Cultivating a Mix Of Old and New in The Golden State
Stephen Quinn tastes some once-in-a-decade blends at Matt Cline’s Three Wine Company in California
When Matt Cline started his current vineyard in California, he pondered over what to call it and settled on the Three Wine Company.
Why “three”? The philosophy was simple, he said. To make wine, you must do three things: choose an appropriate terroir, work with the local climate and remember not to interfere. In other words, let the terroir express itself.
“ ‘Hands off’ is the key phrase for the third part,” Cline said.
Cline has been making wine for almost 28 years, and the “three” philosophy produces some wondrous wines. Many of his wines are blended, using grapes from vines planted more than a century ago.
He aims to combine grapes from old vines with modern techniques. Many of the vines grow in very sandy soils; the only water the grapes receive is what falls from the skies, and rain is infrequent in many parts of California. This concentrates flavors, a feature of all of Cline’s wines.
Photographs depict the region where his grapes grow as a practical desert, and the arid nature provides one benefit: the phylloxera louse cannot survive in the sandy soil. The louse, native to North America, devastated vineyards around the world in the 1850s and 1970s.
Cline’s 2008 Evangelho zinfandel, from Contra Costa County, is an example of the careful merging of art and nature. The Evangelho family has been growing grapes for more than 70 years.
“In 1964, Frank Evangelho took over farming this vineyard from his dad, Manuel,” Cline said. “I consider Frank one of the most meticulous and passionate growers I know.”
This Evangelho is a blend of 79 percent zinfandel, 12 percent petite sirah, 4 percent alicante bouschet, 3 percent carignane and 2 percent mataro. The minor chords give the wine a black cherry color while the dominant zinfandel produces a crescendo of soft tannins and blackberry flavors. This is a wine to enjoy with a casserole or spice-based lamb dishes.
Petite sirah is a grape variety unique to the United States and Australia. In Australia it is known as durif, a hybrid of shiraz and peloursin. The grape is named after Francois Durif, a botanist at the University of Montpellier in France who created it in 1880. It produces tannic and densely black wine, and combined in small quantities with zinfandel, it provides body and strength.
Alicante bouschet is a teinturier, a French word referring to grapes whose flesh and juice are red. Most red wines have white flesh and get their color from the skin. Teinturier are good for blending with lighter grapes for a darker color.
Another standout wine was the 2009 Old Vines Field Blend, also sourced from old vines in Contra Costa County. The blend consists of 34 percent zinfandel, 27 percent carignane, 19 percent petite sirah, 17 percent mataro, 2 percent alicante bouschet and 1 percent black malvoisie.
The wine took time to open and ideally should be decanted in the morning before enjoying it with dinner. Eventually it oozes a blackberry essence and a deliciously long length, making it a wine worth opening in a decade.
A highlight of the tasting was the 2006 S3X late harvest riesling, whose name stands for “small sweet sips.” Cline said it was only produced when conditions allowed for a natural mold called Botrytis cinerea, or “noble rot.”
The wine has a similar flavor profile to a trockenbeerenauslese, the finest and sweetest of German dessert wines. Intense aromas of peach and apricot mingle with just the right amount of acid to produce a wine that would pair perfectly with blue cheese.
This wine won a “sweepstakes award” for the best of the best wines at San Francisco Chronicle’s wine competition in 2008. It was chosen as one of the top seven wines of 4,235 wines entered by more than 1,500 wineries.
Three Wine’s S3X late harvest riesling from 2006 is an award-winner.