May 05, 2008

Two Whites From Edmunds St. John

I've long enjoyed the red wines from California producer Edmunds St. John. But I haven't always loved the whites, probably because I haven't tried enough. Because I recently tried two somewhat recent releases, and they were both delicious and interesting, though not at all what you might expect from a California winery.

As a native Californian, I'm not going to get into wine geek scuttlebutt about how California wine is all oaky and overripe and horrible. It's true, there are some ghastly wines out there. But that's true of pretty much any region in the world. If you look deeper, you'll find many great producers of wine. One is Edmunds St. John.

There's some irony that noted wine critic Robert Parker is the one who introduced me to Edmunds St. John many years back. Parker then loved the Rhone-styled wines from this producer, but lately he seems to have changed his opinion, decrying the tendency toward prominent acidity and preference for soil and mineral flavors rather than simply gobs of hedonistic fruit.

To me, the wines haven't changed. What was admirable then is admirable now, perhaps moreso as the wines seem less variable in quality bottle to bottle. Of course, that might be simply my anecdoatal experience. It's true that back in the early '90s, my first experiences of Edmunds St. John wines were mixed, with some bottles delicious and some flawed. Perhaps it was just back luck, or perhaps it was due the lack of winemaker intervention that Parker claimed to love. But I certainly had some, shall we say, wild bottles of ESJ wine.

The good ones were great, and they've kept me coming back for more. I can't recall the last time any ESJ wine let me down, and here are two whites that hold that line without any issue.

First, the 2006 Edmunds St. John Pinot Gris Witters Vineyard high up in the Sierra Foothills of El Dorado County. Here in Oregon, Pinot Gris is king. But is anyone making such gutsy, perhaps challenging Gris? This wine is more like Austrian Gruner Veltliner than anything else, and it's certainly more interesting than most local Gris. Rich, round and very clean tasting, there's a distinct green pea note that suggest meine liebe Osterreich.

I think this is what my winemaker friends would call a "phenolic" wine, meaning there's extract from the white grapes that can sometimes give undesirable tannin or other bitterness. In this case, the phenolic quality gives a nice richness to the wine. I think this would be good with salmon and capers or something similarly rich with a green element.

Then the 2004 Edmunds St. John Shell and Bone white wine from Paso Robles. This particular blend of marsanne, roussane and viognier from the Rozet and Tablas Creek vineyards is simply gorgeous. Not a heavy wine, it's true to its limestone soil and grapes without any oak flavor. The round yet precise aromas and flavors echo the northern Rhone valley, but there's a ripe sort of golden character that's pure California. I have a single bottle of the 2004 ESJ Rousanne Tablas Creek, and I'm very interested now to see what it's like.

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