Editor's Note: Super blogger Chris Chamberlain filed this Wine Wednesday item punctually, but his editor was too busy fantasizing about big, unctuous, earthy, spicy, complex wines -- with aromas of raspberry, cranberry, tea and citrus peels -- to post it until today. Here's Chris:
Let me start this off by saying, if you ever read that Jim Clendenen is coming to town for a wine event...GO! The respected California vintner came to town last week as the guest of Larry and Jeanne Boone of BooneDocks Distribution for two wine tastings at 360 Bistro and F. Scott's, and he and his wines blew the house away.
Opinionated, informative and wholly entertaining, Clendenen regaled the assembled crowd with stories of his career planting and managing vineyards and making notable wines in the Central Valley of California since 1982. A true visionary, he knows what he likes in a wine and makes what he loves without regard to traditional consumer preferences or critics' ratings. His "self-indulgent" style of creating the "ultimate vanity wines" has produced an offering which is unique and exceptional. He also provided some great stories of how every major business transition in his career was based around splitting up with ex-partners and ex-wives.
Best known for his work at Au Bon Climat, he is now free to make his own Clendenen Family Vineyards wines financed by the money he has earned through the years at ABC. Now we can all be the beneficiaries of these circumstances, especially if you shop at Village Wines where Hoyt Hill is a huge fan.
All of the eight wines offered at the tasting were excellent in their own ways, but four really stood out in my opinion. The light bodied 2007 Sauvignon Blanc "Stallion Vineyard" had a beautiful floral aroma and a long honeysuckle finish. Manufactured at a relatively low 12.5% alcohol level, the Sav Blanc manages to retain a low residual sugar content, making a very subtle and food-friendly offering. Lacking the traditional minerality of the varietal, Clendenen allows the fruit to shine through in this $20.00 crowd-pleaser.
Among the reds, one of the surprises of the evening was the 2006 Petit Verdot. Normally recognized as a mixing grape in traditional Bordeaux blends, many casual wine aficionados don't consider Petit Verdot as a drinkalone option. Even the other little sister of the Bordeaux blenders, Cabernet Franc, gets more attention among wine writers. Perhaps that is because French vintners don't add as much Petit Verdot to their blends. But, as Clendenen pointed out, they don't add much because they don't have much. Clendenen believes that Petit Verdot is the most successful Bordeaux varietal grown in Santa Barbara County and his 2006 vintage demonstrates this admirably.
Another great food pairing wine due to its acidity, Clendenen Family Petit Verdot spends three years in the barrel to mellow and round its flavors, taking the wood slowly without becoming overly oaked. Since he only made six barrels of the vintage, you might want to take advantage of the fact that a good portion of that production is available here in Middle Tennessee. At $39.99/bottle, this would be a good one to buy a few bottles to cellar, but don't be afraid to crack one as soon as you get home from the store.
Much bigger in many ways was the 2005 Pinot Noir "Le Bon Climat." This $75.00 wine comes in a huge bottle which is reminiscent of the traditional dark green vessels of France. Designed in an earthy European style from certified organic grapes, the Pinot has an extremely complex nose. Aromas of raspberry, cranberry, tea and citrus peels became evident even after a short time in the glass. With a proper amount of time to open up, I can only imagine the secrets left to be revealed by this wine. Soft and delicate on the palate, Le Bon Climat is earthy and spicy like a great Pinot should be. Clendenen is very proud of this wine and considers it the best vintage he has offered.
The wine of the evening was the 2005 Syrah/Viognier "La Cuna." This blend of red and white wines is traditional of northern Rhone wines and is a match made in heaven. A beautiful dark garnet in appearance with a light body and high acidity, La Cuna was difficult to nail down on the nose. I sensed some pepper which was more apparent in the finish, but it was like no Syrah I have ever tasted. Almost zinfandel-like on first taste, the addition of 15% Viognier rounds out the wine with a peachy flavor and a strong note of cocoa on the finish. Because Clendenen makes wines to his personal preferences, the relatively low alcohol level avoids the traditional heat of higher alcohol Syrahs. It is still a young wine that could cellar for years, but I doubt I'll be able to save the two bottles I bought for $40.00 apiece.
For a taste of Jim Clendenen's engaging, quirky personality and his insights on this remarkable wine, watch this short video of him and Hoyt discussing the history of the vineyard. Or better yet, catch him in person next time he comes through town.