Terroir Seminar/SantaFe Wine&Chile Fiesta 2008:
This year's most interesting was one on terroir. Moderated by recent/controversial author Alice, the panel was NealRosenthal/Importer, RobertHaas/TablasCreek, and the irrepressible RandallGrahm. The tasting was of 8 wines and the audience was to judge whether the wine in the glass exhibited terroir.
My initial fear that the panel would devolve into a promotion of Alice's book; one that I find one of the most self-indulgent, whiney, bitchey books I ever done read. With her short self-involved pimping of her book at the start and letting us know that RP had labeled her a "terroirist-juhadist"; fortunately Alice did not intrude to the degree I feared and mostly let the very capable panelists speak their mind.
I must say, she did not come off as God's gift to the wine world. Having just finished Neal Rosenthal's book; I felt he did a far/far better job of conveying much the same message that Alice's book failed to communicate. And, best of all, Neal did it whilst mention RP's name only once in the entire book, and then in a rather innocuous fashion. One of the amusing parts was, during the discussion on replanting in Calif due to phylloxera, she kept referring to "riparian rootstock". I kept scratching my head trying to figure out what the heck she was talking about & was prepared to ask her, when it dawned on me she was talking about "rupestris" rootstock, one of the American species that are used for phylloxera-resistant rootstock. Oh...well. But, by and large, I (and a number of others in the audience) felt that Alice was way in over her head in leading this panel and a pretty laughable panel moderator. Fortunately, there were a few rabble-rousers in the audience w/ provocative questions to keep things stirred up.
One of the more amusing facets of the tasting part of the seminar was the "blind" wine. I immediately leaned over to both seatmates LarryArchibald and JoelButler (director of education for Ch.Ste.Michelle Estates and the US MW program) and remarked "classic Oz Shiraz", what with its jammy blackberry/boysenberry fat/flabby character. Alice then revealed that this was her mystery wine and a "perfect example" of a manufactured/industrial wine that displayed no terroir nor varietal character whatsoever. I was puzzled as it spoke strongly of OzShiraz. She then revealed that it was YellowTail Shiraz. That elicited a lot of guffaws and consternation throughout the room as most everybody pegged it as OzShiraz. So much for making her point of no terroir in industrial wines which she so soundly villifies. Certainly it wasn't an exciting or interesting wine, but its terroir came thru loud and clear.
Actually, the seminar was one of the better ones I've attended at SFW&CF. Most of the time was spent by the panelists discussing the subject and only a little on talking about the wines were had in front of us.
After Alice's brief monologue, she launched the discussion with her "highly perceptive" question: "Do you think Calif wines can display terroir??" Well....doh...if you can't taste terroir in some Calif wines, then you're obviously tasting the wrong wines. You can even taste the SanJoaquin terroir in 2$Chuck if you look hard enough. I think all the panelists were in very strong agreement that, of course, Calif wines can display terroir. RobertHaas recounted how he & the Perrins had searched far&wide throughout Calif looking for a unique area they hoped would make terroir-driven wines afore the settled on the very calcerous soil that makes up the TablasCreek vnyd.
One of the panelists (forget which one, believe it was Neal) described/defined terroir as a unique convergence of: soil/climate/variety. The inclusion of variety is something I'd not heard of before. Neal emphasized the association of terroir in wine with traditional practices; variety and winemaking. The inclusion of winemaking as a contributing factor in terroir was a totally new concept to me...not sure if I can agree with that idea or not. He illustrated his point by the Chardonnay (see notes below) that was made in a rather oxidative style. He asserted that this oxidative style was a traditional part of the Jura terrior. Hmmmmm....that's one I gotta think about a bit. By Neal's definition, the only terroir one would get in Priorat wines would be in their rancios, a genre that has been pretty much driven into extinction by the huge scores today's Priorat wines receive. But, to me, these wines display a very distinct terroir character.
But, to me, there was one really important point to come out of this seminar and it came
from Randall. He served his '06 Albarino (with the sensitive crystallization pattern depicted on the label). This came from some 6 different CentralCoast vnyds, from Monterey down to SantaBarbara I believe. Could such a wine show terroir?? Most people would assert not, since it doesn't come from a single vnyd. Randall then went on to reveal that the wine was served not because it displayed terroir, but because it displayed "minerality", something that he very much seeks in his wines. He achieves this by his vnyd practices and his winemaking practices...which maybe ties in with Neal's take on terroir as including traditional winemaking. Now I am hopelessly confused by this terroir concept. When I find that sort of minerality in a wine, I immediately attribute it to terroir. But, what the hey...maybe it's just simply minerality and not terroir. Yoikes...I'm so clueless.
So...onto the wines we tasted:
1. Blind wine/YellowTail SouthAustralia Shiraz '??: Loads of very ripe blackberry/boysenberry Shiraz slight licorice nose; soft/fat no structure big/ripe/jammy boysenberry fruit flavor w/ no structure/tannins or interest; fat goopy blackberry juice.
2. JacquesPuffney Ploussard Arbois/Jura '05: Dark color; rather earthy/dusty slight black cherry fruit very minerally nose; tart rather earthy/dusty very slight licorice/black cherry/ peppery some hard/austere/ lean very minerally flavor; not a lot of fruit but plenty of mineral character; you can see the rough/rustic character of the region in this wine. A classic mountain/Jura red.
3. Domaine Montbourgeau L'Etoile Chardonnay Jura '05: Rather yellow color; somewhat fino sherry/ oxidized some earthy/minerally very complex/exotic nose; very tart/lean/austere some oxidized/fino sherry rather earthy/dusty quite complex flavor; no Chard character that I could identify; much like a fino sherry but rather different; an exotic wine in an oxidative style that most can't appreciate.
4. ChateayPradeaux BandolRouge '02: Very dark color; big pungent licorice slight plummy not particularly classic Mourvedre as I know it rather earthy/smokey very interesting nose; tart big/burly/rough pungent/licorice/smokey rather earthy tannic/structured rather minerally flavor; a big burly wine that needs much age.
5. BonnyDoon Calif Albarino '06: Very perfumed strong minerally bit steely/metallic slight earthy nose; very tart rather spicy very minerally/stoney rather floral/perfumed bit pineapply flavor; lots of that minerally Albarino character that you get in some Spanish versions.
6. BonnyDoon Syrah "LePousseur" '05: Very dark color; quite minerally/earthy some blackberry/Syrah licorice/pungent bit smokey nose; tart bit hard/lean minerally/earthy somewhat licorice/blackberry/Syrah structure some tannic flavor; not your usual CentralCoast Syrah but an earthy & mineral character that make for a very interesting Syrah; some like the AltoAdige Syrahs I've had but w/o the roasted character.
7. TablasCreek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc PasoRobles (Roussanne/GrenacheBlanc/ Marsanne) '06: Very fragrant/perfumed floral/honeysuckle light oak some stoney/minerally some complex nose; tart rather appley/Marsanne some floral/perfumed somestoney/minerally lovely structured some spicy flavor; lots like SteveEdmunds TablasRoussanne but a bit more
tight and restrained; probably will age for 10+ yrs.
8. TablasCreek Esprit de Beaucastel Rouge PasoRobles '06: Some earthy/dusty rather blackberry/ boysenberry slight toasty/oak slight smokey/plummy/gamey nose; tart big blackberry/plummy/boysenberry light toasty/oak bit stoney/earthy/minerally structure rather tannic bit austere flavor; good complexity and the structure to develop w/ bottle age.