I had no idea what a Falanghina was before Byron over at Clime Wines sent me one. So, what better place to turn than the glorious pages of the Oxford Companion to Wine? (A must for anyone going through the WSET Diploma program. Or self-proclaimed super-wine-nerds…)
Falanghina: “…It produces attractive, unoaked, fragrant wines of real interest. Modern fermentation enabled producers to preserve its aromas, which gave it a new lease of life from the mid-1990s.”
The grape, if you can’t tell by the name, traces its heritage back to Italy. According to the Oxford Companion, there are two varieties: the less common Falanghina Beneventana of Benevento province and the “leafy-smelling” Falanghina Flegrea of Campi Flegrei, “Campania’s signature white wine grape…and is now the base for Falerno del Massico and Sannio DOCs.” It’s noted that the 2010 Italian vine census did not distinguish between the two when it counted more than 7,500 acres planted to the grape.
Well, there you go. But what about here in California? Well, if you do a search for it in the 2019 California grape crush report, you won’t find it, which means there’s probably so little planted that it falls into that “other white” category. But El Dorado County’s Viani Vineyard has some planted in a plot just overlooking the American River. The altitude, along with decomposed granitic soils, gives this wine a bit of a steely minerality mixed with its innate floral aromatics. And, contrary to what my encyclopedia says, winemaking utilizes a touch of neutral French oak as well, lending a bit of roundness in the mouthfeel to the very light-bodied wine, while lees aging adds a touch of complexity and structure.
Anyone else ever feel like Nebbiolo is the grape that shouldn’t work. It’s so light in color, it’s practically see-through: a faint rouge hue with its rusty orange-y-brown aura that just hints that this wine isn’t what it appears to be: Firm in structure, full-bodied, and undeniably tannic, but balanced by an—at times—racey acidity. The classic aroma descriptor is “tar and violets,” as the wine typically includes scents and flavors of herbs, dried flowers, and the bitterness of a dark coffee. But one only has to taste the differing expressions coming from the Nebbiolo motherlands of Barolo, Barbaresco, as well as Asti and Alba to know that location and climate means everything to this grape.
Here is what California’s El Dorado County has to provide this dark beauty.
If you haven’t read my notes about Crystal Basin Cellars Mourvèdre, definitely take a look. My understanding of California’s Sierra Foothills as a cool-climate wine terroir was proven right by that light, yet rustic single-varietal expression. So I was excited to open the winery’s single-varietal Grenache—a grape that I have a love-hate relationship with. I love it when I can taste the eccentricity of fruit flavors innate in this variety, the racy red spices that can linger in the back palate, and the assertive acidity that binds it all together. I hate when it turns into a over-ripe fruit bomb, worthy of spreading on my toast with peanut butter.
I’ll give you one good guess which side of the Grenache spectrum Crystal Basin Cellars falls into…
I came across Crystal Basin Cellars during an industry event—actually it was a bit more like an informal gathering—of grapegrowers and winemakers in El Dorado County. The topic of discussion was lesser known varieties that thrive in this portion of the Sierra Foothills. We tasted some really interesting (and delicious) wines that day. A lot of what you may call “rustic” reds actually have an excellent “cool-climate” expression due to the colder air that sinks down through the Sierras and settles along the vines in the foothills. Indeed, Mourvèdre, a fun, funky grape that can be as carnal as you like it from one terroir but as delicate as a flower petal from another, has found a good home here in El Dorado, maintaining its innate structure, achieving full phenolic ripeness, but holding on to the much needed acidity to lift the beautiful fruit flavors on the nose and on the palate.
Thus far I’ve reviewed every wine The Withers has to offer, but saved Mr. Burgess for last. Why? Syrah heavy, it was probably the most intimidating of the Rhone style red blends the friendly winery produces. And a tasting back in January at trade and media event seemed to prove my perceptions correct. So I was hesitant to finally pop Mr. Burgess open for myself — but when a meal is just aching for the intensity of this style, one must cast fears aside…