Back in August, when I was out in Sonoma, I visited a few wineries, as is my norm. Since I have become a wine blogger (I still hesitate to say wine “writer”), going “wine tasting” certainly has a different feel to it.
Whereas before, I would just stroll into a random tasting room and try all the wines being served. Or not. Then I would head off to another tasting room. Or not. Repeat. Or not.
Now, it is not necessarily that easy. Sure, I could go to tasting rooms anonymously, and continue along the path outlined above, but since I usually write about my tasting room/winery visits, it tends to get a bit more intricate.
First, there is a lot more planning involved: contacting the winery ahead of time, and coordinating schedules. Second, the tastings tend to be a lot longer; it is rare that I have a visit now that is less than two hours, and they often stretch well into a third hour (there was one that lasted over four hours…).Third, and perhaps of most significance, is the apparently simple task of just deciding where to visit.
I know, we should all have such problems.
But honestly, it is not all grins and giggles. Along with the different treatment comes a set of expectations:
- You can’t leave when you want.
- You can’t blow off a scheduled tasting and go to In & Out Burger.
- You can’t really skip the tour of the facility and you have to feign excitement when you see their stainless steel fermenters.
Having said all that, the last time I was out in Sonoma, my new-found wing-taster, Loie of Cheap Wine Curious, organized a tasting with Sharon Cohn of Rack and Riddle and Breathless Wines, I jumped at the chance.
Rack and Riddle?
Not many outside the Northern California wine industry have heard of Rack and Riddle, but chances are if you have had many sparkling wines from California, you have had a wine that has gone through the Rack and Riddle custom crush facility.
There are a few custom crush facilities in Northern California, and the concept is a variation of the Co-Op model that is prevalent in Europe. Usually, smaller wine producers without their own wine-making equipment, use the services of the custom crush to produce their wine with varying levels of involvement: some winemakers (e.g., Byron Kosuge) use the facility, but make all the decisions and provide most (all?) of the labor. Other producers might not be involved at all—the facility may even arrange for fruit acquisition and then handle every aspect of the winemaking process, from grape to bottle, in house.
What sets Rack and Riddle apart from the other custom crush facilities? They are the pre-eminent (only?) custom crush facility that specializes in sparkling wine.
I have been to several Champagne houses and toured a few of their winemaking facilities, but as we pulled up to Rack and Riddle, I realized that I had never toured any domestic sparkling wine producer. So I was excited—not to mention that at the end there would be some bubbles to taste.
After a tour of the facility, the vivacious Sharon led us upstairs to taste the wines from their new label, Breathless. The production is small (currently about 1500 cases), but there are plans to expand and they have recently (since our visit) added a tasting room adjacent to the facility. All the wines, crafted by noted winemaker Penny Gadd-Coster (formerly the Sparkling Winemaker at J Vineyards), were fantastic:
Breathless Brut: Retail $25. A blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, aged 12 months on the lees. Golden color with a vibrant sparkle. A nutty nose with a bit of florality. Good balance but comes of a teeny bit on the sweet side. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.
Breathless Brut Rosé: Retail $32. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, aged 18 months. Even nuttier on the nose with bright fruit and a bit of toasted almond. On the palate, this has more dosage, but less apparent sweetness. This is good bubbles. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
Breathless Blanc de Noirs: Retail $30. 100% Pinot Noir, aged 30 months on the lees. Similar nose to the rosé with a bit more citrus. Driest yet, this is very nice. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
Many thanks to Loie for setting up the tasting and to Sharon Cohn for being such a wonderful host, I will certainly find the time to visit again!