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Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2011
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
Joseph Phelps has a whopping 102 acres on the Sonoma Coast called the Freestone Vineyard, 82 acres of which is planted in Pinot Noir and the balance Chardonnay. The interesting thing about this site is the bud break can occur as early as February, and the hang time often exceeds the European model of “100 days,” often lasting as long as 120 to140+ days. All of the wines that follow, even in a great vintage such as 2012, rarely exceed 14.2% alcohol, with most coming in under 14%. Their flavor intensity and richness make them fascinating, and I suspect this relatively new operation will get better and better as the vines age, and the Phelps team in Napa continues to fine tune the vineyards and the winemaking.
Phelps is best known for its flagship Napa Valley blend of red Bordeaux varietals, Insignia, first produced in 1974. Awarded Wine Spectator's "Wine of the Year" in 2005, Insignia is widely regarded as a qualitative benchmark for California winemaking.
A large and diverse wine region in northeastern Italy, the Veneto is home to a vast array of different styles of wine. With no defining regional characteristics, it can be a bit confusing to the general consumer to parse through its many subzones, but the patient wine lover will find many treasures to be discovered here, typically at wallet-friendly prices. Red and white wines are produced here, with more emphasis on the latter, as well as the ultra-popular sparkling wine Prosecco. The region is sheltered from harsh northern European winters by the Alps, which form its northern border, but the climate is still relatively cool, making the Veneto ideal for white wine production.
Much of Italy’s Pinot Grigio hails from the Veneto, where it can range from neutral and inoffensive to crisp and refreshing. Soave, made primarily from the Garganega grape, has a reputation for producing relatively ordinary, bulk wines, but can be very elegant when yields are carefully monitored, with aromas of lemon, almond, and white flowers. Valpolicella is the region’s best-known red wine, with juicy, tart red cherry flavors derived from the Corvina grape. Recioto and Amarone wines made from dried grapes are a regional specialty and can be very intense, heady, and cerebral.
With hundreds of red grape varieties to choose from, winemakers have the freedom to create a virtually endless assortment of blended wines. In many European regions, strict laws are in place determining the set of varieties that may be used, but in the New World experimentation is permitted and encouraged. Blending can be utilized to create complex wines with many different layers of flavors and aromas, or to create more balanced wines. For example, a variety that is soft and full-bodied may be combined with one that is lighter with naturally high acidity. Sometimes small amounts of a particular variety are added to boost color or aromatics. Blending can take place before or after fermentation, with the latter, more popular option giving more control to the winemaker over the final qualities of the wine.