TN: Copain Dinner With Wells Guthrie In The OC

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Frank Murray III
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TN: Copain Dinner With Wells Guthrie In The OC

#1 Post by Frank Murray III » May 17th, 2015, 3:13 pm

We had a great evening last night, 17 of us, plus Wells Guthrie and Alexis Iaconis from Copain, joining us for dinner in the OC. We had The Loft @ Montage do a six course menu for us. We had 3 champagnes to kick off, including a 99 Salon that arrived almost at the tine we were teeing up the Chard so we got to sip on that bugger, too.

I've been with the winery as a customer now since the 2003 vintage and I have stood by them as they changed, with the big change in 2006/2007 when Wells shifted the style of the wines and left all the Parker scores behind. As I look back now, I really appreciate him taking that step and in the midst of all the b/s that the critics promote, he left those scores, big wines and heavy fruit laden wines behind and began making stuff that would age, and that would go with food. The 2007s, which were the vintage for PN when he really made the shift, the 2 Kiser Pinot Noirs are aging fabulous and are some of the best red wines from CA I have been fortunate enough to taste and still own. The 12s last night from Kiser, and the 12 Wendling that sits across the highway, those wines are freeking stunning and it's no wonder that with both of them, and Bearwallow that sits next door to Kiser, are some of the best pinot noir I have tasted this year. Then looking at the Laureles Grade Chardonnay, that is really emerging for me too as a heavyweight with anything else out there for chard. And while I don't intend to pass over the Syrahs below, I will let my notes from the AM tasting when I previewed all the wines stand as they are, as I admit by the time I got to the syrahs, I was getting shot with my palate. The Brosseau did seem to have loosened up, the Baker was balanced and flavorful and the James Berry a cool study in evolution.

As a final comment, I want to affirm the idea of relationships. I have made some great ones over the years, with Wells and I last night kicking around some old memories of how we met way back in the early 2000s and went on this cool wine journey together. I am proud to say that it's the relationship for me that matters, not the scores or the drive to chase what is popular. I've begun finally to really settle into the wines I like, to buy and drive forward with the wineries that I believe are making the style of things that work for me, like Copain. It doesn't matter the vintage, the noise around us to chase what the critics laud--it's about the relationship, of trusting that year after the year, the wines will get better, the focus will stay on pushing to be the best and make great wines and knowing that the winery will get it right. To Wells and the winery, thanks for staying your course, for making wines that rock and for continuing to support the relationship.
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COPAIN DINNER WITH WELLS GUTHRIE IN THE OC - The Loft @ Montage, Laguna Beach CA (5/16/2015)

