Thursday, July 9, 2015

2015 Library Tasting

A few months ago, we hosted a library tasting of our reserve red wines.  I always say that these are my favorite events to do, and this one was no different.  There's nothing like spending an evening with a bunch of old friends....and the wines were pretty good, too.

I thought I would post here my thoughts on the wines pre-tasting.  The surprise of the night was the '87 which at first encounter was much more of a wine than I expected it to be.  It faded very quickly to a bare minimum of interesting, but it was fun while it lasted.

2007 Cadenza (Merlot 76% / Cabernet Franc 16% / Cabernet Sauvignon 8%)

This is classic distinctive Cadenza nearing the top of its game.  The Merlot percentage was grown by our friend Jan Waltz, allowing for this wine to be very approachable earlier in its life.  It’s starting to wake back up after shutting down for a few years and should hit its peak in a year or two.  It’s always been a difficult wine not to like.

2007 Bridge (57% Cabernet Franc / 36% Cabernet Sauvignon / 7% Merlot)

This is our “second wine” in the Bordeaux tradition.  2007 as such a beautiful vintage that we felt that these barrels should be destined for something special.  Aging has borne out that intuition.  This wine is very approachable and is at its peak of pleasure.  Being Franc-centric, it’s a very different style.  It lacks the structure for long aging, but still shows well.

2001 Bridge (62% Cabernet Sauvignon / 38% Cabernet Franc)

The first Bridge was a collaboration between John and myself.  It was meant to be a “bridge” between his Cadenza and mine.  And, truth be told, it’s how I learned the rudiments of making a Cadenza.  I’ll share them with you if you like.  Turns out making Cadenza is more about reading between the lines than memorizing a script.  The Cabernet portion was from Allegro, and Nelson Stewart grew the Cabernet Franc.

2002 Reserve Merlot (89% Merlot / 11% Cabernet Franc)

This vintage is what changed my mind about Merlot.  It was a hot and dry year, cut short by rains in October.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc suffered, but the Merlot was picked before the weather worsened.  It was the first vintage of Merlot we brought in from Waltz, and it was truly an eye-opener.  This wine is one of those that showed well in its youth, while still possessing the power for the long haul.  It’s also the first wine to showcase our cellar’s terroir, featuring a new winemaker and non-Allegro wine sources all the while tasting like an Allegro wine.

1998 Cadenza (95% Cabernet Sauvignon / 3% Cabernet Franc / 2% Merlot)

This is the last Cadenza made by John and Tim.  John was not a fan of this wine, thinking it’s “feminine” style wasn’t “Allegro” enough.  Turns out he was wrong.  Just like the 1982 Bordeaux vintage, this one had opulence and longevity.  I remember tasting this wine young while still in a tank (as well as on the day we bottled it), and it had gigantic structure to it.  The acidity was lower than most vintages, yielding a wine with more approachability.

1994 Cadenza (Cabernet Sauvignon 85%/Cabernet Franc 12%/Merlot 3%)

For me, this has always been the “roasty’ Cadenza.  I remember back in 2002 having a bottle with John at a Chef Series dinner and thinking it was nearing its peak at the time.  I think he’s right, as the acid is starting to rise and the wine is getting tougher and tougher.  But the perfume usually opens my mind every time.

1987 Cabernet Sauvignon

If I remember correctly, this wine is similar to the 1985 in that it was not a Cadenza vintage yet it was most likely a pretty wine in its youth.  These days it’s very fragile, and whatever positives it still clings to evaporate very quickly.  A good example of why some wines should be cellared and others consumed.

1983 Cabernet Sauvignon

This is a wine that I have never tasted.  It’s partner wine is the 1983 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, one of my favorite wines ever from Allegro.  It’ll be interesting to see in what way this wine differs from the Reserve version.  There’s a chance that it’s an identical wine, since John and Tim only had one Cabernet vineyard.  They may have done two pickings, or they may have made one wine and used only the best barrels for the reserve.  In any case, I don’t think we’ll be disappointed.

2010 Reserve Merlot ($29)

This is only our second Reserve Merlot at Allegro, and its provenance is an interesting story.  Suffice it to say that the fruit was grown at Karamoor by Nelson Stewart.  This wine saw ten months in new French oak barrels, and it is just starting to come into its own.  It’s not a powerhouse wine—as the fruit was from fifth-leaf vines—but its silky seductiveness and complex aromatics after it opens up are going to be with us for a while.  I suspect this wine will have a similar character and trajectory as the 2002

2010 Cadenza (42% Cabernet Sauvignon / 39% Merlot / 19% Cabernet Franc)

One of the most balanced Cadenzas we’ve ever had, the 2010 reminds me of what I imagine the 1983 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon might have tasted like thirty years ago.  Enticing and seductive in youth with an inner core of strength that speaks to its potential longevity.  The Cabernet portion was grown here at Allegro, and Nelson Stewart grew the Merlot and Cabernet Franc at Karamoor.  This year signaled perhaps a switch from the Merlot-heavy Cadenzas to one where Cabernet plays a greater role.

-- February 7, 2015 --

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Sweet Wine Albatross

I had an interesting and somewhat disturbing experience last Saturday in our tasting room.  And it reminded me of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Illustration by Gustave Dore
The poem relates the misfortunes of a ship's crews after one member kills an albatross and the forces of nature then conspire against them.  He is then punished by being forced to wear the dead bird from his neck (which seems implausible given the size of those birds) in an effort to appease the gods and bring back the winds to carry them back to land.

