Ever since I launched Malbec Week about a month ago, I have been particularly interested in the wines of South West France. During that time I focused primarily on New World Malbec, but I also did some tasting for an article that didn’t quite make the cut and will most likely launch as a revision sometime in the future on the wines of Cahors, Malbec’s French home base.
During my exploration of the South West of France, I came across an obscure and incredibly difficult to find varietal called Negrette. It’s ability to make wines that are dark, deep, and complex while still maintaining a delicate quality reminded me of some of my other favorite grapes, like Touriga Nacional and Mourvedre, and I knew right away that I was going to have to investigate these wines further.
Unfortunately in the grape’s homeland of Toulouse, located just south of my beloved Cahors, the wines made with this grape are almost without exception blends. Even in Cotes du Frontonnais, where Negrette is required to make up the majority of the blend, at least two other varietals also must be added. I thought my hopes of trying this grape all on its own would never come into being.
That was, until I visited California’s Central Coast. I was able to find not just one, but three wineries that were producing this illusive varietal. This was a rare find, and for better or worse, I had to try these and share the experience.
Wine #1: Wild Horse 2008 San Benito County Negrette
Wild House Winery was founded in 1981 by Kennth Volk, who also acted as the winemaker until 2003 when the property was sold and he began his own independent winemaking venture. (Why this is important will become known in a little while.) Over the years Wild Horse has become known for their Pinot Noir, limited production Chardonnays, and even some lesser known varietals like Blaufrankisch and Verdelho. I had the opportunity to try a number of these wines, and I have a feeling that this isn’t the last time we’ll be talking about Wild Horse on What’s Worth Drinking.
The grapes for this wine were harvested from a single vineyard (Calleri) in the Central Coast’s San Benito County. Following hand harvesting and pressing the wine was aged for one year in French and Hungarian oak barrels, 30% of them new, prior to bottling.
There is a wild, somewhat feral quality to this wine’s aroma. There are tones of dried herb, a fiercely pastoral essence that brings to mind wild shrubs and dry, dusty, earth. Black pepper, spice, and a mix of gun smoke and flint give this wine some serious edginess.
The palate resembles freshly pressed berry juice in its dark intensity of flavor but fairly light, almost water-like body. Mixed red fruits, dried flowers, and a touch of brown butter make up the mid palate, with dried herbs and orange peel on the finish. This is an interesting wine, with a definite wild side that characterizes every part of it. It has a bit of heat from the alcohol and the palate seems a little thin and dry on the finish, but these minor flaws seem to actually somehow work with the rest of this wine’s unbridled profile. This is a pretty solid effort for those who like their wines rough and rugged. Depending on your tastes, possibly…
Worth Trying. 85 points.
Wine #2: Kenneth Volk 2008 San Benito County Negrette
Not surprisingly, when Kenneth Volk released his own Negrette, separate from the Wild Horse line, he used grapes from the same source. Also coming from Calleri Vineyard in San Benito County, Kenneth Volk’s Negrette shows how big of difference there can be between winemakers, even when they are producing the same varietal, from the same region, vineyard, and year.
Berries and cream introduce the nose, with spice cabinet and pepper tones playing lightly on the edges. The aroma is sweet and fresh, with faint rose petals, raspberries, and coffee tones opening up on the spin.
Soft, fresh, and red berry fruit driven, this wine follows through on the palate in very much the same way it did on the nose. Delicate dried fruit and flower tones combine with a touch of suede and cacao powdery tannins to make a very supple, refined experience. This wine has a good amount of depth and weight to it, but there is a certain delicate quality about it that makes it very appealing in a way that is somewhat similar to certain New World Pinot Noirs. It’s nicely balanced and approachable, and would make an easy entry wine for anyone who is new to Negrette. Easily…
Worth Trying. 88 points.
Wine #3: Santa Barbara Winery 2005 Santa Ynez Valley Negrette
Our final wine is truly in a class of its own. Made from fruit produced on the Joughin Vineyard in Santa Ynez, this wine was, as we’re about to find out, the most exceptional example of a Negrette that I have found, and easily makes my top 100 favorite wines of all time list. Regrettably, I use the word “was” because the 2006 vintage bottling of this wine marks the very last vintage that it will be produced. Due to constant trouble with climate and predation from the local wildlife, these vines were rarely productive enough to even warrant a harvest and were nearly impossible to sustain. They have since been pulled out and replaced with other varietals, but their legacy lives on in these few remaining, truly outstanding bottles.
Everything about this wine is deep, complex, and intense, beginning with the nose. The aroma greets you with sweet tones of vanilla and cream. Dark fruit preserves mingle with volcanic minerals, rose petals, and driftwood. There is a touch of dried bergamot, raspberry, and lavender with a very faint tint of olives and black tea with a spin in the glass.
Very ripe fruit tones gracefully wash onto the palate, with exceptionally refined tones of dark chocolate, suede, and lavender flowers around the edges. The mid palate strikes a balance between being creamy and jammy, and beautiful dusty tannins lead into a delicious waxy, dark chocolate bar-like quality on the finish. This is a gorgeous wine with waves of complexity and subtlety constantly evolving. It’s big and plush, with perfect ripeness and a delicately soft velvety quality. This is truly an experience for the senses and a wine that captures both the attention of the palate and the mind. A few more of these rare gems may still be on the market somewhere. If they can be found, this is absolutely a wine…
Worth Buying. 93 points.
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The Grapevine: Have you ever fallen in love with a wine that later was discontinued?