Wine Review: Tom Gore Vineyards, A Tale of Two Sauvignons

14 07 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]IMG_1713

Cabernet Sauvignon remains the most widely grown quality wine grape in the world, so it is perhaps appropriate that in at least one regard, “Cab” started me off on the path to becoming a serious scholar of wine.  I had previously acquired a taste for certain Canadian Gewurtztraminers, spellbound by how a grape could smell and taste so exotic, although hard-won experience has taught me that many such wines recall one of those chemically augmented gym nuts who can flip a giant tire from a mining truck once or twice, only to catastrophically gas out immediately thereafter: initially powerful but ultimately quite flabby.  Rather wary of this focus, I then snagged a few wine books from a local book sale, thinking that this subject’s unique combination of history, geography, botany, technology, and gustatory delight would give my brain something new and compelling over which to obsess. I noticed right away that in these sundry tomes, blackcurrant or cassis was an aroma descriptor frequently associated with Cab. As someone who adores this particular flavour, I did further research. Not just cassis, but cedar, “cigar box” (I’ve always been intrigued by this one), blackberry, even vanilla and cola and chocolate cake. Wine smells like these things?! I was officially hooked, all this before even seriously tasting a Cab.

Once the actual drinking started in earnest, I rapidly encountered one of Cab’s parents: Sauvignon Blanc. My dad ordered a New Zealand example one nice evening in a Calgary steakhouse, as an aperitif, telling my mother:  “It’s one of those really grapefruity ones you like.” Grapefruit, you say? A cursory look at a tasting wheel for Sauvignon Blanc ultimately reveals a whole litany of “green” aromas, with these ultimately outnumbering the also prominent citrus and sometimes tropical fruits. There are classics like grass, gooseberry, and green bell pepper, along with rather more esoteric takes such as matcha, lemon grass, apple blossom, or even “cat pee”. Maybe we should stick with grapefruit or “tomato leaf”. Go crush and sniff a tomato leaf… You’ll probably get at least an inkling of pipi du chat, if nothing else in the form of a vague association with “funky” or “rank”. Some claim that this character, driven by organic compounds called thiols, is in fact a fault due to vineyard overproduction. Maybe so, although I experience cheap Sauvignon Blanc as something more akin to dilute lemonade in which a few broken fluorescent bulb filaments have been macerated, largely devoid of character across the board. A quick spray of thiols would often do this stuff a favour.

Sauvignon-Blanc-grape-variety-wine-aroma-profile-flavors-fruit-spices-Social-Vignerons

From http://socialvignerons.com/2015/12/10/infographics-guide-to-sauvignon-blanc-wine-grape-variety/.  This thing is comprehensive and rather fascinating…and there it is, cat pee, complete with schematic depiction.

So in addition to capturing aromas that I find pleasant (maybe at this point forget I mentioned cat pee), Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc are both associated with formative memories in my quest to experience as much of the wine world as possible. Fitting then that I drew this assignment to review these two varietal bottlings, which interestingly enough hail from the first California wine label named after a grape grower.

Tom Gore describes himself as a “life long wine guy”. A second-generation grape farmer who has worked every annual harvest in California since age 7, Tom has spent much of his career working vineyards for large wineries in the Alexander Valley. Although this pursuit allowed Tom to channel his passion for farming the land, eventually a yearning to do his own thing set in, based on his personal philosophy of winemaking as a farm-to-glass endeavour. Tom is a grape grower first and foremost, but he works very closely with current winemaker Maureen Martin, sampling at every stage of the winemaking and blending process to ensure that grape character is properly showcased. In fact, this is Tom’s unique focus. He wants his wines to resemble “time capsules” of each growing season, and he does not want any one winemaking style or technique (e.g., the use of new oak versus stainless steel) to stand out too much. The fruit is supposed to take centre stage, yielding wines that overdeliver on quality for their price point.

IMG_1717

I like these graphics (see cork shot below).

