The Tasting Panel magazine

September 2015

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34  /  the tasting panel  /  september 2015 C oombsville is cool. The Coombsville Vintners & Growers Association prefer that you think of it as "cool" in the literal sense: in terms of its lower Region II (Winkler heat summation) climate, marked by significantly fewer severe heat spikes than, say, the center of Napa Valley—Oakville, Rutherford and St. Helena. But Coombsville is also cool because its combination of chill temperatures, mod- erating proximity to San Pablo Bay and cobblestone-strewn soils produces wines in a style that is becoming very hip: restrained in alcohol, higher in natural acidity, and inundated with tertiary (i.e., earthy or minerally) sensations, as opposed to the predominant fruitiness associated with most California wines. What and where is Coombsville? This 11,075-acre region of barely 1,400 planted acres is located directly east of the town of Napa, occupying a horseshoe-shaped nook of porous gravelly slopes. Its modern-day pioneers include Dunc and Pat Haynes (establishing their Haynes Vineyard in 1966), Tulocay Winery's Bill Cadman (1975), Farella Vineyard's Frank Farella (1979) and Caldwell Vineyard's John Caldwell (1982). Coombsville became an American Viticultural Area in 2011. Almost immediately thereafter, bottlings with Coombsville on the label began to make it abundantly clear that this region grows wines unlike any other. To try to put a finger on exactly how Coombsville wines differ, this past August the Coombsville Vintners and Growers Association asked a small panel of sommeliers to double-blind-taste 72 Coombsville-grown wines. The sommeliers included Gillian Balance, MS (Treasury Wine Estates); Jason Heller, MS (Dana Estates, Napa Valley); Vincent Morrow (Restaurant Gary Danko, San Francisco); and Jordan Nova, CSW (1313 Main, Napa, CA). The appellation's geographic and economic proximity to the rest of Napa Valley dictates that over three-quarters of it be planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and the usual complement of varieties. Which is a shame because we were presented with a handful of Chardonnays that were refreshingly Chablis-like in minerality, acidity and lightness (particularly 2014s by Caldwell and Aonair); a couple of pure, ethere- ally perfumed Pinot Noirs (a 2011 Tolocay Haynes Vineyard and 2013 Ancien Mink Vineyard); and some stunningly concentrated, tart edged yet almost delicate Syrahs (a 2011 Black Cat and 2012 Caldwell stood out). There was a pervasive minerality—ranging from wet stones to organic, compost- like earthiness—in virtually all the wines: whites, reds and even pinks. The Cabernet Sauvignons and Bordeaux-style blends were, by and large, finesseful—almost old-school-Bordeaux-like in their sinewy, lean structures and interplay of loaminess, cassis, pyrazine and cigar box. The way one of the sommeliers summarized Coombsville-grown Cabernet Sauvignons: "fresh acid . . . big, decadent noses, yet light and fresh." Another noted their apparent potential "to ripen without overripeness," and their emphasis on "balance, integration and minerality." Some of the Coombsville-grown Bordeaux-inspired reds that would definitely turn on sommeliers seeking this balanced, earth and acid driven style: Barking Dog 2010 Merlot; Caldwell 2012 Cabernet Franc; Palmaz 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon; Merus 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon; Scalon 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon; Maroon 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon; Farella 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon; Shadybrook 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon; and Covert Estate 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. If you prefer wines that favor terroir over varietal fruitiness, and a sharply etched elegance over clunky power, Coombsville should be on your lips and lists. story and photos by Randy Caparoso Coombsville: The un-Napa of Napa Valley AN AVA WITH TERROIR-DRIVEN WINES OF ELEGANCE AND FINESSE Coombsville tasting (left to right): Gillian Balance, MS of Treasury Wine Estates; Vincent Morrow of Restaurant Gary Danko, San Francisco; Jason Heller, MS of Dana Estates, Napa Valley; Elan Fayard of Azur Wines, Napa Valley; author Randy Caparoso; and Jordan Nova, CSW of 1313 Main, Napa, CA. Sommelier Bryan McCall of 1313 Main pours the Chardonnay round.

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