Welcome back, wine lovers.
The last time we got together (Sept. 13), I peppered you with wine picks from near and far. Today, my recommendations come from one corner of our backyard. I spotlight Carneros, the AVA that connects us with Sonoma like a Lego tile.
All four of my picks come from its Napa side, three of them a short jog apart. Four wines, four grapes. From classic to esoteric. Something for everybody today. And to continue my mantra, I’ll help you find, buy and enjoy these wines. But first, a Carneros primer to share with your out-of-town guests.
Carneros is Spanish for rams. You sometimes see it means sheep, which is sort of right. It’s rams, the virile male sheep. The region was silly with rams, ewes, lambs, cows … the name goes back at least to the California mission days in the 1820s. Rincon de los Carneros was one of the Mexican land grants of the 1840s.
The next time you hear, “those cool breezes coming off the San Pablo Bay,” think about the seven or so miles between the bay and Carneros. The cool bay waters and winds fill the slough, marshes and Napa river in those seven miles, but it’s not actually the San Pablo Bay. The northern edge of the bay runs along Highway 37 and the tip of Mare Island in Vallejo. The Napa River is the cool maritime air’s avenue to the Carneros. A technicality, perhaps.
Here we go, my Carneros four. Three whites and a red. As always, I suggest the best way for you to buy them.
Art House Pinot Gris, Los Carneros, Napa Valley 2016, At $30, it’s a Dan Dawson’s Wine Advisor (DDWA) Very Good Value
Art House is owned by John and Dona Bonnick of Napa Valley. Artists and photographers by trade, they extended their art to include killer Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Rose wine starting in 2010. They are Carneros residents and avid supporters. The Pinot Gris comes from a vineyard near their home on Las Amigas Road, southside of Highway 12. Those bay breezes by way of the Napa River make this the coolest wine region of Napa Valley.
With lots of texture and high acidity, the Art House Pinot Gris pushes the flavor envelope when enjoyed without food. With my first sip, I thought of a jump into a cool pool on a hot day: quick shock before getting used to it. Lemon zest, crisp pineapple. Its rightful place is on the dinner table: mine had grilled shrimp soft tacos on it with the Art House. Shrimp, avocado, cabbage, green onion, tomatillo salsa. So good. Buy winery-direct at ArtHouseWines.com. Once you do, John will call you to arrange free local delivery or shipping.
Poseidon Chardonnay “Estate Grown” Carneros, Napa Valley 2017, $28 and a DDWA Very Good Value
When you think Carneros, you think Chardonnay, Pinot Noir right? The owners of Poseidon were thinking this back in 1973 when they planted their vineyard on the southern edge of Carneros. They were grape sellers exclusively until the early 2000s when they started the Poseidon label. This is a winner at twice the price. It’s rich and satisfying for the full-bodied Chardonnay camp and acceptable to those who complain the grape is too heavy for them. Think roasted almonds, peaches & cream, buttered toast. “Richness with restraint” is a common line used to convince non-Chardonnay drinkers that “this one is different.” I say no apologies for its richness.
Two places to buy this locally. Oxbow Wine & Cheese sells it retail AND is currently pouring it by the glass. Have it with the Fontina cheese for a taste delight. You can also check out the Poseidon tasting room at Cornerstone Sonoma on Arnold Drive. If you do, five bucks says you join their wine club to take part in their many fantastic events.
Argus Pinot Noir, Napa Valley—Carneros 2017, $32—a DDWA Hall of Fame Value (the best Value Rating I give). Also from the coolest Carneros vineyards west of Highway 12. Argus is one of the five labels owned and made by long-time Napa winemaker Chris Dearden. He has a knack for making wines that are varietally correct and full flavored without going too far on ripeness and alcohol. I’m absolutely taken by the Argus Pinot Noir 2017. It’s delicate but not shy. Wild cherries, cinnamon, tarragon. Gentle enough to drink with white fish, strong enough to hold up to sausage pizza. It’s hard to get a Pinot this good for $32 anymore.
DeardenWines.com is the place to buy Argus Pinot Noir. At check-out you’ll see free local pick up and delivery options. It’ll probably be either Chris or his wife Paige handing over your purchase. Here’s a tip – for a step up get Dearden’s Sleeping Giant Pinot Noir 2017 for $52.
Truchard Roussanne, Carneros, Napa Valley 2018, $28 and a DDWA Awesome Value. Truchard’s vineyards are on the outskirts of Napa on north side of Highway 12. Called the “Banana Belt” of Carneros as it’s noticeably warmer than just 2 miles south where bay influence is more consistent. The warmer weather makes for a greater variety of grapes: Truchard has 12 varieties planted, including 3 acres of Roussanne.
If you don’t know Roussanne, you’re not alone. It’s a big deal in France’s Rhone Valley and Savoie in The Alps. It does well in California, Truchard Roussanne case in point. It’s a strong white wine with high acidity and a red wine-like structure. It ages well … the Truchard Roussanne 2018 case in point. It’s really good now but best-served to hold for a year plus. The wine begrudgingly gives up its pear, dried mango, white pepper and coriander flavors. Turn me to wine geek mode and I’ll call this a “serious white wine,” because of the layers of flavors that have yet to emerge.
Truchard Winery is on Old Sonoma Road just beyond Napa City Limits. Order from the online at TruchardVineyards.com and choose pick up at the winery. You’ll find a quaint, friendly, working winery and, around it, Truchard’s 400 acres of rolling hills, half under vine.
My last wine tip……is a frozen treat tip. The Mangonada at Tarascas Paleteria at 3095 Jefferson St. (the Mary’s Pizza Shack shopping center) is out of this world good. I had my first in August and use every ounce of self-control not to have one a day. Mangonadas I think are like paella – there are many versions. The Mangonada at Tarascas is made with mango sherbet, fresh mango, shaved ice and the two spicy Mexican condiments Chamoy and Tajín. It’s finished with the dried chili-mango straw. So good I get a brain freeze and don’t even care. Tarascas – pay them a visit and support small local business. I promise an honest-to-goodness wine tip next time. Until then, spend wisely and drink well!
I’m Dan Dawson, a Napa Valley wine writer, wine consumer advocate and recovering wine merchant. You can read more of my wine recommendations at DawsonWineAdvisor.com. Contact me through my website with questions and comments.
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