Soothing red wines are ideal for warm weather menus, and Clos du Val Carneros pinot noir 2006 is just what the sun god ordered for your summer table.
I met Bernard Portet, co-founder of Clos du Val, in the 1970s. He started the winery in the yet-to-be-known Stags Leap district of Napa Valley. It was a time when vineyards and orchards were intermingled and owned by farmers and individuals who came from winemaking families. Tourism and Architectural Digest wineries had not sprouted.
Portet knew vineyards and Bordeaux, as his childhood was spent in both; his father was the technical director of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, and Bernard Portet was educated in the winemaking schools of Toulouse and Montpellier.
In 1970, John Goelet, an American businessman of an American father and French mother, hired Portet to search the world for prime vineyard land. Portet reported back with his Napa location; the 1972 cabernet sauvignon was his first wine and became part of the famous Paris tasting of California and French wines in 1976.
In 1978, Portet produced Clos du Val’s first pinot noir from Carneros grapes, another vineyard area that would become famous for that varietal and chardonnay.
It was the memory of those wines and many more vintages of Clos du Val thereafter that made it exciting and apprehensive to meet Clos du Val’s current winemaker, John Clews, and taste the newest vintages from this exceptional winery of Napa’s modern age.
Born in Rhodesia, Clews started adulthood in London as an accountant but quickly dropped his debits and credits for winemaking education in South Africa and at America’s prestigious University of California at Davis.
Winemaking positions at Steele, Newton and Preston wineries preceded his entrance to Clos du Val.
Clew presented his cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot and pinot noir wines during dinner at New York’s Picholine restaurant. Each retained Clos du Val’s elegant style, which is the antithesis of the super-ripe fruit, high alcohol and oak accents that many Napa wines produce. Each complemented Picholine’s cuisine in a way that many California wines cannot.
The 2006 Clos du Val Carneros pinot noir is made only from grapes of the winery’s Carneros vineyard. Its aroma holds your attention with a mix of raspberry, black cherry and spice. And your palate is equally pleased with ripe strawberry, black cherry and cinnamon flavors. Soft tannins allow the medium-bodied wine to glide around the mouth and slide into a long, pleasing finish.
Clews limits the wine’s aging to one year in French oak barrels with 25 percent being new. This skillful use of oak prevents the 2006 Clos du Val Carneros pinot noir from transforming into another one of the candied-like California pinot noirs that flood the market.
The 2006 Clos du Val Carneros pinot noir will be a delightful table mate with summer fare like grilled garden zucchini, eggplant and red bell peppers; grilled bluefish with a ragout of tomato, onion, capers and fresh Italian parsley; and every grilled meat you want to serve.
This is a wine you can enjoy while sitting in the shade or the sun, and I’m sure neither Bernard Portet nor John Clews will mind if you serve it slightly chilled. I plan to.
The 2006 Clos du Val Carneros pinot noir retails for approximately $33.
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