Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Two Ends of Napa



Today it was Napa. Started at Domaine Carneros for a tour and tasting followed by lunch with Pinot Noir winemaker TJ Evans.

Background on the winery: Owned by the Taittinger family of Champagne fame, the winery was constructed in 1988 and employs much of the viticulture and viniculture used in Champagne. The standard wine is the D.C. Brut (vintage dated) - the current offering is 05. This was the first wine we tasted as we started the tour. Always pleasant, it is a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. Balanced, tasty and rich - it spends three years on the lees, but no reserve wines are used. Continuing the tour we eventually tasted the Le Reve - D.C.'s tete de cuvee. Wonderful elegance and length, really a fine sparkling wine. The last wine tasted on the walking tour was the Rose - I didn't get the vintage as I was pulled away from the tour - not because I was causing trouble - but I was supposed to be on the private tour with the winemaker.

We were shown to the dining area where lunch was prepared for us and joined by the Pinot Noir winemaker, TJ Evans, who has been with the winery for a little over a year, but has been making wine for many years in other parts of the world. We enjoyed the D.C. Brut 05, again with our salads, then the D.C. Pinot Noir 06, which I found to be an excellent example of Carneros Pinot - cherries and cinnamon, earthy, balanced - Pinot, plain and simply delicious. The final wine was the D.C. Brut Late Disgorged 02, which at first was bit closed and showed some age, but eventually opened up wonderfully, subtle, creamy and quite delicious.

All in all quite impressed with Domaine Craneros - balance and finesse as one might expect not only from a French owned winery but also showing the complexity and beauty of Carneros.

From D.C. we wound our way north to and then up Spring Mountain Road for the stay tonight at Cain, which sits a the very top of Spring Mountain. Quick tour (the winery is very small) followed by a tasting of four wines (production is three - but we had two vintages of the Concept).

Some background: Cain has been making wine since the early 1980's - Cain Five being the first, followed by Cuvee and finally in 2000, Concept was added. As Chris Howell, the winemaker for the past 19 years, points out, each wine really is a stand alone idea and production - there are no "second labels" here.

Cain Cuvee is an ever-changing project, where the fruit can come from different sources and the blend will also be different from year to year - as will the amounts of wine from vintages. Cuvee is a non-vintage wine and for the past 10 years has had varying levels of different vintages for the blend. We tasted NV6, which contains 35% 2005 and 65% 2006 wine. It is a blend of the five main Bordeaux varietals, the vineyard sourcing is mainly from York Creek Vineyard (lower down Spring Mountain and owned by Fritz Maytag), Yountville and the Petite Verdot comes from Atlas Peak.

Concept (we tasted both the 05 and then the 00) is the latest wine to be added to the portfolio is a again a stand alone project that should not be looked at as a second label or Baby 5. It is from vineyards located in different parts of Napa (ToKalon, George III, Garvey and Beckstoffer) and located mainly on benchlands. The winemaking is quite similar to Cain 5 and Cuvee for that matter, the expression changes because of the vineyards. Again, all five Bordeaux varietals with a heavy influence dose of Petite Verdot, which really stands out in the blend. The 05 has dusty tannins, focused, elegant fruit - quite good. The 00 was a stand-out: elegantly maturing - the wine ha not hit its prime quite yet- perhaps andother couple of years(?) Smooth fruit with the same dusty tannins and a finish that just goes on and on.

Cain 5, 05 - not much to say, this wine is really good. All five grapes, Spring Mountain District, Estate Bottled (completely estate starting in 06). Round, big dusty nose filled with dark fruit - it is like drinking liquid velvet. Gorgeous. Cain has a vista that is worth the trip up the mountain - the wines speak for themselves.

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