Cellar Aged Chardonnay From Ici/La-Bas

Tuesday, February 28, 2017 12:00 PM

When you discover five cases of a 2008 Chardonnay made by arguably one of California’s most respected winemakers, who do you call? The Wine House! Mel Knox along with winemaker Jim Clendenen partner to make wines under the Ici/La-Bas label. Mel called a week ago and said he had some wine he wanted to show us. Any opportunity to taste with Mel Knox is a welcome one – I will always make time for him. Mel has an encyclopedic knowledge of California’s wine history and of wine in general. He began his career in retail, then started his own company selling French barrels nearly 40 years ago. He knows the industry intimately both here and abroad and has been an integral player in the advancement of California’s wine industry.

And so, Mel came by the store to pour us wine from Ici/La-Bas and from another project he is involved with. I wouldn’t characterize Mel as a typical sales person as he is truly candid and honest in assessing his own wines. A masterful storyteller, his visits are never a splash and dash. The first wine he poured was the Ici/La-Bas 2008 Elke Vineyard Chardonnay from Anderson Valley. Inventory management being what it is, Mel “found” a few cases of it in his warehouse. I wouldn’t say I was skeptical, I know how well Jim Clendenen’s wines age, I just wasn’t expecting to be so blown away by it. It was youthful, fresh, delicious and complex. The flavors on the palate unfurled with each taste, noting apple, pear, creamy vanilla, flint and mineral and a whole lot more. It is a truly Burgundian-styled California Chardonnay.

I asked Mel if he would email a few notes on the winemaking to me. The Chardonnay was barrel fermented in 228 liter Francois Freres barrels. A barrel expert, he explained that, “The barrels were made from wood from the Bertranges forest, air dried three years. Bertranges gives wine a bit more tannic structure, perhaps bad for short-range consumption of the wine but great for long term aging. The longer seasoning of the wood eliminates the harsh tannins and provides a more subtle flavor. We used about 35% new barrels.” The wine was left on its lees for an extended period, then bottled in the Spring of 2010. Now with almost seven years of bottle age, the wine is in its prime! How often do you get the benefit of a cellared wine for such a reasonable price? TWH is offering the remaining bit of 2008 Chardonnay for $29.98 a bottle!

I spent a portion of the morning reading online articles on Jim Clendenen. My intention was to use some provocative quote of his to highlight Jim’s reputation for being a non-conformist in the wine industry. If you’d like to read a couple quick articles on Jim, please click here, here or here. In my early days at TWH, Jim often came by with new releases. David was an early admirer of Au Bon Climat wines. I was also fortunate to have been a guest at Jim’s annual luncheon at his friend, Michael Wild’s restaurant, Bay Wolf, a couple of times. A tasting of new releases from Au Bon Climat would precede a lunch that always included cellared bottles – that is how I discovered how well his wines aged. Jim lives up to his reputation and I find him inspirational. I always left those luncheons glad to be a part of the wine business.

When Mel left the store, David and I remained in the tasting room discussing the 2008 Chardonnay. David, like myself, was impressed with the wine. He said that TWH might not be known as a California Chardonnay house, but when a wine is this good, we can’t pass it up. With that, I placed my order. Revel in this well-cellared wine. It is in its prime, will likely age further, but is really one to enjoy right now – be in the moment! It is a testament to the skill of the winemaker. It’s a show piece.

I’ll be buying some bottles to take home. I plan to stump industry friends with it, share with my girlfriends who are exclusively Chardonnay drinkers, and for when I am hankering for the style of California Chardonnay I enjoy most. The Ici/La-Bas 2008 Chardonnay Elke Vineyard is not to be missed!

Anya Balistreri

Kitson Wine’s 2011 Pinot Gris

Tuesday, August 20, 2013 6:31 PM

In July our old-school paper newsletter, which is still mailed out via the postal service, had the Kitson Wine’s 2011 Pinot Gris on the front cover. It is not often that TWH features a domestic wine as the Wine of the Month, but then again it is not often that a small production (only 100 cases produced), single-vineyard, distinctively delicious domestic wine is offered to us at such an affordable price. The 2011 Pinot Gris from Kitson Wines comes from Donnelly Creek Vineyard planted in 1991 by Mary Elke and lies just west of Boonville in the Anderson Valley. Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley is nestled among rolling coastal hills and is just 15 miles long. Along with Pinot Noir, white Alsatian varietals like Pinot Gris thrive in the warm day/cool evening climate of the Anderson Valley. 


