Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tasting Turley Through Haiku

Last week, Christina Turley was in Colorado to lead a series of seminars showcasing a handful of Turley Wine Cellars' new releases. I've met Turley's winemaker Tegan Passalacqua and tasted a handful of their wines before, but this was the first time I was able to taste eight Turley wines at the same time. And yet, this tasting was just a glimpse of what Turley offers.
Turley Wine Cellars was founded in 1993 by Larry Turley after he sold his portion of Frog's Leap Winery to his business partner John Williams. Turley wanted to focus on zinfandel and petite sirah (though Turley spells it as petite syrah). After Larry's sister's, Helen, short stint as winemaker in the early years, Ehren Jordan held the reigns as winemaker for almost two decades. Tegan Passalacqua (who also is the co-founder of the Historic Vineyard Society and about to release his own wine brand, Sandlands, in the coming weeks) took over the title of winemaker in 2013, though for all practical purposes Passalacqua was the man at the helm since 2006. Turley now produces 34 wines from 38 vineyards across the entire state of California. In addition to this army of old-vine zinfandel and petite sirah, Christina Turley was instrumental in convincing her father, despite his less-than-delightful characterization of the variety and its fans in the past, to add a Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon to the stable."The Label" is marketed as an independent project and is meant to be a contemporary take on the classic Napa Valley cabernets from the past.

During the tasting, Christina enjoyed playing the game "Guess the alcohol level." Turley has had a reputation, to quote Eric Asimov's indirect description, as, "rich, sometimes pruney fruit to be overbearing, and the hammer blow of alcohol to be unpleasant... often convey an impression of sweetness that, combined with a thick texture, tends to blot out food." Many of those in attendance guessed alcohol levels far lower than the actual percentage because the wines showed a level of finesse and balance that did not match their preconceptions of what a Turley wine now is. Despite alcohol levels repeatedly crossing the 15.0% mark, the wines never were overburden with the magical hydroxyl compounds.

After the tasting, I pondered how to describe the wines. Rather than present the wines traditionally with tasting notes, I thought that the wines would be best explained through poetry. Now, I know this is not quite common in the wine writing world (writing about wines rather than bloggers, that is;) ), but the Turley wines and even Christina and Tegan (I've yet to meet Larry so I'll withhold judgement) can be described as a juxtaposition of perception and reality, past and present, heritage and future, richness and finesse. Now, I don't know if I've captured those ideas in these poems, but I thought that attempting to describe the Turley wines through haiku (with its traditional use of juxtapostion) would be fun. So, I give you Turley Haiku:

2012 White Zinfandel
Pink not white or red
Herb-sprinkled, red-fruit salad
It's not Sutter Home

2012 Juvenile Zinfandel
Blue fruit and flowers
Juicy with subtle tannins

2012 Duarte Zinfandel
Blend of three vineyards
Loaded with juicy dark fruit
Soft silky tannins

2012 Mead Ranch Zinfandel
Up on Atlas Peak
Baker's Chocolate and grilled meat
Spicy and neat

2012 Rattlesnake Ridge Zinfandel

Floral sexy red fruit
Brown sugar, twelve red roses
Napa Barolo?

2012 Dragon Vineyard Zinfandel
Big purple Dragon
Belly warming espresso
Power and finesse

2011 "The Label" Cabernet Sauvignon
Helvetica font
Even though it's "Turley" cab
It still caresses

2011 Hayne Vineyard Petite Syrah
Chew on this black ink
Such a floral delight
Save for great grand kids

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