There are many tasks in winemaking that are very important in the making of great wines. Of course, there is all the work done in the vineyard during the year and determining when to harvest the fruit. Then there are the decisions of fermentation parameters. How hot of a fermentation you might consider best and how to achieve the best extraction from the skins to create a wine of great power, elegance, and creamy mouthwatering texture. The use of new French oak for aging to allow flavors from the barrel and gentle oxidation to soften tannins.
Once all those things have been addressed and the wines are aging in barrels the most important thing is quality control and barrel topping to maintain the quality. During this time, it is possible to not only monitor the quality with analysis but to smell and taste to know how the wines are evolving.
I believe this is one of the most special times of year and is what makes Euclid stand out from the rest. At Euclid our production is small enough that we can composite sample every barrel of each blend for analysis. Then, smell every single barrel, taste every single barrel, composite sample 250 milliliters to taste the actual blend of the barrels. Each barrel can bring something different to the wine and with this technique we can understand what that might be.
We strive to make a wine of consistent quality and style from vintage to vintage. This is how we learn more and more about how to do that.
By the way, it is truly a joy to do! Red teeth and all! Bring your toothbrush.
I am often asked my opinion on this. Older vintage wines certainly can benefit from a gentle decant and a short amount of time before drinking (30 minutes). Younger vintage wines in most cases will benefit from a vigorous decanting (swirl a bit in the decanter). One way to test your preference would be to decant just half the bottle, then taste side by side to see what you prefer. The decanting gives us a look into the future of the wine as it ages. It also allows us to enjoy the wine in its youth.
Discussion of fermentation
I cannot stress how much oak barrels impact our winemaking. I was lucky enough to manage a cooper evaluation program for 21 years. Each barrel maker has a unique style and impact on the wine being aged in it. The program was the most involved I have experienced in my almost 40 years. Barrels were hand selected from each cooper (individual barrel maker) and the same wine was aged for around 15 months. We then sampled and tasted the wines blind. They all brought something different to the wine. Some brought a silky texture and mouthfeel and others brought flavors of caramel, chocolate, vanilla, coconut, tropical flavors, black and white pepper and combinations of all of those.
During the aging in barrels as well there is a slow maturation of the tannins in the wine from the penetration of oxygen through the staves softening the wine. Some barrels are wonderful as a single entity but generally, the blend of them is the most complex. I have learned so much over those years. Our barrel program at Euclid uses 60 to 70% new barrels for our Cabernets from 4 to 6 different coopers each year. Lucas and I taste each and every barrel during our monthly Quality Control. I look forward to that day each month. We offer (if the timing is right) to taste our barrel trial with our allocation clients.
Too much rain? Quite often people see wet winters as a possible sign of a lesser quality vintage. Some people also consider drought years to be the best years. It always depends on the micro climate in the area the vineyard is in. If the vineyard is in the mountains on a hillside or on the valley floor. Each one requires a different technique to control the vigor of the vine. Controlling vigor on the valley floor can start with the use of cover crops in the rows to compete with the vine for the water in the soil.
During a wet season, the cover crop can be left in the rows for a longer period and just mowed. For a moderate season, you can mow one row and till the other. In a year with less rainfall where the vine might struggle you can till all the rows limiting the stress on the vine. Drought years can have their issues as well. Controlling vine vigor and vine stress is an important thing.
Opus One. Heard of it?
Maybe you only know it as a Jay-Z lyric, but Opus One helped put Napa Valley’s Cabernet Sauvignon on the world wine map. First created in 1979, it was a joint venture of California’s Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild, owner of Chateau Mouton Rothschild which produced the first-growth Bordeaux of the same name. Opus One was, at the time, the most expensive wine produced in California – retailing for $50. Opus One now retails for $235 per bottle.
Alas, the Opus One folks did not send along samples. But Opus One’s former cellarmaster, Mike Farmer, did. (Thanks, also, to Susan at WineGlass Marketing.) When Mike retired from his position, he and his son Lucas created Euclid Wines – drawing on his 30-plus years of experience in the wine business.
