the T a s t e of the 2 0 0 3 V i n t a g e in W o r d s
B r i c k h i l l and B i e n N a c i d o V i n e y a r d s
This section has notes for the following wines:
( don't give up, keep scrolling down )
2003 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir, Barrels 2, 3, & 4
2003 Brickhill Vineyard, Entrance Hill Block, Saddle East Block, & Pablo's Point
2003 Sparkling Syrah Brut Zero
Lot 34 Pinot du Jour
Bien Nacido Vineyard Barrel #1 of 4 has Sold Out
(and Barrel #3 is about to sell-out).
So this gives a little urgency to the Frequently Asked Question:
What 'Specific Barrel Bottling' should I buy now?
So I pondered this question one afternoon....
Bien Nacido Vineyard
A comparison of Barrels #2, #3, and #4 of the 4 'Specific Barrel Bottlings'
October 30, 2006
Barrel #2 is our Library Reserve.
Not because it is so much better, but because of sentimental reasons.
It is the first barrel that Krassimira and I ever bottled together.
It is the most elegant of the three with a slightly lighter color and has a finer, more delicate nose.
The bearing of the body is a very pleasant surprise, with that rare combination of smoothness
and power. The acid and tannin are resolving themselves with an attractive intrigue of play.
We will leave the description at that, because it is priced such that it will have a chance to be
bottle aged. In another three years we will report its progress.
This leaves Barrels #3 and #4 which are differentiated by nuances.
Both are fine examples of the Bien Nacido trademark (see tasting notes in the Newsletter).
Which do I like better?
Well, I’m not sure....
But if you want to come over for dinner, we can try to decide one more time.
If pressed for my perception, with the wine having about an hour and a half of breathing time
in the glass, I would say Barrel #3 has a bit more of the trademark. But Barrel #4 has the
trademark loud-and-clear with the addition of some interestingly wild characters
which are just elusive enough to avoid detailed description.
If I’m pressed again... I would say that Barrel #3 is a little more showy right now.
But which will age better? The feeling that I have had consistently since bottling is that
#4 gets the nod for age-ability. Barrel #1 showed the best first.
However, if I were you, I would weight my aging collection toward #4, and use #1 to delay
the day of opening Barrel #4. I will need another year to tell you which will age better,
#2 or #3, but then again, I have a soft-spot for Barrel #2.
Noting these differences is a bit of a folly because these wines change so much with breathing.
And that is a good thing. It is a delight to go back to the glass and find something you didn’t
notice before. The degree of their changing also makes it a horse race that won’t quite stay
organized enough to definitively write about it; so different, but differentiated by nuances.
What is the case with all of the barrels (#1 through #4) is that they have great body.
It is the sort of feel that is a pleasure to let linger. And as a winegrower, it is really nice to know
that we were able to achieve this with just the most classic and traditional cellar techniques.
This is the real stuff, no tricks, nothing to patch up a faulty construction.
Wines like these are living proof that certain vineyards have everything
it takes to give the most luxurious enjoyment.
What does need to be added to the wine is a well-set table and loved ones.
2003 BIEN NACIDO VINEYARD
Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley
Tasting Barrel #2, Tasted : September 6, 2005
Well, we were able to wait, and we bottled it !!!
Wow, that was the right thing to do.
I am tasting this wine with three days of bottle age.
And it's terrific.
It's not in bottle shock. How could it be?
We bottle by hand, with love and devotion as explained.
How I am tasting it is in the lap of causal luxury
during a casual lunch with Krassi.
To have a wine this good while just sitting at the kitchen island is probably
what generates the romantic notion that winegrowing is romantic.
This wine is romantic in many senses of the word.
The color is bright and sparkling light comes through, just like we intend.
The nose changes appreciably for the first half of an hour, and the rate of change is
most unlike other wines, but this is how appreciating its nose started:
First, the deeper perfumes of earth are noticed, they subdue and yield to the
deeper perfumes and notes of berries and then fresh cassis.
