Salamandre Wine

Salamandre Wine Cellars Wine List

New Releases for Fall 2013 and Winter 2014

Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Cruz Mountains, Meadowridge    NEW RELEASE

Anybody who thinks they truly understand the vagaries of Pinot Noir is probably the same person who suggests that the behavior of women can be predicted, based upon three quantifiable metrics. We have met such people, but they don’t spend the night. In 2011, the Meadowridge vines set a very small crop, meaning all those resourceful leaves and those mature root systems devoted all their energy to a few precious clusters. That’s like a classroom with 6 pupils and a brilliant teacher. The Pinot all got A’s…little, perfect pine cone shaped bundles of intensely focused Pinot flavors, spoiled from the very beginning. Wines like this take a little while to sort out their adolescent metaphysical explorations…and then gangbusters! Honor your closest friend or your daughter’s fiancée by pouring this wine…Pinot Purity, remarkably concentrated yet beautifully balanced, mystically fragrant yet ineffably friendly. I believe this one will improve steadily in the bottle until 2017 – 2019, and then glide into a gracious seniority for another 5 years. Serve it younger for ambitious wine and food pairings, especially if you enjoy praise, and serve it to anybody who needs an inspiration.

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Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Arroyo Seco Vineyard   NEW RELEASE

I’ve had a chance to flirt with the rare Musqué clone of Sauvignon Blanc off and on since the 1980’s. In fact it was our first gold medal wine in the San Francisco competition a long time ago. Musqué really is different from the Sauvignon blanc we know rather well and usually love. The grapes are a little more “yellowy” and less opaque green, and they hang differently…honest. But the dramatic difference is aroma. The fresh crushed grapes jump out with fresh green fig and grapefruit aromas…one of the most distinctive of all grapes except Muscat.

The original plantings at Arroyo Seco were removed, but the resurrection in 2011 yielded the unbelievably yummy late harvest wine. We were hovering over the vines the next year. The 2012 Sauvignon Blanc came in with nary a blemish, uniform ripening, perfect “chemistries,” and a gentle nature…unlike my ebullient bouncing when I ate a few clusters. In the fermentation, the place just smells fabulous. With age, the grapefruit aroma comes through, with subtle “green fruit” aromas which I’ve heard described as “gooseberry” and even hints of lychee nut. OK, I don’t know what a gooseberry smells like, even though I did live in England for a little while, and it took a long time to figure out how to eat a lychee fruit. However, there’s a melony nuance that I recognize from a few stands in the Farmer’s Market in July.

I kept raiding these barrels all winter and spring, and I finally shepherded them safely to bottling in August. I’m really proud of this one. Serve it with something from the ocean…or the creek…or the back yard. Buy two for every one you think you’ll want.

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Coyote Cuvée 2011, Arroyo Seco, Wiley Ranch NEW Release

Each version of the Coyote Cuvee takes a slightly different vector towards the Bordeaux inspiration of these blends. In 2011, one could say we were “formulaic,” with a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 25% Merlot. Of course, that’s a pretty fantastic formula. The Wiley Ranch, basking in the warmth of the Santa Lucia Mountains above the Arroyo Seco Valley floor, was planted to nail the perfect clonal match of the Bordeaux varieties for this unique alluvial soil and climate. Constant exploration is the nature of Arroyo Seco Vineyards’ Roger Moitoso and foreman Serafin Guzman. These men know their stuff! The 2011 vintage was not a huge bombastic one…just pleasantly correct. The 2011 is still young to serve…really, I think 2014-2015 would be wise…but for people who cherish clean fruit character more than cellar aged silk…it’s ready if you are. It has all the features you expect—black fruit, cassis, cigar box, plum—with tannins that don’t need a decade to soften.

