The Swan Song block, originally planted in 1982 to Pommard-clone Pinot Noir, was once known as Pierce’s Elbow, a vineyard that we bottled as a single-block offering between 1998 and 2002. After that time, phylloxera, the root louse that devastated nearly every vineyard in Europe and California in the 19th century, took hold in the Pierce’s Elbow vineyard. The fruit from vintages henceforth found its way into the Estate and Reserve Pinot Noirs but wasn’t characteristic enough to make a single vineyard bottling (amongst other maladies, phylloxera deteriorates the quality of the fruit in the vineyard). For the 2010 vintage, Ben felt that certain barrels of Pierce’s Elbow were showing exceptionally in their twilight years, thus the “Swan Song” was born.
In the latest issue of Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, Josh Raynolds described the 2011 Swan Song Pinot Noir as such:
Vivid ruby-red. Smoky dark berries and dried cherry on the nose, along with suggestions of fresh rose, anise and mocha. Silky and expansive on the palate, offering black raspberry and bitter cherry flavors that are sweetened by hints of cola and floral pastilles. Tightens up on the spice-tinged finish, which shows excellent clarity and persistence and sneaky tannins. 92 points.
Now, as the theme of the day goes, let’s rewind the clock to the 1999 Pierce’s Elbow. Both 1999 and 2011 had very similar growing seasons in that it was cold and wet for the majority of the year but the clouds parted in late September and allowed us to finish ripening and begin the harvest.
The 1999 opens with very earthy notes of saddle leather, clay, and venison jerky; the primary fruit characteristics have nearly faded, leaving us with the underbelly of Pinot Noir. Dark fruit and the signature huckleberry of Pierce’s Elbow/Swan Song emerge on the palate along with a lasting finish of red licorice. There are still substantial tannins in this wine, so a few more years of aging potential aren’t out of the question.
As the grip of phylloxera grew ever tighter and the yields dropped to almost nothing, we had to rip the vines out late last year. The 2011 Swan Song Pinot Noir will be one of the last ever produced from that vineyard and fewer than 25 cases remain. This piece of history is not to be missed.
Perhaps you heard the chatter a couple months ago about the 2012 Estate Pinot Noir, specifically the positive reviews it received from the New York Times and Dallas Morning News. This wine is available everywhere that Montinore distributes its wine and, as a result of producing more of this wine than anything else, it can be seen as our "house style" of Pinot Noir. At an average of $20 per bottle, it won't break the bank either. Producing a consistent product across thousands of cases can be quite an undertaking… how do we accomplish it?
The Estate Pinot Noir, dubbed "Red Cap" by the Montinore team (due to its red foil capsule), blends together around 400 barrels of Pinot Noir from across our estate, plus a couple other vineyards that we farm biodynamically for their respective owners. Each vineyard and barrel contributes differing characteristics to the final blend of the wine: red or black fruit, floral notes, earthiness, herbaceousness... one vineyard can fill in an area where another vineyard may be lacking. Ben, our red winemaker extraordinaire, tries to blend together vineyards and barrels that emphasize red fruits such as cranberry and pomegranate and are more accessible in their youth. In his own words, “The Red Cap is approachable young and is our most diverse red when it comes to food pairing. Since each vineyard block is fermented with its own native yeast, the aromatics of this wine are far ranging and surprisingly adaptable. Serve it with a plate of pasta, and you have one wine. Drink it along with grilled chicken and it becomes another. Even within one glass the flavor evolves from the first sip to the last.”
Not that the Red Cap can’t benefit from some aging. As the theme of the day goes, we must know: how does it hold up after a few years?
Rewind the clock to the 2002 Estate Pinot Noir. This year has a place in the pantheon of remarkable vintages in the brief history of Willamette Valley wine and was widely considered to be the best until 2008 (of which scant few remain).
The wine opens with a definitive earthy funk of matsutake mushroom and an intermingling of forest floor followed by cranberry spice… think smells you’d encounter around the holiday season. Red fruits and plum dominate the flavors along with a hint of licorice and cigar box. The tannins have fully integrated into the wine and it’s drinking beautifully right now.
The 2012 Estate Pinot Noir definitely has the potential to become similar to the 2002 in another decade or so, and we’ll eagerly be watching (and tasting) its transition.
One of the benefits of being behind the scenes at a winery is the work involving blending trials, where certain tanks or barrels are blended together in varying proportions to determine the best possible wine that can be made. This morning at Montinore, with Stephen's blessing, we gave our final impressions of what will eventually be the 2013 Gewürztraminer. This reminded me of last week's post about Müller-Thurgau, primarily due to the difficulty in pronouncing "Gewürztraminer," another German name for a grape (which happens to be Alsatian in origin; if you're a history buff like me, you know Alsace is neither exactly French nor German). It's a natural segue into discussing this misunderstood grape.
