Visit to Matthiasson Winery – Firmly based in the vineyards

Introduction to Matthiasson Winery

Matthiasson is a small family winery managed by Steve and Jill Matthiasson who both have an agricultural background. Their focus is primarily on the vineyards with an hands off approach to wine making. Steve also works as a consultant for other land owners, managing their vineyards. The relationships he has developed through these assignments and the knowledge about the vineyards in the area has been important for their ability to source high quality grapes for their own production.

A few short notes about how Matthiasson’s wine making

  • They produce wines from a wide variety of grapes. Some rather unusual in the Napa region, like Ribolla and Refosco.
  • They never do cold soak before fermentation. Steve thinks it can be a good method for some wines, but because they rent space in a winery time is limited instead he prefers leaving the skins after the fermentation if extra extractions is desired.
  • External yeast is used. Also this decision is partly related to the sharing of facilities with other producers. Some yeast strains can be dominant and taker over from others, so you are not sure the yeast from the grapes will have any effect on the specific wine. Therefore Steve prefers adding yeast that will not get dominated by other type of yeasts and thereby he gets better control over the process and the end result.
  • They are moving towards organic practices and will certify their own vineyards. In addition, they also consider and evaluate biodynamic practices.

Since they have such diversity in their types of wines and grapes, the process is adapted to each wine. Therefore I have added this information in each wine section, respectively.

Tasting notes for the wines from Matthiasson

2015 Matthiasson Chardonnay Linda Vista Vineyard

The fruit is harvested at five different occasions to get different expressions, where the first adds acidity. Approximately 50% of the wine has gone through Malolactic fermentation. Fermented and aged in neutral barrels.

Fresh and forward wine with apples, pineapple and stone fruit but also a very citric profile especially on the palate. The acidity is racy and slightly harsh, but this should improve with time. The wine needs some time to integrate but it is a great Chardonnay with some attitude.

2014 Matthiasson White Wine

Blend of: 50 % Sauvignon blanc, 25 % Ribolla gialla, 20 % Semillon, and 5 % Tocai friulano. Co-fermented in 20 % new Boutes barrels, and aged on its lees, with no stirring. The wine has not gone through malolactic fermentation.

Rather fruity expression both on nose and palate, with apricot, apples and some pineapple, but also white floral notes. There is also a slight oak influence and notes of flint on the nose. Medium acidity with a fresh citric expression. Well balanced wine with a fresh and fruity expression.

2013 Matthiasson Ribolla Gialla Matthiasson Vineyard

Fermented with whole cluster in a open-top tank for two weeks. Aged sur lees for 20 months in neutral barrel.

Initially honey and white flowers dominate this generous nose that has a sweet touch. Then we also get oranges, orange peels and some lemon notes. On the palate the wine gets a dryer expression and has a rather soft style with a careful but good acidity. This wine has a strong personality and would be great to pair with food.

2014 Matthiasson Zinfandel Limerick Lane

95% Zinfandel and 5% Petite sirah. Aged in neutral barrels for 18 months.

Very pure and fresh fruit notes open up the nose, containing blueberries, blackberries and some raspberries. This is transfered to the palate where we also get a cool and fresh acidity and a soft tannic structure. This is a very energetic Zinfandel.

2013 Matthiasson Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Includes 9% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot. Fruit is from seven vineyards. Aged for 20 months in French oak (20% new). From the warm 2013 vintage.

Initially rather fruity with blackberries and dark cherries, but then some cedar, graphite and leather appear on both nose and palate. The wine has a rather fresh acidic expression on the palate and a good tannic structure. Well balanced Cabernet Sauvignon that should have a long life.

2012 Matthiasson Merlot Red Hen Vineyard

They have made this wine since 2003 and Jill says, it is the reason we started our winery.
The fruit was fermented in a small, open-top tank and punched down by hand two to three times a day. Aged for 20 months in oak barrels, where 1/3 where new.
Pure and intense fruit notes with blueberries, blackberries and cherries, and on the palate we also get a slight marsipan note. There is a sandy tannic structure and a fresh acidity. The wine already drinks very well but should develop good with time. Very good and well balanced Merlot

Summary of impressions from the visit to Matthiasson

Matthiasson has an exciting range of wines, some of them very unique, which makes the tasting very interesting. Steve is also very insightful when it comes to both the work in the vineyards and in the cellar. He is very open about his opinions. The meeting with both Jill and Steve was very educational.

