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Remi Cohen, CEO of Domaine Carneros, is our guest on California Wine Country with Steve Jaxon and Dan Berger. Tom Simoneau is also in the studio today and the subject is the sparkling wines of Domaine Carneros.
But first, Dan Berger has opened a 12-year-old 2009 Pinot Noir from his extensive personal cellar. Morelli Vineyards provided the grapes for this wine made by a winery called Lost Canyon. Dan looked for them online but didn’t find much, they may not still be active. Tom Simoneau has not heard of them. Dan Berger notes that Dan Goldfield has also used Morelli Vineyards for his prestigious Dutton-Goldfield label.
Now they begin tasting the Domaine Carneros sparkling wines beginning with the Brut, which is the first wine they ever made in 1987 when they launched. Domaine Carneros is owned by the Taittinger family, who are famous French Champagne producers. They wanted to have a sparkling wine company in California so they started one in the 1980s. When Claude Taittinger came to visit Napa Valley and Carneros in particular, he expressed that desire. Then they hired Eileen Crane to create the winery and make the wine. Eileen retired last year but still comes in to help with the blending. Eileen Crane was on California Wine Country on this episode from March 29, 2017 and she told the whole story of her very interesting career.
Remi Cohen has brought these bottles today for tasting and discussion:
- Domaine Carneros by Taittinger 2017 Brut
- Domaine Carneros Cuvée de la Pompadour sparkling Brut Rosé
- Le Rêve Domaine Carneros by Taittinger 2014
- Domaine Carneros Estate Pinot Noir 2018
They open the Sparkling Rosé but it turns out to be slightly corked. This happens to about 1% of wines, a mould grows on the cork and can spoil the taste of the wine. (Dan thinks most corked wines in the US are probably not identified as such, people have to be used to telling the flavor of it. People who don’t know, may conclude the don’t like the wine but don’t know why.)
Next they taste Le Rêve, which means The Dream. This is aged 6 years before they release it, this is a 2014 they are tasting. The story behind this wine is that Claude Taittinger asked Eileen Crane to make a top quality sparkling wine only from estate-grown Chardonnay grapes. The owner was so impressed he had a special bottle made for Le Rêve, emblazoned with two rams’ heads. The word Carneros means Rams, in Spanish. first release was 1992. This is as dry as the other, but is different from the Brut. Dan points out that you’re getting your richness from the Pinot Noir that has intentionally made for the color. They do Le Rêve and Lobster dinners at the winery. Dan Berger would serve grilled scallops with this.
Bottle Barn is still featuring Harvest Festival winners, including all four of Tom Simoneau’s gold medal winners. They are also selling a lot of sparkling wines right now. They also have acquired some important collections and there are some unique bottles in those lots.
Dan points out that the blend process is meticulous and very important. Remi is glad that Eileen Crane still comes for blending. Only a small amount of it has been given ML. It is how they choose the best Chardonnay to turn into sparkling wine with the tirage which is putting sugar and yeast in and let it ferment in the bottle. Dan points out how making sparkling wine is “a game of patience” as Remi describes it, since it takes years to plant the right vineyard, and the sparkling winemaking process takes so long. They harvest at 18 to 20 Brix, which is really tart.
At the Domaine Carneros chateau, there are lots of options for visits, with food pairings of all kinds.
Finally, they taste a Pinot Noir, made by T.J. Evans, who specializes in Pinot Noir for DC. The Estate Pinot Noir is from 6 different estates that they farm in Carneros. This has all the Carneros Pinot Noir traits like fruit and berries but also has the spice and earthiness that Pinot Noir lovers love. “It’s got the richness as well as the Pinot Noir distinctiveness in one quick sniff,” says Dan. Dan points out that somebody had the right decision to pick early because 2018 was relatively cool and this needed to be picked when it was. Tom Simoneau reminds us that the Carneros producers were the ones who led the way with Pinot Noir in northern California, before Russian River Valley, Petaluma Gap or the others.