Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
The 2010 Harvest, Charter Oak, Biodynamic Wine Competition & St. Clement
Harvest is all but complete, and, as we predicted a month ago, the California wine makers used all their knowledge and experience to bring in what should be an excellent vintage for the consumers (who are concerned mostly with quality), if a bit small in size for the producer (tonnage was a bit down due to the necessity of dropping a great deal of damaged fruit so that what remained received the best nutrients and, ultimately, exhibited the most flavor).
Interestingly, just last year we spoke to many winemakers about the pros and cons of using a sorting table at the winery (where the “not-so-hot-grapes” are hand discarded). There was no consensus among the winemakers as to whether these devices were necessary, and there did not seem to be a difference in the quality of wines between wineries that used the tables, or elected not to. THIS YEAR, on the other hand, everyone wished they had one due to the uneven nature of so many grape clusters. While most winemakers would not go on record, a majority agreed with our thought that it might be well worth the time to identify those wineries that removed the damaged parts of the cluster at the winery on the sorting tables, as their 2010 vintage may well have an edge.
On the other hand, some growers and winemakers were insistent that as much of the damaged fruit as possible be removed while the grapes were still on the vines, and thus the lack of a sorting table would have little effect. And then there are even others who think that having some of the over-ripe raisiny grapes in the ultimate mix could make for some very good wines.
One thing is for certain - the 2010 vintage will be anxiously awaited and meticulously evaluated.
When a winery is fun and has some unique touches, it is often worth spending some time there. When the wines are top notch in addition, the “often” becomes “always.” Charter Oak, located on a very small property in an otherwise residential type neighborhood in St. Helena, is just such a place. As far as we can discover, their wine making technique is engaged in by no other winery in Napa.
Owned by lawyer Roberto and artist Layla Fanucci, the wines are fermented in small batches and then punched down by hand with redwood bats that were made by Rob’s grandfather Guido Ragghianti. The wine ferments on natural yeast and is hand pressed in a 100 year old wooden basket press used by that Guido for all those many harvests. You cannot extract as much juice from the grapes using a hand press as you can with a high-tech machine used by most wineries today, so at Charter Oak they might get about 135 gallons of wine per ton of grapes as opposed to 180. Thus, Charter Oak’s wine is obviously different than most – some say smoother.
-2007 Monte-Rosso Old Vine Vineyard ($42): A luscious Zin with raspberries throughout.
-2007 Old Vine Petite Sirah ($42): This is supposed to be big and dark, and it is. The chocolate-cherry on the finish is a treat.
-2006 Mount Veeder Hillside Cabernet Sauvignon ($60): Another entry from Mt. Veeder, which is the home of some superior Cabs. Emeril called it one of his favorite “cults.”
Note: The entire production at Charter Oak is under 700 cases, so if you care to try these wonderful wines (and get a tour of a truly one of a kind property), you should hurry.
Biodynamic Wine Competition
Monty had the nice honor of being invited as one of the judges for the 2010 Organic and Biodynamic Wine Competition held in Santa Rosa. We think this is an important event, as producing wine with some level of organic or biodynamic practices should be the goal of all wineries. Many people still think wineries farming in this manner cannot produce wines of distinction, and competitions such as this one can debunk that old myth.
This year’s top entries:
-Best of Class White: 2007 Kathryn Kennedy Sauvignon Blanc ($24).
-Runner-up: 2007 Verdad Wine Cellars Albarino ($22).
-Best of Class Red: 2007 Quivera Syrah ($28)
-Other Best of Class Candidates:
-2007 Sky Saddle Zinfandel ($22)
-2007 Quivera Petite Sirah ($26)
-2007 Bonterra Merlot ($16)
This is a relatively new competition and did not yet feature some of the best wines being organically produced. But many were plenty good and will get better. Wineries all over the country are bragging about transforming their properties into biodynamically concerned entities. They need to consider this competition as a way to get the message out to the public.
St. Clement is one of the oldest and most pedigreed wineries in the Napa Valley. The main tasting room is located in a 135 year old house where many people of import have lived, and the wines have long been honored. The best way to enjoy St. Clement is to take a tour, or choose a planned tasting. Below we write about some excellent wines, and some good ones that are also good on value. [Note: it is a bit of a climb to the tasting room at St. Clement, so you may want the best in shape of your group to drop people off before parking].
-2006 Abbott’s Vineyard Merlot ($40): 100% Merlot and a wonderful representative of the varietal. Black currants and chocolate sort of explode from the cherries already on the mid palate, the tannins promise longevity, and the lingering finish reminds us of blueberries.
-2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($36); One of the best values in a Valley, where finding truly good Cabs under $50 is nigh impossible. Layers of cherries and cocoa abound.
-2006 Oroppas ($55): A combination of 4 of the primary Bordeaux grapes (no Malbec), this is still primarily a Cabernet Sauvignon and shows all the right descriptors. The mid palate is the star, and is so huge that it does tend to overshadow the finish.
-2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($80): So at $80 this should be the pride of the winery, and it is. Exquisite in its depth and already exhibiting some secondary characteristics (leather, forest floor), this wine demands a steak of distinction as a partner.
Also of note were three wines that we judge to be a good value for every day enjoyment:
-2008 Bale Lane Sauvignon Blanc ($21);
-2007 Abbott’s Valley Chardonnay ($25); and
-2006 Napa Valley Merlot ($28).
Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.