Monday, June 21, 2010

Three Wines from the New Foppiano

By Mac McCarthy

Lucky me: I received the other day three wines from Foppiano Vineyards in Healdsburg (CA), a winery dating back to 1896 that has recently refresh itself, including new labels, under the direction of winemaker Natalie West and vineyard manager Paul Foppiano (all this I learned from the accompanying materials).

The three wines were a Sauvignon Blanc, a Rose, and a Pinot Noir. Rather than tasting them alone, I brought them to the San Francisco East Bay-area wine group, The Pompous Twits, to broaden my impressions. Julie Mrasek was hosting the June tasting event and was kind enough to allow me to have the Foppianos as starter wines.

My personal bottom line on these wines: I liked them all – eventually. The Sauvignon Blanc was flavorful, the Rose was rich and tasty, and the Pinot, after it opened up a bit, was dandy. The opinions of my Twit colleagues varied quite a bit—as they always do, a reminder of how differently each individual tastes a complex item like wine.

The Foppiano vineyards lie south of Healdsburg in Sonoma Country, in the Russian River Valley appellation. In each case, the grapes were harvested at night while they were cool, then held for a few days at cool temperatures before being processed, to preserve the acids.

2009 Foppiano Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($18) 

The Sauv Blanc is 14.0% alcohol, dry though it seemed sweet due to the fruit flavors, fermented in steel tanks. 860 cases were produced of this vintage.

I loved the nose on this wine: a little lemon grass in stone fruit. The flavor was richer than the steelier Sauv Blancs one commonly tastes. Twit John Engstrom said it was well made, though not to his personal style; Tom Tilly said it was to his style, however. But they and others referred to it as "insubstantial," and opined that it is not a "serious" wine, though it is a fun wine with any of the varied foods we had that night. The two thought it would be much liked by the "You mean Zin comes in red too?" crowd, as they put it.

Mark Cruciani, however, said it was exactly what he looks for in a Sauv Blanc – crisp, with a little zest, but subtle and not overwhelming. It seemed to him like there was a slight bit of malolactic fermentation (there isn't; it just has that richness). He thought it would make a good everyday wine.

Ten of the group liked it; only one said "Maybe."

2009 Foppiano Estate Rose ($15) 

The rose is a blend of roughly half Pinot Noir and half Petite Sirah, produced in the Saignee style, where the juice is allowed to bleed off rather than being crushed. Alcohol is 14.2%; developed in neutral French oak for six months. 220 cases were produced.

This wine, too, had a nice nose – so many wines these days have no nose at all, have you noticed? I found it lightly flavorful, with lots of fruit, and a longish finish.

Several of our members called it "a great BBQ wine" because of its minerality and slight sweetness. John pointed out that it shows a slight tannic bite in the finish (that's probably due to the Petite Sirah.)

Lisa Gros found "strawberry, like a strawberry twizzler stick" in the flavor. She and others agreed it was an approachable wine; several felt that it was, again, a simple wine but not one that sophisticated rose fans would find as interesting – "a starter wine," one person called.

Me, I liked it a lot. I think those who weren't as impressed are those who prefer the drier French style of rose. There is such incredible variety in the flavors and styles of rose that you never find agreement as to preference. I thought this rose was flavorful and satisfying and priced right.

2008 Foppiano Estate Pinot Noir ($25) 

This wine was pressed to French oak barrels and underwent malolactic fermentation, then aged in barrel 14 months. Alcohol level is 14.9%; 800 cases produced.

There was an odd note to the nose of this wine at first: Lisa referred to it as "licorice." I didn't like that, but it blew off quickly. Someone thought this wine would go well with, say, a flank steak with heavy sauce.

I was hesitant about this wine, until I had some of the pate that Mia Cruciani brought – the Pinot really liked this pate! In addition, after a while, as the wine got some air in it, the taste improved quite a bit. I wasn't impressed at first; later, I decided I liked it a lot.

This is a lighter style Pinot, though not completely into the Burgundy camp. It seems like a good beverage wine, one to serve with food (rather than a 'cocktail' or sipping wine). Again, the group found it pleasant, a good choice for a BBQ or an afternoon on the deck, but without enough complexity to please experienced Pinot drinkers.

After our Foppiano pre-wines, we moved on to other wines Julie provided for the evening, including a J Vineyards Cuvee 20 NV Brut from the Russian River; a 1998 E. Guigal Chateauneuf-du-Pape that was tasty; a Williams Selyem 2001 Pinot that surprised me by not being the knockout I always hear it's supposed to be; a tasty Michel-Schlumberger 04 Cab; a flavorful 2007 Bella Vineyards Big River Ranch Grenache, a delicious Novy Family 06 Carlisle Vineyards Zin, a satisfying 05 Carol Shelton Rue Vineyard Karma Zin, and a 2001 Martinelli Moonshine Ranch Pinot Noir that was in some ways the biggest, jammiest wine of the evening.

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