Winery: Briar Rose Winery
Product/Varietal: 100% Mission Grape
AVA on Bottle: Temecula Valley
How They Describe It
The rare Mission grape, called the Heritage Grape of California, was first planted by the Franciscan Friars as they shaped the romance of the California lifestyle. This Estate Mission opens with aromas of strawberries and cream, melon, and rose petals, on the palate, “Sunday Brunch Fruit Salad”, in a glass with berries, melon, fig, honey and a hint of peach combines with a touch of delicate sweetness.
How I Describe It
The Briar Rose 2015 Sacrament epitomizes the oaked white wine color scheme. While clear in clarity (i.e., no haziness), the color intensity is medium on the spectrum, with a golden hue — likely both from the aging process and the fruit itself, which is actually a black grape.
Briar Rose’s take on the Mission grape offers aromas of pear, peach, pineapple, and lemon zest. These are accompanied by hints of green apple, mango, and lychee.
The palate is where the Briar Rose 2015 Sacrament really shines. Out front, lemon, pineapple, sour apple, and apricot-based sweet-and-sour sauce extend a fruity bouquet. On the midpalate, fruit and spice blend together with lychee, chamomile, white pepper, star jasmine, green tea, bergamote, and fennel. Nutmeg, cinammon, ginger, clove, and touch of orange zest comprise the finish.
The 2015 Sacrament is off-dry with very high alcohol (16% ABV). Even though acid is also medium-plus, the wine retains a nice balance because of the residual sugar. Oak aging lends medium-minus tannins. The sugar-plus-alcohol sweet heat combination gives Sacrament a full body with medium-plus flavor intensity and a medium-plus finish.
Why is This Wine Special?
There are so many things which are special about this wine, as well as the winery which created it. Where to start…
Let’s begin with the winery. Briar Rose Winery has an unmistakable Disney theme. That’s because it was founded by a former Disney imagineer who helped build Disneyland’s Fantasyland and Toon Town! Holy crap, right? While the ownership changed hands in the 90’s to Les and Dorian Linkogle, it was with the promise to not change any of the architecture.
Also, unlike most of Temecula’s wineries which thrive on crowds (pre-pandemic, at least), Briar Rose was built for intimate reservation-only experiences. Because of these unique qualities, they have something of a cult following.
Now, let’s get to the wine.
Have you heard of the Mission varietal? Unless you’re deeply familiar with California history, Catholicism or obscure Spanish wines, the answer is probably “not yet.” There’s a really cool story behind these grapes, though.
In Renaissance-era Spain, the Catholic Church used a varietal called Listán Prieto (AKA Palomina Negra) to make sacramental wine. In the late 18th century, a Mallorcan friar named Father Junipero Serra led the building of missions in California, to spread Catholicism to the Native American population there. To maintain an inventory of sacramental wine, Father Serra planted Listán Prieto around the missions. Over time, the grape’s proximity to California’s mission resulted in its current name. This also makes the Mission grape the oldest vitis vinifera wine grape planted in California.
The Mission grape has been around California for so long it has earned a number of additional monikers. It also goes by the Los Angeles grape, the Sonoma grape, and the California grape. Sadly, nearly all of the Mission grape’s Old World predecessors died out in the 19th century when phylloxera decimated Europe’s vineyards. It’s extinct in Spain, and as of 2008 only 29 hectares (71.7 acres) are on the Canary Islands.
So, how did a now-extinct Spanish sacramental wine grape end up in Briar Rose’s vineyards?
The story goes that in 1769, Father Serra planted a group of vines at Mission San Diego de Alcala. Years later, the vines were donated to the local Native Americans, the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, whose reservation lies directly adjacent to — you guessed it — the Temecula Valley AVA.
The Pechanga reservation’s Mission vines largely grew wild. The Linkogles were able to obtain some cuttings of those Mission grape vines, and planted them in the Briar Rose vineyards. The 2015 Sacrament comes from the wine’s “third leaf” (i.e., the third year when vines produced fruit, usually considered the first viable year to make wine from the crops), and end product is inspired by Catholic sacramental wine.
This means the Mission grapes used in the Briar Rose 2015 Sacrament are directly descended from the vines brought to California by Father Junipero Serra. How cool is that?!
When & How I Would Drink It
With all the fruit and spice layers, and the viscosity from the alcohol in the Briar Rose 2015 Sacrament, the foods which pair best are similar to what you’d pair with a buttery oaked Chardonnay (very different from unoaked) — salmon with butter sauce, chicken in mushroom cream sauce, black pepper pasta, risotto, quiche, and charcuterie.
Keep in mind, though, at 16% alcohol, this wine packs a heftier punch than even most of Temecula’s most potent reds. Moreover, the additional residual sugar combined with skilled winemaking make the boozy flavors well-hidden. So, drink responsibly!
How to Get It
Bottle Price: $28.00
Cases Produced: 35 cases
Have you tried the Briar Rose 2015 Sacrament? How did the tasting notes compare with your experience? Leave a comment below.