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Orogeny ... and Oak

Green Valley has been one of my favorite sub-appellations of the Russian River Valley AVA. It's the coolest of the RR sub appellations, and often blanketed in fog. This is California, of course, so the heat is always a factor, and while these Pinots are very California in style, those very cool (read: cold) nights and mornings temper the grapes from being overblown. The winemakers of the region tend to be extremely passionate and meticulous about Pinot Noir in particular.

A lovely and generous friend of mine gave me a fine bottle of Green Valley Pinot for my birthday last year, the Orogeny 2007, and I finally got around to popping it. It's a serious and delicious wine, particularly for the price (usually ~$35), and I very much enjoyed how it developed over the course of a couple hours. This wine displays some of at I would expect from Russian River, and in particular, Green Valley, Pinot -- really nice floral and spice aromatics, and on the palate cola, tart cherry, exotic spice, and I also tasted some orange rind with a little bit of not-unpleasant bitterness in the finish.

Also, there's the oak...

And herein lies the rub - although the oak has started to integrate into some nice cedar flavors and aromas, it is still a bit too pronounced for me. As time has gone by, my palate has begun to tire of new oak flavors, particularly, of course, new, vanilla-y, toasted French oak. And this wine (and I'd say this is true for most, if not all, California Pinots) has a fairly balanced but still definitely pronounced oak. And balanced or not, does it even need to be there? And I cannot help but wonder what the expression of this wine would be without all that oak -- maybe using less new and more older oak would let these wines really shine in a more traditionally Burgundian way (which I would see as a positive). Is the oak truly making this wine better, or is it just catering to the New World palate? 

Although most Burgundy producers also use new toasted French oak in the aging process, I almost never detect it in such a heavy way as I do with California Pinots -- and when I do, I'm not so -- ahem -- stoked: it usually means it's of a "modern style", which is a euphemism for "New World", which is a euphemism for "big fruit and toasty oak". And this is despite the fact that generally, the better the Burgundy, the heavier they lean on new oak. All the (admittedly too few!) Grand Crus I have tried have had far less detectible, or at the very least far more integrated oak than what I typically find in even the best California Pinots. I suspect the use of new oak is far more judicious in most of Burgundy. Or perhaps it's a question of just how much the wood is toasted...or which forest the wood comes from... or how fine the grain... I'm not sure the exact "why" of it -- but the nose knows.

The thing is, while I clearly no expert of the Russian River AVA, I really don't know of any RR Pinot producers who don't have a fairly heavy hand with their oak. Even William Selyem wines, for instance, usually age in ~70% new french oak. And Orogeny's website states they use 40% (by contrast, one of my favorite Oregon producers, Domaine Drouhin (which, since the family is actually from Burgundy, takes a more French approach) generally uses at most 20%. I still do really like those Russian River Pinots (sometimes they're even brilliant), and I still heartily recommend Orogeny -- but I'd really like to see what these great winemakers could produce without toasting it up so much. Unfortunately, I've seen no sign of Russian River aiming for less oakiness. But a guy can dream.

I'd love some comments here, particularly if you know of any RR Pinot makers who are less heavy handed handed with the wood


2008 Collezione De Marchi Chardonnay

The De Marchi family's estate was one of the first major vineyards to plant and produce a very successful Chardonnay in Italy. The man now in charge, Paolo De Marchi, has really brought great success to his family name with his respected Isolo e Oleno label. Paolo considers Piedmont his heart's home, but the vineyards and winery are in Tuscany -- so, I'd call that Piedmont heart with a Tuscan soul -- and that alone made me want to try his juice.

I've had a bottle of 2008 Collezione De Marchi Chardonnay for some time now, but finally got a chance to pop it. What a wonderous wine. The beautiful nose is lightly floral, with pear, apricot, muscat, and wet stone. The first taste brings racing acidity, followed by lovely tropical fruit, as well as that aforementioned wet stone. Very well balanced. And don't get me started on the finish, which literally went on over a minute, finishing with a lingering of kaffir lime.

As the night, and the wine, progressed, quite a bit more oak shone through, which was not initially as prevalent. This brought out more new-world Chard flavors for sure, but was not too at all overpowering. Soon after the oak started asserting itself more, I got a pleasant bit of petrol coming through, similar to what I sometimes find in Grenache Blancs.

I Loved this wine -- it's straddling some line between old and new world Chardonnay. What's say you and me buy up a bunch of vintages and have a vertical -- deal? Deal.

Grape Expectations out of Richmond CA (where else?) is the importer. Snag it!


2005 Casirano Rosso Conero

There is a jewel of a $20 bottle of wine I'm feeling the need to share about. The 2005 Casirano Rosso Conero from Conte Leopardi is one of those big-bang for the buck wines I love stumbling upon. It's like when the IRS sends you a letter saying you made a mistake on your return and they owe YOU money. Drinking this wine makes you feel like you're living it up on the cheap. But there's more to this story than just the wine itself.

I found this wonderful, versatile wine over at the new Italian-only wine store, Enoteca Vino Nostro in San Francisco (Van Ness near Pine). The store is owned by Amanzio Tamanti and his wife (if I were a better blogger, I'd have her name handy here for you, but check back in a week, I will), and the stores stock is comprised of the portfolio of Amanzio's import company, Tosco Wines. Avoiding the middleman (the distributor) allows the store to have excellent prices, but prices alone are no reason to lend your patronage to any store. But he Tamanti's have that secret weapon we all look for in a wine store: a personal relationship with all their wines. These folks have personal relationships with all of the winemakers represented in their elegant little store.

Think of it this way -- you know your favorite little winery you love to visit and turn people on to, the one with very limited production, but just knock-your-socks off good quality wines nobody knows about? Yeah, well, the Tamantis have their own favorite little wineries like that, but in Italy, and they're friends with the winemakers, and they have brought these wonderful bottles to you, dear friends, right here in San Francisco.

So... on my first trip to Enoteca Vino Nostro, I was lucky enough to taste a few wines, and I must say I was most impressed with the fact that each wine I tasted was not only completely engagingly delicious, but entirely (and I am not overusing the word "entirely" here) different from one another. I want to try every wine in the store. Man oh man.

Anyway, hopefully you are intrigued enough to visit the store, but here on Vinoradio, let's get back to the Casirano. 

The nose has some dark stone fruit, a bright whiff of blackberry somewhere in the upper reaches, a hint of anise, and even a bit of savory meat (approaching bacon but not so smoky). The palate is well balanced with acid, luscious cherry and plum, and a touch of spice. Both the nose and the palate of the wine has just the faintest bit a funk - honestly, it's probably not enough to be noticeable if you don't like that kind of thing, but for those of us who loves us some funky goodness, it can indeed be detected if you are rooting for it. This wine will pare well with meats and cheese, but is great on its own, as I can attest to at this very moment. The Casirano is 85% Montepulciano, blended with 8% Syrah, and 7% Cabernet Savignon. Enjoy the 2005 right now if you can. It's drinking great. And rocking my world. And it's a bargain at $20. Stoked!

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