The New California tasting – March 5, 2015

So what is the “new California?”  What IS balance?  These are some of the questions we tried to tackle at this tasting, and I’m sorry to report that we couldn’t solve any of the world’s controversies, including the debate over style within California’s wine industry.  Alcohol levels, and the use of oak – or the proper use of new oak, to be specific – continue to stir up debate among wine writers, on social media, and on the blogosphere.  But, one thing seems clear: balance, ultimately, is subjective.  After all the talk, there was only one thing to do: drink some good wine and eat some good food!

As we always do at the Kensington Wine Market, we ask the group to choose their favorites of the evening, and tonight we it was a tight race.  The Passenger Cabernet Sauvignon made by Master Sommelier Chris Blanchard came in first place, with the Rivers Marie Pinot Noir close behind in 2nd place.  It made me ecstatic to see that the group loved the Zeitgeist Trousseau Gris, and voted it into the bronze medal position.  Thanks again to all who came.

Here are some notes on the wines we tasted:

1.    2013 Zeitgeist Trousseau Gris (Russian River Valley) – $32.99
Sold out at the winery! Zeitgeist is a German word that refers to the spirit of the times, appropriate for such a great wine. “A native of the Jura region, Trousseau Gris is a true ‘grey’ grape and can make either white wines or slightly colored wines,” according to the winery website. “Tropical notes of lychee and stone fruits are accented by lemon zest and ginger.” Try with a range of foods, including seafood, vegetable dishes, even pork belly and frites!

2.    2011 Walter Hansel Chardonnay “Cuvee Alyce” (Russian River Valley) – $49.99
93+ points from Robert Parker! His review: “Hansel’s 2011 Chardonnay Cuvee Alyce is gorgeous. Not as overt as in most years, the 2011 is nevertheless quite beautiful. Butter, smoke, apricots and orange blossoms come to life in the glass. The 2011 isn’t as tropical or buttery as it often is, but it is very, very pretty just the same. Sweet floral and spiced notes add lift on the hugely appealing finish.”

3.    2012 Birichino Grenache Old Vines Besson Vineyard (Central Coast) – $30.99
Wine made from 102 year old vines.  10 months in neutral barrel, it was bottled unfiltered. Its vibrant yet delicate hue recalls pinot and cooler vintages, yet the flavors are more candied and expressive of brambly wild raspberry and kirsch. Highly aromatic –and ideally suited to a Burgundy glass– the finish brings fine yet persistent ninja tannins that creep up, quietly, from behind.

4.    2012 Rivers-Marie Pinot Noir “Silver Eagle Vineyard” (Sonoma Coast) – $65.99
A scant 350 cases of this highly sought-after Sonoma Coast Pinot are produced. At the time of writing, Robert Parker has not reviewed the 2012 vintage. However, based on historical reviews, we can expect a glowing report. He awarded the 2010 and 2011 each 93 points. Here’s what the pair behind Rivers Marie has to say about the 2012: “There’s sassafras, mint, smoke, a wide mix of fruit colors and baking spice. This bottling always had great depth but now there’s breadth and structure to complete the wine.”

5.    2012 Arnot-Roberts Syrah (North Coast) – $55.99
91 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate! “Arnot-Roberts is one of the most exciting young wineries in California, or anywhere for that matter,” according to Wine Advocate. “The 2010 A favourite of the wine critics! “Arnot-Roberts is one of the most exciting young wineries in California, or anywhere for that matter,” according to Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. This elegant red has fine tannins and beautiful spice, dark red cherry and plum notes.

6.    2012 Passenger Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) – $95.99
Exclusive to KWM – and 90 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. The review for the 2012 vintage: “This blend of 84% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest equal parts Merlot and Petit Verdot is made by Realm’s fabulous winemaker, Benoit Touquette. The opaque ruby/purple-colored 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced mainly from Oakville vineyards, exhibits notes of baking spices, toast, blackcurrants and blackberries. Medium to full-bodied, round and juicy, it is best drunk over the next decade or more.”

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