For our November 2012 featured wine club shipment, we are proud to offer the following wines:
2009 Tannat — Bella Collina Vineyard, Paso Robles
Ken’s first venture with the grape varietal Tannat comes from the Bella Collina Vineyard, 2009 vintage. The Tannat grape has been cultivated on both sides of the Pyrenees Mountains of Spain and France for centuries. Today it is most readily recognized as the primary black-berried variety found in the wines of Madiran, the French red wine appellation (AC) in southwest France. In the 1870s, Tannat was introduced to Uruguay by Basque settlers where it has since flourished. Considered Uruguay’s national grape and sometimes referred to as Harriague in South America, Tannat can now also be found growing in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, and Italy’s Puglia region.
History and Health in a Glass of Tannat
Tannat has existed in the University of California grape collections since the 1890s; the variety was cultivated by Spanish and Portuguese farmers in the Sacramento Valley in the early 1900s. Tannat’s recent resurgence in California was greatly popularized by the importation of a new French Tannat clone by Tablas Creek Vineyard’s grape nursery in Paso Robles. Tablas Creek went through the process of having their selection of Tannat indexed by the Foundation Plant Material Services in 1996; most of the Tannat planted in California since 2000 has come from the Tablas Creek selection including the Bella Collina planting.
Tannat’s name is derived from the word “tannate” (an ester of tannic acid) the mouth-drying tannin that is often found in high concentrations in wines from this grape variety. Tannat is a robust, strong-growing vine with large elephant ear-shaped leaves and large winged clusters of medium-sized, thick-skinned grapes. The variety does well on head-trained vines but trellised vines tend to allow a more uniform state of ripeness with less coarse tannins.
Historically, due to the high tannic nature of Tannat, the dark, heavy wines of Madiran have been blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc to soften their tannic astringency. While that remains true today, the development of a vinification technique known as micro-oxygenation (by Madiran winemaker Patrick Ducournau in 1991) has allowed many of the leading winemakers of the region to soften Tannat’s harder edges, without having to blend in as much of other varietals. It’s no coincidence that wineries in California are utilizing Tannat to beef up certain varietals and red wine blends as well.
Another interesting fact about Tannat lies much deeper than its tannic skin. The French Paradox—which revealed that moderate red wine consumption resulted in a decreased incidence of cardiac disease—spawned many other studies to pinpoint exactly what was responsible for this phenomenon. It turns out a group of polyphenols known as oligomeric procyanidins offer the greatest degree of protection to human blood-vessel cells. The highest procyanidins are found in wines that are made with the Tannat grape. It has been statistically proven that men living in the Madiran region of France have the lowest level of heart disease of any region of France, and it has been speculated that this may be due to Tannat being the dominant wine grape of the region. The Red Wine Diet by Dr. Roger Corder is an excellent publication that explains the science behind the benefits of moderate red wine consumption for cardiovascular health. Further research also suggests that polyphenols in wine reduce the absorption of malondialheyde, a compound implicated in arteriosclerosis, cancer, diabetes and other diseases.
In the Glass
Our 2009 Tannat is a softer rendition of this variety in comparison to Basque and Madiran wines although it delivers plenty of rustic old world charm. Aromas of red plum, raspberry and cigar box introduce this savory wine, followed with flavors of sweet cherry, mocha and smoked paprika as well as moderate tannins.
The weight of our 2009 Tannat lends itself to perfect pairings with cassoulet; duck and duck confit; grilled lamb chops or stewed lamb; braised, stewed and barbecued meats; roasted wild game; short ribs; and cheese, especially Blue.
2009 Tempranillo — Bella Collina Vineyard, Paso Robles
Tempranillo is the Spanish red grape responsible for the fine wines of both the Ribera Del Duero region and Spain’s quintessential wine region, Rioja. Tempranillo has a large number of synonyms: Tinto Fino, Cencibel, Aragon, Escobera and Tinta de Toro to name just a few. In Portugal’s Douro Valley, it’s called Tinta Roriz where it plays a central role in port wine production.
A variety with large-sized clusters and mid- to large-sized berries that tend to ripen early, Tempranillo’s name is actually a derivative of the Spanish word “temprano” or early. In comparison to most other wine grapes, Tempranillo has relatively low acidity and a correspondingly higher pH. This chemistry can make producing the wine a challenge because these conditions sometimes make it susceptible to spoilage organisms.
Tempranillo has gained tremendous international popularity brought on by better viticulture and improved cellar practices. This prodigious vine has been grown in California since 1905 when Frederic Bioletti imported the variety for trials by the University of California. In 2010, there were 957 acres of Tempranillo planted in California compared to only 664 acres in existence in 2003. By 2010, there were 176 acres of Tempranillo planted in San Luis Obispo County alone, making it the California county with the second largest acreage under cultivation with this variety. Only Fresno County has more Tempranillo vines at 192 acres.
