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January 2016

News Highlights

 Special Library Sale: $295 per case of Syrah, but just for one month
 Olive Oil for Valentine's Day: Heart-shaped dish packaged with olive oil and wine.
 Montemaggiore named Top Syrah: Accolades from the most prestigious wine competition.
 Retrospective Tasting: Get your tickets for this first-ever event on Feb 20.
 Italian Regional Cooking Classes: new classes scheduled for March and May.
 Vintage Chart for Paolo's Vineyard Syrah: a complete vertical tasting with aging advice.

An old Italian proverb advises that “a kiss is food for the heart,” fitting for the upcoming Valentine’s Day. During the cold, dark, wet days of winter when the vines are dormant and the wines are safely tucked in barrels, this thought (along with a roaring fire) warms our hearts! To help warm your heart, we are offering two wintertime “presents”: a Library Sale and a Valentine’s gift package. Never idle, we’ve also been planning some wine events for the new year: a very exciting Syrah Retrospective Tasting, and several fun cooking classes. Unfortunately, these events necessitate a visit to Healdsburg—although our latest blog post previews the wines for the Retrospective (a “virtual” tasting, if you will).

Special Library Sale: $295 per case of Syrah

The holidays probably depleted your wine collection, so why not start out the New Year right by re-stocking your cellar?!! To provide encouragement, we’re offering a case of Syrah at a special price until the end of February. Every few years, we hold a Library Sale with some perfectly aged wines that balance their youthful fruit with the “experience” gained over the years.

We’re offering a mixed case of 2008 and 2009 Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah for $295 (35% off, or less than $25 per bottle). Both these wines have been aging under ideal conditions in the winery, and they are ready to drink now. The 2008 flavors meld black fruit with leather and minerals, while the 2009 fruit is offset by coffee and cedar. In 2012, the 2008 Syrah won a double gold medal, Best of Class designation at the San Francisco Chronicle Competition.

Shop Library Sale

Olive Oil for Valentine's Day

If you or your valentine love olive oil even half as much as we do, you’ll really appreciate the heart-shaped dish, which shows off the gorgeous color of the olive oil. This layered dish was designed by Mary Judge, who was inspired by the terraced olive groves in Tuscany. For Valentine’s Day, we’ve packaged the dish with a bottle of Montemaggiore’s Tuscan-varietal Olive Oil and a bottle of 93-point Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah. The $90 trio makes a great gift for the special person in your life (including yourself!)

Shop for Olive Oil

Montemaggiore named top Syrah

We recently learned that the 2013 Montemaggiore Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah was named “Best in Class” in the recent San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Although we don’t enter competitions often (because growing grapes and making wine leaves us little time for marketing ), this is the third time we have won Best in Class, the top award.

For a perspective on what it means, the Chronicle competition is the largest and most prestigious for American wines. Over 7,000 wines were entered in 165 categories this year. Wines of popular varietals are placed in separate categories (or classes) based on price range. For example, Syrah entries are divided into five price classes. Our 2013 Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah won “Best in Class” for all Syrahs in the $37-$41 range—thus it’s like saying it’s the best Syrah for the money! The 2013 Syrafina won Double Gold (meaning that all the judges thought it deserved a Gold medal).

Note that these 2013 Montemaggiore wines have only been released thus far to wine club members (in the Fall 2015 Club Release). Club members can re-order these wines on-line, and others can join our club to receive these wines along with their 15-20% discount. These wines will definitely improve with age, although they are obviously tasting quite nice right now. We only bottled 150 cases of the Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah and 175 cases of the Syrafina in 2013, so don’t wait too long to place your orders.

Retrospective Tasting on Feb 20

During the wintertime lull (after “crazy crush” in the fall but before “nail-biting bottling” in the spring), we like to take a look back at our wines to see how gracefully they are developing. This year, we had an inspiration: you might appreciate the experience also! Thus we are hosting our first ever Retrospective Tasting of Montemaggiore Syrah on Saturday, February 20th. Lise will lead everyone through a tasting of six Paolo’s Vineyard Syrahs starting with our first vintage (2002) and ending with our latest (2013). Of course you will learn a lot about wine and our estate Syrah in particular, but we’ll also share personal stories about what makes these vintages memorable for us.

