Once in a while, I get a wine sample in the mail that knocks my teeth out—in a good way, I mean, figuratively speaking—and it’s a huge problem, because then I end up drinking it. All of it. It’s an occupational hazard, really; my consumption follows a constant sine curve from too much to too little and back again, and it’s always the great bottle that pushes me back toward too much. Because what else do you do with a truly transporting wine? Make vinegar? No! Certain wines are so yummy they simply must be drunk, lest the gods frown down upon us.
My most recent experience in this vein was a new bottling from Pine Ridge called Fortis. Not a cheap wine, mind you: This baby retails at $135 a bottle, which gave me a kind of sticker shock on sight. But holy smokes is Fortis delicious, starting out in this kind of expanding blossom of balanced flavor and then suddenly catching your midpalate and bursting into a mouth-filling complexity that hangs on and on and on. It hangs on so long, in fact, that well after you’ve finished that steak, and even finished the last of a stinky cheese, and even adjourned with a friend to the deepest couch in sight, you find yourself still drinking it.
I’ll probably never get to drink this wine again, but that’s all right; the memory will stay with me. So will a surprisingly lighthearted conversation I had with the winemaker, Stacy Clark. When I asked about the Fortis project, she was refreshingly unpretentious: She just said a consultant looked at their lineup and said, in essence, Hey, you guys need a reserve wine.
So Clark was tasked with creating one, which is where the fun part started: She had 225 acres of vines to draw from, scattered across five appellations, and all of it very well known to her. She had enormous diversity, in other words, but also land with which she was intimately familiar. So she got to pick and choose, and do things right, and have some fun. They agreed in advance that the wine didn’t have to have a dominant varietal to put on the label, didn’t have to use all the standard Cab/Bordeaux blending varietals, and didn’t have to be able to claim any AVA broader than “Napa.” It just had to be the best wine Clark could make. She told me all about the vinification, and you can read about it online if you like, but one remark stayed with me. She was talking about how you keep tinkering with your blends right up until the moment a wine goes into the bottle.
“Thank God you do bottle, so you have to stop!” she said.
Like so many other pursuits in life, writing included.
2004 Pine Ridge Fortis
Grapes: 74 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent Merlot, 9 percent Malbec, 7 percent Petit Verdot
Appellations the Grapes Are From: 79 percent Rutherford, 9 percent Carneros, 9 percent Oakville, 3 percent Stags Leap
Aging: 14 months in 75 percent new French oak barrels
Alcohol: N/A, but I’m sure it’s substantial
Price: $135 from the winery (the only place you can get it)
My Tasting Notes: See above.