At the Winery
Ken Volk made his first Tempranillo in 1988 and has always been a fan of the variety. He’s produced a number of fine Tempranillos under the Kenneth Volk Vineyards label and, in 2011, crushed our first Tempranillo from his new plantings at Pomar Junction Vineyard.
The 2009 vintage was the first harvest of Tempranillo from the Bella Collina Vineyard. In general, 2009 was a much warmer growing season than 2008 or 2010, resulting in Tempranillo that ripened very well with good fruit flavors and completely mature seeds. The fruit was hand harvested and destemmed with minimal crushing into 1.3-ton open top bins. The bins were then layered with dry ice to encourage a cold soak prior to being inoculated with yeast isolates of Spanish origin. The bins were punched down three to six times daily and were on the skins for 12 days prior to basket pressing. Following a brief settling, the young wine was racked to a combination of French, Hungarian, and American oak cooperage where it was cellared 20 months prior to bottling.
In the Glass
Our 2009 Bella Collina Tempranillo displays a complex aroma of violets, blueberry, tobacco, cedar, and baking spice. On the palate, this medium-bodied wine is rich with flavors of black cherry, plum, mocha, and vanilla as well as round, soft tannins. This lush wine has been particularly popular in our tasting rooms and was recently awarded a gold medal at this year’s Orange County Fair.
Tempranillo food pairings include beef, especially when braised or stewed; grilled lamb chops; grilled pork; and roasted poultry. Other proteins that go well with Tempranillo are charcuterie (e.g., dried and cured meats, salami), duck and any other game bird, veal, and venison. Stews, rice dishes, paella, lentils, and beans are also great matches. Earthy vegetables, mushrooms, and root vegetables (especially when roasted) complement Tempranillo. Of course, it’s also a wonderful cheese wine.
2009 Chardonnay, Santa Maria Cuvée — Santa Maria Valley
The Santa Maria Valley has for a long time been synonymous with high quality cool-climate Chardonnay. The AVA’s east-west orientation allows Pacific fog and coastal breezes to flow through the valley resulting in a nice, elongated growing season. When compared against other nearby AVAs with coastal influence including the Santa Rita Hills and Edna Valley, the Santa Maria Valley also has a fairly low rainfall average. The low rainfall combined with the extended hang time these grapes are afforded make the Santa Maria Valley the ideal source for ultra-premium fruit.
Ken Volk has been a long-time fan of Santa Maria Chardonnay and it’s the only appellation he uses for sourcing the world’s most identifiable white variety. The Kenneth Volk Vineyards 2009 Santa Maria Cuvée is an entirely barrel-fermented Chardonnay. This bottling is a blend of Kenneth Volk Estate Vineyard fruit as well as grapes from the Sierra Madre Vineyard: 33% Estate Wente clone, 47% Sierra Madre clone 15, and 10% Sierra Madre Robert Young selection Chardonnay.
In the Vineyard
The 2009 vintage was a good one for Chardonnay in the Santa Maria Valley. The growing season started off with below average rainfall and virtually no rain after February. Our estate Chardonnay started to leaf out in the second week of March and warm springtime conditions brought rapid vine growth. These Chardonnay vines in general set full clusters, but the number of clusters per shoot was below normal. Above average summer temperatures led to the possibility of an early vintage but a cooling trend delayed Chardonnay ripening until the end of September.
At the Winery
Each Chardonnay selection was hand harvested and cluster pressed. Cold-settled juice was sent to barrel and fermentation was conducted in our 58° barrel room where it was then barrel fermented in our OXO barrel rack system. The OXO barrel system is a fixed barrel rack system where each barrel rests on four roller wheels. This unique system allows for easy rolling of the barrels in place for lees stirring without the need to remove the bung. A combination of Hungarian Oak cooperage from Trust International and Demptos Cooperage as well as French Oak from François Frères was used to ferment the 2009 Chardonnay with 20% new, 30% one year old, and 50% 2- to 4-year-old cooperage.
A combination of cultured yeast strains slowly fermented the wine to a dry state over the course of the next several months. The barrels were topped in place and rolled twice weekly keeping the yeast sediment as a light haze in the wine in order to moderate the extraction of oak during fermentation and allow the fruit and oak to marry.
In the Glass
Aromas of candied apple and pineapple rise out of the glass along with nuances of nutmeg and caramelized brown sugar. On the palate, this beautifully balanced Chardonnay also displays an array of tropical fruits and a nice creaminess resulting in a wine that is rich without being too buttery or oaky.
Chardonnay food pairings include lobster and lobster tail (grilled or boiled and served with drawn butter) and almost any white fish or salmon variety especially when grilled or sautéed. Crab, scallops, shrimp, and shellfish are also great matches. Chicken, pheasant, and pork (either grilled or roasted) are among other proteins that pair very well with Chardonnay. Herbs and spices that complement Chardonnay include fresh sage, tarragon, thyme, basil, saffron, nutmeg, and ginger. Sauces that marry well with Chardonnay include anything made with a cream or lemon base. Fruits include avocado, mango, and most all other tropical fruits. Our 2009 Chardonnay Santa Maria Cuvée shows particularly well with this lobster bisque recipe.
