WHAT: Sometimes it’s interesting to try wines under less than ideal conditions to see how they handle some adversity. I did that with the Artesa (ar tess´ uh) Pinot Noir, and it performed like a champion.
Decanting red wines and letting them breathe for at least 30 minutes enhances the flavor, but when I had this wine, I didn’t have a decanter or even an aerator (which a friend of mine calls the Snobinator). So we just poured and swirled and gulped.
What a sweet gulp that was. This is a beautiful, lush wine, loaded with bright red fruit flavors, especially strawberry and cherry, with hints of caramel. My friend Richard and my wife, Teri, especially picked up on the caramel.
The Artesa is medium bodied, with a long, smooth finish. Though it has a great deal of ripe fruit flavors, it is not a flabby wine. The pleasant acidity gives it a good backbone.
The wine appears to be just what winemaker Mark Beringer was aiming for, a reflection of the place where the grapes were grown.
“I’m a terroir-driven winemaker,” he said in a phone interview from California. “When you try something from Carneros you should know it is from Carneros. I’m not trying to emulate a style from another part of the world.”
That’s a good thing because many American Pinot Noir makers tried to copy Pinot Noir from Burgundy, France, which became wildly popular in the 1980s. To my tastes, that was a disaster and caused me to avoid Pinots for years. Now American winemakers are discovering the strengths of cool-climate vineyards and letting the tastes of the vineyard show up in the bottle.
“Some winemakers got caught up in how dark they could make their wines,” said Beringer. “But there are some feminine characteristics of Pinot Noir that I want to make sure come through. I like the lighter style of Pinot Noir.”
Lighter does not mean wimpy or simple. Artesa fermented this wine in five ways, even though the grapes all were picked at around the same time.
“I have a core way of making wine, but you have to have side dishes. The five fermenting tanks brought out different components, so we were able to create layers of flavor. Other winemakers swing for the fences, but I play small ball,” said Beringer.
Beringer is a fifth generation winemaker, but his family sold their popular winery in 1971, so he wasn’t raised around a winery. He thought he wanted to be a musician and play jazz trumpet.
When he realized that wasn’t something he wanted to do all his life, he looked at winemaking.
His uncles and cousins in the Raymond family run another great winery, so he worked there for five years, including some summers.
Then Beringer went to Duckhorn where he moved up the ladder to vice president of production and winemaker. He won many awards there and launched the Paraduxx and Goldeneye labels.
He joined Artesa in 2009 where he continues to create beautiful music in a bottle.
WINERY: Artesa Wines can trace its heritage to 1551 in the Penedés region of Spain. The Raventos family, heirs of the Spanish winemaking dynasty Codorniu, began acquiring land in Napa Valley in the 1980s.
In 1991 the company opened Codorniu Napa as a sparkling wine facility in the Carneros region of Napa. In 1997, the facility was converted to make still wine. The name changed to Artesa, from the Catalan word for handcrafted. The facility is modern and dramatic, surrounded by fountains and sitting high on a hill overlooking Carneros.
The winery is worth a visit if you are in the area. The Web site www.artesawinery.com has a dramatic 360-degree panorama photo that captures the beauty of the visitors center. It is visited by thousands of people every year.
The winery specializes in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with 150 acres planted with 20 clonal selections. Though they produce many other wines available at the winery, Artesa winemakers think Carneros’ cool climate, moderated by fog and wind, allows their signature grapes to ripen slowly and develop complexity.
I have long been a fan of Artesa after stopping at their winery when I was in California a few years ago. Carneros and Reserve versions of their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is their first nationwide distribution. Restaurants are more likely to have the wine, but it is available throughout Georgia and South Carolina.
GOES WITH: We had this wine as an aperitif before a performance at the Earl Klugh Weekend of Jazz in Kiawah, S.C., a few weeks ago. It wasn’t exactly gourmet fair, but we had it with pretzels, Cheez-its and cinnamon almonds.
My wife, Teri, and I loved it with the pretzels and crackers, but our friends Richard and Sharon preferred it with the cinnamon almonds.
This would be a great wine with holiday meals, pairing well with turkey, ham, roast chicken, mushrooms, fresh herbs and roasted vegetables. It’s not bad just sitting on a balcony sipping a glass while listening to jazz and watching the ocean.