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WTN: Imagery Sangiovese Dry Creek Valley 2003

by Hoke » Fri Oct 13, 2006 4:24 pm

Intriguing, thought provoking wine.

Went out for pizza with wife and in-laws at our local Sonoma fave, The Red Grape (thin crust, New Haven style). Had the Imagery.

It was good, sound, well-made wine. All of us enjoyed it, and had no trouble finishing the bottle. Was great with the pizza. Nicely priced at $29. So far, so good.

Okay, here's where the philosophical ruminations start, sort of akin to TomHill's famous 'Bloody Pulpit':

As those who know me and have been bored by me before will tell you, I tend to evaluate most wines worth consideration against the template of Grape/Place/Style. That's where I run into some problems with this particular wine.

It was easy enough to tell this wine was from the Dry Creek Valley in particular, and California in the more general sense, so Place and Style were intact. It was the Sangiovese-ness that made me ponder. Or general lack thereof of distinctive Sangiovese-ness, I suppose you could say.

Gentle Readers, know that I don't demand that Pinot Noir should taste like it came from Burgundy if it didn't. I expect a grape planted in a different place and made by a different style to be different from the original---even it that original is considered some sort of benchmark. Likewise with Sangiovese. I don't expect that it be "Chianti/Brunello/Toscano" if it isn't.

But I kept wondering why, if this wine was so pleasing to me, and seemed to fulfill all the requirements of the evening, the place and the people, I was thinking so much about this.

There simply was very little in the nature of the wine that said "Sangiovese". It could just as easily have been an expression of Cabernet from Sonoma, or Merlot. It was more tannic than I expected, but not monstrously so, and not terribly out of balance withal. There was good acid, ripe cherry fruit, a smooth silkiness that spoke of warm weather and oak aging. But there was also a rich, chocolately note in the middle palate that I didn't expect from the variety, and seemed out of nature...not objectionable in and of itself, but jarring with its presence in this particular wine

In the end, of course, it was obvious that the wine was simply more expressive of the Place and Style elements than the varietal elements. And that's perfectly okay, of course. It's simply that in this particular instance the lack of definite varietal definition disturbed me more than it usually does. It made the wine no more than good, when it very well could have been much more than good.

But then, who the hell am I to expect a wine to be better than the people who made it intended it to be?
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John Treder

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Re: WTN: Imagery Sangiovese Dry Creek Valley 2003

by John Treder » Fri Oct 13, 2006 11:32 pm

That's a Benziger label, isn't it? At least it was a couple of years ago.
I've tried only one bottle of Imagery Sangiovese, a '97. I bought it at the Benziger tasting room in 2000, for $18.90, and drank it in June 2001.

Here's what I wrote then:
WOOOH! MASSIVE! TANNIC!! DARK! OPAQUE!! And I liked it, too. This is the Barbera or Sequoia Gigantea of Sangioveses. It might mellow out in 5 or 10 years, but meanwhile, its brooding depths are intriguing, and there's plenty of fruit to sustain the power. I want half a case!

But I never did get any more.

So much wine, so little time to try it all!

BTW, Foppiano makes a Sangiovese that answers your description very well.
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Re: WTN: Imagery Sangiovese Dry Creek Valley 2003

by Brian K Miller » Sun Oct 15, 2006 12:21 am

Sounds intriguing! Imagery makes a Merlot that I found quite nice as well. I'll have to stop at their winery next time I'm in Sonoma.
...(Humans) are unique in our capacity to construct realities at utter odds with reality. Dogs dream and dolphins imagine, but only humans are deluded. –Jacob Bacharach
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Re: WTN: Imagery Sangiovese Dry Creek Valley 2003

by Rahsaan » Sun Oct 15, 2006 2:36 am

thin crust, New Haven style


Since when did thin crust become equated with New Haven.

From what I can remember New Haven pizza was a gloppy mess with all sorts of grease in the middle of the pie, and the Red Grape was actually tasty.

But let's call it Sonoma Pizza, and take the prize anyway.
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Re: WTN: Imagery Sangiovese Dry Creek Valley 2003

by Gary Barlettano » Sun Oct 15, 2006 10:55 am

Rahsaan wrote:
thin crust, New Haven style
Since when did thin crust become equated with New Haven.


Yeah, I was kind of wondering about that, too. Still in all, if it ain't from New Jersey, it probably ain't pizza anyway ... just something which perhaps expresses place and style, but definitely not the varietal. :wink:

By the way, Hoke, do not the place/style/varietal criteria more or less presuppose certain baseline characteristics for each criterion? And from where does one derive the respective baselines? This is not a criticism of the methodology. It's just some epistemological musing.

