Sunday, June 21, 2009

2008 Wine X - Step 2

I described in an earlier post the first step in the process of creating our flagship wine - Wine X - a blend of the 5 classic grapes from Bordeaux. Continuing in that vein, below is a bit more about how the other grapes get incorporated into the Cabernet Sauvignon base.

Over the last several weeks, I systematically went through each lot of wine making notes regarding the aromatic and gustatory qualities of each barrel then assigning a grade and a possible disposition for each barrel. If it was of great enough quality, perhaps it might make the SVS (Single Vineyard Series) level or even the PCC (Premiere Cabernet Collection). And if it was truly special, it might be destined for Wine X level.

After tasting through 118 barrels of the five varieties, I narrowed down the contenders to just a couple per variety. On Friday, I siphoned 375ml samples of each of the varieties (if there were multiple contending barrels for a variety, part of each such barrel went into the sample). After making notes on the wines, including a sample of the base Cabernet Sauvignon I created in Step 1, I went about blending the five samples together.

I am looking for greatness in this wine. I am looking for a wine with power, elegance, complexity of aroma and flavor, and an over-arching structure that holds all the pieces together and that will allow for age. In short, Wine X is supposed to be the greatest red wine from Livermore.

The first sample I made was in the same percentages as in the first Wine X. Then I made samples on either side, a bit more Cabernet Sauvignon and a little less CS. With each blend, I am trying to home in on just that one wine that expresses all of the grapes - the rusticity and mid-palate heft of Malbec, the color and tannin of Petit Verdot, the wistful aromatics of Cabernet Franc and a hint of her acidity - but does so in a unified way.

Generally, I make a series of samples, 5-7 or so, and let them sit for a while before I taste them for the first time. You want to give the wines a chance to sort things out some before you attach an impression to early.

So far, the wine that made the most favorable impression, the one that has the most power, grace, and ageability, contained 80% CS, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec, and 2% Merlot. This, of course, is not necessarily where the the final blend will reside.

Now that I have a firmer idea about the percentages, I go back to determine what those percentages mean in terms of needed gallons of each wine to make the number of cases I want to produce. When I know that, I will remake the blends with only the best barrel or two (depending upon the gallons needed) from each lot. I will remake a series of blends with different percentages of CS again and determine my favorite. Then the process gets really interesting... More in Step 3.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Groovy Boobies Prevail

Each year our Tasting Room Team splits up into smaller groups to compete with each other to make a blend for release at the Livermore Valley Harvest Festival. Proceeds from each of the wines we have made (this year marks our fourth) have gone to support breast cancer research. last year's label is on the right.

Each team had samples of Zinfandel, Grenache, Syrah, Mourverdre, and Petite Syrah to work with. The wine had to contain at least 3 grapes, couldn't be more than 50% of any one grape, and had to be at least 16% of each grape included.

Team Groovy Boobies (Janice Fisher, Jessica Fisher, and Sharyn Bell) combined 16% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 34% Mourvedre, and 20% Zinfandel to narrowly defeat a blend made by Team X.

Their wine was wonderfully rich, with black fruit aromatics and flavors, silky mid-palate, and significant finishing tannins. Approximately, 150 cases of the wine will be released on September 6th. If you want a terrific wine and to support a great cause look for this wine (it will be named shortly) in our store in September.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Tasting Note: 2007 Mourvedre

We will be releasing Sommaro, a Mourvedre blend to members of our Collector's Circle wine club in July. This wine is our third such blend of Rhone varieties.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Jennifer Fazio, our Director of Operations and Cheese Monger to the Stars, and Cindy Turchino, our Tasting Room Manager, to taste and talk about the last two vintages of Mourvedre.

Mourvedre is not a well-known variety in America. It appears in Southern French blends and more recently in GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blends from Australia. I think Mourvedre is one of those quintessentially "just drink it, it goes great with food kind of wines."