We've done a # of these Copain dinners over the years and I really enjoy these evenings with Wells, his wines and the OC gang. For sure, the wines just continue to stay in my wheelhouse for what I like and drink, so to have a shot at several of the current things in the Copain lineup created a cool lens into how the winery continues to march forward. The winery remains my #1 producer in my cellar and one of my few lasting relationships that has endured more than a decade now. Thanks to Wells, Alexis and all of you for attending, as well as the great meal The Loft cooked for us. Thanks for reading.
Laureles Grade Chardonnay
Mélange of Early Summer Vegetables, Beet Soil and Concentrated Tomatoes, Lemon Balm
  • 2012 Copain Chardonnay Laureles Grade - USA, California, Central Coast, Carmel Valley
    Opened from mag in prep for dinner this evening, poured at room temp of 66f. Tasted next to the 13, and FWIW, the alc on this 12 is listed just over a point higher than the 13 (13.5% vs 12.4%, respectively). This 12 is more creamy, spicier. Apple, mandarin orange, zesty and spicy lime skin. Really long finish....over dinner, showed the flash, creaminess and overall profile that seemed to hit the target with many at the tables where I was seated. For sue next to the 13, the 12 is far better put together and ultimately we will see if the 13 passes it with more age but right now, the 12 seems king.
  • 2013 Copain Chardonnay Laureles Grade - USA, California, Central Coast, Carmel Valley
    Opened from mag in prep for dinner this evening, poured at room temp of 66f. Tasted next to the 12, FWIW. I find that wine spicier, a bit creamier and so I wonder if the extra point of ABV on the 12 (13.5%) informs how that wine shows. This 13 is far more chiseled, showing more lemon, and not the lime skin I found in the 12. The acidity on this 13 is more square and dominant, joining zesty green apple and a big finish of energy. The 12 seems more opulent in this early look, whereas this 13 is like a laser beam of energy. Will re-taste over dinner, about 9 hours from now and lets see what some ox does to it.....at dinner, this stayed pretty true to the tasting profile I had captured in my note earlier in the day. I don't mind the 13 at this stage, but it doesn't have the overall complete profile that the 12 shows right now. Hell, the 13 isn't even released yet so when the wine is released later this year, we can see again how it is progressing forward. In total, I do think the 13 will be vintage reflective and show a more Chablis-like profile versus the higher opulence shown by the 12.
Kiser Vineyard PN
Pan Seared Arctic Char, Porcini and Sweet Peas, Confit Shallots
  • 2012 Copain Pinot Noir "En Haut" Kiser - USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
    Opened from mag in prep for dinner this evening, poured at room temp of 66f. Tasted next to the 12 En Bas for context. Both wines have nearly identical alcs of 13.3% (Haut is 13.2%). The Haut pours just a tad lighter color too, which is one data point for difference. The 12 Haut Reminds me of the 12 Wendling, showing plenty of dark, zesty fruit--apple, raspberry and some blueberry, too. Real good depth here, a brooding type of core that carries into the finish. Has the Haut underpinning of mineral structure, holding all the intensity of the wine together. Haut for me is often like the old phrase, iron fist/velvet glove. Feels like that here. Serving later so will give this bugger another 8 hours to soften and emerge....at dinner, this seemed to outclass just a hair the 12 En Bas. Hell, that wine is damn good but what you get with En Haut is more blue and red tones, and both a balance and awesome core, much like what great En Haut will do when it is on. For 12 Kiser, it's going to come down to what you want in the fruit. But man, this En Haut is such great stuff, like a rally to the iconic 07 that is still aging and getting better.
  • 2012 Copain Pinot Noir "En Bas" Kiser - USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
    Opened from mag in prep for dinner this evening, poured at room temp of 66f. Poured next to the 12 Haut, with the Bas exhibiting just a bit darker color. The alcs are nearly identical at 13.3% FWIW. Man, this is juicy and zesty, which I did not find in the 12 Haut. Blueberry and raspberry just working together, ending in a zesty finish. Funny, if you blinded me on this wine, I'd guess 11 vintage, as I find this zesty quality to be unique to that vintage. What is clear here for me right now is that there is more present acidity in the Bas at this stage as compared to the Haut. The aromatics on the Bas here are more present, obvious than the Haut--more floral and brighter. My sense is this Bas is going to be the richer, more obvious and attention getting of the two wines but we'll see how air treats them both and re-taste later at dinner. For now, really good, really zesty and alive....wow. The extra air really brought the wine together, and it showed a smoother balance of black and red fruit when we poured it at dinner. Just classy and complete.
Wendling Vineyard PN
Coq Au Vin, Tiny Vegetables and Brandy, Crispy Skin
  • 2012 Copain Pinot Noir Wendling Vineyard - USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
    Opened early in prep for dinner this evening, poured at room temp of 66f. Beautiful right out of bottle. Shows a dark tone of raspberry, dark apple, with a truffle tone in the finish. Think of red berries with a brushing of light smoke, herb and game, sitting in a mineral finish. Just so good, and this is again right out of the bottle with no air. Will pour later with dinner so letting some slow ox air do its thing........go, this is so good, it hurts. Truffle, dark fruit, powdered rock aroma. Intense, some zesty tones and such a standout on the table. When I was tasting through this at dinner, it just struck me how lights out good this wine is, and what is remarkable is that this was the first vintage the winery bottled. I can only imagine how much a player this is going to be against both Kiser and Bearwallow as the future unfolds. Wow, WOTY candidate, for sure.
  • 2013 Copain Pinot Noir Wendling Vineyard - USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
    Opened from mag in prep for dinner this evening, poured at room temp of 66f. Tasted next to the 12 as well, so there is that added context here. The alcs on both wines are close for 12 and 13, with 13.6% and 13.3%, respectively. Immediately, I can tell a difference between the 12 and 13. The 12 is more sauvage, maybe more intense while the 13 is more polished, showing traits of barrel sample, with a touch of French oak showing and mainly just fruit. In this 13, the fruit is more pure red, with strawberry jam and red apple, showing different from the darker red tones of the 12. I don't get the game or herb notes of the 12 either, basically the depth or complexity the 12 is showing. Still about 8 hours before we serve this so back in with the cork and let's see how it does later.
Syrah Perspective
Mix of cheeses from the Fromaggier
  • 2012 Copain Syrah Baker Ranch - USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
    Opened in prep for dinner this evening, poured at room temp of 66f. Listed at 12.4%, which I find unique given the ripeness potential that the 12 vintage permitted. Boy, right from bottle, this shows its structure and grip. Tannic. Aromatics show the lift of potpourri and graphite. This Baker shows the elegant style of the new era Copain syrahs, reminding me stylistically of the 10 vintage, where there is plenty of fresh fruit and then the finish allows for the game and meatier notes to fill in. Like the 10, the berry freshness and moderate color to allow the wine to be heavy. For me, what I believe is the real essence of the new era Copain syrahs is the ability to get lots of freshness at low ABV. Beautiful in the new Copain style.
  • 2010 Copain Syrah Brosseau Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Chalone
    Opened from mag in prep for dinner this evening, poured at room temp of 64f. Listed ABV is 13.0%. Eager to try this and get it some air too, as I know in its history it can be a beast from right bottle. Poured next to the 12 Baker Ranch, which is a different animal in color, as this Brosseau is several shades darker. This is indeed tight, with lots of red and blue fruit coiled up, along with charcoal and some rock. The blue fruit is laying underneath the structure, the acidity, for sure. The air this will need over the next 8 hours for dinner is going to be a big help.
  • 2004 Copain Syrah James Berry Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Opened from mag in prep for dinner this evening, poured at room temp of 65f. Man, the cork on this mag just 'sploded and crumbled it was so dry. Not a pleasant way to get this going. Listed ABV of 14.6%, can't see the winery ever making something this big again, which I appreciate. This exhibits right from the chute a light raisin quality, with some encouraging structure. It's got black fruit, but also some red to keep it contrasted. Aromatically, there isn't any heat here that I can find, and instead, just a touch of 2ndary notes that help suggest some age. Charcoal and tar frame the fruit, which also has some inflection of age too. Not sure how another 8 hours of air will treat this wine but we'll see over dinner later....over dinner, this seemed to strike a note with several at the table, all who had varying palate preferences. Whether it was the fruit from the bigger year (and I found no heat) or the cigar box/spice notes from the accumulating bottle age, it was unique and delicious. Wells reminded me when we were discussing it over dinner that he made this wine 100% whole cluster. Such a unique perspective on older Copain syrah, and James Berry to boot. My last one, goodbye old friend!
Dessert (no wine)
Venezuelan Dark Chocolate Caramel Pot De Crème, Salted Caramel Ice Cream, Macallan 12 Year Foam
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    #2 Post by M. Dildine » May 17th, 2015, 3:17 pm

