“This has been such a fun grape to work with and wine to make – so excited that I did,” says Larry Schaffer, owner and winemaker of Tercero Wines. And, in fact, it’s a fun wine to drink, as Larry keeps this seemingly dark horse of a wine vibrant and indicative of the real fruit.
Once again, Larry’s chosen to work with a grape that’s often blended away amongst other varietals, and one that’s no longer easily found within California’s modern wine regions. That may be due, in part, to the fact that it’s not an easy grape to work with, often producing highly tannic and acidic wines. As a result, some vintners choose to let the buds hang a little longer; many will ferment the juice and age the wine in newer oak barrels, softening all of Carignane’s innate harshness. Not so with Larry…
Winemaker Clarissa Nagy was kind enough to send me a complete package of her current releases. I immediately fell in love with the tenacity of her Viognier. I was bowled over by the voluptuous fruits in her Syrah. So I absolutely expected good things when I opened Nagy Wines 2012 Pinot Noir. But “good things” does not adequately describe the drinking experience. “Exceeds expectations,” still doesn’t do the wine justice. I may, my friends, be at a loss for words to describe just how well-balanced, refined, and, well, just plain tasty this Central Coast Pinot Noir is.
Mmmm I do love a good Syrah. The thing about it, though, is that it’s an absolute chameleon grape, absorbing the most minute details of its surrounding soils. Northern Cali kid that I am, I’m most familiar with the more savory, and all-around tighter Syrah of the gravely-turfed, cool climate Sonoma Coast. Though I’ve ventured as far as Paso Robles in my Syrah sips (a region that seems to be a French-Cali hybrid), the 2013 Nagy Wines Syrah is my first from Santa Barbara County. It seems that this chameleon grape has absorbed the sweet summer sun of SoCal.
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.
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.