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Tasting notes from California

© 2013 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on California.

BARRA OF MENDOCINO

Ted Barra's striking winery and visitor facility pulls in a lot of visitors. Not only is the large circular building a landmark in the area and very visible from the highway ("Built in the shape of an upside down champagne cork," according to Martha Barra), but it is the setting for many of the county's most popular wine and food events including wine, beer, food and music festivals.

Begun by Charlie and Martha Barra (right) in the 1990s, Barra of Mendocino may be relatively new, but now in his 80s, Charlie Barra's association with grape farming in Mendocino goes back much, much longer. His parents immigrated to Mendocino from Piedmont, and it was in 1945 whilst still a schoolboy that the young Charlie leased a vineyard and came to an arrangement with his school that he'd attend classes in the mornings and farm in the afternoons. He continued growing and selling grapes until the couple bought the current winery in 1995.

Charlie was resting at home on my visit, so Martha took me in her little red truck for a tour of their vineyards. Their 175 acres have been certified organic since the late 1980s, and only estate fruit is used in their wines. Their entry Girasole label accounts for around 20,000 cases annual, 10,000 of which is Pinot Noir, whilst the total production for the Barra estate wines is around 5,000 cases annually.

the wines

UK importer of Barra of Mendocino is Vintage Roots. See world stockists on wine-searcher.

Barra, Girasole Pinot Blanc 2011, California
Fresh, gently herby, nice crunchy fresh pear and apple, with a dry apple core juicy acidity. 85/100. $13 locally

Barra, Girasole Chardonnay 2011, California
"Has a little oak from inner staves at this level," says Martha. Just a touch of hazelnut, and then the palate has a very fresh appeal, lots of orchard fruits, lots of apple and a touch of minted melon. Finishes dry, or is there just a touch of RS? 86-87/100.

Barra, Chardonnay 2010, California
Barrel fermented and aged, Fairly muted on the nose - not so much muted as not expressing a terribly distinct character. Some nuttiness and a touch of toast in the background. The palate has lots of apparent sweetness - perhaps a touch too much, certainly it is an impression of sweetness. 86-87/100.

Barra, Pinot Noir Rosé 2012, California
Made as a run-off from making the Barra Pinot Noir. Soft, gentle cherry colour, with a rose-hip and soft strawberry, and there is a fair amount of residual sugar to soften and flatter the finish. 85/100.

Barra, Girasole Pinot Noir 2010, California
Lovely delicate Pinot colour, lightly earthy and a touch herbal, some dry redcurranty fruit. Nice fruit on the palate too, with good balance and very drinkable. 86/100.

Barra, Pinot Noir 2010, California
This has a bit of toast, a richer fruit profile, and spicy, with a deeper red fruit character. Much richer mouthfeel, with plenty of weight and richness, a little rustic tannin feel, but good expression. 87-88/100.

Barra, Girasole Sangiovese 2010, California
Very nice soft custard and tobacco-scented nose, with possibly just a touch of TCA, and that flattens the finish a little.

Barra, Sangiovese 2010, California
Extra intensity and weight here, with the fruit profile really ramped up, showing a deep plum and cherry richness, a fleshiness, and finishing with a touch of spice and tobacco. 88/100.

Barra, Zinfandel 2005, California
"Because of where we grow our vines our wines can age and age and age," says Martha. Big, rich and open nose, with lots of smoky wood quality, and lots of vanilla, there is a softness and richness on the palate, with tannins almost fully resolved and a soft finish. Delicious, perhaps ready to drink up. 87/100.

Barra, Girasole Hybrid Red 2009, California
Cabernet Sauvignon , Syrah and merlot. Very direct, fresh black fruit, a touch of graphite, a very glossy appeal to this with lots of flattering cassis and a touch of chocolate and coffee. Fresh and juicy, it's a blend that really works well, playing to the strengths of the blend to make this one of the round and richer wines in the red Girasole range. 87/100.

Barra, Corro 2009, California
A blend of 69% Zinfandel, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. Big, spice and smoky nose, with a meatiness and an earthiness, with abundant black fruit, the mouth full and rich, the plummy and blackcurrant fruit is delicious and this has weight and length, finishing with plenty of spice and dry fruit extract. 90/100. $38

Barra, Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, California
There's a curranty sense of over ripeness here, with the keen black fruit, and there is a nice dry, lightly ashy/earthy finish. 86-87/100.

Barra, Petite Sirah 2008, California
Very attractive, big and bold and a touch ashy/lifted in character, with a touch of floral character and plenty of blue/black fruit. On the palate this has massive fruit, plenty of sweetness and intensity, a fine blueberry and damson fruit, deliciously drinkable, big, not hugely sophisticated, but delicious. 88-89/100.

Barra, Muscat Canelli 2009, California
12% alcohol. Very fine Muscat and floral, leafy green herb aromas, The palate is just off dry, with a very nicely fresh finish that makes it lovely and summery and easy to drink. 86/100.

Barra, Bella Dolce Petite Sirah Dessert Wine 2008, California
Nice nose, mocha and sweet damp earth, with small touches of floral character coming through too and a touch of tar. The palate is pretty simple, but has a nice easy drinking appeal. 87/100.

See all stockists on wine-searcher.

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