By CELIA STRONG
Once again, we’re talking wine names that have special meanings.
The name of a California growing area – Carneros. And the name of a winery – Cuvaison.
Just interesting facts that can make learning new wines a bit more fun.
Carneros (Los Carneros also works) is a California American Viticultural Area (AVA) that is located across the southern tip of both Napa and Sonoma counties. It is one of the oldest grape growing and wine making areas in California.
Created in 1983, it covers ninety square miles in the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains. And, it is known for high quality Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs – still wines and lots of sparkling also. (Like Domaine Carneros owned by Taittinger, Gloria Ferrer owned by Freixenet and Mumm Napa owned by G H Mumm.)
Carneros has a cool, windy, foggy climate. In its early years of growing wine grapes, this caused vineyard problems. But by the 1970s, quality and consistency were achieved.
By then, winemakers had learned that the cooler weather of Carneros was perfect for cooler climate varieties. Chardonnay that is typically more elegant that most other California Chards, with crisper acidity and fresh, stone-fruit aromas. And Pinot Noir that is traditionally lighter and tighter those from other California regions, with berry and herb notes.
In short, these wines resemble more closely French-style versions than American.
Besides the climate, Carneros’ soil also helps produce this style of wines. It is predominantly clay, very thin and shallow, so there is poor drainage and low fertility. Grape ripening can be delayed and crops can be low yields. But struggling grapes in longer growing seasons can ripen to intense and vivid and deep flavors.
The wines from Cuvaison are perfect examples of what Carneros wine can be. Releasing their first wine in 1969, Cuvaison has played an important part for years in establishing and maintaining this AVA’s reputation.
In 1979, they acquired 400 acres of prized vineyard land north of San Pablo Bay in the AVA. In 1991, they started a replanting program that emphasized each plot of land within the 400 acres, so that each specific plot got the best variety and best clone for its specific attributes. In 2012, Cuvaison was honored by “Wine & Spirits” as one of the Top 100 Wineries in the World.”
Cuvaison Chardonnay is a luxurious bottle of wine. It is 100 percent Chardonnay, 100 pecent grown on their estate and 100 percent Carneros fruit. The grapes are picked slowly over three to four weeks so that each one is ripe.
Fermentation takes two to three weeks, and the wine is aged in French oak barrels for 11 months. Twenty-five percent new barrels. It has aromas and flavors including honeysuckle, jasmine, daffodils, vanilla, cloves and other baking spices, pears and peaches, lemons and toasty brioche. It is medium to full bodied with very bright, focused acidity. For $19.99.
Cuvaison Pinot Noir is just as exceptional. Also 100 percent Pinot Noir, 100 percent estate-grown, 100 percent Carneros grapes. Also, a longer harvest time, so each grape is allowed to ripen as completely as possible and a one and a half to two and a half weeks for fermentation. Aging is done in French oak for 15 months. The finished wine is known for its velvety texture and concentrated aromas and flavors. Cherry tarts, dried raspberries, cinnamon and earth, wild raspberries, black plums, coffee notes, baking spices and crème brulée all float on silky tannins.
And what about the new names?
“Carneros” is Spanish for sheep. Herds of them, Los Carneros, have been raised in this AVA for years.
Which explains all the special Sonoma County goat cheeses too.
“Cuvaison” is a French word that means the aging time wines spend in vats. Vatting. A reference by the winery’s European owners to their heritage and their style of wines.