I picked the perfect evening to head to Sager + Wilde for the first time - Wells Guthrie, winemaker of Copain Wines in Sonoma County, California, was present. The bar itself is small, cosy, dimly lit with bare wood and stripped walls.
Sager + Wilde works in a very unique way with a sole purpose to please the wine enthusiast. In a dog eat dog world, it is increasingly rare nowadays to find somewhere that specifically caters (and cares) for the consumer. Small mark-ups = very thankful. When it’s payday, I’m coming back to try some of the finer wines that I no doubt would not be able to taste for those prices elsewhere. It is clear this is a bar born from love and passion, evident in the owner's exuberance.
Their wine list changes daily, with a large selection of wines available by the glass. We chose the Syrah ‘Tous Ensemble’ 2012 and the Pinot Noir “Tous Ensemble” 2012, both from Mendocino County.
Syrah ‘Tous Ensemble’ 2012: Blackberries and black cherry aromas with pepper, with underlying hints of spice. In the mouth, the tannins are already developing well, with a slight meaty presence.
Pinot Noir ‘Tous Ensemble’ 2012: Wonderfully earthy nose with hints of moss , with cherry and some ripe raspberry in there too. In the mouth, round , supple and moreish.
Wells Guthrie came and spoke to us personally, first introducing himself, explaining his career thus far in winemaking. He originally started his love affair with wine with Syrah, and moved to the Northern Rhone working with Chapoutier. he has also spent time in Burgundy with Frédéric Mugnier (this revelation left me painfully jealous – there’s really no better way to learn about Pinot). This French background shines strongly through in his wines, and I must admit in a blind tasting, the Pinot Noir could have fooled me for a Burgundy (perhaps a Beaune? They had similar qualities).
Wells emphasised that he admires the European style, and shies strongly away from the often very bold Californian new oak style (good). He stressed that he does not use new oak, indeed French barrels of approximately ten years old instead. This really allows the varietals to shine through and leaves them without the overly present and often overpowering Californian oak style.
The Syrah is 15% whole bunch, a good percentage, adding the right amount of tannin. The Pinot Noir is 100% only grapes, no stems, which Wells said was important to him as he is a Pinot purist. I strongly agreed! Both wines demonstrate an impeccable balance, and I would be very excited to try them again in a few years’ time. The Syrah is produced in large 600l barrels, whereas the Pinot is in standard, which again demonstrated to me exactly why the wine is the way it is. The Syrah needs this larger barrel to develop as well as it has, and this shone through evidently in the wine in front of us. The small production and low yields of both are vital in recognising just how excellent the quality is.
He certainly impressed me, as did the wines, and I’ll be looking out for them.