Los Carneros a perfect choice for over the holidays

in Food/Wine & Dine by

By CELIA STRONG

Wines and their stories can be so much fun. As good as a wine is, a good story to go with it somehow makes it better.

Not technically, of course, but better nonetheless. In fact, the story is part of what makes the wine what it is. It’s a personal thing.

Sometimes, with luck, there’s more than one story for a wine. Like today.

Los Carneros (or just Carneros for short) is an AVA in California that covers the southern portion of both Napa and Sonoma counties. (Los Carneros means the rams and refers to the herds of sheep and rams that were raised in the area before the land became more valuable for vineyards.)

The AVA is about 90 square miles. It was established in 1983, with amendments in 1987 and 2006. The location of Carneros means it is close to cool fog and breezes from the San Pablo Bay.

Its climate is cooler and more moderate than the more northern parts of Napa and Sonoma. And the breezes off this bay make it the windiest AVA in either Napa or Sonoma.

When it got its AVA status, Carneros was the first California AVA to be created based on its climate characteristics, not political issues. A pretty new idea for American wines at that time.

Because it does have a cooler climate, the best varieties for Carneros vineyards are early ripening ones. Particularly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

The history of grape growing in Carneros goes back decades before 1983. In 1942, Louis M Martini bought the old Stanley Ranch and replanted it. There were more than 13,000 acres of vineyards by the 1970s.

The area’s reputation for quality Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, the two main grapes of French Champagnes, was noticed by several Champagne and sparkling wine producers, including Moët & Chandon (Domaine Chandon), Taittinger (Domaine Carneros), G H Mumm (Mumm Napa), Cordoníu and Gloria Ferrer. Plus, in the 1980s, with the surge in popularity of good quality California Chardonnays, there more plantings to raise production quantities. There are about three dozen wineries in Carneros.

Carneros Chardonnay wines are marked by high acidity, which brings great balance and complexity to the wines. Especially when these grapes are blended with the fatter, rounder Chardonnay from other sites in Napa and Sonoma.

In addition, Carneros Chardonnay have heightened aromatics, freshness and remarkable varietal character. Plus, aromas and flavors that include toasted brioche, baking spices, candied lemon rind, subtle toasted oak, melons, baked pears, yellow apples, all in a creamy and full bodied wine.

Emblem Carneros Chardonnay comes from the Michael Mondavi family of wines. The Emblem label is one of several that this famous wine family has developed.

Robert Mondavi, Jr and his sister Dina Mondavi are the grandchildren of Robert, Sr. The two collaborated to produce, first, the Emblem Cabernet. Because the Mondavi name and Napa Cabernet wines are linked together forever.

And, then, the Emblem Carneros Chardonnay. For this Chardonnay, whole clusters of grapes are crushed before a 24-hour cold soak. The must is fermented in oak barrels, at cool temperatures to control the fermentation. (Longer, cooler fermenting makes more fruit flavors in the wine.) In the barrels, the wine is stirred once a week, giving it more contact with its lees. This adds complexities and a fuller mouth-feel. Before it’s bottled, the wine is aged for 10 months.

This Chardonnay is a great one to learn Carneros style and flavors. Its aromas and flavors typical of the AVA but also way beyond. Stone fruits like apricots and peaches. Yellow cherries. Crisp tropical fruits like melons, mangos, guava, and starfruit.

It has toffee and caramel notes. Good acidity and minerality. Freshness and crispness. A tanginess. It’s one of those wines that just shows itself to be one of the best of what it is. Full, multidimensional, loaded with flavors and textures.

An absolute pleasure to taste and drink. And, a perfect choice for Chardonnay over the holidays. But they only make 500 cases a year. Yikes. Go rams! For $31.97 at Bill’s Liquors.

Celia Strong works at Bill’s Liquor & Fine Wines on Lady’s Island.