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Loring Wines I Loved as an Excuse to Talk About Me
Loring Wine Company 2011 Chardonnay Rosella’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands $50
Loring Wine Company 2011 Chardonnay Durell Vineyard Sonoma Coast $50
Loring Wine Company 2011 Pinot Noir Keefer Ranch Russian River Valley $54
Loring Wine Company 2011 Pinot Noir Gary’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands $54
Loring Wine Company 2011 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills $54
Loring Wine Company 2011 Mourvedre Russell Family Vineyard Paso Robles $48
Loring Wine Company 2010 Convergence Paso Robles $79/btl in 3-pack
A few months ago, I received an email from Brian Loring, of Loring Wine Company. Brian offered to send me some wine, and he offered to send the wines without tech sheets and winery propaganda, which I tend to immediately put into the recycling bin right next to my empty Boner in a Can®. I took Brian up on his offer because I’d been a fan of his wines in my sommelier days and I hadn’t tasted many of them recently.
Brian sent me seventeen different bottles. It’s like going to the dealer for a test drive and he gives you the damned car. Or being “The Bachelor” and getting to sleep with all the girls, even the one with one eyebrow and a suspicious bulge. Man, now you’re livin’! Give her a rose, but be careful of the prick.
I was never on “The Bachelor” for one good reason. My wife wouldn’t let me. Well, that, and I’m ugly. But I was on “The Dating Game” in 1971, and several game shows after that. You probably remember me, I was Bachelor #2. I didn’t get picked for the date, which was, I kid you not, a trip to St. Louis. Nothing an 18-year-old boy wishes for more than a trip to Missouri. Though I certainly would have been looking forward to my date’s impression of the Gateway Arch.
I was also a contestant on “The Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour” in 1984. (OK, I know, what’s this got to do with Loring Wine Company? I’m getting there.) My four day total winnings were $34,100. In today’s dollars, that’s damn near $35,000. It was a great experience. It’s interesting to watch the videotape now (no, it’s not on YouTube, though it’s easily worthless enough to be) just to see the “stars.” The only genuine star was Steve Allen, who was one of my comedy heroes, and who reminded me on the air “not to be funnier than the talent.” The rest of the panel is a “Where Are They Now” column. Bruce Baum (a standup who used to wear a baby diaper on stage as part of his act—at least, I think it was part of his act), Roxie Roker (the neighbor on “The Jeffersons,” who was just incredibly dumb—she put the blank in Fill in the Blank), Jayne Meadows (Steve Allen’s wife), and, here it comes, Gloria Loring (a talented singer, but best known as one of the stars of the daytime soap opera, “Days of Our Lives”—“Like the sand during your beach sex, so go the Days of our Lives…”). Ms. Loring was gorgeous, blonde hair and green eyes, and I assumed she had no taste in men because she was married to Alan Thicke, who was to Johnny Carson what Korbel is to Champagne, or what HoseMaster is to wit. I was smitten, so the Loring name conjured up beauty and lust in my fevered and confused brain.
I first met Brian Loring many years ago when he first began following his winemaking passion. He lived in Glendale, I think, which is about twenty minutes from where I worked as a sommelier, and was making wines from purchased fruit under his Loring Wine Company label. A friend of his brought him in to the restaurant and I tasted through his wines. I’d try anyone’s wines once. This isn’t usually the case with sommeliers at successful restaurants. You are inundated with calls from aspiring new winemakers, new distributors, new brokers... Most of the time, the wines they bring are awful. It’s like speed dating at a leper colony, only you’re the one who leaves a little piece of yourself behind. However, Brian’s wines were good, he was a nice guy, and he got me over that beauty and lust over Loring thing. I don’t remember if I bought his wines that first time, but I often did in the years that followed.
