Last summer, I spent several enjoyable evenings after work sipping an inexpensive red wine while reading an old paperback copy of Jane Holtz Kay's Asphalt Nation. The 2004 La Provençale was everything I wanted in a Rhône-style blend: deep-hued and supple, an experience of silken texture enveloping hints of leather, spice and dried fruit. Like a late summer evening, it was perfect for the moment and faded after a day. Perhaps it's fitting to Kay's 1998 critique of the failings of our overbuilt car culture that I review this winery without driving anywhere. Jade Mountain not only has no tasting room, but it has no winery. The more I investigated, the more the mystery of Jade Mountain deepened.
San Francisco lawyer and wine enthusiast Jim Paras founded Jade Mountain in the 1980s. He planted his Paras Vineyard with Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Viognier, hoping to equal the best of the Rhône. At 10,000 cases, the successful cult winery outgrew his desire to market it, and Paras sold to the Chalone group, which was in turn absorbed by Diageo.
Through the munificence of the wine and spirits giant, I arranged to sample a few of Jade Mountain's current releases. The question: How do the different components add up to that blend which afforded me such pleasure a summer ago?
The 2005 Evangelo Vineyard Mourvèdre ($16) comes from 100-year-old vines in Contra Costa County. It's deeply colored, with aromas of plum, jerky and a slice of fruitcake. Full-bodied, thick on the tongue, there's a candy plum sucker spike of heat midpalate. Black cherry dominates with some air, but the tobacco-leaf finish is somewhat bitter. It could use blending.
The 2005 Lake County Snows Lake Vineyard Syrah ($15) opens up slowly to black cherry, spice cake and papaya. Charred ruby in hue, this voluptuous brunette of a wine has a big, viscous mouth feel of plush tannin. It's big and bold, yet what a great blending mate for . . . their 2004 Napa County Syrah ($25). With a gorgeous, sweet blackberry conserve and blueberries, this Syrah is still light, soft, with more flavor than structure. Finally, the 2005 La Provençale ($15) is a nearly opaque dark ruby, with medium body. Like the 2004, aromas are hard to pick out--black licorice maybe, plum--but the broad, warm sensation lingers on the tongue. Black cherry dominates a subsequent glass, suggesting the prevalence of the Mourvèdre.
The last secret that I discovered is that the Paras Vineyard grapes are no longer sourced for Jade Mountain. Still, it's a tremendous value at a few of my favorite wine shops ($14-$17), and otherwise available, according to Diageo, at mysteriously "select" Whole Foods and Mollie Stone's--or wherever it turns up next, a ghost in the machine.
Jade Mountain Vineyard, www.jademountainvineyard.com.