Directly south of (and overlapping parts of) Sonoma and Napa sits the tragic “gateway region” of Carneros, either ignored by the serious drinkers on their way to the biggies or descended upon like locusts by day-trippers trying to hit as many wineries as they can. The irony is that there are some really good wines coming out of there. Our host Leah suggested that we pick out a region to examine and then feature examples of a few well-received wines that people can look for in stores. We haven’t tasted Carneros in more than a year, so lets do that — specifically, Carneros whites.
Due to the cool ocean air flowing off the San Pablo Bay, the climate of Carneros is conducive to growing the cool-weather grapes that flourish in Burgundy — namely, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (although you may find some other white varietals there as well). Sonoma and particularly Napa are both warmer than Carneros, and unlike these better-known regions, the cooler climate of Carneros prevents the wine from ever becoming “fat, flaccid, or overwrought,” according to the Wine Bible. Hopefully we’ll discover some suibtle, nuanced examples of the best booze the region has to offer. Please note that Carneros actually exists within the geographical borders of Napa and Sonoma. In other words, there is no “Carneros , California” — it’s just a wine region. So the back of your bottle will generally list either Napa or Sonoma (e.g. produced and bottled by Domaine Carneros, Napa, CA). The front, however, will definitely say Carneros, and you’ll know you have the real deal.
Here are some bottles that have been variously recommended:
2004 HDV Chardonnay ($55)
This wine has a great backstory: It’s a joint venture between the celebrated Hyde family of the Carneros region and the de Villaines of Burgundy’s Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. The wine is pretty great, too: lush and rich, with notes of peach and melon and a firm cut of acidity.
Recommended by the American Wine Awards 2007
Francis Coppola Sofia Rosé 2005 ($15)
When I tasted this sparkling wine back in early spring, I wasn’t impressed, but with a few months in bottle it has bloomed and become quite charming. Made from Carneros-grown Pinot Noir, it has a rich coral color and vibrant berryish flavors. Quite dry, it is heartier than some and can handle a variety of seasonal foods.
2005 Clos du Val Chardonnay ($18-$20)
The creamy fruit of Carneros Chardonnay can be lovely when it is not over-oaked — and founding winemaker Bernard Portet won’t allow that in any Clos du Val wines.
Both recommended by Barbara Ensrud in “Cork Report”
2004 MacRostie Chardonnay ($22)
Though Steve MacRostie founded his winery in 1987, his wines rarely get the publicity they deserve, which makes them one of the rare bargains from the Carneros region. This wine is all about rich, viscous fruit with a wonderful clarity of expression—a straight-ahead wine beautifully executed.
2004 Waterstone Chardonnay ($18)
The Waterstone Winery, launched just six years ago, sources grapes from the cool Carneros region of Napa Valley. The 2004 vintage is the winery’s second Chardonnay. It’s less about oak than it is about the fruit, which has a compelling crisp green apple character.
Both recommended by Food & Wine “Buyer’s Guide to 75 of the Best California Wines”
2005 Acacia Chardonnay ($16)
Really pretty pear flavors on the nose… good old-fashioned buttered popcorn… also some dandelions dancing on the nose, which I appreciate and thank them for. Good acidity… a good, solid 88-point Chardonnay. Pretty well-made. If it wasn’t so buttery, it would almost be Chablis-like.
Recommended by Gary Vaynerchuk on tv.winelibrary.com (watch the episode here)
We’ll be meeting at Leah’s house in Santa Monica. Chill your Carneros white or bring a $10 donation, and we’ll see you on Tuesday night at 9:00.