Spotlight on Unusual California White Wine: Arnot Roberts Old Vine White 2012
Another important development in the best unusual whites coming out of California is a renewed appreciation for old vine field blends. Long the format for the best Zinfandel based wines in California, the old-vine field blend has a place with white wines too. Arnot Roberts makes one of the best.
Old-Vines and The Spirit of Learning
The Compagni Portis vineyard, located at the bottom of Mount Veeder in Sonoma, is one of the oldest white vineyards in California, dating back to the late 19th century. Today the vineyard houses an eclectic mix of white grapes planted in 1954. Varieties include Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Sylvaner, Colombard, Trousseau Gris, Burger, and Roter Veltliner. Soils are white, volcanic ash. This may seem odd, but in fact Compagni Portis is a nod to the old white varieties of California’s past, pre-dating the surge of Chardonnay that began in the late 1970’s and exploded in the 80’s and 90’s.
Such wines bear philosophical importance not just because of their respect for history but also because they embrace uncertainty. With so many grapes it is near impossible to ensure each vintage is consistent. Each grape variety will do differently in each year, and then they are all blended together. That takes courage, great adaptability and an appetite to learn. It’s a life-character that mainstream California whites simply don’t engage.
It’s this appetite to learn from both the past and the ever-undulating present that separates the best producers from the mediocre.
The wine is stainless steel fermented and aged in neutral oak. The wine has a musky aroma with some peach and other orchard fruits. It is not an aromatic wine but rather focused on palate flavour and texture. That texture is a wonderful creamy voluptuousness, coupled with a mid-weight palate, considerable freshness and a tangy citrus/mineral finish. It reminds me of a very good south of France white wine made in a high acid style. This field blend is delicious, diverse and quite friendly for a wide variety of foods. I had it with Vietnamese green scallion tofu and Vietnamese ham over rice. 13% ABV.
Comparing this wine with Arnot Robert’s Ribolla and Wind Gap’s Trousseau Gris shows the diversity of styles possible in California white. It’s really quite exciting.
For more on Arnot-Roberts, see the SF Chronicle’s article from 2013 when they were named winemakers of the year.
Very Good+ to Excellent
$35 from the winery