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1999 Iron Horse "T Bar T" Sangiovese, Alexander Valley, Sonoma

For some reason that is beyond me (perhaps if I was a winemaker I would know better) California winemakers have a really hard time with Sangiovese. Perhaps the clones they have access to aren't great, or perhaps the climate and soil are just too different from Tuscany to really let the grapes shine.

There are some notable exceptions to this rule. I happen to like the Sangiovese that Chappellet produces a lot, and I can recall a couple of others from Napa that I've enjoyed in the past. Yet even these wines, which clearly rise to the level of very good to excellent, still don't have the dark earthy richness coupled with ringing acidity that Italy seems to produce.

Sadly, this wine from Iron Horse falls prey to some of the same failings of even the better California Sangioveses. Which isn't so say it's a bad wine, it just doesn't live up to its own potential. That said, I enjoyed drinking it last night.

Iron Horse vineyards is named for a train depot of the same name that once resided on the vineyard's property just outside of Forestville, California. Orinignally developed by Rodney Strong, the vineyard was purchased by the Sterling family (no relation to Sterling Vineyards) on the condition that vineyard manager Forrest Tancer remain as the caretaker of the vines. Iron Horse makes wine from this property in Forestville, as well as from Tancer's family estate, the T Bar T vineyard in Sonoma's Alexander Valley.

About 1400 cases are made of this wine each year, and in some years it is blended with about 10% merlot. (I'm not sure if this vintage was or not).

Tasting Notes:
For being 5 years old this wine is surprisingly purple in the glass, very close to amethyst at the rim. The nose is a dusty combination of leather, woodsmoke, and mellow red fruit. In the mouth the wine has a decent mouthfeel with subdued flavors of bright raspberries, sweet oak and sawdust, with slightly disjointed tannins that make the finish lackluster.

Food Pairing:
This was a nice complement to a thin crust margherita pizza with olive oil, mozzarella, and fresh tomatoes.

Overall Score: 7.5/8

How Much?: $24

This wine is readily available through the winery's online store.

Comments (5)

Jason wrote:
07.25.04 at 7:42 AM

I know what you mean about California Sangiovese not living up to it's potential. They just aren't the same as their Italian counterparts.

07.25.04 at 7:48 AM

10% merlot? Wouldn't they have to stop calling it Sangiovese at that point? CA allows 5% blending with a "single variety" wine. (This number has always seemed low and somewhat arbitrary to me, but then Americans tend to be obsessive about variety).


Alder Yarrow wrote:
07.25.04 at 8:54 AM

Actually, the rules for this are set at a national level, rather than by California, and the official line is that a wine only needs to be 75% or more of the single varietal in order to be labelled as such. I often come across California Cabernets that are 80% Cab Sauvignon, 15% Cab Franc, and 5% Merlot that are simply labelled Cabernet Sauvignon.

07.25.04 at 10:59 AM

Well, you learn something every day then. Thanks!

Vineyards wrote:
09.10.07 at 3:15 PM

California Sangiovese will never compete with Italian, for the simple reason that there is so much more to the wine process then the grapes. But I think they both will there place in the wine rack and each has its own time.

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