Today’s guest post is brought to you by Jason from the blog Ancient Fire Wine, a site you will definitely want to check out if you have any interest in wine, beer, spirits, cocktails, or good food!
In 2010 my wife and I embarked on a project to make virtual visits to different wine regions around the world. We do make in-person visits several times per year, but the project offers a greatly expanded experience and is likely to set us up for future visits to areas we are particularly intrigued by. So far the trips have involved researching the regions to understand history, climate, typical grape types and wine styles, culinary influences and of course the tasting of wines hailing from the region. We have visited Stellenbosch in South Africa, the Elqui valley in Chile, Napa, Tuscany, the Columbia Valley in Washington, Douro and Madeira in Portugal and Ribera del Duero in Spain. When Meghan put the call out for guest posts I immediately thought of picking a new region and taking a trip.
(View of the California wine region of Carneros in Sonoma)
For this trip I picked the Carneros region in California. The Carneros AVA (designated American winemaking region) is located north of San Francisco and contains parts of both Napa and Sonoma counties. The region was first officially designated in 1983 and is about 90 square miles in size. The region’s proximity to San Pablo Bay creates a climate that is cooler than areas further north in both Sonoma and Napa. This more moderate climate led to an early focus on cooler climate grapes such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. These are still the predominant grapes grown in the region today, although plantings and experimentation with other grapes like Roussanne, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Albarino has been ongoing for some time. The wines are typically higher in acidity than similar wines made farther north in the warmer areas.
In the 1980s considerable investment was made by sparkling wine interests including Domaine Chandon and Gloria Ferrer resulting in Carneros becoming, and continuing to be, one of the centers of sparkling wine production in California. I don’t believe I have enjoyed any sparkling wines from the Carneros region, something I surely must remedy!
Producers that you would want to visit when in the region might include Domaine Carneros, Cuvaison and Truchard Vineyards. I have enjoyed wine from all three of these producers in the last several years, with the Pinot Noir from Truchard being particularly notable for its lighter body and balance of fruit and spice flavors.
Specifically what to expect from Carneros wines can be hard to say. An open debate on what the signature of Carneros Pinot Noir is has producers divided. What is interesting about this particular situation is that there is a range of specific Pinot Noir grape clones being grown and vinified in the region, with a good deal of variation in the flavors, from mint, earth and herbs to intense dark fruits like blackberry. The alcoholic strength also varies, all together making it hard to define a singular style.
The wine we chose to review from Carneros is the 2008 Clos Pegase Mitsuko’s Vineyard Chardonnay. Clos Pegase is a Carneros producer located in the Napa portion of the region. This particular vineyard was a Valentine’s Day present from the owner of Clos Pegase to his wife over 20 years ago. What a present!
The color of the wine is of straw with a clear rim transitioning through several shades to the center. My initial impression of the nose I summed up as smoked savory pear. The nose is moderate with pear, peach and toasty notes of oak. I would classify the wine as medium dry and just from tasting I would guess a moderate to high amount of alcohol, around 14%. The label indicates 13.9% alcohol making my guess pretty solid. I found flavors of fig and a warm flavor that I proclaimed as Chinese Five Spice. I think that outcome is a unique expression of the intersection of the alcohol, oak and fruit in this wine. The wine has a nice rich body to it and a long finish. From a quick look at the Clos Pegase web site I found that the wine is made with extended sur lie aging and battonage, which means the wine is aged on its lees and that they are frequently mixed back into the wine during the aging. This process can have a profound effect on the final wine, producing one with more intense aromas and flavors and considerable mellowing from contact with spent yeast and aroma/flavor compounds that would normally have been discarded much earlier. I very much enjoyed this wine and would recommend it as an excellent example of a cooler climate Chardonnay with some oak influence.
That wraps up our visit to Carneros. Hopefully there was something new and interesting here, and that you might even be thinking about looking for wines from the region to try yourself. If you have been to the region be sure to leave a comment and tell us about your experience.
Thank you for your post on one of my favorite areas of California, Jason! You have to get your hands on some Gloria Ferrer bubbly soon. It is definitely one of my favorites.
Interested in more food, wine, beer, and cocktail information, including homemade wine and spirits? You have to visit Ancient Fire Wine, Jason’s blog and a direct link into his home drink adventures!
#2 – Bottle label, my own