Hopefully you read my interview with Georgetta Dane, winemaker for Big House Wines. She was a great lady with an interesting background and produced all the wines I’m about to review.
This post is a continuation of the interview, as we tasted through the line of Big House Wines.
Big House is in the town of Soledad in Monterey County on California’s Central Coast, just south of San Francisco. It’s across from a jail, hence the name “Big House.” The Winery’s two flagship wines are their Red and White, both blends of Mediterranean varieties, which vary based on the harvest. These wines were launched by Bonny Doon, who sold the brands to The Wine Group, along with Cardinal Zin in 2008.
Apart from the fact that the flagships are blends, which is uncommon in our varietal craving country, another interesting feature of the wines is that they use micro oxygenation, a winemaking process in which oxygen is streamed into the wine as it ferments to soften it. Some feel this is cheating the traditional process (you would normally rack the wine, or move it from one barrel to the other thereby forcing air into the juice), but many others think it’s a great way to improve wines by adding a measured amount of air into them to soften them. For mid-tier wines, it’s just fine, personally.
Without further ado, let’s get to it. Georgetta and I sampled MANY wines. The Big House Red and White, Cardinal Zin, and four varietal wines that have recently been launched by the company. Given that there are seven wines, I’ll just give the Cliff Notes on each rather than going into my normal detail:
We started with 2 whites:
The Wine: 2009 Big House White
The Grapes: 56% Malvasia Bianca, 22% Muscat Canelli, 18% Viognier, 4% Rousanne
Cliff Notes: The grapes used for this wine are extremely fragrant, fruity, and floral varieties so the wine smells of melon, gardenia, pear, and peach. It’s a big bowl of fruit and flowers. The palate is very soft, with lots of melon, pineapple, pear, and kiwi flavors. It also kind of tastes like honeysuckle and has a touch of sweetness.
Drink or down the sink: This is a very drinkable white, and great to keep on hand for a hot summer night when you need something light, cool, and refreshing. Georgetta’s strength in harmonious blending is apparent here — these varieties all share common threads but are generally not assembled, but this wine proves they should be! A great deal for $10.
The Wine: 2009 The Birdman Pinot Grigio
The Grapes: 82% Pinot Grigio, 8% Malvasia Bianca, 3% Muscat Canelli, 2% Viognier, 5% “other” whites
Cliff Notes: This is a refreshing, silky wine with a burst of peach, nectarine, pineapple, and apricot fruit on the nose and the initial palate. The finish is smooth, but there’s a little prickle of lemony acid and a hint of spice that gives this wine a bit of umph and makes it refreshing.
Drink or down the sink: I like this better than the Big House White. It’s got more flavor, I like the acid, and I found it very refreshing. As we enter the hotter weather, this is a candidate for porch wine, and you’ll find me with a glass for sure.
We then had 5 reds….
The Wine: 2008 Big House Red
The Grapes: (there are 13, so I’ll just list the top 4) 26% Syrah, 13% Petit Sirah, 9% Grenache, 9% Montepulciano
Cliff Notes: This wine smells Italian to me, even though it only contains smaller amounts of Italian varieties. It’s a very light, simple red that would be good with a slight chill from time in the fridge. It had a blackberry character, with some sour cherry and very light tannins and acid. Although I liked this wine, I have to say that I was expecting a little more. I tried Big House Reds pre-acquisition and it had a little more flavor and body. Hopefully this wine suffered due to a poor vintage (’08 was hot) and the 2009 will be better.
Drink or down the sink: I would drink this wine, but, as I stated, with some time in the fridge. It’s a nice porch wine for people looking for something slightly heavier than a Rosé. It went well with my salad, so I think it would be a versatile pairing wine as well.
The Wine: The Lineup
The Grapes: 44% Grenache, 41% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre
Cliff Notes: Dark fruit like blackberry, plum, and black cherry hop out of the glass and into your nose, not to mention a good dose of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and pepper. This wine is delicious — it’s like a berry cobbler and a cup of coffee. Georgetta sites that this wine is three different angles coming together — “it’s a wife, a husband, and their funny friend (that would be Mourvèdre)” that blend seamlessly.
Drink or down the sink: This was hands down my favorite of the entire line. A wine with great fruit, complex flavors that isn’t too heavy. This is a wonderful wine and a great example of what the Central Coast of California can offer for a great price.
The Wine: The Slammer
The Grape: 100% Syrah
Cliff Notes: Muted dark fruit, raisins, and bitter tannins with lots of saddle leather. The wine was slightly out of balance with a bit too much tannin and not enough fruit to weigh it out. It lacked a bit of the complexity that I enjoy in a Syrah.
Drink or down the sink: Sorry Georgetta, this would probably be a down the sink for me. My love of the Lineup outweighs my distaste for this wine, which I found lacking in plush fruit, spice, and general power that I like in my Syrah.
The Wine: 2006 The Prodigal Son (nice play on words since Petit Sirah was kind of cast aside in France as being too rustic, but has returned and been welcomed home in Cali. See the Wikipedia article to learn about the Prodigal Son and get the reference)
The Grape: 100% Petit Sirah
Cliff Notes: Georgetta described this wine as “dark, rich, and attractive” and she’s right. Petit Sirah is a brawny wine, and this one proves that, but it also has a certain delicacy to it that I really liked. A simpler Petit Sirah than many I’ve had, this wine had nice chocolate notes and black, ripe fruit that burst forth from the glass into your nose and delivered on the palate. I liked the vanilla and caramel hints too — this is from the American Oak the wine sits in for 12 months.
Drink or down the sink: For hamburgers on the grill or barbeque/grilling out, this is a great casual wine and should be on the list.
The Wine: Cardinal Zin
The Grapes: 80% Zinfandel, 10% Mourvèdre, 8% Carignane, 2% Petit Sirah
Cliff Notes: I had this wine years ago and remember it being a big, rich, spicy, fruity Zinfandel. That’s the kind that I love because if you’re going to be have something fruit forward go big, or go home. Although I liked this wine, I just didn’t think there was enough brambly raspberry, blackberry, and ripe plum fruit. The wine fell a little flat for me. I didn’t find it fruity enough, nor did I find it spicy enough.
Drink or down the sink: This is a good wine and a great pairing for grilled meats. That said, I think I’d rather drink “The Lineup” listed above than drink Cardinal Zin. Maybe they could use a little more Zin in future vintages? I think the wine would benefit.
All in all I was very happy with the wines that I tasted with Georgetta Dane. Big House makes some great values and make high quality stuff.
The reason for the press tour is the launch of the Big House Octavin, an octagonal box of wine that holds about 4 bottles and stays fresh for about 6 weeks. It reduces emissions by 55% and waste by 92%, so it’s environmentally friendly and great for those of us who are frequent sippers and sometimes forget to stop off to pick up a bottle. I encourage you to try a few of these and let me know what you think! And for $25, you can be sure that I’m going to pop an box of The Birdman in our fridge for the hot Georgia summer that’s inevitable…