2009 Chardonnay from Knights Bridge

People all over the country have been experiencing a winter than can only be described as balmy. Here in Philadelphia, for example, it’s warm enough that, once I’ve completed my tasting for the day, I plan on heading outside and enjoying a cigar...without needing a flask of whiskey to keep me warm. (I’ll have the whiskey, of course, but because I enjoy a dram with a smoke, not because I’ll need it to keep from shivering.)
In honor of this, I’m happy to recommend two utterly beautiful Chardonnays from a producer I’ve grown mighty fond of over the past several years: Knights Bridge. If you’re in a place where the weather is warm, these are refreshing enough to be a fantastic option. And if you happen to be one of the few Americans who’s dealing with temperatures that are actually, well, appropriate for the season, these two whites are hearty enough that you can enjoy them right out of the cellar and not have to worry about adding any extra chill to your day.
In other words, they’re perfect right now, no matter what it’s doing outside your window.
Knights Bridge Chardonnay “West Block” 2009, Knights Valley
This wine greets you with aromas of warm, toasty oak limned with fresh mint leaves, coconut, and vanilla creme brulee, as well as cinnamon-glazed pear and a hint of white licorice. These turn to flavors of gently spiced pineapple baba au rhum, pina colada, white chocolate, and pear tart, all carried on a texture somewhere between velvet and pure happiness. Magnificent, and a fantastic example of what California Chardonnay, in its classic form, can do. Hold for 2-3 years, and then drink over the next 11+ years. As giving as this is, it’s still holding lots in store. 200 cases produced
Knights Bridge Chardonnay “Alder Springs Vineyard” 2009, Mendocino County
Anise- and coconut-scented, this is still marked by young oak that will continue to integrate, but it’s showing all the promise in the world right now. Expressive aromas of  candied pineapple and exotic spice fill out the nose, as well as something that speaks of green cardamom, creamed pear, and quince. On the palate, its tongue-coating texture is lifted by unexpectedly bright acidity, as well as a charming seam of kumquat-peel bitterness. Mandarin orange, a hint of Fuyu persimmon, and orange blossom creep in there, too. The finish is still a touch hot, but this, I suspect, will resolve itself with time. Hold for 3-5 years, and then drink over the next 12+. This is one for the cellar, and is well worth the wait. 100 cases produced


Lapostolle and Chile's Continuing Ascent

Lapostolle has made excellent wine for years, and at seemingly every price level, but the standout Chilean producer really grabbed wider attention when, in 2008, their Clos Apalta 2005 was named Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year. Since then, they have vinified a string of successful wines at all levels of their portfolio--wines that, at their best, can compete with other greats around the world and, even when they’re more humble than that, are pleasurable to drink and represent excellent value. It’s a remarkable feat when you think about it.
I recently tasted two Lapostolle 2010 Carmeneres, and was struck not necessarily by their similarities--Carmenere is a relatively idiosyncratic grape variety, easily identifiable even when tasted blind--but by the differences in their expressions. This is likely a result of their different appellations of origin (the Rapel and Colchagua Valleys) as well as divergent vinification techniques. (Click here for the full details.)
It’s worth nothing that these wines are from the same year as the massive earthquake that shook Chile. Their quality, then, especially given the destruction and trauma that resulted from the disaster, is a real testament to Lapostolle in particular and Chile in general.
And in another boon for the Chilean wine industry, Wine Enthusiast Magazine has included Colchagua Valley in its list of the Top 10 Wine Travel Destinations for 2012. I’ve never been there--not yet, at least--but it’s high on my list as a wine and travel professional. Here’s hoping this new year gets me there. In the meantime, these two wines--and particularly the Cuvee Alexandre--are excellent stand-ins.
Lapostolle Casa Carmenere 2010, Rapel Valley
The color here is like a deep cherry-juice stain in the glass, and presages aromas of smoky sage and rosemary, cigar tobacco, and mineral. These lead to a palate of savory plum and black cherry, both of which finish with a distinct tar and scorched earth note that linger on, smokily. Very masculine, this wine screams out for a steak, preferably fire-seared on a hot grill.
Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Carmenere 2010, Apalta Vineyard, Colchagua Valley
Dark color as well, but more vibrant, more shimmering in the glass. The fruit on the nose is more giving and perfumed, with deep cherry and blueberry notes, as well as a well-calibrated hint of spice. On the palate, sweet, layered fruit mingles with a similar--though less pronounced--savoriness, and combines fruit with smoked branches by a bonfire, a sense of salinity, sage, and cigar tobacco. The complex finish expresses touches of sandalwood, thyme, and cedar, and promises a lovely evolution in the bottle. Drink 2013 - 2020.


