Who needs an overnight flight to France when ersatz Burgundian and Bordeaux wines can be found right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A? Yes, you read that right; a California winemaker is just that bold to bring forth the likes of Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc that will transport you to the Continent in just a sip.
A wonderful discovery on our part, JAX vineyards has been producing high quality, limited quantity wines since the late ‘90s. This month’s Inspired Wine Club picks two that have in fact been compared to France’s most renowned wine regions and two of the varietals those regions are most known for. From hand-harvested and hand sorted fruit to hands-on winemaking, these wines are sure to be just the right thing to welcome spring with a quasi-French flourish. Salut!
2012 Y3 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Considered one of the most complex varietals, this Pinot does not disappoint. Its complexity begins with a nose of dried cherry, plum and strawberry earthiness. The winemaker attributes “ocean breezes during bright, sunny days and brisk morning fog” to the proper ripening and wine’s “lively acidity.” A well structured wine with enjoyable tannins, the wine is expected to age well — enjoyable now through 2020. CEO Dan Parrott, who worked with some of the best Burgundy producers before coming to JAX, looked for an exceptional vineyard to make the perfect Pinot. This is the first Pinot Noir vintage for the winemaker, and whether you pair it with grilled, rosemary-rubbed game hens, a garlicky rolled lamb roast, or a herb-crusted salmon fillet with beurre blanc, it is utterly fantastic.
2012 Y3 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California
Sauvignon Blanc originates in Bordeaux, but as we all know, because of its refreshing citrusy qualities, it is now one of the favorite white varietals around the world. That said, it often reveals to wine lovers telltale features from its New World region. This particular Sauvignon Blanc, however, does not belie its Bordeaux connection, beginning with its fresh vibrant aromas of melon, pear, grapefruit and hints of dried apricot and fig. On the palate, those aromatics spring further to life with a rush of bright citrus and minerality. Ah, yes, there’s that refreshing crisp acidity and fresh finish that make it a perfect wine for seafood dishes, salads and other lighter fare.
While Napa Valley has reportedly been making and selling wine since the 19th century, it was only in the 1960s when it started to really get going. And some would argue that it wasn’t until 1976 that Napa showed the world just how serious and special its wines were. Any oenophile worth his or her salt knows the movie Bottle Shock that recreated the 1976 “Judgment of Paris” when Napa’s darlings beat out stodgy, established French wines in a blind tasting. Napa Valley would never be the same again.
Since that time, Napa winemakers have indeed faced many challenges to their craft – phylloxera vine disease, climate change and the Great Depression, to mention a few – but seem to only rise above and continue to find ways to bring a smile to our face as we too move from oaky Chardonnay to unoaked and from brash, unruly Cabs to refined, yet bold ones. We all grow up. We all change. And thankfully, Napa continues to be by our side along the way.
2011 Mt. Veeder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
So here’s a Cabernet that immediately evokes the sense of being in a charming library full of mahogany leather chairs and cherry wood tables. It’s beautifully dark, with appropriately dark cassis, blackberry and cherry tones accented by anise, tobacco, vanilla, black pepper and even rosemary. James, fetch me my pipe, now, please! The complex palate provides layers of flavors that really make this a tremendously elegant wine with supple, approachable tannins. Yes, this wine would sip well in that library setting or in front of a roaring fire at the hearth. But it is also a fine companion for a Sunday roast beef or cherry-accented roast venison with a creamy potato gratin.
Folie à Deux 2012 Chardonnay, Napa Valley
Don’t let the name of this wine fool you into thinking it is merely a playful little white. The Folie à Deux 2012 Chardonnay, in fact, is rich, complex and definitely seductive. With aromas of warm shortbread, cinnamon, pear and melon, one might be surprised when its flavors of Fuji apple, tangerine, and pineapple citrus charm the palate. Almost buttery, the wine is brought into balance with its lush fruit and acidity. Elegance personified, this wine only serves to augment any occasion dressed up with poached salmon or sherry-kissed, pan-seared scallops.
Oh, Shiraz, how we loved you. And then we didn’t. Australia has had quite a roller coaster ride from being the wine darling du jour to suffering from a market with an abundance of new wines, prices that made it hard to compete and then at least one disastrous vintage. Now the good news: Australia is coming back. We grow more convinced of this every day. And Hinsdale’s Inspired Wine Club members have a first-hand chance to see for themselves this month with an AMAZING Shiraz Grenache blend sure to overwhelm the senses. That seemed perfect to make for an extra-special “sensuous” Valentine’s Day. However, with a wine this romantic and dramatic, we knew we needed a bit of counterbalance. The perfect equalizer became clear: a sophisticated California Chardonnay poised enough to remind us that fine wines can’t always be so bold. Not so different from the realization that we can’t have every day be Valentine’s Day.
2010 Wallace, Shiraz Grenache
Deep garnet-purple colored, this wine has alluring jammy black berry and black cherry notes, violets and baking spices with just a touch of pepper. In short, it’s sexy. Full-bodied and richly fruited in the mouth, the generous flesh is well balanced by a medium level of velvety tannins, finishing long. Though approachable now, this wine is like a fountain of youth—still very youthful and should stay that way until 2018+. This wine will capture your lover’s heart, perfect for that romantic steak au poivre or with a platter of artisanal cheeses and charcuterie.
2010 Lamplighter Chardonnay, California
The 2010 Lamplighter California Chardonnay benefited from a wonderful vintage in California, both in quantity and quality. Beautiful citrus flavors balance against slightly softer tropical fruit and honey apricot notes, creating an interestingly delectable creamy wine with acidity that makes this a standout wine. We’re not big fans of heavy oak or butter on our chardonnay, but we do think it is part of a classic California style. The fruit and balanced acid are the heroes in this enjoyable wine, but there is just enough vanilla oak and creaminess to please everyone at the party. Chill before serving, and see how this wine helps showcase an elegant butternut squash soup or roast stuffed rainbow trout.