Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Wines I'm Drinking: Calera Tasting at Wine Spectrum

Went to a fun tasting of Calera wines at Wine Spectrum Bar and Shop, in Santa Rosa tonight, very pleasantly hosted by Calera sales manager Marta Rich, who even thought to bring along a few chunks of the famous Mt. Harlan Limestone that underlies the vineyards. She also had tasting notes, articles about the winery, and photos of the place to look at--but the wines occupied most of my attention. Still, it was fun to see that little has changed in the 15 years or so since I visited Calera. I wrote about the winery in Tokyo Wine News when the Calera wines were just becoming well known in Japan (around 1994 maybe?). The set-up was little more than a trailer at the bottom of a hill with a small gravity-powered winery in tiers above the trailer. I remember a number of friendly cats, but, according to Marta, they tend to fall prey to coyotes--a reminder that Calera is one of California's more remote wineries. While new offices have replaced the trailer, everything else looked about the same in the photos.

I tasted the 2007 Viognier, the 2006 Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir, the 2006 Mills Vineyard Pinot Noir, the 2005 Jensen Vineyard Pinot Noir, and the 1997 Reed Vineyard Pinot Noir. 

I didn't get enough of the Viognier to form a clear impression, but it had the usual seductive sweet scents of apricots or peaches, with hints of butter and caramel. Concentrated and tasty, but with a trifle less body than in some of the Calera Viogniers I've tasted in the past, I thought. This last may be an erroneous impression, but it was tasty wine. The scent lingered in the glass for an impressive length of time. 

The Ryan Vineyard Pinot is a newer wine at Calera and one I tasted for the first time. I was impressed. It had a lovely musky nose with hints of clean wool--it reminded me of a good oriental rug shop--and cherries and cola. Light on the palate but not without presence. Delicate but with good structure. A trifle tannic at this early stage, which made it seem a bit austere, but I suspect it will develop very nicely. I look forward to tasting it again in the future. Any top-quality addition to the Calera stable is welcome.

I have enjoyed the Mills Vineyard wines in the past, but the 2006 Mills I tasted was the least interesting of the wines tonight. I took few notes on it. I don't feel I can make any useful comments. A bit of a surprise. Judgement reserved.

The 2005 Jensen was wonderful. It's been a long time since I've tasted the Jensen. It was a delight. More deeply colored than the Ryan or Mills, and more concentrated on the nose. Very impressive and wonderfully delicious to smell, but hard to pin down. After some time in the glass, caramel and oaky scents seemed to predominate, but it kept changing. Nicely balanced on the palate. Good acid, subtle tannins, quite long. Very French in style. Reminded me of a Grands Echezeaux. Kept evolving--getting better and better. Delicious wine. 

Much as I liked the Jensen, the 1997 Reed made it seem almost plain. Simply put, the 1997 Reed is a beautiful wine. It had a wonderful amber-garnet color. Marta pointed out that the Reed tends toward garnet even when young, but this had the look of age to it. Wonderfully honeyed nose. Reminded me of Domaine Dujac wines I've had. On the palate, it was sweet, soft, and supple, but with real presence. Excellent structure, somehow managing to seem both powerful and ethereal. Later acquired citrus and rose scents and hints of chocolate. Lovely delicate tea-like tannins on the long finish. One of those wines that keeps talking to you. I bought a bottle, despite the price. While not cheap, the wine is not outrageously priced, given the quality. In fact, in my view, Calera is one of the better values in California wine. Again, it's not inexpensive, but it's worth the price. What annoys me are the all-too-common California wines that are expensive and not worth the price. 

I was delighted to learn that Calera is now making Aligoté wines. I've always liked well made examples of Burgundy's white underdog. I look forward to the opportunity to taste Calera's version one of these days.

All in all, an enjoyable evening.

Label image courtesy of the Calera Web site.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Plants I'm growing: First Blooms--Nanking Cherry

The little Nanking Cherry (Prunus tomentosa) near the birdbath started blooming yesterday, March 8.

Movies I'm Watching: Tokyo Monogatari

Last night I happened to see Tokyo Monogatari (Tokyo Story; 1953, directed by Yasujiro Ozu) on Turner Classic Movies. It had been a long time since I'd seen it. The pace is astonishingly slow by the standards of modern American movie-making--which makes it rather refreshing. Not a lot happens, really. Visually, the whole thing could be encapsulated by a closely cropped, low-angle interior shot of the father sitting resignedly, fanning himself in the summer heat. Nevertheless, it remains a moving, poignant study in disappointment. I imagine it has become a classic because it is such a perfect vignette of the human condition. Setsuko Hara's performance as the widowed daughter-in-law Noriko is especially powerful, despite--or rather because of--its remarkable restraint. Recommended.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Birds I'm Watching: Common Merganser

Took a bike ride around Spring Lake today with my son. There were many ducks and geese on the water--and many, many people out as well. Of the ducks I was able to identify one that is a new sighting for me, the common merganser. One of these days, I'll get out to Spring Lake with a bird book, a pair of binoculars, and some time. Actually, chances are good that I've seen this bird before, but this is the first time I've seen it clearly and taken the time to identify it. Interesting that the males and females have such different plumage. I initially assumed these were two different species.
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