Tue 4 Jan 2011
I see that though I posted the “10th Day of Christmas” late last night, my clever computer posted it for today, so we have two Days of Christmas on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2011. Let’s make the real 11th Day of Christmas a shout-out for Domaine Carneros, founded in California’s Carneros region, north of San Pablo Bay, in 1987 as a partnership between Champagne Taittinger and that venerable house’s American importer Kobrand. If you drive through Carneros up to Napa Valley, you can’t miss the winery’s splendid but, for the region, somewhat incongruous chateau, modeled after the Taittinger family’s 18th Century mansion in Champagne. Eileen Crane is the producer’s only winemaker. Naturally, these sparkling wines are made in the champagne method. The style here is light and vivacious, and the words “lovely” and “elegant” will show up often in these reviews.
We’ll look at three Domaine Carneros sparking wines. These were samples for review, a disclosure required by the FCC of bloggers but not print publications.
The Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé 2006 offers a limpid medium copper-salmon color with a patina of tarnished silver; a fountain of tiny bubbles whirls upward in a rush. First, you get strawberry and red currants and a hint of spiced peach borne on a stream of cool, fresh, steely limestone. In the mouth, this Brut Rose delivers lovely presence and texture, with exquisite balance between bracing crispness and warm, almost luxurious creaminess. Subtle flavors of red raspberry and pomegranate are bolstered by limestone and shale minerality that’s like the leading edge of a cliff, though a cliff — to extend a metaphor — adorned with tiny white flowers of a spare and almost astringent reticence. A model of decorum and exhilaration. Excellent. About $36.
The limited production Domaine Carneros Blanc de Noirs Brut 2006 is available only at the winery. The last time Eileen Crane made a blanc de noirs (“white from blacks”) was in 1991, so this was a rare occasion. The wine was made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes. The color is radiant pale gold, infused with an infinity of tiny silver-flecked bubbles. Freshly baked bread and biscuits, quince and pear with a hint of ginger characterize a beguiling bouquet packed with spice and limestone. Tremendously fresh, clean and bracing, this sparkling wine feels almost cloud-like in its lovely heft and presence, though it is scintillating with crisp acidity and a monumental mineral edge. Still, it remains deft, delicate and elegant, a finely tuned construct of delightful paradoxes. The finish is long, toasty and spicy, with a salt-marsh tang. A great achievement.
Domaine Carneros Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs Brut 2004 is pretty damned dreamy, all right. Made completely from chardonnay grapes, this beauty sports a very pale gold-platinum blond color and a teeming fountain of tiny bubbles. The bouquet offers seamless aromas of yeast, freshly baked biscuits, orange zest and almond blossom and some dried floral element, like dusty acacia; it takes a few minutes for the limestone element to seep upward and twine itself with the other elements, and then follows a note of lemon curd. Yeah, it’s sort of delirious stuff yet gentle and nuanced, just as in the mouth the principle tone is suppleness, almost soft lushness, wedded to brisk, even nervous acidity; the effect is close to blithe with crystalline purity and intensity. There comes a point when one no longer says, “Ah, yes, this sparkling wine from California is a good alternative to Champagne, if you can’t get the real stuff.” No, Le Rêve 2004 is just a great sparkling wine; such comparisons are belittling. Exceptional. About $85.