Monday, August 15, 2011

La Rochelle Winery – A Passion for Pinot Noir in The Livermore Valley

My California Wine Tasting Adventures this summer has been primarily focused on exploring California Pinot Noir with a recent trip to the Russian River and the Alexander Valley up north and Santa Ynez, Buellton and Lompoc in Santa Barbara County down south. So, in keeping with this theme I decided this past weekend to 
visit a winery a little closer to home in Livermore.

Without a doubt, some of the finest wines and best Cabs using local grapes in the Livermore Valley are found at Steven Kent Winery. I last paid them a visit in early 2009 and wrote about in my article “Awesome Cabernet in Livermore.” [1]

What many people don’t know is that Steven Kent also has a sister winery next door, “La Rochelle Winery,” that produces some excellent Pinot Noir, but not from Livermore grapes. They soruce high quality grapes from small lot  vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Cruz Mountains, and Russian River Valley appellations. So, my goal this visit was to see if Steven Kent’s Pinots are comparable in quality to his Cabs.

La Rochelle Winery has two "sit down" flights, each with a differnet French varietal emphasis. For a tasting fee of $20 you can choose between the two and each is accompanied with a Pairing Platter of various cheeses and a Fig and Olive Tapenade.

I decided to try both flights (using my spit cup) but in between them I took a lunch break at Tommie’s Café next to the local library which was recommended to me by one of the servers. The sandwich was quite good, better than anything you’d find at Subway by far.

Burgundy Flight

The first pour was the 2008 Pinot Noir, Bradley Vineyard, Umpqua Valley, Oregon.  This wine is specially labeled for fund raising for the Taylor Family Foundation in Livermore which was founded to help children suffering from various ailments:

“The Taylor Family Foundation's Mission is to preserve the wellness and enhancing the quality of life for children in Northern California living with life-threatening and chronic illnesses, developmental disabilities and youth at-risk through unique therapeutic experiences and support.”[2]

Steven Kent donates ½ of the profits towards this charity, which amounts to $7 from every bottle. This is a lighter style Pinot (comparable to a Le Crèma Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir which sell for about $20 at BevMo) with bright cherry, ripe strawberry and a faint hint of cinnamon stick on the finish and it sells for $28.

The next wine was the 2007 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir. This is a darker and earthier Pinot than the previous wine with dark plums, cola, cigar box and cinnamon on the nose and palate. A definite step up in quality and price from the  Bradley Vineyard Pinot at $48 bottle.

The third wine was my favorite in the lineup - the 2007 Arroyo Seco Mission Ranch Pinot Noir. This wine has a full mouth feel and on the nose and palate I picked up root beer, dark cherries, clove and a little pepper on the finish. My cellar is currently well stocked with Pinots but if I was going to add to my collection, this one would be the one I’d buy. It sells for $48 a bottle.

My fourth wine was the 2008 Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir. This wine is more floral, earthier and jammier than the previous wines and softer in tannin on the palate. On the nose I picked up dark cherries, raspberries, mulberries, cola and cedar. A nice wine for $48 a bottle but I preferred the Mission Ranch over this one as it was a tad bit spicer.

My final wine was the 2007 Deer Park, Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir. The nose seemed a bit muted but I did pick up some sublte floral accents. On the palate this is the biggest Pinot in the lineup with a more fruit forward character of dark cherries, cola and a cherry cream finish. A fine wine and probably the best bang for the buck at $38 a bottle.

After tasting each wine (and spitting) I then tasted them again, this time swallowing and trying each one with a cheese from the Pairing Platter which consisted of the three cheeses: St. Andre Triple Cream Brie,  Manchego made from Sheeps’s Milk (Spain), Blue Castello made from Cow’s Milk (Denmark) and a Fig and Olive Tapenade. Each wine paried well with the various cheeses but I felt like tapenade tended to dominate the wine and I prefer to pair Pinot Noir with either Salmon or Portobello Mushrooms. So, personally while I like the concept of demonstrating a wine’s capabilties with food I could have done without the Pairing Platter.

Bordeaux Flight

After an hour or so break for lunch I returned to La Rochelle Winery for the Bordeaux Flight, all of which are from Livermore Valley grapes that demonstrate that this region can indeed produce very fine wine.

The first pour was the 2008 Steven Kent Small-Lot Petit Verdot from the Ghielmetti Vineyard in the Livermore Valley.  The Ghielmetti Vineyard is Steven Kent’s estate site on the east side of the valley that was planted in 2001-2002, with grafting of several blocks done in 2006, and it is provides nearly all the fruit for the Steven Kent Winery estate project.[3] Very few wineries in California bottle 100% Petit Verdot and when they do it is often sold exclusively to wine club members, so I was REALLY glad to be able to not only taste but buy a bottle. Of all the California PVs I have tried over the years, this is without a doubt the MOST impressive one I have ever tasted! This wine has a HUGE nose and an immediate eye-opening attack on the palate and yet it does not cross the line over to becoming a fruit bomb.  Dense and concentrated black berries, molasses, cigar box, on the nose with a silky milk chocoate and a lingering vanilla finish. A bit steep at $50 a bottle but I bought one for my collection.

The next wine was the 2008 Steven Kent Small-Lot Malbec, also from the Ghielmetti Vineyard in the Livermore Valley. A big nose of blueberrys followed by dried cherrys and bramble berrys. This wine has silky tannins and a long finish, a  great wine but a bit steep at $50 a bottle.

My next two wines were 2006 and the 2008 Steven Kent Livermore Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Noticeably missing is the 2007 as they are unfortunately completely sold out of the vintage which I had tasted and loved not too long ago. The ’08 is very approachable with soft tannins and on the nose I picked up black currant, black olives, dark cherrys with dusty powdered chocolate on the nose. The ’06 is the last Steven Kent Cab to include grapes from the McGrail Vineyard and I picked up bright cherry, black currant and just a hint of eucalyptus. The ’08 is a nice Cab for $40 and I actually prefered it to the ’06 which sells for $60.

For more information or to visit:

La Rochelle Winery
5443 Tesla Road, Livermore, CA 94550
Telephone: 925-243-6442

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