Monthly Archives: February 2018

Richard Longoria Wines

 

Years ago, while enjoying a dinner with friends at the Ballard Inn in the Santa Ynez Valley, we selected a local wine, the Richard Longoria Fe Ciega Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Rita Hills.  The wine began my appreciation for cool-climate chardonnay and pinot noir from this appellation and of Richard as a winemaker who works the land.

Richard and Diana Longoria established their winery in 1982 after building a résumé with other local producers.  Richard’s desire to make wines in the Burgundian style and the

Richard Longoria

unique terroir of the region remains a successful partnership.

The Santa Rita Hills lie forty minutes up the coast from Santa Barbara on the north side of Point Concepcion, California’s only east-west coastal mountain range. The vineyards are directly exposed to cool nights, moderately warm days, wind and fog, protected only by the hills and valleys.  The soils are rocky, somewhat stressed and infused with marine sediment that helps to define the wines.

The Fe Ciega Vineyard is a great property in a prestigious neighborhood that includes Fiddlestix, Sweeney Canyon and Seasmoke vineyards among others.  The 2014 Longoria Chardonnay Fe Ciega Vineyard Santa Rita Hills ($50) is sourced from a few rows of Mt. Eden clone and is aged sur lee in only 26% new French oak.  Although Richard usually avoids malolactic

Fe Ciega Vineyard

fermentation in his chardonnay releases, nearly three-quarters of this juice went through it.  There is a distinctive herbal, earthy quality to the flavors and a balanced acidity on the finish.

Longoria is cautious with new oak and doesn’t make any determinations until he analyzes the juice.  His signature wine, the 2014 Longoria Pinot Noir Fe Ciega Vineyard Santa Rita Hills ($55) was aged fifteen months in 40% new French oak resulting in complex herbal, fruit-forward flavors and soft, but clear tannins.  The “Fe Ciega,” which translates to “blind faith,” expresses the finer qualities of pinot noir in the appellation.

Whole-clustered pressed, the 2016 Longoria Chardonnay “Cuvee’ Diana” Santa Rita Hills ($45), with juice sourced from two vineyards, is aged separately for 14 months in 23% new oak, then blended before bottling.  The rich, creamy texture and baked fruit flavors explode on the palate and last through

Longoria” Fe Ciega” Pinot Noir

the finish.

What a difference a vineyard can make.  Sanford and Benedict is one of the oldest and most respected vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills.  In contrast to the Fe Ciega release, the 2014 Longoria Pinot Noir Sanford and Benedict Vineyard Santa Rita Hills ($50), aged fifteen months in 39% new French oak, exudes big, bold cherry pie aromas and flavors.  Drinkable now, this wine will get even better with some time on the shelf.

Richard’s favorite varietal from the region is actually cabernet franc.  The problem with cabernet franc is that it suffers from an ailment called “cabernet sauvignon love.”  It can’t compete. Years ago, he began using it in a unique Bordeaux blend with added syrah.  Are the French scorning or just envious?  Re-launching the disguised cabernet franc, he called the annual blend, “Blues Cuvee’ to honor his love of blues and jazz.  Each label has original blues-themed artwork, a perfect gift for those passionate about vino and vibes.

2006 Longoria Syrah Alisos Vineyard

To my fortune, Richard pulled out a twelve-year-old bottle of syrah from the Alisos Vineyard, cooler than most that produce it.  The 2006 Longoria Syrah Alisos Vineyard Santa Barbara County ($40) had spice notes, but the expressive flavors were so integrated and soft, I was surprised to find an alcohol level of 15.9 percent.

Two very different varietals, both sourced from the Clover Creek Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley, are worthy of mention. The 2016 Longoria Albarino Clover Creek Vineyard ($25), offers a spirited acidity and clean stone fruit on the palate.  In the late-harvest, dessert wine category, the 2012 Longoria Syrah “Vino Dulce” Santa Barbara County ($23) is at the top of my list.  Albeit

Longoria Blues Cuvee’ label

sweeter, the herbal, spice qualities of the grape, along with rich fruit and berry flavors, are expressed throughout.  To sip it after dinner is captivating, but to pair it with chocolate is simply decadent.