There is a rusticity, and leathery texture (more prominent in Stairway our 2006 release than in '07) to go along with dark plum fruit, wild strawberry notes, and nice tannin. Jennifer commented on the dramatic black pepper-quality in the nose ("a snootful of pepper" were her exact words). "You'll think it's white," she said to me, "but it's black pepper." Just for the is white pepper! Cindy got "hints of fresh cut herbs on the nose" and a "smooth flow of blackberries from the tip of [her] tongue through mid palate and a finish that is velvety soft."

Surprisingly, for our resident white wine and Pinot Noir gal, Jennifer, described the structure of the Sommaro as having only a "hint of tannin on the finish." I think the wine is more tannic than that...though the '06 is significantly more tannic and acidic than the the rounder '07. Cindy thought the tannins "make a nice showing but don't overpower the palate."

The 2006 Mourvedre (Stairway) is showing very pretty integration of fruit and wood. The delineated fruit of youth (plum, strawberry) is now an amalgam of silky black fruit aromas and flavors. The punch of acid and tannin that made the wine a potentially long-term ager is still significantly present. This quality, I think, allows for some neat food pairing options.

As far as '07 and food go, Cindy recommends a pecan crusted Rack of Lamb and roasted Rosemary Red Potatoes (that does sound good); Jennifer's thoughts turned to cheese. The picture to the right shows some of the cheeses we tried with the wine (Lenora, Jasper Hill Winnemere, Grayson, and Tomme de Montagne from 9 o' clock to 6 o' clock). I think this wine would go with meaty fish, chicken with lentils, BBQ ribs, sausages, charcuterie, just about anything.

Let us know what you think of the Mourvedre when it comes out, or any of our other wines.

Monday, June 15, 2009

2008 Wine X - Step 1

I took the first step, yesterday, in creating the second vintage of our new flagship wine...Wine X (I am waiting on the trademark office for approval before we announce the real name of the wine...I think it is much more meaningful if not as dramatic as its stand-in).

My vision for this wine is is meant to be the greatest red wine from the Livermore Valley.

I look at it as the wine my father and I sought to create when we first started Steven Kent Winery and the wine prior generations of the Mirassou family didn't make; hopefully, you will find it a testament to the Livermore Valley's world-class quality, to a wine mission 155 years in the making, and to one hell of a great wine.

You'll learn much more about Wine X over the next several months. The 2007 vintage will be released in October 2010, and the one I am working on now will follow the next year.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The First Child Still Shines

One of my biggest regrets in the wine business was not realizing how important our new Steven Kent history was going to be to our company. You probably know that my family is the oldest winemaking family in the country, having made wine continuously since 1854. And while this history means a great deal to me, it is necessarily distant as my involvement in creating it was minimal.

Not so with Steven Kent. My dad and I started the brand with an idea that the Livermore Valley could grow world class Cabernet, and we set about to prove it. I still am...and hopefully will for many years.

We spent about a year tasting our 1996 Cabernet from barrel frequently, trying to determine if that particular wine was good enough to launch not only the brand, but our winemaking philosophy, and our Mission. We decided, finally, that it was. That wine was inky dark, had great dark fruit and chocolate and wood notes, and was very well received by our first customers. It was so well received, in fact, that nearly every bottle was sold. And that is where the regret comes in.

We didn't keep enough of it in our Library so that we could see how the wine progresses over a very long time-frame.

I had the opportunity to taste the 1996 again a few days ago as part of an auction lot that we donated. The wine was still youthful: showing somewhat more dark cherry notes than I remember, but still having that great mid-palate structure, tannins on the finish, and indescribable notes that 10 years in bottle bring.

Everything is terrific with the 1996; it has many more years of life ahead of it, it tastes wonderfully now; it warms the emotional cockles of my heart. Oh, one bad thing...we don't have enough of it left.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Tasting Note: 2001 Single Vineyard Series Cabernets

The Steven Kent team had a great experience last Saturday with two older wines. Being a young company with only about 10 vintages behind us, we still don't really know how long-lived our wines can be. So when we taste a wine that is eight years old and is only now beginning to drink the way it should, we get pretty excited.