2006 Cabernets from Taylor Family Vineyards

I’ve written about Taylor Family Vineyards before, and with good reason: They remain, both for the money and in strictly objective terms, one of my favorite producers in California’s Stags Leap District.
Theirs is the classic California story: Vineyards purchased in 1976, planted in 1980, then selling beautiful, healthy grapes to a top-notch producer (Pine Ridge) for most of its existence until the decision was made to produce and bottle their own wine, starting with the 2002 vintage.
Taylor is a multi-generation family operation, with Sandy Taylor-Carlson and Phil Carlson working alongside Jerry and Pat Taylor, who made that fateful purchase back in 1976. Winemaker Gustavo Brambila helps turn these grapes into wines that can go toe-to-toe with any of Taylor’s more famous neighbors in the District. Seek them out: These are wines that, in classic Stags Leap fashion, are typically fabulous on release and possess the potential to age for years to come.
Taylor Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Stags Leap District
What a wildly evocative nose--one that you could easily get lost in--that speaks of graphite and cedar, a cigar humidor opened on a warm summer day, flowers a day past their prime and grown funky and sweet, and crushed black currants: Majestic and complicated. It tastes of black raspberries, high-cocoa chocolate, vanilla pods, melted black licorice, and espresso. This is a deep, rich, infinitely rewarding wine that shows classic Napa exuberance, Stags Leap District’s approachability at an early stage of evolution coupled with its ageability, and a plush fruit character that demands attention. What’s amazing here is the balance of acid, alcohol, fruit, and tannin: It’s both masculine and feminine at the same time. This could go for another 8 - 10+ years, but why wait?
Taylor Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006, Stags Leap District
This shows a giving, evolved nose, with sage and handsome aromatics of leather and cigar humidor. A palate of balanced acid and great concentration frames an appealingly varied range of flavors, including sappy creme de cassis, blueberry, cherry, raspberry, milk and dark chocolate, and a hint of grilled green bell pepper. It reminds me, in many ways, of a 5- to 10-year-old Lynch Bages, yet is still inextricably tied to its own Stags Leap District origins. Decant now, or drink 2016 - 2025.


Vinsanto...from Santorini

After all the bubbles on New Year’s Eve--that last bottle, at 1:00 in the morning, turned out to be a bad idea the next day--and the heavy foods of the holidays, I can’t think of a better way to start off 2012 than with a complex, beautifully maturing sweet wine from a part of the world known for its healthy food and, in lieu of familiarity with the Greek term for it, joie de vivre.
So: Vinsanto...from Santorini.
Now, most people, even passionate wine connoisseurs, tend to assume that Vinsanto is a uniquely and exclusively Italian product. It is not. However, even a statement like that is sure to raise hackles somewhere, on either side of the Mediterranean: The inevitable arguments of national wine origin, I’ve learned over the years, is one that no one ever really wins. And, truthfully, , both the Italians and the Greeks have a right to claim primacy here: Italian Vin Santo, or vino santo, or “holy wine”; and Greek Vinsanto, or “wine of Santorini,” both share legitimate historical and linguistic justifications for their respective wine-origin stories. In the end, however, it really doesn’t matter: Both Italy and Santorini produce excellent bottlings, and excluding one in deference to the other is a mistake, as it will result in cheating yourself out of one (or two!) of the great pleasures of the world of wine.
I recently tasted a bottle of SantoWines Vinsanto 2004, and, at the first sip, all arguments of national original vanished: This was seriously delicious stuff in its own right, as are the best wines from everywhere in the world. Produced from 75% Assyrtiko and 25% Aidani, the grapes were dried in the sun for 8 - 10 days, pressed, fermented, and then aged in oak for 36 months. The result, now nearly 8 years later, is a mahogany-toned wine whose nose expressively and accurately mimics fig paste, warm honey, toffee, and a touch pastry shell. It’s sweet and balanced on the palate, with more fig paste and pastry, as well as apricot preserves, nuts, and bright mandarin orange marmalade. This is a remarkable wine--drying at first, likely from its age, and then mouthwatering by mid-palate: Perfect for mature cheeses, lightly sweet desserts, or a mild cigar. Or simply on its own, to ring in the start of the new year.

[Note: Check out the current issue of John Mariani's Virtual Gourmet for my article on older Bordeaux.]