Wind along that beautiful curvy stretch of Highway 128 in Mendocino County once again. Your destination, among many other stops, is the second-generation family owned Navarro winery. Operating in the storied Anderson Valley since 1973, the winery boasts a utopian, bucolic setting and fosters a tightly knit community of friends, neighbors, club members — all wine lovers and all blessed to be in this circle.
They believe a good bottle of wine tells a story; each bottle of Navarro reflects the uniqueness of the growing season, vineyard site and the inspired focus of production.
In the heart of the valley; llamas stand watch, the property is dotted with ponds and vineyards climb from the valley floor up the steep south-facing expanse of the Philo Ridge. They relish this parcel for all it offers — premier terroir for the expression of America’s finest pinot noir, chardonnay and Alsatian varietals, in the climate-cool, often alternating between fog and ocean breezes and bright afternoon sun.
Here lie acres of grapes growing under templed sky, taking inspiration from cold climate regions of the old world from France to Germany, Austria and beyond. Grapes like gewürztraminer, riesling, pinot gris, chardonnay, and pinot noir are hand harvested from the property’s slopes; syrah (labeled shiraz!), zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon are brought from further east in the county.
The methods of winemaking in the winery involve hand punching down fermentations, just enough French oak to support the wine and the new concrete egg-shaped oval fermenters that keep the wine flowing just a certain way. Honest is a good way to describe the whole process, resulting in a breathtaking purity — from refreshingly clear, watery colored whites to fluttering notes of minerality, sensual floral characteristics and deep, bright fruit characteristics.
Here’s a little peek: The ‘09 Navarro Brut, méthode champenoise, is sparkling gewürztraminer. It is beautifully clear, and after the bubbles and yeast fade, the ginger spices and apple flavors dance on the palate.
So early in the list here, but the 2010 Anderson Valley chardonnay Première Reserve will bring long pause and deep reflection. This dreamy stunner has such a compelling nose of flinty, dusty chalk. Centering now, it immediately tells a story of its own, a sense of place, where the root of the vine kisses the earth (Shakespearean love kiss) and flirts with the aroma, spice and flavors of gewürztraminer with apples and ginger. At $25 a bottle it astonishes, and the food pairings have my mind rushing and racing. And they say it will go ten years easy in the bottle.
The 2010 sauvignon blanc from Yorkville/Boonville (slightly warmer climes to the east has an extreme water color (which I just love), showing the delicacy of the press and soak. No astringency. Rather, requisite flavors of grapefruit, custard, wisteria flowers and fresh cut dandelions.
Their 2011 pinot gris surprises me, for I am thinking it would be crisper, more acidic yet; but this wine is driven by textures and feeling, with lower acid, more body with flavors of baked apples and hazelnut.
The 2011 gewürztraminer is brilliance from a true cradle of California gewürz. (Of course) it is clear and poignant; gingery, rubbery kerosene secretions (that’s a good thing). Bring on the salmon with curried mustard.
Another gem is the 2011 Edelzwicker, a touch off-dry in a true European blend at 42 percent riesling, 33 percent gewürz and 25 pinot gris. Oozing peach, nectarine and guava hint at the sweeter side of the dry white spectrum. Again, the food pairing possibilities...
In fact, I bought a bottle for the meal I would prepare with the bag of fresh wild mushrooms I had just collected (butter boletes, or slippery jacks, and a large, beautiful red coral). This wine reminds me of the blends I made at the end of a tasting room shift. Instead of lugging three nearly empty bottles home, I began blending p-gris and riesling to chardonnay with nice results. The Edelzwicker is a fabulous bottle of wine for $14.
The reds — oh, the reds.
Two weeks ago, I had the 2007 Méthode à l’Ancienne pinot noir. Soft entrance, softer even on the palate, like the puffy clouds on this late fall afternoon. It is delicate and perfumed with lavender and floral raspberry tea-like aromas. The 2010 will ease into this in a few years.
Yet again, I was floored, this time by the 2010 Anderson Valley pinot noir, with its blackberry cola tastes and its crunchy and “honest” structure. It is crisp with just the right amount of body.
The 2010 Mendocino County shiraz (Hopland/Ukiah area, the hotter side of the county) still features a colder climate style. In honor of the Aussie namesake shiraz, it is bold, bright and beautiful, but without all that heft or brawn. Rather it is floral and fruity, and the wine restrains itself to allow the palate to develop before the peppery astringency warms the palate up down. Interestingly, this wine brought up in conversation the spirit of Tandem Peloton, a rambunctious California red blend, which we sold a lot of at Ella back in the day. Yah, Jessie!
Finally, the Mendocino County. Zinfandel has all the jammy blackberry and bramble you can handle. It too is floral and peppery.
Finally, a surprising, versatile (and inexpensive) 2007 cabernet sauvignon that is young and coming into its own, with bing cherry and chocolate flavors and lots of juicy acidity.
Navarro is renowned for their late harvest reisling and gewürztraminers. Two words: pumpkin pie.
Happy Thanksgiving, people. Cheers! Remember, wine reveals truth.
Drew Stofflet lives in Carbondale. Correspond with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.