Results from a recent blind tasting among the New York Vintners staff highlighted what is becoming ever more apparent to open-minded, experienced wine tasters: that America is producing a remarkable range of truly outstanding wines which match and at times surpass their Old World counterparts in quality. We all have a lot to be proud of when it comes to what the best American growers and winemakers have and will accomplish. The two wines in question were (1) a Viognier from one of California’s finest wine makers, Wells Guthrie, and (2) a Syrah from a sexy winery in the cool Sonoma Coast region in northern California. Watch out France!
A Sumptuous Viognier
The 2nd of 2 whites we tasted blind was judged far superior in overall quality to the first white. It turned out to retail for half the price to add surprise to pleasure. We confronted a wonderfully fragrant, juicy aroma with notes of apricot pits, crushed white peppercorns and honey. On the palate the wine balanced lush ripeness with really lovely refreshing acidity and a firm impression of underlying minerality. The wine successfully captured both fruit and vineyard source. All of us felt that the wine would be a brilliant match for salty foods, pork, ham, Cantonese cuisine and dry cheeses. So what was this beauty? A Viognier from one of our favorite California winemakers, Wells Guthrie. We have written about the quiet, intense Guthrie before. He has brought his Gallic sensibility to northern California wines with stunning and consistent success. His Syrahs, Pinots and Viogniers have few equals and easily bear comparison to their finest French “competitors”. The average estimate of the retail value of the wine was $35. When we saw that it in facts sells for $20, we were all flabbergasted. At $35 it is worth very penny. At $20 it is priced well below its intrinsic worth.
A World Class Syrah
Among the 5 red wines we tasted—and all good to very good I might add, one seemed especially interesting. Very dark and dense with powerful yet restrained density of fruit, a smokey, blackberry spicy bouquet with hints of expensive saddle leather, superb tannins and a chewy, mouth coating texture this was a true fall/winter red. The element of lushness and roundness in the finish lead most of us to think new world Syrah. And for once we were right! The wine turned out to be a single vineyard Syrah—the great grape of the northern Rhone—from one of the finest wineries on the Sonoma Coast, Peay. The winery was established in 2001 by Nick Peay and his brilliant wine maker wife Vanessa Wong. Ms. Wong had been the winemaker at Peter Michael, producer of some of California’s greatest Chardonnays and at Chateau Lafite Rothschild in Bordeaux, Domaine Jean Gros in Burgundy and at NY Vintners favorite Hirsch Vineyards also on the Sonoma Coast. It was from this latter experience that Nick and Vanessa developed their understanding and passion for the uniquely beautiful, difficult, long cool growing cycle of this region in Northern California. Their 53 acres are devoted principally to Pinot Noir and Syrah with a little Chardonnay, and Rhone white varietals to add spice to the mixture. Vanessa and Nick have hit a lot of doubles, triples and home runs with their individualistic, focused and complex wines from the first releases. The top wine writers love them as does anyone with a real affection for wines of depth and character. They are not cheap but they are not really expensive either. The Peay wines are meant to drink at a serious meal with good friends. We all really liked this marvelous Syrah. We are quite sure that you will as well.
-Bob Millman, NY Vintners