Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wine Review Wednesday: Blackstone Limited Release Merlot Sonoma Valley 2007

Few producers--in California, in the world--have changed their reputation quite as dramatically as Blackstone has in recent years. For a long time, especially among the so-called wine cognoscenti, Blackstone was known more for its volume of production than for any particular excitement in the juice department. But now, with an enthusiastic, wildly talented winemaker at the helm and a brand-new attitude with its Reserve and Limited Release bottlings, Blackstone is turning out some truly remarkable wine.

A few weeks ago, I attended the first 2010 meeting of a tasting group I’m a member of. The theme of the evening was Merlot, and I brought along the Blackstone Merlot Reserve 2007 in order to make a point: That a California producer that everyone had heard of a million times before was more than deserving of a second look.

Turns out it was a smart move: The 2007 Reserve was excellent, its round fruit supported by a sense of structure that too-few California Merlots provide at this price point, a nicely integrated sense of oak that never overwhelmed, and hints of chocolate, purple berry and plum fruit that sang with a real sense of clarity and brightness.

For me, though, this was no surprise: I had a chance to enjoy lunch in Philadelphia last summer with Gary Sitton, Blackstone’s winemaker, and came away supremely impressed with what he is doing: From his relationships with growers to the fruit itself to the way he is allowing terroir to shine through, Sitton is definitely one of the rising stars in the California wine world.

Which brings me to the Blackstone Limited Release Merlot Sonoma Valley 2007, a wine that, though it’s only available online through Blackstone or at the winery itself, is a fabulous demonstration of the potential--and achievement--of this producer that more than deserves the accolades it’s finally receiving among so-called serious wine people.

The color is likely the first thing you’ll notice: It’s not an opaque, inky black but, rather, something more translucent, more delicate, more red than expected. The nose is beautifully layered with both darker aromas of plums and mushrooms and lighter ones that are reminiscent of ripe strawberries, currants, pomegranate, and red cherries. There are also hints of cinnamon, cocoa, and gently charred oak hovering around in there, adding a whiff of the exotic without crossing the line into overly oaky. The palate is far more high-toned than the nose lets on, with singing flavors of tart cherries, slightly perfume-y brown spices, sage, and a texture that’s more silk than velvet in its elegance and litheness. The tannins sneak up on you, providing a sense of structure without drying the juice out too much. Combine those fine-grained tannins with the acid--all bright and dancing--and this is a wine that promises 7 - 10 years or more of evolution. In fact, I’d hold on to any bottles you have for at least another 3 years; it’ll be worth the wait. 85% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Ruby Cabernet, and 2% Petite Verdot.

This is the new Blackstone. This is delicious.


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