By Celia Strong
About a week ago I was in Napa. For real this time. For anyone who has ever been there, you know it does define life in a new way. There is such a feeling you get from driving up and down Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail, hills and vineyards on both sides of you, quaint towns with really good restaurants and fancy shops, and the massive homes you see way up the hills. Then, there’s the sipping wine from morning to cocktail hour, when you stop sipping and start drinking for real, nothing to worry about except what your next sip is going to be. And with GPS toys in cars, now you don’t even have to really pay attention to where the road is going — the voice in the box will tell you when to turn. All of it makes for a relaxed state of mind and, somehow, doesn’t seem completely real. Like a dream.
So, my long weekend included some repeat stops for tastes because I do have my favorites, and one noteworthy new stop. I’ve never been to Domaine Carneros before but I think it’s one of my favorites now. This winery is located at the southern end of Napa Valley, in the Carneros AVA, about 5 to 10 minutes south of the town of Napa. The chateau, which you can see from the highway, is a landmark in Carneros. It was built in 1989, a copy of the 18th century chateau in France owned by Taittinger Champagne. (Yes, Taittinger is the parent of Domaine Carneros.) The views from the Napa chateau are phenomenal — vineyards on rolling hills, blue skies on good days, and, off to one side, what looks like a group of sheep. The word “carneros” means sheep in Spanish and an artist has a display of multiple fake sheep on a hillside “canvas.”
Domaine Carneros makes two types of wines — sparkling and still Pinot Noirs. (The winery for the Pinot Noirs is like a carriage house behind the chateau.) We have talked about Carneros before — home of great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines and bubbles too because those are the two main varieties of real Champagne. I was lucky enough to join a group tour at the chateau that was a great experience. Not because I really learned anything new about sparkling wine but because our guide, Andrea, was so very good at giving us the information, and I got to watch the rest of the group, mostly way younger than I am, come into the fold of good sparkling wine lovers. The winery tasting room opened at 10 a.m. and the tour started at 11. Both were full and busy. (There we are — back at the dream life again — sipping bubbles by 10 in the morning!) For the tour, we tasted several versions of Domaine Carneros bubbles.
First, the basic, Domaine Carneros Brut Cuvee. This wine, unlike most others, is always vintage dated. Of course, this makes it cost a bit more than some of it’s neighbors, but it is definitely worth it. It is made from estate grown, all Carneros fruit, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is delicate and sturdy all at the same time, with tastes of apples, lemon zest and brioche — all traditional Champagne flavors. Part of the wonderful flavors of this wine comes from special yeasts that Domaine Carneros uses. And, I am happy to say, our price of $22.99 a bottle, is a bit less than the winery price. A bit more than some other California sparklers, but a step up for sure.
The second wine we tasted we also have at the store. It’s the Domaine Carneros Brut Rose. This one isn’t a vintage dated wine, and — like roses — is more expensive. I’ve always loved Rose bubbles and the first time I tasted this one, if I hadn’t know it was California, I’d have thought it was real, French Champagne. Clean and crisp and delicate, with strawberry and hints of white chocolate. At $39.99 a bottle, this wine is really under-priced. With Valentine’s Day getting close, this is a “go to” bottle if you really love someone.
The last wine we tasted was “Le Reve.” “Reve” is the French word for “dream” and this wine brings new meaning to “living the dream” or, more accurately, “drinking” the dream. Le Reve is made from 100% Chardonnay. This makes sense because Taittinger in Champagne, France, is located in the Chardonnay part of that region and their house style leans is the lighter style that Chardonnay makes. Many wine reviewers say this is the best bubbly made in the United States. All I know, standing on the terrace of the Napa chateau, looking out over Carneros vineyards, nothing much else to do that day except finish “tasting,” Le Reve was a dream.
So, there we have it. This trip is now in the past and I get to start dreaming about my next time. And I’ve promised myself to drink these wines more because, not only are they great glasses of bubbles, but they’ll help me remember a very special morning in Napa. Domaine Carneros lives in my home and in my dreams. Enjoy!