It hasn’t been all that long since Napa Valley’s hot and northern Calistoga area was awarded with its own AVA designation (for more on American Viticultural Areas, check out the Wikipedia article on the same topic). How has Calistoga wine fared since then, now that we’re coming up on some of the first bottlings to use the new AVA designation?
Based on my recent trip to Napa Valley, the answer is “pretty damn well.”
Napa Valley, for the most part, retains its varied soil profiles and gets warmer as you move north (much to the surprise and afternoon chagrin of many a tourist from the midwest and east coast), since the mitigating cooling effects that work their on the southern parts of the Valley have far less influence in the more northernly winegrowing areas. I can personally attest to the 100+ degree F roasting that is possible in the 2PM afternoon sun in Calistoga – not fun for humans, but certainly good for the ripening of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
Far more interesting than the hot daytime temperatures in Calistoga (to geeks like me, anyway) is the relative uniformity of the soil types found there – unlike the rest of the valley, the Calistoga soil is almost totally derived from volcanic types, and instead expresses its differences in more-or-less rocky profiles (more rocky on the hillsides, more gravelly on the alluvial fans, and more silty in the central areas). That’s not typical for Napa Valley, where you’re more likely to encounter anywhere from five to well over twenty different soil types within the same AVA.
The (relative) lack of soil differentiation hasn’t detracted from the Cabs one bit, which at their best tend to be less rounded in the palate than their southern Napa counterparts, and more focused in their black-fruit profiles. They don’t jump out at you, but after a few minutes in the glass they seduce the hell out of you. In a few cases, I was blown away by the quality of some of the wines that will be moving to the new Calistoga AVA on their labels – so don’t freak out when you start to encounter these beauties on the shelf, just because you aren’t yet familiar with the AVA on the label; you just might miss out on something stellar if you do!
Joe Roberts is a Certified Specialist of Wine and author of the award-winning 1WineDude.com wine blog.
While the trend in California chardonnays is towards more tropically flavored wines, featuring dominant pineapple/mango/guava/citrus notes, the big trophy chardonnays still reign supreme. Think Kistler, Far Niente, Newton Unfiltered, Grgich Hills, Rombauer, Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch.
On the other end of the spectrum are the “new chardonnays” of Central and Southern California. Many chardonnays, especially from the Paso Robles area seem more tropical every year. Surprisingly, these wines are exhibiting more of this tropicality than the leaner-styled chardonnays from Australia and New Zealand. It seems, through my tastings, that this flavor profile is a hallmark of the lower-and mid-priced tier, while in the upper-price tier, the traditional apple/pear/fig/honeyed notes tend to predominate. If you’re seeking that tropical stylee, Clos LaChance Santa Cruz Mt. 2006 Chardonnay delivers under $20. In the more traditional Burgundian-style, the wines from Tolosa in San Luis Obispo/Edna Valley are a steal. They offer both a non-oaked and an oaked version, a daytime & a nighttime option, if you will. I’ve found, generally, that these more “tropically”-flavored chardonnays (as well as the non-oaked versions) are best enjoyed in sunny situations. Save the oaky/fall-fruit-flavored chards for darker pursuits.
Pictured here is the view from the “Tasting Deck” at Esterlina Vineyards, a tiny, mountaintop, boutique property making world-class wines. Green rolling hills, mammoth redwoods, untamed rivers, the wild Northern California coast-plus all of the great wine- makes for a vacation paradise for an outward-bound wino. I was lucky enough to get styled with a sweet guesthouse stay at the Parducci Winery (love their wines!) in Ukiah last month, and I strongly recommend that you get up there some time if you have the chance. Pinot Noir fan? I tasted EASILY 20 pinots one day rolling out towards the coast on Hwy. 128 in Anderson Valley. Gewurztraminer lover? You could bathe in the sweet/spicy juice out here, local wineries produce so much. The highpoint/best wine? You’ll never taste it. Goldeneye’s (Duckhorn’s AV property) Gowan Vineyard’s Pinot Noir. Sold out at the winery. It had that rustic, brambly,almost piney essence that so many of the great one’s from here exhibit. I pointed out to winemaker Zach Rasmuson the “herbal” quality of the wine, and I was reminded of the scent of Mendo’s second most profitable crop. It all made sense. For a steal deal, seek out Parducci’s Pinot Noir, or go big with Goldeneye’s AV Pinot.
Known as Zinfandel here, it was the most widely planted California varietal during the original “wine boom” of 1878 to 1889. Some say the Croations first brought it here, some say the Greeks. In Southern Italy, it’s Primitivo. I was lucky enough to get styled with a bottle of Castello Monaci’s “Piluna” Primitivo last night. What a find! Vibrant, violet/red, this perfumed, spiced dark red cherry bomb hails from Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot. It is said that this wine was “disegnati dal sole”, meaning “crafted by the sun”. The mineral backbone, focused by the hammering Southern Italian sun has truly crafted a bold, juicy, well-balanced spice treat. I find it somewhat ironic that what is arguably our best food-pairing wine actually comes from Europe. For the money (under $15), I’ll take a stellar Primitivo like this one rather than an over-priced, over-alcoholized Cali Zin any day. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate agrees, giving Castello Monaci’s 2006 “Piluna” Primitivo 90 points.