Earlier this year, I fell head over heels for the Brown Ranch Chardonnay from Saintsbury. So when my brother-in-law and sister-in-law recently asked me to plan and accompany them on a wine tasting trip to Carneros, you can guess where I planned our first stop.
At this point, I have been to a lot of wineries in the northern California region, and without a doubt, this visit was among my top five best ever. The wines were great, but the visit was much more than that. The staff that shared the wines with us, and taught us about the history of the winery, were so welcoming and fun that it made the visit extra special. Saintsbury has a permit that only allows them to hold tastings by appointment, which I actually think it a nice thing for the wine lover. It will never be crowded and you get the undivided attention of the person pouring the wines. The adorable and quaint room where they hold the tastings is comfy and makes you feel like you are in the home of the winery, and definitely not in a huge commercial multi-million dollar facility which is common in Napa.
OK, the wines. As I mentioned above, I was very interested in their Chardonnay, and we spent a lot of time learning about their two offerings made from this varietal. The 09 Carneros Chardonnay ($28) is made from grapes grown in seven different vineyards across Carneros. It is a lighter style of Chardonnay which makes it an easy to drink wine on a hot summer day. It does go through malolactic fermentation which softens the wine, but the use of oak in the fermentation process is restrained which means the true taste of the wine is allowed to shine. There is a nice amount of acidity which makes it very food friendly. 13,000 cases of this wine are made so it should be fairly easy to find in many retail stores and restaurants.
The Brown Ranch Chardonnay is a very special wine ($40). The vineyard where the grapes are grown is owned by the winery, and grows only Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. As I mentioned in my last post about this wine, the cooler climate in this area makes it ideal for those two varietals. This wine is designed to age, and I was extremely lucky on my visit to try three different vintages of the wine, side by side, with the winemaker Jerome Chery. This portion of our visit most definitely contributed to this being one of my top wine tasting experiences.
The three vintages of the Brown Ranch Chard that we tried were the 07, 08 and 09. This kind of a tasting experience really highlights how amazing and alive wines are, especially when they are small production wines such as this one. Each year had different weather conditions which led to a difference in the crop. And, the time in the bottle had a tremendous impact on the flavor and aromas of the wine.
You will note that one of the bottles does not have a label. This is because the 09 will not be released until the fall and had not been labeled yet. I can tell you that even at its early stage, the 09 wine is wonderful. The aged versions of this wine (07, 08) have aromas of tropical fruits like melon and pineapple and it is remarkable to see that some of those wonderful elements of wine are created in the bottle, well after the winemaker has finished his work.
Saintsbury is also known for their Pinot Noirs, which we unfortunately only briefly tasted (time flew by way too fast on our visit). While I would like to visit again to spend more time with the various Pinot Noir offerings, especially the single vineyard wines, I can tell you that the Brown Ranch Vineyard also yields some pretty amazing Pinot Noir ($60). This wine is made in the earthier, Burgundian style which I just love. If you get a chance to try this wine, seize that opportunity.
I highly recommend a visit to Saintsbury. Do not let the notion of needing an appointment intimidate you or deter you from what could be a wine tasting experience that you remember forever.