In the pages of this blog I have over the years made various references to the wines of Rhys Vineyards in the context of other wines I have written about, but I’ve never written directly about the Rhys wines before. This is partly because there has been no shortage of press about Rhys, as writers like Eric Asimov of the New York Times, Mike Steinberger (then with Slate) and critics like Allen Meadows and Josh Raynolds have written effusive praise. I have been a buyer of the wines however, going back to some wines from the 2006 vintage, but mostly of small allocations due to budgetary constraints. Given that Rhys’ wines are made in a style that is thought to require age to show at their best, I’ve opened relatively few bottles, and never more than one at a time. Recently given the chance to join a group dinner sampling more than a dozen Rhys wines in a single evening, encompassing a number of vintages and including some bottlings I’ve never tasted, I jumped at the opportunity to gain a little knowledge to help inform my future purchases.
A group of ten dedicated Rhys fans gathered at Peking Duck House, and we kicked the evening off with a look at three pinots from Bearwallow Vineyard, one of Rhys’ newer vineyard holdings, in Anderson Valley. The 2008 Bearwallow pinot showed a perfumed nose, but the palate doesn’t quite live up. The 2011 and 2012 Bearwallow showed earthy mineral noses and lots of tannin structure, too much to be approachable at this early stage, but the 2012, while painfully young, showed a bit more generosity of fruit that suggests that this will be the best wine of these three when given some proper aging.
On the whole the Bearwallow wines show a consistent licorice-inflected cherry profile, but the wines have not yet reached the gorgeousness of the Copain wines from the neighboring Kiser vineyard, even compared to tastings at similar stages of youth. To be fair, though, only the 08 Bearwallow has had time to become wine, and a pretty wine it is. Judgment reserved on 2011 and 2012 for now, but so far Bearwallow is my least favorite Rhys SVD bottling; this is not to say they aren’t nice wines, and a side by side comparison with AV wines from producers like Copain, Anthill Farms, Littorai, Kutch and Navarro would make for a nice future tasting.
We moved on to compare two 2011 Rhys Chardonnays, the Horseshoe and the Alpine. To me, the Horseshoe showed a bit richer and definitely rounder in style, with the Alpine showing more of an herbal side in a leaner-feeling package, and the herbal quality reminded me a bit of a 2011 Ceritas Peter Martin Ray chardonnay that I had recently. Both showed ample mineral on the nose, with the Horseshoe more expressive aromatically while the Alpine showed a more neutral though airy nose.
The next flight, from the 2007 vintage, had a few of the more tightly allocated pinots, Skyline and Swan Terrace, as well as the 2007 Family Farm. Our first time through this flight, I was a dissenting voice in saying that I thought the Skyline was showing best in this flight, and by a country mile at that, but by evening’s end a few of my tablemates seemed to agree with me. Although Rhys owner Kevin Harvey has at times analogized Swan Terrace to Chambolle, on this night it’s Skyline that fits the bill in my estimation, showing charming lightness and delicacy on the floral nose and palate, with the slightly tart plummy fruit and acidity bringing me much pleasure. With air, an exotic spice component emerges in the nose, so although I liken this wine first to Chambolle or Volnay first based on body and texture, I wouldn’t quibble with a comparison to Vosne based on the spice. Easily my wine of the night, 94-95 points; I’m not yet allocated Skyline, but will buy all I can when given the chance.
The ‘07 Swan Terrace is dense, dark and brooding but is wrapped up in so much tannin and stemminess that I can’t predict where this will go. There’s a starkness to the aromas on the nose that point to the obvious power here, and with all the material present one would expect great things from this wine, but we are years away from knowing. The ‘07 Family Farm is more open, with earth on the nose, and tannins that are reasonably resolved at this point. Showing well, but a bit rougher around the edges stylistically compared to its flightmates.
The next flight includes 2006 Alpine, 2006 Alpine Hillside and 2007 Alpine, and here the Alpine Hillside shows a perfumed nose that stands out above the others. The Alpine wines tonight show a density and sappiness that distinguishes them that I find very appealing. There is something different about the 07 from the 06s, and someone mentions brett but I don’t read it that way; to me it is a slightly nutty caramel character with some funk moreso than band aid or horsiness.
The next wines, 2008 and 2009 Alpines, show similar sappiness, with the ’09 showing as ripe, juicy and powerful relatively. It’s too much for some people, but I really enjoy it. The density here is more approachable than the power shown by the Swan Terrace, for example. The Alpines in general reach to the 92-93 point range for me. The 2012 Alpine was painfully young, and I didn’t really get enough of a handle on it to make a fair assessment of it.
The 2007 Horseshoe pinot has the prettiest nose of the next flight, with a perfumed quality that several of the older wines have shown tonight. The flight also includes the 2009 Horseshoe pinot and the 2012 Alpine that I’ve kept in my glass from the last flight, hoping it would show more. The 07 Horseshoe is showing nicely on the palate, as the tannins have started to resolve. Some people argue about whether the ’09 is possibly corked but I don’t get TCA, I just get a stemmy greenish quality that I think is not cork taint. The ’12 Alpine unfortunately is still not showing much behind the considerable tannic structure this wine has.
The nose on the 2010 Horseshoe has a lot in common with the 2007 – perfumed, and the slightly stemmy and herbal qualities of most of the Horseshoe wines is augmented with a bit of a citrus blossom note. The 2012 Horseshoe shows similar characteristics to the other Horseshoe wines in general – an earthy stemmy quality and a certain sappiness on the palate, in a way that is more controlled and less powerful than the Rhys Alpines generally.
My takeaways from the night, which are only preliminary pending further “research”: I will probably buy less Bearwallow and more Horsehoe and Alpine: I will buy all the Skyline I can get; and I will give Swan Terrace serious time before I open them. Thanks to Suzanne for organizing, to Gary for liasing with Rhys and organizing flights, and to the people at Rhys for being kind enough to send us bottles of the 2012s for our tasting. I look forward to seeing how the Rhys wines continue to develop but the signs so far are encouraging.
The 2012 Bearwallow, Alpine and Horseshoe pinots were sent to the group for our tasting gratis by Rhys Vineyards and were therefore tasted free of charge.