The Tasting Panel magazine

August 2014

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20  /  the tasting panel  /  august 2014 SAN FRAN INSIDER I t's been posited that with 10,000 hours (that's just over five years of 40-hour weeks) of rigorous practice, it's possible to master a pursuit. The caveat being the rule only seems to apply if you're pursuing something at which you're already suited. Beyond chess and music, scientists are still debating how to measure mastery, so we're left to our own devices when it comes to wine. During dinner at the Clift's Velvet Room with winemaker Molly Hill, who just marked her eleventh year at Sequoia Grove working with Director of Winemaking Michael Trujillo, the wines were a clear demonstration of mastery. I met Hill for the first time last year and since then, I've seen Sequoia Grove rake in top honors from highly regarded international competitions for wines that exceed their price in value. Hill isn't trying to make wines that appeal to wine judges; she's working with the kind of integrity that makes a wine like her un- oaked, Old Wente clone Chardonnay ($28) a standout. Her '11 Cabernet Sauvignon ($38), which spent 20 months in American Oak, is medium-weight with the 9% of Cabernet Franc used in the blend showing on the nose and satisfying flavors of cassis and dark spice. Three years ago, the winery introduced an icon wine, Cambium ($140), with a higher percentage of Cabernet Franc and Merlot that sees 100% French Oak and will release its first '10 Tonella Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($90) in October. Sequoia Grove purchased the vineyard once belonging to the Rutherford brothers in '06, and according to Hill, its aromatic red florals and deep chocolate notes will influence future vintages of Cambium. You might know that Rutherford is gravelly, but if you think that it's flat, the view from the slopes at Quintessa will surprise you. Those views will be the delight of visitors to the winery who elect to taste from a new hospitality pavilion behind the winery on Dragon's Terrace, overlooking the lake and surrounding hillside vineyards. During a morning at the winery with Charles Thomas, Huneeus Vintners' Director of Vineyards and Winemaking, we evaluated a vertical of Quintessa that included the winery's first release in '94 and several vintages through '11. Thomas' first sole vintage for the winery was '07 and the estate was biodynamic by 2005, so you'd expect an evolution, but the clarity and vitality of the site remained apparent. Of the older wines, the '94 was fully devel- oped with soy, tobacco, worn leather, licorice and earthy, red plum. The '99 had a bright, intense clarity and powdery tannins, while the '04 was darker and more muscular with silky notes of licorice and vanilla. From that point forward, the wines only gained in complex- ity: '07 was vital and evolving with berried fruit, while '10 showed finesse with red fruit, dried fennel, complex spice, sandalwood and resolved tannins. Youthful and darker, '11 was medium weight with crisp black fruit and peppery tannins. Blending is at the very heart of Thomas' winemaking, and the estate's varied expositions are what set it apart. Tasting barrel samples of '13 from four different sites while standing in the Mt. Calisse vineyard in the northeastern corner of the 280-acre estate was eye-opening. Mt. Calisse was rich and round with perfumed black currant, while neighboring Limelight showed red plum and blackberries. Bench, the opposing site along the Napa River, is charac- terized as most like the rest of the AVA, having more tannin and grip. Dragon's Terrace, the site behind the winery that forms the founda- tion of the wine style, was grippy with complex red and black fruit. Visitors to Quintessa's by-appointment pavilion can experience the stunning view of Rutherford and these wines during a 90-minute guided tasting called the Quintessential Quintessa which includes library wines, current releases and local cheeses for $125 per person. Measuring Mastery EXPLORING A COUPLE OF STANDOUTS IN THE RUTHERFORD AVA by Deborah Parker Wong PHOTO: SEQUOIA GROVE PHOTO: SEQUOIA GROVE PHOTO: DEBROAH PARKER WONG An immersive tasting experience awaits visitors to Quintessa's new Dragon's Terrace hospitality pavilion. Molly Hill just marked her eleventh year at Sonoma Grove. Quintessa's Charles Thomas and Napa Valley Vineyard Manager Caleb Mosley use precision farming and biodynamic practices to master tough vintages.

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