Muscardini Sonoma Valley Wines
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Muscardini Sonoma Valley Wines

Michael Muscardini’s Italian family has had roots in California winemaking since the early 20th century. The present Muscardini winery, however, is more a 21st century Sonoma phenomenon. Muscardini has sent me five limited release, artisanal wines to taste, three with Sonoma Valley appellations, one the always interesting Dry Creek Valley, and a Barbera from Mendocino.

I began with the Barbera. There is a certain free-spirited independence about Mendocino that has always attracted my attention. Combine this with my penchant for Barbera, which I believe can attain glory in New World manifestations. The Muscardini Pauli Ranch, Ukiah Valley, 2010 Mendocino Barbera, $36, is a product of the promising Ukiah Valley benchland (along the Russian River). The wine is aged a year in French and Hungarian oak, 30% new. This Barbera is violet in color, with a nose of deep red fruit, some spiciness, mountain herb, a touch of mocha, an equal touch of milk chocolate. The wine gets along well with the mouth, filling it smoothly, weaving some energetic acidity with gentle tannins, all in a successful effort to bring across further red fruit: plum and raspberry leading the charge. I found a greater number of layers here than I am accustomed to with Barbera, a welcome sophisticated edge, and a fine long finish. The fruit does not punch, but it lasts and lasts. The finish brings to mind the concentration of a quality candied fruit.

The Muscardini 2010 Sonoma Valley, Rancho Salina blend, $48, is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. Why fiddle with such a tried and true friendship? I shall begin at the end here by stating that, although this ambitious wine could use a few years of cellar patience, it performs well now (and was restrained and developed enough to accompany baked chicken, with my side of shitake mushrooms and wilted spinach, prepared for an onion-averse guest). Dark berries, chocolate, black pepper and oak characterize this wine’s aromas, with plenty of berries on the palate, rosemary, sage and licorice. I felt a touch of alcoholic heat (one that cellaring might temper a bit), but at the same time the wine is inherently, constitutionally smooth, with a soft mouthfeel helped along by involving yet friendly tannins. The arc of the wine, from initial attack, through the mid-palate, to the finish, is well proportioned, showcasing a balance of quality elements. At each stage this is a sophisticated wine, and an honest one. You do not in anywise taste dirt, but you certainly get the sense that this wine is the product of the earth.

The Muscardini 2011 Alice’s Vineyard, Sonoma Valley Rosato di Sangiovese, $22, is a 100% Sangiovese rosé, neutral barrel-fermented to dryness, then aged six months in neutral French oak. This wine, although light in many respects, shows real personality. It begins with a trip of red aromas: strawberry, rose floral, and ripe raspberry. The palate adds citrus and spicy notes while continuing on the red berry theme. Finish is clean. I had in mind pairing this wine with my Chesapeake crab cakes, but it was so effective as an aperitif, and there was so little left, that I followed it with a white (a Spanish Albariño), and enhanced a vegetable dish with the scant remains. Yes, you could call this a “summer wine,” but then you would have to wait for summer.

I truly enjoyed the Muscardini 2009 Tesoro, Sonoma Valley Red Blend, $46, on a number of levels. “Tesoro” means “treasure” in Italian. Sangiovese (39%) from Monte Rosso vineyards leads this blend, with Cabernet Sauvignon (33%) and Syrah (28%) in a Super Tuscan style. The wine is deep ruby in color with outstanding clarity. Aromas of rose and violet flowers lead the nose, backed up by cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla from the spice shelf. Acidity, tannin and fruitiness are nicely balanced each with the others, and yet each element is assertive as well, melding well with some palpable alcoholic heat. Fruit is blackberry and very ripe black plum, and this coexists with a level of chocolate and vanilla. I shall use the term “assertive” a second time, if only to stress that the flavor and texture forwardness of this wine has a gentle side, represented by the long flavorful, balanced finish. There is a great deal here. I could see this wine coming together on an enhanced level with a few years of aging, limit: three. Stylistically, this is the type of wine that pushes my button, bringing out the best from three substantial European grapes. A winner.

The Muscardini 2009 Unti Vineyards Dry Creek Valley Syrah, $32, is the product of biodynamically grown Dry Creek grapes. Color is deep and dark. On the nose, my first impression is alcohol, but the alcohol arrived with complements of big fruit, black plum and raspberry, concentrated violet, twigs and dried leaves, a touch of tobacco barn, a layer of chocolate. This is a big wine with plenty of up-front fruit on the palate, primarily a brambly raspberry. Tannins are soft yet durable through the arc of this wine. In style, this is more a joie de vivre wine, a full-bodied food wine, rather than the stuff of solace or mediation. The wine finishes well, but drain the bottle at your own risk: the alcohol is almost 16%.


Verdict: Proud and Direct


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food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award


Michael Muscardini in the Monte Terra Vineyard
Michael Muscardini in the Monte Terra Vineyard


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