Recently, while out in Napa Valley, I had a chance to taste the new releases of the 2009 Chardonnay at Far Niente, and a whole slew of newly released 2008 single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon at their sister winery, Nickel & Nickel. Both of these wineries were started by the late Gil Nickle and his wife Beth, who moved from their nursery business in Oklahoma to start a world class winery in Napa Valley. In 1979 they began the restoration on an old stone building just off Highway 29 known at Far Niente. In 1997 they did the same with an old barn house and farm on the other side of Highway 29 now known as Nickel & Nickel. Now run by proprietress and partner Beth Nickel, along with longtime friends and partners Dirk Hampson, Larry Maguire, Erik Nickel and Jeremy Nickel (a Southern Methodist University grad) Far Niente and Nickel & Nickel are known for producing award winning, elegant wine, as well as true hospitality when visiting their luxurious estates.
The Far Niente 2009 Chardonnay release party was held on the massive lawn in front of the copper roofed winery. A day long party with guests coming and going, enjoying not only the crisp, citrus and melon filled 2009, but also a 2008, 2007 and 2006 Chardonnay. They even had a few bottles of 1992 Chardonnay that had been found in the cellar and opened for the occasion.
When tasting each side by side you saw a clear development of flavors from one year to the next, with the 2006 being my personal favorite as it had the most concentrated fruit, texture and depth with good fruit followed by layers of honeysuckle and a hint of marshmallow. There was a symmetrical line through all of the wines, even the 1992, tying each to each other and portraying the style of Far Niente Chardonnay. Classic California from Far Niente estate fruit only with focus on balanced acidity, with melon, citrus and stone fruit flavors with ageability, texture and a rich finish. Paired with Seared Day Boat Scallops with Vanilla Oil from Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley, it is no wonder guests could be seen lounging on the lawn enjoying the 70 degree weather day for hours.
When guests had their fill of Chardonnay and scallops they were treated to tastes of Dolce. The color of golden amber, this late harvest blend of Semillion and Sauvignon Blanc was the first to be produced in the US, created in 1985, and though every year is different and every vintage is unpredictable due Mother Nature, Dolce has been produced every year since they started it. Though this is most certainly a dessert wine, there is also good acidity and balance with aromas of orange blossom, wild flowers, peach and vanilla followed by ripe apricot, peaches and pears with citrus cream and caramel on the finish. A beautiful wine, and a great way to end the time at Far Niente.
Next stop just up the road at Nickel & Nickel for their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon single vineyard release party happening in their caves under the winery. Thirteen different single vineyard Cabernets were released that day and a part of the party, all from different vineyards situated throughout Napa Valley, with the majority of them lying in the Oakville AVA, where Nickel & Nickel is located. Napa was the first region in the US to make the distinction between one plot of land vs. another so important. Grapes from the vineyard on this side of the street can taste completely different than grapes from the vineyard on that side of the street.
This was the ideal time to really test this statement, as all of the Cabernet was from 2008, all made by the same wine-making team and all produced in the same winery. Yet all were so different. And noticeably different, not just subtle nuances that you would have to be a Master Sommelier to recognize. Even the vrious Oakville Cabs from the same AVA were very different. For instance, the Tench Vineyard Cabernet from Oakville was filled with big, ripe berry and bing cherry flavors with layers of vanilla and spice from the oak aging and subtle tannins. The Martin Stelling Vineyard Cab from Oakville had subtle fruit flavors of black cherry, black plum and cassis with chocolate and licorice. A much denser Cab with bold tannins and a good ability to age. The Rock Cairn Vineyard Cab from Oakville had more black tea and spice notes with black cherry, leather and a slight earthiness. The Dragonfly Vineyard from St. Helena was my favorite, and a bit softer in style an ready to be enjoyed now instead of with a few years of aging. Very approachable with raspberry and cranberry aromas, followed by ripe berry and cherry flavors ending with a toasty, spicy finish. All so different, yet all so delicious.
Far Niente and Nickel & Nickel wines are widely available throughout Dallas or via their individual websites. Sigel’s has a few of the older Nickel & Nickel vintages included in their restaurant inventory reduction sale happening now through Saturday.