2009 Aglianico — Pomar Junction Vineyard, Paso Robles
Aglianico is considered by many sommeliers to be one of the finest red wine grapes of Italy. Less well known than Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, Aglianico reigns over Southern Italy’s Campania and Basilicata regions. In Campania, it is the pride of the village of Taurasi and, in Basilicata, it is the fine wine Aglianico del Vulture. Aglianico tends to produce firm, acidic red wines with ample fruit and a distinct mineral and earth-tone character. Aglianico is a late budding and extremely late ripening variety: these characteristics restrict its successful cultivation to warm, long-seasoned growing regions. A vigorous and strong vine, Aglianico is a productive variety that requires attentive thinning to prevent over cropping. The clusters are large and the berries are medium-sized with very thick skins.
Ancient Origins of Aglianico
There are very few grape varieties that have the storied history of Aglianico. One tale from Greek myth suggests how this luscious grape was a god’s gift for hospitality. When the Greek god Bacchus arrived at the slopes of an extinct volcano—Mount Massico in Southern Italy—he appeared to a peasant named Falerno. Falerno welcomed Bacchus by offering him everything he owned and Bacchus, touched by Falerno’s generosity, turned the slopes of Massico into hills of lush Aglianico vines. On the slopes of Mount Falernus near the border of Latium and Campania, it became the most sought-after wine of ancient Rome. This ancient wine made from Aglianico (and most likely Greco, a white grape variety still predominant in the region) was called “Falernian,” and it was considered by many to be the world’s initial “first growth.” Falernian has been mentioned throughout Roman literature. Pliny the Elder wrote that 60-year old (!) Falernian was served at a banquet in 60 BC honoring Julius Caesar for his conquests in Spain.
Today, the vast acreage of Aglianico still inhabits the same regions that enjoyed the fruits of this vine over 2000 years ago but, like many lesser-known varieties, it has been taken from its homeland and propagated in other wine regions around the world. In 2010, there were 55 acres planted in California with nearly half (24 acres) planted in Paso Robles. Ken Volk had tasted Taurasi wines several times before he and his family visited Campania in 2004: “A lot of the wines I had previously tasted had microbiological spoilage issues and I never realized the amount of fruit and intensity of the variety until I tasted it out of some clean cellars. I made a commitment to plant some in Paso Robles and, as luck turned out, the block at Pomar Junction was planted in 2005.”
In the Vineyard
Our Aglianico at Pomar Junction Vineyard has been the last grape harvested at Kenneth Volk Vineyards in three of the past four vintages and, as hard as it may be to believe given Paso’s proclivity for heat, this growing site may still be too cool to allow for full ripeness every vintage. In 2011, our Aglianico was completely dormant when the hard freeze of April came and was harvested in late October before the first fall frosts.
In 2008, an early hard frost had forced the harvest of Aglianico before Halloween, making Ken very apprehensive about how late this variety ripens. That year, he determined to avoid hanging a big crop on Aglianico in the future. The 2009 season was a great warm growing season in general although Ken was very concerned about the big crop that had set on the Aglianico. It was thinned three times and, at full veraison, it was down to less than one cluster per cane. Harvest was nearly done when the potential of a huge early rainstorm became a reality. Ken kept studying the weather reports and called in some favors from the meteorologists at Vandenberg Air Force Base: “I had a very uneasy feeling we were going to get soaked so I made the tough decision to bring in all my fruit that was above 22 brix which included the Aglianico. We finished picking on Monday the 12th of October and we received nearly half of our annual rainfall at Pomar Junction on the 13th and 14th with over 8 inches of rain. The fruit came in at 22.8 brix and had great flavors.” It’s hard to survive 3 inches of rain much less 8 inches, and with the length of days in October, it’s hard to gain significant sugar even without rain.
The handpicked fruit was destemmed and 75% crushed into open-top fermenters; a hot fermentation was encouraged to maximize extraction. Following pressing and a brief settling, the young wine was racked to predominately Hungarian oak cooperage of which 20% was new wood. Malolactic fermentation occurred in barrel. The barrels were racked twice during their 20 months in the cellar.
In the Glass
Our 2009 Aglianico is a bright crimson purple-hued wine with aromas of Santa Rosa plum, rose petal, black tea and barrel spice. Firm tannins support black fruit flavors of blueberry and cassis which make this a great food wine with rustic cuisine such as cured meats, lamb or hearty pastas. Since Campania is the home of both Aglianico and pizza, we have included this recipe for making pizza dough with a link to a video on roasting tomatoes. Enjoy!