    Great notes Frankie!
    Cheers,

    Mike

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    #3 Post by Robert.A.Jr. » May 17th, 2015, 4:16 pm

    FMIII has the best write-ups! Love it, great read.

    You know how to live well, Frank. Kudos to you!

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    #4 Post by John Preston » May 17th, 2015, 5:45 pm

    Thanks for the notes Frank! Long time list member...and I agree that it is about the relationship...and oh, the wines!

    Cheers,
    JP

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    #5 Post by Tom Moore » May 18th, 2015, 8:48 pm

    I was wondering why there hasn't been much response to this thread - then I read through your notes Frank. What else could be said? Very sincere, complete recollection of the night with all of the great food, wines and company.

    I will add my 2 cents on the evening and believe me it is very brief compared to your retrospective. I thought the chards were both an absolute joy to sip and could have finished either one of the mags single handedly. The 2 Kisers - Haut and Bas were so special, so very elegant. I preferred the Bas on this night with its soft cherry fruit and seamless texture. The Haut had a tad more structure but will blossom with time. The Wendlings were both sensational as well, with a slight nod to the '12. Both were a bit heavier than the Kisers but were great wines on their own.

    Like Frank I was fading as the syrahs were poured. I have to admit I am not the biggest new world syrah fan but am really loving the new cool climate renditions coming out of California and elsewhere (just had an aussie that was <12% alc and a stunner!). So it seems funny that on this night I liked the '04 James Berry (over the other 2).

