California winery has great weather for its grapes, worth for your wallet

Plus, Wine and the White House on this Presidents Day week

Steve Rogstad knows Los Carneros.  After college, he worked at Saintsbury, Rombauer and Clos Pegase before landing his current winemaking position at Cuvaison. He worked alongside legends – Dick Ward, Tony Soter, Ted Lemon and Craig Williams – to perfect pinot noir and chardonnay grown in the cool climate of Los Carneros.

People will argue whether this region of Napa Valley is the best for these two grape varieties, but few will argue that pinot noir in particular needs a cool climate to give grapes a rest from the daytime heat. Here, the climate is not determined by Sonoma Valley’s mountainous rims but by San Pablo and San Francisco Bay, where morning fog and afternoon wind cools the skin-sensitive grapes. Rogstad attributes this important climate to the acidity that provides balance to the region’s savory and red-fruit-driven pinot noir.

Rogstad didn’t have much interest in wine until he got an apartment above a wine store in Paris during a post-college adventure. Experimenting with the shop’s wines and attending shows over the six months he was there, he soaked up everything he could about business before returning to the states and enrolling at the University of California at Davis. He returned to France afterward to test a yeast strain in Beaujolais before launching his winemaking career in Carneros. 

Cuvaison was founded in 1969, making it a pioneer in a region first planted to grapes in the 1840s. It was acquired by the Schmidheiny family of Switzerland in 1979 and has remained focused on chardonnay and pinot noir. Rogstad joined the team in 2002. A larger winery was built in 2009 to handle small lots. The estate includes 40 blocks of chardonnay and more than 20 of pinot noir.

The family’s capital investment has provided the quality and stability Cuvaison needed to compete. Its lineup of several single-vineyard chardonnays and pinot noirs demonstrate a focus on small-lot production to express the unique soils and a dozen of vineyard clones.

We loved all of the chardonnays in the portfolio. Each of them expresses their unique terroir with a range of oak-restrained chardonnay, to rich and complex chardonnay. Cuvaison’s 2018 estate chardonnay is a steal at $26. Likewise, the 2018 estate pinot noir exceeds in quality its $42 price point.

A few weeks ago we tried the Cuvaison Methode Beton Sauvignon Blanc ($40) fermented in concrete, egg-shaped containers; it was probably one of the most unique and age-worthy sauvignon blancs we’ve tasted in months.

Here are tasting notes from three stellar single-vineyard chardonnays:

  • Cuvaison Coeurtina Chardonnay 2018 ($50). A perfect season provided a long hang time, resulting in concentrated wines with beautiful acidity. Stone fruit flavors dominate the richly textured palate with a hint of citrus and toasted oak.
  • Cuvaison Hedon Chardonnay 2018 ($50).  The richest of the chardonnay trio, this full-bodied powerhouse has ripe stone fruit flavors with lemon curd and a touch of toasty oak.
  • Cuvaison Kite Tail Chardonnay 2018 ($45). Produce from the Old Wente clone, this medium-bodied chardonnay has an expressive aroma, crisp acidity and concentrated citrus and peach flavors.  Long finish and almond notes.

Wine and the White House

Those of you who like wine with their history will enjoy a new book, Wine and the White House by Frederick J. Ryan (White House Historical Association).

The preview we read shows a highly interesting book about the role wine played in social entertaining at the White House.  For instance, Thomas Jefferson, whose knowledge of French wine was particularly good, set the pace for entertaining with wine. President Lyndon B. Johnson was the first to serve only American wines in the White House. President Richard Nixon added European wine – his preference was French. He was the last president to serve only European wines.

The tradition passed along to every president was to serve white, red and champagne – in that order.

Presidents had their preferences like anyone else. President Jimmy Carter liked Great Western from the Finger Lakes. President Barack Obama served the most Virginian wine. President Gerald Ford served wine from his home state of Michigan.

The book includes photos of toasts, table settings, menus, carafes, glasses, etc.

Wine and the White House will be available in May. It would make a great gift.

Wine picks

  • Cloudline Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2018 ($15). One of the best values in this normally expensive category, Cloudline delivers an intensive bouquet followed by spice, blackcurrant, raspberry and black cherry flavors.
  • Cass Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles Geneseo District 2016 ($26). Crafted from all of the classic Bordeaux varietals and aged in mostly neutral French oak to minimize over-oaking, there is a lot going on in this very complex and value-priced cabernet sauvignon. Berry and cassis notes with accents of herbs and chocolate.
  • Concha Y Toro Marques Casa Concha Carmenere Peumo Peumo Vineyard 2015 ($28). Made from ungrafted grape vines and aged for 16 months in French oak barrels, this great example of Chilean carmenere offers harmonious notes of plums and berries with an intriguing herbal note. Great for bold-flavored winter fare.
  • Bela Ribera del Duero 2017 ($19). This is an amazing value for a wine from the prestigious Ribero del Duero wine-growing region in Spain. Made entirely from tempranillo and aged in a combination of French and American oak barrels, this mélange tastes and smells of cherries and berries with a pleasant spice overlay.
  • Masseria Altemura Sasseo Primitivo Salento Puglia 2011 ($19). This wine is a terrific value. Primitivo is a close relative of California’s famed zinfandel grape and mimics its kissing cousin’s full-throttle, grapey style. Cherry and blueberry elements with a note of chocolate and an amazing long finish.

Generic photos are selected by ThePhillyFiles and don’t indicate any preference.

Tom Marquardt (email for questions) and Patrick Darr have been writing a wine column since 1985. They’ve traveled extensively to vineyards in France, Spain, Italy, Greece and the U.S.
Tom lives in Florida with his wife, Sue, where he conducts wine tastings. Patrick is in the wine retail business in Annapolis, Md.

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