Tonight, in honor of Richard, his 2014 “Fe Ciega” pinot noir was perfectly paired with the 1979 Bill Evans’ “Paris Concert, Edition One” recording.  It’s always a pleasure to sip and listen to “Quiet Now.”

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Charbono!

 

Calistoga in north Napa Valley is a distinctive place to visit with surrounding mountain vistas, a quaint downtown, specialty shops and increasingly fine dining, geysers, mud baths, petrified forests and, of course, world-class wine.  Fine cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc are still on top but local winemakers have experimented with other varietals since the early 1900s, including charbono, grown almost exclusively in the Calistoga area.  A vast majority of the sixty-five California acres planted in charbono are

Calistoga

minutes from town.

Introduced to California as charbonneau and also known globally as douce noir, corbeau or bonarda, the origin of charbono is Savoie, part of the French Alps near the Swiss border where it was harvested as a food friendly red varietal used to soften blends.  Late-ripening California charbono is generally simple in structure, fruit-forward and soft on the palate.

Charbono began as an Italian varietal in the Savoie region before it shifted to France in 1860. Today, it is behind only Malbec as the second most abundantly planted grape in Argentina where it is known as bonarda.  Several winemakers in Calistoga have adopted the grape and seem determined to keep it alive including Larry Summers who calls it “the Rodney Dangerfield of wine,” noting that few people know of its existence.

The old Inglenook winery imported barbera to the region, only to discover later that it was charbono, first bottling it in 1941. They remained the largest producer of charbono in the 1970s when vines also began to appear in Mendocino County

2012 Shypoke Calistoga Napa Valley Charbono

Pizza and charbono were on the menu at an event hosted by T-Vine Winery tasting room in Calistoga.  It began with a rare and earthy 1985 Inglenook Charbono.  The dark color and the deep, rich forest floor and tobacco leaf flavors were proof that the varietal benefits from aging.  Surprisingly, I have found this vintage on-line and at a local San Francisco outlet.

Winemaker Peter Heitz, great-grandson of immigrants who originally planted the vineyard in 1904, combined grapes with one planted in 1984 to produce nine barrels of the 2014 Shypoke Charbono Napa Valley Calistoga ($35) Herbal on the nose, the rich, tart fruit flavors exercise the palate.

Summers Winery, where I tasted my first Calistoga charbono years ago, was pouring two wines including the Summers Rose’ of Charbono 2014 ($30) that had a refreshing sweet and savory quality with hints of strawberries throughout.  It’s easy to recommend this unique wine.

Summers Rose’ of Charbono

Volcanic soil is prevalent throughout the Calistoga appellation including the estate Villa Andriana Vineyard that produced the nicely structured Summers Charbono 2014($34) with nutty aromas and restrained, complex flavors.  Some of these vines were affected by the recent Tubbs Fire that could impact future releases.

Dry-farmed and organic, the Tofanelli Family Vineyards in Calistoga has produced estate wines on this land since 1929. Their 2014 Tofanelli Estate Charbono ($43) blends 15% petite sirah for a richly textured wine that delivers a floral bouquet, ripened blueberry flavors and a slate finish.

A Calistoga boutique winery, August Briggs produces small lot wines in a prolific way.  Today, they have fifteen different releases with various varietals, all produced in

Tofanelli Vineyards Napa Valley Charbono

small amounts.  From two local vineyards, the August Briggs Calistoga Napa Valley Charbono 2014($38) was self-described as their best vintage.  It is an impressive 100% charbono and at the top of those tasted.  Rich texture, concentrated blueberry flavors and soft tannins bring an intricacy to the wine.

After tasting the August Briggs Calistoga Napa Valley Charbono 2006, I may differ with their assessment of the vintage 2014 as the best ever. The deep color and lush mouthfeel were beyond compare.  Enjoying the integrated, complex flavors, doughy tannins and long finish outweighed any need to dissect it.  I can only imagine tasting the vintage 2014 in 2026.

Whether you choose Calistoga for the natural beauty, exercise and health opportunities, fine dining or the wine, be reminded that it is the only place in the United States where we can spend a day exploring the charbono grape and the expressive wines it produces.

August Briggs Tasting Room in Calistoga

Charbono deserves our respect and wine lovers everywhere have a self-serving obligation to keep it alive and thriving.