Wednesday, August 8, 2012

WW: Bending Branch Souzao

After my recent educational visit to Bending Branch, it has been hard to keep my mind off of their wine and work. Last week, I revisited the last vintage of their very unique Souzao. I remember my first time tasting this wine. It was a dreary and cold Sunday afternoon. Sean and I had been seeking out something new and inspiring. Our tasting at Bending Branch was exactly what we were looking for. As we wrapped our mouths around the Portuguese name, we lingered over this deep, inky wine. We were so taken by it that we took a bottle home. Since then, it has been one of our favorites. My opinion of this wine has only deepened over time.

The exact vintage of the Souzao (2009) that we recently drank is sold out at the winery -- though there are a few bottles hiding at a variety of HEB's in San Antonio and now Bulverde (I bought the bottle in question at HEB Alon Market in San Antonio when Jennifer was doing a Bending Branch tasting). After my visit, I saw the upcoming vintage in the barrels, so the next round is coming. And like this current one, it will be from all California grapes from the Silvaspoons Vineyard. But as I mentioned in previous posts, John and Bob have Souzao in the Comfort vineyard slowly growing (they are a few years from their first harvest).

Tasting Notes

The Souzao is best with a bit of time; letting it breath allows it to open up nicely, releasing the less sweet undertones. It is fine right after opening, but just a short wait (we let it sit for about half an hour) is best.


The first thing that comes to mind when I drink the Souzao is a dark chocolate berry or cherry truffle. During my first few sips, the flavor that comes through cleanly is that of dark chocolate (in fact, it reminds me of the vanilla touched 80% dark chocolate they sell at the winery). This chocolate is dark and rich, but it isn't particularly bitter.  This even chocolate flavor is the foundation for the wine. Layered on top of it is a dark cherry or berry like flavor like those found in a truffle. Even this, like the chocolate, is smooth, and seems to be most noticeable at the times when the wine feels silky and soft in my mouth. Again, all I can think of is a well crafted truffle.

This chocolate also reminds me of Christmas. That may seem strange, but during Christmas, chocolate takes over my kitchen. For two days or so, I melt, mold, and experiment with chocolate. The time I spend working with the chocolate reminds me of this wine. This is a free form time for me. Chocolate gets on everything -- my hands, my arms, my face, the refrigerator door, the counters, the floors, etc. -- and it quickly solidifies in the cool kitchen (I actually chill the kitchen when working with chocolate). Slick, shiny streaks of chocolate glisten under the kitchen lights. The chocolate essence found in the Souzao is like the streaks of smooth chocolate dotting my landscape. It is everywhere but not the dominating force; it is just out of the corner of the eye, but it is definitely there.


A brown leaf drifts down;
it settles in a pile 
with the reds and golds.  

A breeze whistles through the leaves;
and the brown leaf flies away.

This wine is more than a dark cherry chocolate truffle; there is something cool about it. The primary image I get is autumn. Now, I am eagerly awaiting fall; the heat and returning drought is depressing, and fall is the answer to that. Fall is a time that represents so much. It is a time of change, from warm to cool, from green to chestnut. Souzao is a wine that seems like it should be spicy but comes across more as cool; it seems as if it should be lively and vibrant but is instead subtle and sneaky. But there is more to the wine. It isn't just the change, it is what fall changes to.

When I drink the Souzao, I can sense the first cool breezes of fall. Under the last visages of the summer sun, as the day turns to evening, the breezes creep in. They sweep around a corner, and they are upon me without warning. But they are a cool kiss on my skin; they release me from the warmth and soothe me. They make me open my eyes wider; they make me want to seek them out. I want to keep them close, to follow them if I have to. As the wine moves, I feel this sense of surprising coolness; it is the hint of cool at autumn dusk.

It is also the leaves of autumn. It is the changing colors. The green leaves turn to gold, to orange, red, and finally to a nutty brown. They are subtle tones that meld into one another, all related and held together by the primary colors of yellow and red. In the wine, the chocolate is a flavor that lingers throughout, never fully slipping away.

The Souzao is also the leaves themselves. The leaves' colors make them seem earthy, but they are not. They are light and free but with substance. The leaves of the trees have weight as I collect them at my feet, but they also take flight at a moment's notice. The Souzao is a wine of weight; this is clear in its deep, inky tones. But the wine is subtle and freeing; it isn't heavy like so many reads, rich with earthy flavors and heavy with spice. Underneath the weight of the chocolate something rests, but it is illusive, like the leaves. Is it a autumnal spice; is it a hint of oak? I can't say, but it is there and not there.

The Souzao is both known and is not known. It is a wine I think I have grasped as I enjoy the truffle, but I am also searching for the subtler tones hiding just beneath. To me, this wine is autumn. And in the heat of late summer, I look to autumn for release. And I am eager for the autumn cool, the autumn colors, and the return of the Bending Branch Souzao.

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