I was also impressed by their wines that all had their own personality. My personal favorite was the Red Hen Merlot but I was also positively surprised by the pure and fresh Zinfandel, the Ribolla’s amazing personality and the price worthy Linda Vista.

Matthiasson has been getting a lot of attention lately, which is well deserved.

 

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Visit to Dunn Vineyards – The legendary producer from Howell Mountain

Introduction to Dunn Vineyards

The estate was founded in 1979 by Randy and his wife Lori and they released their first commercial vintage in 1981 (this was the 1979 vintage). Since then they have gained a loyal following and Dunn is one of the names everyone brings up when I ask for recommendations of Napa-based producers matching my preferences for more transparent wines. This is a family business involving their children Mike and Kristina and they own their vineyards around Howell Mountain. They produce one Cabernet Sauvignon from Howell Mountain, but also one “Napa Valley” bottling that also includes some fruit from the Napa Valley floor sourced from other vineyards. The exceptions to this rule are the vintages from 2009-2011 that was produced only by Howell Mountain fruit.

When it comes to their vineyards it is worth mentioning that in spring 2014 they replanted their older parcel (Trailer Vineyard) and in the 2013 vintage this fruit was bottled as a single vineyard wine that is not yet released. So the 2012 Howell Mountain is the last vintage including the old vine fruit from Trailer Vineyard.

If you want to read more about their vineyards they have a good presentation on their website: http://www.dunnvineyards.com/vineyards/

During my meeting I met with Ben Hiza (working with all types of tasks, depending on season:), Mike Dunn and briefly with Randy. Their welcoming was amazingly friendly and you can definitely feel that this is a family business with an atmosphere of openness and jokes. We talked about everything from children (I had brought my one year old daughter to the meeting) to politics, differences between Scandinavia and the US, etc., but we also had some time to talk about vineyards, wines and the work in the cellar:)

A few short notes about how Dunn Vineyards produce their wines

  • The fruit is crushed and destemmed
  • Fermentation takes between 10-13 days
  • They press very lightly
  • Malolactic fermentation is done in barrel
  • They use 100% new oak
  • Wines are racked every 6 months
  • The wines are not allowed to go above 14% in alcohol. They take measure in the vineyard to ensure a lower alcohol level, but if needed they will do a de-alcoholization
  • The grapes from Howell Mountain has higher level of tannins than grapes from the Valley floor, but they never try to adjust this. Therefore their wines often are considered rough in the youth
  • Picking decisions are still made by Randy and it is based on tasting the grapes

Tasting notes for the wines from Dunn Vineyards

2011 Dunn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain

Restrained but intense wine with fresh currant notes, especially on palate but also on the nose. There are also some notes of cedar, blackberries and menthol. The acidity is incredibly cool and vibrant and tannins are fine grained but still very grippy. The wine is already approachable but will definitely improve with age and has a long life ahead. Would be very interesting to taste in 15 years from now.

2012 Dunn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain

On the palate this is a rather lush wine with layers of both dark and red fruit and we find currant, blackberries and some blueberries. The nose is more careful than the palate but we find the same notes. There is a juicy and slightly broad acidity and tannins are sandy and very present. At the moment there are some oak notes but they are well integrated in the wine. I would expect this wine to integrate more with time and it is a great representation of Cabernet Sauvignon.

2010 Retro Cellars Petite Sirah

Very dense and pure fruit notes of mainly dark fruit, containing blackberries, cherries, blueberries. The tannins are grippy but of good quality and there is a juicy acidity. This is a rather fruity and dense wine but still with good balance.