(Those of you more familiar with the poem can correct reading comes from when I was sixteen and listened to too much Iron Maiden....)

We had an extraordinarily busy afternoon with a lot of tours and a group that had rented our deck as well.  I'm usually around the property on the weekends in case we get so busy that our great staff might need a helping hand.  This was one of those days.

I ended up pouring wine for about 8-10 people in our barrel room.  I could tell that initially they seemed skeptical about our wines (and myself in particular--I showed up wearing a sweaty t-shirt from being out on the tractor.  They, of course, didn't know who I was.....)  After a while they came to realize that our dry wines were impressive, and they seemed genuinely surprised by what they were tasting.

Fast-forward to the end of the tasting where they urged me to get the word out about our dry wines.  They said we had a reputation for making sweet wines, and that we should let people know how good our dry wines were.

I wasn't sure how to take this.  First, up until about 2005, Allegro predominantly made dry wines (at least more dry than sweet.)  And we struggled financially.  These days, sweet wines account for about 75% of our production and it's a whole lot easier to pay the bills.  We've shifted in the marketplace in this way out of pure survival needs.  If we had stayed with the model that focused on dry wines, we would have been out of business years ago.

So I mentioned to this group what our history had been and said that if they knew how to make people aware of our dry wines, I was all ears.  And, in truth, there was no good answer.  The best we had was that they would share their experience with their friends.  This is the same solution I cam to about ten years ago.  Paid advertising doesn't seem to work for small, local wineries.  At least the "return on investment" isn't there in today's market.

But all this brings me to a depressing Allegro synonymous with sweet wines?  Back in the '80s, it was almost 100% dry wines, but when we started to make sweet wines, the sweeties (as we like to call them) didn't hold our dry wines against us.  The strange thing is that dry wine drinkers hold our sweet wines against us.  And that's something I don't understand.

(By the way, this isn't the only time we've heard people say that they think Allegro only makes sweet wines.  It just happened to be about 15 people all saying the same thing at the same me.  I know we can't change public opinion, but it saddens my hear to think that so many write us off without giving us a chance.)

Even more so, it bothers me in that we are making a huge financial investment in new vineyards in order to make even better dry wines than we have ever made in the past.  And to think that some people may never give those wines a chance is heart-breaking.
New plantings of our premium vineyard
 It's time for some soul-searching and some brain-storming.  I became a winemaker in order to make mind-blowing wines.  Along the way, I've stretched my idea of good wine to include sweet wines.  I think you'll find that there's never a bad wine on our list.  Naturally, you won't like every wine....and to be honest, I never drink any of our sweet wines casually after we bottle them.  But that doesn't mean I'm not proud of them and the quality that they represent.  But I think you all know that my heart is in the dry wines, and in about four years we will have about 1000 cases of amazing wines waiting on our shelves for you.

I just hope you come out and give them a chance.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Thinking about Chardonnay

So, I've been thinking about Chardonnay recently.  We're getting ready to add to our planting in a couple weeks, and the Chard vines will fill out our last section of white in our established vineyard.  It may be the last Chard we plant for a while.

Vineyard Manager Nelson checking out the newly-arrived vines

I got an email from Mark Chien the other day who had some remarkable observations about Chardonnay in Oregon.  Not sure if you all remember him, but he was an amazing mentor to me in grapegrowing through his position as the Winegrape Educator for Penn Sate.

What struck me most was his mentioning of the "essence of Chardonnay." Of all the grapes out there, I think of Chard as the most malleable by winemakers. It's like making a bowl by a potter. Every potter (winemaker) needs to make a bowl (Chardonnay) and they're all different. Who's to say which is the best bowl (has the essence of a bowl)? I think we can all agree on bad bowls (Chardonnays), but what is it that truly separates great bowls (Chardonnays) from good ones? And why are great bowls (Chardonnays) sometimes very dissimilar?

I think what's missing in the discussion is the consumer (to be crass about it.) Any apperception of quality is dynamic, involving both a perceiver and a perceived. This is all very Kantian. But with Kant, everything perceived was seen through the lenses of a priori concepts that not only determined that perception occurs, but also how it was perceived. If you don't have a tool to measure it, you can't measure it.

Allegro Chardonnay
It's like when I tasted Raj Parr's Santa Barbara Chards picked at, what, 14 Brix? Totally out of my wheelhouse. Are they really good? He seemed to think so. I had my doubts. But maybe it's just because I didn't have enough experience with them. They were outside of my ken. Were they close to the essence of Chardonnay? Maybe. But it definitely showed that wine is subjective, and once we agree it's subjective, I think all talk of "essence" needs to leave the conversation.

And talk of terroir is probably the right way to go, but is the fact that the big, blowzy wines sometimes aren't liked could be because the tasters don't like that style? Or is it that it's actually wrong?

I feel like I am starting to dial-in my Chard winemaking here from fruit from our estate. It's a big style, but I think it works for us. Even in the lighter 2014, it still stands up to the 2013. It's totally anathema to the Chard that some of my friends made from both vintages. So, which is correct? I have no clue.

So, what is Chardonnay?  For me, it's good wine.  And more than that, it's wine that speaks of a place AND people.  The winegrower and the winemaker.  Who cares if it tastes different?