These wines therefore exist in a curious limbo. There is a clear emphasis on quality fruit sourced from Central and North Coast vineyards, with selections from individual vineyards offering different characteristics to the wine, everything blended with a bias against strongly manipulative winemaking. Sounds suspiciously like terroir, as does Mr. Gore’s entire “time capsule” doctrine. On the other hand, these wines are not being marketed to the rarified breed who drink Grand Cru Burgundy a few times per week, and Tom’s project has the solid corporate backing of Constellation Brands, a mass-market detail that could send a few wine geeks packing. My conclusion? We need this sort of middle ground. On many occasions a workmanlike wine is just what the doctor ordered, particularly if it is not over-processed and delivers better value than expected. Plus, look at this dude’s adorable dogs.  Does the wine live up to the story?IMG_1715

2016 Tom Gore Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc (~$20)

Cali Sauvignon Blanc runs along a rough continuum from fatter, smoother wines with some oaky notes to lighter, zesty, citrusy bolts that emphasize the grape’s classic grassy character. Consistent with his grape-first mantra, here Tom delivers something that falls firmly into the latter camp. The wine has only seen stainless steel, with the curious addition of 6% Colombard. This greyhound starts off smelling like a freshly mown patch of healthy turfgrass, albeit one dotted with various yellow and white blossoms and perhaps a few garden escapees in the form of snap peas and asparagus, parsley and carrots. It would appear that the neighbours all keep their cats indoors. The wine spends some time staying put in this verdant meadow, but does reward some patience and scrutiny. Surely one does not need to analyze this too long, but make sure you don’t miss the honeydew and cantaloupe and watermelon rind, and a robust lemongrass note comes on mid-palate, only briefly overtaking the melon that by my reckoning provides the primary fruit character here along with slivers of lime and grapefruit peels, steely green apples, and just a whisper of something tropical (guava? custard apple?). The acidity is crisp and a little pointy, and the reasonably persistent finish leaves vapour trails of lime popsicle and Visine drops. Precise, perhaps even elegant after a fashion, this is tapping into memories of sweet peas on my grandma’s fence. I don’t think one is supposed to eat the pods from those but we did, and that was far from the stupidest thing my cousin and I managed to pull off. That which doesn’t kill you …

89 points

IMG_1730 2

2015 Tom Gore Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (~$20)

Unlike its white stablemate, this has seen oak, to the tune of 16 months in both French and American barrels. Without implying any sort of indictment, the nose is far better than I expected: complex and nuanced, graceful and dignified, yet appropriately intense. This is Cali Cab, after all. I breathe in the lovely cigar box aroma, decomposing this overarching woody impression into various cedar, potting soil, tobacco leaf, and perhaps sun-dried tile components. I go looking for pyrazines, those compounds that can yield pungent bell pepper aromas in both members of the Sauvignon clan, and find little except a pleasing spicy fruitiness that recalls fresh red chilli flakes. I have having some serious trouble finding anything that juts out unpleasantly here. The fruits skew more blackberry bramble and plum than cassis, although the latter is also abundant and surprisingly fresh. There is even a subtle whiff of fresh strawberries, lurking in the crowd like that that kid who gets picked last in gym class (read: me, unless it was dodgeball day, as I was a serious sniper and people knew it). Subtle wafts of rawhide and campfire smoke drift above tasty undercurrents of cassia-nutmeg brown spice and mocha. The tannins are largely plush with just a little scratch, the oak is adroitly melded into the fruity core, and this lacks the hollow midpalate that can characterize subpar Cabs, perhaps because it is filled out with small amounts of Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Petite Sirah (!). This skillfully avoids any less pleasant Cali wine stereotypes and serves to confirm that Tom Gore can turn his farm-to-glass philosophy into the sort of wine you want to pay attention to…but just enough attention.

90 points

IMG_1747

Cork Rating: 7.0 out of 10 (I like the graphics very much). Stelvin Rating: 6/10 (at least there is something on it, and the font is decent).

 

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