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The Library Wine Club: Beta

By Matthew Hawkins

December 05, 2018

By Matthew Hawkins

December 05, 2018

Beta Test:
White Wine from Hermitage, Cabernet from Sonoma

[The below was originally published for members of our Library Wine Club.  If interested in learning more about a subscription to this (or any other) wine club, email matthew@vanderbilt.wine, and he'll get back to you with more information.]

We've got two special wines for you this month, picked specifically for your Thanksgiving table.   Regardless of what, how (or if) you cook for your feast, these wines will illicit a reaction.  One is by an established California winemaker setting off on his newest venture, and the other is represents a revered house and a legendary vineyard.  These are food wines: the red is rich, tannic, and the white is opulent and weighted.   They are made for a feast, and they're made to be shared.  

The more I learn about wines - the more I taste, the more I explore new regions - the more I realize that there is no such thing as the perfect bottle.  There are only perfect settings.  I hope that as you and your community gather this Thanksgiving that you find a moment of peace, of togetherness.  Wine is best shared, and the perfect wine is only as good as its company.  

Cheers,

Matthew & The Vanderbilt Team


These bottles have impeccable provenance, professionally stored
- at the vineyard, in private storage, or by the importers -
since release.  

M. Chapoutier “L’Ermite” Ermitage Blanc 2004
Grape: Marsanne
Region: Ermitage, Northern Rhone
Appellation: Ermitage

Most wine folk know the story of the tired knight, the compassionate queen, and the hillside hermitage - L'Ermitage - in the Northern Rhone.  After battling for years in the XIIIth century Crusades, and tired to his bones, Henry Gaspard, a knight from Stérimberg, asked Anne of Castille (the Queen of Spain) for a place to rest.  She gave him the hillside we now refer to as Hermitage where he rested and prayed, and even planted some grapes.  The rest is history. Louis XIII made the wine his official court wine after being offered a glass during a tour of the region in 1642.  Merchants from Bordeaux would “hermitage” their wine by blending these wines with their own; the strength of the blends meant they could command higher prices.  It is both the smallest appellation in the Rhone and the most famous, and we have the crusades to thank for it.

There is no way to tell what the knight planted when he settled down, but nowadays when people think of this lauded hillside they almost always think of Syrah.  The appellation is only 130 hectares, and in a good vintage is barely manages to produce 55,000 cases of wine - only a fraction of which is white (7%). The reds are almost undrinkable in their youth, and in most cases the wines from this hill need at least two decades to become accessible.  White wines are less difficult - the offer well-structured, powerful wines in youth that evolve into opulent, rich wines in their later years.

While there are two white grapes available to those in the appellation - Marsanne and Roussanne - this wine is 100% Marsanne, picked from a selection of the house’s oldest vines.  The plots that go into the blend are all situated at the top of the Hermitage hill, competing against the chapel for sun. The soils are very poor, and consist of large chunks of decomposing granite coupled with loess and clay.  

For me, this is the ultimate Thanksgiving wine - a wine that is best shared with others.  Marked minerality, vanilla, almonds and dried fruits appear on the nose. The mouth-feel is round and rich, with punchy, ripe, white fruits like peach and pear.  Long, long finish and a beguiling complexity that hints at another 20 years of life ahead for this wine.

Beta Moon Mountain District “Monticello Vineyard” 2012
Grape: Cabernet Sauvignon
Region: Sonoma County
Appellation: Moon Mountain District

Ketan Mody is too young to have done what he’s done, and considering the plans he’s made, it appears he plans to live for a few more centuries.  After making wine at Harlen Estate for years, he set off on his own - not to buy a winemaking property, but to create one from the dirt up. The winery will be called Jasud, and it’s all signs point to a blockbuster.  

After multiple years of looking for a site for Jasud, he eventually settled on a property covered with Redwoods in the Diamond Mountain appellation. It took 4.5 years to receive the permits he needed - among them timber harvest, erosion control, and timber conversion permits - just to clear the property.  Then he was able to plant the grapes. It’ll be at least five years before the vines will produce grapes that can make wine, and at least 10 more years before they’ll really be able to say anything.

While his master project creeps towards maturity, Mody has been buying grapes & bottling them under the name “Beta”. Pretty much all of this wine is sold to friends and family, plus a small mailing list.  Many people are following Mody’s progress, though not many people get to try this wine. It’s his “beta-test” while he continues to shape Jasud, and it’s supposed to give you an idea of his style.

To get the flavors he wanted, he sourced grapes from Moon Mountain District, an AVA within Sonoma Valley, which lies just north of the city of Sonoma. The appellation is still in its infancy, and there aren’t more than a handful of wineries who currently use the appellation.  Even though the AVA is mountainous, and the Monticello vineyard elevated in the hills, it’s a few degrees warmer here than the Valley floor. As the cool air from the bay area rushes through the valley floor, the wind warms up and by the time the winds traverse the valley they’ve jumped a few degrees.  

Mody has succeeded in making full-flavored & rich Cabernets, but that should be no surprise.  This is the previous winemaker for Harlen Estate, which is considered by some the greatest expression of Cabernet outside - and perhaps including - France.  

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