Thu 14 Aug 2014
One of the seemingly natural pairs in terms of wine type, grapes and geography is chardonnay and pinot noir. Doubtless such a perception stems from the conjunction of chardonnay and pinot noir in their Ur-home, their cradle, their altar, in Burgundy’s Cote d’Or. It’s the terroir, stupid, a small narrow stretch of low, southeast-facing hills upon which nature, climate and geology have, with mindless yet carefully calibrated precision, wrought exactly the gradations, exposure, drainage, top soil and under-girding layers, wind and weather — the latter being the wild card — to produce some of the world’s legendary vineyards and finest, rarest wines. It’s not surprising, then, that growers and winemakers in other regions of the world consistently seek to emulate that pairing of these grapes.
No place else is Burgundy, of course, so no area can hope to duplicate exactly the terroir or the conditions that prevail there. In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, for example, the pinot noir grape performs beautifully among those verdant hills and dales, while chardonnay — not that there’s not good chardonnay — is gradually giving over to pinot blanc, pinot gris and riesling. Many regions in California are amenable to chardonnay and pinot noir: Anderson Valley, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Carneros, Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Maria Valley and other smaller and more isolated areas produce splendid examples of each. It’s not surprising that large producers include both types of wines in their rosters or that small-scale wineries sometimes specialize in just the two.
Today’s post inaugurates a series in which I will be looking at the chardonnay and pinot noir wines of producers in California, sometimes individually, occasionally in groups. There’s a good chance that My Readers have not heard of Gallegos Wines. The close-knit family released its first wines only last year, but its roots in Napa Valley — figuratively and literally — go back three generations. The wine industry in California could not exist without the labor of the Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who work in the vineyards and wineries, plant and then tend the vines and grapes through all stages of growth. Increasingly, many of those workers with ties to the land and the industry are starting to make wine too, enough that there’s now a Mexican-American winemakers organization.
Ignacio Gallegos came to California from Michoacan in the 1940s and settled in St. Helena, in Napa Valley, in the mid-1950s. His son, Ignacio II, and grandsons, Eric and Ignacio III, worked in vineyard management and gained the renown that enabled them in 2007 to finally establish their own vineyard management company. Having worked in many of the valley’s finest vineyards, having their own company and with Eric and Ignacio III completing college and courses in viticulture and winemaking, it seemed inevitable that the family would draw on these resources and the grapes from the Rancho de Gallegos estate in the Rutherford bench area, owned by Ignacio II’s brother Maurilio. Gallegos Family Wines produces about 1,000 cases; in addition to the chardonnay and pinot noir reviewed here, there’s a sauvignon blanc, with merlot, petite sirah and cabernet sauvignon coming soon.
These wines were samples for review. Image of Eric, Ignacio II and Ignacio III by Tom Stockwell for the Napa Valley Register.
The Boekenoogen Vineyard is one of my favorite vineyards in Santa Lucia Highlands, and the family that owns and farms the land produces terrific wine from it. The Gallegos Boekenoogen Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, is a reflection of the greatness of that land. The color is a limpid medium ruby with mulberry undertones; this is exquisite, evanescent, transformational pinot noir that features slightly fleshy aromas of red currants and cherries flecked with mulberries, violets and rose petals, cloves, allspice and sassafras, and notes of rhubarb with briers and brambles for an earthy element; all amounting to perhaps the most alluring and definitive bouquet on a pinot noir that I have encountered this year. The division of oak is 25 percent new French barrels and 75 percent neutral, though I was not informed about the length of aging; I venture to say not excessive, because the oak influence here is subliminal, a subtle and supple shaping force. The texture is delightfully sleek and satiny, supporting smoky black and red cherry and currant flavors that take on a bit of loam and leathery earthiness through the finish; well-knit and integrated tannins round off the package. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Production was 250 cases. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $42.
The Charmer Vineyard, owned by Ed Beard Jr. and located in the heart of the Yountville AVA, was planted by Ignacio Gallegos and his brothers more than 30 years ago, so they know it well. They produced 125 cases of the Gallegos Charmer Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Yountville, Napa Valley, a wine that sees only 25 percent new French oak barrels and underwent 25 percent malolactic, the natural chemical transformation that turns sharp malic acid into milder and creamier lactic acid; the result is a chardonnay that retains bright acidity and is not a creamy-butter bomb, while maintaining a lithe, supple almost talc-like texture. The color is pale gold; no denying the richness, in aromas and flavors, the slightly caramelized pineapple and grapefruit with top-notes of jasmine, mango and cloves, but elements of flint and damp gravel and a crisp exhilarating character keep it honest and true. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $29.