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Stephen Tanzer

International Wine Cellar

May/June 1999

Focus on California

Kalin Cellars. On my recent trip to California, Terry Leighton, who will release no wine before its time, showed me current-release Chardonnays from the ’94 and ’93 vintages, a ’93 Sauvignon Blanc, and a Pinot Noir from the superb 1991 vintage. "Still," says Leighton, "my wines are ready to taste on their release, not necessarily to drink." Leighton and his wife Frances continue to resist expanding Kalin’s annual output. As he puts it, "once you exceed about 7000 cases per year, it is past the point where two people can know what’s going on in every barrel."

1993 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve Potter Valley (with 20% Sémillon): Musky, minerally, aromas of oyster shell, flint, lemon zest and earth (surf and turf?). Minerally, firm and brisk in the mouth; and still rather unforthcoming. Tart but refreshing lemony fruit on the long aftertaste. Blind tasters would never identify this as a Sauvignon Blanc form California. "It’s usually like Pavillon Blanc in style," says Leighton, "but in this vintage it’s more like Domaine de Chevalier.". 89+.

1993 Chardonnay Cuvée CH Sonoma Chardonnay (the Cuvée Le Charles sticker on the bottle is not an homage to the Charles Heintz vineyard in Green Valley, but rather to biotechnology colleague Charles Ginther, who helped the Leightons make and bottle their wines for more than 15 years): Slightly high-toned, nutty aromas of orange peel and tangerine; a grilled hazelnut note calls to mind Meursault. Gives a strong suggestion of site specificity. Thick, large-scaled and quite uncompromisingly dry, with strong acidity giving shape to the wine. Finishes quite long, with an almost aggressive dusty quality, and notes of minerals and roasted meat. Makes a huge impact on the palate, despite possessing alcohol in the moderate low-13% range. Heroic Chardonnay for the vintage. 90(+).

1994 Chardonnay Cuvée D Sonoma County (Leighton’s first Chardonnay from Dutton Ranch since 1983); Exotic aromas of minerals, tangerine and allspice. A more fruit-driven wine, with wonderful sweetness and impressive density. Extremely long and vibrant on the back end. Has the refreshing fruit/acid balance of a perfectly ripe peach. Like the above wine, says Leighton, this one perfectly reflects the Sonoma fogscape. 92+.

1991 Pinot Noir Cuvée DD Sonoma County: Medium, moderately saturated red. Smoky, sappy Burgundian aromas of Gevrey-like wild red fruits, earth and leather. Velvety and thick in the mouth, but leavened by strong acids. Like the above, this boasts terrific fruit/acid balance. But still quite young, with a rather unevolved kernel of fresh primary red fruit. With air, notes of smoked meat and cinnamon emerged. 91(+?).

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