© 1998 JDM Enterprises
FAR NIENTE UPDATEby Jerry D. Mead
When Napa Valley's Far Niente released its first wines in the early 80s I was not an instant fan. Oklahoma nursery owner and wine buff Gil Nickel could have been mistaken for a Texan the way he invaded the valley with big ideas and big showmanship.
Nickel bought a great old stone winery that had been closed and empty since the onset of that disaster called Prohibition, and replanted a vineyard that had once been one of the greatest in all of California. That was just for starters.
When the first wine, a Chardonnay, was released, I hated it (well that's a little strong) for several reasons. I thought the wine overdone and a bit ponderous, the label too busy and ostentatious, and I really hated that this upstart winery with no track record was charging the highest price anyone had ever charged for a California Chardonnay.
Well, time heals all wines, or something like that. The Chardonnay has taken on a backbone of firm acidity to handle all its size and the label has actually grown on me. While I still don't like the top shelf pricing, the wines sell out every year, which means they can't be overpriced, right?
Far Niente 1996 "Napa" Chardonnay ($40) Very attractive, barrel-fermented style, with apples and citrus fruit. Forward, very attractive smoke and barrel toast flavors and complexities. Nicely wooded without being woody. A crisply acid backbone makes it a Chardonnay that will actually benefit from three to five years in the cellar. Pricey but delicious. Rating: 92/80
WINE OF THE WEEK CELLAR SELECTION
Dolce 1995 ($60 the half bottle) You just thought the other wines were expensive. This sweet nectar of honey gold is America's challenger to Chateau d'Yquem and the other great wines of Sauternes, France. It is made in the same way, from raisinized grapes affected by the beneficial mold known as Botrytis cinerea, which yield hardly any juice and require lots of hand work from vineyard through winemaking, which necessarily makes such wines expensive. How is this one? Mostly honey aromas and flavors, with some apricot, peach and then an entire cocktail of fruit flavors. Coats your palate, explodes all over your olfactory and then lingers to tantalize you with its memory. Its 11 percent residual sugar makes it sweet, but lively acidity prevents its being cloying. No need to serve dessert...give them two ounces of this seductive nectar. Rating: 94/82
Far Niente wines will probably not be found on your supermarket shelf, but rather at the handful of fine wine merchants in each area, and of course at many fine restaurants. To track down nearest retail outlet: Far Niente, P.O. Box 327, Oakville, CA 94562 (707) 944-8868.
HARD TO FIND
Jory is not what you call a bricks and mortar winery. Winemaker Stillman Brown, who occasionally releases wines under his own name, contracts for grapes and then leases space in wineries that do have bricks and mortar, makes the wine and then markets it.
Jory also publishes one of the strangest newsletters around and sells t- shirts emblazoned with a corkscrew over a giant "U." (If you're having a slow day, that's corkSCREW U.) You can ask for the free newsletter (in which there is always something about Elvis and usually a cheap shot at wine scribe Robert Parker), inquire about retail availability in your hometown, or order the t- shirt for $12 (and it's a great quality shirt) at: Jory Winery, P.O. Box 1496, Los Gatos, CA 95031 (800) 347-2134.
Jory 1996 "Sierra County, New Mexico" Fume Blanc ($15) Don't laugh at the New Mexico appellation. This is the third vintage and it's a Fume that will be loved by Chardonnay fans. Partially barrel-fermented and 100 percent aged in small barrels, there is no Sauvignon grassiness. Some melon and floral qualities and loads of appealing spicy oak, Delicious. Rating: 92/86
Jory 1996 "Santa Clara" Chardonnay ($25) From the Mt. Eden clone of Chardonnay, the original clone brought in from France by Paul Masson and transplanted to the mountain vineyards of legendary winemaker Martin Ray. Lean and crisply structured like a White Burgundy. Apple and melon fruit with some tropical back notes; nicely oaked. Dry (no sugar), but barrel sweet, a sort of impression of sweetness picked up from the oak casks. Rating: 90/82
The Purple Gang 1996 ($15) One of several fun proprietary wines made by Jory, with amusing labels and back labels and very good wine in the bottle, it won gold medals at both California State Fair and Los Angeles County Fair. It is 40 percent Carignane from Santa Clara County, with the balance going to Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Pfeffer from San Benito County. Spicy, peppery aroma and flavor, no doubt contributed by the infrequently seen Pfeffer grape. Berry-cherry fruit and very user friendly. Drinks like a Cotes du Rhone. Rating: 87/84