Saturday, September 17, 2011

Report from … Tasting in Carmel, California (part 1) - September 16, 2011

It started out like “one-of-those-days” but ended much better.  We set our sights on the wineries around the tasting rooms of Carmel and in the Carmel Valley, so we drove into Carmel-by-the-Sea, home to at least five winery tasting rooms.  Unlike back home where the winery’s store has to be attached to their actual winery, here you can have a completely separate store off your property and over the mountains, if you wish.  The rooms recommended by the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association were Galante, Caracciolo Cellars, Figge Cellars and Cima Collina , and the fifth was Wrath, which had just opened last month.  Here’s where the one-of-those-days comes into play: each tasting room did not open till about 1 or 2 in afternoon, we were strolling Carmel at 10am … and Wrath is in a crazy open mall, and I was positive the map had them on the third floor (not the first where I eventually found them later in the day … more on that later).  So with frustration we climbed back into the car and pointed the GSP to an address I had been given: 8940 Carmel Valley Road – Chateau Julien.
Upon entry Chateau Julien

Bottle of Sangiovese
The Chateau was started 30 years ago, with a total acreage of 16, of which 5.5 are planted, with now, 19- year-old Sangiovese vines.  Merlot is their flagship wine, which parallels the St. Julien region of France, which they patterned the winery after.  They were proud to tell me that they were the second winery in the Carmel Valley.  I found them to be a winery that has the winery experience down to a tee, but the wines were lacking … at least the wines that were on for tasting today.  Each day they select 5-7 wines for the public to taste and that is what you can choose from, or you can do all of them.  We went through the line from Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, skipping the sweeties so early in the morning – though it was by now 11.  The two wines that did stand out were their 2008 Estate Sangiovese ($25.00) which had a pretty cherry nose along with sour cherry and good acidity on the palate, this was quite the food friendly offering (*** ½+).  They also had a delicious 2007 La Conviviance ($55.00) red blend.  La Conviviance loosely translates to “living the good life” and it is a blend of Merlot (52.4%), Malbec (39.2%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (8.4%), chocolate-black cherry on the nose that translated in the mouth to chocolate and blackberry, nice weight and some good balancing acidity (****) – which seemed to be the trademark of this winery … good acidity, even in the wines we were not partial to (because they seemed to have too much of the good stuff).  The owners’ son has started his own label PoiZ, which looks modern and fun, but alas we were not able to try his wines.
Entrance to Joullian

Delicious Chardonnay
Moving on down the road (about 16km) we came upon Carmel Valley Village, now this is the hub on your way down to Arroyo Seco… restaurants, shops and lots of winery tasting room, all within a mile – we would have done more walking here if we had had the time, because when people said things were, “just down the road”, they really meant about 2 stores down.  We found Joullian Vineyard without a problem and were lucky enough to have Amy Jo as our guide, not only through the wines but of the area – she knew where everyone was, what they made and what their best stuff was, “I like to learn” she said.  Joullian is a winery established in 1982, and has the distinction, in my mind anyway, of having the first estate grown Zinfandel in the Carmel Valley, interestly enough their property is too hot to grow Chardonnay, so it is the only grape they buy from growers.  Really good wines, and the place we should have started our tasting tour at.  Best wine: 2009 Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay ($33.00), the fruit is purchased from Talbott (our next stop); this wine was really nice on the buttery side but with a sweet kinda smoothness on the palate that had hints of vanilla and sweet fruit … and it’s hallmark was it deliciously long finish. (**** ½).  Most interesting wine: The Retro Rouge, a non-vintage blend that makes use of every grape grown on the property in a field blend, 10 in total including some black muscat and “alicane bouschet”.
Wines Scored – (in Order of Tasting):
Joullian 2008 Monterey Chardonnay ($23.00) – *** ½+
Joullian 2009 Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay ($33.00) - **** ½
Joullian 2007 Sias Cuvee Zinfandel ($26.00) - ****+
Joullian 207 Reserve Cabernet Franc ($35.00) - ****

Talbot Tasting room
The original Sleepy Hollow
From Joullian we went down the road about 200 yards to the Talbott Vineyards tasting room.  Talbott was established in 1982 and they are tenders of the famous Sleepy Hollow vineyard, 565 acres, planted in 1972 to mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Here we had Gabby run us through a tasting of 2 Chardonnays and 2 Pinot Noirs (her choice), although the winery makes many more, she also offered to have us taste one of the reserve wines from each bracket, there really were some spectacular wines here.  Best Chardonnay: 2009 Cuvee Carlotta Chardonnay ($52.00) a ten best barrel blend with all fruit coming from the Sleepy Hollow vineyard, only 250 cases produced and matured in all new French oak for one year; the wine is named after the grandmother of the owner – this wine is super rich, super buttery and super smooth (**** ½).  Best Pinot Noir: 2009 Sleepy Hollow Pinot Noir ($40.00), the Sleepy Hollow vines are the oldest owned by the winery at 35 years, this wine is aged 12 months in 30% new oak, all French.  The nose is delicate black cherry, sour cherry with subtle spice; while the palate is juicy with sweet cherry, hints of spice and pepper, the long red fruit finish has a dusting of tannins and the fruit that lingers gives a lovely strawberry sensation on the tongue. (**** ½+)
Wines Scored – (in Order of Tasting):
Talbott 2009 Logan Chardonnay ($22.50) - *** ½
Talbott 2009 Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay ($40.00) - ****+
Talbott 2009 Cuvee Carlotta Chardonnay ($52.00) - **** ½
Talbott 2009 Logan Pinot Noir ($25.00) - ****
Talbott 2009 Sleepy Hollow Pinot Noir ($40.00) - **** ½+
Talbott 2009 RFT Pinot Noir ($75.00) - ****+
Talbott 2009 Cuvee Sarah Pinot Noir ($75.00) - ****+

Sign of the Chock Rock

Chalone Syrah
We’ll end this part of the Carmel tour report with a quick trip over Chock Rock Vineyard before we had lunch.  Chock Rock is the project of winemaker Dan Karlsen, winemaker for Talbott (see above), here he specializes in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah … having just poured over a lot of his Chard and Pinot work I wanted to see how he was doing with Syrah.  Dan has an interesting wine philosophy that is written on his back label: “Wine Makers don’t make anything of interest – They just keep it from rolling downhill”.  We were served, in the tasting room, by his wife Kathleen (and partner in winery crime) who poured for us the two Syrahs on offer: the 2007 Arroyo Seco and the 2006 Chalone, both a very reasonable $18.00.  The Arroyo Seco is full of sweet raspberry and plum fruit on the nose, almost port-like in intensity of aroma and flavour, rich, ripe and slightly peppery (*** ½).  The Chalone was the more toned down of the two showing off some real finesse to Syrah making.  Earthy, smoked meat, pepper, strawberry, smoky and cherry (especially on the nose); a nice medium length finish that offered up sweet peppery notes … very classic Syrah qualities (****+).

This ends the first part of our tour, we then had lunch at a place called Will’s Fargo for a burger the size of my head … okay, maybe not that big, but it sure was filling and got us through the rest of the afternoon.

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