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Malbec 2010, Arroyo Seco, Wiley Ranch

The 2009 Malbec was a marvel that would dazzle the dreams of any gaucho, and it’s still developing.  While 2009 had a long, intense, hot growing season, 2010 was a different year.  The fruit matured in flavor at a lower sugar level, and the tannins were considerably less forward than its big brother.  This is wine to enjoy young…less than 6 years of age…rather than sequestering in a dark corner of the cellar. Now here’s why I don’t deserve an MBA.  The 2009 is priced fairly…but it’s fairly expensive.  Smart retail business people say a vendor should never relent from a price point…you just shoot yourself in the foot.  Naah…the 2009 is worth every penny, but the 2010 is a sound, well made, pleasant wine that should sell for less.  Enjoy the 2010 now at an affordable price, but if you invite somebody over who likes to eat her steak on a sword…open the 2009.

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Pinot Noir 2010, Santa Cruz Mountains

Late Spring weather vagaries pinched the crop set at the Meadowridge Vineyard in 2010.  The berries and bunches were small, but summer conditions were kind, and we were able to harvest before the early autumn rains that year.  Those clever vines put all their photosynthetic resources into ripening a small crop, and we got what most winemakers privately hope…an intense, even if not bountiful, vintage.  What tickled me was the fact that flavor ripeness was achieved at modest sugar levels…a laudable Burgundian strategy, even if I had nothing to do with it other than applaud.   When winemakers aspire to make jammy, concentrated flavors that dazzle competition judges at the end of a long afternoon, they may let grapes hang until they reach rather high sugar levels, which in turn create wines with high alcohols and deficient acidity.  That’s a clumsy structure for a wine that’s supposed to feature delicacy on the dinner table. 
(I don’t mind that with Primitivo, obviously!)

We blended a small amount of 2010 Pinot from another Santa Cruz Mountain vineyard to even out our French oak barrels, and we gave this promising youngster extended barrel time.  This 2010 was pretty boisterous early in its bottled life, but by late 2013, it began blossoming into a truly delightful Pinot…a tad more concentrated than some of ours…but bullseye for the Pinot flavors we expect from Dijon Clones in Corralitos.  It’s going to please everybody for a decade…just like the 2004 is amazing me now.

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Sauvignon Blanc Late Harvest 2011  Arroyo Seco Vineyard   

In 29 commercial harvests, I have made 6 late harvest wines which I’d call excellent, so we know how rare these opportunities are. (I’ve dropped a few passes, too.)  In 2011, the exotic Sauvignon Blanc Musqué clone at Arroyo Seco Vineyard developed the natural blessing of Botrytis after a brief rain followed by warm Indian summer breezes.  Then it became nerve-wracking.  Naturally thin skinned, these vulnerable grapes eeked out a harrowing struggle against waves of threatening stratus, swarms of hungry bees, and pangs of anxious harvesters until the sugar content peaked at 35 Brix.  We picked a day before the rain that would have wiped them all out.  The fresh, viscous juice radiated fresh fig and grapefruit aromas, a hint of new mown hay, beyond the predictable apricot and honey of Botrytis’d wines.  After an extended fermentation, we bottled with deep anticipation, even daring to mouth “Shadow Dee Ken” in jest.  This is a treat which, if shared, will strengthen any domestic partnership.  Residual sugar 7.4 %.  Sold in 375 ml bottles (tenths). 

Check out our newsletter Late Harvest Wines:  A Stickie Adventure

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Primitivo 2010, Monterey County 

As you can see from the description of the 2008 Primitivo below, this variety is not a master of subtlety…but it surely is the kind of ally you want when the chips are down…or the hiking day is done…or your best friend gets married. The 2010 joins the elite circle of our favorite vintages in the 16 year string of Primitivos from the toasty hills of Southern Monterey County. It’s inky black, with berry flavors that spring out when you pull the cork and swarm around your hedon receptors when you take a sip. This one also sports a particularly intense black pepper aftertaste. Like several of its distinguished predecessors, it has a faint hint of residual sweetness, a consequence of our deliberately protracted...and sometimes nervewracking…November harvest. Actually, we picked this one on Guy Fawkes Day, which should give you a broad hint. It is young now, but no matter. It will live 10-15 years, but I suspect nobody will have the discipline to test that assertion.

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Malbec 2009, Wiley Ranch, Arroyo Seco    GOLD MEDAL 2012 Santa Cruz Mountains competition!