    The Loft at Montage was really hitting on all cylinders and the pairings were perfect. The spring salad course with the chard flight was a standout for me. Service was top notch in all regards and highly recommend this place for any and all wine themed events - the only drawback is they were very busy and was a little loud. Must have been 3 or 4 different large events happening all over the resort.

    Thanks again to Frank, Alexis and Wells for putting on such a great night!! I was in Rome a week ago and ran across this sign and it really hit home tonight - "The Buddies"
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    #6 Post by Andrew Christiansen » May 18th, 2015, 10:06 pm

    Thank you for your thoughtful notes. We have to live vicariously since we had to miss this one. It was a tough one to miss, and we noted a few times during the night while eating leftovers that we could have been at Montage drinking Copain. It was also a disappointment to miss Wells, since we thought he would not be able to attend...no way he would pass up a weekend of "Surrender" at the Spa. Next time, no excuses.

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    #7 Post by Mike Grammer » May 18th, 2015, 11:12 pm

    Another winning night, my boy. You know, if I didn't know better, I'd think you were trying to keep up with me. [grin.gif]

    No, really, it's marvelous that you have been the key in sustaining the very relationships you speak of so that all these fine winemakers *want* to come down and spend time with you and the crew. Ed and I were talking about that very thing just this morning and what a fine time he had.

    I have been very fond of the en Haut in the past, looks like Wendling has to make it onto my radar.

    Salud and bravo,

    Mike
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    Frank Murray III
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    #8 Post by Frank Murray III » May 19th, 2015, 6:40 am

    Thanks guys for the replies. It was a terrific evening. Doc Acacio took a couple photos and shred them with me so I thought I would post them. One is not great but it does give a view into some of the food and the crowd. The one better photo is of me on the left, with Doc Acacio, Alexis, Wells and his fiancée.
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    My WOTY candidates for 2019:
    2014 Marie Courtin Eloquence BdB Extra Brut
    2017 Rivers-Marie PN Platt SC
    2017 Kutch Pinot Noir SC PN
    2009 Roederer Cristal Brut
    2017 Carlisle Zin Mancini Ranch RRV

    My best wines of 2018:
    2017 Kutch Falstaff Sonoma Coast PN
    2012 Marguet La Grande Ruelle Ambonnay

    Kindness matters.

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    #9 Post by Paul H Galli » May 19th, 2015, 7:31 am

    Frank,
    As usual, a great write-up.

    Just a minor point, but I must take exception to your statement "The 2007s, which were the vintage for PN when he really made the shift".

    2006 was the vintage in which Wells radically changed his Pinot wine making style.
    Steve Rigisich and I barrel tasted the 2006 Pinots and were shocked at the transformation.
    The wines were extremely lean and angular.
    Wells flat out told us his picking times was based SOLELY on Brix. (Heresy at the time and a ballsy move on his part).
    If that isn't the ultimate shift moment, nothing is.
    2006 continues to be my favorite vintage as the wines filled in nicely and are just chuggin' along.

    I imagine Wells now has calibrated his palate to judge picking times for each vineyard.

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    #10 Post by bob poirier » May 19th, 2015, 9:48 am

    Great write up FMIII, your notes always make me want to open a bottle......

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    #11 Post by Frank Murray III » May 19th, 2015, 4:25 pm

    Paul, you are correct. I should have been more clear--the Syrahs changed style in 2007, the Pinots in 2006.

    I have had the PNs from 2006, and for me, they don't get close to the thrill of the 2007s. The 2007 Copain PNs, specifically the Kisers, are lights out stuff. The 2012s may rival the 2007s.
    My WOTY candidates for 2019:
    2014 Marie Courtin Eloquence BdB Extra Brut
    2017 Rivers-Marie PN Platt SC
    2017 Kutch Pinot Noir SC PN
    2009 Roederer Cristal Brut
    2017 Carlisle Zin Mancini Ranch RRV

    My best wines of 2018:
    2017 Kutch Falstaff Sonoma Coast PN
    2012 Marguet La Grande Ruelle Ambonnay

    Kindness matters.

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    #12 Post by Chris Seiber » May 19th, 2015, 4:46 pm

    This was really an exceptional event, with equal appreciation to The Roman Numeral and to Wells and Alexis from Copain. There was some major generosity of spirit on display that evening, enough to really put my mind into a positive place about our world and our community of wine.

