In today’s wine world we are fortunate enough to be blissfully replete with an ever-growing abundance of wine options. The dizzying numbers of new and exciting wineries cropping up, coupled with rapidly advancing technology and experience in the field, ensures that evolution in the wine trade is advancing at a fast and steady pace.
Today’s wine market provides quality along with a disparate array of styles and flavors to suit just about anyone’s wine palate. With so many great wine options at our fingertips these days, the key to enjoyment, is finding out which style best suits your own palate. Trust me, if you haven’t figured it out already…this is a fun process!
Personally, my wine preferences tend to lean toward the old world. I’m attracted to the nuance and restraint exhibited in many of the time honored wine regions of France and Northern Italy. In the new world, however, more recently there seems to have been a move away from mass and concentration and a general realization that wines are far more interesting if they express a vineyard’s natural characteristics rather than a winemaker’s technique. A growing number of winemakers today employ this old world philosophy and are making some kick ass juice.
On a recent trip to Napa Valley I had the good fortune of visiting some of these wineries. There were many highlights but a couple that stood out were Arietta and Futo wineries respectively.
Arietta…founded by Fritz Hatton and John Kongsgaard in 1996 is a cultivated, destroyer of systemic norms. Kongsgaard who was the original winemaker (and a gifted one) eventually left and the venerable Andy Erickson was brought on to make the wine. Erickson’s wines are a beautiful example of the new world meeting and wooing the old world. His wines exhibit terroir and have a true sense of place. They’re proudly from Napa Valley but over extraction and aggressive use of new oak are quickly eschewed in favor of elegance and restraint.
Arietta makes a Cabernet Sauvignon and four proprietary blends including “On the White Keys”, Erickson’s first white wine, which is a Bordeaux inspired blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The Sauvignon Blanc provides the racy mouth watering acidity and the Semillon gives it length and roundness. Another interesting wine in their portfolio is “Variation One” this wine was first conceived by John Kongsgaard, in 2000, who used a 30% Syrah and 70% Merlot ratio, Erickson has subsequently flipped the ratio using 70% Syrah and 30% Merlot. This Syrah dominant wine is certainly atypical of Napa Valley. The wild and brooding, animalistic Syrah is tamed just enough by the Merlot, which offers notes of fresh dark fruit along with distinct blueberry notes. It’s a beautifully complex and hedonistic wine that can be drunk young or left to age and develop for 10 plus years.
The other winery that left a lasting impression on me during this trip was a visit to Futo Winery. The well-manicured grounds of the Futo Estate sit atop the high hills of Oakville, providing breathtaking panoramic views of the valley below and clean and crisp mountain air is conveniently available for when the breath is regained. Tom Futo (who pronounces his name few-tow) owns and operates Futo Wines along with his wife Kyle.
Futo’s wines have depth and elegance. Since I first tasted the Futo Oakville ’08 Bordeaux blend, I have been a fan. I was immediately seduced by the complex and alluring aromatics. The concentrated dark berry fruit characteristics are beautifully backed-up with a nice core of crushed stone and graphite. The warm and avuncular Futo insists that he loathes brettanomyces and takes special care to mitigate its presence. His wines have a rich concentration of fruit, which show more restraint than influence in winemaking.
Although, I love the wines that Futo produces, on this visit, the wine played a background, supporting role to the overall Futo experience. This is a special place and the warm and engaging Futo makes you feel like family. I really can’t wait to return.