Four of the seventeen wines Brian sent me were Chardonnay, all from 2011 and all vineyard designates—Rosella’s and Sierra Mar from Santa Lucia Highlands, and Durell and Parmalee-Hill from Sonoma Coast (and all priced at $50). Brian had mentioned to me in an email that he was thinking about the glory days of Kistler Chardonnays when he produced these wines, and drinking them over the course of a week, I certainly noticed the stylistic resemblance.
Kistler was the California Chardonnay success story of the ‘80’s and ‘90’s. I don’t know how many of you have tasted a lot of Kistler, but, to me, their Chardonnays represented the classic Before and After photos you see in weight loss ads for women. In the Before photo, Chardonnay is dumpy and non-descript, with more bulges than a shoplifting Ninja. I mean, really, do you want to see her naked? That’s how I feel about so-called “naked” Chardonnays, Chardonnays with no oak. I don’t want to go there, I don’t want them to be naked, that’s why they’re the Before picture. And, unlike a “naked” Chardonnay Stelvin, you can’t just go and un-screw them. In the After photo, Chardonnay is transformed! She hasn’t just lost weight, but the lighting is better, the clothes fit, her makeup is perfect, her hair is done, she’s smiling, and her boobs are a cup-size bigger. It takes a lot to make that Before an After. In Chardonnay’s case, a lot of new oak, a lot of lees contact, a lot of malolactic fermentation, and a lot of damned slick marketing. Kistler had the biggest boobs of any Chardonnay available and was never afraid of flashing them. The word “mouth-filling” jumps to mind.
It’s one thing to try to emulate a style, yet another to succeed. Kistler presaged lots of other wines—you can draw a straight line from them to Peter Michael, Marcassin, and even Ramey. But those are the successful ones, many others made deplorable Chardonnays in that style. But Loring does a great job of channeling Kistler in these wines, though with his own thumbprint on each wine as well. I don’t think that’s as easy as it might sound. First of all, with all of that new oak, and all of the other cosmetics, you’d better have fruit that can stand up to it. And the more you mess with wine, the greater your chances you’ll screw it up.
Brian’s Chardonnays are very surehanded, but it’s a style you have to like. They’re more Ethel Merman than Peggy Lee. Subtlety is not their forte, but power and substance are. (And that’s not a knock—after all, Forte Knocks is in Kentucky.) It’s really been a long time since I drank Chardonnays like Loring’s, and I liked them a lot. But it can be hard to appreciate wines like this if you have minerality and crispness as your only frame of reference. I love Chablis as much as the next person. This ain’t Chablis.
I did my best to pair them with appropriate meals. The 2011 Rosella’s was just brilliant with some grilled swordfish, though I worried the swordfish might not be rich enough, it paired reasonably well. You also have to be patient with huge and ostentatious Chardonnays like these. At first, they are all oak and cream and roasted grain. But with time, at least an hour, the fruit shows what it’s made of. I often recommended decanting Kistler Chardonnays to restaurant customers. It helped, though I got a lot of odd looks from folks. Which could have been about the way I wore my tastevin like a yarmulke, but I don’t think so.
My other favorite was the 2011 Durell (a vineyard also designated by Kistler). Very rich and decadent, like something out of a Fitzgerald novel, it goes all out in its pursuit of ripe and sumptuous Chardonnay. With scallops, very simply sautéed, it was just the thing. And left overnight in the fridge, it lost nothing of its core of luscious fruit. Less tropical fruit than the 2011 Rosella’s, but equally riveting.
The 2011 Sierra Mar was a bit less exotic than the Rosella’s, and bit less substantial, but very good wine. I wasn’t as fond of the 2011 Parmalee-Hill, it was my least favorite. Why? Hell, I don’t know. I felt that it didn’t quite have the stuffing to stand up to the dramatic style. Don Knotts playing King Lear jumps to mind for some reason. "Hey, Opie, When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools--like Gomer and Floyd."
If you love this style of Chardonnay, oaky, flamboyant and ripe, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy any of Loring’s wines. There is some risk-taking in wines made like this, it’s certainly not a style in vogue with sommeliers at the moment, and it can go horribly wrong, but these wines are immensely successful.
