Affordable, Ageable California White
Stopped off today at a combined Qupé/Au Bon Climat tasting at Eleven Madison Park that was organized by Tony DiDio of Lauber Imports, the wholesaler of these wines here in NYC. Both Jim Clendenen of ABC and Bob Lindquist of Qupé were there, and listening to them talk I was struck once again by the certainty that if they weren't both busy making wine, they would make a great sportscasting team—in fact, if the wine biz ever goes belly-up, they've probably got a great future together doing radio broadcasts of UCLA basketball games.
In any case, one of the most interesting aspects of the tasting was having the opportunity to taste the current vintage of the Qupé Marsanne, the 2006, alongside the 1994 (which isn't available, but Lindquist brought it along anyway). If you're ever hunting for a terrific, ageable California white that won't set you back a fortune—and that is, I'd bet, much more ageable than many wines costing much more than it does—track this wine down. It's made primarily with fruit from the Ibarra-Young vineyard, usually with a touch of Roussanne, and it's perennially one of my favorite affordable California whites.
2006 Qupé Santa Ynez Valley Marsanne ($20) Bright and nervy, with a waxy floral scent and clean lemon and lemon zest flavors. Lindquist notes that '06 was one of the coolest Septembers they've ever had in the region; that shows in the vibrant freshness of this wine. The structure suggests that this vintage is a good one for aging, if you have the urge to put it away.
1994 Qupé Marsanne (not available) Light gold in color, with complex lanolin and tropical fruit notes in the aroma. Silkier than I would have expected in terms of texture. Fruit that recalls green apples; fresh acidity; and an almond note on the finish. Drinking just fine—in fact, drinking spectacularly for a 13-year-old California white—and with several years of life left in it.
And while I'm on the subject of good, affordable whites, it's also worth the effort to track this down:
2005 Au Bon Climat Pinot Blanc/Pinot Gris ($18) This was barrel-fermented, Clendenen said, and to me it shows in the wine's leesy, smoky nose (no new wood, by the way). In the mouth this is all smoky apple and Pinot Blanc muskiness, with nice citrusy acidity throughout. I think it's unlikely that it will age as well as the Marsanne above, but it sure tastes good right now.