“Wine is sunlight held together by water.”  …. Galileo Galilei

If you love wine, if you’re passionate about it, read about it, want to know how it’s made and more, and if you have lived long enough to have tasted many bottles, there will be moments in memory that occasionally flash forward to you today.  One such, for me, was a 1947 port my sweetie gave me as a birthday gift.  Matured in wood 50 years before bottling, it was spiritually healing.  Another came along with another birthday as my brother gifted me with a single-vintage port from my birth year.  There were tastings and meetings with wine makers that still bring a smile of fond recognition.  But for the wines themselves, such experiences are rare by definition and, therefore, very special.

The most recent such was my experience with a Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir (2010). As the label mentions, grapes are grown, fermented and estate bottled 2000 feet above the floor of the Santa Clara Valley on a peak of the Chaine d’Or in the Santa Cruz Mountains (an AVA in California). 
While the wines (Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon included) of Mount Eden Vineyards are consistently rated highly, 2010 was unusually cold.  Vines for Mount Eden’s pinot noir, grown on a soil of shale, enjoy cool and sunny conditions above the fog line. But with the particularly cool conditions for the 2010 vintage, hang time was extended. Maturation was slow and steady with exceptional phenolic development.  It was perfect for growing Pinot Noir.

And the vines themselves are among the oldest in California, brought to California and propagated by French winemaker Paul Masson. Martin Ray, of Mount Eden, planted them in 1945. Masson was friends with the family of Louis Latour (Burgundy) and it’s likely the selection came from the family’s finest vineyards and were brought to California by Masson in the 1880’s.

Moving ahead, fermentation at Mount Eden incorporates a large percentage of whole cluster, including stems. The vines themselves benefit from vertical shoot positioning, keeping the canopy well aerated and shade free as possible, maximizing sun exposure and providing circulation between leaves (particularly important for thin-skinned pinot noir). Already “old vines”, they are even thinned, as necessary, to providing for yields not exceeding two tons per acre; typically one to one to one-and-a half tons per acre.
Coq-Au-Vin, purple carrots. Simple. Elegant and so
Perfectly Complimented by the Wine

All wine begins in the vineyard and the vineyard here produces excellent grapes.  But what you do with those grapes is the partner to how they are grown.  Whole cluster fermentation … classic. Using natural yeasts, fermenting in small, open-top fermenters ten to fourteen days, with hand punch downs. Wine is matured in 75% new French oak (25% one year old wood) then aged 18 months. Not filtered. Not fined. This is as close to Burgundy as California can get without a major shift in our earth’s tectonic plates. (Not something anyone in California wants to hear).   

The wine is complex and balanced from first sniff to last taste. Dark fruit. Deep, rich, mashed black plum on the nose, black cherry, black pepper and sandalwood carry into the taste. The mouthfeel is rich. Tannins are soft but develop nicely in a warm finish that seems to never end.
If you can discipline yourself and refrain from drinking this wine too quickly, magic begins in the glass. Air opens the wine to whispered notes of strawberry, raspberry, earth and blueberry. Still dominant with black fruit, this balanced menage continues to promote sandalwood complexity and black fruit but now adding red notes.

I had been making Coq-au-Vin and knew I wanted a Pinot Noir. Mount Eden’s was highly rated, but new to me. My only regret is that I purchased only one bottle as a sample. From its original price of $55, it now is available on line for $125.  Fortunately, the 2011 vintage is still on the shelves. With an average score of 93.5 from Wine & Spirits Magazine, Vinous, Tanzer and Wine Advocate, this vintage too is certain to impress.  History speaks very well of Mount Eden: Its 2009 vintage earned an average score of 92.67.

But, as noted, these wines are classic and made for aging.  I’ll be buying several of the 2011 and cellaring them in the good faith I’ll be here to enjoy them. As for the 2010, I’ll be having another birthday soon. Maybe I should drop some hints.   

………………. Jim
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Yield:                           1.8 tons per acre
Harvest:                       SEPT 1-26th
Brix (at Harvest)         23.5
pH:                               3.45
Acidity:                        8.5g
Alc:                              13.5%
Bottled:                       Sept. 2011   (804 Cases)                                

Mount Eden Vineyards
22020 Mt Eden Rd
Saratoga CA 95070
PH: (408) 867-5832
email: not available


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