On November, Fog, and Slow Ripeness

A weekly roundup of wines worth sharing—from Santa Lucia Highlands, Arroyo Seco, Sonoma Coast, Russian River, and Napa Valley

November is off to a cold and drizzly start. The morning fog coalesces by midday into nebulous spirits that haunt the landscape, weeping. The trees stand bare and crooked, a tracery of gray and muted brown against the sodden hillsides. We can see deep into the woods, now: here and there a deer, a fox, two crows. Then the clang of a hunter’s rifle. This is true Macbeth weather, bleak and hollow, the kind of weather that makes you worry about the sun, that makes you give credence to weyward Sisters you meet upon the heath.

The weather has me thinking about place and fog, how fog defines a space by blanketing or exposing it, how it shrouds and reveals, gives moisture, takes away heat. The wines below grew up with fog, and fog defined their ripening. All were grown in vineyards up and down the California coast, at elevations that precipitate skirmishes between Pacific air and inland thermals. Long and slow and cool is welcome, sometimes, and somewhere.


2010 Tin Barn Vineyards Syrah Coryelle Fields Vineyard Sonoma Coast
13.8% abv | $27 (sample)
Winegrower Carolyn Coryelle started her eponymous vineyard and winery in 1995, planting syrah and pinot noir on a rocky hillside of the Sonoma Coast at 1,000 feet of elevation. Neighboring winemaker Michael Lancaster of Tin Barn Vineyards began sourcing her syrah in 2000, impressed with the site’s slow ripening due to the abundant marine fog. His 2010 Syrah is deep velvet red with aromas of sweet red apple and a suggestion of cured meats. Its dense, opaque body yields generous black cherry fruits and deep mocha spice, plus a hit of cola on the finish. This is a Syrah with ample presence that will continue to evolve over the next several years.

2012 Tin Barn Vineyards Zinfandel Gilsson Vineyard Russian River Valley
15.5% abv | $29 (sample)
Gilsson Vineyard was planted in 1950 with zinfandel grafted to St. George, a rootstock with a long history in California. It’s been especially successful in dry-farmed vineyards because of its deep, water-seeking root system, and has proven a good match for Gilsson’s sandy loam soils. Tin Barn has been working with the Gilsson fruit since 2000, and the result in 2012 is a glossy, deeply resonant wine with abundant fruit but lovely balancing freshness. Inky in the glass, it yields a perfume of black spices, lavender, leather, tea, cedar wood, and sweet cherries. These notes carry seamlessly into the body, where juicy acidity keeps all of this complexity from weighing down the wine. It’s smart and sumptuous all at once, and highly recommended.

2010 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Blanc Beeswax Vineyard Arroyo Seco
12.7% abv | $28 for the current vintage (sample)
I worked for Bonny Doon Vineyard for several years, and the Cigare Blanc, a roussanne–marsanne blend, has long been a favorite. In youth it has a brisk, sea-breeze freshness tinged with honeysuckle and herbs. With bottle age—even ten years or more—a nutty, honeycomb savoriness develops within its fretwork of pome fruits and flowers. The 2010 vintage is now well along that aging trajectory. A touch of salt and bay laurel anchors a lacy perfume of yellow apple skin, pear, and beeswax. It’s ample and silky-textured on the tongue, with accents of toasted hazelnuts and almonds. The finish is all sage and sweet grass, with a smack of Meyer lemon at the close. Variegated, almost prismatic, but with sonorous depths. Serving just slightly colder than cellar temperature will lift its aromatics.

2012 Gallegos Pinot Noir Boekenoogen Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands
14.8% abv | $42 (sample)
Morning fog and afternoon sunshine wash the Boekenoogen Vineyard in Monterey’s Santa Lucia Highlands, and these maritime influences and gravelly soils conspire to produce a light-bodied, supple Pinot Noir. Deep garnet color with aromas of sweet tobacco, strawberry, and fresh mint, it offers more strawberries on the palate, too, plus a touch of caramel sweetness. It’s a demure, almost reticent wine now, but with crystalline acidity that could support a few more years in bottle to develop further élan.

2012 Gallegos Chardonnay Charmer Vineyard Napa Valley
14.4% abv | $29 (sample)
A scent like yellow daffodils, salted melon, and green tea opens onto a rich and creamy-textured palate high-pointed with a zing of citron. The wine reads somewhat like lemon custard tinged with nutmeg and clove, but the winemaker allowed only partial malolactic fermentation, then aged the wine mostly in neutral French oak, so it retains crisp apple acidity. It was a superb match for a leek-cheddar frittata dusted with nutmeg and fresh herbs, proof that a creamier, sunnier version of Chardonnay has a rightful place at the autumn table.

Follow my reviews on Vivino and Delectable.

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