I’m not hep with the latest Hollywood gossip. My celebrities, on most days, wear hiking boots, flannel shirts, and rarely any jewelry, lest a string of pearls gets hooked on a crooked vine. When Clarissa Nagy, owner and winemaker of Nagy Wines, contacted me about tasting and reviewing her current releases, I was star-struck. In my eyes, Clarissa is an inspiration — for women, for winemakers, for anyone who, like her, has found a passion and made it a life’s work.
It’s interesting that my first taste of Nagy would be a Viognier, a varietal that, to me, can be much too delicate — what some would call feminine. Often watery on the palate, diluting the over-pronounced tropical fruit juice flavors, and with an abundance of that funky floral nose, Viognier can be quite, well, pretty. Pretty but not (always) tasty. But what Clarissa has done here is crafted a Viognier with backbone and substance. A feminine wine? No, a feminist wine — a wine with strength, purpose, and beauty.
On my last wine country trip, I took a left hand turn and ventured in to the little-appreciated Livermore Valley. It’s certainly not as large, and definitely not as popular, as big brother and sister Napa and Sonoma — the region is just shy of 50 operating wineries. Lucky for me I was invited by a legend in the winemaking business, Steven Mirassou, to learn a bit more about the Livermore wine region and to sample from his new line, Lineage.
I’m in love with the boys at Banshee. But it’s purely wine-related, I assure you. How can I not be when they wrap everything I love about Sonoma into bottles of wine? Skeptical though you may be about a new-ish winery’s appellation series Chardonnay — I assure you, the 17 vineyard sites are anything buy crammed into the taste. Winemaker Noah Dorrance and team know how to show enough restraint to truly showcase –and enhance — the best qualities of the fruit. Cheers to Banshee Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.
In my book, you can’t call yourself a Rhone Ranger unless you make a decent GSM. Look at the fine print in my book and it also says that those individual components have to shine on their own — Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre. Well, if you look in the glossary of my book under Rhone Ranger, you’ll see a picture of Steve and Brian of Crux Winery. Not only do they do justice for the Rhone-style, but they grow and produce these typically warm-weathered grapes in the heart of Northern California’s Russian River Valley.
Grenache can be a hard grape to grow, let alone enjoy as a single-varietal bottle. Traditionally used for blending purposes, Grenache’s tendency toward high acidity and fruit forward flavors make it the ideal backbone for Rhone-style blends like GSM, contrasting and thus balancing the heavier, heartier, and earthier components (in this example, Syrah and Mourvèdre). So when I see a single-varietal bottle of Grenache, I simultaneously smile and cringe (my face is probably quite the site at that point) because I’m excited at the prospect of a Grenache, but experience has led me to predict disappointment. On the one hand, the grape is what it is: bright, fruity, acidic. On the palate this amounts to a simultaneously austere and flabby wine — lean, yes, but without structure or purpose (much like a person can be skinny with a high percentage of body fat, aka skinny-fat). On the other hand, wine producers, knowing what the purity of the Grenache grape will produce, tend to want to mask these features with excessive amount of new oak. On the palate this becomes the actual definition of flabby — the fruit, the acid, the oak all maintain their individuality, never melding together to create a balanced body (much like that same skinny-fat person eating a high protein diet to try to gain muscle without working out — he or she will just get, well, fat).
There is, however, an achievable balance when it comes to Grenache. But it requires the right variables to be in place — namely the terroir, the climate, and a skilled winemaker. Welcome to Tercero Wines 2011 Grenache.