After judging the NextGeneration Wine Competition (results now posted), I had a an afternoon free in the Russian River Valley AVA. I only had one appointment made ahead of time, and planned to just drive around and see what I could find after my first stop. The day before the competition, I contacted Copain Wine Cellars via Twitter to arrange a visit. After the unveiling of the sweepstakes winners, I made my way up Eastside Road to one of the most beautiful views in Sonoma. The winery overlooks the Russian River and the vineyards that line the banks. Unfortunately, my appointment did not make it on to their calendar, but I did still get to taste through the wines that they had open. First up was 2009 Tous Ensemble Viognier from Mendocino County. This was a nice crisp and acidic viognier with notes of citrus, melon and honeysuckle on both the nose and palate. The highlight of the lineup for me was the 2010 P2, a blend of 50% pinot noir and 50% pinot gris co-feremented. This unique red wine was filled with strawberry and floral aromas. The flavors of tart cranberries were quite intense and complemented the zesty herb flavors of savory and thyme. It is a good thing that Copain decided to make more of this after the initial vintage was bought in its entirety by the Napa culinary mecca, The French Laundry. The Les Voisins pinot noir and syrah that I tasted were very good wines, but did not meet the expectations I had from comments about Copain on Wineberserkers.com. The 2009 Les Voisins Pinot Noir was a blend of vineyards from the Anderson Valley. It was a typical pinot with hints of brush, red raspberry, strawberry, hints of spice, nice tannins with just a touch of cherry cola and violets. It was very refined when compared to many California pinots. The Les Voisins Syrah from the Yorkville Highlands was bright purple, with big fruit, grippy tannins and woody herbs. Both were very good wines, just not anything special. The two single-vineyard designated wines that I did get to try did approach being special wines. The 2007 James Berry Les Copains was a blend of 40% Grenache, 40% Mouvedre and 20% Syrah. This sample showed big, yet supple dark fruits along with smooth tannins. It was well balanced and provided a long, rather complex finish. Likewise, the 2007 Alder Springs "Spirit Rock" Syrah was impressive. It had a very aromatic, floral and fruity nose. The tannins were much grippier than in the GSM, but still refined. Blackberry and blueberry jam combined with a Rhônish meatiness and subtle herbs to produce a quite tasty wine. I can see why the buzz with Copain lies with their reasonable prices (all the wines I tried were less than $42 a bottle) and quality (higher-end) single-vineyard labels. The view alone is worth a visit.
New Marcassin Winery
The week earlier, Tyler Colman, aka Dr. Vino, posted about the most recent Marcassin newsletter in which Helen Turley and her husband Jon Wetlaufer extol Robert Parker, Jr.'s praise of their 2006 lineup while they assail Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Burgundian viticulture as a whole. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to drive by Marcassin's brand new digs in Windsor less than 2 miles from where I was staying. I approached the concrete vinous fortress and knocked on the door, but alas no one was home to greet me. I doubt they would have let me in anyways. At least I have a pretty picture of the understated winery.
Brut Rosé ready for guests.
After that quick detour, I made my way up to J Vineyards and Winery. My wife and I had visited in 2008 and am quite familiar with the wines, but I still thought I'd stop by and see what they were pouring. I started with the 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Gris (see my notes on the basic Californian pinot gris) and the 2009 Vin Gris. Both were refreshing summer sippers. The 2008 Barrel 16 Pinot Noir was rich and fruity pinot filled with blueberries, raspberries and strawberries along with a healthy dose of cloves and anise. The Barrel 16 is not over the top, but definitely a wine for the bigger style pinot crowd. I was also lucky enough to get a taste of the 2009 Freestone Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir. This pinot was also filled with bright fruit on the nose and palate. It had a distinct spiciness to go with blackberry tart and subtle rosemary flavors. I was not feeling the 2009 Pinotage, but could easily recognize a higher quality wine when compared to the many bland South African pinotages on retail shelves. Finally, I tasted two of J's specialty sparklers. The 2002 Brut was exceptionally crisp with pear, melon and lime flavors. The finish was bit short, but it still is a good bubbly, especially for the price. Last but not least, I had a few sips of the 2001 Brut from a magnum. Only a year older, but miles apart from the 2002. Classic flavors of brioche, apples and a drop of honey, this wine had a slightly longer finish and more complexity than the 2002. While only a selection of J's wines make it into the distribution stream, if you make it to the winery, ask if they have a special bottle open under the counter. You might just get a single-vineyard pinot or an older sparkler.