“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”…  Vince Lombardi

Finally, in the closing act of my one-life play, I acquire patience.  The rush to reach the next unnecessary chore is no longer a self-deemed necessity and the moment is now appreciably extended. Meals are the anthesis of fast food and wine gets aged. Bottles today that were tasted years ago at vineyards and wineries, are now emptied into the wine glass with full bodied flash backs of those wondrous excursions.  People met. Things learned.

Learned, among other things, that assumptions are dangerous.  You’ll find La Crema not at just your wine retailer but at the small local grocer too.  For the winery, it pays the bills as does the $4-liter bottle of wine at the large liquor store.  I’m not suggesting that what La Crema produces is in that group. I’m suggesting (trying to) that if you fixate an impression of the winery based on what you find at “Happy’s Grocery”, you may be doing yourself an injustice.

Recently, I opened a bottle of La Crema’s “Shell Ridge” 2012 Pinot Noir.  La Crema was founded in 1979.  In 1993, Jess Jackson bought the winery. As with many acquisitions (and there are SO many), these mostly get transacted “under the radar”.  In most cases, people employed remain employed in the same position. Change is/can be disconcerting in the marketplace, but usually what happens is that money simply flows in to build the brand. The label remains and not a lot is said about it.  In La Crema’s acquisition, the quality of wines was enhanced with winemaker Dan Goldfield. And La Crema became one of the top producers in California for Burgundian varieties (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). 

From California’s Russian River AVA, La Crema continued expanding and in 2012 acquired prime lots in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  Single vineyard and curve wines made from selected lots expressing terroir and balanced in a Wallenda-like fashion.  But this is “Shell Ridge”: Sonoma, from the Annapolis area of the extreme and rugged coast: steeply sloped, mountainside, and just one ridge from the Pacific Ocean.  To this day, vineyard crews still find ancient sea shells in the soil.

The 2012 vintage was comprised from select blocks of the 150-acre vineyard and focused on four clones: Pommard 777 (my favorite), 667 and 115.   I remember tasting a Cabernet Sauvignon from a well-respected maker in Chile.  Comprised of grapes from six plots (one a Cabernet Franc), I remember tasting the wine from each block separately. I remember liking most and (frankly) thinking another was terrible. I remember the winemaker then blending those individual wines into what would then be labeled under the finished brand and being blown away by the excellence, if not the perfection, of that wine.
And so it is with “Shell Ridge.”  I made some (thick-cut, bone-in) pork chops with a reduction of organic cherries with some diced onion, garlic and balsamic vinegar.  The chops had been brined and left to tender overnight.  Otherwise, things were simple: some pickled organic asparagus flavored with tarragon and shallot and a light salad of mixed spring greens and herbs drizzled with an apple-maple vinaigrette.  For me, if it’s pork it’s pinot.  O.K., some exceptions noted, but generally the pork/pinot pairing works for me.  What I wasn’t prepared for is how well this already magnificent bottle developed in just 6 years post vintage.

Just a few years ago, I would state that there was one, maybe two vineyards in California whose Pinot Noir could usurp the prejudice of my preferences as a Francophile.  Now it’s three.  I’ve had others of La Crema since (both single vineyard and not) and have consistently been impressed.

Akin to the “old world” style, but not ignoring the best of “new world” potential, La Crema (as a non-grocery option) subdues its fruit, restraining it from being adolescent and in your face. The mushroom and barrel of the “old world” is not there. But the juice is graceful and finessed. In this bottle, expect both red and sweet dark cherry but enveloped in layers of sandalwood.  In fact, that’s what I liked most about it. The wine (though I dislike the term) is feminine, it’s nose tempting; its mouthfeel: luscious. It is both sophisticated and classy.  Simply, a lovely wine of exquisite balance that seduces all the senses.  It’s nose is romance and its taste delivers on the  hinted experience.

All of La Crema’s vineyards are harvested by hand.  And, with wines being made respecting its source, their Pinot Noirs are pure and reflective of origin.  I’ve enjoyed several labels. With “Shell Ridge” being the most recent, this wine was not only an exceptional experience but an example in a list of many that excel in personality.  Same grape. Same winery. Different character.


In "Shell Ridge", expect soft mellow tannins (it’s Pinot Noir).  Expect cherry (both red and dark sweet) on the palate in a luscious mouthfeel of silkiness enhanced with exotic spice. Sandalwood.   Layers of sandalwood going deeper and developing. Anise. Blackberry then reintroduces the fruit. Medium bodied but palate coating lusciousness, this is romance in the glass.  Other tasters refer specifically to boysenberry, rose petal (I get some of that), dark chocolate and espresso bean.

There is no wrong impression. Each palate is personal and correct for the person owning it.  But in tasting this with others, all the participating palates were joyful.  Some noted Cedar (not Sandalwood), and pomegranate, orange zest, plum and black licorice with green tea. Maybe perfection is not possible. Each moment has its influences: the meal, the company, the mood and so many other things that affect our judgement (which alone is subjective anyway).  But this wine was as close to perfection as I could imagine a wine could be.

………………. Jim

Like Wine Mizer on Facebook for mini-reviews, humor, suggested food & wine pairings, industry news and more.  In fact, since my last post here on May 18, I have placed 43 postings on Facebook.  Not better, just different. Don’t miss out.

Composition:               100% Pinot Noir
Oak:                             100% French (39% New of Medium and Med Plus Toast).
Aging:                          9 Months in Barrel
ALC:                             14.5%
TA:                               .54g/100 ml
pH:                               3.51
R.S.                              .05

After de-stemming, 70% of whole berries are left in tank. Must is left to rest for a 5-day cold soak at 48F. Fermentation is in open top tanks. Cap is punched down 3 times daily.

ARP:                         N/A  Vintage No Longer Available.  Was Between $45-$60.   Look For Current Vintages.  Recommend 2013, 2014 and (especially) 2015

La Crema Winery
Tasting Room:
235 Healdsburg Ave.
Healdsburg, CA 95448

Note:  Your merchant may (or may not) carry these better labels and may (or may not) be able to order you a sample bottle.  I’ve always been a big fan of taking a “winecation” and visiting the vineyards and wineries. But you can also “travel” without leaving home by visiting the winery’s website.  Not the sam experience., but it will be the same wine.

No comments:

Post a Comment