More California wine this week. Ugh. And before I’m through, this might actually resemble a wine review. Double the ughs.
First, the usual caveats, pre-emptors and disclaimers: I have no brand allegiance, and although journalistic transparency is expected (or at least a nice goal), wine (especially really great wine) has a tendency to get my emotions in a tizzy. Secondly, I have scoured the internet — along with my private sources — for this week’s wine, with mostly futile results. I found one bottle online after, sadly, I drank a restaurant dry of it (along with my thirsty partner-in-crime) during the holidays. So I don’t know if you can get it-but if you can, cheers to that. And finally, I have been plugging away (I know, it sounds rough) at a compendium of recent grenache tastings — mostly French and Italian, with a select few from Washington and California thrown in the mix.
Last weekend, feeling frolicky amidst the uber-busy holiday weekend, I hit up previous said restaurant and lo, the 2007 Ojai grenache was still on the list. Wow! I had already pinpointed a heady Autard Châteauneuf-du-Pape and nailed the food pairings, when I saw the Ojai jumping off the page. Oh no, it can’t be! I was sure they missed this one, but, as a regular Wine Spectator award recipient, I had to ask.
And just like that, I was once again worshipping in regalia at the altar of Ojai grenache. Most are familiar with their syrah (from the same Thompson Vineyard in Santa Barbara County), their pinot noir; or their celebrated sauvignon blanc from the inland rolling hills outside the small artist’s enclave in Santa Barbara County.
Ojai was founded in the early 1980s by Adam Tolmach (colleague with James Clendenen at Zaca Mesa, and later partners at Au Bon Climat) and his wife Helen. Their initial vintage consisted of a small amount of syrah produced at Au Bon Climat; and the next year they built a winery in Oak View, near Ojai in Ventura County on land that was left to him by his grandfather. Through the years, Ojai Vineyard has acquired a cult winery status do its small production limited release vineyard-designate wines, originating from Tolmach’s long term relationships in which fruit is bought by the acre.
Ojai Vineyard’s wines have been known (and well-received) for their bold and ripe flavors. This, however, ultimately caused a riff that we have all witnessed in the evolution of California’s modern industry: uber-flavors and ripeness which begets points, prestige and the cult following. But along the way, the style trumped the source, the origin, the soul and terroir of these (potentially) special wines.
After falling out of love with his own wines due to these short-comings (like high alcohol and over-ripeness) he has renewed his commitment to wines of place, wines of nuance.
Those perceptions have surrounded my history with sipping Ojai’s wines over the years, and, well, at the end of the day, you really can’t go wrong with any of these wines, whether you think they are a bit too big or not. Simply put, they are opulent and well-crafted.
On the nature of grenache, this style fits in perfectly. As is with the best grenache from the south of France (or Sardinia, Italy, for that matter) these wines are a class all to themselves. They are bold, rich and round, but without the hammering attack of tannins from the syrahs and/or cabernet sauvignons of the world. Besides the absence of perceptible tannic mouthfeel, grenache too is lower in tangible acidity. This quality deepens the earthy, chocolate flavor profiles of such iconoclastic wines as Chateauneuf-du-pâpe. This is also how and why grenache is a secret-weapon in the blending tank, e.g. Daviana’s (Napa-Coombsville) trademark blend of cab and grenache called Cabernache, as well as the Chateauneuf-du-pâpes, Gigondases, Vacqueyrases and Priorats of the world.
But I digress. On to the 2007 Ojai Thompson Vineyard grenache: After successful pairings with ahi tuna and ponzu crema and classic filet mignon a few months back, I had it last weekend with a roasted crisp duck breast and thigh with a pomegranate-cherry balsamic glaze. All of the red fruit flavors and textures matched: It wasn’t too tart, it wasn’t too acidic or too tannic. The versatility of this wine is hard to fathom, especially after washing down a molten velvet chocolate caramel flourless cake with it. Grenache with ganache! Simply put, this wine is coolly feminine and perfumed; rubicund and meaty; velvety smooth, with timeless depth and a stimulating, broad bandwidth of aromas and flavors.
More than that, it was a refreshing reintroduction to what is possibly my favorite California red at the moment. I will and did drink to that! Cheers! Remember, wine reveals truth.
Drew Stofflet lives in Carbondale. Correspond with him at email@example.com