Gewürztraminer literally means "Spice Traminer," but unlike Müller, it's not a cross of two different grapes; it came about as a result of the genetic sequence in Traminer. At one point a particular Traminer vine, typically with green grapes, transitioned into a vine with pinkish-red grapes and high aromatic compounds (the "spice"). Unstable genomes in vines lead to mutations, hence how we get Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and the many different clonal selections of Pinot Noir, as Pinot is also a genetically unstable vine.
The last time we sampled this 2004 Gewürztraminer was just last year, when we were searching for something off-the-wall for an event at IPNC (which is coming up again very soon, coincidentally). We determined it was a lovely wine at the last tasting, and after one more year under its belt it's still holding strong.
The wine pours a deep golden color with floral aromatics of lilac and pink rose petal but also a hint of a briny minerality... it surprisingly reminds me of an aged White Burgundy I had a few years back. There's a certain nuttiness as well, almost like roasted hazelnuts. Baked apple defines the palate, along with some allspice and cardamom. The acid remains perfectly balanced in this Gewürz and it still has time left in its lifespan.
There's not enough of this wine to go around, but to get your Gewürz fix, do try our 2012 Estate Gewürztraminer (an explosion of white grapefruit, lychee, and lime leaf with a lingering finish) and the 2012 Reserve Gewürztraminer (opening with Mandarin orange, honey, and amaro liqueur, finishing with grapefruit and lychee). If you're feeling overwhelmed by white wines recently, don't worry, next week I promise we'll be discussing Pinot Noir.
Rather than planting the seeds of grapes to create a new vineyard, vine cuttings are chosen from existing vines. This ensures that the new vineyard will contain exact clones of the mother vine, i.e. Pinot Noir will be Pinot Noir, Chardonnay will be Chardonnay, etc. If a grape seed is planted, you may get the vine that you intended to plant or, depending on which vines wind-pollinated which other vines, you may get something completely new.
Vines may also be purposely cross-pollinated to harness particular traits from parent vines to create a new vine that combines the qualities of both. Such is the case of Müller-Thurgau, a grape whose reputation is perhaps based more on the difficulty of pronouncing its name rather than any wine made from it.
Müller did not exist in nature prior to the late 19th century. Named for its creator, Dr. Hermann Müller of the Canton of Thurgau, Switzerland, it can trace its lineage to Riesling, the noble grape of Germany, and Madeleine Royale, known for ripening extremely early and producing high yields. Overall, Müller maintains some of the aromatic qualities of Riesling and it does ripen much earlier (it's usually one of the first grapes we harvest at Montinore) and produce higher yields, but it's never really been seen as anything to age for an extended period. However, when the wine has been created with all the potential for proper aging, what happens after a few years?
The 1999 Late Harvest Müller-Thurgau: made in the ice wine style (the juice was partially frozen after harvest to concentrate the sugar and flavor), pushing the sugar content into dessert wine territory. Honey and apple juice dominate the nose on this one, followed by a faint wisp of petroleum (owing to its Riesling parentage). The acidity is very mellow, with layered flavors of apricot compote, lemon peel, and red apple skin. A good amount of sweetness lingers on the finish.
Despite being 15 years old, this Müller still has lots of life left in it. And good news for all: we're immediately re-releasing a few cases of it so you can try an aged Müller for yourself. If you're a fan of the Frolic dessert wine (which has been sold out for quite some time), you'll want to head to the tasting room for a bottle of this.
We've officially transitioned into summer (although you wouldn't necessarily know it by the weather in the Valley today, but we all know summer starts on July 5th anyway), and what would summer be without Riesling? It's an extremely versatile white, running the gamut from bone-dry to syrupy sweet and can always be kept in balance due to its naturally high, tongue-searing acidity (which is generally why Rieslings have at least a little residual sugar: to balance the acidity).
This acidity also gives Riesling incredible longevity; for successful aging potential, wine requires at least one of three components: acidity, tannin, sugar content. Red wines have tannin from skin and oak contact and good acidity, and while Riesling rarely sees time in barrels, the incredibly high acidity and sugar more than compensate. So, what happens when a Riesling has a few years under its belt?
We turn to our wine of the day, a 1998 White Riesling. This was made in an off-dry style with about two percent residual sugar, making it a perfect accompaniment to spicier fare on its initial release. While young Riesling has a characteristic crispness and very fruit-forward notes, this amber-colored older-vintage has aromatics of honey, dried apricot, Portobello mushroom, and the signature whiff of petroleum that older Rieslings develop. A light floral note and roasted hazelnuts round out the palate, and the bright acidity still remains.
The White Riesling was an early incarnation of our Almost Dry Riesling, and our current release, the 2012, is at a great point in its life right now, still retaining flavors of crisp nectarine, orange zest, and jasmine but just starting to develop the slightest note of petrol. Cheers to another Summer of Riesling!