Crumbling Rock vs. The World
The wines, in order of group preference (approximate retail price):
- Black Ankle Vineyards '07 Crumbling Rock - Mt. Airy, Maryland ($45)
- Girard '06 Artistry - Sonoma County, California ($45)
- Bennett Lane Winery '05 Maximus - Calistoga, California ($45)
- Cain '05 Concept "The Benchland" - St. Helena (Napa Valley), California ($55)
- Sur Luchtel '06 Mosaique - Napa Valley, California ($38)
- Chamberley '07 Philosophers' Stone - South Africa ($28)
- Chateau Clerc Milon '06 - Pauillac (Haut-Medoc), France ($48)
- Chateau Fonbadet '05 - Pauillac (Haut-Medoc), France ($45)
So, with just two vintages under their belts, Ed and Sarah wanted to find out how they would stack up against the best wines from around the world that they could find in local wine shops. I would expect, knowing that they're always drinking wine from other places, always curious about what's going on out there in the big wine world, that they had an inkling they'd do ok in a comparative tasting with their peers. Still, to stick their necks out in public, wow, I am amazed at their courage - or is it audacity? I mean, sure, I believe they do these tastings to learn and to grow, but it would be nice to have their wine, their baby, show well. Their first such tasting, pitting the '06 Crumbling Rock vs. the world, netted them 3rd place - they were happy with that (last place would've sucked for sure) and they learned a lot. The second event matched their '07 Leaf Stone Syrah against some heavy-hitting Syrahs/Shiraz - Leaf Stone took 1st place! And they netted another first yesterday. Bravo! Three Cheers!
Now, let's step back a second and put this achievement in perspective. By great wine estate standards, Black Ankle is a newborn. When I was tasting yesterday I noted that '07 Crumbling Rock - which I failed to identify - certainly did not exhibit any characteristic that would mark it as "Maryland" wine. On the other hand, I didn't actually guess that it came from anywhere. For me, terroir, that sense of place in wine, is a wonderful thing. Crumbling Rock doesn't show it because it can't yet - the vines haven't been in the ground long enough to develop roots in the parent rock which will draw in components that will eventually give the wine a sense of being from a particular place.
Ed also made a critical point in his comments - '07 is a bit of a freakish vintage in Maryland, with virtually perfect weather conditions throughout the growing season. He likened it to 2005 in Bordeaux (I would add Burgundy here as well) - a great growing season, if not typical. The result of that perfect weather of course, is lots of ripeness - grapes with a particularly high percentage of sugar - which makes for wine with high alcohol content. While '07 Crumbling Rock shows no heat - in other words the alcohol is not out of balance with the terrific fruit - it is a "big" wine, and not necessarily what Ed and Sarah want to make on a consistent basis. This is wonderful news to me. It reminds me of the first time I tasted Black Ankle's '08 whites; it was at their tasting room, with Sarah. '08, in contrast to '07, was difficult to say the least - extremely rainy and overcast, it was tough to imagine getting even a marginally ripe crop. Tasting through the white wines, however, erased any worries. The wines ranged from 11.5 to 12.5% alcohol for varietals (Albarino, Viognier, Gruner Veltliner, Chardonnay) routinely found carrying 13-15% alcohol; yet they were bursting with varietal character and freshness and persistence - all the attributes of complete, brilliantly made wines. Nothing was lacking.
I left the winery that day wondering how in the world they could have learned so much, so fast. Next week I hope to get a glimpse of Black Ankle's 2009s. Can't wait.