Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Domaine Carneros

If you visit Napa Valley and do not visit one of our premium sparkling wine wineries, then you will have missed some of the best of Napa Valley.  In addition to having amazing sparkling wine and a sparkling wine tour that is wonderfully informative, Domaine Carneros has some exceptional Pinot Noirs, a spectacular setting, great hospitality and a wine tasting experience at private tables that is second to none.  We really enjoyed our tour and tasting at Domaine Carneros and highly recommend that you also visit this lovely winery.  We especially recommend the tour which includes a fascinating educational experience of how sparkling wine is made.  You will also be able to taste some wonderful sparkling wines and some excellent Pinot Noirs.  Every wine we tasted at Domain Carneros was exceptionally good. There are plenty of great Cabs and Cab blends elsewhere in the Valley.  This is the place for great sparkling wines and exceptional Pinot Noirs, two of the most elegant expressions of wine.

Domaine Carneros main building

My favorite Champagne is from Taittinger, and Claude Taittinger, whose family's involvement in Champagne began in the 1700's, is the person who founded Domaine Carneros.  His interest in California sparkling wine began in the 1970s and lead to his 1987 selection of a 138 acre vineyard in Carneros, Napa Valley.  Carneros is famous for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the two varietals most essential to premium sparkling wines.  Monsieur Taittinger had the wisdom to chose Eileen Crane in 1987 to be his winemaker and oversee the development of the winery.  She continues as both their founding CEO and the winemaker, with nearly forty years of experience in the field. This is perhaps the all time dream team for sparkling wine--two amazing people who combined their talents to bring us Domain Carneros.

Domaine Carneros view

The Domaine Carneros building is right next to highway 12 between Sonoma and Napa and was inspired by the 18th century Chateau de la Marquetterie in Champagne, France, where Champagne Taittinger is located.  It was completed in 1989 and sits up on a hill overlooking Carneros.  It is a magnificent 4800 square foot winery with a grand staircase, fountain, formal gardens, outdoor terraces, a marble floored interior and lovely views over Napa Valley. In 1992 they added Pinot Noir to their portfolio.  The Pinot Noir production area is styled after a French carriage house, was completed in 2003 and is behind the main chateau.  It has the largest solar collection of any winery in the world.  Their vineyards are also 100% certified organically grown by the California Certified Organic Farmers and consist of 105 planted acres of Chardonnay and 245 acres of planted Pinot Noir.  Prior to receiving their organic certification Domaine Carneros had been practicing sustainable farming since they were founded.  Méthode Champenoise is used for all sparkling wines, and they use a clay based product for wine clarification instead of an animal based one, making their wines Vegan friendly.  Production is about 46,000 cases per year with 39,000 being sparkling wine and 7,000 Pinot Noir.

Domaine Carneros indoor tasting tables

When you visit Domaine Carneros, I suggest you allow for at least an hour and a half and take their tour so that you may learn about sparkling wine production.  You will also be able to taste their wonderful sparkling wines and Pinot Noirs and will have many photo opportunities.  Much thanks to our host, Louis, for conducting such an informative and friendly tour and to Adrienne Shubin for graciously coordinating our tour and meeting with us afterwards.

Domaine Carneros vineyards

Our first pour was at the beginning our tour and was the inaugural release of their Estate Brut Sparkling wine made from 100% certified organic grapes and available only at the winery.  The Domaine Carneros 2010 Estate Brut Cuvee at $32 is a blend of 49% Chardonnay and 51% Pinot Noir grapes.  It had an intense aroma of pear and apple with mostly pear and lemon on the palate.  Bubbles were tight.  It was beautifully balanced, rounded but still crisp, with lovely yeast undertones and a very good finish.  It was excellent for the price.  Very nice, indeed.

Domaine Carneros main building

The second taste was the Domaine Carneros 2007 Le Reve Blanc de Blancs at $90.  "La Reve" is French for "the dream."  This is their finest Blanc de Blanc and is 100% Chardonnay from five different clones.  It was aged for five and a half years on the lees and was more complex and French-like than the many California sparkling wines.  After a very good nose of pear, spices and floral notes, I got mostly pear on the palate with undertones of fresh ginger, almonds, and tropical fruits. The acid was lively but perfectly balanced and the bubbles were intense and tight.  The finish was excellent.  If you find some American sparkling wines to be somewhat simple or even one dimensional, you should try this one. This should be especially appealing to those who appreciate complexity and subtlety in sparkling wines or to those who prefer higher end French Champagnes.  It would go great with seafood, poultry, or creamy cheeses, but I would simply savor it on its own.  Truly outstanding!

