Sunday, October 28, 2012

Artadi Vinas de Gain, Rioja 2005

A great vintage, revered producer, favored area...I was excited about this one.  It got off to a bad start though, with a hint of volatile acidity and some brettanomyces - a stinky, animal smell.  I used to love wines with brett but not any more.  Some still view it as a hallmark of certain wineries but I have come to view it as a flaw.  When young, the wine only shows hints of brett but with more time in the bottle the fruit fades and the musty barnyard takes over.

Oddly, it did not appear as strongly on the palate.  The mid-palate was fantastic and mouth filling but the overall impression was disappointment.  Tartness dominated the finish like it might have been the end of a barrel and too much fine sediment got into this bottle.  (It stood up for a day before being opened and I poured carefully, though I did not decant).
Flashes of brilliance with intense red fruit and great balance of tannin showed but only for about 25% of the tasting experience.  The second night was more appealing with the sweet tart acidity gone.  Even the finish came around but having to wait overnight to get a seven year old wine to come around is too much to ask.
Even with the improvement, the finish did not build or last, it remained subtle and quiet.  I neither expect nor desire fireworks in every bottle of wine I taste but I do expect some life, especially from a wine built to age and with great reviews.  Used to be imported by European Cellars.
Anyone have another they'd like to share to prove me wrong?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Stone Hill Winery Norton - 2005 and 2002

Perched above the Missouri River, further west of St. Louis than Montelle (mentioned in the last post), Stone Hill Winery enjoys a long history and a successfully revitalized present.  Begun in 1847, Stone Hill suffered the fate of countless other wineries during the ill-fated experiment of Prohibition.  Before its untimely demise Stone Hill won gold medals at eight world's fairs and produced over one million gallons of wine per year (that's over half a million standard twelve bottle cases).
In 1965, the Held family bought the property and renovated.  Production remains about a quarter of what it once was but they now have three locations, including a very busy one in Branson.  I visited the original site, located in Hermann, MO, several years ago.

Impressed by their norton wine, I bought not only a current release, 2005, but an older option as well, the 2002.  It seemed time to explore these and see how they developed.  Having never seen an older offering of norton for sale, I knew the winery saw potential for aging.
Stone Hill ( ages the norton "for one year in French, Hungarian & American oak barrels" and says it is "Comparable to a Shiraz."  They also encourage aging the wine, saying, "Enjoyable now, Norton should be at its best from five to ten years from vintage date."
Let's see...
The 2005 exhibited a meaty nose, but one that was a bit subdued, with deep fruit showing as well.  The palate was full and rich with good weight, more of the meaty accent and some inelegant tannin.  Deeply complex, the wine impressed but seemed a little muddied, or at least unfocused...tasty if a little clumsy.  It grew on me.  The tannins made the wine slightly chalky but not in a bad way, just nicely dry.  The wine was tactile and juicy with elegant structure. Overall a solid wine with good depth.
The nose on the 2002 showed more pronounced dirtiness.  It was not the complex earthy quality so often found in old world wines but it was also not unpleasant.  I found it remarkably similar to the 2005.  The palate had weight, the finish was rich and full with less obvious tannins and chalkiness.  This was a real treat though, the subtle fine tuning of the basics resulted in a much more enjoyable wine.  Smooth and delicious, I wonder if others would dismiss it against wines with better known pedigree.
Not being an expert in Missouri vintages, I have to assume them to be similar and, further, that a ten year aging process is preferable.  Perhaps an incorrect conclusion.
Current release is available for $19...$18.99 in retail-speak.  A reasonable price for a wine of this quality.  The expression on wine geek's faces when you tell them it's from Missouri makes this a steal!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Montelle Cynthiana 2005, Missouri

While their slogan is inviting, "Missouri's Most Scenic Winery" did not instill confidence in their wine.  Until I visited.  I went for the same reason I visit other wineries when I travel to lesser known wine regions, the presence of dry wines and those produced locally.  Give me your production, not something grown in California that you approved to be bottled.
The current owner and winemaker, Tony Kooyumjian, bought the place in 1998.  The previous owner started the winery in 1970. The winery is located in August, Missouri west of St. Louis.  The region was designated the first American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1980.  Napa Valley followed about eight months later!
I will not recount my visit, as it was a number of years ago but their cynthiana impressed me enough to buy a bottle and age it.
The back label clearly states, "Also known as Norton," so we know where they stand.  However, they omit a 'd' for their perch (see above), making it "Osage Ride," instead of Ridge, so perhaps the rest should be taken with a grain of salt as well.  The current release still features cynthiana on the label but is listed as "Norton 'Cynthiana'" on their website.
Love the screwcap, thanks!  There is some slight browning on the edge of the wine but nothing to be concerned over.  The core remains a deep ruby, far from opaque but not light either.  Some wood and alcohol on the nose with hints of that older, brickish aroma of slightly dried fruit that older wines exhibit.  Some blueberry, maybe blackberry hints but not as sweet as blackberry can be.  The tartness of blueberry dominates.  Subtle tannins and puckering acidity remains, tingling the tongue before becoming juicy and fragrant again.
Delicate earth aromas emerge and remind me eating blueberries right off the ground hugging vines in Maine.  No noticeable oak influence appears, the wine is very fruit driven and offers a great balance between young juicy fruit and the older, drier style.
With time some smokiness and a woodsy, almost cedar note, appeared.  Great texture in the mouth provided immense pleasure even though the finish proved a bit abbreviated.  A flash of fruit moves back toward the front of the mouth though, keeping me from focusing on the shortish finish.  Blackberry became more and more pronounced.  The wine was at its peak of drinkability for me.  Fantastic balance.  A norton or cynthiana worth discovering.  Current release is $21.51 on Montelle's website.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Norton and Cynthiana - Background

Before my next group of posts about these grapes, a bit of background may be needed.  I know, it sounds like work.  All the heavy lifting is over though, you just have to read.
Jancis Robinson's brilliant Vines, Grapes and Wines proclaims them the same grape.  The Oxford Companion to Wine lets on that they are essentially identical but leaves a little wiggle room.  At the most extreme, cynthiana appears to be a mutation of norton.
The major difference appears to be local names for them.  Dr. Norton cultivated the grape in Virginia where it remains best known as norton.  Arkansas and Missouri also have significant plantings and pay homage to it as their state grape.  Missouri as norton/cynthiana and Arkansas as cynthiana. At one time, according to Leon Adams' The Wines of America, it was called "Virginia Seedling" in Missouri.  Clearly that moniker had to change.
The grapes make a serious wine that some describe as resembling zinfandel and others called claret, after the British term for Bordeaux.  They are dry and do not exhibit the "foxy" aroma associated with many other native varieties.  No, not like sexy, slinky or "She/he is foxy," this term refers to the aroma of a wine and likens it to an animal mustiness.  Not appealing.
A norton wine from Missouri won a gold medal in Vienna in 1873.  Of course, winning medals at wine competitions does not mean you have actually produced a great wine, just that you produced one better than the other dreck being judged.
Then Prohibition came along and essentially wiped out production.  Since then a revival has occurred and more and more impressive versions continue to emerge.  Riedel has even designed a glass specifically for norton wines.  Norton glass  Reidel is completely out of control about the variety of glassware offered in their catalog, so wild excitement about the recognition should be tempered.
I enjoy the grape a lot and need to read The Wild Vine by Todd Kliman, which tells the story of Dr. Norton and his grape from the early days until the recent resurrection.  My next couple of posts will focus on this/these grape(s).
If you want to read more history, explanation, etc. this is a great spot to continue.
More on norton and Missouri