El Dorado, California 2018
With all the Pinot Noir vines that have popped up throughout California, it’s a real wonder why Gamay hasn’t followed suit. Well, not really, perhaps. Although they share the famed Burgundy region in France together, no one can argue that even the finest of Cru Beaujolais to be had can stand up to the global attention that Burgundy (the name even assumes Pinot) has earned. And that’s ok. Great Gamay has long been, and continues to be, the darling of every Sommelier and über geek. Access to these small batch wines has gotten difficult. In California, it seems, access to buying Gamay grapes to make great wine is equally reserved – for those who truly treasure it’s value. There will be more plantings in the immediate future to be sure, but I for one am glad to know that it will most likely continue to be made by those who already hold it in high regard in the first place.
Duncan and Nathan have made their mark from their classic garagiste winemaking start to one of the most sought after labels in the category. Friends from childhood and surrounded by the call of the vines early in life in Napa Valley, they decided that there was still a path unforged in the California wine scene that had their names all over it. Turns out they were right. They started out on their journey to seek out small, and sometimes hidden, vineyard sites that had enormous potential based on their location, soils and microclimates. Often times the people growing the grapes didn’t quite know what they had, but Duncan and Nathan knew that they were discovering gems and started making the magic happen. In 2013 they were honored as the SF Chronicle Winemaker of the year – only eight years after starting the AR label.
Peppered, crunchy and ripping acidity; the way Gamay is meant to be. Cranberries and tart red currants for sure but there is also a strong blood orange quality which is oh-so-very reminiscent of great Beaujolais. Herbaceous, like wild mint, this wine is just bursting with uniquely enjoyable flavors – it is impossible to hold back a wicked grin. I would call this a highly expressive wine; in purity fruit, in brightness and nerve, and certainly with regards to a sense of terroir. But in the end, many California wine enthusiasts will think of a wine like this as “light.” That’s a hard thing to un-train in the brain. Years of drinking big Cabernets that are steeped in oak and, too often, residual sugar (dirty little secret) have formed an unfortunate model for other wines to be compared to. That’s the epic struggle in the modern California wine culture, yet Duncan and Nathan are two of the absolute best champions out there, fighting the good fight. Incidentally, if you are wanting to see behind the curtain and take the ‘Red Pill,’ try the Arnot-Roberts Cabernet when you get the chance and start to unweave the truth about how Cab might / should actually taste.