John Gilman Reviews Bravium’s 2011 Wines in View From the Cellar
Following are excerpts from John Gilman’s recent View From the Cellar featuring Bravium among a who’s who of neo-classical Pinot Noir producers. John rated four Bravium wines 90 points or higher and penned an interesting introduction and detailed review of each wine. Notably, he has many of the wines aging well through 2035 and with the acid structure inherent in our wine style, I agree that these will be drinking well for decades to come.
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Recently Tasted Old School and Neo-Classical American Wines
Though the title claims that these are “recently-tasted” American wines from the old school and their inspired new colleagues, the genesis of this article actually dates back to last year when I began working on my piece on Kalin Cellars which finally appeared in February of this year. At that time, I realized that I had also accrued a lot of tasting notes on older American wines out of my cellar (and from my generous friends in the tasting groups that I participate in here in New York) in the last year or so and also had built up a sizable pile of samples from US producers who had heard of View From the Cellar and felt that their more classically-styled wines might find a sympathetic ear here.
A number of these wines were from small estates that I had not even heard of previously- folks like Poe Vineyards, Knez Winery, Bravium and Kendric Vineyards, and others were from good “old school” producers whose samples were languishing in my cellar during what has been a very busy twelve months of nearly constant travel for me. What was quite clear from the tastings I have conducted over the last several weeks is that the number of “neo-classicists” in American wine country is continuing to grow and we may well be on the edge of new renaissance in American wine, with the dinosaurs of the monster truck school of extraction, overripe fruit and over-oaked and highly-manipulated wines eventually fading into extinction and the US returning to an ageworthy and balanced style of wine that befits the legacy that was left to American winegrowers in the wines from the decades of the 1960s and 1970s.
To be fair, I of course sampled very few wines from the “modern school”, as I studiously try to avoid tasting these wines if at all possible, and if one or two somehow cross my path in the course of my travels, their corresponding scores generally ensure that I do not see followup vintages sent along from the winery. But, I had a very interesting conversation with several collectors of these modern, cult classics, when our paths converged in Burgundy this spring, and they unanimously commented that they have been underwhelmed with most of their cult wines (of the purportedly highest pedigrees) that they have pulled out of their cellars in the last few years and which had seen more than seven or eight years of bottle age. They all spoke of finding the wines rather shriveled up in terms of fruit and far less impressive than they remembered them, with the tannins still relatively intact, but the glossy fruit of youth now gone and the wines starting to get a bit eviscerated and decidedly charmless. I opined that this is the natural evolution of wines made to show best in their youth, as these wines certainly have been, and I counseled that sending them off to auction with alacrity would be their best course of action, as this is likely to be a quite common occurrence in the years to come and eventually the goose that laid these golden eggs is going to be out of fashion.
I have been very pleased to see how many svelte, low alcohol and soil-driven wines have found their way out of the vineyards of the western US and into my tastings in the last couple of vintages, and there really are some exciting new wines out there these days that will delight lovers of American wines from the glory days of the ‘60s and ‘70s. One of the things that was readily apparent from these tastings was that the epicenter of return to the old school stylistic paradigm, at least in California, is emphatically not Napa Valley. Far more interesting wines are coming out of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties these days than out of Napa, and it does really seem, with a few noteworthy and truly exceptional estates, Napa is really the home of the least interesting and most over-priced wines in the entire world these days.
This is a sad reality (or at least my opinion of the current state in Napa- others will no doubt quibble about my grip on reality!) for the Napa Valley, for as the notes on the older vintages listed below will attest, Napa was once the absolute center of the universe for great American wines and the great legacy of superb wines produced here in decades past continues as a testament of just what is possible from these terroirs and vineyards, if the current miasma of high octane vinous fashion could be broken through and this region could return to its deep and impressive winegrowing roots. Just look at the beautifully poised and balanced cabernets produced by Cathy Corison in the heart of Napa Valley and one can clearly see that the potential of this region has not been lost to global warming or phylloxera in the last couple of decades, but to human culpability, technological naiveté and cynical greed. In the realm of pinot noir, the American wine scene has never been awash in so many outstanding possibilities, and I say this without even having had the pleasure to really get my feet wet with Oregon pinot noir in an embarrassingly long time now.