The grapes for Kitson’s 2011 Pinot Gris were hand-harvested, whole-cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel tank. The natural acidity of the wine prevented malolactic fermentation, so it is fresh and vibrant. The fermented wine spent time in both tank and neutral barrel. The texture of this wine is opulent and round. Flavors of ripe mandarin, honeydew melon and ripe pear dominate. An unexpected hint of cinnamon and nuttiness rounds out the finish. One can easily pay twice as much for a wine of this quality from Northern California. The winemaker, Brad Kitson, works full time for a small boutique Napa Valley winery but previous to this, he worked with Mary Elke; this is how he came upon the fruit for this bottling. Brad has been a TWH customer for some time and it was on one of his visits here to pick up his order that he kindly left a bottle for our staff to taste. I wasn’t at the shop the day Brad left the sample, so when our staff popped open the wine after hours one evening, I had no preconceived ideas about the wine. Well, that’s not exactly true; the jaded wine buyer in me was expecting yet another overly-priced wine trying to break onto the market. As we tasted the Pinot Gris and were catching up on the day’s events, it quickly dawned on me how delicious the Kitson Pinot Gris was drinking. In fact we all took a pause and unanimously concluded that this was indeed delicious, but I was sure that the asking price was going to be at the high end of the spectrum. A call in to Brad revealed a price generous and beyond fair for what I thought was excellent, correct, delightful and fresh Pinot Gris. I don’t think I’ve ever placed an order for this much domestic Pinot Gris at one time before. One taste and you’ll see why I was quick to pull the trigger.


A great warm-weather white to serve with grilled salmon, Indian-spiced entrees or good ol’ turkey burgers.  Next time you think Chardonnay or are hankering for a white with body, reach for a bottle of Kitson Wines’ 2011 Pinot Gris for an entirely new and delicious taste sensation. You’ll be amazed at how well suited it is for complex dishes despite its void of excessive oak. Versatility is key here. Oh, and by the way don’t stress about the perfect pairing, a glass enjoyed by itself while sitting on the glider in the shade will do just fine! As for me, I’ve been favoring the front porch greeting neighbors with my sans food glass. At this point I’m probably known in our ‘hood as that lady who always has a full glass, but then again I am that person who sees things as half full anyway. Remember hope is one of the few things we can control in life. That and the enjoyment of a delicious glass of wine!

Anya Balistreri

Knez Winery: Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley

Monday, April 18, 2011 2:07 PM

Allow me the pleasure of introducing you to Knez Winery: a new Pinot Noir-focused winery from cool climate Anderson Valley. What is not new, though, are the vineyards: Demuth Vineyard and Cerise Vineyard, acquired by owner Peter Knez for his eponymous winery. Sounds good so far, right? Okay, now add to this the winemaker: Anthony Filiberti, whose familiarity with the Demuth Vineyard connects him to his other wine gig,Anthill Farms. I hope the picture is becoming clear and you are beginning to see what I see, that Knez Winery is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the world of Pinot Noir. I know it’s foolish to make too many assumptions with a first release, but what I am here to say is that what I’ve tasted from the bottle thus far has me paying very close attention! The 2009 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir has all the elements that I want from a California Pinot Noir: effusive aromatics, structure, length, and, oh yes, FRUIT.
My expectations were high for my first taste of Knez Pinot Noir. I’d been waiting months for the April release. Though evaluating wines is part of what I do, I must admit that I can get myself so pumped up over the promise of a wine that I ask too much of it to actually deliver. No disappointment here. I tasted the2009 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir on two occasions, each time with a colleague (first with Tom, then with Pete), and each time I ended up doingmy head bobbing thing that I do when something is so right on, correct, on the money, etc., that I’m at a loss for words. The color is a vibrant strawberry hue. The nose is a smash up of juicy sour cherries and dusty spice. It reminded me of how early Dehlinger Pinots smelled in their youth (I haven’t bought any recent vintages, still drinking my ’94s and ’95s)–the way the subtle aromatics deceive one into thinking the wine couldn’t possibly have any power, but once you take a sip the nuanced aromatics and palate give way to an underlying structure. The 2009 Anderson Valley Knez has that same beguiling dichotomy of elegance and power. I’m thinking this has everything to do with the well-placed vineyards with their high elevations and southwest facing slopes. Did you know that Anderson Valley, being about 10 miles from the ocean as the crow flies, has some of the coolest year-round climate of any wine-growing region in California? The 2009 Anderson Valley is a combo of Cerise and Demuth fruit, sees 25% new oak, and is 40% whole-cluster fermented. There will be single-vineyard releases from Demuth and Cerise this fall, so stay tuned.
I am fascinated with a growing conversation among wine folks revolving around the topic of what it means to have balance in wine. Its a hot topic that spurs deep passions and one that I am not prepared to take on at this time. That said it’s my feeling that the 2009 AV Pinot Noir from Knez achieves a balance, which perhaps illustrates this end-goal beautifully. Anya Balistreri The breathtaking vineyard photos are courtesy of Ryan McAllister, Knez Winery Vineyard Manager, and last minute delivery guy—Thanks Ryan so much!!!

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