Friday, March 28, 2008

Carvalho Family Wines

At the beginning of the month I visited several wineries in the Clarksburg area of California. This little know AVA (American Viticultural Area) Is a sixteen mile long by eight miles wide area spanning Sacramento, Solano and Yolo counties. It has over 9,000 acres of vines. Travelling the levee roads along the Sacramento River, you cross many old draw bridges to view the fields of grape vines. Summer days can be very hot in the Sacramento Valley, but the cool Delta breeze keeps the area nine degrees cooler than the city and suburbs of Sacramento.

More than twenty wine grape varietals grow well in the Clarksburg area. The grapes that grow best here are Chenin Blanc and Petite Sirah. Although there are about ten wineries located in the area, 90% of the grapes grown here are crushed outside the appellation. Several wineries are now producing under the AVA name, which may bring recognition for the area. One winery worth getting to know is Carvalho.

Carvalho Family Wines, according to their wed site, has been making wine "over 100 years, starting in the villages and vineyards of Portugal." Their heritage is evident in the port they make using traditional Portuguese varietals of Touriga, Tinta Cao, and Alvarelhao. Other port like wines I tried from other Clarksburg wineries were made from Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. The Carvalho port tasted like the real thing.

The Carvalho family owns the Old Sugar Mill, a former sugar mill converted to a warehouse where they and several other Clarksburg wineries age barrels of wines and have their tasting rooms. It's a convenient way to sample wines from five different wineries in one place. The day I visited I wasn't able to meet the Carvalho wine maker, but the staff that poured for me were very knowledgable and answered all my questions.

One of my goals that day was to sample Clarksburg Chenin Blanc. Just that week, an article came out in my local paper about Darrell Corti being inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame. In the article, Mike Dunne mentioned Corti's claim that "the best chenin blanc made in California is made in Clarksburg." The Carvalho Chenin Blanc proved Corti's claim.

I have had Chenin Blanc before, but couldn't remember it. All I can remember is descriptions I've read putting it down as a bland jug wine. However, its supposed to have mineral flavors and high acidity that balance well with the sugars when its made off-dry. These sound like the flavors I like about Riesling or a good Sauvignon Blanc. Also, well made Chenin Blanc from the Loire has a distinctive, musty, damp straw aroma. The grape is also grown in South Africa where it is supposed to be made into enjoyable wine. In fact Dr. Debs blog pack on Domaine547 features a South African Chenin Blanc. Winehiker has been saying great things on Twitter about it.

When I tried the Carvalho Chenin Blanc I expected it to be like a sweet Sauvignon blanc but although it smelled of pinapple like a Sauvignon blanc and had some grassy flavors, it was different from the SBs I've had before. I was definitely a light wine, but the flavors were distinct and enjoyable. This was a nice dry wine and possibly because of the 10% Viognier, it had a nice mouthfeel. It had a light finish with an pleasant, almost sour aftertaste. I only bought one bottle (only $9.00) but I may be going back soon for more.

I look forward to trying more Chenin Blanc and other wines from Clarksburg wineries. In fact, on April 20th, Scribner Bend Vineyards is having a "release party" in Clarksburg. They don't have a Chenin Blanc but they make another white wine from the Fiano grape! I'm looking forward to it.

Tasting Notes:

2004 Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg ($9.00, 12.5% alcohol)

Color:  Very faint yellow

Aroma:  Faint nose, like a Gavi

Taste:  Very grassy, faint fruit and intense flavor, dry and very good.

Finish:  Faint tannins and light aftertaste

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