Sandstone Cellars: Seventh Heaven
Alone on a Saturday evening, my reaction to Sandstone Cellars VII 2009, a dark red-black wine came slowly. I had time to decant the wine and allow it to open at its own pace. I tasted the wine when first opened, then again and again over a period of three hours, then again two days later. If I had to distill my comments on the seventh red blend from Sandstone Cellars to one word, it would be heavenly.
The winemaker, Don Pullum, responded to my first reaction to the Sandstone Cellars VII wine saying, “All of us at Sandstone Cellars, Scott, Manny, and I are excited about the VII. It’s the first time we’ve made a wine one hundred percent from on varietal. But, I guess, when it’s a complete wine, it’s complete.”
Don’s comment almost seemed to convey surprise at his ability to make a wine of such power and complexity from a single Portuguese grape – Touriga Nacional. Up to this point in his winemaking career, Don’s been a man of many grapes, choosing to construct wines from as many as four, five, six or more grape varieties. The first Pullum wine that I experienced was his L’Evier (“Kitchen Sink” in French), a collage of Mediterranean grapes from his Mason County Akashic Vineyard. He derived the name from the saying, “Everything But The Kitchen Sink” that denotes that almost everything and anything has been included. It impressed me so much that I decided to take it with me and taste it with fourth generation renowned Gigondas winemaker at Domain Santa Duc, Yves Gras (See: http://vintagetexas.com/blog/?p=3).
Don tends to work with grapes in much the same manor that a fine chef builds a gourmet presentation with aromas, flavors and even tactile sensations from myriad ingredients. He even borrows a culinary term when he describes his brand of cellar dexterity as “Fusion Winemaking”. He takes the characteristics of an array of grape varieties, thus far all from Mason County, and crafts them into a finished blended wine.
I’ll confess that through most of my wine career, I knew little about Touriga or the wines of Portugal. However, I had the advantage of a trip to Portugal in 2007 where I tasted a new, old-world of appealing wines. I found a natural affinity for the wines from this country’s Dão Region.
Right in the heart of Portugal is the Beira that is divided into three sections. The upper mountainous region of Beira Alta is where Dão wines reside. They are some of the most distinctive and distinguished red wines I found in Portugal. Touriga Nacional us the leading red grape variety of the Dão that makes striking spicy, peppery and even minty wines with exquisite dark fruit character and notorious longevity. I tasted one memorable Dão wine at a restaurant while in Lisbon that had fifteen years of bottle age. It was truly a remarkable experience. TIt’s now my mental benchmark for Touriga.
I asked Don what magic he used to make the Sandstone Cellars VII. Don said, “No magic, just great fruit from Mason County Texas and simple straight forward winemaking.”
From Don’s account, it all started in the vineyard. In the Robert Clay Vineyard in Streeter, Texas, where Paul and Nancy Buist diligently hand harvested the fruit over a two-week period in 2009, delivering about 200 to 400 lbs per day. During the growing season, the Buists used light irrigation on their ten-year-old vines, spaced 10 x 6, and the berries were tiny on very loose clusters.
Don said, “We destemmed, crushed and added the must to an existing fermentation. As I recall, I ran a cold fermentation over forty-five days. I like this process of extending the fermentation by selecting a strain of yeast that’s a slow starter, has a moderate fermentation speed, and produces glycerol that encourages aromatics and mouthfeel in the finished wine. I started some malolactic bacteria and added it to the primary fermentation just before it finished. We pressed off the must, adding the press wine to the free run. After two months in stainless steel, we racked fifty percent into another stainless tank and put fifty percent into new custom toasted Missouri oak. We finally bottled ten months after the 2009 harvest.”
Don particularly likes Touriga, preferring to call it by its short form name. The tannins start hard early in its life but integrate nicely even during the initial few months of bottle aging. From my tasting, I suggested that this wine could have even taken more oak, that would work to its ultimate longevity but detract from its early drinkability.
Nevertheless, the VII was still one of the best wines that I’ve tasted from Sandston Cellars. Previously, I’d been aroused by Sandstone Cellars III 2006, that I still call my “old friend”. It’s now sold out. I had five bottles in my cooler, now only three are left. I enjoy them in special moments, like visits from an old friend. More recently, Sandstone Cellars VI 2008 became my “new best friend”. I guess now I’ll have to make room for a trio of best friends and include the 2009 VII.
My notes from my tasting of the Sandston Cellars VII are given below:
“This wine was dark red/black color with medium to full body, a bit tannic (that’s expected in a Portguese-styled wine, but not harsh). It was especially good with a rare hunk of beef that I grilled. It had dominant blueberry and black cherry notes with minerally, steely and even herbal/minty aromatics. After aeration, rich dark berry flavors with essence of tar and licorice were coming and even more dominant after two days after opening. A very good wine. Reminded me of what I tasted during my travels in Portugal and the Dao Region.”
I also tasted the Sandstone Cellars IX, a wine made from 80 percent Tempranillo. See my notes below:
“This wine was very tight and took a while to start to open (needed two hours, even after I aerate it into a decanter). It finally came around giving red berry, a hint of tobacco on the nose. Eventually, it show darker berry (blueberry?), ripe plum, a dry peach pit note with a dry tannic feel on the finish. I recorked it and tasted it again side-by-side with a Spanish Tempranillo (Rioja Lorinon Crianza 2006) after giving it some more time to open. The IX was more open with black cherry and the blueberry along with a coffee or light licorice notes now more dominant. The Lorinon was a bit more old-worldish, starting to present mature aged qualities, while the IX was fresh fruit dominant.”
2010 appears to be a banner year for Sandstone Cellars. The team of Scott, Manny and Don has released four wines from the 2009 vintage, an all time high for them. The wines are:
Sandstone Cellars 2009 VII – 100% Touriga
Sandstone Cellars 2009 VIII – 52% Zinfandel, 30% Touriga, 18% Merlot
Sandstone Cellars 2009 IX – 75% Tempranillo, 25% Touriga
Sandstone Cellars 2009 X – 80% Syrah, 15% Touriga, 5% Nebbiolo
You can get more information, prices and winemaker’s notes on these wines at:
andstone Cellars Winery
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Physical Address: 211 San Antonio Street, Mason, TX 76856
Phone: (325) 347-9463
Web site: www.sandstonecellarswinery.com
Scott Haupert and Manny Silerio, Owners; Don Pullum, Winemaker
Offerings: Tastings, Wine Sales, Restaurant, Art Gallery