The 2001 vintage was one of the best recent vintages for California Cabernet, and we released a trio of wines from three different sites under our Single Vineyard Series program. The best barrels from the Folkendt, Home Ranch, and Block D vineyards were chosen for our inaugural offering.

After our Release Celebration for Radius IV, we opened the 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon - Folkendt Vineyard and Home Ranch Vineyard wines. The Folkendt (much as I remember) was huge, with very rich aromas of black fruit, graphite, spicy oak, and semi-sweet chocolate. In the mouth, the wine had tannin from entry forward, a wonderfully viscous mid-palate with coffee and chocolate flavors predominating. On the extremely long finish, the black fruit, non-fruit flavors, and tannin all conspired to produce a very delicious, very youthful effect.

The Importance of Richness

One of the most significant characteristics a Steven Kent Cabernet can possess is a sense of richness. More important than tannin by itself, the richness (or viscosity) of the wine signals, to me, the capacity for the wine to evolve positively over the course of its life. Tannins, without the mid-palate richness that the best Steven Kent cabs have, will only age out to thinness, becoming strident in their maturity.

The 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon - Home Ranch was also a revelation. Showing less of the characteristic mintiness that the new Home Ranch release contains, the wine had an opulent nose of black raspberry, cassis, milk chocolate, and nicely integrated wood. Similar to the Folkendt, this wine's mid-palate was gorgeously round with an emphasis on slightly less dark fruit and only a hint of the graphite that defines the Folkendt. This wine, too, finished with terrific structural tannins enveloped in ripe fruit.

If you were able to get one of the 100 six-packs we produced in this vintage, there is no need to choose favorites; enjoy them all. I won't choose either. Both wines showed great youth and even greater promise for 7-10 years of additional growth.

Just an addendum...We had the occasion today to open the third wine of the triumvirate...the Steven Kent Vineyard, D Block. Again, a very big wine up front. Intense earthy aromas with Kalamata olives and baked bread notes. In the mouth the wine's fruit was redder than in the other two wines while also picking up a little brandied quality that usually signifies age. The tannins are abundant and the finish is long, but this wine is not holding up as well as the other two. I would drink this wine now.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

2008 Vintage: A Look Forward

We just put the finishing touches on our first serious taste through all the lots of the 2008 vintage Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot). We tasted 14 distinct lots comprised of 118 separate barrels and while 2008 is not as round a vintage as 2007 at this point, there are a number of potentially outstanding wines aging away gracefully in the cellar.

2008 was a significantly smaller harvest for us than 2007. Yields in some of our Cabernet blocks (including clone 191 and clone 4) were down by more than 20% compared to the previous year.

At this point in time, my general observation is that 2008 will be seen as a more structured vintage than 2007; it reminds me of the 2000 vintage in which fruit did not show overtly, but there was great depth and "blackness" to the aromatics and flavors. 2008 has that same depth of dark fruit and an austerity in mid-palate structure where exuberance was the calling card for 2007.

The wines are very young, and too many times I have been fooled into thinking that a wine would be less than what it turned out to be. During this 10 days of tasting (we'll revisit the wines in about 3 months), clone 337 from the Ghielmetti Vineyard is the clear Cabernet star (the adjectives: black fruit, tobacco, big tannin, dark chocolate, chewy tannin, good length came up repeatedly in my blind tasting notes). In the past I have loved this clone for its grapey, dark fruit aspects, and it is even more expressly tannic than it was in 2007. This head-turning wine is a front runner for Premier Cabernet Collection status.

Consistent favorites: clones 4, 30, and 191 are also showing very well though they seem to be a bit behind in their development compared to the last vintage.

A new clone of Petit Verdot - The Forman clone - which was grafted over from Sauvignon Blanc in 2006, is showing beautifully. Dense dark plum and floral notes abound and the mid-palate silkiness portends a wonderfully complex drinking experience in 2011.

For those who can't wait to get their hands and palates around a new Cabernet, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon - Home Ranch is now available. Long a favorite of Steven Kent Cab fans, this gorgeous wine expresses the mint/chocolate/dark fruit matrix of our home site better than any wine since 2003. Only 120 cases were produced. Get it before it's gone.