While waiting for the Rhone Rendezvous tasting at the recent Hospice du Rhone wine festival, we started chatting with winemaker and blogger Benjamin Spencer. You can catch one of his posts here at intowine.com. He also has a very small boutique winery Leojami – and you can check out their site here www.LeojamiWines.com.
Spencer and Anne were talking about writing about HdR, but then Spencer mentioned that he was about to do a guerilla pouring, as well.
“Well, basically, it’s just a behind the scenes pouring at public wine events,” Spencer explained. “You grab your newly-released viognier, in my case, for Leojami, and you put in on ice in your trunk. And you pull it out when everybody else is tasting and you find your friends from Facebook, who you know are soms [sommeliers] at various established resorts and restaurants and wine writers for Wine Spectator, etc.”
But why not just get a table?
“For people like us, we’re only making 400 cases per year,” Spencer said. “We’re possibly pouring out a substantial amount of our potential profit, it just doesn’t make sense. So, I’m not… I haven’t always been on this side of the law, and I’m not ashamed to say that. I’m very happy to get out there and work for whoever wants to taste our wines.”
We did get a taste of Spencer’s 2008 Viognier and liked it a lot. It had the typical viognier flowers in the nose – kind of a honeysuckle thing, but not sweet like honey. There was some nice food-friendly acidity, and Mike tasted some stone fruits and a hint of citrus, with a medium mouthfeel and no oak.
Made: In Calaveras County, California, With viognier grapes Plays well with: seafood, salads, mild cheeses
The 2007 Viognier from Irish Family comes with the expected florals in the nose – honeysuckle in this case. A grape of the Rhone region wines in France, viognier has an instantly recognizable nose of flowers like honeysuckle or citrus like tangerine peel and also honeyed. A little blended into syrah contributes aromatics to a traditional red wine in the Rhone from France. Viognier is a handy grape to have around.
There is a flinty minerality as well that wasn’t covered by oak because there wasn’t any oak added. Steel fermentation and neutral barrels (barrels that have already given up all their oak flavors) allowed the flavors to concentrate. Crisp acidity gives a cleansing of the palate that plays well with seafood, salads and cheeses.
We picked this one up at Blackwell’s Wines and Spirits during our recent visit to the Bay Area largely on the recommendation of Sara (and pray forgive us, Sara, if we have spelled your name wrong). By Due Vigne Di Familia in the Napa region, the wine is a class act with 86 percent Viognier, eleven percent Roussanne and a scant three percent of Marsanne, aka a classic blend of three Rhone white grapes. Sara told us that the panel almost passed on the 2006 vintage because they didn’t think it was dry enough. It was dry enough. The golden color in the glass had a nose of lychee nuts and banana on the first sniff and some citrus on a second smell. There was also some of the honeysuckle aroma. The rich mouthfeel first tasted of anise – licorice or fennel to some – that led into a hint of peach at the back of the mouth. The finish was decent and you could tell they used the oak sparingly. The best part was that the wine was only ten dollars. You could certainly enjoy this wine buy itself. But try it with a creamy seafood bisque now or grilled scallops next spring. The wine certainly plays well with others and should have that chance. The catch is that at this price, if it’s still in the store, it won’t last.
This is a cool climate chardonnay which was fermented in steel and given no oak flavor of any kind – oak being one of those things folks have come to expect in chard. So what does it taste like? Yummy. Okay, there’s citrus – orange and lemon peel – and minerals – flint and graphite – in the nose and in the mouth. There are also the peach and slight spice notes that good growing conditions and careful winemaking can give a badly abused grape like chardonnay.
The wine has a lush mouthfeel that could be enough of a draw, if you’re looking to suck some back at the local wine bar or big party. But the moderate alcohol is very well balanced (14.5 percent, slightly higher than the standard for Schug wines) makes it a great food wine, whether summer salads, winter bisques and cream-based sauces and gravies on chicken and pasta.
We served the wine at a brisk 61 degrees with fish and chips. The color was clear and golden like a chardonnay should be, and Michael got citrus and melon in the nose. The first taste had a nice medium weight and crispness that suggested the wine had been fermented in steel tanks. Nonetheless, there was the spice of applied oak, meaning oak used as an ingredient instead of to cover one or more faults. The finish was decent but not long.
Just like the cabernet we mentioned earlier, these are decent wines for midweek meals or occasions where wine may not receive the time and attention it deserves. When was the last time you really noticed the sea salt or extra-virgin olive oil in the meal you bolted down before the PTA or town hall meeting? But these wines do fill that gap in your palate when you want a glass as part of a relaxing meal before dashing off to that next committee meeting or the kids’ latest recital. Or both.
We tasted the Three Sticks 06 Chard in possibly the worst possible situation – a gigantic show and tasting put on by the Family Winemakers of California. Imagine a room as big as a football field, with over 100 wineries, each trying to impress restaurant owners and retailers and even some consumers. It was chaotic and noisy. And there was a lot of wine. So it really means something that this one chardonnay managed to stand out – in a good way.
It has the classic chardonnay nose, with a little hint of honeysuckle, just enough to tease, but not enough to smell sweet or cloying. There’s a touch of oak, a combination of fifty percent new French oak and fifty percent neutral oak, just enough to concentrate the flavors that make a good chardonnay without tasting like splinters.
Tasting, Michael got apples, citrus and melons with a rich mouthfeel and enough tannins to keep the palate happy. This is a good food wine. Try fruit, cheeses, chicken and possibly a cream sauce with pasta. And if you really want to, you can cellar it, thanks to the right balance of acids, tannins and alcohol.
Hate to say it, but Halter Ranch’s Sauvignon Blanc is an also-ran. We wanted to feature the winery’s 2008 rosé, but it was already sold out. But that doesn’t mean the sauv blanc isn’t any good – just that the rosé was better.
It’s a cool climate sauvignon blanc with the citrus character in the nose that you would expect. Okay, that the hard-core wine geeks would expect. The acids are gentle, not bracing or especially palate cleansing. And the rich mouthfeel and lack of oak contribute to the overall image of a good sipping wine, something to enjoy after a hot, long day at work. But it’s too well balanced and dry not to be enjoyed with a favorite summer brunch or picnic. White beans, cheesy polenta and ceviche would be great partners with a wine like this.