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Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Visit With an Old Friend


When we were in Sonoma last spring, we had the opportunity to check in with one of our old favorites: Clos du Bois.  We have been drinking Clos du Bois wines for almost as long as we’ve been drinking wine, and it rarely disappoints. The winery has been through several ownership changes in the last few years, and has been part of large conglomerates Fortune Brands and Constellation.  Even though the winery has changed hands a few times and has been part of major corporations, it seems to still have its own personality and has not been “commercialized.”

As was our luck on this particular trip to California, the skies seemed to open up when we pulled into the Clos du Bois parking lot.  We were a little early, but after a minute, we saw someone dash out from the tasting room to quickly put out the “Open” sign.  This was our cue so we hurried from the car to the door in the pouring rain.  Once inside, we were greeted by George and began our tasting with the Sonoma Reserve Fume Blanc, from the Russian River Valley.  Fume Blanc is simply a marketing name for Sauvignon Blanc that was introduced by Robert Mondavi back in 1968.  Thinking it might be difficult to popularize the Sauvignon Blanc grape in the United States, Mondavi decided to put an American twist on a French name, and rebranded his drier white Sauvignon Blanc as Fume Blanc.  It continues to be one of Mondavi’s most popular white wines.  This Clos du Bois Fume Blanc was finished in French oak, so it was a little softer but still had good tropical fruit and grapefruit notes. 

Following the Fume, we tried the Sonoma Reserve Old Vine Carignane, which had a nice chocolate finish.  This wine was blended with 15% Zinfandel which added rich berry flavors to the wine.  This contrasted nicely with the Old Vine Zinfandel which had more dried strawberry and blackberry fruit flavors. 

The flagship wines of Clos du Bois are among our favorites from this winery.  Some of our first “big buys” when we were younger were the Briarcrest, the Marlstone, and the Winemakers Reserve Cabernet Franc.  The basic Cabernet was more of a regular buy due to its lower price point (at the time around $13), so it was really special when we were able to buy some of the reserve wines.  We carried around a 1994 Marlstone for years til we finally decided to drink it to celebrate the completion of our house construction in 2003.  The ’94 vintage was one of the best in recent memory in Napa and Sonoma, and it was drinking very well almost 10 years later.  We particularly loved our Winemakers Reserve Cabernet Franc, which at the time was relatively unusual in that it was 100% Cabernet Franc (not so unusual these days).  We were disappointed to learn from a rep at the Mohegan Sun Wine Festival that they ceased production on the Cab Franc a few years back. 

Back to our present day tasting, we started the reserves with the 2005 Briarcrest, which is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by the 2005 Marlstone Meritage.  A meritage is a blend of the traditional Bordeaux varietals, and the blend in the Marlstone changes with each vintage depending on the quality of the different grapes that make up the blend.  The 2005 vintage is primarily Cabernet, with 5% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Merlot.  George also pulled out a 2006 Marlstone which has about 15% less Cabernet Sauvignon and also includes some Petit Verdot.  Both wines were full bodied, rich wines, with smooth tannis and dark berry flavors.  The blend in the Marlstone provides a smooth, more supple finish due to the balancing of the different varietals.

Since our primary experience with Clos du Bois has been their red wines, we were treated to a nice surprise when George brought out two dessert wines.  The first was Malvasia Bianca from the Russian River Valley.  Malvasia is a relative to the Muscat grape, and this wine had less than 2% residual sugar making it was more refreshingly sweet with lots of melon and honey tones.  This wine would be great for sipping on its own or with light appetizers, and we particularly loved its slightly spritzy fruit flavors.  The last wine, Fleur Late Harvest Riesling sourced from the cooler Santa Lucia Highlands southeast of Monterey, and a true dessert wine with 18% residual sugar and all of the classic apricot, honey, figs and ripe melon flavors.  This is truly an embodiment of Galileo's famous phrase: wine that is sunlight, held together by water.

You may not be able to find all of the wines that we’ve talked about here in your local stores, since some of the reserve wines such as the Carignane and the Fume Blanc are available only at the winery.  The standard Clos du Bois wines should be easy to find and represent a great value.  The reserves such as Briarcrest and Marlstone in particular are also readily available, and are highly recommended for your more special occasions.

Drink what you like, like what you drink!

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