Wine Advocate #196 – August 2011

I admit I have mixed feelings about the wines I tasted at Ojai with proprietor Adam Tolmach and winemaker Fabien Castel. On the positive side, the wines are classy, elegant and also very fairly priced considering the quality of what is in the bottle. At the same time, it is obvious yields aren’t particularly low, which is somewhat mystifying considering Tolmach works with first-rate sites and is clearly getting pristine fruit. Don’t get me wrong, these are excellent wines?but they could be truly great, and maybe beyond great. The cellars are kept cold year-round, while the approach to winemaking remains quite minimalist. All of the whites are fermented in barrel, with full malolactic fermentation and very low levels of new oak. The Pinots are aged on their lees and are racked only before bottling. The Pinots see 25-35% new oak, while the Syrahs see even less. In recent years Tolmach has begun experimenting with whole clusters for both his Pinots and Syrahs.

2008 Ojai Chardonnay-88
The 2008 Chardonnay, primarily young vines from Bien Nacido plus some Solomon Hills, is a beautifully layered, subtle wine. Lemon, flowers and minerals emerge from this tightly wound, focused white. This is an excellent value in California Chardonnay. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2016.

2008 Ojai Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard-90+
The 2008 Chardonnay Bien Nacido is gorgeous, vivid and creamy in the glass, but never loses sight of its essential minerality. The wine blossoms beautifully, with layers of citrus, white peaches and flowers. A vibrant finish rounds things out nicely. The old vines in Bien Nacido are mostly Clone 4. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2018.
Parker issue 190 review-88
The 2008 Chardonnay Bien Nacido tastes of green apple cider with some nectarine and white currants in the background. Medium-bodied, elegant, and fresh, it could use a bit more concentration and texture. Drink it over the next 2-3 years.

Adam Tolmach continues to dial back the intensity of his wines for reasons that escape me. The three Chardonnays I tasted were all certainly very good, but it seems to me that ten years ago they would have been even better.

2008 Ojai Chardonnay Clos Pepe Vineyard-92
The 2008 Chardonnay Clos Pepe is another of the more generous, richly textured wines in this lineup. It shows gorgeous up-front intensity and a voluptuous personality in its ripe, varietal fruit. The finish is quite intense yet sensual. The spring frost lowered yields dramatically at Clos Pepe to less than one ton per hectare. Anticipated maturity: 2012-2018.

2008 Ojai Chardonnay Solomon Hills-92
The 2008 Chardonnay Solomon Hills, from Dijon clones, is fatter and richer in the mouth than some of the other Chardonnays here. It shows gorgeous textural richness and plenty of ripe, varietal fruit while avoiding tropical notes. This is quite full and exuberant yet nicely balanced at the same time. This is a blend of Clone 76 and 95. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2018.

NV Ojai Ojai White-87
The NV Ojai White (Riesling, Chardonnay, Viognier) is a delicious white. White peaches, apricots, citrus and flowers flow gracefully from this attractive, tasty wine. The NV White is made up of the various barrels and lots that don’t fit into any of the estate’s other wines. This is the March 2010 bottling. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2014.

2009 Ojai Pinot Noir-88
The 2009 Pinot Noir shows lovely mid-palate juiciness in its sweet red cherries, licorice and crushed flowers. This is a pretty, if somewhat fleeting, frail Pinot that is best enjoyed while the fruit is vibrant. The Pinot Noir is mostly young vines from Bien Nacido, with some fruit from Solomon Hills, Presidio and Fe Ciega, basically the barrels that don’t make it into the vineyard-designate bottlings. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2014.

2008 Ojai Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard-90
The 2008 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido presents sweet red cherries, licorice and flowers, all of which come together gracefully on a delicate, mid-weight frame. This shows gorgeous inner perfume and sweetness through to the striking finish. Anticipated maturity: 2012-2020.

2008 Ojai Pinot Noir Clos Pepe Vineyard-91
The 2008 Pinot Noir Clos Pepe comes across as quite deep and rich in style. Dark red cherries, black pepper, sweet herbs and spices are some of the notes that flow from this intense Pinot. The spring frost lowered yields dramatically at Clos Pepe to less than one ton per hectare. Anticipated maturity: 2013-2020.

2008 Ojai Pinot Noir Fe Ciega-92
The 2008 Pinot Noir Fe Ciega, from a tiny vineyard in Santa Rita Hills, shows off a round, juicy personality laced with sweet red cherries. It is a highly expressive wine with gorgeous pliancy and depth, not to mention terrific overall balance. Anticipated maturity: 2012-2020.

2008 Ojai Pinot Noir Presidio-92
The 2008 Pinot Noir Presidio impresses for its highly nuanced inner perfume and silky tannins, both of which serve to add considerable complexity to the bold fruit. This is a truly striking, beautiful wine. Presidio is a biodynamically farmed vineyard. Anticipated maturity: 2012-2020.

2008 Ojai Pinot Noir Solomon Hills-93
The 2008 Pinot Noir Solomon Hills presents a more balsamic profile. Menthol and sweet spices wrap around a core of black cherries in this muscular, broad-shouldered Pinot. This is a fairly intense style for Ojai in this vintage, and it works beautifully. Anticipated maturity: 2012-2020.

