Normally I would pair a French wine with something comparable from a mainstream, established region of California, but have been so impressed with the ABSOLUTE WORLD-CLASS quality of the Lava Cap wines, I’m pulling a *gasp* Sierra Foothills wine out with the Rhone blanc. Color and clarity identical. The new world Viognier comes out punching: rich buttery baseline a gorgeous juxtaposition to the heady ripe floral. Cellar-floor is a strong contender, cleaned with jasmine, lily, and smoky newsprint. A pineapple-tinged citrus offers brightness, but the nose strays little from dusky elegance and richness. The Gigondas-ish blend offers up a full neutral-barrel roundness, creamy and slightly dank, the cellar-floor taking on a far more muddy-puddle profile, it is a duller–but no-less-satisfying–bouquet, the floral running sweeter and riper towards applesauce and Key lime pie, the floral dusky and sultry. Sweaty. Woodsy. Which kinda surprises me considering the inclusion of Picpoul.
Obviously, the St. Cosme is probably a 40k-case situation, whereas the Lava Cap probably less than 1000. I am going to be extremely interested in the ABV difference between the two–NOT that that is the final word in ripeness, but…. At this point I almost feel like the Rhone is riper: a hard suggestion to swallow compared to a western-slope California product. Those in the back rows will also immediately point out one is solid limestone and the other full-on volcanic, an interesting point to consider when tasting these two wines.
The Californian shows far more weedy briar late-breathing, something that ties seamlessly to the bright citrus of the mid-palate. A religious sort of shockingly-bright goodness flows onto the tongue, sharply tropical with pistachio, strong white plum and match-head abrasiveness pulling with the extent of its weight a citrus fighting hard against white stereotypes of Viognier or Chardonnay. Delicate oak is apparent, merely soothing the acid, and mid-palate tannins dissolve into a forever finish rich and delicious.
The Deux Albion has gone ridiculously rich late-breathing, a chubby golden-rod imagination despite the clear canary. Somewhat boring in the mouth, it see-saws between a rich facade of fake fruit and cloying creaminess and bland chemically issues. It is literally the boring poster-child of white Rhone blends, something every winery in Paso Robles is shooting for and the public has come to expect. Dull banana and white raisin attempt a dance on flabby fullness and alcohol. The mid- and late-palate is mono-dimensional and bland, a certain salinity NOT providing pleasant counter-point, but rather ADDING to the flabbiness. Watery and vapidly rotund, I FULLY expected to like this wine better and planned on the duty of wordy creativeness to avoid hurting the Lava Cap’s feelings and not create a *competition*, but the gloves are off. I don’t like this wine. I think it is flawed by marketing and production and the Lava Cap takes this round easily with a literal–and non-technical–KO.
All you Condrieu and Rhone white fans out there take note. This Lava Cap is not only delicious, but technically sound. The St. Cosme is a mudbath of vagueness.
2019 LAVA CAP Viognier El Dorado AVA Sierra Foothills 13.5
2018 SAINT COSME ‘Les Deux Albion’ Viog/PP/marsanne Vaucluse Gigondas 13.0