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Well, Did You Know That….
By Linda Murphy
Mar 10, 2015
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Well, Did You Know That….

Anyone who’s watched any network TV in the last several months has seen the ubiquitous GEICO car insurance commercials.  Not the ones featuring the gecko or Maxwell the pig, but the “did you know” series.

First guy: “Did you know that Ulysses S.  Grant is buried in Grant’s tomb?”

Second guy: “Everyone knows that.” 

First guy: “Well, did you know that Grant’s wife, Julia, is also buried there?”

That’s not a real GEICO commercial, but the ads are scripted in that vein.  And so is this column.  Sometimes I learn a new bit about wine or the people who make it, get all excited and write about it -- only to be told that “everyone knows that.”  Well, I’m not everyone, and there just might be other “someones” out there who would think one of my discoveries is cool, too. 

“Did you know that David Ramey produces stunning Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons from Sonoma and Napa grapes, under the Ramey Wine Cellars label?”

“Everyone knows that.”

“Well, did you know that Ramey, his wife, Carla, and their daughter, Claire, recently founded Sidebar Cellars, a label under which they bottle a less expensive yet remarkably well-made and intriguing wines, including 2014 High Valley Lake County Sauvignon Blanc as well as 2014 Lodi Mokelumne Kerner and 2014 Russian River Valley Rose of Syrah--both priced at just $25?  And that a Grenache-based blend ($34) will be released later this year?”

The Kerner is particularly noteworthy, with dry, crisp citrus, peach and pear flavors, a flinty spark, medium richness and brisk, mouthwatering acidity.  Three months of aging on the lees in stainless steel drums gave the wine its mid-palate depth and richness.

Kerner is a cross of Riesling and Trollinger, often seen in Germany and Italy’s Alto Adige region.  One small plot at Mokelumne Glen Vineyards in Lodi, believed to be the only Kerner planting in California, is Ramey’s fruit source for the wine, and while less than 100 cases were made in 2014, production is expected to increase -- and perhaps so will the planting of Kerner, based on David Ramey’s success with it.

The Sauvignon Blanc is tangy and racy, with a slight nutty note from the wine spending some time in neutral oak barrels.  The Syrah rose is near perfect:  Bone-dry and with bright, juicy red fruit and crackling acidity.  It’s beautifully balanced and elegant. 

“Did you know that Jackson Family Wines, the umbrella company for Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate, produces a gazillion cases of wine each year?”

“Everyone knows that.”
“But did you know that some of California’s finest wines are made by Jackson Family? That the Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines from grapes grown in mountain vineyards, under the Cardinale, Lokoya, La Jota and Verite labels, are truly remarkable?  Expensive, yes, but worth the price in today’s Cal Cab market?”

JFW has a portfolio of small-production wines that allows its winemakers to pursue their individual interests, be experimental, and tap into the company’s extensive vineyard plantings.  It’s called the Spire Collection, and one of the wines within it (in addition to the Cab-centric wines mentioned above) is the impressive Galerie Naissance 2013 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($30), made by Laura Diaz Munoz.

She works with Chris Carpenter on the Spire Cabernets, yet also has a fondness for the Sauvignon Blancs of the Loire Valley’s Sancerre region.  Her Napa Valley Naissance has a powerful citrus and mineral quality, with pleasant pungency and a mouthwatering acid edge.  It was aged in a combination of neutral French oak barrels and stainless steel, with yeast lees contact to give the wine enough body to balance the racy citrus notes.

“Did you know that winemaker Dan Goldfield of Dutton-Goldfield winery in Russian River Valley has an expert hand at making elegant, lower-alcohol yet full-flavored Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs?”

“Everyone knows that.”
“Well, did you know that Goldfield also produces an outstanding Zinfandel, from the Morelli Lane Vineyard in Russian River Valley?”

The 2012 Dutton Ranch Morelli Lane Vineyard Zinfandel ($50) delivers vibrant and intense blackberry and black raspberry flavors, Asian spice and licorice notes, and is remarkably composed.  The wine is lush on the midpalate, closing bright and fresh-tasting.  The alcohol is a very reasonable 14.5% alcohol, for so much flavor.

The cool-climate Morelli Lane Vineyard, located north of Occidental on the western edge of Russian River Valley, includes 1.8 acres of century-plus-old, dry-farmed Zin vines.  In 2011, a difficult growing year in the region, Goldfield didn’t bottle a Morelli Lane Zinfandel, so its return from the 2012 vintage is a welcome one.

“Did you know that Merry Edwards is often referred to as the queen of California Pinot Noir (Reine de Pinot) for her clonal expertise and winemaking skill with the varietal?  And that she makes one of the most admired Sauvignon Blancs around?”

“Everyone knows that.”

“Well, did you know that Edwards also bottles a beautiful late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc, only in certain years, and that the 2012 vintage is a knockout?”

The last Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc was produced in 2008.  The 2012 ($45 for 375 ml) brims with nectary, ripe apricot, peach and pear flavors kissed by honey, mango chutney and caramel.  The residual sugar is 13.9 percent, but there is plenty of bracing acidity to balance the sweetness and make for a refreshing finish.

The price reflects the painstaking way the wine was made.  Edwards has a 2-acre plot Sauvignon Musque grapes at her Meredith Estate in Sebastopol.  When the clusters in that parcel ripened to 25 degrees Brix, the canes were cut, allowing the clusters to begin the drying process, thus concentrating the sugars and flavors.  The grapes were “harvested” at 35.3 degrees Brix a month later, then fermented and aged in French oak barrels.       

The result is an amazingly concentrated and full-flavored dessert wine that will pair superbly with berry tarts, apple and peach pie, and strong-flavored cheeses.
“Did you know that GEICO stands for Government Employees Insurance Company?”

“No one does.  Now pour me another glass of Kerner.”