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Last week, we wrote about the good tidings of our 2012 Merlot, which is our finest vintage to date.
We've been bullish on Merlot since day one, even when the varietal was in the proverbial doghouse after its Sideways-inspired backlash.
Well, as Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor confirms in the following video, Merlot is back, baby!
We are happy to help drive the last nail in the coffin of the “Merlot is dead” movement.
Merlot is far from dead—in fact our new release 2012 vintage is kicking butt, having already earned a gold medal for “Best of Merlot” at the Central Coast Wine Competition and a gold medal with 90 points at the San Francisco International Wine Competition (pictured above are Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor and Winemaker Stewart Cameron with the fruits of their labor).
Merlot’s low point started in 2004 with the hit movie Sideways, in which the lead character Miles staged a hilarious rant against the noble grape. This pop culture moment—combined with some admittedly uninspired Merlots flooding the marketplace at the time—sent Merlot into a tailspin of public perception.
Suddenly, Merlot was on the outs. It was un-hip. It didn’t disappear, but it had its tail between its legs for years thereafter.
But here at Ancient Peaks, we weren’t going to let a fictional movie character tell us what to make. Back in 2005, we knew that our estate Margarita Vineyard—with its ancient sea bed soils and pronounced marine influence—could produce exceptional Merlot. So we’ve proudly waved the Merlot flag since day one.
Now we’re happy to release our finest Merlot to date, at a time when the anti-Merlot movement is happily losing steam.
The 2012 Merlot comes from three different blocks at Margarita Vineyard that exhibit a range of distinct qualities, bringing added natural complexity and dimension to the finished wine. The 2012 vintage presents ample aromas of blueberry and plum with hints of vanilla, tobacco and baking spice. The palate is round and velvety, offering flavors of cherry, blackberry and mocha. Notes of oak and cinnamon join plump tannins on a rich, juicy finish.
The bottom line is that the reports of Merlot’s demise were greatly exaggerated. Long live Merlot!
We are no strangers to high honors at wine competitions, but our medal count at the recent 2014 San Francisco International Wine Competition is particularly noteworthy.
Indeed, three of our wines scored gold medals and 90+ points at this prestigious competition, which included more than 4,500 wines from around the world. This competition is now in its 34th year, and is helmed by a judging panel of esteemed wine experts.
Gold medals were awarded to our 2011 Oyster Ridge blend, 2012 Renegade blend and 2012 Merlot. Along the way, these wines earned, respectively, 93 points, 91 points and 90 points. Click here to see all of our latest reviews.
“I tried a sawzall then a cutting torch and now blasting caps!”
So wrote wine club member William Wallace the other day, explaining how he was struggling with opening a bottle of our wine. We hope he was exaggerating (and that the above photo he sent was mere theater!), but his note nonetheless inspired us to write the following public service announcement about how to safely open a wax-sealed bottle.
Let’s start at the beginning…When we bottled our limited-edition 2011 Syrah “Jackpot,” we went the extra mile to seal it with wax instead of the traditional foil. We felt it was an exceptional wine, so we wanted to give it a special look.
The unintended consequence is that William and possibly other club members have found the wax seal confounding when it comes time to uncork the wine. The seal feels firm to the touch, and indeed may look like it’s begging to be sawed or chipped off.
However, rule number one around any winery is “don’t hurt yourself.” That rule also applies to opening wine. If you ever find yourself reaching for a serrated kitchen knife, crowbar or other alternative instrument (or explosive), then stop immediately. It’s just not worth it—even if it is our epic 2011 Syrah “Jackpot” that you’re trying to liberate.
So just how do you crack the wax seal? The ancient principle of Occam’s Razor essentially says that the simplest option is usually the right one, and so it is that the best way to uncork a wax-sealed wine is to use what you always use: a corkscrew.
Position the screw right into the center of the seal, push hard and screw it down through the wax and into the cork just as you always do. Then grip the corkscrew lever against the wax along the neck (as you would normally do against the lip of the neck), and gently pull the cork out and through the wax seal.
This simple method should work like a charm on our 2011 Syrah “Jackpot” and other wax-sealed wines.
However, there are instances when wineries use an overly hard wax to seal their wines, which can make the corkscrew method extra challenging if not impossible. In which case, we recommend that you contact William. We hear he has a cutting torch.
One of our mantras at Ancient Peaks is that we aim to “over deliver.”
This means that we always strive to provide value at any given price point, whether it be one of our $17 varietal reds or our $35 reserve White Label wines or our $50 Oyster Ridge cuvée. It’s part of our winery culture, and it has helped us earn a loyal following.
We have a few things working in our favor. For starters, we have an estate vineyard—Margarita Vineyard, the southernmost vineyard in the Paso Robles region—that delivers high-character fruit. Better yet, we only use a fraction of the fruit from this vineyard (the rest is sold to other wineries), allowing us to pick and choose blocks that fit our winemaking vision, and to farm them exactly how we want. On top of that, our Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor and Winemaker Stewart Cameron are really talented and in tune with the estate fruit.
On that note, and at the risk of sounding like we’re tooting our own horn, we are very pleased that two of our wines have earned a spot on Wine & Spirits magazine’s annual Top 100 Best Buys of The Year list—our 2010 Merlot ($17) and 2010 Renegade ($23).
