Friday, June 14, 2013

Wining with Wes Hagen...

Petit Vendome
The Goddess and JD had the opportunity to hang at the Petit Vendome in La Canada last weekend and do some tasting with winemaker and philosopher Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe from the Sta. Rita Hills AVA near the quiet hamlet of Buellton.

The Sta. Rita Hills is one of my current favorite AVAs. Its east/west valleys pulling in cold, foggy air from the Pacific and the seabed soils create the perfect environment for stressed (in a good way) vines to produce small clusters, small berries, and great flavor and texture. The wines tend to be lean and elegant, with relatively low alcohol; they're food-friendly and unlike wines from any other region.

Wes, who turns out to have grown up in La Canada (go Spartans!), was happy to be in his home town, sharing his passion for wine, Frisbee golf and high school hi-jinks. He seemed to know almost everyone in the room, and many not just from his wine. Store Manager, Lynn Tran, and Wine Specialist, Ray Belknap, poured the wines and provided small cheese plates and crackers to accompany the tasting.

The wines:
1. NV Clos Pepe Brut Rose - An interesting wine - not pink, but more light-beer-colored with some turbidity, was yeasty and fresh in the nose, crisp and refreshing on the palate. $67

2. 2011 Clos Pepe "Homage to Chablis" - 100% Chardonnay - Fermented and aged in stainless steel with 100% malolactic conversion. Pale green/gold color with clear edges showed its youth. On the palate, soft butter at the front gave way to a balanced acidic finish. Pair with oysters or other cold seafood. I really liked this wine a lot. $45

Wes Hagen
3. 2011 Clos Pepe Chardonnay - The same fruit and aging time, but mainly in neutral oak. The tasting notes on the website say 7% new French oak, and it's definitely adding some vanilla notes. The first Chard needed food - the cheese pairings softened the finish; this Chard is more of a cocktail, and still feels a bit unintegrated. But I wouldn't turn it down if someone poured it for me. $34

4. 2009 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir - Clear, medium garnet color. Dried cherry on the nose, and something green - sage maybe. On the palate, bright strawberry/cherry blended with spice and earth. The wine still felt very young. Pair with something gamy - duck, elk, morels. Yum. $54

5. 2010 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir - Deep red/purple in color, a little hot on the nose. Big and ripe, very different from other CP Pinots I've tasted. The tasting notes suggest the drinking window is 2014 - 2019, so this could definitely mature a bit more. $59

6. 2010 Axis Mundi Grenache/Syrah - Fruit from the Windmill Vineyard in Ballard Canyon, SYV. Surprisingly light clear red with pale pink edges, this mostly Grenache blend is full of cherry and Asian spices. Delish! Wes shared that he used a Pinot Noir yeast to make this wine. Pair with pizza or a burger, or a nice New York strip, as I did later that evening. $29

7. 2009 Axis Mundi Syrah - 100% Syrah from the Sleepy Hollow vineyard. Deep red color. The wine seemed a bit shut down to me. Not much nose. Nice red fruit on the front palate, but the end kind of disappeared. Maybe it just needed to open more. I didn't get a price on this, but I think it's similar to the blend above.

8. As an educational treat, Wes poured us an early barrel sample of the 2012 Pinot Noir. It was not anything anyone really wanted to drink much of, but it was fascinating to taste a wine at this stage, which was all primary fruit and sweetness. It will be interesting to taste this wine when it's ready. Can't wait!

I love talking with Wes. Regardless of where you are, the conversation contains nuggets of information about wine, history, philosophy, art, sports, food, you name it. I'll leave you with one of those nuggets: "You cannot separate wine from Western culture". Discuss.


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