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09.03.08

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Phaedra

Wine Tasting Room of the Week

Micro, Meso & Martinelli

By James Knight

This week's lesson in winespeak will aid in tilting your nose confidently high in tasting rooms while heaping shame upon wine marketing hacks. Sounds like fun; let's get started!

Gallons of ink are devoted to touting the "unique microclimate" of a given vineyard or region. This widely abused term refers to a sound concept, and the specific word for that concept is "mesoclimate." What's the difference? In the big picture, coastal California has a Mediterranean climate. Without getting too technical, "micro" is a prefix that, very generally, in layman's terms, means "really small." Napa Valley: not small. In viticulture, microclimate usually means the temperature, light and humidity within the canopy of the vines. Differences in wine quality may result when just because the grapes were shaded by too many leaves.

Mesoclimate is right in the middle. Calistoga is hotter than Carneros, for instance, or the bottom of a vineyard may be a different story than uphill, 100 meters away.

When Googled, "unique mesoclimate" returns 324 results, while "unique microclimate" yields 13,800. Since everyone already says microclimate when what is meant is mesoclimate, what's the point? Consider the following exchange:

Bob: "I just love the big, ebullient black currant flavor of Sauvignon Blanc—and those manly, gripping tannins."

Marta: "Oh, are you talking about Cabernet Sauvignon?"

Bob: "That's right, Sauvignon Blanc, king of red grapes, that makes the great wines of Bordeaux."

Marta: "You mean Cabernet Sauvignon. Sauvignon Blanc is white."

Bob: "Geez, do you have to be such a wine snob?"

While it's futile to rail against something that's already been stoppered and sealed in the minds of millions, there could be more utility here than that it's nice to call things by their right names. Wine is a value-added product; apparently, the more hokum that's heaped on to it, the more value is added. Go forth with your knowledge.

OK, school's out, let's crack open a bottle! Martinelli Winery is a great place to explore Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Chardonnay dispersed throughout unique mesoclimates within the Russian River Valley. Veteran grower Lee Martinelli Sr. farms the grapes—no doubt, expertly managing vine canopy microclimate as well—and the winemaking team led by Helen Turley crafts them in small lots.

The 2005 Martinelli Road Chardonnay ($48) is grown in a cool depression, and it's got a clean, steely character. The 2005 Zio Tony Ranch Chardonnay ($50), a few miles away on a southeast-facing ridge, is more full-bodied, with rich flavors of baked apple. Both of these mesoclimatic insights are, of course, nearly buried under barrel-fermented layers of bountiful butterscotch, caramel and cream, a marriage of middle-climates and medium-plus toast. But they are far, far from middlin'.

Martinelli Winery, 3360 River Road, Windsor. Open daily, 10am–5pm. 707.525.0570.


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