But sticking to the America regions with which I am quite familiar with these days that specialize in pinot noir and are doing some absolutely stellar work, there are literally dozens of world class producers who have shown a mastery for this varietal and have delved into the variations of terroir that are available throughout the varied state of California. Wines from the likes of producers such as Rhys, Kalin Cellars, Porter Creek, Joseph Swan, Copain and Littorai are really stunning testaments to just what is possible when pinot noir is planted in the right places in California and produced in such a way as to maximize its varietal purity and transparency of soil signature. Newcomers (at least to me) such as Poe Vineyards, Kendric Vineyards, Knez Winery and Bravium show that this varietal is really coming of age in several different regions of California, and today, pinot noir is really far more interesting in general than is cabernet sauvignon as a genre in the state for those interested in more traditionally styled wines.
2011 Bravium “Signal Ridge Vineyard” Pinot Noir (Mendocino Ridge)
The 2011 Bravium “Signal Ridge Vineyard” Pinot Noir is a fine, plush and wellbalanced example of the vintage, offering up a deep and complex nose of cherries, beetroot, Mendocino fresh herb tones, coffee, woodsmoke, a nice base of dark soil tones and a bit of spicy new wood. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied and nicely reserved, with a good core of fruit, a bit of tannin, sound acids and fine length and grip on the youthful and nascently complex finish. This will develop a nice note of sous bois with further bottle age. I would opt for giving it a few years of bottle age to fully blossom, as today it still has a touch of youthful backend bitterness from the tannins. 2015-2030. 88+ points.
2011 Bravium “Signal Ridge Vineyard- Dragonfly Block” Pinot Noir (Mendocino Ridge)
I had never tasted any wines from Bravium, and the range that I tasted through was quite impressive. The 2011 Dragonfly Block comes in at 14.2 percent alcohol and shows a pretty ripe blend of black cherries, dark plums, cola, a nice mix of fresh herbs, a nice dollop of soil and a judicious base of vanillin oak. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied and quite suave on the attack, with a good core of fruit, moderate tannins and very good length and grip on the ripe, but pure finish. I am not sure why, as this is one of the lowest octane bottlings I tasted from Bravium, but I detect just a trace of backend heat on this cuvée, which is not evident in any of the other wines that I tried in preparation for this article. But that said, this is only a minor footnote on what is a very lovely wine. The 2011 Dragonfly Block is a very fine bottle that is approachable now, but will certainly develop lovely secondary nuances with some bottle age. 2015-2035. 91+ points.
2011 Bravium “Signal Ridge Vineyard- Sundance Block” Pinot Noir (Mendocino Ridge)
As I worked my way through the fine lineup of 2011 pinot noir cuvées from Bravium, I noticed that their Mendocino bottlings were a touch lighter in color than their Sonoma Coast bottlings- though in the case of the Sundance Block pinot, it is a touch riper than some of the Sonoma wines at 14.4 percent alcohol. Not that this detracts from the purity of this wine- which is excellent- as the wine offers up a superb bouquet of cherries, beetroot, a lovely base of soil, gentle herb tones, a bit of cola, a nice touch of new oak and a smoky topnote. On the palate the wine is deep and complex, with its fullbodied format quite elegant and detailed. The core is full of pure fruit, the tannin are moderate and beautifully integrated and the wine is long, complex and still fairly unevolved. This is going to be a really lovely bottle of pinot with a few years’ worth of bottle age! 2015-2035. 92 points.
2011 Bravium “Sonoma Coast” Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast)
The 2011 Bravium Sonoma Coast pinot is whisper riper than their bottlings from Mendocino, coming in at 14.4 percent alcohol in this lovely vintage, but it shares the fine sense of restraint of all the Bravium pinots that I tasted for this article. The nose on the Sonoma Coast is pure and classy, offering up scents of black cherries, dark berries, a bit of cola, a dollop of fresh herb tones, a bit of cigar smoke and a deft touch of new wood. On the palate the wine is pure, full-bodied and tangy, with a fine core of fruit, lovely focus and balance, a bit of tannin and a long, bouncy and youthful finish. Give this a year to blossom- it should age quite gracefully and really is a lovely bottle of pinot. 2014-2030. 90 points.
2011 Bravium “Volamus Vineyard” Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast)
Bravium’s 2011 “Volamus Vineyard” pinot noir was one of the finest of a very good range of bottlings of this varietal that I tasted from this winery. This is one of the lowest octane of their 2011s, coming in at 14.2 percent alcohol and the wine is fresh, pure and complex on both the nose and palate. The fine bouquet is a blend of black cherries, plums, dark chocolate, a lovely base of soil, cola, woodsmoke and a deft touch of vanillin oak. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied and very elegant, with a sappy core of fruit, excellent balance, moderate tannins, tangy acids and lovely length and grip on the young and promising finish. I really like the suave palate impression of this wine, but it will need a few years of cellaring to allow its secondary layers of complexity to emerge. Lovely juice in the making. 2015-2035. 92 points.