Sunday, April 8, 2012

Von Holt Wines Should Be On Your Radar

When a former Secret Service agent, having served for over 20 years, retires and starts making wine, people are going to notice. Having a unique story helps creates authenticity, which in turn helps garner respect. Of course it goes without saying that the wine (in this case) must also be good. Von Holt Wines, started by Chris Von Holt and Pamela Miller, is garnering respect, due in part to their authentic wines.

Von Holt Wines is a new player in San Francisco's urban winery scene. Chris sources grapes from the coolest regions of the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast with the goal of creating wines that are textured, compelling, and authentic. Sure, that sounds like old hat, every producer makes those claims, but not nearly as many follow through. I got the chance to see if the Von Holt lineup was truly living up to it's claims, and after the fold I'll explain my findings.

I was sent three bottles of the current Von Holt releases, a couple of 2008 syrahs from Hoppe-Kelly Vineyard and Old Lakeville Vineyards, respectively, as well as the 2009 Suacci Vineyard Pinot Noir. Hoppe-Kelly is located in the Russian River Valley and Old Lakeville is in the enormous Sonoma Coast appellations. Suacci Vineyard is also in the Sonoma Coast AVA. I should also note that those are the first ever releases from the Von Holt label.

To emphasize how small Von Holt Wines' production is, here are the numbers; in 2008, the Hoppe-Kelly syrah was at 75 cases, as was the 2008 Old Lakeville. The Suacci pinot noir was producer in greater numbers, all of 225 cases. Not a lot of wine, to say the least.

2009 Von Holt Suacci Vineyard Pinot Noir: From the much-heralded 2009 vintage, this pours a beautiful ruby color that lightens towards the edges of the glass. It's got a mouthwatering bouquet of strawberry Jolly Rancher, earth, baking spice, and black tea. I noticed that the more this pinot sat in my glass, the better it smelled. On the palate, the Von Holt impresses with it's balanced flavors of red fruit and earth. There is ample acidity, creating a beautiful structure that should support the wine over the next ten years. Perhaps one of the most enjoyable pinot noirs you can buy right now. 13.3% abv. Price: $42.

2008 Von Holt Hoppe-Kelly Vineyard Syrah: This vintage is often cited as a great one for thicker skinned grapes like syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and zinfandel. I couldn't agree more. This 2008 pours a ruby-garnet, paling towards the edges of the glass. The bouquet is typical cool-climate syrah, with lots of peppery spice and black fruit, tar, and oak that threatens to dominate. That said, the oak will recede with time in the glass and/or more bottle age. On the palate, a well balanced mix of ripe blackberry and blueberry flavors bounce off earth and pepper notes. There's acidity in abundance, helping restrain all that ripe fruit. This is really good California syrah, especially considering the price. 14.2% abv. Price: $20.

2008 Von Holt Old Lakewood Vineyard Syrah: Pours a more consistent dark-garnet in the glass compared to the Hoppe-Kelly Vineyard bottling. Aromas of fresh baked pie, oak, and black peppercorn. The palate is bursting with cherry and blackberries that only get pulled back by that effective cool-climate acidity. A fine-grained tannin is present but never becomes bothersome, rather, it integrates well with the finish, creating a nice tapering effect that I love. When people rag on California syrah, this is what I wish they'd drink. It's a mind-changer, with the balance needed to pair beautifully with food. 14.3% abv. Price: $30

After tasting through the Von Holt wines I was struck by how delicious they were, for one. Also, I noticed that the wines exhibited a sense of balance and completeness. To explain, that means that while the ripe fruit flavors are present, each bottling possess enough acidity to prevent them from developing into fruit bombs. This is especially appreciated in the syrahs, which too often are overripe, sweet concoctions. Each wine had it's own personality, lending further credibility to our question of authenticity.

By sourcing good fruit combined with the skills of winemaker John Fones and adviser Ed Kurtzman, Chris Von Holt and Pamela Miller have created some outstanding examples of cool climate California red wines. Each wine I reviewed gets my highest recommendation, and I urge you to act fast. When last talked to, Chris said that all three of these bottlings were running out quickly. That's not surprising though, given the level of quality.

Oh, and check out those alcohol levels. That, folks, is how you make wine that's both full flavored AND balanced.

Von Holt wines is on Twitter: @VonHoltWines and Facebook:

These wines were received as media samples.

Happy Easter!

Beau Carufel

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