The 2007 Witch Creek Montepulciano offered ripe, fleshy strawberry aromas, a piney note, and a hint of dill. In the mouth, it was savory, gamey and briny with strawberry flavors playing a well-placed second fiddle. It was lush, rich and full bodied with supple tannins. The finish was drying and meaty with strawberry and some heat (14.3 % ABV). Overnight its aromas exhibited light cured game, fleshy strawberry and a hint of wild herbs (dill?). In the mouth, slight game was accompanied by fleshy strawberry, an unmistakable but proportionate and tamer brininess. The texture was softer, velvet like. Medium-boded, with good balance, it had some heat. It almost overpowered the mushroom pizza (because of the briny character), and needed unembellished red meat protein. It was also a bit awkward with the blackened salmon. (1 bottle tasted)
The Seven Artisans 2009 Montepulciano was grown in the upper Suisun Valley by winemaker Jeff Miller who takes a straightforward, no fuss, no muss approach to clean, solid winemaking. Jeff believes that his Montepulciano does best without any oak treatment. This wine started with aromas of strawberry, toast and spice (licorice) notes and vague leather hints. A mix of cherry and strawberry predominated in the mouth. Supple, smooth tannins, some heat, lighter body, and more restrained acids made up the structure of this wine. The finish seemed dominated by heat and clear fruit was a bit hard to find. On the second day, fleshy strawberry and licorice were joined by a hint of raspberry and floral notes. In the mouth, fleshy strawberry took on a slightly sweet note. The wine also became creamier and richer and the tannins were fine and supple. The wine maintained a good balance. The finish was fairly persistent, with bright ripe strawberry and a bit of heat. The wine was a pleasant companion to the mushroom pizza, with which it did not compete. It also went well with the blackened salmon. (ABV not available, 2 bottles tasted, 400 cases made)
Shauna and Kent Rosenblum obtained the fruit for their 2008 Rock Wall Montepulciano from Randy Taylor’s vineyards in Contra Costa County. The grapes were fermented in small macrobins after spending some time out in the sun. The Rosenblums allowed 15%-20% whole berry inclusion, did a cold soak at 42 degrees, tannin addition and used of their house yeast, RP15, a Zinfandel yeast, as the core of their regimen. All new French oak was used for ageing. The wine started with strong oak aromas—dill initially—then notes of leather. Coffee became more pronounced with a little air. In the mouth, plush black cherry/strawberry led into light, supple tannins. Lighter bodied, the soft acids in the mid-palate made the wine seem a bit hollow. A fairly complex finish consisted of a briary cherry-strawberry mélange, with a crème fraiche note and slight bitterness. On the second day, the collective aromas screamed “Zinfandel”. Dill, herbs and vanilla up front, crossing into espresso, the fruit come through had a distinct briar-like quality. In the mouth, espresso notes preceded ripe, very plump briary fruit flavors. Slight, fine-grained tannins, and softer but more pronounced acids made for a round and rich mouthfeel. The wine was an unobtrusive companion to the mushroom pizza and did not overpower the blackened salmon. (14.1% ABV, 1 bottle tasted, production volume unknown, This wine is produced in small lots and tends to sell out to club members.)
The 2008 Raffaldini Montepulciano, from the Swan Creek AVA in North Carolina, received extended oak ageing. It starts with some VE/VA up front, fleshy ripe strawberry/raspberry and oak terpene notes. In the mouth, strawberry flavors dominated with a structure of finely dusty, suede-like, lightly drying tannins, a light body and softer acids. It finished creamy, with a waxy edge. On the second day, a more distinct though faint aroma of rose petals accompanied the previously noted fruit. The fruit flavors became accented by a hibiscus-like note. Supple, smooth, fine, tannins and good acids and balance defined its structure. The finish was more truncated and more drying on the second day. This wine was a nice companion to the mushroom pizza and did not compete with any of its elements. Paired with blackened salmon, it worked structurally, clashed somewhat, aromatically. (12.5% ABV, 2 bottles tasted, production volume unknown)
The 2008 Mandola Spino, from Duchman Family Winery, is a 100% varietal wine sourced from fruit grown in the Reddy Vineyards and the Mandola state vineyards in the Texas High Plains and Texas Hill Country. Temperature-controlled fermentation was followed by nine months in French oak. The wine starts with aromas of bright, fleshy strawberry, a faint floral hint, and a slightly funky edge. Cranberry and strawberry flavors dominate this light-bodied wine with, light fine tannins, some heat and lower acids. The finish is a bit hollow feeling. On the second day the faint funky aromas persisted, taking on a more vegetal character, but were dominated by fleshy macerated strawberry followed by a floral/oaky note. In the mouth, strawberry dominated cranberry and a slight mineral-like astringency. The structure took on more definition with taut, fine, slight tannins, vibrant acids, good body and balance. The medium-length finish was juicy with cherry/cranberry flavors and a vague floral hint. The rustically-styled wine blended in well with a mushroom pizza but clashed aromatically with blackened salmon. (12.5% ABV, 1 bottle tasted, 662 cases made)
The 2007 Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano started with earthy aromas of char, light brett-like notes and a hint of cherry. These persisted into the next day with fruit becoming a bit fleshier. Cherry/cranberry flavors lay on a structure of grippy, drying tannins with a dusty texture, a hint of bitterness, and juicy lasting acidity. A very long finish of cherry and cranberry ended with some heat. Nice food companion that does not compete with truffle and mushroom pizza and pairs well with blackened salmon. (13% ABV. 2 bottles tasted).
For my 40th birthday I took a much-needed get away to Napa. We visited my friend Jeff Miller and his wife Beryl. Jeff lives in Napa and grows and makes wines in the Suisun Valley AVA under several labels: Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, and Red Côte.