I do that intuitively as well with Rieslings. I spent almost two decades drinking Rieslings in Germany and have a notion of how Riesling "should" taste "to me." Now, when I taste one from the left coast, I often react as you did with this Sangiovese. But for me the question often is whether there really is an Urriesling, a baseline for the variety? Is there one example which informs us how that particular grape should taste? Or is the characteristic of a grape variety more nurture (place and growing style) than nature?
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Re: WTN: Imagery Sangiovese Dry Creek Valley 2003

by Hoke » Sun Oct 15, 2006 9:07 pm

Two part answer.

Part the First: It became a New Haven style pizza when the menu went into great length to describe it as such, and the proprietor and his extended family who all work there are all from New Haven, and they came here expressly to create The Red Grape as a pizza joint that serves New Haven style pizza.

I really don't care what they call it, as long as they keep making it. Damned good pizza, sez I. Their special last month was a Prosciutto, Pear, and Goat Cheese pizza. Wow! When we go to RG now, Roxi mandates that at least one pizza must be the "Mediterranean", and the other can be something else; that's how much she loves the place.

So: free standing offer (and this definitely includes you , Barlettano, because you come to town occasionally), anytime any of the habitues of this place come to Sonoma and want to grab a good pizza and some wine, we'll be happy to join you at the Red Grape. Don't be bashful.

Part the Second:

Good question, Gary.

My 'system' is one I've developed over about 30 years of wine tasting. Mostly as a professional, and mostly in an analytical approach. My initial approach was to learn, and I've always continued to do that. My secondary approach was as a buyer, so I was constantly assessing each wine I tasted. More often than not I was tasting several wines...several different types of wines...at one time, so there was inevitable comparison and contrast. It was also my job to pick the "best", given the choices (best being a variable that was constantly changing: best price, best bargain, best of type, best for a given situation, best for a customer's preference, etc.).

So the philosphy I developed was based on that. Eventually, over time, I developed a mental 'wine library'. I would attempt to classify a wine by those three criteria: the sense of the varietal (or traditional blends), the place or terroir, and a winemaker's or producer's style.

So while the idea of an Ur-Riesling is wonderful and amusing, it's not really what I'm going after, or basing my philosophy on. I think of it as a variety existing in...well, let's use the analogy of a spectrum, like the spectrum of light. Different varieties can show on different parts of the spectrum, but they should remain within the fairly well established range.

I've actually used (and still do) that analogy, by codifying the basic aroma/taste characteristics of a variety and then 'color-coding' those characteristics, linking aromas/tastes to colors in a vertical spectrum. Then I'll have folks taste the wines and see if it corresponds to them on the spectrum. Many newer tasters find this approach helpful, I've found.

So, anyway, now when I taste a wine, I speed through my vast and capacious wine library of sensory experiences for

Variety (Does it taste like a Riesling in general? What fruit is in there: lime, lemon, apricot, orange, honeysuckle, mango? What's the perceptual acidity? Does it have any minerality? So on.)

At the same time I'm accessing that library for

Place (Warm or Cold? Cold place in a warm climate? Hot vintage in a cold climate? Long or short growing season? Good phenolic development? Acidity or lack thereof? Soil---like maybe iron rich versus slate versus sandy loam?)

Winemaker's/Producers's Style (This is a bit more complex, but let's say as a general example, the prevailing style that often dominates a certain region at a certain time, like oaky/buttery Chardonnay in California versus steely/lean Chardonnay in Macon. Another would be perhaps Trimbach versus Zind-Humbrecht.)

To get back to the original Sangiovese that started this thread then, I could discern 'markers' that cried out the 'general terroir' fairly definitely. And being quite familiar with the area and many of the wineries, since I live here, I could understand the stylistic imprint, i.e., what Mike Benziger likes in a wine :) . That left me with pondering the Sangiovese-ness of the wine.

And that was the only way, to me, that it came up short of excellence. I think part of it was that the Sangiovese might have been drowned in oak (for me). And it was too high in alcohol (so what else is new). The cherry nature was going over toward jam, and lacked that essential tart zing of fruit that I prefer...so while it was within the spectrum of Sangiovese for me, it wasn't firmly enough in that spectrum. It could've been a spicy Merlot, for instance.

