Wines of the Week

Mendocino Makes a Mark

Pax Syrah Mendocino County Alder Springs Vineyard 2006

I’ve been visiting California wine country for over fifteen years and somehow never made it up to the Mendocino area.  Looks like I’m going to have to make the trip because the wines coming out of there are nothing short of stupendous. 

Cousin David (pictured here with his incredibly fabulous wife Caroline) turned me on to Pax wines a few years ago, and we bought some together.  They’ve been resting in my cellar ever since, but last night I took the plunge and opened a bottle.  What was I waiting for?

Well, I knew these would be big wines and require some time in the bottle to develop, but the waiting is over.  I’m going to be hitting the rest of the bottles on a regular basis.

The Alder Springs Syrah (only 428 cases made…maybe that’s why I was saving it) is a deep ruby color in the glass, with a very subtle nose of smoke and dark flowers.  On the palate, there’s earth and dark flowers, some black pepper, blackberry, and perhaps a little creosote, with very well-integrated tannins.

The wine lingers on the midpalate, rather than farther back, and is relatively chewy even though it’s medium-bodied.  Wish I had more.  WW 93-94


Meet Mike Smith – Ordinary Name, Extraordinary Wines

The Envy Winery in Calistoga

If you take Route 29 up through Napa Valley, go through the blinker light at Calistoga, and continue past Petrified Forest Road, you’ll come to a little street called Tubbs Lane.  It is here, at Envy Winery, that Mike Smith does his thing.  And what a thing it is.

Mike makes some of the most blockbuster wines to come out of the area, and the only bad news is that he doesn’t make enough.  Not surprising, considering that he performs every aspect of the winemaking operations his own self.  But the good news is you can probably get some.

Debi in the barrel room with Mike Smith

On a trip to the area in January Mike was kind enough to host us in the barrel room, and even nicer enough to pour samples of his latest efforts.

Quivet Cellars Kenefick Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 –Dark purple in the glass, with ripe tannins that help it drink well at this young age.  The flavors are of dark plum, smoke, and sage.  A great effort.  WW 94-95

Mike pours for Debi.

Myriad Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 – Another deeply colored, inky effort with profound dark fruit flavors and hints of sage on the long finish.  WW 94-95

Myriad Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 —  I love Spring Mountain, because some of my favorite wines come from there.  This is a new favorite.  There’s more fruit and minerality on the nose than in Mike’s other efforts, which makes it sort of a more “typical” Napa Valley Cabernet, but the big up-front fruit is the only typical thing about it.  There are deep flavors here, and a lingering finish.  WW 94

He's very handy with the wine thief. We love him for that.

I don’t know much about Mike’s distribution, because, as I said, his production is limited.  Still, it’s worth trying to get your hands on some.  Try contacting Mike at winejunkies@sbcglobal.net.


Do you know the way to Beaujolais?

Until now, I’ve never been a big fan of the Gamay grape, especially since I got tired of the hype surrounding the annual release of Beaujolais Nouveau every November.  The wines always seemed a bit insipid to me, thin and fruit-juicy with no dimension or complexity.

I’m happy to admit that I was wrong, and happier to admit that certain appellations in this particular area of Burgundy are turning out wines that are not only well worth drinking, but stupendous bargains as well.

In my sampling, I’ve more or less concluded that the wines from Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent generally have more stuffing and concentration than those from Fleurie, Chiroubles, and the other districts.  Now that the 2009 vintage has been lauded as “the vintage of a lifetime” in the area, some very worthy examples are showing up on the shelves.

First is the George Duboeuf Moulin-a-Vent 2009, which retails for maybe $15-$16.  Nicely concentrated, it has a good tannic grip which gives it some structural muscle, and flavors of cherry and blackberry.

We’ve already gone through a case of it.


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