This list was compiled from 12,500 wines tasted from around the world! So to place two wines on the list is quite gratifying, and it affirms that our pursuit of over-delivering is going well.
When painting with a broad brush, you could call Paso Robles a warm winegrowing region. And it's true that Burgundian varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—which are known to excel in cool regions—aren’t typically associated with Paso Robles. Here, it’s Bordeaux and Rhône varietals that make the most noise.
But the broad brush often misses the nuances, and that's why we are confidently producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from our estate Margarita Vineyard in the Paso Robles AVA.
Margarita Vineyard is the southernmost vineyard in the region, with a pronounced marine influence. It's often cool and sometimes cold here during the growing season. That's our baseline.
From there, we've planted our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the vineyard's coolest spots. One such spot is at the mouth of Trout Creek, where marine air spills through a notch in the coastal mountains.
In these spots, the notion of growing a premium Paso Robles Pinot Noir or Chardonnay isn't wild and crazy. It's simply a logical fit for the growing conditions.
On that note, we are excited to release our 2012 Chardonnay from our White Label (reserve) series. We think that this wine shows just how good a Paso Robles Chardonnay can be. This follows our 2011 Pinot Noir, which was also varietally true and equally delicious. Right now, these wines are very limited in production (in the range of 100 to 150 cases), with our wine club members getting first dibs.
Our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir will never supplant our Bordeaux varietals in acreage or production. But we are excited about where these wines are headed. They speak not only to the diversity of our vineyard, but of the Paso Robles region as a whole.
Our new release 2011 Renegade is already rounding up high praise in the wine media.
On Sunday, the San Francisco Chronicle published a piece on the state of Syrah, and included the 2011 Renegade as one of just six recommended Central Coast Syrahs and Syrah-based blends, noting, "When the grape succeeds, it does so wonderfully, as you'll witness in the bottles here."
Here's how Wine Editor Jon Bonné describes the 2011 Renegade: "A curious mix of Syrah, Petit Verdot and Malbec that pushes the edge on tannin - 28 percent Petit Verdot is a bold move - but also reveals the beauty of Margarita Vineyard's high-elevation limestone soils. Slightly funky, with racy fruit and tobacco and white-flower aspects. Think Cahors on the Central Coast."
It's exciting to have Mr. Bonné and the Chronicle's tasting panel discern the unique sense of place behind the 2011 Renegade, as that's something we really strive to capture in our wines.
Our estate Margarita Vineyard spans a rare diversity of five soil types in one of the Paso Robles region's coolest growing environments. It's important for us to honor these special growing conditions and to make sure they are expressed in the bottle.
For more on the 2011 Renegade, here's a short video featuring Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor:
In the winemaking notes for our new release 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, you will find this little tidbit: “Ten percent of the wine underwent 24-hour skin contact prior to pressing and fermentation, further adding an exotic touch to the wine.”
This is just one of many examples of how our winemaking team employs judicious experiments and extremes for the betterment of our wines.
In traditional winemaking, white wines are made by immediately pressing the juice off of the skins prior to fermentation. But in this case, Winemaker Mike Sinor and Assistant Winemaker Stewart Cameron took a walk on the wild side and let a small portion of the juice soak on the skins for a full day.
Taken on its own, this is somewhat of an extreme measure. When you allow that kind of skin contact, you get Sauvignon Blanc wine with intensified varietal attributes.
“You get much more of that herbal character that’s inherent to Sauvignon Blanc,” Stewart says.
Therefore, if we handled all of our Sauvignon Blanc lots in this manner, we would end up with a wine that most folks would consider too edgy and atypical.
Yet by thinking outside the box and going the extra mile with select skin contact, Mike and Stewart developed a crucial 10-percent component that elevates the final blend.
“It helps us produce a more interesting an intriguing wine,” Stewart says. “We’re just intensifying the natural qualities of the grape to accent and enhance our Sauvignon Blanc blend. Little things like this can go a long way toward making a more complete wine.”
The 2011 vintage marks the third release of our Renegade red blend, and once again it offers an unconventional union of Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot.
“With the Renegade, we set out showcase the Syrah from our estate Margarita Vineyard, but to do it with some added backbone,” says Winemaker Mike Sinor. “You still get the yumminess of the Syrah, but there’s this complexity and structure that takes it to another level.”
In just two years, the Renegade has emerged as one of our most acclaimed wines, and we believe that the 2011 vintage may be the finest yet. This wine is now available at our tasting room, and will start hitting the retail market at the end of this month.
In the accompanying video, Mike elaborates on the vision behind the 2011 Renegade.
Our new release 2011 Zinfandel comes from three blocks spanning three distinct soil types at our estate Margarita Vineyard.
We recently staged a tasting of barrel samples from our various Zinfandel blocks, and our guests were astonished at the profound differences in aroma and flavor—even though all of these Zinfandel lots came from the same vineyard, and several were of the same clonal selection.
Of course, these differences are also shaped by the weather exposure of a particular block and other factors. But there is no doubt that the rare diversity of soils at Margarita Vineyard enhances the distinctions between our Zinfandel components.
So what does this mean to the wine? It essentially gives Winemaker Mike Sinor and Assistant Winemaker Stewart Cameron more colors to paint with, allowing them to naturally build nuance, depth and complexity into a single estate grown Zinfandel.
We are confident that you will taste these qualities in our 2011 Zinfandel, which is now available in our tasting room.