Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The "Vineyard" of Boston & Elyse Winery

Who says Boston cannot produce great wine? It just takes a bit longer from "vineyard" to the bottle.

The Elyse Winery, located in Napa, California, has celebrated 25 harvests however one could say that the original seeds of the Elyse vineyards were planted in Boston. Elyse Winery is owned by Ray and Nancy Coursen, and they grew up on opposite coasts, Ray on the East Coast in New Jersey and Nancy on the West Coast in the San Francisco Bay area. Despite this great distance, it seemed the gods of the vine saw fit to bring them together.

Ray eventually attended the Stockbridge Agricultural College at the University of Massachusetts, and while attending school also worked at Bauer Wine & Spirits on Newbury Street in Boston. It was at Bauer that Ray became enamored with French wine, and the first seed of Elyse was planted. Nancy acquired a degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Pennsylvania, and took a job working with special needs children in Boston.

In 1982, Ray worked at the former Callahan's Steakhouse in Newton and that is where he met Nancy, who was a customer. Sparks flew and another seed was planted for Elyse. In fact, in the next year they traveled together to Napa Valley with the goal of starting a winery. A passion for wine brought them together and they spent the next years trying to transform their ideas into a reality.

First, Ray worked for some other wineries, gaining valuable knowledge and experience. Ray and Nancy also became innkeepers for a bed and breakfast. Their daughter, Elyse Sarah, was born in 1986 and the next year saw the birth of their own wine label, named after their daughter, and the production of a few hundred cases of Zinfandel. Their son, Jake, was born in 1990 and they eventually created a label for him as well, Jacob Franklin. Finally, in 1997, they purchased their own winery and vineyard, which you can now visit and taste their wines.

The Elyse Winery produces only about 10,000 cases annually though the wines are available nationally and internationally. They state that their "focus remains on creating vineyard driven wines that pair well with food." They produce around 13 different wines under the Elyse label, including Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and some using Rhone grapes. I was intrigued by these Rhone style wines and received samples of three of them. And after tasting them, I am pleased that I had the opportunity to taste these gems.

The 2011 Elyse L’Ingenue ($28) is a blend of 2% Roussanne, 32% Marsanne, 11% Viognier and 5% Grenache Blanc from the Naggiar Vineyard in the Sierra Foothills. The wine is aged for about 16 months, sur lie, in used French oak, has an alcohol content of 14.6%, and only 416 cases were produced. I think Rhone whites don't get enough attention despite the fact they can be stunning wines. This Elyse was no exception. The aromas pleasantly caressed by nose, subtle fruits and flowers, while its full-bodied mouthfeel caressed my palate. Crisp and fresh, the fruit predominated, lush peach, pear and citrus, while there were mild floral elements. Complex and delicious, it possessed a satisfying and lengthy finish. With a dinner of scallops, this was a delightful wine and earns a hearty recommendation.

The 2009 C’est Si Bon ($28) is a blend of 39% Grenache, 33% Mourvèdre, 12% Syrah, 8% Cinsault, 5% Counoise, and 3% Viognier from the Naggiar Vineyard in the Sierra Foothills. The wine is aged for about 22 months in French oak puncheons (10% new), has an alcohol content of 14.4%, and only 1,594 cases were produced. With a medium-red color, the aroma of the wine presented a nice balance of black fruit and dark spice notes. Its intriguing melange of tastes, with a great depth of flavor, included ripe plum, black cherry, dark spice and an earthy backbone. Smooth and complex, it also possessed a lengthy and pleasing finish. Another stunner, I paired this wine with grilled steak and it was a fine pairing. I think this wine would also have paired well with a hearty ragu, or grilled lamb. Highly recommended.

The 2008 Le Corbeau ($37) is a blend of 90% Grenache and 10% Syrah from the Hudson Vineyard in Los Carneros. The wine is aged for about 22 months in 20% new French oak, has an alcohol content of 14.4%, and only 300 cases were produced. "Corbeau" means "raven" and though the Raven is well known for speaking the word "Nevermore," you won't be saying that after you taste this wine. You will be asking for more, for another glass of this dark and compelling wine. The wine is darkly colored, almost purple and opaque, with dark spices and black fruits on the aroma. On the palate, it is a dark and brooding wine, with ripe plum, blackberry, vanilla and dark spices, especially on the finish. There is a strong earthy streak and plenty of complexity to intrigue you. Well balanced, the finish is lengthy and alluring. This is a bigger and bolder wine than the C'est Si Bon, and pairing it with a grilled steak is an excellent idea. My highest recommendation.

Seek out the wines of Elyse Winery, especially their Rhone-style wines, and see what the "seeds" of Boston have brought forth.

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