Saturday, October 13, 2007

Sonoma Day 3 - Beauty in a Glass

How could I spend a full day in Sonoma, visit just two wineries, and achieve nirvana? Well, it all depends on what is in the glass...

Day 3 started at 11am with a "by appointment only" tasting at Verite Wines. Vérité is a maker of very expensive Bordeaux-styled wines in Sonoma but I didn't know much about them before our trip. As far as I understand, this winery, like some other boutiques in Napa and Sonoma, is a pet project of Jess Jackson (of Kendall-Jackson fame). These boutiques (Cardinale, Verite, others) are run outside the K-J empire as quasi-indepedent facilities (i.e. Verite uses the equipment at Stonestreet down the road). For Verite, Jackson brought in Pierre Seillan, a vigneron from Bordeaux, to craft Californian Bordeaux-styled (with an emphasis on Merlot) wines.

Away from my tasting group I have never tasted such an amazing flight of wines, and this classy joint served the wines properly - the wines were double decanted hours before we arrived and served in proper Riedel stemware that did not smell of industrial soap. From left to right:

2002 Archipel
2002 Verite "La Muse"
2002 Verite "La Joie"
2002 Verite "Le Desir"
1998 Verite (La Muse)
1998 Verite "La Joie"

The starter was the 2002 Archipel, a cab sauv (49%), merlot (32%), cab franc (18%) and malbec blend. Nice leafy aromas, raspberry fruit, mint and liquorice, with beautiful dry tannins and a nice long finish. This Verite wine uses California oak (the rest use French oak).

The 2002 Verite La Muse (92.5% merlot, 7.2% cab franc, dash of malbec) was a terrific, Pomerol-inspired merlot. Liquorice and truffles, musk, leather, tobacco, smoke, later showing a softer, chocolately/candy aroma. Velvety tannins, beautiful length, poised, elegant. Still very young, stick it away for a decade.

The 2002 Verite La Joie is a cab-dominated blend (64.2% cab sauv, 28.5% merlot, 7% cab franc, dash of malbec) the maker claims is Pauillac-inspired. It was a stunning wine, violet, pepper, cocoa, raspberry with dusty dry tannins and a finish that goes on forever.

The 2002 Verite Le Desir is described as St-Emilion inspired, with a blend of merlot (52.7%), cab franc (41.2%), cab sauv (5.1%) and a dash of malbec. Cofffee grounds, very peppery, leafy tea and tobacco and maraschino cherry. Such beautiful balance, exquisite harmony, a very long finish. Could this be a 20pt wine? Wow! (my favourite)

The 1998s were also served to compare to these new releases. The 1998 Verite (La Muse, but they didn't use that name originally), 90% merlot and 10% cab sauv, is aging beautifully. Flint, floral, leafy, vegetal and pencil shaving on the nose, the wine was silky smooth on the palate with great raspberry flavour and nice acidity. Still showing some length, this could certainly cellar for a few more years, but it is drinking so well now there is no need to wait. We bought a bottle for dinner (more later).

The 1998 Verite La Joie (70% cab sauv, 30% merlot) was brick red, peppery, smokey, and woodsy undergrowth notes, this wine is also aging gracefully, with bright cherry fruit, silky tannins and some nice lenght. Same as the La Muse - it can be cellared longer, but why wait?

Despite the lengthy decant, these wines were so complex and ever evolving. Many thanks to Leanne for the tour through these vines and the overview of the winery. We were even served an Archipel Rose, a terrific little rose for $12 - I recommend picking up a bottle at the winery - this is going to be discontinued.

In summary, I highly recommend to anyone going to Sonoma to call ahead and make an appointment to taste these wines. If you can't afford to drop $150 on wine you will pay a $25 fee, which seems to me a reasonable price to properly taste six truly stunning wines.

This visit was one of those rare "Wow! Unbelievable! Incredible! Super-fantastic! Amazing!" wine moments. Seillan is a genius, and the French inspiration/winemaking style flows through all of these wines - they all resemble good vintage Bordeaux. While I didn't officially score these, the Verite wines would all justify between 18.5 to 20 points out of 20, my highest ever. Despite the obscene price tag I bought the '02 La Joie and Le Desir - if these aren't perfection, then they are so darn close...

Stay tuned for the end of Day 3, cheers!

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