Gainey: One foot in the old, one in the new

With all the talk about the new Santa Rita Hills appellation and the national attention the wines are getting, people sometimes overlook Gainey Vineyard, possibly because the winery and tasting room are located on the far east side of the Santa Ynez Valley, while Santa Rita Hills are at the opposite end. But Gainey is the only winery in the county that farms and owns vineyards in the warmer Santa Ynez region as well as the cooler Santa Rita Hills area. So while Gainey is one of the older wineries in the county, it also has one foot firmly planted in the exciting new appellation west of Highway 101.

Winemaker Kirby Anderson came to Gainey from the North Coast in July of 1997, assuming full responsibilities after stalwart Rick Longoria had left to pursue his own eponymous label. Guided by the vision of proprietor Dan Gainey, he undertook planting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on the newly purchased Evans Ranch property, very near the Sanford and Santa Barbara Winery parcels in Santa Rita Hills.

In addition, he was on board to help in expanding Gainey's crush and storage capacity, giving input in the construction of the new winery building, just a stone's throw up the road from the original Gainey compound. The consequent results are formidable, as evidenced from the notes below.

Sauvignon Blanc 2003: The idea of this Sauvignon Blanc is not to mess around with what the vineyard gives you and just capture the freshness of the grape. Zingy with green pea and hay on the palate, in the New Zealand style, from being tank fermented. A touch of Semillon adds flavor interest, while green herbs are relegated to the background as a condiment.

Sauvignon Blanc, Limited Selection 2002: The toasty nose is atypical of Sauvignon Blanc but then this a version with all the bells and whistles, including some new oak. Flavors of honey, bees wax, butterscotch and toasty oak add up to a total package, but wait, there's more! Texture is big time here, coming at you immediately and shining a light on the multiple level of flavors.

Chardonnay 2002: Straight forward aromatics and flavors of citrus with hints of orange peel and citrus in what Anderson refers to as "Chardonnay with the volume turned down," which in no way diminishes what's in the bottle. This Chard can hold its own with any non-vineyard designated Chard (even though it's 60 percent from Santa Rita Hills) in the valley. A viscous mouth feel, with even and well modulated flavors are its hallmarks.

Chardonnay, Santa Rita Hills 2002: From the newer vineyard, a Chard that has so much going on that it's chewy but, at the same time, lean with a good acidic backbone. The lemon drop flavors are distinct and concentrated. A seamless wine that displays great focus on the mid palate and all the way to the finish.

Chardonnay, Limited Selection 2001: Graham cracker crust aromas hover over the fruit in this 100 percent barrel fermented/malolactic version. The tropical fruit flavors are unctuous with plenty of weight and oomph behind them. Full bodied, complete and rich with all the tropical fruit stuffing imaginable, it's very much in the traditional, full bore Santa Barbara Chardonnay style.

Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, Limited Selection 2002: Bottled this past summer, the aromatics are still a little shy, however the flavors are not. Black plum and dark berry flavors are clearly in evidence, but then it goes deeper, mimicking candied violet or dark hard candy flavors with a concentration that really resonates on the palate. It's also particularly well balanced with a lengthy finish.

Triada 2002: This is Gainey's fun-time Rhone style blend that's always a lip smacking crowd pleaser. Red raspberries, cherry cough drop and lead pencil on the nose, with an amalgam of plums, blue/black berries in the mouth, enhanced with a seasoning of white pepper and minerals. Jammy with virtually no tannins, this is a quaffable bistro style wine, no mean accomplishment. I can see roast chicken with garlic mashed potatoes in its future...or just a wood fired pizza.

Syrah, Limited Selection 2002: Just released, this Syrah comes on strong with blueberries and pepper on the nose. Plummy dark fruit permeates the flavors with a dusting of white pepper. The ripe sweetness of the fruit comes through in spades and, while the wine shows concentration, it doesn't go over the top in a one dimensional monolithic way. Instead there's plenty of other things going on underneath the surface that will certainly reveal themselves with some time in the bottle.

Merlot 2001: Plum and dark berry/cherry fruit on the nose follows through with like flavors. It's more focused on the fruit aspects of Merlot with undertones of cinnamon, clove and earthiness. A streamlined red wine without any internal distractions, showing the good fruit but not too fruity and well as showing ripe flavors but with nothing overripe.

Merlot, Limited Selection 2001: Whoa, a horse of a different color here: deeper, wider and longer than the previous wine. Dark coffee/toffee aromatics with a touch of burnt creme brulee and then the cherry fruit emerges too. Substantial in the mouth and very richly fruited with finely grained tannins and a good cut of mouth watering acidity. A bit of smoke from 18 months in barrel and the typical Gainey Ranch minerality helps embellish the proceedings.

Cabernet Franc, Limited Selection 2002: Last but not least, Cab Franc is one of Longoria's favorite varietals and Anderson has carried on that tradition admirably with the 2002 edition, also just released. Don't let the lighter color fool you: there's an incredible perceived sweetness on the nose, redolent of chocolate covered cherries and vanilla. Blackberry and cherry fruit flavors dominate but are laced with chalk, eucalyptus and minerals.

And by the way, the fact that seems to go missing about Gainey is the aging potential of their "Limited Selection," wines which are truly limited as the name says. I recently rummaged around my disorganized cellar, popping the cork on a Limited Selection Merlot from 1998. It displayed deep, dark, blackberry and black cherry fruit with a soupcon of mocha; it was still quite vibrant, throwing a good amount of sediment due to its unfiltered nature.

The 1998 Limited Selection Cabernet Franc was nevertheless muscular with flavors of bing cherries and rhubarb, along with a back beat of typical Cab Franc chalkiness. But the best discovery was the 2000 Limited Selection Pinot (also unfiltered): big, rich and fully extracted, the dark plum and berry fruit had deepened and the complexity ratcheted up with time in the bottle. Dried, aged beef and hints of wet and wild animal fur also swirled around the flavor edges. No joke, I left this bottle open (and not gassed) on my kitchen counter and the concentration did not begin to diminish until the fifth day! That's what I'd call an intensely power packed bottle of Pinot. None of these wines were the least bit "over the hill," which is why I recommend you might want to considering purchasing a couple extra bottles of the current Limited Selection releases and laying them away for future enjoyment.

Feb. 9, 2005

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