Monday, August 11, 2008

The Scholium Project: The Wines

"It has become quite a common proverb that in wine there is truth."
Pliny the Elder

Following up on yesterday's post about Abe Schoener and the Scholium Project, I want to provide my thoughts on the Scholium Project wines I tasted. Besides my tasting notes, you will find some information about the wines provide by Schoener during his guided-tasting seminar.

The first wine of the tasting was the 2007 Lost Slough Vineyards Naucratis. This wine is made from 100% Verdelho. Verdelho is a thick-skinned grape that does well in warm weather. This grape was pressed immediately and had no maceration time. After pressing, the first 90 gallons of the juice were used for this wine. The rest would be used for a different wine. The Naucratis was fermented cool in stainless steel and was prevented from any oxidation. About 1/3 of the wine underwent malolactic fermentation.

The wine has an alcohol content of 16.5%, higher than the 14% that Schoener wanted. The problem resulted from making the wrong decision on when to pick the grapes, a difference of only a few days. How many other wine makers publicly acknowledge the mistakes they made in their wine making? I doubt the list is long at all.
This was the most simple and direct of the wines we tasted. It had a light gold color with a nose of honey and apricots. On the palate, I tasted more citrus flavors with only a hint of honey as well as some minerality. It had a moderate finish and was well balanced enough that I did think it was overly alcoholic. It was interesting and certainly did not remind me of Spanish Verdelho.

Next up was the 2007 Lost Slough Vineyards Gemella. As I mentioned above, the first 90 gallons of the pressed Verdelho went to the Naucratis. The other 4o-50 gallons were used for this Gemella. The Gemella is considered a more intense version of the Naucratis. The Gemella was produced a bit differently. It was fermented in neutral oak rather than stainless steel. It remained on the lees for about seven months and underwent about 2/3 malolactic fermentation. Plus, no sulfur dioxide was used until the wine was bottled. So the wine oxidized a slight bit but nothing serious.

You may detect some of the oxidation in its more golden color. Though the color is still a rich yellow rather than a dull brown. I detected a stronger honey smell on the nose as well as on my palate. This was a more full-bodied wine, creamier and more intense. It still possesses mineral notes as well as apricot flavors.

The 2006 Farina Vineyards La Severita di Bruto is made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc. There was no water added to this wine at all and it has an alcohol content of 15.9%. It had a high sulfur dioxide treatment near the start as well as some sulfur dioxide during fermentation. Fermentation, in old French oak, lasted about eleven months, due to the use of native yeast. Malolactic fermentation was inhibited. Then, there was more sulfur dioxide used just before bottling. Schoener used more sulfur dioxide than he usually does, but still less than most other wine makers.

It has a nice golden color and the smell of freshly cut grass. It is a crisp, acidic wine with a strong grassy flavor as well as mineral notes. It is well balanced and the alcohol is really not that noticeable on the palate. I am not a fan of these grassy-style Sauvignon Blancs so I did not care for this wine. But, if you enjoy those flavors, I do think you would like it.

We moved on to the 2005 Guman Vineyards Nereides. This vineyard was planted back in 1982, one of the first planted in the Stag's Leap area. The wine was 100% Chardonnay and Schoener characterized this as the "most fucked up wine of the tasting." In creating this wine, he wanted to maximize its exposure to oxygen. It rested in 30 gallon barrels for about two years and there was 30-40% evaporation. It only has an alcohol content of 13.7%.

This is not like any other California Chardonnay you may know. It has a smell reminiscent of salt and the sea, almost like a Manzanilla Sherry. It is that smell of the sea that led to its name, Nereides, who are spirits of the sea. On the palate, it has intriguing and complex flavors, almost too difficult to identify as the tastes flit back and forth so quickly. It is a crips, acidic wine and not at all buttery or oaky. I found it utterly compelling because it was so very different. It is certainly a wine to ponder over, to try to ascertain all of the differing flavors. Yet it is also a wine that some will see as flawed due to its oxidation. Yet this is just an example of Schoener being Socrates, questioning the reason why oxidation is seen by the establishment as a flaw. I think Schoener has created a wine refuting that oxidation necessarily has to be a bad thing.

The 2006 Farina Vineyards The Prince in His Caves is another 100% Sauvignon Blanc wine. But the grapes come from a different section of the vineyard than the La Severita di Bruto. This different section has richer, loamier soil and the grape is a different clone. The grapes were destemmed and then skin fermented for thirty days. After a seven day cold soak, they were further fermented in 85% new French oak. No sulfur dioxide was used until bottling. It only had an alcohol content of 13.5%.

The wine has a very deep golden color and an enticing aroma of honey. There was only a tinge of a grassy smell, the honey far dominating. On the palate though, the grassy taste became more predominant though there were strain of citrus and honey as well. It was full-bodied and more complex than the previous Sauvignon Blanc. I enjoyed this wine more though the grassy flavors still did not agree with my preferences. Yet Sauvignon Blanc fans should really love this intriguing wine.

