AS THE STORY GOES:
I was reflecting on the art of note taking as a component of tasting wine, a recorded memory of mind, wine, palate and physical experience aligned in one moment as the responses to the wine are put pen to paper…for ever. A close friend of mine, a professor in the U.K had asked me on his last visit to Toronto, how do you catalogue your notes, how do you organize your memories? He was doing a study on how we remember things and the physical act of doing so. I told him I have several Moleskine or Moleskine-like note books that at a time each more or less capture 6months to a year of time in tasting…either work related or from trips to trade seminars. They are catalogued or rather organized at this point by year and whatever major trip happened in that book. My memory is captured in a series of notebooks. I'm sure the more seasoned Sommeliers and Wine writers have libraries of notes or perhaps many files on a sacred hard drive locked in a safe somewhere. Some say go digital, though for me the computer, the files, the bright screen inhibits my physical act of writing.
Where am I going with this?... well I've recently signed on as Head Sommelier at Alo Restaurant in Toronto. (December 2016) and we at the restaurant had the pleasure of hosting Ann Jasper and Rob Groh of the Vine Agency , wine friends since the beginning of my career. What they didn't tell us was that they had a third guest and that was the venerable Dr. Jerry Seps of Story Book Mountain Vineyards in Napa.
Jerry Seps quite calm and wise with a stature that brimmed with a professor like aura, as if he had seen all that there was in the world of California wine and more, with hands large from toiling in the vineyards, a grey beard with a very studious look and boyish smile, pardon the comparison but he was a sort of Gandalf of wine. Yes I love Tolkein and that was was my first internal thought when I met him in Spring of 2015 while I was running the George Restaurant Wine Program.
Rob, Anne and Jerry came to dine at the restaurant and for them it was a moment to sit as friends, they've known each other far too long to spend 'off hours' talking shop, but with them they brought the 2010 Seps Cabernet and the recent vintage of the StoryBook Zinfandel Mayacamas Range Napa Estate. As I was re-tasting the wines, my memory raced back to the very first moment (pictured above) I tasted with Jerry with my notebook. The Story and the wines drafted over 2 pages or so. The very notebook in front of me as I post this today.
The truth is 'once upon a time, there were two brothers named Grimm (Adam and Jacob) who started the Vineyard…' when Jerry had the opportunity to take on the Vineyards as his own, he called it Storybook for he believed a wine should have a good story and provide an element to improve your life! Located in the Northernmost vineyard sites at the top of the Napa Valley bordering the top of Sonoma very near to the Chalk Hill Gap at about 2000 feet, the climate of the zone is moderated by fog that enters the valley here the same way that fog keeps Carneros to the south very cool and fresh. Though with much more precipitation. Here he has planted Zinfandel, some 39years ago! On Volcanic soils for the most part and smaller parcels of various soil at relatively high altitude, helps explains the vivacity of these wines. The Zinfandels are intense without being heavy. Farming Organically since the beginning and yielding 200 tons per hectare, these are Zinfandels for those who don't believe Zinfandel can be anything but hot and heavy…but in this case these wines capture what Zinfandel can do in the right hands.
My notes from the tasting of the 2012 Storybook Mountain Mayacamas Zinfandel included memories of ripe and fleshy blue and black fruit, though balanced with tart black berry with tannin that was present but pliable and earthy finish. A pleasing and enjoyable wine that, I as an old-world wine lover could enjoy, appreciate and open my heart to a new 'California' wine experience. The 2012Storybook Mountain 'Eastern Exposures' (not sure why I didn't include the vintage in my notes…might have been too excited tasting) was quite exceptional. A barrel selection that is meant to express three concepts, a) 'a true Character of Zinfandel', b) 'Aromatics' and c) 'Purity in Flavour'. With an added dose of Viognier the wine had an engaging and attractive underlying note that was floral and perfumed black and blue fruit, plum candy, fresh spices and a palate that was cool and warm and refreshing. Zinfandel is one of the few varietal wines that can do all that and stay balanced - altitude, sun and freshness of vineyard site! His 2013 Viognier is barrel fermented to dryness with 8months on lees, was still fresh, still mineral with peach, pear, and apricot skins. The timing of the Battonage added some weight and a touch more glycerine to the wine making it round and full, though far from 'fat'. Très agréable!
Back to the end of their dinner at the restaurant as we stood at the bar and talked life, work, family while tasting the 2010 Seps Cabernet Sauvignon and a revisit to the 2012 Mayacamas Zinfandel. We just enjoyed the wines and I let the memories of my first tasting guide me as I spent some 'less formal' time with the man and his wines. No notes taken…the story will be lodged in my memory this time...