( Krassi and I have one cassis bush and we got our first crop this year,
the fresh fruit is pure exotica by combining a red current taste with an
herbal taste, quite unlike any cassis syrup you may have had. )
The nose equals depth. It keeps you coming back, and as it breathes,
it gives you a new reward for every re-visit.
About mid-way through the initial breathing the classic Pinot themes of
mint/pine/smoke come forward, and they, in turn,
yield to the terroir trademarks of Bien Nacido. Those trademarks of
black pepper and grapefruit are melded in at this point in the wine's life.
Now the intensity of nose comes.
It's time to taste.
The nose did a faithful job of telegraphing the taste, everything is there.
The body has that appropriate Burgundian weight.
This is true to form Pinot, not Cabernet.
That could be considered a drawback for those that haven't marveled at old Burgundy.
So to explain it another way, the wine in the mouth has that enigmatic quality of the
lightness and delicateness of a woman, and it has her strength and presence.
This enigma is why I am so happy to be devoting so much time to Pinot.
Something that is, which seemingly cannot be, is always fascinating.
The taste signals an ageability. The sign is a combination of tannin and acidity that comes together
at the beginning of the finish. It's not rough, but there is just the right
amount of grip there that says ageing will repay the patience.
Our style is not to have oak be a component that can be singled out.
The vineyard gives plenty of complexity and just the right amount of sucrosity,
such that well-enough is best left alone. True to style, the wines oak ageing left the
slightest wisps of vanilla where it takes the power of suggestion to pick it out.
This 100% Pinot Noir, and 100% Bien Nacido is 100% ready to come to the table.
To say that it is 'food friendly' is an inappropriate cliché. Rather, the wine's
seems interested in seducing the food and the food seducing it.
So without further to-do, we are almost ready to present
the 2003 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir, Barrel #2.
2003 BIEN NACIDO VINEYARD PINOT NOIR, Santa Maria Valley
Tasting Barrel #3, Tasted : December 12, 2004
I cannot wait to bottle this wine.
The color is on point (to our desires). Although there are no brick colors now,
this vineyard tends to give them easily, and we are looking forward to that
first indication that the proper amount of time has been spent in the bottle.
The nose gives the hallmark note of Bien Nacido.
It seems that no matter what block of the vineyard is used, there are always the
terroir themes: a gentle melding of grapefruit, black pepper, and then that melded
with a fusion of its own of mint, pine, and smokey-grapiness.
Those trademark aromas of the vineyard have been complexed.
It is easy to see the complexity when you taste this barrel sample of 2003
in relation to the 2004. The newer wine just has the trademark aromas at this point,
but with the stewardship of barreling, the elusive notes of Pinot Noir,
those notes that make Pinot-Nuts out of us,
stick their head up out of the glass.
The elusiveness to the evolving notes is based
somewhere between the earth and the manger.
So whatever gifts the three wise men might have left over, we'll take 'em.
The structure of the wine is just what someone that loves-to-have-it-both-ways enjoys,
without sacrificing one way for the other....
Have your cake and eat it too, because
the wine has the texture of tannins that are inviting you to drink now,
and the amount of acidity that says,
I'll be around in the bottle- don't rush to drink me up.
And our job is to not rush to get it into the bottle... so we can drink it up
Saddle East Block, Entrance Hill Block, & Pablo’s Point
November 5, 2006
I get a real kick out of proving myself wrong. The problem is I jump to conclusions.
It seems like a survival trait as our complex world presents stimuli by the thousands.
But I just love it when an old dog can learn a new trick.
This is what happened when I set foot upon the Brickhill Vineyard:
I saw nothing but adobe. And I saw hills. So I named it Brickhill.
I jumped to the conclusion that this was going to be less than stellar Pinot property.
