New wine reviews
I met Oded Shakked years ago when I was writing my first book, A Wine Journey along the Russian River. He had started Longboard Vineyards and I was giving him good reviews. His story—how he got from the Israeli Army to the Russian River Valley—was fascinating. Oded continues at the Longboard helm; I’ll be visiting with him at the tasting room in Healdsburg this weekend. He recently sent me his latest releases, which I was pleased to taste.
Longboard 2013 Mavericks – Chrome Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley): $65. Winemaker Oded Shakked is a surfer (hence “Longboard”); the name of this wine honors the Mavericks surfing competition, held annually south of San Francisco. The “Chrome,” Oded explains, is for a photograph of a big wave; I haven’t seen it, but supposedly it’s quite famous. Oded used to make a Cabernet from the Rochioli Vineyard. I don’t think he still does, but he learned his chops. He’s moved his Cabernet sourcing further east, to the warmer Alexander Valley, on the east side of the valley, where the appellation meets Chalk Hill and Cabernet has no problem ripening. The wine contains a splash of Malbec and Merlot from Oded’s own vineyard, in the northern Russian River Valley, from where the structure and acidity come. It’s quite a good wine, showing lush, plush black currant, teriyaki, anise and chocolate flavors, with a sweet-spicy earthiness that suggests black olive tapenade. I really like this Cab right now. You can probably age it for 5-8 years, but why bother. The alcohol is 14.5% and only 72 cases were produced. Score: 93 points.
Longboard 2014 Mystos Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley): $55. This is a big, luscious Pinot Noir, the kind that smacks of the summer sun. Oded doesn’t want to reveal the name or location of the vineyard, other than to say it’s “hillside.” That’s a confidentiality agreement, common in wine country. It’s a solid wine, packed with ripe raspberries, persimmons and cherry cola; one-third new French oak for a year adds layers of vanilla and toast. The alcohol is a modest 13.9%. It’s super-drinkable now. I’m thinking of lamb or char-broiled filet of beef, or grilled salmon with wild mushrooms. Score: 92 points.
Longboard 2013 Syrah (Russian River Valley): $30. This is quite a delicious Syrah, easily worth the price. It’s soft and smooth, housing ripe, lush blackberry and blueberry jam, cocoa, crispy bacon, espresso, black pepper and smoky oak flavors, with a glyceriney sweetness in the finish. Glides over the palate like a velvet tapestry. I don’t know the exact grape sourcing; the Russian River Valley is a big place, but it tastes like it’s from the warmer, northerly parts. The wine is 100% Syrah, aged for 18 months in 30% new French oak. Oded, who is of Israeli extraction, says he likes this wine with lamb and kebab dishes. I concur. Drink now-2021. Alcohol 14.5%, production 422 cases. Score: 92 points.
Longboard 2014 Rochioli Vineyard Chardonnay (Russian River Valley): $50. Oded Shakked is one of the few winemakers fortunate enough to obtain grapes from his old friends, the Rochiolis. The vineyard, in a warmer part of the valley on Westside Road, is, of course, one of the greatest in California for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This fresh, young wine is made in the classic Burgundian way, with 40% new French oak barrel fermentation and aging on the lees. It’s very rich and intricate, with layers of crème brulée, orange custard, golden mango, honey and buttered cinnamon toast. That makes it sound like a dessert wine, but it’s quite dry and racy. Oded predicts that it will age; I don’t think so. So drink it now with the richest foods: Dungeness crab, lobster, scallops, a wild mushroom risotto. Alcohol 14.2%, 186 cases produced. Score: 92 points.
Square Peg is a winery I was unfamiliar with until they sent me these two Pinot Noirs. Both are from the estate vineyard, which is near Occidental, at the junction of Russian River Valley, Green Valley and Sonoma Coast. The vineyard is dry-farmed, unusual in my experience for this part of the world. The owner is a guy named Brad Alper, a former American Airlines pilot who retired in 2012. The winemaker is William Knuttel, who was winemaker at Saintsbury for a long time, and knows Pinot Noir.
Square Peg 2014 SP-SL Vineyard Block 8 Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $65. The winery hasn’t made clear what the difference is between their Block 1 and Block 8 Pinots [see below]. The alcohol, 14.5%, is the same. The case production is roughly the same. The acidity and pH are pretty much the same. The difference seems to be that Block 8 was harvested at significantly lower brix than Block 1, and that does seem to be the crucial difference. The wine is lovely, with raspberry, strawberry and cherry fruit, and a tight, taut mouthfeel. I’m giving it two extra points over Block 1 because it has more delicacy and finesse. Score: 93 pojnts.
Square Peg 2014 SP-SL Vineyard Block 1 Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $65. No stems in the fermentation of this garnet-colored wine, which despite its alcohol level of 14.5% is silky and delicate, with refined tannins. The flavors tread an interesting line between earthy-mushroomy, with a slight tomatoey greenness, and more generous raspberries, cherries and persimmons. The acidity is just fine. It’s a wine that hints of complexity. Fine to drink now and over the next six years. Score: 91 points.