Climate is an inescapable word in the wine industry. Hot climate, cool climate, Mediterranean or maritime. They mix and match and sometimes if you are in the right spot in the world, you can become a region for world-class wines.
The Napa Valley with its Mediterranean climate sports long, warm growing seasons perfect for full bodied wines. Pinot noir with its acidity and thin skin should technically not do well in a climate such as ours.
It craves the cool continental climate of its ancestral home of Burgundy or the fog-covered, ocean influence of the Sonoma coast.
But we were tasting through lean mineral driven to fat and juicy pinot noirs from right here in the Napa Valley. These wines hail from all corners of Napa with the bulk in the slightly cooler southern end of the valley, Los Carneros. The men and women behind these wines have sought out the perfect microclimates (the size of a vineyard or smaller) that is cool enough to produce these outstanding pinot noirs. With love, care and a careful watch over the summer into the cooling mists of fall these wines show the dedication and love that went into creating them.
The best part? The prices of these wines ranged from $24 to $65 per bottle, perfect for your Tuesday night wine or special occasion and all great values for a Napa Valley red wine.
The panelists came from a wide array of backgrounds in the Napa Valley and included Robert and Laura Schermeister (Schermeister Cellars), Julie Lumgair (J. Moss Winery), Liz Thach (Sonoma State), Matt Reid (Benessere Vineyards), Tom Rinaldi (Pellet Estate), Katie Leonardini (Whitehall Lane), Kristin Belair (Honig), Adam Padilla (Culinary Institute of America), Bob Bath, MS (Culinary Institute of America), Chris Phelps (Ad Vivum), Kim Nichols (Markham Winery), Corey Whitaker (Frank Family) and Sean and Kyrsta Scully (Napa Valley Register).
Liz Thach said, “I am picky about my pinot noir and found several I really fell in love with … I think these wines are speaking to their vintages very clearly.” The majority of the vintages shown were from 2014 and 2015, all current releases. These vintages are highly regarded vintages during our last drought which could have been finicky for this thin-skinned grape but instead showed bigger, riper fruit without sacrificing the balance.
“I love pinot noir and I remember being at this pinot noir tasting five or six years ago. And the general consensus was that we were making in Napa Valley, pinot noirs like we make our cabs, big and powerful. We are really showing some restraint now ... they are a lot more relaxed,” said Krysta Scully, longtime taster for the Napa Valley Register.
Many winemakers appreciated the diversity of styles. Matt Reid said, “Anyone tasting through these wines would be hard pressed to say this is what Napa pinot tastes like. We saw varied expressions of the grape. I had a lot of favorites and some didn’t work for me but they will work for somebody else, I thought it was exciting there was so much diversity.”
When talking about pairings, both Julie Lumgair and Tom Rinaldi commented on their ability to pair with a wide array of food but to be careful of the style coming from 2015. Rinaldi said, “I would not be afraid to have these with dinner any day of the week, especially ribs and something from the barbecue. You know, they are distinctive wines with leather, olive, some toned down oak. The negative is that some of them poured with earth notes.”
The conclusion was that we give the 2015 vintages time to open up and that they are perfect candidates for another year in the cellar.
Ancien 2014 Los Carneros ($38): Dusty notes of tobacco and pine lead into beautiful red cherry and cranberry. The oak is integrated with a lively acidity and is reminiscent of pinot noir from Burgundy.
Baldacci Family Vineyards “Elizabeth” 2014 Los Carneros ($50): Slight garnet colored with aromas of sweet spice, wild flowers and strawberries. On the palate the fruit is ripe with notes of licorice and violets.
Castello di Amorosa 2015 Los Carneros ($42): On the nose, the wine is very dark fruit driven with blackberry, boysenberry and plums. This is followed by cocoa and smoke, violets and sour cherry. One of the ripest and fullest bodied of the flight.
Hill Family Estate “Stewart Ranch” 2015 Los Carneros ($52): A complex nose with red fruit, dusty clay and and earthy quality that give the wine richness without too much weight. The wine finishes with notes of spices and thyme and a balance between tannin and acidity.
Saintsbury “Lee Vineyard” 2015 Los Carneros ($62): Bright and candied fruit attack the senses from the glass with candied raspberry, cherry pie and pomegranates. This is balanced by a minerality of crushed rock, slate and lilacs with balanced oak.