I could think of no better way to reboot Discoveries… after a hiatus than to discuss the events of the Mise en Place 25th Anniversary celebrations, which began with a seminar and tasting with winemaker Pax Mahle of Wind Gap Wines.
At the recommendation of Mise GM and Wine Manager Dave Madera, we picked up the whole weekend package, which included seminars with Pax and Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock wines (one on Friday, the other on Saturday) before the “Birthday Party” on Friday and the Wine Dinner on Sunday. Getting the weekend package entitled us to a free champagne brunch on Sunday. We’ll discuss the entire weekend, tastings, meals, experiences, in turn.
Pax is a tall, tanned, kind of classic Californian (although we found out that he only moved there from Florida in the late 90s) with his own strong theories about winemaking, which he was happy to share with us in the 12-person seminar. Most interestingly to me, he has a powerful belief in the strength of stem inclusion and whole cluster fermentation. It was clear from the beginning that he wants to make Old World-style, almost rustic (in the good sense) wines. The small productions are crushed by foot, which demonstrates the deep care they take in each step of the process.
Our tasting was five wines, which Pax guided us through. He said that his preference is to smell each wine first and then go back and taste it so that there is something to compare each nose to. I’m a fan of evaluating each wine on its own in a tasting, but I figured I’d give his way a try. I don’t think that it led to different results had I done it my old way.
2009 Windsor Oaks Pinot Gris
More like “Pinot Orange,” it was nearly rose in color. The nose came across with simple red grape, currant, and perhaps a little baking spice. On the palate, there was some good acidity, rich vanilla flavors, and a surprising amount of tannin. My first thought, which Gretchyn agreed with, was that despite seeming like a ‘cocktail’ wine, which is the term I use for wines that can start your evening in place of a drink or perhaps just sip poolside, the wine seemed desperately wanting for food. It would have done better to have some nice scallops or other shellfish. As it was, it was certainly different, but I didn’t find it particularly special.
2009 Wind Gap Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
A rich purple color in the glass. Classic Pinot nose of crushed red berries on the slightly dusty nose, with a touch of clove and cinnamon. Nicely rustic. It was easy and not at all unpleasant to taste the stem tannins driving through the black fruit. Not nearly as aggressive as other California Pinot, and clearly intended to be made in the Old World style.
2008 Syrah Sonoma Coast
A deep nose of berries, brine, and cognac. Very French in style, with low alcohol (12.1%). White pepper, lightly roasted meats, and blood coupled with a rich mouthfeel. Again, not as big and aggressive as many Cali Syrah. By the third wine, the style Pax was going for was clearly evident. While I’m a fan of the high-octane rocket fuel Pinots, Zins, and Syrah from California, this was an interesting change.
2007 Griffin’s Lair Syrah
I put my nose in this and thought it might be lightly corked, so I immediately looked up at Pax and his assistants. They didn’t immediately show any reaction, so I simply started to write “Off!” on my note sheet. At that point, Pax said “we’re going to get another bottle of this.” He explained to some of the folks what a corked wine is, and we got replacement pours, which of course changed everything. While again not giant Cali Syrah, this had more significant tannins and grip than the previous wines. It was thoroughly spicy throughout. Thick, a little briny (I suspect this comes from the stem inclusion), but rich.
2008 Rana GSM
The first thing Pax mentioned was the name comes from the Lord of the Rings, and in fact, Rána is the Noldorin name for the moon. The wine is 58% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, and 12% Syrah. On the nose, the darkness of the Mourvedre showed straight through. Currants, saddle leather, and anise on the nose, with plummy dark red and black fruits. This wine showed well more depth and dimension than the other four, and was for us, the best of the flight.
The flight done, we moved off to the birthday party, at which there were dozens of more wines to taste, great Mise en Place food stations all around, and new friends to meet. We stayed for a few hours and then knowing that the next night’s adventure would be far longer, headed home. Next up: Bedrock Wines and the incredible Mise en Place “Dynamite Dinner.”