Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Etude Wines

In my recent excursions down Cuttings Wharf Rd, to the riverfront homes of the Carneros region just southwest of Napa, I passed a winery called "Etude" which I was always curious about, but always too late to visit.

Then I was reminded when a coworker mentioned that "Etude has some good Carneros pinot, you should try them if you like pinot..." The name rang a bell, but I couldn't place it. Then suddenly I remembered, and just in time to check out another home for sale (maybe -- it's a weird situation, short-sale temporarily off-market trying to get a loan modification to avoid foreclosure), and decided it was time to pay Etude a visit.

The grounds are sprawling and so flat; the flat, marshy wetlands of Carneros are such a contrast compared to the hills and crags upvalley. The tasting room itself was large and had a vibe like a minimalist modern art gallery, with racks of wine mounted in front of a panel-lit wall and -- what's this that looks like wine but glows a strange amber color? Well, it turns out the place used to be a distillery that made brandy, and when Etude winery took over they decided to bottle and sell some of the brandy (limited production, no more being made), one of which is 100% pinot and the other is a blend of grapes, but neither available for tasting and both of them expensive ($150/bottle)!

The average age in here seemed to be about 60, with the ladies pouring being at least that or older. It wouldn't bother me except that, like some of the other older servers around here, they weren't too personable. Tastings are $20 each (we decided to share) and it included a chardonnay, two pinot noirs (a blend and the Deer Camp single vineyard), a "GBR Red" blend (85% merlot, 15% malbec), and a cabernet sauvignon.

All of the wines were definitely good with delicate, balanced flavors and smooth mouthfeel (I've come to realize the mouthfeel is so important to me); the pinots are somewhat typical for Carneros, in the sense that they are a somewhat ruby color which accurately represents a decent level of fruit in the wine. However, these Etude ones have a great deal of musky spice to them, and not too tart/sour like some pinot can be. Overall they had hints of black tea and cloves, a flavor profile I could definitely appreciate.

The darker reds -- both the GRB and cabernet -- were full-bodied but well-rounded, with very smooth tannins. I got sort of a yeasty, vanilla potpourri aroma from the GBR which, personally, I found very appealing; the cabernet was more licorice and cocoa. Like I said, everything was good... but none of it was cheap. The estate pinot is $42 and everything else is $60+, so at those prices I couldn't justify buying any bottles right now, though I'll definitely keep them in mind if I want something special in the future. They got bonus points for ending up waiving our tasting fee, as well, since we are locals -- I didn't know they are part of the Napa Neighbor program, but sure enough when I checked the website it lists free tasting for up to 4 people, plus a 15% discount.

Okay, that settles it... I'll be back!

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