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stirring the lees with james molesworth

An Afternoon with Pax, Agharta and Jolie-Laide

Tasting the newest wines from Pax Mahle and his cellar master, Scott Schultz
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jun 5, 2014 2:50pm ET

On my first day of winery visits in California, I visited Pax Mahle and tasted through his lineup of recent Wind Gap wines. Following that, we tasted through his Pax and Agharta labels, and then I tasted the Jolie-Laide Wines made by Scott Schultz. Here are my notes on the wines I tasted.

Pax

Pax Mahle's Pax label features wines sourced from warmer vineyard sites that produce bigger, more powerful wines in comparison to his Wind Gap lineup.

The Syrah Sonoma Coast Griffin's Lair 2010 shows a beefy profile, relying on blackberry paste, fig and charcoal notes all kept lively with a bright iron edge that drives the finish. The acidity is vigorous, but well-embedded, letting the dark fleshy aspects play out nicely. The Syrah Russian River Valley Castelli Knight Ranch 2011 shows the cooler aspect of this rain-marked vintage, with softer edges to the plum sauce, charcoal and tobacco leaf notes all lined with a hint of white pepper. There's a smoky, smoldering feel to the finish, which has subtle persistence. The Grenache Russian River Valley Castelli Knight Ranch 2012 is a debut bottling (the fruit had been blended into other Wind Gap or Pax wines previously) and it shows a very silky core of blackberry, boysenberry and plum fruit lined with anise, ganache and black tea. The finish is long, with the ganache note lingering beautifully. The James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles 2012 is an 80/10/5/5 blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignane and Syrah which is perfumy and enticing, with raspberry, white pepper, anise, pomegranate, blood orange and black tea notes layered together and carrying gracefully through the finish. The Syrah Mendocino County Cahto Ridge Alder Springs Vineyard 2012 is a dark-hued anise and boysenberry-filled wine, that bounces along with licorice snap and pepper notes, as well as an enticing violet edge through the finish. It's a big, bold wine that manages to stay light on its feet in the end.

Agharta

The Sonoma County 2007 is the current release, as it was aged in barrel (at least 50 percent new) for just over 60 months. The 98/2 Syrah and Viognier blend is a large-scaled wine, markedly different from the Wind Gap and Pax wines in style, showing grilled and raw beef notes, along with pastis, charcoal, blackberry and boysenberry pate de fruit and a long, singed alder–framed finish. Despite its heft it has great cut and drive, leaving a nearly mouthwatering feel on the finish. The Cataclysm North Coast White is a 60/30/10 Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne bottling sourced from the Alder Springs vineyard. The Viognier was skin fermented and then blended with the Roussanne/Marsanne component which was cofermented. It spent two years in used oak before bottling and today it shows creamy, lush white peach, heather, Cavaillon melon and anise notes offset with a twinge of fennel that keeps the finish bright and pure.

Jolie-Laide Wines

Scott Schultz, 36, is originally from Chicago, where he worked in the restaurant trade. He moved to Napa in 2007 and was buying wine at Bouchon.

"Everyone I met was a winemaker, so on my days off I followed people around to see what they were doing," said Schultz. He eventually landed a full-time cellar master position with Realm winery. In 2010, Schultz joined Mahle to help manage the cellar. He now has his own side project called Jolie-Laide, which debuted with the 2010 vintage. Production is currently just 550 cases, and it will only grow as Schultz can manage.

The Pinot Gris Chalk Hill Windsor Oaks Vineyard 2013 gets a one-night cold soak, but is not fermented on its skins. That's just long enough to add a light pink hue to the color. It's sourced from the same parcel and picked at the same time as the Wind Gap version. Fermented in stainless steel and then aged in a majority of steel (just a touch of neutral oak), it shows fresh pink grapefruit, rose water and peach pit, backed by a slightly waxy-edged finish.

The fruit for the Trousseau Gris Russian River Valley Fanucchi-Wood Road Vineyard 2013 is given a five-day cold soak of whole clusters, then fermented in used oak. It's a soft, round, inviting wine offering orange, peach, nectarine and tangerine notes with a hint of anise on the finish. Again, sourced from the same parcel as the Wind Gap version, it delivers a markedly different profile, relying more on a flattering feel than the bitter profile of the Wind Gap bottling.

"Varietals are the almost infinite variables that hep us discover new things. We pretty much know the terroir around here. But what really does best on each site is still unknown to us. Still, I don't chase things down just because they're different, or make off-beat things just because no one else does. I work with what I can find and what I want to work with," said Schultz about his choice of varietals such as Trousseau Gris.

The Grenache-Syrah Sonoma County Rossi Ranch Vineyard 2012 is from Alban clone fruit that was grafted over in 1996. There are some interplanted Viognier and Muscat vines which are thrown in and cofermented with the two main red varieties. The wine is bouncy and spicy, with lots of anise, cinnamon and sassafras notes out front of juicy, bramble-edged raspberry and blackberry fruit. The briary edge lingers through the finish, giving it just the right amount of spine as the fruit and spice plays out.

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