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james suckling uncorked

Back Label Libations


Posted: Nov 11, 2008 3:37pm ET

I had an excellent California Pinot Noir last week at Comme Ça restaurant in West Hollywood on the recommendation of the sommelier, Rory Harrington. The 2005 Ambullneo Vineyards Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley was rich and luscious, with loads of ripe strawberry, light earth character and hints of smoky oak. Yet it was balanced and impressive. I gave it 91 points, non-blind. It was great with my red wine-braised bit of beef with carrots and horseradish mash. Comme Ça has excellent, sophisticated Paris-style bistro food. I always try to go there when I am in L.A.

But something struck me as I was digging into the rich, juicy beef and downing the Cali Pinot Noir. I read the back label and almost fell out of my chair. It seemed a little pretentious, to say the least, for the small winery of Ambullneo. Here is what it reads:

"(Blend) My personal favorite definition is, (To pass imperceptibly into one another; (Harmonize)).

At Ambullneo Vineyards our philosophy is to (Blend), and not to be site specific. We enhance the quality of every vintage, instead of being at the mercy of a single vineyard. There is no argument that great vineyards make great wine! However, if you could blend several great vineyards together would this make a unique wine of exceptional character? What if Burgundy blended La Tâche, Musigny and Chambertin? Something to think about? Greg"

It certainly is something to think about. I am not so sure that it would be a great idea to blend the wines of three of the greatest grand cru vineyards of Burgundy. In fact, it would be a great waste. And I am not sure Ambullnoo's blended Pinot Noir from Solomon Hills Vineyard, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Laetitia Vineyard, and Rimrock Vineyard grapes are quite at the same level either. It's like comparing apples and (canned) oranges.

Anyway, I found the back label amusing and slightly irritating at the same time. At least the wine was outstanding, the company entertaining, and the meal excellent.

Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  November 11, 2008 4:40pm ET
I believe it might have been Kerry Murphy of DuMol that said something to the effect that bottling a single-vineyard Pinot is kind of like making stew out of carrots alone. I think the analogy is a bit askew, but I do believe that many expensive single-vineyard wines would benefit from blending. To me it's no different to blend the same varietal from different sites than it is to blend different varietals from the same/different sites (such as in Bordeaux). Granted, if you have a great site and the wines are complete on their own then that's a different story. I feel that should be the sole determining factor as to whether or not one bottles single-vineyard of any varietal.
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento,CA —  November 11, 2008 4:51pm ET
I do not think he was comparing his vineyard sources to the classic Burgundian sites -- he simply making a statement against the current trend in Cali pinot--vineyard designate bottling. And I think he has a point, as many "County" appelation wines hold higher scores and lower prices than the designated wines across a broad spectum of varietals (in my opinion, this holds true more for cabs than pinots, but that is certainly debatable). And of course, who knows if a blend of the grand cru vineyards would be better than the respecitve estate bottlings?? Has it been tried?? It would be an interesting experiment (if you had the $$ of course)
John B Vlahos
Cupertino Ca. —  November 11, 2008 6:51pm ET
James, you stated that you very much enjoyed the blend of pinots from Ambullneo, so what is the problem? How do you know that it would be a waste to blend three great Burgundy wines if it hasn't been tried. Perhaps it would make an better wine, the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Who knows until you try it!
Nathanael H Gunter
Los Angeles, CA  —  November 11, 2008 7:11pm ET
James, firstly, you were in LA and I saw neither hide nor hair of you! You are missed my friend. Secondly, I'm so glad you've found the outstanding wines of Ambullneo. Greg Linn is a character, to say the least, and a staunch advocate of superior viticulture, to say the most. He is a vintner you must meet and must taste the full range of his remarkable wines. He is a gregarious man whose love for life and food and wine comes across in a full-throttle fashion...perhaps, this may at times come across as pretentious, but his motives, I assure you, are pure.ciaon
James Suckling
 —  November 11, 2008 10:46pm ET
John. Good point. I was just thinking out loud but on the Internet. Nat. I raced through LA. Give me a ring. I would love to meet Greg. Good juice.
Sam Chanhao
calgary —  November 12, 2008 2:27am ET
James,I would agree with Greg on this.I am a big fan of Domaine Serene pinot noir,especially their Evenstad Reserve(04&05)which blended from different clones and sites(Dundee Hill&Eola Hill).I found that it had more dimension and complexity than alot of their single bottlings.Look what happen to the Grange(Penfolds)when they decide to stop blending from other sites . The single bottlings,only from Barossa,now not as complex as some of the older vintages.
Jordan Harris
Niagara, Ontario —  November 12, 2008 10:40am ET
In my opinion, the opinion of Ambullneo Winery is only an opinion and option. There is great reason for both styles. Blended gives the winemaker the opportunity to portray the art of winemaking and is far more cellar based. It can make great wines, another great example of this is Grange which is often blended from all over Southern Australia (massive area). That said what is lacking in the definition of Terroir. It is impossbile to state that you could have a better terroir inspired wine from a blend of multiple vineyards as you do from a single vineyard. That is not to say that all vineyards are worthy of single vineyars bottlings. They should express something unique that gives it the reasoning of labelling it. If the Chambertin shows the same character as a Gevrey Chambertin, then Chambertin is a usless single vineyard. If it shows a unique quality to it that it is a great vineyard to showcase. Neither is necessarily better, just I find blended wines rely more on winemaking to show their art, single vineyards rely more on viticulture and site specific characters. Only one opinion though.
James Suckling
 —  November 12, 2008 10:57am ET
Jordan. Well-thought out comment. I especially like the second to the last sentence!
John Wilen
Texas —  November 12, 2008 2:09pm ET
Blending hides flaws.... 'nuff said. The last thing the world needs is more Nickel & Nickels. Stop with 19 single vineyard cabernets that all taste the same. Just produce 1 or 2 good ones and call it a day.
Serry Osmena
Los Angeles, CA —  November 12, 2008 11:18pm ET
Well, one of the nice surprises about greg lynn, apart from his wines, is his penchant for ordering fabulous bottles of Leroy, and a Salon not far behind.
Brian Corley
Manhattan Beach, CA —  November 13, 2008 11:04pm ET
Nothing against Ambullneo which I have enjoyed immensely over the last few years but you cannot compare anything in CA with the legendary vineyard designations in Burgundy. It is comparing something simple and expressive with some of the great wines of our time. However, when you factor in price the trade off is not bad for CA. Cheers
Apj Powers
Dallas, TX —  November 15, 2008 2:06am ET
Many have stated this ahead of me, but I agree - not every vineyard needs to be a single vineyard bottling. There should be some underlying characteristic that an experienced taster can pick out year after year that defines that vineyard. Maybe a mint note or a certain minerality or always a hint of leather, chocolate or whatever, that stands out vintage after vintage.Otherwise, blend and make the best wine possible.

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