L’Angevin and Peirson Meyer wines are so consistently special, they can resolve the bias of even the most severe doubter that has bumped up against one too many bottles of mediocre, simple, and frankly bad California Chardonnay. If I had my own winery in Napa Valley, I would solicit Alan Peirson to manage my vineyards and Robbie Meyer to craft my wines. And, without question, I would attempt to recruit Lesley Warner to run my winery operations and hospitality management. They are all that good. While all three of them cut some teeth in a kaleidoscope of influential ways at the Peter Michael Winery, with individual stints at Sage Vineyards and Lewis Cellars too, for the past ten years they have primarily focused on their own joint project, first L’Angevin and now their namesake Peirson Meyer wines. Just recently, I had the delightful opportunity to spend an afternoon with Alan and Lesley at their Napa home, tasting through recent releases.
I stumbled across my first bottle of L’Angevin, the 2003 Charles Heintz Vineyard, five years ago during dinner with a couple of wine buddies at Max Downtown restaurant in Hartford, Connecticut. We knew nothing at all about the wine or its producers and ordered on an informed hunch. Since that serendipitous evening, I have bought L’Angevin, and now many of those same wines under the newer Peirson Meyer moniker (a label they introduced a few years ago to showcase their limited production, vineyard designated, artisan bottlings) in every vintage.
I dialed the phone number on the popped cork siting at the table with my wine buddies, and connected with Lesley right there from the restaurant to secure a few bottles of the almost sold out ’03 Charles Heintz. Never having done that before, I let her know how blown away we were by the wine, and that my friend thought it tasted like a Peter Michael Mon Plaisir or Point Rouge. We were stopped in our tracks when Lesley confirmed their Peter Michael heritage. So on this afternoon, around a lively and engaged tasting table in his Napa Valley home office, I replayed that story for Alan just so he could correct our blind guess, suggesting that the wine we tasted that evening was more reminiscent of a Peter Michael Belle Côte. Who am I to argue?
Alan is artist turned vineyard manager. Like other sculptors I know, he combines the mastery of nuance with the discipline of skilled and honed methods. He acts with purpose and seems to always be clear of the path he is on. The beauty of these wines result from a collaborative approach that sometimes requires Peirson to yield to Meyer in the cellar and vice versa in the vineyard. Alan aims to coax the vineyard site into the character of the wine. He demonstrated the results of that through the style differences existing in two of his single vineyard wines where rootstock, clone, farming, and wine making techniques are identical and only the site varies. Alan claims this scenario creates the best possible way of isolating and demonstrating “terroir”.
I was with a group of nine friends and colleagues who were experiencing these wines for the first time. We tasted the following:
There were two surprises for me in this tasting. First, the Cabernet Sauvignon from the strong 2007 vintage made from hillside Versant Vineyard fruit, a spot on Pritchard Hill, was absent of any real hard edges showing a depth and richness in its fruit core that I had not seen in their previous Cabs, and a silky and creamy mouth feel that has to land this wine at the head of the class even in this vintage where so many wineries will produce outstanding Cabernet. The wine finishes long and firm. At $85 it is a reasonable buy for its outstanding quality. It is also worth buying because they will only have access to this Pritchard Hill fruit source through the 2009 vintage.
My second, and even more dazzling surprise was discovering that you can protect the aromatics and flavor nuance of Sauvignon Blanc and introduce a richness to the mouth feel without over oaking or obfuscating the varietal characteristics that I am searching for when I choose these wines. Alan explained the Peirson Meyer approach to this richness on the palate relies on restrained flavoring properties of neutral oak and extended exposure to lees. I should not have been surprised. It is the classic stylistic viewpoint they have achieved here year in and year out with Chardonnay; purity of fruit, richness without ever being too heavy, pinpoint balance between fruit and acidity, with mild oiliness and classic vineyard-nuanced aromatics, only this time it is all immediately apparent and accessible in the release year. The Chardonnays almost never show themselves as well until at least two years in the cellar. I strongly recommend this Sauvignon Blanc and at $25 it is a steal and excellent way to begin to understand Peirson Meyer styling.
The 2008 Chardonnays are once again on point. They are evidence, as Alan points out, that the speculation around smoke-affected wines from the proximity of the 2008 fires are mythical at best. I am skipping specific tasting notes for each Chardonnay, since they once again are all consistent with the winery’s house style of restraint, elegant mouth feel, designated vineyard character, complete balance, purity of fruit, and lasting richness and flavor from attack through finish. Also, you can find past vintage tasting notes, which are primarily mid-90 point Robert Parker scores here on their site. Again, the Chardonnays always seem to benefit from some age, and I have come to learn that you need some vision when tasting these wines in their release year, and should trust that some of the acidity and leanness will resolve itself and the sexily styled mouth feel and aromatics start unfolding with just a little patience. The 2008 Laughlin and the 2008 “untitled #4” appear to be the best bets for earlier consumption. The “untitled” is a blend of various vineyards and lots, and provide Alan and Robbie with an opportunity to move beyond vineyard character and to create their best expression of Chardonnay in any single vintage. From a personal style point of view, my favorite Pierson Meyer wine, year in and out, is the Charles Heintz.
Lesley Warner-Peirson completes the Peirson Meyer experience with her strong customer service and attention to detail. Once a freelance chef and then resident chef at Peter Michael Winery, Lesley now does an impeccable job at the front of the Peirson Meyer house. She is a special and sincere lady and the person to call to secure some of these wines. As if the wines were not consistently compelling enough, then doing business with Lesley will insure you keep coming back year after year. You can call the winery at 707-944-9566 or simply click this link to order the wines.
I honestly can not recommend these wines strongly enough. They are absolutely making some of the finest Chardonnays in California and it has been amazing to me how they continue to fly below everybody’s radar screen even after being Parker-ized with mid-ninety point scores year after year. If you want to reinvigorate your appetite for California Chardonnay, these are the wines to drink. And then when someone asks you what you think of the anti-Chardonnay ground swell, you can look at them quizzically as Alan did with me and respond, “What anti-Chardonnay movement?”