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Foursight, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County, California) Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard “Clone 05” 2016 ($54)
 You may be aware of my fandom for all things Anderson Valley -- there’s just so much to like coming from there vintage after vintage.  This clone specific Pinot Noir is one of the Pommard family, and it shows it was worthy of its own bottling with a pretty mix of black cherry, damp earth and moderate oak char aromas and flavors that ride a plush opening through a bright finish.  I’d age this a little while, or decant well if you wish to try this in the near term.  
93 Rich Cook


Posted by Michael Franz on April 17, 2019 at 11:10 AM

An Embarrassment of Rhône Riches

AVIGNON, France – I’m halfway through a week involving tastings of more than 500 wines in both the northern and southern portions of the Rhône Valley, and the news is almost entirely good…so good as to be almost embarrassing.

Naturally, the news from France can’t be all good in a week that included the very bad burning and near destruction of Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, though the prospects for successful rebuilding now look pretty promising.  Another fly in the proverbial soup is the indisputable fact that a remarkable string of excellent vintages for the Rhône has coincided with an alarmingly even ascent in average temperatures.  This would turn from good vinous news to extremely bad news for the Rhône if the trend line doesn’t level off, even though vintners do have some counter-measures at their disposal.

But let’s get back on the upbeat.  To find a bad vintage in the Rhône, you’d need to go all the way back to 2008.  As for the intervening years, you could find some purists who are less enthusiastic about some years than others, but for the red wines that remain by far most important in both the north and south, 2009 and 2010 were fabulous; 2015 was great in the north and very good in the south; 2016 was stylistically marvelous everywhere; 2017 looks sensational in the north and excellent in the south, and 2018 shows wonderful promise based on the young wines I’m tasting (admittedly unfinished in most cases, but wonderfully packed with pure fruit).

Indeed, the last four vintages look so strong that wine lovers who didn’t stock up on the many great wines made in 2009, 2010 can simply laugh off what would have looked like a colossal blunder in almost any other vinous historical context.

I bought 2015 reds, though mostly from the north, as heat and dryness in that year produced many wines in the south with a lot of alcohol in relation to acidity.  That problem was greatly reduced by the weather in 2016, which included a long end to the growing season with even daytime temperatures and cool nights, letting growers patiently await exactly the time they got the balance of flavor components they desired in their grapes before picking them.  The 2016s are “smaller” wines than the ‘15s, but also more harmonious in structure and pure in flavor.  They’re easier to enjoy young, but are so balanced that they’ll last (and improve!) for years.

Although 2017 was clearly hotter than 2016, the results look better to me at this point than in 2015, and I’m tasting the wines at exactly the same point in their development as when I was last here in April of 2017.  I’ve still got a lot more wines from the south to taste before the week is over, but regarding the wonderful wines of Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage, Cornas, Saint-Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage, let me say this:  The wines are fabulously generous without seeming overbearing, and though they are too big to fit everyone’s definition of “classic” in style, they will be among the most generous and delicious wines ever made in these appellations.

Probably closest to 2009 in general profile among recent vintages, the 2017s are (generally speaking, of course) extremely dark in color and very densely concentrated.  They are packed with fruit, but importantly, the fruit us almost always pure in character rather than “cooked,” which is the risk in any warm growing season.  As for balance, most show very pleasant freshness at this early juncture, and sufficient acidity is really the flip-side of the fact that the wines don’t taste “cooked” or “raisined” or “candied.”  One last note of importance:  The 2017 reds from the north are remarkable in that these things just absorb oak like they were eating it for breakfast.  Even producers whose wines are usually too oaky for my taste got the balance right in 2017, perhaps despite themselves, due to the great depth of fruit they were working with.

My advice for consumers?  If you didn’t buy the 2015s from the north when they were plentiful and a bit less expensive than they are now, you can laugh that off, too.  The 2017s will be similar in style…probably just as good…and conceivably even better.  But if you like fresher, more stylish Syrah from the north, don’t pass on the 2016s while waiting for the 2017s.  They are wonderful as a group, and easy to enjoy even now.  Moreover, some wines that are often rather wild and forbidding in their youth, like from Cornas for example, are just marvelous.  They still have lots of intensity and power in 2016 due to baseline growing conditions in the appellation, but the growing season imparted a freshness and stylishness that they don’t display in many vintages…and may not display at all if the climate continues to warm in the decades ahead.

Sorry for that last downer.  The overall report remains remarkably delicious, and I’ll publish dozens and dozens of specific tasting notes as well as a couple of columns in the months ahead.

Dr. Michael
This Issue's Reviews
Wines to Savor in Spring
Paul Lukacs

Spring, wrote Shakespeare, 'hath put a spirit of youth in everything.' When young, we dress, exercise, work, and play unlike we do later in life. So too, in spring we think, feel, and sometimes even behave differently than we might the rest of the year. Life suddenly seems fresh and bright, the world ever new and alive. Even the most ardent wine lover has to admit that wine plays a quite small part in this season's delicious enchantment. But it does play a role. Come spring, we tend to appreciate a different sort of wine than we do in fall or winter. Rather than complexity and seriousness, we value freshness and vivacity, brightness and vitality. No matter their color, we especially admire wines whose exuberance echoes that of the season itself.
Guigal: The Birth of a Star in Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Michael Apstein

Although the house of E. Guigal has had an enormous presence in the southern Rhône as a négociant, producing more than 2 million cases annually of their value-packed Côtes du Rhône, red, white, and rosé, as well as Gigondas, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, they did not own vineyards there until 2017. Philippe Guigal, Marcel's son and current General Manager and winemaker, relates that they had been looking to buy in Châteauneuf-du-Pape for years. He remarked that they had been making Châteauneuf-du-Pape and selling it via their négociant business since the 1940s. As a result, they had a close relationship with scores of growers. They knew the appellation well and knew what they wanted. More importantly, he added, 'We knew what we didn't want.'
Wine With
WINE WITH…Thai Style Beef Stew

We are fortunate to live a block away from a Thai restaurant, where we frequently get to savor some of the unique flavors of this distinctive and diverse cuisine. At 'My Thai' we've learned that an authentic Thai dish must include balanced amounts of the four 'S' tastes: salt, sweet, spicy and sour. Typical Thai food combines protein (poultry, meat or fish), carbohydrate (rice or noodles) and vegetables all in one dish, generally presented as a soup or stew. Spices, notably ginger, galangal (an aromatic root), and red, green or yellow curry are important components, while hot spice in the form of dried chili flakes, sliced fresh hot peppers, and/or a fiery sauce such as Sriracha are ubiquitous. Exclusively white wine drinkers might choose a light, sparkling wine such as Prosecco with this dish, or perhaps a rich Riesling with notes of sweetness to tame the spice. Most of us, however, preferred red wines that offered a fair amount of sweet fruit flavor and soft tannins. They simply felt and tasted more substantial.
On My Table
Cabernet Franc, the Underdog
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

Are you someone who likes to root for the underdog? If so, you might want to focus your sights on Cabernet Franc. In 2015 -- the growing season of this particular, fine Cabernet Franc wine --only 0.5 percent of all the red grapes grown in California were Cabernet Franc, while Cabernet Sauvignon accounted for 22 percent of California's red grape tonnage. In Napa Valley specifically, Cabernet Sauvignon owned 59 percent of the red grape action, compared to Cabernet Franc at only 3 percent. That's underdog status. The quality of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is acclaimed worldwide. But increasingly, Cabernet Franc is also impressive in its quality. This Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Franc 2015 serves as an example. This wine hails entirely from Mondavi's legendary To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville.