Call it the gift that keeps on giving.
Just like you never want Christmas to be over, the Winos like nothing less than reaching the inevitable end of a delicious wine event, like Thursday’s “Hot Picks” evening in Culver City. So when Tamarack Cellars’ assistant winemaker Danny Gordon slipped Andrew a couple of bottles on his way out, we rejoiced at the prospect of revisiting the night’s revelry in the near future.
Friday night provided just such an opportunity, when five thirsty Winos assembled at the Sh’oaks, mildly belligerent and rarin’ to drink. Complimenting the two Tamarack wines were a couple of bottles sent to us by the good people at Donati Family Vineyard in San Benito County; with four bottles and five dudes present, we were all geared up to have ourselves a merry little tasting.
First in line was the 2006 Donati Family Vineyard Pinot Blanc (Paicines), a pale wine that we ice-bucketed for three quarters of an hour. On the nose, Doug picked up some honey, while I got some pear and a hint of oak (the wine is fermented in 20% neutral wood). Noah commented on the creamy, lanolin-ish texture of the bouquet, and I appreciated some mandarin orange dancing around the back of the glass.
The palate was soft; although Doug picked up some grapefruit flavors, there wasn’t much acidity to be found. Similarly, I picked up a lemony element, but not a sharp citrussy bite — more of a broad smooth lemon character. Andrew said it was “a little watery on the front end, but I like the rest of it.” Jason disagreed, calling it “boring” and lamenting the lack of acidity. Noah compared its body with skim milk: a creamy character, but too thin. After a few minutes in the glass, however, the wine began to open up and reveal some interesting flavors: pineapple and toasty oak (and even some Werther’s Original, according to Noah). Jason didn’t acknowledge the improvement, and he wouldn’t drop the $18 to re-visit the bottle. Noah and I, however, found the wine intriguing once it had a chance to open up.
Next we moved to the 2004 Tamarack Cellars Syrah (Columbia Valley). “This smells goooood,” purred Jason, who picked up black pepper and barbecue sauce. Noah got French Roast coffee, and Andrew got dark chocolate. I sniffed some blackberries and a little jammy action, and Doug offered “rose petals.” Quite a range — would we get this whole entire marketplace on the palate?
The Tamarack winery is located in Washington’s Walla Walla Valley, and was one of the first labels to set up shop there. “Black cherry soda,” insisted Doug, upon taking his first sip, “and even a little bit of cocoa.” Andrew found it a bit slight, and “not as big as the nose.” I agreed; there was a lot going on towards the back — some gamey action, some jam, and a little bit of spice on the finish — but the wine just wasn’t the chewy mouth-full the nose had led us to anticipate. Noah, for his part, picked up some black cherry and some dark chocolate, and Jason got some caramel. Andrew summarized the general opinion, however, when he said the wine suffered from a lack of front-palate.
We headed back to California for the 2005 Donati Family Vineyard Claret (Paicines), a curious blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. The first thing I smelled was Oreos — not the creamy middle, but the cookie elements sans the white stuff. Jason got pepper, which Noah amended to white pepper, and and to which he added black licorice. I also got a touch of hot tar and some coffee, and Jason picked up some “forest fire.”
The black licorice showed up again on the medium/full, smoky palate. Jason got dark chocolate and some nice chalky tannins, and I appreciated a finish of charcoal and anise. Andrew, our notorious Pedit Verdot-phobe, was pleased it “didn’t have that disgusting character I was expecting with the inclusion of Petit Verdot,” and agreed with me that the $22 sticker price was more than fair for this solidly-built faux-Bordeaux. Jason, always the foil, claimed he’d “had $15 or $20 Bordeaux better than this,” but I certainly couldn’t think of any this expressive and flavorful. Likely also an ideal food wine, this “Claret” proved a winner on the evening.
Our final bottle was another semi-Bordeaux blend, the 2006 Tamarack Cellars “Firehouse Red” (Columbia Valley), featuring a manic cépage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Carmenere, and Malbec. The nose was big and full of berries, along with some dried plums, tar, and even a certain sawdust character. Jason got a spicy element, which we originally thought was pepper, but which wound up smelling more clovey.
The palate was soft and round, and boasted huge amounts of raspberry — not what you’d necessarily expect from this lineup of grapes. More expectedly, Andrew picked up “some decent dark chocolate”, and Doug commented on the strong tannins. I was right there with him, and the assertive structural elements on this one led me to speculate that it might benefit nicely from a couple of years in a reclined position. The consensus was that despite the drinkability and the big red fruit, this little fireplug could use some time to let the tannin and acidity settle out. At $20, though, it would likely prove a worthy investment.
Ed showed up towards the end and hastened the inevitable arrival of several cheeses, all of which paired especially nicely with the food-friendly red blends. For some inexplicable reason, only male Winos had showed up for this evening’s tasting, and we were now left engorged and tipsy, with no one to object to the increasingly ribald tone of our discourse. The six guys hung around until 2:30 or so, lamenting the lack of the fairer sex and greedily consuming the last of the big manly wines we’d enjoyed that night. At some point, salami was surreptitiously added to the cheese plate and quickly consumed, but the symbolism was lost on just about everyone there.
The Young Winos of LA: edutoxicating Los Angeles since 2005