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Entries in California (2)


Calera and the art of the $20 Pinot

I was having a discussion the other day about how the Holy Grail of wine just might be the $20 bottle of California Pinot Noir (well, one that doesn't suck.)

Some of you might know Calera as a producer of several single single vineyard Pinots that are both affordable and delicious. And while some may argue that Calera's wines don't meet the strict (but nebulous) criteria that would define it as 'Natural Wine,' they certainly win some points with me due to their their minimal intervention, low sulphur, preference for organic fruit, and indigenous yeast philosophy of winemaking. This is about as close to 'Natural Wine' as we get here in California, and Calera keeps these standards even for their value-priced cuvée, the Central Coast Pinot Noir.

Each year, Calera vinifies the 'Central Coast' Pinot using fruit sourced from up to 9 different vineyards (and for the record, these are generally highly respected vineyards.) For my money, this is the best $20 bottle of US made Pinot out there, in part because although it is a blend, it feels to me like a terroir driven wine. This lovely stuff is floral, bursting with wild berries, loamy earth, mint, and flowers. There is a hint of oak, but it lurks pleasantly in the background, and, in fact, only 10% of the oak used here is new, thank god. Beyond this kind of description, the true reason I like the Calera Central Coast Pinot is that it's just one of those wines that makes you feel unexpectedly giddy -- and really, what more need one ask from a bottle of wine?  

I like this wine so much that I was really disappointed to see that Robert Parker gave it a 92 score -- I don't want to see a run on this wine, or see the price go up. (Wait, I thought he was getting out of California?!? Leave already, dude.) But I digress.

I bought a few bottles at Premier Cru, but I'm not curently seeing it on their site. Fortunately, K&L comes to the rescue with plenty of them in stock for $19.99.

PS - This is another bottle with that lovely glass VinoSeal enclosure (istead of cork.) Love those.


The Wild Purity of La Clarine Farm 2009 Mourvedre

Recently, I had the pleasure of trying my first La Clarine Farm wine, the 2009 Mourvedre. This is the kind of wine that makes you want to sit down, light a candle, and write a haiku by the flickering light. It makes you want to invite friends over to wax poetic with you. It puts odd thoughts in your head that will undoubtedly sound downright stoner-philosophy-silly the next day, but feel unbelievably important in the moment, like, "Man, I only want to drink authentic wine, from now on."

This is not a typo, nor is it hippy dribble: La Clarine is Natural Wine from the Sierra Foothills of California. (Btw, I'm allowed to say "hippy dribble" cuz I'm a recovering hippy.) We'll save a full discussion of Natural Wine for a future post, but for now here is a brief treatise: think of the ideal of producing a wine with only one ingredient -- grapes. That is the aspiration of most natural winemakers, and it is not as easy as it might sound. Natural winemakers grow their grapes organically, and often biodynamically, but further, they generally let the fermentation happen spontaneously, using only the indigenous yeast found naturally on the grapes; moreover, the wine is given no additives. Often, natural winemakers even shun the use of new oak (as La Clarine does) in order to truly let the grapes express themselves. Thus, natural wine afficionados find that these wines, when done well, often express a purity and sense of place much more readily than other wines. And though there are not too many American wineries embracing the natural wine ethos, there are some, and La Clarine Farm is one that happens to be doing a fantastic job of it.

The La Clarine 2009 Mourvedre is a conundrum -- it's wild and wooly, yet balanced and nuanced. I found the nose to have a really nice floral character along with red berries, a bit of cola, and minerality. On tasting this lively wine, I found it to have some hedonistic red fruit, a racing acidity, as well as orange peel, sage and lavender. And there's a little something there which actually reminds me of some of the natural Cru Beaujolais I have tried: although the varietal and character is quite different here, there's an unadulterated, earthy freshness that I find quite addicting, and there's also that lovely, floral nose. (Fun fact for your friends: Beaujoais is the birthplace of the natural wine movement.) 

Find the La Clarine 2009 Mourvedre for $22 at Arlequin in San Francisco, or online for $23. A great wine for the price, and a wonderful introduction to natural wine. And for a nice bonus, this was my first wine that uses the Vino-Seal glass enclosure instead of a cork. Aside from being quite effective (no cork taint!), it looks stunning, and will be a great conversation starter at the dinner table.