Summary of impressions from the visit to Dunn Vineyards

We only tasted two wines from Dunn and one made by Mike Dunn under the name “Retro Cellars” (http://www.retrocellars.com). Still, these two wines was a great demonstration in how great Napa Cabernet Sauvignon can be. The wines are fantastically well balanced and shows both energy and complexity. I have heard several times that the Dunn wines are rough and not approachable in the youth, but my opinion is that the two Howell Mountain wines I tasted are surprisingly approachable already, but they will require some decanting and a food pairing. My personal favorite of the two wines was the 2011 that showed more precision and attitude.
In the future I hope to be able to taste some of the older vintages from Dunn Vineyards. If you are in the Copenhagen region on the 18th of March you have a unique opportunity to taste the vintages between 1979 and 2013 at one of Scandinavias best restaurants, Geranium. Unfortunately I am still in the US then, so I will not be there.

 

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Visit to Kutch Wines – Producing age worthy wines from colder climates

Introduction to Kutch Wines

Kutch is a young company, founded by Jamie Kutch and producing their first vintage in 2005. They do not own their own vineyards but instead source the grapes. Jamie’s long term plan include acquiring his own vineyards, but the first steps is to move to his own production facility.

Jamie comes across as an analytical person with a strong mind. He has clear opinions and these are based on facts gathered for example from other producers. His ambition is to make wines with a long life.

I think it is worth recommending their website that has a good presentation of the vineyards (with visuals) and a vintage chart with recommendations for the individual wines. Hope more producers will start presenting this information about their wines.

A few short notes about how Kutch Wines produce their wines:

  • Almost always use 100% whole clusters for Pinot Noir which is rather unique. Jamie’s reasoning behind the decision is that the best and most long lived wines use whole cluster fermentation and that the conditions in California, which a warm climate, almost always ensure ripe stems. The stems add a tannic structure to the wine, something not so common in wines from Californian since the warm climate reduces the amount of tannins in the grape skins. The other option would be to add tannins via oak, but since they use neutral oak this is not an option.
  • Stomp down done by feet twice a day during fermentation.
  • For Pinot Noir the use only neutral oak and for Chardonnay the use 20% new oak. The neutral oak he buys from other producers, but always barrels that have previously been used for Chardonnay.
  • No racking of the wines.
  • No cold soak. They actually heat the juice to initiate the fermentation.
  • 8-14 days of fermentation.

Tasting notes for the wines from Kutch Wines

2014 Kutch Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast

Blend of Sonoma Coast vineyards with high elevation and sandy soil.

Intense, mainly dark, fruit with plums, blackberries but also some strawberries and hints of marzipan that adds some sweetness. Rather careful acidity but with a fresh and cool expression, and a rather soft tannic structure. On the palate there is also an abundance of cherries. Well balanced and pleasant wine.

2014 Kutch Pinot Noir McDougall Ranch

Vines are 15 years old. Soil: Graywacke, sandstone

Rather dark but vibrant fruit notes, dominated by blackberries and cherries. There is a rather tannic structure and good acidity, resulting in a well balanced wine with lots of depth and complexity. Some Gevrey Chambertin vibes to the wine.

2012 Kutch Pinot Noir Falstaff Vineyard

Vines are 13 years old. Soil: Marine quarts sandstone, Goldridge

This is a soft and rather round wine with a fruit dominance, especially on the nose. The fruit has a bright expression and contains both red and dark berries, with raspberries, blackberries and cranberries. Both acidity and tannins are rather soft but definitely present in the wine. A very accessible wine.

2014 Kutch Chardonnay

From two vineyards, and vinified separately. Mallo started but not completed.

Fresh green apples, citrus and some floral notes dominated the nose. On the palate there is a juicy but rather soft acidity with some lemon notes. The finish has a fresh expression of minerality. Great and well balanced Chardonnay.

2015 Kutch Pinot Noir Rosé

Has not gone through mallo.

Young raspberries, strawberries and water melon dominate the wine that also has a fresh acidity. There is a slight sweetness on the nose and palate.

2016 Kutch Pinot Noir Sans Soufre

Carbonic masceration and no added sulfites.

Very fruit driven wine with some fresh and slightly sweet red fruit from mainly raspberries and strawberries. Light on the palate but with some tart fruit note. Too early to say what the wine will develop into.

