One unseasonably lovely Sunday in February we sat down with winemaker-elf Rick Hutchinson at his winery, Amphora Wines, in the Dry Creek region of Sonoma and proceeded to go on a wine wild ride. He was incredibly generous with his time and his wine; and we were blown away.
Even though there are constant demands for his attention and advice, he still managed to focus and really be present when speaking about his extraordinary wines and describing the terrior, the soil and the foundation for his wine making philosophy and style.
We tasted right in the room where all the wine magic happens. Amid French, American and Hungarian oak barrels, we sat at a table with a white table cloth and embarked on an unparalleled wine adventure.
The first wine we tasted was a 2009 Chardonnay from Peter’s Vineyard (the palate prep) in the Russian River Valley. Aged in French Oak, the wine has a rich full smooth feel on the tongue (some call that buttery) with just the right amount of acidity and the delicious flavors of stone fruits and apples. Nectarines and peaches come forth especially creating a bouquet of luscious warm scent. The soil at Peter’s Vineyard, Rick explained is loamy and sandy, giving notes of flint and minerality to the wine balancing and giving it depth. It is no surprise that this wine took the Gold Medal at the 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine competition.
For Rick the whole process of wine making is the control of oxidation. He is a master of noting the subtle changes in the wine as it ferments and as it ages.
Next we had the 2009 Pinot Noir, also from Peter’s Vineyard. This is a classic Russian River Valley Pinot Noir with a delicious berry palate; really definitive of the Pommard clones. Even though there are these distinctly strawberry and cassis flavors the wine still has a backbone and a fullness that is so desirable.
It was followed by another 2009 Pinot Noir, this one from the Sapphire Vineyard. A 777 clone depicts an apparent difference from the previous Pinot, coming from the location of the vines, the climate, as well as the soil. This Sapphire Vineyard wine was bright with raspberry fruits had a drier quality with some hint of rubber note that was so interesting but not repelling at all.
Rick definitely has a true artist’s heart and this is what he listens with in the whole creative process of wine making. For him it is an entirely organic process, unfolding and developing as the grapes grow and mature and then are harvested and the fermentation and aging begins. They are the canvas that the wine takes shape on.
The 2009 Lakeville Vineyard Pinot Noir is a clone combination of 777 and the Pommard (50% each). The soil base there is marine and saltier resulting in a delicious jammy fruit forward, superbly rich and smooth wine. The fruits are fermented separately and blended 50/50 according to Rick’s taste profile.
Three Pinot Noirs, three distinct wines. All wonderful.
From Pinot Noir we went to the Land of Spain for the Grenache or Granacha grape and sample the 2011 Clarksburg Grenache. It is a newer grape for Rick along with the Mourvedre, Syrah and Alicante Bouchet he’s using now. This wine wakes you up with ripe, tart berries and silky smooth mouth feel, well structured tannins support and balance the substantial fruit profile.
Rick is also passionate about showcasing the characteristics and personality of the grapes in each wine. No grape is ignored. Like the grapes, these wines are highly individual and fascinating in their own ways.
He then brought out the 2009 Carignane, from the Forchini vineyard. These are very old vines and are dry farmed (meaning they are watered sparingly) to produce the most concentrated of flavors. Here almost cotton candy like tastes mesmerize in this deliciously creamy, low acid wine. Open tank top fermentation employed.
The 2010 Merlot from Timber Crest Vineyard has wonderful floral notes in the nose and the intense berry flavors were fresh tasting and mouth watering. It is structured and it finishes so nicely with vanilla and soft spice.
Cabernet Sauvignon has been, in my opinion, really over produced and has lost some of it’s uniqueness but not Amphora’s 2007 Clone 7 from Dry Creek Vineyard. It is a fabulous and complex wine, giving the taster a complete experience of distinct dark fruit, tobacco and violets with a strong but not overwhelming tannic foundation.
The 2010 Barbera from the Heringer Vineyard was iconic with rich brambley, chocolate, currant and dried fruits. As always with Rick’s wines the tannins are so well structured and balanced that even in the Cabernet and this Barbera they do not overtake the wine.
Next Rick brought out the 2011 Tempranillo from the very established Heringer Vineyard in Clarksburg. Tempranillo is a gorgeous grape and this is an elegant, perfectly balanced wine with tart fruit, crisp clean flavors and medium tannins. He never takes a rape for granted and this is so evident in this Tempranillo.
Comparatively the 2011 Mourvedre has raspberry and red berry flavors with a lovely mouth feel and balanced tannic structure.
Rick affectionately calls the 2009 Teroldago, also from the Heringer Vineyard, “Black Beauty” due to it’s prominent black fruit flavors, black berries, dark, dried sweet cherries, and gorgeous inky color. It’s just amazingly delicious and for a grape that is rarely produced in California, probably a huge hit.
The 2008 Cabernet Franc from the Pedroni Vineyard was also expectedly pleasing with Cherry Coke flavors and a vanilla richness that I kept tasting long after the last drop was gone.
Following that we had a 2010 Petit Verdot from the A. Forchini Vineyard. This is a sophisticated wine with dark cherry, black currants and plum flavors on the onset, then it opens up with herbal flavors, white pepper and barrel aroma. A grown up wine with powerful fruit and a strong tannic structure. Not for whimps.
My boyfriend then casually asked Rick what was his oldest vintage or first wine and Rick immediately scampered off and returned with a 1998 Syrah. He opened it and before it really had time to breathe we tasted it. The first taste was disappointing; it tasted like old hay and seemed flat. But then Rick, who had run away again, arrived with a platter of gorgeous sliced Italian salumeria, cheeses and bread. After eating we tasted the wine again and magically it had transformed!!! It was incredible. It was rich and flavorful, the delicate dark berry flavors had come out, there was complexity, forest flavors and the tannins suddenly woke up. This was the most educational tasting I had ever been to.
But wait!!! There’s more!. …I know!!!
After that incredible tour de force Rick began introducing his Zinfandels. The first was the 2009 Tre Torrente. It had delicate pine notes and is low acid, with classic dried fruit and dark plum flavors. Next the 2009 A. Forchini Vineyard Zinfandel presents with large fruit and cherry jam and a good tannic backbone. Then came the 2009 Dry Creek Valley blend with grapes used from both Tre Torronte and Dry Creek Vineyards. Also, delicious, smooth and bursting with big fruit. Finally the Zin tasting came to a close with the 2009 Timber Crest Vineyard vintage, this presented classic dark fruit flavors balanced with clover honey, lavender and raspberries, a real meadow blend.The stiff tannins make this wine absolutely balanced.
Finally we ended this amazing journey with the 2011 Aglianico from the Heringer Vineyard a six generation farmed vineyard. It was magnificent, true alchemy. Robust and powerful yet a variety of delicious fruits both light and dark balanced by developed tannins and a lovely finish.
We are so grateful to Rick for providing us with this extraordinary experience. One I will definitely never forget.
Next post will be all about Rick Hutchinson, the mad genius behind all these wines.