Elizabeth Spencer Wines: Style and Elegance

Elizabeth Spencer WinesSpencer Graham was in town recently and we had the good fortune of tasting through the new releases of Elizabeth Spencer Wines. We are big fans of this enterprise which is owned and operated by partners Elizabeth Pressler and Spencer Graham, who are partners in life as well as in wine. Their tasting room in Rutherford is pictured on the right.

Spencer Graham and Elizabeth Pressler have been making wine together since 1998, although each has been involved with wine for more than three decades. Elizabeth grew up near Philadelphia and, beginning with her college years, became passionately involved with food and wine. Among the luminaries she has worked with are Madeline Kammen, Alice Waters and Elizabeth David. She later became involved in wine industry marketing for some of California’s finest producers such as Araujo, Etude, Kamen and many more.

Elizabeth Pressler and Spencer GrahamSpencer spent his early years in Brazil where his parents worked in the foreign service. He later attended the University of Virginia and worked in restaurants in Charlottesville and got into wine in a serious way. He later got into the wholesale and import wine business. This is where he met Elizabeth and began representing some of her top California winery clients in the Mid-Atlantic. He and Elizabeth married in 1997 and settled in St. Helena where they began making wine, releasing the first vintage of Elizabeth Spencer in 1998.

Spencer and Elizabeth neither own vineyards nor a winery, yet they make terrific wine. They purchase grapes from a small number of growers in Napa Valley, the Sonoma Coast and Mendocino and make their wines at nearby facilities with the assistance of winemaker Matthew Rorick, a graduate in viticulture and enology from UC Davis.

Elizabeth Spencer wines are stylish and elegant. They are notably fruit forward and concentrated yet well balanced. They are generally aromatic, silky smooth on the attack and have excellent varietal character. They use oak judiciously, and the wines show it. Their white wines are delicate and the reds full-flavored. Most notably, given their high quality, Elizabeth Spencer wines are fairly priced.

Elizabeth Spencer has a terrific website: www.elizabethspencerwines.com which provides technical notes on each wine, for those interested in the winemaking details. Keep in mind that while Elizabeth Spencer Wines are widely distributed they are not easy to find due to the small quantities produced of each wine.

Elizabeth Spencer 2008 Chenin Blanc Special Cuvée Mendocino ($22) 89

This Chenin Blanc Special Cuvée displays delicate floral aromas with flavors of citrus, stone fruit and anise. On the palate it reveals a rich mouth feel with good acidity and a crisp finish with lingering mineral notes. Sourced from a 30-year old vineyard in Mendocino and whole cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel. 500 cases produced.

Elizabeth Spencer 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Special Cuvée Mendocino ($19) 90

The 2008 Sauvignon Blanc is Loire Valley in style. It offers magnificent aromas of ripe melon, citrus and pear with a rich leesy mouth feel and excellent fruit concentration on the palate. It is elegant and well balanced with good natural acidity and a long lasting finish. Only 1,500 cases produced. Certified organic.

Elizabeth Spencer 2007 Chardonnay Special Cuvée Sonoma Coast ($32) 91

This is a lovely Chardonnay, rich and flavorful with ripe tropical fruit and pear flavors and toasty oak. Meursault-like in character, the wine offers elegance and power on the palate with rich mouth feel, excellent balance, and crisp flavors on the finish. Fermented in stainless steel and 2-3year old oak barrels. Just 100 barrels produced.

Elizabeth Spencer 2007 Grenache Special Cuvée Mendocino ($25) 89

Dark ruby garnet with aromas of very ripe black cherry fruit and notes of black pepper, almond and caramel. Soft, round and pure with toasty oak and round tannins on a long finish. Destemmed and fermented in small open-top fermenters with native yeast. Only 1,000 cases made. Sourced from vineyards just east of Ukiah.

Elizabeth Spencer 2007 Pinot Noir Special Cuvée Sonoma Coast ($36) 92

This is a lovely Pinot Noir that seems closer to Burgundy than to much of the Pinot Noir made in California today. Ruby garnet in color, it displays aromas of pure cherry liquor and beautifully integrated toasty oak. It is ripe, round and delicate with a silky smooth mouth feel and long finish. Fermented in small open-top fermenters after a week-long cold soak.

Elizabeth Spencer 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Special Cuvée Napa Valley ($36) 90

Ruby in color with delicious cassis and red fruit aromas. High toned, elegant and smooth with beautiful fruit flavors and notes of spice and cigar box. The flavors are clean and pure with elegance and finesse. Drinking well today. 2,300 cases produced.

Elizabeth Spencer 2006 Syrah Special Cuvée Sonoma Coast ($35) 91

The 2006 Syrah has an opaque purple hue and aromas of plum, black olive and cracked pepper. On the palate it is ripe and fruity with rich dark plum flavors, good acidity, firm soft round tannins, and a tasty finish. This winery’s Syrah has been one of our favorites over the years. 750 cases produced.

Written by Don Winkler and Mike Potashnik, November 2009