Merlot as It Should Be

Today’s Story: Enfield Wine Co.

Enfield Wine Co. is a relatively small family-owned and operated winery established by John Lockwood and Amy Seese in 2010. John started working in the wine industry in 2004 at Heron Lake Vineyard, followed by harvests at Littorai, Bodega Melipal in Argentina, and Failla Wines. John remained with Failla for five years managing and farming their Sonoma Coast and Russian River estate vineyards, ultimately starting Enfield as a small passion project. In 2013, John left Failla and devoted his time entirely to Enfield.

Enfield focuses primarily on terroir as a starting point, working with small independent growers across a range of regions to source their fruit. John and Amy purchase fruit from Antle Vineyard and Brosseau Vineyard in the Chalone AVA, Haynes Vineyard in Coombsville, Heron Lake Vineyard in Wild Horse Valley, Jesus & Patricia’s Vineyard in Fort Ross-Seaview, and Shake Ridge Vineyard in Amador County. From these sites they acquire a range of varieties including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo amongst others, all with varying vine age as well. John’s philosophy is to harvest his fruit for balance and ferment the wines naturally in order to showcase each unique terroir, eschewing a heavy-handed winemaking style. The wines are often fresh, lively, and mineral-driven, though John does enjoy exploring esoteric bottlings as well.

I previously wrote about the 2019 Jurassic Park Vineyard Chenin Blanc from Enfield.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Michael Black Vineyard Merlot

100% Merlot; 13.9% ABV

The 2018 Michael Black Vineyard Merlot is deep ruby in color with deep purple hues in the bowl of the glass. I decanted this for 2.5 hours due to its youth, which seemed perfect. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with a rather complex nose showcasing notes of black plum, blackberry, blueberry, violet, licorice, cigar box, clay, dried green herbs, baking spice, and cocoa. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium (+) intensity and the palate displays notes of blackberry, blueberry, black raspberry, black cherry, sweet tobacco, cedar spill, crushed rock, and eucalyptus. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) but fine-grained tannins, medium (+) alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $45. I think this offers rather strong value, and it’s a fantastic representation of the Merlot variety. This is very well-balanced, offering great depth and length as well all while being rather young. For those wine drinkers who don’t like Merlot, I’d suggest giving it another shot with this bottling.

Terroir Driven Pinot From the Sta. Rita Hills

Today’s Story: Tyler Winery

Tyler Winery is a relatively small winery and estate established by Justin Tyler Willett in 2005. At the time, Justin was assistant winemaker at Arcadian Winery and honed his craft with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay while maintaining several barrels in the corner of the cellar that ultimately became Tyler. Tyler Winery sources all of their fruit from Santa Barbara County, with major emphasis in the Sta. Rita Hills and more recently the Santa Maria Valley as well. Within the Sta. Rita Hills, Justin sources from acclaimed sites including Bentrock, La Encantada, La Rinconada, Sanford & Benedict, and Zotovich Family. In the Santa Maria Valley, Justin sources from Dierberg and the highly-regarded Bien Nacido Vineyard. In the past few years, Justin and his wife Amanda also purchased their first estate vineyard, named Mae Estate Vineyard, in the Sta. Rita Hills. In 2017, they planted 28 acres to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah which were transplanted from vine materials sourced from trusting partners in 2015. The 2019 vintage marks the first from this estate site.

On the winemaking side, all vineyards practice organic viticulture and fruit is harvested by hand during the night. Hand-sorting occurs at the winery, then native yeast fermentation begins for both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in large oak vats. Wines are barreled down once dry, and new oak usage varies by variety, block, vine age, and vintage though the preference seems to go toward neutral oak. After a year or so in barrel, the wines are racked, blended, and returned to barrel for several more months. When ready, the wines are usually bottled unfined and unfiltered with the end result meant to showcase the unique terroir of each vineyard site or the appellation as a whole.

