Nicholas Cole Cellars: Rock Solid
November 10, 2010 by Doug Haugen
When we first got our hands on a few bottles of wine from Nicholas Cole Cellars, they came with a word of sage advice from Jeanie Inglis-Chowanietz, the General Manager of NCC: “For optimum experience, please decant or wait a day after opening before tasting.” She said that while they were elegant, they are powerfully built. Truer words were never spoken.
Never one to follow instructions exactly as they’re given, the first time we gave these wines a go, we cracked open the bottles and let them sit a mere eight hours before tasting. We revisited the wines a couple of weeks later (new bottles), and this time we gave them a full twenty-four hours to breathe before diving in.
While a decanter or aerator would have adequately done the job, it was interesting to see the difference the extra time did to the wines. They were all really impressive and delicious at the eight-hour mark; but at twenty-four hours, further complexity became evident, adding a lot of points of interest not noticed on the first go-around.
Taken together, these wines are something to behold. They’re all sturdy, structured and balanced as a brick shithouse, while still pretty, graceful, interesting, sexy and nuanced as a chapel designed by Steven Holl. You could take shelter during a hurricane and find satori in the parallax at the same time.
The NCC portfolio is phenomenal, both in the common use of the term and in the philosophical sense: an appearance or immediate object of awareness in experience–it calls to mind a parade of one’s own experiences, preferences and prejudices. That being said, I’ll try to describe these wines with an effort to concision.
Nicholas Cole Cellars, founded by winemaker Mike Neuffer, started out with a 2001 Claret, crushed and fermented at the facilities of Andrew Will Winery, followed by aging and bottling at NCC’s newly completed production facility in Walla Walla–later vintages were named “Camile” after his grandmother, with an amorphous constitution depending upon the availability of desirable fruit. Beginning in 2005, NCC began to boast blends from the Neuffer Estate Vineyards, showcasing Mike’s vision of Walla Walla terrior.
Columbia Valley Red Wine
45% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Franc, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Petit Verdot
At first visit, this right-bank Bordeaux blend had a nose hinting at lemon zest, loganberry, and a little blackberry in the mix. Very clean. At our second approach, other notes rose to the surface including anise, cedar bark, spices and dark chocolate.
On the palate, this had perfect-pitch balance and the texture of soft velvet. Dark and palate-coating, unctuous and bold, the Camille has notes of olive and blackberry with hints of wood that are subtle and complementary. Baker’s chocolate and pepper rise to the surface along with fennel, tree bark and peat. This is a lush, fruit-driven wine, and will make an even more striking figure in a few years at its debutante ball.
Walla Walla Valley Red Wine
61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot
On the nose of this left-bank Bordeaux blend, you get a sense of weight. Heavy and voluptuous with vanilla, cedar, currant, blackberry and a hint of cherry candy.
On the palate, it’s really nice, with vanilla frosting, blackberry and currant with an extended creamy finish like a decadent dessert you reward yourself with after a long day. But with a smooth and velvety texture, this wine is full, round, curvy and sexy like a plus-sized burlesque headliner at center stage. A sturdy, well-built wine with sultry ornamentation, it’s a lot like seeing photos of your wise, generous, amply-bosomed old grandmother when she was tearing it up as a flapper during the Roaring 20′s.
Walla Walla Valley Estate Syrah
If this were a beauty pageant, the Dauphiné would be wearing the crown and trying not to let her mascara run. This Syrah can raise an eyebrow like Lazarus from the tomb from start to finish–a stunning example of what Washington Syrah can do.
It has a dramatic attack on the nose like timpani barreling into a crescendo in the soundtrack to some dark and stormy night, offering up aromas of spicy fruit preserves, smoke and characteristic black pepper. Inky in color with olfactory suggestions of wet soil and peat, it’s entrancing as the Dead Marshes outside the gates of Mordor. Burying your nose in the glass and breathing deep, you can’t help but break into an innocently malicious grin while figuratively wringing your hands in anticipation of an unfolding plot.
If the Dauphiné is gothic on the nose, however, it’s downright rustic on the palate. Rich and masculine like a well-stocked humidor with pipe tobacco and wood, it also summons old leather like a saddle used for generations. Bacon and beef fat suggest a cast-iron campfire cookout, and after a creamy finish, this city-slicker finds himself hearing “Ramblin’ Man” by Hank Williams Sr., while reminiscing about a home on the range never seen. Like both the song and the wine, “I wouldn’t settle down if I could.” My challenge now will be to see if I can put a bottle away to see what it’s like in a few years. (But, I’m not placing any bets.)
Any of the Nicholas Cole Cellars wines would make great additions to your table and your cellar, and the price point gives it a really high QPR (quality-price ratio). Be sure to buy two bottles–one to stow and one to go–because while they’re beautiful now, they’ll be downright dignified later.