One of Robert Sinskey’s wines, an orange wine called Orgia, has a label design based on LSD blotters given out at Grateful Dead concerts. The wine was intended as a middle finger to the department of the US Treasury Department that looks after wine labels. This hip Californian’s white field blend, Abraxas, is named after the second album by Santana. So, it was only fitting that when Sinskey invited Victor Smart to try his wines the venue chosen was the London Electric Daisy Flower Farm – so that they could taste wines… at the same time as make bouquets of flowers together.
“A wine should open up itself to you over the course of a meal, rather than be a one-hit-wonder,” says Robert Sinskey.
We’re in Highgate to savour the admirable wines of Napa Valley’s organic Robert Sinskey Vineyards. Our eponymous host, who is a biodynamic grower, explains to us that this particular Tuesday is deemed to be a “fruit day” by the biodynamic, or “BD”, calendar. It could have been a “root day” or something else apparently – there’s an app that tells you. Self-evidently, it is also a wine day. And it’s a flower day too since we have been brought to the north London Electric Daisy Flower Farm where, alongside the wine-tasting, each of us is to be invited to make our own organic bouquet.
If that’s something of a novelty then the Sinskey winery, now part of the Pol Roger portfolio in the UK, is not. It has been around for several decades making refined, elegant wines in small quantities for the higher end of the market. Now with six vineyards with 180 acres in vine, it first started to go organic in 1991.
With some trepidation we launch into our bouquet production. It’s not quite as tricky as I had imagined, though I can see that I am hurrying it along unnecessarily: flower arranging is clearly one of those things you should let happen at its own pace.
We start our tasting with Abraxas Scintilla Somona Los Carneros 2017 (£36 RRP). A single vineyard wine this aromatic white is made from Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Gewürztraminer. The first thing that strikes me is the clarity and the nicely controlled acidity with hints of passion fruit, pineapple and green apple.
Then we move on to Orgia Los Carneros 2016 (£42 RRP). This skin-contact offering made from Pinot Gris comes with a highly distinctive bright yellow and red label. Says Sinskey gleefully, “This was created as my middle finger to the TTB” – the TTB Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau being the US wine labelling rule-setter. The backstory involves legendary rock band Grateful Dead and the LSD made and distributed for them on blotting paper printed with this unmissable design.
Orgia is a master craftsman’s take on natural wine. “Some orange wines,” chides Sinskey, “are interesting to taste but not so pleasant to drink. We need to put back some craftsmanship.”
He admits that as he gets older – and the taste receptors begin to fade just a little – texture becomes ever more important. And Orgia, which boasts a definite but restrained orangish colour, has a mouthfeel that stands out well.
The winery has built up a solid clientele over the years. Its loyalty is strongest for the Pinot Noir Los Carneros which accounts for around 60 per cent of production. We are about to try the 2016 (£40 RRP). The weather may have been fickle back in 2016 – prolonged drought followed by heavy rains and unseasonable warmth… but the quality of the fruit is described as exceptional. The end result is something remarkable for both its elegance and extraordinary approachability.
Sinskey and his wife eschew the “score game”, the now infamous Parker-style points system. This relies too much on first impressions of a wine which, he argues, only tells you so much: something flashy in the first tasting is a bit like some nervous person on a date who blathers on for the first ten minutes and then has nothing to say. “A wine should open up itself to you over the course of a meal, rather than be a one-hit-wonder.” To that end the vineyard chooses fruit from different parcels with the aim that over an extended period so they will all unfold.
They’ve done a fine job. There are red fruits like cranberry plus floral tones. All in all the Los Carneros is a wine that is generous, well-rounded and precisely crafted. And, for me, the best value-for-money of the tasting.
Last up is the Cabernet Franc Vandal Vineyard Los Carneros 2015 (£60 RRP). This comes from what Sinskey calls a toe of rocky soil in the vineyard with “shy-yielding” vines. A nod to the old school of Napa, this should remain still fresh and has ageing potential of up to 30 years, claims Sinskey. The wine is aged in approximately 30% new French oak. There’s black cherry and blackberry – and it’s now that we discover from Sinskey that today is a fruit day – in the biodynamic world at least.
The wines of Robert Sinskey are imported into the UK by Pol Roger Portfolio which is a supplier partner of The Buyer. To discover more about them click here.