To learn or explore Tyler further, check out their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.2% ABV

The 2019 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir is pale ruby in color. I let this open up for 45 minutes to an hour in the glass and it really blossoms. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of black cherry, stemmy strawberry, licorice, new leather, game, gravel, damp earth, thyme, and some oaky spice. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium (+) intensity, incorporating notes of tart cherry, black raspberry, spiced plum, rose, sweet tobacco, cured meat, crushed rock, charred green herbs, and mild baking spice. This dry red is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $38 from the winery (I found it for $34 retail). I find this to be a rather solid value for domestic Pinot Noir, especially if you can find it closer to the $30 mark which seems reasonable with some searching. The wine is a very good expression of the Sta. Rita Hills, with balance, length, intensity, and complexity to match (and at such a young age).

Gorgeous Sonoma Coast Syrah

Today’s Story: Pax Mahle Wines

Pax Mahle Wines was established in 2000 by Pax and Pam Mahle with a focus on Syrah and more “esoteric” varieties that can thrive in the cooler climate vineyards of Sonoma County and Mendocino. Pax and Pam moved to California wine country in 1997, though after a few years with Dean & DeLuca sourcing wines Pax decided he wanted to move into the production side of the wine business. Though Pax quickly rose to stardom producing Rhône variety wines (namely his Syrah), he expanded into working with Trousseau Gris, Chenin Blanc, Gamay Noir, and Mission with similar success. Pax farms his vineyards eschewing the use of chemicals and crushes his fruit by hand and foot as part of his minimal intervention philosophy. Pax only uses natural yeasts during fermentation and sulfur is added as minimally as required for stabilization only. Thanks to the high quality vineyard sites and his winemaking philosophy, Pax’s wines are magnificent representations of the varieties and terroir from which they come.

I previously wrote about the 2017 Sonoma Hillsides Syrah from Pax.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Griffin’s Lair Syrah

100% Syrah; 13.2% ABV

The 2016 Griffin’s Lair Syrah is deep ruby in color but with deep purple hues in the bowl of the glass. I let this open up in the glass for about an hour, though I think decanting is the proper move. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of blueberry, blackberry, plum, violets, pine, cracked pepper, iron, and crushed rock. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium (+) intensity and the palate displays notes of blueberry, black plum, black cherry, sweet tobacco, mild smoke, cracked green peppercorn, charred green herbs, and chalk. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but fine-grained tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Very good quality, though I think patience will be further rewarded by cellaring this bottling.

Price: $60 (I found it for $50). I think this is somewhere between the fairly-priced and good value status, especially if you find it for around $50 like I did. There’s a great Old World charm to this wine, while the complexity and intensity are quite solid. It is still rather youthful though, so decant this or give it a couple more years.

Young but Promising Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Liquid Farm

Liquid Farm is a Chardonnay-focused winery established in 2009 in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA of Santa Barbara County, California. Founded by Jeff and Nikki Nelson, Liquid Farm started with four barrels of wine and the dream to produce Old World style Chardonnay while supporting local viticulture. Two of these first four barrels showcased a more mineral-driven profile that reminded Jeff and Nikki of Chablis so they named it White Hill after the white chalky hills of Chablis. The other two barrels showcased warmer tones and fuller profiles reminiscent of Meursault, so they named that wine Golden Slope after the Côte d’Or. Though Liquid Farm expanded their portfolio over time, they still focus on four Chardonnay bottlings as well as a rosé and small amounts of Pinot Noir.

Sticking to their love of terroir-driven wines, the winemaking philosophy at Liquid Farm is rather hands-off. Under the guide of winemaker James Sparks, winemaking follows the path of minimal intervention from manual harvest through to native yeast fermentation and aging in neutral oak barrels. The team makes no machine adjustments or additions to the wine in order to preserve a sense of place and true-to-variety profile, ultimately even letting the wines go through malolactic fermentation naturally. Given the cool climate of Sta. Rita Hills, these wines are often bottled with higher natural acidity and lower alcohol which makes them perfect table wines for anyone who appreciates the style and an expression of terroir.

I previously reviewed the 2016 Golden Slope Chardonnay from Liquid Farm. You can also check out their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2019 SBC Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV

The 2019 SBC Pinot Noir is pale ruby in color. Due to the wine’s youth, I let this open up in the glass for about 45 minutes and it blossomed more and more as I drank it. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose displaying notes of ripe red cherry, raspberry jam, cranberry, leather, violet, cola, clove, and very faint cedar. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium (+) intensity and the palate showcases notes of black raspberry, strawberry, cherry cola, sweet tobacco, clove, cracked pepper, and a touch of ground herbs. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium length finish. Fruit on this right now is gorgeous, though I’d recommend holding onto this for another year or two and I wager you’ll be rewarded as everything comes together.