If you’ve never participated in a vertical tasting (the same wine, from the same producer, over several vintages), you will be amazed at the differences that age, weather, and sometimes winemaking can make. This is a unique opportunity to taste these wines with both the winemaker (Lise) and the winegrower (Vincent). The experience will really enhance your knowledge and your palate for wine in general.

We anticipate this event will be very popular, thus to keep it intimate, attendance is limited to 30 people. Tickets will be available to Wine Club members now, and on February 7th, any remaining tickets will be available to non-members. The cost is $20 to members, and $40 to non-members. Gloria, our cooking class chef, will be providing a light lunch afterwards to accompany the wines.

Italian Regional Cooking Classes in March and May

Chef Gloria has planned our first two Italian Regional Cooking Classes of 2016, starting off with Puglia in mid-March. These popular events are a wonderful way to share Sunday afternoons with friends both old and new: cooking, laughing, eating, and enjoying Montemaggiore wines. You'll go home inspired, with flavorful new recipes and a deeper appreciation for Italian culture.

These small hands-on cooking classes are fairly informal. You can be intimately involved with every course, or perhaps you’d prefer to mainly watch—regardless, you’ll have great fun and a delicious meal. Gloria will talk about the whys and wherefores of each dish, and Lise will talk about the wines that pair with it. Although you’ll certainly learn a lot, the emphasis is on sharing wine and food with those who appreciate it! Note that gift cards are available.

Vintage Chart for Paolo's Vineyard Syrah — blog post by Lise

Recently, Vincent and I sat down to taste every single vintage of Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah that we’ve ever produced. Given that this is our flagship wine, from our estate vineyards, and we have almost 15 vintages under our belt, a complete vertical tasting should be quite enlightening. We don’t often taste these wines side-by-side, so we were excited! We also had an ulterior motive: to choose the six most compelling and interesting wines for our first-ever Syrah Retrospective next month. We summarize our findings here as a vintage chart to help you decide whether to drink that bottle of Montemaggiore Syrah now or hold on to it for a little longer. Or perhaps you won’t be able to attend our Retrospective Tasting, and you’d like host a vertical tasting yourself. Either way, we invite you to join our journey of taste into the past.

One of the delightful mysteries in life is determining when a wine is at its peak—when it expresses the most intriguing complexity and beguiling mouthfeel but has not yet started to decline. Of course, assessing peak maturity depends on personal preferences. Some may prefer younger wines with their bold aromas and fresh fruit flavors, versus older wines with their nuanced aromas and smoother texture—thus your tastes may vary from the next person’s (or even the “experts”). On the other hand, there are some universal guidelines which can be helpful to understand, which are outlined in our blog post The Wine Lover’s Dilemma, which discusses age-worthiness in all wines (not just Montemaggiore's) including varietal, vineyard, vintage, fruit, tannin, and acid.

Putting generalities aside, let’s focus on Montemaggiore wines in specific. We are often asked when a particular vintage of the Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah will be at its peak—and as you can imagine, there are many levels to an accurrate response. At the highest level, all Montemaggiore red wines are meant to be at their most drinkable between 5-15 years after vintage. We say this because:

  1. Our wines are comprised of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, which are two of the most age-worthy wines in the world.
  2. Montemaggiore’s grapes are mountain-grown thus have more tannin than most. Tannins provide the structure which “fuels” a wine through its lifetime.
  3. Our winemaking practices target the 5-15 year timeframe by preserving the inherent tannin structure of the grapes, yet smoothing out the texture so that you don’t have to wait 20+ years to start enjoying the wine!

Now we need to delve deeper to look at each particular vintage, whose weather often dictates the rate at which a wine matures. Wines from a very good vintage like 2004 and 2007 are typically more age-worthy (see our blog post What makes a Great Vintage?). Better weather conditions in a particular year tend to produce wines with a good balance of fruit, acids, and tannins, and therefore the potential to age longer. In difficult vintages like 2011, a good winemaker should still make a very good wine, however, and it may even taste better earlier (compared to “excellent” vintages of the same age)—although it may not age longer.