Malbec is considered by the Bordelaise to be a minor blending component for traditional Bordeaux reds…dwarfed in both proportion and praise by Cabernet and Merlot. Indeed, we dutifully followed that convention in creating our 2006 Coyote Cuvée (14% Malbec). However, in Argentina, Malbec is the center of attention, and deservedly so. For decades of grim isolationism, few Argentine wines ever escaped the country, but when they did, they dazzled us, often aged 12-15 years in the bottle…purple silk. Well, the secret is out. In 2008, I kept Salamandre's inky, intense Malbec separate, and I was excited by the unusual combination of red fruit aromas in nearly black wine: raspberry and cherry, plus one I couldn't place in the barrel tastings. I finally figured that out. It's the smell of old fashioned roses, now layered with a subtle vanilla contribution from the barrel. Our second Malbec in 2009 is still quite young and tannic, but the fruit concentration is exciting. It will probably benefiting from substantial “breathing” in 2011 & 2012…but eager to chase your steak right now. By 2013 it is going to chase your daughter. Gauchos do that.

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Our prior year releases only get better!


Coyote Cuvée 2007, Wiley Ranch, Arroyo Seco

The third in the Bordeaux-inspired Coyote Cuvée Series is probably the inkiest yet, with approximately 2/3 Cabernet Sauvignon, ¼ Cabernet Franc, and the rest Petite Verdot.   Early in its development, the tannins put up quite a front, but even then, it showed many layers of “black fruit,” complex spice along with pepper, and a tasteful vanilla contribution from the 2 years of oak ageing.  Now more than 2 years after bottling, the body is remains full, dare I say bordering upon voluptuous, and it has learned how to sashay.  I find it takes immense discipline not to pour a second glass.  I expect this wine to trigger lots of hyperbolic comments in 2011…with a trajectory to its peak in 2012-2015.

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Newt South Wells 2006, Monterey County

I first tasted a bright, brash, unapologetically fruity Cabernet and Shiraz blend from Australia about 15 years ago. Of course, my lifelong personal challenges with authority have led me to admire the Aussies' collective willingness to rattle the traditional chains that bind European conventions.  The Aussies tinker with blends that are iconoclastically, ravishingly Under-Handed. When Sandie and I visited Western Australia in 2006 and tasted extensively, that distant respect grew into an intensely personal conviction. I also came to suspect that some of the uniquely spicy character of the Aussie blends may owe partly to the content of Cabernet Franc in many of the really good ones.

I decided to make an Aussie-inspired blend that Fall, but what to call it? I wanted to honor the Aussie's initiative as well as their inimitable mischief, and I also wanted to mention Salamandre's partner and vice president of unbridled enthusiasm, Dave South.  I suppose I wanted to get in on the fun, too, without affecting the snooty presumption of some namesake wineries.   While drinking Verdelho in Sydney on our last night, the name arose like a dancer from the glass. We put together 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Shiraz, 18% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Primitivo, all from Monterey County. It's inky, bold, and bulging with fruit…absolutely what I was hoping for. In 2011, it is overcoming some of its youthful boisterousness, and now it calls out to your inner carnivore.

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Chardonnay 2011, Arroyo Seco

We loved the 2009 Chardonnay, but weather can be fickle, and the 2010 did not make the playoffs.  Ah, but 2011 surged back just like the Giants.  The fruit concentration is definitely back, with the balance we so fondly recall from 2009.  The 2011 again rests upon a  firm acid background and mineral notes to complement the melon and citrus aromas which distinguish the Arroyo Seco vines I’ve been harvesting since the late 1970’s.  Oak always stimulates some discussion nowadays, with a few people (secretly winking to themselves) suggesting that it’s not too cool anymore.  Poppycock.  Allier oak, like anything in the spice rack in the kitchen, rewards caution but makes mere goods into true goodies when you get it right.  We get it right.  Barrel fermented and aged in a mix of new, one year, and older barrels.  We bottled this in late 2012, and over the decades, I’m come to expect our Chardonnays to open their buds after 6 months in the bottle and blossom after a year…more like the desultory timetable of a Meursault than a quickie from a large vat.  At the time of this writing, it’s still young by that standard, but I have yet to see an opened bottle go back to the frig with any liquid remaining.  I think this is going to become a real favorite. 

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