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Thoughts on the Inaugural Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA Tasting

The Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA was officially established less than two years ago. The Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak Winegrowers association held their first group trade tasting Monday at AQ restaurant in San Francisco. Nine wineries poured a total of eighteen wines. Some of the producers are resident in the AVA, some have vineyards there and others merely buy fruit. Cabernet Sauvignon dominated the grape varieties, but there were others—particularly from Imagery.

As one might expect with a new AVA, and a new organization of wineries, there isn’t yet a consistent style or sense of place from one producer to the next. The best wines of the tasting were made by winemakers well-known for their achievements in other regions, Denis and May-Britt Malbec and Thomas Brown. Some new AVAs give birth to close collaboration between producers with a sharing of best practices that lifts not just mindshare for the AVA but also wine quality. It will be interesting to see if that occurs here.

The Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA is small, 4,570 total acres with less than 5% planted to vines. The region is distinguished by its high altitude and meager soils that result in long, steady growing seasons and vines which work hard for their nutrients.

pine mountain vineyard view
A vineyard in the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA.
Photo: Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak Winegrowers

I found two common threads among the Cabernet Sauvignon offerings. First, the wines tended to show both red and black fruit. I suspect this is a function of location and altitude. Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak sits 1,600 to 3,000 feet above the warm Alexander Valley floor. Thus the new AVA stays between 5 degrees and 9 degrees cooler during the day but doesn’t experience as extreme a diurnal shift. The steady, moderate temps allow some of those red fruit characteristics to remain. But the growing season is long enough and the area generally warm so that black berry flavors are also evident. Only one wine was clearly under-ripe and none were dominated by over-ripe fruit.

The other thing the red wines had in common—including most of the non-Cabernet Sauvignon—was structure. Tannins were consistently medium+ with dual textures: light grain and grippy, light chalk. In the best wines, that profile was an ideal match for the density of the fruit. More often, the concentration of fruit wasn’t up to the task and those tannins, though not aggressive, were dominant.

Preferred Wines from the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA

Revelation-detailThe 2009 Capture Revelation (93% Cabernet Sauvignon with the balance Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot) earned my top score of the day. It offered dark berries, chocolate, black currant and brushy herb on the nose. The wine is medium+ in body with powerful flavors that neatly balance the medium+, light-grained tannins. 13.9% alc., $140. Highly Recommended+

The 2009 Capture Harmonie is 80% Cabernet Sauvignon with 13% Merlot and 7% Cabernet Franc. The flavors are an attractive a mix of berries—black, red and huckle—but less concentrated than in the Revelation. Body is medium+ with light-grained tannins. 13.9% alc., $120. Recommended+

The 2011 Capture Chardonnay Ma Vie Carol presents ripe pear and baking spice on the nose. Those are joined on the palate by fresh pineapple and there’s a crispness to the pear. It’s just full-bodied and a little juicy with a medium+ finish. $48. Recommended

Note: Winemaker Denis Malbec (formerly of Chateau Latour, now Kapscandy, Sodaro Estate, Notre Vin, Blankiet Estate) left Capture this July. The new winemaker is viticulturalist Glenn Alexander.

The 2010 Ampere Cabernet Sauvignon crafted by Thomas Rivers Brown (Schrader, Outpost, Rivers Marie, Jones Family, Black Sears, Revana, Hestan, Chiarello, Aloft, etc.) provides wild blackberry and dusty dark spice aromas and flavors with medium+ body. The medium+ tannins are light-grained and chalky with grip. The wine is soon-to-be released at about $69. I’d give it a year or two in the cellar.  Recommended

One of the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA’s most prominent vineyard holders is the Benziger Family. They have about 11 different varieties planted on 30 acres and release wines such as Tempranillo, Malbec and Lagrein through their Imagery Estate Winery in Sonoma Valley. The 2010 Imagery Estate Wow Oui is a fun-loving white wine made from Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Muscat. The nose speaks right up with aromas of grapefruit, gooseberry, white flowers, peach and spice. The palate is dryish with medium+ body and flavors that cheerfully match the nose. There’s some juiciness to the palate and the finish is clean. Note to self: remake Green Acres with Scarlett Johansson as a Southern belle who moves to a vineyard in New Zealand. Recommended

Full List of Attending Wineries

Ampere
Arbios Cellars
Bergeron
Capture
Francis Ford Coppola Winery
Imagery Estate
Miro Cellars
Respite Wines
Treasure Island Wines

Beyond Wine

AQ’s executive chef-owner, Mark Liberman, focuses on fresh and local. The signature dish of the AVA tasting was both—a juicy, flavorful wild boar slider slathered with tangy sauce. The boar had been a resident of the AVA until four days ago when he encountered a hunter. I’ve not dined at AQ but I like the rustic ambience and loved the slider.

Another non-wine product available for sampling was the certified-organic, extra-virgin olive oil from Split Rock Springs Ranch. You could use it for salads but it has a richness and gently grassy aroma that’s ideal for dipping or drizzling over pasta. Soft, freshly sliced French bread was an excellent foil, highlighting the buttery mouthfeel and flavors (green olive flesh, grass and lightly peppery finish).

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. Capture Revelation photo: Capture. All rights reserved.

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