Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Kelly Fleming Wines

Kelly Fleming Wines produces only two wines but both are wonderful, world-class wines-a Sauvignon Blanc and a Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Sauvignon Blanc is now my favorite Napa Valley SB and the Cab is one of the best in Napa Valley, which is to say among the finest in the world.  Situated in a lovely new winery with wine caves, Kelly Fleming Wines also offers an ideal setting in which to enjoy your tastings.  As with other small, family wineries, reservations are needed but easily obtained by phone or over the Internet.  A tour and tasting with Kelly or her daughter, Colleen,  costs $30 and is well worth it.

Kelly Fleming Building

The winery is located in Calistoga on 300 acres in Simmons Canyon, once called the Kane Ranch.  They have twelve acres planted with Cabernet Sauvignon and certified as organically grown.  Current releases include 800 cases of their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from their own estate and 230 cases of their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc which is made from sourced grapes.  The winery is 5,000 square feet with a stone fa├žade designed by Taylor Lombardo Architects that opened to the public in 2010.  7,000 square feet of limestone caves reach 220 feet into the hillside.  The inside walls of the cave are left without any paint or coating, giving it a very natural appearance.


Kelly Fleming Wine Caves

The first wine we sampled was their Kelly Fleming 2010 Sauvignon Blanc that retails for $30.  Napa Valley Sauvignon Blancs seem to vary widely in style.  Frequently I have found them unappealing because they did not hold together.  It is not so much a matter of balance as integration.  The fruit (usually grapefruit like) goes off in one direction, the acid in another, and any herbaceousness, minerality etc. is off in yet another direction.  Some Napa SBs are too buttery, others are not dry enough, yet others are overly oaked, too thin, or lacking body.  I should really love a dry, crisp white wine with good acid, but I only rarely find a Napa Valley SB I really like and end up looking to either France or New Zealand, where there are two very differently styled Sauvignon Blancs.  Good, dry, well-balanced French white Bordeaux, Sancerre or Pouilly Fume wines can be expensive.  New Zealand SBs are often great values but can be one dimensional or overbearing with fruit.  The SB here is more in the French style but it has a some of the tropical fruit that one tends to associate with New Zealand SBs.  It is definitely atypical for a Napa Valley SB.

What one notices immediately about this SB is that all of the components come together beautifully to make a wine that is simply delicious.  It has good acid balanced with fruit and is dry without being austere.  It has a touch of vanilla but that is subtle.  The fruit is not the usual grapefruit bomb or lemon of many Napa Valley SBs but more tropical.  It has a pleasant mouth feel that is complex, layered, even graceful.  I get some melon and guava on the nose, that is not overly done, with an incredibly integrated and well-balanced mid palate that has layers of citrus, pineapple and tropical fruits perfectly intertwined with the briskness and acids of a really good SB.  Very little grassiness.  Some minerality. But it all comes together.  You might think it is rounder or softer than other SBs, but it is simply better coordinated, more integrated, a miraculous interweaving of components. If that is not enough, it also has a long lovely finish with a little vanilla (oak) and a hint of papaya and banana.  I can recall no other SB having this nice a finish. The winemaker, Celia Welch, must be some sort of magician to make a Napa Valley SB that tastes this good. Most definitely not a “poor man’s chardonnay,” as Sauvignon Blancs are sometimes described as being. I’d visit Kelly Fleming Wines just to taste this one varietal.  This is the best U.S. Sauvignon Blanc I’ve ever tasted.


Inside tasting room/


But, would you believe, the Cabs are just as wonderful if not more so? I should mention first, that I am not a big fan of some of the overly ripe, fruit forward type Napa Cabs that have become popular in recent years.  I do not dislike them.  But I grew up in the old school where the 1970 BV Reserve Cab was pretty close to ideal.  (I still remember and love that wine and never grew tired of it although I had many bottles of it.)  Back then it was more about subtlety, complexity, balance, refinement and less about being overwhelming, huge or having super ripe forward fruit.  Oak was important but needed to be balanced.  In some ways, the Kelly Fleming Cab has some of this old style in that it has subtlety and complexity rather than  mere power or just ripe fruit.  It is certainly not lacking in great fruit, however. It will age, but I don’t think you would want to cellar it for twenty years. The word “elegant” is over used with reference to wines, especially great Cabs.  So I won’t call these Cabs elegant.  How about perfectly balanced, layered, complex, and interesting with voluptuous fruit?  It has the rich fruit that many people love but also has enough complexity to appeal to more traditionalists. 

We tasted the Kelly Fleming 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and the Kelly Fleming 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Both will cellar well, but how could you resist drinking them now?  What was remarkable about these Cabs is how complex, well balanced and interesting both of them are while still being so young.

The 2008 is dark ruby in color with a great aroma of ripe cherries.  It is more fruit forward than the 2005. Although it is soft and balanced, it does have enough structure and substance, with a nice mouth feel.  This is certainly not a thin wine nor really a fruit forward wine, despite its having great fruit and being very easy to drink.  I would characterize is as being subtle, extremely well balanced, with great fruit, fairly soft tannins but plenty of complexity.  It also has a very nice finish.  This wine is wonderful to drink right now and should cellar well, but is not one of those wines you want to avoid now and only try again ten or twenty years later.  This wine seems to incorporate some of the elegance and complexity of older style Napa cabs with the luscious fruit of newer style ones, while balancing the two extremely well.

