Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends

Carneros Wineries Celebrate Passport Weekend: Part II

by Monty and Sara Preiser

Part II: Etude, Highway 12, Merryvale, Patz & Hall, Saintsbury, and Schug

(In case you missed Part I, we give you a short introductory paragraph from that article)

There are a couple of places in the United States where one appellation traverses across county lines, but none more famous than Los Carneros (these days almost universally referred to simply as “Carneros”), which runs through the southern portions of both Napa and Sonoma counties.

Once a year many of the Carneros wineries join together to present a “Passport” weekend, where for one price the consumer can visit all participating wineries and sample whatever wares are being poured. This is the second part of our report on what we found as we traveled around the region that day.

Hard to say where times of past glory have gone, but the hike to the tasting room for some pretty average wines was one we could have easily avoided and still had a great day. In fact, our best memory here was tuning into our Satellite radio in the parking lot and learning our favorite college football team had overcome a deficit and won handily.

Not Recommended
-2006 GBR Estate Red ($60): Mostly Merlot (71%), with healthy doses of Syrah and Malbec, there is an unpleasant nose and taste of manure, with very little fruit to balance out the secondary characteristics. Not recommended at any price, much less the $60 being asked.
-2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($85): Sorry to say that there is just nothing to say.

Highway 12
We admit we had not even heard of Highway 12 until this event, and we almost did not visit them this day since their tasting room is on the Sonoma Square a bit north of what one usually considers Carneros. But we found them as we searched for lunch. The winemaker is Michael Sebastiani, the vineyards are all located on the Highway 12 corridor in southern Sonoma county (some not actually in Carneros), and the business is relatively new, having started in 2003. The wines here were drinkable if not yet worthy of special recommendation (save one), and we think the problem might be that this winery is already producing a dozen or more wines. Too many, too fast, perhaps. It is usually better to establish the quality of a few bottles before undertaking to make a dozen. But there is some potential here.

-2007 Carneros Highway Pinot Noir ($18): It is light (which is OK at this price), yet shows bright fruit, discernable spices, and a long finish with some tobacco overtones. A very good value.

Not Recommended
-2006 Highwayman ($75): Half Cabernet Sauvignon and half Cabernet Franc, this is, the winery unfortunately announces, a blend of its best. The wine is too tannic and unbalanced. The primary reason to actually write about it and not recommend it is the price. Just way too expensive.

Viticulturalist and up and coming star Remi Cohen was able to give a nice informal clinic about the wines she poured at the Stanly Ranch, a location where many of the Merryvale/Starmont vines are grown. Not always a fan of this winery in recent years, on this day we concurred that the wines being produced by the new wine team of Sean Foster, Graham Wehmeier, and Cohen have great merit.

-2008 Starmont Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($18): Lots of tropicality with a creamy body and finish. Excellent price.
-2007 Carneros Chardonnay ($35): Aged for 14 months in French oak, the pedigree of this big white does not disappoint: Hyde and Stanly Ranch vineyards.
-2007 Napa Valley Syrah ($35): Co-fermented with whole cluster Viognier (ultimately 20% of the blend), this wine has nice body amid a nose of fresh flowers and a spicy, peppery finish. Another good bargain from outstanding vineyards (Hudson and Stanly Ranch).

Patz & Hall
James Hall, Ann Moses, Donald Patz, and Heather Patz have a gorgeous tasting salon in Napa, but have moved their winery to Sonoma. And a good choice it was – lots of space for not only winemaking, but get-togethers. We have long been fans of the wines being crafted here, and things have not changed. Patz & Hall makes some of the best Pinot Noirs you will find anywhere. As for Chards, there are wonderful bottles being made all over Napa and Sonoma, and Patz & Hall’s Chardonnay can easily play in these leagues, too.

Chardonnays: Patz and Hall makes at least 7 different single vineyard Chardonnays from different areas of California. As a rule we can always recommend at least 5 of them, but on this day we only tasted the four 2007 Chards that were being poured. Not surprisingly, we thought all to be excellent and able to command the price asked. These include the Dutton Ranch ($39), the Hyde ($55), the Zio Tony ($60), and the Hudson ($55). The Zio Tony Ranch may have the brightest fruit with the longest finish, but the Dutton Ranch is the best buy. Hyde vineyards seems to only provide incredible fruit, and the Hudson will appeal to those who prefer a bit more oak.

Pinot Noirs: Seven is the magic number, as that is how many different Pinots are produced as well. We tasted five and recommend three from the 2007 vintage, and one, the Pisoni ($80), from 2006. This Pisoni comes from what many think is as fine a Pinot Noir vineyard as exists in California. We agree wines from there are always terrific, though they are expensive and need lots of time to age. The other three to watch for are the Chenoweth ($55), the Hyde ($60), and the Jenkins Ranch ($55). We are fans of the blueberries and chocolate in the Chenoweth, as well as the complexity/fruit integration of the Hyde. Jenkins Ranch is a softer, subtler wine – just as good for some, but different.

Well known and well respected, this was not the winery’s best day – not because it did not pour some good wines (it did), but because it ended the sampling with a Syrah that was either not ready, or was flawed. A word to the owner did not result in a change, so we will treat that wine as if it was showing as usual. However, it was so unpleasant that we needed to eat and drink something else to rid ourselves of the finish. Otherwise, Saintsbury maintained its standing as a winery making good wines available for the most part at reasonable prices.

-2007 Brown Ranch Chardonnay ($40): Aged for nine months in French oak, the wine is then transferred (lees and all) to stainless steel to complete its aging. This provides excellent minerality with some apple and pear overtones.
-2007 Brown Ranch Pinot Noir ($60): Darker fruit flavors than are found in most Pinot Noirs are quickly apparent here, as is the lovely transition from first sip to finish. We did think the wine to be about 25% overpriced, however.

Not Recommended
-2008 Rodgers Creek Syrah ($40 in 07): This had not yet been released, but smelled heavily of sulfur dioxide. It was hard to take the nose, much less sip. We will concede that even with the owner’s nonchalance on the matter, the deficiency in this wine could have been because of a bad barrel sample rather than a bad wine in general.

Sometimes hard to find due to its location in the far west corner of Carneros, Schug is always worth a visit. Founded by pioneering winemaker Walter Schug, who has been joined by knowledgeable son Axel, the wines here are classically good representatives of whatever varietal is in the glass. An accurate headline here would be, “European winemaking style meets California weather and fruit.”

-2007 Carneros Chardonnay ($28): A well balanced wine with both minerality and some creamy butter on the finish. Fresh cream corn soup comes to mind.
-2007 Carneros Pinot Noir ($28): Strawberries and cherries draw you in, and a bouquet of smoky wood keeps you there. You will not often see a Napa or Sonoma Pinot Noir give you this much body for this price.
-2006 Rouge de Noirs Brut ($30): We agree with the winery: “This sparkler has the lively character of Pinot Noir while retaining the delicate dry profile of a more traditional Blanc de Noirs. It has a beautiful intense rose color, spicy raspberry bouquet and flavor, crisp yet delicately creamy texture, and lots of bubbles!”

This Passport event is held every October and is just one more reason to visit two of the finest wine areas in the world (Napa and Sonoma) rolled into one (Carneros). So tape the football game of your choice, visit the wineries of Carneros, and buy your favorite bottles to drink as you watch the contest whenever you get home.

Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

Share this article with a friend:

Free eNewsletter SignUp

Sally's Place on Facebook    Sally Bernstein on Instagram    Sally Bernstein at Linked In

Global Resources

Handmade Chocolates, Lillie Belle Farms

Food411 Food Directory