Wed 17 Nov 2010
Nothing wrong with large producers; they often make fine wine indeed, though they can also err in trying to be all things to all consumers and churning out labels at every price-point. What I really love to write about however are the small, family-owned wineries that nestle in the hills and dales of our country’s wine regions, making a few thousand (or few hundred) cases of a small number of wines and selling them or marketing them as best they can, without the benefit of marketing teams and agencies in New York or San Francisco.
Here are reviews of sauvignon blanc and pinot noir wines from two such wineries. These were samples for review.
Foursight Wines produces fewer than 1,000 cases annually of sauvignon blanc and pinot noir from the Charles Vineyard in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley and a Mendocino gewurztraminer. The winery was founded in 2006 by longtime growers Bill and Nancy Charles, with their daughter Kristy Charles and her husband Joseph Webb. That’s it. The wines practically teem with authenticity and integrity and a sense of connection to their cool, coastal region.
The Foursight Charles Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Anderson Valley, is exceptionally clean and fresh and invigorating. It’s like drinking a deconstruction of a grapefruit — without being anything like a snappy, over-eager New Zealand rendition — with the tang of the pulp, the slight bitterness of the pith and the oiliness of the rind, combined with a spicy tangerine-lemon element and a brilliance of limestone-like minerality. The wine is juicy and tasty, yet spare and delicate; made all in stainless steel, it radiates purity and intensity. 216 cases were produced. 14.1 percent alcohol. Now through 2012. Excellent. About $20.
The Foursight “All-In” Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007, Anderson Valley, is an understated beauty. Fermented with wild yeast, unfined and unfiltered, it offers a beguiling limpid ruby color that’s almost transparent at the rim. Scents of lightly spiced red and black cherries hold undertones of red currants and mulberries with touches of smoke and leather. Lovely balance and integration produce an entrancing mouthful of pinot noir that glides across the palate like satin; a few minutes in the glass add notes of moss and briers, while structure and texture remain subtle and supple. The wine aged in French oak, 20 percent new, the rest two-year-old barrels and older. A pinot noir for devotees of the classic elegant fashion. 407 cases were produced. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $46.
I was at a wholesaler’s trade tasting a few weeks ago and tried some wines from Carrefour Vineyards, a producer I had not encountered before. The Napa Valley winery was started in 1997 by Greg and Marilyn Nitz, a dentist and an airline pilot. They planted 18 acres of vines so that by 2003 they were making estate-grown wines from cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc grapes. They began making pinot noir with the 2002 vintage from grapes purchased from the well-known Truchard Vineyard in Carneros. Kelly De’Ianni, formerly at St. Supery, is consulting winemaker for Carrefour. I was particularly taken with the winery’s Sauvignon Blanc 2006 — that’s right, ’06 — and Pinot Noir 2005, and I asked to be sent the next releases of the wines, which reached me recently. That Sauvignon Blanc 06, of which 838 cases were made, could age gracefully for another two or three years, properly stored.
We would expect a Napa Valley sauvignon blanc to be a little lusher and denser than one made in the Anderson Valley (where little sauvignon blanc is grown, by the way) and that’s certainly the case with the Carrefour Sauvignon Blanc 2007; yes, I know, everyone else has released their ’09s. This envelops you in a cloud of roasted peach and pear infused with lemon balm, almond and almond blossom, ginger and quince; the effect is almost honeyed except that the wine is bone-dry. Flavors of roasted lemon and yellow plum (and hints of dried thyme and tarragon) and a texture that balances lushness with leanness are bolstered by crystalline acidity, and the whole package nestles on bedrock of damp limestone and shale. I don’t have information on the production, but say under 1,000. Alcohol level is 13.8 percent. Excellent. About $18 (at the winery; in my local market it would be $23).
The color of the Carrefour Pinot Noir 2006, Napa Valley, is a transparent ripe red cherry; the bouquet is a striking amalgam of black cherry and red currants and raspberries permeated by cloves, cinnamon and sassafras with a dusty plum undertone. Give the wine a few minutes in the glass and it yields rose petals and lilacs and a tinge of pulverized shale. Yes, pretty damned heady stuff yet not flamboyant or obtrusive, instead nuanced, rather poised, almost expectant. In the mouth, flavors of red and black cherries carry a touch of dried red currants and refined spiciness highlighted by finespun tannins and striking acidity that energizes the whole package and cuts a swath on the palate. In its way, this pinot noir is as classic as the Foursight 2007 mentioned previously, but it clearly reflects different climatic influences. Production was 766 cases. 14.1 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $33.