The first two Mira Luna bottlings totally integrated with our comic strip http://www.corkedthecomic.com are now available, and they’re both drinking and looking fine. Creative Director Dave Griffin, (Basement Boy to the cognoscenti), and myself have been regularly polluting cyberspace since 2008, but started the current continuity, in embryonic form, back in 2006. While poking fun at the wine industry – easy enough to do - the strip chronicles the staff adventures of fictitious Russian River Valley cult winery, Isinglas Cellars.
CAL914, $12.99 Mira Luna, Crusher & Stemmer Red, California, is a field blend that features the Isinglas dogs on the label. We bottled this in Western Sonoma after we modified-for-the-better an existing bottle blend. My mid-June notes on the base wine, originally a Bordeaux blend follow: “looks less than attractive; over-ripe red/brown berry, pepper, leathery, stewed vegetables - some dimension in the nose; lots in the mouth - tangy nose berries from nose - sort of cranberry, herbaceous, pepper, black tea; almost OK weight, almost OK structure, too alcoholic, nice texture”
By mid-September, our version, at the time about 13% Syrah to improve color and temper the herbaceous and over-ripe elements, was on its way:” bit murky deep red; touch of oxidation, stewed fruit, leather, vanilla, plums and red berry nose - pretty complex! pleasant, some acid-driven vif, adequate tannins, light-to-medium-bodied brown and red berry fruit, short finish though”
The final January release, buttressed with other material like Zinfandel, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Primitivo, improved the color, unearthed more ripe fruit aromas and flavors, added structure, balance, and lengthened the finish. All of these different vintage and varietal components throughout the process eliminated any legal appellation beyond California and vintage on the label, so Crusher & Stemmer Red evolved from a Bordeaux blend to a field blend. Since 1997 I have been bottling a successful non-vintage field blend as Backyard Red for a partner wine company, for G&W we required a new name. The “field blendish” name came since the Isinglas dogs were already named for winemaking equipment, so the strip tie-in was perfect for this new red.
Using our Mira Luna label allowed us to take advantage of our cast’s full-moon-crazy behavior.
Originally the dogs were to function as a Greek chorus in the strip, but they developed personalities of their own. Crusher, the Chihuahua, drawn in a Ren Hoek less realistic style (I served my Spumco time) feels he’s the baddest banger on the planet, and thinks in Cheech Marin’s voice. Stemmer, the French poodle, thinks he’s Cary Grant in “To Catch a Thief”, with Maurice Chevalier’s voice.
SON573, $17.99 2009 Mira Luna, Tough Day Chardonnay, features Isinglas Tasting Room Manager and all around Uber-Babe (sorry KP, you’ve been relegated to Garbo status), Chenin Meunier. Again, we used our Mira Luna label, but hedged our bets – we wanted a more timeless label concept - one that would not live and die only with the strip. We continued to work in black and white as essentially we’re producing a variation on a newspaper strip.
Chenin and her twin sister Rose (no fan boy fantasies from this creative team) are clearly the favorite characters of the straight male demographic, as BB has spent plenty of research time with Gil Elvgren and Alberto Vargas. Originally the Chenin label was a 100% swipe from http://www.corkedthecomic.com, episode 2, but, strictly in the name of culture, we homaged the still of Jean Peters in the bathtub from Sam Fuller’s classic “Pickup on South Street”, coincidentally enough, screened at January’s Noir City 8, http://www.noircity.com program 3. Anticipating potential label approval difficulties and delays if we drew a prude as a clerk at the TTB, we changed the image to a profile.
The bottling occurred at one of the greatest estates in Carneros, tweaking Sonoma Carneros Chardonnay fruit with a touch of Muscat for more accessibility. My mid -
October notes follow: “tank-sample needs-to-settle look, light copper; difficult to identify aromas and flavors at this stage; difficult-to-find tropical fruits, figs/dates/nuts, toast, under the yeast nose”.
By late October, we felt we had nailed it “same visual; finally, a nose! floral golden delicious apple, tropical fruits; adequate apples, acidity and heft, tropical fruit notes - mango & kiwi.”
By the February release we had a Chardonnay exhibiting pristine varietal fruit proudly framed in Sonoma Carneros terroir, accessible to a rank beginner while providing value to the most jaded connoisseur.
Geerlings & Wade’s Mira Luna, “Corked” the comic wines – so delicious they don’t need to take themselves seriously.
March features, with special Easter and Passover meals in mind…
ITA669, $24.99 2007 Salvano, Sognante, Langhe Chardonnay DOC,
Affinato in barrique, Piedmont, Italy: The time is right for us to offer top quality Italian Chardonnay. California is evolving away from excessive oak use, Australia is having a tough time selling quality wine on it’s own merits rather than via subsidies, and new world influences are apparent even in parts of France.
The Salvano family winery, currently guided by Ezio Salvano, the founder’s grandson, has been producing excellent wines in the hills overlooking Alba since the mid 1930’s, and has struck a nice balance between traditional and modern, rusticity and technology – exactly where overlooked Piedmont Chardonnay needs to be. Orthodoxy and innovation meet happily in Salvano’s refurbished-in-1982 winery.