2015 Kutch Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast

Tasted from the tank right before bottling.

17 months in neutral oak. 12,9%.

This is a rather fruit forward wine with young and slightly tart red fruit from strawberries and cherries, but also some herbal notes and ginger.The acidity is vibrant and very good. This wine needs some time to wind down but has good potential and will drink well rather soon.

2015 Kutch Pinot Noir Falstaff Vineyard

Tasted from the tank right before bottling.

12 months in neutral oak. 12,3%. This vineyard has the coldest climate of the Kutch Vineyards.

This is a very tight wine with a strong tannic bite and razor sharp acidity. The fruit contains mainly young and slightly tart raspberries but there is also some spices and an abundance of minerals. I think the acidity is fantastic and it will ensure a long life ahead for this wine. Great potential but let it age a few years first.

2015 Kutch Chardonnay

Tasted from the tank right before bottling.

Dry farmed vineyards planted in 1971-1972.

Intense notes of green apples but also stone fruit and lime. The vibrant acidity has great precision and gives a mouthwatering feeling. This is a great Chardonnay in a classical style.

Summary of impressions from the visit to Kutch Wines

I think the Kutch wines seem hones and transparent towards vintage and vineyards, resulting in clear differences between the wines I tasted. They have both attitude from the tannins (the reds) and acidity, and elegance from the fresh fruit notes.

Even though Jamie use stems in all the Pinot Noirs, I do not detect any green notes and the wines do not get overly herbal. Still you get a distinct tannic structure and the wines do require some food pairing when young. In general the Pinot Noirs has a dominance of rather young red fruit, especially the 2015, and combined with a good acidity this results in fresh and energetic wines. It will be interesting to see how the wines age and if a more complex expression will emerge with time.

The chardonnays were both good, but my clear favorite was the 2015, that had more energy and precision.

 

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The 2015 Littorai Les Larmes is truly elegant and made with finesse

Ted Lemon is the owner of the estate and the winemaker focusing on wines low in alcohol, balance and with finesse. They are obsessed with sustainable farming and biodynamics. Furthermore, Ted has worked at several of the top producers in Burgundy, e.g. Romanée Conti, Roumier and Bruno Clair, so the wines are obviously made in a Burgunish way and with a non-interventionist approach. This wine is from the cool coastal  area of Anderson valley in California.

2015 Les Larmes “Andersson Valley”, Littorai

Notes of clove, herbs, dog rose, some more spice. Its inner perfume emerges much later with fresh red flowers, underbrush. It is currently a truly slow, but it is so young.

Soft, slightly sweet but clean fruit, mainly a unique combo of wild strawberries, sloe berries and lychee fruit, infused with gravel and herbs. Super-smooth, pliant and truly elegant wine with a lot of finesse and its absolute only downside is its just a little short and slightly dry finish. The latter might be because of its youth. (Tasted 11/2-2017)

93-94p

A german pinot with precision and true terroir

Nowadays, pinot noir is grown everywhere in the world, but actually it has been grown for quite some time in Germany and more precisely as spätburgunder. To be honest, it had not caught my attention previously since my impression so far has been that the wines have had too much oak flavours or/and frankly just been dull and dry. This wine is something else. It is from the very best region of Ahr in the south-west of Germany and more precisely Pfarrwingert in the town of Dernauer. 40 km south of Bonn. The young Julia Bertram appears focused on low alcohol (label says 12.5%) and to raise her wines in no new oak at all to achieve true terroir expression as well as affecting the grapes as little as possible, e.g. not using pumps. What a joy to hear that our preference is making its way through even here in the better parts of Germany for wine. We read that she was crowned “the wine princess” in Germany for her efforts of promoting German wine abroad back in 2013. Super-interesting producer!

2015 Ahrweiler Spätburgunder, Julia Bertram

A combo of translucent cerise and somewhat pale pink-orange-red core with cyan edges.

A graceful perfume of slate, Sicilian orange, tiny notes of dry honey, spice cumin, nutmeg and lovely red flowers. A lovely, fragrant and genuine nose that resembles a chambolle 1er cru.

