rust and iron, musk, tobacco smoke
and so forth. Not everyone finds charm in an older wine’s bouquet, but zealous fans find it magical.
The flavors of Pinot Noirs that have aged take on secondary characteristics. Notable among these are
beef bouillon, anise, pencil shavings, Chinese five spice, mushrooms on a grill, beef stew, molasses,
fig, Worcestershire, sherry, vitamin tension, smoke, and even foxy and fecal highlights. The development
of secondary flavors tends to obscure the features of the wine which delineate its origin or terroir,
although experienced tasters can still make pronouncements that are relevant to the sense of
place of the wine.
When it comes to older Burgundies, there is no definitive rating or judgment. The wines simply
represent snapshots frozen in time and memories that follow. There is considerable bottle variation, so
part of the charm of drinking old wines is the anticipation upon popping the cork. You just never know
what you are going to get. Knowing provenance of the wine is of course preferred, but this is often
shrouded in the many years that have transpired. In older Burgundies there is always the scepter of
poor wine transport and storage. The use of temperature-controlled containers to ship French wine to
the United States wasn’t popularized by California wine importer Kermit Lynch and others until the
A small crew gathered recently at Napa Rose Restaurant in Anaheim, California to drink some old
Burgundies. There was some discussion prior to the event on how the wines should be drunk and
whether decanting was appropriate. One attendee was told (incorrectly I believe) that the corks
should be popped several hours before drinking, allowing “micro-oxygenation” of the wine therein
and bringing out the full charm of the wine. According to Emile Peynaud writing in his classic treatise
on wine tasting, The Taste of Wine, he strongly recommends tasting very old bottles immediately after
the cork has been drawn. “It is definitely incorrect to decant old wines (wherever they come from)
several hours before they are drunk because, following even a light aeration, their bouquet, fruit of the
reduction process slowly achieved in the absence of air, weakens with varying rapidity, depending on
the wine.” We chose to following this path and opened each wine in succession, from oldest to youngest,
drinking each wine immediately after it was opened.
1990 Pousse d’Or Volnay 1er Les Caillerts Clos Des 60 Ouvres Monopole
This wine really starred.
It had the most body, structure and appeal of all of the wines. With air, the bouquet featured herbs,
spearmint, and mushrooms. The texture was mouth coating and silky. Tannins were moderate and the
finish was fruity and alive, still with bright strawberry and cherry flavors.
1983 Haegelen-Jayer Clos de Vougeot
Quite a nice drink from a poorly-regarded vintage in Burgundy.
The color was light but still violet. The nose had attractive cherry and spice but faded quickly.
There were tart cherry and cranberry fruits evident along with cured meat notes. The wine had crisp
acidity and paired nicely with food. A surprise. Alfred Haegelen is married to Madeleine, a niece of the
great Henri Jayer.
1978 Camille Giroud Gevrey-Chambertain 1er Les Cazetiers
This was a decent wine but no one
was ga-ga over it. It was simple and balanced but not exciting. The best feature was a sweet spicy finish.
It still had fine tannins and probably could last awhile, but there would be no point to aging it further.
1947 Justerini & Brooks Clos de Vougeot
Maderized and undrinkable. The term maderized refers to
wines that have turned deep yellow or brown in color and are dried out on the palate. Only one in the
group was brave enough to taste the wine, but he could discover no redeeming qualities in it.
1946 Domaine des Lambrays Clos des Lambray Grand Cru Classe
Now this was old Burgundy. The nose was all feral, fecal
and fungal and quite nice. The fruit had completely dissipated and the finish was notably metallic. The
food (oxtail ravioli) seemed to perk it up. Nothing extraordinary, but fun to drink nonetheless. An historical
note: this vineyard did not officially became a Grand Cru until 1981.
1945 Leon Violland Beaune 1er La Montée Rouge
This wine was surprisingly fresh and dark-colored.
It was clear to every taster that this wine benefited from the old Burgundy practice of adding Grenache
or other similar hardy red varietal from the Rhone or Algeria to Pinot Noir to provide body and color to the
wine. This wine looked and smelled Rhone and had none of the secondary charms of an aged Pinot Noir.
The cork was black and appeared authentic, and if the wine was really over 60 years, it had remarkable
grip and persistence.
