© by Sheral Schowe
When I teach a class on California wines, I always make a point to include wines from Chalone Wine Estates. They have been an integral part of my wine education program for the past twenty years. Each of their properties in California including Acacia, Carmenet, Jade Mountain, Edna Valley, and their namesake, Chalone Vineyards, produce wines that are a true reflection of the very finest varietal characteristics that a grape has to offer.
The Chalone Wine Group owns and operates an incredible portfolio of wineries and vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, Monterey, San Luis Obispo County, Washington State, and 23.5 percent of the fourth-growth estate of Chateau Duhart-Milon in partnership with Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite). Chalone's collection of wines, considered as ultra-premium, appear on the wine lists of the finest restaurants in the nation.
I was first introduced to Chalone wines 20 years ago by Utah's foremost wine authority, Jon Engen. Since that first sip of Chalone Pinot Blanc, I have made Chalone's wine estates a permanent part of my University classes, Academy lectures, and tours.
First, let's survey the Chalone group's red wines.
Acacia's Pinot Noir Carneros 1999 ($26.45) comes from some of the oldest vines in Carneros. Old vines translate to an intense concentration of color and flavors, and for this wine, it's a concentration of ripe blackberries, black cherries and chocolate. You can even detect a little candied violet aroma with some toasted oak. Truly delicious wine, produced in the elegant style of Bourgogne. Another elegant Pinot Noir comes from Chalone vineyards. The 1999 is now on the shelves for $33.85, which seems excessive at first until you taste it. Most definitely worth every penny.
Across the valley and over the hills to the west is Sonoma, home of Carmenet winery. Carmenet is into the Bordeaux varietals like Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
One of my favorite Cabernet Francs of all time comes from Carmenet. The 1997 ($27.15) is spicy with dried herbs like bay and thyme with a little pepper, and at the same time, full of red forest fruits for a rich, concentrated, full flavor. It is delicious with lamb in particular, as well as other roasted red meat. This wine can also be found, in a small 7 percent in their red meritage called Moon Mountain Reserve. The Cabernet Franc and 5 percent Petit Verdot are blended into 88 percent Cabernet Sauvignon for an incredible Bordeaux blend which will reward your patience with time in the cellar. The 1997 is now available for $49.65.
Carmenet also has a couple of Dynamite wines from rocky hillside vineyards that had to be blasted to be planted. There are boulders of rock in between the rows of painstakingly planted vines. Dynamite Cabernet 1998 ($19.55) and Dynamite Merlot ($19.40) are both great values for their quality and complexity. Dynamite is pronounced in the American way, not "Deenametay" as if it were some sort of French word, though some restaurant customers have argued the point. However, the "t" in Carmenet is silent, pronounced, "Carmenay"
Who cares how you say it, just buy one, try it with a great meal, with a great person, and you will probably be as hooked on wines from the Chalone Wine Group as I have been since that first sip in Jon's wine class.
Now, here's a look at the Chalone group's collection of white wines.
Wine from the French grape called "Viognier" has just made its debut at Acacia this year. The aromas in this wine are like none other. The perfumy floral nose is absolutely captivating and will last in the glass for hours. For $27.15, you may think it is too pricey, when compared to some of the French Viogniers on the next shelf for $12.95 or less. But compare these with the Acacia Viognier and you will discover why California wines fare so well in international competitions.
Other highly recommended wines from Acacia include their Carneros Chardonnay 1999 ($19.95) and Carneros Pinot Noir 1999 ($26.45) Speaking of Pinot Noir, one of the greatest from California is from Chalone Vineyards. The 1999 ($33.85) has incredible depth and a velvety cherry chocolate mouthfeel.
Chalone Vineyards has some of the most exciting Chenin Blancs ($22.40) and Pinot Blancs ($25.10) in the California market. Their Chardonnay ($31.50) has been a mainstay on the wine lists of upscale restaurants in the Bay Area, as well as across the nation, for many years.
Further south, Edna Valley Vineyards is producing Chardonnays ($16.95) that have brighter tropical tones and beautiful vanilla and apple flavors. The wine I always recommend for unusual food pairings that incorporate lots of ingredients that take off in dozens of directions is Carmenet's White Meritage Reserve 1999 ($17.45) What else would you choose for hazelnut crusted halibut with mango chutney and a mission fig demiglaze? This may sound like a stretch, but for some menus, a paragraph to describe the ingredients of one item calls for a wine that will stand up to the flavor infusion test. This particular Carmenet wine is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, two very different flavor profiles all on their own, blended into one beautiful, food friendly wine.
Feb. 13, 2001