28 March 2011

Cliff Creek Cellars

UPDATE: As of September 2011, the wines of Cliff Creek are now available in Memphis! Welcome to the River City.

Cliff Creek Cellars rests on a family farm that was in the cattle business for 100 years before vines were planted in 2000. There are various theories about organic versus biodynamic versus conventional farming, but I'd be pretty excited to grow anything atop a century's worth of cow pasture. Before I ever saw the periodic table, I was taught the beneficial properties of manure in adding nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus to the soil. Well-composted manure is a wonderful thing.

All three of these are sourced from Sams Valley, Gold Hill, part of the Rogue Valley of Southern Oregon. And big thumbs up to the winery for having a page dedicated to the tasting room dogs.

2006 Cliff Creek Syrah
$25, 14.3% abv.
50% American Oak, 50% French Oak

Black cherry, plum, touch of tart raspberry, smooth beginning with a tannic finish. Bright character, nice and fruity but not crazy. It's rare that I say this, but I think this would be a lot of fun on its own as a first wine to start a dinner party. It's bright and happy, tasty and approachable, but not overly complicated. It will help people get their palates ready for multiple wines and courses.

2006 Cliff Creek Claret
$25, 14.3% abv.
43% Cabernet Franc, 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot
90% French Oak, 10% American Oak

The nose is rich and dark with stewed fruit, prunes, and dried cherries. Excellent structure all around, and the low tannins really allow you to enjoy the fruit without getting worn out. I thought it was a perfect pairing for the steak topped with red wine compound butter, until...

2005 Cliff Creek Claret
$25, 13.9% abv.
55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Cabernet Franc, 8% Merlot
85% French Oak, 15% American Oak

The 2005 is very similar in general characteristics, but much smoother and really at a perfect point in its aging. The tannins are mellowed out to sublime smoothness, and there's an elegance that comes from catching a well-constructed wine at just the ideal time to drink it. Highly recommended if you want to slip a ringer into a blind tasting of Meritage or Bordeaux.

Note to my fellow Tennesseans:Aside from Oregon, Ohio, and California, we happen to live in the fourth state where these wines are distributed. They are currently available in Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga. If they come to Memphis, I'll update this post in the future.

Note: These wines were received as samples.


fredric koeppel said...

It's always interesting to see, when comparing wines like these Clarets from 2006 and 2005, how different factors influence aspects like degrees of alcohol, different proportions in the percentages of the grapes in the blend and some jiggling of the proportion of American to French oak, all to the higher purpose of achieving a sustainable "house style" with a sense of vintage individuality. sometimes when I get some Big Deal cabernets, I'll save them to taste until the next vintage comes out, so there's a chance for comparison.

Benito said...


I'm always happy to see or hear something like, "We needed to add more Merlot this year to soften it out." Balance is something that is so crucial but is difficult to reduce to a score or blurb on the back label.