Remember terroir, that magical combination of climate, soil type and topography that make little grapes into bottles of delicious wine?
But taken one step further, assuming all the above elements are in place, making great wine is about three things:
Vineyards, barrels and winemaking technique.
Of those, most wine enthusiasts don't hear much about barrels. The culture and science of cooperage, the terroir of the forest from which the wood is cut and how that wood is toasted, or not, grows very complex, very quickly.
Most frequently, you'll read about wines aging in American or French oak barrels. The wonderful Amarone and Ripasso of Northern Italy often mellow in Slavonian oak -- a very tight-grained, dense wood that imparts very little influence on the wine.
Then, there's Hungarian oak -- particularly from the Tokaj region.
Pour another glass -- this brings us to today's story of Tricycle Wine Company and its labels. One of the company's partners, Peter Molnar and his family, of Hungarian descent, stepped in with capital to help finance the rebirth of legendary Kádár cooperage in Hungary. Peter now oversees its management.
Today, Kádár barrels are once again used in all the world's major wine regions. Frog's Leap, Wildhorse, Duckhorn, Acacia ... are aong wineries that value Kádár's Tokaj oak as part of their flavor profile.
Tricycle Wine Co. uses Kádár barrels exclusively. Each year, partner Peter walks the forests of Tokaj just as partner and winemaker Michael Terrien walks the vineyards of Carneros and Red Hills. The philosophy is the same: great fruit, or in this case, oak, makes for great flavors. Control over the grapes, or the trees, makes for more control over the flavors and the style of the wine.
The care shows in a pair of Tricycle wines I tasted recently.
2007 Molnar Family Chardonnay runs parallel to many new vintages of Chard I'm tasting this season. There's more emphasis on tart citrus - Kaffir lime and lemon - than floral tones. To taste, the first impression is of bright, green fruit - think green apples or limes. The surprise comes on the finish, when just that oak-kissed hint of toastiness comes calling just before the lingering, creamy finish. It's an elegant and carefully nurtured Chardonnay.
Obsidian Cabernet Sauvignon isn't just another Napa clone. This dark, rich juice squeezes from grapes that reside on a ridge in the Red Hills Lake County AVA - just north of Napa Valley.
More importantly, the vineyard is on a ridge of Mayacamas Mountains that is more than 1,000 feet higher than the best Napa Cabernet vineyards. This proximity to sunlight means thicker skins - and more flavor.
These are single vineyard wines, and Obsidian is plucked from a mere six blocks of the vineyard, yielding an annual production of barely 7,400 cases. The near-perfect soil drainage is due to a liberal sprinkling of volcanic glass - obsidian - from which the wine takes its name.
The aromas greet you long before the glass reaches your face, expect blackberry and warm cinnamon spice. This full-bodied, viscous wine delivers concentrated tastes ranging from blackberry to black cheery to, of course, those beautiful spiced and herbal undertones. It finishes long and luxurious with food friendly acidity and tannic balance that can only come aging in those hand-crafted Kádár barrels.
Give this one some breathing room after opening and expect it to continue to mellow in the bottle for several more years.