What never occurred to me was that the hill I was standing on had the perfect limestone
underneath it. As it turns out, the adobe was placed there by the Petaluma River and then
uplifted. Eons before that, the ocean existed there; depositing an uncountable number of shells
and homes of sea creatures. All of these ancient abodes got the full-court-press and transformed
into limestone. This makes the ideal site for Pinot Noir, I just hadn’t scratched the surface.
Despite my reservations about the adobe clay, there was one particular part of the vineyard that
caught my attention. The vines were struggling to put out just one or two clusters per arm.
So I made wine and was very pleasantly surprised. Seven vintages later I share these
tasting notes on this block, Saddle East, and 2 others: Entrance Hill and Pablo’s Point.
Starting with the Library Reserve, Saddle East: this vineyard block yields the stellar aging potential
for the whole vineyard. It is true Pinot, quite classic. Classic Pinot Noir must have
these characteristics... a very mild wintergreen mint; with a bit of pine needle; the mildest
suggestion of smoky-earth; and a background of dark, almost brooding, berries.
So far, so good.
Now this is why I consider these few rows of Pinot Noir to be so classic:
Nothing sticks out to pander to sensationalism. This wine is stately and refined.
Is it boring?, stuffy?, quite the contrary. There is a power of beauty that can only be enjoyed
when a person sees a lady that needs no make-up, and looks breathtaking.
This block/vintage/bottling has the stage perfectly set for the rich and rewarding drama of bottle
aging. We have reserved it to our library and priced it accordingly such that the
probability of it being available when it is properly bottle aged will be high.
Asking the question of the two remaining blocks, Entrance Hill Block and Pablo’s Point,
which is most appropriate for current enjoyment?
Both... but it’s a matter of preference.
To oversimplify it... if you like it on the red-fruit side, pick Pablo’s Point;
if you like darker fruit, pick Entrance Hill.
Now the problem with over-simplification is that it doesn’t tell the whole story.
The fruitiness of these two wines do not suck-up to the novice. I have heard people describe them
as fruity, but I respectfully disagree. The stateliness of them has more to offer than your basic fruit-
bomb. Both offer those mysterious under-notes that tell you: I want this in my cellar. They both
will age well. That I know.
Yet I’m sorry that I can’t give you a better answer as to when they will peak.
My guess for the Pablo’s Point? I would say anywhere between 2008 and 2012.
I put it on the earlier side because the multitude of different forms of cherry
(baked and fresh) and the spice it has right now gives a charm that I really love.
The Entrance Hill is more pensive with a mixture of black-fruits that gives
a nod to mulberries. This suggests a range between 2011 and 2018.
The tannins are more forward and will fully resolve in a year or two.
Which is better? Like I say... come over for dinner and we will examine the issue.
Talking about aging potential suggests that you should only put them away for later enjoyment.
That’s folly! It is wise to put a percentage away, but all of it? No!
They now have a little over a year of bottle age and they are just starting to hit their stride.
Their body makes that stride big but not ungainly. The acidity is perfectly lively, and has
its first bit of rounding. They have that full amount and generosity of aromas that give
a new impression every time you re-visit the glass after a few minutes of pause.
I believe in having beautiful things for everyday living,
and all three of these offerings fill the bill.
2003 BRICKHILL VINEYARD BRUT ZERO SPARKLING SYRAH
1 barrel produced Tasted: December 2, 2006
The Brut Zero Syrah is a food wine, rather than being used as
a celabratory wine by itself. It is served chilled, but doesn't need to be ice cold.
It has a very dry and refreshing way about it. The blackberry/blueberry character is restrained,
such that it doesn't carry any of the old baggage that Australian versions of this wine
have produced with their edge of sweetness and forward fruit.
We have found the wine to be a wonderful as an appetizing meal starter when matched with
bite size morsels that include goat or blue cheese with dates or dried figs.
The Theory of Sparkling Syrah Matching
LOT 34 PINOT DU JOUR
California Pinot Noir
2 barrels produced Tasted : January 24th 2006
This is my birthday wine ! But of course, any wine that I enjoy today
will be my birthday wine, because today's my birthday.
