A new star sparkles in the winemaking world

September 10, 2022

Just had the opportunity to sample a few selections from Aperture Cellars, a relatively new addition to the Healdsburg region of Sonoma. I frequently advise readers to follow the winemaker, but in this case, I recognize the farmer first. Phil Freese, real title viticulturist, is well regarded as being primarily responsible for reconfiguring the Opus One vineyards and Mondavi’s To Kalon in Oakville, back in the day. He was induced out of retirement to supervise the establishment of many of Aperture’s vineyards and continues his stewardship to date. These aren’t contiguous parcels but choice locations spread over five specific sites along the Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley, plus one near Clarksburg. Considering the awful weather and fires being dealt with the past few years, results have been excellent. A tip of the cap to Jesse Katz, the owner/winemaker. He’s new to me. Jesse is the son of a famous photographer, Andy Katz. Jesse’s wines have cut a wide swath, especially his Cabs, which have won high-90s accolades from RP, Dunnuck, Wine Spectator, Suckling and Galloni. Those interested in reds may wish to start with their Red Blend Alexander Valley, consistent scores in low 90s and available under $50. Their AV Cab 2018, 93 McD and ‘19, 93McD, both $76, are good value. His site-specific Cabs run in the $150 range and rate 93-96. Although I haven’t sampled any, I feel comfortable mentioning them because most of the famous critics are conforming in their range of scores.

Aperture also produces an excellent Chenin Blanc. Slow, cold fermentation enhances bouquet and keeps the wine fresh; lees stirring provides a dry, creamy, medium-bodied wine with floral bouquet and elevated acidity, Chenin Blanc and passionfruit flavors with barrel toast, cardamom and lemon zest highlights, 90 McD around $35. Winemaker Katz claims the wine was devised to accompany oysters, and it is a stunning success. Other noteworthy Cali Chenin Blanc: RD Winery Fifth Moon 2020, $18, 90 McD. Those who enjoy lime and bright, gravelly, mineral acidity should try Foxen Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard Old Vines Santa Maria 2020, 92 McD, $26. Austin Hope Cellar Select UV Paso Robles is delicious but a bit pricey value-wise. Those who have $50 and wish to explore top-end Chenin should search the Loire for Domaine Huet Vouvray Clos du Bourg Sec. Dry Vouvray made right, 94 McD. Far too many have been turned off by sweet, insipid Chenin Blanc or the sweet but excellent Vouvray dessert wines. Trust me on this, Domaine Huet makes a very wide selection of Vouvray in the 94-plus McD range. Be sure to read the labels carefully.

I am compelled to return to lip-smackingly delicious Aperture Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc. The 2019, $40 and 2020, $50, both 92 McD, are excellent choices. Virginia Boone, WA, rated them 94. Boone is a fair reviewer, just a bit more generous in her scoring than I. She may be adding value points. I do think the 2019 at $40 gets 1 PP, except a $40 SB is already fair value for me. Both are barrel fermented. They have different profiles. The 2020 is herbal with marine mineral notes and has 2% Semillon. The ‘19 shows trop fruit, citrus and dried herbs, also with marine mineral support and a clean, mildly barrel-spiced finish. If both are available, buy the ‘19. The new-arrival 2021 was harvested in early October, long hang time. It includes some Semillon and Savagnin Musque FPS 27, an SB clone that came to the U.S. in 1962. Most Cali SB comes from the Wente clone. Savagnin was initially believed to be a varietal type, but genetic research was done by Carole Meredith in 1999 and confirmed by Nancy Sweet/UC Davis in 2001, who defined 12 distinct SB clonal varieties. Savagnin is the second most-planted clone in Cali but only comprises about 1-2% of SB plantings. Many experts claim it is less vegetal than Wente, especially when grown on cooler sites. Aperture and Jesse Katz with about 20K case production, purchased 75 acres of well-regarded Farrow Ranch, known for its award-winning Malbec production in September 2021. Katz is a risen star and one to keep an eye on. 

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