Kalin Cellars

Produce no wine with less character than yourself

“Unbelievable wines from an eccentric genius” is how Robert Parker describes the output of Kalin Cellars. Like many who have tasted these libations, Parker is a confirmed “Kalinite.” Beyond a boutique, Kalin Cellars almost qualifies as cult status. Why, “almost?” Because Kalin Cellars is a cult winery in just about every way but price. For such unique and outstanding wines, they are eminently affordable. Microbiologists by profession and winemakers with passion, Terry and Frances Leighton produce around 7,000 cases annually of highly sought after Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Semillon and others. Since the early 1970s, this husband and wife team have followed their own particular path. But, in an industry so dominated by profit-seeking corporations, their artisanal approach seems way out of place. They make wine in Marin County (near but not in Northern California wine country) from grapes they purchase from old - sometimes ancient - vineyards in long forgotten locations such as Livermore (which once was as famous as the Napa Valley) or a corner of the Alexander Valley where a few old Pinot Noir vines still grow. These vineyards feature well-drained soils and cool microclimates. The Leightons make their wines by hand, and very slowly. The fermentation in small “cuves” may last for months - even up to a year. The wines are aged in small, (usually new) French oak barrels and bottled without fining or filtration. The bottles are not released for sale until they’ve been aged for five, ten or more years. The Leighton’s goal is for their wines to be enjoyed in a state of perfect maturity, which, to them, means having developed the flavor of umami. Also known as the elusive “fifth taste,” umami is that mouthwatering, pleasant savory flavor found in soy sauce, cured meats, mushrooms, cheeses, or even vegetables that are at a peak of perfection. Great wines may develop that elusive flavor of umami, but it requires careful winemaking and deliberate aging. Commercial wines made for early release won’t have it. Tasting a Kalin Cellars wine may not make you a Kalinite, but you should be convinced that California can produce wine with the sophistication, elegance and subtle greatness of a French grand cru.

Wines from this Winery

2001 Kalin Livermore Valley Sauvignon Blanc

2001 Kalin Livermore Valley Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc the color of 24-carat gold and released 14 years after the vintage…. Really? Bright and juicy Sauvignon Blanc may be what we’re used to, but Kalin Cellars believes that the right vineyards and extended aging allow for qualities that go beyond the varietal character of citrus and gooseberries. Planted in the 1880s, the historic Wente Vineyard in Livermore features soils of clay, rock and gravel. (In fact, California’s first vintage-dated and varietally-labeled wine was a 1935 Sauvignon Blanc from this vineyard.) The wine aged sur lie  in barrels for two years before a decade plus of bottle aging. The wine is a revelation, particularly in how it combines the subtle savory notes of a mature white wine with minerality and freshness. The flavors run the gamut from mushrooms, toast and umami to dried fruit and floral notes. Most surprising is how lively and refreshing it is. Try it with seared scallops and roasted wild mushrooms.

Details
¥ 6,200
2001 Kalin Livermore Valley Semillon

2001 Kalin Livermore Valley Semillon

Semillon is not a varietal that comes to mind when thinking of California wine. One reason may be the grape’s proclivity to overproduce unless it is grown on poor, well-drained soils. Kalin’s Livermore Semillon is sourced from vines planted in the 1880s, a time when both Semillon and Livermore were considered among the best of California wine. This wine demonstrates that, under the right conditions, a Semillon from California can age with the same grace and elegance as one from Graves. About this wine, Robert Parker said, “As it approaches its 17th birthday, the wine is still remarkably youthful, opening in the glass with aromas of lemon oil, beeswax and honeysuckle, subtly framed by new oak. On the palate, it's medium to full-bodied, textural and bright, with impressive concentration and a vivid, chalky finish.”

Details
¥ 6,200
1995 Kalin Cuvee D Sonoma County Chardonnay

1995 Kalin Cuvee D Sonoma County Chardonnay

Most of us would only open a 20-year old California Chardonnay with trepidation, but the 1995 is the current release of Kalin’s Cuvée D. Unlike almost all California winemakers, Terry Leighton prefers to hold his wines back until they show the nuances of aroma and flavor that develop over time. “D” refers to Dutton Ranch, one of the earliest vineyards planted on the Sonoma Coast. The cool and foggy coastal climate, combined with limestone and shale sub-soil, results in low yields of exceptional fruit. Despite 23 years of bottle age, the nose is intense, with notes of apple tart, butterscotch, ground cinnamon, and roasted almonds. On the palate, it feels fresh and energetic, full with crisp acidity that carries the flavors long into the finish. Pair this wine with savory dishes, such as grilled or seared shellfish, roast chicken or dishes that include wild mushrooms. 

Details
¥ 6,200
2000 Kalin Cuvee DD Sonoma County Pinot Noir

2000 Kalin Cuvee DD Sonoma County Pinot Noir

Lovers of older wines that entice and beguile with a mature bouquet of dried fruit, almonds, mushooms and earth will love this Pinot Noir  – just released with close to 16 years’ of bottle aging. Cuvée DD is sourced from the Demonstene Ranch in the Alexander Valley. Located just a mile from the Russian River, it is oldest Pinot Noir vineyard in the area, planted to a clone that yields small crops of small, intensely-flavored berries. An earthy, well-aged wine, it may need some time in a decanter or glass to open up; but as it opens, it reveals red fruits, oriental spices and that umami flavor that Kalin is known for. Try it with slow-simmered stews, a cheese soufflé or a bacon and wild mushroom risotto. 

Details
¥ 7,100