Monday, August 3, 2015

Livermore Valley: Rich History, Rich Wines

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

When studying the history of California Wine, Livermore Valley pops up again and again. From the opening of the region’s first winery in 1880s, to the Chardonnay pioneering of Wente Vineyards, to Concannon’s work with Cabernet clones and Petite Sirah promotion. California, as a whole, owes a whole lot to Livermore Valley.

The map shows the demarcation of the Livermore Valley American Viticultural Area.
When I was first getting into wine, I drank a bunch of Concannon’s $10 Petite Sirahs and Cabernets. As I moved along in my wine journeys, I didn’t think as much more about Livermore Valley. But this west-east valley, which sits 35 inland from the San Francisco Bay, is home to some 4,000 acres of diverse grape varieties.  

I recently tasted through a group of Livermore Valley offerings and found some interesting bottles. Several of the wines boasted new American oak signatures, more so than I find in tastings of other California regions. But the richer wines (especially the Petite Sirah from Vasco Urbano) seem able to absorb it well.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.
2013 McGrail Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $25
Pale lemon color. Clean citrus fruit mixed with tropical notes of papaya and kiwi, zesty with hints of white pepper but not really any green aromas. Almost full bodied, this is a creamy textured wine with moderate acid. Kiwi, papaya, pineapple, add in some lemon and lime zest, slight sense of chalk and seashell, hint of white pepper. Richly texture, but I like the bright flavors, no mean green elements. Tangy and crisp. From Ghielmetti Vineyard. (87 points)

2012 Concannon Vineyard Chardonnay Conservancy -­ California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $16
Light gold color. Smells of honeybutter, yellow apples, apricots, toasted nuts and vanilla. Very creamy on the palate, honeyed, but the acid actually keeps it in check a little. The fruit is a good mix of richer tropical elements with pears, apples and apricot. Toasted almonds, vanilla and nougat elements from the American oak are woven in to the overall package. Not really complex or deep, but it does what it does well. A Livermore Valley staple, Concannon Chardonnay is a solid value and consistently a good example of this creamy, nutty, rich style. Contains 5% Semillon. (85 points)

2012 Darcie Kent Vineyards Chardonnay Demayo Vineyard - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $30
Rich golden color. Deep, rich aromatics, glazed pears, golden apples, apricot jam, mixed in with white floral, honey, toasted nuts and bread. Full bodied, a rich and chewy wine but some moderate acid. The bruised yellow apple, apricot jam and baked pear fruit is drizzled with lime juice and topped with toasted nuts and creamy oak. A big wine with a forward approach, but shows some complexity and zesty, food-friendly elements, too. (87 points)

2012 Cuda Ridge Wines Malbec - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $29
Light purple color. Red and black plums on the nose, along with lots of sweet spices (cola, chicory, pepper, ginger, anise). Easy-drinking, medium tannins, medium-low acid, the fruit is juicy and velvety, the black cherries and plums go down smoothly. But this wine is all about the spice and non-fruit elements of fire pit, black pepper, loamy soil and black licorice. Juicy and fruity but maintains some vibrancy. Great summer grilling accompaniment. Aged in 33% new American oak. (86 points)

2012 Darcie Kent Vineyards Zinfandel Field Blend Zin Demayo Vineyard - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $30
Medium ruby color. Sweet and lively aromas, baked plums, raspberry and strawberry jam, sweet violets, cinnamon toast, tart cherry rhubarb pie. Chewy texture, velvety tannins, medium-low acid, the strawberry and raspberry fruit tastes wild yet jammy, laced with notes of sweet cola, birch beer, roasted chestnut, menthol and tobacco. Sweet baking spices and earthy, leafy goodness lasts long on the finish. Chewy and rich but maintains some freshness and interesting floral-earthy complexity. Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. (87 points)

2011 Nottingham Cellars Supremacy - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $65
Medium purple color. Juicy and rich aromas, plums, black cherries, blueberry pie filling, mixed with notes of tobacco and bay leaf, oregano, pepper and toasted oak. Full-bodied, firm tannins but fined around the edges, moderate acid helps balance out the richness. Juicy black cherries, dark currants, tart blueberries. Complex elements of smoke, tobacco, oregano, sweet coffee, vanilla and dark chocolate. Could use at least three years in the cellar, this is a dense yet contemplative wine. 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 11% Petite Verdot, 5% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Franc. (88 points)

2012 Concannon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Mother Vine Reserve - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $40
Medium purple color. Dark and rich aromas, the blackberry, blueberry and currant fruit is jammy but showing some tartness, backed up by sweet cedar, loam and coffee. Dusty tannic structure, medium acid, some more tart elements to the blackberry and currant fruit, jammy but balanced and crunchy. Notes of vanilla, cola, dusty soil, clay, eucalyptus and ginger snap. More structure and depth than the entry-level stuff, but still approachable and fun. Aged 22 months in French oak. (87 points)

2009 Fenestra Conjugation - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $42
Medium purple color. Deep waves of fruit (black cherries, red and black currants, blueberries), the fruit is rich and velvety, notes of sweet black licorice, eucalyptus and dark roasted coffee.
Bold and fruity, rich and chewy with plenty of tannic structure, medium-low acid. Love the deep, velvety black and blue fruit. Significant mocha, toast and cedar, but it doesn’t overwhelm the other elements of eucalyptus, pepper and sweet pipe tobacco. Long, full, yet leaves something to the imagination. 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 5% Petite Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 3% Malbec. Aged for 33 months in a mix of French, American and Hungarian oak, 35% new. (89 points)

2011 Fenestra Petite Sirah Ghielmetti Vineyards - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $28        
Boisterous purple color. A really jammy nose, like blackberries, strawberries and blueberries all thrown together, mixed in with notes of sweet cola, root beer and an interesting savory glaze note, like sweet and sour plus black pepper sauces. Full-bodied and bold, good tannic structure but the edges are all rounded out, medium-low acid. Jammy blackberries and black cherries, some tart blueberries mixed in, complex sweet and savory elements battle it out, cola, vanilla, cherry pie and sweet mocha with black pepper and barbecue sauce. Finishes sweet and chewy. Interesting non-fruit flavor elements to accent the gobs of dark fruit. Aged 20 months in 44% new American oak. (87 points)

2012 Vasco Urbano Petite Sirah "Heine" Casa De Vinas "Long Row" - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $48
Intensely dark purple color. Nose shows deep blueberries, blackberries, boysenberry jam, a deep, sweet cola, violets and potting soil… mocha, some savory barbecue glaze notes too. A big and burly wine with solid, mouth-drying tannins, low acid and rich, jammy fruit. Blackberries, boysenberries, cassis jam, but the fruit is laced with complex charcoal, cola, toasted oak, vanilla, potting soil, coffee and black pepper notes. Despite its weight and oomph, the wine has a lot to contemplate and unravel, and could show more in the cellar. All Petite Sirah aged in 75% new American oak. (90 points)

2011 Steven Kent Petit Verdot Small-Lot Offering Ghielmetti Vineyard  - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $50
Deep purple color. Deep, dark, yet full of life on the nose: black currants, blueberries, black cherries, dark roast coffee, sweet clove, caramel and loamy soil. Full bodied with a firm tannic structure, medium-low acid. Black currants, blackberries, the fruit is rich and chewy. The wine is backed up by notes of smashed rocks, black pepper, pencil lead, dark chocolate and dark roasted coffee, slight hint of savory grilled steak. Deep, extracted, rich and toasty, this could use a few years to unwind. Aged 20 months in mostly new French and American oak. (88 points)

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