What: There is something calming and empowering about knowing your place in the world. For Tom Gamble, Napa Valley has been that place his entire life, and for three generations of his family.
Gamble is the first in the family to grow grapes and make wine, but all that family history with the land must have added something to his wine. This is a rich and powerful cabernet sauvignon that is smooth and mellow. It drinks more like a Bordeaux than a California cab. Napa Valley is 30 miles long and from one to five miles wide, and the wine region extends up into the mountains and smaller valleys. It begins at a bay and ends at a volcano, so there are many types of soils and numerous microclimates, each of which seems perfect for growing wine grapes. Many other varietals grow well in Napa, but it seems particularly suited for cabernet sauvignon. No other region in the country produces so many top-rated cabs year after year. Some cabs are from a particular sub-region, while others like this Gamble are from vineyards all over the valley. The diverse vineyard selections from various soils and microclimates give the wine a depth and complexity that is particularly satisfying.
It starts out in the glass with inviting aromas of blackberry, walnut, cedar and a touch of nutmeg. The wine is even more complex on the palate, with flavors of blackberries, plum, coffee, chocolate and tobacco. It is a medium-bodied wine with a smooth finish.
The wine is 95 percent cabernet and 5 percent merlot. The grapes were harvested over a five-week period from eight vineyards. At the heart of the wine are grapes from Oakville, one of the best-known regions of Napa. It also has grapes from Calistoga, on the northern end of the valley, which adds savory and earthy flavors. The wine spent 20 months in French, Hungarian and American oak barrels before bottling. I think this wine will get even better over the next 5-8 years. Open it at least 45 minutes before drinking, to give the complex flavors a chance to mix with the air.
Winery: Third generation Napa farmer Tom Gamble purchased his first vineyard in 1981. Gamble Family Vineyards was founded in 2005, and the winery was built in 2012. Some of his land is leased to other wineries and he sells grapes to other wineries. Just as he was inspired by the hard work of generations going back 100 years, Gamble hopes to pass along a love for the land to the next generation.
He knows that all great wine begins in the vineyard, which suits him fine because he is a farmer first. The idea of working the land and making fine wine goes deeper than just earning money. There are easier ways to make a living. A quote on the Gamble website pays tribute to what previous generations have done for Tom Gamble. “They have left, as part of their legacy, their deep and abiding affinity for the land from which came not only their livelihood, but also a life full of purpose. I am hopeful I can transfer that way of life to yet another generation,” Gamble said. Winemaker Jim Close joined Gamble in 2003. He grew up in London, studied winemaking at the University of Brighton and began working in French vineyards in 1998. Close uses the lessons he learned in the Old World to make well-structured, balanced wines in small quantities that express the true terroir of each of the Napa vineyards. The winery also produces an incredible sauvignon blanc, petite sirah, a couple of red blends, syrah and zinfandel. Much of the wine is sold through the winery, though some is shipped to restaurants and wine shops. Goes With: My son, Michael, and I had this wine with some homemade lasagna that was left over from my son-in-law’s 50th birthday celebration. I made meat lasagna and my wife, Teri, made vegetarian. The meat flavors paired nicely with the cab. The bright fruit flavors rounded out the sharpness of the tomato sauce and made all the flavors richer. Lasagna is easy to make. I started out with wide lasagna noodles that I boiled for slightly less time than the package calls for. Then I sauteed a pound of ground beef and a pound of sweet Italian sausage, adding diced onions, garlic, salt and pepper as the meat cooked. After draining the fat from the pan, I drained the liquid from two cans of diced tomatoes with Italian seasonings and added the tomatoes to the pot. Then I added two jars of Newman’s Own spaghetti sauce. I mixed a small container of ricotta cheese with an egg and grated parmesan. After heating the oven to 375 degrees, I sprayed Pam on a foil pan, the half pan size. I spread some of the sauce on the bottom of the pan, trying to keep the pieces of meat out. Then I put in a layer of noodles, topped with the ricotta cheese, meat sauce and shredded mozzarella. Then another layer of noodles, cheese, meat sauce and cheese. I finished with another layer of noodles and a little bit of meat sauce and mozzarella.
Cover the pan with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and cook another 25-30 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the top is a spotty brown. Remove the pan from the oven, let it cool for 10 minutes and serve.