The Tasting Panel magazine

August 2016

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Page 53 of 100

august 2016  /  the tasting panel  /  53 The Valley of the Moon 2013 Pinot Blanc, Sonoma County ($19.99), a color mutation of Pinot Noir, is fermented in stain-less steel tanks, with a portion of the wines aged in acacia barrels. It sees no malolactic fermentation, but is stirred on its lees. With generous weight, juicy fruit redolent of honeydew or can- taloupe melon mingles with white flowers and honeysuckle and hints of candied ginger. Some Chardonnay grapes for Valley of the Moon 2014 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast ($19.99) are sourced from Sonoma Foothills Vineyard, which sits just below Chalk Hill on the northeastern side of the Russian River Valley. It's an expressive wine with aromas of citrus peel, pineapple and toasty vanilla spice; fruit-driven, it can boast of a rich texture supported by good acidity. And though the wine undergoes malolactic fermentation, it remains bright and super quaffable—a hallmark of Valley of the Moon wines. "We strive for varietally appropriate wines, not overpowered by any one element," Doescher explains. And yeasts play a big part in that. She care- fully selects the right yeast, so as not to lose bright fruit character to things like barrel fermentation. Fruit for the Valley of the Moon 2014 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Valley, Carneros ($22.99) comes from an extremely windy and hilly site in Carneros near the famous Fremont Diner. With four clones—115, 2A, 667 and Pommard— comprising the blend (Doescher particu- larly loves 667 for its "spice and nice cherry flavors and great backbone," and Pommard for its "floral, subtle aromat- ics and sometimes earthy notes"), the wine shows bright red mixed berries and dark cherries, along with a spicy quality; hints of vanilla, mocha, burnt orange peel and shiitake mushroom notes on the finish. Zinfandel grapes from around Sonoma County, including some from Dry Creek and grapes grown on the Madrone Estate, comprise the blend for the Valley of the Moon 2013 Zinfandel, Sonoma County ($22.99). Doescher loves fruit from Dry Creek because of its bright acidity and peppery notes. Lighter in body than you might expect, it packs a delicious panoply of flavors and aromas—violet perfumed notes, bramble, cinnamon spice, and mouthwateringly vibrant fruits, redolent of strawberries and dark cherries. Named for the very year (1941) in which Madrone Estate was renamed Valley of the Moon, this Valley of the Moon 2013 Blend '41, Sonoma County ($22.99) is a perfect by-the-glass option, given the price point. Doescher is careful not to overpower the fruit, but uses oak as another ingredient in her "spice-box" to bring out complexities. It shows bright mixed red berry fruit, sweet baking spice and is soft and easy-drinking—an excellent gateway wine to the more robust and powerful Zinfandels and Cabernet Sauvignons of Sonoma and Napa. "I visualize tasting like a line graph," explained Doescher, as we tasted our final wine. "I see tannins on one line that might be more edgy, and another line where they are chunkier, or more chocolaty, or drying," and from that, she weaves together a balance arc—some of this, some of that—until everything's in harmony. "In the end, I want the graph to be smooth and lingering, engaging the taster's tongue throughout." Sipping on the Valley of the Moon 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County ($25.99), I visualize the wine like a roller coaster—on the ascent, blackberry and dark cherry fruit gives the wine lift, while the apex offers a rush of sweet oak spice, and fine- grained woody tannins; descending into a rush of crushed stones and tobacco spice, the finish is nice and easy, with aromatic fennel and bay leaf notes— and think to myself, I may never look at a wine the same way again. and Peter Domenici, who first named the estate Valley of the Moon. By 1997, it was sold again, this time to Korbel. The Stewart family purchased it in 2012, returned the property to its original name Madrone Estate Winery, and continues to produce Valley of the Moon wine here, along with a separate portfo- lio of small-lot, estate-driven wines. Doescher has dialed back production nearly 15,000 cases to an annual output of about 30,000 and plans to maintain that level for quality control. "Since the sale in 2012, we have perfected our long term grower relationships as well as partnered with new growers who have a commitment to making a wine they too can be proud of. It all begins in the vineyard and picking at the right time. Once fermentation begins, all wines are made based upon the vineyard and how we can draw the most out of the fruit we received. Madrone Estate is driven by small-lot selections, whereas Valley of the Moon's portfolio receives just as much attention and results in wines just as delicious and high in quality due to the time spent in the vineyards. All wines we make 'stand-out' in their own unique way," Doescher begins, as she leads a tasting of Valley of the Moon's current releases.

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