The last white wine of the tasting was another Sauvignon Blanc, the 2005 Cena Trimalchionis. This wine was made from botrytized grapes, which are covered by the Botrytis mold. No sulfur dioxide was used at all in this wine, even before bottling. This wine was slightly less golden in color than the previous Prince wine. It also had more of a grassy nose but that grass did not follow through much on the palate. Rather, you got a dry wine with more dried fruit flavors, including apricot.

For the first red wine, we tasted the 2005 Hudson Vineyards Iseult which is made from 100% Syrah. The grapes for this wine were allowed to rot and once the skins had been broken, then the grapes were stomped. The grapes weere fermented as whole clusters. Only 40 cases of this wine were made.

As I would later find, all of his red wines have an inky dark purple color, almost black. On the nose, you smell ripe, dark fruits such as plum, blackberry and blueberry. On the palate, you find this is a big wine yet the tannins are moderate. It is all about the rich, dark fruit flavors and lacks much of the spice you find in some Syrahs. There are some floral notes as well, a touch of violet especially. It was a delicious wine with a lingering finish. Grab a slab of roast beef and a glass of this Syrah!

I should mention that there was food, with a Mediterannean flair, provided at the tasting. My favorites were the chicken and beef skewers. The beef in particular was quite welcome when I was tasting the red wines. It helped me to get a better handle on the reds as they benefited from the beef.

Next up was the 2005 Tenbrink Vineyard Satrapies of the East. This is their first blended wine, a combination of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Syrah, 7% Merlot and 3% Petite Sirah. All of the grapes came from selections that had not originally merited their own wines. So, Schoener decided to blend the grapes to see if maybe he could salvage a good wine. I think it worked. The wine is soft and smooth with mild tannins and full flavors of ripe dark fruit. It did remind me of some Bordeaux blends.

The 2004 Donati Vineyards Scythia is a unique wine as only vintage was made before the vineyard was uprooted and planted with Pinot Grigio. The wine is made from 100% Syrah and the vines had been planted on seashells. The wine has an alcohol content of 16.5% and Schoener does not believe it is as complex as the Satrapies. Yet in some ways I enjoyed this wine more than the Satrapies.

This is a bold wine, with plenty of ripe plum, blackberry and almost jammy qualities. But there is also plenty of dark spices interwoven through as well. It is not as acidic as the Satrapies but certainly has a long, satisfying finish. It is a shame that this was the only vintage as I think this vineyard could have produced some more excellent Syrah. I very much enjoyed this wine.

The last wine of the guided tasting was the 2005 Tenbrink Vineyards Babylon is made form Petit Sirah. This is their most constant wine, the wine that changes little vintage to vintage, always providing quality. The amount of fruit is not constant though. The vineyard is organically farmed, including no tilling. This is a wine Schoener feels is made mostly in the vineyard. It is harvested very ripe, cold-soaked for 10-15 days and fermented for about 30 days. There will not be a 2006 vintage of this wine though as is was all declassified as the wine underwent an over-extended maceration.

The Bablyon is a very intense wine, with ripe dark fruits and violets on the nose and palate. It is more tannic than the other reds have been but not overly so. It is a complex wine with a lengthy finish. It is very full bodied and seems a bit thick in the mouth. The beef skewers certainly helped show the quality of this wine.

After the guided tasting, I did have the opportunity to try one more of Schoener's wines, the 2006 Margit's Vineyard Margit's A1. This wine is made from old-vine Cabernet Sauvignon that has been dry-farmed for thirty years on the west side of Spring Mountain. This is another unique wine as it is the last vintage that will be made from the original old vines. The wine was fermented for over 60 days in new oak and then aged for another 16 months in a new oak barrel.

This is a superb wine, an intriguing complex wine that is well balanced and compelling. There is a great balance of spice and dark fruits, with many layers of flavors. It is moderatly tannic with a very long finish. It is a powerful wine but a power that encompasses you rather than overthrows you. This is a wine comparable to any top notch Cabernet Sauvignon from California.

Abe Schoener makes unique wines, testing different ways of wine making. He is not constrained by any rigid standards or guidelines of wine making. And even if you don't like all of his wines, there are bound to be some that you find exceptional. He is a wine maker to watch, one who create even better wines in time. I highly recommend you check out his wines now and learn for yourself how good the wines can be.

My friend Dale over at Drinks Are on Me also attended this tasting and you should check out his reviews as well.

"When there is plenty of wine, sorrow and worry take wing."

Stay tuned tomorrow for some info on Abe Schoener's new winery in Brooklyn, NY!


Anonymous said...

The man is a genius. I've never been disappointed with any bottle that Abe has created, and most bottles I've opened I've not actually paired with food. I have typically enjoyed them solo while idling time away on the porch. My personal opinion - the 2003 and 2004 Babylon are better than sex. In a word, both are (were) perfect. Period.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for hooking me up with this event, Richard. It was fantastic and I look for to many more!