Patricia Parker's Birthday

As it should have been, my wife’s 65th birthday was quite a celebration. We had a wonderful meal sitting outside with no breeze, low humidity (a rarity) and perfect conditions for eating, drinking and socializing. The food was imaginative and well prepared. While I skipped the amazing selection of cheeses at the end of the meal, the joselito ham, local sirloin and grilled mackerel were top class.

As for the wines, while the list was long, there were plenty of guests for my wife’s birthday bash, and virtually nothing was left undrunk ... a testament to the extraordinary quality of the wines of Elaine and Manfred Krankl, owners of Sine Qua Non. However, we started with a fabulous Champagne, the 2004 Pierre Péters Brut Cuvée Speciale Les Chétillons. I love this producer, but his wines are not easy to find as I suspect production is relatively limited. This offering had a bone dry character as well as lots of well-formed, tiny bubbles and hints of brioche and caramelized citrus offered in a zesty, penetrating, medium to full-bodied style. The Sine Qua Non whites included two of my all-time favorites –  made in different styles. The 2000 The Hussy Roussanne is maturing beautifully. I had not had this wine in a number of years as I consumed my tiny allocation within several months of receiving the wines as I have absolutely no self discipline when it comes to wines of this quality. The finest Roussanne made in California, the 2000 Hussy is still an adolescent in terms of evolution, but why wait? Even better is the 2005 The Petition, one of the most compelling dry white wines ever made in California. As I recall, this cuvée is virtually all Roussanne. It smells like a sweet Sauternes, but tastes totally dry. The color is a medium gold, and the wine offers up aromas of crème brûlée, caramelized nuts and tangerine/orange marmalade. It hits the palate with a full-bodied intensity, extraordinary acidity and precision, and a remarkably dry, long finish. This sensational wine is still relatively young and pure. Given the fact that it is largely Roussanne, I would be foolish to try and guess where it is going from here, but at age seven, there is no danger of it falling apart.

Sine Qua Non no longer makes Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Shea Vineyard, and when you taste their 2003 Pinot Noir Omega (which came from that vineyard), it makes you think that wine consumers have lost on one of the best of the state’s finest Pinot Noirs. Smelling of classic forest floor, sweet raspberry, kirsch, smoke and earth notes, this gorgeous Pinot Noir is one of my all time favorite efforts from the highly respected Shea Vineyard in the Willamette Valley. It appears to be fully mature, but given its impeccable balance, it should hold for another decade or more.

We then moved into a flight of what is California’s finest Grenache. Admittedly, the 2007 Sine Qua Non Grenache Dangerous Birds suffered somewhat as it was the youngest. Even though all these wines were decanted and given considerable aeration, it tasted more like a barrel sample than its four siblings. A reference point for great California Grenache has always been the 2000 Incognito. As one my suspect, my entire stash has long been consumed with enormous pleasure, so it was good to have another look at this wine. Maturing beautifully, it offers classic notes of kirsch, pepper, roasted meats, raspberries and underbrush in a full-bodied, opulent, stunning style. While fully mature, it is easily holding on to life given its concentration and overall equilibrium. The other three Grenache-based wines were relatively young, but oh, so promising. All three could easily end up one day with perfect scores. The 2003 Grenache The Inaugural, the debut vintage of the Eleven Confessions Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills, is spectacular. Its dark ruby/purple color is followed by a boatload of raspberry and jammy kirsch notes intermixed with licorice, camphor, wood spice and subtle foresty notes in the background. The 2004 Grenache Into The Dark is slightly more monolithic and less complex, although it is one year younger. It is a big, expansive, savory, mouthfilling, teeth-staining style of Grenache with perfect balance as well as great precision and purity (something all these wines possess) as well as a stunningly long finish. The 2004 Grenache Ode to E is a perfect wine. Incredible levels of kirsch, licorice, lavender and spice box are followed by a full-bodied, voluptuously textured, ethereal style of wine that is super-rich and concentrated, but not the least bit heavy. This is a tour de force in winemaking, but still a baby in terms of its evolution. All these wines are compelling because of both grace and power.

Of course the Syrahs are completely different animals altogether. They are blacker in color, denser, more meaty and smoky with blackberry fruit as opposed to black cherry and raspberry. They also reveal hints of incense, camphor, graphite and flowers. I can’t remember which wines winemaker Manfred Krankl co-ferments with some Viognier, but most of these are floral, especially the 2002 Heart Chorea and 2003 Syrah The Inaugural. The closest to full maturity was the 2002 Syrah Just For The Love of It, but it is still an adolescent. The 2005 Syrah The 17th Nail in My Cranium and 2003 Syrah The Inaugural seem like babies, but what wonderfully prodigious infants they are. A wine that has gone from strength to strength is the 2003 Syrah Papa, which includes a picture of Manfred Krankl’s father on the label. All of these Syrahs evidence what Sine Qua Non does so well, achieve extraordinary ripeness without over-ripeness, exceptional purity, mindboggling symmetry/equilibrium among all the component parts (such as wood, acidity, alcohol, etc.), and spectacular, well-balanced finishes. Only fools would try to guess how long these wines will last, but all of them are enjoyable, despite how youthful wines such as The Inaugural and The 17th Nail in My Cranium still taste. The experiment that Krankl has done for nearly a decade of aging wines for over three years in barrel, such as the 2002 Syrah Heart Chorea, is paying huge dividends as these wines possess a level of complexity and finesse that was unprecedented in California before this yodeling Austrian came over with only a backpack and a lot of dreams.

Lastly, an over-the-top, unctuously textured, super-rich, incredibly young dessert wine, the 2000 Roussanne TBA Suey, defies description. There are a lot of marmalade notes and it has off-the-charts richness, yet there is a penetrating acidity that is even more noticeable today than it was when it was first released. This is another example of a genius at the top of his game, and we are all the beneficiaries.

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