I first met Mark Tarlov in June 2008. He and a group of sommeliers and winemakers were in New York to launch a new, exciting project: Evening Land Vineyards. Made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the Evening Land portfolio of wines came from vineyards owned and leased by Tarlov and purchased grapes in California and Oregon.
Now, Evening Land is unveiling another project, this time from Burgundy, the spiritual home of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Tarlov invited me to taste the new wines, together with the Blue Label range from California and Oregon. This was the first time all the finished wines were tasted together.
“Evening Land is more about the journey than the destination,” Tarlov remarked. With the Blue Label series, he and his team are exploring the regional differences between Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grown in Burgundy, California and Oregon. The range, which includes six different wines, will retail for $25.
“At this price point, you don’t need to decide what’s better, but what you like,” he explained.
For the Burgundy project, Tarlov has enlisted Dominique Lafon, one of Burgundy’s most highly respected growers. Lafon first joined the Evening Land team consulting on the Oregon wines with winemaker Isabelle Meunier.
The Blue Label Burgundies are made by Christoph Vial, a long-time cellar master chez Lafon and Domaine de Montille. The fruit is purchased and vinified and aged in a facility in Beaune used by other like-minded growers and négociants.
Lafon also brings his own domaine into the fold, making wines from four Côte de Beaune vineyards he owns independently of Domaine des Comtes Lafon and Heritiers des Comtes Lafon, which he co-owns with his family. These are more traditional Burgundies, based on individual climates and aged longer. Evening Land will sell these wines via its mailing list.
“It’s unique—part creative, part artistic expression and part in dealing with the commercial aspects and how it relates to the Burgundy cellar,” said Tarlov. He noted that Lafon liked the notion of doing something outside his family business. “He saw the freedom of the American wine industry and said to himself ‘Why can’t I do this on my own?’”
Tarlov refers to his Oregon and California vineyards as “Fire, Fog and Fossils.” Seven Springs in Oregon has volcanic soils, Occidental sees plenty of fog and Tempest in Sta. Rita Hills is composed of fractured sea shells. To that we added “Fractures” for the faulted layers of limestone and clay found in Burgundy.
I sat down with Tarlov last week to taste through both the Evening Land and Domaine Dominique Lafon range. The first two reds were a Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2009 and Côte de Nuits Pinot Noir Etoile 2009. The former, a bright, juicy cherry and berry-flavored red was sourced from parcels in Corgoloin and Comblanchien, in the Côte de Nuits-Villages appellation. Etoile is also from Comblanchien, but a single lieu-dit called La Maison Blanche. It was a spicy red, with darker cherry fruit than its cousin, good intensity and length. Both will retail for $25.
The Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills 2009, made entirely from estate-grown grapes (Seven Springs Vineyard), offered a leafy, herbaceous nose with cherry and tomato aromas, a supple texture and fresh, firm finish. It was rounder than the two Burgundies, a bridge between them and the Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast-Edna Valley-Sta. Rita Hills 2009, which revealed ripe, lush cherry and plum flavors matched to a juicy, dense texture. Its tannins were less integrated and clearly showed the most weight of the four. These will also cost $25.
From Dominique Lafon, there was a pure, red berry and floral-scented Volnay 2008 ($55), focused and firm with a linear profile and mouthwatering finish. The Volnay Les Lurets 2008 ($90), a premier cru, delivered aromas and flavors of cherry and cinnamon on an elegant frame, yet with density, a firm backbone and fine length. It opened up beautifully an hour or so after opening.
Then we moved on to the whites. I was impressed with the balance and length of the Evening Land Bourgogne Chardonnay 2009 ($25). It dialed in fresh apple, white peach and floral notes on an elegant frame. Mind you, in addition to fruit sourced in Mâcon, there is a little Pouilly-Fuissé and Meursault grapes too.
The Evening Land Pouilly-Fuissé Chardonnay 2009 showed a touch of vanilla and spice from one-third new oak, with a rich, vibrant and lingering palate. It’s an excellent value at $28. It was also a richer, more charming wine than the racy, taut mineral-infused Viré-Clessé 2008 from Domaine Dominique Lafon ($25). Barrel fermented, it also sees one-third new oak.
Coming from Meursault, it’s only natural that Lafon have a Meursault in his range. The 2008 ($48) offered a mix of apple, citrus, mineral and savory oyster shell flavors, backed by a tight structure. Lafon’s Puligny Champ Gain 2008 on the other hand was open and rich, displaying toast and hazelnut notes with a vibrant underpinning of acidity ($120).
We finished with Evening Land’s Chardonnay Eola-Amity Hills Summum 2007. A mouthful of rich, toast apple and citrus flavors, it bore accents of butterscotch and spice, terrific texture and a ling finish. Summum, from the upper portion of Chardonnay vines in the Seven Springs Vineyard, is one of the best Chardonnays coming from Oregon today.
The Burgundies are expected to be available in October.
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