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A Cabernet Icon's Lighter Offerings
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 25, 2017
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Clos du Val, Napa Valley–Carneros, Estate Pinot Noir Rosé, Grand Val Vineyard 2016 ($30):  One evening last week, I taught a class that involved a discussion of the many ways that blending can help a winemaker achieve his or her quality and stylistic goals.  Two days later, I tasted this rosé wine and the newly-released 2016 Clos du Val Sauvignon Blanc and wished that I could have tasted these wines with the students, as real-life examples of one form of blending.  Although both wines are made entirely from their named grape variety, they both are blends of grapes from different vineyard locations, with the fruit of each area complementing the fruit of the other parcel.

In the case of the Pinot Noir Rosé, the grapes come from two separate blocks of Clos du Val’s estate vineyard in Carneros, one block on the valley floor and the other a hillside site.  Both sites were harvested early so that their grapes would be appropriately fresh in flavor for a rosé wine rather than a red Pinot Noir.  The valley floor fruit was rich in bright berry flavor; winemaker Ted Henry sent those grapes directly to press after harvesting, similar to the way a fine white wine would be made, with no particular contact between the skins and the juice.  The smaller clusters of fruit from the hillside offered structure and intensity; these grapes were given several hours of skin contact to extract color.  The two lots of wine fermented separately in stainless steel tank until blending.

The final wine shows an artful balance between flavors and structure.  It is a dry rosé, pale pink in color, with medium body, crisp acidity, and just the slightest impression of grip in your mouth to tell you that the wine is made from red grapes.  Typical of Pinot Noir, its aromas and flavors suggest red berries, but floral notes are also present in the aroma, and in the mouth a zesty grapefruit note creates an improbable but delicious balance to the wine’s strawberry flavors.  The winemaker’s tasting notes describe the finish as suggestive of watermelon rind; to me, the long finish echoes more the grapefruit notes of the palate.  This Pinot Noir Rosé occupies the light end of the rosé wine spectrum, with flavors that are delicate and a style that is dry, crisp, and refreshing.

Clos du Val is one of California’s most iconic Cabernet Sauvignon producers but has produced Carneros Pinot Noir from its estate vineyard for many years.  Their first Rosé of Pinot Noir was the 2006, and with the exception of 2015 when no rosé was made, it is now an annual fixture in the line.

The other new release is Clos du Val 2016 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($30), and it represents another example of skillful blending of vineyard sources.  The main source of the grapes is Clos du Val’s State Lane Vineyard in Yountville, one of Napa Valley’s cooler districts, a site that makes “a sophisticated and mineral-driven expression of Sauvignon Blanc,” according to winemaker Ted Henry.  He supplements these grapes with fruit from a warmer part of Napa Valley, the DeCarle Vineyard in Rutherford, which makes wines that are “very generous in character and bursting with… lemon and melon notes.”  The wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel, with no oak aging.

I find this wine to be dry, medium-bodied, crisp and citrusy, with unmistakable varietal character.  Its texture combines some richness from the more generous Rutherford fruit with a savory tactile energy from the cooler fruit; similarly, flavors of honeydew blend with lemon and herbal notes.  This is not one of those rich, tropical Sauvignon Blanc wines from California, but a more classic, lean style that still has plenty of flavor.  I score it just a point below the Rosé.

The first vintage of Clos du Val Sauvignon Blanc was 2005 -- apart from a single effort way back in 1982.  Like the Pinot Noir Rosé, it is here to stay in the winery’s product line.  Both wines offer solid quality and good value. And if you’re inclined to think about the winemaking when you taste, they also offer food for thought.

Pinot Noir Rosé, 90 Points