The Warden does a fine job with Big House wines

September 10, 2012

Regulars know that I am a large fan of Randall Grahm. When he sold Big House to the Wine Group, as expected, the quality slipped quite a bit. Many of these conglomerate buyers will take a name and step all over it. They are more about money and the quick buck than wine. That was the case in 2006 when Wine Group bought Big House. However, they made the happy mistake of hiring Romanian-born Georgetta Dane, and she has done a fine job. You can imagine my surprise the other day when a package arrived sent by Georgetta Dane. ”The Warden” is her soubriquet, winemaker her profession. You see, Big House is just down the road a bit from Soledad prison in sunny, dry Monterey County.

Born in the Suceava region of Romania, Georgetta Dane was raised steeped in history and surrounded by a vinocentric culture. She developed her palate by experiencing thousands of different wine varieties and learned to craft wine using both ancient and modern winemaking techniques. After receiving her master’s in food science from Romania’s prestigious Galati University, she moved to the south of Romania to work at a local winery. After moving to the U.S. and settling in the Monterey Bay area in the middle of harvest, she quickly started working in a lab at a major winery. As her career progressed and winemaking skills advanced, she quickly worked up into the lead winemaking role at Big House. She sees winemaking as a two-part process: the first revolves around the natural transformation of fermentation, while the second is the artistic endeavor that involves blending aromas and flavors to produce unique and inspirational wines.

The wines in the package were Birdman Pinot Grigio, Big House White and Unchained Naked Chardonnay 2011. As for Unchained, the description could have been written by Bill Clinton, “So for us to inject a pedestrian into our house, we veered off the California standard by using steel tanks and neutral oak barrels…” etc. I am no fan of this type of rhetoric or the wine these practices produce. However, if you are, there is value here when priced under $10. The Birdman Pinot Grigio 2011 is another story. Again, I find many of the inexpensive Pinot Grigios to be insipid and prefer a glass of Kool-Aid, an effrontery to the palate. Big House Birdman, however, was a pretty glass of wine due to its lovely fruit nose. The food recommendation was a goat cheese, pancetta and arugula pizza.. I did not go there, as I think the wine would not stand up to three very strongly flavored ingredients. The other recommendations of spaghetti and white clam sauce or grilled jumbo shrimp seemed more appropriate to me. Barbara, Jan and I enjoyed some steamed littlenecks with garlic, onion, XVOO and butter. Shrimp on the barbie followed and needed nothing but a little s&p and the Birdman to please us all. Another decent buy when priced under $10.

The third selection was the Big House White 2011. I have enjoyed this blend since the 2008, which, to my way of thinking, was the best to date. The 2011 are an excellent representation of winemaker’s art and Dane outdid herself with this rendition. The wine is blended of 27 percent Viognier, 20 percent Malvasia Bianca, 13 percent Grüner Veltliner, 9 percent Gewürztraminer, 9 percent Albarino, 8 percent Sauvignon Blanc, 7 percent Muscat Canelli, 4 percent Chardonnay, 1 percent Riesling, 1 percent Pinot Grigio and 1 percent other aromatic whites. A lovely, hot-weather sipper, it shows white flower aromas gives way to a pleasing apricot flavor influenced by citrus notes riding a pleasing acidity that leaves you with a clean palate.

It may seem odd to read 1 percent as a component of a blended wine, but keep in mind there were 94,000 cases produced, so 1 percent would comprise just under 2,423.5 gallons. I am not writing barrels because there is really no standard size for barrels in the industry. The most common are 59 (60 for American and French oak) and 70 gallons. At Sebastiani, in Sonoma, I saw some as large as 120 gallons, and the old redwood vats were the size of small swimming pools A tonneau contains 900 liters or four barriques or about 232 gallons. Other words used might be hogshead or cask. These numbers are rough but much closer than the UI reports and inflation rates being eyewashed on us by the Obama-Bernanke-Geithner axis of evil.

Last but far from least, search out some Fronsac Chateau La Vieille Cure 2009. Buy it under $28 but go the extra mile if you can find the 2005 priced under $40. The 2009 are dark, ruby-purple wine with a redolence of ripe Merlot with graphite, black raspberries, cherries and currant nuance. Nice round mouthfeel with lovely, smooth tannins; it needed plenty of decanting pour-overs but opened nicely and shows great promise. Needs three or so in the cellar but has plenty of shelf. The 2005 are ready to go.

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