So now let’s get down to the results. On a cold wet January night, Vincent and I sat down with all the Paolo’s Vineyard Syrahs from 2002 through 2013—along with three of our winemaker friends. We tasted through all the wines from oldest to youngest, paying special attention to maturity. My notes are below, along with our overall “Drinkability Rating” and a link to more information on our website. Also noted are whether the wines are available for purchase, in case individual wines sound intriguing to you, or you are interested in hosting a vertical tasting yourself.

You should first understand our nomenclature for the Drinkability Rating:


Peak Maturity:
drink or hold

Still lots of lively fruits on nose and palate. A bit of leather and faint herbs. Very smooth, exceptionally well balanced Long, dry growing season with a few periods of high temperatures. Early harvest. 11% Cabernet. A few bottles remain, Wine Club exclusive


Late Maturity:

Floral aromas with berry pie, and a bit lighter in body. Shows a bit more sweet oak. Very early bud break, lots of rain in March/April (and a bit in July!), two heat waves in September. 5% Cabernet Sold Out


Peak Maturity:
drink or hold

Still a bit tight, but opened up over time to reveal berries and cocoa with a bit of leather and dose of minerality. Warm, dry growing season. Early and compact harvest. 5% Cabernet A few bottles remain, Wine Club exclusive


Late Maturity:

Good balance and nice complexity. Brambley berries with a bit of spice. Very smooth. Wet spring, cool summer, late harvest. Partial native yeast fermentation. 100% Syrah, like all future vintages. A few cases remain, Wine Club exclusive


Peak Maturity:
drink or hold

Pretty berry and floral aromatics. Lighter in body, but great balance. Very smooth. Warm growing season with very low yields. Prolonged July heat spell. Spread-out harvest. A few cases remain, Wine Club exclusive


Peak Maturity:
drink or hold

Nice blackberry and sweet oak. Great minerality with a little cedar. Nearly perfect weather. Very dry winter followed by moderate to warm temperatures. Compact harvest to beat the rain. Available to everyone


Peak Maturity: drink or hold

Lots of minerality. Black fruit aromas with forest floor. Youthful. Difficult and low-yielding vintage. Lots of temperature swings. Early harvest and early finish. Available to everyone


Early Maturity:
drink or hold

Nice fruit with a bit of oak, coffee, and walnut. Tannins could use some time. Picture perfect season with good yields. Available to everyone


Early Maturity:
drink or hold

Brawny, brash, muscular wine with bold fruit. Will open up more in the future. Relatively even season. Cold, wet spring, moderate summer temperatures, and compact harvest. Available to everyone


Early Maturity:
drink or hold

Not revealing much early on: a bit tight and linear. Then opens up to a nice mineral, savory intensity. Difficult season. Cold, wet spring and cool summer. Rain at harvest. Available to everyone


Hold, too young

Velvety, great density and intensity. Blackberry, bacon, pepper and other spices. Dry, picture-perfect season with good yields. Compact harvest. Wine Club exclusive


My overall thoughts were that the wines were showing quite well! They each had a consistency that was reassuring, yet most stood out in some way, typically reflecting vintage variation due to the growing season although sometimes due to winemaking. I was quite surprised that none of the wines were what I consider to be “past prime” (and the other tasters agreed). Given that the 2002 is now 13+ years old, that’s quite a testament to the age-worthiness of Syrah, and our mountainside grapes in particular.

The commonalities found in all Paolo’s Vineyard Syrahs were quite apparent in our tasting:

The six wines we chose for the Syrah Retrospective are the 2002, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013. This includes one wine at Late Maturity, two at Peak Maturity, two at Early Maturity, and one which should be Held. There is enough commonality between these wines, yet each shows vintage variation in distinct ways. I really look forward to sharing these wines at our event in February!

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Final Note: As always, we welcome your visit to our mountainside estate vineyards and winery in Sonoma County. Simply confirm an appointment on-line or give us a call (707.433.9499). If you have wine-loving friends who might be interested in learning about Montemaggiore, enjoy a glass of Montemaggiore wine with them or send them to our website!

We hope you have a wonderful Valentine's Day, and we wish you the best for the upcoming year!