Published on March 24th, 2011 | by Ruth0
Drinking the Future: Wine Barrel Tastings
Barrel tastings require a good dose of imagination- the wines are unfinished. Sometimes they’re already delicious, sometimes you can taste the beautiful promise, and sometimes they just aren’t that great. The pours are drawn directly out of the barrel with a coffee-baster looking instrument called a wine thief. The barrels have lots of air, so you sometimes need to swirl it out to get a better taste. Discounts are usually offered for people who are confident in their guesses about how the wine will mature- they go ahead and buy a “future.” We headed to the 33rd Annual Barrel Tasting in Sonoma County to give our tastes a challenge. We were especially excited because the event is put on by the same people who do the Winter Wineland that we enjoyed in January.
Our first stop made us question the wisdom of google maps and our phone GPS- it seemed to be leading us into a commercial park, rather than the picturesque vineyards and cute tasting rooms we’ve become accustomed to. We were further skeptical when Siduri Wines turned out to consist of wines from vineyards up and down the coast, from Willamette Valley Oregon to Southern California. Our attitude changed, however, when we started talking to the people pouring the tastings. Several of the guys proudly explained that the grapes were from their vineyards, and explained that Siduri buys by the acre and encourages practices that result in lower yield, higher quality harvests.
We chatted for a while with Diana Lee, the co-owner of Siduri. She and her now-husband, Adam, met almost 20 years ago when they were both Texans working their first day in a Neiman Marcus- her in the epicurean department, him in the wine department. They started spending more and more time together, and a year later decided to pursue their love of wine in California. They moved to the bay area and both got jobs in a tasting room, and found their first vines on Craigslist. With no experience or official training, the two created 100 cases of their first wine, a Pinot Noir. They sent some to wine critic Robert Parker, who gave it a good review, and they sold all of the wine, and reinvested. The next year they created 300 cases. Siduri Wines now produces 40-50 SKUs per year.
Our Siduri tasting started with already bottled wines, and ended with the barrels- lots of Pinot Noirs. The 2008 Beran Pinot Noir ($39/bottle), despite our fondness for Willamette Valley Pinots, underwhelmed. We found it nice, but single-note. Moving to the 2008 Ewald Pinot Noir ($44/bottle), we were more impressed – notes of cigar and subtle spiciness- we would definitely drink it again. The 2008 Sonatera Pinot Noir ($49/bottle) blew us away- smooth fruit and spice, grown in a Sonoma vineyard. The 2009 Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir was round, bouncy, and complex, but not in a good way. From southern CA, we tried the 2009 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir. The grapes are small, and the wine was heavy for a Pinot- earthy, with heavy tannins. Interesting, but not what we look for in our favorite Pinots. From the barrels, we liked the 2010 John Sebastiano Pinot Noir, and loved the 2010 Parsons’ Pinot Noir- fruity, with mineral hints and definitely worth revisiting.
After Siduri, we headed to DeLoach. At the end of the picturesque drive, an aluminum dim sum food truck greeted us- brilliant food accompaniment to a day of wine tasting. The barrel tasting room was decked out in “Monkeys in a Barrel” theme (Remember the game?), though we learned that eating bananas isn’t recommended with wine tasting- they clog the palate. Before delving into the barrels, we tried the 2008 Russian River Chardonnay. We enjoyed the bright honeydew taste, but found the after blunt. From the barrels, we were fond of a biodynamic, organic, mellow pinot noir. My tasting notes read, “Nom.” Joe, who gave us our tastes, explained that wine ran in his family. Growing up, his father made wine- nothing fancy, just table wine for the family. Though his mother worried that they’d all go blind, nothing dramatic every happened to the family from their home-made-wine consumption.
At Joseph Swan we were underwhelmed from start to finish. We tried seven different wines, and found none of them compelling enough to come back to. The pours were also on the miserly side- barely enough to taste the wine.
Russian River Vineyards felt much more welcoming. The restaurant adjoining the tasting room looked inviting and smelled delicious. We’ll definitely make a visit to it in the future. We started with the Rose Charbono, and moved to the 2009 Charbono barrel tasting. It was smooth and promised a bit of spice, like an earthier Pinot Noir. With the idea of getting “some skin in the game,” after much deliberation we purchased a half case, The Charbono is an extremely rare varietal in North America. It is thought to be the Bonarda of Argentina, which, in turn, is from the Veneto region of northern Italy. Other sources claim that it’s actually the Dolcetto of northwestern Italy. Wherever it’s from, we’re looking forward to trying the more matured version in June, when our bottles arrive. At Russian River we also tried a 2008 Pinot Noir ($35/bottle). Though we found it very drinkable, with depth and smoke, we weren’t sure that it stacked up well agains other Pinot Noirs in the same price bracket. The Reisling ($25/bottle) makes a good, drinkable table wine. We finished our tasting with the 2009 Mendocino Ridge Botrytis Chardonnay ($65/bottle), a dessert wine that was like sipping liquid golden raisins.