All of this presupposes a vast library of taste references, of course. But that's what I've been doing over the last 30 or so years. And every time I taste I add another "byte" to the file. :)

You do it, I'm sure, to a certain extent as well. For instance: could you spot a Cline wine in the middle of a crowd? Could you pick out a Turley Zinfandel in the midst of a Bordeaux tasting? Bet you could.

On the other hand....that Ur-Riesling may be out there. So don't stop looking for it. It's a worthwhile search.
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Re: WTN: Imagery Sangiovese Dry Creek Valley 2003

by Gary Barlettano » Mon Oct 16, 2006 12:09 pm

Hoke wrote:So: free standing offer (and this definitely includes you , Barlettano, because you come to town occasionally), anytime any of the habitues of this place come to Sonoma and want to grab a good pizza and some wine, we'll be happy to join you at the Red Grape. Don't be bashful.

I am shy, unassuming, and do not stick out in crowds, but I am anything but bashful. As soon as I get my weight somewhere below 200 lbs., I will take you up on your kind invitation. Right now, I'm no fun to eat with. I just had to sit and stare at those delectable squash ravioli with the cream and bacon sauce on them at Cline's two weeks ago.

Hoke wrote:You do it, I'm sure, to a certain extent as well. For instance: could you spot a Cline wine in the middle of a crowd? Could you pick out a Turley Zinfandel in the midst of a Bordeaux tasting? Bet you could.

Oh, for certain when it comes to the method, but not so certain when it comes to the actual cognitive abilities. Even if I can't spell it, I'm somewhat of a phenomenologist when it comes to describing things, wine included. I try to identify characteristics of a wine and then associate them with things related to but outside the wine and then group all these data points. But my library of data points is neither large nor, due to some extremely calcified gray matter, easily retrievable. And that's the nuts and bolt, that library of data points. It's what differentiates the expert from the b.s. artist.

Hoke wrote:On the other hand....that Ur-Riesling may be out there. So don't stop looking for it. It's a worthwhile search.

Ahhh, in this case it's not so much the destination as the journey.
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Re: WTN: Imagery Sangiovese Dry Creek Valley 2003

by Clinton Macsherry » Mon Oct 16, 2006 12:39 pm

Hoke wrote:And that was the only way, to me, that it came up short of excellence. I think part of it was that the Sangiovese might have been drowned in oak (for me). And it was too high in alcohol (so what else is new). The cherry nature was going over toward jam, and lacked that essential tart zing of fruit that I prefer...so while it was within the spectrum of Sangiovese for me, it wasn't firmly enough in that spectrum. It could've been a spicy Merlot, for instance.


Not so very long ago, Hoke, our friend Tom Hill opined that California Sangiovese would someday relegate Tuscan versions to "the dustbins of history." I guess someday hasn't gotten here quite yet, but then Tom may have more, um, historical perspective than I do. :wink:

Another of our friends, Oliver McCrum, has noted his belief (I hope I'm paraphrasing adequately) that Sangio is particularly oak-transparent and more reflective of terroir--even from different communes in Chianti Classico--than many people appreciate. I take Oliver's opinions on Sangiovese pretty seriously, and those two factors may have a lot to do with your experience with the Imagery (or should it be Imaginary?) Sangio.

That said, the California Sangios I've tried, while suffering from the usual Left Coast abuses, have seemed more like Sangio to me when I compare them to Morellino di Scansano or some other cousins from the Maremma rather than the DOCs of central Tuscany. Jammy-side-of-cherry, could-be-spicy-Merlot sounds more recognizable to me in that context. Just my two lire.
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Re: WTN: Imagery Sangiovese Dry Creek Valley 2003

by RichardAtkinson » Mon Oct 16, 2006 2:55 pm

Not so very long ago, Hoke, our friend Tom Hill opined that California Sangiovese would someday relegate Tuscan versions to "the dustbins of history."


Good god, I hope that never comes to pass. Though our love of Italian reds seems to be in a small minority down here. We recently attended a Chianti tasting... We liked the Sevole, the Carpineto, both of which were classic chianti styles... and a little Super Tuscan called Dogojolo (20% Cab Sauv / 80%).

The wines of the night, by vote, was ..."La Luna"...a California wine, followed by some Dievole Chiantis...which seem to be Chianti made in a more international style. (i.e. softer, heavier and far less acidic & tannic). The vote blew away the lovers of traditional styles. The acidity and tannins seem to turn most of them off. I kept trying to tell them to ..Eat Something!....doesn't work very often though.

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