The fruit is very pure, on the brick of overripe and currently in the background of the overly vivid and currently gnarly acidity wrapping distinct orange-peel and some spicy element. Also underbrush and slate gravel. Texture is smooth, chewy and pliant. This certainly is just a baby and needs to rest a few more years to come together, but it is obvious to me that this is a wine that broods over remarkable purity, unique honest terroir and balance.

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A lavishly pretty etna rosso packed with lava minerals that is a steal for the money

The typical blend with 80% nerello mascalese and the rest nerello cappuccio. Fruit is from young vines on the north-west slopes of Etna. Terrazze dell’Etna is founded by Nino Bevilacqua in 2008. Nino restored a farm whose oldest parts are from the 800 Century in Randazzo. The wine maker and enologist is Piero Carucci.

2013 Etna rosso Carusu, Terrazze dell’Etna

Glowingly crystalline and opaque cerise-red and blood orange core with pink-orange edges. Lovely colour.

Some oil paint, notes of wall paper adhesive, tea leaves, natural clove, red fruit and of course lava ash. Give this some hours and you are rewarded with a complex and graceful perfume slowly carrying beautiful red flowers. A lavish, captivating and quite intense nose of grace. Wow!!

Spice infused and clean red fruit coated in intense lava minerals. Mostly genuine, ripe and tasty strawberries, but also salmiak. Slender body, well balanced, focused and elegantly dressed wine with smooth and pliant texture of juvenile, but ripe tannins. Certainly my type of wine and a steal for the money! This is definitely a producer to drink more of and is immediately my house-wine. (Tasted 9/2-2017)

94p

 

A very price-worthy 2015 Chilean pinot from Casablanca valley

The grapes collected for this wine grows on the pacific hillside in the Casablanca valley, Chile, 100 km north-west of the capital Santiago. The breeze from the sea renders a preferable long ripening cycle with good balance of fruit, tannins and acidity. 40% of the juice is raised in french new oak for 6 months. It is a family business and the wine maker is the son of Thierry Villard, Jean-Charles.

2015 Villard expresion reserve pinot noir “Casablanca Valley”

Interesting nose of rowan berries, cranberries, chalky gravel dust and dog rose. On the palate, earthy, ripe and creamy strawberries, notes of apricot and cranberries. It has some complexity, but its balance, pliancy and generous fruit is what stands out. It is very good wine made with finesse, especially considering its remarkably low price tag and certainly something special. (Tasted 4/2-2017)

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A Rioja with less American vanilla pudding

Yes, and certainly very surprising, I stumbled upon a flirtatious Rioja recently at the Swedish monopoly that as it turns out is not the usual kind with insanely high level of toasted new American oak that normally is like putting all the fruit into really thick and creamy vanilla ment for sweet desserts. It is a quite new French producer, Tom Puyaubert, who is also a barrel binder from Bordeaux. He uses 30% whole clusters, conducts cold soak before a long 21-days extraction on the skins. The juice is then raised in 30% new oak (80% French, 20% American) but not the traditional 100% American one only with an abundance of vanilla flavours and cola notes. However, Tom is using well toasted oak barrels as he believes it is a “purifying” treatment of new oak. Fruit is the expected tempranillo (80%) for complexity and the rest the classic graciano for ageing and garnacha (grenache) for structure. Grapes are bush-grown in clay and limestone soil at an elevation of 500 m above sea-level from vines planted in 1980, whereas the other two origin from Rioja Alta planted mostly between 1950-1960.

2014 Rioja Horizonte, Bodegas de Exopto

Glowingly and a translucent mix of red purple and ruby red core colour with light pink edges.

Yes, there is obvious oak on the nose and the flavours are certainly elevated by it, but it is not taking over completely and there is a lot of cocos and mint too. In addition, after a while a perfume of mineral-coated under vegetation, complex smoke, distinct eucalyptus and herbs appear.