Price: $45 (I found it for $40). I think this is pretty fairly-priced, particularly closer to the $40 level and with many stores selling this for $50. It’s a bit richer than I was expecting, though I think some of this can be attributed to youth and the wine should integrate well over the years to come. High quality is there, and this does a solid job of representing Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir.

California Rosé of a Unique Blend

Today’s Story: Arnot-Roberts

Arnot-Roberts is a boutique winery established in 2001 by Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts, two childhood friends who grew up together in Napa Valley. After college, Nathan started working with his father as a cooper of oak wine barrels while Duncan pursued winemaking throughout Napa and Sonoma counties. Arnot-Roberts began with a single barrel of wine the duo produced in their basement and over time grew through the purchase of fruit from renowned vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, El Dorado, and Amador counties as well as the Santa Cruz Mountains. When selecting vineyards, Arnot-Roberts makes sure the farmers are both “passionate and conscientious” because their goal is to produce small quantities of honest, terroir-driven, and single-vineyard wines which truly express their unique place. The winemaking style is a mix of Old World and New World, with use of indigenous fermentation, little or no new oak, and often whole cluster.

I previously reviewed the 2016 Que Syrah Vineyard, 2018 North Coast Trousseau, 2018 Watson Ranch Chardonnay, and 2016 Vare Vineyard Ribolla Gialla from Arnot-Roberts.

Today’s Wine: 2020 Rosé

68% Touriga Nacional, 16% Gamay Noir, 11% Cabernet Franc, 5% Grenache; 11% ABV

The 2020 Rosé is pale copper in color with hues of pale salmon. The nose seems somewhat muted and aromas are of medium (-) intensity, showcasing notes of cantaloupe, white strawberry, raspberry, bubble gum, cured meat, and chalky mineral. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of white cherry, raspberry, watermelon, orange rind, bubble gum, and saline. This dry rosé is light- to medium-bodied with medium acidity, low alcohol, and a medium-length finish. Fun to try given the blend, but this is lacking in intensity and length I was hoping for.

Price: $30 (but you should be able to find this around $25 in some locations). I can’t call this wine a good value, especially since I paid slightly more than the average $30 price-tag online. It’s lacking in intensity, complexity, and length which is somewhat disappointing given the Arnot-Roberts wines I’ve enjoyed in the past. Having enjoyed the Triennes rosé the other day at half the price, I find this a tough sell for me personally albeit it’s fun to try nonetheless given the blend.

Terroir-Driven Pinot Noir Born From an American and French Collaboration

Today’s Story: Racines Wine

Racines Wine is a collaboration between Santa Barbara winemaker Justin Willett (Tyler Winery and Lieu Dit) and French vignerons Étienne de Montille (Domaine de Montille in Burgundy) and Rodolphe Péters (Pierre Péters Champagne). In 2016, Étienne and his Chef de Cave, Brian Sieve, took an exploratory journey to California and Oregon in pursuit of their first winemaking venture outside of Burgundy, ultimately settling on the Sta. Rita Hills of California with Justin as their winemaker. A year later, Rodolphe joined the team to provide insight into Chardonnay and sparkling wine production, with the sparkling wine set for release in the near future.

As one might expect, the winemaking philosophy at Racines meshes well amongst all parties as they come from backgrounds of producing terroir-driven and elegant Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. What’s more, they’re not trying to make something “Old World” or “Burgundian” per say, but rather simply showcasing the unique characteristics of the Sta. Rita Hills which has proven to be a rather high-quality AVA for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. All this being said, Racines’ Pinot Noir is fermented whole-cluster with pigéage throughout, while the Chardonnay production follows closely with the traditions of Burgundy and Champagne.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Sta. Rita Hills Cuvée Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.5% ABV

The 2017 Sta. Rita Hills Cuvée Pinot Noir is medium ruby in color. I poured my glass and forgot about it for an hour or so, which this wine needs at its youthful stage. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the rather complex nose showcasing notes of black cherry, red plum, muddled strawberry, leather, violet, pine, cola, cinnamon, chopped green herbs, and wet gravel. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium (+) intensity and the palate displays notes of red cherry, black raspberry, strawberry, blood orange rind, sweet tobacco, licorice, violet, chalk, and crushed rock. This dry red is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, medium (+) alcohol, and a long finish. Pretty well-balanced and I love the layers upon layers to this wine that surface over time.

