My cousin Bob and uncle Greg have been amongst the biggest influence on my wine development. Through them I’ve had a chance to try many “off the beaten path” wineries. From Merry Edwards to Papapietro Perry to Orin Swift, they’ve shared regularly and freely. Afterall, that’s the epitome of what wine is all about, sharing experiences with those important to you. It was on one such occasion that I had the opportunity to partake in one of the most enjoyable zinfandels that I’ve ever come across. It was a memorable blend of complexity, comfort and simplicity that’s normally lost on many zins from California. It was also my first experience with Elyse Winery.
It’s now been a few years since that first experience with their ‘Morisoli Vineyard’ Zinfandel, however it left and indelible mark that left me wanting more, as well as looking to find out more. What I found out assisted my understanding as to why this wine left the mark it did.
The winery itself has a great story. Ray Coursen took a leap of faith, traveling out to California from Cape Cod to fulfill his dream of making wine, with his loving and supportive wife along for an adventurous ride. Early on Ray then took to winemaking like a natural at Whitehall Lane Winery and then becoming successful enough to start his own labels Elyse and Jacob Franklin. Both labels lovingly named after their children.
Another element that makes Elyse’s wines of a high quality is their philosophy around winemaking:
Winemaking is cooking without a flame. Our winemaking philosophy at Elyse is similar to the approach of a great chef who carefully prepares artisan grown ingredients to bring each layer of flavor to the table. Long term alliances with our growers form the cornerstone to our portfolio of vineyard driven wines that possess an unfaltering affinity for pairing with food.
This philosophy was evident in their selection of assistant winemaker back in 2001, Mike Trotta. Mike now serves as their ”great chef” and brings a diverse blend of exposure that I feel is crucial for making premium wines in California. To me, having exposure to contrasting styles during a winemaker’s development is vital. Early on, Mike received exposure to the cool coastal climates and Burgundian methods while at Bernardus Winery in Carmel (CA). On the flip-side, he gained vital experience to creating wines in warmer climates while at Australia’s Yalumba.
Why is having exposure to contrasting styles important?
It’s simple, to an attentive winemaker who knows how to adapt; this exposure allows for very good, consistent wines to be created vintage after vintage with incisive adjustments made along the way to adapt to what Mother Nature might through at them. This quality is even more important in the varietals that expose a winemaker’s shortcomings (i.e. – Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Syrah, etc). When it’s all said and done, all professional winemakers have been through the trials and tribulations of diverse and sometimes adverse weather; however only the passionate take the time to learn and grow from those experiences.
Elyse’s wines shows that Ray and Mike have been able to execute on their goal of creating uncompromisingly great wines no matter what. Keep it up Ray and the team at Elyse!
Now let’s talk about the wines:
The battlefield. Tasting Elyse’s Black-Sears and C’est Si Bon at Napa East (Nashua, NH) with GM/Sommelier Chris Riendeau.
2008 Black-Sears, Zinfandel,NapaValley ($37)
Still a tightly wound, youthful wine. Aromas of rich plum, chocolate, and molasses set the tone what what’s a deep, ponderous wine. The primary flavors of plum and dried Turkish apricots give way to candied rhubarb, with streaks of white pepper. This is a nice wine to sip that will benefit from a 2-4 more years of age. Senel Wine – 90 pts
2008 Morisoli, Zinfandel, Rutherford ($37)
This is what a big California Zinfandel can be. Lush and round, well-executed and elegant. Black fruit, cream and white pepper aromas also transition to the palate along with All-Spice and gently applied round, sweet oak. Muscular tannins and fresh acid round things out. This zinfandel is like a big hug. It just makes you comfy. Senel Wine – 92 pts
2007 Le Corbeau, Hudson Vineyard, Los Carneros ($37)
Three words: Supple, Seductive & Sublime. From the word go this wine is stunning; however I gave it an addition ½ hour while I grilled. Bursting aromas of raspberry, wildflowers and nutmeg dazzled. On the palate it was layered raspberry, blueberry, cinnamon, all capped of with terrific acidity and balance. Medium-full bodied, but not weighty. Very interesting and revealing from start to finish. Senel Wine – 94 pts
2008 C’Est Si Bon, Naggiar Vineyard, Sierra Foothills ($28)
From the onset, the aromatics were popping. Raspberries, rose petals and sweet cream melded together elegantly. Flavors of wild red currant and cherries were woven throughout with effervescent menthol along with hints of hazelnut and spice. Smooth tannin and bright acid make this a very balanced wine with a lush, medium finish. Senel Wine – 92 pts