The Sognante is refreshingly light on its feet, while exhibiting an intense, toasty nose. Balanced yet concentrated varietal character and textural elements sustain aromas and flavors of white flowers, toast, citrus, apples, tropical fruits and nuts. This Chardonnay pushed all similarly priced wines from the US, Australia and France off of the tasting table for price/value ratio while delivering almost unparalleled accessibility and depth.
SPA104, $14.99 2007 Loxarel Ops, D, unfiltered, Penedes, Spain:
Just in case you missed this gem during past holiday season, we’re featuring this bargain for the last time, while we still have adequate wine on hand to emphasize this Spanish envelope-pusher.
The Loxarel Ops, D, unfiltered, from the Penedes, hails from Spain’s spiritual and ancestral home of Cabernet Sauvignon, the land of Jean Leon and Miguel Torres. The wine’s model, named for the Roman goddess of plenty, appears to be the Super Tuscans - indigenous Tempranillo, blended with Bordeaux grapes - but at a fraction of the price. Obviously, the Cabernet component has the right pedigree, and Merlot also works well in Spanish Cabernet Central – think Bordeaux and California’s North Coast.
Brawny yet appealing, licorice, leather, tobacco, smoke, berries, vanilla oak cry out for big Mediterranean dishes, or if you’re a carnivore like myself, steak and mushrooms on the grill. And for you green scorekeepers, how many wineries do you know of that use sheep to trim their vines?
SOA363, $17.99 2007 Rietvallei Estate Wine, Robertson, Shiraz, South Africa:
Pinotage may be the signature red of South Africa, but for quality reds, South Africa’s future is Syrah, Bordeaux varietals and Bordeaux blends.
South Africans are masters of both Northern and Southern Rhone traditions - 100% Syrah, or as a major blend component with Grenache and other varietals when necessary. They learned their winemaking from the from French Huguenots and the Dutch, and have quite a wide palette - New World terroir is supported by Old World traditions and expertise, particularly in the service of that highest quality level of Southern Hemisphere Shiraz – increased phenolic ripeness at harvest time and consequently heightened alcohol levels. Rhone varieties don’t mind sunshine, and cope with the heat.
Finally, vintner Kobus Burger may have a small chip on his shoulder, as it has fallen upon him to guide Rietvallei Estate’s continued evolution from a dessert wine and fortified wine producer to a world class table wine producer – he wants to place his imprint on Rietvallei Estate. The 07 Rietvallei Estate Robertson Shiraz pushed a couple table loads of Rhone, California and multiple country Southern Hemisphere samples to the reject pile in our blind comparison tastings.
Kobus’s notes nailed it, “intense ruby red coloured and complex flavoured with the fruit and peppery, spicy and toasted oak flavours well integrated. A full bodied wine [for Shiraz, not a Parker bottle North Coast Cabernet] with pleasant ripe tannins and a smooth, lingering aftertaste.”
ITA676, $19.99 2005 Corte alle Mine, Cuvee CEP, Toscana IGT, Italy:
We’ve been offering Castellani family winemaker Sabino Russo’s Corte alle Mine bottlings to rave reviews from clients and the wine press since 1997. As a rule, we strive to keep Corte alle Mine wines fairly inexpensive, but every few years we unearth then offer something unusually profound, as evidenced by this new, 05 Cuvee CEP release.
My notes (before I scoffed the 05 CEP tasting samples to take home to the wife) follow:
“05 Toscana IGT, 85% Sangiovese/10% Cabernet Sauvignon/5% Merlot, 6 months oak, slightly more traditional Tuscan in style [duh!]. Muted nose of spice, earth and oak gives way to vinous berries. Dominant component Sangiovese here is rich, round and balanced – insistent flavors with everything properly proportioned – think scallops – not as a pairing, but as when perfectly cooked.” “Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate” concurs “…meant to be more serious in nature. This full-bodied red flows with masses of super-ripe red fruit and sweet scents of French oak…made in a richer, more concentrated style…Judging by this first release the wine is a work in progress, but it will be very interesting to see how this project develops over the coming years. Anticipated maturity: 2009-2013…”
NAP957, $24.99 2005 San Valencia Winery, Napa Valley Meritage:
Remember, San Valencia Winery is our almost-too-good-to-be-true-deal California label. Meritage is a designation for high quality Bordeaux-blend-style wines that are among the very best wines produced by a California winery in that vintage.
Since I signed reams of non-disclosure, here’s what I can tell you:
This 05 is dominated by Rutherford-grown Cabernet Sauvignon from some of the most expensive dirt in Napa Valley, fermented in small tanks, which enhanced the Rutherford Dust quality of the magnificent 2005 growing season. True to its Bordeaux blend model (think Saint Julien), the wine, while stuffed with bold, extracted cassis, currant, mocha and vanilla aromas and flavors, proves elegant, balanced, and stylish, with finesse to spare.
Accessible now, it will improve for some time in the bottle. And under our San Valencia label, it is at minimum $10 per bottle less than the wine’s metro Napa price. A bargain.