Thanks Mom, thanks Dad, 56 years of good work, if I do say so myself.
And I do enjoy this wine !
Isn't it wonderful how opportunities present themselves to all of us?
Pinot du Jour comes about because we use 'specific barrel' bottling with all
of our vineyard designates, except when we use 'married barrel' bottlings.
To explain the details: Wine evaporates in the barrel because of the open cellular structure
of the wood, and you have to top it up or the barrel gets lower and lower, and pretty soon
you will be making vinegar. In order to have topping wine, you need to make more than
one barrel of each lot you intend to produce from that vineyard. How much more is an
imprecise craft, so there are some large fiascos, carboys, and jugs that are left over at
bottling time. We had great consternations over what to do with these jugs.
Do we represent them as the specific barrels? They are from the same vineyard.
We didn't feel 101% confident and comfortable with that proposition,
so we started to think harder. I can't remember if Krassimira or I said it, but one of us said,
'Supposing we make a really good soup with it', lightning struck twice: how to blend it,
and what to name it. So these little jewels sitting around the cellar were assembled.
The marriage was mostly the product of the Bien Nacido Vineyard (Santa Maria Valley
appellation). With that step known, we said, I wonder what this would be like with
some Brickhill Vineyard in it (Sonoma Coast appellation).
We tried it, we liked it a lot, so we did it.
Although it didn't end up as a single vintage (half and half '03/'04), and without a single
appellation, it did prove that two pedigreed pets can make opulent offspring:
it mutt be good.
Good enough that we are already planning the next bottling.
To give you a taste in words for this wine,
a funny phrase comes to mind:
But you have to remember that in this household, the high-bar of what is adequate,
is quite high. As Krassimira and I sat down to our four course dinner,
just the two of us mind you, it was a hit!
The first course that it was served with was yellow crook-neck squash that had been mashed
with fresh garlic, nonfat cream cheese and seasoned with just salt and pepper.
Next time I make it, I think a little dried time would be a Pinot-friendly additon.
The mashed squash was a thick puddle (puddle is a word of endearment in this home), and
on top of that was a small slice of a leftover rice casserole. I had made the casserole from
forbidden rice, which is black, Peruvian radishes, which are also black, and
wild rice, black again. This was seasoned with salt, pepper and curry, then once the rice was
tender, I added Marsala and topped it with a mixture of nonfat sour cream, veggie-
shred 'cheeses', more Marsala, and a little more curry, the topping ended up white.
I took it from the microwave and finished it under the broiler.
We both thought the dish was great, absolutely good enough to serve to guests.
I tell this long recipe-story to illustrate that finding a wine that arises to this
culinary occasion just can't be good, it has to be fantastically adequate.
And yes, the color has our trademark of being appropriate for Pinot Noir,
light can dance through it and at the same time, their is a delicious looking depth to it.
Because this is a blend of vintages and years, there is not a singular bell-ringing descriptor
to describe it. Instead the bell-ringer is, 'Yes - this is Pinot.' It has the spice that Pinot should
have (it can stand up to curry), it has the elusiveness that Pinot should have (it invites the next
sip), and it has the classic Pinot qualities (the melange of mint, pine, spice, and the implication
of earth). The alcohol level is under control, which leaves ethereal scents rushing up the
olfactory slit, rather than just straight booze. The acidity level is right, and takes its
job of supporting itself and all the other aspects of structure seriously.
And it is the tannin level and feel that has come together in such a
way that it passes my expectations. It has that softness that only Pinot
seems to be able to deliver, and there is nothing flabby about it (the acidity
taking its job seriously). The phenolic structure to it will allow it to age gracefully.
How long? Always a good question. My informed guesses are that it will peak in 2009,
and be on that transforming mesa until 2019, and at that point it is probably a good idea to
dispatch the last of it before it falls off the other side of the plateau of transformation.
So if 'fantastically adequate' still perplexes you, and it does me a little bit;
I'd try, 'You know, this is really good!'