Purchasing older Burgundies at auction or retail is a bit of a crap shoot because of provenance. Prices
also have gone stratospheric, particularly for bottlings from stellar vintages and wines made prior to
1978. The best strategy is to avoid the designer names such as Jayer, Roumier, and Leroy, and concentrate
on reliable producers with less cache such as Mortet, La Farge, Montille, Barthod, Trapet and
so on. Remember that vintage is all important and look to recent vintages like 1978, 1985, 1988, 1990,
1993, 1995, and 1996. Off vintages can surprise from good producers as the 1983 wine showed above.
When it comes to old Burgundies, “It’s not the Pinot in my life, it’s the life in my Pinot.”
Minerality: Fact or Fiction
I have never really thought that much about minerality in Pinot Noir, usually associating minerality with
higher-acid white wines such as Chablis and German Rieslings. Recently, there has been some ribald
discussion at wine tastings, as well as on the internet, about minerality. The central issue seems to be
whether minerals in vineyard soils can actually travel up the roots and xylem into the grapes and
survive fermentation in large enough concentrations to produce identifiable mineral flavors (for example,
flint or slate). Many smart wine people believe this does not happen. They believe the so-called
minerality in wine really originates from acidity and sulfur-based compounds that develop in the winemaking
Tim Patterson recently wrote an excellent article in Wines & Vines (“Myths of Minerality,” December,
2006) in which he reviewed the limited research on the minerality of wine and offered his own
opinions on its origins. He points out that there is no “mineral” on the Wine Aroma Wheel and the
creator of the wheel, Dr. Ann Noble, feels that “Minerality is a concept which could never be consistently
defined in words or physical standards.” Or as she put it more bluntly, “Sucking on stones
doesn’t give any sensation akin to wine flavor.” University of California Davis flavor chemist, Dr. Sue
Ebeler said, “There are no clear correlations of any specific compounds with a ‘mineral’ aroma. It is
likely a complex mixture of compounds which we associate with the smell of soils or rocky area.”
Patterson points out that minerals such as potassium, magnesium, sodium and calcium are present in
wine as salts of mineral acids, but are in such small concentrations they do not significantly influence
wine flavors and aromas. More likely, as noted by Jamie Goode (The Science of Wine), sulfur-based
compounds associated with reductive winemaking or nutrient stress in yeast during fermentation contribute
to what is called minerality. Support for this hypothesis comes from Germany, known for high
acid wines, reductive winemaking and nutrient deficiencies in wine musts, where many of the wines
are described as sharp, acidic, and highly mineral.
Time of the Year for Champagne
The end of the year is often the time where thoughts turn to Champagne. Whether it be sitting watching
a football game with a good blanc de blancs snacking on potato chips or buttered popcorn, or
celebrating the New Year with a special prestige cuvee, Champagne is the wine of the season.
Champagne is unique among French wines in that it is named after the houses or marques that
produce them. Styles can vary depending on the grape makeup. Blanc de blancs are made entirely
from white grapes, specifically Chardonnay. Blanc de noirs are made entirely from dark grapes, either
Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier. Rosés are made from blending in some red wine or by a small
amount of red grape skin contact. Most Champagne is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot
Meunier in varying amounts, each of which has been fermented separately. Brut refers to a dry
Champagne with 1.5% residual sugar; Demi-sec is medium-dry with 3.3%-5% residual sugar.
Champagne is full of lore and here are a few bits of trivia you can use over the holidays to impress
your friends. Epernay was burned, sacked, or pillaged at least twenty-five times in the thousand years
before the 17th century. Napoleon fought his last battles in Champagne. The day before Epernay fell
to Russian and Prussian troops in 1814, Napoleon bestowed his own cross of the Legion of Honor on the
mayor of the city, Mean-Remy Moet. Then he left for Paris and abdicated the throne. The term
“beheading,” which dates from the time of Napoleon, refers to the way Napoleon’s officers opened
Champagne bottles with their sabers. Moet & Chandon is the largest Champagne house, with 90 million
bottles of wine aging in its cellars at any given time. Ruinart is the oldest Champagne house,
dating to 1729. The pressure in a bottle of Champagne is 90 pounds per square inch, about three times
that in an auto tire. The speed of a popped Champagne cork has been estimated at anywhere from 35-
100 miles per hour when it leaves the bottle.
For reading on Champagne, I recommend the following three books: Champagne. How the World’s
Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times, written by Don & Petie Kladstrup (William
Morrow, 2005, $24). 4000 Champagnes, written by Richard Juhlin (Flammarion, 2005, $40). Uncorked:
The Science of Champagne authored by Gerard Liger-Belair (Princeton University Press, 2004, $15).
