Not long after I began blogging, I started following a blog that soon became one of my favorites. The blog, Naggiar Vineyards, details many elements of winemaking: working in the vineyard, harvesting the grapes, blending the wine, just about every aspect of the process. It takes the more technical aspects of winemaking and breaks it down into understandable language in a way that few have been able to do. I follow a ton of blogs, but the Naggiar blog is one of the few for which I receive email notifications when there is a new post—I do not want to miss a single entry.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the blog is the author: it is not the winemaker, Derek Irwin, but rather his wife, Danielle Irwin.
I believe (although not entirely sure) that I first “found” Danielle through her commenting on my blog a year or so ago. One of the first comments that Danielle ever made on my blog concerned one of my tasting notes for a wine from Cosentino Winery. Without getting too far into it, I used to be a huge fan of Cosentino—it was really the first California winery that caught my attention since Mitch Cosentino produced wines that both embraced California fruit while aiming to produce balanced, structured wines. At some point in the last few years, the winery went through a difficult financial stretch, and Mitch is no longer associated with the brand.
On that particular tasting note (for an older Cosentino), I was uncharacteristically effusive, as it was a bottle that I had cellared for an inordinate amount of time, and it was fabulous. Shortly after posting, Danielle commented, indicating that not only did she appreciate my blog, but added that her husband had previously been the assistant winemaker at Cosentino and had a big hand in the wine that turned me on to California wines: the 1996 Cosentino The Poet.
Since that first comment, which subsequently introduced me to her blog, I guess you could say that Danielle and I have become “friends” (I hesitate to say that since it strikes me as a few steps removed from internet dating–something I have never tried and really do not understand) and when she asked if I would review a bottle of their own label, I readily agreed.
Soon after agreeing, I regretted it almost immediately–I did not want to let my “friend” (I still put that in quotes since the idea still creeps me out just a tad), but I also did not want to tacitly promise a positive review based on our “friendship” (I need to get over this–it is 2014, right?). I mean, sure, Derek used to work for Cosentino, but now he was out in the Sierra Foothills–perhaps an “up and coming” region, but by no means a “hotbed”.
What had I agreed to? What if the wine was just OK (or heaven forbid, bad)?
Before popping the cork, I did what any good researcher would do–I sat down and Googled.
Derek, in addition to his stint with Cosentino, has also made wine at Bouchaine and Viansa, and has consulted for countless others. Currently, he is the winemaker at Naggiar Vineyards in the Sierra foothills, making a couple dozen different wines from largely Mediterranean varieties.
Soon after visiting the Sierra Foothills, Derek realized that the area would be ideal to grow the Spanish varieties for which he has a particular affinity (he was born in Spain, which he cites as the reason for his near obsession with Spain’s grapes). This lead him to eventually planting his own vineyard of Tempranillo on the Naggiar property, along with a smattering of other Spanish varieties (Garnacha and Monastrell).
Clearly, it seemed like Derek knew what he was doing. So much so that I decided to pop this bottle with friends who came over for my “birthday dinner” (I am not one to celebrate my birthday at all, but my wife insists that we at least have a few people over every year for dinner) with some grilled lamb chops.
2010 Irwin Family Vineyards Tempranillo Piedra Roja Block 22 Naggiar Vineyards: Retail $26. Decanted for over an hour. This is very young still, as the nose is quite tight even after the decant. A bit astringent and some dark fruit, but not much. On the palate, without food, it seemed rather austere, but when paired with the grilled lamb chops. Whoa. Tons of fruit came out with considerable depth. “Old world” is perhaps used too much, but I think Derek created a fantastic “older” world style wine with new world fruit. He comes close to capturing both beautifully. $26? Yes please. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
Irwin Family Vineyards currently produces about 200 cases of Tempranillo and another 100 cases of Verdejo (a white Spanish variety), which retails for $14. They have a third label, “La Mescla” (the blend), which is not made every year (it is only made in years of excess fruit) and retails for $18.