Well, it was a Great visit to Coffaro Saturday -- in short, no worries whatsoever about the quality of the purchased grapes (the Lane Zin/Teldeschi Cab and the Jones Cab Franc [replaces Neighbor's Cuvee] were notably outstanding) -- and the lots sampled gave ample promise that 1999 will rate among Dave's best for his entire line-up of wines.
We started with five of the Coffaro '98s to serve as reference, then proceeded to taste 12 different barrels of the new wines. I brought the printout from Dave's website so afterwards could apply notes to the individual lots (check Dave's winemaker's diary for last week to see which lots I refer to below).
Vibrant, clean, complex fruit across the board in both aromatics and on the palate. Amazing that the wines came across as nearly finished wines despite being only days old. Not a single barrel tasted had any of the stinky notes and/or awkwardness that you often run across in such young samples (including Dave's from prior years). Lori has a "supertaster" nose and palate that is pretty consistent in being able to detect and describe off notes in wines, and no shrinking violet in letting me know which characteristics bother her and why. Lori told me to tell you guys that she considered Saturday's barrel tasting "the best she has ever participated in", which includes visits to the likes of Montelena, Stag's Leap, Jadot, Drouhin, etc., and of course the prior tastings at Coffaro. In a couple samples she picked up initial hints of yeast, no doubt due to just-completed fermentations, but those immediately blew off to fully reveal yummy fruit.
I didn't know that Dave would also open '98s, so to "prep" myself I tasted through half a bottle of the '98 Estate Cuvee before the trip (for comparative research purposes only, of course :-))), gassed & refrigerated the bottle, then tasted through the remainder on return to Davis. Bottom line is that I feel certain the '99 Zin and Estate Cuvee will be better than the '98 counterparts, and that the Petite Sirah and Carignan should be at least comparable if not better as well. Lots of that "je ne sais quoi" excitement factor to the fruit in several of the wines that's hard for me to ascribe adjectives to, but can recognize it as characteristic of fruit in wines from great vintages.
Specific lot notes:
Old Vine Zin (3.79 pH, 14.15 EtOH): clean, classic zin notes, but a bit soft on the palate as the pH reading attests. If memory serves, characteristics remind me of the '96 zin in bottle. Nice, but overshadowed by the next two components of the likely zin blend.
Zin Front Wire (3.59 pH, 14.2 EtOH): raspberries and other red fruits on the aromas; bright, spicy, zesty, clean finish. Rainer, Lori & I agreed we might readily enjoy this wine as is, now! However, it could use a bit more complexity and depth in the middle, which it certainly would receive in the form of:
Lane Zin (67%)/Teldeschi Cab (33%) (3.50 pH, 14.0 EtOH): Yes, this is as good as Dave's been trying to tell us. Big fruit, round middle, very long finish. Dark and dominated by complex black fruits that hit palate with a generous full-of-fruit impression, then keeps opening (excellent length!) to reveal additional flavors several seconds after initial sip. I think one of the reasons I've preferred the Estate Cuvee each vintage has been the zin's lack of a long finish once it's aged a couple years. I can easily see thismix providing the "oomph" needed in the middle palate as well as providing additional complexity and staying power on the finish. All eight folks tasting really liked this one (and I was the only one to have seen Dave's advance reviews).
4th Mix (40% P.S., 40% Zin, and up to 8 other varietals in this field blend) (3.65 pH, 13.9 EtOH): Most of this will go into the Estate Cuvee, though Dave's thinking of holding back some to bottle 50 cases. Very complex, with dark fruits and an aroma profile reminiscent of my fave 1980s-era Lytton Springs zins pre-Ridge. Not as big as Lane/Teldeschi above, but this one's clearly core support for the E.C., stands wonderfully on its own, and I'm putting in for six bottles (or whatever Dave allocates, since limited) should some be bottled separately.
Did not taste the Barbera at Dave's recommendation, as the searing acidity (3.12 pH) could have affected our palate for subsequent samples. Anyway, this will be used in small blending percentages only, essentially for acid balancing where necessary.
Jones Cabernet Franc (3.64 pH, 13.4 EtOH): Ooohh, this
is good stuff! Great aromatics that immediately conjure expensive young
Bordeaux (can someone say Cheval Blanc? :-)), though the structure on the
palate is a bit lean. Don't know whether cab or syrah should be used
to fill it out a bit. Dave may be thinking cab (because in general shooting
for 3.6 pH and it's an historical match for cab franc), but seems to me
that a bit of the syrah might also help fill the middle palate. You
guys might try a shot of both, separately and/or together, to see how changes
the cab franc. The nose on
this one is really special; hope it can be kept reasonably intact.
Cab Bottom (3.43 pH, 12.5 EtOH): Readings could have prejudiced
me to think this was picked too early, but tasting the barrel sample impressed
by what seems to be fully ripe fruit and a surprisingly long finish.
Nose was quite
muted compared to the zins that came before, but then again it's only a 10-day-old cabernet!
Did not taste Aca Modot (3.60 pH, 13.2 EtOH), but didn't request either. Obvious from reading Dave's diary that yield was low this year (likely just enough to cover already-purchased wine), so I thought would be inappropriate (and unnecessary) to taste, especially this young. My gut feeling is that since the bottom cab showed good fruit and length at its pH/EtOH readings, then very likely the Aca Modot will develop just fine.
Simpson Syrah (4.03 pH, 14.1 EtOH): Medium-intensity nose, smoky soft fruit, huge middle palate with little acid or structure. High quality fruit to be used strictly for blending. I thought might be interesting to blend a bit of this with the Cab Franc as an experiment.
Pinot Noir (3.36 pH, 13.5 EtOH). Nose not really developed during the 5 minutes in the glass, but there was tight, structured fruit on the palate; fairly dark for a pinot. Will be interesting to see if Dave decides to use Syrah to blend up the middle and pH, but this one's a bit tough to figure out. Been drinking too many St. Innocent pinots recently to properly evaluate, but think the style is closer to what we think of as Russian River pinot than what Dave made last year (though only tasted that one out of barrel as well).
Tasted three Petite Sirahs, all around 3.45 pH and 13.2 EtOH:
1) the "regular" Petite Sirah, with fruit and tannin approaching that of
a Turley or Ridge ATP (minus the toasted 2x4s), 2) the "alternate clone"
Petite, which had the big aromatics we recognize in earlier vintages of
Dave's P.S., but has considerably less palate impression than the other
2 lots, and 3) Doug Rafanelli vyd. (not be confused with Dave Rafanelli)
P.S., which had a restrained typical P.S. nose but a big middle palate
with lots of fruit and less evident tannins than 1) above. Whichever
of you gets out there next,
see if Dave will let you taste a blend of the three together. These three lots all bring a different strength to the table that should produce a wonderful wine with the right blend.
Carignan (3.58 pH, 13.0 EtOH): Spicy cherry & red fruits
and licorice - very tasty. As opposed to a couple prior vintages
where barrel samples had off notes in early development, this was pure
and well-delineated (==>
clean, yummy, complex fruit, fruit and nothing but the fruit). How come other carignans have structure and color, but not the fruit??
A good time had by all, as we capped the visit with a sunny picnic that included fresh-baked bread from Napa and a round of ripe unpasteurized Reblochon. It really doesn't get much better than this!
Let me know how your tastings track the development of the wines in
the months ahead!