An impressive lineup of Champagnes was tasted on December 11, 2006. I am omitting detailed tasting
notes as the event was rather informal in an afternoon of social
conviviality. I think the value here is noting the top wines chosen by a
consensus of the twenty members of the group. This can be used as a
guide in your future purchases. Favorites are listed by ranking in red.
1985 René Collard Cuvee Speciale Rosé Brut (#3)
1988 Fleury Pére et Fils Siécle d’Or (#5)
1990 Le Grand Dame
1990 Perrier-Jouet Fleur de Champagne Brut
1990 Drappier Grande Sendrée Brut (corked)
1995 Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires Brut
1995 Nicolas Feuillette Millésimé Cuvée Spéciale Brut
1996 Jean Laurent Millésimé Brut
1996 Lenoble Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs
1996 Duval Leroy Brut (#2, $40)
1996 Laurent Perrier Brut
1996 Le Grand Dame (#4, $110)
1996 Henri Abele Millésimé Brut Reserve
1996 Lean Laurent Blanc de Blanc Millésimé
1996 Nicolas Feuillette Cuvee Palmes D’Or
1996 Comte Adoin de Dampierre Grand Vintage Brut
1996 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs (#1, $110)
Taittinger was established as a company in 1734 by Jacques Fourneaux. After World War I, the company
moved to the 13th century historical residence located on Rue de Tambour known as “The House
of the Counts of Champagne.” In 1932, Pierre Taittinger acquired the great residence. He decided
that Chardonnay was to be the dominant grape for the brand. Along with his two brothers, Jean and
Claude, they oversaw a period of remarkable growth and began operation in the cellars of the 13th
century Saint-Nicaise Abbey in Reims where the 1996 Taittinger Comtes De Champagne was produced.
Today Champagne Taittinger has acquired the status of Grande Marque house. 1996 was a
remarkable year for Champagne. Records indicate you must go back to 1928 to find a potential
alcohol-acidity combination of this level and of this quality. Comtes De Champagne is only produced
when all of the conditions, essential to its unique style, are met including:
* The harvest must be of exceptional quality and worthy of vintage Champagne
* It is made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes (100% Grands Crus) from the most renowned vineyards
of the Cote des Blancs.
* Only wines from the first pressing (La Cuvée) are used.
* 5% of the wines used in the blend are aged in new oak barrels.
The second place Champagne, the 1996 Duval-Leroy Brut, is a terrific value ($40). The Wine Spectator
rated many of the newest Duval-Leroy releases very highly when tasted against some of the Grand
Marques. Duval-Leroy is under the direction of Carol Duval-Leroy who took over as president upon
the death of her husband in 1991. The house currently has 175 hectares of vineyards with presence in
all villages of the Cote des Blancs with classified Grand Cru vineyards. The 1996 Brut is 65% Chardonnay
and 35% Pinot Noir.
James Bond and Champagne
James Bond had a thing for fine Champagne. See if you
can match the Champagne with the movie(s).
1 Taittinger Brut Blanc de Blancs 1943
2 Veuve Cliquot Rosé
4 Dom Perignon 1946
5 Krug Champagne
1 Casino Royale, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
2 Diamonds are Forever, Thunderball
3 Diamonds are Forever
5 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Wine Terms from the Urban Slang Dictionary
Wine candy: another name for Jolly Ranchers.
Wine spritzer: when you pee a little under your undies, usually from laughter.
Wine rack: a young female, who while currently unimbibable, will within a matter of years be ripe for the
Winegasm: that feeling of euphoric glee at finding a bottle of wine that is being sought for special brand name,
vintage, or even price.
Wine spodiodie: from the song, “Drinkin’ wine spode-o-dee” by Jerry Lee Lewis and others. A shot that has a
layer of Port on the bottom, then a layer of cheap bourbon, finished on top by another layer of Port.
Wine-puss: one who constantly whines.
Wine: a form of dance, involves gyration of hips, performed to mainly West Indian music like reggae, calypso.
Cork dork: a person who talks about wine too seriously.
Merlot sippers: intellectually lazy, college-educated adults who entertain each other with pseudo-intellectual
Merloment: a minute portion of time where your judgment was affected by the consumption of too much wine.
MerJoe: pronounced “Merlot” - a cheap wine one would get at Trader Joe’s supermarket.