Monday, July 13, 2009

Report from ... 10 Years of Treana with Austin Hope - June 4, 2009

What does Treana, Austin Hope, Liberty School and Candor Wines all have in common? They all fall under the purview of Hope Family Wines, a winery started in 1978 as one of the first wineries in Paso Robles (halfway between San Francisco and L.A.). Back then there were 4 wineries and only 1000 acres of grapes planted, today there are 180 wineries in the region and 30,000 acres of grapes; if you consider that the Paso appellation is about 600,000 acres all told, that means that 5% of the land within the appellation is planted to grapes. The Paso appellation also has some 10-12 microclimates within it and the diurnal temperature (high to low) in a 24-hour period can range, some 40-50 degrees. But back to Hope Family …

In the beginning the winery saw themselves as mainly a Cabernet house and planted the majority of their vineyards to this grape. In 1996, they began making their signature blend Treana, a mainly Cabernet blend with other grapes they grew thrown in for added complexity. As we learned from this 10-year retrospective tasting, Treana has always been a work in progress (see notes below).

Hope Family’s other big name wine label is Liberty School, a brand started in the 70’s by Caymus, but then it was set adrift when Caymus decided to focus their attention on their own signature wine. The Liberty School brand was finally rescued, from certain death (and sure ridicule), by Hope in 1995, turning it into a value priced, quality brand.

Finally, the newest member of the Hope Family of wines is Candor. Currently, only two non-vintage wines are made under the label: Merlot and Zinfandel, two varietals that winemaker Austin (Hope) loves to make wine from. The hope (no pun intended) is to make “reasonably priced good wine” in the line. Instead of vintage dated they will be lot numbered and use grapes from a variety of vintages, their alcohol level will be around 14%. The desire with these wines is to be “honest with people” about how they are made (Candor), as Austin put it “Truth Defined”.

Today’s tasting consisted of 10 red Treana wines (1996-2006) and the current releases of Liberty School (3 wines) – here’s how the best shake out:

Liberty School
2007 Chardonnay - $16.95
A nose of lemon, apple, peach and vanilla – full lees contact throughout its barrel (American / French) life cycle of 7 to 9 months … palate is very tasty with vanilla, pineapple and tropical fruit. (3 ½ stars)

2005 Syrah - $17.95
Very lovely Syrah with aromas of raspberry, strawberry and white pepper – on the palate its even better with lots of red fruit, white pepper, a touch of tannins and some cherry chocolate on the finish. (4 stars)

10 Years of TREANA – Signature Reds
All wines were aged in French wood, because of the way it imparts elegance and finesse over time … Austin calls American oak “an instant gratification barrel” and too fast for his purposes.

Treana 1996
Their very first year producing this wine, it was made with 5 grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Merlot and Sangiovese. There’s a hint of oxidation here and it didn’t stand up for the hour long tasting, but when first poured it smelled of dried red fruit, licorice, spice and cinnamon – flavours were dried fruit, leaves with mocha-cinnamon notes and some perceptible alcohol heat.

Of Interest … how Treana changed:
1998 – Sangiovese replaced by Mourvedre
1999 – Mourvedre dropped, now a blend of 4 grapes
2000 – blend now down to three grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot
2002 – deemed not worth releasing, sold to Air Canada “for a song”

Treana 2003
Very inviting nose. Flavours are complex and tasty: good fruit, plum, cherry, black licorice, chocolate and gritty tannins.

Treana 2004
Now a two grape blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Nose of mint, black fruit, a little pepper and strawberry jam – well balanced and pleasant palate, sweet entry – black fruit, jammy, herbal and very enjoyable … good acidity makes the balance just right.

Treana 2005
Very Aussie in style, with big fruit, soft tannins, lots of black and red fruit throughout.

Treana 2006
First year to use a longer, colder fermentation (40-60 days on skins) – in 1996-2005 it was 7-10 days. Big ripe fruit, vanilla, cherry on the nose, palate has black fruit, coffee, mocha, lots of mouth presence, with nice tannins, acidity and fuzzy tingly tannins.

Top 3 wines: 2003 – 2004 and 2006

Special Mention -
Treana 2007 White (53% Viognier – 47% Marsanne)
Nose is pineapple, tropical and orange peel – there’s a slight sweetness to the mid-palate but the finish is dry with good acid. Austin says it ages very well and they are currently drinking the 1997 version at home.

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