    The 99 Salon Blanc de Blancs de Mesnil which Brian Acacio contributed (two bottles I think?) was really amazing. I didn't take any notes, but it was something to be savored.

    I thought the Laureles Grade chardonnay flight was exceptional, with the nod going to the 2012 (probably more because of the extra year of maturity than because it will end up a better vintage, if I had my guess). These wines have intensity without weight, really piercing energy and acidity, and a really lovely white spice and floral component on the finish, particularly the 2012. I wonder if, for me, Copain isn't the best domestic Chardonnay producer at this time.

    It was a treat to try the 12 Kisers side by side. In keeping with the true transparency of their wines to terroir, you can clearly discern the difference between the high and low portions of this vineyard. The En Bas has more extract and bass notes, while the En Haut is more minerally, more floral, and lighter on its feet. They are really of equal quality, but it would just depend on which style spoke to you a little more.

    The 12 and 13 Wendling pinots, from a young vineyard planted right near Kiser, are a different style of wine, at least with the vineyard at this age. Much more clarity, strawberry type fruit, more feminine. Much less challenging and cerebral than the Kisers, but prettier and easier to enjoy in their own way.

    I'm not generally a syrah drinker, and I didn't enjoy these as much as the pinots and chards, but these were both very well-made wines. The 12 Baker Ranch was an elegant, very restrained syrah which still didn't lack for character and complexity. The 10 Brosseau was relatively richer and more down the middle, very balanced yet not as memorable. The 04 JBV really stood out in the context of the evening, a dark, rich, meaty syrah with some noticeable raisining and alcohol present; it had its appeal, but was a tough fit that night.

    Wells is a truly fascinating character. He is reluctant in the spotlight and in the receiving of accolades, but as you get into conversation with him, he's extremely bright, thoughtful, and sharp, with a compelling story to tell about his journey into the wine world. Our conversation felt like those wines that reveal little on first pour, but captivate you with more and more interesting dimensions as you sit with it over the evening.

    I also found it interesting that, for all that his wines stake out a far side of the California wine spectrum pretty boldly, he is not the polarizing figure or the AFWE partisan I might have imagined he would be, but instead he was rather quite open minded and accepting. His journey to this style of wine felt like much more of a personal journey for him in discovering what he wants from wine, and less of a volley in some kind of argument about what is right and wrong, good and bad, in the world of wine.

    Great wine, company, exchanges of ideas, generosity - it was pretty hard to top that evening.

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    #13 Post by Scott Brunson » May 19th, 2015, 6:31 pm

    nice as usual my friend.
    One of these days we'll make it for a visit.
    Or you guys can visit.
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    #14 Post by R. del Rosario » May 20th, 2015, 8:58 am

    Thanks for the notes. Bummed we couldn't make it.
    Cheers, Ramon

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    #15 Post by M Hudson » May 20th, 2015, 9:48 am

    Interesting post. I have been buying 2-3 cases a year of svd wines from them since 2009 vintage, and typically a case or more of other wines each year. I am clearly a fan of the wine, and continue to be.

    I do not however feel any relationship with the winery, in fact its the least relationship (feeling wise) of any winery I buy from.

    I am not exactly sure why, but I just don't feel any connection to wells the way you describe.

    Not that this means anything, but just saw the contrast between your experience and mine and wondered if anyone else had a similar experience.
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    #16 Post by Chris Seiber » May 20th, 2015, 10:27 am

    M Hudson wrote:Interesting post. I have been buying 2-3 cases a year of svd wines from them since 2009 vintage, and typically a case or more of other wines each year. I am clearly a fan of the wine, and continue to be.

    I do not however feel any relationship with the winery, in fact its the least relationship (feeling wise) of any winery I buy from.

    I am not exactly sure why, but I just don't feel any connection to wells the way you describe.

    Not that this means anything, but just saw the contrast between your experience and mine and wondered if anyone else had a similar experience.
    I actually had a somewhat similar experience / feeling prior to Saturday night. And to a lesser degree, prior to meeting Alexis at Falltacular 2015. Great wines, but little sense of Wells or the winery, and over the years, their customer interface had been a bit awkward and uneven.

    I guess if you wanted to get a deeper connection with Copain, you could visit the facility (which is really lovely), and better still, try to arrange a visit at a time when Wells could be there. Or if you got lucky, maybe there would be another dinner like this you could attend.

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