Price: $60 (I paid $48). I don’t know if I can necessarily go as far as calling this a screaming value (because there are a plethora of Pinot Noir options for half the price that drink incredibly well), but there is no denying the intensity, complexity, and length to this wine are all worthy to note. This is a gorgeous wine now, though I’m excited to see what a few more years of bottle age will accomplish.

Lively, Precise, and Mineral-Driven Chenin Blanc

Today’s Story: Enfield Wine Co.

Enfield Wine Co. is a relatively small family-owned and operated winery established by John Lockwood and Amy Seese in 2010. John started working in the wine industry in 2004 at Heron Lake Vineyard, followed by harvests at Littorai, Bodega Melipal in Argentina, and Failla Wines. John remained with Failla for five years managing and farming their Sonoma Coast and Russian River estate vineyards, ultimately starting Enfield as a small passion project. In 2013, John left Failla and devoted his time entirely to Enfield.

Enfield focuses primarily on terroir as a starting point, working with small independent growers across a range of regions to source their fruit. John and Amy purchase fruit from Antle Vineyard and Brosseau Vineyard in the Chalone AVA, Haynes Vineyard in Coombsville, Heron Lake Vineyard in Wild Horse Valley, Jesus & Patricia’s Vineyard in Fort Ross-Seaview, and Shake Ridge Vineyard in Amador County. From these sites they acquire a range of varieties including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo amongst others, all with varying vine age as well. John’s philosophy is to harvest his fruit for balance and ferment the wines naturally in order to showcase each unique terroir, eschewing a heavy-handed winemaking style. The wines are often fresh, lively, and mineral-driven, though John does enjoy exploring esoteric bottlings as well.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Jurassic Park Vineyard Chenin Blanc

100% Chenin Blanc; 12% ABV

The 2019 Jurassic Park Vineyard Chenin Blanc is pale gold in color. Given some time to blossom in the glass, the aromas are of pronounced intensity and the nose showcases notes of ripe yellow apple, pear, lemon zest, honeysuckle, ginger, flint, oyster shell, and saline. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium (+) intensity, and the palate displays notes of nectarine, white peach, yellow apple, honey, chamomile, crushed stone, and sea salt. This dry white is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol, and a long finish. A very precise and well-balanced Chenin Blanc.

Price: $35. I think this is well-priced for how balanced, complex, and intense the wine is. Nothing sticks out of place here and this is a very solid representation of Chenin Blanc. Though it’s more expensive than the previous Jurassic Park Chenin Blanc I had, the intensity and quality level of this wine justify it.

Strong Value Grenache From a Relatively New Californian Producer

Today’s Story: Newfound Wines

Newfound Wines is a family-owned and operated wine estate established by Matt and Audra Naumann in 2016. With backgrounds in the wine industry and a shared passion for agriculture, they established Newfound Wines as a 40 acre ranch, vineyard, and winery in the Sierra Foothills of California. In addition to their estate High View Vineyard which needed replanting in 2016, Newfound sources fruit from several other sites including Cemetery Vineyard and Colombini Vineyard in Mendocino County, Enz Vineyard in the Lime Kiln Valley, Scaggs Vineyard and Yount Mill Vineyard in the Napa Valley, and Shake Ridge Vineyard in the Sierra Foothills. They focus on the varieties of Grenache, Carignane, Mourvèdre, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Semillon with an emphasis on organic viticulture as well as minimal intervention winemaking in an effort to showcase each variety and terroir as purely as possible.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Grenache Gravels

100% Grenache; 13.9% ABV

The 2018 Grenache Gravels is medium ruby in color and I let this open up for about 30-45 minutes in the glass before I started drinking it. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of muddled strawberry, black raspberry, cherry, red plum, leather, dried green herbs, mint, and crushed rock. Meanwhile the palate displays notes of raspberry, tart cherry, blackberry, licorice, red rose, chalk, and cracked pepper with prominent mineral undertones. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) and grippy tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Fruit is sourced from 85% Cemetery Vineyard in Mendocino County, 10% Scaggs Vineyard in Napa Valley, and 5% Yount Mill Vineyard in Napa Valley.

