RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY AVA
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of sitting down and tasting through some new wines to the CT market with my friend Jordan Ross from Pasternak Wine Imports. He had a new wines/winery in the bag and was accompanied by Jeremy Baker, President of Thomas George Estates from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma.
The story here is quite interesting. To begin, Pasternak is a company I most associate with imported wines, although they do carry a few selections from domestic producers. Owned primarily by the Rothschild family of Lafite, the core of the portfolio from Pasternak centers on the labels under the Domaines Rothschild brands, with a handful of other wines to round out the portfolio. With the addition of the Thomas George Estate, the portfolio from Pasternak grows significantly in the premium domestic market, which I believe is a good thing.
The second part of the interesting story is the background on the vineyards and winery that make up the Thomas George Estate. To begin with the winery and vineyards that are the core of this production are the winery and several vineyards from the original Davis Bynum Winery. With support from Davis Bynum himself (still alive and kickin' at 94!) the Bakers have revitalized what are some of the most prized and historic sites in the Russian River. This is so cool from my point of view as I am a big fan of making historic connections as well as looking back to look forward. Plus, I used to sell a lot of the Davis Bynum Pinot Noir in the 90s, when you could actually find it and it was still super inexpensive. So there are some connections here for me that run deeper than just a new label to find.
Community, please take note:
these are wines that will impress, they are wines that are fairly priced for the quality,
and these deserve to be on wine lists.
Once we got into the wines it was quickly apparent that these were serious, and showed of very good wine-making. There is a focus on (as it should be) Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. These wines got better as we moved through them, and the tasting group was all very much impressed with the quality. My tasting notes are below, but Community please take note: these are wines that will impress, they are wines that are fairly priced for the quality, and that these deserve to be on wine lists. Pay attention to the clonal selection notes where i have added them in as these are significant contributing factors for the style of these wines. I cannot over-state the importance of the connection to the past here and it so great to see that these vineyards and the legacy are in in good hands.
I did have a great conversation with Jeremy, which ranged fro his past as a restaurant owner to the state of affairs in California wine circles. If you come across him ask him his thoughts on the In Pursuit of Balance movement...you may get an earful. We discussed his wine-maker, who is John Wilson. John spent time as assistant at Littorai as well as Outpost Wines - two very well regarded operations - each perfectly suited wines for the productions by Thomas George.
We also tasted wines from their associated Noble Tree Estate, which has two estate vineyards. The Wickersham Ranch Vineyard is a remote, 2200 foot elevation vineyard located in northern Sonoma. This is the source for the wines we tasted: Grenache, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The other estate is in the Chalk Hill-Russian River AVA, and includes sourcing for Chardonnay and Zinfandel, which was not included in the tasting for the day. What we did taste showed very well and are a great compliment to the cooler climate wines from Thomas George. Important to note these wines are all estate produced, and the wine-making is definitely consistent with the quality displayed in the Thomas George wines.
Thomas George Estates Chardonnay Sons & Daughters Ranch, Russian River Valley, 2014
The wine is fermented in combination of Stainless Steel and concrete eggs (yes, large egg-shaped concrete vessels designed for fermentation), with no malo-lactic, no oak and only some added time on the lees. It is made from 50-year old vine clone 4, planted on St George root-stock, which is great for drought conditions and adds to the concentration of fruit in the wine.
I found the wine to be elegant, forward and lush, but still reserved enough in its attack to impress the best. Clean and somewhat mineral driven on the finish. Bright enough for Euro-drinkers, but will hit Cali-styles nicely.
900 cases - about $20 at retail
Thomas George Estates Chardonnay Estate, Russian River Valley, 2013
Sourced from the combination of the various estate vineyards, this wine sees oak ferment as well as some aging. It build into the mid-palate but does not overwhelm. I like the stone fruit / green apple up front, followed by some smooth texture through the finish. Pretty wine which displays very good wine-making efforts, as well as the older clones.
About $30 at retail
Thomas George Estates Chardonnay Baker Ridge, Russian River Valley, 2012
Star of the show, for sure. This is sourced from the Baker Ridge Vineyard, which was the original Davis Bynum vineyards on the winery and features Old Wente and Dijon 809 clones. (809 is a musque clone, btw) There is a lot of wine-making going on here with extended whole cluster and juice contact as well as ferment. Basically some kick-ass wine. Buy this if you love really great Chardonnay. Only 20% ML, so this wine will have some lasting power for future drinking.
About $45 at retail
Thomas George Estates Pinot Noir Estate, Russian River Valley, 2012
I could not find a reference to this particular wine on their website, so no tech info, but rest assured I did taste it. With no vineyard designation, I have to assume this is a compilation of their vineyard sources. Jeremy said that all wines are vineyard designated except the Estate wines. This is smooth and succulent, with a little crunchy acidity to balance the finish; very pretty fruit - I liked it very much.
About $30-35 at retail.
Thomas George Estates Pinot Noir Baker Ridge, Russian River Valley, 2012
This is where the money is for the day. Beautiful wine from the home vineyard, which is planted to mostly 45 year old Wädenswil and Swan clones. These are the original plantings by Davis Bynum and really are the core of this beautiful wine. My notes are simply - great style, juicy, balanced, elegant feel. Not the most descriptive, but this wine is absolutely beautiful, and i am adding to the list shortly despite its slightly elevated price. Very limited availability in the CT market, so grab some while you can.
About $65-75 at retail
Noble Tree is a second production label and is also estate produced, shows great quality, and makes an excellent compliment to the Chard/Pinot Noir driven selections of the Thomas George line. We tasted three selections that are currently in market, but there are others that have not been released yet. Here are my notes:
Noble Tree Grenache, Russian River Valley, 2014
100% Grenache, from the cooler Russian River alley AVA. Great texture here with more tannin and grit than what you might find from Spanish or French grenache based wines. Ripe raspberry fruit dry texture, smooth, slightly grippy finish. Have this with flavorful meat dishes.
About $16 at retail
Noble Tree Merlot Wickersham Ranch, Sonoma County, 2013
Probably my least favorite wine of the day. Decent fruit, but falls a bit in the mid-palate.
About $16 at retail
Noble Tree Cabernet Sauvignon Wickersham Ranch, Sonoma County, 2014
This was the sleeper in the bunch. I will be adding to my list BTG in the near future as this expresses what I would consider pure Cabernet style and flavors. Fine cassis and blackberry on the nose, smooth tannin, just a hint of herbal on the finish, but not overly aggressive. No messing around with oak chips or acidification. Just tastes great and true to what Cab Sauv should be.
About $16 at retail
A 25 year drinks industry expert, Brian has worked on just about every side of the beverage business, specializing in wine & spirits education, staff training, creative consulting, and of course service. He lives and works in Connecticut, where the number of working Somm's is limited, but he hopes through the effort of this site and its related events, that will change.
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