Brian also sent me eight different Pinot Noir vineyard-designates, all from 2011. I once proposed that it be illegal for any winery to have more than four different vineyard-designates of any variety. Really, isn’t four enough? After that, it’s just showing off. Furthermore, does every damn vineyard deserve single vineyard status? If they all do, then none does. Hey, Brian only has eight (though I think he makes a bunch more). Williams Selyem is up to 176, and Siduri makes more than 700 vineyard designates, adding up to 2500 total cases. I cannot tell you how many times a winery presented me with six or seven different Pinot Noirs and I could hardly tell the difference between them. I’d occasionally try to get the winemaker to let me taste him on just one of his own Pinot Noirs blind to see if he could identify it from its distinctive, designated terroir. Most wouldn’t try.
I’ve always believed that if women bought the majority of high end wines sold, vineyard-designate wines would go away. Men like the hunt, the collecting of trophies. We have to have ALL of the Rochioli Reserves, and ALL of the Williams Selyem Pinot Noirs. Women don’t care. They just want to drink and not listen to the bullshit. “It’s wine, let’s open it. I don’t care what damned Turley it is, open the damned thing.” Men have to start pontificating about how little was produced, how hard it is to get, how amazing it is—we’re basically talking about our sperm. Women just want to get it over with.
Loring’s eight different vineyards were: Keefer, Russell Family, Clos Pepe, Gary’s, Rosella’s, Cargasacchi, Aubaine, and Durell…
Of those eight, I’d heard of six. Keefer is one of the great vineyards in the Russian River Valley, Gary’s and Rosella’s are well-known Santa Lucia Highlands properties, Clos Pepe and Cargasacchi are two of the stalwarts of the Santa Rita Hills, and Durell is a large and famous vineyard in the Sonoma Coast appellation. Aubaine was that dead guy from Nirvana, and Russell Family was some sort of cult, right? More like graveyard-designates.
Loring’s style is not really about restraint. Not in the Chardonnays, and not in the Pinot Noirs either. He just goes for it. A few of the Pinot Noirs tasted very extracted to me, as though perhaps they’d had enzymes added during fermentation. Nothing wrong with that, but at times it goes over the top of what I like in Pinot Noir. Every single one of Loring’s Pinot Noirs was well-made, but I had very different reactions to each of them.
The three that I loved were the 2011 Keefer, the 2011 Gary’s and the 2011 Cargasacchi. Notice the first two both rhyme with “reefer.” I’d gladly add these three wines to my cellar. Very different, but all wonderful. The Keefer is so beautiful and expressive of the red fruit with a bit of cola one can get from the Russian River Valley, with a silky texture and haunting finish. The Gary’s is much spicier and plusher, completely seamless and lingering, with an extra layer or two of depth. The Cargasacchi had a beautiful austerity about it, that cool climate restraint that promises to one day blossom into something extraordinary, and I loved its sour cherry/herbal edge that almost defied its luscious mouthfeel. I’d encourage you to seek out these distinctive Pinot Noirs from Loring Wine Company. They’re all priced at $54, and, given the Pinot Noir market, that’s a fair price for any of them.
The 2011 Rosella’s was but a notch behind those three. The first whiff of it was distinctly gingerbread to me, but it gained complexity and richness with air. I thought it a bit clunky, but that’s probably just its youth showing. The 2011 Clos Pepe perplexed me, and I remarked to my wife that if I had tasted it blind I might not have known it was even Pinot Noir. “Judging by your shirt,” she said, “I thought you had tasted it blind.” I very much liked the 2011 Durell. It tasted to me like classic Pommard clone Pinot Noir, though I have no idea if that’s so. Dark fruit, with a bit of earthiness, very pretty, it was really classic Pinot Noir to me—though I thought it just a wee bit thin, probably a vintage thing. The 2011 Russell Family was straightforward, but I didn’t find much interesting about it. I tried to forget that it’s Pinot Noir from Paso Robles--drinking Pinot Noir from Paso Robles is sort of like going to an Italian restaurant and ordering tacos--and just judge it objectively, but I found the wine just never inspired me in the least. Others may find it more appealing. The 2011 Aubaine hit me the same way—pleasant wine, but not in the same league as the vineyard-designates from Keefer, Gary’s, and Cargasacchi. Does it deserve it’s own designation? Not my call, but where does a winemaker draw the line? Obviously, it’s drawn at the bottom line.