Price: $30. I think this offers very solid value for the price, as the depth is rather impressive at this stage and quality is certainly very high for an “entry” bottling. Though the tannins are slightly out of balance at this stage, I think they will resolve with another year or two and you’ll be left with a wine striking well above its price-point.

Fun and Unique “Nighttime” Rosé

Today’s Story: Las Jaras Wines

Las Jaras Wines was founded in 2014 by winemaker Joel Burt and Hollywood comedian/director Eric Wareheim. Joel Burt, a winemaker at Domaine Chandon, was growing tired of making wines in a cookie-cutter, corporate, and mass-produced manner when he met Eric and the two realized they shared a passion for fine wine. The duo started planning their own wine label where they could produce wines in homage of “the old days” (think 1970s Napa) and Las Jaras was born. Joel describes their Cabernet “like a Dunn from the 80s, but way more approachable” and each wine in the portfolio is made largely using similar traditional techniques.

To achieve this style of wine, Joel remains very hands-off throughout the winemaking process. Las Jaras sources their fruit from various old vine vineyards, though most comes from Mendocino County. All fruit is hand-harvested and each variety goes through separate winemaking processes, all being hand-sorted at the crusher. Though each variety is vinified differently to best express that variety’s unique character, the long story short here is that Joel doesn’t add sulfur, the wines ferment with only natural yeasts, and bottling is accomplished with no fining or filtration.

I previously reviewed the 2018 Sweet Berry Wine from Las Jaras.

Today’s Wine: 2020 Superbloom Cuvée Zero Zero

27% Marsanne, 16% Roussanne, 16% Grenache Noir, 14% Mourvèdre, 10% Grenache Blanc, 10% Carignan, 7% Picpoul Blanc; 10.9% ABV

The 2020 Superbloom is deep salmon in color with pinkish hues, and it’s slightly hazy. This needed about 30 minutes to open in the glass, as there were some funky aromas that needed to blow off. The aromas are of medium intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of watermelon, grapefruit, white cherry, strawberry, white rose, and saline. Meanwhile the palate displays notes of raspberry, strawberry, candied watermelon, mild white pepper, and stony mineral. This dry rosé is light-bodied with medium (+) acidity, low alcohol, and a medium (-) length finish. Very chuggable and fun but I wish the finish was a bit longer. 1,500 cases produced.

Price: $27. I sought this wine from my local wine shops for quite some time, and am glad to finally find it since I’m a big fan of Joel and Eric. This is a very fun, chuggable, and interesting rosé made from quite the blend of co-fermented varieties, however I think for the price there are better values out there.

Complex Sonoma Coast Syrah Made in Miniscule Quantities

Today’s Story: Black Trumpet

Black Trumpet is a very, very small wine producer established in 2012 by Sophie Drucker and Garrett Pierce. Born out of their passion for Syrah and the Black Chanterelle Mushroom, Black Trumpet is a one to two barrel (25-50 case) annual production of Syrah from Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. They pick Syrah from some of their favorite organically-farmed sites (today’s 2019 bottling comes from the Charles Heintz Vineyard), and all harvesting is accomplished by hand. Grapes ferment in open-top barrels with partial stem inclusion and wild yeasts, with limited to no sulfur additions throughout the process. Come bottling, the wines are never fined or filtered to preserve both the variety characteristics and the expression of terroir.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Syrah

100% Syrah; 14% ABV

The 2019 Syrah is deep ruby in color and completely opaque. I decanted this for about an hour, as it’s still incredibly youthful. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of blueberry, black plum, blackberry, anise, violets, mild smoke, cured meat, and cracked pepper. Flavors are also of medium (+) intensity and the palate displays notes of blackberry, blueberry, licorice, bacon fat, charred green herbs, clove, black pepper, and chocolate. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. 1-2 barrels (25-50 cases) produced each vintage.

Price: $35. I think this is very reasonably-priced given both the quality level and miniscule production numbers. In its youth, this is already very well-balanced with solid complexity and intensity. This also gives off a very Northern Rhône vibe while still showcasing the Californian fruit which I think can prove attractive for both Old and New World palates.