Wednesday, January 23, 2013

WW Review: Sandstone Cellars XI

Last Spring I attended the Hill Country Wine and Music Festival in Fredericksburg, TX. I sought out the wineries I didn't know: Fall Creek, CapRock, Duchman, and Sandstone Cellars. During the tasting, I was drawn to Sandstone Cellar's XI, a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Tourgia, and Viognier. When we finally visited, this same wine struck me again. I knew that this rare find -- a good buy at $25 -- was a wine I had to write about. This layered wine provided a complex experience that intrigued my senses and my mind.

Water Tower at Sandstone Cellars

One thing needs to be said about the wines at Sandstone Cellars: they are complicated. These are not easy-sipping wines that are drunk and forgotten about. These wines open up only to those who put in the effort. That said, the effort has an incredible pay-off. This is a journey. As Gary Jones from Texas Wine Camp puts it, "It's grown up wine."

The Tasting

Art by Bill Worrell
 The aroma is one of smoky fruit. It made me think of grilling fruit. There is that smoky edge that mingles with the sweetness of fruit; in this case, it is very dark berries. Hidden at the end of this is a tinge of tobacco, but it is hard to find without taking the time. All of these scents lead well into the actually tasting.

As I said earlier, this is a layered wine: one flavor gives way to another. The fact that the wine seems somehow light, is a surprise with all the flavors coming together. This lightness, my guess a result of the Viognier, provides a great platform for what could be very powerful flavors.

The first thing is fruit. This fruit is still a berry, but a much lighter one than the aroma. The aroma could be best described as more of a dark blackberry, but the taste is a soft strawberry. The fruit is rich and succulent, like a juicy ripe berry. This layer lures the taster in.

A smoke and earth undertone sits beneath the fruit, providing it a strong foundation. These flavors help the wine to stay dry, as well as engender a bolder sense of things. The earth -- a dry and rich sensation, is predominate, providing the boldness to the fruit -- as if the fresh tilled soil was a part of the flavor in the fruit. The smoke lingers though, helping to dry out the wine and keep it focused.

As the tasting continues, the two parts feel less like layers. It is not long before the two intermingle and blend. The two concepts become one as the rich and dry flavors settle down. This is finally extenuated by a quick end, like a crisp white wine (the Viognier maybe?).


This wine reminds me of a late Spring, early Summer afternoon rain.  Why so specific, because the odd layered sensation that later blends is more like a rain (not a storm) at that time of the year.

An early storm from Grape Creek, Fredericksburg, TX

Layered Moment
The beam, it slants
and casts a golden filter on the gray day.
Each blade of grass, a streak of emerald,
shines and cuts through the shadows
even as it slumps and jumps
back up under a raindrop's weight.

Sitting under the large canopy,
the leaves keep out most of the rain;
I can watch the rain soften the world,
make it sleek and new. 
I can know this moment
when dark and light meet
and share a space, 
make it more than it ought to be.

These sorts of rains come in slow, creeping across the sky. In the end, it does not get dark; instead, the sky is a light gray that is permeated by sunlight. Through the soft, dark clouds, the sun slips through. This is like the layering as the wine starts to blend -- they are separate at first, but in the end, they come together.

As a storm moves in -- San Antonio, TX
What I always find so remarkable during these showers is the light. It is almost as if a filter has been put on the sun, a filter that can bring out certain colors, make them more vibrant. The grass is often the most affected, as it turns a brilliant shade of emerald that doesn't seem like it should exist. This always makes the season seem ripe, in bloom. The wine's fruit flavors and the rich earthiness mirror this.

The soft light rain that comes down isn't slow, but it isn't fast, just even paced. The average size raindrops splatter into large bursts when they first hit the ground, making the less careful observer think that the rain is bigger and heavier than it is. Slowly, the ground turns slick, and it glistens with its thick coat. This is how it feels as the wine begins to blend. The fruit is deceptive -- it seems so rich, but in the end, it is a soft coat over the earthiness that feels fresh.

Summer Storm -- San Antonio, TX Medical Center area

Finally, this brief shower cools the day; it may still feel warm, but there is a sense of coolness when breathing in and out. Of course, the coolness becomes less noticeable as the world adjusts to it. The wine's different flavors are like these; they lose their individual power as they are more united; as we adjust to the them and they us, there is a comfort and ease that follows. It is at this point that the wine can be casually sipped without such meticulous observation.

Each Sandstone Cellars wine I have had takes me on a journey. Some offer me a challenge, a hike or climb in tough terrain, some of them are more like a good game, making me concentrate and focus on a goal. XI walks me through those days when I would sit outside and watch the showers stroll in and hold us in their power for a short while before strolling away. I remember many days just marveling at the sensations: the colors, the scents, the temperatures. This wine helps me to recapture such beautiful moments and relive them any time, any day, and any season.

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