by Andrew Chalk
We have talked about Oak Cliff Cellars before. Recall that this St. Helena, California, winery is owned by Jim and Maria Richardson, who live in Oak Cliff. That explains the name. All of the wines have California appellations (places of origin) on them.
I see Jim “JR” Richardson periodically as he is a frequent donor to charity events. However, these events don’t usually allow time to sit down and talk at length about the wines. For this reason, when he invited me as a guest at a recent wine tasting he was giving to members of the Oak Cliff Cellars wine club at Bridge Bistro I jumped at the invitation. As well as JR’s wines, guest Chef for the evening was Dallas veteran, Joel Harloff.
All of Oak Cliff Cellars wines are produced in small lots, some of fewer than 100 cases. While JR uses grapes from the well-known areas of Napa and Sonoma, he is something of an expert and a pathfinder in making use of grapes from the less well-known California area of Lake County. It provides excellent fruit at a fraction of the cost of better-known areas due to the lower land prices. He says “Our Rhone grapes are doing great! Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre. We get our Sauvignon Blanc grapes from another vineyard in Lake County. Also, our new Bordeaux blend to be released late spring is phenomenal – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot. Those are Wild Diamond Vineyard (Lake County) grapes as well”. The idea appears to be shared as other California producers from Napa and Sonoma are starting to do it as well. In a similar vein, JR goes to Mendocino for Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.
It was a Lake County wine that opened the evening: the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc ($22). It is less grassy and acidic than some examples of this varietal and therefore worked well as the aperitif wine. For the first course we paired a salad of jumbo crab meat with 2011 Chardonnay from Sonoma Valley ($24). The heavier, richer wine (despite it being unoaked it goes through a malolactic fermentation) was a solid foil for the rich, sweet crab meat.
We worked through an earthy 2011 Wild Diamond Vineyard Syrah ($30) from Lake County with moist, heart-warming braised beef and a full-bodied and fruity 2009 Firebrick Vineyard Zinfandel ($34) from Redwood Valley in Mendocino served with Duck Confit. The evening finished with an unctuous 2010 Firebrix Dessert Wine ($35/375ml) with the soft and sweet bread pudding dessert. The Wild Diamond Vineyard (mentioned several times here) was, interestingly enough, just sold to an attorney in Florida.
JR describes the (still ageing) 2013 wines as “Very nice. Really ripe. Our Zinfandel was gorgeous”. Nonetheless they will make the Zinfandel to have a feminine style, very nuanced. 15% alcohol, which is “big, but not too big”. Big things are happening from that 2013 harvest too. Oak Cliff Cellars is planning to make a Rosé of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre (a pink GSM no less!), and Syrah and Mourvedre as standalone varietals. In 2014 recent plantings will permit a varietal Grenache again.
Juniper & Porcini Braised Beef, Parmesan Polenta, Caponata and Natural Veal Sauce
It was a lot to take in but also a promising sign of a bountiful future for Oak Cliff Cellars.