…not. Not quite, anyway…When it comes to New World wines, unless growers/winemakers are championing non-vitis vinifera like Norton or Cayuga or a host of other American grape varieties (very much at their own peril since almost no one favors these varieties over their European cousins), there is typically a reliance on not only Old World grapes, but Old World blends, and styles as well. Tonight, we’ve got a wine that pretty deftly splits the difference.
The wines of the southern French region of The Rhone (named after the river of the same name on which it sits) is divided rather neatly into “north” and “south”. Though both of these sub-regions are roughly similar in terms of climate, there are substantial differences in terms of soil and elevation that pretty dramatically determine what varieties are raised in these two areas. The Southern Rhone, as one might expect, is notably warmer, overall fairly flat topographically, and with a preponderance of alluvial soils replete with large, river-smoothed stones called galets. And though there are 13 grape varieties (including both red and white vine types) permitted in the production of southern Rhone wines, when it comes to the red side of things, the great and heat-loving Grenache variety is the undisputed leader, with a handful of other vine types like Syrah, Counoise, Vaccarese (all red grapes) et al. rounding out the blend. The story in the Northern Rhone is almost exclusively the tale of another great red variety – Syrah – with the occasional addition of a few splashes of the rich and highly aromatic white grape called Viognier.
This evening’s wine from central California’s Santa Ynez Valley is made from 42% Syrah, 34% Grenache, and 2% Viognier, making the (uncompleted) blend a Golden State hybrid of Northern and Southern Rhone styles. So what makes up the remaining 22% of the blend? For me, this last piece of the final wine, vis-a`-vis the other elements, is what makes this wine such a cool and thoughtful piece of work, and this last wedge of the blend is made up of the deeply Californian variety called Petite Sirah which now grows almost nowhere else but California, but whose ancestry is an old hybridization of true Syrah, folded and re-folded a few times with a couple of other very obscure (one of which is called Peloursin) and indeed nearly extinct Rhone grape varieties. So for me, if you take a few steps back to see what Stolpman has wrought with this cuvee`, it looks to me to be a very smart (and extremely successful) pastiche of a wine modeled on two storied and sibling Southern French appellations with a spirited inlay of “Californiality” that simultaneously obliquely points back a third time to the traditions of sunny Southern France all the way from sunny California. Well done, guys…
To go along with this beautifully conceived and expertly made wine, I served a first course of a pan-fried potato and apple pancakes flavored with caraway and sage topped with a generous dollop of chive-laced sour cream, followed by a home-made BBQ sauce marinated, oven-roasted pork tenderloin with a side of cauliflower roasted along with the meat on the rack just below.
Stolpman Vineyards Santa Ynez Valley “La Cuadrilla” 2010
Very deep and saturated blackish purple color. Deep and lovely nose of black cherry, grape jelly, prune, and grilled peach fruit notes ably supported by aromas of cola syrup, cinnamon, allspice and lillies. In the mouth the wine shows a full, sleek body with good acidity and a fine and dry tannic structure and an overall great cohesion and balance, and lifted, light touch despite its evident power that pushes forward pure flavors of blueberry, myrtle, bitter orange, tree bark, black coffee and meat juices. Very clean and polished finish. Really nice stuff.