Domaine Carneros from parking lot

Third up was the Domaine Carneros Nonvintage Blanc De Noir at $35.  It is made from 100% Pinot Noir and began with a fairly good aroma of pear and lemon.  I got mostly pear, and lime on the palate. This should appeal to those who like a refreshing but somewhat softer sparkling wine. 

Domaine Carneros view

Our final sparkling wine pour was the Domaine Carneros 2010 Vintage Brut Rose at $37.  Blush or rose sparkling wines are often very pretty to the eye, and this one was no exception.  It was made from 58% Pinot Noir and 42% Chardonnay.  On the nose I got some strawberries, floral notes and spices.  Palate wise it was very dry but balanced, crisp yet  fruity with some raspberry and strawberry and very pleasant yeast notes followed by a good finish.  Quite nice.

Domaine Carneros main buliding

We knew that Domaine Carneros produced some exceptional sparkling wines, but both of us were surprised at the excellence of their Pinot Noirs.  Frankly I would find a visit there well worthwhile simply to taste their Pinots.  But when you have both outstanding sparkling wines as well, it really elevates Domaine Carneros to one of those "must visit" wineries.  While our sparkling wines were sampled during the tour, the Pinots were at the end where we sat at small tables and could devote full attention to the wines.

Domaine Carneros patio

Regular readers of this blog will already know that I do not care for most American, light, fruity Pinot Noirs that seem more like a Beaujolais nouveau.  One wine maker I know refers to them as the "tooty fruity pinots."  I find most of these to be unbalanced, too thin and uninteresting.  It is not the style I dislike, but the presentation.  When I do encounter a good, light, refreshing, fruity Pinot Noir that is not intended to be aged and is all about freshness and fruit, I am actually quite pleased, even delighted.  For me it is all about balance.  Enter the Domaine Carneros 2012 Avant-Garde Pinot Noir at a mere $25.  It was aged for ten months in French oak.  The aroma was heavenly, with raspberry, cherry and some spice and floral notes.  On the palate it was beautifully balanced with very fresh fruit, good acid and a decent finish.  If you have tried fresh, fruity Pinot Noirs in the past and found them too thin, unbalanced or insipid, you should try this one.  For me this was a pure pleasure to drink.  Again, this is not one of those bigger bodied, serious Pinots to be cellared for years.  But it is wonderfully balanced and refreshing.  Highly recommended for a Pinot Noir that is all about freshness and fruit and is meant to be enjoyed now.

Domaine Carneros tasting area

Our next Pinot Noir pour was the Domaine Carneros 2012 Carneros Estate Pinot Noir at $36.  Again I got a wonderful nose, this time mostly cherry with some soft spicy undertones.  On the palate it was well balanced with cherry, plum and strawberry, well integrated tannins and a long finish.  Very nice for the price.

Domaine Carneros outdoor patio 

The favorite Pinot Noir for both of us, though, was the Domaine Carneros 2012 The Famous Gate Pinot Noir at $75.  Four different Pinot Noir clones were used for this,  and it was aged for fourteen months in French oak with 44% new oak.  After lovely aromas of cherry, plum, spice and some pleasant earth notes, I got soft, smooth, well balanced layers of black cherry, plum, black raspberry and vanilla with good acid and structure and a long complex finish.  Although very drinkable now, this Pinot has the structure to become even more interesting and complex with age.  Very highly recommended!

Domaine Carneros main building

Needless to say we loved the wines and tour at Domaine Carneros and highly recommend you visit them.  We strongly suggest that you take their "Art of Sparkling Wine Tour" which includes a very interesting 90 minute tour, tastings of sparkling wines and Pinot Noirs and individual bread and cheese plates. They are usually open from 10AM to 5:45PM. Tours are at 11AM, 1PM and 3PM and are $40.  "For reservations within 24 hours, requests for groups of 10 or more people, or for Château Society members, please call 707.257.0101 ext 161."  Or you may book a tour online by going here: Visits Last minute tour appointments may often be made, and tastings are available to the public without an appointment. 

Domaine Carneros entry sign
Domaine Carneros
1240 Duhig Rd
Napa, CA
Phone: 800-716-2788
Date of visit: August 12, 2014

Domaine Carneros sparkling wine rack

Domaine Carneros view from parking lot

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