As Gabe mentioned in the previous post, we stayed for a post Wine Bloggers excursion to Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys, CA, in the Sierra foothills. What. A. Place. First off, it is massive. Our tour lasted several hours and we were moving expeditiously. With vineyards, a museum, caverns, a gift shop, a tasting room and an amphitheater, it is a lot of ground to cover. Thankfully we had an attentive team to escort us around the property. Gabe's post visually sums it up. At long last we were led into a grand ball room, all set up for our vertical tasting. Wine time!
What is a "Vertical Tasting"?
We were in for a treat: 2 vertical tastings, the first being Zinfandel and the second Cabernet Franc. So "vertical tasting", what is that? Did we taste wine standing up? Actually no. delightfully, we were seated, allowing for more concentration on the wine. Vertical Tasting refers to the tasting of wines from the same vineyard, same winery in different years, oldest to newest. It is a very educational approach to tasting wine, which gives you a story of how the wine may progress, develop and change, year to year. It is alive after all!
The Rous Vineyard, year by year.
The vineyard was planted in 1909, on St. George rootstock, making the vines "ancient". Old is 50 or more, for ancient, you gotta pull in a century. The prized 10 acres of which I write about, was once destined for white zin, but since 1993, it has been cultivated for some beautiful red zinfandel, as Lodi is known for. The vineyard resides in Lodi's Mokelumne River AVA (American Viticultural Area) and has sandy soil, which is terrific for Zin! The very gracious hosts shared with us a 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
2010- Floral aromas, cascading into violets, dreaming of a romantic afternoon, out of doors. The nose leads to the palate which reveals ripe purple fruits, deepening the experience, slowing down for pause. Take notice. Inhale and breathe. A piquant finish perks you right up, and you're back, ready for more. Drink and escape, now.
2012- As the years go by, plums become more prominent. On the palate, there is slate and granite, a bit stoic, in need of a dance. The finish however lifts the veil to reveal dried cherries, reminiscent of sunny crisp days. You could take it for a spin now, or later. But not much later.
2013- Who ordered green bell pepper?! Oh never mind, that was just an initial impression. It disintegrated into caramel drizzled cooked blackberries, zested with lemon peel on the finish. The lightest heavy pie you ever had.
2014- The young can be so gritty, sprinkling sand from the beach all over the floor. They just need a little guidance, to tame their tartness and allow them to mellow into the delectable fruit they are fated to become. In these situations, some age helps.
Onto The Cab Franc!
We learned that Ironstone proprietor, John Kautz, really wanted to see a Cabernet Franc program develop at the winery. So they began one, around 2000. And that is the year of the first wine in this reserve vertical tasting. 2000! As in 16 years ago. I had but just discovered wine and certainly wasn't drinking Cab Franc. This became more of a Library tasting, pulling different wines from the shelves, and I think even Joan commented that some of the bottles came from her personal store. We sampled from 2000, 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2013. What a spread! You can really experience the ageability of the varietal when staggered through the years this way. The vineyard is on the estate, in the Sierra foothills, at 2400 feet above sea level, making for warm days and cooling nights. The soil is decomposed granite with volcanic sediment and red clay. Minerals abound in these wines. They are aged in French and American Oak for 18 months.
- The 2000 smelled of stewed strawberries and had a minerality still very present on the finish.
- 2005 was a rainy year they said, giving the wine a supple fruitedness. And still, there were rocks.
- I was a fan of the 2008, showing very nicely now, with a spicy quality on the palate and enough tannin to erode the fattiest of foods. I wouldn't be alone with it;)
- 2010 exuded sweet chocolate on the nose but gave a bite when sipped. This one will let down with age and proper pairings.
- 2013 is hot still. If it goes the way of its predecessors, it will develop into a complex and elegant wine. Buy now and age it a bit.
Swirl, Smell, Sip, Smile. Repeat.
The Grand Finale.
As if that wasn't fun enough, we then adjourned to the prepared tables to begin our paired dinner, catered by Outer Aisle Restaurant and Catering. The chef, Jimmy Sadegi brought us a 6-course menu, with locally sourced ripe and delectable veggies from the farm. After the heat of the outdoors and our red vertical flights, the heirloom tomato gazpacho with melon was cooling and the infamous Obsession Symphony complemented it perfectly. I was most excited though, for the first wine with dinner, The Sierra Foothills Estate Grown Reserve Viognier. Living on The Monterey Peninsula, we drink a fair amount of Chardonnay, as it does so well here, but I have been craving more Viognier in my life. This one brings tropical fruits on the nose with a creaminess on the palate, giving it weight, and a lingering pineapple lime finish. It was paired with a crostini of eggplant puree and roasted peppers. It was all really working for me!
Coming back to the roots.
The meal was stunning, both to look at and consume. The wines were thoughtfully matched and danced well with the courses, highlighting the strengths of the other. This was one of the most memorable meals: the wine, the setting, all that we learned that day and the days preceding at the conference, and great company! We were honored to have some of the Ironstone staff and Joan Kautz at our table. We talked about the wine and and many other fun topics. When I asked her about her career in the family business, she explained that she had lived away and done different work for a while and then realized, "Everything I wanted was right here." And so it is, Ironstone truly does, have it all.