The fruit is in the back currently covered in thick oak powder, but the pleasant abundance of black currants and black cherries slips through anyway, fortunately. Yet I’d certainly (as anyone trust me) like much, much less toasted oak, the wine is generous, sharp but smooth, energetically fresh, it is certainly intense and built with finesse and elegance. Yes the oak addition is too much and way too well toasted, but but.. for some strange and unholy reason, it gets away with it only by the way of its charm, finesse, precision and in its evil flirtation. It is a remarkable achievement especially considering its price tag. Ensure to give it at least 2-3 hours of decanting in 18 degrees Celsius. Since high toasting levels is Tom’s belief, let’s hope he will cut down even further on the amount of oak in the future, because it will be beneficial for such a good balanced wine. (tasted 3/2-2017)

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An interesting priorat from very old vines with balance and finesse

We keep exploring the interesting and dynamic Priorat region west of Barcelona with its special soil of slate (“Ilicorella” in Catalan) and quartz. This wine is made of 100% Carignan/Cariñena from bushes in steep terraces with most vines planted in 1939. The wine maker José Mas Barberà ferments the grapes in 300 L amphora vats and 500 L neutral oak barrels. However, it is raised in barriques made of dense Allier wood. José prefers freshness over ripeness so he harvest early and uses whole bunches.

2013 Priorat “Clos Cypres”, Costers del Priorat

The colour is beautiful with glowingly red purple core and pink-cerise edges.

The nose is initially perceived as subtle and closed, but after a lot of airing (half a day, actually) it finally and fortunately wakes up. Initially oak powder, but thankfully diminishes with airing. Then it emerges slowly as complex, sharply focused with a wonderful and graceful perfume of dried flowers, fresh mint, bay leaves, crushed stone dust, distinct garrigue notes, ginger, cinnamon and coriander.

On the palate, it is quite rich and packed with dark- and pure black fruit infused with a combo of herbs, savoury notes, deep minerals and an abundance of spices framed by thick, chewy but currently youthful tannins. The depth here is as expected from such old vines and it is certainly a slender and freshly perfumed beauty that impressively and with confidence is balancing her long and elegant catwalk to the finish line. Yet, balance, freshness and finesse is the main impression. The absolute only backside is its oak addition and I would like them not to use any new oak at all, since the terroir is too interesting and everything else is so great. A guess is to keep it for a few more years yet to let the tannins improve some. (Tasted 19/1-2017)

93-94p/100

 

Tasting of DuMOL 2014

I attended a mini tasting of the DuMOL wines in November, which gave a good introduction to their wine. It was the 2014 vintage that was on display, a vintage where winemaker Andy Smith Is very pleased with the results.

My impressions after the tasting is that this is a producer with a high lowest level. All wines showed a god balance and the most common denominator was a fresh and energetic acidity.

At the end of the tasting my favorites where the “Isobel” Chardonnay and the “Ryan” Pinot Noir.

2014 DuMol Russian River Valley Chardonnay

This is a rather forward Chardonnay with lively but broad acidity, an abundance of ripe dense tropical fruit and some notes of oak. The denseness in the fruit is lower on the palate than on the nose. The finish is dominated by acidity but there is also an ever so slight bitterness.

DuMOL Isobel 20142013 DuMol “Isobel” Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

A very generous wine with layered fruit, where stone fruit dominate, on the nose but also a waxiness and some herbal notes to give a freshness. The acidity is mouthwatering and well integrated with the wine. There is almost a sweet touch on the palate of the wine.

2014 DuMol Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

A rather dense nose with both black and red fruit with a fresh expression. On the palate a precise and energetic acidity take the front seat and the red fruit dominates the black. This is a good wine characterized by fruit and a fresh acidity.

2014 DuMol “Ryan” Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot NoirDuMOL Ryan

Complex nose with bright red fruit but also dense blueberries and marzipan. Great acidity on the mid palate but unfortunately with a slight slight bitterness in the finish. Some herbal notes also appear on the palate. Need some time to integrate but this is a good Pinot Noir.

2014 DuMol Russian River Valley Syrah

I find the wine light for at Syrah both on nose and palate but there is no lack of fruit, where the red fruit dominate. I would have preferred some more nuances and perhaps an earthiness for a more complex expression. Still this is a quality wine with good energetic acidity.

 

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