Oh, I’ve gone on too long here. Somebody help me! I’m turning into that NothingsBiggerThanMyHead guy. But we’re almost through. There were five other wines in the Loring shipment, including the 2010 Divergence, a 2/3 Cab and 1/3 Mourvedre blend that is the biggest goddam wine I’ve had in years. Brian writes that he’s currently infatuated with the Spanish wine, El Nido, and its sister wine El Peachykeeno, and this is his California (Paso Robles, to be precise) version of that famous wine. I just couldn’t get past its hugeness. At least not the first day. I drank half a glass and suddenly felt like tarpapering my roof. Granted, El Nido has the same sort of effect on me, only I’d head to Home Depot and hire some Spanish-speaking guys to tarpaper my roof. So I put the bottle on the kitchen counter and waited. The second day all the fruit started to arrive, sort of like a bad Mardi Gras party. And it’s loads of very ripe fruit, particularly the Cabernet in the blend. I quite enjoyed it the second and third days, though it was relentlessly huge. In evaluating a wine, I’m not necessarily concerned with my own reaction to the style, I’m more interested in if the wine is successful for the style. I would argue the 2010 Divergence is very successful for its bold, gigantic, all or nothing style. If you’re a fan of gigantic, high alcohol Zinfandel, for example, you’d love this wine. If that sort of wine makes you gag like smelling week-old dog breakfast, avoid it.
Brian also sent the 2010 Convergence, a blend of 75% Grenache and 25% Mourvedre. I loved this wine. But I’m a Grenache freak and always have been. But this is Paso Robles Grenache, not Gigondas. It’s very intense, and very ripe, but it doesn’t stray into the sort of cherry hard candy territory very ripe Grenache can often find. Grenache can get away from you in the vineyard, leap to a high ripeness suddenly, and that gives it a sweet, cloying character in the glass. None of that here. Instead it’s just very intense and bold, with the Mourvedre tempering it, lending some acidity and savoriness. It was much like an expensive Priorat to my taste, and that’s a compliment. This is gorgeous, voluptuous, seductive, and wonderfully made Grenache that tastes like it came from a mineral-rich soil. I guess I mean it has striking acidity for the degree of ripeness, and that’s what gives me that impression. The price is $79/bottle in a three-pack, otherwise $99. The wine and the price are not for the shy of heart, but it's damned fine wine.
Brian also sent me a terrific 2011 Mourvedre from Russell Family Vineyard that was all you want from Mourvedre—meaty, mushroomy, earthy, and a bit like a mocha coffee. Also, a 2011 Grenache from that vineyard that I liked quite a bit—it shows that same nice acidity, considering the ripeness, as the Convergence, and leans into a cherry cordial sort of character, sweet and with loads of plush texture. A 2010 Cabernet from Russell Family Vineyard I didn’t find any affection for. It was all over the place—if a wine can be a sloppy drunk, this one was. And it may explain why I wasn’t overly fond of the Divergence, where it’s the main component.
Loring’s style is not for everyone, but one can say that for every great winery. But he has a consistent style, and if you fall in love with one of his wines, you’ll find you like the rest as well. So take a flyer, taste one. His is a bombastic, flamboyant, extroverted style of wine, and, in that style, his wines are memorable. The best, listed at the top of this marathon post, are landmarks of the style, and wines I highly recommend.
But, man, that’s a lot of wine to review. Comedy is easier.
Go, Buy, Enjoy! Loring Wine Company