Artesa Winery fulfills the promise of Carneros
When I first started noticing that some bottles of wine have specific appellations listed on them, I was still early in my appreciation of wine. An appellation is a legally defined and protected geographic term used to identify where the grapes for a wine were grown. As time passed not only have I come to a better understanding of what those appellations can mean, both generally and specifically, I've also come to look to certain ones for specific varietals.
For instance, if I'm looking for truly great Zinfandel, then Dry Creek Valley comes to mind; ditto for tremendous Merlot and Oakville. That brings me to Carneros. This appellation has the distinction of falling in both Napa and Sonoma. It sits at the southern parts of both of these areas, and you drive through it if you're traversing from one to the other. Other grapes succeed there, but Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the varietals that really shine in Carneros. One of the producers whose track record of consistent quality has really impressed me is Artesa Vineyards and Winery. I'll take a look at three of their current releases.
First up is the Artesa 2009 Carneros Chardonnay. This wine was produced from fruit sourced at five distinct Carneros vineyards that feature different microclimates. This offering is 100 percent Chardonnay; 65 percent of this wine was fermented and aged in French oak, of which 25 percent was new. The remaining 35 percent was fermented and aged in stainless steel. About 23,000 cases of this wine were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of $20.
Aromas of Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apple fill the ebullient nose of this 2009 Chardonnay. Vanilla bean aromas trail a little behind, providing a nice complement. Bartlett pear and a host of apple flavors are present throughout the palate. Hints of toast, copious spice notes, tart apple and another gentle blast of vanilla are each part of the finish. This wine is notable for its impeccable balance, marked by solid acidity. This will pair well with food, but it's simply glorious to drink on its own. This is a textbook example of Carneros Chardonnay that shows off a mass of varietal character. It is a California Chardonnay that is not overburdened by oak; rather, the fresh, lively fruit shines through and is enhanced by the oak that was imparted.
The Artesa 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir is next. This wine was made from fruit sourced at nine different Carneros vineyards, with grapes were hand harvested and de-stemmed prior to crushing. Some lots were inoculated with yeast and some went through malolactic fermentation without yeast. The wine was then moved to French oak where it underwent a secondary fermentation and was aged sur lie for eight months. (Literally translated from the French, sur lee means “on lees” -- lees being the yeasty residue remaining in the cask after fermentation.) for eight months; 34 percent of the barrels were new. In the process, 34 percent of the barrels were now, and about 22,000 cases of this wine were produced. It has a suggested retail price of $25.
Both red cherry and mushroom aromas are right up front in the lovely nose of this Pinot Noir. Red fruits, interspersed with subtler hints of black fruit, are the stars of the palate. Cherry and strawberry flavors are of particular note here and they're joined by some nutmeg and black pepper. A nice component of sour cherry leads the finish and is eventually joined by fruitcake spices, emerging earth and increasing black pepper. This wine has soft, almost gentle tannins and terrific acidity. This is a very versatile Pinot Noir that will pair equally well with pasta in a mushroom ragout, as it will with roast pork loin. This wine would pair perfectly with leg of lamb. It is a serious contender for anyone looking for a solid go-to California Pinot Noir. Lots of bang for your Pinot buck here.
Lastly is the Artesa 2008 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir. This wine was produced exclusively from fruit sourced at their home vineyard. These vines, also in Carneros of course, surround the winery on hillsides below Mt. Veeder. The grapes were handpicked, de-stemmed and sorted. This wine was allowed to inoculate with native yeasts. This selection was aged sur lie in French oak (70 percent new) for eight months. Just over 3,500 cases of this offering were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of $40.
If you're lucky enough to taste these two Pinots side by side -- as I did -- you'll first notice a darker hue on this reserve. On taking the first whiff, a mild hint of candied apple leads things off, followed by a ton of black cherry aromas that are buoyed by hints of truffle and a touch of earth. The palate of this wine is more intense, more layered and simply loaded with black and red fruit flavor, complexity and an overall “wow” factor. Minerals and pencil lead are prominent in the finish, along with a hint of anise seed, chicory and dusty baker's chocolate. This wine has more tightly wound tannins, and benefits from some air. It is an impressive Pinot Noir that separates itself from many in its category. Sometimes in California the Reserve label doesn't mean much; here is a case where you can quite easily taste its meaning.
All three of these wines are excellent representatives of their varietals and region, as well as good values within their price points. The Carneros series wines particularly impressed me due to their level of quality in relatively large quantities. And the Reserve Pinot is simply in its own impressive class. While Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Carneros stand as the core of Artesa Vineyards and Winery, they offer a range of other releases. Some of these are made from other varietals and a few other very limited production wines from the same grapes. In some cases there are wines that can only be had if you visit the winery in Carneros. So in addition to experiencing the gorgeous surroundings in Carneros, when you visit you'll have the chance to acquire some rare wines to tuck away in your cellar. Sounds like a good deal to me. It's also important to note that they offer lots of different tasting and tour options too. Bottom line for me, Artesa Vineyards and Winery is a name you can buy with confidence.