The streets of Mexico
“One of the most promising portfolios that I came across from Southern Oregon was Cowhorn. Bill and Barbara Steele came up to see me in McMinnville to show their Rhône-inspired varietals that were a joy. “The 2013 vintage was a beautiful year from a climate standpoint, but the vines were a bit big, so you get more grapiness,” Bill explained before candidly commenting, “the 2012 is luscious whereas the 2013? If we had more winemaking experience I don’t think we would have had problems with the native fermentation for the Viognier. In 2013, we started to see a slide in the nutrition of the grapes and we have worked on the biological diversity in the vineyard. We have seen an improvement with the 2014. You have to keep the native yeasts happy.”
I also asked Bill and Barbara how the vineyards are progressing as the vines age. Barbara remarked that she is now happier with the Marsanne/Roussanne. Bill remarked: “We are entering the time when vines roots are going deep enough to express the terroir. We maintain a varied weed profile with biodynamic preparations such as fermented worm tea. They all combine to help biological diversity.” There was a sense of these wines being comfortable in their own skin: nothing here overambitious or trying to push boundaries, but simply delivering what you would expect from a great Syrah or Grenache. Perhaps the only weak link in the chain was the Viognier that seemed ambivalent about expressing its varietal character, as if embarrassed not to have been born Chardonnay or Pinot Gris. Otherwise, these are well worth seeking out and represent great value.
The 2011 Sentience is a new line that aims to express the darker fruit profile of the estate Syrah. This was picked October 27 at 23 Brix, employs 37% whole-cluster fruit and sees ten months in 40% new French oak. It has a well-defined bouquet with bilberry and boysenberry scents, dried fig and just a touch of raisin lending a little exoticism. The palate is medium-bodied with succulent ripe black cherries and dark plum, a keen thread of acidity and a tightly-wound, surprisingly reserved finish that gradually opens with time. I appreciate the reserve shown here, the restraint, and as such, I can imagine it drinking well for the next 8-10 years. Very fine. 91 pts.
The 2012 Grenache 20 was picked October 13 as 21 Brix from Block 5G, sees around 10% whole-cluster fruit and sees ten months in one-third new oak. It has an attractive bouquet with red plum, blueberry and violet-scents, well defined with touches of fresh fig coming through. The palate is medium-bodied with supple ripe red berry fruit and nicely judged acidity. Harmonious in the mouth, smooth and silky, this is a more restrained Grenache than others from the region, allowing the grape variety to shine through. Delicious! 91pts.
2013 Marsanne Roussanne
The 2013 Marsanne Roussanne, an equal blend of the two, was picked October 8 and aged for 3 months in 21% new French oak. It has a pretty bouquet with dried honey and melted candle wax scents that gently waft from the glass, but never become powerful or intense. The palate is medium-bodied with a saline entry. Crisp acidity here, lovely dried honey notes mixed with kumquat and pink grapefruit, slightly waxy in texture with a long and intense finish. The shaved ginger on the finish completes the deal. Excellent. 92 pts.”
– Neal Martin, April 2015
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