2010 Ojai Rose-88
The 2010 Rose is mostly Syrah, with some Grenache and Riesling, all whole cluster pressed. It shows gorgeous vibrancy in its fruit and a focused, crystalline finish. This is very much in the house style, not to mention an absolutely delicious bottle of wine. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2013.

2009 Ojai Sauvignon Blanc Mcginley-89
The 2009 Sauvignon Blanc McGinley emerges from the glass with varietal aromatics of tomato leaf, sage and mint in a bold if slightly unusual style. McGinley is a warmer microclimate on the eastern side of the Santa Ynez Valley, which comes through in the wine’s body and depth. The Sauvignon was aged in French oak and the malolactic fermentation was blocked. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2018.

2007 Ojai Syrah Bien Nacido-88
The 2007 Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard is rich, powerful and dense, but also shows some rough contours that aren’t typical of Ojai. Herbal, green notes run through the wine that are also unusual here. The wine stayed longer in barrel than is typically the case. Of course, it is impossible to know if extended barrel age ultimately helped or hurt this wine. According to Tolmach, the 2007 vintage did not present any heat spikes that might have ultimately baked out some of the wilder elements in the wine. Ultimately, this isn’t as convincing as the best wines in the lineup. Anticipated maturity: 2014-2024.

2007 Ojai Syrah Melville Vineyard-94
The 2007 Syrah Melville shows off a virile, powerful personality imbued with dark fruit, black pepper, spices, licorice and earthiness. The wine blossoms beautifully in all directions, showing notable depth and length. The Melville could use another few years in bottle, but it is immensely gifted and strikingly beautiful. This is a distinctly firm, cool climate style. Anticipated maturity: 2014-2024.

2006 Ojai Syrah Presidio-93
The 2006 Syrah Presidio is super-impressive. An exciting array of dark fruit, leather, spices and licorice emerges from the glass in this vibrant, powerful wine. The Presidio possesses gorgeous depth and complexity, with hints of tobacco, leather, licorice and cedar that add further nuance on the muscular finish. Presidio is a biodynamically farmed vineyard. Anticipated maturity: 2014-2026.
Wine Advocate # 184 -89
From a vineyard site west of the Santa Rita Hills, Adam Tolmach produced the 2006 Syrah Presidio Vineyard. This backward effort displays notes of damp earth, tobacco leaf, and hints of sweet black cherries, blackberries, and forest floor. The wine’s substantial tannins are accompanied by beautiful purity and depth as well as a full-bodied style. It is one of the more elegant, French-structured Syrahs in this portfolio.
Wine Advocate # 177-91
Another bottled cuvee is the 2006 Syrah Presidio Vineyard. A dense purple color is followed by aromas of ground pepper, black olives, black cherries, and cassis. Medium to full-bodied with good acidity, high tannin, and a backward, French-styled personality, it requires 1-2 years of bottle age, and will provide enjoyable drinking over the following 10-12 years.

2007 Ojai Syrah Roll Ranch-93
The 2007 Syrah Roll Ranch comes across as decidedly powerful in style. This is the warmest microclimate Ojai works with, but it is the year that speaks loudest here. The vintage follows the drought year of 2006, and the berry size was quite small according to Adam Tolmach. The Roll Ranch is an intense, tannic wine that needs time to come around, but it is hugely fascinating. There is 2% Viognier co-fermented in the blend. Anticipated maturity: 2014-2022.

2008 Ojai Syrah Santa Barbara-88
The 2008 Syrah presents a decidedly masculine expression of blue and black fruit. Deceptively medium in body, the Syrah shows excellent depth and balance. This is mostly Bien Nacido Syrah, with small amounts of Grenache and Mourvedre. Anticipated maturity: 2013-2023.

2008 Ojai Syrah Solomon Hills-92
Blackberries, smoke, tar and black olives are some of the notes that emerge from the 2008 Syrah Solomon Hills. Mineral notes appear later, giving the wine its sense of energy and focus. Crushed rocks, black pepper and spices add complexity on the finish. This is another terrific effort from Ojai. Anticipated maturity: 2012-2023.

2007 Ojai Syrah Thompson Vineyard-92
The 2007 Syrah Thompson wafts from the glass with high-toned floral aromatics that lead into dark red fruit, flowers, licorice, mint and spices. This is just over 75% Syrah, with the remainder Grenache and Mourvedre. It is one of the more feminine wines among these Syrahs and is quite beautiful. Anticipated maturity: 2012-2017.

2007 Ojai Syrah White Hawk Vineyard-93
The 2007 Syrah White Hawk is round, sweet and harmonious. Plums, smoke, licorice are some of the notes that emerge from this rich, deep Syrah. There is plenty of power and structure supporting the fruit all the way through to the long, persistent finish. This is texturally brilliant and striking. Anticipated maturity: 2012-2022.

2009 Ojai Viognier Roll Ranch-87
The 2009 Viognier Roll Ranch was picked at 22 Brix and emphasizes the grape’s mineral and floral qualities. In my view it is a bit on the clenched side and doesn’t seem to have enough fruit. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2014.