For those unfamiliar with what a “cellarmaster” does (and this included me until writing this review!) – this individual is the person who’s in charge of all aspects of production at a winery from when the containers of grapes come rolling in the door to when the cases of bottled wine go rolling out. A winemaker draws up the strategy to create a wine. The cellarmaster executes that strategy.
This father-son duo said they wanted to make a Cabernet Sauvignon as their signature wine. They currently produce a premium Cabernet (which is 97 percent Cabernet with 3 percent Syrah to round out the blend) and a 100 percent Syrah, both produced from grapes grown on Howell Mountain in Napa County.
The geometrical-sounding name of the winery is Mike Farmer’s middle name, passed down from his grandfather, Euclid Doucette. Farmer describes his grandfather as “a man of intensity, integrity and true to his word,” and he tried to model his wines after the emotions stemming from that familial respect.
There are fewer more direct examples of the market’s invisible hand than wine price points. High-end wine demands high-end prices because people are willing to shell out the cash. As any marketing student will tell you, there are plenty of ways to make wine more desirable aside from actually making a superior product – fancy packaging, slick marketing, using adult film stars to garner positive reviews and other tricks of the trade.
The Euclid 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon retails for $85, and this is one of the few wines I’ve tried where I thought, “You know, this really tastes like an $85 bottle of wine.” This cabernet is exceptionally well crafted and offers some of the most interesting aromatics I’ve sniffed.
My notes say “peaches, cotton candy, crème brulee perfumed sweetness.” Needless to say, these aren’t words that pop up in my reviews of reds very often. The flavor is exceptionally well-balanced, full of vanilla, dark fruit and super-balanced tannin. The finish was lasting, gorgeous lushness. I grilled a couple of good steaks, which I put next to some grilled beets with goat cheese and dill and it was transcendently good.
The Euclid Cab is a fabulous wine and it’s a shame it goes so quickly. I had the last half-glass in the quiet of the Man Cave while mellowing out after the Sweet Partner in Crime had retired for the evening. The wine tasted like Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away” sounds at the end of a hard day.
The Euclid 2010 Sierra Foothills Syrah is not quite as pricey as its sister Cab. The retail on this bottle is $40. Syrah is generally a couple of orders of magnitude fruitier and deeper than Cabernet Sauvignon, so I didn’t expect the same sort of subtlety we’d experienced. Even with that notion … wow, what a contrast in style between these wines.
Returning to the previous metaphor, if the Cabernet is a mellow ’70’s tune, the Syrah is A Tribe Called Quest’s “Low End Theory.” Good lawrd, I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced anything quite like this wine. The nose is typical Syrah – plums, violets and spice – although it’s really well balanced and quite pretty.
The mouthfeel is rich, thick and fruity … and then the bottom absolutely drops out of this inky, tannic monster. Imagine the warming feel of a good bourbon or scotch and convert that sensation to the fullness and depth of tannin and you’ve got this Syrah’s finish. I could feel blackness filling my chest as I drank this down. While it’s not the drying, mouth puckering tannin that it could be, it feels like a dark depth charge. Boom.
I decided to do some lamb chops as a pairing with this – and about halfway through the meal, the Sweet Partner in Crime says, “I just can’t do it. It’s too big.” Caught between the richness of the wine, the marbling of the chops and the savory nature of the fennel and caper relish I’d done as a side, the SPinC overloaded. (My Uncle Alan, in contrast, would have been in absolute heaven.) I got through my glass and, upon seeing myself in the bathroom mirror later, noticed that a single glass of the Euclid was sufficient to blacken my teeth.
We didn’t get through the whole bottle. I put a VacuVin on it and sampled it over the next couple of days. After a day, it hadn’t opened up much. After two days, some of the lighter, more vanilla aspects of the nose started to come through – even though the body was still enormous. I think it still needs more time. Make sure you decant it for at least a couple of hours before you drink it. My half-hour wasn’t enough. If you like wines this powerful, snag a couple of bottles to hold for a few years.