The 2005 was had bigger tannins and more structure than the 2008.  The 2005 had good body and a very pleasing mouth feel. It will cellar better but is highly drinkable now.  With a decent cherry nose, this wine has well integrated tannins that make it especially appealing to my taste.  I wouldn’t call it a big Cab because it is not overdone in any one dimension, but it is substantial and full-bodied.  As with all the wines at this winery, it is extremely well balanced and multidimensional.  The difference between great wines and others is that you get balance without the wine being one-dimensional and complexity without discordance.  It ends up being a complex, layered, interesting wine that fascinates you while delighting the senses.  The 2005 is like that.

I rarely visit a winery and return home to immediately look up the winemaker on the Internet.  But that is exactly what I did with Celia Welch, the winemaker at Kelly Fleming Wines.  The wines were so well balanced, layered, subtle, complex, interesting, and immediately appealing, that I simply had to learn more about the winemaker:  Celia Welch

If you love great Cabs, want to try a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc, or would like to visit a gorgeous winery with wine caves and wonderful hospitality, then you will certainly want to visit Kelly Fleming Wines. The  SB sells for only $30.  Current release Cabs are $90 and library or older releases are $120.  Kelly Fleming Wines is a great example of a small, family winery that is making some of the best wines in the world.  It is a wonderful place to visit, and we definitely plan to return there.
 
Mustard field near Kelly Fleming


Addendum 2/24/12: Tasting wines at a winery or wine event has its limitations.  We all know that every one’s palate is different and some people have a far better senses of smell or taste than others do.  Many years of wine tasting experience can also make a tremendous difference in how a person perceives a particular wine. Then there are the factors of how the bottle was handled, the chemistry inside that one particular bottle, the temperature of the wine when served, what the taster ate previously, how the taster feels, whether the wine was aerated or opened prior to drinking (and for how long), how many other wines the taster has had to drink or spit that day, the type of wine glass it is served in…the list goes on.  Even the most famous wine tasters in the world have about a five-point variation span on a 100-point scale with wines that they taste again under blind conditions. (And the 100-point scale is really more of a 70-100 point scale with a range of 30 points.  So think of a 5 point spread in a 30-point scale and you can see how an expert’s taste might vary.)  Even in double blind tastings, it is a unique experience, subject to many variables.  At a winery you are influenced by the atmosphere and setting, the service, the price of the wine, knowing what the wine is, having only a small portion to taste, etc.

So when I taste a wine at a winery I know I am only getting a glimpse of that wine.  I don't really get to know it until I purchase a bottle or more, take the wine home, pair it with food, relax, concentrate and allow the experience to open up.  Sharing with friends helps because they can point out things I might have missed.  It is not a double blind or even single blind test so it is still very subjective.  But this is as close as I feel I can get to understanding and appreciating a particular wine.  Of course, this can improve by drinking more bottles of the same wine under different conditions, varying the food with which it is pared, the temperature of the wine, the age of the wine, the size of the wine bottle, the amount of aeration, etc.  Some expert tasters can sample small amounts of a wine, spit it out and continue through hundreds of other wines while compiling a long list of wine descriptions with ratings of every wine tasted.  I don't feel I have had an adequate experience of a wine until I have shared a bottle of it.  So this is what we did with two of the Kelly Fleming Cabs.

We bought a bottle of the 2005 and 2007 Kelly Fleming Cabs.  Although the 2008 we tasted at the winery was excellent, we had a slight preference for the 2005 so that is why we purchased the 2005.  We wanted to compare it to the 2007 (which we were unable to taste at the winery) because  2007 was such a Cab friendly year in Napa Valley.  Four of us sat down to a steak dinner at a friend’s house and shared both bottles of wine.  Yes, we had a glimpse of the 2005 at the winery.  It was more than just a taste and spit.  We knew it was a fabulous wine and it gave us a baseline with which to compare the 2007.  We tried the 2005 and the 2007 wines before, during and after the meal.  As much as we loved the 2005, we thought the 2007 was even better.  It did not have the lush tannins of the 2005 that pair so well with steak, so some tasters might prefer the 2005 because it goes so well with the food.  But the Kelly Fleming 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon had an elegance and layered complexity that put it in a rare class.  It is one of the best Cabs I've ever tasted.

Kelly Fleming Cabs have the sumptuous fruit of newer style Napa Cabs with the complexity of older style Napa Cabs.  We just love them!!!  You will have to try them yourself to see if, as Dylan Thomas said, they make your “toenails tingle.”

Kelly Fleming Wines
2339 Pickett Rd.
Calistoga, CA 94515
(707) 942-6849
Date of visit: February 15, 2012

2 comments:

  1. A very well-written post. I read and liked the post and have also bookmarked you. All the best for future endeavors
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